Friday, September 4, 2020

How to Become Somebody New


Why are you reading this?  Why do you want to become somebody new?

Are you tired of being the person you are? Or perhaps you're tired of believing in who you are. Sometimes you've taken on a "self" who is all about trying to keep things in order, stay safe, protect an identity. She smiles when she's supposed to smile. She wipes the smear of pinky red lipstick off her coffee cup so as not to leave a mess in the world.

What if the person you really are is new, every moment, every second?

What if that person is bursting with newness, ideas, creativity, honesty, authenticity, danger and giggles? What if that person, today, will bring forth magic tricks, a crazy story, a delightful song or a just-birthed adventure?

What if?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

This Thing Called Happiness (Hint: It's not Social Media)

Ask any parent what she wants most for her child, and she'll say, "Happiness."

But happiness is confusing.

Am I happy? I look at my circumstances . . .  and see problems.    

I scan my feelings . . .   and they're not all "happy."

I remember the most honest prayer I ever heard from a pulpit. The minister paused as we bowed our heads. "Lord," she sighed. "We try so hard to be happy. It doesn't get us anywhere."

We don't know how to get this thing called happiness. 

Should we keep looking?

"There are good reasons that the whole notion of  'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with." --Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

When I'm searching hard for happiness, I can hook into things that make me unhappy - without even realizing it.

Social media, for instance. In the past month, I've cut down ninety percent on my social media use. I thought I loved networking and was having fun.

In truth, it was becoming addicted.

In April, I served as a creative resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this chance to dive deeply into my writing and bathe in nature's lush, green restorative harmonies.  I lingered for hours in the beautiful library. I noshed on the most delicious organic food on the planet. I deleted Instagram and Facebook from my phone.

One thing I discovered was that:

1) I had been posting photos as a distraction to avoid unhappy feelings throughout any given day.
2) The social media platform was eating up my time.
3) Networking was turning my mind into a freeway with countless exits and merging lanes, when what I needed was a slow country road where I could have sustained, quiet focus.

The thing is, I hadn't really noticed.

It sounds simple, so ridiculously simple, to ask the question, "What makes me happy?" And yet we don't know.  

To start with, when things go our way we should be happy, right? Yet we all know miserable millionaires, gorgeous people who feel ugly, successful folks who are lonely and lost. People we think should be happy aren't.

When we find our day in the sun, we fear the shadow.  

And there's the flip side. When things are going badly, sometimes the happiest feelings arise. My sweetest memories happened in two tiny rooms where I lived with my little girls after becoming single. We were broke, and heartbroken. Yet there was happiness, and much singing.

I can be happy and unhappy at the same time. I can be frustrated, yet content, discouraged and yet brave, frightened and yet at peace.

There is happy, and there is other-happy.

It's a deeper sense of well-being. It's when the search becomes a spiritual quest.

That quest starts with honesty.

What if we were totally honest with ourselves about unhappiness? When I get quiet and pay attention, I notice my hopelessness, even in good circumstances. I discover how clueless I am about creating happiness. 

I give up my designs.

I connect to the other-happy Presence.

I sense a happiness that is independent of . . . well, happiness!

Again, if this sounds confusing, it is!

This is something you can do with a pen in hand. When you catch yourself trying to be happy, take a mental step back. Notice what works and what doesn't. 

A place to start is with the question:

What makes me happy?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lost in Fantasy: Wild and Reckless

There are times when we confuse our real world with fantasy. When this happens in a story, it’s utterly absorbing and rich.

The show, “Wild and Reckless” is comprised of Blitzen Trapper’s performance of ten songs, three from past albums, as the band tells a story written for Portland Center Stage. The result is a wonderful amalgamation of a rock concert, a musical, a fantastic alternative-universe Portland, and a tale of addiction and heartbreak. It is indeed, an absorbing and rich show, and a haunting musical performance.

It’s darkly thrilling in a visual and sensory way, riddled with a network of zapping lights, and infused with the roots rock music of Blitzen Trapper. There is a delightful comic-book aura that at times had me cackling with laughter—in sync with the cackling scientist of the show, wonderfully warped and nerdy, played by percussionist Brian Adrian Koch. But soon this delight gives way to deep pain, as we watch the narrator (guitarist Eric Early) grapple with fear and desperation in telling his story. It is the story of a young man entering the city seeking to establish his music career. But what he finds is the love of his life: a woman who becomes hooked on a deadly substance.
We learn about lightning dust, and lightning junkies, and get a lesson from the professor (Marty Marquis, keyboard player) on certain of these lightning dust addicts, who take the pain of others within themselves. “They are as rare as unicorns.”

