Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dear friends,

I have not been blogging lately because I had started to feel the pressure to write really elaborate, wonderful blogs, and that stressed me out so I just stopped. My last sort of real blog post was September 27th. I now have a gallon of milk in the fridge that expires December 3rd. That means a lot of time has passed, and so I will give you a brief snapshot of the 2 months in between.

Week after last blog post: Midterm break reading period. I sat in my pajamas for a week, reading Augustine's Confessions. Many days, I forgot to go outside. Tea. I also drank tea.

Weeks 1-3 after midterm break: I learned what it was like to be a student again because I finally had to start writing papers. Granted, I only had to write about 4 papers in those 3 weeks, but it was the first real work I finally had to do. During this time, life was better because I had less time to be existential. I spent late nights in the library and remembered what it was like to have paper-writing highs and not be able to sleep when you're finally done because you're so exhilarated from developing the flow of your rhetoric. These were good weeks. I also began feeling more socially adjusted. Then I finished my paper on John Cassian's reworking of Augustine's view of predestination and developed a cough.

Weeks 4-6 after midterm break: My body began eating itself and didn't stop for 3 weeks.

Week four: H1N1 (?) Regardless of what it was, I was slowly dying. I was also dog-sitting a 60-pound short-haired collie. So I was living alone in a strange home across town, slowly dying, and going on intermittent walks with a dog who hated me for not taking him to the dog park while I was dying.

Week five: "Sara's friends find out she's still sick and force her to go to the doctor."
Doctor: "You are slowly dying; you have walking pnemonia."

Week 6: "Even though she's on antibiotics and is supposed to be getting better, Sara develops chest pain, loses hearing in her right ear, and develops such a terrible sore throat that she begins spitting into her garbage to avoid swallowing. Make sure to tune in for the daily nervous breakdowns at 4 AM when she can't sleep because of the pain."

Week 7 is now. I've been better now for 2 or 3 days. I eat food again. I can think about things other than dying. Nonetheless, being sick for so long caused me to regress deeply back into the days of life being meaningless. And there doesn't seem to be much point in trying to recreate meaning until next semester because classes are done. All I'm doing now is that thing where I sit in the pajamas and pretend I'm studying, even though I'm really just watching desperate housewives. I fly home in 16 days, so I am just biding my time until then.

Gosh this is depressing. That's why I haven't been blogging. I reckon I should be thankful, being as Thanksgiving is tomorrow and all. I'm not going to tell you my plans (mostly because I don't have any), and the ones I do have are too depressing to talk about until they're in the past. In some neurotic way, I'm trying to plan the most depressing day possible because then it would be more fun to write about.

Well, that is all for now. This blog post isn't even worthy for me to hit "publish post," but hey, may as well.

Until the next time,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dear friends,

Yes, it has been a very long time since I updated. I am ashamed, and you are angry. I never meant for this to happen. To appease your requests, I am posting a reflection I just wrote for my Christian Spirituality class in response to how my technology fast went. For those of you who don't know, I was required to fast for one week from email, facebook, text messaging, and the use of my cell phone outside of the home.

I don't like to post things that are more formal in nature, but this is quite anecdotal, so it's not too far of a cry from a normal post. So happy reading, and I hope to be back to blogging for real soon.


My final moments with my cell phone looming, I sent the following text message to the Duke freshman football player for whom I serve as an academic mentor: “Hey, I won’t be able to use texting or email for a week, so if you need something you’re going to have to call me. It’s for class.” As per the texting etiquette of a 19-year-old boy, I received the following illuminating response: “lol WTF?” When I talked to him later that week, he expressed further how appalled he was and articulated repeatedly that he would never take that class. “How can you do anything on the weekends? I would freak.” I looked at him; was there any sense in trying to educate this young man about the potential evils technology poses to communication as we once knew it? I looked at the guys on his team—sitting in their players’ lounge with the plasma screens and gaming systems, cell phones in hand and iPods on hip—probably not. I said nothing more.

