History Geek Blog

When Creative People Don’t Fit In

Methodist Church

Today I rerun an essay from my Facebook page, originally published about three years ago, when I was still a Methodist, attending a church undergoing severe upheaval. Our music minister, Bill White, was fired suddenly, for no apparent reason. Below the original essay, I present an update.

Most people understand there is a difference between people who are creative and those who are not. Those who are not often wish they were able to think up wonderfully entertaining things so they might be lauded as geniuses and artists. Those of us who do think creatively know it’s not really like that. I look at people who have stable lives and who are able to keep the imagination from wandering all over where the boogeyman lurks, and wish for that sort of peace. I would trade all my so-called talents for just one marketable skill.

 

But I’m not here to whine about my ADD. I want to talk about our church’s music minister, who was let go this week for reasons unknown to me. Bill worked for us for nearly twenty years, hired originally as our organist, then as our music minister when the woman in that job left. He is a local professional musician, which in Nashville means quite a lot. The day in 1994 he first played for the choir at practice, he gave us an improvisational rendition of Amazing Grace that was so sublime it made that tired old tune seem fresh. When he was done, I knelt, genuflected, and cried like Wayne and Garth, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” And it was true. He had a special talent none of us had ever seen in that church, and I believe we will never see again.

 

Bill thinks in music. He sometimes has difficulty with the spoken word, but in his writing and playing of music he is able to express things that the rest of us can only feel. He’s the epitome of the sort of person who thinks creatively, and for those of us who receive spiritual message best through the medium of music, he was, literally, a Godsend.

 

I am a Christian not because my parents made me go to church when I was a child (they didn’t). I am one because when I was in high school I was given a little, red New Testament, and that made me curious. I then borrowed a copy of the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar, and played the music until I had every word and every note memorized. Internalized. To this day, whenever a bit of that Gospel story is mentioned in church, my mind brings up the relevant phrases of that music. This is how I access my religion. Without music, I would not have had a clue. When I joined this church nearly thirty years ago, the first thing I did was to join the handbell choir, and the second thing was to join the Chancel Choir. For some of us, the sermon is secondary to the music, and I truly believe church music exists for the sake of reaching people like me.

 

Having Bill for a music minister was special enough for me, and for many other members of the choir, to stay at this church during the past several years while other church members were unhappy enough with the new minister to leave for other churches. Our church musicians, especially, were under attack for being “too traditional.”

 

And yet the Chancel Choir hung on, rather than find other churches as did 400 other church families. To hear the offertory, which Bill always executed without sheet music, letting the music simply flow from brain to fingers and on out through the piano, was by itself worth getting up at dawn to serve in the choir of a church that made us increasingly uncomfortable. We hung on because most of us had been members for decades and we at least had Bill to guide us through this rough patch.

 

But we no longer have Bill. His last choir practice was on Wednesday, and instead of practicing that night most of us cleared out our folders. I estimate about half the choir won’t ever be back, and those who would stay won’t have a choir in which to serve. The church administration has made it clear that they don’t want a traditional choir. There may never again be a Chancel Choir in that church, or a handbell choir.

 

I was in the handbell choir for nearly thirty years. My children grew up in that church. It was the first church in my life I attended more than twice. It was the first place I ever had that gave me any stability in my life, and it was the only sanctuary I had from the difficulties of culture shock when I first moved to Tennessee. I’d intended to die a member of that church. What has been done to it is unconscionable. What was done to Bill was unimaginable, even by someone with an imagination like mine.

UPDATE

About three years have passed since that dark Wednesday when my spiritual world crumbled. When I said I thought half the choir would return the following week, I was wrong. Only four of the nearly fifty remained. The rest of us left and stayed gone. The handbell choir finished up our season and went on our usual hiatus, but the following fall only one third of us returned. The new music director, who knew nothing about handbells (or reading music, for that matter), wasn’t expecting any of us to return. It was an uphill struggle to play at all.

Now, three years later, many of the choir members are singing in the community chorus directed by Bill White. He’s now a published music arranger. Our group, The Hendersonville Community Singers, will be performing some of his arrangements in our Spring Concert this coming Tuesday. (PM me for information.) While we miss the old days, there is once again the deep sense of continuity that had suddenly gone missing when he was fired from the church. Most of the folks who left the choir have found other churches. Some have passed away. For myself, I’ve gone to another denomination and am now an Episcopalian. At my new church, “traditional” is not a pejorative. It’s a tiny church, where the choir has only eight voices and I feel deeply appreciated for my strong alto voice. I’ve also formed a handbell choir there, with borrowed bells and borrowed music, and have reassembled the old carillon the Methodist Church didn’t want. We friends have played together for thirty years, and look forward to many more.

