Archive for June, 2014

A Begrudging Compliment

June 26, 2014

Recently, when I was in Santa Barbara, I wandered into the last, independent bookshop in the city. Chaucer’s Books is one of those delicious, old school institutions with towering stacks of volumes between which one must sidle while muttering incoherent prayers to prevent the piles from spilling onto one’s head. Alas, I have too many unread books as it is. For years, I’ve sworn not to buy another until all my neglected tomes receive the loving attention they are due, but I am an unrepentant book fanatic and go out there and buy more which languish in various corners and shelves across the country.


This time, a slender, deceptively simple volume beckoned to me. It had a photo of an open door and was titled My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. The author alluringly detailed that he wrote it while suffering a horrible disease and was forced to reconcile his years-long, academic lack of faith with the miracles he experienced over the course of his malady. While I am fortunate enough not to suffer from illness, the wrestling with doubt and hardship from the perspective of someone who described himself as a “modern believer” resonated.


Only I made a mistake. I was fooled into purchasing this book by the prose on the back cover. It didn’t take long to discover the author’s true agenda: mostly, he wanted to share his own, personalized mythology about how he arose from the West Texas desert and wound up a poet and religion lecturer at Yale! Whoop-de-do. If I had realized what this book was in advance, I wouldn’t have wasted my money. Poetry, Yale, and a sense of mystical religiosity do not a good book make. Trust me.


So, there I was in Santa Barbara, dismayed at having to force myself to plow through in order to get my money’s worth (this reminds me of Annie Hall and the joke/complaint about how measly the portions of really bad food were). First of all, his poetry is bad. B-A-D. Full of self-conscious references to Greek philosophers or maybe Gertrude Stein or whoever else this guy could look up in the stacks at Yale. Poems with no commas or recognizable structure, let alone point. That’s what mystical poetry is, you get it? It has no form or direction, just some ramblings of a self-indulgent, self-described struggling intellectual. You know what my crisis was? My crisis was whether to force myself to finish it or not. Mostly, though, I wound up snorting at it’s incomprehensibility—and I’m probably in the tiny % of readers who might, possibly, be inclined to try! Please do not send me any links, urls, pamphlets, or books by Ivy League mystical poets—EVER. I already made my mistake. I don’t need to keep reliving it.




Despite all this, the author provided me with one powerful takeaway, which has actually burrowed itself in my head and which I am struggling to reconcile within myself as I wrestle with this question of what to do with the rest of my life. “God doesn’t give a gift without an obligation to use it.” He’s right. Our talents are divinely inspired gifts and it is incumbent upon each one of us to use them. We use them to make the world a brighter place; we use them to comfort those around us; we use them to generate more creative energy; we use them to fulfill our personal sense of purpose. But use them we must.


My struggle stems from my inclination to diminish the value of my gifts. I tell myself that because something comes easily to me, it must not be valuable. What about you? What do you tell yourself about your gifts? And when you see someone you love diminishing theirs, how does that make you feel? Anguished, right? You want them to flourish, don’t you? Might you, somehow, extend that well wishing to yourself? You are obligated to shine where you can shine—even if doing so scares you! It scares the living daylights out of me, I assure you.


So, I will conclude this post thusly: yeah, the book was officious, annoying, and with many incomprehensible bad “poems,” but it also reminded me of something I needed to hear. So is our poor, beleaguered Yalie author from West Texas due some credit? Begrudgingly, yes, with my profound thanks.



Recognizing the Momentum in Your Life

June 24, 2014

I’m inclined to consider Murphy’s Law one of the most powerful forces in the universe. As regular DR readers know, I’ve suffered through an agonizing job search process, marked by a few rare, but heart breaking highs, and multiple forlorn lows. This journey has resulted in bouts of profound discouragement and an occasional shaking of fists at the heavens. But, despite all this distress, I’m grateful that I’m no longer where I was, because where I was offered nothing but personality altering and soul crushing burdens.


So, it is not without a certain amount of irony that my most recent burst of networking resulted in a tip which appeared to be right up my alley—only to lead to in an individual who works directly with those I fled. Ah, life is rich, n’est-ce pas?


