When I met him, I was naked…


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Very pleased to have one of my poems up on Burnside Writer’s Collective today!

Check it out!

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What I heard you say…

It’s been a weird week since the Supreme Court offered up it’s long awaited opinion on equal rights for homosexual couples where marriage is concerned. I expected a flurry of activity on social media feeds and I braced for it because I have a fairly diverse group of friends on Facebook and Twitter.

It was strangely quiet.

There were a couple of heated discussions but I’m relieved to say that for the most part there was no over the top grandstanding from anyone. There was quiet gratitude and quiet disappointment. Apart from those vocal few I expected, there were not many ripples in the calm water of adorable cat pictures and anticipated Game of Thrones memes and for that I am thankful.

Just to prove that social media is not always a reflection of what’s happening in real life there were certainly backlashes from the religious community and grand showings of glee (the emotion, not the tv show) from those supportive of the measure. Facebook is, of course, a self constructed reality. It can be a very comforting bubble if I hide and show posts with any success. I cruised through the Supreme Court ruling news without losing sleep over posts at all. I call that a win, even if it’s a self constructed win.

Then today I read a blog post from Frank Schaeffer on Patheos.com. I read it because it was highlighted on Facebook by Sojourners and because I tend to like Sojourners and the other friends who subsequently posted links to it. To be fair, the friends who posted the link to the article did so with some caveats, often stating that they don’t agree with everything Frank says and yet there was something in his article they felt needed to be said.

I don’t know Frank Schaeffer, really. Though I’ve read him a few times, I don’t know much about him or his history because I was raised Catholic. His history isn’t mine, I don’t know his struggle much or his scandal or his family issues. I did meet him once in person at the first Wild Goose Festival. I was introduced by a real life friend of both of us. We sat at a picnic table and I batted away mosquitos and Daddy Long Leg spiders while my husband and I talked with him and drank lemonade in the “presenters” section behind an old farm house. The four of us sat there and he spoke of his grandchildren for the most part. We talked about parenting, Dave and I still very much in the throes of it with our four and we all talked of our failures and our proud moments. He brought it back to his grandchildren every time. He was most proud of his grandparent self and I respect that.

So, I read the article by Frank because though I often don’t care much for his writing I do remember meeting him and I remember the conversation about his grandchildren. It’s clear to me, from our brief conversation how much he thinks about the future and it was tremendously clear how much he loves and cares for his family so I read the piece, with that in my head.

And I was sad then when I read it because it felt strange and off and judgmental and marginalizing. I was sad because I think Frank has some great influence on the next generation of Christians and that’s important but this piece while “raw but not without merit” as my Facebook friend suggested, took me away from the conversation. I did not nod my head and share my own views and it made me not want to share my views, not because we disagree, but because it was not safe to agree or disagree. It made the conversation and the place of the conversation toxic and I feel sad about that because I do think we need to talk about it.

I work hard to practice what is called “active listening.” Active Listening looks something like this- a person gives a statement and then I reflect back not what I think or feel but what I hear them saying, using as many of their actual words as possible. The aim is not to read between the lines or to project my own fears and doubts on their words but to really take their words, reflect them back and see if I “get” what they said, not what I think they said or what I know they want to say but what they actually say.

I have to practice it because I suck at it. My default mechanism is listening while formulating what I’m going to say in response or reading between the lines to get what they really mean, deep in their hearts, you know, because I’m so very intuitive like that (NOT.) I admit, maybe even responding to Frank’s article is in effect, another offshoot of my default mechanism even so, it’s what comes to me around the piece because I don’t disagree that many conservative outlets practice hypocrisy and yet, I don’t know that reading their words and then telling “us” what they really mean by adding in what’s unspoken is terribly productive. There is a way to engage the struggle here, by letting the statements people make stand on their own and then responding. “Here is what I heard you say…” and then “This is how I feel about it…” is far more powerful a conversation in my estimation.

Even if I agree that Frank is right in his assessment, we’re all smart enough, I hope, to read between the lines on these statements ourselves. These are not new, super secret sentiments. There is something profoundly discouraging about having someone I heard speak so beautifully in person about his family tell us what people really mean. It dispels hope. It stops the conversation. It’s not active listening and in the end, I fear it only makes the divide between us all further and deeper and more desperate.

