Poetry 280 — A Twitter experiment

snow car

Boston, January

Metal, rust cars, packed in parking
spots like chipped paint sardines
ice scrapes glass, plastic –
all snow’s softness lost.

#poetry280

Good morning, friends! It’s a Monday morning in January after two weeks of record-breaking or -tying cold temps here in the northeast, and two snowstorms. I started the new year with a record-breaking migraine, in the hospital having an MRI and seeing neurologists just to make sure it wasn’t something more. It wasn’t — I’m okay, though a little bit frayed around the edges, and about as pale as my white car buried in snow in the picture above.

So I didn’t get the chance to do any vision castings or resolutions for the new year, though ironically it was a trip to the gym that triggered the migraine. But I did have an idea for a project that I thought I’d get going and do the planning along the way.

A couple of months ago, in a move that was strongly opposed by many of its users, Twitter expanded its character limit from 140 to 280. I was disappointed in the change, myself, because it felt like the 140 char tweet, and the “thread” of tweets used to express longer thoughts, had become an art form and a challenge that made me a better writer. When you only have 140 characters to use, you have to really think about each word, whether it’s necessary, and whether the same idea could be said more concisely. It was like each tweet was a tiny writing assignment, like I had an editor pushing me to write my best. The thread — stringing several tweets together — expanded on this challenge. I observed other writers mastering it, copied their methods, developed my own, and came to feel I was getting pretty good at it. I had a handful of tweets that were shared a couple hundred times, and one that went genuinely viral with 147,000 retweets. I even hosted a really fun, long conversation on the Enneagram with some writers, activists, and others.

When Twitter announced that it was changing to 280 characters, it felt like a genuine loss. I expected to miss the challenge of the 140, and in fact I do. The longer tweets feel sloppy and unedited. I thought Josh Groban had the best observation:

I know he was joking, but I thought that would actually be a brilliant way to teach essay writing. If you can learn to say what you want to say in 140 characters, then 280, then 560, et cetera, et cetera, by the time you are allowed 5,000 you will know how to choose the exact right 5,000 words to express your thoughts. Instead of prose, though, I found the 280 characters lending themselves to poetic thoughts:

The 280 characters gives you enough room to get an idea going, but cuts you off right when you might want to get carried away. There is also something both infuriating and intriguing to me about the lack of an edit feature on Twitter. You can always delete and rewrite if you make a mistake, but because Twitter is such an immediate experience, several people may have already read and reacted to your tweet. I find deleting and retweeting cuts down on interaction, and so I usually let small mistakes go. Writing poetry directly into a tweet ends up creating an interesting artistic environment that is a cross between plain writing and live improv. You are also making a commitment to the unique online venue —  of course you can copy and paste the poem into a word document or anywhere else, to save it, edit it, expand on it if you want, but for the moment you are casting it out into the interwebs, fully formed in itself at that moment. And the interwebs being what they are, you never know what will happen. Your poem may float away into obscurity, or it may go viral like Maggie Smith’s amazing 2016 poem, Good Bones. No one may read it, or many people may read it. My poem on Evangelicalism and the birds above was read several hundred times.

So I thought I’d start a poetry challenge for 2018. I’ve given it a name, Poetry 280, and a hashtag, #poetry280. (If you don’t know, hashtags are the way to loop people in to a Twitter discussion.) I’ll figure out the details as I go, but I plan on posting challenges and prompts regularly, and maybe having some contests with guest-judges and real prizes! We’ll have some haikus, of course, a limerick, and some lesser known short forms, as well as free-form and subject prompts. And I will be retweeting my favorite poems.

This is primarily a Twitter project, so the best way to follow along is on Twitter: Follow the hashtag #poetry280 and follow me at @jfkantrowitz. If you’re not on Twitter, I will also be posting the prompts (though not always in real time) on my Facebook writer page, where you can also post your poems.

