Woke Yet? There’s Hope for Our Myopia

hope woke wokeness

In the Eyes of the Woke Beholder

I know some folks who believe that the earth is flat. Although others consider their views a joke, they consider themselves woke.

So, too, academy-awarded actors who proclaim their enlightenment from their platform. They clasp the golden man and parrot the current political narratives. They would say they’re woke.

As do the many politicians who prove their woke-ness by publishing their pronouns and making progressive promises. And the news anchors weighing in with their opinions while claiming to be without bias. Even the ball players play the game with their broadcasted slogans and postures of woke-ness.

In his book, Waking Up, Sam Harris teaches mindfulness and meditation as remedies for sleepwalking through life. He and other enlightened gurus would say, ‘we’re woke.’

I think I’m woke. From my God to my politics, my eyes are certainly wide open.

We all think we’re seeing things as they really are. So we preach it, share it, tweet, and retweet it. We blog our truths and post our outrage, signaling to skeptics and fellow-believers alike: we, too, are woke.

Awake in the Matrix: Are there elephants in the room?

Hope for our woke-ness myopia

But how can we all be so sure? Perhaps some of our woke is myopia.

An atheist may be seeing just the tip of an elephant’s trunk. A philosopher’s view may encompass only the animal’s flank. A scientist, Hindu, or Muslim merely touches the tail. A Christian believes she sees the entire beast. Until it stomps on her from a place she wasn’t looking.

Hope for our woke-ness myopia

Admitting I may be near-sighted stirs up fear in me. Cognitive dissonance is quite uncomfortable. Do I double my efforts to prove my truth? Or do I make room for a shift in my views?

In The Matrix movie, Neo chose the red pill and awakened to a shocking reality. At some level, we are also seeking reality when we hunger for woke-ness. Some of us are suspicious that we haven’t yet tasted or touched the truth in its fullness. How can I be sure that my flavorful steak isn’t a convenient illusion?

Living With Tensions, Not Without Questions

Competing ideas have been around forever. Some are more dangerous than others. There is a place for fighting for what we know. Without One True Truth, we risk being left with nothingness. Without certainty, truth can become relative and meaningless.

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.                                                         C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The Believer in Anything seeks to see through lies, abuses, and delusions to get to the truth. We’re certain that we’ve encountered the entire pachyderm when the shape of the thing makes sense to us. Believers in God and in a bigger story have found great solace and happiness in their assertions of ultimate truth.

But some people neglect nuance and get swept up in extreme ideas. Like a parasite of the mind, a system of belief can take command of our rationality and run its own agenda through our bodies and emotions. Millions upon millions died in Stalin’s gulags, Hitler’s holocaust, and Mao’s cultural revolution because dangerous ideologies took root in ordinary humans. Let’s not forget the many who have died at the hands of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and other ideological zealots. Too many people have become mindless, spineless, and ferocious perpetrators of atrocity.

A Plea for Humility: Can we all keep talking, please?

Humans will always have disagreements. Unlike some postmoderns, I do believe in ultimate truth. I just can’t say I’ve touched every corner of the beast. Or cornered the market on what it means to be woke. The question is, what will we do with the conflict and the friction? Maybe we can humbly agree on these:

  • Each of us has biases and blindnesses. Can we acknowledge the weakness of our woke-isms?
  • Each of us can learn more about other perspectives. If the extent of our argument is an echo in our own head, we’ll never hear what others are saying — or seeing or feeling.
  • Each of us could hold our beliefs with a solid but relaxed grip. I haven’t the hubris to cancel your opinions. Nor would I try to silence the truths you hold dear. But I will risk asking you to listen. And ask you to reconsider.
  • Each of us should listen and learn from other points of view. When our arrivals appear to be black and white, remember the elephant — or whatever this thing is that we’re all arguing about — is gray.

Let’s continue the discussion, keep our eyes and ears wide open to the best in all of us. Then woke can be just another word for hope.

Read more about Finding Our Blind Spots.  Discover more about the flat earth.

 

A Letter From My Future Self

a message in a bottle from my future self

Dear Me,

Your life is NOW.

I know you try to be in it, to stay present, to be here as it is happening.

But I admonish you to try even harder. Not with sheer willpower, but with surrender.

Surrender as hard as you can. Surrender to life as it is. And trust. Trust in the good despite your experience.

As Jordan Peterson says,

Resentment and simmering anger, no matter how justified, are rough tools. You may use them to build a future but they will carve out an ugly hut for you to lie down in.

You, my dear, will not build that ugly hut. Instead, you drop your rough tools, open your chest and shoulders, throw your arms back. Lift your chin and declare yourself alive, hopeful, and the kind of person who lives in joy.

How? All I can tell you is that you get there. Here. And it’s worth it.       silhouette of a woman with lifted chin, arms and chest wide, head thrown back: a letter from my future self

Believe,

Me

 

A Mother Shares Her Daughter’s Suffering

A Mother Shares Her Daughter's Suffering

She was only 3 days old. We knew something was off: her breathing a little labored, her body a bit limp in her mother’s arms. But her vitals were within range and the experts on the phone said everything seemed all right. What could be wrong with my granddaughter?

The Wonder of What’s Coming

My daughter, Carina, gave birth to a baby girl last June. In the months before her baby was born, Carina would sit in her rocking chair beside the waiting cradle, filled with the wonder of being a mother. She was preparing for something as close as her own body, yet far from her experience. The parenting books she read as she rocked could not presage or prepare her for what was coming.

