Sunday, May 15, 2011

Forgiveness and Goodbyes: A Tribute to Jane Austen

 One of the first things I do before writing a retrospective of a Jane Austen novel, is to sit down and search the internets for reasons why other people loved the book.  It's nice to see other people's perspectives and find solidarity in the opinions we have in common.  As I began researching various views of Persuasion, I came across this- "If you've ever felt your family didn't treat you the way they should; if you've ever been misunderstood, misled, or misguided in any way, then Persuasion will speak your language.  If you've ever yielded to the opinions of others over what your heart told you to do, if you've ever given up someone because you were told you had to, if you've ever wasted even a tiny bit of this short life holding on to resentment instead of opening up to forgiveness and love, then you will get your second chance to make things right with Persuasion." If that doesn't make you jump to pick up a copy immediately, I don't know what will.

This novel was Jane Austen's last.  She died before it was ever published.  The amount of beautiful and hopeful life truths packed into only a couple hundred pages is a testament not only to Jane's prowess for understanding human nature, but to how much a writer grows and matures throughout her career.  This a mature story- it has a quiet hopefulness only a woman who has lived, seen, and understood could write.  It's subtle, tragic, joyous, and all together wonderful.

That quote I mentioned before really gets to the essence of this book- it's about forgiveness and second chances.  Someone told me once, about an older couple so obviously in love, yet not without their struggles and imperfections.  This person told me, "he loved her because and despite of where she came from."  This woman wasn't easy- she was hurt and broken and ill used in her past.  She was withheld the love we all so much desire need as we are growing.  But this man, this loving and patient man, could see past her jagged edges and loved her in a way she had never experienced or thought possible- completely and unconditionally.

That was the real life love story I was thinking of while reading Persuasion.  Anne Elliot is over looked, mistreated and abused by her family.  Jane writes about it in such a way that it makes you heart break for Anne when she is dismissed time after time and made to feel insignificant and voiceless.  The man of her dreams- the wonderful and gentle Mr. Wentworth- stands before her, asking her to walk with him forever.  She is forced to say no.  She is so controlled by her family- her vain, judgmental, awful family that think Wentworth lacks both breeding and wealth  to marry an Elliot. This is where the real life example and the literature diverge. Mr. Wentworth- being young and passionate and human- leaves, hurt and confused beyond consolation.

It's here we get another life lesson from Mamma Jane.  Holding on to things- resentment, betrayal, anger sadness, hurt, and pain- does absolutely no one any good  When you do that, hold on to toxic things that spread and pollute, your perceptions of things will eventually become malignant.  You can so easily miss the forgiveness standing right in front of you, screaming and begging you to snatch it up and hold it close.

After many years, Mr. Wentworth and Anne are eventually reunited in true Jane fashion- through a series of coincidences.  He is now a captain in the Navy, just as handsome, and much more wealthy.  She is still under her family's abusive thumb and still desperately in love with Captain Wentworth.  Despite all logic and reason, she secretly hopes, in that palce where all woman hope for impossible things, that he will have forgiven her.  He hasn't.  Time has not healed all his wounds and his embitterment and resentment is palpable.  The only thing that hurts more than losing your first love is having their pain and hatred paraded in front of you over and over and over again.

I'm telling you, this story is seriously heart breaking.

But, thankfully, it's about forgiveness- no the lack-there-of.  And the all-to-relatable pain we witness Anne having to endure make her and Captain Wentworth's reconciliation all the more beautiful.  Wentworth writes Anne, inarguably, the greatest letter in the history of the post.  He is honest and apologetic and vulnerable- but more importantly, he finally forgives her.  He let's go of all that betrayal and ego.  Once his malignant perception of her is is cut away, he can finally see what's truly in front of him: a girl who was never given a chance or taught to fight for what she wants; a girl begging for love and respect; a girl he never stopped loving, not even for a minute.  And so, he loves her- because of and despite of where she came from.  That is the most miraculous kind of love, because it rests entirely in forgiveness.

I started this off telling you why someone else loves Persuasion.  Now let me tell you why I love it.  I love it because it's about a lonely girl who's misunderstood and undervalued.  It's about her chance to redeem all of that- to become bold and heard and loved.  It's about letting go so you can let someone in. It's about freeing yourself, about forgiving people- accepting the burden of pain they've placed on you and no longer blaming them for it.  This story is about Hope.

I could end this post with that- in fact, that was a right fine ending and I debated whether or not I should continue on.  But the authoress that has taught me so much deserves a few lines more.  This post isn't just about forgiveness and hope- it's about saying goodbye.  Persuasion may have taken me the longest to finish.  I would read only a few pages at a time- drinking in those final words the way you would with an ill friend during her last days.  Eventually I read that final sentence on the final page of her final novel, and my little hand was reluctantly pried away from her weathered, grandmotherly grasp.

Jane Austen fans are easy to poke fun at.  On the surface they we seem positively out of touch with reality.  But really, when you go through this experience, when you let Jane guide you through the murky waters of the human condition (armed with a subtle wit and a bonnet), something happens.  You are suddenly more in touch with your reality than you ever thought possible.  Looking back through my posts about Jane, I am amazed at the lessons I unearthed and the parts of myself I discovered.  And all of them so personally and providentially relevant- it creates quite the emotional response.  And, embarrassing as it is to admit, I am currently fighting back tears as I write this, surrounded by people in a coffee shop.  These tears, this emotion, is about loving a woman who lived decades before myself and yet somehow reached through the ether to touch my life now.  It's about saying goodbye to a friend and accepting the sadness that they will never speak new words into your life again.