The first challenge is a nod to Twitter of old. Write a four line poem, rhyming or non-rhyming, of no more than 140 characters. A title is optional but counts toward the 140 if you use it. Don’t forget to add the hashtag so I can read and retweet your poem! And since Twitter doesn’t tell you when you reach 140 characters anymore, here is an online tool to help you with the 140 challenge.

Here’s one of my attempts at the first challenge (the poem about cars and snow at the beginning of this post is another).

 

Poetry 280 is open to everyone, whether you’re a professional poet or have never attempted a poem. Have fun with it! Or be deep and broody with it! Whatever you like! Think of it as the karaoke of the poetry world — everyone can get up on stage and take a turn! Let’s see what we can create in 2018!

Love,
Jessica

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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How to reach your goal weight (and maybe write a rock opera) in 2018

Yogalady

Not an actual self-portrait

It’s New Year’s Eve, and a lot of us are curled up with stale holiday cookies pondering yet another year of resolutions that never quite pan out. So I thought I’d share my revolutionary method of achieving your goal weight in three easy steps. I personally guarantee your success, though I won’t give you your money back because this blog post is free. Ready? Let’s go!

Overview
Step 1 . Eat healthy-ish for a month or two. Exercise a little bit.
Step 2. Weigh yourself. Write it down. This is your ideal weight.
Step 3. Put a big check mark next to your ideal weight. You did it, baby!

Details
Step 1.
A. Keep healthy food in your house. When you get hungry, eat some of it. When you are no longer hungry, stop eating it. If you eat too much, have a glass of water and immediately forget about it. Self-flagellation and recrimination will not make you either thin or healthy. (See How I Finally Learned to Feed Myself for more on this.)

B. Don’t cut out carbs unless you are allergic to or don’t like carbs, or unless you have perfect, superhuman willpower that will last the rest of your life. Low-carb diets will make you lose weight, but as soon as you glance at a slice of bread you will gain all that weight back and more. I am speaking from experience.

C. Don’t cut out sugar unless you are allergic or diabetic or have the aforementioned super-human willpower. Low-sugar diets are good to a point, but if you keep screwing up your willpower and denying yourself and denying yourself, your self will come back with a vengeance and eat two pounds of leftover Halloween candy one dark night in mid-February. I am speaking from experience. Don’t eat a lot of sugar but let yourself have occasional treats.

D. Don’t cut out fat. Just don’t do it. Low-fat diets are one of the worst lies ever told us. Our bodies need fat. Just maybe not the entire fat content of a party-size bag of chips. I am speaking from experience. Also, most low-fat foods replace the fat with sugar, which is much worse for you.

E. Exercise a little during these couple of months, but not too much. Exercise the amount you might reasonably expect to exercise after the two months are over. Skip the gym occasionally and lie on your back on the floor with your eyes shut. This is an ancient yogic method of relaxation called Savasana, and is, incidentally, also a good way to parent/nanny small children when you are exhausted. They will laugh like you have done the most clever thing in the world and come sit, climb, and jump on you. Be sure to cover up your sensitive bits. I am speaking from experience.

Step 2. Weigh yourself. Thank your body for all it does. Think of all the variety of bodies there are in the world and be grateful yours is part of that beautiful diversity. Write down your weight on the top of a new notebook and label it: “Goal weight.”

Step 3. Put a big check mark next to that number. You have now reached your goal weight! Congratulations!! If you have stickers you can give yourself a sticker, too, or maybe improvise a gold star. Now, move the heck on with your life. There’s a whole world out there! Live, love, create! Use the rest of the notebook to write lyrics to the rock opera you’ve always dreamed of writing!

Happy, healthy new year, my gorgeous readers.

Love,
Jessica

***
I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. Consult your doctor, especially if you have health issues. But I truly believe that a lifetime of worrying, obsessing, and yo-yo dieting is so much unhealthier than being overweight in the first place.

