Notes From My Phone* Reading Event

I had the privilege of participating in this event with 2 of my favorite people/writers at Centenary College here in Shreveport, LA on October 24, 2017. Music was played (by me), poetry recited (by Jennifer Strange), and books read (by Michelle Junot).

Below, listen to the audio of Michelle reading from her most recent memoir (a self-portrait constructed entirely from content in the Notes app on her iPhone) and from the panel discussion among the 3 of us about all things art-making, vulnerability, work and "real" jobs, the value (and confusion) of liberal arts education, health, etc.

Hope you enjoy!

Sarah Duet performed original pieces at Michelle Junot's book reading. Sarah graduated from Centenary in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication: New Media. Song Titles: 1. The Times They Are A-Changin' "by Bob Dylan (cover) 2. Allow 3. Lover of Leaving 4. Mercy Make Acquaintance. Sarah is a writer, artist, and musician.

Alumna Michelle Junot reads from her newest book, "Notes from my Phone*." Michelle Junot is the author Notes From My Phone* a self-portrait in her twenties, and of and the floor was always lava, a collection of essays exploring childhood and memory. Her writing has been published in BmoreArt, Welter, Industry Night, The Avenue, Reject, and Baltimore STYLE.
Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot

Michelle Junot majored in Communication: Professional Writing as well as Dance at Centenary College and then headed to the University of Baltimore where she earned the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing arts. She did the writing, design, and publishing of her first book, and the floor was always lava. Then she slacked off and only did the writing part of her more recent book, Notes From My Phone*, published by Mason Jar Press. She has also published essays in several magazines and currently teaches graphic design and works as Director of Alumni Relations and Assistant Director of Communications at University of Baltimore School of Law.

Sarah Duet

Sarah Duet

 

Jennifer Strange

Jennifer Strange

"Gandhi Got Out Again"–A blog you should be reading.

I'm excessively excited to share this news with you...My friend and co-worker Britney Winn Lee is officially writing and sharing the fruit at britneywinnlee.com

I'm loving the name chosen for this blog: Gandhi Got Out Again: A Blog About Intentional Community, which is as creatively extracted from our daily lives in the neighborhood as are the insightful stories that are already being posted, ready for you to read. (Gandhi was the name of one of our chickens at the Yellow House–the one as stubborn & obstinately determined as the human-Gandhi surely was. May they both rest in peace, as chicken-Gandhi just recently passed on.)

This stuff is honest, funny, deep, ironic, empathetic, challenging, & transformative. She's got a knack for keeping an eye focused inward with the other always looking outward...only to fuse the 2 and call us to get better both as individuals and as a society. 

So, check it out when you get a chance. And in addition, you can read an article of Britney's that was recently published online by Red Letter Christians.

 

Thanks for reading!

sd.

Influences: Scott Erickson

I appreciate when other artists give us glimpses into the influences that undergird the work they're making, so I've decided to periodically offer you those glimpses of the things that comprise my creative process. Hope it's interesting or helpful to you in some way!

If we've talked for any length of time about art and what artists I'm learning from, then I expect you've heard the name Scott Erickson. If we haven't gotten to have that conversation yet...well here it is! In brief anyway...

Scott Erickson is a visual artist who is currently living and working in Portland, OR, with his family. I first heard of Scott when he was in Houston working as the Artist-in-Residence at Ecclesia Church, where he was helping to create a visual culture largely through live-painting. And I was convinced of his brilliance when he did a series of abstract studio paintings to accompany Derek Webb's Feedback project–an instrumental, electronic, classically composed interpretation of the Lord's Prayer.

In addition to the paintings he makes, Scott writes and speaks vulnerably about life not only as an artist, but as a person in the world who wrestles with very real experiences of doubt & faith, depression, community & family life, finding a vocation & making a living, embracing the value of the mundane, making meaning of suffering, and more. I've encountered so much of myself in what Scott shares and makes, as have many other folks. It has been a formative, encouraging gift to engage what he shares of himself and I'm grateful in advance for all that is yet to come! You can see his work and read/hear his words by perusing scottericksonart.com.

One of my absolute favorite things Scott has put out is his recent one-man play called We Are Not Troubled Guests. I've watched it twice now, laughing and crying in equal doses. Both times just as grateful for his honesty and in awe of how quickly he can transition from flippant, irreverent humor to raw vulnerability and the deep kind of human insight. Watch it by clicking on the video thumbnail below and entering the password: guests. And read more about the process of creating it here.

