Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The idea

Last week, after Psych of Death and Dying Class, Donne Marshall gave me one of the best ideas I've ever had. At least, it was a great accumulation of a pile of ideas that my time in University has given me. I went to University with the sole purpose of wanting to be a writer. Ironically, I'm in the middle of a years-long writer's block. I haven't produced noteworthy things since YouthBuilders, and at that point, I was writing up to ten pages a day. So I've been praying for a good idea. I think this is it. At least, I got the "This is it" feeling that I rarely get, but when I do get it, I follow it with all I have.

So. The idea. (I contemplated not telling people the idea, but I need feedback on the idea so it can be buffered then polished. Just don't shoot it down.)

The topic in class was "Death and Religion". We were talking about different types of beliefs regarding death: whether nothing happens, or you're reincarnated, or there's a bodily resurrection, a spiritual embodiment, or your body "joins forces with the elements!"
Now, this is the class where my prof doesn't like me. This is because I ask questions about Catholic saints that are disproving all of his theories and ideas about death. I must annoy him or something. He must have taken years to come up with these theories, only to be shot down by some kid who knows a lot about Saints. This is what happened this time:
Prof: "Do you have ANOTHER question about incorruptables, or saints or something?"
Jessie: "Kind of."
*Class laughs*
Jessie: "So, in the canonization process, in order for a person to be considered for sainthood, two miracles have to take place attributed to the saint, AFTER their death. This suggest spiritual embodiment exists. Now, when the Dalai Lama dies, the other Lamas (yes, the visual for "Lamas" is really funny. That's the name for the monks, silly.) will go on a search for the reincarnated form of the Dalai Lama, and through prayer, and different processes, will choose the Dalai Lama when they believe they have found his reincarnated form. Does this mean that BOTH reincarnation and spiritual embodiment co-exist, at the same time?"
Prof: "... I don't know! Next question!"

After class, Donne and I got into a really good discussion about death. We were briefly interrupted by the creepy cat guy, who tried to ask me out again, but then we made it awkward until he left.
Donne was wondering why people take such a huge stock on the idea that there HAS to be life after death? Why people go to so much to "be good" in the hopes that they'll get to heaven, and contribute and deal with social pressures from that idea, or be unsatisfied with life. "What if this is all that there is?" she said. "And why can't people be satisfied with this being all there is? Even if at the point of death, if all that happens is that you lose consciousness, then one wouldn't even know the difference about the existence of heaven or not." - To which I replied, "If this is all there is, then there's a terrible unfairness to life. What about the people NOT born in a first-world country? It's awful to say to somebody who grew up in the worst, most impoverished conditions there are that this is all that there is, and all they have to hope for. And what about babies that are born and don't live? Stillborns and miscarriages? They don't get a chance to live, and that's all they can hope for with the idea that there is nothing after death. Human beings, unlike any creature ever created, were endowed with a sense of the eternal. We cannot conceive of the idea that before the year we were born we did not exist. It's impossible for me to imagine that before 1989, I did not exist, or before 1990, who you are, as a person, did not exist at all. We feel at the core of our being like we have always existed and will continue to always exist. So the thought that there's no life after death goes very deeply against an ingrained psychological phenomenon that we were all endowed with. If you were to tell people your idea about being satisfied with there being no life after death, people would get VERY uncomfortable with that, because it's impossible for us to conceive of a time where we did not exist."

We talked a bit more. She walked me to the bus stop. She was telling me she couldn't ascribe to any religion because she felt like so much of a hypocrite that she couldn't keep her own rules, let alone the religion's doctrines. "Thou shalt not kill, for instance. Who's to say that in the future, I wouldn't end up killing someone? If somebody were to attack and kill my family, I would probably end up killing that person. I can't even follow my own moral codes let alone a religious ideology. So I stay away from it, because I would be really bad at it."
(For the record, I go to the school, NOT with the intention of "evangelizing" people. I'm very bad at it, as well as, since I'm in a Religious Studies program, I find it hard to say to people why my religion is better than theirs when I'm learning about new religions, the psychological process behind religions, and religion's effect on he world, all the time. I have a lot of friends who aren't Christians, a lot of friends who are Christians, and strangely enough, only a small handful of friends who are practicing Roman Catholics like I am. I practice as much as I can.)

