We All Suck at Joy

Regular readers, if any remain, no doubt have noticed that there have been no posts on Story by the Throat! in a long, long time. There are a number of reasons for this. There are a lot of things pulling on my mental and physical resources that make it difficult to do such a simple thing as write blog posts.

I’m going to be real with you for a moment. My life is not what I want. like, really, truly deeply falling short of what I dream and yearn for. Oh yes, I have many pleasures, many wonderful, enriching friends, many creative and fulfilling pursuits available to me. And of course I live a life of incredible privilege compared to most of the world. But still somehow I find myself beaten down by life until I can barely even remember my dreams, much less pursue them. I drive many miles to work long hours at a job I hate, for a world machine designed to chew me up and spit out the bones. The joyous work I dream of doing–celebrating story, poetry, music–is unsupported in society outside of a corporate-sponsored celebrity system. The precious work that awaits me at home–husband, father, simple liver off the land–increasingly declines as the job exacts its toll. It takes the best wine from my cup and leaves me with dregs.

It’s like I’m running a deficit on spiritual resources; everything I do, everything I attempt, requires a loan against a soul reserve I can’t back up. And acts of love, of creativity, of joy, are the most draining, so it’s much easier to sit and anesthetize the ache with entertainment and frivolity. My time and energy are drained away until I have none left for the pursuits I care most deeply about.

And I’m not alone. I think many of us, maybe all of us, are suffering in one degree or another from this soul disease. Someone I love has found themselves stuck, trapped in a life that looks far different from what they planned, hemmed in with debt and workload and isolation until even the ability to hope for more is numbed.

Continue reading We All Suck at Joy

The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

I gave a talk at my church, The Bridge of Portland, OR, on August 15. It was based on my post here, The Sheathed Sword, but expanded and elaborated into a dramatic storytelling extravaganza! It was quite fun and rewarding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgyeXIvlA0M]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8VZ9rBoCww] Continue reading The Sheathed Sword, Storytelling style!

The Green Man of Portland

So I’m out with some of my churchmates last week with fresh-baked ham, corn and potatoes to help feed the homeless.

Except we don’t call them “the homeless,” we call them “our friends without houses” or “our friends who live outside.” It’s more humanizing and personal, as opposed to “othering” these real human beings with a handy sociological label. But anyway:

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and as always I’m enjoying being there face to face, looking people in the eye and handing them something they need and can enjoy, fresh cooked from my oven, making human connections. And I’m thinking about the sign I received a month ago, the three-fold omen whose significance I’m still pondering.

I wore a mask of the Green Man of medieval myth for Halloween. Then I found a beautiful leaf on the street downtown, sporting beautiful colors and seeming to leap into my path. Then I passed a sidewalk art fixture that spoke of the “Green Man of Portland.”

Turns out the fixture was created by comics artist Daniel Duford as part of a series about the Green Man and his mystical, perception-altering  influence over the city’s inhabitants. What stood out for me at the time was the artwork’s closing line of poetry: “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.”

While I’m hardly a seasoned veteran at interpreting signs and portents, I’ve generally found them to occur at pivotal times, when I’m feeling blocked about a particular problem or when I’m entering a new season of my life.

So I took it in and mulled it over. “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” For a long time I’ve been drawn to the “shunned” in all aspects of life, from the invisibles of the street to the passionate, the dissident, the radical. These are in so many ways “my people,” so it was no surprise to read those words. But what to do with them?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” I do long to reach out to people. To hold them in my arms, to awaken them to a way of life–of health, of freedom, of joy–that even I only dimly grasp. But do I have the right to push my way of thinking onto others? And even if I do “have” that “right”, do I really want to exercise it?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” Maybe I can find a way to hold people in my arms without smothering them, without trying to “fix” them, without “knowing what’s best” for them,” loving without any strings attached?

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and I believe that I can.

There are still a lot of unknowns. What about my life will change as I assimilate this new focus? Will I adopt some kind of persona and mission, or just keep doing stuff informally, as plain ol’ me? Will I continue to reach out piecemeal, doing little things here and there, or will I take up a dedicated mission and cause? I don’t know. I just know that I have a renewed focus to love people, and if there’s any kind of valuable lifestyle I can impart to help them, it will be by doing, by living in such a way that it invites them to do the same.

This isn’t a scientific process. Nor is it some esoteric mysticism requiring saint-like patience, fanatical devotion, or elite, hidden knowledge. it’s just a matter of looking and listening. Consider everything potentially significant. Be alert for connections in all things, even, ESPECIALLY, the unconscious. When you look and listen, story finds you.

Peace,

-Joel

Choosing Disadvantage

My friend Todd of Love is Concrete has been saying that “Love is a disadvantage that we choose.”

That phrase has really got a grip on me. It clicks something important into place. Because what’s the opposite of that? Using. If you’re not choosing disadvantage, you’re using, you’re manipulating, you’re keeping your guard up, you’re protecting yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re the most cynical or cruel motherfucker on the planet, it just means you’re primarily benefiting yourself.

Love, on the other hand, is giving, uplifting, being vulnerable, opening yourself to pain. It’s expending energy to the greatest good of others–a disadvantage that we choose.

It strikes me that this is what Story by the Throat is. It’s the kind of vulnerability I seek, in games, in telling stories together–letting our guard down and creating something that speaks. My hope is that it can carry over into living, and being vulnerable there, to not be afraid to make a story with each other.

I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but it’s a thing of power. It’s living without pretense, without manipulation, without fear and distrust and victimization.

I want that. I want that in stories, I want that in games, I want that in life.

Stories are a disadvantage that we choose.

Life is a disadvantage that we choose.

Love is a disadvantage that we choose.

Peace,

-Joel