#BlogtownTuesday: An interview with Even Thine Altars

It’s delightful to know that I met today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest IN #Blogtown! When I returned to this form of social writing, I spent hours searching the blogosphere for potential kindred spirits. In one of these searches, I discovered Catherine at Even Thine Altars. I appreciate her writing and her thoughtfulness. I hope you’ll enjoy her answers to my 5 questions.

How did your blog get its name?

My blog got its name from a line in my favorite psalm, Psalm 83 (Septuagint numbering). “How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord of hosts…. Even Thine altars, my King and my God.” The line of “even Thine altars” refers to the home-ness of the altar of God, which to me is symbolic of the home we have in the Eucharist as members of the body of Christ on the altar of Christ. It is such a delightful and profoundly moving image for me, and every time I think about it there is new richness in it.

Choosing this line from Psalm 83 is also in reference to my love of the typikon, since Psalm 83 is the first psalm read at the 9th Hour, usually right before Vespers. The placement of this psalm is at the beginning of the last service of the day, and for me it signifies both rest and renewal, since work is done and the new liturgical day will start shortly.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

I think the defining characteristic of my blog is Orthodoxy, which permeates everything I write about. I love my faith and it is very present for me in my daily life, especially since I have been at Hellenic College Holy Cross. In the past, I tried to limit the influence that the psalms, quotes from the saints, or Orthodox-related posts had on my blogging, but this is impossible, so I have let it go. I really hope it isn’t overbearing or seems like I’m trying to be an example for other people, because that absolutely is not the intent. I simply hope to document my struggles and thoughts, and I hope they are at least interesting.

What is your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

My favorite thing about blogging is being able to express my thoughts in long-form writing, which no other form of social media allows. I also get to read other people’s well thought out and often moving or enlightening reflections on their own lives and struggles, which I find to be very beautiful.

My least favorite thing about blogging is having to take pictures, which I often forget to do until the last minute.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a social blogging collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Blogging is social to me because I get to put writing out into the world. This is very exciting for me, since otherwise the only place that sees my writing is my journal. It also has helped me get over my perfectionist ideals for my writing, since putting something out and connecting with people (especially in #Blogtown!) is so much more important than being “good.”

Sometimes the social aspects of blogging, especially Orthodox blogging but also blogging generally, are difficult for me because I am so young compared to most people in the community, and sometimes it feels as if I am on a childless single lonely little island trying to make the best of it. Despite this, it has been so amazing connecting with other people and seeing their interests and their stories, seeing what beautiful things they create or poems they write or thoughts they have about their most recent read.

Tell us 3 things we’d know about you if we’d grown up together.

1. I was homeschooled in a neo-classical Christian environment. This, of course, has had a big impact on my life. It allowed me to be more focused and creative in what I read and worked on, and it taught me discipline and focus which are great tools for me now.

 2. I adore proper grammar. I would always be the person not-so-silently correcting a person’s grammar. Now this love of the proper placement and use of words has allowed me to study dead languages with a fairly decent degree of ease.

3. I lived in a monastery. After I graduated high school in December 2015, I moved to St. Paisius Monastery in Safford, AZ, for a short time while I was trying to discern a monastic vocation. I didn’t stay very long, and about a year later I started college at HCHC. God only knows what I’m doing with my life now!

Thank you, Catherine!

You can connect with Catherine at Even Thine Altars. See you in #Blogtown!

#Blogtown: Letters from the Homefront

Dear Friends,

Why does this blog post begin like a letter? I’ll tell you.

My friend Anna at The Brown Dress Project is drawing on a lifetime of history-reading for strength and motivation in the present time. I love her assessment of what qualities are needed.

 Thrift, ingenuity, service, hard work, gratitude for daily bread, commitment to neighborliness were all traits which brought families through. Those times are no longer the faded memories of grandparents – they are upon us now.

