My Own Kind of Pride Celebration – Juneteenth 2018

Though this year has been challenging in many ways, it has also been good. I’m having my own kind of pride celebration now. I’ve been blessed to have accomplished a lot of my life goals. After finishing my third book, I have been thinking about the next creative project. Do I start on book two of the series? Do I do the audiobooks I wanted to do? Or music? Music keeps playing into my heart and mind, perhaps it’s time for music to be created. But what about painting? Am I giving up on painting?

Bread & Wine – Watercolor

The truth I realized is that I paint when I am happy and content. Maybe that’s why people liked my paintings, they came from feeling loved and happy. It’s not that I am unhappy here on Beech Mountain, but I am still unsettled. Having lived here for almost a year, it is beginning to feel like home. I can’t say I am content, though I love the solitude.

One of the challenges I face as my art grows is how to balance the sacred and what some would call the profane of my life. I am a lesbian who is also Christian. For me, the lesbian part is as sacred as the church connected part. I have always been a religious person and I knew at an early age I was different. I didn’t know the word “lesbian” until I was older.

Once I learned the word, I can’t say I was proud of being one. Every time it was spoken during that time, it was in a condemning way or a way that sounded dirty. I wasn’t dirty or mean, just afraid. It’s only after decades of practicing saying that, “I am a lesbian” that I can say it without feeling my heart in my throat.

 

In today’s climate of hatred, I am cautious again. After being in a town where I was free to be who I am, I’ve felt I had to be more careful here. I didn’t know anyone on the mountain and for the longest time thought I had to be the only lesbian on the mountain. I’ve learned that I’m not, but like me, those who live here tend to keep to themselves. I’m okay with that. There is still comfort in knowing that there is someone who gets me on the mountain even if we aren’t close.

Passion Flower – Watercolor

Today I decided that I wanted to write about being proud of being a lesbian. It’s taken years of prayer and good counseling to get to the place where I can be proud of who I am instead of afraid of who I am. My goal in life has always been to serve G_d and one day to find the right person for me. After my recent divorce, I may have to accept that there is not a person for me. I am okay with that for the most part. We all have our moments. But back to my topic of being proud.

Growing up, we were discouraged from being proud in a braggart way. I’m glad of that. There was, however, a pride that was a family way of being. We were hard workers. We were smart and quick learners. None of us were (or are) perfect, but all of us are good, decent people. Just because I am a lesbian doesn’t make me any less of a good, decent, person.

 

People have accused me of things I’ve never even thought about doing. I will state again that I am of a religious mindset. Most of my thoughts are theological or musical when I’m not worried about hurting someone’s feelings. As I age, and my activities are limited due to health challenges, my thoughts turn to quality. I want to be better at writing, playing music, drawing or painting, living. I want to be good at living. This is something I can be proud of and exclaim to the world.



I am celebrating Pride Month in my own quiet way. I can’t get to the parades. My heart and mind are focused on what is happening in our political landscape for the immigrants right now. I want to find ways that I can encourage those who are still able to physically get involved and encourage the rest of us to keep heart.

 

A little bit of light will go a long way. Be proud of your light whoever you are, whatever color your light casts. You matter. I matter too. The more we embrace the goodness of each being, the better our world becomes. I hope you take time to listen to the Victor Wooten song below. His song is full of the good news of life and I believe it speaks my truth. I see God in you. I see God in me.

 

 

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Dreaming Cats

Dreams of cats. Jung had a good time with that symbolism.  I’m sure Freud did too, but my dreams resonate with Jung’s dream analysis much more than Freud. This was the best dream of a cat I had ever had. I’m not going into the other dreams because that’s way too personal. This was a

Grayson

dream of my boy, Grayson.

He was a cat that adopted me. Never much of a cat person, somehow I told a local I would find him a home. It was never my intention for his home to be with me and my wife at the time. We already had cats.

Grayson had other ideas.

