Friday, November 30, 2012

20 Minute Timed Writing - "My Ideal Self"

I am not going to share all my timed writings, and this one is probably more focused than most of them are. This is totally unedited and was handwritten with a burgundy gel pen in a college-ruled notebook I bought in a five-pack at Sam's Club. I think it usually takes about 20 minutes before you manage to get below the surface. Natalie Goldberg recommends you don't re-read the timed writings for a few weeks. When you go back and read them you will ideally be less judgmental of yourself and you will be able to see words, phrases, ideas that can be expanded or even beautiful sentences that are full of real-ness.

My ideal self eats no more than 150 grams of carbs most days. She always has several books going - some difficult and challenging, others for pleasure. She reads modern classics. My ideal self reads out loud to her younger children and tries to inspire her older children to read good books. My ideal self works out with weights three days a week, does cardio one day, or better yet, does 10 minutes on the rebounder every day. She fits other uncategorizable workouts in on the other three days and takes one full rest day per week. She is not rigid about any of this but is mostly consistent. My ideal self does twenty minutes of freewriting like this every day. She belongs to a writing group that meets at a coffee house once a month. My Ideal self has two days every month "off" from family duties. If needed, she uses one day to catch up on household duties but ideally she uses two 45-minute maintenance times each day to keep things orderly enough that she can use those days as retreats for reading, writing, art journaling, prayer, etc. My ideal self is patient. She feels annoyed just as much as my actual self but has trained herself to smile instead of growling and snapping. She is not fake when she does this, but she doesn't always want to be a reactionary. She wants to respond instead of react and she wants to respond positively even to negative situations - positively in that she wants to be at peace with all people as much as it depends on her and not part of the problem but part of the solution. My ideal self creates most days. She makes a few art journal pages a week, she works on plans for her future as a workshop instructor, she puts together prototypes for her future book.My ideal self cooks a full meal three times a week and eats a big salad every day. My ideal self takes her multivitamins, her calcium and she looks out for the health of her family without being naggy. She manages to get across not-so-positive emotions and work through tense situations without being sarcastic or naggy or mopey or otherwise ineffectual. She takes a self-portrait once a week. My ideal self keeps up on her digital photos, ideally printing them out regularly, but at the very least backing them up so they will not be lost. My ideal self does not assume the worst about everything, she does not let things that happened in the past make her feel jaded because she thinks she will know how it will all turn out. She is able to walk away from escalating arguments without acting all superior about it. My ideal self listens to world music on a regular basis and she plays the guitar. My ideal self my ideal self my ideal self does not have to write the same thing over and over. She continues to make paper zines even though paper is so out of favor and she reads poetry in the hope that she will someday get it. My ideal self prays for everyone she knows on a regular basis and she makes some kind of creative prayer journal. My ideal self has at least one 3x4 foot painting of her own hanging on the wall of her house. My ideal self my ideal self my ideal self doesn't exist obviously but since I am afraid to even try to plan or make any kind of resolution again (since I have failed at keeping them so many times) I thought that writing about my ideal self would maybe give me some guidance or motivation. My ideal self is not emotionally protective of herself. She is able to love others even through her own pain about unmet needs. My ideal self does not leave her clothes all over the dressing room floor. My ideal self doesn't exist and that's okay. My ideal self would not be a perfect person even if she did exist, but she would be less discouraged about life, more trusting of God and more expansive and loving towards other people. My ideal self is compassionate. She walks through the library and sees a young black man reading a comic book and his lips move, and she loves him and does not think he should be reading a real book. My ideal self is not snippy and is not guarded all the time. My ideal self my ideal self does not check message boards like Happy Eaters and Video Fitness just because she can. She checks things like that at night and in the morning with her coffee. My ideal self mails something artistic to someone every two weeks and she does not go shopping without a list. She even has a food budget.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Maybe The Longest Post Ever...All The Unfinished Blogs I Never Posted, With Commentary From Today's Perspective

I am having such a difficult time writing more than a few sentences these days, but if I don't get some of the "stuff" out of my head, there will be a new reality show about me called Brain Hoarder. And that won't be pretty. I looked in my blog dashboard and saw an embarrassing number of unpublished drafts, and I figured interacting with my own writing would be a good jump-start. I am going to post in unedited entirety blog posts from as long as a year and a half ago, and just have a freewrite response to each one - the response will be in bolded type. I am not trying to wrap up any of these topics in a neat package...just responding to my past self in a probably disjointed, messy way!  1) "Along with the blessed relief from the awful Texas heat, Fall always brings me to a time of Kinda Depressed Introspection. You may be asking, what have all these other non-Fall posts been, if not Kinda Depressed Introspection? I guess in a way that is my default mode."  Kinda depressed introspection is definitely my default mode! The other day I saw one of those supposed-to-be-inspirational internet quotes, and it said something like. "When you feel discouraged, encourage others", and I think I am often like that - I mean, when I am not just whining and complaining about my own discouragement. I was wondering the other day exactly what it means that Christ's yoke is easy, and His burden is light? Does that mean if I feel beaten down and discouraged a lot that I am not hitched up to the right cart?   "I have a love/hate relationship with self-help books and articles, as well as books and articles that are intended to help you in your Christian life."

This morning I was reading Christless Christianity by Michael Horton, as well as listening to his White Horse Inn program, and they both pointed out that (and I paraphrase) "legalism and antinomianism like to hunt together", and that most of us are BOTH antinomians and legalists - we want to have no authority outside ourselves, and also judge others (as well as ourselves) by a strict standard of morality, however we happen to define that. I have gotten a lot out of all the self-help and Christian-growth books I have read, although the piles of bones I spit out after reading them get bigger the older I get.  Each type of book seems to feed either my inner antinomian or my inner legalist, and the really great ones give both of them juicy, dripping slices of the vittles they love most -  could be chunks of pride and judgment or bowls of fear and shame -  they just tear 'em up and consume in wild abandon. They gain weight and strength quickly.

"1:55 pm

I am feeling my most common type of stress - the pressure that comes from having numerous things I could do/should do/want to do/need to do, and the inability to discern which I should choose. The baby is napping and my options are:

1) begin cooking the lunch of lemon tempura chicken
2) fold a load of laundry
3) do strength training
4) participate in a Facebook discussion about whether when Jesus speaks in the Bible, He is speaking to individuals or nations or both

I truly do not have any preference as to which one I do, the problem is that they all need to be done, and I don't know which is most important. Being constantly pulled in numerous directions and not being able to determine proper priorities is one of my biggest challenges. I did just play Yahtzee with 3 of the Moppets, so I do feel like I did some good parent stuff, and it has not been long since they had a snack (apple slices with a peanut butter/maple syrup sauce, dipped in pecans, and Barbara's all-natural cheese puffs), so no one is starving. But food is my biggest homemaking struggle, so I always consider that one first.

