Wednesday, November 18, 2015

They Also Have a Big Twitter Following

I have this one weird quirk where I read this one really crazy, really leftist socialist online magazine every month. It's not always about politics, but it is always very, very strange. I think one reason I read it is it is very interesting, and I am very, very curious. I NEVER could predict the things I find there. But I think the main reason I keep reading it is that I have a small, but deeply rooted suspicion that these people can't possibly be real. They just can't. There's no way people actually live in this world and have come to these conclusions. It's not just the conclusions, either, it's the way they write. I'm convinced as well that several of the sentences don't actually mean anything to anybody - I toyed with the idea for a while that I just wasn't understanding them, and that's still possible - but again my suspicion also remains that the language just literally doesn't mean anything. And everyone's so afraid to admit they don't understand what's being said that they're all nodding, saying "wow, deep." This suspicion isn't COMPLETELY rooted in my pathological narcissism - because I've seen this play out in person before. Mostly in college. Mostly in writing classes. (Sometimes in philosophy class.)

I've literally stopped at a sentence before and read it over and over and over, out loud sometimes, to myself sometimes, trying to make sense of it. I've actually DIAGRAMMED one of their sentences before (find the subject, predicate, object, adverb). Still nothing.

I even think that were I to happen upon these people in a physical reality, and they were like "hey, we're the ones who write that magazine," and they had real faces and teeth and hair, I'd STILL be suspicious. Like, sure, they're real real, but they're just play-acting, right? Like they're all a bunch of Shia Labeoufs? Just method-acting their whole lives away as crazy pretentious assholes? As an art project or something? (I guess if they would be willing to do that then they really ARE crazy pretentious assholes, but at least they don't actually mean what they're writing.)

Anyway I am fully aware that one day (maybe even tomorrow) I will look back on this blog post and read it again and get flummoxed at the way it makes me sound - so close minded - like, it couldn't POSSIBLY be possible that people think different than me. I'm sure that's part of this, because we're all nasty little prideful scoundrels, and I am the chief. But it's more than that in this case. These articles are borderline psychotic. Like, I wouldn't be surprised if I read one  month and found them saying something like "the idea that bodies need water to survive is a mechanism of the capitalist patriarchy." They say stuff like that, too; calling people "bodies."

The thing is, though, they're extremely creative. Maybe riding that line between genius and lunacy? Once they did an entire issue based on male genitalia but it wasn't what you'd think; like it wasn't some Cosmopolitan Magazine with pictures and sex tips. It was very metaphorical and esoteric. Still completely nutso, but points for creativity.

It does seem strange that at this point I still haven't disclosed the name of the magazine to you, which I just realized. I actually think I kinda want to keep it to myself. Because it feels like my alternate reality and I don't want to make it real by inviting other people I know into it. Also because the ideas it contains are such GARBAGE on a moral level that I don't really want to be responsible for propagating it.

The world is big.

Friday, October 23, 2015

10 Ways to Improve your Leadership and the Leadership of Your Leaders: Leadership in the Modern Leader World Full of Leaders Who Lead

I know a couple people who don't like Catholicism. It extends in some cases to their not liking Catholics either. That makes me sad and frustrated. Mostly because this comes from people who place a very high premium on loving other people. Incidentally many Catholics I've met also like to love people.

But that's not what we're here to talk about today. Today I want to talk about leadership. "Leadership" happens to be my least favorite word, topic and concept of all time. That is an exaggeration, I definitely hate at least a couple of things more than leadership - like Futurama, or socks with no partners, or people who won't shut up about coffee, or east coast writers struggling publicly to navigate the hierarchy of societal offenses, which changes every day in both content and severity. That escalated quickly but if you're still with me we're discussing "leadership."

First of all leadership is rarely discussed in the same conversation as women. When it is, it's usually being discussed by women. If it's being discussed by a man, and women are present and are also being addressed, the man is very, very aware and very, very, very proud of himself (and will probably mention this a couple of times). This is annoying, but by far not the most annoying thing about leadership.

Leadership is a bullshit topic. This is something people talk about to avoid talking about concrete things, because it's easier. It's like that kid in my high school who always wrote real flowery poems and shared them with our English class and everyone fawned over them, except I, being a giant bully, always wanted to point out that the poems never actually SAID anything. Anyway - like, let's say you go to the CEO of a company and you say "Sir, you are facing a large budget shortfall. What will you do?" And the CEO thinks for a moment, strokes his beard, tells his female secretary to hold all his calls and wear a nicer dress tomorrow, then it dawns on him: HE NEEDS BETTER LEADERSHIP. And so he spends the next 9 months writing a book about leadership, and what it means to lead from up front and lead from behind and lead from upside down and instill confidence, and then by the time he's done his company has finally gone under! At least his secretary looked nice.

