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Filling the Thank Full Second Sunday June 2015

As this warm summer day slides into one of those summer nights, I take a few moments to give thanks. I am grateful for: 

  • Beautiful skirts (two) that swish & swirls around my knees. 
  • Feet sore from walking & dancing
  • A brain full with interesting thoughts about art & libraries & life
  • How much nicer my house is with just a bit of straigthing up done (I have a lot more to do because me and the spouse are slobs, but instead of dreading what I have left to do, I’m enjoying what I have done).
  • That the spouse is home after being gone for a week to take care of his Momma.
  • My new bike (old one stolen) & my new phone (old one too broken)
  • That tired from my neck down my back feeling that means I was physcially active yesterday & today.
  • The bike ride I will get to take tomorrow to commute to work.

Neat and Tidy, a messy multipart essay, part one

[This is the first of a series of loosely connected, perhaps sometimes contradictory, essays sparked by various books and conversations around ideas of neatness, messiness, and the good life].

In my library district many people have waited long months to read Marie Kondo’s book The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.

“When you’ve finished putting your house in order, your life will change dramatically . . . you’ll feel your whole world brighten.” Marie Kondo

I put it on hold because I was curious why so many people wanted to read it, and because I have a fascination with how-to-books — how to organize your life, your work, etc. and so forth. I’m interested in the practical ways self help and how-to-books help or don’t help, the rhetoric of these types of works, and how they function in our culture.

“The moment you start, you reset your life.” Marie Kondo

The book finally came in, and I sucked most of it down in one sitting. I appreciated her book for its window into Japanese home-life. And I did pick up some helpful tips for folding laundry. My shirt drawer is much nicer now. (But when in the midst of a major art or research project, as I am about to be, I know I’m going to willy nilly stuff that shit into the drawer). I also appreciated learning that the residents of other First World nations are just as guilty of buying way too much crap and having no idea how to live with an excessive amount of stuff. As a child of a hoarder, part of me would love for her to come work her magic on my father’s junk piles.

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.” Marie Kondo.

She goes through people’s homes and helps them throw all the excess away. You do this by holding each object and contemplation whether or not it sparks joy. If it does not spark joy, you are to discard it. She claims that throwing it away honors the role those objects have played in our lives, even if the objects have been barely used.

“I have assisted clients who have thrown out two hundred 45-liter garbage bags in one go.” Marie Kondo

Ms. Kondo never speaks about not buying excess. She does not address the ways that throwing all that stuff away fails to honor the work and resources that were put into those objects. Her advice to only keep clothing you love and discard the rest could be useful, if it meant people selected well made clothes that they then wore for years. But in our culture of cheap fashion, people buy an excessive amount of poorly made clothes and then when they no longer “love them,” they dump them in landfills or, to assuage their guilt, donate the craptastic clothes to thrift shops. A recent Huffington Post article reported that about 25 billion pounds of new textiles are generated in the US each year, and around 85% will end up in landfills.

“Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them . . . Not only you, but your things, as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.” Marie Kondo

Ms. Kondo talks about objects as if they were alive. I would like to take her anthropomorphism to the extreme. Someone who just threw away all the people in their life that didn’t bring them joy would be selfish and cruel. And while it is true that there are times to let go of particular relationships, most of our interactions cannot be treated that cavalierly. I work in public service. Plenty of of people do not bring me joy, but the most important part of my job is working to serve all with respect, regardless of my personal feelings. Some of my most satisfying moments are when I find ways to serve people that never, ever will “spark joy.”

Just holding a thing (or a relationship) for a brief while is not enough to tell us if it sparks joy. What we will find is that it may or may not spark joy in that particular moment. In her imbuing objects with life, she forgets that relationships take work. Often, you have to work to find the joy, to maintain the spark. It takes time and commitment and effort to keep love alive.

