My brother’s first songs

[This Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table listening to the cassette tape she’d recorded between 1985-1988 of my brother and me saying our ABC’s, singing “Jesus Loves Me,” etc.   It’s amazing to me how early our creative loves developed – I take every opportunity to tell stories; my brother wants to sing.  I took the tape home with me and uploaded it, and so here we are.]

As promised (or threatened, depending on who you are) earlier in the week, here is the recording of my brother’s first recorded performances.

He’s come along nicely in 20+ years, so feel free to check out his music at: ChrstnSmrvllMsc

My First Stories

This Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table listening to the cassette tape she’d recorded between 1985-1988 of my brother and me saying our ABC’s, singing “Jesus Loves Me,” etc.   It’s amazing to me how early our creative loves developed – I take every opportunity to tell stories; my brother wants to sing.  I took the tape home with me and uploaded it, and so here we are.

My first story, which I have henceforth titled “MYSTERY” for reasons that will soon become obvious, was recorded when I was 4.  It’s full of twists and turns and beloved childhood characters, and it is a confusing gem, if I do say so myself.

The second story I guess should be called “Snowball and the B-B-B-B-Big Bad Wolf” and is from when I was 6 and had clearly developed my storytelling skills.

Enjoy.  And yes, my brother Christian is in the background and will later this week be embarrassed with a YouTube upload of HIS first performance.

Zombies, Halloween, and Death

On Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton asks the question, “If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say when you come to the pearly gates?”  Not that Lipton will ever interview me, but if he did I have my answer all prepped – I’ve always hoped God will smirk and be like, “That was interesting.” 

Of all the things I don’t take seriously, death should probably not be one of them.  But here we are.

halloween
Halloween 2011

I think about death probably a little too often.  I’m not sure when this started.  It may have something to do with wanting to be an assassin when I was little.  I also know that my “storylines” when we played as children often ended in my death(s).  Then there’s that recurring drowning dream I used to have where I would wake up choking.  I like mythologies about the undead and have enjoyed playing with the weight of immortality in my own fiction.  I really don’t know what the appeal (if that’s the right word) is, but I know that I’ve never been afraid of being dead.  This may be overconfidence that, when I wake up in whatever life is to come, God’s going to be happy with me and/or I’m not going to be reincarnated as a cow.  It may be that I have an unnatural detachment problem and am a little too curious about whatever comes when I’m gone from here.  But whatever the reason, I’m not afraid of Death.

Don’t get me wrong –  I think dying is terrible and agony is terrible and the pain it causes everyone involved is terrible.  I hate loss, grief, sorrow, sickness, despair.  When I see people cry, I cry (a reaction recently developed, as apparently my soul grew back or something, har, har).  Funerals, saying a final goodbye – all of that is awful.  It is the most painful thing to release someone from their life, our lives, and everything Known.  Suffering comes in some way with every death, and that, if nothing else, is a curse that touches us all.  I DO absolutely hate other people’s deaths.  I become semi-dysfunctional whenever someone I love dies.  I even have an odd reaction of anxiety whenever someone has an accident or goes ill or something – I become incredibly creative.  I don’t know why.  When I am anxious about someone else’s life or death, I go to a place in my head where I can’t stop myself from painting, or writing, or whatever.  It’s odd, I know, but for some reason that is my coping mechanism.

Sidenote:  I first noticed this uber-anxiety about others’ deaths when my great grandmother started fading.  I was a teenager.  Since great grandma lived alone (and there’s a wonderful story about her shooting a gun in her house to get the squirrels in the wall, btw), towards the end each member of the family took turns staying with her at night.  This usually meant my mom, my aunt, or my older cousins, but for some reason one night my mom made me do it.  Alone, with a person who could potentially die any minute, I don’t think I slept all night. It freaked me out.  When I finally got to go home, I remember sequestering myself in my room and writing for hours.

Anyway, while death is bad, I personally am okay with it, if that makes sense.  I accept that, at some point, I am going to die.  I don’t see the point in being afraid or taking it too seriously, letting it haunt this life.  It’s GOING to happen.  I don’t want to die of a long drawn out illness, a painful demise, or go screaming in flames or anything.  I certainly don’t want to leave behind my loved ones or have my life end before I’ve done and seen all I can.  But I find death a little bit fascinating.   It is the ultimate Unknown.  Death is the one thing that happens to us all that none of us can ever know about until it happens to us personally.  It’s the one thing we all have in common.  It’s what makes this life all the sweeter, because we know it’s going to end.  Death happens, and by searching to understand it as much as possible, I think we take as much of the sting away as we can.

