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Reflections on finding peace and magic in the middle of…

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Ruminations: Meditative and Merry

Losing My Religion

candle

It’s the day after Christmas. I am sitting in my quiet house, my sweet husband is napping, my eldest daughter and her fiancee have left for a movie, my son is at work, and my youngest is across the world. It has been a wonderful Christmas- everyone is healthy (I didn’t fall and injure myself severely- just one small second degree burn from a candy-making fumble) and happy, and very much in love with their significant other. I don’t feel any post Christmas blues, but the holiday’s passing has left me feeling reflective about one very specific thing: my vanished faith.

I do understand the actual origins of Christmas- Yule and Saturnalia, Pope Julius I’s decision to create a celebration of Jesus’ birth and using the conveniently placed Solstice celebrations to do so, the Puritans’ refusal to acknowledge the holiday (it was against the law to celebrate Christmas in Boston from 1659-1681), its absence in America throughout the 18th century, then its resurgence in the 19th with the publication of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens’ novels.

Historically, Jesus is really not “The Reason for the Season.” But in contemporary America, in Texas, Christmas is very much about celebrating the birth of Jesus.

But not for me.

Amy-Grant

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith’s Christmas concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion here in the Houston area. I was so excited! It was a chilly night (a rare occurrence in a Houston December), and poor Amy had come onto the outdoor stage in an emerald sleeveless gown. She spent most of act one wrapped in a blanket, and changed into jeans, boots, and a quilted parka at intermission. Smitty was in a suit, and playing pretty vigorously at the grand piano, so he seemed to fare better in the chilled air. I loved it. They sang back to back renditions of “Jingle Bells” (Smitty sang the Perry Como arrangement, Amy the Streisand), “The Christmas Waltz,” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” I have been listening to these two sing Christmas songs since I was 18 years old, and it was like being home.

But the mood changed in the second half. It became more tender, more reflective, more…worshipful. In this half, Amy sang “Heirlooms” and “Breath of Heaven.” Smitty led a sing along. But this was not a sing along like happens at your child’s elementary school PTO program, with “Rudolph” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” This was “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The First Noel.” The mood became holy. And I couldn’t sing. Clearly, the audience was worshiping, and I knew that to lend my voice would be inauthentic. Counterfeit. It was beautiful, and I felt alien. Throughout the remainder of the concert, I teared up several times; and when the first notes of “Friends” played in the encore, I began to really cry…when the lights went up, I found I couldn’t talk, I could barely hold it together and my sweet husband held me while I wept, truly wept.

Christmas is often a time for heavy-heartedness- that’s not news to most adults (and a few kids). We grieve for lost loved ones. We mourn passing time. I am a little melancholy this year. But it’s not really nostalgia for my childhood Christmases (which were spotty, to say the least). It’s not even nostalgia for the holidays for when my kids were little.

losing_faith_by_perxneko

My grief is for my lost faith.

I no longer believe in the Christian faith. Not because of “hypocrites” or the times when God hasn’t answered prayers. Not because of the insanity of millionaire ministers or the rampant suffering and injustice in the world.

I can’t believe a virgin birth. I just can’t. Nor can I believe that a dead man rose and walked after three days entombed. And I can’t force myself to sit in a sanctuary and recite the Nicene Creed or sing hymns (or praise and worship songs) that strike me as so very, very false. It would be, for me, fraudulent, and an insult to the sincerity of the Christians who find such joy in their faith.

I believe in the teachings of Jesus, wisdom of the Proverbs, the passion and pathos of the Psalms. But I cannot accept that many of the writings of the apostle Paul were meant to be followed verbatim, by all humans, no matter gender, culture, and time, for ever and ever amen. I know enough to know that what we have as the Holy Bible was passed around, rewritten, interpreted, and adapted for 300 years before finally being codified. How can it possibly be infallible?

Unusual-Christmas-Trees uses

But secular Christmas seems so empty.

How does one recover from lost faith?

When I posted on Facebook that my thoughts, not prayers, were with the victims of the French terrorist attacks, a long time friend (who is not a person of faith) sought me out two days later to tell me, in person, that that made him sad. That he sensed that the loss of my faith was a grief to me. How profound is it that it was an agnostic to express sorrow over this loss?

That he has expressed more kindness over my loss than nearly any Christian in my acquaintance is also profound. I think I am a pretty big disappointment to a lot of people.

Most days, I don’t really give it much thought. I don’t miss church, not even a little bit. I think years as a minister’s wife, privy to the inner workings of church politics, cured me of ever wanting to belong to a church again. American Christianity has become a frightening place, full of fear and politics.

broken_cross_by_cantabrigian

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain describes the dilemma of introverts (of which I am most definitely one) trying to participate in American Evangelicanism: ” Contemporary Evangelicanism…emphasizes building community among confirmed believers, with many churches encouraging (or even requiring) their members to join extracurricular groups organized around every conceivable subject- cooking, real-estate investing, skateboarding.” She meets with a man who struggles with his introverted nature, and can’t find the place where he can worship, commune, and serve. I get that. In my last attempts at finding a church home, all I wanted was a place where I could have a few real, genuine friends and contemplative, thoughtful worship, preferably far, far away from LED smart lights and Jumbotron screens.

