i am a mess.
maybe it’s being on the other side of another birthday, but i doubt it has anything to do with that one particular day of the year. it would seem that i’ve had enough birthdays by now to know who i am and what i’m about – don’t you think so?
but i don’t. don’t know what i’m all about, i mean.
i am going to die without feeling like i have any substance, any particular usefulness.
and that kills me.
i have stories – stories gone deep. stories of abuse lived through. stories of childbirth by cesarean without anesthesia. stories of being mugged and raped and loved. i’ve lived stories that ended with awards and accolades, stories that can always be counted on to conjure laughter, stories that can be counted on to conjure tears.
but do my stories point the way?
i am a good storyteller.
and i bear witness pretty good, too.
i am a good teacher.
i am a good student.
i know my way around the stage and love being there.
i am an introvert by nature.
cloth is in my blood.
laughter (along with southern) is my native tongue.
i am a champion of women, loving nothing better than encouraging, applauding, cheering, and holding space as they claim, reclaim, and proclaim their gorgeous genius and genuine glory. every woman out there has it, no doubt about that.
lately i’ve shifted into a quieter way of being in the world, preferring less and less words and more and more silence.
i’m more about the visual now, preferring to step aside and let photography, cloth pieces, and altars speak to and for me.
i love to perform.
i love to be alone.
despite my several degrees, i know that lived experience is the best teacher and a valid form of evidence and research. nobody will ever convince me otherwise.
i am anti-flocking through and through, preferring to commit, hear, and cheer original, independent thoughts – or better still, theelings which combine thought with feelings.
i have authority issues, and i’m not afraid to own them.
my post-graduate life falls under the heading of “body as cache of knowing.” and it is, you know. our bodies are most definitely caches of knowing.
i never read fewer than 4 books at a time, mostly non-fiction because the sentences in fictional books tend to be too damn short.
i have been an end-of-life doula on several occasions, and despite my partner quitting after the first session of my only acting class ever because i couldn’t die to suit her, i seem to be quite good at helping other people die well.
i have these flash images that beg me to create them, and so i do. eventually. (just wait’ll you see what i’m doing with the party frock, the wedding veil, and the sheers i took out of my great aunt’s house last month.)
i recently decided to memorize bits of poetry and recite them as a way of marking the hours of the days. (i don’t know why i put that in here. it just seemed like a good idea at the time.)
if you ever want a room cleared, call me and i’ll sing. i don’t do it well, but oh my goodness, how i do love to sing. and twirl. i love to twirl.
who am i?
what am i about?
people leave on facebook status updates and blog posts, and i think “okay, that must be It because they are responding to it.” but then i wonder if that’s really true and if i’m falling back into the old familiar pattern of contorting myself to please, so i step aside and into something else.
will the real jeanne please stand up?
i do vision boards and collages,
i brain dance,
i story board these things,
trying to find where they intersect,
searching for the one word – the One Single Word –
that houses them all.
eclectic? can we say eclectic?
over on instagram and pinterest, i say “I’m just a red dirt girl, fluent in English & Southern, Charming & Cranky, I write, i stitch, i perform. Cloth is my bones, stories are my blood, laughter is my oxygen, & photos my floss.” and that’s true – but what’s the main word here? the main theme? how do these things tie together and is that about being or doing? and as if that’s not enough, how do those things make the world a better place?
when people ask me the dreaded “what do you do?” i want to be able to tell them in one word: i _______.
but you should see my business cards.
all of them.
i have enough to shingle the house, you know.
i get hung up on thinking about what would people pay me to do. that one always trips me up, and for the life of me, i don’t know why i continue to consider money the best indicator of worth.
i want to kick patriarchy in the balls and be done with it. i was a feminist before there was such a thing, refusing – even as a wee girl with a big sweet tooth – to ingesting or gifting any of those candy hearts saying “be mine.”
do i flit around too much?
do i not give things enough time?
my 2012 words are “stay” and “surprise.” intimately linked, i’m finding out.
the 365 altars project was a spur-of-the-moment idea that continues to hold great appeal to me . . . even if i’m afraid to create an altar. and it sure seems big enough to wrap itself around all the things i mentioned here and a few i did not. for me, altars represent so much – pauses to stop and say hey to the sacredness of my life; visual expression that needs no words; an old-fashioned ear-wringing to organized religion as a reminder that they don’t hold the monopoly on worship and prayer and sanctuary and sacredness. oh, i have a slew of reasons, but you get the gist. an altar is more than a collection of things, an altar is a way of being in the world, and goodness me, how i do long to be an altar.
i am so confused.
and weary of being confused.
i know (read: italicized sarcasm) i’m supposed to know what i’m supposed to do – supposed to know that all by and of myself, but i don’t and not knowing adds a layer of less than to the mix.
so hey, if you see a connection here, if it is brilliantly clear to you what i do and how i can earn my keep for the rest of my time on earth, i sure do wish you’d let me know. send me a smoke signal from the edge of the forest cause i’m in the middle where it’s dark and all i can see is bark and briars.
