human machinery

it's time you knew:  i'm a mechanical engineer.
i don't usually like people to know.  it intimidates them
especially the english majors.
but here, look i'll show you:

i drew a machine for you.
and it's fairly obvious that i understand the inner workings of pistons and what not.
okay, tuck this away in the back of your brain for a moment.  i'll be right back to it.

do you ever feel overwhelmed by your lack in certain areas?
lack of ability?  failing in one area (okay 6 areas of your life) over and over again?
no noticeable improvement or growth at certain tasks?
you see people who seem to excel with gifts or strengths you wish you had.
like this drawing for example.  some of you are struck with a deep deep covetousness right now, because YOU cannot draw and understand machinery like me.  don't worry you are not alone.

thomas merton, my monk buddy says,
"if we live our lives for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be 'as gods.'  we will see that we are human like everyone else,
that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play an important role in all our lives. 
it is because of them that we need others and others need us."

i think, "but that doesn't feel good, thomas."
i don't know what to do besides try, try, try to "get fixed."  granted, it never quite happens, and i spend most of life frustrated.  but being let "off the hook?"  well, that seems almost sacrilegious.
besides what if some of my "deficiencies" are big ones, that hurt others?
it's a quandary, i tell you.

"on the hook" and "off the hook" are things i understand.
recently i realized that often if anyone says, "i want to talk to you about something," i assume i'm about to be corrected or disciplined.
that seems unhealthy.
why do i assume that?
is my conscience that unclean? 
i think it's more that -- well, for one, i'm being pretty self-focused--but two, in my mind I'm always guilty of something, and i'm always on the hook.  legitimately too.  i screw up a LOT every single day.

i think God is all about the hook too.  however, i think His focus is on letting us off the hook.
but we try to keep hanging ourselves back up on the hook.
i don't think He's tricky and trying to make things complicated.
i think He's just like, "Get off the hook already.  Stay off the hook.  The rest will work out, Honey."

so for the big and little deficiencies, we're off the hook.
and as for the frustrating weaknesses,
merton says "we are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another."

(this is really good enough to post twice)

and when i see this in my mind, we're like one big human machine of pistons and arms moving up and down, popping out peppermints or something.
oh?  you couldn't tell those were peppermints?  don't feel bad.  probably you just went to a liberal arts college.  you have other gifts, i'm sure.

but in this machine i picture metal arms and joints, some pushing up with force, some easing down passively, then reversing...taking turns, up and down.
and as humans, we're sometimes actively doing what we are strong in, and other times, passively coasting while the other people are moving with strength where they're gifted.  all at the same time.

you can feel it in marriage, friendships, working relationships, parenting, dating...
but the main thing is that you feel it in relationship.
communion with others.
you don't feel it so much when alone.
which is the point, i guess.

[insert your own perfect wrap up sentence here]

"The Whistler" by Mary Oliver

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not

It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? 

I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. 

As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, 

the sounds war-
bled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle.
And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions.
And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?

(I can't whistle. So I guess this will happen with Chris' second wife).

"once there was a man
who wrote a symphony based entirely
on the arrangement of birds on the power lines outside;
it's called sing any object into place." 

[poem by cole swensen]

i like to think that maybe this how we find our place in the world...
that humans aren't puppeted and placed as much as sung and beckoned to our spots.

nursing homes and stand up comedy

i keep meaning to tell y'all this interesting thing...
especially some of the stand up comics, because they'll be able to picture this.
but also some of you friends who ask when i'm going to do comedy again.
i only did stand up for about a year. i liked it. oodles.
but when i started working, things got busy and i stopped.
i got a job at the library delivering books to homebound senior citizens and nursing homes.
it's quite exotic and lucrative.
but also very righteous and holy.
and it pays a lot, so i'm also making that fat bank roll.
almost as much as i made doing comedy.
basically i'm like a mother theresa / kardashian hybrid, and everyone wants to be me.
(most of the aforementioned is lies)

anyway, the interesting part is that after i'd been at the liberry for a few months, we decided i should do outreach programs at some of the retirement villages (nursing homes).
(they always have names like "village" or "manor" or "harbor" even though there is zero water or jaunty nautical attire).
i was given the option to do anything, i.e., readings, book clubs, topical units on old timeyish things, whatever.
BUT because we have this musical guy here, Thomas Kozak / singer of Kozak and the Poets / banjo teacher extraordinaire / former sketch comedy guy, we schemed up something different and altogether non-bookish.

and y'all.
guess what we get to do. and i do mean GET to.
twice a month, we go to the villages and lead singing.
i can't even sing, and i'm STILL allowed and paid for it;
we get to give away candy (although i discovered you should ask first bc there are a lot of diabetics out there who will say they're allowed to have it and maybe pretend they forget afterwards);
play games or ask trivia questions in between songs and give away prizes even when no one is ANYwhere close to having the right answer (which happens a lot)
most importantly,
walk around and pat and touch every single person if we want.
and i always want.

