Becoming Music

There’s some kind of powerful magic in someone who knows how to use their voice like it’s an instrument — not beat-boxing or what have you, but the recognition that their own voice is a powerful, potent creator of music. With the really well trained individuals, I find it’s not just their voice. Their whole body knows music, and at least how to play an external instrument or 2 or 7.

This is not something that is bound my music genre, and I’ve very nearly (and may yet) buy albums of music of genres I don’t care for, lyrics that don’t speak to me, only just because I hear the exceptional control and wielding of music moving through a human body.

There is something very important here that I want. I don’t want to make light of the word “sacred,” but nor do I want to understate the importance I find here: it’s something deeper than aesthetic. It’s something deeper than just skill alone. It’s something that is not a Pinterest/Instagram style romanticisation of music and those who make it. My own inability to speak well in the language of music leaves me feeling — not uncultured, but rather childish and lacking understanding of basic truth.

I keep circling around my failings in this matter. Surely some people are gifted more than others. Or had more opportunity than others. But really where I keep landing is looking full in the face of my own inhibition. To music (which is not a verb, yet the only word I know to describe the action), one cannot remain cloaked, clothed, withdrawn. Those two things are completely at odds with one another. Music, from a place of inhibition and refusal to be vulnerable or truly share, is just noise.

And I cannot. I cannot put aside the self-consciousness, the awareness of self and other, long enough to move to the music, let the music in me, through me. I keep thinking if I could just — get better, I wouldn’t be self-conscious. Or if I could just work with the music alone long enough, then I wouldn’t care who else heard it.

If you look deeply into anyone who is serious about their art, you will always find it turns into a spiritual discussion. I don’t think it is really possible to separate art and spirituality. Not from the poets or the painters or the sculptors or musicians or anyone else. Nor is there any religion that I know of that does not make use of music. And my difficulties with music do not come to “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t understand” or “there is no way to learn.” It comes down to an essential human problem: how do you be vulnerable, and not die?

Some of us come into the world naturally less inhibited. Some find the need the chemically loosen up. Some of us struggle with our inhibited nature, knowing that inhibition is not always a virtue, but unsure of how to bridge the gap. Yet how can one engage in truth, in comfort, in beauty from a place of deep inhibition?

It is essentially fear and pride that hold me back. There is no way to move deeper into music without also confronting fear and pride. I do feel that the phrase “spiritual practice” is over used and under understood. But one does have to understand the problem to move toward any solution. The problem I need to tackle is not one of having an ear that is not trained enough or a lack of practice. The problem I really need to tackle is that I recognize deep value in those who can avoid fighting being an instrument, but I am more concerned with my own protection, and I am too cowardly to move forward. Both humility and courage are needed, and I think that is a definition of grace, a definite quality of music.

Advertisements

Stars in the black, black night

I had a hard December, following a strong of hard months, years. I finally had a two day reprieve, and in the space I had to breathe, I said in my head,

“That was hard.”

And instantly was the response, one part words I have said over and over to my patients and all the parts from God,

“Yes. It was supposed to be hard. If it’s not hard, then you don’t get stronger; and then it is a waste of time.”

It gave me a little hope, a very little hope. That maybe it wasn’t for nothing, that maybe it would bear fruit, that maybe it wasn’t pointless suffering, that maybe there was a plan.

But in my two day reprieve, I also saw the thumb screws being tightened down on someone I care for, and to the best of my knowledge, has a ways to go before she has a reprieve. And I know of no way to help her.

And I am still left with that hole. What’s the point? What for? Why all the pain for no reason? People talk about alleviating the suffering of mankind, but the true suffering of mankind is the suffering that cannot be relieved.

It is technically and philosophically easy to say that suffering has a purpose. But when you are in suffering, it is far harder—in part because you don’t get the suffering and the fruit at the same time. When the fruit comes, even if it is sweet or sustaining, it comes long after the bitterness and pain. There’s no spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down; there’s just begging for mercy.

So what do you do when someone is begging for mercy beside you? The obvious answer is beg along side of them — for mercy for you both. But there is also a reason we all tend to ask for “practical implications.” There are lists out there for what to do when people are going through hard times. . .being there, “holding space,” offering practical solutions of what you could do to help, not avoiding conversations about the thing, etc. And sometimes those lists are helpful, and sometimes they just shine the light on the other problem: it hurts us to see others suffering, and we would like to know how to alleviate  our own distress. Sitting quietly with someone while they sob does very little to comfort us.

When you walk on the other side of the road, it is mostly to protect you from the mess of human suffering. It is easier to bless, be warm and filled, than to drink down suffering with others. Because sometimes, it’s not even about not wanting to “do” something about it, or physical risk or sacrifice. It’s the internal pain of confronting the fact there is un-savable pain and suffering in this world: it’s broken, it sucks, and there is nothing you can do to fix it. Looking away feels preferable.

The saving that we want is for more than just the current moment; we want the world to be fixed such that there is no longer meaningless, pointless, stupid suffering. Not just her. Her and her and him and everyone. But when God gives justice and judgement, He also gives grace and blessing. And though the world has been judged, and cries out for redemption, still He sends blessing: rain, sun, food. And, I hope I am not too rash in suggesting, His people to carry His light, and to serve as beacons for people to find, not the relief from the suffering they are currently in, but rather the suffering that is yet to come. Do not, He says, put your light under a basket, safe and protected and secure, but bring it out into the darkness.

The very reason that we most want to look away is the very reason we must move closer to suffering.

And the practical application of that, if I may, is that when we know why we must do what we must do, and who sends us to do it, we have greater courage and strength and comfort to carry out the hard and unpleasant tasks that need to be done. I am moving toward this person and this suffering, not because I have the answers, can fix things, know what I’m doing, am more capable than they are, or like suffering. But because God said, “You have My light, and I am sending you into this world, and you need to trust that I will have My light be seen in you. I’m at work and will be at work, and I told you that, so you need to believe it.”

I think I just said a lot of stupid words to a person I don’t think I can help, who has some heavy burden laid on her that she cannot/will not even explain. Her suffering is so palpable it makes my heart hurt, like a physical sensation inside of my chest, and there is nothing, nothing, nothing I can do. If my confidence is in me doing the right thing, this is a hopeless situation.

God have mercy; God stay true to Your promise to put Your light into Your people as You send them into the world, and let me be faithful to Your spirit. There is no hope unless You are the one at work; and let me find comfort in knowing Your work is being accomplished — in me, through me, beside me, around me, and toward the world. Bless us still.

What we don’t know that we know

Sometimes people surprise the truth out of me.

One time was when, as I was struggling a mystery illness and frustrated by the lack of answers, one of my professors turned around and asked me, “But what do you think? What do you think is at the root of it all?”

I blurted out an answer I had never thought of, never considered, never reasoned — and to this day I still think it’s best explanation for what I went through.

