Because the “…once upon a time when I was Catholic” subtitle of Damsel may intrigue some people, I thought it’d be nice to share what inspired this novel-in-progress. (Contains spoilers if you’ve not read up to Chapter Eleven: Tempering the Ruecross.)
What inspired me to write Damsel
I think I explained that I was raised Catholic, but I don’t believe I ever conveyed that Damsel was actually developed during a time in my life when I was (a) K, so it’s obvious that I was tragically single then (b) going through something and very sad as a result and (c) was living in the twilight of a painful decision I had made a few years ago to no longer be Catholic again.
(b ) Did not being Catholic make me sad? No. I was relieved—not everyone is comfortable worshiping what they see as God, or honoring the sacred in life via one religion or another. I felt free and stronger.
Sort of the way Eve behaves…
(a ) Maybe you were single because you were so sad? Uh, so have you figured that out yet? No. I wasn’t dating because when you’re going through a rough patch, one pretty much has faaar better spiritual To Do’s magnetized to the ‘frigerator than: running all over the place trying to ‘catch me a man.’ Really? Seriously. And, why in the heck did I just share that with strangers?
I guess, Cymen Ruecross came out as that devout—there’s always more to life out there (though I won’t admit I’m terrified that, in my higher purpose, I’m missing something)—side of myself.
(c ) How did you ever make peace with losing your faith, if it hurt so much? At the time, I had come into an understanding that Catholicism was only a facet of all the amazing truths the spiritual and moral world offered. Scarcely before making the commitment to write Damsel, I realized that I still had what I call a ‘catholic culture’, and I think I always will. That was how I was raised. I see the world as a universal community of brothers and sisters we are all responsible for. These funky ideas about social justice and love-in-action being enough to make that last difference—this is for real to me, and I will definitely teach my children about Mitch Snyder and Saint Francis, right alongside bedtime stories about Martin Luther King, Jr. And I have consistently been attracted to new friends over the years who turn out to be Catholic in our third or fourth conversations. One of my closest girlfriends is a Muslim woman—so, there’s always been something about me and deeply spiritual people who live their lives in an overt commitment to maintaining loving communion with all peoples.
And, you’ve probably guessed that there are some Muslim characters coming to the story, and other forms of sexual and ethnic diversity.
So, I tried to re-create the wonder of having a Catholic culture: The Grand and Frivolous Effort
Back then, I was sort of living behind a white wall. I thought back about Catholic School, and the holy seasons, church every Sunday, getting yourself to reconciliation before communion, what it used to feel like to have this very thick religious identity… I missed it, but I was also finally ready to voice my questions about it, muse on what never worked for me. And this other element: the saints, the miracle workers, the stained glass windows depicting miracles as if caught in a spider’s web new each Sunday… the symbols, the sacred numbers, the Beatitudes, real and great moral acts being able to change the entire world and everything—well, it already sounded like beautiful fantasy fiction to me.
And so, we have Archbishop Damscus on cute little hooves, and Mother Superior Margarethe who is as much a woman as she is a courageous religious.
I had been one of the first female altar servers, I had made a pilgrimage to Rome and seen Pope John Paul II, and taken all of my sacraments… but now I was going to write about how sweet, amazing, but sad it used to be for me. I was going to write about how sometimes I felt like I belonged, but then I looked around and saw other people who were told that they could not join us, and how that challenged my own sense of welcome.
And afterward, while I still felt I was solidifying my own new beliefs
Through Damsel, I sort of feel like I’m having a straight-talk with one of my sisters, or a good girlfriend who’s been through a lot, some of it drama she’s caused herself—and we need to talk about it now, for both our benefits. Something like that.
But then, at other times while writing Damsel, I feel like I’m celebrating. I still have a deep love and respect for the Catholic Church. I don’t dare ask to have any of that removed from my history. It is an exceptional, intensely beautiful religion that I miss, though I think it’s a good thing we broke up.
A’cause I’m now madly in love with another religion that’s way, waaaay hotter, who treats me better and appreciates me for who I am and accepts what I disagree with: My own spirituality.
What I believe in now
What are my spiritual beliefs? Well, it’s something close to this. Each person is unique. Only I live in my body and only I know what my insecurities are, what helps me to feel centered, and who I need to reach out to when I face my worst challenges. In that way, each person’s sense of spirituality is as intimate as their sexuality—no one else can tell you how to worship. However, the more grounded side of myself also believes that human spirituality is not just about being at peace with one’s self—we are made to be together, we are all social animals. And so, this is also about being at peace with others, because we need each other. In that vein, you can’t just do whatever the hell you want. You can’t commit a random, vicious act and write that off as a reasonable function of your personal belief system. We’ve got to respect one another and take care of each other.
There is no manipulating the spiritual system to conjure hallowed human spirit and just have it do what you freaking feel like having it doing for you, as King Micco does. What if religion were to become so elaborate, so systematic and rote about human development that in the end, it was just insulting to the real, organic way that people are? And people are not angels.
And then, also, because the human experience is universal, it’s pretty silly to take up your walking stick and make your spiritual journey around the world barefoot and take no supplies on your back whatever. So many people have walked this journey before you, there does exist sacred knowledge in that the vast human history includes people suffering, fighting dying, loving, healing, just as you seek to, and it’s foolish to just disregard what came before. That’s like wanting to learn this fancy calculus thing you keep hearing about, but deciding that you’d rather teach yourself and start at 1 + 1 = 2. Religion may not be science, but it is an ongoing pursuit to gain emotional knowledge, isn’t it? So, going it alone spiritually is definitely one long-ass journey that you can make, if you really believe you need it… but, as you walk, if you find that there are others like you who believe as you do and have gathered together to keep their common rituals alive, I recommend that you don’t just cover your eyes, stuff your nose and bite your lips shut.
The Mist Maven Giselle has her own way of doing it, you will see. A disturbing, other way that is alien to all of the characters, but still persists, somehow, as ‘just as good.’
Whatever it is you think you believe in, it does flow with everything else in existence, and promoting and protecting existence, life itself, is that greatest champion cause. This is an effort that is timeless and better and above religions or inventions… A hundred years may go by and the name of the religion may change, or its membership or its figurehead, but man’s duty to himself remains the same.
My best effort at putting that together in words… something like a Harmonic and Golden Order.
To Sum Damsel Up
In a nutshell, because I was raised Catholic, what I believe goes a little like this: just because the Bible says, doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. But then also, the Bible was written by people who genuinely cared about the human condition, and many other sacred texts and religious traditions have the same impulse too. And, so do a lot of really good people, even normal people around you every day—so don’t go condemning anything or anyone else just because it is. Life is not black and white but many shades of gray, and gray is a beautiful color.
I learned that about myself by a silver lakeside…