I respect the lovely and articulate grandfather I met at Wild Goose two years ago with whom I shared my parenting struggles and proud moments. This response to the tensions around this issue doesn’t represent the version of him I met that day and for that I am sad.

fotos: lullaby

It’s been a while since I posted an entry for “friday fotos.” It’s appropriate that I ran across this beautiful picture of the culmination of my husband’s recent work with Opera-matic, a small non profit street opera company he’s been developing. You’ll be glad to know that you can see more pics from the event held last weekend in Humboldt Park on the Facebook page. You can see more of Jim’s great photography on his site: http://www.jimnewberry.com  

Years ago, when the idea of Opera-matic was very young, the idea of the Lullaby Parade was percolating in the minds of a number of artists we knew and worked with on other projects. Dave and his partner, Mark Messing (who you’d know from the amazing Mucca Pazza fame) would often stoke the fire of this idea in between paying gigs, in between deadlines and the daily pressures of being creative small business owners in Chicago.

I saw the maiden voyage of this parade before we moved to Tennessee I think. My kids were small, some still toddling, some clinging to me. The bikes began it on that side street near the office we kept for Maestro-matic, Dave and Mark’s sound design company. The bikes rolled out, slowly on those dark streets in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. The name of that neighborhood even now gives Chicagoans pause. They shake their heads at the sound of it, it’s a place you wouldn’t catch any decent person after dark, they’d say. But the truth is that there are and have always been decent people, even in the roughest of neighborhoods. Humboldt Park is no exception.

There were children here, playing and singing, long before the attempts at gentrification. There are families everywhere-  good people, loving folks, needing beauty no matter how gang infested, graffiti covered or low income. In the food deserts and the abandoned lot riddled areas, in the places where the city shrugs its big shoulders and throws up its hands, here we hold the first essences of the Lullaby Parade. And we roll out the bikes first, like an ice cream truck without the dairy treats attached, and the singing begins as they pedal down Talman Avenue from North. And the Paper Moon is projected on, the face singing sweetly, an easy song to catch, to hold, to carry. We are a small group at first and I am, I admit, a bit afraid because my children are small, some still toddling, some clinging to me as the parade makes its way down the road.

Then a child comes to the porch, then another, then a parent, a caregiver, a grandmother and they all wander down to follow along. And we sing as we wind our way down one street, then another, never going far, never going fast. The singing continues and the streetlights burn above our heads and the Moon smiles and the stars feel closer than they have ever felt. There is some laughter and some head shaking. There is some apprehension and some unbridled joy. There is confusion and honesty and the feeling that something important started here with something so small as this, something lasting, something truthful and beautiful.

There were more tastes of this between that first Lullaby Parade and the one held last week in Humboldt Park, more small starts, more important moments, lasting, truthful and beautiful. And it’s something, that given the chance, you should not miss and I mean that. Take some time and check out the amazing work of Opera-matic and the lovely photography of Jim Newberry (and others on our Facebook page.)

See what it stirs in you.

Momentum Muri

Momentum Mori OCT 30TH 2010:Opera-Matic in the Haunted Paseo Boricua Parade.
The procession featured a Crossing Guard, Ghost horses, and Ghost bikes and was performed in collaboration with West Town Bikes and Cyclo Urbano.
Photo credit: Jim Newberry

the common denominator…

He sat at the kitchen table, head in hands, moaning. Even as a very young child, Chet always reacted to stressful moments of “I have no idea” in this same way. From across the room I called out cautiously, “Everything ok? You need help?” He lifted his head, his big almond eyes cresting with tears but his voice angry, “Yes. I hate this. I don’t know how to do this.”

Chet’s only been in a “real” school for a couple of months and inevitably he’s encountering concepts we had not covered in homeschooling or concepts we covered and he didn’t really imbibe. In any case, his frustration was clear. I admit, I was reluctant to jump in too quickly. Math was never something I was able to imbibe with any consistency. My brain just didn’t drink it in, oil and water…I wasn’t sure I’d be of much help.

