Potent message that covers a vast arena of problematic cultural issues.
Really, now—? Was being a member of the inaugural cast of Nashville's Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) in April, 2014, truly "life changing," as I and others involved had dubbed it? Last week, in an internal dialogue, I pondered the question. In the days that followed, numerous experiences and awarenesses affirmed that assessment....This is Nashville. We do story. And, *historically* we have been a kinda bonded, close-knit city guised as a small town. So, it was natural that Nashville LTYM knocked it out of the park and broke national attendance records for a one-night performance. It also was not surprising that our first cast bonded almost like glue. Why? It was more than our city's strong sense of community. It was perhaps that we all stepped from behind the curtain to reveal parts of ourselves that some of us, including me, had never or rarely revealed before. Not to a whole stage. And then a whole world of You Tube. We were giving voice—our own and for others—to the joys, highs, and lows of being a mother, having a mother, a special needs mother pining for an empty nest, a single mother, even not being a mother, and more.
From the first rehearsal and every time we heard her read, one LTYM sister took our breath away when she shared a poem she had written about her mother. Who was this lovely beauty of seemingly quiet strength; enviable poise and grace; and a heart, voice, and presence that felt like warm, gentle, loving embrace and a kiss to our spirits? We came to know her as J'laine. J'laine Vest. We'd come to learn bits and pieces about her life: that she was a published poet (40 to count, plus a book,) a playwright, author of anthologies, and teachers manuals. By the time she finished high school, she had written a book of poetry, a book of short stories, and was halfway through her first novel. She received an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Arkansas. For three years, she was co-director of the Writers In The Schools (WITS) program that taught poetry to students across Arkansas. She has taught English and creative writing at many high schools and colleges, including two years overseas in Prague. And she continued her magic with the fabulous Nashville-based, A Novel Idea, which teaches youth to write prose, poetry, and novels.
Actually, we didn't know all that about her. Because J'laine was much too modest to ever tell any of us these things. Her new friends had to discover them. She reached out to me and voluntarily edited book queries and proposals, press releases, and a non-profit prospectus. Give me more, she'd ask. And mean it. She showed up at Grace's art shows and pop-ups. She was love. She was support. And I am but one of many in several states who experienced some portion of awe and wonder of this dear soul.
We learned late last week that J'laine suffered a freak accident a week ago today. A fracture to her skull caused irreparable brain damage and she died on Monday.
J'laine: thank you for being a part of our small LTYM tribe. Thank you for being a mother to your stepson, daughter, and young son. Thank you for being you. Thank you for gracing us with your presence, though for too short of a time. We are so very grateful that you gave us the following gift of your voice, your essence, and your amazing talent in these words:
Rest in peace, dear one. So many love you very, very much. For our loss, there are no words.
Audition slots for the Nashville Listen to Your Mother, 2015 filled up in rapid speed. (There were 80 slots last year, from which our cast of 13 were chosen.) Can't wait to see the new slate of talent. Mark your calendar. You won't want to miss it: Sat. May, 20, Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Also coming to 39 cities across the country near, on, or around Mother's Day. Ten cities were added this year. Each city will have its unique Listen to Your Mother cast drawing mostly from local storytellers living in the region. View more of our local stories: 2014 Nashville cast. And, nationally, find topics, other cities; 2014, and other years.
Art is a window into the beauty and potential of people with disAbilities.
It all started over a cup of coffee. This is music city. Hit songs are penned upon scratch paper in coffeehouses across town. Last June, my coffee collaboration with talented artist Doris Wasserman didn't birth the blues or even a country tune. But, as many know, music is not the only art medium in this town. This Sunday, 3-5 pm, the public is invited to Harpeth Hall School's Marnie Sheridan Gallery—where Wasserman is also gallery director—to see the work of a variety of talented area artists with disAbilities. The show took wings in Wasserman's mind when I shared about my artist daughter, Grace Goad, who has autism, and the many talented artists I represented via Art Tank, a social enterprise I started and ran last year.
