Tag Archives: philosophy

Art for Entertainment or Art for Meaning?

It feels like an either/or choice for many artists, including myself. Do we choose to create something that will be marketable, useful, widely accepted, and easily profitable, or do we choose to create something personally and passionately meaningful and hope someone else understands enough to buy it or appreciate it?

As an artist who is currently not making any money off her artistic pursuits, be it writing, music, or web design, I know I don’t have much perspective on the financial part of making art. But I do experience the tug and twist of the decision every time I pick up the pen or sit down to the keyboard (musical or computer): do I make something entertaining, or do I make something meaningful? Do I make something universally relatable and instantly likable (and possibly trite), or do I make something relevant to me, filled with loads of “new” meaning, and wait for others to pull the meaning out of it?

Art for Entertainment = Art for Everyone, But Art for Money

This might not seem like much of a decision. Of course you make marketable stuff. Of course you’d choose to create something that millions of people can get into and understand. That’s how people like us (artists, I mean) make any money, after all. If you want to succeed as an artist, you have to make things that lots of people enjoy and get meaning out of, not just an elite few who are critics in their own right. Plus, you can still couch grains of personal meaning in your work as an entertainment artist, and no one has to be the wiser–and you might get more genuine response. It just has to sell first.

Art for Meaning = Art for Artists…Sadly, Often Literally

And yet there’s the flip side, those of us artists who choose to create art that is personally meaningful first, without concern for how it will “sell.” I can count myself among these–I don’t want to be reduced to doing “things that will sell” just because of money. For me, doing art purely for entertainment seems to cheapen the act of artistic creation; it’s no longer about the work itself or the artist behind it, but about the dollar signs spewing forth from it. Yet, if artists do works that are less universally relatable and often regarded as strange or un-artistic, then what happens to the works? They are disregarded, and forgotten except by other artists.

Is There a Middle Ground? Or Do We Need Both?

To be honest, I don’t know if there’s a middle ground between art for entertainment and art for meaning. I do know, however, that both types must exist.

Yes, I just said that. Both pure entertainment and pure meaning must exist in the artistic world. The old classics in literature are wonderful creations, chock-full of meaning and beauty, for example, but sometimes you just want a Twilight book or a Danielle Steel novel, something you don’t have to pull teeth to understand, but that you can just EXPERIENCE.

Just like our bodies are designed to take in foods of wide varieties, our minds, too, are designed to take in arts of all kinds. Lady GaGa may not ever be considered a “serious” musician (what does that mean, anyway?), but her music has spoken to people all over the globe, because it’s got a good beat, an easy-to-catch meaning, and you can dance to it. Is her work any less meaningful to people’s lives for being dance-y? Does everyone always have to be in the “super-heavy-serious-music” category if they want to be considered “real” musicians?

Another example: Twilight has gotten a bad rap for its fluffy plot consistency, much like meringue on top of a pie–and I won’t deny that it is more for entertainment than for meaning. But it was also a book series that I experienced and didn’t feel the need to academically dissect like a typical piece of literature for my English major courses. THAT was welcome relief to my overtired mind. I was able to relax and let the story dissolve into my brain, like milk chocolate melting on my tongue.

I like to think about art the same way I think about food. A plate of super-healthy steamed vegetables would be good for us and would nourish us…they’re great. (Well, for people who like vegetables… LOL!) But I don’t want vegetables to eat all the time–sometimes, I wake up and just WANT a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or a big slather of Nutella spread and strawberry jelly on bread.

Same thing with art: while it might be healthier for our brains to take in all the old classics and spend our days in heavy-duty collegiate criticism of the works we’re studying, we don’t necessarily WANT to. Some days, we’re tired (“mental mush,” as my boyfriend puts it), and we want something that’s warm, comforting, and easy to mentally digest. When we’re feeling better, we’ll go back to the harder-to-digest but wonderfully-nourishing art, because you can get sick of sweet and non-nutritious after some time. (Trust me, after almost a month of having to eat soft foods like pudding and ice cream, I am getting starved for protein and salty snacks. I’ve never craved Fritos so much in my life. XD)

Basically: Lady GaGa produces the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of music, while J.S. Bach produces the hot plate of steamed vegetables with tons of fiber and vitamins. The wonderful thing about us artists is that we can produce both types of art–the art that invigorates (“serious” art), and the art that comforts (“entertaining” art). Lady GaGa could just as easily produce an unfathomably deep and “serious-music” kind of song (and probably still make it have a good beat); in several of the short stories I read in college, Jane Austen proved that she could parody the popular storylines of 18th-century novels in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek way, and make her writing more for entertainment as well as meaning.

