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.
I’m a little teary today. Not constantly, but in those spaces between big thoughts it creeps in, and I catch my breath. Really, it’s the craziest thing. It started with David Bowie. And Jane Austen.
I’m of the generation that rode Bowie’s outrageous musical wave with him. I was on the sidelines, having babies; but I watched, and listened. And dreamed.
The Viet Nam war was raging, girls were burning bras, and in California, hippies were putting daisies in the barrels of guns.
In my little world, I imagined what that life would be like. If I could make the music I wanted to make. If I could chop my hair, turn it pink, or orange, or blue. If I could climb out of my responsible skin, and into the skin of a free spirit. Jump off the limb, way up high, believe I could fly.
And as an avid reader of Jane Austen books, I also imagined going back to those days, of handiwork under the shade tree; of a simpler life. Of Mr. Darcy.
But I was a young mother; my beautiful babies needed feeding, wash had to be done … all the things that go into keeping a life on track. Still, while hanging diapers on the line, or cooking dinner, or folding clothes, singing lullabyes, my mind went on amazing journeys … back in time, or somewhere future. It still does.
Sometimes I’m a literary writer, sitting on the sandy beach with her books and pens. The south of France; or Italy, in a small medieval castle by the sea. I can see that so clearly, it’s like I’m really there.
Other days I feel the need to trim the oil lamps and pull out my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.
My fantasy world also embraces the anticipation of relationship.
I remember as a young girl of eight going to see War and Peace. We came home and for days I wouldn’t look in the mirror; I didn’t want to break the spell that I truly was Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova, pursued by the handsome Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.
Years passed, and I kept growing up, as girls do. But I continued to live my fantasies while setting the table or ironing the pillowcases. From the Philco radio, Frankie Lane sang “They Called the Wind Mariah.” It may have looked like I was just pressing hard creases on cloth table napkins, but I knew I was riding a wild Mustang across the prairie, the wind in my hair.
That was long ago. My life has seen heartbreak, death, love, more heartbreak. And yet. Yet I still dream; I still believe.
In spite of what I’ve walked through, I know my Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is waiting for me. But the truth is, I possess the spunk and mettle of Elizabeth Bennett.
So perhaps it will be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy who calls for me, after all.
I believe in the inherent goodness of people. I believe that, when we’re born, deep down at our core, even in the worst of us, goodness abides. Time, and relationships, and places; experiences we have can, in many ways, play a role in determining whether that goodness blooms and flowers. Or not.
There are very few people that I’ve allowed into my inner circle; to know my story. They each hold parts of it, but nobody’s privy to all of it. I’ve always thought it too heavy a burden for anyone else to carry: abusive alcoholic parents; rape; a marriage where emotional abuse was so pervasive, the final betrayal so breathtaking, that it’s taken me almost a quarter century following the divorce to even get back to square one. Those are the highlights. Every creative dream, save motherhood, sabotaged. Save motherhood. Motherhood saved. It saved me.
I sit here on this chilly November morning, coffee in hand, and think back on the chapters I’ve lived through. They’ve been difficult; the few close friends who know some of the intimate details swear I should be dead. They look at me in awe. And I laugh. No, I should be alive. Very MUCH alive. In my dreams, I should be twenty seven and feeling this way, but I’m not. Time marches on, and so have I.
I’ve come to realize that the people in my life who betrayed me through the years−while they never should have been so abusive or cruel−needed something I couldn’t give them. They were coming from their own pain. I know that. And pain takes many forms: anger, judgment, cynicism, betrayal, violence, addiction … and too many more than I have space to list here.
It took me a couple of self-examined decades to arrive at this philosophical place. I’ll admit, I don’t always like being here. It would be easier to sit in judgment, to make those who hurt me “wrong.” But the thought that always rings in my heart when that judgment creeps in is: “Finding their way.” They were finding their way.
When my father died in March, I went home to Oklahoma. My daughter came here to Tennessee from Atlanta and we rode together.
I’d dreaded the funeral gathering for decades. A quarter century, to be exact. Since my youngest sister and my husband had their very public affair. Yes. That. But the time that stretched between then and now was made up of the self-examined decades I mentioned earlier. The woman-of-me who arrived at the funeral home that Friday evening was not the same sleepless woman whose hair and eyelashes had fallen out from the betrayal back in 1990.
