April Blizzard and Binary Stars

When we had the snow-covered Ostara, we thought that was a little silly.  Predictable even for Minnesota, but silly.

The April blizzard of this past weekend, though?  Not silly.

Downright ridiculous.

The pile of snow at the end of our driveway where the plow bunched it up was WAIST-HIGH on me.  And filled with chunks of snow balled together so firmly we started making jokes about finding the anatomy of dead snowmen.  We took some pictures, but it is difficult to show the real scale of the wintry disaster that has descended upon Minnesota when it is supposed to be spring.

All the evergreen trees on our property look like some variation on this, if they aren’t broken in half:

Here is what we called the “Four Shovels of the Snowpocalypse:”

And here is the courageous team of my wife and our two Clanmates who live nearest — it took all four of us to dig out the driveway and rescue a couple of the trees.  We didn’t even bother with the sidewalk, as you can see. Anybody who needs to come see us can come in the driveway until the thaw:

There’s a reason #Minnesnowta is trending right now.  Utterly ridiculous.

If Sarah and I were different people, we might be actually upset if this blizzard were to keep us from spending this week in some kind of special way.  But we won’t, because we don’t do that sort of thing.

This week is our 15th anniversary.

Now, due to the vagaries of recognition of non-straight marriages and the shifting politics that have occured in the past 15 years, Sarah and I have 3 separate anniversaries.  Late August of 2013 is the date on our marriage certificate, because that’s when we could gather our friends and family in our backyard the summer Minnesota legalized same-sex marriages.  But that was a very informal ceremony — Sarah wore a t-shirt, I was in shorts, and we interrupted the vows midway through for me to dodge away from a wasp. It was a beautiful day, though.

In 2010, we had our “official ceremony,” which is the one where I wore the awesome dress, Sarah wore a suit, both our sets of parents came, there was an exchange of rings, and we made our vows public for the first time.  In 2010, we didn’t really know if or when marriage would be legal in the state of Minnesota, or in the US. But by then, we had been together 7 years, and we knew we were going to be together to the end.

For that ceremony, we wrote the song we call “Binary” because that’s what we are — a pair of binary stars, forever in orbit around one another, defining one another, inseparable.  Born together, bound together, alive together. And in the end, wherever it ends, however life closes, we’ll be together.

But it’s 2003 where our relationship began in truth, and that’s where I count from.

We had been friends for more than a year when things changed between us, and it had been a very difficult year for us both.  We had seen friends get together and grow apart, we had faced some very painful experiences and realizations, and we were in the midst of that growing season that happens in college when, for the first time, you lift your head up in the world and realize you are going to have to start defining yourself for yourself.

Sarah was a huge part of my process figuring out who I could be, who I wanted to be, and she was really the first to believe in me so very thoroughly and unflinchingly.  She was my best friend, the person I felt safest with in all the world, and I was changed for knowing her.

But in April of 2003, our relationship changed over the course of about 3 nights.  It was a slightly slow revelation, like the movies in slow-motion, where we both came to understand that we wanted to care more for one another than anyone else.  We even made jokes about how we might someday fall in love and get married, but we didn’t think a relationship with a spouse could ever really be what we were together.  It was a scary two days to take that to the logical conclusion of “maybe we just need each other.”

Five weeks later, Sarah asked me to marry her while calling me a goofball at the same time.

A year to the day later in April 2004, I asked her to marry me in return.

Fifteen years has changed us both in ways neither one of us could have imagined.  We’ve been through dangerous illness, the breakup of families, financial struggle, and a world which sometimes was downright horrible to us (there’s really nothing like having to walk through a line of virulent protesters to get to the wedding of a pair of gay friends).  We’ve been through rounds of therapy, alone and together, we’ve had moments of utter despair, and we’ve seen each other through dangerous depression.

But not once — not once– in fifteen years, have I ever wanted to share any of that with anyone more than Sarah.  And no matter how bad or unhealthy things got, I never wanted to do anything but make it right with her.

