What Matters?

Happy August, friends!

Three weeks ago I was in the Collegeville Institute for a week of writing. It was a beautiful and restorative week, and I made some headway on book project #3.

Although the schedule in Collegeville was mostly unstructured, the group did get together in the evenings to talk writing: art, craft and business. One recurring theme was imitation–the tendency (conscious or unconscious) to emulate writers we admire. Consensus seemed to be that imitation was an inevitable part of the process of finding one’s own voice.

One morning I listened to a podcast in which Brian Doyle read from one of his novels. A character, close to death, was asked, “What mattered to you?” He proceeded to offer a litany of ordinary and extraordinary pleasures. I decided to imitate that format as a warmup exercise later that day, and here’s what emerged. I offer it to you unedited.

What Matters?

The crinkles around my husband’s eyes.
The shower as hot as I can stand.
The thin pink insole that slides into every brand-new pair of running shoes.
The dimple on my oldest daughter’s cheek.
The rainbow-colored array of cat ears sported by my middle daughter.
The color blue on the walls in my study.
The coarse earthiness of my son’s tousle of hair.
The hot sun slicing through a cold breeze.
The plop of almond butter into the smoothie.
Real butter melting unapologetically on the muffin or biscuit.
The word “Yes” from my mother’s mouth.
The assurance that we get better.
The bounce of patio chairs.
The words that come, sometimes haltingly, but reliably.
The sacred text that will never stop revealing something new.
The clank of the race medal placed around the neck.
The unrelenting comfort of the training.
The grunt that’s required to get out of a sweaty sports bra.
The grapefruit half, gleaming like a rose window.
The acoustic dampening of a layer of snow.
The comforting heft of a lead apron at the doctor’s office.
A row of canoes and kayaks.
The snap of a swim cap.
The text messages that pick up again no matter how much time has elapsed.
Shade.
Sugar.
Mint.
Surprise.
Any green-blue body of water.
A boarding pass.
Long shadows.
Fireflies.
Maple syrup.
Books, and books, and books.
The new New Yorker.
Sunrise on the Lincoln Memorial.
The good question.
The Perseids.
Rambling stories.
The fragrance emitted when the bread is broken.
Surprised tears.
Views from any high place.
Waterfalls.
Crawfish.
November, which begins with a riot of color and ends with subtle brown beauty.
The weathered Dutch oven that never leaves the stovetop.
Simmering spices.
The crowd in airport baggage claim clothed in hijab, dashiki, sari, turban, flipflops, tattoos.
A dead tree, splayed open in an autopsy of decomposition.

What matters to you?

Peace, Joy and Yes,
MaryAnn

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This reflection was sent to my email newsletter last week. To receive pieces like this straight to your inbox, subscribe.

Photo taken in Collegeville and posted to my Instagram.

Ten for Tuesday–I Have a New Website! Edition

Back from my epic trip, and it’s been so good to sleep in my own bed, run on familiar streets, and make oatmeal just the way I like it.

Onward!

1. ZOOM! Coaching has a website!

My side hustle of personal and professional coaching and running coaching has a web presence now. Check out zoom.coach — yes, I got one of those funky new domains. It’ll be a work in progress, but please share it with any interested folks you may know.

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2. Why We Fell for Clean Eating — The Guardian

Long but interesting article:

For as long as people have eaten food, there have been diets and quack cures. But previously, these existed, like conspiracy theories, on the fringes of food culture. “Clean eating” was different, because it established itself as a challenge to mainstream ways of eating, and its wild popularity over the past five years has enabled it to move far beyond the fringes. Powered by social media, it has been more absolutist in its claims and more popular in its reach than any previous school of modern nutrition advice…

It quickly became clear that “clean eating” was more than a diet; it was a belief system, which propagated the idea that the way most people eat is not simply fattening, but impure.

I have a friend who did one of those Whole-Whatevers that included the elimination of gluten, and now that she’s done with the challenge, she can’t eat it anymore. I have another friend who has legit celiac disease. So what do I know? I eat as many colors as I can, consume good percentages of protein, carbs and fats so I can run well, and try to manage portions and frequency on junk calories, because life’s too short not to eat an occasional Butterfinger.

