Erosion/Accretion

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My mother passed in June after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Today is Mother’s Day and I’ve been feeling sensitive about it. Nothing has left me feeling as empty, confused, and strange as this past 9 months since she died.

I’ve heard from other people, with similar stories. I lost my father early in my life, and that loss has certainly marked me in a very particular way. It was a sharp shift, sudden, a kind of earthquake leaving a fault line that altered my ability to move, emotionally at least, that I’ve had to work purposefully on in order to increase my range of travel and movement.

With my mother, it’s been different. She and I had a tense relationship, akin to each pulling away while keeping a tight grip on the other; closeness was too much, but fear at being apart. Love was there most assuredly. I have been told wonderful tales of her thrill at my arrival and her joy of having me, but those stories were mostly about the time prior to my father passing, that time I can’t remember much of. The rest, well, her life was turned upside down after that, and her patterns then were built out of something difficult, her own history, things she had little control over come home to roost post 1978. My memories of that time are troubled.

I played a role in that too, often as the person chasing after her for affection, praise, acknowledgement. Somehow, how she gave it to me and it didn’t stick, or it was clear that nothing I did, no matter how hard I worked, or how good I was at things, would ever actually help HER be happier. Her happiness felt like my responsibility, hell even keeping her alive at times felt like my responsibility. I had no way of knowing if my feelings about her depression were accurate, but I worried for her safety.

Instead of being able to see that dynamic when I was younger, I felt I just had to work harder. Not even for the right reasons-hey Julie, clean your room because it’s good to clean your room, not because you hope to stop your mom from freaking out, to please her, to appease her, to normalize things instead of really fixing the system-but reactive ones. That way of doing things meant never feeling good about the work or the result.

When she got sick, well, it was a slow moving disaster for the most part, trauma in micro scale. I did the whole “I will go to therapy and close this relationship even though she can’t be a part of it and even though when she could have been she wouldn’t have been because she thought therapy was stupid” kind of thing. But looking back, I didn’t even do that for me, not truly. Not to say that counseling wasn’t helpful, but part of me knows that there was a projection going on of what a “good” choice would be, instead of for me getting where I wanted to be.

After my mother died, I went back to my therapist, who told me to take exquisite care of myself. I remember thinking two things; 1) What the hell does that even mean and 2) If I take care of myself that means it doesn’t count. It doesn’t count if I do it because I wasn’t good enough for someone else to do it. Honestly, I’m not all that good at even recognizing when people are taking care of me and not allowing that care inside-I have to own that, because it’s a mirror of what happened with my mother and myself.

Because I am stubborn, or perhaps incapable of taking the loving caring advice of the therapist due to well, everything I just wrote, I did mostly the opposite of self care. Not self-destruction, but passivity. Anhedonia. Minimal participation. Letting things just…go. Shopping for clothes I needed? Nah. Manicures and pedicures? Why bother. Good food choices? Not so much. Reading for pleasure or going to parties or seeing theater or shows? Exercise? No. Rejecting support. Yeah, I think I did that. In bed by 9:00 and shutting down hard, mostly. I will say I’d think about her advice a lot, I let it work on me even as I sat passively not taking care of myself. Maybe all the work was happening on the inside.

It wasn’t until quite recently I figured out how much this untethering had to do with my mother. Her loss. My childhood experiences with her post her loss. The loss prior to the loss. The ten years of incremental, omnipresent loss like erosion, tiny waves of grief, carving out my heart during the disease. I didn’t do the self care needed during those years either, absolutely not.

This is the whole damn thing about families and patterns, isn’t it. You often can’t see what you are in when you are in it, even when people tell you, and even if you see a tiny bit of the actual truth because it’s hard to manage, deal with, process. But then, not managing it causes big problems, too, problems I’m trying to hard to solve and tend to, even if some of it came late.

Mostly, this Mother’s Day I’m admitting that I’m learning how to mother myself to allow for and support my own interior, to view a variety of intimacies as something I can have within me, not because she couldn’t provide it, but because I can; at least I think I can. I can take care of me, not because I’m left to do it, but because it matters that I experience the care of caring. To know that more people cared for me then I ever imagined (yes, even her, in her way), even if it was hard to take in. That “cleaning my room” is what should be done as a matter of course, not to tame some fear, but because it can be a pleasure just to do it; because it makes my life better, and that makes everything better in the long run.

