Most folks think of me as some combination of the following: loud, outspoken, bitchy, opinionated, judgmental, and aggressive. I can’t fault anyone for thinking of me that way. Unfortunately, that is a pretty accurate picture of how I used to be. As I’ve said before, my grandfather’s summary of my character was “You know Lisa. If it comes up, it comes out.” That’s who I was.

The key word in that sentence is “was”.

I have done my best to change that person that I was into the person I want to be. I don’t think I always get the benefit of the doubt because folks tend to slip into old familiar patterns with me even when I resist. It hurts me to think that anyone would consider me a bitch. I’ve always preferred the word “assertive” to “aggressive”, because I am a strong person who goes for what I want but I’m not nasty about it. I have been working on my tendency to judge first and ask questions later. That’s a character flaw I’ve longed to get rid of for a while now. I do have rather strong opinions and I am not shy about speaking up, but I am learning to wait a beat (or a few beats) before I respond. Old Lisa reacted. New Lisa tries to respond. Old Lisa had a hair trigger. New Lisa still gets angry, but new Lisa thinks it through to the end and tries not to let feelings be confused for facts.

Of all the adjectives I listed above, the one that upsets me the most is loud.

I get it, I can be loud. I get excited. I get animated. I get enthusiastic. I love love LOVE loud music with the bass turned all the way up (thanks, Daddy). Having the volume up in life is part of who I am, but not all of who I am. In fact, there’s a side to me not many people see. There’s something I love that most folks probably won’t believe.

I love silence. Stillness. Quiet. It is so soothing to my frayed nerves. Remember, I teach and play music for a living, so sound is literally my life. In music, I was taught early on that silence is just as important as sound, that silence is what gives sound its meaning. This is true in life as well. We all have so much noise going on all around us, and sometimes in our own heads. I have a brain that is difficult to shut off. It takes effort to get me to stop thinking or working. While we were living in NYC, I was always on. I never had the chance to slow down and breathe. I truly believe that another ten years in NYC may have killed me. I was a nervous and stressed out wreck. A body can only sustain that level of stress for so long before it explodes. Even though I did try to do little things to relax, I just couldn’t. I didn’t even realize this was true until I left NYC six years ago.

Once I was here in Ohio, the silence was deafening. I was alone most of the time. I had no job and few friends. I filled my life with things and people that weren’t necessarily good for me. I made bad choices and I ran from the silence because I couldn’t face what the silence made me do — look at myself. I couldn’t run away from me anymore. I had to take a long hard look and choose to change. Could I? Did I have the courage to change?

It took time, and it was painful, but I have changed. I’m really not the Lisa I was in high school, college, grad school, early career, or even after our move. I’m not saying that I’m perfect — far from it. But I’m happier with my life overall, even when life is stressful and kicking my ass. I have learned to find those moments when I can enjoy the silence that once frightened me. I can rest and be refreshed. I can pray or meditate. I can just be.

What could possibly be better than getting to just be?

I hope that I can better show others how much I’ve changed and how much more change there is ahead of me. I hope I can be a better person and that folks can see and acknowledge me as such. If not, I will keep trying to be better anyway, for myself and my own good. I will keep enjoying the silence and not let the noise overpower me.

Silence is my symphony of peace, my song of joy. I delight in it every chance I get. It is a great gift.



Good evening,

I have been hacking away at a blog post about my grandmother who has been much on my mind lately. The post feels too long and long-winded, but I don’t feel like I’ve actually told her story at all. Grandma was a complicated lady (think Shrek and onions), but her nature toward me was nothing other than sweet and loving. It is hard to write about how I’ve learned to reconcile her sweetness to me with the downright meanness she showed toward others. It’s hard to capture a soul so tortured who lived through so much adversity, but still someone who had an incredible capacity for love and generosity. I’d like to think I got her best qualities since I consider her to be a huge influence on who I am now. Please don’t feel the need to disabuse me of that idea.

So, it’s not done. It’s sitting in my drafts folder waiting for me to pull my head out from up my ass and get it right.

Maybe I’ve been distracted by too many other things. There has been a lot going on and things are tense here at home. It’s hard for me to be creative when I’m under this much stress, even through this outlet of writing which I love so much. I want to be meaningful and profound with everything I write, but it all just starts looking like bullshit on the page. There are far too many folks out there putting bullshit on the internet. I don’t feel the need to join them.

What is holding me back? What holds anyone back from creating, from living, from moving forward in life.


Fear is a four letter word beginning with “F”. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence.

Yes, I am afraid. I am afraid that I am not enough: good enough, smart enough, experienced or educated enough. I am fundamentally afraid of being inadequate to whatever task is in front of me. I am afraid to fail. I’m afraid of not making enough money and losing everything we’ve worked so hard for.

On the lighter side, I am also afraid of spiders, snakes, and heights. Not really important here, but it is a bit of levity after my admission of some rather significantly personal stuff.

I have fallen before and gotten up. I have been disappointed and lived through it. I’ve been told no and gotten over it. I have life experience that tells me I’ll survive my most recent setbacks and challenges just fine. So why am I afraid?

