Writer’s Block Sucks

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I’ve always felt like the key to writing is an 80% happiness quotient. Any less, and you’re too messed up to think, any more, and you’ve got nothing to write about. Cynical? Maybe. True? Oh yeah. For me, at least.

This week, though, I’ve realized that another impediment to writing can be too many unfocused thoughts vying for attention. That’s where I find myself today.

Last night, as those of you who saw my rant on Facebook this morning already know, I fell into a Twitter wormhole. I’ve been doing that all too often lately. Last night it was over racism directed at China. The post was a news post about Andrew Cuomo thanking China for donating ventilators to New York. If I’d left it right there, it would have been a feel-good story moment, but no, I’m not smart enough and/or disciplined enough to do that. I have to proceed to the comments.

And they were vile. Why is he thanking China and not our government? Uh, your government hasn’t delivered? They probably won’t work anyhow. Uh, like the ones that were sitting in the warehouse your government left unattended? China started this virus, anyhow. Uh, I got nuthin. You’re just dumb and racist and I don’t like you. By the time I got to the one quoting the scripture verse, Faithful are the wounds of a friend but the kisses of the enemy are deceitful, I was out of control, full rant. And like always happens when I vent like that, I felt better immediately, then ashamed.

I want to be a loving person. I want to be kind. I don’t want to be out of control and rising to twitter bait. I also don’t want to be afraid to speak the truth. Doing it in love, though, now that’s the catch. So, I deleted Twitter. Not my whole account, but the app on my phone that lets me access the crazy way too easily. Until I find the self-control to use social media responsibly, I shall not participate. I could be gone awhile.  So, that was last night. Well, 2:30 ish this morning.

I actually set an alarm this morning — trying to mend my nocturnal ways before they are too entrenched to ever remedy — and even got up when it went off. One of the first things I did was check on my Facebook rant. I’d left it up, see, which I generally don’t. Somewhere inside me, I am aware that I am not a politician, and that is not my fight. This view wars with the view that I am a global citizen, and my responsibility to foster and promote human decency occasionally gets the best of my self-censoring survivalist ways. So last night, I left my rant up, fully expecting to be taken to account. Instead, there were a lot of hearts and even a nice reply. The likes came from some unexpected sources. Conclusion: I am not the only Christian frustrated with some of the behaviors being termed Christian these days.

I had a list in mind of today’s activities. I was going to start with yoga. The dog put the kibbutz on that before ten minutes was up as she constantly dropped her wet-from-doggy-mouth toy on my face every time I bent over.

I was actually going to listen to online church, too, because I refuse to allow myself to be robbed of faith just because some have weaponized it to substantiate their ungodly, disgusting, racist world views. Except, I flipped through several different sermons before finding one that wasn’t all about coronavirus, and avoiding coronavirus was kind of the point. I finally chose one by Ravi Zacharias — who my older sister introduced me to — only to have my son settle in for a chat.

I love chatting with Brian. When he’s in the right mood, he can talk and philosophize for hours. We covered drugs: illegal and prescription, religion versus faith, God versus man, relationships, familial history, the history and future of the world… etc. Amazing chat. Not originally on today’s agenda. At one point as we talked, I decided this highly theological conversation was clearly the sermon of the day. Which reminded me of a time when I used to start my day saying, what do You want me to do today, God? I don’t really roll like that so much anymore. I some days feel the loss more acutely than other days.

This week, I’ve been posting a song of the day on Instagram. After my chat with Bri, I decided that in honour of Sunday, I’d post a faith-themed song. I tried to find a gooder. I wanted something upbeat, something positive and uplifting but not overtly, don’t-worry-God-will-save-you. ‘Cuz, sure, the ultimate destination’s covered, but when you’re going to arrive is up in the air, in my opinion. Some days it is good to say God will save you. Other times, like when people are dying from a global pandemic, maybe it is arrogant and insensitive and presumes facts not yet in evidence. Only God knows who God is going to save. – Just sayin. And there’s this pale horse in the book of Revelation I’ve been thinking about lately… All this to say, ultimately I posted a song I had recorded myself, in 2016, shortly before my band broke up.