Here's the climax. I said to her, "Maybe, what death is, is a hope that we'll be released from the restrictions and pre-requisites of life. Even if we didn't grow up in terrible circumstances, which neither of us did, there still is a bunch of pre-requisites to living or having freedom."
"Like, you can HAVE freedom, only if you fulfill certain requirements."
"Yeah. If you want to travel, you're free to, but you have to live in a country that'll allow you to travel, have thousands of dollars, a valid passport, a valid visa, and the appropriate shots and vaccinations for the appropriate country."
"If you want to be rich, you can, but it helps if you're born into a rich family, or are born beautiful, or born with skills and intelligence that allow you to be rich. It also helps if you're born into a first-world country and have easy access to post-secondary education, like us."
"Yeah. There's pre-requisites to living."

Then she said it:

"Why do we operate on all of these pre-requisites and all of these restrictions that are inherently hurting us, rather than helping us? What if for just ONE DAY, everyone dropped all these restrictions. They stopped going to work because they realized that family is more important, or they stopped charging money for food, and billing people for everything that can be billed, and just gave it, because we're all human, and all good? Instead of supporting an inherently bad system, what if one day, we just... let go?"

The implications of that statement made my heart pound. One perfect day...

I could go on for pages about this, it filled me with excitement, and I don't know what to do with it. I wish time would give me a couple of hours, and wisdom would teach me how to use them well, so that when I did pick up that pen, it would be with a clear conscience that I let this idea fly.

I told this idea to Donald Miller. He's this well-known author from Portland, Oregon. He came to the University to give a talk, and I asked him about this. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong time to talk, and it took too long to explain this concept, and in the end, he didn't understand it at all. It was high on the list of awkward moments for me. I don't think it's at the top, but it's most certainly up there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are there any spaceships out there?

I found God this week. Or, at least I think I did. And I found Him when I told Him not to even bother coming along, because I am so darn mad at Him. It was one of the worst weeks of my life (and I don't like saying that phrase, because it can SO EASILY be overused) but seriously. It was really bad, and quite high on the list of "bad things that have happened to me".

It started on Sunday night, while watching a movie with some boys, my mom phoned to tell me my grandmother was sick. The last time they told me a relative was sick while I as away, the relative had in fact died, and they didn't tell me until they could see me in person. So when I remembered that, and realized I didn't know if my grandmother was alive or not, I started to panic.

And then I started to get extremely behind in school. I don't know how this happened, because I had been working steadily the whole time, and all of a sudden, I found myself breaking the vows I had made, and staying up evil hours in order to binge-finish assignments. What an awful feeling. It really affects the rest of your life.

But the "icing on the cake" (or the entire new cake all it's own) is that on Wednesday night, while driving home from school, I was heading towards the highway when traffic stopped suddenly. I braked as hard as I could but my brakes weren't good enough, and I wasn't able to stop my car and I ended up rear-ending someone. Thankfully, nobody was injured, but my car is completely destroyed. The airbags went out, and the front end is totaled. The other people's car, thankfully, will drive after a couple of thousand dollars spent at the body shop, but my car will never drive again. A couple of hours later, I was charged with careless driving, which is $325 which I DO NOT HAVE... and my car was towed away. The death of the car means that I can no longer do my piano business doing music for weddings, or a photography business I was hoping to start up with a friend of mine who lives in Guelph. The businesses can still survive, but it will just be terribly inconvenient to try and arrange trips to Guelph, and transporting my piano around. Not to mention that I had signed up for evening classes at UW. Now, because my car is dead, I probably won't be able to get home till midnight most nights. But these are small matters compared to the financial situation I'm now having to deal with, which already before, was a very bad financial situation. I have some awful decisions to make in the future about insurance, and what the next steps are, and it's demoralizing, and very depressing, and unfortunately, life goes on, so I still have to get work done in school, and get caught up on life on top of all of this, which is hard enough to do without thinking about all of this and finding myself at a complete inability to concentrate.

