The Porcupine of Truth

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015.

How could you not pick up a book called The Porcupine of Truth? The title led me to the inside flap — boy meets lesbian — which led me to the first chapter. There I found writing that engaged me just as much as the premise of the book.

A summer of exile from New York became an adventure on a number of levels for Carson Smith. Carson, facile of verbiage — except in the presence of beautiful young women — finally manages to speak to one. It turns out not exactly to be the adventure he was hoping for, but . . .

It all began with Aisha offering Carson a tour of the Billings, Montana zoo where his mother had just dropped him. She was headed to his father’s house to get things organized for their summer visit with the dying man. Neither of them had seen him in the 14 years since they left when Carson was 3.

Turns out that Aisha is not only a lesbian, she is newly homeless – kicked out by her father. She joins Carson in his basement room, and as the two of them are trying to bring some order to the space, they discover a carton of letters from his grandfather who had abandoned his own family when Carson’s father was 17. Most of the letters are unreadable due to water damage, but the one they can read leads them to believe that Carson’s grandfather may still be alive — and that the abandonment story in his father’s head may not be accurate. They grab the one clue available to them as to where he might have gone when he left Billings and they hit the road.

It isn’t long before the trip becomes three parallel journeys: the physical trek; an exploration of messy human relationships, how they form, and what they require those in them to become; and a journey into faith and spiritual meaning. I wasn’t expecting all that and was delighted to discover just how rich this story is.

In many ways, The Porcupine of Truth reflects my own story. It is interesting to me how often books seem to find me when I need them. In this instance, I have been working through the whole concept of privilege, and how it is so ingrained in us that we don’t notice it when it’s our own. Ever since I went to hear the two talks at CSL last month about racism and transphobia, I’ve been roiling around in my mind about my own privilege and how I can make an impact for change around a world that is too small for too many of us to fit into. How do I balance not making myself smaller than I am — which I have done all my life — while recognizing that this world does try (really hard and viciously sometimes) to make a lot of people smaller than they are. How do I not take advantage of privilege I am afforded as a matter of course because I am white, petite, aligned in my gender expression (mostly anyway — a little androgynous, but definitely a female in a female-gendered body)?

Is that even the right question? Maybe it’s less about giving something up than it is ensuring that everyone else be afforded the same “privilege” . . . because they are perfect expressions of God, exactly as they are. I’m still working all that out, and Porcupine has given me more fodder for doing so.

I loved both the main characters in this story, and my heart was touched by the people they met along the way as well as the people they came home to. For all that I make it sound like an earnest book, in truth it is funny as well as heart warming and real. Carson is kind of an ass a good deal of the time. He doesn’t seem to get that it’s not all about him. Even his gesture of giving a gift to Aisha in the form of leading her to a group of gay kids morphs into a petulant fit on his part when she actually wants to hang out with them. Yet Aisha and Carson don’t toss each other out despite their very human reactions. The book is a lovely exploration of the developing of friendship, of the healing of painful family relations, and of the belief in something bigger to help make sense of it all.

Appreciating My Power

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.
— Eckhart Tolle

I am a powerful creator. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that until my throat started hurting a couple of Fridays ago. I’d been dreading having to work until midnight at our Teen Summer Reading Kickoff Event. Sore throat–ticket out. Except there was no way I was going to actually bail on the event. I was the only one who would be there that night who had the magical power needed to open the media closet. I was going to be there, even if I had to be rolled in on a gurney.

The day after the event, I crashed. I was completely couldn’t-get-out-of-bed tired with a stuffy head and compulsive cough.

I’ve gotten into affirmative mind treatment over the past couple of years and have been really diving in the last couple of months. It’s the Science of Mind approach to prayer. I’ve been praying and praying–alone, with my cats, with friends over the phone. I love praying. I can feel the joy in my body when I pray. I can hear the power in my words.

So if I’m so good at praying, why was I lying there, sick as a dog? For one thing, God gives you what you pray for–and thoughts are prayers to God. I really didn’t want to feel this bad. Time to give up the belief that if I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t just get tired, I get sick. There has got to be a better way to get out of doing things I don’t want to do. It was time to use God’s power for good. If I was that kind of powerful–and I am–I had to get conscious about my thoughts. I started praying for perfect health. I prayed every day. I’d like to say there was a glimmer of improvement each day, but truthfully, I was not feeling discernibly better.

