soulnotskin is the home of LGBTQ clean and sober woman who is on a mission to inspire growth, faith, and kinship among us all. Jen is an author and a public figure who prefers the titles of woman and wife. Whether you experience her through her writing, a LIVE event, or online expect to be positively impacted.
We fall into a world full of other peoples choices and we conform in order to survive.
Eventually as we discover the world for ourselves, we may need to shed some of the costume we'd acquired. This is no easy task, but with faith and courage and community we can transform into the ME we were each designed to be.
Here is the first draft of an idea I had for an animation touching on this topic.
PS - if you forgot to sign up to ready my manuscript, go to my website and subscribe. I'll see what I can do. ;)
I am 43 years old. My body looks different than I remember. Priorities shift around me. Seasonally I choose to I stand on the deck of ships already sailed.
Today I am a different woman. I have different things to say and for different reasons. I am tired of asking permission through my humor. I want to strengthen my boundaries today because if I concern all of my precious breath with what you think of me, I have very little for myself to nurture me. I have a desire to do so many things and it becomes ever apparent that to do them all is to do none of them exceedingly well. Also, I have learned for me that to do only one of them is to leave me in a state of longing for the others.
I used to think the solution was to do the many things I desired to do... better. I believed that I could spend my finite energy more wisely. I trusted that if I tried harder I could do many things exceptionally well, merely by wanting to. I believed, "Today will be different. Today it will work out differently." I really believed that somehow my dance with willpower and the 24 hours in a day would manifest different results if I wanted it bad enough.
My mind is not always my friend.
I can make a list of all things I'd like to do and feel invigorated at the prospect of them getting done. To begin acting on the list, however, time gets away from me no matter how convinced I am that I can manage it well. Time is not my problem. My perception of time + my perception of what I need are goofy.
I believe they got goofy through a combination of experiences, many of which took place when I was a young girl. I took responsibility for many things that I was not responsible for. I did not have any clear idea of what I was responsible for and what others were required to do for themselves. I believe I learned that there never was an end to the things that needed to be done. I believe I learned that there never was a time to 'give up' on someone who said they were trying their best, even if their best was suffocating the life out of me.
I'm only now truly learning what I've preached for years; that you can't change someone who doesn't want to change. You can't communicate a survival protocol to someone who won't stop talking. A monologue of telling you their problems. The thrashing river of blame and victimization will prevent new information or possibilities from meeting a brain that is hard wired to fulfill its own prophecy. Hope cannot replace hopelessness when one clings to the latter for dear life.
Finally I turn to me. My friend Marilyn reminds me to ask myself, "Jen, what do YOU need here?"
What a revolutionary question. I find it difficult to answer. For years the answers might have been a small variety of the same thing; "whatever is fine. what do YOU need, o beloved Other? I don't need anything, I'm fine, what can I do for you?"...
Not today. I want to play. Laugh and dance and rest. I want to create and spend time with friends and love my family and listen to the leaves blow in the wind. I watch youth plunge forward with fervor. They believe they can save the world. They believe in the very least that they can change it. I'd rather drink tea than march. I'd rather walk WITH you than speak AT you. I'd rather share than preach.
Come to the table if exchange and sharing interest you. If growth and expansion interest you. Pull out a chair if you're in the mood to love somebody. To build someone up rather than break someone down.
Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.
Yesterday I was startled by a seismic shift. In my conscious soul.
Hindsight reveals it had been in the making for some time.
I need to write about it.
Saturday, January 7 2017
Every Saturday morning at 9am in Castro Valley, CA, I sit in a room full of peers that I consider extended family. We gather to study spiritual principles and we hold space for each other to grow. Our courageous souls are starving and we have lost the choice to chase insatiable hunger away with booze. Many of us don't know what we seek or how to ask for it, but we stay because there is something in the room that heals what is broken one hour at a time. We are accountable and witness each others greatest joys and deepest sorrows. We are cheerleaders, shoulders to cry on, and audience to appreciate. Our very lives depend on our commitment to each other. We are a community of varied mentor-ships growing away from old solutions of isolation and numbing. We work together to accept life on its own terms, and use spiritual principles to climb toward the light of freedom. I love these people so much, but today I don't want to be here. I have a temperature of the spirit, a surface irritability that I want to ignore. I am here because I said I would meet a newcomer. Sometimes it happens this way. She didn't show but I did, and it's right where I needed to be to grow today. The meeting begins. First we read, and then we check in one by one.