Perhaps the Debate Need Not Even Exist

So, the time-tarnished debate of “art for entertainment” versus “art for meaning” may be a fruitless fight, after all. People may clamor on both sides, saying “I hate having to dissect and pull apart art to get at the meaning–give me something easy to take in!”, or “I hate art that doesn’t mean anything and is just for money–give me something deeper, something serious!” But both types, in my opinion, must exist, because we have a need for them. And any artist who creates is helping in their own small way. Even my rich and heavy songs, like a huge bowl of fettuccine alfredo pasta, have a place in the art buffet.

Summary

Balance is the key in creating and using art–we use art for relaxing and for awakening our minds. Neither side is somehow “better” than the other, because they are for different purposes. My art process relaxes me and invigorates others; I take in art that invigorates me sometimes, and other times I choose entertainment. For me, it seems all art is to the good, for whatever purposes the listener, reader, or viewer can use it.

Poem: Not From This (Social) Planet

This was a dribble of content I couldn’t do anything with, until I turned it into a poem…and then it bloomed, suddenly and unexpectedly. I hope you enjoy this very different Tuesday on the Soapbox entry…

Sometimes I wonder if
I just landed here some years ago
Look out the back window
Wondering where my spaceship is

Been here long enough to acclimate
And yet the society I live in is baffling
I’m supposed to be a human
But human nuances perplex me

I don’t understand why “friends” trash-talk each other
I don’t understand why humans
Like to see each other in pain
I don’t understand why it’s funny to watch someone else fail
I don’t understand why people
Like to yell at those they love

Cloaking this misunderstanding
Is easy most of the time
But I can’t hide my grimaces from everyone
Someone’s bound to notice

Too sympathetic to not react,
Too chicken to speak up
I am caught in a trap of silence
And it’s easier to stay in it

I don’t understand why wars have to be fought
I don’t understand why humans
Defend things and ideas more than each other
I don’t understand why it’s funny to provoke another to tears
I don’t understand why people
Hate someone else’s ideas enough to kill

Was I really born as a human,
Or do I have shape-changing alien skin?
Am I really part of this society,
Or will I one day be called back to space?

It really makes me wonder,
Because there’s so much I don’t get
About how we all relate to each other–
And why I’m beginning to mimic it

I don’t understand why distant death is worth a shrug
I don’t understand why it’s weird
To cry for someone you never knew
I don’t understand why it’s okay to ignore someone else’s need
I don’t understand why humans
Have to need and be hurt before they understand

How Can I (or Anybody) Forgive All the Time?

I talk about forgiveness a good bit, but it’s much more difficult than I make it out to be. Sometimes, I pretend to forgive, but I really don’t. When someone hurts me on purpose, I remember it, whether I want to or not, for a long time. Years later, when I meet people who have previously been mean to me, I remember what they did, and it still negatively colors my perception of them. I might be able to carry on a polite conversation, but the horrible memories of their hateful words and actions hang between us like dirty laundry, silent but still fluttering in the breeze.

And I have a feeling I’m not the only one who carries these kinds of feelings.

Silently Unforgiven

When people deliberately hurt me and don’t care that they hurt me, I find it almost impossible to let go of the hurt.

Take the gang of girls in 6th grade who routinely stood on each other’s shoulders in the bathroom to see down into my stall so that they could make fun of my privates and my pooched-out belly, and dumped bathroom trash down on my head while they were at it. And their teasing did not just confine itself to the bathroom–oh, no, they poked me in the back with the sharp ends of pencils in class, slapped my open locker door so that it would hit me in the head, and mocked me so hard about my partially-clad body in the girls’ locker room that I took to changing in the tiny bathroom stall. (Not to say that these girls DIDN’T try to wedge their heads underneath the door so they could see me doing that, too. Ended up having to stuff my gym bag under the door so they couldn’t get under it easily.)

Their daily humiliation tactics are still effective years later–I’m still hunching in shame writing this. And it seemed that most of my teachers were blissfully unaware of this, or they chose to ignore it because I was the “problem kid,” the one who always cried about everything. I never stopped bringing this to their attention, but it took my parents talking to my teachers to get them to see that I wasn’t making this stuff up just to get attention. And even then, the teachers’ solution was to “make me some friends,” allying me with one of my worst enemies in an attempt to keep me from being lonely. They made such halfhearted attempts to understand or rectify the situation that it was laughable, if I could have laughed by then.

