Finding Life in Creativity

finding life in creativity

Creativity 101

I wrote my first song after leaving home. creativity

At eighteen, I’d moved out of my house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and landed at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh as a college freshman. It was my first time living away from home.

Feeling the loneliness of being a 5-hour drive from all that was familiar, I wrote a song for my boyfriend called, “Baby, I’m Missing You.” That’s all I remember of my first song but I’m certain it was not very good. 

However, this creativity had awakened something new in me. I sensed songwriting was a door to discovering more of myself, healing deep hurts, and dealing with some confusing emotions. Maybe the creative life was for me!

Little did I know how far I would have to go to become a true artist.

Secondary Education

We have to start somewhere. Singing was my beginning. First in elementary schooI then all the way through high school, I sang other people’s songs. I still remember my first solo in a choral Christmas concert. I got to step out and sing a short verse of Wintertime Aglow. The local TV station aired it which thrilled my mom. That performance had a huge impact on my 15-year-old self. What else would I be brave enough to try?

I sang my heart out in every high school talent show that came my way after that. Linda Ronstadt and Pat Benatar inspired me to belt out many a rock ballad for my peers. I was always mimicking the singer’s inflections, matching the song’s sentiment without really comprehending its message. In one show I sang “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” by Linda Ronstadt. The chorus went like this:

Someone to lay down beside me
Even though it’s not real
Just someone to lay down beside me
You’re the story of my life

Thankfully, it was not the story of my life. The message went over my head but tapped into my heart’s desire. I wanted to sing out my sadness with passion.  

The Singer and the Songwriter

That first semester in college, with all its disruptive changes and challenges, I decided to give my feelings a voice. With a borrowed a guitar, I plunked out the 3 chords I knew. I created a melody and lyrics to match my loneliness. And to fit my writing style.

creativityWell, my emerging style.

Just as my vocal style wanted to amalgamate all of the singers from the ’70’s and ’80’s whom I wished I could be, my writing style wanted to combine Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and Janis Ian to create the perfect blend.

In the end, though, I had to be me. My songwriting morphed into a vehicle for my limited vocal power and the message and emotions I had to communicate.   

Creativity 201

At Berklee College of Music I began writing in earnest. I had transferred to this college in Boston because I wanted to move beyond the classical voice training from my first college. Now I could work on becoming a singer-songwriter. Berklee was perfect because it was all about the pop and jazz!

My songwriting and theory teachers taught me so much. I studied jazz harmony, ear training, voice, and performance. Also, I got involved in ensembles, gained recording studio experience, and performed in some shows on Berklee’s big stage.

My singing and songwriting improved as did my performance chops. Probably, I wouldn’t want to record any of those early songs I wrote. But they are still a part of my bigger story.  

Scheduled Creativity

Scott Dente and I had met at Berklee during my second semester. We became an item soon after and have collaborated on music ever since. After graduation and marriage, we loaded up the truck and headed to Tennessee. Nashville, that is. 

As Out of the Grey, we got to make 7 studio records. After that, he and I worked on my solo projects and several outside collaborations. Throughout the decades of our musical marriage, we always had to make the time to write. We called it scheduled creativity.    

In fact, we’re doing it that way still. He works on new music constantly with his production company called Global Genius. He has a lot on his plate and maps the days for creative space.

Creativity has never been easy for me. I can’t just drop everything when a bright idea strikes. Mostly, I like to schedule my creativity and hope for inspiration to show up. She usually does. If not, I come back again and again until I get my writing up to snuff.  

Tools For Creativity   

creativity
A Handbook and A Workbook

Recently, I put together a few songwriting tools for my songwriting students. The Singer and the Songwriter is a handbook and workbook for singer-songwriters. It’s based on my training and experience.

I put in some teaching elements as well as exercises, prompts, and reminders to help writers to get creative.

  • I mapped out 10 steps to keep your flow of creativity going so you can start–and finish–your song.
  • I created a section for developing your lyrics by using figurative language. 
  • I included a section on basic music theory and harmony so you know what chord patterns work well and how to write a good melody.
  • My vocal technique section teaches you how to gain strength and range while releasing vocal tension.

The other tool is my Creativity Journal which has lots of space for getting creative with emotions, images, and lyrics. Using samples of some of my lyrics, this journal inspires writers of all kinds to create a flow of imagination and artistry. (If you want to get creative using an autographed Songwriter Handbook, you can find it here and I’ll also write you a nice note!)

Also, I created my 10 Tips for Better Songwriting on this site. 

The Bigger Story

Looking back, I see how far along the road I had to go to hone my artistic expression.

