One Word 2019: Curious

I don’t know about any of you, but 2018 was exhausting.

I was angry, furious even, with the political climate in America, seeing people I care about being negatively impacted by State-sponsored (or at the very least State-encouraged) hatred, bigotry, and fear.  The #MeToo movement gave me some glimmer of hope that was soon threatened by seeing white men of power, and privilege get a pass, AGAIN, while the women who spoke up were reviled, ridiculed, abandoned, betrayed.  I cling to the hope with all my stubborn strength.

I have grieved for nearly 30 transgender women of colour who were murdered for simply living their truth.  By extension, I have mourned for all my trans brothers, and sisters everywhere who live in the fear that they might suffer a similar fate, who fear assault, abandonment, rejection.

I have felt the nerves that come with learning to speak my truth, and the sorrow when, more often than not, I’ve let those opportunities pass me by.  I have FINALLY started mourning the loss of my father, as complicated as that has been.  I’m learning to have compassion for myself.  We won’t talk about epic shame storms, and the lingering squalls.  I never promised I’d be perfect in 2018 when it came to feeling things, and I still have some problem areas.  At least I did my best not to shy away from feeling all the things.

I felt a deep connection with other fans of my favourite little shit show, an underdog in every sense, as we celebrated its appearance in The New York Times, and at the People’s Choice Awards.  The famdom be little, but we be mighty, and we have absolutely no chill whatsoever.  They helped me remember my love of genre media, comic books, video games.  Their enthusiasm helped reignite my own.  Remembering how I lost that enthusiasm, was painful, and letting myself feel that pain was also good.

Getting off an airplane after 15 hours and setting my own eyes on the Sydney Opera House, and letting myself feel the giddy excitement, as I realized I soon would be standing on its stage, singing a piece that had never before been performed.  I was almost overwhelmed by wonder.  Humbled.  Honoured.  Grateful.

Yeah, I did a lot of feeling last year.  Some of it was enjoyable, some of it was excruciating.

So now what?  In the midst of navigating all these feelings, someone suggested curiosity would be my best friend.  What better choice for my One Word 2019?  It’s a pretty big word.

How about you, friends?  Are you game to be curious with me?  Let’s go!


One Word 2018: Feel

One word.  A reminder.  A focus.  Sometimes it is a wish, a goal, something to aspire to.  In the past, the words I chose, or the ones that chose me seemed to take on a role that was different from what I thought they might play in my life.

My word for 2017 was “energy,” and I paid a lot of attention to how I used my energy, what seemed to feed it, and what seemed to drain it.  I noticed where I seemed to be getting smaller returns relative to the amount of energy I was investing.  My relationships started to change.  Some flourished, becoming stronger and deeper.  Some started to wither.  I became more protective of how I spent my energy.

I took long breaks from social media, no longer willing or able to marshal the energy necessary to insulate myself from people who did not share, and seemed unwilling to respect my outlook on life.  I began to withdraw from relationships where I felt constantly assaulted by criticism, and negativity.  I became increasingly protective of my energy, wanting to spend it wisely, but also to spend it where I felt it might do the most good.

Towards the end of the year, it occurred to me that one of the areas that might benefit from an investment of my energy was myself.  I started the hard work of trying to heal from the pain of losing my father, something I don’t think I’ve ever done properly or adequately.  I started paying attention to patterns of behavior that don’t benefit me or that have held me back.  During all of this work, there has been a recurring question: “What do you feel?”

I had learned to see every event in my life from someone else’s perspective.  I’d learned to understand that someone’s fear for my well-being might manifest itself in anger.  I’d learned to interpret silence as an indicator of how badly I had hurt someone I cared about.  I’d learned to make allowances for other people’s life experiences, pain, or naïveté.  I had even interpreted my own traumatic events in ways that somehow extended mercy or grace to another, while leaving none for myself.  I couched this perspective shift in terms of compassion, sympathy, even growth, but, in the process, I  denied that I have paid a very real emotional price for such understanding.

My word for 2018 is “feel.”  I’m giving myself permission to feel sad over even an understandable change in a friendship.  I’m giving myself permission to feel angry when someone lies to me.  Again.  I’m giving myself permission to feel joy over my nephew’s engagement.  I’m giving myself permission to feel deep gratitude for the people who have not given up on me.  It’s my nature to try to be understanding, but I’m going to try not to be so understanding that I deny how I have been affected by another’s actions.

Happy New Year, friends.  This year will, no doubt, come with some growing pains, and I want to feel them all.

One Word 2017: Energy

Until a few years ago, I had never heard of a word for the year.  I’m now heading into my third year of selecting a word or concept to help me focus, to try to put a context around the choices I make, the paths I journey, and the challenges I choose to face.

