May 4

California Girl

Last evening I watched on public television the story of Janis Joplin.  I hadn’t intended to stay but I found myself drawn in by the story and yes, that haunting music.  Rejected even ridiculed when young—even voted somewhere – a bar maybe –“the world’s ugliest man” – Janis was like young girls everywhere.  She just wanted to be loved.

Janis was bored with small-town life in Texas and it was about this time that she started to hear the music.  She had some musician friends, some guys who took her to Austin and it was in Austin that she heard those blues.   They called to her loneliness, maybe.  She began to mimic the sound for by this time she had discovered she had a pretty powerful voice.  In time, she went to San Francisco and with her band, Janis was a hit.

She tried to go home sometimes.  Once she thought her boyfriend was coming to marry her only instead when she called him, a woman answered.  He already had a wife or girlfriend and a baby; he was not coming to marry her.  One more time the shame of not being pretty enough, not being loved enough washed over Janis.  She went back to San Francisco (when she said she was going to Austin).  She became famous.

Maybe I was fascinated with Janis’s story because in the 60’s I, too, was a “California girl.”  I was living in Southern California with my young husband, working as a secretary at Long Beach State College.  It was there that I met a vivacious young receptionist at the Information Desk who sat with me on our lunch breaks and let me hear her recite Bible verses she was memorizing.  Those words were electricity for me (as she knew they would be).  I wanted to know Jesus Christ like that.  In a few months my husband and I were baptized together.  There’s more to that story, of course.  The road was not always smooth.

But there is one memory I have of that decade that reminded me of how easy it is to be seduced by admiration, affirmation.  My husband had a buddy at work who was trying to get in the movies and he asked if I would memorize a few lines and go with him to Hollywood to meet his agent, and perform our scene for him.  I was excited to be so close to the Hollywood scene, and I dressed in a way that makes me ashamed now as I think about it.  Around this time, we watched The Graduate and I cried all the way home.  I was ashamed of myself for getting so close to the immorality of that world (and the temptation in me).

I’ve written a poem about Janis (and maybe myself a little).

CALIFORNIA GIRL

Janis, Janis, little girl, I wish I could have been there

to tell you that you were lovely just the way you were

to tell you that you were loved and that your Creator had a

wonderful purpose for your life.

But you believed a lie—

that if you yelled loud enough maybe someone

would hear your pain and love you—

“I’ll do anything you want!” you cried, moaned–

(but you didn’t want to hear about that cross).

So they used you and you used, too, to relax they say

and then one day it was too late to go home.

And the men who knew you and used you sat around

discussing you many years after you were gone

(how did you die, dear girl, they didn’t say).

A woman talked about you, too.

She said “It was like being with God.  I wish I could have been there.”

Like I said, she believed a lie.

 

February 16

To a Young Person Contemplating Suicide

A twelve-year old girl was being remembered in the morning news.  She committed suicide last year because some mean girls bullied her.  She killed herself and broke her family’s heart.  Since that day, I have learned in the news of several more suicides of young people.  It distresses me.  We wonder what we could say.  Well, I know what I want to say.  It is one word:  wait!  Waiting is not an absence of thought or activity.  It’s about making a choice to suspend negative thought or action.  There is hope in this kind of waiting.  True, at the present time we can’t see how things will get any better, but waiting says “Maybe there’s something I don’t know; maybe it’s okay to have hope.”  Where there’s hope, there is a chance that something will happen to change either the situation or to change me.  Of course, there comes a time when the waiting is over and we step into a new phase of our life.  We get the job; we fall in love; we get pregnant; the kids graduate; we enter graduate school; we find a friend; we get an idea—the list of ways our circumstances change is endless.  But there’s another way:  the way of the inward change.  We believe.  We believe in God; we believe in our worth; we learn to speak our minds; we cherish solitude; we make friends through books; we become strong.  So wait!   Wait to let this hard time pass.  Wait to see if God is real and if He cares.  (He is and He does.)  Wait!  You can’t see the joys around the corner, but they are there. Please, wait.

October 7

I Let Go

People sometimes ask me, “What do you expect to accomplish with this poetry thing?”  It’s a fair question, but in truth the best answer is the one a person finds herself.  All I do is provide a safe place, a good poem, and an invitation to talk and then write. The challenge for some is to sit quietly and allow the memories to come to consciousness.  Many times they have been locked in the basement where we thought they belonged.  Little by little, people realize they do in fact have a story and moreover, the telling of it brings healing.  People can write a poem or an essay; it doesn’t matter.  They don’t need to share it with anyone.  Even though we’re sitting in a room, writing with other people, there is no teacher and there is no audience.  We write for ourselves.  Satisfaction usually results.   We are often surprised at what we write.

I have a story to illustrate how this works, a very personal story.  Life occasionally blindsides us with emotional pain we never saw coming.  I’ve had that kind of season.  I had forgotten how that crushing pain feels.  Tears flow easily.  I found myself in need of healing.  For me, finally, I sensed some loving guidance from a Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister, OSB, in her book, Wisdom Distilled From The Daily. I had actually underlined this chapter before, and I want to quote a few lines (from page 65).  Life may be unclear, life may be difficult, but we are free of false hopes and false faces and false needs that once held us down.  We can fly now.  The chapter was on humility. I needed to let go of some immature thinking.  So how does one celebrate letting go?  I wrote a poem, and I sensed a lightness and a joy.  This is why I do what I do.

I LET GO

I let go of children.

I let go of needing to please them.

I let go of expecting them to please me.

I let go of expecting them to take care of me.

I let go of needing to prove myself good, or smart, or right, or successful.

I let go of feeling guilty for not being good enough or smart enough or right or successful.

I let go of trying.

Trying to defend myself

Trying to protect others or help when I haven’t been asked

Trying to inspire or give advice or persuade.

In return, I receive all the wisdom I can glean,

all the joy and all the love in God’s heart, and therefore, in mine.

Finally, I let go of myself.

I let go.