Sunday, January 1, 2017

Burying My Youth

I recently came upon this quote from George Elliot while reading Alix Shulman's book Drinking the Rain: "When I buried my youth, I immediately felt 20 years younger." Having turned 50 this year, the quote resonated for me and I found myself asking, "What does it mean to bury your youth?"

Now, I'm not one to get overly dramatic about celebrity deaths. We all die eventually. However, as I was contemplating what it meant to bury my youth, and what it meant to turn 50, Prince died. And I had a reaction. And I tried to suss out what my reaction meant. It wasn't a tearful reaction, but it was palpable. This musical icon of sexual awakening from my teen and young adult years had died. Then I thought back to a moment earlier this year when I saw the new Star Wars movie and they killed off Han Solo. There, too, I had a reaction, one that seemed a bit larger than the moment might warrant. In the case of Han Solo I sobbed. I felt as if a part of my teenage self had been skewered by a light sabre, too. The death scene felt right, as it should be, but it was devastating in a strange way that I couldn't quite explain and that seemed silly when I tried to put it into words.

So when Prince died, while I didn't sob or really get particularly tearful, I did feel a compelling desire to mark the moment, dramatically. I blasted his music and felt it had to be blasted, not just listened to, and the windows of my car had to be rolled down to send the notes spiraling up into the world. I felt I had to wear purple and paisley. I wanted to post lyrics from his songs on my Facebook. Some part of me watched all this and said, "WTF, McGean?"

Is this part of burying my youth? This step by step process of watching idols die and thereby being reminded that none of us are immortal? When those icons of my youth die, it seems some piece of that youthful self goes, too. "What?" she says, suddenly looking up from her high school dances or her spins around the roller rink or her anguished diary entries or endless phone calls with friends or late night college conversations, "What do you mean, dead? Those people don't die, because I don't die. I am now. I am here. Forever."

In fairness, that self had her wake-up call many times over - first when a friend drowned while I was in high school, then in wave after wave of shock and grief during the AIDS epidemic. You'd think she'd have learned this lesson. And yet, she still seems surprised. Back then, she was outraged. Now, she seems to blink, startled, and look about like a small animal that finds itself in the midst of a shopping mall under construction when mere days earlier, it was a nesting ground. "Umm, why is everybody leaving?" she asks, as if she's at some dorm party. "Where are they going? Should I go, too?"She is puzzled, intrigued, confused, and fading. She's fuzzy around the edges. She's lost her relevance but she doesn't realize it. And yet, she still wants to give me things. She wants me to hold on to the parts that matter. She suddenly realizes she has to leave me legacies, she has to make a case for the things she wants me to keep because she's going away and can't be their custodian anymore.

This past summer, I decided to fully embrace the burial of my youth, to take a proactive stance. I remade my home office, where I do most of my writing, by replacing the futon couch, one of the first pieces of "furniture" I had ever owned as an independent young adult, with a magnificent purple love-seat. I rearranged the furniture. I massively decluttered, taking a great many things to Good Will, including many of those talismans of youth that no longer belonged in my life or world. I had several old sculptures I had made but never fired, pieces I had preserved in the safe, dry world of my home over twenty years and multiple moves, including one nude of a former boyfriend and lover. I chose a couple to keep, pieces that still truly spoke to me. The rest I placed in carefully chosen empty pots in my garden, knowing that Portland's rainy season would slowly and organically wear down the unfired clay, which it did, gradually transforming the pieces into shapeless lumps, and that process felt right.

I went through piles and piles and piles of papers and files - well more than twenty-years worth. It was an emotionally wrenching and exhausting task that is not yet finished but allowed me to free up space, physically and psychologically. I went through my bookshelves and gave away piles of books and carefully curated those I held onto. I took things off the walls and hung new things, putting the old art into storage or giving it away. I took photos of a few things I wanted to remember, while letting go of the physical objects themselves. This herculean effort had the complete support of my beloved husband, who helped me find new things and held my hand and gave me hugs as I trudged through the most draining parts of the effort.

When all was said and done (at least, done for now), I had created a soul space that felt so inviting, so warm, so energizing, so healthy, so right for me now that I want to hang out there all the time. It has become a place of creative renewal, a place for healthy reflection and centering, a place of safety and of comfort against new storms. Without ever having made a resolution to do this, I managed to create something externally that met a deep and urgent internal need.  I buried my youth and gave it a proper send-off, and in the process, as Elliot implied, I found myself lightened and reinvigorated.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Love Thy Enemy on the Campaign Trail

I've been reading BODY BROKEN, by Robert Benson, and, in a chapter that contemplated the phrase "Love your enemy," I found myself thinking about the presidential campaign. First, I thought about the need for all of us to remove the vitriol from our political discourse. But then I went further.

Bernie Sanders is not my enemy, though I support Hillary Clinton. Even if those who support Sanders push me the wrong way, I can stomach the notion of loving them, perhaps in the abstract, perhaps as a vague sort of tolerance or forgiveness, or an open-ness to the value of their ideas and the value of differing opinions in driving the ship of state. Right-wing Republicans are not my enemy, though I strongly disagree with most of their positions. But Donald Trump?

And so I find myself squarely faced with the ultimate challenge. Can I love such a one? I cannot tolerate him. I cannot stand him. I hate him. I hate what he says and how he says it. I hate what he stands for and who he is and all he represents. I do, indeed, see him as an enemy to the things I cherish and believe in as an American. I see him as one who is dangerous and must be stopped. And here Christ tells me I'm supposed to love him. What does that even look like?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beauty, Imperfection and the Divine

Complexity can feel like chaos. It requires imperfection. Human beings are complex. Therefore, we are also awash in chaos and imperfection. We can strive for lofty goals, but we have to embrace our flaws and the certainty that we will stumble from time to time - more often than not. We need to find beauty in the stumbles. We need to find beauty in the complexity. Perhaps they are the same thing. Maybe imperfection is complexity, and complexity is beauty. Life, the world, and humanity are not unblemished models of perfection. They are beautiful, flawed riots of complexity.

Striving for perfection has its own kind of beauty. Once in a while, we glimpse perfection, and those glimpses deserve appreciation. Their rarity lends them a special kind of beauty - our brush with the unattainable divine. They remind us what is possible.

Just as we appreciate a variety of flowers in the garden, so we can embrace and celebrate many forms of beauty - the fleeting beauty of perfection, the gorgeous lopsided-ness of imperfection, and the struggle and dance between the two. Each has its own kind of beauty, defined and judged on its own terms, as each of us should be.