Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquakes, lust, jealousy, and dreams

So my lovely friend Allie has demanded that I write a blog post, and I was already taking an extended break between practicing Radiohead songs on my keyboard and Extremely Simple Chords and Songs on the guitar (i.e. I was checking Facebook for earthquake stories), so Why Not.

So we had an earthquake today. It was a 5.8, which was a worrying feeling since I work on the 9th floor and the building shook and trembled and I really wasn't expecting an earthquake, but it's the third one I've experienced since living in DC and the fourth one I've experienced in my life (the fourth being in Antigua, Guatemala in 2007), so although I was shaken I wasn't worried, really. I mean, there are thousands upon thousands of people still living in tents in Haiti and facing yet ANOTHER hurricane season more than a year and a half after the quake there, so whatever, DC. Plus, Hurricane Irene is headed up the coast and will undoubtedly wreak much more havoc than that minute or so of booming, shaking and looking into the eyes of co-workers who felt themselves turning into panicked animals.

But let me dwell on that last point for a minute. Let me dwell on that strange, rare, intense moment of vulnerability between co-workers who are suddenly human. Let me tell you what I remember.

One of my bosses was wandering around repeating "what do we do? What do we do?", and I pulled her into the doorway where I was standing with another co-worker, and she said "Thank you, Amy", and I felt her shoulders relax. Then another co-worker started yelling "Get out of the building!! Get out of the building!!" and I started running, along with everyone else, towards the stairs, nine floors down. A woman on crutches was holding everyone up, as two men attempted to support her down the stairs, painful limp after painful limp. She was scared, and crying. I felt sorry for her. I kept placing my hand on the shoulder of the man in front of me who kept yelling to people to get down the steps. I tried to grab the hand of the custodial lady who works on our floor so she wasn't left behind, but I was going faster than her. When I got out and found my co-workers, I wanted to hug them all.

Right now, as I'm typing, I'm feeling an aftershock, just the slightest rumbling. It's really not a big deal, because I'm by myself with my cats and this computer. I'm not looking into anyone's eyes and seeing their panic. I'm not feeling this sensation of watching people who normally have their guard up suddenly become lost. It's just a little rumbling, and it was over in 20 seconds. I'm not in Somalia, or Libya, or Syria, or Juarez, Mexico, or Democratic Republic of Congo. Hell, I'm not even in LONDON. I am a woman living by myself in safety in one of the most affluent regions in the world. So some plates are shifting. So my shampoo bottle fell into the shower and the front cover popped off of my window unit air conditioner. Really, no big.

But being with people who were panicking, that set off something. Something visceral and deep and very difficult to put back in the holster. I am a Happy Single Person, but I needed someone to put my arms around. I needed someone to hold on to. There was this unarguable, sudden and strong desire to not be by myself, to have a mate and kids to check on. That animal panic I saw in the eyes of my co-workers was matched by an animal desire to be comforted and to have a place in a family.

I don't like that feeling. It seems to stand in opposition to what my mind and heart tell me to do. But it's *strong*.

For the past, oh maybe 10-11 weeks or so, a small group of my friends have been meeting to discuss The Artist's Way. This book, which bills itself as a 12 step program for recovering artists, changed my life the first time I studied it with a group in 2007-2008. It gave me permission to view my desire to write poetry and to sing and to attempt to write music as God-given desires. It helped me get out from under the oppressiveness of my shame at being white, and American, and middle-class, and educated... to shed that for just a little while in order to create things, and to be who God intended me to be... to (just for a little while) stop feeling like I needed to try to right the wrongs in the world, and to just be present and grateful for what I had. For what I dreamed. For what I could imagine the world being.

It helped me to be honest about what my dreams actually were, and to stop apologizing, to stop feeling like a cliche... at least for a little while. At least long enough to write a poem, or a song, or to make a connection with another artist. It allowed me to take on the identity "artist"... and I can't tell you how powerful that has been for me. It's made so much make sense about me that didn't before.

Last night, we went over a chapter that talked about jealousy... jealousy as a guide, jealousy that tells us what it is we know we should be doing but aren't. And this is what I mean by that.

I could sing this song. I could have written this song. God knows I have melodies and lyrics like this running through my head almost every day, driving me crazy because I can't get them out. But I didn't write this song. And so this red-headed chick is in a video dancing around singing a song I could have sung. And it's a beautiful and powerful song, but when I watch this video I just kind of want to kill her... because I should have written it, and I could sing it, maybe even better than she does.

We talked for a while last night about this jealousy. I think I was the person in the room who was the most affected by this. There's a verse in Proverbs that says "hope frustrated makes the heart sick, but longing fulfilled is a tree of life". I feel that. I feel that deeply. Years pass, and I'm still not singing anywhere. I'm not writing music. There's this band I know is out there, but they're still not here. Years pass, and that desire to create gets shoved into abandoned corners and tiny, worn scraps of time and attention. It's like I don't actually care.

But I *DO*. God, I do.

However, when life throws up storms... when it throws earthquakes; and unexpected relational rejections; and financial crisis after financial crisis; and the death of a young, beautiful and gifted friend; and my own, confusing aging... it's easy to forget what I want... because what is the point of learning the guitar when Charisse is dead? Or when thousands are dying in Somalia because of the horrific cruelty of those who are blocking aid to them? Or when Syria kills its own people because they dare ask for democracy? Or when young women disappear from Juarez every day and turn up dead?

What is the point of my dreams in the face of the suffering in the world? What is the worth of my dreams in the face of my own loneliness?

I don't know. I just know that they won't go away, and that I have a responsibility to find out what that's about. There will be earthquakes, and hurricanes. I will face the death of other friends, and I will spend wandering weeks lamenting them and screaming at God. I will be alive for other earthquakes, and hurricanes. I will see my own finances falter, and those of our country. I will find myself nauseated and helpless in the face of the suffering of those in countries where people are seen as disposable resources, or as nuisances. I will lose sleep thinking of the suffering of women in this world, and I will find myself powerless to really change things for them. I will see suffering and pain in the faces of my friends, and I will do what I can to help, but it won't ever take that suffering away.

But that doesn't do a thing about my dream. That itch persists. I know I'm supposed to be making music. I can't justify it, but I also can't do anything about the persistence of that dream. The longer I postpone the pursuit of this, the more confused I will be.

God doesn't make following Him easy, understandable, or even particularly sane. He just promised He'd be there. I don't know what else to cling to but that, as the earth shakes, and people die, and I sit in my apartment struggling to learn to play the guitar because I know I *must* do that.

Sorry to be dramatic. My sweet friend asked for a post, and this is what is in my heart.