August So Far: Sleep, Exercise, and Rekindling a Creative Spark


I’ve outlined some writing goals and life goals for August.  I’m writing this on August 7, so I thought I’d report  on how the first week went. 

I’m still struggling with sleep, but I have determined that 7 hours a night is not enough for me.  My next test will be to see whether I need 7 1/2 or 8 hours. 

I did manage to exercise three times the first week. I swam twice,  I did chair squats once,  and we took a walk the park once.  At this rate,  I won’t be ready for the 2020 Olympics,  but it’s a good start. 

As far as writing fiction goes, I’m beginning to wonder whether planning plots is really the best move at this point.

After I finished my dissertation, I immediately started writing what I thought would be a novel or novella,  but ended up being alongish short story. 

It’s rubbish, of course,  and by the end I just wanted it to be over. I only finished it at all because giving up so close to the ends would have been a self-sabotaging defeat. 

And I’m still stuck right there, in a mess of my own making. 

I get enough sleep to do well at work, but not enough to have any energy or clarity left after we’ve put the little one to bed. 

Honestly,  I don’t have any desire to write our do anything else after we put Daughter to bed. Most of my experimental cooking is on the weekends, even.

 and I’m not getting to bed early enough to get up an hour early to write or do  whatever before work. 

Still I’m simplifying my goalsfor August:  Forget everything else.  Sleep matters. 

As for my creative side, I’ll be taking some concrete steps to refill the old gas tank,  beyond just getting more sleep,  but I’ll talk about those in an upcoming post. 

August Life Goals

Yesterday, I shared my progress on my July writing goals and announced my August writing goals.  Today,  I’m setting out my August life goals.

  • Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night.
  • Get to bed early enough to write,  read, pray, exercise, or otherwise greet the day
  • Exercise 3 days a week, rain or shine
  • Continue eating a plant-based diet
  • Try to do something actively helpful for someone (family can be included,  but ideally this should reach beyond them)  each day
  • Listen to music, go outside,  and do other things to rejuvenate myself

Well,  that’s more than enough to do for one month. I will  let you know how I did at the end of the month. 

Kicking Darkness, Bleeding Light  


I have been feeling a little depressed lately,  for a number of reasons. 

It’s nothing clinical or health –  threatening,  but is unpleasant,  and it makes me just not want to talk to anyone.

As a part of getting my stuff together (In case you haven’t heard, 2016 is The Year Tim Gets His Stuff Together), I’ve been going through the houses in our storage room, or at least my boxes. 

And tonight, I found a scrap of paper, probably a decade old or more, a scrawled note from a novel that never really came to fruition.

And it was just what I needed to hear. 

“Sorrow lasts for the night,  but the dawn will break.  You can choose to live under the night,  become a part of it, turn your back on the hope the sunrise brings.  And then when the dawn comes, where are you?”

“I’m sure you’ll tell me,” Ashe said, glancing over his shoulder at Jack. 

“If you don’t fight the darkness,  don’t allow yourself to suffer,  you can lose your love for the light.  And then dawn finds you crawling deeper into the shadows,  huddled I’m fear of the joy you once longed for.”

Okay,  so it’s a bit unsubtle,  but I think i needed to hear it. 

This has been a rough summer,  all around. I need to admit that,  and not start resenting a job I genuinely like 90% of the time. 

Time has been right, but mostly, I just haven’t felt up to calling and starting better touch with my friends.  This is a vicious circle,  because it is a symptom of feeling down and a major cause of it.

I have gotten hurt and sick a couple of times this summer, and that has put me off of exercise,  which is always a struggle for me. It is so much easier to just let it slide.

And with the later hours and earlier mornings, of course I haven’t been getting enough sleep.

But as I said yesterday, I am drawing the line on that.  

The only way out of anything like this is through.

As Bruce Cockburn sang, you’ve “got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

Sleep Deprivation Is a Moral Issue


Well, mine is at least. 