If the darkness of 2020 could not be redeemed, it could at least be brightened by the impending arrival of this precious child. A month before Callaway True arrived, I wrote an article titled: My Daughter Shares in the Wonder of Being a Mother.

Carina and I had planned for me to be in the birthing room, a scenario that enlivened us both. However, weeks before her due date, we learned that extra people would not be allowed in, thanks to the Covid-19 threat. This loss felt huge as I wanted to be there to help my daughter, share in her experience. But we adjusted to the fact that I would see her baby at home, a mask on my smiling face.

The Onset of a Mother’s Suffering

The first time I saw Callaway, day 2 in her life, she was a typical infant: sleepy and learning to nurse. Carina was also sleep-deprived and learning to nurse her baby girl. Visiting on day 3, I noticed our Callaway still seemed quite sleepy. Her mom was struggling to get her to eat. Typical newborn and new mother stuff, right?

Luke, Carina’s husband, was just learning the ropes too. He was excited and exhausted by his new role as a dad. None of us in the family who met Calla those first few days had an inkling of what was to come. But, by day 3 she just wasn’t looking right. Her chest heaved slightly and her limbs were getting droopier.

By mid-afternoon on that Saturday, it was obvious that Callaway needed some medical attention. The emergency room staff at Vanderbilt Hospital confirmed that our girl was in trouble. By evening, she was admitted to the Children’s Hospital with a suspected infection. After many tests and expert opinions, the doctors determined it was a genetic condition threatening baby Callaway’s life. Ammonia was flooding her body and brain.

She almost didn’t make it. Methylmalonic Acidemia (MMA) is a rare genetic disease in which the body can’t break down certain parts of proteins. This leads to a build-up of toxic substances and a metabolic crisis. Calla couldn’t safely digest her mother’s milk.

The Suffering of Wondering

Stress and trauma filled the subsequent days. The suffering of this small family intensified with a long week in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. This led to 3 more weeks in the hospital. They endured their hospital experience without any friends and family allowed inside. We could only support them from afar and in brief visits outside.

On one of those first days in the PICU, Carina asked me to gather a few things from Calla’s nursery at home. As I entered the bedroom, I lamented to see the rocking chair beside the empty crib. I feared Carina would never again hold her daughter here.

Thankfully, after weeks of wondering and suffering, that little family did return home again. Those shell-shocked and exhausted parents began the long journey of caring for their daughter and living with MMA.

The Sharing of Suffering

a mother shares her daughter's suffering

For 7 months now, I’ve witnessed Carina’s suffering because of her daughter’s suffering. From the daily needle injected in her leg to the manufactured low-protein formula she must be fed, Calla puts up with a lot. The drugs, the physical therapy, the upset stomach, the feeding tube. Yet, she and her parents have risen to meet the obstacles. They press on through the hardest experiences of anyone I know.

Carina posted an update recently, describing how she’s learning to bow down, to accept their suffering:

So I’ve been doing a lot of bowing…. Trusting I don’t have the full picture. Gratefully and gradually releasing control, as it’s the only choice to make in this moment. I bow, and my chest loosens for a moment. I bow, and a joy in my (our) present suffering shows up. I bow and remember that this is Callaway’s story, Callaway’s life, not mine, and it’s my job to keep making the best decisions that exist for her until she gets to pick up her suffering and decide what she will do with it. I bow, and I get to keep living my own life with my hands as wide open as possible.

AND Carina’s arms hold Calla close as she rocks her to sleep these days. In the room with the crib we feared she’d never sleep in, I, too, have the pleasure of rocking and holding Calla. I am privileged to share, with my daughter and her daughter, all of our suffering and joy.

Visit CaringBridge for the latest update about sweet Callaway!

 

Cloudy Today? Get Out of the Grey!

out of the grey aka christine and scott dente walk across a dark lawn toward a bright future

Puff Piece: As It Is

Grey clouds have shrouded the better part of this year. Even a sunny summer can’t hide the insecurities of the season. In the past week, I have been working on an article about suffering and grief. My family has had its share lately. Yours, too, I imagine. We found out our new granddaughter has a difficult genetic condition. And we lost my lovely mother-in-law, Gloria when she died in a nursing home. The list could be longer….

But today, I decided to punt and write a puff piece, explore a topic as fluffy and light as a foam-filled pillow or a cotton-ball cloud. What does “Get Out of the Grey” mean? It’s is not about silver linings. Instead, it’s about finding life in a brighter story. Accepting existence as it is.

Out of the Grey: As It Was

Way back in the day, my husband Scott and I named our band Out of the Grey, under duress. We were signed to Sparrow Records, working on our first project, and had yet to make a name for ourselves.

Should we call our group The Dance? No, we don’t want to scare off non-dancing Contemporary Christian Music fans.

How about Denté with an accent over the e? Confusing ethnicity: are they Italian? French? Where’s the Inferno?

I suggested Christina and the Waves but that fell flat.

Somehow we settled on a song title Scott had scribbled in his notebook: “Out of the Grey.” Not gray with an a but an e to reflect what Tolkien might write of mysterious havens. We liked the way the phrase out of the grey hinted at an imminent and vibrant surprise. Uncertain then of what was coming, we are no wiser about our future now.

Blame it on the Grey

Grey is a trendy color these days. This morning I tossed my soft grey blanket across a couch cushion and nearly lost it in the blend. Their colors melded in the same way my cozy wool slippers disappear into our shaggy ash-colored rug.  Walls and pillows boast—no, suggest— shades of grey. My grandkids wear clothing in cool takes on the color. Some of their soft toys lie mute and missing on the non-descript floor.

