Monday, April 25, 2011

A Spiritual Home and Dealing With the Childish

Lately I've been feeling kind of empty in the spirituality department. It has nothing to do with my overall belief in God or values. It has everything to do with the fact that since moving to Albuquerque I haven't found a religious community where I feel comfortable. Back in State College I had a great church, and it was one of the few times in my life where I enjoyed going. Even in Altoona, I had a strong sense of community with my Catholic friends my priest and the small chapel we had on campus.

Albuquerque has a pretty large Catholic population, which would lead one to expect that it would be easy to find a church. But, it isn't just about the denomination, or the location, or the building.There's nothing more disappointing than going into a church that has a really old age structure, no one participates, and there is little community to speak of. Also, if the music stinks, then that is an absolute deal breaker for Matt and me.

I've been going to therapy sessions over the past few weeks, and the whole church thing came up. My therapist is also Catholic, and recommended some churches to me. This weekend Matt and I tried St. Joseph on the Rio Grande for Easter. It was a definite improvement, but Matt thought the organ was over done. In his defense, it was. There was a guy with a 12-string guitar who we couldn't even hear (did he even play it?), and clearly the choir hadn't practiced a few of the songs, which for such an important holiday is troubling. We've decided we'll try the earlier mass at 10:30 to see if it's any different. Admittedly, we're kind of picky but we know we'll never be able to replace Good Shepherd.

There's another issue, which I've been reluctant to talk about with many people, and I haven't brought it up in therapy. I'm not the most devout person, but I have a pretty strong faith and if nothing else I like the security and comfort that church has given me in the past, especially with my dad dying and with having a long term relationship fall apart. Now, with my move to Albuquerque and my transition into biology, I've found myself around more people who are aggressively against religion, particularly Christians, and especially Catholics. It comes off to me very arrogant, unsophisticated, and distasteful when people think it's appropriate to mock what is important to other people (Haha, look at these stupid people for believing in Zombie Jesus and thinking there's a sky wizard!). I've found people who think they are really progressive and open minded, but when they open their mouth they sound really immature and bigoted.

This sense that I can't be open about my religion concerns me a lot; while I really don't care what people personally believe, I don't want trouble in my professional life. Basically, I don't want people judging me because I'm not an Athiest. Maybe people just think they can be open with me (generally they can, I have a fairly tough skin), but no one will ever have a close enough relationship with me to mock me to my face. Actually, they're making me really uncomfortable. An appropriate response would be to tell them they are ignorant and nasty people, but so far I have just ignored them and not sought out their company. But what they're doing is wrong, and it hurts people. Preventing others from causing harm is something fundamental that I believe in, so I feel like I need to start saying something.

The really ironic thing is I get the sense I'm expected to just let it all slide off my back without it affecting me, but I think if I were to openly oppose it I'd get a backlash of crap I'd not soon forget.

Perhaps this experience is a sign of the times. Everywhere I look I see people failing to engage in constructive debate and discussion. It almost always devolves into name calling, mud slinging, and trying to make the other person look like a fool without saying anything containing substance. I used to experience this on a fairly regular basis with a very rude and "conservative" acquaintance in college. It's just easier to resort to the kind of tactics that 4-year olds use, because then you don't actually have to think. I see it on the news, I see it from politicians, and I see if from my fellow scientists. We, as a people, are all acting like children.

Monday, April 18, 2011


No sooner did I put up my last post than I read this on my friend's Facebook wall:

"The greater danger for most of us in not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it" - Michelangelo

This was either divine intervention, or a wonderfully timed coincidence.

What do you get when you talk to an eco-radical?

I keep thinking maybe it's time to be a vegetarian, but then I remember all the meat I have in the freezer. So far this has been the year of guilt, and feeling like I personally (along with billions of others) am destroying the world. Being in a biology department that has people in it who study the energy crisis, water crisis, and numerous other crises leads to depressing discussions and debates over how and to what extent humans hurt the planet and each other because of our over consumption and over population.

