Monday, September 29, 2014

"Mowaige" - The Disillusioned Wedding Officiant

"Mowaige" was the first word out of my mouth when I officiated my best friend's wedding. I'd guess about half of the people gathered there knew what movie that came from. My friend had specifically told me to begin that way. While solemnity was important, she also wanted humor and light-heartedness. And that's why I was asked to officiate. She and I had our own little version of "church" - just the two of us throwing theological concepts back and forth and seeing what bounced, what gelled, and what was positively absurd. She'd helped me get through a lot of my worst spiritual crises, and I'd helped her do the same. But, most important of all, we'd always make each other laugh about it. So when she and her boyfriend decided to get married, she told me that I was the one she wanted to officiate.

The idea was exciting to me. When I was a child, I was regular acolyte at the Lutheran church I attended. I was always excited to take part in the rituals. I liked the idea of being a preacher or a minister. Part of this was of course because I enjoy being the center of attention, but I also wanted to have a more intimate relationship with the divine. That relationship went through its ups and downs over the years, but my outspokenness and insistence at being the center and impetus of theological debate or spiritual practice never died. Later I became a yoga teacher for the same reasons. And then I considered ministry. I went to college and got my Bachelor's degree in comparative religion. Spirituality had been at the forefront of my existence since I was a little boy. And even when I was an atheist for those few years in high school, I was always talking about it, trying to incite debate, pushing peoples' buttons.

After all those years of searching and searching, and talking and talking, when my friend asked if I'd officiate, it only seemed like the next logical step. Nobody else among my friends was as interested or educated in theology as me. And since I never once told anyone else what to believe, people would always come to me to ask me about different religions and perspectives when they were having spiritual crises, and I delighted in helping them through. It was something I relished for a long time. On top of that, I'm a good writer. My blogs may not reflect that all that well, seeing as how my blogs are mostly stream-of-consciousness ranting, but when I want to put something neat and pretty together, I can do it. I won an award in college for one of my essays on religion from a sociological perspective. I was asked to speak on behalf of my department at graduation. Obviously some people think I know what I'm doing.

And I'm a born fool for the romantic. I can write about love, and I can write about God, or the gods, or basically whatever a couple wants me to write about. Thus far I've done several secular weddings, wherein all metaphor and poetic expression was kept earthly, and I've done several Christian weddings. Secularism and Christianity are easy to cover, since I live in a culture where they dominate the spiritual landscape. But I'd have no trouble performing a Buddhist wedding or some kind of esoteric Eastern philosophy wedding. I could adapt to any form of spirituality. Lord knows I have all the books for it. With a little research, I could probably pull off any wedding as though I belonged to the religion. This isn't far from the truth. I don't believe any religion has it right, nor do any have it all wrong. There are archetypes within them that are shared almost universally and which serve similar psychological and sociological purposes. If the gods do exist, or multiple expressions of one God exist, then I believe it is perfectly reasonable that they are experienced and interpreted differently by all people relative to time, place, and personality. (If you don't agree, I really don't care to hear it, so kindly move along if this offends you. I'm done debating religion. I've been doing it for 15 years, and I'm through. My beliefs are mine and I owe you no explanation for them, nor does anyone else).

I leapt at subsequent chances to officiate weddings. For awhile there, I was on a roll. But something eventually broke in me. I lost count, but I think I've now officiated seven weddings, and I've been to over twenty just within the last few years. I'm 30; practically everyone in my life is getting married if they weren't already. After so many weddings they all begin to sound repetitive. Same vows, same rituals, all with slightly different twists. There's nothing wrong with that, but the individual weddings ceased to feel special to me. I did everything I could to customize my services to the couples whose weddings I performed, and they were always happy with what I came up with. And their families seemed appreciative that my weddings were traditional enough but still light, humorous, and very representative of the couple. That's the job of an officiant, or at least I believe it should be. But I've begun to feel like a complete phony standing up there, rambling on about love and devotion when, to be perfectly blunt, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. Love, you say? What is this "love" of which you speak?

If we're being generous, we could say that being single really only counts from 15 onward, although of course lots of people, myself included, started to feel the pangs and the longing much earlier than that. If we use 15 as our base, then I've been single for 14 of the last 15 years. The one year I wasn't single was a learning experience, and I don't regret it, but it wasn't love. It was a toe in the water, it was rite of passage, but it was with someone who was incredibly wrong for me and for whom I was incredibly wrong. The rest of the time I've either been too devoted to other pursuits or just fumbling my way through dating like the socially anxious weirdo I am. Only over the last year or so have I discovered some of the major things I've been doing wrong all these years, and part of it has simply to do with the fact that I didn't know I was suffering social anxiety all this time. Now at least I can start working on the real issue and attempt to improve my mental health which will, hopefully, help me deal with everything else better.

