Back in the Saddle

This hasn’t been an easy year. Given the past several years, that’s saying a lot. If you don’t know me IRL, then you’ve only gotten glimpses of all that jazz, but trust me on this one. It hasn’t been an easy year.

In January, I made an abrupt announcement that I would be on hiatus, and then I vanished from internet land, reappearing only in shadowy, furtive movements. I needed that time in so many ways; I’ll try to summarize the salient points for you.

I think we all hit breaking points in our lives, and these can be bad or good depending on what we do with them. We can shut away the pain, create a game plan to move forward, and never learn from what we went through. We can allow ourselves to fully experience the trauma, accept that it is what it is, and work through and with it to heal and grow. Perhaps you can think of a few other ways of dealing, but those are the two I’m most familiar with. Ignore or allow.

I’ve had experiences that shattered me, as a mirror dropped on concrete. I’ve been on the metaphorical edge of the internal abyss, one relaxed muscle from dropping into the invisible darkness waiting to consume me. This time, it was as if all my internal fortifications turned to sand and sifted away in the wind.

Mental breakdowns can be poetic at times.

After the initial storm of WTF passed, I was hollow inside. You may have heard that term before. I thought I knew what it meant. I learned new depths of emptiness in that time. I did things because there were things to do, but they meant nothing to me. As an actor, I could easily fake interest and enthusiasm for the events I participated in, but as soon as everyone turned away, I was blank again. I became a “whatever” activist, doing “whatever” was in front of me.

Thankfully, I didn’t do anything stupid or regrettable. In fact, most would (and have) applauded the things I’ve done. I got a new Side Job with much better hours and conditions. I’ve helped friends in tight situations. I’ve continued going to church and leaning into God. And due to the hiatus, I appear to have given up the ridiculous notion that writing or acting make for “real” work.

The events that caused this latest retreat from reality (which I won’t go into now but may or may not in the future) were so painful that I, like many victims of severe physical trauma, went into a kind of coma because I couldn’t handle the agony. Sometimes, the body and mind shut down in order to protect the self from the injury.

Moreover, I became afraid of my creativity.

Creativity is part of who I am, and I felt I could no longer trust that side of myself. Some of the wounds came at the words and actions of others, but it seemed so much of the hurt was my own fault. If I’d just been practical; if only I’d not been so foolish; how could I have been so blind? I couldn’t trust myself, and I was scared to trust God, Who had made such use of my creativity. Such was my soul’s tenderness that I couldn’t even read a book, because that required too much thinking, too much imagination.

Every time I went to church, I bawled my head off at least once during service. It was weeks before I could talk to God, even in moaning screams. I went because somewhere in the depths of my torture, I knew it was better than isolating myself, better than cutting out a part of my heart again. You can only shut away so much of yourself before there’s nothing of you left. I didn’t understand WHY, I didn’t know WHAT, I couldn’t grasp HOW I was supposed to deal with everything. With anything. I was empty. Empty of knowledge, understanding, critical thinking, creative flow. I had nothing but the abused belief that if I were going to find help, I would find it in God’s arms.

Toward the end of March, I began to feel as though I might be able to think about writing again. The idea wasn’t quite so wrenching, though I wasn’t there yet. This past weekend, I attended a conference at church which, combined with our old friends Time and Distance, helped me take the steps of healing necessary to climb back in the saddle.

I’m still very “sore” from my experiences. It will still take time and “rehab” to get myself back up to speed. I don’t know what my creative process will look like. I have no projections for the future. I do know that I am going to start writing again, start dreaming again. The idea of it hurts enough to bring tears to my eyes, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I can’t promise a start-up date for my serial, “The Water Feline,” because I’m still learning my strength and endurance. I can’t promise a schedule. I can only promise that I will be making the effort.

Your patience and support over the past months has not gone unnoticed. I appreciate each and every one of you. Please continue to bear with me as I relearn how to be myself.

 

~str

MB Expo 2013: part 2

In which I discuss why I couldn’t do anything during the Expo.

 

Wednesday morning, I woke up with that taste in my mouth. A familiar taste. One I’ve come to dread.

Upper respiratory infection.

Within half an hour of being upright and mobile, I realized the problem was really bad. I had a double infection, in my sinuses as well as my lungs. I knew this because of how many times I’ve had URIs over the years. With my allergies and asthma, I expect to get sick a lot. I also know when I’ve encountered something that will make me sick.