At the end of the day, the joy, the sorrow, and the chaos of life drive us to draw some creative conclusions about what’s going on. 

When I sing,”Walk By Faith,”  it’s because I can’t see straight in the broad daylight. I’m looking for a way to live in the big picture without having all of the answers. 

When my son sings, “Hallelujah,” I lift my hands and agree that I don’t know why I’m alive. Sometimes I don’t have to wonder why.

“Oh hallelujah, I am alive
Yeah and I don’t know why, why
No I don’t know
Hallelujah
I don’t have to wonder”

When You Create….

We all get creative in some way. Trying to put our lives into perspective, we write, draw, paint, or play.

  • Who did you sing along with as a teenager?
  • What artists have impacted your story? 
  • When did you create your first song, story, poem, or painting?
  • Have you tried getting creative lately?

Vulnerability’s Voice: See Through Me

As a grubby little tomboy climbing trees, I longed to be seen. vulnerability

“Watch me, Dad!”

He didn’t see me because he wasn’t around. My mom was always there but the “Bad Dad” impact seems to override a lot of the “Good Mom” effect.

Once when he was there, I had run crying to him because my kitten was trapped between two tool benches in the basement. As I remember it, (sorry, Dad, if my recollection is wrong) he rushed with me back downstairs to rescue the trapped cat. When he saw how she had gotten her head caught and was not hurt, he laughed and lifted the poor little thing up and out, showing me how easily I could have done it. I had made a stupid mistake and he teased me about it.

I think I dimmed the light in my heart a little that day, afraid to risk the feeling of exposure and vulnerability. After that, I grew smaller, wanting to be invisible for a while.

Then came middle school and high school and I cried ‘watch me!’ to all the boys willing to look my way. Exhilarated to be noticed, I clambered up the pedestal which displayed the gold plate inscribed: “talented, pretty and smart !” I got good at balancing up there. Whenever I came crashing down, I climbed back up and fell again many more times.

What Women Want

Have you seen the movie called What Women Want?

I like it because it’s about how people, how women, hide their vulnerability, their true selves. It’s a story that makes us imagine what would happen if we could read each other’s thoughts.

Mel Gibson plays a typical male chauvinist (do we use that description anymore?) who runs an advertising firm. After a strange event involving a hair dryer, nail polish, and lightning, he wakes up able to literally hear women’s thoughts.vulnerability

One of the minor characters in the film is a mousy office worker who gets stepped on and ignored all day long. She is nondescript and sad but no-one notices. Mel Gibson’s boss character doesn’t even know she exists in his workspace until he hears her thoughts in passing. Her perspective of life in the office surprises him as he recognizes her mute cries for help. She wants to be seen.

Her scenes, including the one where the boss discovers she’s been missing and goes looking for her at home, remind us to be attentive to those overlooked people in our lives. People so unassuming and ordinary that we see right through them, like an old shower curtain just doing its job. This actor made me think of all the quiet characters in my periphery whose thoughts might shock me if I could overhear the stories swirling there. Their vulnerability is hidden by invisibility.

What We All Want

On the other hand, we all know those other characters who stand out and rarely get missed. The confident, beautiful women who seem to have what every woman wants. The men with unquestioned charm and confidence. Picture the models in fashion magazines displayed on every page. Imagine the actors and artists and entrepreneurs interviewed before the camera. The powerful ones unafraid to voice their thoughts, able to stand tall in front of us all.

We put these types on pedestals and tell them how much we love them. We do it because we hope their fairy tale lives are true and we want to believe in them.

Of course, it’s not all castles and happy endings. When their worlds come crashing down, the surprise lasts only a moment because we know these posed and powerful are just like us…fragile, unsteady. Their vulnerability is hidden by the brave part they’ve been playing.

What I want

I want you to think I’m smart, talented, and pretty. But I also want you to see through my masks and tell me you really see me and love me.

What’s funny is how we do a disservice to one another by refusing to see through the masks both types wear: the hidden characters and the pedestal people. Vulnerability is scary.vulnerability

I am always worried about what they will think of me. How can I imagine that they are not more focused on what I will think of them? Crazy.

Every once in a while, I glimpse a freedom in which I am completely vulnerable and unselfconscious. Sometimes when I walk my dogs in the neighborhood or meet friends at a restaurant, I forget to care how my hair looks or what my clothes say. Other times, I don’t worry about saying something dumb or being less than special. In those moments, I am neither magnificent nor unremarkable. I am alive and loved in the world.

So Ordinary

I still want to be seen.