The song I posted, which I called Hand, was an acoustic arrangement of Put Your Hand in the Hand by Gene MacLellan. One afternoon, I was sitting at the beach with my guitar in hand, and next thing you know, I was strumming the chords to MacLellan’s song. I don’t know why. I mean, I grew up with the song in the house, but it’s not like it is on any playlist I’ve created ever. It was just in my mind. And as I played around on my guitar, I ended up creating this little ultra-simple chorus to go with MacLellan’s, and then I fooled around with my version (not good, really bad, actually) of rhythm guitar. I bang on the face and tap the strings and generally have a whole bunch of silly good fun. It sounds, eh, but whatever. It was fun.

I take the song up through three key changes, which is how we always played it live. On the album, which I recorded in just over a week (as I recall) I do all the vocals — three part plus a freestyle echo in one spot. I also had met this guy who played the spoons, and he agreed to come out and play them on the song. Then Luke played some slide guitar and some banjo, and all in all it’s a right hillbilly good time. So much so that at the end of the recording I laugh and say Yeehaw, and we kept it in the track. Every time I listen to it, I laugh. Every. Single. Time. And that was the vibe I wanted for today.

When I listen to my old recordings — which occasionally I will do — I don’t hear just the song. I go back to when I wrote it, what was going on in my life that day, who sang and played it, where we did it live, where we recorded it, the process of making a video (for the songs that are on youtube), the fights or laughs within the group of band members on that given day. I hear every cringe worthy moment; I hear every perfect note. I know exactly where my skill level rested and what it had grown from that day. I know all my musical history, from piano lessons as a child, to singing in the car with my family, to high school ensemble, to choir at Vernon Alliance with Shelley’s dad leading, to dropping out of college to sing with my first band, to Perry playing Van Halen licks instead of helping me learn the keyboard parts, to Andy breaking my heart on tour, to starting all over, to forming bands, to writing songs, recording songs, to fundraising concerts, to people who the music touched, to the ending, refrain, out…

So, as you might expect, once I whipped off the Instagram post about Hand, I didn’t stop there — I kept listening to old songs I had written, we had done. From there, Facebook sent me a memory — a picture of three of us leading an outdoor Easter service five years ago. That picture reminded me that the week prior, I had broken off an engagement. After we sang for the people that Easter, everyone else went inside for food. I stayed outside in the park, alone — and bawled. The show must go on. You don’t get to break until you are off the stage.

Which, now I am.

With all of these various stimuli coming my direction this morning, how am I supposed to bear down and focus on the novel I am writing?

I stopped going to church in 2016. I mean, I’ve been back, but nothing regular. My mom told my sister it was because people were mean to me, but that simply isn’t true. Church is like any other place — some people are good, some suck. Some have been amazingly kind, loving and generous to my family and myself. Some have been competitive and have started ridiculous rumours about me. Status quo for human interaction, I guess. Is what it is.

I stopped going because in three of the four churches where I did a significant amount of singing, there was adultery in the leadership at each church within a three year period. That’s what started my exit, at least. I mean, people are human, I get that, but church association is voluntary, and it’s supposed to make you a better person. If it’s not doing that, there are other places I can be. Like, my warm and comfy bed with my dog curled into my hip. So, I was well out the door, and then Donald Trump was elected and the evangelical community backed him. One of the most immoral, incompetent human beings of all time, and you all said God told you he was His guy. Well, hey, you do you. Things is, I just stopped relating to what you all were telling me it meant to be Christian. I don’t recognize my faith in yours. And I can only be responsible for mine. So, I left. And I can’t seem to find my way back. Not that I’ve particularly tried. Every time I’ve thought about it, somebody posts on Twitter, and I’m like, nah, JK.

Now, I find a firm distinction in my mind between faith and church, or as I put it to my son today, faith and religion. Faith, to me, is a precious gift not everybody has, and it gets me through bad times and motivates me to try, at least, to be a better human being. Religion misappropriates scripture to mask fear and hatred — and it makes me think of the illustrated Children’s Bible I had as a kid and the picture of a white-robed, long-haired Jesus furiously overturning the money lender’s tables on the steps of the Synagogue. Man, I relate to that Jesus.

