Monday, January 9, 2012

no more blogging

(image by Debora DeWitt Marchant)

I’ve almost completely abandoned this blog and will probably end up doing away with it completely not only because I haven’t got the time, but also because I would much rather spend that time writing in my personal journal. It’s something I’ve been doing for well over 30 years – long before there ever were such things as blogs.

So just in case this turns out to be my very last blog post, as it probably will be, I think it’s appropriate for this final adieu to focus on the difference between journaling and blogging.

I love reading other people’s blogs. Or rather I love reading SOME of the many blogs I come across. The ones I find most enjoyable are those that introduce me to new experiences, ideas, interests and ways of seeing things and doing things. I’ve got a wide range of favorites –gardening blogs, reading blogs, creativity blogs, even a few marvelously esoteric blogs that deal with the numinous world of the spirit. In addition to the information my favorite blogs contain, they are all attractive to look at and engaging to read because they are well written and artfully designed by people who are willing to take the time to do both well.

But the internet has also become a microphone and a stage for people to use in order to focus - in copious detail - on their very favorite topic, which generally happens to be themselves. Many blogs end up turning into places for disgruntled people to criticize, bicker, whine and complain about whatever annoying thing seems to be bugging them at the moment. These blogs tend to resemble each other in tone and style and I’ve noticed that one thing many of them have in common is the frequency with which the word suck” is used in reference to something that’s upsetting, annoying or frustrating. In many, but not all of these blogs, profanity becomes the method of choice for self-expression….possibly because it doesn’t require much creativity and takes less time to dash off.

Which brings me to the difference between a blog and a journal. It seems to me that what goes into the former deserves to be treated a little more carefully since everyone has access to it. On the other hand, a personal journal is much more private and since no one else gets to read it it’s a good place to let off steam. It’s also the place for recording trivial details that matter to no one else but the person doing the writing, and for saying all kinds of things that need to be said but don’t necessarily need to be shared. That’s why I prefer journaling to blogging. It’s a way to talk to myself without needing to take into consideration the fact that the whole world might be listening.

Frankly it amazes me that more people haven’t figured that out for themselves instead of continuing to churn out blog posts that really ought to be journal entries. Writing is a great way to work through issues, clarify problems and get to know ourselves a little better…and frequently the things we discover in the process aren’t necessarily the kinds of things the rest of the world needs to know about.

What’s more, blogging about things that ought to be filed away in a personal journal instead can reveal things about a person that aren’t always very flattering. Without intending to, a person can come across as being superficial and petty, self-absorbed and selfish, and woefully lacking in sensitivity or compassion. That’s especially the case with the number of bloggers who, in their haste to vent their frustrations end up saying things about other people that are hurtful and unkind. Better off reserving those things for the pages of a private journal where there’s no chance that the other person need come across it.

And so….come to think of it that’s what I think I’m going to go do right now. I’ve got a couple of things to say about what’s been going on in my life lately. And I’m not particularly interested in sharing them with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tough times

This picture of my dad at his desk was taken when he was a young architect just starting out in business. Now all these years later, he is in the last stages of Alzheimers and is very close to death. It is a difficult time for all of us and during these heartbreaking days of waiting and praying for an end to his suffering, I am reminding myself that most of us have within us what we need to deal with difficult and troubling life events. We just need to give ourselves a chance to get in touch with it. And I suspect that one way for me to do that is by trying, to the degree that I am able, to make sure there is consistency between the things I say and do, and the best things about who I am. This can be tricky because I think there is a tendency for the opposite to happen in stressful and tense situations. Times like this can often bring out the worst things about a person.

And yet I have always believed that even though I cannot control the tough stuff that happens in the course of my lifetime, I have a great deal of control over how I am going to deal with it. The problem of course is how to stay centered and focused when bad things happen so that I can avoid being overwhelmed by them. Because once that happens I start feeling fragmented and disoriented by the anxieties and worries that surround me and soon I begin to lose perspective. It is as if my world shrinks and becomes a very small place where all my attention gets focused on what is troubling me – so that I end up forgetting all about everything else that matters in my life.

