When I was a kid (junior high, I think), I watched the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. It was the most heartbreaking movie ever (although, I think a lot of things are the most heartbreaking things ever, but get used to it). It was sad. My mom started making fried green tomatoes every summer and I feel in love with them. Our neighbors were retired farmers from Oklahoma who’d migrated West to California in the Dust Bowl. Their names were Jean and Johnny. Jean and Johnny sold tomatoes and other veggies on their front porch everyday during the summer. When we had time, we’d go over and pick veggies and fruits or they’d send us home with some of the extra tomatoes that they didn’t sell. I love tomatoes. They’re incredible–so juicy and flavorful.
About a month ago I bought a tomato plant. It was just 10 bucks from Lowes and was already producing little green tomatoes. Eventually I got to taste one of them, and OMG, they are so much different than store tomatoes. It’d been years since I’d had Jean and Johnny’s home grown tomatoes and I’d forgotten how much different they taste. If you don’t already have a little garden at home, I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s worth it…and it’s so much healthier.
“We are all teachers and we are all students.” My friend John shared this on his Facebook page Homeless Faith, which he describes as: “A place for those who have maintained their belief in a Higher Power, yet have no structured home to practice it.”
“We are all teachers and we are all students.” My friend John shared this on his Facebook page Homeless Faith, which he describes as: “A place for those who have maintained their belief in a Higher Power, yet have no structured home to practice it.” Although I haven’t maintained a belief in a Higher Power, so many of my good friends have and they are searching for answers, mostly because Christian beliefs have had us trained that there are answers. Instead, I think there are journeys we can take and paths we can wander down, bits and pieces we can learn from as life takes us through dark moments and happier days, and people and places we can connect with. No one is your guru, your teacher, your leader. No one rules over you anymore. Like John said, we are ALL teachers and we are all students. We learn from each other and we teach each other.
Life is never a bed of roses, but sometimes it can be pretty lovely. I used to only look forward to the future and didn’t give the present too much importance. I always had to have plans for the future and was always looking forward to the days when something big would happen in my life.
Today nothing major happened. I slept in. I drank two cups of coffee. I went to the post office. I got a Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha. And now I’m home.
I’m not rushing to work on my writing. I’m not doing homework. I’m enjoying the weather and hoping to get a nap in after I post this.
The ambitious me is still here, but I’m learning to enjoy life and learning to relax. Years of overwork and burnout hit me (and my body) like a ton of bricks. I can’t overextend myself as I used to. I can’t pull all-nighters without feeling it in my body. I can’t even drink a whole bottle of wine without getting a tummy ache.
And even when I spend all day resting, I sometimes need to rest some more.
Yesterday I spent a wonderful day with the BF (boyfriend)–watching movies, laying on the beach, getting massages. It was perfect. But I woke up today exhausted, so I skipped class and rested. I’m exhausted for a number of reasons, but I’m just not interested in getting burnt out again. I AM interested in enjoying life, though.
I always dream of moving to another country and exploring the world, vagabond style. The other day I realized that I don’t need to move overseas to explore the world. I can do that here. So Sunday (I think…I have a hard time keeping track of days) I spent the entire day relaxing on the beach. The WHOLE day. I had a book to read, a blanket to nap on and I pulled my jeans up and went playing in the water.
It was the nicest, most relaxing day I’ve had in awhile. I waited for the sun to set and parked my car near my favorite point where I always see baby seals swimming. I could’ve cried, it was so picturesque and perfect.
And that’s when I decided that life is pretty damn near perfect. I don’t have to move overseas. I don’t need anything in life to change. I just need to get to enjoying it more.
IT’S BEEN AWHILE since I’ve updated this blog with such personal things, but it’s time to open up about where I’ve been and what’s new in my life.
I’m leaving my job this week to pursue my dreams and it was because of my job that I was able to come to the conclusion that I needed to do anything to make the leap into what I love doing. Some people are perfectly happy being corporate. I’m not one of them. I’ve come to love the people I work with and I’m really sad I have to say goodbye to some of them but I know I’m doing the right thing for me. On days I doubt if I’m doing the right thing, one particular coworker I’ve grown close to sends me inspirational quotes and gives me pep talks. I’m scared to take this path, which is funny, because I know it’s the best thing for me to do.
