Goodbye 2009, I guess…

Time has always really freaked me out. I think it is that I can get on a plane and travel back and forth through time zones. Or maybe it is that I don’t really understand how we all agree upon this thing called time and how inexact and precise it can be at the same time. It really hit me a year ago today, on the eve of a new year while sitting in a basement in Portland, Oregon.

I had just spent a wonderful two days in Seattle, Washington before taking a train down to PDX for a friend’s party I thought I had been welcomed to join. Well, let’s just say I was wrong. Not only did I get uninvited to my friend’s party, but the humiliation was witnessed by my hosts whom I considered my family. Lucky for me, however, they took me in on short notice and adjusted their “going out on the town” plans to “staying home” plans. You can’t erase a sting like that though. The trip had mostly been planned around celebrating the new year with what I thought to be my best friend at the time.

Fast forward and you would find me in that basement, lounging on the couch with the sounds of heated conversation and mixed drinks floated down from the party upstairs. I had received a phone call from my friend in snowy Chicago. As he shouted, “Happy New Year!” I realized he was calling me from the future. I sat in Oregon in the year 2008 and he in Illinois in the year 2009. This baffled me for a moment. It also made me scared. Time and space are entities we have no choice but to surrender to. You can’t slow down time. You can’t stop it. It keeps going, with or without you. It has rules that we abide by. And so I came to this question: How do I match myself up against time?

The obvious answer is what we do every time this day comes around: we reminisce. I have spent much of the past week thinking about how badly I want 2009 to be over already. As if the passing of time really fixes the bad things we try to forget about that have happened to us in a year’s time or more. This became particularly apparent to me as I found remnants of 2008 strewn across my closet floor. In a pathetic attempt to forget, I had buried them deep in my closet. But as we know, these things come back to remind us that time has its grip on us and that someone will need to use that box you placed those things you wanted to forget in, leaving them exposed for you to find unexpectedly. And no matter how much time passes, it still hurts to remember the bad us humans do to each other year after year. Just when you think you have forgotten, you find that box of letters you meant to burn. Just when you think the wound has healed, you get a package in the mail that rips the sutures from the skin.

So what do we do? What does 2010 offer me that 2009 didn’t already take away? Well, I think there is always hope in new beginnings. Inevitably 2010 will be every bit as good and bad as 2009, but it’s the humans we meet along the way that make it worthwhile, whether they hurt us or not. I can only hope I get a call from the future tonight when someone reaches 2010 before I do. I can only hope that while I lost some people in 2009, that I can find more meaningful ones in 2010. But whether that happens or not, I can’t stop time. And I certainly can’t erase it. So 2010, please be kind to me. Or at least help me remember what matters.

The creature in the wall

I am a musician. Music has been in my blood every since I can remember. I was given my first guitar at 15 and I never looked back. However, it was not until two summers ago that I seriously began to write my own music. Cover songs were my forte and I had mastered the art of making them my own, but had been too scared to live up to the greats in my head. Why write your own music when there is so much good music already out there? But I took the plunge. I began to write and the I thought the process would kill me. Perfectionism is a flaw of mine that has kept me from doing a lot of things. So I toiled and toiled until I gave up and moved on with my life, sticking to other’s brilliant work.

I picked up a book that summer entitled The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It had been assigned for a class I had in the fall but I could not resist reading it (the cover was too tempting with a couple kissing in the rain). So I cracked it open and was hooked from the first page. The story of Bendrix raptured me. The book rarely left my hands in the span of a week. Once it was over, I quickly turned back to the beginning and began reading again. I felt something strange happen to me. There was some kind of itch in my soul after my encounter with this piece of fiction. I could hear a sort of whisper coming from the walls around me.

And so I picked up my guitar and put this literature to music. Once it started, it all came tumbling out through my fingers and throat. I felt I was at the mercy of my own work. This song had to be written for the sake of something… maybe my soul? I can’t be sure. I don’t know enough about these things. And so The End of the Affair was born. My first real piece of creative work that felt right.

I didn’t end up playing the song for any one but myself until months after it had been written. I still get nervous about putting my work out in the public square to be critiqued and tested. It started with just a small group of friends and the response was positive. How can it not when it is your friends right? And so after a couple more months of refining, I signed up for Westmont’s Phoenix open mic night – a big deal for a Westmont musician. The organization puts out a publication every year that is accompanied by a CD of all original creative work from students. You try out and if picked, you get to record with professionals (as close as you can get at least) and play at the release show in the spring. And so I jumped off and dove into this public sphere of music. The response was again positive, but nothing too exciting. I tried out for the CD with my Graham Greene inspired song. I made it and boy was I not prepared for the next month of events.

