Creativity Vs Commerce

Writing prompt: “The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world, and why not finally carry that secret out with our bodies into the living room and our porches, backyards and grocery stores? Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem. And let us always be kind in this world.” from Writing Down the Bones

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Art installation made of old life preservers in Copenhagen.

I am realizing how deep the conditioning of capitalism is in my life. I carry the automatic monetization of everything I do in my head like a calculator on auto pilot. If I write the travel guide, is it worth it, as in will it make money? The bitter irony is that nothing creates resistance to creativity like this cha-ching habit. I can’t get JK Rowling’s fabulous financial success out of my head.

As a self-employed person, wait, let’s examine that phrase. We are all “self-employed” deciding how we will spend our time and creative resources even if it is to give it to an organization for 8-10 hours a day. As a consultant paid because of a contract, I have been listening to Side Hustle School podcast by Chris Guillebeau. I am realizing that I let it feed the monetization monster. All of my side hustle ideas started with my long time writing projects. I told myself that this would be motivational.

In fact, what I know now is my creative life works best when I give it space to happen and enjoy it for the pleasure of being a human with opposable thumbs that can create art or write with a pen.

My life works best when I have a work/life balance that holds the space for art and respects my need for creativity. This was thrown into relief when I thought of a side hustle that is truly commerce only. And the thought that I could pursue my collage/assemblage and writing projects without pressure to make money was so soul lifting and smile making. Confirmation that it is the right choice for me.

Maturity Versus Age

I’m on the Isle of Wight for my friend UK Sarah’s 60th birthday celebration. It took quite a lot of effort to physically get here and that somehow befits what it takes to reach age 60 with grace. Last night, in a conversation with two women friends, we discussed how frustrating it can be when family members confuse that grace we’ve earned with luck. They envy our good fortune, glossing over all of the hard stuff we’ve endured or overcome. It is especially confusing if there is a disparity in wealth. This is hardest with family because we all started at the same address so to speak.

Each of us, in our own way, expressed our desire to encourage our family members but couldn’t break through the jealousy or the victimhood or the depression. We paused in a moment of sadness.

This morning I woke up from my first good night of sleep in my travels and remembered my cousin Kim’s meme she shared in honor of her 44th birthday:18953077_10209369588185158_4451343193687950954_n

Maybe life is more like video gaming than we care to admit. Those who persist even after they’ve been “destroyed” reach new levels. Along the way they learn shortcuts that help to seemingly “skip” through levels to get back to where they left off in the last game and work on the next level.

Those of us who persist in life-learning reach new levels too. What we earn is maturity. This is not a guarantee of wealth, some of my most mature friends have not experienced the added blessing of wealth. And I know at least one very wealthy person who did not gain in maturity in spite of her age. Often though, it does result in material blessing because we stop making bad choices about money or we made different choices about work and it eventually pays dividends.

While my cousin’s meme inspired this post, it is slightly off in one respect. Age does not equal your level. If it did my cousin would always be 10 levels behind me. Whereas, in real life, she may well outstrip me in maturity.

How then do we encourage family and friends to live towards lives of maturity? Share our experiences as transparently as we can. Love them just as they are right now. Pray for humility because sometimes life will knock you back a few levels. Value our mature friends.

Hmmm. I have some work to do.

(Forgive me if I get some aspects of video game playing wrong as I’ve not spent much time actually playing.)

P.S. This TED Talk by Anne Lamott is on topic. Enjoy.

Your Life is Calling: Redesign Anytime

jane pauley bookWhen I first started reading Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley, I had wished I read this during my life redesign in 2010-11, then I realized it is a kind of Chicken Soup for the Mid-Life Crises. It feels good while reading but is forgettable when you put it down.

The cover implies that it is more self-help than it is: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life. I did glean a couple of useful ideas from her memoir/show notes (from recurring feature on The Today Show of same name).

The target audience are baby boomers who are blessed with ample retirement funds and good health to explore a second career. The baby boomers are the most blessed generation, benefiting from the rapid economic expansion, inexpensive college educations, and generous pensions. They are also going to be the longest lived in the US. However, everyone, at whatever age, should seek purpose in their life either through their main income or as a volunteer.

You have to do the work to figure out your purpose and the best way to pursue it. It is going to be unique to each person. If you apply Stephen Covey’s “begin with the end in mind” then you need to define what success looks like for you. As in Sylvia Abrigo-Araiza’s story, “She said, ‘I would define success as pouring yourself into what do into what you have a passion for doing, giving compassion for others, and basically changing the world one individual at a time.” (p  ) For Sylvia it is counseling teens struggling with substance abuse.

your life callingWhen you do decide to redesign then the advice from the hiker Joe/Braid: “Moving into uncertainty involves managing risks–planning, preparing, and practicing–like Joe did before he took his first step on the [Appalachian] trail. But even then, as Joe put it, ‘Nothing can prepare you for the trail like getting out on the trail and just doing it.” (p 162)

And many times it also requires a change in thinking. In the story about a professional golfer giving the tournament another go, his wife said: “If you are going to do this again, you must do something different.’ As Michael explained it to me, she meant, ‘You can’t go about it the same old way. You can’t just keep beating your head against the wall, working on the same things. You need a different approach.”

