Self, Social Media, and What’s Real

Dear Friends,

This week, I suddenly became terribly sick of myself.  Let me explain—I’m not sick of the self who hikes, writes stories, reads with my kids.  I am sick of my facsimile-self, the one I trot out on social media platforms and in letters to editors and bookstore owners.  In the midst of promoting my first picture book, I am making myself literally nauseous.

This practice of being real with myself and others—I thought I had it figured out after the tumultuous, navel-gazing teen and early-twenties years.  And I’m thrilled that I’ll soon hold my first picture book.  But as a person who hates yammering on about her own work, the endless self-promotion required of writers these days makes my stomach churn.  It’s like gazing into a mirror too long, like snapping too many selfies (like the endless shots I find of my tween on my phone). In a culture where we’re trained to post carefully selective snapshots of our lives, I’ve been wrestling with this question:  How do I remain authentic in a society where, to get things done, to promote, you must adopt a certain measure of—well, if not deception, then slant?

In the Atlantic article “How to Hire Fake Friends and Family,” Roc Morin interviews Ishii Yuichi, the founder of “Family Romance,” a Japanese company that hires out actors to anyone who is willing to pay enough.  Say Thanksgiving rolls around and your prospective in-laws are looking forward to meeting your mother.  But she’s embarrassing: chews tobacco, swears audibly, shouts about politics.  Worry no longer!  Simply hire an actor who will play the perfect mom.  Yuichi has played the parts of loving fathers, acceptable husbands, perfect boyfriends.  His company has provided supportive colleagues, fall-guys, even healthy partners (complete with cheat-sheets of memories) to lonely people whose spouses are suffering dementia.

While Yuichi admits to occasionally feeling badly about long-term gigs (he’s been playing father to a girl who fully considers him her real father for years now), he defends his company by explaining that providing short-term comfort for people in an unjust world is legitimate.  As for being deceptive, he points out that culture is already on that bandwagon:  “I believe the term “real” is misguided. Take Facebook, for example. Is that real? Even if the people in the pictures haven’t been paid, everything is curated to such an extent that it hardly matters.”

But today, wearied from too much time on social media, I know that it does matter.  It matters deeply to me that I am known and know others in a real way.  As I walked down a sodden path in the park with my dog, I finally articulated exactly how I felt: lonely.

Of course though social media is new, the tension between appearance and authenticity has always been an issue.  Van Gogh spent much of his life wrestling between the poles of who he was (many dismissed him as a ne’er do well) and the pressure to appear successful.  In this letter to his brother, Theo, he vacillates between begging his brother to understand him and defending his authentic, searching self:  “What shall I say; our inward thoughts, do they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney, and pass on their way.”

I love to think of the fact that many years later, I, with countless others, come to warm myself at Van Gogh’s soul as I read his letters.  In his words, often wrenching, often beautiful, I find a friend.

Sometimes our feelings of isolation go deep, beyond the reach of friends, and today at the park I felt that. So I told God: “I am lonely today.  Sit with me, please.”

And as I write to you today as honestly as I can, without tipping the camera to block out the pile of laundry on the floor or turning my face to show you my ‘best side’ or trying to convince you to buy something, I invite you.  Today, slow down; be present to yourself and to others.  Pursue genuine, authentic, communal soul-building.  Step up to the hearth, take a deep breath, and warm yourself.

Peace,

Kim

P.S. As always, we love your comments and interaction!  Please leave a message–and thank you!

Consider: The Wonder and Wound of this World

Dear Friends-

Yesterday the dog and I went on our favorite run.  For half an hour before I laced my shoes, I walked around moaning, “I don’t want to go.  Don’t make me go.”  There was no one “making” me go, unless you count the way Phoebe paced behind me, showing the “great red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs,” as J.M. Barrie calls it.  At last, with what seemed incredible mental effort, my shoes were on, my excuses over and we were padding out the door.  Predictably, within the first 400 yards, I wondered what all my fuss had been about.   

It was impossibly beautiful out there.  In the cooler, shadowy places, the hillsides were blue tongues of lupine, red sparks of Indian Paintbrush.  And in one spot, as I rounded a tight corner, I startled a flock of finches.  They flurried up, a chittering cumulous.  First a few.  Then more and more.  Until scores had burst from cover in the lupine, wings glinting in the low sun, and disappeared into the dark shadows of a lone ponderosa.  I felt over-awed by the sight, filled with a glad in-rush, new-born.  And yet in the same moment, something snagged my heart, that thing we call “a pang,” that sense beauty beheld is passing even as we encounter it.

