Thursday, December 30, 2010

Think About the New Year

new year haiku
resolutions broken
are not real resolutions
to begin with

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions. I used to make the same resolution year after year, but it wouldn't have made any difference if I hadn't. As an introspective person anyway, I'm regularly looking at myself and my life and seeing what changes I need to make to be the person I want to be. Whenever I see a need for a change, I take the necessary steps to make the adjustment in my life; I resolve to do something differently. I don't need a new year to do this. 

Many people think that resolutions are the same as goals. I know it's just a matter of semantics, but, according to Merriam-Webster, [one definition of] a resolution is "a formal expression of...will or intent...." A goal is "the end toward which effort is directed." Retailers use this holiday as a chance to promote fitness and health-related books and items. But, let's face it: if you don't already have an intention of eating healthy and keeping fit and well, you're not going to start just because it's January 1st. However, if you have a goal of losing 5 pounds by February 1st, you know (or you learn) the steps you need to take in order to make that happen. 

If you're going to resolve to do something, just do it--any time of year. You don't need a new year to start fresh. Setting goals for the new year seems more realistic. Goals are specific--you know exactly what you are working for, and you know when you've reached a goal. 

New Year's has always been my least favorite holiday. The New Year's Eve celebration is often exciting and fun, but then you wake up to a gray, cold, and quiet new year. The world sleeps. It's always been a depressing day for me. When I was little, New Year's Day meant that Christmas vacation was almost over and I'd have to go back to school. When I was a little older, it meant that my siblings would be going back to college or wherever they lived at the time, if they had come home at all. I would wonder why the momentum of festivity couldn't keep going for a few more days. Some people take down their Christmas decor on New Year's Day (or before!), even though Christmas isn't even over (not until January 6th). The celebrating isn't supposed to end just because we hang up a different calendar. 

So, here's a resolution for the new year: let's keep celebrating!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Think About Christmas Peace

So, Christmas is over for a lot of people, and they're off hitting the post-holiday sales. I have nothing against bargains (I love 'em, actually), but I continue to disdain--and to avoid when possible--the over-commercialization of the holidays. What so many people do not realize is that...

...Christmas is not over! It is only the third day of Christmas. Christians have spent Advent in preparation of the birth of Jesus. He has arrived! Did the wise men make that whole trip just to turn around and go back home?

On Christmas Eve I went to church, as I have every year, to hear the story that I've heard so many times. But, there is a reason that it's the greatest story ever told. On the back of the church bulletin, there was a question posed...something like "Where are you in the Christmas story?" It asked if I viewed it from afar, if I was hearing it for the first time, or if I was in it. As I listened to my pastor, I put myself in the stable. I felt the straw digging into my knees. I smelled the manure. And I looked on in awe of the baby Jesus. Pure Peace. I felt a comfort different than the comfort I've felt in previous years hearing the Christmas story.

This past Christmas day was one of the most peaceful and loveliest that I can remember. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, but this one just had an added feeling of wonder that I haven't felt for a while. I'm still in that stable; I'm still in awe of Jesus. I'm at peace.

Peace on Earth. Goodwill toward all people. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope this holiday finds you with your own bit of peace and goodwill, even if you're in a place where there is not peace. I hope you can still have peace in your heart...all year long. Christmas peace is meant to last much more than just one day a year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Think About Art

Last Saturday my mom and I visited some of the stops on the Sylvania Art Walk (and I've been thinking about writing this entry ever since.... It's just taken me this long to finally find the time!). The Art Walk was a wonderful event for both the town of Sylvania and the artists who displayed their wares. I am an aficionado of all kinds of art, and I have a deep respect for the artists. I loved seeing so many talented people and fresh ideas.

The first place we went to was Marcia Derse's studio, as this was of special interest to my mom, a quilter. Marcia Derse has her own fabric line, and some of it is pretty funky--which I like. Several other artists were also housed at this stop, each with her own creative vision. It started me thinking about art and how it spurs us to look at something in a new (or, at least, different) way. Wouldn't life be boring if we all expressed ourselves in the exact same manner or saw things the exact same way?