Except, here's the amazing thing about the written word- the magic Jane and I both hold so dear- her words will never go away.  They are printed and permanent. I may never read anything new from Jane, but the messages she speaks into my life are and will be endless.  It's not really goodbye when her presence and influence are as infinite as I am.

I'll take this last bit of space to say thank you to you, Jane.  Thank you for teaching me, challenging me, entertaining me, and inspiring me.  Yours are not simple love stories- they are complex portraits of the fragile and diverse human spirit.  In part, it will be for you and what you stood for that I pour myself into observation and understanding.  It will be for you that I mix universal truths with clever wit and poetry.  It will be for you that I seek to inspire, encourage, and befriend with my words.  In short, it is because of you that I will write.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peter Pan Complex, Jane Austen Style

For a little over a year, I've been reading Jane Austen novels and writing round-about life lessons that only sort of have something to do with the book.  This particular goal has been one of my most formidable- as odd as that might sound.  I learned about choosing reason over passion, choosing to be authentic in relationships, choosing to be vulnerable and take risks on people, and choosing to let go of those things in the past that can really hold back my present.  These are not small life lessons.  These are things that have shaped the way I look at myself and interact with the world.  I'm not saying I've mastered all or any of them.  I'm just saying, they're a big deal.

I thought Northanger Abby wasn't going to be such a big deal.  Austen wrote it to be a parody in response to the gothic novel- which was in vogue at the time- and to discuss the commercial aspect of marriage, which also happened to be in vogue.  Her heroine, Catherine, isn't exactly heroic.  The first line of the book reads, "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine."  Her family's a little crazy and over crowded, with a moderate income- neither destitute or wealthy.  There is nothing romantic about an average economic state.  Catherine herself "bloomed" later than her peers, led a sheltered adolescence, and reads books better than she reads people. And that is her tragic flaw.  She prefers imagination over reality.  So much so, she creates a story in her head, leading her to believe the father of the man she loves murdered his mother. This ends up being false and Catherine goes home feeling embarrassed and mourning the loss of love. (Don't worry, it's  Jane Austen novel, they end up together in the end).  

In my younger days, ages 16-21, I'd definitely say I could related to Catherine.  And I think that's why she's one of my favorite heroines. It's the same reason I unabashedly listen to Taylor Swift all the time occasionally.  It brings me back to those days when I actually thought life was like, well, a Taylor Swift song.  True, life seemed to be much more interesting back in my Catherine Morland days, but it was also much more disappointing.  As it turns out, unreal expectations hardly ever get met.  It's a lot like what I wrote after reading Sense and Sensibility- letting reason prevail over passion.

Catherine and I learned the same lesson- life isn't about drama.  And I don't mean the reality TV, screaming and fighting, sort of drama.  I'm talking about the romantic kind of drama- the kind that happens when you let your imagination trickle into your reality.  The kind where you think life is going to be like a romantic comedy, or that no one will notice if you suddenly start talking with a southern accent (yes, I was weird).  When Catherine learns this lesson it marks the end of her adolescence and the beginning of adulthood.  And after re-reading my previous post about choosing reason over passion I realized I, too, began to leave behind that wonderstruck, eternally optimistic, head in the clouds, girl behind.  I left her behind for a grown up realist whose mantra seems to be, "low expectations, no disappointment."  And that's just... kind of sad. So here we've reached the main point I'm taking away from this book- growing up really really sucks.  I quite miss believing my life was going to turn out like a best selling novel.  And there is a part of me that very much wants to ignore credit card bills, insurance companies and FAFSA applications, in favor of building a fort, turning on a flashlight and reading Charlotte's Web until I fall asleep.  

But there's a second part to this.  True, growing up can be truly awful, but it doesn't come without some redeeming factors.  Yes, I have obligations that I really don't want to deal with.  Yes, the "fantastical" part of my identity seems to be waning in favor of a realist with low expectations.  It seems to be easy to forget the tumultuous embarrassments and let downs I was subjected to when my imaginations seeped into my real life.  Because, like I said, high expectations rarely ever get met.  So redeeming factor number 1: a cooler head makes for less embarrassment and disappointment.

And let's not forget all the amazing things I get to do now that I am an "adult" (I still can't own that term completely)- things I dreamed of doing before this growth spurt.  I get to be independent.  I get to travel.  I get to spend my money on whatever I was (for better or for worse), and no one gets to tell me when to take a bath or what time to go to bed any more.  Adulthood is truly something else.

I really didn't want to write about this- the sadness of growing up.  At the end of Peter Pan, there's a line about the grown up Wendy that reads, "You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls."  I am not that girl.  I didn't want to write about this, because I really don't know where this leaves me, or anyone for that matter.  Growing up is not an option, it's a reality.  I can't change the fact that I have bills to pay, I don't want to go back to confusing fantasy with reality, and I'm certain I'll never be eight years old again. The best you can do is appreciate and acknowledge that person you used to be- that dreaming, optimistic girl that believed in fairies and world peace. You can accept that you are not that person anymore.  And most importantly, you can smile because you got to be that person for a while.  And maybe, you can build a fort out of pillows and blankets in your closet and read Charlotte's Web by flashlight- because you're an adult and no one can tell you not to. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Jackie - Big Question Marks

Ok, here we are, back into posting about actual goals. I suppose it's about time to dig into the spiritual goal. I started writing all of these a few months ago, so I just need to spruce them up a little and post them. I'm hoping to get through these pretty quickly. Here we go...