Anna the Librarian/Historian

In today’s open letter on her blog, Anna’s suggesting that our #blogtown community stick together through this hard time by writing letters to each other. Noting that the front lines for this “world war” run squarely through the home of each person, Anna hearkens back to the days when the efforts of those at home provided the strength and resources for those far away on the more obvious battlefields. That’s why she’s calling for Letters from the Homefront.

If you have a blog, welcome! You’re automatically a neighbor in the #blogtown community. Your well-being matters. The funny moments, frantic boredom, quiet inspiration, fabulous nap, or dogged determination that got you through the day are worth sharing with all of us, your virtual neighbors.

It’s a quiet day at my house. I’m pondering the mix of worry and relief this situation has brought to us. I meant to bake bread today, but instead I played games with my kiddo and took a gray-day walk, looking for leaf buds and early flowers. I even curled up on the couch with the dog and stared out the window at the intricacy of tree branches.

This week has been fiercely busy. I work for an internet company, so working at home isn’t a change. But the sudden influx of EVERYONE ON THE PLANET onto the internet, all hoping to help, all live-streaming, all sharing tips, all asking if this or that is going to happen and when, seemed to make all my days twice as crowded.

I love the surge of helpfulness, but I also believe that we humans aren’t capable of sustaining this level of intensity. Once the novelty of this situation wears off, we will either turn on each other or relax into this new way of being and go back to binge-watching Netflix or reading real, tangible, papery-scented printed books. We’ll walk around the block, and around again. We’ll bake things. Our supply chain will recover from our panic, and there won’t be as much to say about toilet paper any more. But I don’t think normal life will come back for a few months.

I’m at peace for now. Mostly. And exchanging letters with all of you here in this cozy internet community will be something I continue to enjoy.

God bless and keep you,

Melinda

#LettersfromtheHomefront

COVID-19: Finally, an excuse to relax

The coronavirus situation burst upon our region just before a weekend that promised to be a scheduling nightmare. Between us, my family had first three and then four conflicting events, two that were approximately 12 hours long and two overnight, out-of-town trips for work. I tackled the problem – set up rides and a sleepover, relegated the dog to the pet hotel, bowed ungracefully out of my work trip, and stared wearily at the solution for a few shining hours.

And then, LIFE happened. Not life in the sense of “a series of events Melinda has organized” but actual life – the chain of events over which we have far less control than we’d like to believe.

It’s Thursday now, the inaugural day of that wild jig-saw-scheduled weekend. Of the four events, only one remains, a board meeting my husband is attending solo.

All that coordination I did? Unnecessary.

All those conflicts? Cancelled, with prudent nods at COVID-19.

The construction and deconstruction of this weekend resembled the experience of falling backwards down stairs – bumping every step, pretending some effort of will can steer your skull away from what might fracture it.

And now?

Eventless, coordinating nothing but the order in which I’ll read my library books on Saturday, I draw a swift, sweet, breath of relief.

I call someone, and we share our relief. We count over the chores we’ll have time for now. We plan full nights of sleep for our families. We gaze at the top-heavy pile our lives have become, revealed more plainly now that it has toppled.

Our relief is complex, almost guilty. These thoughts float uneasily behind the careful calm, the prayers, the wincing curiosity for knowledge we’ll probably regret. We grieve for the suffering and the dead, and for their loved ones. If only everyone could close this virus out. If only we all could release ourselves to an afternoon of completed tasks, good books, cushions, and tea without the dark forces that make this respite possible.

COVID-19 will change us. When we return from our cloistered waiting, who will we be? Will we return, forgetful, to the habits of a lifetime? Will we never be the same again?

This afternoon in a parking lot, I overheard two students talking with a teacher about an upcoming performance. “I hope it won’t be cancelled,” the girls said. “I hope so, too,” said the teacher. “Everyone put so much effort into it.” It sounded odd, suddenly. Could the effort weigh against the risk?

Decision-making is brutal now – very hard and very simple. We’re trying to leap into our future and look back at ourselves, to make the choice now we will wish then we had made. When we arrive in that future, what will we think?

