Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The worst advice you can give to people trying to find themselves is to look within. That presumes a person is like an onion, with layers of social selves to peel off to get closer and closer to the inner core, the true self. The idea is that if you sit in a room with yourself and focus on yourself, you will get in touch with the “real you” or self-actualize the “real you.”

People who try this sometimes find there is no “real you,” or they just make up a bunch of stories and poses about who they think themselves to be.

That’s because a person is not a closed system that can be studied in isolation. A self exists only in relation to something else, while perceiving something and interacting with the world.

It’s more useful to conceive of a person as an artist. On the journey toward becoming themselves, artists often begin by copying some predecessor whose work they admire. Early on, the Beatles copied Buddy Holly and other artists. Countless writers started out by trying to copy George Orwell or Toni Morrison.

We’re mimetic creatures. We learn by imitating what excellent others have done before us…

Everybody is like that in a way. Everybody is grabbing from the world bits and pieces of thought and fashion that they can mishmash into their own personal way of being. The more sources you borrow from, the more interesting your self is likely to be…

“A man with few friends is only half-developed,” Randolph Bourne observed. “There are whole sides of his nature which are locked up and have never been expressed. He cannot unlock them himself, he cannot even discover them; friends alone can stimulate him and open them.”

Gradually, out of these interactions a self emerges. This is the hardest phase. You can pile up myriad influences. You can pile up performances. But eventually it all has to cohere into a distinct way of perceiving the world, a distinct way of expressing yourself in the world.

This simplifying process can make a person’s voice more powerful and focused. Zora Neale Hurston went back to her hometown Eatonville, Fla., as a setting from which she could express what she wanted to say about life. For his second Inaugural Address, Lincoln went back to the Bible to get the cadences and truths he needed to express his point of view.

Everybody who is writing a book or making a presentation or being a person in the world has to eventually wrestle with that cohering question: What’s the core here? Or as Miles Davis put it, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

— David Brooks, from “How to Find Out Who You Are” (NY Times, July 28, 2022)


Notes:

  • Thank you Laila for inspiring this share.
  • Photo: Mart Production via Pexels

 

Quiet conversations that will not be publicized

So what’s a new possibility you’re inspired by? I love your questions. You’re pushing in the really important way. Here’s what I think of: I see the disarray. I see the broken power structures. I see the damage and the pain. I also see people tending to that. At the heart of some of these national-level or community-level conflicts, there is space to move below the radar and start stitching together relationships and quiet conversations at a very human, granular level. We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world…

A lot of people worry about finding their calling. Do you have any advice for them? I’m very aware that in this culture, in the 20th-century world, we’ve diminished the idea of a calling to mean your job title. I think there are many callings in a life. I want people to liberate the idea of their calling from what they’re being paid to do for a living. Your calling may be something that you do that gives you joy but that you’re never going to get paid for. It may be certain relationships that you’re holding that are primary. Being a parent or being a child, being a friend, being a neighbor, the service you do in your community. It can be how you show up through your day, how you treat strangers. You can play an instrument. You can write. It’s the things that amplify your best humanity.I don’t think I have to define that, because we all intuitively know what it is. I talk so much on this show about Rilke —

I know where you’re going: “Living the questions.” Yes! The notion of living the questions in a world that is in love with answers. I’ve been reading Rilke since I was in Berlin almost 40 years ago, what I feel coming back to our world is this idea that to do justice to a question means that you cannot rush to an answer. What you’re called to do is hold the question itself, dwell with the question respectfully, and love the question. Live your way into the answer. If you hold a question, if you’re faithful, the question will be faithful back to you.

OK, what was the last thing that blew your mind? For me the last two years have been one seismic event after the other. That experience of the ground shaking beneath our feet and that happening to every person on the planet — that is what all of our spiritual traditions tell us is the reality at any given moment, and it’s what our culture gives us a million devices to deny. But there it was: We are fragile. Civilization rests on something as tender as bodies breathing in proximity to other bodies. We were reminded of that. And living in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed. The West Coast caught fire. Our political fragmentation that we’ve been walking into for such a long time. We have a war in Europe. We pretended like capitalism triumphing would lead to a moral universe. It just goes on and on. It’s all before-and-after now.

— David Marchese, excerpts of a interview with Krista Tippett in “Krista Tippett Wants You to See All the Hidden Signs of Hope” (NY Times Magazine, July 7, 2022).  Tippett created and hosts the public radio program and podcast On Being.

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Where to go from here?

—  Delia Ephron, Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life: A Memoir (Little, Brown and Company. April 12, 2022)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…We are trying to get off the damn treadmill so that we can remember the purpose and dignity that can come from the whole of our life.

