Projects

17 Things to Bid Farewell to 2017

We began this blog in January of 2017. And now we’ve come twelve months hence- the closing of a year. We measure our days using this 365 cycle, relying on our history, our tradition, relying on the wisdom of cycles and systems and celestial rotations beyond our capacity to control. We do not need to measure time for it to change us; it does that all on its own. Rather it is our measuring of it that throws us most often into the moment of reflecting on what its passage has created. We each reflected on thirty years of life as we passed this milestone, but now Maggie and I look at just one year. Just these 365 days. What has their imprint been, what do we want to remember, what do we keep and what leave behind as we head forward into 2018? So naturally, I return to my roots: a list!


You know those lists that are like “10 Things You Need to Know Today!”?

Well, here are 17 Things I Want to Say Today (your needing to know these things is up for debate- you can determine that!)

  1.  Carnevale-A farewell to flesh. I stopped eating meat this year, though I never started calling myself a Pescatarian (I still occasionally eat fish). Instead, I sheepishly (pun intended) just continue to qualify my actions by saying “I haven’t eaten meat since February,” which feels somehow different than assuming a labeled identity. I’m describing my behavior- a habitual choice- while not having to take up a personal descriptor and claim a tribe. I certainly have reasons that this feels right to me currently, but I didn’t at the onset make some deliberate and highly purpose-filled decision to stop. I wasn’t to achieve a specific health goal or launch a personal moral crusade. I’m not trying to convert anyone (yet). I just began around Lent to forgo meat, and I haven’t gone back. I’ve had the sporadic bite-ful, mostly accidentally, of something containing meat, and each time have realized I’m not ready to return to eating flesh. And truth be told, I suppose I wonder if talking about our behaviors, choices, and opinions instead of describing ourselves as certain types of people might help us talk to one another. We can’t necessarily control the labels placed on us by others—male, female, black, white—but we do actually control what we call ourselves. So for now, I’m not a Vegetarian, I’m a person choosing not to eat meat. And if you are curious why, maybe we’re in a better starting place because I haven’t led off with a category, but an action. Though useful and necessary, labels tend to neaten up and consolidate, while I hope a description might invite dialogue.
  2. New Orleans…Or how after talking for years about how I never go anywhere except home for holidays/weddings/births/funerals/showers, I finally went on a trip literally anywhere else. In other words, for really the first time since my overseas adventures, I took myself to a completely unknown place for three days and explored. My friend Val and I went to New Orleans— a new spot for both of us—and enjoyed museuming, eating, drinking, music, and perhaps most importantly, our favorite activity: just strolling around with our eyes open. Turns out fortunately that we are good travel companions, which will most certainly be something to keep in mind when I remember that having done it before, it is totally possible to take time off, plan a trip, go on a trip, and enjoy a trip. I’m eyeing Yellowstone…Val?
  3. Fellowship of the Triangle: In launching this blog, sharing our thoughts about one another, our friendship, growing older, change, my already life-giving relationship with Maggie and Jillian only deepened. And this is a beautiful thing. I loved them intensely before, but in looking forward to the next thirty years (maybe the next thirty after that, inshallah) I’m so blessed to know that I have these two ladies in my life. The blog may end, but our relationship is like Celine Dion crooning on the bow of the Titanic about her heart going on and on. Wait, scratch that. Our friendship is  a lot better than that.
  4. Babies. And Hope.I’ve visited this topic in other posts throughout the year. I have no kids of my own, but my life is now brimming with little people that I interact with regularly: the children of my sisters, cousins, and friends. There have been too many discouraging moments over the span of this year—the current chaos of our government, natural disasters, mass shootings, and seemingly increasingly vitriolic discussion in our cultural conversation (it didn’t seem possible to increase THAT after last year, but ah well)—but I must concede that we continue hoping. My hope is that we are simply better to one another; not that we are right or capable of changing someone’s mind, but that we see Christ in the stranger (or the Republican, Democrat, man, woman, immigrant—fill in your trigger). When I feel discouraged, I remember that these little people still need a world to grow up into, and I want my life to reflect a more loving and empathetic world. My sister recently asked me to be Godmother to my nephew Conor, and I take incredibly seriously the responsibility of nurturing the spiritual upbringing of a child. So in spite of the exhausting news cycle, there’s no throwing up my hands in disgust and fatigue; I have things to do, and I have to keep hoping.
  5. Stillness. Believe it or not, I’m still thinking about Tech Sabbath. So much so, that I suggested to Maggie that we incorporate some screen-free time into our Advent practices this year. We won’t be taking full days away from tech, but weekly spans of time in which we deliberately and consciously step away from our technologies. I’m trying to not feel alarmist about what screens are doing to my brain without me even fully being aware of the impact, but it does feel scary to me to reflect on the frequency with which I have the itch to look at my phone. God gave humans an incredible capacity to dream, create, and invent, so I’m not denigrating our technologies; I just want to make sure I’m using the tools and not letting the tool use me. I agree with the theologians who argue that God has no bad things in His Creation—there is nothing inherently good or sinful in and of itself, be it food, sex, or your KindleFire. Rather, it is our use or abuse of these things that leads us to glorify God or alternately, to move further from good. With technology infiltrating every single aspect of our lives now, practically, I want to make sure I can still find stillness within the signals, calm in the tweetstorm (I don’t actually tweet, this just sounded good), freedom from finger-tapping.
  6. Roundabout! I got a new gig this year with Roundabout Theatre Company after almost six amazing years of running wardrobe with Manhattan Theatre Club. Change is not always easy to me (beginnings and endings trigger quite a bit of anxiety for me), and I also tend to feel incredibly loyal to people and places that mean something to me. So a transition that required me to leave my former daily contact with dear colleagues and friends, take on more responsibility, and step into something of an unknown was a huge challenge and a weighty decision. That said, I am tremendously glad I took the leap. It’s meant great things for my world, like increased job stability, new friends and colleagues, and a renewed sense of my own capabilities and capacity in my career. This was undoubtedly one of the largest and best changes that happened in my life this year, and I continue to be grateful for what it means.
  7. Keep Waking Up. Yes, I am borrowing from the cultural catch-phrase of becoming “woke” (and I’m not the hugest fan of catch-phrases) but this year I was continually reminded of all that I do not know and cannot inherently and obviously see in this world. I can only understand certain things in my small sphere, and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s even difficult to know ourselves. On the flip side, though, this year also reminded of the enormous capacity of humans to continue expanding knowledge and empathy. I think this empathy-expansion is like a muscle we must vigilantly exercise to keep it from atrophying; it is up to us to remain open people. We can’t know everything, but we can always be open to learning and listening, and fight the temptation and comfort of becoming rigid in our opinions and viewpoints. I’m going to keep trying, and I take no shame in the simple statement that there are far more things I DON’T know than what I DO.
  8. My Top Pop Culture Discoveries 2017: I was a bit late to the party, viewing this relatively far after its release buzz, but I really enjoyed The Crown on Netflix, and also (more Brits, you say!?) the sooner we can get more seasons of Great British Baking Show on Netflix the better, in my opinion. I also really enjoyed a fairly short BBC series drama on Netflix called Doctor Foster. A new podcast I discovered this year is ‘It’s Been a Minute With Sam Sanders’ (NPR), as I really enjoy Sam’s positivity and the warmth he shows in speaking with his guests and listeners. I didn’t see many films this year, but I loved the nostalgia of the Star Wars movie Rogue One, which I saw in early January, so I’ll say it counts for a 2017 movie! My favorite new musical I saw this year was ‘Groundhog Day,’ and not just because I worked on it so am most definitely biased! I also loved seeing my friend Bob (husband to my friend Andrea) in a wonderful small Off-Broadway musical called ‘Baghdaddy.’ It was about the mishandling of intelligence leading to the start of the Iraq War, and it was both tragic and hilarious all at once. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.
  9. Best Thing I Read this Year: I have an unfortunate tendency to forget what I’ve read as soon as I dive into the next book, but alas! (It’s one reason I have a word document on my computer with a list of completed books.) Probably my favorite memoir I read was Shrill, by Lindy West, and my favorite fiction was still, I maintain, (as I wrote about in an previous blog), The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Another surprise favorite was Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. He creates these beautiful word spaces in the mini-chapters of his novelette that are nice to slip in and out of.