I felt a nagging, no, that's not quite the right word, it sounds too negative. I felt a tug back before the holidays. It was really soft at first, in fact, I almost missed it; it was tender and gentle and kind. A beckoning of my soul. And, it felt familiar.

I've had this spiritual goal on my list and I spent the better part of the year not addressing it, but over the holidays I answered that tug and got to have some really fascinating conversations. Here's a refresher on the goal: I have spiritual questions. Ones that cannot go unanswered any longer. I decided the book and church answers I can quote from memory weren't enough; I needed more. I wanted to hear first-hand experiences and thoughts. 

I chose a handful of people I respect and asked them for a cup of coffee. I got all scientific-like asking them the same questions, documenting their answers and will present these findings to you. I explained to them that I know the Bible passages and rote answers, but I want to hear their hearts and what made them choose, and continue to choose Christianity.

But before we get to their answers, I want to give you the questions for perspective.

[Wait, even before I get to that, I must apologize. It's going to take a handful of posts to get through this goal. I hope posting this all at once isn't tedious for you as a reader, but if it is I won't be offended if you skip a few and "save them for later."] 

Here's where I'm coming from. I am a Christian and I believe everything that goes along with that. I believe there is more to this life than meets the eye and I want to be a part of what's bigger. I love, depend on and need God. BUT... and you knew that was coming... sometimes have a hard time seeing the relevance in Christianity. It seems out of place; it's like doesn't fit. I suppose that makes sense with the self-sufficient, relationally-disconnected lifestyle we have modeled for us in America. Thus...

Question #1: What does it mean to be a Christian?

Each person choses faith for their own reasons - as they should. But to get a little background on the perspective of each interviewee, I wanted to know how they each made their decision to identify with Christianity. Thus...

Question #2: Why should I believe there's a God? Why should I care? Why does it matter if I believe in God?

Life is significant, or at least it should be. I believe it is. But is it really? And if so, what does that mean?... for my life? For the lives of those around me? For the world? And if we know the point of life, will that make a difference or change things? Thus...

Question #3: What's the point of life? What's our individual purpose? What is the point of God having a will if he gave us freedom of choice? Is it Satan who causes bad stuff because he sucks? Or God who causes bad stuff to happen because I'm not good enough?

Then I have to wonder how prayer fits into all of this. I don't always understand why God wants to spend time with us. We're supposed to be in some sort of relationship with him, but few people would continue to be in a relationship with someone who treats them as badly as we treat God. It feels almost like God is self-deprecating in the way it feels like he lets us walk all over him. Which brings me back to my point, why does God want to spend time with us? And why would we feel we have the right to ask anything of him? Thus... 

Question #4: Prayer: how do I approach it? How does it work? Does it work? How do I evaluate its effectiveness?

Then we get to the real crux of the matter... being a real-life Christian. I hate to say this, but I am more often embarrassed to call myself a Christian than I am proud. I am often bewildered that the faith system I belong to, whose focus is loving God who desires relationship, has become a place of judgment, selfishness, unloving and not accepting. It's beyond a matter of personal reputation. I hate that I feel I have to apologize for choosing to to be a follower of Christ. Thus...

Question #5: Why should I want to be a part of Christianity when it feels like it comes with a bad reputation or bad name? What does it look like to be an culturally-relevant, non-apologetic Christian? 

I think a lot of people can agree that during the hard times, when it seems there's nothing else to rely on, it's easy to have a relationship with God. Well, maybe "easy" isn't quite the right word. But, when the going is rough, there is an inherent need to have something bigger than this world to believe in, to lean on, to be carried by. How about when things are going well and everything seems to be holding itself together? What then? Thus...

Question #6: What does a relationship with God look like in the "normal" times?

And last, because each person's relationship with God is such an individual experience, I asked this final question. [Spoiler alert: This question might have something to do with one of my goals for next year.]

Question #7: Who is God to you? 

Looking over this list in hindsight, it feels like I asked some daunting questions... I supposed I did. 

The people who gracious shared their thoughts with me did an amazing job putting their faith into perspective. I'm excited to share their answers with you... stay tuned.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jackie - Unravelled

I did something that wasn't very nice. I didn't mean to do it... it just kind of happened. I try to be considerate of others, but sometimes when this brain of mine is trying to synthesize too many things all at once, everything ends up mashed together into one big heap of non-functioning jambalaya. So I wanted to start this blog with an apology for writing a disconcerting blog and then falling off the planet because that wasn't very nice of me.

Here's the deal... sometimes when you pull a little thread, the whole thing comes unravelled. That's kinda what happened. This year of Shake the Dust for me was about figuring out me, defining me. It feels a little narcissistic, so I haven't actually said it in this many words before now, but it was "the year of me." It was a year of picking apart what was shaping my life and putting everything back with intentionality. I looked at the people in my life, the stuff in my life, my finances, my creativity, my spirituality, my future goals and the little things in between -- taking things apart and putting them back together again. The hope was to come out on the other side feeling like a more holistic version of myself. And for the most part, that's what was happening.