Some people are sleep deprived because they have to work multiple jobs, maybe 80 hours a week, just to survive. In a nation as rich as America,  that’s a moral issue of an entirely different sort, a matter of basic decency and justice. 

That is not why I get sleep deprived. I get sleep deprived because I stay up too late. 

Doing what?  You might ask. Well,  that it’s the thing… It always seems to be something different.

I may not watch one bit of tv or play one minute of a videogame,  but  something will come up,  something I forgot to do,  something I need to look up,  something I want to talk about, an idea I want to write down …SOMETHING.

It is not any one thing. It’s a million different things. Which means it’s me. 

And I am going to fight back, starting today. 

Starting tonight,  it’s no excuses.  If I miss a night on the blog,  you will know why. 

If I fall short of another July goal,  that’s okay.  This matters more. 

Sleep deprivation dulls my wit and clouds my creativity.  It is damp wood for my creative spark,  producing far more smoke than fire. 

It makes me less effective at work,  shortchanging my department and the students we serve.

Sleep  deprivation takes me  away from my loved ones now by making me drowsy and grouchy.  

It will take me away from them permanently if I let it, maybe not this year,  but far sooner than I want to go. 

So starting tonight, I will fight back. I will start getting ready for bed by  10, and close my eyes by 11.

I am drawing a line.  Please pray that I will be able to hold it. 

Shoveling “Stuff” (Getting My Life in Order)



 

If this is the year when I get my “stuff” together, well, I still have a lot of “stuff” to shovel and only 5 1/2 months to shovel it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve done a lot this year so far specifically regarding myself:

  • Earned my Ph.D.
  • Gone Vegan, lost 20 pounds, and fixed some recurring digestive issues
  • Restarted this blog and posted to it faithfully five days a week

But there is still a lot to do.

There is SO MUCH wrong with the world. I can’t go on Facebook right now because I’m just overwhelmed. I find myself ruminating about so many things that need help, and then I end up not taking care of things in my own life.

Being fully present in each moment is a “big” thing and one that probably takes a lot of time and mental practice to do. However, I can start by

  • Not having a bunch of windows open at once on my computer
  • Turning my laptop off when I’m not using it, so I’m not tempted to pick back up at whatever I left off, especially social media and web pages
  • Dictating text as much as possible, using my wireless rig, not seated at or facing the computer.
  • Getting away from my computer unless I’m doing something that specifically requires it
  • Reading more print books and fewer articles
  • (Do you get the idea that technology is a problem for me?)

I’ll also try to more fully devote my time and attention to my daughter, and try to remove things that distract her attention (like cartoons). I work full-time, and I want to really have time to have a real relationship with my daughter, one that isn’t mediated through the TV. I also want to reserve enough time to talk to my wife and give my full attention to the aforementioned conversations.

Even if I don’t get to do some of the things I want to do, I think I need to prioritize giving full attention to both my wife and my daughter.

Swimming, dancing, running more (especially with my daughter)
She is only 3 once, and I won’t waste my limited time with her preschool self being subdivided and not really “there.”

Doing more things that require my hands, not just my fingers on a keyboard.
Like cooking. I like trying out new things, and new recipes.
That would be a calming creative outlet for me, and would help take some of the load off Katherine, too.

Finally, I need to turn my attention to more spiritual pursuits. I’ve always been a churchgoing, active, professing Christian, but I’ve recently learned about some spiritual practices that have ancient roots that most American protestants (myself included) have forgotten.

Three of these that I know I want to try are praying the hours (praying specific prayers at certain times of the day, though perhaps less specifically that the Catholic Church does it), following the church calendar and observing its seasons, and reading through the Bible following the Common Lectionary. The lectionary is used by millions, if not hundreds of millions, of Christians across the globe. In following it, I would be aligning my study with a host of fellow believers worldwide.

I need more sleep, more time outside, and more exercise.

I’ll get there. I’ve still got 5 1/2 months to go.

