of algorithms and facebook likes…

mrsmetaphorwrites

My 13-year-old son had to explain algorithms to me. It’s okay, I’m not embarrassed or anything. I am comfortable with the amount of data my brain has deleted over the years in the “math” department. When I stop remembering whether or not I like chocolate and coffee then I’ll be worried but until then I’ll live with the blank spots where the math facts used to be.

He had to explain it to me because I had just read an article about how Facebook works where “Page likes” are concerned. Only recently I was complaining to someone about the low “seen by” numbers coming at me when I would post something on my Facebook “fan” page. I don’t have a ton of people who follow my page but they mean a lot to me. I like them. I’d buy them all donuts if I could. Who knows, maybe I will one day.

Apparently the new algorithm (which is a set of rules or calculations for data processing, just so you know) skews better for large corporate types and not so good for the small, home-grown types such as myself. It sucks because the small, homegrown types such as myself really can’t play ball on the field the big guys use. For a good patch of time, Facebook leveled that playing field, giving us a chance to actually reach people who might not have normally seen our work before but now, the way things have changed, not even my own peeps are seeing my posts on a regular basis and that hurts.

But that’s not really what I’m here to talk about today. This post came to me via Twitter from Angela England, who is all kinds of awesome. In this post, entitled, “Your Facebook Fans do not owe you anything” Angela talks not about the algorithm but about the whole idea of Facebook “fans,” a term with which I have always been uncomfortable. When I started the “fan” page on Facebook it was for this blog, Mrs Metaphor but when my book contract came through (yay!) I realized that what I wanted to work toward in that page was more than just showing blog posts from Mrs Metaphor. I mean, I like sharing thoughts I come across about the writing process, about the changing nature of publishing and sometimes (but not always) about emergency kittens. This post from Angela England hit me in a good place today in the wake of the whole “algorithm” realization. It shifted me back into the place I want to be because to be honest, having a book coming out throws me into a little bit of a panic sometimes. There’s some new pressure to having someone commit to edit, print and distribute this 75k words one has compiled and I don’t want to succumb to that pressure.

Suffice it to say that though I am not pleased with the algorithm stuff on Facebook, I am thankful for the reminder from Angela England about what’s really important where social media and my work are concerned. I’m thankful for that home-grown group of lovely fans who have chosen to “like” and “follow” me both here and on the various social media sites. That’s all. Thank you for being there and being willing to simply walk alongside. You really do mean a lot to me.

I hope I get the chance to buy you all a donut one day. I mean that.

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good things…

NearlyOrthodoxThe manuscript for my book is now heaving a sigh of relief from my laptop in the corner of the room. After the last few months of staring at it each morning at 6am and typing furiously into the computer- sometimes laughing, sometimes sobbing- I hit “print” and then pushed the silver macbook aside. I’ll let it breathe there on the drive while hard copies come with me this week to The Glen and with Dave on his trip to parts unknown. While the digital master rests, rising like bread before baking, the paper copies will be subject to line edits and commentary and blue highlighter, because blue is my favorite color. All that to say that if I’ve been absent, ignoring emails or phone calls, silent online (it happens) then this has been the cause.

Hang tight, Lovelies. Good things coming.

-mrs m.

the last supper…

The spread in the calendars divides me this year from my “western leaning” Christian friends and family. On this day, the Gregorian calendar informs us that it is Good Friday. In about 5 weeks the Julian calendar will issue its own proclamation of Good Friday and I’ll be in the throes of Holy Week finally. In between I’ll be scrounging and stockpiling marshmallow peeps and waiting.

I ran across this poem today though by Ranier Maria Rilke and thought I’d post it for those of you who are embracing the dark and the hope-filled this weekend. Our calendars may not agree but the sense of what we’re doing here, why we follow this narrative and not another, on that point at least we agree.

The Last Supper

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.

