This summer during my annual trip to Kansas to spend time with family, I took a trip of my own to Colorado. I have a hard time resisting the mountains, and this year I caved. But I took a detour on the way to out to visit two historical sites. It was a tour of tragedy.
Being a writer, I process through writing. But I’ve had a hard time processing this week. I’ve wanted to talk about it, but I’m not sure how. It’s actually made me withdraw from social media (which is probably an OK thing).
But sometimes I’ve learned it’s just easier to get things off your chest, even if you don’t have the right words to say.
So yeah, crap week:
Last Monday night, my cousin injured two police officers, killed my uncle, and then took his own life. I traveled to attend my uncle’s funeral, offering what little support I could to my parents, grandparents, cousins, and extended family. It was an emotionally overwhelming few days, and I’m just the out-of-town nephew. My uncle, Tom Madden, was quiet, liked the simple life, and did right by people. He served on the school board for over 20 years, an inspiring example of public service. As his son wrote, “He was always there no matter what.” There’s a lot more to say about Tom, but I just haven’t had the time and space to fully process it.
Saturday morning I heard the news that progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans had died suddenly after a series of seizures and a medically induced coma. While I didn’t personally know Rachel (though I think we emailed at some point), I’ve read all her books. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again was one of my favorite books so far this year. The Why Christian conference she co-organized was incredibly inspiring to me. Her voice will be deeply missed.
In the midst of all that, I heard the news that Tessie Sylvester died. Her story gained national attention in 2017 when her husband died from complications of ALS the same day she was diagnosed with inoperable stage four cancer. She leaves behind two boys and a mountain of caring family. I didn’t directly know Tessie either, but her sister served as the mayor of West St. Paul, and her strength and resolve during this trying time was a sight to behold. After a funeral later this week, there will be a celebration of Tessie’s life at an arcade on Saturday (she said to “make it fun!”). You can support the family through this memorial fund.
So like I said, a crap week.
I don’t know what to say in the face of all that.
I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common Prayer. They’ve often struck me in a certain way, and I shared them with my mom on Monday night when no one knew whether my uncle was alive or not:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Last year I read Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins and found the section on commitment curious. Jeff was challenging our commitment-averse generation to stick it out when things got tough. When a job becomes difficult or challenging or boring, instead of quitting and moving on to the next thing, Jeff challenged his readers to make a commitment and see it through. His point was that only by sticking through the difficult times would we make it to the rewarding times.
It’s a good lesson, especially these days when it seems like no one can commit to anything. Nobody works for a single employer their entire life anymore, let alone for more than a handful of years. People can’t commit to each other, as our divorce rate shows. We can’t commit in politics, getting tired of our candidates before they’ve even run (how many front runners did the GOP have before the 2012 primaries? Expect more of the same from both parties in 2016). Our athletes can’t commit to a team and our teams can’t commit to a city (unless we build them a shiny new stadium).
I think Jeff makes a good point. But I think I have the opposite problem. Instead of being commitment-averse, I love commitment. I want to marry commitment (and that is just a Barney Stinson line to score a one night stand, I think it fits).
I’ve been doing the same job for nearly 10 years. OK, I’m self-employed so that doesn’t really count. But as a freelancer, I’m all about commitment.
Come to think of it, most of my best clients I’ve been working with since the beginning.
I’ve been going to the same church since 2001.
I’ve been married since 2000.
I’ve been blogging since 1998.
I’ve been living in the Twin Cities since 1997.
I like commitment. What this probably means is that I like things to stay the same. I like comfort and safety (though not too much—we do have kids after all).
The danger for me, as opposed to bouncing around and never sticking with anything long enough to reap the rewards, is that I’ve got a lot of inertia. I’m wary of new things. I don’t exactly like change. I’m too likely to sit back and get comfortable instead of pushing ahead to forge new ground.
Hopefully I’m combating that the best I can, trying new things and not getting too stuck in my ways.
It’s the essential question of life: Crackpot or genius?
So this Ph.D. in economics, Mark White, has this idea that museums could sell shares in their artwork to raise money. It’s this bizarre, crazy idea to somehow monetize the holdings of museums and give them new access to capital without selling everything off. The idea was being discussed because the Detroit Institute of Arts might be desperate enough to try it.