I was in the viewing chapel with my children when I saw my sister come in. I walked over to her and wrapped myself around her. I took her face in my hands and whispered to her that everything’s okay. I had no preconception of what would happen; I’d just kept asking the Holy Spirit to take over. And He did. It was probably the hardest and the most natural moment I’ve ever experienced in my life. After twenty five years, we stood together to bury our Daddy. In each of our worlds, with a relationship broken by choices that could not be undone, we’d known this day would arrive. And now here we were. We’d found our way.
So getting back to me, sitting here with my coffee. I have to chuckle, because I started writing this morning as a way to share my thoughts about the whole kerfuffle surrounding a cup. A coffee cup. A red coffee cup. I haven’t heard from anyone who’s actually upset about that cup. But I’ve heard plenty from people who are upset about the people who are upset.
First, I think the company whose cup it is (and I won’t mention their name, because wow! Their “anti-campaign campaign” is already off the charts successful) has executed this brilliantly. And a cup with no graphics is cheaper than a cup with graphics. Another win for them. Just … genius.
Second, the ingredient at the center of this branding creativity is the required manipulation of people. It’s the use of “human capital” and their proclivities, in order to achieve “trending” status; instigating the posting, and the pitting, of people against each other. Persons of one “group” calling those in a “group” with opposing views names. Really? This is not who we, at our core, truly are.
But yes. It’s happening. Over a paper cup. And unnamed coffee company is LOVING it.
There’s even rumor that one presidential candidate called for a boycott of said coffee company. I checked before writing, to make sure I quoted him accurately, and discovered there was actually no call. In fact, his first words on the subject were, “Maybe we should,” and his last were, “but seriously, I don’t care.” Again. It’s a coffee cup. Yet so much faux sturm und drang. Smart people of all stripes are embroiled in this non issue. Well played, unnamed coffee company.
And as things do, I’m reminded that this, too, shall pass. Next week there will be yet another deliberate media manipulation of well meaning people. Good people, on every “side;” people who are finding their way.
What I’m saying, in probably way too many words, is that part of the “finding” of our way that’s required is the brutal task of self examination. The minute I think I’m better, holier, smarter, more evolved, more caring than you or any other thinking person, I’ve entered the ranks of the Pharisee. My daily call, first thing in the mirror, and at various times throughout each day is: “Check yourself.”
For today, part of finding my way is collecting shoeboxes to fill with goodies for children who might otherwise get no Christmas. I’m going to fill as many as I possibly can. I’ll do it because it’s fun, not because I’m wonderful. I also do it because I enjoy the thought of making the lives of children somehow better. So I have to be honest about the fact: I do it mostly for me.
And during the course of days I’ll make my own coffee. I’ll drink it in my own cup. I’ll pray for my Daddy. I’ll love my sister. Yes, I do. And will. I’ll wish my ex well, though I have to admit, sometimes that still has a glitch to it. I’ll love my children and grandchildren as big as I possibly can, which is the easiest thing I do in my life.
It’s just the story of me, finding my way. And praying for you, that you are finding yours.
There are some things I’ve had noodling around in my brain lately. Mostly when I’m doing random things; driving to the bank, or cleaning the bathroom sink, or walking down the driveway from the mailbox.
I think about growing up, and how excited I felt−even in my earliest memories−to be here. I mean, here, on this earth, experiencing life. Every morning I woke up, it was like Christmas, just to see the sun shining. Or the rain, or snow. I was ready, I was eager, and loved everything and everyone so big, I often wonder … is it possible that I’ve always been too much?
I was in one of the counseling sessions after divorcing my husband, when my counselor stopped and looked at me.
“Cece, I believe you’ve spent your entire life, and certainly your marriage, thinking you’re not enough. Am I right?” His statement made me think a minute, and I came to the realization that yes.
“Yes. I guess so. I think that’s correct.” I could think of thousands of times when it felt like in some way I hadn’t measured up.
“Well, let me make something clear to you right now: it’s never been that you’re not enough. It’s that you’re too much.” Oh. Okay, I’d gotten it wrong, but not in the way I thought.
He saw the look on my face, and said, “What I mean is, the people you’re trying to please, you’ll never satisfy. Not because you’re not up to par. It’s because you’re so far above what they’re capable of, that they are jealous of you. Why do you think they’ve always taken the opportunities to tear you down? Trust me, if you were of marginal stuff, there would be no need to do that. But you’re not.”
