the best policy

When I am confused, I think about rockin’ people, and how I might best follow their example and rock the world around me to the appropriate degree required by a given situation. I am at a confusing and somewhat troubling stage in life right now. Luckily, there is always someone who rocks considerably that I can look to for inspiration and guidance.

Honesty RocksRegardless of where your political loyalties may have found themselves in the mid-to-late 19th century, everyone can agree that Abraham Lincoln was known for being honest. He was unafraid to call it like it was, lay his cards on the table, even though it ended up costing him his life: his honesty is his legacy.

While with a friend tonight, I confided that “I am often afraid to tell people about things that are going on with me, because I don’t want them to feel compelled to be sorry for me”. That is a loaded statement. But what I realized is that the majority of the people reading this are my friends and my family, and I owe it to you to be honest, to level about where my life is to this point.

For those of you who sincerely would like to know how I’m doing, or how ______ makes me feel, I offer you a candid explanation:

  • I am still unemployed. I have been working with a job placement program, and I have a couple of faint prospects. I have been advised to wait on them while we keep our eyes open for new things. I am wondering if the new things we find will be good things- and I am wondering how long I will have to wait.
  • I am not going back to school. My attempt to retake the GRE resulted in disappointing scores. I am writing in the morning to request that my application be removed from consideration for admission [I was told the score requirement was a necessary one to be considered].
  • I have not adequately pursued getting my writing published. This is part due to my forgetfulness, and part due to renewed focus and emphasis on searching for jobs. I really wish I could be a writer. I do not want to give up my philanthropic hopes, either. But writing is something else that makes me feel alive. I have some contacts in publishing. I really want to get those efforts back in gear.
  • I have also [unintentionally, of course] neglected other efforts, like independent grant writing.] The grant-writing was something I agreed to do for a member of my family. Preliminary searching has proved it will be an immense challenge. Not to mention my own failings, the rapid passage of time, and my other pursuits such as job hunting and managing my emotional well being, are proving more demanding of my time than I originally anticipated. It is very important for me to come through on this and to hold up my end of the bargain.
  • I am constantly wrestling with contentment about being single. Not unlike Jacob’s epic battle with the Lord, it is a seeming never-ending struggle for me to reconcile the realities of my solitude with the gratitude for what I have in my life that makes it what it is. I am nowhere near a point of arrival on this, but I am working hard to learn what life has been trying to teach me about this area over the years. Unfortunately, I am not quite objective enough to tell you how well I’m doing.
  • I have realized [the hard way] the importance of addressing my emotional health. I have chemical and emotional imbalance. Just like any physical illness, psychological challenges can be draining and can affect other areas of your life adversely, if they are not controlled. Until recently, I have not taken care of myself in this area the way I should. Luckily, my family, friends, and the professionals guiding me through things, are tireless in their efforts for me to see my bull-headedness. I am on the way to more clarity in this area, and hoping that will help with the rest.

As of a couple of days ago, barring some temporary and volunteer work, I have been unemployed for 2 full years now. I must confess, for a person whose entire life prior to that point was marked by a series of well-planned personal, intellectual achievements, this can be devastating. I feel afraid that I have lost something along the way; something vital, some spark, some bit of knowledge, that had made me the successful person I once was.

I do not know what the future will bring, and honestly I can be more frightened than hopeful at times. What I do know is this: I am deeply humbled, and nothing short of desperate for more of God’s unfailing grace and mercy with each passing day.

And one more thing. I am I am very thankful- so thankful- for the many supportive, loving, and gracious souls in my life. I know that you all are not afraid to stand next to me, even while night falls. And that means we’ll be together when the sun comes out.

Whenever that may be. . .

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1000 things

I’d like to introduce you all to my guest blogger.

I have probably listened to this song almost 20 times in the past day or two. Why? Am I in love? Blissfully happy? Completely attuned to and aware of the blessings that inundate me?

Not really.

Jason shows up here tonight because- just now, in throes of late-night mopery- I found something hidden in this song. Little does he know that, buried deep within his lullaby, there is a tiny, glittering, cocoa-filled Easter Egg of Truthiness.

SPOILER ALERT.

This song isn’t really about a pretty girl, or a kiss, or even about a perfect situation. This song is about a turning point.

“I’ve seen a thousand things, all in one place

But I stopped my counting when I saw your face.”

