Saturday, July 11, 2009

asking for help

I am lost and need direction. I've been putting this one off for some time because it is not easy to ask for help. I will not ask for directions when I travel. When my husband does, I am embarrassed and annoyed and pretend not to know him. I will not ask for help of sales clerks in stores and when they ask if I need assistance (perhaps because they see me wandering fruitlessly in the store with an expression of confusion and bewilderment) I usually refuse their help and though I try not to show it, I am irritated by their question. Help is intrusive. It is demeaning. It tells me that I am not self-sufficient.

But I am not self-sufficient. *sigh* So I am asking for help.

Since I was thirteen, when I received my calling to ministry (an event which will remain undiscussed in this entry), I've been preparing myself. This means that for the past many years (the number of years will also remain undiscussed) I have been spending a good portion of my time engaged in the study of religion and spirituality. I kept a picture of the seminary I intended to attend with me in my bedroom where I studied from volumes borrowed from my father's library. I took the photo with me to undergraduate school where I focused on the study of women in history and religion.

After graduation,despite the fact that I was no longer calling myself a Christian, I finally enrolled in seminary where I received what I have considered a direction change. Following that leading, I dropped out of seminary and began a graduate program in which I studied art history, the psychology of religion, religious history, and feminist theory as components of an interdisciplinary degree in feminist spirituality.

As you can well-imagine, this graduate program did not prepare me for employment! Still, I remained obedient to the directions of the calling and faithful to the idea that in time, I would find an opening for my service. I considered that (contrary to the evidence of this rambling blog) I had a skill and passion for writing. Having begun practicing writing as a means of revelation and self-expression from the age of seven, I decided that it was very likely the vehicle through which my calling would be answered. I also decided that given my passion for scholarly pursuits, I should continue my studies in a doctoral program which, I believed, would serve to legitimize my writing in the publishing world.

I enrolled in a doctoral program requiring interdisciplinary study. My own individualized program combined studies in history, religion studies, and feminist theory. While engaged in that program, I began to give public presentations in historical costume in which I spoke of the religious and feminist history of the region in which I live (the Burned-Over District). I also began teaching history classes at a community college and found the experience to be variously rewarding and infuriating as one might expect.

After graduation from my doctoral program (was it nearly two years ago now?) I find myself frustrated at my inability to fulfill my promises of service.

This is what I know:

1. I am called to serve through my gifts. Especially I am called to serve the cause of empowering women and men to work toward peace with each other and our environment.
2. I am a writer. I feel the need to write almost as I feel the need for food or rest or air.
3. I adore public speaking. It is the only time (apart from time with my family and a very few long term friends) that I feel comfortable among other people. I do, however, find that while the rush of speaking to groups is addictive, prolonged or frequent engagement in public speaking makes me depressed, exhausted and physically ill
4. My tools and subject matter when speaking or writing are religion studies, history, and feminist theory (especially feminist theology and eco-feminism).
5. I am happiest when home with my children, husband, sister and parents. I am a homemaker by choice and a college professor out of necessity.

This is what I don't know.
1. How to publish my work.
2. How to reach the people I am supposed to reach.
3. Who those people are.
4. What I'm supposed to write next or what I'm supposed to do next.

Every single day, I struggle with this. I meditate, pray, and reflect. I consult my dreams, devotionals,and divination tools to try to tease my brain into deeper, more productive reflection. I look at the question emotionally, rationally, and practically. But I get nowhere. I'm almost frantic over my inability to move forward and for the past several months the stress of my failure has resulted in anxiety attacks, bouts of depression, migraines, and chronic abdominal pain.

I need help.


Anonymous said...

i'm sorry your freaking out. reading your post was like a blast from my past. all the air left my body. tears came to my eyes. our experiences are similar.

you might hate this, but i've found it to be true, it's ego that drives us to do, to publish, to reach out to those we are "supposed to reach". it's ego that lets us think we have failed if we are not a success according to ego's definitions. i'm not implying that all ego is bad of course. it does seem though as if a balance is lacking.

who says we are supposed to "get anywhere", to "move forward"? who says that, like so many things, once we let go of these notions, possibilities become endless and joy fills our heart (on good days. we are still humans hey?).

there is a song called stand still. "what you gonna do when you don't know what to do? stand still. where you gonna turn when you don't know where to turn? stand still."

in that stillness may you accept that you are a divine being, a beautiful part of creation that touches many lives in the most deep and meaningful ways possible for humans to touch, just by being you.

we you do accept this, i'd bet money that way will open for you.

peace be with you.