As we went around the room I listened to others and planned to say simply, "I'm Jen and I'm glad to be here with you all this morning. I am going to just listen today."
That was the plan.
My wife's share was born of courage to reach deeper than her own resistance and share her difficult situation with the group. She is sad and wants to isolate which is why she showed up and is speaking instead. We learn here that we often have to counter our desire with opposite action to stay well and free from old behaviors.
When she spoke it touched something inside of me I hadn't been conscious of. I hadn't realized I was so far away until her vulnerability called me back to the room. She is a bit of a hero in my life that way. I often wander in my heart and mind and soul but she stays present. Always. An angel and an anchor.
Our collision that morning made more sense. We had done our best, but the metal of our pain's trailer dragging behind as we rushed through the morning, well it shot sparks into the air. Tension. Argument, difficult apology.
Suddenly it was my turn to speak. I learned what I was upset about as the words left my mouth. It went something like this:
"I may cry and I don't know what that's about. But I guess I should talk. So, here's what I'll say. I am at the safest and most wonderful place I've ever been in my life and I want so badly to wrap a blanket of it's comfort around me and sit in front of the fire with my wife and enjoy it. That's what I want to do.
And I am getting some big nudges.
I want to ignore them.
It's time for me to do some work I've not been ready to do until now. And that's really inconvenient.
And I don't want to do it. And I do.
I am a performer.
I have a ministry in me.
I believe it's time and all I want to do is wrap a blanket around me and enjoy what I've finally got. And I'm scared and excited and grateful and a little mad about it too."
Through quiet tears I didn't hear much else. I was processing what just came out of me. I've been through MANY seasons of ambivalence and depression over the years since I left Los Angeles and the dream of comedy behind. My ex of 7 years endured the worst of it, God Bless her, as we raised our son, who has been one of the greatest gifts in my life.
I was so afraid of what I'd learned in Hollywood. I learned that at that point in my life I was not spiritually strong enough to be who I wanted to be in that environment. I was bound and determined to build a simple, stable, structured life to be safe in. I bounced around jobs, satisfactions and desires. My depression would set in when I'd see an old friends face in a film or on TV. We endured many seasons of grief around the loss of that part of me. Occasionally I'd perform again and it awakened the fear in me. I believed that to perform would be to make it and that would lead to drinking and drugs and I would die. I believed that for me, to be who I was supposed to be would mean the end of me.
The world at large can use TV to escape from reality. I was often brought back to the very reality I wished to forget. I needed to be a performer. I am an artist. I have something to say. I was neck in neck with these folks I see making it, and I've fallen mercilessly far behind.
I spent years working a spiritual program to accept that I needed to stay small and safe. The longer I'm sober I realize what a familiar theme that has been in my life. I stepped out of progress and growth to survive the death sentence I'd come to believe Fame represented for me. I grieved, isolated, maintained a manic schedule, and little did I know - grew. I was a handful and a gift to others. I spent all of my energy diverting the dream and behaving well in the meantime.
I have spent 13 years since I left performance learning about myself in spasms. The same amount of time I spent drinking. Interesting. Am I all caught up now? It's been difficult and necessary. The performance hound has never left me. I pushed it down. She'd plead for the stage, and we'd go and do amazing and awaken the fear. I pushed it down.
Safe and simple for survival.
So I'm accustomed to this attack of "it's time". However.
This feels different.
I am different today.
I left the meeting to attend a screening of a local woman's documentary. I was in my head and heart and didn't want to go but I'd promised a friend I would meet her there so I went. I figured I could process all of this later in the day when I saw my sponsor and had time for self. So I went.
Let me back up for a second.
