Thursday, July 12, 2012

Forgetting Sarajoy

Haul 1 of 3 so far: snap peas and strawberries
I can barely remember the names of two of my great grandmothers and I don't know if I've ever known the names of the other two.  One is Hattie Haveman.  That's got a memorable ring and she's a memorable character: a wine-oh! with 12 kids, the oldest being my grandmother who also went on to have twelve children.  Their kids were perhaps meant to make up for living a fulfilling life, for using their other talents productively, which in North Dakota, in the early 1900's might not have been an option. Had they been able to put their likely fierce minds to other work, they would have clearly been over achievers in whatever other arena they would have found themselves in.

The other one I can remember is .. let's see... Salina?  Sabra? Let me look it up...Sean, um... that's odd. And she also had 12 children, the youngest of which is my other grandmother.  I once "modeled" her black brocade wedding dress with 64 hooks-n-eyes, when I was 13 and 14 and maybe 15.  I had seen enough of Robert Plant's "Simply Irresistible" on MTV to know that models should scowl.  So, although my modeling was just at church wedding-dress shows, I went all Robert-Plant scowly, and everyone asked me what was wrong.  Afterwards, all of her peers (though she'd long since died of a goiter) said I looked identical to her.  No one mentioned if that was with or without the goiter, or because of the scowl.  She was a farmer's wife who's husband drove her, EVERY AFTERNOON! to her sisters house for several hours to chat.  I may have a dishwasher and a washing machine, but you tell me if the trade-offs have been worth it!  I'm so jealous I could cuss!

another memorable 2012 achievement
Such reproductive forces!  Such a huge contribution to the human race, and yet, a scant four generations later, their names hang on by a thin thread of my memory.  Even most kings and queens, great ones, from all over the world, even their names are eventually forgotten, except for the academics specializing in that region or Dynasty. People who controlled vast amounts of other people and resources and empires, many of them have also succumbed to the cancer of forgetfulness.  And if they haven't yet, some day, they might.  We all arrived here without a name, without legends of grandeur, and eventually we will all leave this world, us, our names and our legends.

I know I am not unique in fearing this oblivion.  I too want to make some kind of mark on this earth, to scrawl in beautiful, indelible graffiti across this existence: "Sarajoy was here." 

For a while I thought I was missing something, that if I could just find the right key, I too could slide into these round little career holes and really make something of myself. But then I realized I don't fit into those holes and if I could fit, I certainly would have by now.  So, perhaps I am a square peg or some other shaped peg. If you've been reading here for any amount of time, you know the crescendo of  career angst I have reached these last few years.

But what, but what would I do?  How would I achieve or contribute?

Coyote's Birthday Wednesday night birthday party
And then this project came along.  Synchronicity lined up. And suddenly I'd been selected to audition for a prestigious grant that would have paid me to travel around putting on my one-woman show "Sisterhood of Kings: true tales of women in power and suits," where I tell/embody six women from history who dressed up as men in order to achieve things.  I wrote and memorized like a mad woman. My garden over-grew, my cows went un-milked, my children ran out of clean underwear while I worked. I performed for small audiences of friends and strangers.  I began to receive requests, several shows outside this grant began lining up.  For these stories, the time is now. And the work I have done over the past seven years prepared me to pop out this program in the three weeks between acceptance and audition.  And it is a rather amazing program if I do say so myself. And I feel that this would be my contribution (NOT 12 kids). And in the six weeks between the audition and this Monday, I forgot that this had been a long shot from the beginning.  That the people they usually take have long, illustrious careers in academia and their programs are the culmination of 30 years of work.

Another pinata bites the dust!
But I forgot about that.  Instead, I went back in my mind and revisited just a few of those many moments in conversations where I was called upon to reveal that I was working either at an insignificant job (my most prestigious title: "paralegal") or at the even more insignificant, un-paying job of Stay At Home Mom. In reality, eyes glazed over and conversation petered out.  But I went back in my over-active imagination and reworked the conversations and at the point when I would say that I had this prestigious appointment to travel and speak, their eyes would brighten instead of glaze and they would admire me and love me and we would talk respectfully with each other late into the night.  And I would feel so worthwhile and important, so good, so loved by all the world.

And so when I found out this week that I didn't get it, I was crushed. Let the glazing of the eyes continue. That, and I will not have the support of a large organization to promote me, to pay me, to set up my gigs.  If I do this, it will be me, continuing to root around in the dark, step-by-tripable-step.

So I am writing about this crushing blow, this humiliation, because it has been full of triumphs.

