Freedom

::My Creative Children::

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In high school I was told to choose. And each of the tellers told me to chose the thing that was theirs:

Sister Mary Judith said to choose writing

Sister Mary Thomas said to choose music

Sister Mary Dominica said to choose fine art

Sister Josephine said to choose fashion design

You MUST choose this one, each said. This is your gift, each said.

I said no. Was it the best answer? I guess I’ll never know, but I knew in my gut it’s the only answer I could give.

I saw each as one of my children. How do I choose one, and leave the others, orphaned?

How do I nurture one, and leave the others fallow? It was the craziest idea I’d ever heard. But I was just a kid, what did I know? These were brides of Christ telling me to do this. But I couldn’t.

First of all, as I now know, what the creative well is filled with is beyond my control. It is a central space whose energy flows through me. I cannot dictate to the well how it is to express itself. I can only say “yes” to whatever shows up.

I am not the boss of it. I am the steward; the guardian. It is up to me to facilitate, not to dictate.

In my adult life, there are creative threads that have expanded; writing grew to — not only prose or poetry, but a career in songwriting. Design grew to — not just fashion design — but a career in interior design. Music grew to a career as a vocalist. I guess you could say my ‘children’ had ‘children’ of their own.

I sometimes wonder if this is just me, not wanting to “settle down” with something that could organize my life in a way that some would call “adult.”  But when that thought comes to mind, the counter argument is always there to ask me, which of your creative ‘children’ would you have abandoned in favor of others?

The answer is, I cannot choose. I have not chosen. They choose me. Even now, in my dotage, I do not regret saying “YES” to all of them.

#SorryNotSorry

::TOO SOON TO TELL::

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The Good Book Open

A recent checklist:

Have you locked in on who you were put here to be?

Are you accomplishing all that you were put here to accomplish?

How much longer is your life’s to-do list?

How’s that memoir coming?

Will your work projects pay off?

What will be written on your grave marker?

Will you have a grave marker?

Will your grands know how much you loved them?

Will you have made a difference in any positive way?

What is the one thing, if you had to choose, that you’d want to be remembered for?

How will your children carry on once you’re gone?

What will happen to your writing?

What will happen to your artwork?

What will happen to your design work?

Once you’re gone, will you even care about any of this?

Questions that, once posed, tend to send me into one of two places: a deep and thoughtful period, or a moment of ironic flippancy where I say, “Who cares about that? I can only handle ‘now’.”

And really, those questions generally pop up only when I’m down. And I’m down so seldom that I had to conjure to bring them up at all.

I keep my eyes on the horizon, and my heart in Gilead. My path is my testimony, marked by my feet, which I put one in front of the other each day.

It is a varied, and a beautiful life. Trouble? Yes, we see trouble all around us. But we are not the trouble itself. No one is. We are the very love we seek; we are the center and the stillpoint of this amazing planet. And what we focus on increases. Think about that.

So, as I look back on this list of questions I raise, I can quietly and with blessed assurance say,

“It is too soon to tell. But I’ve read the Book. I know how this ends.

“And it is beautiful.”

::FIRST THOUGHTS FIRST DAY::

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2018 LOGO

Today is January 1, 2018. I haven’t written prose in awhile — life has a tendency to get in the way, especially as the Holidays come steamrolling toward me. But I’m back with my morning coffee, on this New Years Day.

Here we are at “the morning after;” the “new box of crayons.” It’s the “First blank page, book 2018.” No matter how anyone’s viewing it, I’ll take it. It’s all good.

I’ve seen several online posts today referencing how “difficult” 2017 was. I’m sitting here in my warm kitchen, sipping my big mug of coffee with Peppermint Mocha creamer; the Citrus Bowl on the telly, and I’m thinking about “difficult.”

Like anyone else, I can rack up a litany  of things that were/are difficult in my life. Some would include rigid, cold-handed parents who, if not full blown alcoholics, were certainly “problem drinkers.” A complete lack of support — in fact, demeaning feedback — toward my creative endeavors, from childhood through twenty five years of marriage.

Gaslighting was, if I’m honest about it, my family’s brand of “normal.” No wonder I sought out a husband who specialized in it. And the years of betrayals, both emotional and physical, were just “part of the deal.” After severing ties, it took me years of therapy to learn that my kindness does not have to mean weakness; that standing up for Self does not mean I have failed to support others. In fact, quite the opposite.
If I’ve faced anything really difficult in my life, it is the effort to embrace that concept.

