Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Enough, already

“Life sucks and then you die” has been the emotional theme for today. It just is. It’s been a hard week.

I think too damn much. I crush myself under questions that are too hard for me to answer and too heavy for me to carry. I don’t know how to live lightly, to take life easy. I just don’t know.

I have more time to spend at work and then taiji class, and I’ll do those things. But I wish to God I could just lay down and cry. That I could just stop. That I could turn off for a while. That I could give up.

I can’t.

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Reality

This past Saturday, I had a massage therapy appointment.  I am pretty new to massage, and finding it valuable for several reasons; apart from physical health, one of them is that it helps reconnect me to reality, physical reality.  It reminds me of the idea that I am a physical body living in a physical world; that the things around me are real, substantive, objective, and in a fundamental sense, I am too.

I’ve been having this kind of thought with some frequency lately; noticing a thing, and then feeling the reminder come to me that it is real, an actual thing that exists in the world.  Late Sunday afternoon I was driving to my parents’ house to visit, just before proper evening, when the sun was not quite set and so the sunward sides of the hills were still bright, but the valleys and shaded sides were withdrawing into an early nightfall; everything soft-edged and subtle, fall colors muted toward the shades of darkness.  High wispy cloud-veils strewn across the sky, silken-white up in the vault of heaven, burning red in the west with the sun casting fire from behind.  There is one place where the road runs straight for a while along the high north wall of a broad valley, and you can see the hills stretching on for miles out westward if you are going that way.  That evening the sun was setting straight into those hills, and it was a sight to behold.  I slowed to a crawl on the road, just so I could watch it a little while longer (and thankfully no other cars in sight to force me along).  It was spectacular, singular, awe-ful.  And I found myself thinking again:  this is real.  The sun, the light, those clouds, these trees — all of it is real.  Not just scenery, those things are really out there, and would be whether or not I was here to look at them.  They are independent of me, they have their own circles in the world I belong to, they are true, they are real.

Last night was a little rainy as I was finally heading home, after attending taiji class and inefficiently wandering a grocery store.  I thought briefly about it again; this is rain, there is water in the sky, and it is falling out of it, running away over the pavement.  Again, this is a real thing, and I get to see it.

Maybe this seems like a very strange kind of thought to some of you, my kind readers; maybe it seems just self-evident that, you know, there’s stuff in the world, physical things.  In a way, yeah, of course it is.  Maybe it is so ordinary and self-evident that it just doesn’t seem worth thinking about.  But these thoughts keep coming back to me, these reminders of the physical world, the physical reality I live within and am part of.  I think I need to become a little more aware and accepting of this reality; I live so far inside my own head sometimes, I have no regard for my body moving through the world, it fades in importance — the me-that-is-mind trumps the me-that-is-body and the world-that-is-embodied.  But without that embodiment, there would be no mind.  There would be no me.  And the way I take care of my physical self, my embodiment, also shapes and supports my mind, my thoughts, my feelings, my intuition, those realms I swim in perhaps more often and more deeply than I think is quite typical for human people.  Perhaps it is simple hubris, but I think I do have more comfort, more awareness than many people of what’s spiritual, what’s mental, what’s ethereal and intangible, the parts of “reality” that are not physical; maybe the price of that is a more fumbling, faltering grasp on the parts of “reality” that are physical and tangible, but no less important, no less real.  Maybe I need to lean on that side of the balance, learn to become more aware of the physical, more appreciative, more aware of its lessons and demands.  More able to acknowledge myself as a body in the world that is embodied.  A person, a thing that is, in all ways and respects, real.

