Tag: Authenticity

9Jan

Pea Soup

(#nofilter #really)

In some moments, merging back into everyday life after a vacation feels like cliff-diving into the Baltic Sea after a six-course dinner. Other moments, it feels like getting lost in a pea soup fog. Sometimes it’s more like venturing into the Himalayas on foot while other times I might as well be sleepwalking in a corn maze.

Maybe it’s just me, but when the energizing whirl of holidayness putters out—at approximately 2:30 a.m. on New Year’s when one of the grownups suggests another party game and the rest look desperately at their five-year-olds who have turned into tireless vampire Energizer bunnies and refuse to provide an easy excuse for their parents to head home to bed—I suddenly find that the previous year has left me about 3,000 hours short on sleep and go into a week-long coma. Once I wake up, my annual Simplify! Simplify! craze kicks in, and if there are not at least five full recycling or give-away bags when I’m done with a room, it isn’t done. I organize and dust and IKEA the hell out my workspace so that I can take on 2013 with no holds barred…

…and then I sit down at that freshly de-cluttered workspace and realize I have no idea what I’m doing there. The new year is just too big, its goals too daunting, its tempo too unfamiliar. I don’t know how I can possibly catch up from those few weeks away from my daily routine, much less make inroads into the here and now, and the Type A fun of tying the old year into the new with summaries and resolutions seems like a luxury reserved for people who don’t lose perspective two minutes into vacation.

Unfortunately, my perspective is 97% tied to how often I write (the other 3% is caffeine), and I have never in my life managed to keep up a steady flow of words when in vacation mode. There are so many other things to see and do, loved ones to spend time with, and comas to enjoy. Without really meaning to, I’ve neglected to tap into my own thought life for over two weeks now, so things have gotten pretty discombobulated up in here. Words have been coming to me by the pageful in dreams, but they always white out the instant my alarm clock vibrates to life, and I don’t quite know how to be myself without them.

Is it okay to be admitting this? I have visions of this blog as something beautiful and significant (as does every blogger, presumably) with each paragraph carrying its own weight in purpose, but this sentiment tends to cripple more than inspire. It’s why I’ve been circling this page for days, swooping in occasionally to peck at a stray sentence but never alighting on anything meaningful enough to settle into. It’s also why I’ve treated my husband to a Disparately-Eyebrowed Stare Of Incredulity every time he’s suggested I slip out for half an hour to blog. You don’t just create something brilliant and insightful from pea soup fog in half an hour, see, and sitting down to write when I’m short on words and time and a sense of self all at once is a fairly certain recipe for despair.