As a not-so-young-anymore person, I do not want to get lost in the crowd.  Yet I also sense there’s a peculiar freedom that comes with being ordinary. Have you felt it?

Aging teaches lots of lessons about being ordinary. As I have gotten older, I realize I can hop down off of all my pedestals. I can stop posing to be noticed.

On the other hand, I can step out of the crowd wearing some crazy outfit and wave wildly to my family and friends. I am becoming free to be exactly me!

See Through Me

I wrote this song, See Through Me, because I can relate to being in both positions of vulnerability: the invisible girl and the pedestal girl.

When others see through me as just another face in the crowd, I trust those who love me to notice everything about me.

When I’m feeling proud and tall, I trust those who love me to see through all of my posturing and love me for who I truly am.

When I do fall, I know they’ll gently lift me up again.

When I say, “watch me,” they do!

See Through Me

Look at me, I’m oh so ordinary

Just a face to lose in the crowd

Can you see me clearly unremarkable

Like the shadow of a passing cloud

      I’m paper thin, light as a feather

See through me

 

On this pedestal I look so steady

See my skin, the finest porcelain

Should you dare to shine a light my way

See the shadow of the shape I’m in

      So paper thin, fragile as glass

See through me

 

Another song I sing related to this idea is Closer to Free, also found in my new 5-song EP, Closer to Free.

Get Busy Living

My husband and I are supposed to go out with friends tonight.

The restaurant will be crowded.

We will stand cramped in the doorway for half an hour waiting for a table.

We will be a group of shouting people from start to finish, trying to arch our words across the din and dinner.

Chunky wooden tables surrounded by thick-legged chairs that stall and stutter along the sticky floor will control our bodies and conversation.

The food will be heavy. I will eat enough to weigh me down for a day or two.

I will have snippets of connection with the 2 people closest to me on my tiny island in a sea of sound. The drinks will mix their muddling into the evening about one hour in.

Soon after, the laughter and leaning-in to catch the bouncing chatter around the rectangular table will wear me out. I will begin to stare as if in trance, missing the person’s words on which I am trying to focus.

Later tonight, I will fall into bed, my ears ringing, my mind whirling with everything said.


Why would I want to subject myself to this situation?

I could decline and say, “some other time.”

But I don’t, we won’t. Why not?

Well, because they are our people.

Meeting at a place.

Eating, drinking, relating, connecting.

It’s what we do.

If we didn’t, we’d be dead.

As my husband just said, life is flying by. Life is happening now.

At our age, or maybe any age, it’s almost over all the time.

Some other time is not a given.

So better get busy living.

How To Be A Great Parent

parenting

3 Parenting Essentials

parenting essentials
Simon Matzinger
Did you have a great father growing up? Was your mother perfect?

Are you a good parent, intentional and aware of how you’re raising your kids?

 — If you are like me, your parents were far from perfect.

 — If you are like me, you’re realizing that you have much less control of how your kids turn out than you thought.

When you’re in the middle of raising kids, trying to provide food and a roof, not to mention an education, how do you do it well?

All the parenting books you read can’t get under your skin enough to scrape out some deeply ingrained flaws. Will you transmit them to your kids? Are there any parenting essentials you’re missing?

You probably already know this but here goes:

Great parenting begins with the parents’ relationship.

3 Relationship Essentials

You can do a lot to become a great parent and mitigate the effects of your imperfections and ignorance about child-raising. You can:

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

Take an honest look at the baggage you’ve individually brought to the marriage relationship.

 After that, share with each other what you’ve discovered.

 Now that you’ve acknowledged what you’re both dealing with, let grace find its place in the center of your relationship and home.

Short Story

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

Let me tell you a very short story. I recall one tender moment when my dad hugged my mom and she hugged him back.

I was maybe 8 years old. My heart wanted to explode with joy and a sense of well-being in that moment. It had nothing to do with me but I still remember them in the dining room doorway more clearly than many other memories I have.

It was a rare show of love and acceptance between my parents. If they had cared for each other this way on a daily basis, my childhood would have been a completely different story. Their broken relationship impacted me more than the hundreds of parenting mistakes they made.

But where did their brokenness come from?

Short History 

My mom grew up with some family dysfunction which she never dealt with as a child or as an adult. My dad had his own traumas and personal impairments which he tried to drown in alcohol. They brought these hidden forces to their marriage, which was a train wreck waiting to happen.

At the start, Mom and Dad had very few tools for maintaining their relationship. With 3 kids in quick succession and Dad’s desire for autonomy not going anywhere, their break-up 13 years later was inevitable.

Forty years after the fact, I am still feeling the effects of that crash.