It’s been a stunningly strange year. Transformative in the truest sense, interior and stark. I feel shaped by things I cannot yet see clearly. Perhaps the slow long work of care is about accretion now, slowly building back the spaces where grief made inroads, planting a new landscape of self.

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The Power In Social Media

I know that yesterday I posted about my frustrated relationship with social media, but I thought it worth sharing that two things occurred this morning shining a light on how powerful the collective voices of individuals can be.

This particular article I’m writing here might not flow, might not have all the moving pieces to seem well written. I’m still recovering from a flu and my head aches and feels foggy. Still, I want to say these things.

First, an article on Mashable, Bring Back Our Girls: Why The World Is Finally Talking About Nigeria’s Kidnapped Students, popped up in my Facebook feed.

The girls were kidnapped from their schools over three weeks ago. The trail, which could have perhaps been followed if immediate action was taken, is cold. Boko Haram has claimed to have sold the girls as “wives,” a misnomer if ever there was one, into slavery to other militants.

And the media, for the most part, has remained largely silent. Coverage of the missing girls has been dwarfed by the other major stories of late — the South Korean ferry, the racist NBA owner and the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

“Maybe if the more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted from their school weeks ago were on a ferry in Korea, a jet liner in the Indian Ocean, in the owner’s box at a Clippers basketball game, or were white, the world would pay more attention,” Boing Boing blogger Xeni Jardin said, echoing the thoughts of many.

“If it had happened anywhere else, this would be the world’s biggest story,” said CNN’s Frida Ghitis.

But now, three weeks later, a hashtag associated with their disappearance has been tweeted nearly 1 million times.

I’ve been a part of that million, following the story since it’s beginnings. I rarely go to major news outlets for actual news. I scroll Twitter each morning and take note of the stories to follow. Twitter is filled with citizen activists who know what to pay attention to, and they do it well.

I believe major media outlets didn’t pay attention to this story because it is Africa. Because race. Because gender. Because poverty. Because there seems to be a priority list for all the horrific stories that could be reported on at any given moment. And there are a lot of them. As I mentioned yesterday, social media can mean feeling covered in badness, over-empathizing, taking in too much about things that it seems impossible to do much about.

But millions of Twitter users did indeed do what they could, which was hashtag the hell out the situation. Finally, there has been “breaking news” on CNN, though for the girls that will be cold comfort. They’ve been kidnapped, assaulted, raped, and sold all while the powers of the modern world did nothing. All while millions of individuals in the world screamed through the internet, through links and posts, through calls to their representatives and through petitions.

It took constant pressure to make their plight rise up the priority ranks. Social media played a huge role in doing just that, getting the attention to push the response up the chain. It is shameful that the world powers, the media, the news channels waited so long to respond to the cries of the Nigerian parents. I’m glad people have called and called and called for attention to be paid. In this case, it was a large group of students, women, and the group kidnapping them was clearly and adamantly against western education, and focused on Jihad. If it had been only a few girls in Sweden, though…

Meanwhile, I’ll note (not as a derail, but as a heartbreaking reality that something truly toxic is happening longterm) that these girls being captured isn’t something new per se. Girls around the world (yes, the US) are trafficked for labor. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world get captured to be soldiers, economic labor, drug mules, and more. I see very little about that on mainstream news, and watch as activists write tirelessly only to be ignored.

Perhaps there are just too many symptoms manifesting to truly pay attention to and treat the actual illness. My mind feels like it will break wide open sometimes. We want all these things all these material goods and a way of life that we’ve grown up with. On whose backs has that life been built? What is the relationship to child soldiers in Africa and how I live here? My out of season strawberries and children working in fields? I’m not sure how we all aren’t thinking about this.

This one news event should have hit major outlets immediately. AND the bigger and more toxic longer term problem should be on the news ALL the time until we get our shit straightened out. It will likely take more than hashtags to make that change.

