Finding My Tribe

Some days you issue a simple request, and the fulfillment of that request moves you in unanticipated ways… In this case, I asked a long-time friend, “Will you write for my blog?” His submission whisked me back to the magical summer when we met (even before reading this piece, I did think of it as magical). I had no idea, until now, that I had witnessed the birth of his passion for theater. We reconnected in college and I have been grateful to see him perform in multiple plays; in one more case, to be with him in the cast; to take college courses in theater and literature, some of those as we traveled England, and see and discuss more plays than I could count. And I am grateful to know that, even as life seasons have changed, he still finds his place and his tribe on the stage.

re:create recess #13: Daniel Seifert

The summer of 1983 was transformative for me. I finished junior high, turned 14 (I’ll pause while you do the math…did everyone get 48?), and moved to Colorado. In the middle of all that, I performed in my first play. I had seen a couple of plays before, and sang in a school talent show when I was six, but this was a whole new experience, and it changed the course of my life.

I have yet to meet anyone who loved junior high, and I spent those two years feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. The people whose opinions I cared about valued sports and girls, and they weren’t very excited about people who got straight A’s. My athletic ability was mediocre at best; my default when talking to girls was terror; and I learned quickly that sharing my results on our standardized tests would get me teased. Add to that the fact that the last four letters of my last name are F-E-R-T, allow yourself to imagine what Junior High boys could do with that, and you’ll begin to understand that I was ready for big changes in my life at the time.

So, when my mom told me about this group called Christian Youth Theater, I decided that since we were leaving California anyway, I could stop caring about what anyone else thought and just give it a shot. I auditioned and got cast as Muff Potter in their production of “Tom Sawyer.” From the first day, I was pretty much hooked by the whole process. The blocking and rehearsing, the sense of teamwork, even the costumes and makeup – for the first time in my life, I felt like I had found the thing I was supposed to be doing. As a bonus, there were a lot of girls in the group (including this cute blonde named Siv), and even though I wouldn’t describe myself as confident around them, at least I felt less awkward.

Me, left, as town drunk Muff Potter

When we moved to Colorado, then, I had a sense of identity that I had lacked before, and it helped to anchor me. I went on to do several shows in high school, and I was a Theater minor in college. The theater has become a refuge for me – the place that I am willing to work ridiculous hours for little to no pay, all because I love the process so much. The trust and camaraderie that develops in a cast; the hard work and struggle to make the scene come out just right; the mild terror of being on stage and dealing with mishaps; it all invigorates me and restores me to balance. I still do shows when I can, although the demands of a full-time job and being present for my wife and daughters require me to be better at prioritizing my time. I am also pursuing a Master’s Degree from Fuller Seminary, with a view to serving as a kind of chaplain to the performing arts community.

A 2015 production of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with me as town loser (and drunk) Bob Ewell. For the record, I do occasionally play nice characters.

Performing is my passion, and I don’t know that I would have found it if it hadn’t been for a remarkable summer of change. Oh, one other significant event happened that summer – I kissed a girl on the lips for the first time. [Full disclosure: since it was my first time, “near the lips” is perhaps more technically accurate]. I still know that girl, but that is a story for another time.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.

When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Practicing Re-Creation

Today’s guest post makes me so happy, in part because I recently got to spend an evening with this friend…in person, after WAY too many years (we have spent more years not seeing each other than we were old the last time we saw each other–yikes!). And because, as long as I’ve known her, this friend has demonstrated through her daily actions how to live creatively. I have watched her practice, keep at it, create, for the years we lived nearby and on social media over the years we’ve lived far away. I can’t wait for y’all to get a glimpse of this talented artist (by the way, she was also the first person I knew who actually said “y’all” and it has stuck with me ever since).

re:create recess #10: Amy Bailey

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.A Man Without a Country

When I think of re-create it conjures all sorts of deep aesthetic and art education theories and other related thoughts. Overthinking, no doubt. I am an art teacher. I facilitate creating. I feel blessed that my job is a chance to celebrate the unique and praise the process and growth in students. It’s an amazing thing to see the world from their own framework as they are influenced by nature, their interests, the limits and strengths of the supplies and art medium, art history and cultural awareness promoted in the lesson we are embarking on that given day. It’s a matter of how to be creative, how to be more unique, how to encourage creativity in others that stays with me most of my waking hours. My job is to pull creativity out of students despite their mood, what they had for breakfast and if they got a detention last period or aced a test. Yet, I make more excuses for myself about making ways and time to create.

