Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rumi and the Groovaloos - Art and Inspiration

One of my favorite lines from Rumi is "Let the beauty you love be what you do. There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground". Maybe at first the connection between a thirteenth century poet and mystic and a contemporary hip hop group isn't that obvious. And I'm not insinuating that I'm an expert about either of them. But the connection is what comes to mind after my trip to New York yesterday to see a Groovaloos performance.

This started out as a Christmas gift for my grandson (see previous blog 'A Business Lesson'). Shawn and I were both so excited about the concert itself and the idea that we'd get to meet the cast after the show. I was expecting skillful and energetic dancing, lively music, and hoping that the performers would be as gracious as my few brief contacts with Bradley Rapier's wife via Twitter. And I was hoping, also, that Shawn would see something that would somehow inspire him, to see that there are things worth working for.

Our experience surpassed our expectations. The show was fantastic! There were life stories movingly or explosively told through music, dance, poetry, and individual voices. There was such connection with the audience. It didn't feel like just performance. You were brought to care very much for each of the dancers. I thought of so many young people who face similar conflicts, roadblocks, and decisions - who may not have the outlets provided by movement, but who might be encouraged by these stories to find their own paths.

The audience was invited to meet the cast after the show in the lobby - autographs were signed, pictures were taken, conversations were going on all around us. I was so impressed by the graciousness of the group.

The difference between art and craft is much debated. For me, the distinguishing factor is that the artist makes meaning out of the tools at hand. So something can be beautifully made - but it would be the meaning of it that makes it art rather than craft. And there was plenty of art in this production.

One of the most inspiring stories of the group belongs to Stephen Stanton, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 2003. Told he would not walk again, he shows up on stage, often with his cane, but definitely not only walking, but dancing. I loved that among this group of young people who often look like rules of gravity do not apply, he demonstrates that dance is so much more than just a well behaved body. It makes me wonder "So as these dancers age, will they still be telling their stories through their movement - what kind of art will they be sharing?" Maybe it will be through teaching, maybe they will morph into other things like so many of us do. But I have to admit that I would LOVE to see an older version of this sometime. If we learned nothing else yesterday, we were certainly inspired to dream - and pass it on.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is my dad's birthday. A lot of people who have a holiday birthday wish that they had a different date. I even had friends at one time who celebrated their child's half birthday so it could be more special, not get lost in the Christmas festivities. But when I asked my dad last year if he minded having his birthday on Christmas eve, he said that he enjoyed it. And my mom made sure it was a grand occasion.

Because of his birthday, we would have our biggest celebration on Christmas eve. Mom baked for months ahead, putting tins of cookies and appetizers in the freezer. We moved around frequently when I was growing up because of daddy's job, so we were often separated from extended family. My parents solved that by having an open house party on Christmas eve for neighbors and friends from work. I loved these gatherings! There was so much good food, festive decorations, lively conversation, and sometimes dancing. People would come for a short while before church or show up afterward. Some years we'd go to a late service after the guests left. It felt like a perfect ending to such an evening - the smells of pine and incense, the music, the beauty of the church, and the stories of another birth so long ago. And that dead tired feeling you get after so much excitement.

Last year my dad turned 85. We flew to Seattle to help them celebrate and had planned a big party with their friends at my brother's home. As it turned out, Seattle had the biggest snowstorms they'd had in over 25 years and the party was postponed several days. Many people couldn't get there even then - but it was such a treat to see how enthusiastic my dad still was. His delight is contagious.

This year we are back to celebrating the evening with our children and grandchildren. So many families share similar circumstances - separated from loved ones over these holidays, with phone calls and memories to maintain the ties.

When daddy turned 80 we couldn't be there so we made a video for him. One of the sequences had our grandchildren sitting on the couch doing "Are you 1, are you 2?....." and gradually falling over as they got closer to 80. As though they were getting exhausted, just counting. Never mind having lived through that many years! Here's to another journey around the sun. Happy Birthday, daddy! Are you 1, are you 2....?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Business Lesson

You know how you sometimes stand outside yourself and watch what just happened? And sometimes that becomes a great learning experience?