Then we got to February. And there was this little thread. So I pulled it. But it just got a little bigger. So I pulled a little more. And that's about when things started falling apart. It's like I ripped out the entire seam. The whole story is much, much too long and complicated for a blog post at this point. But I can tell you I'm confident that when I get to the other side of this, I think I will be a more complete version of myself than I ever have been. 

But for now I'm in the middle -- between the seams -- and my heart is raw.

Here's the great part about being in the middle, with the seams in disarray: you have the unique capacity to know the love of those around you. A friend recently introduced me to the this quote: "Grief makes us more permeable, where we can get out of ourselves and others can get in. It changes the very shape of our soul." -Richard Rohr

And I have definitely been shaped.  

I could write a string of blogs on the ways I have been touched and shaped by those around me, but I'll get to the point. Sarah had the insight to see that while the point of this blog was to see what we could do in a year and be honest about what we did and didn't accomplish, sometimes it's more important to have grace with ourselves and finish well. I'm in Portland for the weekend and plan to visit some of my favorite coffee establishments and put into words how I've been shaking the dust. 

For the real this time... stay tuned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keep Calm and Craft On

"Absolutely, anyone can craft. Stick a fistful of pencils into a potato and you've got a pencil holder. Who can't do that?"

Amy Sedaris said that and I think she's nailed it.  Crafting is one of the few pass times in our world that still allows for imperfections- glorifies them even.  There is nothing like running your fingers along a slightly crooked stitch and imagining your grandmother sitting at her sewing machine, natural light pouring in around her, distracted by something outside the window, ending in a slight imperfection that will fuel imaginations for generations.  I love the stories that live in every handmade quilt, window treatment, pillow, or wall hanging.  These are the things we pass on to one another because they mean something, not because they are perfect.

The act of crafting is also wonderful for the creative brain.  The repetitive nature of working with your hands can clear a cluttered mind and inspire you in entirely new ways.  Nothing can compare to molding and transforming different textures, colors and smells into something new and even more beautiful.

This year I've been trying to embrace this tactile side of creation.  I've loved the process, the frustration, and the reward.  To hold something in your hands that you created is empowering and cathartic- especially when you get to give that new creation away to someone you love.

Earlier in the year I started small and made pillows out of some t-shirts for The Joplin Kids in Denver.  I wish I had pictures of them to share.  They were bulgy, a little crooked, and super soft and squishy.  To see these little people I love so much snuggle the pillows during nap time and say "they smell like Sarah" was the most rewarding feeling in the world.  

Most recently I made some gifts for my sure-to-be-beautiful niece, who is due in May.  My wonderful friend Katrina walked me through the process of bobbins, measuring, stitches, and seam rippers with a lot of patience and little cursing (on my part).  But in a couple of days the end product sat in my suitcase bound for Denver, wrapped up in coral fabric, waiting to be placed in my sister's hands.  I fussed over the imperfections when she opened it, of course, but she really really loved it all.  Bibs, wash clothes, and a hooded towel.  I really wanted that soft baby skin to be warm and snug after baths, so I splurged a little on extra soft terry cloth and ridiculously cute fabric.  It seems this little girl has me wrapped around her finger, even from the womb. 

For everyone reading this, thinking to themselves, "I'm not crafty," I have news for you- You Are.  If I can create things like this- and let go of the inner critic that tells me everything that come out of me must be perfect- anyone can do it.  I'll let Amy Sedaris leave you with one last bit of encouragement: "If you craft, and you should, craft with abandon and don’t judge your work. It’s the process that’s important, not the final product. Remember, for every person who deems your project crap, there is another person who hasn’t seen it. The only person you have to please is yourself, and what do you know about art?"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's a Mulligan, and Here's What I Thought of Emma

Some of you may have noticed that March 1st has come and gone and Jackie and I have not posted our end-of-year wrap up posts.  Congratulations to Genevieve who seems to be the only one of us that has her business together.  I can't wait to read the second half of all her accomplishments!  As for Jackie and I, we're in need of a bit of an extension.  Just a couple of weeks, we promise.  We discussed it and decided there are times when it's best to set goals and a timeline and, at the end, take a step back and evaluate what you achieved and what you didn't.  But there are other times when you just need to feel good about what you've accomplished, even if it means taking a bit more time than you anticipated.  So, we're asking for a Mulligan.  Maybe?  I'm not very good at golf.

That being said, I'll jump right into my post about Emma, which I finished a few weeks ago.

It's common knowledge that, for a story to be worth reading- to be a story at all- there has to be change, character transformation.  And I believe the stories we write and read are derived from the universal way our lives are lead.  "If story is just condensed versions of life, then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another."  Donald Miller said that and, fair warning, there's going to be just as much talk about him in this post as there is of Jane Austen.

What we can take away from that quote by Donald is that we change because life is happening to us, which I won't argue with.  But what if we look at Emma.  Emma certainly goes through a character transformation, but the change came from the choices she made and the acceptance and consequences she had to choose to learn from.  Emma was a bad friend to people.  She let her entitlement and boredom cloud her judgement into treating other as less than herself and pawns she found pleasure in moving about and watching collide.  Only the approbation of a trusted and respected friend opened her eyes to her indecency and, at times, cruelty.