The other thing that I saw today, and it seems silly even to tie this together with the previous topic, was a post by a friend. Long story short, she’d had a voucher for airfare due to delays on the airlines’ part, but due to extreme illness wasn’t able to use it and booked a ticket for her mother within the time frame allotted. Her mother became ill and she wanted to extend the ticket past the original deadline to help her mother travel later. The airline balked of course, until she threatened to take it to Twitter and Facebook. Suddenly, no problem.

Why can’t systems and corporations just do the right thing to begin with? I suppose because we built the systems that way and our western system rewards corporations that protect their financial bottom line over anything else. And maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s related to power and dominance just hating bad public relations? Better to spare $300 in a voucher rather than lose $10,000 over a Twitter snafu?

Better to get some kids on the news than to really deal with changing an entire world view about economic labor and bodies and how we use people (perhaps we always have) to further empires built of people by people on the bodies of people.

I don’t have an answer for it, I just know that the more eyes on the systems and the freer we are to call the systems out, change the systems, keep actual checks and balances in place the better we are. Or should be.

And I know that no matter how it hurts, we have to keep our eyes open to see what’s really going on and see the systems for what they are. The girls need to come home, not just for them, their families but for all of us to say No More Of This Anywhere.

God knows what happened to the men early on who took the girls. Or to the leaders who took the boys and raised them up to be able to take those girls. Or to us who change the channel when things get too hard to watch, who need to figure out our priority of things to respond to in a world that is catching fire, or may always have been burning, I’m not sure.

I don’t have a damn hashtag for that. There is power in social media, I just hope we can figure out how to truly use it.

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Plains

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I should write I should write I should write is what I keep hearing in my head. My mind is scattered and fractured and unfocused. The past few weeks have been difficult containing travel and family and no small amount of illness.

When I get ill, especially as ill as I’ve been the past 5 days, I feel a little unhinged and detached from myself, viewing myself as a walking conglomeration of faults and weakness. My lack of discipline to write, my inability to focus on production, my scattered ideas and projects all stand up and sneer at me and let me know just how inadequate I am to hold any vision, to make good work, to achieve. My body feels like it is laughing at me for even trying, when I feel so sick.

No doubt, this accedia hopped onto my malaise to set a spell, because all I had to do was read Facebook and Twitter from my sickbed. I may leave them both soon. Facebook is filled with only a few types of posts. Brags or whines, sales and outrage. That’s me too, mind you. I’m guilty of all four.

Twitter is not as bad, but is filled with fights right and left, fights always marked with the .@. I rarely even read those anymore because I know I’ll either be angry someone is acting like a fool or angry someone is getting piled on. Sometimes I turn off Twitter and I feel covered in other people, other feelings, not mine.

Both are constant like a highway, never stopping, but never really getting me anywhere. I sit sometimes and just scroll hoping to find…something. The thing I should do, the thing I should write about, the thing that could open my eyes to some great truth about myself, and I could just exit and then do the work now that I’ve seen the proper offramp.

That’s not what’s going to happen. No Department of Transmutation putting up a beacon for what my calling is or isn’t.

Some days I think about giving up social media altogether because it can turn into a time suck, a distractor, that endless foggy road I think is leading me someplace. Then I wonder, how would anyone know I existed if I was gone. Would the world disappear if I didn’t see tweets about it? What else would I see and who would see me here instead of there, and would it count if we didn’t post about it? How do we reach and touch in that electronic ether without getting lost?

These are feverish thoughts, and I’m driving this metaphor off the road while influenced. Brakes, Rest Stop, Coffee Break. Maybe I’ll post this online.

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When Life Meets Dogma | Elaine White

A great read about a woman from the Religious Right who found herself facing life and relationships and love and how those moments truly shifted her dogmatic thinking into something else.

When Life Meets Dogma | Elaine White.

When Life Meets Dogma
Elaine White

I helped the Religious Right take over the Republican Party in the 1990s. I was the County Chairman of the Christian Coalition in Austin, Texas, co-host of a daily radio talk show on Christian radio, and the lobbyist for the Christian Coalition in Texas.

We recruited and organized precinct chairmen. We plotted strategy with other Christian groups to turn out the vote. I walked around with a walkie/talkie at the state convention, reporting to our state chairman as votes were cast. During the primaries, when Senator Phil Graham ran for president, I was on the platform in Washington DC when he and Ralph Reed, Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, announced “The Contract with the American Family.” (It was a dangerous place to be…between Senator Graham and a camera). And I was part of the Texas Republican delegation to the national convention in San Diego when Bob Dole won the nomination.