Leadership is also a concept into which anyone can inject almost any meaning, and it will be accepted. You could easily hear two people at the same time say "Leadership means taking charge" and "Leadership means delegating to others" and in both cases their audiences will likely nod, knowingly. Because they're in the leadership club! And they're dudes, presumably.

In addition, leadership gives everyone talking about it a great, great inflation of their ego. After all, if they're talking about leadership, they must be a great leader! No one would talk about leadership if they weren't a leader. And everyone who is listening thinks, I know a person who talks about leadership, and I'm listening! I must be a leader. All of these conclusions really mean, of course: I am smart, but not just smart, I am smart-er, and everyone should listen to me.

This is just what we've always wanted anyway, right? And that's what the bullshit concept of leadership gives us.

My theory is this: just do stuff. Like, accomplish things. Worry about the rest after that, but my guess is you won't have much to worry about.

I just wrote my leadership book!!! That'll be $99 but I'll waive the fee if you organize an international conference around this blog post. International conferences about leadership are just... I can't talk about it, I have heartburn.

Have a great weekend, man leaders! Don't worry about doing anything. You're a leader.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Distressing Report on NPR: The Story of Tuesday

Yesterday I was driving to Panera for Second Lunch and was listening to NPR.

(Second Lunch is the lunch that follows First Lunch but comes before First Dinner. Usually it occurs around 2 - 3 pm and though you might be thinking - well Maria, sheesh you must just get very hungry around 2 - 3 pm! - you are actually very wrong. The feeling is less like hunger and more like this: Maria, the very beginnings of hunger feelings are happening to you. They are very faint and hardly noticeable but they are there, and they have an important message: if you do not eat in the next 25 minutes, you will vomit. Powerfully and with little warning. This is what occurs right before Second Lunch. Also Second Breakfast, Second Dinner, and Popsicle Before Bed.)

Anyway on NPR they were interviewing an Australian composer who is a professor at Arizona State. His accent was ridiculous and really kind of infuriating but I'm a woman of the world so I just pretended he was British and got over it. They were interviewing him about this project he's been doing around national parks in the American Southwest where he records sounds. Like he just, sits outside with some presumably astronomically expensive recorder and records the "sounds of the desert." Like sand blowing and, I don't know. Lizards scurrying along my back fence.

The interviewer asked Professor Australia two questions, the answers to which distressed me very much. The first question was: what's your favorite thing that you've heard? When he asked that question I kind of got a little excited. I was hoping to learn something cool. Like that snakes have a secret language (parseltonge) or that cacti make groaning noises if you're quiet enough. But he said - "once I heard a woodpecker drumming." And now I am so, so mad at him and will probably never visit Australia. Was he serious? I distinctly remember trying to study in college with my apartment window open and having to shut it because of all the damn woodpeckers. I didn't even have any fancy recording equipment and I heard them so much I almost started a campus activist club ("Students Against Woodpeckers; no double entendre, we promise".) I can't believe that was his answer; I also can't believe he is a professor and lastly I can't believe that stupid Australian accent is a real thing.

The second question whose answer was very distressing was: What will these recordings be used for, other than simply having great recordings of nature? (I took issue with "great" but again being a woman of the world - have i mentioned this previously? - I let it slide.) Anyway the Great Australian Scientist said - oh, we want to raise awareness about the sounds in nature. I feel so many feelings about this answer. First of all if the awareness he wants to raise is "sounds happen in nature" he will likely not find a large audience compelled by such news, and additionally if the awareness includes an example of woodpeckers woodpecking, people can just saunter on up to University Courtyard apartments in Athens, Ohio and try to do some quiet reading. They'll come, I promise you, and you don't even have to petition the taxpayers for a million dollar grant.

But seriously - someone is paying for this guy to do this thing. To sit there and record "sounds" and then think about the sounds and go on NPR to talk about them. Do you think he got a governmental grant? I bet he totally got a governmental grant. "Raising awareness" should never, ever be the end game of a project. Because it means nothing. But it should especially never be the end game of a project that's called "recording sounds to that people can hear them."

Lastly I feel like I have to confess something in the interest of full disclosure: if these had been whale sounds that he was recording, I would have been on board. Not just "on board" as in "ok with the idea" but literally on board whatever boat he used to go out and find the singing whales because these are WHALE SOUNDS and I'm a red-blooded American woman; not some kind of uninterested monster.