Oh, and by the way, I still believe in God.

So I try to use walking or yoga time to reconnect with the Divine. In my solo worship time, I have learned that God is also Goddess. That trees and animals carry a bit of the Divine spark. That literature and music do as well. I have learned that kindness can be found and is often practiced by the most unexpected people: the tattooed, gypsy “heathen” is often more benevolent than the most polished Evangelical.

Years ago, when I confided to two of my aunts (on my mom’s side) that I had found myself in a desert place, they assured me that if I was just patient, that God would lead me out of the desert. I don’t feel arid anymore, and that’s a blessing. But I don’t feel Churched, either. I feel like I am in a quiet forest, with a beautiful lake. Pretty alone, but with something Divine whispering to me. Maybe that’s enough.

Merry Christmas, friends.

 

Changing the Tapes: Oct. 6, 2015*

tape

I had been doing really well on feeling more peaceful with my body. But today, I had a turn. We went to a party Saturday night, and I saw the photos today. I look big to myself, soft around the top of my halter dress.

What’s so frustrating is that I had felt pretty that night. Not Jennifer Aniston pretty, but me pretty. Hair up in curls, my usual understated makeup, pretty coral shoes. Bam- photos arrive in  my inbox and on Facebook.

So I have spent the afternoon trying to change my talk.

Here are my reminders for today:

No woman in either side of my family is willowy. None. We are all, both maternal and paternal lineage, athletic in build. Some are more fit than others, but none of us has that tall, thin, size 4 figure with long slender legs. I have got to understand my gene pool.

I exercise. I do. I don’t try to run anymore, the doctor told me I could stop that nonsense because it truly hurts my damaged knees. But I walk, I do cardio and yoga, I just laid almost an entire pallet of grass by myself. I do bicep curls with rocks and tricep dips on benches. I am as active as my poor joints will allow. I will always try to do more and do it better, but for this moment, with a show just behind me and a faire season three days away, I am doing my best.

I eat fairly well. Could I cut a few carbs? Yes. Could I reduce my wine intake? Probably. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t want to. I don’t have wine every night, but some nights (like last Saturday) I have too much. I know exactly how many donuts I have had this year (for the record, it’s four and a half, so I still get another one and a half in 2015). I rarely have big dessert, but I do allow myself a few shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers every once in a while. I eat salads, but yesterday I had a kids sized mushroom Swiss burger. Because here’s the thing: I honestly believe good food and drink are one of life’s pleasures. Like a beautiful cloud formation lit with a setting sun, or puppy breath, or baby toes, or hugs, or trees (or hugging trees for that matter, which I have in fact, done), food is good. It is part of what makes it wonderful to be human.

Not for me the diet shakes and rice cakes. Life is too precious. Does that mean I eat all of it, every time I want it, in unlimited portions? No. But I eat some. Occasionally.

See, I am going to do a thing that is very brave for me. I am going to publicly say what pants size I wear: a 10. Mostly- today, my pants were size 8. Eight years ago, I was wearing sizes 6-8 in everything, but when I injured my neck, that went to a size 8-10, and there I have stayed. It’s the largest I have been, ever, except when pregnant.

For some people, a size 10 would be their dream size. For others, they will never own pants this big. For me, this seems to be where my middle aged self has landed.

When I see myself in the mirror, I see a healthy looking mom, until I look at photos.

BUT, DAMMIT, I DON”T WANT TO NOT LOVE PHOTOS OF MY LIFE JUST BECAUSE I THINK I LOOK PLUMP! MY LIFE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY WONDERFUL.

The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!
The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!

So here is what I propose: All photos of myself will be looked at through a filter of love. I will be grateful for the experiences being photographed. I was having a blast with my darling husband and awesome friends Saturday night. I was laughing and dancing my fool head off. That must be my photo filter. Not Toaster or 1977 or Earlybird- just me being grateful for a body that is pretty healthy, that can climb around and lift stuff, that can hug my loved ones, that houses me in all my weird, neurotic glory.

Not one more minute of today will be wasted on worrying about my body shape. Only joy. And maybe a shortbread cookie for good measure.

*This is part of an ongoing series in my journey, today is the first time I am posting publicly. We’ll see how it goes!

Skeletor or Staypuft?

female nude

I find myself in a corner. A prison of my own construction.