So ask yourself this: Who would you be if work was no longer the axis of your life? How would your relationship with your close friends and family change, and what role would you serve within your community at large? Whom would you support, how would you interact with the world, and what would you fight for?

We are so overextended, so anxious, and so conditioned to approach our life as something to squeeze in around work that just asking these questions can feel indulgent. If you really try to answer them, what you’re left with will likely feel silly or far-fetched: like a Hallmark movie of your life, if you got to cast people to play you and the rest of your family who were well rested, filled with energy and intentionality and follow-through. Your mind will try to tell you it’s a fantasy. But it’s supposed to sound amazing, because you need to want it, really yearn for it, to a degree that will motivate you to shift your life in ways that will make the fantasy a reality.

Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay. Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever manner, yours. What did you actually like to do? Not what your parents said you should do, not what you felt as if you should do to fit in, not what you knew would look good on your application for college or a job.

The answer might be spectacularly simple: You liked riding your bike with no destination in mind, making wild experiments in the kitchen, playing around with eyeshadow, writing fan fiction, playing cards with your grandfather, lying on your bed and listening to music, trying on all your clothes and making ridiculous outfits, thrifting, playing Sims for hours, obsessively sorting baseball cards, playing pickup basketball, taking photos of your feet with black-and-white film, going on long drives, learning to sew, catching bugs, skiing, playing in a band, making forts, harmonizing with other people, putting on mini-plays—whatever it was, you did it because you wanted to. Not because it would look interesting if you posted it on social media, or because it somehow optimized your body, or because it would give you better things to talk about at drinks, but because you took pleasure in it.

Once you figure out what that thing is, see if you can recall its contours. Were you in charge? Were there achievable goals or no goals at all? Did you do it alone or with others? Was it something that really felt as if it was yours, not your siblings’? Did it mean regular time spent with someone you liked? Did it involve organizing, creating, practicing, following patterns, or collaborating? See if you can describe, out loud or in writing, what you did and why you loved it. Now see if there’s anything at all that resembles that experience in your life today…

— Charlie Warzel & Anne Helen Petersen, from “How to Care Less About Work” in The Atlantic (December 5, 2021). This has been excerpted from their forthcoming book, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

There’s time for everything except the things worth doing. Think of something you really care about. Then add hour to hour and calculate the fraction of your life that you’ve actually spent in doing it. And then calculate the time you’ve spent on things like shaving, riding to and fro on buses, waiting in railway, junctions, swapping dirty stories, and reading the newspapers.

George Orwell, from “Coming Up For Air


Quote: Alive on All Channels. George Orwell portrait.

Sunday Morning

My father had died in a single-vehicle accident in California, far from those who knew and loved him. As I grieved, my father’s death brought a certain clarity about my calling as a husband and parent. If my relationship with my dad had been marked by brokenness, I wanted my relationship with my wife and children to be marked by healing. It also forced me to re-evaluate my career. Impressing other writers and academics ceased to be my goal. Instead, I would focus on using my words to find beauty and hope. I couldn’t write a different ending for my father’s story, but I could show that a different ending was possible for others.

Over the past year and a half, many people have experienced something similar to what I did when my father died. I am not the only one who has received a terrifying call that wakes us from our slumber and changes us forever. It may have been a notification about a loved one going on a ventilator rather than dying in a car crash, but the trauma is the same. This pandemic has left conversations and lives cut short…

All these changes that people are embarking on during the pandemic make me think that we weren’t that happy before the pandemic. What about our lives prevented us from seeing things that are so clear to us now? When I talked to friends and neighbors about this, two themes emerged. The pandemic has disabused us of the illusion of time as a limitless resource and of the false promise that the sacrifices we make for our careers are always worth it.

Before the pandemic, we knew we were going to die, but we did not believe it. Maybe we believed it, but considered it a problem to be dealt with later. In the meantime, exercise and a reasonable diet was the tithe we paid to our fears. We believed we had time…

We have had to consider our collective mortality. And we are now faced with the question of meaning. Like the biblical psalmist says, “We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:7). Covid-19 threatened to capture us in its snare, but thus far we have eluded it.

What shall we do with this opportunity?

Dr. Esau McCaulley, from “We Weren’t Happy Before the Pandemic,Either.” Dr. McCaulley is a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois., (NY Times, August 21, 2021)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

But now, Dorothy wondered: What was failure? What was success? Ribbons swirling in a cold tank. Life was not a story that ended on a resolution or a revelation. It was like this puppet show—a gentle, ongoing state of ups and downs that contained moments of illusory transcendence and ultimately built to nothing, no epiphanies, or so many epiphanies that they ran together and were forgotten. Maybe it breathed like a paper flower, expanding and contracting. Maybe it was something you did just to pass the time.