Don’t get me wrong—I like the way grey looks most places. However, it has set the tone for this year, the perfect backdrop for the storm created by an invisible, invading virus. It started for us in the wintry March madness of cold social distancing. Led to the isolating overcast of self-quarantining… but, hey, I said I wasn’t going there.

What Does Out of the Grey Mean?

Thirty years ago, when I was 26, I believed in black and white. Answers to my myriad questions hovered on the horizon like geese headed north in the heat. I could live with a Winter Sun when summer was always coming.

Mixing fear of the future with theological certainty, I wrote tunes I hoped to whistle all the way home. The future was bright and I was wearing the right shades.

Our Out of the Grey songs reflected black and white truths in the midst of grey areas. I wanted to make solid statements in a world of swirling uncertainty, provide clear images for those of us who couldn’t see straight in the broad daylight.

To get out of the grey meant to trust that this tainted world would one day be saturated in the perfect Justice, Love, and Mercy for which we longed. Complex ideas wrapped up in three little words and three-minute songs.

A Whole New Meaning

The rain is falling this summer day and I’m okay with it. Our thirsty lawn needs the drink. My skin appreciates the break from the heat. Despite the overcast sky, my face is lifted. Of course, grey will always shadow our days. Embracing its nuance means taking life as it is. NOW is as good as it gets. And it is good.

I don’t always get the big picture but I am getting better at living in the present. Much of what clouds my vision is a concern for coming struggles.

Jesus asked:

“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”

Not me! My thoughts can’t capture or control a hazy future. NOW is where I exist and HERE is where I sit.

The bright red pillow on my heather-gray couch matches the flashing red coffee cup in Scott’s hand. Our story accents the fact that stuff happens and yet, here we are. Fluff the cushions, toss the throws, and forget the clouds today. Just for the moment, get out of the grey!

3 Creative Ways to Move Toward Emotional Health

3 pug dogs move toward emotional and mental health

Get Out of Your Head and Into Emotional Health: 3 Ideas

If you are like me, you get stuck in your head and need help moving toward emotional and mental health.

Do you have a secret sadness or a shapeless grief that keeps you down? Do you lean toward despondency, especially in colder seasons?

What if some unique and creative activities could alleviate melancholy for people like us?

I have found 3 creative ways to keep despondency at bay. I’m not suggesting changing anything your doctor has prescribed — just bringing a little color to the palette.

1.  TELL YOUR STORY

In my early twenties, I had an eating disorder called bulimia. Looking back, I realize I was using food to stuff down parts of my story I could not face. Fresh out of childhood, my feelings were trying to surface, but I didn’t have an escape hatch for them. The disorder distracted me from dealing with my history.

Then I met Scott, who later became my husband. I took a risk and told him about the bingeing and purging. A tiny shaft of light broke into my cellar. My worst secret was safe with him. Other hard truths emerged. From there, he helped me look honestly at my experiences and bring hidden suffering to the surface. Slowly, I let go of coping with food and moved toward mental and emotional health. My book Lifelines is a continuation of this work of a lifetime.

There are many ways to tell your story:

  • Talk to a friend, spiritual advisor, or counselor to pop the lid on bottled up emotions. Our negative emotions have a way of dissipating when they decompress and spread their weight across other shoulders.
  • Journal. Pen on paper helps disentangle the jumble of thoughts and feelings in our minds and bodies.
  • Pray. Our creator knows our weaknesses and fears. He listens well and won’t be surprised by anything we have to say.
  • Form a fictional tale from your experiences or current turmoil. You don’t have to be a writer to create a character that acts as a mirror. Can you create a short story to represent what’s stirring deep in your soul?

2.  WRITE A SONGemotional mental health

I am the kind of person who spins and spins inside my head until I make myself dizzy and sick. Songwriting has helped me work out a lot of sadness, confusion, and anger in my life. In the process, I found a lot of hope and healing.

Years ago, I wrote a song called “Tell Your Story.” As a recording artist, I had the luxury of writing and recording my kind of crazy. Call it music therapy.

Writing a song can be tricky but it’s not as hard as you think. You’ve listened to countless songs in your life and even followed the lyrics on a page as you listened to a favorite artist. What if you grabbed one of those song lyrics you love and used it as a model, a template for writing your own lyrics?

  • Try to write and sing your lyrics to the same rhythm and melody as the song you are using as a framework. You’re not trying to plagiarize and publish here.
  • Connect to the emotion of the song you love and write your own words and music.
  • Build on snippets from your journal or a poem that connects to your soul.
  • Create a tiny soundtrack with your own melody. Go with the flow of emotion that comes from listening to a favorite song.

See if songwriting is therapy for your soul. If you want to go deeper, here are 10 more unusual tips for songwriting.

3.  SING OUT YOUR SADNESSemotional mental health

As a teenager, I belted out a lot of Linda Ronstadt ballads. Singing along with her soulful voice, I found a connection to my own soul. These days, I don’t sing much around the house or even in the car. I stay in my head and must remind myself to sing out loud.

  • So sing in your shower, house, or car.
  • Join a band or choral group which can be especially healthful and uplifting.
  • Worship with friends on a Sunday.

Time Magazine explained the reasons why singing can lift the spirits:

“The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure. Or it might be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress. Oxytocin also enhances feelings of trust and bonding, which may explain why still more studies have found that singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness.”*

I let go of the bulimia when I learned to find words for my feelings.

Can you bring your hidden insides out to help lift the weight of heavy emotions?