If I was commanded to instantly forgive these girls (as God commands us all to forgive), I don’t know if I could, not even 14 years later. I still want to punch every one of them in the face and stomp on their necks for the senseless cruelty they dealt out to a naive 12-year-old who didn’t know how to fight back. I have had vivid, triumphant dreams in which I did just that, letting the weight of my body, which they mercilessly teased me about, crush their throats so that they strangled to death under my feet. That’s how much I still hate all of those girls…

…and I hate myself, for being so evil as to think such things about another human being.

Silently Strangling Myself with Memories

Those mean girls aren’t the only ones I have trouble forgiving, either. Especially in middle school, I had a profound hatred for most of the people I went to school with, because I was verbally and physically abused by many different kids (shoved against lockers, held against the wall and pinched/slapped, picked on for everything from my “high-water” pants to my developing chest and hips). And I got repeatedly told by school authorities to “be more mature” and stop disrupting class with my complaints about being treated this way. All I know is, if this had been done to me in the “real world” and the offenders had been 18 years old, they would have been put on trial and sent to jail. I have a hard time forgiving the students who did this to me, the other kids who just stood around and watched, and the school authorities who refused to believe me and took the word of my tormentors over mine.

I’m probably the only one who still remembers what these people said and did; it lives with me every day. But how can I forget what they did, when it harmed me so much, when it happened at a time that I was very vulnerable?

I forgive the new hurts in my life a little more easily, because any harm I receive these days is usually due to accident rather than malice–we’ve all grown up and become a little nicer to each other, at least most of the time. But the old, malicious hurts, the ones I received while still developing, are almost too scarred to ever return to normal. How can I let go of the bitterness and hurt, when that bitterness and hurt has been incorporated into me, has become part of my story and part of the way I react to certain people?

Speaking, Finally

Acknowledging this gap between false forgiveness (paying it lip service while still feeling bitter) and real forgiveness (truly accepting the other person’s error as just that, an error) is important. Forgiveness, eventually, comes through realizing that people are not just the sum of their errors. One reason I’m so guilt-ridden about the mistakes I’ve made in my own life is because I keep looking at my life as a whole and only seeing the places I messed up–I focus too hard on all my errors, and it makes me have a negative self-image overall. I am not just the sum of my errors, and neither is anybody else.

But just realizing that is not enough to be able to forgive. This hatred, this bitterness and resentment, is old and dried and caked on my spirit. I have lived with it so long that it has become part of me, and excising it will take time. Yes, that gang of 5 or 6 girls made a lot of mistakes when they treated me like that, but I doubt they would have cared if someone had told them it was a mistake. Malice against another person for no good reason is something I don’t understand. Vengeance, angry justice, is something I understand all too well, and it’s something I still hunger for. Forgiveness cannot come if you are still seeking vengeance…believe me, I’ve tried.

Like many people who have trouble forgiving senseless, malicious acts, I don’t understand why I was treated the way I was by so many people, and I will likely have trouble forgiving until I understand. I have tried to reason out why so many of my classmates might have struck out at me this way–possibly jealousy because of my academic record? Possibly personal insecurity just like mine? Possibly trying to climb the social ladder by doing what everybody else was doing–picking on me? But nothing seems to match with the particular brand of outright gleeful cruelty that was dealt out to me by the gang of girls I spoke of. I fear I will never understand why they felt the need to hurt another person who was clearly no threat to them, physically, mentally, or spiritually. By the end of 6th grade I was so bent and broken inside that I often wished I would die in my sleep…and it was largely due to them. I was more of a threat to myself than they were, strictly because I knew hurting or killing someone else was wrong. (Didn’t stop me from thinking about it, a LOT, but I never did it.)

Forgiveness, the Christian Way

I know that to follow God’s will and Jesus’ teachings, I must be able to forgive, not just partially, not just saying the words, but actually doing it. And so, I am praying the following prayer, starting tonight and every night until I can finally forgive:

Lord, you know my feelings about these girls. You know how much I hate them, how much I resent them and regard them with bitterness. Help me lift these terrible feelings away from myself and trust them to You. Help me realize that these girls are humans too, that they might have been suffering too, even though right now I cannot believe that. Work in my heart and help me heal.