  10. Boundaries and Balance. I can say categorically that I’ve done a better job this year at setting some boundaries of time management, rather than compulsively saying yes every time someone asks me to work or do something. I’ve made careful decisions about how many hours to tack on with freelance jobs outside of my regular show schedule, resisting some of my impulse to over-schedule my work calendar with various projects (ah, the freelance juggle). Mostly I’ve left my one day off a week as untouchable, so I haven’t gone for weeks on end without a day off, and I’ve also been increasingly confident at telling people what works best for me with scheduling, instead of feeling like I should work as much as the person will possibly let me…even if that results in me being exhausted and miserable. Setting some boundaries allowed me to have some balance for other things that give me life—time with friends, new experiences, travel, yoga, church—and it gives me enough space so that I can more often enjoy work when I AM working, instead of just feeling like I’m slogging through it. For years after I arrived in New York, I felt I needed to work every single hour and minute that someone asked me to, and while I still feel tremendously guilty when I am not working every minute and hour, at least I’ve gotten better at saying no, and I’m working on the guilt part? We’ll say it’s a start.
  11. Best Practices: Speaking of careers, at the beginning of the year I set myself a goal to hold myself to high standards in my working life regarding communication and respect for the time and efforts of others, especially as I took on more responsibility. I want to have an earnest golden rule principle: treating other people in the workplace the way I hope to be treated. One side of this is trying to evaluate what is true kindness to the other person in the situation (honesty and transparency are pretty much the way to go, even if you have to ultimately give someone disappointing news and end up feeling like the bad guy). The other side of this is not getting frustrated when other people do not reciprocate and behave oppositely (ie. Poor/absence of communication, focusing on petty issues, time waste, etc.) I have no grand point to make about this, since it is an ongoing practice. I feel just as committed to this idea of best practices as I did in the beginning of the year. I am not going to let other people change the way I act. Just because someone is a poor communicator, that doesn’t mean I am going to start withholding information. Just because someone else drops a ball, I’m not going to drop balls or procrastinate on things that other people are waiting on me to complete. Importantly, though I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m also going to have as much grace, flexibility (and at times forgiveness) as I can for the other ways that people work and operate (and sometimes flub) around me!
  12. 2018 Goal: Do more things that make me nervous. Things that I did like this in 2017 turned out to be pretty darn wonderful. Things like the Women’s March on Washington. Starting a new job. Taking an overnight bus to North Carolina to surprise my entire family for Thanksgiving/my nephew’s first birthday. I fretted anxiously about the details, logistics, and possible scenarios around these things, then went through with them, and when all was said and done, was tremendously happy I had. Next year I hope to look for more of these opportunities, lean into the discomfort, and see what happens!
  13. Thanks legs, thanks feet. Thanks body. After a stress fracture in my heelbone in early 2016, followed by anterior tibialis and achilles heel tendonitis, and THEN a strain in my high hamstring, part of me felt like I would never again feel comfortable in my own legs and feet while I walked around New York City. These were minor injuries and pains compared to what many people deal with chronically, and I’m not trying to compare or complain. What I’m trying to say is that prior to these injuries, I did not appreciate enough my pain free moments, deep yoga practices, and long walks the way I currently do. Of course I will experience pain, illness, and injury in the future, along with the inevitability of aging, but as my body continued to heal from last year’s injuries over the course of this year, I actually started having some gratitude for my body. Maybe a tiny bit of body acceptance, which feels a little radical to me. At any rate, I’ve been feeling grateful when I can for my own physical form, for its enormous capacity to heal. I’m trying to notice not only aches, twinges and fatigue, the messiness at times of the human body, but instead acknowledge and give thanks for energetic moments, pain-free activity, and the satisfaction of breath, movement and my own physical experience of the world around me.
  14. Chaos- Or rather, using chaos to help us let go of our illusion of control. You only need to listen to the news for a few minutes to witness the fragility of human life and experience. It is not hyperbole to say that people can and do have their entire universes transformed in an instant.  Natural disasters, political turmoil, threat of nuclear conflict with North Korea, terrorist attacks in my own city and many others…fear is a natural response to this constant parade of suggestions that our world could implode at any minute. I’ve actually been trying to think of this reality instead as a way to disentangle and detach myself from the (laughable) concept that I could ever reign my life into an orderly, neat, whole entity. We lay plans, we try our best, we strive, we build, but we must also live with the knowledge that we may have to give up literally everything at any time. So maybe it is best to hold onto things a little more loosely, and to quit grasping so hard—to hold gently onto my possessions, abilities, ambitions, and dreams, instead of anchoring myself to them. A metaphor to illustrate, perhaps? When people are in car accidents and they are tense their muscles, their injuries are often far worse than when the muscles are relaxed and unclenched. As life happens, collisions necessarily happen. So time to start practicing the art of release.
  15. Maggie and I can write a book. And maybe we will. Thanks to the 3:30 project, I have written more this year than I have since college and my year of blogging while I was serving overseas in Jerusalem. Sitting at my laptop, I remembered how satisfying and yet at times frustrating it is to try and craft a perfectly expressive sentence. Also how much time it takes. I’ve said this all along, but I wrote because even if no one read it, the practice of figuring out what I truly felt or thought about a topic and articulating it was clarifying, and at times, therapeutic. Midway through this year Maggie and I read a book together by a woman not much older than us. I think we were both struck in reading the book that it was an exploration of her life experience, a millennial just like us, and that people were still interested in reading her story. Suddenly it seemed far closer to imagine just writing something more developed together—that maybe it’s okay to keep telling simple human stories, even if our lives or thoughts don’t strike us as revolutionary or remarkable much of the time. So while this blog may come to its conclusion, Maggie and I are exploring what it might mean to write something together in the future. Who knows what 2018 or 2019 will hold, and maybe they will hold words some of you might be interested in reading. At the very least, I think we could enjoy the process of writing together.
  16. Alone-ness. Speaking of body acceptance. I also think that turning 30 and still being single has led me to a new kind of acceptance of my own independence. My upbringing primarily showed me examples of people who lived in pairs, a Noah’s Ark of two by twos, which is how I then naturally envisioned my life playing out. For a long time in my twenties, not having a partner therefore seemed something of a failure on my part- a way in which I was not fully adult or growing up. I think I  let that reflect too heavily on how I saw myself. Perhaps moving into my thirties is merely showing me the importance of all my adult relationships, along with the important aspect of living within a community. There is no longer a time table or set of expectations surrounding my need to find certain types of relationships (my mother’s marrying age of 24 no longer looms large in my consciousness, but is far in my rearview). Perhaps marriage will one day be in my future, but I think in the meantime I am becoming more capable of seeing a partnership as an outpouring and expansion of the love I already have within me, rather than an attempt to fill an emotional hole, “complete” myself, or check off a box deemed by my society and cultural as a natural developmental progression. Being single does not mean you aren’t in fulfilling and deeply developed relationships, and I appreciate that daily.
  17. You. Here’s the final thing I need to say in 2017; to YOU, the person reading this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being in my life and Maggie and Jillian’s lives. Thank you for holding space in your time and in your minds and hearts for our offering of words. Thank you for responding, either online, in email, or in conversation with us. I said before that I’d write even if we had zero readers, but the fact is that we DID have readers. Many people so important to us took the time to read, and having you has humbled and honored me. In the constant clamor for our minutes and our attention in modern life, you gifted us with some of yours, and I cannot express resoundingly enough how much it is appreciated, and how meaningful it is to have shared this yearlong project with you. I think when we give careful attention to the thoughts, ideas, soul searching, and humor of one another, we become more human—more fully ourselves—so I say again, thank you, thank you, thank you. You have nurtured my humanity.
3:30 Thursday, Projects

