Saturday, December 31, 2011

Beautiful moments of 2011

At the start of the year I wrote about not making too many plans or goals because life will inevitably get in the way.
“Perhaps in reflecting on the year that’s been and planning for the year ahead I should focus more on my hopes and dreams, my ability to grow and adapt and transform the way I see myself and the world and the God who created it all. I’m not sure yet how to achieve this... But I’d like to resolve to LIVE more, to see beauty, seek justice, be intentional in my relationships, be creative... and when unexpected things come along to embrace them, experience and grow through them.”
I didn't know how prophetic that was! In May/June this year I was blind-sided by the worst episode of Major Depression I've ever experienced. I came to the precipice of a nervous breakdown and it has taken the rest of the year to crawl back from the ledge.
But in some moment of “sanity”, I vowed to seek out and enjoy any moment or glimpse of beauty I could as a means of survival.
So instead of a ‘Top Ten of 2011’-type list I’m just going to mention some of the top beautiful things I heard, read or seen this year...

Music is always my best medicine. Music has always held a profound place in my life, especially during my mental illness. So here’s the most influential from this year...

The Waking Sleep by Katie Herzig
If this was a Top Ten list, number one is the only position I’d be certain of – this album. This album is hauntingly beautiful, heartbreaking, childish fun and just plain stunning – both lyrically and musically. Who could go past such beautiful lines as... “my faith lies between daises and pews” (from Daises and Pews) This album has breathed hope and life into my heart every day since it was released in September.
And check out this super fun video of the first single “Free My Mind”

Vice Verses by Switchfoot
You know those albums you hear and you think they were written exactly for you in that particular moment of time?
Vice Verses was written about my life this year.
I wish I could have written the song Thrive: “No I’m not alright/I know that I’m not right/Feels like I travel but never arrive/I want to thrive not just survive”. And I think this album rivals The Beautiful Letdown as Switchfoot’s finest work.

Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars
The moment you hear the harmonious vocals of John Paul White and Joy Williams I’m certain you will be mesmerised, just like I was. The stunning simplicity of this album is phenomenal. In my opinion, there is definitely a good reason why this self made, indie duo from Nashville has become one of the most acclaimed acts of 2011 across the world.
Check out this beautiful single “Poison and Wine”

People and Things by Jack’s Mannequin
I always seem to find something inherently hopeful about Andrew McMahon’s (aka Jack’s Mannequin) piano driven music, regardless of the lyrics or content of the songs.
I mean who’d have thought you could make a song entitled “Hey Hey Hey (We’re all gonna die)” sound so good?!

Invisible Empires by Sara Groves
Sara Groves has a consistent spot in my playlist. I think it’s because her lyrics always touch me, challenge and inspire me, regardless of how mediocre or brilliant the album is. This year was no different. She puts beautiful words and heart to the doubts and mysteries of our faith.... and I’m very grateful.

Other artists who have had top places in my playlist this year: Matthew Perryman Jones, Mumford & Sons, Amy Kuney, Brooke Waggoner, Wakey! Wakey! and Butterfly Boucher.

Reading for enjoyment has largely gone by the wayside this year, mainly because it’s not really enjoyable! My concentration, especially at the worst of times is appalling, so taking three months to read something is a bit of a drag!
I have found a lot of solace in poetry.
This year I’ve discovered the work of both Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. Both of them have unique ways of revealing the messy beauty of humanity and nature. I have found great comfort in their poetic voices.

The most phenomenal writer I have come into contact with this year is Colombian Ingrid Betancourt. She was one of the keynote speakers at Sydney’s Writers Festival in May. Considering Ingrid spent seven years in the Colombian jungle as a hostage of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) this woman is definitely one of the most graceful, peaceful and brave women I have ever met. The way she speaks of experiences and choosing to live our best in the darkness was incredibly moving. I’m still attempting to work my way through her incredible (and huge) memoir “Even Silence Has An End”.

In a very dark year there has been many beautiful moments; small and large. And I’m particularly grateful for the eyes to see them.
As Anne Lamott says: “Hope begins in the dark. You wait and watch and work and don’t give up.” That’s how I’m going to end 2011.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Breathing words again

Nearly every day this past month words have poured from my heart and head onto paper and screen. It started as just a few drops back in July – the first piece of prose I had written in years. And now it has turned into a river. Poetry I thought was lost is welling up inside.

Sometimes the words are poetic or profound, sometimes chaotic and incoherent. But the more I welcome them, allow them space to live and breathe, the more they come.

A friend complimented me today and I thought “I cannot help it! Often I am barely trying to write well... I’m simply trying to write. There's nothing special in that”.

I realise now that I had stopped feeling the same way as I used to.

I have always felt deeply, none more so than my teenage years. My most prolific period was during the usual periods of teenage angst (with some added complications along the way). Even as a fairly depressed 16 year old, I am so fond of the memories of sitting with other writer friends pouring out our souls in silence or together at Writer’s Camps.

But over the past few years I think I have begun to shut down. While pain, chaos and the mundane of life raged in and around me, it was easier to slowly close my heart; no longer hearing, seeing, writing, poetry. It was easier to feel less and give up words, than plumb the depths of wounds and thoughts and dreams.

I scribbled last night...

I stopped breathing

I stopped believing

I stopped feeling

The truth was

numbness is more painful

These days, though, I find myself feeling and breathing and releasing. Words reveal truths and pains and hope that I could not find elsewhere. They begin to tell the story that I have been safely locking up inside my heart.

Poet Gregory Orr describes this very process

“I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions and traumatic events that come with being alive… When I write a poem, I process experience. I take what’s inside me — the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory — and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem. This process brings me a kind of wild joy. Before I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active: the powerful shaper of my experience. I am transforming it into a lucid meaning."

I am beginning to breathe and feel and believe again. And I am so very grateful for the gift.