Our priest is intelligent, educated, and kind. The atmosphere in that small congregation is welcoming and non-judgmental. They’ve given us creative types a safe place where we can worship musically, the way some people are intended.

On Being a Blue-Haired Old Lady

Julianne Ardian Lee

When I was in my early forties I took my first trip to Scotland. It was a whirlwind of new experiences. I discovered it was possible to drink carbonated soda at room temperature, that ale isn’t like beer at all, and that black pudding is really very good, so long as you eat it with eggs that have really runny yolks. But part of what I learned was that in the U.K. older women are not invisible to young men.

Having spent most of my life as a young, cute blonde girl, quite visible but for all the wrong reasons, I’d become comfortable with fading into the background as I aged, because I was done with fending advances. After decades of leering looks, copped feels, really dumb double entendres and generally being treated like furniture, I’d take being unseen over being a target, with pleasure, thankyouverymuch. But then, in Edinburgh one Sunday, I encountered a young, handsome Irish fellow in a souvenir shop who did not ignore me.

Such a sweetie, he took seriously my lame desire for a clan badge for a clan that was not my own. He wasn’t certain he had one, but he was perfectly willing to help me dig through baskets of pins looking for it. He appeared to be having as much fun on my trip as I was chatting merrily as we knelt on the floor, looking for a Matheson clan badge for the character in my new book. I adored his accent as he told me about Ireland vs. Edinburgh, and the one thing missing was the condescending, yet somehow suggestive tone American men always seemed to have. If they spoke to me at all. This young Irishman spoke to me straight across, just as I’d always wished to be spoken to. I was astonished.

Throughout that trip I noticed other young men who did the same thing. The barkeep at a pub, a hotelier in the Highlands, a cab driver, a waiter. I was visible to all of them! The only downside was that I could no longer fight crime or walk into men’s rooms. I returned home, wondering what was wrong with American men.

Years later when I turned fifty, I celebrated my new eccentricity. I was, I felt, now officially eccentric rather than simply weird. I was now able to get away with things, just like Estelle Getty in “The Golden Girls,” whose character had no filter, so that she blurted whatever crossed her mind with impunity. In short, I could be myself and not be censured. Mostly. I was still invisible to young American men, but that mattered less and less. American men were a writeoff, and British men were…well, over there. I accepted.

Then one day last year I was getting my hair colored, and my hairdresser’s next appointment arrived early. She sat and chatted with us while my cut was finished up and blown dry. I noticed her hair. She had short, blonde hair in a kicky sort of style, and it had large streaks of bright purple. The sort of eye-catching color one these days usually sees on millennial girls, and sometimes boys. But this woman was my age, and it struck me that she didn’t look as if she were trying to appear younger than she was. In fact, it was just the opposite. She actually appeared to be flaunting her age. As if she were saying, “Yeah, I’m fifty-five. Get over it.” I couldn’t help staring at that fabulous color.

My hairdresser said I should have mine dyed like that. I said, “I was just thinking that same thing.” Not purple, because then I’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe. But blue. My favorite color is blue, which would work with everything I own. After some discussion, we settled on a bright, electric blue. Just little spots at first, but over the following year it increased to larger, more visible streaks.

Way more visible. Like a light going on, I was suddenly noticed, in a good way. Younger people I didn’t know, older people I did know, all thought it was delightful. Most

Blue Haired Old Lady
Introducing…myself.

importantly, I enjoyed it. In an odd way, it seemed as if people in general began treating me like the person I felt I was inside. Eccentric, creative…visible.

This afternoon I was in a book store with some friends, at the checkout, and a handsome young man at the cash register said, “I love your hair.”

I thanked him kindly. I’d grown accustomed to positive remarks about it but it’s always nice to hear. I said, “Yeah, I’m a blue-haired old lady.”

“You certainly pull it off well.”

I thanked him again, now truly flattered. What a sweetie, and he sounded like he meant it, unlike all the young men of my own youth who’d only ever wanted to get me into bed. (Not nearly as much fun as one might think.) What a joy!

Outside the store I told my friends, “I love being an age where I can get a compliment like that from a young man and know for a certainty he’s not trying to pick me up.”

At long last I can be myself. Now I know what Robert Frost meant: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!’”

Women’s March on Washington Trip Report

After the election last November, when I heard that a friend of mine who lives in the DC area was offering crash space for friends who wanted to be part of the Women’s March, I snagged a bed immediately. Though I had no idea how I was going to get there, I knew I wanted to go even if it meant thumbing a ride.