Middle Days

One thing I’ve been trying to do is develop the habit of reading the Psalms through every month, following the cycle laid out in the Common Book of Prayer.  This morning’s reading was Psalm 105, which instructs the hearer to praise the Lord and give thanks to him in light of what he has done in the past, and recounts in poetic form some of the founding episodes in the history of Israel.  One of the stories mentioned is that of Joseph, the transitional figure who was responsible for the Israelites settling in Egypt, which sets up the later events which bring Moses to leadership and launch Israel as an independent nation — but that’s going too far ahead.  Today, I’m thinking about Joseph.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Joseph’s life, it is a wild ride.  Told in the later chapters of Genesis, a brief synopsis runs thus: he grows up in a troubled family and appears to be a fairly arrogant young twit when we first meet him; he is sold by his brothers to foreign merchants and hauled as a slave from Palestine to Egypt; he lands by (apparent) chance in the house of a royal official; he eventually becomes entrusted with running the official’s entire household and managing all of his possessions and land holdings; the official’s wife decides she fancies him, and tries numerous times to seduce him; when he continually refuses, she lies to her husband out of spite, claiming he tried to rape her; his master has him thrown into prison; he eventually rises to a position of trust in the prison, the warden giving him responsibility for taking care of the other prisoners; he helps some high-ranking prisoners by using his prophetic gifts on their behalf, but he is forgotten by them as soon as they are freed; years later, one of them finally remembers him when the ruling Pharaoh has a disturbing dream; he is fetched out of jail to interpret the dream; the Pharaoh believes him and puts him in command of the entire nation of Egypt, second-in-command to Pharaoh himself; he prepares Egypt for a years-long famine predicted by the dream and leads the nation through; he confronts his own past when his brothers come to buy grain, because Palestine is suffering from the same conditions of drought; and in the end he is reunited with his family and clan, old hurts are forgiven, and he settles them in the best part of his adoptive land, where they are protected under royal favor and grow prosperous.

Whew.  It’s a hell of a story, and well worth reading (it starts in chapter 37 of the book of Genesis).  I believe that one of the primary intentions of the Bible is simply to be a storybook, because of the way stories can teach us about our own lives and about other people, about humans and the ways they bounce off each other and the sometimes ridiculous, sometimes incredible things they do.  I sometimes have a poor habit of forgetting that the people in the biblical stories are, you know, people, humans just like I am human; I somehow think that because they are mentioned in scripture, that they must be pious and holy and have their collective acts together, but most of them don’t.  They so don’t.  When I remember that, when I remember that I’m reading about just people, then the stories come alive for me, they start teaching me things I need to know, and sometimes reminding me about things I already knew.

The parts of Joseph’s story I found myself pondering this morning were the middles, the hard bits, the sudden and tragic reversals in fortune.  I feel like I’m stuck in a middle-place myself, and so it’s probably not surprising that I found myself considering Joseph’s difficult middle-places:  being sold as a slave, getting thrown into prison, being misunderstood and hated and forgotten about.  What would it feel like, what would one think about on the night after your own brothers haggle over your price and hand you over to a foreign trade caravan, on the way to a distant country?  Talk about an uncertain future.  What would it be like to get thrown in prison for doing the right thing?  How do you keep from getting bitter over something so completely unfair?  And then he was stuck there for years, and separated from his family for many more years, and had no promise that things would ever change for the better.  What on earth do you do with that?  How do you choose to do what’s right, time after time, when circumstances just keep getting worse?

It looks like Joseph did, that somehow he found ways to keep doing his best, in spite of terrible and unfair circumstances.  The text says numerous times that the Lord was with him and whatever he did prospered, which I don’t see at all as meaning that he sat around eating the Egyptian equivalent of potato chips, waiting for the Lord to drop good stuff on him.  The implication is that he worked hard and acted in good faith, toward his master when he was a slave, toward the warden when he was a prisoner, and most of all toward his God, who acted in good faith toward him by sticking with his story, by preparing him through the hard times for big things in his future.  I don’t mean to suggest that Joseph’s success was the result of any sort of quid pro quo between him and the Lord; that’s not the way it works.  But I do think that our choices shape us, and that God drops circumstances into our lives that give us the chance to choose, to be shaped one way or another, toward better or worse.  Joseph had hard circumstances, but his responses to those circumstances and God’s involvement in his life shaped him into a man fit to run a powerful and prosperous nation, and to save it from destruction.  I’m amazed by that, and humbled when I think about my own circumstances, and the less-worthy ways I often choose to respond to them.

So I’m still thinking about Joseph today, about the murky middle of his story, and it gives me both hope and caution for my own story.  Hope that good things can and do happen, sometimes in spite of apparent hard circumstances.  Caution that hard circumstances are going to come, and I may as well get used to the idea, not in despair but as a means of preparation to weather them.  I’m reminded that my choices matter, my daily, mundane choices, from day to day and year to year — that this is the stuff of my life, it is what is making me, and so it matters what I do in these middle-days, it matters very much.  And I’m reminded that however things look, God’s presence is a constant, it is a sure thing, and he is working to bring about good things now, in my own life and in this present world, no less than he was in Joseph’s life and in his time.  Joseph chose to believe in that and act out of that belief.  The same choice is open to me, and the same possibility for astonishing things to come.