Christine Smallwood, The LIfe of the Mind (Hogarth, March 2, 2021)


Photo: Lily

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness. I’m indebted to the Jungian therapist James Hollis for the insight that major personal decisions should be made not by asking, “Will this make me happy?”, but “Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me?”

Oliver BurkemanOliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life (The Guardian, Sept 4, 2020)


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

How much space for remembering is there in a day? How much should there be? I think about this in my poetry. I don’t want to be a nostalgist. Yet I feed on memory, need it to make poems, the art that is made of the stuff I have: my life and the world around me. I am grateful for the tug of the day that gets us out of bed and propels us into our lives and responsibilities; memory can be a weight on that. And yet, in it floods, brought willfully, or brought on by a glimpse, a glance, a scent, a sound.

Elizabeth Alexander, “The Light of the World: A Memoir.

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

You have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all your life … All the things that have deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it–tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest–if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself–you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’

— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain


Notes:

  • Quote: Thank you Vale of The Soul-making
  • Photo: Today, 6:34 a.m. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. 28° F feels like 24° F.

Lightly Child, Lightly

Life should carry more meaning than the facts would bear. Which facts were these: we occupied a tiny corner of the universe, minor planet orbiting a minor star, in an even tinier corner of cosmological time. Still we wanted all of it, the sun and the moon and the firmament that held them, to be about us. This want had been bred into humanity, selected by nature, so it must have served some purpose once, but it had long outlived its usefulness… What was needed now was to know.

— Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts: A Novel (Tin House Books, May 5, 2020)


Notes:

What ‘moved’ you today?

Short story.

How did we get here with this random, mid-day post.

Ray, a fellow wordpress blogger, who must be beyond fatigued with my photo hobby posts across social media and my incessant sharing of book passages and quotes, said “ENOUGH already” and asked for a story.  And when Ray demands, I move.

So, I’m giving him one.  And it aligns with the spirt of this blog — if it moves me, it goes up.

My youngest Brother recently passed away.  I am the Personal Representative of his Estate. It has been a journey in this COVID-19 environment to settle his affairs, and we’re far from done. Let’s leave this at that.

I’m sitting in a bank branch this morning waiting to get help. I’m holding my smartphone in my hand, and a file folder with my Brother’s paperwork on my lap.

And I’m waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

My Gear is on. (Face mask fully covering nose and mouth.)

I’m looking down and paging through screen after screen after screen after screen on my smartphone.

Twitter, Tumblr, work emails, FB, WP, LinkedIn.

And I get vertigo. Eye strain. Mask inhibiting breathing. Feeling woozy. 

Normal functioning Humans make adjustments.

I keep flipping through web pages. And flipping, and flipping.

Wooziness doesn’t let up.

I come to a post on LinkedIn. And stop.

I read the post again.

And as Sawsan would say. “No, I’m not crying.” Not here. Not now.

Air under the mask is getting thin.

Eyes well up.

My glasses fog up, the face mask pushing air straight up.

And just at that moment: “Sir, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I’m ready for you now.”

I can’t lift my head.

Glasses are fogged up. Floor is spinning.

She sees I’m struggling.

Sir, let me give you a moment: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

I thank her, and take a moment to gain my composure, and then walk into her office.

Here was the LinkedIn story.

[Read more…]

Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why?

There’s a famous play, Equus, about a troubled boy with a blinding love of horses. The boy sees a psychiatrist named Martin Dysart, who tries to understand him by trying to understand his love. Dysart is confounded by it:

A child is born into a world of phenomena all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs—it sucks—it strokes its eyes over the whole uncountable range. Suddenly one strikes. Why? Moments snap together like magnets, forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can even, with time, pull them apart again. But why at the start they were ever magnetized at all—just those particular moments of experience and no others—I don’t know. 

I can trace my love, too. Why stars instead of horses, or boys, or hockey? I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because the stars are the antithesis of darkness, of abusive stepfathers and imperiled little sisters. Stars are light. Stars are possibility. They are the places where science and magic meet, windows to worlds greater than my own. Stars gave me the hope that I might one day find the right answers.

But there’s more to my love than that. When I think of the stars I feel an almost physical pull. I don’t just want to look at them. I want to know them, every last one of them, a star for every grain of sand on Earth. I want to bask in the hundreds of millions of suns that shine in the thousands of billions of skies in our galaxy alone. Stars represent more than possibility to me; they are probability. On Earth the odds could seem stacked against me—but where you are changes everything. Each star was, and still is, another chance for me to find myself somewhere else. Somewhere new.

