Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jumping off the roller coaster

Jumping/pastel on paper

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My dreams focus on money, two in the last two weeks, in fact ... the only ones I can remember. My heart calls one way, to ministry, and my head, the other, toward earning a living. It's also the dilemma of having a sun in Capricorn, the grounded, loyal worker and a moon in Pisces, the watery, ethereal creature who prefers to live within the heart. Of being spiritual and practical. Of being contemplative, but wanting to act. Of having a mind that wants to accomplish NOW and a body that requires daily tending. Of living outside of the norm and embracing that.

In my practice of gratitude and abundance, I have been viewing my personal abundance as seeking and receiving grants [for rent and supplies] for Artsy Fartsy, the arts exploration ministry I do for under-served local kids, and through my husband's business. It is not an easy place for me. I want to earn my own way, but I have limitations. The fibromyalgia has pretty much wiped away a traditional career. I also had my kids later and they still need me. I am not ready to abandon them.

I write this blog as an outlet, to share myself with the hope of nurturing others and speaking to their condition, to keep my skills up and, hopefully, to aid in the time when I publish a book. I've intentionally kept the space free of clutter and ads, but seriously wonder if I should consider it as a source of income. Maybe add a donate button, but, sometimes that sounds tacky.

For 12 years, I've facilitated small groups, workshops and retreats. Once I was paid an honorarium.  I've had some good stints at longterm freelance writing/marketing jobs. But, not in awhile. I tend to forget that I had successful careers as a journalist and in corporate marketing BK  and BF [before kids/fibro].

I have a book I've put my soul into, and even taught from. It's been put away to season. I keep thinking it's time to take it out again. In a funny way, it's morphed into the work I am currently doing.

All of these things have been buzzing in and out of my brain for some time. I haven't really paid them much attention. Until Sunday,when the message in worship focused on the Quaker tradition of unpaid ministry. Our minister, who is paid, struggled with that. Unpaid, I struggle with it as well. That option worked in a time when the faith community supported its ministers and an agrarian society supplied dormant periods for ministry.

Years ago, after a wonderful retreat on stewardship at our Meetinghouse, the facilitator's words that we should be supporting individual ministries kept ringing in my heart. For months. Until, when the congregation easily agreed to spend a large sum on new windows, I couldn't contain myself. "What about supporting ministry?" I was compelled to ask publicly, not really meaning my own, which was unformed then. The community responded, over time, by dedicating an endowment with just that mission. 

For some reason, I haven't applied for my Meeting's funds for Artsy Fartsy, though two other Quaker organizations, including the one to which that wise retreat facilitator belongs, have funded my work. Ideally, I want someone to fund me, my salary.

A few years ago, during a clearness committee, a Quaker process of listening to where God is working when an individual seeks discernment on a specific issue, I said that out loud. I got no response. Silence is pretty standard among Quakers.

I think I knew then that I was supposed to ask my faith community to financially support me. Only it wasn't time yet. This inner struggle is pushing me in that direction. I am afraid, however, of asking. Afraid of the cold silence as a response. Afraid that I won't be judged worthy enough. Afraid of a negative answer. They have been generous with supplies and time, really anything I for which I have asked.

One of my dreams revolved around my father telling me he didn't approve of or understand my working so hard for no financial gain. The other was a conversation with one of my models of faith, a deceased aunt. She and I were chatting about her career as an opera singer/teacher and how easily money had come to her. She made it sound like it works that way for everybody. The comment filled me with doubt and I said that was not my experience.

I have to confess I recently applied for a job, one that I would have loved when I lived in the regular work world. I was upfront about not having full time flexibility.  It's just so clear to me that I need to work, but on terms that work for me.

I keep thinking about the congregational query in Sunday's bulletin: 
How do we live in solidarity with those who are called into a ministry that demands their primary focus and makes paid employment challenging?

