Tag Archives: writing

Here’s My Nest. Show Me Yours?

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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Oh, and psst… the price of Sabbath in the Suburbs just went down on Amazon (at last!). Order it here, or at Chalice Press

Working for Free… in the Church

Tim Kreider recently made a splash on the New York Times with his opinion piece, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” Here is the gist:

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.)

Friday Link Love: Online Slacktivism, Be a Poet, and Everest Gear Then and Now

Hello friends!

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.

But… the Link Love must go on! 

Climbing Everest, Then and Now — National Geographic

A comparison of the tools used to climb the world’s tallest peak. Boots and oxygen systems, then and now.

Let’s be honest: P90X or no, I’m pretty sure our forebears could take us.

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Does Online “Slacktivism” Reduce Charitable Giving? — New Scientist

Looks like it’s a hybrid effect. Click the link for a study relating to attitudes about gun control.

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Collected Wisdom of Great Writers — Brain Pickings

Maria Popova has compiled advice from several writers she’s highlighted on her blog, so it’s all accessible in one place. Vonnegut, King, Allende, Sontag and more.

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Cook Dinner, Save the World — Dinner, a Love Story

Love this quote from Michael Pollan:

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.”

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Antonia Larroux — Obituary

Not since Hugh Gallagher’s infamous college essay for NYU (the laws of physics do not apply to me) have we have such an exuberant accounting of a life! This part really clinched it though:

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.

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Smart Cities: Sustainable Solutions for Urban Living — BBC

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.

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This Ad Has a Secret Anti-Abuse Message That Only Kids Can See — Gizmodo

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.

What the kids see:

anar-lenticular-02

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How Can You Become a Poet — David Lose

Or a theologian:

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.

The second move is courage, fearlessness…

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Friday Link Love: Roger Ebert, Louis CK, and Radical Generosity

Happy Friday, everyone. What do you have planned this weekend? May you find a little space for things that are bubbly and fun, nourishing and vital. We will be celebrating the 90th birthday of Robert’s grandmother. Joy!

Here are a few items that grabbed me this week:

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RIP Roger Ebert: The Beloved Critic on Writing, Life, and Mortality — Brain Pickings

I loved his writing and will miss his wisdom:

My colleague late at night, a year or two older, was Bill Lyon, who covered Champaign High School sports and became a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. … Bill and I would labor deep into the night on Fridays, composing our portraits of the [football] games. I was a subscriber to the Great Lead Theory, which teaches that a story must have an opening paragraph so powerful as to leave few readers still standing. … Lyon watched as I ripped one sheet of copy paper after another out of my typewriter and finally gave me the most useful advice I have ever received as a writer: ‘One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?’ These rules saved me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spend less time not writing.

More at the link, including excerpts from his memoir and his TED talk.

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Human-Tower Competition in Tarragona, Spain — Colossal

The things we human beings come up with! Amazing pictures of a swarm of humanity working together:

007_DAVID-OLIETE_Concurs-de-Castells_Colossal

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Kevin Ware on Louisville Teammate That ‘Touched My Heart’ — USA Today

H/t to my friend LeAnn Hodges. I didn’t see the Louisville/Duke game, but yikes. Yet horrific events can bring out the best in people:

[Ware’s teammate] Hancock thought back to last summer, when he suffered a gruesome shoulder injury in a pickup game. He remembered how others were aghast. He remembered how former Louisville guard Andre McGee was the only one to rush to his side, to rush him to the hospital. He remembered how much that had meant.

So as Ware lay there in the first half of the Cardinals’ NCAA tournament victory over Duke on Sunday, scared and alone and stunned, Hancock ran to him. He held Ware’s hand and told him they would get through this together. He told Ware he would say a prayer for him.

Ware didn’t respond at first, because he was in shock. Hancock took a deep breath, closed his eyes, clenched Ware’s hand and started the prayer.

…You can’t fault the other players for their initial reaction to such a macabre moment. But you can praise Hancock, and you should.

We are wounded healers, all.

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After God: What Can Atheists Learn from Believers? — New Statesman

I especially like the responses from Karen Armstrong and Alain de Botton (not too surprisingly—he’s a Blue Room mainstay). Here’s de Botton:

For centuries in the west, there was a figure in society who fulfilled a function that is likely to sound very odd to secular ears. The priest didn’t fulfil any material need; he was there to take care of that part of you called, rather unusually, “the soul”, by which we would understand the seat of our emotions and of our deep self.

Where have our soul-related needs gone? What are we doing with the material we used to go to a priest for? The deep self has naturally not given up its complexities and vulnerabilities simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the tales of the five loaves and two fishes.

The loaves and fishes story is a tale that resonates beyond matters of science, but I take his point.

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Louis CK on David Letterman — YouTube

Two of my favorite funny men:

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The Touch-Screen Generation — The Atlantic

Young children—even toddlers—are spending more and more time with digital technology. What will it mean for their development?