Creativity is important, and I believe that we are all creative beings. Perhaps for some this creative vision isn't yet realized. I've heard people say that they aren't creative, but, perhaps, those people just haven't found the right medium. Attending an art show with a variety of art has always been inspiring to me. It gets me thinking of new things I could make. Seeing so many kinds of art--fabric, paintings, collage, photography, jewelery, ceramics, glass, etc.--helps a person see different possibilities in life. One artist had 12 canvases and had used a variety of materials to depict the gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." That work sticks out in my mind not because I liked it (I actually didn't care much for it), but because I thought it was extremely clever. It's the thought process of art that fascinates me.

I like to try to figure out what an artist was thinking when I look at a piece; I want to know what hit the artist in such a way that he or she had to create something. I know I'm not privy to the answers, but I like to imagine anyway.

When you see something you like or read a book you enjoyed, think about asking yourself, "Why? What about this piece made me like it?" Imagine you are seeing what the artist sees. Maybe you'll see other aspects of life differently as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Think About Winter

This evening I discovered that I enjoy jogging when it is 29 degrees outside more than when it is 85 degrees outside. It's easier for me to get started when it's hot out, but the jogging itself seemed more invigorating and restorative as I moved through the frigid calm this evening. When I walked back in the house, I felt healthy and revived. The stress from my day had been dispelled into the air. For the entire jog, it was just my dogs, nature, and me--in our own pure peaceful world; God was present. It was beautiful.

Most people know how important exercise is, but sometimes in winter it gets ignored. It's like an elephant in the room of your mind. There are holiday treats and parties (more reasons to exercise), but the thought of going out in the cold to walk the dogs or to go to a gym sounds dark and cold, since that's how it looks outside. It's easier to just walk (figuratively, of course) around that elephant in the room (not ideal exercise, by the way!).

Instead of thinking of winter evenings with dread, try to think about the cold the way you did when you were little, when the snow, wet, and cold didn't even faze you. If you didn't like it then either, imagine that you did.

If you were like me, you ran around the yard like a drunken college kid, trying to dodge the snowballs your brothers whipped at you; you built snow forts and snow slides; and you went sledding with your friends, running back up the hill dozens of times, because you were young and you couldn't get worn out. Your mom had to call you in, barely convincing you that you'd been outside long enough. She promised you hot chocolate, which sounded good...outside. But, as soon as you came inside, your glasses fogged up; and, as you peeled off your snowpants, boots, coat, gloves, and hat, you realized how hot you were. Too hot for hot chocolate, but of course you drank it anyway. You had to; hot chocolate was part of the whole winter experience.

Consider the cold; think about the memories of being young. Don't avoid the cold because it sounds too tiring to go out in it. Be young again instead; go out and walk or ski or sled (wait for some snow first...). Enjoy the freshness of the air. Feel invigorated.

Think about winter in the way that you might not have thought about it in a long time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Think About Routine

You are no doubt familiar with the (over-used) phrase instructing us to "think outside of the box." I think we've probably all heard it so many times that we don't even think about what it means anymore. It, of course, means to be creative and innovative. It means that we need to look at a situation from a different point of view. It means that we need to break what is routine, habit, or instinctual.

If you are anything like me (human), this can be difficult. To use another trite phrase, I am "a creature of habit." Each morning, I do my morning things in the same order. And, whenever I come home from somewhere, I always put my keys, coat, and bag in the same spots. Being this habitual is not necessarily a negative thing. For example, I always know where my keys are. I've also never been a "regular" at a coffee house where the barista didn't know what my usual drink was (and I've been a regular at a lot of coffee houses!). Sometimes I look at the menu as though I might get something different (every once in a while I do), but, usually, I end up ordering the same thing as previous visits: a tall soy mocha, no whip.

While routine can be comforting and easy, it can also be too comforting and too easy. Fifteen or sixteen years ago (maybe more), I made a sort of pact with myself to do something out of my comfort zone at least once a week or so (I don't remember the specifics). With that, I began going to poetry readings regularly and met some wonderful friends that I would not have met otherwise. It was really scary at first. But, then, there was the reward and satisfaction that followed. This is the way you learn about the world. Not only that, but you can learn about yourself this way also. You learn how strong you are. The next time, then, you can stretch yourself even a little further.

