Note To Self: A letter to a younger Sarah

My good friend is a pastor, and a writer, and when working on his latest blog entry, he solicited contributions, in the form of “letters to your younger self”. His topic concerned a particular, not to mention news-worthy and controversial, revival that took place in our area when we were in our late teens.  (You can read it here , and should read his other stuff too!)

I answered the call, but broadened the scope, and quite honestly, this has been rattling around in me for quite a while, so the kick in the pants was appreciated.

Dear Sarah in her late teens:

You are trying to navigate an uncertain time in your life. You are becoming you. And, it turns out, this takes a while. You’re desperate for certainty… for security… for identity… for belonging… for purpose… for acceptance… for peace… You want these things in all aspects of your life, and your faith is no exception. In fact, you are turning to your faith and your understanding of God to give you all these things. Like it or not, science tells us just where your brain is developmentally. Your need for these things is so vast, that you crave black and white answers… You want RIGHT NOW something that actually unfolds gradually… But you want something definitive, something compelling, something that will tell you 1. Who you are, and 2. That you’re okay.

There’s nothing wrong with spiritual fervor. Zeal is great. Finding a group of believers to navigate these times is wonderful. However… You can be blinded by what is offered. Your needs can cloud your judgement… And you can find yourself trying to fit into a system that seemed to offer you what you needed, only to find, that as things unfold, you are left hollow.  The system that gave you black and white answers, failed you when you began to doubt it… It failed you when things began to unfold, and there were inconsistencies. And it left you feeling betrayed at best, at worst… damned.

You want it all to be true… the things that your tribe believes… You want to feel the hand of God… You literally, want to fall down by his spirit, and LITERALLY tremble in his presence. But you don’t… And my dear… that’s okay.  I urge you, to slow down, and to hear the one truth that is at the core of this faith tradition… 1. You are okay, because 2. The divine dwells within you.

You didn’t have to ask for it. You didn’t have to turn from your evil ways. You didn’t have to invite God in. You didn’t have to study sound theology. You didn’t have to walk the straight and narrow. You just had to breathe… and acknowledge the truth that you sensed inside of you for as long as you have memory… That life is sacred, and the giver of life abides within you… and that makes you okay. The rest is details.

It’ll take a 15 year long “dark night of the soul”… but youwill have a moment, where you lay outstretched beneath the trees, filled with all that you once desired… and you will whisper under your breath, “I knew it all along”.WP_20170202_002

It took both resistance and surrender. You weren’t sure what to resist and what to surrender, and it took you a long time to figure it out. Years of tension, a lot of anxiety, a lot of guesswork. You were so afraid to throw the towel in on God… but everything in you told you to. And you were so afraid of what that would mean… What it would mean if you were wrong, and even worse… what it would mean if you were right.  You landed in a vague agnostic (practically atheist) land that allowed you a little respite. And you needed that respite… because life was going to hand you some serious struggle. Struggles that went far beyond existential fear… Real life pain. Real life loss. And the journey through this pain, stripped and broken, is where you finally learned what to resist, and what to surrender.

You didn’t throw the towel in on the concept of God…. You threw the towel in on your context of God. God was never the problem. Your understanding of God was the problem. Your understanding of yourself in relation to God was the problem.

The instincts that you first remember… being moved by music, feeling connected to nature, love, wander, the urge to create, the longing for justice, even the deep-rooted sense of something sacred coursing within you… It was always there… and it was always true. You just had to surrender the context that caused you to deviate from what you knew all along.

So relax, and keep hope…. and keep wrestling.  There is light. There is peace. You will be wounded along the way, but you will find it.  And you are going to chuckle when you find out it was in you all along.  So much of your peace will come from the realization that you don’t have to solve the mysteries of God and existence… of life and death… And there will be peace in understanding that it isn’t black and white… it isn’t either or.  The not knowing is not an enemy. Uncertainty is not the antithesis of Faith… Rather.. it is the birth place of faith.

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Mindful Consumption, No Show Sunday, & Death to Disclaimers

I began this year with a bit of a mantra rolling around in my mind.

“Mindful Consumption”

I wanted to be more intentional about nearly every aspect of living. A lofty ideal, I know, but that’s what we do at the beginning of the year. It’s what I do. I set a big target. Even if I don’t hit the bulls eye, I will at least land somewhere in the neighborhood of my ideal.

Some key areas of focus were time/energy, resources/waste, and information/influence. It’s easy to imagine some general and practical applications to these categories. Less social media, less tv, less reliance on phone/internet. More interaction, more reading, more quiet. Less spending, less plastic, less accumulation. More re-purposing, more giving, more saving.

Just a few months in, and there are some tangible and measurable results. I feel like I accomplish more, and experience more. I find added value in things that once may have gone unnoticed, simply because I am more thoughtful in my choices. A good, albeit trivial, example is my newfound love for glass spaghetti jars… so many uses! Things seem to be a bit more organized in general and that makes life for the whole family go smoother. We’ve curbed spending and have reduced our debt. I feel a marked decrease in anxiety and guilt, and I feel better connected to my family (that one deserves a blog entry all its own).

A very specific practice that I have implemented is Sunday. For almost a year our family has had “No show Sunday”. We just don’t watch shows or movies or play on the tablet. This year I upped the ante and decided that on Sundays I would stay off the internet altogether. After the kids go to bed, I put on a cd or record and look ahead at the week, while reflecting on the week behind me. I set goals in several categories. One category is called “create”.

I create something every week. Whether it is a blog entry, a poem, or just a journal entry. On more ambitious weeks it may be a song or a story. Some weeks, it is a letter. See, I have embraced a thing that I have known longer than I’ve known just about anything…

I like to create. I need to create.

Usually it involves words and ideas, but a scribble or an inspired dinner will do. This new “mindful consumption”, among other things, has created space and time and room for me to do more of what I love. And, it isn’t so much because my schedule was SO busy before… I was just too busy, inside. Too disjointed and distracted. Too frazzled. And frankly… I just forgot. I forgot to do the thing I truly love.

