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Archive for the tag “faith”

Zona Intangible

Diggers little boy  Outside Lima, Peru, on the steep, sandy hills at the upper perimeters of the newest handmade settlements, there are signs everywhere that say, “Zona Intangible.” (“In-tan-hee-bley,” in Spanish.) They are billboard-sized, meant to be read from a distance. What they mean is: Don’t build your house here. Zona Intangible1This zone is not to be touched. It is too unstable. Too high. The roads will never reach it. Water, sewers, electric lights—no way. None of those tangibles will be available to you, up here in the intangible zone, so don’t build here. Just don’t do it. And yet people do. Every day, another young couple, dreaming of having their own tangible home, takes a shovel and a hammer and four pre-made walls and heads up the hill to find an unclaimed spot.

Zona Intangible. If your mind naturally bends toward metaphor, it’s hard not to see a dozen different storylines in those signs. One: the people who travel up these hills with their shovels are people who own very little that is tangible. All they bring to the Zona are their most powerful, but intangible, possessions: their love for each other, their stamina, their faith. Their belief in a better future.

If, like me, you’re a visitor, a foreigner from a place where most of us have way too many tangibles, it is tempting to romanticize such bare-bones simplicity. To long to somehow find such a Zona Intangible. But we can’t do it. Not by the same steep path.

Our ways into our own intangible zones are at once more readily accessible and less so. Prayer. Meditation. Imagination. All intangible, all free, and all so undervalued in our tangible-centric world as to cause visible, physical discomfort when you bring them up in polite company. We want our children to major in the STEM subjects, because we want them to have tangibly rewarding futures. We converse freely about the tangible challenges of our daily lives—traffic, the high cost of everything, the miseries of bureaucracies like health insurance and taxes—because that is where we comfortably, communally dwell: in the safely tangible world.

Lima has become an increasingly glamorous tourist destination. The top restaurant in Latin America is not in Rio or Buenos Aires; it’s in Lima. In fact, three of the top five restaurants are in Lima, which is the third largest city in the hemisphere, after Mexico City and São Paulo. Lima is also known for its luxury LarcoMar shopping mall, carved out of a cliff above the Pacific Ocean, offering an endless parade of tangible treats and upscale people-watching.

Sometimes I wish I were content to stay, always, in the safely tangible world. But the Zona Intangible beckons. I want to know: what is it like to have such faith in God that you can walk up that hill with a shovel and build your own house and make a life? What is it like to walk down to mass every Sunday morning and get down on your knees and give thanks for your four walls and dirt floor? And how dare any observer call that misguided or ignorant, when in fact it requires a daily dose of courage so strong few of us could stomach it?

Our Kickstarter page for our film, Zona Intangible, is now live. Here’s the link. Whether or not you are able to donate, please help us spread the word! 

HBBfinalcoverOn November 1 at 3pm, I’ll be reading from Her Beautiful Brain at Elliott Bay Books with fellow She Writes Press author Nina McKissock, author of the luminous 51NYhLAG7FL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_From Sun to Sun: a Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying



 I’m turning 55.  What a great opportunity to flagellate myself for all that I’ve not done or done wrong.  For all the ways I’ve fallen short!

This is how the habitually self-bashing person thinks.  Maybe I’m not alone: Maybe it’s how a lot of us think.

A wise man about a decade older than I am once said to me, when I made some routinely self-deprecating remark at a church meeting: “Hey Ann, you know that stuff we hear every Sunday about forgiveness?  That’s supposed to start with yourself.  That famous line about loving your neighbor?  It’s ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ remember?”

Many’s the new year I’ve vowed to be kinder to myself.  And in many ways, I have, over time, learned to be much kinder to me than I was as a teenager.  Back then, the way I treated myself resembled the way Jane Eyre is treated at that awful orphanage.  You’re ugly, you’re not a good person, you’re terrible at sports, you’ll never be popular because you’re just a big loser, went the script that ran in my Orphanage Headmistress head.

Things have improved considerably since then.

One of the ways in which I now try to treat myself more kindly is to accept my lack of self-confidence, rather than trying to make it go away.  I used to think I shouldn’t talk about it, but talking about it can be a way of getting a little help from my friends, or at least getting them to help me laugh at myself. For example: my agent recently wrote in an email that trying to sell a memoir, like mine, that has anything to do with Alzheimer’s disease is like, “hurling Kryptonite.” Not exactly a confidence-booster. But it’s something I’ve repeated and actually laughed about with several writer friends, because I know they will bolster my courage to take the next step: pitching the book, myself, to a smaller, more Kryptonite-friendly press.

So: I don’t have the self-confidence to be, say, a politician.  But I do have the nerve to keep writing.

And though I flunked flirtation, I did find the courage to love.

And though I flunked Getting Rich, all my life I have sought and mostly found work that is meaningful.

Getting back to that wise man at my church: when I was a self-judging teen, I was much more pious than I am now.  Fanatical, at times.  But eventually my youth group-inspired fundamentalism lost out to my love of literature, history, travel, college and, let’s face it, the hedonism of the times… for which my inner Joan of Arc regularly rose up to berate me, calling me out as the spiritually spineless, directionless, purposeless child of the 70s I was.

It wasn’t until I had children of my own that, like so many of my age-mates, I found myself back in the pew. Humbler, this time. Less fervent. More willing to accept how very little I, or anyone else, knows about what or who God is. But it has taken some time to shake the adolescent self-judging out of my spiritual life.  Clearly, I’m not done. It still rears up, as, for example, a big birthday approaches.

Which is why I look forward to reading Patricia Cohen’s new book, In Our Prime: the Invention of Middle Age.  In an essay published recently in the New York Times, Cohen writes that most elderly people look back not on youth but on middle age as the best time of life. Perhaps because it’s when we learn, finally, to be a little kinder to ourselves. To count blessings more eagerly than we enumerate failures.

And here’s one I’m counting right now: on the day before my birthday, a short piece I wrote called “Blue Nest” was published in the new Verbalist’s Journal. You can download it for free.  Check it out!

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