I'm struggling with being extremely upset over everything that's happened, and I can't help but be very mad at God over all of this. Basically,

1. Why, after getting this miraculous deal on the car (a perfectly good working car for $250?) that only a few months later, simply because my brakes decided to die at the wrong moment, I no longer have a car, and in a really crummy split second, I'm suddenly in a pile of deep trouble and without any resources to help?
2. Why do some people get three or four jobs, and I don't get any? Instead of doing what all of my other unemployed friends did and bum around at home this summer, I utilize my resources, ingenuity, and talent to try and make a living for myself, and I work VERY HARD, much harder than many people around me, and I STILL don't have pennies to rub together?
3. Why on earth did nobody stop on the road to help when I crashed, but instead, pointed, laughed and honked at me and the whole accident?
4. And why are these institutions (i.e. the police, insurance) that are set up "by the people, for the people" with the sole purpose of helping people in desperate situations like this are going to inevitably screw me over royally, and blame me for my misfortune, because of their mad desire to make a couple of dollars from the misfortune of others?

The question I'm asking in the midst of all of this, is, where the is God? What on earth is He doing!? Because after praying the words, "Here I am Lord, do with me as you will" every night, I'm certainly struggling to see how this is His will, or being able to believe the naive phrase that people keep on throwing at me, which is "Oh, everything will be alright." whenever they heard what happened. It's situations like these where the best and worst of people has an opportunity to be shown, and boy is it ever shown. It just sounds so careless and generic to me whenever people say stupid things like, "It'll be fine in the end", and I find it very rude for them to believe that they are actually helping me in some way by saying something as generic and naive as that.

I want to go to outer space, and leave this planet, because this is a world full of cruel awful people who laugh at your misfortune, honk their horns at you, say generic "it will be alright" phrases. It's full of cruel awful institutions that pounce upon your downfall with their "legalities" and strip every penny away from you so they can keep it for themselves. Are there any spaceships out there?

But in the same breath... I can't end a blog like this. There are bad people out there, yes, but situations like this help me to see the goodness in people. The people I crashed into were so patient, and so nice, and really were great people to crash into, because when I get into situations like that, I panic REAL bad, and I need solid people around me to tell me it's okay or I'll pass out because I just can't breathe. And as soon as he found out, Anthony Kurevija sped over, and called Matt Harrison, and they helped me deal with the police, and in the most impressive and efficient way I had ever witnessed in my life, stripped the car of any valuable materials they were able to lay their hands on and take off without tools. Anthony did much more than any other human being would normally do to help me find the car, buy it, and put it to rest. What a wonderful person. Ryan Mahon texted me as soon as the accident happened to see if things were alright because he had a FEELING like something was wrong. And when David and Emmalee found out, they raced over to see if I was okay and brought me dinner. Two joggers who I may never meet again stayed with us for over an HOUR, directing traffic and just making sure we were all fine. When people found out about the situation, so many people prayed for me, and so many more listened sympathetically, even though I was certainly not the most fun person to be around, and I was very open about how mad I was (am?) at God. Christie Heemskerk, instead of going out like she was planning, wrote up a schedule of how I can get all my homework done over the weekend and fit it into the rest of my life, which gave me INCREDIBLE focus and ability to just concentrate, and finish everything. Good people e-mailed me to see what was wrong, and it gave me a chance to write - my most powerful medium, and articulate the painful thoughts that were flooding my mind. It's irrelevant, but Coldplay came out with yet another breathtaking piece of work, and at one point, it was the ONLY thing that made me smile that day.

People I barely know around EBC spent piles of time with me listening and allowing me to talk about it - There definitely exists some form of fear on the campus about admitting weakness in faith, and saying that yes, you're either mad at God, or struggling in your faith. I was so angry about what happened though that I lost that fear and just openly admitted about how upset I was about this whole situation, because I couldn't lie to people when they ask, "How are you?" and say that things are great. Things are bad, that's the truth, and I would much rather be honest and broken, then lie to people and say I'm good and whole.

