Friday, July 22, 2016

Almost 43, & Glass Blowing Meta Phor You

I am 42.

In two months I will turn 43 years old. I know this is supposed to horrify or depress me, but I am actually pretty excited.

It's not because there is any age barrier I am breaking through: no 43 year bat mitzvah, change of life birth, early retirement. Come to think of it, there is no breaking through anything at 43. It's more like squishing into a new season with all privileges and abilities in hand.
This pronunication site is addictive and hilarious. Image courtesy of:   

Let's recount:
I have long held my driver's license. I know how to ride a bike. I'm baptized, confirmed, married, and have birthed two children. I have a few best friends I can count on:  like cream they rose to the top of my cup o' blessing. My immediate family of three is so close to me they almost bear no mention--it would be like speaking of my right leg. But, give tribute I must! For, if it weren't for their sweet devotion and support who knows if I would have made it to my next birthday.

I don't know if I have succeeded in my life or not. I've completed some arbitrary wonderful ideas on a page of miracles to try for-- and that alone might merit a self-congratulatory pat. Creativity has waxed and waned- and by that I don't even know what I mean. I guess I feel a little worry that I have become quite ordinary, and thus, boring- in my own estimation. Not to pretend that I was ever superior to the mainstream- or to imply that I was or am in any way extraordinary- I am not.

But I do desire to break free from the belief (fair warning...I'm about to lay down some crappy carpy? metaphors) that my thoughts, my thoughts which are quicksilver and molten gold and smelly giant carp at the bottom of a murky lake can be caught, channeled, shaped and cooled into something useful. In other words, I AM STILL WRITING.

Is there anything, any skill more useless than writing? It is in fact an ordinary miracle formed of infinite experiences and thoughts which in themselves are little more than sand on a beach.

But some sand, when collected and catalyzed can be heated in the fire and melted to hold the breath of the Blower, then spun and lengthened and tempered and cooled to reveal this:
A Dale Chihuly original...

a thousand sandy thoughts
two thousand years, minerals in a cliff
two thousand degrees of heat
 and a hundred degrees of pressure

caught in a fragile, clear, good-for-nothing but appreciation of form vessel
temporary and permanent
capricious and grounded
meaningless but for its beauty formed in fire. 43 and writing. Go figure.

Oh, yes. We attended a glass-blowing exhibit on vacation. The first thing you make at a glass-blowing workshop by the way, is a paperweight. Paperweights are very useful. But compare a paperweight to the glass sculpture on the right, and which takes your breath away?
Catch my drift? Writing may not be always be useful for anything more than trying to capture what cannot be expressed. But, even if I only manage to capture the attempt, I might be worth my weight in sand. Metaphor away, friends. Metaphor away.

Next up from the Radical Middle:  1,000 poems in 40 days

Monday, June 27, 2016

Chautauq-WHAT? Yesterday's Story

Maria Augusta Trapp, also known as the Baroness
Have you heard the news?
Everything old is new again.

Yesterday I spent my time dressed as Maria von Trapp in order to "bring to life" excerpts from her two biographies, Story of the Trapp Family Singers and Maria. 

Yes, that's a starched napkin I've pinned to my head. Who's asking?
This lil' attempt we call a Chautauqua. What's a Chautauqua? you may ask.
Merriam Webster has the answer. He reports a Chautauqua refers to:
"any of various traveling shows and local assemblies that flourished in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that provided popular education combined with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts, and plays, and that were modeled after activities at the Chautauqua Institution of western New York."

portrait of noah webster
Webster wanted to be king of America, my Dad says.

His fans say Webster's strength lay in his willingness to innovate when he felt innovation was an improvement (

Unlike Noah Webster, I DON'T want to be (king) queen; scepters are slippery and I prefer people do what I ask without my ordering them around. I DO however enjoy being someone else for 90 minutes at a time.
And, like Webster, when the moment calls for it, I have been known to innovate.

Because one aim of this blog subject4change is to reflect on the artistic experience, let me answer some questions from my imaginary interview with you.

Image result for why?

 1. Why "Chautauqua?"  

I like to think of myself as a storyteller. In researching written and recorded stories, I discovered that listening to recordings and reading stories are such singular experiences, yet storytelling as a medium has the opposite intent. Storytelling is a shared experience, with a power to bind us together in weird and wonderful ways. Stories in a crowd are a feast to be shared, a party. I like that party.

Plus, I've also discovered there are so many worthwhile stories recorded which are never shared. People need to hear these voices, meet these people, I think. Chautauqua provides a way for me to introduce the people I admire and share stories that still change us, without inventing or changing their voice.

2. How much of your Chautauqua is an "actual" versus "approximate" rendition of the original author, speaker, or historical figure?

I try to stick to as much of the original text as possible. That said, I try to respect copyright laws as well. So, it is important to differentiate between a dramatic reading and a prose interpretation. When I present a fictive voice, I go all out...and represent a character based on history. When I present a historical voice, I take care to innovate only insofar as I provide original transitions between chapters or excerpts. I also will innovate with framing:  that is costume, setting, miming props.

3. How do you pick your characters?

When I find a voice which is so singular and strong, with a clear personality, something to say, and a character facet I admire, it is my desire to delve as deeply into that person's story as possible. I always want to learn more about how to live, and people, especially women who have lived gracefully, helping and serving others, seeking social justice, requiring freedom, brave enough to go against the grain and step out in faith, these are the women I portray. I pick them in the hope that a little of their personality and wisdom and spunk will rub off on me. In a way, I pick Chautauqua characters who are women with whom I want to be friends.

