Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Some assembly required

For all that I love working with yarn and making fabrics, one art that I haven’t really been tempted to take up is quilting.  I love how quilts look, I appreciate the skill and artistry in making them, but I haven’t wanted to try it myself.  At least, not until now.

Today, amid the swirl of online conversations that I have skimmed in and out of, postage-stamp quilts were mentioned.  I took the opportunity to go looking for images, and found plenty — ask your favorite image-search engine for “postage stamp quilts,” and see for yourself.  Such a simple idea, so infinitely versatile.

The friend who first mentioned the quilts, a lovely and wise friend, had this to say, which I’m still thinking about:

“Something about [one particular postage-stamp quilt] makes me think of infinity.  The work that went into it — the saved scraps, the painstaking cutting, the eye-straining stitching, the quilting — also breathtaking.  Whoever made it worked from poverty and created abundance.”

To work from poverty and create abundance.  Such a metaphor.  Such a picture of what life can be like, taking our bits and pieces and meagre talents and limited energy and making something from it, something beautiful and meaningful, something intentional, something personal and vibrant and finished and whole.

I think about my intentions and my lack of intentions and the work I pick up from day to day, the way I feel so inadequate to meet the challenges of life, the way I feel occasionally, briefly, like I’ve done something really good, stitched together my words in a meaningful way — and then the next day, I’m fumbling again, stumbling and mumbling again, distracted and moping again, anxious and shirking my work again.  Does it all add up to something good?  Am I sewing together things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable?  Am I rushing through my piecing, am I letting my corners get sloppy and my stitches uneven?  Am I building something that will last? Something that matters?  Does it matter if I do?

Am I working toward abundance?  If my eyes were opened to it, would I find abundance already here — in the bits and scraps, in the chances and circumstances of life as it already is, ready to be pulled together and sorted and cut and sewn into something new and beautiful?

Abundant life:  just add work and inspiration.  Some assembly required.

God in Heaven, open my eyes.

The Story of Ruth: Plans and Provisions

Ruth 1:2:

The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.  They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.  And they went to Moab and lived there.

The beginning of the book of Ruth tells us about an Israelite family’s sojourn to another country, leaving their homeland to escape conditions of famine and going to live among a neighboring people who were not allies of Israel.  There is some tempting symbolism here regarding living inside and outside of God’s plan and blessing, tempting but dangerous.

Taking the basic facts at face value, Elimelech leaves the land of his own people and goes to live among foreigners who do not worship God Almighty.  He forsakes his own people in a time of hardship and goes where he thinks conditions are better.  There’s a temptation to say he was wrong, that he should have stayed in God’s land among God’s people and stuck it out with them, waiting for God’s provision.  It’s tempting to see the basic events and interpret them in this very simple, thoroughly condemning way — a way that is only one step away from interpreting Elimelech’s death as punishment for straying from God’s plan.

Sound familiar?  This kind of story plays out all too often in modern media, where religious leaders interpret world events and natural disasters as God’s judgement on “those people” and “their wrongdoing.”  The people and behavior in question are condemned, and the only correct response presented for them is to follow what the religious leader says is the right way, regardless of any kind of upheaval it would cause in their lives and situations, regardless if they had any choice in the creation of those situations.  No room is granted for any other interpretation of the facts, no grace allowed for people’s struggles and hardships, no acknowledgement that the world is complicated and people have the right to form their own opinions and make their own choices, based on their own lives and experience.

Let’s go back to what the book of Ruth says and doesn’t say about Elimelech’s situation and decisions.  All the story tells us plainly is that Elimelech’s family went to Moab to live.  Not a word is said about whether God intended them to go or not; we simply can’t say.  It is possible that God prompted Elimelech to move away, either directly or via the guidance of circumstances; it is possible that God warned him not to, likewise; it is possible that God didn’t specifically say anything, either way.  Yes, God does have plans for us and guide our lives, but he doesn’t give us specific outlines to follow — we do get a say, we do get to make our own choices sometimes, among a range of possible good options, and God works with us in the midst of those choices.  One of the most incredible things about God is his ability to work with any plan we create; we are never left on our own to figure things out, because we chose something that God doesn’t know what to do with.