Several books that I read last year made an impression on me to the point that I consider them "life-changing" books, although "mind-changing" may be a more accurate description. Derrick Jensen's Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution was one of these books. Jensen writes about why schools are failing their students, and he demonstrates what should be done differently--with anecdotes of what he has actually done differently when teaching in the (college) classroom. I cannot go over all of his ideas here (but, as a sort of side note, I would definitely encourage anyone interested in teaching, education, writing, and creativity to read the book).

One idea, though, that has stuck in mind ever since I read the book, is Jensen's "seating rule." From the book: "'The one rule in seating,' I say, 'is that you can't sit where you sat yesterday. Nor can you sit next to the same people.'...The first reason for making this rule is obvious: I want for them to try to see things from a different perspective each day they come in. The second is sneakier, and something I wish my teachers had done for me when I was in school: I want to give the shyer members of the class an excuse to sit next to someone they might be interested in educing, or at least talking to, or at the very least admiring from close-up rather than afar" (Jensen, 2004, p. 25).

In his classroom, Jensen makes (perhaps, demands?) his students to think outside their boxes; he makes them break their routines. He gives them lectures that leave them with more questions. He does this because he believes that students (everybody, actually) need to question everything. He makes his students look deeper, beyond the lecture, beyond their papers, beyond the questions and the supposed answers. His goal is for students to discover something about themselves that they didn't know before. I think that this is what could be called critical thinking--something which I know is lacking in many classrooms in the United States. "When people know what problem they can solve using the gifts that are unique to them in all the world, they often know what they need to do next" (p. 46).

Those gifts cannot be discovered (or, at least, nurtured) until a person steps out of his or her normal routine or comfort zone. Think about what routines you may break in the upcoming weeks. Leave comments below, and let me know how it goes!

One final thought on routine (from Jensen's book): "If they give you lined paper, write the other way." There's a notation that he is not sure to whom to attribute that statement..."might have been Ray Bradbury, William Carlos Williams, e.e. cummings, or Juan Ramon Jimenez" (p. 53).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Think About Christmas Joy

Have you ever thought about why you give gifts to people?

I give gifts to people because I enjoy giving them; there doesn't even have to be an occasion. If I see something unique or interesting (or on sale) that I think somebody would like, I may buy it. I usually get too excited, though, to wait four months until a birthday or Christmas or some other special occasion to give it to that person. If the gift is as special as the person is, I want to give it to that person right away. I call those the "Just because..." gifts or the "Thinking of you" gifts. It brings me joy. I delight in the look on a person's face when he or she gets a present that wasn't expected. Joy!

When I was little, I made extravagantly long wish lists to give to Santa. I had fun doing it, and I had fun daydreaming about the toys on my list. I was never upset when I didn't get them (and it was rare that I did); my parents usually had better ideas anyway. My happiness didn't come from getting something expensive or trendy. One of my favorite gifts when I was five years old was when my brother stealthily swiped my favorite stuffed animal from my bed early Christmas morning. I looked all over for the animal; I couldn't start opening presents without him! Finally, my brother handed me a big package and suggested I open it first. Ah! There was my dear animal! I laughed at how clever he (my brother) was. In fact, it became a running joke for years, as we passed the stuffed animal back and forth at birthdays and Christmases. That was one of my most memorable Christmas gifts, and it was something that was already mine! Unexpected joy!

It seems to me, though, that many people look at their list of family members and grudgingly try to find some trinket or gadget for them. These are the gifts that don't come from the heart; they only come from the wallet. And, generally speaking, these are the least special gifts (although there are exceptions). Joy is priceless; it isn't sold at the mall.

It should not be a chore to go Christmas shopping, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Sometimes the best gifts are the homemade ones that you put time, effort, thought, and love into. In my experience, at least, making gifts for people has always brought me a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. One of my favorite parts of Christmas is watching the expressions on people's faces as they open their presents. Although I love to open presents as much as anyone, it's not the exciting part of Christmas for me. Christmas isn't about getting the latest video or an expensive new purse; it's about being with family and friends and spreading joy. After all, it's not our birthdays we're celebrating; it's Jesus's.

I used to always make my Christmas gifts when I was little. Although I'm not sure how much my family liked them, I loved coming up with ideas. Christmas tree ornaments are easy and fun (and cheap) to make--and you can personalize them; I made a lot of those (and they still hang on my parents' tree each year). Christmas cookies are almost always appreciated too. And, having a cup of tea while you chat with a friend is a relaxing holiday treat.