Sara Seager, The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir (Crown, August 18, 2020)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

I asked him what he thought it meant for our lives, for how we spend them, for what they mean. He said our lives mean nothing except as a cycle of regeneration, that we are incomprehensibly brief sparks, just as the animals are, that we are no more important than they are, no more worthy of life than any living creature. That in our self-importance, in our search for meaning, we have forgotten how to share the planet that gave us life. Tonight I write him a letter telling him I think he was right. But that also I think there is meaning, and it lives in nurturing, in making life sweeter for ourselves, and for those around us.

— Charlotte McConaghyMigrations: A Novel (Flatiron Books, August 4, 2020)


Photo: Sparks by Christine Lynch

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.

What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise: A Novel


Photo: Patty Maher, with The Red String. “Based on the Japanese legend that a red string ties us to all those with whom we will make history and all those whom we will help in one way or another.”  Laura McBride quote from A Sea of Quotes.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

When poet Donald Hall met with sculptor Henry Moore, he dared to ask if Moore believed that there was a secret to life. The response astonishes: “The secret of life,” Moore answered without flinching, “is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for your whole life. And the most important thing is- it must be something you cannot possibly do.”

Imagine the courage behind these tasks. By what sacred story are you living? What task have you set for yourself? Can you tell your life story, accomplish your task, from where you are?

If you’re uncertain, turn over in you mind philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s reflection that “religion is what we do with our solitude.” Where your heart wanders during those chambered moments will show you the direction of your true longing. We speak of God and geniuses and heroes and sacred sites, but these are only names for the ineffable mystery of the force behind something our souls long to be in touch with. No practical philosophy explains this urge. It is a force from the mysterious shadow world that may in turn long for us.

~ Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred


Source: Thank you Make Believe Boutique. Portrait via Phil Cousineau

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

“So, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

I’d never heard that question before, hovering close to cliché and thumping me with its gravity at the same time…

“What do you think of the moment before you sleep?”…

“Why don’t you tell me about a dream?”…

“The dream is asking you the same question as I am, because it’s the only question . . .”

~ A. K. Benjamin, from his new book titled Let Me Not Be Mad: My Story of Unraveling Mind (Dutton, June 11, 2019)


Photo: (via poppins-me)

Miracle. All of it.

Hello, welcome.

My name is Julie Yip-Williams. I am grateful and deeply honored that you are here. This story begins at the ending. Which means that if you are here, then I am not. But it’s okay.

My life was good and my life was complete. It came to so much more than I ever thought possible, or than my very humble beginnings would have given me the right to expect. I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, an immigrant, a cancer patient, a lawyer, and now a writer. I tried to live always with good intentions and a good heart, although I am sure I have hurt people along the way. I tried my best to live a full, rewarding life, to deal with the inevitable trials with grace, and to emerge with my sense of humor and love for life intact. That’s all. Even though I am dying in my early forties, and leaving my precious children behind, I am happy.

My life was not easy. That I survived infancy was something of a miracle, that I made it to America, also a miracle. Being born poor and blind in Vietnam on the losing side of a bloody civil war should have defined my life and sealed my fate. Those things marked me, but they did not stop me. Dying has taught me a great deal about living—about facing hard truths consciously, about embracing the suffering as well as the joy. Wrapping my arms around the hard parts was perhaps the great liberating experience of my life.

Directly or indirectly, we all experience the hard parts. The events that we hear about on the news or from friends, those tragedies ending in death that happen to other people in other places, which make us sad but also relieved and grateful as we think, There but for the grace of God…—destructive hurricanes and earthquakes, violent shootings and explosions, car accidents, and of course, insidious illnesses. These things shake us to the core because they remind us of our mortality, of how impotent we truly are in the face of unseen forces that would cause the earth to tremble or cells to mutate and send a body into full rebellion against itself.

I set out here to write about my experience of that, both the life lived and the trials endured—neither comprehensively, you understand, but enough to fully show you the distance I traveled and the world in which I made my life. And what began as a chronicle of an early and imminent death became—if I may be very presumptuous—something far more meaningful: an exhortation to you, the living.

Live while you’re living, friends.

From the beginning of the miracle, to the unwinding of the miracle.

Julie Yip-Williams, February 2018

~ Julie Yip-Williams, “Prologue” from The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything that Comes After (Random House, February 5, 2019)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

Until we can comprehend the beguiling beauty of a single flower, we are woefully unable to grasp the meaning and potential of life itself.

~ Virginia Woolf


Photo: Padma Inguva (via Aberrant Beauty). Quote: via Memory’s Landscape

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Just bring a background of depth and meaning to whatever it is I do…
There’s something I can feel in my brain,
like a finger pressing down.

Sheila HetiMotherhood: A Novel (Henry Holt and Co., May 1, 2018)


Photo: 8tracks.com (via Mennyfox55)

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