Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Never say "good bye"....

In JM Barrie's Peter Pan, the title character has what seems like a wonderful quote:
Never say good bye, because good bye means going away, and going away means forgetting. 
It's a popular quote because of the lovely sentiment behind it. Certainly it's also popular because for some people, this is exactly what happens. They are not good at keeping in touch, or in reconciling their pasts and their present, and so once they "go away", they don't look back.

But for me, it's an incredibly sad quote.

Perhaps partly because "never" is such a strong, even negative word for me. Whether for good or for bad, for positive or negative, never is a word that can rarely be kept and so should be rarely said. That is, whether it's a "good or positive resolution" (I will never curse again) or a bad/negative one (I will never speak to you again), never is an awfully long time and an awfully serious commitment.

Mostly though, it's a sad quote to me because going away should not mean forgetting, and certainly saying good bye should not mean forgetting.

I suppose it is because I've had to say a lot of good byes in recent years, and have done a lot of "going away". But one thing I have tried not to do is forget. Even when the good byes, and the goings away, were for the best, I have tried to keep that flame of memory alive -- for good or bad.

Our past is what makes us -- it is what shapes us, creates us into the people we are today, in the present. As the saying goes, if we forget our past, we are doomed to repeat it.

Yet it is not a fear of repeating my past that makes me so eager to not forget, it is a knowledge that thoroughly understanding my past will help me create not just a better present, but a better person, and a better future. It is a knowledge that the people in my past -- even if it is absolutely better that they are no longer in my present -- helped me create a bettter present, a better person, and a better future.

The great Greek philosopher Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living."

If you think about it, that is about as close to "never" as one can get -- and one should get. But this is one "never" that I fully embrace. Let's face it, Socrates does not allow an "out" on that statement. He does not say an unexamined life is not as fun, nor even not as deep or profound. He doesn't say one will have less satisfaction or meaning if one doesn't examine their life. No. He says point blank that such a life is Not. Worth. Living. Period. 

In other words, never -- ever! -- live an unexamined life. Never.

It is a saying I have always loved, and have tried my best to follow....perhaps too much! As I will be the first to admit that I often over-examine -- overthink -- well, everything. My brother once told me that I am not happy unless I have something to regret.

Sadly, he was -- perhaps is -- right. I over-examine such that I often "manufacture" regrets. It is probably why a friend (rightly) criticized me recently by saying that I try too hard, specifically with people. Yet, as stubborn and hard-headed as I may be, I do actually learn.
Ummm, ahem! No laughter from the peanut gallery please! Sheez. 
So I have learned that regrets are time wasted. As Charlotte Bronte noted in Jane Eyre, "Remorse is the poison of life."

Even more poetic, was Mary Wollenstonecraft Shelley, famous for Frankenstein, who wrote in her penultimate novel, Lodore:
Men become cannibals of their own hearts; remorse, regret, and restless impatience usurp the place of more wholesome feeling: every thing seems better than that which is. 
What does all this mean?

It means do not let regret and remorse usurp better feelings and a better use of your time. It means -- to come full circle -- do not let good byes, or goings away, become regrets. Do not let good byes mean "forgetting". Let them mean knowledge, understanding -- examination.

Make your life -- your whole life: future, present, and past -- be worth living.

Friday, February 22, 2013

If I might be so bold....

... As to brag about myself and my father, Michael Novak, just a bit.


But, it was recently brought to my attention by a dear friend that apparently my father and I keep some very very good company....

It seems that Ignatius Press and and the Catholic Truth Society get together each year to publish booklets to help Catholics with their faith. This year, in honor of Pope Benedict's call for a Year of Faith, they created a booklet called "Companion to Faith" (more information here). This booklet includes lists of 12 "must do" for Catholic faithful -- everything from films to see to books to read.

My father and I wrote a book about religion back in 1998. This book, Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions about God, is the first book my father and I wrote together.