My word for 2016 was “valour,” and I thought I had done a poor job of living up to my word (and my ink).  There were no specific highlights where I had made a principled stand, or had done something very far from my comfort zones, although there was that time in July. . . .

A couple of days before Christmas, I sat down on a bench overlooking Crown Hill Lake, and thought about the work I had done, the steps I had taken, often unawares, to dismantle the crappy models I had inherited, the efforts to do things differently because God knows the usual way of doing things wasn’t working.  I gave thought to the advances I had made in my personal life, the refinements of some the revelations of two years ago, the clarity I was beginning to get.

You know what?  It takes a lot of courage, integrity and honour to examine your life and heart, to be willing to face truths it might be easier to overlook, and to make the effort to change the things you don’t like.  I’m not saying I did it perfectly, but I was a lot closer to living a life of valour in 2016 than I was to living a wild life in 2015.

And so I came to regard 2017.  Like many people I know, I have found my confidence in the institutions of this nation rocked severely.  For the first time in my life, I feel almost paralyzed by dread, and apprehension.  For the first time in my life, I realize that my voice is one that could be silenced, that I am well beneath the power band.  Yet, even as that thought crosses my mind, I realize that there are those who will lose very much more if, as many of us fear, the worst-case scenario ends up being the best-case outcome.

Hodie Christus Natus Est” by Jan Sweelinck is a song of incredible jubilation and reverence.  It’s a piece I have loved since the first time I sang it.  It’s also a piece that has scared the pants off of me.  The second soprano line is sprinkled with these bold, high Gs, and there’s no way to hide from them.  Before this last December’s concert, I had approached those high Gs with a mixture of foreboding and dread.  My shoulders would start to climb around my ears, my throat and jaws would tighten, and what sound squeaked out of my mouth was invariably thin and flat, and that’s if anything came out at all.

This December, however, I had learned to trust that my body knew what it was doing.  I had learned to relax into the high Gs, let the breath fill me, and let my body do what it needed to.  And when I opened my mouth to sing, the high Gs were there, solid, steady, and strong.

“Fear is energy.  That’s all.”  That’s what Lynn said to me when I tried to explain this wonted mixture of inadequacy, consternation, and near-panic and its subsequent alteration.  “The question is: What are you going to do with it?”

And so my word for 2017 is “energy.”  How will I spend the energy gifted to me?  How will I nurture it?  What will I do to create enough space in my life that I can take the fear, the rage, the joy, the love, the strength, the weakness, the mystery and the certainty and DO something with it? How will it remake me, and I it?

I am still filled with a great deal of trepidation, but for the first time in weeks, I’m beginning to feel something akin to hope.  I just need to make space for the energy, and then get out of the way.

Happy New Year, friends.  Let’s do something constructive with our energy, whatever form it takes.

One Word 2016 – Valour

A personal revelation late in 2014 led me to the conclusion that my word for 2015 would be “Wild.” I anticipated spending the year exploring what this revelation might mean, trying on a new way of being, a new way of looking at the world, and my place in it. Instead, I think another “W” word proved to be more apt: “Wrecked.”

I made a complete bollocks of something that meant a lot to me, turning into the kind of woman I despise most in all the wide world, however briefly. That said transformation was even possible sent me into paroxysms of shame and self-loathing. I wished most of 2015 had never happened.

In a sense, my one word for last year was accurate. It was unpredictable, uncontrollable, irrational, uncivilized, raw. I was especially fond of “uncivilized”, given my metamorphosis into “she who must not be allowed in polite company.”

I had my bright spots, personal victories that convinced me I might finally be growing into my calling, moments of laughter, and even joy that lightened my heart.  There were reunions with old friends and finding them new again, and reunions with relatively new friends and finding them as comfortable as my oldest and closest. But over all of the joy and laughter, the spectre of damaged relationship lingered, and the year was marked by several months of soul-searching – okay more like self-incrimination and self-castigation.

The soul-searching gave way to a kind of resignation, a generalized despondency that weighed me down and the autumn has left me feeling that I’d really like to enter WITSEC, crawl back into my cave and seal it up. Just disappear.

That’s actually a very real danger for me. I was very young when I started believing the lie that I am dangerous. Every hurtful, bone-headed, insensitive, unkind, stupid, mean, arrogant, awkward thing I have said or done has “proven” exactly how dangerous I am. The only counter to the danger has been a kind of exhausting hyper-vigilance, and isolation. Knowing how much my carelessness hurt my friend? Yeah. Every instinct I have has told me, and is telling me to rebuild the walls high and thick, a permanent quarantine designed to minimize collateral damage.