It’s all re-creation and it’s all attempts to transform.

While I get to embrace creativity and it’s a natural part of who I am, I find it important to nurture my artistic side and battle with the challenge of making time for me when I’m not busy working and being a single parent. As an art teacher, so often I am creating art samples for my lessons at work and get these little moments to create that benefit my work and benefit me. Yet that doesn’t fulfill me as much as my own personal projects.

When I beat myself up inside that I haven’t made something big and artistic lately, destined to be posted on Instagram or mega-crafty Pinterest, I have to take a step back and reframe my feelings. Creative moments are not always about the big creative moments. They’re often little outlets in the day, from creative ways to send sweet words of love and encouragement to a new spin on a favorite recipe, a well-cropped photo on my phone, color choices to liven up my day. Then when life is most balanced, there is time for studio art production and writing a blog entry. 😉

That has to be very intentional. So how do I translate that to adult life? It should be easy, but it’s not.

What I hold to about creating is: it’s all really re-creation. Honestly, it’s all been done before.

When I am devoting myself to re-creation, those are some of the most refreshing times for me. Honoring the past by re-creating the symbols that connect the past and present for me are some of the healthiest and rewarding artistic moments I can have.

It’s never because I can make it better than the original; it’s because the original makes my life better. When I make a chalk pastel and charcoal blue jay, in no way do I make it better than the original forms in nature, but rather it connects me to a time in life that is gone. So I go back to the same subjects and draw them and paint them and print them, as a measure of preserving memories.

One of my favorite subjects to transform in art are blue jays. Losing my mother one month before my son was born left me in a helpless state away from friends and family figuring out parenthood with a spouse working eighteen-hour shifts. I had this sweet bundle to take care of and the awesomeness of that responsibility was terrifying and wonderful.

One day, I was feeling very alone as a new mother, wishing my mother was alive so I could pick up the phone and talk to her. As I cried out, I heard an awful squawk over and over again outside my window. I went to the window to find a couple of blue jays chattering right outside. In the two years of living in that duplex in downtown Denver I had never seen blue jays hanging out, nor heard them disrupt my day.

It clicked with me immediately that my bird-loving mother had this strange admiration for this grouchy, feisty variety of bird. Her bird feeder would be full of sweet and beautiful smaller birds and charming doves. She loved them all, and had this wonderful patience and love for this colorful, bold and confident bird. She collected bird figurines and spent a long time tracking down a jay. I had often wondered, because most people did not like jays enough to have one in porcelain!

So there I was with a newborn, grieving my mother, and these blue jays were calling out. I had to be bold and I had to remember I was not alone. As they squawked at me, I felt my mom was there. Now as I see blue jays flock around my house from time to time, I remember to catch my breath and know her love is with me. I must be bold and press through the challenges of my day.

It’s important for to hone in on those subjects that honor the past and celebrate the significant memories. Transforming it to keep it alive and vital in the journey.

Honoring the past and re-creating the symbols that connect the past and present for me are some of the healthiest and rewarding artistic moments I can have.

So I go back to the jays and draw them and paint them and print them as a measure of preserving my mother’s presence. The jays nag and nudge me to not dwell on what is missing and to fill life with the things that are loving. Creation, when I am most focused, re-creates feelings that call me back to times when my heart had less scars.

Amy Bailey is an artist, art teacher and proud mother of 2.

Recreate, Re-Create, Create

Ah, family vacations…! Since my dad traveled for work, our family didn’t take a lot of vacations. At the other extreme, my husband’s family shared annual adventures, each year a new version of the Great American Road Trip. A few years ago we took our kids on a two-week camping road trip–nine states, five national parks and many more state parks, 5,000+ miles–in which we shared experiences much like today’s guest blogger. The power of the family vacation, family recreation, to re-create and re-energize the individual and the family cannot be underestimated. I’m looking forward to our own summer adventures, just days from now.

re:create recess #9: Donna Schweitzer

When this year’s guest blog series topic was announced, I felt a little stumped but jumped on board anyway, knowing I would somehow figure something out. I put Create/Recreate in the back of my mind and kept playing with the words, figuring out how it applied to my life and how I could write about it.

Our family is the typical busy family. With three teenagers, two of whom are in high school and involved in multiple sports and activities, we are continually on the run. Summer doesn’t provide much of a break, either. It seems we are constantly in and out of the house, rarely getting time to sit down together as a family.

