2017: Make Ready | A Prayer

2016 was a brutal year. 2017 is unlikely to be kinder. I stopped writing for a while because the things about which I was writing no longer seemed very much to matter. I have taken the time to read and watch and listen. I have been seeking patterns inside the noise and confusion that has become my life.

I am working with groundlessness. I am working with uncertainty. I am working with fear. I need to write true things. I need to do things that matter. I have been working toward one goal: focus. I have not found it.

I don’t have any answers aside from this: we have all been swallowed by noise and confusion, but this noise and confusion is not our actual lives. We are still ourselves though our surroundings seem unfamiliar and our families and friends sometimes feel like strangers.

On New Year’s Day 2017, I am still making myself ready.

It has become for us a habit to wish one another a happy new year. I wish that for all of us, but happiness, it seems, is no longer enough. Happiness is not purpose. Happiness comes from purpose. It is a way of way of working and doing and being.

And so, my prayer.

I pray that all lives be enlarged by joy and love and gratitude. I pray enough courage to do the right things. I pray to continue gathering abundant happiness along the way. But, more than all of this, I pray to make a useful life. May my life, my words, my actions help soften the noise and reduce the confusion for someone else.

I am writing with joy. I am writing with love. I am writing with gratitude for you all.

And wishing for each of us a Useful New Year.

The Heart is a Muscle. Let it Break.

This is meant to be a message of hope. May you find it such. – rmb 12.3.14

Life will try to break your heart. You must allow it. Sometime soon, you will swallowed by confusion. You will be afraid and held captive by uncertainty and indecision.  You will know pain and discomfort and disappointment. Your expectations will be dashed. Your plans will be subverted. Be brave. Be grateful. Move forward. Try to welcome the darkness if you can. There is strange, powerful beauty hiding in that darkness.

It will be painful, this heart breaking. It will hurt a lot. You will hear the sound of its splinters echo in your quietest times. Listen. Hear what it tells you. It has something essential to say.

Believe nothing. Expect nothing. Be grateful for the lesson you receive. If you can pay attention, it will tell you everything you need to know.

You cannot avoid pain. You were meant for it. Move toward it. Let it teach you and then let it go. Your heart is a muscle. Let it break. Then, let it rebuild. It will be a stronger, more resilient heart. It will be a patient, more loving heart. You will be tender. You will be more authentic. You will find love. You will give love. You will make a life worth living.

And if it kills you, so it goes. There are mysteries too many for us to comprehend.

So this is my prayer for you. This is my prayer for myself. May you let your heart get broken. And then, may you build your better self from the gathered pieces, knowing full well, your strength comes from healing. It can not come without first breaking.

To Myself Ten Years Ago: The View from Today

Prompt: If you met yourself 10 years ago, what would you tell yourself?

A Letter to Myself of 10 Years Ago, Written Today

Relax. That thing you are writing which is stressing you out and causing obsessive worry? That thing is not good. You won’t like that thing. Write it anyway. Finish it. Bury it. Move on.

Stop worrying about how and when your writing is going to make you famous and wildly important. People don’t become famous and wildly important from their writing anymore. Maybe they never did. Write anyway. Finish it. Share it. Move on.

You do have a gift. Maybe several. Use that gift but don’t believe your gift makes you special. Everybody has their gift. There is no preordained purpose or expectation of your gift. The world is not waiting for you to rise up and share your unique voice. Write anyway. Finish it. Share it. Move on.

You will change the world far less than the world will change you. That’s okay. The world will make you better, more of the person you want to be, but it will happen through adversity, upset and disappointment. You will have ideas. You will frustrated because people do not see things the way you see them. Frustration will be your constant companion. Be grateful. Frustration is not the obstacle. Frustration is the path.

Keep writing. Finish things. Share them. Move on.

Don’t make your work too important. You are going to be a father. Try to be patient. Explain things.Take your time. Be the kind of person you want your daughter to be. Model the importance of persistence in the face of uncertainty and self-doubt. Finish things. Share them. Move on.

Take pride in what you create. The work is delicious. Enjoy it.

Now, pay attention. I need to tell you something unpleasant. I need to tell you something upsetting.

Ten years from now, you will help someone you love die well and, in the space after that person has gone, you will help others you love create new lives for themselves. This will become your most important work.

Understand this. The times are precarious. There is danger everywhere. The world feels like it is winding down. We are still fighting wars stacked within wars, constantly lurching over the edge of a harsh precipice. Even the weather feels wrong. We have become, I think, the most dangerous generation, far more dangerous than that of our grandparents who gave us the atomic bomb. We are a generation that is killing ourselves with indifference as we continually subjugate ourselves to leaders with no vision.