Dear Hollywood…Once was Enough

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret, and Jillian. Several months ago, we wrote about our favorite movies—the ones we return to again and again. This month we flip that around and explore movies that we never need to see again…for varied reasons. I’m up first (Mary Margaret), and to be perfectly honest, I had no idea that this would come out of me when I sat down to write, so I’m hoping for your grace as I try to articulate a difficult subject. 

12 Years a Slave

Undoubtedly this movie is tremendously acted, with impeccable production design, stunning visuals, and of great historical relevance, but having watched once, I can also say that I never need to see this movie again. This movie falls into a category that I find a bit tricky, because I feel like people don’t so much watch or enjoy a movie like this, but rather, they submit or subject themselves to it. Films like this develop the status of being labeled “important,” and then groaning under their powerful historical weight, they suddenly become the sort of films that people do not simply want to see, but perhaps more significantly, feel they should see. In a country and culture still deeply and painfully grappling with its legacy of slavery, systemic and self-selected segregation, and racism, some of us feel the need to attempt a head-on look at our past; one way we seek to do this is through the medium of film and other arts. I know I may be generalizing or that this may sound judgmental, but I sometimes feel like I hear white, educated, liberal people falling over themselves to say how excellent and amazing movies like this are, without being truly honest with themselves or others about how the movie actually impacted them. I’m not suggesting that the movie is not of cinematic excellent and deserving of its accolades, but rather that there’s a different sort of conversation that occurs when a movie takes on certain grave, (almost sacred), and relevant social subject matter. I sometimes feel that the vociferous adulation of “important” films is used as if to prove some point about one’s level of social consciousness and awareness. Incidentally, this film came out the same year that the Black Lives Matter movement began, and I admit a part of me wonders if the impulse to discuss the power of this film is also an attempt to signal one’s “woke-ness” to the racial divides coursing through both our history and everyday reality. In other words, “I appreciated this film, therefore see how racially sensitive and enlightened I am.” I am not criticizing the impulse to signal open-mindedness, but I want us to be honest about what we mean and the limits of this kind of signaling.

