Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration Celebration: Voices

still snowing here!

The Husband is the story teller in our family. It is what he does - he teaches screenwriting at the university - and he enjoys studying it. Ask Cowgirl and she will tell you, you need a "bad guy" in the story to make it interesting. Hers are usually monsters, zombies, or those worst kind of antagonists - those beings who do not follow rules or observe nice behavior. "Not Listening Binker" is a reoccurring character.

Me, I am the teller anecdotes. In social settings, I perform a form of stand-up comedy which is drawn entirely from my own mishaps and adventures. I am also the navel gazer of the family. But secretly, I have always longed to write and tell stories.

Stories have been on my mind ever since I re-read Clarissa Pinkola Estes Women Who Run with the Wolves. I love the idea of recovering old stories and connecting them to our lives, discovering new meaning in both. I love to write, but I do not consider myself a writer. I said that a few weeks ago and then toppled head first into a love affair with writing in Natasha's course Oh, The Stories You Will Tell.

And now I hold in my hot little hands the latest gift from story catcher/teller Jen Lee: Finding Your Voice: a voice and story course. I've read the introduction and already my fingers are cramped from writing page upon page in response to her questions and prompts. She tells the story of her journey and this insight got me really thinking: "I realized recovering my voice wasn't going to be a journey that was limited to the page... Recovering my voice has been a whole-body affair for me. " She then suggests we examine "What aspect of your voices eludes you?"

Reflecting upon this question, I realized my dreams hold important clues for me. For years I used to have a dream where I was incredibly angry at this particular person in my life. He would do or say something that would have me so incensed and I would be trying desperately to give voice to my fury but my throat would be choked off. I could not get the words out of my mouth. I had the force of screams stifled within me and I would wake up with my throat sore and tight from the constriction.

I know, this is pretty common for a dream but it was only a slight exaggeration of my reality. I could not give voice to my feelings. I could not stand up for myself. I was not allowed to express anger. Or rather, my anger was insignificant in relationship to the feelings of others.

In comparison to the times my voice felt restricted, I am surprised to realize the times when my voice is powerful and clear. It is when I sing. More specifically, when I chant Sanskrit chants. The first time I ever chanted I was on a weekend retreat by myself at a small yoga ashram in the mountains. There were very few guests and just a few more residents participating in the evening kirtan. The only Sanskrit words I had ever heard were the names for yoga poses or asanas. Even though I stumbled through the words and struggled with singing the correct notes, I was hooked after that first night. I bought a cassette tape from the gift shop and I've been chanting ever since.

The first songs I sang to Cowgirl were chants. She knew Om Namah Shivaya long before she ever sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Even when I don't know exactly what I am singing, I find my voice draws upon some hidden reserve of strength deep within me. I know that I am chanting my devotion to Love and any restrictions or concerns about sounding or seeming foolish or inappropriate or unworthy dissolve under the force of that love. My breath and my voice melt away any blockages and the power of my heart drives the song. I experience myself worthy and whole when I am chanting.

Cowgirl loves to sing. She will sing the most nonsensical songs often comically out of tune and she sings with a gusto and zest that I admire. I remember being a child and singing with that kind of abandon and unselfconsciousness. I have yet to pinpoint the moment when I lost that innocence; I hope to preserve it as long as I can for Cowgirl.

two joy warriors getting ready for a girls day out

Recently she became aware of the fact that her eyes are different than mine. Attempting to explain the epicanthic fold, she needed to examine her own eyes in the mirror to verify the difference. And then she wailed "My eyes are ugly!" Of course, I understand that right now she would find distasteful any difference between herself and me, but to have her believe her eyes are ugly is heartbreaking. I talked about how I had disliked having red hair and freckles, how I hated standing out and seeming different when I was her age but how our differences are often what make us unique and beautiful. It didn't matter; she hated her eyes and wanted them to be like mine.

