Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On and Off the Grid

Spies Like Us - Well, They Like Me

As I started writing this post, my computer was flashing security alerts trying to get me to run a piece of software I didn't previously have in order to get rid of some virus it claimed was just about to bring about the end of the world as we know it. I'm pretty sure the alerts themselves were the result of a sneaky piece of spyware that wanted me to collude with its own evil conspiracy, but maybe I'm just paranoid.

At any rate, I'm getting ready to leave town soon and decided it was best to go ahead and take the computer into an actual shop to be exorcised. Other options for getting IT help at present are few. But this is a rather expensive choice and one I made reluctantly.

I might be persuaded that it is time to buy a new machine but hardware is not like something organic, is it, where susceptibility to illness might result from age? So, the spyware problem itself does not tell me it is time to go shopping. Though I know the time will not be too far off. It's a 2007 machine. Horrors!

I might buy a Mac, I know that's what you're going to say. They don't (generally) have these particular problems and they come with all kinds of cool abilities. But not ones I anticipate I would use. And the inconvenience (and this time, expense) of periodic problems with spyware is not, I think, offset by the inconvenience of becoming a Mac user in a PC world, and learning new systems (I =like= PC's better!) or the expense of the Apple machines themselves and the software I'd need for my work. So, that's what it comes down to for me. I would, however, like to be more certain that my next machine is as well protected as it can be, to really understanding what keeps it that way, and how to tell if it is in trouble, and what to do if it is. I'm too much of an idiot with this aspect of technology. This week I pay the price.

If you're curious, I'm writing from a computer at my neighborhood library. I'll stop by again tomorrow. And hope to have my laptop back sometime on Friday or Saturday. I paid in advance. They will give me most of my money back if they can't fix it.

America's Energy Grid

What I wanted to write may be related. National Geographic's latest issue included an article about the US energy grid. I like the science articles in NGM because they have good pictures (!) and are often fairly easy for the non-scientist (like me) to grasp. And unlike some of my readers I am more comfortable than put off by what folks call the liberal media. Not unquestioning, but comfortable.

Apparently America's power grid (or grids - there are actually three of them; Texas gets its own!) run on quite antiquated technology - not three years old (like my poor antique laptop) but five to ten decades old. They can't store power when it's not being used; can't tell if there's a problem until it's caused lots of other problems, and most troubling of all, are powered by dirty and nonrenewable energy sources. Yup, half of America's electricity comes from coal. Coal-powered generators produce nearly a third of our mercury emissions, a third of our smog, two thirds of our sulfur dioxide (OK, I don't really know what that is!) and nearly a third of our carbon dioxide emissions. Yet the way the system is set up, any other approach is going to bring about significant cost increases, making it a pretty tough sell to politicians, taxpayers, consumers. So, what's to be done?

Power outages cost Americans something like $80 billion a year and are likely to increase.

The article does make some good suggestions; check it out if you're interested in exploring the topic more.

You Think We Got Trouble?

I can't help but think of other places I've been that have far fewer resources and far less reliable utilities. I remember staying in a flat in Azerbaijan, back in 1995, which was lit by two dim lightbulbs, one hanging bare from the ceiling of each of the two rooms. You couldn't have both of them on at once. If you wanted to plug in anything else you had to turn off both lights. And this in a city known for its oil reserves and amazing resources of wind power (well, potential wind power. Wind anyway). Yet such issues ought to be put in perspective there as well. Weren't a million people displaced by the war with Armenia not too many years before? That created/reflected bigger problems than how to improve the energy grid.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Eavesdropper

One of the books I read this month classified interpersonal communication on five levels:

5. cliche communication (how are you?/I'm fine)
4. reporting facts about others (did you hear...?)
3. my ideas and judgments (often communicated objectively/out of context)
2. my feelings and emotions ('gut level')
1. peak communication (perfect mutual empathy - fleeting, but possible)

The book was John Powell's Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? so as you might guess, it had a bias toward pushing the reader toward levels 1 and 2. I think it was written particularly for people who were holding out on their mates and in other relationships that are meant to be very intimate. For someone like me, learning to be comfortable with more selective levels of trust and exercising discretion  might be just as important. Still, I've come away from several recent conversations wishing I'd shared more at the personal, gut level instead of retreating into reporting on interactions with others, and/or realizing that the other person didn't care about how so-and-so was doing, but wanted to be listened to, or confided in; they wanted a real one-on-one conversation with no other personalities drawn in. Hmm...