So I will be frank about my experience: This movie was truly difficult to watch, and I can honestly admit I did not enjoy the experience of sitting through it. Great acting does not make seeing people inhumanely chained in the hold of a ship, or being raped, or being flogged to within an inch of their lives a pleasant or good experience (not that I’m suggesting this as the ultimate goal of art, to be clear). In fact, I did not watch the movie all in one sitting, and I had to force myself to return to finish the last hour, driven by an innate sense of guilt that I should face these images. These events truly happened to people, so who was I to say that I wanted to look away from viewing a fictional presentation of these atrocities on a screen?

The story was undoubtedly fascinating, the performances powerful, and I do not regret seeing the film…but once was enough. Firstly because I do not have to convince myself that winning awards or being historically significant means I must like a film; I did not like watching this film. I felt sort of sick and emotionally wrung out, but not in the cathartic way that certain songs, films, and books elicit. Secondly (and closely linked) because I think we need to remember that simply subjecting ourselves to the difficult facts of our past is not some sort of atonement or exculpation for those events. I am not a better, more purified person for simply having watched 12 Years a Slave and experiencing an emotional reaction to its raw intensity. I haven’t done anything to help heal the wounds that the institution of slavery drove deeply into the core of this country.

Sorry, folks, there are just no moral merit badges handed out because you watched a movie that exposed you to difficult truths. There is always the temptation to substitute emotional reactions for true changes of heart or meaningful action, and I think we must guard against this. Art is one of the most powerful ways we can be awakened to certain heartbreaking realities, but we can’t get stuck in the moment of realization or emotion and feel the work is done somehow, when that’s really the point where the true work begins. I don’t need to revisit this movie to remember that the gut-wrench it left with me is a merely an infinitesimally small twinge of the pain that we must continue to try and heal in our nation. It is a pain not mine to claim, a pain inflicted undoubtedly by some of my own ancestors as white Americans, but also a pain that I pray I might have a part in further distancing ourselves from.

So view this film and others like it–if you truly want to. Dare to ask yourself the context that brought you to watch it, and try to recognize how your own race, gender, age, cultural identification, history, and bias may play a part in reaction to the film. Perhaps most importantly, remember emotion isn’t action; you may not have to watch the film again, but I think we must keep trying to face the hard truths- again, and again.

 

 

3:30 Thursday, Motivation Monday, Something Swell on Saturday

Falling Forward…

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by life long friends: this month,  Maggie and Mary Margaret muse on the arrival of the autumnal season! This week Mary Margaret admits to being less than thrilled to see summer slip away, but asks herself to confront that attitude. 

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that fall was their favorite season in the city…well, I’d say it might help make a dent in the rent on my Brooklyn apartment. (But who’s passing out these proverbial dimes for common occurrences anyway? Put them in touch with me, please.)

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The love of fall in New York runs deep, and once the conversation begins, inevitably leads to talk of sweaters and boots, crisp, cool air, pumpkin-spiced everything, Halloween and Thanksgiving. While the autumnal season was a different matter altogether when I lived in Georgia, I’m afraid that now I feel twinges of guilt at not sharing completely in everyone else’s harvest exaltations (bring on the cornucopias!). It’s not that I dislike fall, exactly; pears are, after all, my favorite fruit.

Honestly fall, it’s just what you portend that I dread: (Now it’s time for me to make a cultural reference to a wildly popular television show that I don’t watch…)

Winter is coming.

People complain vociferously about the heat and smells of July and August in NYC, but I can’t help but love summer here with long days, sunny parks, free outdoor concerts and yoga classes, languid evenings when I feel like I could walk the city sidewalks forever. As summer winds to its conclusion, though, I find it hard to combat the images I see stretched out before me. I feel in that exquisitely crisp air the air that follows close behind—bitter, sometimes painful, winter winds that leave me seeking the shortest distance between one building and another, scurrying around without peripheral vision, which has been obliterated by my cocoon of hat and scarf and hood. I know that the crunchy dry leaves under my feet signal that soon my skin will get so dry and raw that it will split open constantly at work, threatening to spread scarlet spots onto the costumes I’m working with. I know that each day for many months ahead will allow me fewer and fewer minutes in which to seek out sunlight.

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I fully understand that the world has far more inhospitable winter climates than New York. I recognize the incredible privilege of owning warm clothes and living and working in heated spaces. At the same time that I try to remind myself of these factors, perhaps I am also allowed to concede that winter is just simply more tiring to this heat-loving southern girl.  Maggie and I have talked often about the need to resist the complaining impulse, which is ever close at hand, but I think there is also a space we can hold to acknowledge that something is simply difficult for us. Winter is coming. And winter is not my favorite, taking a greater toll on me physically and emotionally than any other time of year.

I think there could actually be something beneficial in naming this as a personal challenge for me, so that I can do two things in the immediate present…

  1. Not skip over the lovely things of fall by mentally somersaulting into my frigid future.
  2. Rather than wallowing in memories of unpleasant winters past, use those memories to prepare myself for what lies ahead.

Since we all know I love a list, I see no better place to begin than by finding some things I can delight in immediately now that fall has arrived; then, beginning to name some simple reminders of things I can do to have a healthier, more balanced winter…I think sometimes it takes surprisingly little to challenge a sense of dread with a measure of joyful expectation.

  1. Things to love in autumn:

*The brilliant leaves in Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery near my house

*Pumpkin, yes pumpkin-flavored stuff (I admit it, I like it- Sorry! Unoriginal but true!) Also, tiny pumpkins that are suddenly sold everywhere. They are the most adorable of gourds; just admit it.

*Knitting weather (one of my favorite hobbies is so much nicer this time of year)

*Scary Halloween movies on Netflix. I can’t fully explain my love of silly horror movies, but there it is.

*Warm soup, hot coffee

*University of Georgia football- I don’t always get to watch, since I work on Saturdays, but I still enjoy keeping up with the season!

  1. Ways to make this winter more bearable:

*Candles: This is ultra-simple, but the act of lighting a candle in my home is inexplicably warming and soothing to my soul in the dark days of winter

*Yoga, yoga, yoga. Winter makes me tense because of the sheer act of bracing against the cold. By having a regular plan to practice several times a week, I can help myself from becoming a solid mass of nerves and clenched muscle.

