What Does Satisfy? Part 1: Spirit 


In honor of Easter, this Sunday, I’ll talk about God, religion, and spirit first.

No, religion does not magically make everything in life perfect and sunshiney. 

With all the suffering the world,  the only way to be perfectly sunshiney is to either be entirely ignorant and sheltered or to have such an “us vs. them” mentality that you lose all empathy for people who aren’t like you. 

Granted, there are ways to be happier,  to do all you can and trust God and other people to do the rest. I’m working on both sides of that:  really doing my best,  and really putting aside unhelpful worrying. 

Religion isn’t a magic feel good tonic (or it shouldn’t be), but connecting with a church that more closely matches my values  (and doesn’t promote things I actively think are wrong) really has helped. 

I even sang a solo in the worship service this past (Palm) Sunday, and I honestly didn’t know how much I’d missed that (The song is “Christmas had its Cradle, Easter has its Cross,” one of my all time favorites).

And spending quiet time disconnected from phones, tv and internet, focusing on and connecting with God, is also wonderful, when I keep my focus enough to actually do it. Whether this takes the form of self composed prayer, praying existing prayers (the Jesus prayer is my favorite), or simple wordless meditation,  it is always good. 

So, in a nutshell, 

Coherence and integrity between my spiritual values and my spiritual community

Reconnecting with and sharing spiritual songs that mean a lot to me (making a joyful noise unto the Lord)

Spending time away from the fragmenting distractions of the daily material world, focusing on God

Have all helped a lot. 

Happy Passover and Happy Easter. 

On TaskBar, But Off-Task (PC Distraction)


I just noticed a bad habit I have: whenever I’m working on something and I get to a tedious, annoying, or difficult part, my eyes glance away, looking toward the taskbar, seeking out something easier or more interesting. 

I physically felt it happen today, but I know it’s been going on for a long time. 

I know now more than ever that I really need to keep “up” (active)  only those things I am currently working on. 

If I need a break, I can take a break. I’m valued where I work, and my supervisors know that a lot of the work I do takes a lot of skill, focus, and mental energy. 

But I won’t be at my best if I’m constantly flitting from task to task, from analysis to email to course shell. 

I’m sure I’m much worse about it at home on my laptop,  when I’m on my own admission have video games, Facebook, Netflix, and other such entertainments to distract me. 

Maybe this is why George R. R. Martin and Dean Wesley Smith write on computers with no internet access. 

So here it’s my new role,  for work sends at home:  only keep those Windows up that are needed for the current task.  Finish it,  then move on. 

We’ll see how it goes. Maybe this trick.will help on my home laptop:

https://youtu.be/s-rPXMIiPjE

Rekindling the Creative Spark: An Experiment Upon Myself, Part 2: Proposed Treatment


Yesterday,  I detailed a problem not only with my writing, but with my imagination overall: 

I’ve allowed the pump to run dry,  so even if the well has water,  and even if I go up the hill to fetch a pail, I’ll have to do some serious priming to get anything drinkable. 

And if I’m not careful, I might fall down and break my crown 🙂

So what am I going to do? Metaphor aside, an imagination isn’t like a water pump or car engine. 

Well, I  have a few ideas: 

Listen to music that fired my imagination the past, musicians whose lyrics were poetic,  with imagery,  metaphor,  and complexity. 

  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Bob Dylan
  • Peter, Paul, and Mary 
  • Wyclef Jean 
  • Sting
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Rosanne Cash
  • Maria McKee
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Bruce Cockburn
  • Sarah Brightman
  • 10000 Maniacs
  • Beth Patterson
  • Rich Mullins
  • Jennifer Knapp
  • U2
  • And many others 

Seek out more music by musicians who’ve caught my attemtion once or a few times in the past:

  • Amanda Abizaid 
  • Amanda Ghost
  • Martin Page 
  • Nina Gordon
  • Charlotte Sometimes
  • The Pogues
  • Shakira
  • Sara Evans
  • Annie Lennox, both solo and in that band my auto-correct won’t let me write. 
  • even Guns N Roses

(It occurs to me how white this list is,  with the exception of Wyclef and Shakira. Maybe I should look in some new directions as I seek out new material)

    Seek out new music that may have the same qualities.  This is harder,  because it involves spring through a bushel and a half of disposable pablum. The old stuff comes pre-sorted.

    But this is not just about music. I need to read actual poetry. I also need to constantly read fiction, fiction with imagery, fiction that plays with language. 

    Perhaps most importantly, I need to take better care of myself. I need to get enough sleep. I need to get more exercise,  and I need to eat less refined sugar. 

    I need to clear space my mind. This isn’t about excusing myself from doing the things that need to be done. 

    It’s about clearing out the clutter, watching less tv, wasting less time on Facebook, Slate, etc. 