 

As you can see from the picture, he was a handsome boy. Though he lived to be eight, he was always a boy. He loved to play, loved to love, and loved to give kisses. The stance in the picture is where he is asking for kitty kisses.

He really was a lovy dovy cat. In fact, in the dream last night, he came to see me. All he wanted was to be near me. He sat in the dream much like this photo. Then he curled up on my lap; rolling like a big fuzzball.

“You’d say this is all there is
And every time you’d blink
You’d miss another piece of this wondrous world…” 

Good Goodbye by Lianne Le Havras

The dream stays with me though it’s hours later. Between the dream and the cloudy day, there’s a sadness that lingers like smoke from a smoldering fire. He lived to be eight, but I had to put him down because of kidney problems and he was in pain. He was such a good boy, he didn’t deserve to suffer so.

 

I spent most of the morning trying to understand what he was trying to tell me. I know what Tony Crisp would say in his Dream Dictionary because I’ve had enough cats in my dreams that I always get nervous when they appear. In the past, the dreams weren’t good and belong more to a collection of sci-fi thrillers.

But this dream was about Grayson. I called him my shoeshine boy because he loved to fall on the floor at your feet and then rub his head all over your shoes. Yes, I know that he was marking his territory and it’s true. WE belonged to him and nothing would change that. Perhaps not even death. He died years ago. I haven’t gone through his photos in a long time, so his appearance in my dream was interesting. Today I’m going to choose my own meaning. I believe he came to tell me he loved me.

“All these memories too much to lose…” sings Lianne La Havas. The song fits the mood of the morning and somehow the dream.  It’s true to say I miss him. I think he’s saying he hasn’t left me. He’s just in a different dimension. I can feel all the love that cat held even now, across the years, beyond life and death.

 

As I listen to the song on repeat and type this, the love this cat gave changes the meaning of a song that I thought was about loss. Instead of loss, now I am hearing the message of presence in the song as La Havas sings, “…No one ever leaves you….” The song talks about a “good goodbye” because the truth is, love always changes us. It was Grayson’s time to go when he did. I gave him a good goodbye by not keeping him where he had to suffer. Maybe he’s telling me that too. He knows. He was always a smart cat anyway. He realized that I was too allergic to let him stay near my face long. He learned to stay on my lap or sit near me.

 

He loved everybody but strangers and he wasn’t fond of dogs. He always hid when new people came over. His greatest concern (other than dogs) was that we might give him away.  In truth, at first, I really did try to find him a home elsewhere. One of my wife’s friends took him…and I cried my eyeballs out over missing that cat. I couldn’t believe it as it was happening because I “wasn’t a cat person”. My wife felt the same and fortunate for us, the friend let us have him back. Grayson belonged to us as much as we belonged to him. He quickly adopted my mother-in-law and couldn’t wait to see her each morning when she came out. One of my favorite pictures of the two of them together is where Grayson had been looking for his milk rings (his favorite toy). The picture shows both Grayson and a 94-year-old woman on the floor looking under the kitchen stove.

 

Before running errands into town, Birdie keeps trying to pull me into the woods. She’s not barking, so I know it’s not a squirrel or

“As a deer pants for water, so my soul pants for thee…” Psalm 42

chipmunk. I look up finally to see what attracted her attention.  Staring at me is a deer standing still as a tree. Birdie stops pulling once I see where attention goes.  I excuse us from the deer’s wood and we go back on the way. Birdie is proud of herself because she didn’t bark and scare the deer.  The deer looks far away in the picture, but in person, it felt that it was almost under our nose.

The clouds are on our side of the mountain today. The dream and the dreary day cause me to think all day will be one of melancholy. As the dog and I drive to Banner Elk, I listen to the song “Good Goodbye” and wonder if the dream caused me grief.  There is sadness for sure, but not the soul-wrenching grief of loss. My thoughts keep turning back to the cat, Grayson. I replay the memories of him loving us, loving the other cats, tolerating the dogs (though he didn’t want to).