It happened again the other day, I think. A friend asked me, if I quit my current job, what would I do?

Without hesitation, I was shocked to hear myself say, “A sabbatical.”

I’d never considered that, on purpose and deliberately. But as soon as I heard myself saying it, I knew it was the truth. I don’t have a baby to rise up inside of me, but my heart did. Yes. Please, yes. It’s been about a decade of working hard and being broken and I just want to rest and I’m over-due. Isn’t it supposed to be every seven years?

What, I wonder, do most people think of when they hear sabbatical? It seems most people I hear use the term sabbatical in a more modern concept always seem to travel during their sabbatical. I would guess they feel the need to escape the places and people that come with an undercurrent of responsibility. For me, I want to get away from mankind and closer to God, and the best way I have found to do that is to get closer to God’s creation. Truly, closer.

Lay on the ground. Sleep in the sun and the dew. Get wet and cold. Eat food from the ground. Singing with your own voice.

Does that not sound entirely comfortable? I am not sure that a sabbatical is supposed to be entirely comfortable — perhaps a vacation is. But a sabbatical, I think, is supposed to be life giving. And while sleeping on the clay ground doesn’t sound comfortable, you would be surprised to know how my breathing deepens and slows just thinking about it. God, and His creation, runs at an entirely different frequency and rhythm than the rest of the world, and my aching soul cries out for it.

I don’t want to tell people how seriously I think about quitting my job. It feels like a failure. It feels like not trying hard enough. It feels like saying, “you all go on ahead being adults; I quit.” But also, not thinking about quitting just feels like an exercise in delusion and denial. But if I quit, what next?

If I let go of the taut reins of “realistic” and “responsible” and “feasible” and “reasonable” and listen to thing I can best call my heart’s cry, rapidly I am thinking about buying a plot of completely undeveloped land, and living on it. Something like 5 to 10 acres that haven’t been used in long enough that it is mostly woods, with some clearings, and obviously there is a fickle stream. Preferable said land butts up close to state land. I want to save lots of money and NOT spend it all on the land, because that’s probably the money I’ll be living on a for a while, and besides, you have to save money to drill a well at some point probably, but for now my mind is already tracing rabbit trails of what containers would do well for hauling and storing water, what kind of cooler chests would keep wild animals out, the reality that I would probably still have to have a phone of some sort, and could I squeeze out three seasons if I built the equivalent of a wooden tent?

Around this part, I start rebuking myself for romanticized pipe dreams that everyone has, and no one lives, because hello, there are serious flaws with these types of things. But I wonder — why does everyone have them, if not because the life around is killing us from the inside out and we all know it?

It’s not like I think I would live out there forever. It could always be the sabbatical land. The largely undeveloped (I still think a well would have to happen at some point) fleeing-place, the land of refuge when this broken and ill world wears me (or others) down to the point that withdrawal must happen. I figure after a year or two, I would get it out of my system for a while and make another attempt at re-entry into society. Not that I would never leave the sabbatical land — how else would I take voice lessons, and pottery lessons, and learn how to swim, and mushrooming lessons, and unload pictures off my camera, and get more milk because how is a person supposed to live without milk, and see my family and friends, and get more books from the library, and more canvas to paint? Maybe, if reality intruded too much, I could even do some per diem work on the side, just to keep my cursed world skills and connections from rusting too much. But after that, after resting and restoring and learning and creating and Not Trying, maybe after that I could work a part time job and try again to find a rhythm and a balance that I could sustain. Where I didn’t cry my way home, didn’t wake up praying that this was a weekend not a weekday.

I’ve analyzed the problem from every angle I can imagine, and the root cause I come up with is: me. I’m too introverted to make this current course ever be successful. I can get about half-way through the week, and then I am peopled out and faking it, and by Friday I am gritting my teeth and hating it, and then on the weekend I want to just huddle and hide and not see anyone, because how else will I regroup enough to face Monday?

I tell myself if I can just make it to three years, I will have more options, more flexibility, more ways I can approach life. But if I push myself to three years, there will be no option left but to rest and leach out the miserableness. Some days, many days, I don’t even know if I can last that long, only then I go look at the prices of land and scare myself silly, and wonder what land is really worth, and if I’m crazy or if this is really the way the compass is pointing. Sometimes I think there’s no other possible way, and stopping my ears up to it is the greatest foolishness.

But the joy I feel at the idea of sabbatical is not without sadness: I thought I could do this, and I can’t. I wanted a family of my own, and I don’t have it. How meaningful can this time be, if the relationships won’t be lasting and I’m just trying to grit my teeth and save up money? There is a sense of loss, of mourning, of failure, of not being good enough, of (paradoxically) being rejected, of not being able to join with others, of not meeting standards. I want to run away and hide, but I know that act itself is so radical that it will push me so far from the socially accepted bounds of inclusion that few people will be able to relate to me.  I don’t want to be isolated; but I do want to be alive. I’m not sure that I have the courage and fortitude necessary to make the scandalous choices that bring me closer to being alive.

All I can think is that maybe this will flame out after the winter. Maybe things will be more clear after the spring comes. But deep inside, I do know I already spoke the truth, and I am just scared to act on it.

Bodies

Bodies.

We have such trouble finding any peace in them, even though they are our only real homes while on this earth.

Mine has been giving me troubles for a few years now, long enough that I have discovered a distance between self and body that I didn’t really understand could exist, previously.

When you discover that your body is a “thing” itself, and is not actually your own Self, the next discovery is a temptation to change it. I don’t like this; this is not actually me; how can this be changed? And if you are distanced enough from yourself, you don’t think about changing yourself; you think about how you can change the organism that you are riding around it.

The benefit of being this detached in this way is that it allows for a small amount of objectivity rather than emotional fervor. Why do we have bodies, anyhow? What are they for? Why do we care what they are like? What’s the point? What do we even know about bodies, and how do we decide what is valuable about them?

I’m not normally a list-y kind of person, but I am finding sometimes it is useful to strip down to the bare essentials, no puns intended.