[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper”, Milan 1904.]
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
Rainer Maria Rilke

life and life and life…

Not long ago my kids and I were out driving and we drove by a Pro-Life group protesting a women’s clinic. As we pulled up to the stop light, they held signs up to our car window of aborted fetuses. My children were horrified. I was horrified. It was, in my opinion, the worst approach to this conversation, which ought to be about “life” in my estimation- life of the mother, life of the child, life of the partner, life of the family, life of the community…it is life and life and life.

I was angry.

Because of this event I was put into a position of explaining the scene to my children in some way. Now, the easiest way to explain it would be with judgement and spite either for the women going into the clinic or the people holding the protest. I found that there was no way for me to adequately explain to my children, 14 and under, what this whole conversation means. It is not merely a conversation about abortion or women’s rights or legislating morality. It is all of these and more. In the end, I think I was able to couch it in general terms. To downplay the horror tactics, to show mercy and grace and care to all involved. It was exhausting. Perhaps it ought to be exhausting. It is complicated.

Then, later my teenage daughter asked me whether I am pro-life or pro-choice. I told her that this was something I’d been thinking about for a long time and that it was not as simple as slapping a label on myself anymore. It used to be or at least I thought it used to be easy.

I have been consistently “pro-choice” for as long as I can remember. I told my daughter that I do not like abortion.  I do, however, support a woman’s ability to make these decisions for her own body. I do not think that the government ought to be deciding these things. I believe that a woman should have the ability to decide what is best for her situation. I told her that many years ago abortion was not safe nor was it legal and that women still made that choice. I told her that many women died because of this. For a long time, this separation worked for me, being pro-choice was about the law and being pro-life was about the spiritual repercussions of the act. I was able to find the comfortable middle there.

To be honest until recently I hadn’t thought much about the effects of my being a Christian in a society that would sanction this procedure. I’m an empowered woman, a modern woman, I am all about supporting the sisters. But now I am becoming Eastern Orthodox and my Catholic roots are beginning to show. Old messages about life and conception and contraception are creeping up. Old thoughts and beliefs start to mix with new ideas about the ancient and the sacred and then my heart sinks a little, a lot…and often.

My heart breaks for those women who have felt this was the only choice they had just as my heart breaks for the people who think that taking away this choice would suddenly change our society’s view of the sanctity of all lives. I told my daughter that I would love to live in a world in which abortion was made obsolete, not because it was shamed out of us, not because it was illegal, not because it was stamped with such venom that anyone who would consider it was treated with suspicion or punishment but because we would, as a culture, understand what it meant to show one another love and care rather than judgement and spite.

It would mean that we, as a people, would have a good general grasp of ourselves as embodied. That we would, as a people understand the sacredness of our bodies, of our lives. That we would know the inner workings of these bodies and know our motivations and our desires, that we would be emotionally healthy enough to keep these things in perspective as we enter into relationships. It would mean that we were present enough to our lives that we could have words to explain this to our own children, to our godchildren, to our students and our patients.

It would mean that we would know how to support a woman who finds herself in a position of unplanned pregnancy. It would mean that this woman would feel that support in a real and solid way, that we would all remember that a woman is fundamentally changed by those nine months- physically, emotionally, spiritually, on a cellular level and that we would have the resources to walk alongside someone who has found herself here, regardless of circumstance.

But in order for this world to happen and in order for planned (or supported) parenthood to be a “reality” rather than simply a service provider we’d have to see a seismic shift in attitude and action and in both men and women of our society.

“In a perfect world” is an easy way to postulate that comfy middle ground I’ve been burrowing in for lo these many years of my adult female life. The “I wish” position has earmarks of the grace and the care I want to convey but it is only effective, only authentic, if I also admit to the reality that we do not live in a perfect world no matter how much I pine for it. I find now that my comfy middle ground of being “pro-life” because I support the idea that life is sacred but yet pro-choice because the government can’t tell me how manage my uterus is no longer adequate. It’s not enough and it’s not enough because I put no action behind either of these positions. I just sit comfortably in front of the televised debate and cast my vote when the time comes while doing nothing. I abdicate my action by voting for people I hope do the right thing but what actions do I take to help bring about the “I wish” kind of culture, the culture in which abortion is something unnecessary?