*Sandra* said...

Oh come on now, Hystery. I have no doubt that you are a wonderful mother, wife, daughter, sister... and friend. You have nothing to prove. Anything else that you do is 'over and above.' So the first thing is, don't go making yourself ill, because that will just make your loved ones sad.

But obviously, you want to be published, and that's a wonderful thing, too. Do you really not know where to turn? I don't want to be over-simplistic, but have you ever subscribed to Writer's Digest? Are you familiar with Writer's Market (a very hefty tome)? The latest version I have is the 2006 edition which, under "Women's Issues/Studies" alone contains a list of 159 publishers. The "Religion" section has even more. And then there's Psychology, History (about 350 entries), Feminist Fiction, Humor (you can do that), Literary, Spiritual, etc., etc.

I can't see your post while I'm writing this, so I'm not sure what else was on the list; but there's also advice on marketing and just a whole load of stuff (in Writer's Digest and Writer's Markets).

Ideally, of course, to satisfy your interests, you should write a book and go on a book tour to sell it; thus combining your loves of writing and public speaking. Have you thought about writing a memoir? I love memoirs and I don't give a damn if some of it's made up, so long as it captures 'the essence,' so to speak.

I know you only from the blog world, Hystery, but I have every confidence that you could be a big success... The Phoenix rising from Angela's Ashes :)

Good luck to you, and please... don't go making yourself ill. Go to the doc and get some happy pills. There's no shame in it, anymore; they've worked wonders for me. And whatever you do, don't stop writing!


Mary Ellen said...

For what it's worth, my own wandering path has been along some of the same stretches you describe. And while the job I do for pay doesn't call on the gifts I might have characterized as core, I am mostly at peace with that. (In fact, I blogged recently about this matter.) Some things I have found helpful in my own case: (1) the adjunct teaching in religious studies, while part-time, has been a real ministry to many who have come through my classroom in giving them the freedom to explore religious ideas out of any particular confessional framework, and to make up their own minds about their faith and practice. (2) There have been ample opportunities, larger and smaller, for ministry through my Meeting. One particularly rich experience was several years of participation on the planning group for a spiritual nurture program in our yearly meeting. There may be opportunities you have for ministry involving feminist spirituality among Friends - writing, workshops, etc. There's always an intellectual hunger that F/friends have to connect living experience, tradition, and emerging ideas. (3) Working less than full time (if that is the case) when you have younger children can be a blessing, one which I regret I did not have. I found myself quite envious when reading Elise Boulding on raising her family as a faith-filled endeavor, while I felt my kids kind of scrambled up (not completely true, of course).

Are there some things you can do right now to put some elements in place that you feel are missing from your life? I have been trying to cultivate a trust that none of my intellectual preparation has been in vain, even if it is paid forward by a stray conversation here, a timely blog post there.

Where is there light for a next step? Can you call for a clearness or eldering group in your Meeting to be a sounding board in discerning ministry? (I served on one for a young man once who then went back to school to prepare to teach kindergarten, which he has done for some years - a very unexpected development at the outset!)

I recognize the independent spirit you have, and hope that opening this dialogue allows you to open dialogue elsewhere in your life - putting yourself in help's way.

Hystery said...

I will be taking this down probably today or tomorrow but I did want to respond to those of you who replied almost immediately to my call for help. I've copied and saved your responses to revisit privately.

I read these responses to my husband and we talked for some time about this. He said "The end result you are fabricating is preventing you from obtaining your true happiness." He also said I have what he calls "plaque in the drawer syndrome." He says I want to achieve the prize, but then I don't want anyone to know about it. This made me laugh. As soon as I earned my doctorate, I became really self-loathing and ashamed and found that I was embarrassed to use the title. I regretted going to college at all and began to dress and behave in ways to hide it. He says that I'm like Bruce Wayne with a crime fighting alter ego. Of course, Hystery is Batman. Hystery earned the doctorate. Too bad I can't get her to live outside of text.

Lone Star Ma said...