  1. God made these bodies, and He put us in them. I think this packs a whole lot that needs unpacking to really fully understand it, and could be picked apart for quite some time. Maybe a whole book.
  2. He did a bang-up job. We still don’t understand half the mysteries of the human body. What we do know is incredibly complex, highly attuned, and strikingly resilient. We take these features for granted almost every minute of every day.
  3. When we find ourselves lacking, we look for things to blame. I didn’t say this was a mature, healthy or godly practice. I just pointed out that we do, and it takes great awareness and concentration to turn from it. If there’s no one to blame but ourselves, often our bodies are the things getting the blame. Even if the thing we are resenting is lack of omnipotence, still, it’s our body’s fault for being limited and mortal. This makes me squirmy, because of how often I do this.
  4. God sees the inside. Human beings definitely see the outside. Often, the changes we want or the things we value have to do either with what we perceive, or (not to be too meta) what we perceive others will perceive. There’s a reason we talk about things like dressing for power, attraction or even “dressing to kill.” And this dressing extends even to our bodies. When the bodies are in disrepair, we feel closer to worthless. When our bodies are highly functioning, we feel the glory. We both perceive ourselves differently, and perceive that others relate to us differently as well.
  5. We don’t want to take responsibility for our bodies. When we say, “the body God gave me,” it’s usually a phrase of giving up or excusing. We tend to feel like our bodies owe us something instead of us being responsible to care for our bodies. The caregiving of our bodies is work, but we want our bodies to work for us, not the other way around. But, if you circle back to Thing Number One, God made these bodies and put us in them. That doesn’t belay encouragement for letting the temple crumble and paying no mind to the landscaping.
  6. Our bodies are formed by the lives we live. You don’t get a 20 year old’s body when you are 80 for a reason. Our bodies are shaped not only by physical injuries, but also by the griefs, joys, labors, priorities and the people in our lives. You can’t divorce your body from your life, and trying to causes a lot of strange things. Like fad diets trying to undo the damage high stress, mish-mashed priorities, and binge eating to put a little salve on grief. The life and the body go together (see again Point One), and what happens with one affects the other.
  7. Damage is fast. Healing takes so much time, and an incredible amount of energy. When we finally concede to admit our body is broken, we want it fixed Now. We have little patience for healing. There is so much beautiful grace in how our bodies were made to heal (see: List Item Two), but we don’t want to accept either how long it takes (current estimations are at least 3 times as long as you were dysfunctional) or how excessively much energy it takes. Instead of marveling at the grace, we often stew in potent (impotent?) impatience. Though our bodies are blessed with grace, we don’t accept it, because it’s not in the form we wanted it in. Narrow-minded, much?
  8. You don’t get to chose. Despite what a lot of catch-phrases would have you to believe, you don’t get to chose. Only God does. Once you see enough freak accidents, enough un-diagnosable illnesses, enough obscure genetic malformations — gradually you have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t get to chose all that happens to your body. The body (see again: There’s a Reason I Put It on the Top of the List) is a sacrifice to God. Not to you.
  9. It will pass. Although God did put us in these bodies, the bodies were cursed and this isn’t a permanent state. It will take constant care to keep the bodies from composting, and regardless of effort: it will eventually pass. Often times people will say that they’re not afraid of dying, but what they really mean is that they aren’t afraid of death. The process of the body failing, falling apart, and kicking you out can be quite excruciating. When people say that they don’t like being old, what they really mean is they don’t like their body failing. As with all of our existence here, there is the tension of holding loosely. Yes, taking care of it, owning it, living in it . . . but also being aware that that you will need to give it up. No amount of effort will keep you young or immortal.
  10. There is no winning. I feel as though this is mostly a re-cap of all the previous statements, so I suppose it is good as an end-cap: There are some deep seated inclinations that if we work hard enough at trying to fix the organism, we win. We feel better, we have more power, we’re in control, we met our goals, we’ll be able to keep it that way, we’ll be able to do what we want, our bodies will behave, we can stop trying so much. Not only is none of that true, none of that is the point. When our thinking is sliding toward winning, we’ve lost sight of the First Thing on the List. What is the point of having a body? Circle back to Thing One, and realize how much thinking you have to do on that first point alone.

 

Last night it was a full moon; as far as my minimal poking around can tell, it was the Moon of Get Ready, Winter is Coming, by various names. In the winter, after the holidays, with the the new year . . . many of us are thinking about our bodies, how well they are functioning or not functioning, what they are looking like or not looking like. I think it’s good to go into that with perspective — not dour depression and hopelessness and not saccharine platitudes and unrealistic expectations; rather, a complete reframing of the matter at hand.

Why?

Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.

 

Scattershot

I have been frustrated the last couple of times by trying to work on coherent thoughts and losing concentration, time or energy about 2/3 every time. I don’t (at the present moment) feel like I actually have a coherent thought to get out, so maybe, hopefully, I won’t be disappointed 2/3 away through and pushing ‘publish’ with dissatisfaction and disgruntlement.

Relinquish. Receive. Beauty. Communion. Trust. Seek. Listen. Wonder. Witness. Confession

Previously, I had only one word for Sabbath, and that was ‘rest.’ I felt compelled by this being a concept God introduced along with creation, apart from the giving of the law, yet also distracted by “He is our rest,” and also, with frank honesty, a pile of to-do lists

Still, I’ve been fighting a building anger that I don’t have time to seek God. Even putting that into writing makes it obvious that “time” isn’t really the root issue. There are certainly things I don’t want to surrender that should be let go of — quite frivolous things, really, but all things standing by figure for the desire to be in control.

But there is also the problem that I have inescapably Grown Up. I passed the dread line of 30, I went and got a stupid doctorate degree. The starry-eyed time of dreaming about what life will be ‘when I grow up’ is quite passed, mostly, I think, replaced with the raw terror of running out of time. Realizing better now how incredibly fleeting time is comes the desire to ‘make something of it.’

Partly I think I swallowed accidentally while attempting to swim just a bit too much of the salty brine of school. The parts about having a defined plan, discrete goals, clear-cut deadlines, and then simply acting on them with puritanical industry. It was certainly pushed at me a lot, and looking around at that world, seemed to be the making of the sausage: audacity to declare the future, and then some dreadfully long hours to make it happen.

Looking at my life rapidly shrinking in front of me, I’ve felt a compulsion to define what I want and make it happen, like a properly educated individual (with very little actual living experience). But then infuriated by these attempts, because whatever else I do have, I have an ear I keep trying to tune closer and closer to truth, and none of the words I was telling myself had that tell-tale ring that guides you with the certainty of the North Star.

Do you believe that change can be forced by the outside in, or really only happens from the inside out? For me, this has not ever really be a question of doubt: absolutely, change only comes from the inside out. The outside in can throw up a veneer, it can pass to a quick glimpse, it can show an image. But to be the solid truth from bark to core, it has to be from in the inside out.

Somehow, though, I’d walked my way down a path of trying scheme appropriately to forge my outside circumstances thoroughly enough that my insides would transform (all the while give lip service to ‘of course, this must come first from the heart’). I hate how thoroughly we can deceive ourselves

That makes all of my to-do list a have-to, because I do have to — to obtain my objectives and my goals on my timeline by my strength. So rapidly I buy the lie it’s only responsible of me to do so. It’s an expensive lie, though; costly on so many different fronts.

