Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

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information and revelation…

I think the internet might be sucking the brain from my head. I used to think it was aliens from outer space coming in the night, extracting my brain cells and wiping my memory clean. Now, I’m pretty sure it is the internet or maybe it is the news on the internet. In any case, the brain is being sucked from my head and I am fully on board with it. If I was not fully on board with it I would shut down the internet on my computer and try to reclaim what is left of my poor, soggy grey matter.

The lure of the internet for me is clear; information and revelation. I like knowing more, learning more, hearing more. I want more, more, more. The more I know (or think I know) the more I feed the illusion of power and control. But of course, as that Spiderman movie taught me, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If I know more (or think I know more) then of course I have a responsibility to SHARE that knowledge, don’t I? And so I tweet. I tweet therefore I am (in control.)

The part that worries me though isn’t that I tweet too much or that I have too many crazy political arguments on Facebook. The part that worries me is that when I do sit down to write I find myself stuck after about 140 characters. I find that expanding my thoughts to more than the size of a Facebook post feels overwhelming and clunky. What was my point? Why didn’t I make my point in the last paragraph so that people can get on with their lives? Are you still reading?

Now for a word from our sponsors.

Social media saved my creative life. It brought me back from the unpublished dead more than once when I first began. Starting a blog opened up an avenue to me that did not exist 20 years ago. It was a new road; unpaved and less travelled. These days the “blogosphere” is a super highway; crowded and loud, the air is cloudy and the potholes are deadly. In the early days “web logs” were diaries, private thoughts, writing exercises and perhaps for a number of people they still are, but the pressure now feels global. I have to write with a larger view in mind, I should plan for outsiders reading my work, I should monetize, I should diversify, I should get a bigger server, strive for better SEO, stronger presence, graphic design and clean message.

It’s exhausting…and maybe not really the point of it all anyway.

The lure of the internet also brings revelation. It might just be me but all my life I have lived for the mail delivery. Every day is Christmas when the mail comes. It isn’t that I have traditionally gotten amazing things every day in the mail, it is just that sometimes, I have gotten amazing things; packages, correspondence, coupons, doesn’t matter. The potential for amazing things exists because of mail delivery.

And now, I can get mail every day, all day long, essentially. With the advent of email the potential for amazing things happening increased 100 fold. With the start of Twitter, amazing interactions could happen with alarming frequency. I promise, I will not stop tweeting until I finally get William Shatner to give me a shout out.  It’s a weird goal but a girl’s gotta dream right? Don’t even get me started on the mass interaction bonanza of Facebook. You can keep your Farmville, frankly, but give me the news feed on a slow writing day and I’m a happy camper. I find myself hitting refresh just to see what ELSE is happening in the world.

More. More. More.

The worst part about all of it, the dangerous part for someone like me, who purports to be a writer, is that it all feels productive. Martha Plimpton retweeted me to her followers so I think I accomplished something. 70 people “liked” my post on Facebook so all signs point to affirmation. It’s trite to say that social media and perhaps the internet experience is, after all, a “slippery slope” but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Sometimes “trite” gets it right.

And so what’s the solution then? Quit tweeting? Quit Facebook? Quit the internet? I know quite a number of people who have done just that and lived to tell about it. I still have friends who won’t touch Facebook or Twitter with a ten foot pole. Even my priest gives me grief that I prefer email to phone calls.

It helps, I suppose that I do at least admit the underlying principle to my problem. This underlying principle is easy to put my finger on, it’s a long time issue. In a chatroom full of people I doubt I’d be the only one raising my cyber hand if asked about it.

Online interactions remind me that I’m not alone.

For an introvert, prone to awkwardness in real life settings, the internet is safe. The internet is for those of us who look inward first. It is stunning how easily I can turn a phrase and show my worth on the internet while in person I struggle with the right facial cues. In person I feel I am navigating the world from inside some giant machine with arms and legs I cannot control or recognize. Alas, it’s ironic then, that being online really IS me, inside some giant machine with arms and legs I cannot control or recognize. It is the illusion of control and power, the illusion of profundity, the illusion of productivity. And this is the sound of my brain being sucked out of my head; the fear that absent the constant affirmation of computer information and digital revelation I will simply fade away to nothing, that I would find myself sitting in a quiet room with no good thoughts of my own, with no real hands to hold, no soft words whispered in my ear…

This is not a promise to stop tweeting or stop posting on Facebook or stop refreshing my email or even to stop writing on my blogs. This is simply a moment of reflection, a nod toward intrinsic information, a quest for real revelation on a road that is overgrown and untended but not forgotten.

