Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The World Before the Internet

If you are twenty years or older, you can remember the world before the internet (I'm sure that one day we'll call that period of time B.I. for short).

You didn't grow up with smart phones, text messaging, or tablets.
The entire world took on a different form and shape with the introduction of these things.

For many reasons, I am grateful.
For other reasons, I am wary.

Even as a person who has spent the majority of her life with these technologies, I can remember what it was like before they came to be. 

We used maps.
We memorized phone numbers and addresses: our own and our families and our close friends.
We used this thing called a TV Guide to know what time "Family Matters" would come on. 
We wrote things down. We made more tangible lists.
We used pay phones.
We wore watches.
We used alarm clocks.
We didn't expect our phone calls to be instant and we didn't curse at the satellites in the sky when they weren't.
Identity theft was less prevalent and a signature on paper meant something.
Very few of us had usernames and passwords to keep track of. 
We used the phone book to choose where we were going to eat out.
We checked the want ads for jobs and posted our garage sales in the newspaper.
We used encyclopedias. Often.
Some had beepers. And that was pretty neat.
But mostly we were unbridled to anything else other than maybe our wallets.
It wasn't expected that we would be constantly connected to the world around us and I think--as a result--we were more calm and more present with each other.

As nostalgic as I may sound, technology isn't all bad. I'm grateful for many of the gifts that it has brought to my life. 

For example:
The ability to Skype my dear friend in Nepal.
Google Maps.
Facebook, which allows me to keep somewhat of a connection with friends and acquaintances all over the world.
The ease of looking up information quickly on Google.
Digital photography.
A cell phone that makes me feel safer on long road trips.
And screen viewing that has helped save tons of trees from paper waste.

Technology has brought both positives and negatives into our lives. And I find that rarely do we stop to acknowledge this fact at all. We hardly blink. We just take on the next toy without even thinking. With the rapid introduction of all these amazing new devices we just keep adding them on like ornaments to a Christmas tree. But that tree can only hold so much. And sometimes I feel like we're breaking. We're literally falling apart.

We're often listening to headphones if we're in a public place.
Do we miss out on random conversations with strangers or even friends?

We keep our phones on-hand as a clear sign that says, "I would rather not talk to you."
Do we miss out on just sitting quietly and thinking? Are we so afraid to be alone?

We put screens in our faces to avoid uncomfortable conversations, long hallways while approaching strangers, and nearly everything else. What is this doing to our brains? To our attention spans? To our connections?

We text message when we could call. Or even knock on the door. Or step into the next room.

Where is the law that says we must brainlessly abide by, purchase, and use every new technology that's placed before us?

When did we get so uncomfortable at the idea that we might have to sit and wait? Or be quiet? Or be still? Or be alone? When did this begin to terrify us so much?

These connections often leave me feeling disconnected.

In our schools, we teach an enormous amount of literature classes about how to read a text. How to interpret the meaning. How to understand what the story or poem is all about. But we lack media education. A frame of reference. Who is teaching us how to interact with these new technologies? Who is educating us about the purpose of the comment section and how to behave on-line in a noble and respectful way?

No one. 

This is not education that many of us have received. Because technology is an infant. It is child-like in its maturity and development. We've still got a long way to go before we've tapped into half of its potential. And I don't know what that looks like or the road that will take us there. But I do know that if we are not mindful of the journey we're on, we may arrive at our destination and be unable to recognize ourselves in the mirror.

But I don't think it has to be this way. We just need to create our own code of ethics related to technology because no one else is going to. No one is going to teach us balance. We have to teach ourselves. I want to partake in the technologies that benefit my life and downsize those that don't.  

Here is MY personal code of technological ethics:

I only check Facebook once a week. People know that this is not a speedy way to get a hold of me, so they only send urgent messages to my e-mail address. But FB is a nice way to spend an hour or so checking in on people I love and reading things that interest me.

I do not get any e-mails or alerts from Facebook. I don't need to be constantly informed on mine or others on-line activity. There's more to life.

I avoid commenting on all of the Facebook posts I disagree with. It's hard. But I've found that just by "Unfollowing" a person, I keep myself out of a lot of trouble. I always ask myself, "Would I say this to their face?" Otherwise its cowardice. It's amazing how little I end up commenting.

I only check my e-mail once or twice a day. This is not a luxury everyone has. Maybe someday a job will require more. For now, that's plenty.

I don't own a smart phone. I can call. I can text. I can take grainy photos. What more do I need? No really. Nothing. 

I don't own a television. There are a wealth of programs to watch on-line. And in doing so, there are less commercials, no channel surfing, and it's less expensive.