You could write a poem to someone or paint a picture. Sometimes these are the gifts that have the most meaning, last the longest (they aren't usually out at the next season's garage sale), and they cost very little.

This is my plan this year: I am going to use items around the house to make my Christmas cards, and I am going to make as many presents as possible. The people I give gifts to don't really need or want "things" anyway. Useful, homemade gifts are the way to go for my family and friends. So, think about making your gifts this year; or, if someone needs something that he or she hasn't bought for him or herself, think about buying it from a locally owned business. See if you can avoid chain stores this year. Think about how nice it would be not to have to be back in the stores on December 26th, returning and exchanging all those clothes that don't fit and gadgets that don't have enough memory. Think about not having big credit card bills next month, or think about using the money you saved to help less fortunate families have a happier holiday. Most of all, think about joy and the real reason for the holiday.

How will you spread Christmas joy this year?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Think About Education

For those of you who are Toledo locals and read The Blade on a regular basis, you will remember the article a few weeks ago regarding overpaid (public school) teachers. While I have definite thoughts about what public school teachers get paid, I have not done enough research to substantiate those thoughts in a public forum as this. Succinctly, though, the main issue of a teacher's pay as I see it, is that there is little or no correlation between how good a teacher is and how much he or she gets paid. (And, yes, this trend is apparent in many other businesses and segments of society as well.)

As one of the editorials following that article's publication mentioned: "We pay kindergarten teachers $90,000 a year for 185 working days. That's outrageous.... I won't be voting for any levies." I agree wholly. I don't care how much schooling a kindergarten teacher has, if he or she is getting paid that kind of money, his or her students better be entering first grade able to read the abridged versions of Charles Dickens. We know this isn't happening, though, because, sadly, many high school graduates in this area cannot read Charles Dickens, not even the abridged versions. When I started my volunteer tutoring work for Read For Literacy, Inc., I learned just how illiterate the greater Toledo area is.

Now, this post is really not meant to be about the public school system.

It is meant, instead, to show the disconnect between college and grad school applications. Let me explain:

I never had to write an essay to get into college; I never had to do much of anything. The applications were simple. Of course, the schools needed transcripts and SAT scores, neither item telling very much about the student. I never worried about being accepted. It seems, these days, that colleges--save the Ivy Leagues and other highly competitive schools--accept most anyone nowadays. There's not a lot of pomp to it; it just happens.

Grad school, though, is a different story. Once I found the program I was interested in, I signed up for the GRE test, studied intensely for three months, and still did just okay--essentially, average. No problem, though; it could be checked off the list. Next, I've been working on finding three unsuspecting people who will write my letters of recommendations. This is difficult, as they should be people familiar with my writing, with my academic work, and with me. I also want to pick people who will write a grammatically correct and organized letter, since I will probably not see the letters before they are sent on to Admissions.

Probably the most important piece of my application (besides the application itself) is my Statement of Purpose, a well-framed essay displaying my strengths and my learning objectives and career goals. And, when you're going for a Master's in English, you really want it to be written perfectly. Oy vey.

Then, there is the 10+ page critical essay.

Shouldn't getting into all college (even to obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree) be this tough? At the very least, a Statement of Purpose should be required. Perhaps this might weed out some of the oh-so-many students who do not belong in college. Not only would this make it more pleasant for the college instructors, but it would also make it more pleasant for the other students.

I am certainly NOT complaining about all I have to for my grad school app. On the contrary, I am relishing in the work I have to do for it. That's because I want to go to grad school; I want to further my education. I'm excited about my future!

Unfortunately, I don't think many first-time college students share this same ambition and excitement. And, if they don't, that's fine; they just shouldn't be starting college yet. Then, perhaps, (undergrad) college instructors would not have to water down the lessons, adjusting them to go over information that students should have learned in high school. Which, of course, brings us back full-circle to public education and its problems...a good place for me to end.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Think About Thanksgiving

If you visited the United States as someone unfamiliar with the tradition of Thanksgiving, what would your impression of the holiday be?

Might you think that Thanksgiving is synonymous with shopping?

