Weekday Reading

I have no good excuse for not posting in a week, so I’m just going to jump right into last week’s book (which I actually finished):

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Week #4) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I have repeatedly heard from various outdoorsy buddies (including David) that Bryson’s book is a great read. I kept unconsciously avoiding reading it after the movie came out and while I was working at an outdoor retailer. Last week, while moving things out of our flooded guest room, David’s copy of the book caught my eye.

A Walk in the Woods was not what I expected. The book is definitely the fairly humorous account of two middle-aged guys hiking the Appalachian Trail that one might think it is after reading the back cover. However, Bryson also gives the history of the trail’s formation, delves into the politics of conservancy, explains extinction of animals, relays stories of black bear attacks, etc. I learned so much about the trail from this book and would recommend it to anyone who is curious about hiking the AT. Bryson’s narrative is not glamorous (*spoiler*: in the end he and his buddy don’t even complete the trail) but it’s honest and relatable. Reading A Walk in the Woods sparked my interest in Bryson’s many other books (especially A Short History of Nearly Everything) and fueled my fire to get out on Oregon’s many trails to walk, not just run.

Warmly,

Mary Emily

p.s. I have NO idea why a grizzly bear is on the front of the book. There aren’t any grizzlies in the Appalachian mountains.

Weekday Reading

I am feeling a little off today. I think it is because I slept in, or maybe because I skipped church (I am a creature of habit), or maybe because I had diet coke and pizza for breakfast. Regardless, I am here at Either/Or (one of my favorite coffee shops) and I’m trying to get my juju back.

I tried to read two books over the last two weeks. I am sad to say that I didn’t finished either title. One book I didn’t finish on purpose, the other I am reading a lot slower than I thought I would. Because they are unfinished, I will not number them among my 50 books. But since I like to write about everything and coffee is finally in my system, I figured I would tell you about them anyway.

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Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

This book is a treat and I am planning on finishing it this coming week. I first listened to Richard Rohr speak the beginning of this year. He was on one of my favorite podcasts (Comedian Pete Holmes’s You Made it Weird) and I knew we were kindred spirits. It’s a good episode and worth the two hour listen. Anyway, I picked this book up at the library last Monday and am only on the 39th page. Rohr dives into the notion that humans have a two-part spiritual journey with some sort of “falling” in the middle. The book is relevant and inclusive to people of all faiths. Here are a couple of my favorite moments thus far:

People who have never allowed themselves to fall are actually off balance, while not realizing it at all. That is why they are so hard to live with. Please think about that for a while. (p 28)

and

Our Western dualistic minds do not process paradoxes very well. Without a contemplative mind, we do not know how to hold creative tensions. We are better at rushing to judgement and demanding a complete resolution to things before we have learned what they have to teach us…This is not the way of wisdom. (p 36)

I can tell that Rohr and I will be fast friends at the end of all of this.

Scary Close by Donald Miller

So this is the book that I have no plans of finishing. I am usually a Miller fan (I even mentioned him in my previous post), but this book fell a little flat for me. Miller’s tone seemed to not be as warm or inclusive as his previous titles. Part of my jaded attitude might be the fact that he spends much of the time talking about being real and open with your partner. I know I have so much more to learn in marriage, but David and I started our relationship off as two broken human beings making clumsy mistakes. Even at my most guarded, I am awful at hiding my flaws or faking confidence. So I guess Miller lost me a little bit. I think when I’m a famous author with some large businesses and a public presence to maintain, I will feel the same as he does.

Honesty is the best policy when it comes to challenges and resolutions, so thanks for bearing with me and forgiving me and sending me love and maybe some chocolates and a new pair of shoes.

Warmly,

Mary Emily

 

 

Wait, what is this called?

I hate to admit it, but I am an anxious person. Even when things are smooth, I will have a moment where I open my eyes and look around me at what I am doing, who I am with, where I am, how I look etc. and get dizzy with worry.
I received a little insight into my experience with anxiety lately while trying to run during Portland’s “Snowmageddon.” David is always up for adventure and luckily decided to come with me. Foolishly, I looked at my weather app and thought that 40 degrees didn’t sound that cold. I layered my running garb irresponsibly. We wore crampons on our shoes and felt like things might be easier than our previous attempt* to run in winter weather. The run wasn’t long and shouldn’t have been too difficult except for the unprecedented foot of slushy snow still covering the trail. We ran when we could, but running through the deep snow in inadequate clothing proved to be impossible. So we started walking.