The idea was to put Donald Trump on notice that he was going to be closely watched during the next four years, but I’m not here to debate politics. This is only a trip report of an historical event. Entirely appropriate for the History Geek blog, though it’s not often I get to actually participate in the history.

I didn’t have a lot of cash lying around for a plane ticket, and my car is an SUV that guzzles gas so fast you can hear the sucking noise. When I learned there was going to be a charter bus to carry protesters to the March from Nashville, I jumped on that. $150 round trip, and no airport security hassles. You can’t beat that.

The morning of January 20, Inauguration Day (capitalized because the first thing he did in office was to make it a holiday), my daughter drove me to the designated pickup place near the airport. There a bus sat in the middle of the parking lot, and there were people in pink ::cough:: feline hats gravitating toward it. We were all pretty early. No driver in sight, and we wondered where he might be.

I looked at the bus. Nashville is show bus central because of the music industry here. My husband is a show bus driver, and I know a custom coach when I see one. This one had two slide-outs (sections that can expand while the bus is parked), and by the lack of windows there was no way it was a seated coach. I went, “Hm. Fifty people on this bus? I don’t think so.”

Some news crews were there, photographing the bus and looking for people to interview. One of them spotted my youngandbeautiful daughter and came over to our car, wanting to know if we (she) would care to speak to Channel 2. She declined on grounds that she wasn’t going to the march, but suggested I would be happy to oblige. So the nice young man miked me up and asked me some questions. I may not look hot, but I give good interview, and explained how we protesters wanted Trump to understand that we weren’t going to just let him plunder the country. I haven’t seen the footage, but I was congratulated by friends who saw me in the final edit, and you can bet nobody was surprised to learn what I think. I learned a long time ago that pretending to not have an opinion only gets you ignored.

Soon the custom coach drove away and was replaced by the seated coach that had been hired to take us to DC. Well, at least the Prevost had been photogenic. We all climbed aboard, and we were off to the nation’s capital.

I’m accustomed to long bus rides (see above about me and buses), so I was entirely okay with spending the day trundling eastward. I Facebooked, slept, and Facebooked some more.

We stopped in Knoxville to swap drivers, something to do with DOT regulations regarding driver time behind the wheel, speed and distance. Within moments of pulling up at a convenience store where stood a uniformed woman with an overnight bag, my phone rang. It was my husband.

“How are you doing? You in Knoxville?”

He’s been a cross-country driver for more than four decades. He probably could figure out what mile marker I was nearest at any given moment.

On the road again. Just as we approached the Vienna/Fairfax Metro Rail station in Virginia, where I was supposed to leave the bus and be picked up by my friend, B, and taken to Reston, my phone died. (See above Facebooking.) I realized my charging cord was in the bag I’d put in the luggage bay of the bus. Oh, dear. I had no idea which side of the interstate I was supposed to find her. The bus driver didn’t like having to stop, but there were a number of riders who wanted to buy train passes for the next day. The instant the bus stopped I jumped out to claim my bag, dug through it and found my cord, climbed back on the bus to plug in my phone, and was able to contact my friend’s husband, L. He told me where to find B, but said she’d left her phone at home. So I signed off, repacked my bag, and tried to leave the bus to find my ride.

Our bus driver objected. It wasn’t safe, she said. B was waiting for me on the other side of the bridge across the interstate. I was fresh out of patience. I assured her I travel a lot and knew where I was going. Without waiting for a reply (read: argument) I hurried away in search of B.

Found her. The trip returned to being fun again. We went to her house, she directed me to a mattress on the floor of her office (I wasn’t the only protester she was harboring), and I showered then crashed. I’m 60 years old, and no longer have the stamina I had when I was twenty and traipsing around here and there.

Breakfast was an almond-coconut cake, an experiment by B, and coffee. I can accomplish anything if there’s enough coffee.

Womens March on Washington
Everyone headed the same direction.

The four of us—B, L, the other protester, M, and myself—piled into the car and drove to the Ballston Metro Rail station, parked, and made our way inside. And smacked up against a wall of people in pink hats. It was about an hour before the rally at Independence and 3rd was to start. We’d thought we’d left enough time to allow for crowds, but none of us had dreamed there would be this many people. Little girls in pink capes. Folks in assorted costumes and appropriately lettered T shirts. Nearly everyone had a sign bearing a witty slogan or angry statement. Pussy hats. A drawing of female internal organs and “Come and take it.” “My pussy, my rules.” I carried a sign B had made for me, which declared, “No Surrender.”