I was still creating… but an idea or an inspiration had to barrel down on me and stop me in my tracks…Now, my ideas can be a little more subtle. I have that space, especially on Sunday nights, where I can reach for any number of ideas that have been gently tugging on me. I think I’m even beginning to train my ideas.  Like a kid, who knows they will get 1 on 1 time with Mama. My ideas are learning a bit of patience, because they are seeing that I’m committed to them, that I’m going to take time for them. It isn’t only the loud, obnoxious, temper tantrum throwing ones that survive.

In the midst of all of this I’ve been having more conversations about creativity, and even reading about it (Big Magic, Liz Gilbert). In my reading, and conversations, I have not heard anything new… not at all… but I have heard truth that has long been ignored. It really is a wonderful thing. Rather than discover a new world, I am finding affirmation, that this thing I had a hunch about… it’s real, it’s true. I knew it all along!  It provides a bit of permission, reassurance, even encouragement… to just go for it… make it… whatever it is.

Today’s “aha” idea concerning my creativity (and the inspiration behind this entry) is simply this… No more disclaimers. Just create.

With the exception of “Do not try this at home”, Spoiler Alerts, and other cautions required before continuing, a disclaimer can be a pretty ugly thing.

First, it presumes to know the mind of the recipient, and it presumes that the recipient will be critical and judgmental. Maybe they will be… is that my business? Am I in their brain? Do I know what they deem as good or true or tasty? No. I don’t, so why anticipate how someone else will view/interpret/value my creation.

Second, it can be pretty terrible disguise for what is really going on… Insecurity and/or control. My disclaimer will basically reveal what I’m truly afraid of… It will tell you, “Here… this is where I lack confidence, so please be gentle with me”. Or, it will say, “Here… let me guide you where I want my creation to take you, because I know what is best”.

The disclaimer says, “Let me beat you to it…. I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll go ahead and say it”. It says, “Lets cover a bit of ground before we even get started so I can put this thing out there without risking too much or trusting myself, or you, enough to just… take it for what it is”.

For me… what “it” is… is simple. It’s just an expression, of something within, that wants to live outside of this skin. And, ultimately…. and finally… I am ready to do it, not for what it will say about me or what it will do for me… Not for how it will change you or affect you… But just, for the joy of it.

 

What’s going on?

There is a lot going on out there. Really, too much ground to even begin to cover. It is dizzying, and before I can be compelled, convinced, outraged, or potentially deceived, by any one headline, comment, article, or tweet… I am, barraged by another; Another opinion, another perspective, another version of what is going on… Out there.

Really… it’s too much.

So. I turn it off. And today, I tell you about what is going on… In me.

The plates have been shifting, for some time. The lens has been changing its depth of field, and the image is slowly coming into focus. I can make out shapes and colors and the image, is so close to being sharp… I can sense it.

A couple of years ago I wrote about my ideals. I was in the infant stages of identifying them. I was motivated, but terrified. And, quite honestly, lazy. Some of the ideals I named would require sacrifice in order to strive toward. Some, would require a forfeit of control, of compulsion, and (so I thought) of pleasure and comfort.

Slowly, as I have made small calibrations towards some of these ideals, I have in fact discovered that I forfeit nothing, and gain so much. The more intent I am on my aim, and the more I do to focus in on my subject, the more beauty and clarity I enjoy.

I am reminded of a passage in the in the New Testament… “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”

It is as though that is our default way of being.

However, it need not be so.

We are inundated with information… worse even… we are inundated with something I do not know the name for… with input, with judgement, with expectations, with voices… with an army, a tidal wave, that does not seek to care for us. It does not love us or want what is best for us. It does not pleasure in our existence, as we are, or as we might become. It seems that it does not pleasure in anything… except for our ear, our attention, our rage, our flimsy adoration, our blind allegiance, our money, our time….

And in exchange, we receive a mind drowning in distraction, unable to focus or be still. We receive an image of self that is comprised solely on comparisons and approval of others… Others, who, unintentionally, have become members of the army… drops of water in the tidal wave. In exchange, we lose time, energy, identity, purpose…. life.

We somehow find comfort in the tidal wave… we bathe in it, meanwhile losing so much. And when we, like myself, get slightly wise to the thing, and seek to slowly emerge, we are afraid that we will miss it… that we can’t live it without it… that we need it.

We frantically wrap our wounds with whatever is offered to us… We mummify ourselves in hopes of binding our broken-ness. To the point of near suffocation. Some of what is offered may have merit, some may even have truth… but we miss the point… our wounds need our attention… We fail to realize, that our wounds, beneath the mounds of good-intentioned gauze, are simply festering. The healing comes from unbinding them. From shedding the shroud. From bravely examining our wounds, uncovered, without antiseptic, bare.

A couple of years ago, I slowly, began to unwrap the gauze. I unraveled, so fearful of what I would find. I tended to some wounds, I kept a few buried… but I am discovering a beautiful, redemptive truth… about myself and about life…It’s sacred. And that realization, is joy. And the further I go on this journey, the more motivated and hell-bent I become on stripping away ANYTHING that would rob me of my joy. I am becoming delighted, not inconvenienced, to hone in on this ideal… Of a truer, way of being… of living.

I am exchanging distraction and anxiety for intention and contentment. I am exchanging moments with screens and technology for moments with my precious people. I am exchanging energy on comparing and critiquing for energy transforming and creating. I am exchanging  fear and insecurity for peace and confidence. I am exchanging judgement and self-righteousness for acceptance and personal improvement. I am exchanging doubt and disbelief for an awakening to the sacredness to this life.

And I’m tripping over my own feet, and sometimes taking my eyes off the target, but I’m doing it… I’m making my way out of the path of the tidal wave… I’m taking off the bandages… I’m living, with more honesty and meaning, and less compulsion and waste. I’m doing more of what I want to do, and less of what I don’t want to do. I’m breathing, and loving, and growing, and falling, and I’m loving it…. Truly loving it.

