The camera takes a first exposure of your physical self and a second of your energetic overlay.
"I'm feeling bummy," I told my 28-year-old male best friend who I occasionally have sex with on the phone on Sunday. (That's not as snappy as FWB, is it?)
"Why?" he asked.
"I can't control all these things that are happening in my life, and it stresses me out," I said, recounting everything from stories I was working on to doggy daycare budgeting to family stress. "It's like this low-level of anxiety or dread."
"Have you ever seen the movie 'Jarhead'?" he asked. "What you're describing is making me think of the mood of that movie. All the soldiers spend this inordinate amount of time preparing for direct intense combat, and then they get over there, and their roles as soldiers are pretty much moot. It's all jet fighters and super fast tanks. It's almost like this big feeling of: 'sigh.''
"Oh crap that makes me think of a movie I watched this weekend," I said. "I was kind of watching all these light comedy movies in the background as I worked, and one of them was 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home.' So Jason Segel plays this guy who lives in his mom's basement and he goes around looking for signs and trying to figure out his destiny. Oh, oh, oh -- wait, that reminds me, I have to read you this email I got this weekend. It kind of fucked me up, too. Here let me find it. Okay...here we go. Hold on to your seat, dude."
I began to read aloud the email sent from an anonymous account. I read the first part quickly because it is very lovely and complimentary but that is not the point. It's a big set-up to The Big Reveal.
"Hi Mandy, You don't know me but I'm about to write you a personal email. First I have to acknowledge how strange this will come across, and that it's entirely likely you will dismiss what I say out of hand. I know years ago when I was in your position, I would have absolutely done the same. That's why I'm writing to you now, anyway.
"Ever since I started reading your columns on xojane I knew I had to write to you at some point - that I had to at least try to say what I'm about to. Mainly because I've never identified with a stranger more in my life, and that even though -- when my life once mirrored yours -- like I said -- the odds of me really listening to a letter like this at that point were probably zero. It's a strange but comforting feeling to read writing as personal as yours and see yourself in it. I'm sure people tell you that all the time -- that you make them feel less alone.
"I see in the things you write about that you're a seeker and you're constantly trying to understand life and people and yourself, even though it scares and depresses you sometimes. But that's what makes you brave, of course. Even in your weakness you're still strong, not to mention your fearlessness in talking about your struggles and weaknesses with the world -- the ultimate courage.
"On top of all of that, you're clearly a compassionate and empathetic person with selfless, generous and kind tendencies. Your resilience is astounding. It's takes a tough person to stay open to the world and other people the way that you are.
"Recently you wrote a column that made me say to myself, Okay, that's it, I have to write to her now. I see you as being on the edge of discovering the most important thing in life -- the one thing that will make everything clear to you. I've hesitated to do this sooner not because of the reaction I would expect from anyone, but because once you know what I say here, you can't not know it. I've been compelled for a long time to write this to you, but I also knew what I was putting a choice to you that you may very well not be ready to think about. I certainly wasn't when someone -- a couple people -- first told me. It wasn't until a few years later when life had really brought me to my knees and I was at the end of my rope that the choice was presented one more time. I thank God I made the decision I did.
"Okay, so this is the deal. There are two kinds of people in the world -- those who believe in Jesus and those who don't."
The 28-year-old let out a big burst of satisfying laughter. "No, wait, let me keep going," I said. "And besides I do believe in Jesus. So shut up."
I continued reading aloud.
"Please suspend your skepticism for one second and let me finish. We live in an anti-Christ society, period. Images and examples of normal Christians are practically non-existent -- we're all awful people, I get that -- that's totally normal to think that based on what people are shown. But it's not true.
"The BIble is a book I had never even opened once in my life before I was saved. Now, to me it is the only book a person needs to get through this life. It is the manual for living, it contains the answer to every single question. But that's not what we're told about it, of course. Instead we see twisted people twisting it to fit their twisted agendas. If you actually read and study it, though, it's the most amazing book every written -- it's supernatural. And the more you learn about it -- just reading it -- actually changes you. I know you're into self-help books, but this is the definition of that idea."