So, in this respect, life didn't happen to Emma.  She didn't have to throw her hands in the air, accept a situation she had no control over, and embrace the transformation that was sure to follow.  Emma actively created a bad situation for herself.  She treated Mr.s Bates cruelly.  She convinced Harriet to turn down a proposal from the man she loves based on his lower station.  She flirted openly with a man who turned out to be engaged to really amazing woman.  A woman Emma had known since childhood, made a snap judgement about, and dismissed as boring and unworthy.  All of her pain was self inflicted.

For me, it's so much easier to accept the things I have no control over- to look at them objectively, learn from them, and move on.  But it's the self inflicted pain that's the hardest to get past.  How do you stop focusing on the "how could I let this happen" to get to the deeper meaning, the stuff that leads to character transformation?

I wish I was better this.  I wish I could fill the rest of this space with "this is what happened in my past, this is what I learned, and here's something insightful you can quote to your friends."  But the truth is I'm quite bad at it.  My version of embracing the past is letting enough time go by so I start to forget whatever it was until something or someone comes along to drudge it all up again.

The best I can come up with is that maybe it's a combination of the two- the choices I make, both good and bad, are life happening to me. And the most dangerous thing I can do is tuck them safely away to that dark corner in my mind, the one with the cobwebs and thick layer of untouched dust.  Even though I did have control over those situations I can still throw my hands in the air- not just to accept what life has thrown at me, but to let those choices go, to admit that they happened, to understand why they had to, and to embrace the transformation that will ensue.  Every bit of my past is part of my story, which is still being written and moving toward something much more grand and consequential than any one mistake or bad choice I've made.  And that kind of makes the whole mess a little exciting.

Now, because he is much wiser than I, I'll end on one last insight from Donald Miller: "I want to keep myself fertile for changes, so things keep getting born into me, so things keep dying when it's time for things to die.  I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently."

So go out, embrace your transformation, and live a page-turning life.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

This is just the beginning, Genevieve: Part 1

 This image can be found at:

 Whenever I hear the haunting piano line that opens Aqualung's Memory Man, my heart stops. It's as if the song unlocks a well of hope and vision deep in my soul. I instantly start to dream. And for some reason, this week I found myself rummaging through stacks of CDs in the front room of my apartment in search of Memory Man. Maybe it's because I distinctly remember blasting through the Nevada desert on my way to LA summer of '07, sitting in shock on an airplane after my grandfather passed away or laying in the dark on my bed with ideas floating in my head, all listening to the same album. There are so many secrets embedded in those songs, but without fail every time I press play the music catalyzes excitement and I see that "tiny glimmer flickering on the horizon".

And personally that's where I'm at... this past year of setting out with purpose has been quite daunting, but completely fulfilling. I have taken risks and failed. I have dreamed and succeeded. But never have I been so content and happy with who I am and where I am headed. I finally took the time to let go of what I thought was expected of me or ultimately what I expected of myself. I just am.

I realize I've been missing on here for several months, but to be honest, I needed to disappear. Falling off the map sometimes is the most necessary step to placing yourself in the right spot the next time around. So, now that I've found my trajectory again, I'll fill you in with where I am and hopefully headed.

Genevieve's Goals 
(I'll be covering half in this entry and half in my final entry) 
Personal Goals:

  2. Get published in Relevant Magazine for a CD review or an online article.
            -This is one goal that I tried to no avail. I submitted a piece on the power of forgiveness back in November, but never heard anything back. I'm totally fine with it and I actually learned a lot from just simply writing the piece. If I ever feel inspired to write a CD review, I'll try that next.

3. Travel to the Pacific Northwest
            - It was so wonderful to discover the little nooks and neighborhoods of Portland and drive to Seattle for the day with Sarah:)

5. Be a good owner to Mr. Keith Moon.
            -The dog training this last fall was very beneficial and I keep instilling that into my little man every day. He truly is a joy and blessing in my life.

Church/ Spiritual Goals:
1.  Lead worship reflective of God’s heart.
            - I've found that worship is what God is calling me to musically right now. I am leading once a month at Corona Presbyterian and once a month at my church, Scum of the Earth. We had an all night of worship at Scum in January that was phenomenal and really pushed some boundaries of mine. I'm currently in the process of planning regular worship nights at varying houses and hopefully creating an interdenominational, multiple church lead services. The first one will be at my house at the end of March.

 Musical Goals:
1. Play our first show and hopefully have many to follow!!
            - This obviously looks a bit different than I initially intended it last year. Last year around this time I was in the beginnings of a band with several guys I grew up with. It fell through after a career change, people moving etc. BUT despite that, I have been playing shows and I love it:) Performing is definitely something that makes me tick and it has been delightful. I did two CD release shows as a part of my lovely friend's, Ms. Leslie Brown's ( backing band. I also played a set of original music and some covers for a benefit show at the beginning of this month.

Career Goals:
1. Push myself at my current job and ultimately learn deeper facets of the industry.
            -Over the past 6 months my job has done a complete 180. After a summer of grueling production hours and great frustration with my boss, I sat him down for a talk. We came to some understandings and he has handed me more creative control and ultimately more respect. I started the Discovery Artists Series every Thursday night in our Cafe to cultivate up and coming artists in the Denver folk scene. I book for our Tuft Theater more and am in charge of our Four Mile Park summer series. I'm making deals, working with a budget and have learned the ins and outs of booking. The company also just sent me to the International Folk Alliance last weekend to scout bands and I will be heading to Austin for SXSW in a few weeks as well.