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3. The International Space Station just pulled off the photobomb of a lifetime

SO COOL:

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4. Hymn by Sherman Alexie

A raw, fierce poem of resistance following Charlottesville.

Why do we measure people’s capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?

That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. …

But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger

When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?

Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?

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5. Resist and Persist

Speaking of the above, my friend the Rev. Yena Hwang preached this sermon full of love and power on Sunday. Wish I could have heard it. She had me at Brene Brown and Voldemort.

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6. What Obligation Do White Christian Women Have to Speak Out About Politics?

Speaking of the above again, I wish I’d had this interview to hand over to every parishioner (and now, every friend on Facebook) who wants the church to stay out of politics. I agree we should avoid partisanship whenever possible. But if you want the church out of politics, you need a new Bible.

I suspect that [the silence of evangelical women] their silence doesn’t just emerge from a place of fear, although I think it’d be crazy to say that’s not true. Being on the wrong side of the evangelical machine is terrifying and punitive. But I suspect that most of those women in leadership simply don’t want to alienate the people that they’re trying to lead. If there was any check in my spirit, anything that would’ve held me back, it would be that. At the core of our work, we want to be able to lead women spiritually. When we enter into fragile spaces like [politics], we are going to rock the boat, and we’re going to lose some people, and we’re going to make people upset or defensive or confused or disappointed.

The problem is that politics and controversy are inherently human. At the end of every policy is a human being. So I almost don’t know how we stay out of this—it’s actually a luxury of the privileged to stay out of it.

I honestly believe that being uncomfortable is a great deterrent of the church in our generation—that, for whatever reason, we have elevated the majority’s comfort over justice. The truth is, those days are behind us. If we are unwilling to stand by our friends on the margins, then we have no business being leaders.

Boom.

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7. Nick Ulvieri’s Chicago

I love Nick’s Instagram feed, and he has some great shots of the air show in Chicago this weekend:

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8. A controversial California effort to fight climate change just got some good news

If you, like I, needed some good environmental news.

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9. Michael Wardian becomes the second runner to complete the Leadville 100 and Pikes Peak Marathon back-to-back

This guy is a DC local and… wow. Just… I can’t.

Pulling off this rare double entails running 100 miles with an average altitude above 10,000 feet of elevation around Leadville, Colorado, and finishing it quickly enough (about 22 hours or faster) in order to have time to get into a car and drive two hours to the quirky mountain town of Manitou Springs to reach the starting line of the Pikes Peak Marathon at 7 a.m. Sunday morning.

…the Pikes Peak Marathon, of course, is 13.1 miles up… and 13.1 miles down. A mountain. THE mountain.

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10. Adam Hillman’s Geometric Obsessions

One last Instagram feed I love. His work is whimsical and satisfying… and frequently delicious.

Ten for Tuesday–Vacation Edition

Happy August!

Last week I was in Collegeville, Minnesota for a week of writing. I made some great progress in starting to shape what I hope will be book #3. This is the exciting part because it can go in so many different directions, but it’s not without its stresses–it can be hard to find a foothold with something so nebulous. My mantra at this stage is Augustine’s “It is solved by walking.” The only way out is through.

Currently I’m on a road trip with the kids and my father-in-law through the upper Midwest and a bit of Canada on our way to Maine, where Robert will join us for a week. Can’t wait to see him!

So without further ado–here’s what’s been interesting me lately:

1. Mapped: the United States and Canada at the Same Latitudes as Europe

Have you ever wondered what cities or countries sit on the same latitude as you? Wonder no more!

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2. Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated

A coaching client sent this to me, perhaps knowing that it’s like catnip for me:

So what is motivation, exactly? The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about your dwindling bank account.

This, I think, is the essence of motivation.

Much more at the link.

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3. Why Women Aren’t CEOs, according to Women Who Almost Were

It’s not a pipeline problem. It’s about loneliness,
competition and deeply rooted barriers.

Sigh.

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4. National Geographic’s Travel Photographer of the Year

These are breathtaking. A favorite:

Tarun Sinha. Crocodiles at Rio Tarcoles

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5. To Stay Married, Embrace Change

Emotional and physical abuse are clear-cut grounds for divorce, but they aren’t the most common causes of failing marriages, at least the ones I hear about. What’s the more typical villain? Change.