I want to take a moment to talk about weight. I know this is not an original topic, nor will my message be a great revelation. But I am okay with that, because I think we just have to keep talking about this. We have to own what we have done to women in this country, and that takes constant, repetitive chipping away at the wall.

Yesterday, I went to the preview of a show my husband has been working on, a 1920’s murder mystery at the Prohibition Club in downtown Houston. Prohibition is the home of the Moonlight Dolls, a premiere burlesque troupe. Their photo is below. Look at them. They are all beautiful. And after weeks of rehearsing with them, my husband says they have body image issues, too. What the hell is wrong with us?

Dolls

I knew it was going to be a rough afternoon for me. About ten minutes into dinner, after watching a tiny twenty-something girl in a cute, wee outfit spin on a trapeze, then having four tiny twenty-somethings do the Charleston in g-strings and bandeau tops, I fled to the bathroom, where I sobbed on a toilet for pretty much the remainder of the show.

When I emerged from the stall, I found a large woman bent over the sink, eyes squeezed shut, breathing deeply. She, too, looked traumatized. She finally stood up, squared her shoulders, and went back to her table. I didn’t. I stood in the lobby and read a novel on my Kindle.

There’s a tape that plays in my head, almost constantly. It goes something like this:

“You shouldn’t eat that…suck in your stomach…look how thin that lady is…I bet she has more self control…I bet she is more lovable…how many minutes have I exercised this week so far?” You get the picture. I count calories on an app and worry if I forget to enter something.

When I was a kid, I remember two media moments that embedded themselves profoundly in my psyche. The first was the Special K ad campaign “Can You Pinch an Inch?” The commercials showed people playfully pinching their tummies,and if they had more than an inch of pudge, they needed to go on a diet. For a twelve year old girl approaching puberty, that dangerous message sank its claws deeply. I understood that my body must stay thin to be acceptable. The second media moment came when Cosmopolitan magazine declared that thighs must not touch, and featured an article in which perfectly lovely women who were at healthy weights were shown at a ten pound weight loss, and trumpeted for how much more beautiful they were after that weight loss.

Cosmo

I was not getting affirmation from my family when it came to weight or looks. When I tried to get my mother to tell me if I was pretty, I was told I was shallow and vain for wondering about my looks, when maybe a simple compliment for an insecure girl would have done a world of good. When I was about thirteen, I remember I hugged my maternal grandma and when I told her how much I loved hugging her, her reply was something like, “I’m fat.” when I protested, she told me that my grandfather would love her more if she could just lose twenty pounds. How’s that for a message about weight’s affect on your worth?

One time, though she didn’t think I could hear, my other grandmother, while looking at pictures I had just had made and was so proud of, commented that I looked like I had put on about ten pounds (I was fifteen and wore a size eight, which would now be a 4).

In drill team, we had to weigh in once weekly, and the officers were allowed to know our weights. I was always on the cusp of being sidelined, at 5’6″ and 128 pounds. In my freshman year of college, the coed p.e. instructor, a man, did a caliper test on all of us, in front of everyone, and declared me “obese” on my form. I weighed 135 pounds and wore a size 8.

A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!
A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!

You see, I was coming of age in the 1980’s, when Jane Fonda was everywhere and Karen Carpenter was the first celebrity to die of anorexia. Now there are scholarly articles on the prevalence of weight loss articles and images in the media in the ’80’s and what effect it was having on women’s body image. Health was out, thin was in.

(Fittingly, while proofing this post, I heard a commercial for Medifast “Be the best version of you!” on Pandora. It’s everywhere and all the time, I tell you.)

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I have never, ever been able to shake the worry about my weight. I worked as a fitness instructor through my twenties, and spent most of my thirties teaching beginning dance to eighth graders. Now, after one knee surgery, a severely sprained ankle, a possible rotator cuff injury, and a spinal surgery that removed two cervical discs and replaced them with a steel plate, I still work out as hard as my body will let me. I hurt, but I keep trying, because I want to be thin. I have ten pounds that I keep gaining and losing, but it’s always the same ten pounds. I will lose it, it will come back. Thankfully, though, it’s only the ten. I don’t lose ten then gain back twelve. I have been wearing the same size for five years now, an 8 or ten, depending on fit. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to buy a dress in a 12 recently. Stupid boobs. It’s too big around the waist, but I had to have the room at my chest!)