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Gotta have Faith, Faith, Faith

I don’t know if it’s an American thing, or a Western thing, or a human thing, but man… we LOVE to put labels on things. On people. On EVERYTHING. We like to fit things into categories. It’s how we identify ourselves, and it’s how we relate to one another.

Only, some things aren’t so easily categorized, and some things transcend the labels that we assign.

Like faith. To think, that we try to use our meager vocabulary and limited understanding of something so profound… something so big…in order to fit into some notion… in order to fit into some group.

With each label comes a preconceived notion, and each of those is as different as every individual trying to use them. Faith labels, have hurt me, and in many ways have distracted me from the honest truth that I have longed to align with.

I wore (wear)”Christian” for quite a while. That word alone means something different to each person reading it. For me, that word wasn’t nearly as broad as it’s definition. My heritage is in the Evangelical, specifically Methodist, flavor of Christianity. For me, with that word came a long set of theological premises and expectations that may or may not be straight from the mouth of God, but nonetheless shaped my system of thinking, believing, and living. Until it didn’t.

And then what? If, on my own journey towards honest truth, I find myself resonating with ideas or philosophies that veered from my “label”, what then?  Well… for me… It meant doubt, it meant fear, it meant “Oh no! What do I do?? Am I a blasphemer? Do I not fit? Am I lukewarm, will I be spit out??… Do I care?”

It wasn’t the teachings OR the teachers that compelled me to have such anxiety about my questioning… but rather my understanding…. of the label. My interpretation of the label made me take an all or none approach. I remember saying it to people… saying, “It’s Jesus, or it’s nothing, and I just don’t know”. I wouldn’t throw the towel in completely, but I certainly threw the baby out with the bathwater (oooh, gotta love all that metaphor!). I was afraid to disavow myself from Christianity, but I desperately wanted to be true to my heart… to my mind… to my existence.

I often thought, and on rare occasion told people, that I couldn’t decide if I was a Christian dressed an Atheist, or an Atheist dressed as a Christian. Truly, on the fence, and feeling such turmoil about where I was going to land. The urgency to choose a side just caused more anxiety… until I took a hands off approach.

“I just don’t know”. That seemed like a true enough space to fill. And I suppose that would be “labeled” as agnostic. So, okay, let’s settle there…

Only, here’s the problem… it’s just another label, trying to define something that (for some) can not be defined by mere language. See, my commitment to the Christian label left me no room for doubt or questioning or adaptation or flexibility… or even growth. And then, my commitment to the atheist/agnostic label (which by the way… in my region, in my family, and in general are ballsy labels to identify with) left me no room for belief.

So… I strip the labels. I love my Christian heritage, and I choose not to turn my back on it. So many of the truths that lie within that label ABSOLUTELY resonate with me. Some don’t. Who cares? Well, okay, plenty of people care, but I don’t have to. Not if it keeps me from pressing forward in the exploration of my personal beliefs about God and all things spiritual. I don’t have to have a description on my name badge that makes people know what kind of theology (if any) that I adhere to.

And when I’m feeling less than devout… When I feel much more like the atheist dressed up as a Christian… I don’t have to let that define me. If I cling to that label, it shuts down the opportunity for mystical, spiritual moments. Moments, that when noticed and nurtured can awaken the spirit and make a doubter believe. My niece was telling me about one of these moments… the kind of moment that you could disregard as coincidence, or attribute to something else.. She said… “I chose to acknowledge it”. Man, that stuck with me… Faith, is not cut and dry. It is not yes and no, it is not (get ready) hot and cold. It’s a moment… it’s a choice. It’s an acknowledgement, that maybe something more is going on… And it’s having the openness and courage to entertain the moment… to quiet all the clamor in our minds that is made up mostly of baggage that we associate with muddled labels… so that we can move forward… towards an honest truth that transcends language or label. A truth that makes us better, truer, kinder versions of ourselves. And when we do this, without the confines of a rigid framework, we are able to truly own our faith, even if we can’t always describe it.

Without the labels, I can navigate this faith journey without anxiety. I can draw from my upbringing, and my Christian education, while seeing things in a less confined manner. And, I’m not sure the outcome, but I think it might mean an expanded perception of God… a truer sense of the nature of Christ… a more compassionate view of humanity… and overall… a better, truer, more peaceful way of living.

The takeaway:

If your faith is stressing you out… If you feel more like a Thomas or a Judas or a Jezebel…. Relax. Seriously, relax. Think about stripping down the labels and the obligation and all the pressure, that somehow, infiltrated your sense of self. Rebuild. Slowly. It’s your heart… It’s your life… You can be respectful to your heritage or your customs or your family, while allowing yourself the beautiful treat of being authentic. Do it slowly….because you may take wrong turns. Surround yourself with people who demonstrate love. Listen to people you trust, but not as much as you listen to yourself. Find people who come from your same faith background, but who might have a new or different way of framing things. It allows you to search, without throwing everything out.

To the atheists and agnostics. Don’t feel marginalized. Don’t let others pressure you into feeling broken or incomplete. Allow a little room for life to surprise you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but don’t be closed off to it. Life is a journey, you are a journey, allow the story to unfold. Don’t put a period on everything. Unless you put three …

There might be more…

Usually, there is more…

Why I cried when Prince died

I clicked on the notification from my childhood best friend and saw the news, that prince had died. It sort of left me dumbstruck, face scrunched, perplexed. Maybe it’s a hoax, but after a few clicks, sadly, it is true. I started to cry, and felt pretty stupid. Well, not stupid, almost… guilty. I didn’t know him, there are people in his family and life who are truly grieving the loss of his life. I’m not really sure what it is I’m grieving.

Naturally, I go to my record shelf, take “Purple Rain” out of the sleeve, place it on the turn table, and put the needle in the groove. I’ve heard it a million times, but still, it seems like the right response. I get a text from a friend, telling me the news. I get a phone call from my mother, telling me the news. Weeping now, but still, feeling a little silly.