The very same thing is true in this story.  Whether or not Elimelech’s family was moving with or against God’s will, God was still with them.  No matter whether they lived in Israel or Moab, they were still in God’s presence — God who created the whole planet and the entirety of the reality it exists within.  Every corner of the world belongs to God, he was in Moab before Elimelech’s family ever arrived. Regardless what he thought of their choice in moving there, he still provided for them.  When Elimelech died, God enabled his sons to find wives.  The family survived and made a living there for ten years.  And when the sons died, God was still present with the widow Naomi.  She suffered terrible losses, but she never suffered the loss of God’s presence and provision.  She may or may not have agreed with her husband’s choice to move to Moab, she may or may not have had a say, but God didn’t abandon her in a foreign land on her own.  God had a plan to bring her back to a place of safety and abundance — and it didn’t have to have been in Israel.  He chose to bring her back to Bethlehem, but he could have provided for her in Moab.  He could have provided for her on the moon, if he wanted to.

There are two powerful reminders for me here.  One is that other people’s lives and stories are more complex than it sometimes appears on the surface, and that there’s always more to them than I will ever know — but God knows it all.  When I am tempted to condemn someone’s behavior or choices, I may not be seeing the whole picture that God sees.  It’s my job to love people and listen to them, not to judge.

The second reminder is that when I feel like I’m lost and unblessed, God is still present, and his presence is blessing — I am never unblessed, as long as God claims me for his own.  I am never forgotten about, no matter if my choices are good or bad.  I am never unprovided for, whether or not I can see the means of provision in the passing moment.  I can mess up my life, but I can’t mess up God’s plans.  He’s the one in charge, and he will always take care of me.

Good dream

The other day I wrote about a bad dream riddled with anxiety and fear. A few days later I had a very different kind of dream, that I keep thinking about now and then.

In the way of dreams, it didn’t make a ton of sense, and in the way of my dreams, I don’t remember how it started, mostly just how it ended. For some reason, I was interacting with characters from the Transformers movies, except not actually as they’re pictured in the movies, and I’m sure there were “good guys” and “bad guys” working together, though I only specifically remember the head good guy, Optimus Prime. There was something about a different threat, to the Transformers and humankind alike. I seem to remember zillions of human-sized plastic Transformer-type robots, threatening to over-run everything. (What can I say, it was a dream. When the brain gets to play, it doesn’t have to make rational sense.)

I remember being part of a typical rag-tag group of human “heroes” from action-type movies. I remember being locked in by the nebulous enemy, and then that we found our own way out. I remember flying across an ocean, seeking haven on an island in the North Sea. I remember reaching some kind of base, where planning and preparation could happen. And, most rare thing of all, I remember seeing myself.

There was a wall-length mirror or a mirror-reflection on a window, and it showed the lot of us, including me. A me who was lightly disheveled, tired, but calm. Ready. Looking for the next thing we had to do. Shortly after that, I woke up. I don’t know what happened next in that dream-story. But I’m left with that image of dream-me, and what she means.

In the week after my old job ended, I remember having several such dreams, action-movie sorts of dreams, with me involved in some action-hero-y kind of capacity. I think then it was the giddiness of finally being freed from a situation that I had been trapped in for a long time, and those dreams didn’t last. I haven’t had one in a long time — not until this week.

The thing that really catches my attention is that I’ve never gotten to be the action-hero in my dreams. Usually I’m some version of me who is uncertain, responding cautiously, wondering what is going to happen, afraid or appalled by something that does happen. Even in good dreams (which happen far too rarely), it’s not really about me being a hero, being competent and brave and active. I don’t think my sleeping mind ever knew how to make me into that, because that’s not how I’ve ever seen myself. But this week … I got to be the hero. Just for one dream so far, but my sleeping, playing brain drew me in as someone active and capable. That’s the part I keep thinking about. My unconscious, sleeping self seems to have changed its opinion of me. My waking self doesn’t always feel active and competent, but maybe waking-me thinks too much. Maybe she remembers too much of what’s old and finished. Maybe I’ll learn how to play the hero — or if not a proper hero, at least someone who acts for good in the world. That’s close enough to suit me.

