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Lessons Learned During a Week Without Blogging

Like a hairy (but disarmingly handsome) prophet am I come back from the promised land.

In case you didn’t notice, I took last week off from blogging, both reading and writing. I responded to a couple of comments here to avoid being discourteous. Other than that, I put myself on a strict no-blog diet.

Twyla Tharp‘s book The Creative Habit (via 43 Folders) inspired me to swear off blogs for a week. Her examples of voluntary sacrifices that can foster creativity made it clear that blogs were a perfect choice for me.

My conscience had been nagging me that blogging had become an unbalanced part of my life. My daughters often came to me as I sat on the couch reading blogs and asked to read a book or play with me. I (irritated by the distraction) would brush them aside, “Not now. I’m reading. Maybe later?”

How fucking backwards! My time with my daughters is slipping away one minute at a time, and I feel obligated to get my feed reader down to zero unread posts? That is the very definition of having my priorities upside down.

Blogging is great. I love that people the world over are having conversations. I have let that conversation with relative strangers distract from my relationship with the people closest to me. There have been far too many days where I came home from work and spent no meaningful time with my family because I was blogging.

Blogging also provides an easy way to procrastinate while feeling like I’m accomplishing something. I do my duty to stay an informed citizen by reading blogs while I put off all those projects that intimidated me too much to even start them. The blogosphere kindly provided a never ending supply of new blog posts to read. Meanwhile, I left important things undone.

So I took the week off from blogging. I also took a week off from work and spent my time at home. So what did I do with all that time? I read the newspaper. I caught up on my reading (books). I played with the girls. I watched movies. I did a few chores. We took field trips to museums and state parks. I worked on long neglected projects. I relaxed. I remembered what it was like to live in a world without blogs.

I noticed something. The non-blog stuff that I read or watched was well thought out and lucidly presented. I felt rewarded for my time spent with them. I imagine the creators put their creations through at least two drafts before giving me the finished product. Let’s face it. With occasional exceptions, a lot of the blog world barely makes it through one draft. It’s a world full of rough drafts that we dash off and send out with a spellcheck (maybe) and a smile. It’s easy to waste time on this noisy channel trying to separate out the valuable from the dross.

Perhaps I am judging the blogging world too harshly. It is more like a conversation with friends than reading a book or watching a movie. Even so, I think I should spend less time chatting with friends and more time with my girls while they’re still interested in spending time with dear ol’ Dad, more time romancing my wife, and more time accomplishing something meaningful to me.

So now what?

I’ll make a deal with you blog-o-sphere: I’ll keep reading in moderation and put my posts through at least two drafts when it’s appropriate (I sat on this post all week), if you’ll forgive me for not reading everything that comes my way. Once I can read all my blogs in about 30–45 minutes a day, I’m done. Any new kid on the block who has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove will have to bump someone else off my reading list.


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Stir It Up

I listened this morning to an NPR segment discussing Playing For Change a project featuring the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers, such as Don’t Worry, rendered by musicians around the world. These musicians never met each other. Instead, they played and sung the songs while listening to the music of the others.

In a bit of synchronicity, I watched I Am Legend last night, which revolves in its way around Marley’s music and philosophy of One Love. Marley tried to inject his message into the consciousness of the people who heard his music to cure hatred. In the movie, the protagonist recounts how two days after Marley was gunned down by men trying to stop the One Love Peace concert, he got on stage to sing anyway. When asked why, he explained that the “people that are trying to make the world worse never take a day off, why should [he]? Light up the darkness.”

I may not share Bob Marley’s trust in a God, but that’s a trivial difference between us. It shouldn’t get in the way. We share something more important. Dale McGowan defines a humanist as “somebody who thinks that people should all take care of each other, and whether there is a god or there isn’t, we should spend our time making this life and this world better.” We can all rally around our shared humanity.

So let’s get out there and stir it up.

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Sita Sings the Blues

Lakshmi Phonograph

I’ve put off writing this post because I wanted to say something eloquent about Sita Sings the Blues, a free-culture movie masterpiece. I couldn’t muster eloquent, so I’ll make due.

