Listen

“Most of us today walk around with all five senses in fine working order, yet we lack the focus that allows us to truly taste and see.  Our primary experience is limited to quick and shallow sensations and perceptions.”

– Michael Gungor

That was me.  I had arrived in Mexico for a weekend away with my husband, to celebrate my 40th birthday (and our last five anniversaries).  I had spent a month aching to escape the bitter cold, away from the craziness of everyday life, with nothing to do but lie in the sun.  And here I was, “relaxing” on the beach, but I couldn’t actually relax.  I was antsy.  I missed my kids.  I had brought the wrong book.  I was bored.

This confused both me and Marc, who silently wondered what the hell was wrong with me.  We went to lunch and he asked as much.  Nicely.  “I don’t know,” I said, thinking I had reached a new low on the scale of fickle idiocy.  I actually wanted to go home.  It was 70 degrees, the palm trees were shimmering in the breeze, I didn’t have to make food for anyone, and I was depressed.  “Do you think you just need to detox?” he sweetly posed.  “No,” I emphatically answered.  I was just a jerk.  That was the only conclusion to be made from my state of mind in the midst of such lovely circumstances.  And this horrified me.  By the end of the day I was tired of trying to enjoy myself, and Marc was tired of trying to enjoy being around me.  Not exactly romantic.

The next morning I hoped for a turn-around.  We ate breakfast and headed to the beach, a new book in hand.

At this particular resort, we were sandwiched between the bass pumping at the beach and the bass pumping at the pool.  We eventually found a lesser-base-pumping location in the middle where we could hear the waves lapping, sort of, and read without Pit Bull interjecting his deep thoughts on booties.  Sort of.  It was the perfect example of what we read about for the next two days.

I had given Marc Michael Gungor’s The Crowd, The Critic and The Muse: A Book For Creators two Christmases before, and he knew this was his chance to finally read it in full.  I, on the other hand, had spent hours figuring out the logistics of childcare and instructions for said childcare (two kids will go to Aunt Pat’s on Thursday while the other goes to Nana’s, Grandma will get there by pre-school pick-up on Friday, the older two will take the bus home, Grandma will drop the kids off at Nana’s on Sunday, school starts at 8:55, Mae can’t have gluten, the spaghetti sauce is in the pantry…) and five minutes thinking about what I should take on the trip.    So I arrived with a dumb magazine that inexplicably comes in the mail each month and two books I grabbed off my nightstand.  So we shared his.  And it ended up saving our trip.

The book talks about how artists have to choose whom they will listen to in terms of what and how to create – the crowd, the critic or the muse that inspires them.  And it examines how the world around them can make that a difficult choice.  A big part of the book discusses noise.  The noise of culture, technology, consumerism that we live amongst.  How appropriate, then, for my weekend away from the noise of the every day.  And how ironic for the place we were.

An all-inclusive resort (at least the one we visited) is, by nature, prone to noise: tons of people, live music, Zumba parties at the pool, loud drunk men.  And to over-indulgence: buffets with enough food for one million people at each meal, drinks all day every day, 50 pools in case 49 of them are not to your liking.  Which could be fun, I suppose, with a group of friends.  Or if someone else was paying.  But we needed something different.  We needed quiet, calm, detoxification from the clatter of our everyday lives.  Something, I’d argue, that everyone needs.

As I said, the book we read is explicitly for creators (it’s in the title), which Gungor argues (as would I) includes everyone.  From the back cover: “…Gungor reflects on that creative, divine spark that exists in everyone.  Creativity is not a gift for the elite or the eccentric; it is a gift inherent to the human soul, but it is a gift that needs some nourishment and tending in order to thrive.”  Yep.  Marc makes films, I write, but we also spend a lot of time creating our family’s culture, I create dinner, Marc creates a mown and raked yard.  Some people create lesson plans, some electrical wiring, some a newly functioning artery in another person’s body.  Etc.  But each person, each creator, needs time to be quiet and consider their muse.  What energizes them and sparks that creative power?  For Marc and me, getting rid of the crazy all around us is part of that figuring.