The Story of Ruth: Unexpected Things

Ruth 1:1:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

The story of Ruth begins with something unpredictable, famine in the land of Israel.  A man named Elimelech responds by moving his family to the neighboring country of Moab, intending to stay “for a while.”

We must assume that conditions were better in Moab than in Israel, or at least that Elimelech thought they were, and so he was trying to take care of his family by doing so.  Instead, something even more unexpected happens:  Elimelech dies.  His wife, Naomi, and their two sons are stranded in a foreign land, with the head of their immediate family gone and no extended family to rely on, no solid connections to the community in which they find themselves.

The sons, Mahlon and Kilion, respond to their family’s need by taking Moabite wives, giving them needed connections to the people among whom they are living, so that they can provide for themselves and their widowed mother.  Having taken on marriage ties into the Moabite community, the family settles more permanently; the story says they stay for ten years, and perhaps they intended to stay for good.  But one last unexpected blow lands.  Mahlon and Kilion also die, and Naomi is left alone.

So much tragedy in the beginning of this story, so many things that could be neither predicted nor controlled.  Elimelech and his family try to make the best of their circumstances, it seems they even attain some level of security, but when the next bombshell hits they are bowled over again.

There’s a hard piece of truth here, one that most of us try to keep far away:  we aren’t really in control of our lives.  We maintain an illusion that life is stable and secure; a lot of the time, the things we expect are the things that actually happen, and so we keep on expecting them … until the day when something unexpected happens instead, and we are surprised and shaken.  If on any given day we may be taken by surprise, if something unexpected can land smack in the middle of our comfortable, “predictable” lives, then we are not in control — not ever fully in control.  Otherwise we would never be surprised.  We would be able to sidestep unexpected, unwanted tragedy.

It’s no wonder we keep this truth at arm’s length.  The world is a scary place, seen in light of it.  The only way I can really face up to this difficult truth is to hold another piece of truth beside it:  I am not in control, but God is.  I am surprised sometimes, but God is never surprised.  Everything unexpected that happens to me has already been incorporated into his plans, so that I may feel shaken, but can never be ruined.

It’s hard to keep hold of this truth, knowing that hardship and loss happen, and God lets it — God who can prevent anything, chooses not to prevent everything difficult.  I have to say, a good percentage of me wishes he would.  I wish that I didn’t have to live through hard times, and that my family and friends didn’t have to either.  Nonetheless, I’m not the one who gets to decide that, because I’m not in control.  God is, and he chooses what happens, and sometimes those events are brutal to experience.  I don’t have to like that in order for it to be true.

I have to remind myself very strongly that God is not careless, nor uncaring.  If he allows something painful to happen, he has a very good reason for it, a good enough reason to justify the pain, just like a doctor or physical therapist will allow pain, even inflict pain, for the sake of greater health.  The surgeon cuts, in order to remove the tumor.  God has very good reasons for what he chooses to let into our lives, always.

The other thing that helps me with these hard truths is to remember that God plans for our needs, including what we need to weather the hardships he gives us.  He isn’t surprised by our tragedies, in fact he knows the day and the hour of their arrival far in advance, and so he is ready with what we need in order to get through.  Naomi didn’t know she would lose her husband and sons, she could not have guessed that she would be abandoned in a foreign land with little means of support, but God knew.  He knew, and he seeded into her life far ahead of time the means of her eventual salvation:  the woman named Ruth.

Trite truth

“Determination is what you need now.”

This evening I turned on a DVD commentary, and because I intended to listen to it more than to watch the TV episode on which it was based, I opened a game on my iPad to entertain my eyes and fingers, the well-known “Shanghai” mahjong tile-matching app.  When I’m in the mood I can play this game for hours, and this evening that’s what I did.

“Congratulations!  You are on your way.”

Every time you complete a game in Shanghai, it displays a fortune-cookie-esque saying.  There are sets of funny ones and sets of serious ones that you can choose between, and lately I’ve been using the serious ones.  They are mostly trite little motivational things, familiar in kind if not always in specific wording.

