Friday, August 15, 2014

Susan Enan's House Concert

I have helped host a couple of house concerts from Bellingham, and one of my favorites was folk musician Susan Enan. I discovered Susan's music through a Paste Magazine sampler CD passed along to me by my good friend James Van Noord. Susan's song 'Bird' is featured on my not-really-famous mix The Run Away Album. Her songs have appeared on 'Bones' and other tv shows, and Sarah MacLaughlin has recorded some of her songs.

When she came out to Bellingham last, James asked if we would help him host at his house. We were one of the last shows before she was heading to sing at Folsom Prison for the first time, and she talked about how nervous she was.

It all started a few years ago, when Susan did one house concert while visiting Nashville and she received invitations for several more around the world. She decided to book a few dates and try it out. She gaffer-taped a camera to the dashboard of her car and took to the road, ending up singing in homes on 6 continents, including Folsom Prison, "An island, off an island, off Ireland", and one in the Arctic circle during a solar eclipse.

When she said she was going to be in the Seattle area, I asked my housemates if they would mind if we had a show in my basement apartment, and we started planning to host as many as 40 people at my small place. 

It was a small group of friends and strangers who arrived on a cool Thursday evening in August, bringing bottles of wine and settling into the chairs we had gathered around. Susan, recovering from laryngitis, had to cancel some of the other shows after this one in order to save her voice, but this show was so near where she was staying that she decided to fit in a last hurrah.

Susan has so many stories from the road and through developing her songs and ideas, that the evening is as much storytelling as it is songs from her album like Moonlight, Bring on the Wonder, If You're Feeling Low,  and Bird

Questions were called out, and stories led to conversations, jokes, and lots of laughter. I love the warm and cozy feeling of the room when people are letting music and stories sink into their consciousness--when they are truly listening and learning from the stories. Soft "wow's" and quiet applause in between songs, and curious questions about stories from playing to prisoners, islanders, the Portuguese fans who danced like they were in a hip hop club to her quiet melodies, and wanted to hear the whole concert over again when it ended at 2 am. I must admit, I know how they felt. There's something special about the intimacy and quietess of music in a circle instead of a concert venue, something restful about the community of people moving quietly in and out and being able to see everyone's faces.

And also getting to take the artist out for post-concert oysters in Ballard because she's never had the Pacific kind. How often do you get that chance? If this sounds like something you'd like to do, please follow Susan's information on facebook, twitter, and sign up for her mailing list. 

And be brave! Even the smallest apartment can be transformed into a beautiful evening. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Forty Stitches and Beautiful

At four years old, I cut my face open on a drainpipe in the backyard at my friend's birthday party. We were chasing around the yard playing tag when I tripped and fell against the side of the house.

I don't remember much; only a few snapshots. I remember not getting up immediately after I had fallen down and that was strange--I just laid there. Mercifully, the shock leaves no memory of the pain. Next, I have two still-photo memories of my friends; one of concerned little faces as one girl tentatively asked "Jana, are you ok?" and one of them with terrified faces as I rolled over to face them and they screamed and ran to get the mothers.

Then, a very clear memory of being held tightly by my friend's mother, with an ice pack on my face. She sat in a wicker-seated oak rocking chair--one of those with the big, round rockers that were so dangerous for your toes as a kid. She held me, prayed loudly and vociferously, and rocked manically until my parents got there. I felt frozen. I think I cried at this point, but it was more because everyone's reactions were so scary.

They arrived in my dad's work truck, the white one with burgundy upholstery. It always smelled like tar from the roofing company. My mom held me and my dad, white-faced because he can't stand blood, drove. They went to 3 doctors, all of whom took one look at me and refused to admit me, saying it had to be done a plastic surgeon.

My parents were certainly far from rich--they had bought a house, and spent just about every available penny on the mortgage payments. Going out to eat for us usually meant going to McDonalds, where the happy meals were far out of our budget. Instead, we would get 3 cheeseburgers, and 2 fries between my parents and my little sister and I, with waters to drink. The friends who owned the house where the accident happened were not wealthy either, and I think my parents were trying to save their insurance a big hit.