4. I noticed each Chautauqua performance of "Maria: One Heart" contained different material as you adapted to your audience. What are your favorite stories from her life?

Wow, you're an amazing listener. I love you for being at every one of these shows! Okay, gushing aside, my favorite story of Maria's right now would be Chapter 17 from her second biography, Maria,
where she travels to Rhode Island expecting to give a talk as a lecturer, only to discover a Catholic church expects her to give the homily for the service from the pulpit. She is horrified and unsure as to whether she ought to, so she goes through bishop after bishop trying to find a strict order telling her she may not preach. No bishop will tell her that, so she goes through with it. On her way to the pulpit she still doesn't know what to say so she prays to the Holy Spirit to give her something to say. Then she describes in hilarious terms how she listens to herself give a most interesting , inspiring message on "How To Serve The Lord Joyfully" and thoroughly enjoys it!

One of the things that makes Maria Trapp so special is that she is so grounded and practical, yet very faithful in a God she has never seen. She is humble with a wonderful sense of humor about her own faults, but never inferior, cowering or self-abasing. She maintains an attitude of always learning without every putting herself down for not knowing more! That is the quality I admire about her faith, her ability to know she is a beloved child of God who is imperfect, just like everyone else.

Hang Tight for more from the Radical Middle.Who knows? We might blow a little glass...metaphorically speaking.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Learny Journey: Rejection Letter #1 and Counting

1) No Fear
2) Downfall
3) Twenty Minutes. You've got twenty minutes.
4) Jealousy? Hah! Swallow it. Own it.
5) Live Free

Helloooo again!
To begin today's post;  It is so strange to me to be writing so often. Particularly strange is the feeling of doing that which I said I would do. That's about as honest as you can get, friends. Not always true, but often, and there you have it.

On to our list.
As promised, I must finish this list of Things So Important I Need To Blog and I must also, as promised use Jean Paul Sartre Existentialist Philosopher to do so. In 20 minutes.
Full disclosure: These rules I make up for myself are entertaining, but are becoming a little too complicated. Just drafting took me two hours. Back to square 1. Or, is it?

Aren't you glad today marks the day to end one thing and start another...? I am.
And, here is the big news, friends. On my way to becoming a writer, today I took the first step of a thousand miles.

This morning I received my first official rejection letter!! Nine hundred ninety nine to go.
In case you have never received a written rejection of your own, let me share mine, courtesy of my fingers mastering the camera to G-mail on my new Trekkian phone, yay! Go, me!
Why me, Lord?

Okay. We'll try that again later. Let's use old-fashioned technology for now. I'll tell you about it in words and you can picture it in your mind.

"Dear Author" the letter began, "Thank you for contacting us about representation."
You're welcome? thought I. I have this novel I've been working on, on and off for ten years, and I thought you should have the first crack at it. To which the letter responded,

"However, after considering your material,"  uh oh

"...we have decided that your project is not something" UH OH

"...we can successfully represent at this time."  Oh! Maybe later is a better time...

"Furthermore we are very busy with work from current clients and therefore must limit the number of new projects we agree to undertake."  Of course. Very busy, they are. Oh, yes.

The letter continued with an apology for its impersonal nature (Are you kidding? You called me "Author"!), best wishes for my project's success (Thank you!!), a sincere signature from an agency's assistant (cool! A real honest-to-God penned signature), and a P.S., an advertisement noting an enclosed brochure for a book on how to write great books that will sell (right, ok).

Bad news:  I already bought and read that book.
Good news:  I got my first rejection letter!!

So, this is it, I thought. I can be jealous of all the other clients getting all of my chosen literary agency's attention, OR I can reference my buddy Jean Paul Sartre and say..."freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." And, "We are our choices."

Hurray!! I've been rejected. To tell you the truth, I've been looking forward to this moment for six weeks. The weeks went by in a flash! The time is here...I can continue to try, or pack up my query letter and go home. My choice. I don't need to despair. I need to continue. It's going to be fun.

The way I look at it, this book is worth another try.
I don't need to be jealous because I have friends who at this very minute are reading what I've written (Thank you). A select few will read the book I'm still editing (Thank you, Thank you). The right agency will come along. I can be grateful for the time to work on writing a story, my first rejection letter, my unthinking phone, the journey of a thousand miles and the learny that accompanies it. (Rhymes better)
I'm an optimist!!! I'm an optimist!! I DID IT!! Really, it's what I wanted. To tap dance to work. The day may come when I am discouraged and give up the fight. But, that is not this day.
I did it! I referenced the movie "Braveheart", Christianity, and Existentialism in the same blog. My life is complete.
When this book gets "picked up", my plan is to donate the proceeds to BIG FISH, our NPO to help Christian artists in particular find an impermanent home, a tiny solar Wifi equipped house near the woods on an old country road in which to think, pray, rest, reflect, and say (or paint or sculpt or dance or write or act, etc.) what they need to say. Plus, I want to cook for them, those hungry artists. Plus, I want my talented friend (initials C.McM.) to get a salary for what she does, "art-ing" for God and others. Plus, I have already moved into the Promised Land. I'm, ah, renting it.

You read it right:  I am renting the Promised Land.
This place, this life, this pen, this very expensive phone I cannot use, it is all I believe on loan to me for the betterment of the society in which I live.
My lease agreement won't be for ever. (It lasts until December, actually.) Time is a' tickin'.

