One day, after a particularly stressful meeting at the office, a woman stopped at a fruit stand, and purchased a small duck out of a large, cardboard box. Why? She didn’t know. She just thought it was a good day for a duck. A companion duck. A life duck. Sometimes, a small duck seems like the solution to a bad day. Typically, it’s not.
The woman went home with her duck, and put on the kettle to make that kind of soup that you just pour boiling water into.
Her name was Sofia. The duck. Not the woman. The woman’s name was Jean. So Jean and Sofia fixed their eyes upon each other as the water in the kettle began to sound out a low rumble.
Jean was looking for answers. Looking for peace. She was searching Sofia’s black, beady eyes, hoping to reconnect with nature, and the land, and find some sort of mystical power that would make everything make sense. And as the anticipation in her heart grew, and the kettle water rumbled louder, a small, unobtrusive squeak found its way to Jean’s ears.
“Do you have a cigarette?”
Jean’s eyebrows dove inward in disapproval. Not only had she not reconnected with the spiritual guide she had hoped to find, but she was also, apparently, hallucinating.
Ahem. “Sorry. My voice is scratchy and quiet because you can’t just go talking your head off while you’re in that cardboard box because, in general, no one wants to buy a talking duck.” Sofia the duck, while small and fluffy, was very self-assured, and wasted no time making apologies. “How about that cigarette?”
Jean made an about-face to the decorative mirror on the wall. She checked her pupils. The kettle began with a low moan behind her, but rapidly belted out it’s alarm.
“Might want to get that kettle,” Sofia suggested.
“Sure. Yeah. Thanks,” Jean replied. It had already been a long day, and she decided not to fight against whatever malfunction her brain was experiencing. And hey, at least it was just a small, talking duck, and not an old, naked wizard. Things could be worse. “I don’t smoke, actually. Not for several years now.”
“That’s a shame,” sighed Sofia, “I get cranky without the nicotine. I know what you’re going to say, too, but I’ve tried the gum and somehow it’s not the same.”
“They say it’s a muscle memory thing, actually. Like your muscles enjoy the process of lifting the cigarette and taking a drag, and it’s actually just the process that is so satisfying,” Jean proposed, “Maybe you can just pretend to smoke.”
Sofia rolled her eyes. “One of us should be the smart one,” she quipped, “and it probably shouldn’t be the duck.”
“Just trying to help,” Jean replied. “Do you want some soup?”
“Is it vegan?”
“Of course. For the most distinguishing of waterfowl.”
So Jean and Sofia sat at the dining room table, enjoying their vegan soup made from dehydrated vegetables and grains of some kind. Jean, not knowing exactly which utensils ducks prefer when eating vegan soup, had provided Sofia with a small espresso cup from which to slurp. It worked just fine. Jean wondered what they would talk about, assuming that a 30-year-old accountant and a juvenile duck would have little in common.
“Wanna watch some tv?” Sofia offered. Yes. Television would do.
As they flipped through the channels watching a dance competition; a witty political commentary show; more than five variations of a whitening toothpaste commercial; and a very serious scene from a reality television show in which young teens were embroiled in a fierce debate over who should be the leader of their alliance, a kind of comfortability set in between Jean and Sofia. Sofia snuggled into the crack between Jean’s leg and the couch. She caught Jean’s eye and gave a little shrug as if to say, “I am a duck. We tend to snuggle in small places.” Jean let out a long, tired breath as she turned the channel in time to catch a mean pirouette from a girl with pink hair and strong, thick legs.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Sofia admitted softly.
“How who does what?”
“You. Everybody. People. I don’t know how you run, and fight, and work, and do so much on the damn computer, and…and all of it. It’s like you’re set on going crazy. Wait…is that the goal? Is everyone trying to go crazy?” Sofia puzzled, feeling like she might be on to something.
But by this time Jean had started to cry.
“Oh shit,” Sofia grumbled, “Oh shit. Umm…come on, there. There, there.” Sofia rhythmically patted her wing on Jean’s leg like she was keeping time for the world’s most apathetic marching band. Then she spouted, “Oh look! LOOook! That guy with the dreads is back! And look!—he’s so terrible! I can extend better than that and I don’t even have arms!” Sofia flapped her wings at the screen. “Look!”
Jean looked up, even though she didn’t want to. She wanted to grab the little duck and bury her face in its side, feeling the downy young feathers tickling her nose. Had Sofia not been a talking duck, that’s exactly what Jean would have been doing. And Sofia wouldn’t have the ability to protest. But instead, the duck was somehow prodding at Jean’s dark shadows, bringing out the things she’d rather not feel. Things she’d rather not acknowledge.
“It’s just that I don’t know what I’m doing and, at this point, I don’t think I ever will,” Jean sobbed.
