*for lack of a better word
Are You There “God”*/Me/#? It’s me Vivian
“I don’t disagree with [the idea that] the almighty is also in search of Someone, and that Someone of Someone above him (or Someone simply indispensable and equal), and so on to the End (or rather, Endlessness) of Time, or perhaps cyclically.” – Borges
When “God” “found” me… I sobbed. The last time I cried like that was the first time I got the “it’s not you it’s you” speech in my studio in downtown Los Angeles.
I felt a wind brush through me that was either imagined or mystical (unless those are the same.) The sky was yellow and I felt “God” for the first time in my life.
But let me stop here for a minute to make one huge correction in this essay to be. By “God” I don’t mean “God”…
The magnitude of “God” lies within and without it’s word… but we must remember that the word is in itself a symbol. Just as words represent our language and language represents our thoughts, the word “God” describes and replaces a concept which is always out of reach. Like the word “infinity” replaces the endless vast future of things we are unable to bear all at once- like how love can never be set concrete. And that, brings us back to much rawer and older tears.
I was “a sick kid,” I had a rough time with a bad case of eczema. Picture me, 11 years old, blowing out the candles on my birthday cake and wishing for new skin. Not a bike or toys, but skin; an interesting fact but more interesting to me now is the question- who exactly was I wishing to? “God”? Cake deities? My parents? I’m sure it was cake deities, or I imagined a pleasant scene in my head of me waking up on the bottom bunk, not stuck to the sheets. Either way, I’m sure it was a form other than the “God” I never believed in. There were two reasons I never believed fully:
One – I prayed every night for new skin. Obviously that shit didn’t happen…
Two – My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic, we were raised Unitarian, “to keep spirituality in our lives” as my abuela puts it politely. When they were divorced, as is the fashion now, they returned to their original religions. This provided tons of theologic information, in a large rainbow of topics, to me at a very early age.
So I grew up thinking that I could control the waves in the Pacific Ocean, watching for my dolls to come alive and praying for a completely infeasible thing. I kept praying and my skin kept getting worse as I grew up hiding behind long layers and hats and developing a OCD which I am still battling against today. When I wished, it was not to ”God;” when I prayed, it was not to “God”. It was to anyone. Anyone who would listen, anyone who would care, anyone who could help me inside of my mind and out.
Let’s stop again. I am using the term “God” a lot, and I want to try and define my sense of the word for you. I honestly can’t think of the word god without seeing in my head a rotary of stock images of “God” from television, movies and art. That Simpsons episode where Homer talks to “God” (Harry Shearer iplays the voice of “God” by the way), Michelangelo’s Birth of Man, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, a swan or Zeus, Morgan Fucking Freeman, I mean come on… my own imago of “God” never had a chance to form in this sea of pop icons.
Our images of “God” or what we perceive to be, “the answer to the question ‘so whatta you believe in?” is very important in the lives we live; whether we choose to believe in Harry Shearer or not. The beliefs of our culture and the subcultures around us map the path our spirituality will go in. As William James said in an address to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown, “-if I ask you to believe in Mahdi, the notion makes no electric connection with your nature… as a hypothesis it is completely dead. To an Arab, however, the hypothesis is among the mind’s possibilities: it is alive… the deadness and liveness in a hypothesis are not intrinsic properties, but relations to the individual thinker.” (James: New World, June, 1896)
Boom, yeah. Interesting right? I suppose the Arab analogy is a bit outdated but you get it. Since I never had a live sense of the “God” hypothesis, I started my own spiritual journey. I pulled out crayons, assigned them names, genders and husbands, and drew my own path as I walked. Atheistic hypothesis was a living breathing possibility for me to make in my world of wonder. I remember the day it all started, or rather- the night.
I caught my mother putting money under my little sister’s pillow one night as a kid. I was awake (on the top bunk back then) scratching, or thinking, and in came my mom. I kept very still and silent as my mother crept in and put a dollar under my little sister Yvonne’s pillow and took the little letter she had written. I saw all of this perfectly outlined in our closet mirror doors, my mothers glasses sparked in the light from the hallway, flashing like a warning or alert to something coming. Finally I broke the silence and squeaked, “mom?”
(“dammit” is probably what she wanted to say…)
I stumbled over my words, hardly believing what I was seeing, I managed to sleepily say, “are you taking Yvonne’s tooth?”
“Yes, go back to sleep honey it’s late.”
“Mom… (there was a pause as the universe collected and poured a very important, but light, thought into my head) Are you the tooth fairy?”
She stood up, cornered and said, “yes honey, we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
We didn’t talk about it, but next week at my father’s house I had a major realization. I was standing in front of the mirrored closet doors in my room while my father gingerly helped to brushed my hair. (Both our rooms in each of their houses had mirrored closet doors, a fact I never thought about until right now… none of this would have happened if there was just normal closet doors…) I told my papá about what had happened and as I explained my new-found skepticism about this tooth fairy conspiracy, I watched his face. I’ve always been able to read people… especially my father. The more I talked the bigger his strange grin became, and I soon realized that my father was in on it. The thought poured itself into the very fibers of my mind and it suddenly became clear, my mind rebooted with this update and I asked my dad-
“There’s no tooth fairy, is there Papá?”