Later that week, I went to my job, where I sit in a small room with fourteen Duke freshmen and call alumni and ask for their money. Somewhat ironically, as I sat amidst the rows of computers and telephones, my supervisor asked me with a slight smile, “So, are you still fasting from technology?” As we chatted briefly, it came out that the class I was doing this for was Christian Spirituality. “And why?” All of a sudden, I felt my cheeks redden as I stammered in front of a suddenly silent room of students with unknown religious backgrounds a rationale for why fasting from technology was relevant to Christian Spirituality. I may have muttered key words such as “dependence” and “suffering of Christ,” but I mostly tried to divert the attention from “the odd divinity student in the room, who is offering theological musings” back to the normal routine of the evening. It was at this point that I realized that my fast was opening doors of communication that I did not feel entirely eager to pursue. I mean, I welcome my student or my co-workers to glance over my witty “religious views” on facebook, but having a conversation is perhaps going too far. “Please, I am not that kind of divinity student. No, not in a terribly pretentious kind of way; I just have no ‘seed-planting inclination’ to bring into this relationship.” Indeed, the space had opened for communication—the kind where people even look one another in the eye—and unfamiliar with this sort of interaction at Duke, where I am usually allowed to remain faceless, I tried quickly to cover the space once more.

Now, I hadn’t started my fast with such an unimpressive ability to communicate in the real world. In fact, my very first day of the fast would gradually lead me to new levels of engagement with neighbors whom I didn’t regularly talk to or had never met. However, although the day would afford really meaningful opportunities I would not have had otherwise, I was also heading to a moment I would have to shamefully include in my reflection. Indeed, as happy as my discoveries would be that day, I would also break my fast—on the first day—nineteen times.

As it happened, it was Sunday afternoon, and my roommate and her boyfriend were very loudly enjoying lunch before he had to do something heroic, like head back to the military. Enamored as I perhaps should have been with their expressions of affection, I was annoyed. I was further annoyed because I had decided to fast from online radio, which I use instead of an iPod, so I could not drown out their incessant banter. Thus, unable to hide myself in my social networks, I decided to try the Southern thing. I arranged myself on the porch for a long session of tea, blankets, and books. It was cold. Nonetheless, I convinced myself that between what the house had to offer and what the porch had to offer, the porch was the more pleasant option.

Within minutes, my similarly-aged, smooth-talking neighbor, Marian, came out his front door, holding high a bottle. “Sara! “Would you like to join me for a glass of wine?” “Now that’s the kind of Southern hospitality I’m talking about!” I put the book down. He poured, we drank, and we conversed long past the point when the wine had taken the chill out of the air. After an hour or so of talking about roommates and the nuances of our beverage, he asked about my technology fast, I asked him if he went to church, and we began discussing Marian’s religious pluralism and notions of being “spiritual, but not religious.” And, for one of the first times in my life, I felt as though I was able to articulate my answers to his challenges, as well as my own hints of faith and belief, in a decently respectable way. “Is this…ministry?”

All of a sudden, another neighbor and my roommate came over (sans boyfriend). Then we were traipsing over to meet two more neighbors we had not met. Finally, I found myself in the house next door being shown “Michael’s meditation room,” feeling euphoric about the day’s unique twist of events, and standing in front of a mantle featuring pictures of various eastern mystic leaders and pensive-looking Hindu women. I made a mental note to thank my roommate for being annoying. Since I had been unable to resort to my usual means of technology for both the solace and noise-blocking benefits, I had gone outside and met my neighbors. They had shared some of their spiritual inclinations, I had shared some of mine, and it had been wonderful. However, throughout the Sunday afternoon festivities, smooth-talking Marian had mysteriously kept my wine glass full, and by the end of it all, I no longer much cared that I was fasting from technology, and I found myself sending nineteen text messages, as I told several friends about my exciting day. After that, my week then turned into a self-imposed “technology and wine fast.” Since I was only a half a day into the fast, I really could have just started over after my failure, but I knew that the experience that had led to my lapse in attentiveness was necessary to preserve as part of the whole technology fast experience, and so I continued.