Long Story Short

If you are like me, you’ve seen a lot of marriages going off the rails. Maybe yours is one of them. You may think the kids in these situations are too young or too busy to be affected by carefully hidden flaws and faults. We may hope they don’t notice the broken parts of us driving us toward total derailment.

But they did. And they do.

From the outside looking in, others sometimes spot the problems in the relationship long before the parents do. Hard to miss the disconnect between the story they are telling and the way they are living. Their body language says more than their words. Likewise, his extra drinks and her bitter jokes make us want to brace for impact.

parenting essentials
SeppH

Children riding on this crazy train know something is wrong, too. They may be too young to register in cohesive thoughts but their bodies and souls know it. Their cells vibrate in the fear and anger frequencies of Mother simmering in the kitchen. Father’s baloney smells up the house whether he’s selling it on the phone or right there in the living room.

History Lesson

If you are like me, you’ve had or have a few blindspots of your own in parenting.

My husband and I have 3 grown-up kids who’ve told us what it was like to be on board when Dad and Mom were conducting their lives like crazy people.

Some of the disconnects? Too much fear in the decision-making. A little too heavy on the helicopter parenting. Not enough practicing of what we preached. Just a couple of dumb thirty-somethings acting like we knew everything.

As a homeschooling mom, I’d thought my nurture plus their “perfect” education would equal all kinds of easy for them. Turns out they borrowed some of my baggage and even added some pieces of their own. No magic formulas.

Notwithstanding the personal flaws we must own apart from our parents’ influence, what hope do we have with so much history to overcome?

1. First Parenting Essentials: Name and Release Your Elephants

parenting essentials
Larry Li

Your number one priority is to DEAL with the forces that have shaped you. Each marriage has two individuals who bring some baggage to the bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

When we acknowledge and name the elephants in the room, they begin to shrink and find their rightful places. Then we can send them on their way to a sanctuary for worn-out animals.

My husband and I each lumbered into our relationship encumbered with our fathers’ alcohol addictions and our mothers’ anxiety. It took us awhile to begin dissecting and dismantling their effects even as we were raising our three children.

Recovery groups, counseling, bravery, and honesty gave us the traction we needed for growing up as grown-ups.

(I offer a small disclaimer: our work is never done. I think I will be working on growing up until the day I die.)

2. Next Parenting Essentials: Get to Work on Your Marriage!

The saying goes, if you are coasting, then you’re going downhill.

How parents relate to each other is of utmost importance. If kids know Mom and Dad are solid, they walk their own paths with a bit more confidence. If kids can trust the love Dad and Mom have for each other, they are likely to trust in their own ability to love and be loved.

But we married people know that stress and time can jangle the nerves and loosen the love we once had for each other. We are going to have to work at it if it’s going to last. No matter what the movie stars say, I say we’d better get some good tools for the long haul. Gotta keep the wheels greased because the friction is inevitable.

Get counseling. Ask hard questions. Tell hard truths and don’t be so defensive!

You’ve got this because people have been making marriages work for a long time. Find those people and ask them how it can possibly be done! Put lots of tools in your marriage tool box and then use them.

Read more on how your relationship impacts your kids

and the ways our parents affect our relationships.

3. More Parenting Essentials: Grace is a Superpower

parenting essentials
Mohamed Hassan

GRACE is essential for any lasting relationship. It is impossible to have a good marriage and solid family life without that 5-letter word for getting more than you deserve. Gifts for the bratty. Kisses for the prickly people.

The reason for hope even if you think you’ve already done too much damage:

 — Grace is a superpower.

 — Grace works forwards and backwards, bending and softening the boundaries of space and time.

 — Grace hangs out with other commendable characters like Mercy and Humility.

I’m sorry,” “forgive me,” “I forgive you,” and “I love you” are their constant conversation.

These 3 characters can mend a multitude of wrongs. Their love steps back over time boundaries and transforms what once was bad into the shape of a blessing. They move magically through space, waving wands that heal wounds and turn scars into touchstones for others.

True Story

I have a friend whose 25 year marriage should have been history 10 years in. Her name isn’t Grace but it should be. Her response to his adultery, after her initial shock and anguish, was an attitude of “let’s start over from here.”

Instead of condemning him and leaving, my friend stayed. She offered forgiveness and grace in huge quantities. She began to look at her part in the mess. And together, they began the slow and painful work of sifting through their baggage in the wreckage.

 Grace, mercy, and humility permeate their home to this day because together, they found — and still find —  a way to stay. This has had an immeasurable impact on their children.

End of Story

If I had refused to look at the sickness I brought to my marriage 30 years ago, would I be married today?

