29 January 2014

Not That Kind of Person

A couple of days ago I received an email inviting me to join an "interfaith devotional exchange." The message contained two email addresses and the instructions were to send an inspirational quote or poem to the first name, move the second name to the top of the list, add my own name and then send the invitation to 21 friends.

The invitation was similar in format to those emails promising magic if you send it on within 10 minutes (and misfortune if you don't). My first thought had been "Oh no, it's one of 'those' emails" and my first reaction was to delete it.

But my second thought was that I liked the idea of sharing inspiration and encouragement with a stranger. There was something improvisational and pay-it-forward-ish about it that appealed to me. Besides, I love language and writing so the idea of sharing good writing felt 'right'. Maybe I could try something new? Do something I don't usually do? Break one of my rules?

Deciding what to share required revisiting documents and browser bookmarks I hadn't looked at for awhile, a nostalgic stroll through words and ideas that have shaped me, encouraged me, affirmed me. The process was like taking a tonic or going on retreat.

Deciding who to send the invitation to was a different matter. I have no email addresses for many of the most likely candidates; we're connected only through FaceBook. I anticipated some people would have a similar first impression to mine and decline to participate. Some might even take offense at being included in the recipient list.

I scanned my Contact list, conjuring the face and voice of each person as I read their name. Many of them were people I'd met at spiritual retreats or personal development seminars of one stripe or another. Some were audience members at one of my performances. My evaluation ran along the lines of "Will they read and consider or just delete? Will they be offended?"

As is always the case when trying to anticipate another person's reactions, my thoughts became a tangled mess. It's a profoundly perplexing assessment. How to predict what someone else will think (given the staggering limits of our acquaintance, even with 'close' friends). The airwaves are full of friends and family and neighbors surprised by the behavior of someone they thought they knew well. 

How to see another person (or anything, for that matter) clearly (given the unavoidable encroachment of my experience, value system, fears, desire, etc. on my point of view). My first impression of the invitation was a perfect example:  "Oh, it's one of those emails" I thought and my perspective was instantly clouded by other emails, stuff from The Past and my feelings and opinions about those Past Events. Standing in Right Now, consciousness flooded with Memory.

I came up with two names. I was intellectually bedraggled after the process. Peace of mind was shattered.

And I thought, How curious that a message with the intent to inspire and encourage has delivered me to a state of exhaustion and spiritual disruption... 

I took a cigarette break.

In that pause, I remembered:  I know nothing. Anything is possible. In that pause, I identified a niggling fear creeping through my thinking. Fear of what "they'll" think of me:  they'll think I'm "one of those people" who send "those kinds" of email messages.

With an affectionate nod, I acknowledged Ego's terror, chose 26 names from my Contact list and sent the invitation on its way. 


One by one the no thank yous began to hit my email box. Who knows what motivated the folks who replied? Some of the refusals were lengthy. Some were eloquent and heartfelt. Some were nervous and polite. I responded to the first few messages, attempting to communicate comfort and acceptance -- it's okay, you're not rejecting me, I didn't initiate the exchange, other people declined too so you're not alone or strange...

"I'm not the kind of person who....." or "I don't do these kinds of email..." or some variation on that thinking appeared in some of the replies. I smiled to see my own initial reaction reflected back to me.

At first, it seemed ironic to me that people who declined to allow a single stranger a glimpse of their heart by sharing an inspiring or encouraging text, seemed to have no trouble posting a FB affirmation or wearing a message T- shirt or sticking a bumper sticker on their car or otherwise exposing themselves to countless strangers. Was there something intimidating about one-to-one versus one-to-many?

On second thought/guess, it seems more likely that they were less concerned about intimacy with a stranger. The issues were not wanting to offend or impose upon their friends, not wanting their friends to see them as "the kind of person who...," and a perhaps unexamined need they felt for identity integrity, i.e., to not see themselves being the kind of person who sends those kinds of email.

Peer pressure is a bitch--even after you're all grown up.

20 January 2014

Exit Number 20

It feels good to return to SITC and write again.

I needed a little break from the heart-wrenching, gut-socking, embarrassing and exhausting process but this week I'll resume the work of pulling weeds and pruning the blog. I reached the point where I felt like slapping my face and crying at the same time. I needed a break.

Only about two years remain to be read and the first round of review will be complete. The next step will be to take a closer look at the surviving posts to determine if there's enough material to seed a little book.