Which leads me to why “difficult” is, I think, a subjective thing.

Nick Vujicic knows difficulties. Born without arms and legs, he is an amazing motivational speaker, and now the father of twins.

There’s my sweet friend Gianna Jessen, a young woman, self-described “God’s girl,” who is alive literally “in spite” of being aborted. She lives with what she describes as “the gift of cerebral palsy” — a direct result of being deprived of oxygen during her birth process.

These two people live lives of unbridled joy.  What examples they are of “transcending the obvious,” with God as their compass.

A favorite Meme of mine says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

When I was a first grader at Christ the King school, I collected holy cards. Each card had a beautiful illustration of a martyr who lived, and died, for Christ. On the backs of the cards were descriptions of their agonizing demise, and a prayer of intercession. 

I tell you this as a way to think through why I pretty much never think of my life as difficult; I tend to “suck it up.” My early childhood references of “difficult” told me, if anything, that I had little to complain about. I was taught to think “other.” And, with proper balance, M. Scott Peck seems to endorse that approach:

 “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”  M. Scott Peck, Psychiatrist & author

So, to all of you, from the heart of me, have a Happy, Happy New Year. Let’s roll up our sleeves, let’s focus on the work ahead of us, and let’s be grateful every single day. Let’s breathe deep, laugh a lot, say our prayers, and let it go. Because “difficult” just doesn’t matter.

Here’s to us all in 2018!!

::The Space Between::

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Empty Space

I’ve heard there’s a way to live that is without pressure, or obligation. A way to avoid the mundane requirements of life; electric bill, rolling trash bins to the curb, changing batteries in the smoke alarms. I’m not real clear about how one achieves that no-pressure life without ending up under a bridge somewhere. I do feel pretty certain that there’s a way to find balance along the nothing/everything continuum.      

                   
I was watching Hoarders the other day. In fact I was watching Hoarders back to back. I was sort of hoarding 
the Hoarders series. I keep thinking about those people and wondering, what was their trigger? What was the last straw that caused that interior designer to pile her historic home so full of crap that she ended up living in the driveway, in her dilapidated van with her dogs? That when the cleanup people were climbing over the piles inside the home, she was cheerily bragging on it being her design studio? In her mind and eyes, there was no problem.

HoardingShe literally hoarded herself out of her home. She crowded herself out of her life with stuff. And though she declared the high value of it all, much of it was … nothing but garbage.

Another woman’s home was over run with  cottage cheese cartons, rubber bands – which she had huge piles of, and wouldn’t let the cleanup people touch – plastic bags. Anything. Everything. It appears that too much everything flips over and you get nothing.

I’m thinking balance. It’s a great term, most of us use it, and most of us think that, in some way, we have some sort of balance in our lives.

Those hoarders think they have balance too. Like the woman whose house was so filled with crap she was living in the makeshift aviary with her cats. She couldn’t live in her house. She cried. She didn’t want to let anything go, but at the same time knew she had a problem.

Not sure why I’m writing about this. What I’m sure of is, I need to hire a couple of teenagers to help me clean out my garage.

You never know when that last straw’s gonna show up.

::Right or Wrong::

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right-or-wrong imageThe messages we’re given in childhood are powerful. Until we get out into the world on our own, they define our reality. They define our normal. They tell us what’s expected of us, and what value we have. And behind those front doors, each family has its own brand of ‘normal’.

I was raised in a house where there was one right way to do everything. Often I discovered there was a right way after I’d done something the wrong way. Mattered not if I accomplished my goal. If I didn’t do it the right way, I got it wrong. And that “right” way could change without warning; I learned that early on. So, go ahead, knock yourself out. But don’t count on anything except maybe being blindsided by a new rule, a new way of you failing again.

This is a piece of the legacy inherited by a child of alcoholics. Eventually, once we’ve reached adulthood and if we’re aware enough and brave enough to launch the quest for self discovery, we catch a glimpse of how life is defined outside the hazed cocoon in which we grew up; the only “normal” we’ve ever known. So there’s an overriding sense of betrayal, or having been lied to about ‘what’s going on out there’, ‘how I fit in the world,’ or even ‘who I am’. And, at its center, ‘what love feels like’.

