FOCUS – New Zine to Be Published Mid-June

This feels like a transition time. Baby is almost 4 and seems to be finally coming out of a long-term, hard-core gotta-have-Mama-at-all-costs phase (which has, in all honesty, lasted her entire life). My score of readers knows that I always have a lot of things I want to do or feel like I should do, but right now the overarching important thing for me to do is relearn how to FOCUS, both for my own sanity and to facilitate actual progress on the to-do list items.

I regret what has happened to my brain and my nervous system during the childbearing years way more than I regret my stretch marks or other physical signs of motherhood. I saw a documentary once about stress, and it said that many people in our culture are always in fight or flight mode. That put into words how I have felt for years, maybe all my life. It’s the pressure of “perceived threats”. That can mean being afraid that my past will come back and haunt me in some way, or worrying myself sick about what might happen in the unknowable future. There are also the ever-present threats of the present – like my all-too-common (though usually mostly subconscious) sense that somewhere, someone (could be my husband, the old woman at the grocery store or someone reading this blog) is judging me or expecting something from me that I cannot deliver.  All these things are actually incorporeal  – my feelings, neuroses, angst – but FEEL physical like threats that I want to run away from or come at with teeth bared. What that looks like for each of us will be different, how we manifest fight or flight –  but I assume (as a fellow human being in an often scary world) that you also deal with this unfortunate aspect of life in some way and have developed a few more or less ineffective coping mechanisms and/or annoying habitual behaviors in response.

I honestly believe that my body now reacts to the constant interruptions of children (and the over-complication young kids bring to otherwise simple or straightforward tasks) the way a proverbial caveman would react if they were suddenly being chased by the proverbial saber-tooth tiger. This doesn’t mean that I literally think my kids are out to get me (although they can be as manipulative as any sinner at any age). It’s like this:


And that’s just one example. It’s like my brain can no longer hold a thought for more than 10 seconds even if I am alone. I think this is probably what they call neural pathway development (or in my case, neural pathway destruction). I notice this problem especially when I try to read, but it has affected everything I need or want to do. Having to do something like run a simple errand or do a basic household chore is almost a trigger in itself. I get anxious  and even somewhat panicked even thinking about doing whatever it is because I know it will require so much more from me than chopping celery. My body interprets it as a threatening situation. I can fight by literally fighting – or at least getting really grumpy and showing it. I can take flight by simply not doing “it”, whatever IT is.

My own self-improvementy thoughts (completely apart from dealing with other people) usually also feel, if not always threatening, then at least exhausting.  In practice, this makes me inefficient, because I will let my ideas (if I am feeling competent and/or productive) or my emotions (if I am feeling depressed and/or stagnant) distract me from what I am doing. I will literally be in the middle of washing dishes (a good and necessary, if sometimes maddeningly mundane task) and in response to a thought like, “Such-and-such would be a good thing to have in my next zine”. I will turn from the dishes like some mind-controlled person in a sci-fi show responding to her master’s inner call or something, and head to the computer or notebook. That’s if I’m feeling productive. If I’m feeling depressed the thought at the sink might be, “Oh crap, I’m already washing these dishes but those (insert your favorite expletive) sheets have to go in the washing machine. Man, I am a total failure at this job.” So, I turn from the dishes (in the same sci-fi manner, only looking more despondent) and go get the sheets off the bed. The most likely next act in this scenario will be someone in the family inserting their need or request or simple comment into the fray, and neither the dishes, nor the zine work nor the sheets will get done.

So, I need to focus in at least two senses. I need to focus on what I am doing at the moment and, yes, pay attention to it in a zen-like manner but mostly just finish it already. I also need to plan at least some focused time for the things I say are most important to me. This could be having a mental date with myself at 2pm every day for a workout DVD, or a plan to sit with my 7-year-old for thirty minutes to read aloud, or setting aside the whole day for only basic housework and zine stuff. I’m not sure of the specifics, in fact it is specifics I am afraid of, because when something has been specified or codified that’s when it’s most obvious if (or when) you deviate, which (in perfectionist-speak) translates to FAIL.

A new zine comes into this situation because it, in itself, is a form of focus. So, it’s a natural container for six weeks or so of my thinking and planning and (most importantly) execution of FOCUS. It should be ready for mailing by mid-June. I don’t think it will a Thirty Days Zine exactly, but it will be done quickly, in that Thirty Days spirit. I’m going to charge for this one. Not sure how much yet, but that info will be made public when it has been determined.


Thoughts On Recent Podcasts

I’ve taken up walking again. One would think riding the hamster wheel of productivity would have given me enough exercise, but it really didn’t. It just made me tired but didn’t burn one damn calorie or build up my flattish butt even a little bit. So midafternoon, I have been parking the kids in front of their various screens, putting on the unobtrusive-under-the-hair headphones and listening to podcasts while walking for 45 minutes. Since I finished Tullian’s Romans series, I have moved on to the Mockingpulpit and The White Horse Inn. I’ve heard David Zahl do his magic, taking varied secular sources like The Onion, The New York Times and Brene Brown, and weaving it all into the story of our human condition and God’s amazing grace. My favorite quote from his talk on forgiveness (Matthew 18) “The only thing better than being right is feeling wronged” (the sad truth of which I experienced this morning in an incident which will remain shrouded in mystery.)