“For to come upon warblers in early May

Was to forget time and death:

How they filled the oriole’s elm, a twittering restless

cloud, all one morning,” —Theodore Roethke, North American Sequence

I love the beauty in these lines from Roethke.  But I don’t believe them.  Warblers in May or finches startled from among the lupine do not make one forgetful of time’s passage.  They do not obscure the dark stile at the bend in the road.  Despite his statement to the contrary, I don’t for a moment think Roethke forgot these companions, else why bring them up?  Beauty is twined with loss, inseparable.

Every shiver of joy has a pull of loss in it, a rip in the seam. I can catch the glorious up-well of gladness.  But I can’t keep it.  Like the finches, it glints gold for a moment then disappears into a bank of shadow.

“Joy’s trick is to supply

Dry lips with what can cool and slake,

Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache

Nothing can satisfy.”  – Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”

Richard Wilbur gets it right.  It is the signature trick of joy to both slake and leave behind an unsatisfiable ache.  Like a koan that defies the mind’s desire to parse and explicate, the aftereffect of joy is paradox.  In the middle of the finch storm, I had a deep sense of having been met and having been left.  Filled and emptied.  At home in the world and an exile from my heart’s true homeland.  I’m straining here, which is why the wiser Wilbur used “dumbstruck” and avoided the muddle.

We are made for this world.

We are not made for this world.

Can both of these be true?

At every turn, consciousness tugs us in both directions.  This wonder and wound is a birthright that, however many steps we take, we can’t outrun.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Lindsay

P.S. We would LOVE to send you a little Each Holy Hour through the post office.  Just email us at eachholyhour@gmail.com with your mailing address and we’ll send you a personal message on one of our beautiful postcards. Just a bit of love from us to you.

P.P.S.  Last week’s Consider prompted some discussion on the Back Page about our faith journeys.  Pour a cup of tea and enjoy the meander.

The Limits of Your Longing

20150710_201308High on the cliffs of Rosario Point above Puget Sound, Ko-Kwal-alwoot stretches out strong arms to hold a salmon against the sky.  Her story pole, carved from a hulking 30’ X 5’ cedar log, tells the Samish Indian myth of a maiden who agrees to marry The Sea to save her people from starvation. Despite her father’s objections, she walks wholeheartedly into the cold salt water, and The Sea–honoring his promise–releases salmon the Samish so desperately depend on.   

You don’t need to search far to find them: myths of the eternal calling to the temporal, divine spirits falling in love with the mortal, and the mortal responding with abandon.  I thought of this as I read Lindsay’s last Consider, as she described the way her spirit swelled and leapt out into the wild waters of the Atlantic.  All ancient cultures bear witness to this longing.

20160621_165438In Cornwall the rugged coastal trail winds into the tiny village of Zennor, where 6th Century Christians established the St. Senara church. Past needlepoint kneelers an ancient wooden chair depicts a mermaid lifting her bare arms.  Legend has it that she wandered from the wild turquoise sea in search of chorister Matthew Trewhellen, whose voice had been borne to her by the wind.  Trewhellen left the familiar–friends and hearth and garden–and dove beneath the waves forever. The call: Come.  The response: I abandon myself completely.

Who among us have not felt this keening?  Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.  All your waves and breakers have swept over me.  This Psalm has captured me since I was a child.  The eternal calls my name and I long to throw myself off the edge into something greater.

It’s not a call to comfort and easy solace.  Summers at the Atlantic, I remember being caught by a wave, rolled into a swirl of green, pulled by the current, pounded by the surf.  The ocean spat me onto the sand; I gasped for breath.  Then I wiped the salt from my eyes and went back in.

This is a dangerous summons.  Jump in knowing there’s no guarantee you won’t be destroyed.  But you will be remade.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot walks out over smooth stones.   Above her head, osprey call, scanning the water for their next meal.  Behind her, cedars, hemlocks, madrones rise; at her feet, spreading out cold and grey, the waters of Puget Sound.  As she reaches to draw out a shellfish, a hand grasps hers.  “Don’t be afraid,” a voice says.  She must join the Spirit, for her people are starving.  She must plunge into the freezing depths, for there is no other way.  When she visits her family again, she will be changed–damp air will linger in her wake, her hair will wave like kelp.  She will miss the sea; back to the sea she will return; her home will never again be what it once was.