Some of this is a matter of personality. I, myself love hearing and sharing what's up with different people, making connections, passing on news... I think in analogies a lot. Someone's situation will remind me of someone else I know or something I've read. I also enjoy looking for and helping other celebrate the glimpses of other people's humor, unique personality or eccentricity. I suppose the things to watch out for are mocking or gossip.

What about with strangers? Are you sometimes tickled by people-watching, by the stories suggested by snatches of overheard conversation? I love overhearing just one line of someone else's story.

Like the athletic-looking young man who walked past me at Barnes and Noble the other day, telling his friend, "I can't stand baseball." Both of them were wearing ball caps, though. And the endearing little girl, about five, at the rec. center; she and her dad were sitting on the floor outside the locker rooms, waiting for the rest of their family to get dressed after swimming. And she was saying, "But I love Mommy, too!"

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Partnering with Pain

Pain is the partner I did not request / this is the dance I did not ask to join – Madeleine L’Engle

The chance to focus on personal growth during this six-month period has brought all kinds of stuff to the surface. It's been a roller-coaster. And I'm not much of a thrill seeker; I would not have chosen this!

“I go back and forth,” I told a friend who has walked through the process with me, “between seeing myself as a basically healthy, balanced person who has been blessed with the chance to face down the things that are holding me back from growing into a healthier, more mature person – and believing, on the basis of the crap that comes up in the process, that I am actually just a disaster zone or a monster.”

“As I see it,” she said, “definitely the former! A lot of people couldn’t do what you’re doing, they wouldn’t have the ability to process these things and put them into words, or the opportunity to slow down and do it. I don’t think you’re a disaster at all.” She’s proud of me. She thinks I’m doing well. She’s even glad to be part of the process.

Such words are very helpful, reassuring. Frequently, these days, I've found myself fighting the familiar battle with the self-protective, self-defeating shyness that has plagued me, even as an extrovert, just about all my life.

And yeah, depression too. I don’t have it as bad as many people I know – depression I mean – it’s situational, not clinical. I don’t meet any of the criteria to be medicated for it. I just get these waves of hopelessness, usually this time of year; it becomes hard to believe life is good or has much meaning. I can still sleep and eat and have fun and stuff like that, and there are times when things seem really good. But these seasons definitely take the wind out of my sails, sometimes when I feel like I need it the most - like now when I feel I ought to be dreaming dreams about the future and finding a ministry situation that’s a good fit.

Taking up running has been a big help, and I’ve got a few other things in my bag of tricks that generally make a difference, keep the depression at bay.

Yet this year I’m trying to press into it a bit more – to pay attention to my feelings and not try to squelch or silence them too soon.

And grieving is a bit different from depression, and that's part of what's been going on too. My friend gave me a book on grief which has provided both direction and catharsis, to some extent. It’s called A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser. Good stuff.

The author says, as I’m discovering for myself, that the only way to make peace with and transcend your more difficult emotions is to let yourself feel them. Not chase them away. It seems counterintuitive to me to think that grieving would make me happy, raging would bring me peace, or exploring my jealousy or resentment would stir up my gratitude and compassion, but somehow this seems to be the case. Only by confessing and accepting disappointment can I transcend it. Life is weird, isn’t it?!

