open for renovations

Sometimes, you change your life. Sometimes it changes you. And right now, I am somewhere in between. I am holding on tight, white-knuckled, waiting for the pendulum to stop, waiting for the dust to settle. I am going to be cryptic on purpose, but trust me when I say this is an interesting time for me. To put it simply, circumstances have shifted: a little here and there. I am missing the structure of my school days: missing a time of knowing where to go and when.

And those are just the changes you can see.

While trying to process how the last few weeks, days, and hours have felt, I stumbled across a passage by C.S. Lewis. [Okay. Maybe I went looking for it to assuage some of my jitters. Either way, it works.]

In Mere Christianity, he writes:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

Although a cursory reading of this can be quite unsettling, it comforts me now more than ever. Because I know what’s going on. I am not just hurting for no reason. The troubles are not coming from nowhere. It is not senseless chaos. I am being rebuilt, from the inside. By someone with perfect standards. And-unlike me-He doesn’t leave his projects unfinished.

The tough part is this: any other thing that’s being rebuilt is closed. The doors are locked. It’s not safe to be anywhere near it. In our case, however, we must stay open. We are required to continue letting others in. We may be the recipient of constant improvements, but we are also obligated to stay open to serve our purposes.

Come on in, if you want. I’m happy to make you a cup of tea. It is always so good to see you. Just pardon the mess, excuse the noise, tread lightly. Know you are always welcome. Here’s hoping that He, along with all of you, make yourselves at home.

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imaginary [more-than]friends

Before I begin, each of you should prepare to have your thunder stolen, your bubble burst, your parade rained on, and for any other cliche outcome involving sudden unwelcome feelings of disbelief.

I am single.

There, the worst is over. Feel free to take a moment to collect yourselves.

Sometimes this is a drag: like when I’m out with a group of friends, all my friends in relationships are sitting around complaining about the people they’re in relationships with. In those moments,  things can get a little uncomfortable. I am forced to say something like, “Sorry, I just don’t feel qualified to contribute to this conversation.”

But most of the time, flying solo is pretty all right.  I can take this time to learn about myself and others, and can put my hands up when Beyonce tells me to do so.

When you combine my ‘status’ with my tendencies as a writer, there is a very potent result. Turns out, I am good at being single and making stuff up. So why not combine the two? I figure there are plenty of guys out there who wouldn’t mind being my beau, so why not aim high and forget about the technicalities like whether or not they actually know I exist? Sounds healthy to me.

To console myself in the onslaught of certain mid-Febraury observances-and as a beacon of hope to my fellow ‘single ladies’-I offer you a few very good candidates* for your next boyfriend.  [*Never mind suspension of disbelief and disregard for the laws of time and space that will be necessary: anything for love, right?]

Meet Paul.

Paul enjoys music, being on the beach, and being a brilliant songwriter. He is passionate about animal rights, and a variety of other causes.

Pros: Looks, Charm, English accent, Quirky Humor, Excellent Taste in Friends

Cons: Likes to cross the street barefoot.

Meet Gene.

Gene loves to dance and sing, often at the same time. He is an actor, director, and choreographer in his “spare time”.

Pros: Dazzling smile, Dapper, Dripping with Charm, in Better Shape Than Anyone Else You Know

Cons: He gets unreasonably enthusiastic about inclement weather.

Meet Jack.

Jack lives in Nashville. He enjoys collecting vinyl, being mysterious, and starting bands.

Pros: Cool, Talented, Quirky, Hangs out with Conan O’Brien

Cons: Well, he’s a bit odd.

Meet Johnny.

Johnny enjoys traveling, swashbuckling, and comparing ravens to writing desks. He is the pride of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Pros: Perfect Bone Structure, Versatile Actor, Excellent Party Guest

Cons: There’s a lot of competition for this one.

Meet John Clayton.

John likes tattoos, strutting, and speaking obtusely. He has made a career out of soul-searching, brutal honesty, and well-expressed introspection.

Pros: A Voice that Can Melt Your Heart on Contact, Pretty Hair, Mad Bluesman Skillz, Rockstar Attitude

Cons: Somewhat Lacking in Social and Relationship Skills, Rockstar Attitude

So, there you have it. My go-to guys when I need to be charmed, cheered, and otherwise entertained. Of course, we should keep both our feet on the ground. But it’s okay to stargaze every now and then, I think.

put a ring on it? 10 songs for the single

Apparently, I enjoy a good song, or at least talking about how much I enjoy songs. I like happy songs, mellow songs, and even the occasional seasonal song. And, like every other arena of life, I like to incorporate a little good, old-fashioned mockery into my musical critiques from time to time.

“Why write about songs?” someone may ask, “You’re not a songwriter; you only sing at karaoke, and you’re supposed to write about what you know.” And Someone may, on some level, be right. Sometimes.

