I’m Outa Here.

Fruit Salad, Laundry Soap, and Evolving Faith

It has long been my practice to write small observations about the little magic moments found in daily life. I try to keep mind and heart open to signals that the Universe, or God if you prefer (perhaps even Goddess), places in my path; sometimes connected to what I see in nature, perhaps a song, or a memory. For months I have been bumping into Frankenstein author Mary Shelley in such random and frequent encounters that I decided the Universe has something to say to me through her life and work. Based on beloved author Liz Gilbert’s MO I bought a biography to read and started an index card file for research about Shelley’s life and work. Someday, maybe it will be a book.

Today, the signal is all about the Fruit of the Spirit (I capitalize because sometime in my distant past a preacher instructed that this phrase is a proper noun, and so must be appropriately capitalized- I have no clue of the veracity of said pulpit-granted grammar lesson).

I don’t really know why, but I was singing the old vacation Bible school song about the Fruit just a day or so ago. While standing in the shower, my mind chanted them all, with the little melody:

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self Control.

I remember another sermon in which a pedantic preacher spent a ridiculous amount of my Earth time parsing whether the Fruit was singular or plural, his point being that they were a collective, and that you’d better excel at all equally if you wanted to be in God’s good graces.

Sometimes we major in minors, yes?

This morning, after my recent reminiscence of the Sunday School ditty, I was scrolling through Facebook and two friends’ posts showed up consecutively with the Galatians scripture embedded in lovely green graphics. Same verse, identical color scheme, different art.

A signal, I think. This may not head where you’re expecting, by the way.

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For, you see, I consider myself a “Recovering Christian.” I grew up in a conservative evangelical tradition, where adherence to scripture was valued (which can be great), but what adherence meant was subject to a preacher’s interpretation (which can be awful). It was drilled into my heart and mind from the time I was very small that it was my duty to save souls. The church had mounted Matthew 28:19 above the exit doors, admonishing us as we left the carpeted lobby to head among the heathen masses:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

I carried with me a deep fear and painful guilt that I was supposed to offer Jesus and the church’s “Five Steps of Salvation” process to every single person I met, and for an introverted soul who deeply wanted to please both Jesus and my church leadership that was an unbearable burden. I stumbled through some door-knocking, invited kids in the neighborhood to Bible class, stammered through opening conversations about Jesus with school friends. Scary. Through junior high and high school, I struggled with one-one-one evangelism, and slid right on into college that way. In my small private church college, it was a little easier. Pretty much everyone was already a baptized believer; but I was introduced to a new gospel: the gospel of Amway.

“Do you know anyone who might be interested in making a couple extra thousand dollars a month working 8 to 10 hours a week?”

“I was wondering if you could give me your opinion on a business I’m looking at. I really value your opinion and could use your input.”

“Well, sure, we do sell Amway products, but that’s only about 20% of what we sell. Everything else comes from over 2,000 other companies, most of which are ‘Fortune 500’.”

I fell in love with a boy who did Amway. He had signed up before we met. Here’s how it went:

Respected college professor was supplementing his small Christian college salary with the multi-level-marketing scheme (and who can blame him, really?), got his son involved, his son approached Travis. Travis, being a people-pleaser, said “Sure!” And so our first six years of marriage were spent trying to make this crazy thing work.

I mean, it does work for some people. It does. Good grief, our current Secretary of Education bought her way into the Presidential cabinet with her Amway family fortune.

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Amway provided an automatic circle of friends, which was really cool for this introverted young woman. We gathered for weekly meetings to account for progress, sat together at church, enjoyed monthly potluck suppers. We attended conventions at semi-fancy hotels and paid registration and room fees that we didn’t have the money for (but it was an investment in our future so our sponsor helped justify it). Attendees sang patriotic songs- several times I delivered Sandi Patty’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the festivities- flags were waving, tears were shed. Many wore red, white, and blue. There was lots of testifying about how the Lord had blessed our endeavors. Guest speakers dangled tempting photos of tropical vacations and reminded us how much easier it is to tithe when you’re rolling in the big bucks, part of the allure of the health and wealth gospel. The pain of it, even now, is that love for Jesus, love for country, and love for wealth were so enmeshed that my faith became clouded. It’s easy for that to happen when you somehow believe that God is going to bless you with cash if you just keep working the plan; then He doesn’t. The Fruit of the Spirit had a hard time flourishing in the garden of my troubled heart.