But I am grateful for those General Practitioners saying no, as horrible as it might have felt at the time for my parents. They finally ended up at a plastic surgeon recommended by the last GP, and by late evening I was prepped and ready for surgery. Now I really remember crying, because the anasthetic needles were the most painful part about the whole ordeal. Shock covered the rest of the pain, apparently.

Of course, I don't remember anything clearly after that point, but apparently the surgeon stitched 3 layers of skin together with delicate dissolving filament, and the last layer got the Frankenstein treatment with the black filament. All told, forty stitches.

I got a lot of attention at sunday school for my creepy stitched face for a few weeks, and then the stitches were removed, and the skin gradually healed. A few months later, as I studied that lurid pink scar in the mirror, and flexed my face, appreciating the ability to move without any pulling or stretching, I realized that something was happening behind and slightly above the scar. The imperfection in the skin pulled slightly, causing a small, round indent to appear when I smiled. In a word, a dimple.

Now, just two years previously, a small sister had been born into my family. This small sister, from the moment she was brought into the world, had two of the cutest and most wonderful dimples ever seen on a child (or adult, for that matter). One of my mom's friends came to look at her in the newborn room and thought she had been born with holes in her cheeks. Those adorable dimples that almost never completely disappeared invited comments, squeals, and face-tweaks, which I'm sure Jessi would tell you is more trial than joy. 

I wasn't jealous--exactly. But it was impossible not to notice and feel just a teensy bit inferior for being taller, less cute, and dimple-less. But this is the lot of an eldest sibling, to be constantly surrounded by cuter and more guileless people. 

All the same, despite not being jealous--exactly, somehow in my four-year-old brain, some form of beauty was equivocated in being the owner of a muscle defect located in the vicinity of a smile, and I became ridiculously excited. I felt beautiful every time I saw that little shadow appear, northwest of my scar. 

I've been thinking about scars recently, because of Michaela Evanow's post on SheLoves Magazine, and because of listing to Tina Fey's Bossypants audiobook. Did you know her scar is from being slashed in the face when she was young? I like her response when people ask her about "getting it fixed"--it's just as much a part of who she is as her brown eyes or her witty writing skills. 

Had one of the GP's not said no, I could have ended up with a puckering, twisted scar. Instead,  The scar is smooth, almost imperceptible, and has never given me a moment's worry. Instead of feeling marked by tragedy, whenever I notice it I just see that little, hopeful dimple. This small imperfection is part of who I am--and scars healed can invoke a deeper beauty.

Photos from Natasha Komoda

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


In the past months, I have applied for far more than 100 job openings. Some are a typical shot-in-the-dark cold application, but for many, I've put in a lot of time and attention researching, developing, and imagining myself doing the work I've applied for. It takes a lot of energy to fully engage in the application process, and it never fails to be disappointing when it doesn't work out. 

For some applications, I actually developed a few photo essays using .

This is a great social storytelling medium, and I love its community and possibilities. There are some amazing artists out there telling great stories through it. You get three exposures for free, so I had to carefully limit the subject matter when selecting my three essay topics.

It turned out that my three essays reflect three core areas of my life: hospitality, exploration, and creativity.

I don't know where my working life will take me--it's getting difficult to see past next week. But choosing three areas that matter greatly to me has been a good excercise.

Click the link to review my essays and check out the Exposure possibilities for yourself?

