A few things worth living for

July 29, 2010 § 3 Comments

Image credit: Somewherestore.com

The other week, a co-worker mentioned to me that he had developed two rules which he hoped to keep during his life:

1. Never drink bad coffee.

2. Never listen to bad music.

According to him, there is no excuse for allowing a poor sample of a good thing to lessen one’s enjoyment of it. A poor version of a good thing might even make the thing bad. We have been given plenty of delicious coffee and quality music (thanks be to God)! Do not settle. Do not compromise. Life’s too short to half-heartedly partake of its pleasures.

In lieu of this realization, I thought I might develop my own list of rules, rendered necessary by the phrase “Life’s too short…”:

1. Life’s too short to speed through it. I start with this rule because it is hard — especially for someone who likes to get-things-done-as-quickly-as-possible-so-I-can-relax. No, bad plan. This tends to be a frustrating orientation. Sure, there are times when my tasks are minimal and offer no enjoyment, so I can speed through them to something I enjoy more. Most of the time, though, I need to either be able to enjoy the tasks at hand, or be willing to let them go undone if doing them will prevent me from participating in the more substantive moments of life. So, yes, I will make efforts to enjoy doing dishes and take pleasure in restoring order to our apartment. But if it has been a long day and the priority is to “wind down,” then the house does not have to be in perfect order for me to sit with a cup of tea and a book for thirty minutes. And it is better to leave my bed unmade and my blow-drier on the counter so I can spend a few minutes in quiet each morning. Lingering over dinner-table conversation verses headed off to accomplish the next “to-do” – also worthwhile. Moral of the story? Slow down. Enjoy.

2. Life’s too short to eat boring desserts. Desserts, in my opinion, should be creative in their flavor combinations, have quality ingredients and (on special occasions) have quirky presentation. Not that I won’t go for a simple piece of chocolate or a scoop of vanilla ice cream occasionally, but really, how much more do I love pear and salted caramel ice cream or lavender dark chocolate. [One point of no compromise is hot chocolate – it really must be made with fresh, steaming milk and melted chocolate (plus a dash of vanilla and  sprinkle of nutmeg). Boiling water and cocoa powder? No. Never. Why would I replace this creamy, delicious beverage with a thin, watery cup of chocolate flavored sugar? Do you see my point?)

3. Life’s too short to blow-dry my hair (Note: I do do this because I am a working woman. But if it were up to me, I would not waste 15 precious minutes of my day getting my hair to a place that it would eventually reach ALL ON ITS OWN).

I know there are many factors that contribute to a life well-lived and enjoyed, but these are three that I think valuable. What about you? What life rules would you establish to make each day (or at least moments of each day) spectacular?

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What I’m Reading Now

July 2, 2010 § 1 Comment

Image credit: http://www.tempe.gov/LIBRARY/events/images/books.jpg

Well it has been quite a while since my last lengthy list of reads, and since then I have made some sort of progress. By some sort of progress, I mean that I have not made any progress in most of those books, but have made good progress on two of them (finished them) and read a couple chapters in others. By progress I also mean that I have started other books, and finished them. Without setting them aside for many days. Or passing GO. Or collecting two-hundred dollars.

Below is a list of books I have finished or not finished (divided into those I am working on finishing, am hoping to finish, and have decided not to finish). I think it is okay to decide not to finish a book. I guess it is okay to not finish reading a book even if you have decided you will. Sometimes as a reader I lose my momentum, which might come from either reading too slowly in the first place, or from taking too long of breaks (weeks, months) between chapters. In these cases, it might be okay for me to put that book on the shelf and move on. Maybe I’ll come back to that book, maybe I won’t.  Sometimes there is never much momentum to begin with. In that case, it also might be okay for me to put the book on the shelf and move on. There are a vast number of books to read, and not only that, but an intimidating number of books to read related to particular subjects or located within certain genres one might be interested in.  I think it is important to be both broad and narrow in the books that you choose, but that doesn’t mean that you have to like everything you read, and that doesn’t mean you have to finish everything you start.

Without further ado, here you are:

Books finished:

Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) [Began Dec. ’08, completed April ’10]: Whew.

An Experiment in Criticism (C.S. Lewis) [Began Feb’10, finished end of March ’10]: I know I really enjoyed this book while I was reading it, and would recommend it as a quick and thought-provoking book for any reader. However, I don’t remember it that well. I guess that is part of the difference between this kind of instruction and the stories, which we can almost always remember.

