A Rule for Embracing, Resisting, and Attending

the common ruleMy first week of spring break is quietly and quickly coming to an end.  And while I haven’t gotten as much done as I’d hoped, I have been able to do some quality reading.  This afternoon, I finished Justin Whitmel Earley’s The Common Rule.  And while I hope to write more about it later, there was one thing that I wanted to get down before the week comes to an end.

I really like the way that Earley frames the content of his book (and let’s face it, books about habits are easily found these days).  Part of that framing comes with the concepts of embracing and resisting.  We embrace the good things that God has done through some habits; we resist the bad things that exist as a result of the sin through others.  Today I read through the four weekly habits: conversing, curating media, fasting, and resting.

About halfway through the chapter on fasting, Earley asserts that

Fasting is to let your desires hang out in the open, where you can observe them.

This is, of course, a kind of attending.  And while “observing your desires as they hang out” is particularly true of fasting, it can come with any self-imposed limitation on things (which really brings the remainder of the book into the conversation).

Over the last year and a half, I’ve tried to do a better job of attending to my reactions to things.  Most of the time, I feel like I’ve done a sorry job at it, but on my best days (and hopefully a few of my worst), I’ve tried to be aware of what brings out the anger and the frustration (both with  myself and with others).  I haven’t gotten to the place where I’ve sat down to deeply reflect on my findings.  And I haven’t gotten to the place where I can respond and pivot quickly when I find myself in a tense moment.  But this book has been a good reminder of that.  And it’s a good reminder to think well about what needs nurture and what needs pruning in our lives.

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(Digital) Platform Jam

One thing I appreciate about Baylor professor Alan Jacobs is his willingness to process his digital practices publicly.  Jacobs recently posted an update to his ongoing attempt to make sense of various digital platforms and their effects on a life well-lived.  His end goal?

Mainly I want to eliminate day-to-day use of a smartphone. I don’t imagine that I can do without one altogether — they’re too valuable when traveling and in other special circumstances. But for my everyday life I want to get back to a dumbphone like the one I was using three years ago — before it stopped working with my network and the iPhone dragged me back in.

It’s been a while since I even countenanced such a possibility in my own life.  But I have tried to make some peace with social networking platforms and apps in my own little ways.  I removed the Facebook app from my phone and tablet a couple of years ago, which has been great for me in terms of distraction (perhaps not so great for communal connectedness).  I do keep Twitter on both devices and visit it frequently.  Twitter is almost a kind of professional development for me: it’s where I find out about recent online postings by my favorite authors and thinkers.  I also follow some pop culture accounts on Twitter, which sweetens the pot a little for me.  Twitter never became part of the framework for most of my friends.  The same can be said for blogs, really.  Both of these things have caught me by surprise at least a little bit.  Beyond that, the only social media platform I use is Instagram, and I only actively use that when I am traveling and posting pictures of things that are new to me.  I keep up with friends that way, of course, but that’s often with just a simple scroll.

I’m pretty ambivalent about social media.  Facebook often feels like an “all-in or all-out” platform for me.  I feel like I could use it more often in connection with this site, but I just don’t.  I had meant to post pictures of last year’s many trips, but it just didn’t happen.  I’m not very good with Instagram, either.  I’m pretty bad about “follow requests” on both ends.

It’s also interesting to track social media sites based on particular periods in my career.  When Facebook hit big, around 2008-2009, it was something of a deal to follow/be followed by recent graduates.  There was a little bit of that with Instagram.  But then I kind of drew a line at Snapchat.  I’m always surprised when I hear current students talk about their use of Twitter because it feels like such a “professional” thing for me.

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Jacobs’s other goal seems to be to remove the influence of Google from his life, which is a truly admirable thing.  Google is ubiquitous.  To be “at home” online basically means that Google has at least one or two dedicated rooms in the building.  But he’s found alternate ways to email and store documents and navigate maps, which seems cool.  After years of obstinance, I find that GoogleDocs has become a cornerstone of collaborative work at school, both with my peers and with me students.  A necessary evil, I suppose.

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I like Jacobs’s musing because they remind me that the question of being “locked in” to a platform is always at least a little bit at play.  Wiggle room is still possible with social media, though not without a cost.  I toy with leaving Facebook completely, but there’s an awful lot of life that “happens” there.  Beyond that, the sense of simply knowing the connections exist, however subtle, is worth something.

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On Writing the Right Way

Dreyer's EnglishA few weeks ago, a dear friend who also happens to oversee our student publications, recommended the work of Benjamin Dreyer.  The recommendation probably came up as she was working on a piece and we were talking about proofreading, something I’ve had the chance to do many times over the last few years (you have to use that English degree every chance you get).  She mentioned the humor of Dreyer’s Twitter feed.  And she pointed out that he had a writing style book out.  The next day, I snatched up the only copy that Barnes and Noble had at the time.  I read as much of it as I could before passing it on to the one who suggested it (and ordered my own copy as soon as I realized what a treasure the book was).

