Michelle Tea: Punk, Parenting, and God

In this blog project, I’m offering up my spiritual experience as a starting point for a conversation about our attempt to reach out to something larger than ourselves, especially when we don’t know exactly what that something is.

Along the way, I’m talking to other people about their spiritual journeys too, to hear what they’re doing, what’s working for them, or how they’re reaching out for a deeper spiritual connection, in the midst of a culture that tries everything it can to make us forget about our spiritual lives or just skip it.

We can feel like it’s too hard to connect spiritually - What does spirituality even mean? - It’s too complicated, it’s not cool, it’s too pious, I’m not one of “those people”, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I don't even "believe" in God. All of those feelings can overwhelm us. So, how are other people doing it?

Michelle Tea is a dynamo rockstar who you are either totally amazed by or have never heard of.

She’s published five memoirs, four novels, and her latest, the nonfiction guide Modern Tarot. Her genres so far range from illustrated memoir to a young adult fantasy series to a traditional guidebook, and even a hybrid memoir/dystopic novel (Black Wave, soooooooo good.)   

In 1994, she co-founded the Sister Spit tour, a roving band of queer, trans, punk writers who took to the road like rockstars to read their poetry all across the country, in bars, living rooms, and on college campuses. And as if all this wasn’t enough, in 2013, she founded Mutha Magazine, a deep in the trenches look at real-life parenting.

Let’s just say, if you don’t know Michelle Tea, you should.

Michelle and I have a lot in common, and a lot of difference. I’ve been loving the remarkable honesty and transparency of her writing since I saw her at Sister Spit at the Midnight Sun in Olympia, WA in 1998.

Michelle Tea was an early DIY riot-grrl, so it’s not surprising that her approach to God, the Divine, and her spiritual life, has been pretty DIY, too.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to Michelle about her spiritual journey. Here’s what she had to say:

What spiritual teaching or tradition did you grow up with, if any?

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school beginning in first grade until I was kicked out in ninth.

How did your spiritual beliefs change as you got older?

By the time I was in eighth grade, I pretty much knew Catholicism was bullshit. Their anti-choice and anti-gay stances, the way they oppress women within the order, all of that was a problem to me. As I became more punk I flirted with atheism - Lords of the New Church were my favorite band and gave me a lot of anti-Christian fodder - but I am too devotional, too intuitive, to really not believe in anything.

I am a believer, I guess. But Catholicism, and Christianity overall was so clearly a tool to oppress people that I couldn't get with it, even though I do believe Jesus seemed like a pretty radical guy, hanging out with prostitutes and kicking the capitalists out of the temple.

One interesting thing about Catholicism is that more than other iterations of Christianity, it shows the pagan traditions it usurped. Its worship of Mary (the Goddess, albeit deprived of her sexual power) and the placement of goddess-centered rose windows at the front of many churches (not to mention sheila-na-gigs spotted on the edifice of some old european churches!), the celebration of the pagan spring holidays as their Easter holiday, Christmas as a stealing of the yule holiday, etc.

I'm not ignoring the historical violence in all of this, but personally as someone who was raised with those holidays and has a lot of nostalgia for the secular aspects of them, it's been very easy revert them to their original pagan roots and continue to celebrate them!

What spiritual practices do you use now?

I am a lazy solo witch with an uneven practice. At the very least I set intentions during the new moon and really feel the cycles of lunar astrology through that. I practice with crystals, too, and occasionally candles. I work with the tarot often. I also belong to a couple 12-step practices, and those programs are spiritual in nature, so a lot of my connecting with my higher power / goddess / universal mystery happens through that modality.

How are you teaching your son about spirituality? Any particular practices you use with your son or in your family?

Spirituality per se hasn't really come up yet with my son. I am working to instill in him a love and respect for nature and animals and people, and that's the challenge at age three. Books that I see as spiritual that I share with him include Kim Krans' Hello Sacred Earth and Todd Parr's The Thankful Book. Often at night we will send love from our hearts to the people in our family, and stretch that out toward our friends, and then out towards people who may have helped us that day, such as cashiers in a grocery store. We will extend it to people we saw on our evening walk, and then to people who helped us have food - the farmers and farm workers and the truck drivers and grocery store workers. It's a bit of a heart sutra meditation, and teaching him (hopefully) that everything is connected.

God hasn't come up, either. It's an abstract and personal concept to me, and I am looking forward to him finding his own understanding of what that means for him. I try (and fail) to observe seasonal pagan holidays, as well as Jewish traditions since he and my wife are Jewish, but my wife isn't as into it as I am, so it can get awkward! We will certainly light the candles come Hanukkah. We do celebrate the Christian holidays, but without Christian stories or traditions. I believe those holidays - Christmas, Easter - are pagan in origin, and so we celebrate in that way (and in the crassly commercial secular manner the rest of America does), honoring the passage of time, the earth, and the seasons.

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Michelle’s spiritual journey is deeply her own, as is all of ours. We live in community, but our experience of the Divine is a deeply personal one.

Michelle’s latest book Modern Tarot connects readers and lovers of the tarot with a new take on tarot, with rituals for each card. If you're looking for a new way to connect with your own intuition, or just a new tarot guide that doesn't read like a dusty old manual, and feels instead like a really honest, empathetic friend talking you through some sh*t, you should go grab Modern Tarot. 

You can learn more about Michelle Tea’s work on her website by clicking here, and can buy Modern Tarot here or here.

(((And if you're looking for a deeply addictive novel, I spent three days avoiding all responsibility this summer holed up with Black Wave. Dang. I loved that book. )))

I'll be back next week with my usual letter straight to you from me, about how in the world I am connecting with God deep within the muck of everyday life, dirty dishes, and all.