Another point in A Grace Disguised is that you can’t measure grief, can’t compare yours to someone else’s and say it’s worse and that people should feel sorry for you, or that since it isn’t as bad you shouldn’t be unhappy about it. Grief is grief, a common experience for people who happen to be alive. A life without grief is probably not worth living. And nobody’s grief is going to be quite like anyone else’s. So you don’t need to defend and justify your sadness to yourself or to anyone else.

What am I sad about?

I’m sad that my family disintegrated. It happened 25 years ago, and everyone moved on, but it still hurts, it still feels like a loss.

I’m sad that what became my family, Caleb Project – a group of people who not only loved one another but even more than a regular family were drawn together around a common, compelling purpose – also disintegrated. It happened 3-4 years ago but I still haven’t found a new footing. It was a huge loss for me. In both situations there are those who would say good riddance; it was for the best, it was a bad or broken thing and so we had to end it, but I don't buy that; it's too black and white.

Similarly, I’m sad about the family I've never had, sad that I’ve missed out on being a wife and mother, the experiences that provide the greatest sense of meaning and identity in the lives of almost all the women I know.

Sure, it’s still possible I’ll experience those roles to some extent, some day. But I haven’t, so far, and there’s no promise I ever will and lots of reasons to believe I won’t. It’s not that I can’t and don’t enjoy or feel grateful for being single – I do. But when so much of what is out there suggests that the really important thing in life is family, all three of these situations seem like significant material for grief, and I’m trying to let myself grieve over these losses.

I think one reason I’ve been reluctant to let my sad feelings out is a fear that they would take over – that you can’t be positive, or happy, or grateful, can’t experience joy or peace if you’re grieving. That a disappointed or grieving person is just going to be a dark cloud wherever she goes, assuming they let her in the door. But that turns out not to be true either.

Joy and sadness are like parallel tracks running through life, and if you’re going to really live, you will experience them both, and often at the same time. I’ve continued to have fun, and enjoy life, and see God at work, just as much or more.

Life is not what you’d expect. As my friend L. said, we don’t have to untangle our messes before going to God with them, we can just say, “here it is; here I am.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Democracy and Trust

Hey, it's global affairs day here at Telling Secrets!

Recognize this place? (Map from Lonely Planet). Even people who don't follow events in Central Asia may be aware of recent instability and violence in Kyrgyzstan. I haven't spent a lot of time there, but it's got a special place in my heart. The Kyrgyz may be my favorite people group, ever; I found them delightful. I've been staying in touch with events in the country ever since making two trips to the capital in the late 1990s. Later I lived just across the border from the currently troubled area, traveling about once a month to the city where the recent violence happened. The family that took me in, though ethnic Uzbeks, were from K'stan and still had a lot of relatives there.

For many years it seemed the most stable of its neighbors, and it seemed to have the "best" government structures in place - the most democratic ones - though they were compromised by a considerable level of corruption and bureaucracy. But what's going to become of the place, now? Things have been dicey for some months now, and in April there was a change in government, the second in not many years. Politics and ethnicity have become intertwined, as happens in so many places, and something happened to spark off tensions in the South. Reports of what caused this, vary.

I've been getting at least a dozen emails a day about how the events are unfolding, most via a Kyrgyzstan-focused network to which I belong. And here's one today from the New York Times, passed on by my friend Paul M.
"A major crisis is taking place in Central Asia, but much of the world — and most governments — would prefer not to think about it. Kyrgyzstan has lost control of a significant part of its country.

"Initial violence has caused many hundreds of deaths and, as of the latest count, over 400,000 refugees. This from a population of five million. The calm that has come over the area is temporary combat fatigue. Kyrgyzstan’s new provisional government is looking increasingly incapable of taking any measures to restore homes, livelihoods, destroyed infrastructure or trust. It can barely impose order. Yet world leaders are looking elsewhere."

> Keep reading.
The first-hand reports of the slaughter have been horrific. I know some people who are there on the ground, ready to do what they can, but it must be overwhelming. So many dead. So many living in fear.