We’ve had a rough go of it this year–I had no idea raising teens would be more difficult than parenting toddlers, but that’s the simple truth. The first few months of 2017 were particularly challenging to me as a mother. I had to figure out myself and my children all over again. I felt lost, adrift, untethered. For awhile, I thought I needed to change, become a different mom altogether, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I muddled along, withdrew, stumbled through days and weeks. I talked to friends who have been through this process already. I read books on parenting, something I haven’t done in years. I cried. I yelled. I gave up. I fought on.

Spring Break blessedly arrived in early April. We’d been planning a trip to Utah since fall, so early on a Saturday morning, we loaded the kids into the RV and headed towards Moab–our first stop on this week-long vacation. Originally, other families were going to come along, but it ended up just being the five of us: a blessing, I would realize.

We spent three days at Arches National Park in Moab, then moved on to Bryce Canyon, and finished our week at Zion National Park. Our days were full of hiking and biking. The beauty of Utah exceeded all expectations. We challenged ourselves with scary activities, like climbing up a steep rock and scooting back down (I have a huge fear of heights, particularly of falling off heights). We talked, played board games, cooked together, watched movies every night, made s’mores over fire pits, laughed, and shared experiences.

Yes, we ran out of patience with each other at times. We argued some. We got frustrated, and not everything was perfect, but we had an amazing time. My teens–who, even when they are home, usually are in their rooms or have their faces in screens–hung out with us, and (gasp!) seemed to enjoy it. We added to the fabric that is our family story/history.

It was a healing week for all of us. We reconnected, re-engaged. I discovered I didn’t need to become a new type of mom just because my kids are entering a new phase. I rediscovered myself. I learned a lot about them. We re-created our family through that week of recreation. We created memories we will carry with us always.

We took a LOT of photos during the week, over 500. But I didn’t take all of them myself. Typically behind the lens, on multiple occasions I gave up control of the camera so I’m actually in many of the pictures. I love the perspective gained from seeing what each child chose to photograph; I learned about them just by seeing what they chose to document.

Next month, I will take those pictures on a scrapbooking retreat and will memorialize our trip. I am frequently asked why I don’t just do digital books anymore–so many sites make it so easy to create photo books. I love the process of putting glue to paper, deciding on layouts that best show the selected photos. I relive each day, each memory of each trip, as I scrapbook. I love holding the photos in my hands, the feel of the paper, the texture added by ribbon, tape, stickers, letters, and embellishments. I love holding the finished book, and bringing it home to share with my husband and children. I love watching their faces as they turn the pages, and remember those moments from our trips. I love being able to re-create memories through creating those scrapbooks.

Recreate, Re-Create, and then Create.. It’s been a year of learning, a continual process.

Donna Schweitzer has been married to her husband, Michael, for eighteen years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children, ages 16, 15, and 12, who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Reading April-May 2017

Reading has always been one of my favorite recreational activities. I read to lose and find myself in stories of people like me in situations unlike any I’ve ever–or will ever–encounter. I read to explore the world, different cultures far and near. I read to find our common humanity, our shared emotion in vastly different experiences. I read to learn new intricacies and ways of being in the world. Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Lily and the OctopusLily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A highly original man-and-dog love story. This book is funny and crazy and adventurous and oh so sad while also hopeful. I look forward to another book from this author.

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to ForgetBlackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Searingly honest, in parts painfully so. And therein lies the point: alcoholism is painful, a pain-inducing response to a painful set of inclinations based in biology, experience, and one’s personal psychological and physical response to it. This could have been fiction, and the tragedy is that it was not. And yet, thankfully, there is hope. There has to be hope. Always.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong PeopleAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! I am not Lutheran nor high-church liturgical. I do not swear like a sailor and I do not have tattoos. Nor am I brave or vulnerable enough to write as she does in this gorgeous book about God’s grace showing up in very ordinary people (though I aspire to vulnerably write of grace in the ordinary).

Nadia is simultaneously irreverent and reverent. She is refreshingly honest, mostly about her own faults and mistakes and sins and how those are the very cracks through which God shows up with His soldering iron to repair and redeem and make something new and better. Again and again and again, she points to grace.