That’s not to say that drinkers are evil. They’re not. I truly believe that very person, in one way or another, is ‘trying to find their way’. But some people get so off track; are so myopic as to what they’re doing and the damage caused by it, that they’re pretty much a walking (or stumbling) wrecking ball.

I’ll admit there are certainly things ingrained in me from my childhood that I treasure. I have a very well calibrated moral compass. I’m not an angel by any stretch, but when I’ve veered off course, I know it.

This comes from a Spiritually driven center that was awakened in me very early on. I clung to it, and was convinced that ‘if I’m good enough’ good things will, ultimately, happen. There’s probably a piece of me that still believes it.

In Seminary we studied addiction. It was pointed out to us that addicts are “headed the wrong way down the right road.” They crave a different feeling, a different perspective. But they’ve employed chemical shortcuts to get there, which always end in failure. Because in order to keep the feelings gained from drugs or alcohol, you have to stay drugged or drunk. The process is deeply and heartbreakingly flawed. Those same good feelings are authentically available. But like all things of true value, we gotta do the deliberate, serious (and personal) work to ‘get there from here’.

And something else I learned  in Seminary, is that there are quite possibly as many ways to do something as there are people to do it. Not right or wrong, based on approach. When I heard that it was not like a light went on in my head; it was more like a bomb went off.

For decades I held back on doing so many things, big and small, for fear I would do them wrong. It was earth changing when, after finally trying something, and doing it my way, there was no one there to tell me how wrong I was.

Maybe I was never really wrong, after all.

::The Dance::

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DANCING SHADOW

He had no choice but to betray me. Did he? Did he have a choice? No. I don’t see how he could have avoided it. I was too much. I was every single thing he both loved and hated.

I am a dreamer. I was born singing, and madly in love with life. My arms are flung wide, embracing all of it.

I’ve never stopped being that person. Detours? Yes, of course. I’ve gone off on a fool’s errand more times than I can count. But I’m always guided back by the lighthouse of my heart, and the musical joy that lives there.

The perspective at my center is maddening to someone who can’t see it. Generally that’s a cynic; someone who finds their own center unloveable. They define everyone else by their  lack of personal acceptance. Cynicism runs deep, denial is creed, because if they lose a handle on the lie they’re living, if the mask slips the slightest bit, who they claim to be falls apart. It’s come to me gradually over the years that yes, he was one of those. I take no pleasure in knowing it. But it explains a lot.

Okay, so the die was cast; we were young, beautiful, and almost immediately became caught up in the dangerous dance dreamers and cynics love. Maybe that’s it.  We each fell in love with the dance itself. I’ve never really seen it that way before. It must be time.

After a few years it started to dawn on me that about half the time I was dancing alone. He partnered with me when he needed an injection of the mad love, the joy, the dream I brought to bear. Once he was filled, I depleted, he was off again, climbing his ‘success ladder’ on the energy I gave. This act of transfusion happened repeatedly, and became central to the dance itself.

Some started saying I was too open, too forgiving. Too willing to glue the shards of us back together again and again.  There were those who called me stupid; co-dependent. I was neither. I knew what I was doing. I was holding in place a life that represented everything I was born loving so madly. I did it for my children. I did it for myself. Hell, I did it for him. And no, he still doesn’t have a clue.

Three pregnancies – one miscarriage and two healthy children – were born of that union. If nothing else came of it, that is a gracious plenty. My children are beautiful, and they have at least a portion of my madness flowing through them; my eager love, my spiritual center, my excited fascination with life. The music, which always came through me, pulses in them. They are music makers because, well, I’m their Mama.

Eventually his betrayals of ‘us’ became a routine part of his dance. But my dance steps had started changing too. I was no longer able – or even willing – to hold together the shattered pieces of who we’d become. I would like to say, simply, “I walked out.” But it was more like, “My life exploded, his final betrayal was so outrageous; there was nothing left that could be saved. He made it his mission to destroy everything.”

So. There’s that. But the interesting thing is, I’ll never regret the dance. And through the years I found my way back where I started; a dreamer, madly in love with life, arms outstretched. The lighthouse of my heart guided me home. My faith, and my music, and my beautiful children keep me here.