 

Tribes and American Men’s Identity Crisis

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The photographer Platon is featured on the Netflix documentary series Abstract. One focus of his work has been soldiers and military families.

I started my week with a really ugly misogynist verbal dump from a family member. It was very upsetting and the self-preservationist in me beat a retreat. I am concerned my family member is listening to so much hate radio. Still I want to be curious about what is taking so many men down this path. I looked at my pile of unread books and grabbed Sebastian Junger’s Tribe. As a reporter in many war torn countries, he has observed people coming together to help one another in a crisis. It is backed up by more rigorous research.

His definition of tribe is different than one I would have thought of: “the people you feel compelled to share the last of your food with.” What Junger has observed is that people don’t mind, and in fact, thrive on hardship. But modern society has made hardship more and more scarce. Dorothy Day touched back to her experience after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when everyone pulled together, when the natural disaster and its destruction leveled society. A society-wide crisis–whether it is war or environmental disaster–resets community to a fundamental egalitarianism.

Humans lived with one another this way for centuries until agriculture and then industry developed and the concepts of private property and individual efforts became more important than the common good. Junger points to the three intrinsic values needed to be content: 1) feel competent at what they do; 2) feel connect to others; 3) authentic in their lives. As Junger explains, “Bluntly put, modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth.”

Humans are hard-wired to help other people. Risk-taking to help others is expressed differently among men and woman. Men tend to do the majority of bystander rescues, and our definition of hero tends to encompass this kind of action that risks one’s life to save non-kin.  Women tend to display the majority of moral courage. (p. 56-57)  Both are needed:

“When a woman gives shelter to a family because she doesn’t want to raise her children in a world where people can be massacred because of their race or their beliefs, she is taking a large risk but also promoting the kind of moral thinking that has clearly kept hominid communities glued together for hundreds of thousands of years. It is exactly the same kind of altruistic choice–with all the attendant risks and terrors–tat a man makes when he runs into a burning building to save someone else’s children. Both are profound acts of selflessness and distinguish us from all other mammals, including the higher primates that we are so closely related to.” (p. 58-59)

When you examine the experience of soldiers after tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, you begin to see why some miss the battlefield and may become depressed when home. They are transitioning from an experience full of social ties and meaning, and return to a relatively isolated existence often without work of any kind.

In today’s The New York Times Magazine, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote one of the featured articles: “New Jobs Require New Ideas–And New Ways of Organizing.” She is focused on the change in our economy and why the labor movement is reinventing itself. As Ehrenreich states, “If the stereotype the old working class was a man in a hard hat, the new one is better represented as a woman chanting, “El pueblo unido jamas  sera vencido! (The people united will never be defeated!)” If men are already feeling emasculated by a lack of work and changing roles in society, there are going to be increasingly angry at women when they read this and it may explain why the Women’s March is stirring up such strong reactions from some men.

The resistance to #45 better fits the kind of moral courage that is more often in women’s domain. Where women feel energized and inspired to run for office, men may be engineering a backlash that will make previous anger at women seem tame.

I am not sure what the solution is, but I am concerned that we’ll repeat the post-9/11 experience when men decided we should go to war. Men need an outlet for their warrior urges and their need to take life-risking action. Or at a minimum, they need good jobs that provide for their families. Without a positive way for them to express these values, what will they get up to?

 

 

 

Christmas Morn Lesson: Open letter to Krista Tippett

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Part of our family tradition is singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus with cake and candles. Someone always invariably says, “and many more”, which cracks us all up because of course He is eternal.

Dear Krista:

As a descendent of Norseman, our family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. This has been handy as divorce and distance has challenged gatherings. It also means that Christmas is a quiet day of reflection for me. Worship at St John’s Lutheran wasn’t until 10 a.m. so I listened to your On Being podcast interview with Eugene Peterson. It was such a blessing and I felt such peace and love. I still had time and I was waiting for scones to come out of the oven. I searched for something similar on your website and found April 16, 2016 interview with MIT physicist Frank Wilczek. Wow!

The interview was over just as I needed to leave for church. I came home and listened to the unedited version. And I am inspired to write this open letter to you.

First, thank you for providing a place for profound conversations about such widely varied topics as physics, poetry, faith, and life in the public space. Where else would I learn that Eugene Peterson loves Wallace Stegner’s books as much as I do? Every week I am invariably challenged or inspired or made to think or all of these at once.

In the Frank Wilczek interview you spent much time conversing with him about beauty. As he said, “There’s a remarkable intersection I think, a remarkable overlap between the concepts of beauty that you find in art and literature and music and things that you find as the deepest themes of our understanding of the physical world.” You shared your discoveries in discussing beauty with Islam and Jewish scholars of the deep shared value for beauty.

