Tag Archives: sanctuary

Sanctuary, Sobriety, and Running for Life

While I was walking his high dogness this morning, I realized a few things.  First, it is sunny.  Really sunny.  I am THRILLED at how sunny it is.  I’m certain that Huntington Beach (today is the marathon I was going to run) is lovely as well, but I am delighted with the sunlight that was served up today.

Second, this is the first Sunday in years–over a decade–that I have not been affiliated with a church.  I left the Episcopal church unofficially eons ago, but I was a MINO (member in name only) at the church of my youth until I moved my membership to the church I had been attending here.  And, having withdrawn my membership this past week–well, it’s a bit of an odd feeling.  A bit lost, a bit relieved.

Pondering this second point, alongside the final one (below, not the one you are currently wading through), led me back to my ever faithful theme of sanctuary.  I have asked in these pages and elsewhere why it was easier to confess my stories of addiction than my stories of faith, and, moreover, why telling stories in AA was easier than in church.  And much of the difference lies in the absolute commitment to honesty and anonymity in the first.  One can tell one’s story in AA because every person in the room agrees to keep the story private–a respect and regard for each others humanity, in my mind, because we don’t always want our stories shared, and more significantly, I think we all want a modicum of control over where and how our stories are told.

I believe that congregations likewise have an internal responsibility to protect one another.  Now, this regard for one another cannot extend, of course, to protecting abusers and the like, of course, but members must weigh carefully how and why we divulge the story of another member.  It strikes me as a matter of hospitality and sanctuary to hold the stories of others as something close to sacred.  Perhaps stage one of creating sanctuary is something like what AA demands–an insistence on respect for each others stories–listen, no crosstalk, the story stays in this room and in each others hearts–yours is the only story that you can share.

Much can be learned in AA meetings that cannot be later credited to the speaker.  I’ve spoken often of the person who described sobriety as moving from a B&W TV on mute to full-color, HI-Def, volume all the way up.  A fantastic metaphor–but I cannot and will not ever divulge the identity of the person who articulated early sobriety so well.  The same is true in churches, where faith stories can be every bit as personal and deserve every bit as much regard for privacy.  Maybe this commitment to one another is step one in forming a community of sanctuary, inclusion, and hospitality.

Finally, today is 365.  A year ago (I had already stopped drinking, but it was 2/7/2009 when I renewed my commitment to my own radical transformation) I came to the conclusion that I am an alcohol failure–there is no “learning to drink right” for me and there never will be.  In a ploy to keep myself distracted from alcohol for a while, I also started training for a marathon–which was the best therapy I could possibly have found, quite frankly.   I’m nervous; after all, I’ve walked this hall before (I was just shy of 16 months when I jumped off the wagon in 2008), but I’m also, even for all the messes that exist in my life right now–I am in a much better place than I was in 2008, the last time I hit 365.

So, here begins Chapter 2, redux, wherein plans will not be made (as I cannot control.  Cannot.  Should not try so hard to control), but dreams will be hatched.  Today, I am moving at one day at a time.  And for all the sadness and confusion right now, I’m mostly content.

And that is good enough.


Life is Beautiful: High School Edition

I suggested last time that I should focus for a while on the beautiful, given the particular difficulties in my life right now. Blogging (or journalling for that matter) on the “good things in life,” as a reminder if nothing else, is not a particluarly novel approach, but it is sometimes necessary.

So, today’s brief post is on wrestling.

Strictly speaking, I don’t find High School Wrestling pleasing in any aesthetic sense. I often have a hard time watching, worried as I tend to be about things like broken necks and various injuries to appendages. I am pleased, though, by what TG (Tough Guy, my athletically-inclined son) finds in wrestling: camraderie, physical activity, among other goodness. He smiles when he is thoroughly worn out by practice. He’s attentive and happy even when working the stats table. The joy these kids find in competition, stregth, and repetiton baffles me at times, but thier swagger over the whole affair is pretty compelling.