When I looked at his paper I saw that he had completed a good portion of the problems but the “puzzle” he was meant to solve with the answers made no sense. His approach was off. He had to erase it all and start again. This news was greeted with renewed moaning, his head returning to his hands.

“You have to start with the greatest common denominator,” I said, “you have to figure out where these two guys meet, where they intersect, what they have in common. It’s like right now they don’t speak the same language.” I pointed to the fractions, stunned, frankly, that I even remembered how to add them at all. “They’re Republicans and Democrats trying to have a conversation about policy or freedom or social programming. They can’t even come together to figure out what they have together until they know what they have in common. See?”

I’d like to say at this point that perhaps he looked up at me with a wide, innocent 12 year old gaze of admiration, a moment of recognition, of “getting it” on several deep levels all at once but that’d be overstating it. What really happened is that he nodded, picked up his eraser and began the messy process of beginning again. “I think I remember this a little” he said with some reluctant resilience. I leaned over his shoulder and watched for a minute or two while he worked, blowing away the random bits of graphite and rubber eraser from his page, noticing the traces left on the page of past mistakes, making room for new attempts, for the pursuit of the common denominator.

in defense of distraction…or…social media cures writer’s block

Much has been said lately about the destructive properties of sites like Facebook. It comes as no surprise to me that the information circulating now is that social media raises our insecurity factors and increases bouts of envy, that it might shorten our attention span, that it might help to erode our “in person” encounters. In a way, for social media addicts like me it is like telling someone who lives on Diet Coke about all the bad effects of diet drinks. They already know. Of course, they know but the draw of the thing they have come to love is stronger, in the long run, than the potential down sides.

This is where my diet drink comparison ends though because aspartame gives me a headache.

As I sat and stared at the blank page today for the balance of my writing time I found my anxiety level rising fast. I only have this small window of opportunity to write every day and that window will dwindle when two of my kids start going to “real school” in the Fall and homeschool ramps up for the other two kids at home. I’ll have to get up earlier, I’ll have to make sure there are clean clothes for people, I’ll have to pack lunches, I’ll have to herd everyone in and out of the car more often in a day, I’ll have to endure  long choruses of “I’m bored!” and “I don’t want to get up!”

The Fall is bearing down on me pretty hard these days and the blank page doesn’t help.

Writing will never be easy for me. I already knew that. Writing is something I have to do every day; like working out, like taking vitamins, like drinking water, like washing my face. If I don’t do it every day I lose little bits of myself all over the house. I think interesting things and then find they’ve dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the line. I get depressed, I get overwhelmed, I lose sight of myself. I have to write every day, in little “dribs and drabs” as Anne Lamott says.

But when even the dribs and drabs won’t come I begin to think in those moments that what I need to do is to shut myself off from the world. I need to leave Twitter, leave Facebook, stop reading things online, stop blogging, just develop a kind of tunnel vision and power through it all. I have this weird fantasy in those moments that I will finish a novel with all that extra focus, finish a series of books about the power of the mind, about the counter cultural wonder drug of “being present” and the publishing houses will be hot on my heels at last.

The big old evil online looms before me and I call it the enemy of all things creative, I crow about how stupid I’ve been, how many hours I’ve wasted commenting and “liking” and responding. I ponder whether I’ll go quietly or make a show of it, bringing together all the other online addicts and calling for a general boycott. When writers block strikes I get desperate, you see, and blaming just about anything else feels like movement. It’s the social media, it’s the lack of a good chair, it’s the phone ringing, it’s the aspartame.

And here then out of the blue it hits me as I travel one last time to my social media stash, mind a blank where words are concerned. I see a simple post from a friend. Her status update is one of gratitude, along the lines of “Thanks Facebook, for reminding me about the beautiful things in my life.” That stopped me short.

One criticism of Facebook is that it’s distracting and that much is true. I admit when I’m writing if I don’t close the Twitter or Facebook windows I find myself meandering there when I ought to be filling the blank page. And yet, there are moments, a great number of moments, when I wander off the blank page and find myself again. There are responses to a picture I’ve posted and I remember who I am again. Sometimes I troll my own page, my own Twitter feed to find things I’ve thought or photos I’ve taken or articles I’ve highlighted and I find that I actually have something to say there. I find small moments I documented, uploaded and shared, not out of bragging but out of gratitude. I find quotes that lead me to deeper thoughts. I find friends I have not seen in decades and would not have seen again if not for social media. I find theological and political insights I did not expect.