Because apart from growing up in a landmark city in the history of music, and having friends and acquaintances with a combined musical talent that is larger than a Central American isthmus nation, I have little cause to write about music with the mind of a critic.

However, there is one ‘area’ in which I am a confirmed expert. And, lucky for my credentials, my area of expertise has also been a muse for singer/songwriters for eons.

I present to you now some Songs for the Single. To guide you to the appropriate selection, please note the headings.

[**My apologies for John Mayer’s multiple appearances in this post. Part of that has to do with him being my imaginary spouse; the rest has to do with him apparently being one of the loneliest, most wistful people on planet Earth.]

If you are currently experiencing (or would like to experience) Pining or Longing:

1. “If it Kills Me” (EP Version) (Jason Mraz)

2. “Love Song for No One” (John Mayer) (an early version, from the American Eagle spokesmodel/Funny Faces era)

If you want to feel (or are feeling) Liberated:

1. “King of Anything” (Sara Bareilles)

2. “Single Ladies” (Pomplamoose version)

3. “Steer” (Missy Higgins)

To wallow in Sadness (or any array of other Negative Emotions):

1. “Tin Man” (the Avett Brothers)

2. “Grey Room” (Damien Rice) (Of course, this subheading applies to every song he’s ever written. But they are completely beautiful and poignant songs, so he is worth investigating on your more melancholy days.)

If you want to feel Hopeful (or at least On Your Way):

1. “Die Alone” (Ingrid Michaelson)

2. “Perfectly Lonely” (John Mayer)

3. “Haven’t Met You Yet” (Michael Buble) (I am not the biggest “Bubble” fan, but this song has a special place in my heart. After a particularly disappointing experience, my best friend sent this to me; he thought it might cheer me up. He knows me too well.)

I was going to save this post for mid-February. But the holidays are often a lonely time for the unattached. So this is a friendly reminder to the Independents like me out there: you’re not alone. And to the “better halves” and “other halves” out there, hug one of your single friends and tell them they deserve the best.

They say something- or someone- great comes along when you least expect it. I’m not expecting anyone anytime soon. So, excuse me while I brace for impact. In the mean time, chins up, Solo Fliers.

sweet dreams and flying machines

“There’s hours of time on the telephone line

To talk about things to come

Sweet dreams and flying machines

In pieces on the ground

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend

But I always thought that I’d see you again.”- James  Taylor

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Whoever they are. This realization is all at once brilliant and brutal. We are given the blessing to see our ups and downs with the clarity necessary to learn from them, yet we curse ourselves in the same moment for some (in)decision; we regret some risk taken or some hope left alone. It is a bit maddening to try to look back at our past experiences, in particular because we are expected to do so while that same life continues to send us hurtling forward at breakneck speed.

When I hazard a look, I cannot help but be surprised by my life and its landscape: its hills and valleys come as a surprise to me, even after moving over and through them.

I never expected to leave my parents’ house at 17- or to return to it at 23.

I never expected to dye my hair brown and opt to keep it that way.

I never expected that the person I would want to marry would never want to marry anyone, myself included.

Some things I never expected to start, others I never thought I would leave unfinished.

The irony of my life is that I cannot use past circumstances to plan for future ones, because each circumstance is itself an anomaly. The only way I could prepare myself for one outcome would be to plan for the opposite: to expect the unexpected, if you fancy a cliche.

I spoke to two friends last night- one, a girlfriend with whom I have passed many hours; the other an acquaintance, a bartender who reads Frankl. From each of these very different, fascinating people I gleaned the same lesson. I can never live up to my own expectations of what life will be like: not because I am inept. But because the only way a girl would find herself wholly satisfied and wholly within her expectations is if each and every one of the circumstances in question  lay entirely within her control.

That is not going to happen, is it, duckie?

Bleak as that may seem at first glance, worry not. This is not cause to lock yourself in your room with a bottle of Merlot and the Damien Rice catalog. What I’m getting at is this: most things are, in point of fact, beyond our control, with one exception: our own behavior. I admit that thought is a bit terrifying. But if my behavior is the only thing I can control, then I probably shouldn’t agonize as much as I do over the rest.

This whole disconnect between preparation, expectation, and the Actual has been bothering me lately; I have been weighed down. I have felt stuck, guilty, worried, afraid, frustrated, sad, annoyed, bitter, and completely unable to understand What-in-the-Ever-Loving is going on. However high my expectations may be for others, they are so much greater for myself. And when the girl with the high expectations is the same one for whom nothing goes as planned, it would appear she is marked for disarray.

But what if life isn’t about preparation for what we expect will happen? What if it is about looking at whatever does happen, and doing what we can to take something from the circumstance that we can use?

