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grace

Someone
I’d trust
with my life
told me about
a time he’d been
unexpectedly
granted
grace

Years later,
his memory of that
grace-granting
inspires him
to show
grace
often

After we talked,
I thought hard about
what he’d said

Until then,
somewhere far
deeper than words,
I’d thought about grace
in terms of deserving:
“Has she earned this grace?”
Or,
“Is he worthy?”

Thanks to my friend,
I saw I’d been asking
the wrong questions

Who the hell
am I
to decide
whether anyone
(self included)
deserves
grace?

Maybe
what makes
it “grace”
is that
it’s not
too concerned
with what is
or is not
deserved

Categories: Friends, Reflections Tags:

my playlist

I’ve been building and rebuilding a playlist in my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll write about it someday, I’m sure, I thought. When I’ve finally gotten it right-enough.

Without pressure or hurry, it could have been months before I solidified the playlist. But then I read a post that got me fired up, and I found my playlist.

The post bemoaned how everything is a competition now: singing, playing instruments, sports, politics. Everyone’s in it to win it. Period. Read more…

perspectiving

Earlier today, I glanced down and saw an awful, judgment-filled word scrawled in my older son’s handwriting.

Hold on now, I thought. When would he have even heard that word, and how would I have missed it in two years of having this same piece of paper behind my desk?!

Having written so recently about perspective(s), I smiled when I uncovered the rest of the paper to find the answer a split-second later. 

I’d seen the marks as they were, sure, but … I’d interpreted them upside-down, leading (briefly) to a very different, very wrong reading.

What a difference perspective–and context!–can make.

life-full

I went to brunch on Sunday. I always enjoy brunch, and appreciate–so much–that I have people to brunch with.

There was something special about this brunch: talking with Bill Friday. Specifically, we talked about happiness.

Anthony’s always asking if I’m happy!” I said. “And I’m like, no! And who cares? What if happiness isn’t a useful measure for my life? What if there’s something more and deeper that’s lost by looking so hard at happiness?!”

(This was not a gripe about my husband, by the way; it was about the limitations of language and cultural perceptions!)

Today I talked to my sister Rache. As we spoke, I saw she would have so enjoyed chatting with Bill and me:

Though the histories we discussed were grim and heartbreaking, our conversation was so damn hopeful. “Happiness,” we agreed, was not the yardstick by which we want to measure our lives. We want comprehension, connection, fullness, and fulfillment, not entertainment (alone).

Rache will be visiting soon enough. Maybe we’ll get a chance to sit and talk (things more important-to-us than) happiness with Bill.

But if not? I will hold the joy of those separate, related conversations within me,

for, unlike happiness,

joy is the complex totality that recognizes how all the feelings of life are part of a full one.

Photo courtesy Ra

On heroing

Once upon a college-time, I found myself so useless–to myself, to others, to the world–that I wanted to die.

I challenged myself to find one thing I liked about myself; if I didn’t, I’d kill myself. If I could find one thing, though, I figured I could probably find more … with some patience.

I decided my calves were pretty rad. Seeing that one good thing paved the way for my sticking around to see more, so that one little thing meant everything: choosing life, as opposed to suicide.

Over time, I came to have faith in words. I understood them and became adept at shaping them to express precisely what I meant.

Then I began reading Neil Postman, who helped me understand some of the biases in words and word combinations, particularly English ones. Nouns are especially appropriate to represent some physical items (table; car; sandwich), but help create the illusion of stasis in some more dynamic “things” (language; people; school).

There’s a lot to this, but some of the biggest questions Postman opened for me were about this illusion of stasis, or unchangeability. By referring to “language” instead of “languaging,” English speakers may perceive language as an unchanging behemoth instead of sets of ongoing processes. By referring to people by individual, set names, we tell ourselves each person is one relatively stable unit instead of a changeable, changing entity who does the hard, ongoing work of “personing” in a rapidly changing world.

Some statements presented as fact aren’t, really.

“Projection,” as the term is used by semanticists such as Korzybski and Hayakawa, means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us. For example, we say, “John is stupid” or “Helen is smart,” as if “stupidity” and “smartness” were characteristics of John and Helen. A literal translation of “John is stupid” (that is, its most scientific meaning) might go something like this: “When I perceive John’s behavior, I am disappointed or distressed or frustrated or disgusted. The sentence I use to express my perceptions and evaluation of these events is ‘John is stupid.'”