Because, I suppose, fear is something I’ve lived with for a long time. Fear is an old friend. I’ve been afraid of something as long as I can remember. Mostly, I fear loss: loss of respect, loss of face, loss of position, loss of income. I fear losing the fruits of 25 years of labors. It’s as though I think life will come along like a bully, knock down the huge tower of blocks I’ve built, and laugh at me as I cry. Sad, but true.

I’m afraid life will win and I will lose.

With all this fear, you may wonder how the hell I even get up in the morning. I have to get up, you see. It’s what I was taught to do. It’s become an autonomic response. I get scared and I do it anyway. You wanna knock down my block tower, life? Screw you, I’ll build another one — bigger and better than the last one. I simply have to push through the fear. I cry and get upset about it. I ask for prayers to get through it. But, ultimately, I give fear the finger and move forward.

Even though I am, fundamentally, afraid of the thing that most people fear. The unknown.

I encounter the unknown everyday with my son. What new issue will arise? When will the other shoe drop? Will it fall on my head? The unknown scares the shit out of me. It springs from my need to control everything. I freak out because I can’t control the unknown — because I don’t know what the hell it will be.

Fear has paralyzed me from time to time. I’d like to think I’m better about that now. Fear has crippled me to the point of panic before, but I’m still here. Some would say fear is an illusion. I am learning to see the truth of that and trying not to live in fear or to let fear inhabit my head for free.

What replaces fear? For me, the answer is simple. Faith replaces fear.

My life has been such a crazy roller coaster. It’s a miracle in many ways that I’m still alive. That alone confirms the existence of God as far as I’m concerned. I could not have lived this loony life of mine without Him. If God protects babies and fools, I have no question which one I am, and He’s protected me more times than I can count. Faith is the only stuff potent enough to counteract fear. I pray everyday for my faith to be stronger.

I fear death. I fear losing my husband and kids someday. Life is full of opportunities to be afraid. I really am trying to get past the things that drive up my blood pressure. My faith tells me that I have everything I need. I just need to open my eyes and see. I just need to believe.

Much love,


I have started and erased three blog posts in the last ten minutes. Usually, on my drive home, I have tons of great ideas of what to write. Tonight, I got nothing. Nada. Zippo.

Goose. Egg.

I’ve read a few other blogs that I’ve run across. In the process, I’ve discovered something that I’d long suspected. Most people are not very good writers. I’m not saying that they don’t have anything worthwhile to say (although some of them really don’t…), but that the mechanics of writing simply elude them. Didn’t we learn about nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions in school when we were kids? Hell, I remember learning them on School House Rock on Saturday mornings!

A noun is a person, place, or thing!

VERB! That’s what’s happening.

So we unpacked our adjectives. (He was a hairy bear. He was a scary bear. We beat a hasty retreat from his lair…).

Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your adverbs here!

Conjunction junction, what’s your function?

Have we become so preoccupied with standardized testing that we’ve stopped doing simple things like teaching kids how to diagram sentences? Are spelling bees just for geeks with ridiculously high IQs? Have we lost the details that made learning an art and teaching a creative profession? Has the age of emoticons and texting abbreviations (OMG, BTW, IMHO, ROFLMFAO, LOL) led us to give up correct spelling, proper sentence structure, and good grammar? We don’t write real letters anymore. Why should we? We have email. We don’t correspond. We Facebook, Tweet, Instagram, and Snap Chat. All of the skills we needed to communicate effectively have gone out the window and have been replaced with crap that kinda looks like how we talk (folks don’t do that very well either…).

So, on an evening when I await the return of my husband after two consecutive weeks of travel, and my dogs are barking their heads off to go for a walk, I have a simple request. People, please be pickier about what you write and how you write it. Dot your i’s, cross your t’s, and use your Oxford commas. Take pride in what you write and remember that it represents you out in the world. It’s easy to be mistaken for stupid when your writing skills are lacking. Don’t misrepresent yourself and your intelligence.

Of course, now I’m paranoid about my own writing. Physician, heal thyself…

Much love,

Mary, Michael, and Edith

Last night, I did not do a blog entry because I was completely exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. An email I got late last night kept me from getting that sleep, unfortunately. I’m not sure this entry will be in English or gibberish, but I’ll give it a shot.

This is what I would have written last night:

Today (11/5/14) is my aunt Mary Ann’s birthday. Even though I call her my aunt, Mary Ann and I have always been more like sisters than aunt and niece. My grandmother (who isn’t even biologically my grandmother, but that’s a REALLY big and complicated story!) adopted Mary Ann when she was a baby. Mary Ann was the child of my grandmother’s niece (confused yet?) who was unable to care for a baby at the time. So, Mary Ann joined the family as younger sister to my dad (20 years older) and my uncle Vincent (9 years older). I asked her once when I was about 4 or so if I should call her “aunt”. At 13, she shut me down pretty quickly. Mary Ann was an aunt, but not an aunt — a relative, but not a relative. Despite what the relationship looked like “on paper”, we maintained a really close bond that is still going strong.