Since TG stared HS last year, I’ve spent waaay more time at HS athletic events than I ever did in high school, where I was a proud theatre geek, and where we had far less adult supervision at any given moment. I wonder if that still holds true for HS theatre….

Eh, no matter. For the moment, my world is good, safe, and protected in this gym, not unlike the natal-like safety theatre once provided for me. Gym as sanctuary…

That’s rather groovy.

The Limits of Sanctuary

The end has been long in coming, but this week I am wrapping up my work at the church I have attended for the last decade.*  I have already said no to continuing as worship department chair (to the delight of many, I am sure), and next week I will submit the report to the board regarding the nomination of board officers for 2010.  After next Tuesday, I have only three days that require my attendance, and one of those is to place flowers.

I am leaving my roles in the church in part because of the events surrounding Rev. Dean’s departure last month, but as anyone who has read parts of this series on sanctuary is already aware, I knew my own departure was imminent months ago.

Certainly the fact that a member of the church could send a letter to the minister, threatening him, his family, and his “cohort” was a nail in an already closed coffin, as I cannot abide remaining in a situation that perpetuated such hatred.  Make no mistake, this was not the work of one unhinged soul; it was, rather, the culmination of so many pieces, ones I have written about before and ones I will write about today.

Worse yet?  It was not the only letter received that week, though the other was not sent to Rev. Dean.  That other letter, though, was equally appalling and destructive.  I’ve never seen the second letter, and I hope I never do.  To know what it contained, the cruelties it aimed at people I hold dear, people I admire so very much, is enough.

I cannot allow it to appear that I support these letters or their writers by remaining here and silent (well, here and loud, either, for that matter).

I sat through the service for the First Sunday of Advent this year, feeling numb.  Advent has been tough the last few years; I acted as worship chair for several years in part to mediate between Rev. Dean and some members of the church during this season, as it constantly seemed to bring out the worst.  This year, there was none of that strife–I did little other than arrange the decorations for the Hanging of the Green service.  We sang the standard carols, heard the standard lessons, and, still, I felt completely numb. Not even the rage I’d felt the day before, hearing once again the litany against “them”–the AA meetings to whom we provide space.

Even while singing carols that mean so very much to me, I felt nothing.  In that place and space, Advent has been leached of its hope and magic for me, at least this year.  While I could probably be accused of rushing to the manger, I truly enjoy the season of Advent, because of the hope and promise of sanctuary, here made manifest in the story of a manger.

So, in light of all of this, next week, I will submit the following, both to resign my position as Elder and to further withdraw from the church.

Dear Elders, Board Members, and Church:

I find myself in an unusual place right now, feeling lost for words and unsure of how to convey what I now feel and think, and how to ensure that my point is made, when I have no clear idea how to articulate it.  Suffice to begin by getting to the heart of the matter: with this letter, I submit my resignation as an Elder of this church, effective on January 1, 2010, as have so many of the people I respect and cherish already.

Thank you for the opportunities of the last eleven years.  To be called as Elder was among the most meaningful experiences of my life so far; I remain both honored and humbled for it.  However, the events of the past few years have made the limits of sanctuary visible to me, and I believe, in this light, that this church can no longer be a sanctuary for me and, as consequence, I cannot help lead it to remain or become a safe space for others.  Lest there be any confusion in what I mean here–I mean nothing about the building.  Bricks and mortar and stained glass do not a sanctuary make.

My decision was made months ago, though I had intended to wait until Fall to submit my letter.  The position I started in January is far more demanding of my time and energies than I would have imagined, and I cannot in good conscience pretend that I can fully engage the work necessary for strong church leadership, ever how much I wish that I could.  Moreover, in light of the events of fall, beginning with a letter that has been too little recognized as a brutal violation of the sanctuary of this space to Rev Dean’s resignation to the events of November’s board meeting and G’s own resignation and the continual, but vocal and painful resistance from some to AA meetings in these walls, I withheld my letter.  There was too much going on; the words I had then were too fiery to be fair. My resignation is not about Rev. Dean, or other members, or AA, the 8:30 service, or G, or the building, or mediation, or the scores of other pieces, truly it is about a desire to seek and create sanctuary, and I feel I cannot do that here, ever as much as I have tried.