"Actually it goes on for a while, and I guess you kind of get the point. But it really affected me," I said. "Which is dumb because I get a lot of letters from people I don't know. She just took so much time with it, and I always get all fucked up when it comes to trying to develop some kind of solidified belief structure regarding God and Jesus and spirituality. I think that's why I largely go pantheistic yuppie. I think Jesus would be cool with that, though. That seems like the kind of guy Jesus is, you know?"
"I think you should actually read The Bible," the 28-year-old said. "Like, cover to cover read it."
"Well you know," I giggled. "I haven't told anyone this yet but after I got the email, I didn't know what else to do so...I bought 'The Bible' the miniseries off Amazon.com."
The 28-year-old laughed louder and longer than he had before. "That's kind of amazing," he said. "You should write that. 'I Got An Email About Jesus So I Bought The Bible Miniseries on Amazon.'"
"I know," I said. "I'm an idiot. Who does that? The thing is though, I mean, I kind of have turned my will over to God and to Jesus. Oh -- and like in that movie, the 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home,' so after I got the email and everything, I asked for a sign, and do you know what I saw right after? A guy wearing a JESUS t-shirt, so that pretty much proves it. Don't you think? Oh and also I was right near Will Ferrell when he was shooting 'Anchorman 2' so that was my other confirmation."
The 28-year-old chuckled. "Yeah, I can't wait for that movie," he said. "The trailer is like four jokes. But it's so good."
"But, wait, do you not believe me that I've turned my will over to Jesus?" I asked. "I mean, I have. Several times. One time I was really drunk in 2006 after this Christmas party at Carolines and I may have made out with this one guy on 'Best Week Ever' but I don't remember but I definitely lost my wallet and stopped and got McDonald's and a Chunky bar and then when the cab driver brought me home where I was living with these two lesbians in Park Slope and I had no money, the cab driver screamed, 'GET OUT OF MY CAB.' So the next morning, I felt so fucking sad and alone and fucked up, and I called my uncle who's like a well-known pastor, Google 'Adam Stadtmiller,' and he asked me if I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior and I said I did. Then he sent me a Bible. Oh, and last year on New Year's Day I went into this Pentecostal church, and they asked if anyone wanted to be saved, and I raised my hand, and they all got around me, and they gave me a Bible, too. I think I'm kind of addicted to getting saved."
"Mandy," the 28-year-old said patiently. "You have not turned your will over. Your life is your actions. You are a very willful person."
"Fuck you," I said. "And that's Jesus talking. Directly. That was his special message for you, buddy."
We both laughed, and I continued.
"Yeah," I said. "I guess you're right. I had a guy I slept with once describe me as being like an insolent and willful child. But that might just be because I called him 'daddy' in bed."
We laughed some more. "I mean -- I would love to have faith," the 28-year-old said. "But my critical thought prevents it. Faith is one of the most wonderful things in the world."
"But that's your problem," I said. "Critical thought. And did you not hear what I said about seeing the JESUS t-shirt? What further proof do you need? And I do think Jesus has kind of taken the steering wheel in my life. He has my heart. God has my heart. I mean, I'm sober."
"You don't go to church," he said.
"I go to churches," I countered. "I love churches."
"But you don't have a single church," he said. "It's your actions. Your will would have to manifest in your actions. And it's not your 'heart' we're talking about. It's your will."
"Ugh," I said. "I have a little Jesus prayer book on my shelf. What about that? And in AA you 'turn it over' to God or a higher power. I've done it, several times."
"Several times," he said. "That just proves you haven't done it."
"Fine," I said. "I guess I am pretty willful. Maybe I just need to watch the next episode of 'The Bible.' That'll probably explain it."
"How is it?" he asked.
"It's kind of like watching 'Game of Thrones' without having read the book," I said. "It's like Khaleesi and dragons and then a bunch of shit I can't follow. But it's pretty good. It was fun watching it. I held my dog really tight, and we enjoyed it."
"Yeah the beginning of the Bible is some crazy shit," he said.
"Well I don't care if I'm doing it wrong," I said -- quite willfully I might add. "Today I walked around the city and repeated silently to myself 'Thank you, Jesus' as I counted my mala beads on the way into the office this weekend -- and then it led me to Will Ferrell. So hey. I think it's a start."
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.