She does not suggest that people spend time reworking their hoard of objects into things that give them better service. Most of the objects she talks about discarding have not been worn out. They no longer please the purchaser or were purchased and stuffed into a drawer or closet, never used. Perhaps, she should be showing people how to “love the ones they are with” by putting time and effort into those objects.

“Not only will you never be messy again, but you’ll get a new start on life.” Marie Kondo”

My hoarder of a father didn’t go out and buy his stuff. He rescued it from the side of the road. The junk was on the side of the road because other people purged their stuff, as Ms. Kondo recommends. When my father does “tidy up” his stuff, he takes the time to break things down, separating out the useful from the recyclable from the disposable. He has made quite a bit of mad money from runs to the scrap yard. And he has built many useful things from parts of broken objects. Most recently, my father took the much better drawer tracks from one set of metal filing cabinets and put them in another. I painted it a wonderful, rich dark red color. For the cost of fourteen bucks, I have a lovely, useable filing cabinet for my project files. A new filing cabinet of similar quality and durability would cost a couple hundred dollars, and chances are good the drawer tracks would not be as well made. And my father will use the cabinet with the now not so great drawer tracks in his workshop for rat proof storage of rope and other things that vermin like to chew on.

There are more important things than being tidy. I, like my father, want to use things well. To honor the work and resources it took to produce those objects. Working with the things (and the relationships) I have right now, means living with a bit of mess.

A recipe: tasty Fat Tuesday happy mixed with Ash in the the mouth Wednesday somber

In the liturgical Christian tradition today is the last day before Lent. Lent is a period of somber reflection, letting go of harmful to self and other habits and taking on good for self and other spiritual practices. In New Orleans, it is Fat Tuesday, a day of excess and pageantry. For Anglicans and Episcopalians and Catholics, it is Shrove Tuesday, which for some reason is all about eating pancakes instead of partying like it is 1999. I plan to be in a Fat Tuesday state of mind today.

I need that joy so I can more properly observe Ash Wednesday. As I’ve mentioned before Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite holidays, in part because it cannot be commercialized, and in part because I think we all need to spend time atoning and mourning. Pick any religious tradition, and there probably is a period of mourning and atoning, probably even fasting.

Personally, I have been feeling great joy lately. But the world is full of pain and suffering- the killing of Muslim college students in North Carolina, the shooting at a Jewish man at a synagog in Copenhagen, the beheadings of Egyptian Christians by ISIS. On top of that is the oil spill in Virginia and the almost inevitable mega-drought later this century.

Ash Wednesday, for me, is a time to acknowledge that joy always is flavored by loss. I got a great job promotion. This means four other people who applied for the same position didn’t get that job. My presence on this planet is not value neutral. When I gain others lose. My successes are not just due to my hard work; they also are the result of luck and various privileges I have. My failures are not just due to my inability; others have privileges and resources I do not have or have not had.

But Ash Wednesday without the revelry of Fat Tuesday turns a day of somber reflection into a despair wallow. We do not need cable TV. We do not need much of the crap in most of the stores. But I think we do need revelry. We need pageantry. We need costume and excess. We need exuberant movement- to dance and to sing. We need to fling our bodies full force into our lives, at least for a little while. We cannot always hold the horror. We need to channel electric joy juice. I believe that we can better hold the horror when we also let ourselves fully feel the joy.

Today I will celebrate, and tomorrow I will mourn. As I celebrate today, I will taste tomorrow’s ashes. And tomorrow, when I atone, I will savor a slip of fat, tasty joy.

Small Movements on a Monday Morning

My cat is determined to lay her head in the crook of my elbow as I try to type. She lays on the desk between my right and left arms and between my body and the keyboard. As she purrs, Kuniko Plays Reich plays and the hum of a bit of computer equipment fills the edges of the aural space. I have been awake since 5:30. I have exercised and eaten a simple but tasty breakfast. I tried to listen to an Afrobeat CD but it is jammed in the drive and the computer doesn’t even recognize it, so I cannot eject it. The CD will have to wait until the spouse can check it out. I write and I listen and I wait for 8 when I can call the doctor’s office.