I do not have answers here. I do not know what I have to do to find that place of integrity again. Perhaps it is right for me to be uncomfortable, that this issue of how we view human life really should never resemble a bean bag chair on the floor in front of the television. There is a seismic shift happening and it is happening in me now, rumbling and cracking me open, creating deep fissures in the crust of my own belief system and I do not know what my landscape will resemble when it all said and done. I hope in the end, when the smoke has cleared and the dust has settled that I will always err on the side of mercy and grace and care… and life and life and life…

memoir…

We’re all writing a book, did you know?
The book you’re writing and the book I’m writing…all the same genre- personal non fiction, memoir. We’re all writing the story of our lives. Perhaps this explains the rise of the blog on the internet, the rise of “memoir” in the bookstore. We are all writing the story of our lives in some way or another. I wonder if the reason we see more personal blogs and more mid life memoir is because in some strange way we’re all a little afraid that tomorrow won’t make it here. We want to make our mark now, we want to tell our story out loud, have someone read it and affirm it, tell us it’s all going to be alright, that we’re alright. I think this is true.

I’ve begun this new thing…exploring Eastern Orthodoxy…it’s been, hm…difficult and beautiful. So I’m writing about it. That’s what I do. If I don’t write about things that are difficult and beautiful then I’m afraid they’ll fade into nothing in the night or that they won’t fade…that I’ll never understand the story of myself. So I write about it.

So today, I’ll post something I’ve written about the journey. I do most of the emotional and mental gymnastics at my UnorthodoxlyOrthodox blog but it felt right to post this bit here today.
————————————————————–
remedial…

Where matters of faith are concerned everything is remedial.

I have become a pilgrim of sorts in the last six months on a road I never imagined myself taking. The destination is not new. I can easily say that meeting God on a regular basis has been the destination that I look toward. I’m all about it. In my best moments I suppose I thought I was already there, sipping Mai Tai’s with God on a beach somewhere. In my worst moments I thought I’d at least be taking a plane to get there.

This ancient road is a surprise. It’s dusty and wide, this road. It can be lonely. Sometimes I don’t see another soul for miles. In the heat of the day the road of Orthodoxy is arduous and beautiful. In the calm of the night it is expansive, the moon and the stars provide company, promise, revelation.

But where matters of faith are concerned everything is remedial.

The word comes from the latin, remedialis, meaning “healing, curing.” Everything about faith is this. Everything.

When I began the Orthodoxy 101 classes in October I joked to my priest that I ought to be able to test out of the 101 and go right to the 200 level courses. Being raised Catholic and then continuing to follow Christ through adulthood, albeit non-denominationally, I thought I already “knew” what I needed to know about God. I got the Creed, I got the catechism, I got the history, I got it.

I would sit in the class and nod my head. I got this. I would answer the questions. I would engage the discussion. I got this. I ought to be at the next level, thought I.

And then I began a life of prayer and it all changed. I had a moment, finally, when I looked down at my feet and saw the mud and sand caked there. My bare feet alongside those of the other pilgrims. All feet bare, all feet caked in mud and sand. We are all on this ancient road, this unpaved and dirty road. We are all at level one, we are all trying to avoid the rocks, the injury, the oppressive heat of the day, the cool loneliness of the night. We are all seeking the steady beauty of the One who made us, we are all desperate for His breath on our skin, His lips on ours to ease the crushing weight of the world we feel pressing in on that deep, empty place in our hearts.

Where matters of faith are concerned, everything is remedial. Everything.

curtain #2….

A quick look at my nightstand today reveals something I already knew but hadn’t quite put together yet. I want to be healthy. It brings up a lot of weird things for me lately so thought I’d write about it today, this being the last week of 2010 and all.

The three books I’m giving turns in my brain right now are: “Healing Back Pain” by Dr. John Sarno, “The Green Smoothie Diet” by Robin Openshaw and “A beginners guide to the Philokalia” by Anthony M. Coniaris.