It is also, according to this year's Companion to Faith, one of their "Twelve Must Read Books".
In the company of books by Pope Benedict XVI, St. Francis de Sales, CS Lewis, and St. Augustine.


You can read even more about our book, as well as purchase it, here:

Or, because if I'm already bragging, I might as well really pile it on, you may read these glowing comments about it:

“Michael Novak is a national treasure, and this book reminds us once again why. In the finest tradition of C.S. Lewis and other great defenders of faith, Tell Me Why is a stirring and stimulating discussion of every person’s need for a relationship with God and His church in a secular age.”
Ralph Reed
Century Strategies
“One of the most entrancing and absorbing conversations in the long history of the human dialogue about God. Michael Novak shows how theology can be a searchlight illuminating the truths not just of faith, but of the whole rich range of human relationships and experiences, in language that is both eloquent and uplifting. Jana Novak is an interlocutor tougher than Socrates’ star pupil, who challenges her father to marvelous heights of inspiration and insight. Tell Me Why is nourishment for the soul—a book to cherish and share with your loved ones.”
Patrick Glynn
Author, God: The Evidence
“I cannot think of a more agreeable way to acquire an education in religion, philosophy, and morality.”
Gertrude Himmelfarb
“Michael Novak takes on the honest and probing questions of his daughter, whose doubts are those of many young and sophisticated Americans. His answers—sympathetic, wise, and lucid—exemplify an unflinching faith that is hospitable to reason and argument. The book adds a new milestone to the tradition….”
Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.
Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society
Fordham University
“Read this book, ponder it, grapple with it. It is well argued and well worth arguing with. There are not enough books like this anymore.”
Michael Cromartie, Senior Fellow
Ethics and Public Policy Center
“… a classic of Christian apologetics and faith exploration. It is a model dialogue of honesty and respect.”
Rev. Robert A. Sirico
The Acton Institute
“Tell Me Why is a splendid book which rebels against any conventional classification. Obviously, it is a superb apologetic work. But it is also an interesting photograph of the perplexities of an age—our age—that Jana knows how to isolate, define, and propose. The merit then of Michael Novak is to enter fully into this era with the sensibility to illuminate, correct and improve it. Tell Me Why is a classic of good sense. It deserves to be read.”
Joaquin Navarro-Valls
Director, Holy See Press Office
“‘Tell Me Why’ offers a priceless experience to discerning readers… All parents—and children—of every religious community can gain from this wise and eloquent book”.
Michael Medved
Author, Film Critic


 Not bad for a chick living in the mountains, eh? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No Soup for You!

I am cooking soup today, and so that has inspired me.... No, not exactly to write (though obviously I am as I peck away at this blog), but to write about some of the things that motivate me.... At least in a very roundabout way. Because it's never fun if we just straight out and say something!

I have a very dear friend whom we lovingly refer to as the Queen of Demotivation. Her super secret super power is to completely demotivate you during the day. You could have lots of activities -- fun events! -- planned, and they will all go out the window. Defenestrate. Swoooooosh!

In fact, I think my favorite anecdote about the "Queen" is the time I came home from a board meeting in the early afternoon one Saturday to find her on the couch, comfortably lazing about watching a movie. And no. That's not the funny part. The funny part is that our other friend was sitting on the other couch, still on the edge of her seat, still in full ski gear (pants, jacket, hat and gloves on the seat next to her), with a glass of wine in her hand, fully engrossed in the movie. Considering the lifts closed in about an hour, and it would take 30 minutes to get to the lifts, clearly she was not actually going skiing today. And yet.... And yet...

And yet, hope springs eternal. Even around the Queen of Demotivation.

I, on the other hand, am the Queen of Procrastination. What, you may ask, is the difference? A very very very important -- yet seemingly minor -- one: I'm actually quite productive, just absolutely never on the actual project I am supposed to be working on.