All people talk about marriage needing communication, and respect, and a sense of humor, and patience, and generosity.  And all those people who say those things are correct. If you cannot be completely and totally honest, completely and totally yourself, without even a shade of fear in front of the person you married, then you will never know freedom or trust.  If you cannot look at the person you chose to share your life and think they are 100% in the wrong, totally off their rocker, and still fully think they are an awesome person whose opinions, though wrong, deserve to be heard and treated fairly, then you cannot really stand as equals.  If you can’t laugh until your head spins with the person you married, can’t share jokes and snark and puns and terrible songs and all the rest every single day, then you’re missing out on a lot of joy. If you cannot force yourself to take a breath in a heated moment even if it feels you are putting your chest through a cheese grater, you’ll never be able to be quiet when the person you married most needs you to listen.  And if you can’t love completely, unconditionally, would willingly give literally anything without a second thought, then you have missed what it really means to cherish someone else.

Fifteen years with Sarah has been a lifetime of laughter and joy and crazy moments and tearful exchanges and daily cuddles — and it can never be enough.  Fifteen years on, and sometimes I just look at her sitting at her end of the couch with her laptop and start to cry because I love her so damn much and I cannot, cannot hold it all inside because I could never be big enough to feel this much.  Fifteen years from the start and I know I am a better person, a kinder person, a more understanding person, because I have become so for her. Fifteen years has not flown by, it has soared.

Fifteen years I have belonged to Sarah, heart and soul, and will until the universe collapses into nothingness.

We don’t celebrate it — the blizzard doesn’t do a damn thing to impact our plans because we never make plans.  We never exchange gifts. We never buy flowers. We don’t always even remember the milestones. Every single day is a blessing with Sarah, and every day is worthy of celebration and trumpets and grand gestures because I love her that much every day.  I don’t ever stop thinking about it. I don’t ever become numb to it. Love is wonder, and I am still lost in wonder to this day.

We’re probably going to spend our anniversary watching cartoons and hockey and YouTube together.  Nothing more special than that, because there is nothing we could do that would be special enough to rival what I feel every single time I have the privilege of holding her hand, or giving her a hug, or flopping an arm over her in sleep.  We don’t celebrate the specific days because every day for fifteen years, even in the worst of times, has been a celebration.

Sarah is in my life, she chose me, and I get to spend every breath being hers.  And by being Sarah’s, I have become myself.

“Binary”

It is said that the earth was born when the moon crashed into her sky
A striking explosion of soul meeting soul
It is said that the mountains were born when the lands once parted collide
The inevitable draw of gravity’s pull

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we walk in the sun when we sing to the dawn
No more separate than binary stars
Like the comet-flung quarks running free in their strange-colored fire of night
Wild wholeness in being who we are

When all the flowers fade
And all the rainbows fall
Wherever it ends when the last glory calls
My life began with you

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

It is said that we’re all a soul split in two and fallen from space
And peace lies only in being one
It is said that love is new like the butterflies in spring
That it grows by the days
But our love was old when the moon was young

So stand here with me
As you’ve stood all along
Your hand was in mine before my first song
And my arms will hold you tonight

As the stars fold into the sky
As the river folds into the sea
Through the storms and the pains and the joys of life
You’ll be standing here with me

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Still flying on

This song is called “O” by Coldplay, and it has really spoken to me lately:

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Just a flock of birds
It’s how you think of love

And I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly always
Sometimes they arrive
Sometimes they are gone
They fly on

Flock of birds
Hovering above
Into smoke I’m turned
And rise following them up

Still I always
Look up to the sky
Pray before the dawn
‘Cause they fly away
One minute they arrive,
Next you know they’re gone
They fly on
Fly on

So fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I’ll fly next to you

Fly on, ride through
Maybe one day I can fly with you

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Warrior

I’m still fighting my way through this downswing, though a restful weekend certainly helped.  A friend brought food and comfort over on Friday night, and she leached some of the leftover anguish from the Rise Up concert from my heart.  And though the storm goes on, I stand a little stronger against it today.

There are storms in every corner of the world, and in every corner of every human heart — no one is unique in that way.  And, like I said last week, because pain is relative, one person cannot necessarily say or know that another’s storm is easier or gentler than their own.  Some storms are outside us, a society which is cruel or biased or unjust. Some are inside, like my downswing or the damage done to someone by another. Some are both, a cycle of judgement by the world which reinforces and strengthens the ice daggers within.