About a year ago I blogged about a book whose author suggested there's a strong link between having an environment of trust and being able to the pull off a democracy. I'm not saying socialism, tribalism, or totalitarianism are better options, but this rings true to me. What do you think?
"For years, political scientists assumed that people living under democracies were happier than those living under any other form of government... but the collapse of the Soviet Union changed all that... Happiness levels did not rise. In some countries they declined, and today the former Soviet republics are, overall, the least happy places on the planet. What is going on? That old causality bugaboo, political scientist Ron Inglehart concluded: It's not that democracy makes people happy but rather than happy people are much more likely to establish a democracy.
"The soil must be rich, culturally speaking, before democracy can take root. The institutions are less important than the culture. And what are the cultural ingredients needed for democracy to take root? Trust and tolerance. Not only trust of those inside your group - family, for instance - but external trust. Trust of strangers. Trust of your opponents, your enemies, even." 
(The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, p. 198)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reflections on Personal Development: How I Thought I'd Change

The New You

I don’t know how many novels I’ve read or movies I’ve seen that feature this plot, but a lot; I think it’s an archetypical American fantasy. The character moves to a new location – maybe a different part of the country, maybe returning to her childhood home, or someplace completely new – and starts over, reinventing herself. Of course there’s pain involved, and conflict; the change doesn’t come easy. But that’s the story, the story of how she transformed herself into a wonderful person. Usually by the end of the book or movie she's forgiven whoever hurt her in the past and probably fallen in love, fallen in love with the kind of person who they never would have chosen in the past but who is just right for the better self she is now becoming. A “happily ever after” is strongly suggested.

Sometimes we see this in missions; people who think the crucible of cross-cultural living will turn them into the kind of person they always thought they should be. Sometimes it works, eventually, somewhat. A lot of times it doesn’t. I don’t say that to make an argument against missions, just to say that the whole “you’ll get more out of it than you’ll give” dynamic doesn’t expand exponentially from a two-week mission trip to a term or two overseas. In fact, most people find it takes years to really be effective in another culture, once you commit to belonging instead of just passing through. Still, self-improvement is such an engaging fantasy that if I were writing missions-fiction I’d probably be tempted to tell one of those personal transformation success stories. Perhaps I’d suggest that God was the one who affected the change, but I’d still tap into that American, be-all-that-you-can-be fantasy. It’s so dear to us, so compelling.

A Nicer Person

Here’s one story I realize I had hoped to be telling at the end of this year, but am not so sure about now. I don’t know if I ever put it into words but I had this idea that while I was on sabbatical – and maybe after I had finished my sabbatical, as well – I would be a nicer person.

After all, without all the pressure that comes from a job, without traveling all the time and trying to keep up in so many areas of life, without living life on overload and without margins, I’d be able to stop and smell the roses. I’d do nice things for myself, and enjoy them. (That much is true – I have!) But I also expected I’d be more thoughtful. I’d send more birthday cards and considerate presents. I’d reach out to people both spontaneously and intentionally. I’d be available and responsive instead of striding around looking like I’m on a mission. And by golly, I’d even commit “random” acts of kindness!

Certainly there have been some changes for the better. I’ve replaced the briskness in my walk with more of a mosey or saunter. I’ve smiled at people and waited patiently in line. And, when people have called or written asking for a favor, I’ve been able to say yes to things I might not have been able to help with in the past, like babysitting or giving people rides to the airport. My conversation has been richer, some days, simply due to the space and level of reflection in my life.

If I can spend my 40s doing less, instead of more, than I have in my 30s, I’ll probably experience some of that same fruit.

But I’m here to report that overall, I haven’t become the nicer person I envisioned. I still think of far more nice things to do for other people than I actually follow through on. And really, I don’t think of that many. I have not become a “noticer,” one of those people who just has eyes to see people’s needs and quietly comes alongside them with acts of thoughtful service. Nor have I made many phone calls or written letters to friends who thought I’d forgotten them, just to let them know how much they still mean to me!