Quarantine doesn’t look much like it did in, for example, 1918. “Social distancing” might better be termed “physical distancing” when our virtual society continues unabated. We already talk to our friends more online than we do in person. Is it our social distance that is changing? Or will our last finger-hold on real life slip closer to the edge as we lose the opportunity to interact in any way but virtually?

I don’t like social media, although I see its usefulness during a contagious outbreak. But I can’t forget that sense of relief, felt and observed, as the daily grind evaporated. Sometimes, when you begin to let go, you wish to continue.

Why did it take a pandemic to stop us? What good might come out of this great evil?

#Blogtown Tuesday: Interview with The Live Script

Today’s #BlogtownTuesday guest was a toss up – she’s a maker and a blogger, so should she be on #MakersMonday or #BlogtownTuesday?? I asked her. She thought about it, and she picked #BlogtownTuesday. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out her handmade soap. It smells so good I’m always tempted to take a bite. However, rather than eating soap, I’m asking Sarah at The Live Script my 5 questions, and these are her beautiful answers.

How did your blog get its name?

The Live Script name comes from my sense of being every moment within a narrative taller and wider and deeper than what meets the eye.  Script means not only handwriting, but also a crafted story, and adding “live” speaks to the experience, the immediacy of being present within the story and observing it closely.

What would you say is the defining characteristic of your blog?

This question is quite hard for me to answer.  I know that when I write I am sort of “waving over” the one that comes to read, saying, by my words, “Here, look at this with me.  Experience this scene, this thought; do you see what I see?”  Topically I range from poetry to theology to parenting to cooking, and many stops in between.

What’s your favorite thing about blogging? Least favorite?

I greatly appreciate having a place to spill some of the thoughts that otherwise bang around my head and heart until they’re assembled and given a home.  Writing is crucial for my own understanding and processing and the blog format allows feedback that writing in my journal does not.  Thus far I haven’t experienced any negative aspects of blogging; I’m not well known so I’m not a target for trolls.  My obscurity has been a gift.

You’re a member of #Blogtown, a Social Blogging Collaborative. How is blogging social for you?

Though it can never replace the intimacy of a face-to-face conversation, there is value in the regular reading  of each other’s work.  Even if it is only our thoughts that reach across the miles, there is still connection and community.

Tell us 3 things we would know about you if we’d grown up with you.

  1. I am happiest in or near water, be it the ocean, a creek, or the river in Montana that runs through my parents’ land.  The sound, the smell, and the refreshing buoyant coolness of it never fails to delight me, and I am always the last one out of the water.  
  2. I would rather be up in a tree, or on a bicycle, or sitting in the woods, than playing organized sports or pursuing success or seeking entertainment (movies, concerts, plays).  My parents didn’t know what to make of me; I was not motivated by money nor achievement, but just wanted to be up in my tree, writing and thinking.  
  3. There was never an art form that I wasn’t interested in trying.  Growing up I loved drawing, painting, sculpting, doing collages, sewing, and photography.  As an adult that has expanded to soap making, candle making, miniature pottery, quilting, watercoloring, jewelry making, weaving, and soon, carving wooden spoons.

Thank you, Sarah!

You can connect with Sarah at The Live Script. See you in #Blogtown!

#bloginstead

Welcome to Blogtown, Annie!

In English I hear “be attentive.” In French it means “wait.” In Latin it actually means “to stretch toward.” Sort of like you do when you’re waiting and being super attentive, listening so hard you’re about to fall out of your chair? Ah. That’s the word I’m looking for then. Because I’ve noticed a glaring lack of this in my life.

Annie, blogging at Rural Time Warp

#Blogtown has been up and running long enough that adding a new member on our original list didn’t seem practical. What if you aren’t checking back to the list? You would miss Annie!

Annie’s blog is called Rural Time Warp.

Don’t you already want her Blogtown, just from the name??