As a small child, I thought that Mary Ann was the most beautiful girl in the world. Anyone from a black (yeah, I still say black, because African American is so awkward sometimes) family knows that there are often issues surrounding color that have their roots in slavery’s “house nigger” and “field nigger” divide. (N.B. If you are bothered by the word nigger, please understand that its use is not the same for blacks and non-blacks. That is a conversation for another time, but it is a word that will appear within a certain context in my writings from time to time. It is not meant to shock or cause debate. Please read everything rather than being repulsed by a single word.) I was a light skinned kid which brought with it the taunts of so-called friends and family alike: lite brite, high yellow, uppity, etc. Mary Ann is the most luscious shade of dark chocolate. I wanted that gorgeous dark skin! My family, on the other hand, made sure to remind her every day that she was ugly and unworthy because she was dark. Light skin and “good” hair (holy shit, I HATE that term!) made me the favored child. Mary Ann, by all rights, should have hated my guts. Instead, she loved and cherished me like no one else in our family did. We shared a bond no one else understood, and there was a lot of time and energy put into breaking it.

Epic. Fail.

I once alluded to the fact that I saw more violence in a day than Law & Order showed in an entire season. It’s true. A lot of that violence was right in my own home. I’d rather not share too much about that out of respect for my relatives, but I will say that an inordinately high percentage of that violence was directed toward Mary Ann. I used to cry when I heard, or sometimes saw, Mary Ann get her ass beat. Even after it was over, I was an inconsolable mess. How could anyone want to hurt my beautiful beloved Mary Ann? What could possibly deserve such a beating?

So, even after being beaten half to death, Mary Ann would come and comfort me. She would do the funniest (I mean, really damn funny!) impression of Lily Tomlin’s character Edith Adams (I’m showing my age now… who remembers Edith Adams?). She would start in on that impression and slowly my tears would fade into peals of laughter. Without fail. No one made me laugh like Mary Ann. I wanted to be just like her.

My family did NOT want me to be anything like her. She was demonized by them for reasons I really can’t understand, even 40 years later. This is the kind of sick family pathology that psychologists get their PhDs on. I wish someone would explain this crap to me.

Some of my absolute favorite memories of Mary Ann involve music and dancing. She had an amazing singing voice and she could dance like someone on the Soul Train line (OMG, Soul Train… a moment of silence for the late great Don Cornelius, please). My Uncle Vincent was also an amazing dancer. If I can dance at all (which lots of folks say I can), it’s because I spent hours in rapt awe watching these two tear up the dance floor. They were amazing and inspiring, and these were the bright spots in a very scary and unsure childhood. These are the moments I hang on to.

I remember when Michael Jackson (another moment of silence, please) released his first solo album, Off the Wall. Mary Ann ran out to get a copy. She loved Michael Jackson! They were only about a year apart in age, so she was convinced they’d be married one day (no snide comments, okay…?). I ran downstairs to join her in the living room at my grandma’s house. There was a big old stereo console in one corner, more furniture than sound equipment as we think of it these days. I remember the album cover. I remember the centerfold. I remember the socks! I remember the sound as the needle touched the vinyl for the very first time and my life and hers were never the same. C’mon, y’all. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. You remember what the first track on that album is…

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough! The force has got a lot of power. It makes me feel like… OOH!

To this day, I can’t hear that song without remembering the ecstatic dance Mary Ann did that very first time she heard it. I have always maintained that there are a few absolutely perfect songs in the world: Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Shout, Flashlight (y’all feel me, right?). Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is at the top of that list. Michael’s vocals and Quincy Jones’ production? Shut the front door! That shit is relevant, funky, and fabulous to this day — almost 40 years later. I dare you to find better arrangements than Quincy’s on that album and the two he did with Michael after that.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

I didn’t think so.

So, flash forward to June 2009 when Michael’s great talent faded into his untimely death (I still get choked up thinking about that day). The very minute I heard the news, who did I call? Yep, you can probably guess that my Mary Ann got the first call. We shared that tragedy together and reminisced about all those dance sessions in Grandma’s living room, where we really did wear a groove in the floor. We talked about the late 70s and what life was like before Mary Ann had my cousin Vincent and moved out of my Grandma’s house. Once she was gone, life was harder for me. There was no longer that bright beacon of love and hope. My Mary Ann had moved on, gotten married to her husband James (an amazing man who loves her down to the ground), and had begun a family of her own.

Lots of life has happened since then. “Little Vincent”, who my husband once carried on his back across Tappan Square here in Oberlin, is now nearly 36 years old and big and strong enough to almost carry my husband! My cousin Melissa is nearly 30. I’ve been married close to 23 years and my kids are inching up on 17 and 12. Grandma’s gone now. So’s my dad. Mary Ann and her family are pretty much my last connections to my childhood home in North Philly. Little Lisa is little no more. I’m about to celebrate my 25th college reunion.

Time has flown. I’m edging up on 50 and Mary Ann on 60. Where did those years go?