At the end of the article, White has the best quote ever:
Innovators, he points out, are frequently wrong. “I could be a crackpot,” he said, in a telephone call. “But I think I’m a genius.”
Don’t we all? How often do we have these ideas that are either brilliant or horrible? Maybe they’re both, depending on who you ask (one person’s crackpot is another person’s genius). And maybe when you ask. It’s such a great sentiment, acknowledging the reality of ourselves: Yeah, I could be a little nuts. But I prefer to think of myself as brilliant.
And perhaps that’s what separates the crackpots from the geniuses. If you never push your idea, if you never pursue it, if you never put in the hardwork to make it a reality, then you’re just a crackpot. But if you put in the time, the sweat, the energy—then maybe you are a genius.
I didn’t know it, but my summer evaporated as soon as I went on that impromptu trip to Dallas for the Echo conference. The next week we had to travel out of town for a funeral. Then Abby had an all-week conference while making final preparations for our church’s VBS. This week is that VBS, which goes all morning (it’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m the only one awake). And next week Abby goes back to work.
Life has been slipping by lately and it’s all I can do to hold on. In a span of a few days I attended a funeral and a baptism (oddly enough in that order, which I’m choosing to see as hopeful).
Great Grandma and the neighbor’s dog both died within a week and a half of each other, which prompted all kinds of odd conversations: “Why did Domino die?” “Because he was old and sick.” “And why did Great Grandma die?” “Um, because she was old and sick.”
And for once the frustration and right answer actually matched up: “But how does Grandma get to heaven? She can’t just fly, she’s dead!” “I don’t know, Lexi.”
The other day I was half lamenting, half apologizing to my neighbor for not keeping up with the yard work. “You’re not raising grass, you’re raising kids,” she told me.
I tweeted yesterday about a big, hairy, life-changing phone call (in a good way). The details are still confidential, so I can’t share anything.
But a few days back I was talking to a reporter for a story about Addition by Adoption (yes, a real live reporter—the publicity machine continues, though again I won’t divulge my sources, don’t count your chickens and all that) and we were talking about this very blog. I bragged that I’d been blogging since 1998, but then had to fess up to how awful it was back then. Full of diary-type yearning that were completely incomprehensible to anybody but me. Rather than being up front and clear about what I was writing about, I was vague and obtuse. Occasionally I think it worked (of course my blog posts didn’t have titles back then). But mostly it was weird. I’m glad I stopped.
But considering the confidential nature of this potential life changing deal, it seems like being vague and obtuse might be just the thing… or not. I tried some of that, and it felt just as pretentious as it did back then. Bubbles floating on air and all that.
So you’re left with one of those obnoxious, I-have-a-secret-na-na-na-boo-boo blog posts. It may come to nothing. And it may change everything. And wow, focusing on any kind of productivity is impossible.
If you go back to the very beginnings of this blog I write a lot of self-indulgent tripe about wanting to change the world and be different and throw off the status quo. You’ll have to forgive me–I was an idealistic 19-year-old at the time.
In some ways, I still agree with some of those sentiments. I don’t like the idea of working eight hours a day 40 hours a week for the man. I don’t like the idea of owning a big house in the suburbs with a big lawn and a big mortgage and spending my precious hours off mowning the lawn to an exact length. I don’t like the idea of owning a house full of possessions, just like all my neighbors. I don’t want my life to center on work, soccer games with the kids and watching TV as a family. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with those things, but sometimes I wonder how much right there is in those things. Kids are starving in the world and we’re too busy to care—there’s nothing right about that.
I work for myself and set my own hours so I can watch my kids instead of paying someone else to do it (though that’s more necessity than plan). I own a big house, but a tiny lawn which I mow as infrequently as possible with a reel mower. I try (and fail) to minimize my possessions. I dream of sharing with my neighbors. I like the idea of only needing one snowblower on the block (growing up, that was my Dad—he had a massive snowblower on the garden tractor and would snowblow our driveway and then every other driveway around us that hadn’t been cleared yet). And I hope from time to time my efforts and time are centered on more than TV and work and I’m doing something to stop those starving kids from starving.
Maybe I am still that annoying 19-year-old. Though I think my dreams were grander back then.