Sadly, that's how it appears to me. Is "Black Friday" the real holiday or is Thanksgiving? Some stores open as early as 3 a.m. Friday morning. As unbelievable as that is, more incredible yet is that there will actually be people ready to shop that early! I am appalled and disgusted by this country's obsession with shopping. As you know if you've read my entry, Think About Stuff, I will not be shopping this weekend; instead, I will be donating bags of clothes and books and other "stuff" to organizations and charities that can use them.

The so-called "first Thanksgiving" took place most likely in 1621. The story goes that Native Americans shared their food and food knowledge with sick, hungry, and...well, unprepared, Pilgrims who were not ready for a cold hard winter. It was a gathering of people unfamiliar with each other and their customs. People who had food shared with those who did not. The Pilgrims were most likely thankful for this charity, even though they eventually forgot this helpfulness and tried to drive the Native Americans out of their own land (but that's another story for a different time...). Alas, the holiday has nothing to do with shopping.

Thanksgiving is not about finding the best deal on something that you probably do not need (and possibly will never use); it's about sharing food and time with family, friends, and, perhaps, complete strangers. It's also about being thankful for that food and those friends, family, and strangers--something we should be doing everyday anyway. The holiday is there to remind us of this selfless sentiment. How does "Black Friday" fit into the Thanksgiving plan?

It doesn't.

So, let's take Thanksgiving back from the commercialism and consumerism that surrounds it. What do you think? Are you with me?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Think About Being Present

"Choose your way of being." These were the words of my yoga teacher at class the other day.

Creative. Curious. Welcoming. Accepting. These are some of the ways I want to be.

Yoga has taught me that when we are present in a moment and aware of ourselves, we can choose how we want to be--do we want to be happy? Joyful? Playful? Peaceful?

A few hours after my yoga class, I finished reading the novel The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It's an interesting story of three people who, due to circumstances, necessarily live in the present--they live moments as they happen. The professor has a short-term memory that lasts only 80 minutes (and gradually less); the housekeeper and her son have to re-introduce themselves to him each time they see him. Even so, they carry on a friendship that lasts more than a decade.

Imagine how it would be if you could not talk about the past or the future with someone.

As I played with my dogs later that same night, I stopped my mind for a moment (from thinking about work and about all the stuff I had to and/or wanted to do). I thought about choosing to be present in the moment, and right then I chose to be playful with my dogs. It was wonderful; my energy was contagious, and my 8-year-old pooch started chasing her 5-year-old sister, like they often did when they were younger. I chased them as well, and it seemed very much as though all three of us were laughing and enjoying our time together. The three of us were present (I'm not actually sure dogs make the choice, but humor me here...). My mind and body were in the present and nowhere else for almost 15 minutes; it was an amazing feeling, not just to be there but to realize I was there as well.

When I thought about it, I realized there are certain times when I am naturally present--when I'm playing soccer, when I'm working a puzzle, when I'm reading, when I'm tutoring, when I'm writing....

Now what I need to work on is choosing how to be the other (perhaps) 75% of the time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Think About How You Can Make a Difference

At yoga this past Wednesday, the teacher read us a poem called "Our Deepest Fear," written by Marianne Williamson. Part of the poem reads: "Your playing small/does not serve the world/There's nothing enlightened about shrinking/so that other people won't feel insecure around you/...We were born to make manifest/The glory of God that is within us." The idea of making a difference (or, serving the world, as Williamson refers to it) is fused with fear; often it's hard to pinpoint the fear, but it's there.

After I read the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller this past summer, I thought (and continue to think)--A LOT--about creating meaning from my life and the natural fear that accompanies this process. It is not easy to make the changes in one's own life so that other lives can be changed; it's scary. But, Miller reminds his readers that fear can manipulate people into living boring lives. So, to me, it's necessary to face the fear and to fight my way through it (it's kind of like walking through the slew of cobwebs in my basement).

It's important to stretch ourselves (both our bodies AND our minds). In my post "Think About Stuff," I refer to the book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh. That book pushed me to a different level of thought; Cavanaugh urges readers to think about how each person's actions AND inactions can/will affect another person or people. I began looking at stuff in my closet and basement that I hadn't touched in a few years (except to move it...), and I considered the people who could benefit from the stuff that I wasn't using.