He sat back in his chair, and said, “Cece, you are more connected to the Creator than most; you are far more Spiritual than you realize.” I dropped my head. I had worked for so long to find and glue all the pieces of myself back together; I was tired. And this sounded like a whole other kind of work.
“Okay. What does that mean? What do I need to do?” He laughed and shook his head.
“No! No work; it’s who you are! It means that, when you enter a room, you bring the Light with you. That makes people in darkness very uncomfortable. Now, think about things that don’t like the light.” He stopped.
“Let me ask you a question. Throughout your life, do you remember dealing with people who were jealous of you?” I felt my face flush as memories flooded my brain and fought for attention. Yes. Yes, I had.
“When we moved to Nashville, I made myself a promise. I decided I would let people know of one thing I could do, but not all the things I do.”
“What does that mean? And why did you do that?”
“I mean, I’m a writer, and a singer. I design and make clothes. I design spaces. I paint portraits. I’ve won awards for pretty much all of that, at different points in my life.”
“Okay. So, you decided to keep all that a secret?”
“Yes. Most of it. All but one. Or two.”
“Which ones did you choose to take public?”
The writing. And singing.”
“And why did you decide to hide the other things?” I paused a moment.
“Because. I wanted friends.”
When I said that, it was like a tidal wave washed over me. It was then I realized what I’d been doing for the past twenty years. I had put the girl I was born to be in a locked room. I let her out in private, but she was my little secret. I had made myself “small enough” so that I would fit into the lives of those who claimed to love me. That day, that session, changed my perspective. And my life.
But now, back to what’s been noodling in my brain lately. I get up every day fully present, almost as eager as when I was that little girl. I thank God for the days, and the nights, and all the things in them. My Light is turned on fully, and I’m not shy about showing the world who I am, in every way.
But one of my thoughts is, I wonder how many others are playing “small enough.” How many others are waiting for that magic moment when they can finally shine like a klieg light? Are they like I was, thinking that one special moment will arrive, and be more magical than this moment they’re in? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any more magical than right now.
I’m still figuring all this out, but I want everyone to know this: all it takes is for us to say “YES” to our own magic; the yearning in our hearts to be our very own hysterical, outrageous, tender, heartbroken, furious, authentic, vulnerable, brilliant, frustrating selves. And, you know, the list goes on. The awesome thing is, we get to wake up every day and say “YES” to it all over again.
And I don’t have the friends I used to think I wanted, but I’m good with that. The people who show up in my life now are the ones who are happy with the Light. In fact, they bring their own.
So, if I had one word of advice to offer anyone, it would be: “SHINE!”
Y’know, I have my phases or *periods*, sort of like Picasso. Maybe we all do, I can’t really say. But mine usually include the following:
*Reflective (can get preachy, but means well);
*Outrageous (some would call this one “obnoxious with fits of long, deep laughter” … );
*Tenderhearted (the part who wants to scoop up every hurting baby/child/person);
*Pragmatic (the “let’s just get this crap done and behind us” part);
*Maria Von Trapp (the part that wants to organize all of civilization into groups, make their clothing out of drapes, and have everybody sing in three part harmony, and in rounds)… I’m sure there are others, these are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
And so … *FAIR WARNING* … I’m in *reflective* mode today, and have been thinkin about this for awhile now:
When all’s said and done, I truly believe that all people, everywhere, want fundamentally the same thing. We all want to be loved, to be heard, to feel like our presence on earth matters. We all want to be safe, to live a happy and a peaceful life; we long to use our gifts to express our celebration of life.
When asked what they want, many celebrities state that they want an end to war, to have peace in the land. They speak for us all, really. We all want that. But I believe that we are blinded to the path that will lead us there. We have come to believe, many of us, that governments, or ideologies, will “give us” that. That if we vote for the right political candidates, they will bring this peace about. They, quite simply, cannot. But here’s the interesting truth:
They don’t have to “give” this to us. We already have it.
See, here’s the deal: Inside each of us, buried deeply at our core, beneath the belief of our absolute unworthiness, in there snuggled up next to our burgeoning self-contempt … there lives our truth: a thriving, pulsating, everlasting *light* … the very light we crave shines and waits inside of us; it was restored to perfection by our Redeemer’s purchase. But we live our lives in shadowy darkness, as if the gift was never given; like it never arrived.