Forgiveness, the Christian way, is a daily process, full of backsliding and regaining balance; it’s not a one-time deal at all. If it was, I’d have been done years ago. This may seem silly to pray about something 14 years in the past, but if I’m ever going to feel free of bitterness, I have to do this. It may be the only way to stop feeling strangled with bad memories.

“Unna-med” and Other Laughable Anecdotes from My Life

Academically, I’m considered a pretty smart girl. I’m a Phi Beta Kappa, was active in many academic honor societies, and generally got high grades in all my coursework (both in public school and in college). But, despite all this education and all these book smarts, I’m also quite capable of saying (and doing) dumb things, as are we all. Sometimes, there ain’t a drop of sense in my head, as the following anecdotes will show, rather plainly:

Hanging Up a Towel to Dry

One day during the summer I was 10, I had gone up to my uncle and aunt’s house about a half-mile away to swim in their backyard pool with my cousins. We had a great day swimming, and by the time I walked back to my house, my beach towel was completely sodden. I hung the beach towel on the bathroom doorknob when I got in, and promptly forgot about it as I took care of rinsing out my bathing suit and getting a shower to get all the chlorinated water out of my hair.

A few hours later, Mom came downstairs and was incensed to find that I’d left the beach towel hanging up to drip slightly-sandy water all over the bathroom floor. “What were you thinking?” she asked, showing me the dirty towel and the yucky bathroom floor. “You should have put the towel straight into the washer if it was dirty!”

“But Mom,” I argued back, “I had to hang it up to let it dry before I could wash it!”

…It made sense in my head… V_V

The “Shortcut”

A few years ago, I was attending college on a campus full of one-way streets. I had heard a lot of my friends complaining about them, saying that the path to one of the more centrally-located dorms was a particularly large pain in the posterior.

“Well, I never have any problems getting to that dorm,” I replied one time. “I found a shortcut.”

There was indeed a street that wrapped back around the dorm in question, and was easy to get to from the side of campus that we always approached from. All you had to do was turn left when you got past the cafeteria building and looped up toward the infirmary, and you could get to the back of the dorm really easily.

I had been going that way for as long as I could remember. Thus, I was shocked when a campus police cart pulled up behind me one day, its lights and horn going, as I was leaving campus for the weekend (since it was not only a shortcut to the dorm, but to the main road out of campus). I pulled to one side of the road and rolled down my window, expecting him to say I had a burned-out taillight or something.

“What are you doing?” he asked as he approached the window.

“I’m heading out of campus,” I said, gesturing forward as I spoke.

“Didn’t you see the signs?” he asked, and he pointed across the street, to a “Wrong Way” sign facing in my direction. Apparently, I had disregarded that one…just like I’d disregarded the four other “Wrong Way” signs I had already passed. My shortcut, it appeared, was indeed handy–but it was illegal.

(And don’t worry about my “record”–the campus police officer let me go, after I explained myself, with a laugh and a warning not to do it again!) XD

And now for the piece de resistance…

Hey Guys, Come Check This Weird Name Out!

When I was in 9th grade, I was taking Physical Science, and the teacher had a map and chart up of history-making hurricanes displayed on the wall near his desk. Having always been fascinated by the study of weather, I came in early one day and busied myself studying all the hurricanes listed on the map–where they hit, what time of year, how strong they were, etc.

One hurricane in particular caught my eye–it had struck southern Texas in 1899, and was named “Unna-med” (I mentally pronounced it “Oo-nah-mehd”). “WOW!” I thought. “That must have been a really active hurricane season–they got all the way to the U’s in the alphabet!”

Then I wondered what the name “Oo-nah-mehd” meant. “Wonder if it’s based on an ancient Aztec or Mayan word?” I mused. “It’s a really unusual name for a hurricane, but being that it hit so close to northern Mexico, they might have gone with an international name rather than an Americanized name.”

My head buzzed with this all day. I came home and told Mom and Dad about my discovery, and they were curious as well. I told them that I was going to school tomorrow to show the other kids what I’d learned and maybe ask my teacher about it. (Remember, kids, this was in 1999 before the Internets was the phenomenon that it is today. My family didn’t even HAVE internet at home yet, so I couldn’t go home and look it up–if I could have, I could have saved myself a fail. XD)

Anyhow, I got to school the next day and excitedly told all my friends about the crazily-named hurricane I’d found. They wanted to see the map, and I told them to come with me to my science classroom so I could show them. We were all pumped.

