Tag Archives: Ani Difranco

Lily in the Valley

Vernon Bush

I learned a new gospel song last weekend from friend and superstar Vernon Bush called Lily in the Valley.  Words, “there’s a lily in the valley… a bright and glorious star…” lots of times, followed by a bunch of “amens.” It’s a good song. An uplifting song. It’s a simple, joy-filled tune about finding the good.

Finding the good is easy to do, I find, when I’m not in a valley. But today was a swampy, off-kilter, oh-no, not-at-all-comfortable-in-my-britches kind of low down yuck day, and now I’m not in bed yet because I don’t want to go to sleep feeling bad.  My brain, my darling brain, is a broken record, tormenting me with its perpetual skipping to the accumulated list of everything that went so very wrong today.  It is instant gratification, like eating a whole roll of cookie dough (if you like that kind of thing) to review and add to this list.  It feels like I’m in an endurance contest of trials and each of these wrong things is a notch in my belt. I grow ever more righteous, resentful, frustrated and victimized as the day progresses.

And I find, after focusing all day on this list, that I feel like I missed a day of my life.  I had a few good moments there, where I stopped the record for a time or pulled the reigns in on the momentum, but then another thing would go wrong and I was kicking the dirt again.  It is compelling now, to want to review the day in a kind of audit, making a power point presentation out of it and putting big yellow arrows at all the moments when I made poor choices.  Or big red warning signs on situations I walked into that I know tend to make me grumpy.  I think about all the decisions I could make – wear different clothes, do more yoga, drink more water, quit my job, never talk to people again – that will save me from this fate in the future. I’ve done this for 34 years.  It hasn’t worked yet.

How to stop, so wholly and completely, that the strength of the momentum of this habit can’t take me on it’s ride?  It feels today like turning physics on its head.  A thing in action tends to stay in action.

This is why I write.

Somehow, somewhere, whenever I sit down to write and ask a sincere question, the answer comes.

Just like that.

Now it came, like a tiny whisper from deep in the canyon of my left ribcage, saying “Make a list of the lillies.”

Ok then.

Things I loved about today:

  • Pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
  • Fresh laundry.
  • The neck crack I’ve been waiting for for weeks.
  • Sweet and kind words on my blog from friends and strangers.
  • Saying hi to the new guy, and knowing I made his day better.
  • A confirmed “yes!” from a donor for a $500 sponsorship.
  • Singing along with Ani Difranco in the car.
  • Firefighters.
  • Kittens.
  • This perfect, dark, crickety, warm night, and the pjs I’m about to climb into.
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Of mountains and molehills

It’s late and I have to get up in six hours.  It’s been weeks and weeks and weeks since I’ve written regularly though, and I’m determined to prove to myself that typing a few words is not pushing a boulder up a mountain.  I wrote two whole posts last week and had internet problems so I didn’t post them, and when I re-read them later they felt forced and inadequate.  Blah.  I’m sticking my tongue out at my inner critic right now.

I’m just going to say a nighttime prayer (I wish that word wasn’t so associated with churches and bibles) to this infinitely supplied universe, full of things that are healing and nurturing and fulfilling. Heirloom tomato pizza, suprise path crossings with old friends, singing(!), Ani DiFranco’s new album, the nighttime that is serenading me with crickets.

For the majority of you with whom I’ve lagged in contact, here’s an update in five minutes or less:

  • I’ve moved 12 times since July.
  • I’m luxuriously perched atop a Big Sur ridge in one place for a whole month, as of Saturday.
  • I went to Colorado for 10 days and saw changing Aspens and old friends.  I love Colorado, changing Aspens and old friends.  I saw my cat and three ex’s.
  • I’m teaching myself how to play guitar with “Guitar for Dummies”.  I know 16 chords and am very, very proud of myself.
  • I’m single for the first time in 10 years.
  • I’m taking a three month Zen class with Cheri Huber remotely, using conference calls and e-mails.  My assignment: do something that a) nourishes my heart and spirit and b) will earn me $500 in three months.  I think this is scary and implausable and fantastic.
  • The neighborhood skunk just waddled by the open door and gratefully decided against coming in for another cat food feast and four hour nap under my bed.

I’m back!

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The call to greatness

I saw my friend Ani Difranco again last night, in concert this time in Santa Rosa. And I indoctrinated Yossi, who it was a treat to share with, especially since he really liked her. Truly, as I watched I wondered how anyone couldn’t – if not appreciate her music, style or perspective, at least honor her presence on the stage and in the world. What a shining star.

I’ve seen Ani in concert for 15 years, and while it’s been a few since I saw her last, I was prepared for the familiar schizophrenic ongoing internal dialog that invariably accompanies the ticket price.

Audience member Lisa A: “Oh it’s the Becky song! Remember Beck, how you always sang that line “you are by far the cutest?”

Lisa B: “Yes. I was feeling the Texas of my heart today in the car. That’s it exactly.”

Lisa C is busy adding harmonies and riding the guitar picks like electrical surges.

Lisa D: “She is so obviously doing what she was meant to do. Wake up! It’s time for Lisa to be Lisa.”

Lisa E: “She’s existed in the world for a year more than me and has released 21? albums. What the fuck am I doing? Where has my creativity gone? Lisa, you have so much potential and you’re wasting your life. You’re still not even sure who you are. What distinguishes me from everyone else in this anonymous crowd? I hate crowds. We’re all hypocrite cattle, cheering at every cry for rebellion and independence while we’re all sitting here in the dark fantasizing to the tune of “I want her to see and love and validate ME!” If I met her tonight, what would I say? What is my offering? I bet she doesn’t watch TV.”