EARLY THIS SUMMER I had a decision to make: Would I stay in this city regardless of what kind of job I had to take? Or would I prefer to finally apply to graduate school with the plan to write my book and get teaching experience? Despite sounding like it should’ve been an easy decision, it was hard. I have three pets and I’ve settled down where I’m at. In my twenties, I moved several times and the one thing I’ve wanted to have in my thirties was stability and a place to finally call home. I’ve grown close to my friends here and I have what some people would consider a dream lifestyle. I’m near the beach. The weather is amazing. I have very little to complain about.
Except my job and the fact that I was getting further and further away from blogging and writing the deeper I got into my job. The more skills I gained doing projects, the less qualified I seemed for what I wanted to do. At least to employers. Despite knowing that I’d take a significant pay cut walking away from what I was doing, I knew I had to do it. I’ve always read stories like this and wondered if I’d ever make the leap. I wasn’t ready, until this summer.
I SPENT the past three months picking my top graduate programs and on Friday I completed my GRE. I’ve finished up applications and now I just wait a few months until I find out where I’ll be moving to. My top schools ended up being University of Wyoming, UC Davis and UC Riverside. I also applied (and will apply) at a few smaller programs that have good reputations and good teaching programs. As I wait, I’ve decided to move closer to friends and family and work on my freelance writing and editing work. I started work as a freelance editor this year and work has been steady. I’m so glad I can finally focus on it now without burning out. I just can’t bear to keep veering off the path that will lead me to my dreams so this decision feels really great in so many ways.
It’s a new year and a new start for me. I’m going to be dedicating all of my time on the goal of building my career as a full-time writer and I’m excited to finally make this leap. Big things happened last year for me and as they were happening, I realized that my current life wasn’t very conducive to them. I had a brand new platform on which to write stories and I had no time to work on any of them. I had to make changes.
SO CHEERS to new starts and going after our dreams. I hope the new year holds amazing things for each of you and I hope to hear all about them!
Life isn’t about success, or how religious we can be. It’s about creating a unique path we are happy to walk down. Whether it’s good enough for anyone else or not shouldn’t matter. What matters is that we are happy with it and it’s good enough for us.
Update: This lasted all of two days before I was going crazy wanting my blog back. Anyway, it was a really heart felt and appropriate post (at the time) so I’m leaving it here.
It may seem contradictory for a blogger to want privacy. After all, we put our lives on display-often with photos. We talk about our pets, our sexuality, our day jobs, dating, and our religious beliefs. Over the course of this year, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I not only want privacy–I need privacy. I feel…not overwhelmed, but irritated by all the noise. The idiots. The shoddy journalism. The debates about everything and nothing. The inauthentic displays. I’m quickly becoming tired of the of “my perfect life” posts. You know who these people are and you have your own set of ‘friends’ who do this. They fill their social media profiles with such perfect status updates that you’d think they should live in a 5th Avenue storefront display. They never have a bad day or get acne. They’ve airbrushed out the flaws and the moodiness and the failures and left us with their vacuous self-image to stroke.
Yet no one is perfect. With the illusions we create online, we strip away part of what is real, vulnerable, and authentic about ourselves. The struggles, the tears (or holding back from tears in order to be strong), and the moments of great tragedy that we would love to share with caring people–if they weren’t preoccupied with Instagraming their vegan omelets.
I do care–rather deeply. Many of you have noticed that and reached out to me. Over the years, I’ve formed some of the most priceless friendships with some of you.
I’ve created an entire blog about a subject I was passionate about for years. When I first started, I wanted nothing more than to give all the people who had really twisted their power and greed into an abusive machine a big FUCK YOU. I’ve done that–rather successfully. Each and every person I wanted to have that message now has heard it loud and clear. Some have even pleaded that I let up, and I feel pity on them now. I also realize that there is power in telling your truth. I never realized how powerful my message would be until it was capable of making change. Yet, I don’t wish to destroy anyone completely and I never have. I have ethics–far superior ethics to those I write about and yes, I will gloat about that.
I hold their fate at the tip of my fingers and yet I won’t destroy them completely. This is my one fault; my one weakness. They destroyed me completely for a time but I will show them pity and release them.
