I want to cry. I am scared. All the time.
I went to meet with the seminary people yesterday and it went pretty well. I had done enough homework on my own by the time I got there that the questions I had were not so much about whether I would attend, but more in the lines of how we're going to make that happen.
I came out of there with a sheaf of paperwork to fill out and return. I mentioned before that paperwork and I do not get along. It is true. Paperwork, forms that I have to fill out, cause enormous, unfounded anxiety in me. My chest gets tight, the words on the page all swim in front of my eyes, I get short of breath and I want to run away. This is part of why I am self-employed. Because to work for someone else means I would have to fill out a job application, and I have not been able to do that - honestly - for three or four years now. Even filling out the paperwork at the food pantry was tough. They want all kinds of data that I don't have - things like income stuff, pay stubs, that kind of stuff. To say it causes anxiety is something of an understatement.
But I came home with these papers, and they all had to be filled out. There was even a worksheet for federal financial aid. The form itself is online. Which scares me at a different level. I get frustrated with on-line paperwork at a level more extreme than the paper one.
But someone talked me through it and I came home and filled out what I could and will have the rest done by the end of the week. I'll be OK. I just had to sit down, breathe properly, and look at it one line at a time. Bird by Bird, the book says. That's what I did. Line by line, I got through it.
I am beginning to get feedback about how my status has changed in the public eye. Since I let people know about my plans to attend seminary, my behavior is now viewed in a different light. Suddenly I have become "a UU I know who's going to seminary" and everything I do will be viewed through that filter.
I did not ask for this mantle, nor do I want it. I want to be me. I want to go to school and to learn the things I need to learn to be an effective minister. I do not want to be a poster child for anything. I'd like to have my life back, please.
They say seminary is a transformative experience, that it will mold and shape me into a new and improved version of me, one better suited to ministry. But how much of myself do I lose in the process? How much of what makes me ME must I muzzle, or censor, or otherwise squelch so that I become palatable to the masses? And now I ask - am I willing to give parts of me up for this? I don't know. I know that the call to ministry I got was loud and clear and I can't ignore it, but I don't remember any part of it that said I had to assimilate into the collective. That was never mentioned, and I'm feeling more than a little ripped off.
I'm a bit of a sexual outlaw. I know that and like it. The people around me know it, and it doesn't seem to bother them. But I get the feeling its going to bother the shit out of a lot of people whom I have yet to meet.
There is a process by which ministers get approved. There is seminary, then ordination, and then fellowship. From what I can tell, fellowship is sort of like tenure. Once you get it, you're pretty much set, unless you do something profoundly stupid/crazy/unethical and get yourself bounced from the ministry. Seminary has a definite beginning and end and is relatively predictable. Ordination is often done by a congregation, and while it is nice, it is not the thing that matters most. Fellowship is the thing that matters most in the world of a professional minister. It is the official stamp of approval from the faith community and its representatives that person X has the training and temperament to be a minister and do good work.
The way I feel right now, I am never going to pass that test.
All my life I have been hot-headed and impulsive. I have great passion for things, and not always the patience and foresight to see how my actions are going to have long-term effects. I know. You're all stunned, I'm sure.
What is this transformative process going to do to me? Am I going to become like some rehab regular, shuffling through my days doing the thorazine shuffle? Am I going to be muted to the point of a bland, beige existence? Bile rises in my throat at the very thought. Honestly, my reactions to these thoughts are both emotional and physically visceral. I feel my eyes narrow, my shoulders drop back and my chin jut out just a bit. I feel my lip begin to curl in a sneer. If that's what I have to go through to be a minister, this is simply not going to work.
How much of what is integral to my person-hood must I sacrifice for this calling? Is not my sexuality and its expression an integral part of me? Is not my political heart and mind an integral part of what makes me uniquely me? Is not my confrontational style an integral part of me? Am I to become the demure lady that my grandmother had so hoped for? Crossing my feet at the ankles and wearing white gloves? Sipping tea with my pinkie extended just so?
I don't fucking think so.
I know my emotions are on high this week. And at my age, they are more prone to go in funky directions for extended periods of time. I am not looking forward to this roller coaster of emotion around the concept of ministry every month. I'd like some reassurance that I am not going to be assimilated and washed out, losing all of what is me to become a minister.
It took me years and years of step work and spiritual growth to get to the point where I can accept and even love myself. And now I step into something that wants to tear it all apart and reassemble it in a shape that is more palatable to others? I spent more than 40 years trying to be what other people wanted me to be to get their approval. I am finally at a place where I don't much give a damn if they approve of me or not. And suddenly my success or failure -- in a calling that had nothing to do with them, mind you -- is dependent upon the approval of a group of people whom I have not met and who have no idea who I am or how long and hard I have worked to get here, never mind where they think I ought to be.
Do I have to say out loud that I think that whole proposition is so much bullshit? I didn't think so.
I am raw. I am reacting. I know this. At least I am getting it out instead of internalizing it and letting the pressure build up until I explode. Although who knows. Perhaps this blog is another thing that needs to be muzzled. Maybe I shouldn't show doubts any more. Maybe I shouldn't put voice to the things I think and feel. Or maybe I should just do it privately. So as not to scare the horses. Or the committee. Or whatever.
Time for coffee and to read my newspapers on line. Then off to work for an incredibly long day.