Monday, December 12, 2011

Over Time, and By My Own Free Will

Anne Jackson writes about the "everyday, ordinary cell phone" she had early on. It was the kind designed for phone calls and nothing else. Things changed, though. "Over time, and by my own free will, I've upgraded to the superphone. It emails. It sends texts. It checks the score of the Dallas Mavericks games. It wakes me up at 5:30 every morning and lets me snooze twice for ten minutes at a time. It keeps my calendar and gives me directions."

I've got a phone like that. It's a great little device. And I can relate to what Jackson writes next about gradual shift in power -- from owning a cell phone to being owned by one. Her example of the phone is really just an example, or more accurately a symptom, of larger issues. The part of her description which captures me today is this:

Over time, and by my own free will...

When I stop and really think about it, the musts and shoulds which cause me the most stress are usually the ones which are not for me to own. When I stop and really think about it, I sometimes discover that the tight spots I find myself in are largely of my own making, growing from a long series of small decisions made individually over time -- usually from creating faulty expectations of myself or choosing to accept faulty expectations of others, rather than intentionally seeking out and following the path God places in front of me.

It reminds me again of Hummel's "Tyranny of the Urgent." Over time, and by my own free will, I can become distracted from my purpose, my values, my intent. Yet over time, and by my own free will, I can also choose to reorient back toward my intended purpose, values, intent. I want the "little" decisions to reflect that latter, better orientation.

Today has been quiet and refreshing. I feel like my soul has been catching up to my body today, and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Distance Perspective

"In front of me sat a large pile of cattle carcasses, still smoldering from the fire that had essentially destroyed them. Occasionally, I'd hear a crackle or pop coming from the heap, but for the most part, the grassy English field was silent.

Thankfully, I was four thousand miles away, cozied up in my apartment and watching this on TV, far removed from the smells that would have been carried by the damp winds. I was tuned in to a BBC channel, viewing a documentary about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, an affliction better known as mad cow disease."
-- Anne Jackson

Thus begins Jackson's approach to a different subject marked by its own dis-ease, close and tender to her own heart and to the hearts of those she seeks to reach with her writing. I am intrigued by her starting point because of the distance it introduces, and I wonder what she'll do with that.

Distance creates barriers. Like sitting comfortably and far away on a couch, it is tempting to deal with difficult and messy subjects by creating an intellectual separation so the issues cannot reach the heart. Until the heart is engaged, though, mental assent doesn't mean much.

At the same time, distance has the potential to create safety. Sometimes it helps to step back a little, to gain the perspective of standing a little further away and perhaps from a different angle. This may be just what is needed to create space to explore and express what feels particularly risky.

I don't want to find myself living always so close that I find myself swallowed up and lost in complex issues, unable to find my way out.

At the same time, I am cautious about standing so far back that all the details blur together, allowing neither recognition of the different aspects of the situation nor the understanding to successfully navigate whatever immediate situation I find myself in.

There is something to be said for bifocals -- or better yet, those newfangled transition lenses that allow for seeing well at a variety of distances. That is how I want to see the world around me. I love Jackson's image of distance as she approaches a difficult subject, both acknowledging the messiness which can be quite personal and allowing enough distance to make it palatable. I hope she writes in the balance of the two.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Box o' Memories

I was in our storage room today looking for Christmas stuff when I saw this:

I was suddenly intrigued by it. It's my box, presumably with my memories, right? But I haven't seen the inside of that box since... um... I don't know when. I have no idea what is in there, and I wonder what my filtering process was in choosing those items. I wonder, too, what I would put in a similarly-sized box if I were to create one from within my current stage in life.

Of course, the obvious solution to some of my questions is to open the box and see... but not today. Too much is going on right now, and if this is a good Box o' Memories, I don't want to be rushed through it.

I'm awfully curious, though.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Coffee" Shops

I don't like the taste of straight coffee -- even the so-called "good" stuff. Even so, I spend a decent amount of time in coffee shops. Why? It's not about the coffee, but about the space such shops create.

So, what is it about coffee shops?

Space for projects, relationships, and relaxation

Public places that leave space for private conversations

Abundance of power outlets

Wireless internet access

Comfy couches

Cozy tables

Sense of movement

Temporary "office" space

Quiet enough to start working

Noisy enough to continue working

Lovely variety of beverages and pastries

And good memories

Looking back over the past year, much that is important to me has happened in coffee shops -- pausing to rest and ponder after significant experiences, engaging in meaningful conversations with others, developing thoughts and ideas that have eventually borne good fruit, reading, writing, learning, and simply enjoying time "away."

The taste of straight coffee does not appeal to me, but I do very much appreciate what we mix it with these days -- steamed milk, caramel syrup, hospitable space, and some of the people I love.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Windy Tale of Woe and Not-So-Woe

I read a story recently of a pastor who cheerfully began prayer on a cold and stormy Sunday morning with thanks "that most days aren't like this." That sums it up for me pretty well right now.

Waking slowly this morning, I sat up and turned on my phone to check messages and weather, then Facebook. My internet connection was unusually slow. Eventually I started to see status updates – apparently I had slept through quite a windstorm. My still-groggy brain processed that information and I began to realize there was a lot of noise coming from outside. Big noise. Windy-sounding noise.

I don't remember why I first went outside, but I found most of the front section of our fence had been blown down.

Going onto the lawn to investigate the damage, I looked across the back yard and saw much fence down on the back side, too.

The still-strong winds were threatening to destroy even more, so we went out into it and took down strategic sections to provide a bit more stability.

Immediate situation stabilized a bit more, I went online looking for reliable fencing repair companies.

Until we lost our Internet connection.

And then our internal network.

And then our electricity.


Clearly we were not going to find a fence repair company quickly.

But, as it turns out, that really did not matter because our cell phones would not make calls, and texting was iffy, too.

We could see the freeway from our place and the cars were not moving. Still, Mark needed to go to work, and it was clearly going to take a while to get there, so he kissed me goodbye and headed out.

A few moments later, he came back in because he needed to take my car -- the back window of his had shattered when the basketball standard came down in the storm.

So… I'm at home. The dog has been out of sorts with all the excitement. There is a bunch of shattered glass across the seats of the car, which would be awfully windy and cold to drive anyway. A load of still-wet laundry sits in the dryer, and the soapy mess of the next load is in the wash. No lights, no furnace, no cooking.

I really wish this day had been different, that we were not having high winds and the damages they cause. I wish I were not listening still to stuff coming apart around the neighborhood.

Even so, I am reminded that I have much to be genuinely grateful for. And really, all this is not so bad. Yes, it will be expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient. But our house is still standing, and even our large tree seems to be holding strong. We will probably have power and heat by tomorrow. In fact, our house had heated up already this morning before the power went out, so it is not freezing cold in here. I am grateful for crews of police and power company people and others who have been working for hours in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions to get things back to normal. I am grateful for hats and layers of warm clothes. Oddly, though I still can't make phone calls, I have email and internet on it, which has been helpful.

And... I am grateful that most days aren't like this.