“You will take a chance in something in the near future.”

“If you continually give, you will continually have.”

When I finished my first game this evening, the saying it picked for me caught my attention:  

“Now is the time to try something new.”

Certainly nothing earth-shattering in terms of either wisdom or clever writing, but I looked at it for a while.  On impulse, I got out my notebook and wrote it down.  Every time I finished a game, if the fortune-cookie saying pinged something in my mind, I wrote it down too.  By the end of the night I had a whole page of them.

“Grand adventures await those who are willing to turn the corner.”

Of course, it’s not really about the trite sayings.  It’s about me; it’s about something inside me, nudged by these sappy little sayings.  I didn’t write down every single one, only the ones that I wanted to after reading them.  The themes are pretty obvious.

“Move in the direction of your dreams.”

There’s a thing about cliches; however trite and annoying they are, there’s a reason they stick, a reason people make them up and hand them out to each other, whether or not they’re appropriate or helpful.  Somewhere, in some way, a cliche has an attachment to the truth.  It rarely if ever reflects the whole truth, but somehow it reflects a tiny, real piece of it.  It’s that little piece of reality that animates a cliche and makes it attractive, however much it falls short of the bigger picture.

“All the effort you are making will ultimately pay off.”

And I think that’s also the thing that makes cliches so annoying, so demoralizing.  Truth is generally pretty simple, when you get to the bottom of it, and a cliche can reflect that well enough.  But “simple” doesn’t equal “easy,” and truth is often very simple, but very hard.  Real truth can be extremely difficult to come to grips with, mentally and emotionally and in all sorts of ways.  Cliches don’t tell us that part of the story.  Their simplicity misleads us, because they imply simplicity equals ease.  They don’t tell us there are hard times ahead, and when we smack into those hard times and get hurt by them, it seems like these simple little sayings were only ever leading us on, lying to us about reality, and therefore untrue.  They’re not, really.  They just aren’t big enough to tell us everything we need.

“Stand tall.  Don’t look down on yourself.”

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”

“Your mind is your greatest asset.”

I’ve been working hard to figure out the next stage of my life, trying to decide how I’m going to make a living and keep writing and what the most important things are for me to do, and it’s really been wearing me down.  I don’t know right now what I need to do, and it’s hard to keep up my confidence in myself, to believe that I’ll work it out and end up somewhere good.  I’m tired, and I feel like I’ve barely begun, and there’s so much more work to do and I don’t know how I’ll ever manage it.

But all of the sayings that speak to me tonight are about new things coming, about determination paying off, about effort being worth it.  These are the kinds of sayings that I wrote down.  They tell me to believe in myself and to believe that good stuff is ahead, around a corner somewhere, waiting for me to get to it.  It’s already there, I just haven’t walked far enough to reach it yet.

It’s not about the trite sayings, it’s about the truth behind them.  This idea of being able to work for change and achieve something bigger and better is still attractive to me, still has a huge pull on my mind and heart, even when I’m tired and uncertain.  If these things aren’t really true, then I wish they were true, wish for it desperately.  If this is real truth, simple but hard, then I want to be strong enough to face it and work with it, and to make something beautiful out of the struggle.

“Your dreams are worth your best efforts to achieve them.”

Bad dream

I dreamed again this morning about having to go back to my old job.

It’s happened a few times since I left, where for some reason I’m there again — this time it was that I was brought back to do some spreadsheet work that I had been responsible for.  It was months after I had gone, just like in real life, and for some reason no-one else had been able to learn how to do it, or had time, or something.  So I was pulled back for a few days, just to do this one thing.

I get these dreams when I’m really scared of moving forward, which I think I have been feeling again lately; I’ve been trying to stay focused on objective things, but there’s a constant undercurrent of uncertainty about what happens next.  I’m edging closer to being ready to make some proposals on freelance jobs, but I could be ready now if I would just finish up what needs doing and get a move on.  It’s fear in the way, fear of a big new thing.