Affirmative prayer is about revealing the truth to ourselves–about God, about ourselves, knowing that we are perfect spiritual beings. Which does not mean that there is no illness; obviously, there is. But it does mean that illness does not have anything to do with the truth of who we are. None of us “deserve” to be sick. When we align our knowing with the truth, we experience it; when we align it with not-the-truth, we experience that.

Probably not many of us would dispute the notion that God is perfect, that illness is not part of God’s experience. It doesn’t make any sense to think that it is. If we are made by God, out of Itself, then it doesn’t make sense to believe that it is inevitable that we are going to get sick.

So here’s the gift of this illness. This crud has me focusing on revealing the truth of who I am–on demonstrating that truth. I was invited (some might say “forced”) to consciously proclaim the truth: that I am a perfect expression of God, that wellness is my natural state of being. Over and over and over. I really liked hearing it. And hearing it repeatedly, I started to get it. I am a perfect expression of God, no matter what.

If it’s taken me a couple of weeks to demonstrate that in my physical self . . . well, hey. It took me two to three to manifest the experience. I’m not sweating a couple of weeks to cancel it out. And just between you and me, there’d have been no denying what a spiritual freak I am if I went from sick as a dog to healed, whole, and healthy overnight. God’s got my back on keeping that little secret.

I Am Woman

During Science of Mind Principles class, Dr. Chris invited us to make enough room inside of ourselves to consider that the impossible dream just might be possible. He was talking about that dream that you can’t shake no matter how much you despair of ever realizing it.

I knew exactly what dream he was talking about. Simply put, my dream is to help heal the divisions between people that keep us separated from each other around race, religious belief, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and gender expression. I also want to help heal the wounds we carry within that keep us isolated from others, that keep us from knowing the beautiful truth about ourselves.

So I gave it that little bit of breathing room Chris requested. I even shared it with a few of my friends. I actually opened to the possibility that it could indeed really happen–and I felt excited about it. Then I drifted back to the business of living my life, my dream still there breathing quietly, just not the center of my attention.

Our focus at CSL this year is on making change happen in “real life” through our spiritual practice. One of the women in our spiritual community was asked to give the talk at a Wednesday night Real Life service. Bruce Jenner had just done the interview on being transgendered with Diane Sawyer, and the CSL team wanted to start a conversation in our own community about what we could do to help make the world big enough to welcome people who are transgendered.

Madeline came and spoke about her journey to womanhood. The morning after she shared her story, I woke up filled with a new awareness (again) of the privilege the world affords me because I am a white woman whose body parts match up with the commonly held expectation for women. I was touched by Madeline’s story, by her openness, her deep presence, her hard-won self-acceptance. Her talk opened up a rich vein in me that I have been sifting through ever since.

One of the things that has surfaced is that I have realized that I, too, have struggled to embrace myself as a woman. I have not had to deal with having body parts that most people believe make you a man, but buried inside my struggle to accept myself as a lesbian, there has been this equal discomfort around embracing myself as a woman. I have stayed on the periphery, as if it would be presumptuous to include myself, as if being a lesbian disqualified me from participating in the larger tribe of women. When I really looked at it, I could see that I had been acting from a place of feeling that I needed to be granted permission (to whom do you even go to ask for that?) as if I were not already a woman.

And to claim my place within the circle without apology . . .?

Well, when I put it like that . . . (my whole face just smiled).

Ain’t I a woman?

Oh, yeah. Me and Madeline, too.

I’m Going to Get This

I just hit my phone. That hurt. I’m frustrated. My blog post sucks. My phone won’t clear the notification it just received. I hate having my phone hijacked by . . . whatever makes it not work like it’s supposed to work. Siri was not one bit helpful. Right at the center of all that turmoil is a text from a friend inviting me to her kid’s graduation – in four hours.

I immediately went into guilt, like I was bad or wrong for not rearranging everything to make room for this very important celebration. I felt stuck between one obligation and another. I’ve been working so hard to clear this pattern of mine to protect people from their own feelings–of inadequacy, disappointment, not mattering enough–as if it were essential to their well-being, as if my actions had that kind of power. With one little text, I was sucked back into trying to prevent feelings that I was presuming would be gnawing away at someone else.

