Light

Some days are armed with the power of transformation–arriving as ordinary as any other yet abounding with redemptive reminders that distract our gaze from its habitual focus. Some days extinguish the anguish of negativity, doubt, and worry that heavy the burden we shoulder and we walk into a new day renewed.

It has been a difficult few months and my boots have become weighty. I trudge from day to day (with a smile across my face, regardless)  knowing that this sensation, this looming shadow is ephemeral in nature. It is not the end. There will be more. There will be goodness. There is still love. But sometimes, it can be hard to keep my eyes above the waves. Sometimes, it feels easier just to give in to the shadow, to shroud the possibilities of positivity in the obscurity and confusion of doubt.

Today, though, there was a moment that changed all of that. Today was quite possibly the most perfect Jazz Fest day one could experience–the weather, as friendly and laid back as the people, welcomed us serenely as we strolled from stage to stage and from food stand to food stand. It was living into this day, however, rather than simply letting it happen to me that has reformed my vision, my heart, my head. Tonight, I am new. I am ready. I am grateful. Tomorrow will be met with fresh perspective.

This shift ignited with a moment I’ve witnessed countless times in my Jazz Fest experience…the moment when the Economy Hall Jazz tent erupts from seated passivity into the undulating zeal of a Second Line. They marched; they strutted; they sashayed; they paraded; they danced. Some with eyes closed, others with eyes wide; there were smiles stretched wide, yet some others with brows furrowed as music overwhelmed their being; some with open hands waving high, others clasping an umbrella or napkin or hat for flair. I’ve come to expect this scene–honestly, if it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t feel like Jazz Fest at all. Yet today, somehow it appeared differently to me.

Today, the people became the poem—each moving individual a unique line in a much larger piece, creating, contributing to the rhythm of the whole, breathing life into its body. Each moving individual providing some sort of punctuation to guide the reading–a full stop in mid motion for one, a quick pause for another and some, whose fluid movements never ceased, overflowed their line and rolled right to the next. Enjambment made physical. Yet, all together, they composed a singular poem…proverbial poetry in motion…and it was stunning.

As I watched this diverse group parade, I considered that on any given day these people would have absolutely no reason to stand next to each other let alone dance together. These people were so visibly varied that they might not have much in common (or at least they might assume so–we tend to lose sight of the commonality of humanity in the face of obvious differences), they might not agree or see eye to eye. They might argue. They might even fear what they don’t fully understand about each other and never strike up a conversation at all. They might come to dislike each other. They might never have danced with each other.

Sometimes words just complicate a simple existence, you know? We feel they are steering us toward truth when in fact they are simply rearranging facts to make us feel more comfortable with the “truths” we create. We feel we are using them wisely when in fact we might be using them divisively instead. We fail to employ them to build others up because it is simpler to destroy. We fail to ask questions and instead assert assumptions.

Today, in the presence of music, words weren’t necessary and the people moved with unity–uniquely dancing their own Second Line but doing so together…respecting differences, even admiring them and thriving as a result. Today, I saw what the world can be when we tear down language of “them” and “us” and instead, embrace the dialogue of “we” and “us”. Today, I saw a vision of the beauty that arises when we simply let those around us be themselves without judgement because we are too busy being ourselves to find fault. Today, I saw the possibility of living together harmoniously in a world that seems to fight with fervor against such a dream. Today, I saw hope and it overwhelmed my heart.

A single moment taken in, considered. Renewal granted. Replenishment.

Light in the darkness exists, if we simply take the time to seek it out.