If I had refused to compromise and not let my husband’s needs and desires soften my hard edges, where would we be now?

 If I had let resentment and un-forgiveness simmer in my kitchen, would the smell and stench have overwhelmed the entire household?

Yes, our kids did get some of the brokenness their mom and dad brought to the relationship. However, the honesty we brought to our struggles, the work we did separately and together, and the grace we gave each other on a daily basis were like fresh layers of blacktop. They smoothed over some of the roughest bumps on the road.

It’s OK if you are already in the midst of parenting. Even if your kids are grown, there’s hope because it’s never too late to work on relationships. Being honest and humble with our grown up kids keeps the door open for unexpected graces to drop by.

Here’s what I’m saying: Great parenting is not easy, pretty, or tied up in a lovely bow. But it’s good, solid, and strong. Like a sturdy train on a steel track with a gentle grade.

  1. DEAL with your history
  2. WORK hard on your marriage
  3. Make GRACE the guiding spirit of your home

(related post: Closer to Free)

The Distance: A Song About Change

change: going the distance

for Julian upon his high school graduation in 2010, from Mom

from the Out of the Grey project, A Little Light Left

The sun sets as we drive the Trace

I’ll never forget this side of your face

It’s not the same as it was

So much has changed since I met you

 

We can’t always connect what’s between us now

And these silent stretches are longer somehow

We turn the music way up loud

And wonder what the song’s about

 

And the music spans the distance

It’s our transatlanticism

 

C’mon, let’s drive along singing the same songs

Hear the wheels hum with our harmonies

Remember these, please

When you go on without me

 

Cos, yeah, we always go together now

But I know what I know: soon I’ll slow you down

Yeah, the time will come when I can’t keep up

And you’ll go on without me

 

Let the music span the distance

Of our transatlanticism

 

There’s a deer standing on the side of the road

So we stop to stare but she starts to go

She’s just so scared of what she doesn’t know

So many dangers on the road

 

Now we’re staring at that last bridge

And it feels like the Atlantic

Let the music span the distance

When you go on without me

Read the story behind this song in “Change: Going the Distance”

I’m Worse Than You Think!

finding freedom from judgment

Finding Freedom from Judgment

A Christian pastor announced he had decided to stop worrying about what others thought of him. He needed freedom from judgment. He chose to be honest with himself and say,

“If people are judging me, they’re probably right. In fact, I am worse than they think I am.”

finding freedom from judgment

Recently, a friend lamented how her mind percolated with criticism of a co-worker. Her ugly, unkind thoughts surprised her.

I said, “I’m glad we can keep our thoughts to ourselves. If everyone could hear what everyone else was thinking, the world would erupt with all our private judgments made public.”

Fake it till you make it makes a lot of sense in this context. Hide my biases until I can get a handle on them. When my heart is finally pure, I will present it as authentic to the watching world. This has worked for me many times. Or has it?

The Ugly Underside

Maybe my faking it is like a partying teenager who cleans up her trashed house just before her parents get home. Because they don’t see the breach in trust, the family is not free to deal with the underlying issues. The surfaces are clean but the lie hovers in the house. What hidden damage does the pretense do?

Lines of communication break down when we spray a sanitizing scent to mask our imperfect behavior or opinions. The scary parents are appeased but we are further from each other. Perhaps finding freedom from people’s judgments of me AND freedom from my own judgments of others is going to cost more than a hurried house cleaning.

Is there a better approach to finding this kind of freedom?

Hear My Confession

I was walking along with a crowd of typical American families recently — judgment alert— and noticed the many overweight people surrounding me. They all had soda straws pressed between their lips and the french fries pouching on their hips.     

I pulled my husband Scott aside and giggled, freedom from judgement “I just thought of a really mean joke.”

“What?” He grinned, warming to this rare confession of my judgmental cruelty.

I said, “Imagine a T-shirt for kids that said Destined for Greatness, but the Greatness is crossed out and Fatness is scribbled below it. Ha! Get it? All of these fat American parents are raising their kids to be fat!”

He was shocked. It really isn’t funny. It is quite mean and arrogant of me. Easy for me to laugh when I’ve done the parenting and nutrition thing perfectly—NOT!

Honesty Hangover

The next week we were hanging out with friends and Scott began to recount this story of my judgmental attitude. Midway through, he realized he was about to confess my sin. I gave him a sideways glance and picked up where he’d left off. I was embarrassed to finish the revelation of my prejudice in its undisguised detail.

I’m not sure if any of our friends thought it was funny. But if they had any lingering doubts about my proud heart, I certainly dispelled them. Self-righteousness can stink up a room.

