Ze Frank, Kony 2012 and Don Quixote

When I was a little girl, my bed was tall enough for me to sit under. My sister and I had gotten on our own rooms for the first time in our lives. Our dad had cut in half the bunk bed he had made for us to share. Kerry got the bottom half, and I got the top half. It was my space, under my bed. I had pillows, a lamp and a record player. I read, dreamed and listened to music.

It was under my bed that I discovered Man of la Mancha. I was so swept away by Don Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea that I had the words of the story album memorized. To this day, I can still recite most of it from memory. It has been strong in my mind this morning.

In the past few months, I have found myself drawn to people in positions of anguish who are failing to fall prostrate to their despair…choosing instead to not only create hope in the midst of pain, but to share it publicly. I am inspired by the vulnerability in it. I am inspired by the strength in it. I am drawn to the humanity and imperfection of them. Through their bravery, I see the path to my own courage light up before me…and I push forward.

In every instance, however, I find encounters with another character in Man of la Mancha, the Great Enchanter. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Great Enchanter defeats Don Quixote in battle by presenting him with his own reflection in a circle of mirrors. Don Quixote’s faith in his mission is overcome by the “reality” of his circumstances and limitations. He falls, never to return to the field.

Cynicism is a tempting version of reality. The reality of our fallible humanity is a truth that is hard to argue with. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We break down. We do stupid things. And, as the windows into each other’s worlds increase as our online lives become increasingly visible, becoming the ‘voice of reason” amidst a groundswell of enthusiasm over anything is an addictive position to take. It arms up against the possibility of dashed hopes. It puts us into a position of “see? I told you so.” In the instance that someone’s imperfection shows. We did not fall for it.

The Joseph Kony 2012 campaign drew criticism from the moment it was launched, and then the criticism grew sharper and more pointed after the man who made the video had a very public breakdown as a result of the public scrutiny.

Ze Frank became an online sensation six years ago with his quirky breakthrough video blog. You can see the fear in his latest video as he screws up the courage to launch his next endeavor. He seems to be braced for impact. And, unfortunately, he is likely to get it as people will come out of the woodwork to offer up their commentary, good and bad.

The world is rotten and god doesn’t even know we’re living on it.
Man of la Mancha

I have loved this quote for most of my life and repeated it often. Cynicism has been my “go-to” forever. I wanted to be at the front of the “I-saw-right-through-it” queue. But I find that this kind of thinking has left me wanting. I want to be inspired. I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to find people’s bravery inspiring, especially if they are imperfectly human, like me. It gives me hope that all of us crazy, hot-headed, weepy, impractical, baggage-carrying misfits can do something beautiful. That maybe all our efforts will meld together, in ways we cannot even anticipate, to bring our broken culture into something beyond our ability to imagine alone.

So, to everyone out there who is thinking of putting yourself on the line and bringing your imperfection out for the rest of us to see – remember that what you see in the enchanter’s mirrors is only a very shallow aspect of reality, and that there are always going to be those who can’t see past that. Please don’t let that stop you.

To those of you who feel a little fire kindle whenever you see, hear or read something brave and human…comment, share, follow. Be bold in your hope. Set yourself up to be ridiculed for being naïve or misled. Don’t be afraid to be inspired.

And, to all of you, from a little girl, under her bed with a record player…


I’ll Be There

The beginner choir was singing the opening notes to “I’ll Be There” when I finally tuned in to the middle school choir concert. I was there to see my daughter perform, in the advanced choir. Her songs would be last in the program. I had a long wait. And this is what made is hard to settle into my seat and just be where I was. I was waiting for everything else to be over. Besides, it was hot, we were in a public school auditorium and I could not get my camera to work for some reason…so I was frustrated. But, something about the opening strains of this song caught my attention, and I settled in. Almost two entire groups into the music program, and I was finally settling in.

You and I must make a pact

We must bring salvation back

Where there is love

I’ll be there.

Suddenly, I saw the faces of these little girls. One little girl had a sad hopeful look on her face. One shuffled her feet and was clearly searching through a wall of bright lights for a face in the audience. One of them swayed to the music as if she was really feeling what she was singing. All of them beamed. All of them wanted to be there. All of them were proud, and deserved to be.

Johnston is a performing arts magnet school in the Houston Independent School District. Kids from all over the district audition to get into the school. We did not move into the district in time for Haley to audition the year we moved into town, so we specifically found a house located within the zone of this school so that an audition would not be necessary. The school is that good…and that good for the creative students that go here. Artists, musicians, dancers, actors and singers…they have found the school and made their way here.

For many of them, their talent is their ticket out of a lower performing school within the district. The magnet program rewards those with the talent AND the willingness to work hard.