Threshold

When I was in 7th grade, my family moved into a house that possessed a singular identifiable feature. This little house stood in a row of other little houses that looked blandly alike. Yet this gem announced its presence just a bit differently than the others and gained small scale recognition and notoriety simply because it wore its difference proudly.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

In the days before Siri would announce that a destination had been reached, everyone who came to visit us knew to look for this unique detail. At the front of the house, tucked at the end of a small front porch, stood a large red door…with a silver doorknob decorating the center of it. It was one thing to live in a house with a giant, solid red door…but the doorknob in the middle added another level of oddity to it that my 12 year old self wasn’t so certain of. In order to open the door from the inside required a certain secret knowledge and deft ability to turn the knob and pull sturdily on the handle simultaneously.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

I am pretty sure I was embarrassed by this door for more than a little while. Pretty sure that I wished we had a door like everyone else…and that our house didn’t stand out in this way. I didn’t need it to be pretty or fancy–just “normal”. But at some point along the way, all of this angsty humiliation shifted and I came to treasure its presence. Came to love that thing that allowed our house to stand out a bit from the rest. Came to own the uniqueness as a gift rather than an embarrassment. Came to identify that door with what it opened into–a house full of warmth, family, joy and love.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should it be opened to you.

Writing this blog during this 59 day challenge required more stamina than I realized it would and also required me to open myself a bit more than initially felt comfortable. I am very much at ease being vulnerable, admitting fault, telling stories…and, yet, somehow having to tell them more quickly than I wanted because I had to meet the deadline of the daily post made me question the decision and waver on whether to continue. I preferred to refine my writing and to take time to have it reflect the truth of what I am capable of crafting. But at some point, I had to release that ambition and frustration and accept that the importance of the task resided in the act of writing each day…in the sharing of it with an unknown audience regardless of how I felt about it…in the building of my confidence…in the ownership of a writer’s identity…in the recognition that sharing this gift is not a reflection of ego but a desire of the soul. The importance resided in opening the door that so clearly identifies as my passion without fear of what is on the other side…resided in the ritual of walking through it daily and coming to treasure it as a homecoming.

A door. A commonplace item. An entry point. A way in…should you accept the invitation 

“Doors” by Carl Sandburg

(Day 59–Mardi Gras Day–King Cake day!!!–The blog will continue of course…just maybe once a week:) If you’ve kept up with me, you have no idea of my gratitude!! If you’ve stopped to say something encouraging along the way, words can’t express how that helped me to continue writing. I sort of can’t believe I’ve finally written the last one!)

 

alone?

I am really good at being alone. Solitude, a blessing and silence, a space to think…to be…to expand the realm of what I thought was possible. Even in a room full of people, my internal dialogue offers enough stimulation to keep me occupied (I recognize the strangeness of that–I don’t mean that I believe my thoughts to be above others, just that my mind is never quiet or stilled). I maintain a sort of ridiculous level of introspection, always sinking into my own thoughts, always in a state of wonder and curiosity, always residing deep within my mind (at times more than in the world). My parents used to call me “the clam” for this very reason. I’d rather explore issues and life in general from many angles without intrusion before I speak on anything. I’d rather work through the layers of things, peeling them back and inspecting carefully, on my own–calling myself into question and furthering my thinking before I give others the right to do so as well. That is partly why this blog has been more difficult than I expected. Without a specified theme to guide my posts other than I said I would post every single day of Carnival season to earn king cake, I find myself laying my thought process out in writing and so I feel rather exposed…which makes me uncomfortable…which makes me feel vulnerable…yet which also makes me feel more a part of the world…more engaged in its conversation…more like I’m growing rather than stagnating because without the push past the boundaries of my comfort, I would remain static…a black and white photo in desperate need of the richness and vibrance of color.

There are moments, like today, where my people come out in force to lift me up and draw me out. Part of that is because I took the initiative to put my feelings in this blog and brave whatever consequence resulted. Except the only consequence to be seen, was an outpouring of love and understanding and intelligent discourse all of which were vital reminders of the goodness of humanity even in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us. Vital reminders that the energy and, often times, courage exerted to express a few words at the right time to a person in need means more than we realize as those words linger and imprint the heart and the mind. Vital reminders that as humans we are all in this life together; we may as well use our time and our words to support each other rather than to tear each other down.

