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collision

There are some things that we as artists have to take on alone. When I wrote Crows,” I was almost completely solitary. But I am most often not an artist who totally keeps to herself. I like to collaborate with others, to give out what I’ve taken in and share what I’ve learned, to experience the energy exchange that comes with getting in a huddle to create something beautiful, whether it be a song, a performance, or a film.

There’s an opportunity for an electric type of magic to burst up out of voices blending, instruments getting in rhythm — one with the other — and minds leaning toward a center in search for something not necessarily higher than a lone one can find, but something that is almost always somehow more empathetic. To collaborate successfully, we have to listen to each other.

Today’s post is in honor of Steven “Flip” Lippman, who passed away yesterday. He directed, “Fly Low, Stay Close,” (thank you to The Bitter Southerner) for my sister and me just before we released our album, “Not Dark Yet.” Flip got us, and got our music. When we let him in to who we are and what we’d done, he was able to take those things and shine a light on them in a way that no one else would’ve done in quite the same way. We were blown away by the finished piece and were so thankful to Flip for seeing us, for hearing us, and for so lovingly presenting us. Our collision was a great one, and one I am (and I know she is) grateful for.

You never know what journey you will take and with whom you will take it. One of the most beautiful things about making art with others is that it indeed transports you to a land you couldn’t have traveled to alone. With this missive, I pray that Flip has been transported to peace, and I hope he’s seeing and feeling at a whole new number of frames per second. However fast or slow it’s all going, I’ll bet it’s beautiful. Thank you, brother.

Happy Monday and happy colliding,

AM

 

collision: the meeting of particles or of bodies in which each exerts a force upon the other, causing the exchange of energy or momentum.

lineage

I wasn’t expecting my weekly post inspiration to come from Beyoncé today. She is on the cover of the upcoming September issue of US Vogue, and the email I got this morning announcing that and featuring gorgeous photos of her gorgeous self caught my attention. I clicked. I then read the “as told to,” interview, and went back to this paragraph over and over until I wrote it down on a notepad to the right of my keyboard.

“I come from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationship. Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes me both bruised and beautiful.”

Y’all know I am about to put this memoir of mine to bed. In fact, I am working on the edits all day every day right now. The timing, as it always is because there is poetry in the world and in every particle of dust, is perfect. Much, okay almost all, of the material involves my parents. The anniversary of their deaths is once again staring me in the face — this Sunday, August 12, will mark thirty-two years that they’ve been gone.

So as you can imagine, I’ve studied my lineage quite a lot. Not just the who, but the what. I want to know what made/makes me the way that I am. Why do I struggle with this thing and breeze through that one? What am I dragging into my days and relationships that I should’ve left behind long ago? Why is it so hard for me to leave any of it behind? Why can I detach at the same time? Who were these people that shaped me so and then left me here to deal with their creation alone? Why am I sometimes thankful they’re not here to muck it up further? How am I lucky to have had the upbringing that I did? How can I still love them so much my heart feels like it will burst? How do I forgive? How do I not? How did I survive it? How am I free from it? How am I bound?

I won’t ever stop digging through it I don’t think. And Beyoncé, queen that she is, helped me see why. I want to make it better. I want to make me better. I don’t think we as humans want to struggle as hard as we do. I think we’re always reaching for understanding whether we know it or not, whether we’re consciously working toward comprehension of such complicated matters as family and lineage or not. Those matters are within us, therefore it is within us to try to figure them out.

When I look at my Mama and Daddy as children and into their two beautiful, innocent faces, I shake my head and tear up at the very idea that their lives were cut so short and cut so short in such a horrendous way. My heart breaks for the children that they were and for the adults that had the same hearts they were born with, however battered they had become when they died. I see my sister in them, I see myself in them, and most of all I see my son in them, God bless him.