“Well, I mean-”
“I knew it! You know what this means? There might not be a Santa Cla-” My father’s grin grew into one of pride at his little girl’s mind working so quickly on this make-believe children’s riddle. When he looked me in the eye I exclaimed, “So there’s no Santa either! Which means there’s no Easter Bunny and no “God”!” It was the biggest ‘a-ha’ moment of my life. Once I knew the tooth fairy was a fake, the conclusion that none of the other make believe characters I believed in were real either became sadly real, it was a live hypothesis.
“Well Vivian… you’re right.” my dad explained. He could never really lie to us, “there is no Santa, or tooth fairy or Easter bunny… but we’ll talk more about “God” later.”
After that, my dolls no longer came to life when I left the room, there were no more monsters in closets and I stopped talking to the waves.
[the following excerpts are taken from the journal entries I made while traveling in South America in February and March 2011. The words in italics are what I wrote in cursive, the [brackets] are what I’ve added, the rest is unedited…]
2/6/11 My first brush with a sense of spirituality
I headed [to get food], but something stopped me.
A long forgotten string attached to my heart suddenly became taut and jerked me towards the closest collective primal expression of life. I could only describe it as soul. Which made me think, perhaps none of us have a soul… but there is one large soul that we are all connected to. Be it karma or soul or ideas or rhythm or ether… it connects us all together. You borrow from it and give back to it throughout your life and when you die, your energy feeds back into that large group in order to shoulder the burden of those who need to take when they cannot give. It’s the space between the space, the feeling that someone is looking at you and the reason you laugh. When you hear music like I heard… you can’t help but feel the need be part of the bigger collection. I was pulled to the sound out of some unconscious thirst… or maybe I’m just a curious Latina. Either way, with only the map of my heart, I found a street plugged with people dancing in praise of our collective soul. I couldn’t have left the sound even if I had wanted to. We danced, baby, abuelo, chica, wretch and tourist- there was no color age or nation, only the need to be.
2/11/11 8am A few words on belief versus reality, I’m talking about finishing Heinlen’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress on the morning that Mubarak stepped down in Egypt
…It’s these moments in life that make me happy to be sentient. I think not being able to agree, even with myself, about how I feel is one of the most beautiful mysteries in life. Why is it so sad and yet so wonderful? The characters I have come to know so intimately will live on forever in the printed word… And again I am happy, because only our species can feel such passion for something that has never tangibly existed. Yes the ideas and even efforts of Libertarian revolutions have coded, slipped down from balconies and through back rooms; and yes, real humans have expressed feelings and died for more than the words on the pages of my recently departed friend [the book]… but to be able to feel for something that exists in only the metaphorical sense of the word is something that I feel truly blessed (blessed in an unreligious sense) to be able to experience.
When was the last time you felt like that? When was the last time you mourned so loudly that your heart grew larger? Or you touched something so cold that your flesh burned?
Thanks Heinlein, (I grok you) for filling my spirit to the brim by using your words as a tool to carve the most beautiful images into “realities.” I will go out today, head filled with visions of star freedom, blood secured and eyes shut forever with such resonance that the Earth will echo cold when it is dimmed.
2/17/11 7am Waking up on a bus headed to Posadas to see the ruins of the Jesuit Missions.
I am humbled by the modesty and simple grace of the ‘frontier.’ To the left I see a short forest of trees in, what seem to be, defiant straight lines. The sun rose fast and orange over a small town with ruins of ruins, sketches of sketchiness and untamed wilderness strewn with shacks of goods. I saw a sign for Budweiser and found myself wondering about the similarities in all our lives. I feel rich, But who is truly richer? I have never felt so detached from the gray metropolis or the blue seasides that I can familiarize with a concept of home. It reminds me of when [my sister] and I were driving through South Dakota and Colorado. The sense of awe at just how big our world is. And the feeling in your belly button when you realize that it isn’t even it. Once there is more, there is more… and then more and more until your mind stretches out so far that your womb aches and snaps you back. We truly weren’t meant to understand ‘all this.’ We think we are humans but we are really just cattle, no… grass. Once our blip exits the screen, there will be no one to interpret our primitive scratchings. We will only finally refuel the universe in a smaller amount than we took once our foolish graves dissolve and feeds back.