When I find myself wearing winter blues or spinning inside my head too much, I get to work on one of these 3 ideas. Let me know how it goes for you!

If you want to hear the song I wrote and recorded with my husband as Out of the Grey, check it out here: “Tell Your Story.” (lyrics here)

If you want to learn more about songwriting and singing, my handbook/workbook, The Singer and The Songwriter can help.

10 Songwriting Tips for Better Songwriting

Scott Dente writes a song on his acoustic guitar

We songwriters can all use new songwriting tips. Even tried and true songwriters can do better from time to time.

Inspiration can come from unlikely places. For example, whenever I hear the intro to Steely Dan’s song Ajajoy wells up in my chest. 

I was studying songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston when Steely Dan became a favorite band. Their perfect mix of pop and jazz captures me to this day.

In one songwriting class, my teacher Pat Pattison drew attention to the lyric from another song of theirs titled, “Deacon Blues”:

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel

To us young wanna-be songwriters in that classroom, that ambiguous line about dying behind the wheel was a puzzle and a revelation. Does the singer mean literally dying because he’s drinking and driving? Or is it metaphorical for being in control all the way to the day he dies? Or both?

Steely Dan’s lyrical and harmonic complexities sparked my desire to write songs with depth. Yes, I wanted my audience to discover a new layer with every listen. For those like me who are still students of songwriting, I offer these ideas:

1) Listen before you write.

You can write a better song if you hear a great one first. Find some inspiring music. For example, I like to set the bar high and get my creativity pumping with some Billy Joel or Joni Mitchell. Maybe a song from my teenage days that connects on a hidden plane.

Joe Walsh’s “Indian Summer” gets me every time. I find myself back on our family boat, cruising the Susquehanna River near Pequea, Pennsylvania. It’s September and I’m 13 years old. The longing and loss of innocence and freedom wash over me like the wake of a waterskiing fall. I’m ready to write that song now.

2) Write every day.

Yes, schedule your muse and expect her to show up. She might be groggy. Feed her some coffee and get to work.

Release your jewels and your drivel in the privacy of your writing room. You are practicing a habit. Later, you can pick and choose which ideas get to go outside and play. The rest can remain your sad and sappy little secrets.

Consider it your job to produce Quantity. Quality will emerge in spits and spurts. Sometimes pieces of one song actually belong to pieces of another song. Puzzle it together.

3) Spill your guts.

Pour your heart out and let emotions lead the way. Trust me, if your heart and gut are connected to your song subject, you’ll be able to go with the flow for a long time. Stay slippery and don’t let the inspiration dry up before you’ve caught and landed all of your choicest ideas. I have a few exercises for doing just that in my Singer/Songwriter Handbook.

4) Start with a title.

Have you written some pithy lines and ideas in a notebook somewhere?

Do you have a few titles that make you want to sing?

Start with one of these and see where they lead.

“He is Not Silent” is one of my lyrics inspired by a book titled, He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer. I got all fired up while reading so I sat at my piano, pencil in hand. Borrowing ideas like “we are not quiet, we are not listening,” I came up with the chorus first. My creative burst followed closely on the heels of an inspiring title. Catch any thread you can and don’t let go!

5) Tell the truth.

Honesty is appealing, like the song with that title by Billy Joel. We’re all human and we love vulnerability in others (even though we hate to reveal it in ourselves). Show some brokenness, a chink in your armor. The Chainsmokers have a cool song called “Honest.” They sing the truth about life on the road and on the radio. Their candor draws me into their artistry.

Read my short blog here about vulnerability in songwriting and recording new music.

6) Play with plagiarism.

What am I saying? Plagiarism is a dirty word. Don’t do it! But, hey, we are all imitators. None of us comes up with a completely new song idea.

All creativity is derivative except the original Creator’s stuff. Everybody copies His work. So celebrate your influences.

Borrow—don’t steal—a few ideas from a good song. Next, get to work crafting it as your own. Be certain there’s no direct copying. You know what happens when you infringe on a copyright, right? Write!

7) Be relatable and relevant.

No one gets a pass in this life. Hard is part of living.

If you’re like me and you struggle with faith in God every day, then say so.

Do you want to write a song about living with pain? Go for it, but I might beat you to it.

Want to sing about how staying in love is not easy? Then write that song. I did just that in “To Keep Love Alive.”

Teens love Taylor Swift because her music is relatable and relevant to their lives, like in the song “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”

8) Run with scissors.

Take some risks. But only if you’ve got a point.

Controversy for the sake of drawing attention and outrage is not legitimate artistic expression.

However, there will always be blurred lines. From Randy Newman’s “Short People” to Madonna’s “Papa, Don’t Preach,”artists often try to shine a light on an important topic. Certainly, we write at our own risk. Everyone in the crowd won’t be jumping up and down. But some may be getting the message for a change.

9) Make every word count.

Should I use “the” or “and” in this line? It is a solid question when writing a pop song. The nuance of such little words affects the song’s meaning.

Also, pop music doesn’t give you time to spread your ideas out. They’ve got to be short, sweet, and carry a lot of meaning. Like poetry, each word can have a well of eloquence beneath it if you take the time to dig in.

10) Hunt and Kill your throwaway lines.

Admit it, you’ve held on for dear life to some crappy lyrics.

You wrote them on the fly and they fit.

  • They came so easy.
  • They made a great rhyme.
  • They’re so clever you can’t bear to snuff them out.

But they’re so predictable, so done already. Get more creative!