Monday, August 11, 2014


I’ll keep you safe 
Try hard to concentrate 
Hold out your hand 
Can you feel the weight of it 
The whole world at your fingertips 
Don’t be, don’t be afraid 
Our mistakes they were bound to be made 
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe 

You’ll be an architect so pull up your sleeves 
And build a new silhouette 
In the skylines up ahead 
Don’t be, don’t be afraid 
Our mistakes they were bound to be made 
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe I’ll keep you safe 

Darkness will be rewritten 
Into a work of fiction, you’ll see 
As you pull on every ribbon 
You’ll find every secret it keeps 
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet 
The smell of the falling and burning leaves 
The bitterness of winter 
Or the sweetness of spring 
You are an artist 
And your heart is your masterpiece 
And I’ll keep it safe 

Dismiss the invisible 
By giving it shape 
Like a clockmaker fixes time 
By keeping the gears in line 
Don’t be, don’t be afraid 
God knows that mistakes will be made 
But I promise you I’ll keep you safe 

As you build up your collection 
Of pearls that you pulled from the deep 
A landscape more beautiful than anything that I’ve ever seen 
The sound of the branches breaking under your feet 
The smell of the falling and burning leaves 
The bitterness of winter 
Or the sweetness of spring 
You are an artist 
And your heart is your masterpiece 
And I’ll keep it safe

-"I'll Keep you Safe" Sleeping at Last

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Disintigrating Loops

For those of you who know me well in real life, my brokenhearted state is no big secret. It's hard for me to shake off mourning. It's not that I'm always sad or depressed. It's just that the sadness and vulnerability of stories and circumstances always seems to be very powerful and present for me. There is beauty, even joy, in suffering. I don't hate the sadness in things. I notice it and I am glad I do. It makes the joys richer.

All the same, I prefer a comfortable life. I'm a comfort bug--I don't like my feet to be cold, and I hate to be hungry. A cold shower might make me new enemies, and don't talk to me too soon after I wake up. There is beauty and joy in comfort, peacefulness, security, and quiet living, too. Given my choice, I'd take that any day, and some days I get it.
I also get (just in the past year) a health scare and an MRI to check for signs of Multiple Sclerosis. Starting on prescription antidepressants for the first time (and now, taking myself off them with the loss of my health benefits). Moving to a new city. A new job. Losing the new job the week of my Grandmother's funeral. Unemployment. Fear spirals that talk me into believing I'll be celebrating my 35th year by moving into my parents' basement, broke and alone and jobless.

Speaking of year 35, I had a struggle a few years ago turning 26, because my mother was that age when I was born. Over the years, I've imagined what it would be like to have a child, then two, then three. By my next birthday, I'll be older than my mother was when my youngest sister was born. There has not been a time in my life when I've not wanted to be a mother (ok, there are moments when friends' kids are obnoxious--but of course my children would never behave like that! *sarcasm*), and truthfully, it's a bitter, bitter struggle for me to be ok with the idea that God may not want me to be a mother or a wife.

I don't actually know what I want to do to make enough money to survive. I know I want to learn. To explore. To create. To connect. To love and serve. I am not sure how this looks in real life anymore.

So you see, I live daily brokenhearted by losses and vulnerabilities, and by the belief that I should be so much more than what I am.

But I know, too, that I'm not alone. Despite your happy facebook posts and your beautiful instagram feeds, I know that some of you out there feel desperate, alone, vulnerable and not-enough. Your life, despite the good in it, may not look like what you wanted it to, no matter what it looks like to me. Or maybe it does. If it does, don't tell me.

I recently was contacted by an old high school friend. He has, from the looks of it, an idyllic life--married to a lovely girl, two beautiful babies, just returned from working in London for several years. My first thought in response to his friendly note was, "Damn. If only he had reached out six months ago. Then I was working at what I thought was my dream job, I had just gotten back from a trip to least I had a few things going for me."

In my recent unemployment, I've found time doesn't weigh heavy on me. For the first time in 15 years or so, I am able to read and rest and think and pray. And the result of all that is that I am rediscovering my own creative responses to the beauty and brokenness. 