And sometimes too, I find inspiration that leads to words on a page…like these…

and an end to writers block.

So, you know…there’s that.

fotos: safety fifth

20120615-102909.jpg
Two words you should know:
Mucca Pazza

Maybe you understand Spanish and can translate this to “Mad (as in crazy) Cow.”

Perhaps you understand what’s cool and can translate this as “30 piece Circus Punk Marching Band.”

Certainly you should buy their new CD “Safety Fifth.”

Without a doubt your life would be infinitely better if you actually got off your couch and saw them live.

Somehow. Someway. Make that happen.

what you mean to say…

**THERE HAS BEEN AN UPDATE TO THIS POST AS OF 6/1/2012 See Below***

I don’t follow Rick Warren. Frankly I don’t know much about him apart from the fact that he is a pastor of a really large church and has written a number of books that Christians seem to like an awful lot. I don’t know anything about his character or his sense of humor although he appears to be someone who offers spiritual direction, a man who is taken seriously in the Christian world.

A tweet he posted came through my feed over the weekend. It came through my feed because several people I do follow, some of whom I know live and in person, follow Rick Warren. The tweet was this:

“If they’re cute, it’s flirting. If they’re ugly, it’s harassment.”

No context, no explanation. At first, my Twitter friends and I thought he’d been “hacked” since the posting previous was hours before and the posting after offered no context for it. Perhaps it was a “one-off” tweet, a passing thought, a drunk tweet. It’s hard to say. Lord knows I post things all the time that cross the border from sensible and head straight into the stupidity time zone. The statement gnawed at me as it did several others I know. It was a knee jerk response on my part, I admit and so I puzzled about it. “I wonder what he meant.”

I checked his Facebook page and found the ensuing discussion about the tweet. I was not the only one who wondered why he would post something like this. The troubling thing, though, was the number of people who found it funny, the number of “likes” on the page, the number of people who jumped in with a LOL and “that’s funny because it’s true!” comment.

It isn’t funny and it isn’t true.

What is true is that harassment is not trivial. What is true is that our culture already subscribes to statements like this pack of steaming bullshit. Women in particular suffer this sort of judgement day after day.  What is true is that many many people make statements like this every day and it only perpetuates the bullshit. Our task is not to just laugh it off but to look a little deeper at it and to ask more questions about those statements.

The second bit of what gnawed at me this weekend is this- my reaction comes not because “someone” said this but rather because someone who is known as a spiritual director has said it. If one of my friends had made this statement I would have called them out on it. I would have required them to give me some context on it and I hope they would do so. Sure, we all say bonehead things but I hope we have enough friends who will metaphorically slap us silly when we do. We ought to articulate these things even if we’re “kidding around.” The things we joke about are not toss off, they are not unimportant. We make jokes about them because we DO find them important even if we also find them ridiculous. They hit us where we live, either as outrage or as humorous because we care about the implications of that joke.

Rick Warren has posted and tweeted since this one and has made no commentary on it. He has given no explanation of it. If you look at the discussion on his Facebook fan page you’ll find a number of people explaining “what he meant.” They have given it context that was not written by Rick Warren directly but by the image they have in their head of who they expect him to be. People who are “giving grace” and lending context don’t help the discussion. “What he meant was” means nothing if it’s not coming from the man himself in my opinion. He’s able to respond. He simply seems unwilling to explain it.

In any case, perhaps we all ought to be working harder on saying what we mean to say. It may help dispel the mythology we build into our day-to-day interactions around who are and how we are with one another.

************UPDATE**************

Four days after I published this post and after several other bloggers posted pieces about it, after many many people retweeted the offending remark and even more people either commented on Rick Warren’s Facebook page to ask about it or @replied him on the subject, Mr Warren made a post on Facebook which read:

I clearly was hacked. Anyone who thinks I’d say this doesnt know me at all. In fact I never saw this until a couple of hours ago when some alerted me to it on Twitter and I instantly removed it there. I don’t pay much attention to this particular Facebook page because it is a public account. Who knows where else the doofus posted this? As a pastor who has to constantly deal with the emotional damage from sex trafficking, abortion, abuse, slavery, pornography, gendercide, sex addictions and every other violation of God’s law that demeans and destroys, I never joke about sin.