The next day I asked her about a friend of ours who is Korean American. I asked if she thought our friend was beautiful. And she said "oh yes, she is beautiful inside and out!" (We talk about how it is who we are on the inside that makes us beautiful and how that light illuminates our outer beauty.) I then asked "What do you have in common?" She shyly answered "Our eyes."

I know, so what does this have to do with singing? Well, I'm fuzzy on the details here, but I just know that if we don't believe ourselves to be worthy or acceptable, if we discount who we are - our inner and outer selves - then our voices will be stunted if not silenced. We doubt our right to speak. And worse than that, our ability to sing which is really a way of sharing our hearts. And I am purposely not going into the race issue here except to say Cowgirl is very proud to be from China and I want to make sure she is also proud to be Chinese American.

surreptitious photo of Dan Zanes after the announcement of "no photography"

Okay, so I promise I am winding this all up and will add a ribbon and a bow albeit a little sloppily. Yesterday I took Cowgirl to see Dan Zanes in concert. (An event worthy of its own story!) As the band made their way on stage, she pointed to one musician and asked "Mom, can I be her?" This is her habit: when we go to the zoo, she will point to an animal and say "That one there is me ... and the big one over there, that one is you." (I am always the big, slow moving one of any species.) When we read books, she will tell me which characters she wants to be. So determining which band member is whom is pretty common. What was unusual is Cowgirl usually wants to be one of the men. This time she picked a woman. And the woman - Elena Moon Park - is Asian American. The band started up and Elena picked up her trumpet and started playing this joyful tune. I said "Wow, she plays trumpet! Isn't that cool?" Cowgirl, clearly in awe, replied "And she's beautiful."

cowgirl with Dan Zanes (who had to really stoop over!)

After the show we got to meet all the performers. Cowgirl made a beeline to Elena who is definitely beautiful on the inside and out. Clearly tongue tied, Cowgirl managed to squeak out "You are beautiful" to a very gracious Elena. Seeing Elena's ukulele slung over her back, Cowgirl has declared she wants to play the ukulele. (So do I! I am adding it to my list of 100 things for the year ... so if you know about purchasing ukuleles, let me know!) I am thrilled she has this positive role model with whom she can identify.

with Elena

Okay, almost finished here ...but a postscript: so after the show I discovered on Dan Zane's website that Elena is trying to raise money to make an cd of family folk music from east Asia. Inspired to explore her own heritage, she is discovering the power of music to strengthen identity and connection to ourselves and our history. She is appealing to fans and peers to help fund her project and you can learn more about it here and in this video:

As Dan Zanes says, when we know about our heritage we can tell our stories. And through that process we come to know each other better; we come to understand each others hearts and when we communicate at that level, there is great potential to heal and grow.

I hope this is the beginning of a long story. I hope I can tell it properly. I hope that Cowgirl and I play our ukuleles and sing it at the top of our lungs. I hope you will consider sharing the link to Elena's Kickstarter page or even become a supporter and make this musical dream a reality.

And ending on a sweet note - after our girls day out, complete with singing and dancing we had to HAD TO end it with some ice cream before heading home for a spa night in the big tub with bubbles and toys and a few new songs.

What do you love to sing? How do you express the sweetness of your own heart? Do you share or hide your voice? Just remember: a joy warrior always has a song on her lips ...

... and of course, a little ice cream.


  1. Thanks, Lis. Today, I needed the reminder that I have a valuable voice. Sometimes I let the little daily stress get on top of me, and forget that my voice is still there, under it all. (Did that come out right? I'm tired, so I'm not sure...)

    How wonderful that C wants to be just like you - and that you're helping her love who she is, inside and out. She is beautiful, as are you. She could not have a better role model.

    Love and hugs!

  2. oh Lis, you are such a terrific writer.
    i sit here with tears streaming down my face for, as yet, some unknown reason. moving someone to tears, yah, that's a good writer.
    hugs and love to you!