I have a good story to tell. It might be a book. It might just be something else, a life.
Either way, it's a goal. One worth picking up my pen and trying again. And, better than tomorrow. Also, today is a GOOD DAY.

Love you!


Friday, June 17, 2016

"Do you have twenty minutes?" 1:26

1) No Fear
2) Downfall
3) Twenty Minutes. You've got twenty minutes.
4) Jealousy? Hah! Swallow it. Own it.
5) Live Free

Hello, friends! If you've just tuned in, you should be aware that we here at Subject-4-Change are on a roll. We are working our way through twenty six promised remaining essays before September 5, 2016 AND we are moving on to number 3 on our "Things I Want to Tell You" list.

Number 3 is pretty simple. It begins with this familiar scenario...

Scenario:  I want to change, but...Ugh. I don't want to exercise, pray, write that story/poem/blog/novel, play with the kids, call/visit/write a letter to that person who is on my mind, start that project, read that book, build that puppet, design that set, learn that new bit of technology, clean/paint that room, etc. right now because...

a. It's too hot/cold/wet/dry, etc.
b. I've got to work.
c. I'm not feeling it.
d. I just ate.
d. I've got to do/get this other thing first.
e. I don't have time.

One day as I was struggling with time management issues and the worry that accompanies it, this thought shot through my mind.

"Do you have twenty minutes?"

What? Who said that?
You've got twenty minutes. What are you going to do with it?

Twenty minutes? I thought...Let me see. Sure, sure I've got twenty minutes.

And with that I found I could enter into a task, complete it faster, dread it less, enjoy it more, let it go and even try or repeat it later with the's only twenty minutes.

In twenty minutes, I can:

a. Compose a messy blog entry for editing later
b. Run 1.5 miles (I'm not vying for the Olympics here)
c. Tell 3 people I love them
d. Write a letter, address it and find a stamp
e. Start work on a good idea
f. Take some time to pray, meditate, think, draw, eat, breathe, even take a NAP (?!)
g. Play with my kids (*This might sound cruel and heartless...what Mom doesn't want to play with her kids? Um, We have different interests and energy levels. I'm not so much into the stuff 10-14 year old boys are into: Nerf gun wars, binge-watching TV, video game kills, eating limitless marshmallows, aliens, LEGOs, watching the same movie for the hundredth time...) but in twenty minutes I too can be a...

Why is this? What is up with the twenty minute mark?

I guess it works for my psychology.

  • For the things I dread doing, I think I can stand almost anything for 20 minutes. For more distasteful, boring, uncomfortable, or difficult tasks the 20 minute mark gets me going so that I can continue. 
  • For the things I keep myself from doing out of guilt or duty...I think:  I am allowed to nap, breathe, relax, look at the sky on my back, sing, dance, read...for twenty minutes.
  • For the things I love to do with which I may spend too much time, 20 minutes is a great limit. I usually go over; but, I find with 20 minutes in mind I am sometimes able to accomplish more, work a little faster, and maybe even let go before something is perfect. I also set an alarm on my phone.
What I do is never perfect. But, it can be twenty minutes well spent.
And, for anyone trying to change, especially artists on the brink of something new...twenty minutes just may be enough.

Stay tuned for more from the Radical Middle...soon:  projects I'd like you to see. But, next are numbers 4 and 5 on this list, courtesy of philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Next: Downhill versus Downfall

Remember this list?

1) No Fear
2) Downfall
3) Twenty Minutes. You've got twenty minutes.
4) Jealousy? Hah! Swallow it. Own it.
5) Live Free

This list represents things I needed to tell you a long time ago. O, life, bless it. Life gets in the way of my lists. But here we are. Finally, we are moving onto number 2.

To preface this entry, let me just say, O.
O, I hate going downhill. Uphill is great. I love a good climb. I can climb up and up for miles, for hours. But don't ask me to pause and turn and (gulp) worst of all, look down. Why? It is then that fear sets in.

Some people call this vantage point of fearfulness "reality". You understand at that moment where you really are and all the pain and hurt you are possibly in for. But here is what I have to say about that:

1 John 4:18  "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

For me, running downhill is not exhilarating. It is out of control, crazy and erratic when we are pulled by gravity to go faster and faster.

When I was a ten year old kid on my bicycle, I always braked going downhill. I also, for good measure would drag my foot. This invariably put a giant hole in one canvas tennis shoe.

I didn't get over my fear of "downhill-ing" as an adult either. In Austria in our twenties, my husband and I went hiking on a tall slippery mountain. The mountain continued "up" for miles. We paused at a ledge to adjust to the new altitude and I made the mistake of looking out over the entire town below us. My knees gave way and I sat on the ledge. I told my husband forget it. I am neither going up nor down. This ledge is where out of necessity I will live now forever. Goodbye!

My husband didn't believe me. He insisted we go back down the mountain. The only way I could do it was to get angry. Which I did. I got very angry at my slippery tennis shoes, my lack of a walking stick, the nearly vertical slope covered in mud and pine needles. I pounded at the mud, needles, and tree root-riddled slope until we slid our way on fear and madness back down the sloped mountain and onto level ground.

Boy, was I ever mad at that mountain. My fear turned to anger and my anger got me off my duff and back to solid ground. But, there must be a better way.

Climbing down a mountain, or let's get this correct: slip-sliding out of control down a mountain slope seemingly to your death is awfully similar to how I think our culture views aging.

We climb events in our life until we reach a pinnacle, a vantage point. Some of us continue, some of us stop for fear of falling off, most of us take the trek back down to civilization.