okay, the way this ties into comedy is that for the comics who knew me best, when i planned sets, i was pretty much always looking for an excuse to walk around in the audience.
and touch people.
not emotionally--- but like TOUCH them.
because i'm a back patter and a hugger.
i made up whole sets that revolved around me sitting on someone's lap.
and i just wanted to hand out candy and prizes the entire time.
and find out every audience member's name.
because i stink at a lot of things, but i'm kind of good at names for some reason.
(I don't know how much comedy you've seen, but this is NOT how it works)

it's even ENCOURAGED.
i can meet every single person who comes to the program, because there's a lot of awkward waiting time while everyone gets "rolled in" to the village meeting room.
i carry gobs of candy.
and prizes and treats.
i get to hand out bells to shake or sticks to clack along with the music.
i get to pat and prod everyone, because old people are relaxed and like it and will pat you back.
okay, i don't sit on laps, because these laps are fragile and frail.
but i've perched on a wheelchair arm.

does it sound like the worst job in the world?
you know it might be, but it is my favorite thing.
and i'm either the worst or the best at it.
I haven't decided which yet, but I like it enough for the audience and me.

my pocket fairy

I gave this tiny book to Chris as a gift.
Two days later I took it back.
Then I reached my gecko fingers onto a scanner to show you.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk from Kentucky.
I don't know what that means either.
But I love him.
He's cute and profound, and in my mind's eye he is a tiny wizened elf.
And if he doesn't like that image, his words should not be published in adorable fairy books.

My one beef is with his hair.
He is just "regular human bald" as opposed to "monk bald."  I want him to have a donut of hair with a shiny bald spot in the middle.
Also he is wearing some sort of Urban Outfitters jacket.
He could be monkier, I guess.
Other than that, I am a big fan.

False Selves
My pocket fairy Thomas discusses false selves and real selves.  He says our false selves are identities we cultivate to function in society.  Our real selves are a deep religious mystery known entirely only to God.  Of course this resonates with us, because haven't you always sensed you were mysterious and fascinating?  And perhaps the world is missing your wondrousness, because they are distracted by your ponytail and yoga pants. 

But in all seriousness, we feel that tension, don't we?  In standup comedy, the goal is to find your voice.  Same goes for writing, poetry, painting, any expression of art I suppose.  However, I feel it in everyday life, don't you?  As if what you truly feel and value is always at odds with what you express.  Constantly feeling as if you misrepresent yourself...can't quite get it "right."  "Right" meaning your heart and soul's truth.

It is difficult to get through our hard candy shell and into our soft chocolate center, because of  
1) how we cover ourselves, and
2) how the world covers us.

Tom says, "I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface."

I know.
That bandage line is some deep shit.
It hurts my heart.  Does it hurt yours?  Maybe not because you're reading it secondhand.  Might as well be a meme. 
But I think of my hobbies and the ways I pass the time, the way I package myself for others, and I feel a little sad.  Then I think of you doing the same, and how it's hard to get down to your center which is probably soft and interesting.
And I feel very sad for all of us and what we are missing.

Ironically, as a society we are a people who are encouraged to put it out there, be real, genuine.  And to be fair, we certainly seem to let it all hang out on social media. 
But maybe something is skewed. 
Maybe the issue is how we value our true self.  I think we throw ourselves out there sometimes defiantly, as if to say, "That's right.  That's me.  I dare you to hate it."  When really, we already dislike ourselves, and the real dare for ourselves and others is to love it.

"Alienation begins when the culture divides me from myself, puts a mask on me, gives me a role I may or may not want to play.  Alienation is complete when I become completely identified with my role."

"The man who sweats under his mask, whose role makes him itch with discomfort, who hates the division in himself, is already beginning to be free.  But God help him if all he wants is the mask the other man is wearing, just because the other one does not seem to be sweating or itching.  Maybe he is no longer human enough to itch."

Elf Tom is encouraging us to peel away everything, the masks, the bandages.  Maybe we are afraid there won't be anything good remaining. 
I think about our souls.
You can live without limbs, eyes, ears, mouth...we have a lot of extra parts, and thank God for that. 
But if you scaled down to the deepest truest part of yourself, what would be left?
I know this; what would be left, would be ENOUGH.

"If I do not know who I am, it is because I think I am the sort of person everyone around me wants to be.  Perhaps I have never asked myself whether I really wanted to become what everyone else seems to want to become.
Perhaps I do not admire what everyone else seems to admire.

If I realized this, maybe I would begin to live after all....
Liberated from saying what I do not think and acting in a way that betrays God's truth and the integrity of my own soul."

Hmmm, maybe so.
Maybe so.

Love and fairy wings,
Pam & Tom Thumb