Feeling oppressed by change or lack of change; it’s a tale as old as time. Yet at some point in any long-term relationship, each partner is likely to evolve from the person we fell in love with into someone new — and not always into someone cuter or smarter or more fun. Each goes from rock climber to couch potato, from rebel to middle manager, and from sex crazed to sleep obsessed.

Nostalgia, which fuels our resentment toward change, is a natural human impulse. And yet being forever content with a spouse, or a street, requires finding ways to be happy with different versions of that person or neighborhood.

I genuinely like the mid-40s version of the guy I met more than half my life ago. That’s a good thing.

~

 

6. Where Do Ideas Come From?

More catnip for MaryAnn. I’m with those who says it comes from regular work + curiosity:

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7. Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

tl;dr is that teens spend way more time alone than they used to, and they report being much less happy. There’s more, but that’s a big finding.

This has inspired some conversation with my co-parent, who read this and was ready to chuck our kids’ devices out the window. I expect a more measured but decisive response from us. This article paints a serious picture. Disclaimer that I hate the sensational title, and I just now realized it’s by Jean Twenge, whose stuff about the narcissism of millenials has always felt suspiciously convenient to me. (Incidentally, we’ve already implemented the nighttime charging station for all the devices. It’s a positive change all around.)

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8. Vibrant Mushroom Arrangements Photographed by Jill Bliss

These are so cool:

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9. How harsh is your speeding ticket? A new study suggests it may come down to your race.

Oy. An important read:

Is racism in law enforcement the problem of a few bad apples, or is the system as a whole rotten?

A new working paper looking at police officer discretion in speeding tickets in Florida tries to answer this question — and it finds that the answer is somewhere in between. In total, the number of police officers who show racial bias in the study is around 25 percent — not all cops, but still a fairly high number.

One finding of note: the fine for a speeding ticket goes up if you’re going 10 mph or more over the speed limit. White people were much more likely to get tickets for going 9 mph over the speed limit than people of color.

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10. The World as 100 People, Over the Last Two Centuries

Let me leave you with some reasons to cheer. Not everything is getting worse. In fact, many things are much much better. A reason for celebration, but also for vigilance to keep it that way.

Courage to Change

I’ve just finished up a week of improv classes in Chicago. I attended one of Second City’s immersions, then tacked on a two-day workshop called The Art of Slow Comedy. I learned a lot in both venues, which I’m eager to share with my readers and the groups I speak to. (By the way, have you registered for my fall workshop yet? Yes, And: Improvisational Leadership in Times of Dizzying Change is in October at Columbia Seminary, co-led with Marthame Sanders, whose aijcast podcast is well worth a listen.)

Last week at Second City we did an exercise called improvising within a premise. I was in a group of three—two men and me. We had two minutes to come up with the basics of a scene: who, what, and where. Then we would get on stage and bring that scene to life. We were told not to pre-plan dialogue or other details of the scene.

Our group kept our premise fairly simple: a mother was taking her child to the doctor, but the doctor ignored the kid and persisted in hitting on the mother.

One of the underlying rules of improv is to “follow the fun,” and as we waited for our turn, I realized two things simultaneously:
a) Because I was the only woman in the group, it was clear they assumed I would be the mother.
b) I did NOT want to be the mother.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played this kind of scene, and it can be fun. That day, though, I was not feeling it. And I was pretty glum about the scene as a result.

Until I remembered the beauty of improv:
There’s nothing that says I have to be the mother. 

Improv is powered by imagination! And people play a different gender all the time. All I had to do was go out there and make it clear that I was someone else. So I did. When it was our turn, I plopped down on a chair and said, “Mommy, I can’t bend my knees and I really hope the doctor can fix it.” And BOOM, just like that I was the child.

Honestly, I remember very little about the scene (and besides, explaining an improv scene is never as funny as seeing it live). But it really doesn’t matter. For me, the victory was tuning in to myself enough to know that I needed to change something, and taking steps to change it. And sure enough, my scene partners said, “Yeah, we thought you were going to be the mother.” And I got to look at them, smile cryptically, and say, “Why would you assume that?” Powered by imagination. 