I don't watch garbage on the TV at the gym. No "Housewives of..."-anywhere. No reality TV that makes me feel worse about the human race.

I have TV night once a week with my husband where we watch the three or four shows we like to keep up on. Then every other night is wide open for other things, like painting or playing music or--ya know--talking.

This is not a self-righteous testament of what I think everyone else should be doing. This is what works for me. To some this might sound restrictive. No fun. But for me, it's just the opposite. Because I've seen the chains that technology can sometimes put on us and I want to be intentional about the path I'm walking. And believe me when I say, I feel completely free. 

What path are you taking in regard to technology?

Do you have a personal code of ethics?

What is the structure you have in place that betters your life?

Please share.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Techies Unite!

According to Blogger, the amount of page views on my blog since its birth is: 33,333. This seemed significant enough to write about. I mean, how often do all of those numbers align?

But I'm skeptical. Not just of that number but many others I have access to via my blog. If you contribute to a blog, you have access to what's called the Stats, which offers an overview of your blog "by the numbers." I'm not in the business of making blogging my profession, so usually I don't pay much attention to it. But sometimes, I'll notice if a particular blog grabbed more people's attention than usual and there's a spike on the little line graph. But if I think too hard about it, I go to a weird place where I start becoming concerned with what I "should" write and then I begin wondering who--other than my mother--is reading this blog.

The Stats tell me that someone is. In fact, here's what they say:

-My top three most read blogs were...
"Why Our Government Should Not Be Christian" (492 pageviews)

"Tossing the Garter"


-The heaviest traffic on this blog was in October of 2012 (which was when I posted "Why Our Government Should Not Be Christian") and that amounted to 5,450 page views in a couple days

-And most interestingly, Blogger tells me that my audience page views are coming from... 
United States (26,000)
Canada (1,176)
United Kingdom (1,086)
Russia (925)
Australia (606)
Germany (330)
Cambodia (221)
Latvia (94)
Peru (90)
India (86)

Can somebody decipher this for me? These numbers can't be right, right? Could there just be robot drones mechanically surfing the web in these countries and this gives of the appearance of page views from these other countries?

I'm not invested in these numbers and you won't demolish my ego by giving me your thoughts. So please, if you have any knowledge or information about this blogosphere, fire away.

What is the validity of these numbers?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bring on the Good

I'm not exactly sure what draws me to reality TV. Is it the intensity of the fabricated drama? Is it the ridiculousness of the Kardashians? Is it the myth of life's problems being resolved in a 20-minute segment?

I know that many of the shows are staged.
I know the Kardashians will continually shock me with their elaborately posh lives.
I know that conflicts aren't realistically resolved in one episode.

But all of these TV shows lure me in with the intoxicating belief that I can feel better about myself if only I measure up to the "reality" of the rest of the world.

Like: "At least I'm not like that."


"Wow, I need to be more like that."

Both responses make me feel worse and at the end of the day, it's all about wanting to feel worthy. And reality TV tends to convince me--on some level--that I'm not.

This morning on the treadmill, I rapidly flipped through about twenty channels knowing that I just wanted to get to HGTV. Here's what I saw on my way there:
-tanned, half-naked bodies promoting the Insanity work-out infomercial
-QVC selling some bizarre knitted poncho thing
-Cindy Crawford posing for skin care line (enter exotic fruits and tropical jungles)
-the Magic Bullet that will probably make me lose weight just by purchasing one
-a teeth whitening system that will make everyone love me
-Chalene Extreme work-out infomercial with happily Spandexed human beings
-some slimming/body-shaping garment thing that will probably change my life
-the Hip Hop abs weight loss program
-and so on and so forth. You get the picture.

I was amazed (even at 6am) at how in such a brief few seconds I saw before me the entire marketing mantra:
"You suck. 
But if you buy our stuff.
You'll suck less."

I know what my triggers are. I know what I'm drawn to, what I benefit from, and what does me no good. And yet, I keep coming back like it's a drug. The reasons I'm drawn to reality TV and infomercials, are the exact same reasons I'm drawn to magazines, Facebook, and the bathroom scale:
Please--oh inanimate object--tell me where I stand. 

How do I measure up?
How do I compare?
Am I good enough?
Pretty enough?

These questions terrorize me when I'm surrounding myself with garbage.
But they get squished out when I'm surrounding myself with goodness.

Goodness like my young and lovely cousins with curly hair and full smiles.
Goodness like watching a 70-something woman dance with grace.
Goodness like laughing with kindergarteners.
Goodness like a mojito on a sunny afternoon.
Goodness like a yummy book.
Goodness like real women standing confidently in swimsuits.
Goodness like vulnerability and balance.
Goodness like self-care and tenderness.
Goodness like a life well-lived and not just a life well-documented on "reality" television.