In this very challenging November, I cannot tell you how many times I have vented to friends, sobbed in front of relatives, and wrote angsty blog entries to try to find a little hope. And it wasn’t until tonight- in the stillness, with no one to talk to, that I was able to find it. How can one feel so much Love in a song by a stranger, in a serenade for someone else?

Although I can’t be certain why He times things this way, I am fairly sure it is a lot easier for me to listen to the consolations of G*d when I am being a bit quieter.

Things may not be better yet, but they will be.

My circumstances may be the same today as yesterday, but they will change.

This message was not delivered to me by a pixie peering through my bedroom window. I was not talking to my mom, or on the phone with a friend. There was no cosmic beam of light that appeared to dissipate my problems once I had this realization.

Divine Mercy and a single song have helped me to remember something very simple, and very important.

Fall is a time for turning.

the ballad of icarus

Hey all , here is a brand new poem! Who knows if WP will preserve my formatting? It rarely does! But I hope you enjoy, nonetheless.

Row, row, row your boat

Down the stream of Consciousness

Crying out like Paul Revere

Something’s coming

Find your bliss

Hold your hands out for the lemons

Life is bound to hand to you

Leave them lying at your feet

Cause you have better things to do

Like close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Take the pills and listen

To the things the experts have to say

Save it with your favorite songs

To use up on a rainy day

Pick the flowers from the yard

And place them there behind your ear

I want to set a whisper there

But you must do this first to hear

So close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Icarus fell to the earth

With ego bruised, afraid and burned

They asked him “Friend, what can you share?

What should we do? What have you learned?”

He said that life had humbled him

That was the truth, that much he knew

“When you feel that all is lost,

There’s only one thing you can do”

Just close your eyes

Close your eyes

To dream of flying

Yes, close your eyes.

Close your eyes

And dream of flying

June 6, 2010

time flies when you’re having floods

Howdy Hey, little doggies! I am appalled not to have updated you in the past two and a half weeks. My stats page did not help my self-loathing in the slightest. Yet like a phoenix. I arise from my perpetual absentmindedness to bring you this vitally important report: not much has been going on with me lately. But the world is a little bigger than I.

Nashville reports the original estimate of the economic impact of the flood has doubled to $2 billion. It gives me chills to go down my own street and see entire lives reduced to piles of rubble by the side of the road; homes nothing more than empty shells. And I can’t help but think: that could have been my home, my possessions, my identity, washed away to nothing. It is a reminder of two things: that the recovery has begun, and that we have a long way to go yet.

If I had to distill down my overall sentiment lately into one feeling, I’d chalk the past couple weeks to distraction. Disconnect. Not from my own life so much as from making people aware. I’ve been going about business as usual: applying for jobs, spending time with friends and family, working on a project with a nonprofit, thinking about learning how to play instruments, going to shows, imbibing unreal amounts of espresso, you know, the whole bit.

Really, I am doing very well. I feel like things are looking up across the board. There are even things I am looking forward to, which is always a nice way to be. I had been feeling some heaviness. And the root of that was to be expected: lack of writing. Like an athlete who doesn’t exercise for two weeks and wonders why he cramps up, the writer who doesn’t write for a while is likely to feel tired, heavy, disoriented.

Case and point.

Lack of public transit has likely contributed to my feeling of disconnect. There have been stretches of several days when I haven’t left my house. It is difficult to remember that time is passing when you’re not there seeing the sun rising and setting. “What? It’s Saturday already?” The whole thing- the cabin fever, the altered surroundings, the lack of awareness. One of these days, I think Hitchcock is going to walk around the corner and start giving commentary on it all.

Luckily, thanks to grace and understanding of friends and family, rhythm is beginning to be restored. I am hoping they will be able to extend the transit services beyond medical needs soon, as I am anxious to schedule and start ukulele lessons, and to be able to fly solo again.

In the meantime, I’m thankful for my wingmen. Without you all, I’d be stuck; the tail of my kite tangled in the the branches, tossed about by the wind.

i’ve got a city love: reflections on the flood

I haven’t written in over a week. I wrote my last entry last Thursday night, I believe: all about how I didn’t like rain. Myself and any literature fans out there would call that a cruel irony. Saturday and Sunday, torrential rain and severe storming dumped more than a foot of rain in parts of the city. Before we knew what hit us, we were flooded. The Tennessee River: flooded. The Harpeth River: flooded. The Cumberland River: flooded. And with them,  the entire city- the West, the East, the North, the South, and the beating heart of our beautiful city- choked and nearly drowning.