And on the other side, a different kind of fear; I’m scared to go back to a typical office environment, scared of what it may do to me.  I don’t want to become again the complacent, stuck, deeply unhappy person I was there.  I have grown and changed a lot in the intervening months, true.  I’m stronger and smarter than I was then.  But I like this version of me, and I don’t want to risk losing her.  I don’t know what would happen if I took the new me into an old environment; which would bend?

I’m having to remind myself this morning that my choices are not as narrow as fear makes them out to be.  Every office is its own environment with its own people and culture, and I can’t guess what any of them are like without being there.  And I am a stronger, smarter me now, and maybe I need to trust in that a little more.

On the other side, I haven’t really engaged with freelance work enough yet to know what it’s about, to know what doing it is really like.  It’s scary because it’s unknown — but fear takes the unknown quantity and throws a huge shadow around it, giving it the illusion of something lurking and ominous.  The way to face it is to go into the shadow, to blow away the dark and see what the real thing inside it is.

And that’s only two options.  There are other kinds of jobs than traditional office jobs and contract work.  It’s not an either-or choice, as much as fear wants to narrow the apparent field for me.

A good friend reminded me the other week that the only real direction is forward.  My dream showed me that fear has been the lurking thing getting in my way this week, making progress hard.  That’s good; I know what to do about fear.

Go forward.

The Essential Energies: Enough

There have been phases in my taiji practice where my knees want to ache, which is never a good sign.  If knees or any other joints hurt, something is out of whack.  I think there have been a few different reasons at different times for my achy knees, but I’m discovering one of the most typical ones is that I push things too far.  Either I twist too far in some direction, putting stress on a joint that isn’t designed to be twisted, or I lean too far out of balance, and my body must strain to remain stable.

I’m not surprised to find this tendency cropping up in my taiji practice, because it’s common for a lot of things I pursue.  I push things farther than I need to, in order to make sure I’m actually doing them.  If I’m walking for exercise, my inclination is to walk really hard and really fast for as long as I can, so when I’m done I feel really tired and can tell that I worked.  If I’m working on a big fiber-arts project, especially at the beginning, I pile in tons of time and effort to get the thing going and feel like I’m making progress.  In my writing, I’ve had periods where I wanted to write for hours and hours, hacking out multiple articles in one day, publishing on a really aggressive schedule.  The common factor is that unless I’m working really hard, I can’t quite believe that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m going to make any progress.  And in every case, what I actually end up with by over-working is some degree of burnout, either physical or mental or both.  At some point, I collapse.  I can’t keep going at the rate at which I began, and often end up in a bad emotional state, feeling like a failure because I’m not maintaining an unreasonable pace.

Taiji is helping me unlearn my proclivity for doing too much.  Taiji is not about working hard, it’s about being efficient.  It’s about achieving physical results in ways that avoid wasting energy.  If I want to get out of an opponent’s way, I don’t need to leap the whole way across the room.  If I want to redirect an opponent’s energy, I don’t need to do it by throwing them across the room.  All I need to do is relax, listen, and apply an appropriate amount of energy for my intention.  How much energy do I need?  Enough.  That’s all.

I need that lesson badly.  I feel like I don’t know what “hard work” looks like, so if I go about pursuing my goals by trying to “work hard,” I never actually give myself credit for the work I do.  Taiji shows me that it’s less about the amount of effort invested, and more about doing just what’s required to achieve a specific, intentional result.  For nearly any goal in life, that’s a better place to focus.

The Essential Energies: Ji

For more information about the essential energies, start with this introductory post.

The third essential energy is ji, pronounced “jee” and translated as “squeeze.”  It is an advancing movement, created by placing one hand against the opposite wrist or forearm and using that hand to push forward against one’s opponent.  It is a natural opposite of the energy lu, which rolls backwards and away from an advancing force; ji moves forward to pursue an opponent, or in order to disrupt an oncoming force.

