Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

Navigate / search

Stop Taking Advice Meant For The Other Side

I am trying to stop taking advice meant for the other side.

That’s the best way I know how to articulate this human phenomenon I’ve observed:  we are all taking advice meant for the other side.

What I mean is, people who are natural fighters read an article about perseverance and “good things come to those who hustle” and they think, “Yes, I should fight more.”

People who are natural fleers (or at least natural pause-ers and analyzers) read about planning, or about learning to say “no,” and they think, “Yes, I should consider this longer.

Fighters take advice intended to balance natural fleers; fleers take advice intended to balance natural fighters.

We do it in everything.

Consider relationships.

Married people are taking dating advice and dating people are taking married advice.

This means that married people are punking out on their marriages because they want their spouse to be a “perfect match” and they’re obsessed with their own happiness and fulfillment.

And dating people are ignoring red flags right and left and staying in relationships long past their expiration dates in the name of commitment and “nobody’s perfect.”

Consider our speech:

The speaker-uppers hear John Mayer’s “Say” (or Katy Perry’s “Roar,” depending on your taste) and think, “Yes!  I should speak my mind MORE.  I should tell MORE truth, louder!”

The suppressors (like me), read a passage about taming the tongue and we just keep bottling things up in the name of being wise or measured.

Collectively, we need to STRIKE THAT; REVERSE IT.

People have a natural bent.   Each person’s natural bent is a little bit different, but collectively we all bend towards self-preservation.  We use our different coping mechanisms, our different drugs of choice, all towards the same end: comfort.

The speaker-uppers feel heard and important when they speak.
The suppressors feel safe when they suppress.

The happiness-seekers feel hope and the assurance of joy when they pursue pleasure.
The blind-committers feel safe and secure at the avoidance of conflict.

To the louds, loud comes naturally and they bend towards it.
To the quiets, quiet comes naturally and they bend towards it.

None of that’s bad – it just is.  The problem is that we are inclined to listen to the advice that supports our bent.  We fall down our own rabbit holes.  We operate like, if speaking up is good, then speaking up more is better!  If quiet is good, then quieter is better!  But that logic doesn’t hold water.  That’s like saying, if one burger is good, 3 burgers are better.  But three burgers will make you barf.   And so will a person who speaks everything they see/think/feel at maximum decibels.  And so will the anxiety of keeping everything inside.

I could talk all day long about keeping your mouth shut, and thinking before you act, and minding your own business, and taking the time you need to process things.   That’s my natural bent.  That’s all good advice, but it’s not for me.  I need someone to tell me to SPEAK UP.  Open your mouth, Kate, and call problems problems.  I need someone to kick my energy-preserving INFJ self in the tail and get me to play dates so that my kids can have friends.  The advice we live and the advice we give is not the same as the advice we need.


This is one of the gazillion ways that I am working on me.  I am trying to stop hoarding advice that supports my natural bent.  I am taking deep breaths and choosing to hear the voices that tell me to SPEAK UP, GET UP, PULL THE TRIGGER – not as criticism, and not as foolhardy, but as a precious challenge to my natural bent that will push me towards balance.  Towards greater maturity and health.

Towards courage.

__________________

The advice you live and the advice you give are not the same as the advice you need.   In what direction do you naturally bend?  

 

29 Nice Things

I turn 29 today.

It’s weird.

I still feel like a baby, like I am only playing grown up.  Do we feel this way forever, like we are always just WINGING IT?   Neither here nor there.

To celebrate my foray into the last year of my twenties, I am going to celebrate like I have never celebrated before.  I am going to celebrate for an ENTIRE MONTH…

…by doing 29 nice things for other people.

I am celebrating today, too. I’m taking the day off and cashing in my free birthday drink on a Venti frivolous something that will probably involve caramel drizzle.  But I also decided that my birthday is an easy opportunity to add some structure (a number, a timeline, and a plan) to a thing that I am trying to do in ever-increasing measure: love other people well.

I can’t expend myself for strangers this way all year, because I am busy expending myself for my family, for my inner circle, and for my do-for-one’s.  But I think this will be a special way to serve with my kids on a day that is traditionally all about ME AND MY GLORIOUS ENTRY INTO THE WORLD!

Here are a few of the things we’ll be doing this month.

