the writer in me

snoopy_writingI’ve been writing very little of late and that is not an accident. It is intentional. However the part of me that wants to write about life cries to be feed and to be free. So I found myself up earlier than usual this morning trying to find ways for that to happen. I stumbled upon a possible answer: resume “the book.”

I just spent about an hour looking at what I had already written. I noticed that in the plan of the book I’ve left significant things out. I have left glossed over important issues and events. Some of the issues are hard for me. Some of the events are difficult to write about. This was very revealing because I think of myself as a compassionate, open and honest communicator about tough stuff.

I will send the writer off into my past to explore these things and to write about them. Yes, it seems that the time has come to revive and old dream and bring forth some new insights.

an old jazz album

Atlantis_(McCoy_Tyner_album)Tonight I’m listening to one of the first jazz “albums” I ever heard and owned: Atlantis by McCoy Tyner. It was recorded live in 1974 and released in 1975 (during my senior year in high school).

That year was a musical turning point for me. I had become bored with what I was hearing in popular music. Pop music had descended into the era of disco. However a friend of mine (part of the circle of high school social bottom feeders to which I belonged) had discovered jazz. He gave me an album and said, “Listen to this. You might like it.”

The album he gave me was Atlantis. I took it home and listened to it. I didn’t understand it at all, It was totally foreign to me. It had no antecedent in my experience and yet it pulled me in. The title track was 18 minutes long. No one sang a single word and yet it drew me in. I found myself both listening intently and floating on the music at the same time. There was power unlike anything I had heard. It had power that was not connected to beat and bass. It was not the power that made you move your feet. It was the power that moved you at some other level. There was a drive that I had not heard in pop music. There was a sense of innovation that said to me, “What you are hearing is something that cannot me repeated, only captured.”

I didn’t understand much of what I was hearing but I was captivated by it. Of course I had heard jazz before but this was new and energetic in a way that dwarfed what i heard on the radio everyday. It touched something in me and I longed for more of that freedom and expressiveness that blew away the overly produced soul-less crap I was hearing every day.

My peer group sent a clear signal to me that disco was the way to go. I was sent a clear message that disco is about dance and black people dance. If don’t (or God forbid, can’t) dance, then you are not one of us. Having already been excluded, because of things I didn’t even know were being seen and said about me, I didn’t matter. I decided that, since I was already in the out crowd, I may as well do what pleases me. So I embraced this music that none of peers cared about. Through McCoy Tyner I discovered Miles Davis and Bill Evans and John Coltrane and the entire world of jazz opened before me. It was like being Alice in Wonderland.

My interest in a different kind of music led me to be open to different kinds of literature. Interestingly enough, at about this same time, a different friend handed me a small book entitled, “The Hobbit.” That would open the door to a lifelong fascination with fantasy and sci-fi. Tolkien would lead me to CS Lewis: my first exposure to the Anglican Community. Those seeds would lie quiet for many years before they germinated.

Perhaps it is not an overstatement to say that McCoy Tyner was my first step toward the Episcopal Church.


crowdedmallI closed the door behind me as quickly as it would close, leaned wearily against it and said, “That was harrowing.” I didn’t mean to say it aloud but it escaped my lips.

I took a couple of deep breaths and calmed myself before returning to my car. The place I’d just come out of was disorienting and uncomfortably warm. At one point I had difficulty breathing in there. It left me feeling overwhelmed and I was anxious to leave. As I reached the safety of my car I thought, “That was terrible. I don’t ever want to go in there again.”

Where was I? Southcenter shopping mall in Tukwila, WA. Maybe once in a year I go there for something. I remembered that the last time I was there I didn’t like the experience. However this time my experience was worse. It had nothing to do with the way I was treated by anyone. It was the setting itself.

There was too much going on in the space. There was too much for me to take in. In addition to the overly busy stores, there was a dizzying array of booths everywhere. Every place I looked there were display screens and videos and music and all sorts of eye candy. I couldn’t find my way. I couldn’t even find a directory to tell me what stores were in the mall.

I walked into a department store and it might as well have been a fun-house maze. There were so many mirrors and uninformative signs that I couldn’t even find the escalator. When I wanted to leave I couldn’t find the way out. I had to ask one of sale reps to point me toward the entrance back into the mall.