I hate, hate, hate having responsibility for feeding people. It is the most stressful, thankless task, and has brought me to tears and made me feel like the Most Worthless Person Ever more times than I can count. There is no way to please everyone, and everyone's a critic, plus it leaves a huge mess. Not to mention the spectres of all the Family Dinners Of Better Families, which are marked by delicious food, edifying conversation and the overflowing kindness of participants, each towards the other. This just reminds me that I am generally burnt-out on woman's work, and all the so-called "duties" of my so-called "role". Gasp. That doesn't mean I want to throw off the patriarchal shackles and head out into the shining vista of the paid workforce by any means. But I really need a vacation from the unending drudgery of it all.

I'm sure I haven't trained my children well enough, and that I am not efficient enough in how I do anything, and that I have an attitude that is not befitting a Christian woman with a meek and quiet spirit, and that it is a great high calling to be home despot in the service of the King and all that, and no sarcasm or irony intended, really. But I am tired of feeling like a household appliance, and not even a respected Kitchen-Aid or Vita-Mix - just one of those cheap foreign numbers that doesn't even work very well and needs to be replaced every few years. I have felt like I need to be replaced for some time now. Replaced with a better model - one which actually works less than the other one, and pays more attention to other things - like people and truly important endeavors.

I don't often give my full attention to my people because I am either feeling the discouraging weight of all the household tasks I could or should be doing, in all honesty, for as long as I am awake - OR - I am annoyed at everyone else for not helping me more often so I don't feel that weight. It's not even that anyone is soooo messy, but there are 8 people living in this house, and lots of different things that each person does, all with its own paraphernalia. I could literally walk from room to room all day and there would be something that needed to be picked up, folded, washed, dusted, straightened, emptied...and I am not even a person who wants Martha Stewart neat and/or clean. So, a certain subset of the how-to better-live-your-Christian-life books really, really left me with baggage, because before I got into that I really never worried about that stuff...not that I was a total pig, but I rightly paid more attention to other things. I got so caught up in the whole role of the wife and mother, and now I feel like I am trapped in a net (one I crocheted myself, of course), struggling to get out. 

I'm not renouncing roles or any of that, but I really don't believe that God would have me put so much time into something that brings me so much discouragement, when there are things I do that are both meaningful to me and a blessing to other people. I don't think anything that is traditionally women's work is demeaning or inherently servile, and I know that things have to be functional on a kind of basic level, or the environment is too chaotic to live and work in. But I do think there is a cyclical, futile quality to it all that can be stifling, almost to the point of suffocation, for me at least. I need to learn to let any truly unnecessary work go, learn how to delegate, do what I can myself, and then move on to do other things... I need to get back to making zines, art journaling, baking, interacting with family and friends more lovingly. I sometimes feel like a part of me is dying, and my Inner Titus 2 Woman is the killer...she's usin' poison fer a slow, not easily diagnosable cause of death.

"Immersing myself in Christian culture is the reason I nearly stopped being a Christian; immersing myself in a morally-suspect show about witches and demons is the reason I came back."

I actually didn't write that quote...I found it on someone's blog in an article they wrote about being a Christian who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Back in my Godly Womanhood days (not that I don't want to be a Godly woman now, ya know...I'm just referring to the Godly Woman subculture, which contains ladies I am crazy about) I would have not exactly scorned, but definitely been VERY uncomfortable with the idea that a Christian could be watching Buffy, while simultaneously sitting smack dab in the middle of God's Perfect Will For Her Life. I knew nothing about the show, of course and I wasn't even THAT conservative...but really, in addition to the whole holiness thing, how good can a show even be if it is about a 16-year-old blonde named Buffy, who kills vampires?

I never came close to "stopping" as far as my Christian faith went, but I honestly admit that I have found myself to be much less self-righteous, more compassionate, more aware of my own general, more sanctified since I began watching so-called "worldly" television shows. I have a Facebook friend who posted something a while back, one of those articles that are written by people who are pretty sure YOU shouldn't see something because it contains situations/ideas/philosophies etc. they consider to be inappropriate content...while it's fine for THEM to see it and actually review it, all to protect you. Because you know, you are too dumb to tell fantasy from reality. No doubt if you ever saw a show or read a book that has witches or demons or vampires as characters, you would immediately start spitting blasphemies and run out and join your local coven.

"There was a life, phase after phase.
It oft felt like running a maze.
No matter how odd, twas all planned out by God,
to Whom be all glory and praise.

I wrote an article for one of my past zines called Phases I Have Gone Through - I identified at least eleven distinct phases when I looked back on my life from when I was about 15 years old:

The Psychology Phase
The I Am Woman Phase
The Natural Mothering Phase
The Libertarian Phase
The Pre-Christian Phase
Christian Me, Part 1
Christian Me, Part 2
The Titus 2 Phase
The Aging/Fitness Phase
The Artist Phase
The Midlife Crisis Phase
The Integration Phase (which is basically my whole life)

A lot of these phases overlap each other, and there have been phases within phases.

I am thinking about this again because a revised and expanded version of the article may be officially "published" by an entity other than me, and I am struggling with the revision process. Thankfully, I don't have to make it shorter - I actually have the freedom to expand it to more than twice its current length. But my writing style has changed somewhat since I first wrote it, and I am not sure whether I should try to completely re-write it (which seems too daunting for me right now) or if I should just add a sentence or phrase here and there where it seems appropriate...I am concerned it would end up feeling like a ragged crazy quilt if I did that.

But my biggest concern is that I just won't be able to do it at all, that I will freeze up mentally and emotionally, and will finally pull out the "I-Have-Five-Kids-a-Husband-and-a-House-To-Take-Care-Of-and-I'm-Already-Halfway-to-the-Looney-Bin-So-I-Can't-Do-This" card."

This is the kind of important thing I neglect while I am wandering from room to room, despairing about all the perpetually undone stuff. It's such a cliche, but I definitely know I will not be on my deathbed, wishing I had kept a more organized refrigerator.

"There once was a gal who checked in
With herself to see how she had been
Taking stock of neuroses, making new diagnoses...
Is she hopeful, or filled with chagrin?

I live in my own head so much, one would think I would always be hyper-aware of what's actually going on in there. But most of the time I am so busy and distracted that I simply have a vague sense of unnamed well-being, unease or, occasionally, foreboding. Rarely do any of these feelings line up at all with external reality."