We all fight battles, big and small.  Some stand on a national stage and fight for their people against an oppressive power.  Some crouch in a darkened room and fight despair inside. Some do both, sometimes all at once.

But it all stems from the same choice, the same decision —

“I can and will fight.  I can and will a warrior be.  It is my nature and my duty.”

The TCWC’s Encore does a version of this song which…well.  Make sure you hear it sometime when we perform, and we will blow you away.  It’s very, very much worth it. Sarah and I also performed it at CONvergence last year with the help of a friend.  Hopefully I’ll get our version on YouTube soon.

This week, I give you this song.  For whatever storm you are battling.  For whatever darkness seems too deep. For whatever fatigue beats you down.  For whatever surrender seems too easy.

Don’t give in.

We are all fierce warriors.  In the world, in ourselves, for causes great and greater, because no cause worth fighting for could ever be small.

It is the humanity in us all.

 

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Spoons, and the songs that tell painful true stories

I had a conversation with a friend on Saturday.  We were talking about how each of us is doing, how we’re holding together through a rough patch, and we rounded to the topic of spoons per the Spoon Theory.  It’s an analogy coined by Christine Miserandino, if you don’t know it, and it helps illustrate the effort that it takes to get through the day with limited energy or health or pain tolerance or illness.  Healthy, fully-able-bodied people don’t have to count their spoons because they don’t have to think about the energy expenditures of “everyday” activities. But for those with a chronic illness, or mental illness, or an autoimmune disorder, or a disability, even tasks that might be described as “normal” simply aren’t.

I’ve been close to running out of spoons a lot lately as this downswing chews up my energy and ability to cope.  Half the world feels like it’s uphill, or at the top of a flight of stairs, and while I *can* make the climb, it takes something out of me to do it, something I don’t get back easily or quickly.

This literally was my situation this weekend at a choir concert where we had to go up and down several flights of metal stairs and my knee chose not to work without pain and a brace.

But the concert required me to give up spoons in more important ways, too.

It was a collaboration between the TCWC and the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.  The concert was called “Rise Up!” and was a call to action for social justice. It was fun to be invited, of course, and to share the stage with the ever-outstanding TCGMC.  It gave us a chance to sing a few songs we’ll be performing in May, to really work towards something early in the season.

But, most importantly, the concert MATTERED.

This wasn’t a concert for singing “Kumbaya” and telling child-friendly versions of the world we hope to live in someday.  This wasn’t a night of celebrating our shared humanity and looking into that potential with optimism and hope.

This was, in many ways, a brutal reckoning of the world as it exists today.  And I choose the word “brutal” very deliberately.

We did sing songs about rising up together, about the brave people in whose footsteps we walk, about speaking out for those in need.

But we also sang songs about rape and about murder.

The TCWC will be performing “Quiet” by MILCK in May — it’s a powerful piece that was written to be performed at the Women’s March in Washington DC in 2017 and relates to the silence around sexual harassment and sexual assault, domestic violence, and even depression.  You can find it here.

After two months of practice, I could mostly sing the song with strength and defiance and not feel the biting of my own ways of identifying with it.  I was prepared for that much.

I wasn’t truly prepared for “Til It Happens To You” and the heart-breaking story that accompanied it as told by by a strong, brave man willing to share his rape experience with a room of a thousand strangers.

And on the heels of that, I was even less ready for “The Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”

I wish I could tell you that you don’t really have to listen to them, that you can accept that these songs exist without needing to engrave them on your heart.  I wish I could tell you that our world is a better place than this, that the pain of people who are suffering, who are being hurt, who are being killed — I wish it was the exception.

If I’ve ever hated anything in my life, I hate that this is the norm.

I hate that this is what our world is, hate that I can’t say it’s a new thing, hate that I can’t pretend I didn’t know it was this bad.  I did know. I’ve seen it everywhere, from the day my eyes opened. Even if I didn’t know what I was looking at, it was there.