I’ve rebuilt myself. I am strong. I have spent two years realizing my strengths and abilities vastly outweigh my weaknesses, and I am confident in them. They don’t belong to some deity or to anyone but myself. Stella got her groove back. My anger is gone. My introverted side is back. I’ve been happily reunited with my pensive nature.
Over the course of the year, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. I’m fortunate enough to live near some really pretty places:
Through that refection, I’ve realized my work here as a blogger on cults is done. You are stronger than you know and you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that or to guide you through the steps. I never set out to be anyone’s leader or guru and I will never take on that title or position in your life, but if I can be your example now, I want you to be strong and unapologetic about your strengths. Yes, people will always be escaping from cults and coercive groups, but there are people who have made full-time careers out of helping people recover. They are called therapists. I am a writer. There are also great people I’ve met along the way whom you may find with a simple Google search, or you can get in touch with International Cultic Studies Association.
My hope for you is that you own your weaknesses fully-be honest about them and apologize to people you hurt-but experience your weaknesses. Don’t shun them and don’t beat yourself up because you have them. Do you assume it’s abnormal to be weak?
Don’t criticize yourself for being different than other people, for in your differences you’ll find your greatest assets and strengths. Don’t set out to be anyone’s hero or guide. Instead, instill in people the idea that they will be strong, too.
Of course many people will return to this website and over the course of time, I would love to expand the content to include things that are new in my life. I’d love to include inspiration, recipes, and pictures of pretty things. Yet, I’m not entirely sure I will rebrand at this point because I need a hiatus from giving and I need to give back to myself. I miss spending hours outside in nature, not worrying about ‘checking-in’ or my blogging schedule or returning emails. I miss spending days mulling over writing a single sentence–making it beautiful. In Internet time that’s old news-but you know me: I don’t follow the rules. I break them.
I’ve also learned that being online can be a bad thing for a young writer brimming with ideas and a marketable story because people willfully steal those ideas, even when they’re still in formation (shocker!). I’m not talking about small things but there was a time this year when I suspected this TV show was influenced by the video interviews I did for DiGa Vision. Those interviews included all the secret workings of my own investigative journalism, cult advocacy work, my own personal struggle with PTSD, and my blog’s sphere of influence. The timing of the interviews being shown to the CW executives and the development of Cults was all too coincidental. The CW offered me a six year contract for my own reality TV show and then, when the Cults pilot was announced, they scrapped the show. I may never know, but I won’t ever share that much again with something that isn’t green-lit or bound contractually.
Yesterday I Googled “going offline for a year”. I wanted to see if anyone had done it because I wanted to take the leap and I wondered if any bloggers had. I came across Paul Miller, a tech blogger, who announced his departure from the Internet for a year this past April. The comments were atrocious and hateful as usual. My particular favorite was “Jesus Christ, these hipsters now have themselves convinced that going to the library is underground.” Paul is a tech blogger and gamer. In no way did he strike me as a hipster. He’s a bit too smart for that. I shared the link on my Facebook along with the above comment as a bit of an experiment and got responses like “I have no words” and “Pretension has no realistic self-image.” Disdain. Of course. Miller has the luxury of having an editor who will post his articles for him, so he will continue to post throughout the year. I do not. I also have no real intention of going offline for good, but I do aim to spend less time on social media–trimming my personal Facebook down to just people I know in real life (shocking!) and actually speak to intimately. Or maybe I’ll delete it altogether. I haven’t decided. I want to go off the grid, so to speak. I envy people who don’t feel obligated to be online. Novelists like Cormac McCarthy who shunned interviews and remained relatively unknown for years. I’ve learned that I don’t operate well in the spotlight and I think it’s best to operate within your own strengths and space. Like McCarthy, I relish intellectual conversation above being acquainted with the masses:
Novelist Cormac McCarthy shuns interviews, but he relishes conversation…[He]…has proved more elusive. He won’t be found at book festivals, readings and other places novelists gather. Mr. McCarthy prefers hanging out with “smart people” outside his field, like professional poker players and the thinkers at the Santa Fe Institute, a theoretical-science foundation in New Mexico where the author is a longtime fellow.
McCarthy became commercially successful in 1992, with “All the Pretty Horses,” a National Book Award winner. Journalists did write about him then, but a quick glance at their tone and you can tell they despised his desire for privacy.