I tried my hardest to instill healthy messages to my two daughters about their own bodies. I knew how much I craved doses of reassurance when I was young. I fear my own insecurities rendered me a hypocrite, but I did try. Kate Winslet, an exquisitely beautiful and gifted actress, was recently cited on Huffington Post: “I was chubby, always had big feet, the wrong shoes, bad hair,” Winslet told Bear Grylls during an episode of his NBC show ‘Running Wild With Bear Grylls’ that aired Tuesday. “When I grew up, I never heard positive reinforcement about body image from any female in my life. I only heard negatives. That’s very damaging because then you’re programmed as a young woman to immediately scrutinize yourself and how you look…I stand in front of the mirror and say to Mia [her 14 year old daughter], ‘We are so lucky we have a shape. We’re so lucky we’re curvy. We’re so lucky that we’ve got good bums.’ And she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I know, thank God.’ It’s paying off.”

skeletor stay puft

There has to be a place between Skeletor and Stay-Puft for this woman in her 40’s (child of the 80’s pop culture reference!) If I get too thin, my face looks drawn and skeletal, if I am too heavy, I look puffy and unhealthy. I must find the balance. More importantly, I need to change the tapes that play in my brain. I need to stop looking at myself in the mirror and castigating myself. And though I haven’t carved the word “FAT” into my own thigh with a pair of scissors since 2009, I still recite it to myself in a million ways every day.  It’s time to move forward, to come out of hiding in the bathroom stall, to see myself for what is deeper than cellulite, and to be grateful for my healthy, strong body. Hell yeah, I can pinch an inch. What of it?

I found this wonderful blog by a sociologist who spent a year without mirrors. She researches how body image affects women, and spent a year living without a mirror. I intend to spend lots of time at her site!

http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/

Let’s Go Fly A Kite!

kiteI think kites are dreams. I mean, really, when you’re flying one, don’t you sort of feel as though you’re floating alongside it, aloft like a dandelion seed, rising and falling on unseen wafts of air? I have not flown a kite in years, but I used to love to send a kite up into the air, running with the string, giving it slack or yanking it taut to keep it soaring.

My daddy loved to fly kites. When I was a kid, he would sometimes bring an armful of newspaper to the kitchen table and call me and my brothers into the room. We would gather scissors and tape, I would usually decorate the kite, and Daddy always stressed the importance of the tail. On other occasions, Daddy would see a kite at the store and on impulse, he would snap it up and take it excitedly to the cash register. This was a real splurge for us, money was always scarce. I think maybe Daddy bought kites when he was feeling discouraged and needed a lift.

Maybe kites are prayers, too. Though always a man of faith, church was not something my daddy attended regularly. I am not sure what his personal faith journey was, I know there were some real hurts inflicted by well-meaning but misinformed church leaders. I know that in my own arrogant twenty-something faith years, I probably landed a few good blows, too.

Perhaps my daddy sent kites up when he wanted to connect with the Almighty. Maybe by getting his focus off the heavy gravity-soaked earth under his feet and onto the vast expanse of blue sky, he could send a little whisper to God on the breeze. Maybe God whispered back.

The year my daddy turned fifty, I learned something new about my him. While visiting us for Christmas, he and I had stayed up late to talk. He told me, for the first time, that he had always wanted to be an Air Force pilot. That was his aspiration throughout childhood. When he applied for the Air Force, his eyesight prevented him from being accepted into flight school, so he went to the Navy instead.

Maybe for him, kites were also Air Force jets.

Anyway, once our kite was ready, Daddy would load us three  kids in the car and we’d head to a field, usually at the nearby elementary school, and we would fly our kite until it broke or darkness fell. Those are some of my favorite memories with my dad and my two brothers.

11427195_10152818410851097_4664171811351207828_nRecently, my eldest daughter, Hilary, posted a photo on Facebook of she and a friend flying kites on the beach in California. She’s another dreamer, off in L.A. pursuing a career in film, putting away doubts and only listening to voices that encourage. I love that image- sun, sand, kites aloft, and my daughter’s smile.

My daddy was not the only one who loved kites. The Chinese are credited with inventing them thousands of years ago. The Afghan people fly kites competitively. Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner is an exquisite chronicle of a father and son who run after fallen kites. I loved that book.

When I taught junior high theatre, there was always a day after standardized testing when the kids took the kites they had been building in math class out to fly. The halls were filled with such laughter and excitement- flying a kite is way better than sitting at a desk doing endless formulae, and I know that flying their very own colorful creations is probably one of their favorite school memories.

Charlie Brown

Poor Charlie Brown never could get his kite up past the kite-eating tree. Dreams denied, indeed. The classic loser cannot fly a kite.

And then there’s the classic Disney film “Mary Poppins.”

I always cry at the end of the movie “Mary Poppins.” Somehow, the Sherman brothers, who wrote the song for Walt Disney’s film, perfectly captured the joy that comes when you fly a kite. With its lilting melody and hopeful lyrics, a kite lover can close her eyes and remember exactly how it feels to send a kite soaring, all at once “lighter than air.” In that film, the kite is a symbol of a healing family: “Up, through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear, come, let’s go…fly a kite!” A family needs a moment when the air is clear. So does a dreamer, or a God seeker, or a middle-aged former teacher who wonders at every turn what in the world she’s supposed to be doing.