Ji is often indirect or oblique.  Being a taiji energy, it never takes the form of a simple shoving match, force pushing directly against force.  Instead, ji seeks a hole, an opening, and then focuses hard at that place and advances.  Returning to the metaphor of an inflated ball, my teacher has described ji as the idea of squeezing a ball into a pipe or tube that is slightly smaller than it in diameter. The ball has to squish around the middle, which has the effect of amplifying the ball’s energy along its open axis, enabling it to advance.  Ji finds its own space, chooses its own direction, and proceeds with focus and intention.

As lu can be described as a kind of yin energy, ji is a yang energy, one that is assertive.  It is a decisive motion, but nonetheless keeps in contact with the present moment; it is an active energy, but it still listens.  Ji is neither bullish nor blind.  It remains sensitive to what is happening around it, holding itself ready to change and respond as needed.  It is yang with a kernel of yin.

Just like the other essential energies, the principle of ji can be applied throughout life.  In the face of adversity, ji chooses to advance, not with brute force but with sensitivity and intention.  It doesn’t let pressures or perceived limitations keep it from moving; rather, it searches out the place of least resistance and focuses its energies directly there.  Ji seeks to make forward progress in the most efficient way, whether or not it is the most direct way.  When presented with a solid wall, ji doesn’t try to batter it down.  Ji looks for a door, and goes confidently through.

I think this idea of finding the path of least resistance is neither unfamiliar nor surprising.  What I keep needing to remind myself is that in order to be ji, a movement must first rely on peng, the sense of relaxed fullness and internal resiliency which underlies all taiji movement.  Too often in life I push forward in a way which is too hard, or too fast, too unbalanced or tense.  I might make some progress, but I leave myself open to being knocked over, and I struggle to hold on to what I gain.

Ji, on the other hand, maintains a sense of relaxation and resilient strength.  Peng is what enables ji to keep listening, to sense whether it must continue as begun or make a change.  It pushes far enough, hard enough, and no more.  It stays balanced, moving from the center of energy and strength, and so when the need for movement is over it can stand firm, already balanced, already calm and prepared for whatever comes next.

The major lessons of my life right now all involve this idea of moving forward in an intentional, relaxed, forceful-enough-yet-soft-enough way — facing solid walls calmly, seeking doors and walking through them with confidence.  Today I’m reminding myself to be centered first in peng, and then continue moving forward in the spirit of ji.

Vitae, revisited

I wrote a few days ago that I’ve been exploring a freelancer-website, a place to look for contract work and connect with employers.  The fact is that I’ve been doing a good bit of hectic thinking about it, not enough actual exploration, and a terrible amount of being afraid.

Freelance work is an entirely new world to me, the idea of being an independent contractor is foreign, but appealing.  I like the idea of being able to do work in my own way and my own space and be responsible primarily for results, rather than appearances.  I think it would help me circumvent the worst parts of working in a scheduled job and in a typical office environment, something which I may rant about another day (not write, rant).  But there are whole new things to learn and manage, very strange waters to navigate.  One of which is the need to market myself.  I have never in my life done this before, and until this year, I think any attempt would have been laughable.

I’ve always had a hard time giving myself credit for my own skills and accomplishments, a very hard time.  If I am able to do something, it seems like it must not be that big a deal, and I’m not one who has looked for new challenges willingly or often.  I’ve mostly avoided needing to stretch myself, which means I’ve not gained much confidence in my ability to stretch and achieve new things.  Only practical experience teaches that, experience which I mostly lacked.

And yet, all of my various employers over time have been very complimentary about my work, my ability to learn, my communication skills, my ability to work with other people and get things done.  It never really stuck, but I’ve heard those things many times.  I had to learn how to believe in myself, before I could learn to believe them.  I think I’ve made great strides in doing that since the beginning of the year.

Further, I find that, in a new and strange way to me, I want to be stretched now.  I don’t want to look for an easy way out anymore.  I want to take on challenges and learn and achieve new things, better things.  I have been very scared at times over the last few months about how my life is going to go next, but underneath the fear has grown strength, an eagerness to stand up taller, to live more fully, to expand my range of experience and find new success.  I want that.  I want it.

And on the other hand, I don’t.  Scared still tries to hold me back.  Some days, it wins.

Not today.