The Rusty Nail in the Velvet Glove: Aligning my Actions and Ethics: Part 2

publicstock.net-rusty-spikes 800x530

In my last post, I talked about how our system of production is currently built upon cruelty, suffering, and exploitation, and how that suffering is intentionally hidden from us consumers. I call this the rusty nail in the velvet glove. Or, to borrow a phrase from Rich Mullins, “the mask of life I had placed upon the face of death.”

The Apostle Paul himself probably said it best (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)

14 And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds. (NRSV)

Things that are otherwise or basically good can become elements of evil if they are corrupted, or if they become ends of themselves … which is what happens when you have massive corporate interests involved. Companies don’t generally make the Fortune 500 by caring about who they hurt on the way up.

Lawyer, theologian, and social activist William Stringfellow wrote an incredible book on this, Imposters of God. (I wrote about it a few years back). Bascially, Stringfellow considered idolatrous and twisted good things (patriotism, careerism, even church-ism) to be the current and active face of evil – of the devil – in the modern world.

I can’t argue against that, but I would add to that list of devils the hidden evils we participate in without really even knowing it.

So let me try in a small way to pull away the mask that has been “placed upon the face of death.” The videos about animal abuse are all pretty hard to watch.

This is the image Hershey’s chocolate likes to show you:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAw_BmRLiDY

This is where the cocoa in that chocolate comes from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ns6d6rGnfo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxy04QPqM

This is what the pork industry wants you to see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_UDq9tpX0w

This is how those pigs spend their short lives:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T48yOYjz5sk

This is Hormel’s “Spam America,” which attempts to link Spam to artistry and innovation

https://vimeo.com/138027963

This is “The Unauthorized Spam Tour.” Be careful what you eat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AEzOnk3ZBk

The “Bacon Brothers” singing about the “quality protein” of an egg breakfast

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a9Ixfg2q1g

The life cycle of a battery-cage chicken

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p83JoTxUZZg

Oh, look. It’s a talking cow. Doesn’t she sound happy about milk?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xdPfnZynEw

Non-CGI dairy cows … not so happy milk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzS8p727gvM

And it doesn’t stop at public relations. Industries have worked hard to influence congress and state legislatures: the livestock industry alone spends millions of dollars each year influencing elections.

That spending paid off, because just last December Congress and the President gave them a brand new, shiny present: relaxed labeling requirements that make it almost impossible for the consumer to know where the meat they buy comes from, how it was slaughtered, and so on.

Livestock industry political action groups have even attempted to pass “ag gag” laws across the US and around the world, which make it illegal to film animal abuses at processing centers.

They’ve succeeded in six states, including Idaho, whose law was inspired by a viral Mercy for Animals investigation of Bettencourt Dairies, which led to the arrests of multiple farm workers. Yup, the abuse was real and illegal, but rather than fix the problems, the response was make a law to hide them.

Rusty nails in a velvet glove. Mask of life over the face of death. Satan masquerading as an angel of light. Throwing the rock and hiding your hand.

A lot of money is riding on this. Real power is working night and day to make sure we don’t understand the damage we do.

The last thing I want to do is to make the average person reading this feel guilty. We’re not the ones perpetrating cruelty and exploitation, and we’re not the ones covering it up. We’re the ones being lied to, being brought into it deceitfully.

If you want to give up all chocolate you can’t be sure wasn’t harvested by slaves, do it. If you want to become a vegetarian, or even a vegan, do it. But in our culture, these are hard things to do. Because powerful people with lots of money have made them difficult.

The main reason I’m writing these posts isn’t to convince you, but to remind me. My biggest weakness is a lack of follow-through. I start things strong, but then fall away in time. But I’m making this public, so I can look back and remind myself why I’m doing all this … and so that y’all can call me out if I backslide.

Nobody should feel like I’m condemning them for what they have for supper. I’m not.