Mary Poppins kite

Life is kind of like kite-flying, I guess. Wind dictates direction, sometimes we go in ways we never envisioned. The glass-covered strings of our enemies can cut our own fragile strings and send us plummeting to earth, shattered and broken. Hopefully, a kite runner, maybe a loving family member or an attentive friend, occasionally even an random stranger, picks up our damaged kite and, with glue and tape and love, puts us back together so we can give it another go.

All this talk of wind and adventure and dreams has made me want to go kite-flying. I’d better go find tuppence for paper and string. Time to build my own set of wings.

Not my mother’s daughter- or am I?

It is Mother’s Day and I want to think about my relationship with my mother. The mother daughter relationship can be incredibly profound. There are the common experiences  of wearing makeup and a bra for the first time, selecting a prom dress, childbirth and mothering. A mother influences a daughter’s fashion sense, decorates her bedroom, and chooses which clubs or classes her child participates in. A mother’s example is the template a young woman will look to when learning to form platonic, familial, and romantic relationships.

I’m not sure my mom really knew what to do with me. She was a confirmed tomboy in her youth, surrounded by brothers and boy cousins, she could throw a ball and ride a horse as well as any boy. She wore jeans when it was not acceptable for girls to do so, lived in cowboy boots and threw a mean softball. I was not a tomboy. I wanted to be a cheerleader or a ballerina. I loved Barbies and dresses and more than anything I longed for long hair that I could put into pretty bows.

Instead, my mom kept my hair in a boy cut and signed me up for softball and soccer. God, I hated to run (I still do) and if you have ever watched a soccer game, it’s nothing but running!

I did have one of those Barbie hair style heads that you could put blue eye shadow on and a toy sewing machine. My bike was purple and had flowers on its banana seat, and by fourth grade I had been signed up to be a cheerleader for the pee-wee football team and was allowed to grow out my hair.

More than anything, though, I wanted to take dance lessons. It was the greatest desire of my heart. I would check out library books on the five positions of the ballet and stand in the living room doing barre work using a chair arm to balance. I so desperately hoped that my mother would see my work and realize she simply had to get me to a class!

What I know now about my parents’ marriage and finances tells me that there was probably not money for dance lessons, and a mentally ill and severely depressed mom is not always capable of recognizing the needs of her kids.

One of the most powerful truths I have come to realize in my midlife is that most of us are doing the best we can on any given day. Sometimes that means we climb a mountain, and sometimes that means we just manage to draw the next breath. I think my mom was doing the best she could, most days, to just draw that next breath.

I spent a lot of wasted time as a teenager and into my twenties being really angry at my mom. That does no one any good. So one day, I just let it go, dropped that weight of self-righteous indignation and bitterly held grudges over neglect and hurts my mom had inflicted.

I have come to a peace, of sorts, with my mom.

What my adult self would tell my mom:

1. I finally got to take ballet. As an adult in my thirties, I signed up for ballet classes at the studio where my kids took dance. At first, I took the adult classes, the ones meant for moms like me, but when those classes were no longer offered, I screwed up my courage and took class with Hilary. This class was for kids who had taken about 9 years of dance. They were teenagers. I told the teacher not to worry about actually teaching me, but she did anyway, correcting my position for the port du bras or tweaking the turn out in my hip socket. I never became an actual dancer, but I learned how to appreciate the strength of my muscles and more importantly, to try to do turns across the floor as though no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

2. We share a love of yellow. Her favorite colors were yellow and orange, mine are yellow and green. I have a yellow bicycle and yellow clothes and one single yellow wall in my apartment. Almost always when I see a perfect shade of yellow, I give her a little moment in my thoughts.

Libby senior pic (1)

3. She has four granddaughters, all of them feminine little princesses who love or still love to play dress up and wear lavender and pink. But I would have to tell her about Libby, the child who not only looks like her but shares her love of sports and competition and athleticism, who has sass oozing out her very pores and also my mom’s tendency to emotional extremes.

4. My favorite way to wear my hair, ironically, is in the short pixie she kept me in as a girl. I just got it cut in this style after months saving pins on a Pinterest board devoted entirely to pixie cuts. A student told me last night that I look like my real self. I wish I knew if my mom had always seen that, or if she just wanted the ease of the short hair.

5. Being a mom to girls sometimes means letting your girls have space. My mom didn’t understand that sometimes her girl just needed space to think, to process. I am a person who faces challenges first with silence. This was infuriating to my mom, puzzling to my husband, and inappropriate to my current boss. Sometimes mom would try to force me to talk, certain I had a deep dark secret to confess. That was almost never the case. I just needed time to think and process. One time when Hilary was making the tough decision to change schools, she only spoke when necessary for two straight days. I watched her, wheels turning furiously in her mind as she debated and grieved and predicted. I was dying to question her, but I held back, letting her peacefully come to her own decision. God, that was hard!