A friend of mine had dinner with me Saturday night. Because part of the Interstate was already submerged by that point , we encouraged her to stay with us. And she did: till Tuesday morning, when we were finally able and permitted to leave our street. In the interim, we stayed on what we quasi-affectionately now call The Island: a quarter-mile section of street, flooded on either side by the Harpeth River, which runs behind our house, and snakes through our neighborhood.

It is difficult to describe what it was like. We weren’t on the news because no one could leave us or get to us. People were kayaking from their front door to the road, or from one part of the road to the other. The kayaks and a fishing boat, going over what used to be fields and backyards- were the primary means of getting to the Publix down our street for food and necessities during those three days.

It was very surreal. One one hand, grateful to be alive. On the other, salvaging what you could and pumping feet of water out of your yard and basement. One one hand, watching your elderly neighbors try to save their decades-old keepsakes. On the other hand, having them over for a chili dinner and laughing your way through the roughest day of the storms.

Somewhere between 20 and 30 lives were lost across the state during the ordeal. However, the overwheming majority of people were able to evacuate in time, to be rescued, and to have their friends and family either near them, or accounted for.

The economy has taken a hit, a big one, to the tune of a billion dollars or so. The are months of repair ahead for Opry Mills, Opryland Hotel, and the Grand Ole Opry; not to mention Lower Broadway, the nexus of Downtown tourism.

Any one of you who knows me knows I love, love, LOVE my city. I cannot imagine my life without comfort food, Southern hospitality, and good music. I gush about the day-to-day life in my hometown the way most people do about their Caribbean cruises and European backpacking trips. I love the rich history, the thriving arts culture, the sweet and ridiculously good looking people, the good coffee, and that unmistakable twang. Living away from home certainly helps one to grow up. But there is something about being where your roots are and being happy there that helps you to grow strong and tall. I use the term “tall” loosely.

We’re a city of artists. During this tragedy and its aftermath, people have taken unforgettable photographs, written blogs, made videos, and I’m sure the songwriters have had no shortage of inspiration. But I struggled. Writing was an impossibility. I could find no words. Even this entry, over a week later, has not been an easy one to write. I’ve had to keep starting and stopping, visiting and revisiting.

I think it’s been so difficult for me to talk or write about this whole thing because the range of my emotions has been so expansive. Certainly I am heartbroken. But there were many times during the ordeal we were able to laugh, enjoy time together, and find joy [trying to play Monopoly by candlelight and making shadow puppets on the bedroom ceiling come to mind]. I am grateful to be safe, that my family and friends are safe, and that there are more and more signs of the strength of the city with every passing day. But part of me feels lost. Part of me feels angry. Part of me feels guilty to be sitting in my own room, when so many people have lost everything. And then there’s the part of me that wants to fix everything and for everyone to be happy and have what they need, and feel loved. At the moment, she feels powerless. Like a child who wants to help paint a house with her box of crayons.

I have felt everything at once. I have felt nothing at all.

As the water continues to recede, clean up has begun. And as the rubble is cleared, the resilience of our city comes into sharp focus. Family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and out-of-towners lend their hands, hearts, resources, time, and listening ears to those in desperate need. Benefit concerts continue to spring up everywhere, local businesses immediately began taking up donations for those displaced. Dingy cars, unkempt hair, and paper plates are reminders of the continuing effort to conserve water.

Although I was surprised- much like everyone else- at the lethargic national media response, I was relieved that we were not at all complacent. Everyone seems to have charged into the fray to help Nashville. And that spirit, combined with the delivering power of faith and music- which nothing can dampen- gives me hope.

And seeing the Sun. Seeing the Sun always gives me hope.

I talked to two people in particular who shaped my perspective on the flood in unexpected, unforgettable ways. And both of them lost everything- or nearly everything.

One was my neighbor a few houses to the left, who had water almost up to her front door. Standing in the street, I fumbled around for words to say to console her. With some sadness in her voice- but a smile on her face- she looked at me and  said, “They’re just things.”

The other story is that of a dear friend of mine. He lost his house, his car, everything. With just those facts, his story may not seem remarkable, and perhaps  it isn’t. But what is remarkable is this: I had to find out about his massive loss from a mutual friend- after the fact. With his own car and cabin submerged, my friend had called me to check on me and ease my worries, without saying a word about his own losses. When I called him back in shock, trying to make sense of that, he thanked me for being a good friend. I have talked to him a few times since then- and somehow- he makes sure I hang up the phone more heartened and encouraged than I had been when our conversation started.