This is my best idea on how to reclaim my non-comatose writerly self though—digging back in for authenticity and legible sentences even if though they’re not going to win me a spot on HuffPo, even if though they’re not the deep and heavy and beautiful things I wanted to articulate, even if though I’m too busy for this and January feels like an ice-shocked Scandinavian sea and I’m more tempted than you know to adopt hibernation as a viable lifestyle. I’m here despite all that, and I’m declaring that, as imperfect a first-post-of-the-year as this may be, it totally counts as taking on 2013.

~~~

Does your back-to-work routine also include flailing and spluttering and ruing the day of your birth? How are you getting along with the new year?

14Dec

Honest Bones

There’s a short story in the Bible*, barely a blip, which recounts how a man named Philip insists on his buddy Nathanael meeting his new friend Jesus. Nathanael doesn’t buy into the hype that Jesus is the legendary figure they’ve all been waiting for, but he goes along with Philip anyway and is taken by surprise when Jesus greets him with a compliment: “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”

“Where did you get that idea?” Nathanael asks. “You don’t know me.”

I imagine at this point in the story, Nathanael is feeling equal parts cynical and creeped the hell out. But then Jesus answers: “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”

And just like that, everything changes for Nathanael. He instantly recognizes Jesus as divine and joins his posse.

I can’t stop wondering what Nathanael had been doing under a fig tree that would hold such significance when brought up in conversation. It would have had to be something spiritual and deeply personal if Jesus’s noticing him translated to God noticing him, and it would have had to be something of incredible importance to Nathanael for him to know exactly which tree and which long-ago day Jesus was referring to.

Had he been wrestling with doubts? Having a meditative breakthrough? Contemplating suicide? Encountering God in a new way? Facing his life with honesty for the first time? Giving the universe an ultimatum? Feeling like he was at the end of his life? Feeling like he was finally at the beginning?

Don’t worry; this isn’t becoming a Bible study blog, and if you’re still reading, thanks for not bolting in terror at the prospect of Preacher Voice (you know what I’m talking about). It’s just that this little story lodged itself in my mind last night, and not even sleep was enough to shake it loose. I keep imagining Jesus’s expression as he said “I saw you.” Under the fig tree in that moment of personal victory or anguish, long before meeting face to face, in a state of such profound aloneness that only God could have known, I saw you.

It gives me shivers, but not the creeped-the-hell-out variety. They’re the deliciously warm shivers of knowing I’m seen. The Bible is such a complicated and mine-sown book for me that I don’t usually have this reaction to it. I’m much more likely to end up crying or furious or weary or curled into a fetal position sucking my thumb. This is not a dignified thing to admit to, especially as a churchgoer who would rather people not notice her Bible closed tight the entire service, but the contrast between forced religious devotion (hi, fundamentalism!) and Jesus is just too much a part of my life not to share.

Fundamentalism leaves no room for doubts or questions or honest soul-wrestling sessions. Its version of faith is inseparable from putting on good appearances, from reciting the script of holiness at all times. Meanwhile, Jesus says I saw you back then, under the fig tree, working through the messy realities of your own heart. I saw you, and I love your honest bones.

~~

* John 1:45-51. I quote from The Message, which is usually the only version I can read without an allergic reaction.

29Nov

Honestly

I set up a Facebook page yesterday. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took me a year of “Huh, I should get on that”s and noncommittal throat noises to actually click the button… though honestlyhonestly, it might have something to do with this fun personal fact: I’m afraid of attention.

We’re talking woodland creature skittishness here, jumping beans in my stomach, thoughts sprouting gray hairs. I don’t think even Dan knows this yet (hi, honey!), but I had to fight back stage fright at our wedding. I still agonize trying to guess which day of the year Italian women will switch from ballet flats to boots because yes, the world will in fact end if I leave the house in unseasonable footwear. From the time I was a girl attracting double-takes with my homeschool uniform (picture an eleven-year-old Michelle Duggar), I’ve always had a wild desire to go unnoticed in public, and that self-protective instinct gets twitchier than ever when it focuses on my writing.

The simple truth is that this is my heart, strung out in black typeface and compulsive backspaces. When you read my blog, you read my heart, and my posting here is something like the CIA declaring Open House Day. My insecurities are here, my doubts, my hopes, the issues I struggle with and mull over, the insights that bring me peace… and by drawing attention to them, I am well aware I’m opening them up to criticism. It feels like standing on a busy intersection in my puffy denim jumper and even puffier bangs, waving.

There are the other fears too—the vulnerability of starting something new, the fragile alliance of “like” buttons, the safety net of personal privacy settings sidestepped. Always, always, statistics and purpose compete for precedence in my mind, and perspective can be as difficult to nail down as a live squid. I’ve moaned to Dan on an occasion or two [slight understatement] about how unfair it is that I was wired to write. As long as I’m following these heart-nudges, my goals and my personality will be at odds, and I wish I could be fulfilled in life by something simpler, less emotionally risky. Deep sea welding, for instance.

However, I can’t turn off the light in my core that says this, here is what I’m meant to be doing. It’s as clear a sense of vocation as I’ve ever experienced, and as much as I might like to dismiss this blog as a mere hobby (a monthly ritual of despair, which I’m sure has no correlation whatsoever to other monthly occurrences) or hide it under a bushel or amputate every stubborn neuron compelling me to write, a force stronger than fear keeps me here… and not just here, but honestly delighted to be here.

I know that sharing this with you is not exactly the act of withdrawal my inner stage-fright was hoping for. It’s the opposite in fact—a declaration of purpose and vulnerability waved from a busy intersection, eyes staring deliberately into the headlights. However, I wanted you to understand how much it means to me to be here with you, in typeface and photos, insecurities and Tweets, and a heart that wants to connect with yours far more than it wants to hide.

~~~

Is there anything your sanity compels you to do that simultaneously terrifies you? I’d love to hear about it; after all, commiseration and encouragement are two of the very best things about this great internet of ours.

Oh, and don’t forget to head over and “like” my Facebook page (why yes, I am making ironic quote marks with my fingers right now) if you’d like to connect, get blog updates, or otherwise make my day.

25Oct

Walleyed

Here’s the truth, if you care to know it—I am paralyzed by my own mind more often than not when it comes to this blog.

I might be spilling over with observations and realizations and hopes and stories, but when I make a move to sit down and transcribe them for you, I hit a wall so hard it leaves bruises. This is what I hear:

Are you kidding? YOU? You’re nobody! Why would you presume to have anything worth saying?

Or…

Seriously. You’ve already written 15000 variations on that theme; come back when you have something original.

Or…

If you can’t manage to post consistently, you might as well just give up. Leave the writing to the professionals.

Or, if I’m considering a gutsier topic (i.e. – anything in the category of religion, politics, cultural comparison, or Glee)…

Oh, yeah, this is gonna be good. I’m sure everyone’s just dying to hear your opinions on Controversial Hot Topic #3. Oh, and I’m equally sure you’ll handle the resulting criticism with confidence and stoic grace.