My Second Lunch was a grilled cheese and it was definitely worth all the angst. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

some Very Important Things for you to Read About and Consider

On Saturday it came to my attention that Ted Williams, an old baseball player who once batted .400 or some such, is frozen in Scottsdale. Well, his head. I think his body too, but in a different room. He paid to be frozen after he died so that when medical technology advances enough to revive him (and provide the necessary body transplant, assuredly) he can come back to life (and presumably bat .400 again, but I can't believe he honestly thinks that will still be impressive, I mean let's try .700 and we'll talk.) Aside from the troubling dream this news brought me as well as the existential angst relating to the reordering of my official List of Fears (severed head jumped the line), I've also experienced a sense of bewilderment that Williams would want to come back here (the proverbial Here, as in, Earthly Existence, not Scottsdale; although that's an interesting choice too, but maybe he liked Mexican food and white people?) I'd also be fascinated to hear what he thinks it will be like when our medical technology has advanced that much. I mean, if we can transplant bodies, we can certainly make everyone look better than Ted Williams. He's going to be on the bottom of the food chain, looks-wise; I think we can all agree on that, and for that reason, and that reason alone, I think he's a crazy idiot.

I also realized this past weekend that it is taking me over four months to read one book and I find that very troubling. I'm reading "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright, about the set-up to radical Islam and 9/11, you know just a little light Sunday reading. It's fascinating and sad and an incredible piece of research that makes me sweat just thinking about trying to tackle something like that. I feel like a novel would even be much less daunting, because I get to totally make it up and I don't have to be so careful about using words like "alleged."

I realize I haven't written in a long, long time and according to blog rules I'm supposed to talk about that at length and tell you why, but that sounds real boring to me and I have to go do stuff. I just thought it would be criminal not to share these thoughts, regarding Ted William's head and The Looming Tower, with the world. Bye

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Want Good News so I can Eat a Cheeseburger

So I'm still not sure whether this is a wholly Western culture thing, or maybe it's global, or maybe it's just in Ohio, or maybe it's just in my family? but I grew up eating things to celebrate. When there is something to be happy about, there is going to be cake to be happy all up in. And around and through. Cake and pasta? Mozzarella sticks. Also lasagna. And cheese plates. French fries. Those almond crunchy cookie things my cousin Stef makes. If you do not have these things, you are not celebrating properly. (Often these things in themselves become reason to celebrate.)

I'm about a week and a half (sweet gluten-free ravioli it seems so much longer) into an experimental eating regimen I've imposed on myself to see if I can't cure the ol' Forever Stomach Ache of My 20's. Not to be dramatic but it has been the WORST WEEK AND A HALF EVER THAT YOU'VE EVER HEARD OF. Also, my stomach feels amazing and hasn't hurt in like, six days. I know. I can't believe it.

You ego-maniacal psychologists in the audience (?) will look at my new eating regimen (which was not created by me and is not created to lose weight - this is a topic for another day but I want you to know I'm being reasonable and healthy and am consulting people much smarter than me on this) and say, ah yes, so predictable. SO predictable that you would do this now, Maria. Because life feels like it's in a bit of a limbo, and not the good kind with margaritas and all that but the bad kind; where you feel like change is coming but you can't tell what kind, and you're not even sure what kind you're hoping for anymore? And maybe also the kind of limbo where God is like, so... "how's it going down there - sorry I haven't been able to check in lately? I'm busy elsewhere." He of course does not and has never said such things but my heart has inaccurately heard them, and continues to.

So, psychologists, you may be right that this month-long stomach-healing food thing is a coping mechanism for a larger hole of weirdness in my psyche. It is giving me something to think about and focus on when the rest of life is full of brow-furrowing misunderstandings and long-suffering WAITING. So, I fill my time instead with 4 page grocery lists and boring crock pot recipes (my GOD the vegetables.)

People who have done this particular intestine-friendly eating regimen before warn me I will start to experience pregnancy-strength cravings for some of my favorite food about halfway through. So far I've had two food-related dreams, one about Diet Coke (and I'm a Pepsi person, so um wtf) and one about Jimmy John's, which is especially weird because if I could have anything I wanted right now, Jimmy John's wouldn't necessarily be on the top of my list. Although I wouldn't refuse a #9 Italian Club right now. I wouldn't refuse it.

I think more than the food, what I am craving right now is some kind of good news.

Guilt: "Maria, darling, you can't be serious. You got up this morning and stood on two functioning legs. You drove a car that you own to a job that pays you. You ate food for each meal. Your husband called to say hello and he has a beard. Your dog pretty much lives and breathes for you. Don't EVEN with the "I need some good news."