I keep thinking about my brother and sister, Kevin especially, and how I don’t want to tell him. Delay it just a little. And, in thinking about them, I start to roll through memories upon memories, that I associate with Prince’s music. And, I begin to feel less silly.

My first recollection of music’s impact on me is a lullaby my mother would sing to me. The second, is “When doves cry”. I remember feeling something that I would later learn is the sharp, beautiful ache, that you feel when you fall in love.

I remember my brother and sister watching Purple Rain, the movie, and something in me stirring… Likely it was the precursor to sexuality. It was provocative. In elementary school I snatched mix tapes of my brother’s, only to have him scold me and stress that these songs were not appropriate for me. Specifically “La, la, la, he, he, hee” and “Erotic city.”  He had all the records, and I loved them all. The lovesexy cover, complete with a nude Prince, posed in a most feminine fashion, intrigued me.

At 9 or 10 years old I’d memorized most of the lyrics to lesser known gems like “Anna Stesia”….

“Have you ever been so lonely that you felt like you were the only one in this world? Have you ever wanted to play with someone so much you’d take any one boy or girl? Anna Stesia come to me, talk to me, ravish me, liberate my mind. Tell me what you think of me, praise me, craze me, out this space and time”.

The Batman soundtrack was very culturally relevant, and I wore it out. During my middle school years I fell in love with a previous album… Sign of the Times. If we could somehow resurrect the archives of “Network Video” and scan through our video renting history, you’d find that I rented “Sign of the times” probably 50 times. I loved everything about it. Simply a “live concert” with some dramatics edited in, but I LOVED it…The band, the theatrics, a dancer named “Cat”, all of it, but mostly…. the music… and the man. I know you can’t take nostalgia out of the equation, but those songs hold up… to even the strictest standard. “If I was your girlfriend”, “The Cross”, “Adore”, and “Dorothy Parker” are all, in my humble opinion, songwriting masterpieces. The grim “sign ‘o’ the times” almost frightened me… with all of its headlines from the news… but it still moved me, and like SO much of his catalogue… resonated with me.

While obsessing over 1987’s Sign of the Times, he started releasing new material with The New Power Generation, which I would listen to in my 8th grade bedroom while curling my hair, getting ready for school dances. Thanks to MTV, and a tv in my room, I could watch the videos.

In high school, I started revisiting some of his earlier work. Some of it was new to me… He’s debut album, and Controversy…. They were new… and good!… almost 20 years later.  1999 and Purple Rain (the entire albums), were thick with varying degrees of nostalgia. “Let’s Go Crazy” brought me flashes of being LITTLE… with memories more of mood and color and smell, then of actual stories. Some of those songs call up images of my sister dancing… Cardboard forts… wintertime in Ohio…childhood. Family.

As a teenager,”I would die for you” spoke to me on such a spiritual level.

Songs like “The Beautiful Ones”, practically kill me. Its perfection stands alone. It’s haunting, beautiful and powerful… enough on it’s own… but then you add in the fact that this music, its like a thread that dates back to my earliest memories and somehow personifies the bond I have with my family.

Specifically, Kevin… who, I just got off the phone with. Further proof, that I’m not silly. He gets it. I’m sure there are millions who do. This Christmas Kevin gave me the Purple Rain Record that I’m listening to now. The attached note began with… “dig if you will a sister…”

*Sigh*

I’d gladly take this opportunity to defend his status as the greatest popular musician of our time, heck, of all time. But, I suspect the world is currently making that case for me. I’m sure they will mention the innovation, the seamless merging of rock/funk/soul/folk/electronica/etc., the mastery of multiple instruments, the brilliant writing, the face melting guitar playing, the production skills, the performance skills, and on and on….

Musically speaking, he makes you ache, and he makes you want to dance… and that, for me, is the criteria. He sort of defined the way I judge music, and the way music impacts me.

So, the greatness (that stands apart from nostalgia), the nostalgia itself, the connection with Kevin… No wonder I wept. No wonder I ached. And the beautiful thing, is that this feeling… for me… it is an evidence of the divine. It is something spiritual… Because… I mourn him… not because he was a part of my life, not because I won’t be able to access him (the music lives forever), but because….

The thing that makes us different from the animals, the thing that makes us “made in the image of God”, whatever you call it… soul, essence, imprint of God…. Is what makes music. Prince’s essence, that was poured out through his music, impacted me… it impacted my essence. I believe that is where you find the divine… in the exchanges we have…. Where that little bit of “God” in you, somehow resonates with that little bit of “God” in me. Music does that. Prince does that.  And like most pain that is motivated by love or truth or divinity… it actually serves as a great source of joy… because, isn’t this why we live? Isn’t this what it means to be a human being with a spirit/soul?

To be affected…

to ache…

to want to dance our asses off….

to weep when Prince dies.

So… when my friend Tyler texted me… my reply was “Pretty ridiculous, but I’m sort of weeping”. I take it back… it isn’t ridiculous at all.

“The beautiful ones, you always seem to lose”

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Epilogue:

Click HERE for a thrown together (not exactly meant for public) cover of 1999 that my niece Karis and I threw together for a little “open mic” we had at our family reunion/new years eve party in 2014.

Click HERE for a previous post/poem featuring Kevin & Prince

Click HERE for my introduction to blogging, including Prince disclaimer

As long winded as this was, I really only skimmed the surface… I keep thinking of more songs/memories…Perhaps a Favorite 10,  30, 50 Prince songs is order.

 

Marriage: A 10 year review

 

jrdphoto0767The Mr. and I just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last week (stay tuned for  an entry about our NYC trip). We also recently had a lovely conversation with one of my nieces, who is engaged, about marriage. This blog entry is the love child of the two. The ideas, about marriage and the things I’ve learned during the 10 years of mine, have been brewing for a time… I’ve only in the last year or so been able to grasp some of these ideas. To be clear… we are a work in progress, and even this entry is a tool to be used in making our marriage better.

