Ten for Tuesday

Lots of links to clear out today.

But first, a bonus: Have you checked out my Living Improv conversations on YouTube lately? Two new short videos every two weeks! The latest deal with improvising through illness, and listening for what people really want and need, rather than what you think they do. Watch ‘em! Use the discussion questions with friends! Etc.!

And away we go!

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1. I had an improv teacher who would send a weekly email, prefaced by a link to a song with the note, “Please listen to the following as you read to enhance your email experience.” In that spirit, here’s New Order’s “Blue Monday” played on 1930s instruments. *chef’s kiss*

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2. Speaking of improv, I love how empowering it can be. Read about this recent administrative mistake that turned into a gift, courtesy of Washington Improv Theater. Kudos to that courageous improv student!

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3-4. We have a high school sophomore, which means we’re just at the beginning of the college conversation. These two Reddit threads, written by young people in college, have been very instructive.

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5. On the topic of young people, the Washington Post reports on a Maryland school in which Teen boys rated their female classmates based on looks, and the girls fought back… In a really great, empowering way, it should be said.

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6-7. In the What Really Matters category, these two are deep reads but worth it: The only metric of success that really matters is the one we ignore (Jenny Anderson, Quartz) and Three Magical Phrases to Comfort a Dying Person (Jenny Harrington, Medium).

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8-9. How about a few badass ladies? This article made the rounds recently, about two sisters who would seduce Nazis in bars and lure them to the woods where they would summarily execute them. I’m not a fan of vigilante justice, but I make an exception for bona fide Nazis.

And I love this amazing photo of two Scottish women, rock climbing in the 1900s in blouses and ankle-length skirts:

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10. And finally, a linguist who argues why we all need to start using y’all. Way ahead of ya, dude!

Onward.

Ten for Tuesday... Including Free Stuff

Away we go!

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1. What’s going on in this picture? Click the link to find out.

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As Trevor Noah put it, “I only cried twice watching this video.”

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2. The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles (Man Repeller) This was an interesting article, as someone who’s cobbled together full-time work with a series of side hustles. But the real gem was the paragraph that began, “Whenever I have some time to myself, I panic. Unstructured time — especially spent alone — is phenomenally rare in my life and I feel an overwhelming obligation to make good use of it.” Ahem…

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3. And on that note, The Religion of Workism Is Making Americans Miserable (Derek Thompson, Atlantic)

The rich have always worked less than the poor, because they could afford to. The landed gentry of preindustrial Europe dined, danced, and gossiped, while serfs toiled without end. In the early 20th century, rich Americans used their ample downtime to buy weekly movie tickets and dabble in sports. Today’s rich American men can afford vastly more downtime. But they have used their wealth to buy the strangest of prizes: more work!

…Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.

One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.

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4. Everyone Around You Is Grieving. Go Easy (John Pavlovitz) A gentle reminder.

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5. The Latest Diet Trend is Not Dieting (Amanda Mull, Atlantic) On “intuitive eating,” in which people learn to listen to their bodies and eat what they want. When it comes to nutrition, when I’m at my best, I am some combination of intuitive eating, Michael Pollan’s seven words, and Carter Good’s entire Instagram feed (left).

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6. The Minimum Wage Saves Lives (New York Times) A living wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect.

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7. Patriarchy Chicken (Charlotte Riley, New Statesman) In which a woman experiments with not getting out of the way of men on the street. I don’t officially condone colliding with people, but I’ve done a milder version of this game and kept a mental tally, and it is amazing how effectively I’ve been socialized to get out of men’s way, and how few men get out of mine.

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8. A Sermon on Depression (Michael Gerson) I hate depression. I really do. I will say “f*** cancer” with the best of them, but depression gets my biggest F-U every time. This was just fantastic. “In our right minds, we know that life is not a farce but a pilgrimage – or maybe a farce and a pilgrimage, depending on the day.”

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9. Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking (PDF, The Feeling Good Handbook) I heard this list recommended on the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast (a show that should be a recommended link all its own) and have been pondering this wise rationality ever since.

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10. And a final recommendation: don’t forget that the Living Improv videos debut this week via my newsletter! Be sure to subscribe. To sweeten the deal, new and returning subscribers will be entered in a drawing to receive one of three signed copies of God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

"Monkeys and Sloths": The Living Improv Videos Are Here!

I'm SO excited to share my latest project!

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Introducing Living Improv, a series of video conversations in which people reflect on the challenges and perplexities of life, and how improvisation helps see us through. I can't wait for you to meet these wise, insightful, and funny folks. A special preview video is linked below, called "Monkeys and Sloths." Enjoy! It’s a fun one.

The conversation partners in this series are a lot like you, my readers:

Some of them are "church people"... but many are not.
Some of them are students of improv... but some are not. And yet as you will see, all of them tackle the trials of life with a spirit of Yes-And. I was inspired and energized by these conversations, and I trust you will be too. I came away from these interactions even more convinced that improv offers a powerful set of tools for approaching the world.