Sofia let out a half-quack, half-laugh, “Is that all?!”
Jean frowned and wiped her nose, her sadness swiftly replaced by fierce annoyance.
“Sorry, sorry,” Sofia recovered. “It’s just that…none of you do. Every day that you all pull through is a true and shocking surprise to me and, frankly, all other wild life. Every day we think you’ll probably all kill each other and take us down with you, but you don’t. You’re all surprisingly adept at surviving yourselves.” Sofia shook her tail as she wedged herself back between Jean’s leg and the couch cushion. “You need to relax.”
Jean sighed. She did feel a little more peaceful. Sofia closed her eyes gingerly and smacked her beak a couple of times.
“And buy some cigarettes,” she added as she nodded off to sleep.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m in love with Brené Brown. It’s true. She’s a vulnerability researcher stuffed to her eyeballs with grace and wisdom and I just want to hug her a whole lot (i.e., too much). I wrote about her first TED talk a while back, and she just did another one. After fighting back tears and hugging my computer screen I thought I should probably share it with you all, too. It’s only 20 minutes—and it’s amazing.
It’s raining today, and I love the rain. It makes me love the world we live in. But I’ve also been researching pimps and prostitution again, and it’s just so, so dark. It’s crushingly dark. I just needed some tiny amount of hope to keep me going. Just a teensy, weensy bit because, I tell you, it’s like every word I read steals a little light from my life. I needed something to say that there is still goodness in the hearts of humankind somewhere, somehow. This did it for me. This is enough for today. Thank you, Dr. Brown.
If you REALLY, really can’t spare 20 minutes, here are a couple of thoughts to take with you:
Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s courage. Vulnerability is what is going to save us from shame. Shame is the thing that lurks in the darkness and tells us not that we did something bad, or stupid or greedy or selfish; but that we are bad, stupid, selfish and greedy.
Shame tells men that they can’t ever be weak. Shame propagates the myth that being a man requires that you stay in control of your emotions, that you prioritize work over everything else, that higher status should be your life-long pursuit and that violence goes hand-in-hand with manliness. Shame tells women that we must be nice, thin, modest and look beautiful. It tells women that we have to be able to juggle every task that comes before us (home, work, cleaning, cooking, studies—all of it!) without breaking a sweat. And shame tells us all that falling short of these things is disgraceful.
But shame is a liar. So, I want to ask you a favor: don’t let your darkest day be your only day. Please don’t, darlings. You are beautiful. You are sacred. You are loved. Don’t let shame tell you who you are.
Okay, so this post is kinda serious. But I’ve had a few things on my mind and I wanted to write about them, so I figured it was best not to limit my voice here. I mean, in real life I’m not totally full of crap all the time. A good portion of the time, yes, but ALL the time? No. So if you were hoping for the usual absurdity, feel free to browse the archives, go get a Cadbury egg (they’re in stores all ready! Praise be!), and come back next week. I’ll probably be spouting some nonsense about music videos or my plans for my twilight years (hint: they include Bloody Marys and scaring children) or something like that. (Oh, also…thanks to Studio30 Plus for the writing prompt.)
There’s a Weight Pulling On Me
I mentioned a while back that I’ve been doing some research on johns and prostitution and other unsavory topics for a project that I’m working on. I also mentioned that doing so will bum you out in a hurry. And it did. It does. It’s continuing to. I still don’t want to bombard you with the details of the research, because its kinda a topic that you want to be prepared to think about. Like, you don’t really want to be surprised by the darkness of it all. I’m a firm believer that surprises should be positive. That’s why, at surprise parties, everyone just yells in jubilee and smiles; they don’t throw ketchup and lizards at you. So I won’t be listing out all the details of the things that have been weighing on me, but I do want to talk about the weight itself. See, over time, each piece of data, each little story, each personal connection—they’re breaking down my ability to hold out hope for the soul of humankind.
As I grow older, it seems that more and more of the people and institutions that I trusted—that I revered—crumble and fall before my very eyes. Those that represented safety, goodness, integrity, and strength are found to have been corroded from within, their gleaming outsides eventually giving way to what had begun to die so long ago. Our news outlets are never in want for these tales of the fallen. The Catholic church stood brokenhearted in shame as its bastions destroyed the delicate hearts of parishioners. Evangelical pastors are found pursuing sexual relationships of all kinds outside their homes. Senators, governors—our public servants—are found to have forfeited the needs of their electorate for their own gain, serving themselves above all else. Teachers, parents, grandparents, businessmen, social workers—no one is off-limits. No one is sacred. Everyone is suspect.
