A Creative Play by The Merry Beggars

The Merry Beggars began out of quarantine to support those artists whose livelihood suddenly disappeared in the face of the COVID-19 shutdown. They ran a contest in which writers could submit 10-minute radio plays. The response, they say in their introduction, was overwhelming. And so in 2020, they ran five quarantine plays.

From eerie futuristic storytelling to touching moments of too much or too little isolation, the tales run the gambit. I look forward to listening to more.

They released “The Dailies: Art and Culture to Refresh Your Soul” in Spring 2021 and “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” an audio advent calendar, on December 1.

These artists are making it work, and in the process, they are making something new.

Over twenty artists, makers and entrepreneurs united by their Catholic faith came together for two outdoor markets just outside of Hughson. In towns across the region, pop-up markets became the new trend, whether on front porches or outside businesses.

When community events were canceled, I went to the garden and my therapeutic hobby grew into a spring and early summer business.

When we make it work, something creative, energetic and beautiful emerges out of the process.

Change creates tension. The tension requires energy to work through. It also requires energy to fight against. When we dive in and actively work through the tension of change, we emerge smarter, stronger, and more creative.

When we resist, dig in our heels, we use just as much energy, but come out weakened and exhausted.

If we lament the life that was, rather than trying to work with the life that is, we miss all the good things in store now. We miss the new possibilities, the new avenues waiting to be explored.

A radio play borrows from the past and fits right into with today’s internet-based podcast-centric, play-on-demand listening sphere. It keeps its social distance but uses raised funds to pay actors from the stage whose theaters were shut down.

The changes and anxieties of this world do not have to dominate us.

What do you have control over? You may be called to activism in those areas that move your heart and spur your desire to do something, but you cannot change the world on every issue. You must give yourself permission to step back and consider what is your sphere of influence. And then act.

Some professions might have been crushed by the shutdowns. They lacked the security of other fields. The steadiness of their income is based on the reputation, reliable contacts and a body of work built up over time. If they stopped working altogether, they risked losing all the ground they gained. So they pressed forward, finding a way. And the community came forward, ready to support them.

Those artists, makers and entrepreneurs were recommended left and right by those who knew them. Word of mouth gained greater ground as we sought out who needed support and what they were about. Many grew weary of the dominance of big-box stores that could remain open and we wanted a way to support the little guy.

At the end of November, my husband, reindeer-loving son and I attended the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Christmas concert. After opening with “Rockabilly Christmas,” lead singer Scotty Morris greeted the Gallo Center audience by saying,

“Thank you for doing whatever it was you had to do to get in the door to support live music.”

Wherever the adversity comes from, this is the potential of the moment, this is the chance we have to become more who we are meant to be and discover the unexpected.

We were all a little rusty getting back into it. But it felt good to be back.

Thank you for doing what you had to do to make it happen.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

How to Cope by Using the Triangle

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

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Looking back at Halloween and looking forward to adventures in holiday gatherings, I thought it worth the time to review those basic coping skills we can easily lose track of when things have either been too hard or too easy. When things are too hard, we get overwhelmed and forget how to pace our responses. When things are too easy, we are not challenged to cope consciously. Coping skills, like any skill, require practice and regular application to become the automatic responses we would like them to be.

In the absence of fancy graphics, if you will, on a piece of paper draw a triangle. At the top write, “cognitive.” At the left-hand point write “physical.” At the right-hand point, write “behavioral.” There are three key components to our emotions.

First, let us discuss the physical component. Negative emotions, such as anger or sadness, can be triggered by our bodies if we are hungry, thirsty, over-tired or if we experience particular hormone fluctuations. By negative, I do not mean the emotion itself is to be valued as good or bad, but rather, it does not feel good. If you find yourself wild with emotion, check in on your physical state to see if that may be affecting your stamina in the face of powerful emotions.

The cognitive component refers to our thoughts. Certain beliefs, whether true or false can frame a situation to look worse than it is or bring it from bad to worse. If someone has angered you and you take the time to review the many times this has happened before, how does it make you feel? Replaying old wounds is a thought habit that increases our anger and leads to resentment. Painting pictures that lock people into an expected pattern of behavior, “I should have known he’d act that way!” does the same. In our thoughts, we create a story narrative of what happened, though it often lacks the nuance of great literature. You may be the hero, the victim or the villain in your narrative.

The behavioral component refers to the things we do that increase the negativity of a situation. Body language may be our response to perceived threats (crossed arms, fighting position, resisting eye contact or excessive eye contact) but it creates a feedback loop in which the other person now perceives us as opposition. Passive aggressive responses and complaining do little to make us feel better. Combative “fightin’” words will also likely increase the heat of a situation.

Just as each of these components can add to the emotional response, we can intentionally use each component to decrease the stress on our system. Physically, taking time for some deep breathing and getting out of the physical presence of the person who grates on us can start the process of calming down. Going into a situation you know will be trying, like a marathon, make sure you properly rest, are hydrated and fed, carrying snacks on hand as needed.

Thinking about thoughts is called meta-cognition. Learning to meta-cognate, to think about what you are thinking, will help you be on the lookout for any irrational beliefs, create a more nuanced storyline and get a feel for the other person’s shoes. Sometimes we have to go deep to get there, but it is well worth the effort to understand why that relative always seems to push your buttons.

Behaviorally, we have choices to make. Choosing how we react and the words we use. When you are offended or angry, try keeping your hands at your sides, fists unclenched. For family or friends, attempt affection (hand on the shoulder or handshake). Sometimes we need to alter our behavior to accommodate others. Sometimes situations are unhealthy for us and we need to make the difficult choice to say no to allowing this person or situation in our lives.

With graphic in hand, in a hard spot, we can ask how each of these components is contributing to our negative reaction and how we can use them to reduce the overwhelming emotions we are experiencing.

Surviving the Crisis in Tact

There were many lessons for me to learn over the past two years. After writing my guide to getting through your child’s hospitalization, I knew I wanted to boil it down to make those lessons more applicable for others.

That project found a home here, in this Mind & Spirit article, using the Four Tasks of Grief as a vehicle to bring them with you.