• What splits me apart?
• How do I reconcile my work life and my spiritual life?
• How do I join them?
• What about others for whom traditional work is not an option?
• How can I take my work role into my spiritual life?

on the roller
coaster of the
regular work
week for a long time

no big deal,
just what you did

until you
couldn't –
for some reason

the dilemma

if you're not
jumping back on

and are called

how do you
do that
with integrity?

and what do
you do in
the interim?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Magic of the red glasses

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RED has always been my favorite color: shiny, red tricycle; warn and well-loved red sailor shirt, kids' size 5; college colors, red and white; binge car, 1996 red Jeep Cherokee with black, leather seats.

And now, alas, I have to say goodbye to my all-time favorite red glasses that have adorned my face six, maybe seven, years. They're plum worn out, surviving through two lens changes and new ear pieces. I've been heading toward a new pair for several years, helping these limp along because I can find nothing else I like.

So, it makes me wonder why I am overly fond of this particular pair. They're loud for one thing, announcing that I AM wearing glasses ... no blending in. Their rectangular shape suits my square face, an astute hair stylish told me once. They're classic RayBans; though I'm not name conscious, I am very appreciative of good, timeless design. And, obviously, they're red. For some reason, I feel like they make my personality sing. To me, they blare artist.

I've tried other pairs on and off, mostly on this week, for a good year and have not found any that speaks to me in the same way; they should considering the cost of my prescription is pretty expensive. The red was an impulse switch at the last moment. After purple, then the beloved red, I have wanted orange. All optical stores, save one, think I'm odd searching for orange. I wish you could select the front of the frames, then side pieces separately: an orange face, purple and green side pieces, Now that would sing.

I wonder what Carl Jung would have to say about all of this. He was a colorful guy.

I understand the time period in which I have worn these bold specs aligns with me emerging from the early mom years into my own again. I went back to school, developed my spiritual nurture work, took up freelance assignments again, graduated from an art table tucked into my kitchen to a garage studio and now one in a former classroom and am feeling my way back into the world. No more hiding and letting the fibromyalgia dictate who I am and limit what I can accomplish. The red glasses screamed otherwise. On truly trying days, putting them on gave me strength and helped me reclaim my identity pre chronic-disease days.

I can hide behind them AND show myself. They're sort of magical.

How do I replace that?

I'm not sure that I do. Perhaps the platinum-and-orange pair I finally discovered signals a new phase. Red symbolizes energy, vitality, strength and strong emotions. Orange denotes balance, warmth and enthusiasm and is less aggressive than red. In terms of the chakra energy centers, red stands for the root, instinct, security and survival. Orange is the sacral chakra and governs relationships, creativity, emotional needs, pleasure, joy and spirituality. Wonder if I don't need the red to scream for me anymore and I'd rather bask in the warmth of the orange because I feel secure. Hmmmmmmm ...

• To what am I clinging lately?
• What message is there for me?
• What colors speak to me?
• How can I interpret those?
• Where am I currently on my journey?

I grabbed them

have held on

hesitating to
let go

have the outlived
their purpose?

am I ready
to move on?

from what?
to what?

what have these
red eyeglasses

and what have
they uncovered?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MORE of myself under a mask

Tad Barney photo

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They marched, in unison, their steps gaining strength as they did. Flowing beauties, hiding behind Venetian masks and under brocaded capes. Two princesses lounged in the tent, lodging themselves comfortably on the ample pillows. One transformed almost immediately as I passed the mask ties over her lustrous, thick pony tail.

Outwardly, they were expressing who they were inwardly: competent, intelligent, courageous, creative, beautiful girls. Who could imagine these girls had arrived coming from single-parent homes, bounced around, living with grandparents, dad's who made sure they get every opportunity and mom's who worked three jobs to make ends meet? Girls, who probably don't get a lot of extras, perhaps, including attention.

My dream has been to change that. That the minute they get off the van and set foot in my studio, they begin to believe they are not necessarily a product of their environment or circumstance. This is not to say they aren't loved and well cared for at home; someone cared enough to register them for Artsy Fartsy.