I dig into my lineage almost constantly for him, so that I can try my best not to pass on the horrific and instead give him all the good that I was given. I dig into my lineage almost constantly for those who love me, so that I can try my best to act right, not screw up constantly, so I can be smart and cool like my Daddy, and capable, creative, open-hearted, and willing like my Mama. I dig into my lineage almost constantly for myself, so that I can ease up a little more each day, and find some compassion for the beautiful, innocent face and heart I once had.

Happy digging and happy Monday, y’all.

Sending so much love to everyone today, and thank you, Beyonce.

AM

interstitial (storytelling part II)


“What have I done? Why did I do this?”

Those two thoughts were all I could think as tears fell down my face after I took off my glasses and covered my cheeks with my hands this morning. I had just finished the first read through of my editor’s suggestions to my manuscript. The manuscript is of a memoir I’ve written about my childhood which, God willing, will be released next fall.

 

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong. In fact, there was something awfully right going on. About 1,000 words away from the finish line I read a line that rattled me — and I realized I’d done my job. It isn’t a perfect job, but it is a wholehearted one.

 

You can see at the top of the page of the scribbled outline in this photo the word interstitials. Spaces in between. Throughout the manuscript I’ve included some entries that stand apart from the narrative. We (I and the mighty team that kept me going on this work) started calling them interstitials, as they serve as either bridges from one passage to the next, or as indicators of breaks in thought that could only be shared on the page as bottled lightning bolts or hammered railroad spikes.

And now, another interstitial. The space between the finishing and the letting go.

I’ve never been one to return to my work. I make a thing and then let y’all have it while I move on to the next part of the story I need to tell. There is nothing different happening here, except that the editing process of a book takes much longer than any part of the process of any record I’ve ever heard of and requires more returning. Records are not books and songs are not chapters and sentences are not verses or choruses. Yes, the two art forms share some qualities but I’ll not discuss those today within this allotted hour. What I want to say is that returning, for me, is another revelation. Returning, for me, produces yet another space, where I must hover over something I’ve already done but see it in a new way. There was the completion, then the waiting, then returning to do the “do you like it?”-ing, then more waiting, now the returning for the “do I still like it? Is this any good at all?”-ing, and there will be even more returning, even more waiting. More interstitials. There will be more rattling like there was this morning. But with every phase, I grow somehow. I learn. I appreciate. I am so thankful for the way I’ve gotten to live — and for being allowed to gather such amazing stories in the spaces between every line.

 

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

 

storytelling

Everyone has a story to tell. They’re all interesting in some way.

I was thinking this morning about how important it is to be able to tell our stories. And to tell them to someone. To have someone listen. To have them acknowledged. To be able to say, “This is what happened. This is what happened to me. This is what happened to my people.” Saying something out loud makes it real in a way that keeping it inside doesn’t. It’s such a relief.

I read a lot of memoir. Not only because I have worked on one for years (to be published in Fall 2019 — yay for me), but because I find personal stories so interesting and I love an original voice. And every voice, when it is speaking the truth, is original. I am always looking for a common thread, I suppose, something to make me feel like less of an outsider in this world, something that will make me feel like I am not as strange as I imagine myself to be and that I somehow belong. It’s amazing how much we find we have in common with each other when we stop to listen to each other tell our stories.

Someone said to me the other day that it must be strange to go from songwriting for so many years to prose writing. I said yes, the discipline is quite different, but I’ve been working in memoir for over twenty years. I’ve always been telling my story in some way.

It strikes me that making and relating art isn’t so much about the look at me, but about the look at us.

My heart is moved by every story in some way. We are all connected by our commonalities. We should talk and share more often.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

 

blindness

I’m talking about the willful kind.

I’m fascinated by this behavior because we all so often exhibit it. Every one of us.

Human beings are ridiculously stubborn. Why do we ignore the obvious not only in order to support what we want to believe because it suits our agenda, but also to ultimately prevent having to change? We try to ignore the things that don’t scaffold our plans, and seek out only the information that does, creating a continuous confirmation bias that allows us to go forward with what we think we want. It’s an evolutionary tendency that is necessary, I suppose, we have to keep the species going, but the idea still leaves me astounded when I think of the lengths to which we’ll go to look past something that’s right under our noses.