In no particular order:

  • We go to great lengths to get someone to “choose” us…. But what do we do to make them glad they chose us?

We all do it. Because we all want love. Well, maybe not all… but most. We want a companion. We want someone to choose us. So we put our best foot forward. We give extra care to our appearance, we laugh at unfunny jokes, we complain less, we shave our legs more, we genuinely want to learn how to surf, we aim to please, we take the time to care, we give good gifts, we are patient, we admire, we listen, we go out of our way to be close… to touch, we try new things, we eat spaghetti with chopped hot dogs….. And we love it. Right? None of it is even fake. We truly want to offer the best version of ourself to this person that deep down, we really want to hitch our horse to. We do a lot, for them to choose us.

And eventually, that changes. We shave less, we give up on learning to surf, we complain, etc. etc. etc. And, the routine of it all is not necessarily a bad thing. The normalcy of life together is beautiful in its own right… but I would ask (myself)… Do I do things that make him glad he chose me? Am I a person, that 13 years after falling in love, he is glad he hitched his horse to? I no longer have to worry about impressing him, certainly not on the superficial levels… but I do want to do things that make him glad he chose me. I may not ever surf, but I can take interest in his passions… I can be adventurous… We can play together. I can still care. I can make sure that I am something good to be hitched to.

  • Finding a balance between legitimately taking care of our self while sincerely putting them first.

I can’t take care of anything… not child, nor husband, nor pet, nor home, if I haven’t taken care of myself. And that takes many forms. For me, it is a good reminder that as a family, we aren’t just some glob… all running together… we are individuals, joined together. I am a better wife and mother when I am physically healthy, rested, professionally satisfied, creatively productive, and socially fed. Putting him first doesn’t mean I keep quiet when I’m hurt or annoyed or troubled. It means that I take a minute to think about him… him…. this magical person that I somehow found myself cosmically connected to. When I need something, I take 2 seconds to think about how it’ll affect him, and I try… try… not to keep score or get resentful about time or needs or resources. I value my self…. and I value him. The two aren’t mutually exclusive (Man, wish I’d learned that sooner).

  • Union: becoming 1 means it isn’t always fair

In a court of law, there are standards, laws, procedures, guidelines… there is a system put in place that, generally speaking, makes things cut and dry… black and white. NOT SO IN MARRIAGE! You can not take someone to court who doesn’t adhere to the same set of laws. If you don’t practice Hindu, eating cow is not a sin. In marriage, you have to work together to create a system of guidelines, and even then… you have to be flexible! We all bring baggage to a relationship, and we all bring our own system that we feel the whole world should adhere to. Feeling like someone committed a crime, is bad enough, but finding out that they adamantly find no fault in their behavior is a recipe for a LONG night of “talking it out”. Fair, is only fair, if you’re on the same page… don’t assume you are.

  • Someone can’t give you what you think you “deserve”, if you can’t give it to yourself.

Decide for yourself if you’re pretty… or useful… or worthy of appreciation. Figure out what the criteria is, and see if you don’t make the cut. And if you don’t… get better! The end result will mean a stronger sense of self (and with it comes independence, sense of worth, coping skills, et al.) AND less work for your spouse. Side benefit: The positive image you have of yourself is absolutely contagious. Don’t leave the dirty work for someone else. Revere yourself, don’t wait for someone else to.

  • When in Rome… Speak Italian.

If you visit a foreign country, a gracious visitor will learn their language. If you want to properly communicate with your spouse, you better learn their language. Do I appreciate my husband changing the oil on my car? Sure. Does it impress me? Yes! Does it make me feel loved…. hmmm…. not exactly. But if he holds my face in his hands, and gives me 5 seconds of eye contact with a sincere kiss… I feel it. I feel loved (In a fraction of the time, btw!). And inversely, Cooking an amazing dinner for my husband will be met with great appreciation and satisfaction, but it might not make him feel loved.

  • Just because things “seem” fine to you, doesn’t mean they are fine. Hence, the need for yearly (or quarterly or weekly) reviews.

Perhaps this one requires a slightly jaded nature… but consider it a word to the wise. Your perception, might not be accurate. Your spouse (or you… if you’re honest) might be good at burying things…. deep. Things, they may not even realize they are burying… until, they begin to surface. Be bold… be brave… and look your spouse in the eyes (with love, kindness, and acceptance) and say… “Is there anything, for any reason, you’d like to share with me, so that we can be closer”.  And then… the hard part… listen. Maybe you’ll be told you’ve come up short…  Listen. Whatever wincing your pride does, it isn’t as important as the health of your marriage. Maybe, this will be the opportunity they’ve been looking for… to just get some junk off their chest.

  • If you’re marriage isn’t work… there’s a good chance it isn’t working.

Like a garden. You don’t glance down and pluck the big huge weeds that you happen to see… you get down on your hands and knees and scour the earth for anything growing in your garden that could potentially hurt your crop. It is work. Rewarding, but work. I used to think that the key to marriage was making a good selection. And then, generally speaking, it was smooth sailing. Wrong. The selection is critical. But the nurturing of the garden… the tending… it’s what makes it last. You can plant a beautiful garden, and then slowly watch it die, if you don’t work that soil. Your good selection is nothing, if it isn’t taken care of. Meticulously. If you don’t have dirt on your knees and blisters on your hands… don’t expect a beautiful, plentiful harvest.

  • Don’t fix your boat in the middle of a storm. Wait until the seas are calm.

We fight about pretty ridiculous things. Right? One thing we have learned… is don’t wait until emotions are high and tension is thick to air your every grievance. It just isn’t productive. And when the tone is negative, you focus on the negative… highlighting things that maybe shouldn’t be highlighted, and you will almost NEVER get the response you’re looking for. If you are seriously feeling starved of affection… a fight is not the time to bring it up. You wait until all is well, no distractions, and then honestly (and gently), let your concerns be known. It’s your best chance at effective change.