As that first burst of “fix-it, dammit,” washed through me, I stopped for a moment and just let myself breathe. I felt what I was feeling and left off on the judgment. I realized I was disappointed for not being able to attend the celebration. In truth I realized that, in addition to judging my own reaction, I had judgment about my friend “putting me in this situation.” I also saw clearly how I do not automatically lead with what I am feeling; my initial awareness is of what other people “must” feel.

It occurred to me in that pause that I had options. I could continue to be upset about the conflict between attending the graduation and my previously scheduled plans or I could simply recognize that attending wasn’t a possibility and move on without getting all riled up. If I got really esoteric about it, I could even feel grateful that I was being provided an opportunity to gauge my progress–or the lack thereof–on my goal of creating a new pattern in my brain (and heart) for living my life. I could take it as a gift of awareness with the accompanying opportunity to renew my focus on making that change. Any of these options would be okay. But then, really, so would being a total whack job, blaming other people for my feelings, and punching my phone.

The Gift

You may underestimate the intensity of your longing for continual transformation, but the universe doesn’t. That’s why it provides you with the boundless entertainment of your ever-shifting story. That’s why it is always revising the challenges it sends your way, providing your curious soul with a rich variety of unpredictable teachings.
From Rob Brezsny’s May 5, 2015 Astrology Newsletter

I have been played. By the Divine Trickster no less. I can’t stop laughing to myself as I tip my head. Namaster: The Trickster in me recognizes and honors the Trickster in you.

A couple of weeks ago, this woman I met awhile back stepped out of my peripheral vision and engaged me in conversation. New life sprang up inside me just like the primal bamboo in my back yard–not slowly pushing it’s way up through the resistant soil, but bam, here I am–knee high before you can blink your eye. (Please forgive the rhyme; that was not intentional.)

I was not expecting that. I mean seriously, I’m working on three goals, and I’ve got a waiting list five deep, with love and desire right at the tail end of those. So maybe a year or two and I’m ready.

But these feelings are lovely, and now I’m shuffling the stack to make room in my world to enjoy them. Who wouldn’t?

I know that these feelings are mine, and though they have been triggered by this particular woman, it doesn’t mean that she will have any interest in me, nor does it mean that she will be someone that I will want to share them with. I finally get that, and I love that I do. But why not take a step forward and see what there is to see?

When I have been attracted to someone in the past, my mind has tended to go blank, my tongue to tie itself in knots, and my feet to head me anywhere but in her direction. Nonetheless, I determine that the next time I see this woman, I will ask her if she’d be interested in grabbing a cup of coffee sometime. (I don’t drink coffee, but I’ve got my Virgo need for detail accuracy in check, and I have rehearsed this simple line used without qualm by normal people everywhere, until I can recite it in any blanked out state my brain might throw at me.)

As the next possible opportunity to see her approaches, I’m hearing Chris Michael’s voice from prayer class in my head–“people usually turn to prayer as a last resort”–so I accept the invitation and I claim the courage to speak this one measly line, the faith to know that my life is unfolding perfectly no matter what, and, well, what the hell.

The Universe, recognizing my keen ability to talk myself out of anything at the last moment, starts strumming leftover remnants of songs in my mind to help bolster my resolve: “What would I do if I were brave.” Then a whole brand new song: “You can’t touch the sky from inside yourself. You cannot fly until you break the shell.” Then comes the challenge from Mike Irwin, CSL’s spiritual co-director: “What would you do this year if you were brave?” Whatever on this year. What about today?

So next chance I had, I asked. It wasn’t even hard. The line came out almost smoothly. She accepted–but not for a specific sometime. I didn’t get the feeling that she was particularly interested in doing so.

That’s when it hit me that God in It’s infinite wisdom was playing me just the way It needed to–getting me to open up, to release some of my old stuff and to really get clear on what I want–and that I want for that matter. And the real gift for me in this (besides these dreamy feelings) is that I get to see that I have become a woman equal to the lover, and the lover experience, that I want to have.