Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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 Who Am I Really? A “Rebecca on Reunion” Podcast

Here, in my firstborn daughter’s own voice,  is Rebecca telling the story of our reunion.   Who Am I Really? is a project of Damon Davis: a series of very personal podcasts about the life journey of an adoptee and their search for reunion. Rebecca’s is Episode 18:What I Gained Through Reunion Is Context.

Listening to Rebecca’s voice, I definitely hear Joani. And I hear my daughter Colleen’s voice, too. Maybe even my niece, Lauren’s, as well. Not just the timbre of our voices resonates but how we all string words together. We use the same verbal punctuation. It is uncanny.

And Rebecca’s description of reunion dovetails incredibly with biomom’s. No coordination involved. Just DNA. Incredibly delightful.

So take a listen to Rebecca and let her fill you in on Who She Really Is!


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After Orlando – Out/Spoken Voices Headed South

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Just two weeks after Story District’s Out/Spoken: Queer, Questioning, Bold & Proud,  horrific events erupted in Orlando. By no coincidence, we all know, timed to coincide with LGBTQ Pride.

June 4th the 9:30 Club was packed with joy and celebration. Happy gay people (and straight people) were everywhere! Coproduced with Capital Pride, Out/Spoken is Story District’s 6th Annual Pride show in DC. Eight great storytellers shared their “true stories told through an LGBT lens”. Revealing, poignant, hilarious, powerful, and moving, I was honored to be a part of it for the very first time.

Out/Spoken is far from done. This fall it’s going on tour. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign, Out/Spoken is headed south. In October the show travels to Atlanta, in November to Birmingham. Yes, by design, directly on to the battleground for LGBTQ equality.

After Orlando, the tour could not be more important. Amy Saidman, SD’s Creative Executive Director, has pledged to redouble Story District’s commitment to bring LGBTQ voices to the stage.

While U&U was on hiatus, I was honored to guest blog for Out/Spoken. I interviewed and “spotlighted” the co-director, the animator, and four of the storytellers.

Let me introduce you to all six.

Mike Boyd, Story District’s Co-Director of Out/Spoken,

Jeffrey Brady, Story District’s Artist and Animator for Out/Spoken,

Jud Lewis, Poet, Teacher & Storyteller,

Ricky Harrison, Partner in Life, Law & Love,

Andrea Jones, Educator, “Perfect Liar”, and Storyteller and

Kelly Madrone, Author, Storyteller, Message Therapist & Mom

Amazing people all of them, they will share their stories where LGBTQ voices are seldom heard. There will be local storytellers too – both in Atlanta and Birmingham.

So spread the good news and God bless Out/Spoken.

JoaniSign

 


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Naked in Public/Coming out Crazy/Redux

U&U is all about coming out. Coming out of my particular closet. I’ve come out in writing. I’ve come out at work. I’ve come out with friends. I’ve even come out “Unhinged” on stage – the Story District stage — three times. I’ve come out of my  bipolar closet to make a difference. Come out crazy.

And now I am excited to report that U&U is going on a little holiday!

Amy Saidman, Executive Director of Story District has invited me to do some blogging for Out/Spoken: Queer, Questioning, Bold & Proud, the annual Story District Pride Show. Eight awesome storytellers will take the stage at the 9:30 Club on June 4th. The show then goes out on the road, first to Atlanta in October, and then to Birmingham in November. Supported by the Human Rights Campaign, the tour is being funded by the The National Endowment for the Arts.

I am so psyched to follow this groundbreaking show!  Thank you, Story District!  Its an honor to sit down with Out/Spoken’s producers, directors and storytellers.  I hope the profiles I post along the way will do them all justice, peak your interest, sell more tickets, and help pack the house!

So it seems appropriate to repost my own coming out story — “Naked in Public, or Coming Out Crazy” —  first published on U&U in November of 2014.

Here I go.

Naked.

Buck naked.

Locker room naked.

Blame the nuns. Blame eleven years of parochial school. I have never been comfortable naked in the company of strangers. I can count on one hand the number of people in my entire lifetime who have seen me in my altogether. This includes my dear departed mother who changed my diapers:)

Catholic school can mess with your mind and create a crazy kind of modesty. The good sisters told us to put talcum powder in the bath water so we would not see our own naked selves. The water literally had to cover us up to our necks! I guess we were supposed to get undressed with our eyes closed.

So….