I tore up the stairs to the second-floor science classroom, put my stuff down at the desk, and went over to the map, easily finding the aforementioned storm name. I looked…and there it was. “Unnamed.”

“Where’s the cool storm name?” one of my friends asked, as she ran into the room after me.

All I could do was stand there and laugh, nervously. “Um…yeah, you’re not going to believe this, but…I totally misread the name,” I said, sheepishly.

“Wait, huh?” my other friend asked. Then she looked at the map, and where my finger was pointing.

“Unnamed?” she asked, furrowing her brow. “But you said it was…”

“Oo-nah-mehd,” I finished, and we all burst into giggles. Yes, that’s right, I had just figured out an exotic new pronunciation for the word “unnamed.” Fail complete, facepalm in progress. XD

And Yes…All These Stories Are True

Embarrassingly true. I think God’s “common sense” jar was empty the day I came through. XD But I have to be honest about myself (both my awesome moments and my laughable fails). Sometimes, it pays to remember we’re all human, and laugh about it. ^_^

Perfect Little Moments

perfectlittlemoments
As a break from the weightier Tuesday on the Soapbox posts of the last few weeks, I give you this poetic entry as food for thought…all the perfect little moments we live through every day, but rarely take time to really experience. Hope you enjoy the ones I’ve listed here from my own life, and I also hope it makes you think of some of your own perfect little moments in your life, too.

  • Driving down the highway, windows down and music turned up, with a bunch of best friends.
  • The faint, pleasant chill of early morning coming in through open windows, as you lie in bed, perfectly snuggled up in covers, perfectly aware that it’s your day off and you can sleep in.
  • Stepping out from a dreary building into a rain-washed world, where even the sky looks bluer and the sunlight seems cleaner.
  • Finding the cool spot on the pillow.
  • Bare feet on a gently sun-warmed wooden porch.
  • An honest, much-needed conversation over hot chocolate on a chilly day.
  • Being the only driver on the road as far as you can see, both ahead of you and in your rearview mirror. (Perfect time for serious, out-loud contemplation, or enthusiastic singing along to the radio)
  • Watching dawn or dusk creep across a quiet, rural landscape…soft light and shadow playing across the streets and into the fields and forests, colors of leaves and branches shifting in the changing light.
  • Coming into an air-conditioned building from the sweltering heat and humidity of high summer–like diving into a pool without getting wet.
  • Putting on still-warm-from-the-dryer underwear.
  • When the knot of traffic ahead finally eases and you can speed up at last.
  • Bowing your head to pray, and feeling all the worry and hurt ripple out of you as you honestly talk to God.

A Cluttered Mind

aclutteredmind
Many of us suffer from physical clutter in our homes (myself included). It’s a modern housekeeping malady–we have tons of stuff, lying all over the place or squirreled away wherever it can fit. Most of us don’t even want to THINK about opening our storage closets or outbuildings anymore.

Clutter Isn’t Just Physical

But clutter doesn’t just manifest as piles of old receipts on the desk or stacks of old books on the floor. Clutter appears also in our heads. I find myself pushing aside various half-completed mental to-do lists and worries in order to try to complete a task; when I drive, I often start sorting through old guilt, things I forgot to do, and random ideas that pop to mind when, of course, I can’t stop to write them down.

Yep, my mind is a very cluttered place, just like many of the rooms in my house. Any horizontal space in my home is instantly a clutter magnet, and any free neurons in my brain are instantly taken up with endlessly processing and reprocessing worry and guilt. The worry is about tomorrow, and the guilt is about yesterday. Today is too full of failing to even process most of the time.

I would feel fairly safe in guessing that most of us suffer from cluttered minds. If you look at the increasing instances of car accidents, workplace problems, and relationship/family strife, it all seems to point to stress and overcrowded minds. Victims and perpetrators of car accidents alike say “I never saw him/her coming,” for instance. We were too mentally busy to properly look, perhaps, or to properly brake to avoid an accident. I’ve had more than a few near misses myself, so it’s easy for anybody to slip up. We also slip up in our emotional lives, hurting others and never even noticing because of the mental clutter we are tripping over.