I think of it first in terms of new love, because it’s easy to comprehend that. We’ve all been there. We meet someone who we really like and see them through a soft pink lens, ignoring the little habits that will make us crazy a year down the road or even something like the fact that they always turn their phone face down when we’re present or worse, that they hide it away in their pocket, not allowing us to see it at all. “He’s just trying to let me know he’s focusing on me.” Nope. Actually, he’s probably hiding something from you. We seek out the good feelings of security and confidence, when we should actually be looking at the evidence square on.

We also do it with politicians, friends, family members, even things like restaurants we think we’re supposed to like and rave about. It’s some sort of internal personal hype man situation. “Look at how great this is! SEE! You’re right — it’s awesome. Don’t look over there at that man behind the curtain! Nothing to see there.”

We don’t like knowing what we don’t want to know. If we know it, and we admit it to ourselves, aren’t we then required to change? And God, we hate changing. We’d rather keep things the same, comfortable and familiar and even sometimes wrong as long as its something we know. So of course we ignore what we don’t want to see.

As it applies in the law, it means keeping oneself purposefully ignorant in order to try to use, ‘I didn’t know,” as a defense. Aren’t we, and shouldn’t we be, required to know, to not turn away in an attempt to overlook the truth?

We shut down our intuition. We tune out those little voices, those little taps on our shoulders or sometimes even downright ignore the slap in the face of what’s in front of us. It’s amazing.

Then, if and when we finally wake up we always ask, “How could I have been so blind?”

That’s just been on my mind lately. I don’t think I want to choose to not know.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

PS – What is that quote about a relationship being as successful as the people in it are willing to stay in the role assigned to them by the other person?

 

notes

I, as you might’ve imagined, am big on the handwritten note. I don’t send them as often as I should. One reason for that is that my address book (yes, the one in my phone) is sparsely populated with actual physical addresses — we just don’t keep up with each other that way anymore — and instead holds tons of email contacts and phone numbers. That’s fine. I love email too. I love texting for the most part. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t love texting. It just seems to be necessary these days and I’ll take whatever I can get when it comes to staying in touch with my people.

I was raised on the handwritten thank you note, the birthday card, the letter sent just to say I’m thinking of you. Though I’ve gotten way too lax about sending them in recent years — and I torture myself with guilt over it even though people say it doesn’t really matter anymore (trust me, it matters to some of us) when I fail to properly send my wishes: thank you, birthday, condolence, or otherwise — I want to, in my burgeoning middle-aged lady years, get back to it. There’s a principle about the thing that I’d like to uphold. Some things in life technology definitely does not make better. Excitedly running from the mailbox to the house holding a phone in your hand just doesn’t have the same romantic quality as letting a letter wave in the wind just a little bit while you breathlessly enter the front door and rip open the enveloped addressed to you. Holding a note or letter in your hand that someone cared enough to take time to handwrite (we can hardly write anymore – that’s another topic), address, stamp, and carry to the post box seems somehow so much more intentional that the tossed off text or email. Again, I am guilty of the hasty, too quick practice to which I refer.

So with exactly 3 dragonfly embossed, petal pink notes left in my stash that I was about to use post birthday, I was delighted to stumble across a gorgeous instagram post by the oh-so-talented leather worker, furniture maker, and extraordinarily kind and cool father of 4, Emil Erwin (he made me a tote several years ago that is one of my prized possessions). He related that his 2nd child, daughter Virginia, was born with Aicardi Syndrome and has a lot of special needs. Those needs can place an extra financial burden on a family and I can, as you know, relate to that very well. Emil also wrote that his wife Leslie started and runs a gorgeous stationery company to not only raise awareness for Virginia’s condition but to also help offset the costs associated with having a special needs child. I was, of course, on the website placing an order quicker than you can say hand-stamped, beautifully lined, heavy cardstock.

