Thursday, November 22, 2012

The People Who Don't Know I'll Name Them Today

It's late and I'm feeling reckless so I'm going to do something I never do--throw down an unedited blog post. This decision makes me want to toss back a couple shots of bourbon with a little xanax because I am the worst sort of hyper-editing perfectionist freak. I feel like that phrase YOLO was invented for way better stuff than this, but here goes.

Later today we will make our way over to the house of our friends Anne and Bob for dinner. About a million years ago when there were five children who were 9 and under, we moved to New Jersey and Anne's parents invited us to their home with their other five grown but not yet married children, cousins, aunts, grandmas and stray clergy members. For four years we did this and they were the most magical Thanksgivings you can imagine with wild soccer games and 4th grade musical performances and 20-somethings who played endless games of Tetris. I remember thinking that this gigantic celebration was exactly why I'd always wanted a big family. Drs. John and Yvonne Driscoll head up that clan and live in such a way that you always know there is an open seat at their table--smart and funny, kind but very real, these two raised Anne, John, Billy, Margaret, Kevin and Michael to be extraordinary human beings. For the years in which they made us feel that we were part of their clan and for the fact that I now serve Aunt Sheila's green beans every year, I am so very grateful.

Grandview High School gave me many things - love of Funk, a newspaper that got me writing, and not insignificant street cred decades later. It also gave me friends like H. Clayton Thomas and Roger Denney, two of the finest men I know. Both were stalwart individualists in high school. One went East, the other South and neither returned, but the magic of the internet gave them back to us and every time I see their names, I relent a little on the grudge I have toward Facebook. They love their wives and it is evident, even from a distance that they have raised their children with care. They share their politics softly and their rock and roll loud and when they speak of old friends it is with the sort of encouragement that lets us know the thread which unspooled them, still connects. Both celebrated birthdays in the past week. My gratitude for their presence on this earth is as solid as they are.

Tonight Yessie and the girls came over for dinner. It's been three months since we met and two since Polo was deported and in that time we've become real friends. The story of her life is one that reads like a novel and yet she does not see herself as extraordinary. She just finished her GED, is working nights and raising daughters who are smart and sassy and so much fun, and every time we are together she wears her strength and peace like armor. Knowing her and getting to be a part of her life is the sort of privilege for which I feel severely unqualified.

Last month I traveled to the City of Brotherly Love and spent a week with the tribe that is Quintessence Theatre Group. The ten Brothellos, their fearless leader Alex Burns, Ellen & Al Brown and my sister wives Lisa and Mara Burns, received me with the openest of open arms and gave me a sense of belonging the likes of which I will carry with me for a long time. Would that they were here and I could feed them one and all today.

There are more, of course, whose lives move through the collective unconscious every day and who, tomorrow, will be in my heart as well. If you've ever told me you read this blog, you're on that list. The encouragement I've gotten from you has given me a voice, freed me up to tell the truth and made me want to be a writer. Your generosity is a gift.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tribes and Lovers

I flew to New York on September 13, landed in Newark and was retrieved by Alicia who had to drop her groceries at the check-out counter and race to the airport because when I’d texted her my flight information the day before, I had in fact, texted Mary Glen’s Alicia instead. Upon landing I received this message, “Are you still coming? When do you arrive?” Yet rather than head into the guilt spiral that some folks might necessitate, I made one phone call and waited happily in the sunshine. The kindred who was headed my way would require no penance.

Some slightly thawed groceries and a missed exit later (Ah, Turnpike how I’ve missed you) we arrived at her home which is located in country so beautiful, no outsider would believe it was Jersey. The conversation began when I got in the car, ran into the wee hours and continued at the local diner over breakfast. After that was Torah class and except for the fact that I kept turning pages in the wrong direction, I felt at home in a way I hadn’t in a long time. She drove me to the train in Summit, kissed me goodbye and went home to sell her house, our thread as unbroken as the day I moved away 14 years ago.

Penn Station is the place I first met public transportation so it was fitting to arrive there. Rather than cab uptown to Hope’s, I elected to be that person on the C train, all BIG SUITCASE and awkward turnstile transfers. Back when I first rode the subway I’d never have attempted such a feat. But now I know what I didn’t know then, that New Yorkers are the world’s most generous hosts and so I asked one man to slide the big bag under the turnstile after he went through in the other direction. Another woman agreed to carry the small one out when she went through the gate. I climbed the steps and emerged at 88th and Central Park West, moving as one in a dream to the place I would call home for the next 10 days.