Long but excellent rumination on parents’ ambivalence about their kids’ use of technology:

By their pinched reactions [to questions about how much screen time their kids have], these parents illuminated for me the neurosis of our age: as technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, American parents are becoming more, not less, wary of what it might be doing to their children. Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.

And on the other end of the spectrum of childhood… college students:

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Addiction to Electronics Growing — Times-Delphic

“I occasionally see students using their phones during yoga or pilates, which makes me a bit sad,” Determann said. “If you can’t be unplugged for 45 or 60 minutes, that’s a bit concerning, in my opinion. I know that this has just become the way we, as a society operate, but the world will go on without you checking your notifications.”

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A Religious Wake-Up Call in the Matter of Drones — Alternet

A critique against drones from a Christian perspective:

Our use of drones is only defensible on “Just War Theory” grounds, if we are able to demonstrate an immediate threat to this country that is specific and specifically premeditated with a specific objective. Unfortunately, the current administration, with its complex entanglements of secrecy and formal denials, has not been able to explain or demonstrate an immediate threat.

Our use of drones are out of “proportion” because it uses the most advanced technology in the world to assassinate people who can basically only throw the equivalent of sticks and stones back at you. Moreover, it gives these people no chance to surrender. It is like capital punishment without an arrest, a charge, a trial, or a right of appeal.

Our use of drones is not humane, because it totally objectifies the enemy by making them into a picture on a screen. There is not the faintest possibility, in the conduct of drone warfare by means of remote control, that you can regard the enemy as a fellow human citizen of the planet.

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Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? — NYT

Longish article about a new book, Give and Take, and its author, professor Adam Grant who, and I say this in a nice way, sounds like a freak. You might describe him as… radically generous with his time—he answers every email request for help, he spends hours mentoring students, etc. But all of this giving comes back to him in very interesting, even powerful, ways. “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”

“Give and Take” incorporates scores of studies and personal case histories that suggest the benefits of an attitude of extreme giving at work. Many of the examples — the selfless C.E.O.’s, the consultants who mentor ceaselessly — are inspiring and humbling, even if they are a bit intimidating in their natural expansiveness. These generous professionals look at the world the way Grant does: an in-box filled with requests is not a task to be dispensed with perfunctorily (or worse, avoided); it’s an opportunity to help people, and therefore it’s an opportunity to feel good about yourself and your work. “I never get much done when I frame the 300 e-mails as ‘answering e-mails,’ ” Grant told me. “I have to look at it as, How is this task going to benefit the recipient?” Where other people see hassle, he sees bargains, a little work for a lot of gain, including his own.

There’s something wonderful about seeing the world in this way rather than the calculating tit-for-tat manner we are often trained to employ with one another. But I spent most of the article assuming he must be single, because what family could put up with someone who lives this way? Turns out he has a wife who stays home to take care of the kids. Which hey, more power to them. But it does color things somewhat, eh?

At any rate, I’m interested in the research on this topic. It seems like Grant’s outlook requires you to see time as an abundant resource, which I don’t. As I write in the book, I’m much more comfortable with the idea of holy scarcity. There isn’t enough time for everything we want or need to do. So how do we move as creatively through our days as possible?

Speaking of which… may you shimmy and tango through your weekend and all of its work, play, errands, and maybe, a few surprises. Peace.

Friday Link Love: Laughing at Kids, Love Connections at Wal-Mart and More

First of all: new author website! Woohoo! Thanks to the folks at Paraclete Web Design for their great work, prompt service, and good humor. There will be a number of kinks to work out in the days to come, but how fun to have some new digs!

Away we go:

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The Saddest Map in America — The Dish

Looking for love in all the wrong places? The most popular places mentioned in Craig’s List “missed connections” feature, compiled by state:

zi-1175-2013-j-f00-idsi-76-1

I don’t know what’s more awesome: that Wal-Mart appears so many times, or that Oklahomans are looking for love at the state fair.

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Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals — Spiegel

He’s changed his position on kin selection as it relates to evolution, favoring group selection instead:

During the 1970s, I was one of the main proponents of kin selection theory. And at first the idea sounds very reasonable. So for example, if I favored you because you were my brother and therefore we share one half of our genes, then I could sacrifice a lot for you. I could give up my chance to have children in order to get you through college and have a big family. The problem is: If you think it through, kin selection doesn’t explain anything. Instead, I came to the conclusion that selection operates on multiple levels. On one hand, you have normal Darwinian selection going on all the time, where individuals compete with each other. In addition, however, these individuals now form groups. They are staying together, and consequently it is group versus group.

I’m no scientist, but the tribal thing makes sense. There are new studies out about how liberals and conservatives over-exaggerate the characteristics of the other.

And this phrase was new to me:

“Humans,” the saying goes, “have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and god-like technology”.