All my life I've been listening to horrible advice from people who have no clue what it's like to suffer from intense and irrational fear. They could never understand why phrases like, "Play the field," "Have fun," "Just relax and be yourself," in regard to dating were just about the most absurd things I'd ever heard in my life. "Have fun"? What the hell part of dating is fun? If you're one of the lucky ones, you have an answer to that question. I don't have an answer. I hate dating. Oh, how I hate it. However, to be fair, the "be yourself" part is true, but part of having anxiety is that you tend to throw up about ten different versions of yourself on one date because you're so terrified that you don't even know which one is the real you anymore. And I'm an actor as well, so I've got even more personalities trying to make me believe they are the superior version of me. I always calm down eventually when I'm with someone who makes me comfortable, but the number of women I've dated that made me feel comfortable even for a moment can probably be counted on one hand. I tend to be awkward and weird even around my best friends until we've been hanging out for an hour or so. It takes me awhile to relax into any social situation. You can imagine how much worse it is when I'm on a first date. (In my defense, I know I don't come of as insane as I'm feeling inside when I'm on a date. But I can be quiet, fidgety, too talkative, or just say the stupidest things that I later kick myself for. Everyone can experience those nerves, but my problem is not what I'm doing on a date, it's what I'm thinking. The utter terror in the mind of a person with anxiety kind of makes it next to impossible to communicate like a normal human, and this includes reading signals like indicators that someone might actually be quite interested in you).

The point is, I've never been in love. Not even close. I've been infatuated, I've feel strong attachments, I've had crushes, and the crushes that lasted longest were invariably the unrequited ones. Hey, unrequited crushes are safe. There's no risk because you've got no chance. Or at least I imagine that's what the sick part of my brain is thinking when I have crushes that last just a bit too long instead of moving along or paying attention to someone who actually notices me. (And by "a bit too long" I mean "WAY too fucking long"). But love? Nah, I'm fairly certain I'd know if I had experienced that.

I went to another wedding this past weekend. Thankfully I wasn't officiating it. I was just there to watch an old friend tie the knot. And during the vows and the exchange of rings I caught myself thinking something I've thought during far too many weddings recently: "What's going through their minds? Is this actually special or are they just doing it to appease their families? Are they doing it for taxes? Is this old hat to them? Do they believe in the act of God joining to people? How can they be so certain and trusting of another human being? Are they nervous because of the ritual or because of stage fright?" But the main thought I had is this: "What, in the Name of God, are they feeling for each other right now??" I don't have a clue. I don't know love. Oh, I can write love, I can sing love, I can mythologize love, but I don't know love. To get to that place in a relationship after you've stayed with someone who gets you and appreciates you, whom you admire and adore, when the infatuation is a bit settled and then a deeper devotion and trust comes to the fore? I can't imagine it. Don't have a clue what that feels like. And yet, I'm often up there rambling on about this shit! Madness! What's an officiant to do?

The words I've written for the weddings I've performed were not written in a spirit of selfishness or phoniness. They were sincere. I wanted to help these people articulate what they wanted to articulate in a quick, sweet, and meaningful way. And I accomplished that. Yet I'm left feeling like a fraud. And not to single out the Catholics, because aside from their views on gender and sexuality, I'm actually a huge fan of Catholicism in general, but I can never imagine what gives a person who is celibate the right to talk about marriage. They can talk ritual, they can talk Sacrament, they can talk divine metaphor, but what do they know of intimate interpersonal love? And I'm beginning to feel like that's all I am - a monk, a priest with no right to talk of these things. The only real difference between me and a priest is that I never took vows. God didn't tell me not to date and get laid - my anxiety took care of that.

The idea of being this otherworldly, priestly figure was romanticized and desirable to me when I was 20. I was so into this bullshit, self-aggrandizing spirituality (I was all about "We're not humans having a spiritual experience, we're spiritual beings having a human experience." Sweet Jesus, really? That phrase just about makes me want to vomit on the nearest hippy now). Having lived that life for a few years, embracing the sick, superhuman ideal, I finally saw just how sick and wrong it was for me. Maybe some people can really roll with that stuff, but for a guy who barely feels human in the first place, floating on Cloud 9 only increases the dissociation to a terribly unhealthy degree. I feel like I've become inhuman not only to myself, but to others as well. I've heard people make the classic complaint: "Always a bridesmaid never a bride," and I can't even claim that. I've never been close enough to anyone to even be a groomsmen. I'm not the groom, I'm not the groomsman, so I'm the priest guy. I'm the village shaman who lives in a hut by himself and has crazy visions of the gods because no one else can have a normal conversation with him (no I don't have visions, but you get what I'm saying).