*Plan a break: It was very helpful to me last year to know that I would be able to leave New York for a while and visit Georgia in January. Of course it is also winter in Georgia, but it was immensely helpful to have a momentary break from the intensity of New York winter specifically.

*Long novels, more writing, more learning. I want to challenge myself this year to see what I can do when the weather drives me indoors. With less desire to take my long rambling walks, what indoor adventures and pursuits of the mind can I engage with this year?

So there’s somewhere for me to start. When Maggie suggested that we write about the season of fall as a general topic, I knew that I needed to confront head-on the negativity that I felt creeping in these past two weeks as temperatures started to drop. I’m not exactly ready to join the fall-e-lu-jah chorus and make a joyful noise, but even though winter is coming (scarier than Halloween!!), I already feel a little better (by leaning harder into a spirit of thanks-giving, another excellent fall holiday!).

Never underestimate the power of the list, especially lists that help us count our blessing.

Projects

Two Person Book Club: Searching For Sunday, Part 1

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. Maggie and Mary Margaret often read books in tandem; we call it our two-person book club. As summer ends and many people begin new autumn routines, this sometimes involves seeking out a new church, recommitting to church attendance, or maybe simply pondering church in general. For September, we bring you (in two parts) our thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

I learned while researching my own kind (oh, those Millennials!) for our recent topic that my generation is less religious than Gen X, far less churched than the Boomers, and way, way less doctrine-steeped than the Greatest Generation. We appear to be drifting away in droves from our religious institutions, and like Rachel Held Evans describes in her book, instead using Sunday as a chance to roll over, hit the snooze button, and eventually emerge from our covers to a communion table of pancakes and coffee.

I often work Sundays because of theatre matinees, so while this description resonates less with me, I can certainly relate to the fact that when I attend my church in midtown Manhattan, I don’t look around and see an overwhelming number of people in my demographic. Part of this is simply urban life; New York ain’t no Bible-belt, so actually fewer people in any demographic are regular church attendees. In the South it seems like people simply ask what church you go to, but up here, it isn’t infrequent to meet people who grew up in a household without any ties to organized religion. My peers and I are also in a grey zone in terms of life development, you might say—a span between higher education (crisis of faith!! I just took an anthropology class!), marriages and then having children, which is when you see many people seeking to reintroduce church into their lives.

No insult to Ms. Held Evans, but her book wasn’t a mind-blowing revolution to me; mostly because I’ve had so many similar thoughts to the ones she describes. I did not grow up Evangelical, but I grew up Southern in a church-going household, and I too have spent much of life going through small revivals—continuously renegotiating my relationship to my faith and to the church. She organizes her book by the sacraments, exploring these different rites as a means to understand a predominantly Millennial viewpoint on the modern American church. Her book was comforting to read in its familiarity; her descriptions of periods of doubt, frustration with overly political, non-inclusive actions of the church, the constant push and pull on the individual heart and mind by the people and ideals of the church—in how many conversations, journal pages, and soul-searching sessions have I grappled with these same topics?

So why ultimately do I belong to a church? Why do I, a 30-year old single woman without any children feel the desire to engage in a faith community? Why is simply individual prayer or personal faith not enough to sustain me? Why do I, though I see problems and politics and petty grievances in the oh-so-human institutions of the church, still believe it is a worthwhile space to spend time and energy?

For me, this basically all revolves around my non-revolutionary revelation that the church is people. Not a building, not a steeple, not a church council, or diocese. The church is nothing more and nothing less than the living, breathing human souls of people who put their trust in Christ. These bodies, minds, and hearts are the Body of Christ; no building, non-profit organizational structure, website, pamphlet, mission statement—the church is whenever, wherever, however, provided its people are present.

When I think of the church as people, it connects me to people of all denominations from all times in history, from all over the world, speaking in all different tongues, living in dramatically different circumstances. This allows for a radical inclusiveness in what it means to be a Christian, defying our modern American conceptions that being “churched” or “being religious” means buying into some white, middle-class, politically conservative, holier-than-though, heterosexual lifestyle. If my church by definition, though we don’t share a pew on Sunday, includes a Coptic nun in Egypt, a Pentecostal New Zealander, a Malawian Methodist and a gay Episcopal bishop in Sweden, how does this necessarily change my view of what it means to be in the church? How much more expansively can we approach the task of participating in a faith community when we see our inclusion as one small, incomplete aspect of a much larger whole? Can we envision the universal church as something unbounded from the aspects of time, geography, and culture that necessarily affect how individual faith communities worship and act in the world?

When we see the church as people, I think it also allows us to be more forgiving of the failings and missteps of the church, another thing Ms. Held Evans alludes to. The church is made up of flawed sinners, and therefore it will stumble. No individual store-front, brick-and-mortar church, sermon podcast, house-meeting, web-forum group of believers can be everything to it’s believers or “get it all right.” God does not tell us we will find salvation, peace, or life in Church; He tells us through His Church that we will find these things in Him and only Him. Expecting our institutions or even relationships with other believers to fill our Creator-shaped void is a path to disillusionment with participating in a faith community. In my opinion, we must never look to church to complete us; we will always be disappointed. Rather, we go to church to commune, celebrate, and worship that which WILL complete us in the company of others that share this hope.

Another reason I participate in church is because while I make a distinction between organized religion and faith, I believe in the power of church to sustain and support my faith. Confusing the two is wrong, because it leads people to imagine they must agree with everything their pastor or church organization says in order to participate in a faith community, or even be a believer. If our relationship with the church is in fact a relationship, though, this kind of thinking is an unnecessary stumbling block. We don’t agree with everything our friends or spouses say and believe, and yet we have extremely fulfilling relationships with them!

We Millennials are far too often caught up in how we “feel,” and for most of us, we will not constantly feel the presence of Christ, or feel strong and certain in our faith. We will question, we will doubt, and we may feel like the proverbial ship being tossed on the seas. But Ms. Held Evans’ writing about the sacraments was gloriously resonant to me because these are the actions done throughout time by generation after generation that connect Christ’s church across centuries. Since Jesus and His disciples walked this earth, we have in various ways as the church been baptizing, confirming, marrying, confessing, ordaining, anointing the sick, celebrating the Eucharist, and performing last rites. Part of the reason I liked the emphasis on these very specific functions of the church is because sometimes I just need to go to church and behave “as if,” as my mother would say. “As if” I felt confident in my own salvation, or the existence of a loving God, or even “as if” I was truly acknowledging my own errors.