My cards were in the mailbox yesterday and they are indeed divine. They are heavy and simple without being (egads) pretentious, and that’s a fine balance to strike. They are also lined with a selection of papers that you get to choose from: from a camp theme to confetti to wildflowers to space, and they come with a gold foil seal for the back. I ordered lots of thank you and happy birthdays, and even chose a hand-stamped personalized set of correspondence cards with blue confetti lining for myself and another set for a friend. They are wonderful and I’m itching to put my scrawl on one.

There’s talk about a return to civility all the time. Hear Hear. We desperately need it in this day and age of such a lack of decorum. I’m going to try harder to do my part to make sure that the niceties of life don’t fall completely by the wayside. Those little gestures, those small happinesses, those bits of gentility, are part of what keeps our heads above muddy and murky waters. Join me, won’t you?

Visit www.saint-virginia.com and update your stash. You won’t be sorry.

Happy Monday Y’all.

AM

 

vulnerability

How do I say what I want to say about this subject in one hour? It’s on my mind so much lately.

The conversation about it with a nearest and dearest. The event or revelation that takes my breath away for days and then I realize I feel certain emotions more acutely than I ever have. The physical need to take things just a tiny bit more slowly than I used to. The not being able to get by anymore on 4 1/2 hours of sleep. The give of mushy ground beneath my feet when I experience real fear and uncertainty. It’s difficult to admit that I am not getting tougher as I go. In fact,  it seems it’s quite the opposite.

Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Am I supposed to become more fragile as I age, and therefore more careful? Could this vulnerability that has smacked me in the forehead bring on, as a result, a wiser state?

I adore Brene Brown. She’s one of my heroes and in fact, I think she’s a social genius. Her research on shame and vulnerability is ground breaking and wonderful and I’ve even taken her online course. I love that she says we have to risk stepping out, admit our truths, and dare to be exposed even though we’re scared to death to do it. That in order to live fully and experience wholeheartedness and real joy we have to fully feel the not so joyous things. She is spot on. But that’s not exactly what I’m thinking about or talking about today. It is sort of, but not exactly.

What I’m saying is that I have to remind myself to take it a bit more easily, to take time to think, to not pile so much on these days because it feels risky to push myself quite so hard in any department, even in terms of emotional daring. I’ve always gone too far and done too much and have expected myself to be able to effortlessly handle it all, no matter what the all entailed. Who knew I wasn’t indestructible? I didn’t. It’s as if I’m now watching life out of the corner of my eye while I sit still and focus on making no big movements. I need to bolster myself before I make any more of those.

The erosion of invincibility happens in increments. A million tiny cracks, a thousand little cuts, a hundred subtle blows to the spirit, and I hear my inner voice saying, “Be careful now. Hold onto these moments, these thoughts, these pieces and do not toss them away.” What was the thing that made that finally happen? Who knows? What is the most damaging straw for the camel’s back?

I’ve been practicing sitting down and shutting up. It is simply required these days. I realize that I don’t know what might be the straw for my own back.

It’s hard to admit that I am not completely made of gristle. I am far more tender that I ever expected to be. What’s beautiful about it is that it gives me, somehow, more appreciation of my life and of others’ lives. I have more patience with myself and with my fellow perfectly flawed beings. I don’t feel compelled to say yes to every single thing. I can manage, from time to time, to not beat myself up for not working constantly. Most importantly, I don’t feel like I have to push my feelings away and be what the world considers tough. Admitting my vulnerability, however recently, has made me have to stop and consider everything, because it all counts. Finally, praise be, the way I treat myself counts. I hear my inner voice no matter what it says instead of tuning it out and forging headlong regardless of whether forging is what I really need to be doing. I don’t need to forge so much at the moment.

Maybe it really is age, maybe it’s experience, or maybe we just get worn down enough that we have to give ourselves a break before we actually break. In any case, I’m happy to be embracing, instead of fighting, my humanity. I’d like to one day be a wise old lady with a silvery grey bun on top of my head and a wide smile on my weathered face. And I don’t know if starting to take it just a tiny bit easier on myself has allowed me to see her, but there she is in my windshield, and she is quite a vision.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

PS – don’t worry. I’m still kicking ass.