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The cold wind blew maybe once before I became panicky. I was so chilly and I was supposed to be running. I complained repeatedly to David about how I had wanted to get a certain amount of miles in and had not anticipated having to trudge along at such a slow pace. Any time negativity enters my vocabulary, I swiftly turn to self-judgement. The next time I complained about how slow we were going I also said, “I’m sorry for being to so insufferable.” Which then turned into me apologizing for pretty much everything I’ve ever done in my entire life.

After a few awful miles, the trail cleared off enough for us to jog a little. I think warmed enough to get in touch with my brain at that point and I began to dwell on why this run was bothering me so much. This run. Run? I had been approaching the snowy adventure all wrong. I got so obsessed with its name -a run- that I got really upset when I couldn’t run. Instead of adapting and treating it like a fast hike with my best friend, I fixated on what I thought it was supposed to be. Apparently, my anxiety only needs a slight misnomer to use as an entry point.

“What’s in a name?” Unwaverable power.

I think I have intense moments of worry because I am calling my experiences and identities by the wrong names. I get concerned about whatever my occupation is at the time because it is a “job.” A messy apartment can make me slightly lose my mind because it is my “living space.” Being a “wife” can be daunting and being a “daughter” is almost impossible. Stir these strictly labeled things together with their connotations, put into an oven of minimal outside pressure, bake for almost three seconds and you get a muffin tray with rows of steaming bouts of anxiety.

I remember reading a great book by Donald Miller in high school. It is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and totally worth checking out. In it, Miller asserts that all of our lives are stories. That thought comforts and motivates me tremendously. If I think of “life” as a “story,” it becomes way less intimidating. A story  is something I love and can relate to. Life is too big and adult for me to grasp. All of those smaller things that I have trouble naming are just commas, characters, transition sentences, disguises, ellipses, dragons to defeat, periods, and quests to complete. If my life is a story, there is an interesting writer and a good editor. There are page-turner moments, but also lots of ordinary dialogue.

I wish I could say that David and I finished our run with positive attitudes and a cup of hot chocolate. The truth is, we finished it incredibly freezing and in bad moods. Well…mostly I was in a bad mood, David can be almost too cheerful in hard situations. I will say that I learned to be much more careful about attaching my expectations to what things are called.

Since then, it’s exciting to embark on a new day and ask the question “Wait, what is this called?” What name I decide to answer that question with can dictate my whole attitude: A story. An adventure. A gift. A dance. A walk. A race. A task. A pleasure. A life. A friend.

Being

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness. -Thomas Merton

“So…what do you do?”

That is my least favorite question, but I find myself asking/being asked it so much these days. It may be because I’m a little awkward when it comes to small talk, but I think it goes deeper than that. I used to ask “What do you like to do?” but people would truly get so thrown off that I would almost feel bad for asking. As a creative, I envy those who can answer that question without clumsy further explanation. If someone my age is on a real career path, no one side glances with questions still in their eyes. Their inner dialogue is like “I get it, they save lives.” But when I am asked what I do, I perform a complex explanatory dance just to end up saying simply “I’m a nanny.”

What is that all about? I think I feel the inherent pressure to succeed because I’ve gambled my life on art. I have spent the last two years trying to validate what I studied in school. And trust me, being a nanny is certainly a strange place to show that my education was worth it.

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I have been surprised by what I’m currently doing with my life.  Part of my job as a nanny is also taking care of a small, ragamuffin farm. I have pruned fruit trees, cleaned coops, weeded ceaselessly, and (my personal favorite) turned compost. All these things become automatic pretty quickly and provide me with perfect opportunities to consider my own existence. I know that sounds a little navel gazy, but I believe it’s a privilege and a practice we could all use a little more of. When I am struggling to shovel unmentionable waste and rotting veggies, I am also giving myself time to just be. I’m not sitting cross-legged on a pillow (although that is also something I wholeheartedly encourage), but I am meditating and diving deeper into what it means to exist.

I have been curious about the more mystical side of spirituality for as long as I can remember. I was raised in a traditional church, but loved yoga the minute my feet touched a mat. I read excerpts of things written by mystic monks and gurus with the same enthusiasm. One of my favorite things that I have gleaned from these teachers is the importance of giving yourself the permission to simply live. Thomas Merton (one of my absolute favorites) lived and died without seeing a super-computer phone or the internet, yet he still thought we all needed to let go of “usefulness” and look at existence.

I know I am not original in saying we need to relinquish what we are doing and focus on who we are. I also know that we need to be reminded that we are so much more than what we do. That is only a small fraction of the beautiful garden of self inside each of us. Merton’s quote is my thesis for living this year. I am planning on returning to school with the hopes of teaching. I will write. I will keep on running. I will create art. But I will also remember that I have time to breathe, to live, to just be.