One Year

I wrote earlier today that I just came home from the Rhinebeck sheep and wool festival.  A year ago, I made my first trip to Rhinebeck; it was also my first ever solo road trip, totally planned and executed on my own, making my own arrangements, traveling by myself, all because I wanted to and chose to go through with it.  That will probably seem laughably simple and inconsequential to some, that a 32-year-old woman would travel five hours out of state for a quick weekend getaway, but for me it was a big deal.  It took some talking myself into, and some bravery, and I daresay some people will think I’m laughable for that too.  I suppose they’ll have to think what they think.

Since then, I have struggled with both depression and anxiety; I have visited the emergency room twice, scared about weird physical symptoms related to those plaguing conditions; I have missed many days of work, unable to cope with being there; I have been scared to stay alone in my own apartment a few times, afraid I would be unable to deal with the anxiety on my own, that it would spiral away out of control.  I have faced some of my own worst internal enemies, I have started the laborious digging out of the sources of my emotional maladies, a work I am not sure will be finished this side of eternity.  I have built an entirely new set of friendships from my online connections to the fiber community, have found a place among the most lovely, lively, kind and encouraging people; I have learned things about old relationships that I never saw before.  I’ve rediscovered my faith and started building a relationship with my God again, I have discovered a deeper understanding and interest in my own spiritual life, and the spiritual nature of the world, of everything that is real.  I’ve started learning the art of taiji.  I’ve started learning how to weave.  I have both found and lost confidence in myself, in different parts of myself, many times over.  I have felt proud of accomplishments and ashamed of failures.  I’ve been called out on bad habits, been shown how mean to myself I can be, how judgmental and unkind, and I have started to be able to call myself on those things, sometimes.  I have started writing again.  I feel like I’ve caught the glimmerings, maybe, of purpose, in the telling of my story as I live it, in writing about some of the things I think about, in hopes that other people will find something of value there, and will maybe be helped to live better inside their own stories.

It seems like an eventful year, written out in this way.  I want it to all add up to something; I want to live a life that’s meaningful, that goes somewhere worthwhile, that is worth telling about.  But I am also human, and I want to be safe, to be comfortable, to be at ease.  I don’t know what my story looks like to someone outside, I can’t turn the page and find out what happens next, not until after I’ve walked across that page and made my choices and left my tracks, in words or achievements or things made or things done away with.  I don’t know if I’m playing the part of a heroine or a fool, a sidekick, a villain, or maybe just a warning to others.  I can’t tell if I’m brave or cowardly or comic relief.  Mostly I just feel tired.

I am trying to remind myself, by thinking about one year past, that a lot has changed and so change is still possible — that the story continues, and the next twist may bring good things.  I think, I think that on balance, I have grown since this time last year.  I’m trying to hold on to that, to remember that however I feel, life still moves forward, that there’s hope, that I don’t need to know all the answers yet.  That the story will yet be a worthy one in the end.  And that I may be enabled to rise to the challenge of it.

Not what I expected

This past weekend I was away at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY.  I have been intending to write about it, once I had time and caught up on sleep and got my thoughts together, I thought I knew what I wanted to say, but I have been struggling for the past two days — not to find words, but with my reaction to coming home, with what I have been feeling.  Yesterday I was really tired, and thought that’s all it was.  Today I have to call it depressed.  I’m really feeling down about life right now.

There are not many places in the world where I feel like I really belong; not so many people who make me feel, not simply welcomed, but wanted, that my presence makes their experience of something better.  If I exclude my family, most of those people were at Rhinebeck, and for a little while I got to feel welcomed and wanted, and it was a joy, for a little while.  Coming home, picking up my ordinary life, makes me realize how little of that I feel in this ordinary life, how little joy I have, how little active expression of love, how little interest in what I do, how disconnected I am from the people I work with — how little joy and peace.  How much disillusionment, how much uncertainty, how terribly I want change, and how scared I am that it won’t come, that I won’t be able to do it.  Today that really hurts.  I thought going away to Rhinebeck would help me feel better for a while, but today all I want to do is cry.

