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Rage and the Open Mic (and thanks for the music lessons, Mom!)

James and Me at 5 Monkeys

James and Me at 5 Monkeys Open Mic Last Sunday

I thought I knew what rage was. I have felt it before, or so I thought.

But I was wrong.

It started at the grocery store on Sunday. I noticed it as I struggled with the cart. It was pulling to one side as I rounded a corner and I jerked it back so hard I knocked 6 or 8 cans of whatever off the shelf next to me. I continued to shop.

I am aware that I have a lot of unresolved anger. When I started this 101 day project, I honestly thought I didn’t anymore. But this great effort has brought a lot of stuff to the surface I had pushed away. Anger about a life that led me, instead of I it. Anger over missed opportunities. Anger at years of needless torment. Anger at how many times I’ve lost everything. Anger at my lack of control. Anger about my daughter having to feel any pain. Anger for my hopeful heart that time and again I share, only to have it ripped from my chest.

I went for the apples and three fell on the ground. I was suddenly almost blind. The darkness crept in around the edges of my vision. I could not see anymore. I left the cart there. I left my coat in the cart. I marched outside and into the cold Salt Lake day. I listened for the reassuring sounds of the cathedral bells — nothing. I tried to ground myself — nada. I was freezing.

I just kept walking and walking. Faster and faster. Still, I didn’t know what was going on. Eventually, my vision cleared. Like a robot, I managed to find my way home. I thought I had worked out whatever it was that was bugging me.

I hadn’t.

I sat down to write a master list of every single thing I needed and/or wanted to do. Usually, that helps me to focus. This time it didn’t.

I did some dishes. My vision started to blur again. And then I found out that she wanted to stay at her dad’s for awhile longer. I understand her reasons for it, I don’t take anything she does personally and I don’t need her around to make my life whole, but she is my daughter. I love her. I want to help her. I have no control.

I thought I was going to cry. Instead, I stood still as what i realized were waves of rage crashed over me. It was so much more than anger and a lot heavier than sorrow. I was awash in it. It flooded every capillary, vein and soft spot of my body. I could feel it like a red cloud around me. I knew I had to do something.

Music is the one thing I know will calm me down, no matter what. In the past, it has been a tool to vent my personal heartbreaks and/or exorcise my many demons. Normally, I would sit at the piano until my mind was empty of all but the notes. Or I would lock myself in my room and write and sing with my guitar.  This time, though, I knew I had to get out of the house and play.

I knew that this time, it wouldn’t be enough to play and sing in my apartment. It wouldn’t be enough to down a couple of beers and watch someone else play, either. I had to play. And it had to be out.

I facebooked my friend, Theron, to see if he knew of any open mics. He didn’t respond immediately, so I just posted a status update asking if anyone knew of any open mics that night. Thank God for my friend, James. He had no idea what he was in for. Just 20 minutes after posting the message, I burst out the front door. He greeted me with a very James-like bear hug. I needed it.

I vented for a solid hour before we started to play. It was good to talk. But, it wasn’t until I my left hand wrapped around the neck of his guitar that I finally felt the pressure valve on my rage release. I started out with my most tried and true song. We traded songs. I played another and another. The handful of people in the bar responded with enthusiasm.

I wish I could express what it feels like to be that raw and then perform a song that you wrote for people who owe you nothing and then to accept their positive feedback. My friend, Donna, recently used the phrase, “It was a balm to my soul.” And maybe that’s the best way to describe what that open mic did for me on Sunday night.

I have no desire to be a famous singer/songwriter. I don’t even have a burning desire to become a better singer/songwriter. I know I am not a good guitar player. I know I am not the best singer. What I desire, though, doesn’t require I be or become any of that. What I desire I have already achieved. I am good enough that I can saunter in to any ole open mic, or songwriting circle, and share a part of my authentic self in positive way. I am familiar enough with the tools of music that I can use them to calm my rage, comfort me when I am despairing and even inspire me when I am uninspired.

Thanks for the music lessons, Mom.

Now you will listen to this: Laura Marling, “All My Rage”

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Filed under 101 Day Project, Moving On

God Would Let Me Live In His Poolhouse

I feel like God's pool house will have a very Frank Lloyd Wright vibe to it.

I have spent a lot of time, over the last 20 years, ruminating on my reasons for leaving the Mormon church. I had many. Some were big. Others, admittedly petty. But the main reason was because I grew up feeling like shit. There was always a part of me that knew I was going to hell and tried hard to convince the rest of me that I was a monster. At the same time, the bigger part of me was constantly trying to calm down. I would whisper things to myself during particularly offensive sermons things like, “don’t panic,” and, “this guy can’t possibly be right.”

