Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Road Back

In Week 10 of  Incarnate, I teach on this stage of the Hero's Journey: The Road Back.  The dynamics of this stage are, in a nutshell: the Hero has had a significant, transforming experience in an adventure.  He or she is now on a road back home, with significant treasure: lessons learned, a pot of gold, the Arkenstone.  In the spiritual life, this might mean a new identity realized, a forgiveness issue resolved, healing, or a gift emerging.  

The Enemy is not happy.  In fact, he, she or they are in a rage that the treasure has been stolen back, and do everything in their power to stop the Hero.  Think Han Solo, rescuing Princess Leia, and the Empire striking back...

This is another life-and-death challenge as the Hero returns to the Ordinary World from which he/she came.  Can the Hero fend off the enemies again, and hold onto the treasure?   Can the lessons learned in the Special World be applied in the Ordinary World?  Has the Hero truly been transformed, or has he/she just had an incredible experience?

And so we teach our students these dynamics, and how to return home well.  Over several days of teaching and debriefing, we teach them how to tell the stories, how to move on, re-integrate, and hold on to breakthroughs gained in their time at Incarnate. 

Did they really change?  Time will tell.  Did we as staff?! 

For anyone who thinks this is easier with experience, let me share a few moments of re-entry shock with you.  I've learned all sorts of tricks over the years, and can usually navigate the disorientation of changing cultures.  Usually.  This was not one of those times...

Incident with the Soap Suds: using dish liquid instead of dishwashing detergent; coming home from a walk to a kitchen filled with soap suds. 

Epilogue: finding the dish liquid in the refrigerator.

Incident with the Checkbook: writing a check for someone at the office with just the month on the date line.  Correcting it--with the year "2015." 

Epilogue: leaving the checkbook in the office and not finding it for several days.  (Although I never missed it...)

Driving: forgetting that the red lights are overhead, not to your right.  Discovering all the little glitchy stuff that is wrong with your car now, and where you put the spare set of keys. 

Incident in the Produce Aisle: finding myself paralyzed in the produce department, trying to remember a routine that suddenly escaped me: put keys away, exchange sunglasses for reading glasses, pull up the iphone shopping list and navigate with the cart at the same time...nice young man staring at me with deep sympathy..."Can I help you, Ma'am?" 

I am, as a friend would say, flummoxed.

The Road Back for me personally has been a test to clear my mind of so much stimulation, relationship and creativity.  To clear my spirit and re-connect with God in a different routine.  To walk out the spiritual lessons I learned, without the community I adapted to holding me accountable.  

It's figuring out the new washing machines in the multiplex, the new gas pump, the new tax form, and and what the best ant-killer is.   

To work differently: at home, to keep stimulation to a minimum, and deciding what projects I need to focus on now that Incarnate is finished.  

To remember Guiseppi's not cooking anymore, and every meal time that comes around means I better figure out what I want to eat!  But I can return to a diet that doesn't sap my energy.  

To sort through the winter clothes for storage, the summer clothes I now need, and what to give away.  

It's learning to let go of new friendships that now must go virtual, and renew flesh-and-blood ones here.  But maybe those friends have moved on, or been relocated....

It's frustrating and feeling stupid a lot, and angry that you have to go through this; then laughing at soap suds, and smiling as you pore over photos, remembering, and loving being in your own bed again, with no springs poking you, and having a shower whose head doesn't detach from the wall to flail you and soak the bathroom.  

It's privacy and quiet and big, weak American coffee.  And in spite of all the inner chaos, it's a little too neat and tidy in America.  And too task-oriented.  

But I/We have two more stages to go: Resurrection and Return with the Elixir.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Felt Factory

Well, just noticed this title has been up a week, so that must be what I'm supposed to write about!  Or it might mean I'm still not quite 'here' yet...more on re-entry next time, but for now...focus....the felt factory. 

One of our field artists has volunteered for almost two years at a local felt factory in Villar Pellice (scene of the famous birthday pizza), developing a relationship with the woman who runs it.  She arranged a visit for us, and was excited to report at almost the last minute, the week of the festival, that Barbara had agreed to give us a tour.  

Well, maybe not the best week for us to go...but the visual artists had time and we had guests, so early Monday morning, a bunch of us scrambled to get ready.  When I learned the tour would be free, I ran up to my room to grab a few gifts--some chocolate, soap and, random, a pair of peeper keepers I had made years ago.  A little embarrassing, but the best I could come up with to at least acknowledge our host's very generous offer.  I found a bit of ribbon and an old chocolate factory wrapping--fluffed up everything to look somewhat presentable (presentation is big in Italy), and sighed.  "Well, at least it's coming from a grateful heart," I thought, and hurried back downstairs.
Off we went--a half hour late, one of the very few times during the school that happened.    

Barbara was not amused by our charming, high-energy and fashionably late selves, which surprised me for someone living in Italy; but Barbara was British, a no-nonsense business woman, and clearly put out by our tardiness.  We dutifully apologized and agreed that the tour might have to be cut short for another appointment she had.  We gave her our utmost attention from then on. 

The tour quickly inflammed our imagination, which was probably the highest reward we could have given her.  Throw artists into a bunch of color, fibers, and cavernous architectural studio spaces, and they are soon salivating...and Barbara started to relax.  

We saw some of the most amazing equipment: one loom, one of only two in the world, filled a space larger than my whole apartment.  Skiens of wool hung from the ceiling, larger than most of us, and we compared the different types of wool and processes that Barbara led us through.  