(Day 57–only two blogs left in this challenge! which means only two days until king cake!!!)

magical

It’s Mardi Gras weekend and the city is alive and humming with visitors who might walk away understanding what Mardi Gras really is or who might walk away with nothing more than a headache, some plastic beads, five extra pounds and a few fun memories. Mardi Gras, for those who live in New Orleans and the surrounds suburbs and cities, presents a much richer heritage and tradition than simply consuming large quantities of alcohol. The intoxication from this season is far more varied than if it solely emanated from the obvious source. And I would venture to say that the people of this city could attest to the veracity of this with reflections upon traditions of family and friends, the attachment to community and place that this season forges, the food…so much food…, the stories of Mardi Gras past, the music, and more. Sure revelry plays a role, I’m not sanctifying the holiday or anything. It’s just that, as with anything, Mardi Gras is more than its label–it’s layered, textured, vibrant.

My family’s Mardi Gras traditions when I was growing up fostered some of my favorite childhood memories. Beyond the stress of where to park and where to find a bathroom when you needed one, there was family, there was joy, there was delight, there was Andy Gibb, whose face was emblazoned on a pink t-shirt I wore religiously as a little kid, riding on a float right in front of me. There was the Monday night parade, Hercules, that passed by my grandmother’s house where my family gathered pre-parade–cousins, siblings, aunts, uncles…all of us–to eat Mimi’s meatballs and spaghetti and garlic bread that was so toasty I would accidentally inhale the powdery crumbs and choke a bit before going back for more. Homework would get finished at the table before we could go out to the parade and inevitably, Vanna White was turning letters on the television. There were the death defying moments of riding on my dad’s shoulder’s to garner more throws only to have him swoop down to pick up a doubloon (his favorite-a prized commodity)–he knew I wasn’t going to fall…I, on the other hand, remained less than confident. There were the costumes and the face paint that decorated us on Mardi Gras day. We masked as a family and my mom made our costumes every year (face paint was all my dad though). One year, we went as the band KISS (I was maybe 3 or 4?)…another year as characters from Strawberry Shortcake…each year presented a new opportunity to get dressed up for a day and go have fun-together, as a family. There were parades where we were so cold it didn’t feel worth it, only to be greeted by hot food when we got home. There is all of the junk we carted home that felt necessary, vital even, in the moment and suddenly worthless when exposed by the harsh fluorescent light of the living room. There is a lifetime of memories that sing a harmony far sweeter than if this were really just a holiday about drunken debauchery.

Tomorrow, we will take our kids to one of the famous super-krewes, Endymion. We will pack sandwiches and snacks, and we will wait on the parade route for hours (though some have been there for days). We will probably throw the football and hopefully be able to walk to where they line up the Clydesdales. We will listen to our kids whine “how much longer till the parade gets here???” because this is what you do! And we will sit back in delight and watch the eyes of our children light up as they are dazzled by the magic that is Mardi Gras.

Because, when we allow it, magic is exactly what Mardi Gras creates.

(Day 55–four blogs away from king cake!)

Rushed

So, when planning this writing challenge, I didn’t really consider that I would also have to write while on senior retreat with my students. My intended purpose at this event roots itself in maintaining my focus on facilitating a remarkable experience for my students. All that just to say, this blog won’t be lengthy or full of deeply considered thoughts. I just need to get my writing in so that I will be able to enjoy the king cake that has been ordered to celebrate a successful ending to this challenge (which is only a few days away!!). It feels strange at this point not to be able to truly carve out a few moments to think and to write. I’ve grown accustomed to stealing moments in the evening just for myself, to foster this passion, to develop my craft. It felt selfish for a while, ignoring the people around me for an hour each day so I could compose. But now I realize that in the same way that taking time to exercise is, giving myself these moments is really a selfless act. I am a far nicer person when I have worked out and a far calmer, self assured person when I’ve had the chance to put some words on the page. Missing the time I would usually take tonight has made me realize that this challenge has done its job. I’ve not only created a discipline, but I’ve instilled in myself the sense that my days are incomplete without having written. There were nights this challenge didn’t feel worth it, nights I just wanted to quit. In this moment, I’m so grateful for the support of the people in my life and for the perseverance that I was able to will into being because without that, this identity as a writer, might never have materialized.