Housekeeping for the Mind

Trying to de-junk our homes is one thing. It seems to be easier to separate out what is clearly too broken to save, too dirty to bother cleaning, and too old to matter when we are handling physical objects–well, at least for people who don’t hoard random stuff like Propel water bottles. (Not my finest moment, I assure you.)

But what about de-junking our brains? It’s much more difficult to discard old bad memories, especially when it seems like they hold a terrible truth about the kind of people we really are inside.

For example: Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about the time I chucked a rock behind me during recess, trying to get back at some of the mean boys who were throwing rocks at my legs as I ran by. I hit another little girl instead, and I really hurt her leg–bruised it up something awful. And I never truly apologized. It’s been almost twenty years and I still think about it, because in those moments I was vengeful and selfish, and it led to carelessness that hurt someone else. And not only did I hurt someone, I never apologized. Is that the kind of person other people remember me as? Is that the kind of person I still am?

That’s one small example of my guilty mental clutter, among the many dirty and shameful memories I have stacked in my mental closet. It’s like I hoard these memories as a reminder that I am capable of being an awful person, just in case I ever get a little bit too full of myself, just a little too proud of the person I’ve become.

I have a feeling that a lot of us do this to ourselves, maybe not always to de-puff our egos, but for reasons of our own. Maybe we feel we’re not good enough to warrant being happy, or maybe we keep these old memories around as a way of keeping ourselves from backsliding back to where we were. In any case, these cluttered memories, those old worries, guilt, and fears, keep us from living the kind of life we want to live, just as the stacks and stacks of junk in my room right now are keeping me from living the kind of life I want for myself. We can make ourselves literally sick doing this kind of stuff to our minds–anxiety, depression, insomnia, and chronic stress don’t just appear from nowhere.

Courage to Pick up the Mental Broom

If we want uncluttered minds, we have to be willing to work to clear it. My very wise and very forgiving boyfriend has talked with me often about letting go of old guilt, even saying one time, “You know, you’re probably the only one who even remembers that this happened. If the people you hurt or offended that long ago have forgotten it, then why are you still holding on to it?”

I explained my point above, about my old actions possibly revealing an ugly truth about me, and he said, “Well, if you didn’t have any flaws and never made any mistakes, you’d be Jesus, and as awesome as Jesus is, I don’t know if I could date Him.” We laughed, but he was right. I needed to let go of old junk in my head; even if the “ugly truth” was true at the time, I can work now to fix that flaw in myself now. People can change, houses can be clean again, and minds can be clear.

I can’t say I sleep like a baby at night now, because I don’t. I still have old guilt and new worries swirling about on my mental floor. But at least I am now armed with a broom, and can sweep those problems out. You can be armed with a mental broom, too.

Dusk…My Favorite Time of Day

duskfavoritetime
3863536906_76da7abb33_b
Beautiful, evocative dusky road; picture found at Alan Yahnke’s Flickr.

I have always loved dusk more than dawn, ever since childhood. Dusk is a time of trees turning deeper green and casting lengthening shadows, of harsh sunlight fading into lovely colors, arcing deep into the west. It also is a time of winding down for the day, a time when it seems like you can be outside without being attacked by zillions of bugs, and you can rest without being swarmed by your to-do list. Not only that, it’s cooler (especially during the summer).

Forest dusk Wallpaper__yvt2
Look at this beautiful dusk light effect! Ahh… picture found at ScenicReflections.com

I love driving at dusk, walking at dusk, or even looking out the window at it. The transient time of late afternoon passing into early evening brings out some of the most beautiful and ephemeral colors in the landscape, and it seems to put away the endless noise of morning and midday, bringing with it a sudden stillness with light cricket accompaniment.

1299649558_1024x768_dusk-forest
Deep blue-green forest; picture found at Flash-Screen.com

Dusk, in contrast to dawn, is the end of stress and rushing around, and the beginning of “me time.” I’m usually done with all my work for the day and can now devote a little time to writing, watching some TV or a movie, talking to my boyfriend, family, or friends, or even just thinking quietly. Lying in bed, feeling the heaviness of my own limbs pressing into the soft surface, breathing deeply for the first time all day…it’s a languor that dawn does not allow, and dusk revels in.

Dusk also seems to bring out the relaxed conversation I love most. When I’m out at dusk with lots of people (or even just a few people), our words seem to turn to the philosophical and the meditative, the peaceful and the glad. Talk to anybody in the morning (just after dawn, usually), and you’ll likely get a string of complaints, worries, pains, and problems–well, either that or they’re entirely too darned happy ’cause they’re morning birds, LOL! But talk to anybody in the evening, and you’ll likely get a little slower and gentler conversation, maybe dotted with a bit of griping about the day…which eases off as dusk transitions the world toward sleep, as if the time of day itself helps wipe away the day’s concerns.