I teach today. I have to go fill out a bureaucratic form for my new job. I will pick up framed art (art of other people) and drop off more work to be framed. I may go look for a pair of work shoes. I may end up going to the doctor. Much of this will involve driving around. Driving tends to stress me out, so I plan to carry small movements that bring me joy with me.

When I finish writing this, I will wash a load of laundry and hang it up on the line. I get such joy from hanging laundry on the line. Yesterday, I washed three loads and hung them to dry. As I pinned towels to the line, I noticed the sunlight on my hands. It was a moment of perfect. When I brought them in the towels were stiff from the sun. Stiff enough that folds were like crinkles that had to be pulled flat and the gleeful child in me relished flatting the stiff crinkles. I will carry those moments of movement with me as I go about my day. A day full of movement from one place to another.

Filling the Thank Full Second Sunday of February 2015

On this cold (for North Central Florida) morning I give thanks for:

The view from my office window. Daddy finally got the large chunk of trunk to tip over all the way to the ground. The grand old dame of an oak tree fell on May Day 2010. The tree trimmers came and cut away her crown and limbs and took them away, but they left a ten foot tall chunk of her trunk, which tipped back up once she had been relieved of the weight of her crown and limbs. Daddy, now retired, has been slowly cutting away at her roots to free her from the soil. He plans to put a garden in. And we have to decide how to handle what is left of her body. Do we burn in? Do we try to cut it up? Do we roll it over to one side so that dogs and nephew can climb all over it? I write and then pause to look at the remains of this tree, and feel great joy.

I also give thanks for:

  • pancakes eaten at Country Foodly.
  • cozy pajamas.
  • Afrobeat.
  • early morning blue sky tinged with soft pastel pinks.
  • a day job promotion- good meaty brain work, better pay, and I will be able to easily bike to work most days.
  • time carved out for writing- academic and creative. I stopped writing for a few weeks, despite promises to myself, but I have started writing again. I love writing- even though I often publish Daily Doses with annoying but inevitable errors.
  • teaching performance- which I will do tomorrow.
  • honest but not despairing conversations about how much we are fucked by climate change, but how we might be wiped out by something that is not caused by human stupidity.
  • Michelle Tea’s new book, How to Grow Up, which I’m reading slowly and savoring.
  • While I often am frustrated by FB and other social media, I also am reminded regularly that I know such amazing people and that social media lets me be in contact with them. On Friday, after I had permission to tell folks I got the job, I made a post on FB. And lots of people I know have celebrated my joy by clicking like. I like the attention, but what I like more is that it gives me a chance to remember all the imperfectly-perfect, passionate, smart, dedicated, hard-working, creative, caring people I know. I give thanks for them. And I give thanks for all my faithful and faithless followers.

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My

    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.
    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.
    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.

    Bears
    Last week as I drove to work listening to the news on NPR a very special sponsorship ad came on. I cannot find a audio copy of the ad, otherwise I would post it for the listening pleasure of all my faithful and faithless followers. And I must admit that I desire a copy of the ad for my own perverse projects. You may be asking why all the suspense, why does Bishop Bishop persist in delaying our gratification? Well, my verbal games are apropos. The sponsorship ad was for the Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear.

    The 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear is funny. But what I really loved was that I heard a sponsorship ad for it on NPR. The ad went something like this, “And sponsored by The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear.” I want you to imagine one of those NPR announcers saying those words. It gives me a little a delightful shiver, especially when I imagine David Greene saying those words (though he didn’t, much to my disappointment). Perhaps it is because I am kinky, but I was more than a little stimulated when the serious morning news was followed by a fluffy, furry bit of kitsch.

    Legos
    I heart crazy quilt juxtapositions. I love the ways that culture smashes and crashes to produce the oddest and sometimes most telling artifacts. A little less than a week later, I came across the 50 Shades of Grey movie trailer remade with Legos, which I think is better than the original.