I hate that in this world where we are capable of so much beauty, so much art, so much love and kindness and wonder and wisdom, that we are just as culpable of such harm and hate and evil.

And I hate that it cost me spoons to be a part of that concert, to stand and sing those songs, to hear them sung, to know their painful, inhumane truth — when all I had to endure was singing.  If it cost me spoons to be a part of a call to action, what does it cost those for whom the action is most necessary just to live?

It isn’t my fault that I’m a white cis-woman.  That I don’t have to live under the same kinds of fears of people of color, or people who are trans.  It isn’t my fault that I am able-bodied and I don’t have to live in a world that constantly mistreats disabilities.  It’s also not my fault that I am a woman who married a woman — and sometimes we both have to live in a world which can be frightfully cruel and punishing just for that fact.

We are all exactly what we are, and we all have our own challenges.  I remind people (and myself) sometimes that pain is relative. For example, I’ve never broken an arm, so if I did, I imagine that would be the worst pain in my life.  But someone who has been shot, or stabbed, might think that a broken arm is nothing in comparison. And they’re right. Every person only knows as much pain — or as much joy — as they’ve ever experienced.  And you can’t compare my pain to yours, only show empathy and respect for both.

But I know, as a woman married to a woman I actually do know, that the pain of being a part of a concert which was important, which was necessary, which was needed, is absolutely nothing to suffering under the reasons WHY it was important and necessary and needed.  To be reminded of the horrors is nothing to living them.

Even so, I still had trouble with my spoons.  The number you get at any given moment doesn’t neatly correspond to the number you need, and it isn’t constant from day to day or even minute to minute.  Some days, I don’t have to count them. But right now, in this downswing, I do. And right now, in this downswing, I handed them over to be a part of something painful, something necessary.

And it can never be enough.  It’s like the thing about “thoughts and prayers.”  If giving up all my spoons would make the world better, I would do it in a heartbeat.  But it doesn’t work that way. I can’t just pray and hope that somehow the world will spontaneously improve.  The only actions that work are *actions.* Protesting, voting, having difficult conversations, donating, raising awareness, calling out cruelty where it happens — we have to put boots on the ground, hands in the air, votes in the boxes, dollars in the hands of those with the right power, and words in the minds of people who need to hear them.

This concert was not an *empty* call to action, after all.  And I have work to do. We ALL have work to do.

But right now?  I still don’t have the spoons.  My bipolar brain can only do so much, and today it can’t even do that.

So, for now, I’m going to keep hunting for spoons.  I’m going to dig them up, find them in shadows and tucked-away corners.  I’m going to hoard them like a dragon with its treasures. I’m going to find as many as I can, to get me through until I don’t need to count anymore.

And then I’ll trade the spoons for another round of actions.

Because it is a privilege that I can choose to do so — and all I can do is make it count.

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Cartoon song challenges

While March is busy coming in like a lion…

No, scratch that.  See this?

That’s outside my office at 4pm today.  And here’s outside my house shortly thereafter:

March is NOT coming in like a normal lion.  This is March coming in like some kind if Dire Ice Killer Undead Stormspirit Lion.

Anyway.

While March is proving that winter is not yet over in Minnesota (and apparently intends to go out fighting), here’s something else entirely:

First of all, people are awesome.  People who make this stuff, who embrace it, who dive into the fun and nerdy and fantastically wonderful are AWESOME.

Second of all, I have so much respect for whoever composed that piece and made it all work.  I do a little of that at the end of the year for the TCWC and it is HARD.

Third of all, what I really want to know is this —

Can anybody actually sing the lyrics of every song all the way through?  Because I can’t, and I’ve tried. But I also don’t KNOW all the songs. I can track what all the themes are, but some of them are from things I’ve never watched and don’t even know if they have lyrics to start with.  I keep meaning to look up the ones I don’t already know so I can finish it in my head, but…

This is what I do when I’m bored sometimes.  Find something like this and learn it cold.

I’ve already (mostly) mastered my ultimate favorite:

Although, if I’m going to get off, which I do about 60% of the time, it always happens right at Guinea-Bissau.  I get that far and then just…pleh. I usually miss a few beats to swear in frustration and then I come back in at Crete and, according to Sarah, sound very pissed off until the end, as if everything from there on has personally offended me — which it hasn’t, of course.