  • Just because you were given permission to do something, doesn’t mean it is the best thing for you to do. BOUNDARIES!

This might not apply to everyone, but I have a sneaky suspicion that nearly everyone could use some insight and direction concerning boundaries. This topic warrants a novel… not a paragraph… but here is an example to keep it simple.  Just because my husband was “fine” with me having a busy social calendar and was “cool” with me hanging out, etc. Doesn’t mean that it was the best choice for me and my family. I have had to learn that sometimes, you limit yourself, even when those in your life do not set or enforce any. And he has learned that, as a unit, we are allowed to assert some expectations… without feeling like we are limiting or parenting one another. When you decide to join forces and live as a unit, you have the right (and the need) to say “I’m not really comfortable with that”. It’s important to be able to say that… and not willy nilly… but with thoughtfulness. And, it’s also important to be able to set limits, even when someone else doesn’t set them for you.

Seriously… go find on a book on this topic and devour it. It will blow your mind.

  • Mama said…

“Be the change you want to see in the world”… okay, so my Mama didn’t say that… but the sentiment is the same… She always told me to be and do the kind of things that I wanted from him. If you want him to be more sweet… be sweet. If you want affection… be affectionate. If you want attention, be attentive. If you want romance, be romantic. You get it. It’s simple, but why is it sooooooo hard???? I mean, I’m already SO perfect… and it’s him not me. And. yeah, no dice.

  • Surprise, Surprise

We dated for 3 years before we got married, and I remember thinking that was a good amount of time because there would be no surprises. Well… that was just kind of naieve… on a lot of levels. Surprises are good. Surprises mean… Surprise! You’re a little bit different than you were when you were 25 and we now have some new stuff to adapt to. Or, Surprise! Didn’t you know I expected you to make __% of the $$? Or, surprise, I wasn’t intentionally holding back… that junk was just REALLY repressed. Or… Surprise! Life took me in a little different direction than originially intended, cool? Or.. surprise! Parenting together isn’t something you can exactly predict with fine precision. Or… Surprise! I’m awesome as ever, but I’m human… and I fail.  It’s great to cover your basis… it’s critical to really have a strong sense of who you are choosing… but get ready… things will change, and you will be surprised. Sometimes it’ll hurt, and sometimes it’ll be absolutely magical.

After 10 years, our crop is plentiful. Our garden, beautiful. We are not without scars. Our hands are blistered. There have been droughts, there will likely be more… but we enjoy the harvest, while we continue to labor for the season ahead.

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New Music to Love

About a year ago I, without meaning to, made a shift in my music listening. I wanted to find new (to me) music to love. I also, unintentionally shifted away from the “a la carte” way of listening and started to listen to albums in their entirety more. Here is a list of my top 5… with some honorary mentions and supplements added in.


Fall 2014

1. “American Football” by American Football

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This album was an instant hit for me. The band, and all the material was completely new, but it was from a genre and a time (1999, one year after I graduated high school) that I was familiar with, and the nostalgia cut through. It’s got that emo vibe, with a lot of musical substance, lyrics I can latch onto, and a pretty good balance of “this makes me ache” and “this makes me want to move”… with a leaning towards the ache. The standout track, without a doubt is “The Summer Ends”. It’s all ache, but just lovely enough to have a slight smile throughout. The track, much like many tracks from my younger years, defines a moment for me. A moment in my life, my marriage, and literally… a moment at the beach on a cold November’s day….

Here’s a homemade music video from a previous blog entry:

**Supplement**

“L’Ami du Peuple” by Owen

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If I’m honest, this one deserves to be #2 on the list, but since it is a solo project by the lead singer of American Football, I’m clumping it with #1. Scaled back, but not quite down to singer/songwriter classification, with a heavier emphasis on the lyrics and vocals. Seems to somehow capture the nature of long term relationships, in a way that feels bittersweet. (with lyrics like “Are you tired? Cause I’m wide awake” and “Love is not enough” ) It’s just a cohesive, thoughtful, collection of songs that I can listen to straight through. Sounds great on Vinyl. This one led me to several other Owen albums of equal standing


Winter 2014

2. “Modern Vampires Of The City” by Vampire Weekend

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I think that fall’s music reflected what was going on in my life at the time, and I think that this album, and Vampire Weekend in general, reflected my desire to make a shift towards a dancier, more upbeat, smiling time…. while not completely forgoing the achey undertones. This album has the ache/move balance, with a heavy hand on the moving. It forces me out of my chair, makes me shimmy my shoulders, but also makes me sigh. There’s a hopefulness, a brightness (with substance) in this album that can help a person throw the curtains open during the cold of winter… during the darker days. I spent a lot of time with this album, and my standout tracks shifted. “Everlasting Arms” harkened me back to the days when I listened to worship music, with lyrics like “Hold me, in your everlasting arms”. The album is infectious, without being at all thin, and the lyrics are there if you want them, but can fade into the background if you just want to wiggle around the living room.


Spring 2015

3. “Carrie & Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens

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Spring has 2 albums, and this one reflects the utterly achy, and deliciously sweet. The tenderness in this album is so thick you could swim in it… and that’s kind of what I did. It is certainly a straight through listen, but not the kind that you play in the background while you’re going about your business. This is for a long drive at night or for simply sitting, hand on chest, getting lost in grief. Thank goodnes, he doesn’t send you over the edge… This one does the near impossible… it puts you smack dab in the middle of someone else’s memory lane…. with the words, with the tone, and really… with something a bit transcendent.  It perfectly captures the tenderness shared between parent and child, in a way that feels pure.

4. “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes

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This one simultaneously feels completely current and completely classic. All at once it feels like R&B, Southern Rock, Classic Soul, and Indie Alt. This album, and this female fronted band, make me jealous!  But in a way that never bleeds into hatin’. It feels like the music I want to create, but I just don’t have quite enough skill or experience to tackle. It resonates! This is probably the perfect blend of ache/move. I can not listen without moving some part of my being. I love and respect the music, the arrangements, the beautiful use of negative space before bringing in those drums like a crashing wave…. but… above all else is the exceptional vocal. It’s an instrument all it’s own and she has total mastery of it. The power, and then the subtlety… The grit, and then the smoothness…. The conviction in her voice is palpable. And somehow, not one of these parts overshadows the other.