The wings of Wasserman's creativity spread to include Harpeth Hall School's Best Buddies chapter in a group art event, that occurred late November. Artists Gary and Evamarie Oglander and others joined the students and Best Buddy members to create some of the art that's currently featured through Feb. 12 at the gallery. But the artistic wingspan didn't stop there. Also included in the show are a few works by the Nashville Coalition of Art Therapists and some of their clients. Another wing of the teaching gallery, that's a popular exhibition space for many Nashville noted artists, will feature 11 fine artists with disAbilities.
The artists represented in the Art Tank portion of exhibition are challenged by mental illness, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease,) Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disAbilities. However, the emphasis is not on the disAbility but the art.
In general, for artists with disAbilities, making art can be challenging because of various communication, intellectual, and physical hurdles. Often artists with disAbilities lack financial, educational, and social opportunities to promote their work. Therefore, it is of great pleasure and importance to promote and exhibit the excellent and capable work of fine artists with disAbilities for the viewing public.
Featured work, "Urban Conversation," by artist Erin Brady Worsham, who has ALS and creates incredible computer art by minute movements of her forehead to which an wired electrobe connects to her computer.
In a society increasingly driven by the culture of social media, it’s easy to find ourselves living in a fictitious world of Pinterest Perfect and Fantasy Facebook.
You know what I’m talking about.
Kitchens that are never dirty, family life pictured as problem-free. Posts about DIY home and classroom projects you could make if you were the good mother, the better mother, that mother. Not the mother you really are.
Woah. Hold on. Parenting is tough. Sometimes it’s a roller coaster ride. One thing I learned early in my parenting journey was that I had to unpack some emotional baggage to navigate this challenging series of experiences.
Continue reading the rest of my post over at the Wishing Well blog at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Descending the stairs of a restaurant this morning, I spotted his scarf. Fuschia, accented by a bit teal, and a thin stripe of Tennessee Volunteer orange. Next I noticed the perfect cut of the man's hair. The first thought that came to me was not that the stunning fuschia scarf wearer might be a well-dressed homosexual male.* Or a well-coiffed metrosexual. I just noticed the color. Like the fuschia gerber daisies I'd later purchase at Trader Joes, they were a visual gift of joy on this nippy, gray January day.
The man in the fushia scarf sat across from someone who looked leisurely at photographs in an old-fashioned photo album. I could only see the hands of the person across from the man with the scarf. They turned the pages of the album and pointed at the various pictures. When I got to the first floor and rounded the corner, I noticed the person admiring the photo album was a woman I know who happens to be the niece of a well-known former French president. The two coversed in rapid-fire French. Of course! He's French! The scarf. The style! I walked on by because I am only vaguely acquainted with the woman and I was with a friend, engaged in conversation.
Later, I'd think back to what I'd seen. Viva la France! I said to myself. I love France. Wait. Don't we, as Americans sometimes love to hate the French? You know, the stereotype of the rude, snooty Parisians and how they treat us Americans when we venture onto their soil.
It doesn't matter. None of that matters.
Viva la France.
That. Is all that matters. That and the blow they took. The blow we took on 911. Suddenly, last week, the world felt a lot smaller. A lot more vulnerable.
France and the U.S. Both democracies who cherish our sacred freedom of the press.
This week, a blogger in Saudi Arabia received his first in a series of public floggings for publishing derogarotry remarks about Islam. Writer Raif Badawi also published thoughts on free society and freedom of expression.
I am taking my first ammendment liberties a little less casually right now.
In Germany of all places, given their history, people were in the streets protesting immigration and their president's remarks of solidarity with Muslim people. Yet, repeatedly, interviews with the French, following the murder of a satirical publication's editor and the hostage-taking and killings during an attack on a kosher market something very different was said.
"I am Jewish." "I am Islam."
They got it.
Genetically, the French that made those statements may not have been Jewish or Muslim by birth or conversion. Yet, they knew the truth that they were one in humanity.
Wednesday was a particularly frustrating day for me. Taking a break from my troubling situation, I took a hot bath, got out some essential oils, and turned my Pandora channel to Peter Mayer. Like I thought it would be, the music was a balm for my spirit. There are two Peter Mayers and one of them is dear man who lives in Nashville. I like the other Peter Mayer as well. I was happy to hear the Minnesota Peter Mayer's song "The Birthday Party." It was a year ago that I discovered the catchy tune with very wise and timely words. They are even more timely in this month of ink and blood. Listen. (This link is the written lyrics or those who can't access YouTube at work, etc.)
