Monday, April 29, 2019

Sing a song (failure immaturity)

The Searing Beauty of Failing (CAI2019)
Singing may be the most difficult thing I’ve let myself do.

I’m mostly a coward, afraid of the searing pain of failure. For me, failure is like getting a tattoo. Just like it. You want the outcome, but that doesn’t change the experience of the pain. I only ever got one tattoo. Failure, I’ve tried on many times. I know I have to risk it, again and again, because I’m too stubborn or stupid to even know what I’m trying to learn by following my nose. And because I want success, whatever that means when I’m trying. 

When I think of success I tend to think it means earning enough at a comfortable pace, enjoying this life more hours and days than I don’t, developing myself joyfully through creation and exploration. Deepening with the humility and compassion failure has taught me; chastened, maybe, by the caution. Mitigated by my ever-sharpening empathy. Success, for me, would be a combination of having the life I want, and supporting systemic and individual change that lets other people have the lives they want, so I can enjoy mine in peace, sharing the world.

I’m good at a lot of things, so it’s been easy for me to avoid the things I’m not good at. I just fill my time and days with things I am good at, or love doing enough that concepts of “good” and “not good” don’t hold sway. Time slipped, and after awhile I found I never really had to test my weak muscles, since my strong muscles lifted all the loads I asked. I have artificially inflated my success by simply pushing only in successful directions. Therefore, I remained immature at failure.

Luckily I’ve used the last ten years to remedy that, trying and falling short of whatever definition of success I had, often enough that I started to believe that failure is the natural consequence of attempt.

Given the opportunity this year, I’ve succumbed to the temptation of running back into my comfort space, to focus all my time and attention where I feel I can succeed, on other people’s problems rather than something too close to skin. I’ve been doing that for months. In many ways it’s been a sweet relief, not to strive, to know how to tackle a problem and then just tackle it, maybe even doing some good. To feel competent, useful.  But my restless soul holds me to account for the things left untried, which matter so much I become truly terrified to fail. Yet I fail anyway, by not engaging them, by staying safe in what I know I can do well, walking the clear path to security. And isn’t that happy pace my goal of success, after all?

If I’m honest, that’s not all there is. That success I described, the comfortable pace and joyous exploration and support of peace - those pieces are important. They are the goal, but not without the Other Thing. The Thing I’m Meant to Do. Which feels ridiculous to say, arrogance and wishful thinking all rolled together into platitude.

The Thing I’m Meant to Do requires me to risk the searing pain of failure, to sit in the chair for it, to ask that it be embedded into my body and mark me forever. I don’t feel ready to take that risk.

So I’ve decided to try to learn to sing.

I can’t hear my own voice. It’s hard to explain, but it’s always been this way for me. I can hear that my voice makes a sound, but I can’t tell what I sound like, what key or pitch or whatever is coming out of my mouth. I have worked very hard my whole life, since I was a very small child, to learn to modulate my speaking into tones people expect and want to hear, appropriate to a situation. I know what it feels like in my chest, throat, tongue, nose, eyes, lips. But I can’t tell what it sounds like. So I don’t know what other people are hearing, I just gauge from their reaction. And that’s talking. Singing is a whole other ballgame.

If talking is like swimming, singing is like diving. You need control, but you also need to open up, let gravity take you, trust your body and muscle memory in a kind of freefall that has little to do with thinking but is based on real learning. My wild voice has no training, to control, and I don’t know how to get her to emit the sounds in my mind into the real world. Nor can I tell if she’s done so, not really. I gauge by feel, in my chest, throat, tongue, nose, eyes, lips. But I don’t know for sure what’s coming out, whether it’s as expected, on key, whether it’s beautiful or painful to the ear of the beholder.

It’s embarrassing to get it so wrong, even when I’m the only one around, even when it’s just a recorder and a deleted file that hears me. Embarrassment is repulsive to me, even though I desperately want to be one of those people who let the water run off their back. I have a crazy-rigid standard for singing that only a few people in the world have met to my ear’s satisfaction, and anything short of that feels embarrassing to me.