All my fiber peeps, all of you I got to visit for a while: I miss you and I love you, and I hope life is treating you well today.  I hope we’ll get to see each other soon. 

What I Want

This post may be more passionate than eloquent.  Fair warning.

Have you ever had a few days or a week where a whole lot of things point you toward realizing something new, or acknowledging something that you couldn’t before?  The beginning of this week was like that for me.  It’s taken me a couple of days to get enough thoughts and enough courage together to write about it, and I’m still not entirely sure what to say.  I’m hoping that saying whatever I have now will help me toward what’s next.

In my taiji class on Monday evening, my coach told us about a Chinese saying which I sadly can’t remember precisely anymore, being Thursday, but it was to the effect of “work however hard on your martial arts skills as you want, chase perfection if you choose, but in the end it will come to nothing.”  The idea being, if I understood it correctly, that however hard you train, eventually your body will fail you — bodies wear out, they get old and weak and someday will die.  That idea caught in my mind, and was nudged further by the songs my iPod picked for me on the drive home — Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown” and “The Blues,” David Crowder Band’s “The Nearness” and “In The End,” especially.  All songs about the busted state of the world and the promise, the hope and expectation that the world will be renewed, that it is going to get a do-over and things are going to go right.  I kept thinking about this through the evening, again in the morning, and what life and work and what people choose to do means in the face of that; I was starting to plan a post about some of those things, big thoughts with spiritual background, when I got drawn into a couple of separate conversations on Ravelry with philosophical/ethical themes, and mentioned somewhere that I was pondering the great mysteries, again, and finally said to someone “I don’t now if there’s a word for what I am, but I don’t think philosopher is it.”  And she answered, “I wonder if you’re a theologian, someone who thinks and writes about how human beings approach the holy.”

That’s it.  That’s it.  That’s what I have been looking for, the thing I am, the thing that shows me a direction to pursue.

Looping out in another direction for a moment, I have written already about being dissatisfied with the work I do, but at least part of what has kept me from making any moves is not knowing what to move toward.  I tried to think about what else I could do, or what I might like to do, and other than knowing I’d like to do more writing and that I like work that involves making things, I didn’t feel like I had anything to work with. Maybe fear was getting in the way of me seeing clearly, or even trying to look, but that’s what I felt like.

One thing I do, one thing I have nearly always done, is think about things and try to find words to explain them, the most precise way to be able to describe or define something, object or experience or phenomena, whatever.  Partly it’s my own way of understanding things, but it’s also useful for being able to help other people understand too.  If I have thought something through far enough, a lot of the time I can find a way to explain it to someone else.  I enjoy having this talent — being able to find just the right words for something.  I think I can say I’m pretty good at it.  But I’ve never had a formal venue to be able to use it.  I don’t get to do it regularly.

Another thing that I’ve hesitated about is, if I know I want to write, what would I like to write about?  I am friends with a few writers now, people who write for a living, mainly about yarn and fiber related topics.  But I’ve known for a long while that wasn’t where I belonged.  I enjoy knitting and spinning and weaving, but I’m not compelled to study them deeply, to publish patterns, to write about the work I do there.  It’s just not what I need to do.

This blog helps me toward the answer.  I’m trying to write here about real things, about stuff I think about, things I live through — stories that come up out of my life.  Writing about truth is important to me, and especially the kind of truth that is hard to get at in any other way than through stories.  Truth about people, about relationships, about life and love and challenges, about the ways we are shaped into who we are, and what that means to the lives we live, to the other people in tho lives, to the world that houses us.

And more and more, I find I can’t think about those kinds of stories without thinking about spirituality and faith and the relationship of the Divine with the physical world, about how God-the-person interacts with us human people, and how becoming aware of God’s presence in the world is changing me in the world, changing who I am, what I think, what I do.  I want to be able to talk about that too.

I want to learn more about my faith, more about the Church, more about the bible — that astonishing storybook.  I want to learn more about those stories, about the people who told them and lived them, so I can learn from their lives and help other people learn from them too.