 

removal

I, like most everyone else, have been horrified and sickened by the reports of children being separated from their parents or caregivers at this country’s borders. It is almost too much for me to imagine the pain of every person going through such a nightmare, one that is heart-wrenching, one that is traumatizing in both the present and that will be for the rest of their lives, and one that is unnecessary and avoidable.

I remember sitting in the front seat of the car with my Mama one morning as she was dropping me off at my elementary school. I became frantic that I wouldn’t see her again for whatever reason — the anxiety raging in me that had been produced by the cornucopia of dysfunctional delights at home, or just a child’s moment of neediness — and I began to cry and beg her to take me to work with her. I needed to be close to her for a little while longer that morning, and she, being soft-hearted despite the strength she often displayed in raising my sister and me, honored my request and let me sit beside her at her desk at the courthouse for a few hours. When I felt better, she took me to school. I was six-years-old.

I know now that I spent most of my childhood feeling insecure about my footing in the world because I was unsure about hers. I was always afraid that I would lose her. There are now myriad examples of how those feelings have manifested themselves in my adult life. I’m one of the lucky ones — I’ve been able to trace it all back and find many of the events that ultimately produced my mass of symptoms — and I still, even with all of these years lived and with a lot of personal work done — catch myself in the throes of reptile brain, reacting and thrashing around, sometimes wreaking havoc in my own life because I’ll do anything I can think of to do to just be safe (though safe is a relative term and I don’t always know what it actually is) — until I can talk myself into a calmer state.

I can’t imagine what those children who are now separated from their families feel, who are not just being dropped off at school for the day. Who is holding them? Who is loving them? Who is making sure they eat? Who is playing with them when they’re in, “foster care or whatever?” Who is making sure they aren’t mistreated and abused? What about the ones who can’t communicate in english? What about the ones who can’t communicate AT ALL? I’m sure there are some. How will any of them ever recover from having the only safety they’ve ever known, their families, taken away? Think, for a minute, about how all of that trauma will reverberate into the world.

Look, I know the arguments about why people shouldn’t try to cross the border illegally. I understand them. It can’t just be a free for all in the supposed land of the free. But why are we so removed from the feelings that cause such actions? How can we sit back and not be able to imagine ourselves attempting to escape violence, extreme poverty, lack of resources and education and medical services in whatever way we could? Why is it that so few of us seem to be able to imagine ourselves being in such unlucky positions? Insert the quote about being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple here…

Why do we consider those less fortunate than we are to be the others? All it takes to be an other is being unlucky enough to be born in a country that isn’t as prosperous as this one. All it takes to be an other is making a few decisions that turn out to be the wrong ones. All it takes to be an other is being born non-white. Yes, I just wrote that down.

Just imagine, for a second, those things happening to you. Imagine looking at your child grow up with danger all around her every day, without clean water, without good schools, without enough to eat. Then imagine NOT doing everything you could to get her a better life. You wouldn’t not do everything you could for her, would you? Imagine doing the only thing you can think of — fleeing your circumstances — then imagine having her taken away from you because you tried. Imagine knowing you might never see her again. Imagine her knowing she might never again see you. All because you wanted something better.

When we can’t picture ourselves in positions of vulnerability, we get in real trouble. None of us are so big and powerful that we couldn’t be reduced to helpless in a few seconds flat for whatever reason. When we are removed from the emotions and complexities of an issue, we accept terms like “zero-tolerance,” as normal. Zero tolerance? Where is the compassion in a policy like that? When we let our politics get in the way of people, no matter where they were born, we lose. When we don’t think ahead and consider cause and effect, we lose. When we are removed from each other, in whatever way, we lose.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

 

comments

My grandmother would say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

But you know, it has now gone to a new level.