Basically, what it comes down to, is the question of if life is taken or if it is received. If it is to be taken, there is no earthly rest to our labor at all. And if it is given, then the greatest attentiveness must be to the One Who Gives. It does you little good at all to be chasing after all these other voices while the One who is actually in fact handing you out your life is patiently trying to explain to you how this goes. As with that frustrated child on a party sugar-high who didn’t listen the first three times, and now is in serious melt down because of unforeseen circumstances, there is wailing that someone should have told them what was going on. No doubt the patient parent is holding their forehead and trying to hold their tongue

I read somewhere — or maybe heard? It maybe an Emily P. Freeman podcast — that the Sabbath is not taken; it is kept. All this weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because there is no time to rest, only there is, only you keep giving it away for things less valuable. That was convicting for me, but not so much so that I didn’t keep trying to find better and better solutions for to-do’s and productivity and getting-these-monkeys-off-my-back.

With great grudgingness on my part, I felt goaded toward a book on “Sabbath keeping.”  I don’t know why other people always pull up children as examples of innocence and wonder. I remember being a child, and frustrated melt-downs and grudging obedience seem like much more apt embodiments of childhood. I don’t even care for the author and tone of the book (in deference to I suppose is the reason I don’t name them), but as far as I’ve read so far. . . well, more often than not, I find myself almost rolling my eyes. At myself. Because this does ring of the truth, truth I’ve already uncovered, already experienced, already known, already argued for — and somehow managed to deliberately and I suppose disobediently put aside.

Speaking of asides, I’m beginning to doubt if there is any value or applicable worth to practical techniques of surviving this life and turning oneself always back to God. Careful, I don’t mean those techniques or forms aren’t valuable, or that there isn’t any worth in trying to cope with this life and find God. I just mean, the more I look into it, the more it seems to me like these things are so individualized than to offer any assistance to anyone else. Their finders and keepers are have comfort and steadiness by them — joy to them! But it feels a bit like trying to wear someone else’s face. It only gets there by the life you live anyhow, and to pick up someone else’s and try it on. . . it’s strangely disconcerting, even though it’s a perfectly fine face.

I’ve tried several different iterations of counting blessings, or list makings as a way to journal, and I can keep it up (by effort!) for a few months, but never enough to make it life sustaining. Just a different type of chore. I suspect, should I ever find a rhythm that works for me, it will seem horribly odd and unlikely to others — just as how I sleep better in an un-made bed. I still keep leaning toward wanting to know what everyone else is doing (and so have a vague fascination with largely arbitrary ‘church calendars’), but I think it’s mostly because I’m trying to escape the work of figuring it out myself. I kind of want to take the easy way out and have the answer handed to me instead of doing the more honest work of seeking, which is where my only real answer will be.

What I do know is that I have a long list of things that I desire, that don’t seem to fit any of my carefully plotted goals. I just want them. And as soon as I issue the edict to myself to rest (which is a very hard fought war, even in the midst of sickness and ill health), I immediately revert to those things. When I declared today that I would rest, sabbath-style, today, and sacrifice my mouse-laid plans of accomplishment and needing — I had this little thrill that maybe now I could actually have time to read poetry.

That in itself was a little stunning.

I didn’t even think that was on my list of deeply wanted things.

I mean, I knew I wanted it, vaguely, in the back of my mind. It irritated my highly to recognize that some individuals get to spend vast swaths of their time — even, in many cases, earn their livings — deeply engrossed in “The Arts.” I want to be deeply engrossed in the arts! And I’m angry that I can’t find some way to square my industry and productivity and manufactured sense of responsibility with putting even half as much time as I want to into The Arts.

I’m not swanky. I’m not pretentious. I just want to.

Also, I’m angry that I can’t figure out a proper plan to allow me to.

But the Sabbath wasn’t just a time to rest. It was a time to look at all that God had done. If my artistic involvements are of God, I don’t need a 5 year, carefully delineated — in a bullet journal — with washi tape — plan of how I will get there. I need to sit down, shut up, listen to what God is saying, and receive what He is giving (up to and including  — wait for it — rest).

That looking to see what God has done, to me, is about beauty. It’s looking for and participating in the beauty, because the beauty is from Him. What are the beautiful (never mind if impractical) things to observe and do? Are those not good things for a sabbath?

Mostly, I’m in a dreadful hurry to write this down as a testimony to myself. A witness that at one point, I did too know better. That this is a thing that resounded with truth and should be held on to.

But also I am a little hesitant, wondering what a deliberate intent to look for God looks like for me. I did read a poem today, A Forest Hymn, and one line got stuck:

Ah, why  
Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect  
God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore  
Only among the crowd, and under roofs  
That our frail hands have raised?

 

Why did it get stuck? Because I’ve never felt I was adoring Him while among the crowds. Only ever in those ancient sanctuaries. The more people there were, the less I felt there was anything meaningful going on at all.

Curiously, to me, I have felt a little bit of that corporate worship — more so in the “higher” church services (if you can count things so). It’s curious to me, because I disagree resoundingly with so much of their theology. But I like their liturgy. I like the responsive readings and prayers. I like their more elemental music where we can actually hear our own hearts.

And in some fashion, I’m drawn to a liturgy for myself. I doubt the “church calendar” will give me any satisfaction. But I like the idea of a rhythm and framework to hide myself in, predictable but different, always there but speaking something different, that would give a home within the day. And I can’t imagine myself not giving in, again and again, into petty to-do lists and plans, if I don’t have a More Important framework to build around. If you don’t declare what is important, either someone else does for you, or you spend your time getting grey hairs chasing around minor stupid things that don’t matter in any real scheme of the universe.

Not passively observing. Actively declaring, and disciplining yourself to that confession, and by that I mean “not allowing the pressing importance of reading web-comics to de-rail all values and intentions.” Some things rightfully ought to hold more weight. I don’t mean we never get to unwind. But I do note, wryly, that if I can keep the electric siren away from me, I do seem to fall into prayer a good deal more often. Because I’m not so full on cotton candy and pork rinds that I can’t fit even one bite of pot roast in my mouth.

If life is a process of editing out the things that don’t actually give life and actively seeking the things that do, there are a good many changes that should be made, because there will be much (and immediate) rejoicing, is all. You feel better when you aren’t about to explode from eating junk food, even if it is ok to indulge once in a while.

What I do know was that when I was out of work for three weeks to do nothing but heal, I felt a good deal closer to God and instantly gravitated toward things that fostered that. But when I am busy, I keep doing all this crap that doesn’t help me at all and I feel very far from God — and by far from God, I mean it both ways. It’s so much harder to pray, and so much harder to have any sense that He is present.

It’s not a struggle of knowing the truth. It’s a struggle of pride, of vying for control, and of thinking too highly of my own priorities to put God in His rightful place.

Repentance does not come easily, but it is freeing.

o so tired

One of the things that makes me angry about work is that I feel like it demands to be my god. I don’t “get to” show up for work; I “have to” show up for work. I don’t get to decide what is important enough to do. I get told what I have to do. And the rest of my life? The rest of my life gets the “leftovers,” after work has made it’s demands and I am ragged and thin and unable to really apply myself.

 

This is where most people roll their eyes and make a cutting comment about how being a grown up is so hard and welcome to the real world.