Bring on the good.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Giving Our Hearts A Break

Yesterday morning at 6:30, I showed up at the gym for my work-out. I hopped on the elliptical, plugged in my headphones, and wasn't quite ready for what I encountered on the TV:
"Late Night Gunfight in Boston"
"Two Brothers: One Dead, One Wanted"
"Police Chase Suspect Through Watertown Neighborhoods"
"Entire City of Boston Shut Down During Man Hunt"

It was an intensely surreal way to start my day. And I felt jarred. Or possessed. Or horrified. And yet, I couldn't look away. Or wouldn't look away. So I didn't. I stayed glued to that TV screen for the next hour. I watched the television in the locker room as I showered and changed. I listened to NPR's coverage on my way to work. On my break, I checked CNN. On the drive to the grocery store, I listened some more. I talked about it with friends. I eyed the television at the Mexican restaurant during dinner. Until, at last, the word "Found" came across the screen and I felt so relieved.

I sat at dinner with friends who said, "I haven't really kept up too much on what's happening in Boston" and I wanted to say, "How could you not keep up on what's happening in Boston?"

From 6:30 in the morning to 8 at night, the news stations had virtually nothing new to say: "We're still looking for this one guy," just said 37,000 different ways by a dozen different news platforms. And I kept watching. Nervously. Addictively. Needing to know what was happening as it was happening.

Not because I felt like this guy was going to show up at "my" front door.
Not because I have friends or family in Boston.
Not because I study terrorism and harbor a personal interest.
But because the entire day felt like an awfully real-life movie and I was exhausted.

I think we all are. 

Amy Poehler frames this idea well in this short Q&A about internet exposure:

She says, "I wonder if we could give our eyes a break. I feel like my eyes need a break. Don't you? If you do, take it. It's okay to not be looking at what everyone else is looking at all the time. To know what you're ready to see and not see. And to be okay with letting some things rest in peace."

I know she's right. I know I don't really need to see/know it all. And I wonder where this desire comes from.

Because I feel this way about many things. I will hear something or read something that I know full-well will absolutely make my blood boil and I seek it out anyway. It's as if I know it's going to hurt, I know it's a personal trigger, and I'm probably way too empathetic to be a healthy news watcher, but I do it anyway. As if the only way I can be any amount of help or sympathy is to engross myself in all this information to feel an ounce of the pain these people are feeling. 

Have you heard of "information anxiety"? "Compassion fatigue"? These are real things. And relatively new ones at that. We are inundated with the constant streaming of information and news updates at such a rapid speed we hardly notice its intensity anymore. 

During Shakespeare's time, a person would only be exposed to as much information as one issue of today's New York Times. In their entire life. 

We need to give our eyes a break.
Give our minds a break.
Give our hearts a break.

Not to ignore every little thing that makes us uncomfortable.
Not to avoid heartache by avoiding reality.
Not to be blissfully ignorant.

But to be intentional.
And whole.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I'm Learning from Denmark

I read recently that the happiest country in the world is Denmark. Not because they have the greatest economy, lowest taxes, or cotton candy that grows on trees. They are happy because they have low expectations.

My response to this idea goes against most of what I've believed my whole life about setting goals, having a positive attitude, and dreaming big. Does any of that matter? I think it does. Because having low expectations for how life may go is different than having low expectations for ourselves.

Low expectations for how life may go says, "Life is hard. Once we accept this we'll actually be happier. And when life is going well, that's just a nice surprise!"

Low expectations for ourselves says, "You will probably never amount to much."

See the difference?

I'm beginning to. I can still have high confidence in myself and a positive attitude about life while still recognizing that sometimes, bad things happen and when they do, my whole world need not crumble.

I wonder if all of this is really about protecting ourselves. That maybe we choose how we will react to the world as a means of self-preservation. Recently, I watched a psychologist on television address multiple people's problems by first asking, "How does this serve you?" It's an odd question to be asked when you've just finished unloading about a heavy alcohol addiction or an inability to forgive someone. But she was persistent. "How does this (mindset, addiction, path, etc.) serve you?" We don't make decisions in life that don't serve us in one way or another. And I wonder if the same is true of expectations.

If I have extremely high expectations for life, maybe I'll be so far up on Cloud 9, that I'll soar above tragedy. Just keep your chin up! But we usually end up rocked by the mole hills because had our head stuck in the clouds.

