This is not a post about trigger warnings

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I learned a couple things the other day:

I heard Mike Birbiglia describe, in an interview, how he was having trouble writing the ending of his most recent movie. He couldn’t find the motivation to actually take the time to sit down and pound out the final 10 pages or so of the script. He’d think: “I need to finish this script” but he’d never get it done. Then he realized he had absolutely no problem keeping appointments with other people, so he decided to trick his brain.

He left himself a note on his bedside table that read: “Mike: You have an appointment with yourself to write at the cafe at 8:30am. Don’t be late! Love, Mike.”

He finished the script.

Also, I learned that turkey mothers are very good mothers, but they only care for the chicks in their brood who make a “cheep-cheep” sound. And not only that, but that animal behaviorists did an experiment one time where they managed to trick a turkey mother into caring for a facsimile of it’s natural enemy (the polecat) by having it make the “cheep-cheep” sound. Take away the “cheep-cheep” and mama got protective. Bring it back, and mama got nurturing.

Scott Adams (he of Dilbert fame) has called humans moist robots. We are basically machines who can be programmed to do certain things given the right conditions and triggers*. Mike Birbiglia just needed a note. The mother turkey just needed a sound.

Like you, I can get paralyzed into inaction easily. For me, it’s not entirely about failure, but more about wasting time and energy. Still, the result is the same: I find myself in situations where I don’t want to do what needs done. So I’ve developed my own set of triggers to get me through those moments. Often I trade on my need to make an impact by simply (and literally) saying out loud: “Well, somebody has to be the adult in the room.”

Fun fact about me: Triggers are so strong that, more than twenty years after learning about classical conditioning, I salivate profusely whenever “Pavlov’s Dog” is mentioned.

 

*This is also why we make a big deal about “trigger warnings.” We’re trying to be kind and considerate about a phenomenon that is very powerful. Has it gone too far, as some have suggested? I’m not one to say, but there’s a good reason we’ve started being attentive to it.

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If you’re immune to psychological associations and triggers, you might like my book. Or you may be smart enough to see what I’m trying to do, and not click the link.

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I almost quit today

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Five days ago, I published my first legit blog post in well over a year. It felt good, and I thought to myself: I need to keep at this.

Over a decade ago, I was one of thousands and thousands who tried to become a BFD through blogging. I subscribed to ProBlogger, and read everything I could about carving out a niche and creating content. About attracting an audience and pumping them full of bloggity wisdom.

I actually did okay at it a few times. Once, I had an anonymous blog called The Very Left Reverend where I ended up attracting a fair amount of traffic by gleefully taking down those who loved Beth Moore. A couple other times, I had blog projects that started getting the attention of social media influencers. But by the time that happened, I had basically run out of things to say.

Every writer wants to be read. Every speaker wants to be heard. Every vlogger wants to be seen. It’s not selling out. In my opinion, there isn’t any nobility in “art for Art’s sake.” We create because we want to connect. But we have to be judicious in what we write, say, or film. We can’t just throw things up on the net.

Or maybe we can. I’m one of those people who actually abhors small talk (more than abhors it. I don’t naturally understand it), so perhaps my aversion to not wanting to write something just because I thought it would be a good idea to write everyday has more to do with that*. I don’t have anything profoundly important to write. It feels futile and dishonest to rack my brain for “something to blog.” And, so, I almost quit this blog today.

 

*Also, the “Real World Confessional” nature of this post is pissing me off.

A metaphor is only supposed to go as far as it’s supposed to go

Here’s the thing about using metaphors: They are only supposed to go as far as they’re supposed to go.

They have very short communicative half-lives.

If you cook them too long long, they end up being dry.

There is only so much blood in the metaphor turnip.

I know we like to be clever, but, too often, we draw out and extend figures of speech when talking about important things. Almost every time, what results is just a muddying of the waters. It’s sad really. It’s like we are fundamentally incapable of seeing the forest through the trees.

Mary Jane Watson is Black

*NERD ALERT*

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A few days ago we learned that Zendaya will play the role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man reboot (we can talk about the reality of yet another Spider-Man franchise later. I still heart you, Toby Maguire). As with all things comic book based, well…

There’s an argument I’ve had with my oldest for a while now: Whether or not source material should be revered. As in: If a comic book renders a character one way, is it okay to change it? We’ve argued about whether Batman taking a life in the latest flick was okay (Batman famously does not kill), or whether Superman’s origin story can be tampered with. You get the idea. So now, Mary Jane, she of the long flowing locks of red hair is to be played by a black woman, and we’re back to the uproar when Michael B. Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic 4 reboot (FTR: While Jordan was fantastic, the flick was decidedly not).