I finished Dreyer’s English a few days ago (oddly enough while at a Starbucks watching the filming of a scene for Hawaii Five-O.  I’m not totally sure why it took me so long.  Part of it was the chance to savor an enjoyable read.  Another part of it was the busyness of the season.  It’s the kind of book you want to revisit often, though, particularly if you find yourself writing and reading often.

The Paris Review posted an excerpt from the book close to its publication date.  “Three Writing Rules to Disregard” is a great example of what makes the book both enjoyable and challenging.  Dreyer writes with an amusing authority, often drawing on pop culture great works of literature.  In this particular piece, he tackles some things that most English teachers bring up every chance they get.  From the piece:

A good sentence, I find myself saying frequently, is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection. (If you want to puzzle your reader, that’s your own business.)

As much as I like a good rule, I’m an enthusiastic subscriber to the notion of “rules are meant to be broken”—­once you’ve learned them, I hasten to add.

From there Dreyer tackles the questions of beginning a sentence with a conjunction, splitting infinitives, and ending a sentence with a preposition.

Dreyer’s English is the kind of book that both makes you appreciate the nuances of good writing and makes you want to become a better writer.  You can read the whole article here.  And the book can be bought wherever great books are sold (though you might have to search for the reference section to find it).

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Back to Lucy’s Incentive

Last week, and in acknowledgment of the many incentives for spring break, I posted the first of a series of classic Peanuts strips where Schroeder, ever stonewalling Lucy’s romantic advances, finally agrees to kiss her if she hits a homeroom.  He’s convinced that it will never happen.  Here’s how it all wrapped up:

Incentive 2

Incentive 3

Incentive 4Definitely an interesting and unexpected turn on Lucy’s part.  Makes you wonder how much more the two not-lovebirds interacted after this strip (at least in terms of the original chronology).

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Today is the first “official” weekday of spring break.  Saturday was a nice “decompression day” that started like a normal Saturday and ended in time spent with friends.  Yesterday was a normal Sunday that ended with the wedding of a former student.  It was a great ceremony and an even great reception.

I’m trying to put some “spring break” habits in place so that I don’t waste the next two weeks.  It’s already been productive: organizing the DVD collection, finishing up a couple of books that I started over the last couple of weeks, that kind of thing.  The trickiest thing for me will be to engage in some philosophical back-and-forth (primarily with myself, I fear).  There are some wrinkles that I’d like to iron out with things before school starts back in a couple of weeks, mostly to do with this particular moment in time.

(images from gocomics.com)

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Sunday’s Best: Flight of Imagination

Today’s classic Calvin and Hobbes strip is a great example of a captionless that communicates a real sense of things perfectly.  Also: dinosaurs.

Calvin Flight(image from gocomics.com)

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The Apparent Endgame

Now that Captain Marvel has made its way into theaters, the final push for Avengers: Endgame can begin.  This morning’s new (final?) trailer was a nice surprise.  If you haven’t yet, check it out:

The callbacks to previous moments were nice.  And the trailer does a great job of showing things without giving away anything to defining or clear (case in point: who is the young woman Hawkeye is teaching to shoot a bow and arrow?).  I think genuine surprise will be vital for viewing this movie.  It will probably also be impossible.  Six weeks to go . . .

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Spring Break Incentive

We’re in the home stretch for spring break.  Last week was intense, with classes, a camp, and class service projects.  This week has been a little calmer, though things always seem to pile on as the end of a quarter nears.  I’m staying on-island this break.  I’ve already started putting things in place for using the time wisely.  Lots of cleaning and cleaning out to do.  I haven’t culled the book collection or consolidated DVDs in a while, so that’s high on the list.  I’m also trying to plan for some basic school’s-out routines, as I’m not one who handles large chunks of open schedule well.  I’ll probably fudge the line between vocation and vocation a little more than usual, as I have a lot of processing to do.  The hope is that my temporary vocational stretch will be coming to an end in a couple of months.  I need to use this time to do some rethinking.  Definitely in need of some good habits for the occasion, though.

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Mid-semester breaks are rarely good for movie-going.  That’s particularly true for the next couple of weeks.  At this point, the best I’ll be able to do at the theater is to catch another showing of Captain Marvel and a preview screening of the other Captain Marvel, now dubbed Shazam!

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One of the tricky parts of break for me involves staying connected with others.  Lots of people travel over break (myself included).  When you stick around, though, it can be easy to spend long stretches in a kind of radio silence.  I did a much better job planning for this aspect of break a few years ago.  This week has been a good week for community connection.  Celebrated a friend’s birthday and learned a new board game with friends Monday night.  Hopefully I can “take” some of that with me into the break.

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Break is a great incentive, of course.  Which is part of why this recent “classic” Peanuts strip is so funny to me.

Spring Incentive

I have a difficult time believing that Schroeder would actually make that promise.  I suppose he’s so sure of Lucy’s inability that he’s willing to take the risk.  Not having read this particular strip series before, I’m curious to see how long this plays out.  It should definitely be over before break begins.

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