  3. I can't believe you have a picture with Dan Zanes! How cool is that?! I also love the story and picture with Elena.

    You are definitely a writer and that's why so many people are coming here to your blog. . . and so many people thank you for putting in to words what they are unable to say. I have not deleted any of the emails you've sent me because I'm considering getting them published- don't worry, I'll be sure to get your permission first and let you edit them :)

  4. Dear Lis-there are so many stories here in this post...stories inside of stories. the one that touches me the most is about Cowgirl! I am so glad that she has found a positive role model whom she can identify with too:) that must hurt you...for her to believe ANY part of her is ugly! As a mom...I feel your pain. And LOVE the On Namah Shivaya story too:)
    then there are the writing e-courses...I really am going to check out the links...and you are most certainly a storyteller...the very best kind let me tell you. One with a big huge heart, lots of love and an authentic spirit...those are the ones we listen to. I mean...REALLY listen to...with our

  5. omgomgomgomg!! i'm SO jealous!! DAN ZANES!!! *squeeeeee*. LOL. AWESOME.

    beautiful post...beautiful writing - you ARE a writer, do believe that!....


    so much here that i can't write a comment that won't turn into an i shall simply say - thank you. as always.


  6. Well, you all are my creative posse that's for sure!

    Two things: I told Cowgirl about Elena's project and she said "I have five dollars I can give her." So sweet. (Of course, I have already pledged.)

    Then this morning she was coming downstairs talking with her dad and i heard her say "I think he loves me because of my beautiful eyes." OMG! She was talking about the dog ... but what a turn around. Yes, her eyes are beautiful because they see so much truth and love.

  7. I love visiting your blog. There are so many insights and questions and interesting little side stories. It's always a pleasure to pop by.
    The love and joy you share with your daughter is wondrous and I am so glad you share it here.
    I also appreciate your intellect and your willingness to probe and discuss the questions. I especially appreciate how you weave together your spiritual, creative, and everyday life into such moving and thoughtful "stories" You continue to be an inspiration to me.

  8. It sounds like Cowgirl came full circle in a short time about discovering and acknowledging her beauty. She is definitely gorgeous! I have always shied away from singing but got into chanting when I studied shiatsu. I do sing with my son openly and without thought but he is starting to be embarrassed by it! This was a great story-post! I will be telling more on Thursday about my "stolen" art (unless I get over it before then).

  9. Now that's a beautiful story, Lis. You are a talented story teller -- I love how Cowgirl began to identify with the beauty of other Asian Americans. You're doing such a wonderful job of raising a happy and healthy girl!

  10. Yeah Lis! Good job. I'd love to see your standup comedy act, but I think I already have an idea of how that might go. :)

    I bought my Husband a uke this Christmas. There are many to choose from, and they are NOT expensive really. There are the plastic, psychidelic coloured ones for really cheap, but they sound cheap too. I narrowed it down to 2:
    one was utilitarian lovely, the other was gorgeous lovely. There was only a 40$ difference. What to look for are:
    *Real wooden finger board
    *Real steel end pins and screws for tightening strings
    *a true sound box

    If you shop at a real music store where they sell guitars, harps, violins.....they will teach you/lead/guide you into a solid purchase. Mine came to about $135 with a case. I also bought....a battery powered tuner...can't live without one of those. Priceless.
    See you at Oh, The Stories.

  11. Oh, love this!!!!! And love that you turned things around for her. Your story reminded me of a friend whose mother caught her shaving her arms when she was around 12 years old because she'd noticed darker hair growing on her arms. Her mother asked her if she loved Farley, their dog, to which she answered an emphatic, "Yes!", and then her mother asked her, "And you still love him even though he has hair on his arms, right?" to which she also had to answer yes to :) This might not work on a more modern, savvier child, but it worked on her!

    I love following the adventures of my two favorite joy warriors!

    And, I wanted to know that I put your beautiful art card on display in a blog post today!!!!

    Thanks so much for such an amazing surprise!

  12. Love this post and your follow-up story in the comments! What a journey loving oneself is:) And, yes to chanting! Would love to get out my old tape of bhajans - now where would that be...