Changes, mayhaps

bythewater

The name of this blog has always, to me, been about living in the balance between planning and improvisation—about finding a harmony between practicality and spontaneity. I’m not always good at marrying the two (really, it rarely happens, I fall more into the former camp in both instances), but I’ve seen a lot of magic happen when the two approaches are allowed to exist together, for me and for others.

So I’m using that as justification for attempting to steer this site in a different direction. Only a slightly different one, mind, but I thought doing so deserved a post (assuming, lol, that anyone is reading this).

What is it we are trying to do when we write? What is it we want? To express ourselves? To tell stories? To seek connection, or some semblance of immortality, or something deeper? Or is it all of the above?

Does it matter what avenue we take to sate this craving? And what is the purpose of sharing the words that flow from us? This thing we call the Internet is a bona fide means of doing so every second—a fountain of letters and numbers and words upon words upon words. Why, with this in mind, does anyone write at all?

(and hasn’t that particular question been asked and answered thousands of times?)

There are ideas and thoughts to be shared, to be sure. There is information to be distributed. There are opinions to be stated.

And yet, with all of this filtering out through every paragraph that is displayed on a screen or printed on a page, I find that there is still not enough understanding in the world. Of ourselves, and of one another. Talk of worldly and cultural divides is sort of a daily phenomenon lately. Yet there are, too, many divides within us.

How do we begin to bridge those gaps? It seems an impossible task. Yet there is no shortage of ways, most of them involving, yes, words. Stories. Poetry. Movies. Video. Music. Podcasts. Theatre.

Maybe these outlets are where we go to escape, but they are also where we end up confronted with ourselves, if we are so open to the possibility. This is not a profound idea; it’s probably spoken to much more eloquently at the Oscars and/or in AP English classes. But it’s still valid, and it still means something, and I would like this space to be one that has such purpose and possibility. One that features not only my own work of that nature, but also that of others’, and of their unique perspectives.

Hence this change. I have a renewed certainty that the only enemy in the world is neither the self nor the other, but rather, fear. And when we work to eradicate it, we do more than we realize. We make it possible for new stories to be told, and create a sense of hope and light—of understanding and of possibility.

So, all this is to say: creative hope that navigates the chaos. That’s what I want Mayhaps to mean. Mayhaps it will, sooner than later.

[And all that said: first project soon to come!]

You get what you give

(With apologies to New Radicals for that title…)

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.

This, from the ever-eloquent, ever-pertinent C.S. Lewis, always sticks with me when my mind is on giving – which it is, deeply, in this season – and why?

Mostly because I often wonder what it really means to give more than one can spare.

Financially, perhaps most people are well acquainted with what this looks like. Many of those with lower incomes who give to charitable organizations, for example, do so “sacrificially” (see Percentage of Households Giving to Charity by Annual Income on that page).

And perhaps most people do give quite a lot, in certain ways. Road races across the country commit percentages of their profits to charity. Crowdfunding provides those who want to start creative projects with a direct platform to ask for help. Donors are more highly concerned with overhead costs than ever, a notable thing that occasionally (and unfortunately) misses the finer points of how a 10-dollar gift becomes a child’s meal or toy or Bible.

None of these are necessarily negatives. But what if giving, by its very definition, is sacrificial? And to follow, what happens when it becomes too easy?

Easy – that’s a harsh word, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be easy? You receive an email from a charitable organization, and there is a big red button at the bottom asking you to give, and it sends you straight to PayPal. That’s so easy! What’s wrong with that?

Well. Nothing. But let’s strike a contrast between the giving and the generosity behind it. Because, yes, generosity does come easily when one is in touch with its subject, either personally or emotionally or spiritually. There is a need, a gap like the edge of a puzzle piece, that you, the giver, are uniquely designed to fill and fulfill. When that clicks into place, it’s pretty incredible.