Thousands of miles away and over 40 years ago, my favorite song was written: a song about facing life and making the best of it;  about taking the raw materials and doing what we can to fashion something functional and beautiful out of them. I am starting to believe that- when everything else is stripped away- this is all I can expect of myself. And it is a high calling indeed.

gratitude adjustment

I haven’t written since Tuesday night- pretty unbelievable for someone who overwhelms you with Tweets and status updates every time she writes a word, I know. But I have been a busy bee, people! Because things are all out of order, I am going to start with the moral(s) of the story, and toss in some characters and a plot when you least expect it.

The moral(s) of the story is/are:

We should always be looking for the lessons life is trying to teach us because they will bring with them blessings; there will always be reminders of things to be grateful for.

For this helpful reminder, I would like to thank the following:

A Child: This morning, after a period of prayer, study, and inquiry, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church and were able to take our first communion there. This afternoon, we participated in a Forgiveness Vespers (prayer service). After the regular prayers are finished, the clergy and their wives begin asking one another for forgiveness and extending forgiveness to one another, in turn. Then the congregation does so with the clergy, and then with one another. The process goes on until everyone present has asked for, and received, forgiveness from everyone else. It is truly an experience! The most moving part of it is that the littlest children participate, embracing you and asking for, then extending, forgiveness! Not a dry eye in the house after that!

I realized that, great and small, we all need each other. And when we celebrate others with gratitude, our relationships are fortified.

As I cross this new threshold on my spiritual journey, I am rendered so grateful for the foundation laid at home, by other church leaders, and by spiritual and godly people I have met throughout life. Without all of those twists and turns, hills and valleys, I would not have ended up on this path. I have love and respect for all of you and remember you in my prayers.

A Stranger: To harken back to my previous post, last Wednesday evening was spent with the prettiest guy I’ve never met. Despite all my delusions of grandeur, that is precisely what John Mayer is to me: a complete stranger who hasn’t the slightest clue I live and breathe. However, his heartfelt apology for some especially unsavory remarks really resonated with me. Because he forced himself to become reacquainted with humility. In doing so, he discovered that where humility is, gratitude will be there, tagging along.

Since then, John’s example has given me an easy recipe for perspective. Step one: acknowledge that I can’t conquer demons, master reinvention, or do a single significant thing without vital love, input, and support from others. Step two: embrace and employ gratitude. Reinvention and conquest will follow accordingly. Repeat as necessary.

[You’ll be alright, John. Thanks for coming through for the people who have supported you. I still believe in you, and know that you will only emerge from this situation stronger, now that you’ve gained  some awareness. There will always be angry people, but- as you reminded us in Nashville, there will always be people in your corner.]

A Recession: I have been out of graduate school, unemployed, and living at home for around 14 months now. Time flies when you’re needing funds. At any rate, the job market shows no sign of giving me a break, for crying out loud. Not to mention that people with disabilities tend to face some unique challenges when it comes to finding employment. Aside from fear-based discrimination, many “means to an end” jobs [like working in a restaurant, in retail, or as a barista] are not options for people with physical disabilities, as they require significant mobility and dexterity. I’m pretty sure you know already those are not two of my strong suits.

All that to say that things seem a little bleak right now. But after thinking about a lot of other things the past few days (including aforementioned ones, of course), I have realized that without living at home, I would not have had as much time with my family, friends, and the new people I’ve met as I have. I would not have been likely to finish the children’s book, much less start to submit it to publishers and editors. I would not have spent so much time in cafes and been able to consider starting the coffee blog.

Being out of a job and out of school has forced me to forage for other opportunities. Though nothing has come to fruition yet, there are certainly things going on below the surface. Maybe life will finally blossom when the sun returns.

In the meantime, I wait. I grin. I bear it. I am thankful.

6th time’s a charm?

“Would you want me

When I’m not myself?

Hang around while

I am someone else?…”

*

It was summer. I was seventeen. Still reveling in the newfound freedom of the Younger-Than-Average College Freshman, I was convinced: this would be the night of my life. My friend Chrissy and I stood expectantly in a capacity crowd at Starwood Amphitheater (may it rest in peace). We had already rocked our way through Maroon5, who was riding high on the success of their latest record, Songs About Jane. They had just left the stage, and we were having difficulty remaining still during the set change, twittering and twitching like birds on a wire. Suddenly the lights went down, all of us were dropped  into darkness. And out of the dark rose thousands of shrill, distinctly female voices. And as one of two of the ecstatic throng, we screamed; the hysterical, aching scream of mania.

A single chord clanged forth from a Fender Stratocaster that was being held like a lover by its owner; an unassuming kid with big brown eyes, wearing jeans and a polo shirt. His hair was unkempt, and his face twisted into funny little contortions as he played, clearly mimicking the sounds made by the guitar with his mouth. It was like  watching a teenager singing along with his favorite records into a hairbrush, gazing into his bedroom mirror, and practicing his best, most aloof smile. John finished the first song, and the crowd erupted once more. We were the euphoric onlookers for his nostalgic little pantomime, paying eavesdroppers there to break his silence.