I'd been running into Stacy Poulos repeatedly during the Christmas break at myriad coffee shops as I began the journey to write my first novel, finally. The novel initiated this seismic shift. I'd been re-introduced to a man I'd met years earlier at work. He and I both teach inside the jail system. Tyson Amir is also a musician and he'd written a book. We spoke. He inspired me and guided me to his writing coach. I hired her and the character work I'd begun was the most tangible progress I'd ever made on creating a story for print. I was sure I'd do it this time. A current gently changing my direction.
I'd be at coffee shops writing and I'd run into Stacy. One day I noticed she was editing video and we began to talk. That's when she invited me to the screening she had set up for yesterday. I politely received the invitation and doubted I would go.
She reminded me of a combination of 3 women I'd loved before. Missy, Tarrie and Liz. I suspected that Stacy was a washed up dyke who rode motorcycles and probably hung out at the local straight bars, friends with everyone. I imagined her little 'coffee shop business' was enough to pay rent at her moms house where she still lived in the basement at 45. I imagined layers of failure that led her here, yet she spoke of big things like film screenings and handed out her business card to feel important. I was happy for her that she still had her looks. I had decided that was who she was and I'd never spoken to her more than 10 minutes. I constructed a big story about her immediately. Wow.
Closer to the event, a friend reached out and said she was going to the screening and asked if I would join her.
The hallways leading into the theater were covered with photography from around the world. Images that she has caught with her camera, her eye, her soul and developed into high contrast, single frame stories. I was impressed and envious. That damn green monster, envy. We've met before. When Green shows up it means I need to move. That I am coveting something I should have but someone else has worked for. I need to move and get my version of it. Sometimes it causes depression, other times it causes movement.
I wonder who she really is and how she made this life for herself. I like wonder. It's been a while, I realized running through a parking lot to get some coffee, since I've wondered. I have forbidden myself to wonder if creativity could ever be a part of my life in a real way. I wonder if I could LIVE IN creativity, rather than seeking to inject it occasionally into my busy schedule. I'd declared her an old, washed up dyke playing 'self-employed' in her life. How bitter have I become about life's possibilities? She seemed joyful.
I returned to the local Chabot Cinema feeling hopeful that I may have been completely wrong. I nested in a balcony seat set away and solo from all others. I chuckled at how God works in my life. God wanted me here, I decided.
An energetic female played her guitar and sang about Oakland City Jail and the police that monitored her mail. She had far more passion than voice control, in my opinion. I felt embarrassed as a white woman to be represented so publicly by this 'artist'. Immediately I challenged that thought with an inquiry: why do I feel that she represents me? Why am I being such an asshole? Why am I isolating, judging and not connecting?
My depression spoke. I want to have the courage to share my experiences through my art. My biggest fear has always been what people would think of me if I spoke my truth. Then it occurred to me that I'd become the judge I feared, and she'd become the artist.
I said a quick prayer of forgiveness and decided to be present for the experience. I chose to listen to her and honor her. Suddenly her performance was beautiful.
Her song ended and Stacy spoke humbly of her gratitude for our attendance in the theater. She used words like 'blessed'. She said, "This is a dream come true".
She introduced her family, friends, mentors and teachers. I recall how she made time to take a photo with every single person who arrived - the gratitude and humility that spoke to. She found a seat several rows above me next to a butch woman and I made assumptions again. Judgements. I cleared them.
As the lights began to fade, I realized I was open. I have no idea who she is, what this screening is about. I know that the attitude I brought with me today sucked. Somehow, God put my ass in this seat. Be open.
A voice in the back of my head said, It’s your time for
Moving On, Moving On
It gets further away
I can finally say
I’m out of your shadow
The thing about time
It'll change your mind
I'm looking to find
A way back into the La-la-la-la light,
Into the light
Into the light
Into the light
Into the light"
She said so much more poetically what had tumbled from my lips earlier.
The whole documentary moved me. Stacy was courageous and doing what she loves. Sarah too. Two women I've come across who are creating in their lives. Which is what I want to do. I have been inspired. I left full of hope and appreciation. I said goodbye and thank you to Stacy and she smiled, thanking me for coming. I got into the car and searched Sarah Smith music. I decided whatever came up I would listen to it to see if I liked any of her other stuff. This is what I found:
It's called Angels and Anchors. Boy, God. You are something. I can't deny it anymore. It's time.