Much of modern worship music, for example, has lots of cliche´and little imagination. Many mainstream pop songs, too. Boring.

They can be placeholders but eventually erase you must. Hire someone or cover your eyes and take a stab.

Kill those darlings because you know they’re just no good.

11) Bonus Tip: Be an Expanding HuMan.

Learn to work in a new way, try something you’ve never done in your songwriting.

  • Sit at the piano instead of with a guitar. 
  • Find a co-writer.
  • Learn a few new chords, would ya?

You are not gazing through the glass anymore.You’ve bought the dream.

Remember, songwriting is the privilege of sharing the things we know and love with those of our kind.

PS If you want more Tips and Tricks and Techniques and lots of exercises to improve your songwriting (and singing), check out my book: The Singer and the Songwriter Handbook and Workbook on Amazon.

PPS If you want other posts like these, sign up for my newsletter on the right side of this page and I’ll let you know when my next blog posts. CHEERS!

The Art of Compromise or The Compromise of Art

art of compromise

Gravity and Relativity

Out of the Grey lite. That’s what my husband Scott and I call Gravity, our fourth record. Actually, a fan came up to our CD table after a concert one night in 1995 and bestowed that description.

“I love all of your albums up to this point but this new one is more like Out of the Grey lite.”

Yikes! He was right.

Before recording Gravity, we’d written our ten songs and were ready to head into the studio. Monday morning, 10 AM downbeat. However, the Thursday before our scheduled session, the record label decided we didn’t have enough ‘radio-friendly’ songs.

What?

Scott and I dug in our heels for a short minute then went with the pressure to play the game. Over that weekend, we scrambled to write a few new songs with more pop appeal. Our producer, Charlie Peacock, helped us win approval by co-writing the songs, “When Love Comes to Life” and “Hope In Sight.”

Half of the songs and a lot of the production came out lacking what we thought of as Out of the Grey artistry. We did get some radio play, though.

At the end of the day, did we practice the art of compromise or did we compromise our art?

A Play on a Play

art of compromiseHave you seen the film, Bullets Over Broadway?

You could call it a play on a play. The story examines artistic integrity and how far an artist will go to protect and defend it—or lose it. It poses a question about the sometimes-dirty word compromise, asking if it has its place or if it is always reprehensible.

At the beginning of this 1994 release, David, a young playwright, tries to gather funds and cast members to perform his beloved work of art. Time constraints, human foibles, and money woes assail his stance on artistic integrity. At first, David stands his ground, refusing to give up control over his writing and his role as director. Nevertheless, when an underworld thug with the funds for production materializes and seems a godsend, David compromises. The catch of the money deal is that the gangster’s talentless girlfriend must play a small part.

After David softens his stance regarding talent and economics, taking the production money plus the girl, his agent leads him into other small compromises. As the play unfolds and rehearsals progress, David’s artistic integrity slips so far that he rewrites dialog at the behest of the manipulative lead actress. However, the playwright’s climactic sin is letting the goon who babysits the talentless young actress make changes in lines, scenes, and the plot. David recognizes that this mobster hitman is more talented than he. In the end, David is not an artist who is willing to stand by his original work.

This play about a play never reveals what the playwright’s play was actually about. We get the gist, though, that more drama, sex scandals, and realism are what the people want. Are the characters speaking our language? Does the plot mirror our own struggles? Have we left off the lofty and abstract so that the crowd can get the message point blank? Bullets fly at movie’s end when the story descends into an action-filled thriller.

Popular Art

The population at large loves what it can enjoy and comprehend without extra effort. As a pop music snob, I pooh-pooh much of the stuff that seems all fluff. I prefer a more complicated theme than, say, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” Having said that, I’m aware that other types of music-lovers wouldn’t call pop music ‘art’ at all.

To be sure, inside a fine art gallery, I might lift my eyebrows at the abstract and inaccessible. Impatient and ignorant, I don’t take the time to find the deeper meaning, moving further along the wall in search of served-up messages. When it comes to Art, I dig in my heels in relative places, drawing my own particular lines in the sand.

For example, I have written some artistically obscure songs like, “Becoming,” not caring whether anyone heard them or at least not worried that some might miss its message. However, I have certainly written songs with radio play in mind. Economic forces drove my compromise in the form of pressure from the record company and the mortgage company. One argument for concession goes something like this: if some of my art compromises its beauty for popularity sake, it will expose my more artistic pieces to a wider audience.

Mass Appeal

Many an Out of the Grey fan found us first on the radio. Before Gravity, our popularity had been growing. A lot of people told us they liked our fresh, left-of-center sound. Record sales were adding up and we wanted to capitalize on the momentum. It’s an old story.

art of compromise

The pressure to compromise can sideline even the best of intentions. When something good gets more popular, getting more becomes the modus operandi. For example, in the 1990s, Starbucks was just a cool cafe on the west coast. Scott and I had to mail-order their exotic blends and dark roasts. Nowadays, there’s a Starbucks on every corner, the McDonald’s of coffee some say. Compromising quality for quantity some complain.

However, mass-appeal has its appeal. It allows me to find a cheap knock-off of the expensive version of something or other I could otherwise not afford to purchase. As Meryl Streep schools Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada about the origin of the color of her cheap cerulean blue sweater, so I should take a lesson and remember that design is a gift with a steep price.