Here's how it will work: starting the first week of March (that's next week!) I'll begin releasing the videos via my email newsletter. There are 12 in the series, about 4-8 minutes each--perfect bite-sized pieces for reflection. Emails will arrive every two weeks, with two Living Improv videos in each message--which means the newsletter will follow the same twice-a-month schedule it always has.

Are you part of a small group? Book club? Sunday School class? These videos are great for group discussion as well as individual reflection. Each will be accompanied by questions and exercises, plus scripture suggestions for Christian groups. If you're studying God, Improv, and the Art of Living, I will include ideas for connecting the Living Improv videos with the book, but they also stand alone.

Living Improv will be archived on YouTube and on my website, but I'll be releasing them first and foremost through my email list. Don’t miss out—be sure to subscribe here.

Without further ado... here's Monkeys and Sloths, part of a conversation with my friend Tim Hughes Williams, pastor of Light Street Church in Baltimore. (You’ll see him twice more in the series.)

And thanks to my awesome brother Luke McKibben of Lukrative Visual, who shot and edited the whole series.

Subscribe to receive the series here.

Ten for Tuesday

Some of this stuff is a few years old, but it came to me recently, right when I needed or was ready for it. Sharing in the hopes it will be such for you as well. Whoosh! Away we go:

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Reality Bites at 25 (Studio 360)

This movie about recent college grads in Houston came out when I was a college grad in Houston. How could I not love it? I’ll fight anyone who argues against its charms. That said, listen to the segment and tell me whether starting the piece with a reference to the Big Chill is not the most aggressively Boomer thing evah. News flash: not everything is about you, behemoth generation… which is one of the subtext of the film.

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Free beyond Wires

Been pondering this piece of art since a friend posted it… what do you think?

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Climate Wars: The End of the Beginning? (Washington Post, Capital Weather Gang)

A word of cautious optimism about a story that seems to have very little.

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Equal-Opportunity Evil (Slate)

A new history reveals that for female slaveholders, the business of human exploitation was just as profitable—and brutal—as it was for men.

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Poet Jane Kenyon’s Advice on Writing (Brain Pickings)

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More at the link. Like most writing advice, it’s good advice for life too.

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Ft. Myer Construction Stories

A Facebook friend shared this page—a construction company whose employees share stories of what they do in their pursuit of the American dream. They are as diverse and infused with everyday strength as you’d expect. This site reminds me of a workshop I took many years ago about helping organizations find their purpose and mission. The trainer once worked with a group of city employees who helped fill potholes. He helped them move from “I fill potholes” to statements like “I help people get home from work safely to their families.” A lovely reminder for all of us of the power of framing and finding that deeper Yes that animates us.

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Why I Hope to Die at 75 (Atlantic)

Written by a doctor, who makes a very compelling argument… which I say with trepidation, given that I have several family members in their 70s and I’d like them to stick around for a few more healthy decades.

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“Closeness Lines” Visualizations of Relationships Over Time (Olivia de Recat)

Sweet and thought-provoking:

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An Illustrated Talk with Maurice Sendak (The New York Times)

An illustrated segment of a four minute snippet of a 2012 interview with Maurice Sendak:

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The Delicate Cages of a Stranger’s Hands, Robert Bly (Improvised Life)

In a jewelry studio at the legendary 92nd Street Y, an instructor stopped in to chat with a colleague. Her hands were adorned with more rings than I’d ever seen anyone wear. When I asked her if I could photograph them, I learned she was Honey Jeanne Laber, who had been teaching jewelry-making at the Y for 30 years. Of her 40 or so rings, only one had not been made by her — of wonderfully incongruous-but-right-at-home emeralds and diamonds that was her grandmother’s. When I asked which was the oldest, she pointed out the first ring she ever made.

But more astonishing than the rings were her hands. They were to me a surprising symbol of how very beautiful we can become as we move deeply through life — the big gift of my day.

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Onward, friends. You are all beautiful!










Gratitude... and a Pre-Announcement Announcement

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

“Increasingly I discover that being alive involves taking a chance, acting on less than certainty, engaging with life. All of this brings change, and for me the process of change is life. I realize that if I were stable and steady and static, I would be living death. So I accept confusion and uncertainty and fear and emotional highs and lows, because they are the price I willingly pay for a flowing, perplexing, exciting life.” 

-Carl Rogers

I heard this quote on a podcast while driving to a women’s retreat I led over the weekend. Carl Rogers was an American psychologist and one of the founders of modern psychotherapy as we know it. I was so struck by this quote that I pulled over to jot it down so I could refer to it later. It seemed a perfect segue into a weekend of considering improvisation as a spiritual and life practice. When we say Yes-And to what the world offers us, in a spirit of curiosity and possibility, we often find ourselves in a life that’s flowing, perplexing, and exciting. 