Here’s why:

The person who creates from the noise simply adds to the noise.  The person who creates from a place of listening, however, can actually make something worthwhile and enjoy his work in the process.  Think of a writer who is still in love with words, or a cellist who is inspired by the sound of bow across string. (pg 63)

When I stop and listen, I remember.  That the sounds of words when put together is the very reason I began writing as a child.  Making meaning out of these symbols is thrilling to my nerdy, logophilic heart.  Marc loves the way he can make an image say something.  The power and beauty of a series of shots, plus words, plus music.  A movie.  It makes his soul sing.  But we have to stop and sit for a bit to remember.  And to get our juices flowing again.  Otherwise, the creating becomes wrote and dull and dead…

When art becomes a mere distraction from our first-world boredom, it will devolve into something less human.  It will become animalistic and trite.  But it will certainly be entertaining. (pg 82)

 Now hear me correctly: I actually like Pit Bull.  Fireball fuels many a kitchen dance party in our house.  He is absolutely entertaining (and luckily, hard for my kids to understand).  That is why every third song on the radio, and played over the giant speakers on the beach in Mexico, is a Pit Bull song.  And in my view there is a place for “purely entertaining.”  We all need a good beat to dance to.  We all need an escapist adventure movie from time to time.  They don’t all have to be deep and meaningful and make us think.  But without the deep and meaningful, we, as a human race, are sunk.  Depth and meaning are what make ART with a capital A.  The stuff that drives and pulls society and keeps it afloat.  The lifeboat for life with a lowercase l.  It points us to greater things.  To bigger realities than what exists directly in front of our faces.  Oh how I need it, and how I need time to listen and remember.  So I can create, myself.

By the end of our trip I reached the other end of the fickle scale and didn’t want to leave.  I found the four things I actually liked from the buffet, had gotten used to sleeping without a preschooler joining me, and really really liked being warm.  But I felt filled up.  The book, the time to disconnect from the usual, and inspiring conversations with my favorite fellow-creator did their work.  The margaritas didn’t hurt either.  Despite the noise of our resort, we were able to stop and listen.  It was enough.  And in contrast to the all-inclusive, enough is all you need.

 

Later

She just decided.

Last Friday my nearly four-year-old daughter decided she was going to be potty trained.  We had hoped this would happen months, maybe even a year or so, before.  We started with getting the little potty out.  Making it available.  Having her try it with clothes on, then with nothing but a good book.  We then moved on to a very casual rewards system – “If you go potty, you can have a piece of chocolate,” we said with a smile.  No pressure.  A just-so-you-know situation.  As we neared three and a half we started getting antsy and upped the ante bit by bit: a piece of gum (highly coveted as a big-kid treat), ice cream, a special date with Daddy.  We took a trip to Target and she picked out what we hoped might finally motivate her: a pack of Little People princesses.  She would get excited – regale everyone we saw with the growing list-o’-bribery, wide-eyed with anticipation.  Then the eyes would return to normal size, a satisfied smile would cross her face and she’d say “I’ll do it later.”  Later.

I thought “later” meant never, but clearly, if she had the wherewithal to know it, she meant: “When I decide.  That’s when it will be.  I desperately want to be in charge, and in this one case I actually am.  Ha!  You can’t make me go, I’m in a struggle between my desire to stay the baby and become a big girl and need to work this one out on my own.  Got it mom?  Later.”

Got it.

She just needed time.  Which is the same thing I need when I’m working something out.  From the days when I, myself, potty-trained, to high school when I was attempting to decipher boys, to college when I was pondering what I believed about the universe.  To last week when I was figuring out why I was grumpy.  It all takes time.  And perhaps this year of waiting for Mae to crack the code of her own psyche is a good warm-up.  Foreshadowing her years of working-it-out to come.  I need to remember this.  As the internal investigations mount, and are more complicated than “To pee or not to pee,” I should look back at her potty training days and remember that she’ll get there.  Sometimes with my help, and sometimes all on her own.  She may just do it later.   Got it, Jenea?

Got it.

Crave

(Posted on the blog Bird On The Wire, Feb 27th, 2015.  Here’s an excerpt and a link to the full post…)

 

Parenting is a whole lot of sacrifice.  I’m not saying that’s bad.  It just is.

It’s been ten years since I started having kids.  I knew going in that it would take sacrifice, beginning with my body.  “Here’s a home for you, growing fetus,” I offered.   And here’s a way to enter the world.  Here’s some milk from my breast and a nice squishy belly to rest on until I can retrieve some semblance of my former ab muscles.”  I did this with gladness and passion and a sense of purpose I had never known.  Three times.  I will admit the words “I don’t feel like doing this today; I’m tired,” did escape my lips during my last delivery.  But love brought my baby girl forth, nonetheless.  With the help of an epidural…

Link to Bird On the Wire post