Amway nearly destroyed us. It really, really did. There was an underlying message that if you truly loved your family, you would overcome your discomfort and approach everyone about joining you, so there we were, twenty-ish years old, both with horrible self-confidence issues, trying to pay bills and buy shoes for the baby, and honestly no credibility whatsoever. I did what I was told I should and kept reminding Trav to make the phone calls. He called, usually without success, and became discouraged, which I interpreted as “You don’t love me and our daughter enough to overcome your discomfort” and I wouldn’t make the calls myself because I was an introvert, dammit, and besides it’s the man’s job to provide for the family (I tell you- I was a different person then). We would consider bailing on the whole thing, then he would say he did want to keep it up, so the whole cycle would begin anew.

Then there’s the whole recruitment thing. I don’t make new friends easily these days. I didn’t back then, either. I would meet a lady and think she might make an awesome friend, but I would either spoil it by using an Amway approach line, thereby cutting off all hope of future conversations, or I would just chicken out and not approach at all because I knew that at some point I would have to bring up Amway.

Travis and I didn’t trust each other, we didn’t trust ourselves, we spent money that should have been spent feeding our child on extra products or convention tickets, we risked friendships. Our marriage nearly caved. We watched another couple in our group disintegrate under the pressure, that was when we knew we couldn’t do it anymore. We confessed to our sponsors, and they lovingly told us that if they had known how we were struggling, they would have helped. They would have advised us differently.

So here’s my takeaway from Amway: I was not living a life, nor setting goals, that were true to my real self. I didn’t know who that self was just yet, so I let other people define it. I spoke affirmations that I now know were in complete contradiction to my deepest nature. I dressed like and aligned my politics and religion with those peers, I played tapes about building a business when I wish I had listened to music instead. I paid babysitters and gave up valuable evenings with my sweet little ones, all so that I could sit in strangers’ living rooms trying to sell them the dream and a starter kit.

Amway wasn’t for me. Around my fortieth birthday I realized church wasn’t for me, either. The church, like Amway, nearly destroyed us as well. Stories for another day. But authentic friendships? For sure. The rabbi Jesus? Absolutely. These days, I share a different good news; which is that we are all capable of meeting the Divine One in our own way, in our own time. No church or preacher required, though I know that many, many people find great joy in both of those things. But you know what is needed, sorely needed, in our world? Those Fruits. I believe that when we spend time where the Divine One resides, we cultivate love, joy, peace, and patience. We harvest kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

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Now that I am fifty-one, I don’t quite follow the rules of the 1970s little girl Christian that I was, nor do I adhere to the 1980s dutiful Amway salesperson. When I was a youth, I recited, “See and save. Seek. Save.” In the Amway days, my mantra was “books, tapes, and meetings.” Now, it’s “Be still. Be still. Be…still.” I know which one resonates deeply with my soul, and I won’t let even the promise of a yacht or my own island in the Caribbean move me from it again.

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TMEA….sigh. (AKA the soprano loser)

 

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It’s a beautiful sunny morning in San Antonio, Texas. The weather is unseasonably warm (highs of 80 degrees in February- paradise!) and I decided to walk along the River Walk to reach the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. As I neared the massive building, I found myself walking  with many members of the All State Choir. Clad in black dresses and tuxes, chattering like magpies, clutching black folders, I could sense their nervous excitement. One young lady who walked up the stairs in front of me had two enormous patches on the back of her high school letter jacket, one proclaiming her a member of the 2014 All State Choir, another the 2015, and she had left one big hole on the bottom right side for this year’s patch, which she’ll get to pick up while she is here (that’s confidence in one’s own ability, that is).

I get so melancholy when I am here. It’s my third time at this remarkable convention, a gathering of music teachers of all stripes: elementary through collegiate, vocal and instrumental. An estimated 25,000 people are here. Rumor is that the city doesn’t charge TMEA for the convention center because with every downtown hotel bed booked, they make enough in hotel taxes to offset the convention center rental. We do things big in Texas, y’all.

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I get melancholy because I didn’t get to attend as an All State second soprano, which was my number one goal from the day I set foot in my high school choir room, a dark room in the basement of the performing arts center in my suburban high school near Dallas. My choir director didn’t let freshmen audition, I got laryngitis on the day of round one auditions my sophomore year. My junior year, I made it through every round, then when I got to the finals, my nerves got me. I can deal with all of those circumstances.

The one I have never quite recovered from was my senior year. I made it to the final round again. I did. But I blew it. And every year now at this time, at this conference, I beat myself up privately.

But this year, I am going to try a different tack: forgiveness.

I had a really fantastic voice. With a beautiful clear tone and a sharp ear for tuning, and the acting ability to help me do more than just hit the right notes, I had a lot of promise.