6. Being thin does not equal being lovable.

7. Female sexuality is a beautiful thing and should not become a shaming tool. I hope I have raised my daughters to appreciate this part of who they are and to know that they can always talk to me and I will not lay a burden of grief upon them.

7. I understand now that she loved me. She is forgiven.

Phony Baloney!

Big_Phony

Last night I learned that an opening in the sort of school I have always dreamed of teaching in is about to be posted. It’s a private prep school where the students have been raised to excel, where the artistic strictures are looser (the kids get to do musicals like “A Chorus Line” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”), and the Arts are not treated like step children. Their Theatre faculty consists of one MS teacher and three HS teachers. A team! Their web page shows images of productions that look lively and innovative. I was so excited! I spent the evening imagining myself applying and interviewing, accepting the position, relocating…then I crashed to earth.

I think I am such a fraud in this profession! Sure, I started doing Theatre in high school, but I didn’t major in it in college, I didn’t step on a stage during my baby making years, I sort of fell into this position.

In 2000 I was seeing this brilliant therapist who was helping me get through some stuff. One of the questions she asked me that day (because I was, as always, expressing my dissatisfaction with my career- at that time I was a second grade teacher) was whether I wanted to teach at all. I answered that I did because I wanted my schedule to stay compatible with my kids’. So her next question was “If you’re going to stay in teaching, what’s the one thing you want to teach more than anything else?” My answer: “Theatre.” Where the heck did that come from? I had only renewed my love for theatrical performance within the last five years, performing in four musicals. I only had one college Theatre class, the only one that was offered, an appreciation and history class. I had not ever once had an acting class.

About a month later, I was interviewing for an English position at one of the district’s junior high campuses and the principal mentioned that he had just lost his Theatre teacher. I was hired for the position before I left that day.I commenced to study for the certification exam and passed it handily on the first try.

My friends Sylvia and Margy have long said that when one truly and deeply desires something, one must speak it aloud to the Universe, believing fully that the gift of your heart’s desire will come to you. I have always wondered about that. With no more than a valid teacher certificate and a verbal wish, I found myself plopped in the middle of a junior high Theatre classroom, complete with small stage, costume and prop storage, and pubescent students full of energy, wiggles, and attitude!

My early years in that Theatre classroom consisted of a lot of trial and error: I accidentally took two ineligible actors to my first UIL OAP because no one explained eligibility to me, I had seventh and eighth graders reading “The Crucible,” and I spent way too much time in the text book.

I have ended up being okay at what I do, but I always want to be better, so I went to UH and got a Master’s Degree in Theatre. What? I have an M.A in Theatre?

While I was getting my M.A. I just kept expecting the professors to look quizzically at me and remind me that the Education classes were in another building and would I please leave the Theatre classes for the real Theatre folks (for the record, none of my profs ever even hinted at such a thing). On the first day of class one of my classmates was asking people how many times they’d been to U.I.L.State One Act over the meet- and-greet pastry buffet, for goodness’ sake! I was just finishing year three of high school teaching, I had not even advanced out of Zone once yet!

Somehow, I still always feel like an impostor. I go to events where there are a lot of Theatre teachers and I wonder if they can see the sign that I feel like is flashing over my head: NOT ONE OF US! I wonder if my students sense that most of the time I feel like I am reaching for wisdom to share with them, hoping that what I ask them to do on stage will actually work, and expecting any one of them to lead a coup and assume responsibility for instruction.

When I get home, I have to try to sound like I know what’s up in Theatre with my husband and eldest daughter, who are so ridiculously talented I feel like an utter charlatan when I am with them. Their theatrical instincts are so good, and they know how to dig to get to the characters’ truths (my son is a rock musician and stage combatant, my younger daughter is more fitness and dance buff, I am none of those things so I feel less intimidated by them.)

Maybe one of the hallmarks of middle adulthood is that we realize how much we don’t know, how much we are just muddling through each day trying to do what we’re paid to do without screwing up too badly, how much we hope no one else realizes how clueless and lost we actually are. When I was a young adult in college and into my twenties, I was so sure that I knew what was best, that my contemporary and freshly minted knowledge trumped experience, and that the old folks over 40 had no clue. No that I am over 40, I absolutely know that I have no clue.

I don’t know if I will work up the nerve to apply for this position. It’s junior high, it means relocation to Austin, and it’s scary. I fear getting called for an interview, I fear not being called just as much.

What I do know is whatever I do, I will most likely be faking it until I make it, whether it’s teaching, designing, or working in an office.

Will the Real Theatre Teacher in the room please stand up? Oh wait, I think that’s me.

All Hail the Chief!