In 2017 as we all struggle to make sense of what is going on with our world–with the poles melting, Aleppo burning, and many other pressing needs–it may seem frivolous to focus on beauty. Yet I am writing today to ask you to host a conference across all of the disciplines that you feature on your show to discuss beauty and help us all learn more about what beauty can tell us about the deepest meaning in the universe. Ask the powerful questions of these deep thinkers that we listeners only have access through you. Ask them what beauty can tell us about how we should then live in 2017.

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St John’s gave each worshipper a gift as we departed: a tangerine, a small candy cane and a birthday cake candle. My heart smiled. I remembered my grandpa’s stories about simpler, less materialistic Christmases. It is afterall a story about a babe in a manger, young parents, and shepherds agog from seeing angels. 

This is my Christmas wish for On Being. Thank you for listening so well to your guests and modeling meaningful conversation.

Merry Christmas,

Julie Pieper Spezia

A Shot of Much Needed Leadership Inspiration

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You may not have noticed, but I went dark for a few weeks. I fell into a deep funk after the election. Once the outrage subsided I found my motivation at a very low ebb. I gave myself permission to retreat. I am coming out it now and one of the contributing factors was witnessing my friend Mai Vang’s swearing in to the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Mai invited her family and friends to attend and about 100 people filled the boardroom to support her on this momentous occasion. Four people actually shared in administering the oath: her high school teacher and mentor, a parent from the district who inspires her, a Burbank High School student, and an elder from her Hmong community.

It was so moving to hear Mai repeat the oath to defend the US constitution and the constitution of the State of California. Here was evidence that our democracy can still function beautifully.

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Mai speaking after taking the oath flanked by her grandparents.

This is Mai’s story. Her family was part of the wave of immigrants from Laos that came to the US after the Vietnam War. Mai is the oldest of 16 children and she worked hard to learn English while retaining the Hmong language to be able to respect her elders as that culture teaches. At the same time she didn’t want to remain in poverty, so she studied hard and accepted help from Ms. Crowder who helped to coach her to earn the grades to get into college and a Buck Fellowship. Mai went on to University of San Francisco and then UCLA to earn two master’s degrees. She could be earning larger salaries working in public health. She chose to return to Sacramento to organize her community. She is staff to a Sacramento City Councilmember and now a member of the school board representing a part of the school district that is challenged by low income and fewer opportunities.

As she took the oath my eyes teared up. Here is proof that if you work hard and participate in our democracy you can take a seat at the table. I only wish there were more Mai’s from her community running for office. More young people from all walks of life stepping up to leadership.

Rob Bell in Episode 122 of his RobCast “We need to talk about politics…” (October 16, 2016) He explains why politics needs to reclaimed as a good thing. The origin of the word of politics Greek is “politicos” and means citizens. It is essentially a good word and determines how we arrange our common life together. There is something sacred and holy about our shared life together. As a poli-sci nerd I don’t need to be convinced by Rob Bell that policy is also important.

We have to pay attention to actual policy to cut through the clouds of opinion in a post-truth world. We need to talk about the nuts and bolts of how things get done.

If you don’t step up, people and corporations who do not care about our common good take advantage of your cynicism or disaffection. This is OUR common good. Be part of the solution not part of the problem. But don’t kid yourself into thinking that doing nothing is anything other than being part of the problem.

Mai Vang is willing to commit a large amount of time to learn the issues facing the Sacramento City Unified School District and help to adopt policies that result in better outcomes for all students. I am digging into local housing policy to find ways to dramatically reduce people experiencing homelessness.

What are you willing to do?

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Humble

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Lake Tekapo’s Church of the Good Shepherd and the Milky Way

What would our theology be if we could see these stars every night everywhere in the world?

This is the question I asked myself and my friend Sarah after wandering out to see the stars at Lake Tekapo at midnight and then again at 4:00 a.m.

We had to wait for the clouds to break for us to enjoy this sumptuous banquet of stars. Once this was a commonplace site in all parts of the world. Now with most people living in light or air polluted places, humanity does not have this nightly reminder of our place in the universe.

Not everyone looks at the stars and sees a creator amongst them. But even the humanist or scientist does gain humility from seeing all the possible galaxies and worlds. Maybe, just maybe, earth is not the only one that matters. And perhaps the concerns and emotions that can rule my existence may be seen in a proper perspective if I spend some time meditating on or admiring the cosmos.

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Maybe, just maybe, the stars could be a nightly reminder of the importance of being humble.

I was going to end my ruminations here and then I thought, maybe not everyone appreciates humility as a character trait. Certainly the media gives the vast amount of attention to the braggart and the self promoter.

Micah 6:8 says: He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (King James translation)

I read an article in The Jewish Week that said humility is the difference between a professor and a sage. (Ouch!)  They also offered this definition of humility on LetItRipple.org: Thinking yourself worthless is not humility. To understand that you have gifts and blessings and yet remain modest is an achievement of character.

Sometimes it is easier to understand humility by what it is not: proud, self-willed, arrogant. Not putting ourselves ahead of others, instead the humble understand that every human matters. And if we know that every human matters, we are a long way to seeing how everyone is interconnected, and then there is no “us” and “them”. What a world that would be!