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

Let me sum up

“Let me explain. No, is too long, let me sum up.”
~Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Let me tell you, stupid, that we here are all of little faith only from carelessness, because we haven’t time! … The Lord God has given us so little time, only 24 hours in a day, so that one hasn’t even time to get enough sleep – much less to repent.”
~Fydor Dostoevsky (thank you, Laura Jean Truman!)

Gosh, I’ve been busy lately. All of my jobs have taken off at once, from writing to editing to nannying to bunny-sitting (don’t be jealous). I have three things to share with you, and only a half an hour before I have to get to work, so let’s get going.

I’m really excited to be up on Think Christian today, for the first time since they published Bake for them Two 2 1/2 years ago. They received some flack for posting it, and I really appreciated the thoughtfulness with which editor Josh Larsen and director Steven Koster engaged the discussion.  They’ve shifted their focus lately to the media (Josh has a really interesting-looking book out, Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings) and so when I found myself developing an obsession with Fixer Upper and spending my evenings crying with people as their dream homes were revealed, I emailed Josh to pitch an essay.

Even though this article is about a reality TV show, I get pretty personal in it, about my dreams, metaphorically and literally, and my hopes for heaven.

I dream about homes often. Apparently, this is common. Psychologists theorize that houses in dreams represent ourselves. For me, there is also a more tangible source for my dreams. Growing up we moved frequently, and as an adult I’ve moved often as well. Houses—and housemates—haunt my dreams, sometimes with nightmarish rehashing of conflicts, sometimes with glorious visions of beauty, space, and love. For me, those latter dreams represent my dreams being fulfilled, as scarcity is replaced with abundance.

Head over to Think Christian and check it out!

gloryhappening_approved-copyNext, a book recommendation. I finally got a hold of Kaitlin B. Curticle’s book Glory Happening, out as of last week through Paraclete Press. I had already listened to parts of it through Kaitlin’s story times on Twitter and Facebook, and the print version does not disappoint. Kaitlin tells stories about her everyday life, but looks deeper to find meaning and the presence of God in each moment. The stories are almost like paintings, with the writer-artist drawing our attention to the holiness in every detail. After each story Kaitlin crafts a poem-prayer, lifting her words to God and inviting the reader into that moment. To be honest, there was a part of me that had been thinking, “A peaceful little book will be nice, but what I really want to read is something profound.” It didn’t take me more than one chapter to realize that I’d found a book full of both peace and profundity. It’s out of the quiet paying attention, to the quiet or not so quiet of our everyday lives, that God speaks to us — and all things profound start there. Order Kaitlin’s book here!

And last, but not least, my friend Eliel Cruz had family in Puerto Rico when hurricane Maria hit last month. He didn’t hear from his father for several days, and I and many others watched anxiously until we saw his update that his dad had called. His father is now moving to the states and Eliel is doing a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for plane tickets for him, his wife, and her parents (Eliel’s step-grandparents). If you’re able to support him you can give here.

Thanks for reading! Okay, now to rush off to take care of a sick toddler. Poor little guy. Today will have lots of snuggling and hand sanitizer.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Love,
Jessica

Sunrise, sunset

img_1738This is a difficult time of year for me. Tonight, sunset in Boston will be 5:33pm. Tomorrow, when daylight saving ends, it will be 4:32. The sun will set while I still have an hour and a half at work. By the end of December it will set while the children I nanny and I are making our way home from school. We won’t get back to a 5:30 sunset till the end of February. Almost four months. Four months of driving home in the dark. Four months of eating dinner with darkened windows. Darkness is descending, not just over me, not in certain places, but over the whole city, the whole country, and it feels huge and out of my control.

There are little things I can do, of course, and I do them diligently. Rituals, exercises, both of the body and the spirit. I light candles. I try to pause every evening when the sun sets, to mark the transition, to make it feel like something I am a part of rather than something that is happening to me. I stretch out on my yoga mat, meditate and pray, breathing in the presence of the Spirit. I try to make friends with the darkness. I learn to walk in it, and try to be open to its gifts and its lessons.

