Tag Archives: authenticity

About that PBS Story: On White Couches and Missing Lampshades

So this happened:

Watch Keeping the Sabbath on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

 And also this:

Watch MaryAnn McKibben Dana Extended Interview on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

The whole thing has been surreal and fun and wonderful. (Read more here.) I’m humbled by everyone who’s shared the links with friends on Facebook and elsewhere. And I’m grateful for emails and messages from people I don’t even know—including a rabbi who shared some of his own Shabbat resources. Lovely.

I’ve watched the segment once. If I could watch just the parts with my kids, I’d watch it again. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong. The PBS folks did an excellent job. I just can’t bear watching myself on video. (Me and Daniel Radcliffe.)

But even with a single viewing, one moment from the segment stuck out. Robert and Iaughed and exchanged a knowing look when we saw it:

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 10.22.24 PM

Do you see what caught our eye?

It’s the lamp. It’s missing a lampshade. You may not have noticed, but for us, it is The Iconic Image of the whole piece. That lamp tells you everything you need to know about Sabbath.

I broke the lampshade in a fit of cleaning. I was sweeping and the whole thing fell over and shattered… requiring me to sweep a second time, by the way, because it’s a cruel cruel world!

The thing is—and here’s the vital piece; here’s what I need to explain about Sabbath—I broke it a good four, five months ago. Seriously, that lamp’s been a bare bulb since… well, since 2012.  Turns out it’s stupidly complicated to replace. IKEA doesn’t stock the shade separately. So we’re stuck either replacing the entire lamp (which is wasteful) or hunting around for a lampshade that’s the right size, attaches in the same way as the old one, etc. Which involves time we don’t have. OK, I’ll be precise: we do have time to do that, we’ve just done other things instead.

And I can be all philosophical about that. We choose to carve out some time each weekend to rest and play, which means we are not on top of the home projects. But I’ll be honest. I don’t like that bare bulb. Its glaring light reveals everything that’s unfinished and chaotic about this period of our lives. Life with kids is one long bare-bulbed existence. The stain in the carpet that won’t come out. The perennial jumble of stuff on top of the dresser. The wet beach towels slung over the doorway that don’t ever get put away because after all, swim practice is gonna come around again. And that’s the way life is.

The problem is, we don’t show the bare bulb to each other. We’re embarrassed by the bare bulb. I am. But the bare bulb is real. Maybe the bare bulb is the truest thing about ourselves.

I recently watched a promotional video for a book that’s coming out, written by a wildly popular mommy blogger. Let me say that I will probably buy this book. I like her stuff. The author is wise. And her message is: Let’s get real with each other. And she delivers this message while sitting on an impeccable white couch.

A white couch.

What lunacy is this! I can’t even wear a white shirt without inviting pen marks, chocolate milk and blueberry smears. But white furniture? That is varsity, baby. That is ninja motherhood.

As she talks about how hard parenting is—and it is, and I have no reason to doubt it’s hard for her too—we see some B-roll of her stocking a dresser drawer with a stack of diapers. And I think about the seven years we had kids in diapers and how the diapers never, ever made it into a dresser drawer. They went straight from bag to butt.

I wish her all the best. This isn’t a me v. her thing. This is about packaging. This is about getting caught in that thing we all get caught in sooner or later, between what we allow other people to see and what is authentically us.

So let my bare-bulbed lamp be my truth in advertising, my Good Housekeeping seal. If I ever give the appearance of having it all together, just remember the light bulb. And if I ever resort to superficial half-truths about this wildly complicated world we live in, remind me of the light bulb.

Because yes, Sabbath is a practice that can save our lives. It can help us savor time, to see it as a gift, and not as a thing to be julienned into manageable pieces.

But Sabbath will also wreck your life, because Sabbath is an act of love, and love wrecks your life. Things will go undone—things you care about. Stuff might even break, and be hard or impossible to replace. If you’re lucky, it won’t happen on national television. But if it does, maybe Sabbath will give you the space to laugh and exchange a knowing look with someone who gets it.

That’s the best thing I can say about it.

My Contribution to the Reality Project

My friend Mary Allison is hosting a “reality project” at her blog, in which people are invited to share pictures of the chaos in their homes as a way of truth-telling. She writes, “These scenes represent the new normal of modern motherhood where everything does not have its place.” There are some great photos there and I agree that humor is the best medicine when it comes to these crazy unrealistic expectations many of us have placed on ourselves.

I love the idea behind the reality project, but I have to come at it from a different perspective. The fact is, clutter negatively impacts my sanity. It’s not to say that my house is free of clutter—it is SO not. Nor does everything in my house have a place. But I cannot let things go more than a couple of days before I begin to unravel mentally. That’s when the White Tornado sweeps through the house. (My husband bestowed that nickname on me.)

So I’ve gotta let it all hang out in other ways.

But lest anyone dub me Ms. Hospital Corners, here is my contribution to the reality project. For those of you who say, “I don’t know how you find the time to do everything you do,” well… here comes some truth:

1. We have no mirror in our bathroom, thanks to a stalled remodel project from well more than a year ago. Also, one of the lights is burned out, and will remain so until they all go and I suddenly realize “Hey. It’s dark in here.”

2. Our Christmas decorations never got put away two Christmases ago. Instead they sat in our garage for all of 2010. Which made setup much easier last Christmas, so there’s that.

3. Our “magazine basket” has three-year-old reading material in it.

4. I’ve kept Netflix DVDs for the better part of a year.

5. On multiple occasions.

6. I use our minivan for temporary storage when I just can’t handle putting stuff away. Current items include a bag of hand-me-downs, a couple of winter jackets, and a broken princess tiara that I would like to Toy Rapture but will get in trouble for if I do.