(Day 54–I think?–not my best but I literally only had 20 free minutes to get something down while on this retreat. It’ll do but tomorrow will be better)

turmoil of heart

As a Christian, I am called to love. As a human in a world that bears the burden of far too much hate and discrimination (even thinly veiled or disguised by clever terminology), I feel this call deeply. And in this particular moment I feel like it is important to note that love demands more than tolerance.

Love cannot simply be the absence of bigotry that tolerance implies.

Love must fill that absence with generosity, selflessness, empathy, and affirmation. Love must reach out its hand to those ignored by the rest…even and especially when it is difficult, uncomfortable, frightening. Love must see the worth of the human being instead of the label we so easily assign. Love implies a willingness to reach beyond the simplicity of merely existing ignorantly side by side…a willingness to be in relationship with each other, to have a responsibility to each other. Love requires an open heart that recognizes a world beyond what is comfortable or familiar. Love understands that acquiescence is complicity, so love uses its voice for good…love stands up for and amplifies the voices of those who have been marginalized…and love does this knowing repercussions might be vast but also knowing there is no other way.

Love demands courage.

Love imagines boundless goodness.

Love acts accordingly.

It doesn’t have to be easy. It just has to be done. We just have to try.

things unseen

Invisible. Elusive. Concealed. Disguised. Obscured. Masked. Buried. Veiled. Guarded.

If teaching kids has taught me anything, it is that the behavior we witness in the people who share our space, often reflects a dishonest version of their story. Humans harbor all kinds of achy-ness on the inside that they are too fragile to allow themselves to share. The vulnerability required to reveal the truth frightens away the confidence needed and some behavior, foreign to the heart of the transgressor, acts as a repellent  instead.

It would be easy to judge simply based on actions…a kid sleeping in class, sass given instead of respect, responsibilities falling by the wayside would all seem to be punishable offenses. It would be easy to command…demand better, but what if the kid is simply not capable of more in that moment? What if something is happening in their life (a problem at home, an issue with health, worries over identity) that they don’t know how to deal with and this is their literal best? What if instead of fussing, we peeled away the layers with questions…softened the exterior with concern and a safe place to speak up…remembered that our kids are humans and even though they are young, that doesn’t diminish the weight of their worry. How might that transform their classroom and school experience? How might being truly seen and heard reconstruct what school has always been? How might taking a moment to pause and think more about the kid than our hurt feelings allow for an interaction that might change the trajectory of that kid’s life?

The impact of our words, not solely teachers but all of us, and our decisions and the way we care about those around us bears significance beyond our comprehension. I mean, think about it. Consider a moment when someone stopped to notice the truth of your situation–took the time to see beneath your mask and defenses–and then gave of themselves as they worked to uplift you. Consider a moment when someone saw your worth and told you. Consider how those moments have shaped the course of your existence…and theirs.

This world is hard enough without us judging each other on exteriors and assumptions alone, you know? Let’s wade past the shallows and into the deeper water as we work to heighten our humanity, as we work to build trust that allows for vulnerable moments (honest moments), when we can just be ourselves and live into the truth of our lives without the cover. When we don’t have to fear condemnation for simply being who we are, and as a result we can honor our true selves. When our self worth is upheld because we are seen and not just respected, but loved and treated as such. Wouldn’t that be something?