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark. It is about times of depression or doubt, but she also undertakes a literal examination of darkness, of what it means to move about in it. She writes,

I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

I believe this is true. But it doesn’t make it easier to face dark nights, either those of the soul, or spirit, or the revolution of the sun (combined with coastlines and country-lines that force Boston into the wrong time zone). So I prepare myself, and I work hard to make sure I have the tools at hand I’ll need, my emotional and spiritual flashlights and night lights.

But I grieve, too. I weep today, watching this last 5:30 sunset from my window. And I want to hold space for others who weep. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects different people in different ways, but it is widespread. And if you are already dealing with depression it can be compounded by the season and the time change. If you are weeping today, whether because of the earth’s coming darkness or because of darkness in your heart, I see you. You are not alone. I’ll weep with you and honor your sorrow, and then I’ll light my candles for you with hope and trust. Hold on. You are not alone. We might have trouble seeing each other here, in the night, but there are many of us. Light a candle for me, too, so I can see you. We will make it through together.

Love,
Jessica

ubooknerd, you won the giveaway! Send me your address so I can get you Love Warrior and Hungry! tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com.

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

Those Who Wait

Twister*This is part of the synchroblog on waiting, to celebrate the release of Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow – out now. See more here and link up to the synchroblog here.*

I had another bad migraine on Friday. I’d felt it coming on and off, the weird way they do for me, on my way to pick up the boys I nanny from school, but some caffeine seemed to stave it off. The eleven year old had homework, but his parents had given us an hour to stop at the park on the way home, and I was as excited as the kids were at the prospect of fresh air and fun on a gorgeous fall day. I grabbed my sidewalk chalk from the car and we drew for a while, then the boys did parkour on the playground equipment while I cheered them on. And then we played tickle monster, which of course was me. This required a lot of running.

It was probably the running around that made the migraine worse again. It got bad when we were back at their house, making the game of Twister I played with the seven year old while his brother did homework more challenging, especially since we play with heads and knees as well as feet and hands.

“Head on blue, Jessica!”

“Hahaha…owww…”

By the ride home my head was throbbing and waves of nausea were hitting me with every lurch of the car. I realized I’d left the chalk at the park, which was on the way home, so I pulled my car into the parking lot, grateful for the rest from the car movement. I got out of the car slowly, ever mindful of head rushes which lately have been migraine triggers for me, and walked back to the playground, where I saw that kids had made use of the chalk while I’d been gone. There were drawings in rainbow pastels all around the walkway that circled the playground, and I waited till one small girl was done with her picture before I gathered the chalk up. She spoke Arabic, I think, which I don’t except for hello and thank you, but we communicated in gestures, nodding and smiling.

The sun was setting, and the playground part of the park was at the bottom of a steep hill that leads up to one of the best views of Boston. My head hurt, but the fresh air felt good, and I decided to see if I could make it up partway at least, to see a little bit of the sunset. I used to be able to step out on either of my two porches for sunset views, but in my new house the views are more elusive.

It was hard going up the hill. I have a few chronic injuries that have been acting up lately, and the pain in my feet, and back, and shoulder has been making ordinary things more challenging. The hill was steep, but I took it slowly, heading toward a patch of light in the grass that I thought would mean a good view of the light’s source. I sat down there and leaned back on my hands, glad of the small elevation I’d attained. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, just a small patch of red and orange, but it was something at least. I didn’t feel the deep happiness or joy that sunsets often bring on, but I tried to be quietly appreciative, for the little bit of color, for the fresh air, for the break before I’d have to drive through a couple more miles of Boston traffic before I got home. I took deep breaths and took the sunset in as best I could.

There weren’t many people there, and when a man walked close by I became wary of sitting alone in the increasing dark. The sunset faded, and I stood up, carefully, checking for head rushes. I turned and looked up the hill, and realized that even though I was only about halfway up I’d already climbed the steepest part. It would be much easier to ascend the second half. Standing up had revealed that there were actually several more people around, including a group that was doing a photo shoot of a pregnant woman in a dramatic white dress.

