Coming to the Stage- Part 1

I readily admit that I don’t know what I am doing.  I am an amateur at mostly everything, especially life.  But I love to learn, and I keep stepping to the stage.

ACT I

It started out small.  I remember being no more than five fingers old, packed tightly in a car full of my loved ones, grown-ups in the front seat, little cousins perched precariously on the laps of big cousins in the back.  We were on our way to the Alamo.  I don’t remember much about the Alamo, despite that being it’s thing… REMEMBER THE ALAMO, but I do remember the road trip.  The time spent in the car, the time wasted out of the car because of the multiple unscheduled stops my urgent and unpredictable restroom request caused (my young bladder was not cut out for the open road), the game of Catch-22 (long before I understood what a Catch-22 was) I played with my uncle where I tried to get candy (if I asked for skittles, he mischievously claimed to only have “ski-diddles” and when I asked for “ski-diddles” he confusingly only had Skittles).  This road trip to the Alamo contains my first memory of trying on other people’s lives: observing actions, speech, mannerisms, and then reflecting them back.  It is the prequel story to the saga of my passion for acting.

The first scene, takes place in front of a mirror, hanging on the wall of the motel room my extended family shares together.  I notice my Uncle “Ski-diddle” grooming in the mirror.  I have been captivated by him ever since our game of “chase the rainbow”; he is a giant and kind and playful, and without trying he nurtures my silly side.  Eventually, observing isn’t enough, so I stand next to him in the mirror, just barely tall enough to see over the dresser, and mimic his every move.  We wordlessly continue our little drama:  he brushes his hair… I brush my hair; he adjusts his clothes… I adjust my clothes; he shaves his facial hair… I shave my non-existent facial hair.  My very first improv scene.  My very first stage.

As a young girl, I wanted to be many things when I grew up, but I always included actress.  Growing up in church offered unique opportunities to “perform” before an “audience”.  One story, which I shall share in another post, and which my big cousins have never let me forget, involves having to be tactfully removed from the pulpit and separated from my new best friend, the microphone.  I was way too comfortable on stage.

Another moment, I can never live down, involves being obsessed with the movie “Coming to America”.  I loved the scene where the Prince of Zamunda meets potential wifeys.  My favorite thing to do was reenact one part in particular: I hold an imaginary lighter beneath my palm as the flames dance along my unflinching flesh, and quote in a most serious and monotone voice, “I was Joan of Arc in my former life”.  Oh yes!  Waaaaay too comfortable on stage.

INTERMISSION

Fast forward in my timeline past my awkward, insecure pre-teen adolescence, past loss and grief, and pause for a moment at my high school self.  I took acting very seriously.  I believed I was good at it, and I certainly loved telling stories and playing roles on stage.  But there’s is a but.  Having to audition, be judged, and compete for roles made me feel insecure.  I was no good at auditioning, and in fact, I had to tryout over again for three years before I ever made it into my high school’s theater company.  My senior year, I was finally able to perform in front of an audience, and yet I began to shrink on stage.

Shakespeare wrote that all the world is a stage.  The bard’s metaphor definitely applied in my case.  I shrank from a lot of stages in my life.  I continued to hold tightly to the desire to share stories and tell them truthfully, but I was less bold, it was like a birthday wish that you never speak aloud because you are superstitious it won’t come true.  I was afraid it would never come true.  I was conditioned into believing that it was not a sensible dream at my age: “you should study computers”, “do you have a backup plan”, “hardly anyone makes a living like that”.  Advice meant to helpfully shield me from the pain of failure, only redirected my energy at my short comings, and I acted out (or rather opted out) of fear of failure itself.  I traded in my dreams of writing and acting for more practical ones.  I didn’t major in theater or writing, and then later I became a slave to The Struggle (a perpetual cycle of working to earn money to pay bills and rent… only to work more to pay even more bills… saving little yet owing a lot, never getting much farther ahead); I reached a stage in my life where it was nothing but work or study: I neglected my personal needs and relationships and ignored my dreams completely.  But the thing about a calling is, it won’t shut up.  The small voice, no matter how drowned out by distractions or distorted by self-doubt, it remained nagging me during the quiet hours or in my sleep.

ACT II

Now fast forward to the part of the story where, I finally decide to listen and trust the small voice, to be more intentional, to take more positive risks, to once again step to the stage and follow my dreams, and to even have the nerve to blog about it.

I’ve shared my intentions, my struggles, and my hopes, but I realized I have been leaving you out of the process.  Up until now, I have only been sharing my dramatic revelations, the stories that, despite being delayed by tedious perfectionism and harsh self-critique, would not be silent and insisted on being told.  I haven’t connected with others who can probably relate to my struggles, people still learning and unlearning similar lessons.  I have been sending postcards after the fact, as opposed to keeping you informed the entire time.  I haven’t let you in on the everyday moves I make toward that elusive horizon where my dreams live.  I haven’t let you follow along as I co-create my new life.  I left you out of the process.