    I actually have read the books. I have an abiding interest in smut. The books are not well written, the main characters are whiny and immature, but there are some stimulating sex scenes for those interesting in S&M. A part of me wants to host a 50 Shades party to screen the movie and shout at it a la Rocky Horror Picture Show, but I am afraid that, unlike Rocky Horror, 50 Shades of Grey will not be elevated by joyful audience participation.

    Queens
    In April of this year, Beauty’s Kingdom by A. N. Roquelaure (a pen name for Anne Rice) will be released. If you haven’t read the Beauty Trilogy, I will tell you that you have to enjoy the idea of captivity to get pleasure from reading them. Since I was a little girl, I have fantasized about scenes of captivity- people being made to perform sexually in a palace for a room of spectators for the pleasure a somewhat evil Queen (sometimes King). Sometimes I am a captive, sometimes I am the Queen or King. It is kitschy but also hot. So there is a good chance I will read and enjoy this new bit of smut by Anne Rice.

    I share all of this because I have notice all sorts of posts about “what is wrong with the relationship in 50 Shades of Grey.” Granted, 50 Shades of Grey should not be used as a model for a healthy S&M relationship. And there are authors who write S&M better. 50 Shades of Grey is sort of horrible, but parts of it are kind of hot in a kitschy sort of way. Sexual fantasy smashes and crashes all sorts of bits of our lives into something compelling but not always nice. A sexual fantasy can be ridiculous, offensive and even kind of stupid, and yet still be potent. At least, mine often are.

    And I will be forever grateful for to 50 Shades of Grey and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company for giving me the fantasy of David Greene saying over and over and over again, “And sponsored by The Vermont Teddy Bear Company’s 50 Shades of Grey Teddy Bear.”

    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.
    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.
    Bears and Legos and Queens, Oh My.

    Taking Our Mumps: Why the Those Who Don’t Vacinate are Wrong But So Are the Rest of Us

    Lately on FB, seems like every other post is related to the recent DiseaseLand measles outbreak. In between clickbait and status updates, there will be yet another post that validates all of us who believe that imperfect but rigorous science has improved public health more than fear-driven campaigns led by pop stars. One of my favorites is Penn and Teller’s four year old visualization comparing the even-if-there-was-proof-but-there-is-no-proof-risk of children getting Autism if we as a culture vaccinate with the risk of lots of children dying in horrible ways if we as a culture do not vaccinate. I also was moved by another piece by someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder about the ways the anti-vaccination movement dehumanizes those with ASD.

    The anti-vaccination movement should be scrutinized, and that there some very ugly motivations behind the movement. Much of it seems to me to be related to the ways middle-class and professional class bodies separate their bodies from less aesthetically pleasing (to them) working class bodies. They shop at Whole Foods and drive to lots exercise classes and spend lots of money on electronic devices to monitor their health even though making those devices may wreck the health of factory workers. While that may be a large part of it, it might be worth examining the ways that the anti-vaccination movement is part of a larger trend in which Americans are “focused disproportionately on individual physical fears instead of say, economic risks, which may seem harder to understand and confront” (Lynn Stuart Parramore, Why Americans are Getting Obsessed with Threats to Their Bodies). We also might want to ask if part of the problem is that there are communities that historically have good reasons to mistrust doctors and scientists. Perhaps, it is not just the annoying privileged people making individual choices that endanger the larger community. Perhaps, the anti-vaccination movement is complicated and related to systemic problems.

    Too many of the pieces are posted because humans play complicated reindeer games on social media; they really want to call Rudolph names. They point the finger at those “dumb anti-vaxers” to prove their membership in a particular social group. Many people post something critical about the anti-vaccination movement to prove that they are part of the “smarter” group that believes in imperfect but rigorous science. In general, when talking about social or political issues with a large impact, I think blaming individual people for their decisions is a waste of time.