 

I don’t glamorize the tiny house movement, because in all actually, living in tiny cramped spaces is fairly unpleasant. But the truth is, living for work is really unpleasant, too. It might be a bit dour to say that most life is about choosing which unpleasantness you want to live with. I want to be able to structure my life around the things that I matter most, and work generally equates itself to money in my mind, and money is so very, very low on my list.

 

You have to eat, people say. Bills got to get paid, they say. But as anyone who looks around with even remotely half an eye open, some people manage to do that a good deal more frugally than others. Would I take living on rice and beans to actually be able to prioritize my life in an authentic manner to what I truly believe? Yes. In a heartbeat.

 

I wish I could not be so angry about this. I wish I could be a hopeful dreamer, a persistent laborer with the goal fixed before me. Instead, it seems I find myself stealing myself to do something both drastic and defiant. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what you say, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. Which only explains exactly how much one does care. Defiance usually is an expression of fear, and I will confess I am that.

 

I’m afraid of quitting a job I labored for countless years to get. I’m afraid of what would be next. I’m afraid there wouldn’t be money for bills. I’m afraid I’ll be found an idealistic fool, who was incapable of doing basic math. But also, I am terrified of this crushing feeling of being trapped, a growing case of claustrophobia; a situation where everyone simply resigns themselves to being victims of fate. I hate that: vicitimhood and fatalism combined in one toxic dose.

 

That does sound a bit like childish idealism, doesn’t it? I know. I worry about that. I am enough of a responsible big girl to know that nothing is free, and this world down here is not heaven, and it is all laced through with the burden of the curse. But I also loathe the hypocrisy of saying I value one thing and then lamenting that I can’t actually live in such a way as I claim to hold to “because I can’t.” That sounds like a cop-out, the coward who is not willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in — and if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for it, do you really believe it?

 

I don’t think major life changes should be motivated by anger, fear and defiance. But stopping doing the responsible thing in the witness of the whole world takes a tremendous amount of courage. Especially when you are currently more defined by what you don’t want than what you do want.

 

I have been thinking about life as a process of editing. Somewhere along the line, I swallowed the thought that becoming an adult was about having things in your name. The more I have actually tangled with real life, the more I find that the “things” are actually mostly silly. The grandiosity of the things of this life can’t actually hide the reality that we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we cannot bring anything out of it. In our mindsets, I think it would be healthier to consider what needs to be brought along for the journey than settling down and stock piling.

 

There’s a little bit of terror to not having enough and to running out. There’s also a little bit of terror to not being in control and running out. And, I think, for some of us, there’s a terror in living a lie or lying to yourself. I have a growing determination that after three years at my current job, I’m quitting. It makes me happy to write that, even. But I’m scared to say it outloud, because I’m afraid my unhappiness with my current situation is deluding me into thinking that something irrational is rational, something foolish is wise, something entirely selfish is God-led.

 

I don’t care, I say. I’m quitting. But who am I saying “I don’t care,” to? My employers, my co-workers, to whom I can offer no real explanation except that, “this isn’t for me; I’m done.” My family members, who are already incredulous that I took on legal responsibility for untold thousands of dollars of debt for a job that would never make sufficient money to clear the debt. My own self, who cannot bear the idea of walking away without some kind of understanding of what I am walking toward.

 

Then there is the quiet and intimidating question of what is faith. Is faith laboring for years and incurring large loans just to walk away? Is faith stepping away without know what you are stepping toward? One year down, two years to go. I have time yet to figure this out, to move from faith instead of angry defiance. It scares me a little that I have so much joy in the idea of quitting and no hope at all in “making it worse.”

 

But I also cannot deny that every time I hear my brother talking about me being in the profession for 10 years, I silently affirm that will never happen, cannot happen, will utterly kill me if I do. It makes logical rational sense to him. I know it will not be. I know it.

 

It would make rational sense to quit working for formal employers, be control of my own destiny via self employment. But I’m not at all sure that is right, either. From everything I have heard from small business owners, the small business tends to consume them from the inside out. I don’t really see my clouded glimpses of the future as one who becomes a motivated, “successful” business owner. In part because I don’t see myself as being defined by any one thing. Will my profession still have some role in my life, in some shape or form or quantity? Probably. But the whole point is that I refuse to be defined by my profession, self-owned or otherwise.

 

What, then, do I see my future looking like? It’s undefined nature is a large part of what leaves me tossing and turning and fidgeting within the shell of my current life. I have struggle with my share of 3 and 5 year plans and found they don’t really hold water with me. I dislike the unknown, but I find there is little in planning like that besides self delusion. Sometimes, I still try to peer through the fog and see what comes at me, vague ideas of what should be, what is worth coming into being.

 

— I want to put time and energy into feeding and growing meaningful, lasting relationships.

— I want God to be the intentional center, not the squeezed in leftovers.

— I want to be able to be more fully in the present, more aware of the beauty and grace created in each passing moment.

— I want to read, I want to create, I want to sing, I want to maintain less objects with more care.

— I want to attend to my own personal rhythms, resting when I am sick, being still to listen, and working with a great fury and passion only some of the times.

— I want to learn.

— I want to stay away from ambition and work hard on compassion

— I want to cook more, to nourish in all of it’s meanings.

— I want less hustle — meaningless hustle — and more texture and depth

— I want to grow and move

— I want to be outside more, more in communion with the creative handiwork of God.

— I want to have less things, a more edited, curated life that knows what to hold on to and what to let go of.

— I want time to reflect and recharge.

— I don’t know how much of that can be had in this life.

Maturity comes hard

I am working with two competing thoughts: how the search for “The Best” holds one back from the true depth and breadth of life and how “less, but better” rings true.

The search for The Best means that you don’t recognize the meaning of context and diversity. The Best means there is only one possible solution, instead of a myriad of delightful solutions. There is a right way, and many wrong ways; there is one good thing, and the rest are all inferior. In essence, you are talking about a mindset that leads to constant dissatisfaction that comes from falling short or settling for less than. It is also a mindset that discourages creativity and breeds comparison and imitation. It says the that you just have to pick from the best.

Endemic to this is pride. That you chose, built, bought, found or embody The Best. Along with this is judgement – on anyone who did not chose, build, buy, find or embody The Best. This also means competition. Maybe someone else did better than you in achieving The Best. There is also guilt, when, invariably, The Best is out of your reach. And there is also the inexplicable sadness you can’t quite pin down that The Best is not really a reflection of you, but of hand-me-downs you found washed up on the beach and thought were beautiful, but maybe in a strange, alien way that didn’t quite suit you.

The fear of missing out, the grasping, the imitating, the dissatisfaction . . . it tends to bury you under a pile of More and Stuff. Less, but better, the chant of Greg McKeown, is an updated version of Occam’s Razor, or: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. (That is, More things should not be used than are necessary.)