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When the Children Make Us Laugh — Worshiping with Children

She is sitting on the steps with the pastor who asks a question.  She offers what seems like a perfectly sensible answer and the whole congregation laughs.  In that moment one of two things happens, either a comedian is born or a child feels humiliated.  When a comedian is born, he often uses the children’s time to practice his new-found vocation, generally with beginner comedian results.  He may even compete with the pastor for the attention of the congregation – especially if mom or dad is the pastor.  The results can embarrass everyone – except probably the young comedian. But if the child who drew laughter feels humiliated, she often decides the conversations on the steps are dangerous.

There is surely middle ground here between a fledgling comedian and abject humiliation. But laughing at children when they are being serious is a major issue with me. It’s fine to share delight with one another, regardless of age. But I felt disrespected as a child when I made an earnest comment and adults laughed. Some ideas in this article about how to handle this in worship.

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It’s Absurd — Bromleigh McCleneghan

During the Oscars, the Onion posted a vile tweet about child actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Bromleigh’s take on the incident is one of my favorites. She also has the best “About” page I think I’ve ever read in all my years of blogging.

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Trust and Society — Bruce Schneier, The Montreal Review

This past weekend during book group at Tiny, we were discussing the Harry Potter series. I remarked that both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games portray institutions (such as government) as completely inept at best, and malevolent at worst. I wondered what it does to kids to receive such messages—that basic institutions are not worthy of our trust—at such a formative time in their lives. (I honestly don’t know; I mean, look at fairy tales!)

Many people piped up with variations on the idea that institutions should not be worthy of our trust, and certainly not blind trust (I agree with the latter). One person said “Kids needs to learn that they can trust their families, their friends. Not institutions.” Another brought up Watergate. I get that. But really, is it helpful and healthy to promote cynicism at such an early age?

I wish I’d had this article at the time:

In today’s society, we need to trust not only people, but institutions and systems. It’s not so much that I trusted the particular pilot who flew my plane this morning, but the airline that produces well-trained and well-rested pilots according to some schedule. And it’s not so much that I trusted the particular taxi driver, but instead the taxi licensing system and overall police system that produced him. Similarly, when I used an ATM this morning — another interesting exercise in trust — it’s less that I trusted that particular machine, bank, and service company — but instead that I trusted the national banking system to debit the proper amount from my bank account back home.

What do you think?

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Sister Corita Kent’s Timeless Rules for Learning and Life, Hand-Lettered by Lisa Congdon — Brain Pickings

Thought-provoking list:

  1. Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.

(Speaking of trust…)

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Want to Give Your Family Value and Purpose? Write a Mission Statement — The Atlantic

Can mission statements be pointless wastes of time? Yes, they can. But not necessarily. I’ll admit it, I love the idea. The author quotes the Covey family mission statement:

“The mission of our family is to create a nurturing place of faith, order, truth, love, happiness, and relaxation, and to provide opportunity for each individual to become responsibly independent, and effectively interdependent, in order to serve worthy purposes in society.”

I had a range of reactions on reading this. On the one hand, I found the whole thing a little corny. It seemed cumbersome, heavy-handed, and a tad humorless. On the other hand, I kinda loved the idea. I’m corny! I also thought Covey’s idea captured something inherently true: How can we ask our children to uphold our family’s values if we never articulate what those values are?

This calls to mind some of the discussion going on in the church about teaching kids the Christian faith. For decades, we have relied on Sunday School and mid-week programs to do the job. But it’s the parents’ job, first and foremost. (Especially since the trend now is for “regular” attendees to come only a few times a month—we just don’t have time and wherewithal to the do it all at church.)

Finally we voted on a single statement (taken from a remark I made when they were born): “May our first word be adventure and our last word love.” Finally we added a series of ten statements: “We are travelers not tourists;” “We don’t like dilemmas; we like solutions.”

Or how about a family faith statement? Thank you John Vest!

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We Are Not What We Were Called — The Dish

Two from Brain Pickings, two from The Dish. This is a link to that amazing movie/slam poem about bullying that’s been making the rounds. But also check out this study:

Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.

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What Now? Advice for Writing and Life from Ann Patchett — Brain Pickings

Two from Brain Pickings this week! I guess this post is from a commencement speech Patchett did. I took note of it because I was recently back at Columbia Seminary for only the third time since graduating 10 years ago. It was a very deep, rich experience, to walk those halls and to emerge from the Harrington Center into the quad like I did some 13 years ago when I first visited the campus and thought, “I am home.”

So her remarks about going back to the pivotal spaces in our lives resonated with me:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours — long hallways and unforeseen stairwells — eventually puts you in the place you are now. Every choice lays down a trail of bread crumbs, so that when you look behind you there appears to be a very clear path that points straight to the place where you now stand. But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight — there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures. You glance from left to right and find no indication of which way you’re supposed to go. And so you stand there, sniffing at the wind, looking for directional clues in the growth patterns of moss, and you think, What now?

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What now, indeed? May whatever it is be wonderful for you all.