High school gym class, I never took a shower. Two years of softball practice, I never took a shower. Three years on the Immaculata basketball team, I never took a shower. Personal hygiene be damned, I never took a shower.

But…

Not because I was modest — because I was TERRIFIED. I was terrified of being exposed. Terrified of baring my bare self to the world. Terrified the world would know everything about me. Terrified of being naked in public.

I am still terrified. I am in the pool twice a week at my local rec center. The locker room is awash with naked ladies of every shape and size. A room full of naked ladies — totally comfortable and free as a breeze. Not me. I go into the “closet” and change my clothes. God forbid a neighbor sees me! God forbid a parishioner sees me! God forbid anybody — but me — sees me.

Totally exposed. Totally vulnerable. Totally out of control. Bare naked for all the world to see.

It is not easy for this bipolar soul to step out of the locker room closet. Those of us who are bipolar have to be very careful where we bare our souls. We have to be very, very careful coming out this particular closet.

Coming out — crazy.

Be careful how you come out. You risk being labeled, categorized, stigmatized, and marginalized. You risk condescension and discrimination. You risk being stereotyped and stuck in a box. You risk being hurt.

A friend– who should know better — told me not to risk it. No one will hire you. No church will call you. You will never be a rector. Maybe never even an associate again. Maybe not even a supply priest. Stay in the closet. Don’t come out. It’s way too risky.

So I didn’t. Instead I tried to educate, elucidate, and illuminate the IGNORANT and the INDIFFERENT with FACTS and FIGURES. Do you know 25% of the world walks around with a mental health issue? Do you know 60% of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetimes? Facts and figures are all well and good. But facts and figures alone make very little difference. Very little difference indeed.

So I took a risk.

I decided that I had to come out of this particular closet. Six years ago I came out to my boss. Four years ago, I came out in the pulpit.  I have come out in church forums more than a few times.  I now have come out – crazy — in five different parishes.

And in April of 2014, I came out on Unorthodox & Unhinged. And with this post – in words — I have now come out 87 times.

Naked at work.

Naked at church.

Naked on the internet. FaceBooked. Tweeted.

And with this 87th post — a repost of #32, November 6, 2014 — I come out in living color — totally exposed. Kristin Adair, a good friend and mental health advocate, is also a budding photo-journalist. Kristin asked if she could shadow me at work, at home, at church – to profile in pictures — a bipolar life.

Walking the dog, eating breakfast, watching TV, taking meds, hiking Huntley Meadows, blogging on my couch, celebrating the Eucharist.

In my pajamas. In my sweats. In my kitchen. In my bedroom.

Out of this crazy closet — naked for all the world to see.

(Just click the “play arrow” and you can see too!)

And the truth be told — naked — we all look pretty much look alike. Naked — we all have just have about everything in common. Exposed. Vulnerable. Shaking like a leaf — naked as the day we were born – we all look pretty much alike.

Now Adam and Eve tried to cover up with fig leaves. Naked and ashamed and cast out east of Eden. But biblically speaking — Adam and Eve got this naked thing all wrong. And biblically speaking, the flawed and famous King David — got it so, so right.

David paraded the Ark of the Covenant into the city he named for himself…. all the citizens “making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs, and lyres and harps, and tambourines, and castanets, and cymbals…. David danced before the Lord with all his might… leaping and shouting”…naked as the day he was born….(2 Samuel 6,7)

Michal, his wife, was mortified. David, however, was glorified. Glorified by the God who chose him. Glorified by the God who loved him. Glorified by the God who created him – flaws and all – warts and all. Unashamedly, unabashedly loved him.

So friends, are you ready to get naked with me? Are you ready to get naked in public?

JoaniSign


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How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!

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Blog post #79.

On one of my most popular topics — my so called dating life (or lack there of)!

Check the archives!

“Sex and the Single Vicar”

“Call Me Stupid, I am on OKCupid!”

“Disharmony, Smarmony: The eHarmony Expose”

and now…

“How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!”

It is fantastic. It is hilarious. It is poignant. It is true.

But….sorry, there is nothing to read here. This is a story you have to hear. You have to hear it live and in person.

Where?  When? How?

I am super psyched to tell you that “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping!” will be told at Story District’s 2nd Tuesday Show – “I Can’t Feel My Face: Stories about Altered States and Enlightenment” on February 9th at Town DanceBoutique.