So I feel a little closer to what I want, what I may want to do: I want to write about real life and I want to write about spiritual things (which to me are not actually separate topics), and I would love to have the chance to learn more about theology and biblical studies.  I think I would really like to go back to school for those things, even though I don’t have a prospective job title for the future yet.  Even though I’m a little bit scared to say all of this out loud, to write it down and then put it where other people can read it, I’m saying it anyway.

There’s real hesitation for me in admitting that I want something — often even admitting just to myself that I want something.  I’ve had so little confidence in myself over the years, that it was easier, emotionally safer, just not to want stuff badly, especially not important stuff.  It was a way of protecting myself from what seemed like certain disappointment, because who am I to think I deserve to receive big things, or to make big accomplishments?  I think it’s evidence of growth that I am able to say this at all, and especially to tell other people about it.  But I’m still a little scared and really uncertain, because I have no idea what to do next.  I don’t know how to walk toward the things I want, or think I want.  So for today, this is the step I feel like I can take.  Admitting out loud that I want to go back to school, that I want to do more writing and better writing, that I want to write about things that matter and I hope will help people, that I want to learn more about my faith and live inside it more deeply and help other people do the same.

I’m admitting that I don’t have all the answers yet, but that I want to find them.  I’m admitting to myself that I don’t have a complete plan, which is always my tendency to look for first (and the lack of which often keeps me from doing anything), but that I have to make a start, I need to start moving and trust that I will be guided toward where I belong.  I believe in a God who is smarter and wiser than I am, and who has promised to back me up, to lead the way, to not leave me hanging.  If I really believe that, I need to get moving.

So in the end, this is indeed a messy post, not a polished one, not eloquent.  I’m letting it be this way because this is who I am in this moment, writing it: uncertain, unpolished, partly confused, but wanting badly for a change, for my life to start moving forward, moving toward things I want.

Snap

One of the concepts of taiji which I am trying to learn (and I don’t know if I can explain any of this correctly yet, so this is my best approximation of the moment) is that motion starts from the core of the body and moves outward.  When first starting out in taiji, I know that what I mostly paid attention to were the movement of the arms and hands, and where to step, where to put my feet.  I’ve since learned this is backwards; the hands are one of the last things to focus on.  I believe one of my coaches said it this way: if the rest of the movement is correct, then your hands are going to end up where they belong.  Focus more attention on the core, the center of gravity, the center of energy.

Yesterday I worked briefly on a movement called Grasp the Bird’s Tail, which begins with a strike, a quick forward jab with the right hand.  It’s a motion that actually begins at the right hip, with a circular flick that is transmuted up through the shoulder and down the arm, culminating with the hand darting forward.  The hand and arm move the farthest, but they are actually carried along and amplify the energy that comes from elsewhere, they are not what powers the motion.  It seems very similar conceptually to the cracking of a whip, or snapping at something with a dishtowel (an activity my brothers and I have a passing familiarity with — hey man, how’s your cheek?)  If I were to snap a whip at a target, assuming I actually knew how to do that, it would look on the surface that the whip does the cracking, that it’s the flick on the end that performs the strike.  But a whip, on its own, is a totally passive thing.  If I held the business end of a whip up in the air, it would just dangle.  Nothing dangerous about it at all.  It’s the energy of a whip-crack that does the striking, the energy imparted to it by the person holding the handle.  The whip itself is merely a conduit for delivering that energy.

So I was working on this idea of keeping my arm relaxed while performing this striking motion (which I am still not very good at).  My thoughts wandered laterally, as they do, into real life and the things I’ve been mulling over lately.  I’ve written some things here recently about being unhappy with actions that I do or don’t do, things that I don’t like about the way I’m living life, and it came to me that my external actions are like the whip-snap of intentions and energy that start far within, that come up out of who I am and what is important to me, out of what I set my mind to doing — or don’t set my mind to doing.  The motive power behind a life is the energy and intention of the mind, heart, and spirit.  But what we see are the externals, the literal and concrete actions that are performed out in the world.  When those actions are off target, that’s where we want to focus our attention, where we start trying to make changes.  But changing the externals directly can be like trying to keep a whip in mid-strike from hitting its target.  You can’t just catch the end of it; it’s very small, very fast, and I bet trying to catch it would either fail completely or hurt a lot.  Once that energy is in motion, it’s going to be really hard to stop.  A much more certain way is to control the energy at the start — to redirect the snap by taking hold of the handle, to keep the whip from cracking wrongly by just not cracking it at all.  To let it crack rightly, by learning a better aim.