I fix problems around the house; I once built an entire pantry in a closet in the kitchen of my rental. Yes, rental! I read articles upon articles; attempting very disingenuously to claim it as research (pretty sure the latest on Oscar Pistorius' murder rap is not in any way relevant to anything I'm writing -- despite the fact I am finally working on a novel). But the best procrastination, according to my friends? I cook. Crazy, feeding an army, let's try an entirely new recipe, what-the-hell, cook.

Last week, it was gumbo for Mardi Gras. And yes, I have never even eaten gumbo, let alone ever made it. And yes, I -- because I'm super smart that way -- decided to follow three (3) -- three! -- different recipes to make it. Slightly confusing. I also -- because I'm super smart that way -- decided I would make roux the first time ever in my life -- gluten free. Yeah, pretty sure that bean flour and xanthan gum may have something to do with why the roux took more than an hour. But hey! A friend who lived in Louisiana for several years said it was the most authentic gumbo she'd ever had! And another friend who grew up in Alabama eating a lot of Cajun food said it was "damn good"....

For those of you who are brave and have a lot of time on your hands, I mostly followed this recipe (brought to my attention by said Alabama friend). But I also followed portions of this recipe (especially about the okra), as well as bits and pieces of this recipe. Best trick of the day? I bought a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket deli, and stripped it for the chicken meat.

Honestly though, I couldn't tell you exactly what I did, or why it worked. But it was indeed damn good....

Today's procrastination? Squash soup and baked potato soup. I wish I had recipes to share, but neither of these were found online. Suffice it to say, I can vouch for the squash soup (one of my long time favorites), but, of course, have never made the baked potato soup before. I promise feedback later.

The reason why I'm cooking? And why I am cooking two different kinds of soup? First, because cooking makes me happy. Second, because -- obviously! Duh! -- I am procrastinating. Third, because cooking actually -- in the very very -- very! -- long run -- motivates me, especially to write. Fourth, because I'm hosting book club tomorrow night, and it seemed very appropriate that we required options when the book we're reading is "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why".

It's a fascinating book. Certainly it has its flaws, but it provides a lot of grist for thinking and contemplating. Gotta love a book that quotes ancient Greek philosophers! (Particularly relevant since apparently Plato and Socrates, and Plato's Cave specifically, are playing a huge role so far in my novel or short story, or whatever-the-hell-it-is that I am writing.) The thoughts to chew on? The deceptively complicated idea of whether you are a true "survivor" or not. The answer is not as simple as it may sound -- having knowledge of survival is definitely key, but what is far more important is inner grit and fortitude; and, most of all, a will to live.

Those issues may seem simple, and at a distance, it is easy to believe one does indeed have inner grit and fortitude -- and of course, seems blatantly obvious that one would have a will to live. What is shocking, is how rare those things actually are. I know, for example, that for years I scoffed at the idea that I would not have any of the above. How hard is it to suck it up? And certainly, how hard is it to want to live? Good grief! Right...?

I then spent that time alone at Murphy's Cabin, very very alone. And very much with no one to rely upon but my own sense of self, and my own hope for what I could accomplish. As certainly at the beginning, it was no more than hope -- no more than inner grit. I'll admit, grit was never in question -- but fortitude and a will to live, to thrive, were very much in doubt. After all, I've been called "stubborn to the point of stupidity" far too many times in my life. Damn if I wasn't going to do it! I was going to do it, or die trying. And that is not necessarily what makes a survivor....

Yet I did persevere. I did pay attention, learn to listen (to myself and what was around me), learn to learn -- learn to live. Truly live. I learned a lot about myself, about my inner grit, fortitude, and, most of all, about my will to live. As it is not living if you don't understand what "truly living" means. As Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." And let's face it: It's amazing what spending some time understanding that you truly have no one else to rely upon but yourself will do for your understanding of your "self". And thus of the "examined life".

Though I'd like to say "kids, don't try this at home" -- I can also say it was one of the most profound experiences in my life. And yes, I do know now that I have true inner grit, fortitude, and most of all, a very true will to live. Though one's life is never completely examined, I now know how to pursue that process. And why it is so important. Which is even more critical.