Summer 2015

5. “American Soft” by Chris Staples

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Although perhaps not a household name across the populous, Chris Staples is absolutely a household name for people of a certain age in a certain region. He fronted the ever popular and influential Twothirtyeight, which was a scene staple (see what I did there?) in Northwest Florida in the 90s and has continued to make great music. Admittedly, I’d never really checked out his post-twothirtyeight catalogue until I was prompted first, oddly enough, by a very populous source… an NPR “top songs” list, and then again by news that he’d be playing locally. I seriously fell in love with this album. At first I assumed it was because of the twothirtyeight nostalgia, but it is simply a damn good album. It motivates me to write songs and to take small twists and risks that I wouldn’t think to take. The lyrics are a great blend of clever and easy. It doesn’t feel tried. The phrasing is natural, and still…. surprising… I love it. The music itself is just easy… As is his voice. It feels well crafted, but not pushed. I also like this one for it’s straight-through listening. I listened to the album on repeat that first day, and then made arrangements to make the show… Tomorrow night actually. I made sure to see him (and others) play during the twothirtyeight reunion tour a few years ago, but now, I’m excited about this new music to love.

Honorable Mention/Current

“Primitives” by Roger Sellers (by way of “Bones” by Son Lux)

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Both albums are great, straight through listening. Both are heavily produced, synthesized stylings of something that might be considered a post-rock hybrid that feels a lot like a movie score at times. The Son Lux album is a little darker, but thoroughly enjoyable. The Roger Sellers, who I know ZERO about, gets my creative juices flowing. The segways between songs include nature sounds amidst synthesized sounds and they flow from one track right into another. It’s imaginative, but not too odd-ball for me. I don’t write music anything like this, but I found myself having to push pause, grab my guitar, and doodle around. There are also a couple of tracks that are great to run to. I don’t want to call this background music, but it definitely leaves you room to multi-task, while feeling inspired.

And finally, a few artists who may not have made the “complete album” list, but who’s tracks have found their way onto several playlists over the year and who I plan to spend more time with are (in no particular order): Phantogram, The War on Drugs, The Good Life, Otis Redding, and Sister Nancy.

Happy listening!

“Real” rhymes with “Ideal”

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the vast chasm that lies between real life, and certain “ideals” that seem so difficult to attain.

This chasm, this discrepancy between the way we live our lives and the way we deep down wish we lived our lives is often times used as an excuse to carry on without making changes. The chasm is too big. The “ideals” become a distant mirage that isn’t really attainable, so why try.

Only, lately the ideals are nagging at me, asking me to come closer. The chasm makes it seem like a lot of work, but the ideals are worth reaching for, even if only barely. I should be clear… My ideals will be different than yours, and that’s okay. I should be clear, I will fail. I will stall. But I think I want to try. I’ll pick my battles, because they are mine, and I’ll see if I can’t get a little closer.

Many of the ideals I speak of have to do with parenting, or lifestyle, or just trying to resist the currents of our fast moving culture… it’s easy to get swept up. Today, I will deal with just 1 example… More to come.

Ideally, I would watch much less tv… Much less. If I’m honest, maybe none. I like watching “quality” movies and shows… Or at least that’s what I say. Lately, I’ve lost track of what is quality, and what is just mindless distraction. I’m slowly deciding that, just because something is “quality” doesn’t mean it’s redeemable, or worth my time. Almost 10 years ago I watched the Bachelor… and I just had a moment where I said… What am I doing? And I’ve never watched it again…. At that time, I also stopped my cable service… which at the time, meant something. Now, between Netflix and Hulu and Amazon… not having “cable” doesn’t mean anything.

So, I made my big stand 10 years ago against the Bachelor… but now… I follow a handful of reality competition shows, along with a few scripted dramas, a comedy or two, oh… and The View, and Jimmy Fallon (not giving that one up, ever). There’s the issue of “what” I watch and then there is the issue of “why”. Sometimes I think like my brain is probably feeling like a mental health patient, ready for all the voices to just shut up… but instead, I just keep the distractions coming. I “watch”, so that I can decompress… and yet… half of the shows these days make me feel anxious, and slightly disturbed. While waiting for Netflix to release the latest seasons of Mad Men and The Walking Dead, I gave Daredevil a try. After the 4th episode I got the same feeling I got 10 years ago watching the Bachelor… Only, I was torn… What was wrong with this? This is not ideal. That’s what’s wrong with it. I don’t need it. I don’t need the violence or the somewhat decent plot… I don’t need something that takes an hour or more of my day and adds nothing to my life.

But… I was definitely going to watch season 3 of Orange is the New Black… Again… 3 or 4 episodes in…. Why am I watching this?  Something about this feels wasteful. When you intend to watch 1, but go ahead and watch 2 more episodes… that’s 2.5 hours…. Hours I don’t really feel like I have. I have work I didn’t finish, I have a guitar I haven’t touched, I have sleep I need to catch up on, my house is messy…. I don’t have time for this… for something that doesn’t add anything to my life, except for clutter… compulsion… static.

I have a clear “ideal” on the matter, and the chasm between it and where I am now is pretty big… but why not try? Why not skip the rest of Season 3? What will I miss?

And now that I’ve declared it… it will be much easier to take the step.

To be continued….

A response to something terrible

I fear if I don’t write this now, I won’t write it at all…. That the magnitude of the moment and the magnitude of my response will, like most faraway tragedies, quickly fade into nothing.  Until the next one.

My heart, like millions of others, aches over the loss of those 9 lives in Charleston.  My heart, like millions of others, is enraged over the injustice… the senselessness…. the depravity…. of one person’s actions.