I watched every second of the rest of the performance. I watched these kids who innocently sang as the state cuts almost 200 million in funding from our district this year alone. The decision to make these drastic cuts happened very recently, but the impact is already being felt. The stable foundation underneath them is shaking and none of them can feel it yet. Not yet. But their parents do. We are watching. Some of us are figuring out what to do with our kids if the school system just caves in on itself. For some of the parents of these kids, there are no other options.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the kids of Nepal. Specifically, how this country, in this moment, has decisions to make about what their priorities are. The people of Nepal have suffered for generations for the opportunity to make decisions that are only recently theirs to make. In this moment, they can choose to build a future for their country that moves it into something inspiring to generations to come, as well as to the rest of the world. I am hopeful that they are not looking to us for that answer.

Tonight, I am thinking about the decisions our country is making about what is expendable and what is not. Tonight, I am looking into the faces of these children, children who are in school because we profess to believe that we cannot be a strong nation unless all of our children have equal access to basic education. Tonight, I wish there was some way to help every politician in the country see the hope I see in these faces. I want the hope in these faces to live…I want this hope to form the foundation for our future. As I go to sleep tonight, I will be praying for a shift in our perception that will wake us up and cause us to prioritize differently, because the children of Houston are not the only ones considered expendable by their governments. The politicians in this country need to all be held accountable for our future…and not just the period of time between now and our next election.



sometimes, I play

I am sitting on a wooden work table in a 100 year old mattress factory, listening to a singer songwriter play his original music to this attentive, mellow crowd. People are scattered around the room in chairs placed in front of and around antique industrial sewing machines that used to sew mattresses and now sew bags. The next room is still set up for making mattresses. Frames, drying racks, compression boxes…all look as if someone, just this second, walked away from using them. There are even downy feathers in the wire egg baskets next to the work stations.
Twinkle lights look carelessly thrown up around the rafters, illuminating only enough as the sun sets for me to make out the other faces in the room. We watch the performer sing in front of a backdrop of colorful flags and blankets thrown onto numerous coat hooks behind him. He is lit by a single living room lamp. We are in a still life.

Only Cheryl could have pulled this off…such accidental looking perfection. She labored dearly to make this happen, but it would be impossible to pinpoint precisely what it was that she labored over. Every detail looks that unstudied, a complete lack of fussiness that is impossible given how perfect it all is. As Will Johnson (lead singer of Centro-Matic) sings about dreaming (I’m not making this up), I look over to see her casually perched in a deep window ledge with Paul and Zoe (her truly adorable husband and magical daughter). It’s a picture, of course, but it will not be taken tonight. Because the genius of Cheryl is that she is not trying to look like this, she just does. Her focus is to make magic. And tonight, with soft winds blowing wind through open windows and the occasionally train whistle interrupting the show, she succeeds.

“This is the first time I’ve played a mattress factory.”

Will speaks softly between songs. He is not miked. There is no need. We are a very small, sold out show. He talks and plays and then talks some more. Mostly we just soak him in with everything else. He is so perfectly placed here. He will always be associated with that night for me. And this is a good thing.

Cheryl runs her business from here. It has been in her family since the 50s, when it was actually used as a mattress making factory. These days, Cheryl makes her line of upcycled bags in this old factory. Until recently, she did all of the work herself…from the initial design of each bag to the invisible stitching that holds each one together. She will gladly tell you about how, the moment she needed help in producing the bags, the right people appeared. This is the way with Cheryl.

Tina and I own some of her bags and I am finding two more are calling my name. They are ridiculously underpriced for bags made with as much care as Cheryl puts into them. Carrying mine makes me feel like I am carrying a glamorized version of our collective past. And these bags get noticed.

There are pictures from the show on her website. (click on the photostream at the bottom of the left column)
But not even these gorgeous shots can do justice to that evening. You can also find a link to her catalog here (link in the left column as well). She just finished a show in Houston, so she will have to update her inventory online before you will see what she really has in stock. I am jonesing for a long hair messenger and a canvas bag with a rebellious lining. Both are scene stealers.

Genius and Gelato

Today I was in a gelato store getting my first taste of gelato (I know, right?) and I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit piped in over the sound system. Well, it was the song, to be sure, but it was a strange cover using some old school Italian cadence and instruments. It was a very odd feeling listening to it like that and it got me to thinking about Kurt Cobain.

I love Kurt Cobain. I use that in present tense with intention. He is gone, but in a very real way, who he was is still all around us. His animus is still present. A piece of him is still alive. In any case, despite the fact that I have to look up the lyrics to his songs in order to understand them all (sort of), and that he really belongs to a different generation, I feel his music as if it were written specifically for me. I can feel it in every cell of my body.

So, I start having a conversation with Tina about his genius and at the very moment I am beginning to wonder if we overuse that word, I realize that we do not. At least not in this case.

Kurt Cobain is a genius…was a genius. His genius was in connecting us with our wilder self. The part of us all that just does not fit into starched shirts and minivans. A sleeping piece of up wakes up to his music. He speaks directly to that part in us…and that is his genius.

What is yours?