It started on 1 November, when I was at my Side Job. A cleaning lady was tidying bathrooms, and when I walked past, the chemicals rugby-tackled my sinuses and dragged me through the histamine mud. In less than a minute. As a result, I caught whatever virus was going around town, and you can’t treat viruses with antibiotics. Or if you can, I don’t know about it.

So I sniffled and ached my way through the month, missing several days at the Side Job because I was in bed, coughing and hurting and not sleeping. The week before the Expo, I decided to take a round of antibiotics to hopefully stave off a bacterial infection, which is what I usually get. What I got was a side effect I won’t discuss here and a double infection on that Wednesday morning.

After all the setbacks from the last month, was this the final straw? The last nail? The ultimate sign that I didn’t need to be wasting my time on this foolish dream?

Whether it was or not, I had a carpool waiting on me. I couldn’t back out and leave them in the lurch! Plus, I didn’t feel that bad, for all the nasty gunk coming from two directions. I sounded a bit froggy, but it wasn’t so bad. I said a quick prayer, felt peace about going, and loaded up the vehicle. We drove down, checked in, and began the Expo.

Thursday morning, I woke up with even more gunk and even less voice. I also coughed up some blood. When I tried to sing, only air came out. I didn’t have a single note, not even in chest voice. Thursday was the first round of the singing competition. Singing had always been my greatest skill and talent.

Was this proof that I’d made a stupid decision? Here I was, unable to do the one thing I’m really good at, stuck at an Expo I’d paid too much for, and I had nothing to show for it. How could I impress agents or scouts with no voice? What good was any of this?

For whatever reason, I felt no despair. I felt no self-recrimination. I didn’t doubt that my being at the Expo was a good thing. Somehow, some way, I had an incredible lightness in my heart that said, “There’s no point in getting or staying upset about this. Do the best you can with what you have.”

I took a few hours in the middle of Thursday to find a Doc-in-the-box, get a couple of shots, and fill a script for antibiotics. The pocket money that had come at the last moment? Exactly the amount to pay for the visit and treatment. Within a few hours, I could feel the benefit of the shots. Back to the Expo I went.

By Friday morning, I had some chest voice back and felt a little more human. My wonderful agent had taken my resume, which consists of primarily singing roles in operas and musicals, and persuaded someone to let me into the second round despite my failure to show the day before. I took up the mic, croaked out my two verses, and marveled that the selection I’d chosen for round 2 used only my chest voice. Had I used my round 1 selection, I would have needed head voice.

Maybe this hadn’t been a complete fiasco. Sure, I wouldn’t win any awards for my barely-tolerable performance, but surely the music scouts out there were capable of detecting a trained voice under an illness. I was heard, and that was my goal. Worked for me.

As an added bonus, when I walked backstage to pass off the mic, I saw myself on the video screen and thought, “Hey, I don’t look hideously fat in that picture.” My confidence rose a little. Celebrate the small victories, my friends.

Events and seminars continued all day and night. I didn’t do as much trawling for hands to shake as I could have for two reasons. One, I needed extra sleep and took naps when I could to regain my health. Two, I had the darndest time figuring out who the scouts and agents were! Most of them were in the auditions and not wandering the hotel, so I gave up trying to corner them and slept instead.

Saturday morning came way too early; we had the cold-read audition at 730am. My chest voice was more solid, but I still had no head voice. I lived on cough drops; no sooner did one dissolve than I popped another in. Under my tongue, in my cheek, anywhere I could tuck it so that I could still talk. The inside of my mouth was raw and scraped from the hard edges of fresh lozenges. I discovered that we tend to leak a little saliva at the corners of our mouths when we talk, and the medicated spit inside my face quickly chapped the edges of my lips. Good thing I had a lot of lip balm with me! I refreshed it as often as I did the cough drops.

The staff member handing out the slips of paper with our cold reads gave me what was perhaps the best possible script for a sick woman. As a friend of mine said, I was rocking the 1-900 voice, and the paragraph in my hand was perfect for the smokey, sultry timbre of my infection-addled speech. I doubt the staff member knew I was sick or that my voice sounded as bad as it did. He could have given me any of a dozen readings, and he handed me one that I could do well in my condition. Once again, chance that might just be providence.

After the cold reads, I went hunting for the little old man who had said the night before that he was auditioning for scholarships to acting school. I found him, introduced myself, and asked for an audition. Sheryl wandered by just then and greeted him. She’s sent many talents to his school, and she built me up to him. In moments, David Vando agreed to audition me and went in search of a quiet spot. All the rooms were locked, so we made use of the hallway. I presented my monologue, received some excellent coaching and feedback on it, and croaked out a verse of a song for him. I thought it went rather well, all things considered.

