Thursday, April 28, 2011

Adventures in Supervising

Today I get to fire someone.  That is, if he ever calls me back.  I tell you, the fun never stops around here.  My first message of the day was "There has been an explosion."  Fortunately, not a literal one - which wasn't actually out of the question given the organization I'm dealing with.  It's a drop-in center for what are generally considered to be the most troubled and disadvantaged kids and teenagers in our community.  Our relationship with them has been interesting, to say the least.  On the positive side, it's been a lesson in some of the dynamics of the grittier side of the city.  Less positively, although the intent is good, the organization is pretty dysfunctional.  I feel like I've been on the phone with their director non-stop for a month.  Oh wait, I kind of have.  The last straw incident involved an employee screaming, cursing, and punching walls and doors, in the presence of small children no less.  

One of my other supervisees - a considerably less troubling one - asked me today if the things I handle in my job are normal duties for most ministers.  I'm going to guess that's a no.  But that's a good thing.  If nothing else, I am never bored.

Tonight is the second round of the discussion group I recently started.  It's going to be a really strange conglomeration of people and perspectives, sitting around and talking about issues of faith, spirituality, etc.  The topic on the table tonight, unless someone else brings something, is organized religion, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Last month was fun; we talked about what we don't believe about God, and mixed-religion relationships.  Hopefully people will actually show up.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Well, I survived Holy Week and made it to the other side of Easter more or less unscathed.  I treated myself to an extra day off, after which I feel shockingly refreshed.  Two days off in a row...I think that may be what normal people refer to as a "weekend."  What a lovely feeling to enjoy Monday while knowing that I had a WHOLE OTHER DAY to continue relaxing.  It helped that yesterday was sunny, warm, and gorgeous.  I got to wear a sundress and sit on a patio with a fruity and delicious liquid.  I'm a simple girl (uh...sort of), and sometimes that's all it takes.

Anyway, I'm back at work now, and feeling pretty good about that, except that apparently the world has decided to blow up today.  Holy crisis day, Batman.  In particular, we are having a crisis around one of the non-profits with which we partner, and a person I supervise.  It's fun, whoo boy.  This administration business occasionally gets really interesting, like when I get to sort out two radically different stories from people who work together but don't want to be in the same room.

Also, I just realized that I have a giant coffee stain on my white and green print dress.  Because clearly it's going to be that kind of day.  

So, what have I been doing other than sorting through crises and sitting on patios and spilling coffee on myself?  Well, I've been playing travel agent for work, organizing a group tour to Europe this summer.  I've been going to board meetings and meeting with couples whose weddings I'll be doing in the next few months.  I've been watching the NHL playoffs and celebrating the Red Wings' sweep of Phoenix and the demise of the Blackhawks.  I've been worrying about my niece, who is having some pretty severe health problems that the doctors haven't quite figured out yet.  I've been spending too much time at the Vortex, sorting out the CNR, and practicing with my band.  I've been writing absolutely abysmal poetry which I would happily share here except that it really is just so very painful, not in content but in quality.  Oh, and there was that whole Holy Week thing.

And somehow, it's almost May now.  Yeesh.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I think I'm just starting to realize exactly how beaten up I've been in the last few months.  Physically and emotionally, I've taken some of the worst injuries of my life, and I keep bumping up against the scars and bruises.  And now we come to Holy Week, which is not as crazy for me as for some ministers because I'm on a staff, but which is still crazy.  Unfortunately, I've had about enough of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  I've been there for months.  I'm waiting for some resurrection, thanks.  Someday I'll stop moaning about how crappy my life is, I promise.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of Wrestling Snakes

I think I've mentioned my dreams here before once or twice, so it probably comes as no surprise that my subconscious is a truly weird place.  Most of the time I don't dream, or don't remember dreaming.  But when I do, this is the kind of thing that happens...

I was at the camp where I volunteer in the summer, but it looked a lot more like the Minnesota Zoo - animals behind glass partitions, display rooms and outdoor areas resembling those I remember from childhood.  I had a very clear sense, however, that I was doing what I usually do at camp: being the chaplain.

As will happen in dreams, a couple of peculiar things happened.  One of my favorite bands showed up, and conveniently, we were already BFFs, so they asked me to get up and play guitar and sing with them.  Then I decided it would be a good idea to set up a giant rope swing from the top of the orangutan cage, so I was merrily swinging around in impossible directions and much higher than the cage, while people watched from the ground.  After a moment of panic about how I was going to get down, I managed to stop the swing and land lightly on the ground.  All is well and good so far.

