Friday, June 25, 2010

Playlisting as a Substitute, too: Summer Edition

Chaos ensues as my sister and I pack up our Doors project and head out today for a weekend in Seattle for Cole and Luz: The Wedding.

This is my Summer Party playlist:

1. Burn Bridges—The Grates
2. Sound of Your Voice—Barenaked Ladies
3. This World has Nothing—Caemon’s Call
4. Let My Love Open the Door—Nick Flora
5. Roll Away Your Stone—Mumford and Sons
6. Livin’ on a Prayer—Bon Jovi
7. Strawberry Swing—Coldplay {live}
8. The High Road—Broken Bells
9. Moth’s Wings—Passion Pit
10. Fall Hard—The Shout Out Louds
11. Dear Sister, Your Brother—Talain Rayne
12. Kick Drum Heart—The Avett Brothers
13. I Think I Love You—The Guggenheim Grotto
14. Thieves—She & Him
15. Magpie to the Morning—Neko Case
16. The Late John Garfield Blues—Sara Watkins
17. Spanish Pipedream—The Avett Brothers
18. Awake My Soul—Mumford and Sons
19. These Thousand Hills—Third Day
20. The Day John Henry Died—Drive-by Truckers

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Playlisting as a Substitute

"A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence." ~Leopold Stokowski

This week is insanity,in a word. But I don't want to disappear altogether.

Next week I will be posting about what made this week crazy, including photos of a huge art project that must remain under wraps until Saturday. So in the meantime, I submit a favorite playlist. I love my music and find great joy in creating playlists for different occasions, so I want to share some of my favorites here now and then.

I created this playlist for my friend Sarah's vacation weekend. This is the Sally Forth CD:

1. Holiday—Vampire Weekend
2. Rainbow—Jack Johnson and G. Love
3. The Wanderer—Johnny Cash and U2
4. Let Me Go On—Seabird
5. Epic Holiday—Angels & Airwaves
6. Low Rising—The Swell Season
7. Hideaway—Karen O and the Kids
8. If You Knew—Neko Case
9. Rest Your Weary Mind—Elizabeth Cook
10. The Weary Kind—Ryan Bingham
11. Rest—Shawn McDonald
12. Running to Stand Still—U2
13. All Good Things—The Weepies
14. The One That Got Away—April Smith & The Great Picture Show
15. Hell or High Water—Blue Giant
16. Creepin’ In—Norah Jones
17. Rise Up—Diane Birch
18. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For—U2
19. Wash Away (Reprise)—Joe Purdy
20. Far Away Blues—Joe Purdy

I'm always looking out for great new music. If you have a playlist or listening recommendations, feel free to share.

Cheers for your week!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dark Greens of Meaning

".... How we waste our afflictions!
We study them, stare out beyond them into bleak continuance,
hoping to glimpse some end. Whereas they’re really
our wintering foliage, our dark greens of meaning, one
of the seasons of the clandestine year—; not only
season —: they’re site, settlement, shelter, soil, abode
."
--Rilke

So it seems rather pathetic to go on referring to a single life as an "affliction," but I still can appreciate the meaning of these lines by Rilke in context of my life.

One of the people who helped me immensely along the way was a mentor and friend, I'll call her Teri, who met with me and my sister about 6 years ago for dessert and coffee at a tiny restaurant in New Braunfels, TX. In the course of our conversation, she asked both of us to talk about the next 5 years of our lives and what we thought that would look like. I took a deep breath, paused, met her eyes...and she interrupted me: "And don't say marriage or kids. You're not in control of that."

This threw me, but at the same time, I knew she was right. Not that I knew for a fact I would be single for the next five years, but I knew that I had indeed given up control of those decisions. There have been times throughout my life where I could have taken that control back, if I had valued marriage itself above God's direction in my life.

In the course of our conversation, all three of us cried as Teri shared her story honestly and helped us wrestle with discovering what we saw as essentials in our lives and projected those essentials into a future that was uncertain. It's been longer than 5 years now, and I don't remember the exact conclusions of that conversation. I know I probably talked about working long-term with Worldview Academy; I can guess that books and art and people and teaching were central to my core desires for the next 5 years.

But because of Teri's faithful, honest words, I walked away from that evening stronger in the knowledge that the next 5 years would be livable, no matter what happened; that the time was important, that I needed to watch for those "dark greens of meaning" in the years to come.

"site, settlement, shelter, soil, abode." Many people talk about single life as a "season," but the truth is that life is just LIFE, no matter the season, and who I am--and who you are--may be shaded, altered, and influenced by seasons, but our identity is not dependent on seasons, but on where--or in Whom--you abide.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Something to break

it kind of sounds like singleness is a weakness, a sin, a habit or something to break.”