I’ve always loved the so-called serenity prayer:

Our group had agreed on the premise; that’s not something I could change. But the assumption that I would play a particular part, that I would conform to expectations, was something I could change. I love improv because it helps me practice courage to change what I can, when the stakes are low, so that maybe I can do it more easily when the stakes are higher.

The world is way more complicated than an improv class. And we can’t always follow the fun—sometimes life is simply a slog. But how often do I accept a premise that is foisted upon me, rather than pushing back? How often do I assume a role I really don’t have to play?

I don’t want to do that anymore.

Peace, Joy, and Yes,
MaryAnn

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Ten for Tuesday: Chicago Edition

I’m in Chicago this week, attending level 3 improv classes at Second City. It’s good to be back here. I’ve been saving these up for the past few weeks, so… onward!

1. Thirty Years of Steel Magnolias

Wonderful oral history about a fantastic, quotable movie.

We were shooting part of the Christmas scene, and this was in the dead of August, and we were sitting out on the porch of Truvy’s beauty shop. We were waiting, and there was a lot of stop and start. The women were dressed for Christmas, and Dolly was sitting on the swing. She had on that white cashmere sweater with the marabou around the neck, and she was just swinging, cool as a cucumber. Julia said, “Dolly, we’re dying and you never say a word. Why don’t you let loose?” Dolly very serenely smiled and said, “When I was young and had nothing, I wanted to be rich and famous, and now I am. So I’m not going to complain about anything.”

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2. An Open Letter to My Parents’ Pastor

This has been shared widely among my circles, but in case you missed it:

Long story short, my parents are leaving AUMC.

Here are some things you should know: we’ve been members for 13 years, since I was ten years old. My brother and I were confirmed there; I preached for the first time there; until recently, I thought I would get married there.

Another thing you should know: I am a lesbian. I came out this year, after many years of trying to deny who I was. My parents love me unconditionally. My mom cried through your sermon last Sunday. My dad calmly collected his things and told the choir director we wouldn’t be back.

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3. World’s First Waterpark for Children with Disabilities

I love waterparks, and I love this:

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4. The Most Effective Individual Steps against Climate Change

I have read some good critiques of these kinds of lists. The fact is, we need to make huge system-wide changes, rather than make this an issue of individual virtue. And not everyone has the means to make these changes. Still–I’m a fan of giving everyone some skin in the game.

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 5. People Who Tried to Take Panorama Shots and Ended Up Opening the Gates of Hell

Many giggles in the Dana house over these:

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6. How to Talk to Your Teen about Colluding with Russia

Don’t be shy about asking your teen where she has been, who she has spent time with, or why she has receipts from Cypriot bank wire transfers hidden under a false bottom of her jewelry case. If you discover a folder marked “parental Kompromat” try to stay focused and not act emotional. Think about her point of view and why she would consider it important to have your social security number, Gmail password, and Pornhub search history in a secret folder. Take advantage of these “teachable moments” to have meaningful discussions about colluding with Russia with your teen.

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7. 101-Year-Old Champion after Race: ‘I Missed My Nap for This.’

Life goals!

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8. Bill Murray’s Tweet Will Take You Far

I posted this to my ZOOM Coaching Facebook page. In case you missed it:

Note: There’s some doubt as to whether this is THE Bill Murray, but it’s still a great question.

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9. Jen Hatmaker on Elephants

A parable:

In the wild, when a mama elephant is giving birth, all the other female elephants in the herd back around her in formation. They close ranks so that the delivering mama cannot even be seen in the middle. They stomp and kick up dirt and soil to throw attackers off the scent and basically act like a pack of badasses.

They surround the mama and incoming baby in protection, sending a clear signal to predators that if they want to attack their friend while she is vulnerable, they’ll have to get through 40 tons of female aggression first.

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10. Being Busy Is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively

Little good comes from being distracted yet we seem incapable of focusing our attention. Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when you’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by insufferable busyness.

Guilty as charged. And with that… I’m back to improvising, running along the Chicago lake trail, and making withdrawals from the Cupcake ATM.