7. One of our kitchen drawers fell apart, so we’ve got a big bowl of cooking utensils sitting in the corner of our blue room.

8. I haven’t balanced my checkbook in years. Years. Thank God for balance inquiry via ATM and online.

9. All of the booty that we buy from CostCo (paper goods, snacks) is stacked in a mountainous blob along one wall in our basement, such that there is a 2-foot-wide path to the washing machine…

10. …Which has some pillows and blankets in front of it that I haven’t washed for a year or two.

Wow, I came up with these 10 without even thinking hard. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It’s your turn. Tell a little truth today.

And anyone commenting that they have it all together, or recoiling in self-righteous horror, will be pelted by the alphabet magnets on my fridge that go with a LeapFrog game that disappeared five years ago.

Friday Link Love

A smattering of stuff I ran across this week:

D-I-Y Chocolate Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Homemade malted milk balls, peanut butter cups, and more. I am pretty “meh” about Valentine’s Day but this post could make me a believer.

Tackling a Science Project with GTD

It’s enough to overwhelm the children and the parents. Instead of letting the stress get to me, I decided to apply the principles I learned from Getting Things Done and show my daughter that projects don’t have to give us headaches.  Here’s what we did.

This was a timely post for me, since Caroline finished her “Pueblo Project” this week. We used some GTD principles in the planning of it. Thinking about it in those terms helped us get it done without much last-minute stress and helped redeem the project in my mind (I was grumbling loudly to myself about it).

Being able to plan one’s time is an important life skill, even though being able to mold Model Magic onto a cardboard box isn’t.

How the Internet Gets Inside Us

From the New Yorker, an interesting (long) overview of recent books about the Internet and its effect on our brains, social lives, and psyches. He divides the books into three basic approaches: the Never-Betters (technology is GREAT!), Better-Nevers (the Internet is destroying our lives), and Ever-Wasers (the Internet is no different than any new technology). I disagree with Gopnik’s placement of Hamlet’s Blackberry in the Better-Never. I think he is an Ever-Waser. Otherwise, great article. Money quote:

The digital world is new, and the real gains and losses of the Internet era are to be found not in altered neurons or empathy tests but in the small changes in mood, life, manners, feelings it creates—in the texture of the age. There is, for instance, a simple, spooky sense in which the Internet is just a loud and unlimited library in which we now live—as if one went to sleep every night in the college stacks, surrounded by pamphlets and polemics and possibilities. There is the sociology section, the science section, old sheet music and menus, and you can go to the periodicals room anytime and read old issues of the New Statesman. (And you can whisper loudly to a friend in the next carrel to get the hockey scores.) To see that that is so is at least to drain some of the melodrama from the subject. It is odd and new to be living in the library; but there isn’t anything odd and new about the library.

On the other hand…

Fighting a Social Media Addiction

This link is from last year but I was reminded of it recently. College students were asked to abstain from social media for 24 hours.

“In withdrawal. Frantically craving. Very anxious. Extremely antsy. Miserable. Jittery. Crazy.”

“I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” one student said. Another student had to fight the urge to check e-mail: “I noticed physically, that I began to fidget, as if I was addicted to my iPod and other media devices, and maybe I am.”

I take social media Sabbaths pretty regularly, and I get so much out of the practice, but I’ve experienced the twitchiness that can set in. I suspect that these students were simply asked to abstain without being given any tools or strategies for dealing with the “withdrawal.” That is the key. For example, instead of fiddling with my iPhone at a particularly long stoplight, I look out the window and intentionally notice five new things about my surroundings. It’s a small exercise in vision and discernment. It’s not enough simply to unplug. Or perhaps I should say, it’s difficult to say No to technology without a bigger Yes driving you.

Lionel Logue and Leadership

I saw The King’s Speech over the weekend. Stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled, although the plot is formulaic enough (not in a bad way) that you can see some of this coming a kilometre away. This movie is really about the characters, not as much the plot.

I saw the movie after spending the day in church leadership training, so of course that colored my impressions of the movie. That said, the Geoffrey Rush character had many marks of a transformational leader. (Leadership doesn’t always imply an assembled group; leaders can lead individuals into new places as well.)

First, Lionel Logue had a very intentional sense of purpose and vision and remained faithful to it (I meet with clients here, nowhere else; I will call you Bertie; we will meet everyday).

He expected the people around him to work hard and he held them accountable (practice an hour a day).

This weekend we talked about the job of a congregational leader, namely, to train more leaders. He certainly did that; he helped train a king!

Transformational leaders do not rely on outsiders to give them their credentials; their authority comes from within. This was demonstrated in the way Logue handled the confrontation with Bertie over his not being a “real” doctor.

He exhibited an extremely high level of empathy. He was an attentive listener and he used what he heard to increase his effectiveness and care for his famous client. His fidelity to his vision grew out of his love and concern for others and a belief that straying from that vision just so people would feel safe and comfortable would not serve them in the long run.

And yet he also was very authentically himself. He shared about his humble beginnings and was visibly hurt when Bertie blasted him with these personal details in the park. Later, when confronted about his lack of credentials, he didn’t stammer and rationalize and beg for a second chance. He shared his experience with quiet confidence and let the chips fall where they may.

Lots to chew on.

In short, it is a testament to Geoffrey Rush’s performance that I was more captivated by Logue than by Colin Firth in Royal Attire. *cough*

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?