Entrepreneurial Goals:

 2. Put on some benefit concerts and a few house shows.
            - Since July my church has been meeting at alternate churches, because of fire code remodeling that we have to get done before we can have large groups in our building again. I miss our building and it has been trying at times, but the congregation has really come together to raise the funds we need to get our building back. Another worship leader and I headed up a benefit concert at the beginning of February with Wovenhand and a handful of bands that go to Scum. We were able to raise $3,000 dollars and put on a great show.

             - Anthology Fine Art ( asked me to coordinate the music aspect of a recent benefit show they had for the Greenbacks of Colorado. The turn out was great and they were able to raise thousands of dollars for free rivers and lakes in Colorado. This has opened up to planning other shows with them. A local artist and I are currently planning a live screen printing event at the gallery in June. Working with multi-medium art shows has been such a growing experience! 

              - The house shows will come into play with the worship nights that I'm planning:) 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sarah's Great Affair is to Move

I can happily say I'm crossing off number 5: "Get out of the city once a week, out of the state once a month, out of the country once a year."  Technically, I did not do this to the letter, but I did leave the country for a day and since it's my blog, and I get to cross things off, I'm declaring this goal "achieved."

When I started with Shake the Dust, I thought I'd fulfill the end of this goal by going to Haiti.  That's proof of how much visions can change in just a year.  Unfortunately, Haiti wasn't in the cards for me.  But since British Columbia is now just a short jaunt away,  I packed a bag and begged a roommate to accompany me on a whirl wind trip to Victoria, BC.  

It never occurred to Emily and I that going to Canada for one night would be thought strangely of.  But, time and time again, we were met with the same perplexed look and doubting air whenever we told someone our scheme.  This personified itself when we attempted to cross the border into Canada.  Apparently, we held within our circumstance the perfect storm of suspicion for a Canadian Border Patrol Officer.  He questioned us so intensely that I was beginning to think that I had, in fact, done something horribly wrong.  The exchange went something like this:

"Where do you live?"
"Why do you have Colorado plates?"
"I moved from Colorado in August."
"When in August?"
"Erm... Early-ish."
"Why are you going to Canada?"
"To stay in Victoria."
"For how long?"
"Just the night."
"That's a long way to go for one night."
"... Yup."
"You might be a terrorist.  Drive here, give this to her, and don't ask any questions because we won't answer them."

Luckily we were found innocent of all terrorist-related charges and continued Northward where a ferry boat waited to take us to the beautiful island of Victoria.  The boat ride was taken in the dark, and therefore lead to many Titanic jokes and slightly more serious wonderings of where they keep the life boats (Deck 5).  

We finally reached land about 90 minutes later.  With mildly shaky knees and bellies full of french fries and gravy (do as the Canadians do!), we boarded a bus to our hostel.  As is the case in most traveling stories, we walked the wrong direction from the bust stop for about 5 blocks before we realized what direction we were going.  But, we got to see a bit of Victoria's China Town, which was beautiful.  Red lanterns hung from street post to street post, and decorative arch ways welcomed in those lured by the smells of fresh herbs and teas illuminated in shop windows.  

Our hostel was finally found around 8 pm, and we were greeted by a lovely young lady in novelty sized, dark rimmed glasses, manning the desk of a brightly painted vessel for young and care free travelers.  Our desires for tea and crumpets and dresses and hats were soon abandoned and replaced with wishes for some comfortable jeans and a micro brew.  Nevertheless, we settled into our room and headed out in search of dinner.  This turned into a walking tour of night time Victoria, which is entirely navigable by foot.  We finally decided on a thai street food restaurant and had an odd conversation with an older man about his nephew who plays soccer for OU.  The conversation dragged on a little longer than was wanted, I think because I flattered him too much based on his nephew's good looks (he made me google him on my phone).  At any rate, he gave me some good "older person travel advice."  Things like, "when you take the ferry back, get the buffet, not the cafeteria" and "Next time just fly here, it's cheaper."

We tried to find a nice Canadian bar to settle into, but this turned into another session of us wandering about in the dark, peering into bars playing the UFC fight and boldly trudging onward.  We finally decided to head back to the bar at the hostel, which turned out to be perfect- they had a band playing, the beer was cheap, and a rather cute Englishman shared a table with us.  After a long and serious talk (sans Englishman), as Emily and I are prone to do in unlikely surroundings (mostly bars), we slowly walked upstairs to our room, giggling as we went, because we couldn't believe we had actually made it to Canada and we were actually  only staying for one night.

The next day, we were both excited to see Victoria by day.  We stopped at Lady Marmalade and had a shockingly fresh breakfast (who knew salad could be that good before 10 am).  After a bit of shopping and some more adventuring around the city, we settled into a coffee shop (where everything was made of drift wood) and hid out from the rain.  We were met by a man with a penchant for staring, however, and had to move on.  

Much to an traveler's delight, we then stumbled upon a Chinese New Year parade and got to see the tail end of it (literally- there were dragons).  We were greeted again by the smells of the night before and the sights of Chinese street markets and sounds of firecrackers and traditional music.  Our time was growing short, though, so we popped into a nearby cafe to pickup food for the ferry ride home.  