So, I have had my share of politics. I even had my office broken into, like Watergate, by moderate Republicans who wanted the list of our precinct chairmen.

Bob Dole did not win, but we did have many victories over the years. I personally worked in George W. Bush’s campaign for governor of Texas, as well as Rick Perry’s campaign for lieutenant governor…as you know, he later became governor.

Our 2 main issues were “family values,” exclusively heterosexual stable marriages and a pro-life/anti-choice stance toward abortion. We really dreamed of reversing Roe vs. Wade. I lobbied hard for these issues.

And then life met dogma.

My marriage of 24 years fell apart, ending in divorce.
My cousin, whose very life was in jeopardy, had to end her pregnancy and asked me to accompany her for the procedure. She cried all the way to the clinic and all the way home.
Another cousin announced that he was homosexual, studied for the priesthood, and is now an Episcopal priest in upstate New York.
I seem to have signed up for the intensive course of how messy life can be.

Later, I had coffee with a new friend. Louise said, “You have such great energy! I can’t wait for you to meet my friend, Sarah Weddington, (she is the lawyer who argued Roe vs. Wade).

I left that meeting and called Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church and someone I had debated on public television. “Just what else was I obnoxious about???, I demanded.

He laughed and said, “You weren’t obnoxious. You thought you were right, and now life is teaching you about love and relationship over dogma.”

God help me!

“Life is teaching you about love and relationship over dogma.” A brilliant quote that I will take to heart.

Beautiful. Life is so messy. I suppose that’s why we create so many rules to follow in magical hopes the mess will avoid us. And I guess rules can help guide us through the mess, but they can also, if too firm and too rigid, break us into more mess than we started with.

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Spring

“So I took her by the arm
We settled down upon a farm
And raised our children up as gently as you please”

–Blitzen Trapper

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Every spring I tend my little garden, out in my backyard. I’m not really great with plants per se, but my rosemary and oregano are doing quite well, and my sage and lavender are out of control!

I never plant basil until after Easter and I waited a full week after that based on the tremendously cool/cold winter we have had.

Basil is a must for cooking and I love cooking.

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I still need to get some mint because that runs wild, and I have a hankering for a fig tree or two.

The older I get, the more I want to live quietly, writing and working but say, on a farm. I know that sounds like I’m romanticizing that particular life, and in fact my husband lived it growing up. He knows how hard it was to live, in the 70′s, off the grid. Like no running water no electricity chop wood off the grid.

So I know that part of what I want is a symbol for something else. I want to care for things like chickens, goats, dogs and well, yes, people. I want to get my hands dirty and into things that are messy, creative, generative. I want to see things grow and I want to be able to witness that growth. I want that growth to feed others. I want the work that is fierce but also gentle.

I want to write again and have the mental and emotional room to do so and I think I’m almost there, after this hard year of grief and mourning. I want to build a life that is authentic and based on values I deeply care about, and I think I’m almost there as well, with all the courage I’d need, personal acknowledgment of the things I’m skilled at, the values I hold.

Spring feels very good this year and I feel encouraged to take on the work: Producer, cultivator, seed thrower, space provider, counselor, minister.

Spring comes, and I’m so grateful that it does.

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Here Are Some Things I Want You To Read

Read this piece about female masturbation and lust at Christianity Today and wonder at how anyone in the conservative Christian Church lives a daily life without constantly being distracted by their pants-parts.

Read Andrea Grimes’ tweets on the matter as well, because they are really quite funny and on point and well, highlight the eroticism in the actual writing about Christ that they rail against in people.

