I can’t.  I’m sorry.  Basta.  I’ve tried, but I can’t.

I just can’t keep the brave face on all the time.  I can’t have the right words at the ready all the time.  Sometimes I can’t keep the wrong words from spewing out of my mouth (or, more likely, my fingers) in a moment of anger.  I don’t always remember to check my sources, and I’m actually pretty lousy at assuming positive intent in difficult conversations.  Hell, sometimes I can’t even summon the courage just to smile at strangers.  Sometimes even a frickin’ smile, a 16-muscle acknowledgement of shared humanity, feels like too much effort to offer the world.

I can’t be the person I wish I were.  I’ve tried.  But I can’t.

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like the “good guys” were profoundly outnumbered overpowered.  Students and colleagues and acquaintances that I know to be optimistic, hard-working people with good hearts and souls, struggled to peer out through a kind of sadness, of fatigue.  Snarky half-attempts at humor were delivered through lips-only smiles, while eyes pleaded for encouragement, for comfort, for strength.

At least, I know that’s why my eyes were pleading for.

I lay in bed last night for hours, staring at the ceiling and wondering how in the name of anything I could make a difference—how I could resist the oppressors, how I could be an ally to the oppressed in more than name and token.  But most of all I lay there feeling guilty because I. am. just. so. damn. tired.

It doesn’t seem fair—and to my friends in minority communities, this paragraph of privileged whining may be one you want to skip over—that nice guys seem indeed to finish last.  It doesn’t seem fair that playground bullies seem always to know when the teacher isn’t looking.  It doesn’t seem fair that hoarding power seems so much more effective than sharing it.  It doesn’t seem fair that privilege is blind and love speaks softly and the high road always seems to have way more detours than the low.

I lay there last night wanting to weep, but too tired even to do that, feeling useless and helpless and ashamed of my apparent inability to use my vast privilege for anything other than self-pity.

But this morning, with the rising sun struggling to break through the Pennsylvania fog and the finches calling blindly to one another in the January air, I had an epiphany of sorts.

A prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi asks:

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

I love that prayer.  But this morning I realized that there’s something missing from Francis’s list.  So as of today, I pledge:

Where there is fear, I will sow gratitude.

Because while fear paralyzes, gratitude empowers.  While fear excludes, gratitude invites.  While fear clutches, gratitude opens.  And while fear shouts, gratitude whispers.

So I will whisper gratitude.  To one person at a time, one appreciative moment at a time, I will use thanksgiving to drive out fear.  I will do so because it helps me to tear my eyes away from the violently fearful place the world is becoming, and focus on the world I believe is worth saving.  I will do it because hearing words of gratitude can make the difference between a sleepless night of self-pity, and a cared-for soul that is ready to speak truth to power.

There is so much to be grateful for.  And while I can’t always live by my best lights, I can be grateful for the times I do. And more importantly, I can be grateful for the people in my life who remind me of what those best lights are, and how love really does work in the world.  May our gratitude ripple outward and fuel the work that lies ahead.

Honestly, if the annual Court Street Cabaret gets moved any earlier, next year’s cabaret is going to be this year!

But good-natured snark aside, the CSC is always a highlight of my year.  It’s a chance for me to work with some of my favorite cast-mates from history, and with folks I don’t ordinarily get to share a stage with.  This year’s cast list includes Alexis Dow Campbell, Allison Graham, Dani Fiore, Kara Miller, Trish Baillie, Patty Cole, Jason Whetstone, and local drag personalities Felicia O’Toole Buffington and Maxwell Treats.

Court Street Cabaret repertory includes favorites “from Broadway and beyond”—the area’s best vocalists sharing music they were born to sing, and a special “miscast” set that allows us to tilt the lens a bit on roles we have no realistic hope of auditioning for.  This year’s audience can expect to hear old and new favorites from artists like Bette Midler and The Beatles; and from composers like Stephen Schwartz, William Finn, Craig Carnelia, and Cole Porter; plus a section of “covers of covers of covers”, where we’ll re-interpret our favorite re-interpretations of favorites.

The show runs January 13 & 14 at 7:30pm in the intimate Angino Family Theatre at Open Stage of Harrisburg, 25 North Court Street, between Market and Walnut Streets, in downtown Harrisburg. Tickets are $20 General Admission or $35 for VIP. For advanced ticket purchase, call the Open Stage Box Office at 717-232-6736 or visit openstagehbg.com.

