Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stories we tell our children

Some of my strongest memories of Christmas Eve involve reading and my fathers voice.

My father was broken - as all human beings are - in significant ways, but he had many gifts.

He was a wonderful singer with a glorious tenor voice.
He was a paid soloist in our church; in fact, for years, he used to say that God knew the only way to get him in the front doors of His house before he could get into his heart was to pay him money!

My dad even started and participated in a singing ministry to the men in the NJ Penitentiary in Rahway for years.

On Christmas Eve, we would gather around the tree; it's lights providing the only illumination for the room and, for several magical moments, my fathers voice would be the only sound as he read two Christmas stories.

One 'secular' tale:
and one profoundly spiritual.

This wonderful book was a precursor to "pop-up" books.
Starting with the basic manager scene and going through 9 pages of adding increasingly complex layering, the story was told of our Saviours birth; images and phrasing that resonant with me even today.

I have inherited both these books from my childhood.

I read them to my children as they were growing up.
I didn't inherit my fathers voice - although I did inherit my own forms of brokenness - but I have no doubt that these same stories, in my own quavering soprano/alto voice, form equally potent memories for my sons.

The stories we tell our children matter.
Whether they're written in other peoples words and phrases or crafted with our own unique voice.

The most comforting message, for me, from the story told this night, is that we are not alone.
We are loved by God who sent His son - small, tiny and as vulnerable as we are- and He will make all that is broken whole.

The stories we tell ourselves matter too.

Merry Christmas.
May you, may we all, find peace in the Promise born tonight.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reason for thanks

I'm headed out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday.

GI Joe and I will head up to Evanston (IL) for an extended family gathering of 30+ people, all of us knit together by decades of shared memories and love rather than mere legal or familial ties.

I wish you all could be there. It's quite a sight; the group gathered looks like an old Benneton ad - skin colors in all shades of white, beige and brown - multi-generational and multi-ethnic; a testimony to the power of love and shared humanity being greater than individual differences and fear of the "other".

A large, noisy, opinionated, engaged and loving family, which bears no resemblance to the one into which I was born.

Art Boy will stay in KC to celebrate the day with HIS adopted tribe; a collection of people, artists and poets mostly; people who have loved and nurtured him since his undergraduate days and with whom he has journeyed to celebrate Thanksgiving even when living in LA or NYC.

A group of friends who all contribute their special dishes, be it lasagna, salad, smoked turkey, oysters or home brewed beer - a potluck and day of 'come as you are' and 'bring what you have' that starts early and ends late - a feast which miraculously is opulent and remarkably balanced, if unconventional, just like the artists who prepare it.

We cannot know in what place or person we may find home.

Thanksgiving is a day which exists solely so we can be grateful - for both the basics of life -shelter, food and warmth - and, if we're lucky, for abundance; for those 'extras' that enrich our lives beyond measure - being known, accepted, and loved.

May all of you recognize much in your life for which to be grateful; may you have abundance!
Hope it's a wonderful day!

(ps: going up to WI where there's no computer access; I'll start posting again when I get back.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

So not me!

A question for all you parents out there: have you ever had the chance to really see your child as being completely and totally separate from you?

It’s wonderful and hard and exciting and scary– since, more often than not, what we really see when we look at our progeny is a variation on a theme of “mini-Me”.
But it does happen - if we’re lucky.

I’m embarrassed to say that my personal moment of recognizing Art Boys completely “other” uniqueness didn’t happen until he was a junior in high school.

That year for Christmas, he presented me with an image he had drawn of Mary from Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’, using only a purple magic marker.

And I was totally blown away.

In fact, in one of my poorer parenting moments, which I’m sure both my children would tell you are as numerous as grains of sand at the shore, I said something along the lines of “Oh my God, I love it; who drew it?”

He patiently responded, “I did, Mom”.

Which only prompted from the now-forever out of-the-running-for-Mother-of-the-Year award- woman standing before him, “No, really; where did you get it; it’s wonderful”.

That whole fumbled encounter was the very first time I had allowed myself to see him, with all his own gifts and abilities which, by the way, bear absolutely NO resemblance to any I recognize in either his father or myself.

It amazed me that I had been living all those years with someone who had the talent to create such a powerful piece of work with something as ordinary as a marker.
I was stunned.

Seeing it on a daily basis in my room is a wonderful reminder that my children are not “mine”; they were created to be their own beings; to follow their own paths and to pursue their talents and dreams which may be, and generally are, vastly different than mine.

Today is my oldest son’s birthday.
He is an artist.
It takes a special kind of courage to produce art; to pour yourself into a creation and then step back, put it on display and symbolically say, “here I am; have at it”.
It takes even more courage to be willing to cobble together an economically marginal life so you can continue to honor what you believe you're called to do.

He has been my inspiration to be less afraid, to explore more, to play harder and more often and to challenge the ‘rules’ I impose on myself.