I have contacted Stacy to see if she will work with me on a documentary project I've dreamed of creating. I look forward to seeing if that can be the beginning of my new journey.
I am in school getting a Masters Degree in Life Coaching and Mentorship. I'm writing a book. I'm married to an incredibly talented and beautiful woman who provides love an support. She also inspires me. I love to love her. I will begin doing comedy occasionally to just get back on stage preparing for a show I'll do in March for YPAA. Maybe I'll perform once a week? Also I have a job that I love. I believe it's all what I'm supposed to be doing.
Marilyn has helped me see some things clearly. The compartments I've built in my life. The Constructs of this world that hold me back. I've grown so much since I left Los Angeles in 2003. More will be revealed.
"One man willing to give up his power because he knew what he knew; that he loved his child and he was willing to do whatever it takes to honor the journey of another."
As I consider this upcoming year and how I want to position myself and my book, I was thinking, I don't want to fight for gay rights. I don't want to argue theology with Christians. At the risk of sounding corny as heck, I don't wanna fight. Life is precious and I choose love. Why? It is because for every "us and them" that any of us creates, we complicate the united WE.
I want to live to model love and preach personal responsibility among the human spirit. I want to stand for the honoring of each others journey. I want to encourage people to do the hard work of going to their own center and finding out who they are. And living as that.
A personal, private, sincere seeking of God - whatever that means for you. With this conscious effort to help inform our maturation, we develop the character of someone capable of honoring the journey of another.
Stop relying on people for the answers.
Go directly to God. Stop feeling the need to be right about what is right.
Discover what empowers you to love God, love yourself, and love others.
And by finding that, your capacity to love unconditionally will help others along.
As I continue on this creative journey, my wife helped me outline a series of videos that I hope to make time to create. The first of the series is STORY. A brief discussion that will help us move into other topics later.
I was sick for a while and stopped making these videos but I'm back. I'm still having technical difficulties. In this particular video, please forgive the audio. I am using a different mic and I didn't have it put to the right setting so it goes from "I can hear it" to "Holy crap, that's crisp!"...
I'm working on fixing that for the next one. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on the thoughts in this guy and I encourage you to share it with others if you see fit.
Loving the journey of learning the technical and creative details of all this,
I have the great fortune of four parents who have influenced my life, and I appreciate all their love and endurance, frankly, in loving me. It hasn’t always been smooth, but we have landed on our feet.
I have two creative, smart and nurturing mothers. They are both very funny too. My mom and my brothers have grown up laughing until it hurts, alongside learning how to live. For this I am grateful.
I have two intellectual, tall and kind fathers. Both of whom gave me away at my wedding to my beautiful wife. They love and care for their families and I’ve seen them both model commitment to family and I appreciate them for that.
All four of them, at different times, have broken my heart, disappointed me, and lifted me out of my own hurt by showing me love. I am CERTAIN, that I have also broken their hearts, disappointed them, and hopefully, provided strength in each of their lives too. Understanding this mutuality is critical to healing relationships.
I know how lucky I am to have my parents around. I know how lucky I am that we have all continued the hard work of coming back to the conversation when walls have been built. And peeked around it. I know how lucky I am to have parts of each of them in me.
The stories I tell are touched by moments with these people, but the stories I tell are mine. If you asked each of them to tell their version of the same moments that I recall, it may be a very different account. This is because we are all different. We see the world through the eyes of our own experience which leads to our individual belief system.
When we learn this and find the willingness to communicate, or in the very least demonstrate, living with unconditional love - we stay connected.
For many years I turned to strangers in recovery to become my family because the most urgent need I had was to be understood. I found a fellowship of people who shared many of my own experiences in life and we were able to walk, for the most part, non-judgmentally with one another through the grief and the joy of growing up and away from alcohol as a solution to my problems.
Family might share blood.
Family might not share blood.
When we find difference, I hope you will honor my experience and the way I see things. In turn, I benefit by being willing to honor your experience and consider the way you see things.
