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"...like 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, right...so 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 reason...you 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 up...so 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.