(just a poetic gift– “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar)

(Day 52!! King cake is getting harder to resist the closer it gets to the end of this journey!!)

perseverance

Over the weekend I sort of accidentally came across the Guy Raz podcast “How I Built This” on NPR. In this particular installment, he was interviewing Bobbi Brown and I found myself captivated. Now, if you know anything about me, you know that makeup is not something I would claim to know a lot about or even to have a keen interest in. I see its purpose, I’m sure it’s great, but I’ve just never taken the time (or spent the money) to really figure it out. Honestly, I think most people assume that I wear no makeup at all (and not in that “Oh wow! Her makeup looks so natural” way). Given this set of circumstances, my fascination with this podcast came as a surprise. At first I listened only because I felt positive that my sister would enjoy it and I wanted to be able to recommend it to her with some credibility…to be able to tell her something about it. I stayed with it, because it was about so much more than makeup.

The substance of the show weighted itself in ingenuity, perseverance, knowledge of self–all of which are critical parts of any successful creative process. Her story begins in childhood enchantment with makeup, travels through finding the right collegiate experience after recognizing that the traditional college program scratched uncomfortably at her being, then treks through her career (both her work as a make up artist and in developing her own brand). At every stage of this story, her humanity was palpable which made her experience relatable. I am never going to build a multi-million dollar make-up brand, but her trajectory offered me some critical reminders about what it means to be creative.

In this society of immediacy that we live in where information is always at our finger tips and measures are always being taken to curtail waiting, we become forgetful of the fact that success isn’t always instantaneous. Generating a clever idea does not promise progress, does not assign accomplishment. We meet with achievement when we possess the dedication it takes to not only see the idea through, but also when we are willing to own when alterations are required and further, when we have the vision to make them effectively. Bobbi Brown’s brand’s initial spark ignited during an almost accidental conversation with a chemist and then through devotion to herself and her product, progressed from a really ingenious idea to a concrete reality. Success. After years of hard work and patience. After years of nurturing a notion.

I’ve also heard writers speak before about how some projects take years to craft, and something inside of me wonders if I possess that kind of patience and dedication required to write anything of true significance. Will I just dawdle my days through a hobby? Or will I finally pay it the attention it deserves to actually attempt to move it forward? Do I really lack the dedication or have I just not conceived the right project yet? I really thought after 51 days of blogging I would know better what it is I want to write, how to direct my attention. I really thought I would at least have figured out what kind of blog this is! But after listening to this podcast and others who have lived through this process, I realize that 51 days might not be enough….it might only be the beginning. Maybe I have more writing to do if I really want to figure that out. And it may not lead to anything at all, but at least I will know that I gave it everything I had…that I didn’t just extinguish the dream before it had a chance to become something more. That I didn’t abandon something I love simply because it might not take me anywhere. Actually, staying true to that part of myself, might be the best possible outcome anyway.

Some poems about dreams felt appropriate…

Harlem” and “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

My Little Dreams” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

“(“dive for dreams…”)” by E.E. Cummings

(Day 51!! I ordered my gluten free king cake today and it will be ready to be picked up next Monday–the hardest part will be waiting until I’ve written Tuesday’s blog to eat it!)

becoming

I was speaking with a student the other day about how when we aren’t paying attention, things in our lives (both insignificant and critical) change. Sometimes that change brings positivity and goodness and sometimes that change surreptitiously steals something irreplaceable. We also talked about how it can be hard to look back on that easier time, that time before. Pervasive jealousy can eat away at you in those moments if you aren’t careful. Jealousy for moments when you felt more yourself, more able, less confined, less troubled. I should know. I look back on the pre-inner ear days with great longing. In pictures from before this disorder began, I immediately recognize an ease to my smile that indicates I hadn’t yet suffered the weight of what was to come. I wonder who that girl could have become…what her life might have looked like…what she could have accomplished.

But, I had a student in a bit of a crisis with me, so I couldn’t stop there or even really linger. I had to bring a more important insight to her. And that was simply this: Don’t focus too much on who you feel like you were before this “thing” interrupted your journey, retrain your gaze on who you will become as a result…give that girl some grace and begin to wrap her in love and acceptance.