    It’s about doing one thing at a time. Multitasking isn’t just inefficient; it’s frustrating and depressing, too. 

    It’s about regeneration. But mostly about getting enough sleep. 

    I hypothesize that two weeks of adequate sleep, limited attention-splitting time wasters, and reaquaintance with nearly forgotten favorites will have back to my old self. 

    I’ll collect data and get back to you with the results. 

    Resistance as Rabbit-Chasing

    Steven Pressfield quite literally wrote the book on artistic and creative resistance (several books,  actually).

    One of his many great teachings on resistance is that you can use it as a compass:  if you’re facing resistance, you are probably going the right direction. 

    And conversely,  if things are too easy,  you’re either slacking or going the wrong direction.

    Which may be why I found it so easy to write two posts about politics and religion this week: one about Rachel Held Evans‘ and Shannon Dingle’s articles suggesting that pro life Christians should vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump (or even over a third party candidate),  and one about  Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Trump (I’m not even going to link to that dumpster fire).

    I may yet publish them,  but the last thing I want my blog and writing to be about is politics. 

    Well, I will say this: Trump proposed torturing and killing the families of suspected terrorists, and so should never be allowed to hold a position of power, period. Proposing something that diabolical is a deal-breaker. It’s pure evil.

    But I am finding it much harder to find things to write that are a part of the vision I have for this blog.

    Resistance, right? 

    I want my writing,  both fiction and non-fiction,  to model the kind of things I’m for:  

    • kindness 
    • care for self and others
    • fun  
    • representation and inclusion
    • equality
    • a faith that follows the Jesus of the gospels
    • glorification of nonviolence
    • joy
    • yummy, cruelty-free food
    • poetry, imagery,  art,  design,  and music
    • color,  in every use of the word 
    • accountability, honesty,  and responsibility
    • dignity
    • The freedom to act silly, to laugh, to sing even if the notes or swords are wrong,  and to dance badly
    • forgiveness

    But it’s so easy to get distracted by the trivial and by the toxic.

    Raging against the dumpster fires of our political system won’t get me any closer to being where or who I want to be. It certainly won’t make me any happier. 

    Empire of Static and Noise

    Earlier today, I realized I’d been feeling washed-out and uncreative. This blog was lying fallow, and my fiction inspiration was as dry as California underbrush.

    If I had a cause, a central idea, a unifying point to what I’m doing, then I would be so much better off. I’d have my writing drive back, my thinking drive back, my mojo back. But all I have is noise.

    And so it occurred to me: noise. Maybe my main point for now is noise.

    I don’t mean noise as in decibel levels, like the neighbor’s barking dog (though that’s certainly a part of it, just ask Schopenhauer or the New York Times. I mean noise as in “signal to noise ratio.” I mean static.

    Like it or not, as modern Americans we live in an Empire of Static and Noise. Televisions blare from every corner. The instant gratification of a thousand status updates bubbles up through our phones like swamp gas.

    Those same phones hold a variety of video games and grant access to a wider Internet filled beyond any one man’s imagining with articles, blog posts, and endless arguments across a multitude of forums.

    We like our lives like we like our hash browns: scattered, chunked, smothered, covered, and served with coffee at three a.m. And even if we don’t like them, that’s how we live them.

    • How much of what we experience serves not to carry meaning, but to obscure it?
    • How much of what we experience serves not to inspire or provoke new thought, but to scatter our attention so that we can barely think?
    • How much of what we experience serves not to challenge us to new levels of compassion and humanity, but to distract us from the hard questions?

    A very wise man once said, “Don’t watch the hand with the wand. The trick is in the other hand.” How much of our lives is just a wand waving on a stage?

    I can’t answer that for you. But the answer for me is, “Too much. Way too much.”

    So that leads us to the question, “What do I do about it?”

    The first thing, the absolute first thing I have to do is start self-enforcing an earlier bedtime. I’m not getting enough sleep, and so many studies have proven that’s bad for you that I don’t even feel the need to cite them here (the Earth is also round, and it orbits the sun, by the way).

    Basically, sleep deprivation makes you stupid, and I’ve been neglecting my eight hours since at least when my daughter was born.

    Beyond that, I’m going to have to take a fast from certain technology. I will have to use Facebook only to check important messages, and encourage people to call, text, or email me instead.

    I will have to stop reading Slate and all online forums. I will have to stop following all those interesting links in the articles that I do still choose to read.

    Will this be permanent? I doubt it, but it will have to be for a while, at least. Addicts don’t moderately use, and I’m pretty much addicted to new information and short, nonfiction articles.

    I’m going to limit not only my “active” television watching, but my “passive” watching. If Katherine is watching TV and I’m just passing through, I’m going to have to force myself to keep passing through, not stop and “just watch this scene” … and be there half an hour.