One word can not contain the constellation of stars that my friend Jeanne is.
But if I am forced, I might call her an altar. She calls on me to pause and say hey to the sacredness of life.
Thank you for all you are, my friend. Thank you.
Hugs and butterflies,
This has touched me so–the last year for me has also caused me to reflect on many things–did I do the “right” thing, did I say the “right” thing,but does it really matter? I still have many questions myself, but I know we love many of the same things and probaly do and say the “right” things just because we were “raised” that way and now it just comes naturally. I’m glad you are my friend. And by the way –when you get the answers will you let me copy your paper
Much Southern Love to you
You.are.Love. (with a good dose of fairy godmother, cheerleader and polite Southern a** kicker thrown in).
Can I tell you how much I appreciate that you’re feeling a mess and sharing it? Because all of us are. If not today, then yesterday or tomorrow.
A slightly insane healer/herbalist told me once that too many of my thoughts were actionable and if I didn’t spend more time in self-care and really following my bliss in a focus-down kinda way, I’d end up on some pharmaceutical especially for creative types. Anything in that sound like you? 😉
I love you. You are amazing. There is light and it will come.
Jeanne, my sacredsweet and beloved Jeanne, I have a truth for you.
You may not enjoy hearing it.
However as an end-of-life doula
… (a task that takes a ferocious compassion to do with grace (and I am quite sure you do that sacred task with grace both profound and light)) …
as an end-of-life doula you will recognize this truth, and the ferocious compassion, in what I’m about to say. In fact you have already signaled it yourself, in this very post.
First I do want to say something which your own powerful wisdom knows as well. We cannot actually tell you the answer to your questions. Not because we can’t see it in you. But because it cannot be transmitted to you that way. Because it’s not an answer that’s shaped by words or conjured by mind. It’s something that is borne from a bone-deep wilding knowing of how-to-live, not a safe, controlled, taming, knowledge of how-to-speak. It’s something that can only be storied, it cannot be told.
However, what we can do is witness you.
You ask for a smoke signal from the edge of the forest “cause i’m in the middle where it’s dark and all i can see is bark and briars.” And I know this ain’t fun, it ain’t fun at all, in fact it really sucks and it can be really terrifying, but being right in the middle of the forest where it’s dark, and all you can see is bark and briars — this is exactly the right place for you to be right now. How many stories of power start from being lost in the dark forest?! All of them, pretty much.
And that’s the only place where you can find the storying that you are. Only in the wild and dark lostness of the forest. Only amidst the bark and the briars.
Because the only way to story that finding will be to let go of the story you think you are. Not because what you think you are is altogether inaccurate… but because it’s a story that’s told by your thinking-self. And your thinking-self cannot do this task. It just doesn’t work that way. This task can only be storied by your deeper being, and by the forest itself, deep amidst the wildness and the darkness and the lostness.
But there are smoke signals. There are indeed.
They come not from the edge of the forest, but slip out from between the trees right where you are. They slip out from between the trees which are so close together, and so close to you, that not only can you not see the forest for the trees, you can’t even see the trees for the bark. Trees which hem you in, as tightly bound-together as cloth… and trees which also support you, as life-woven as their own dance, the spacious dignity of their bare branches stitched against the sky.
The first wisp of smoke is that this is your truth right now.
You are in the dark, alone, lost, surrounded by bark and briars.
That’s where you are.
That is the first signal.
You may hate that, you may fight it, but honoring it and letting it story you right now, letting it be simply be where you are right now, may bring some relief.
And in the space of that relief, and in the space of the breath the trees themselves can take in, a passage can open a little wider between the tree trunks, through which some more smoke can drift.
Here are the next smoke signals, the signals you yourself sent up for you to find.
lately i’ve shifted into a quieter way of being in the world, preferring less and less words and more and more silence.
i know that lived experience is the best teacher…our bodies are most definitely caches of knowing.
Yes. Another breath. Feel that breath in your body. Your living and knowing body. Your wise body which is your altar.
not knowing adds a [sacred and spacious and necessary] layer of less than to the mix.
It is only in the not-knowing that the finding can be storied.
An altar — a place of sacred space — is necessarily a space of less-than. A space for uncrowded being, less than all the outer light and noise and movement.
(You’re just tripping over this concept because you’re forgetting to put the comma in between the words “being” and “less” in that last sentence.)
Spacious. Being. Less.
And then here. Here is the hardest, most frightening, most ferocious and most compassionate signal your storying-self has to give you, wisps of smoke-signals storying truth:
i am going to die without feeling like i have any substance, any particular usefulness.
and that kills me.