It's a private video...(Password: guests)

We are not troubled guests in this world, and our journey isn’t to try to figure out how we belong. But to realize we’ve always belonged.
— Scott Erickson, We Are Not Troubled Guests

A heartfelt "thank you" to Scott for all you've shared and all you will in the future. In your own words, "Be brave & keep going." We'll all be better for it...

sd.

GUIDEPOSTS...new single available now!

The words of "Guideposts" have been what I've needed to hear & what I've needed to sing in this season. They help me hope. They help me be fully present, here & now. They help me be grateful, and they help me stay brave. I so hope that they might do something like that for you...

Also available on iTunes!

Also available on iTunes!

Everything you hear on "Guideposts" was played by me on my gear in my apartment. This is the first time I've made a totally solo recording...playing my own electric guitar, piano, percussion, mixing the tracks myself, doing my own watercolors for the album art, etc. While I 100% look forward to collaborating with my supremely talented friends in the near future, I felt it was important for this particular song to experiment and just see what I could come up with. This is a "guidepost" I'm putting up to "make note the way [I] take," if you will.

Thanks for listening. It means more than you could know...

sd.

My new single "Guideposts" is now available for you, for free online!

I certainly hope "Guideposts" will encourage you as it has me. I wrote the first draft of these lyrics years ago for a record that (sadly) didn't get finished. So the song got shelved. I originally wrote it for 2 friends who were going through tough seasons, but who I knew had so much life in them if they'd only let that come to the surface. However, when I stumbled across these lyrics in an old journal more recently, I was floored by how now they spoke so directly to me personally. It was like I'd been given a gift years ago that I thought certainly was for someone else, only to find later––in a very timely fashion––that it was indeed meant for me too. So, grateful, I crafted the old lyrics around a new melody, and what you hear today is that retuned version.

Lyrics

Lyrics

WHAT I'VE BEEN READING...

This is the 4th of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.

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Well, if you've been following along at all, you may note that I'm a bit behind schedule on my book count. I've had my nose in the books, but I haven't had my hands on the keys to write the reviews. Also, in all honesty, I got a little scattered. Rather than focusing on one book at a time as I'd promised myself I would, my stack of current reading ended up looking like this for a while (see photo to the right).

However, I've finished a couple I'd love to update you on as we get back on track here.

ETERNAL ECHOES by John O'Donahue

I finished this one while on a short vacation to my parents' house. Upon completing it, I went out to the kitchen and asked, "Mom, do we have any Irish blood in the family?!" Understandably confused at the randomness of my inquiry, she rattled off some explanation of the family tree that did at some point include a faint trace of Celtic heritage. Good to know. But why did I ask? The voice and the values of Celtic spirituality resonate with me in a way that very little else does. There is an embrace of mystery, a deep respect for creation and humanity's oneness with it, an articulation of the deep longing of human experience, a peacemaking with questions, and a value of community, friendship, and our need to know we belong.

The author of Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong is John O'Donahue, an Irish Catholic scholar/poet/philosopher. The beauty of his prose clearly reveals his identity as a poet. The book reads like a series of prose poems in a way. Because of that, it was hard not to underline most of the book for all its eloquent tellings of truth. Though it also took me a while to move through it all, as each sentence is loaded with such depth. Section titles include:

  • Discovery is the Nature of the Soul
  • Functionalism Kills Presence
  • The Addiction of Distraction
  • The Cage of Frightened Identity
  • Sufferings Slow Teachings
  • The Artist as Permanent Pilgrim
  • Our Longing for Community, The Shelter of Community
  • Wonder Invites the Mystery to Come Closer
  • The Celtic Art of Approaching the Unknown and Nature

O'Donahue's reflections on contemporary Western society and our true human nature are uncanny in their accuracy and sensitivity. And I think they come at a time when we need them deeply. If you're looking for a new perspective on both the world we live in and your inner life (and how these 2 things are connected)...I'd say give this book a chance. 


Curious, but no time to read right now? Or no extra money for the book? Check out this episode of ON BEING with Krista Tippet for a wonderful interview with the late John O'Donahue.



THE WAR OF ART (A Book Review)

This is the 2nd of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.

The back jacket of this book reads…

DO YOU: 

  • dream about writing the Great American Novel?
  • regret not finishing your paintings, poems, or screenplays?
  • want to start a business or charity?
  • wish you could start dieting or exercising today?
  • hope to run a marathon someday?