All through this, my attitude stayed lifted. I don’t know why or how. I had every reason to weep and wail, ample justification to give up and go home. It wasn’t hard to stay positive, to enjoy myself immensely, to encourage everyone I came in contact with. I can think of no other explanation than God was with me, giving me strength because I had none.

After another quick nap, it was time for the one-on-ones with the agents. I didn’t think any of them would summon me, so I decided to visit as many of them as I could in the short time I had. Well, the ones I might remotely be of interest to; I’m not high fashion model material, and that’s ok. I jumped from line to line, smiling and handing over resumes and comp cards, and trying not to cough on anyone. I wasn’t offended when one scout pulled out hand sanitizer and doused himself.

I then discovered that too many cough drops can mess with the nerves in your mouth, and my smile was really creepy because my entire jaw was twitching uncontrollably. I’m not surprised that few of the agents seemed entirely comfortable around me: I was sick, looked sick, sounded sick, and had a shaky, Ima-KEEL-yoo smile. Oy, vey.

To my delight, I did get three callbacks. Perhaps my singing hadn’t been as bad as I’d thought, because one callback was for musical performance. Lots of my fellows got more callbacks than I did, and I was able to honestly rejoice with them and not feel jealous or deprived. I could feel my energy lagging, my mental focus waning, but my hope stayed full. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed, but I didn’t fall prey to misery.

If that is not God’s abundant grace in a time of need, I don’t know what qualifies.

Sunday morning, I had a third of my head voice back. By that I mean I could lightly sing the notes required for the song my agency had been preparing. This Expo was the 20th anniversary, and we’d been asked to perform special music. I’ll admit that I had been very arrogant during our rehearsal times. I knew I was the best singer in the group; I had training and performance experience.

Sunday morning, however, I had only deep gratitude that I would be able to help my agency perform the piece. I was the only one on my vocal part, and if I didn’t sing, the whole thing would suffer. I didn’t want to do that to them, not when this was just as much their chance to shine in front of the entire Expo as it was mine. I wasn’t going to sparkle, not with my situation, but dangit, I was going to make sure they got their chance. Praise God, I was able to.

After the awards ceremony (more on that in a future post), we drove back home. I did have to pull over and have one of my carpoolers drive for a while because my eyes were doing things that made the road double, but we made it without issue. I got home and passed out, and two weeks later, I’m still struggling with crud, congestion, and constricted singing.

The moral of this portion of the tale is simple: your circumstances neither define you nor set your boundaries. I made it through the Expo when I was one step from pneumonia. I stayed positive when I had no reason to be conscious. Through it all, I had hands under my arms, lifting me up.

Whatever your beliefs or experience, I cannot deny that I had supernatural help throughout the entire weekend. And I think that’s an amazing thing.

See, if everything had gone as hoped for, I really don’t think the Expo would have gone so well for me. If I’d had my full voice, I would have been crushed if I didn’t make the finals for singing. Had I not placed in the acting when I was at my best, I would have slunk back home and never attempted another audition. Had I not been so completely without any ability, any strength, I would have walked in arrogance that would turn everyone around me away.

This was probably the best exercise in humiliation I’ve ever gone through. I was humbled by my utter inability to do anything, deprived of the strength I’ve built my life on, and I was happy. Joyful, even. I had an amazing time, most likely because I knew that whatever happened was in God’s hands. I wasn’t responsible for anything but showing up. Like me, despise me, I didn’t care. I went to have fun and try something different.

Being sick isn’t as bad as we might think.

So What?

We’ve all had that thing. That one thing we just have to have. That one thing that will make us happy, complete us, fulfill every dream, and make it all worth the struggle.

Maybe it was an award in elementary school. Maybe it was the sports team slot. Maybe it was a toy, a concert, a date. Maybe it was a degree, or kids, or fame, or fortune.

Not getting the thing really sucks.

For those of us who believe God, believe that He’s in control and guides our lives, not getting the thing is more than painful. We wonder if God really cares, because surely if He loved us, He would let us have the thing. What’s wrong with the thing, we ask. Why can’t we have the thing?

We work so hard, try so much, do everything we can possibly do, and still we don’t have the thing. Maybe we have the thing, but it’s not complete. It’s a partial thing, or it fell apart despite our best efforts. Maybe someone else took the thing we wanted. Maybe we did everything right and the thing went to another person anyway. Where is God when we stand empty-handed?