I could stop there… And sit in the grief… let it wash over me.  Just the tragedy alone is enough to cause pause… in a nation.  But then there’s just so much more… Layers and layers of pain and injustice represented in one action.  Such a costly action.  I hear their names and ages and brief 1 sentence bios, and it just hurts. A woman in her 80s… her life taken.  A life that I’m sure endured her fair share of struggles… as all life has struggle… But a life that also endured an unfair amount of struggle. The struggle of being a woman. The struggle of being black. Good God, the struggle of being both…. Only to die, at church, in America… praying for others…. At the hand of someone who hates….Black people.

Everyone wants to make sense out of this… place blame somewhere…. Perhaps on the misguidance of youth, or mental illness, or societal obsession with violence, or accessibility to guns (all valid concerns)… But I think as a nation we do ourselves a grave disservice if we don’t look squarely into the ideology behind this atrocity and face it.  The very funny and often insightful Jon Stewart made a cutting comparison to how we as Americans deal with “terrorism” as opposed to these domestic incidents.  If we are attacked by an Islamic extremist, we blame the ideology… and we go after it, even wage wars against it.  We politically and legislatively move our asses to make America safer.

I feel that we must look this ideology straight in it’s face… and start tackling it head on. Like the disfunctions of a family, each generation must do it’s part to unravel the mistakes of the past.  Time alone will not solve racial tension in our Nation. Integration into schools, Voting rights, Housing equality, Job protection, a BLACK president…. All good things… but it’s not over. Our nation, which I love and respect, has a history. And if we think that progress has unraveled the wrongs of our history… we are naïve and mistaken. There are still threads of hatred weaving their way through our society.  There are still injustices that need to be revealed and mended. Acknowledging these things is not an admission of guilt… It is a way of embracing the threads of this country that make it great. Freedom, justice, liberty, equality.

America’s relationship with black people began with slavery. Can we just sit with that for a minute? Can we think about what sort of mindset is required in order to enslave another human? Can we think about the ideology involved with that? Threads of that ideology remain. It travels down throughout generations… The idea that black people and white people aren’t the same. Through the many movements of progress, much of the thread has diminished. I can only speak from my own experience. A white, 35 year old woman who lived most of her life in the south. Ours was a military family, and that seemed to shield me from certain realities. We always lived on base, which meant diversity. The military lifestyle also meant that while we looked different, we had a common cause. We were family. When visiting relatives in the south I would be exposed to a more “typical” southern (white), way of looking at the world, and of black people. When we moved to Florida, at the age of 11, I was told that living off base would be different than what I was used to. I was told I had been in a bubble. It was somewhat true. I cherished and respected the way both of my parents, children of the south, had broken out of the predjudiced mindsets of their generations and communities. Even so, they weren’t exactly thrilled about me dating a black boy. The thread, even though diminished, remained.

I say all that merely for a personal reference point… to say… It’s there, in some degree or another. And in certain communities, the thread is vicious… deadly.

Our history is a recent one. It is a beautifully evolving one, but we must not be naïve…. There are threads of hate within our own borders. The tensions of this history boil beneath our surface. We see it in the way we react to things. We see it in the subtle prejudices that occasionally cause not-so-subtle actions. We see it in the discrepancies of power. We see it in the headlines, and we see it in our silence. When someone says something even slightly racist, and we don’t speak up.

White people: Talking about this is not an admission of guilt… it is an acknowledgement of what we’ve been, and what we want to be. Which is, a family that heals… A family that is affected by the consequences of the generation before it. A family that vows to bind together and heal together, white and black and all the others colors on the spectrum. A family that diligently seeks to be it’s best… not just a newer version of it’s same self. A family that openly discusses the shameful threads of it’s past… so that it can be better.

Humanity is a tribal species… We bind together in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Family, culture, faith, ethnicity… all beautiful ways to bind together… The actual pigment of our skin should not be one of these. And our tribes have to acknowledge the beauty and the purpose of all the others. We are ultimately one tribe. Can we believe that? Can we live that way? Can we cherish the small group of people that we identify with, while absolutely respecting the sanctity of the larger whole? We can certainly try.

Cleaning out your fridge: An analogy?

For optimal health, cleanliness, and function… You must clean out your fridge.

All those Tupperware containers lurking in the back with leftover curry or mashed potatoes… microcosms thriving under their lids….Mysterious, foul, festering foods that you’ve shuffled around for too long… Best to dispose of them swiftly. They are the easy part. Quit ignoring them.

Then there are the half used bottles of salad dressing.  They could still be good. They could still be useful. But they are stale and taking up valuable space. You reach for them, with every intention of tossing, but you think, “what if one day I really want raspberry vinaigrette?”.

Pitch it. There is ALWAYS more raspberry vinaigrette.

The vegetable drawer can be quite shameful. The produce, filled with freshness and vitality and nutrition, is beginning to wilt and brown. You know you will not eat slimy salad, or soggy cucumbers, but these once beautiful, life-giving, and often costly foods, will RUIN the whole drawer. Get rid of them, no matter the guilt.

Check the cheese and meats. Full of calories and belly filling goodness that hungry mouths would (and do) die for. These turn slowly, and rarely get wasted. A little mold on the block of cheese? Trim it off and make sure to use the remainder. It’s a sin to squander the things that others desperately need.

The most important part of keeping your fridge clean is being mindful and deliberate about what you put in it.

Don’t take more than you will use, more than you will need. What you do take…. care for it…. Use it in a timely manner. Don’t dare let the most valuable and life-giving staples go bad. And the empty calories, the filler… Do you really need them cluttering up your fridge? If they are there, you are more likely to indulge, and possibly abuse.

If you don’t want to see it thrown into the trash, either don’t get it, or care for it properly.

And when the inevitable tub of underused sour cream starts to seem “iffy” or your strawberries begin growing fuzz sooner than expected…. DISPOSE.

Buy what you need. Use what you buy. Care for what’s in your care. Trim the mold. Compost the rot. Savor and be nourished. Keep your fridge clean.