Addict #1 (Rose’s Baptism)

Today’s poem was inspired by a reader email. Enjoy.

***

Rose emailed,
a street-walking
shelter-dweller,
sixty-two years
in the making,
thirty-eight of which
were stitched together
by heroin needles.

Daughter of the Pope,
sister of the molested,
aunt of the overdosed,
twin of poppies,
welfare patient
with tracks between
her toes, fingers,
elbow folds,

what’s to say
of Rose’s life,
except that
rock-bottom
pushed her
up in the water,
a stone rising
into new
concentric
circles.

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Pray Yourself Sober

What is sobriety? Doesn’t it mean more than keeping free of the bottle, the needle, the prescription pill, the credit card bill? This has been the drum I’ve banged for nearly three years, now. Sobriety, it seems to me, is that quality of connection that keeps us clear-headed. And in this modern world of noise, and news, and endless screaming over each other, don’t we need that kind of connection more than ever?

I’ve tried my best over the last few months to cultivate personal practices of sobriety, and in that, I’ve turned to the writings of George Buttrick, the twentieth-century Presbyterian pastor who wrote about prayer. Buttrick’s practices and insights lead me to quieter places, places of thanksgiving, confession, and rest. I’ve enjoyed these practices, and I’m inviting you to join me in them.

An invitation begs attendance. Doesn’t it?

I’ve created two daily email plans based on Buttrick’s work. The first, The Practice of Prayer: Thanksgivingis a five-day email plan stretching into the recognition of the good gifts of God in our everyday lives. The next, The Practice of Prayer: Confession, is a five-day email plan of examination and recognition. Confession–it’s hard, maybe, but aren’t most things worth doing?

If you sign up for the Thanksgiving plan, you’ll receive the Confession plan immediately following the completion of your gratitude practice. And if you complete the Confession plan, you’ll receive an email notification when new prayer plans are available (I’ll release another one in the next month or two).

Would you consider signing up? And as you’re working through the plans, feel free to invite a conversation partner or two (perhaps a small group) along. You can invite your friends to sign up by way of Twitter or  Facebook.

So, pull a group together, and let’s go. I’ll be working my way through these plans, too (you can’t practice thanksgiving and confession too much). Let’s cultivate practices of sobriety. Shall we?

 

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The Marriage We Learned in the Apocalypse

“These are the things we had before the apocalypse: a country home, middle-class appointments, 2.5 jobs, four children, a couple of dogs, a cat, and a marriage swimming in the blithe love of American ease.”

This is the sentence I spoke two nights ago in a dream. It was a dream of a scorched-earth America, an ash-gray version of our Land Of The Free whose capitulation to a strong man had worked a great ruin. I don’t count this dream as something prophetic (at least not as some count prophecy), or as any sort of comment on the current political climate. Instead, the dream was the offspring of an over-active imagination and a conversation with Amber about The Walking Dead. Perhaps a late-night apple and peanut butter contributed, too. Did a sinus infection amp up the scene? Who knows.

It was only a dream.

It was only a dream. 

It was only a dream.

Right?

The next morning’s news was its own exercise in dreaming, with some pundits calling our President “unhinged” and others calling him “unparalleled.” Social media was on fire (as social media tends to be) and every status update was an unmoderated call for either impeachment and enthronement. That’s when it struck me–everyone has an opinion and a gun these days (and if not a gun a knife, and if not a knife an ax, and if not an ax a frying pan) and they’re not afraid to use either. And our Commander in Chief? He has an opinion and a nuclear arsenal, and according to his own presser, he’s not afraid to use either of those, either. 

Lord have mercy.

This is not a piece on politics. I swear it. But here’s what I know: the division of this country has grown long in the tooth, its appetite for destruction insatiable. And how hard is it to keep a marriage together in this divisive, destructive atmosphere? Pretty danged, I’d say. I sat in my morning chair, scrolling the news, the social media feeds and wondering: how do you build an apocalypse-proof marriage? Control, comfort, security, leisure, endless activity, maybe even the vote–these are the things that so often bind our marriages, if only by scotch tape and stitches. What’s left when the illusions afforded by privilege burn up and blow away? What would it take to keep a marriage together after the sky has burned to ash? 