For my own purposes, it doesn’t matter who that smiling carefree girl in my pictures could have become without the illness; the fact of the matter is that the strength and determination I possess today was instilled because I walked through that fire…because it melted and reshaped me and I am stronger as a result. Is my life what I thought it would be? Nope. But that isn’t a terrible thing. Sure it would be nice to float through a simpler existence on this earth…to move through my days with nothing more than average human dilemmas. That is not the lot I drew and pouting about it only denies the beauty that my life still has to offer.

Of course I can say this because I’m currently on the other side of that fire and it is easier to see the truth because of that. But this student needed to know that she wasn’t alone. That she will reach the other side of her fire as well. She needed to know that it is okay to grow and to change in response to this life and it is also okay to feel frustrated and hurt that this change had to occur…but that giving up is not a worthwhile indulgence. She needed to know that she could still tackle amazing feats. She needed to know she’s not done yet just because it’s hard right now. And she needed to talk and to be heard. So I listened…for a while..before sharing anything with her. Because sometimes you need to empty the tank before you can be filled up again.

(For some reason, as I wrote this, Joy Harjo’s “Once the World was Perfect” came to mind. I think it was the beginning of the poem that resurfaced first–

“Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—”)
(And I also thought of this–“Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes)
(Day 49–7 weeks of daily blogging–and good thing I’m almost done. Parades have begun in full force and king cake is getting harder to resist!)

wisdom of yesterday

So, should you ever decide to venture into the realm of setting goals that can only be achieved through discipline (and I would say that is most goals), I strongly recommend prioritizing them and working toward them one at a time. Okay, so maybe this isn’t true in all cases. Maybe I’m just speaking about the predicament I have created for myself in both dedicating myself to a blog a day and to a healthier lifestyle. Those two objectives really should not complicate each other…except they do. Here’s why: In order to live this healthier lifestyle, exercising on a nearly daily basis is required. My work/family schedule mandates that take place in the darkness of early morning (before I work an often 12 hour school day). Conversely, in order to write daily, I have to wait until the day is essentially done…dinner has been cooked and the kids are in bed. This schedule means that I wake up at 4:30am and don’t get to write until somewhere around 9pm…when I am thoroughly exhausted and ready to just fall asleep on my couch while pretending to watch television!

The only thing making success possible isn’t the king cake prize at the end (shocking, I know). Rather, it is merely the determination to succeed. This is something I couldn’t have mustered even in small form last year at this time. I was so sick and spinning nearly everyday and was too weak to foster any sort of regular discipline. Writing was misery in those days because nothing stood still and because my brain was so focused on seeing straight that words were not so easy to recall and certainly didn’t flow into orderly sentences crafted with style and voice…so instead of persevering, I avoided. It seemed easier that way. To make all of this even worse, I also made a pretty conscious decision that since my body was being so antithetical, I would be disagreeable right back and proceeded to eat anything and everything that I wanted. I ate all the gluten, consumed all the sugar, sipped all the carbonated beverages. Did any of this make me feel better? Probably only in the moment where I fibbed myself into believing that I deserved the deceptively delicious nutritionally void delicacy. Beyond that, sugar and gluten simply are not my friends, but after learning to abide by the discomfort my inner ear brought, this food induced malaise paled.

This indulgence into the world of avoidance and emotional eating not only destroyed my once healthy habits, but also built new terrible ones. Which is partly why this challenge has been so important and partly why I’ve maintained it even when it would be so much more comfortable to quit and to attain a reasonable amount of sleep. Knowledge of what I was incapable of last year at this time…knowledge of how far I still had to go…knowledge that it could all come back in any given moment…brings a gratitude that drives me forward. I maintain my discipline because I can…because it is a gift…because no day should be taken for granted and what I actually deserve is to honor the parts of myself that need exercise–both my brain and my body. It would be selfish to do anything else and foolish to waste what I can do today.

Yesterday brings a clarity worth honoring.

(A poetic gift in honor of hard work… “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy Here she writes these lines and more…

“The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.” )

 

(Day 48! Written after family movie night and still relatively coherent…writing everyday has made that possible…the discipline is worth the discomfort)