He has added color and joy and mystery to my life.

Being his mother has been a privilege that has changed me for the better.

Happy Birthday, Art Boy.
You are loved more than you can imagine – and your imagination is pretty damn good!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Artistic expression

I've been thinking a lot about what constitutes 'art' and who gets credit for the vision in the result that's finally presented to the world.

I am the mother of two grown sons - Art Boy and GI Joe and, as different as they are, I couldn't be prouder of either of them.

Art Boy has the studio, gallery openings and the student loans for a MFA to prove that he's a bona fide artist. He's been an inspiration to me 'cause he's living his dream - even if it still includes too many meals of Ramen Noodles, paintings I don't 'get' and an alternative life style that makes me nervous about catastrophic illness and to what residence his Social Security check will be going 30 yrs from now.

A few months ago, I was talking to him about how much I wanted to try drawing, painting or some other type of visual expression. I needed a break from journaling, reports and all the 'wordy' ways of framing and defining my world.

I’m creative but I'm not artistic; and while screaming, irate bangers and their babies’ mamas don't intimidate me, a box of watercolors or tubes of acrylics can bring me to my knees!

After listening to my whining about having no talent, no ideas and being afraid, Art Boy offered up both the requisite eye roll and an exasperated, "OMG, Mom; draw some lines and color them in; people have been doing that for centuries - and for ideas, go on line, see what other people are drawing and - insert GASP here - copy them!"

So I did that - because while it’s not a great parenting idea to do what your kids tell you when they're still too small to get on most rides at the amusement park, its good practice to follow their lead when they're functioning adults who are getting ready to tell you when you have to stop driving and what home they're putting you in.

So, for the past few months, by stretching WAY beyond my comfort level, giving myself permission to fail (and succeeding I might add), I have found a wonderful outlet for creativity and had fun doing it.

If you haven’t inferred from the conversation thus far, let me spell it out for you - - I am a totally derivative fledgling artist!

The pieces of ‘art work’ I produce at home are for my pleasure – and my sanity.
The process of playing with colors, paints and markers have prevented me from becoming a total loon and saved me from remaining curled in a fetal position, drooling in a corner - the end point of a work day that can suck the brains and will to live right out of my heart and head.
I apologize that while I was looking on line for images that spoke to me, I failed to pay any attention to the artists’ name who was putting his/her creation out there in the first place.

I have valued both the process of creating and the process of introspection about why this particular image was calling to me on a specific day.

If someone from outside my immediate circle of friends ever sees this journal and recognizes an image or picture that was originally done by their second cousin in Idaho, their best friend or their crazy neighbor – 1) I’m shocked, since they’re WAY better at this art stuff than I am and I’m surprised it bears any resemblance to their work at all. 2) it’s not been sold to anyone else, taking money out of your cousins/BFF/neighbors pocket; it’s still in my ‘art corner’ in my private cottage and 3) Thank them for me since their vision spoke to my heart, inspired me, helped me grow and has been a stepping stone on my path to finding my own 'voice' as an artist.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

...and I'm off...

I once overheard someone describe me as “that woman who levels with everyone although she’s a bubble off center herself”.

I chose to be amused, rather than offended, by that description since it contains a kernel of truth with which I can be comfortable – as long as the bubble leans left!

Ralph Waldo Emerson hit the nail on the head when he offered:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

I live to make a difference.
For nearly 3 decades, I have been a Social Worker in a tertiary level pediatric hospital in the Midwest, covering the Emergency room and child abuse cases.

I have seen the worst that human beings can inflict on each other and I have witnessed incredible acts of bravery and compassion.
I know that the power of Evil, like the power of Love, is real.
I live to continue tipping the scales, trusting in Gods promise that Loves power will truly get the last word.

I live well; not in the sense of having material wealth, riches or the ‘things’ that Madison Ave declares as essential for happiness, but in seeking balance, beauty and truth.

I am low tech and low maintenance.

I like to have fun and be irreverent.

I surround myself with relationships and objects that bring joy to my heart and a smile to my face and which serve as antidotes to the poison with which I have daily contact.

I am not an interior designer nor am I a master gardener.
I will not post pictures taken from books or online magazines featuring the most perfectly staged environments.
There is a place for the sites offering this unattainable visual eye candy – but this isn’t it!

I’m writing this journal for myself.
I have no store on Etsy or Ebay; nothing to sell; no point of view looking for converts

Fair warning: while for the sake of my clients’ privacy and my continuing employment, work situations will be modified for anonymity, my descriptions and my reactions to them will NOT be.

I live in the real world – and it’s a glorious mix of ugliness and beauty. In these posts, as in life, I will struggle to get the balance right.

I therefore offer the experiences that comprise my days, my thoughts, my reflections and those visual delights that speak to me.