I had only taken a few more steps when I turned around and saw the sunset was much broader and more multicolored than I’d been able to see from where I was seated. As I walked to the crest of the hill the light increased, and the full 360 degrees of sky became visible, glowing purple, red, orange, and blue in the west with a subtler reflection of those colors on the clouds in the east, with the silvery grey Boston skyline to the north. Many people were up there, as it turned out, snapping photos of each other and the sky. My isolation had been an illusion. I turned, slowly, taking it all in, still not fully happy or joyful, but glad for the chance to see a more impressive sunset, to breathe under a more spacious sky.

On the way home I discussed my health and finances with God. I’ve been discouraged lately at how expensive life is, and how much harder it is to work as much as I have to work with all the various health issues acting up. I offered God several suggestions for how to help with this: An large anonymous check in the mail, an unexpected job with a hefty salary, a cure for the foot problems, or back problems, or shoulder problems, or the migraines. I promised to do everything I could on my part if there was something on my part that God wanted me to do. Then, after I’d mentioned every other solution I could think of, I prayed for the one that God was giving me already: Give me the patience to keep doing the next thing, to put one foot in front of the other, and make one dollar at a time until the bills are paid. Give me the wisdom to keep going, to climb the hill just a little bit further, then rest, climb, then rest, till I get to a place where I can breathe under a more spacious sky.

***

Those who waitToday is the official launch of Tanya Marlow’s new book! Tanya is one of my personal heroes. I met her when we were on the launch team of Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts. Tanya is a writer and activist who has myalgic encephelomyelitis, commonly (and deceptively) know as chronic fatigue syndrome. Because of some setbacks and some bad treatment by doctors, Tanya is bedridden for much of the time, leaving the house only once every two weeks or so. Despite this she writes, does advocacy work for ME education and treatment in the United Kingdom, and takes photos of the sky from her bed, seeing God in the small changes of her rarely-changing view.

Her new book is about waiting. In Those Who Wait, Tanya Marlow takes four characters from the Bible and tells their story with imagination and compassion. The question she asks of those characters, and of her readers, is: What is it like to wait for God? For Tanya herself this is not a theoretical question. Neither she nor her doctors knows whether she will recover from this severe stage of ME. She does not, however, write either from a place of bitterness or of false hope; rather she faces her own questions honestly and creates space for her readers to be honest about theirs.

Those Who Wait carries us inside the lives of Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, imagining how each of them coped with the long periods of waiting in their lives. The reflection questions at the end of the chapter invite us to ponder what we may have in common with these ancient God-seekers, and how their stories may speak to ours.

Tanya’s writing is evocative and vivid, and her pacing is gentle and patient, embodying the years, decades, and centuries that pass before God’s purpose in the lives of these four people. The book is a quick read, but it can also be used as a longer daily devotional, reading a chapter every day and writing, pondering, or praying through the questions.

You can order Those Who Wait on AmazonUS or Amazon UK, and I hope you do! (The US site is showing the release date as November 1st, but that should be fixed soon.) You can read more about Tanya at her website.

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Two other books I’m looking forward to reading:

gloryhappening_approved-copy

Glory Happening by Kaitlin B. Curticle, coming on November 7th. From her website:

Here’s what people are saying about Glory Happening:

“Kaitlin B. Curtice is a young, Native American Christian mystic who portrays the sacredness of the human condition in everyday language through her writing. Her use of poetic prayers and stories in Glory Happening inspires us to find the divine in every aspect of life, and gifts us with the opportunity to embrace and mirror the gracious reality of God and glory in our midst.”

–Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Author, THE NAKED NOW and FALLING UPWARD

“Kaitlin B. Curtice writes with a deep, sweet, reflectiveness about the odd places she encounters ‘glory,’ that is, Jesus. This first book by an exciting young Christian mystic is a must-read. Kaitlin helps us look for Jesus again, and helps us meet him in some surprising places. Strongly recommended!”