If you’re anything nothing like me, you end every year with pockets full of cash just aching to be turned into tax-deductible contributions to worthwhile non-profits.  And while I have a list of many such causes that I keep handy year-round, it’s worth pointing out that for the rest of 2016—just a few short hours now!—a generous grant is matching one-third of every contribution to Open Stage of Harrisburg, my home-away-from-home and generous East Shore studio host.  A $15 contribution is worth $20 to Open Stage.  $75 becomes $100.  $300 becomes $400.  You get the idea.  If your accountant is waggling her finger at you for saving up too much dough, here’s your chance!

But seriously.  Any gift would be appreciated beyond its impact on your wallet.

Have a safe and enjoyable New Year’s Eve, and may your 2017 be full of reminders of love, peace, and good will.

Closet doorsI should start by saying, I totally get it.  When comfortable white liberals say that Trump voters are not welcome in their homes, or issue self-righteous screeds about how their outrage isn’t about politics—and perhaps especially when dudes who remind me of me in a lot of important ways demand the right to insist other people unfriend them—it’s a struggle for me not to nod my head and click “Like” and jump on the head-in-the-sand, I-don’t-want-to-deal-with-you bandwagon.  It would be easier for me to make it through the day smiling and feeling good about myself if I could just remove all of the “Red Feed” folks from my friends list and see nothing but news I agree with.

Except that’s (at least partially) what got us into this mess to begin with.

I’ve written before about my recognition, during my coming-out process, that as a white, US-native, able-bodied, mainline-Christian-turned-Unitarian-Universalist, upper-middle-class cis male, the “gay card” is really the only strike against me in the Privilege lottery.  I am—like most of the people I encounter in my small-town central-Pennsylvania daily routine—not accustomed to discomfort.  If I’m hungry, I eat.  If I’m cold, I turn up the thermostat.  If I’m lonely, I connect to the WiFi and see who’s online.  And if I see an opinion I disagree with… I shoot it down.  (Not always gently, I’m not proud to say.)

But in the back of my mind, I keep thinking about the note I received from an evangelical Christian friend shortly after I came out publicly at a concert in college (which is another story for another time).  “David,” she said, “I’ve always thought of gay people as dangerous perverts, as something to be afraid of and to fight against.  But now, knowing you’re gay… I know you, and that’s not who you are.  If you’re gay, then what I was taught was wrong.  And I’d like to apologize, if you’ll let me buy you a coffee.”

So here’s where I am now: I don’t believe “unfriending” is the solution.  I don’t believe sheltering ourselves from opinions we disagree with serves the common good.  I don’t believe my comfort is more important than the positive change I can achieve from participating in healthy dialogue.  And, most importantly, I don’t even pretend to believe that the answers I have are all the “right” ones.  I find it as rewarding to realize I’ve allowed honest engagement with other views to change my thinking, as I do when it works the other way around—when I emerge from a conversation feeling like I’ve planted a new seed in someone else’s mind.

I stepped out of one kind of closet more than 20 years ago.  I remember how cozy it was in there, never having to explain myself or apologize for offending people or wonder whether folks were judging me for touching my husband’s shoulder in public.  I appreciate every day that Mark and I share a nice introverted home in a lot outside of town, that serves as a retreat from society, a place of safety and rejuvenation.  And yes, sometimes I joke about staying here and ordering delivery for the next four years, as a kind of “vacation from reality.”

But there’s work to be done.  Conversations to have.  Hearts to connect with.  Minds to change.  And for those of us who have the ability to do these things, a closet is no place to hang out.

There must be something in the air.

Several times this week I’ve paused in the middle of teaching to interrupt a student’s spiral of self-deprecation and frustration.  The spiral is easy to recognize, either by the words that accompany it— “This doesn’t sound right.” … “That note is so high!” … “Why can’t I get this?” —or, once you know what to look for, by the slow-blinking, eyes-downcast head shake and shoulder slump.  It’s unmistakeable body language: “I’m not good enough.”

There’s a running joke in my field that music lessons tend to be 10% technique and 90% therapy.  And while it is a joke—I’m a vocal supporter of the mental health industry and believe everyone can benefit from working periodically with an excellent professional talk therapist—I know that among the lessons I’ve learned from my own therapist are several that I share often with my students:

  • that every artist healthy human being struggles with self-doubt,
  • that finding (and trusting) voices that recognize and appreciate our inherent worth is one of the most important (and most difficult) things we can do as artists humans, and
  • that I, in my role as an authority figure in their artistic lives, am (I hope!) one of those supportive voices.

So pianist Herbie Hancock’s anecdote about a botched chord in a gig with trumpeter Miles Davis has been on my mind a lot this week.  If you’ve hit a wrong note or two in your own life recently, maybe you’ll find this story moving too.  Click “play” on the video below to hear Hancock tell it for himself.  It’s worth the 90 seconds.

In the meantime, namasté, my friends.  The Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you.  Can you see it too?