Sometimes I feel like I've gone too far and I'm never going to feel normal again, or understand how normal people feel about anything. Granted, there are myriad ways in which I thank my lucky stars that I'm not like normal people, but there's one way I envy them, oh Jesus, how I envy them. Normal people seem to be able to fall in love, give into their passions, be impulsive, and when they've got that out of their systems, they seem to be able to find others who understand them and who accept them. Or maybe they're all settling. Fuck if I know. But I wonder what that's like. I can barely imagine it. I don't even feel like my friends want me around most of the time anymore. The second I start talking about what's actually on my mind, I feel like I'm just dragging them down because I have very little positive to say these days (I had a major life crisis last year and was practically a ghost for much of it, I have been without booze for three years, without nicotine for two years - two of the only things that ever calmed me down - I run my business almost entirely by myself and I'm currently doing the jobs of a record company, manager, producer, promoter, and artist, and to top it all off I'm already prone to anxiety, depression, and if I'm stupid enough to pay attention to what's going on in the world or with our government, I just about want to slam my head into a wall).

I feel like I'm going crazy, and there are only two things that convince me that I'm not: One, my best friend deals with the same shit I deal with, often more than I do, and she's a functional person with a job and husband. Two, my psychologist is very clear on this point with me. "Daniel," he says, "You're not crazy. Crazy people don't recognize when they're about to go over the edge, but you're constantly worried about it and working on it. If I start seeing signs, I'll let you know."

But that doesn't stave off the paranoia. I feel like most of my friends don't want me around anymore, but that is a very self-centered thought. I know they all have lives, most of which are busier and more complex than mine. Most of us have a close circle of friends that we center our lives around when we're young. As we grow up and get careers, homes, and meet someone to build new lives with or even make babies with, the circle moves to the side as these new things take center stage. People create new family units of their own. And all of my friends grew up while I stayed in one place. I got left behind, and that's nobody's fault but mine. I don't resent my friends for moving on with their lives. And it's not that we're not all friends anymore, it's just that priorities shift and time constrains. I also don't drink anymore so I don't really care for places where there's lots of drinking, and most of my friends still do. Drinking is unwinding for them, whereas it's disastrous for me. The only reason going to bars or partying was remotely fun for me in the past was because I was a binge drinker and within an hour I was too hammered for the pseudo-intellectual elitist pig in my head to see how stupid it was. And now that I've actually managed to get a life, I tend to work and perform on weekends, when most of my friends are not working.

See, there's a million rational reasons why I never hear from anybody. But, whatever the reasons, it wears on you when don't have somebody around who regularly wants to know how you're doing (I wonder if that's part of that "love" thing). How many of my friends would disappear if I stopped contacting them, I constantly wonder. I'm usually the one to call, so that clearly means they don't need me anymore. Naturally I can't attest to the objective truth of any of these paranoid thoughts because anxiety disorders and depression are incredibly adept at convincing us to damage our own relationships by making us believe that we're unloved and unwanted by people who are probably wondering why we haven't called them. The answer as to why I haven't called them is because I feel invasive every single time I call anyone. My current level of confidence is such that I can't imagine anyone being glad to hear from me, even though I know that's probably not true. It's not rational. But that's how my brain misinterprets reality. You see, living with anxiety is basically like living with an abusive partner who runs you down and isolates you from your support base.

The worst part is that I know I'm supposed to pretend to be all strong and content with my life in order to attract someone. Naturally, nobody's gonna want to spend time with somebody who is miserable 24 hours a day, and that's fair. But it's becoming harder and harder to fake it. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor about it, it's just that my sense of humor is particularly cynical and dark because it is born of a place of suffering. I'm not laughing because I'm happy, I'm laughing because I'm sad and I need to laugh. The glorified image of a strong, stoic male that our society has forced everyone to idolize as the ideal man from childhood on is problematic when you realize that most men actually live here on Earth and have emotions. I've spent a great deal of my life trying to be that guy. And, for better or worse, there's a still a large part of me that wants to be him. But I'm not there. I'm nowhere close. I'm not content. I'm not happy. (I'll give myself strong. I am really fucking strong. Most people wouldn't last a couple days living in my head. They'd throw themselves off a fucking bridge, and I've never even tried to off myself. So I'll go ahead an own my strength).