We don’t agree on every point. Her theology may be more progressive than mine. But she loves Jesus and she loves His church. And, without force, with grace, she continually directs people–and herself–to Jesus, who loves without bounds and forgives without reservation.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard about this book when I heard Oprah was involved in a movie version for HBO. The movie is out this week so I rushed to finish it (sadly, while I love Oprah, I didn’t love the movie). Although I am not a scientist (or even a scientist at heart), this book contains threads from so many genres: epic multi-generational family drama, sci fi, ethics, philosophy, biology, tragedy, quest, even coming-of-age. Skloot first heard about HeLa cells–and that they came from a black woman–when she was a 16yo non-traditional high school student taking a community college biology class. She devoted much of the next ten years to seeking out the whole story: of the cells and the woman from whom they came, their significance to scientific progress, and of her family over generations. The story kept me turning pages and the science, explained in a very readable way, didn’t sink me. For so many reasons, this is an important story. Read this book, and then read more about the Lacks family.

The MothersThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This might be putting it on a little strong, but here it is: if Shakespeare had been a contemporary young black woman from SoCal, he might have written this book. The Mothers, the old church women who gossip and pray in turn, function as Macbeth’s witches. They narrate the interweaving story of three young people, and see into their future and past with little to say about the present. Bennett portrays with aching accuracy love’s power to create, destroy, and significantly alter the course of life.

Dreams of Joy (Shanghai Girls #2)Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s been a long time since I read Shanghai Girls and this book didn’t adequately reacquaint me with the story fast enough. I spent too many early chapters guessing at Joy’s motivation for drastic actions. It picked up after awhile and then offered a storied picture of China under Mao Tse Tung that frankly terrified me for the world in which we currently live. It holds together as a mother-daughter story, the end satisfies, but I still didn’t love the book.

The Best of Adam SharpThe Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A radical departure from the Rosie books, this one is a long, melancholy song to lost love, chances, and youth. “Lost love belongs in a three-minute song [or, in this case, a book], pulling back feelings from a time when they came unbidden, recalling the infatuation, the walking on sunshine that cannot last and the pain of its loss, whether through parting or the passage of time, remind us that we are emotional beings” (287).

I didn’t love it. Too much IT-talk, and too many references to songs I don’t know. Yes, I could have looked them up but then I’d be reading this book for another month. And the week in France seemed to me like a big, crazy stretch though it did lead to some–at that point in the story–surprising psychological revelations.

Maybe my favorite detail came in learning that Adam’s dad referred to him as A sharp, the less-common musical name for B flat. And perhaps that uncommonness led to Adam’s willingness to take a leap that made me uncomfortable from its first suggestion.

SiracusaSiracusa by Delia Ephron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four adults and a 10-year-old girl vacation together in Italy. Bound by marriage and parenthood and the past, they don’t share much love for one another. Told by each adult in turn, the story reveals deep rifts, dysfunction, pain, evil.

Ephron gives full-bodied life to her characters and uses their different voices to subtly nuance each conversation, each situation. I think I know these people, but I don’t like any of them. I can imagine them in my social circles, even imagine shared vacations, and I never want to see them again. Siracusa itself–foreign, beautiful, run-down, winding-lose-your-way streets–works as a metaphor for the twisted and twisting relationships. The story feels like the careful steps of a woman in heels walking on ancient cobblestone: slow, unbalanced, tense, lovely, painful.

“Marriage. With whom do you want to take the journey?…Do you want to take it with someone who knows you, even intuits your secrets, or from whom you can remain hidden By that last standard, which choice did I make? I’m still unsure. And why do most of us want marriage? Crave it for status or for stability that is an illusion. Marriage can’t protect you from heartbreak or the random cruelties and unfairnesses life deals out. It’s as if we’re chicks pecking our way out of our shells, growing into big birds splendid with feathers, and then piece by piece, we put the shells back together, reencasing ourselves, leaving perhaps an eyehold, minimal exposure. Having pecked our way out to live, we work our way back to survive. Deluded, of course. Shells crack easily.” (81)

“…suppose you see the corner of a building at sunset and one side is beige and the other flamingo pink when both are in fact the same drab red brick? And a second later the vision is gone because the earth has moved infinitesimally. Was what you saw reality? Is there always more than one?” (189)

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The Journey

Our minds play tricks on us. We’ve had so much fun that we think if we can just stack all the same blocks in exactly the same order, we can recreate that fabulous experience. But, the next time round, we aren’t the same people. Even if we manage to stack those same blocks in that same arrangement, the experience will not be recreated: it will necessarily be something new, and we may decide it doesn’t measure up. Perhaps we teach our children to stack their blocks just so, but they are not us, they don’t relish the experience the way we’d imagined. Other times we stack–and stack and stack–those blocks, making ourselves sick because we need to step away, turn our backs, and make something new. Creation, and recreation, may require toppling unsafe or no longer helpful structures in order to build something better. Thanks, Jessie, for leading us in your vulnerability!

re:create recess #8: Jessie Colburn

As I sit back and consider this post, I can’t help but feel a little sad. These guest posts are supposed to be about “re-creation” or “recreation” in a fun and life-giving way. It’s a way to shine a light on what’s happening in our everyday lives that’s good and silly and maybe, at times, a bit unexpected. I wish I was in a place where I could’ve written about my newfound love for hiking—a practice that makes my backpacker husband look at me with eyes of “I told you so!” muddled with “Is this for real? Does she really like this or is she humoring me?” I assure you, the love is real. Being out in nature has opened my heart and mind to God’s beauty and spirit in fresh and healing ways.

