October 10, 2006

Reclaiming Watercolor

Years ago I went to see the Vagina Monologues for the first time. A fantastic performance. A really creative artistic peice of acting and drama which digs deep into the feminine mystique. One of the more intriguing peices of the performance is a woman who uses the word 'cunt' over and over again. At this point, you're reading this, probably feeling slightly weird from seeing the word cunt on a page. But this particular part in the Vagina Monologues was about word reclamation, a process I've just learned about this year.

In short, there has been some small movements from certain groups to reclaim words that once were used against them or contained negative connotations when used. I'm told that GLBTQ groups have reclaimed the words 'gay' and 'queer' in to their vernacular. This process utterly fascinates me. And then it started me thinking...is the reclamation process applicable to more than just words?

For those who have heard me speak or know me pretty well, in my reptoire of stories is my favorite story to tell or perform. It's affectionately known as the Mia Story. Without giving too much away the story centers around a girl I liked in high school named Mia (obvsiouly) and the song Watercolor by Willy Porter. There's an epilogue of heartbreak to the story and it was a heartbreak that took me some time to get over. And the song Watercolor brings me back to the whole story. But not that bad part of the story, the good part.

As I stated though, it wasn't always that way. So what is the process of reclamation when it comes to a song, or a word, or an object, or anything that has a connotative meaning specific for us? For my own rubric I started thinking of what I went through before I could start to enjoy Watercolor again.

Obviously as with all elements some amount of time needs to occur for us to get through the pain something has caused. The time is different for each person and each scenario. I remember hearing somewhere that pain will be inversely proportional to the time you enjoyed said item/event/person/relationship. Thus, if you dated someone for two years, it will take a half year to get over it. In the end, that time allows for other phenomena to occur important to the reclamation process.

Time is the uncontrollable peice of this puzzle. Distance is different though. Did you ever cut yourself badly? And have a big scab on your arm? Obviously it will take time to heal itself. But if you pick at it, it will scab over, take longer to heal, and eventually scar worse. We need to give ourselves that distance no matter how annoying or desirable it is to 'pick at' a bad situation. In relationships, when they end, there's always that moment when we want to call the other person, badly. Truthfully, the healing won't get a healthy start until we choose not to call, e-mail, facebook, instant mesage, or text that person.

After you've distanced yourself and were patient enough to wait out the natural healing process, you need to face your fears again. Avoidance isn't part of the reclamation process. I'm not saying you dive feet first into whatever pit of despair you were previously in, but you should be doing things where there's a chance to run into or see the item/song/etc that reminded you of your pain. Again this takes a great balance of knowing when you've given yourself enough distance yet you may not be through the amount of time it will take to be fully healed.

Finally, I believe that there comes a moment, a point of no return, where you find enlightenment and realize that this song/item/etc. is not troublesome for you. To some degree, and from experience, I think this usually happens after some reexposure and your mind saying to itself "wow, what was I feeling this entire time...why was I afraid of this?" I think even being able to laugh at the situation shows that you've had your 'Aha' moment and can reconceptualize the object/song/etc. back into your repitoire of life. It also sparks a moment of closure for this grieving process.

These items are exactly what happened to me over a decade ago when I was getting over this and reclaiming Watercolor for myself. I remember that the whole process took close to two years. And that my reexposure was actually going to Willy Porter concerts at Summerfest where there was a chance he'd play the song. The first time he did it, to I remember the bad stuff? Yeah. But it wasn't as fresh in my head because I had stopped listening to the song some time ago. Additionally, I started realizing that no matter what, the story that I experienced is a once in a lifetime experience. Despite a bad epilogue, the meat of the story, the good times, the small victories (and humorous reflections) is what makes that story special to me. And what makes Watercolor such a great song to listen to.

Sometime over the next week, think of something you haven't heard or watched or seen or had in a while because it's attached to some negative story in your life. Just try to expose yourself to it (unless it's something that just happened and you're looking for distance). See what happens. See how you feel. Then give it some time again. Maybe you're ready to reclaim part of your life, part of a story. And maybe you just need to give it a little time, before you fuse it back into your soul.


October 03, 2006

Angels Part 5: Jim

We had leadership camp here at UW Oshkosh this past weekend. I've probably mentioned camp before but to refresh, we hold our yearly Fall Leadership Camp at an island in the Chain of Lakes in Waupaca. Camp Onaway has held many camps and conferences for years. I've been there for Res Life related things between 95 and 00 and then later 03 to present. The camp brings to mind many memories but even more refreshes my soul.

Traditionally at camp we do skits. This last camp we had a skit involving the phrase "I can read with my eyes shut" and we had to find a creative way to work it in. We also had the dubious challenge of working with almost 20 people in our mixed bag of advisors, LDS, and Dan Beck. Not an easy task. Eventually my colleague Nicole came up with the idea that everyone pick something they can do with their eyes shut. Instantly my friend Jim and I collaborated on the concept of playing Dungeons & Dragons with our eyes shut. Both being long time friends and D&D players our improvisational scene was highly entertaining and very fun to act out. This entertaining moment got me to remember how many other times Jim and I have connected at Camp.

The first camp memory I have of him was when we were sophomores and acting out small scenes to various random music on the boombox. I believe that it was at that point that Jim and I would be forever lumped together as those two guys. Next would the year that I was a CA and had a potential suicidal resident. Jim was there to listen and understood all too well what I was going through. Or the many programs we put on together. Then there are the walks around the island chatting about life. In the end of all these memories reminded me of the many facets Jim has had in my life.

Jim taught me many things throughout my life from playing dungeons & dragons, to the intricacies of music, and even some politics here and there. His gift is the ability to explain a concept in front of any audience at any time and get them to understand something new.

Wise Buddha
The concrete stuff is just one piece of his teachings. The wisdom comes next. Despite all that we have ever had in common there are enough (and sometimes obvious) differences that his perspectives have always added to my outlook on life. Again, I know many students who have felt that his presence as a listener and his ability to give advice is neither threatening nor overbearing.

Don't let him ever convince you that he's bad at improv. Truth is there's only a handful of people (maybe 8) on this planet who I can be in a room with and start up a scene or dialogue and just run with it. Additionally, he keeps a very open minded sense of humor.

As a student affairs professional he is the real deal. He is the best professional you could possibly have. He gets what students' need and has found many ways to mentor them on an equal level, encouraging and empowering them to make the best out of situations. He has worked with people whom others would cast away. Finally, he understands what the business is all about and deals with the sticky side of the profession that students don't always see.

Last year will more than likely be my last year at Camp Onaway. Although I'm sad to see those days come I know that they are far away. I know that I have plenty of time left to enjoy the great student leaders here and learn from one of the greatest leaders UW Oshkosh has ever produced...a good friend...the Lando to my Han...my friend Jim.


side note: Big shout outs to the student leaders at UWGB whom I had a chance to present to this past weekend. I thank John, Danielle, and many others whom I met and hope that they are taking the chance to achieve their dreams.