At the end of the tour, Barbara ushered us into the cafe/gift shop, and served us tea, coffee and cake.  She told us her story, including how she had created the felt factory in such a way that the blind could come in and experience everything, and create.  She held classes for them regularly.  We commented on what a great space it would have made for us for an  exhibit, or classes in, and she immediately invited us to do so next time.  Whatever appointment she had had, it seemed to have been forgotten. 

When it came time to present her with my tiny little gifts, hastily thrown into a gently-used gift bag, she looked astonished.  She ripped into the bag with all the enthusiasm of a child at Christmas and received each one with delight.  She was especially charmed by the peeper keepers (to my astonishment), and promptly wrapped them around her wrist: "I could make a bracelet!"  

From then on, we were best buds, but now late for lunch at Forterocca. Barbara couldn't thank me enough for the peeper keeper, and I shook her hand, thanked her and expressed my delight at her delight. We wished her well and invited her to our exhibits and performances.  And that was that...or so I thought. 

After lunch, we came outside to find Barbara rushing in--someone had left their camera case behind.  

And she did indeed come to our exhibit--several times.  One of those times, I was back at the ranch, banging out some presentation on my computer, when a student came in to say, "Someone here to see you!"  Barbara, jangling her newly-created peeper keeper bracelet, smiling broadly.  She had made a special trip to again thank me profusely, and had brought a gift in return: a little felt slipper on a key chain.   

I began bumping into her in town, and always got a wave that included a pulled-up sleeve to show off the peeper keeper bracelet.  One rainy day, head down under my umbrella, a hand intruded.  My eyes focused and saw--yep, the peeper keeper bracelet.  Barbara was looking for me for a cup of coffee. 

Whatever this little tiny offering meant in the depths of Barbara's heart, I don't know.  I could only laugh at the sheer delight it obviously brought her, reminding me again of giving what I have, not what I don't.  A crusty exterior melted over the simplest of gifts, and I got to see it.  God can use anything, even peeper keepers. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Let There Be Light!

Meet the Liedtkes!  Our colleagues during Incarnate, they became new friends from Portland Oregon, and now, Bobbio Pellice!  And little LuLu has the worn-out knees in ALL her pants to prove it!   Despite Shannon's attempts to patch them...

I first met Fritz and Shannon during our Artslink outreach in Spain, in 2008.  They contacted us from England, where they were serving at Manna House, an OM-affiliated hospitality house.  Could they could "drop in" on their way home to the States, to see how we did things?  I was happy to agree to receive a professional photographer, and share the vision.

Fritz the photographer knew his call; Shannon was exploring the idea of getting a nursing degree and is now a registered nurse.  I was struck by the way they seamlessly integrated into the high speed train that was our Spain outreach, and felt like I had known them for a long time.  The kindred spirits thing. 

When the time came to discuss staffing for Incarnate, and it became clear the Carsons would not be able to join us, I recommended Fritz as the visual arts mentor, and explored with Shannon a role she might take.  I was happy to learn they accepted, with Shannon taking a role on the spiritual formation team.  Lulu decided to come along too, and keep us all humble and laughing.  

In those roles, they shined.  Frtiz did a masterful job of guiding the visual artists through final projects, mentoring them and coaching, with the regular disappearance into the wilds of Bobbio for some photography of his own.  He also juggled teaching, graphic design and curating our final art exhibit, and as far as I could see, wasn't even taking vitamin pills to do all this!  (It has since been confirmed that he was, until he ran out.)  

I was personally delighted that Fritz mentored me as well, as I fumbled with a new camera, and a few ideas...I am now almost as smart as my camera!  He expected me to participate in the final exhibit, which was the impetus I needed to wrangle a project out of our manic schedule.  As his website says, "...Fritz brings focus, energy and humor into the room."  I produced my five pieces, took my place among the other visual artists, and sold 3 of them (with a request for a reprint on one that had sold). 

If you go here, you can see Fritz's inventive work in and around Bobbio, and read more on the Waldensian Valley.    

Shannon was our little joy shot each day, with a smile you could see coming a mile away, a laugh that could be heard up and down the valley, and relentless good spirits, even with eyes glazed over.  Her nursing skills were invaluable, her gifts of listening, discerning and speaking encouragement life-giving.  Because of Shannon's mothering duties, which included daily walks into town with her little charmer Lulu, she had a unique opportunity to connect with so many locals. 

Shannon is also a textile artist, or fabric artist or...well, I'm not sure how to categorize Shannon, but let's just say amazing things were happening with knitting needles, sewing needles and clothes during our time.  Shannon also had an uncanny affinity and ability with plants; I was surprised how often she would bend and pluck something, sniff, rub or taste it, name it, and say what it was good for--either medicinally or in cooking. 

And Lulu...Lucia, whose name means "Light"--what a light she was!  We believe her first word was "Ciao!" which she used liberally to all, usually accompanied by a cock-eyed wave.  Lulu learned soccer skills too--with a mean right side kick as she crawled whenever the ball came near her.  Although we tried to get Lulu to walk while she was with us, she preferred to climb, crawl, eat rocks and speak in tongues.  

Can you tell I'm a fan? 

Do check Fritz's work out on these sites:
Personal Work:
Professional Work:

"Skeleton in the Closet" is a book Fritz compiled of compelling stories and photos on eating disorders.  Read the stories, and look into the eyes of these souls, and try to walk away untouched:

You can order Skeleton in the Closet here

"Creating compelling images of people that are...a little bit different..."

Thanks to the Liedtkes for being who you all are, and for being that with us!