But instead, I feel compelled to share about the dysfunction of re-creating in unhealthy and damaging ways—even with the best of intentions.

Have you ever had an amazing experience—so amazing, in fact, that you’d do almost anything to experience it again? Have you ever legitimately tried for a re-do?

I have. Multiple times. And truthfully, it’s never quite worked out the way I’d planned.

I’m not talking about re-reading a book that’s brought you great joy, or re-watching a favorite movie that stirs up nostalgia and good feelings. Those instances almost always invite a do-over. When we re-read or re-watch, we’re not expecting to feel the same things we did the first time around. We aren’t surprised by events or plot twists that we now know are coming; we don’t laugh as hard at the same joke because we already know the punch line.

But the knowledge of what’s in store allows us to reframe the book or film—and look for the new amidst the familiar. I love that moment when you recognize the foreshadowing of impeding doom (or romance!) that you somehow missed the first time. Or the dramatic irony that occurs when you know that two characters will embrace for the last time (especially when they don’t know it yet). Or the feeling of inclusiveness that happens among friends when a situation outside a movie theatre demands the recitation of a famous line from a shared favorite film.

This type of do-over is near and dear to me. I relish it.

But there’s another kind of re-creation that’s altogether different.

There are some things in life that aren’t meant to be re-done. In fact, trying to re-do them almost always invites heartache.

Here’s a sort of trivial example: One summer when I was in high school, my brother, best friend, and I attended a theatre camp.

We had no idea what was waiting for us. No expectations. Extremely high hopes. As the days drew nearer, all three of us were filled with joyful anticipation and high anxiety. Who would we meet? What would we do? Would we love it? In addition to the promise of fun and laughter—we’d be away from home for a whole week. That’s right—it was sleep away camp.

Does this sound like the set-up for a Disney Channel original movie? I hope so. Because that’s basically what it was. Turns out, camp was completely magical. We laughed harder than we ever laughed. Met incredible people. Learned so much about ourselves. And—gasp!—there was even a camp crush that turned into a budding relationship by the time the week was over.

When next summer rolled around, I knew that WE HAD TO DO THIS AGAIN. “Remember last year? We need to go back!” I couldn’t fill out the application fast enough. Couldn’t put it n the mail quick enough.

So, of course, we returned. Only this time, the experience was very different. Honestly, camp that next year… was pretty disappointing. And it wasn’t the curriculum or the kids or the camp itself that was lame. It was me. (By the way, did I mention that this was an IMPROV theatre camp? The irony of trying to re-create an IMPROV experience, which, by its very nature is spontaneous, is not lost on me. But, I digress.)

My expectations were so high for the next year that there was no room for reality in the daydream I’d re-created. And as a result, the memory of the first camp experience started becoming better and better in the wake of my disappointment.

Sadly, I don’t just do this with camp experiences. Sometimes I do this with relationships. Often times, I do this with my own childhood. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to re-create experiences for my kids that I’ve remembered as “magical” or “life-changing”—only to be rebuffed and disappointed by my kids’ lack of enthusiasm.

For example, I played a lot of soccer when I was growing up. Like a lot. Like I started when I was five years old and played straight through until I was sixteen years old. NO breaks. No other sports. I played on multiple teams at the same time. I loved it. I lived and breathed it. It was my thing. And a big marker of my identity in my fledgling teen years.

I’m now in my thirties. My soccer days have long passed. But now I have little people who look like me, and obviously, they will like the same things that I like, right? Wrong.

Enter my sweet, unsuspecting three-year-old.

My older daughter had recently started gymnastics and, so, I was feeling guilty about not having an activity for my little one. (We’ll come back to the insanity that is mommy-guilt in another article.) Naturally, I signed her up for Mommy & Me soccer! What could be better? Being sporty! Active! Outside!

We went to the Sporting Goods store. We bought shin guards and cleats and a pink ball and a bunch of athletic wear. We went to our first class and… it was a complete fail.