 

Being present to sadness can teach us things. That doesn’t mean we choose to stay in the sadness or grief, but that we listen to it and see what it has to say to us, about us, about those we love. The message I hear at the end of the morning is love. Why love? Love doesn’t hurt. Well, love never intends to hurt, but sometimes it does.  This is not an excuse for another to be abused to stay in an abusive relationship. This is about the power of love to move us forever. I hurt because I lost something, someplace, someone I love. It hurts because I know they loved me back. I know that although circumstance has changed, love remains.

 

The story of The Velveteen rabbit teaches us that love wears us down sometimes, but more importantly, LOVE CHANGES US. Though I have lost love in the past several years through death, a move, differences…I do not lose and will never lose the experience of love. My grandparents have been dead for over eighteen years, my dad for around three. Although I have lost them, I will never lose their love. As I have moved to live where my work takes me, I lost co-workers, colleagues, congregations, but not the love. Once we are loved, we cannot be unloved. When love changes us, it even changes our brains (The Brain in Love).

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
― Lao Tzu

 

Last summer, as I grieved the loss of my marriage, a friend recommended Lianne La Havas’ CD as one I might like. This song, “What You Don’t Do”, made me happy. I thought it was the melody, because melodies can change your mood; give hope. The more I listened to the song though, I realized I love the lyrics too. I began to sing the song almost as a prayer. I kept telling the counselor that my divorce was hard because my wife was the love of my life. Each time he would add, “…up until now.” After he did it several times, I told him in an annoyed voice that I wasn’t going to ever be in a romantic relationship again. I was done.

Months have passed. They feel like eons after such a cold winter. The divorce occurred. That made me both angry and sad. At least the questioning had moved into acceptance. That always helps pain to heal. Today, I have a dream of a cat long gone whose love in my heart consoled me. I look back on all the love in my life and I realise that for me, love never dies. All of the people I loved in the past (exes included), are still loved. We grew to another place. My life is forever changed, because I have been loved and because I choose to love others. As I listen to the love songs now, I know I will love again. The love may or may not be romantic, but I’m never giving up on love because love changes us for the better. My life is better because I’ve risked heartbreak. My love is better because other forgave me my mistakes and reminded me to never stop loving.

 

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
― Margery Williams BiancoThe Velveteen Rabbit

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New Music Coming

I have been so busy with writing in the past year that music took a back seat in many ways. It is time to get back into creating new music as well as keeping up with the old. Many of my readers were after me to begin the sequel to my novel. My mind wanted to complete my short story collection. My muse, however, has other ideas and they are all musical!

 

Dan Shepherd and Robin play guitar for congregational sing-a-long. Photo by Pan McCaslin

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I have always loved church music. We just completed a wonderful concert at Holy Cross where we also sang with Banner Elk Presbyterian’s Choir. I hope to have a link later this week on Robin’s Radio for you to hear the concert if you like sacred music. Elaine Kallested*, our choir director, has given me a chance to play on an anthem and play with the congregational sing-a-long. Dan, the guitarist who plays with me here, was nice enough to also allow me to play with the Holy Smokes group and sing a few harmonies.  I loved that we sang some songs I grew up singing with my Whitley family.

 

It was great to be able to play my guitar again. I’ve not played as much as I want since moving here. It also makes me want to play and sing more. I will be playing two solo pieces for worship on June 17th if you are in the area. My hope is also to begin singing in Beech Mountain and Banner Elk

Singing jazz and blues at It’s By Nature Gallery in Sylva, 2012.

when I find the right venues. As I practice, I miss playing with my friend David Brewin and The Shepherd’s String Choir. The difference playing with another artist or a band is that the performance pressure is eased with other musicians. I am still new to the area though.

 

I was blessed to have the opportunity to sing at an event sponsored by the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation. My realtor, Irene Sawyer, helped me find a great place to live AND she gave me the opportunity to sing for an appreciation dinner for patients and their caregivers. The event was held at The Chetola Resort lake area in Blowing Rock and will be held again in the fall. I’m going to be able to sing there again, but my hope is that I can find other ways to sing in this area.