Then read this, found at Patheos about Purity Culture and Consent (how consent is absent from discussions in Purity Culture Circles). Libby Anne writes extensively about an article by Samantha Field on evangelical norms around sex. In Samantha’s words:

They don’t teach consent because teaching consent would undermine one of their basic assumptions about people. Namely, the assumption that every single last person–most especially men, but also women–are basically nymphos who are straining at their leashes every single second of every single day and if you let that sex-crazed beast out for even just a moment then BAM it’s all over and you’re not a virgin anymore and that’s horrible because now you’re a half-eaten candybar or a cup full of spit.
This is why the “how far is too far?” question is almost unanimously answered with “you can’t do anything that might get your motor going, because the second you’re aroused– at all– there’s virtually nothing you’ll be able to do to stop yourself from having sex.”
To them, consent is always guaranteed. There’s no such thing as a person who would say no to an opportunity to have sex. Ever. The only thing you have to do to give consent is be alive.

and in Libby’s:

As Samantha goes on to explain, evangelicals tend to see sex within marriage as a duty or an obligation. At the very least, evangelical women are told that if they don’t have enough sex with their husbands, their husbands will go elsewhere for sex. Within marriage, sex is seen as a given, and consent as unimportant. The closest evangelicals tend to go toward dealing with marital rape is to stress that the Bible commands husbands to love their wives.
And for people who aren’t married, well, they’re not supposed to be having sex either way. Consent doesn’t matter because nothing remotely near sex should be occurring. Consent doesn’t matter because sexual activity is wrong regardless of consent.

Then finally, this open letter to the Methodist Church regarding the potential ordination of a young woman, Mary Ann Barclay. Mary Ann is a lesbian and so because she is in a relationship, “practicing,” she most likely will be rejected from ordination because…sex.

I dare anyone to speak against that letter with any logic or meaning other than sheer prejudice. Because some men thousands of years ago in a particular cultural context wrote things about sexuality? Which isn’t even comparable to today’s world? If scripture is the living word (and it certainly has been edited, translated, codified, books brought in, thrown out) then shouldn’t today’s culture and needs be part of that life? If the American church can accept it’s error around slavery why not this?

I am troubled with Christianity’s seeming obsession with sex.

I look out at the evangelical world (generally from the conservative side) with their fear of cross-sex friendships, their purity fixation (only about sex, surely they aren’t out railing about our food and water supply and the environment) which SO toxifies the soul of children and only compounds shame in men and women, their privileged arguments about whether or not sexuality is an orientation as if they just get to decide who can experience marriage (something they see as a sacred covenant-sure you can civil union but God won’t bless it, how horrifying of a position and how it dehumanizes THEM and they can’t see it), how apparently masturbation is just lust (instead of a soothing mechanism, a stress reliever, a way to enjoy YOU, and a method to teach you about your own pleasure needs), and I feel this mixture of rage, anger, and pity.

Humans evolve, so too should the word. So too should the texts we consider sacred. Right now, we have old words, mangled through time and there are a lot of politically powerful people holding onto those old words (hardly the living word) and making decisions using those words to create and maintain classes of people, to justify war and torture, to attack people who just want to be in a FREAKING marriage, who want their kids to understand pregnancy prevention, who want women to carry rapists babies, and who could care less about what’s happening to our children, our land, our actual freedoms.

Mary Ann Barclay IS the living word. Let her live and let her minister for a minister is already is, no matter whether she gets rubber-stamped and magic dusted.

Repression breeds obsession and then the obsession provokes them to repress further. Meanwhile, people are being really and truly hurt and for no reason other than prejudice and fear. Mono or poly, gay or straight or celibate, choice or orientation, I think one can serve others.

Says Sid Hall in his letter to the board:

I ask you again: How does your sexual orientation shape your daily pastoral duties? How did it inform your original call by God into ministry, to your commitment to Wesley’s Works, to your understanding of atonement, to your ability to articulate the means of grace? We cannot, and would not, be separated from our sexuality, nor should we be. But should our orientation qualify us, or disqualify us, from ministry?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics.

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Frogs

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“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
-Mark Twain

Well, apparently it wasn’t Mark Twain, but a witty French writer, Nicolas Chamfort, speaking of dealing with society and aristocracy in the late 1700′s. Still.

I came across that misattributed quote a short while ago and it struck me as something really meaningful. Obviously it’s not about eating a literal frog, but about getting things done early in your day, especially the things that are hardest. There’s even a book written about it, Eat That Frog! all about well, not procrastinating.

I’m a fan of cognitive behavioral therapies, so I figured why not create a little ritual in which I do the things I feel a particular dread about but then reward myself by getting to post the picture of the “frog” I just “consumed.”

