Victory over Struggles?

“Hey, can you guys pray for me? I’m going through a rough patch.”

These were my words to a group chat of Christian artists last week. The group is full of people from all sorts of faith backgrounds, and I know about two thirds of the people in person.

I received many encouraging responses. I received a new one today, which I found particularly interesting. 

“How are you doing this week? Are you feeling a wee bit of victory?”

Uhhhhh. How to answer that? It would take an entire essay to answer it. So, I guess I’m gonna write an essay?

Yesterday I read a thread on Twitter by Kate Bowler that I found super fascinating. It was about the difference between Canadian and American ways of thinking, Americans tend to believe that things must be conquered, whereas Canadians tend to believe that things are to be coped with. I happen to be a stereotypical Canadian in this sense. 

I don’t think in terms of victory/defeat when it comes to hardships in my spiritual life. So answering the question “Are you feeling a wee bit of victory?” is rather complicated. The question itself creates a false dilemma. 

No, I’m not experiencing victory would seem like I’m either failing in my faith life, or I’m REALLY in trouble. 

Yes, I’m experiencing victory isn’t true, because I don’t think in terms of victory. 

I think in terms of health and wholeness, are my systems, my spiritual ecology working well together? There’s not just black and white, there is,  What needs tending? What needs encouragement? Where are things out of balance? 

I don’t need to overcome this rough patch. I need to integrate it, and to know I’m not alone in the process. 

 

The Lament of Inspiration

I.
Watching Hamilton for the first time in July was a life changing experience. . . Not because of the story itself, but because of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I’ve been watching YouTube interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda every night for the past two weeks. For probably the first time in my life, I’m seeing someone who creates in the same way I do. His creative energy feels the same as mine, like siblings or twins. We’re both drama nerds, actors, writers.  We live in that weird cultural middle-ground: he’s a child of immigrants, I’m Canadian-Australian. And the way he loves people and characters and creating, and is just so PRESENT, it’s magnetic and I can’t tear my eyes away. I feel like my creativity tank fills up just being around him, even if it’s only through the internet. I’m inspired, and after what feels like forever, I finally have energy to make things.

II.
I am jealous of Lin-Manuel Miranda. I don’t envy his success or his fame; I envy his freedom to create. I envy the support he has from his family, his fellow actors, and his co-collaborators. I envy his community. I envy his mental stability.

When I create I have to climb past and wade through
depression, anxiety, ADHD
loneliness, insecurity
utter lack of encouragement and support from people close to me
indifference
childhood trauma, international moving trauma
fundamentalist ghosts and church don’ts
and the ever-present brakes I put on my passion and enthusiasm.

Now, I’m sure Lin deals with his own hardships. It’s impossible to walk through life smoothly, and there are always obstacles on the creative road. (Though I’m quite sure Lin hasn’t dealt with evangelical purity culture or fundamentalism.)

But seeing someone who makes things freely, and (to my point of view) just has to deal with the regular junk that comes with creating, instead of a mountain of other stuff in addition to normal creative obstacles, well, it shows me how not-free I am. And that hurts.

III.
It just eats me to see people doing the things I desperately want to do, but am not doing. (Acting. Creating. Writing screenplays. Running a sewing business. Living in their own cute apartment.) I’m jealous, envious and frustrated.

I can feel the flood of condemnation and “encouragement” coming in now.

Turn the hardships into creative energy! Now you have amazing experiences you can turn into art! Stop complaining and just work harder! The difference between you and Lin is that you just dream and Lin actually works. You shouldn’t be jealous of other people; it’s your own fault for not doing the things. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure. . . How DARE you be jealous. The jealousy is your fault and it’s sin and you need to squash it IMMEDIATELY or else you will be a terrible human being.

IV.
Yes, this a woe-is-me post. But since when did lament get downgraded to complaining and stuffed into the “do not touch” box? We need lament to move forward. I need lament to move forward.