Hmmm… what do you think, is “be nicer to other people” still a good goal to have? Does it need to be reframed, reworked, or replaced with something different?

“Become a nicer person,” if you put it that way, does seem rather self-referential. Too often my desire for self-respect is higher than my actual love for other people – even if they are pulling in the same direction. However, I am learning that a simple acknowledgment and acceptance of my negative emotions or self-referential responses to things can really free me up to get beyond them to responding to others with love and compassion. More about that in future post, perhaps.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Culture and Sickness


Went to the doctor and got a diagnosis and a couple of prescriptions that will probably knock out my illness - bronchitis, he said - in a few days. After seven days of coughing it's nice to think the end is in sight. I wonder if I'll be well enough to go to my small group Friday night?

On the other hand, I've accepted being sick with more grace than usual, this time. My life is slow and simple enough that seeing it grind more or less to a halt is not such a big deal. I'm not restless, at least not very much, wanting to get out and do things, not worried about what will happen if I don't. As much as I like being strong and responsive, I don't mind, so much, being weak and unavailable.


A few weeks ago I re-read all my journals from the year I spent in Sofarawayistan. Some 400+ pages of cultural details, prayers, struggles, funny stories, ramblings. Also looked through some of the other 500+ pages of writing I did during that season. I tried to keep it up when I came home, but it was just too hard, being surrounded by English-speakers I could talk to so easily!

Old World Meds

While I was there I caught a new cold every 4-6 weeks. I'm guessing it was just being in a new place and that the pattern would have ebbed in time. But it allowed me to experience indigenous health care from the inside, like it or not.

You know, it's one thing to be a culturally sensitive tourist or anthropologist, observing the way other people do things in a beautifully nonjudgmental way and choosing to believe the local practices are more in touch with nature and then getting on a plane and coming home - or, should you come down with something, finding a doctor who shares your background to treat you. But it's something else when you have a one-way ticket and live right among the people; you don't get to stand apart like that. It's a matter of "how we do things here" not "how they do things there." And under such circumstances it can be much harder to be sweet, tolerant, or objective. Especially when it's your own body - or your kid's - that's on the line!

I remember feeling the same threat to my personal autonomy over the question of hospitality - what we used to call "terrorist hospitality" before the word terrorist became so loaded ("You must keep eating!"). I think it was the day - in a neighboring country a few years earlier - that I was forced to eat five meals in five hours just to satisfy the pride of my hosts, that I realized just how American I am. America is all about freedom, about independence and the opportunity to choose for yourself. We think that's a universal value. It may be a widespread value, but other cultures don't put it at the top of the list like we do.

It's hard to put aside such deeply ingrained personal and cultural ideas about the way things are or the way things should be.

I'm sure there was some great, ancient wisdom in some of the local ways of Sofarawayistan, but I often found them flying in the face of what I'd grown up with. Coughing? Breath in this smoke, it will help. Nauseous? You need some fatty-lamb-tail stew. Got the sniffles? Have some hot milk. Everything seemed the opposite of what my mom would have said back home. One day when I'd been there a few months I got a bad steam burn. My local mother told me to put toothpaste on it. At first I thought I was having a bad language day... did she just say toothpaste? Turns out that's a pretty good approach, just one I'd never heard of.

Local explanations for the causes of illness were often in even greater conflict with what I'd always been told, as well. Our house was quite open to flies, mosquitoes, and rodents, and we didn't wash anything with soap and hot water. But the dirty environment wasn't what made me sick, they said. It was bathing too often. You shouldn't do that. Or drinking cold drinks, or not wearing enough layers of clothes. Or maybe a curse, the evil eye, or the djinn.

Sorting It Out

I'd enjoy sitting down and thrashing some of this stuff out with someone knowledgeable in both Eastern and Western medicine. All the traditions about not mixing hot and cold, for example - they are so darn widespread. I've seen variations all across Asia. I'm not saying we all need to give up A/C or stop eating ice cream in the summer, but is there something to it? Is there a way we can explain these things that jives with science?

