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Archive for June, 2015

Immerse Yourself In Creative Expression

Man’s being is like a vast mansion, yet he seems to prefer to live in a single room in the basement.  Colin Wilson

It was quite a celebration!  And Joy Center was alive with it all, a solstice evening event that honored the outer light that lasted well into the night in these northern woods, and honored our inner light as well on this day that beckons in the high holy time of summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  There was the bustle of people arriving, the welcoming and the visiting and the voices that rose to a fevered pitch as the crowd grew and the laughter flew up into the loft and the kids who flung the doors open with adolescent gusto and the mosquitoes that buzzed with their own summertime gusto and the air that buzzed with an energy that would not have been possible six months earlier in the quiet of the snowy dark winter solstice.  And then there was the quiet, as one of the event’s leaders rang a bell and we, now sitting in a circle in Joy Center’s main room, drew ourselves inward, drew all that longest-day-of-the-year energy into our beings, and found in the process our inner quiet and our inner light and that connection we have with this humming drumming sun-giving universe.  And that’s what happened next, we hummed and we drummed and we chanted, and the kids, they found fallen branches and they played their thrashing and bashing games on Joy Center’s outside stage.  And then there was the outside inaugural fire in Joy Center’s new fire pit and the offerings by the three leaders of their gifts of energy treatments and horoscope readings in loft and lower level, while more laughter and more mingling and stick-thrashing took place.

And I, on that solstice evening, slipped easily into the holding-the-space role, into the role of witness and host and overseer of the Big Picture.  It’s not like I wasn’t involved.  I mingled and I meditated and I moved to the drum’s beat.  And I ate my share of snacks, too, but I also made sure that the snack plates were filled up and that there were napkins and glasses and tea on the stove.  And I peeked out the window, every once in a while, at the enthusiastic kids and the fire that was blazing and there was a part of me throughout the evening that was scoping the scene.  It is a role that I sometimes play at Joy Center — willingly, joyfully.  And how fun it is to play at a role that I truly enjoy.  And how fun it is to recognize that it is just a role.  And that there are plenty of other roles out there that might also be a fit.  In fact, on that solstice evening, if I wasn’t so invested in my scoping-the-Big-Picture role, I might have tried my own hand at thrashing the branches on the outside stage or giggling my way up into the Joy Center tower or giving or receiving an energy treatment.  And aren’t we all that big?!?  Don’t we all have an adolescent inside of us who is a forward-focused motion of gregarious gusto?!?  And aren’t we all givers and receivers of energy, sometimes quiet and sometimes loud, sometimes reverent and sometime profane?!?  Don’t we all have rooms inside — maybe a tower like Joy Center’s —  that we rarely explore?!?  And maybe we can’t do it all at once, but we, as host of our own inner mansions, can recognize that our lives are massive and our inner homes are welcoming us to move in more fully.

And now I’m taking on that overseer role again, scanning the Joy Center schedule for Summer 2015 and finding myself stirred up and excited.  It is a good one.  It is a schedule thrumming with creative expression, a schedule that invites us all to play more fully in our inner homes.  And to have fun with each other as well.  There is the yoga that relaxes our shoulders, deepens our breath, stretches and strengthens our bodies, and reminds us that we are magnificent in these inner mansions of ours.   And there is Out Loud, too, the monthly opportunity to share our stories and poems and art and songs and whatever else strikes our fancy on that particular evening — and the Out Loud after-party around the fire pit for anyone who would like to extend the story-telling and experience the magic of a summer evening in the northern woods.  There is another magical evening with Josh Brown, singer of soulful tunes, who will lull you to a peaceful inner place of well-being with his pure voice, and another a week later, a fashion show with eco-designer Taylor Ehle, who inspires us with her creative designs and her passion for the earth.  There are two evenings of Book Art with Amber and Raja, always high vibe fun and productive, too, and an opportunity, at a workshop with Stacey Willey, to create a fabulous gemstone bracelet perfectly aligned for each of us.  How fun it all is!  Full Moon Celebrations with astrologer Jen Howell, opportunities to revel in the glory of the full moon, to connect with the wisdom the cycles provide, to drum and to dance our hearts out on summertime evenings.  And a Joy Center anniversary party that brings us a taste of all of this sweet and savory goodness.

