Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Balance, Self-Respect, and Moving On

It's come at me from several different directions this week, the idea of letting go.  The idea of knowing when to stop beating a dead horse into the ground. The idea of knowing when enough is enough and when it's time to pull yourself up, develop some self-respect, and move on.

This is a hard issue for me to get my head around.  I have feelings about it coming at me from all sides.

I'll never let go
We prize loyalty.  And I think we should.  But we also convince ourselves that we prize blind loyalty, the whole "I will stick by your side, no matter what" sort of attitude.  On the one hand, that's noble. To accept someone for whatever crap they throw at you, that takes a deep loyalty and capacity for forgiveness that I admire. We revere Jack in "Titanic" for floating in the ice-cold ocean, all the while reassuring his beloved Rose that he'll never let go.  It's sweet, it's loyal, it's romantic.  But, guys, Rose was a whiny pain, and Jack became fish bait. Is fish bait the most respect we can give ourselves?

A good friend of mine had this to say this week and it resonated deep within me (I was going to edit this to make it shorter, but I can't find any part of it that I'm willing to part with):

I think that in many cases where a person is trying to decide whether to let go of someone, the relationship has reached a point of imbalance. Imbalance isn't healthy. Imbalance sucks at your mental health and your sense of worth. Imbalance means you're giving more than you're receiving, or vice versa, and every one of us deserves to be in - and our heads should demand from our hearts - relationships that are balanced. If the other person has stopped giving back what we need, we can't change them. It's then that we have to slap ourselves and demand that we recognize our own worth. We are worthy of having relationships in which we're getting what we give! Balance balance balance. Yes it's hard, because we're not just giving up the relationship but also all the hopes and dreams we had for that relationship. But each of us has a responsibility to ourselves to treat ourselves with kindness.

Yet on the other side of the coin, I know that there have been times when I've been the one who's hoped for loyalty.  I've been the one who's been selfish, who's screwed up. I've been the one who's been grateful that someone else waited long enough for me to come to my senses and get off my raft floating in the ocean to SHARE it with those alongside me.

But even then, I suppose, that's when it's become balanced, hasn't it?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Who I Think You Want Me To Be

Be Weird, Be Random

When I saw this, it hit me so hard in my heart that I nearly cried.

If there is one thing I'm really good at, it's changing myself into being who I think you want me to be.  I have taken 1 Corinthians 9:22 ("...I have become all things to all people...") to such absurd unhealthy levels, it's crazy.  There are so many versions of me running around, due to changing myself to fit the anticipated expectations of all the different people in my life, that I can hardly keep them all straight.

You haven't asked me to do this.  I know this in my head.  But my sane wise head is no match for the voice inside that says "If you want to be liked at all, you can't show the you that you are." And so I always end up tweaking myself one way when I talk to one person, and tweaking myself another way when I talk to this person over hear, and tweaking myself yet another way when I'm with that person over that way.

As I sit here and look at the words on that picture at the top of my screen, I admit to myself that it scares me to be me... to be JUST me. I've been hurt before. Tweaking myself to be who I think you want protects me from you hurting the me I am, or at least that's what I tell myself it does. But it also scares me because I try to be honest with myself about my faults. (Well, okay, I'm probably far better about admitting and obsessing over my faults than I am at seeing my strengths... and therein likes the likely problem.)  But I know I'm not that great. I know there are things about me that I don't like all that much.  So... if I allow myself to be the person I hide, if I show that person to you, I'm pretty sure you're going to not-like those things about me, too.

But, too, I know that allowing myself to be that person is a great freedom, if I was only willing to take the risk and embrace it.  I'm lucky to have a few people in my life who have ignored all the versions of myself I throw around.  They've picked their way through the maze of masks and crawled underneath the ones I hold closest and tightest, and they sit with me and hold my hand and say "It's okay."

I think that I don't make it easy to be my friend.  I'm sorry that I'm afraid.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Then don't.