I know that being the first one to leave a comment on a blog is a little intimidating, but I'd be interested in your stories or thoughts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Flu Haiku

Been sick since Wednesday. Ditched church today but was alert enough to compose the following.

The best thing about writing when you're ill is that if it's really crummy - and I fear that this is - you can claim your words are the result of feverish or drug-induced delusions.

Sniff - sneeze - groan - cough - moan
Head hurts, throat hurts, skin hurts, oh!
cough, cough - moan - cough, groan.
Cough syrup, hot tea
Blankets, pillows, puzzles, books
Fresh box of "Puffs"...

Just can't find the will
To change the radio dial;
NPR pledge drive.

Yet as troubles go,
Not big. To sit still and do
Not much seems a gift.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dan Allender on the Shattering of Shalom

“Stories begin with a life at peace… a deep inner and external harmony when disparate parts flow together in a unity that is greater than the sum of the parts…

“We all have moments of shalom… it is life without sin, tragedy, emptiness, or fear… moments of rest, safety and warmth…

“For many of us recalling those moments produces not nostalgia and pleasure but significant sadness. Those times are gone, and often they were lost when shalom was shattered. But it is crucial to remember those moments when our story was at peace and we felt the warm and kind wind that blew from Eden into our life.

“To remember is to anticipate with growing the future day when our past shalom will appear in glory at the Day of the Lord… to imagine a new and better day and, even more, to move toward that day with passion and purpose.

“Shalom is shattered by sin, by the intrusion of a lie, a distortion of the truth that mars the pleasure of being naked, transparent, trusting, and true… shattering occurs when our dignity is assaulted and death enters to divide and destroy. The shattering is death. In every story, in every life, there are moments of death that take away our name and rename us as strangers, orphans, or widows.”

From: To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future, by Dan B. Allender, pp. 42-43

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Personal Update, mid-June

1. Toward Realistic Expectations

What do you expect from life? I’ve often been told that it’s better to keep your expectations as low as possible. That way you won’t be disappointed if things go badly. If things go better than you think, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Hoping to reduce pain and disappointment, I’ve given that approach a try, but have never been able to stick with it very well or very long.

Perhaps it’s a matter of personality as much as anything. I’m shy and not very courageous sometimes, but I’m also an extrovert, have a high energy level, and am something of a visionary. So to be passive or too easily satisfied – to give up on wanting or trying to make things better – doesn’t feel right to me.

Yet personality is only part of the puzzle I think. There’s surely a maturity element in all this as well. Rarely do I see people my age and older caught up in the grip of huge disappointments. Sometimes they are... but it seems to take more to knock them down. Their spouse leaving them; their careers or finances falling apart; their children making disastrous choices. But often, it's the young who are most debilitated by disappointments. Older folks know a little better, are not usually caught by surprise.

Long swaths of life experience do change us. They may harden us, dishearten us, teach us to give up and just want less. Even at a young age we may become bitter or cynical because of the things we’ve experienced.

Or our experiences may just help us develop better or healthier ways to find lasting satisfaction, to compensate for our weaknesses and limitations, and to hold onto expectations that, seasoned by time, are simply more informed, more realistic.

Could it be that that is what has happened to me? Lately I've noticed situations that once would have torn me apart have seemed much less of a big deal.

2. Summer Vacation, Friend or Foe?

Reading through some old journals, I found something I wrote in 2002. I was at my mom’s house for a while, following nearly a year overseas:
“I have that restless sense of depression that comes with vacation. I’m ‘supposed to’ be having fun, but any fun I feel good about requires someone to make [and carry out] a plan. Under the circumstances, that would be me. But planning means work. And I don’t want to work, because I’m on vacation!”
I wrote that in the winter, but this time of the year often bring the same struggles and more. Yes, that old “It’s summer, and there’s nothing to do. I don’t have anyone to play with, and I’m booooooooorred!” thing. Which all of us may experience from time to time in childhood. For some singles the pattern continues into adulthood. I know it has for me. I visited a church in Houston last week which mentioned in its bulletin a “VBS” for single adults. Brilliant! I’d love to have special things like that to do in the summer. Social things, fun ones, planned and organized by someone else.