I have always held to the idea that much that ails us physically has it’s roots in the mind, not that physical pain isn’t real, it truly IS real. My back and neck pain HURTS me, quite a lot actually. It’s more that Dr Sarno’s assertion is that much of what we experience in this isn’t an ongoing result of injury or malformation. His premise is that what causes recurring back and neck pain is tension and it’s shifty sisters, fear and anger. His premise is that to treat the pain is not effective on it’s own, what we need to do is work out the anger, tension and fears to overcome what ails us. It’s a fascinating read, I highly recommend it whether you have back pain or not, it’s good science, seriously.

The Green Smoothies gig is an oft recurring theme with me, one that I keep moving towards and then lose energy around. I’m pretty sure this is what my kids will remember most about me. I kept trying…I kept getting worn down….I caved….and I tried again. I feel pretty strongly that my body works best when it’s fed a LOT of green leafies. It’s near to impossible to convince my family to come alongside. I need affirmation too much right now, I cannot hear “Oooooo yuck!” at every meal and keep going. I confess, I just don’t have the reserves to fight THAT battle. So, in lieu of fighting that battle I’m scaling back and doing three day hardcore Green Smoothie fasts now and again.

As most of you know, I’m now a catechumen in the Greek Orthodox faith. With this process I’m reading as much as I possibly can to bridge what feels like a Grand Canyon size gap between where I am and where I want to be. One of those books is this one on the Philokalia, which is a series of holy writings by the early Church Fathers from the 4th to the 15th centuries. It’s a treasure trove of awesome insights into spiritual health. It’s overwhelming and it’s beautiful, it’s uplifting as it is terrifying.

So this is all good stuff…I’m always all about the good stuff even as I wallow in the bad stuff and look sideways at the in between stuff. What scares me the most about becoming healthy is frankly this…I worry about what I leave behind. It sounds downright crazy, friends, but I admit, I’m worried that being healthy won’t be all that it’s cracked up to be, I worry that I’ll miss the old me, the old habits, the things that get me ATTENTION.

I’m still unpacking this in my brain and my heart so it’s a little vague perhaps. I’m sure I’ll more to say as I get into it more and more each day. Today though, what strikes me is that when I peer into my tight fist at the things I cling to what I see in that sweaty palm seems at once immensely valuable and positively toxic. What strikes me is that it is hard for me to consider giving up WHAT I KNOW…for what lies behind curtain #2, even knowing that what’s behind curtain #2 is possibly a trip to Hawaii or a brand new car but certainly, at the very least a new set of cookware. I know for certain, the worst prize I’d trade would be better than the old set of knives that are currently digging into my closed, clammy, palms.

Here’s to 2011…and curtain #2.

vespers…

the light surprised me
I thought it would be dark
murky and mysterious
but the sky was open
wide and airy

the scent was
as I had expected
heady and sweet
I closed my eyes
the priest walked
down the aisles
with soft footsteps
garments rustling
censer clinking
and I took it all into me

If only
I could photograph the scent
and the feeling I get
in my heart and head
when the chanting mixes in
washes over me
wave like
and whispering
and carry it always
in my right hand
pocket

©2010 adc

longing…

As you can see from my post yesterday, I’ve been reading Rumi lately. If you have never read Rumi then now’s the time, friend, now’s the time. Go back to the poem from yesterday and read through that. Read it aloud if you can. Let it sink into your skin and enter your bloodstream. It’s lovely.

One of the things that Rumi always stirs in me is longing. Just consider that word for a moment…longing. The longing I have today is stretched lengthwise from my neck to my hips. It is wide, reaching out into my ribcage and around my waist. It does not cut thin into my lungs but envelopes them, cradles them. I can feel this longing hold my heart closer in, the pounding making bass drum music in my chest. This is the pain and the beauty of it all. I’m strangely attracted to this feeling, maybe that’s universal, maybe I’m just weird.