…despite my partner quitting after the first session of my only acting
class ever because i couldn’t die to suit her, i seem to be quite good
at helping other people die well.
You are right.
You, or more accurately a part of you, is going to have to die.
Not a death of the body
not a death of anything you truly need
but a death in truth
a death of what you are in truth already starting to let fall away
with as graceful and soft a susurrus as the leaves falling away from the trees around you.
You are also fighting this.
Because you are afraid you will not die well.
And you won’t.
Until you do.
None of us die well, at first.
Until we find our grace and spacious release in it.
That’s the gift of the doula. To story the grace.
And stories take time for the telling. There is a necessary process in the staying, and a necessary not-knowing in the surprise. (If you knew, it wouldn’t be a surprise now, would it?)
It is hard. Very hard. As hard as death. It will be as hard as anything you will have ever done before. Or harder.
But it is also soft.
Graceful and easy. Like leaves falling from a tree.
And it is an altar.
It simply won’t be fast.
But it is doable.
And we who love you will witness you. I personally am honored to stand as witness and doula for you as close as you would like. If you want, I will stand with you in the darkness and the briars, pressed together against the rough bark until the texture tattoos into our cheeks and the thorns tear at our skin. Or if you need the spaciousness to abide, I will be just outside the forest’s edge, and you can send up smoke signals and I will witness. Or both, at different times.
But I do mean it, Jeanne, concretely, tangibly. We felt such a strong connection to each other when we first met, out here in this altar-ether, and I think perhaps we’ve both been waiting with a sense of curious hush, about how our friendship will story. I am available to you however you would like to make use of me.
In the darkness of the forest is the sacred sumptuous self that you cannot NOT story. It is indeed dark and scary and hard, and that’s not just a metaphor. But what good’s a story with no power and no oomph, and what good’s the telling if you already know how it’s going to end up?
I can think of no words here that aren’t going to come across as cliche (the irony of being a writer who can never find words to express her deepest thoughts and emotions is not lost on me). This longing to know who and what we are, it is what makes us more fully human. The person who has questioned and searched throughout her life has lived a life far more full, I believe, than the one who coasts through in unthinking, unquestioning contentment. NOT that there is anything wrong with being satisfied to live a life without questioning the meaning of it all, the meaning of US – but it is a life that loses much of its richness. The richest life of all, of course, is that of the one who has fought (sometimes clawed) through those questions and come to a place of peace at the end.
I’m not there yet, but it is the hope of coming to that peace that keeps me going on days when I want to give up, sit back, and just let life happen to me, instead of pursuing it.
I only know you through your words here, and that only a short time, but if I could think of a word to describe you, I would choose one I’ve already used in this comment – hope. One who has hope, who clings to hope, and who generously shares hope with others.
It’s not much, what I can offer here. But perhaps it will help a little.
I have only visited your altar a few times, so I can’t speak from a place of “knowing” you. Yet, after reading this piece my heart sang out in loving you.
I agree with Maeve below, words at this point are going to sound cliche. I’m thinking sparkly, glittery Glynda the Good Witch of Oz might tell you, “you’ve always had the power” to find your own answers. Did you really want answers or did you just want to be heard?
I also think your post reads like one of the best resumes ever written. Maybe it’s a little long for employers to take the time with, but anyone who did read it would want to have you on their team. I think they’d be knocking at your door, standing in line for you to interview them!
And finally, anyone who can help the dying, has cloth in her bones, speaks Southern, likes to sing and twirl, tell stories, honors the sacred and memorizes poetry doesn’t need to put a “job” at the end of “what do you do?”. I think all she needs to say is “I am.”
Okay, so that wasn’t exactly my final thought. I’d like to say I saw myself in this post. Perhaps your words are the smoke signals I needed to see (hear?). Why, I often ask myself, would someone pay me to write, or quilt, or sit with them as they die ??? Then I hear my writing coach answer, why not? Still I’m unsure and afraid to trust not in others, but in myself. Like Karen (below) says, perhaps I’m afraid I won’t “die” well. Fear of failure is my biggest bugaboo, even in the face of all my success. Go figure.
Thank you and thank your commenters.
oh my word, have you been crawling around inside my head?