What I need to do when this starts happening is to find a way to reclaim the things about who I am and how I live that will help restore peace and harmony and perspective in my life. I need to take time not only to restore my energies, but also to give myself permission to go beneath the surface of what’s troubling me – not to dwell on how hard it is but rather to try to search for the deeper meaning that is usually to be found there. I have always suspected that the only way I can ever pay attention to how God is present in my life (whoever and whatever God is) is by looking for the deeper meaning in things. And so it makes sense to take this same approach when confronted with difficult and troubling life-events.

I also believe there is wisdom in making a point of remembering the things that I have always found most meaningful, significant and beautiful about life. Perhaps this is why one of my favorite scriptural quotes comes from Philippians 4:8-9. It is a reminder that when life gets hard, it is good to think about those things that make it worthwhile: Think about what is good, what is enduring, what is affirming. Think about the people I cherish and those that cherish me. Think about everything I have learned about what it means to live my life attentively...and then keep on doing it. Keep on keeping on and sooner or later I know that I will find my way back to being the person I know in my heart I really am.

While it is tempting to wish I could avoid the pain of what’s going on in my life right now, I know the only way through it is….through it. Rather than letting myself be overwhelmed by the problems, difficulties and sorrows I’m encountering these days, I think there is wisdom in letting myself be immersed in them instead. Language teachers know that “immersion experiences” are the best way for a person to learn a new language. So I suspect being fully immersed in whatever is happening in my life - including the sorrow and pain of waiting for my dad's death - will help me learn a little more about what it means to be me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

2011 reading challenge: a banned book.

My 2011 reading challenge pick in the “Banned Book” category is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which according to the American Library Association is consistently ranked among the top ten most frequently challenged books for a variety of reasons including violence, cruelty to animals and the lack of strong female characters. But my guess is that what really ends up getting the book banned is the way it ends -- because it clearly makes the case that mercy killing can be the form that compassion takes.

Compassion is one of several themes that run through this depression era short novel, originally titled Something That Happened and later changed to Of Mice and Men – a line taken from a poem by Robert Burns: “the best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley.” It’s the story of two migrant workers whose dream of someday owning their own little farm where they can settle down to “live off the fatta the lan’ is impossible to attain. But the novel is really all about the bond between a child-like, developmentally disabled man and his loyal friend who has taken on the responsibility of looking out for him.

Classic pieces of literature are those that tell us something timeless and true about life and human nature in a way that engages our understanding and empathy. Steinbeck has done that here. Of Mice and Men deals with classic themes: courage vs. cowardice, strength vs. weakness, innocence vs. experience, loneliness and the longing to belong, alienation and isolation, duty, the burden of being responsible for others, the task of mercy, and the weight of compassion.

John Steinbeck, who is said to have preferred writing with pencils, and often used as many as 60 each day, is one of America’s finest writers. He didn’t graduate from college, and most likely he never enrolled in a writers workshop or signed up for a course in creative writing. He did try his hand at free-lance writing in the 20’s but failed at it and eventually turned his attention to novels. His first success was in 1935 with Tortilla Flat filled with rough and earthy humor. Of Mice and Men was published in 1937 and The Grapes of Wrath, widely considered to be his best work, appeared in 1940.

Steinbeck’s sympathies for migrant workers and the struggles of working-class people didn’t set well with everyone. In 1942, an unidentified informant complained to J. Edgar Hoover: "For some time past I have resented books by Steinbeck, for they portray such unrepresentative pictures of our American life in rural districts. I live near the Everglades farms district and most of the migrants out there live better than I do, while they are here for the picking season."

In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception.” In 1979, John Steinbeck’s portrait was featured on a commemorative stamp.

And in 1996 John Steinbeck’s widow created the Steinbeck award given to artists whose work reflects her husband’s democratic ideals and concern for the common man. Past recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, Arthur Miller and Sean Penn.

The National Steinbeck Center, located in his hometown of Salinas, California, provides opportunities for visitors to learn about literature and history, agriculture and art, as well special events and educational programs.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This is What Democracy Looks Like!

Here we are at the Capitol...

Here's why we were there...