I take the city bus to school, but occasionally I'll drive if I forget something or if I need to make a quick stop. I drive to the grocery store. I have to take a plane whenever I go to see my family. I don't eat organic because I think it's just to damn expensive, but I do get what's local and in season when it's available. However, how much do individual actions matter? That bus is going to school and that plane is going to CT whether I'm on it or not. Our country's infrastructure is 50+ years old and falling apart, yet we think we're going to add however many million more cars to our bridges and roads over the next few decades. We have no energy plan, yet we think we're going to keep right on growing. Our entire economic model is based on the premise of indefinite growth, which I can assure everyone is not realistic in a world of finite resources. When I really think about it, I'm no more guilty of the stupid crap my government does because I'm an American than I am of the Inquisition because I'm a Catholic. I vote, I tell the higher ups what I want and what my values are, I pay my taxes. Beyond that, I don't know what more I can do as an individual, or if not eating meat would even matter. Those virtuous actions get so diluted in the grand scheme of things.

This week at the very least I came to a decision: I'm going to conscientiously have no more than 2 children in my lifetime. If I want more kids, I'll adopt. That's reproducing for population replacement, not growth. In the United States, reproduction is still a personal decision, the government doesn't impose any kind of restrictions (actually they encourage baby production and population growth through tax incentives, which is madness). A tremendous amount of material and energetic waste comes out of a human life, so this seems like the most ecologically responsible action to take. At least in this regard I can do what seems to be ethically worthwhile.

As far as the meat thing goes, I'll probably get there eventually. Even if individual actions don't really mean much, at least I'd be setting an example. A lot of ethical behavior actually falls into the "doesn't really matter if I do or don't" category, but most people have values none-the-less. For my own sanity, I think I'm going to stop participating in discussions and debates about how the world is at a loss because of people. It's just too depressing. I'm already here and I already know there's a problem, but I can't stand it anymore or else I'm going to end up drinking myself to death (not really, it's a figure of speech, don't worry Mom).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Very Stressful Semester

Blog updates just aren't happening as regularly as I hoped.

A lot has been going on at school. It seems like busy semesters are a universal principle, regardless of the college or level of education. A slew of deadlines have come up, so much of my time as been devoted to meeting those deadlines. One of my last minute efforts really paid off, however, because I got a department scholarship that will carry me through the summer. That means I'll have some money coming in and I'm not going to be teaching. I'm looking forward to being more of an academic, and less of an instructor and student.

I have a big project looming in the not so near future, and I still need to get my taxes done. This year is going to be a pain, since I have to do returns for several states. It pays to stick around in one location for more than a couple years. Last year I owed Connecticut a whopping $10, and every year I go through the hassle of trying to explain to the State College Burrow that I am not a Pennsylvania resident.  I can't wait till I have a real job where I am stationary for more than a couple years at a time. I'll never make enough money or have enough assets to warrant anything other than the EZ form, and settling down somewhere will streamline the process even more.

My students also have papers and exam coming up, which puts an extra burden on me to grade their assignments. However, papers take a really long time to grade, and it seems like they have had one paper after another to turn in. I simply do not have the time to give, and they'll just get it when I get around to it.

I've also been dealing with my health issues, finally. Ever since this summer I've been having intermittent panic attacks: tight chest, difficulty breathing, mood swings. They come and go, but this semester I really feel the pressure. On Monday I went to go see a counselor and I'll be seeing one regularly for a while to see if I can manage my emotional and anxiety issues with therapy alone. I don't want to go trying medications at this point in the semester, and I don't like the idea of being on something. However, if the therapy doesn't work out I'll try some anti-anxiety  sort term to see if that helps. I just can't go on feeling overwhelmed, I know it isn't healthy.

Part of the issue is that I overextended myself this semester. I've never really felt like I had so much going on that I couldn't function, but I'm coming close to that lately. I will never take so many credits as a graduate student ever again. I'm registered for 13, which is INSANE. It didn't seem like so much when I signed up for it, and it didn't get really rough until a month or so ago. Next semester, I'm signing up for the minimum I can get by on. I figure after a whole year of really pushing myself, I can afford to back off and focus on other things.