So let’s go for it!  Let’s be explorers!  There are so many inner rooms beckoning us to enter, and there are so many outer opportunities that just might make our inner adventure that much more fun!  Let’s savor it all!  Happy Summer!!!!!!!!!

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Wildflowers in late June on a walk through these northern woods, 2015

Wildflowers in late June on a walk through these northern woods, 2015

My Father Loved Stories

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.  Joan Didion

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.  Brandon Scnderson

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.  Sue Monk Kidd

The most delightful surprise on earth is to suddenly recognize your own worth.  Maxwell Maltz

My father loved stories.  He was a grand storyteller, entertaining us, his children, with his own array of tales, true tales from his childhood, like the one when he and his four-year-old twin sister Josephine climbed into the family’s Model T, somehow made the car move and drove it down the grassy sloping hill of the Old House lawn and right into the wellhead. We squealed with delight when we heard such stories.  He also told us stories as parables and these were more serious affairs.  I don’t remember him ever yelling at me.  Instead, when I got myself in trouble at school or with friends, he would sit down and look directly into my eyes and tell me something that had happened when he was a kid, some lesson that he had learned along the way.  I always wanted to pull myself up and find the better version of the person inside after such an encounter.

Not only did stories pour out of him with a great generosity of spirit; he also held the space with that same generosity for the stories of others.  He listened with what seemed like every ounce of himself to family and friends and strangers alike, with keen intelligence and empathy, genuinely curious and caring about the lives of those around him.  I remember once, near the end of the school year when I was in ninth grade, after a memorial service in the Boston area for my Great Aunt Florence, how my father and I ended up on a bus heading back to Maine while my mother and little brother waited a day or two at my aunt and uncles for our broken-down car to be fixed.  And I remember all sorts of people on that crowded bus, all sorts of stories floating through the stuffy air.  And I remember my father saying to me — not in a snooping-into-other-people’s-business-way, but in an appreciative, even awestruck manner — how everyone, everyone has a story to tell, if you’ll just pay attention and listen.  And that evening back in our house by the sea, I remember that I made shake-and-bake chicken for my father, and frozen peas and felt quite grown up and I’m sure that we shared some stories, and it has stayed with me all these years, how I, like my father, am a holder of stories.

And I’m realizing that the people who knew him, they are storytellers too.  My father died two-and-a-half-years after that day on the bus, and, now, over forty years later, I am hearing stories about him, about his character, clear detailed vignettes, and I take each one of them into my storytelling heart and care for it as the most precious of gifts.  These stories are filling in the missing pieces for me; they are bringing my story-loving father back to life.  Every visit to Maine seems to hand me another storyfilled-gift, another picture in my mind of this father that I continue to get to know at deeper and deeper levels.  On my April trip east, it was a story handed to me by my cousin Gard that I took to heart.  It was a treat to see Gard, who lives in New Hampshire, but just happened to be the guest minister at the Swedenborgian church in Bath, Maine (my childhood church) the weekend that I was in town.  At a round table in a tiny private room in a local restaurant, six dear friends and relatives swapped stories.  And Gard, who was sitting across from me, in a sweet and gentle voice, said that he remembered my father as a teacher.  And I always sit up a little straighter when someone starts to speak of my father.  I always prepare myself for something special.  I want to really soak it in.

And his story was a good one.  Gard’s dad was my mother’s brother, and each Thanksgiving Eve when I was a child, the six of us, my mother and father and the four kids, piled into our old powder blue Chevy stationwagon and drove for what seemed a very long time to the suburbs of Boston, to Gard’s family’s house, a house with a long driveway on a huge wooded lot with a swimming pool and a tennis court and room after fancy room and lots of wood paneling and a big TV and, in the early sixties, it was exciting to be in a house with a big TV.  And that’s where you would find us, Gard and his three brothers, all older than me, and my big brother and sister, and my little brother and I, and any other kids who happened to be visiting, all sprawled out on big square pillows, transfixed by that TV.  Gard was old enough to remember this story, how my father peeked in, noticed the scene, and, moseyed into this wood-paneled kid-cousin sanctuary.  In retrospect Gard thinks that my father might have been alarmed by all the advertising and the way that the kids might be impacted.  So this was my father’s suggestion.  “I have a game for us to play,” my father offered.  And with the curious clan looking on, he twisted the volume nob all the way down to complete silence.  “Let’s just watch the commercials without any sound and see what happens!”  Gard remembers that it was great fun for the older kids, that the commercials became silly, hilarious, a ridiculous joke.  And the game stuck with them, and the commercials lost their power to persuade.  And the lesson that this story taught Gard, probably eight-years-old at the time, has stuck with him all these years.  And this is a story that I had never heard before until the Sunday afternoon in Maine two months ago.  And now it is in my treasure chest of father stories and and it is indeed a treasure.