That night, I lay awake regretting the depths of my depravity. An honesty hangover of sorts.  But the next morning it dawned on me that I could be glad that the blackness of my heart had been laid bare. Especially to friends that love me. No more pretending. I am free to be me. It was a taste of freedom from judgment. Yum!   

freedom from judgement 

Keys to Finding Freedom and Authentic Change

  • Showing and telling the truth about myself catalyzes an authentic conversation.
  • Authentic conversations free self-righteous or shame-filled people to tell the truth to each other.
  • Telling the truth opens the door for more communication and authentic change.

Christians and others imprisoned by the belief they have to present a picture-perfect, “what would Jesus do” kind of life shut the door on authentic communication. On the other hand, authority figures and public figures who admit to their own shortcomings can embrace the ugly underside of others. It’s like a parent who never shames their errant child because they are honest about their own struggles. They can challenge each other as equals from their humble vantage points. This is key to finding freedom from judgment. 

When we all stop pretending, we can also let go of the judgments we make and the judgments we fear from others. 

Show and Tell: Taking Chances

Showing and telling our shortcomings comes with risks. The risk of hurting others. The risk of losing (or gaining) a reputation. The loss of likes, friends, acceptance, and love. Lately, we may lose even more.

But, I have spent too much of my adult life trying to look good—be good—when in fact I am not all that good. 

Some of my sins I keep between me and Jesus. He says He loves and forgives me unconditionally. Not every confession need be public. However, other transgressions are painfully obvious so I’d better get honest with myself and others.

Pretending has created lots of space between me and would-be friends. I have presented myself as a whole-grain-cookie-eating, Bible-reading, clean-freaking woman. My question is:

Will you love me even though you know the truth? Can you bear with my mistakes?  

Now that I am not pretending and defending my own righteousness, I can look at you without condemnation. Admitting my own mess frees me to have compassion for your struggle. 

It’s true: I am judgmental, proud, and mean sometimes. In fact, I’m worse than you think. And now that you have judged me, we have something to talk about!

 

other related posts from me: Making Pretend and Closer to Free

Butterflies Inside

finding freedom to change

“Finding Freedom to Change”

I feel myself on the edge of better things

Close to giving all my wishes wings

Change for some comes fast and furious

For me it’s slow and hidden in the chrysalis

In this song, I sing about change as something that comes quickly for some but slowly for me, like the slow changes hidden inside a caterpillar pupa.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t sing that word, ‘pupa?’

Instead, I chose the slightly-less-awkward ‘chrysalis,’ which is what entomologists call the hard case where the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly takes place.

Entomologists say it is the stage of the life cycle in which the caterpillar’s body tissues break down and the butterfly’s tissues form. I can relate.

I am a Chrysalis.

Here in my middle age, I feel somewhere between young and old, breaking from foolishness and moving into wisdom. In this transitional phase, my growth toward maturity is hidden inside a rigid little case.

I witness no wizening even when using my magic magnification mirror. I only see the imperfections of the specimen. It can be frustrating at best. Infuriating at worst.

Looking For Change

I enjoy uncovering the origin of words — their etymology — so I surfed a few sites and found out that ‘chrysalis’ means ‘gold’ in Greek and Latin, which refers to the gold sheen of some butterfly cases.

I envy etymologists who get to study words and their histories all day long. Digging up meaning like precious metals, they reveal the richness of the words we inherit.

Having gone through the metamorphosis of time and human use, words become tools for transmitting vivid and multi-faceted messages, implications, interpretations or connotations. See what I mean?

They shine a light on the mundane parts of life.

In my case, I feel kind of unremarkable — rather ordinary. Getting older has lots of advantages but I have a love/hate relationship with it. Being somewhat invisible shakes me to my foundations.

I’m opaque as a butterfly chrysalis. But I am becoming free to change shape. And when the light is just right, there’s a golden sheen on me with hints of my future in the midst of my incompleteness.

finding freedom to change

Finding Freedom to Change

My husband and I are officially empty-nesters this year. Our youngest, Chloe, is about to graduate college and her summers of coming home are over.

Parents have experienced this change in every generation. My mom suffered through it. But now it’s my turn and it is all new to me. I imagine I should be better at adapting. But like the cooling temperatures signaling the season’s change, these shifts surprise me every time. I don’t want to say goodbye to summer.

When I reflect on this shift, a sadness settles over me. Like birds gathering in the trees, it’s a slow dawning that something’s coming, something else. Could it be something good, as precious as the past?