Sometimes I need to participate in the act of kneeling, confessing, communing, reaffirming my Baptism, saying the prayers, and sharing the bread and wine, regardless of where my monkey-brain is on any given day. I need a way to participate in my faith that sometimes doesn’t necessitate feeling or thinking the “right” things, and for this I have long been grateful to the church for keeping these rites and rituals. Christianity is often thought of as more orthodoxy than orthopraxy, with a focus on holding certain beliefs rather than performing certain actions. But for me, I also need that connecting thread of practice binding me to my beliefs and binding me to other believers across time and space. There are times I get so frustrated with my own thoughts and feelings, and I instead need the physical, external encounter with water, oil, wine, bread, and the hands of other believers to sustain me.

I could likely write about this forever, since it’s important to me, and also since my relationship with the church continues to evolve day by day. Essentially, I’m always working on my “it’s complicated” relationship with church because I emphatically believe what Rachel Held Evans and the earliest believers asserted: I am a Christian, and Christianity is not something you do on your own. To walk away from church (meaning the people!) is in essence walking away from my faith. To be a part of Christ is to be a member of His Body—His Church—requiring that no matter how much this imperfect mishmash of people confuse or wound or disappoint me, I must always and ever seek to be in relationship with them.

Projects

Clock Radios and Crickets…Tech Sabbath Part 1

On Sunday, August 13 Maggie and Mary Margaret eschewed phones, computers, and televisions, observing a technology sabbath. This week Mary Margaret shares her insights on her 24-hour screen break. 

August 13, 2017: A midnight to midnight fast completed. No phone, no computer, no screens. I unlocked the screen on my phone once for a friend to do a quick baby-check, (which felt oddly like “cheating”) but upon hearing that no one had gone into labor, off went the phone and popped back into my bag.

My conclusion after this measly 24-hour experiment?I present to you the stages of tech withdrawal…

  1. Anxiety, Panic, Bargaining:This was firstly and overwhelmingly related to the alarm clock situation. I was so concerned that something would go awry with the clock radio, I would sleep the morning away, miss work, get fired, and my life would go down in a fireball of ruins. This didn’t happen. I woke up before the alarm even sounded—maybe because I was so anxious about the alarm.  The funny thing was this anxiety prompting a quibbling with myself about the rules of “no-tech-day,” reasoning, well, maybe it’s okay if I use it as an alarm clock, a wristwatch, or a calculator because I don’t carry those things? But I overruled this bargaining, since this was precisely the point!! I was discovering all the things I rely on my phone for, and how it changed things to do without. I adapted; I  made my plans with my friends on Saturday, I looked at wall clocks, I asked strangers for the time, I mused about the weather, I walked over to a store to check their closing time, I pulled out a pocket calculator. I didn’t mind, but it also made me glad that we can do all of these functions with smartphones, because I like simplicity. I’m not a person who wants a kitchen full of appliances that each do one narrowly specific function (oh the apple corer? Yes, just squeeze that in the cabinet between the tree-nut-only food processor and the rice cooker. NOT!) So I’m grateful that I can listen to music, check my email, see the time, make calls, and do calculations without a purse or home full of devices and gadgets. We can discuss later my actual need to DO any of those things on demand, but suffice it to say I like the streamlining a smartphone permits. Obviously when you rely on one thing and it breaks, you’re more temporarily in the lurch, but for me the inconvenience is outweighed by the maintenance and cost of owning and managing everything separately: wristwatch, alarm clock, calculator, music player, landline phone, television, GPS device, etc.
  2. Sweet, sweet relief. And guilt. Once I was headed towards work, past my concerns about the dreaded oversleeping scenario, I felt the freedom of technology sabbath. I’d released myself from the obligation to call anyone, respond to any texts or emails, or engage with news or social media. And full transparency, part of this relief over not having to engage was directly correlated with current events. I wanted to be blissfully ignorant for 24 hours– a free pass from a self-imposed requirement that I stare into the darkness and acknowledge these most recent occurrences of racism and violence in our country. I didn’t want to know what the president was saying or not saying, and I didn’t want to face any further confirmation of the hatred, divisiveness and fear that Trump’s campaign and presidency has allowed to come bubbling up to the surface from malicious undercurrents of our society. Guilt comes into the equation because our accessibility to information has introduced this idea that we are negligent and wrong to NOT engage with this information. My eagerness to escape the influx of bad news from the past week, North Korea to Virginia and everything in between, points to the wearying effect of this burden of information. I wrote at Lent about limiting the number of news sources I was consuming, and Maggie and I have discussed decreasing the number of times we read about the same disheartening event. I don’t think guilt here is a particularly helpful emotion, nor is simply consuming news for the sake of having thoughts or feelings about the events themselves, but I want to maintain sensitivity and awareness to current events if there is a chance for action that promotes love and justice. I certainly wonder if occasional breaks might help me continue to be shocked and motivated, though, rather than merely fatigued by trying to keep informed.
  3. Temptation and Habit: It wasn’t only the news that I was relieved to escape, though. I actually enjoyed not needing to engage with the phone: not digging around in my purse and not having the phone physically in my hand. Of course, though, I am so used to reaching for it, though, I did have to actively stop myself throughout the day. When you put your phone down it leaves you open to notice the ubiquity of tech around you. A time-traveling visitor from the past or alien from a distant planet dropped into a New York City subway car would be forgiven for thinking that humans had an extra metal appendage attached to our hands, so it was interesting to look around the city trying to spot people who weren’t engaged with or simply carrying a device of some kind. Fighting my own habit of phone attachment was good practice. There’s no reason to pull out my phone with the frequency I do, and noticing when I had the impulse to was illuminating. Screens aside, equally strong was the impulse to fill the silence by turning on music, a podcast, or making a phone call. Which leads to my next point…
  4. Openness and Discovery: Disengaging from tech was about decreasing visual and aural stimulation of all kinds, and I truly found myself listening, watching, and observing more throughout the day. Obvious to state, but I was more tuned in to my surroundings and more present with my own thoughts, because I wasn’t listening to or looking at the thoughts and images of others. I realized how habitual my practice of listening to podcasts on my commute home was when I noticed the hum of crickets in Prospect Park as I walked from the train. Even in the middle of the Brooklyn, these creatures chirp, a natural chorus in the midst of the artificial and mechanical buzz of the city. Undoubtedly the best part of tech-free day was this quiet sitting with myself, which is something I typically think I have to leave my “normal” New York City life to engage with. It’s so simple, but I had some nice thinking time, and even mulled over some future writing topics. In releasing myself from the need to engage during the span of a normal day of work and play, without needing to go on a literal vacation, I found a bit of stillness even within that space.