IF YOU ANSWERED “YES” TO ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS, THEN YOU NEED…THE WAR OF ART.

Pressfield notes early on in The War of Art  that most of us have 2 lives––the one we live, and the one left unlived within us. He goes on to claim what stands between the 2 is the Resistance.

Being a successful writer, Pressfield writes as a man intimately familiar with the creative process and all that wars against it. Being a seasoned writer, he writes with a perspective of great value to the rest of us, in that he’s won countless battles in this war of art-making and can share his learned wisdom from that experience. Still doing his work daily, he writes in solidarity with the rest of us.

Speaking of solidarity, one of my favorite parts about this book is that its audience is not limited only to creative professionals. As you read in the excerpt from the book jacket, Pressfield explains that we meet Resistance basically when we attempt to do anything good in the world–anything that will improve the quality of life for yourself, others, the environment, etc. Therefore I don't only recommend this book to those of us who are in professions that are considered to be “creative,” but to anyone anyone trying hard but feeling stuck or lacking motivation and/or just anyone who has felt stuck before (because let’s be real…chances are you will again).

Defining the Enemy 

Pressfield spends the first 50 pages or so defining the characteristics of Resistance in great detail. Reading it was like an avalanche of accurate articulation for all sorts of things I’ve experienced to be true, just couldn't really name. (Sidenote: This is one of the most valuable things we get from reading I think…the gift of being able to name reality in new ways that spur us on to heal, grow, correct problems, and engage in our lives more fully.)

Some of the key characteristics of Resistance

  • Resistance is invisible.
  • … is internal.
  • …is insidious.
  • …impersonal.
  • …infallible.
  • …universal.
  • …never sleeps.
  • …fueled by fear.
  • ...leads to self-dramatization, self-medication, and playing the victim.
  • ...tries to influence our choice of mate.
  • ...causes us to criticize others’ lives out of discontentedness with our own.
  • ...is directly proportional to love.
  • ...presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for reasons we shouldn't do our work.
  • ...can be beaten.

Fundamentalist vs. the artist

One of the most interesting sections to me was contrasting the fundamentalist’s point of view versus. the artist’s. He begins by saying that both confront the same issues, namely the mystery of their existence: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? (33) He goes on to explain that these are difficult questions because for the majority of history humans have not lived in such a way where we could ask these questions as individuals. We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group (33). Evolutionarily speaking, the individualization we know in today’s society has not been around long enough for our brains to adjust entirely (which I might argue is a good thing), and therefore a great tension surrounds the attempts to answer these questions for ourselves. Here is what Pressfield offers us about 2 different ways of approaching these questions:

“The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it…He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed…The fundamentalist (or more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats into the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction…

The difference is that while one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.” (34-35)

May we wholeheartedly adopt the viewpoint of the artist in everything and everyone we encounter. May our faith be that of the artist, not the fundamentalist. May we look forward to imagine and create restoration for humanity, for our communities, for creation, and for the fundamentalists of any kind…

Combating Resistance

Much of the middle of the book is dedicated to sharing practical ways in which we can actively overcome Resistance. Pressfield calls combating the Resistance turning pro–which essentially is committing and showing up to do your work every day no matter what. Here are just a few characteristics of the professional:

  • The professional knows the difference between what is urgent and what is important, doing what is important first.
  • ...is patient.
  • …seeks order.
  • …demystifies.
  • …acts in the face of fear.
  • …accepts no excuses.
  • …is prepared.
  • …does not show off.
  • …dedicates himself to mastering his craft.
  • …does not hesitate to ask for help.
  • …does not take failure (or success) personally.
  • …endures adversity.
  • …recognizes her limitations.
  • …reinvents herself.
  • …is recognized by other professionals.


The Higher Realm

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).     This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).


This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

In the final portion of his book, Pressfield acknowledges that “as Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it” (107). There is discussion of invoking the muses and angels and the geniuses that aid us in our work–very different from the way our current Western culture puts an inhumane sort of pressure on seemingly gifted people calling them “geniuses” themselves. Click here for a candid talk from writer Elizabeth Gilbert on just that.

There is a brilliant discussion of the Ego and the Self which I have thoughts about that I will have to share at another time, as I started to do it here and realized it would almost double the length of a review that is already too long.

There is contrasting of hierarchy and territory and how both affect our endeavors. And finally there is mention of:

 

 “the third way proffered by the Lord of Discipline, which is beyond both hierarchy and territory. That is to do the work and give it to Him. Do it as an offering to God…we are servants of the Mystery. We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be through us.” (161-162)

______________________

Thanks, as always, for reading! This is in no way comprehensive and in every way longer than I expected it to be, but I hope enlightening and encouraging in some way.