I have a desire to be a sort of pseudo-Buddhist, or maybe Buddhist Lite. All I really know about Buddhism I know from reading Natalie Goldberg's essays on writing. She talks a lot about what she calls "monkey mind", which is basically just the state inside ourselves all the time - lots of fleeting thoughts, restlessness, inability to focus, fluctuating emotions - you have a mind, you know what I am talking about. Buddhist meditation aims to quiet that somewhat, tries to get us to look at our thoughts and emotions in a kind of detached, non-judgmental way. Then there is the whole idea of mindfulness, or just being in the moment. I think a lot of Christians think these are "new age" ideas, and so distrust them. I think that they are perfectly compatible with what we learn about ourselves and about life in the Bible. The gospel basically proclaims that we are a mess, and the monkey mind is proof of that. I am sure Adam and Eve did not have monkey mind, pre-Fall. We now have mixed motives, righteous and sinful desires at war within us, pride and self-loathing hangin' together. Then there is our maddening tendency to spend an embarrassing amount of time regretting the past, worrying about the future, and even having conversations with people inside our heads, making up what we think they will say. All that is the opposite of mindfulness. When I stop at any given moment and think about it, even if I FEEL terrible, the external reality almost always is that things are basically fine. This is not even taking into consideration the fact that God has promised to take all those things which actually are tragic, or serious problems in an earthly sense, and use then for good. So things are always fine in that sense, even when they are not fine in another.

"There once was a gal so befuddled
With her thoughts all piled up and a-huddled.
But when she did write, though not all was polite,
Inner Self would feel slightly less muddled."

I struggle a lot with knowing what is an "appropriate" amount of negativity in my writing. On the surface, a lot of what I write appears negative, but I never let it just stay that way, let the pain or whatever just exist there, raw on the page, without the little twist to make it...I don't know, easier to swallow both for myself and others who might read it. I know that everything goes towards our sanctification, but some of our issues will never, ever be well reconciled in this life, and I think it is a defense mechanism when I try to always "put things into perspective". I want to be brave enough to just say something, and allow it to be what it is, in all its uncomfortable awkwardness, making plain to everyone that I have serious wounds, many besetting sins, and ugliness inside me that just won't quit.

"I am alone except for a sleeping baby. At least I thought I was alone, but then I felt the presence of Midlife Mama, who has spent the last 5 years or so living in one of my mental guest bedrooms. I know, I know. You are wondering how many alter-egos one non-schizophrenic can have. You are wondering how Midlife Mama differs from Aging Artiste. Well, maybe you aren't, but I sure am.

Aging Artiste is positive. She embraces the whole idea of an exciting second life in her later years (assuming she lives long enough to have later years). She grows in confidence. She has a more humanistic outlook than is really acceptable...not in that she doesn't have real belief in God, but in that she really does think that somewhere in this world there is fulfilment.

Midlife Mama is full of fear. She is afraid that life is passing her by, but is also afraid to really live, to trust God, to be willing to either accomplish her big grandiose plans or relinquish them, whatever He calls her to do. She is afraid to feel things, to love people, to grow, to lose. She feels the weight of this world, and begins to understand the lure of being with the Lord, living in the new Heaven and Earth. She wants rest, physical and mental. She wants to sit and know that it's okay to sit. She wants to put her baby down in the grass and know that there is no worry in that - the baby cannot get lost, cannot get hurt -  indeed "the nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den"."

I have thought a lot about what it means to be at rest, because I have never, ever experienced it. There are always the nagging background whispers, the reminders that life will always be as shifting sands beneath our feet, because there is evil in this world, and with evil comes hard times, sadness and grief. Like Joni Mitchell sings "Everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes. Things that you held high, and told yourself were true - are lost or changing as the days come down to you...Everything comes and goes, pleasure moves on too early, and trouble leaves too slow. Just when you're thinking you've finally got it made, bad news comes knocking at your garden gate...knocking for you." How can we rest when we know that is the truth? The blessed vision of putting your baby down and being able to drink your latte without worrying about anything happening to them came to me one morning, and it was the first time I ever got a glimpse of what eternal rest might be like. I carry so much worry in both my conscious and subconscious minds that my heart could be broken at any time, and to let go of that fear is the most restful thing I can imagine.

"It is sometimes so easy to go without writing. I have feelings, or remember things, or feel a rant coming on, and I think I should go write about it. I often sit down with a pen or at the computer, but for many months now, when I do that I feel a physical block, literally a lump in my throat or in my chest, and I might shoot off a few bland sentiments, but then I stop. I do know that I am not taking the time to push though to what Natalie Goldberg calls "First Thoughts", that which will come through after you get out all the boring crap, the whining, the censored version of what you really want to say. I have rarely gotten past that point, honestly. I am afraid of First Thoughts, and since I keep them buried my writing has never been very powerful. Then at times I admit that I have used writing about life to avoid actually living it, and I want to stop doing that. I want to live, and then I want to write what I lived. But I am actually so busy and so tired with doing life that I am not processing much. One of my big fears is that I will die before I can process it all, before I have time and energy to think about what now seems like drudgery, but will probably not seem to be in hindsight."

I just wrote this the other day, so I don't have much commentary to add.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Confuddled Enough For a Rapidwrite, Broken Into Choppy Paragraphs

I have started at least 8 blog posts in the past month, but they all remain languishing in my Drafts folder. I was trying to make the typical, if not polished, at least somewhat concise piece of verbiage that passes for good writing if the reader is not looking too closely.

While I was just lying with Baby, getting her down for the evening nap, I was looking at a book called Inner Excavation, which is a mixed-media book that focuses on photography and poetry. I have some kind of block when it comes to photography. This may stem from the fact that back in the days of film, I could never remember how to change said film no matter how often someone showed me. When I took a photography class in college everyone must have thought I had died in the darkroom when we were supposed to remove the film from the camera. I finally came out, but the film was still nestled in there, all cozy-like.

Now we have digital cameras and I don't understand settings and all that, and I am really not all that interested in learning. I am not a huge fan of photography in general. But I know it would help my artistic eye to compose photographs, I could use them as writing prompts. Since I am kinda scared of it, that probably means it's Something I Should Do. But I'd have to take lots of self-portraits if I were honest and I do not want to see how awful I would undoubtedly look in some of them. I definitely have to make peace with my aging self. It would be fun to take self-portraits dressed up like my Alter-Egos. Also scary. Big Fears.

Big Fears definitely hold me back. It is so easy for me to blame my season of life when I don't get much done in my "interest areas". But Big Fears are just as responsible as Wife and Mama Duties. They are part of the big conspiracy against me. All thrift stores are part of the same conspiracy, working together to make sure I never again find another cool yet flattering garment. I am having one of those hormonal times when you feel like you weigh 20 lbs more than you do, and change your clothes constantly in the hope that you will finally find something in which you look less than horrific. Plus, all my clothes are falling apart and/or are all stretched out from my last pregnancy.

I am so tired of being depressed and discouraged, but I feel like I am in a time loop, with the same thing (my life, basically) happening again and again and I always react with the same negative and/or fatalistic attitude instead of breaking the pattern and stopping the loop. The other day I looked up the definition of the common saying, "It Is What It Is", and it said that the phrase implies a sense of hopelessness about a situation, as opposed to the other common saying "It's All Good", in which the speaker is "trying to rise above whatever problem exists, without expressing their underlying negative emotions".