What do we have in common? Let’s start there. With commonalities as an anchor and love as a guide we can rebuild the many bridges burned among each other. (I know how flowery that sounds, but LOVE is a powerful force. I’m not talking valentines and cuddles. I’m talking about AGAPE. Look it up.)
Family needs an anchor and we must choose the guide we point ourselves toward.
Humanity is the family.
Love is the guide.
It starts with me choosing that. And you choosing that. And all of us learning to practice that. It will take time. It will hurt and be difficult. But Love finds a way.
Family is where the connections are, where the investments are, where the growth takes place. Family is the conversation we continue to come back to. For me, I needed to look at my own belief system and acknowledge the things, that I held as true, that stand between me and you.
I needed to learn that TRUTH is greater than that which I believe. That if we believe different things, we don't have to argue about right and wrong, we can thank each other for expanding the definition of what is True.
Gandhi said there is no God higher than TRUTH. That feels right to me. It also tells me that I am not capable of knowing THE TRUTH on my own. I need you. I can listen to the path you’ve walked and the way you see the world. I can acknowledge your journey and recognize your joy and your sorrow. I grow my understanding of TRUTH to be much larger than I can ever understand. I can see it in your eyes that what you say is true. To you.
I choose to honor your journey and care for you in my response. Especially when it makes me uncomfortable because I disagree. I honor you.
P.S. I know I ramble and dart all over the place when I think. I'm working on it. I am a work in progress. We all are. Challenge yourself - rather than taking what's wrong with the structure of my blog, ask yourself what sticks with you. Then, ask yourself why.
a skeptical attitude; doubt as to the truth of something. "these claims were treated with skepticism" synonyms: doubt, doubtfulness, dubiousness, a pinch of salt, lack of convictionPHILOSOPHY; the theory that certain knowledge is impossible.
I did a live video today on my Facebook page, soulnotskin radio, dealing with this idea. After I asserted a straightforward, “I used to think this was true, now I see it as a negative attitude” type stance, I decided it deserved more exploration.
Here’s why. Skepticism as defined above, ‘doubt as to the truth of something’, can be a tool or a weapon. As with most things in life.
WEAPON: An incessant doubt as to the truth of something might lead to an overall lack of trust in self/humanity/God. I used to read it this way. I used to read this statement as if calling BS on everything around me somehow empowered me and sharpened my intellect. No one can make a fool out of me!! Which is ultimately fear, and any time that fear is driving my life, life-giving spirit is stifled.
Doubt as a weapon can develop ignorance through dismissive-ness. Doubt in this way can serve the underbelly of humanity - namely strengthening distinctions, differences, and stigmas. Strengthening these things serve to disconnect us from ourselves and each other.
TOOL: ‘doubt as to the truth of something’ can also drive me to find out for myself – I may be encouraged by this statement to develop my own opinions, find a way to distinguish my own experience with something that others try to dictate can only be seen one way. I might use doubt to craft my humility. I’m not talking about being naive or meek. I’m describing intentional willingness to NOT KNOW everything and how it ought to be perceived by others, but rather getting clear on my own perception of things.
Doubt as a tool can develop pause to precede impulsiveness. Doubt in this way can serve the unconditional love of humanity – namely strengthening compassion, empathy and autonomy. Strengthening these things serve to connect us to ourselves and each other.
This is Mike Van Vliet. He hails from the Chicago area and he's an artist, procrastinator, recovering alcoholic and he's a pretty grateful guy. I did comedy with him fifteen years ago and we've both come a long way.
This ONLINE SESSION: Ep03 took place, not LIVE, but at the end of 4 hours working on my book. Writing my book has been quite an effort. It is difficult to visit the places of yesterday to bring hope into the future.
I write this book partly as my own process. I write this book because I can, I have a story to tell. My hope and intention is that it allows people to see themselves as a part of more than themselves. We are a human family and there is value in sharing our stories.
I was sleepy when I filmed this. But full of thoughts and gratitude for the roads I've travelled.
I'd love any comments or thoughts you're inspired to share - please comment through my contact page at my site, www.soulnotskin.com.