Now let’s all get back to the work…back to the war of art. Where has the Resistance been beating you? How will you combat it?

sd.

MERTON: An Enneagram Profile (Book Review)

This is the first of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram with the hashtag #read25in25.

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So, if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in conversation with me at some point over the last year, you’ve heard me mention the Enneagram. Seem like an exaggerated generalization? I’m pretty sure no one will challenge it, but go ahead and object if I’ve missed you somehow. Actually, I’m about to unload on you, so consider this our conversation I suppose…

Let’s start with some brief points of context:

  • The Enneagram is a system organized around an ancient, nine-sided symbol that explains “the nine basic personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships.” I’ve worked with numerous personality typing systems over the last seven years, and I find the Enneagram to be the deepest, most comprehensive, and most helpful in the transformation of self and relationships. Each of the nine types is indicated by a number, and many subtypes and variations exist in the core number’s relation with the other numbers around the circumference of the Enneagram symbol.
  • Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is a widely revered 20th-century monastic who belonged to the Trappist community at Our Lady of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. There he wrote more than seventy books of poetry, personal journals, letters, and social criticisms with a focus on peace, justice, ecumenism, and a life of contemplation. Merton was also a photographer & graphic artist. He is perhaps best known for his exploration of the true and false self, and for his social activism. For merging monastic life with active participation in the society of his day, Merton is sometimes thought to be the first of the New MonasticsMerton is a type 4 on the Enneagram.
  • I am a type 4 on the Enneagram. I first read Merton sometime during the first half college, and found his work deeply resonant. It wasn’t until later that I was introduced to the Enneagram and eventually told that Merton was a 4. (And at some point in that progression I finally gave in and admitted, after much contention, that I am 4 –– a textbook 4.) Suddenly it was clearer why his words were having such a deep impact on me, and I have him to thank for much guidance in my path to maturity, integration, and learning to love and live more fully.

Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B. wrote Merton: An Enneagram Profile –– which is essentially a biography of Merton’s life interwoven seamlessly with an in-depth presentation of a 4’s experience of the world. And I owe Sister Zuercher a debt of gratitude for the work she’s done. I’ve read many words for too many hours about the Enneagram in recent months, but in no other book have I found the sort of nuance and depth Sister Zuercher achieves in Merton. Undoubtedly that is more possible in a book that focuses on one man and one enneagram type than in one with a broader viewpoint, but there’s also a distinctly different perspective she takes than I’ve yet read elsewhere. I’ll be adding more of her books, such as Enneagram Companions: Growing in Relationships and Spiritual Direction, to my reading list. I believe this work honors Thomas Merton and traces insightfully the journey he took in the process of being freed from illusion and compulsion, being restored to the reality of his true self––and therefore the reality of God & the connectedness of himself to God, humanity, and all of creation. There is no pretense about Merton’s shortcomings (and I expect the late Thomas Merton would have had it no other way). There is worthy tribute to the ways in which he graced his community and the ways his words continues to enrich so many lives today.

I both excitedly and hesitantly tell you how accurate Zuercher’s presentation of the 4’s experience is––excitedly because it’s a rare thing to be understood so precisely, and hesitantly because her account holds nothing back about the challenges and compulsions of 4s. Though, in balance, she certainly lines these up next to the gifts and contributions that 4s (and therefore Merton) can uniquely embody. I recommend this book to fellow 4s and wish you a reading experience that is as encouraging, convicting, calming, and challenging as my own has been. And if you are not a 4, but ever you find yourself wanting for understanding of someone you know that may be a 4, you need look no farther than this book for a fairly comprehensive profile that I expect will be helpful in your relating. And of course, and perhaps primarily, if you are intrigued by the man Thomas Merton, I recommend this read to you for a unique and valuable perspective.