"Then, don't."  That was the message, and one I had apparently not given much thought to.

fear and protectionWe expect girls in high school to act like girls in high school.  Catty, obnoxious, constantly mean to each other. We're just figuring life out then.  We're figuring out how we fit, how to interact with others in a mature manner.  We screw up a lot.  So girls in high school...  well, they're wretchedly awful to each other, but we've come to expect it because... it's high school.

But, we kind of expect that, once we're out of high school, women in "older than high school" will act like... adults. A lot of the time, we don't.  We're older.  But we're still battling with cattiness and jealousies and general angst, and it often manifests itself in very-highschool-ish tendencies.

I found myself in the midst of something like that a while ago.  I was trying to heal from one thing, but found myself contantly in the midst of this female "Lord of the Flies" sort of atmophere.  Honestly, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Here I was, desperately seeking healing,  being constantly "forced" to participate in this idiotic game.

One day, I was having a silent complain-y session with myself over it, railing about how much I hated playing "the game."

A voice in my head, one I deliberately keep tied and gagged in a back closet of my head because she's a total pain, spoke up and said, "Then, don't.  I hate to be obvious here.  But, if you hate it so much, why don't you just stop playing it? "

I had no response. I started to protest and explain how I had to keep playing it.  But...  it just wasn't true.  I didn't.  And the more I listened to that annoying voice, the more I realized it was right.  And for once, I paid attention and acted in accordance.  I stopped playing the game.  Instead of going for "winning," I just started going for "kind."

In retrospect, it seems like a painfully easy and obvious answer.  I often wonder why I didn't consider it more seriously before, why it took me so long to see that "kind" will always be better than "on top." It's a choice that I have yet to regret.  But, I can be honest and say that it's also a choice that I have to be continually conscious about re-making.  It's easy to slide back into the habits of the past.  They're known and comfortable.  But, I like "me" a lot better when I'm deliberate about who I want to be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

When The Debris Has Cleared

I've been thinking the last few days about this post that I wrote last May on the idea of falling down. Most specifically, I was thinking of the part at the end.  The image that lies in my mind is one of a city, ravaged by war.  The last bomb has fallen, the city walls have come crashing down, and you are the lone survivor.  You stand up, and you look around, gutted at the wreckage around you.  How could something so grand have come to such a bitter and complete end? It is simplistic to blame it all in one direction.  Conflict is born of two, not of one.  But, you have to accept your part in it.

But, then you look through the haze of debris and you realize that you're not the only one standing.  Somewhere, not far away, there is one more.  Someone that you managed to not knock down.  And yet you hide.  Maybe you're not sure if they are friend or foe in all of this, maybe you don't know if they're there to help or hurt, and you frantically throw up walls, just in case you need them.

But, they wait for you.

They sit outside the hovel of rocks you made for yourself and they say "I get it.  It sucks out here, and I'm scared, too.  But I can wait until you're ready."  And they do.

They wait and they wait with mindboggling patience, and you think "Don't they have to get up to pee or something?"  But no, bladder of steel, and still they wait.  Until you are able to relax your guard, until you are able to trust, until you are able to accept the friendship and love that is so freely given.  It is then that you realize how blessed and lucky and terribly undeserving you are.  And you are very very grateful.

Thanks for waiting, Stacey.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When The Book Is Closed But The Story Isn't Over

You've finished the chapter.  You've closed the book.  You've put it away, and you've moved on. You're smiling and laughing again. The sun is shining again. You've found your joy again.

That's when it happens. A memory resurfaces.

Maybe it's a song that reminds you. Sometimes it's a flash of memory. A place you went to, a smell that conjures it all back up. It's the knife that twists and reminds you that under your smile, there is a wound that is not yet fully healed.

Do you ever feel like if you could just bottle that up, if you could close up the memories and be guaranteed that you'd never think of them again...  that it would make it so much easier to forget the pain and embrace the future?

There was an episode of Once Upon a Time a few weeks back.  Snow White had just guaranteed herself a whole lot of emotional pain, and she was walking along with Grumpy, a potion in her pocket that would allow her to forget EVERYTHING, and asked him if he ever wished he could forget all the pain.