I have always had a kind of surface optimism (the companion to my surface extrovertedness), but it has often been buried under discouragement. So my motto could easily be "It Is What It Is, And It's Also All Good", because while I actually feel depressed quite a bit, and more hopeless than I used to feel about much change being possible, I never quite lose sight of my eternal hope, even though it's shrinking so far into the distance as I am led through this world.

Anne Lamott writes about the internal radio station KFKD (or WFKD, depending on where you live) which plays different content into each ear simultaneously - basically, delusions of grandeur on one side, and merciless self-deprecation on the other. I have been listening to this station for as long as I can remember, and the programming this week is an impressive line-up ready to discuss and debate my upcoming meeting with the magazine editor.

My Minion of Narcissistic Positivity keeps insisting this will be the beginning of my long and respected career as an author and art journal instructor. No doubt promotion will be starting soon for my book that is part memoir, part zine, part art journal workshop. The money will start rolling in. Interviews with me will sought by both Christian and secular media (most notably, The Utne Reader). I will be famous in a few interesting niche demographics, earn enough money to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others, but will be unrecognizable in public. My healthy radiance and fitness and middle-aged yet funky fashion sense will show through in all photographs of me. I will be the first Christian zinemaker to speak at ComicCon, and Joss Whedon, James Marsters, Juliet Landau and Amber Benson will seek me out and tell me how much they love my work, plus, they all came to faith after hearing the orthodox yet creative and culturally relevant presentation of the Gospel in my book.

The arch-nemesis of the Positivity Minion will then get the rebuttal. The Naysayer will sadly remind the audience of my poor track record in business and teaching situations in the art/craft/writing area. There will be warnings about how I can talk the talk so much better than I walk the walk, as far as being a writer, a Christian, a homeschooler, an artist. It is certain I have pulled the wool over the eyes of anyone who thinks I might have any wisdom or talent at all, in any sphere of life. And not to be rude or judgmental, but really, I look like crap. My hair is always frizzy; no matter how much I work out I am still 10 lbs overweight; and my face has this exhausted, haggard look that is only accentuated by the lines in my forehead. Photos of me that might be included with any publicity will be a visual reminder of my absolute loserhood.

Fascinating perspectives like those are available around the clock on WFKD. I wonder if you also get that station? In my area, there are welcome, yet convicting, editorial interruptions by God, asking me why I keep these idiots on my payroll.

I felt pretty crappy when I started writing this, probably because everyone was still up and my Inner Introvert was screaming for mercy. She starts screaming earlier each day, it seems. But I have been pretty much alone for about three hours. I chatted with one of my oldest friends on FB and also previewed Kelly Coffey-Meyer's newest workout. It was pleasant multi-tasking, so much nicer than the pressure-cooker multi-tasking I am always trying to do every day. I was thinking yesterday that my stress level would go down, and my contentment level up, if I just lowered my expectations of, well, everything. In my life, things seem to be either/or. Either my house is clean and neat, OR I am cooking good meals and snacks OR I am in creative mode OR the kids are in one of their rare non-unschooling periods OR I am exercising every day. Or, like now, it's (almost) None of the Above. That sorry state IS mostly baby related, and so will pass sooner rather than later. But even when I don't have a little baby, I have never been very good at having a "balanced" existence. I go through bursts of energy and enthusiasm for one area of life, and focus on that for a while. Then I move onto a different area, or I might just fall apart for a while and do nothing but read crime novels while I drink too much coffee in the corner at my own pity-parties.

I want to be able to say It Is What It Is without the hopeless undertone, because really, that's the truth about life. Wherever we are right now, is where we are. God knows we are there. We don't have to hide from Him or from ourselves, even if What Is really sucks right now, even if it sucks because of us. I don't want to wrap all this up in a neat little package. Actually, I do, but I am not going to. It is my tendency to want to put The Whole Thing Into Perspective, but it's usually indulgence in half-truths to do that. Plus, Baby is stirring, I am tired, morning comes too quickly.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Which I Interview My Inner Feminist and My Inner Proverbs 31 Woman

Me: Good evening, and welcome to Alter-Ego Interviews. Tonight we have with us my Inner Feminist and My Inner Proverbs 31 Woman, or should I say lady, hehehe.

Fem: Ya know, C.S. Lewis had it right when he complained about how words become problematic with shifting cultural meanings. He used the word gentleman as an example - it used to be that a gentleman was someone who owned land, so, as Clive said, "one could be both a gentleman and a scoundrel". You can say that the word lady has had the same experience - if a lady is someone who, according to a few definitions, is "a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken" or "a well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior", it might not fit me very well. I am definitely not refined, and I don't mean to be inconsiderate...

Prov:...but you do tend to be tactless unless you are careful. I agree with you, though. Since this show is about our femaleness in relation to our Christian faith, I would have to say that theologically woman is probably the proper term, since it is about creation rather than behavior.

Me: Okay, "gals" (wink at audience) let me introduce you before we get into it. Wow, you have a lot in fact, you seem almost identical on paper. You both came from a Jewish background, got married at 20, have 5 kids who have never been to school, are a "homemaker" without an outside job, are members of an OPC church...

Fem: We also live in the same house and even the same body. That can be challenging (friendly smirk at Prov). But really, I think we work okay together. The problems stem more from the expectations and misunderstandings of "the outside world".

Prov: That's right...we don't seem to fit in anywhere. People who are unbelievers and usually liberals, mostly have knee-jerk, angry reactions when I talk about issues like how sexual freedom has not been all the feminists assumed, especially for women. Or about how actually bearing and nursing multiple children helps prevent breast cancer - that was not received very well in a recent discussion about the Komen foundation defunding Planned Parenthood.

Fem: And I get flak from more conservative Titus 2 folks when I get into discussions about "submission"...just saying that women are not obligated to vote for the same political candidates as their husbands has raised eyebrows, and things I say have definitely sparked comments about how I am trying to "get out" of the idea of the husband's leadership.

Me: Fem, you mention you two agree or disagree on political issues?

Prov: We definitely agree in that we are apolitical - we don't vote and trust that God will raise up and bring down princes without our help. When we discuss politics, I am probably more likely to seem "conservative" because I will say that certain hot-button issues (like abortion or homosexual practice) are sins...

Fem:..and I agree with Prov about that, but I am likely to seem more truly libertarian or even liberal, on some issues (depending on who is listening to me). I really don't have a problem with, say, the secular State allowing gay marriage. I am really concerned that many, if not most, Christians totally confuse the gospel with conservative morality. And I completely disagree with more theonomic thinkers who believe that the external sins, especially the sexual sins, should be crimes. I do think that abortion should be illegal, but I struggle because I think it is hypocritical to just blame (and prosecute) abortionists when there would be no abortionists if women did not seek abortions, and honestly, I can't see prosecuting women for murder when they have abortions, because the psychological pain is already so great in many women, even women who consistently uphold "choice".