I know we’re all heartbroken to see our home and its people in pain. But seeing evidence of countless others like my neighbor and my friend-with their kind hearts and mighty spirits- gives me cause to smile. Take a minute to read about the rescue stories and the relief efforts and you’ll notice something about Nashville: we are tough as nails. There may be pain, devastation, and loss. But rising above it all is the Spirit of  our City, sweet and steady, like an old, familiar song.

Y’all hang in there, Nashville. And keep on singing.

Please visit the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee website to donate directly to local relief efforts. If you are interested in volunteering, you can go to the Hands on Nashville website to sign up and find out where to go. Last, but certainly not least, visit Cleaning for Good to learn more about joining a cleaning co-op-  and to find help for cleanup needs in your home or neighborhood.

Life Reigns

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5b-6a

In the Orthodox Church, Pascha (Easter) is kind of a big deal. Actually, it is a huge deal. It is the brightest and most beautiful day of the year. It is known as the Feast of Feasts and the end of the  fast (Lent + the week before Pascha), with the feasting period lasting a full forty days [and I am not kidding about the feasting part]. It all starts around 11:00 PM on Saturday night. Yes, you read that right. The church is completely dark, and after a few prayers, the priest lights his candle with the flame from the altar, and from that light, all of the faithful light their candles; all the while singing a hymn about the Light of Christ. Everywhere you look, people are grinning from ear to ear, the children are too excited to stand still. But we’re not there yet.

There is then a procession around the church singing hymns, everyone with candles lit. Then everyone gathers at the closed doors of the church, the Priest reads from the Gospel, and for the first time, sings the Paschal hymn:

“Christ is Risen from the dead
Trampling down Death by Death
And upon those in the tombs,
Bestowing Life!”

Then the congregation sings this hymn together, and we enter the sanctuary again. It is now brightly lit, with white adornments and lilies, to match the white robes worn by the clergy. There are various other hymns, all about the Ressurection and the victory it offers the world.

It is througbout this time the priests will walk quickly through the center of the aisle, swinging the censer (full of incense) and exclaiming”Christ is Risen” as loud as they can. The people shout out the response to the Paschal greeting: “He is Risen indeed!”. Often this is done in a variety of different languages. This is one of my favorite parts of the service, because it is the first time a true celebration breaks out: shouting, beaming smiles, and candles raised. We have arrived. Truly He is Risen.

After Communion, the central point of the service, it’s time to go to the fellowship hall for the feast.

All the families in the church have brought baskets full of food they’ve missed during Lent (think every imaginable thing you could make with meat or dairy involved and you begin to get some idea). By this time, it is around 2:00 AM. Even though we are all exhausted, the joy is palpable. We eat and drink our fill of everything-from fine wine to deviled eggs and Bacon Wrapped Anything- and we rejoice together. Later the same afternoon, we come back for prayers of thanksgiving, the reading of the Gospel, and another huge meal.

As a newbie, I often struggle with talking or writing about my new expressions of Faith. Because there are so many layers, and so many questions I still have, that I feel like I don’t do it justice. But I just wanted to share some of the unique and beautiful highlights of a day that is so very joyous and sacred to so many people. I hope all of you had an Easter full of blessings, peace and light.

I wanted to leave you all with the amazing Paschal homily, which we hear each year before Communion as part of the service right before the feast. I hope it encourages you. It’s springtime. It is a time of growth and starting over. It is a time when everything is made bright and new. For He is Risen indeed!

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
“O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

see and be seen

This is Amos Lee. He is from Philadelphia. He used to be an elementary school teacher. He now plays tunes. He has 3 full-length studio records and a 2-song EP. He headlines tours nationwide and has had his at least one of his songs featured on a popular commercial. And he has a way of making one’s night.

I went to see Amos for the first time at Cannery Ballroom 2 years ago. Through the kindness of strangers, I was able to have a chance meeting with him, which I wrote about here. He was nothing but polite. He chatted and took a photo, and even sent a less-than-cordial tour manager after me to apologize to me for losing his cool. So doing, Amos became one of those artists- one of those people- you remember. Someone whose success you want to support.

I was able to see Amos a second time that year when his fall tour brought him to the 40 Watt Club in Athens. I didn’t get to talk to him then. But I promised myself that if I ever did, I would thank him  for how thoughtful he had been after meeting me.