The visit did not disappoint. Since leaving in 2001 my trips have been both brief and infrequent. This time I was handed the luxury of days stacked fatly, one upon another; time burning a hole in my pocket. I brought Boulevard Double Wide IPA and Dark Horse Moonshine, happily cooking the next two days for a dinner party we hosted on Sunday night.  As usual, our posse did not disappoint—we’ve seen nearly every sorrow that it’s possible to see together and so our joy has weight. Sitting at the table listening to lives fully engaged in a second act, I realized that while I have stunning people scattered across the country, nowhere is there a collective like this one—I was with my Tribe.

I processed the revelation for the next 6 days as I moved through the city, reconnecting with old friends and amazedly meeting new ones. I say amazedly because I did not believe that the city would hold my future like it holds my past. Or perhaps, more truthfully, I did not believe that I had a future like I have a past.

And in the midst of that wonder, I saw two plays.

The first, “Lovers” by Brian Friel was in previews for its off-Broadway run. It is a product of TACT, The Actor’s Company Theatre, for which my friend, Scott Evans is the founder and artistic director. For seven years I've read rave reviews of this company online. The pleasure of seeing how well-deserved they were, was matched by the aching tenderness that moves through the play. It is connection and separation, miscommunication and perfect verse, longing and satisfaction, youth and middle age.

 The second ticket, “Tribes” by Nina Raine was gift-wrapped by Lee Roy Rogers whom I understudied at the Rep last year and who just stepped into one of the leads. This beautiful work is directed by the brilliant David Cromer, cranking up the volume and high def picture of a family desperate to be heard. Where do we fit in? Does the weight of DNA trump the choice of uniform we eventually wear? And how can it be that we do not speak the language of those with whom we shared a crib, yet understand without benefit of explanation a soul we just met?

On Friday I was at right angles. The week had been perfect. Each encounter had felt ordained and it was too late to call anyone else. What could finish this week, deep-set in the Days of Awe?  I wanted to be outside, downtown, to connect with people and walk the streets. And so Gina emailed and said that she would be at a TEDx salon at 5:30 in Soho. The topic was The Power of Connection. She and Jim and I could walk to get a drink when it was over. Of course.

And though I was late for the talk, I made it in time for the discussion, a circle of New Yorkers with accents ranging from the Grand Concourse to Brisbane, telling intimate stories, amidst timeless questions and holy confessions. I’d been pulled inexplicably to a chair at the front when I am strictly a back row gal. But when the man next to me started talking about story and community and tribe I knew I was in the right place. We spoke afterward, about all of these things, made a connection that each knew was meant to be and parted knowing this was just the beginning.

After drinks and tapas, Jim and Gina and I walked the streets of Soho, happening upon a restaurant we all loved and which none of us could have found if we tried—the memory of a shared meal there filling us all over again. I took the 1 train back uptown and walked the rest of the way, knowing for the first time that the city and I aren’t finished with each other yet.

The next morning the bus drove through the Lincoln Tunnel to Newark and dropped me off for a flight to Baltimore, transferring to a plane that took me back to a greeting—Mary Glen lifting me off the ground in a celebratory embrace—that was home itself, the arms of love and not the ground beneath them. And in that moment I recognized that no matter where we live, we are all nomads. My search for Tribe and Lover had finally come full circle.

Just before my freshman year, my parents and sisters moved to California and I spent my first college break in an unfamiliar place, lamenting the loss of community and intimacy, for is this not what Tribes and Lovers are? On Christmas Eve we celebrated with new friends and as I shared my longing heart, a woman then younger than I am now, said simply, “You know that song, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’? Maybe that’s what you need to do.”

I’m sorry for the years it took that message to sink in, but oh so grateful to know the truth of it now. We are all a part of the diaspora—a people searching for shibboleths and eagle feathers, team colors and the  patois of home, familiar whispers and waiting arms—and when we find it, in the eyes of a beloved, on a city street or local gym, may we remember that in finding others we have found ourselves.