We’ll still be here, at least for a while, and I do pray for this church and for peace here, unceasingly.  My hope is for the church to flourish. In the nominating process, I tried to leave you with officers I believe can lead the church to that peace and through any rough seas that may be ahead.  I wish I could count myself among those who would help in the days ahead, and I pray for the best for all of you.

Yours in Peace,


*Funny, as I type that I realize how silly it is that I still feel like I am new there.  It’s been 11 years.  Criminey.


Sanctuary: Generations

The title deserves an explanation, on the off chance that the geekiness is lost on anyone.  This is the fifth in a series of posts on the subject of sanctuary, and while “Generations” was not the fifth film in the Star Trek series, for some reason I was stuck on this title after I saw “Sanctuary IV” written out.  So, yes, I really did go for the random Star Trek reference.

I suppose it’s a good sign that I didn’t go for “The Empire Strikes Back.”

The title is, however, a tad more than a goofy joke, as one of the elements that has fed the corruption in the church, about which I rambled last time, is a rather striking generation gap.  Like many mainline Protestant churches, the one I attend has a significant gap in the 30-50 age range; that is, at 34, I’m often the “next oldest in the room,” but with 20 years between me and the next person (assuming Rev. Dean isn’t around, as we are both in that lovely and empty mid-thirty range.  He’s just more into said age-range than I am.  And also G., who is one of a very few fortysomethings in the congregation.)

Given the great divide in age, it is really, really easy to lean on the generation gap as an excuse for why conversations (when they happen) go so badly.  But, it oversimplifies the matter, and even distracts from the central problems, to do so.  And, I am wildly guilty of being the person who leans so heavily on the age gap.   As Rev. Dean has pointed out, however, the split in the church may look like it’s generational, but it is not–it’s largely theological, and the theological divisions tend to mirror the most typical of such debates: how to read and understand scripture, what an invitation to “everyone” really means, etc.  In the last of these, you see some of the clearest examples of the theological plurality of the congregation–elders invite the congregation to the table with phrases that run the gamut from restrictive (“those who have professed the Great Confession”) to the “kind-of-sort-of open” (“those who believe that Christ is [fill-in-the-blank]”) and to the what seems to me to be the most authentic openness (“Everyone is invited.  It is not my table to decide who may come.”*).  And plurality is fabulous, when respect for that plurality also exists.

Without respect, the process will fracture.

Rev. Dean and I began, during the summer, talks about a book–or series of articles–or something attempting to articulate the need to and the various ways to preserve and/or create an atmosphere that supported the authentic voice in the body of the church.  We acknowledged that one of the first frameworks needed to create a sanctuary–a safe space for worship, as well as for spiritual and community outreach and development–was integrity.  For me, at least, integrity regards ethical frames for decision making processes, as well as compassion and honesty.  Often, however, the decisions we make within the church are often knee-jerk, not necessarily ethical or, for that matter, spiritual, Biblical, or thoughtful.

A specific for instance: several years ago, we started an early morning service on Sundays.  Most of the songs are a cappella (and it’s really funny that way), we embrace silences, and we talk–quite a bit, often–after the sermon, about our responses and thoughts.  The service manages to operate between spaces of quiet and loud, secular and spiritual, and it does so quite beautifully.  I’m proud of the service, and it breaks my heart that having accepted a role as elder has effectively prevented me from attending the service of my choice (I’ve no particular need nor desire to sit through both services, and either G or I have had to serve at or immediately after the late service for much of this year).  I suspect know that this is one of the elements of my desire to leave the church–the disconnection I feel from the service I am having to attend of late.

But, getting the service started all those years ago involved a major sleight of hand on my part.  I dropped the bomb on the church board in the form of an announcement, not as a voting matter, in large measure because we feared that it would be shot down.  And that fear was apt, I believe even now, given the rancor that STILL exists about the existence of the early service. Truth be told, it wasn’t a voting matter, I do honestly believe it, because no additional funds were required as the early service donates its own communion supplies and we did not use the services of the organist at the time that we still had an organist.

