Retracing My Steps

These past weeks I've been writing about my realization that I have not been speaking my truth, listening to my heart, living an authentic life.

The other day, as I was flipping through my open webpages on my iPad web browser, suddenly -- truly out of absolutely nowhere -- a blogpost I wrote four years ago popped onto my screen. I literally have no idea where it came from -- and in fact, I thought I had gotten rid of that website years ago. It was the weirdest thing!!

So, I read it.

Turns out this speaking-your-truth thing has been on my mind for a while. That old blogpost appearing on my screen was definitely the Universe saying to me, "Are you listening? Because I've been talking to you loud and clear for a while now. . ."

I've just gotten home from a four-week trip during which I drove 4,300 miles and visited seven states. Because I desperately needed a joy infusion, I purposely took, as I often do, lots of back roads, because I know that I always see something I absolutely need to see, learn something I absolutely need to learn, feel something I absolutely need to feel, hear something I absolutely need to hear on the back roads. Back roads always reconnect me to my joy!

This past Monday, seven hours into my drive from Lexington, Kentucky, to Austin, Texas, I got hopelessly lost trying to find a bridge across the Mississippi that showed on my map, but not in real life. As I frustratedly found myself retracing my steps, I felt my anxious inner clock rear its ugly head and begin to berate me for "wasting time". I tried to soothe myself and stop listening to the mean voices pounding my heart and pummeling my thoughts by reminding myself that I was EXACTLY where I needed to be. That's when the lightbulb flickered on and I understood something so totally cool about myself: I recognized that driving the back roads is for me a kind of contemplative act, a moving meditation. The wheels are turning and my eyes are seeing the world roll by, which creates the necessary motion that finally quiets my soul enough to feel a deep deep communion -- with myself and the world. My monk's cell on wheels, as it were. . .

The old blogpost that popped onto my screen was written after my partner and I took back roads all the way home to Santa Fe from St Louis over Memorial Day weekend in 2011. After reading my four-year-old words and reliving that experience through them, I can see clearly now that this current chapter of my life is one long and very necessary road trip back to my true self, as I listen and sing along to the lyrics of my life, follow my heart, and remember to hear and speak my own truth!

This week I learned that sometimes we have to be willing to retrace our steps to remind ourselves of what we already know but seem to have forgotten. But when we can release timetables, the checkpoints, and even the maps that are supposed to show us the "right way", then and only then, can our incredible journey -- with all its winding roads, dead ends, dark woods, and lost places -- unfold.

That 2011 road trip planted the seeds for my taking this incredible journey back to joy. I'd love to share it with you: 

SOCIAL COMMENTARY 101

For years I've told people that my dream job would be (other than being that girl on the sidelines interviewing the players and coaches at every major sporting event) to be a public intellectual. Most people look like my dog does when he hears a high-pitched noise. They cock their heads once or twice and stare at me with an equal measure of incomprehension and mild annoyance--the subtext of which is, "Wow. That's a little pretentious. . .and what is a public intellectual anyway?" What they actually say is, "Um, how do you get paid for that?" And my flip answer is usually something that confirms all their worst suspicions--like, "I have no idea, but now that Christopher Hitchens is dead, maybe there's a job opening." 

Deflection and cynicism aside, the truth is that I have always admired people who have the guts to speak their minds about topics that compel me--social justice, art, beauty, celebrity culture, being caught in the cross-hairs between spirituality and religion, living a life of meaning. I admire them, because, until recently I wasn't always brave enough to put myself on the line and take a stand for what I believe matters and makes life worthwhile. It takes courage, conviction, and a doggedness that can be either admirable or incredibly irritating. But whether we agree with them or not, without these terriers of talk, there would be no significant social discourse.

For almost 100 miles the weathered signs cropped up in windblown wheatfields: World's Deepest Hand Dug Well. Visit Greensburg. We'd been driving west across Kansas all Memorial Day, stopping at tack shops looking for Western wear, local diners on my perpetual quest for the best American breakfast, flag-filled cemeteries filled with families remembering their loved ones--anything and everything that seemed interesting to us. But we were pretty sure we'd be taking a pass on Greensburg and its highly-touted well. Our goal was to make it to Dodge before sundown. Seriously. We'd ended up on this road because neither of us could imagine coming this close to Dodge City and not seeing what all the fuss was about. Greensburg was the last town between us and Dodge, and we glad to see it out the rear view mirror. 

