How does it feel?

To have crashed and burned?
To have lost it halfway through performing my poem?
To have completely blanked out on what came next and spent five minutes – OK, maybe 30 seconds – trying to get it back?
To have humiliated myself in front of friends and associates?

“How do you feel?”  The question was asked me in a very solicitous way by a woman I didn’t know, in a tone that suggested to me that she expected me to feel crappy.

The answer took a while to get clear for me, then came through loud and clear….”It feels thrillingly human.” It feels like a relief.  It’s something that I knew had to happen sometime.  I have been performing poems at Jubilee four times a year for ten years and I’ve never had a poem not hit a home run.  I’ve had little ripples – times when babies cried and it threw me off my game and I would lose a line.  But nobody would ever know.  I always rallied and took it home.

This time I did rally also and finished strong.  And I did once again have people say that it worked for them – and that my stuck place, which in this case was totally obvious to everyone, did not take away from the impact of the poem, that the poem meant a lot to them.  One person said that it was her favorite part of the whole show.

So, thrillingly human – someone who can make mistakes.  There’s no safer place for me than Jubilee to make mistakes.  This poem opened the show for a dance performance – a very sweet movement and story-telling show filled with amateur dancers.

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy - and my poem sprang from a friend's legacy of being abused as a child..  The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang.  Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy – and my poem sprang from a friend’s legacy of being abused as a child.. The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang. Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

What if the worst had happened?  What would have been the worst?  The worst would have been for me to not recoup – for me just not be able to get it together, and to slink off the stage in shame.  That would be the worst.  Maybe not the worst though – because even that I could have recovered from.  Tonight I feel OK with that.  The worst, maybe, would be if that was not OK with me – if my infraction tonight stirred my self-hate – that would be the worst.  But even that wouldn’t have been so awful, because it’s human, because I go in and out of it all the time, because I’ve developed more skill in recuperating from self-hate and I bounce back from it.

In truth, what happened was not so awful.  In truth, it provided the audience with a wonderful experience – a chance to reach out to a performer, to be pulling for me.  Is it not possible that them opening their hearts to me, right at the beginning of the program, gave them a chance to be an even better audience for the rest of the show, to really open themselves to the dancers and the storytelling about their lives and their innocent, heart-felt,amateur dancing? I think that almost certainly this was true..

So the worst happened and it was OK.  No, the worst didn’t happen because I was OK with stuff that I surprised myself by accepting.  I fell apart in a way that I would have told you in advance was terrible and it was not.  In fact, it was perfect.

Advertisements

A missed opportunity

Bertha at Charter Communications – the cable company – missed a chance today to give me a good feeling about their company.  I was returning Monty’s computer router.  Whe she asked why I was returning it, I said that he had died.  That was the moment where she could have reached out for some genuine human contact – just a sincere “I’m sorry.”  I like to think that I do that consistently, even if someone is referring to their loved one passing a long time ago.  It pretty much always seems to create that human touch. But Bertha stayed buried in her computer screen, typing away.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk - anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk – anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

I have heard a lot of criticisms of Charter.  This was a chance for Bertha, in this one instance, to soften that impression. Now why did Bertha not respond with human touch, in a situation where that would be so natural and appropriate – and where there was no apparent time pressure (no one behind me)?

  • She may actually be under some time pressure – lots of these computers can time a call – or, I’m sure, a face-to-face encounter.  I had a job as a call center operator where my supervisor consistently said, “You’re great with the customers – tops – but you’ve got to speed up your calls.”
  • She may have recently been told by a supervisor that she’s too chatty with customers, that she should keep it more to business.  This also happened to me on another job.
  • She may be having a migraine that is making it hard for her to even stand up.
  • She may have lost a loved one lately – or is on the verge of losing one – and my mention of a deceased loved one really triggered her.

I could go on and on – there are so many reasons that a customer server could be unresponsive to us.  And so many ways this could be helped.  It’s a truism that customer support people tend to treat customers as they themselves are treated. Give them respect and compassion and they tend to give it to their customers.  That’s not the whole story – there are some bad apples out there – but it’s a good place to start.  Helping your managers and supervisors treat others with more respect and compassion has got to be a win all around.