My parents, as soon as I told them, immediately offered to pay for the whole thing. I was astounded, and in some ways, I'm still writhing in guilt over it. It would have been perfectly acceptable and so many other families would have said, "That's too bad, I'm so sorry it happened, and now you're going to have to pay for this." But instead, they offered to pay. I've never encountered such incredible mercy, and my parents don't even believe in God. How wonderful is that? What a prodigal daughter I am.

They drove down this morning to get the car out of the impound lot, and towed to the scrapyard. They then took me out to the mall, and bought me things I needed for school and living. I don't deserve it, but boy am I ever thankful. When I got back to the school, I found a note in my room with $100 in it so I can buy winter boots... they didn't sign the note, so I can't even thank them, or attempt to return the money to them. (Which is probably why they didn't sign the note)

I found God. And he was in people that surrounded me while I was down, and keep on helping to get me back on my feet again.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So the other night, I was watching a movie with a bunch of boys, when my mom called to tell me my grandmother was in the hospital. I definitely panicked when I heard the news. My grandma is the immortal one, in my opinion. She has more energy than most people I know who are thirty years younger than her, and she's always running around, cooking things, baking, sewing quilts and hangings, researching family history, organizing things... she's just this little white-haired tornado that zips all over the place, almost non-stop. To hear that she was down, and sick, just didn't seem right. And I panicked even more when I thought about the last time a family member fell ill. I was in Cornwall with the youth group when my parent's phoned to tell me my uncle Bob was sick. They didn't tell me he had actually died until I got back home and they could tell me in person. Knowing then that my family is apt to withhold that kind of information until I either can see them in person, or it is a better time and place to not needlessly cause me grief (i.e. not late at night JUST after I had got back to Kitchener) The thought occurred to me at that point that I had no idea really whether or not my grandmother was actually alive.
"I need comfort! I need solace before I react!" I thought to myself. "I need... PEARS."
My grandma sent me to school last week with two cans of homemade pears. I am certain this is one of the most sought-after substances on earth. More than gold or oil, the canned pears my grandma makes are VERY good. I felt bad breaking into them but I wanted to taste a taste I have tasted since I was a baby. I went back and watched the movie to get my mind off things, and had more pears.

I was a snotty ten year old. I was arguably the snottiest ten-year old you would have ever met. I was also highly impressionable. Tell me to jump, and I would jump. And I had yucky friends back then, which makes a highly impressionable ten-year old very yucky too. I was angry one weekend because I couldn't go to a sleepover at some random acquaintance's house, and instead, had to stay with the grand'rents. And I definitely took it out on my grandma, and blamed them for not letting me go.

I remember that at one moment, she said, "That makes me very sad."

And I instantly regretted it. Strangely enough, that memory still gets me writhing in guilt thinking about it. Writing this down almost physically hurts. And it's been ten years since that happened, and I still remember it. I know she doesn't remember it, she remembers when I learned Sweet Bye and Bye (an EXTREMELY difficult song for a 10-11 year old to learn) just so I could surprise her (and learning the song was partly motivated by this idea that if I learned it to surprise her, it could undo what I had done before) or she remembers the concerts I've played, or times visiting and having lunch. I've contemplated going to confession with this, but the beauty of the sacrament is the spirit of repentance, and I know I'm forgiven, but it still gets me, even now.

A well-wishing friend: "Get over it! It's okay!"
Jessie: "Okay! I promise I will!"
A well-wishing friend: "Promise?"
Jessie: "Yes..."
A well-wishing friend: "Can I have some pears?"
Jessie: "Just this one time, this is one of the most sought-after substances on earth."
A well-wishing friend: "You got it. So, which well-wishing friend am I?"
Jessie: "I don't know. It doesn't matter. I'm just glad I have you."
A well-wishing friend: "Aww, isn't that sweet..."