When we say, “John is stupid,” we are talking about ourselves much more than we are talking about John. And yet, this fact is not reflected at all in this statement.

Language might actually be used to conceal more than it reveals.

At first, it felt liberating to be able to see some of the processes behind purported “things” I’d wrongly perceived as more or less stable. Slowly, though, it destroyed my faith in something that had almost always been a bedrock for me: that I could set forth words that showed precisely what I meant to almost everyone who read them. But if meaning is projected onto words by a perceiver instead of simply absorbed as stated, what I stated was far less important than the meanings being projected onto my words by readers/hearers.

With everything apparently objective revealed as potentially quite subjective, then, I lost faith in my ability to English-language … or that there was much merit in bothering to even try. I was especially disturbed by one kind of illusion I began seeing everywhere, especially in my own words: one of scale. Words can help things I’d consider enormous seem small, and can give small things an illusion of comparative enormity.

For example: If it’s a “disaster” when I flub an important meeting, what is it–apart from, of course, a crime–when hundreds of thousands of people lose their homes and retirement funds due to the bad behavior of a small number of extraordinarily powerful bankers? When those bankers aren’t even held accountable, but slapped on the hand by having less-than-incremental fees effectively taken from investors … as punishment? (How is that “punishment”? How does that deter abuse of power?)

If it’s “crushing” to remember a particularly bad memory, what is it, then, when entire villages are literally crushed by American-sold (and, often, -dropped) bombs? Especially when many of those bombs are “gifts” that keep giving for decades to come?

If an especially tasty hot dog can be “awesome,” then what’s the feeling you get standing and looking upon grand portions of the Grand Canyon?

If it’s “amazing” to get a great bonus at work, what is is when a family is granted asylum … and thus given a chance at life when they’d have almost certainly died had they stayed in their (prior) home?

With so many hard-to-see flaws in tools of meaning conveyance, words, I stopped seeing the point of trying to negotiate them.

If I was no longer a(n effective) worker-of-words … what was I, even?

Last week, I was fairly bludgeoned–multiple times daily, each day–by a word that I’d always translated as representing goodness. Read more…

Retelling our tale

I recently wrote about the hope I discovered in Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. Reading Neil Postman on my lunch break just now, I found a similar sentiment about hope’s power residing in uncertainty: “certainty abolishes hope, and robs us of renewal.”

The entire next page was a beautiful call for hope in a time of rampant change:

Maybe you have to read the whole book to appreciate this passage, but … I don’t think so. And so, I share it, in the hopes you’ll find a similar, healing aha! in it (and maybe, just maybe, read some more Postman afterward).

The world is not atomized

To be clear, I DID IT, TOO

Several years ago, I briefly joined a Facebook group for administrators of inspirational pages. I was deeply discomfited by the group, members of which spent much more time talking about how to get more page and post likes than how to inspire people. The proper formula at that time was just the right quote pasted on just the right pretty picture; many admins were perturbed when sharing algorithms changed so that Facebook began sharing fewer pictures.

Troubled, I wrote that I didn’t feel inspiration resided in the number of people able to see a post. Maybe one person who really needed to see a post would see it, and than an “unsuccessful” post would’ve made a world of difference to that one person. The good it worked on them would ripple outward in lovely ways, so that a post’s reach would go far beyond what some statistic on Facebook revealed.

Each post I read there left me more unnerved. I couldn’t articulate the feeling then, but it was a sensation like: We’re putting numbers over people. This technology is turning us into marketers and targets, not humans engaging with other humans.

I left the group. I eventually left Facebook, too, and found myself better able to see human beings in all their splendor after doing so.

I was on and off Twitter. I even ended up deleting my Instagram account last November, after realizing that, too, was somehow messing up how I perceived real people. In December, I wrote in “Sunlight & friends“:

Something delightful happened after I deleted my Instagram account last month: I stopped thinking of my friends as the two-dimensional representations they share there, and started remembering them as who my heart knows them to be.

I hadn’t even realized I’d been boiling them down to their most superficial selves until I was no longer doing it.

Reading a copy of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business last week, I was floored to find old concerns addressed with such deference to history, present, and future. That’s to say, in 1985, a scholar I’d never heard of was publishing a book that’d help 2017 me begin to find words for things I felt silly for finding disturbing. Read more…

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