Change Is Good  finding freedom in change

On a recent August morning, Chloe and I were on the lawn enjoying the bugs, birds, and butterflies we love so much. It was her 21st birthday. She was visiting from her college town in which she’d decided to live for the summer.

We sat under the trees with our coffee and I cried: about her being 21 and me seeing the time slip by. I wasn’t trying to make her to feel bad. I was setting my emotions free instead of bottling them up.

Besides, part of our relationship is the safety of us taking turns crying together.

Signs of Change

I see myself in the mirror of His face

Reflecting imperfection but the change is taking place

This for some comes fast and furious

For me it’s slow and hidden in the chrysalis

Flying Diaries

I used to journal regularly. I have discontinued this practice because of what happened whenever I read back a few years: I would discover that nothing was different — I wasn’t changing, but writing about the same issues over and over. It felt pathetic and made me mad. I let a few diaries fly across the room.

I know I am not truly stalled in my evolution into God’s perfect design for me. It just feels suffocating to grow older with no cracking open. I don’t feel any wings forming back there. Just those tense, bony shoulders rising up around my ears.

Every now and again, though, there’s a little flutter in my stomach. My prayers and petitions for positive change have made a difference in me.

  • Like when I haven’t worried about my kids for days on end.
  • Or when my first thought is love for my neighbor even when she’s less-than-friendly to me.
  • Or when I feel gratitude for an empty house because there’s more room for rest and reflection.
  • Or when I recognize my particular suffering as necessary and even good.

These tiny signs of life are moving through my soul and finding their way out. I’m not bottling them up. Thanks to the entomologists and etymologists, I’ve got lovely metaphors for the changes taking place. I’ve got butterflies inside. Lifting from my lips, they learn to fly.

I’ve got butterflies inside

Forming in my mind

Moving through my soul, I know they’ll come alive

These butterflies inside

Flutter in my heart

Lifting from my lips they learn to fly

Listen to Butterflies Inside here!  More like this : “I Wanted My Dog Dead: Practicing Compassion”

I Wanted My Dog Dead

sweet white dog

“But I’m Finding Compassion Instead”

I’ve threatened to kill Luna.

I’ve cursed her name. I’ve smacked her on the butt a few times in her life. Oh, and maybe kicked her lightly once as she went out the door.

Luna is the family dog. Throughout the 13 years of her life with us, she has deposited pee, poop, puke, and piles of her white fur on every inch of my floors and carpets. Her fur is woven into the upholstery as well as into my clothing, especially my favorite black polar fleece jacket, a magnet for her stiff white hairs.

In the family we like to say that Luna has been everywhere we have been, all over the world, really. Her hair is in our suitcases and guitar cases, on our coat sleeves and the soles of our shoes. I have had a hard time finding compassion for this animal. As far as I go, try as I may, I can’t get away from Luna.

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
Young Luna with my youngsters

We all loved her from the start. She was so sweet and shy when we rescued her as a puppy. The kids and I thought her shyness would melt with our love. The people at the shelter said she’d been found in a ditch, possibly abused and abandoned. We all showered our cream-colored pup with affection as we brought her up in the safety and security of our family.

Thirteen years later, she still flinches at quick-reaching hands and threatens to bite those hands that have fed, petted, and thrown countless tennis balls across the lawn. She’s an emotional wreck when any family member comes home — doing her weird whiny throat yodel — as if she’s surprised we haven’t abandoned her. Lunacy! Her defensiveness and neuroses are mysteries we may never understand.

All The Rage

Now that she’s older, she’s decided to potty-train in reverse. I am finding fresh pee stains on my new shag carpet. She can’t hold it as she used to, and she seems confused by body signals that used to tell her to go outside.

So it’s back in the kennel at night and when we go out, the one we used for potty-training when she was a puppy. I’ve even purchased some doggy diapers at the pet supermarket. As I run the vacuum, I realize that her fur accounts for 85% of the dirt I’ve sucked up for 13 years. Why do I even have dogs in my house?

And as I watch her age, my rage grows. It’s not just the fresh pee or the perennial fur. Luna is the embodiment of all that I cannot control.

We’re both getting older. And we’re both wearing out.

We spend a lot of time together now that the kids have grown up and out of the house. In the mornings, she’s a little leg-stiff. Me, too. We both hobble out of our beds and head outside to scan for life on the lawn. Squirrels and birds scatter as we step onto our mossy grass and sniff the wind. We find a comfortable seat and settle in, staying out there under the trees all day when it’s warm. We like to go for afternoon walks in the woods with our other dog, sweet (non-shedding) Josie. We keep moving even though it would be easier to sit still.

