Monday, October 31, 2011

The anti-fright night

Photo by The Oceanista

The strangest thing happened last night: I laughed myself awake.

I was already heading to bed too late as it was (a nasty post-traveling habit). Visions of the early snow and the lingering scent of winter wouldn't leave me. I was snug and cozy beneath the covers. But instead of drifting into la-la land, my brain decided it was playtime.

Cue all sorts of fanciful daydreams about the upcoming holiday season. I pictured Fella arriving at my parents' house under cover of a light December snow. I saw the whole La Vigilia table laid out with more candles than a European cathedral. I could feel my friend's baby bouncing on my knee again. I inserted guests who might come and sat them next to relatives I never thought they'd meet. I scripted every dirty joke, every silly action, every loud conversation that could possibly occur with every conceivable combination of friends and family over any number of probable meals.

And I put myself in such a good mood that I stayed up for another hour, just smiling and castle-building.

What a way to greet the night: not with things that go bump, but things that make you grin.

Prayer #186: Sweet Dreams

You arrive in the moment my eyelids flutter against the deepening dark.

You wait for the moment my muscles forgo their stubborn insistence on perpetual motion.

You reach out at the moment my mind puts aside today's reality and doesn't yet worry about tomorrow's.

You hold me in the moment when only gravity tethers me to my bed,

And with a gentle snip,

You release me into weightless joy.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Space to be bold

It happened. The Buffalo Unscripted premiere. With oohs and aahs and cries of "loading?", it was over. Now this six-month project in which I've invested a significant chunk of my heart is in the past tense. Sooo ... what?

I've written a lot of this project and this city this year -- about its capacity to make you question your purpose in life, why it's a model for the future, what makes it phenomenal, etc. And plenty more has been written/said/explained/celebrated elsewhere, especially in the last week.

So I'm not really going to gush more about Buffalo in this post. Instead, I'm going to tell you what I've learned.

Consider the following (emphasis mine):
"Looking at Prish's big table, where you can watch ideas bounce and bump around like pinball, I wondered if I belonged in Buffalo. If I needed the challenges the city faces to push me into being a different, better, less predictable version of myself. If moving to a place where there's room - lots of room - to be bold would be the end of my conversations that begin with, "You know, I always wish I had..."" 
This quote is courtesy of my friend and colleague Jason, the mastermind of the whole Unscripted concept, from a Buffalo Rising post he wrote a couple weeks ago. And it got me thinking -- what place in my life allows me to be bold?

For me, Buffalo did come to be a place where I was making a difference, or, at the very least, shining a spotlight on those who were. But I've experienced that connection in dunks and flashes elsewhere over the years, from producing PSAs for local volunteer organizations in Syracuse, to coordinating Manna on Main Street in North Wales, to working in the nonprofit sector in DC. Which tells me that it's not so much the place on its own, but an element within it that unearths what sometimes gets buried in my daily dramas and existential crises.

The right place unlocks what is already inside you. It does not make you; it reveals you. It might be easier to be your true/best self in that place, but that doesn't exist only there, because you now carry that self-knowledge wherever you go.

This is a comfort and a challenge. Because once the genie's out, you have a responsibility to act on it. Your mandate is to capture that momentum when NOT in that place -- in fact, many miles from it -- and draw on its essence rather than its reality. You can't wait to be back there. You have to try to capture that lightning now, here, again.

Being bold also takes courage to listen. I refer to it as my 'god voice,' but it's also intuition, gut instinct, that 'little voice,' conscience, however you regard it. It asks you to tune in to what you have to do next -- go where you have to go, not always physically, but psychologically too.

If I have taken anything away from my experience with this project, it's that I don't want to waste my days. I want meaningful work, friendly neighbors, and a down-to-earth community. I want four seasons and a shared past. I want great friends at my side making it happen, and family at home who understand why I'm doing it.

I don't know if I have to move to Buffalo to make that happen. In fact, moving would simply be the period at the end of a very long conversation with myself first. At this point, I have a clearer idea of what I want and how I want to enact it. That is a big, bold, important step, taken within the space I've made in my heart. And that space is only growing wider.

Prayer #185: Bolded

Lord of over-thinking, forgive my laser-like focus on the negative, which tends to drum up heartening zingers like these:

What if I hurt him?
What if I get it wrong?
What if I hate it?
What if I overreact?
What if I can't cut it?

Well, what if I changed my vocabulary?

What if I help her?
What it I get it right?
What if I love it?
What if I respond?
What if I never try?

What would happen then, God? What might be? What would You make of it? Of me?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My guardian angel is a videographer

Photo by Mikusagi

Angels rarely call on the phone. But this one did.

He rang my colleague Jason this past Saturday morning, just to follow up and see how things were going with our homestretch, mad dash, full-on sprint to the finish line for production of Buffalo Unscripted. The guys had bonded earlier in the month over their shared Texas roots and a common AV project. The angel really had no reason to follow up; the previous project was done, and he was not involved in Unscripted in any way. But he called anyway, just because.

His timing could not have been more perfect. Jason was hunched over the editing booth, watching both Macs whirring with his bloodshot eyes, wondering how the hell you make a Blu-Ray disc. The angel knew. He knew quite a bit, actually. And he walked Jason through it, step by step, link by link, taking two hours of his off-the-clock time to help our overwhelmed project leader burn the right thing.

Turns out that the Texas Video Angel (as we now call him) was dead-on in his advice. Yesterday, a mere day from our deadline, Jason successfully transformed our blood, sweat, tears, and incessant giggles of the past six months into a movie theater-ready format.