 

For those of you who haven’t heard my music yet, let me tell you a little bit. Though my formal training was in voice (classical), I play guitar and sing a variety of music. These days, I usually only get to sing classical music with the church choir. My preferred genres to sing at gigs are folk, pop, blues, and jazz. You can hear a bit of my original music too. Though songwriting is not my strength, I have written some songs. Ordinary Miracles was my first CD and it came out in 2015 after being awarded an artist’s grant from Jackson County’s Arts Council. The CD has a folksy feel which was my goal.

The next CD I would like to put together is one of the English Country Dance Tunes that David Brewin and I played together. There are not many of these songs recorded. They are rewarding to play and relaxing to listen to. You can hear them and buy them online at J. Robin Whitley’s CD Baby site. Since I no longer live in the same town as David, it may be a while before we can get more of the tunes recorded. He is also back working at his blacksmithing job. As he often says, “blacksmithing pays more than music”. While that’s true, I certainly hope that David finds it worthwhile to record a few more pieces. His musician interpretation and skill as a lead guitarist is a gift to all who listen.

 

 

______________________________

*Elaine Kallestad is an Organist and Choir Director based in Boone, NC. Serving as a musician at Holy Cross Episcopal Church for 11 years, her church music career spans more than three decades.  She has worked in both large and small church parishes in Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Freiburg, Germany.  Her work has also been ecumenical as she served in many different denominations, including Episcopal, ELCA Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Methodist, and Evangelical.  Her studies include the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (Organ Performance) from The University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Music degree (Organ Performance/Church Music) from University of North Texas, and additional studies in Organ and Musicology from Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany.

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A Heart That Dreams

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The night brings dreams of loss and heartbreak. Tossing and turning, it is good to get up from the sad dreams. I awaken to another rainy morning. The dog sleeps in as usual. It seems that rainy days are the loneliest days.

 

My heart has grown exponentially in the past fifteen years. From the love I had for friends and family in Sylva, great healing occurred from injuries of the past. Today, I missed them all. I missed my life, my wife, my friends, stores, roads. Grief distorts our vision, doesn’t it? As I sat to drink my coffee and begin morning devotion, I just wanted the hurt to stop. We are encouraged to

Chimes

be present to hurt and loss, but it is darn hard isn’t it? Especially in a world where we can easily anesthetize or avoid pain by becoming busy.

 

The one thing I have learned in my life is that if we avoid the pain and grief, it doesn’t go away, it just gets bigger…or more annoying. Really don’t want that to happen either. In other words, it’s better to bite the bullet and endure. Better to slog through the grief than sit down in it and drown. Even though we might be tired, we must find a way to move through grief because there is a new place waiting.

 

When I saw the quote from The Alchemist (one of my favorite books), I knew that my heart is trying to tell me something today. I’ve spent all morning listening and trying to discern what it is besides “I hurt”. Of course, part of it could be being brave enough to admit that hurt to another. We want to put on a stoic face and act like we are tough and nothing bothers us. Yet, in my life, I have been one to be more oversensitive than most. That causes a host of other challenges.

Morning Sky by JRobin Whitley ©2015

As I wrote to a friend this morning, I wondered if that is part of the dilemma of being an artist. In order to be an artist, we must be sensitized to the world around us. In order to write, sing, or paint something that moves another, we must feel the depths of life; whether it be joy or sorrow.

 

I’m watching a wonderful Netflix series about a singer from Cuba, Celia. It is a Spanish series, so one must use the subtitles unless very fluent in Spanish. I am learning Spanish, so I wanted to practice listening to native speakers in order to train my ear. This series speaks to the musician and artist in me in a language known as creative passion.