The trick is, what is necessary or essential? If you truly are ‘obsessed’ with your latest weight loss product, I suppose, to you, it is essential. In order to define what is essential to you, you must first define yourself. When I was a child, I thought this sort of statement was the epitome of stupid. You are you. Duh. What is there to discover? You’ve never been anyone besides you. Did you think maybe perhaps you used to be a different being and half of yourself got lost in the detritus? Well, live at least a quarter of a century, and suddenly that mocking rhetorical question seems quite pertinent and not at all rhetorical.

Surely, it would be essential to strive for the best — saith the chronic (and exhausted) overachiever. Tangle with a few serious health upsets, and suddenly “Survive first, deal with the aftermath later,” seems more reasonable. Somewhere between those two extremes is the quiet pondering that, since the world is irreparably bent toward a certain degree of suffering, is there a way to enjoy pleasantly as large a portion of life as one reasonably might?

Less, but better – to my understanding and current thought process – says that the context and complex situation matter. There isn’t Best, unilaterally. There is most appropriate given the circumstances. Younger me says that is a cheap cop-out from pursing Best, but older me says “the circumstances” are so complex as to require a set of encyclopedias, a few bi-lingual dictionaries, someone with an engineering degree, and a medical professional. It is by no means a cheap cop-out; it’s recognizing that all situations are unique, and therefore complex, and therefore need their own precise solutions — most definitely not someone else’s hand me down solutions. And “less” because basically, life is somewhat of a battlefield and the more complex moving pieces involved, the more opportunities for things to fall apart.

If you are, literally, employed as a house maker, by all means, spray your bed sheets with lavender infused vodka while ironing them, fold them crisply, and store them in cotton muslin bags in your neat and organized and lint free linen cabinets. That reeks of Best, and to some small part of me, sounds incredibly satisfying. In real life, just getting my sheets washed and dried in an approximation of a hygienic amount of time is trouble enough. I don’t have servants – the cook, the gardener, the housekeeper, the butler, the maid. Nope. Just me.

So how do we chose essential? By what makes us most happy? I shy away – this reeks of hedonism. Also, it’s very complicated. What makes me happy today may cause my tomorrow to be miserable. Do what you want to do really offers no guidance. I say this because it can be hard separate it out in the mind from the following suggestion: listening to what tugs at you inside.

That sounds like “happy” but it’s not “happy.” It’s recognizing that our aesthetics flow, in truth, from our values, and our values from our morals, and our morals from our understanding of God and the universe. Somebody else’s happy is not my happy, because it didn’t flow from my aesthetics –> values –> morals –> faith. Faith, as any carrier of it will tell you, does not mean being spared from suffering, because if you weren’t suffering, you wouldn’t need faith.

To attempt to illustrate: I feel immediate relief to be out in nature, and worn down the longer I am away from it. I value the natural world, I believe the less refined things are better than the human-processed artifacts, and at the base of it all, I believe in the God who created the world and find every houseplant I have a testimony to the Maker, it’s own act of worship. Lots of people like plants, and the natural world, but tracing out the whole path will give you a much better picture of how someone will interact with, display, or prioritize such things.

If you believe hospitality to be a priority, it will change the way you structure your house, your life and your days. If you believe your house to be your refuge and castle and domain, it will change the way you structure your house, your life and your days. One who believes the former and lives in the latter will be constantly uneasy, and vice versa.

None of us, I think, is so neat and clean as to have a tidy tree diagram of how our faith flows into our morals, into our values, into our aesthetics. More often or not, I think we are on a bit of a hide-and-seek: when we see something that seems right, we don’t really know why, we just find it Right. So the paying attention part of paying attention to what tugs at you is to better understand what the essential part of that is — the part that really matters. “That appeals to me,” is a feeling; “That appeals to me, because—” is an understanding.

“The Best,” unfortunately, does not ring of understanding. It is itself more of an emotion. “Less, but better,” the phrase I am currently finding a bit of an anchor in the storm while I scramble for my bearings, demands that I understand. What, precisely, am I attempting to achieve? Not generically; not hopefully; not vaguely; not eventually.

think I want to sew all of my own clothes out of linen, preferably dyed myself with dye stuff I’ve gathered personally. But, upon assembling my spec list, I find this:

  • Comfortable
  • least amount of time possible spent on laundry
  • durable so I am not constantly shopping
  • professional-ish, or I can’t wear them to work and that defeats the purpose
  • Able to accommodate the fact that my weight is not currently stable
  • Accommodate my body shape
  • Colors that I find pleasing
  • Preferably natural fibers, but willing to compromise on this if I can get items #1 and #2 met

Basically, that does sum up my specs needed, and in rough order of my current urgency. That spec list in no way lines up at all with what I thought I could define as “Best” – an idyllic sense of what I want the world to be like, not an honest assessment of what life is currently looking like or how to get where I want to be. The argument to move toward what I want my idea of clothes to be like is oblivious to the fact that I can’t have it all. If right now I want to have time to sing, garden, visit, sleep, paint, and be alive — and I can do some of those things if I don’t have a time intensive laundry routine or spend it shopping, again, then the value of idealized clothing plummets. The actual need is something that I can not think at all about, not a thing that requires intensive investment from me to accomplish. What I need is a basic work uniform that requires as little thought, time investment or discomfort as possible. Also, next, get rid of all other work clothes that do not meet that requirement, or at the very least, set them very deeply aside for such a time as the requirement changes. And do you know what a relief that would be? If there were only a week’s worth of clothes hanging in the closest?

Less, but better, means stop trying to be an all encompassing best. Don’t tell me what The Best breakfast is: write me up a spec list of what breakfast needs to be right now, and then we trouble-shoot to figure out how to come up with solutions for that. And then cut out all the other extraneous stuff that you are throwing energy away trying to do.

The shift from one to the other is more troubling and taxing on my subconscious than I would have thought, so while my conscious mind is ready to move forward, I suppose my subconscious needs this meandering path to pick apart and talk myself into it. Logic is by far not all that the world runs on.

Some people, apparently, get paid to write

Maybe I am a writer. Maybe I am supposed to be a writer. This is a strange thing to me, not part of what I thought was “me.”

One of the first things I read when I was sick was the journal by May Sarton that a patient had given me, Evelyn Klie. And I was intensely jealous. This woman actually made her living by writing? Like actually food and housing and heating and clothes? And then Emily P. Freeman talked about scheduling two days just two write and I was kind of in shock. It seemed like scheduling two days to eat ice cream. Wait – again, this is her job. She actually gets paid to do this. How can this be?