For me, passing 39, then 40, then yes even 41 and now 42, has felt at times like that downhill ride. Scary, fast, erratic, angry, out of control. Or, like my time on the Austrian slopes, a vantage point...paused, frozen for fear that it is all downhill from here...that the climb is behind and now I'm just working my way back down to boredom, old age and uselessness. Or worse, pain and death.

But, downfall and downhill are not the same thing.
One thing I've since discovered about going downhill is that:  if you let go, the ride becomes a lot more fun.

If you run down the mountain, and let gravity assist you as your friend, you can let go of fear. You can allow your legs to work in reverse. And you get a chance to see the journey from a breath-taking vantage point.

If you are going to make the climb, eventually you need to come down off the mountain. Adjust for a new terrain. Let go.
When that happens, remember:  downhill is not downfall, when we let go.

If I could tell my 10-year old self anything today, it would be, "You know what?...if you take your foot off the brake, you can build momentum for the next hill. If you lift your feet, you might have more fun. Plus, you can save your shoes."

Stay tuned for more from the Radical Middle:  26 remaining essays by September 5, 2016 because I'm starting to think it is never too late to lift your feet and see where it takes you. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Day Two: Fear Fighters

Hello! I'm back.

I've got a precious thought-give away for you and only ten minutes to open the booth and get to hawking.

Hawk:  a pun. drawing on the symbolism of the Hawk as channel, as messenger to the Great Spirit
(because yeah, I like to think of myself as Indian sometimes)

...married unfortunately with the Hawker, an image of an old striped snake oil vendor at a fair just set up in town by the carnies, the gypsies, the sojourners, and the travelers-through.

I am both of these. You're welcome.

But back to the task at hand.
I want to tell you a few things before I run off to work:
1) No Fear
2) Downfall
3) Twenty Minutes. You've got twenty minutes.
4) Jealousy? Hah! Swallow it. Own it.
5) Live Free

Wow. I can't believe I got that out! And I have 6 minutes to spare. Alright, here is what it means.

First, No Fear.
A story. I remember in my ol' college days borrowing my boss's car to run an errand with a friend.
First, understand the boss. This boss was a real go-getter: Amway-diamond-here-to-teach-you-the-ways-of-the-force-before-he moves-on-to-greener-pastoral-landscapes-high-achiever. (Of me, this boss said, "Um, her? I don't think she's cut out for Amway." That's right, I was rejected by Amway.) Anyway, that's the type of guy we are talking about here. Always successful, like King Midas in a jewelry store: very well-liked and everyone's hoping his success will rub off on them.

Now, the friend. My friend was amazingly persuasive for being so tiny. That's it.

So the boss lets my tiny friend borrow his big old black SUV for this errand she needs to run.
She drags me along because 1 tiny person plus 1 medium-sized suburbanite equals enough man-power to move furniture or bag trash or paint floors... I often agreed to be her maid servant because she had no upper body strength to speak of and contrary to me, she was sought after heavily by Amway for her good cheer, trembling accessibility and ability to talk people into doing things they really don't want to do. Strange, this description makes her sound like a chihuahua.

This chihuahua looks pissed.

When I climbed into the giant car, I noticed on the back it sported a "NO FEAR" bumper sticker, an early adoption of a logo that would trend in the nineties before it flashed out during Y2K.
We were driving down the road at a conservative speed, two or three miles under the speed limit (because a human chihuahua was driving and we were in the boss' borrowed car), when I noticed two things. One, my friend should sit on a phone booth when driving because she could barely see over the dash (which made me look very conspicuous and silly....a floating passenger) and two, we were being followed.

When I say followed what I mean is "tailed like a prostitute in Nevada" by some guy in an even bigger, blacker SUV riding our taillights who would not let up. He kept gunning it. For miles. He wouldn't go around. He wouldn't pull off. He just wanted to scare us.

My theory? It was the "NO FEAR" bumper sticker. Sporting a bumper sticker that says "NO FEAR" draws the assholes in as a challenge.

I have a point. The minute you change your life and say it aloud for the world to see, expect physical and spiritual opposition. Wearing "No Fear" "Now I'm an Optimist FOREVER" or "Look, Ma! I'm an Artist!" on your soul, forehead (or blog) is akin to wearing rainbow lycra over a potbelly at a Bally's Fitness Center. Expect people to disbelieve.

Disbelievers, or as we knew them in the nineties: "dissers" will dare you silently, or out loud. They will say with their eyes (or their stretchy mouths) "I don't believe you." When you look at yourself in the mirror next to that hottie in her black yoga pants, you are going to doubt yourself, too.
But my little stovepipe, hold on to that rainbow. You can do this. Not only can you conquer fear, you will do so with a sense of humor, realizing that life is a balance of sprinkley donuts and hand-weights. Just lift the donuts less often.

Eventually the devil in the SUV laughed maniacally and sped off, bored with our inability to engage him on a level of "No Fear" and prove our machismo.
The chihuahua and I finished her errand and returned the boss's car. I never got into Amway, so I'll never make "diamond". But, I got something better.
I don't have to work for Amway.

More soon from the "Radical Middle"...we've got the rest of that list to get to!

Monday, April 18, 2016

April 6: Today Life...


April 6, 2016.
I said to the calendar for no reason I could fathom, "Today is April 6.
Today, everything changes."