Me: So far, it sounds like you agree about most things...where do you struggle with each other?

Prov: We struggle in determining what is important to do at any given time...a well-known guiding statement in more conservative circles is Elizabeth Eliott's "Do the next thing". I am more likely to think the "next thing" should be some household chore or "experience" with the kids. I worry more about the moral and spiritual and intellectual development of the kids, of the whole family, really. I think that I need to be serving others almost all the time, and I actually feel guilty if I cannot do multiple things for others at the same time...I will feel guilty if I am cooking and the baby is crying, and my husband is doing something like listening to an audiobook - I will think I should hold the baby and cook, because it is my job to make sure my husband has rest. I definitely have more guilt than Fem. Some of this is from my Jewish background, I think (we have that martyr complex going), but most of it came from spending too many years reading books and blogs about being a "godly wife and mother".

Fem: When I think of "Do the next thing", I think I should take some time to do something OTHER than womanly tasks - not just because "I wanna", but because I see that my doing things like that rubs off on my kids, and I think writing and art and reading novels is important. I am so thrilled that my kids make things - just for fun, and also for others. I have heard Prov say that some say that when people (usually your family) see you serve, that will teach them to serve - but she thinks that what it more often does is teach them to be served. But I think that things like doing art and reading really do affect people by osmosis...they see you doing it, and they want to do it too. Maybe not the exact same things, but the process of creative work and thought - both of which are manifestations of God's image in us...and YES, we women are created in God's image in the same way men are.

Me: So, how do you feel in general about male the home, in the church, in the public square?

Prov: We agree, believe it or not. We also think it is annoying how many people think that the idea of husbands being the leader of the home translates into women in general being subject to men in general. We have no problem with the offices of pastor and elder being held by men only...all the MEN in the church are also under their authority. I'm pretty sure it was CS Lewis who said (and I paraphrase) that we are all female before God - meaning we are the pursued, the acted-upon. And this doesn't stop God from using female images sometimes to get across something about His nature and our relationship with him - but interestingly, those images are almost exclusively images of motherhood, and even nursing babies!

Fem: My big concern is for women who really are in ugly relationships with their husbands, and who have no recourse because their elders hold to extreme ideas about patriarchy. I also hate the idea that a woman should somehow not deal with her husband's sin against her as she would with anyone - per Matthew 18. Too many people make the authority relationship paramount, when the relationship as Christian to Christian, before God, is foremost.

Me: What about women working, or holding public office, or serving in the military?

Prov: While I would not say that women, particularly wives, working outside the home is a sin, I definitely think that women are better suited to the kind of multitasking, relationally based role of homemaking and childcare. I think God made us that way - that doesn't mean homemaking and motherhood is always a big thrill...

Fem:...gotta interrupt, and say one of my BIG problems is how the books and blogs and catalogs of the "Godly Family" variety are just like every other photoshopped lie we see in modern media. We see perfectly groomed children, husbands who always seem to have enough money to take the family on road trips to homeschool conferences...don't they have to work? Not to mention that while on one hand we hear how a nagging wife is like a drippy faucet or whatever, on the other hand these perfect pictures have a real tendency to make wives discontented with their husbands - most of whom are your garden variety sinners who work all day, come home tired, are hit and miss with family devotions, and whose type of leadership doesn't quite live up to That Godly Patriarch There, the one sitting in his paneled library surrounded by his first editions of the great Puritan writings.

Prov: Back to my point...see, you are kinda inconsiderate with all this interrupting! So, while working outside the home is not a sin, the more women working outside the home translates into fewer full-time homes, which is a tragic thing. Home is definitely one of God's gifts to us, and although making one is as challenging as any other career, the benefits to people just can't be tallied. And I am not talking only homes which are always neat, from which the smell of freshly ground, freshly baked whole-wheat bread is always wafting. My home is certainly not like that! But I do believe that while the Bible absolutely does not forbid wives from working, it definitely promotes the idea that home is important, and that women are the natural makers of homes. One sad thing that has happened as women have gone to work in droves, is that they have basically taken on two full-time jobs - because lotsa women who work still come home and take care of all the stuff they would take care of if they weren't working. So much for equality and egalitarianism.

Fem: I think the whole Godly Family thing has so much allure to people who come from broken homes, especially since it is so often portrayed visually and in print as this glowing, fulfilling lifestyle - PLUS it pleases God. So. Much. I know I looked back on my life with a single mother and multiple step-parents and just wanted something stable, something that had rules and roles which encouraged stability. That subculture also promotes itself as being about purity, which was a big draw for me, since I practically learned to read from looking at the comics in Playboy...and I am only exaggerating slightly. When I was first exposed to, say, Mary Pride, I recoiled because it seemed so oppressive to women, but eventually I was really drawn to it. I was like a junk-food junkie who sees a commercial for a Big Mac and gets right into the car and drives to McDonald's like a zombie seeking brains.

Prov: Hehehehehe, Fem, that reminds me how popular the book Nourishing Traditions is in the Titus 2 subculture, with all it's organ meat recipes! Not saying it is a bad book, but thankfully serving organ meat is not a requirement for being a successful wife and mother!

Me: Before we go on, please give a quick answer to the women in political office and military question...

Prov: Well, both Fem and I are pretty much anti-war, so we are even opposed to men in the military, for the most part. But we would say that while women can be tough and even violent, war is a man's business.

Fem: As far as women in political office, since we are apolitical we really aren't concerned about the gender of senators or even presidents. We just wish more of them, male and female, would simply go home and get real jobs.

Prov: Women in political office is just an extension of the woman as homemaker question. Since I don't think the Bible implies that women in general are under the authority of men in general, and since the Bible actually commands that we be subject to those in authority in the State, if a woman is in that position, God has her there - I know one of the beliefs of the Patriarchy-type folks is that woman in leadership is a way God judges the people, based on a passage in Isaiah...

Fem: ...but I truly believe that the Bible IS to be interpreted culturally sometimes, and especially, to be understood in light of the fact that no nation is Israel, and so trying to impose that kind of structure on modern nations is theologically incorrect. Ooops, more interrupting (sheepish grin at Prov).

Me: One more hot-button question - how do you both feel about birth control? I know it is one of the main tenets of the Titus 2 mindset that God opens and closes the womb, and that trying to mess with what is "God's area" is wrong.