When I was singing and leading worship, I always felt I was part of something bigger than myself. I felt a sense of purpose and solidarity that extended beyond my own selfish interests. I miss that feeling some days. Just, not enough.

And now I am a writer. I look at a blank page and think, what will I fill it with today? Why will I fill it today? Am I a moralist? A historian? An educator, semonizer, blasphemer, prophet? Or am I merely an entertainer? and if so, is that enough?

My thoughts on faith, on spirituality, on God are a huge part of who I am, who I have been, who I want to be, choose to be. Yet, those thoughts aren’t represented often in my current writing. I’d like to, though, at some point. I’d like to write the stories of people in the 21st century working through the hurts religion imposes on them. Stories of people separating that pain from the love of God. Stories of 21st Century men and women working through the intricacies of relationships contextualized by faith and ethics. Stories of what it feels like to be gay — and believe in a Christian God. Stories of what it is like to be or not be sexually active in the Christian dating pool. Stories of what it feels like to be a Muslim in a society which considers itself, at least, Christian. Okay, that last one I am working on. The rest, though, might be beyond me right now. I might not have Christianity figured out, but I do believe in God. I can’t write these stories unless I can do them authentically without doing a disservice to Him. I haven’t even got that balance figured out for myself, let alone for my characters.

If I ever do get it all figured out, you’ll be first to know. In the meantime, it appears I may have voided enough of the distractions in my mind to now return to Cassidy and Ian, and the love story they are just beginning to walk. So, thanks for listening to me ramble. Wishing you all good health and love — and a faith that gets you through.

 

 

 

CBC’s The Debater’s on Is Easter the Best Holiday

So, it’s been a heck of a week.

In Salmon Arm, a shooting in a church service. In Penticton, a shooter on the streets. In Kelowna, bank robberies and police takedowns at gunpoint appear to be becoming the norm, and yesterday the courthouse next to the art gallery where I work was evacuated when someone pulled the fire alarm. Local news called it a false alarm, but in the gallery we noticed the commotion not because of sirens and flashing lights and hot-bodied men in uniforms wandering the street, but rather because the gallery smelled of smoke — causing concern and an immediate investigation of our entire building. Fire is not the friend of art. And I’m not saying the news is lying to you, but…

In France, we saw Notre Dame burn. In response to Notre Dame… memes? Really people? Is nothing sacred with this generation?

In the US, the Muller report, redacted but released, and showing how depressingly immoral a government and apathetic a democratic country can become. Nixon was gone for a lot less; a poll shows that half the American people determined prior to the release of the report that its contents would not change their opinions. Look how far we’ve come, baby.

On the home front, a broken car, a repaired car, a broken car, a repaired car… and a daughter who came home from school in tears twice because of the social and academic pressure dispensed at this mandatory government institution.

Living in the 21st Century, apparently, is not for the faint of heart.

And then it’s Easter. And in a bizarre turn of events a woman with two jobs (me!) has both Good Friday and Easter Sunday off.

This year, I have found that an antidote to the stresses of life and of media immersion is laughter, and I have been turning to comedy more and more often for relief. Thus, I have become a great fan of CBC Radio’s The Debaters.

When my University profs used to speak about listening to CBC Radio in their cars on their way to class, I privately thought, I will never get that old. Turns out, I did. I even downloaded the ap on my phone. So, for those who aren’t familiar with The Debaters, two comics debate opposing sides of a given argument in a comedic fashion, and a studio audience votes for their favourite. Winners are determined by the volume of the audience’s cheers. And it is hilarious.

With topics such as Are the Toronto Maple Leafs the Worst Franchise in Hockey and Pierre versus Justin: Who was the Superior Trudeau, this show is so funny it often has tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks.

This week’s topic was Is Easter a Fun Occasion, and the debaters were Lara Rae and Derek Seguin. Once again, I find myself laughing, and crying, and I think, I should post this to Facebook in honour of Easter! I wonder which of my friends would enjoy the humour in it, as I do, which would be touched, as I am, and which would be scandalously offended, as I’m certain a portion of the faith community within my acquaintance would be. To post or not to post, this is the question.