But, the overriding reason for the announcement that came only a couple of weeks before the service was to begin (2, I think), was to prevent discussion and derailing.  I was clear about this in my own mind, and I shared my rationale with others, so it’s not like I can really pretend that it was just a matter of policy.  I used a particular slant on policy in order to stifle conversation to get my service through.

My intentions–to get a service that was badly needed for the spiritual development of some members of the church (myself included)–were honorable, but my methods were exploitative and seriously lacking in integrity.  I chose not to trust the process, nor the people of the board, based on a set of assumptions.  And, even if these assumptions proved to be correct in the end, I remain accountable for my methods.

I apologized to the board and the church some months (or was it a year later??–dude, I cannot remember) later, during mediation, when it became clear that my actions, whatever the honor of their intent, had cause hurt.  And I had sacrificed my integrity in the eyes of other members of the board in order to preserve what I believed to be the right thing to do.

I still believe the service was and remains a good and valuable piece.  I believe that the nature of the service demands authenticity from each of us–honesty, integrity, and a willingness to listen to one another, even when we disagree (and, as Rev. Dean is well aware, my disagreement in inevitably worn on my face–I cannot hide it).  The authentic voice of the service, then, demands a respect for plurality.

This is a good thing.

The bulk of the members attending this service, not incidentally, belong in the gap generation I discussed at the outset.  Of the members of the congregation as a whole who remain angry about the existence of the service, most are in the so-called “Greatest Generation,” who make up a large population with the congregational body.  The express anger over the change we forced upon them**, over the supposed extra costs associated***, and over the “separation” that it has caused within the church.

Of the last of these, I can say only that the separation is imagined on one level; while part of the intent of creating the service was indeed to give space to some members during a time of major strife, that is not what remained as the service became part of our lives.  We do not see ourselves as a separate body from the congregational whole; that separation comes from the members of the congregation who remain angry and nurse hurt over the service’s very existence.

I do not know how to reconcile my belief that this service has a place in the church–and important and necessary one–with the reality that I felt it necessary to resort to rather underhanded means to push it through.  I recognize that I was responding to the corruptions I already perceived, but I was doing so by emulating and exploiting that corruption.  What would have been the most ethical thing to do?

I realize that I could have handled it differently–not dropping a bomb (as it were), but bringing people on board through a careful PR campaign, but I don’t really know if it would have worked, had I done that.  I thought about it; I prayed about it.  That service needed to come to fruition–it is a good and beautiful thing, and in a less corrupted place, it could and would have with ease.

The corruption I keep mentioning is simply the lack of integrity and the suppression of authentic voice.  People who challenge are often shot down or shunned.  These days, agents of and for change are even threatened with bodily harm.  Such threats are the logical result of the failure to recognize one another as humans and to act toward one another with respect.

It seems to me that for a community, and particularly a Disciples community, to have integrity (our mission calls for a “passion for justice” for goodness sake, and integrity and justice seem to me to be intertwined), it must first demand respect of one another.  Not elder or youth worship, not clinging to change nor to tradition, but an honest respect for one another as human beings engaging in a specific kind of spiritual discourse.  The moment we lose sight of each other as people or of ourselves as greater than a generational construct, we begin to fall apart.  That inability to remain ethical and honest, the desire to put one’s own desires before that of the community and the collective discernment of God’s will, those are the forces that brought us to where we now stand, with a threatening letter and a congregation more lost than ever before****.

*I imagine that it would surprise no one to discover that I fall in the last of these categories.  In fact, while I can preach an acceptance of plurality until my face turns blue, the differences mentioned here are a serious sticking point for me theologically.  The communion table isn’t my table to invite or to turn away.  Everyone is welcome.



**And, in fact, the letter writer I mentioned here remarks on this, writing that  “we [the older members of the congregation] will not change.  We do not want to change.”  The service itself demands nothing of the resistant-to-change group, other than knowing that the service exists.  This would be my other point of frustration.  In all honesty, from where I sit, it feels for all the world like there is a group in the church who has bought into the adage that older folks hate change–because the resistance is vitriolic to the point of ridiculousness.