“Although the road is never ending
take a step and keep walking,
do not look fearfully into the distance.
On this path let the heart be your guide
for the body is hesitant and full of fear.”

― Rumi

guns and ammunition…

This is a rant. It’s all I got.

Another shooting today, this time in New York City. The Empire State Building saw bloodshed this morning and after the initial “newsy” tweets came the barrage of finger-pointing and sarcastic remarks and thoughtless, souless jokes and I fell to tears because it was all I could do. Sitting alone today, two kids at school and two kids away on a trip with their dad I fell to tears in the wake of yet another shooting and another wave of commentary, speculation, wry connections to political parties and religion and left or right wings and I fell to tears because it was all I could do.  Perhaps it is all any of us can do, really. Smug remarks won’t fix our broken spirits. Sarcastic retorts won’t keep this from happening again. There is no “perfect” candidate to vote into office.  There is no “perfect” solution to what ails us. What ails us is too deep, too rooted in mistrust, anchored to an absence of hope and an abundance of apathy.

“Us” is a big term, unwieldy, unmanageable. I can only speak for myself perhaps. I can only answer for my own part in how things unfold. It is all about being “local.”

I’ve tried posting about intelligent discourse where politics is concerned. I’ve tried to curb my own tendencies to fall into being a smart alec when confronted to non intelligent discourse. It seems to fall on deaf ears and I admit, often I don’t take my own advice when it comes to curbing my outrage when the news cycle revs up. It’s a struggle, there is so much machine to rage against.

It seems as though the only goal I can set for myself these days when it comes to political discussions and news of the world is simply this, “Try not to be an asshole.” Whatever I post, whatever I respond, whatever I think or feel I’m working the hardest to just not be an asshole toward my fellow man where politics is concerned. Heaven knows I am prone to fail at this and for that I am most truly apologetic because after all is said and done no matter who gets elected I really want to keep the friends I have and I’d prefer they didn’t think I was an arrogant asshole.

Lord knows, the discussion won’t miss the opinion of one more asshole.

I fell to tears today in the wake of the anger and infighting and loss of life. I fell to tears and prayers of “Lord, have mercy” because in the end, it feels as though it is all I can do. In the name of compassion and kindness, we fall to tears.

in defense of distraction…or…social media cures writer’s block

Much has been said lately about the destructive properties of sites like Facebook. It comes as no surprise to me that the information circulating now is that social media raises our insecurity factors and increases bouts of envy, that it might shorten our attention span, that it might help to erode our “in person” encounters. In a way, for social media addicts like me it is like telling someone who lives on Diet Coke about all the bad effects of diet drinks. They already know. Of course, they know but the draw of the thing they have come to love is stronger, in the long run, than the potential down sides.

This is where my diet drink comparison ends though because aspartame gives me a headache.

As I sat and stared at the blank page today for the balance of my writing time I found my anxiety level rising fast. I only have this small window of opportunity to write every day and that window will dwindle when two of my kids start going to “real school” in the Fall and homeschool ramps up for the other two kids at home. I’ll have to get up earlier, I’ll have to make sure there are clean clothes for people, I’ll have to pack lunches, I’ll have to herd everyone in and out of the car more often in a day, I’ll have to endure  long choruses of “I’m bored!” and “I don’t want to get up!”

The Fall is bearing down on me pretty hard these days and the blank page doesn’t help.

Writing will never be easy for me. I already knew that. Writing is something I have to do every day; like working out, like taking vitamins, like drinking water, like washing my face. If I don’t do it every day I lose little bits of myself all over the house. I think interesting things and then find they’ve dropped out of my pocket somewhere along the line. I get depressed, I get overwhelmed, I lose sight of myself. I have to write every day, in little “dribs and drabs” as Anne Lamott says.