Finally, we were on the home stretch--hightailing it to Dodge, just like in the movies. And then, about a mile out of town, I saw them along the fenceline--a row of rusted, painted, steel figures and signs. I slammed on the brakes and proceeded to experience one of the great art moments of my life--rivaling my four hours transfixed by the vibrancy and power of Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece or my afternoon of grace spent with the quiet beauty of Giotto's Scrovegni Chapel.

 Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512-1516

Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512-1516

For about a mile along the road, an artist had erected a surreal collection of cutout sculptures made from painted scrap metal--a panoply of pop culture and political figures--Ted Kennedy becomes a corroded Bugs Bunny, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush both reference goose-stepping Gestapo, along with a fair measure buxom babes, comic-strip animals in acid, a wild assortment of wacky birds. Kooky, my dad would have called them--they were warped, crazy, mean-spirited, wicked, irreverent, odd, odd, odd, hilarious, and absolutely brilliant.

Retracing My Steps

I loved them!

When I got home, I rushed to Google what I'd seen. MT Liggett lives in the poorest county in Kansas, a county so disenfranchised and out of touch with the rest of the state that it once voted to secede. Liggett was born in Mullinville, and other than a few years spent in the military, he's lived there all his life. He makes his art from the junk he finds around him, and he's never given a fig for what anyone thinks of his pastime. No one is exempt from Liggett's social commentary: Hillary and Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, James Carville--it's safe to say Liggett isn't overly fond of Democrats. But George W. Bush takes an even tougher licking, as does his wife. It seems Liggett doesn't hold anyone who's spent time in Washington in high esteem. 

Retracing My Steps

I found myself wondering: What if Liggett hadn't found this outlet for his outrage? I suppose he could have gone down to the local bar and bellyached at the TV set until his friends became his enemies, until everyone stopped listening or caring. Instead, he made art--art as social commentary--as clever and caustic and thought-provoking as any I have seen.

But Liggett's art isn't all about anger. The ubiquitous Kansas Jayhawk occupies pride of place alongside an assortment of women who evoke a wide range of expression. Julie and Kim, whoever they are or were, have morphed into a dinosaur and raven respectively. Diane fares much better--and if his depiction of her physique is accurate, one doesn't have to stop and wonder why. While Marilee, the Honey Enchantress, skulks off with her Eros arrow. The whimsy and wonder of these pieces fueled my joy all the way home that night night, and I'm already itching to go back and spend more time with the social commentary of MT Liggett.

Retracing My Steps

I'm just starting to learn about the groundswell of connectedness called Social Media, in which blogging is well on its way to becoming our chief national--perhaps even global--discourse. A free space where anyone can speak their mind about what matters to them. In this paradigm, isn't everyone a public intellectual--or at least a contributor to our collective dialogue? What's holding me back? A lifelong habit of worrying about what others will think? That age-old training growing up in a Hollywood that still believed it had control over the reputations of its stars not to "reveal too much"? Lately, I've been fortunate to be given the opportunity to speak around the world on a variety of topics--and each time I've tried for a little more honesty, a touch more truth. It's scary standing up and saying what I believe, but every time I do, I know it's made a difference--if not to the people who graciously take the time to talk to me afterwards about their lives and dreams, fears and hopes, then simply to me, shedding a lifelong habit of hiding my deepest self, of trying not to speak about anything that might ruffle a few feathers along the way.

And so, here it is--my reckless plunge into blogging, which is, of course, my chance, at last, to live out my dream of writing about what matters to me--social change; travel as transformation; material culture vs materialism; the importance of listening; my family history; God, Good, Love, Truth; remembering joy; teaching and learning in equal measure; the people I've met and the places I've seen; the images and ideas that have resonated, and particularly the ones I can't shake. And that's just for starters. . . 

People stumble upon blogs much like I stumbled upon the mixed up metal world of MT Liggett. I can imagine that some people might have glanced at them as they hurried past on their way to someplace more important--just as many blogs go unread. Some will take the time to look and bubble up with anger, while others, like me, will be inspired by one person's gumption, creativity, and take with them images, ideas, and, with any luck, hope. Hope that each person will take the time to contribute something to the common good. Of course, one wonders if Mr Liggett's neighbors feel that his contributions are all for the good. Whatever they might say, I say: Absolutely. 

As long as we remain free to speak--whether through images, language, movement, song--in anger or in joy, in frustration or in hope--then the promise on which this country was founded remains a beacon of promise to everyone for whom the basic freedom to speak their mind is still a distant dream. 

Retracing My Steps

 

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