Jenny Anne Mannan

American Songstress

Filtering by Category: Family

Peace Where You Find It

I love family photos. I love taking them, I love looking at them. When I was a little girl I loved nothing better than a visit to either of my grandparents' houses where I would pore over photo albums documenting family vacations and events big and small. My aunties are great scrapbookers, and they have archived decades of family gatherings, trips, haircuts both successful and regrettable. Their photo books chart fashion eras, home decor fads, cousins coming of age, and most of all they tell us that time really does fly.

In the age of digital and social media, memory preservation looks a lot different than it used to. We don't always print photos anymore, we stream or share them. Photos aren't just family photos, they're social networking tools. And sometimes, as I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, I wonder how much of our memory sharing is about preservation and how much of it is about creating a brand. Of course when I post pictures on Facebook or Instagram, I want to put my best foot forward, so to speak, so I filter or edit out the less-than-picturesque bits -- the chaos in the mudroom, the dustbunnies, the dark circles or crow's feet around my eyes, and I accentuate the positive. I slap on some lip gloss and zoom in on one of the good intentions that made it past my wishlist and I share that with all my friends. And acquaintances. And other moms who, if they're anything like me, feel pretty overwhelmed a lot of the time and carry around more than a little guilt about all the fun or productive or meaningful memory-making they wanted to do with their little people today but probably didn't because they had laundry to fold or multiplication tables to teach or errands to run or a friend to visit with or a shower to take. But the picture doesn't show all of that, because I've taken pictures of dust bunnies before and they're gross and who would want to share them, and I'm not sure how to photograph Guilt but when I figure it out I'll let you know. So there I am accentuating the positive and my brand becomes Frost-Filtered-Homemaker-Earring/Baby-Wearer-Who-Reads-Aloud-To-Her-Kids-All-The-Time. Even though my actual persona is Busy-Mother-Trying-To-Capture-Snapshots-Of-Beauty-And-Peace-In-the Midst-Of-Chaos. Putting my best foot forward, I'm not really telling the whole truth. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but sometimes the whole truth takes more like two thousand.

This is exactly the problem. We forget that, online, we're not always our actual selves. We're the image of ourselves. This image may not have much to do with who we really are, how we actually feel, what we actually do, because, of course, we're trying to be positive and prove to ourselves that our lives have picture-worthy moments too. The trouble is that many people on the receiving end of that image think it's the real thing, and so they look at other family's photos and sigh and wish they were one of the happy, chill moms who let their kids get out the glitter glue at any time of the day. It becomes a vicious cycle - the effort of one person to remind themselves that their life is beautiful becomes a measure for another person to live up to.

The immediacy of photo sharing has changed things too. I remember back in the Dark Ages having to wait at least an hour to get my photos processed. Now, I snap a pic and post it within seconds, fully edited and framed and hashtagged. And the options for improving that photo are limitless. Glance over any photography Pinterest board and you'll find tips for how to get more Instagram followers, how to use Photoshop, how to pose. Always use the same filter, put your hand on your hip, be clever but direct about hashtags...It's not that there's anything wrong with using technology to take the best photos we can, it's just that sometimes it feels like we're more focused on the share than on remembering the original experience. A great yoga instructor once told me when we experience a thing -- a sunset, a meal, a feeling -- our efforts to describe the experience take us out of the moment, until we're experiencing the description instead of the original event. I think it's this way with our modern means of memory preservation - sometimes the result and the feedback are so immediate, they influence our record of the event or even the event itself.

My aunties and grandparents were primarily interested in preserving memories for themeslves and their posterity. They just wanted photographic evidence that they made that trip to Yellowstone, that all the siblings and cousins were together that day in 1990, that they saw that rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. They weren't planning for all of their friends and relations and acquaintances to see and comment on each of those events, they saved that privilege for the few who were invited over for the slideshow viewing. They weren't creating a brand. Glennon Melton over at Momastery has said people can use their online persona or brand to do things at each other. We post our Saturday morning breakfasts or 4 layer birthday cakes at each other to prove that we're okay, we're justified, we're right with God and the world. Maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe we should take a page out of our grandparents' photo albums, the titles of which could easily be, "See, kids, we did have fun sometimes!" If I'm really telling the truth, that could be my caption to myself for every photo that I share. Through that tight spot between my shoulder blades, the mess in the pantry I'm trying to ignore, the lunch dishes that have yet to be taken care of, the sharp words I wish I could unsay, the great unnamed Something for my kids I may or may not be able to identify and get around to today, I can take some photos and remind myself, "Look! WE DO FUN THINGS! Our little life is messy, but it's great!"

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Look! We throw rocks in the river!

Summer

Look! We sit on the sun-bathed porch!

Summer

Look! We love each other!