But when even the dribs and drabs won’t come I begin to think in those moments that what I need to do is to shut myself off from the world. I need to leave Twitter, leave Facebook, stop reading things online, stop blogging, just develop a kind of tunnel vision and power through it all. I have this weird fantasy in those moments that I will finish a novel with all that extra focus, finish a series of books about the power of the mind, about the counter cultural wonder drug of “being present” and the publishing houses will be hot on my heels at last.

The big old evil online looms before me and I call it the enemy of all things creative, I crow about how stupid I’ve been, how many hours I’ve wasted commenting and “liking” and responding. I ponder whether I’ll go quietly or make a show of it, bringing together all the other online addicts and calling for a general boycott. When writers block strikes I get desperate, you see, and blaming just about anything else feels like movement. It’s the social media, it’s the lack of a good chair, it’s the phone ringing, it’s the aspartame.

And here then out of the blue it hits me as I travel one last time to my social media stash, mind a blank where words are concerned. I see a simple post from a friend. Her status update is one of gratitude, along the lines of “Thanks Facebook, for reminding me about the beautiful things in my life.” That stopped me short.

One criticism of Facebook is that it’s distracting and that much is true. I admit when I’m writing if I don’t close the Twitter or Facebook windows I find myself meandering there when I ought to be filling the blank page. And yet, there are moments, a great number of moments, when I wander off the blank page and find myself again. There are responses to a picture I’ve posted and I remember who I am again. Sometimes I troll my own page, my own Twitter feed to find things I’ve thought or photos I’ve taken or articles I’ve highlighted and I find that I actually have something to say there. I find small moments I documented, uploaded and shared, not out of bragging but out of gratitude. I find quotes that lead me to deeper thoughts. I find friends I have not seen in decades and would not have seen again if not for social media. I find theological and political insights I did not expect.

And sometimes too, I find inspiration that leads to words on a page…like these…

and an end to writers block.

So, you know…there’s that.

what you mean to say…

**THERE HAS BEEN AN UPDATE TO THIS POST AS OF 6/1/2012 See Below***

I don’t follow Rick Warren. Frankly I don’t know much about him apart from the fact that he is a pastor of a really large church and has written a number of books that Christians seem to like an awful lot. I don’t know anything about his character or his sense of humor although he appears to be someone who offers spiritual direction, a man who is taken seriously in the Christian world.

A tweet he posted came through my feed over the weekend. It came through my feed because several people I do follow, some of whom I know live and in person, follow Rick Warren. The tweet was this:

“If they’re cute, it’s flirting. If they’re ugly, it’s harassment.”

No context, no explanation. At first, my Twitter friends and I thought he’d been “hacked” since the posting previous was hours before and the posting after offered no context for it. Perhaps it was a “one-off” tweet, a passing thought, a drunk tweet. It’s hard to say. Lord knows I post things all the time that cross the border from sensible and head straight into the stupidity time zone. The statement gnawed at me as it did several others I know. It was a knee jerk response on my part, I admit and so I puzzled about it. “I wonder what he meant.”

I checked his Facebook page and found the ensuing discussion about the tweet. I was not the only one who wondered why he would post something like this. The troubling thing, though, was the number of people who found it funny, the number of “likes” on the page, the number of people who jumped in with a LOL and “that’s funny because it’s true!” comment.

It isn’t funny and it isn’t true.

What is true is that harassment is not trivial. What is true is that our culture already subscribes to statements like this pack of steaming bullshit. Women in particular suffer this sort of judgement day after day.  What is true is that many many people make statements like this every day and it only perpetuates the bullshit. Our task is not to just laugh it off but to look a little deeper at it and to ask more questions about those statements.