 

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
A walk in the woods with Josie and Luna

Graceful Aging

Luna was a great athlete in her youth. Her sport of choice: Tennis Ball. She awed everyone with her soaring mid-air catches. Our joy was in recognizing her joy, the embodiment of doing exactly what she was created to do: run, leap, land, and loop back to do it all again. And again. And again. And again.

Perhaps too many rough landings led to those shaky back legs of hers. I admire how, even now, she’ll surge after a squirrel, though she’ll pay for it in pain later.

I can sometimes see her attributes:

  • She stays clean and white and doesn’t smell bad.
  • She cleans sweet Josie’s eyes and ears.
  • She accepts each day as it comes and lives in the moment.
  • She doesn’t seem to worry about what the future holds.

I’m trying to learn from Luna. Soon enough, one of us will die, and the odds are against her.

My brother’s dog, Annie, died last month. He and his family are heartbroken. She’d been a part of their family for a long time. I think I would miss Luna if she died today.

Finding Compassion

She has become a mirror for me. After years of our love/hate relationship, I have reached a new awareness: If I can learn to find compassion for this dog, perhaps I can find some for myself.

Luna teaches me to get creative with aging. Some new tricks I am learning:

  • Bending over again and again to clean her mess offers me a constant choice of cursing versus gratitude.
  • Scratching her favorite spot behind her ears gives me pause to recall the years of walking this dog with my husband, kids, grandma, and neighbors.
  • Pondering the love she accepts and gives prompts me to remember the love I get and give away, too.
  • Finding compassion when she flinches for no good reason helps me acknowledge my own flinching fears, still with me after all of these years.

Something tells me I’m never going to get control of all the chaos in my life, whether it’s dog crap or my own crap. In fact, I suspect I will have less control over normal things, the older I get.

Strange how we often end the way we start: a little unsteady and needing a close eye. Like infants and the elderly, dogs like Luna often just want a little love, patience, and compassion.

I had never intended to kill Luna. I guess I don’t really want her dead.

She’s out on the porch now, barking at me through the glass, demanding to come in. Today, I will open the door and scratch her ears as she enters, offering an extra dose of love. She’ll thank me with a grunt and a shake, depositing a fresh sprinkling of her lovely white fur on my freshly-vacuumed rug.

Read next: Closer To Free

Tell Your Story: Song Lyrics

Tell Your Story

by Christine Dente from Out of the Grey: “6.1”

Round and round the thoughts keep coming
Through your head like water running
‘Til the sink begins to overflow
So you run to shut it off
Pull the plug, forget it all
But the tears leave stains upon the floor

Everybody’s got a story
I’ve got mine and you’ve got yours
I will listen if you let me in
Everybody’s got a secret sadness
That they cannot keep
Inside forever, let its strength dispel
Tell your story

Find a friend for your confession
Trusted one who loves you well
Even when he’s seen the underside
And go to Jesus, perfect priest
Who knows our weakness and our fear
Sinners, victims, seems that we are all

Everybody’s got a story
I’ve got mine and you’ve got yours
I will listen if you let me in
Everybody’s got a secret sadness
That they cannot keep
Inside forever, let its strength dispel
Tell your story

What Do You Want From Me?

christine dente wonders what you want her to write about

I have been writing and posting on this site for many years now.

In reviewing past posts and planning for the future, I am wondering what you’d like to hear from me:

More of the same or less, please?

A little of this and a little of that?

However you say it, say it here in the comment section. The lists below will help you decide.

Thanks for engaging in the journey of finding life in the bigger story!

What Do You Want to Know?

In future posts, would you like to know more about:

  • my personal and family life
  • my professional life
  • my creative life

Would you want to read articles about:

  • things I think about
  • parenting in hindsight
  • faith in everyday life
  • the creative process
  • Out of the Grey music
  • Christine Dente music
  • stories from the studio and tour bus
  • stories behind the songs
  • the recording process
  • songwriting techniques
  • vocal technique

 Things I Think About:

  1. Faith and God
  2. Fear and Freedom
  3. Mindfulness and Meditation
  4. Suffering and Struggle
  5. Grace and Growing older

Things I know about:

  1. Creativity
  2. Marriage
  3. Raising kids
  4. Songwriting
  5. Singing
  6. Out of the Grey music/ stories behind the songs
  7. Life on the road and in the studio

PLEASE add your thoughts in the COMMENT section below. Tell me what you want from me.

I will read, publish, and respond to each one.
OR you can respond to this post privately at christineotg@gmail.com

Thanks for joining me in finding life in the bigger story!

 

 

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