No matter where they went or what happened in between then and now, Mary Ann still makes me laugh like no one else. I still think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Period. She’s built like an African fertility goddess, for crying out loud! And that skin is still the deepest, darkest chocolate. She still looks the same after all these years, and she says I do too (black don’t crack, honey…). We are still like sisters, and she’ll still do her Edith Adams impression for me if I ask her to.

On your birthday, my most marvelous Mary Ann, I want to wish you many more years of happiness and joy, and in the words of Mr. Don Cornelius himself — peace, love, and SOUL. I hope we grow old and keep keeping it real together for a long time to come. I will always love you. Always.


Today has been an especially rough day in the midst of a lot of difficult stuff going on.

I am very public in my feelings a lot of the time. I’ve had folks accuse me of attention seeking behavior. Since I am, by training, a performer, I suppose there is an element of truth to the idea that I seek and enjoy attention. However, I truly believe that I have chosen to live out loud and tell my story because I know I am not unique. We all have a story. Mine might be more or less interesting and exciting than another, but it is like everyone else’s in a lot of ways. Perhaps some element of my story will give someone the courage to speak up, speak out, or get help. Maybe it will make someone having a crappy day laugh. Maybe someone will smile because some part of my life resonates with their own. Or maybe someone will read this and just say “who gives a shit?” All of those responses are possible and valid. If you don’t think what I write is relevant, or, worse than that, you think it’s all a bunch of self-indulgent bullshit written by a middle-aged whiner, then you have my permission to move along. My blog isn’t for you. It’s for me. If it touches someone else’s heart (and by the responses I’ve received I can tell it has), then it is for them too. If you think I’m a self-centered bore, you’ve missed the point I’ve been trying to make.

I am a flawed human being sharing my crazy life with other flawed human beings. I experience the same pain, joy, fear, sorrow, and grumpiness that everyone else does.

Today, I heard back about something that was very important to me and my family, and the answer was no. That simple no was dropped squarely onto a pile of other no’s, I don’t knows, no you can’ts, and we’ll have to wait and sees. That no was literally the straw that broke my back and my spirit, all in the 30 seconds before I pulled into the parking lot at my job. I could feel myself breaking apart: my mind, my body, my spirit. I was crushed under the weight of that no and I momentarily felt as if the world were crashing down all around me. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but maybe you’ve felt that way too once or twice.

Of course, I know my life isn’t over. Frankly, my family can’t afford for my life to be over in the sense that I can’t just sit and cry in a parking lot and skip work because I only get paid directly for the work I do. Briefly, for a fleeting moment, I had a George Bailey moment in which I realized that I was (on paper, anyway) worth more dead than alive. That thought scared the hell out of my husband who heard me remark as I realized it (sorry, Boo Boo). It scared me too. Mostly, I was just tremendously hurt and pissed off and feeling sorry for myself.

I’ve given myself 24 hours to feel crappy, cry, watch bad tv, and eat food that is unequivocally bad for me (chicken and bacon ranch pizza, anyone?). That’s all I get. I will set aside one day to feel the feelings and not run. After that, I need to move on to what’s next. There are folks I don’t think I’ll be able to talk to for a while, and that’s what it is. I need time and distance to fully heal this wound. I need to honestly acknowledge the pain without wallowing in it and letting it take me over. Today life sucks. Shit happens.

I hope I have a tomorrow so that I can have a better day. If not, I hope that I have just one moment of forgetfulness before I go to bed. I just want one moment to forget the pain and smile at something. I haven’t had it yet, but I’m hopeful.

I’m tired and I feel a bit lost now. That’s probably a pretty natural feeling following a big disappointment. I won’t be lost forever, I know. My family gives my life structure, meaning, purpose, and direction. They love me and they need me. They can give me this one day off, but after that it’s back in the saddle again.

This too shall pass. I heard a friend of mine say that just yesterday. It’s never been a favorite phrase of mine, but it is timely and true. This too shall pass: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It all passes away to make room for the next. I’m at the bottom of the roller coaster today and I guess it will go back up at some point. I don’t want to miss that.

It struck me earlier today that last night’s post “Life On Life’s Terms” was prophetic in a way. Life chose to kick my ass today and I have to accept that. I can’t change it. Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. Even though the bag of shit I carry, just like everyone else’s bag of shit, sprung a leak today, I have to keep moving on — if only to get away from the smell.

Five or six years ago, I would’ve worried about what this pain would lead me to do to myself. I’m not worried today. That’s a blessing.

I hope to have a better day tomorrow. I hope that things will get better on all fronts. I really hope that I can keep doing the next right thing until I find my way.

I hope.


Life On Life’s Terms

One of the greatest mistakes I ever made was believing that there would be a point in life where everything was okay and nothing was wrong. That moment really doesn’t exist. There will always be something that throws us off kilter and hits us when we least expect it. There will always be this tricky little thing called life.