Now that we qualify as "elders" we figured it would be a good idea to be there for the "Elder Rally" ....

...along with a lively crowd of people of all ages who were there outside and inside the Capitol to continue protesting the shameful things our Governor and his fellow Republicans have been doing to the people of Wisconsin....

Here's the sign Denny made to take to the rally....

....and here's the letter he wrote:

Dear Governor Walker

Because your actions over the past few weeks have signaled your distain for the citizens of Wisconsin, I suspect that you will not read this message or, if you do, that you will ignore me as you have tens of thousands of other Wisconsin citizens. When I sat down to write this letter to you, I had thought of making a rational appeal to you. However, as I thought it over, it became apparent to me that I would be appealing to one of you major short-comings--namely, the ability to rationally address the issues that face you.

Mr. Walker, you have demonstrated not only a signal lack of social concern for our children's education, the poor and under-represented, and those who must work for a living, but a lack of moral concern as well. Were your actions but the result of deeply held political beliefs, it would be one thing. But your actions have demonstrated to me that it is not political beliefs that motivate you, but rather the two major evils that invest our political system today: the thirst for absolute power and the need to satisfy those whose dollars have brought you to the office you inhabit.

Your unwillingness to negotiate and to compromise, even when faced with overwhelming evidence that the citizens of this State do not support your extreme actions, is evidence of a blind and angry man. You do not deserve any claim to "democratic governance" since your actions are neither democratic nor do they suggest in any way that you are trying to be of service to the citizens of this State. Yours appears to be a personal agenda, supported by those who will benefit most from stripping rights from the under-privileged and those who have to work for a living.

For this reason, Mr. Walker, I will do everything within my power over the next weeks, months and years to see that you are removed from office. If that can be accomplished through recall, then the social and moral evil that you have unleashed will all the sooner be addressed. If I must wait for the next election, then I will dedicate my labor and my support to seeing that you are defeated.

Dennis Day

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Snow on Ash Wednesday

The word "Lent" comes from an Old English word that means springtime. And it's good to remember that on this Ash Wednesday morning as I look out my window...

...because I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the difference between faith and belief and somehow I think there's a connection here. There's more to faith than trying to believe what we've been told we must believe. There's more to hoping for spring than being put off by the fact that it's still snowing. There's more to Lent than fasting.

I think faith has to do with what I know in my heart even if isn't in sync with what other people believe. It's what Richard Rohr means when he says "Your deepest intuition is real." No matter what anyone else may choose to believe about today's forecast when I look out the window I know in my heart that spring is already happening underneath all the snow that is filling up our back yard.

And so what on earth does this has to do with Lent? Quite a bit, I think, because there's more to it than what so many of us have always been led to believe we must do in order to observe it appropriately. Lent is a time to examine our priorities and take a closer look at where we spend our time and energy, as well as what we need to do (or not do) in order to nurture the spiritual side of who we are. The traditional approach of combining fasting, prayer and almsgiving can be one way of doing that - but only if we know in our hearts why we're doing it.

“…our self-imposed sacrifices are likely to be pretenses, symbolic gestures without real interior meaning," says Thomas Merton who obviously gave a great deal of thought to this very subject...

"Sacrifices made in this formalistic spirit," continues Merton, "tend to be mere acts of external routine performed in order to exorcise interior anxiety and our attention will tend to fix itself upon the insignificant suffering which we have piously elected to undergo, and to exaggerate it in one way or the other, either to make it seem unbearable or else to make it seem more heroic than it actually is. It would be more sincere as well as more religious to eat a full dinner in a spirit of gratitude than to make some picayune sacrifice of part of it, with the feeling that one is suffering martyrdom."

I'm thinking about Merton's words as I look out my window on this snowy March morning as Lent gets underway. Last year as summer was ending I brought in all my geraniums so I could keep them trimmed back and alive through the winter. Now, just as Lent begins, the cuttings I've taken are already thriving. By spring they'll be ready to plan outdoors.

This Lent I'll be doing some fasting, some alms-giving and some praying, just like I always do. But I'm also going keep my geraniums well watered and be grateful for what I carry in my heart - a sure and certain faith in spring.