 “Out beyond ideas of right-thinking and wrong-thinking is a field.
            I’ll meet you there.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Invisible Lives We Do Not See

Update: The most important thing to do RIGHT NOW is sign this petition. Then come back and read the rest of the story. This family is being separated TOMORROW.

Last Thursday I ate a McDonald's Filet 'O Fish sandwich for lunch. And small fries. I haven't had fast food in ages because I tend to eat things like kale salad and other food that is healthier and more "white people" as my friend Babs said to me once. But today I was in the basement of the Jackson County Courthouse sitting with my new friend Yessie and her little daughters. It was the third courthouse we'd been to in our search for the courtroom where her husband Polo was supposed to be arraigned on a traffic violation. 

I'm a college educated woman with a good job and five (nearly) college educated children, but after being given bad information by no less than 10 different sources in three hours, I felt like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole and ceased to understand any of the rules by which we were playing. We were all exhausted and the girls who are four and two years old, were hungry, and while I had no big solutions for the day, McDonald's at least solved one of their problems. I needed to go alone in case Polo happened to arrive while I was gone. I got Happy Meals, of course, which came with the dinosaurs from Ice Age and when the girls saw them it didn't seem to matter that their dad was facing his second deportation or that their mom had emptied her bank account so that her Cricket phone could accept collect phone calls from jail. It only mattered that they now had something to do while they were waiting for a court appearance that had been scheduled and cancelled six different times.  And while we sat there eating our un-nutritious food and talking about how Yessie had scored a 12.9 on her GED placement test though she'd only needed a 7, a woman came out of the courtroom to lock up and asked us who we were waiting for. When Yessie told her she said, "Oh, the judge is actually doing it right now. It's a video arraignment." 

Every bit of heavenly wrath I wanted to call down on the system in that moment was swallowed up by her next words, "The judge is giving him credit for time served. You can pick him up at the jail."

We grabbed napkins and dinosaurs and children and Cokes (Godforgiveme) and ran to the car as fast as we could. But of course it was no use. Because if you've been deported before, as Polo has, no one but ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is picking you up at the jail. Polo's record is completely clean (apart from driving without a license) and he is an entrepreneur who has worked hard and employed others and established such an honest reputation that his business comes to him word of mouth. He is not a criminal. But, because he was deported and then returned to his family in the US without papers, he is a felon. And so, on Wednesday August 29 he is scheduled to be deported back to Mexico, in spite of the fact that he's been living and working and keeping other people in this country working, for more than 18 years.

I didn't know any of this prior to last week. I just knew he showed up on time and called me back and did what I hired him to do. And so when he didn't show up, I didn't really think about it, I just assumed he'd been called to something urgent. That night I answered a knock on my door to find a young Hispanic woman, two toddlers, and a young man on my porch. 

"Are you Kate?" she asked, and when I answered in the affirmative she told me who she was. When Mary Glen and I invited them in she unleashed her story, of Polo being mistaken for another man and arrested at a Burger King. By the time they discovered he was not the man they were seeking, well, it was too late. Because they'd discovered his true identity. 

In her final quarter at Stanford, Mary Glen took a class called Printmaking and Social Justice, taught by a woman named Favianna Rodriguez. The class looked at how art can spur action on behalf of the oppressed, in particular the undocumented. It was there that Mary Glen learned that more than 5,000 children have been taken from their parents as a result of their arrest and deportation. Some have been left sitting in cars, put into the foster care system and adopted by American parents, in spite of the fact that their parents had no criminal records. Let me say that again so you understand me--people who are undocumented and have been picked up, have been taken from their young children, left alone by the side of the road. They have lost them to a court system that decided they were better off with American parents because they were citizens and their parents were not. And I don't care where you fall on the political spectrum, unless you are Kris Kobach who is trying to make a name for himself, the thought of children being taken from loving and hardworking parents should rend your heart.

I've learned a lot in the past two weeks. Spent time on the phone with lawyers and activists and heard stories I did not want to hear. This morning I arranged to drive Yessie and the girls to the deportation center in Kingston, Missouri so that we could take Polo some clothes and money. Yessie was also hoping I could take the girls in so they could see him and though I am willing to do whatever she needs, I confess that the thought of being privy to this meeting reduces me to tears every time I consider it. 