It began with donating "stuff" to others that could use it, but it hasn't ended there. I continue to try to stretch myself in ways that (I hope) will make a difference to others. It's sometimes a slow process, but Williamson's poem was a good reminder that we all have a duty to fulfill as children of God. It doesn't have to be big; it just has to be.

"We are what we do." Who are you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Think About the Future

So, the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer because, really, I'm going to talk about poetry. But, don't click off the page just yet--you'll see, it all relates to the next generation and the future generations after that.

I've been to a lot of poetry readings/open mic nights over the years--at many different venues, with a variety of talent levels. Last Friday I attended a reading at the Toledo Museum of Art, hosted by the Village Voice, that will stay with me for a long time. This was one of the most welcoming readings I've ever been to, and the first word that came to mind for how to describe the poetry of the evening was uplifting. There was a lot of positive energy in the room, much of it coming from the captive audience of, perhaps, 200 people.

In a time when writing seems to be approaching something close to a lost art in some educational institutions and grammar and punctuation errors abound in public and so-called professional businesses, it was heartening to see young girls (around the ages of 6,7, 8, or 9) taking their places in front of a microphone and reciting poetry that they had written by themselves. It was good poetry, too! Even more encouraging was that one of the hosts of the event gave out little notebooks for the young participants, so that they can continue writing. This is the future, I thought to myself at the time. These are the kids who are going to make a difference in the world. These are kids I have respect for. The host was obviously in agreement, as he had earlier recited a wonderful piece he wrote about how children are growing up too fast--skipping their childhood, emulating the dress and moves of celebrities, and finding nothing but trouble down that road.

What his poem didn't say is how society not only condones this behavior but encourages it. An enlightening book I read a few years ago, Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes by Sharon Lam, Ed.D., and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., laid this out clearly. I have a feeling--and a hope--that the young girls who read their poems last Friday are above (at least, to some extent) the trends that society tries to set for "tweens" (a word created, incidentally, by marketers; what happened to "pre-teen" or, simply, "girl"?).

I read an essay a couple of years ago called "Can Poetry Matter?" by Dana Goia, from the book of the same name. I thought of this essay as I listened to the girls reciting their poetry last Friday, as I listened to the other poets and their predominantly positive messages, as I sat there with my heart beating fast with excitement and joy and hope. I wanted to shout, "Yes! Poetry CAN matter! It DOES matter!" Because the poets who read at the museum--young and old, male and female--proved it to me. It matters to them; it matters to me. If an eight-year-old girl can get up and read a poem she wrote in front of an audience of 200 people (mostly adults), she can do "anything." She IS the future!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Think About Time

Who isn't excited that we "gain" an extra hour tonight (even though we'll lose it again in the Spring)? An extra hour of sleep, yes? Or, an extra hour to stay up? Whichever.

It's actually not very hard to get anyone thinking about time. If, like me, you've long been shackled into the North American mindset of rushing around, you know what I mean and are used to hearing or uttering phrases such as, "I don't have time!", "Don't waste time.", "Where has the time gone?", or "Hurry up, I don't have all day."

So, what I would like to get you thinking about is this: Why do we think of time so often? Why do we make so many references to it? Why do we get impatient with people who are walking or moving too slow? On the other hand, why (and how) are some cultures so relaxed about time? Why can't we practice those same mindsets? What is it about time that keeps us so enslaved to it?

Thoughts? Please post your comments!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Think About Yoga

I attended my second yoga session this evening. I knew what to expect this week; I mean, it's not too different from what you see in magazines or on television, but nothing you see or hear in mass media can prepare you for the experience of yoga. (A quick caveat--it probably varies somewhat from teacher to teacher, and I've only had one so far.)

It feels natural to close your eyes while doing yoga, and that is what the women in my class do. (I, however, have to peek periodically, just to double-check that I'm in the right position.) It is perhaps the closed eyes that contribute to the feeling of zen. It, perhaps, is also the soft nature music, the gentle voice of the teacher, and the dim room, lit only by natural light and candles. Peaceful. Quiet.