It took me 5 blog posts before I dared to twitter (Tweet?) to my “followers” that I was blogging about singleness. From past experience, my attempts at structured blogging had failed after a few posts, so I waited to see if this one stuck. After I found that I was coming up with more things to write about, I took a deep breath and published the message to twitter: “I’ve been blogging about big fears, sunsets, singleness and self-pity.”

The next day, one of my best friends had read my recent posts and we had the conversation where she made the above observation as she sorted through some of the things I had written. While walking through life alone is admittedly not an easy thing for me to accept or understand, to clarify, I do not believe it is in itself a sin (some people do!), or a bad habit (though it can be!).

The truth is that singleness, just like any circumstance, can be an opportunity or an excuse. I prefer my single years—whether they last for a few years or for a lifetime—to be the former.

Here I am. 30 years old. Working full-time at a midlevel management job in a smallish corporate office 10 minutes away from the hospital where I was born. Those plain facts don’t tell the whole story, don’t begin to reflect the journey it has been to “here.”

In reality, I’m incredibly and powerfully blessed. Here I am. 30 years old, healthy (apart from the fact that my office is located smack in the middle of some great coffee and eat spots, and a nice healthy walk often includes a latte.). I’m working in the best job I’ve ever had in a company that is doing good work in the world, work that is engaging and satisfying on many levels, with the chance to use my extra time and funds to participate in organizations and activities that fill my soul. My sister and I purchased a home together, thanks to a few years of my parents giving us a place in their home, allowing us both to save money for a home as well as a few chances to travel in the meantime. We live in a beautiful University town built on a strip of river valley between Puget Sound and the North Cascade Mountains (seriously, not many people can say they live 10 minutes from the ocean and 40 minutes from a ski resort). I have good friends who are—even rarer—good for me. I get to travel a few times each year. I have time, talents and resources to explore, and a good stock of books, movies, tea, and art supplies at home. I have a studio—a room for making things and writing—in my house! I have a car and a driver’s license! I live near a great Sushi restaurant! And I can even afford it now and then!

The list could go on, and does. The things I mentioned above are not even the best parts of my life, like the fact that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I have a good--even a cushy--life at the moment, much to be thankful for and much to be challenged by.

But all lives contain elements of struggle, too. I would go along with people like and Kanye West and say “…that that don’t kill me can only make me stronger.” Paul the Apostle even said to "Count it all joy." I have tried for a long time to reconcile my understanding of what an ideal life looks like in my mind with the knowledge that the picture patently contradicts my life now. I think most people look back over past decades of their lives and say, in some sense, “Well, THAT wasn’t what I expected.” The truth is, I expected my life to look a lot like others I saw; my mother’s, my grandmothers’, my friends’. I didn’t get any of those lives; I got mine.

it sounds like singleness is a weakness, a sin, a habit or something to break.”

It’s my response to the state of being single that needs to “break’; the circumstances can make me bitter and disappointed or else temper, refine, and shape me into a stronger person, a better woman. The dear friend I visited a few weeks ago will be shaped by her response to being up all hours of the night with a teething, colicky baby into a wiser and better woman and mother, if she responds well. Just as my friends’—Luz and Cole, Brooke and Phil, Steven and Alanna, Peter and Liz—forthcoming marriages will temper and refine and shape them into a wiser and better people—if they respond well.

We each have only (and all) the responsibility of our own responses to the crazy, difficult, and wonderful circumstances that inhabit our lives. I want to respond well.

This post from SCL also kicked my tail today.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Thoughts: Toning the Canvas

It's called toning the canvas, and it's one of my favorite parts of painting. I didn't realize why that is until I explained the process a bit this year to two different friends. In trying to break down the process and give them the whys and wherefores, I found the words "give it some history" coming out.

Bright, blank, white canvases glare; their emptiness, if not softened, creates a stiff solidness to the final work. Of course, the very blankness is one tool that is sometimes used by artists, too, but in my work I can't handle the blocky blankness of it. So I always, always start with a wash, a watered acrylic tone of color. Sometimes it's simply a warm golden glow. Sometimes it's a brown tone, or a blue one to bring coolness and earthyness. Sometimes the color on the bottom is the exact opposite of the color impression you get from the top layer.

But that base tone, seen or not, defines the final picture more than anything else.

After washing the watery paint on, I let it sit for a few minutes. Yesterday, while working on a big project outside in the sun, I couldn't wait very long before it dried some of the pigment on to the white surface. After a few minutes, I go back in with a wet paper towel and start taking off the paint I just added. Toning, for me, is just as much about what gets removed from the surface; it's all history. The paint comes unevenly, either settling into the surface or pulling up with the paper towel. Finally, it begins to take on character; darker patches, streaks, cloudy sections. Finally, something to work with, something to make beautiful in subsequent layers. And it all comes from that first exercise in trust; the daring act of coloring the emptiness.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sleeping Through Sunsets

If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.”
G. K. Chesterton

How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset.”
George MacDonald

Two of my writer friends and I are sitting in a coffee shop during our write-in. We're in the upstairs loft section, and I turn to look out the window at the pink-pearl sunset over Bellingham Bay. The window in the loft is long and low and two comfortable brown leather chairs (is there a brown leather furniture outlet for coffee shops?) sit under the window. A girl is curled up asleep in one of them as the pale sun sets through silver clouds.