As I’ve said in previous entries, I was always waiting for the moment of perfect happiness that would never arrive. I thought “I’ll be happy once we (fill in the blank), or once (fill in the blank) happens.” Happiness was something that was always on the horizon, but it never seemed to get any closer no matter how many mile markers I passed. Happiness was illusive. Life was ever-present. I was never satisfied. I was waiting for the more that never came. Even if more had come, it wouldn’t have been enough. Nothing was ever enough.

John Lennon, one of my all time musical and philosophical heroes, famously wrote in the song “Beautiful Boy” that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” I have always loved that song and the special poignancy of his having written it for his son Sean not too long before his far too soon demise in 1980. I have sung that song to my own son, my own “beautiful boy”, but I have only come to fully understand that particular lyric in the last 5 years.

Life is, as the cliche would have it, a journey and not a destination. It is a marathon and not a sprint. It is what happens everyday, the little things we take for granted. It’s the 6:00 am dog walking, the 6:30 breakfast making, and the getting kids out of the house for school daily grind. It’s the commute to work that I hate, the students whose lessons drag on and on because they aren’t prepared, or the students whose lessons fly by because they are hungry for what I have to give them. Life is the stress of the unknown in my work, in my finances, in my son and daughter’s future, in my husband’s far too often travel schedule. Life is not a highlight reel. Life is real.

The revolution hasn’t been televised. The revolution is live and happening within us all right now.

Sometimes I don’t like what life has to offer. I don’t enjoy paying bills — but I’ve learned to be grateful that I have the money to pay them (when I do, indeed, have the money…). Sometimes I don’t like the weather during my commute, or the driving abilities of the folks around me on the highway. I am, however, happy to have a job to commute to and a car to get me there. I am learning, slowly but surely, to appreciate my life more and more, and to be grateful for the smallest things. I am trying not to miss anything, not to wish I were somewhere else doing something else at a different time. I am living in the moment as much as I can, and I’ve discovered something really important about living in the moment — it’s fucking hard to do. Sometimes it just sucks because the moment you’re in may contain pain, anguish, fear, anger, frustration… all the things we don’t want to feel.

I have learned the value of feeling the feelings and not trying to escape them. I’ve come to understand that the pain I feel today helps me to enjoy the happiness and contentment I have in my future. Mind you, I don’t like pain. I am not masochist, not by a long shot. However, I have learned that a life well lived is a life lived honestly, and pain and other negative emotions are part of that raw honesty that so many of us are afraid to look at. If we run from those emotions, we run the risk of missing significant portions of our life. We risk missing the richness and fullness of what life is.

Various situations in my life right now are causing me pain, frustration, and fear. I am angry sometimes. This morning, I was angry with God and I told Him so. I want closure. I want a resolution. I want what I want and I want it NOW. I am impatient and I don’t want things on His time. I want to be in control, because He’s taking too long. If you can’t drive any faster, Lord, then let me drive!

Sure. That’s a great idea. How many times have I driven my own life right into a ditch that I couldn’t get out of? Yeah, I can’t count that high either. My being in control is NOT the answer. My impatience is NOT the answer. There is only one answer, and I’m not always happy about it but I know it’s true.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. It is my best and only options. I change what I can and I leave the rest to the Big Guy, the whole time asking Him for the wisdom to tell the difference between what to change and what to accept. All I can see is what’s right here in front of me. He’s got the big picture view. I need to let Him drive on this since He can see and I can’t. At least, that makes sense to me…

So, I’m here. Life is uncertain. Life is hard. Life is beautiful. Life is what happens to you. Period. Life is what happens to us all. Sometimes life is sweet and sometimes it’s a heavy load to carry. The trick is learning to lay your burden down as often as you can and enjoy the living.

I don’t know how much longer I have. None of us do. Let’s live like it’s our last day and savor every moment. I think it’s worth it, and that’s my plan. I hope it’s your plan too.

Much love,

It’s Been Far Too Long

Hello, again.

I’ve just spent the last hour or so reading over all of my previous blog entries. I have missed blogging and longed to get back to it. I’ve decided that now is the time.

First, I’d like to thank anyone who has ever taken the time to read what I’ve written. I am humbled to think that my words are meaningful to anyone other than myself, and I appreciate the comments that folks have made from time to time. I began this journey to help me, but I am so happy to know that my words have had an impact on the lives of others as well.

Re-reading my blog entries was a really emotional experience. I didn’t remember much about my blogging days. I didn’t remember how many I’d written or what the topics were that I’d chosen. I was brought to tears by some of the things I’d written, and encouraged by my own words about things that are still challenging me to this day. It was like reading letters from myself to myself, and learning from the perspective they provided.

Mostly, I was floored by how open and honest I was about my life and all its challenges, especially in such a public forum. I bared my soul in really significant ways and I offered my thoughts and opinions on some pretty heavy stuff. I may have offended some folks or made them see me in ways they didn’t want to see me. I may have confused some who saw me in a particular light and were uncomfortable with my words and what they revealed about me. This blog was not intended to do any of that. I simply wanted and needed an outlet for my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I needed a place to park some of the bigger clutter in my head. I needed to tell on myself and give others the opportunity to share their stories with me. I needed to write my way through my own confusion and come to a freedom I couldn’t reach living only inside my own head. I needed a witness. As I’ve said before, we all need a witness.

