Thursday, June 21, 2018

Experiential Living + Best Books of 2018 (So Far)

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve been looking at my life as getting from Point A to Point B to Point yada yada, with the idea that it all adds up to one day going to heaven. Point Z, I guess, or Point Upper Case A. Or Point Exclamation Point.

After reading books by Murakami, watching shows like Legion, or the movie Last Days, something shifted. I started seeing life more like impressions and moods and experiences instead of A to B to C. It’s been an interesting way to live, this...I don’t know, artistic way more than a narrative way. It’s kind of a weird feeling as a writer, at least for my kind of writing, to move towards mood instead of plot, but I like it. I don't know if it's better (or worse). I think it's just different and also equally valid. One big benefit I've noticed is that experiences with people are more meaningful because I'm not in a rush to do anything.

Have you ever thought about that? How do you think of your life? Is it more doing things on this narrative, storyline arc, or is it something else?

Here are my favorite books so far in 2018:
  1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  5. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  6. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa
  7. A Climate for Change by Katharine Hayhoe
  8. Stiff by Mary Roach
  9. Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
  10. SuperSons comic by Peter J. Tomasi

Honorable Mention:

The Injustice comic series by Tom Taylor
The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron

Friday, June 8, 2018

Prayer of Examen

Given my recent bounty of leisure time, I've taken up praying more. I realize how sad it is that I "took it up". Shouldn't it be like breathing or eating? But, with help from the Echo app and this discipline of examen, my life prayer life (well, all my life) has improved. What is examen? As you can guess from the word itself, it's the practice of looking at your life. You don't just look yourself, and you don't just look at yourself. You look with the Holy Spirit at your day to figure out where God was (hint:everywhere), how you did, and how you can be better tomorrow. This six minute video can get you going:

I also recommend checking out this website for more resources.

The biggest thing that's changed for me is I'm more mindful of my behavior, before, during, and after it happens. I'm also more grateful for all of the good things that happen. Highly recommend!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Be a Lake

On a whim, I recently picked up Yumi Sakugawa's gem of a graphic novel called Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe. In it, Sakugawa provides readers with nine meditative exercises. She's whimsically illustrated each idea and exercise in black and white.

My favorite little exercise asks readers to not only pay attention to the universe around us, but also the universe within us. We're complicated people, and marvelously made (Psalm 139). It's good for us to examine our inner world and figure out what we can learn. Sakugawa asks the readers to do it by acting as if our inner world is its own real planet on which we're traveling. What can you learn from snowy mountain tops, or from cavernous depths? What's that inner world saying?

I honestly didn't know how to approach this little exercise. I just tried my hardest to think on it, but I fell asleep. However, as I was going about the next day, I was hit with a complete mental image of a dark, calm lake surrounded by greenery and a little mountain. I was also hit with this realization:

A lake just exists. Just by being there, it provides fun, restoration, inspiration, livelihood, sustenance, and mystery. All it has to do is be what God made it, and all of that happens. Be a lake.

What an awesome thought! That reminded me of this:

Why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? 
So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.  (Matthew 6:28-33, NLT)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Phrase of 2018: Good for Good!

Historically, I have been awful at New Year's Resolutions. Before the spring season is over, I often forget that I even made a resolution. Resolutions are out as a tool for me. But, I still want to be a better person by the end of the year. How do I get to there from here?

This year I'm trying out a phrase instead of a resolution. The phrase de l'annĂ©e is Good for Good! It's kind of vague, yes, but that's because I had to fit a lot of idea into three words. The gist is this: Taking care of my self is important because it better enables me to serve and love others. Physically, I need to take care of my body through rest, nutrition, and exercise. Spiritually and mentally, I need to spend time God with through constant prayer, Scripture, and reflection. The end goal isn't self-actualization, though that's a bonus of being a Jesus-lovin-son-of-a-gun. The actual goal isn't me; the actual goal is to be more ready and fully capable of participating in God's plan. The Kingdom of God. The coolest thing.

This Good for Good phrase came to me in an embarrassing way. There have been multiple times in the last few months in which my kids wanted to play with me. But, I couldn't physically play because I wasn't taking care of myself. I couldn't get down on the ground or swing from the playground equipment because I physically felt too nauseated from my diet, or just too tired. I'm only my 30s. What a wakeup call. It got me thinking about other areas of my life in which I'm not giving my best because I can't. It's disappointing to realize a lot of people aren't getting the best version of me.

That's difference between Good for Good and resolutions I've always failed at, like wearing certain jeans or a certain jacket that used to fit in 2005. There is a more explicit purpose that I care deeply about. I'm trying to keep the phrase at the back of my mind when I make decisions. So far I've had mixed results, but I'm glad the thought it always there.

A few years ago our friend Jen gave Sam and I a copy of Marge Piercy's poem "To Be of Use" as a present. It was meaningful gift, and I've always kept it close. It says better than I could what I'm striving for. Here's a chunk:

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
Help me figure out how to be of use! What tips do you have?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 in 37 Questions

1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
I read more than sixty books, which is definitely a personal record!

2. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Not quite. I intended to post something every day on Instagram that I was thankful for, but I stopped before February. It felt showy or braggy. However, In my journal and apps I did try to think of what I was thankful for every day. So I did try and stick with it throughout the year, just not in a public way. I'll try to keep that up in my normal journal in 2018.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes. Babies everywhere, all the time.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friends' dog, Shelby, died. She and I had been friends for more than ten years, and it was sad to see her go. It was comforting knowing she had basically the best dog life imaginable.

Chris Cornell, one of my top three all-time favorite songwriters and my favorite rock singer, died. While he killed himself, ultimately it didn't seem like an intentional suicide because of how his medications were off balance. Instead of trying to harm himself, he had been trying to keep his mood up and had been making plans with his family for vacation. He just lost his medical homeostasis. The whole situation was heartbreaking, and scary to me because Chris was a model of how be a person who successfully managed depression, suicidal thoughts, and made something good out of it. If your role model falls, what do it mean for you? I continue to pray to God for grace for Chris and for me and for everyone who struggles with depression.

Since we had kids, I think a lot about mortality and how we're in this circle of life and this long chain towards heaven, and it makes me feel too much. So, I try and just observe these depths from the edge and move on.

5. What countries did you visit?

6. What would you like to have in 2018 that you didn’t have in 2017?

More times where I acted in love and lived for God's Kingdom instead of whatever silly whims of the day I had (junk food, being selfish, etc.).

7. What dates from 2017 will be etched upon your memory, and why?

May 29 - last day of a very big work project!
May 30 - the day of relaxation!
September 24 - the day Samantha broke her foot! In a weird way, this hardship was like a bizarro vacation that strengthened our marriage and deepened our love and appreciation for one another. It also gave me the chance to bond with our youngest boy, whom I didn't really get to see most of in the first half of the year!

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?

I tried my hardest and was content with that.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Being selfish.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Let's just say I can never look at John Wick and Oreos the same way again.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought Sam a little French press and burr grinder for fancy coffee. She is a coffee drinker now due to the two young kids situation and we wanted something fancier than the K-cups. This way she can make fancy coffee every day, and I get to play with the manual burr grinder on a weekly basis. I sniff it every few seconds like a weirdo because that fresh ground coffee smells so good.

Personally, I bought myself an Xbox One right after one of the busiest seasons of my life. In the six months since, sitting down in the garage and playing games has been a great source of relaxation. Since you asked, the games I played were

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Sam, for being a gracious and amazing mom for two wild and crazy guys. My parents, for always being willing to help us out with the boys so we can go out for a quick bite to eat or a date. Eric and Jodi Posadas, who handled many difficult trials this year with faith and grace. All the awesome people who helped out Hurricane Harvey victims.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was pretty sad that we as a nation had to have conversations about whether or not we thought Nazis and rapists were doing bad stuff or not. Thankfully, we as a culture decided we were against racism and sexual assault.

The other behavior that depressed me was how many people decided they couldn't be friends with anyone who had differing political opinions. It reminded me of a quote from Edgar Mitchell, an American astronaut who had this to say about the view from space:
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'
14. Where did most your money go?
Most of it went to mortgage and food, which means I am thankful that we had a house and food! Proverbs 30 says, "Give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs." So, getting by is a good place to be.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster with Sam! It was our first night date in forever, right after a busy season at work, and we just got to enjoy one another's company.

16. What song will always remind you of 2017?
The theme song from Justified.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
Everything is the same!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Spending time with friends and going on dates.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Eating mindlessly.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
The week leading up to Christmas, we'd pile the whole family in the SUV and go look at Christmas lights. We would come home and have a Christmas light turning on ceremony for the boys. They would run around in the yard for a few minutes and then it was bed time.

Sam's dad came down for Christmas eve and Christmas morning. Sam made us a great Christmas Eve meal, we all drove around to look at lights, and then we watched Christmas with the Kranks.

Christmas day was the usual family lunch at my aunt and uncle's.

21. Did you fall in love?

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Justified, Twin Peaks

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
They hate us cos they ain't us!

24. What was the best book you read?
I happened to make a list!

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Motorhead and Nina Diaz.

26. What did you want and get?
Busy season at work to end, time with the family, an Xbox One, naps. Lots of stuff!

27. What did you want and not get?
I always think I'm going to win the lottery for some reason, even though I never play.

28. What was your favorite film of 2017?
Wonder Woman was up there. The Big Sick was fun because it was a small, non-serialized movie. To Have and Have Not was probably my favorite movie that was new to me this year. North by North West was very good. Get Out.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
We didn't actually do anything on my birthday because Sam had just broken her foot. I might've actually been sick with a throat thing.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing. That's not how contentment works!

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2017?
"Can I still button these pants?" and "Is this ironed already?"

32. What kept you sane?
God, sleep, exercise, loved ones.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?
The need for more civility in our discourse.

34. Who did you miss?
Uncle Ronnie

35. Who was the best new person you met?
Not really NEW people per se, but I did get to know my coworkers much better. I really like my coworkers.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.
Life is little things all added up together, so be good in the little things.