 

Tomorrow I turn 57. How I got this old this fast is hard to believe. I know that 57 is not technically “old” (unless a person is under 20). However, it means I’m further down the path of the second half of my life. The part where we walk to the end of life on this earth. I’m okay with that believe it or not. There are many joys I have at this age that I could never have imagined. I’m learning to be at peace with myself.

 

The Shepherd’s String Band from Sylva.

One of the things that hasn’t changed however is my heart and my passion to create. I mention the series, Celia, because when I watch it, my heart is young again. My heart remembers the dreams of music and singing my own heart out. The actress who plays the young Celia perfectly captures the desire and passion of a young singer wanting to merely sing.

Though my body is 57, my heart still wants to sing. Part of me wants to be brave enough to enter some competition…but I know that is only my youthful heart identifying with the actress in the movie. I’m done with competing with others. I only want to be better at being creative.

 

As I move a year closer to 60, what does my heart have to say? Truthfully, I’m not lonely here. I like the solitude. Solitude is giving me the space to write stories, poetry, letters, songs. There is space to experiment with paint. I am dancing in Zumba class as much as I can. Here in this place on top of a mountain, I am free to create. That freedom to create is healing the loss of my marriage, my hometown, and my Sylvan family. Does it mean they are forgotten or replaced? Never. Only that my life is better for having lived there. My heart is bigger because I was loved by those people in that time and place.

 

Now, I am here. My heart wants to grow as big here in Beech Mountain as it can. I may be turning 57 tomorrow, but I still want to sing, dance, pray, teach, and draw my passion for life. All of my years I’ve heard the question, “What is your passion? Music?” People assumed that because I was a musician that music was my passion. Yet, I knew that was not really my passion. Neither could I say that writing or painting was my passion. Finally, I realized (only while living in Sylva) that creativity is my passion. In the edge of the woods here, my heart speaks of another passion – life and nature.

 

Nature is life of course; life in all its wild and unpredictable manifestations. Live. I want to be good at living and loving all of creation. In order to do that and be that, it means that life will hurt. Loss happens. Whether it is a loss because it is merely time for an aged body to die or because of tragedy, the loss hurts. It is okay to hurt because it means we are alive. That doesn’t mean we have to stay in the midst of a hurtful place or situation. Only that hurt tells us something important about ourselves. Hurt shows us the places that matter to us.

As I listen to my heart this morning, here’s what I hear. People matter to me. Whether they are close friends or immigrants, I believe in the blessing that each person brings to the world. I may be aging, but dreams still matter to me too. Yes, for me, dreams of the night are symbolic and give messages. But I am not too old to dream of being creative for the rest of my life. Just because I am in a different place doesn’t mean that I have lost friendships, only the place and time. My ways of communicating and visiting with friends change, but the true friendships only grow deeper. My heart loves them more and dreams of new ways to live this glorious life. And even with all the pain and gore, life is still glorious ain’t it? I rejoice for a heart that dreams!

 

 

 

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.

Acts 2:17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 

 

 

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Beech Mountain and a May Rain

The morning is rainy, but it is a pleasant May rain. The smells are the earthy smells of a summer rain. The birds still sing as though the sun still shone. A kettle for tea boils on the stove. The dog sleeps on the couch. Swishing sounds come through the open window as a car passes far below. The month of May moves quicker than usual it seems. Though, if I am honest with myself, so has this entire year. Not that I’ve lived on Beech Mountain an entire year yet, but if time continues to click by so fast, the anniversary of my move will be here in a flash and not a tick or a tock.

At this writing, I am pleased to have made it through my first winter in the East Coast’s highest town. The below zero temps and copious snows made it the best winter in many ways, and the worst in others. It wasn’t the worst winter I’ve lived through though. Tecumseh, OK still holds that record in my life. This winter, as I made a fire to keep pipes from freezing, I gave thanks for that winter in Tecumseh because I had learned how to keep a fire going.

The trees are finally greening out here. It seemed to take longer than when I lived in Sylva, but that is hours South of here and which means it’s much warmer. Even the Southern Appalachians got snow this year. Beech Mountain had a snow in May in 2017, so there’s still that. I’m not worried though. My Fiat made it through the winter without ever having to use the tire chains.