Not only did she hate it, but the coach made a point of telling the whole class that we DON’T need cleats at this age. And he even pulled me aside after to say, “Um, sorry, but, could you not bring the pink ball next time? I have all the equipment already, and the kids’ll just fight over yours if you bring it again.”

Greeeeeeeat. Turns out I’m that mom.

So, for ten weeks, I forced her to go to this stupid class (because I was determined to bond with her over an activity that I loved in my youth). And for ten weeks, she put up with it—not because she loves me and wants me to be happy, but because we went to the coffee shop right after and she got to have cookies and chocolate milk.

I guess, in the end, it wasn’t a complete loss. Although she may hate soccer forever, in my heart of hearts, I know she enjoyed the special mommy-time. And thankfully, I’ve now learned her preferred “activity” is the park swings.

Unfortunately, it’s not always the happy times I’m anxious to re-create.

If I’m being honest, a lot of the time I re-create or re-do the hurt I’ve experienced. Do you know what this is called?

Resentment.

It’s when you hold on to feelings of being wronged or hurt (whether real or imaginary) in such a tangible way that, quite literally, you re-live your pain. Over and over.

This is not a healthy practice and I don’t recommend it. When we give resentment a foothold, it can take over our hearts and minds. Take this blog post as an example. Here was a chance to share about the things I take delight in! But my little heart has been so infected with this weed, I’m taking this precious time to talk about something so yucky. But there’s a reason for this. I’m hopeful that by sharing my experience, I can serve to enlighten others about how self-destructive this practice can be.

One of the many tricky things about resentment is that it’s often linked to unexpressed pain.

Somewhere deep inside, at least for me, I fear rejection or being disliked. Rather than expressing the truth about how I feel (or how a person has hurt me), I keep quiet. Letting the bad feelings grow. Letting my anger fester. Venting to people that aren’t those who’ve wronged me. And so the cycle continues. I carry around this bitterness—not confronting the person(s) who (in my eyes) has wronged me. And as a result, I look for additional transgressions in future interactions to bolster and justify my pain.

Much like my failed second camp experience, in essence, I continually re-live and re-do the hurt. And in my mind, it’s almost always bigger and more unfair than what actually happened. It’s like I’ve created this alternate reality that ultimately exists to fuel my anger. And for what?

Anger is so seductive. It’s one of the few emotions that lets us feel powerful and in control—when in reality, we experience the exact opposite. When anger takes hold of me, I’m its slave. There’s a flash of power, as it makes most people (especially children) stop, take notice, and try to make it stop. But all I’ve really accomplished in that moment is managing to hurt feelings… and often they belong to the people I love most.

The thing about anger and pain is that these emotions need to be recognized. Even when we stuff them down and try to keep them under wraps, they find a way of seeping out. Think about your physical pain for a moment. If you touch a hot stove and get burned, you’ll cry out! You’ll look for relief. You’ll take proper precaution next time, but you’ll also give the wound the treatment it deserves.

I think our emotional pain is similar. If we don’t acknowledge it and try to make it better, there’s no chance for real healing. In fact, the more we ignore our emotional pain—much like physical pain—the greater the risk of infection, complication, and further trauma.

So how do we break this cycle of re-doing? Of trying to capture past joy (or pain) at our own peril? Of re-creating in an unhealthy way?

Actually, I think it’s similar to how we re-do joy with books and movies. We don’t look to physically re-make the experience. That time has come and gone, for better or worse. Instead, we aim to learn from it. If we can shift our expectations, we can let our past re-shape and re-mold our present into something new amidst the familiar. We can take baby steps toward healing, and slowly watch our past pain melt away into forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately, redemption.

And so, I say to you—readers of the interweb, a place that feels both personal and anonymous—I am in therapy. I’m trying to learn from my past. I’m trying give myself permission to feel. To be honest with myself and those around me. There is a way to be kind and still speak your truth.

I’ll admit, I’m still learning how to speak mine. At times, I wish I could just magically be rid of this resentment. This thief in the night. This robber of joy. This sinful behavior. But the hard truth about being an adult is that sometimes you have to work for it. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t want to. Even when old habits feel more comfortable and “OK for now.” It’s in these times of critical self-talk and self-doubt that I remember the ancient wisdom of a well-known Chinese proverb: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I am on a journey toward healing. Toward forgiveness… of others and myself. I will get there, in time. For I know that God, who began the good work within me, will continue his work until it is finally finished.

God’s blessings on your journey.

Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.