One thing I've learned is that the more well-known you are, the better chance you have of not being deported. Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out as undocumented in an essay for New York Times Magazine. Julio Salgado, an undocumented artist was on the cover of Time magazine. Polo isn't famous and neither are we, but while I was running last week I thought about Dr. King. I wondered how he looked a the problem of civil rights in all its presentations--access to voting, education, employment, housing--and kept his head above water, so vast was the sea of inequality. I look at this one life and feel overwhelmed by the systemic brokenness that has produced it. All I can do are a few small things. 

So I am asking for help. Here is a link to two very good articles about the trauma of families those who experience arrest and deportation: 

And here is a link to a petition that I am asking people to sign in the hope that a very small act can help save a family:

I know it's a big problem and with as many heads as the Hydra. I don't have time to worry about that today though. There are lives at stake. I am descended from Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and none of them had papers either, yet here I am today, a "legal" citizen of this country. The countless men, women, and young people simply trying to survive in America today should not be torn from their families and expelled from this country by a harsh and broken system. Polo and his family deserve their right to life in America. If you believe in human rights for all, please sign the petition.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Sacred and the Profane

Nearly three years ago when Here’s to the Village first saw the light of the Interwebs, I had no idea what I was doing. Blogging was a soapbox, an altar, a practicum, therapy and a thank you note all rolled up into amateur but bewildering technology. Some days I was desperate to share what I was thinking. On others, the knowledge that I could not figure out how the FUCK to make the coding stop double spacing was enough to derail a post. 

Life was a knife’s edge. Work ended. Community changed. The family I worked so hard to maintain was now the poster child for WHAT CAN GO WRONG. I felt alone and adrift on a rickety raft, free and terrified in a way I hadn’t been in years.

I came of age at the tail end of the Jesus people movement, traded beers for a Bible and made an even exchange of identity for belonging. I married young and had children fast. Moved five times in nine years, twice with a newborn in tow. And then one day a therapist in a small town in Michigan talked me into squinting just enough to see  the world outside my homeschooling, hard-judging, evangelical Republican door. I started telling the truth and learned how to ask for help.

We moved to New Jersey, God help us, where the two dog years were a straight up bargain for my dearest friend, a Jew who didn’t freak out when I talked about Jesus. I stopped going to church and we moved to a corner of New York City that is, to this day, the gold standard of community in all its intended annoyance and glory.  Hard times and great parties; uncertain theology and the surprise delivery of a dozen bags of groceries on a day I couldn’t afford to buy one.

And when I believed I could not love it any more, the grace ran out and in 2001 all roads led to Kansas, a place I most assuredly did not want to go. It was all well and good to be a Midwesterner in Manhattan where I didn’t have to look like everyone else, but I certainly couldn’t be one in Kansas. No one would understand why we didn’t go to church or lived in an empty house because we couldn’t afford to move our furniture from storage. We’d learned to drink and swear and stand up for ourselves; to find Jesus in drag queens and the pages of Tom Robbins novels, of all unlikely places. How in the world could we find our way in Oz?

I underestimated the Kansans.

They showed up with spare mattresses and loose change; opened their homes for dinner and life, and occasionally allowed their curiosity to overcome their politeness. “So are you heathen now?” asked one kindly when I said yet again, “We don’t go to church anywhere,” in answer to the question everyone asked.

God love her. I was actually grateful for the chance to explain my life to someone so different from me. My gratitude grew as I encountered further surprises. There were people with open minds on the homeschooling swim team; a Southern Baptist Texan with big hair and a wicked sense of humor whose teaching I devoured; the minister who'd married me and didn't bat an eyelash when I told him I was getting a divorce. 

Like a slow-growing plant, I fed on truth I couldn't see. I had no idea that leaving church was now a “thing” or that a new breed of heretical believers were roiling the waters of faith and philosophy. The lines were blurring for a lot of folks, but life was so fractured I had little knowledge of anything beyond the edges of our small and broken world.