Prov: I totally agree that God opens and closes the womb, and I haven't used birth control since I got married, well, until a few months ago. I have tracked my cycles for years in order to conceive, not to prevent getting pregnant. Even without using birth control it took me 4 years to get pregnant with my first, and then almost 6 years to get pregnant with my second. I have taken various herbs and things to regulate my cycles, have had at least three miscarriages, and now have 5 children from 18-8 months. I know that I personally am uncomfortable with birth control, but just like the wives and jobs issue, we can see that while children are definitely a blessing in the Bible, there is no command that married couples mustn't put any thought into planning their families. But I do think that the family planning mindset has led to a lot of negative thinking about children - assuming wrongly that they are too expensive, too annoying, etc. But my husband is 50 now and has pretty much made clear that he doesn't want any more children. That makes me sad, but at the same time I am 43 and am getting very tired and taking care of this current baby has really worn me out physically. I would always be glad if I found out I was pregnant - and since I believe God DOES open and close the womb, if He has any more planned for us they will indeed make their appearance at the proper time - all I have asked my husband is that neither of us do anything permanent with our fertility...that will happen soon enough with menopause.

Fem: I'm sad at the thought of not having more babies, too...but sometimes I think I hang onto childbearing because as long as I am having babies, I am still "young" and hopefully far from the grave. I also know that babies and young children are a good excuse to not do things, things that are equally good and pleasing to God, things that each of us have unique callings to do. I definitely do not think that bearing and raising children is the only "proper" focus for women. But I do think that it (the whole process of gestating, bearing and raising children) takes a lot of time and energy so it is difficult to do other things at the same time, and really, that is how it should be. I am generally okay with the whole "seasons of life" thing, and as I get older I am seeing the natural end of this season looming ahead, so my thoughts necessarily turn to what comes after.

Me: We are running out of time here. I'm sure we have not covered everything, but to wrap it up I'd like to ask each of you to tell our audience what you see as your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your "roles" and goals. Prov, you go first.

Prov: Okay, I would say that one of my strengths is hospitality. Although it is a struggle for me to be around people all the time (the hardest part of family life by far), I think I am good at inviting people into my home, feeding them, and making them feel comfortable. I am also good at taking care of small babies. Even when I get tired, I find it really satisfying to make a baby feel safe and contented. I really enjoy that the demands of babies are so pure and stem from their real, legitimate needs, so I can meet those needs without resentment - and resentment is one of my weaknesses in terms of my role. I think it is a strength that I can really see the relationship between us and God when I am taking care of a baby...they are so demanding, so exhausting, and can literally give us nothing back intentionally...but we take care of them and love them despite this neediness. I have a lot of logistical weaknesses in my homemaker role - I struggle with time management and am often downright lazy. I struggle with all the demands of cleaning and cooking; I am not great at either one and I get easily stressed out about my performance. I definitely have more weaknesses than strengths, but one strength is that I am committed to the importance of what I do in the home and so I persevere and sometimes see glimmers of "success" in various areas.

Fem: I think one of my biggest strengths is my honesty about life. I believe that struggles, big struggles, are perfectly compatible with the Christian life and I know that I help people breathe a sigh of relief - they know they don't have it all together, and when I write honestly about how hard life is for me they appreciate knowing they are not alone. I also manage to see God working even in most of my big struggles and disappointments, and am good at honestly giving God the glory for any good thing others might see in me. I think for the most part I have learned to be a pretty good communicator with people who disagree with me, although it has taken many years to keep a naturally confrontational and offensive personality in check in those situations. I have bad tendencies towards pride and thinking people are generally idiots, and I can be short tempered for days at a time, and also inappropriately sarcastic. I know the list could go on.

Me: Well, I thank you both for joining me here on Alter-Ego Interviews. I hope we can get together again for more stimulating discussion.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Forty-Three Things About Me, Part One

I make a list like this every few years, whatever my age is at the time. I like looking back on the lists and seeing how I have changed or remained the same over time.

1) If you had told me when I wrote my first list of 100 Things About Me (2003) that I would watch lots of television shows, television shows with vampires (two especially awesome ones) , and television shows with vampires WITH my teenage daughter, I would have totally denied even the possibility.

2) I spend lots of time being generally introspective, but I think very little about my past. Even though a lot of things about my early life have screwed me up long term, I don't really have "regrets". I think that is because I believe that God uses real life to make real people out of us.

3) If I could change anything somewhat trivial about myself, I would suddenly be an adventurous eater and someone who likes to cook.

4) I have been doing some kind of mixed-media art for over 20 years, but I did not know that until about 3 years ago.

5) Despite not being a proponent of "low carbing", I have naturally started eating lots fewer carbs in the past year or so.

6) If I were single and childless, I would want to live in a flat right in the middle of a big cool city with excellent public transportation and lotsa non-corporate shops and restaurants.

7) I would get dreadlocks if I didn't have to shave my head to get rid of them.

8) Having no hair is one of my trivial, yet very scary, fears.

9) Almost all my angst and neurosis and guilt is intertwined with my relation to other people. If I have books and creative supplies, I can spend hours and days all by myself (well, just me and God) and not fall into a messy psychological pit.

10) One of my big dreams in life is to have a book published that combines the best of zines, art journaling and memoir, that is autobiographical, yet also instructional for others who want to chronicle their own lives, experiences and mental breakdowns.

11) One of these years I want to go the entire year without buying anything but necessities.

12) The writing style I most admire is hysterically funny and deeply profound, often in the same sentence.

13) My faith in God and my understanding of the Gospel has increased greatly as I have distanced myself from "lifestyle Christianity"...that pretty much means letting go of the idea that anything external is the "true mark" of a Christian. This means I totally affirm that you can be living a life that is pleasing to God while you are (for example): A working woman on the pill, married to a long-haired gun-control activist who wears black nail polish, with whom you have 2 planned children who go to public school, who dresses in men's style clothes, has 40 tattoos, a tongue piercing, super-short purple hair, and who simultaneously listens to Ozzy Osbourne, reads Harry Potter and switches between episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which you watch while you read Sojourners magazine and post online about why you are voting for Obama. Again.

14) I spent years amassing books, and in fact wanted to eventually have enough to consider running a homeschool lending library. Instead, I am now slowly getting rid of books, either giving them away or cutting them up. I still have over 1000, though, and will probably always hover around that number.

15) I hate almost all board-type games, with the exception of Scrabble, Boggle, Yahtzee, Sequence and Taboo. Despite not hating these games, I would be perfectly happy if I never played any of them again. Except maybe Taboo.

16) I absolutely hate the heat, despite living in a state with some of the hottest, longest summers in the country. Hating the heat used to also equate with not getting cold when most other people did, but that has changed...not sure if it is my aging bones, but I now wear sweaters and socks when I would not have done so 3 years ago.

17) When I am going to sleep, if I start to drift off and am awakened from that twilight state, I almost always find myself in some kind of mild panic about death, just it's very existence, or my personal death or the possible deaths of anyone in my life, which of course could occur at any moment. I have always wondered why this happens almost exclusively at that time, and I would love to commission a psychological study to see if that is common...I figure that the most prevalent unconscious fear of human beings is death, so it makes sense that the fear might reside in that place that is the bridge between the conscious and unconscious.