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It’s also a deeply meaningful message for me personally. This week marks the beginning of my fifth year of ‘free-range’ ministry. That ministry has included writing, speaking, a couple years of managing social media and communications for a global non-profit, and now, approaching my third year of leadership and ministry coaching. Not to mention running coaching, the side hustle for all my side hustles. Life is often hectic, but it’s a grand improvisation and I love it all. 

Over the last four years I’ve spoken at some 70 retreats, conferences, workshops, and guest preaching opportunities. Wow! That’s a lot of seeing the church in action, and I’m grateful for the bird’s-eye view. Add to that the wonderful perspectives I get teaching medical students at George Washington University once a month, and a new role as parish associate at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon.

There’s plenty to fret about in the world, but spending time with so many fine groups of people, and being inspired daily by coach clients, reminds me that, as Carrie Newcomer says, the things that have always saved us are still here to save us. 

Speaking of those connections… I’m excited to offer a teaser of a new initiative I’m rolling out in March, called Living Improv. These are short video conversations about how people engage with the challenges and perplexities of life in a spirit of improvisation. Some are clergy, some are not; some have studied improv, but many have not. These videos will be accompanied by a short reflection by me, plus some questions for reflection/discussion. You don’t need to be reading God, Improv, and the Art of Living to engage with these videos… but if you’ve been looking for an opportune time to get a book study going, this is it!

The videos will be released via email newsletter, so subscribe if you want to receive them.

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I am beyond grateful to each of you for these bonds of connection and curiosity we’ve forged over the years. Thank you for your wisdom and companionship.

Onward!
MaryAnn

Ten for Tuesday

It’s Monday night. Middle child has asked to be tucked in 20 minutes from now. Can I pull all these links together in that time? Let us find out. Here is a quick and dirty list of some wacky wonderful stuff I’ve accumulated to entertain and edify:

  1. A meditation by Sharon Salzburg on the power of making a difference right where we are.

  2. Zeynep Tufecki argues in Wired that It’s the “democracy-poisoning golden age of free speech.

  3. But if it is, we have at least a partial remedy, according to Ephrat Livni of Quartz: to act like a 19th-century Parisian.

  4. The remembrances of poet Mary Oliver continue with this reflection from the Improvised Life website about failure.

  5. Speaking of poets, Matthew Rohrer talks about shaking up his creative process.

  6. The beloved cringe-com The Office saves lives.

  7. For those of you who are writers, or other creative types, here are 25 highly recommended books by writer and speaker Chad Allen.

  8. I’m low-level obsessed with the MAYA principle for design and technology… and maybe life in general: “Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable.” Sounds like World’s Okayest, no?

  9. This Baltimore Sun story puts a heartbreaking face to the migrant caravan that so many in leadership want to paint as dangerous or sinister.

  10. And finally, this gorgeous tale of real love and hard commitment, from Humans of New York:

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Click the link above for the whole lovely story.

No go be awesome yourselves. I’ve gotta say goodnight to a 13 year old who still likes being tucked in.

Ten for Tuesday

Whew! It’s been a while since I offered up a nice piping hot batch of links and stuff. Here’s the latest:

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Got Mice? Time for a Working Cat (NYT)

Even feral cats can be adopted and be excellent mousers. This isn’t quite the level of “dog that can detect a seizure coming on,” but still pretty cool.

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Photographer Geert Weggen Takes Pictures Of Squirrels In His Backyard For 6 Years

Precious and amazing:

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Roseanne Cash on Trusting Your Process

I am so in love with the Creative Independent site. I find inspiration every time I visit.

I’m more willing to trust whatever that process is now. I had to learn that it’s OK not knowing in the beginning exactly what you are writing. In the past I would get frustrated and feel like I was beating on a door that wouldn’t open, but now I’m more like, “Well, let’s see where this goes.” It may take weeks before I understand what a piece is trying to be. For example, I’ve been writing the lyrics to a musical for the last four years, as well as writing the songs for this new record, which is why it took five years to get the record done.

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The Mistake I Made with My Grieving Friend (Huffington Post)

Don’t make the same mistake. Hint: it’s not about you.

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Claudia Day, Mothers as Makers of Death (Paris Review)

Ugh… gut punch.

When I became a mom, no one ever said, ‘Hey, you made a death. You made your children’s deaths.’ Meanwhile, I could think of little else.

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Mary Pipher: The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s (NYT)

I’m in no hurry to be 70—47 is pretty awesome—but I’m also excited.

By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.

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Conan O’Brien: Nothing Matters and We’re All Going to Die (Vice)

Is it weird that I found his comments comforting? I did.