Okay. For the record, my grandmother IS alive. This is good. A small mistake has an incredible potential behind it to transform into something incredibly good, and powerful almost beyond comprehension. If guilt was a secondary (not so far as a tertiary) motivator in learning such an advanced song for the sole purpose of surprising my grandmother, I probably wouldn't have ever challenged myself in piano, which caused me to grow exponentially in that field. (It was both a blessing and a curse. I blame Sweet Bye and Bye's technical demands for making me a better pianist, but I sacrificed time in following the curriculum to do my piano exams. It was at that point, and at the point when I joined YouthBuilders, that I lost incredible amounts of time in getting all of my requirements for piano, but it was worth it, in the end. But anyway...) A small mistake can grow into something incredibly good. It's shocking how good it can be, and it's goodness can reach beyond us, and have positive consequences beyond our knowledge or reach.

I really hope what I say is true.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Very suddenly this week, I've been confronted with a number of huge considerations. And considerations of this caliber are not often what I trouble myself with. I realized that I do not worry about the things that other people worry about. The other day, I had a midterm. Rachel Neumeister came to my class so she sat in on my midterm. I didn't study for it at all; I had no time to, and I had bought the textbook ONLY that week. But I just took the test. Afterward, my friend David Bui was sitting in the lobby, his little laptop on his lap and his legs dangling, very much distraught over the entire thing, which had already left my mind. Is this okay? Should I be worried? If I'm five minutes late for a class, I don't try to run to class. I already know I'm late. For some reason, it just doesn't raise my stress level.

I feel like I'm missing something. This is what raises my stress level.

My breath stops, and my chest tightens, tighter, tighter, I can't breathe, and tears race to my eyes and my face turns hot, and I wonder, "What's missing? What's going on? Why can't I find it? Where are you!?"

That has happened twice now. Once in my room, once in my car. I even pulled over to the side of the road, and later, was happy enough to forget it had happened, and forget that something is lost.

And the important ones around me are worrying about my future - where my certainty is the hugest blessing that I possess, and I cling to it forcefully. I don't know what I'd do with myself if I were to lose that one.

I found myself with an opportunity to live somewhere new, and a life-time career direction presented to me within two days of each other. When I asked a very close friend about these, those paled in comparison to a different concern he had: I need to write.

This is what writing is. It is the mountain-mover, the world-shifter. It is literature that is the conduit for conducting an orchestra of changing thoughts, shifting ideas, and holy revolution. It is the sword and it must be wielded. The formula for saving the world was always a written one, and the world operates on stories. All of them conspiring, hoping, and praying for resolution. Please let it be comic, not tragic, for the whole world hinges on the hope of a happy ending. The power a simple story can possess is frightening. Stories can be immortal, and they can infect the mind, and possess a nation. And they are very, very hard to quell, and nearly impossible to silence. Books can be burnt, and words go up in smoke, but a good story worth telling is very hard to forget. Donald Miller wrote his latest entry on the Universal Morality, which I was writing essays about in school last year. All stories are classic, and are conspiring for the right ending, and all of the world's morality is built upon this. Let good triumph and evil be vanquished. Let the lover's remain united. Let there be happily ever after. All of our lives are praying desperately for the conclusion, for the journey, for the new story to come to town and our lives to be overthrown. And we're praying for a right conclusion, a comedy, and never, never, never a tragedy.

What a story is to me, is that I've been writing stories since I could pick up pencils. It's a solace in a lonely world, and an exciting and forceful drive to life. It takes over, and literally possesses me when I write, transforming vague ideas into crystal, vibrant, clear, and deafening. My mind narrates my world, and I imagine different stories, different scenarios, and future scenarios, imaginary stories, everything. I look at books, and stop reading and imagine a better story than the words flooding the pages.