Then, as I took the rope down, it turned into a hose.  It was really difficult to coil, and when I looked at the end of the hose, I noticed the tail half of a large boa constrictor hanging out the end.  The snake was stretching out the hose, writhing around and hissing (as I suppose anyone would be if they had gotten themselves trapped in a hose), and I decided to grab the snake's head - because that is how I learned to handle snakes at the Minnesota Zoo - but gently holding a snake's head to guide it away from potentially biting you is somewhat different from squeezing its head in a frantic attempt to keep it from killing you.  So, I'm walking across the camp with this boa constrictor trying to wrap itself around me, break through the hose, and bite me, and  no one is paying the slightest amount of attention.  It seemed like I should find the camp director, who is a Woods Guy who generally knows what to do in wildlife emergencies, so I did, but while he was concerned, he didn't attempt to actually do anything about the situation.

The snake kept growing in size and rage, and finally broke through the hose and bit my hands repeatedly.  Someone tried to help at throwing a pail of boiling water at the snake...and my hand.  My hand was blistered and being bitten by this snake, I was screaming my fool head off and trying to crush the snake's head, and everyone else was just going about their business, except for the camp director, who was patiently watching and encouraging me to keep holding on.

(Warning: this is about to get kind of gross) There was blood everywhere from my hands and the snake, and finally I succeeded in crushing the snake's head.  Its jaw cracked and its teeth fell out, and I was just sitting there, holding this stupid bloody snake jaw bone and watching giant blisters form on my hands, and trying to remember whether boa constrictors have absolutely no venom or just a much weaker venom than snakes that are considered poisonous (they are non-venomous, in case you wanted to know).    I decided to take the jaw bone as a souvenir, wondered how I was going to explain the blisters and fang marks to the Complicated Non-Relationship, and then woke up.

So, that was weird, but not exactly subtle, since just yesterday I was talking about my paralyzing fear of failure, desperate sense of being alone, and series of things going terribly awry.  Wrestling a snake, screaming for help but having no one come, getting bloody and bruised, but finally managing to crush the snake's head: yep, sounds about right for my current mental state.  At least my psyche seems to be trying to tell me that I can overcome.  Or something.

I like to think that beneath the recent near-crippling anxiety, I still have that sense of myself, that I actually am not a total wreck, that I am capable of accomplishing great things.  My sense of self has been a bit messed up in the last year.  Slogging away in a position where I'm considered "junior minister," with a senior minister who is great in many ways but for whom nothing ever seems to be quite enough, continuing to struggle to manage my finances and home life, and utterly failing in my relational life has not been great for my usually more than adequate self-esteem.  It's kind of nice to have my subconscious remind me that, yes, I'm a bit beaten up, but I can still manage.

I'm entertained by the fact that the camp director, who is sort of a model in my life of capability and success, showed up, cared what was happening, but just kept insisting that I could do it myself.  He would never actually refuse to help that way, but it's a dream, and I enjoy him representing the part of my subconscious that has to tell another part of my subconscious to buck up and do what needs to be done.  I also kind of like how the CNR shows up in a completely casual thought at the end of all of this, like, "Oh yeah, that guy...wonder what he's going to say when I tell him about this?"  Apparently, while I care what he thinks, I'm not expecting him to save me from giant snakes (or whatever).  Which is a relief, because I don't get the idea that he's really the rescuing type.  And it's good to know that I'm still not the getting rescued type.  I was starting to wonder.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Anxiety Diet

Well, this is fun.  I have been nauseated for about six days, and have been subsisting on liquids, saltine crackers, and a little soup.  At first I thought I must have caught some sort of stomach bug; after six days I've had to admit to myself that I'm not physically sick - or rather, that the source of this is not physical.  Apparently my anxiety level is so high that it is taking out my digestive system.  I've lost five pounds.  I've decided to market this as the Anxiety Diet and make a killing (which will relieve one of the areas of stress in my life: finances).  I have plenty of problems to hand out for anyone lacking their own.