See, every time I would feeling longing and sadness which I also called envy, it would come with that ton of guilt and shame as well. That only shut me down further and made me even more frustrated. If I push away the envy, I also push away the desire and the energy to do the things I want to do. So I will sit with the envy and frustration

I am sad about not doing what I want to do. I am grieving the things that I’ve not done because of all the hard things I have to walk through. I will talk about how I hate the things blocking me.

It’s time to untangle lament from shame and silencing, grief from guilt, and longing from fear.

It’s ok to want things, and it’s ok to be frustrated that I’m not getting those things.

 

July 13

We moved from Australia to Canada on July 13, 2006, when I was thirteen years old. The anniversary brings up all sorts of feelings. The following are a couple short pieces I wrote on our 14th anniversary of the move.

I.
The 13th of July, 2006, is the day my life changed forever. Though really it’s strange to pin it to a certain day when there were months before of packing and saying goodbyes. Wouldn’t the day where I found out we were moving to Canada be the actual day my life changed? But that wasn’t an actual day, it was rumours and maybes and airy ideas that slowly became more solid with time, until there was no turning back. We were moving to Canada.

And then the day itself, there’s no real actual turning point, and it’s all turning point. Loading the suitcases into the car. Monty driving us to the airport and telling us how to differentiate between pine, fir and spruce needles. (I still don’t know the difference between fir and spruce.) Sitting, our bags gone, just before security, with Grandma and Aunts. Grandma handing out Tim-Tams, eating mine and knowing as I ate it that it would be my last for a very long time. Hugs. Adults crying. Walking to the gate, taking one last look back. The security guard trying to pronounce Dara’s first name, and actually doing a decent job of it.

And then taking off and looking back, one last look at Sydney, at the East Coast, at Australia. MY HOME.

Then — turbulence and fear and crying but not from sadness.

And after that interminable boredom. Numbness I wouldn’t shake for over a decade.

Landing in Vancouver with a blur of grey and green (pine? fir? spruce?) and black runway. Thrill. Excitement! We’ve landed in Canada.
And exhaustion.

Another flight, and then beautiful green and yellow patchwork over the province I’m going to live in. Home? That word will never mean what it used to.

 

II.
I messaged a friend, and she asked me what I love most about Australia. 
I can’t tell you what I love most, but I can say some things I do love.

I love the wild parrots. I love the jacaranda trees and the big fat cicadas and the way we say cicAHda (instead of the North American cicayda). I love the casuarina trees and the beaches and hot Christmases. I love Tim Tams and Shapes crackers and the Berry doughnut van. I love the flat creeping grass, and the salt air and the national parks and the way that Australians care for the environment in ways that Canadians are just starting to think about. I love that people work to live instead of living to work. I love my Grandma, and walking barefoot to the beach, and picking pig face fruit from beside the road. I love looking for shells and the flags that the surf livesavers put up to keep swimmers safe even though I’m honestly probably going to be building sandcastles. I love freesias and tree ferns and fairy wrens. I love books by Jackie French and words like “spanner”. I love the streets designed to be walkable. I love the escarpment and the river full of jellyfish, and gumnuts, and creeks stained brown with tea tree bushes. And I love how the clouds hang low, so different from the high-up Alberta clouds (which I also love).

And I love Christmas beetles. And ripe mangoes.

 

Female-Directed Films I Love

I started this on International Women’s Day, but procrastination is a thing. Better late than never, right? So here’s a list of films directed by women that I enjoy.

(Note that it’s been a while since I watched some of them, and thus there may be content I’ve forgotten about. Watch at your own risk.)

 

Little Women – Greta Gerwig

This is the first movie I’ve seen twice in theatres. And it’s the third movie to ever make me cry. I adore this film, how it’s full of life and affection and kinetic energy. Greta takes a familiar story and makes it fresh, a period piece that is oh-so-relevant to today. Little Women inspired me to go out and make my art, which is something that the best films do.

Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig

My acting teacher would say over and over again, “Every scene is a love scene.” Never have I seen this more clearly than I have in Lady Bird. It oozes love for and between the characters, romantic, familial, platonic. The love for place is striking. Lady Bird also gave me the freedom to tell my own story. Gerwig said that everything in this film is true, though not everything actually happened (but it could have). And that’s what I want my films to do.