Mob Mentality

I am an artistic snob when I care to be and part of the mob when I don’t. If I don’t sink my toes into certain artistic fields of expression, I am tempted to pass by quickly with a quick judgment. I may think you are crazy if you only buy a carefully curated olive oil while you may drop your jaw at me for spending so much time choosing between “a” or “the” in a song lyric. You may secretly judge my mall clothes as fashion mongrels while I am arguing internally that you can’t possibly enjoy the ‘music’ of Florida Georgia Line.

art of compromise

From Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling to Feodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens, with so many in between, who decides what is good art or bad, high quality or low? Certainly, mass appeal isn’t a consistent measuring stick because watered-down art proliferates even as the cream rises to the top.

Relative Obscurity

Positively speaking, compromise is a humbled move toward peace. It need not always be an act of artistic cowardice.

What’s my point? Humility, I guess. If pride in my fine taste stiffens my stance in one corner of the rug, someone will surely pull it out from under my feet with revelations of what I am missing. More than likely, what appeals to you has merits I haven’t investigated. Maybe you love every song and sound on Gravity. I’m glad if you do!

In keeping my knees unlocked and soft, I can walk your way and experience the view from your side of the room. You can show me what I’ve missed in Picasso and I can point out the genius of Sting. We can meet at Starbucks, maybe stop to shop at the mall, and go from there.

Out of the Grey’s fan base fell off sharply after the release of Gravity. Our follow-up, See Inside, never found the listeners we thought it deserved. Scott and I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we’d held our ground on how we wanted to shape our sound. The question will remain: does gravity suck or is it just a natural force that no artist can escape? The answer lies in the ears of the beholder. The rest is left to relative obscurity.

The Curse of Encouragement: 3 Ways to See It

cute pink pig frowns at the curse of encouragement

Last spring, I went to a dinner party where I barely knew anyone. As I walked in, I decided to be open-hearted and unguarded for a change. And for once, I would refrain from offering unsolicited encouragement.

I told myself: “Just listen to people and don’t share your much-needed insights or words of wisdom. Be a listener, not a fixer.”

As I filled my plate at the kitchen island, I scanned the surrounding sea of faces. A woman whom I had met in the foyer stood alone in a corner. I crossed the floor towards her to save us both from an awkward solitude.

“Hey, Annie, how do you spend your time?” I said, jamming a fork into my macaroni and cheese.

“Oh, hey, well, I own a dog walking business,” she said between chews.

“Wow, I bet that keeps you busy!” I eyed my fried chicken.

“Yes.” She swallowed a mouthful of potato salad. “A friend suggested I get active again even though I’m in so much pain.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Oh, what sort of pain?” I leaned in to hear her answer above the party hum. I was well-acquainted with the topic.

“Fibromyalgia.” She scrunched her nose and pushed some potato salad around with a plastic spoon.

Shoulder to the wall, I chewed my food, ruminating my choices. I could keep quiet, see if she’d elaborate. Or, I could share my knowledge and possibly alleviate her suffering. My experience with chronic pain has taught me many strategies for easing it.

I resolved to offer Annie a tiny gem from my storehouse of learning:

“I just read a book describing how chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, can be related to emotional triggers. Like anxiety and anger. Maybe you are dealing with more than pain.” I dangled the information like a jewel on a chain.

Annie put down her spoon, adding to the suspense with a sip of water. She swallowed. “I just keep moving and try not to notice it,” she said, angling away from me.

Gulp. Conversation over.

Looking Up

cute pink pig lifts snout at the curse of encouragement

I am a teacher and fixer by nature. First, I devour information relevant to my problems — and yours. After getting my fill, I digest and then share from my treasure chest of answers. I champ at the bit to help.

The conversation with Annie reminded me of Jesus’ message on casting pearls before swine:

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (ESV)
 — Matthew 7:6

It’s not that Annie was a pig. Her manners were perfectly southern. And she did not attack me. But I didn’t know what was on her plate. I offered a dainty morsel to a stranger who did not ask for a taste. She returned my “gift” with a cold shoulder.

In searching the wily web for other thoughts on the pearl thing, I found:

This is how you should view the things God has done in your life. You can’t put a price on what you have learned through your life experiences as you’ve walked with Him. Like precious pearls, those life lessons are inestimable in their value because they cost you something. They weren’t the result of shallow swimming. You had to go deep into God to obtain those spiritual treasures.

In other words: Don’t use personal epiphanies to enlighten others. Better to give your hard-earned cash to someone who asks for and can appreciate it.

The Odor of Judgment

My propensity to fix sets me squarely in the judge’s seat. The crime occurs when my good intentions are mixed with the intent to enlighten and convict. The resulting elixir stinks with the odor of judgment.

Jesus warns of this in that same passage in Matthew. He said I shouldn’t judge others because it will come back to haunt me. And He said I best discover my own blind spots before pointing out the possible flaws of others.

From my blind-spotted, all-knowing position, I have dropped many a pearl of wisdom on the heads of the piggies in my midst. Certain of what those swine need for improvement, I expect them to receive and assimilate my helpful, loving gifts.

 Instead, they stare at me as if I’m crazy.

 “Who made you the judge?” or “What do I do with this?”

Humiliating, when my investment returns crusted in mud.

A Pig in Pearls

Have you ever seen a pig in pearls?

I’m not talking Miss Piggy. Although her swinely swagger certainly helps with the picture.

Cook up a person with the gift of encouragement. Turn up the burner for bless-your-heart warmth. Stew and stir in some well-meaning conceit. Now add a dash of presumption and a twist of criticism and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

This compelling character says things like: “You can do better. Let me tell you how” and “I believe in you even if no one else does” and “Somewhere inside of you is a very kind person.”

