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).