Also. Greta wore dresses while directing Lady Bird which is basically LIFE GOALS.

Awakenings – Penny Marshall

Why don’t more people know about Awakenings?! It’s an absolutely gorgeous story, about a doctor working to find a cure for patients with a mysterious locked-in syndrome. It features Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams.

Awakenings will make you love humanity all over again.

The Farewell – Lulu Wang

Poignant, funny and beautiful. Seriously, the cinematography and soundtrack are gorgeous. I also love the window into another culture. And the ending! I’m not going to spoil it, but it was great.

Belle – Amma Asante

I love Belle for two main reasons: First of all, the costumes. 18th century is one of my favourite eras. And secondly, as a sort of third-culture kid, I really relate to Belle’s story of not fitting into either the culture of your mother or father. (I also like to think of this as a prequel to Amazing Grace, which is another movie I love.)

And if you like Belle, be sure to check out A United Kingdom, also directed by Amma Asante.

Carrie Pilby – Susan Johnson

Whimsical, fresh and fun. Carrie Pilby is such a charming protagonist. Also. William Moseley. It’s a really sweet indie film.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Susan Johnson

I didn’t realize that Susan Johnson had also directed Carrie Pilby when I watched this film. This teen rom-com has all the cute comedic romance without excessive amounts of angst or dumb conversations where people don’t communicate properly. It’s also really pretty to look at, thanks to great cinematography and production design.

Band Aid – Zoe Lister-Jones

A couple works to save their marriage by starting a band and putting all their arguments into song. (But this is not a musical.) I love seeing a movie about a marriage, because so many romance movies are about dating relationships. This movie is offbeat but humourous and poignant.

Another fun thing about Band Aid: It’s one of the first films with an all-female crew.

Aquamarine – Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

The perfect sleepover movie. There’s depth to each of the characters, the plot is magnificently constructed, and the acting is on point. And it’s super fun to have the Male Gaze flipped on its head. Plus. . . MERMAIDS!

Selma – Ava DuVernay

Not an easy story to watch, but a good and important one. It’s been a while since I watched so I can’t comment in more detail, except to say that the song Glory from this movie’s soundtrack is AWESOME and should be listened to with the dial turned up.

Mamma Mia! – Phyllida Lloyd

Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep and more singing and dancing to ABBA songs in Greece? HECK YEAH!

Rip Tide – Rhiannon Bannenberg

Rip Tide is close to my heart, because it was filmed in the area where I grew up. I discovered it through a serendipitous Netflix scroll, and confirmed the filming location through IMDB research.

I started out with low expectations. It looks like a cheesy teen movie about a model who moves to Australia and discovers herself. But this movie is far more emotionally resonant and beautiful than I expected. I especially loved the focus on women and their relationships. Also the inevitable romance was the least contrived and most convincing I’ve ever seen in a teen-centred movie. And I ADORED all the little Australian things like the morning bird warbles and the Norfolk Island Pine and “How ya goin?”

There are a lot of surfing montages, but strangely I didn’t mind. It’s a lovely film, and worth the watch. Thematically this movie resonates with me a LOT, even months after watching it.

 

A Sad Story ft. My Old Church

Some important background before I begin my story:

  • I love it when people make a big deal out of my birthday
  • I love having people pray for me or “get a word from God” for me
  • I HATE not being seen or heard

It was November of 2013. We were at our small country church for a usual Sunday service, and this time it was exciting because a family with ties to YWAM was visiting. They were friends of the pastor (who shall hereafter be called Mr. P because he doesn’t deserve the name pastor). Thus, we had solid professional music, and fiery preaching with great stories from one of the YWAMers.

As was our usual tradition, we had testimony time near the beginning of the service. I shared my testimony of the gifts God had given me for my birthday earlier that week. My family had surprised me at college with a party, and God had healed my cold.

At the end of the testimony time, Mr. P mentioned that it was J’s birthday that day. J was the adult daughter of the visiting family, and the sister of the guy who preached. He asked everyone to take some time to listen to God for words for J, and then they would take time to encourage her and pray for her.