I wasn't exactly prescient. Though, I must admit, I did know something about something.
That is to say, that morning, April 6th, my life did change. Prior to April 6th I was regularly disturbed by the feeling of boredom and futility in my daily living. I discovered how little I liked waking up, because I felt the day had little new or exciting to offer. Why?

The best answer I have is:  I guess I got off track.

I am certainly not the first to feel that way, I discovered. Many do. Again, why?
We have so much in our lives to fuel us:  faith, family, friends, work, hobbies. But when you are off-track, the fuel is arbitrary. More effort, less effort, none of that matters. You are just left spinning your wheels. And what fueled you before, just leaves you feeling tired, bored, restless, sad, and like you are going nowhere.

I've had 42 years to think about this. But I can't recall thinking about it as clearly as I did, for no reason I could fathom, the morning of April 6th. Here is the kicker:

when your life is off track, you are going nowhere.

I do have a choice how to spend my time and what sort of person I can be.
I decided, to get on track I can try harder to live the life I've imagined: a life of goodness, discipline, fullness, grace, joy, and peace. I knew this was impossible without prayer, so I prayed.

I began to think, see and feel a little more clearly.  Not everything fell into place, mind you.
But, I thought, what sort of person do I want to be? What sort of person do these desires for self-realization point to as the person I really am?  Is it possible I am that person? How can my choices in my daily life show it?

For me I have the same old life goal:  to be an artist.
But now I can see that goal is really to reveal the artist I truly am... 
I am really just a person put here to enjoy God and the transformation of culture. And art helps me do that:  writing, painting, acting, all serves as a reminder for me of how taking a step back can give us the perspective we lack, but crave with our entire being.

We long to know we are loved and that we belong. We are loved. We do belong. So why do we forget that? Why do we treat ourselves and others as if the opposite were true?

What makes us get off track? What helps us get back on?

Lack of Perspective. Pain. Realizing you are getting nowhere. Despair. All of these are signs of getting off track.

When that happens, stop spinning your wheels. Just stop. Slow down. Breathe. Look ahead. Look behind. Say no. Say yes. Say now. If you can't say now, say soon. If you can't say soon, say Lord help me. Say Lord help me, anyway.

Getting back on track requires help, love, decision, and a push in the right direction.
But, when that train gets moving, watch out. Everything changes. It changes today. And, looking back becomes impossible. Enjoying the transformation becomes part of the ride...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

imagination Faith: "Now!"

There is no greater tragedy in life than becoming exactly who you are. There is no greater comedy, either.

I was born in 1973, they tell me, around midnight. The story goes, my mother went into labor and was presented with the last choice of the day. Quite bemused that it was five minutes before midnight, the doctor asked her, "Do you want to have this baby today or tomorrow?" to which my mother replied, "Now!"

And so it was. "Now!" was and always has been the exact time of my birth. Most days, I feel I'm still waiting for "Now!" to let me go.

This morning, I had an uncomfortable memory. I was trapped in a tunnel with a tiny light ahead. I was so tightly wedged there was no hope of either moving forward or going back. I was suffocating and there was nothing fundamentally I could do about it.

Birth, too, they tell me was outside of my control. I must believe them. I certainly was in no lingual shape to argue. I understand too that I was born and unborn, born and unborn. The umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, I kept disappearing from view.

It wasn't until my old dried up system of nourishment was cut away that I could be pulled into the open. Into today. Despite circumstances which conspired against it happening, I was, in fact, born. And now, forty two years later, I have no choice but to make the best of it. I squeaked by then, slipping into "today" with just seconds to spare. Someone cleaned me up and I opened my eyes.

Since then, I've done nothing but try to get at tomorrow my whole life.

My existential crisis ended the day I ceased to exist. What I mean is, one day I gave her up, the "I" I sought so often to become. I released her imaginary white ashes into the vacuum called Hope. The day I did that was also the day I found myself pulled back into the womb, suffocating, unborn.

And let me tell you:  being unborn sucks.

I caution you to keep this in mind as you read my story--choices, like existential crises, are much different than how they are typically viewed. Choices and existence share the same fate...fundamentally, intrinsically, both belie individual control.

We no more control the choices we are presented with than we control being born. You want to see what I mean? Look for the word impossible on this page. You only need to find it once.

And when you find it, you must think:  well. Now, what? How do I continue? How can I?

I can't tell you how. I can only tell you when.

Unfortunately, (you guessed it), when is "today" and when is "now"...for two good reasons.
1.) No one has proven yet that tomorrow exists.
2.) You're stuck being you. And if your life is anything like mine, that means someone somewhere is weeping from laughter.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Medium or The Message? Both with a Slice of Cake

I've always been a "have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too" kind of girl.
I mean, what's the use of cake if it just sits there?
Bake it! Cut it! Share it! Eat it!

No need to wait for your birthday.
Every day is somebody's birthday.
So, forget that Marie Antoinette's famed mythical speech:
"Let them eat cake!" was met by the French revolutionaries' lines "Off with her head; vive la France!"
Let's be revisionists shall we?
Consider this riddle.

What do you get
when you combine cake with the French Revolution esprit,  
our freedom to eat, share and belong?

What you get is, "Let us eat cake."

Okay, allow me to break down this metaphor. I'm not really talking about eating cake. Stay on your diets. What I mean is:  writers, philosophers, dreamers, doers...unite. It's time.

Storytellers, let us bake back, I mean take back the world.
Here's a recipe.
Dream first. Follow that by following through. Write your story, your play, your poem, your novel, your cake. Bake up your crazy ideas. Then, enjoy! Throw a party. Invite everyone you know, even the people who don't like cake. Take the lead to sing, slice, distribute, and then, please I beg you, let us all eat the cake.