Lara Rae, comedian, Artistic Director of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, and transwoman, is given the side of the debate that Easter is a truly “hoppy” occasion. She is given two minutes to argue for her point of view.

Montreal-based Derek Seguin, a comedian who speaks about getting divorced by saying, “I got divorced…not really divorced, I think to get divorced you have to get a lawyer or file paperwork… I’m not really a paperwork kind of guy. I’m more a change the lock on the house kind of guy. But I’m also Quebecois, and I travel all over Canada, so I’m uncomfortable with the word separate, so I always just say divorce,” is given the other side of the argument.

Lara Rae opens, and it is incredible. She starts by talking about the hunger associated with Lent, then says, “Jesus was the first social justice warrior, and the best.” Continuing, she describes the Easter story in terms that would do justice to the script of an epic movie. “It’s got a rock; it’s got a roll. It’s got Golgotha, which literally means hill of skulls. Awesome. It has courage; it has betrayal. It has three women standing up to a fascist military dictatorship; feminism, and a centurion that gets Van Goghed by a hot-headed disciple with a machete.”

And it’s funny, because although I am laughing, it feels a bit like I am in a really good church service. And if more preachers paraphrased the Bible as well as Lara Rae, I’d likely attend a lot more regularly.

Seguin comes back by wondering about the math in the Bible. “Hey, Steve, if I ask you on a Friday, hey, let’s go for lunch in three days, what day are you showing up for lunch?” When Steve responds, “It seems like Monday,” Seguin agrees. “Steve,” he says, “Is very good at math. A terrible Christian, though. ‘Cuz apparently, in the Bible, Friday plus three days is Sunday. What the hell happened?” Then he goes on to say, “What Jesus did, is come back from the dead! That is so huge. What a huge message! And who did we, as parents, choose to bring this message to the kids? A frickin’ bunny rabbit? What? What?” He says, “Maybe Jesus should sneak into the house and.. hide the secret of how to come back from the dead. Maybe in a Kinder Surprise or something.”

And again, I am laughing, but I am actually thinking, that’s pretty profound, really, and some would even say, is exactly what Jesus did that first Easter, year zero (Another Seguin quote).

The debate continues into the bare knuckle round, and Lara Rae laughs that she was “this close to the priesthood! I was set to be one of Rome’s primary transgender female priests.” Even she can’t say this without laughing, and when the host gives Seguin the last word on the topic he says, “I just, I learned a lot about the Bible I didn’t know,” and he sounds serious, actually. The show moves into the firing line, where the comedians answer questions about Easter with their best guess, then finishes up with closing arguments.

Derek Seguin suggests that we are a multi-culture, multi-faith country so we could have an all-faith free 2019. In order to do that, kids should just stay in school on weekends so that parents can have fun with melted chocolate on the long-weekend while the kids are at school. He knows teachers wouldn’t enjoy this, but says, “Suck it up, you have a whole two months off.”

When Lara Rae closes, her speech is reverent, more serious than funny. I mean, she’s funny, but I could be listening to a sermon. Just, a more palatable sermon than most. She says, “You can’t taint Easter. So, they made a pagan holiday to sit alongside it with rabbits and chocolate. Whether you believe in the resurrection, or have a deep respect, it’s still the centre symbol of Christianity and contains a powerful message of forgiveness the world needs terribly today.”

Listening, the audience is hushed, and I find there are tears in my eyes, not of humour, this time, but of respect, of need. And then, in place of an altar call, she concludes with a joke, but the moment is not lost on me, and I find myself extremely thankful that before I move on with my planned day off activities of sweeping the living room floor and swishing the bathroom toilet with its brush, I have had this faith moment, laughing in the comfort of my living room, yet still reminded why I have this day off today in the first place.

In a week that hasn’t had a lot to laugh about, thank you, Debaters, for making me laugh. Thank you, Jesus, for your love that lead you to sacrifice. And thank you Lara Rae and Derek Seguin, for reminding me of the beauty of faith in a world which is most certainly in need of a little faith.

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