And a more recent story is a treasure, too, the one my cousin on the other side of the family, my father’s twin’s daughter, told me a few weeks ago during my June visit to Maine.  She met up with a well-known-in-the-area artist a month or so earlier, someone she had not seen since her mid-twenties, someone who had connections with our family, and was once intimately familiar with the work of our grandfather, the etcher, who, though dead since the 1920’s, often gets the attention in such meetings.  And my cousin mentioned him, the artist, Ernest Haskell.  And this creative and buoyant man, in his booming voice, bellowed out, “Oh yes!  I remember him!”  And soon, my cousin realized that he wasn’t paying much attention to the more famous Ernest Haskell at all, the one who usually dominates artistic conversations.  He was remembering my father, the junior Ernest Haskell.  “Didn’t he write for the paper?!?  He was a great guy” he continued with enthusiasm.  And my cousin, knowing now that he was talking about her Uncle Ernie, nodded, also with enthusiasm.  And then there was the line, the one that he delivered with a bounty of appreciation, the one that I am receiving now with a bounty of appreciation.  “He knew I was good before I knew I was good!”

And, oh my goodness!  What could be better than that, to listen that closely, to pay attention to not only a person’s words, but to the essence beneath the words, to see a person that clearly, with that much holiness, to know that a person is good, not only at his or her art, but at their core, to maybe even know this before they know this.  Don’t we all want to be on both ends of this interchange?  Don’t we all want to be the holder of such attention and don’t we all also want to be the receiver?  I am learning from my father.  I am learning to be the witness of people’s stories.  And I am learning to see the goodness that is always present beneath it all if we have the eyes to look for it.

My storytelling father's desk: circa 1950's

My storytelling father’s desk: circa 1950’s

 

An appreciation for Joshua and the Voice

Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me  I want you to know I believe in your song.   from “Drift Away”, lyrics by Mentor Williams

I think Michigan keeps you sane and on an even keel through the ups and the downs.  In Michigan I do fireworks, shovel snow and live life.  Jeff Daniels

Michigan is two radically different places — the North and the South which makes for good drama and contrast.  Jim Harrison

A week ago, my husband Cam and I sprawled out on our living room couches, Cam on one and me on the other, with a candle lit on the coffee table between us, and Cam’s i-Phone next to the candle.  And, for over an hour, his i-phone played music for us, not just any music, but the songs that we have come to know and love from our nearly three-month stint of watching the NBC primetime show, The Voice.  As we relaxed into our couches, we listened to contestant Sawyer Fredericks, the sixteen-year-old boy from an upper New York state farm, sing Simple Man and Imagine and May Erlewine’s song Shine On in his clear heartbreakingly honest voice, and we also listened to May’s dear friend and fellow indie folk singer Joshua Davis, our hometown Michigan contestant, sing, in a wonderfully raspy and equally heartbreakingly honest voice, his selections from the show.  Arms of a Woman, America, Budapest, I Won’t Back Down, Fields of Gold, so many Josh favorites — we love them all.  And then we selected Drift Away, a song from Cam and my high school years that the two contestants sang together, and it was a beautiful melding of two different voices, a truly collaborative and generous performance by these sweet guys.  This was a Friday night treat, this drifting with the music, allowing the current to take us back to the joyride that The Voice had been for us — and for so many others, too, throughout the whole state of Michigan.

And as we get up from our couches and move on with our living, because we are moving on, drifting into the next thing and the next — Cam and I, and all the other fans of the show and the producers and the coaches and the performers as well — I feel the need to give thanks.  So here it is, my words of appreciation to the producers for creating a reality show on primetime television that is nurturing and instructive for its contestants, and entertaining and inspiring and uplifting to all of us who are watching it.  And I also thank the coaches, the four regulars in their red swivel chairs, and the guest coaches each week, all megastar performers, who consistently remained positive in their comments and constructive in their critiques and truly seemed to have the best interest of the performers in their hearts.  And I thank the show’s incredible band for providing a quality backdrop for the performer/contestants to give it their all, week after week.  And I thank the performers themselves, the whole 2015 batch of them, those that made it to the “Lives” and those that left the show earlier, for the courage to put themselves out there, each time knowing it could be their last Voice performance, and going for it, with heart and soul under the blaring lights of our critique.  And then there’s Josh.  It is Josh, that singer/songwriter, guitar-playing indie guy from Michigan who I want to thank most of all.  It is Josh who got me hooked on a show that had not even been on my radar before.