That’s me. A boorish judge in costume jewelry. A purveyor of precious wisdom of the porcine persuasion.

Many times have I apologized for offering an indigestible tidbit of what I considered soul food, serving up gifts with hints of judgment.

For example, a relative of mine once caught my encouragement in his teeth. He spit it back at me and said, “I don’t enjoy being judged.”

His response shocked me. I had offered my words as a compliment, saying, “You have been so generous with your money and time this year. I think, deep in your heart, that is who you truly are.”

3 Ways to See It

Encouragement or judgment? Lovely or ugly? Depends on how you look at it. I’ve found 3 ways to consider this piggishness. Mine and yours—not that I’m judging.

  1. Sometimes it’s ugly. Keep your epiphanies and encouragements to yourself. Some people can’t receive what you have to give. Even if your intentions are pure, not everyone will recognize their beauty.
  2. Sometimes it’s lovely. Share your gems with people you know, people who love and trust you. They’ll recognize the value of your treasures, perhaps.
  3. Sometimes it’s a mishmash. Throw those epiphanies at your own risk but temper your tendencies with wisdom. Better to listen before fixing. Then, let it go and let them deal with it.

I can accept the way I am. A mixture of lovely and stinky. Cultured and coarse. Also, I have undoubtedly trampled precious pearls that well-wishers have offered me.

Picturing my next party, I see myself all dressed up and eating like a pig. I’ll keep my heart and mind open but my mouth shut. Unless someone wants to encourage me. Then I’ll say, “Pass the soul food, please.”

Finding the Blind Spots

rear view mirror

I looked in the rear-view mirror twice to be certain no one was in that lane.

Turn signal on, I made my move across that dotted white line.

“Watch out!”

My husband had been looking in the same direction as I had, but he saw the car I had not seen.

An angry horn blast added to my addled nerves as I swerved back to my side of the road.

“I never even saw that car. Must’ve been in my blind spot,” I muttered, hands shaking slightly on the wheel.

Defensive Driving

We all have them.

Not that we know what they are exactly.

Blind spots are elusive but we’ve made enough dangerous moves to know they’re out there. Shouldn’t we conclude then, that there are things other people see that we are blind to?

My husband, Scott, and I made a deal early on in our relationship: When safety is on the line, we can say anything to each other.

We made this pact when we started having babies. Safety was tantamount back then, especially when driving around in vehicles. For example, if I saw some moves he was making that didn’t seem safe, I could tell him so. And he wasn’t supposed to get defensive.

Conversely, if he thought I was driving too fast, even if I didn’t agree, he could say it without fearing my justifications.

Or so it went, in theory.

We tried to acknowledge areas where we could be in error, not seeing straight. We agreed to stay open to another perspective.

The question is: What are my blind spots?

I don’t know exactly. But some of my friends and family do. Hopefully, I’m open enough to invite honest revelations from someone who cares: Christine, you’re over the line, with eyes off the road, and headed the wrong direction on a one-way street.

“OK,” I say, “thanks for letting me know.” Or so it goes, in theory.

Three Ways To See It

We approach the intersection of what we see clearly versus what remains murky with three choices:

1. We Can Help Others: Identify and point out the blind spots that others have.

Have you ever dared to tell someone what you see that they do not?

A dear friend of mine, who will remain nameless, was what I call a ‘nay-sayer.’ He’d often respond negatively when I first presented an idea to him. I did not think he was aware of this negative habit.

For example, I once asked, “Do you think we should try putting the couch on that side of the room?”

“No,” he said, “it won’t look right there.”

“Well,” I suggested, “can we at least try it?”

Minutes later, he admitted, “Wow, that does look pretty good over there!”

“You know, you do that a lot, saying no automatically before opening up to a possibility,” I mentioned.

He did not like the remark but took it to heart. A few days later, he responded to something affirmatively instead of a knee-jerk no.

It worked! When I dared to point out his blind spot, my ‘nay-saying’ friend reined in his bad habit.

Mostly though, people do not respond well to these types of observations and instead, they feel judged, threatened, and downright defensive. Honestly, it’s rarely worth the risk to help others by pointing out their blind spots.

2. We Can Help Ourselves: Another choice is to just notice others’ blind spots and learn from them without attempting to correct their vision. Spotting other people’s headlong rush to self-destruction, or just their annoying habits, is easy and we may even have a plan to get them straightened out. But usually, we do better to keep our observations to ourselves.

For example, I had an acquaintance who related to her teenage daughter more like a friend than a mother. I was certain they were headed for some rough roads if she didn’t step in and act like a parent. However, I decided not to go poking my fingers into their business. As the years unfolded, the girl grew up and turned out just fine. They did not need me to set them on the right path.

In other good news, my angst and my judgment did cause me to take a look at my motivation and try to find my blind spot in that situation.

3. We Can Humble Ourselves: The best choice I know for finding blind spots is to admit there’s always more than meets the eye. When looking at others and ourselves, humility is key to breaking us out of our pride and insecurity, two-sides of the same prison cell.

If I look for my own log jam and give the benefit of the doubt to others–also known as compassion–I’m on my way to finding freedom.

Consider the Blind Spots

Why do we defend first before considering assertions? I have noticed how I leap to justify myself when someone questions my moves.

For example, a few months ago, my daughter challenged me about a certain attitude of mine that boiled to the surface:

Two high school boys approached us as we were leaving a store. They had a box of candy which they were selling to raise money for something at school. Or so they said.