“i am so confused.
and weary of being confused.”
seriously. and i wish, with all my heart, that i had an answer for you. i do. but i don’t.
what i do have is an i understand to blow down your way on a kiss that will travel a long way yo get there.
the thing that jumped out at me from this post as far as who i see you as was this:
“i am a champion of women, loving nothing better than encouraging,
applauding, cheering, and holding space as they claim, reclaim, and
proclaim their gorgeous genius and genuine glory. every woman out there
has it, no doubt about that.”
how that translates into work, or how you can use it to earn your keep, only you can answer. but not everyone excels at that sort of thing, you most certainly do. you have a way of responding to people that is magic. truly.
yes, you are a mess! a house too full with wonderful projects and accretions. this coming on of the quiet doings will help. texture and color, vision and yes, more stories.
i imagine it has been very hard to sustain that outpouring of positive feelings that showered you on your birthday – there is the inevitable hollowness within that doesn’t believe in worthiness, that projects a bad ending… revisits the toughest times with judgments. no wonder you clamor for simple self-definition that can harden into a form you can count on. but dearest jeanne, our forms are shape shifters, as you so well know, darling darling one. and there are no words for the way the eyes meet when death is understood (being alive). yes, yes you know where you are and it is vast. (more open than can be imagined. even dark and claustrophobic forests offer this. no wonder you feel lost!)
perhaps in sinking times we seek the dream of unconditional love, the inner mother who will love us and make it right,rescue us, and be our champion (as we would so willingly champion our sisters). understand that she is you, that i am you, that all those commenting here are also. you are each of us. why else do we so deeply and naturally recognize each?
this moment. this. this moment, this. you have everything you need. you are complete and will continue to reveal your self to your self. being and being lost. being and being loved. being and doing and being love. cleaning dirt, or rolling in it, there will be moments of satisfaction, and those of despair. may you find a place of deep stability from which to watch this mind, your mind, in turmoil. remember, it is only mind, after all.
even whirling storm winds have a stillness at the core.
SO many truths & so much beauty and love shared with you in these comments, I’m touched by every one. And yet – I still want to add mine:
What Alana said just SANG for me: “Can I tell you how much I appreciate that you’re feeling a mess and sharing it? Because all of us are. If not today, then yesterday or tomorrow.”
That somehow wraps around the way that I see you. Which may or may not be something that “fits” for you – but it’s what comes into my mind every time I think of you.
Jeanne, you have been a catalyst (in my mind) from the minute I first met you through every thing I’ve seen you involved in – every way that you move – since then!
How that can help you earn your keep I’m not sure – because catalysts, at least the ones I’ve known, are the starters of things – the excitement bringers – the ones who get stuff rolling, but then they head to the next flower (I’m picturing a bee – pollinating – you’ll have to excuse the metaphors I’ll probably mix here). But…
You asked: “can we say eclectic?” My thought is: HELL yes! I think we darn well can – and probably should (though “should” is one of my least favorite words)!
What if part of moving away from patriarchy is refusal to be just ONE thing, have just ONE job description, accept just ONE role?
I found, when I worked as a therapist, that diagnosing people was a PITA – because it made them seem so much smaller than they were.
I found, while doing the yearly write-ups my state required as part of their proof that my kids (unschooled) were being educated, that it’s a PITA to nail down what was learned into ONE subject – because, when you fall in love with something and start researching it (anything!) you find that all kinds of things converge – any real learning is too big to be tied to ONE category (which made the paperwork a real headache, just sayin’).
I think we’re all too big to be ONE role – and you’re voicing our frustration with that – because ouch – it DOES feel awkward. I keep looking for my ONE role, too – and I’m not comfortable with not being able to name one. Back to what Alana said – I’m so grateful that you put this out there.
Anyway, if possible I think I love you more after reading this than ever (did that make sense?) – thank you for being so vulnerable!
Dear my Dear,
It is all you. And, you are everything else you haven’t mentioned. All of it is you. The sun, the moon, each and every star, every woman, every man, the light and the dark, all of it, every cell, all of it is you.
Sometimes, confusion is the very best place to be…especially when it is where you are.
I love that you want to kick patriarchy in the balls and be done with it…
I guess I’d sum it up to say you are an altar to all that exists, to life, to love, to the sacred.
I love you, JHC.
Judging our “value” or “worth” by counting coins is an American and sadly, Male way of doing things. It’s a way of keeping score. It’s a metric that appeals to men because it isn’t all touchy-feely and is one that most everyone can understand. By that measure, I ain’t much of a man, because my wife earns more than I do.
I also reject the truly American and misguided (either order is fine with me) notion that I am what I do for a living. I am not my job, and my job is not me. It is a means to an end, nothing more.
I am equal parts husband, father, son, grandson, nephew, slob, reader, writer, couch potato, friend, brother, cousin, random guy you pass on the street, voice in the wildnerness, legend in my own mind and other labels. Yet, I am more and less all at the same time.
You are all of the things you mentioned and more. Trying to boil it all down to one word isn’t something I would recommend. Who you are is who you are. Run with it and enjoy it. Spend your time BEING who you are rather than worrying about how to label it. That’s a guy thing as well. 🙂
I am so sorry to hear that you are struggling, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to this post sooner! First of all, BIG HUGS. BIG BIG HUGS.
Second, I love all of these things about you. I think, I KNOW, you are all of these things. And if you take each point, each wonderful rare trait, I think they spell you out the way the stars spell out the constellations in the sky. XOXO 🙂