I think we all know what it would cost to attempt that, not to mention how effective.

And so here I am, still grieving the consequences of my actions, still fighting the urge to hide, still trying not to pick up the mortar, trowel, and bricks. I’m still trying to remember that I am not dangerous.

I recently got my first tattoo, a Hebrew phrase that resonated with me on a soul-deep level the first time I heard it. It is a phrase that reminds me that I am stronger than I think I am. It is an acknowledgement that I survived my past, although not without scars. It is a reassurance that I am neither bound to my past, nor am I defined by it.

Eshet chayil

It reads “Eshet chayil” – woman of valour.

And so my word for 2016 is “Valour”. For me, the word means more than simply “brave”; it also holds the nuances of integrity, and of honour. It is a challenge to face the things I would normally flee from, and find the honourable way of negotiating their courses, of taking the harder path of integration, wholeness, and truth.

“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” – Raymond Lindquist

And that’s what I want to do this year: to let go of the familiar, but false.  More than that, though, I want to learn to grow into the promise of my ink.

Happy New Year, friends – to valour!


Hi! And What’s Your Name?

Oh – hello!  Wow, it sure is bright out here in the blogosphere.  How long does it take for your eyes to adjust to all this anyway?  I mean, it’s so colourful and bright and vibrant and, and colourful!  And just look at all of you out there, so many of you.  Some of you are pretty new to this type of conversation (Hi Michelle!) and some of you have been doing this a long time.  I know because I’ve been reading your blogs for quite a while – thank you by the way, for letting me eavesdrop; you’re so expressive and creative and insightful and . . . .

Okay, now I’m feeling just a little bit intimidated.  Maybe I should just quit while I’m ahead and go back to the cave?

Well yes, it is dark in there.  It’s damp and even slimy in some places, but I know where that stuff tends to lurk and I don’t spend much time in those corners anyway.  The colour isn’t bad, if you don’t mind everything looking like it may be a week or so past its freshness date.  Oh, and there isn’t a lot of room to stretch.  After a while, you get used to the permanent ache across the middle of your back and the bump on your head that just never seems to go away.  There certainly isn’t much room to grow, but . . . .

The cave isn’t perfect, but it does have a lot of upside.  The boundaries are very clearly defined, so I know what’s expected.  I’ve become very efficient at fitting as much into every corner as I possibly can, making the most of the space I have available.  I’ve lived here in the cave for a long time, so I know it intimately; nothing takes me by surprise.  Contrary to what you may have heard about some caves, mine is very stable.  It was formed out of a strong, rugged New England independent mindset coupled with an intensely English sense of order.  Throw in a blue-collar work ethic (from both sides) and a sprinkling of military discipline learned in childhood (courtesy of the US Air Force) and my cave is as solid and reliable as they come.  It’s small, to be sure, but I like the idea of being cocooned.  I feel safe, protected, sheltered.

It’s lonely in the cave.

There’s no one to talk to, no one to say “Is it just me?” and no one to answer “Nope, I’m right there with you.”  I read a lot and I listen to a lot of music and I write a lot, but there’s no one to share it with, not in the way that matters.  Visitors, as infrequent as they are, tend to be excessively polite to the point of being annoying.  When I cry (again) during the second movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez, I only hear my own sobs echoing.  Am I the only person who thinks that second movement is among the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of music ever written?  I hope not, but I’ve been in the cave all this time and it isn’t connected to anything else, so I don’t know for sure.

I’ll bet some of you have been in the cave too, haven’t you?  Do you remember what it was like when you first wondered if there was anything beyond the cave walls?  Do you remember that day when your heart just told you in the most emphatic way possible that you were not created to hide in a cave, hoarding your secrets and your gifts and your self like Gollum beneath the Misty Mountains?  What was it like when you just had to find out if you were the only person who saw the world the way you did?  And it didn’t even matter if you were the only person with that perspective.  Being authentic had become more important than being safe and the only way to be truthful was to leave the cave.

I don’t quite know what I’m doing, to be honest.  I feel like I did on the first day of a new school when I was a little girl.  Will I fit in here?  Will I make friends?  How much do I have to catch up on?  Will the homework be too hard?  Where do they stand on the Adidas versus Nike issue?  What’s that really cute boy’s name and will he ask to hold my hand some day?

My name is Carryl and I’m new here.  I know I’ll make mistakes.  Probably a lot of them.  I’ll be awkward and random at times, but I hope you’ll be patient with me.  Don’t write me off as a total dork just yet.

Now, does anyone have a pair of sunglasses I can borrow for a while?  How about some sunscreen and a floppy hat?