After such a grand kick-off to the fast, the rest of the week unfolded in a much more mundane way. I caught myself grabbing for my phone when it wasn’t there, and I realized that one of the primary uses of the phone is that it provides comfort. When I walked down that especially long divinity school hallway, I could no longer pretend I was doing something very important on my phone, in an attempt to avoid the always awkward eye contact games. I had to stare at the ground until the person was ten feet away, and then casually glance in his direction to determine whether or not we would be exchanging pleasantries, just like people used to have to do. Moreover, I realized that facebook helps me enormously in knowing what is going on in my friends’ lives. I may not really need to know that former high school classmate, Leanne, “Is Havin the WROst Day EVER!!”, but even if we never talk about it, I feel closer to Bethy in Michigan when I know that she “would like her sermon to write itself.” Sure, I could take the time for phone calls and lunch dates to catch up on friends’ lives, but when time and/or location make that impossible, at least I know that Ashlea is thinking of me by “liking” my self-deprecatory status about wanting to shank myself with a rusty spoon. As stated further by Lenora Rand in “The Church on Facebook”: “Facebook allows us to remain intimate and honest, to know each other and be known by each other, even if that isn't happening in the bricks-and-mortar world.” Indeed, people tend to be more honest online, allowing themselves to reach out and be reached out to, when perhaps they would not do so otherwise.

Some aspects of the fast really were very life-giving. Needing a new method of procrastination, I began to read the world news. I read about the violence in world cities, and then I perused a map to solidify the locations of these cities in my head. Instead of actually being on facebook, I read several articles about the beginning and continual developments of facebook. Additionally, not only was I learning perhaps more substantial things than I would have reading my facebook news feed, I was also getting more homework done than usual. I was reminded of the time I spent studying abroad in England last spring, without the use of a cell phone. I was allowed to sit in the coffee shop on High Street all day, with no one to bother me except myself (and perhaps the voice of my tutor in my head). My mind was free to go in whatever direction it desired, and there was no phone vibrating in my pocket to interrupt it. Although our technology may point us in millions of exciting directions, it also seems to stifle the creativity that is fostered by real time alone to think.

On the other hand, repercussions did arise because of the fast. I did not sign up for a pre-registration advising appointment because I did not get the email. I missed my father’s birthday, because I could not look at the reminder my mother texted me that day. Lastly, I received a deduction on my Into Great Silence reflection after making a very conscious decision that making an exception to email my paper in by noon would be contrary to the spirit of the fast. Instead, my completed paper remained tucked in my folder until class. I now realize that I should have arranged some kind of face-to-face handoff earlier in the week, but I also am struck that for the first time in my life, I managed to transcend my focus on what I needed to do for the grade in order to stay faithful to what it meant to truly engage in the assignment. Thus, I learned what was uncomfortable and annoying about lacking communication, but I also learned that the discomfort itself has life-giving potential.

By the end of the week, the rationale I had given my supervisor for why fasting from technology was relevant to Christian Spirituality had not entered the reality of my week. In my own perceived sufferings, I had done no reflecting on the sufferings of Christ. Although I had come to an awareness of my usually unnecessary dependence on technology, I had done no reflecting on how such dependence might infringe upon my dependence on God. What I had realized was that the fast had opened the doors of communication for me many times—regarding both spirituality and the ways we communicate—and I had the opportunity to respond in more than 140 characters. Perhaps I didn’t always know how to do so adequately, but I am convinced that looking someone in the eye while giving a mediocre articulation of your convictions is far better than even the most clever religious views on facebook. It might be cool for my friend to exhort me with a tagline in blue letters to “Follow the Crucified and Risen Jewish Criminal,” but it really is far cooler to talk to Marian on his porch or stand in Michael’s meditation room. Sure, the church may find ways to have effective facebook prayer chains or revolutionary worship experiences with twitter, but at the same time, we all embody our spirituality in a way that begs for us to communicate with real bodily presence. For when we realize that ideas inhabit people and not cyberspace, we further realize that there is value and worth in these people that can’t be communicated through an online profile. To really know and understand the people in our lives, we must seek to know them holistically, and that means that as the body of Christ, we must continue to communicate by looking one another in the eye.