So… Now what?

I have no idea where I go from here. I’m afraid I won’t be able to live up to the first round of blog posts I did — the last one being just over two years ago. I suppose I need only build on what I’ve already written and just continue to live in each moment as I document it. Just write what you know, Lisa. Just tell the truth as you know and see it. Take the first step and have no fear. Step out on faith as you have so many times before. Be you and be real. Let the chips fall where they may.

I hope that someone will read this and be glad I’m trying to make my way back to writing. I hope my words will have meaning to someone other than me. I hope my thoughts will inspire and help others on their journey through this crazy thing we call life.

I still, after everything, have hope.

I’ll see you all again soon. Much love.

Dying to Learn

Malala Yousafzai is 14 years old, and so is my daughter.  Malala means “sad and melancholic”.  Imani means “faith”.  Both girls are beautiful, intelligent, and well spoken.  They have much in common.  They have one important thing not common to both of them.

Malala just had a bullet removed from her head.

Malala dared to speak out about wanting an education and her beliefs that education should be her birthright as much as it is a boy’s.  Malala dared to ask for something that my daughter often complains about — school.  She took a bullet because she spoke out and the Taliban issued at fatwa — ordering her assassination.

My daughter has been in school since she was 2 1/2 years old.  She’s now a freshman in high school.  Over the last 12 years, she has grown intellectually, spiritually, creatively, artistically, and in many other ways.  She has travelled the world and seen some of the world’s greatest works of art.  She has taken her education farther than many girls in this country are able to, and I am thankful for every opportunity she’s gotten over the years.  School has not always been a cakewalk for Imani, but she has done well overall and she has a bright future ahead of her in college and beyond.  She comes to the table with the cards stacked in her favor.

My educational journey was similar to my daughter’s, but I did not have the support and resources that she does.  I did, however, achieve a rather high level of education (a Masters degree from Juilliard) and I made a decent career for myself afterward.  Clearly, I have made life better for my kids than it was for me, which is the goal of most parents.

My Grandma had an eighth grade education.  She was raised poor on a farm in the South.  Grandma once told me that at age three she was put out in the field with a sack around her neck.  “Pick that, leave that alone” were the instructions she received.  At five, she was “promoted” to the kitchen, where she learned the skills that she later used as a domestic, and eventually used in our kitchen before big holiday family meals.  My grandma’s dream for me was that I go to college and leave behind the ghetto as she had left behind the farm.  College was spoken like a mantra, and I had no choice other than that destiny.  It was a lot of pressure sometimes, but I thanked her for it later.  I credit her with my success and for the drive and determination to achieve a better life for my kids (my girl as well as my boy).  I wish she’d lived to see all that my family has achieved.  I know she would’ve been proud of me.  That’s all I ever wanted.

So, where does Malala come in?

My grandmother was taken out of school because she was needed at home, and because her family saw little point to educating girls.  Girls were meant for the kitchen, and later, as wives, for the production of children (read: sons).  Girls were valued for their beauty because it would increase their chances of marrying well.  Girls helped mom with younger children, cleaned house, and cooked for the men who had worked all day.  Her life was, in many ways, like the one that Malala and girls like her all over the world live everyday.  Our country is not as far from treating its girls like Malala as it would like to think.  Still, my grandmother wouldn’t have been shot for asking to attend high school (though, perhaps, beaten and ridiculed).

I don’t believe that the more “traditional” cultures of the world should be Americanized to improve them.  Our world benefits from the differences between people: our different cuisines, religions, languages, and customs.  Yet, there are many cultures that still practice traditions that are oppressive and take away basic human rights.  The education of girls and women should not be a privilege, but rather a given.  Women do not flee from tradition.  They flee from oppression.  They flee from those who would take away their rights and keep them as second class citizens.  I believe that the men of these cultures fear what will become of their society if women are educated and allowed to do the things that are now prohibited.  If those prohibitions were not oppressive, I doubt there would be quite so much fear.  Women are given very little credit for their common sense.  We just want the same chances and opportunities as men.  We don’t want to be men, and we certainly don’t want to be the sex and power crazed whores that some men think we will become if we are not kept ignorant, housebound, and pregnant.  We are more than breeding machines, and we just want a chance to show the world what we have to offer.

When I look at Malala’s beautiful face in pictures, I cry knowing that this girl could be my daughter.  She is everyone’s daughter and we need to hear her voice and the voices of all the Malalas that risk their lives to read a book or learn to write.  I think of my own daughter’s beautiful face and I thank God that she was born here and not someplace where she would be denied her rights.  I think of my grandmother and her dreams for my future — because in America things like that are possible.  I am two generations away from poverty and one away from the ghetto.  America is not perfect, but if I am any indication at all, there are possibilities and there is progress.