I realize that I have always thought writing was a thing I did just for me. Just me. Hence, the ice cream comparison. It seems – no, not frivolous. Self-indulgent? A luxury? I mean, certainly beneficial in small doses, but the idea that it could be considered a monetarily productive activity seems like foolishness to me. I get manufacturing. I get even health care, despite my recent frustration where I compare it to prostitution where we’ll only care for you if you have money. But I don’t understand being paid for art. I’ve never had the luxury of paying for art myself – creating it, even, is hard to convince myself to pay for the supplies. A spiral bound notebook can still be purchased for less than a dollar at the right time of year (return to school) and pens are handed out for free, and I can easily convince myself I’m not wasting much to fill them endlessly. But to be paid for my thoughts, words, ideas? Who has that kind of money?

But I guess people do. I guess technically it is a legitimate source of income. You would think that since I have several family members who have been paid for their words, published in actual print and in digital form, this wouldn’t come as such a shock to me.

But I always put my writing on par with my talking, and people tell me I talk so fast, and I feel like that devalues it – I talk and talk or write and write, and it’s just cheap. Stuff comes out, rarely planned, and probably not worth much. Who would pay for it?

The sneaky voice inside says, ah, but if you got to schedule two whole days just to write (!!), you could be deliberate. Intentional. Edit. Craft. Plan. You know, do it I on purpose, not just barf words out all over the place and see what came out. And do it well.

But it’s one thing to talk to yourself, and another thing to find an audience. The world is full of people talking to themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and that by itself is a useful and valuable thing, and I do not in any way suggest that’s a waste. But there is an honest difference between writing to yourself and writing to your audience, and no matter what some well-intentioned people might have you to believe, your audience is never “everyone.” It just cannot be. So you have to do several things when you sit down to write:

  1. Figure out what you want to say.
  2. Figure out who you want to say it to.
  3. Figure out how to get what you are trying to say to the people who you are trying to say it to.

 

If you stop at the first number, you’re still really just talking to yourself. And that’s fine, but then you aren’t going to get paid to be a writer, or an artist of any sort, really. Note that I did not say you wouldn’t be an artist; I said you wouldn’t get paid to be one. And that’s the crux, is it not? Is this a thing you want to privately cultivate, or something to be monetized?

I cannot ever imagine myself getting paid to sing. Volunteer to sing in public, yes. I have done that already. You would be surprised how low that bar can be. I would love to be able to sing acapella and duets and to just sound lovely. But my innate music-ness is so low, that I cannot see myself being one of the fortunate few to be able to actually be paid to grace people with their presence. Non.

But writing? I circle around that like a carrion beast. But then fly off afraid of a larger predator. But then come back, because maybe not.

I know I can write. I don’t feel angry and disgruntled at the idea of doing for money the way I do when people suggest I sew or knit for money. Those things are valuable only in their sentiment, and no one, in the age of mass production, will pay what truly went into them, and it leaves me angry. That’s a home business I don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

Writing is different. The idea that someone actually read and appreciated the words seems like reward enough, and being paid for it on top of it an exciting bonus. And/or a mythological fairytale. But that means:

  1. Yes, you really do want to share writing, and not just talk to yourself. Also,
  2. Nope, you really would not mind being paid to do it.

 

I highly doubt I would ever be in the position to live, house, food, heating and clothes, off of income from writing or other art. But it does very much appeal to me how you can write when it is necessary to write, but the fruit of it comes later. That would at first glance seem to be a dissuasion, at least to most reasonable people, but I truly loathe the grind of having to show up a precise number of hours at precise times, the same every week, in order to get any money. Maybe the body and soul of some people does in fact work that way, but mine seems to follow more the varying cycles found in most of nature. Some days are rainy. Some are sunny. Some days the wind blows with gale force; some days the humidity stifles. To be most alive, I feel as though I need to honor the rising and falling, the stilling and swelling of my body and soul, and grinding through the unrelenting factory of the modern industrial age (including industrialized health care!! As though caring for human beings made in the image of God was simply piece work to by cranked out by the hour!), saps the strength out of me daily.

I know that there are days with writing where it is very hard, where picking the dirt out of your toenails seems like an impending distraction compared to trying to actually place words where they belong. That, to me, is the comfort of the fruit coming later, or the comfort I imagine, seeing as I’ve never had the privilege of being paid for my letters. Though today is hard, the past struggles are still paying off and tiding you over until the next labor is over.

But perhaps I do over-romanticize. I hear a good deal of writers complain about deadlines. Always deadlines! Always missing them! And all I can think is, and what of my over 7 years of college? What of being kept to a clock with another person sitting for you out in the waiting room, endlessly? It’s hard for me to take the complaint of deadlines seriously. Raging self- doubt? That’s my constant companion already. When you cannot take any of the complaints of a profession seriously, I would suspect it is a good sign your glasses are at least a bit rosy.

I still marvel that anyone can actually do that. Get paid to be an artist, enough to make a living. Or even half a living. I see that I am over-using the word ‘actually’, but I am truly having trouble grasping it. It’s never been a thing that I have been able to consider to be a real enough possibility to ‘actually’ reflect upon it.

Of the three things I defined above, I feel like the largest obstacle for me is attempting to grasp the audience I am trying to reach. I think the first and third things would still require a lot of work and effort, but I feel like I know how one would go about doing things like that, or places to start, or rocks to look under, or strings to untie. But I keep getting stuck on: who would actually want to hear what I have to say about anything? Fiction, nonfiction, spiritual, non-spiritual – I have a lot to say, sure. But who would want to hear it?

People say trite things about having family and friends read things, but I can tell you already, whatever I write, my family is most definitely not my target audience, and I know my friends well enough I would write them each something different. Writing to strangers is, well, strange. I don’t know them or what they need. Then you kind of wind up defining your audience by what you want to write, and that feels like a bit of an eyeroll. And not particularly honest, because if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a payroll. But then there’s the trouble of finding the line between finding enough of an audience to get paid and being a complete commercial sell-out and no longer actually getting paid to be an artist.

This whole post seems stupid, but on the other hand, thinking about being a writer does seem to be a necessary first step to becoming one, although one has to be careful not to get bogged down there. The majority of writing advice seems to come down to: write.

 

Hold Up

Today has been a winter wonderland of a day, which has both made me guilty for not stepping outside and also has quieted me and made me pensive. It is not always easy to be still — often not — but thickly falling snowflakes have a way of settling a soul.

I remind myself that frantic activity is often used as a way of hiding from thoughts and feelings and struggles that one does not want to face, or have the resources to face. As a generalization, being relentlessly busy is a means for a troubled soul to flee or else it is a burden that will very shortly cause a soul to be troubled. Or perhaps both, because life is never simple.

I picked a book up the other day, an expose of sorts of Laura Ingalls Wilder — her life and her writing career, and her fairly insane daughter. I’ve known since I was a child that her writing was “fictionalized” — cleaned up, edited down, showing the things she wanted to show, not the things she didn’t want to show. But every time a book purporting to tell the actual truth comes along, I find myself holding my breath about a few things that I am surprised to discover I am urgently hoping to be true. I feel like I can’t breathe until I confirm (once again) that yes, that part was real. One of those things is Almanzo and Cap riding off into the great unknown in a desperate attempt to save the town. That has to be real. It just has to be real — and yes, it is real.