There are, of course, some desires, some longings, that hurt us, keep us from the good. But the one I have today, this is a good longing. It is a longing for something deeper, it is a longing for God, a return to the mystery of faith, the mystic in the mirror…

This is a healthy longing, necessary. What is dangerous about longing for something deeper, I think, is mistaking the deep for “something more.” I don’t need “more” of most things. I’m not terribly material in my desires. I’m not dissatisfied with my family or my marriage. I don’t want “more” I just want what I have, only deeper, if that makes sense.

I am most tempted to say I need more patience but in reality I don’t think I need more…I need deeper patience. I need something below the surface of me that is rooted. If I can start to operate out of a secure, safe, real rooted place I know that the patience I require will rise to meet me. I can put any “more” need solidly in that paragraph and know that it’s equally true. I don’t need more faith, I need deeper faith. I don’t need more love, I need deeper love. I don’t need more intelligence, I need deeper intelligence.

I need that deep safe place and I’m pursuing that with all I am. That is my longing on this fine day…a deep safe place. I think that’s a holy desire.

prayer…


This is my prayer rope or chotki. I bought this about 5 years ago and wore it a bit off and on. I bought it because I needed a reminder, I thought, about prayer and because I’ve had this tiny crush on orthdoxy.

I had historically approached prayer in a casual way, a “hey, God…how’s it goin?” kind of way. This was really effective for a long time, actually. I like to think it was effective because I still lived at home metaphorically speaking. I lived in the faith that my parents built for me. I was born into a narrative, the Catholic narrative, and it fit me. It was safe for me. It was familiar.

I moved out of that house though. It no longer contained me, my old room offered me old comfort but no new challenge, no expression of who I was becoming as a grown up, so I moved out. It was not a rebellious action, it was a natural one. An action that perhaps we all experience whether we’re aware of it or not.

I’ve been mindful to keep my faith in the One who made me, the Son made flesh, the Spirit as counselor. That part of my faith never wavered. As much as I’ve loved the people, the place and the practice of each home I’ve visited since I left my parent’s house there’s always been something wanting in me. Maybe it’s the maturing process. I hope so.

This brings me back to my prayer rope. When I ordered it I had been given the advice that I ought to have proper instruction on how to use it. I didn’t seek out that instruction at the time, wearing only as a reminder of what I OUGHT to be doing. It was scratchy though, not at all comfortable. The knots were hard to hold, it was difficult for me to focus. I had to keep shifting it throughout the day, taking it off to wash my hands, wash the dishes, change a diaper. It got in the way. And so, I took it off and left it in a drawer somewhere.

Now, years later as I revisit my crush on orthodoxy, I realize now the significance of those feelings. Prayer is hard, it is difficult to focus, the reminder to pray maybe SHOULD be scratchy. There is still very much a place for me to be casual with my prayer but it can no longer be the only communication I have. So I’ve begun to wear my chotki again…this time I have sought instruction and hope to be mature enough to follow through on that. Each time I take off or put on the prayer rope to wash my hands I am reminded of prayer, each time the wool scratches me I am reminded of prayer, each knot I hold in my fingers reminds me of prayer…my fingertips telling me in no uncertain terms, “here is where we are…body and spirit…be here now.”

orthodox…

I’ve been watching you for a long time now, you long lived and heavily scented tradition, you. You’re familiar, you see, because of my Catholic roots yet you are completely mysterious. You are someone I have never met yet you feel long lost to me, unavailable, I thought, because well… I’m not Greek…not even close. I’ve kept to myself my love of your iconography and pungent incense, wide cathedral ceilings and stiff chair. I’ve disguised it as nostalgia for the past, dismissed it as completely mental and counter cultural, then again, when have I ever conformed to the sane and cultural? It’s not so surprising, then, I suppose.

So I sit in quiet-like…listening with curiosity and caution, completely unsure of what kind of future we could possibly have together. How can I love you well while I fear that under your musky breath you may speak some truth I do not like, when I fear that I’ll be judged harshly by others when they see your charcoal stained hands on my shoulders?

Even so…I find I can’t wait to see you, to know you better, to peel the layers of history and fragrance, strange and mystical, strong and steadfast until at last I see myself made whole again.