My own faith and belief system obviously comes into play here.  That’s probably a big part of why I’m not afraid and have a kind of peaceful relationship with the idea of death.  It probably also explains some of my fascination with whatever comes next.  But the interesting thing to me of late – in this past season of Halloween especially – is that I’m clearly not alone in this curiosity about the afterlife.  I’ve been reading a LOT of zombie fiction lately, and everywhere you look these days there are books, movies, TV shows, etc. about what life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world.  (Don’t get me started on vampire fiction.) We seem really fascinated by the idea of The End and what comes after.  The thing that keeps standing out to me is that we are oddly drawn to the horror of death and kind of romanticize it.  I’m sure this says something about our culture at the moment, and that’s probably enough for a whole other blog post, so I’ll let it go for now.

I’m not saying that we should revel in the idea of death or have a blasé attitude about it.  I do think it is important to prepare for whatever you believe happens at death.  But I don’t think we should fear death or getting old – THERE’S definitely another possible blog topic – to the point that we let fear of the Unknown infect our daily, walking life.  Whatever your belief system, how you live in THIS life matters.  There is plenty to fear and worry about now.  There is plenty to make sure you get right now.  There are other, much more manageable fears to focus on and try to heal.

I know what makes me sad.

I know what makes me hurt.

I know what makes me unhealthy.

I know what makes me guilty.

I know what makes me regret.

THESE are things to fear to the point of doing something about them, if that makes sense.  These are things we have a shot of doing something about.  We’re all going to die – you can’t control that.  What you can control is how you live in this life.  The better you manage this life, I think the easier the idea of death becomes.

So, yeah.  Death happens.  But I guess the point is what we do before it hits us.  Suffering happens.  But I guess the point is how we react to it.  For me, I really do hope I can continue to see death as something that should make me appreciate life and joy all the more, death as the ultimate Unknown that reminds  me to instead focus on those things I can control.

Disneyland for History Nerds

I adore History.  In grade school, I loved hearing stories from different periods.  In college, I once became so engrossed in a lecture about the Roman Empire that I forgot to take notes until halfway through the hour, which I think pleased the professor.  Now, I still love losing myself in stories of the past.  But there’s a catch with reading or hearing or watching stories of history – you lose some of the tangible.  Interpretation creeps in, and distance. It becomes easy to disconnect these stories from reality and make them just like all the fictional stories you encounter.

That’s why, this last summer, I so enjoyed Disneyland for History Nerds – Gettysburg.

My family originally went to Gettysburg for the 125th anniversary.   My brother, who was three at the time, understandably didn’t get much out of it.  His memories are fabricated from our stories.  (One in particular involves my dad carrying me across a small stream, followed by my mom attempting to do the same with my brother.  They didn’t cross without a fall and a soak, and my dad and I were not capable of not laughing hysterically.  We have also not been capable of not bringing this up for the past 25 years.)  My memory – freakish thing – served me quite a bit better.  I remembered climbing rocks, hiking up wooded hills, staring at reenactors as my mom got her birthday picture taken with them, and falling in love with any 7-year-old girl’s favorite – the horse statues.

1000818_645675290901_1372674409_n 1011304_645675260961_244720300_n

So, going back this summer for the 150th Battle of Gettysburg Anniversary was like revisiting a bit of our own family history as well.  This added, I think, to the overall note of reflection and made it interestingly personal.  We made a point of reproducing several of the pictures we’d taken 25 years ago.  We tracked down all the Michigan monuments, and we encountered others doing the same, further adding to “bonding-with-nerds time.”  There was a wonderful sense of brotherhood, of being connected to this momentous piece of our nation’s history, however tangentially.

There were few things about this trip down memory lane that were not moving.  Not only did we interact with this historical place, but we interacted with others doing the same.  History nerds united in a common setting, knowledge, and reverence are a wonderful bunch.  At Custer’s monument, which is out in a field and you’d never know unless you were looking, we encountered a chap from New Jersey who would have chatted enthusiastically for hours with my dad while my mom and I ate bananas in the car and nursed our sore feet.  At the gigantic Pennsylvania monument, I helped a woman scan down the list of the dead to find a relative.  Even the park staff drove around and handed out water bottles to us hikers (like THAT would ever happen at the real Disneyland).  Everyone was just…happy to be a part of remembering.