Sssshhh! Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Or, is it just me? This year more than ever, I'm in touch with a stillness this post-Christmas/pre-New Years week. I've named it the "Tween Time." There's a hush in the air that feels sacred, calming, and also hints of the newness to come. For me, it's a time to reflect on the year that's ending, and to ponder remodeling some behaviors to create new outcomes in 2015.
I've published this picture* several times on "The Journey with Grace." Mostly for past New Year's posts. This year, more than ever, it symbolizes how I'm feeling. Lighter. Brighter. Anew. Beginning. I'll be sharing in upcoming posts—with an intended increased frequency**—some major decisions I've made about my life and some projects I'd taken on.
Do you feel the hush of this Tween week? An anticipation? How are you feeling about 2015? Are there changes on your horizon?
*Photo: ©LeisaHammett.com, Western Lake, 30A, south Walton County, Fla., between Grayton Beach and Watercolors/Seaside
May you savor stillness amid the week's rush.
May you cherish some nurture to body and spirit.
May you be renewed for the opportunities awaiting in 2014.
Major changes have taken root here. I'll be sharing them in the New Year. Also, soon, you'll be reading "The Journey with Grace" in a whole new format that's been designed and is being programmed by talented people smarter than me. GraceGoad.com is also finally under reconstruction by this same talented team. After four years of life, her site's flash died and her galleries are not viewable. In the New Year, they'll be back up with an online store. GraceArt will continue to have monthly GraceArt Pop-Up Shows around town and several exhibitions are on the calendar, starting next month.
About the art: The above cropped mixed media (watercolor and pastel on paper) was part of a triptych created by Grace in 2014. The original hung in her April Autism Awareness Month solo show at the Tennessee Art League of Nashville's 5th Avenue of the arts and sold to a buyer from New York. The series was enlarged into giclee prints at approximately 4 x 4 for The ArtAble Collection of Village Green Hills. Grace created another watercolor series, part of which was featured in the previous blog post here. That series will debut soon in the new year in her new Spring/Summer Art Tile and Notecard Series. The old lines are almost entirely sold out. The new series along with the Fall/Winter will be purchasable at our monthly GraceArt Pop-Up Shows and in her new online store premiering in the New Year at GraceGoad.com.
I will no longer shoot peace symbols to people in traffic. Tonight I learned my lesson. About five years ago, I spontaneously started shooting peace symbols to cars in my rearview mirror when they allowed me to cut in front of them or when they allowed me to walk in front of them. And then other times, spontaneously, I've shot a peace symbol, ironically, passive-aggressively when someone honked at me. For that, I immediately do not feel proud, in the second or two later when I assess my energy and intent. (Side note: I hate horn honking in traffic and there's more of it here with the influx of newcomers who don't understand our genteel Nashville ways. "Please don't bring your ugly," I want to yell.) Well, my ugly has been those occasional passive-aggressive peace fingers and tonight I learned my lesson on shooting them.
Grace, Ken and I, with a buggy of groceries, saw a car turn into the garage lane at Whole Foods, but proceeded into the crosswalk, as we mistakenly thought they had seen us and were stopping. We had to halt our passage, however, when we realized this car didn't seem like they were going to stop. I looked quizzedly into the face of the driver behind the windshield and she seemed angry, agitated and baring her teeth. I finished crossing wondering why our passing in the crosswalk clearly marked in several ways, would seemingly agitate her so. And then I turned around and shot her a peace symbol.
Not cool. Passive aggressive.
I was putting my groceries into my car when she came up to me in the parking garage. At first, I was unaware she had approached and that she had already begun talking to me. Her teeth were bared during the whole conversation. What I was able to hear, once I realized she was addressing me was: "Just so you know I was not going to run over you. I'm a nurse and I've been busy saving babies' lives all day. So, I'm tired and my eyes are a little blurry and they aren't seeing well."
I looked surprised and responded calmly: "Well, I didn't think you were going to run over us. But you looked so angry I shot you a peace symbol."
She studied me a moment and then replied angrily: "Well. It didn't look like it!"