Sure, I'm happy with some things. I'm happy with the music I make, though not with its reception. I'm grateful that I've got a good family and some friends who are probably wondering why I don't call them when I'm thinking the same thing. I've got four walls around me, a ceiling, and a floor. I live in a privileged society, I'm a privileged sex, and a privileged race (But just wait for it, thanks to Putin and Obama's little word war and proxy fighting in Ukraine, Russians are gonna be marginalized again any day now).

So yeah, I've got things I'm happy about. But I'm not happy. Not at all. And part of that is because the longer I go without knowing or experiencing real life, whatever that is, the more inhuman I feel. It's not just relationships. I've searched my whole life for the ol' cliche "raison d'ĂȘtre," and every time I think I've got it, it falls apart. Only over the last year and a half have I begun to work on something that might just give me at least a vague sense of meaning and purpose. But we'll see. The relationship thing is more complex. And to Hell, to the 9th fucking circle of Hell, with anyone who spits that toxic expression, "No one will love you until you love yourself." Funny thing, actually, we are taught how to love by our parents. As infants and toddlers, we learn to love by being loved. We can't actually love ourselves until we are loved first. We are taught that we are valuable by others and thus we learn to value ourselves and others. We are social animals and we require validation. And I've spent my entire adult life being loved and validated as a brother, a son, a nephew, a friend. Never as a lover. And it's been going on for so long that I can't even see myself as one anymore. I'm starting to lose the picture I once had of myself. When I was younger, naivetĂ© and hope gave me an image of myself as a good boyfriend, lover, husband, etc., but that was merely an act of faith to prepare and placate me. It's what we all do until the real thing comes along. It's like playing house until you're old enough date.

Naturally, we can't center our entire life and world around the love of any particular person, family, friend, or lover; we cannot allow all of our confidence, self-assurance, and sense of safety to rest with the affections of any one person, but without that reassurance, we are not fully human either. It doesn't mean we all have to get married or be monogamous. But there are some needs that only certain types of relationships can fulfill both physically and emotionally, not to mention that sexual relationships, brief or long term, are quintessential to a healthy existence as organic beings (sex is only thing our bodies actually want us to accomplish before we die. It's the only physical reason for our existence, however many other psychological or philosophical reasons we give ourselves to kill the time).

So we'll see if I'll ever make it to fully human. Right now I feel positively alien. At least I've got lots of great episodes of 3rd Rock From The Sun to make me laugh about my situation. I don't know if I'll ever officiate another wedding (well, except the one that I will not allow anyone else to officiate. If you're reading this, Mikey and Baum, remember that. No one is allowed to marry you two except me. I called dibs, dag nabbit!) Maybe someday these horrible feelings of isolation and detachment will go away and I'll be able to better appreciate, or God-willing even understand, someone else's love. At the moment the word "love" seems utterly empty to me, just a fanciful and fantastical word for a bunch of hormonal rushes that initially attract us to one another which are then followed by a patterned dependency that keeps us around. That definition doesn't make it bad, it just makes it look automatic and lifeless. Looking at love like an anthropologist from another planet, studying this bizarre species and their behavior, is just about the saddest thing I've ever experienced. What's to distinguish the beautiful from the mechanical? I'll tell you what distinguishes them - the experience. It doesn't matter how logical and scientific you think you are, if you actually feel love, who gives a shit about the science? Sure, you'll want to keep your wits about you enough to know once the infatuation calms down whether or not this person is actually a good match or if it was just a lovely fling - but if you spend your life looking at people like the biological units we truly are, you're not living life. And right now, I'm filled with doubts as to whether or not I've got what it takes to really live, let alone to know what the fuck to do if someone right for me comes along, or how to not instantaneously fuck that up.

At least I still experience anxiety and depression regularly, I still laugh and get teary-eyed like a sap when I see baby animals being insufferably cute, and I still won't eat meat because the idea of killing something innocent horrifies me, so I know part of my brain still functions like a human. I guess that's a good sign. It'll do for now, anway. It'll keep me alive awhile longer. But if you're ever with me and ask how I'm doing and my responses is to shrug my shoulders and say, "Meh," it's because I don't want to lie and say, "Good," but I also don't want to vomit everything I just wrote herein above to an innocent bystander. And I only just scratched the surface. So take "Meh" as politeness. It's nothing personal or that I don't want to talk to you. It's that, trust me, you probably don't want me to open up.