A belated valentine story for a revolutionary feminist-spirit-sculptor-spy

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This valentine’s week, with the actual day yesterday powerfully syncing up with Ash Wednesday, has rekindled the history of one of my favorite activists from the American Revolution: Ms. Patience Wright, b. 1725-1786.

Truth be told there’s zero overt or historical connection with Ms. Wright and our modern culture’s celebrated rituals of this particular week

But! 

Here’s why this blog-post-gone-valentine (and Ash Wednesday) feature is just for her:  her entrepreneurial, fearless approach to an 18th century career in art -and- spy craft.

  • After her husband died in the late 1760s, Wright needed economic streams immediately. She elevated her hobbyist art to professional attainment, and is considered the first known American wax sculptor.
  • Also after her husband’s death, she was raising three children and pregnant. This alone makes her deserving for valentine acknowledgement.
  • Wright’s sometimes patriotic and spiritual devotion to the new America’s cause for independence wasn’t always popular (as she was a resident who lived both in New Jersey and London); her courage seems timely to honor though, since her advocacy goes parallel to the preparatory strengthening of Lent first established for the once young & unpopular Christian faith.

Ms. Wright alienated her American friends even more when she pressured (Benjamin) Franklin to support a rebellion in Britain itself. Writing to him in France (in the mid-1700s), she encouraged him to lend his services to “poor and oppressed” Britons as spiritual brothers and sisters of the American Revolution.

Patience Wright was a wax sculptor, mother of four, and to my heart’s delight – an American and quite revolutionary spy living in Britain throughout the 18th century.

I dream of this make-believe-story below!

…a.k.a. a quick imagining, fueled a little by the inner spy I’d love to be, with the stealth, artistic espionage of Ms. Patience Wright in full-swing.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Ms. Patience Wright.

Here’s some playful fiction inspired by your spiritual grit, going back to when the United States was a fighting idea at war:

It is a late, motionless night in the streets of London. The year is 1776…that unwavering bearer of change for both sides of the Atlantic.  One house in particular has stayed audibly quiet since dusk; and with the full moon …..there’s just enough light for Ms Patience Wright to sculpt the hairline of a neck.

She sits at full artistic alert near her northern most window.  How she loves a studied confrontation with a block of wax..unveiling human form with every chisel. And much of London and the British elite consider her the best of the best……a renowned wax sculptor producing work in a suite of pastels.

This is the work of Ms Patience Wright….widow, sculptor, and mother of four.

She leans in closer now toward the window sill to catch all possible light from the moon. Her fingers work in their primal rhythm with the wax …. what looks like a fluid sway between smoothing-molding-lifting-pressing.

She sits back to stretch her shoulders and take in her work.

“Yes…yes…this will serve good purpose,” she says to the wells of her own self-respect.

Now all her interest turns to the final test of the bust’s left ear. But before Patience adheres the lower arc of the ear lobe, …..she writes a tiny note of intelligence (some critical news against the monarchy). She then scrolls it up, and secures the note in the ear’s upper curve.

“This will do,” she whispers in the private, moonlit arena of her craft. For Ms. Wright knows her creative trade fulfills two needs very, very well:  the art of sculpture and the art of spy craft.

Once she convinces herself the bust’s ear chamber was sealed with precision and a look of innocence, she packed the small bust in a gift container and folded away her tools.

KNOCK

KNOCK

KNOCK

She heard the front-door taps with shifting angst. She knew that knock brought loyal support to the patriot cause. But like any fight for sovereignty, even such a sound of allegiance courted potential threat.

Nonetheless she summoned her feet toward the door.

There a shadowed figure greeted her. 

With a simple flip of the agent’s cloak over his right shoulder, he said one phrase coded just for her:

“A night for liberty madam, is it not?” he asked with the impatient flare of an insider on the run.

Patience nodded as she granted the agent the box. The shine of his black riding boots then twirled away in the moonlight back to his mount…and off they went…couriers for the west bound for Benjamin Franklin himself stationed now in Paris.

Patience shut the door…and stood a moment in the stillness of her home.

Then came a stir upstairs.

“Mama, mama…” cried her young ones with their dawning appetite.

She lofted up the stairwell with satisfaction, the depth of which anointed her heart with cravings for future risks on moonlit nights.

