I got to hear Anne Lamott twice at the Festival of Faith and Writing. She was in classic Lamottian form, weaving many of her classic lines with some off-the-cuff stuff. Here are a few nuggets from my notes:
Quoting Geneen Roth: how you do one thing is how you do everything.
[On life's mysteries and needing an explanation] “Figure it out” is not a good life slogan.
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. It keeps you from having a sweet dumb regular old life.
[On our culture's discomfort with pain] When we the abyss opens up at your feet, you go to IKEA and buy a nice area rug.
If you’re multitasking, your life will be diminished.
Laughter is carbonated holiness. [a classic]
[On the discipline of writing every day] I am like Dr. Spock with myself: firm and friendly. and
Don’t tell yourself that you’ll start writing when X or Y happens. If you cannot find me an hour, not even Jesus can help you.
We’re not hungry for what we’re not getting.
We’re hungry for what we’re not giving.
[On embracing the imperfections of others] I want to sit with the screwed up and the fascinated and the ones who wonder.
You don’t need an office, you need the discipline.
[On making excuses to take a break from writing and/or doing those things that are good for you] “Anyone would understand if…” is the voice of the devil.
The hour before the world gets to you is a precious and sacred hour. Evening is OK, but you’re sleepy and you have information toxicity.
Mary and Mary Magdalene didn’t know what the hell was going on at the cross, but they didn’t leave.
Barry Lopez: all we have are compassion and stories.
Five rules of adulthood in America, according to Father Tom (reported in Operating Instructions)
1. There’s nothing wrong with you.
2. If there’s something wrong with you, fix it.
3. If you can’t fix it, pretend you have.
4. If you can’t pretend, don’t show up.
5. If you insist on showing up, you’d better at least act ashamed.
One way to change a community is to subversively sneak books into their hands.
People like to say, ‘You can’t have faith and fear at the same time,’ and I don’t want to sit with them at lunch.
Lent begins tomorrow, and among other things, I’m experiencing the season by taking a break from blogging. But only sort of. These next several weeks I’ll be highlighting posts from the archives, sharing quotes and links that mean something to me, and maybe even posting a photo or two.
There are a number of reasons for this, one being that I’m trying to make headway on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age. I need to create some space and time for those words to come. So I’ll be resting in the words of others…
In this space, anyway. I’ll be writing short weekly reflections on my email list, which you can sign up for here.
I’ve written before about how judgy people can get about Lent practices that strike them as too much about self-improvement and not enough about devotion to God. I’m not interested in diagnosing whether giving up blog writing is a “good enough” discipline. It’s what I’m doing, that’s all. I feel called to it.
How about you? Will you be taking on a practice this Lent?
It’s cold here, and school is closed, so we are hunkering down on this day that I’m choosing to call “a bonus day of winter break” rather than “colossal monkey-wrench in my plans to get back to a routine.” Our family is fortunate to have the shelter of this warm, albeit not fancy, house. It’s a good place to nest.
I’ve been thinking about nests lately, because mine had gotten out of hand. Thankfully I got a scanner for Christmas/birthday, having never had one. I’ve been busily scanning years’ worth of papers, photos, and kid artwork. My corner of the blue room (yes, it’s a real physical place!) has been cluttered and cramped with all of this stuff, and it’s nice to have a chance to clear it out.
Studies show that too much tidiness stifles people’s creativity—they need a moderate amount of disarray in order to feel loose enough to create. Either the mess around my desk was beyond “moderate,” or I’m wired differently, because the clutter was taking tiny nibbles out of my mental health. A tidy, harmonious space allows me to think more clearly. It will get messy again, but for now, it gives me a happy feeling and makes me to want to write, knit, create a book, bake… it makes me want to make stuff.
Here is my shelf of honor, containing those books that have inspired me over the years. It’s not that I consult them all that often, but each of them has played a role in my writing life thus far. I like having these folks nearby:
On the next shelf down I have a birthday card I sent to my dad a long time ago. He adored it and kept it for decades in a frame in his study—my stepmother returned it to me last year. As far as I know, my dad never sat on the roof with his morning coffee… but he’s the type who would have:
On my desk itself I have a strawberry candle, a mother and child soapstone sculpture, and a framed postcard of the nunnery at Iona.
I wonder if you have a similar shelf, or a place in your house or office that’s been carefully curated with inspiring things. I’d love to see it. I don’t think WordPress lets you post pictures in comments, but you could post them on your blog/Facebook page, or email them to me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail, and maybe I could share them in a future post?
We aren’t just collections of disembodied ideas, you know. We are grounded in particular places. It’s lovely to see what those places look like.
Disclaimer:It can be a trap to spend too much time on a shelf of honor or a perfectly appointed study. You don’t need a special pen, or for the sunlight to come in just so, before you can make things. That’s classic procrastination. Just sit down in your chair, the one with the bad ergonomics, and start.
Oh, and psst… the price of Sabbath in the Suburbs just went down on Amazon (at last!). Order it here, or at Chalice Press.
Not long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it’s not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.
People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing.
Kreider goes on to explain that people soliciting free labor promise the writer or artist that she will receive “exposure” instead, thus increasing her audience. Kreider’s view, however, is that venues offering decent exposure are often those that can afford to pay. In his article, he offers a template for graciously declining such offers to work for free, and also admits that there are times when pro bono work is perfectly OK: to help out a friend, or to support a cause one believes in. But freebie work can get out of hand, and after all, writers are professionals and deserve to be treated as such.