NOT.

See? Instant paralysis, which is a real bitch when you consider that my sanity hinges on writing. I can’t not write. I’ve tried, even for months at a time, but I keep coming back to the truth somewhere deep in my foundations that says giving up writing will mean killing off a part of myself, and I’m unwilling to put my loved ones through that. Soul-death vs. paralysis, rock vs. hard place. How does one summon the fortitude to plow through her own mental barriers? Why does creativity have to be both lifeblood and obstacle?

Feeling out the barriers like this, surveying their shapes, letting them know they’re not as invisible as they’d like to think… I want to believe that it helps because I want to be writing here again, often, even if what I have to say is nothing original or deep or safe. I’m trying to take steps toward self-care these days—eating well, easing my legs into a healthy rhythm, sitting a few minutes in the sun after lunch—and the best mental self-care I can imagine is to get past this bruising cynicism and start creating again.

So I’m going to try, and I use the word “try” with fear and trembling; it’s both promising the improbable and admitting to a staggering amount of weakness. Regardless, I’m going to try writing regularly here again, even if it means tunneling through the barriers Tom Sawyer-style with a spoon. In the meantime, would you mind leaving me a comment or shooting me an email about your own experience with self-paralysis? I could use a little community right now as I try to get this lifeblood coursing again.

24Feb

A Personal Kind of Grace

[Photo of Vesuvius snapped on Easter morning 2010]

Everywhere, it seems, I’m reading about Lent, and I’m trying to let the words sink in, but they float just above my level of comprehension. Ashes, fasting, sin, mortality, dust to dust… Maybe it’s because I’ve never attended a church that practiced Lent (though I know that’s not a prerequisite to participation). Maybe it’s because I’m on such tenuous terms with organized Christianity. Maybe it’s because words like “sin” and “fasting” shut me down trigger-quick with oppressive memories.

My being with you this year doesn’t just refer to posting more often. The internet offers a shiny, gilt-framed backdrop for whatever image of ourselves we want to project, but it’s a hollow allure, this self-sponsored PR. If I’m only offering a mirage of who I want you to think I am, any attempts at connection will vaporize with the illusion, and I believe that connection is the reason we are on this planet together. Thus, with = authenticity.

Are you ready?

As far back as I can remember, the Easter season has symbolized a very personal kind of brutality to me. The story of Jesus’s crucifixion is horrific, no matter the religious paradigm. A man who devoted his adult life to teaching kindness, spreading hope, standing up for the marginalized, and living out compassion is tortured to death by religious leaders who feel their legalistic system threatened. The injustice is instantly recognizable, the tragedy deeply felt. And it is all my fault.

That’s what I was taught from the beginning, that the shards of glass ripping his back to shreds, the iron spikes hammered into his wrists, the agonizing hours on the cross as his lungs collapsed were all my fault.  It sent me into hysterics as a young child. Hearing the unthinkable details of Jesus’s suffering and then being told I was responsible was too much for my heart to handle intact. Jagged, uncontrollable laughter spilled through the wound, and my guilt doubled. No punishment was enough.

“Jesus died for your sins.” I swallow hard every time I hear this line at church, wondering what concept it is shaping in my daughters’ minds. I know that many people take it as a message of hope and love, but I have trouble seeing the barbarism behind the statement. Death by torture is somehow the sacrificial equivalent of my imperfection? Is it not enough to acknowledge my need for redemption without also accepting the blame for Jesus’s death? More often than not, these questions have led me down a spiral staircase of doubts from which I couldn’t see hope, not even a glint, through my anger at God for orchestrating such horror.

I can’t turn off my mind or cauterize the raw edges of my heart against pain, but I have learned to look through new eyes. A few years ago, my friend Rachelle Mee-Chapman’s article Your Kindergartner Did Not Kill Jesus, and Neither Did You helped me see the Easter story as a powerful continuation of Jesus’s life rather than a violent tit-for-tat. Gerry Beauchemin’s book Hope Beyond Hell showed me a God of love instead of torture. Other resources, music, and open-minded conversations have helped me find a third path beyond blind acceptance of religious dogma and angry rejection of the whole Christian construct. I can now love Jesus honestly, without having to shoulder or celebrate his death.

I admire those of you who make sacrifices during these forty days in order to draw closer to God, and I want you to know that I respect your ashes. They aren’t for me, though, at least not in this stage of my life. I’ve spent so long pinned in the dust by Jesus’s suffering that meditating on it now would be like returning to a prison. Perhaps I will be able to do it one day when my new perspective is strong enough to cocoon old wounds. But for now, I’m focusing on words and life instead of sin and death, meditating on the kindness Jesus taught rather than the evil he suffered. My soul was designed not for guilt but for grace—bright, sweeping, extravagant grace that becomes especially personal to me when I meet with God here on this third path and (s)he loves my split heart a little closer to wholeness.