Ok, I suspect that audience member E. is actually a few voices, but I’ve lumped them together here for the purposes of recognizing that none of what they have to say is helpful. The simple act of going to a concert for me is a complex brew of enjoying the familiar, identifying with the artist, appreciating the music, being inspired, and then tumbling down the hill in comparisons, judgments and self-consciousness.

Fully aware of and prepared for this last night, I suited up for the show with all the resources I could muster after what had been already a long and challenging day. And I managed largely to hold the cruelest forms of “voices E” at bay. I focused on voice D instead. The voice being nourished by inspiration – the voice who in seeing Ani shine felt my own call to greatness. And I knew that true calls to greatness are not laced with barbs and they don’t get report cards. They happen of their own accord, in their own time, each with their own unique manifestation.

I don’t know what happens in everyone else. But I’ve seen and heard enough to believe that the call for greatness is a common if not universal experience. Greatness not being confused with fame or glory, though greatness often inspires followings, but greatness of embodied spirit. It’s a recognition, a flowering, an excavation of the divinity that has been inherent in our beings all along.

I feel the tingling of this inside myself many times a day. And then I see the 184,256 things that are in the way and if I don’t just drown in hopelessness right then and there, I get tripped up by #4 or #58 or #184,255. It takes a special kind of inspiration, or maybe more commonly a desperation, to plow all the way through, which is why I don’t see it much when I look around. But I’m attracted to people who I see making a go of it, and my spirit lifts immeasurably to be present for someone who just hit another six barriers but did it anyway. We see this a lot in people with life-threatening illnesses. People who are adequately nursed with an urgency to go beyond their habitual, self-imposed limitations. I’ve looked deeply at the invitation in more than one dark night of the soul – the stark choice – climb the impossible mountain or deny my life force and die inside.

And last night I recognized all those voices of stopping as being a barrier that keeps me from my greatness. And for some reason, whether inspired by Ani or just following my own evolution, I felt the urgency more profoundly than I ever have. And the urgency dramatically loosens the grip of fear and dread. The voices that normally stab me and sit me down transformed into little stings to brush off.

There is NO TIME TO WASTE. As Ani said in one of her songs last night “We’ve got ourselves a serious situation down here.” There is no time for self-pity and misery and stopping. Today I’ve been visited by at least 238 of the things I do and think that stop me and I haven’t had breakfast yet. But at this moment each one feels like a calling. Beckoning me to climb it, drop it, cut through it here and now because there’s a life I have to live.

It’s tempting to throw it all up in the air together and say I’m done and I’m starting over. I’ve attempted this before and it ends badly. My knowing is that each one of these things is something I have to look at in the face and say no to. One by one. I just have to trust it will all happen perfectly and drop me off in the middle of my greatness on the other side.

On to breakfast.

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Just you and me

I’m alone in a hostel in Sausalito tonight. A private room, as private as hostels go, that smells like a boy’s dirty socks. I’m attempting to remedy this with tea tree and eucalyptus soap-covered tissues that I’ve placed strategically around the room and I feel like a new-age MacGyver. It’s quieting down and I’m fading, but am drawn to write nonetheless.

Hostels tend to bring out my already predisposed leanings toward loneliness. So do going to concerts by myself, which I did tonight before coming here. It’s aloneness surrounded by people, which for me shines a bright light upon the way I relate, or rather often don’t relate with the world. I told my therapist this week that there are two chairs in relationship – expressing and receiving – and that I’ve spent WAY too much time in the receiving chair. I realized later that I actually haven’t been in either chair. I’ve been watching and reacting to other people, and most of the time I’m not only not receptive, but I actively shut down my receptivity from this place – spending a whole lot of time in relationship with myself. And all the watching becomes isolation that turns quickly into loneliness and resentment. So much so that it’s paved a well worn road to depression and despair.

The concert tonight was actually a public lecture – an interview with Ani Difranco at the Palace of Fine arts in San Francisco. She’s been a longtime source of musical, social and personal inspiration – I feel like I’ve grown up with her. It’s bizarre to feel like this with a stranger. A completely one-sided friendship, that on my one side, has been full of complexities and growth and emotion. She’s just a stranger I’ve watched and listened too more than the average person – while I go about having my reactions and relationship with myself. So I decided to really pay attention tonight to what relationship I’m having exactly. I listened, I received Ani’s offerings and felt nourished. And afterward came a strong and natural wave, of hunger for dialogue. I felt enlivened and inspired, and I wanted an outlet to share the new creations that were brewing in me with these new ingredients.

This is my practice. It’s why I decided (and re-decided, and re-decided) to start this blog. To feel fulfilled experiencing relationship in this way – this most basic giving and receiving that has been the primary developmental gap in my life. And I am already finding wells of vitality in me that have been long hidden. Since I started this blog I feel like a fountain has been turned on, and the more I express the more I want to receive and the more I want to express. This is what relationship is. I’m alone right now, writing in a strange, stinky room without knowing who, if anyone, will read this. But in writing I am learning how to find and speak what is inside of me. And if you are here receiving my little offering, it may grow something in you. What else on earth is there for us to do?

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