But if Rob Paulsen can do it, why can’t I?

Oh, wait.

Because he’s AMAZING.

Never mind.

These random thoughts and more during a snowstorm.  Welcome to March!

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We Are

Dr Ysaye Barnwell, composer for Sweet Honey in the Rock, has written some of the most inspiring, moving, powerful songs I’ve ever had the privilege to sing.  From her soul comes “Would You Harbor Me?” and “Wanting Memories” and “No Mirrors in my Nana’s House.”

If you don’t know them, go find them.  The originals, if you can.  Lots of choirs, mine included, sing them, but there is nothing like hearing them in the voice of Dr Barnwell herself.

One of those songs was one the TCWC performed a few weeks ago.  And also a few years ago.  It is just one of those songs that stays in my heart.

When stuff gets hard, or the world turns cold and dark and cruel, or when I just need to remind myself WHY IT ALL MATTERS, this is one of those songs that reminds me.

We Are

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

We are
Mothers of courage
Fathers of time
Daughters of dust
Sons of great vision.

We are
Sisters of mercy
Brothers of love
Lovers of life and
the builders of nations.

We are
Seekers of truth
Keepers of faith
Makers of peace and
the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers.
We are our grandfathers’ dreamings.
We are the breath of our ancestors.
We are the spirit of God.

For each child that’s born, a morning star rises
and sings to the universe
who we are.

WE ARE ONE.

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More With Less

Sometimes, I think the whole process of moving out into the world, from childhood to adulthood, from student to member of the workforce, from novice to expert, is all the same process of learning to handle more with less.  More work with less sleep.  More stress with less certainty of success.  More emotional upheaval with less retreat to recover.  More expectations with less room for error.

Eventually, the time comes when a person is going to need something to backfill all the ‘less’ that has been sacrificed to the ‘more.’  And how a person goes about that is as unique as the person.

For me, it kinda depends what I need.

If I need meditation, or just calming the hell down, I turn to this song, specifically written and arranged to help people relax.

If I need a 1 minute giggle, plus some insight into something totally random, I find something from QI.

Or maybe I dig into the archives of MST3K.

If I need my faith in the world restored, I go watch Matt Harding’s videos.

Or maybe this from The Trevor Project.

If I’m feeling nostalgic for the place I grew up, or I want to get emotional and feel the blood thumping adrenaline of my favorite sport, I’ve got the Buffalo Sabres 06-07 season opening.

And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head that helps.  A handful of videos that can reset my head and give me a little more to handle the less.  If I had to, I could list dozens of songs and stories, each of which can bring me back to a better place.  Each of which can make the world seem less heavy and more manageable.

Sometimes you really do just have to buckle down and handle the more with the less you’ve got.

I hope you have your own ways to even the score and get a little more back, too.

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The Wheel Turns; Darkness Into Light

Welcome to the new year!

I hope everyone had something fun or exciting or heartwarming over the holiday season — which is also the time when the Northern Hemisphere meets and endures its longest night of the year and begins to slowly spin back towards warmth and light.  For me, I had a few highlights throughout the holidays, but the best part by far was my NYE party.

We had a fluctuating number as some had to leave early and others came late, but I think all told we had 14-16 people in the house eating dessert, exchanging gifts, and playing games to bid GOODBYE WE WILL NOT MISS YOU to 2017 and SOME IMPROVEMENT WOULD BE GOOD HERE 2018.  Which we did with the use of fire.  And piñatas.

I bought a pair of piñatas, a 1 and a 7.  Throughout the party, people wrote things on slips of paper and notecards and whatever else they chose — things they wanted to banish, things they wanted to release, things they wished to leave behind — and stuffed them in the piñatas.  People wrote lists, or the same grievance over and over, and I think at least one person fed an angry word in letter by letter.  We even took “orders” from our cousin party being held by some friends a few states away.

And at midnight, we took the piñatas outside in the -15 degree weather or whatever it was, and burned them to ashes.