*** I’m so tired of this particular canard.

****Or, perhaps not.  I may very well be projecting something here that isn’t an accurate reflection of what the congregational body feels.  I know damn well it’s what I feel, though.

Sanctuary IV

I can’t say that I expected to return to this topic, but I suppose it was inevitable.

I can say that I never expected the reason I am returning to the topic of sanctuary to be the one that has arisen this week.

When last we left the topic, I had left the track of my panic attack and would up square in the midst on the physical sanctuary of my church.  Now, if you recall, I also rejected that space as a sanctuary, even if I still apply that term to describe a specific physical space.

I knew I would be leaving the church.  I’ve known for some time, but it took quite a while for me to say it to Rev. Dean, who, of course, saw it coming at least a dozen miles off.  I feel more sadness and anger than justice and peace there, and I am not willing to sacrifice myself further for a cause I no longer believe in.

This is not to say that my faith collapsed; it has not.  I believe we can work toward a just world and that we are called to do so, but I do not believe such work can–at least for me–come out of that particular environment.

I imagine that I got over-involved, in the end.  Had I stayed at the fringes, I might have been able to work through the vipers in the pit.  But, I didn’t.  I threw myself in with what might be called a characteristic Quixotic-ness: that is, give me a windmill, I’ll tilt away, thank you.  Give me a real monster?  Give it a face and a name and a tendency to be more of a windbag than me–oh yeah, baby.  That’s where I’m at.


The levels of hostility that have grown in the church in the years since I joined (a statement that makes it sound like my fault, no?) have grown to a degree that is simply untenable.  And each one of us, myself included, bears some part of the complicity in that hostility, be it through our silence, our anger, our unwillingness to see past the ends of our noses, our failure to forgive, our failure to listen, our passive aggression in avoiding board meetings by walking the dog.*  Each of us bears some weight of the guilt, though, quite clearly, some bear far more than others.

This past Friday, a member of the church received an unsigned letter in the mail.  The letter called the receiver out for trying to change the church and declared him not a Christian.  It also, and most outrageously, threatened his life should he stay.

Yeah, you read that right.

To say that people have been left reeling would be a significant and unreasonable understatement.  How does one react to such news?

Do you stay and fight the insanity?

Do you close up shop–shut the doors and disburse the assets and move on, because there is nothing, nothing left to save in the face of our own complicity.

In the face of madness.

To be sure, the writer is mad, in both senses of the word.  Of that I have no doubt and would not quibble with the description.  But I also hear voices saying that this could be a good thing–the church will rally and once and for all rise to glory.

Which is horseshit, if you ask me.  To lay this at the feet of one mad soul, to call him or her out as the source, rather than a symptom, of a greater disease is both erroneous and foolhardy.  That one voice (or many, should it have been a group of mad souls) is a clarion call–one of several– of the corruption of the sanctuary space of that particular church.  What breeds such rhetoric is not just a single voice in the wilderness, but the complicity of silence and scheming that has become as much the hallmark of our ministry as the brilliant outreach and the gorgeous attempts to create a just and safe space for all comers.

And you know what is worst of all?  So many of us recognized our guilt and we tried to operate against it–to be just, to offer wise counsel, to be good stewards of the call that brought us to these doors.  We fanned the flames of madness because we kept giving it voice.  We were helpless in the face of those who wished to feed the beast, because we were too nice, too reasonable, too fucking willing to listen to all sides of the story.

Apparently, that was a grandly foolish error.

And, if I remain, I won’t learn, I think.  I’ll do the same damn thing again, and I suspect I won’t be alone.  Because granting voice is the right thing to do, isn’t it?


I have some actual attempts to work through this–to ponder how we can create sanctuary and if it is even now possible, but I needed to get this out first.