The Texas Video Angel's interception meant the difference between a pixelated amateur effort and a smooth final product. Better yet, it helped the whole team relax into the excitement we've been bottling up since July out of fear we couldn't realize our vision -- not to mention saved a couple years of Jason's life.

The Texas Video Angel is now the humble patron saint of Buffalo Unscripted. I know what he says is true, because the Blu-Ray worked fine on my player at home. But more than that, he reminds me of one of our project's key discoveries: that people will constantly surprise you for the better.

I hope he keeps watching over us as we premiere our project on Friday. We've received a lot of blessings already -- a couple more would be heavenly.

Update: Just got published on Buffalo Rising with my one word for Buffalo (which happens to be pheNOMenal).

Prayer #184: Culmination

More could be said. More could be tweaked. More could be sliced and diced and reimagined in infinite arrays. But eventually, your vision must toddle forth on its own two legs. You have to trust what guided it to this point. You need to believe in your own ability and stand by what you sought to create.

God, grant us the right kind of the pride -- satisfied, elated, self-respecting. Work well done is work worth celebrating. Help us celebrate it now.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

La Sagrada Familia: Conviction set in concrete

La Sagrada Familia. That's all I have to say. I've been inside a lot of churches in my day, toured many magnificent cathedrals, but never, ever, have I been in a place so full of reverence and faith and exuberance that it moved me to tears and helped me reflect even among throngs of tourists.

Thank you for your vision, Gaudi. Thank you for connecting humanity, nature, and divinity in such a thoughtful and compassionate scale. The vivid colors, the nurturing curves, the symbology and storytelling in every nook -- you were Catholic and catholic simultaneously. You made me feel what I far too often only think about. I wish you yourself could come back and see it. Would it please you as it did me?

Part of the power of the Sagrada experience was the realization that I was standing in a cathedral in progress. All the ones I've ever toured (except for the National Cathedral here in DC) are ancient and settled affairs. But Sagrada is surrounded by cranes and scaffolding. The inside was only completed and consecrated by Pope Benedict last year. Estimated total completion isn't until 2020-2040. ("Between now and eventually.")

Consider the following: Even with all our modern technologies and capabilities it's still taking us over 150 years to build this temple of God. That staggers me. And I was a part of that flow of time, at least for an afternoon. Someday, I may travel back with my children or grandchildren and say, "I was here when this fully wasn't." What a testament to endurance it is -- what a testament to vision.

Along those lines, I was also blown away by the scope and intimacy of Gaudi's plans. Every inch is accounted for. He brought to bear all his skills of architecture, engineering, sculpture, masonry, coppersmithing, woodworking, storytelling, and more. He laid out meticulous plans, knowing he would not live to see the cathedral to completion. He trusted others to carry them out. I wonder if it made him sad to miss it, or comforted knowing it would live beyond him, or maybe a bit of both.

The museum panels later told me that Gaudi was a "devout" believer. He certainly believed in the project, and it shows. The entire building breathes around you. It moves with the earth. Despite its vastness, it doesn't dwarf you, but elevates you. A half-hearted person could not have achieved this miracle. Sagrada is conviction set in concrete.

In the hecticness of the past week, I find my mind wandering back to the sanctuary. The tourists and pilgrims fade at the periphery into quiet wraiths. My eyes linger on the incomplete stained glass. The crescendo of the Lord's Prayer bounces off the curves. I sit in the pew and watch the sunlight chart its course through dusk. It's just as Gaudi designed it, so that neither too much dark or too much light would render the worshiper blind.

As I wandered through it today, it finally came to me: Gaudi built this temple for rejoicing. It metes no punishment. It wags no fingers. It doesn't seek to smother with grandeur. It's there to guide, and instruct, and above all exclaim. The Sagrada was built with its palms open and its eyes up. It can't stop smiling. No wonder I felt overjoyed in the moment and continue to feel it today, even an ocean away.

But enough of this for now. It's time to sleep, where I can dream of pillars that resemble trees, a choir loft that holds1,000 singers, and a church that was built as a prayer.

Prayer #183: Scaffold

My sanctuary is incomplete. I see chinks of sunlight where the ladders meet rails and shadows from the hefty cranes looming overhead.

I thought I had a plan when I started building. The more I construct, however, the fuzzier my blueprints become. Watchful statues ask tough questions. Higher towers bring deeper thought.

But strangely, I'm not worried. There is no rush, just unrealistic expectations. I will one day arrive at the altar, the pillars will rise piece by piece, and as long as I'm striving for beauty, I can't see how the result could be anything less than holy.

The unstained windows wink; they see what's coming.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Jet-lagging behind ...

Photo by paloetic

Last week I gaped at Las Meninas at the Prado in Madrid, wept with joy at Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and imbibed enough cafe con leche to keep me awake until 2012. I will write about it for you, too -- but not today. Not while jet lag is getting the best of me, or work projects demand my attention, or the sheer number of upcoming tasks and trips and obligations dulls me to a nub.

Seems to be a theme lately, doesn't it? All the worrying and fretting. It would probably do me a heap of good to mull over these words from church this past Sunday:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4: 8-9)

So I'll think of Velazquez's art and Gaudi's devotion and the calm of a sidewalk cafe instead. I'll look forward to deep sleeps, finished projects, and a break in the schedule. I'll see beyond how harried I feel and praise instead the steadfast support and ready humor of all the people in my life. I will strive to be patient. I will aim for peace.

Prayer #182: Serenity Now (A Riff)

God, give me the strength to pick up my feet and the energy to prop up my lids. Help me move toward what I cannot see, see what I cannot move, and recognize the difference.