 

hr-1114-233-578--1114233578005 (2)But my senior year, I was a mess. I lived in a mess. My mom was tormenting us, violent and dangerous, she would spy on us or break into our house and steal things. She would come see me at school and scream at me or hit me in front of my friends. Once, she visited me at work and my boss locked me in the stock room to protect me while he called security. I was in a relationship with a guy who turned out to be abusive, sexually and emotionally, who also spied on me and demanded all of my time, didn’t allow me to have friends, and threatened to commit suicide if I broke up with him.I had to work because my dad was strapped, so if I wanted clothes or voice lessons, I had to pay for them.My house was not a safe haven. Rehearsal in my bedroom was impossible with younger brothers who didn’t exactly enjoy listening to me sing.

There were a lot of strikes against me.

Now, I know there are so many inspiring stories of young people who overcome overwhelming odds to become genius academics, superb athletes, or stellar performers. But I wasn’t one. I just couldn’t get my mind clear and my shit together enough, and when my less-than-adequately-prepared-self got to the identical room where my nerves had betrayed me in the final round of auditions my junior year, I just could not pull it off. My heart was not in it.

Soon after, I tried to be in the chorus of my high school musical, but missed the second night of the show because of the demented boyfriend’s prom (there was no way I could explain to my directors why I had to go to his prom, they just had to assume I was choosing a boy over my art. Which I was, but not for the reasons one would think).

I managed to struggle along until May, when I finally told my dad what was happening with my boyfriend and he gave me the courage and protection I needed to end that relationship. Things with my mom never did improve, but when I left for college and met and married my beloved husband, I had the security and distance to cope with her.

 

So when I am here, and I see all these tremendously talented student musicians, whom I know have worked so hard to be here, I feel guilty and sad. But I think this year, I have to put that aside.

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So, here is what I will say to that 17 year old girl:

  • You did the best you could, without enough life experience to help you make better choices. And pretty much, that’s all we can hope for on any given day.
  • All state patches are great, but they don’t make you a whole person. You won’t have a giant chenille Texas shaped hole in your soul just because you didn’t make the choir.
  • Your own failures will help you be a better mom and teacher. When your own sophomore daughter gets sick the week of the district round, or when the soprano who stakes it all on making All State her senior year doesn’t, you’ll understand.
  • You can still sing for joy. Not for a chair.

And to my grown self, I will say keep singing in the car, Babs is still the best singing partner for the car (her cover of “Make Your Own Kind of Music” is the best anthem), and really, not one of your friends or family love you less because you didn’t make the All State Choir in 1985. A magical life does not require certificates and accolades.

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It’s easy to wish we had taken different paths, usually the ones that would have brought greater glory or less struggle (two completely opposite ideas). But I wouldn’t trade who I am now for anything. I love my husband, my kids, my extended family, and my job. I have a house that I am comfy in, and health that allows me to do lots of stuff I love (as long as I don’t do deep lunges- those are hell on my knees). I’ve gotten to study theatre, do theatre, and take a break from theatre. I have the introvert’s ideal- just enough friends that I treasure. Life is good. Maybe I should just start singing here at my booth. It can be my own TMEA debut. Tra-la!

 

 

 

 

 

Enchantment: Crayons!

 

I, like so many adults this year, rediscovered my love for coloring. it started when my boss wanted to do a souvenir coloring book project and brought in piles of Disney coloring books for research. Piled up in the conference room, my eyes landed on the stack of classic Disney and Disney princess pages waiting for hues of pink, yellow, green, and blue. I was ensnared. I grabbed two books and headed to my office, dug through my supply drawer to find the box of 24 crayons I had left over from my teaching days, plugged in my headphones, and set about filling in shapes of Mickey and Minnie in hot air balloons or jungles dark and deep. I was hooked! On an August trip to Target, my husband and I happened to need something in the school supply section, and I sighed over the huge boxes of crayons, settling for a box of 64 when what I really wanted was a box of 96! My husband couldn’t understand my hesitation, but I was worried about spending the extra $1.

In a recent stage production of On Golden Pond, my stage manager gave me that longed-for box of 96 crayons and more coloring books. For Christmas, Santa added a box of high quality metallic pencils and a Benedict Cumberbatch coloring book (be still my heart).

Coloring is a simple, inexpensive, meditative enchantment. Add tunes and a glass of something wonderful to drink and you have your own private party (zen or party animal- depending on your choice of music and beverage). If you haven’t picked up a crayon or colored pencil lately, try it. It’s soothing magic!

Five Things Tinker Bell Taught Me

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Tinker Bell is sort of the Paris Hilton of fairies. She’s blonde, pretty much everyone has heard of her, and she can act a bit bratty sometimes.