We found ourselves in a long, warm room with high ceilings and venerable brick walls.  There were some children sprawled across the floor, quietly playing; young adults with fancy headphones, tapping away on macs; and generations upwards enjoying each other's company, reading newspapers, and turning pages of books.  The food was all whole and organic, the staff all beautiful (of course), and Emily both agreed if we could spend the rest of our days in that one little shop, we would both be perfectly happy.  But, since we both had jobs to return to and, more immediately, a ferry to catch, we carried our wrapped up treats and headed back to the hostel.

Thank Brownie Troupe!
Emily and I both agreed we travel very well together- we are both laid back, open to new experiences, and welcome meeting new people.  There is, however, a trait we share that proved to make traveling rather difficult.  Neither of us listen particularly well to detailed instructions.  This proved almost itself when, after receiving very distinct directions on how to get to our bus stop, we both stood waiting at the wrong corner for 20 minutes.  When we spotted our bus on the other side of the street, a good distance away, we had to run for it- heeled boots, luggage, and all- and made it just in time- laughing uncontrollably, and thanking our stars for the slow-legged Brownie Troupe that was boarding as we rushed up.  

Was it the most eventful trip?  Was it life changing or of grand proportions?  Perhaps not.  But it did remind me of the excitement traveling induces, and awoke that Wanderlust that lay dormant for so long.  And we came away from it with so much laughter and genuine, quality experiences, that I can't help but want to go back next weekend and the weekend after that.  Perhaps even call Victoria home for a while.  Who knows!

And to those, 
especially that border patrol officer, who thought it odd we'd go so far for such a short amount of time, I leave you with the wisdom of Robert Lewis Stevenson- "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel's sake.  The great affair is to move."

And cheers to great affairs!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Jackie - Blindsided

Have you ever had one of those seasons in life where everything is just swimming? A season where life feels content and the world seems full of possibilities; it's not perfect, but it seems like all the puzzle pieces fit together. You know, one of those times when there is this indescribable excitement for the future.

And then you get completely blindedsided.

That's what happened in my world in the 48 hours from Saturday afternoon to Monday afternoon. It's past the point where up feels down, and down feels up. I'm not even sure what up and down feel like any more. Or maybe up and down don't even exist. I think they do; I'm just not sure where to find them. 

It's a little like getting blindfolded and spun around, and then expected to pin the mustache on Benito Juarez... or a tail on a donkey.

Except multiply that times 4.

So... the of the Shake the Dust year... yeah, that came up a little unexpectedly also. But I still have 4 weeks. You'll be hearing from me again soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jackie - Happy Birthday to Me!

That's right, it was my birthday this week. And this birthday was unlike any other I have experienced, but I mean that in a good way. Generally, I hate my birthday. As a friend of mine put it, it falls in no-man's land. It's a few weeks after Christmas, long enough that everyone is in a dull zone of life. There's been actual research presented about how depressed everyone is during the middle of January. Translation: People aren't in the mood to celebrate. Like I said, generally, I hate my birthday.

But this year was different.

I had originally planned to spend my birthday in Portland with Sarah, but all that stuff with my car was time consuming and cost me the money I had saved for the trip. When plans changed, I moped. In fact, I moped a lot. I thought about just forgetting my birthday. I thought I'd stay home and maybe hang out with Harry Potter all weekend. Then it dawned on me that I was being ridiculous. [Not about the Harry Potter part, of course. Just about all the moping.]

Turns out, I had the best birthday ever. Seriously. My friends and family made me feel loved and celebrated. My cup runneth over.

In the past when I made resolutions for myself, I usually measured them from birthday to birthday -- it felt more personal to me that way. But this year, I still have 6 weeks left to Shake the Dust. I have a lot to say about what a year of trying to shake the dust has been like. It's been challenging, good, hard, long, surprising. But I'll save that for a sappy end-of-the-year post.

Instead, I'm adding a goal. Ok, not a real, measurable, Shake the Dust goal; it's a little more abstract. My birthday this year taught me something, it taught me that I've been missing. Not that I've literally been unable to find, but that I'm missing details, nuances and generally good things in life. It was the details that made my birthday special - each individual well-wish, a ridiculous amount of laughter with friends, noisemakers and a CD, homemade cakes [thick yarn and all], phone calls and thoughtful gifts, countless hugs. Little things with lots of meaning.

I don't want to keep missing.

Here's to being more grateful and paying attention to the small things on a daily basis.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sarah Checks In

Fair Warning:  This will not be an informative, enlightening, or exciting post.  But read to the end if you want to feel a little bit better about yourself.

As our year here at Shake the Dust comes to a close (a little later than every one else's), I've been examining my goals, figuring out which ones to power through and which ones need to be let go.  As it turns out, I think I'm going end up doing pretty well.  But at the risk of counting my chickens, I'll just leave it at that.