It’s very therapeutic.  To take the frustrations and fears of the year that was and to let them go, to watch them be unmade and cast into the midnight sky.  To set down the burdens of one year and feel them melt from the shoulders — only to make room to carry new weight in the days and weeks to come, probably.  But it’s nice.  It’s not spectacular, and it’s not super dramatic, but it feels good to watch those feelings and experiences and shadows burn.

Maybe next year, if it isn’t -15 degrees, we’ll do a bigger fire and toast marshmallows.  That seems fair, right?

Personally, I’m still lobbying for a green or purple fire, too, but that’s tougher.  Luckily we have a designated friend-as-fire-marshal, and he handles that complicated stuff.  I just provide the piñatas and the backyard.

The thing about our NYE party is that it has evolved over the years.  A decade ago, it would be just Sarah and I and a friend some years, watching movies all night.  Then we started to gather with greater numbers of people, to make it more of an event.  In the last few, it’s become an all-out party which doubles as the friends gift-giving celebration for those who attend.  For the last 2 years, I’ve added an element of Christmas stockings.

Which is to say, for every person who comes to the party (or who is connected to this friends-family in some way), I make them a stocking.  A few people have real ones we hang on the mantle — those are the people who look to me and my house as their alternate home.  But for everyone there is a bag of candy and an orange and some nuts (the latter 2 from German tradition) and something else.  This year, I gave people CDs.

Half the friends-family got funny CDs of, well, this.

The other half got a CD mix I made.

I know, I know, that’s so 2003.  Whatever.  It seems silly to buy flash drives to hand out 17 songs as a playlist, and I just don’t do streaming music yet.  If anybody has a better idea, I’ll gladly hear it out.  Until then, CDs.

The mix I made for them is one I really like, and it has a lot in it that carried me through last year and will continue to carry me into 2018.  I called it “Light in the World” because, at heart, it’s a mix of songs either about the light that is already in the world — love, kindness, courage, honor — or songs about hanging onto and nurturing the light within when such light is needed against a colder world.

In the end, we’re all only what we give to the people in our lives, to the world beyond our immediate circle, and to the future yet to come.  And I, as I have said before, intend to give light.  And love.  And hope.

So here is the mix I made:

The World As I See It by Jason Mraz
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Gregorian
I’ll Be The Light by Colton Dixon
So Alive by The Goo Goo Dolls
Fearless by Kat Perkins
Kinder by Copper Wimmin
Courage (Come Out To Play) by Justin Hines
Say Geronimo by Sheppard
Shatter Me (feat. Lzzy Hale) by Lindsey Stirling
I Am the Fire by Halestorm
The Light by Disturbed
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself by Jess Glynne
Over and Over by The Goo Goo Dolls
Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz
Weightless by Courtney Jones
Fly to Paradise by the Eric Whitacre Singers
O Fortuna by Gregorian

You might wonder at that last track.  “O Fortuna” is not a song about light, or courage, or standing up against the dark.  The Wikipedia translation of it is:

O Fortune,
like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing or waning;
hateful life first oppresses
and then soothes as fancy takes it;
poverty and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
So at this hour, without delay,
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong one,
everyone weep with me!

Not light, right?  It’s a lament, a cry for others to see the cruelty that Fate has dealt and sympathize.  A testament of injustice and unfairness.

Uplifting?  Well, the song itself it, but not in the context of its meaning.

But for me, that’s WHY this song is important in this mix.  Because you can have all the courage you want, can be armed with kindness and honor, can breathe light and sing hope through your veins, but eventually random chance and events beyond your control *will* take their toll.  You can skip through life on the road of ideals, head full of dreams and optimism, but someday the rocks of reality are going to come down on your head.

What matters is what you do next.

If — and when — Fate strikes down the strong person, what does the strong person do?

What choice do you make?

Do you weep and cry that Fate is unfair?  Do you curl up and surrender?  Do you blame the unkindness of Fate and petulantly refuse to accept the truth?

Because dark and light cannot exist without one another.  Hope doesn’t have power unless it has been born by overcoming despair.  Courage cannot be strong unless it is forged in fear.  Kindness has no meaning if it is insincere.