And I’m thinking about all the ways we intermix our pain with fantasy, and confuse saving others with saving ourselves.

“I knew I had to do something to save her,” the narrator explains, when he sees his love growing sick and weak. He admires her for the way she, herself, puts herself out for others who are down and out. “For her it was so easy to give everything away.” (Laura Carbonell,  as the Girl, has a wistful sultriness that adds lovely female energy to the show.)
Yet neither our hero nor his girlfriend can make the distinction between self and others. She spends her time feeding her habit or stealing things to bring comfort to the downtrodden. He tosses his career aside and puts his integrity and entire world at risk to follow her as she falls deeper and deeper into addiction.

Street and club names are wonderfully recognizable as Portland, but in this fantasy world, elements don’t work normally. It’s not what you think. And it never will be.

In the same way, I reflect on the times I have tried to lose myself in another person, in this one’s problems, in that one’s life, in whether or not this one loves me. It’s all unreal.

That unreality sends us into the dark, sticky, web of playing the role of the rescuer, the lover, the obsessed. It’s easier to escape personal pain than face it solo. We escape through distractions, yes, and through drugs of all kinds—but also through “helping.”

Before long, we’re lost. “[Y]ou can’t go home,” the narrator concludes. “Is home a place? Is home a person?”

Those unanswered questions point to one place, one person, that deepest sense of home, one alternative universe it is so difficult to know and love: one’s very self.  
Photo credits: Kate Szrom

Monday, March 6, 2017

Through the Loneliness: His Eye is on the Sparrow

Sad, soulful eyes. That’s what I notice when Maiesha McQueen takes the stage in His Eye is on the Sparrow at Portland Center Stage. It’s mesmerizing, the way she embodies this character in every dimension, the way her eyes rove over the audience with depth and knowing – and it’s easy to be swept into the story of Ethel Waters’s life, so beautifully expressed in word and song. 

I have always been fascinating by tragic childhoods. As soon as I was old enough to know that my own home was not “normal,” I watched anyone closely who found happiness after early tragedy.

Ethel Waters’s 1896 birth was the outcome of a child’s rape. Her grandmother tried to provide for the destitute household in Whore’s Alley. “And me always hungry,” says Ethel.

The hunger, and the emotional hunger, were devastating. 

“Ethel I born you,” her mother responds when Ethel seeks a sliver of caring. “Ain’t that enough?” Her grandmother can barely stand on her feet at the end of each hardscrabble workday, and has no affection or support to express. I love the way McQueen makes us feel these characters, even though they never appear onstage.

Neglect, to a child, leaves a deep aching loneliness. It is a feeling that can haunt you the rest of your life, even when you’re surrounded by love. It surfaces at the strangest times: walking city streets in the sunshine, rounding an aisle in an antique store, holding out hands to receive a dozen roses. It refuses to be pushed away.

And so I understand when Ethel is brought to a Catholic school and left with the nuns, and her heart cries, “Alone.”

When Ethel gets into trouble, one of the nuns makes an astonishing invitation: “Eat lunch with me.”

Whenever one being offers presence to another, the chance for something miraculous happens. We learn that, despite what that old nagging feeling tells us, we are not alone. A door opens, and we become aware of other presence, Divine presence, an uncanny expression of our own being.

This presence unfolds us creatively, helps us discover all that which lies in the moment, including creativity, art, and music.

Every time Ethel sings, it is clear she has something incredible and rare.

And yet that loneliness resurfaces, time and again. By the time Ethel leaves the nuns, she has grown to love her school. “Only now me all alone,” she says.

The insidious thing about loneliness is that it can cause you to hold tight to the wrong people, for the wrong reasons. “Someone wants to marry you,” Ethel’s mother says, when a man shows interest. “Now you ain’t gotta be a whore.

All of this is made a thousand times harder and more complicated  because of racial mistreatment. When Ethel gets in a horrible accident, she is sent to the state poorhouse because “there are no hospitals for coloreds.”

Once again, a kind soul appears, someone giving the gift of attention. “Keep that light inside you honey, and find the way out of here,” the helper says.

Ethel’s persistence, her singing, her talent, her sense of humor, and her ability to seize every chance – they vault her from injury, injustice, pain, and poverty.

Yet loneliness dogs her steps. “Do I even know how to love?” she asks, well into adulthood and struggling in her marriage.

Oh man, if that question isn't familiar to me! 