If I have extremely low expectations for life, maybe I'll be so expectant of disaster that I'll be able to move on because I wasn't that surprised anyway. Life just sucks! But we usually end up depressed and separated from the very lives we live.

Both paths serve us in one way or another. And taking the path of either extreme doesn't sound appealing to me. There must be another way.

This thought reminds me of something I heard Brene Brown say in her Oprah interview lately. She talked about how the "most terrifying, difficult emotion" is...joy.

She says, "When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. I'm not going to feel you. I'm not going to soften into this moment of joy because I'm scared it's going to be taken away." We try to protect ourselves by anticipating tragedy.

Brene interviewed a man who spent his entire life not getting too excited or too upset about anything. He thought a path of neutrality might protect him. He liked to stay right in the middle to avoid disappointment. But when his wife of forty years died in a car accident, he thought: "I should've leaned harder into those moments of joy, because that did not protect me from what I feel right now."

She goes on, "We're trying to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch." We don't want to feel the pain. We want to avoid it entirely.

I feel like there must be some balance between these two extremes and I think that balance is gratitude. 

We choose the road that's somewhere in the middle.
Life is not a dreary place where everything goes wrong.
Life is an unpredictable place that we cannot control.
So we acknowledge the moments that bring us joy.
We notice them.
We revel in them.
But we need not be anxious about when our joy may cease.
Because that robs us of it.
Instead, we anticipate that life will never be a walk in the park (of cotton candy trees).
And we drink deeply in joy. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Once Upon A Time

"There's the great 'Once upon a time...' which is a marker...this is not the here and now. You can let your imagination run wild. You can go to places you'd be scared to go otherwise. You can say things that you're afraid to talk about and in just mysterious ways you come to understanding and resolution. Not resolution, I should say, because we have to keep working through things."

-Maria Tatar
(interviewed for the podcast On Being)

We've spent a considerable amount of time these last few months talking about what to do next. What do we want to be when we grow up? Where will we move? Will we teach English abroad? Move home? Move someplace new? Will I get a masters degree? Will I ever "use" my teaching degree? What kind of life do we want to create?

To my older and wiser friends, they tell me this is a thrilling place to be.
To my younger and simpler friends, we all look around at each other with horrified glances trying to figure out what to do next, nonetheless, just how to correctly file our taxes.

I've been thinking about story lately with renewed vigor. We've been reading Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years about living a better story. We've actually started saying, "WWDD?" (meaning "What would Donald do?") assuming that he must be the best person to advise when wanting to live a greater story.

We want to take risks.
We want to go on adventures.
We want life to pass not only by fiscal years and hours spent at a job, but in moments we've created and fostered and grown.

There must be something to writing this all down.
There must be something to putting it out there.
To speak as though this is surely happening.

I heard the Maria Tatar quote above and thought to myself, "Well, there you have it. If the very phrase 'Once upon a time...' evokes a gateway into imagination and boldness and mystery, that's the perfect place to begin our story."

And so it goes...

Once upon a time, a young couple fell deeply in love. They were soon married and began to explore this brave new world with fresh eyes and open hearts. He found a work he craved among God's greatest canvas in teaching youngsters how to engage with the world by teaching them how to engage with the wild. She dove into helping women and fighting for justice wherever she was needed. They lived in various states, countries, and homes. They became acquainted with many people and places. They paid rent, spent time with people they loved, and at the end of the day they had each other. Details of who and where and how and when pale in comparison to the fact that when life showed up, so did they. 

And that's good enough for now.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Eleven Month Anniversary

At Christmas a few years ago, Jeremy bought me a blank scrapbook to fill up with pictures and memories of us. Last week, I found the book (and the three completed pages) under our bed and decided it was about time I put a little more work into this project.

I browsed through pictures and memories:
-our first e-mail
-our first date
-the first trip to Colorado to visit my family
-the first trip to Delaware to visit his family
-memories with friends
-graduations and weddings and birthdays
-four years of summer camp together
-and most recently, our wedding day
-nearly five years of learning how to love each other better

These images reminded me of our journey together: from those awkward first glances to the marriage we have now. It hasn't all been roses, but it hasn't all been rain either.

The last month has brought a lot of rain. It's made my vision blurry and skewed. I couldn't trust my own perception of what was happening around me. It's been hard. But a good memory (and a wealth of photographs) remind me that it hasn't always been this way. And it won't always be this way. It's just been this way lately.

And remembering the five-year journey that brought us to where we stand today has made me softer. Less defensive. Kinder. Less concerned with controlling the-heck-outta' this situation until it's exactly the way it "should" be. No, today I remembered that the man I married is the same man I fell in love with years ago and this feels good.

Thus goes my perpetual path toward letting go.