When we don’t get the thing time after time after time, we think we should stop trying. Why do the same action and get the same result?

If God is in charge, and I don’t get the thing despite how much I pray, remain faithful, listen, obey, et al, then maybe I should put someone else in charge instead of God. He’s not delivering, so He has to leave office. Results, not empty promises!

If only that worked.

Deposing God doesn’t work, has never worked, and never will work. Just look at history. Look at the modern world. I recently read an article about a woman who, as part of an elaborate art performance, stood silent in public with a sign inviting those around her to do anything they wanted to her. Over the course of several hours, she was spat on, slapped, beaten, stripped, and otherwise physically violated. When given carte blanche, we devolve with frightening alacrity.

For all the good we do, we can’t fix this broken world. We can’t make it fair for everyone. We can try, and yes, we do some good. We make a positive difference. But we’re bailing a boat without going near the leak. We can barely get ourselves to eat, sleep, and exercise properly. What makes us think we can control the weather, plate tectonics, or other human beings?

Back to the thing. I have wanted things in my life, wanted them so much that the idea of being without them tore me to pieces. I wept for days or months over the things I wanted, moped for years, descended into physical dis-ease, and have done more than a few things I’m not proud of. I almost never got the things I wanted, and I have railed against God for making me miserable.

Where was my heart in all this suffering? Where was my mind? I focused on the thing, and I was miserable. I obsessed about how I didn’t have the thing, and I became sick. All of my being was on the thing, and I suffered.

What happens when the thing is no longer the center of my life? Ask any fangirl how she feels when her show ends, and she’ll tell you how hollow she feels, how void of meaning her life seems. Until she finds a new show, book, whatever. She replaces one thing with another.

Where we put our devotion shows what we worship. We may worship physical fitness, careers, family. Do those things have the ability to perpetually fulfill us, to continually meet our innermost needs? I argue that they inherently cannot. Our bodies fail and break. Careers suffer the whims of economics and politics. Families are full of ornery people who never seem to realize how their selfishness hurts those who love them.

Instead of getting tangled in a thing, perhaps we should look to the Main Thing. Jesus promised us that when we keep the Main Thing as our main thing, then everything else would sort itself out. That Main Thing is to love God with every last fragment of our being.

If love were a weak, ineffective emotion, it wouldn’t be lionized throughout history. We wouldn’t have song after poem after novel after film about how finding true love satisfies us in ways that money, power, and even sex cannot. Love meets a need that we can’t always verbalize or define. The deeper and purer the love, the more it transforms, takes over, and fills us.

God is love. Specifically, He is agape, the kind of love that doesn’t depend on emotions or circumstances, the kind of love that remakes, heals, soothes, and gives. It’s beyond lust, beyond romance, beyond family devotion. It’s so powerful that it’s scary. It’s the Main Thing.

So what if we don’t get the thing we so desperately want? If our attention in on the thing, we’re torn apart by it, whether we get it or not. When we look to agape, the thing becomes a wonderful addition. Its absence has no power to hurt us. Sure, we may feel disappointed when we don’t get it, but we won’t be destroyed because of its absence, and we will have the chance and the means to grow beyond it.

I think that’s a good trade-off.

New and Exciting Things!

This is a personal post rather than whatever else it is I usually post here. I have an extraordinary opportunity in front of me, and I’m going to use this blog to examine it from a few angles.

Writing is only one of my talents; I’ve been performing since I was a small child in local shows. I act, sing, dance, and, as of last year, set myself on fire. I love telling stories in all ways, whether I’m seen as a contributor or not. I just want to be part of it.

A couple of weeks ago, there was an open audition for an upcoming film in my area. Since the filming will take place just outside town (it’s a historical piece), they want local actors, dancers, extras, etc., to fill in the background for whomever they cast in the lead roles. I went down and auditioned and got an immediate callback. I don’t know when that callback will be, but I have reasons to believe that I’ll actually get the second audition.

The event was hosted by a locally-based talent agency with international connections, so I decided to get more info on their services. I was able to attend a Master’s Class this past weekend with some lovely (and important) ladies, at which I learned a lot of useful stuff for this acting gig. This afternoon, I met with the owner of the agency and her right-hand woman. They both raved about my audition and my performance at the class, and they want me to sign on and do stuff with them. I walked out of there with a script for an upcoming film audition.

The big thing is: how do I take the next step? I know what that step is: the agency (Anderson) wants me to be one of 25 people they take to an exclusive Expo in Dallas to audition in front of major industry professionals. As in, I literally walked in off the street, and they want to show me off to Big Wigs from around the country. Exciting, nes pas? So how do I do this?