I guess you could say I’m a night owl because I love evenings more than mornings, but I think it’s probably more relaxing for me to know that relaxation, togetherness, and sleep is ahead rather than a rushed meal, gridlock, and expectations. Dusk is an escape from all that, an escape without anything else necessary to enhance it.

Glassics: Tuesday on the Soapbox

This is a complete topic review of all the posts I’ve done in the Tuesday on the Soapbox category to date. I plan to write more fashion and humor posts in this category, since there’s only one of each so far! 🙂

Social Commentary

Why do people have to die for social problems to be taken seriously?
Respect Your Teachers
Respect Retail Workers
Politics: Remember “United We Stand, Divided We Fall?”
Leveling Up in Life
Virginity in the Modern World
Texting and Driving
Think Before You Type

Thoughtful Contemplations

Love Transforms Us
Momentary Meditations
Rediscovering the Library
Warmer Temps, Warmer Mood
While the World Sleeps: The Middle of the Night
Sheltering Branches

Physical Concerns

Exercise: Not My Idea of Fun
Pain has changed my personality.
Zumba: Yes, it IS a Workout

Fashion

Fashion for Big Women

Humor

Bathroom Epiphanies

Emotions

Depression: Not Dirty Laundry
Five Real Social Coping Strategies
Loneliness, the Bane

Sheltering Branches

shelteringbranches

overhanging_tree
I love the thick green of forest leaves in late spring and summer. Somehow, it feels as though the very air is thicker with life than it is in the barren, cold winter; birds hop along branches, and squirrels scurry up tree trunks to hide in the foliage. The delicate beauty of each thin leaf combines with its brethren to make a soft silhouette of shade on the grass, promising rest and relaxation.

Maybe it’s my inner hippie coming out, but forests have always felt sheltering to me. It surprised me to learn, while I was studying for my English major in college, that in literature, forests have often been used as the sites for sorcery and evil being afoot, such as in Young Goodman Brown. I guess it’s because my house is planted square in the middle of a large forest that I’ve always viewed forests as places of rest and safety. The screen of leaves, tree branches, and trunks fully obscures my home from the road, generally keeping us safe from robbers and trespassers. Sinuous branches arching over parts of the driveway and house may present a slight danger during ice storms, but for much of the year, they provide welcome respite for all sorts of little animals (and tired humans returning from shopping trips!).

tree_hanging_over_water
I’m the kind of person who will drive down the road, sight a particularly beautifully-shaped tree, and stop and take a picture of it; I’ll do the same for lovely vistas of foliage allowing just hints of sunlight to pierce through to the ground. What I love most is that trees and forests aren’t just beautiful, but useful–when I’m taking refuge from the sun under a pretty tree, it feels sometimes like I’m being watched over and protected. Other people seem to think the same thing, albeit unconsciously; when looking for a parking spot in the summer, the spots with trees shading them are usually taken first!

Even though trees might besmirch our cars with their sap, overly shade our front lawns, or even threaten our houses when they die and begin to lean, I still think they provide a restful counterpoint to human life. You can’t just stop and watch a tree grow, and yet they are in constant cycles of growth, as their rings tell us. They are perpetually still and yet vibrantly alive in the same moment, like a person in meditation. We spend our days rushing around for sustenance and shelter and comfort; they derive their sustenance and comfort from the ground underneath, and provide us with a little of the same.

Photos belong to: IPadWalls.com & The.Rain.Man’s photostream.

Love Transforms Us

lovetransformsus
The “love” of which I speak in this article can be romantic love, the love of friendship, or the love of God, but its power does not get diluted in the slightest by its different denominations. Love is a powerful force is in our lives, and I have personally witnessed and experienced what a profound effect it can have on us–I believe love can change us when everyone and everything else cannot.

(This post, admittedly, is my attempt to speak of what I don’t quite grasp yet, so it might be a little out there. But it’s been a rare uplifting topic on my mind for a few weeks, so I decided to write about it.)