(And there are 7 other great storytellers too!)

Want to come? Of course, you do. Here is all the info to get your tickets.

Story District. “I can’t feel my face”, February 9 at Town DanceBoutique

Come and cheer me on! Come and laugh (and cry) your ass off!

I would love to see you there!

JoaniSign

 


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Labor Pains & Stretch Marks

great with child

Theotokos, God-bearer, Truth-bearer.

It was Advent of ‘83 and I was pregnant with God.

Well at least a little bit pregnant with God.

That frosty November, I was new to the Episcopal Church and flattered beyond belief to be joining the worship planning committee. You see, I grew up Roman Catholic and Sunday services were just endless reruns of Father Knows Best. We lay folks stayed glued to our pews. Fenced off from the altar by a rail, we knew our place. Only the priest was allowed to perform those magical mysteries and pronounce God’s hocus-pocus.

So miracle of miracles in Advent of ’83 at Immanuel-on-the-Hill, and pregnant with my second child, I played the Theotokos. I played the Theotokos in a very awkward and makeshift, hippy-dippy liturgical drama – Mary, Pregnant with God.

Such a brilliant narrative arc! It was a three Sunday cycle through the three trimesters. On the fourth Sunday: pant; blow; PUSH!

It was my shortest pregnancy of record – so different from the previous three.

Being the mother of three, I have spent the better part of three years pregnant. And what my brain might not recall from those twenty-seven months – my body most certainly does:

Seasickness on land; nauseated with just one whiff of coffee (Best pregnancy test ever! I love the smell of coffee.); expanding waistline; swollen feet; wobbly gate; expansive in mood; energetic in spirit; exhausted by the smallest of efforts; cranky and uncomfortable; floating on hope; anxiety ridden; excited as hell; bursting with life.

Ladies, did I leave anything out?

You know that horrible hymn? Come labor on? Well God blessed me and gifted me with wide-birthing hips. So assisted by my friend, Gravity, I did not labor long.

I delivered my firstborn, Zach in just two and a half hours. Dainty daughter, Colleen was born in just four. And Jacob, number three, was nearly spontaneously birthed on the sidewalk outside the Emergency Room.

There was no time for drugs. There was barely time to get to the hospital and push.

So with the baby born and nuzzling at my breast, naturally manic me was euphoric squared, euphoric to the 1000th power. Blissfully exhausted and wide, wide awake, every little fiber of my being was belting out the Hallelujah Chorus.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a child is given!

Now everyone has given birth. Be ye male or female, young or old, everyone, everywhere has given birth. Made in the image of the Creator, we are all fertile souls. And even if we are not in the business of procreation, we are all in the business of co-creation.

Over the course of the last nine (well actually eight) months, I birthed my fourth amazing child. And at sixty years of age, this is more than a minor miracle!

Back in September my bipolar brain conceived her. Formed in the pit of my stomach. Nourished by my frazzled flesh and bones. She kicked my insides and stole my sleep. A labor of love, she stretched me beyond knowing. Expanding in the dark — she was born in the light.

This past Saturday on April 25th.

SpeakeasyDC was both birth coach and midwife. Unhinged is her name.

Eight amazing storytellers told eight amazing stories about living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, and working in the field. Three hundred people packed the house. Laughter, tears, understanding, and standing ovations.

The truth was told: my truth, their truth, our truth, God’s truth, nothing but the truth.

Labor pains and stretch marks, the truth will set you free.

So friends, ready to get a little bit pregnant?

JoaniSign


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Tickets for “Unhinged”! Free! Please RSVP to SpeakEasyDC!

speakeasydc

Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness premiers live on the SpeakeasyDC stage April 25th, 8:00 pm, at Emmanuel on High (no, not Immanuel on the Hill!), 1608 Russell Rd, Alexandria, VA.

Eight masterfully crafted first person tales of living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, or working in the field of mental illness.

Tickets are now available. The performance is free. Please RSVP to SpeakeasyDC. Click on the link to reserve a seat.

http://speakeasydc.com/events/item/unhinged

Let’s pack the house and make a difference.

Hope to see you there.

JoaniSign


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U&U Coming to a Stage Near U: April 25, 2015, SPEAKEASYDC

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SPEAKEASYDC, Amy Saidman, Executive Director

 

I am a woman with a storied past. I tell stories here weekly  — stories most unorthodox and unhinged. Ghost stories, bedtime stories, bible stories, camp fire stories, family stories, horror stories, funny stories, glory stories, and true stories of a bipolar and sometimes balanced life. I tell the truth, the God’s honest truth and nothing but the truth one story at a time.