I hope that Malala’s story will open the eyes of the rest of the world and begin a serious outcry for justice for all the world’s Malalas.  I pray that she will not die and become a martyr, but that she’ll live to see the changes she had the courage to ask for.  I hope that girls like Malala will speak up and demand justice, despite the risks.  I pray that I can do something in my lifetime to help these girls achieve their dreams, like my grandmother did for me.  Do not be sad and melancholy, Malala.  Take a page from my girl’s name, Imani, and have faith.  The world has heard your cry, and we will respond because justice denied to one is justice denied to all

Peace be with you, Malala.  Be well and rest easy. 

Taking it to the Woodshed

I first heard the term “woodshed” with regard to music when I was about 11.  For those who don’t know, woodshedding a piece of music means to practice it and learn it.  Here in Oberlin, the Woodshed is the name of a local music studio where Kevin Jones and Aidan Plank teach music lessons, host jam sessions, and provide access to musical education and performances to the community.  Many kids in the area come to the Woodshed to study guitar, banjo, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards among other instruments (I once saw a friend of mine taking a dulcimer lesson!).  Even adults in Oberlin come to the Woodshed to take lessons and (perhaps) realize long held dreams of playing like a pop star.  Clearly, the Woodshed is a community staple and asset, giving so much to so many.

Why, you may ask, am I providing the Woodshed with such glowing praise and free publicity?  It’s simple, really.  My son takes lessons from Kevin Jones, and today was my little man’s first recital.  While most folks wouldn’t consider this a reason to write a blog entry, I do.

My son Iain is autistic, as I have shared in previous blog entries.  Iain was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at age 5, after having been evaluated as a child with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified) at age 3.  He has been evaluated and re-evaluated many times over the years.  We have told many things about what Iain’s limitations are and what he would never do.  We have been encouraged to “mourn” the child we thought we had.  We were told our son would never be what folks consider “normal”.  Essentially, we were encouraged to give up on Iain and treat him like an invalid.

I wasn’t buying it.  These psychologists and neurologists may know about autism, but they did not know my son.  I knew him from the beginning of his life, and I had seen him grow and develop like any neuro-typical child until he was two and a half.  Right around that time, Iain’s development slowed down and he began to have trouble focusing and making eye contact.  While he never regressed, it was apparent that something was going on that needed medical attention.  John and I endured years of not knowing exactly what what was happening with our son, fearing that he would be lost to us forever and locked in his own world.  We spent hours every week dealing with the NYC Board of Education and its bureaucratic bullshit — just to get our son into kindergarten.  In New York, Iain would have been doomed to an education that was spent segregated from neuro-typical students.  He would have been put together with other students (almost exclusively all male) with the same communication impairments as him.  There would have been no contact with kids who not just like him, so there would be no true glimpse into the “real world” for him.

While I was afraid of how our move to Ohio would effect him, Iain was able to go to “regular” school for the first time.  He has been mainstreamed since entering kindergarten.  The school district provides him with a paraprofessional to help him negotiate his way through the school day, and with small group instruction in reading and math.  In this atmosphere, included with all the other kids, Iain has thrived and grown.  He is able to do what all the other kids do.  Yes, he is different.  Iain sees the world in his own unique way, but he is funny, loving, and sweet.  He has friends.  He is a cub scout.  He swims and rides horses, and he loves art.

About 15 months ago, Iain asked for drum lessons.  I was worried about his ability to focus and commit to music as a discipline.  Focus is a big challenge for him, and I was torn between hoping music lessons would help and worrying that he wouldn’t be able to do them.  A close friend of mine studies with Kevin, as does his son.  I met Kevin and spoke with him about Iain’s special needs.  Kevin seemed up to the challenge and we started the lessons in June of 2011.

As always, I worried about Iain and how he was doing.  Something inside me has always worried that folks would treat him like he was slow or stupid.  I have always worried about whether or not he was in the realm of “normal” like the other kids.  Perhaps this is not healthy for me or for Iain, but I truly believe that he will live up or down to whatever is expected of him.  If he fails, fine.  I’ll help him learn to accept failure.  But he’ll never know what he’s capable of if folks pity the handicapped kid rather than pushing the kid who’s different.  So I push him.  Hard.  He’s never failed to amaze me with his intelligence and talent.

Kevin pushes Iain too, and he pushes me.  Kevin pushes me to let Iain go and do things for himself.  He has very kindly and gently asked me to back off of my vigilence and let him be Iain’s teacher.  As a teacher myself, I know he’s right.  As a tiger mom, I needed to hear him tell me it was okay to let my baby go.  So I watch Kevin work with my son, and I watch the magic happen.  Kevin is so patient, but firm at the same time.  He holds Iain to a high standard while still acknowledging his quirks.  He once took away Iain’s favorite part of the lesson — playing the drums — because Iain had been so unfocused and uncooperative during the keyboard portion of the lesson.  I didn’t mind at all.  It showed me the respect Kevin had for my son.  He knew Iain could do better and he chose to discipline him rather than coddle him.  He made Iain deal with the consequences of his actions like any good teacher would do.  While this might have angered another parent, it couldn’t have made me happier.  Kevin saw my son, not his handicaps or differences.  He saw what I saw and he challenged my boy.  The next week, Iain snapped to it.  Mission accomplished.