The second bit of what gnawed at me this weekend is this- my reaction comes not because “someone” said this but rather because someone who is known as a spiritual director has said it. If one of my friends had made this statement I would have called them out on it. I would have required them to give me some context on it and I hope they would do so. Sure, we all say bonehead things but I hope we have enough friends who will metaphorically slap us silly when we do. We ought to articulate these things even if we’re “kidding around.” The things we joke about are not toss off, they are not unimportant. We make jokes about them because we DO find them important even if we also find them ridiculous. They hit us where we live, either as outrage or as humorous because we care about the implications of that joke.

Rick Warren has posted and tweeted since this one and has made no commentary on it. He has given no explanation of it. If you look at the discussion on his Facebook fan page you’ll find a number of people explaining “what he meant.” They have given it context that was not written by Rick Warren directly but by the image they have in their head of who they expect him to be. People who are “giving grace” and lending context don’t help the discussion. “What he meant was” means nothing if it’s not coming from the man himself in my opinion. He’s able to respond. He simply seems unwilling to explain it.

In any case, perhaps we all ought to be working harder on saying what we mean to say. It may help dispel the mythology we build into our day-to-day interactions around who are and how we are with one another.

************UPDATE**************

Four days after I published this post and after several other bloggers posted pieces about it, after many many people retweeted the offending remark and even more people either commented on Rick Warren’s Facebook page to ask about it or @replied him on the subject, Mr Warren made a post on Facebook which read:

I clearly was hacked. Anyone who thinks I’d say this doesnt know me at all. In fact I never saw this until a couple of hours ago when some alerted me to it on Twitter and I instantly removed it there. I don’t pay much attention to this particular Facebook page because it is a public account. Who knows where else the doofus posted this? As a pastor who has to constantly deal with the emotional damage from sex trafficking, abortion, abuse, slavery, pornography, gendercide, sex addictions and every other violation of God’s law that demeans and destroys, I never joke about sin.

Just before he posted this he also made another remark on Twitter and Facebook to this effect:

Now, I as I said, I do not generally follow Mr Warren. I have not read his books. Perhaps this is in fact his attempt at humor. My response to this tweet/update is that if a friend told me this over drinks in a bar I would let it slide with little more than a head shake and “that’s not actually funny.” I’m a child of divorce. I take the subject seriously. I don’t think it’s a matter of joking. My point, as it was above, is that I don’t feel Rick Warren has the luxury of making jokes such as this interspersed with little wisdom gems from his books and scripture quotes. It’s a harsh judgement on my part, yes. Still, I believe it to be true.

It’s entirely possible that he will say this was a hacked tweet as well in the next four days. I have no idea. What I do know is that the whole thing feels a bit fishy to me.

discourse…

When I’m stressed out or keyed up I vacuum. It’s relaxing, it’s my happy place. I don’t know if it’s the whirring hum of the vacuum cleaner or the idea that I am restoring some order to the chaos but I can tell you I come up with most of my best word choices when I’m vacuuming. So I wrote this poem, for our poetry tuesday, while under the influence of the vacuum cleaner. It has nothing to do with vacuuming.

It’s a departure from my other poems and honestly, I think it comes from all the social media political arguments I’ve witnessed lately – this idea that we can hurt each other so easily now, over the interwebs, without ever seeing each other’s faces. It’s disturbing that we can be hateful so easily, so long distance. It bothers me.

Anyway, that’s the backstory…if there’s a backstory.

Hope it conjures something good, true and beautiful in you today-

 

discourse

I should be afraid of you
because you can hurt me
concealed weapon
open carry
doesn’t matter
knife, gun
brick, hammer
truth, lie
doesn’t matter
I should be afraid-
my own
limited arsenal
not enough 
to counter 
your attack,
your retreat
doesn’t matter
both bring injury
near fatal wounding
close,
closeted,
commonplace
pain
perhaps
we should both 
be a little
afraid.

©ADC 2011

one thing…

This is the only time I’m going to ask you this. Seriously.

You see that little button below the post? It says something like “share this” or some such thing.

Here’s what I want to ask…we’re all friends here, aren’t we? That’s not the question, that was just a build up to the question.

The real question is, when you like a post you read here can you share it? Will you? Won’t you? You never know, someone else you hang with might really need to read something along those lines at that very moment.

It’d help me out a lot. It really would. 🙂
thanks, friend.

-mrs m.