Last week I watched the So You Think You Can Dance finale with my grandsons. One of the groups they had on was the Groovaloos. We've seen them before and love them - so were eager to watch for their number. My 14 year old grandson was exclaiming over some of their moves, my 4 year old grandson was just dancing along. One of the dancers was wearing one of those earflap hats and Shawn suddenly commented that he'd like one of those. Shawn is very particular about his clothes, so when he says he wants something, I take notice. "Aha! A possible Christmas gift! One he might actually wear!"

Yesterday I went into NYC to see a play with some friends and we passed street vendors who were selling inexpensive versions of the hats. So I picked one up. Then last evening I tweeted about it, mentioning the Groovaloos' inspiration for this gift.

This morning when I checked my Twitter - there was a one word message to me from the Groovaloos! Well, that was cool enough. And I thought, "Wow, somebody there has it set up so they can check anything that comes along that refers to them. And they respond! "

I hadn't bought Shawn a real gift yet - he's at that age where it's hard to do much more than give them gift certificates or money. But I thought - "I wonder how much a ticket to the Groovaloos would be? I't's probably out of my range - but maybe." So I went to their site - and they had a range of prices that I could handle. They're only going to be in New York till January 3rd - so I had to make some quick decisions. There was nothing standing in the way - so click, click, click - I am now the proud holder of two tickets, and am thrilled at the idea of spending some fun time with Shawn.

After I finished all this and the dust settled, I realized what had just happened. Because this group responded to some little compliment, I was favorably impressed by them. And I realized that they had something (a performance) that might fit one of my needs (a cool gift for my grandson). So I bought tickets from them. If this happens to them even 5 % of the time, they're going to have a continuing stream of customers. For any of us in business, it's a great lesson. They didn't try to sell me anything. They just paid attention and responded. What a great marketing tool. It's the little communications that might make someone remember that you have what they want. And even if you're not in business, it's a good lesson. In this age where responses often seem to be too much effort for people, it's good to remember that a little courtesy goes a long way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What Do You Want for Christmas?

My earliest memories of Christmas are sensory. I can remember back to 3 - some I think is real memory, some may be embellished by family stories. I remember being in bed and hearing bells - like jingle bells. And I remember being pulled out of my sleep by someone, not wanting to wake up. The story part is that we were staying with my grandparents and my grandfather was telling me to get up, that Santa Claus was there and I'd better hurry if I wanted to see him. Grandpa would laugh telling that story years later.

Gifts were always a huge part of Christmas. We didn't have much money for many years - so mom would save up the things that we needed and get them then - all wrapped up. It made the tree look really full. Packages with socks, underwear, mittens - practical things made special. I still remember the ecstasy of getting a dollhouse one year, my beloved record player, various beautiful dolls, a pogo stick - and I think my all time favorite was the year my mom made a trunk full of clothes for two of my favorite dolls. I still have them - they were so beautiful and became more precious as I got old enough to realize that she had to wait till we went to bed each night or off to school to find some time to get the sewing or knitting done.

As an adult Christmas has never been the same. I remember crying the first few Christmases of my married life - it wasn't the same just going back to visit. Preparing for the holiday for your own family was so much work! You begin to realize that the events that you treasure in your memory didn't just happen magically - your parents struggled and sacrificed and worked hard to create something for you.

I tried to do that for my own children. One year when I was a single parent raising my kids, in a fairly new relationship with my present husband who had children of his own, we decided to get the kids together to share Christmas eve. I was frantically working to make everything perfect. I'd spent weeks after work decorating, cooking, baking, buying gifts, wrapping presents. Early that evening I asked for some help and didn't get the quick response I wanted and I snapped at Al. He asked why I was behaving like this. I said I wanted everything to be nice. And he said quietly "We'd rather have YOU to be nice."

