Sticks and Stones and Porkchops

The girl I used to nanny for, who isn’t a little girl anymore, posted this incredibly moving video of visual art and haunting poetry. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, and it has forced me to think about my own childhood. I have thought about specific people that I had bullied in middle school, where I was the oppressor, and I also thought of specific people that bullied me. They are as fresh in my head as today’s cup of coffee. I am not sure what I want this post to be exactly. Is it a public confession of all the people I have ever teased? Is it an effort to absolve all those times I didn’t treat a person as a human being, worthy of dignity and respect. Is it a confrontation of the people that scarred and hurt me growing up? To be honest, I am not sure. What I am sure about, is this movie clip is absolutely moving, vulnerable, and painfully honest. I am not sure how to apologize for my childhood self. Okay let’s face it, even my adulthood self, but I am sorry. I am sorry for all of my karate chops.

Here is a link to the transcript.

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Looking for Love

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A friend recently told me that in some parts of Latin America, Valentine’s Day is known as the Day of Love AND Friendship. Often though, instead of friendship, we reserve this little heart-shaped holiday only for romantic love, meaning many of us miss out. Deliberately! I know you’re thinking, “Says the girl who is newly single.” Sure, sure, I suppose that’s one reason I want to be more inclusive, but really, I’m not simply talking about the holiday-more about love period. It seems we spend our lives looking for a partner. If that quest doesn’t work out, in our understandable disappointment, we lose sight of all the other forms of love that surround us.

On Being recently aired an episode which illuminated this for me. Krista Tippett interviewed Kate Braestrup, a Universalist Unitarian chaplain for the game warden in Maine. In her work, she witnesses many atrocities, and yet she sustains herself by finding love. She says:

“I don’t look for God or God’s work in magic or in tricks or in, you know, saying “this is what I want” and then I get it. I look for God’s work always in how people love each other, in just the acts of love that I see around me.”

She describes in the interview how even amidst tragedy, you can see the love in the situation by the people who surround the person who is suffering. It doesn’t mean seeing love in every action, because there is certainly violence and oppression in the world. But when a community of people reach out in compassion to the person who has been hurt or to the family that has experienced loss, that is love-the beauty within the pain.

Let’s be real. Last year was tough for me personally. The New Year came in 2012 and I remember announcing that it was going to be a banner year. Then, my mom had a stroke, I got divorced, and Nancy moved to a far off land called Boston. “Banner” indeed.

Needless to say, the grief cycle and I became quite well acquainted. I was actually thinking of designing a game with a little wheel that you can spin, and a slick game show voice announces, “What stage of the grief cycle are you on now? Denial! Depression! No! Back to denial!” Let’s just say in the last 3 months, I’ve cried twice in Target. Good grief. (Ha! A pun!)

Looking back, I can see that despite all of these tough life-changing events, in the moments I felt my worst, the giant universe seemed to send me love in all sorts of little ways. An unknown postman once walked with me across campus and performed an entire standup routine for me, complete with props. Other friends welcomed me onto their patios for summer drinks and therapy sessions. During some of my darker moments, a new cohort warmly welcomed me into their tight-knit community theater. I received notes from family and friends at just the times I needed them. Two different strangers paid for my over-priced coffee addiction. Free coffee. Twice.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I am grateful. My eyes are open to see the love that “radiates and overflows upon the outward world.” Thank you for doing that for me, friends and you lovelies I don’t even know. Universe, be mine.

Dante’s Inferno: The Musical

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(Photo Credit: Michael Dapper)

Having the opportunity to participate in musical theater this year felt a bit like the Make a Wish Foundation granted me an all expense paid vacation…with just one small, itsy-bitsy, little caveat. Along the cruise, there would be an exciting off-boat excursion! Through all nine layers of Dante’s Inferno. No bigs. Just my own personal hell.

Let me first say, I have always wanted to be in musical theater. I LOVE every bit of it. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out though: my high school was too small for productions, my family had lingering concerns it would lead to some compromising situations, and most importantly I had have a crippling fear of failure with a dose of perfectionism.

By the time I could try out for my first musical in college, I had no experience and auditioned horribly. I immediately decided my only option was to give up. I would often think of that moment and wish I would have just taken a class or at least not acquiesced so easily. Sixteen years later, I got the chance to try again, which brings me to my recent journey through the underworld. “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”

Layer 1. Auditions – Excited Terror

50 Shades of Bombing

Layer 2. Callbacks – Contradictory Emotions

“Notice me. NO. Wait! Don’t notice me! I’m just going to hide behind this person here so you don’t force me to sing in front of everyone. Yes, I’m fully aware that is the whole point of musical theater. What!? We have to sing alone! I can’t read music. Oh sweet Jesus, let the rapture happen right now. NO. Wait! Notice me!”