Here's where I'm at and what I'll be working on in the next couple of weeks:

  1. Weight Loss: Still feelin sassy- and that's what counts!
  2. Incorporate Artist Dates once a week- I'm on one right now.
  3. Finish one of my two writing projects- I plan on spending the entire day at this coffee shop, hashing out this short story.  No telling where that'll leave me, but the hope is that I'll be finished in the next couple of weeks. 
  4. Get something published- I have some ideas about this that I'd rather not share just yet...
  5. Get out of the city once a week, out of the state once a month, out of the country once a year- There are talks of going to Canada.  Stay tuned.  
  6. Read through all of Austen- Half way through Emma at present.  Two more to go after that! 
  7. Complete my Denver Bucket list before I leave:  Check!
  8. Minimize- Check!
  9. Find somewhere to volunteer at in Portland- Emily and I are pursuing an opportunity at a women's shelter.  I'm looking at working in their children's program.
  10. Get in contact with Heartline and others to solidify a plan for Haiti for next summer- I know of at least one person, potentially two, who absolutely want to go next year.  I've emailed a few contact and have been referred to a few other people.  Now it's just up to finding a need we feel comfortable fulfilling and working out logistics.
  11. Embrace my crafty side.  Learn to sew, crochet, paste, and spread glitter around on construction paper- My wonderful friend Katrina and The Penny Farthing has offered to help me with some hand made gifts for my beautiful niece-to-be.  If you check out Katrina's blog and see all the beautiful creations she has posted there, you'll know I am in good hands!
So that's where I'm at!  I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for sticking with us through this process.  You didn't have to read about us talking about our lives every week- but you did.  And the stories of how we have inspired you have been invaluable in keeping us going at Shake the Dust.  We love you.  You're wonderful.  And keep reading!  We have still have a few weeks to go :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Waiting in Lines at H&M: Where Sarah Learned the Art of Letting Your Mind Wander

Today I went on an artist's date.  I woke up a little panicky.  About what, I'm not sure.  Taking myself on a date isn't exactly like going on a typical date.  I mean, I'm pretty comfortable with myself, I don't mind if I don't shave my legs, and I don't have to worry if I think my jokes are funny or if I have food in my teeth- because I know my jokes are hilarious, and so is having food in my teeth.  But seeing as I get panicky over most things, I rolled out myself out of bed and told myself to got over it.  I showered, dressed, procrastinated, brushed my teeth, and procrastinated some more.  I trudged downstairs and said a disgruntled goodbye to Emily.  I headed downtown to Powell's for some quiet reflection surrounded by my three dearest friends- words, characters, and can't-turn-the-page-fast-enough plots.

I perused the variously themed rooms- Rose, Purple, Green; Children's, History, Classical Literature.  After searching in vain for this beautifully illustrated copy of Emily Dickinson's My Letter to the World and purchasing a short book about writing novels, I perched myself in the cafe against the wall of windows, across from the Buffalo Exchange.  In front of me was a vanilla latte and a copy of Emma.  To my right was a devout chemistry student taking up three seats with her work and listening to Lil Wayne at a level most otolaryngologists would disapprove of.  The garbled hip hop did not frame my reading of Jane Austen well, but there wasn't anywhere else to sit, and after a while you just get used to things like that.  It wasn't until she left to go to the bathroom, and my brain let out a sigh of relief, that I realized I wouldn't be able to ignore her quite as successful when she returned.  So I packed my things, took a final sip of that vanilla latte, and headed to Antrhopologie to see what sorts of inspiration awaited me.

I love Anthropologie, to point of hating Anthropologie.  I used quite a bit of restraint, but seeing that "Sale" sign by the front door was rather ominous.  Artist dates are not excuses to buy things you don't need, however, so I kept myself to the books and little trinkets that tend to set my imagination afire.  There's something about perfume puffs and the tinkling of those delicate tea cups that I simply can't resist.  Surrounding yourself with beautiful things can do nothing but aid in the creative process... Right?  I left with beautiful copy of Anne of Green Gables, a book of inspirations by Paulo Coehlo and a delicate, tinkling tea cup.  

Next I took myself (and my newly acquired books and china) to H&M, where I had a gift card to work my way through.  People in Portland are a little intense when it comes to H&M.  Really, the dressing room lines, the clothes scattered every which way and the dazed looking employees are a little silly.  But I struggled through it, finding some very preppy things to wear to a "Soul Dance Party" tonight (very well then, I contradict myself).

I should mention that I forgot my phone this morning.  At first blush, this was a panic-worthy revelation.  But a few hours and some deep breaths later, I realized that I could, in fact, get along fine without it.  It wasn't until I stood in line for a dressing room at H&M that I really started to miss the little guy.  But, as 5 minutes turned into 15, which turned eventually turned into 30 and so on, I noticed something odd taking place.  Rather than distracting myself with Facebook statuses and Twitter updates, I was... thinking, imagining, conjuring and creating.  Recently I've been worried about my lake of creativity and increasingly shortened attention span.  But just 3 hours without my phone, and I was coming up with ideas for a novel, framing new blog ideas, and thinking of how very much Emma and I are alike.

I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be getting out of these artist's dates- I'm not exactly short on alone time and the concept was beginning to feel a little trivial.  But the process of intentionally carving out a block of time where you are forced to communicate with no one but yourself- even if you're doing something you might be doing otherwise- can be truly monumental.  It's just like creating space and time for a couple to come together to reconnect, communicate, and get to know one another again.  I had almost forgotten how wildly my mind can work when it's allowed to wander at will.  It was refreshing and encouraging to know that I am always a fountain of new ideas, I just need to allow opportunities for my imagination to do what it does best.

What started as an apathetic attempt to fulfill a goal I'm being held accountable to, turned into a really beautiful experience of getting back in touch with the parts of myself- my nuances- that are lost, forgotten, and overlooked  on a daily basis.  This is an artist's date at the core and I highly recommend them for anyone wanting to recharge, reconnect and remember the little qualities that make them extraordinary.