 

When I first traded my 4WD Rogue for the Fiat 500, my friends made fun of my choice and warned me it would always be in the shop. The joke wasn’t going to be about my car, because it is a new Fiat. They had to be thinking of the old ones. My way of debunking their joke was to change the meaning of FIAT to this, Fine In Any Terrain. I have had to replace my windshield wipers, but they did a ton of work in the short time I’ve lived here.

A view from my Fiat this winter.

Beech Mountain is a dusty place. Partly it is the fact that there are a lot of dirt roads up here. The dirt roads are well maintained, but they are still dirt. Add the wind to the mixture of elements and even if one didn’t live on a dirt road like me, dust is bound to swirl. The dirt road in Tecumseh, well, that prepared me for the worst case of anything. This dirt road near my condo seems like a dream road.

 

How can a dirt road be a dream road? First you have to know that I was raised in the country. I learned to love dirt roads growing up. The first best dirt road led to my

Parking for the Orchard Falls Hike.

Grandma and Grandpa Whitley’s farm. During the summer when things got dry, even rolling up the windows (before air conditioned cars) to keep from dust getting into the car became an adventure. Dad wouldn’t drive to fast, but he also didn’t want dirt in his cars.

 

My second favorite dirt road led down behind the house where I grew up. As kids, our parents and the Thompson family would often walk that dirt road to my Aunt Imogene’s house in the summer. There were times we rode bikes and when dad could hitch the pony to the cart, some would ride in the cart. Down that dirt road lived the Hatleys. They always had a dog that scared the daylights out of me, but they were always so nice and it was the only place I was brave enough to go sell items for school fund raisers.

My sister and I loved to ride bikes on that dirt road. Once we learned how to get past the Hatley’s dog safely, we kept that road busy. My sister and I both loved nature and bike riding. We would ride to the Bull Hill area or to Aunt Imogene’s and back. We often raced down the last part of the hill as though we were motorcyclists in some race. After my sister had a bad crash (this was before bicycle helmets), we were more cautious in the downhill races. We still loved this dirt road and took it anytime we could.

Barn – Watercolor by JRobin Whitley 2014

 

The thing I love about the dirt roads here is that in addition to being well kept, they are good for walking. As a person who is in constant pain, one of the most recommended activities for such disabilities is walking. Yet, walking on concrete or asphalt worsens the pain. In Sylva, I tried to keep physical by walking up and down our road near the house. The asphalt only aggravated the pain and there wasn’t enough of a shoulder to walk on the shoulder of a road.

 

Here on Beech Mountain, in add

Deck of the SkyBar at 5506′ Beech Mountain.

ition to copious dirt roads, there are copious trails. There are places I could still bike if I had the balance to do so. There are mountain bikers and touring bikers who travel regularly on the mountain. The Beech Mountain Resort changes the ski lift to a bike lift in the summer. This week I found a way to get up to the SkyBar so I can attend one of the Mile-High Yoga classes.

 

There are many ways I can stay active and healthy here, while also being in tune with the ways my disabilities limit me. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I am dead. I keep saying that to remind myself that there is still a lot I CAN do. I’m so excited to live here as the year begins because I want to hike more trails as I can. The beauty of living here full-time means that I can hike on my good days, but on days when I must stay inside, it’s like staying in a tree-house. There are always many ways I can just BE here on the mountain in peace.

 

Falls Trail

 

Rain is falling down my chimney and hitting on something that sounds like a bell chiming. It is raining hard now, but not a downpour. The birds have tucked into their nests and houses, only chirping randomly. The clock ticks peacefully on the wall. I pick up a book and a cup of coffee. Then, as I walk past my guitar, I change my mind and decide to sing a song of the blessing of warm rain.

 

יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃

May my discourse come down as rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass (Deut. 32:2).

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