Layer 3. Casting – Brief Confident Interlude

Excitedly accept a role! “Hooray! This is going to be great. Even better, I, Melissa Lund, am going to be great!”

Layer 4. Only 20 Minutes Later – Reality Check – Blind Panic

“Holy Sh**! I can’t do this. I have no experience! I can’t sing, act, or dance! Certainly not all at the same time. I am in serious, serious trouble.” Weep publicly with a friend in a restaurant. Try to hide underneath the booth. Contemplate running away. Maybe a bus could run you over?

Layer 5. Accept Role Anyway – Anxious Desperation

Watch every TED talk on finding some level of confidence. Smile. Put your hands on your hips. Be vulnerable. Dare greatly. Blame all of these lovely, brilliant, EVIL academics for putting you through this sick torment. Start referring to Brené Brown as the devil.

Layer 6. Rehearsals – Neurosis Ensue

Start talking to yourself while you walk off stage. Twitch occasionally. Co-dependently drape yourself onto everyone. Mid-conversation, wander off in sort of a malaria-induced fever minus the mosquitoes. Forget everything. Lose several IQ points.

Layer 7. Tech Week – Move to Australia

Mentally compose letters to all three directors about your unfortunate need to step down from each respective role. In the letters, apologize profusely. Feign amnesia. Describe your malaria symptoms! Again, running away is an excellent option. I hear Sydney is lovely. Instead, decide to have a glass of wine. Ok, two.

Layer 8. Performances – Perfectionist’s Spinning Wheel of Death

Obsess over every mistake. Spiral into negativity. Have a mental seizure on stage and stutter while singing during an actual performance. Control. Alt. Delete.

Layer 9. Hours After Show – Despair

Sob. Until your eyes are so swollen you look as if you had an allergic reaction. Take a Benadryl for good measure.

And then, miraculously, the inferno is over. That’s the beauty. The inferno does end, if you’re willing to keep travelling through it. In each successive production, I descended.* After stumbling through the first weekend of performances, I finally had this obvious realization: I cannot acquire 5 or 20 years of experience overnight.** No matter how much I want to be the best and hit every note perfectly, say every line authentically, and for the love of god-remember the choreography, I am still going to be at a performance level that matches my experience and skills. Yes, I can work hard. Yes, I can practice. But I am still going to do amateur things because I am an amateur. And that’s ok. I don’t need to pay penance for being where I am.

The epiphany stuck. For the second weekend of shows, everything changed. I decided I could either exit every scene kicking myself, ready to write yet another tearful apology letter to the audience, or I could do my best and actually have fun. I don’t know that it improved my performances necessarily, but I wasn’t having mental breakdowns backstage anymore. I started enjoying the process. What’s even better is that my mind slowed down enough to actually connect with an amazing community of  people.

Traversing Dante’s Glee-filled Inferno hasn’t cured me of perfectionism or my fear of failure. At this exact moment, the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone again doesn’t sound entirely appealing, but I will. If there is anything I learned from experiencing theater this year, it’s that. Be present. Make mistakes. Be mindful. Then, move on. In the end, sometimes our wretched inferno is actually the personal hell we created for ourselves.

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(Photo Credit: Shelly Lehner)

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* “IN. TO. THE. PIT.” (Teehee, Gift Tree Cast!)

** “It could happen.” (Standing O, Mike!)

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Something New: Oh, To Be a Three Year Old

Remind me again who said, “It is never too late”? Oh that’s right, Nancy did. And Anthony Hopkins. And my great aunt who decided to start painting at 50. And my mom who started learning to play an instrument in her 60s. The people I find inspiring have all decided to pursue something new at an age when people often settle comfortably into their routines. I love these brave souls. I want to BE them–from a distance. In principle, “It is never too late” is beautiful. In practice, it is self-imposed torture.

And age is so relative! I’m in agony, and I’m 34. I can’t imagine being 74 and putting myself out there. Please, at 18, I thought it was already too late. Regardless, with each new pursuit, I feel like I’m in a dance class for toddlers. Except I’m not a toddler, so while the skill level is absolutely appropriate, I stand out a bit amongst all the little tykes. When I wear my pink tutu inside out, forget the choreography, and bump into the 2 and 3 year-olds beside me, it’s not precious and adorable. It’s awkward and maybe a little painful-especially for those poor kiddoes.

