July 31, 2010
It was while I was in the process of moving into a house two blocks away from where I was living that I had long conversations with every neighbor who I’d often briefly encountered during the year when I had lived right next to them.
The quirky man who lives next to my garage heard me sanding an old table and brought over about twenty different electric sanders to see what worked the fastest. The plant man whose garden I had an impressive view of from the roof where I grew my plants saw the sad little pine tree my roommate had thrown away and carried it into his house with confidence there was still some life left in it. The small old woman who lives across the alley happily, and extremely slowly, carried our unwanted kitchen supplies into her house. “I used to do things like move a street over from where I lived,” she said on her way. “That was when I was young and ambitious. My parents thought I was crazy.” My parents, overhearing, smiled and nodded. These are the ways that life changes with age.
And yet, throughout the process of wheeling my container garden up the street to my new house on an old Radio Flyer wagon I’d received from a lovely woman on Freecycle, and while disbursing all our unwanted belongings to the neighbors, and as I restored my trash-picked furniture, I was convinced again and again of the notion that the key to life is to do interesting things. Things that spark up conversations with people you would never meet otherwise. Things that remind strangers of what they haven’t considered doing since they were young. Things that raise eyebrows and elicit questions because they aren’t typical. Collecting conversations and interactions with people in every which way.
May 26, 2009
“If you’re ambitious you’ll have a career path set by your 30s,” the kindly retired man offered in response to my verbalized indecision. His voice had a rambling tone that nearly disguised the knowledge burrowed deep inside of what he said.
He winked his next sentence toward me with new clarity: “Of course, there’s no law that says you have to be ambitous.”
If was liberation to hear aged advice from an older adult that resonated with my now: it’s okay to have an unconventional life’s plan; it’s worth devoting time to poetry if the prospect of it makes me fall in love with mornings; it’s important that our ways to live keep us actually alive.
But the important decision isn’t whether or not to shirk ambition, but to choose what to be amibitious about. Even if it’s something abstract, undefined… ambitious for a feeling that comes from something like sleeping inside warm rain or for a carefree attitude that sings summer or for forgetting about boundaries (like time, like routine) that can’t control as much if we give them less credit.
Our ambition’s directedness creates for ourselves a something to be known.
January 22, 2009
I’ve fallen in love with scraps.
I recently decided to make a quilt, and the hefty task has left me scouring the earth to compile the scraps of other people’s lifestyles. With my recently acquired best friend freecycle, I’ve found myself traveling to various porches and doors of strangers where fabricked surprises like portions of a grandma’s old clothes and patterned remnants of childhood fetishes have been bagged and discarded into my hands.
I must admit that I acquired a lot of junk in my fabric scrap collection endeavors. It’s inevitable to encounter actual garbage inside of piles that other people consider garbage enough to get rid of. But I’ve also collected millions of mismatched pieces that I suspect, if combined in exactly the right way, might actually create something almost good.
I recently accompanied a friend on a trip to the fabric store to acquire large sheets of fabric for the quilt she’s planning. It was great to have endless options before our eyes, but it was also terrifying. New things generally make me a little nervous. Those dumb dollar signs have a way of amplifying mistakes. And there’s such great potential for mistakes in quilting and in life.
I’ll stick with scraps.
So now I have piles of various shapes and styles of fabric scattered about my floor waiting to be endlessly ironed, monotonously sorted, tediously combined, and slowly transformed into something beautiful with endless histories residing inside.
July 22, 2008
As the praise band finished our songs that began the church service on Sunday, we walked with our guitars out into the lobby to put them away so we could come back into the sanctuary with the gospel choir. But we discovered a small difficulty: Erica had left her guitar case at the front of the church. As we instructed one of the church youth who sang with us to get the case, she hesitated, saying, “Church is going on…you can’t just walk up there during the service…”
The youth group leader looked skeptical and replied, “The church is a living and breathing thing. It’s not a play. You’re allowed to move and be alive.”
I couldn’t help but note the significance of that statement.
Our regard of church has become too concerned with flawless presentation, and so we all cringe in agony when the sound system makes obnoxiously loud feedback in the middle of the sermon—not just because it hurts our ears, but because it interrupts the successful smoothness of the church service. I’ve noticed that many contemporary churches have created a fine line between entertainment and worship.
But church is the people.
Since people are far from flawless and do things like let a baby near the sound controls or leave their guitar case in the front of the sanctuary, the movements and mishaps of church embody us and reflect our imperfections.
I used to get completely frustrated by tone deaf voices that stood near me in the choir stands. But, strange as it sounds, after singing in my more perfect-sounding gospel choir in college, I found that when I returned to sing at my home church, the bad notes of voices that clashed with mine were comforting and seemed more alive. Life is nothing smooth or flawless. It’s when we attempt to gloss over our mistakes and present ourselves as perfect that we become even greater hypocrites and liars.
If we spend too much of our energy on Sunday mornings concentrated on getting things just right, we can easily create a nice and entertaining service that is too far removed from our imperfect lives.