The recording process was tiring and made me hate the song by the time it was over. I was recording with other Westmont artists who seemed way more experienced and better altogether put up against my song about a dirty affair between two fictional characters. I gathered my things and expected to hide under a rock when the CD came out. I was approached by the music editor who informed me that she had been putting together the playlist and had decided to make my track the first one on the CD. Shit. There was no escaping this now. My fate was sealed. By the night of the release, all I could think was, “What have I gotten myself into?” I got up on stage and fumbled for a guitar that wasn’t mine which needed to be tuned and it was an awkward moment to say the least. I jumped off the bridge again and off to the races.

Once I had struck the last chord, I went deaf. I didn’t want to hear the silence or whatever else that followed my performance. I hate the ending of a song because I just never know what to do. It’s not like acting where the cast comes out and bows. In music, there is this awkward thank you as you walk off stage and you hope there is clapping. Once I slinked back into the corner of the theatre, I finally became a human again and got some small comments here or there. I thought they were being generous until what followed this mysterious night.

The next week, I was approached by people who I had met before and people I had never seen before and they all wanted to comment on my song. And this was the beginning of what felt like a flood of response in which I had dreaded more than people hating my music – they actually liked it. Shit. What have I gotten myself into? And from that point on, I was grouped in with Westmont “celebrities” and the only song request at any musical event I play at was (and largely still is) The End of the Affair. No matter how much I hate that song, it will be my mark. Who would have thought that Westmont students love the story of that dirty affair between Bendrix and Sarah more than I did?

And so it is a year later and I move forward very cautiously. Why? Because I wonder how I can measure up to my own silly success that came in the form of that first song on the Phoenix. There was my one stroke of creative genius and it came on my first go at this whole compilation CD thing. With the Phoenix quickly approaching again, I am nervous. How do I find that genius again? And then I watched a video a friend showed me on the TED website: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html. This woman, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote a bestselling book called Eat, Pray, Love and now everyone is asking her what’s next? How do you top something like that? Her response is: I don’t know…

It is odd the way we have referenced the creative process as something that is very self involved. Gilbert presents an interesting idea, that maybe we are at the mercy of the creature of creativity. It shows up and it is our job to channel it. Other days, you show up, but it doesn’t. And this is the way it goes. Maybe we have to admit that this creative genius is outside of us and as much as we like to think we are in control of it, we are not. I know this well. Creativity often strikes me miles away from my guitar or in the car where I have no pen or paper. But sometimes it comes just at the right moment. This was my End of the Affair experience – the creative genius showed up and so did I. And to this day, a good song takes me no more than a day to write, otherwise I will toil and toil but nothing comes out. But that is okay. As Gilbert said, all we can do is show up for work. And maybe we will create something worth hearing.

So will I measure up to that song? I don’t know. I like to think I have some more songs worth singing in me, but I have to be dedicated to showing up and letting the creative genius do its work. And so I commit to this. Because it’s too big to do on my own.

Thank you!

It’s that time of year again… we get out our pie pans, the turkey, the yams, and of course, the wine. It’s the time of year when we celebrate Thanksgiving. While I am thoroughly convinced that this holiday is probably one of the biggest lies the government has fed us, I appreciate the sentiment behind it. I think giving thanks is important. And food, that shit is important!

What’s always bothered me about Thanksgiving is that it laregly serves as a signpost to tell us that Christmas is coming. Turkey – eh… Presents – hell yeah! It saddens my heart to think that Thanksgiving has really no significance other than gluttony. It’s almost 4th of July in November: an excuse for Americans to celebrate the glorified history of the best country on the face of earth (this is proven right?) by stuffing their faces with turkey instead of hot dogs and then bringing down the Christmas tree instead of watching fireworks. (Both can include large amounts of alcohol depending on who your family is… or rather how they make you feel)

But I mean, I have never fought to save Thanksgiving. I think giving thanks should be apart of our lives all the time so why dedicate one day to it? I was raised as a polite kid: say your please’s and thank you’s and mind your p’s and q’s. I have to admit that as of recent years, I have wanted to skip any kind of holiday that forces you to sit around and be persecuted by your family or any other kind of family interaction for that matter. Afterall, isn’t Christmas enough torture for me to suffer through? Thanksgiving for me has become the warm up for the awkwardness that comes around in December when the passive aggressive gifts are given and Grandma drinks a little too much and tells me how she really feels about me and everyone else for that matter.