And then she sings, and learns, and relearns to sing:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, 
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home, When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

She is singing herself back to the awareness of that Presence, back to the open door of love, despite all the locks and fears and bars that convince the mind of its utter aloneness. 

Seeing, with those sad and soulful eyes, that she is always seen. 

It is the work of every lonely human. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Wild Geese & Abandon: What We Need is Here

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves.
We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye, 
clear. What we need is here.

--Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems 1957-1982 (North Point Press) 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Zero Barrier: A Found Poem

Zero Barrier

(A poem of word scraps collected in a tea bag envelope over an 11-day silence.)

Break out of established years:
be peace brewing.

created magic
fizzy life brew.

First carry water.
Pick desired experience,
pull petals,
color yellow,

sprinkle triple green goodness,
serving, gentle cycle,
wholesome balm

Emerge root strength - 
grand, free, leaf home.

Feeling verified.
Made perfect, complete.
Spirit herbalists in the world. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Anchor and the Feather: Inner Secrets of Attraction

I've had it in mind to write this post for months. But then I talked myself out of it.

These truths are difficult, personal, and still in formation.

And yet, a young woman friend said this meant so much to her, and would I please share it?

So here's the story.

It started with attraction.

My life was in a state of flux, my first marriage was dissolving, and I was working for a temp agency, never sure how long each assignment would last. I was an inconsistent, confused parent of two little girls. I was scared, but embracing new things.

I took up hiking, discovering unexplored vistas.

That's where I met Blue Eyes.

I was riveted by this single dad and his concrete way of being in the world. He'd had the same career his entire life, had lived in the same house for more than a decade, poured milk over Shredded Wheat every morning at 5:25 a.m., drove the same way to work every day in his aqua blue Honda Accord. Everything about him was solid.

I fell hard.

Two and a half years later, we were married. This man who was so dependable and committed brought me the stability and schedule I craved. His strengths reinforced all that we did as a family, and helped our kids to become beautiful young adults. He was my anchor.

Thirteen years later, Blue Eyes and I started going through a Marriage Shift.

Our nest was newly empty. I felt lost.

Indeed, there's nothing like a partnership to test personal growth. Our culture gives us the idea that relationships should be an endless round of getting your needs met by an intimate partner. It isn't so. Relationships are reflections. A relationship reflects the inner you.

Ever notice that the same issues come up, over and over, with different people in your life? Even if you have the same lifelong romantic partner, your relationships with kids, friends, neighbors--they all reflect what is going on within you, they all point to where you need to grow.

And we are attracted to what we need to cultivate and create within.

And so, in this place of confusion, something happened to me.

It was an attraction.

I was on a committee with a guy friend. He started occupying my mind. It was a magnetic pull. I couldn't shake it. I tried to reason it away, pray it away, ignore it, squelch it, even entertain it. Nothing brought peace.

This guy was playful, changeable, creative, always trying new things. Not the kind of man I considered relationship material. Not one to be tied down. A minimalist. Free. Flighty.

A feather.

I felt guilty, disoriented, and devastated. As I struggled with my feelings, I started finding feathers--

along trails
in parking lots
on beaches
in forests
on streets
afloat in puddles

It came to me, my own heart needed to recognize the feather qualities. My attraction wasn't about the other person. It was about needing my self.

That woman who had navigated change, all those years ago. The one who faced dangers, took risks, explored. What had happened to her? I was yearning for lightness. Play. New horizons. Flight.

I'd pushed these qualities away, and now my heart was crying out, trying to get my attention. I needed to unfold wings, to change. To trust.

And so, rather than pursuing another human being, I fumblingly started pursuing my own nature. It propelled me on the Camino de Santiago.

I spread my wings for a solo journey to Spain, and though I felt nervous and clueless, I did it: I flew.

When I came home, I felt renewed appreciation and love for the husband waiting for me, my anchor.

Then again, the anchor's strength and stability are a reflection of me, too. I need both sides, I've come to understand.

And I need to recognize where they play out within my soul. The anchor and the feather both call, and can't be ignored.

I need to honor my heart and home commitments. I need to be there for my family. I need to give myself space, time, territory, and still, deep waters.

I need to live on the creative edge. I need to push myself to unknown heights. I need to soar above whatever holds me back. I need to fly to new things, risking failure and mistakes.

The greatest adventure in life is to love. That love is first kindled within our own hearts. It won't always feel comfortable, or appear to be giving us what we want - but ultimately, it fulfills every longing.