His answer to her was, "Never.  I need my pain.  It's what makes me Grumpy." I cried when I watched that.
girl looking down

This isn't what I meant to say to you today.  I meant to say that we could keep the good memories in our hearts, throw out the bad ones, and be happy for the good times we had.  "Don't cry that it's over, smile that it happened" or something like that.

But, instead, I'm here saying that it's okay to have the bad memories too.  And it's okay that they crop up and stab you in the heart.  Even though it hurts and even though it makes you feel like this is never going to be done with, that pain is a part of what makes you who you are.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The List Came Out

I read the list with dread.  As my eyes scanned further down the page, my panic grew.  There was my name.  Second from the bottom.  This was not good. Second from the bottom was definitely not good.  It wasn't quite as bad as dead last, mind you.  But, it still wasn't good.

My husband walked into the kitchen.  Observing my obvious distress, he inquired, "Are you okay?"

I replied simply, "The list came out today. It isn't good."

"THE list?"

"THE list," I confirmed.

He ran a hand through his hair with mild angst.  "How bad is it?"

"We're second to last."

A ragged sigh escaped his throat.  "I'll call the financial advisor."

kids snacksIt was the snack schedule for T-Ball.  Oh, I know that sounds innocent enough.  The snack schedule.  How bad can that be?

And sure, it isn't... if you're early on the list.  If you're first on the list, you can get away with orange slices and a granola bar.  But, the second mom on the list has to bring orange slices and Whole Foods granola bars.

The third mom on the list has to bring Whole Foods granola bars, gourmet oranges imported from Guatemala, and cupcakes.  The fourth mom has to bring gourmet oranges imported from Guatemala, cupcakes, and granola bars that she made by hand from wheat she grew in her backyard.

It just gets worse and worse as the season progresses, each week's mom with the arduous task of being just slightly more awesome than the mother of the week before.

By the end of the season, you're bringing 8-course snacks, handcrafted by the finest chefs in Paris.  Cupcakes in the shape of baseball bats, apples you've carved into mitts.

It's not good, friends.  It's not good at all.

"At least we're not last!" I called upstairs.

I don't think he was comforted.

Monday, March 5, 2012

When the Light Shines in

Losing is hard.

Maybe you loved someone and lost them.  Maybe you hoped for things and they just never panned out. Maybe the people you admired most turned out to be other people entirely. Maybe...  just maybe things didn't turn out the way you thought they would.

It's an easy thing to get buried by that.  The loss is heavy on your heart, and sometimes it seems like every day is just one more day that you have to get through, and the loss truly is heavy.  I don't mean that as a writer's cliche. Just breathing actually feels difficult.

sun through window
Maybe you know it's idiotic. Maybe you tell yourself that it's foolish to allow yourself to get so affected by things that won't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.  10 years down the road, you know it won't matter.  But, it matters today.  At least to you, it matters a lot.

But every once in a while, in the midst of the loss and the hurt and the suck, a light shines into the windows of your heart.  The light doesn't change the loss.  But it does illuminate all the other corners of your life and your heart.  The light falls on all the people and blessings you yet have... all those who love you, all those who care about you.  It falls on the gifts you've been given, the talents you possess, and the dreams you have yet to live out.

The light reminds you that while you may have lost one part of one corner, you have a whole great big room of blessings and gifts and people that are just waiting to share in the joys of life with you.  That makes it just a little bit easier to throw off the weight that holds you down and embrace the goodness that life has to offer.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Night at the Pub with George Donaldson

“Folk music is really great music because it’s real life, it tells real stories.” –Richard Smith

And great music, real life, and real stories are exactly what the patrons of the Owl n Thistle Pub, in Seattle, got when they settled in for an evening of music, food and drinks with Glasgow’s George Donaldson. A 20-year veteran of performing in pubs over the continents, as well as a star of the chart-topping show Celtic Thunder, George took the stage and had the audience in the palm of his hand within moments.