At that point, I gasped. I almost never shoot a bird in anger at anyone as I think it is such a sign of hate. "Oh my god," I replied. "No! Two fingers!" And proceeded to shoot her another peace symbol. (No passive-aggressive intent.)
She stood there a couple of seconds longer and bared her teeth at me. And turned toward the store.
Ken, my spiritual mentor, like always, turned it into a lesson. One: any kind of finger motions are likely to be taken wrong. I'd begun to realize that. It was an example, he said, of not knowing what is in a person's "subterranean vault." It came out in this case. (I never looked at her angrily, just confused and surprised. But my "peace symbol" seemingly lit a match to whatever was inside of her. Fatigue, anger, hurt, unrest.) And he added this zinger, which was actually his first remark:
"Can you not react to how a person acts?"
Ahhh. There's the lesson. Remaining neutral. Her reaction, of course, was not about me. As is anybody's. It's about them. As I have cleared the clutter in the vaults of my own subconscious more and more, I've gained more compassion for myself and the ways I've reacted to people in the past and realize more (though I forgot it in a moment of non-neutrality--judgement,) that people are coming from a place (of pain, wounding, grief, abuse...) about which we generally have no idea.
If I'd had no reaction to how she appeared to take our crossing the walk, I would have not passed judgment on her seeming reaction. She'd had a hard day. And how my passive aggressive (ab)use of the peace symbol seemingly set her off.
*The painting in the background of the Chilton Pearce quote is one of GraceArt's new 2015 Spring/Summer coaster-sized Art Tiles. GraceGoad.com is currently under redesign, including an e-commerce component.
Today, Christine Mather, writer and theater educator, returns here, to "The Journey with Grace," sorting aloud "the tragedies and controversies besieging the autism community." Christine thought this post was too off-topic for her blog, Autism Reads, so I offered to give it a platform here. I think you'll agree. Her thoughts deserved to be shared.
[The controversy over this] throws me for a loop. Apparently some of us fear that all people with autism will be dismissed as potential billionaire comedians who don’t need any help. Others opine Seinfeld benefits from this revelation. I don’t get it. How exclusive are we? Seinfeld hasn’t asked for anything, and he’s given generously of his time and talent to many communities [including ours]. So he self-diagnosed. So do thousands of adults. Some get an official diagnosis, some don’t want one.
I do not have autism, but I think of myself as on the spectrum—I am connected to my son. I can’t let grammatical errors go any more than he can. Certain lights and sounds bug me. I get squirrely if people digress, yet digress constantly myself. I’m not saying give me the same resources as my son. I’m saying, we’re more alike than different. Let’s love our neighbors as ourselves and give them what they need.
There is more than one type of autism. I am convinced of this. My math and music son is very different from his age mate who is always in costume, and both differ from kids who use iPads as their main mode of communication, and so on. But, while I think most people believe this, there also seems to be a belief that some types of autism are more authentic or important than others.
How afraid are we? Are we so fearful that we can’t acknowledge that some people on the spectrum have amazing gifts?
There are divides. Posts about the costs of adult diapers remind me how many parents work to just keep their child clean and healthy with diminishing hopes that their child will ever be able to handle the most basic of self-care. Some people with autism need intensive help and services that may exhaust their caregivers. Some may never exhibit special talents, especially not talents that bring money, fame, or independence. Others may contribute many gifts to the community, and yet still need significant help in their daily lives. But we are all unique individuals with our own special way of looking at the world.
What if we looked for and nurtured whatever that way was?
What if everyone thought of themselves as being on the spectrum, and recognized that we all have gifts and challenges? What if we focused on what people need and truly gave them and their caregivers support so that parents and advocates did not have to worry that a celebrity’s casual remark would rob them of desperately needed help?
What if we all deliberately created an inclusive world?
Which brings me to the most serious controversy, are we living in a society that believes people with differences, especially disabling differences, are better off dead? And do discussions about the inadequate services available for people with disabilities add to or bolster that belief? Is it necessary for us to hate and demonize murderers to protect innocent lives? My short answers are no, no, and no. But, of course, it's more complicated than that. But for me, one idea is crystal clear: We need to remember that we're talking about people. Should we kill people who are different? Should we help people who need help?