It was during that brief conversation that I found myself struggling to breath. I am horribly allergic to some fragrance (the name of which I don’t even know) and it freezes my lungs so that I can’t inhale or exhale until I get away from it. I saw the look of fear in the young woman’s eyes. Maybe she was looking at me and thinking, “She’s an old woman (grey hair) and she disoriented (dementia) and now she can’t breath (heart attack). Maybe I should call 911.” She actually said to me, “Ma’am, are you OK?” I quickly said yes and almost ran in the direction she pointed.

When I got back into the mall I had completely lost my bearings. I had no idea which exit I should take. People were strolling up and down, relaxed as they could be, but I was approaching panic. My one thought was, “Get me out of here, now.” I headed off in one direction and by the grace of God I picked the right one. I still went wrong at one fork but I was “in the ballpark” and found the way out.

When I was driving away I replayed the experience in my head. I began to feel sheepish about the whole thing. I glimpsed something about myself that was a little painful to see. I am aging and I’ve “lost a step” (as they say in the world of sports). A place like Southcenter is now too busy for me where a few years ago I would have found it fun and “normal.” It didn’t feel fun or normal today. I suspect that I am changing every bit as much as the shopping experience is changing. We are moving in different directions: it’s speeding up and I’m slowing down.

I once heard a Billy Joel song that never became a hit. It was all about aging and now I’m beginning to appreciate the song. The last verse goes like this:

Hey, it’s good to be a young man
And to live the way you please
Yes, a young man is the king
Of every kingdom that he sees
There’s an old and feeble man not far behind
But it surely will catch up to him
Somewhere along the line

The old woman is catching up to me. Some days I’m OK with that and some days I’m not. Today was one of those days when I looked over my shoulder and was alarmed to see how close she is to me.

thinking about what i have written in the past

Today Facebook showed me something that shocked me. It showed me some of the posts I’d written over three years ago. There was humor and it in them. There was a little bit of insight and some wisps of theology. What shocked me was the incredible humanness of the posts. I had written things that were so open and honest that it hurt to read them. At one point I found myself wondering if I had really written that stuff and posted it for all to read. I said after reading one particularly poignant post, “Carla, what have you done? You’ve taken people behind the curtain and showed them that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is just a plain ol’ weak human being.” I felt very vulnerable and suddenly frightened.

However then I took courage. I have not broken anyone confidentiality. I have not violated my sacred trust. I have spoken only of myself. And what does it matter? I’m not a celebrity or anyone of public note. So what if one hundred people read about my flaws and foibles? There is nothing to be lost by people seeing my humanity.

Once upon a time I imagined that I would be famous, great, known. I imagined that my gifts would bring me at least a national audience. I laugh at that now and I no longer crave that. Could it be that I’m finally getting the lesson that is in what the old theologians called “Christ’s State of Humiliation?” It might be finally starting to learn what it means to walk in steps of the humble Christ.

Nowadays I look at the movement for trans-inclusion (and particularly black trans-inclusion) and I see that the struggle is safely in the hands of the generation after me. They are voice. They are ones doing what my generation could not do. A black transwoman on the cover of Time Magazine: who would have imagined that? Yet note the generation that she is from–not mine. The activists that are pushing the cause are in Generation Y and so be it.  Old trans-folk like me can say, “We had our day.” I can say with pride, “I’ve made my mark. I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame.” I am glad to see those coming after me who will do so much more.

generationMy desire now is very simple. Every Sunday I sit surrounded by about 12 children. My call is to form their faith and lead them into a relationship with God, who loves them in Christ. My job is to help them do what I’m doing: following Christ. I want to share with them whatever wisdom I’ve gained. That is my primary task these days and I’m deeply committed to it. In the words of Psalm 131, “I do not aspire to great things.” I am devoted to the small band of children that is with me week after week. They have re-kindled the fire in my bones. They have refreshed my soul. They have captured my heart. I want to be an icon of Christ for them, as my mom and dad were icons of Christ for their children and their children’s children. As Psalm 145 says, “One generation shall commend Your works to another.” That’s what I want right now.