Romantic Love: A Motivator for Personal Change

For years, I hated myself. Absolutely, definitively, hated myself. Imperfection was the big concern for me–I wasn’t mistake-free, of course, and I got picked on in school for every mistake I made, mostly because I made such a big deal about it. I even began to self-mutilate because of my perfectionism, ranging from beating my own head with my fist to biting the first phalange of my right index finger. I wanted to be perfect, and when I couldn’t be, I had to punish myself. Disturbed logic as it was, it made sense to me in the moment. I didn’t consider myself worthy of love because of my imperfection.

Though I am not completely free of self-mutilation today, I do it a lot less frequently (and with less vigor) than I used to. That, I can credit almost completely to the supportive, healing love my longtime boyfriend has offered me. He doesn’t yell at me or deride me when I begin to bite my finger (as is my wont when life is generally not going my way). He instead sits with me and talks to me, literally “talking me down” from hurting myself any worse. He’s told me several times that seeing me hurt myself frightens him and makes him sad, and that he would rather that I hurt him than hurt myself. (Of course, I would never hurt anybody else–that’s one reason I turn my anger on myself rather than hit somebody who might deserve a good punch in the face. XD)

Over the years we have been together, I have watched my need to self-mutilate shrink to an occasional thing rather than an everyday thing, and I find myself sharing my little successes with him, telling him that it’s been four days since I last bit, or maybe even a week and a half since I last bit. One day at a time? Indeed. It is a daily process, but his support and his love make it possible for me to let the dark crescents of bite marks on my fingers heal, and for me to stop needing to inflict more. This healing relationship has helped me to transform, in a way I never imagined I could be any different.

The Love of God: An Amazing Changing Force

In the mid-2000s, I knew a lady in her early thirties who was a friend of a friend’s family. She stayed with them a few weeks at a time, when she was between houses and between jobs; I soon grew to understand why she was often between houses and between jobs, since her drug use and drinking were a major part of her life, as well as abusive men who stole from her and tried to control her. She spoke often of being so strung out she didn’t know where she was, and on late nights my friend and I would hear her begin to cry, only to fall asleep in the middle of her tears. I didn’t really know what to say to her, how to talk to her so that maybe I could help her–it seemed like she was already an old woman in a young woman’s body, with medical problems and addictions that thinned her brown hair and shrunk her face so much that she looked like a faded portrait of herself.

She moved out of my friend’s house for the last time in 2007, and we lost contact with her afterwards. I worried that she was in prison or in a homeless shelter somewhere; I hoped maybe she had found a place to live somewhere else, away from all the bad memories. The last place I expected to see her again was my church in March of 2011, coming down the aisle to talk to the preacher about moving her membership there.

As I stood in the choir loft that morning, singing the verses of the invitation hymn that called anyone who wanted a few moments to pray at the altar to come down, I saw a trim but healthy-looking woman stand up from one of the back pews and walk down the center aisle toward the front of the church. Her hair, wavy and thick, was highlighted, warm blonde atop light brown, and she wore a smile and a glow that spoke of being whole at long last; she wore a simple blouse and skirt, looking put-together and professional. I did not know her, I was sure–and yet, as she clasped hands with the minister and began to speak to him quietly, I felt that somehow, I did know her. It was not until she turned and glanced at me, and her eyes brightened with recognition, that it finally clicked; she was the friend of a friend’s family from so long ago. She was so utterly changed, inside and out, that the memory I had of her didn’t match at all.

After church services were over, I came down from the choir loft and went to speak to her. There was a radiance about her that almost made me disbelieve she was the same woman I had known before–gone was the frail old-young woman who was sometimes too strung out to answer the door, and in her place was a woman with a new grace and stability. I didn’t get to speak to her long, but I walked away knowing that the love of God had transformed yet another soul, one I never would have guessed could have been reached. The completeness I sensed was so touching and poignant that I found myself weeping. Just as God had transformed my life through the love of a good man, so had He done hers through time and spiritual rediscovery.

I Don’t Know How It Works, But I’m Glad It Does!

I don’t know exactly how these transformations take place. All I know is that it’s hard for me to look back at the way I was before I met my boyfriend and feel the self-hatred thrumming through my memories, because I am quite different now. Yes, the hate does come back on occasion, when I’ve missed a turn on the road for the fifth time, or when I just can’t solve that last puzzle that will make a website work. But it’s a lot less often now. The love God brought into my life changed that for me, just as He changed the woman I once knew from helpless and broken to complete and joyful. Love, in all its forms, can indeed transform us as no other force can on earth.