Hugs, Hystery. My books also remain half-written and unpublished and my published credits extremely modest. My need to raise and provide for the kids takes more energy than I have most times. I feel born to be a village priestess in lands with no villages or priestesses of that sort. I understand. But we just go on, you know? One foot in front of the other. I will hold you in the Light. it's going to be okay. It's the process that's important. Also, my First Day School teens study some of your posts in class and get a lot out of them - a lot. You are making a difference.

Daniel Wilcox said...


I've been thinking of giving you several powerful quotes from the Jesus, Tillich and Thich Nhat Hanh, but even that would pious be advice. And you may not need any advice right now. And you probably have already heard the reflections anyway.

The Hystery who I so admire and love to dialog with and worry for and pray for/hold in the Light
may be trying too hard in too many directions. She is blessed with so many gifts and so many senses of "ought" and interest.

And in your reflections I sense deep-seated paradoxes within yourself. (Remember you alluded to Whitman and said "you contain mulitudes.") Is it possible that instead of focusing so much on career, instead...

Maybe for a couple of months take a break from Martha:-)
and be a Mary at your elder Brother's side.

Easy for me to say.

And here's a practical website to check out concerning writing:

Your Friend,

Mary Ellen said...

I appreciate your coming back and responding. Feel free to also correspond individually (I have an e-mail address on my profile) if you ever want to. I found that finishing the Ph.D. had the primary advantage of getting THAT over with - it had become a burden, as well as something I had fun doing. I don't think about it much. But every now and again it does come in handy to have the degree attached to my work e-mail address, as I'm working in higher ed, just not in a tenure-track/tenured position. The bigger issue is how to discern whether gifts / talents come with any clear operating instructions or mandates - especially in a culture with a model of the "genious" doing (usually his) art. If you haven't already, check out this TED video by Elizabeth Gilbert on "genious": .

Hystery said...

Lone Star Ma, your words make me feel ever so much better. It tickles me (and concerns me a little) to think of young Friends reading what I write. Maybe I should be more careful. ;-)

Daniel, thanks for the link. I've saved it. Funny you should be thinking Mary and Martha because that was on my mind too! I do wish you would send me those quotations. You are right to see the paradox in my personality. It has been there for as long as I can remember. I've been doubly socialized!

Mary Ellen, my PhD is so new that I'm still getting used to it. Of course, I knew that it was not the end of my intellectual explorations but merely a formal entrance to the garden. I could have come into the garden through any number of paths but I chose the expensive one. I'm hoping to discover the perks of the entry fee. Thankfully, I have moved past the point of post-dissertation jello-head and am starting to feel that great desire to read everything in sight and stack up my notes. It is becoming clear that I will have to create my own path now that I'm "In." There have been so many significant changes in labor and technology in Academia in the past twenty or so years. My professors were operating in a different world than the one in which I must operate so part of my task is realizing that the models of success I idolized as a teenager may not be that helpful anymore.

Gosh! Maybe I'll leave this up a little longer. This is really helping a great deal. I'm very excited by these responses. My brain is un-sticking.

Nate said...

My suggestion would be to look at what you have already started and see how you may be able to develop it into a fuller investigation and presentation; use your July 7 post as a basis and develop the theme(s). I see you as wanting to feel of value in that intellectual area of your life as much as you feel of value in the other areas you have mentioned. You have aleady demonstrated your value as far as I can see, it only remains to develop it more. I'll be paying a little closer attention now. I feel remiss in not doing so before when I had for some time recognized that it would be a good thing for me to do.

Hystery said...

Nate, thanks for stopping by and for your supportive comment.

Right now I've been very interested in looking at the development of Friends' thinking in the early to mid-nineteenth century. There's a discernible split between Protestant and universalist influences during this time period that continues to figure (usually unconsciously) into Friends' conversations today. In reading the Paul and Amicus letters, I am really blown away at the level of engagement some Friends, even in 1822, had with such non-Christian influences such as Native American spirituality and Hinduism.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I know its a bit outside your usual areas of interest, Hystery, but I do wish you would consider writing a biography of James Nayler. There's a figure that has yet to be adequately addressed! Such a mysterious figure, with such an obscure history.

It is the story of his conflict with George Fox, after his "fall" that rivets me. What a model of forgiveness he became! (I'm trying to wade through Fox's journal. It's hard--he thought so much of himself he left very little work to do for his future admirers...)