Even with just two sessions and a registration event in their complex, I think Artsy Fartsy is spinning some magic.

The plan was to make reminder calls late afternoon Thursday, but I had forgotten, this task lost to my anniversary, a daughter's busy marching band schedule and my husband's weekend art opening. Instead, I made them Friday and, it seems, that was Someone Else's schedule as I reached every household. Those conversations were incredibly revealing:
Taf Barney photo

"Just a minute, Elizabeth's here, I'll get her ... Hello, Oh, yeah. Yes, I'll be there. I thought you were calling to cancel and I was starting to cry." This from the tough, lovable Tomboy.

"She got the note you wrote a couple of weeks ago and has been waiting to go ever since."

"They've been talking about it every day for a week."

"Yes, she'll be there this time. We had problem last time, but she WILL be there. This is really wonderful."

"I used to do art and she's so good at it. I'm glad there is something for her. I wish I hadn't given it up."

"I'm bringing Anjela; she wants me to see Artsy Fartsy and the work she has already done. I do a lot of art myself."

"My second-grader loves art, too, maybe she can do it in a few years when she's old enough."

"My mother signed her up and I am so glad she did; yes, her grandfather is here now and he says he will be sure she comes."

That was before they had a clue that pristine white, papier-mâché, long-nosed masks and elegant capes awaited them. I had announced last time we would make Venetian masks, but who knows what that meant to them. I wanted to tease them.

As soon as Justice walked in, she proudly held up her sketchbook and pulled a wonderfully rendered drawing of the Titantic. "See, I did what you said in the letter. I did have time to make a sketch to put up in here." I let her select where to hang it. Silly me, I had almost forgotten what I had written a couple of weeks ago.

"Oh yeah, I got my letter, too."
"Me, too"
"I don't ever get anything in the mail."
"I knew it was coming because you said so" when we bumped into each other at Kroger.

For them, it's the little things many of us take for granted that matter.

I introduce the Artsy Fartsy theme with a question and ask them to play with it as they create. This time it was: How can I be MORE of myself when I am behind a mask?"

Of course, there's always one or two that have to offer an immediate answer. Ten minutes later, after capes were dispensed, instructions bleated and materials assembled, you could have heard a pin drop. They were seriously creatively focused. So much so they didn't realize they were being photographed (of course we already had parental permission and these girls are not shy).

Before they could get carried away with glue and brushes, they were asked to spend some time choosing the palette of papers they would decoupage with to ensure it complemented their cape. They readily complied sorting through the fancy tissues and textures, thinking it through. All wanted their capes in sight – though not on the work tables – as inspiration.
Tad Barney photo

The quicker ones helped the others and the perfectionists realized they did, indeed, have enough time. Barely enough time for a quick dress rehearsal and photo shoot. Volunteers gladly offered to clean up so the girls could revel in their creations ... though some insisted on helping.

They twirled, admired themselves in the full-length mirror and, simultaneously, began to march down the hall, the rhythm of their feet growing louder as their confidence increased. I could not have asked for any better answer to my original question: "How can I be MORE of myself when I am behind a mask?"

• How does hiding allow me more freedom?
• What would I like to express about myself that I often don't?
• What does the inner child in me want to show the world?
• When was the last time I felt confident in my own skin?
• Why was that?


it happens

I set out
to teach a
bunch of kids

and the
on me

they have so
much more
to give me

than I ever
could have

Thank you,

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Seizing cat, circling cat

Himmers resting in the sun/Tad Barney photo 

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Over the 20-plus years we've lived here, my yard seems to be the repository for sick, diseased and orphaned cats, which is funny, given I am allergic to the furry creatures. I'll be the ONE in a room full of people the cat immediately snuzzles, purring for petting.

That has not kept me from bringing in a few in along the way, finding homes for and, sadly, taking a few to the no-kill shelter.