James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, has written:

For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks.

Amen.

I’m an ordained minister, and a progressive one at that. Something I deal with often is biblical literalists. As Americans, we often hear about wanting Supreme Court Justices who are “strict constructionists.” In most areas of life, someone is telling us that there is no possibility for change, that things are the way they are, ad infinitum, forever and ever amen.

But while I grew up hearing that “ain’t is not a word,” everyone around me said it. While I grew up learning that gay folk were an abomination, I discovered otherwise. While we were being taught that “this is what America is,” the make up of America changed.

Everything alive changes. Only dead things don’t change.

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If you’re a religious nerd who’s into growth and change, you might like my book.

Asking “Why?” is just a way to drag our feet

I was in a meeting with colleagues recently, and we were discussing a situation that clearly irritated most of us. There was much hand wringing. A good bit of teeth gnashing. The crux of the conversation centered on why the situation had occurred, and no one really had a good explanation. There were lots of suggestions made, to be sure. But there was no agreement on any of them. After about 20 minutes of this, one of our number so eloquently said: “I don’t need to know why it is. I just know that it is, and that’s good enough.”

We humans spend a lot of time thinking about why something happened. We’re meaning making creatures after all. Everything has to have a cause.

  • “He must hate me, so he did thus and so to me”
  • “She just wanted power, so she threw me under the bus.”

OR

  • “I told you this thing wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t step in.”
  • “They should feel lucky to have me. They would have failed otherwise.”

We put an awful lot of stock in our own selves, when most of it is actually just luck (good or bad).

But you know what we don’t do very often? We don’t simply accept the reality that this is where we find ourselves at this very moment. We don’t take the situation for what it is and work with it. We spin our wheels and drag our feet, as if knowing the why would change any of it*. And that takes a lot of energy. Too much if you ask me.

*Clearly, I’m not talking about injustice. That shit needs to be deconstructed and blown apart.

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Once upon a time, I thought I was the cause of everything. Then I learned better, and wrote about it in my book.

You’ve gotta land the plane

US Airways Flight 1549 afloat in the Hudson River

I saw the trailer for the new Tom Hanks flick, Sully, last night during Olympic coverage. It’s the tale of US Airways Flight 1549 and its captain, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger. You know: The guy who landed the plane in the middle of the Hudson River?

How did the guy do it? That’s an amazing feat. Notoriously calm and cool, Sully once told Katie Couric:

One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.

In my first job out of seminary, I had an amazing boss. He believed in me, nurtured me, and invested in me. He saw things in me that I didn’t, at the time, see in myself. During a meeting one time he told me something I’ve never forgotten. “There are a lot of people who can fly the plane, Landon. They get up in the air and they circle around and around, and it’s amazing. But it’s not enough just to fly the plane. You’ve gotta be one of those people who can land it.”

Don’t get me wrong: I quit a surprising amount of things. I think winners actually quit a lot. There is no shame in being able to know that something may have looked good at the time, but it’s not worth the sunk cost now. But more often than not, continuing on doing the thing will have benefits you don’t see today because you’re making those small deposits into the bank of experience.

So in those moments when you’re at an important deadline, or trying to make good on a promise, or doing something no one else understands is valuable: You’ve gotta land the plane. No amount of circling is going to make you a hero.

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If you’re notoriously calm and cool like Sully, you might like my book.

I had a flash of brilliance this morning

A Bullet Journal Index Page

I had a flash of brilliance this morning.

I had an idea I felt was worth sharing, a little tid-bit – a nugget – that seemed worth fleshing out. I could write it up as a Facebook status, but felt that a blog post might be a better place. I wanted to get back into regular blogging anyhow. Then I promptly forgot it.

Two thoughts:

  1. I should have written it down. Thanks to Rocky‘s insistence over the years I do keep a Bullet Journal. There’s no reason I didn’t log it there. Silly mistake. But…
  2. It’s not the end of the world.

We all get flashes of brilliance, those insights that are so different than what we’ve had before. They are synthesizing moments, or breakthrough moments. Whatever they are, they’re fleeting and rare.

But it’s not the end of the world to forget one. It’s really not. I’ll have other flashes of brilliance, and so will you. We just have to remember to write them down next time.

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Once, I had a flash of brilliance I didn’t forget to write down. It turned into a little book.