What’s the problem, then? Is there a problem? For one thing, there are simply so many needs. Wracked with something not unlike compassion fatigue, we face overwhelm at everything this aching world needs. It’s confusing, it’s concerning; in the face of it, it’s tempting to shut down. There is simply so much happening each day, and, lucky us, we get to know about it. Lately, for example, I open the news to more and more heart-wrenching coverage of the Standing Rock situation, and feel helpless. I would love to do something. Surely there is something – anything – that I could do.

(If you want to do something too, by the way, that website has a few options.)

Sometimes there is little to be done, but other times, there is plenty. There are many ways to address a problem. This time of year, there are so many drives for donations. (Today is Giving Tuesday, by the way, so your inbox is surely a reminder of that.)

But, that said, somewhere in me is the feeling that we miss something deep with the indirect routes. Not to say that those routes do not matter. But giving – charity – could move beyond the obvious. There is also, for an obvious example, art. There is activism. There is volunteer work. Your energy, more than anything else, can never be destroyed. Thus, when investing your energy, it is never wasted. It moves on. It gives life. It creates new possibilities.

I’m preaching to myself, frankly, because I’m having trouble with the entire idea of giving in the wake of the holiday double-whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m having trouble with my desire to give outside of a consumerist mindset. But why on earth, I wonder, is that even a conflict?

Maybe because there’s a tit-for-tat philosophy that threatens to taint the whole thing. And maybe I’m fed up with that. Maybe you are, too.

I think it’s possible to get free from such a mindset. But it takes giving more than one can easily spare. Ultimately, I have a very specific desire for communities to start thinking differently about helping others, including in the context of charities. It is a desire that we stop talking so much about problems, and go do something about them instead. And though this whole post may get interpreted as a shot at monetary donations, rest assured: it’s not. There are no binaries here. One is not “better” than the other.

I simply think that the big difference with taking action – like volunteering at a shelter, or doing pro bono professional work for an organization – is its resistance to the give-to-get trap. Action is energizing. Fatigue can ensue, of course, but that’s why we don’t go at it alone, right? This whole idea of giving is meaningless without others.

Thus, to close, I leave you with wise words from Martin Luther King, Jr., whose depth is always relevant and I hope spurs you to exciting new steps. Because it’s true:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

A sense of place

We moved a few weeks ago. Moving, to me, is exciting – in spite of the obvious stress I let it breed. Moving, to me, is yet another chance to start over. Even moving a half-mile offered this feeling of newness, this electric sense of change. Even if, as they say, no matter where you go, there you are.

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Walking through my new neighborhood lately has left me with a new perspective on this. What I mean is: there has been a constant thread in my life of wanting to be somewhere other than I am. I’ve dreamt of it, been thrilled to anticipate it. You could call it wanderlust, or a rabid desire to reclaim a wasted youth, or anything else that is probably is.

Problem is, occasionally this has even happened while living somewhere gorgeous, unreal, and enviable. Even there, somehow I allow the sense of new, of now, of appreciation to slip away.

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To an extent, this is simply the way of familiarity. The Pinterest-led desire to find the next shiny new spot, and the Instagram-soaked sense of wanderlust, are deceptive. It is easy to want to see an entire city or town through the eyes a single snapshot tends to lend. But as you know, if you’ve even once been a tourist or encountered one, snapshots are only windows – mere second-long slices of yearlong realities.

But there’s a way of looking at an old city with new eyes. Richmond, with its old age and new, youthful pulse, has its own personality, but is also a kindred spirit to many other blossoming places in this country. (Both Portlands, for sure.) The houses hearken to another time, I think as I walk down Ellwood Avenue, but there is activity that brings us all to this time, and there is promise, and potential.img_0710

There is an open vegetable garden nearby. It’s part of a local community gardening initiative, and people – neighbors, really – maintain its plots year-round. It reminds me that beauty can be found in what is so usual if one only chooses to look.

Richmond is, maybe, teaching me to see all things as they are, and to see the city in its many different colors, in both its beauty and ugliness and history and present and what’s-next. Maybe it is similar to Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine, and Louisville, Kentucky, and so on.

But maybe it is also uniquely itself, and I can appreciate and bask in that for now.

All this is to say – thanks for being you, Richmond.