I used to struggle with this a lot more, though. I really felt bad about not having people to go out to lunch with after church on Sundays, or to be invited along on camping trips or holiday gatherings, and summers were the worst because most of the people I know consider their summer activities “family time.”

I know, I know, the obvious piece of advice is that I could grab the bull by the horns and reach out to others - especially the lonely ones - be the one to suggest fun things to do, organize them, and invite others along. None of those are my strengths, though, and I seldom had the courage and energy to overcome the inertia that stops me from doing things in my areas of weakness. Yeah, I can be a little pathetic, I know, and awareness of that makes me less likely to wish myself on other people - I have a hard time believing they might want to have me around.

I wondered if this summer would be harder than ever on that account, given how much “space” there is in my life already because of the sabbatical.

3. Sabbatical Fruit

But guess what? The sabbatical seems to be actually working! I may never like taking social initiative or organizing events, but the energy and courage to take on those things anyway, it's there. I'm also more hopeful and interested in the world around me. I have the strength and support I need to develop creative responses to life's challenges. And I'm even finding the roots of my strange and destructive tendency to assume that I'm unwelcome in other people's lives.

Perhaps as a result, the longer I’m on sabbatical the more things I think of that I could do while I’m on sabbatical. It will be over in a few months, but there are so many people I’d like to see, new skills or projects I’d like to try, old activities I’d like to revisit. And many of my conversations and the things I read about or experience just seem richer and more meaningful. I’m getting a lot more out of everything these days.

So, this summer, rather than living in a desert, I feel like I’m living in a rain forest. Everything seems colorful and interesting and growing.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

On a Walk with Wendell Berry

“…If I just want to walk, and especially if I need to be consoled, I go down the lane in front of the house and through the gate and into the woods. What I like about the woods, what is consoling is that usually nobody is working there, unless you would say that God is…

“My path through the woods would hardly show itself to anybody but me, but I use it often enough to keep it followable… I go along slowly, watching for whatever may present itself.

“One of the happiest moments of my walks is when I get to where I can hear the [stream]. The water comes down in a hurry, tossing itself this way and that as it tumbles among the broken pieces of old sea bottom. The stream seems to be talking, saying any number of things as it goes along. Sometimes, at a certain distance, it can sound like several people talking and laughing. But you listen and you realize it is talking absolutely to itself. If our place has a voice, this is it. And it is not talking to you. You can’t understand a thing it is saying. You walk up and stand beside it, loving it, and you know it doesn’t care whether you love it or not. The stream and the woods don’t care if you love them. The place doesn’t care if you love it. But for your own sake you had better love it. For the sake of all else you love, you had better love it.”

From the novel Hannah Coulter, p. 85

Photo: South Platte River, Chatfield State Park

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Fun with Fit Lit

On the advice of my doctor, my mother, and a few other helpful friends I moseyed over to the fitness section of my local library to browse through the books and DVDs and see if there were any that could help me improve my strength and flexibility. You know, something beyond merely carrying stacks of books to the checkout counter.

Oh, I work out. But my routines aren’t very balanced – mostly I just run – and having picked up the habit relatively late in life and on my own, I have only vague ideas how to do stuff to prevent or overcome injuries, like stretching. I’ve been watching the cat, Lucy; the roommate’s suggestion. She thinks we could all learn from Lucy. Stretch biiiiiiggg. Play frequently. Keep yourself well groomed. And take long naps in the sun.

Well, it’s a good plan, but since I live in a different world from Lucy (and will probably never be able to, say, jump up and land on a surface five times my height) I wandered over to the library’s 613.17 section (for you Dewey Decimal fans) seeking a book or video, designed for members of my own species, on how to stretch properly.