We made our way to the train platform and along it, away from the worst of the crowding.  Trains came, filled with pink-hatted protesters. Most didn’t stop, because they were too full to even squeeze on one more. It took about an hour to finally see a train with space. An entire car had just been added to it, so we swooped onto the empty car and found actual seats. We thought we were home free. Ha! Silly us.

We left the train at the Smithsonian station because we’d heard the station nearest the epicenter, L’enfant, was closed.

Womens March on Washington protest signs
Smiling for the nice man.

The scene that greeted us seemed mellow enough. We all moved in the direction I trusted was toward the March, little knowing we’d already arrived. We stopped to tape our signs to cardboard wrapping paper rolls, and when we were all set this guy wearing a yellow visibility vest asked if he could take our pictures. He was smiling and cheerful, as the rest of us were, really into the spirit of the event. Of course we happily obliged the pleasant fellow. We were there to be seen, and photos were expected. While this was going on, I noticed the photographer and others standing around wore insignia that indicated they were some sort of security detail. I thought about that for a moment, and decided if anything untoward were to happen today, I would be glad whoever dunnit might be on camera and easily apprehended. And again, I wasn’t there in order to hide from the authorities. I smiled for the folks at Homeland Security.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore from nine blocks away.

We started walking toward a stage we’d heard about but never saw. We got as far as Independence and 12th, where we were halted by the crowd. There were Jumbotron screens on each block, so we stood to watch the action nine blocks away from the stage. We’d missed Gloria Steinem, a big disappointment for me, but were just in time to see Michael Moore. I adore Michael Moore. He knows his stuff and never beats around the bush. He’s the one who, before the election, was screaming from the rafters that Democrats shouldn’t be complacent, that despite the seeming impossibility he had a real shot at being elected. Folks should have listened.

Then came others, among them Van Jones, Ashley Judd, and I’m told Madonna performed but by then I wasn’t paying attention. Van Jones has impressed me since the election as one who is keeping a level head. On election night he was visibly shocked when the election was called and the Trump surrogates gloated like spoiled fifth-graders. He kept his cool nevertheless. Since then, he’s gone about his commentary gig with a calm that is reassuring and sets the best example I can point to these past months.

When Judd came on, I couldn’t see well and had no idea who that was, giving a truly kick-ass speech.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Ashley Judd. She’s a country singer.”

I live in Hendersonville, Tennessee. I, by God, know who Ashley Judd is. Not a singer, and barely an actor. I was astonished that this strong, intelligent speaker was she. I’d always known Judd  to be rather vapid and dull. I went, “Wow.” Maybe I was wrong about her.

It wasn’t till later I learned she was only reciting a poem by nineteen-year-old Nina Donovan. Oh. Now some are saying Ashley Judd for president. I say forget Judd. Get me Donovan.

We stood in the street for about three hours, I think, as the crowd around us grew more and more dense. My back began to hurt (because Sixty), and I had to bow like a Japanese janitor to ease the ache. It was getting to be time to march, but nobody knew which way to go. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people as far as the eye could see in any direction. Plainly the most likely way out would be the way we’d come in. So we turned around and tried to move.

No luck. Though everyone now wanted to leave, nobody could get the message to those at the edge of the crowd, wherever that might be. A chant began. “March! March! March! March!” As the people behind us pressed forward, and the people in front of us resisted the press,  it became impossible to move at all. Claustrophobia kicked in, and I fought the panic. I deliberately disconnected from the urge to push, as did everyone around me. What could have been a dangerous mess became stillness. For a short while nobody moved. There was nowhere to go.

Then slowly little rivulets began to form., like an avalanche of pebbles. One person would step into a space, and someone else would follow. A line formed, and like a snake wended its way through small spaces between people. When that space came to an end, we all waited until another space made itself clear, then another snake formed and moved as far as it could go. For the next hour or so it went like that. This way, then that way, steadily progressing toward the intersection that led to the Smithsonian. Along the way we were entertained by a huge, orange rubber ball being volleyed about, on which someone had drawn a likeness of Trump. They called it “The Impeach Ball.”

Then the press opened up, and the March truly began. Relieved to be able to move, our mood lightened. People began to chant and wave signs as we progressed along Jefferson toward 14th to cross the Mall. Up ahead I saw the Washington Monument, towering over a sea of pink hats and witty signs. I began to read them in earnest:

“Keep your filthy paws off my silky drawers!”

“Send in the clowns. Don’t bother, they’re here.”