“O Fortuna” is the last track on the CD because it leaves the unanswered question for the listener:

In the face of callousness, of despair, of cruelty, will you stand up and be counted amongst the kind, the loving, and the brave?

What will you choose for 2018?

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TCWC Concert and the Fight Against the Season

On Saturday, I sang 2 concerts with the TCWC; it was our usual “Illuminations” concert we do in lieu of a more traditional holiday concert. The music this time was STUNNING.

We opened with different settings of the words attributed to Chief Seattle (though not really said by him; thanks Snopes!):

This we know.
The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
This we know.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
This we know.

We sang songs about the earth, about stars, about the moon, and about the rise of the sun. The words from one of them, “Cycle Four,” made me cry EVERY DAMN TIME I sang them:

The earth itself is a spaceship; the crew rides on the outside in everlasting orbit around the sun.
Seen from the moon, it is so tiny and fragile.
I wish leaders from every nation could see the world from here.
Those precious borders are invisible.
The brilliant globe is surrounded by blackness and turns serenely in the sunlight.
Viewing our planet from the moon, I cry.
The pristine blue and whiteness I see is an illusion.
Hiding beneath it I know there is an ever more senseless ugliness.

And we did the Randall Thompson version of “Choose Something Like A Star” whose words by Robert Frost are, I think, truly inspirational:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud;
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I’m not going to link to this song, but I’m sure you can go find a version of it on YouTube if you wish, and I highly recommend it; it’s truly beautiful.

(Also, it goes HIGH. I mean, I’m a high first soprano and it can be exhausting after a while. This whole concert was that way, though. My poor vocal cords were DONE on Saturday night. Anyway.)

The thing about music at this time of year is that, while I am tired tired TIRED of Christmas carols, pretty much all of them, I love the music that fits the season without being about it. I love the music about the darkness that gives way to light, about people making their everyday lives about joy, about hope and rebirth and kindness and generosity.

The winter tests people when it comes; the cold and dark and early sunset push against the shadows in our minds. I am typing this now at 4:01pm Central Time, and already the sun is gone from the sky. Night will fall in a matter of minutes. It was dark when I left the house for work and it will be dark before I get home. The shortest day of the year up here in the north is truly short.

Sometimes I think we fill it up with a false cheerfulness from the holidays, the blaring bouncy songs on the radio and in stores, the aggressively green and red decorations, the screaming lights. Sometimes I think this whole Christmastime bustle is one big fight against the darkness that closes in on all sides and heralds the cold and ice and snow to come.

And you know what?

While I am SO TIRED of the overplayed music, and I roll my eyes at the commercialization, and I get irritated by the false cheer and kindness that melts away on December 26th when it should be a way of living year-round — in spite of all of that, I find it deeply appealing to live in an entire culture basically telling the dark and cold and gloom and despair to go choke on a Christmas tree.

“Yeah, yeah, dark and cold and blah. I’ll show you! I’m going to put up the most OBNOXIOUS lights I can, deck my house and my store and everything with as much gold and red and green and silver as I can lay hands on! You think the wind and snow will keep me quiet? How loudly do you want to hear my music? You think you can make me stay home and sulk? IT IS SHOPPING TIME.”

I don’t really think it’s intentional, but I do think that’s what happens. I think the year closing to the winter solstice is one big drain, and the way we fight it is with light and laughter and parties and singing and flowers and bows and good food and sappy movies. I think it’s an entire people using the same tricks I use against depression to hold back the season.

And it does work.

Even if I’m rolling my eyes while it goes.

But then, I usually appreciate a good show of defiance. As soon as you tell me that I need to bow down and let shadows fall, I usually start thinking about ways to light a candle. As soon as you tell me that being cold is an inevitability, I promise you I have figured out how to keep warm.

The thing we need to work on overall, as a society, is to quit thinking that giving and cheer and kindness and smiling at strangers is only really a ‘thing’ in December. Charities need money and supplies every day of the year. People need music and lights and that uplifting display all the time. Smiling at people on the street or in the store should be the default, not the exception.

Kindness and generosity should be everyday miracles, not Christmas miracles.