I like frogs actually, and thing most of them are pretty cute. And there are lots and lots of cute picture of frogs on the net.

Like this one:

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And this one:

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And it’s be fun to see people on FB ask…so…what’s with the dang frogs, lady?

What I’ve found is that the specific task I’ve been dreading doing each day is getting a lot easier to manage with the frog by my side. I don’t like doing it, but it has felt less and less dread inducing. Seriously, I can do this task now without a sick feeling in my stomach which is huge. Still, there are moments when the frog feels big and ugly, like this:

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Or annoying and officious like this:

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And there are even arguments against the frog model, like this article called Stop Eating Frogs, in which the author Valerie Alexander asks people like me, people using frogs as models for getting uncomfortable things done, to frame the uncomfortable thing as happiness. Don’t think of it as a frog, that’s gross and nasty, think of the thing you have to do in terms of how doing it increases happiness.

Which I get. Mowing the yard means beautiful visuals when you look out the window and also is great exercise. Telling your boss you are late with a report means a sense of internal honor and satisfaction at your honesty. Paying bills means hey, they are done and I don’t have to worry this week.

I’m totally down with that but I think it makes it easier if there is a bridge of some sort.

For me that bridge has been pictures of frogs-the cute, mean, blobby, funny, crafty, and even the ugly ones. Sometimes holding the ugly close to your heart, loving it even a little, helps.

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#StandWithMaryAnn | SWTX Reconciling Ministries Team

I stand with this woman, Mary Ann Barclay. She is already a minister in all the ways that count. She is bold, compassionate, brave, leads from her heart and so clearly hears the call.

#StandWithMaryAnn | SWTX Reconciling Ministries Team.

HISTORY
Mary Ann Barclay has been a certified candidate for ordination in the UMC as a deacon since 2008. She was recommended by the Austin District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) in April 2012. Her scheduled interview with the Southwest Texas Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) was to take place in January 2014, but during the Annual Conference the previous summer, the BOM voted to preemptively remove Mary Ann from the list of candidates on the basis of her sexual orientation. After a failed motion to appeal, a ruling of law was put before Bishop Jim Dorff. After the Bishop’s ruling was declined by the Judicial Council in October 2013, the Bishop ruled again in December 2013 stating that the BOM is required by the Book of Discipline to interview Mary Ann before making any decisions regarding her preparedness for ministry. The Judicial Council will soon review this decision.

These rules excluding all who are called are archaic and based in fear.

I will make a deeply joyful noise when she is ordained, as she rightly should be. No matter whether she is “credentialed” she will help me walk my path as the minister she most certainly is.

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Easter

Happy Easter.

What has died has been reborn. What has laid down, has woken right up.

Nothing particularly surprising about it, and most cultures have a celebration of rebirth. All of us “die,” reconsider our choices and make new ones.

Sometimes a walk round the neighborhood to see the burgeoning spring is what you need.

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Look To The Rainbow or Chase The Dragon

Follow The Fellow Who Follows A Dream

Follow The Fellow Who Follows A Dream

My eldest son had a theater performance last night. Their classes all did a kind of lip sync’d but originally choreographed take on Broadway musical numbers from Annie to Hairspray. He did well, had a great time, and came home riding on air.

As I was getting him in bed he told me, “That’s the best feeling in the world, being on stage. I just feel so amazing.” And then he paused, his face hidden and shadowed in the dark room. He asked shyly as if he was discovering something of tremendous import, “Does it feel that way for you when you are onstage?”

Yes. Yes it does.

Being onstage, rehearsing, producing (and to some extent writing) feels like nothing else. No where else do I feel quite so competent as in a collective space working on receiving and transmitting emotions in text and movement and then offering that to an audience. There is a very particular skill set that allows for that kind of space creation and holding it just long enough for a show to happen and it’s powerful and feels, well, spiritual in nature-energetic, a force coming from someplace (maybe it’s all just chemical but it feels transformative at its best).

I felt this sharp tug at my heart when he asked, as much for his question as for my own struggles with having this need to perform. I felt almost a kind of sadness that he felt that feeling because I know it means a life of sacrifices, struggles, and really weird hard choices if he’s called by the dream-like power of Art and Theater, not by Business or some other more valued lucrative force.