This year, I decided to throw all that out. While cramming for a test this week (it’s truly is an art form) I came across an article from my Rhetoric class that presented an interesting concept. William Miller wrote this book called Faking It. The basic premise is that if we fake emotions that we are supposed to have, they can become a reality. Fake loving your annoying neighbor can lead to real love for that human being. I never really thought of doing something like that. It seems like something a liar would do to be honest. But there is merit to wanting to feel the RIGHT emotion, especially at times like, oh say, Thanksgiving… I should be thankful. That’s all there is to it. My family is not perfect or any where close to normal. But they feed me and pay for my college. They give a free room to sleep in. That’s pretty basic and essential and I should be thankful.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m swallowing my pride. I am going to chose love. I am going to chose happiness over anger. I am going to be thankful. Whether there is turkey or not, I will eat with my family and enjoy them. It’s what Thanksgiving is about… faking it. And maybe one day growing to really give thanks the right way – authentically.

Don’t touch it, it’s broken!

I am a human being, so I will speak on a human affair at this moment: brokenness. For the longest time I have felt ripped wide open, flailing around. I’ve been trying to grasp at something, anything to get me out of this state. And I am ready to admit this: I am broken. We are broken. Every person I’ve met, every one of them, they are broken. It’s part of this humanity that we have inherited. We hurt. So what do we do?

And this is where is gets sticky, because I think our first instinct when something is broken is to fix it. When your phone breaks, you replace it. When your watch stops ticking, you fix it. But can you fix people? More importantly, should we want to fix people? I’ve noticed this within the Westmont ‘community’ (whatever that word means). When someone acknowledges their brokenness we want to fix them so that our ‘community’ maintains some kind of fine and dandy appearance. What is that about? Do we really think this fosters a kind of ‘community’ we want? An honest one? One where someone can share their real experiences? Because inevitably, someone has had a hurtful experience at Westmont.

You see, I really think humans do good in the world when we simply acknowledge that we are all broken in some way: We have daddy issues. We have addictions. We are needy. We are abused. We have a broken family. We are unsure of ourselves. We are constantly seeking approval. We self deprecate. We don’t think we could spend one more day on this earth… (This list is not exhaustive so feel free to insert your brokenness here). What would it look like if we could admit these things?

No, I’m not saying, by any means, our brokenness should be an excuse to sit in a dark room and shut ourselves off from society. That would not be helpful to you or society. I think if we admitted our brokenness, really admitted it, we could use it to serve others. I mean if I am needy, isn’t there someone else out there in this vast world that feels it too? You are not the only one that comes from a broken home. You are not the only one that is cynical. I suffer from these conditions too. So let’s talk about it… please?

Right Sara, so what’s the bottom line? Well I’m glad you asked, sir. The fine line is this: if we just admit we are all broken in some way, wouldn’t it help us serve each other in more honest ways? We could stop bullshitting each other about how we are. We could embrace our human condition and figure out how to be healthy and serve people in our brokenness. We could learn a thing or two from each other. We could be there for each other in ways Christ is for us – meeting us exactly where we are. No judgment, no strings attached. And maybe we could actually start to define this ‘community’ we love to talk about.

Getting Away With Murder by @sarajunior

They say that chivalry is dead. Well that’s what happens when you murder something – it dies. How could I say that? Because someone, my dear lady, needs to say it. I say ‘dear lady’ because I hold you responsible for this gruesome act. This despicable display of innocence need not go on any longer. What are my grounds you ask? Here are the facts: you killed chivalry the moment you let that stranger creep into our life and ruin everything. I sat miles away with my hands in my pockets, waiting. And you let him in and you ruined our life.

It is not as if one act killed this thing, this… chivalry. I could bear that pain in itself without losing hope. No, it was that you slowly, slowly, slowly, let him tip toe in. Over months he had the time to formulate the perfect plan to defeat me and he didn’t even know I existed. I sat on the edge of the world waiting, while you stood on the mountains announcing my inadequacy. And I am supposed to be fine with this according to you.

Well you will not get off that easy, my dear lady. Especially since you started this… this you and me stuff. You are to blame for this murder of decency and common courtesy. And you will pay. For you see, because you chose to let him creep his way in, he will continue to prevail in your life. He’ll convince you this is right and this is what honour is. He’ll make you feel good if only for a moment. He’ll give you exactly what you’d expect and then he’ll leave you. Like you left me sitting here on this edge. And I’ll be the first to tell you that he won’t come back.

This is where you will realize what I have been trying to convey: because you let the thief win, the honourable one loses. Morality has been proven futile. I can love you from far away and in all the right ways. I can be there for you exactly when you need it and everyone else walks away. I can fill some lonely void you contain within you, but you will let him win. In the end, what has it taught me? That it doesn’t pay to be the good person. You crave the bad. You crave deceit and temporary satisfaction.