###

 

Photo attribution “I spy a girl working on a Sunday” by Janine licensed by Creative Commons

What I learned in 2017 from exhaustion and related inelegance

#1 What 2017 taught about boundaries and working at a large urban church:

Stress can still affect your health even when God is technically your boss.

Many structural and cultural shifts were underworks at my employer and personal church community Foundry UMC, a thriving Methodist church a few blocks from the White House. The staff and congregation were in what felt like a perpetual all-hands-on-deck mode especially since the outcomes of the 2016 presidential race (…the sermon Pastor Ginger preached a few days after that election gives incredible insight and encouragement…if your journey craves it!).

The work was a purposeful, spiritual dream, especially in hospitality. We’d work together in community to support disadvantaged and homeless neighbors or offer adult discipleship classes about many social justice topics, inclusive Christian beliefs, or fragile political culture. We’d share strong solidarity with LGBTQI neighbors and immigrants. So much more.

“God as boss is a noble thing!” the thought would float my mind sometimes during particularly stressful deadlines, or when passionate (well meaning) folks would approach me on my days off to help on work-related matters. My boundary setting skill wasn’t the most clear, at all.

The nobility began to transform into weariness but I didn’t fully recognize it. My husband started to comment that he would hear me say “I’m so tired” almost daily. Effects from physical and mental depletion continued (but without a vigilant, self-caring response from myself): lack of focus, ongoing frustration, ongoing anxiety, lack of restfulness from sleep, indifference, general irritation at professional hospitality projects and colleagues that were once held dear.

Then…

The turning point:

In a moment of raging dramatic angst-filled release – I screamed at my boss through various expletives and explosive (CRANKY) critique. It would be now a hilarious story if my exhausted viciousness wasn’t quite so uncontrolled, let alone unloving.

The next day, the exhausted anxious (humbling! awkward!) episode occurred again offsite when en route to work. It was the most vulnerable, strained episode of head pain, harsh breathing, dizziness, and the shakes. After an ambulance ride to the ER, it became clear that vast exhaustion was in the driver’s seat and mounting anxious depression was on the rise.

Outcome:

It was time to transition off church staff, rest up, heal up, and start anew in hospitality and storytelling work in a different dynamic.

Holy Cow 2017 taught my ego that working for a religious organization still demands vigilant self-care, better boundary setting, and moderation of pace.  Just because God’s the boss doesn’t mean ignoring one’s capacity to set healthy boundaries!

#2  What the year taught about creative avoidance:

Procrastination on personal projects (that you aren’t paid for except by passion for creative journey) causes as much fatigue and anxiety as procrastinating on work you get paid for.

It seems more obvious now that work which espouses one’s commitment warrants …committed attention. It does not matter whether that commitment stems from our heartfelt self-will and passion or from a boss that pays one’s salary. Once the commitment is self-administered — then action should simply commence; production should simply begin; …all the “don’t hold back” attitude should ideally ignite as a natural response to said commitment.

Argh to the wise “should” mentality!

Even still with hindsight – after outlining an on-the-bucket-list dream storytelling project recently, I sat on it for at least a month. As in, there was zero movement forward on it!

I’d rebel against the very project my heart had longed to do. Any and all randomness became the priority (vs actually asserting head on this storytelling work). Literally far less timely research projects would capture my focus, or a new yoga routine or meet ups with people that could’ve been easily postponed.

The turning point:

After about five weeks of this – sleeping patterns got rocky and inconsistent. A general internal hum made of both tiredness and an angst-ridden edge set in. Then an article found its way to my eyeballs about the negative effects of procrastination: it increases sleep debt and thus anxiety and fatigue (pausing to gulp that truth down).

Outcome:

After eventually asserting the project head on and finishing it – a distinct, more regulated steadiness returned in sleep patterns and inner contentment.

The work, tackled head on without restraint, will set the soul (and healthy sleeping habits!) free.

#3  What the year taught overall about fatigue:

Habitual tiredness does not equate to winning an award in workplace martyrdom.

Gently closing thoughts here with a neighborly reminder:  Beware of work martyr culture and mentality.

Here’s to you and an awesome, “all in” 2018 with lots of blessings and purpose, results, renewal, constant self-care, and patience.

Photo: “Napping” by Paula Gimeno licensed under Creative Commons