And let me tell ya, the ego has worked one heck of an insidious job, convincing us that it is noble when we beat our breasts and declare our own revolting state. This is a self-manifesting prophecy … and it is the one that breeds envy, resentment, covetousness, greed, anger, jealousy … all the “deadlies” (and they are fatal) … ultimately the sense that we must “fight for what is rightfully mine.” This all comes from that seed of “lack.” These elements are at the center of every war, every murder, every scam, every betrayal … every corrupt company, government; every violation of real peace comes from fundamental self contempt.
And notice this: the beliefs we hold about ourselves are reflected perfectly in how we treat others. It can be no other way. When you see someone behaving negatively to others, or when you see someone relating with gentle kindness, think about that one. *Profound* truth.
It is the brave Spirit who awakens to their own authenticity and is willing, in the midst of naysayers, to reveal that to the world.
And it will continue to be a brave thing, until it is not. Until enough people start digging internally, determined to live a “self-examined life.” Then it will become the *norm*, and we will have returned to the Garden. But we go there by conscious choice, and one by one.
May each individual find the courage to *live* from their Spirit.
This is how we will change the world. ~ ♥ ~
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Not sure why that saying came to mind this morning, but it wouldn’t leave me alone so I wrote it down.
I’m finding myself in an interesting place. The last quarter of last year was probably the most difficult, the most challenging, in my life. I say that, then I find my gaze drifting back through the past−pregnant at twenty, hysterectomy at twenty seven, trying so hard to be all I could be to everybody−and completely missing the mark on self awareness, self care, self sustenance.
Did it have anything to do with those Holy Cards? We were big on collecting them in second grade. They were like baseball cards for Catholic girls. The gilt edged ones with Saint Theresa, Saint Cecilia, Our Lady of Fatima, all were coveted.
Which brings up a whole different thing since coveting broke the tenth commandment. We were eight years old, and all guilty.
And then there’s the pride thing. Mary Margaret Snyder had more gilt edged cards in her Missal than anyone else in the class. She held it up during Mass, ceremoniously turning to each card as the priest said his Dominus Vobiscums, his Kyrie Eleisons, his Oremuses. We sat, stood, or knelt as was prescribed, but we were watching her out of “side eyes,” elbowing each other, and hating her. Rack another one up on our confessional hit parade. Hate. It’ll take at least three Hail Mary’s plus an Act of Contrition to scrub that off.
But where I was going about those cards is, they were Da Vinci-esque renditions of martyrs who died for their faith. They were bludgeoned, or decapitated, burned at the stake, nailed upside down to a cross, tortured in a wide variety of ways. And now were featured on Holy Cards, bathed in heavenly light, eyes cast upward, heads tilted ever-so-slightly, hands outstretched or coming together in prayer.
Every so often Sister Diana introduced a new Holy Card; she’d say in soothing tones,
“Children, which martyr is this who became a saint because he/she died for Christ?”
She held the small rectangle up like Vanna White, and cut her eyes toward it with her Mona Lisa smile. We were transfixed, and determined to add it to our collections. Two guilt-edged Michael Archangels in different poses were worth a fortune. Mary Margaret Snyder held three, and wasn’t trading. So you can understand the hatred.
But the point is that I recently started thinking about the focus on “dying for Christ.” A kid takes stuff like that literally. I remember trying to figure out which way to do it−I wanted it to be quick. Decapitation, maybe? I didn’t want any Daniel in the lion’s den stuff. That would take forever.
But eventually−third grade, I think, during Lent, when they took the boys for Latin lessons−we girls were told we should “die for Christ every day;” Some of the pie eyed looks traded amongst us are legendary. Karen Flanagan wet her pants and started crying. Jesus H. Christ, people, don’t EVER speak in metaphor to anyone under eleven!
But, you know, we got over it, and life goes on. We all grew up, went our separate ways; some of us probably separated from the saints, and the church, and the rituals of holiness.
Some of us learned, eventually, that the stories told about goodness are true, and that our lives are the very celebrations, the Novenas, the prayers of righteousness for which those icons sacrificed. So some of us found our way back.
Now, listen: I’ll admit straight up that I’m a holy mess. I’m a desperate contradiction between a hunger to express my own goodness and the need to barge right in, stop the proceedings, and tell the idiots running this world a thing or two. The older I get the more I care about telling the truth, and the less it matters to me how I’m excoriated for it. That, it seems, has become my Novena.
So there’s that. Stuff. DNA; corpuscles−all laced with it. Not the only ingredient, but it’s kinda like cayenne pepper: a little goes a long way. Remember to mind the burn. It will warm you, if you let it. And it can last a lifetime.