My verdict then as a naturally anxious and somewhat restless soul? I ended tech-free day thinking: so that was tricky. When can we do it again?

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

I wasn’t sure what to post today. I thought, maybe I should just re-post what Maggie wrote on Wednesday, since she had incredibly wise words for an incredibly confusing and discouraging week. Not to mention, she simply stated so plainly so much of what I think and feel and believe so exquisitely. This week was…I mean…What on earth? Was this the “American carnage” the President referenced in his inaugural address? It certainly felt like American chaos, between the President embarrassing the institution of the Boy Scouts of America, the Senate voting on healthcare, the President firing off random tweets about God and policy changes for transgender individuals in the military, the resignation of the Chief of Staff…I could go on. It was a week that left me asking, where are all the adults? More than that, where are the people with genuine compassion and a commitment to caring for one another and believing the best of one another?

In the face of the wider cultural and political situation, I also know so many people this week directly dealing with moments of personal struggle and grief.  While I’ve lifted up prayers of gratitude for the many blessings in my life,  I’ve also seen my list of others to lift up in prayer grow.

On my 30th birthday, I wrote about how we go through times of darkness and times of light, and this Saturday, I simply want to reaffirm my commitment to not just experiencing and being grateful for light, but reflecting light. In as much as I am able, I want to lift up others, believe in their goodness and value, bring love and support to them. It’s not enough to bask glowingly in the light of positive things in your life, like the outpouring of love I received last week from family and friends. As described in Matthew 5 or the always-popular ditty “This Little Light of Mine,” one does not take a lamp and hide it under a basket, or bushel (although what exactly a bushel remains unclear). One takes the light, puts it on a stand, and tries to let it illumine the household.

So maybe this is less a “something swell” from the past week, and more an affirmation for the next week.

Shine on.

3:30 Thursday, Projects

The times, they are a-changin’

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. In August, we’ll be approaching the 3:30 Project a bit differently. Let us explain… 

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”

-Ecclesiastes 3:1

The 3:30 Project has now reached its seventh month, and seen each of its three triangle members hit the anticipated Big 30! We’ve been so grateful for everyone who has read, commented on our writing (both online and in conversation), shared the blog with someone else, and been overall so supportive of our endeavors! We set out to create a habitual practice of writing and sharing ideas with one another, and we’ve seen some lovely things come out of the commitment we made. Not only has writing been a good way to process the events of the year, we’ve been in even more constant contact with one another. On top of that, I’d say we’ve all done some writing to be proud of.

Every season has its own requirements, though, and we’ve come to a moment of transition. With Jillian expecting the imminent arrival of Fox, and so much going on in life and work, we’re embracing a new format moving ahead, more reflective of what the second half of 2017 holds. Maggie and Mary Margaret will each post on a different Thursday during the month on a shared topic. We then may use the last week of the month to respond to one another’s writing or add something new to the conversation. Jillian will be free to post when and if she has time in these early days and months of motherhood. As much as we shall miss her writings, we know she will have more than enough to keep her busy! We have also chosen to go more free-form with our alternative posts like Motivation Monday and Something Swell on Saturday. You may see these, or other additional content throughout the month, but on a less formulaic basis than previously.

Thanks for reading along with us! We sincerely hope we’ve brought new voices and new ideas to you somehow and we also hope you’ll continue reading along with us as we continue in this new direction! Onward and upward, friends!

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

It’s a no-brainer this week. My birthday was on Wednesday (as you could maybe tell from the amazing post Maggie and Jillian created!)  and throughout the entire day, there was an incredible flood of love and kindness from my family, friends, coworkers, even random strangers (like the barista who gave me a free coffee!) My sisters, in coordination with my friends and cousins, created an incredible and hilarious birthday video for me, they also sent out an alert to stuff my mailbox with cards, my parents sent flowers to my workplace, our company manager at the theatre had a delicious chocolate cake (for me and my co-worker Erik, who also had a b-day yesterday!) The cast of my show signed a card for me, my friends sent texts, calls, Facebook messages…Maggie and Jillian made me cry with their words and pictures, and music.

From start to finish, it was a reminder of what makes our years worth living- the people that we have met throughout our days. The people that God has placed in our lives to love and care for, but also to be loved by and cared for by. I did not dwell on worries about age or regrets of the past on my birthday, or feelings about what I haven’t yet accomplished in my life–  which wouldn’t be completely out of character for me.

My Mom and Dad sent me a box with 30 different gifts wrapped up (how sweet and loving and creative is that? just have to brag on Mom for a minute!) which I’ve decided to open up a little at a time. The cap of my day was selecting a gift from the box to open, which I could feel was some sort of a picture frame. Inside was one of my favorite photographs of my grandfather, my sweet Papoo, and a card that said “Happy Birthday to a Marvelous Keeper of Memories.” My Mom couldn’t have planned this any better. After a day of being reminded of all the amazing people in my life now, those near and far, she was reminding me also of the love that I come from, the love that my years are founded on, the love that came before, that carries on after death, outliving our earthly walk. Birthdays can remind us of the value of a human life; this miracle that we come into the world, then we leave this world, but that undeniably the thread of love connecting one person to another spans over our individual mortal days. I do believe this–new love is born each day, existing love never dies.