Of course, does that mean I'll actually survive were my plane to crash in the jungle or on a mountain top? Not necessarily. But I do know that I'd have a damn good -- like my gumbo -- fighting chance. And isn't that all we ever really need to know? That we have a "fighting chance" at life?

But, right now I'm not fighting to live on a mountaintop (anymore) nor in a jungle nor anywhere crazy at all. Right now, I'm simply fighting to write creatively, and to cook some hopefully damn good soup. That's actually all in my life now -- as I'm trying to practice what Lao Tzu said, my quote from yesterday: to be in the present, to be at peace.

 So, if the will to live matters, than choices at the dinner table should matter too, right? After all, sometimes the will to live is merely a matter of having something to live for: for me, it's my friends and loved ones, my dog, and the ability to do things that make me happy, like cook.

So. Read the book. And maybe there will actually be soup for you!

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's been a while....

It has been a long time since I've posted on this blog.

Part of the reason for this is that I left Colorado back in March of last year and began driving around the country. Well, not the entire country. That would have been far too ambitious, and y'all know I am definitely not "far too ambitious". In fact, I'd be hard pressed to call myself ambitious at all. But that's another line of thought....

The long and the short of it, is that my ex and I filed for divorce, and I drove away from Colorado the very next day. Packed my dogs in the car, packed some of my belongings, and figured "get the hell out of Dodge". I had moved to Colorado completely because of my ex (and his dog!), and was no longer sure whether Colorado was the place for me or not any more.

It is both amazing and terrifying to have that kind of freedom. I did not have to be anywhere. I could live anywhere -- I could live nowhere. It was about adventure -- exciting and thrilling and forward-looking. It was about failure -- depressing and regretful and backwards-looking. And let's face it: I think way too much as it is. Months on the road basically alone would either kill me or make me stronger.

And do not cue Kelly Clarkson thankyouverymuch!

At the end, I spent just over 7 months away from Colorado. I spent time in Texas; New Orleans; Florida; Delaware; Washington, DC; Alaska (by plane of course!), and Michigan. I wandered a lot, both physically and emotionally and psychologically. I took a lot of steps backwards. I took a lot of steps forward. In the end, I think -- I hope -- I took more steps forward than backwards.

The one thing I can say for certain though, is that after a summer in the humid heat of the East Coast, I realized I missed Colorado. I'm not sure I could have articulated then exactly what I missed, nor am I even sure I could articulate it now. But I knew I missed the mountains somehow.

I also knew though, that I did not miss the isolation and challenges of the cabin. It was pretty simple actually: if I was going to move back to Colorado, I knew it was to the mountains, but I also knew it had to be into town. And so, I ended up renting a place right in town. A place a block off the main street of the town, a place where my neighbors would be humans, not wildlife. A place where if something happened, someone would actually hear me scream.

Depressing to put it that way perhaps, but for me -- that is simply reality. I needed to know that I would no longer be completely on my own; just mostly.

But. Moving into the town meant I was no longer living in Murphy's Cabin. Did it make sense to keep writing a blog titled "Murphy's Cabin" if it was no longer exactly accurate?

After much thought, I have realized it is. This blog is about the entire experience of living at -- or near! -- 10,000 feet. Of being on your own, and of being willing to realize the strength and fortitude required to be on your own. Whether that strength and fortitude need to be applied to keeping an isolated cabin up, or whether they need to be applied to simply waking up each morning, and putting one foot in front of the other.

So. I think it's time for me to start writing again..... And I hope you'll join me. NOT on the journey -- as that's bull shit, and it's about time that word got retired (with a nod to a dear friend on that, so she can rest assured her soap box can be put to better use), but on the experience of living in the present.

As Lao Tzu once wrote:
If you are depressed, you are living in the past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present. 
So, this is about trying to learn to live in the present. Fully and completely.

Of course, that might actually be a bit "far too ambitious"...... :)