I know a lot of artists. Nearly all of them have a day job and then their own gig. Austin is filled with people working and then WORKING on what counts for them the most, what calls them and makes them get up and create. Most of them are not paid well, if at all, for that creative work. Musicians, painters, actors, singers. Most have to support themselves with a 40 hour gig, live lean and forego middle class luxuries.

There are a few who have figured out how to live on art. Some of those few have family money, or have made exceptionally wise money choices, or have supportive spouses. Some don’t have any of that but have pretty much lived on the brink of homelessness to just work in the arts because they can’t do anything else, and by “can’t” I don’t mean skill, I mean that’s the thing life gave them to do. That’s it for them. Art.

I also know a few folks who have actual careers in law, engineering, business, higher ed. They don’t seem to have a side gig, but feel really satisfied by their career. I’m not sure what they do at night or on weekends but it doesn’t seem to be additional production work, or writing. Maybe they invest? Build things on their homes? Go out? (I jest a little, but I know people who do not go overboard with the extra projects, either art or activism like my friends and I do and it confounds me.)

Many of those people make a really good solid living in their career. Their avocations are just that; hobbies that please them outside of career. But what of all the artists whose actual vocation is the thing that doesn’t pay (but which is often viewed as a hobby by employers)? Reminds me of this article in the Onion recently.

All those thoughts cartwheeled through my mind as I tried to get to sleep last night.

“Does it feel like that for you when you are onstage?”

God, yes. The best feeling in the world to be in a show. Or to facilitate a group of people through a creative process. Or to brainstorm and come up with ideas. Or to listen to someone who needs coaching. or to get all the pieces together for an event. The interchange of energies, transmitting and receiving is the dream, the sweet spot where I have something to offer.

I’m lucky that my career and weekly work is such that I can (and do) use those skills-event planning and production, speaking and outreach, facilitation and consulting, because those are the only damn things I’m good at. And I’m lucky that I have been able to integrate the arts and activism into my life throughout my life. Heck, I try to integrate my arts and activism into each other so I can get more done! I’m extremely privileged to live in a town like Austin where you can craft out a side gig pretty easily and it’s something that keeps the town “weird.”

But I wonder and ponder for my son. How to explain to him that even if he could be a full time actor? The performance is still only a small percentage of that career. From auditions, to money management, to agents, to rehearsing, to classes, to promotion and marketing, to just paying bills and maintaining a home, getting onstage is still rare.

And if he’s like the thousands of artists that do their thing on evenings and weekends, how to prepare him in ways I was not prepared, and ways I most certainly ignored out of a romantic idealism about art and purity and my own pathological issues with money?

I don’t want that feeling to be something he chases like an addiction, getting it where he can, if he can, because he has to live a life that isn’t his just to get by. Nor do I want him to treat it like a musical theater-like dream and not take it seriously or give it up altogether. The arts are tremendously undervalued in terms of monetary reward (unless you are famous and then it’s extremely overvalued) and that means people either give them up or try to work the system ruthlessly. It can’t be idealized and it shouldn’t be cynical, but it seems to me those are the choices lately.

What kind of stories do I tell him in order to help him value earning potential but also his innate skills? What do I do to help him build his own mythos, his own path, rather than crush him with the one I was raised with, the daughter of a well known talented composer whose legacy…well, was crushing in many ways and left me focused on the right things but the wrong ways?

I don’t have a lot of answers to those questions. I’m only now, at 45, beginning to really look in the mirror and ask them of myself. Which, I can tell you, is a painful thing right now. I can look back over the last 15 years and think, damn. I’ve really bungled a lot of opportunities and I’ve truly missed the boat by dividing myself. Personal work is the hardest work.

Which is why I think that shy question, in the dark, was so powerful. It was a moment of consciousness from a young boy taking the very first steps into adulthood. Him recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that his parent had a connection to him in a way that felt real and visceral. An awareness of something he may not ever have suspected about himself, and that his mother had also traveled that same way.

It was a stunning moment, at least for me. And I am still boggled as to how to move myself through it, but surely there is no better reason than to make things a little easier for him.

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