18) I hate all soda, always have. Also all juice. I only drink water or strong unsweetened iced tea. I also chew lots and lots of ice.

19) I also hate cereal.

20) I like things to be neat (not that they always are) but am less concerned about clean.

21) About 20 years ago I had a series of Salons at my home. Each time, I mailed a list of potentially controversial questions to a bunch of friends with widely divergent opinions, and we met at my home one evening (over various snacks) to discuss our thoughts about the issues. I think I still have my original Salon invitation in the Important Papers of My Life Box. My favorite response was in answer to the question, "Do animals have rights?" Cool intelligent libertarian slowly stands up to his full height of 6'4" or so, and replies, "If animals have rights, let them petition for them." I don't remember how the ardent flower-child, vegetarian, animal lover responded to this.

22) If I could only grab one non-sentient thing in the event of a fire, the Important Papers of My Life Box would be it. It contains every letter I have written since I started writing on a computer, plus all my zines and blog writings, which all include pictures of me and my family over the years. There are also a few letters from others that are important to me. I would hope I could also grab my boxes and hard drives full of pictures, as well as my art journals, but if I couldn't, the Important Papers box would give me a little bit of everything. I hope my grandchildren will find it interesting after I have gone to Glory, but I also try to accept that it may just be some boring antiquated stuff that winds up in an attic or used as kindling. I revisit my past self a few times a year by going through this box.

23) One of the things I miss in this season of having lots of young children (besides regular periods of solitude and silence) is "the cultural things" Salons, museums, long philosophical discussions in coffeehouses over quadruple espressos. I know lots of people either find babysitters and do these things, or find ways they can do them WITH the kids, but neither option really works for me. Being able to easily participate in things like that will be some compensation when there are no more sweet, warm little babies around.

24) All of my favorite meals include chicken, and almost always have a fried component - not necessarily the chicken.

25) My Inner Hermit gets really stressed and nervous when I have any kind of plan to get together with people. Even my very favorite people. Even my very favorite activities with my very favorite people. I have to drag her, kicking and screaming, out of the cave, and she always tries to convince me I need to find a way out of every. single. social. engagement. Sometimes she wins.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Obligatory (and Very Long) New Year Post

I don't make resolutions anymore. For me, resolutions have always been the first step towards everyone's favorite town of Failureville...though I always think I am turning onto the fabled Road of Change, or the Boulevard of Betterment, or the Avenue of Success. Readers of this blog will know that shunning resolutions absolutely does not mean I am satisfied with my life how it is. I am the Queen of Dissatisfaction, always either striving mightily to improve (if I feel strong and energetic) or feeling guilty for lack of improvement (if I am feeling weak and discouraged). What I have learned is that when the stress and pressure to change is intense, that is the best time to step back and do, well, absolutely nothing about It. Whatever It is. But when I am feeling magnanimous and benevolent toward myself, I can usually make some strides forward. I ALWAYS have a huge list of goals or objectives I can choose from right in my head. I just try to remember I need to avoid the dreaded mindset of perfectionism.

This is at least part of the current List In My Head:

- Get kids back into doing their chores without being asked. I gave them an allowance for doing it WITHOUT being reminded, because I am so not into the Drill Sergeant Thing. It went well for several months, then I found myself needing to remind. So out went the allowance. That was, as you can imagine, not much of an incentive. So, my new incentive idea is to have them pay ME, or rather, pay a jar (whose contents will eventually be used in some charitable way) if they don't do the chores. So, in the morning, if I see the previous evening's chores have not been done, I will hear the sweet tinkle of coinage landing in the jar...insert evil laugh and appropriate hand-wringing. Of course, the chores will have to be done anyway. Insert more evil cackling. The chore lists need some revamping, which is what I actually need to DO in this area.

- Keep my creative life alive by doing small things wherever they will fit into daily life...for example, I have literally hundreds of books that are collage fodder. I usually just pick up a book and start flipping through it when I am making an art journal page or something, but I would really like to have stuff already cut and prepped in some way beforehand. Browsing through books and cutting things out is something I can do when I am doing something like re-watching Buffy with Husband. In the most recent issue of Art Journaling magazine I saw some pages where the artist took inchies or twinchies (just like inchies, only 2" square) and used each one as a "day" in a calendar-type page...she wrote whatever small amount of info, a thought, memory, experience, or whatever would fit, and then attached them in the journal. I might try this with twinchies, and attach them in a way so they can fold out like a page and so have writing on both sides. That is definitely a small thing which would add up to something bigger over time.

- Continue walking slowly but steadily along Sanctification Trail. I am so over trying to incorporate any impressive "spiritual disciplines" into my life. My goal is simply to make a habit of reading the Bible and praying in a more casual, immediate fashion. Today I started this Bible reading plan. The basic format has you reading 10 chapters a day from 10 different portions of the Bible, with the main goal at first being to get you in the habit of reading, and then to help you see Scripture interpreting Scripture. From the PDF of the program:

Since the lists vary in length, the readings begin interweaving in constantly changing ways. You will NEVER read the same set of ten chapters together again! Every year you’ll read through all the Gospels four times, the Pentateuch twice,Paul’s le tters 4-5 times each, the OT wisdom literature six times, all the Psalms at least twice, all the Proverbs as well as Acts a dozen times, and all the way through the OT History and Prophetic books about 1 ½ times. Since the interweaving is constantly changing, you will experience the Bible commenting on itself in constantly changing ways -- the Reformer's principle of 'scriptura interpretans scripturam' --'scripture interpreting scripture' IN ACTION!

In the past, I have always thought that simply reading the Bible wasn't enough - there had to be in-depth study of Hebrew and Greek words, much use of concordances, etc. But God has said that His Word will not return to Him void, so I am going to trust Him on that and just read in this way, like I would read anything.

I recently realized that just as I am very guarded and less than honest about my true self and feelings with most other people, I am the same way with God. Which is totally stupid, of course, since God knows us inside and out. But this tendency of mine is not because I am embarrassed or ashamed, but rather because I have trust issues. After reading a book by Larry Crabb (that much-maligned-in-some-Christian-circles psychologist) I understood that even though God knows everything about me before I tell Him, it does something important for my "relationship" with God if I am honest and talk with Him like I would any trusted friend. For me, it's too easy to have only the "reverence" part down, which can lead to distance, aloofness and cold, stilted prayers. I also think this unwillingness to really admit what I am going through existentially to God has a part in my struggle with Hyper-Calvinistic-Stoic-Que-Sera-Sera type thinking. I know God is there and that He is sovereign. But I don't always maintain a heart level belief that my my relationship with God goes beyond Creator and Creature, I find myself not truly seeking or asking after Him, Himself - rather I maintain a respectful distance and stiff-upper-lip kind of acceptance about my inner and outer life, like a good Creature should do.