The Expo is a week-long event of auditions, seminars, networking, one-on-ones, and competition. As such, it is expensive. I would also need to pay for my own transportation, lodging, meals, outfits, and miscellanea. Anderson is throwing in a couple months’ worth of preparatory classes so that I don’t trip on my own feet at the Expo, but the total bill is over $3,000. I’d need the first $500 by Saturday, 24 August 2013, to reserve my spot.

Nothing is too big for God, and nothing catches Him by surprise. I trust that He has it all in hand. I want to make sure that I’m in position to receive what He provides and that I’m not inhibiting the flow (either deliberately or inadvertently). How does He want to pay for this?

I’m ready to do my part. I can work odd jobs, swap labor for services, whatever. One thing I’ve learned these past few years is that there’s a difference between a good thing and the right thing. Sure, I could go get a full-time job somewhere and earn the money to pay for this. I am more than willing to do so. But the more I do, the less I allow God to do. My life, quite frankly, is His show. I want Him to get all the glory for “my” success.

I would appreciate prayers from everyone. I will be looking for His hand, looking for what He wants me to do in order to make this happen. There will probably be fundraisers in the near future. Whatever happens, I rest in His love for me.

 

~str

Accusations

… And the serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say …?” Genesis 3

When life throws a lot of garbage your way, doubt creeps in behind it. It’s pretty normal, actually, to ask questions when facts don’t add up. If there’s no heat or smoke, then why is there fire, we might ask. The fire is often an illusion, and doubt leads us to discover the truth.

For me, doubts have extra punch because my brain chemicals don’t balance without help. I truly cannot think straight at times, and this makes me question everything I know and believe. Every revelation, every deduction, everything that happens in my mind loses all credibility when my balance goes off. It’s honestly terrifying.

Thoughts slither in, asking if God is really there and if He really cares. Did God really say that He would provide? Did God really say that I have a glorious future? If God cares, then why am I suffering so much? Why am I broken? Why does every door close in my face? Where is the victory, the overcoming? God, you promised!

Did God lie to me?

It is the enemy’s strategy to hit us when we’re down, in our weakest spot. He uses the truth against us, spinning lies as thin and strong as spider silk.

“God said He would protect you. Something bad happened, so God failed you.”

“God said He would provide for your needs. Your bills are past due and you can’t find work, so God must have been lying.”

“God said He loves you, but you’re suffering cruel hardships. He’s a sadist, and He’s just toying with you.”

The enemy starts with the truth and spins out lie after lie until we’re cocooned and helpless. As long as we look at the lies that bind, we are helpless. But there is a way out.

When I can’t trust myself to think clearly, I have to look outside myself. Outside my circumstances and the filters I view them through. I look to what I have never thought up, created, or materially influenced. These lifelines come in several forms.

First, I look to the Bible. I didn’t write it or edit it, so my skewed perceptions haven’t tainted it. Though I may doubt my ability to interpret it, the Bible has clear information and promises. I can go off black-and-white print.

Next, I look to inspired teachings based on the Bible. I didn’t write those sermons, so they aren’t suspect because of my doubts. The speaker’s interpretations don’t bear my flawed marks. I can hear someone else’s ideas because they aren’t my own.

I also turn to what others has spoken to and over me. I keep record of the inspired and prophetic words given to me, and I reread them periodically. These could be influenced by me, by my interactions with the people who gave them. But this isn’t fortune-telling, where I give the medium all my life information for interpretation. These words came from only my request to receive a word; I didn’t prime the pump with details. Sure, the speakers know me and my life, but they don’t know what I’m looking to get from them at a given moment. So I can probably trust what they say, since I didn’t manipulate them into saying what they actually said.

I gather my resources and dive into them. I chant the core concepts in desperation. And I learn to recognize that insidious whisper.

Did God really say … ?

This is what God has said. This is what it means. This is how it applies to me. Instead of tumbling down a slope of loose thoughts, I cling to a solid rock of truth. Instead of chasing ideas like a tail, I turn to the source material. If I feel that I cannot trust my thoughts, then I hold up the thoughts of God.

I don’t know why I have all the problems I do; I don’t know why God lets them go on and on and on. When I have done everything He’s asked me to do, and still I have problems and unmet needs, I cannot be drawn in by the lies.

I may not always see His purpose, but I will believe His goodness. No matter how much smoke blows in my face.

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