They must have radar for the one with the weakest defenses, the human they know can't resist their big-eyed-kitty charms. Or do they have an elaborate underground communication network that, in some symbolic way, tags a cat-friendly yard? During the Great Depression, tramps had markers for food-friendly homes, I figure cats do, too.

I learned the hard way not to leave food out. Someone had warned me I’d be asking for trouble, but my big heart wanted to feed ALL of the hungry cats. I did not anticipate they’d fight for the food, mark their territory and leave an awful mess. That only lasted a few days and then I adopted this motto: If I feed, I fix.

Three marvelous strays have become our house cats. One was lost and stuck under our deck. I crawled part-way under with a flashlight, rescued and fed her. She continued to hang around and the older companion that had escorted her to our yard soon disappeared. We referred to her as Girl Kitty because we weren’t keeping her … well, not until some neighborhood girls tried to take her twice. We had her for 15 wonderful years, though she began to glower when the second housecat arrived.

Him Kitty (my young niece named him to go with Girl Kitty), affectionately known as Himmers, survived most of a winter sitting butt-to-butt like bookends with his clone on my front-porch wicker loveseat.  Early one spring morning, he meowed at me in desperation and I fed him; his partner was nowhere to be seen. Soon, he was living inside. Himmers is now somewhere between 17 and 18 and doing fairly well, except for his idiosyncratic circling to the right in the kitchen.  I think it’s the attention and loving he gets daily.

Buffalo, our third indoor pet, got a real name because my daughter, Autumn, insisted. She had not been around when the first two arrived. Him and Girl really were my first two children. They also taught me how to de-stress and relax. You can learn a lot observing, holding, petting and caring for cats.

We’ve held Buff almost since birth. He was born in our detached garage with four siblings. We managed to find homes for the rest and hung onto him. He’s a big, beautiful Maine Coon and a youngster compared to Himmers.

In between these three, two very sick cats have come to die in our yard. Both, I held, fed and cared for until, at the very end, they crawled off to leave this earth. In a strange way, I was honored that they showed up for their final days. Guess the cat message got around.

I have a small studio in our garage and, while I have loved sharing it, fleas and cats dying in the rafters have been unwelcome guests. I once found one frozen and flat in the back alley.

More recently, Patches, has been living in our yard. Years ago, Tad caught him in a raccoon trap and carted him off to the vet to be neutered and immunized. We did that with three, thinking they could survive on their own; beats euthanasia. Patches had been cared for by the neighbor across the street, who is a mega cat lover. Her health prevents that now. One morning not so very long ago, I discovered him holed up in a corner of our deck. The same corner Himmers inhabited the weekend we think he had a stroke. Naturally, I believed he was ill. He wouldn’t move. We fed him for a couple of days and he seemed fine and, eventually made his way back outside. Probably scared inside by an intimidating animal. We now feed him regularly and I know Betty appreciates it. It’s one less worry for her. She had warned me he had seizures. I thought, perhaps, it was her illness talking. I’d spent a lot of time with this cat and never witnessed one.

Tad did over the weekend. I had never mentioned Betty’s diagnosis, so he tried to help, then went to get a box to drag him to the vet. “How did you get that close to him (Patches does now let us pet him on the head)?” I asked. “He was in no shape to argue,” Tad said.

Fortunately, Patches recovered rather quickly and was back to his normal self. But I was so touched that Tad, who pretends he doesn’t care, would schlep this wild cat off, once again, to the vet.

Somehow, I think we’ve adopted Patches if only on his terms (to live outside, but provide food and winter shelter) and to ease Betty’s mind.

What is it about this furry creatures that is so enduring and alluring … enough that I fight my allergies to be with them?

• What’s my best cat story?
• How has a pet transformed my life?
• What have I learned from animals/pets?
• Where do I feel pets belong in God’s kingdom?
• Why is it easier, sometimes, to care for a pet than a person?

bad day,
cranky attitude
no matter what is it

my cats always have
time for me

well, not that
they have a choice

and their mere
calms me,

whatever I was
feeling into
a warm peacefulness

how can God
not be near?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The grand dance called love

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When my Quaker minister* announced she was giving her message on darkness, I nearly fell off the pew. Hurray, I thought, FINALLY a Quaker will actually speak of the dark and not the perennial light to which everyone clings. 