The belief that death is a blessed release may come from religion (“heaven is better than suffering”) or self-centeredness (“people with disabilities waste our resources”). My experience is there is no way you will convince anyone entrenched in these beliefs to think differently. Faith in an afterlife helps us not fear death, and, to grieve less for those we lose to it. Excluding people who need help, eases our fears that we will not get the resources we need—which goes back to the Jerry Seinfeld controversy.
Those who actually act on the belief that some people are better off dead may or may not be influenced by these cultural attitudes. Most reports describe those who kill their children as having severe mental illness. Their perceptions of the world are so skewed it’s doubtful they have any meaningful understanding of how others think. People with autism are not the only ones who think that everyone else thinks the way they do.
The irony is that recent tragedies have divided people who absolutely agree that we should help each other and not kill people with differences/disabilities. The division occurs because they disagree on where to put all the passion that they feel.
Here's my belief (I don't think my beliefs are "The Truth"). We should honor the dead and serve the living. If the circumstance of the death teach us how we might help a family and save a child, we should learn from them. Hate won't help. The prospect of being universally reviled is not going to stop anyone far enough gone to murder their own child. Love might.
Let us show love for all the living children with their gifts and challenges. Do you love the child screaming in the supermarket? Do you love the child's mother/grandmother/father who screams right back?
If you’ve had the patience to read this far, you probably do. Thank you. Perhaps we can distract the child with a greeting, or give the adult an understanding smile. [The kind that says,] “I’ve been there. I am not judging you. I am wishing you peace."
Then we can go home and write/call/email our legislators to provide insurance/housing/education/career training and other support for people who need these services. The costs may be high, but the costs of not doing so are so much higher.
Really? My eyes widen and I freeze frame, attempting to wrap my head around the context and stern request, to no one in particular, that some woman has just made at a gathering, index finger wagging; or delivered as a warning or hashtag on Facebook or some other social media outlet.
"Don't judge me" has slithered into our vernacular, a verbal ditty casually delivered in seemingly everyday conversation as women explain their faults: what they ate for dinner, what they fed their kids for breakfast, their home's poor state of cleanliness, what they've chosen to wear for comfort.
Stop it! Please. Everyone.
Maybe I'm over-reacting. ("Don't judge me.") Maybe this is just an innocent, cute little hash-taggable saying. Maybe it's more--? Maybe social media, where our current culture (guilty..."Don't judge m..") bears all, solicits the microscope of public criticism.
What is criticism?: A nasty, infusion of negativity that affects ourselves and others when we put people down while, usually unconsciously, attempting to build up our weak self-worth. (Been there. Done that. "Don't judge ...")
So, there's that. Maybe it's just me. ("Don't judg. ...")
Or: Could we choose not to give a damn if others judge us or not?. For the last three years, I've been working on getting to what my spiritual teacher calls "The I Don't Give A Sh*t Level." That I am so based and centered in my own self-esteem--who I truly am versus self-worth built upon what others feel, think, approve of me—that it. Truly. Does. Not. Matter.
It's as if Social Media has created a giant grocery shopping cart of judgement opportunities. The ginormous one perched in front of you at the check out line. The one behind you, the one to the side. The other side. Over there. Those. Them. Spilling out the contents of all the things we choose to judge about others, the junk food (there I go, inferring judgment...but you get my point.)
Here's an incredibly powerful quote by author Joseph Chilton Pierce from Biology of Transcendence, that gives a potent perspective on just how harmful judgment can be:
"Being judged by someone offends us if the judgement is true and more so if it is false. When we accuse or judge another, it has the same effect on us as being judged ourselves. Any judgment we make, no matter of whom, registers in the heart as a disruption of relationship, and the heart dutifully responds on behalf of our defense, shifting in neural, hormonal, and electromagnetic systems from relational to defensive.[...]Reaping with arrogance and sowing with tears."
I'm learning here, folks. With elbow grease, I'm still stripping away nearly 54 years of DNA-infused knee-jerking tendencies to judge all kinds of things about others. But here's the thing: What if I/we consider there are no others? Or, rather, that those others are all us? I mean, that's what Pierce is saying, I think. When we judge others...We judge ourselves.
What do you think?