–David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Vice President, the American Academy of Religion, Author, KINGDOM ETHICS

 

Shalom SistasShalom Sistas by Osheta Moore.

SH ·l m’ / sis ta: A woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass. Shalom, the Hebrew word often translated as “peace,” was a far cry from blogger and podcaster Osheta Moore’s crazy life. Like a lot of women, she loved God’s dream for a world that is whole, vibrant, and flourishing. But honestly: who’s got the time? So one night she whispered a dangerous prayer: God, show me the things that make for peace. In Shalom Sistas, Moore shares what she learned when she challenged herself to study peace in the Bible for forty days. Taking readers through the twelve points of the Shalom Sistas’ Manifesto, Moore experiments with practices of everyday peacemaking and invites readers to do the same. From dropping “love bombs” on a family vacation, to talking to the coach who called her son the n-word, to spreading shalom with a Swiffer, Moore offers bold steps for crossing lines between black and white, suburban and urban, rich and poor. What if a bunch of Jesus-following women catch a vision of a vibrant, whole, flourishing world? What happens when Shalom Sistas unite?

You can order Shalom Sistas here.

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Speaking of books, ubooknerd won the giveaway last month! Ubooknerd, please email me your address so I can get you copies of Love Warrior and Hunger! tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com

 

Double Giveaway!!!

LoveWarriorHunger**Congratulations to ubooknerd who won the giveaway!*** Good morning, friends! We’ve (almost) made it through another week. I tried to cut back on coffee this week and it was a real challenge to my fundamental belief that people are generally doing the best they can. Is it possible that people are generally just doing their best to get on my nerves, and it has only been the caffeine making them bearable this whole time?

Well, I’m drinking my morning half cup right now, so I love you all and believe in you. Just, when it wears off later in the day, would you please try not to cut me off in traffic or pick arguments about politics, or, like, touch me? I’d really appreciate it.

In all seriousness, though, I really do believe that by and large we’re all doing our best. I believe you are doing the best you can do, and, furthermore, that that’s exactly what you were meant to do, and exactly what the world needs you to do. All we need is for you to show up, in whatever state you’re in, caffeinated or under-caffeinated. Are you here? Great! Welcome! Let’s begin.

I reached 1000 followers on Twitter this week, and I wanted to do something to celebrate and say thank you. Glennon Doyle’s book, Love Warrior, came out in paperback this week, so I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway. If you haven’t read her amazing book, this is your chance! I’ve also really been wanting to read Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, and it occurred to me that the two kind of go together. They’re both soul-baring memoirs of women struggling to understand who they are and where they fit in this world, while rooting out the toxins in our culture that have been slowly poisoning them since childhood. Glennon and Roxane have also both struggled with eating disorders, which is something I know a lot of us can relate to.

So! One lucky winner will receive both of these books in paperback. The simplest way to enter is to leave a comment either here or on this Facebook post. If you would like extra entries, you can do one or more of the following. (Don’t forget to tell me that you’ve done them! I won’t see it automatically.)

–> Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, your blog, your book group’s email list, or anywhere else you can think of. Each share counts as an entry.

–> If you haven’t already, “like” my writer’s page on Facebook. For an additional entry, invite one or more friends to like it, too!

–> If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter.

So your comment might be something like, “Hi Jessica! I shared your post on Facebook and Twitter and liked your writer’s page on Facebook,” then I’ll make a note that you have four entries (one for commenting, two for sharing, and one for liking my page). I’ll pick a winner next Friday, Sept. 22nd, using a random number generator.

Thanks, everyone! I hope you have a good weekend. Don’t forget to breathe. Also, be kind to each other — you never know who is trying to cut back on coffee this week.

Love,
Jessica

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Related posts:
You do not have to quit Facebook
How I finally learned to feed myself
Love your neighbor as yourself