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Pooja Lakshmin, We Don’t Need Self-Care; We Need Boundaries (Op-Med)

I posted this link to my writing/speaking/coaching page, but it bears repeating:

[The] “faux self-care” that we are being offered is not actually feeding us. If feeling confident and empowered were as easy as spa days and meal delivery service, life would be much easier! Self-care is the internal hard work of making tough decisions for yourself and by yourself. It starts with recognizing that you have limits, and you really do have to choose what you prioritize because just like everyone else, you are human. It’s actually not that pleasant of a process, because it means you have to set boundaries.

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Goerge Monbiot, The Fear that Lies Behind Aggressive Masculinity (Guardian)

On Gillette, and more:

The age-old mistake, which has stunted countless lives, is the assumption that because physical hardship in childhood makes you physically tough, emotional hardship must make you emotionally tough. It does the opposite. It implants a vulnerability that can require a lifetime of love and therapy to repair and that, untreated, leads to an escalating series of destructive behaviours. Emotionally damaged men all too often rip apart their own lives, and those of their partners and children.

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Debra Dean Murphy, Why We Need Mary Oliver’s Poems (Christian Century)

Do we ever.

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And a bonus link, in which my friend and colleague Renee Roederer does a mashup of Richard Rohr and MAMD. What an honor!

What has inspired you lately?

The Joy of Yes-And

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

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You may have seen the amazing video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi absolutely nailing her floor routine—with precision, energy, and sass. If you haven’t, please check it out, and the Washington Post story about this amazing athlete.

My friend and colleague Kathryn Johnston summarized what was so powerful about Ohashi's performance:

What really caught my attention is how Katelyn Ohashi stepped back from training to be on the Olympic elite level because it was breaking her body and spirit. She decided to focus on her college career instead, and have fun doing it. Obviously from the video you can tell, she's still pretty damn elite. There's a sermon in there about going for our joy even when it's not what society says should be our joy. 

I need that sermon, as I’ve gotten myself in a bit of trouble with Yes-And lately.

Many of you know Yes-And as the cardinal rule of improvisation—we receive what is offered on stage (or in life) and build on it in some way. I’ve written about this, I speak about it, and it’s the place where I start in God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

And it’s something I still get turned around about. Too often, Yes-And becomes an excuse to add more and more to my schedule without removing anything.

We had our first snowfall in the DC area this past weekend, which meant a snow day for my kids on Monday. Meanwhile I had a number of phone calls scheduled, and a lot of “thinking work” I really needed to do.

Now, my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and also entertain one another. I could have made those calls. I could have sequestered myself for a couple of hours and gotten the work done, popping out from time to time to make sure everyone was OK. And I have done that—it’s a staple for working parents, and a Yes-And of a sort… to say “Yes, this is a lot, and I’m going to embrace the chaos, juggling these handfuls of Jello as best I can, and being kind to myself when some of it splishes through my fingers.” A full, abundant life is a gift.

But for whatever reason, this time I took my own internal temperature, looked at the bigger picture, and Yes-Anded in a different way. I rescheduled my calls and subbed in some less taxing mental work. This enabled me to help my eldest with a looming school project, consult with the middle child on making the traditional snow-day pocket pies, and when my youngest came back in the house, stomping snow boots and shedding gloves and coat, I was ready with the hot chocolate. Most importantly, I saw this as a faithful expression of who I am and who I wanted to be that day.

Now, as Kathryn points out, Katelyn Ohashi is still performing at an extremely high level. But too often, our culture looks at people who take a step back in terms of what is lost. Maybe Ohashi will not end up at the Olympics as a result of her choice... but it’s clear from that performance how much has been gained.

Sure, sometimes Yes-And is a process of sheer addition, and making it work imperfectly and beautifully.
But other times—maybe more often—it’s about subtraction. Clarification. Deepening. 

One of my favorite follows on social media is elite runner Tina Muir. Tina is a serious athlete, logging hundreds of miles a month, and winning and placing in all kinds of races (she won the Army Ten-Miler here in DC in 2015). 

A couple of years ago, she left running altogether—arguably at the pinnacle of her own physical conditioning—because she hadn’t menstruated for nine years and had simply had enough of putting her body through that. She and her husband Steve wanted to start a family. 

Now, a couple of years later, she has a baby daughter, Bailey. She’s training again, but she trains differently. Her body has changed. She logs a bunch of her training miles with a jogging stroller. The demands on her life are more complicated. She’s also happier than she’s been in a long time.

She entered this weekend’s Disney Half Marathon with no expectations, but determined to run the 13.1 miles as best she could—to run them hard, and to run them joyfully.

Well… she won:

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...Now, just because you Yes-And and shift priorities and embrace the journey and all that stuff doesn’t mean you’re going to “win,” whatever winning means in your context. Results not guaranteed; this isn’t a formula.

But using Yes-And as a way of aligning with your deepest purpose means that winning no longer matters. The joy is its own sweet reward.