Don't make us just stand and look at the cake. Sure, we can discuss the cake's layers. We can hear how long it took to bake it. We'd love to know if you used a recipe, or if you went rogue and it turned out great anyway. But, dammit, don't forget the point of the cake.

The point of the cake is to eat it. Together.
Last weekend I attended my first live poetry reading in years. The poet, an American liberal-arts-student-slash-soldier once stationed in Iraq penned his thoughts and observations of that experience.
His poems are really good. Really good. They do what modern poetry ought to do: his poems revisit and capture an experience which both separates and unites. Hugh Martin's poems show Americans a world we didn't experience, but (in a way) which we caused. On the page, Martin's poetry confronts us with vivid film-like "takes" of his time in Iraq, disembodied still-shots accompanied by a voice-over. I like his poems because they make me think and feel. His poems in The Stick Soldiers read viscerally to impact readers at a gut level. So, buy the book. Read the poems.

 Image result for words
But, allow me to talk about the reading. I don't mean to pick on Martin. Hugh Martin did "fine", as far as modern poetry readings go. He read his poems like all the poets I know read their poems outloud. He read his poem like words. Words on a page.
He read his poems the way modern poets do:  he removed all conversational, natural inflection from the words; he deliberately broke up lines the way they are broken on the page; he flattened the poems into a two-dimensional representation of themselves. Martin read the poems as poetry...he emphasized the medium over the message. He read those poems right back onto the page, cementing them there. 

And, in doing so, he pissed me off.
Emily Dickinson: My Brain/Wider Than the Sky is/Why/ I write to read/Alone.

I found myself envisioning the page, seeing the poem written out, conscious at once of his craft and his book. Then, I had to put myself into the realm of reading to get at the message, the heart of the poem. It's a lot of work to put your audience through. Don't get me wrong. It's not the work I mind. What worries me is that with this style of reading, the medium is more the message than the message itself. Taking out all interpretation, to me, does not open the doorway to all interpretation. It smacks it closed. Instead of bringing out the message, making it accessible, sharing meaning, such flattened reading obscures the message and hides the truth behind a veil of the medium. The poem becomes writing, rather than shared meaning.
IF that sounds familiar it is because I am referencing a media scholar, Marshall McLuhan, who in the 1970's observed technology taking over the messages it was built to relay. McLuhan observed, "the medium is the message."

I was hoping at the time I read McLuhan that he was wrong. Or, that he was lying. Or, that what he noticed was just a trend. McLuhan was himself a student of my favorite scholar, Walter Ong. Ong's pivotal treatise, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word noted that our oral culture was disappearing under the mantle of the printed word, just one technology that brought with it benefits and dangers. He predicted a second orality would one day come, an era which would treat equally medium and message.

And here's where I bring us back to cake, the French Revolution, and storytellers destined to take back the world.

A long time ago, when poetry started, it started as a way to remember, tell and share stories. Traveling bards moved from town to town singing odes of events in the public square. Some odes were penned down. Like scripture though, only the learned could decipher the scrolls. Up until the 14th century, scrolls were written in scriptura continua, without punctuation, capitalization, or even word or sentence breaks, and the scrolls were always read in public by a reader, a public servant who interpreted the transcribed code back into oral speech.
(The writing was only a record of the message which was intended to be shared.)

Image result for gutenberg bible under glass
Gutenberg Bible under glass.
Image result for gutenberg bible under glass

Centuries later, the printing press blazed a new trail of accessibility of written word and not long after we became readers. And, reading is good. So good. Reading the written word sets up a lovely relationship between the writer, the story, and the reader.
It allows access to the world of the Other. Reading, if done right, moves us beyond the act of reading a book into a new world of the story. We experience that world, see it through another's eyes, feel and recognize the connection that exists between us. But when reading emphasizes "words placed on a page" doesn't it lose it's ability to unite, to transform, to share meaning?

Image result for read together 
Maybe the Second Orality has hit. Maybe it is time to read together.  Ooh. Maybe even outloud.

Maybe, storytellers, story-readers, and story-writers, and yes, that includes you poets! we can come together and without losing the rationality, observation, accessibility and craft that accompanies literacy and the written word,
we can bring back her older sister,
the spoken word.

We can read with feeling and meaning
together, as we leap
off the page.

When we take this leap:  we can have our cake; and, we
can eat it too.

Everyone gets a slice. So let's read like it feeds us.

Because it can.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Butterfly Hamlet: Metaphors For Writers in the Throes of Becoming

To become, or not to become? Today's post is Hamlet revamped. When you consider change, prepare for resistance. Sometimes resistance takes the shape of disapproval from our social sphere.


Other times the source of resistance is, well, ourselves.
We resist becoming all we can be, because it is hard work saying goodbye to an old life. Especially when you don't know what shape the new life will take...We're like worms.
My buddies and me. I think I'm the one on the right.
Worms work long and hard before the wings take over.

Writing is isolating. Writing is preparing for a storm on a deserted island.
Hello? Is anybunny out there?
Writing is building a temporary shelter around you of shredded paper and dreams and watching the dreams melt in the first tropical rain that comes along.

Day Three since I picked this back up. Day 600 + [something] if you count the last three years of fiddling. Day whatever.
It's only been three days and already I'm low on hope?