I have also heard Michael Horton interview Mark Galli, Douglas Rushkoff and Os Guinness on The White Horse Inn.

I’ve had the good providence to hang out with Mark Galli a few times, so it was fun to be able to picture him as he talked with Michael Horton about two of his recent books, Chaos and Grace and God Wins. As the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today magazine, he knows A LOT about what is happening in all the streams of Christianity, and is funny and compassionate. I’ve never read Love Wins, but I have been tempted to watch an episode of The Rob Bell Show on the Oprah Network.

The interview with Douglas Rushkoff reminded me how much I love sociology-based non-fiction. His book Present Shock is right up my alley (and I am smugly pleased to remember that I read Future Shock in the 9th grade, when my brain was way more well-functioning than it is now) . The premise of the book is how many people now see life as existing in the present moment, rather than seeing the present as one part of the past/present/future triad. I wonder how this relates to postmodernism (which I don’t understand all that well, but which distrusts unifying theories or metanarratives) and/or emergence theories (which I understand even less than postmodernism).

He makes a simple reference to how a digital clock differs from a traditional clock. In a traditional clock, you see the time in context with the whole of the day and even see it progressing with the second hand. But in a digital clock, it is simply 2:37. There is also the issue of constant streams of information, the “latest” news, the most recent tweet by your favorite Bird. What does this do to our mental state? Does it contribute to anxiety because now is when everything happens? Does contentment fly away when we are always looking for the next big thing? (Those may actually be my own questions). He mentions how this focus on the now is very different than the zen or tao idea of being present in the moment. “Presentism” (as Mr. Rushkoff calls his theory) seems to be about how much you can do or consume in a given moment, while the zen idea of the now is how much you can pay attention to what is happening in and directly around you in a given moment.

While I don’t know if Mr. Rushkoff is a Christian or even religious at all, he made the interesting response to a question from Michael Horton – that this is a What Would Jesus Do period, rather than a period where we look at the whole narrative of Christ. That’s not to say that we don’t make choices in the moment or live existentially in Christ, but that the focus becomes what we are doing right now for God, that it’s somehow all riding on what I do in the present, rather than what Christ did in His Grand Narrative. I’m sure he didn’t mean it in the same way, but that is similar to the idea I’m seeing in a lot of recent reading and listening – that when the focus of the Christian life becomes the life of the Christian (meaning my life and your life) the gospel is shrouded both for ourselves and even for unbelievers. It is shrouded for ourselves because we are myopically focusing on ourselves, gazing at our spiritual navel (is it an innie or an outie? does it need a good cleaning?) It is shrouded for unbelievers because the gospel is about grace for total losers, and when we try to hide the fact that we ourselves are total losers, we perpetuate the myth that God Likes Christians Because They Are So Squeaky Clean. And that leads to unbelievers either:

1) seeing through us and rightly calling us hypocrites or

2) feeling that their own non-squeaky-cleaned-ness means God could never forgive THEM

As for Os Guinness, I had heard of him but didn’t know what he wrote about or that he was a Christian or that he had one of those incredibly soothing British voices. He was being interviewed about his book Rennaissance: The Power of the Gospel No Matter How Hard The Times. It sounds like he probably shares with Michael Horton the belief that Christians get too easily wrapped up in a culture war mentality. I was so soothed by his voice that I may have been lulled out of consciousness a bit, because although the book sounded interesting, I can’t remember much from the interview. I did remember that I had on my very own shelves a copy of his book The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever, so I pulled it down so I can attempt to read it if my brain complies.

Listening to all this good stuff has reminded me of my pseudo-intellectual past and roused my alter-ego who is a bohemian and regularly hosts late-night gatherings of intellectuals, philosophers, poets and artists at her loft.

I am thinking of ordering every book by an author I hear interviewed on one of the walking podcasts. Although I don’t want to get re-entangled in intellectual productivity and/or identity enhancers, I know that I need to slowly rebuild my brain cells, and the books all seem accessible for a low-brain cell person like myself. I also would like to challenge myself to read more of the articles linked at Mockingbird and maybe read the Brain Pickings Offerings more closely (without making that a new law). One of the wrong assumptions people have always made about me is that I am well-read. I am, in fact, not well-read and even when my brain cell count was much higher, I was never a great thinker even though, yes, I did read a lot of books compared to, well, a non-reader. I was also opinionated and somewhat articulate (especially in writing) so I could pull the wool over people’s eyes pretty easily about my intellectual prowess. Maybe the fact that I’m not spending so much time and energy wool-pulling will eventually translate into energy spent really learning (and that goes for the creativity stuff as well).