The thing I will remember most was reenacting Pickett’s Charge with thousands of other tourists and meticulously dressed reenactors.  It was truly one of the most moving experiences of my life, and I sensed the same was true for those around me as we walked in the footsteps of those who’d sweat, stumbled, bled, and mostly died on that deceptively beautiful field.

And that’s another thing – North and South, everyone respected everyone.  Not just tourist to tourist, although I saw Union and Confederate reenactors swapping family stories, which was oddly heartwarming.  The thing that really struck me was that at the time both sides respected each other.  This was a family war.  Sometimes literally brother vs. brother.  Plaque after plaque held quotes expressing one side’s admiration for the other.  Standing on both ends of Pickett’s Charge, you couldn’t help but imagine looking out and feeling the ache of what they were about to do.  Both sides were us.

It was interesting talking to tourists who were not “us” and hearing their somewhat objective takes on “our only real war.”  We encountered people from England, Japan, Scotland – all places with far more history than our baby country.  One English woman I heard saying that it was amazing to her to see how fresh our history was.  “You still have the original trees!”

 1044918_645751118941_953657511_n

Anyway, this all-around closeness, I think, is what makes it all so powerful to actually be there.  You can’t disconnect and consider this just ancient history when you’re actually standing on those fields.  It was not that long ago.  And what happened in our bloody little war was so rough because it was all us.  Everywhere you go in Gettysburg, you read and see and hear stories that make you sympathize with both camps.  Looking down from Little Round Top – which has been carefully preserved so that it feels like you’re back in time…but with cameras – I’m sure I was only one of thousands who got choked up imagining the slaughter that took place there.  Touching history in this way, with thousands of other co-admirers, it stops being just some story, some dates on a page.  This place helped shape our nation.  It changed us.  United us, eventually.  And now, being there, you can’t help feel the weight of it.  You can’t help feel close to it, and the dead.

I’m sure there’s some lesson I took away from all this.  Something about connecting with and touching bits of history to fully appreciate it, certainly.  Something about pulling yourself out of your own head and trying to sympathize with your enemy, certainly.  Whatever lessons I came away from Gettysburg with, it was a wonderful opportunity to experience this with my family once again, relive a bit of our own history, and share in the experience with thousands of other history nerds.  This time around, I definitely appreciated more than just the horse statues.

“Single-Serving Friends”

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.”  — Anne Lamott

“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit.  Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.”  — Buechner

For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club.  However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.

Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people.  Love ‘em, even.  As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head.  As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake.  I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period.  I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them.  Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things.  With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are.  And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful).  Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:

  • Garage Sale Kindred.  During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention.  We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway.  Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums.  Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her.  Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age.  She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag.  The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk.  It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think.  It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared.  Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome.  All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals.  That really was a great unspoken compliment.
  • Smiley Asian Guy.  Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life.  I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
  • Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.

So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people.  But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever?  Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try.  This leads to another favorite quote:

“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card

But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them.  You know each other’s histories.  You know their favorite foods and movies.  You know what makes them angry.  You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more.  However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment.  I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend.  You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click.  Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.

 A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:

  • Shaaaaaaane!  The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least.  One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake.  Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions.  For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered.  I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
  • Rachel K.  A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming.  When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague).  It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing.  Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming. 
  • Second-Favorite Hunter.  I think I’ve told this story before.  Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended.  Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room.  Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand.  Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that.  My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food.  BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made.  I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over.  It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.

Now here’s the flipside.  What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?

For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!).  I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people.  And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.

Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards.  It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with.  (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better.  I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them.  I should be more forgiving of faults.  I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging.  I should…I should…I should.

Sometimes I even do.  I really do try to give more than I take.  I try to be whatever a person needs from me.  It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea.  The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds.  Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry.  So, yeah, a happy medium would be good.  But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me.  Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self.  Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.

There are obvious things I need to work on.  I’m not good with criers.  Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do.  And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace.  I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend.  And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.

So, yeah.  People sometimes surprise you and can change you.  And you can sometimes surprise people.  I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: