Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Forget Me Not

This post was inspired by Anita Mathias' Let Nothing Be Wasted post

"If you have a bad day, don't plant it. Bad days have a habit of turning into bad weeks, months and years." Dave Roberts

I am kneeling grass stained on the ground. Hunched over, I am digging. I am shoveling. I am preparing the seed to plant down deep. My worry, my distraction. They are acts of cultivation. Of sowing. I will reap bitterness. I will reap burnout. I will reap bitter roots, a fruit that sickens the stomach. 


Eyes turned away from the sun, I read the Braille of the earth with my dirt crusted fingertips, sifting through the soil of my bad day. I don't foresee the harvest. I don't envision spring. I see fall brown and dead dirt. I see tears drip plop sploosh off the end of my nose, salting the soil of the pain I plant. The pain I clutch proudly, possessively in my grimy palm. It is mine to hold. It is mine to plant. This bad day. These bad thoughts.

Why do I exert myself with this bitter planting, when your gifts spring up like wildflowers? The glittering orange of African daisies and California poppies. The purple pallor of morning glories and forget-me-nots. 



Forget-me-nots. 

I was given a vision a few months back by a friend. A part two of sorts to my life as a basking case. In this vision I am still in the field. Still in the meadow of flowers. But I am not laying still with baited breath. I am not lounging lazily as God bursts forth more buds of morning glory. I am active; I am weaving to be precise. Weaving flowers. Weaving flowers bursting wild with hope.

"Your weaving is your worship," 
my friend said. 

Tying together the gifts into a wreath of remembrance. Forget-ME-nots.

So why do I find myself today elbows deep in dirt, preparing soil to nourish roots of anger and disillusionment? Why do I plant at all when the harvest is upon me? 


Convicted, I unhunch my back. I pluck the seed of pain from its pre-formed hole. I smooth the space that would have sustained the bitter bulb. I wipe my hands on the leg of my dirt-flecked pants. 

I lift my gaze to see the sun is out shining, ready for the basking. My eyes scan the landscape teeming with untamed flowers, ready for the weaving. Ready for the worship.

A smile sneaks across my teeth up into the crinkles of my eyes, and as my fingers reach for petaled stem, the words escape my lips, "I will forget You not."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: I Hope You Get Crushed


“To rest in your own suffering
Is evasion of suffering. We must learn to suffer more.” ~T.S. Eliot, Family Reunion

Yikes.

Photo courtesy of Plant With Purpose
I’ve been puzzling over this one for a while and haven’t come to any satisfying conclusions. I don’t understand how resting in suffering is evading suffering. Are we supposed to be dissatisfied in our suffering and search out more? I agree that we should learn to suffer more. That we should even welcome suffering. But does that mean we cannot rest in suffering or that we shouldn’t stay in suffering? Should our suffering point us somewhere else?

Along these lines, Ken Wytsma, the founder of the JusticeConference said on Friday night, to over 4,000 justice hopefuls, “I hope you get crushed.”

I. Hope. You. Get. Crushed.

He went on to describe how a seed needs to be crushed and buried before something life-giving can grow.

Sex slavery should crush you.

Lack of access to water should crush you.


War and rape and genocide should crush you.

Violence—physical and political and economic and structural—should crush you.

Should we rest in this crushing, this suffering? Do we stay and find comfort that our hearts and consciences are granted the sensitivity and empathy to be crushed in the first place? Or is this evading the very thing that is crushing us? Must we learn to suffer more?

Yes and no.

I think we should stay. I think we shouldn’t numb.

Photo courtesy of Plant With Purpose

But I also think we are called to leave. To sprout tendrils of hope and release roots of redemption. To take part in the very redemption—redeeming, revaluing, renewing—of our suffering for the sake of others.

In that way, let us not be content to rest in our suffering, but learn to suffer more for the sake that others might live, might hope, might be freed from even greater crushing.

What do you think this quote means? How do you take Eliot’s words? What do you think of my take on crushing and suffering? 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sound Bites of Justice: Further Thoughts on Solidarity



I spent this last weekend up in Portland representing the organization I work for, Plant With Purpose, at the Justice Conference.

There was a lot of talking. Speakers and workshops and pre-conferences and exhibitors and videos.  I spouted out my Plant With Purpose elevator speech to hundreds of justice seekers, from the starry-eyed to the cynical--boiling down the complexity of poverty and injustice and environmental restoration and transformation and the stories of farmers like Gumersindo and Hoita and staff members like Graciela and Durbel and Lazare into a thirty second, digestible sound bite.

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I prefer the stories, the narratives, and posts longer than the recommended 750 words and with accompanying bullet points.



Some stories warrant more than a spiel.

I’m not criticizing the conference or the talking or the rhetoric. A sound bite of justice is certainly better than a sound bite of celebrity sex scandal or scorn.

But it makes me wonder, How do we move beyond the sound bites? Beyond the rhetoric?

How do we become more than words?

In a workshop I had the privilege to sit in on, one man said of the poor, “We don’t want your pity or your expertise or even your money…we want your heart.”

It’s tough to open our hearts to new issues and causes and plights. It’s tough to open our hearts to new and unfamiliar people. People who are different than us.

So we sound bite. We distance.

We talk like heroes, but we forget to listen.

I’m probably the guiltiest.

I talk like a hero, but I forget to listen.

I love words. I love stories. I love categorizing and documenting and analyzing.

But I can become distanced from the people these words are supposed to speak on behalf of.

I once told a friend that, as a writer, I feel called to be a voice for the voiceless. Instead of the appropriate admiration I expected, he scowled and muttered, “Just make sure you’re not speaking over them. Or for people who could be speaking for themselves.”

Zing.


I write grant proposals and emails and newsletters and appeals on behalf of people halfway around the world that I have never met on a weekly basis. 
Sometimes I’m tempted to concoct a catch phrase, an idyllic picture of desperation to entice people to give to move to act. To break out of the status quo.

What if talking like a hero brings in more money than admitting that I don’t really know the whole story?

What does solidarity with the poor look like in fundraising and marketing?

What if we earn more money, but rob the poor of their dignity? What if we rob them of the opportunity to tell their own story, with their own voice, in their own words?

What’s more loving?

This is a real question I wrestle with.

At the organization I work for, we strive to tell a different story than the third world hopelessness that breeds first world hero complexes.

Our sound bites are filled with heroes. But the heroes are the farmers with whom we partner, not us.

We are merely stewards of time and resources and—I hope—of words.

My boss, Scott Sabin, wrote an incredible article for Conversations called, How Not to be a Hero. He said, “Jesus is the hero. We are not called to save the world, or Haiti, or Tanzania, or even a single village. That has already been done. We have a savior.”

Our words and our witness and our fundraising won’t save anyone; yet I believe we are called to JOIN in the work of redemption and restoration that God is already doing. We are called to serve and act and speak in love and solidarity, as one family.

So how do we become more than words? How do we not talk over the poor? How do we give voice to the voiceless?

The first step, I think, is listening.

Sound bites are ideas distilled. And ideas matter. The messaging matters.

But our listening should drive our messaging. 


The very course of my life changed when I listened to the stories of new friends who happened to live in desperate conditions, who happened to be poor—and also happened to love Christian rap and melon shakes and Dora La Exploradora.

Today I need the reminder that before I am called to be a voice for the voiceless, I am called to be a listening ear to the voiceless. To create space for their voices—both in my heart and in the world around me.

I am called to be a steward of words.

I am reminded that first and foremost, solidarity is a posture of ears wide open. Eyes wide open. Lives wide open to the suffering of others. 

How’s that for a sound bite?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blodder

Blog + fodder = blodder (thanks, Alex Gomez)

It's about time I shared some of the bloggy delicious food for thought that I consume on an almost daily basis. These people inspire me with their lives, writing, insight, wit, and tasty, tasty stories. They are the butter to my blogging bread.

Bon appétit!




Adrian Waller



























There are so many delectable blogs out there, what blogs can you not live without? Can you offer any tasty treats to the feast of our reading lives? Who did I miss?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Reflections on Ash Wednesday

Today I share my thoughts on Ash Wednesday on Plant With Purpose's marvelous blog. Check it out here




What about you? Are you giving up anything for Lent? What do you hope to gain? 

Vulnerability Is the Spice of Life

My favorite writing teacher and dear friend just shared this Ted Talk with me. And I am going to share it with you. It's a wonderful recounting of what makes us human, the importance of vulnerability, and how we can't love others if we don't first love and accept ourselves (sound familiar?).  And for the record, Brené Brown is much better on camera than I am.



What are your thoughts on Brené's fight and surrender to vulnerability?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Journey of the Magi Part 3



Today is Part 3 of the Journey of the Magi series. Check out my thoughts on the first two stanzas in Part 1 and Part 2. Here is the third and final stanza of T.S. Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi."


“All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”

At this part in the poem, the Magi have arrived. They have reached their destination. They have seen the Christ child. 




And are their thoughts ecstasy and enlightenment? No. Instead they say something quite peculiar. That this birth they have witnessed feels the same as death.

“I have seen birth and death, but had thought they were different.”

Besides loving the language, the poetry. I love the truth in this statement. Our faith is built on the idea of dying to self so that we may have new life in Christ. A birth and death and resurrection in one.

I’ve never imagined the wise men feeling let down. Feeling alien. Feeling out of place.

They have found what they were looking for, the destination they were seeking, but instead of bringing them glory and comfort and peace, they are left “no longer at ease” with their old way of life, with their old homes and old gods. 



I’m reminded of a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, “All joy emphasises our pilgrim status; always reminds, beckons, awakens desire. Our best havings are wantings."



The Magi (and T.S. Eliot himself I assume) have experienced a joy so grand and so real and so marvelous that the “old dispensation,” the old beliefs, the status quo, cannot hold the things they’ve learned. They are marked by the wanting of a new Kingdom. A longing for justice. The longing for love. They have seen in part and they want to see in full.

The part I think is beautiful, and what I think C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot were getting at, is that the presence of their longings points to the presence God. Both the image of a God at work within them and a God at work in the universe—stirring hope. Pointing to the fulfillment that is to come.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gripped in Green


I do not love my neighbor.

In fact, my interactions with my neighbors looks a little more like this:

“For not only am I unable to lay down my life for his sake (according to the gospel), but I do not even sacrifice my happiness, well-being, and peace for the good of my neighbor. If I did love him as myself, as the gospel bids, his misfortune would distress me also, his happiness would bring delight to me too. But on the contrary, I listen to curious, unhappy stories about my neighbor and I am not distressed; I remain quite undisturbed, or what is worse still, I find a sort of pleasure in them…. His well-being, honor and happiness do not delight me as my own…What is more, they subtly arouse in me feelings of envy or contempt.” ThePilgrim Continues His Way

It’s a game that I’ve perfected: the comparison contest. More often than not, when I look at someone I compare myself to how they reflect on me. Am I prettier, smarter, more exciting? If I am, then my pride is bolstered and I continue on my merry way. If I don't measure up, jealousy, envy, and self-loathing take hold, gripped in green.

There’s something keeping me from connecting their well-being with my own. Their victories with my own.  I can only see darkly. I can only see me.

When I look at others, I see my own junk and problems and preconceptions reflected back. The focus is on myself. Not what they're really going through, not who they really are. Just who I've made them to be, someone to pity or someone to envy, when compared against myself. That's dehumanizing. That is not life-giving or loving. I've commodified them and myself. I've made coming out on top of this shallow ranking the ultimate goal. Not real connection. Not love.

We all know the feeling to some extent. We all know the strivings and grasping of our egos, our possessions, our time. The selfishness that keeps us from loving our neighbors. The reason we need to have discussions about what it means to be in solidarity with the poor. The reason, I believe, we even have poor in this world.

A while ago I read an essay analyzing the infamous-wedding-love passage in 1st Corinthians. You know the verses I’m talking about, the clanging cymbals, love is patient, love is kind one that ends with faith, hope, love, and “I do.”

In these verses, there is a chunk of text that talks about the incompleteness of the love we experience now.

It says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11-12

I always thought this verse was about seeing God face to face. Or seeing ourselves as we truly are—a reflection of God’s grace and love and beauty.

But, as Madison Smartt Bell pointed out in his marvelous essay, A Love Supreme in the book Joyful Noise, this is a passage about loving others. Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum. These exhortations to serve in love, to prophecy in love, to teach in love are for the benefit of our neighbors. We are called to be patient and kind and slow to anger with EACH OTHER.

So why would this future face-to-face exclude our neighbors? What if it’s our neighbors, not just God or ourselves, who we will one day see so clearly?

"When a glass is perfectly transparent it does not reflect at all; it leaves one openly face-to-face with those on the other side." Madison Smartt Bell, Joyful Noise

Those on the other side are the people all around us. The people we do a pretty lousy job at loving and sacrificing our happiness, privacy, peace, time, money, or parking spaces for.

People say that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. I believe that is what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 13. A love and attention that does not reflect back to ourselves. One day we will see each other with God's eyes. We won't just see ourselves.

But right now, this hour, this minute, this life, I’m trapped in it. This dark self-prison. These comparisons.

It gets worse with body image for me, but that's not it. It's everything. Am I more athletic? Do I have a better sounding job? Did I make a better joke? And all of this is going in my head instead of LISTENING to whomever it is I'm talking to. It's sick. I am trapped in this prison of myself.

But I want FREEDOM from this self-obsession. One of my favorite quotes comes from Rumi, who says, "You become bewildered; then suddenly Love comes saying, 'I will deliver you this instant from yourself.'"

Love, deliver me from myself. I believe that is what you promise, Jesus. Living water. Forgiveness. A place where strivings cease.

That is true salvation. Freedom and forgiveness of sins, but also deliverance from ourselves.

Please open my eyes to others. Their hopes and dreams and pain that is completely unrelated to me. Break the scale. The measurement. The comparison. Be my true hope and portion.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, gripped in green; but one day we shall see face-to-face in His Kingdom, gripped with grace.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Learning to Walk

Going into a three-day weekend, there is one thing I crave: REST.

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble slowing down.  Trouble resting. Trouble releasing.

I don’t walk much. I run. I sprint. I lunge. I dance. I pound out sweat and calories and insecurities. I pound out thoughts.

When I stop to notice the packed in sand, the salt air burning my lungs, the sound of murmuring waves, moonlight on whitecaps, and the dark curtain of clouds, I don’t rejoice.

The panic sets in, scared that whatever I’ve been running from has overtaken me at last. Instead of breathing easier, I clench. I start writing my response in my head, tomorrow’s blog post, the week’s to-do list. My steps are anything but idle.

And yet breathe I must. Rest I must.  Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs.

It’s not that I don’t notice things. It’s that I can’t stop. Can’t stop the litany of commands and reminders and rebuttals.

I can’t slow my thoughts to a walking pace. Can’t catch a sustainable rhythm. Go go go ‘til burnout and defeat.

Oh God, teach me to walk. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Better Answer

This is a follow up to yesterday's blog post, Solidaridad, which I suggest reading first. 
***
"I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world." from Ann Voskamp’s masterpiece, One Thousand Gifts


This, this is the better answer to my haunting question: What does it mean to live in solidarity with poor?


“Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering.” 


How I wish someone had whispered this truth to me when I first opened my crowded closet; when I first swiped my ATM card for apricot face scrub and a new roll of floss at Target; when I first felt the summer sun warm up my parent’s patriotic front yard.


"It is joy that saves us..."

How I wish our study abroad discussions around solidarity had ventured beyond fair trade shopping and SUV bashing and into the fine art of learning to love our neighbors—poor or 1% or anywhere in between.


"Why would the world need more anger, more outrage?"

I mean, how are we supposed to love the poor if we don’t love ourselves? What kind of improved quality of life are we lobbying for if we can’t even recognize the God-like qualities in our suburban Christian friends?


I learned this lesson the hard way. Floundering and seething in an anger that quickly wore out its welcome.  In an anger that helped neither the poor nor the poor saps around me.

My first real step toward living in solidarity with the poor (on which I still have an immensely long way to go) was when I started to live in solidarity with myself. When I started to live in solidarity with my immediate neighbors. When I started to think that I was worth loving and that, maybe, the people in front of me—my Whole Foods Shopping, Invisible Children v-neck wearing peeps and my less well-versed in the rhetoric and fashion requirements of social justice friends and family alike—were worth loving too.

Solidarity began when I asked myself, like Ann Voskamp, Where can I bring life? Where can I choose hope?

How can I become the brave soul who focuses “on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small?” Where can I “discover joy even in the here and now?”

The surprising answer to the solidarity question is this: joy.

And in that joy comes a valuing of all human life and all of Creation, a heart that hopes, eyes that see the gifts, and lips that praise the Gifter.  This is the foundation of solidarity. This is the seed that blooms the hope to sustain a multitude of change agents bringing fullest Light to all the world.

Who wants to live the better answer?



***



P.S. I am still stubbornly passionate (although no longer belligerent) about reducing my injustice footprint and learning to live and act in ways that serve, support, and empower the poor.  I would love to talk shop with anyone interested in living more justly, sustainably, and joyfully.

But how, you ask?

You can read more of my thoughts in my post on fighting both first world apathy and third world poverty or dive into 7 Practical Tips (and delicious writing) from Jen Hatmaker, author of  "7 : An Experimental Mutiny AgainstExcess."  Or check out Julie Clawson’s fabulous book, EverydayJustice. Or find out more about my favorite poverty alleviation non profit that I just so happen to work for: Plant With Purpose. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

¿Solidaridad?

[This post could just have easily been titled “On How to Alienate Friends and Family after an Intense and Prolonged Cross-Cultural Poverty Experience.” Enjoy. ] 
***

The first time I opened my closet, I almost threw up. 

 The first time I purchased items at Target, I only made it to the parking lot before reversing and returning my bounty, sheepishly avoiding the salesclerk who had rung me up no more than three minutes prior. 

My parent's adorable house. 
The first time my mom attempted to hang an American Flag in front of her white picket fence, I screamed about the injustices those white, spotless stars concealed, I alluded to the blood of Guatemalans, Sandinistas, and why-we’re-at-it Iraqis stacked red on top of white on top of red until both of our eyes spilled raw, blue tears. 


Reverse culture shock is not a new phenomenon for our hot, flat, crowded world, but when I returned from a semester abroad that I only-somewhat-tongue-in-cheek refer to as the Poverty Tour of Central America, it was new for me. 

Between the feather thin pages of my travel Bible, I recently rediscovered a note I’d written to myself during my first days stateside. 

Not harsh at all...

“If I really lived in solidarity with the poor, I wouldn’t be able to stand my lifestyle.” 

It’s a word we deliberated over constantly in my four months abroad: Solidarity.

How do we live and act in solidarity with the poor?

When I returned, this was the question festering on my heart. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Journey of the Magi: Part 2


Today’s T.S. Tuesday is Part 2—after Part 1--of a three part series on Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi.

My attempted nuggets of wisdom will come from the second stanza, which describes the three Magi’s journey to see the newborn Messiah of the Jews: 



“Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.” 

I’m struck by the line “But there was no information, and so we continued.” Not “and yet” or “but” we continued. No, “and so.” There was no information, AND SO we continued.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cee Lo for the Spiritual Battle

You know those days when the negative voices tell you you're not smart enough, sexy enough, productive enough, [fill in the blank] enough?

Well, just insert these new lyrics into--as my friends refer to it--, "The happiest f* you song ever" (aka Cee Lo Green’s Forget You) with Satan as the ‘you.’ Then play on repeat. For best results accompany with fist pumps. 


"I hear you taunting in my head with words that ain’t love... and I'm like, FORGET* YOU!"



Now I’d like to keep this blog at least mildly PG-13, so I have chosen to share the edited version. While I do not normally condone or encourage foul language, I think if any situation warrants it, the battle for your very soul and identity as God’s fully loved, fully known, and fully accepted child merits a respectable exception. If you so choose to engage in The Spiritual Battle: Uncut and Unashamed, you will not find judging eyes here.

Happy singing and happy fighting.

What other renditions can you come up with?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Franny and Zooey Obsession Part 2: Seeing God in Chicken Soup


Franny and Zooey are the most sophisticated pilgrims I have ever had the chance to stumble upon. And the job of these pilgrims, of all of us, is the journey. The seeking, the wanting, the longing.  

There are journeys away from love and journeys towards love. Chasing and running. Hiding and seeking. 

But what if what we’re looking for has been here all along? What if the real journey is to discover that the divine is all around us and within us and before us and behind us and never ever apart from us?

Franny and Zooey embark on a journey that leads them to discover that what they’ve been searching and scratching and scrambling toward has been there all along. 

Zooey says to Franny,

"If it's the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you're missing out on every single…religious action that's going on around this house. You don't even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup--which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie ever brings to anybody around this madhouse. So just tell me, just tell me, buddy. Even if you went out and searched the whole world for a master--some guru, some holy man--to tell you how to say your Jesus Prayer properly, what good would it do you? 



How in hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy man when you see one if you don't even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it's right in front of your nose?" 

Zooey’s right. If we can’t hear God in the whisper, how can we hear Him in the storm? If we can’t see God in the minutely beautiful, in the mundane acts of love and life and service and hope, how will we see Him in holy temples and mission trips? How will we ever reach a state of praying without ceasing when we can’t even partake in communion clothed in chicken soup?

We are in such constant need of reminding that every breath is proof that there is magic and every bowl of chicken soup is consecrated.

The job of the pilgrim is the journey to discover the Christ, the wonder, already among us.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Franny and Zooey Obsession Part 1: Fat Lady Love

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” Matthew 25:40 

***
If you haven’t read Salinger’s Franny and Zooey yet, you must. And I must give you a spoiler alert because I am about to give away the revelation moment of the book—and my life.

Franny and Zooey are two insufferably nuanced yet lovable siblings (Zooey a man’s nickname for Zachary, not the female name like Zooey Deschanel) who are facing the worst kind of disillusionment: spiritual. I say worst because, of course, the spiritual never sticks to its manageable compartment of the “spiritual realm,” but spills over into every cranny of our lives, spoiling the whole barrel.

In sum: both Franny and Zooey, to some extent, are in crisis, looking for something real, something authentic, something that points to love and beauty and wisdom beyond the self-serving strivings of a world obsessed with counterfeit praise and lifeless knowledge.

Which brings us to the Fat Lady.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sharing Underwear


Today I have the privilege of being the guest at my favorite Funeral Director's blog: Caleb Wilde's “Confessions of a Funeral Director.Caleb also happens to be one of my favorite bloggers, period. Don't let the Funeral Director part intimidate you or mislead you into thinking he will be boring. Seriously, check him out. You will be challenged and encouraged. You will laugh out loud and you will cry in silence. And you will find yourself erupting in audible "hmms" as you ingest his wisdom (much to the annoyance of your roommates).

But, for reals, scurry on across the interwebs to see my guest post about cherishing the time left with my grandmother (and her lovely granny panties) and enjoy today's and many days of unempty moments with my favorite Funeral Director.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

T.S. Tuesday: Journey of the Magi Pt. 1

It’s finally happening. I’ve finally branched out from the Four Quartets. Today’s evocative Eliot comes from his poem “The Journey of the Magi.”