In Makoto Fujimura's Refractions, he writes of art and creative response in New York in the aftermath of September 11: 
Art offers the power to pause and the potential to find healing in the remembrance of things past. Art may be at times the only true memory we own in our experience of disintegration. Art may even point to a greater redemptive plan beyond "the life and death" of each of our melodies.
The Creator God has given us creativity and the arts so that we may "name" experiences, just as God comissioned Adam to name the animals in the garden. It is significant that God gave authority and freedom to Adam, "and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name." God did not question Adam's decisions. God completely entrusted to Adam the responsibility...In the fallen realities of our days, God continues to affirm our creative responses to the darkened horizon, and by naming the indescribable, we may yet rediscover our hope to endure yet another dark day.
...we are also disintigrating, but St. Paul reminds us, "though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." Art taps into this work of the Spirit within while recognizing the honest depiction of our disfigurement. God, the greater Artist, will aways seek to communicate via the disintegrating loops of our lives.*

Whether it's a beautiful photostream, a lyric essay, a dance class, making a cake, sharing a music video, painting, sketching, composing music, all of the "naming" you do--it's not fake. It's not meaningless. So keep moving forward, even if you feel like you're disintigrating. 

Of course, I'm talking to you, because it's always easier to encourage others rather than yourself. This is why we need our real friends, the ones who tell us when we're spiraling, who text us truths back when we send desperate texts (what? I know you do it, too), the ones who respond to our rambling and broken messages about being failures at life or making macaroni and cheese (Kraft Dinner to you, Canadians). Being brokenhearted isn't the same as despair.

God speaks through disintigration. Art. Gospel.

*The above quote is from an earlier volume of Mako Fujimura's essays. But he's working on a new project about generative community and creativity. Check it out here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


I bought this t-shirt a few years ago. I loved the thought of holding fast, holding on to something even when things get rough--but this design caught my attention because it was different from most depictions of the phrase. 

Look up the words, and you'll see everything from tattoos to journal covers carrying the phrase. But most of the designs show an anchor. I liked this one because it showed the wave.

When I was first looking for jobs in high school, my dad told me perserverance was one of my greatest strengths--not letting go when things got rough. It was a nice way of saying that I'm stubborn, although people don't often see that side of me. Conflict is rarely worth the cost, but when it is, it can be hard to shake me.

It's only on the things that are close to my heart that I'm willing to run the risk of a storm. When I make up my mind to hold fast on something, my stomach pitches, my jaw clenches, and I have trouble sleeping at night for thinking about how to negotiate the next battering wave. I give a lot of attention to seeing it through. 

Sometimes, though, holding fast becomes going down with the ship. Maybe it's refusing to deploy the lifeboats early enough, thinking you can make it through one more wave. Maybe you don't give up the ship, but it gives up on you. 

The idea of diving out of the relative security and letting the waves toss you for a while seems terrifying and desperate. But what is it I'm supposed to hold fast to? Maybe it is that piece of driftwood. Maybe holding fast sometimes means giving up the ship. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Promise

Today, when I pulled my twice-recalled-by-GM car into the driveway of my current home, with tears on my face about current turmoils and trials, a rainbow appeared in the fantastic blue and grey and rose-colored sunset clouds. It landed right over the house in the thunderstormy, early-summer sky, and my first reaction was anger.

My life doesn't look like the one I thought it would. I'm sad, and the rainbow, which represents promise, seems like a very mockery of my current and ongoing heartbreaks. 

And then I remember the poem about promise I've had posted beneath my mirror so that  I read it every morning and every evening as I brush my teeth:

you promised.

well actually, you didn't promise very much, did you?

But you promised to be faithful, and not to let me fail beyond your forgiveness of my failures.

In common temptation, you promised that I would not be tempted more than I am able.

You promised not to lead me into temptation beyond my strength. 

And YOU - YOURSELF - are my refuge in temptation.

My escape from the pit - and THAT is enough. 

So that I can bear more than I thought I could bear



For THINE is the kingdom - and other great "fors";


THIS is what you promised.

It is enough.
It is everything.

-excerpted from Madeleine L'Engle's "The Promise"