Mentos and Diet Coke for every boy and girl!
For instance, there was no failure-bleed into every other area of my life. I did not suddenly suck at everything I've ever done, ever.  And this represents also 7 years of work.  I did feel a little betrayed by synchronicity, but as my sister pointed out, a large government bureaucracy cannot really be expected to be in synch with the universe, in fact, they kind of pride themselves on NOT being in synch.  And also, instead of playing my cards absurdly close to my chest, I HAD to tell lots of people so that they could come to my pre-performances and give me feedback.  I stuck my neck WAY-the-hell out there in a way I never have before.  And what came of it?  Leads on future possibilities, lots of support, compassion in my failure, and the constant encouraging comment "you were robbed." And also, from several people familiar with the organization and saying in consternation: "I cannot figure out how they make their decisions. They must have some other criteria I'm not aware of."

And so, through my tears, I turned to journal it all out, to write down my feelings and my internal thoughts so that I can actually look at them on paper and think them through.  And I picked up my pen, turned to a new page and wrote not what I was thinking, which were not catastrophically negative thoughts, but they were leaning in that direction, quite naturally.  No, what came off my pen was like from some other universe.  I wrote: "Perhaps just being here is enough."  And then I went on to write what I thought I was going to write, about longing to contribute to the human endeavor but not finding my way in, listing all of the "no's" I've gotten from the world.  How one part of the universe seems to just want to just wham me into a round hole while some other part of the universe wants me to be myself.  But then these little sentences kept popping up, "I'm just here 'to be.'"  I know! It's shocking and lazy and un-puritan.  But really, I can only try so hard.  I've never tried harder than I did for that grant, and it shows in how far I got up the application ladder. But here I stop, unable to see how I can give these stories to the world, to the people who could be touched by them.

Coyote-designed cake, a swirly 8
What if I was suddenly a quadriplegic with severe brain damage?  Would I still have value?  Could I still "contribute"?  What if success came my way, and then left, would that mean I lost value as a person?  Am I like some kind of stock? "Sarajoy dipped 57 points today in global worries regarding competence." "Sarajoy gained 5% in personal value as she was finally hired by some schmuck in HR to do something she actually wants to do."

Huck's cousin, a successful attorney for the mentally ill, whom I adored, committed suicide and we'll be at her funeral this weekend. And, amid all the emotions and sadness about this, it has inadvertently underscored the truth that a career, a clear path, obvious and helpful contributions, are not everything.  Neither is a spouse and cherubic children (the pieces of life I've received).  All of these badges of apparent worth and worthiness can add intrigue and joy, but cannot themselves create worth nor represent it.  Perhaps having a career/ a clear path will not Make me happy, will not give me value or worth, or make me love myself, my life and my "being here" more.

I came across this quote in a book I was reading a few weeks ago, it's a quote of a quote of a quote and I think the original is Tal Ben-Shahark's, "To lead a happy life, we must also experience a sense of metaphysical worthiness.  We must appreciate our core self, who we really are, independent of our tangible accomplishments.... we must feel that we are worthy by virtue of our existence."

And then there is this one from Alice Walker, "Resistance is the secret of joy."

And put those two together and it's just a happy counter-cultural festival up here in my head!  Take that, Achievement-America!  My purpose is "to be," so F***-OFF on all the "justify your existence, preferably before 40" BS.  I don't have to justify crap.  I'm here, and that's all the reason I need to be here.

Not to say I'm not still smarting from the rejection and I've stopped longing to contribute. But I'm happy about the thoughts in my head.  This could have been the confirmation of my worst fears: no purpose, no meaning, no impression, nothing to contribute.  But now that I've looked these fears in the face, I can see (and I'm sure I saw in some theoretical way before but now I see in my heart) that the fears are empty.  None of us has more purpose or meaning than anyone else, no matter how soon we are forgotten, no matter how we change the world, rule the world even.
We're here to "to be" for as long as we get and that's all the "reason for existing" we need.

And then to be forgotten.

Bonus feature: Friday the 13th is Coyote's 8th Birthday!  Happy Birthday little "be"ing!


  1. I am so sorry that you didn't get the grant. I know how important that was to you. From experience though, I know that not every rejection is a rejection of your talent. Sometimes it is just an acknowledgement that you don't fit with their overall schema or plan.

    I would love to see your presentations. Do you have any gigs lined up? How long is it? Do you think it could work for a church service?

  2. Thanks for the encouraging words Rocci. I would love to do my presentation some time soon (but not too soon as I'll need to finish memorizing it!). It's about an hour long (their specification), but can be expanded or shortened easily as it is 6 ten-minute tales. It's designed to be all together, conceptual threads are worked in throughout and then pulled together in the last act, but I think that complete stories could be cut to fit a shorter time frame. I was waiting to hear back before proceeding forward with the other leads (library and museum). So, I'll get on that now. Sounds like you have some ideas and I know you have expertise, Rocci! Let's talk some more.



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