Just before he posted this he also made another remark on Twitter and Facebook to this effect:

Now, I as I said, I do not generally follow Mr Warren. I have not read his books. Perhaps this is in fact his attempt at humor. My response to this tweet/update is that if a friend told me this over drinks in a bar I would let it slide with little more than a head shake and “that’s not actually funny.” I’m a child of divorce. I take the subject seriously. I don’t think it’s a matter of joking. My point, as it was above, is that I don’t feel Rick Warren has the luxury of making jokes such as this interspersed with little wisdom gems from his books and scripture quotes. It’s a harsh judgement on my part, yes. Still, I believe it to be true.

It’s entirely possible that he will say this was a hacked tweet as well in the next four days. I have no idea. What I do know is that the whole thing feels a bit fishy to me.

after training wheels…

The training wheels came off Miles’ bike yesterday. It was a hard sell, convincing him it was time he tried to ride without them. The trouble is that he can’t ride with the other two boys on the country roads out here, the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting.  In the end we wrestled them out of his hands and he seemed almost excited to give this thing a chance. There were many wobbly moments, followed by many flat-out fall overs. He could not quite grasp the “put your feet down to keep from falling over” piece. Dave tried, using the same method he’d employed with the other kids. I tried, using my best metaphorical language and calm understanding. He was still game to keep trying after failure after failure on the level ground. I’d say he was almost excited about the learning.

Then Chet and Henry rode their bikes down the long, slopey run to the fire pit and Miles wanted to try that. All I could see in my head was the end of that run and Miles crumpled in a heap someplace. I knew it would most likely end poorly so I tried to convince him to stay on level ground. He was having none of that. He wanted to try and in the end I thought that maybe a taste of the wind in his hair and that the advantage of the hill and perpetual motion might win him over regardless of the outcome. And so, I set him on the bike, holding the back of his seat, praying for an absence of broken bones and some small bit of faith that it would end well overall and he set off down the steep grassy hill.

I could not see his face but I hoped it was a moment of exhilaration, a moment of joy, a moment of maybe. I could see the faces of Chet and Henry near the bottom, happy and excited for him to try it, jumping up and down in support, shouting their encouragement….then the swerve, the fear, the handlebars buckling, the braking instinct missing and he steered right into Chet’s bike lying on the ground. He skidded to a sideways stop face planting right into Chet’s idle tires and it was done.

When we all ran up to him he was already in full tearful howl. I checked to make sure he was intact, no ribs broken, all limbs functioning. I checked for bleeding and scrapes and held him close to me as we sat on the ground. His crying was shouting and anger and embarrassment and fear left unchecked, out of the box, full of “I told you so’s” and “why did you make me’s?”

He would not get back on the bike. He kicked it full force and screamed at it and he would not let me offer him any comfort. He would not hear any words of affirmation or encouragement anymore. I told him he needed to try again, that it takes time and practice. He would not hear it. He wanted to be alone and so I let him stay there near the bottom of the hill.  When I came back a few minutes later he’d moved to the foot of the steps outside. He was drawing quietly with a rock on the slate stepping stones. I asked if he wanted me to find the sidewalk chalk but he said, “no.” He liked using that rock, he stated. I asked about his drawing and he told me it was of a boy, falling from a bike and that the boy was hurt. I asked if he needed anything and he told me he just wanted to keep drawing and so I left him alone with his work.

A few hours later I got a rejection notice for a piece I’d submitted a while back. I invented stories in my head about what might have happened, how not hearing might be a good sign, how it might mean they’d accepted it and if they accepted it, someplace in my head or heart I’d attached meaning. It meant value, for me, for my writing, for that piece. At the same time I prepared myself for the crash at the bottom of the hill. Before I’d even gotten the rejection notice I was planning for it. Disappointment sucks but planned disappointment might be worse. I’m hedging my emotional bets when I do that, planning for disappointment. I’m trying my best to keep my ego in place, to keep my expectations low so that when the crash comes, and it is bound to come if I put myself out there time after time, I won’t be too badly hurt.