The question on every writer’s mind these days is (or should be): Can you be successful if you don’t have an online presence? I’d argue that you can’t. You certainly can’t sell books. If you don’t generate your online presence and cultivate it, someone will have to, but you’ll notice most established authors now run their own social media and many do so from their personal accounts. This is smart marketing. People are attracted to writers because they personally identify with them. For young writers still finding their voice I think social media is far less important-something I wish I’d known a few years ago. I don’t regret becoming successful at it–the skills I’ve learned are invaluable. Although I will say, I’ve learned I prefer the technical side of social media and websites as opposed to the content building. Online content as you know can often be garbage.
My favorite movie of all-time has to be “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. I can quote much of it and even had a friend send me a ‘bouquet of newly sharpened pencils’ one Spring. You may remember moments of Cathleen Kelly happily reading to kids gathered around the storytime rug:
When Cathleen Kelly shuts down her store, The Shop Around the Corner it is so sad. She leaves this sign:
This is how I feel. I’ve loved being part of your lives for the past two and a half years–walking many of you through my own story, my healing process, and my thoughts on religion. I’ve relished in our many conversations over the years and have grown to adore you. I’ve loved seeing so many of you grow into strong people–getting your voices back, finding yourselves, creating beautiful lives around who you are today (which includes the pain you went through). We have all developed this intimate community where we have gathered strength from one another, asked genuine questions and have accepted that we may not have all the answers.
In January I started working with some very special of young women at Mercy Survivors. I have seen them all become stronger than they already were. None of them are victims of Mercy. They are all far more powerful than Mercy and I anticipate that the next few years you will see some incredible stories come from their website. I would continue to watch them, if I were you.
One of my initial blogging connections was with the creator of Recovering Alumni. I am so incredibly grateful to her for introducing me to her fellow alumni. Their alumni network is so strong and vibrant. In many ways, the men and women I’ve met there have contributed to my own growth and healing like no other group has simply because Honor Academy was so similar to Master’s Commission. It was nice to ‘swap stories’ with people who KNEW how I felt and felt that same way. This is the best thing you can do for yourself as a survivor–find the community you feel most comfortable in and tell your story. Tell it over and over and over. This is what you need to do to heal.
As for further help, or help for new readers who may come in the future, I compiled an eBook several months ago that I feel is a complete guide to sorting out the questions you may have. It’s not available in print. You can buy it on Amazon here.
As for cults, I’m done for awhile. I’ve definitely kicked ass whatever I’ve written about, but one can only exhaust a subject so much. Then it becomes forced. A writer can tell she’s lost her passion for a subject when she has nothing left to say about it. Trust me, I have plenty to say, but I’m ready to talk about something else.
As far as whether the blog will stay up indefinitely, not exactly. This is why I wrote the eBook. The blog will eventually be morphed into an inclusive website (not a blog) for information purposes only (excluding some of my personal writings which I may publish at a later date). It’s important that people know the truth about Master’s Commission and youth discipleship programs/residential treatment centers because they’re not going anywhere for the time being and I’ve always said if there had been anything available for me to read like this blog on Master’s Commission when I was applying, it WOULD have changed the course of my life. However, regardless of whether you shut a group down, the leadership will still start over somewhere else under a new name because they believe they are doing “God’s work”. So they need to be tracked.
I’ll still be updating my website here: www.thelisakerr.com and I started a personal blog awhile ago that I’ve enjoyed posting on about writing, creativity and inspiration. I hope to revisit that after I take this much-needed break. But first I need to feel refreshed and vibrant again.
You can follow me on Facebook here: www.facebook.com/thelisakerr and here: www.facebook.com/mycultlife. I will have a more private Facebook account just for personal family and friends, which means several HUNDREDS of people may be deleted from my existing account. I do feel terrible about this, but I’ve come to realize this will serve me best. Some people will be angry at me for this, but if you’re really interested in keeping up with me, please follow those pages above. I will update those pages and my website as often as I’m able to.
I would love to hear from you in the interim. I will read all the emails you send, but I will not be responding during the holidays because I’m going to enjoy my family and friends, some jazz and all the Hallmark Christmas movies I possibly can. I’m even going to stop obsessing about writing my book and put it all aside to enjoy winter. And these guys:
So for now, adieu, farewell. We will meet again. For now, though, I leave you with this:
Spend some time with yourself, after all, you know yourself best.
