If You Are New To This Blog…

Amy Julia Becker asked me to write a little introduction to what my blog is about (it appeared on hers yesterday) but it occurred to me that it is a good introduction to those of you who may be new to the blog.

Plus, here’s a new picture of me that I haven’t yet uploaded to my “About Me” page:

Stone-Headshot

When I started my blog (almost exactly!) two years ago, it was called Eat With Joy, which became the title of my book. The blog started out as being mostly about issues related to food and body image from a Christian perspective, and I usually have posts related to some aspect of these at least once a week.

One of the most popular posts from the early days of my blog is called “My Audrey Hepburn Problem.” In it I discuss my youthful admiration of the film star, and how I (very unfortunately) conflated her reputed kindness and philanthropy with her (very unusual) good looks.

Another post that gives a good sense of the kind of writing I do on the blog is “The Cultural Evolution of Candy Land.” It all began when I laid out my old Candy Land game (circa 1980s) next to the 2010, and was shocked by how thin–and sexualized–the characters had become. It grew into a series including My Little Ponies and Polly Pockets as I noticed the trend in other toys, more or less concluding with a post on why it matters whether a toy is thin and sexy (or not.)

I write about the books I’m reading at least once a week (Mondays often feature book reviews) and sometimes post simple, family-friendly recipes.

And because I’ve been living and working in Malawi, Africa–where my husband and I teach at a Christian seminary, and where I occasionally volunteer as a labor doula–there are occasional posts about the state of maternal health globally, pictures of animals seen on our travels, and thoughts on wealth, poverty, and gratitude for all of God’s gifts: not just the edible, but the beautiful, the hilarious, and the eminently re-readable.

Proverbs for Social Media

These days, if you want to publish a book, you pretty much have to have a blog and to use social media like Facebook and Twitter. And that’s not an entirely bad thing: in the year-plus that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve found it to be a good thing–far more energizing than draining. While there are certainly days that I think ‘what’s next? I’m out of ideas…’ most of the time I find that writing a blog post actually awakens new ideas and gets my writing going. (See my colleague Amy Julia Becker’s excellent post on the Redbud Writer’s Guild blog: “Want to write a book? Start a Blog.”)

As for Facebook and Twitter, well, they can certainly be the trivial time-wasters that many people believe them to be, but they can also foster meaningful connections and conversations between people. They have value.

Nonetheless, one of the things that is difficult about blogging and using social media is that they are relentlessly momentary. They are disposable and fleeting. And by their very design, they insist that we comment and “like” and react somehow more or less instantaneously. They want us to speak, to share our opinion, to make a statement. In a world where ‘going viral’ leads to book deals and movie deals or at least to 15 minutes in the spotlight, the incentive to offer quick, outrageous reactions is high.

Anyone who has ever read the Old Testament book of Proverbs knows that there is quite a lot in there about words and speech. The Hebrew Bible is pretty obsessed with words and with their power: the creation of the world, after all, is spoken of as a speech-act. How a person uses words is understood as fairly powerful, for good or for ill. It’s also understood as reflective (maybe even constitutive) of who that person is and what they are about.

The proverb that comes to mind again and again when I think of social media and blogging, and my place in those things, is this:

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2, NRSV)

Often I feel the tyranny of the news-hook (that’s my buddy Ellen’s phrase–check out her article on it!) and have this sense that when something comes up in the news or on a blog that’s more popular than mine or in a Twitter exchange between “notables” I must respond, and quickly. That’s what you do if you want pageviews, followers, retweets, ‘likes,’ and so forth.

I won’t lie: sometimes that’s fun. I get that little jolt of newsroom-energy right in my own kitchen as I tap out some response to something, somewhere, that’s hot right now!

But I fear that pleasure is pleasure in expressing personal opinion. It’s not necessarily pleasure in understanding. 
And I fear, too, that the more foolish pleasure of expression will eclipse the deeper pleasure in understanding as we all get more and more linked into our social networks. Because that does not bode well for the writing and reading of good books, the love of which, for many of us, is the aim of all this blogging and Facebooking and tweeting.

All this isn’t to say that I don’t see value in social media. I certainly do. I just use those media mindful of the possibility that hitting “publish” may mark me as a fool, and that the real reward is in the understanding of–not the airing of–a perspective.

Whining about Writing, Writing about Whining

May I whine for a moment, please?

I shouldn’t pay attention to my stats, I know that. I shouldn’t even look at them, because I will write what I’m going to write no matter how popular or unpopular that’s going to be. One of my favorite authors, Beverly Cleary (yes, the creator of Ramona!) early decided that she

“would ignore all the trends…and would not let money influence any decisions about my books.”

Sage advice from one of the most popular and acclaimed children’s book authors of the 20th century!

Ready for my whine?

Posts about hunger and poverty are far less popular than posts about, say, Audrey Hepburn or Victoria’s Secret Angels.

Or, for that matter, posts pointing a finger at what’s wrong within evangelicalism.

I don’t think it’s because people don’t care about poverty, or hunger, or preventable disease, or fair trade.

I think it’s because we feel powerless and/or desensitized.

But we’re not powerless. Nor should we let ourselves be desensitized.

Two readers shared snippets of poetry that relate to this:

First, via Joyce, Audre Lord:

“How much of this truth can I bear/ to see/ and still live/ unblinded?/ How much of this pain can I use?”

Second, via Ellen, Wendell Berry:

“Expect the end of the world./Laugh./Laughter is immeasurable./Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

I love these.

And so I propose to try to ignore all trends, all stats.

I just wish that the 15 children who died of preventable disease while you read this post would get a fraction of the attention that goes to Mark Driscoll, Lady Gaga, or Madonna’s Halftime show.

Know what I mean?


EXTRAPOLATE AT YOUR OWN RISK

This week I really enjoyed Brittany Tuttle’s piece at the Christianity Today blog for women, about how blogs, Facebook, et. al, DO NOT equal the whole picture.

Does this sound familiar:

“Countless times I’ve logged onto Facebook, Twitter, or my favorite blogs only to see vintage-filtered vignettes of other people’s seemingly perfect lives. There are my friends, on tropical vacation (again). There are my favorite bloggers, wearing artsy duds, sitting in their homes that look like exact replications of the Anthropologie catalog. And there are their children, perpetually glossy-haired and rosy-cheeked and smiling.

Meanwhile, here I sit in my untidy home in the cold of January, wearing an old college t-shirt. My kids are fighting in the background. Reading these blogs, seeing these profiles, often feels like browsing a fashion magazine. It’s fun to look at, but afterward I feel inferior and inadequate and ugly and fat.”

That? Right there? That captures it so well. I went through a period of real distress before I realized that no, I do not have to have five kids and live on a farm in Maine and grow and preserve all my own food and either knit or sew new slipcovers/cushions/quilts/cozies for everything and raise pigs just because SouleMama does and looks darn cute doing it and it seems like her kids are always peaceful and empathetic and never screaming or creating mayhem (like mine are.)

I think all blogs, maybe even this one, should have bold disclaimers:

THIS IS NEITHER THE WHOLE PICTURE NOR THE WHOLE STORY. EXTRAPOLATE AT YOUR PERIL!

I won’t give away Brittany’s grace-filled conclusion. It’s worth going over to read the whole post for yourself.

Enjoy the weekend! I will see you on Monday!