Today, Iain got up on stage at the Woodshed and played his first recital.  He paid attention, focused, and performed admirably at the drumset.  As I stood there taking a video, my heart swelled with pride.  There was my boy doing something I’d been told he wouldn’t do.  He was, once again, defying the odds and proving wrong every naysayer who’d written him off.  I fought back tears as I watched my baby have yet another victory over the disorder he has that doesn’t have him.  He was right there in the moment with Kevin — smiling, laughing, and having a great time.  He was not only in the world with the rest of us, he was giving us all something that made our world a little brighter.  He was sharing his talent and hard work with us.

At the end, he clearly enjoyed the applause.  He even took a bow — the cutest one I’d ever seen.  He left the stage beaming.  John, Imani, and I were all proud of him, but (more importantly) he was proud of himself.  Perhaps no one else in the room knew how huge this was for Iain, but John and I knew.  We truly knew how special this was.

I cannot thank Kevin enough for his patience and kindness toward my son.  The Woodshed is a blessing in the lives of so many folks because of what Kevin gives to all of his students.  We are grateful for the special blessing it is in our Iain’s life.  We are happy to take it to the Woodshed, week after week, and to get better and better every day.

Fixing a Hole

One of my all time favorite Beatles songs is “Fixing a Hole” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  I am especially fond of the lyric, “I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.”  It is such a hopeful and forward thinking line implying that there is always tomorrow, always another chance to grow and change.  It is high time I took some time for things that weren’t important yesterday.

Over the last three months, I’ve gone from a really fit and happy person, to a flabbier version of myself.  I’ve gained more than 10 pounds of the 40-odd I’d lost since moving here.  I’ve stopped exercising on a consistent basis, and that has made all the difference.  I’ve also started eating far too much and too many of the wrong foods.  I need to set a better example for my kids, but — more importantly — I need to go back to the level of care that I took of myself, for myself.  Somewhere in the mix of the last 3 months, I lost my healthy focus on me.  It’s not about narcissism or being selfish or self centered.  It’s about loving me first so that I have something to give others.  I need to return to that.

It couldn’t hurt my attitude any to do that.  Lately, I’ve been in a funk that I’ve tried like hell to drag myself out of.  I’ve been stressed out about all sorts of things going on, and annoyed as hell about every little thing.  Mind you, sometimes I’m totally justified in being annoyed — like when my son removes all of the cords plugged into the power strip in the office just so he can take the netbook into the living room, or when my adolescent daughter expects me to read her mind and know things she hasn’t told me.  Being a mom is stressful under the best of circumstances.  From my previous posts one can deduce that our situation is not always the best.  Sometimes I forget what a blessing my kids are and I get really pissed.  I know I’m neither the first nor the only mama to do that, but I hate it when I do.

Like many with addictive personalities, I sometimes lose sight of the joy in front of me to pursue the adventures I can only imagine.  In short, I forget to stop and smell the roses.  I miss my long runs and the precious solitude they provided.  I could turn my attention away from my daily stresses toward the beautiful scenery around me: fields of corn and soybeans, bright sunshine or light snow, wood smoke or dewy flowers.  I miss the sun on my back in good weather, and the snowflakes plastered to my eyebrows and eyelashes during the picturesque Oberlin winters.  I miss taking the spin classes my friend Stori leads.  No one kicks my ass like her!  I miss swimming laps, trying my best to get stronger and improve my technique.  I swam a mile once.  I didn’t even realize that was an accomplishment until I told folks I’d done it.  I need to get back to those simple pleasures in my life.

I miss the days when I could practice 5 or 6 hours a day.  I loved practicing that much and hearing the results.  I discovered so much about myself as a musician in those long practice sessions.  I was transported to another place.  It was heavenly.

Then again, there’s always this blog.  I love to write and this blog provided me with the opportunity to do that.  Mostly, I do it for me, but I do enjoy getting feedback from friends.  What I really love is knowing that I’ve written something that resonates with other folks.  I’ve worn many hats in my life: daughter, student, musician, performer, teacher, wife, lover, mother… whew!  And life’s not even close to being over — I hope.  There’s so much left I want to do, and I want to put it all in writing.

So here I am taking stock again.  Step 10.  Who am I?  What to I believe?  What kind of woman do I want to be?  Who do the people around me think I am?

“There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man.  Won’t you please tell me what we’ve learned?  I know it sounds absurd.  Please, tell me who I am?

Supertramp, from the Logical Song.

Who do I want others to see?  The best Lisa I can be.  I am not, nor will I ever be, perfect.  I don’t want to be.  I want to love and be loved.  I want to be forgiven when I’m wrong.  I want to do for others and still do things for me.  I want to live.  I am alive and happy to be alive.

I want to smell every flower and enjoy every moment.  I’m taking the time for a number of things that weren’t important yesterday.  I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in and stops my mind from wandering where it will go.  That hole is getting smaller with every workout I get through, every note I play, and every word I type.

Getting so much better all the time 🙂