12Jan

Choose Your Own Dust Storm

2012 for our family has whirled in like a dust storm. For all my hope that we would receive some sort of cosmic prize package for making it through 2011 intact, we’re still in the gritty thick of uncertainty. The positive side is that there’s no better time to evaluate core values than when nothing else is guaranteed. The less positive side is that we’ve simply had no time for self-evaluation.

Here’s a snack-sized recap of the past three weeks: We’ve traveled over 8,500 miles, mostly by car. We’ve celebrated a holiday each with Dan’s whole family and with mine, and we wish we could have spent more time with both. We’ve seen dear friends and missed getting to see others. We’ve made our traditional dash  to Urgent Care and added Natalie’s broken arm X-rays to our vacation album. We’ve procured a new driver’s license, a new passport, and one precious visa, and we’ve woken up on Italian time for many mornings in an ongoing attempt to get the other.

We still have a little bit of buffer time here in the States, but it’s not certain that I’ll be able to return home when Dan and the girls do. This week has been a unique exercise in balancing anxiety with trust that all will turn out for the best. Not to say that I’ve successfully gone all Zen Master, but I’m grateful for the perspective that comes with derailed plans, and I’m glad to finally have a bit of time today to take stock of what I’m bringing to the new year.

I don’t have any word or mantra picked out for 2012, and I haven’t dared yet to think of goals beyond the immediate future. However, the day that my Kickstarter project ended, one possible version of this year misted out of sight and another began to come into focus. It’s hard to fill in the details without even knowing which country I’ll be in come February, but I’m discovering just how important flexibility is on my list of guiding values. This year, I need to have space on my margins, the grace to enjoy life through its unpredictability instead of rushing from one source of resentment to the next.

It’s also on my heart to embody generosity this year, not so much with finances as with my time and attention (though being able to give more in a traditional sense would be great too). Of course, this will require me to reclaim my time and attention so that I can give them to the things that matter, and some heavy decisions are involved.

Unfortunately, there’s no PA system booming down from heaven to tell me what I should do this year. This is more like a choose-your-own-adventure novel with further direction on hold until I pick a page. I’ve never cared for those books, but there’s something to be said for being an active participant in your own story, isn’t there? Plus, I have a pretty good idea of the values I want to help guide my decisions this year:

flexibility

generosity

authenticity

beauty

courage

…and this—creativity, community, intention, art, whatever name writing takes on any given day.

I’ll keep you posted as the dust begins to settle.

5Dec

Now or Never

I am absolutely positive on this one point: I had no idea what Dan and I were getting into when we started this Kickstarter project. Of course, had I known, I would have waited for sometime when I had a month off work, excess energy, and aligned stars guaranteeing our success, which would have been never. There’s definitely something to be said for just squeezing your eyes shut and taking the plunge. Things get done that way.

But goodness. The past few weeks have taken an industrial-sized ice cream scoop to my insides and scraped up every last speck of energy. Every. single. day. Through the giddy fun of setting up our fundraising page, I failed to see that it would become our full-time job this month—managing websites, editing media, socializing, networking, writing, writing, writing, and asking people to exchange their hard-earned money for our dream. I don’t use the word “our” lightly, by the way; the only way this campaign has been possible on top of my teaching schedule has been sharing the load with my nerdy rockstar husband… who is also keeping up a day job. We haven’t been sleeping much.

If you want to know the truth, though, the most draining thing so far has been the emotional effort of all this hoping. I dearly want to see this gamble pay off, so every new minute sends me swinging between elation and despair. The hopeful calm in between feels as impossible as the $10,000 I’m asking for. I can’t help comparing my project to some of Kickstarter’s wild success stories and then slumping lower because I don’t have their thousands of Twitter followers or their corporate sponsorship or their professional video shoot. I know jealousy isn’t attractive, but this is me, real.

I want this book to happen. I want the chance to work from home this winter writing it. I want to be present for my little girls again instead of dashing off to work every day. I want to follow my creative impulses and devote my time to what gives me life rather than what saps it away. So many wants… yet the word itself makes me cringe at my own selfishness. Only the thinnest line has ever separated gratefulness and guilt for me.

However, I can’t agree to live without hope, without reaching toward what matters even when that hope feels undeserved. This book is part of a larger vision for our family, and dismissing the idea because of misplaced guilt would be like coating a kaleidoscope in concrete.  So we’re doing this now, knowing that the other option is never and clinging to color for all we’re worth.*

*Which we hope is at least $10,000.

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