Create ~ How to Be Good

A friend of mine, a scholar of theology, brought me a book this week. I’m only about two chapters in, but I’m fairly certain it’s going to be life-changing if not life-shattering. The title and cover design are somewhat lacking in glamour (as theological books often are), but Also A Mother: Work and Family as Theological Dilemma by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore has already tempted me to commit the cardinal sin of writing in a library book. The first page of the preface contained this riff:

“Ultimately, this book defies rules that a good person just does not go around defying lightly. It defies the virtue of never hurting another person, which defines the “good girl,” and the virtue of unconditional love, which defines the “good woman” and the “good mother.” It defies the virtues of self-fulfillment and self-assertion, which define the “good feminist”; the virtues of independence, self-reliance, and achievement which define the “good man” and the “good worker”; and ultimately, the virtues of objectivity and detachment which define the “good scholar.”

Tonight I’m thinking about my own “goods” and wondering what would happen if you wrote (or painted, or composed, or photographed) about yours. What makes a “good boy”? A “good Christian”?  A “good Asian”? (You know who you are– go for it, C. Write that essay. It’s kind of an assignment.) A “good depressive”? A “good American”?

Are you happy being that? What if you wrote in defiance of being the “good”? Or, just start with the title “How to Be Good.” See what happens.

Create ~ “If our environment is such…”

“We are what our environment makes us,” said Rudolph Schindler in 1936, “and if our environment is such as to produce excellent health, beauty, joy and comfort, it will reflect immediately in our lives.”

Schindler was an architect– a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Last month, I spent two weeks living in a FLW house on twenty wooded acres around a small lake. Living there was something beyond the experience of getting out of the city. The quiet had a substance beyond a simple lack of sirens.

For some time now, a particular thought has been haunting me: If it matters if you do it, it matters if you don’t. Since returning from our FLW time, the specter has shifted hue: If it matters if you have it, it matters if you don’t. The ‘it’ in this case being trees, silence, a daily rhythm clocked by the sun’s rise and set.

At the 2.5 million dollar price tag, I can’t afford to have this particular ‘it’. The relationship that access to nature has to class and privilege is not lost on me.

But again, If it matters if you have it, it matters if you don’t. We are part of the natural world. We were created– by whatever means you may believe in– as part of nature.

“If our environment is such as to produce…” Schindler says, “It will reflect in our lives.”

What’s reflecting from the pond of your life? What is your environment producing? In your body? In your spirit? Do you like it? Do you like it enough to bequeath it to your children?

Create ~ Waiting

Even if you’re not a fan of Mumford & Sons (BANJO, BANJO, BANJO, banjo, banjo, banjo), it’s difficult to deny the passion in their music.

This week I’m thinking about what I wait for– with this kind of passion and intensity.

What do you wait for with such intensity it makes you sweat? What do you wait for so deeply that it melds the public and private parts of yourself? What will you wait for with such passion that you would practice a lifetime to proclaim it before thousands?

Create

Last week my Nonfiction Prose class read Floyd Skloot’s essay “Gray Matter: Thinking With A Damaged Brain.” Skloot begins with the line “I used to be able to think” and continues the essay to explore (with remarkable ease and integration of information) the results of a virus that attacked his brain over a decade ago. The essay itself prompts fascinating questions about the distinction between the mind and the brain and wonders, in an age of PTSD and traumatic brain injury, how accurate Descartes could possibly have been. But what’s pecked at me this week has been Skloot’s first line: I used to be able to….

Already, at 33, there things I’m no longer able to do. Some of them are bodily and cliche– sleep in past 9 am, eat Taco Bell, exercise without wondering about joint health– but others are social or metaphysical. I used to be able to believe wholeheartedly in a political candidate. I used to be able to buy groceries without wondering about supply chains. I used to know how to pray.

Considering what I used to be able to do has been sad, and useful. When I was younger, I tended to define myself by what I was currently doing. Now, though, I’m beginning to see that part of growing is marking the spaces between what I have done. It’s like seeing those yearly height marks on the door frame of a childhood home: to the child, the fresh mark and its accomplishment are the prize, but my adult eyes linger on the spaces and see in them the living.

I used to be able to do many things. That I can’t or don’t any longer is a significant marker of both change and choice. Those absences are how the world has marked me. And, sad as those losses may be, they are also evidence of living.

What comes to mind when you begin with Skloot’s line? “I used to be able to….”

Create

This last week we went out to my parents’ cabin for some time at the lake. When my dad took his evening ski, I went with to spot so my mom could focus on driving. As I watched the rooster tail of water flung out against the sunset and felt the chunk, chunk, as he flew across the wake, I realized that this is one of the few things I see my father do simply for pleasure.

What have you witnessed one of your parents do simply for pleasure? What sights and senses do you associate with it? Does pleasure come naturally or with struggle for your parent? Is it the same for you?