I’m condemning the Cattlemen’s Association, Hershey’s, Cadbury’s, Nestle’s, and Mars. I’m condemning lobbyists and the politicians they rent.
Sure, some people genuinely don’t care. But most don’t know. And of the ones who both know and care, some, maybe most, aren’t yet at a point where they’re ready to make major changes. Like I said, powerful people have spent a lot of money making us a part of this, hiding it from us, and making it hard to exit.
But if you’re feeling it, start by pushing back just a little.
Find a few vegan or vegetarian recipes (I’ll post some here, in time) and have one meatless day a week. Or, if you’ve got a family that wouldn’t be on board, give yourself one cruelty-free meal a day, like breakfast.
If you’re not at a point where you can walk away from the major chocolate companies (which all use slave labor), look in the chocolate aisle in your local grocery and or supermarket and see what they have. Maybe you could find something with a Fair Trade label, or a responsible company like Lindt, that would satisfy your sweet tooth.
If nothing else, you can pass the information along. Go to Stop the Traffik and see the little things you can do (email, petitions, etc.) to help end slavery in all industries.
If everybody did one little thing, it could make a big difference.

First, Do No Harm: Aligning My Ethics and My Actions in a Disconnected World

I posted a few Mondays ago that I’d mostly moved on from theological blog posts … well, it turns out I was wrong.

Sure, a lot of the questions I was asking back then are things I’ve settled now, but one big one has arisen: How do I be moral and righteous within an economic and industrial system that is heavily built upon cruelty, exploitation, and oppression?

I’m still wrestling, just with slightly different angels.

I’m struggling to figure out how to align my actions with my ethics in modern America. Most of the things we do to survive, or at least live, seem to be built upon the suffering of others. And that suffering is deliberately concealed from those of us on the consuming end of the equation.

I’m not talking about historical injustices or atrocities, but  ongoing suffering and death, here and now. The kind I can either contribute to or help alleviate.

  • The meat, dairy and egg industries are horrific for the animals and (to a lesser extent) the workers.
  • Overfishing has put the health of entire oceans at risk.
  • Global warming is real. The oil companies and their pet politicians and pundits have spent a lot of money convincing people it isn’t, but I trust actual climate scientists more than lobbyists.
  • Hunger is still an issue around the world, and drinking water is an even bigger issue (even here in the U.S.)
  • Worst of all, a large but hard to determine, number of everyday items include components that were made by literal slaves.

The food in my belly, the clothes on my back, the shoes on my feet … someone suffered for all that. It’s easy to ignore. It’s easier to ignore than it is to learn about, because the men with the money want it that way.

As the old song says, they “you can throw that rock, and hide your hand … but what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”

So now that I’ve seen this particular light, what can I do?

I really want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. How can I passively inflict this kind of damage? How can I cynically make this kind of mess for other, poorer people to clean up? Or for my daughter and her future children to clean up?

Out of sight, out of mind.

Jesus always sided with the underdogs, the outsiders in society (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”).

When he railed against sin, he was always speaking to the powerful, whose sin was oppressing and exploiting others, usually by making them into outsiders and declaring them unclean.

He never accepted second-hand cruelty. When the system was cruel, he rebuked the system. When the respectable, “moral” people were callous, he called them out.

He called me out.

We’re good at being good, when that just means being nice to the people in front of our faces, paying our taxes, and giving some money to charity from time to time. But I have a hard time believing that that is all that matters.

No matter what you believe religiously, we all stand under judgement. We can’t escape the things we do. Even if there were nothing beyond our mortal material existence, our actions still exist. They are as inescapable as gravity and entropy.

If my lifestyle is having real consequences on other people, don’t I need to change it?

Yes, I do.

Yes, I will.

And I hope that maybe I’ll inspire a few more people to join me. Over the next couple of days, I’ll be following this post up with more detail on the harm that we do, harm that is being hidden from us, and with what I’m personally doing to try to eliminate, or at least ameliorate, this in my life.

I hope you’ll join me.