Last night, I saw Amos for the third time at Mercy Lounge here in Nashville. He played a fabulous set with lots of favorites, some new material, and some cheeky banter peppered in, [Oh, and a Queen cover. Let’s not forget that]. I was right in front of him, but wasn’t sure he had actually seen me at all; he tends to sing with his eyes closed most of the time. When he made a comment at the end of the show about a song being written in 2009, I said [not yelling or anything], “It was a good year.” He looks at me and says “Really?”, as if he knew what 2009 had been like for me. I said “Yeah” with a lot of hesitation, feeling a tiny bit embarrassed and every bit found out. He smiled, pointed right at me and said, “For you, for you, but for me. . .” and continued to set up the song before he finished the second encore with it: it was about learning from the Less Than Great things that life hands to us sometimes. Given that 2009 was actually not that great for me, I appreciated it especially.

It was a great night; I had no complaints. I had nothing to do other than hope for the chance to reconnect.

After Amos left stage, Alicia, Holly and myself stood around “talking set list” with all the other shiny, happy people. It was a sold out crowd, so waiting for a lot of them to close their tabs and clear out seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was.

All of a sudden, Amos came darting out from backstage. He walked right past us and headed toward the back of the room by the bar, where he began talking to some people gathered there. I kept saying to myself “Calm, cool and collected, calm cool and collected”, and before you know it, I had been turned toward him and we were saying hello. He smiled. He is not a teeth-smiler, if you were curious.But he’s one of those people whose eyes help his smile along, so it is easy to tell when he is comfortable and sincere, “My hands are wet,” he said, as he shook mine, “but they’re clean.”

“Good to know,” I said.

Then, I said what I had wanted to say to him for almost two years, “Hey, man. I met you a couple years ago at Cannery. And there was this mean guy that yelled at me, and you told him to apologize, and he did. So, thanks for being a solid dude.”

He said, “No problem,” and smiled. Then he gave me a fist bump.

Realizing I had forgotten an important detail, I said, “My name’s Beth, by the way. What’s yours?”

After he said his name, he realized I was joking and we had a laugh.

He asked me if I had enjoyed the show. I said of course, and thanked him for a great performance.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking some pictures. “Sure, let’s do it,” he said. And he crouched next to me and took a few with the group, after we fumbled around with our cameras to make sure they were on and working. I mumbled something about not knowing how to use my own camera, thinking about how many of his precious seconds I was taking up, and he said “It happens,” in a way that I knew meant he was alright  with waiting. Smile, smile. Snap. Snap. Snap. At some point, I called him back over for a Just-The-Two-of-Us shot to replace the crazy awkward one of me we had taken on our first encounter. I told him I had hated that first one (of me) and he said, “No, no, don’t hate it!” and rushed over to take the replacements.

While we were all chatting, I asked Amos if he missed being a teacher. He laughed and said no, not the paperwork and the bureaucracy. But of course, he missed the kids. I also admitted that even though I said 2009 was a good year, I didn’t really mean it. And we had a moment of griping before the obligatory “2010, baby”! I’m glad there’s at least one other person out there who likes to think the year is still new.

Amos was very kind, attentive, and appreciative. I lost count of how many times he thanked me and my friends for being there. And- just in case you were wondering if he actually did see me from the stage- he said at some point before we parted, “Thank you so much for coming out. Your smile lit me up.”

Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that every Happy Cell in my body did a standing backflip when he said that. I cannot explain how happy a simple statement like that can make someone feel. It means “I saw your face”; it means “we connected”, it means “your presence affected my life in a positive way, if only for a few moments”. If I could have picked my jaw up off the floor fast enough, I would have let him know: the sentiment is mutual.

This isn’t really a concert review; this isn’t a set list, a photo montage, or a crappy YouTube video. It’s a story of two people meeting: a meandering dreamer and a former schoolteacher. Somewhere amidst the frantic chatter and the nervous smiles lay the lesson that- just when you think you’ve found your path- you may be sent in another direction entirely; you may be led to even greater heights. It is a reminder that we can make an impression on someone and not know it; and vice versa.

I guess what I’m saying is, we should keep going; we never know where we’ll end up.We should keep smiling; people notice it; people need it. And it is one of the easiest and most rewarding things in the world to give.

*

“You get right down to the bottom of the barrel,

And then you float back on top. . .”

Thanks, Amos, for your kindness. It is invaluable. May all your Happy Cells get their exercise. Talk to you soon.