Sharing in this manner, only when I have profound revelations, does a disservice to both storyteller and reader.  It is giving you an obstructed view of the stage.  And how can we connect more deeply under such conditions?

Henceforth, my goal is to post at least once a week.  Publishing a new post every Tuesday.

I don’t have this whole, “what to do, now that you’ve started a blog” thing figured out, but I did learn that it is important to schedule post instead of posting on a whim.  I have a schedule now!  And now that I have shared the schedule, I have more accountability to anyone reading this.  See how I am learning new things!?!?  (Writer pats herself on the back, as she smiles way too enthusiastically at the fact that she created a schedule).  Have I told you how happy it makes me to share my work with you?!  Thank you so much for reading!

I am inviting you back on that field trip I promised a couple posts ago.  I want to share a more complete picture of the journey I am on.  I happily share this stage with you.

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The Discovery of Matter

Hello again!

I apologize for my prolonged absence; I was busy wrestling with some heavy scientific discoveries.  I am happy to report that I am back because I have made a phenomenal breakthrough.

(Scientific discoveries?  Breakthroughs?  But I thought this was a blog about following your dreams, becoming professional, being a writer, or lung capacity of whatever.)  

Believe me, I thought so too.  But a funny thing happened once I decided to actively pursue my dreams.  I’ll explain that a little later, but first let me get back to my scientific findings.

I discovered matter.

Now don’t go fact checking on Google or anything, just trust me.  If you’ve read any of my previous post then you know that I like metaphors and field trips, so willingly suspend your disbelief for just a moment and go with me on this.

I discovered matter.  Mind.  Blown.  Right?  I know.  My mind is just so incredibly amazing.  I discovered what all human life is made of.  My mind is also pretty powerful; it can manipulate matter, defying the laws of the universe.  For instance, I can disappear.  Now you see me… now you don’t.  You want proof?!?!  Here, I’ll show you.  Take for instance my long hiatus from this blog I just recently started.  Have you seen me?  No, because I disappeared.  More proof!?!  Okay, I am very skilled at disappearing; I vanished from dance companies, workout groups, family functions, relationships, and a lot of other things I used to really enjoy doing.  I have an uncanny ability to “catch ghost”.

Remember my mind is extraordinary… it can fabricate things.  More seriously, it fixates on things.  To be completely vulnerable, it fabricates and fixates on my flaws, mistakes, and misfortunes.  You see, I battle depression.  This is not an easy subject for me to put out there, but it has become imperative that I share.

Why even share deeply personal experiences?   This wasn’t my idea at first.  I thought that this blog was going to be all “what challenge am I going to conquer this week?”, but what I quickly discovered was that my quest to follow my passions only lead me deeper inside myself.  My journey lead me directly to what has been blocking me from pursuing that which I love.  Before I can go off completing challenges, becoming professional, earning titles, and saving the world… I have to first be honest with myself.  I am sharing these hard truths about myself and the way my mind works, because I am certain that I am not alone.  I am sharing this because there is someone else out there convincing yourself that you are not enough; fighting to stay barely alive, not living the life you want, feeling as though, at any minute, everything could fall apart, and that you might lose control.  I am sharing this because even as a deeply spiritual person, I battle depression.  I am sharing this because church folks unconsciously and consciously perpetuate myths that say having mental/emotional struggles mean that you are weak or faithless.  I am sharing this to erase the stigma.  I am sharing this because of Robin Williams.  Because it really hit me extremely hard, that someone so seemingly successful doing what he loved and was good at, who had battled depression for so long, could end his life.  I am sharing this because I have questioned whether or not I am supposed to be here.  Because I have wanted the pain to stop so badly that I have contemplated letting it all go.  I am sharing this because I know that life is a precious gift, yours and mine.  I am sharing this because I discovered part of my purpose is to make connections.  It is what I seek to do with my stories, and metaphors, and in teaching.  I want to help us realize how this is connected to that, how something you already know is related to something you don’t, how we are all connected, and that we all matter.  Our stories matter.  Our lives matter.

Speaking of matter, let me share my discovery:

Discovering Matter

“We’re made of the same stuff as the moon and the stars. The ocean’s salt waters just like my tears are”  -India Aire, God is Real

Matter is one of those things we learned in elementary.  Solids, liquids, gas.  Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space.  We learned that every living creature, physical objects, oceans, mountains, and just about everything is composed of matter.  The elements that compose great celestial bodies are some of the same elements found in our human bodies.  We are made of the same things and yet each of us is so unique.   I believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and yet sometimes I don’t want to be here… like on the planet… like in existence.  Sometimes it is because the pain living inside is too great to measure.  Sometimes it is because I am tired of being who I am, and I feel as though I am a horrible waste of human life.  My negative thoughts can easily convince me that I am “The Worst”.  “Who would really miss me anyway; my family doesn’t even need me; everyone would be better off without me; all I do is mess up; I am not making a significant difference in the world; I can’t even take good care of myself, of course I can’t help other people; life is too hard; dreams don’t happen; love is a lie; there is so much pain; it’s all meaningless; I don’t matter”.  Even as a very spiritual person, I struggle with feeling like enough.  However, I have finally recognized what triggers my descent into despair.