I'm sorry, I'm ungrateful, but I want to work through that by still being honest with you and telling you that in addition to a Diet Coke (seriously what is happening) I also want some good news. I am craving a phone call; an email; a Facebook message for goodness' sake with something that would CHANGE things. I'm craving that speeding up of my heart, the flash of heat to my face, the scrambling for my phone to call other people and tell THEM the good news.

And I'm craving the Good News Cheeseburger that will follow. Just you wait.

I know I haven't been around in a while. Well, I wrote something today. Here it is. Do you like it?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Heart in Israel

So it's day time right now and it actually feels like day time in my body. Kind of. At least I'm not dozing off every 20 minutes and having to spend 5 minutes upon waking up trying to figure out where I am. It is much harder to adjust to coming back from a time-zone change like that (10 hours ahead) than it is going into it. But we're back from Israel.

I still have to pinch myself every morning that we were there. It was incredible, to say the least. It was life-changing. It was different, and uncomfortable, and so painfully beautiful. It was smelly and noisy and stressful and relaxing and I didn't like the food and I loved the people and some things scared me and other things inspired me and the climate was a lot like Phoenix, which my skin was happy about.

My current project is furiously writing down each day's itinerary in my journal. I'm spending my lunch breaks chewing pen caps and going through photos, trying to piece together what we did each day by looking at what I was wearing in each picture. We saw so much. We went all over that beautiful, stubborn country and I loved every single inch and footstep.

I'm planning to share more about the sites we saw and all that we learned in this blog, but what I want to write about right now is a feeling; or a lesson I learned or at least wrestled with while I was there. It turns out being where Jesus lived and walked and taught and wept dredges up some stuff, you know?

Before I go any further, though, I have to give a shout out to Morning Star Tours. If you are ever planning a trip to the Holy Land, USE THEM. And request Shmulik as your guide. He is an absolute ENCYCLOPEDIA on Israel, Jesus, the Old Testament, and British accents. I can't imagine what our trip would've been like without him - each site was absolutely fascinating but we were never sorry to have to get back on the bus because he would have some ridiculous story to tell.

So, being in Jerusalem was really something. It was a culture shock, first and foremost. The food seemed strange, the people were somewhat rude, the shop keepers were aggressive and every structure was drop-dead gorgeous. On our second day, we visited the temple steps that were built during King Herod's Second Temple Period. This Herod is the one that died right around the time Jesus was born, and this is the temple Jesus would have visited. Herod made the steps difficult to navigate - one long step, one narrow, one long, one narrow and etc. - so that people couldn't run down them away from the temple. (This wasn't a holy thing. This was a money thing, I'm guessing.)

And in front of the steps are dozens and dozens of little stone structures (they reminded me of the "famine houses" we saw in the Burren in Ireland) that Shmulik said were the ritual baths, where Jews would have washed themselves before going up to the temple courtyard.

Jesus walked up these very steps, and He likely spent some time teaching on them as well, because that was common back then. I wanted to sleep on them. To eat on them. To spend the whole rest of our trip on them. I wanted to look in every single direction from them and wonder "did he see this?" And I wanted to touch them and take them with me.

But at the same time all I could suddenly hear was Mark 2:17, where Jesus tells the Pharisees that He didn't come for the righteous, but for the sinners; because it's not the healthy who need a doctor.

I have no idea where it came from.

I was not sitting there thinking I am "righteous" or not a sinner. What I was thinking was - I am a boring sinner. I am an ugly sinner but a boring one; I don't cheat people out of money and I'm not a prostitute. I believe in Jesus but I lie and I'm lazy and I manipulate people and I'm proud. But these are boring and not showy and not always noticeable. And suddenly I had this thought - He would've ignored me! If we had been here at the same time, He would've ignored me.

It's like that feeling in school, when maybe you're doing really well in a subject so the teacher gives all her attention to the kids who are struggling, and suddenly you feel left out and sad. And again it's not that I was thinking "I am perfect so I wouldn't have needed him," it's that I was thinking "I already believed in Him, so would He have wasted time on me?" Or, maybe more accurately, "I wonder if He would have liked me enough to spend time with me" and then, answering, "no."

I went around for days ruminating on that, mourning over it, even waking up in the middle of the night in our hotel and crying over it. It broke my heart. To think He would've ignored me. And I started journaling about what I wanted - what did I want? I didn't know. I wanted Him to tell me that He wouldn't've ignored me; that He's not ignoring me now; that I mean something to Him. And then I realized that if He told me those things, I would think less of Him. Who am I that He'd think of me? Do I want a God who would? Could He still be Power and Might then?