One of my favorite poems that I have ever written and never shared outright was about chasing sunsets. I wrote it after the first summer I spent traveling with my heart-ministry, Worldview Academy (they're starting up in 3 different locations around the U.S. next week!). During that first summer, I built some friendships that have stayed with me for more than 10 years and will hopefully go on for years more.

If you've ever worked at any summer camp, you'll understand a little of what I mean when I say the phrase that came to mind when I thought about working at WVA that summer was "Chasing Sunsets." The rest of the poem flowed from that, though I don't remember it in entirety. And I can't look it up because it was written in Chinese ink on the silver edge of a hand-painted picture frame I made with my friend Erica. The pen strokes have long since faded, and all that's left are remnants of my written impression of that summer and those friendships.
Every moment of every day at camp was packed brimful; on the weekends we did paperwork and drove to the next location in 15-passenger vans, sometimes as many as 18 hours. We had only moments of rest, snatches of peace to sit still and just be. But though we were short on sleep, I never felt the slightest impulse to sleep through the sunsets. Those bits of peace, the brief afternoon's stop at the Grand Canyon, a sunset on a Malibu beach while the faculty leaders kept an eye on the students for us, those were moments to be treasured.

Sometimes I catch myself sleeping through the moments I should be treasuring; watching TV when the sun is shining, or letting my plans for writing and painting be hijacked by a game or a movie.

I headed the last post with a quote by George Bernard Shaw about occupation being a cure for unhappiness. While this is partly true, and a good challenge for me, it's also true that I can get so busy that I end up "sleeping" through the bits of life that should be treasured, savored. Like sunsets.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On Self-Pity

"Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world."
- Helen Keller

"The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation."
- George Bernard Shaw

Self-hyphen-anything is pretty much an idea to be cautious of, in my book. Self-Help, Self-conscious, Self-serve, Self-esteem, self-image, self-centered. I’m not saying this out of a self-righteous sense of self-importance. I’m as self-focused as next person (example: Blog, Facebook, and Twitter are all elementally narcissistic endeavors. It takes discipline and an understanding of community to turn them into generous-spirited, community-oriented endeavors.).

But self-pity drives me crazy in myself. There are a lot of ranting and onerous blogs out there focused on the self-pity of singleness, and I don’t want to be one of them. Reading back over the last two blogs I posted, I’ve felt a strong compulsion to go back in and edit and change things, as they read somewhat pathetically now, only I decided at the outset that I was not going to delete any posts along this road. So, after a weekend of vacation, then reading over the last few posts, I got scared to post anything more. Self-pity robbed me for a few days.

The truth is, I think there are some great things about my life right now. I can sleep in and determine my own schedule to some extent. I have hours of time to myself (something I know many mothers would give their left kneecaps for.) for writing, reading, movie-watching, cooking for fun, listening to music, working on various art projects, hanging out with friends, surf the internet, shop, play games, etc. etc. I can play with my friends’ children, and then go home and crash in a quiet house without chance of interruption by sticky hands or poopy diapers.

I was talking with a young married friend recently about loneliness. I talked about the grief of loneliness as a single person, and the sometimes-frightening prospect I’m facing now of my sister leaving for an extended trip this summer, and she empathized from her own single experience. After a while, she asked a question: “So, does this mean you’re re-thinking singleness?”

I was surprised by the question, then a little angry, to be quite honest. The implication is a false dichotomy about single people: if you’re single, you either love being alone, or you’re seeking a romantic relationship. In reality, I fall somewhere in the middle, as I’m guessing most people do: I do love being alone in moderation. I do crave relationship…but I do my best to not be controlled by that desire.

I knew where her question came from; she was a good friend of a guy whom I had dated briefly last year. The relationship was casual (on my side), and only a few real dates old, but he wanted more commitment. In our “break up” talk, I tried to express that while I believed it was entirely possible that his desire for marriage was good and godly, I was pretty sure that I could not commit to the same goal; ergo, “breaking up” (or, not going on the 5th date) was the best option for both of us.

He took that statement to mean that I think I am “called by God” for lifetime singleness. (This may or may not be a justified conclusion. I suppose that time will tell.) What I realize now is that, by admitting honestly I am not currently called to be in a romantic relationship, the real conclusion is that I am, for all intents and purposes, called at the moment to singleness.

What this means practically is that my call or purpose right now is to be excellent at being single. What does that mean? You’ve got me. That’s why I’m writing it all out. This isn’t a rant or an apologetic. It’s just my journey.