There was no mention of my birthday. Which I had OBVIOUSLY talked about ten minutes earlier.

It felt like a slap in the face.

I spent the time feeling sad and angry and betrayed, and asking God not to let me become bitter. (Nowadays I would have said something, but I was young and entrenched in submissive femininity that doesn’t allow you to speak up.)

Everyone prayed beautiful things for J, and I felt my face burn and tried desperately not to be jealous.

And then an older gentleman, also a visitor to our church that Sunday, spoke up. He pointed out that it was my birthday earlier that week, and that the church should pray for me too. I was flooded with gratitude toward the older gentleman.

So the church did pray for me and encourage me.

But.

Even now, six years later, I’m still pretty darn angry that it took an outsider to see me, still angry that this church I had been part of for about five years at that point completely ignored me. It felt like a deliberate snub then, and it feels like a deliberate snub now as I think about it, even with time and distance and perspective.

Such love. Such encouragement. Such attentive care for each member of the congregation. This is why I love church.

(In case you didn’t catch it, that last paragraph was sarcasm.)

And thus ends one of the sad stories featuring my former church.

 

Breakup Songs for the Church

I’m really really mad at the church tonight.

By church I mean the conservative(ish) North American Evangelical church. And all fundamentalist streams thereof.

I’m mad at churches that preach theology that hurts human beings, like complementarianism and “faith over fear” and other forms of Christian self-flagellation.

I’m so DONE with all of it.

500% done. FIVE MILLION PERCENT DONE.

 

So I like to play angry breakup music and dedicate it to different aspects of Christian religiosity.

For Those Books, Purity Culture and Fundamentalism in general:
Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson

 

For the North American church preaching self-flagellation and other messages:
You Give Love A Bad Name by Bon Jovi

 

For religiosity and harmful theology:
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift

 

I feel better now. Marginally.

Noisy Grief

In Ancient Egypt, wealthy families who were grieving hired professional mourners for the funeral procession. They would yell and wail for the dead person as they proceeded through town.

Ancient Hebrews would tear their garments, beat their chest and sit in a pile of ashes. 

Nowadays in Western culture, we grieve in more quiet ways. Crying. Hugging. Putting on black. A loud wail of anguish may be permitted occasionally, if the grief is particularly deep or remarkable. 

But I long for more dramatic, loud and messy ways to grieve. (And to grieve this way with people.)

 

Yelling and screaming at the sky

Blasting heavy metal music 

Smashing old plates and glasses

Whacking punching bags with baseball bats

A chorus of loud wails and sobs

Furious dancing 

Flailing at the air

Stomping

Reciting poetry loudly

Proclaiming that which has been lost

 

Our grief, my grief, is so quiet. 

I fear that even when presented with such opportunities, I would shrink back, because I have been taught that grief should be held close, compressed, kept quiet.

I yearn for the day when I can express my grief with bombastic noise, because I’m no longer afraid, because I have found a safe place where it can be released. 

But for now, I will sob quietly in my room. 

 

Curses!

Yesterday was a long day. I woke up early, worked all morning, drove to another town and back, and worked until 8:30pm at a market. I was TIRED.

It got dark, and then I heard bass-ey thumping. Somebody in the neighbourhood was partying it up when I was getting ready to sleep. I hate it when you can hear music but kind of not really. And I especially hate it when I want to relax.

I was lying in bed trying to sleep, working hard not to think about the noise. Which only made me more and more annoyed at the thumping sub woofers. To relieve my annoyance, I started creatively cursing them in my mind. Sweet satisfaction! I soon stopped hearing the noise and drifted off.

Why use f*** you! or d**** you! when you have this lovely selection at your fingertips?

THE CURSES:

May all mosquitoes within a hundred square metres congregate on your deck.

May your toenails grow inordinately quickly.

May the soles of your feet be covered in plantar warts.

May any water you drink taste like dirt.

May you get Call Me Maybe stuck in your head on repeat forever.

May all your can openers be dull.

May your garden be invaded by cabbage flies.