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Today, Washington D.C. is chock full of citizens of this great country who are celebrating the second inauguration of Barack Obama. I am glad. I am going to repeat that because I really mean it: I AM GLAD. Since my blog is entitled “Finding Peace in the Middle,” you might wonder why I would approach a topic so full of the potential for strife. Well, I’ll tell you. As I have become older, I have begun to realize the importance of political process. I try really hard to read the news, to know who I am voting for and where he/she stands on issues that are important to me. I believe that peace in this case is not found by avoiding conversation, no matter how heated, but by making informed choices, standing by them, and courteously acknowledging that other viewpoints exist and are legitimate. My thoughts and beliefs have definitely evolved throughout my life. As a youngster, I listened to my father and parroted his opinions on Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter (my dad was an absolute model of moderation and fairness, I might add. He might have disagreed but he never slandered). In my twenties, I listened to Rush Limbaugh (I am not sure there is a penance great enough for that, at least for this girl’s heart) and kept myself insulated with people who believed just like I did.  But something interesting happened as I reached my mid thirties. I began to know and listen to people whose experiences were not the same as mine, whose religion or lack of it engendered a completely different political conviction that was every bit as patriotic as any I had encountered in my right-wing white-bread world. I began to know and love people who were homosexual, had had abortions, were not white, had needed to avail themselves of welfare, or who had fled their native countries, desperate to make a better life for their families. I began to see that a government that guards the interests of the wealthy CEO while allowing middle class firemen and struggling single mothers to slowly sink into financial ruin is criminal. I read about the religious practices of genuinely kind people who revere the planet as a creation of the Divine worthy of protection from rampant consumerism and negligence.  I became convinced that the Arts are as important to a society’s growth as Commerce.

Currently, the hot topic is gun control. I find it interesting that good people, many of whom call themselves people of faith, are so willing to fight for the right to keep an assault rifle in their homes while taking away funding from the kindergartner who only eats because his mom is accepting food stamps. And I have heard all about the hand out thing. But when we were in grad school, we were on food stamps and medicaid. My children ate and my son got medical care when extremely ill because of the system this country had in place to help people who are struggling. It’s easy to point at welfare recipients and generalize that they are all trashy, lazy, drug addicts who sit at home watching television and drinking, but that’s just not the truth.

I live in one of the most conservative districts in one of the most conservative states in the country. I am out of step with most of my neighbors. My Obama/Biden sign was torn out of my yard and ripped into pieces this fall. My friends who are supporters of President Obama expressed concern that if they put signs out in their yards or bumper stickers on their cars, their homes and vehicles would be vandalized. My friends, there is something wrong with that picture. We live in a country where political discourse is one of our rights. The message that ultra conservatives are sending is one of intolerance and hatred, whether they want to admit it or not.

I encourage my conservative friends to take a minute and examine their thoughts. Is it possible that President Obama was elected twice in a row because there is a large part of this country that agrees with him on issues like gun control, education, a woman’s right to choose, the rights of people to marry whomever they wish without government interference, religious tolerance, and trade policies? And that just because our opinions are different than yours, they are not less relevant? Reverend Jesse Jackson said,”America is not a blanket woven from one thread, one color, one cloth.” Readers, understand I am not saying my political beliefs are right and if you disagree with me, you’re wrong. What I am saying is that each of us has the inalienable right to vote our conscious and a responsibility to respect our differences and honor the office of the POTUS.

I am an American. I love my country. I love my president. May you each find warmth and joy in the multi-colored and multi-textured blanket that is this great country.

Cleaning the slate (and the house, and the office,and the prop room…well, you get it.

If you have lived any sort of length of time on this big blue planet, you’ve probably had a long, slow goodbye. Heck, if you’ve ever had to pull a Bandaid off, you’ll get this. Let’s say you’re stuck in a painful relationship or a job that doesn’t fit, or you’re watching a loved one fade away from illness. On the one hand, you want Time to take it slow, to linger a bit so that you can find the last moments of joy that can be salvaged from the damage: that last squeeze of your father’s hand, that last kind note from a student, that last sad kiss- the one that tastes of salt from the tears mingling on your lips. But that slow goodbye hurts. It extends the pain and lets the mind sit and fester in anxiety and sadness so that you start wishing you could speed the process a bit. I am in that place right now, convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that my time has come to move on (not from my darling husband by the way. Him I will never leave). But I can’t! I have to wait. So what am I doing to cheer the days? Cleaning! Yes, that’s right. I clean when I am stressed. By clean, I do not just mean I dust and vacuum. I throw stuff out. I put stuff in boxes and I write what’s in the boxes on the outside so that I can find stuff later and I put the boxes away into storage. Storage used to mean the attic, but I cleaned that out as well. Today I am going to clean the garage and put all boxes into beautiful stacks and start organizing for a garage sale. I have been known to throw actual furniture away in these great purges. When Trav and I were evicted from our college apartment, I threw enough stuff away to furnish an efficiency rental.