Letting go and living better.

One month of marriage at a time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hoola Hooping

Last week, walking down the hallway at the school where I work, a kindergartener's poem caught my eye.
"I had a dream that
I went to Barack Obama
house for supper."


"I like tnkrbell
I like tnkrbell."

Working with little kids is new to me.
They are little creatures I will never quite understand.

These kiddos are all narcissistic by nature. 

The only world they know is their own. Empathy and consideration are not quite developed yet. So you can be hoola-hooping with two girls during P.E. and this conversation will happen:
Abby: "Ms. Bo, you are hoola-hooping beautifully!"
Me: "Why thank you, Abby."
Candice: "My mom loves my dad. But not enough to marry him."
Me: "Oh."

These kiddos just want some validation.

Like Eli.
Eli: "Ms. Bo, umm...did you watch the news last night?"
Me: "No, I didn't."
He walks away.
He comes back a few seconds later with his hands in his pockets, scuffing his foot.
Me: "Eli, was there something interesting on the news last night?"
Eli: "Well....yeah, I mean. I was on the news, I just thought you would've seen it."
Me: "Oh, I'm so sorry. If I'd have known you were going to be on TV, I would've watched."
Eli: "Really?"
Me: "Oh course! Are you kidding me? What were you on the news for?"
Eli: "Oh, it was nothing..."
He walks away.

These kiddos have a lot of questions.

Exhibit A: Drake.
Drake: "Ms. Bo, what's your real name?"
Me: "Do you mean like what is 'Bo' short for?"
Drake: "Well, I know Bo is your first name, but what's your real name?"
Me: "My first name is Heather and my last name is Bohlender."
Drake: "Are you married? Do you have kids?"
Me: "Yes, I'm married, his name is Jeremy. But no, we don't have kids."
Drake looks philosophically at the ceiling: "Jeremy Bohlender..."
Me: "Nope, Jeremy has a different last name. I kept me name when we got married."
Drake: "You can do that?"
Me: "You couldn't always do that, but thanks to feminism I can. Now women can make decisions that are best for themselves."
Drake: "What is a feminist?"
Me: "Someone who believes that women are people too."
Drake: "Well, I believe you are a person. So I must be a feminist....(long pause) Ms. Bo, when I get married, can I change my name?"
Me: "You can do whatever you want."

These kiddos are funny.

Zach: "I was in New York last week and it got hot. So we went to the beach. I tripped and fell and scratched up my knee. Look, I have a scarf."
Me: "I think you mean 'scar.' "
Zach: " I know exactly what I meant. You weren't there!"

So, essentially, they are just like us. And if there was one lesson I've learned from these kiddos about what makes them seem so different from grown-ups, it's this:
life is much more fun when kids are around.

They remind us that life need not be constantly stream-lined, logical, or sophisticated.

There doesn't have to be a logical explanation for tears. Ya know, who doesn't want another corn dog, sometimes?

Why shouldn't we talk about losing teeth, snow men, and puppies all in one conversation?

And now and then, hoola-hooping is the greatest remedy for the soul.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Tear

The month of March has not been great for my confidence level. For anyone, this amount is rarely consistent or reliable. We are human. We feel. We change. As am I. I've wanted to hide. Take cover. Keep myself under wraps. Hidden. Literally and figuritively. My body has been a source of shame. Something I wished wasn't the way it was.

I've been teaching Zumba for about three years. It's a dance fitness class. Think Latin-Jazzercise. And I dig Zumba. Not because it's particularly unique. Not because I have bought-in financially, attended conferences (yes, there are conferences), or decked myself out in Zumba-love swag. No, I dig Zumba because it's good for my soul. So on Thursday night, as usual, I showed up to teach my 7:30pm Zumba class: forty-five minutes of dance, silliness, and cleansing. It's usually during this time that I am reminded, "If I can come together and shake it ridiculously with fifty or so strangers, we're going to be okay."

It will work out.
We'll figure out this political situation.
We'll find jobs.
That relationship will mend.

Essentially, at the end of a long day (and a long month) of work and stress and pain and insecurity, I can still put on some music, move my body, and feel better. Calmer. Happier. Optimistic.

During one song well into class, I looked in the mirror and caught the eye of a slim, energetic, and beautiful woman. She had positioned herself in front of the class. She couldn't help grinning and I couldn't help watching her. She danced with lightness and joy. Her movements were fluid and addictive.

I looked a little harder and realized she was me.
I was her.
I am those things.

And a tear slipped from the corner of my eye.
Because joy triumphs pain.
Empathy overcomes shame.

The music moves us.
And we dance.