Annie said she wanted to join, so I hopped over to Rural Time Warp, and there was a post about being attentive. It fits so well into the whole #bloginstead mindset. Blogging is slower, deeper, more human-scale. You have to pay attention in longer increments to blog than to post on social media, if you want to be coherent. And we do! We do want to be coherent!

So, welcome Annie! We’re glad you’re here! You can find a list of other people to follow HERE, and everybody – please follow Annie!

Remember, you can add neighborhoods to Blogtown. Start your own list. Recruit friends. Follow each other. Talk to each other. That’s how #Blogtownneighborhoods are built.

Why Blogging? — This One Life

It has been interesting returning to the blogging space after a few years of hiatus. I have had to confront my former blogging motivations, why I left, and what has changed. It feels a little bit like coming home again, or wearing an old sweater again, or maybe visiting college well after graduation. Things are […]

Why Blogging? — This One Life

If you’re reading this, you probably know that the original #3daysinthewilds, in which a group of intrepid friends leaped off social media and tried to #bloginstead, has grown like a stream running downhill. Now it’s a river, and it’s one I plan to stay on, rowing along with my eyes open for other small craft making the same peaceful journey.

The post I’ve linked above is from Amber at This One Life, one of the #bloginstead pioneers. This post is honest, and I believe MANY bloggers (and former bloggers) will recognize themselves in her look back at why she started blogging. I’m so glad she came back, and especially that she came back AS SHE IS NOW. I believe our redemption lies in communication for its own sake – for the sake of sharing information, perception, faith and hope and love.

Well, I’ve got a hammer

And I’ve got a bell

And I’ve got a song to sing

All over this land

It’s the hammer of justice

It’s the bell of freedom

It’s a song about love between

My brothers and my sisters

All over this land

If I Had A Hammer – Lee Hays, Pete Seeger

How to Join #bloginstead: Move to Blogtown!

It’s Saturday morning. We’ve completed the #3daysinthewilds that comprised the original plan for #bloginstead, and we’re happy in this growing community. The pioneer members have decided to unpack the wagons, build houses, plant gardens, and stay a while. Would you like to join us?

We hope you will!

If you want to move to Blogtown and participate in friendly, human-scale community online, just follow these simple steps. We’re looking forward to welcoming you!

  1. Read about how #bloginstead got started (HERE).
  2. Learn how Blogtown works (HERE).
  3. Do you have a personal blog? If you read about Blogtown in number 2 above, you know we’re personal bloggers. Nobody’s a brand here, and that’s important. If you don’t have a blog, make one. Personally, I like wordpress.com. But it’s your blog. Do what works for YOU.
  4. Follow the blogs listed HERE to join the current group.
  5. Start your own neighborhood in Blogtown. Invite real-life friends to revive or create personal blogs, and then follow the same procedure – everyone in the group follows everyone in the group.
  6. Start writing posts, and start reading and commenting on your friends posts.
  7. You’re in Blogtown! Welcome!

Remember, this isn’t the glamorous world of influencers and the one-finger scroll. This is people talking to people. Don’t worry if you can’t write deathless prose that will shock the world with profound insight and prodigious beauty. Write the way you talk. You have something to say. Just type those words onto your blog. Plain or fancy, they are your words. What makes you an important part of the group is YOU – your voice, sharing your experience and conversing with your community about their experience, too.

Blogtown: Can we build it?

Arriving at lunch time on Day 2 of #bloginstead, I realized that I don’t want this experience to end. I see it growing as people join us and we become more adept at navigating this little virtual town we’re building. It would be sad to dismantle that on Saturday morning.

I’ve been pondering what I’m observing during this vacation from the social media vortex. Some would define blogging as a form of social media, but it is an older form, and it lacks many of the less appealing attributes of its descendants.

What’s good about this kind of blogging?