And yet, this is what I desperately wanted for this year: to stop living out of my fear and instead live period, which ultimately means stepping out of my comfort zone and making mistakes along the way. I never could have predicted last March just how many lessons that goal would afford me:

  • Rejecting perfectionism
  • Embracing play
  • Enjoying the journey (I heard some of you gag, but you know it’s true.)
  • Giving up people pleasing
  • Re-framing “failure”

I haven’t figured these out by any means, but at least my eyes are finally open to them. And more importantly-this time-I’m not fleeing. Regardless of the outcome, I’m letting “everything happen to me: beauty and terror.” (My thanks to Rilke.)

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Thankful

Occasionally, I experience those little moments of trepidation when I wonder what the future will hold, but as I look back over the last year I am confident of one thing. I am surrounded by a community of people who continually surprise me with their compassion and kindness. What is there to fear when walking arm in arm with friends?

Happy Thanksgiving!

50 Shades of Bombing

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If there is one thing I have learned to do well, it’s bomb. There have been so many examples, I have decided to only give you the highlight reel.

Coming in at third place is the time I had to play a piano solo for a small school assembly in middle school. I use the term “play” loosely. During the walk of shame back to my classroom, I overheard the upperclassmen ask my brother what was seriously wrong with his sister.

In second place, I once sang for a small church. I had to start the entire song over again becuse it went so badly. Not only that but a man with a cognitive disability in the front row started an epic slow clap for me. You know the kind of applause that builds to a crescendo, typically reserved for sentimental sports movies? Ya, that. It was all for me. After the service when I had finally stopped crying, another man in the audience told me if I had been doing it for Jesus, I wouldn’t have messed up in the first place.

And now we come to the winner: my community theater audition this evening. You may remember earlier this year I decided to wrecklessly “Embrace My Fears.” First of all, who does that? And what does that even mean? Utter and complete foolishness. I think my exact Pollyanna-esque words were, “I am going to embrace my fears head on.”

Says the person who gets run over. By a train. In Germany.

Is it obvious things did not go well? I thought that conquering fears would be all about winning–battling the demons of my limitations and coming out victorious. I have watched enough TED talks to know that this was supposed to end well. Aren’t those that risk supposed to succeed!?! I had been certain that TED himself would ask me to speak at the next conference because of my illustrious success in sheer living.

Needless to say, the audition did not go as I had hoped. It started out…adequately. I didn’t turn into Barbara Streisand like I hoped but at least it reflected my actual nascent abilities.

Then the monologue portion arrived. Ok. I need to sit down. Everyone, take a deep cleansing breath. Do you need a another glass of wine? Ya, me too.

I know some of you right now are not believing my histrionics. You may be having similar reactions as some of the friends I told earlier:

“It couldn’t have been that bad.”
“I’m sure you did better than you think.”
“It couldn’t be any worse, right?”

Wrong.
Wrong.
And really!? Are you trying to jinx me even more?

The people who auditioned before me were…nervous. Ohhh, how I felt for them, in some patronizing unattractive tone. I, on the other hand, had prepared. You see what’s coming, don’t you? Karma was headed straight for me-precision aim.

Yes, I prepared alright. I thought I had come up with some clever little story that still authentically portrayed my life and simultaneously answered the audition prompt. Two lines in, I went blank. Then, instead of thinking of how to recover, I could only think in oxygen-deprived blind panic, “Oh no, this…isn’t…happening.” Note, dear reader, I am NOT the person you should call in an emergency.

It would be bad enough if I told you I stared at my hands for the rest of the monologue…which I did. But no, that’s not the worst part. I literally said the following two lines in the middle of my struggling for any word-ANY word at all in the entire English language:

1. Wow. I’m doing really great up here. Followed by,
2. (Slightly nervous giggling) I’m a really, REALLY great actor.

Do you hear the sarcasm? Yes, that was me DURING the monologue.

The amazing thing about of all of this, and something I almost don’t want to admit, is that I laughed harder tonight than I have in a long time. I called some friends and they laughed and groaned in all of the right places. Maybe tonight was a two-fer. Consider my failure and performance fears “embraced.” Check and check. No, they aren’t conquered but at the very least I looked at them head on. And more importantly, I survived.

Earlier tonight, I considered changing my name and contact info. It was just that mortifying. I blundered in front people I will eventually have to see again…like 10 years from now if I can help it. Still, instead of going down the usual road of self-loathing, I spent the entire evening giggling (the appropriate kind).