I was immediately suspicious and just told them, no thanks. The store manager had come out by then and asked them to move away from his storefront. As we walked to the parking lot, I told my daughter they were probably just scamming us, not really raising money for their team but for themselves. Her jaw dropped and she asked me if I might be judging them because they were African-American boys.

My feathers ruffled, I said, “no, I just didn’t see any official looking stickers on the box or have any sense that they were legit. I’m not prejudiced!”

She suggested, however, that I could have been reacting to them based on their skin color without realizing it. “They did have an official-looking document explaining it, Mom. You just didn’t see it.” Blind spot. Ouch. I had to reconsider my reaction.

(I found out later that, before she went to where her car was parked, she found the two young men and apologized for how the store manager had treated them and she wished them the best in their endeavor. That’s my girl!)

Poor Judgement

Jesus told us to remove the plank in our own eye before trying to nab the speck of dust in someone else’s. He says I will be judged in the same way I judge others. Is that really what I want?

No way!

My judges won’t see all of the extenuating circumstances or hidden situations in my life. They’ll make projections and false accusations. This gives me pause–a long inhalation of introspection–before I dare go pointing and poking.

Jesus’ point, I believe, is to focus us on our humility–or lack thereof.

Humbling myself is a slow-motion scenario. It involves an interlude of reflection before reaction or projection. Check the mirrors. Check them again. Ask what my fellow-travelers see. Look over my shoulder and proceed with caution.

Cultivating this sort of honest accuracy in your self-assessment will help you to know where your talents and limits truly lie, saving you from embarrassment in some situations while ensuring greater success in others. Meanwhile, you will have an honest and accurate sense of which areas you truly need to improve.

We know blind spots can crush us. If we refuse to look where we’re going, examine bad habits, and listen to what people are trying to tell us, then we’re headed in the wrong direction.

Three Best Case Scenarios

Here’s what we should do when it comes to blind spots:

  1. Give the benefit of the doubt to those we’re tempted to correct. Assume we don’t see the entire picture.
  2. Stop being defensive when someone points something out to us. Consider their perspective.
  3. Humble ourselves by taking an honest look in the mirror. Be willing to really see what’s there.

Through meditation, introspection, journaling, and just journeying, we can find some of our own blind spots!

But don’t stop there. Especially when you’re already in the car and picking up speed.

Ask for help from another set of eyes. Invite others to tell you some things about you. Seek another perspective before you make a lane change. Who knows, maybe if you drop some of your defensive maneuvers, the people around you will do the same.

 

*A word about Self-Compassion: This article is not meant to be one more way of beating ourselves up or driving ourselves to do more. Self-compassion is at the heart of a beautiful life. The instruction to love others as we love ourselves implies that we love ourselves. It is not a given that we actually do. In fact, some of us despise ourselves and it shows in the way we live. If we start with love and acceptance of ourselves, we can then find the freedom to live an honest, open, humble, and joyful life! More on this in another article.

Check out my related article: Making Connections, Not Projections.

Making Connections, Not Projections

making connections

Walking with my daughter, Carina, on a lakeside trail recently, I happened upon an epiphany:

I project when I don’t connect.

What I mean is, I create mental projections on the wall of my imagination if I do not have real-life interactions and conversations.

Like when a friend has not called me in a month, I might picture all the ways in which I have probably offended her. Another example is how I will tell myself a tale of rejection to make sense of an unanswered message I’ve sent with the sincerest of emoticons.

By creating a movie on the screen in my head, I can come up with all kinds of fictions explaining why someone hasn’t called, texted, emailed, “liked,” or otherwise given me a thumbs-up to acknowledge our relationship. When real-life conversations have fallen away, my brain works overtime to fill in the blanks.

making connections not projections

For instance, while side-by-side with Carina on the trail, I was explaining to her how I had been feeling disconnected from my brother who lives in another state. I admitted to her that I hadn’t called him because it was clearly his turn to call me. Way past his turn, actually, because I had been doing all of the connecting in the past year or so it seemed. I felt a bit hurt and had listed in my head all of the ways in which I deserved better.

Also, I had projected on the broad screen of my skull a colorful parade of the reasons he’d been neglecting, avoiding, and even rejecting me. I had come up with some scary scenarios and worst-case worries.

Maybe some of my mental projections were true. My feelings were definitely real. But I had gone too far. You see, I had left the mainland where the wires and synapses fire at the sound of human voices. I had crossed over to the island of extended imagination where weak signals send scrambled messages at best.

staying connected

My phantom brother, in that far-off country without communication, had become a flickering kind of figure. Like Princess Leia’s holographic image projected from inside R2D2, he was trapped like an apparition in my memory. I could only tell myself stories about what was going on between us for I did not have the facts.

“Carina,” I said, “I finally just decided to call the guy, whether it was his turn or not.”

I had pressed the green icon on my smartphone. When he answered, I told him immediately what I’d been thinking and feeling. My throat got a little choked. He said, “wow, you got to that pretty fast.”

I did. We talked for a long while. He told me about how busy he’s been with his job and family. We laughed about some of the tales I’d been telling myself.

Thank God for smart phones with good connections. When we pressed our red icons good-bye, I felt so much better. I remembered my little brother. The kid he was and the man I love. There’s nothing like an honest conversation for dispelling hallucinations.

With Carina it’s easy. Together on the path, we connect before there’s a chance to project. With others I love, there’s just more distance to cover. It can be done though. All it takes is making connections.

Henceforth, I will remember this lesson: don’t project–connect!

Instead of playing old movies on my wobbly mental screen, I’ll shut off the projector and use that modern machine. Just press green.

 

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