Deceit. Betrayal. Scandal. Greed. Rage. Hubris. There are days when the endless torrent of our weakest moments threatens to drive even the most hopeful buoy to the depths of the sea. And that feeling—the feeling of unwillingly plunging into the abyss where the dark waters obscure even your own limbs—that feeling has hounded me.
Normally, I smile and say hello to people when I’m out on a walk. Normally, I make polite chit-chat with the checker at the grocery store. Normally, I keep my mind open to voices of wisdom and grace that might find their way to me. But these days, I find myself closing off…doubting…being afraid of what I can’t see in a man’s eyes. I have this sneaking suspicion that every person is just one secondaway from having their rotting interior exposed. And we will have one less good person in a world already short on goodness.
A Short Detour on Obligation and Boundaries
I don’t believe in obligation. I spent many, many years of my life doing things out of obligation because no one ever taught me about appropriate boundaries. The thing with obligation is that when you say yes when you want to say no, you end up hating whomever you said yes to. It makes you cranky. And bitter. And all kinds of nasty things. So, once someone did teach me about boundaries, I stopped doing things out of obligation. I only do things when I want to do things, even if someone makes a really sad face. Even if they think I’m a terrible person for not doing the thing. I would rather live and give genuinely than get caught up in the ugly snare of obligation.
Over the last few days I realized that I do feel one obligation. An obligation that I will accept. An obligation that I will cling to, even if I don’t feel like it. Even if it’s hard. Even if my heart breaks a little.
I will be obligated, until death, to believe. To hope. I will never give up on a life, no matter how decrepit it becomes. I will never give up on love somehow finding its way through our diseased veins. I will never concede the fight and let my daughter live in a world that is too broken and damaged to be beautiful.
I call this an obligation, because at this moment, I’m not feeling inspired to believe. I don’t have that feeling that somehow good outweighs the bad; somehow light finds its way through the darkness. The great and powerful words delivered by sages of years passed are falling from my ears, unheard. I’m just having a hard time feeling goodness in the world. So that’s where I pledge my dedication. I pledge my obligation…
A calling, in the religious sense of the word, is a religious vocation (which comes from the Latin for “call”) that may be professional or voluntary and, idiosyncratic to different religions, may come from another person, from a divine messenger, or from within oneself.
There are some fortunate folks who, while wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in the springtime of their lives, looked to the horizon and felt a pull in the center of their being. They squinted their eyes ever so slightly at the rising sun and heard a whisper in their hearts. “This, young soul,” the whisper said, “is your calling.”
I would like to take a moment to tell those fortunate folks to take their clairvoyance and shove it.
That’s a touch on the bitter side, I suppose. I’ll settle with simply stating that I cannot, and do not understand how they came to be the way they are. I don’t know how it is that some people set a course, follow it unwaveringly, and find a quiet perseverance through the troubling bits in life due to the overwhelming conviction that they are following their calling. It must be nice. Like a cozy blanket.
I was raised in a Christian home—Nazarene, to be exact—and the notion that you have a specific purpose in life always hung around me like too much perfume sprayed in the ladies’ room. I was followed, dogged, by this suspicion that while some had meaning, I had none. Of course I did my best to deny that suspicion. I searched my heart and soul, looking for bread crumbs that would lead me back to the core of who I am—to the core of who I was to be.
Initially, I just wanted to be good. I did well in school. Got a job and kept my grades up until graduation, then headed off to college. After attending a couple of private schools I found myself still undecided in my major. It seemed that every topic was equally appealing and unappealing at the same time. The idea of pursuing one field at the exclusion of another scratched at me. The commitment to leave all those possibilities on the roadside of my life’s highway seemed wrong. I couldn’t do it. Wanting to enjoy all fields and all areas of knowledge, I embraced none. I was buying Legos a piece at a time, but they’d never make a castle or a plane or anything awesome. So, I quit.
That was many, many years ago. Now I’m 31. Not much has changed.
Today, I work in starts and fits, chasing after all the beautiful and exciting things to be done. Photography. Writing. Singing and songwriting. Knitting. Crochet. Sewing. Graphic design. Filmmaking. Each project brings challenge, life, satisfaction. Each new goal sparks a little something in me. Each challenge threatens to break me, but I press forward. I learn and grow and truly enjoy myself. But what comes next?
What comes next?
Now that question—that question is what scratches at me. All these many years later, all these challenges met, skills acquired and beauty made and still I have no course to follow. It’s as if my ship continues to find sand bars, but never finds land. My oar has slammed in to the sandy ocean floor and the sun has set. It’s disturbing. And a little chilly.
I’m still open to the idea that one day a fog will be lifted and I’ll have a comforting definition of what I am meant to be. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I should embrace the fact that I’m a vocational gypsy. Maybe I am called to nothing. Or to everything. Maybe those are the same thing.