Maybe there is something to this looking for change in the fearful corners of my heart. I may never completely overcome these fears and I may never become the next great undiscovered talent, but at the end of it all, I can share a gut-splitting guffaw with friends.

To the kind souls who talked to me in the hallway after the audition trying to console me, to those friends who understand my deep need for self-deprecation, thank you. Tonight was a surprisingly uplifting night. Perhaps bombing has some sparks I rather enjoy.

Well…let’s not get carried away.

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The Paralysis of Self-Doubt

I haven’t been interpreting in the post-secondary setting all semester. For people that know StrengthsQuest, two of my top five are learner and input. As you can see, I was feeling desperate for any kind of stimulating information. I pulled up TED because I know I can always count on them to either inspire me or educate me on a specific topic. This TED talk blew me away. At first, it was very informational. Amy Cuddy explained her findings about body language and how it relates to power dynamics. As her talk continued, the research findings became really fascinating and her personal story emerged as she was explaining why her research resonated with her so strongly.

The themes of vulnerability and imperfection have really become important topics for me this year, and once again I see the beauty of vulnerability in her talk. (Thank you, Brené Brown.) She explains her path into academia and her nagging feeling that she didn’t deserve to be there at all. You will need to watch the talk in order to understand why she had this feeling of inadequacy.

As she was speaking, I had this realization that at some level all people have these feelings of inadequacy or fraudulence; however, we all have them for different reasons. Despite the reasons for our feelings of inadequacy, we have a choice. I am not going to be naive and say if you just follow everything Amy says your feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy, and fraudulence are going to immediately go away, but what I am saying is the most important part of her research is our choice to push aside those feelings even when we believe them and they lurk in the back of our minds. We don’t have to add fuel to the fire by actively participating in our own self-destruction.

Obviously depression and any other mental health issues are not situations where you can will those conditions away; however, this is a situation of self-doubt–that habit to instantly second guess yourself or your abilities. I want my mindset to be how can I make this happen in my life instead of instantly giving all of the reasons why something won’t happen. Trust me, I am really good at coming up with a list of why I can’t do something, and usually all of the reasons involve me and my feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness. If I am honest with myself, giving into those feelings is easier, and I am comfortable there. Who is with me in getting out of this self-doubt paralysis?

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Why We Love May Day

May Day has become a ritual for me, Melissa, and Joby. Every spring we look forward to the symbolism of Spring: new beginnings, fresh starts, life, and the promise of a new year. Even though I am in Boston, I plan on making my way back to Minneapolis to celebrate all of the possibilities of a new year.  If you are wondering why we love May Day so much, let me illustrate.

Friends and Neighbors

Mangos On A Stick

Regalia

Kids having fun

Costumes and Puppets!

Spring!

Activism

Bikes

Happy Dogs

And COLOUR!

My Birthday Anthem

Happy Birthday to me! I decided to pick a song for my birthday, heck, for the next year. And Dog Days are Over is the winner. Congratulations, Florence, would you like to make a speech? Call me.

It is my absolute favorite song, evidenced by the fact that is has been on constant repeat. Constant. I’m listening to it while I run, while I clean, while I dance, while I cry, while I drive. And yes, I know that the song is not even on Florence and the Machine’s newest album, but have I ever been one to be current on music? Just the other day, some tweens had to tell me that I was listening to a Michael Jackson song. Yes, I cried a little inside.

***Update: I just went for a birthday run (CLOTHED!), and listened to my anthem to finish it off. It was tough and hot and my face was refusing to sweat, so I pretended the people in the video below were throwing glitter at me too to cheer me on. Just as the run finally ended, it started to rain. I swear it was as epic as Shawshank! My hands were extended into the heavens. I’m sure I looked just like Andy, minus the poo and the shirtless-ness. Andy’s classic quote seems rather fitting too on this the day of my birth: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

 

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It is never too late….

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

– C.S. Lewis

 “The only thing that will stop you from fulfilling your dreams is you.”

– Tom Bradley

Melissa had this great idea to make a category called “It is never too late.”  We have had many discussions of people who later in life continue to cultivate themselves.  As we get older, it is really easy to think we missed the boat on certain life experiences.  I admire people who aren’t afraid to make mistakes or a fool out of themselves.  That is where self-discovery all starts: taking risks.  If we don’t ever try, we will never grow and we will never know who or what we could have become.  I was listening to NPR, and I was so inspired by a story done on Anthony Hopkins.  If you want to know what he has discovered about himself in his 70’s, click on the picture, and read the article.  You are certainly in for a surprise and a lot of inspiration.

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