    Besides, we know from imperfect but rigorous science that regular exercise, not sitting on your ass all day, and eat a lot more veggies improves health (physical and mental) and cuts down on mortality. We know this. Yet, many of us do not regularly exercise, we spend all day sitting on our asses (in our cars to go to work, then at work, then in our cars to go home, and then watching TV), and most Americans only eat one vegetable a day. We know this. You might argue that not exercising, sitting all day and not eating veggies is less dangerous to the rest of society than a measles outbreak. Without downplaying the real danger of measles and mumps, there are huge social and economic costs related to the individual and personal choices we make not to move or eat veggies. Others bear the cost of our personal decisions. But the reasons that people don’t move enough and spend too much time sitting and don’t eat vegetables are complicated. There are large forces at play.

    And it is important to note that the recent outbreaks are not just because of those who choose not to vaccinate but also are due to the large number of people who may be under-vaccinated. Many people born between 1970 and 1990 didn’t get their second dose because the “herd immunity” made it seem that the disease had been eliminated. Without seeing people suffer from the diseases, the threat was not as palpable. We do not believe it unless we see it.

    I also would offer that we all are less rational about our health than we would like to think. I have some understanding of how science produces knowledge. I have spent time helping train future medical professionals. And I have seen myself, when driven by fear or dealing with a complicated health issue that is not easily resolved, make stupid decisions.

    It is complicated. Let’s vaccinate ourselves against the virus of simplistic thinking. The kind of thinking that wants to boil down a large public health problem to the choices that a few people make. We should spend less time calling Rudolph names and more time doing the hard work of changing the game.

    Letting Grumbly Grumbles Float in a Phat Vat

    One of the tricks that helps me keep on keeping on is letting grumbly grumbles float. This morning, I was easily annoyed by the “slings and arrows” of annoying fortunes.

    First the kvetch: I woke up tired and headachy, and my back still hurts from a recent flare up of an old muscle injury. I went to a yoga class, and the room was too cold and too dark. I could barely see or hear the instructor, and there were no straps out, and the instructor didn’t know where the straps were. And most importantly, I couldn’t do poses that I was easily able to do a year ago. I hurt, and I felt like an out of shape blob of stiffness. Normally, yoga makes me feel great even when I can’t do the poses, but this morning, I left with a bit of hate in my heart. Afterward, I mistakenly took pity on a smiling young fitness center worker and let him test my body fat composition with a device of dubious reliability. He waved the magic fat wand (actually I held it in my hands) and found, no surprise to me, that I am “obese.” But he couldn’t say that word, no he had to point to the box that contained the range that my magic fat number fell in. I have to assume that he thought I would be traumatized by the information. That I would feel shame. All I felt was rage. Especially since he used my magic fat number as a segue way to try to sell me the very expensive personal training. I went into the locker room and there were too many ladies yammering and taking up space. I wanted to punch people out of the way. I should have taken a shower, but I couldn’t deal with all the damn people. (I find this gym’s locker room annoying even on days I am in a good mood). I left headachy, a wee bit stinky, stiff and irritated as all get out. I got to work and was annoyed with all sorts of small things and bitched a bit to a co-worker and then bitched a bunch to myself.

    And at that point, I realized that while I had some good reasons to be grumpy that a fair amount of my grumpiness was unreasonable. I just wanted to grumble and bitch and whine and kvetch and complain and exclaim and deride. There was no way that I was going to stop being grumpy. I didn’t need to be happy. But I wasn’t going to crank up the bitch switch to 11. I decided to turn the volume down by not choosing to complain very much. I didn’t deny or suppress. I gave it some soft space to be, I cushioned it. I let the grumbly grumbles float in a phat vat of acceptance.