I have read several Christian books recently, and a few ideas popped up in all of them. The main thing I took away from them was that what we most need to strive for is valuing God for Himself, and not for His blessings in this life, and the importance and benefit of practicing the presence of God where we are. This is something we can do in every situation. We don't have to have impressive and dynamic spiritual disciplines in place. We don't need to have warm, fuzzy feelings toward God. In fact, Larry Crabb especially made the point that instead of pretending that we have a heart for God, that we value Him above all things, we need to admit to Him that we in fact DO NOT, and then we can go forward, desiring to desire...and even that is proof of our regeneration.

I have noticed that we can take our natural human tendencies and use them to practice His presence. You know how you basically have a running monologue in your head all the time? How about those conversations you have with people that you would probably not have in real life - the things you should have said, or would say if you were brave enough. And all those conflicting desires, frustrations, angers, fears and resentments hanging out in there? Think how awful you feel when you are upset or angry or whatever, and you try to keep it all inside, pretend it's all fine. What I've always done is skip sharing with God what I am really experiencing. I think I shouldn't be feeling any of this stuff anyway, it just proves my lack of sanctification, I just skip right to a pious sounding prayer about whatever it is, wrapping it up in some neat little platitude. But doing that doesn't seem to help with the real issue, which is most often me, living my life for me, thinking about me, me, me all the time. It just allows all that whirlwind of mind to become ingrained into deeper negative neural pathways...and baby, my negative neural pathways are wicked deep. But I can think these same types of thoughts, and instead share them with God. This kind of diffuses it all. It renews my mind, because I begin to see it all for what it is, then I see God for what He is, which is ever merciful to me, a sinner.

This is all easy enough to talk about, but it's hard to practice the presence of God when you are in one of those days, weeks, months or years when you don't feel that presence anywhere. Your life is boring, or kinda depressing, or tedious, or lonely or annoying...and how about when it's actually tragic, totally falling apart and full of searing pain? I think you go about it the same way if you can. But if you just can't, if you are numb, or spiritually cold, or full of doubts...I think hanging onto God by the proverbial skin of your teeth counts, kinda like Frodo hangs there over the fiery chasm with his finger bitten off.

Another thing that popped up in all the books was the idea of the two different kinds of time - chronos time and kairos time. Chronos time is clock time, minutes, hours, days...the stuff that can drag, that mocks us for being late, the realm of the schedule, the plan, the rush and the hub-bub of life. Kairos time is the Moments, when time almost stops, when we feel the weight of life. Eternity breaks in somehow. Or we really experience beauty. We see our new baby for the first time after the struggle of labor, or sit by the deathbed of someone we love, seeing them for the last time. We might just be peeling potatoes, but for some reason we are paying attention. We notice the light on the water in the pot, we feel the heft of the potato, see the peels falling under our knife, and we suddenly realize that We Are Living, and it is amazing. This is an experience that we all share as human beings, and is not limited to believers - I think it is a manifestation of having eternity placed in our hearts. I don't know if we will experience more moments like this as we become more adept at practicing God's presence, but in those times when I am trying to just Be Here Now, I do catch more glimpses. Learning to live in the moment has been one of my resolutions for many years, and I am not sure if I am any better at it now, than I was 20 years ago. But it is something I will keep desiring, and I know that I will eventually attain it in Glory, even if I continue to struggle with it here.

4) Fitness/Health/Vanity-wise, I want to continue towards being a physically strong, somewhat slim and lean Happy Eater...meaning, a person who is never on a diet, who does not see food as good or bad, who eats in a way that she enjoys and which makes her feel good. I lost 35 lbs that way, even though I did not realize what I was doing exactly. I want to keep refining my eating by continuing to cut out foods I totally do not care about, so I can have lots of room for foods I do care about.

I care passionately about:

full fat Greek yogurt with maple syrup, 85% chocolate with peanut butter, basic salads, chicken (including fried), tomatillo salsa, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds, cafe lattes, whole grain fresh corn tortillas, pepper jack cheese, frozen wild blueberries, homemade chicken soup, potatoes, butter, olive oil, fresh pecorino romano cheese, italian sausage, stove-popped popcorn with seasoning salt, ginger snaps from the Whole Foods bulk section, natural deli turkey from Central Market and also this totally nummy salami from there.

I care moderately about:

eggs, pasta, fresh hearth-baked breads (current fave rosemary bread with a salted top), brown rice and oats, fajita meat and chuck roasts, occasional high-quality potato chips, occasional homemade pizza, occasional homemade baked goods - favorites being pumpkin bread, cheesecake, pound cake and shortbread cookies with nuts and anything made with almond paste.

I totally do not care about:

ground beef of any kind, pancakes, soda, any kind of juice, mainstream candy bars, any condiments except salsa, any non-bakery breads in a bag, boxed crackers, any cereal except the occasional Kashi Go-Lean in yogurt, tortilla chips, cheese puffs and most other chips, dips, beans, cooked vegetables, almost all casseroles, store-bought desserts of any kind except for those nummy frozen eclairs.

I am 43 now, and by the time I hit 45 I would like to be somewhat lean and muscular but not ripped. At this point I am losing weight fairly slowly but steadily, but I am still nursing - nursing seems to help drop weight at first, but in my experience as an extended nurser, after a while it really causes you to hang on to the last pounds. I want to incorporate more intermittent fasting and shorter eating windows, I like to vary how much I eat day to day instead of trying to keep a steady calorie thing going. It works much better to eat less on the days you are busy or don't really care about food, so you can eat more on the days it means more for some make your favorite meal that you love to scarf down, you need to eat for comfort, etc. I would also like to become consistent with taking a few supplements.

On the exercise front, my only focus these days is lifting heavy weights 2 or 3x per week. I have been neglecting my flexibility and other restorative physical things, so I would like to add more of that as BabyTime becomes less demanding. My main focus is my shoulders, my back and my rear end. My shoulders look good VERY quickly and easily, my back is where my most hated fat lives, and my natural buns tend towards the flat. Deadlifts with about 60 lbs and dumbbell swings with 30 lbs seem to be shaping "up" the rear, but there is more fat to banish before my back looks like I want it to. I am not super concerned about my abs - I have no desire for a 6 pack or any pack. Just not having a super lot of fat there and having a strong functional core is my goal. I am wide waisted anyway, basically straight up and down if I am fit, with wide shoulders, hardly any hips and slim and muscular legs and arms.

Gotta wind this here are a few other things that float around in my head as possibly worthwhile things to spend time on this year, but no pressure from myself to actually do:

1) Going through the two JINORMOUS bins of kid's drawings and making a huge collage with the best of them on a big canvas...there are some pretty impressive ones

2) Make a prototype for my book

3) Get some digital pictures PRINTED. I have 8 years worth and have never had a single one printed

4) Try to learn to take decent photos with at least a somewhat artistic look

I think that's enough for at least a year.