“We are women, hear us roar.”

“The future is nasty.”

“A woman’s place is in the Resistance.”

“I’m so angry, I made this sign.”

“Make America think again.”

“Nasty women unite.”

Washington Monument Womens March
Marching toward the Washington Monument.

“Thanks, Obama.”

“Thanks, Hillary.”

“A woman’s place is in the House and Senate.”

“This pussy grabs back.”

“Not my president.”

“We shall overcomb.”

“Sad.”

“Tiny hands can’t build walls.”

“Fight like a girl.”

“We need to build bridges, not walls.”

“Let’s keep immigrants and deport the clown.”

“Democracy looks like this.”

“No surrender.”

“Girls just wanna have fun-damental rights.”

“Women’s rights are human rights.”

“Melania – blink twice if you need rescuing.”

“Save Melania!”

“Fags hate Trump”.

“We need a leader, not a creepy Tweeter.”

And the prescient:

“Twinkle, twinkle, little czar; Putin made you what you are.”

People chanted in call-and-response:
“Tell me what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

And to please the inner middle-schooler:
“He’s orange! He’s gross! He lost the popular vote!”

At 14th the procession turned to cross the Mall, and room to move became scarce again. Police directing traffic on Constitution meant a start-stop movement now. Everyone was tired  and hungry. Underfoot there was white plastic flooring of some kind to protect the grass, which would trip you if you didn’t look down. Most everyone was struggling to remain polite, but some tempers flared occasionally. It was difficult to keep it under control. The crowd appeared to entirely cover the Mall. Once more it was people as far as the eye could see.

Finally, at Constitution and 14th, space came into view. Up the slope on 14th the crowd had thinned and it appeared people were escaping. The March was headed west, toward the White House, but exhaustion and plunging blood sugar (because Sixty and Diabetic) made escape most attractive. We’d lost M hours ago when she’d gone looking for a restroom and never made it back, so we went on up 14th and would join back up with her at our designated rallying point in Ballston.

Right away we noticed there were lines from the train station and halfway down the block. Oh, joy. Hopping on a train and getting out of Dodge wasn’t going to happen. So we found a takeout shop a few blocks up, snagged a couple of chairs, and I sat in an exhausted stupor, drinking diet soda and munching the last of the jerky I had in my drawstring small necessities bag. I called my husband and told him all about the great fun I was having.

Actually, it was fun. However much good it did, however little good it felt like we were doing, it was heartening to be around like-minded people just as apprehensive of the future as ourselves. More importantly, to know we’re not alone in the resistance.

We eventually made our way westward, packed into a train like the sort of sardines that don’t make it out of the can in one piece. Our signs had all been discarded, one-by-one, because there was no way they would fit with us on the return trip. We rallied with M at the restaurant in Ballston, ended up at a barbecue place in Reston, and had some fabulous ribs and probably the worst margarita I’ve ever tasted (but I had two.) We returned to the house, swapped photos, then I crawled into bed so I wouldn’t fall into it. Not kidding.

The bus ride home among fellow marchers reaffirmed the value of having gone. I gained Facebook friends to replace the ones who’d dumped me after the election. We watched the news on the bus TV and cheered the coverage of the DC march, as well as all the marches held on every continent on earth, including Antarctica.

Antarctica, you say? Yes. About thirty researchers in Antarctica had marched that day. (All jokes about the March of the Penguins will be met with stony face.)

At the end of the day, we are not alone in the Resistance. Load up the R2 unit, we’re going for a ride.

Pensacola Trip Report

A number of years ago the U.S. Navy built an aviation museum on their air base at Pensacola, FL. Being the Navy, and all, they had an array of old planes and jets from various conflicts over the past century.

One of those planes was a fighter jet called a “Panther,” which was one of the ones my father flew off the aircraft carrier Boxer in 1953, during the Korean War. When they went looking for flight gear belonging to pilots of that plane, they found my dad, the packrat. He still had pretty much every piece of uniform and equipment he’d ever worn in six years of active duty and more than a decade of service in the reserves. The curators were excited to find a complete set of flight gear associated with their display plane, and asked to have it. Of course he was happy to send it, and they put it on display.

Since then, I’ve been meaning to make a trip to Pensacola to see the display. I had no news of what they did with the items, and so I didn’t know whether they were on permanent display, or what. For years I kept telling myself, “I should go see it.”

Time passed, my dad got older. And then much older. As his health has declined, I began to imagine not making it to Pensacola until after he’d passed, and that image didn’t appeal to me. Continue reading Pensacola Trip Report