I ask your forgiveness in advance because I’m going to mix some Eliot with some Salinger. My brain has been fully marinating in the delightful details and philosophical forays of all that is Franny and Zooey and, despite my efforts at purging, I just can’t seem to let him go. Plus, I think it’s pertinent, at least tangentially.

I’ll start by sharing the first of three stanzas of Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Getting Stoned At Work

It started out innocent enough. A sneak here. A quick break there. Just a short distraction. Nothing too harmful. No one has to know about it.

My name is Aly Lewis and I get stoned at work.


Okay, not literally or illegally. But every day I engage in an activity at work that 'hurts my IQ more than pot.'

It's called multi-tasking.

We're all guilty of it. Checking e-mail. Checking Facebook. Switching from tab to tab. Simultaneously writing three reports, checking CNN, reading my favorite satirical aid blog, composing my next eblast, and adding an event to the company calendar.

This, according to a recent survey, makes me dumber than being stoned. In an article my boss sent around (which I ironically opened immediately because I was obsessively checking my email), it lists Stop multi-tasking as the #2 best way to stay productive, stating, "Switching from task to task quickly does not work. In fact, changing tasks more than 10 times in a day makes you dumber than being stoned. When you’re stoned, your IQ drops by five points. When you multitask, it drops by an average of 10 points, 15 for men, five for women (yes, men are three times as bad at multitasking than women)."

Well, I've got the female thing going for me, but still, those numbers are pretty grim.

What's worse, is I can't seem to stop. Even while writing this post I've checked my email three times, went to Facebook on autopilot then chastised myself, and opened a new Pandora station.

I'm hooked.

If you'd asked me two years ago what I thought about multi-tasking, I would have said it's God's gift to people with ADD (of which I think I have a slight case). I would have said the constant change of pace keeps me alert. I thrive on variety. I thought I thrived on multi-tasking.

But over the last couple of years (my third and fourth years sitting in front of a computer eight hours a day), I've begun to think that maybe I'm doing myself a disservice. Maybe my constant task switching is dumbing me down.

Always one for challenges, I first realized I had a problem when I decided to test how long I could go without switching tasks.

It was a painstaking 42 seconds...

Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but sadly not much. As an introvert and a writer, I've always prided myself on my ability to concentrate and to get lost in a story. But it seems I just can't engage like I used to.

Sure, I can get stuff done. I'm a high functioning multi-tasker, as I'm sure I'd be a high functioning pothead. But that doesn't mean it's good for me.

The problem with multi-tasking, I think, isn't that we're doing too much, but that we're not engaging in the first place. Because our brains are swamped with information, we're not present. We're not engaging in meaningful work or in meaningful rest.

The cure?

Stop checking email? Stop checking Facebook? Stop playing Words with Friends?

Is that even possible?!

I hope so.

In the last three months I've made a vow to STOP THE TYRANNY OF MULTI-TASKING. To work on one project at a time. To be fully engaged and fully present with the work at hand.

It's tough. I've managed to increase my concentration time from ~42 seconds per task to about twenty minutes, more if I really get on a roll.

But I still have a long way to go toward the sanity of mind I deeply desire.

There are some great recommendations in this article and this article, such as scheduling email and taking time out to actually read something longer than a tweet. For specific advice on distraction free writing, this is the best article I've seen.

Another good place I've found to start is prayer. Because, really, this is a spiritual issue of slowing down to see the work God has for us, the work right in front of us.

How can I honor God with my mind if my mind is all over the place?

How can I enjoy meaningful rest if I don't learn how to turn off the distractions?

I'm reminded of the last stanza in one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry, Sabbaths 2002:

"Teach me work that honors Thy work...
Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest
Sabbath of Thy unresting love
which lights all things and gives rest."

I want to learn a patience not only beyond but IN my work that I may do work that honors His work and honors the mind He has given me.

Readers, how do you deal with distractions? What tips can you give a girl who wants to get clean at work?