In stark contrast, I was flipping through someone I barely known on Instagram. He is either an adrenaline junkie or at the very least, wants to fictionalize his own life to portray himself as one. Because there is a difference between recklessness and courage. There is a difference between risking one’s life for the thrill of it and risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others. To my sadness, it seems that both have been romanticized to the point that one has to do a lot of digging through societal cultures and traditions to figure out what is really going on. Risking one’s life for the trill of it has been lauded to the point I can’t tell whether this fellow really feels the way he says he does, or if he is just very nicely parroting the cliche that he’s been told is glamorous– and really is about as destructive as a drug habit. And risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others has been so romanticized that there’s a terrible secret fear it isn’t really true — just the stuff of fantasy and legends, and “heroes” that have been celebrated at the cost of fictionalizing the darkness they have really been through.

As I’m coerced into a bit of quiet and stillness and a chance at some reflection, I remember Paul encouraging people to take note of those who live admirably and to imitate them. That passage always struck me as odd, because are we not just to imitate Christ? Sometimes I think I get a glimpse of an understanding, though. We are by nature comparers and contrasters, measuring, weighing, judging, describing, naming. And even, yes, mimicers. And, if I am right (which well I not might be), the young man who has embraced the Red Bull culture of “adventure” has not so very much done it on purpose as much as what he saw, he mimiced. It appealed to some part of him, even if it was the part of him probing for a way to escape or turn away from something else.

The harder thing is seeing that which we admire — young men riding in to possible death in a gamble there was hope out there somewhere, the courage to take the risk to care for the vulnerable — and observing how very much we fall short. Examining where we’ve turned from that which we know to be good and true, and setting our face to press toward that which is hard, but valuable. It requires a good deal of humility to face up to the fact that it is not excusable to flee from hard things, as though it would be inhuman to actually do such things.

Being busy is far different than producing value. Being reckless is far different from sacrifice. Imitating others is different than imitating what is good. Holding standards is different that pursuing excellence. Both can break you. I guess in some ways, the question comes down to, is it really Worth It?

To determine Worth It, one must return to what is the authority of their life. Power? Logic? Pleasure? For those of us who claim to seek follow Christ, the answer must be God. But that is a humbling, humbling thing. It is one thing to mouth “You are my king” and “I surrender.” It is another to examine your life and recognize all the ways and all the places where you don’t get to decide if something is Worth It or A Priority. That instead you have to accept what God says is Worth It or A Priority or when you are done, or not done, or when you rest or when you don’t get to rest.

The thing about God is, it seems like He’s modus operandi is to be unpredictable. And as human beings, we don’t really seem to like unpredictable. Unpredictable means we aren’t in control. Unpredictable means we are small. I was reading in John and Jesus is doing these wonderful things — an abundant catch for struggling fishermen, a beautiful healing of a person who had been paralyzed — and the reaction is fear, resentment, and in many cases an irrational pushing away. Because the only other reaction is “You are a holy and I am sinful.” And that is hard.

When God says “follow Me,” He is also saying, “stop following all of those other things.” The chapter I was reading in John seemed to be saying a lot of, “oh my goodness, you people have such a pre-occupation with the things of this world. Don’t you realize how terribly fleeting is? Don’t you realize what an occupation you need to have with the things that come after, the things that are not passing away?”

As we come to the end of a year and the beginning of another — an arbitrary marking, but still, a human marking nonetheless — the urge to introspect on what comes next can be nearly irresistible. Oddly enough, the examination of the previous year is usually squirmingly avoided. It reveals all that is small in us, all that is out of our control, all that we thought we had the power to achieve yet could not, all that we didn’t see coming, all that we have no authority to change.  When we think we’ll plan what our priorities will be in the coming year, what we will accomplish, what life will look like in 1 or 3 or 5 years, we are essentially trying exert control. . .on that of which we cannot control. It feels good, because power feels good. But it feels bad, because we know it’s a lie.

Almanzo assuredly did not write in his New Years Resolutions: risk life to save town. The Insta-chap may well write: hike all the highest mountains in this state. You might say they are both admirable, but when we stop to think how we’d like to be remembered or what might survive past the end of the age, it’s the action that could not be planned that leaves us most humble, most convicted that we are not the humans we ought to be.

I did not plan on being sick from September through December, rotating through viruses like a child choosing toys. It ruined lots of my plans, and my human inclination is to assert I won’t be sick any longer, and my plans will work. I confess to being very angry and resentful that so much of my last few years has been confined and crunched to being sick, and yet, still, I assert: this year I will not be sick. I will do things. I will transform my life.

Yet when I look around at the people or traits I admire, it’s the people who have lived small, held loosely, and understood the holiness of the ground that they were on without striving for “better.” I want to seize control, but what I admire is actually obedience.

I don’t want being sick; I want being healthy and marvelously in control of my own body. I don’t want sitting quietly and healing; I want to tackle my to-do list and achieve my goals. I don’t want feeling lost and adrift; I want moving with a purpose and a plan that gives me joy and a spring in my step.

Yet here I am, admiring those who can bear the adversity of this life without complaining incessantly (like I do), who can accept the changes of the reality of their life without fighting (like I do), who can see the mercifully hand of good even as their dreams are crushed or are quietly withering.

God doesn’t care. That sounds harsh, but I think sometimes we do need our breath taken away and to actually look at the naked truth. We’re the ones with the pre-occupation with this world, not Him. He’s busy trying to call us out of it, and we’re busy trying to crawl into it. The things that we think matter, don’t. Our priorities are wildly askew. The change of focus from ourselves on to God is a thing easy to give mouth-space to, easy to commend to others, and a slippery intangible task for ourselves, full of backsliding and doubts and being tossed by every light breeze.

If I seem to have stumbled here and there and back and forth all about through this post, I suppose I have a bit. My drunken weaving is not because there is nothing of importance to be said, but because I know there are no simple 12 steps to figuring life out, to seeking God, or to assure that next year will be better, or I will be better. I don’t expect that I can resolve to live the coming year full of courage and humility.  There is the sobriety of recognizing that seeking God means deliberately turning from or choosing not to do a vast array of things (including many things that are good). But there is little simplicity in it; we want the one simple rule, the law to live by. Instead there is the continual seeking of Him who will never be totally found in this life time. Day by day, moment by moment faithfulness does not well chart and graph out over a serious of lists and plans and years. Very little in the way of profound words will actually make it easier to lay your head down, easier to pick your body up out of bed the next day.

If I have said anything at all, I suppose I have really just offered the reminder that this life takes humility, demands sacrifice and calls us to stillness that we often irrationally resent. And as we recognize other people fighting against God’s goodness, holiness and power, we would do well to ask ourselves what is we’re afraid of and why.