Josh’s dad and stepmom are Cam and my dear friends.  And I have been a fan of Josh’s music since his college years when his band Steppin’ In It would play at local venues in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I remember one concert in a field next to his dad and stepmom’s home on the banks of the Yellow Dog River.  This was years ago, when his daughter, who we now know as the beaming grade-school-girl standing next to her mother and front-packed baby brother in The Voice’s audience, was a toddler.  On that warm August evening under a wide expanse of stars, I was drawn in by this story-telling songwriter/singer with the raspy voice and the star appeal.  And, all these years later, I found myself drawn in again by that voice and Josh’s charismatic presence.  Early on in The Voice journey, his stepmom told a group of her friends that Josh had said he was going to ride the wave of this unexpected opportunity and see where it took him.  I feel that I, too, rode The Voice wave, and that wave’s momentum kept building in its intensity.  Throughout March and into April and May, Cam and I kept watching, and Josh kept playing his guitar and singing his way to the next round and the next, to the Lives one week, and on to the Top Twenty the next, and then to the Top Twelve, Top Ten, Top Eight, Top Six, Top Five, and into the Final Four.  Week after week, we bought i-Tunes, we pressed the Josh button on our phones’ The Voice apps, we learned to tweet, and Josh, with his wide smile and buoyant spirit, kept surfing along.  And we kept surfing with him!  And what a ride it was!  And what gifts there were in this wave’s three-month whoosh into shore!

Of course, there was was the high caliber, entertaining music, and there was the adrenaline rush that I suppose is always part of a surfing adventure such as this one.  And this adrenaline rush brought bold color to our lives during the dreary gray early spring of spitting snow and muddy trails in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and for that bright sun intensity, I will always be grateful.  But that’s not my biggest gratitude.  It was the sense of community that delighted me most.  On Monday evenings, when I would check my phone after evening yoga, there would be texts from husband Cam and hairdresser Ann bringing the highlights of what I had missed while supine on my mat, and voicemails, too, several of them each Monday from dear friend Garee.  And then, all week long, there were the people at our local branch of the bank, the tellers, the manager, all bursting with The Voice’s updates.  And friends at the Co-op.  And people who you’d never imagine would be watching primetime TV and people who don’t even own a TV, all on board this NBC wave.  And the local television station, too, interviewing Josh himself, and his dad and stepmom at home on Yellow Dog.  And somewhere in the middle of it all, the Monday evening pot lucks at the local Masonic Temple sprung up and a whole community centered in one room cheered Josh on.

And this wasn’t just a local thing because Josh isn’t  just a local guy.  Sure he was born in the Upper Peninsula and he spent summers with his dad and stepmom up on the Yellow Dog.  But his Mom lived in Detroit and that is where he also lived for much of his childhood.  And he attended and graduated from Michigan State in Lansing, has relatives in Grand Rapids, has toured the whole state for over fifteen years, now lives in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula in Traverse City with his wife and two children.  That was the exciting thing.  This wave was a statewide tsunami!  A high vibe wave of epic proportions!  Statewide, the tweets were tweeting.  Satewide, the potlucks were popping up.  Statewide, we were claiming Josh as our own.  And in the process, Josh, an indie folk singer with a wide grin and laughing eyes, on a primetime television reality show that many of us had never watched before, managed to do with ease what the politicians have often failed to do.  He brought the state, a huge diverse state with an Upper Peninsula and a Lower Peninsula, together in a rousing wave of excitement.  And I, who was born elsewhere in another state and always have made it clear that I live Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which is a world apart from the land beneath the bridge, felt something new rising up in me — a pride, a visceral full-bodied pride in this Great Lakes State.  I could feel the wave of excitement spreading out over the whole of the land and over the water in between, and for that I thank Josh and this momentum we all rode for three months this spring.

 

Joshua Davis: The Voice 2015

Joshua Davis: The Voice 2015

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