Inch by inch we recovered and healed, some days with Psalms and some with Springsteen. I found a spiritual director in an old friend and career inspiration in the Port Fonda food truck. I read Patti Smith’s memoir of life with Robert Mapplethorpe and wept at the beloved provision in its pages. I learned that love doesn’t have to make sense to serve its purpose and felt the unique joy of giving after losing so much. I joined brilliant colleagues who could explain modern art, and then others who would wade into a bar brawl with anyone who disrespected me. Weeping through a white hot production of Titus Andronicus, I saw everything fall away except the holiness of creation—In the beginning was the word… And God created…And it was good.

And so today, as I survey the landscape and see harvest and hope, there is no life except the naked public square. From now on, Here’s to the Village will have to live in the same occasionally uncomfortable place I do. There will be days when I write about Jesus, that those of you who break out in hives will just have to close the page. Or grit your teeth and hang on. Because the next post will undoubtedly contain some pissed off rant or gleefully swearing review which polite company would never tolerate. The only constant will be the original one –the village and its people. Singing hymns or YMCA.

More and more I think they're all the same.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Friends with Words

For each graduation from high school, family and friends of whichever Fredrick was commencing have sent letters, photos and memories to be compiled into a scrapbook of extraordinary encouragement. A week ago Matty batted cleanup for this crew and ended our high school days forever. While the book awaits a few additional entries because of my slow start, it is already the best kind of treasure -- words of life for the days ahead. 
This entry is one he hasn't seen yet--it came in on graduation night from Ghana, a friend who is family and who has known him since he was two. It's the kind of wisdom that should be a commencement address and so I'm offering the only platform I have in order to share it.

Dear Matty,
I missed some of your siblings with this, don't want to miss you, so your mom is receiving this in an email, which she will print.  That's the only reason my real signature isn't on it.
Ok, here we go...
1. Money is Important
Learn how to manage your money: get a checking and a savings, learn how to balance your checkbook, do it, keep track of your spending, and save 10% of everything you earn or receive.  When you get enough saved up, start investing in some form or get long-term savings acct.  Don't have a poverty mentality: decide how much income you want per year and then go for it.  Even if you're being supported by your parents for awhile, figure out your expenses and tell them how much you need.   I'm totally not kidding.  Learning how to manage money now will save you so much heartache in the future.  You don't have to love it or make it a God.  Money is a tool, and it is really good to learn how to use it.
2.  It's On You Now
No matter what anyone says to you, or treats you, or how you think, you are now an adult.  Ok, your brain isn't fully formed yet, however, the decisions you make now, whether they are good, bad, or ugly, will only REALLY affect you.  In other words, you can no longer stick it to your parents or siblings or anyone else.  The only one you really f__k up at this point is you.
3. Death Is An Equal Opportunity Taker.
Young people die every day from being with the wrong people, at the wrong places, doing the wrong things, at the wrong time.  (See # 2).  Don't waste your time and life on B.S.  There is fun, and then there is B.S.  We all know the difference.
4. Know thyself.
What are your gifts, talents and abilities?  What do you want to do?  What vision do you have for your life?  I'm sure you have one.  You may not have told anyone about it yet, it may be embarassing to tell others your dreams.  It's hard. 
That's ok.  Share carefully.  Take the vision seriously.  In the next few years you will refine it, it will morph, but I dare say that the essence of the vision Matthew has for Matthew will NOT change.  These thoughts, longings, urges, dreams (waking and sleeping) come from God.  God gives that to everyone, regardless of faith or church affiliation...and you know what is true vision and what is not.   I don't think your vision is to be the dictator of a small country, so I'm not worried.  
5. Pay Attention
In the Holy Grail stories, the person who guards it is a wounded knight.  The person who finally asks him, "Why do you suffer?" is the person who finds the Grail.  Pay attention, not just to yourself, but to other people.  Of course you must take care of yourself (that's what 1,2, 3 and 4 are about, use your common sense).  However, the key to success is being of service.  Give your gifts away to the world in service for money.  In other cases do it for love.  I don't know, you have to figure it out for yourself, this is kind of mystical.  Look at people.  Read. Look at places.  Think.  What does the back of your hand look like?  Be in the world and serve.   Pay attention.
6.  There is a God.
You may not end up with the faith of your parents', siblings, or grandparents.   I hope you keep a faith.  I hope you continue to believe in God and the goodness and beauty of life.  Because oh Matty, in spite of everything you may have suffered or seen or done, life is so DESPERATELY good.
Oh, the possibilities that lie before you!  Trust me when I say your life can be beautiful and wonderful.  But you have to believe it, and step out in that. 
The world is wild and wide, and I wish you the best of it always.  I hope you find the Grail that is yours.
Congratulations on your graduation from High School.  Shit, no more little Fredricks.
I remain your friend, with much love and affection,