You can actually gauge my anxiety level by opening my closets. The cleaner and emptier they are, the more worried I am. Nothing is safe in these purges except my scrapbooks, my costumes, my quilt, my Jody Bove glass, and my wedding dress. My children fear these purges, as they should. I stand at their doorways, fingers itching to take in a huge Hefty Cinch Sack, some cardboard boxes and Sharpies to alleviate all clutter. My office is almost bare now, posters have been taken down and all but the most essential books have been packed and the car is being loaded daily with boxes heading home (to the garage).

I am also using things up: all the little bottles of lotion and shampoo, all the cleaning products, all the groceries. My cupboards and drawers are clearing out to make packing easier. My wardrobe is almost nonexistent because I am not replacing worn out things.

I am not sure exactly what is going on in my head. I wish I could rip the Bandaid off. I wish I could just say goodbye and head off into the sunset. I know it would be healthier for me. It’s tough to linger. But that discomfort is alleviated by sparkling, empty cabinets and closets and drawers, surfaces emptied of knick knacks,  and walls nearly bare of pictures and art. Maybe I am learning that what is really important isn’t stuff. Or maybe I am just imposing order where I can, since I believe so little is beyond my control right now. Maybe both.

A man named David Hobson said, “I enjoy the cleaning up – something about the getting of things in order for winter – making the garden secure – a battening down of hatches perhaps… It just feels right.”

Maybe that’s what’s going on. I am battening down my hatches and making my figurative garden- the little family I have tended all these years- secure.

I know where this impulse comes from. I grew up in what could nicely be called a mess. I was the girl who got made fun of at school for the dirty clothes and the smelly body, who left her friends at the corner on the walk hone from school so that they would not see the overgrown lawn, who learned by the age of ten that the only thing she could really do anything about was her own bedroom. Amidst chaos, I retreated to my private space and imposed order. You could have eaten off my bedroom floor.

I know that things will get better, that the new opportunities will present themselves. Until then, I will flit through my house dusting, packing, purging, labeling, and scrubbing. Honestly, it would be a great time for you to come visit!
Beware, though, I may hand you some packing bubbles or a bottle of Windex, so wear your grubbies! I’ll have wine in the fridge and I’ll be sure to leave enough glasses unpacked.

Gotta go- my garage is calling my name.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

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I was a hide-and-seek master as a child. I could hide in very creative places and I could hold my breath if that is what it took to remain hidden. Interestingly, I was afraid to try for home base because I didn’t want to give away my prime spot. In high school I remember playing some version of hide-and-seek called Capture The Flag. We were at a church youth group retreat. I don’t really remember the rules. What I do remember is that I hid for so long, listening to everyone run around and get caught, laughing while I remained silent and solitary. No one ever found me, and to my knowledge, no one even tried. I finally gave up and went back to the cabin, where the entire group including the chaperones had moved on to a new activity. No one had even noticed my absence, and certainly they had not sent anyone to find me.

Hiding didn’t always mean literally tucking myself away in a wee spot. Sometimes I hid in plain view. One day in my senior year of high school, my friends and I were goofing around in the choir room with some inflatable frisbees I had in my car trunk from the water park where I worked. All four of my friends struck silly poses and someone snapped a picture. That pic ended up in the yearbook, and my friend Celeste wrote “Where is Kim?” out beside the photo in the book. Where, indeed? I was standing beside the photographer, waiting and hoping that one of my friends would notice I was not in the picture and invite me in. Same thing happened in college at a club Christmas party- my entire group was getting a picture made by the Christmas tree and I was standing off to the side, waiting for someone to notice me.

I think I tend to hide as an adult, too. How many of us find safe, cozy places and huddle in there, waiting for our friends, lovers, children, parents, co-workers to come find us and pull us from our isolation? I will sometimes pass an entire workday without a single word exchanged with a co-worker. I am in a physical location at school that makes it easy to just tuck in to my room or theatre space, teach and direct my kids, then just slide right on out. My bedroom is my refuge, and if someone doesn’t force me out, I will spend days tucked into my bed surrounded by books and sunshine spattered salmon covered walls. Travis is always telling me to call someone to set up a date. I can’t. I just can’t.

Leaving the hidey-hole means risking vulnerability. There is a journey to be made between the safety of darkness and the safety of home base. You may get tagged, knocked down, or made “it.” You may risk love and not be loved in return. Even when you are loved in return, there is even more at stake, because nothing hurts worse than pain inflicted by a loved one. You may express yourself artistically and not be understood. You may try a new career and fail. You may initiate a new friendship and be ignored.

I don’t know if I will ever be comfortable enough to jump into the photo or invite the friend over. If Travis is ever gone from me, you will probably find me tucked away like a hermit, reading books and eating saltines in bed. I won’t send out an S.O.S. But if you come find me, let me know you’re around by hollering that old standby:”Olly-Olly-Oxen-Free!”

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