But most importantly, and desperately, for me, is that in a world where too often, in the heat of the moment, my words are lost, I cannot open my mouth, and my tongue is trapped and I cannot speak of word of coherent eloquence to try and reverse the tragedy. When later I regret deeply, and think of a million words to scream and say in a time where it is too late... and if I ever get another chance, my eloquence is still snatched from me. And I cannot talk. I cannot, as hard as I try, allow myself to make coherent sense, to scream why this is WRONG, and to say what must be said. Writing is always clear, always more eloquent than I can ever be, and always says what must be said at the right time, with awesome force. Whatever it is that possesses me to write so... is the best weapon I wield.

I just need a story to write. I just need to be ABLE to write, and write well. I pray it comes soon.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Usually I'm awkward, but sometimes other people are more awkward than me. :D

Yesterday was the strangest class I had ever experienced. It was Psych of Death and Dying, which in itself is a very strange course to sign up for, but this time, a combination of events made it very weird.

Last week, after class had ended, this random guy had come up to me and said, "I really liked the things you said in class. Would you like to have coffee sometime?"


(To be honest, this year, the number of guys who have asked me out is a staggering number compared to the rest of my life. I kind of sound conceited here, but to my knowledge, seven people have expressed "liking me" this year. Four out of those seven asked me out. I don't understand it. I'm really awkward. I say things that are accidentally misinterpreted as sexual innuendos, without meaning them to be, all the time, and I usually say the wrong things way too loud in a quiet room on a regular basis. I'm not trying to give off the impression like I'm "on the prowl". I don't shave my legs, and wear the same pair of jeans for two weeks at a time sometimes. I don't brush my hair. My only theory for this, is that I must be releasing PHEROMONES. Maybe I should stop wearing deodorant, but I figured that would only intensify the PHEROMONES. Maybe I should switch from Dove to Old Spice, but then would that make me release male-like PHEROMONES, that would attract girls to me? I'm not a lesbian, so that would make things even more awkward.)

I'm always up for a hot drink and a good discussion though. So we agreed to meet before class yesterday. I didn't end up getting any form of coffee or tea. The guy just kept on talking, and (this sounds mean) wouldn't shut up. He just kept on talking so I couldn't get in a word to stand up and order a cup of tea. So my patience was tested that way. He also asked me the strangest questions. Things like, "Do you like cats?" And, "What was your favorite teacher in high school?" came up in the conversation. (What the heck? Who asks these questions?) so the "good discussion" part was lost on me.

We went to class, and two of my friends from the University, Donne Marshall and David Bui, were in that class with me, so I sat with them. They invited me to a "kegger" this Friday. I felt kind of cool. But this cat guy, he didn't sit with us, but instead sat about ten feet away, directly across from me, and stared at me for the entirety of the class. Donne noticed and pointed it out to me, to which I replied, "I know..." During the class break, he came up, and stood over us. He waved, and then didn't say anything for a good thirty seconds, and then he finally said, "Do you know where there's an outlet that I can plug my laptop into?" We said no, and then he left.

The second half of the class was a documentary from the 1970's, on a VHS tape... about death. The opening credits had footage of a guy cleaning a dead person's hand. Things like that are just plain uncomfortable, but the movie continued to be an hour and a half all about death, death in different cultures, what rotting bodies look like, footage of cremations, different kinds of caskets you can purchase, funerals... they had this funeral from this obscure place in Thailand, where the funeral itself took five days, and they sacrificed cows (and killed them right there by bashing them on the head!) and like, by the end of the fifth day, the dead person was rotting away, and their body was swollen, and discolored and had flies landing on it. I don't know how to politely comprehend this! The worst was footage of a full-fledged autopsy. They had a naked dead man on a table (yes, I saw my first naked man now... and it was dead, and from the 70's, on a VHS tape in university with the weird cat guy. Naked men suck.) But then they CUT HIM OPEN! And took things out! And like, were taking things out of his nostrils! And sewing him up! Then they had footage of his funeral! I can never look at a dead person the same again!

So death is ruined for me. Apparently, my mother had gone to school at Fanshawe for a year to be a mortician. She couldn't afford to do another year, so she never went into that profession, and instead, is the manager of Zellers. I am so freaking thankful. "Take your kids to work" day would have been traumatic.