With all our great poetry, music, art, we are no nearer to adequately finding the words to domesticate this longing.  Perhaps few writers have done so well as Rilke:  “God speaks to each of us as he makes us,” he writes, “then walks silently out of the night./These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Ko-Kwal-alwoot extends her hand, sinks into the slate-grey waters.  The young chorister scrambles through thrift and foxgloves, his back to the dark sleeping village, throws himself from the cliffs.  From the wild depths, a summons.  Go to the limits of your longing.  Nearby is the country they call life.  Give me your hand.

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_Postscripts__

-Please check out the beautiful story of the Samish Maiden for yourself, as told by Charlie Edwards to Martin Sampson in 1938.  And if you ever find yourself at Deception Pass near Whidby Island, WA, don’t miss the story pole at Rosario Point.

-Keep stopping by The Back Page for more behind-the-scenes.  Thank you!

Photo Credits:  Martin Cockroft

Consider: Past the Headlands

Dear Friends,

Each Holy Hour is one month old! Like a newborn opening her eyes to the world, Kim and I are in a haze of astonishment at the response we’ve received. Your comments, shares, personal messages and feedback have meant a lot to us. Thank you for letting us into your lives. It is truly an honor to journey with you.

This week, as I watch my kids near the close of another school year and anticipate the long, lazy days of summer ahead, I’ve been thinking about my own childhood. My hometown in coastal New England is a postcard of colonial clapboards and blue ocean. Through all sorts of weather and almost daily in the summer, my family made the short trek to Crane Beach, a glorious four-mile sand beach and estate. We’d park the car, freight ourselves with towels and pails, shovels and sunglasses, and amble over the dunes. On the far side of those shifting mounds, we’d find the closest thing to infinity I knew. The Atlantic. With a few sailboats tacking at the horizon, and (on clear days) Maine’s Mount Katahdin a hazy bump, it was an immensity so searingly beautiful, it was a hair’s-breadth from pain.

The Atlantic nurtured all my budding devotional impulses. Like the Divine, it was unboundable, unknowable, and yet right here, spending itself on the sand, lapping my shins. Changeless yet always changing, it followed its own rhythms of waves and tides, a pattern as old as Earth.

In my family, we were earnest Sunday-school attenders. While my friends zipped around bays and coves in bowriders, I spent Sundays in the pews of First Presbyterian. Often, on our hard benches, we traveled deep into questions of faith and meaning, casting lines from the bow through prayers and hymns, stories and practices.

But the Atlantic preached another kind of sermon. Wordless in its exhortation, speechless in its exegesis, it made me feel the thing we mean when we say, “my heart leapt up.” Solemn elation, deep-fed joy, something at the far-border of my senses, stirred in me.

“Exultation is the going/Of an inland soul to sea, —” writes Emily Dickinson. “Past the houses, past the headlands/ Into deep eternity!” As a child, I thought this poem was written for me. It seemed so intuitive to my experience, I felt proprietary regard for it. It bespoke the way the Atlantic pulled the tide of my heart toward something deeper. It suggested that all the human habitations – the propositional truths and earnest homiletics in which we usually trafficked – were just the beginning of the adventure. Beyond these headlands, deep eternity called.

I’ve never gotten over that call.

Every trip to Crane Beach ended with gathering up our pails and shovels, shaking sand from shoes, traipsing back over the boardwalk. We’d drive home and pack everything away, hang towels on the back porch. I’d brush my salt-tangled hair and arrange a few shells on my shelf, living in the afterimage of the blue, endless Atlantic, and waiting again for this inland soul to go to sea.

Here’s to cultivating wonder,

–Lindsay

p.s. On Friday, Kim will continue the conversation on our blog. Check it out and leave us your thoughts.

p.p.s. We’ve launched a new page on eachholyhour.com. The Back Page is our way to honor the messiness of providing thoughtful content. It chronicles some of the behind-the-scenes pitfalls and levity we bring to this work.