Thursday, September 29, 2016

feeding along the way

In my last post I wrote about my love/hate relationship with professional travel. This time it was all love, and I’m so grateful. This particular conference felt like it was a stepping stone along the path of some of the new things that are happening during this season (that transition/transformation I wrote about a little while back). These kinds of experiences are true grace, a breeze at your back, a gentle nudge to continue in the same direction.

So, a list of highlights, if you’re interested…

City of Bridges // Running in new cities is always a highlight, especially when that city has some water running through it. Pittsburgh has lots of it – three rivers, with more than 400 bridges crossing them at various points. (Did you know it’s the American city with the most bridges? I didn’t.) The first morning I left my hotel just as the sky was beginning to brighten and followed a haphazard loop over all three rivers, stopping for lots of photos. The second morning, I crossed the Rachel Carson Bridge (so cool there's a bridge named after this author) and ran along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a concrete path bordered by green overgrowth and yellow wild flowers, with a river just beyond. It was pure Pennsylvania and made my heart so happy. (I didn’t realize how much Pittsburgh would feel like home…)

Medicine, mission, mercy // Remember those uninspiring keynotes I referenced? Not at this conference. The second morning was my favorite. Dr. Jim Withers shared his story of providing medical care to Pittsburgh’s homeless folks for decades and helping to create Street Medicine programs at medical schools around the world. The concept of mobile medical care that creates access and cultivates justice has become my heart, especially since traveling to Kenya. It was such an honor to hear him share his stories, and with such humility and passion.

The life of an artist // I made a few friends, one of whom works at the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh. Over dinner, I mentioned that I might visit the Andy Warhol Museum after the conference. The next morning, she found me to tell me she’d arranged for my free entry. Later that day (which was also after I’d given my presentation), I wandered the city, found some coffee, and made my way over. Warhol’s art is funky and fun, and observing the trajectory of an artist’s life is incredibly inspiring. My favorite part was the display of contents from his time capsule from the year 1984. His collection of all kinds of random paraphernalia reminded me that inspiration can come from anywhere, and being an avid collector of it can keep creativity fresh.

Something you said…” // After I presented on the last morning of the conference, several people came up to talk to me afterwards. One woman introduced herself, then started her comments on my presentation with this phrase. It stuck with me because this year has in some ways been one of strengthening my voice. My dream is to hear this over and over – that the things I say have impact, stir something in people, inspire change and vision. Years ago I often found myself afraid to speak, and when I first started this job I wasn’t thinking I’d one day be one who teaches and encourages others, especially by the room-full. It’s one of those dreams I never thought to dream, but the One who knows our truest, deepest desires knows how to bring those about, and how to keep directing our hearts beyond those things to eternity.

I could write more – of really good coffee and chatting with the same barista each day, of great food, of an inspiring session on diversity that was a helpful way to process some of the violence erupting on the streets of cities across our country, of a man who passed me on the street and told me I looked like Taylor Swift (ok, his sanity was questionable but I’m thinking this was one of his lucid moments?). There was just so much. 

There’s a verse in Isaiah that speaks of the people of God feeding along the way and finding provision in places they thought barren -- reminders of God’s goodness and restoration as they make their way to their true home, the City of God. And it’s these seemingly little or mundane things that I think Isaiah might be referring to. They aren’t the thing to shoot for, but they signal to us that God knows our truest desires and has put eternity in our hearts. They bring joy, but what’s better is that they keep us along the path to the One who holds our hearts and is the ultimate thing (relationship/beauty/wonder) we yearn for.

(photo: fort duquesne bridge at the beginning of morning run)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

literary, lately: travel edition

I have a love/hate relationship with professional conferences. Love: travel to new places, eating out on someone else's dime, staying in hotels (I love a clean bathroom, especially when I'm not the one cleaning it). Hate: spending all day in over-chilled rooms with no windows, uninspiring keynote speakers, networking (i.e. an introvert's hell).

I'm thinking about this because it's happening next week, I'm going to a new city, getting up in front of a lot of people to talk about writing (simultaneously my most exhilarating dream and worst nightmare), and hopefully getting lots of reading done on the flights there and back -- among other things. Here are a few links that are getting me excited about traveling, writing, reading and everything in between.