Which is unbalanced, of course. If I applied a standard of perfection to everything I do I would fail. I wouldn’t paint, or take nature photos, or parent, if I held myself to the standards of those I admire most, and I would always feel like I was falling short. I don’t do that in other parts of my life. So why is singing different?

I’m not sure yet, but it is.

I do laugh at myself, mostly, and I’ve been enjoying learning what it is to have breath and stamina, finding where my voice comes from in my body when I try to sing along with a Goddess. I feel like I’m breaking through something important. And, also, it’s incredibly daunting, and I wonder if I will ever find the strength and trust to sing for real as if no one is listening. To not care that I don’t get it right, and be satisfied with the progress that’s possible for me.

But if not, this failure feels manageable. If I can keep with it, move through it, maybe I can build my muscles and maturity enough to stop sabotaging myself through neglect of What I’m Meant to Do. And there’s that little chance, that feeling that if I actually succeed in bringing myself to sing, openly and without fear, that maybe not all attempt at overcoming weakness is doomed to failure, after all - so maybe, just maybe, the attempt that matters can succeed.

When the mountain is high, maybe some climbing training is in order. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Not Choosing Sides

Choosing Sides (CAI2019)
It comes to a point of choosing sides.

If you believe, as many do, that the Earth is headed for a major meltdown regardless, you decide how to act.

  • You can choose to do everything in your power to fight the inevitable, stave it off.
  • You can choose to do everything in your power to make what's happening less terrible for everyone and reduce the overall damage.
  • You can choose to do everything in your power to save you and yours.

Humans are simple creatures, in the end. We will always act to save us and ours, first and foremost. It's our doom.

There are those that are accumulating control over all the world's resources within the systems everyone seems to agree to play under. There are those who will suffer and die early deaths because they lack access to even the basic resources to live. And there's the giant bell of the curve, the rest of us, who are being forced to choose between one or the other. We either pursue capitalism, unabashedly using the rules to make our own way as clear as possible in the giant mess of the world, or we fight against it, asking for more in increasingly desperate ways as the cuts and demands of our World Owners come ever closer to our own skin.

Increasingly, it seems, there is nowhere to be in the middle. Like two side consolidating over an invisible line a mile wide, we are being forced to flee one way or the other, to the illusory and temporary safety of a trench. Either we're in the Rich trench, or the Poor trench. If we choose to, even mildly and politely, fight against the current state of capitalism, currently being unabashedly exploited for the benefit of the Rich, we are not worthy of being part of the Rich. We will end up among the Poor, the story tells us, and so we must not stand against the wrongs we see. We risk ruining our potential to be pulled in as the Rich pull in on themselves and hoard the wealth of a world. The only world for miles around - so many miles of space we haven't definitively found another.

It's a time of choice. I spent my best adult years building the life that capitalism made for me, the step up generation of more education, the potential to eliminate Want, Fear, and Insecurity from the daily experience of our family line's DNA. I have a strong mind and will, and that bent very well to the needs of people working with various levels of Power in service to Rich People. I learned so much, and I enjoyed quite a lot of it. I didn't question about sides. I was making my way through the capitalist game as best I could with what I had and the experiences I could get. I figured everyone else was doing the same, so if I got ahead, that must be my doing. It must be because of how hard I work (I worked hard), how smart I am (I am smart), how well I interpreted the systems around me (I am an exceptional systems thinker). And it was, it was those things. And also, that I had the ability to get an education. And also, that I was a polished, articulate, attractive, young, white, person. And also that I happened to ask the right question at a specific time, or someone was looking out for me that I didn't know about for reasons I will never know. And a million other factors, not the least of which is the exploitation of people all over the world to make clothes cheaply enough that I can afford to buy them on what I'm able to earn in the system I'm engaged in. I was dealt a hand, like every person is born dealt, and I worked with that hand as best I could, working with the luck I got. My hand was better than a lot of people, and worse than some. I am stronger and more determined than most people, but lazy compared to some. This is life for every person. What hand are you dealt, and what can you do with it?