I tried on a few answers. Love? Yes. Sex? I sure hope. (Let’s be honest: Don’t humans always find a way?) But these didn’t seem quite sufficient. Wouldn’t it take more? Maybe it take these things: the shared toil against inhospitable soil, the work of composting new, more forgiving stuff; a shared mission, like a common resistance to the powers of apocalypse; the wisdom that came by living through the fire; the shared responsibility of teaching a better hope to the children of our children; an understanding of the ways anger, distrust, and hate are buried in every human heart, even our own; a collaboration in building institutions that fight to unearth all that anger, distrust, and hate. I considered these qualities, played them out against an imagined dystopian future, and that’s when it struck me–the qualities we’d embody after the fire, what if we embodied them before?

***

As always, thanks so much for reading along. If you enjoyed today’s dystopian piece of imagination, feel free to share it with your people on Facebook or Twitter.

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The Process of Quitting a Job You do Not Hate

The process of quitting a job you do not hate is complicated, though not accidental. There is no bum’s rush to the big-boss-man’s office, no storm of regrettable words. There’s no discussion of severance, or lawsuits, or even cleaning out the office. It is a gradual thing, like the drifting apart of two unmoored ships, or maybe more like waking into a lazy Saturday morning. And if it’s not quite this way for everyone, that’s how it was for me.

This process of resigning from a job you do not hate (one that pays the bills and offers a modicum of social status) can be broken down into a few easy steps, I suppose. Those steps are as follows.

Step 1: Imagine Possibility

The autumn of 2016 came, and as it so often does, the autumn itch came with it. I needed a change of pace, wanted to see something new. I needed to explore–explore; yes, that’s the ticket. The continents all discovered, the islands even, I was left asking: what’s left? Maybe the stories of men.

***

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Choking Creativity (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of my series, Choking Creativity. To read Parts 1, 2, and 3, follow this link.

1. The Fog

“Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better throughout your waking hours.” Greg Mckeown, Essentialism.

Too many mornings begin in a fog. The obligations of the day suck me dry, then the obligations of the evening land me in bed well past any reasonable hour. In bed, I don’t give up on the day. There’s the day’s news to catch up on, my social media feeds call my name, and news episodes of The Expanse, or The Crown, and The Blacklist wait to be streamed. I stretch the limits like taffy, hang on until my eyes are too heavy. I wake early, attempt to get a jump on the morning after too little sleep. 5:49 minutes of sleep? Round it up. Call it six. It’s good. Right?

I wake early, attempt to get a jump on the morning after too little sleep. 5:49 minutes of sleep? Round it up. Call it six. It’s good. Right?

2. The Problem

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeownw cites to a Harvard Business Review article, in which the author states that a week of 4-5 hours per night of sleep “induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%” He expounds, showing how less than seven hours of sleep per night affects creativity and productivity.

You know this to be true, don’t you? How many mornings do you sit in the fog hoping the coffee will work some kind of miracle? How many days do you wander in a sleep-deprived funk? And on those days, how creative are you?

Be honest.

Our lack of sleep–isn’t this a consumption problem too? The activities, the obligations, the media–we consume and consume and consume until it’s well past the witching hour. Then, how much time do we leave to sleep, that time to recharge our brains and bodies?

Researcher after researcher has shown that sleep is the fuel for our creativity. It is the muse. Today, let’s examine the practices of consumption that disrupt our sleep. Let’s prioritize sleep as a practice of creativity.

3. The Practice

Consider the nights you’ve gotten less than 7-8 hours of sleep in the past month. What cut into your dreams? Television? Scrolling the news on your phone? The black hole of social media? A good romp with your significant other (which, I can excuse from time to time, human as I am). Do you see any patterns?

This week, make it your goal to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Resist the activities that deprive you of good sleep (save for the above-stated romp). Combined with your practice of making the first thirty minutes of your day digital free, see if this enhances your creativity. Consider writing notes on the results.

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