I don’t want to leave on a note of “we’re all complicit,” because though I do believe it, and I do believe the corruption is down among the roots at this point, I also believe in putting responsibility for unjust, ugly actions where it belongs–with the letter writer and his or her cronies (should there be any).  For that person or those persons bear the weight of guilt for the horror and pain they have caused so many people this weekend.  And they alone bear that weight, though it will be the rest who have to figure out how to move on or move away.

*Yeah, that last one is me.  I own up to that decision, and I don’t regret it.  The pooch was far cuter and a great deal less likely to leave me feeling hostile.

All Will Be Well…I Hope

So, here we are.  *dusts off the furniture*

Dude, it has been a while, hasn’t it?

What do you think of the new digs?  Brought all the old pieces over, freshened up the pages a tad.  I’ve been working hard on the place as I worked on being summarily unable to compose anything new.

*Pulls up virtual chair*–do you need one?

I’m faking it right now, honestly.  I still can’t put words in a string to call them a sentence, but…well, fake it ’til you make it, right?  So, I’m going to ramble a bit today, perhaps again tomorrow, and one of these days we’ll get right again.  Soon, I hope.

If you are coming over from the old page, thanks, and, yes, this really is in part to shake myself out of a rut that has been slowly squelching me since, oh, May?  Yes, I also really did bleach my hair–sort of blonde now, though, really, my hair rejects all but red, so it’s a red-blonde, but it’s different, which is good.  I’m thinking about going lighter, but I’ll need a professional to accomplish that, I suspect.

Interesting factoid:  My kitten loves the smell of hair dye; she slept on my hair last night, sniffing it.  Weird, yes?  Or, my kitten has some issues.

Imagine that, eh?

The picture above (in the header) is from the trip to WA; it’s from Beach 4, I think, in Olympia National Park.  Beautiful place.  That’s Destruction Island way in the background.

One of the things I most liked about Olympia is, well, I’ve spent enough years playing at being a Romanticist to just go on and say it, haven’t I?…the beach is sublime.  The good sublime, as in–the natural world reminding you that you are tiny and insignificant and still utterly welcome to absorb the beauty.  Huge cliffs, currents that will quite clearly, rip you from the shoreline with narry a blink of the watery eye.  And the driftwood.

Okay, seriously, beaches in Virginia have “driftwood”–pieces of smoothed over wood–some even about the size of my thigh.  Washington, on the other hand, has drift-fucking-trees.  There is no doubt that one of these suckers–be it wet in the ocean or dry on land, could off you in a moment.  And there are piles and piles and piles of these drifttrees up and down the shoreline.

Olympic National Park, Washington.  June 2009

Olympic National Park, WA. June 2009

Some of them are escapees from the logging industry, while others are washed out from the local rain forests.  Either way….they are trees.  Big ones, at that.  The picture at right is a good example of what I mean–see, there’s some legitimate driftwood there…but there are also whole freaking trees.

This might, as much as any other, be a good metaphor for how I’m feeling.  Kind of bleak–kind of waiting for the next tree, but if I can manage to avoid them…all will be well.

So, anyway, welcome here.  I’ll fake it for a while, but I’ll get back in the groove shortly.  I hope.  Hope you’ll pull up a tree and stay awhile.  I’ll be posting more, even if it’s just random thoughts; I’ve never tried just making myself do it when it comes to writing–it works for running, so why not here?  Use one of those fine running lessons, perhaps.

I’m still training for the half-marathon in VB on Labor Day weekend–and looking forward to it.  Had a lousy-ass 12-miler on Saturday (hot, humid, read: training in the Deep South in the summer.  Really?), started off well, but the humidity damn near killed me.  On Sunday, however, I dragged myself against my will and what appeared to be better judgment out the door for five miles.  And then ran it faster by almost 2 minutes than ever before.

Shows how good my judgment is.   So, Sunday was a worthwhile run, once I committed to it.  And, well, hot damn, this post is approaching something worthwhile too.


Mantra for the day:  All is well.  All will be well.  (thanks, Rev. Dean).

Anonymity, Safe Space, and Other Frontiers of Modern Existance

Warning: Much random thought follows. Not sure if it all comes together in the end.