Don’t be afraid. There is still so much beauty. There is still so much joy. There is so much possible.

You do have a gift, but it isn’t the words. The words are just tools.

Keep writing. Finish things. Upset people. Move on.

The Things We All Fear

I have a fascination with those things we all fear. I’ve written a bit about zombies and my suspicion that their place in the current zietgiest describes a kind of existential dread somehow related to our discomfort with our transhuman, technologically-drenched future. I’m not alone.

There are other people interested in these same ideas. They are more eloquent and more studied on the topic. One such person is Dan Engber, who became fascinated by the fear inspired by quicksand in the 1960s. He noticed that kids today aren’t really worried about quicksand the way they were a few years ago. It doesn’t show up in their games the way it did when he was a kid. He wondered where that fear went. Why did people stop being afraid?

Engber did a study of twentieth century films and discovered a sharp rise in the depiction of quicksand during the 1950s and 1960s. Radiolab does a great podcast with Engber, in which he speculates that rampant fear of quicksand corresponds to a distrust of exotic cultures and terrain in an age of extreme exploration and globalization. This fear became a metaphor for how people thought about the war in Vietnam. In short, the fear of quicksand represented a distrust about involvement in far away places and then became a controlling metaphor that shaped thought about that very involvement. If this interests you at all, you should give the podcast a listen. It is worth the 16 minutes.

I admire Engber and the way he conducted his exploration of the quicksand trope through twentieth century culture. This kind of study is fascinating and really, really useful. I’m interested in finding other studies that work along these lines. Links or citations are appreciated.

Fear is both an intensely personal experience and a culturally-defined expression. Fear is primal. It is also communal. The literatures of dread — horror films and stories — may not be meaningless drivel after all. A thoughtful mining of the nightmares we share with one another may give us our best look at ourselves, what we value, what we abhor and where we are headed as a species.

I know the zombie genre could keep researchers busy for a long time. What other cultural fears could we explore to find clues about ourselves?

The Awful Things List

I am starting a list of awful things. This will be a list of things that disturb me, terrify me and unsettle my soul. I’m talking about gut fear. I’m talking about existential dread.

Relax. I’m not going to let you actually read this list. This is the kind of list archvillians use to neutralize their adversaries, rendering them useless to the world. This list is my kryptonite, my darkest closet, my worst bad dreams.

You won’t get to see the list itself. I hope you get to see what comes from it.

Fear is rich mulch for creative work. Fear and dread, when dealt with honestly, are the loam from which great stories arise.

I am keeping this list as an act of faith. I will keep this list as a way to make these fears manifest. It is a kind of conjuration. And then, I will write my way through the center of these fears. I will follow the stories through the center of my gut. I will press myself all the way to the back of the closet and beyond into the darkness that reaches out with no arms.

You will know when I have written one of these stories. It will tumble inside you like a upended chair. It will rise in your gut like an unstiffled scream. It will capture you where you stand and look at you with eyes very much like your own. This kind of story will recognize you and you will recognize it. And you will read but the words will be like glass. And the pages will have disappeared. And I will be standing inside your head. And you will be standing inside mine. And we will be holding each other bravely, giving each other courage and honoring the magic that comes when brutal honesty meets fear.

The future started 15 years ago. It’s time to stop being afraid.

Just had to share this little gem from Tara Barseghian’s MindShift blog post “How Do We Prepare Our Children for What’s Next?”:

We’re 15 years into something so paradigm-changing that we have not yet adjusted our institutions of learning, work, social life, and economic life to account for the massive change. Fifteen years in is when people tend to start thinking about technological change in less fearful and more practical ways. They give up their nostalgia for the “before” and then start to focus on now, on how we can make the tools and resources available to them as productive as possible.

In other words, we are right on time to give up techno-phobia and to tackle the problems and opportunities of the digital world with good sense, pragmatics, realism, and purpose. Once we absorb the realization that we’ve already changed, and that we’re actually doing pretty well despite major realignments in our lives, then we can think about how we want to take this amazing new tool and use it in a way that better serves our lives. Being afraid is never useful. It’s time to survey our lives and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can make real and practical improvements in our schools, our workplace, our every day lives.

This passage recalls me to my original intent in writing Ubiquitous. Quotidian. We are already living in the future for which we have spent so much time waiting. It snuck up on us. I’ll see if I can keep myself away from the Big Thoughts and simply document the simple, unobtrusive ways in which my daily life is shaped, both for the good and bad, by continual, reliable and portable access to the Internet.