As the days went on and we went to more and more places, I wouldn't say I ever came to terms with it, just that it softened to make room for all the other things going on in me - wonder, gratitude, repeat. It was such an unbelievable gift to be there and I felt that, and it made me feel loved even despite.

But when I got home I was talking to my mentor about it and she smiled a little bit and asked me - are you the "healthy?"

Then she brought up the story of the 99 sheep, and the one goes missing, and He goes after it. I said, yes! Perfect example! I'm the 99. The timid, boring ones who are easily hearded and scared to toe the line; never the squeaky wheel. And now I'm feeling hurt that He's ignoring me for the one.

(Now I picture Jesus taking off his glasses, rubbing his eyes, and sighing, because how do I manage to get every single thing wrong?)

"We're all the one," my mentor said. "That's the point."

We're all the sick. Who knew that could be so difficult to figure out? Or that it could make someone so happy?

More to come.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "Am I Over-Sharing" Conversation

So, a few things. I haven't written much lately, and there are a few reasons for that.

First is our upcoming trip to Israel in less than two weeks. Currently I'm in the "OH SHIT" stage of the pre-trip emotional roller coaster, where I wake up at 2 am every night to write down something I'm terrified I'll forget to pack ("BUG SPRAY") and I spend all day convincing myself that I don't love Jesus enough to walk where He walked; you know, just your average pre-travel psychosis.

Then there are the freelance assigments I've received this month, on top of my usual nightly writing, and I'm super grateful for that but deadlines are just so suffocating.

Then there is my general waffling about privacy and blogging and what they mean to me and which one I should value more and why I'm wrong after I make that choice.

I've been giving a lot of thought to my online presence and how much of one I want to have. Last week I found this delicious blog called "Wait by Why" and they did a brilliant tongue-in-cheek breakdown of why everyone becomes their worst selves on Facebook, and I gave myself a headache with how furiously I was nodding in agreement.

I look at Facebook every day, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. And every time I consider updating my "status" I find myself in a sweat-inducing existential crisis about why anyone else would or should care about my weekend plans and whether I'm adding or detracting from the goodness in the world and you know, this and that. And every time I read all of YOU people's updates, I find myself getting really disproportionately annoyed. You just can't possibly imagine how little I care about your trip to the nail salon, and I want you to sit there and listen to how little I care, and then I want you to give me back the 5 seconds it took me to read about it!

There is also the case of people who over-like, or over-engage, or over-whatever themselves online. There is an etiquette to social media, which I don't think is unreasonable to say, and some people simply do not follow it. A month or so ago I realized that every. single. time. I posted something on Facebook or Instagram, it was truthfully less than 10 minutes before this same person would either "like" it or comment on it. I don't know this person particularly well, though we are acquaintances. He is a married dude around my age. And so all of that added to the just general weirdness I felt, I suppose.

After a while I decided to block him, and I felt so self-righteous in doing it; convincing myself that this is what Blake Lively must feel like walking down the street and all that. (Adoring fans) But then I had to face facts, that I am the one posting pictures about personal and private moments and "status updates" and what have you - how can I fault someone for engaging with that?

I follow the Eisley girls on Instagram and they are adorable and fun and I love their updates, but it's mostly baby pictures and baby feet and hands and snot and what-have-you - and oh my word, the comments! The other day I saw a photo of one of the babies under which a commenter, who admitted to being a fan and so presumably did not know the girls in person, had written "I love your daughter so much I feel physical pain when I look at her - I can't imagine how YOU feel!" I felt so gross after that that I almost got out of the line at Chipotle. (I didn't though, obvs. Barbacoa.) This stuff is creepy as hell, but are the posters inviting it? Or at least enabling it?

Ultimately I decided that blocking the above referenced dude was still the right thing to do, and I still believe there is an etiquette to the whole thing, (it started to feel like a dude with a crush trying to get my attention, and that is yuck) but it did get my wheels turning about exactly what I want out of being on social media, and I'm not sure I like my honest-to-goodness answers, which are essentially:

1. To look at people I'm jealous of so that I can try to be more like them
2. To try to make other people jealous of me

And honestly, that's about it, and that's ugly.

Now Twitter is a bit different - I follow mostly comedians and reporters, and I get news and laughs from that and that's ok with me. But Facebook and Instagram... I just don't know. I do like staying in touch with friends but most friends are using it less and less if my observations are correct, and I talk to my closest friends via text and email much more than through social media anyway. Blogging is different, I assure you, but I am also giving some thought to how personal I want to be here. We can write about ideas without me having to tell you about my medical history and whether my parents loved me enough as a child, yes? (They did)

What do you think?