There’s a lot of stuff wrapped up in this article:
an undervaluing of creative work and/or the view that “anyone” can write, design a website, etc.
the sheer proliferation of writing and artistic endeavors, especially on the Internet, much of which is given away for free… so why should we pay YOU for your work? What makes you so special?
the sense that artists and writers are so passionate about their work—that they would “do it for free”—that they can be asked to give away their stuff.
Being in the church adds another layer to all of this. As a pastor, I know that most churches aren’t exactly flush with cash. And that “help out a friend/believe in the cause” stuff that Kreider talks about? In the church, that’s baked right in. We aren’t just friends, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ! Yikes! And belief in the mission? One would certainly hope so.
Besides, we ask all kinds of people to offer their gifts to the church for free: gardeners tend the lawn, amateur electricians do minor repairs. But we have to be careful we’re not taking advantage of people who depend on such skills for their bread and butter.
I really like NEXT Church‘s policy on this. We are getting ready for our fourth national gathering in Minneapolis next spring (which by the way is going to be OUTSTANDING). We are a lean, nascent, grassroots organization, with one paid staff person who works out of her house. When it comes to speakers for our big events, we invite people to come and share their expertise as a way of fulfilling their ordination vow to “be a friend to our colleagues in ministry.” However, there are two important caveats:
1. We cover their travel and lodging expenses, so at least the experience doesn’t cost them anything.
2. If a person is a so-called tentmaker, i.e. if speaking at conferences is a part of how she makes a living, we will offer an honorarium.
I think this policy has integrity. I also know that the Wild Goose Festival got off the ground by asking its speakers and leaders to give their time the first year (not sure about the second year). And they had BIG names who took them up on it.
Gender stuff is wrapped up in this too. For all its limitations, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In continues to have an impact on a lot of women I talk to. Friends who write and speak are constantly struggling with negotiating speaking fees that honor their experience and expertise yet are within the reach of a congregation or judicatory’s budget. I know women who presented at a conference only to discover that they received a lower honorarium than the men at the same event. I know women who give their time and gifts for free because their family’s economic situation is such that they don’t need the money. I know others who work for free, hoping the volunteer work will transition to something for pay.
I don’t have a pithy conclusion to this. Just wondering what other people’s experiences are. And I’m glad Tim Kreider raised the issue. (By the way, I’ve used his article The Busy Trap in numerous retreats and workshops, so I owe him a debt. Hmm… maybe I owe him some cash too.)
It’s Thursday evening and I am just back from Birmingham, where I had a book event and also preached at the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley. I’ll post that sermon to the NEXT Church website early next week and link to it here. It was a fun trip—got to hang out with Elizabeth, one of my favorite seminary peeps and a dear friend. So I’m happy, but tired.
To cook or not to cook thus becomes a consequential question. Though I realize that is putting the matter a bit too bluntly. Cooking means different things at different times to different people; seldom is it an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet even to cook a few more nights a week than you already do, or to devote a Sunday to make a few meals for the week, or perhaps to try every now and again to make something you only ever expected to buy — even these modest acts will constitute a kind of vote. A vote for what exactly? Well, in a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization — against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. To cook for the pleasure of it, devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption. (Come to think of it, our non waking moments as well: Ambien anyone?) It is to reject the debilitation notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption. This dependence marketers call “freedom.”
The funeral will be led by Rev. Curt Moore of Orlando, Florida, a questionable choice for any spiritual event, but one the family felt would be appropriate due to the fact that every time Toni heard Curt preach she prayed for Jesus to return at that very moment.
On a last but serious note, the woman who loved life and taught her children to ‘laugh at the days to come’ is now safely in the arms of Jesus and dancing at the wedding feast of the Lamb. She will be missed as a mother, friend and grandmother. Anyone wearing black will not be admitted to the memorial. She is not dead. She is alive.
H/t The Dish, which highlighted this piece that I found astounding:
How a group of 12-year-olds in a Calcutta slum improved their community:
Like so many slum neighborhoods, the notorious Nehru Colony doesn’t officially exist, meaning it has no access to government services such as sanitation and electricity. The youngsters set out to literally put themselves on the map. They went door to door, taking photos with their mobile phones, registering residents and detailing each child born in the colony. Information is then sent by SMS text to a database that links the data to a map hand-drawn by the kids, which is overlaid to GPS coordinates. By registering their existence on Google Maps the group has doubled the rate of polio vaccination from 40% to 80%, decreased diarrhea and malaria rates in the slum, and is lobbying for electricity.
This made the rounds, and rightly so. The billboard displays a different message depending on how tall you are:
The secret behind the ad’s wizardry is a lenticular top layer, which shows different images at varying angles. So when an adult—or anyone taller than four feet, five inches—looks at it they only see the image of a sad child and the message: “sometimes, child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” But when a child looks at the ad, they see bruises on the boy’s face and a different message: “if somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you” alongside the foundation’s phone number.
The ad is designed to empower kids, particularly if their abuser happens to be standing right next to them.
Eve Mirriam, a native of Philadelphia, captures something of the beauty of not just poetry but also, I think, creativity itself.
She invites us to consider making two moves: the first is attentiveness. Trace it’s shape, pay attention to its movement, follow its life, chew and smell and see and feel all you can about that thing that fascinates you.