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle at Duff’s SW blog over the last two weeks, owing in part to what is largely a poorly worded gauntlet-throw by our busy author and, well, generalized internet obnoxiousness. There is also a bit of a punk rock debate intermixed, but we’ll leave that alone for now…it’s a separate issue, though, I grant, one of my personal favorites.

The debate is largely over the condition of anonymity on the internet and how we use it.

Duff’s initial reaction appears to have been against commenters who post anonymously, trashing bands and so forth (and, presumably, the truly irritating set who insist on making repulsive remarks about his family–when is this ever necessary??). More precisely, he remarked that people should use their own names. Rightly or wrongly, it inspired scores of his readers to start posting under their own names or connecting their RL names to their online aliases (and, often, the particular ones used at the Loaded site). It seemed to me at the time that he was being reactionary–exactly to what I’ve not been able to discern (who gives an damn if an anonymous user trashes Green Day or whichever other band is mentioned–band trashing may not be any more conversationally useful than any other form of such behavior, after all), but clearly responding against something that bothered him immensely. Fair enough–his blog, his rules.

This blog is nominally anonymous, in so far as I don’t provide my name, but most readers know me personally or I self-disclose by, for instance, directing my students here to read up on explications or some other old post. Yes, I realize that they can read the more personal information, and, truthfully, that’s fine with me. I’d rather that they know I am human; I hope that the struggles recounted here could be of help to someone else–a student, a friend, a stranger…it doesn’t matter and I don’t even need to know, but I would like to think that occasionally this blog can stand as a reminder that someone else is out there, walking a similar road.

As it happens, I already use my RL name in the comment section of Duff’s blog. This was a big deal for me at the time I begain posting (I felt so exposed), and, since I link back to these pages, it doesn’t take much effort to get my first name.

I use an internet alias here, one I’ve used over the course of a decade or better, and I seldom post pictures that would identify me, though this is more of a “I hate pictures of myself” problem than a “oh noes they mights figures mes outs*” problem, so I thought I would bite the bullet and share one with you today.

Helpful, isn’t it?

This gem, as the shirt suggests, is about 20 years old. I’m not sure how old I was…between 13 & 15, I would imagine, but barring any other identifiers, I can’t be sure. Since it wasn’t in my room, the posters don’t help either, though, truth be told, I probably had many of the same ones back at Chez Kitsch. Oh, and, no, I haven’t the slightest idea why I have my hair (OMG–look at all that hair! And the grin. Wow…I used to grin???? See it?) over my face…it was likely a Cousin Itt impersonation, but I might have been trying for Slash, though the photographer could do a waaaaay better Slash than me. But, you know, that picture is a pretty good summation of me: T-shirt, goofy hair, and late-80s music—>me in a nutshell (heck, even now). Anyone who knew me then and still remembers me well enough could easily identify that pic as me, I feel certain. The Duke shirt alone would be a significant tell; if the Duke sweatpants (which I am no doubt wearing) were visible, those too would be a giveaway, I wore them so very often, to the immense annoyance of Tarheels fans I grew up with.

But, I don’t expect that people remember me. In fact, that is one of the operating premises of my life. I assume that I’m easily forgotten and of such little consequence that there is never any reason to assume otherwise, so I am caught surprised when people do remember me. So, the anonymity here is also an outgrowth of my standard operating procedure–I generally assume that I am anonymous–more or less–in my everyday life, so it seemed easiest to continue that feeling in the online environment. Thus, the exposure I felt when I first put my name on Duff’s comment section; I’m used to a relative amount (however false it may be) of anonymity and to choose to violate that was quite scary.