Just yesterday, upon posting what I consider to be one of the sweetest photographs of all time of John Henry and Hayes in honor of Father’s Day and in honor of him and the hard work that he does right beside me every day that he can, some dimwit had the gall to ask “where’s Steve?”

I’m not going to be afraid to name names here. You would all know who I’m talking about anyway.

You can imagine all of the responses I came up with and I had them right on the tips of my fingers. I decided to take my grandmother’s advice and just delete the comment and block the unfortunate who made it.

Here’s the thing: Come up with your own little stories about people all you want. Sit behind your computers and judge when you don’t have even a thimble full of correct information about said people and said situation, and fire off your little remarks if it makes you feel powerful and like you got a shot in for what ever reason you think you need to get one in. But please know that you are only creating negativity where, most of the time, no more is needed. Maybe that’s the desired effect. That’s sad.

Why can’t people let others be happy? Why throw words around as if they are harmless? Have we not learned better in this age?

If a woman wants to post a photo of herself in a bikini or other outfit that celebrates her body, let her do it without disapproval. Even if you do disapprove, what do you think you’re achieving besides making her feel like crap if you say so? Why is it so important to tear something or someone down?

Why do I need to be made to feel something than utter gratitude that my son has love in his life and I have love in mine?

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I can’t think of one good one.

Go with love, go in love.

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM

normal

 

“Is that normal?”

“Yes,” I replied, after taking a bit longer than a second to consider my answer.

I had tapped him on the shoulder after he sat down in front of us and explained that I couldn’t promise my son wouldn’t kick his seat, that I would do all I could to prevent it, but that my attempts to thwart the movements of exuberant 8-year-old legs stuck between airplane seats and controlled by a mind without an excess of impulse control were not always successful.

His was a funny response, I thought.

“Is that normal?”

It got me thinking about how much room there is around that word.

What’s normal for me isn’t what is normal for you. We are all normal. And we have little to no idea how each of us struggles to stay within range of what our utmost capacity to be that is.

It’s quite normal for me for my son to kick the seat in front of him because I’m used to it. I’m also used to being on high alert about it, to watching his every movement, gesture, and facial expression so that I can try to predict what may be coming next. Most parents think a step or two ahead to try to avert disaster. I try to think five or six steps ahead. That’s my normal. My contingencies have contingencies and my backups have backups. But sometimes, none of it works, or I drop the ball and don’t think of something, I don’t remember an item in my arsenal of objects designed to ward off boredom or hunger or God knows what I’m not even seeing and hearing, and a meltdown occurs. Sometimes, I just flatout fail as a parent. Sometimes I fail as a human. We all do. And that’s normal.

My sweet and wise therapist friend says, “If someone can do good, they will.” I think she is so right about that. No one really wants to do less than they can. But we don’t always know what is possible just by looking at another. I don’t know what the man in the seat in front of John Henry is going through or what his experiences are that would make him respond in such a, for me, less than sensitive way. I am not walking around in his shoes, so when I really wanted to go off, for a second, about how insensitive he had been to us, I just ignored it and moved on. I tended to the more important matters and silently noted, when I looked out the window, that it was a gorgeous morning and that I was living in a perfect moment. Sometimes what is normal is absolutely extraordinary.

We all have our things. Find someone who you think is perfectly adjusted and you’d probably be surprised to find out that they save the lint from their navels in little plastic bags and store them in the freezer. I don’t know where that just came from and now you know how abnormal I am for having even thought that thought, much less admit to you that I had it. But really. You might be horrified to find out what their habits are when they aren’t being watched, or when they’re triggered, or when they’re tired, scared, or even just hungry. There is no normal template. If autism has taught me anything for sure, and I’d known plenty of outliers long before I realized it had ever touched my life, it’s that we’re all flying like bats out of hell around the ever expanding and contracting edges of what is supposed to be acceptable — sometimes we’re closer to it than other times, but no one hits the center. Ever.

 

Happy Monday, Y’all.

AM