    Oddly enough, while my body has continued to bother me with various aches and pains, and I had a few moments of intense annoyance (headaches and lots of loud children are a craptastic combination), I had a good day. Not a happy day. I don’t need to be happy all the time. I got lots of work done. I managed to not spew my shit on everyone, and despite a very few, very brief moments of self hate, I did not end the day in despair. Right now my back hurts and my head is beginning to hurt again. And while there is work I should do, instead I will go lie down and probably go to sleep extra early. In this moment, I am not happy, I’m not satisfied, but I am centered and calm.

    Tonight, I wave my magic phat wand over all my faithful and faithless followers. I hope you can hold all your irritations and annoyances, all your aches and pains, and not be ground down by them. May you find a way to hold them softly. I tell you, let ’em float.

    This Girl Can Get Her Sweaty Freak On

    A day or so ago the This Girl Can video, part of the This Girl Can UK campaign, popped up on my FB feed. I watched it and enjoyed it. Today, I have watched in four or five times, in part because it has a Missy Elliot song that I love as its soundtrack.

    The video shows women of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors working up a sweat. Some are runners, some play sports, some are taking fitness classes, some are swimming. All of them are moving their bodies vigorously. We see how, unless the image is doctored and/or filmed at just the right angle, bodies in motion jiggle. Thin bodies jiggle. Thick bodies jiggle. All bodies jiggle if they are moving with speed. And as this video shows, there can be such joy in that jiggle.

    I have forwarded it to friends and shown it to co-workers. After I showed this to co-workers, we ended up having a conversation about how uncomfortable many women are if they are noticeably sweaty. Some of the women I know told me their sweat stories, which are not happy stories. They do not want others to see them sweat. I don’t have this particular body issue (I have plenty of others). I do not mind being sweaty; I do not mind other people noticing my sweat. It makes me feel tough. But for too many women I know, sweat equals shame.

    Sweat=shame.
    Jiggle=uncontrollable flesh.

    I am not saying this campaign is perfect, but the organizers listened to women to find out what would help them feel more comfortable moving. I love seeing all these different women moving their bodies. Moving their wonderful sweaty, jiggling bodies. In this video, sweat equals satisfaction; jiggle equals joy.

    Sweat=satisfaction.
    Jiggle=joy.

    I long for a world where women move their bodies in joy. I long for a world where we celebrate the movement of bodies- female and male, young and old, large and small, thin and thick. May the god/dess I may or may not believe in help us all jiggle with joy.

    I want to see you sweat.

    Get your freak on!

    Let’s Just Say I Hope

    Today, I read Marilyn Nelson‘s “how i discovered poetry” a “sequence of fifty unrhymed sonnets” that use personal and political events from the time she was four in 1950 to the time she was fourteen in 1960 to build a picture of the life for a girl in a military family. The author never denies or hides the racism experienced by the Speaker (the author’s term), but those experiences are threaded deftly through stories about and images of families and dogs left behind and Red Scares and bomb shelters and Civil Rights struggles and playgrounds and friends and mothers who work versus mothers who stay at home and moving over and over again.

    from Thirteen-Year-Old American Negro Girl
    My face, as foreign to me as a mask,
    allows people to believe they know me.
    Thirteen-Year-Old American Negro Girl,
    headlines would read if I was newsworthy.
    But that’s just the top-of-the-iceberg me.

    At my library, this book is cataloged as a Juvenile Biography. But the beauty of Ms. Nelson’s work is that poems reward younger and older readers. There is quite a bit of humor, some of it punning, which will entertain middle grade readers. “Why did Lot have to take his wife and flea” from Church. And there are complicated bits. In Safe Path Through Quicksand “Do I believe? Well, let’s just say I hope./I think Jesus is an elder brother/whose footsteps mark a safe path through quicksand” is juxtaposed with “I do hope to God there is a hell/waiting for some people. For racist cops.” Adult readers can make comparisons and connections between the Speaker’s observations/opinions of her time and the events of our time.

    I won’t quote anymore because I want you to find Ms. Nelson’s book and read it. Read it all the way through in one sitting and then wait a day or two and read it again. That’s my plan.