July 24, 2014

Fabulous Fashionistas: Questions to Contemplate

Last year I followed a link to the short British documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas. I thought I'd watch a few minutes while I washed the dishes, but I was completely enraptured by the women it profiled and ended up standing in the kitchen until the decidedly-not-bitter end.

It's a brilliant, lovely film. And even though it is about clothes, it's about a lot more than clothes. It's about how society conceives of aging, and what it means to embrace and/or fight old age, and how grief and loss change us. It's about living well when you know full well that you will die.

It's not a religious film at all, but I immediately thought that it would be a perfect movie to watch and discuss with an intergenerational group of women, and where better to find an intergenerational group of women than the church?

So, tonight we have a special event at the local retirement community: an intergenerational screening of Fabulous Fashionistas, with cocktails before and questions after. I highly recommend this film and encourage you to borrow these questions if you want to host a book club or church event.

What does our culture say about old age? (One of the women said that it's seen as "grim and boring".) Is the film fundamentally a celebration of aging or not? Do you think they are embracing aging or fighting aging?

Did you find the women vain? Inspiring? Over the top?

Tell about an article of clothing that was/is important to you.

What's your fashion philosophy? Your individual style? Do clothes matter??

Do you care less about what people think of you as you age? Does age bring liberation?

Several of the women "reinvented" themselves as they aged, particularly as they responded to loss and change. Have you ever reinvented yourself, or wanted to?

One of the major themes of the program was loss and grief. One woman said, "If you can make the other life, you can remember the good things, and the sadness goes. If you don't make the move to go on, you only remember the sad parts." Does that resonate with you? How have you grieved, and been changed through grief?

Are you frightened of dying? How does your faith shape the way you think about death and dying?

The film ends with the statement, "I love life - everything about it." Jesus said that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. What does abundant life mean to you? What do you love most about this life?

July 14, 2014

I Take That Back

So, the other day I thought I was doing a brave thing by referring to myself as a good writer. Ever since I've been troubled by regret and self-doubt.

I wanted to claim that for myself because, among other things, if I can cultivate a decent level of self-confidence as a writer, I won't need as much external affirmation. The same goes for a decent level of self-confidence in general; it's when we're plagued by insecurity that we get needy.

Part of what I was trying to say is that I haven't yet written my best work. And that's a good thing, but it's also an incredibly daunting thing, especially for a writer who has a tendency to believe that whatever it is I'm working on cannot, in fact, be done. That the work is too much for me, that I will start a sentence that I'm not wise or talented enough to finish, and that will be it.

I thought that I could avoid that dreadful feeling with a thimbleful of swagger by claiming, at the beginning of a week of writing, that I'm a good writer. I couldn't.

I didn't do what I came to do this week. I can't pretend otherwise. I wrote a ton. I wrote pieces that were under deadline. But I barely touched my book project, which is not under contract and therefore does not (yet?) have a deadline. I don't regret the work I did, but I do regret the work I didn't do. In part because now it's all ahead of me, thousands of words that I haven't yet strung together. And I might not be writer enough to write them.

July 12, 2014

Yes, and...

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun. 
- Tina Fey, "Rules of Improvisation" 
Last night my lovely little Collegeville cohort had an unusual after-dinner treat: an improv workshop with an energetic and experienced improv coach.

It was horrible. No, that's not right. It was brilliant and insightful and loads of fun.

I was horrible.

We did a series of increasingly-complicated exercises designed to free us up and turn us into improvisational dynamos - or something like that. At first I'd know when my moment was coming, as we went around the circle taking turns. But part of the added complexity was not knowing when your turn was coming. You could be called on at any time and just have to run with it, whatever "it" was.

And my mind would go blank. When I knew when my turn was coming, my anxiety would advance like storm clouds on the horizon. When I didn't know when my turn was coming, I felt a sort of swirly panic.

One of the foundational rules of improv is to say "yes, and..." The first part was hard for me; you have to be quick enough to affirm whatever random thing is thrown at you. But the second part - being able to add something to the scene - gah. I couldn't do it. I'd stand there with my jaw dropped, totally paralyzed and distinctly aware that all eyes were on me.

I'm not a shy person. Nor am I an introvert (the improv coach teased us all about being introverted writers, but that isn't exactly the case for me). But there have been a handful of times in my life that I've been seized by social anxiety. The most pointed and painful was my first year of college, when I attended Bowling Green State University. The feeling of inexplicable panic and paralysis I felt last night is pretty much how I felt during the entirety of my time at BG.

It makes sense. The "script" of my life - the people and places that I'd known for eighteen years - was back home in Stow. In theory I liked the opportunity to reinvent myself, but in reality it was too much. In reality, my mind went blank. In reality, when I did muster the courage to speak, my own voice sounded foreign.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana has written a lot about improv, and, may I add, was really good at it last night. She claims it doesn't come easily to her: "My life’s constant spiritual challenge is to love what is rather than clinging to that flawless thing I’ve meticulously planned. It’s why I’m drawn to improv, which requires responsiveness and flexibility."

I so appreciate this willingness to go deeper into the challenge, to intentionally practice responsiveness and flexibility. My instinct is to run as fast as I can in the other direction from the need to improvise, in life and art.

The odd thing is that while I have some control issues (no need to pipe up with any vigorous affirmations, dear husband), I'm cool with going with the flow on most days. I do suffer with anxiety about the unknown, no doubt. But as I think about this improv stuff as it relates to my creative life - which was what we were implicitly tasked to do - I think about how much I cling to my sermon manuscripts, and how stubbornly I refuse to do crafts, and how freaking long it can take me to write one single sentence.

I don't like to fail. And I don't like to feel dumb. And while I don't mind speaking in front of groups - indeed, I rather love it - I will know every. single. thing. that I plan to say. I can facilitate a conversation pretty easily, but I reckon that has something to do with the fact that as facilitator, I have a particular role in the conversation, and that, in an of itself, is a form of "script."

One of the funny bonuses of being a pastor for me is the role it affords me. I don't have to be a person at large, scriptless and panicked when it's my turn to talk. In my small town, I'm not known by everyone by a long shot, but all I have to do is say, "I'm one of the pastors at First Congo..." and I'm safe. Or rather I feel safe.

Last night as we wrapped up the workshop, I turned to the teacher and told her about how my mind had gone blank. She laughed and quipped that if she were a therapist we would talk about why that might be. I didn't really have a "yes, and" for that comment either, so I thanked her and excused myself from the evening fellowship gathering for a night of isolated recovery in my room. Maybe I'm a bit of an introvert after all.

July 9, 2014

God's Longing

The first time I read Micha Boyett’s Found, I didn’t know that I would be reviewing it. Which is to say I didn’t read the book with an eye for what potential readers might find in its pages, and I didn’t jot down critical notes in the margins. I read it for what I found in its pages. My marginalia were for myself, and my impressions were not yet bound to the obligations of a reviewer.
Perhaps, at least sometimes, it is acceptable to slip an uncritical reaction into a proper analysis of a book. This is mine: the morning after I stayed up too late finishing the last chapter, I called a local spiritual director to book my first appointment. For years I have resisted the whole enterprise, and this one imperfect yet powerful memoir nudged me to stop accepting the lukewarm state of my spiritual life. During my first session with Bridget I explained my mystifying impetus: I wanted to yearn for God as deeply as Micha Boyett does. For Micha Boyett longs for God with a disarming earnestness.

Disqus for any day a beautiful change