None of it is really all that interesting, especially since details must be withheld to protect the innocent (and sometimes the guilty).  My family is having all manner of problems back in Minnesota and there isn't a darned thing I can do about any of it.  I, who do not generally fight with my friends, had major fallings out with two friends this week, one of which will probably not be reparable.  Someone I barely know is making random malicious comments about me to God only knows how many people.  There is a situation with one of my supervisees that I have absolutely no idea how to handle, and I've managed to in turn tick off my senior pastor by not doing enough or not doing what he thinks I should do or something, and by disappearing into thin air on Friday without telling anyone, which he hates.  In my defense, I was busy doing my taxes and trying not to vomit up my life, but I knew I should call, and I didn't, and now I feel guilt about that, and anxiety about my meeting with him later today, at which he will surely have something to say about all of this.  Taxes this year are...ugh, let's not even go there.  I've somehow managed to get myself into a rather complicated non-relationship that is driving me a little batty.

Speaking of which, I am finding myself wanting to sit down all the single seminarians I can get hold of and tell them that they may be about to get into an absolute mess.  This single clergy business is no joke.  Meeting people in the first place is difficult, but I think that's true for most single people.  Getting past the initial "You do what for a living?" conversation and all the assumptions that go along with it is, well, necessary but annoying.  How many times, really, do I need to be asked if I only work one day a week, or if I'm required to be celibate?  Then you have the actual attempting to date phase.  Dating someone with a "real job," with regular, normal working hours of the 9-5 sort, is nearly impossible, because I do not have regular, normal working hours.  Oh, you wanted to go to dinner?  Well, I can squeeze that in at 4pm between meetings or at 10pm afterward...what, you need to sleep or something?  Saturday date night?  Sorry, I'm confined to my apartment for sermon completion.  This just doesn't really work.  So then there are the people with unusual working hours, which for me usually means restaurant/bar/musician people whose lives happen primarily at night.  That works fairly well for my natural sleeping preferences, but not so well when I have to work in the morning, even though I don't work quite as early as the 9-5 people.  Night people also have a tendency toward, how shall I say this...a different moral compass than might be expected of, say, clergy.  Complicated Non-Relationship has led to some irresponsibility on my part lately - which has led to more anxiety about the things I've missed, about my own irresponsibility in general, and about the possibility that I may be incompetent.

Yes, I realize it's kind of a leap from being late for a meeting to being completely incapable of doing my job, but this is how my mind works when everything is going wrong.  It's not just an off week at work, it's a question of my whole vocational aptitude.  It's not just one complicated guy situation, it's my entire ability to begin and sustain relationships.  It's not just a bit of financial ickiness, it's an abyss of idiocy out of which I may never be able to climb.

In addition to all of this, it's Holy Week.  Appropriately, I'm in charge of the Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service.  I really do not at all want to write a sermon this week.  At all.  But if I am going to write a sermon, I guess it's fitting that I'm writing a sermon about darkness, anxiety, and loss.  This is what keeps me from wallowing for too long, I suppose: the necessity of looking at my own problems within the wider perspective of the human condition, of delving for the holy in what looks like a steaming pile of crap, of remembering that I'm not the only one walking around, looking fairly normal, but oozing inside with pain and stress and need.

So, here's a poem for your reading enjoyment, on the normalcy of suffering.  Cheery, right?              

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Incredible Vanishing Me

This morning I got an email from a friend who also helps out with our youth group.  "I'm sorry, I've fallen off the face of the earth this winter, I'll be getting back into the loop soon."  It's true; she has sort of disappeared for a few months.  Maybe it's because I was expecting it (ski season always steals her away in the winter), but I realized as I read her email that I had barely noticed.  I haven't really seen much of most of my friends for the last few months.  She isn't the only one who has fallen off the face of the earth.  I've been more or less gone since January.

Spring is slowly arriving now, so gradually, I am catching back up with life.  Several of the major projects that were swamping me are now over.  We're rolling toward summer, which is a relatively slow season in the life of the church.  After May, my workdays get shorter and the office gets quieter.  I have fewer meetings and more time to read and think.  Can you tell I'm looking forward to it?  The anticipation in itself is making me less tired and cranky.  A little sunshine and warmth has done wonders for me.  I've even developed a bit of a spring crush, which is pretty entertaining, and quite the hopeful sign given that I had pretty much decided that my ability to have such feelings had been effectively beaten to a pulp and left for dead.

In other happy news, my horrible neighbors are finally being evicted!  I feel a little bad being so delighted by someone else's demise,  but after months of dealing with the garbage everywhere, wall-shaking music at all hours of the day and night, dog poop covering the yard and walkways, stupid entrance-blocking parking, and so on, I am just very glad to be getting my pleasant living environment back.