This isn’t a new idea, exactly, I’ve heard it before in different contexts over the years — that in order to live well and effectively, it’s important to have clarity at the center, to know what your values and goals are, to know what you want to aim for.  This image of the cracking whip brings it home to me this week — that I’m muddled at the center, and so my energy is flying in all directions and I’m hitting things nearly at random, smacking the things I always smack just by habit.  I don’t know what I want in life, and so how am I going to grasp the handle, how am I going to strike true?  How do I even know what constitutes striking true?  This image helps me see where to focus: inside, and what to work for: clarity, about who I am, and who I want to be.

The spiraling dance

On Monday evenings I attend one of my bi-weekly taiji classes, which are normally a joy.  Tonight though, I felt disconnected, uncoordinated, vaguely annoyed.  For the first few months I worked with the other less-experienced students on a simplified training form, a stripped-down version of the form the advanced students have been learning, developed for the purposes of teaching fundamentals. For the last three weeks, though, I have shifted to working on the “big kids'” form, Fu-style Lianguiquan, and it is a whole other world.  All of the basic movements I am familiar with are represented, but in a different sequence, sometimes with additional details or emphasis, and with some totally new movements interspersed.  Before I started learning Lianguiquan, I felt like I was pretty well getting the hang of things, like I knew some stuff about this taiji business, which I daresay was a little truth plus a lot of hubris.  I’m certain there’s much I’m not even seeing yet, let alone understanding, let alone able to do.  But at least I was happily ignorant of what I was missing.  I am gaining a greater awareness of it, along with fumbling through a great deal of new choreography, and as a result, I feel like everything has rather gone to hell.

Let me be clear and up front that I don’t believe this is objective fact; I am really in no position to judge my own progress at this stage, and I’m guessing nearly all students spend a good deal of time fumbling around during the process of learning — it is probably not an incorrect statement to say that the fumbling around constitutes the learning sometimes.  I’m pretty sure that “all gone to hell” is not a fair way to judge my progress so far.  But subjectively, that’s what it feels like.  And I have to admit, I really kind of hate it.

It’s taken me a while this evening to figure out what the problem is, to be able to get words around it and understand.  Talking briefly with one of the coaches after class, he reminded me that much of what we’re working on is familiar, that I already know these movements, now we’re just putting them together differently and learning some more about them. I agreed with him; I know that’s true, I know I actually have learned a great deal and now I’m building on what’s gone before.  But that is actually the root of the problem: I feel like I know this already, like I ought to know this, that I ought to be able to do the parts that are familiar, better and faster and more smoothly.  Instead, I feel like I’m fumbling through everything, even the basic form that I thought I had down.  It seems as though the new knowledge I’m trying to put in is disarranging all the stuff that was comfortable and settled, and so it’s all a mixed-up mess and I’m floundering.

Once again, let me be clear that objectively, I can believe this is probably typical — I’m not an expert on how the brain and body assimilate new knowledge and skills, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this is just the way the process works.  (Any brain specialists in the audience?  Am I completely wrong here?)  But this messy, saw-toothed progress, several steps forward, several steps back, doesn’t feel right to me, to the perfectionistic judge inside that is trying to say “come on already, you had this part, why are you suddenly crap at doing it now?”

And there’s the dark lie again, the unreasonable standard, the thing that tries to make me believe I’m nothing if I’m not proving myself by my performance.  There’s no room inside the lie to fumble, to take steps back, to lose ground, even temporarily and in the service of moving forward.  There is either constant progess or nothingness, obliteration of self, negation of worth.  No in-between.  No space to breathe, no room to move, no grace.

So here it is again, the dark lie underneath, dragging down my spirits and distracting me during class, wrecking my concentration with annoyance.  But tonight I’ve spotted it, and I’m calling it out.  I’m calling it what it is: false, untrue, unsound.  Wrong.

I’m going to continue my practice and try to remind myself to breathe, to relax, to extend to myself the grace that is so much easier to offer other people.  Taiji is a beautiful art, it is deep and wise, it is lighthearted and joyful, it is calm and intentional, and these are all things which I want to grow in as well.  However jagged my progress, however rubbish I may be, I want to keep moving, to continue the spiraling dance that is Taijiquan.