I can tell you, I was furious! But after I stewed over that remark for a while, I began to realize that he was right. What I really wanted was for us to all enjoy being together, to share in the beauty of the holiday - much of which was available without all the work and frenzy. It has taken years to pare down, to give up what is non-essential, to come to a place where I don't identify with people all around me saying "I can't wait for Christmas to be over!"

I love being with my family. I love the family who can't be here. I love Christmas music. I love homemade cookies. The scents of Christmas - a balsam fir, citrus,cinnamon and cloves, the little bursts of light and color in darkness, the quiet of Advent, the stories and liturgies at church ground me in tradition and joyful reflection.

I enjoy small doses of shopping, especially for the children. I enjoy some baking if I can fit it in without feeling rushed. We love having gifts made in our name to groups that bring hope to people who have few options without a little assistance.

The Christmas story is rich in lessons; you could spend a lifetime uncovering the gifts it offers. I've come to realize that what I want for Christmas is the open heart that makes transformation possible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Time Vanishes

I remember participating in a women's evening potluck about ten years ago when we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell the group something about us that really caught our interest. I forget what I answered. I had interests - many of them. But a couple of women talked not just about something that interested them. They mentioned "When I do (whatever - painting, gardening, writing) I lose myself. I forget time. I come to after awhile and I've been in a different place. It sounded mystical, transformative. I wanted that. And I wasn't experiencing that.

It was the kind of thing that I felt that I should be able to get. It sounded like runner's high. In all the years I ran, I never experienced that, either. I was disciplined. I went out early every morning, through all kinds of weather. I got a little faster, could go a little farther - saw some progress. But I'll be darned if those endorphins ever kicked in - unless you count how good the shower felt when I got home again, and the virtuous feeling I had that I'd made myself do something good for me.

It was the same when I tried to meditate. I fidgeted, I made myself sit and practice letting thoughts go - but it was almost impossible for me to get to that place that you read about - the place of refreshment, revelation. If I were honest with myself, I had to admit that I couldn't quite see what all the hoopla was about. I must not be doing something right.

I think many of us lead lives that fall a little short of what we'd like for ourselves. We try various things, we decide that either they don't work for us or that other people are exaggerating. We give up and settle.

But I am here to offer you encouragement. There are times when I now know exactly what those women were talking about. It has been a long time coming. And I can't tell you what it is that works. But I've had the experience of losing the sense of time, of immersion in something that I was working on that was absolutely fascinating to me. I know that it has to do with many small steps, reading and listening to a number of suggestions, coming back over and over again to ideas that seemed to be useful but that I'd drop when I got busy or stressed.

Perhaps the first step is acknowledging there is something we want for our lives. Being in the moment, losing sense of time is treasure.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rural Women's Conference and workshop

This past weekend I had the privelege of being invited to do a workshop at the annual Rural Women's Conference held in Binghamton, NY. This is sponsored by the Rural and Migrant Ministry and was founded by my friend, Ruth Faircloth in 2006. The purpose of the conference is to provide connection for rural women who are "isolated by location, language, culture, and resources", and to help them "develop strategies and networks for change".

The location in central New York makes it possible for women in especially underserved areas to come together. One woman I met who recently retired and lives about 40 miles from Binghamton was so excited, "Things like this don't happen out here. You think of the big cities, but not here. This is so wonderful!" She returned to school getting a degree in ministry as she was preparing for retirement and she may become one of those who take on the role of ally to this group of women.

Workshops were geared to health, careers, domestic violence, justice, and families. Some address spiritual needs. I was asked to provide a session on creativity and joined forces with the other woman, Jill Austen, who had also been asked to do one. She was focussing on storytelling, I offered painting rocks. Blending the two gave participants the possibility to tell their stories in words or images - or to just play. We all ended up having such a good time. Ruth had told me that she'd been wanting to include a creativity segment for a couple of years. And while it is fun, there is ample evidence that stimulating creativity reduces stress and helps people rethink the ways they operate that keep them stuck.

For me, the most exciting part of these conferences is to see the young women who attend. They are often from families who have struggled through many barriers and to see them taking on leadership roles while still in their teens is really inspiring.