Roger Ebert first turned me on to Sita. Sita is a modern take on the Ramayana on the feminist side with vocals by Annette Hanshaw. (I’m a sucker for cross-cultural mashups.) I like it. My girls like it. My youngest regularly requests the “Hindu god movie”.

So go watch it. It’s free!

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Sexual Epidemic

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.—Oscar Wilde

I accept that idea with some skepticism. It contains a grain of truth, especially when we create the taboo that tempts us. We all know the power of the forbidden fruit. Tell any one of us that we can’t do something, and suddenly it tempts us.

In The Natural History of Alcoholism, Dr. George E. Vaillant found that cultures which forbid children from drinking and condone adult drunkenness (e.g. Ireland) have much higher incidence of alcoholism than cultures which allow children to occasionally sample alcohol and which look down upon adult drunkenness (e.g. Italy). Further, children from families who forbid drinking at the dinner table but the adults drink elsewhere are seven times more likely to become alcoholics than children who grew up with adults drinking at the dinner table and drunkenness was forbidden.

(I wonder about the incidence of alcoholism among those who completely forbid alcohol.)

What I take away from that study is that in cultures where drinking will take place, it is critical that adults model moderation and make alcohol an ordinary part of life. Making alcohol a rite of passage or a secret pleasure for adults only makes alcoholism more likely.

I want to make a connection to our culture’s attitudes toward sex. I don’t have a study to cite. I have only my own experience of growing up in a culture that treats nudity and sexuality as secret rites of passage and of later rejecting those notions. We display these attitudes everywhere: we label erotic materials as “adult”, you can’t see a woman’s bare breast in a movie until you are 17, and we allow ourselves to be distracted from two wars by a few seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple because we’re worried that children might have see it. We seem to believe that children would be asexual if not exposed to adult sexuality.

The church of my youth took this further. The LDS church taught me that I shouldn’t allow myself to express my sexuality in any meaningful way until I was a married adult. They made even sexual thoughts taboo. No wonder then that members of that culture have dysfunctional relationships with sexuality. Abuse of pornography runs rampant within the church.

I commend the LDS church leadership for addressing this issue, yet their strategy saddens me:

On the other hand, however—and extremely alarming—are the reports of the number of individuals who are utilizing the Internet for evil and degrading purposes, the viewing of pornography being the most prevalent of these purposes. My brothers and sisters, involvement in such will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs—wherever they may be! I sound this warning to everyone, everywhere.…

My beloved friends, under no circumstances allow yourselves to become trapped in the viewing of pornography, one of the most effective of Satan’s enticements. And if you have allowed yourself to become involved in this behavior, cease now. Seek the help you need to overcome and to change the direction of your life. Take the steps necessary to get back on the strait and narrow, and then stay there. (Thomas Monson, April 2009 General Conference)

They think it best to heap on more fear and guilt for being a sexual being before you are married. The LDS—and American—fascination with sex results from a perverse set of mixed messages. I fell prey to that fascination as a child and only recently escaped. I appreciate that many of us believe we should protect children from their sexuality while (married) adults can properly enjoy sexuality away from their fragile eyes. But I see an analogy to the cultures that have high levels of alcoholism.

I recently rejected that culture and its mixed messages too. I learned to be titillated by sexual material—a healthy human response—and yet to avoid being swept away by guilt or fear. In truth, sexuality has lost some of its naughty savor as it became an ordinary part of my life enjoyed in moderation.

I suggest that we change our messages about sex to the next generation. Rather than sending them the message that seeing adult nudity is too dangerous for children, we should make nudity perfectly ordinary. I don’t foresee becoming a nudist, but viewing fine art nudes—along with other fine arts—could become an ordinary, nourishing part of childhood. We can divorce nudity from sexuality.

Likewise, we could give balanced information about sexuality and its consequences instead of short, uncomfortable, shamed discussions or over-the-top portrayals of sex in the movies. What our children need is real information.

If pornography becomes epidemic despite all our efforts, we must conclude that what we’re doing doesn’t work. We need to set aside our ideologies and ask ourselves what helps our children to grow up healthy and happy. Perhaps it is time to become more comfortable with sexuality, teaching our children through our examples how to enjoy it responsibly.

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Humanity’s Thin Line

How easily is our humanity stripped away! There but for the grace of Vishnu…

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