May your socks always be wet inside your shoes.

May your eyebrow hairs never lie flat.

May you get static shock every time you pet your pet.

May all your fork tines be uneven.

May your teeth feel fuzzy like after eating green bananas or stewed rhubarb.

May your fruit ripen so slowly it rots before it gets ripe.

May all your elastic bands snap as soon as you stretch them.

May your cellphone battery lose its ability to hold a charge.

May the tags on your clothes be un-removable and highly itchy.

May the skin above your cuticles peel.

May you hit your funnybone repeatedly.

May you bite the inside of your cheek every time you chew.

May your showers always be cold. And not a bracing or refreshing cold. A just-not-quite-warm-enough cold.

May autocorrect always choose the most embarrassing option possible.

May the library never have the book you want.

May every DVD and CD you ever use have a scratch right at the most dramatic bit.

May Netflix or your live streaming media service freeze right at the most dramatic bit.

May every radio station you tune into be in the middle of an ad grouping.

May you lose all your pens.

May a cheerful bird make residence right outside your bedroom window and chirp loudly and incessantly at 5am.

 

 

 

The Super Film Set

Shower thought from last night: What would each film department choose for their super power? 

Sound: Telekinesis — bye bye boom poles!

Actors: Shapeshifting — why work out for the role when you can simply morph your muscles?

DoP: Weather Control — the best natural lighting all the time.

Grips: Super Strength — because duh.

Electric: Lightning — why use generators when you can BE THE POWER!

PAs: Super Speed — helpful when running all over set.

Editors: also Super Speed — for reasons.

Scripty: Cloning Self — it’s really a job for three anyway.

The Entire Art Department: Mind Reading — so they can understand exactly what the director means when s/he says “I want it to evoke feelings of majesty”.

Greens: Plant Powers — obvious

Animal Wrangler: Speak to Animals — also obvious

Producer: Turning Stuff into Gold — What “financial woes”?

1st AD: Warping Time — No more worrying about falling behind schedule.

Screenwriter: Teleportation and Time-travel — First-hand research made easy!

Director: Multilingualism — Because each department has its own language. And now the actors will finally GET what you’re asking for.

 

 

On Loneliness

I am lonely.

Oh, I have a lot of friends. Though most of them live two hours away, minimum, there’s always Skype and Facebook call. I’m part of a young adults group in town, and a mom’s group (even though I’m not a mom). I work with awesome people. I live in a small town and bump into people I know on a relatively frequent basis. The librarians know my name.

And yet, some days I still feel a crushing sense of isolation, because it feels like all the responsibility for social interaction is on me. I have to call up a friend for a coffee date. I send the message to organize the Skype. I drive myself to MomTime and walk to the library to see the librarians who know my name. And that young adults group? I started it with a couple friends because I didn’t have enough social interaction.

I would love, LOVE for people to reach out to me. I fantasize about getting invited to people’s houses or answering the phone to a friend who simply wants to chat.

Yes, it’s a lie that I have to do ALL the work. Last month I was spontaneously invited to a Bible study. My friend asked if I wanted to sew with her. I got some long newsy letters in the mail. And yet, it feels like I give 110% to only get 25% back. It’s exhausting. I wish I could share the weight.

Are my expectations too high? Maybe a little. I need to stop overextending myself. (110% is not healthy.) But all the same, is it too much for me to ask people to call now and then just to chat, to see how I’m doing? Or to say, “Hey, let’s go for a walk sometime”? Or to have a friend invite me over just to hang out and do nothing? If this is too much to ask, what kind of society are we living in?

Do I just not have many friends? Or is this what being an adult in modern-day Canada is like? If so, it sucks and we need to bring more of our childhood play dates back.

Now, this isn’t a plea for pity, though if you know me and genuinely want to hang out, YES PLEASE, sign me up. But I want to point out that even though many things in this world can be made better by changing our attitude or perspective, loneliness is not one of them. Curing loneliness takes multiple people. We all need to play our part. So go call a friend or invite them on a walk. And not just one time. Your lives will be better for it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who daydreams about receiving a friend’s invitation.