This is story #41.

There is no better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

And this woman is a devoted disciple of Jesus, the Story Teller. Whether you believe in Jesus or not really doesn’t’ matter. What matters is that Jesus was a hell of a storyteller. Seductively simple, Jesus’ arresting parables engage the head and disarm the heart. Folks who have never cracked open a bible in their lives immediately recognize the story of the Good Samaritan or the tale of the Prodigal Son.

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

The Bible is really just a book of family stories. Some confusing, some comforting, some terrifying, some edifying, some mortifying, some glorifying, some death defying, some life giving, some poignant, some tragic, some miraculous, some crazy, some healing. Some might even say saving stories.

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

So that is what I do for a living. I tell stories. I climb into the pulpit from time to time not to preach but to tell stories. The Gospel story is not meant to lie lifeless on the page. With a little help the words need to be made flesh. Made flesh in sight and sound, in touch and taste and smell. Yes what does this story smell like? And what does it really mean?

No better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

Last summer after the 8:00 am Sunday service, shaking hands at the door, a young woman named Katie Kelly spoke to me. “You are a really good story teller. Have you ever done storytelling?” “Only in the pulpit” I told her. “But I write stories. I am bipolar and I have a blog called Unorthodox & Unhinged about mental health and faith.” “I am active with NAMI” she told me “and on the board of SPEAKEASYDC” she told me. “The director, Amy Saidman and I have been talking for some time about doing a show about mental health. Would you like to meet her?”

“OMG! YES!.” I said.

Amy Saidman and I met in September. And we agreed — stories like mine need to be told far and wide. They need to be told live and on stage with a real audience up close and personal. A stage for people seldom seen. A venue for voices rarely heard. True stories truly making a difference. So let’s make this happen.

OMG! SPEAKEASYDC is working with little old me. But not just me. I tell crazy stories so others like me can too.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four adults – approximately 61.5 million Americans experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 20 per cent of youth ages 13 -18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year and approximately 13 per cent for ages 8 -13. Despite the profound impact that mental illness has on so many individuals, families, and communities it remains misunderstood and taboo.

This is about me. This is about you. This is about us. All of God’s children have a story to tell.

So coming to a stage near you, at Emmanuel on High, Alexandria, Virginia at 8:00 pm, on Saturday, April 25, 2015, U&U is proud to present:

Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness

A unique, fresh, first person program, and out of the closet approach to mental health advocacy, produced in collaboration with SPEAKEASYDC, called “the gold standard in storytelling” by the Washington Post.

SPEAKEASYDC is renowned for creating spaces in which diverse perspectives are expressed and heard through the art of contemporary autobiographical storytelling. Unhinged will feature eight masterly crafted true stories on the theme of living with a mental illness, loving someone with a mental illness, or working in the field.

The storytellers will come from a wide variety of backgrounds, situations and settings. The program will be recorded by SPEAKEASYDC and made widely available for mental health advocacy and education.

The performance is free to the public and is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Friends of the Alexandria City Mental Health Center, Virginia Theological Seminary, The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, NAMI, and Emmanuel on High Episcopal Church.

And it’s not too late! You can be a sponsor too. We are more than two thirds of the way to reach our funding goal of $3000 which supports five weeks of training sessions for the storytellers, promotion, staging, and professional reproduction of the DVD.

And I would be very grateful indeed — if you would consider a tax deductible gift to SPEAKEASYDC in support of Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness. em>A little help can go a long way.

I have a birthday coming up. A big birthday coming up and it ends in a zero! So can I challenge you, my friends, to contribute $6, $16, $60, dare I say even $600? The more we raise, the more these stories can be heard. The more these stories can be heard, the more people we can reach. The more people we can reach, the more difference we can truly make — to educate, elucidate, illuminate, and advocate on behalf of the many who live with mental illness.

There are two ways to give: Click on https://tinygive.com/organizations/speakeasydc or you can Tweet “I’m giving $__ to @speakeasydc to support Unhinged: True Tales of Living w/Mental Illness 4/25 #tinygive.” Tinygive.com will contact you for details. People can give the same amount by retweeting too!

There is no better way to tell the truth than to tell a story.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

JoaniSign