So here’s to a new calling: Being. Focusing on that will better enable us to love others for not only their usefulness, but for who they are.

Imagination

“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.”

-Thomas Merton

I originally had planned on writing one long post to shed light on the origins of the name of this blog this week. However, recent news and events have weighed so heavily that I can’t seem to get all my thoughts out in one coherent post. So please give me a little grace, and consider this the first part of a disjointed, two part post.

These are interesting times (I know when I say that I sounds trite, but in an effort to be kind and fair, that’s all I will say). When I read the above quote from New Seeds of Contemplation, it struck me as incredibly relevant. In my fairly conventional upbringing, my sense of imagination was nurtured. I just played a lot more than did anything else when I was young. When I grew older, it seemed like imagination was treated as a leisurely activity and something altogether necessary. As I sit here and shift through all of my almost-adult problems and questions, I know that my life demands imagination everyday.

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In this political climate, there are many choices being made that rub people the wrong way. There are people groups being targeted, women being harassed, and whole organizations being silenced. I am not trying to say that I feel personally under attack, but I am an empath so my neighbor’s pain is my pain. That said, one of the decisions that caught me closer to home is that the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for Humanities is under fire. I wrote a lengthy research paper on the NEA my freshman year of college, so I feel like they are my neighbor. I know that funding for the NEA and NEH has been low, so the money isn’t the issue for me. I think what offends me most is that arts of all kinds are seen as leisure. I am definitely not here to rant about politics, but what I am wanting to say is that nothing can stop imagination from being important. I think it gets difficult sometimes to not be “obsessed with doing.” We all live tense lives. Imagination-visual arts, literature, music- is the pulse of fresh blood running through all of us. Imagination is one of the beautiful things that makes us human.

So what do we do now? We hold on to our imagination and we keep creating. We look right in the face of this challenge to the worth of art, we smile and say “we will help each other live better lives through our leisurely activities.” Because it’s true.

Weekday Reading

This week has been heavy and long for more reasons than one. I am working on a fair amount of projects that distracted me from writing much. Don’t worry, I have a two part post planned for next week and I think the extra time will prove helpful. Anyway, I let’s get into this week’s choice!

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Week #3) What Do We Know by Mary Oliver

Wow, what a treat this book was. I felt like I rushed through this collection of poems and prose poems, so I will probably go back and read through it again this week. Oliver has long been a favorite poet of mine. Her poems are rooted in nature and have such a kind tone to them. One huge lesson I learned from her this time around is the power of a single-word title. Some of her most powerful poems in this book have the simplest of titles: “Gratitude”, “The Return”, “Mockingbird”. “The Return” is my favorite moment in the collection. The word choices and the structure of the poem are masterful. I would like to share the final section of the poem:

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The country of the mockingbird is where I now want to be,                                                     thank you, yes.

The days when the snow-white swans might  pass over the dunes                                            are the days I want to eat now, slowly and carefully                                                                       and with gratitude. Thank you.

The hours fresh and tidal are the hours I want to hold                                                                      in the palm of my hand, thank you, yes.

Such grace, thank you!

The gate I want to open now is the one that leads into                                                                   the flower-bed of my mind, thank you, yes.

Every day the slow, fresh wind, thank you, yes.

The wing, in the dark, that touches me.

Thank you.

Yes.

Oliver’s subtlety has encouraged me to look deeper into what I see, feel, taste, etc. in each moment. She has pointed my eyes to the ordinary-the dunes, the wind, the act of gratitude-and shown me that is where the true treasure of life lies. I would encourage you to look closer this week. Observe your own breath, the way your standing, the patterns of your thoughts. Connect those with the things and people around you. I am challenging myself to do the same, this week. Let’s meet here next week and share what treasures we’ve found.

Warmly,
Mary Emily

Other titles read this week: Attempting Normal by Marc Maron, Botanical Color at Your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos

Weekday Reading

I have been sort of halfway sick this week, so I got to finish reading more than my goal! As exciting as that is, this week’s main title deserves all the attention. So let’s get into it.

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Week #2: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book was an incredible treat to read. I would recommend it to anyone. The  writing style is conversational and fairly easy to follow. I felt like reading this letter was a privileged look into a culture and history that I am not apart of. Coates’s commentary on race and what it means to have a “black body” is relevant and full of impact.

I cannot say much more than read this book. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy. I will give you my copy if not having it in your hands is what is stopping you. There are lots of moments that I are important in this book, but this quote is my favorite:

“The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empire of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.”

Coates has not only made me feel uncomfortable, but responsible. I am terrified and excited to find out what it means to live free.

Warmly,
Mary Emily

Other titles finished this week: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, The Feather Room by Anis Mojgani