Walking on Water (Madeleine L’Engle) [Began + completed in June ’10]: This is an amazing book on faith and art. I finished it, turned to Alex and said “I want to read it again.” While I have been familiar with L’Engle for years (her “Wrinkle in Time” series was a favorite growing up), I had not known her as a Christian artist. In this book, I appreciated her insights into the processes attached to creating, and the way which she so honestly ties them to (and shows that they are rooted in) faith.  She jumps often from topic to topic so that I am not able to give a quick summary; it will likely take another read for me to synthesize her thoughts in my own mind. I will, however, give you a quote. This falls at the end of her book, and to me, is one of the most essential points she makes – the process of creation involves death to self and demands service to your gifts (I think the second action falls under the first):

“The great artists, dying to self in their work, collaborate with their work, know it and are known by it as Adam knew Eve, and so share in the mighty act of Creation.  That is our calling, the calling of all of us, but perhaps it is simplest for the artist (at work, at prayer) to understand, for nothing is created without this terrible entering into death. It takes great faith, faith in the work if not conscious faith in God, for dying is fearful. But without this death, nothing is born. And if we die willingly, no matter how frightened we may be, we will be found and born anew into life, and life more abundant…

‘…The important thing is to recognize that our gift, no matter what the size, is indeed something given us, for which we can take no credit, but which we must humbly serve, and, in serving, learn more wholeness, be offered wondrous newness…” (223-225)

Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson) [Began and completed in June ’10]: I have heard much about Marilynn Robinson from a couple of my friends. This book was sweet, slow, and in the end, sad.

The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene) [Began and completed in June ’10]: Mexico, 1930’s, Catholic priest fleeing from the (fascist) government, fleeing through jungles and with a bottle of whiskey in his hand. Read this for our Supper Club. Though the priest was quite disheveled and surviving on sugar cubes and rotten meat, we were well-dressed and (very) well fed.

The Arm of the Starfish (Madeleine L’Engle) [Began and completed in June ’10]: Oh, fiction. What a good and fun story (I will not spoil the ending by saying anything else). I sped through this one.

Books unfinished, working on finishing:

The Creative Habit (Twyla Tharp) [Began June ’10]: Twyla Tharp is a fairly famous choreographer in this day and age.  She has choreographed multiple Broadway shows, has worked with the best ballet companies, and has received two Emmy awards and *cough* 19 honorary doctorates. I am actually sad to say that I don’t know if I have memory of any of her pieces – I know my mom has several on tape, and I am sure I have watched some portion of them, but I don’t remember them and I want to watch them now. Anyways, the book is essentially her instructional guide for any artist (not just the choreographer), and includes several exercises per chapter. I have found it very helpful in my small endeavors to be artistic.

House of the Lotus (Madeleine L’Engle) [Began June ’10]: The next in the series after “Arm of the Starfish”. Also speeding through.

Books unfinished, hoping to finish:

What Color is your Parachute? (Richard Bolles) [Began Jan. ’10]: This book has exercises that sort of challenge you to understand your gifts, and hopefully help you decide where they would best fit in the workplace. I have done a couple of these. This is my progress (According to one of these exercises, my highest priority in life is possessions. Now, before you judge me, he defines a priority of possessions as follows: “Is the often false love of possessions your major concern? When you are gone, do you want there to be better stewardship of what we possess – as individuals, as a community, as a nation – in the world, because you were here? Do you want to see simplicity, savings, and a broader emphasis on the word enough, rather than the word more, more?” Not that I have plans to inspire the world to live more simply, nor do I think I live with enough simplicity myself, but I did find it interesting that this priority came out over the others – including the mind, heart, will and senses.

The Study of Anglicanism (ed. Stephen Sykes and John Booty) [Began Sept. ’09]: Want to finish. ought to finish. will resume reading this fall?

Books unfinished, back on the shelf:

The Sickness unto Death (Kierkegaard) [Began Sept. ’09, put on the shelf May ’09]: Sorry, Kierkegaard. I am wooed by the way you address deep truths by unfamiliar theological paths, but I am also unable to follow your lengthy arguments when I take two month breaks between chapters. I might come back to you when I have the space in life to engage thought-provoking material for more than 15 minutes at a time (this spring=uncannily busy) (maybe life=uncannily busy. If I settle on this conclusion, I will  find a way to make space for books like the ones Kierkegaard wrote. I make this my solemn vow. Hold me to it, please).

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th ed. [Began Feb. ’10, put on shelf May ’10]: Really, has anyone read every poem in a Norton anthology? Again, I do sort of plan to continue reading this book. At least, I plan to continue reading poems during my life. This book will come in handy, again. I just have too many other good things to read right now.

The Light Princess and Other Fairy Stories (George MacDonald) [Began March ’10, returned to lender May’10]: I will say that I finished the first fairy story, “The Light Princess.”  As I got closer to the end I read with vague familiarity, and I realized I must have read it before. Probably before bed. As I was falling asleep. Just like I was doing right then.

This is all. I must say, summertime allows the perfect amount of down time and daylight to lie on the couch and read a good book.

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