According to her creator, J.M. Barrie, Tinker Bell is “exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to EMBONPOINT [a plump hourglass figure].”

Though her voice is the tinkling of bells, she speaks with salty language, calling Peter a “silly ass” when he suggests she be Wendy’s fairy, since he is a boy and can’t have a fairy, and tries to have Wendy assassinated upon entrance to Neverland, telling the Lost Boys to shoot the “Wendy Bird” on Pan’s instructions. When it counts, though, she drinks poison to save Peter from death. She is complex and common, a mender of pots and pans in Neverland.

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I adore her. I adore her in her spoiled diva-ness, her single-minded purpose to be the center of Peter’s world, no matter the tactics required to get there. I adore her little puffy Disney shoes and her leaf green short dress.

Tink may arguably be the most popular of all Disney females. I know she hasn’t infiltrated the airwaves with a song like Elsa’s “Let It Go,” but she is now the central character of the entire Disney Fairies franchise, she flies over Aurora’s and Cinderella’s castles every night during the Disney fireworks, she even has a 5 1/2 inch replica at Madame Tussaud’s. She flies over the opening credits in Disney films, sprinkling magic over the logo, and her star was the celebratory star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame 50th anniversary. Tink is legit. I mean, Reese Witherspoon is going to be playing her in a live action film- an Oscar winning actress as Tinker Bell! You can’t get more legit than that!

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My daughters and I recently met Tink at her home in Pixie Hollow in Disneyland. There were several cute fairies to be found in Pixie Hollow, along with some very cute scenery. But when we got to Tink, we were like little girls! She was petite and perfect, right down to the puffs on her slippers. Our favorite Tink, however, is angry Tink. We like her saucy and belligerent. This Tinker Bell was so sweet, dainty, and smiling. We asked her if she would mind doing a photo (of course she wouldn’t, that’s what she’s there for), but we asked if she would please do the angry Tink face. She told us she really wasn’t supposed to, that she was to be kind and polite at all times or she’d get in trouble with Peter. But after a quick glance to make sure there were no little ones waiting behind us, she crossed her arms and made a perfect pout.

Tinker Bell, common or not, is a fairy who knows what she wants: Peter’s affection and to be the baddest fairy on the block (or Hollow or island).

As I have stated before in my blog, I didn’t come into my love for all things fairy until I was an adult. I didn’t see Disney’s film of Peter Pan until I was in my late twenties, so my love for Tinker Bell comes from a grown up place. Here are a few things I have learned from Tinker Bell:

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1. Have a marketable skill, but look wonderful while doing it! In the Victorian England of Tinks’ creation, a girl might need a job, a way to pay the rent on one’s tiny treehouse. Tinker Bell is a tinker- she mends pots and pans! But she looks beautiful while doing it, she is, after all, wearing a “skeleton leaf.” I have not quite mastered the art of looking fabulous while I work, I am usually in some dowdy pair of capris and flats, with my hair dangling without style. If I could wear wings to work, that would change instantly.

2. Puffs on shoes are always appropros. When I was in junior high and roller skating rinks were all the rage, I saved my pennies for a set of yellow puffs to tie on my skates, they pretty much looked just like Tinker Bell’s shoes in the painting at right. Though they didn’t glow, they made me feel quite invincible on the wood floor, enough that I would teach myself to skate backwards. But not, however, enough that I would work up the courage to ask Rob P. for a couples skate.

3. Being clapped for always makes you feel better. After she has drunk Peter’s poisoned medicine to prevent him from swallowing it and dying, Peter calls on all the children who believe, if they can hear him from Neverland, to clap to resurrect her. The applause enlivens Tinker Bell so that she can be resurrected and go with Peter to fight Captain Hook. I like applause, too. I love coming our for a curtain call and being lauded. And clapping doesn’t have to be literal- a friend or coworker can notice something you did well, a spouse can remind you why he chose you, a child can wrap her arms around your knees, telling you “you’re the best mommy in the world.” Applause comes in many forms, and it makes us feel better.

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4. Sometimes inappropriate language gets the point across best. When I was a little girl, my mother would not allow the use of the words “fart,” “butt,” or “crap.” Or, for that matter, “darn.” Hard to imagine, right? I clearly remember the first time I said “butt.” I was on the playground in fifth grade, we were seated on the blacktop, lined up in classes to walk back into Sally B. Elliott Elementary School. I looked around to make sure no one was paying attention to me (I don’t know why I bothered, I was ever the Invisible Girl), then whispered behind my cupped hand: “Butt!” When lightning didn’t strike, I said it twice more. As I moved through junior high and high school, I occasionally dusted my sentences with a choice naughty word. After my husband left ministry, I decided that one of my new-found freedoms would be the occasional cussword, in appropriate social settings. Now, I know some will disagree with me, but I think strong language can be empowering. I am tired of women being expected to talk pretty and sweet all the time, damn it.