::Every Little Piece::

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Raindrop

 

 

People always ask me when I started to write.  Especially songwriting.

I can think of points along my childhood and teen years, when I wrote to process feelings or moments; heartbreak. Confusion. Boys. But the truth is I’ve always, as long as I can remember, written it down.

I say that, and it strikes me quite odd that a tiny girl, not exposed to literary pursuits, would even think of writing.

I was a post war baby; my mother and daddy were young, beautiful, hard working. My daddy was a Navy man, and knew how to do just about everything. They were musical, and funny, but they were not the type to bury themselves in Tolstoy or Hemmingway. They had better things to do: roll up the rug in the dining room on Saturday afternoon and dance to Benny Goodman and Kay Starr records. Or sit on the front stoop at sunset, leaning into each other, beer in hand, and watch the kids ride their trikes in the driveway.

So how did I end up here, at this keyboard? Or way back there, at that Big Chief tablet with my Dixon Laddie #304?

I remember a moment when I was five. I was sitting on the swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion. The sky was so blue, and I was so happy, I wanted to write a song about how I felt. I threw my head back, and instead of words coming out, I cried. My happy went heartbroken in that moment; I wept, because I knew I was too little to write a song that sounded like the ones on the radio.

And it’s interesting, isn’t it? How I remember that moment so clearly. How even as I think about it, I am “back there,” under that blue sky. In that back yard on that swing. My stomach even grabs for a second as the feelings I had then are here with me now.

So I guess you could say the writing thing has always been part of what I am. I remember in first grade, Sister Dianna was teaching us a song, and I was saying the words with her. She stopped, looked at me, and said,

“Mary Cecelia, do you know this song already?” No, I didn’t. I’d never heard it before. But somehow, I knew what would come next in the lyrics. Didn’t everybody? No, it turns out. They didn’t.

In third grade, Sister Mary Damien announced that the Highschool newspaper class was asking for poems from the grade school. They were going to publish one poem in the next edition of their paper. We were to turn our poems in the next day. My hear jumped, and my head started spinning with the tomes I would write.

That night at home, I took out my Big Chief tablet and my Laddie pencil, and I wrote. I wrote at least a half dozen one-stanza poems. I gave each stanza a name, and its own sheet of lined paper. I made the pages as neat as my third grade southpaw printing could get.

The next morning, I shuffled into the classroom with my classmates, laid my stack of poems on the corner of Sister’s desk, and took my seat. I watched her eagerly, hoping she would be proud of me.

Finally, Sister Damien walked over to her desk and picked up my pages. She leafed through them, then ripped them in half and threw them in the waste basket. As she did so she looked up at me briefly and stated,

“You were not to copy out of a book.”

My stomach lurched. My face turned hot. My eyes welled up. I was horrified, for several reasons:

First, it would never have crossed my mind to turn in someone else’s work; the fact that she thought I would do such a thing made me want to cry.

Second, even at seven years of age, I was in a panic: those were the only copies I had. I learned an important lesson that day: always make duplicates.

Third, though my classmates were laughing at me, I was more concerned with people thinking I had such a flawed moral compass. They clearly didn’t know me at all.

On another level, buried deep beneath my chaotic feelings, was a little voice that whispered,
“Hmmm. They must have been good. REALLY good. She thought you copied them out of a book.”

A backhanded compliment from a nun, saying my work was so good I could not have done it. I’ve lived a lifetime of twisted victories like that.

In fourth grade, we had music class two mornings a week. One morning the music teacher announced that there would be a music program, and that we would be in it. She then said to the class,
“We will need someone to sing the solo. Are there any solo singers in here?”

The entire class turned, without a sound, and pointed at me. All I’d ever done was sing with everyone else.  I was completely unaware of my own voice. With all those fingers and eyes directed at me, I buried my face in my arms and cried.

Eventually I did sing the solo in the program that year. And I kept writing. There were times, big stretches in fact, when I was writing for my life. And music is the silver thread that’s always kept me tethered here.

In fact, writing and music have laced the pieces of my life together, helped me make sense of myself, this world, and the path I’m on. They still do.

I used to think maybe these things were pieces of generations past, pulling me back. But I’m starting to believe maybe they’re pieces of the future, pulling me forward.

Either way, I’ll take it. And I’ll write and sing the pieces of my life together, for as long as I’m here.