Looking around our group, I see that we are people, not brands. Our websites are home-made. We are not trying to monetize our interactions. We are not seeking to be influencers. We are not photoshopping the bumps and swirls of our real lives out of our communicated identity. If anything, I see a remarkable (and beautifully articulated) honesty in our posts. And I see the essential kindness in our responses to each other that is necessary to protect that kind of honesty.

Our communication is slower. Writing it takes longer. Reading it takes longer. It’s happening on a human scale, almost in real time.

I keep returning to my sense that #bloginstead is like visiting people in their homes, instead of at a shopping mall. It’s possible to visit in both places, but the quality and intimacy of the interaction will be much higher in the living room than in the food court.

So now I’m asking myself: what can I do to give #bloginstead a longer life? Could it become a movement? How?

Defining the Movement

There’s the long story, full of facial expressions and gesticulating hands no doubt inherited straight from my French ancestors. But in a nutshell? This.

#bloginstead: An intentional community of human beings who use personal blogging as their primary online social space.

If this community has a rule, it is to behave as if you were speaking to each other in person, face to face. Kindly. In good faith. As the beautiful human God created you to be.

The next question – can #bloginstead grow? Yes, it can grow if it has an understandable structure that can be replicated, that doesn’t depend on the herding capabilities of a single person.

The structure is simple. It has two components – people and blogs – and two methods – to be an active poster and commenter, and to invite others to participate with you.

Don’t wait for the fish to find you

Too often, personal bloggers get discouraged because they send a post out into the world and nothing happens. That’s because this is a crowded era, noisy and fragmented. It’s easy to be drowned out.

Blogging with a group solves that problem, but only if you are an active participant. Even in our little pilot group of 28, the people getting the most out of it are thriving because they post each day and then run over to see what their friends are posting and what they can say about it. Be that person.

Don’t come alone

You might think, “The only reason this is working for you is is because it’s so small. You all know each other, so you all comment on each other’s sites. But if everyone did this, people would get lost in the crowd, and blogging would be lonely and frustrating again.”

The solution? Don’t come alone. Decide to #bloginstead and invite your friends to do it with you. Two friends, three friends. You’ll soon make more, but you need people you already know to start you off. The more you write and the more you visit other houses in Blogtown, the more your little neighborhood will grow.

#bloginstead works and benefits us if it is a group activity. Like a neighborhood, we each build and run a house of our own. But we enjoy our time in those houses and benefit from it if we know and serve our neighbors.

#bloginstead Day 1: What is interesting so far?

I was up early (child, dog, job), and that first groggy waking moment had a crisp edge of curiousity on it because TODAY is Day 1 of our #bloginstead challenge. I have the WordPress app, so I peeked at the notifications after breakfast. Sure enough – there you were! I saw posts from friends, and friends commenting on posts from friends. I love this!

Relief

Leaping off a social norm is always interesting, and I expect many moments of insight during #bloginstead. The first? It’s striking that the primary expressed emotion among the group is RELIEF. Blogging is slower than Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, and it’s deeper. And at least for now, it’s beautifully free of the death spiral of insanity we see daily online. I know not every blogger is sane, but the group intentionally communing for #bloginstead? All quite sane. Lovely. Articulate. Interesting.

Mechanics

The second thing that struck me was my own awkwardness at getting around to see all of the participating blogs. It’s been a while since I did this, and the participants are on several different platforms. Makes me realize how I’ve adapted to the one-finger scroll on social. That awkward feeling is just the brain stretch of releasing one habit and looking to build another. No problem.

Food for Thoughts

Yes, that was a typo at first – “thoughts” – but then I left it because it fits. Already, just a few hours into #bloginstead, the experience itself and the posts and comments have spurred a host of ideas, questions, introspections, speculations. Perhaps that’s the natural result of any step outside routine. Or it could be that this platform – which was intended to help you WRITE – is naturally more conducive to THOUGHT than the frenetic anxiety scroll in which we usually indulge. It’s too soon to draw conclusions, so I’m planning to enjoy the wondering.