    1. Bring quarters to the laundromat and pay for people’s laundry.
    2. Buy the coffee for the car behind me.
    3. Babysit for our neighbors.
    4. Bring a meal to a new mom.
    5. Volunteer with Madeline at the women’s shelter
    6. Bring a surprise in for Madeline’s class.
    7. Give blood.
    8. Register for the bone marrow registry.
    9. Collect/return all the carts in a parking lot.
    10. Make cards and artwork with the kids for nursing home residents.
    11. Collect litter along our walking route.

I’ll be documenting #29nicethings on Instagram starting this afternoon!  You can follow along here.

Feel free to join!  I’d love to see the ways you are loving your community.

Welp, off to the bloodmobile, which is the grossest-sounding thing I’ve written in a while.
Stay tuned…

Kate

 

 

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday, friends!

(source)

 

I’m really excited about what’s in store around here next week and next month.  I’m taking another #socialmediafreeweekend to gear up for it.  There is a lot of laughter and writing and heart coming your way.

love!
Kate

The “11th Thing” Wisdom Deluge

I ran a contest last month on my Facebook page where people entered the one thing they would add to my list of 10 Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls.   I read all of the submissions last weekend and it was the greatest evening I’ve had in a long time.  You guys are really, really smart.   I was forced against my will to choose my 10 favorites (you can see and vote for your faves here), but I wanted you to experience the wisdom that I got to sit under last Saturday night.

The thing about “10 Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls” is- they’re the same 10 things I’d tell anybody.  The application varies, but the principles are the same.  The same is true of these reader submissions.  Halfway through, you’ll forget you were reading things written to tweens, and take a whole Post-it pad’s worth of notes to self.

Last thing:  These were all sent to me without their authors’ names attached so that I could choose objectively.  If one of these is yours, let me know in the comments or via the contact form and I’ll add the attribution.  You should have credit for your brain-babies!

Enjoy these runners-up!
love,
Kate

Don’t be fake, because that’s a hard game to keep playing.

I’ve seen girls who try to impress their friends by being in sports they don’t even like or pretending to have read every book in the library while they’re secretly just reading summaries online. Trying to impress their friends in these ways are harmful and tiring.  Let people love the authentic you.

You don’t need to know the (your) whole story to do the next right thing.

Sometimes we want to know how things will turn out. Where should I go to college? Who should I marry? What career should I pursue? But those things come. You don’t NEED all the answers when you graduate high school. You need to know and do only the next right thing. The practice of doing the next right thing in little decisions makes the big ones more obvious, and it’s easier then to choose the right thing in the big decisions. So when you can’t see “around the bend” just do the next right thing.

Fairy tales are overrated!

Love shouldn’t magically happen. Love that you choose, and that chooses you back is sweeter and more beautiful than you can imagine. Love that you fight for will fill you up, full. This goes for friends and men.

The college guy you’re dating isn’t as awesome as you think he is.

If you’re a junior in high school, you wouldn’t be caught dead holding hands with the 8th grader down the street. Sure, the 8th grade boy is probably getting high fives all over the place, but your friends are considering an intervention. If there’s a cute, 5th year college senior sending you flirty texts, RUN. There’s a reason he isn’t dating girls his age and IT’S BECAUSE HE’S NOT AWESOME.

Find your thing and do your thing with all of your guts.

Having a hobby, a sport, an interest that captures your heart will form your identity and put you in a circle of like-hearted cool kats, and that, my friends, is a saving grace.

Find a way to laugh every day.

Laughing instantly changes your mood and lifts the mood of those around you. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you do, you just might miss an opportunity to be uniquely you and help others find their way.

Interact with people, not things.

Don’t take life for granted. The people you wished you had spent more time with can get taken from your life.  Make memories with your friends and family while you can. Technology may seen like the best thing that has ever happened right now, but the things you will cherish the most are the times spent with people you love.  You won’t remember all the selfies you take, but you will remember the happiness (and sadness) you shared with the people you care about.

Pretending to be someone you are not just to make a new friend is not worth it. You’ll attract the wrong type of friends AND exhaust yourself in the process because being someone you aren’t is a full time job.

Too many teenage girls so desperately want to belong that they will do anything to fit in, often with the wrong group. It is simply much easier to be yourself, stay true to yourself, and let common friends find their way to you. As a middle school teacher, I see this every day – a young girl exhausting herself trying to be someone she is not. It kills her energy and her spirit.