Confession: this morning I cried as I grabbed my coffee. Good Lord, I thought. I have to go back there? Yes, go back. Go back there. You'll only know what it's like if you see it through. Get to work. Build another shelter. There's either a burning sun coming or it's going to rain. After you are finished building, you can rest. Maybe drink out of a coconut. Watch for ships. Talk to a soccerball, if you're Tom Hanks. If you are indeed Hamlet, you can always talk to Yorick, or, you know, what's left of him.
Yorick, I've been thinking. It's time for me to move on.
Good, Bessie. 'Atta girl, Bessie.
Hard writing is sacrifice, giving up. 
Sometimes writing means giving up "giving up".

I've written these posts, read by a few. And I am dragging myself to the screen in the morning. Milking the coffee pot.  Inner resources exhausted. Knowing that if I take time to write this blog post that I'll most likely be late to work, behind on grading, miss family time in the morning, have a crick in my neck that after four years may develop into a hump or rheumatoid arthritis, have lost time for exercise, showering, you name it, I've lost it. I can't help but ask, is it worth it? Am I on the right track?

The sun is rising right now. Right now. But, I'm writing about it, recording it, so I can share it para-socially, rather than just enjoying it in my Da-Sein.

Why can't writers just "be"? Why do we think we need to process and record everything that comes our way? If and when we do, how can readers be expected to sift through the mad minutiae to find anything worthwhile, useful, unique or lasting?

Go ahead. Look for meaning. I dare you.
Writing is waiting, waiting for something good.
There's a lot of waiting involved in writing. And writers pick and peck at their keypads, scratch at their notepads, maybe even compose in their minds. I'd love to write the books I have on hold. Books like Out of the Kill Pen and Journey to Long Nose and Slowpoke and Copycat Take a Look At Their World in What May Seem Like Small Doses. These are books I've partially written in my mind, partially on paper. I have plays that are waiting too, a novel 50,000 words in and 35,000 words to go. But writing takes time. There's planning involved in longer writing projects. And after you finish a grand project that's been drafted and revised and read and revised and sent out and edited and then submitted somewhere, there's more waiting.

We writers are saints and devils of waiting. Writing is what we do, not all of it good, while we are waiting to be read. To be read is to be seen. To be heard. To be listened to and sometimes loved. But the real miracle writers wait for is to move beyond the connection, the shared meaning, into an invisible sphere of having written something that matters to someone else. Writing a good story, or novel, memoir or poem, play or blog post is a little like going to your pantry and prepping a meal, or mixing then proofing a loaf of bread. You do this in the hopes of sharing what you have gathered and feeding someone at your table. You select and work and wait some more in the hopes soon people will pick up a fork, eat and enjoy.I am holding out hope that this waiting time is important. Not just for me, but maybe for anyone who is trying hard to become.

Writing is throwing a party, preparing a meal, killing the fatted calf for a celebration of life, and then waiting for your dinner guests to show up. In light of that metaphor, I'm reminded of Jesus' story of what the Kingdom of heaven is like...a feast, a party where the invited guests don't show because they have better things to do. So, then the master of the house sends out servants to find anyone who is willing to come to the party.

Jesus, I feel you.

To write is to change things up. Change is hard, but necessary.  
Deliberate change is wrestling with a promise.
Here are a plot and a thought for you.
Are you familiar with the story of "Rachel" and "Jacob" in the Bible's Old Testament?

Plot:  Rachel was chosen by Jacob, her cousin, as a bride. Jacob agreed to work seven years for her Dad, Laban as a shepherd on his sheep farm. Then Jacob ends up bamboozled by Laban to work double the amount of time because Laban subs in his first-born daughter Leah. Fourteen years Jacob works. He works while he's waiting for what he really wants. But in the meantime he gets a loyal wife, many sons, a few daughters, lots of striped sheep. Then he goes home to face the music and ask his twin bro' Esau for forgiveness for tricking him out of his inheritance.

Thought:  What was Old Testament Rachel doing as she waited for Jacob? What was Jacob doing as he waited on Laban? What was everybody else, Leah and the kids, the handmaidens, Laban and his workers doing while Jacob was working toward this promise and before that, the blessing Jacob wrestled out of God as he was running away from his old life? My guess is they prepared for a blessed future.

Writing is redirection on your way back home.
We, this, our lives are all over in an instant. We are so temporary and fleeting we really need to keep our eyes focused on what is true, lasting, good, and worthwhile. And honestly, that is not anything I can accomplish on my own. Why? Because I, who am not love, would feign love Love. (See Christina Rosetti)

Hamlet is not known for his positive attitude.
Like Hamlet, many writers are melancholy, prone to despair. Like Hamlet we have a mystery to solve and a kingdom to inherit.  Unlike Hamlet, our future doesn't have to be tragic.

Where do you think that redirection comes from?
We need a way to see our thoughts. Writing, and playing, thank God, help us do that.

"If the whole world as representation is only the visibility of the will, then art is the elucidation of this visibility, the camera obscura which shows the objects more purely, and enables us to survey and comprehend them better. It is the play within the play, the stage on the stage in Hamlet." [81]

I can tell you truly: there's no way I am doing this on my own. I'm writing, and playing, on a wing and a prayer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tribal Beat: Hear Me Out
"You ain't alone, so why are you lonely?

Are you scared what's somebody gonna think?
Are you scared to wear your heart out on your sleeve?
But I really don't know what I got to say...
We really ain't that different, you and me. Alright, hold on. Hold on.
If you're gonna cry. Come on, cry with me. 