And so chivalry loses.
I lose for being good.
Morality loses.
I end up alone.
You chase that asshole all over the place.
And he’ll still rob you.

So this is my resignation. I will no longer chose to be the good amoungst the bad because, as you’ve proven, that won’t get me anywhere but loneliness. I must creep into someone else’s life to get what I want. I shall become the thief. I shall assist in killing off this chivalry they claim is already dead.

A Short (short) Narrative…

So I’ve decided to take a whack at this whole creative writing thing. I’ll post them here from time to time. If you hate it, better luck next time I guess.

Night on the Pacific
by @sarajunior

On a cold night, I watched the woman I love stand in the ocean, her body barely visible against the vastness of it. I saw her standing on the horizon, amongst the stars and the moon. She stood and watched the ocean roar, the salty water washing away her feet. And I knew I loved her. Her smallness against the universe. Her eyes gazing into that faithful tide. As her feet sank deeper into the earth, I could only thank God for creating those roots. Those roots spiraling down into the core of creation. And I knew creation was beautiful.

I knew that I could never love her enough. That her vastness matched the ocean depths. She could never be mine. She belonged to the author of this place. But I would try to love her. Just like that ocean, I would stand in her presence and tremble at her wildness. She may never know the creation I see in her. She may never know the promise I made to let her go. But the universe moves on through space and so must she. She’ll move on and leave me standing here breathless.

How the Bald Soprano can stop ‘global warming’

I was sitting at The French Press today, per usual, when a commotion from State Street caught my attention. A parade came marching down the sidewalk, signs and drums loudly declaring: “STOP! GLOBAL! WARMING!” While it took no more than a minute for them to pass by, it got me to thinking: are there enough people out in the streets of Santa Barbara that are oblivious to global warming for a show like this to be justified? What gives these people the right to interrupt a peaceful Saturday morning with shouting and drumming? And if I’m not mistaken, isn’t the correct term for “global warming” now “climate change”? All these questions and seemingly no answers! At least not from the protesters in that parade.

But I think there is a certain underlying issue here. The issue is not ‘global warming’ but the fact that we can join groups that march around and “raise awareness” about things we already know about while not actually furthering a solution to the problem. We get on our soapbox, so to speak, and TALK (or shout) a lot, but where is the action? Walking down State Street yelling “Stop global warming!” gives me no practical way to actually stop it or even know where to start. From what I know about climate change, in many ways it is a little late for us to be shouting about being eco-friendly. All that CO2 is trapped in the atmosphere from years ago when nobody gave a damn about Mother Earth. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to stop marching around and start actually living as if we cared? Wouldn’t our time be better spent turning off all the unnecessary lights that are on than marching around making a spectacle of ourselves?

And this brings me to The Bald Soprano. Thursday night (and last night and probably tonight) I saw Eugene Ionesco’s play put on by fellow Westmont students. Going in I knew nothing about it. I had no idea what to expect. After 2 hours of non-stop laughter, I fell in love. It is one of the most absurd and backwards productions I have ever seen, but strangely it struck some kind of chord in me. I walked out on Thursday night in disbelief, wondering if I had gone insane. I walked in on Friday night with as much excitement, if not more, than the previous night. Granted, the cast switches characters every night the show is running so you never see the same show twice, I felt as if I could have watched the same people play the same part and still be as satisfied seeing it twice, three, and four times over.

Between the showings, I went to a lecture on Eugene Ionesco, the playwright, on Friday afternoon. What I learned from that still sits steeping within me. He wrote the Bald Soprano in the midst of learning English as a third language. It was from copying nonsensical sentences from an English work book that Ionesco came to believe that language was absolutely meaningless. Words are just “shell casings with no meaning.” While I have not lost that much hope in language, I can see where this line of thinking is justified. I think those bellowing environmentalists are a prime example of this. Marching around shouting the same sentence by no means gives it the meaning needed for me to act on it. And this presents an interesting line of thought: maybe it is our actions that give birth to language and not vice versa. I can more easily ascribe a meaningful word when I see a human being living in a certain way than if I were to walk around saying, “Don’t steal! Brush your teeth daily! Call your mother!” These phrases seem absurd to act on when merely shouted or said; this is just what Ionesco demonstrates in The Bald Soprano. The Smiths and the Martins’ conversations lead no where in particular because they use language as meaningless shell casings. They bring to the surface the cliches we shamelessly inherit from generation upon generation of spoken and written language.

So bring me to a seminar on green energy and practical ways to practice it and I’ll give you my attention. But please don’t shout meaningless phrases at me. Take your soapbox elsewhere cause I ain’t listening.