Adventure

One thing I often forget is that life needs some adventure to stay really alive and interesting.  Infusions of new experience are good for me, they wake me back up again, and I don’t pursue them often enough.  Especially when I am inclined to hang out inside my own thoughts too much, or spending too much time down in the dumps, both of which have been true lately.  Fortunately, I had an adventure planned in advance for this past weekend.  I was privileged to visit my friends Alison and James in Maryland, and accompany them to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which they have been attending and involved with for many years.  Saturday was a perfect day to spend outdoors, wandering the village among the trees, experiencing the kaleidoscope of sights and sounds and tastes that make up Faire.  There’s no way I can write about it all, but I will make a start.  

I am sure many of the visitors to Faire think of it more or less as a sort of Renaissance-themed amusement park, but there is a great deal more underneath, for the regular attenders and those who work for the Faire or for one of the vendors.  Part of the fun of Faire is acting silly and bawdy and winking at the absurdity of the whole thing, in full recognition that it’s all play-acting, that it is made up of modern people with 21st-century cars and houses and jobs waiting for them outside.  But for some, the play-acting is rooted in real knowledge and curiosity about the people who really did live in the villages of Tudor England and elsewhere.  There is a great depth of knowledge about how the people of medieval and Renaissance Europe lived and worked, how they dressed, what they ate, how they treated each other, common customs, and all the details of real life.  While visiting a furrier, James, Alison, and one of the gentlemen of the shop whose name I sadly do not know, spontaneously engaged a number of visitors in a discussion about the history of garb, particularly male leggings, tights, tunic-length, and codpieces (yes, indeed), as well as the Scottish great kilt — a seriously practical article of clothing, as it turns out.  It was clear that this is a regular occurrence for them, that they are always ready to talk about what they know, to dispel myths and disclose surprising facts, to chat and correct and volunteer any sort of information to anyone who is curious.  As I was told at one point, it is a highly academic and educated form of geekery, and I love that.  The official events and entertainments are modeled on the same pattern: some of them are intended simply to be raucous fun, but others are seriously educational, the performers winding their jokes and gags around real information about types and uses of weapons, the various pieces that make up a full set of plate armor, all of the different games that collectively make up a joust (it’s far more than trying to knock your opponent off a horse with a stick), the personalities and conflicts between Henry’s six wives, and much more that I did not have opportunity to see this time around.

Some of the most interesting things for me were not the entertainments, but visiting the onsite vendors, particularly those making real articles that would have been characteristic of what was used at the time.  Far from simple tourist trinkets, there was such a huge amount of artistry and skill represented there, I can hardly get my head around it.  There were weavers and seamstresses, wood-turners, carvers of wood, bone, and antler, jewelers, glass-blowers, leather-workers (I am sure there is a proper word for someone who works in leather, and I confess right now I have no idea what it is), and more.  Some of the artisans were at work in their shops, and were completely willing to talk about what they were doing and how things were made.  I think I could happily spend several weekends just soaking myself in all of the craftsmanship and gorgeous items available for sale, wishing I could own many of them, but happy to at least see and touch them, happy that there are people who still value such work and develop it to such high degrees.

Many visitors to Faire get into the spirit of the thing by coming in costume, but coming as a guest of Alison and James means taking “costuming” to an entirely different level. Alison works for one of the vendors, a high-class clothing shop offering garb such as the nobility of the time would have worn, and Alison and James are both specialists and connoisseurs.  The garb-closet in their house is a sight to behold: acres of velvet and silk, dresses, bodices and stays (think “corsets”), doublets, fine linen partlets (think “shirts”), cloaks, pants, tights, gorgeous hats, belts, boots, and more.  It is a wealth of both clothing and research, most of it made with a real eye to authenticity of materials and construction, and all of it beautiful.  Very generously, I had my choice of nearly anything to wear, and I found it very hard to choose; I would have loved to try on just about everything, if there had been time.  The final choice was a knee-length pirate coat of burgundy velvet, richly trimmed in silver thread, with a swirling lower half made from literally yards of material.  Underneath the astonishing coat was a linen shirt trimmed in lace at collar and cuffs, a set of black stays, which provide a serious education all on their own to the person who dares to strap themselves in for a day, black breeches which were hugely full in the upper leg and laced tight around the calves, and black boots.  Finishing the ensemble was a leather belt, pouch, cup-holder and wooden cup — all completely practical and necessary items — and a brocade hat with a spray of feathers, in a shape reminiscent of a fez, in keeping with my chosen persona elsewhere online.  Hair was braided and left hanging; a deliberate choice, as respectable women of the time would never go out in public without their hair up.  But a pirate does as she pleases, thank you kindly, and never mind what the respectable sorts say.

