99/365: Snowfall

IMG_9737The first snow fell some time in the night, and we stared at the fluffy flakes still coming down—Iris and I—as we pulled back the curtains yesterday morning.

I never get tired of watching snow fall.

So cosy and peaceful—a perfect invitation to brew a mug of something hot and relax into thought. About anything. About how I found myself browsing graduate school prerequisites a few days ago. About how I would like to go back to school eventually. My brain is wired for reading and the running down of ideas, even if I am often too lazy to get them right. It would be nice to have some intellectual pushback. We cannot always be disciplined, and I find it hard enough to write on a semi-regular basis. Research? Sources? Please.

No, as in: please.

Actual deadlines for actual projects would be helpful.

I have always thought of my particular type of intelligence as being marshmallow-like, covering a fair amount of area but also lacking a bit in density. I learn quickly, I test well, I like to read and know a tiny bit about a lot of things, but while my attention is jaunting down one rabbit trail and then another, criss-crossing from Jane Austen to economics to emotional disabilities (with much tail-wagging), there are whole fields of reality I totally miss. It’s easy to make mistakes when you move quickly.

That’s the problem with terrier brain—that quick, scrappy and ultimately somewhat judgmental type of mental process. It relies so much on intuition to fill in the gaps (and there are lots of gaps). I really appreciated Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink when I ran across it a couple of years ago. It was nice to see clearly what I was vaguely beginning to understand: our intuition is incredibly powerful, but it’s also fragile. Mess up the internal process in some area, and the readings will invariably come up wrong.

Gladwell wrote more impressively about race perception. But it reminded me of my own, slightly embarrassing and kind of cold-blooded realization as a teenager that my conscience was far more sensitive than my actual beliefs. That happens sometimes when you grow up in very conservative circles. Whether or not my parents specifically taught me certain things, I vividly remember heated debates among my peers over the morality of things like (prepare yourself) holding hands. I spent some time mulling over what I actually believed was right or wrong about a lot of things, and then I deliberately went on what I called in my journals a program of “conscience searing.” Which, admittedly, sounds far more scandalous than it really was, because my version of wild is basically a librarian at a book sale. But, anyway.

It worked beautifully.


When I was pregnant with Iris I read an angry post on a maternal forum about how the nutritional guidelines for pregnant women are purposely skewed to overemphasize servings of fruits and grains because the nutritionists believe women will always fall short of the goal and need a little shame to be properly motivated. Tell them to eat 5 servings a day and maybe they’ll actually pick up an apple once in a while.

I think a lot of us learned personal morality this way. That it’s wrong is possibly less annoying than that it wasted so much of my time.

It took a lot of work to recalibrate my conscience.

I believe in sin, but I believe in shame and self-deception too. And sometimes when I see people—and by people I mostly mean myself—getting stuck in a circular pattern of taboo behavior, contrite regret, plan to avoid said behavior, totally MORE of said behavior, I start to wonder if there’s something else going on. Yes, people made poor choices. But nobody repeats a negative behavior endlessly for no reason. Most of us are pretty simple—we do things in order to get our needs met. Even negative behaviors are meeting needs, so it’s kind of pointless (in my humble) to try to overcome negative behaviors by simply exerting more willpower so you no longer have needs. If you’re going to lay off the habitual Friday night bank robbery, then you’d better have a solid plan B for meeting needs like cultivating a sense of adventure or, you know, paying bills.

I’m not really sure if this theory makes sense in the world of really spectacular crash-and-burns. My life, on the whole, is not very spectacular. My offenses are pretty blue collar.

Like my frequent conviction that I should stop being rude on social media.

I’ve noticed this over the last couple of years. Someone writes something that I think is harmful or untrue. I disagree. Almost invariably the exchange goes sour, and after about an hour I feel badly about it. If I feel badly enough, I will sometimes swear off social media for a while. But ultimately it’s a rinse and repeat kind of process.

But you know what’s funny, sometimes when I go back to the article or update or tweet or whatever and read what I wrote… it’s not always that rude. Granted, I’ve written some rude things. But not so many lately. Now I mostly think, “gosh, I was really worked up about that… But I didn’t bust out the capslock, compare anybody to Hitler, or question anyone’s salvation.”

I also rarely remember anything the other person said—either in the inciting or retaliating stage. I’m usually irritated for a few hours, but the words themselves don’t fester. I have  had a lot of fascinating things implied about me, but I mostly just remember the really colorful stuff because it’s kind of funny. I admit I don’t tend to handle the whole “you can’t be a real Christian if you don’t agree with me about this thing that totally isn’t in the Apostles’ Creed” thing very well, but after the debate cools down I don’t tend to question other people’s right to get angry and spew a lot of first-draft venom.

What other people say bothers me far less than what I say.

There are probably other strands to it, but confronting people, speaking out, and limit-setting of any kind has always been intimidating and upsetting to me. I suppose I get cranky for the same reason some people drink: having a few inhibitions is a good thing, having a lot is just paralyzing. And I am a moderately earnest type of soul. Speaking out is necessary to me. Contributing my ounce of truth or perspective is just one of my basic needs.

But it’s scary too. I have a lot of baggage with it. I’ve been told a lot of times that I “just don’t understand the Bible” (which is SUPER convenient catch all, no?), that I’m worldly, that I’m deceived, that I’m bitter, angry, damaged, and overly-sensitive.

It will take a very special person to love you.

And isn’t that always the ultimate fear? The suggestion that to diverge from the accepted position—however extreme or overstated—is to become unlovable. Nobody should ever have to choose between telling the truth as they understand it and being loved.

That’s part of why I don’t really have a plan for being awesome next time I see one of those gauntlet-throwing type posts. I’m pretty sure that however well-intentioned I might be in this moment, the next time I see one I’ll probably respond. And it will probably be blunt and unsweetened. Afterwards, I’ll probably feel badly.

It takes a long time to recalibrate. It takes a long time to figure things out. But in the mean time we can pay attention. And that’s what snow days are for.




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