Listen to what makes your hair stand on end, your heart melt, and your eyes go wide, what stops you in your tracks and makes you want to live, wherever it comes from, and hope that your writing can do all those things for other people. A writing manifesto, in the form of ten tips. Maybe I'll scrap my presentation and just read this to the audience?

Airports are mini-civilizations, governed by their own rules and ritualsOn bookstores in airports. My airport rules: a magazine from those ubiquitous bookstores, peanut m&m's and stretchy pants.

The National Book Award long list selections are being announced this week. I haven't even heard of most of the nonfiction books just announced. Looks like I have some reading to do. Maybe worth an airport book purchase?  Follow along if you're interested...

I go in phases with writing music. Right now, it's this song and every other one from the album. He's, like, the male T.S. I'll probably also be listening to this on my flights. (Don't judge.)

Can't wait to find myself here. (Quick stop over to see my sister!)

(photo: NYC skyline, before flight to Kenya)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

what to do with this love

This morning I read about a popular author and her new romantic relationship. Her marriage has ended, she writes, because the illness of her dear best friend made her realize the truth that she is in love with this friend. She herself had posted about it on her Facebook page, an explanation that is thoughtful, well-written and probably only made public out of necessity, which I respect.

I don't know this author personally or really follow her all that closely, yet I had a deep response, one that invariably comes because of things I'm wrestling with myself. Part of the story this woman is sharing but not focusing on is that she is now in a same-sex relationship - this is not part of my struggle. That issue aside (I have thoughts I won't share here or now), the underlying story I read here is one of friendship, boundaries and recognition. Let me explain.

A friend of mine, a single man around my age, recently shared with me that he's taking a break from thinking about relationships to figure some stuff out. This after I told him I'd had a dream of him deciding to elope and not invite me or our other friends. Is there something you're not telling me? I joked with him. This led us to open small windows into our individual hopes and fumblings in what we both hope is movement towards our respective future marriages. What came to mind (and spirit) as I sought for a way to affirm him is that first love story, when man is put to sleep and, on waking, finds the one he calls "flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone." Here at last, one I recognize as made for me.

This caused me to read that story again, to see how the current of my friend's particular experience moves below the story, what waves the Spirit might stir in it. As I read, one version used particular names we are familiar with (Adam and Eve), which makes the story feel so very personal and singular. Maybe that can be my story, too, we might be drawn to wonder. Another version uses simply Man and Woman in place of names, which got me thinking differently about the distinctive recognition which takes place upon waking. Before, none of the animals fit the bill. Then, here, a new creature, and yet so very familiar because she is taken from me. I thought of this story again when I read news of this author, because of the same-sex issue but also because of the long friendship between then. Do we sometimes confuse partnership and friendship for something more? What if this author lived within the boundary of that love which guides us to recognize who is made for us and who is not? I am not trying to judge, and yet I wonder about the seemingly sudden lunge towards total commitment brought about in the face of illness and possible death. The prospect of death can make us do strange things, and yet death is not all of what there is, it is only a shadow. Is it possible that her recognition has shifted away from what is true?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that recognizing truth and beauty is an act that requires the Spirit. (That first love story, after all, happened in the Garden...) I have stories of men I've been close to or partners with and I've wondered, could this be the one? But they end up being part of that animal parade set before Man; they receive different names, but not that declaration that only one will receive (here at last, bone of my bone...). Recently, there is another story like this, one in which a man and I have partnered together and found our styles and vision the same yet different and complementary, in which I have moments of seeing more than what is on the surface, in which I feel I have grown to be more of who I am because of his presence in my life, and in which a few innocent onlookers have asked me about him. And I admit, I have wondered myself. But deep in my spirit, I know this friendship is given for a different reason.

So then the question remains - what do to with this love I have for him? The kind of love I am trying to cultivate is that which expands only within boundaries set for me and yet calls me beyond what I know. This love is painful and costly. It asks me to yearn for that person's good, and yet not put my own needs for love and affection on that person. This love fights to see clearly and hope against hope and hold on and let go at the same time. It simultaneously breaks my heart and puts it back together. I wonder if that's what we resist, that process of being broken for the sake of a good we haven't yet experienced, a love that is tasted only when we are able to lift our heads and ask for it and hope to be filled.

(photo: married couple, friends of mine, west los angeles)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

an unread library

There's magic in being surrounded by books... Collect books, even if you don't plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.

- Austin Kleon, Steal Like at Artist

(photo: my library and messy bookstacks... only partially read)