So for Faire, I got to step briefly out of my life as mild-mannered, self-effacing Cris, into the persona of the Dread Pirate Westfaire, some distant relation I am sure of the famed Dread Pirate Roberts of Patagonia.  It was simply impossible to assume that garb without also playing the character that would inhabit it, all swagger and arrogance, and so I stalked around the Faire village, head high, scarce deigning to notice the “commoners” in lowly modern garb, though quite a number of them took notice of myself and my companions, James and Alison dressed as a high-class gentleman and lady of the time.  It was a good choice for the day, flying in the face of the doubt and lack of confidence in myself that I have been plagued with recently.  And above all else, astonishing good fun.  It’s been a long while since I had the chance to play a character of any sort, and it was marvelous to have the opportunity to feel a little of that again, without the accompanying responsibility of remembering lines or entertaining a crowd.  It was completely refreshing, and as I told Alison on Sunday morning before heading for home, I can’t imagine now going to Faire without wearing proper garb, it was such a vital part of the experience.  I hope very much I have another chance to assume a persona from the Closet of Wonderment and Velvet, and walk the paths of Faire as a woman from another time.

The Renaissance Festival is a singular event, which can be engaged in many different ways — many people attend simply to eat and drink and carouse and watch some shows and be entertained and go home happy and sated.  But for those with an active curiosity, it’s possible to learn and explore and think and feel your way into a sense of what life used to be like for some of our ancestors, to see how they approached the common things of life that we also need to address — as well as eat, drink, carouse, and carry on.  It was a great day, I’m hugely thankful to James and Alison for outfitting me and taking me along, and I highly recommend it to anyone who can get there.

So this week begins more positively than last week ended, with the fun of an adventure in between.  I’m already thinking about future adventures, because every time I get to have one, I’m reminded how good they are for me — but then I forget in the humdrum of everyday life, and I get bored and stale and mopey again.  This month is fairly full, I’ve got a few really awesome things coming up, but after that I need to make some further plans.  Next time I get mopey, someone remind me to get off my duff and go do something new, will you?

Can I just admit

After reading yesterday’s post, some friends reminded me that I’m being hard on myself again — and I am. I read my own words, and remember that I have said nearly the exact same thing before, elsewhere, at least once, probably more. It’s true that I want to be able to do good and worthy things in life, maybe even great things, but the truth underneath that want is something bent. I don’t want to take on great things for their own sakes, but because I feel like unless I accomplish something, I’m not worthy of acceptance and love, and the bigger the accomplishment, maybe the more worthy I am — and the terrible other side of the lie, that if I don’t accomplish anything, then I am thoroughly unworthy of being loved. This dark lie has lurked in my emotional underlayers for my entire life, and it has affected nearly every part of that life, because it is part of the foundational reality I believe in, that I understand the world through. It steals my strength and makes my footing in life unsure, it keeps me still and static, because I can never tell when the next step might give way under me. It is a complete, utter and disastrous lie, and I haven’t stopped believing in it yet.

Can I just admit out loud that I want for the lie not to be true — even if I can’t really believe it all the way to the bottom of me yet? Can I say out loud that I want to be loved for myself, not for my accomplishments; that I want to be appreciated for who I am, not what I do? That I want to be able to do good in the world just for the sake of doing good? That I wish badly to be loved and hugged and held and kissed and appreciated and deeply close to another human being? That I want to be secure enough in my friendships not to doubt them, without constant affirmation that yes, my friends actually like me? Can I admit out loud that I want to see the world as a place with arms open, smiling in welcome, rather than arms crossed, skeptical eyebrow raised, waiting for me to earn my own place in it? Can I say that I wish I could be content and happy, regardless of circumstances? Can I say that I want love, to be given and to give away? Can I really just say that and own it?

Even if I can’t stop believing in the lie yet, can I at least admit that I wish it wasn’t true?