Thank you, dear ones!

Projects

Mary Margaret’s Thoughts on 30

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. July 19 was Mary Margaret’s 30th birthday, so here the final member of the triangle to reach this milestone presents her thoughts on hitting three decades. 

Is it really going to happen? I asked myself that earlier this year, slogging through what I would describe as a cold, numbing, autopilot New York winter.

This will sound dramatic, but it’s also honest. Knowing that as minutes kept clicking by, I would soon reach my third decade, and in this particular season of my life, this passage of time felt exhausting. I felt my days less as gifts, more as burdens, and to top if off, I disliked myself for feeling this way. I acknowledge that I was in a deeply negative space, disheartened by the wider political and cultural context of the country and personally discouraged by uncertainty in my own work life. Moreover, this led me to withdraw from family and friends, not wishing to burden anyone else with my own sadness and worry. I’m good at faking it for the general populace, but most people close to me likely knew that I was struggling.

It seemed irrevocable, inevitable and yet impossible that I would suddenly be 30. It’s not the age itself that bothered me especially; it was the fact that it might come upon me while I was so stuck. Time ticked on, but I was mired, uncertain what I even wanted, and therefore uncertain about what direction I should even move in to try and unstuck. I’m a planner. How do you chart the course without any destinations in mind?

I’ll skip to the end of the story for a moment, which is that I’m currently unstuck. A large part of this was related to something I’ve already written about, which was my unexpected opportunity to begin a new job in late May. I’ve loved the opportunity to tackle a new show, work with amazing designer Jane Greenwood (who finally got her Tony award after 21 nominations!), meet so many lovely people, and take on wholly new responsibilities. Not only has it restored my confidence in my own capacity for new challenges, it’s reminding me how much I enjoy and value what I do working in theatre.

I’m not superstitious, but will admit I’ve almost been scared to say how happy this new position has made me. There’s a somewhat silly human trepidation that joy is so ephemeral that voicing it will cause it to vanish. In trying to talk about how hard the past winter was with my Mom the other day, she was initially hesitant, saying she didn’t want to talk about sadness, worried it would take the conversation too far away from the positive chat we’d been having. My point actually was not to dwell on the negativity, though, but to mark it’s ending—to emphasize the lifting of a cloud.

What we’re acknowledging in our sometimes fear of naming joy is a simple truth: we know that no joy, and equally, no sadness lasts forever. I wanted to voice a time of darkness to say how things have changed. Also to voice the darkness to allow that it can and will return, though it may look different. Also to voice the darkness to help me remember later that if it does return, it can go away again.

Here’s what I’m driving at; here’s what I learned in my twenties that I will now try boldly to live out in my thirties. At a certain point, I stepped off the train of academia that neatly organized my time and efforts for the first couple decades of my life. I’ve long ago entered the world of navigating my own course, since you realize pretty quickly that life is not a series of checkable boxes (argh!! frustrating for a person that loves lists!).

So don’t ask me about my ten-year plan, because I’ve decided on this reality- a reality of everything changing all the time. There will be times that I want nothing and times I want everything, there will be times when I’ll strive toward a desired outcome, and times I will fumble without being even able to fathom a way ahead. I will be deeply and crushingly sad. I will be hopeful and joy-filled and optimistic. My ten year plan is to attempt to live on shifting sands, to live with the shifting swells of my own heart, to remember that this exasperating turmoil of even our own thoughts is what each of my fellow human beings is also experiencing.

When we remember this, I think it might lead us to greater compassion for those around us. For me, I also try to remember the constancy of God in spite of my inconsistencies and inconstancies, because there rests my larger hope. I’m going to change as my days tick by. Situations will change as my days tick by. And by the grace of God, I’ll be changing along the way, through whatever joy or darkness I find myself in, into more of who He created me to be.

Hello, 30.

Projects

Something Swell on Saturday

The 3:30 Project is a collaborative blog by three life-long friends: Maggie, Mary Margaret and Jillian. On Saturdays, Mary Margaret plans to post something from the week that made her smile.

There were again a number of smile-worthy moments this week. For instance, I saw three Franciscan nuns in line at the Seven-Eleven store on Tuesday (7/11) waiting for their free slurpee! This faux-holiday of frozen beverages is another one that definitely belongs on our previous post about made-up annual events! Anyway, by far the week’s smiling-est winner was that my friend Faith became engaged to her person–Shawn!  While celebrating their dating anniversary, he asked THE QUESTION (you know the one) and after agreeing, she asked him right back, which may be one of the most adorable things I’ve ever heard.

This news caused me to use a terrible, invented word mash-up to describe this situation while hanging out with Faith on Wednesday in Bryant Park.  I told her I was a joy-eur of her news! I took the word joy, then repurposed the word voyeur, (which is totally the wrong word, given its racy, salacious definition), and what I mean was that I am given joy by seeing their joy! It’s a blessing to have witnessed from the sidelines the growth of their love and relationship from its inception. I remember when Faith first told me that she was seeing this new guy, Shawn, and I could tell from the start that she was (this is the only appropriate word) smitten! Next I got the chance to meet him, hang out with him, see the two of them together, see the way they looked at one another, heard something of how they cared for one another…

Their engagement was not some out-of-the-blue surprise, and for me, that’s the best way– when you feel that it has happened  because it seemed natural and right. Probably most of us have experienced the feeling of hearing news of an engagement and trying to share the celebratory mood while feeling a tug of uncertainty. In wanting the best for people we love and care for, we may still have questions about their choices on many things, including their partner. Ours frequently then becomes the task of trusting the person we love in their choices– acknowledging that as an outsider we can never be fully privy to the complexities and depth of the couple’s relationship. Other times, like now with Faith, the joy is easy, and the news seems like the most obvious thing in the world. It’s not fairy-tales and roses from here on out;  rather, I feel like they can and will face what comes (the good, the bad, and the ugly) as partners. I love knowing that they will journey through life together, and who doesn’t want this kind of love for their friends?

I’ve long been grateful for Faith’s friendship, and now I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten to ride along a bit on their journey as a couple, and now share their joy! Congratulations and so much love to them this week!!