You ain't alone. Just let me be your ticket home." 
(Alabama Shakes)

In a theatre magazine I read this morning a sentence I heartily agree with:  that we are looking for our tribe. Millenials especially crave this community, the sense of unity that social media can provide.

When I read that, I had two thoughts:
  1. Am I a Millennial? 
  2. We are all looking for a tribe, for a home. That's what our lives are about.
Let's address these thoughts in turn.

#1 Am I a Millennial? Are you?  Before you go thinking of me as completely clueless, let me say I know the term "Millenial" refers to people younger than me. I'm not that clueless. I'm just in denial. Although I look at least 42 years old, I am stunted emotionally at nineteen, possibly twenty. That would put me in the age range of these Millittles...the folks who write about such trends put Millenials' qualifying birth dates between 1980 and 1996. But, my backwards development aside, when I check out the rest of the qualifications, I fall (thankfully) short. The most neutral difference here is that Millenials reportedly love technology, are highly addicted to social networking, and are the first generation to have grown up surrounded by laptops, MP3s, mobile phones, the internet. In otherwords, Millenials are digital natives (Prensky, 2001).

No, I am not a Millenial.
When it comes to technology, I'm not Amish. I don't scorn it. I wear buttons. I use the remote control for my infinitely complex television system (Okay that's a lie. I use my nine year old son. I use voice commands, bleating, pleading and bribing. Then, he uses his tiny fingers to push the buttons in some remarkable sequence so the flat black window turns to blue and after telling us, "Please wait..." at last shows me those magical talking people I have come to love.) But this techno-living for me is a love-hate relationship. I prefer Walden Pond to the Kingdom of Twitter and live theater to the modern ether of Snapchat. 

I am also not a digital native.
In fact, I fear the cannibalistic qualities of their home country, Digitus. I visit Digitus like a cultural anthropologist...with great curiosity and caution, asking questions about their lifestyle and pretending to fit in, but all the while I am really mapping an escape route whilst tightly gripping my pith safari helmet so no one tries to eat my brain. 

Which brings me at once to thought #2 .
#2 We are all looking for a tribe, for a home. That's what our lives are about.  We are all, regardless of age still looking for our tribe. Artists, dreamers, seekers, we are looking for each other. I'm sure of it. We are displaced. We are searching for home. And that makes us part of the same tribe.
It reminds me of a story. Loren Eisley, a favorite anthropologist storyteller of mine who tramped across the United States, was asked to write an introduction to the Encyclopedia Brittanica. 

**A Note for Millenials, do you know what I mean by encyclopedias? Before Wikipedia, there was Encyclopedia Brittanica, individual libraries of alphabetized human knowledge published in annual volumes by British people and then brought to individual's homes via traveling salesmen in ties.

Back to the story.
So, this guy, Loren Eisley, one year the Brits requested he write the Propaedia, an introduction to the encyclopedia. Consider this. For one year, one volume only, before what we thought we knew about the world changed, Eisley would become solely responsible for introducing the wealth of all human knowledge. He took this charge very seriously.

He took this charge so seriously in fact, that he used all truth-telling tools available to him at the time. The tools he used predated the technology of his time, that is, the written word. Eisley used the oral tradition to help us understand the gravity of our situation, that unfortunately at this time in human history we don't know who we are, or where we belong, or where we're going, or why we're here. And that search is what defines our time here together.

Eisley called us cosmic orphans. People out of place in the universe. Eisley is right. He wasn't the first to say it, nor was he the only one to use stories, parables, and metaphors to get behind the veil (Jesus), beyond the shadow (Plato), or tear down the wall (Reagan).
Side-note:  I bet those guys never thought they'd appear in the same sentence!

But, it's true, right?  If we really belong to this world, then we are way off track. Yet, we still crave acceptance. And we still are looking for a place where we belong. And we are also looking for someone brave enough and smart enough to lead the way home.

Well, I don't have the answers. I'm just the clueless nobody who writes stuff down. But Eisley's categorization reminded me of another anthropologist whose work I love to read: 
"Jesus replied to him, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matthew 8:20
Jesus was talking cosmic orphans. He was also talking to a scribe. Another clueless nobody like myself, somehow called to write things down.

"The foxes have holes.—Our Lord’s answer seems to indicate that it was hardly more than the show. The scribe had not counted the cost, and, like the young ruler that had great possessions, needed to be taught. To follow the Son of Man was not to be the adherent of a new sect or party, or the servant of a king marching onward to an earthly throne, but to share in poverty, privation, homelessness." (Elliot's Commentary for English Readers)

Millenials and Bloggers:  Why? Why do we write things down? What are we trying to do? Who are we trying to reach? Are we telling the truth, driven to call out and to find each other? Are we collectively the voice crying in the wilderness, destined to be heard but not listened to? What is the cost of belonging?
More importantly, will I have to wear a loincloth?
How do you make a unicorn cry? Tell her she's the only one.

We are a beautiful mystery worth crying over.

And in this digital age, I writing short stories, plays, memoirs, and even novels,
I am trying to send salty poetic tears in a bottle to a highly advanced tribe attached to their I-phones and nowhere near the ocean.

Yes, we are cosmic orphans. But, I think I found a map home. 

I consider stories our topography, our map of the invisible world to come. We look for this world when we seek out each other in truth. In other words, we tell stories to explain ourselves and to find each other. Sometimes that story is a selfie with your buds. Sometimes it's, gulp, a blog.

Despite this blog medium, can you still hear me? 

If you can, it's because of this truth. Perfect love drives out fear. 
Heartbeat to you, friends. xxoo.