She prefaced her homily saying she wasn't sure why she was compelled to speak on this theme given it was such a lovely day. I wanted to shout: because some of us live in the darkness and if we don't ever talk about it, we feel isolated, lonely and less than.

But I didn't. Instead, I listened. To her and the handful of others who shared. I am not the only one who lives in darkness, their messages affirmed.

I also had a conversation a few weeks ago with my "other" child, the 12-year-old son of my best friend. We met and bonded deeply when she was pregnant with her only and I, with my second. We are a block from each other – a quick hike down the alley – and live somewhat communally from time to time. We say we are the family we chose. As you may suspect, I have a close relationship with Caleb, the 12-year-old. He came from another place and is the purest spirit I know. I have always teased him that he is my Mountain Sprite. For some time, his mother has been urging me to discuss darkness and lightness with him. Well, that chance came in my safe and wonderful studio. He was relaxing on my front-row section of theater seats and began. I asked a few, probing questions and let him just flow with it ... which it what he does. I am not certain he is even all that conscious of what passes through him. Basically, he said, there is no difference between dark and light ... they are just aspects of the same thing.

Hmmmmm. Early Quakers talked about the "light" convicting us and shining God's love on those dark places. But I had always thought of that as discovered and undiscovered, pure and impure, exposed and unexposed: opposites. I also buy into Carl Jung's conception of shadow as the unexplored parts of ourselves that need attention in order for healing wholeness to happen. But they always seemed like distinct entities to me, then, again, I was brought up in a world of duality. Yet I have always preferred odd numbers, perhaps, a philosophy of oneness and a variety of possibilities, not either or.

Wednesday, my shaman echoed Caleb; that light and dark are the same.

I tend to get locked into this or that and locked is the key here. It can be immobilizing. My shaman constantly reminds me there is  a "rainbow of choice."

In her message, the minister said she seeks the light because she may not be strong enough for the darkness and quoted Quaker founder George Fox's vision that over the sea of darkness rolls the ocean of light.

My quest is to not be overtaken by the darkness. In worship, after the darkness message, I wondered if, perhaps I have invited the darkness in and it's too much for me. How do I uninvite it? Or, if it's the same as the light, how do I see the light aspect?

When I shared with my shaman how I had struggled for a number of weeks, almost resorting to a quick fix that I knew would have long-term, devastating effects for me, he said; "You've already been in the dark and pulled yourself out." He also reminded me to seek help: humans and divine. Sometimes I forget that. As if I am so deeply mired and it's my job to extricate myself. Is that the key here? Asking for help?

At the end of the powerful worship centered on the topic of darkness, someone requested the song "Lord of the Dance" set to my favorite Shaker tune, Simple Gifts. The chorus is:

Dance, dance, wherever you may be I am the lord of the dance, said he And I lead you all, wherever you may be And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

I am teary even now reading those lyrics because the answer to the dark/light question for me is so clearly in following God/Jesus, whose voices narrates the song. It reminds me of a phrase that came to me years ago in a dark moment when I asked a question: 

What’s this time of loss been? 
Healing, recovering, preparing  ...We’ll create together.Just let me in more fully.You’ve knocked and I’ve opened the door.The dance has begun in full.You’re my partner and we’ll attract others to this grand dance called love.

• What are my theories of darkness and lightness?
• What has my experience been with both?
• How often do I talk about the darkness? In what context? With whom?
• What pulls me from the darkness?
• When/how have I been called the the grand dance called love?

* that sounds so weird as Quakers consider all are ministers, but I am a member of a hybrid meeting where there is a wonderful balance of a prepared message, silence and vocal ministry of others led to do so