The truth is that rejection hurts regardless of how well I think I might have prepared for it. I do have a choice not to show my work around. I can write all day long, sing praises for my own writing and talk about the book I’m working on but never show it to anyone. That’s safe, training wheels to keep things steady but the training wheels make it nearly impossible to get anywhere interesting so submitting my work time after time means that for a while I may have to expect cuts and bruises and the impulse to stop trying altogether. It’s difficult in those moments just after the crash to remember the feeling of riding down that long hill, the blood pumping, the adrenaline coursing, the air in my face, on my hands and white knuckles, the possibility that with time and practice perhaps next time it will end well. I hope that Miles will get back on his bike and try again and I reckon, I may get back on mine.

harvesting the air…

There is a wind farm on either side of I-65 near Lafayette, Indiana and each time I drive through that patch of interstate I pine for those giant turbines. One summer day, I vow, I will stop at a little place I’ve seen from the road, a picnic shelter overlooking a man made lake, surrounded by cars streaming by and wind turbines turning, great arms swinging slowly singing some tune I think I ought to know, some rhythm I ought to recall but can’t because I have someplace to be. And then, as quickly as it appeared it’s gone again.

I often wonder if they are as valuable to the scientific, environmental world as they are to me in those brief few moments while I drive by. I hope so. I hope they serve some utilitarian purpose because it’s my judgement that in general the world needs to see the material value in a thing, a practice, a person, in order to want to keep it around for any length of time and I’d be gutted if the wind farms came down before I have the chance to sit at that picnic shelter on a warm summer day and pray.

In my head I plan that trip with the hope that there will be simply one moment in which I will hear the wind being collected by those long arms harvesting the air, that I will know myself as that which is being gathered in and also that which is gathering. I don’t know, it’s a little crazy that all I really need from that picnic shelter is that one sweeping moment, the moment that feels like the sudden intake of oxygen that comes before I start crying in earnest and then the complimentary exhale that arrives when the grief is ready to recede again, for a little while, for a long time but never forever. I wonder if my cells become permanently altered by grief like the lines that take up residence around my eyes after years of living, worry lines, side effects of smiling and squinting into the sun.

I imagine then I’ll leave, reluctantly, nodding some silent or maybe quietly spoken ‘thank you’ to the windmills for their time and conversation, for harvesting the air I needed to breathe again just then and always.

I wish I had and I hope I do…

I’d love to say that I typically spend the last day of the year looking back and reflecting upon the many blessings, trials and occurences of the previous 12 months. I think this would be an excellent habit. I do have friends who have this habit. They are very together people and I like them a whole lot. I find I am way too scattered for this. And then I think, well maybe if I developed a habit of reflection on the last day of the year I would not be so scattered. It sounds good, in theory and certainly I can’t recommend my current method of scrambling and then feeling bad about it later.

This often leaves me with a number of “I wish I hads.”  I wish I had kept my temper better. I wish I had eaten well. I wish I had remembered to pay the gas bill. I wish I had taken the Tupperware off the stove before turning it on.

“I wish I had” is a nearly useless statement. Regret has its place, certainly but sitting here, on the edge of 2012, feet dangling and looking into the abyss before me I know that carrying a list of regrets from the wide expanse of land behind me isn’t going to make my flight off the edge into a new year any less dangerous or any more enjoyable.

Making resolutions seems to be the natural response to “I wish I had” but being “resolved” feels like a lot of weight too. Resolution is a pair of big heavy iron shoes stomping all over the landscape. I don’t think that the edge of the unknown needs me stomping into its crevices, feet first.  Instead, I’ll begin 2012 with “I hope I do…”

I hope I do more to love people

I hope I keep my temper

I hope I remember how loved I am

I hope I am always aware of the beauty around me

“I hope I do” is a great winged suit, ready to fly. It is not without danger. Hope is its own reward, always present tense, always in the moment. For 2012, let’s be here and do this, shall we?