Monday, February 27, 2012

These Are Days

The plane bumps. Matt Nathanson sings in my ears as he did in the fall when I ran through sunlight and decades to find my way back to myself. I am headed home from California, a place where two of my children live, one finishing a story, the other just cracking the table of contents. I have finished a book with which I had a divine appointment and as I bask in the sorrow of its ending and the glow of its enlightenment, I look behind me and see so clearly.

There was a time when I was eaten up with longing for what might have been. How is it that I now live in a place where peace has replaced craving? Fear, once the water that filled my basement, is now but the occasional drip of a faucet and needing only a turn of wrench or mind to stop the leaking. The promised land is ahead of me. But today I see milk and honey where once lived only monsters. 

At 21 I had a vision of what my life would be. At 35 I clung to that vision with bloodied hands, and at 45 I let it go, slipping beneath the surface of dark waters not knowing if I would breathe oxygen again in the fair light of day.  I did not see it coming, the day when my life became unrecognizable to me. No signpost on the road-TURN OFF HERE-to warn me. Just a day when I woke up in a land not my own and without a soul I knew in the jungle, an invisible compass recalibrating every step. "He who loses his life will find it," was not some Jesus catch phrase, no 'let go and let God' for the wannabes and rabble looking for inspiration, dinner, or love in all the wrong places. Wannabe and rabble member both, I repeated these words in darkness, some days like a magic spell and others with faith smaller than a mustard seed, believing there was nothing ahead but more loss.

I was wrong.

And as I contemplate, from 35,000 feet, the land I now inhabit--the people I love and the places I call home--I am stunned to discover those words are true. It is a life I live but do not own, of human frailty, f-bombs and forgiveness. It is also a life of unexpected comrades, unrequited love, and unparalleled joy; a wilderness inhabited now with experienced guides and hands that need holding. The night sky's crescent bears witness to the hope of light and the reality of dark; the land we inhabit somewhere between the two.

Thursday on the plane, a slender bookish man with beautiful reading children and a sympathetic wife, offered me a drink ticket with a smile as if he were handing me a $100 bill. The surfer next to me read the Bible and played video games on his I-pad. A former colleague and I shop for her dress online and a current one calls to report in, the cheer in his voice when he heard where I was headed all the proof I need that this is more than a job. A familiar face in the airport gift shop takes me back 25 years as I see the outline of an old friend in his now-adult son and in greeting him, see that he is his parents' child in every good way. There is no direction I look in which I do not see a miracle.

I see again, my daughter's life in the midst of a weekend that didn't always go as planned and yet somehow managed to deliver all we hoped. Friends like precious pearls are introduced as the treasure they are and time too short is released with a sigh and the promise of more. Another daughter sings of love from 3000 miles away, her joyous spirit resounding in my heart as if she were across the table from me. My sons weave threads of life amidst three circles of unknown. They are brave and have chosen their comrades so well, willing themselves to walk in such a way that the bridge will appear beneath their feet. It is not the life I imagined nor even a repaired version of that broken vessel. It is something entirely new and but for years of grief I would never have known it.

Ten years ago I read the Book of Job like an owner's manual, frantically searching for anything that would help me make sense of our life. There was much that would bring me comfort over the years but nothing like this passage from the 23rd chapter, Job's words after calling out the big fat nothing his God-seeking days had produced, "But He knows the way that I take, and when He has tried me I will come forth as gold." There were days I was so furious that this assertion meant nothing to me, and days when it was the lifeboat to which I clung. Tonight it is the thought I'm dying to tattoo on my arm, this reminder that there is no outcome I seek more precious than what has already been planned. 

Your journey will be your own perfect, disastrous story, every wrong turn and hiccup the seeds for a great harvest ahead. I don't know when.  I don't know how.  But let go, open your hand, lose your life. I promise you'll be glad you did.