The White Rose“This is not a Celtic Thunder show,” though, was his warning as he finetuned his guitar before beginning.  There was no orchestra, no background singers.  No choreographed swanky blocking or men in suits.  But there WAS a talented musician, a guitar, and some of the most passionate and powerful vocalizing I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy.

There were songs from George’s debut CD, The White Rose. “Beeswing”s tale of love and loss filled the room, the lyrics tumbling over one another in a light sound that was just enough different from what fans know from George’s CD to make it new and interesting.  “The White Rose,” the CD’s title track, is a powerful song that tells the story of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Nazi resistance movement in WWII Germany. I was so taken with the intricacy of George’s guitar-playing that I almost forgot to listen to the singing!

But, it was not just a night of CD promotion, though I heard there might have been CDs available at the bar.   George touched the heart with beautiful ballads that wrenched at the soul. He performed a more traditional version of “Caledonia” which was so beautiful that I spent most of it in tears. “Ordinary Man” established George as an everyman’s folk singer in a song that was both passionate and powerful.  In fact, it was George’s passion throughout the entire night that had me so taken and wishing that we could get more of this in Celtic Thunder shows.  It wasn’t just this one song… it was the entire setlist.  George infused every song with so much emotion, alternating from passion to tenderness sometimes so quickly and effortlessly that I hadn’t even realized that he had done it.  It was the passion that made you really feel the stories being told. 

The White Rose
And to appease the ladies in the front who wanted “happy songs,” we had some of those, too!  After many requests, George regaled the crowd with a rousing “Red Rose CafĂ©,” taking every minute opportunity to roll as many R’s as could be rolled. He played a fun rendition of “Whiskey in the Jar,” that left the pub laughing and clapping along.  Not to be undone by young Keith Harkin (also of Celtic Thunder), George set to work on his own version of Seven Drunken Nights, in which he not only proved that the Derry-born whelp was naught but a R-rolling novice, but that he could do a pretty fine impression of a drunk Ryan Kelly as well.  In a few instances.

George is a wonderfully engaging performer… whether that be by the beautiful and powerful music that filled our ears, or by the many funny stories with which he peppered the night.  From the moment he took the stage, comfortable in jeans and a Henley, to the moment I walked out the door late that night, it was a night of happiness to remember.

Thank you, George.  I hope to see you perform like this again… very soon.

Please check out George's website and his White Rose CD at CD Baby.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Celtic Thunder Voyage DVD and CD

It’s that time again!  Celtic Thunder, my favorite beloved Irish-y international phenomenon (that’s just for my husband), has released a new CD/DVD and I’m here to tell you about it.

Voyage, filmed during their Fall 2011 tour, includes new pieces as well as some old fan favorites.  This year, the cast has been shaken up and thrown in the blender a little bit.  Former members Paul Byrom and Damian McGinty have both left the group to go on to other avenues of their career.  Ryan Kelly, resident bad boy, left the group and then came back at the last minute. Longtime adorable guitarist Neil Byrne and the young Emmet Cahill slid into the spots left vacant by Paul and Damian, while 13-year-old boy soprano Daniel Furlong joined the cast as a special guest.

Are you confused yet? Well, catch up… you’ve got to be on your toes for this one.

Keith Harkin Ryan Kelly Daniel Furlong Neil Byrne Emmet Cahill George Donaldson

In this collection in particular, it is definitely the ensemble numbers that really stand out.  “Dulaman” is a quickly enunciated Irish folk song… that is apparently about seaweed.  No, don’t stop reading.  I promise it’s good.  It’s sung in Gaelic, and I don’t understand a single word (which helps you ignore the fact that you’re listening to a really cool song about seaweed), but it’s gorgeous and exciting, and worth a listen JUST to listen to George roll his R’s.  Who said algae was boring? 