I was impressed with the vast array. Perhaps some of my fellow blog potatoes, armchair triathletes, and others who intend to get in shape someday might want to know what’s out there.

First of all, our overstocked library system offers shelves and shelves of books and videos on weight loss and that mysterious thing called “wellness.” Huh. I don’t want to lose weight, though, and I was looking for something less esoteric than wellness.

There was a big collection of books and DVDs on yoga. Many titles had a mystical, eastern flavor, but there was also Yoga for the Rest of Us, Warrior Yoga, Yoga Heals Your Back, Yoga Fights Flab, Yoga for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle (?), and, yes, Chrisioga (Christian yoga – the leaders wear sequined crosses on their slinky tank tops and meditate on passages from the Bible).

Some of the fitness programs seemed to promise great results from little effort. I bypassed, on those grounds, The Ten-Minute Total Body Breakthrough, Seven Minutes of Magic, Coffee Break Pilates, Six Weeks to a Hollywood Body, and, though tempted, the sketchy-sounding Once a Week Workout.

There were of course lots of videos designed just for women, especially women who had just given birth and were trying to “get their bodies back.” Lotsa luck. Hint, guys, this would not be a good welcome home gift for the new mom in your home. There were books and videos just for men, too: Pilates for Men. Yoga for Men. Six-pack Abs for Men. And one designed for women to bring home for their mates called The Chubby Hubby Workout (“build a better husband”).

I also passed by The Fat Burning Kickboxing Workout for Dummies. All I could picture was myself (and all the other dummies) flailing wildly and landing flat on our exercise mats.

In the end, I checked out just one thing. It’s called The Easy Stretching Workbook. Sometimes, all you need is the simple solution to a well-defined question.

What looked like the most interesting read was a book called Becoming Batman. Of all the superheroes, the publishers claim, Batman is the one who most relied (relies?) on his own conditioning, training, and discipline. Not magic powers. So the author – a scientist, kinesiologist, martial-arts specialist, and (incidentally) comic book fan – decided to explore what it would take for an ordinary mortal to cultivate “the physical training necessary to maintain bad-guy-fighting readiness.” I didn’t check out the book, but you might find some tips to turn you into a superhero at

That’s it for today folks. Tune in next week when Lucy and I will let you know if we’ve mastered “downward dog.”

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Saving the Real You

Star Trek Voyager, season 5. That's what's in my DVD player. Deb and I watched several episodes last night.

In one, Seven of Nine - a former member of the Borg but now "an individual" - is attacked by a virus of sorts that re-activates and agitates the personalities that she had helped assimilate when she was part of the collective. She becomes a Ferengi, a Klingon, a lover, a child...manifesting each personality for seconds, minutes, or hours at a time, like someone who has that form of schizophrenia. (It must have been nice for Jeri Ryan, the actress, to get to display some emotion for once.)

In a last ditch effort to save her personality from being lost or destroyed, the Vulcan chief of security, Tuvok, conducts a Vulcan "mind meld." He goes inside her head and does battle on her behalf.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have a friend like that, who could go inside your head and deal with all your enemies, silence all the voices, to rescue and protect the real you?" I asked Deb.

"Tuvok would be one I'd trust with my mind," she answered. "He wouldn't go tell everyone what he'd found!"

We didn't take the conversation any further than that, but the spiritual implications may be obvious.

When I told the members of my sabbatical support group, a few months ago, that I didn't feel ready to face down all my inner struggles, one of them prayed and "gave" me this passage from Psalm 35:

1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
       fight against those who fight against me.
 2 Take up shield and buckler;
       arise and come to my aid.
 3 Brandish spear and javelin
       against those who pursue me.
       Say to my soul,
       "I am your salvation."
 4 May those who seek my life
       be disgraced and put to shame;
       may those who plot my ruin
       be turned back in dismay.
 5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
       with the angel of the LORD driving them away.