SO ready for my close up, Mister Mayer!

Already a fan of John Mayer by the time I made it to my first show, that performance had me hooked for life. I had started listening to John a couple years before to impress one of the Cool Girls in my high school. Needless to say, it didn’t work. But by the time I realized that kind of thing didn’t matter, I found myself a fan in my own right. Funny how that works. Who knows how many of you are out there listening to John Mayer  right this minute in an effort to impress me?  The Shadow, maybe.

Tomorrow night will be my 6th show; that’s more than anyone else that’s not local. Of course the polo shirts are long gone, and he’s got an armful of tattoos now. His reputation has morphed from sweet, square Boy Next Door to gritty, unapologetic Bad Boy.

Through his reinventions, I keep listening, though. Because a couple of important things remains unchanged. For one, he can still play that guitar just like a’ringin a bell, to paraphrase Mister Chuck Berry. And beyond that,  his songwriting remains honest, transparent, and eerily reflective of my own struggles; for contentment in the face glaring loneliness, for meaning, and for a romance that matches my dogged, if somewhat cheeky, idealism.

I know some of you might look on me with a critical eye for appearing to ignore his rougher edges. But there’s something to that. Of course,  I reserve my opinion of him for after meeting him, which I am totally convinced I will do someday. And I believe that the best parts of us are hidden. Sometimes this is voluntary, sometimes this isn’t. But I think the most genuine parts of a songwriter come out in his or her creative expressions. So when I listen to songs like “Love Song for No One”, “Gravity”, or “Perfectly Lonely”, I can’t help but retain the ideal. Because that’s the John I never fail to feel connected to. And I know he’s still there. Someday, I will thank him in person for the ways his music has helped me to feel less alone over the years. And until then, I can hold out the same idealistic, silly hopes I’ve always had about him, much like I do for the rest of my life pursuits and the rest of my heroes, however human they may, in fact, be.

Since that first show, I have lived in two other cities. I have finished school twice over. I have embarked on a new path in my spiritual journey. I have experienced both titanic losses and innumerable blessings. And his is among the music I return to the most to remember how it used to be; to keep me pacified while I wait for what will be.

So, John, thank you for your writing, your musicianship, and for waging the Battle to find and be yourself. Thank you for all the many hours of comfort your own struggles and uncertainties have provided in the midst of my own. You ask in one of your songs “Who do you love: me or the thought of me? Me or the thought of me?” And I admit, for now, I hold up to the light the thought of you. But it makes for something pretty, like a comforting memory, like a youthful dream.

I’ll be there  tomorrow; lost in the sea of others all too like me. I’ll be hoping for some tiny moment I can claim as uniquely my own. And whether or not it comes, I will sing right along with you, till I’m all out of blues.

balancing: act?

“Nothing to do

Nowhere to be

A simple little kind of free

Nothing to do

No one but me

It isn’t really hard to see

Why I’m perfectly lonely

I’m perfectly lonely

Perfectly lonely, yeah

Cause I don’t belong to anyone

And nobody belongs to me.”

– “Perfectly Lonely”, John Mayer

*

Every one of us, attached or not, knows what it’s like to be single.

It isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means. I am very happy and thankful for my life- and am blessed to have learned volumes and grown by leaps and bounds as an independent lady! I have never been in a serious relationship, so I have had many years to learn (continually) about how to be happy with who I am and what I do have, rather than what I am “missing” (relatively speaking), or what other people have.

There is an understanding in those words that contentment and lonliness are not- as our statistics books may phrase it- mutually exclusive. Recent situations have reminded me just how true that is with matters of my own heart. It happens all the time: I meet someone wonderful, things seem to be moving along nicely, and then one, tiny, amoeba-sized thing happens and either I’m searching the Internet for china patterns, or thumbing through my Damien Rice collection looking for the perfect anthem to echo my desolation. What happened to Normalville? I was on my way there: how can one tiny thing send me reeling off the road?!

For an analogy, consider a scale. One one side is the carefree, happy romantic me that enjoys her bi-quarterly viewing of You’ve Got Mail. On the other, the insecure, somewhat jaded, perpetually single “best buddy” of heterosexual males. In most situations, the scales are balanced. But add a circumstance the weight of a feather on either side, and the scales tip all the way in that direction. One kind word or gentle smile, and I’m all optimism. One aloof moment, and I’m convinced that I am doomed to a life of isolation and spinsterhood, with only my emaciated felines to console me.

It is possible, where the Heart is concerned, for me to maintain a sense of balance.

But must it be so delicate? How can I be still? The whole world is spinning.

*

“And she walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land,  just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus…” – Round Here, Counting Crows