I seek approval when I want to feel like I am enough.  And in order to feel like enough, I want to be good at everything and make no mistakes.  I want to be enough because then maybe I’ll matter, to myself and someone else.  Every time I have considered “going gently into that good night” it has been because I am convinced that I don’t matter.  Some people harshly judge those who hurts themselves, believing that it is selfish or cowardly.  Others are simply confused as to why someone would ever self-harm.   To family, friends, and colleagues who are grappling with why: it is most often a desperate act fueled by despair and the misguided notion that things will never change and that life doesn’t matter anyway.  If we think we don’t matter, then we believe that we aren’t really hurting anyone else when we hurt ourselves.

This is of course false.  Anyone (family, friends, co-workers, random people who only know us through our work/reputation) can be deeply wounded whenever one of us self-destructs.  We are all connected, and every human life matters.  Every life has impact on others.  Like water, even small drops create large ripples that intersect with others, influencing the trajectory of what it touches.  One of the reasons I am still breathing air is because, I could always think of at least one person I might be hurting by giving up on myself.  My sister and brother (who already lost our parents).  The children I care for and teach.  My best-good-peas-and-carrots friends.  The connection I had to them saved me from hurting myself irrevocably.  Connection is key in combating depression, and unfortunately, one of the first things depressed people do is separate ourselves, withdrawing from people and things that add value to our life, disappearing into a world of solitude and sorrow.

But you seem like such a happy person; how can a person with such infectious joy be depressed?   Depression does not define me.  Depression does not steal all my days, nor does it control all my thoughts, it does however mean that the way in which I cope with life’s trials is different than those who do not deal with depression.  People who know me relatively well might be shocked to discover I am living with this heavy burden.  For the most part, in public, I seem like a pretty cheery, energetic, encouraging, glass half full, sunshine & rainbows type of person.  When you see me happy, it is because I have fought hell to be in that state.  It is like visiting Disney World, or seeing an especially outstanding show… most people don’t realize all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make it possible.  I do a lot of work behind the scenes so that it is possible to share my best self.  I strive to live in the moment, limit my impulse to complain, and practice gratitude for what I do have.  I am also a master at compartmentalizing.  My life can be falling apart in one area, but I make an extra effort to be joyful in the other areas.  My work with children, for instance, is my heart’s joy (my ministry).  I am in my natural element, so I am able to be my best self.  Many people believe children are cruel.  Children can be cruel, but those are kids that lack understanding.  Children that know and love you are surprisingly accepting and forgiving.  Even still, when I convince myself that I have failed my kids, my pendulum of emotion shifts to the opposite end, and I am thrust into despair.  It takes strong self-awareness, spiritual guidance, and conscious daily effort, but it is possible to live a full life.   And guess what!?!  I discovered that it is possible to do more than simply endure it.  We can actually enjoy our years on this spinning pile of matter.

One does not simply create matter

I matter simply because I am.  We do not have to DO anything to matter.  I have mass and take up space.  I am made of matter therefore I matter.  It’s helpful to others that I am a kind, generous person, with a sense of humor, and can make a mean sandwich, but that is not what makes me matter.  If all these things were stripped away, I am still significant, simply because I was created.  Ask a woman who has miscarried, her unborn child did not DO anything except be created, and yet the baby’s existence matters.  Being here, that is miraculous.  Being formed into matter means we already matter.  Simply because we were created.  And I believe that there is a reason we are here.  There is a reason we were created.  “Enough” came with the package… factory standard.  We. Are. Already. Enough.  We cannot earn our worthiness, and we cannot lose our worthiness.  Thank God for that!

As I type this out on my laptop, I am reminded of another metaphor, illustrating the importance of connection when battling depression.  Bear with me, it’s the last one (I think).  My laptop has a limited amount of battery life.  This means I can only work for so long before it completely shuts down, and I must reconnect the power cord to the outlet.  One day my computer shut down without warning.  I was extremely confused, because it appeared to be plugged in.  On my laptop, there is a light that indicates when power is being received.  When I checked the cords, I finally noticed that the light kept flashing on and off.  I realized that the connection was the problem.  It was faulty and had to be replaced, because it wasn’t doing its job properly.  It wasn’t connecting my computer to the power source.  Do you see the parallels?  My disconnect happens whenever I rely on faulty connections.  My mind is capable of creating the faulty connections.  “If I do this, this, and this, THEN I am worthy.  I must be this, this, and that first.  I can do this on my own.  Oh no, I have not done this, that, and the other yet, because I am not enough.  I don’t matter”.  If I am not connected to a power source, I can only go for so long before I can no longer function properly.  This connection not only keeps me running, it gives me energy to create more with what I am made of.  It gives me energy to connect to others and recharge them.

The truth is I have always been attached to the source, yet at times I couldn’t receive power.

I replaced the connection.

And discovered matter.