3/14/11 While flying home from São Paulo, hours after ‘God” found me-
Holy Shit journal. My world has been shattered. I actually might have had an experience with “God”. or maybe I should write G-d. It all started w/my conversation with Eduardo about “God” jesus etc. He said that he asked to see jesus and jesus performed a miracle to save him. [Eduardo specifically said, “I ask Jesus to reveal himself to me, and when he did I believed… and I still do.”] All I needed to do was ask jesus to reveal himself to me and he would in time. So I decided, why not. I asked jesus. That night (Thursday 10th) [I was staying with Eduardo and his family in São Paulo] I prayed for the first time in years. Not since I asked for new skin over and OVER again as a child, not since abuelita asked us [to pray] as kids. I prayed for Japan… major earthquake and tsunami… so sad. I prayed for my family and for Eduardo’s family for being so amazing to me. [Pause for a sec, I was writing really fast so I skipped this part cause I knew I’d remember it later. Here is my actual prayer, “Dear jesus or “God” or, universe- whatever you are, please (blah blah Japan and my families) Anyway, I wanted to ask you if you could reveal yourself to me. I don’t know if you’re there or not and I never thought to ask even though this feels silly to me. I don’t believe in you specifically but I believe in the power of belief and possibility and energy… so if you’re there- could you reveal yourself to me? I mean, I don’t know why I’m doing this. I can’t look forever, plus- how will I know if it’s real? I mean, I could see a sign and think its a sign just because I’m looking for one, you know? Like when you see your own car everywhere. Like how people at séances see things because they want to see. Ok, well… g’night who ever you are.”] Anyway, today at the park we were walking, hanging out. I love hanging with Eduardo, I fall in love so easily, sigh. As we were leaving a man stopped us, I thought he was going to ask us for money, Eduardo talked to him and I wandered away, avoiding ants. Then they called me over and Eduardo began to translate. The man asked to speak to me specifically [Eduardo later told me that they talked about his mission for a bit but then the man said, “Ok I need to talk to her now. Will you translate for me?”] because as he was about to leave, “God” told him in his heart to “reveal” himself to me through the missionary. [I understood the word ‘reveal’ (revelar with an ‘heh’ noise instead of a R sound) when the man said it in portuguese and my jaw dropped before Eduardo even translated that part] I was so shocked, I began to shake and then the missionary gave me a bracelet w/6 beads on it. [The missionary was wearing the bracelet and took it off to tie around my left wrist. In my journal I drew a picture of the bracelet and the colors and order of the beads and what they meant.]
black- consciousness (uh I dunno but something about me not being w/”God”)
red- blood of christ
clear – blood of christ washing me clean
green – new hope
blue – [Eduardo’s translating was less than perfect plus he’s really absent minded. He explained what the blue bead meant but later forgot. I didn’t remember either and now we don’t know]
yellow – the heaven that awaits me
holy shit right? I mean… I was shaking and then I told Eduardo what I had prayed for and he ran to tell the missionary. The missionary stopped [his car] (Eduardo had goosebumps even before I told him what I had prayed for) he got out of his car, listened to Eduardo then embraced me and asked “God” to accept me or love me or something, deff praying. I completely broke down. I felt.. uncomfortable, confused but also embraced in such a pure comforting way. I was crying and when I looked at Eduardo he was crying too, Then I said I had to sit down [I really thought I was going to faint, especially because I felt a strange wind blow through us as we embraced and I NEVER cry] Eduardo said it was ok and touched my head. The whole car ride I couldn’t stop crying. I mean, I didn’t know what to think and I still don’t. Can I really ignore this? was it because I simply wanted to believe? We stopped on a quiet street to talk for a bit then returned home. [section removed] I’m going to be honest and do what I want from now on. If people can’t handle it, who needs em. I’m going to try and be more open, honest and loving. But also loving of myself. And maybe even love “God” while I’m at it. Maybe he likes me back, maybe not but either way I love myself and the universe, or “God” for lack of a better word, loves me too. [here I drew an arrow down from the statement “I love myself”] I never say that! I’m so proud of myself. Maybe I’m finally starting to understand myself as I understand the rest of the world. I mean, that sculpture exhibit really spoke to me “to know something you must know it’s opposite.” so true. [Here is the actual quote from the pamphlet I got after seeing Obsessões da Forma or Obsessions With Form at the Museum of Art in São Paulo “To know one thing, it is important to understand its opposite.” (Henry Moore)] Something that I’ve always believed.
So what do I think now?
I was raised by a family of engineers and I believe that in order to explain something you need to dissect it and understand it’s parts. “God” is not omnipresent because there is no such things as omnipresence because there is nothing watching us, there is only us. There are no parts or units to “God”, you can’t break “God” into units that make sense… and you can’t do it to our existence because there is only one unit which we are still trying to understand. We are all that “one” unit, a collective soul, the literal emptiness that binds us together on a physical and irrational realm that lives inside our perceptions of reality. As time goes on, in whichever fashion or direction you please, we’ll learn more about ourselves and eventually find a complete sense of knowing. Kurzweil calls it singularity, some call it Quantum Mysticism.
I call it, Vivianism. The religion of “we’ll get there.” And on the way I’m going to do my hardest not to judge people on subways drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee, because I should understand and digest rather than dismiss and scorn. This way we can all reach the end of our spiritual journey, only to turn around and see everyone else right along with us, holding crayons and grinning.
That’s what I think of, when I think of “God”.
But to leave you with something else, this is what my father told me about “God”:
“Imagine a little snail, crawling through the grass. If you picked it up and placed it somewhere else, would it even know?”