Life…and more life

The husband of one of my coworkers (let’s call her Sally) died a couple of weeks ago.  It was not exactly sudden, but greatly unexpected.  He just developed one medical complication after another for about three weeks, until finally the doctors told them he had a week to live.

Sally is much beloved in our department and throughout the store. One person used the term “angelic” to describe her.  It’s a word I would be slow to use to describe a mortal, but she is so consistently sweet and warm and positive that it really kind of fits.

I was greatly honored when she asked me if I had a poem about death that I could offer at her husband’s memorial – and told her that in fact I do have one.  I felt good about going to the memorial service last night.  There were several other workers from our store, a couple previous workers who have moved to jobs at another grocery store, and several customers who have over the years gotten fond of Sally.  These are the kinds of situations that poke through the distance that work roles may set up between us, between us coworkers and between staff and customer.  Mixing together in ways like this makes the relationship more personal, more meaningful.

Here is the poem.  Sally liked it.

What's after life?  Native Americans call it "the great mystery".

What’s after life? Native Americans call it “the great mystery”.

LIFE – AND MORE LIFE
(Majo, 11/19/05)

We have been wandering around, you and I
By ourselves, with each other, never knowing
We bump against our different selves
We hold foreign who is our home
We see the dark because we know the light

What is this fog that holds us?
What in us would let be held?
Where are we going?  Where have we been?
What is “us”?  “You”?  “I”?  “Her”?  And “him”?

Life – what is that?
This mystery in which we are lost
The light that leads us
And where does it end?
Where is there that life is not?

Our minds want to separate
Thrive on boundaries
Do not see how dark connects the light
Make you and I imagine
A gulf between the isness that we are

Each moment arises from nowhere
Then slips silent from our grasp
Our grasping punctuates the moments
Makes them seem separate, which they never are

Letting go is our nature, who we’ve always been
And how we got here
Our parents surrendered to the moment
Life has been conceiving us anew ever since

Every birth requires a death
Call it what we will, life changes
Stays not one moment the same
We are not who we were, who we will be

Where we think we see a wall, a cliff, an end
Life continues, in forms we never imagined
We emerge, again and again
New beings of light we never knew

Light is held and framed by dark
As dark is surrounded by light
Our minds see difference
Life does its dance of many forms

Where will we go?  Where have they gone?
Our human eyes, limited as they are
See a river where there is a sea
This connection in which we swim
Has no beginning and no end

If we but shift our gaze
Oh so gently, no effort, no looking for
See the light under the dark and light
The We that always holds you and me
We will not go, they have not gone
We are all right here, one unending now

Drop into this breath of life
Do not try to make this or that
Nothing goes away, while all must die
Life is us, we are Life
We feel the good under “Goodbye”.

 

 

“I Want To Give You Space”

I performed this poem, which I wrote five years ago, at Jubilee today.  It’s a love poem and so fit the day after Valentine’s Day.  The text is below.  You can find audio (with beautiful keyboard by Chris Rosser and a slide show with sensitive photos thanks to Sandy Swanson) at http://www.somethingrises.com/Iwanttogiveyouspace.html.   Video of today’s performance (with lovely piano by Robert Thomas and beautiful dancing by Kathy Jennings) is at https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10155206822175716&set=o.54400281606&type=2&theater.  The poem is about four minutes long – if you like reading it, I’d encourage you to go onto the audio, and then maybe even the video.

Intro
I wrote this poem when I was in the throes of infatuation.  But even before I became uninfatuated I realized that it’s not really just about romance.  It’s actually about how I want all of my major relationships to work.  And it’s called “I Want To Give You Space”.

I want to give you space
But not by stepping back
I want to step towards you
All eyes and ears and heart and breath
All my nerves atingle
From the joy of seeing YOU!
In all your gorgeous, flawed humanity
You! As you are right now
You! As you soar and dance
And as you stumble, swear and fall
You!  In your frailty and tears
You! In your power and your glory
You! When you like yourself and when you don’t
You! When I like myself and when I don’t
But still to keep seeing you
Outside of my programs wants and needs
You! Beyond my foolish little dreams
Of who you are or ought to be
You! Bigger than you know or I know
You!  Never the same two days straight
You!  Becoming someone so big and free
She would scare both of us if we could see her now.