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Look! We go to the movies!

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Look! We take ferry rides!

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Look! We do the Ciderfest!

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Look! We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we go to the orchard!

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Look! We build forts!

We're discovering that peace isn't an ethereal, far-off, pie in the sky concept. It's here, right here, in the middle of all the chaos and the stress and the lack of sleep and everything else. It's active, it's the sometimes tenacious belief that THIS IS THE LIFE. Peace is right here, if I look for it. Peace is where we find it.

The thing is, I'm not posting these pictures at you. I'm posting them AT ME! My brand is a byproduct of what I'm trying to do: remind myself of what's actually true. Sometimes when I glance around my life, I focus on the to-do list, the work, the messes, and the backdrop of peace and beauty is a little blurry. Sometimes the camera lens is the tool that helps me focus on those things. And when I look my friends' photos, I could stand to remember that that's probably true for them too.

And also it's a good idea print some pictures and put them in an album in case this whole internet thing doesn't work out.

Always Looking For A Home

It's like clockwork. Every year. Like the shadows of old injuries that ache when it's coming on to rain. How do we live through the muscle memory of the darkest days we've faced in this life, how does one brace for impact, when the flood will come as surely as the month of August; when the waves will take on a new but always whelming shape with each season of grief?

My response to this season is to get restless. I need something to do with my hands. I take on projects. I make lists. I cook. I fill the calendar with efforts at happy memory making. I get anxious. I wonder why I can't make decisions. I wonder why everything looks too big. I wonder why all my stuff is so shabby and I start looking for new stuff.

My friends and family see it, they see it happening and they know what it is. And they love me. They write songs for my family called, "Always Looking For A Home." They tell me the restlessness I feel is probably more of a spiritual longing than a physical one. They bring me gifts and sweet notes to let me know they remember what happened that day 8 years ago.

I don't know why, but knowing what to call a thing takes away some of its power. I remember when I first learned to identify the feeling of anxiety. It was such a revelation, just knowing what to call that shallow-breathing, panicky, pit-in-my-stomach feeling. Even though I still get anxious, I can tell myself, "This is anxiety. I know what this is." And then I breathe in and out, and remember what Suzanne the yoga instructor always said, "Healing oxygen will go right where it's needed." I think it's the same with grief.

Before I had any firsthand experience with grief, I thought it looked and felt like sadness. But now I know better. I know sadness is only one of the many shapes grief assumes. In A Grief Observed, CS Lewis said, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..." For me, it's the restlessness, the want to be somewhere else, do something else, have something else. The urge to run. Without fail, it gets more palpable at this time of year. I feel it most acutely when the days are long and hot, when the air hangs heavy, when I feel more than remember long ago summers spent picking raspberries and chasing grasshoppers and sleeping under the stars with the brother to whom every day was an adventure, and whose adventure took him where I can't follow.

And yet. Even though this restless summer feeling has its origin in grief, I think the feeling is much bigger. I think grief unlocked something that was already present, something that everyone feels, something we can't define, something we try to explain or medicate away. CS Lewis said it's what the Germans call sehnsucht, "That unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves." It's the spirit that animates the songs of John Denver, the melancholy-laced hope in Fernando Ortega's voice, the catch in my throat when my baby tries her best to laugh at me. It's the shadow of a great grief, present in all the world, an ancient grief that has been reconciled in eternity, the consequences of which we continue to feel in time. It's the longing for a home, that perfect place where all is as it should be. And even though I've never experienced such a place, the yearning I feel for it is like a memory, the details of which I can't quite recall; like a song I might have heard when I was very young, the tune of which haunts my dreams but eludes my waking mind. Why does the longing for heaven feel so much like nostalgia, when it's a place I've never been?

But my brother is there. He's there now, whole, as he should be, at home, at peace, further up and further in. And I am comforted. I live in this beautiful world, bruised by sin and suffering, and I hope.

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"For them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." --The Last Battle, CS Lewis

Music Festivals: A Family Tradition

Last week I met up with my friend Kimber Ludiker, fiddle player for the amazing and inspiring (and coincidentally all-girl allstar) band, Della Mae, and played an opening set before their show out in the Spokane Valley. The evening turned into a mini festival, with lots of music, passels of kids running around, and a full moonrise over the mountains. Summer night air, high lonesome singing, hot picking...these are the sights and sounds of some of my fondest childhood memories. My darling friend Brittany Roberson showed up with her camera and captured some of the fun.

See, there's Kimber. She's rad. Seriously, I'm not just saying that because I like her. She's a total badass. I mean, both her parents are national fiddling champions themselves, so I guess it makes sense that she's a 2-time national fiddle champion and lives and breathes fiddle magic.

That's my mom's guitar strap, by the way.

There's Caleb and Waylon watching and listening...