Do is a funny word, because what does it mean? Does it imply that we need to play to win, to end up among the Rich when the walls go up and the prison industrial complex takes to the streets? Does it imply that we use our life to resist what feels inevitable, to the risk of giving up on the good life of peace that we envisioned for ourselves, and that we extend that risk to our children, our families, our friends, our employers?

This is a time when we see people choosing, all around us, choosing a side, and sticking to it, plugging their ears against the case of the other, then shouting with anger or derision that the opposite is true. This is a time when those of us who just want to live a peaceful life of creation feel torn, pushed, forced to participate in a war we didn't want to see happening, to flee to one trench or the other, fight the oppressor or fight for ourselves by joining them.

Walking a middle path is hard. We can't do it alone, but it's so hard to band together when our interests and what pulls us feel separated by so many different factors.

I don't know my path. I don't know where I end up, or the cost of the choices I will have in front of me in my lifetime. I don't know the extent of my strength of purpose or character or will. I am holding fast to a notion that peaceful coexistence is possible, because in that case, there are no sides, there is just the pursuit of peace. If enough of us believe that, that there are no sides, there is only the pursuit of peace, then maybe that can become the consensus view of reality. Maybe we can start acting like that's possible, and deciding big decisions based on that. Maybe. Right?

I mean, maybe.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Entwined (a Maverick post)

He Comes (CAI 2017)

Tonight I will let him come to me, but carefully.

He approaches, stealth personified,
already behind me, already inside
he steps lightly into my density
engages me, he drives
me like a Ferrari
despite my Volvo frame
his flame enlivens grace
so I feel how that feels
like it’s mine.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Forget Feedback

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of feedback. Think where that phrase comes from, compared to how it's used. Feedback from a microphone is an unsettling, unbearable sound. No wonder we flinch.

It recently came up on a team I'm on, that we all need to be open to feedback.

I admit it - I'm not.

There was a moment recently where I realized that I get stressed out and irritated when I feel like my hands are full, but people keep throwing balls at me and expecting me to catch them.  That is, I'm working at capacity and people point out improvements they think we should make, as though I've never thought of them, with no offer of support to see them through. Throwing balls and expecting me to catch them.

I know all the millions of things I could be doing better, or at least, I have an inkling where they are. My issue is more with prioritizing them, and then, not getting distracted by lower priority things I could be doing better, just because they bug this one person. Which is essentially what feedback is. One person's biased experience of one of the things you may or may not currently be working on about yourself, to be better.

At any given time, any of us could name a hundred things we'd change about ourselves to meet our own definition of "a good person" or "the best me I can be." Most people, especially female people, that I know, already know more "bad" things about themselves than any acquaintance or co-worker could identify.

It's not that we don't know what's wrong with us. Trust me, we know that we are not living up, it's been ingrained in us since we came into puberty. It's not even that we don't know what to do about it, though that may be true. It's that there are so many things we already feel inadequate about, that having more pointed out by people who barely know us feels like someone is whipping balls at us when our hands are full of fragile, important work that we're already doing to improve the things we actually are working on, which may or may not be the same as the thing that a person wants to throw at us as "feedback."

If a person is engaged in any kind of self-actualizing, we expect that we are working on ourselves. What I'm working on right now, specifically, may not be the thing that matters to you. It's too bad, but whatever bugs you about me, it's not my priority to fix it, unless it's something I'm already working on. I only have so much bandwidth for self-improvement. I have shit to do.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Shift the wind (a Maverick Missive)

He says,
you see,
your choices shift the winds

as the crash and clatter
grab my attention
break the tension
force the matter
shake the bones of what sat solid
longer than intended
but not quite long enough.

He says,
Now you've done it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

It doesn't Matter.

He says,
Child, just rest. It doesn't matter.

I say,
easy for you to say,
since you don't have to matter
But matter is all I get
The matter of this life,
and from here,
it all matters
every fucking thing.

He sighs and wishes he could show me
what I already know
but refuse to accept.