This unwelcome discovery plunged me into momentary despair and confusion. Staring out the window, I found myself caught in spiraling thoughts where I worried that this incident proved my fate was one of chronic joblessness, but then something marvelous happened. I broke this cycle; I reminded myself that false leads still indicate movement. So, this particular trail was a dead end, I reasoned, but others remain to be followed. Instead of permitting myself to define my situation in terms of stagnation, I recovered more quickly to reframe it as signs of progress. As Sir Isaac Newton observed in 1687, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. That’s me! It also happens to be you, too.


My point is two-fold: 1) I’d like you to think about aspects of your life where momentum exists. Even if progress is measured in millimeters, there are aspects where you are gaining ground and 2) does your assessment include a heightened ability to spring back from set backs? Where have you gained in your resiliency? Can you think of a situation that previously would have upset you, but now no longer throws you off?


In most respects, it’s much easier to give up, to walk away, to call it quits, and to feel sorry for oneself than to trudge forward. Herculean courage must be summoned when it feels as though nothing is going right. And, remember, things can always be worse! I have a friend whose domestic situation is in tatters right now. After several years of gradual devolvement, things within her family have exploded and she is left to shoulder the burden of being the grown up. At a time when little about hearth and home feels rewarding or worthwhile, she perseveres. At least things are going great with her job.


This may feel like cold comfort when confronting seemingly intractable problems that impact multiple players, but my point is that, despite all this, she retains areas of her life where she meets with success. And, let’s hope, that the chaos at home may eventually lead to some strongly positive resolutions.


So, when confronted by challenges that feel intractable, I remind you of something you already know: you continue to have parts of your life where things are going well. Reminding yourself of such is a key element to building up your resilience. Life only defeats us if we let it. Re-booters regroup, they don’t resign.


The Irresistible Lure of the Street

June 19, 2014

And…we’re back.


During these past few weeks, I’ve been travelling abroad, something I haven’t done in far too long, but it’s good to be home. Of course, with summer bearing down upon us, many will find reason to escape their quotidian lives and seek a cooler, temporary refuge elsewhere. For those of you who resist such lures, reasoning that there’s “too much to do here,” or who succumb to the siren call of remaining plugged into our 24/7 news cycle, etc. I urge you to reconsider. Getting away from it all not only allows one a blissful sense of utter ignorance but simultaneously renews our engagement with a heightened sense of wonder when we return.


Perhaps I prefer being oblivious more than most, but I found it a relief to have no sense of what was going on in the world while traipising about Paris and London. Regular DR readers will recall that I often waste energy worrying about global developments about which I know little and can do even less, so forcibly removing that burden from my shoulders was an unexpected positive of being tuned out. Now, when I read the daily papers, current events have a more normal sized reality about them, given my particular locus in this world. Many of the stories (particularly involving our own political system) seem even more inane after a few weeks away than ever before. My point: we mustn’t take ourselves so seriously no matter how serious the issue before us.


On a lovely June evening in the English countryside, I attended a dinner party. There was much to enjoy about the evening, but my biggest takeaway involved our hosts’ two terriers. One never tired of my throwing the tennis ball out onto their lawn (no doubt annoying the others since I lavished far more attention upon this pooch than my fellow guests) and the other, far senior dog who moved slowly, hovering quietly just beyond reach. My host genially shook his head as he clarified that the elder pet had been hit twice by cars driving along the street in front of his house. “Anytime that door stands open, he just can’t help himself,” he said, scratching the dog’s ears. “He runs out the door and insists on just standing in the middle of the road. I don’t know why he does it.”


Listening to this story, I smiled. “We’re all like your dog. There are doors for each of us that we simply can’t resist running through—no matter what it might cost us.” So, I ask you: my fellow DR readers, what is this door for you? What or who presents such a temptation in your life that you just can’t help yourself? Is it a vice? Is it a person from your past? Is it a potential you have yet been able to tap into? What siren calls to you?


It’s not that our poor English terrier didn’t pay a price for running through that door—two collisions with a car extracted a high physical toll, to be sure—but the dog is not the only foolish creature any of us knows. We all run through that metaphysical door. And, you know, when I think about it, I’d way rather it be this way than be too afraid to step out into the street. It’s what makes re-booters different from the rest of our fellow journeymen. We dare to feel that breeze on our face. We dare to chase that ball through a soft summer’s night.


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