 

And this right here is really what festivals are all about. Throwing as much food and drink at the kids as possible and then turning them loose to run and play so as to keep them out as far past their bedtimes as possible.

 

Here is my lovely Violet, with my lovely photographer friend Brittany.

This Saturday I'm playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, so we'll have a chance to do it all over again. 

Oh and I'll have my brand new CD for sale. You should come. Bring your kids and listen to some music and make some memories!

Creative, Part 3

Does anyone else ever feel like there's an unwritten rule somewhere that says in order to be a real grownup you have to leave your creative dreams behind and get down to business? Stop living in a dreamworld, get your head out of the clouds and get to work? If you do follow your creative impulses, you should only do it behind closed doors, when the workday is done, the kids are tucked in bed, all the laundry folded and the house spotless, so that your self indulgences don't detract from your ability to perform your adult responsibilities.

This issue seems universal to creative, working women and men, stay-at-home moms and dads, virtually everyone who feels the push and pull of self-fulfillment vs. self-sacrifice. In my own experience, I am aware of an underlying logical fallacy that sets fulfillment and responsibility at odds with one another: if I find fulfillment in doing something creative, I also feel guilty for doing it because it probably comes at the expense of my family and children. If I choose to get out my fiddle or spend an evening recording or writing instead of taking my kids to the park or cleaning up the lunch dishes or waging war on the toys that have launched a full scale offensive against my living room floor and the bottoms of my feet, I feel as though I've chosen myself - my hopes and (day?)dreams and wants - over my real job.

Funny Cry for Help Ecard: My mother used to make cookies with me...but now she blogs and I pretty much raise myself.

For me, the trouble is twofold. In the first place, we live in a world that assigns value according to a very superficial, subjective critera. The world in which we live says art for art's sake is basically a self-indulgent waste of time. Artistic expression that doesn't find an audience or generate more than a couple dollars worth of income can't be that good, right? Show us the money! (Or the glowing critique or the published manuscript or whatever other form of achievement we use to define artistic success.) I have addressed this issue in Creative, Part 1 and Creative, Part 2 , exploring the notion that placing value on outcome over process is very destructive to any creative enterprise. But there is an issue that is even more basic than this one: is it true that my efforts at creative expression and fulfillment take away from my ability to perform my adult responsibilities? Does the fact that I'm a songwriter hinder my ability to show up wholeheartedly in the rest of my life? Am I a selfish mom because I continue to work on my projects, even projects that are worth a mere $2.02?

Once again, it's all backwards. I'm looking at my abilities in terms of my limitations. I'm acting as though my resources are finite and can never be replenished, as if investing creatively gives me less to offer everywhere else. I forget that artistic expression actually replenishes my resources, and infuses my daily life with a sense of hope and purpose and joy. What if...what if my creativity actually makes me better at my job? What if it makes me a better mom? What if it enriches my experience with the world, and that enrichment spills over into every area of my life? I know a very wise and wonderful preacher who says that a life of faith looks like running downhill. He says faith brings freedom, and when we are free we do whatever our hands find to do. We wake up every day and live. I don't know about you, but there's not a lot of room for self-doubt when I'm running downhill. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other, looking back with surprise and exhilaration about how far I've come. What if that's true about creativity too? What if I am really free to be myself, a songwriter with ideas and daydreams and deadlines, even in the middle of the busy grind of adult life and responsibility? And what if being my very own authentic self actually makes me a better wife, mom, friend, sister, daughter, worker, person?

So you see, when I ask if I can afford to be creative at the expense of being productive, I am asking the wrong question. If my goal is to be myself -- to occupy the unique space in the world that only I can fill -- I can't afford not to be creative.

Spring Fever

Being sick. It's the worst.

Everyone except Caleb was ashiver, feverish, glassy eyed, and coughing. For over a week. We hadn't a breath of fresh air for days, and then, adding insult to injury, March decided to come in like a lion with a lot of snow and whatnot.

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So on Sunday we took to our trusty rock park, Tennessee adorned with a St. Patrick's day crown, of course, in search of sunshine and fresh air.

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There's the snow.

About halfway through "The Sick", Caleb hopped onto Amazon and ordered some essentials - the third Hunger Games book for me, and the SAS Survival Guide for himself. I guess he felt determined about being prepared to practice first aid in case things really deteriorated.

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Tennessee got pretty good at blaming "The Sick" for everything. "The Sick makes me want to watch a movie!" "The Sick makes me tired!" Or, my favorite, "The Sick makes me booorrring!"

Well said, kid. Couldn't have done better myself.

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But lucky for us, the sun was out. We didn't end up needing the first aid guide.

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The snow receded to mere puddles.

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Sunshine, nature, freedom. The perfect antidote for The Sick.

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