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5. Fight and sacrifice for the one you love. I don’t condone the pulling of hair, like Tinker Bell did to Wendy, nor the attempted assassination. But props to Tink for doing what she felt she had to to protect Pan. The heart knows what it wants. Tink loved Peter, and no other girl was interfering with that. When Hook poisoned Peter’s medicine, Tink drank it herself to keep Pan from dying. There are people in my life whom I love completely without reservation or hesitation. Not only my husband and children, but other family members or dear, dear friends. I think that to love and be loved so completely is magical, no fairy dust required.

It takes faith to fly. Faith in one’s own self, in one’s dreams and aspirations, in the universe that holds us. J.M. Barrie, Tinker Bell’s creator, had this to say about belief: “For to have faith is to have wings.” It has taken me long years, but I hope that my wings are finally sprouting.

Clap Your Hands If You Believe!

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At various times in my adult life, I have played a fairy in my tenure as an entertainer at the Texas Renaissance Festival. I have played two queens- Titania (the good queen) and Mab (the bad queen). Titania is a Shakespearean fairy, the queen of the fae in his popular play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mab, sometimes called Maeve, can be found in Celtic mythology and is also featured in a Shakespearean play- Romeo and Juliet. She is the warrior side of feminine fae royalty. When I played her, I was the wicked queen, thwarting true love between my fairy born daughter and her mortal lover, but I couldn’t help injecting her with humor, donning magical “flight goggles” and swooping through Sherwood Forest like a demented dragonfly.

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I’ve also played a silly sprite named Hush who could not speak, but only blew bubbles and tooted notes in the little ocarina she wore around her neck. Hush would weave ivy garlands and create sculptures of twigs, string, and baubles she had picked up on the faire grounds. These sculptures were always placed in the mouths of a clay planter shaped like three upright fish, which was across the creek from the patron path in the Magic Garden. After sculpting or weaving, Hush would lay down for a nap, and I could hear parents pointing me out to their kids: “Look, there’s a fairy taking a nap! Blow her a kiss!” This fairy is especially dear to me. She was born in a year when, due to a medical mishap, my vocal cords were paralyzed and I couldn’t speak. Her bubbles and music became the language of the silenced actress.

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I spent one faire weekend as Puck, a mischievous creature who tumbled about and ate Twinkies from the Twinkie henge my fellow fairies and I created. Yes, there were a few ants and bits of dirt on those Twinkies. We suffer for our art!

I love being a fairy. I love the color, the sparkle, the playfulness, and the look of wonder in a child’s eyes when she blows a bubble with me or  hears my ocarina. I love that little ones gifted me with dragon tears or flowers. I love spending time amongst the leaves, water, and dappled sunshine that grace our faire’s Magic Garden.

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When you spend so much time sprinkling fairy dust on little ones, some of the dust is bound to land on you, too.

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I didn’t really know about fairies when I was a little girl. I did not have a mom that fostered a belief in the magical, I did not own any fairy tale books. I did not know about Tinkerbell, nor own a wand or set of nylon wings. So I live that magic now. I live it with my own daughters, who not only grew up with their own sets of wings, they watched their mom don wings and makeup and carry a pouch of dust and stones to share.

We are told that once we reach a certain age, usually around ten, that play is for babies, that it’s time to get to the serious stuff and stop daydreaming. That’s ridiculous. What is this beautiful planet, if not a work of breathtaking magic? What is true love, if not incandescent magic? What is a loving family, if not the most precious, magical miracle of all?

Living life playfully saves us. It heals us. It gives us hope when life buffets us with illness, debt, and loss. I believe that keeping one’s sense of wonder at little things (like the shimmering dragonfly I saw in the wildflowers this morning) gives us the power to stand up each day. Spending time stargazing or cloud watching opens our hearts to the loving energy that is so very needed in our world.

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I refuse to buy into the idea that because I am in my forties, I have to sit around in a curmudgeonly snit, or spend my time doing only practical things, thinking only practical thoughts.

I refuse to give in to cynicism.

I live magic and imagination at my faire, and now I want to bring it home. So, I am starting a fairy garden in my back yard. I will be sharing bits of that journey as it goes, from plantings to furnishings. And who knows, I might just don my wings while I work.

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