The teacher tells us, as we begin, not to think any one thought too long. This is difficult for my obsessive-compulsive mind. But, I follow her instructions, breathing deeply and freely; and negative thoughts do finally seem to dissipate with each subsequent even breath. Instead of thinking about that day's thoughts, the teacher instructs us--as we dance our fingers up and down our feet--to think about our toes, to think about the skin of our fingers touching the skin of our feet, to think about what it feels like. These are thoughts that I don't ordinarily think about during the day; and, consequently, these are the thoughts that feel very important to me right then. Why haven't I been thinking about my toes?, I wonder.

The teacher asks us to think about what our feet do for us and, later, what our noses do for us. How often do you think about your nose? She actually asks that question.  Again, I wonder to myself, why don't I think of my nose more often?

Press your fingers against each other, one hand facing the other, palm to palm. Think of the spaces that don't touch neatly together. How does it feel when your right pointer finger touches your left pointer finger?

So often we go through our days expecting our body to work endlessly for us--our legs to walk, our arms to lift, our fingers to type--but we don't always think of our body parts and how they work individually. It's that way in other aspects of life, too--we aren't always looked at as individuals; we're looked at as a team, a group, a class. When you're singled out, though, for something positive, how does that make you feel?

After two sessions of yoga, I certainly am not a yoga expert; but I think that, in some ways, the key objective of yoga is to invite a person to look at his or her body and, then, his or her whole life differently, if only for an hour session at a time.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Think About Books

I love books. I love the feel of one in my hands. I love to touch and smell each page as I read. I fold over the corners of the pages when there's something I want to come back to. I often make notes in the margins and underline important or interesting points. Inevitably, I also correct typos or grammatical errors that I find.

Digital society, though, is trying to make the book as I know and love it disappear. Kindle, the Nook, CafeScribe, and other digital platforms threaten independent bookstores. But, I'm not interested in talking about the business aspect of this subject. Instead, I wish to wax nostalgic about the way a book's pages yellow and crinkle with time; about how I can fall asleep reading and wake up on top of the book, its cover bent or torn; about how I can spill a few drops of my soy pumpkin spice latte on a page and know that the stain will be there for the life of the book; and about how I can look at a unique price ticket on a book and remember where I was when I bought it and, maybe, even why.

A book can create stories and moments other than the one its words tell.

I once knew of a person who started to read the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. When he realized that the book wasn't actually about motorcycle maintenance, he threw it across the room. How many people will do that with their digital books?

Think about it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Think About Stuff

Welcome to my blog! (This is my first post, so bear with me....)

So, it's a dreary Monday in Toledo, Ohio; it seems like Mondays are always dreary here. It's a gray place to live, although it has some sunny moments. More often than not, though, I have to create my own sunny moments. So, I delve into the activities that excite me--writing, reading, and thinking. Reading leads to thinking; thinking leads to writing. Last year, while finishing up my Bachelor's degree, I read a lot of fascinating and inspiring books that led me to a lot of thinking...about stuff.

The most influential book I read on this topic was Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh. A scholarly book, it is certainly not a quick and easy read. However, since I've read it, I now think about what I am buying, where it comes from, and why I'm buying it. I think about the reasons of why we as a society are compelled to buy.

Cavanaugh's book led me to change my buying habits, but it wasn't enough. I wanted more simplicity. So, I read the book The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life by Leo Babauta. This book offered me suggestions on how and why to get rid of stuff and how to organize the stuff I keep. This is no easy task, I assure you! Knowing, though, that others can use what I may not have used for several years gives me a peaceful feeling, as though I'm doing right for the world, for once.

I made several hauls to Goodwill. I still have a ways to go, but I feel much lighter (less clutter around the house equals less clutter in my mind) already.

Here's my final thought (for today) about stuff and consumerism and, possibly, a "call to action" (if you choose to accept...!): The day that seems to mark the beginning of the Christmas season is known as Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). What I did last year and what I will do again this year is to use that day to do the opposite of what the general American society does (anti-spending): take donations of all kinds to places that will happily accept them. Can I make this a movement? Probably not. And certainly not on my own. What will you do on Black Friday?

Look at your stuff; ask yourself what it means to you. Think about stuff; ask yourself if you need to keep it. You might find yourself feeling a little lighter, maybe a little sunnier, even if you live in a gray town.

Let me know your thoughts about stuff; let's get a conversation going!

In the meantime, check out this link: .