    I’m going to have to uninstall the games from my Kindle Fire. It’s great for media, and it has potential for productivity, but I won’t get anything done if I’m feeding Om Nom candy.

    I’m going to have to clear out some space and time in my life for thought, for reflection, for praying and writing and daydreaming.

    I think I’ll be smarter and happier. I think. Heh. At least I’ll be thinking again.

    It Felt Like a Feast (Wrestling with Joy, Pleasure, and the Distractions of Modern Life)

    people doing kettlebells exercises

    I tried my first kettlebell swing workout tonight. My body gently aches from the back of my neck, across my shoulders and arms, down to my thighs and calves. Not two hours after I did the set, I found myself standing straighter, taller.

    Maybe I really am 6’7”, and I’ve just been slouching.

    But how did it feel? When I think back on my first, unimpressively weak (20 pound weight), slightly awkward experience with the kettlebell, what washes over me?

    It felt like a feast.

    Not just a buffet, or a coincidentally large meal. A feast, full of foods I really wanted, foods I only taste a few times a year. It felt like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

    Exercise has hardly ever felt like this before. Usually it’s drudgery in progress and pain and soreness following. But this felt like a feast. I’m beginning to understand people who love exercise.

    Even putting aside sex totally, our bodies are meant to feel pleasure. Our bodies are meant to desire it.

    But it seems like in my sedentary postmodern life, that sense is somewhat lost. Too much is buried in the screens: the gray of the office computer, the distracting static of the television, the infinite insignificance of the web, all exacerbated by long commutes and short nights.

    The very technology and modernity that allows so many of us to live so comfortably, when in the past we might have died in the cradle, stands between us and the experience of joy.

    We develop a disconnect with our bodies. We no longer stop and feel the rain, as we did in our youth. We no longer run for the joy of running, as we did as children. We no longer stop to let the wind rush over us.

    Our pleasures are limited to our sex lives, the manufactured adrenaline of our media, and our food. And too often, that gets us into trouble. Because just as the media we consume is manipulated and processed to provide the fastest bang, the most addictive return on investment, so is our food.

    And sometimes, this artificial intensity even spills over into our sex lives, in various forms of objectification. But that’s a topic for a different post.

    Our bodies are meant to desire pleasure. Not manufactured, processed, white-sugar-buzz pleasure, with its dizzy intensity, inevitable crash, and empty hunger for more.

    We are meant for spontaneous, genuine delight, like a child chasing leaves in an autumn wind. Like a young man running to meet the train that brings his beloved back to him. Like the sheer joy of feeling your body push its limits just far enough that it doesn’t verge into pain and damage.

    It’s strange that a simple kettlebell swing reminded me of this. And stranger still that I went to a computer screen to share it. But such is the age we live in.

    Time doesn’t run backward. Turning back the clock just breaks your hands. But who we are hasn’t changed, and the genuine joy we need is still available. Just look beyond the static.

    Habits, Plans, and Wasting Time

    Distracted Bunny

    Drawing by Nuraska, Creative Commons

    I’ve cursed the day we got a DVR. I’ve cursed my own short attention span, my ability to be drawn into the limitless flood of information on the Internet, pulled by one current and then another, until my mind is as muddled as a dry-season creek bed.

    But I haven’t really stepped up and made those changes. You could switch that paragraph with one about serious regular exercise or half a dozen other things, and it would be the same lame story.

    Today I’m going to try.

    I’ve been reading about habits, and how out ingrained subroutines shape our behavior far more than our intentions do. Though I’m not finished with it, Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits has so far proven to be well-written, accessible, and research-based.

    It’s been eye-opening, reading the results of study after study that says we don’t even really know what we’re doing when we act according to our habitualized patterns. And actually studying what we do, disrupting our habits by recording and understanding, is an important first step to breaking them.

    So, I’m going to attack my wasting time habit first.

    My plans are

    Write down all the TV I watch for a week or three. Hopefully just seeing what I watch will help me stop watching stuff I don’t really care about just because I’m tired or bored or want a distraction.

    Use Randall Munroe (writer of xkcd)’s trick to break the web-distraction habit. He explains it here in some detail. To make a long story short, he breaks the “novelty” feedback loop by powering down his computer after each task. If he checks the news on CNN, he powers his computer down.

    He can turn in back on immediately, and go on to whatever else he wants, but the delay breaks the little addictive kick you get from moving on to the next link, the next story. He said it worked better than all the “focus” programs he tried.

    I’m going to try the same thing, and see how it works. I like to read, but honestly, I get a lot more good out of reading a book than reading ten times as much material on the web.

    Time is about to become far tighter with the addition of a daughter, and I already feel stretched thin. I’m going to have to become better at managing my life. And I think this will be a good first step.

    Wish me luck!