How do I decide what to cut? There are two main criteria: First, if I still find the theme of a post interesting. In these posts, I introduced an idea but did not fully explore it.

Secondly, some posts are valuable as historical records. Posts about my family fall into this category as do those in which I offer in-depth commentary on my experience in a certain locale. In their current forms, many of these posts probably need to be moved to a journal or diary. But with some reworking they might be good in a book.

So far, there's not a lot of powerful, pop off the page, stroke the heart or say "it" so clearly and honestly it hurts type writing to be found here. And I can hear some of you saying "Oh, Alex. Don't be so hard on yourself" but I'm only being hard because I know from experience that rigorous critique serves creative process and no one has shown up yet to provide this essential support on a ongoing basis.

Creativity is messy. Brainstorming and allowing ideas to spill out helter-skelter is a necessary step. Spontaneity and wildness have their appeal. Untended vines can be beautiful.


Good writers recognize that revision, polishing, fine-tuning can turn a beautiful raw thing into an exquisite piece of art.

I'm going for the art.

05 January 2014

Mississippi Rain

The rain is falling and evoking a certain kind of mood in me. I searched for "MS rain" on YouTube and found this clip, which sits at a polar opposite to my current "MS rain" mood. It makes me smile because this kind of dissonance has been the story of my MS sojourn. There's a disconnect between me and this video -- the music, the performer's style, the dancing audience members.... -- that feels, today, an eloquent synopsis of the Sojourner in Mississippi experience.

Trying to Weave

A new year, a new page. Sitting on the back porch with coffee and cigarettes and laptop for the first time in several months. It's raining but warm enough to sit for a few minutes, watching fat noisy birds crowd in the naked branches of trees before swarming down to hunt and peck in the soggy dead leaves.

It is Sunday so the flocks of birds remind me that flocks of humans are gathering in churches all over town to hear sermons about beginnings and second chances.

I just made my weekly telephone call to Daddy. As always, my stepmother answered the phone and while we made our usual small talk about health and weather, I could hear voices in the background. "What's all the noise?" I asked. She said it was my sister and her boyfriend, making their weekly visit. "Oh!  OK. I'll try to reach Daddy tomorrow," I offered. "Say hi to Rhodie."

"Do you want me to put her on the phone?" she asked.  I chuckled. "Nah. That would be strange..."

"Oh. I didn't know."

"No, it's okay. She doesn't return my calls. Just say 'hi'" I explained and quickly hung up.

This morning, I viewed the familiar awkwardness of our family dynamic with detached clarity. It was like looking at a two-headed kitten through a glass pane. I thought, and so here we are...we're like this....and so it is.

I dialed my brother's number. We haven't spoken since last spring. The phone rang and rang before his voice in the outgoing message apologized for missing my call and invited me to leave a message. He sounded like Daddy and I mentioned that, and a hope that we can talk soon, before wishing him Happy New Year and love and hanging up.

...and so it is.

The hiss and murmur of the rain is interrupted periodically by sharp creaks and cracks, and pings as dead twigs, assaulted by the weight of birds and the cold wind, fall onto the tin roof of the shed. Nature proceeds with its renovations, its plan for the "new year". Trees shed dead wood, new growth pushes through. Under the decaying piles of leaves, Spring is turning, turning in readiness to break ground and emerge.

 I am pruning the blog. In this first pass, as I re-read from the beginning, I am slicing and purging, deleting obviously dead and malformed posts. On the second pass I will read more closely and harvest what I can with an eye to compiling "the best of" into a book.

There may not be enough good writing to constitute a book. We'll see.

It's a painful process:  noticing misspelled words that I didn't before, melodramatic non sequitur, boring complaint and feeble attempts at humor.  The original idea of showing up here, uncensored and unedited, seems a bad one now. I've been gun-shy of ever posting again until today.

Life goes on. Every new day brings some error and some success. We keep going. Some things stay the same -- and we're grateful; some things stay the same -- and we wonder how we stand the enduring pain of it.

I don't know that reconciliation and joyous intermingling is possible in my family. I don't know if I'll ever become a good writer or publish a book. I know that the trees will shed and the leaves will decay to become nutrition for new grasses and flowers in the Spring.  I hear that writing every day makes one a better writer. And I hear there's always hope...