Maid of Culmore
Maid of Culmore
There are two really beautiful ensemble ballads, and I just couldn’t decide which one I like more.  “Song for Mira” is on the CD (but not the DVD) and includes young Daniel, but not Ryan, while “The Maid of Culmore” (on both products) includes Ryan, but not Daniel. Both of the songs showcase beautiful complex harmonies that shift and fade and leave you with breathless sighs of awe.  I’m inclined to lean toward liking “Maid of Culmore” better, simply because…  well, if you aren’t already in love with Keith Harkin, you will leave the song being putty in his big handsome hands. He has an absolutely gorgeous voice. My only complaint with the song is the legions of boyband-style screams that accompany the arrival of each lad on stage.  It’s a soft song… and the screaming definitely detracts.

Clancy Brothers Medley Keith Harkin Emmet Cahill
Keith and Emmet
Equally as delightful and maybe even more so because they provide some much-needed lightness to a product that sometimes leans towards the somber, Celtic Thunder also performs a couple very upbeat ensemble numbers in “7 Drunken Nights”(CD) and the “Clancy Brothers Medley”(DVD).  The former, “7 Drunken Nights,” is what I can only imagine as an Irish pub song, and very funny.  This was a late addition to the tour last year, and so the audio appears to be a live-on-stage recording, as opposed to one done in studio.  “The Clancy Brothers Medley” is just what it sounds like, and features all cast members, including Daniel.  It’s honestly a whole lot of fun… lots of comedic staging, fun harmonies, hamming it up.  I never thought I would find myself extolling the virtues of Keith so much, but he honestly gets more and more natural and engaging every time I see him.

Lagan Love Neil Byrne
Neil in Lagan Love
As is customary, in addition to the ensemble numbers, each cast member also sings a couple solo songs as well. Newcomer Emmet Cahill is not only handsome as all get-out, but sports a classically-tinged baritone voice that is beautiful but well-controlled. He doesn’t make you feel like you’re stuck at the opera, and he had me at “hello,” or actually at “t-under.”    He sings a breathtaking version of “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” that actually gave me chills. “Lagan Love” is a song that was sung in one of Celtic Thunder’s previous releases, Storm, but was reworked for Voyage where it honestly works much better. In this version, Neil sings the lead for the entire song, and is supported with touching backvocals by Ryan and Emmet.  Beautiful stuff, I’m telling you.  One of Neil’s other solos, “Past the Point of Rescue,” would have also made my list of “YOU MUST HEAR THESE” were it not for an instrumental section in the middle that just seems to go on for too long.  Emmet and Neil are fast becoming my favorites.

For some inexplicable reason, EVERY SINGLE release has Keith singing an ‘80s love ballad, and I NEVER like them.  Keith sang “I Wanna Know What Love Is” for so many tours that I was seriously considering bringing pineapples to throw at the stage if I had to listen to it one more time.  I am surprised to find that I actually kind of like his version of Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.”  I KNOW!  Well, except for that part in the middle where he sings “What are you thinking of?” 90 gazillion times.  If you have to ask her THAT many times, she is NOT going to tell you.  But, it wasn’t that bad.  And I know that doesn’t sound like high praise, but for this kind of song from me… it so is. Again, with the Keith love.

Girls Girls Girls Emmet Cahill Neil Byrne Keith Harkin George Donaldson
Girls, Girls, Girls
I’m going to say that I only had two real complaints…  The first is Girls, Girls, Girls.  This was an ensemble song with Keith, George, Neil, and Emmet.  I felt like I should have liked it.  It was cute, it was fun, and it was lighthearted.  It had nice harmonies.  But I just found it… odd.  The second is just that… the show just seems to work better when all the cast members are old enough to shave.  The harmonies are better. And so, it’s with a touch of guilt that I look forward to when they all are.

Oh, the DVD also includes this bonus footage documentary about the filming.  It's probably around half an hour?  There's quite a lot in it. I thought some of the backstage stuff was interesting, but it feels really long.  I think that plugged-in fans will probably like it, but I found myself fast-forwarding through a lot of it.  If the 4700 other shirtless photos of himself that Keith sprinkles around the internet haven't satiated your fancy, then you girls will want to watch it at least once.

Regardless, I love my Irish lads and lone Scot…  They’re fun, they’re talented, they’re handsome.  And they want you to buy them, too! Well, their music.  Not so much THEM.

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