Some topics in the book at a glance:

  • Merton’s/4s’ fear that conflict will destroy relationship and the compulsive attempts to maintain or create harmony.
  • Merton’s/4s’ impulse to “do” rather than “be”…sometimes activity in the form of work, excessive social engagement, etc. and sometimes constant activity or commentary in the mind.
  • Merton’s/4s’ tension between the special/romantic and the ordinary/mundane, and the over-dramatization and intensity this can lead to.
  • Merton’s/4s’ search for significance in all things, making meaning through symbols, observation of the self and others…all comprising the artistic temperament most 4s are known to have.
  • Merton’s/4s’ view of all of life as an art piece, as a drama…positive consequences of this being the possibility of a life of intentionality, integrity, beauty, etc. and negative consequences being a loss of spontaneous, authentic responses and the inhibition to act from feeling constantly observed.
  • Merton’s/4s’ fluctuation between social engagement and withdrawal into solitude.
  • Merton’s/4s’ temptation to despair…often experiencing seasons of melancholy and depression. Redeemed 4s, which Merton became, find the way to a deep hope by way of passing through deep despair, and can then hold space for others in their midst who must work through their own pain.
  • Merton’s/4s’ experience of the spiritual life as a homecoming.
  • Merton’s/4s’ experience of time as a series of deaths and births…leading to a heightened sense of the significance of life events and a focus that falls more easily on the past or the future than the present. Time is perceived more like a spiral shape than linearly. An essential in Merton’s/4s’ redemption is to learn to be fully in the present moment, resting in trust.
  • Merton’s/4s’ focus on the Spirit of God and the oneness of all things in that Spirit.
  • Merton’s/4s’ capacity to hold glaring contradictions: melancholy vs. joy, intensity/seriousness vs. humor/play, harsh criticism vs. warm compassion, oozing tension vs. radiating peace, sociability vs. seclusion, self-awareness vs. self-deception, empathy vs. self-absorption.
  • Merton's/4s'  persistent sense of longing and/or envy.
  • Merton's/4s' deep experience and appreciation of the mercy of God.

This was one of those books that ends up having more underlined, starred, and dog-eared in it than not. Below are some quotes I feel are significant. Though difficult, I limited myself to what is hopefully a reasonable number:

“In the wonder of our redemption we are not delivered from our native endowment. It is that very distinguishing characteristic that becomes our contribution to creation. Once our instincts, which we had exaggerated into compulsion, are admitted, acknowledged, allowed, they gradually assume a proper proportion in our lives. They become increasingly natural and free responses.” (Zuercher, p. 7)

“We are at liberty to be real or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.” (Merton, p. 25)

“When Merton was taken out of himself by beauty in non-analytical wonder rather than in analytical fascination, he experienced simply what is so.” (Zuercher, p.68)

“According to enneagram theory, the Divine is manifested in the many different aspects of creation. Applied more personally, each human enneagram type especially incarnates something of the Creator. In Christian terms, each triad and each space within that triad, resonates in its energy with a different Person in the Trinity of Divine persons. For 8/9/1s it is the Life-Giver and Nourisher, the Father/Mother/Creator God to whom they witness, each type in the triad nuancing that witness. The Son of God becomes inspiration for the 5/6/7 triad and each space in it. The Spirit of Jesus alive in the here and now takes flesh in the flesh of 2/3/4s, a little differently depending on the number in the triad.” (Zuercher, p. 122)

“The man with the “sacred” view is one who does not need to hate himself, and is never afraid or ashamed to remain with his own loneliness, for in it he is at peace, and through it he can come to the presence of God….Such a man is able to help other men to find God in themselves, educate them in confidence by the respect he is able to feel for them…helping them to put up with themselves, until they become interiorly quiet and learn to see God in the depths of their own poverty.” (Merton, p. 123)

“Over years of experience 4s find out that conflict, misunderstanding, and even division need not end relationships. There is always the suspicion in 4s that if others were ever to come close enough to see who they really are they would be abandoned. In life’s inevitable situations of stress, the “good face” they feel obliged to put forward, the harmony they feel personally responsible to maintain or create, fails. In such circumstances, when people who are consistently in their lives continue to relate to them and to care for them, they are amazed…

Probably the deepest and most real kind of hope 4s can experience is based on the testimony of a lifetime of commitment to the same people. This is one of the many reasons Merton’s monastic vocation held such significance for him. The monks knew him in all of his limitation and loved him nonetheless.” (Zuercher, p. 145-146)

“Merton fluctuated between friendliness and privacy, trust and mistrust, rebellion and obedience, shyness and openness, collaboration and aloofness, snobbery and ordinariness. Such fluctuation characterizes 4s and is their peculiar mix of the social instinct on the one side and the perceptual on the other.” (Zuercher, p. 154)

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Thank your for reading! I hope this has been enriching for you in some way. In the next couple of days I will review The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a classic for anyone doing creative work. Stay tuned if you’re interested!

sd.