37. A quote that sums up your year.
"Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don't plan it. Don't wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men's store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee." - Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

My Favorite Places

I'm sure every person on the planet has places where they feel the most home. In random order, here are my top ten places:

The Tarantula Lounge: My garage is my ideal hangout. It's got a giant tv, video games, a giant Texas flag, great speakers for whatever music I happen to be into at the moment, my pleather recliner I've loved for six years, my bass amp, cool mood lightning. I don't know how it could be any cooler. Oh wait, I do know. I could have friends come hang out in it, which I also love to do. Long live the T Lounge.

Jazz Clubs: This may be heresy to purists, but in my mind the jazz club is as essential to jazz as the music itself. There's something special about being in a low lit, low-ceilinged room, a candle flickering on every table, people in suits and cocktail dresses, heads bobbing. It doesn't get cooler.

Dive Bars: There is a time and a place for fancy cocktails, but my Texan heart belongs in a dive bar. Cheap, bottled beer. Bartenders that know you. A jukebox. A pool table with questionable symmetry and torn felt. Neon signs. Cosmetic damage to everything. That sounds great every night of the week.

Comic Stores: Awesome for browsing and finding new stuff to like. In my experience, the staff of any comic store is knowledgeable and (mostly) friendly, and all kinds of weirdos are welcome. I like it when everyone feels welcome.

Used Book Stores: If I have some spending money and time to burn, I could browse a used book store for hours. You get more bang for your buck at a used book store, plus every item has a story. I like seeing what some kindred spirit underlined or decided to include in their marginalia.

Libraries: Like a used book store, but everything is free! The downside of libraries is creepy guys looking at weird stuff on public computers.

Diners/Cafes: A diner is the dive bar of food. Unpretentious, cheap, greasy, and awesome. I'm also partial to a cafe, which is like the jazz club of breakfast foods. You still get your bacon and eggs, but it's classy and maybe someone is reading poetry in the corner, or talking quietly to a love interest. Cafes have more of a mystique.

Museums: My top kind of museum is an art museum. Natural history/science is a close second. Museums are basically giant declarations that culture matters and that art can makes us feel and learn. That's great! I love to be challenged and inspired and reassured that truth and beauty matter to all of us.

Lake Cabins: Of all of the bodies-of-water kind of people you can be, my wife and I are both lake people. Our dream is to retire to a lakeside cabin. Oceans look awesome but are intense, rivers are cool but (mostly) small, whereas a lake is quiet, permanent, and peaceful (unless you are in something with "Devil"  or "Spring Break"in the name, probably). I've only stayed in a cabin by a lake a few times, but 100% of those times are great memories.

Walks: I love walks. No idea when this started, but I feel at ease just walking around. Parks, urban streets, the wild, the beach, old cemeteries, museums, just slap some shoes on me and point me in a direction and I'm good to go all day. Optimal walks have my family and my dog.

If any of these things sound good to you, please let me know and we'll go experience them together!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Favorite Books of 2017

I read more than 60 books in 2017, and it was a blast. Below are my favorites. These are books that I read in 2017, not ones that were published in 2017:

Batman: Earth One by Geoff JohnsJohns is one of my favorite comic writers because, like Kay above, he is big-hearted. This imagination of the Batman origin is gothic instead of grimdark. It's all about doing the best with the hand you're dealt. Great Batman, great comic.

Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. The titular story is a depressing one that most readers can relate to, at least to a certain degree – sometimes we love someone despite our best judgment, consequences be damned. Mad love. That mad love defines Harley Quinn and Joker, Joker and anarchy, Bruce Wayne and his cowl. This is a great collection from some of my favorite comics writers.

Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch.
This year I watched all of the original Twin Peaks television series. As a result, I became very interested in the man behind the project - David Lynch. In this very short meditation on creativity, Lynch offers glimpses into his creative process. The title comes from this: "If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper."

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay. This poetry collection is simultaneously accessible, beautiful, playful, and profound. It reminds me of a Mike Schur show (The Office, Parks & Rec, The Good Place) in that it’s smart, full of heart, bittersweet, and open to the world. Kay isn’t jaded or pretentious (even though she’s been a poetry celebrity since she was 14) – she waves her heart like a flag, rallying all of us to live more fully.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi. My dream blend of sci-fi: space battles, politics, religion, cosmologies to make you think about your own preconceptions, and heart. OMW centers around John Perry, an old man nearing the end of his life. In this, once you hit a ripe old age you can enlist in the space marines. You are legally dead once you enlist, and you never come back to Earth. You say your goodbyes and head on up into space, and no one on Earth quite knows what happens next. The title refers to the senior citizen enlistment, but also Scalzi’s meditations on the fight against death and disappointment and loneliness that we all inevitably face.

I both enjoy and recommend the following, although they didn't get a five-star rating:

The Batman Adventures by Dini/Timm. Comic.
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary. Coming of age YA.
The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. Space opera.
Farewell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. Masterful noir.
Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat! Vol. 1: Hooked On A Feline by Kate Leth. Hilarious comic.
Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming. Travel writing from James Bond creator.
Wolverine by Claremont/Miller. Meditative, gorgeous comic.