I actually get weird looks sometimes when I do that sort of thing. I got glared at in the grocery store last week because I was making eye-contact and smiling at people, or gave a sincere, pause-rather-than-rushing-off-with-my-stuff thank you to the person at the register. More than one person gave me a look that should have been withering. Should have made me back off letting my own light shine.

But. Um.

That’s not…really how I roll.

Uh, at all.

Ever.

If I have light, when I have light, I share it. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m FOR.

And you know what? For every variation on a glare, I got a smile in response. Tired smiles, surprised smiles, grateful smiles. I don’t expect any cashier to remember me, but I do see them breathe a little easier when I greet them cheerfully rather than with a dour or gruff look.

But maybe that’s the advantage, if there is such a thing, to living in a world of competing opposites. Of living day to day not knowing when the happiness and light are going to bleed from my soul and the cruelty inside my own head will start whispering again. When the energy I have to offer is poisoned and stripped until it is me who is needy with nothing left to give.

When you know the meaning of permanent, waiting-to-strike sorrow, maybe you know how precious it is to share joy when you have it.

When the mob in my head is swayed, I choose the star of kindness and defiance to set MY mind on, and I am staid.

For all the ugliness in the world, there is beauty, too. We have to look for it sometimes; we have to seek it out and draw it forth and wave it like a sword in the face of the advancing armies of darkness — but it is there.

And this is something I know.

Whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves. Whatever I can put into the world will happen to others, those around me and those I’ve never so much as seen. When I vibrate the strands that connect us with a smile, with light, with laughter, I have to trust that my offering is reaching others. And know that theirs will come back to me.

We are all connected shouting against the winter dark in anticipation of the light. We are all one voice singing, sometimes aggravatingly, about joy and cheer. And we can’t stop the dark from falling, any more than we can — or should — stop the world from spinning.

But we can stop it from falling on each other and let it stay up in the sky where it belongs.

And that is a real miracle.

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That’s Just Winter!

I actually wrote this a day early because I knew I’d spend today frantically running reports at work and then attending CVG-related meetings in the evening.  On the plus side, Friday gave me the perfect topic for the post, because Friday was COLD.

You know it’s going to be a long-ass winter when you hit record lows for 15 straight days at the end of the fall, and Nov 10th dawns at a whopping 12 degrees F.

Now, note that I write this knowing perfectly well that I’m going to look back at this in February and go “HA!” because 12 degrees in November will feel positively BALMY in February when hitting 0 is an improvement.  But that inexorable inching towards single digits is just an indicator of things to come for Minnesota.

That’s why I wrote “That’s Just Winter” a few years ago.  Because even being born and bred in the northern climes didn’t prepare me for the full-on horror that is a Minnesotan winter, not even counting when the polar vortex decides to vacation in the State of Hockey.  Winter is supposed to be cold and snow and ice — not, “Oh just cut it off, who needs a nose when it freezes solid in 3 seconds and, besides, then I could get the scarf up a little higher and less of my face would turn blue?”

Whenever we perform “That’s Just Winter” live, we get SUCH a laugh up here in Minnesota.  Because they all know it’s TRUE.

The holidays are coming, the Christmas specials and decorations are for sale (UGH.  Spare me.  It is not yet even THANKSGIVING.  Christmas is not allowed until nightfall on Turkey Day.  SERIOUSLY), and we’ve already had snow when it was sunny and ice when it wasn’t and stupid cold for no good reason.

And that’s truly just how winter works up here.

Funny note — Friday was close to single digits, but Saturday was in the 40s and today is even a bit warmer.  Because it can’t be consistent, either.  That would be cheating.

Funny note, the second — recording this particular video was NO fun at all.  Sarah was fine overall, though she got warm by the 2nd or 3rd take in her Candles Enough sweatshirt.  I, on the other hand, was ROASTING; I was beet-red by the last take, which we couldn’t use because I looked like I’d painted my face with actual red paint.  That hat works in -30 degree winds.  I know, I’ve needed it.  It is FAR less pleasant in a heated house.  Ultimately we picked the best recording we had at the time not because it was perfect, but because I was going to have heatstroke if we didn’t stop!

It’s almost…

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