Another commenter at Shakesville noted recently that she uses her real name when commenting there because she spent so much time hiding and dishonest in her alcoholic days, and I can understand where she is coming from there, too. In fact, when I read that comment, I was a bit stunned. It felt incredibly authentic, something I aspire to, but often mishandle. Authenticity was not why I used my RL name on Duff’s blog (I guess); I’m not sure why I did, in truth. All I know is that it felt right at the time, whereas other spaces seem to call for one of my two favorite Internet aliases.**

In the picture above, I was as much myself as any young teen is capable of being–in my best friend’s bedroom, goofing off and grinning (just trust me–it’s there). I was in the safest of spaces–in the presence of someone I trusted entirely, who, in myriad ways, granted me permission to be whomever I needed to be at that time and space, as I searched for who I would be in the great someday. I think I was perhaps at my most authentic in that moment–goofy, laughing, wanting to be the center of attention, but hiding from the fact of the attention.

Such authenticity is harder to come by now. I’ve tried to be so many different people, according to the places and times and the demands that are made (or the demands I interpret, which may or may not actually be there). Such is the fact of human existence, of course–we all codeswitch. Many people are forced to live in a private hell for the comfort of others–to violate their authentic selves, lest they be shunned publicly, rather than just privately. Imagine living a life that forces contraction–forces fragmentation beyond the codeswitching we all live within.

Got the pain there? That’s empathy. Use it judiciously before going on the attack.

It’s funny how often we authenticate our aliases–give the stories behind them, mention how long we’ve used them (as I did above) and in what contexts. These aliases become a part of our authentic selves, should we use them long and carefully enough. The fragments we create in the aliases initially may bind and reform and reshape us as we grow and change online and off.

The online communities in which we live an participate offer us the possibility of expanded communities, greater empathy, and more opportunities to critically examine HOW we can be authentic, regardless of place, space, or time. The trick is, though, not to lose site of the opportunities by turning the comments into a free-for-all (which is what seems to happen, more often than not). Rather than using aliases as ways of naming ourselves and staking a claim for our selves, we too often use the anonymity to become self-righteous and thoughtless. How much better if we used the “second lives” we can share online to expand, rather than contract and attack. We turn the comment sections of newspapers and blogs into…well, how often do you “avoid reading the comments” because you know how awful they will be (I don’t for instance, read comments in newspapers, lest I send myself around the bend)?

Duff made a mistake here: he unintentionally pulled a great big guilt trigger on a number of regular readers and commenters, which bothers me more than I can articulate. Within a few minutes, people began posting first and last names, etc., in order to…what…appease him? It’s a peculiar trade-off that I’ve seen on a number of high-readership blogs; commenters forge a community of sorts–sometimes deliberately and other times just by the circumstance of participating together regularly. The blogger, however, operates in a special zone in the community, which will tend to bend to his or her will or outright reject it. A study of this habit in miniature can be seen in the comments from the blog in the week preceding the one linked above.

I don’t believe that he intended such a response–he’s never struck me as that sort of manipulator (even if he is a youngest child *grin*), but the revelations–the exposure of names–happened nonetheless, even by people who were offended by the remark that commenters should reveal more than he or she may be comfortable with*** the nebulous truth of their names. I *think* (see previous remarks on understanding one’s hero vs. taking wild guesses, the latter of which is really what I am doing) he was merely getting at avoiding bad behavior and generalized obnoxiousness–to quote Fred Clark (again): “[s]imply follow the Golden Rule because it will protect you from becoming a gaping asshole.”

When we enter a blog, we enter what can be a safe space for sharing, reflection, thinking, and, yes, humor at one an other’s expense. We are invited to enter someone’s thoughts–a fragment of their own self–and we should respect that. His blog; his rules. But, we should, I think, find ways to encourage each other’s growth and voice–help each of us find our inner goofy kid, hiding behind her hair, hoping to be noticed and terrified that she might be, grinning and laughing. Damn, we’d be so much happier if we all got a little goofy together, rather than taking offense, going on the attack, and generally engaging in gaping assholery.

*Props to K. for providing proper Internetz speak here. I’m not yet conversational in the dialect, though I feel competent in my reading ability of such.

**solitarykitsch (of course) and, well, suffice to say that the other involves a long story and Trixter.

***The more I thought about that phrasing, the more wrong it seemed–he never asked for giving beyond comfort per se, though people certainly took it that way.