Enjoy the moments you have to yourself to ponder about what is important to you.
So with that, GOODBYE. I’m off to find my new HELLO.
I feel sort of chilly right now. It’s been below 50 degrees here in Southern Coastal California, which is nothing for those of you in other parts of the country, but for us, that means rain (for once) and heavy sweaters. I can still wear sandals outside, and I can’t keep the heater on the entire ride home, but you get the picture. We’re cold.
My studio apartment is like an adorable cottage. I imagine it to be in the woods in Red Riding Hood Ville, or on the English Countryside, but alas it’s about 20 miles from Malibu, CA so I can’t really complain, can I?
In the left corner near the door is an electric stove, but it looks like an old wood-burning fireplace or pellet stove.
I’m almost ready to turn it on, and you know what that means? Christmas is coming! Yes, I’m one of those crazy Christmas Ladies (and the crazy cat lady, too!). I have my little Christmas tree ready to put up, along with three stockings. Last year I hung one for Chris, myself and the cat, Boo. They were adorable. This year Chris won’t have a stocking, which is fine. Everything must go on and life is one of those things.
The other day Mike said something really great, “A lot of people can’t see the options on the other side of a situation. They don’t see that things can be better.”
We were talking about relationships. You know when people are dating someone and aren’t really happy, but they stay anyway? Well, I was just sharing some of my own stories and experiences and he said that often times things are better on the other side (of a bad relationship) but people fail to see that that’s possible.
I guess it’s the same thing with life. You know, before I started talking about my lack of religious beliefs, I was scared to say what I was (or wasn’t). I was scared to call myself an atheist. Downright scared.
And now I can say it…I’m an atheist!
Without feeling afraid or scared.
But when I was on the side of being “silent” about a lot of that, I never expected it to be so LIBERATING and exciting to talk about my lack of faith and lack of belief in god and by being candid about what got me here. I couldn’t be happier.
I love the little things–feeling really happy about trashy TV shows like the Real Housewives franchise; being able to watch a sex scene on A Game of Thrones and not have to change the channel. I can just let the whole show play and not even let it bother me. I can go out to eat with a friend and have a few beers. I can’t explain to you what a good feeling that is. It’s great.
That even if you don’t have ‘faith’ anymore, you’re a pretty awesome person. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t worry about what others are going to say about you behind your back. Be who you are and those who love you for who you are will come out and show you they like you no matter what.
Don’t let anyone criticize you for who you are. Be proud. Wear your quirks like a yellow raincoat. If someone doesn’t like the good, healthy decisions you’re making, remove them from your life.
Christians can be bullies too. Don’t take shit from anyone–no matter who they say “called them.”
Critical thinking is winning. Walk into the murky pool of doubt, wade deeper into the unknown and swim with the questions. You’ll find that the water will become clearer the longer you’re there.
Just be who you are. If you don’t know, you don’t know. If you do know, then you do know. If you’re not comfortable talking about your faith or lack thereof, or questions, to others just let them know you’d like them to respect your privacy on the matter. If they don’t listen, tell them to shut the fuck up. 🙂 If you put a smiley face after it, or smile after saying it, it takes away the severity.
You’ve overcome a lot and you’re going to have a better life on the other side. Whatever side that is and wherever you land. You might land in a fluffy frosting-filled town of happiness (and if you do, I’d like the drugs you’re on, please). You might land back in reality where shit sucks and life happens and you’ve got bills to pay. Just remember, wherever you land, after we go through dark times in life, we’re very strong people. If you’re not there yet–you’re still in the dark times–it’s ok. You’re stronger than you think you are. You’ll make it. Life will be good again.
Writing a book is intimidating. I’m not sure why I’m so scared of something so permanent, but I am. I’ve been very cautious when working on my book. It’s part of the writing process, I’m sure. My process has been long and arduous, which seems common for first time novelists.
Yet my book is real. It’s true, so there’s the commitment to myself and my readers to be honest on the page. Honesty can be very scary. I feel it’s enlightening, though. The more honest I am with myself the more honest I am on the page and the book becomes something very different than what I first imagined it to be.