Notes By The Way

As for why we are dissatisfied

Written by on August 21, 2011 in Faith and Spiritual Life, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

This review of a new book by Cathy Davidson rings so true:

We’ve been trained to assume that working hard means focusing on a single task to completion, then doing it again. But, says Davidson, “the new workplace requires different forms of attention than the workplace we were trained for…

The result is that we feel anxious and guilty, convinced we’re not getting enough done, not achieving an honest day’s work, failing to live up to the iconic model of our hard-working, brick-and-mortar grandparents.

I am working on many things at once. I trust and hope they will all converge, but I don’t know if and when. I’m over my head trying to engage in a very complex world. That’s just as true in Cambodia, or more so, because the representatives of the developed world are here in full force trying to “help” and “make a difference” with so many anticipated and unanticipated results spiraling out of sight. This country is change too fast for anyone to keep track of. Sometimes I crave just one thing to do with my hands with simple results I can measure.

For any one of us who has been panicking about how to adapt

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A prayer to become empty

Written by on August 14, 2011 in Faith and Spiritual Life, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

Following is a prayer by Macrina Wiederkehr entitled “The Empty Water Jug” that I read on a friend’s blog today. My friend works and lives among the poor here in Phnom Penh. She is daily confronted with needs and suffering she can’t meet or alleviate, but she keeps going outside and facing what she finds there. Such living will strip illusions away. We live with overwhelming struggles and sorrows never far away, and beauty and abundance. What a joy it is when they really meet.

“…full of things…smothered by gods”

Jesus, I come to the warmth of your Presence
knowing that You are
the very emptiness of God.
I come before You
holding the water jar of my life.
Your eyes meet mine
and I know what I’d rather not know.

I came to be filled
but I am already full.
I am too full.
This is my sickness
I am full of things
that crowd out
Your healing Presence.

A holy knowing steals inside my heart
and I see the painful truth.
I don’t need more
I need less
I am too full.

I am full of things that block out
Your golden grace.
I am smothered by gods …

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On writing, photography, and Hemmingway

Written by on July 4, 2011 in Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

An article by John Walsh tracing the reasons why Ernest Hemmingway committed suicide — laying out a trail of self-destructive and self-deceptive behavior stretching back to his childhood.

Walsh acknowledges Hemmingway’s genius, but he doesn’t hold back.

It’s easy to be spiteful about Hemingway. All his posturing, his editing of the truth, his vainglorious fibbing… But it’s hard to shake off the feeling that what he was doing wasn’t bravery, but psychotic self-dramatisation. And when you inspect the image of Hemingway-as-hero, you uncover an extraordinary sub-stratum of self-harming. You discover that, for just over half of his life, Hemingway seemed hell-bent on destroying himself.

The article gets some push-back in the comments, probably deserved, but there’s a story here worth examining intently.

Hemmingway aside, it makes me wonder about writers and photographers losing touch with themselves and reality, or becoming prisoners of the images and stories. I know what it’s like to kick words around like stones as I walk, or eat, or drive — spinning out threads of plot and dialogue, or casting about for images everywhere I look. Sometimes it takes my wife or kids several attempts to call me back to attention; and sometimes I return on …

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The greatest story

Written by on July 3, 2011 in Faith and Spiritual Life, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

John Walsh speculates in this article about why Ernest Hemmingway committed suicide.  He doesn’t deny Hemmingway’s brilliance and acts of bravery, but he paints of picture of a man captivated by an image, addicted to alcohol, and bent on self-destruction.

What was bugging Hemingway? Why all the drinking, the macho excess, the manic displays of swaggering? Why was he so drawn to war, shooting, boxing and conflict? Why did he want to kill so many creatures? Was he trying to prove something? Or blot something out of his life?

I’m struck that a man like Hemmingway, who seemed to live a BIG life that others aspire to, might have never been truly free; this man of far reaching imagination, a genius at crafting stories, may never have seen his own story truly.  Did he taste the fullness of life, or was he so desperate to escape a shallow existence that he attempted it with a pen and his imagination?

I know what it’s like to walk around looking for stories and pictures, spinning bits and pieces of narratives and dialogues as I walk like kicking stones. I can easily get lost in the words; it’s like listening to another voice, …

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A boy painting his home

The week before he joined an “art party” at the children’s center where he lives.  A teacher has been working with kids at the center since mid-2007, and some of the older students are very good. They helped the younger kids during the art party, taking up brushes occasionally to teach by example. The results were amazing, and moving if you know the stories behind them.

I made a short video documenting the event (coming soon).

I like the image of creating a painting, and this one has a subscript for me. It’s a boy at an orphanage painting his home – not an imaginary home, but the home where his mother lives. I don’t know his particular story, because he’s new to the center, but it’s a fact that the vast majority of children and youth in orphanages have homes and relatives: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters. Most still have one living parent, and quite a few have two. The number one reason they are in orphanages is poverty. There are many orphanages but few family support services to restore families and keep them together.

It’s not surprising that a child in an orphanage would paint his …

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Poverty waiting for opportunity

Written by on March 31, 2011 in Helping Without Hurting, Notes By The Way with 0 Comments

I took a group of Japanese to a school in a very poor community. They visited each grade level, sang songs, then asked and answered questions. Each time they asked the kids, “What is your dream for the future?”

A first grader said he dreams of having a job, that’s it, followed by another who said he wants to be a motodop (a motorcycle taxi driver). Several others said they dream of having a factory job. What dreams? I thought. Working in a factory is a hard life: 12 hour days, six days a week, about 60 dollars a month (25 cents an hour). That wage is just enough to survive on, barely.

Some  second graders also mentioned factory jobs, with a couple exceptions, one who wants to be a teacher and another who wants to be an engineer. The third and fourth graders gradually abandoned the factory theme in favor of more stereotypical dream jobs: doctor, lawyer, engineer…

I think the youngest children were  repeating what they overhear their parents and older siblings hoping for–steady if brutal work they can get. The older kids have learned the list of obvious jobs that are supposed to make you rich and …

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