I also wish you would consider leaving this post up. Judging by the other comments here, I am not the only person who reads your words who loves you, not despite your vulnerabilities and uncertainties, but at least partially because of them. I am often deeply moved by your willingness to face your fears head on.

Whether or no--know that you are much appreciated.

Blessed be.

Hystery said...

Cat, how very odd that people keep commenting with references to things that have been in my head. I was recently contemplating James Nayler- just riding in the car daydreaming about early Friends' history and wondering about our old Friend James. Now, I would imagine most people can go most of their lives without contemplating James Nayler so isn't it odd that we should both be thinking of him at about the same time? ;-)

(Btw, Daniel, this particular car trip ended with me thinking about Mary and Martha. It was apparently a very psychic car trip!)

I do generally stick with women's issues in the nineteenth-century but I could do a little more poking around in earlier times. Maybe there will be at least an article on James Nayler and his times. I do get a kick out of how outrageous early Friends were in their testimonies. One of the reasons Puritans wanted to kill Quakers is because Quakers were so damn irritating. Apparently knee-jerk Quaker niceness hadn't sunk in yet.

Cat, I'm so glad that my emotionalism isn't completely revolting. I do try to hide it. I suppose it can't be helped. As part of my quest to mimic Spock-like perfection, I must often include raw, tender where I lean against the bulkheads and weep. Spock is just not as interesting without these moments when the mask slips. Of course, I wear my Vulcan mask askew most all the time so I don't think it has ever been a surprise to anyone that my heritage is fully human.

Thanks for your kindness, Cat. Live long and prosper.

Nate said...

Okay, I'll buy that. I think that you are approaching the same subject from an investigation of selected particulars, so keep a printout of that post handy. As to the applicability of the study, it sounds like a close parallel to the reaction of 20th century Evangelicals to Rufus Jones et alia and the two currents continue to clash, as you note, at more than one level of consciousness. This is gonna be fun! (well, fun for me, work for you)

Marcella said...

Hystery, you commented:

"I'm so glad that my emotionalism isn't completely revolting. I do try to hide it."

I wonder if trying to hide yourself from others is related to the physical ailments you list...

Also, I second the idea of writing for periodicals until your book topic sneakes up on you.

Hystery said...

Marcella, you write, "I wonder if trying to hide yourself from others is related to the physical ailments you list..."

I think this is very likely. As Daniel points out, I do have a bit of a conflicted personality. :-)

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

I hope you don't mind me chiming in as well. Since I found your blog a few months ago, I check all the time for new posts, although I don't usually comment. I may have once. There is something about your posts that hits the nail on the head for me and, I believe, for many other people. This particular post is so affirming. I wish I had good advice or something helpful to say for your case (is there any such thing as good advice for other people?) but what I find myself doing is simply taking solace from the problem you laid out. There are two things you said that stand out at this moment for me: being a homemaker by choice, and yet having that drive and those other talents that you "must" use in the way they are meant to be used; and the comment about Spock! I usually think in terms of Data, but he performs a similar role and function. Sometimes I yearn to be Data. Wouldn't it be nice to have access to all that information and to be so in control of it? I think it's painful not to have that control, not to always have that knowledge, and yet life doesn't seem to be set up to grant us either one. I don't feel qualified or led to discuss the spiritual elements of this dilemma right now, but I am so grateful for your blog which addresses those elements.

Hystery said...

Kristy, Data is one of my favorites as well. I especially envy his ability to turn off his emotion chip. On the other hand, before he has an emotion chip, he is forever an innocent, unable to fully comprehend the facts he possesses.

Internal conflict is the nature of our embodiment. Our art and literature is full of examples of the paradox of our nature. It manifests itself in a million ways but look closely enough and I'll bet it is there in all of us. I tend to think there's a reason for that.

Kristy Shreve Powers said...

Very good point about Data. And that paradox of our nature--it's so uncomfortable but so very interesting.

sta┼Ťa said...

Imani, faith, can come like a spirit
Spirit come like walking on air
Take a step, and trust in the path, and
Mother Imani meet you there.

-- from "Imani," words and music by Rachael AK Hazen

Hystery said...


Thank you for that. Very beautiful.

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