I should add that I DO think that a lot of the “crazy” I was exposed to was because of the radicalism in the tiny town I lived in, and not actually a part of the larger Mormon church.

My leaving the church was based entirely on my gut. For many years, I wouldn’t let myself read any of the many well-documented, historical accounts of Joseph Smith’s time that clearly dispute everything I was taught. Reading of any facts that are not church-sanctioned is forbidden. I was still so indoctrinated that I hadn’t yet realized that no one should shy away from any truth. I don’t just choose not to learn about any other subject out of fear it might change my mind. So, the fact-finding phase eventually came. In the end, it made no difference to me. I knew what I knew. It did, however, spark a fair amount of rage that I was ever subjected to such crazy-making. I wish I had no anger, but there it is. I am, for the most part, over it.

It was my daughter who helped me get over the “hump” about being okay with my choice to leave the church. I would look at my daughter and think, “There is nothing she could ever do, or not do, that would make me withhold my love.” I knew, from the second she was born, that even if she turned out to be a carnival madame, I would never stop loving her or wanting her with me. I knew, that as long as I lived, she would always find shelter in my home.

Knowing this truth led me to the greatest breakthrough I would ever have. I realized it was simply illogical to believe that a supreme being, like the Mormon God (who is said to be all-powerful, all-knowing and who loves us more than a parent loves a child. In fact, he is referred to as our “Heavenly Father” almost exclusively) would have sent down a list of requirements which, upon failing to follow, would result in our not being able to live in his neighborhood. As I watched my sweet daughter sleeping one night I realized that not only was the aforementioned completely irrational, so is the idea that in order to remain in our family units in heaven that there are a bunch of other “to do’s” on God’s list for us.

I used to play out the scenario of me dying, in my mind, and going to God for judgement. I would hear Him saying to me, “Now Rebecca, I told you that if you didn’t get married in the temple to a nice Mormon boy that you couldn’t live up here in our section of heaven and furthermore, you are now stripped of your family.” The whole idea, to me, is completely, totally and utterly preposterous.

I do not base my love or support or affection or shelter or help or anything on a sliding scale of Hannah’s obedience to me. It would be crazy to do so. And if it would be so ridiculous for me to do that, then why does it seem rational that God would do that? It just doesn’t jive. (As an aside, I know there are a bunch of you saying to yourselves, “You just don’t understand the nature of God,” I must interject that, no, I do not, but neither do you. And for those of you who are now adding in, “It is not ours to understand, all will be revealed,” I have to say, I totally agree.)

Nowadays I see others like me everywhere. They shuffle listlessly around Salt Lake area malls with blank faces and bags bursting with RC Willey bric-a-brac. They are good people. They don’t know why they are so depressed. They feel trapped. They double-down on the depression by seeing their sadness as further evidence of their failure to be the perfect mormon. They believe that “living the gospel” perfectly is the ONLY way they will ever feel peace. They are people who are wracked with guilt and who carry the heavy burden of knowing they haven’t gotten God’s To-do list done. It breaks my heart to see their needless suffering. And make no mistake, they are suffering, and it is needless.

Don’t get me wrong! I LOVE MORMONS. Maybe not the dogma, but the people, in general, I like. They are my people, after all. I do not doubt my Mother’s sincere love and belief in the mormon church. I do not judge her faith. It is a pure and beautiful thing. For her, I actually hope it is ALL true. She deserves a house right next to God’s in the hereafter. I am happy for the thousands of mormons out there who find their happiness through the church. I am grateful for their generally positive belief system. I know that one of the reasons I love it in SLC is because a large percentage of the population has taken 2 years out of their lives and given it to the service of humanity across the globe. I think “the church” is, mostly, a force for good — no matter what it’s based on.

But, for those of you who have read this missive and thought, “How sad for her that she missed the message,” or, “She must have read some anti-mormon literature,” or, “God loves us, he just hates certain behaviors,” or, “Women can’t hold the priesthood because they already have the gift of childbearing,” or any other common platitude, let me bear you my testimony:

I know that there is truth in all things, but no one thing can contain all truth. Just as you know, with all your “heart, might, mind and strength” that the mormon church is the only “true” church, I know with equal vigor that, if there is a great white God who sits on high, he and I are good. He loves me. In fact, He loves everything about me. He thinks I am earnest, hilarious, sweet and sincere. He cracks up at my hijinks and cries about my many failures. And if, when I die, I meet Him on the other side, I know He would let me live in his pool house if I wanted to. He would find all my family who had gone before and they’d throw me a party. He would just be glad to see me again. Period.

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Filed under 101 Day Project, Moving On