This morning I remembered an exercise I undertook back in January, when I needed to rewrite my resume.  I hadn’t had a proper resume in years and so was effectively starting from scratch, needing to account for several years of work and personal history.  I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t know how to begin.  But I took an unexpected gift of time and decided to just start, with a notebook and pen, writing down things I’ve done and claiming credit for them.  It worked; it got me started.  With some more time and polish and the advice of really good friends and colleagues, I ended up with a document I was very pleased with.

Needing to market my skills as a potential freelance writer feels like a whole other magnitude of needing to claim my skills and learn how to market them.  I was stuck for a long time, not able to get started, knowing I needed to, squashed in the pressure-space in between.  But this morning I picked up another pen and my current notebook, and started writing about what I’ve done.  Every big project I remember tackling in my old job, every significant responsibility, everything I enjoyed, everything I was complimented on and given credit for.  Everything I did in volunteer capacities outside of work, what I liked, what I was good at.  I broke those things down into skills, I played with grouping similar ideas, I took note of anything that came up multiple times for future exploration (especially, the idea of teaching and training).  I started playing with language, casting the basic ideas in a business-y, market-y kind of way.

At some point, I found myself actually giggling, having found a sense of play and fun in the exercise that I would never have expected.  I finally composed three solid draft paragraphs of advertising for Cris Cramer, Writer and Document Specialist, and laughed out loud with joy over finally breaking through.

My name is Cris Cramer, and I am a writer and document design specialist.  I can help you write your message, or create documents that convey it beautifully.

I am a Microsoft Word expert.  Have you ever been surprised or frustrated by something “Word did” to your documents?  Chances are, I understand why it happened.  I can help you get the most out of your documents, while teaching you more about the program you use to create them.

I have 10+ years of corporate experience in planning, organizing, facilitating, and completing mission-critical projects, of both small and large scales.  I am a Class-A communicator who is happy to work either independently or with great teams.  I believe in working hard and working smart.  It takes both to achieve exceptional results.

Keywords

I’ve been exploring a site for freelance work, where clients post jobs and contractors can make proposals on them and then manage the work and needed communication. I’ve never done any sort of contract work before, so there’s a lot to learn — not least, whether it’s a sort of work I’m even interested in doing.

Yesterday I spent some time skimming the most recent job listings for writers, and came away depressed. Of course what people get hired to do has a lot to do with making money for other people and businesses; I get that. But too many of the ads feel totally soulless, asking for writers to produce “content” on all kinds of topics and subject areas to post on websites and blogs, I think more to have an excuse to have a website in order to put ads on than to really say anything worthwhile. Too much interest in keywords and “SEO” and getting more clicks, and none in pursuing good and worthy ideas, exploring knowledge, helping people. Trying to squeeze money out of jaded web-wanderers, rather than trying to build something good in the world.

I don’t know what kind of work I am going to land in, and maybe taking on some of those kinds of projects is yet going to be in my future; but if the only way to live and be a writer is to do that sort of work, I want no part of it. I can’t build a life on such an empty foundation. I have no desire to try.

I left my laptop and went away to think about what I want and need, what’s important to me, what I think is important to the world. I have a gift for writing, yes, one which I didn’t create, but which I am working to improve. I believe it is intended for good, to be used for God’s glory, to be used for helping people do good stuff and become better versions of themselves. That’s what gets me excited about writing, that’s what brings me to my notebook and my keyboard — the chance to find the right words to set to good purposes.

So I pulled out my scribbeldy notebook and made my own list of keywords. Words that speak to me of the kinds of people and organizations I think I’d like to work for, the kinds of causes I want to support, the sort of work that I believe can help the world. I have to believe that somewhere in this particular list of words and in other words related to them, there are keys to good work for me to do, there are clues about other people who may need a writer to help them find the right words to pursue their own visions and purpose. These words tell me a lot about who I am. I hope that a year from now, 10 years from now, the work that I do and the writing I will have produced will reflect the best of these words, and the best of myself.

non-profit
causes
humanitarian
appeals
education
children
elderly
needs
donors
life change
betterment
support
community
love
organizations
disabled
grassroots
vision
non-political
faith-based