I want you to feel more space
To breathe and move
With me than by yourself
Or anywhere else
I want you to sing like only I am listening
To dance like only I am watching
To know I crave your anger and your joy
To know that I will step towards you
Or hold my ground – but not step back
No matter what

To know that my anger, also
Is a way I step towards you
And not a call for you to change
Even when I tell you to change
That’s not what I really mean
It means I don’t yet know
How to be with this part of you
But I will try
Or simply hold my ground
Until something shifts
And that something does
Not need to be you

I want to breathe and trust and be myself
And to know it’s not your job
To do or be anything for me
It’s my job to do and be for me
And to let all my friends help – including you
And my job to not mess with you
Just to love you, as best I can
And to get better at it all the time
And to keep my eyes open
Open wider all the time
To see who you are
And who you are becoming
And to let you take my breath away

 

I believe in mistakes…

Cashiering is detailed work – there are so many ways to make little (and larger) mistakes.  When I am up, I roll with these mistakes: I make fewer of them because my brain is sharper, but I am also a lot more forgiving of those mistakes that I do make.  When I’m down, I tend to be pretty hard on myself about even little mistakes – and positively cruel to myself about the larger ones.

I thought of a variety of ways to attack this issue in a post, but none of them seem better than the poem I wrote during this same dark time of year about four years ago.  It’s longer than most of my posts, but lots of people have found it meaningful.  I’d welcome your feedback – in a comment or an email (to heymajo@gmail.com).

I BELIEVE IN MISTAKES          (Majo, 1/15/11)

I believe in mistakes
I believe in right and wrong
Good and evil
Sin and redemption
Well I’m sure about sin at least

I believe it’s possible
To make a wrong choice
Take a wrong turn
And to forever lose
All option  for good
That the right road would have held

I believe it’s possible for these wrong choices
To lead you to a wrong life
To become a wrong person
With no chance to get back to
The person you were meant to be

Why am I so imprisoned by this wretched
View of the world?
Why do I cling so to beliefs
About life and about myself
That cause so much suffering?
Why am I so attached to
This harsh god of right and wrong?
Why is this unforgiving code
Carved so deeply and painfully into my heart?

Is it my Libra nature
Constantly balancing and rebalancing the scales
Desperately and hopelessly trying to get things to come out right?
I so often know immediately
That I have taken the wrong path
Committed to the wrong course of action
Ordered the wrong lunch
And am so seldom confident
That I am going the right way

Is it because the good nuns
So patiently and persistently
Drilled original sin into my young consciousness?
Is it my Irish conscience
So hopeless about becoming a genuinely good man?
It believes that carrying
A heavy load of guilt
Is the most reliable way to
Earn God’s mercy.

Is it my western analytical mind
So hooked on separating
On putting things in different buckets
Hooked on the world of either/or?

Is it my human ego
So tiny in the face of
The vast world out there
So lost in fear and alienation?

I would like to say that my belief in mistakes
Is my one true mistake
But I think that would be a mistake
Tortured as this paradigm is
It is my lineage
It unites me with the human species
From which I spring
My suffering is your suffering
Is our suffering
Until we can together
Every one of us
Lay this burden down

You may have gleaned by now
How hard it is to step outside
Of this world of mistakes
Indeed, from our shared starting point,
It is impossible
It is anathema to our human programming
A contradiction in terms
It is a world that can only be visited
When we take a brief vacation
From our normal minds
It’s the payoff from meditation
The addictiveness of drugs
The bottom line of love

In the throes of love
Does our lover or child not seem perfect
Able to do no wrong?
(How ephemeral are these throes of love)
Is it not clear, when we are truly in love
That there can be no mistake
In committing fully to the beloved
No matter how great the cost?

How can I turn this kind of love on myself?
Commit this fully to me?
My path the last few days
Is clearly littered with mistakes
Today I wrote a poem
Who wrote the poem?
Who made the mistakes?
Could I have had this
Without the others?
Did they not get me here?

Maybe my commitment to a me that does
Is the deepest mistake
Steps were taken that led me here, led me there
Led me to this poem
Led me to this room
Led me to you
You get to decide whether for
You this poem is right or wrong
But if you are wise you will maybe not