Be Courageous

Don’t allow others’ expectations to define your risks; not foolish, life- and reputation-ruining risks, but risks that might go against your established ‘identity’. You’re the ‘smart/perfectionist/leader girl’? Don’t be afraid to do something you might not be good at. You’re the ‘girly girl’? Don’t be afraid to try out for a sport you love. Don’t let fear of other’s expectations of your identity inhibit your personal growth. Set yourself free! Your teenage years are awesome years of freedom where you can try new things and discover areas you might never have known you were gifted in or truly enjoy.

Work hard in EVERYTHING you do.

Your work ethic is being created now–if you learn to work hard now you will continue to work hard in everything you do. Also, how hard you work now will determine where you end up in your life.

Never compare what stage of life you’re in with where someone else is or where society says you should be. Every person’s journey is distinctly different and beautiful.

We often have a preconceived idea of when and how we should experience different stages in life. “I must graduate college at this age and have my career rolling at that age. I should be married by this age, and having children by that age.” But our stories are all different. Jesus obliterated any need for comparison. The Great Shepherd is leading and guiding us, and He knows exactly where we need to be and when.

Don’t treat your parents badly, because when you get older they will be your closest friends.

I think that so many girls push their parents away instead of embracing one of the closest relationships they will ever have. Parents care the most about what happens in their child’s life and will be there no matter what happens. They also have a ton of wisdom.

Be Kind.

You can be remembered as the girl who got all the guys, the one who made straight A’s, the girl who threw the biggest parties, the “Christian” girl, the “mean” girl, the “jock” girl, etc., etc., OR you can be remembered as the girl who was KIND. Our teenage years can be all about self-discovery, self-fulfillment, self-esteem. SELF. How about making it about someone else, every now and then? Say hello to someone you’ve never talked to, before. Help a friend study for finals. Volunteer at a local church or charity. Pay someone a compliment. Make a donation. Thank a teacher. Thank a pastor. Thank a parent. AND REALLY MEAN IT. Spend a little time, each day, being nice. Just because. Practice kindness early. Make it a habit. Let it change you. Then, see how it will change the world.

Now go read the captions/descriptions (here) for the 9 quotes in the photo and the one I couldn’t fit in there (from Mary Kistler which says, “If you believe in fairy tales, learning to spin gold from straw provides a more certain future than hoping every guys is a prince charming).  Their explanations are so good!

Pete the Cat is My Theology

My mom often says, “Song lyrics are my theology.”

What she means, obviously, is that when theology is expressed poetically and set to music, something magical happens.  As you roll that lyric over and over in your mind and on your tongue, your inner truth cat sits up and you get all swirly and emotional because it is at once SO TRUE and SO BEAUTIFUL.   That lyric sums up decades’ worth of thoughts and experiences.  It communicates your deepest truth so succinctly that you can only describe it as perfect.  You think, “THIS.  This is what I believe.”

I think that children’s literature is my theology.

I cried reading a Pete the Cat book last week.

 

I don’t mean that I “was touched” or I “welled up.”  I mean that I had to stop reading, and shed actual tears, and my children became very concerned about me.

I’ve also cried reading the following:

-  Little Blue Truck
-  Just Plain Fancy
-  The Empty Pot
-  Horton Hears a Who
-  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (OH MY GOSH, C.S. LEWIS, JUST KILL ME DEAD.)
-  And every blame time I read The Jesus Storybook Bible

I can’t even handle children’s literature.  My inner truth cat goes into a catnip-paper-bag-frenzied-joy-romp.  I cry at least 50% of the time.

I like children’s literature because it’s simple.

You don’t have to impress children; they are filled with natural wonder.
You don’t have to persuade children; they are filled with innocent trust.

Children’s literature doesn’t contain logical fallacies or one million prepositional phrases or an excess of adjectives.  Children’s literature just drops truth bombs in perfect, poetic ways and lets the truth stand on its own two feet.

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I believe that.  I believe that little hearts and young minds can understand deep truths.  Understand all of it?  Of course not.  Do any of us?   But I believe that the biggest, most important truths aren’t that hard to understand; they’re just hard to live.

I am going to work on this kind of truth-telling.  Precise and simple.  Like poetry, like songs, like children’s literature.

Like Pete the Cat on materialism and contentment and living with open hands:

“I guess it only goes to show, that stuff will come and stuff will go.  Do we worry?  Goodness no.”

Yes, children of mine.  Stuff will come and stuff will go.  Do we worry?  Goodness no.
Yes, HEART OF MINE.  Stuff will come and stuff will go.  Do we worry?  Goodness no.

___________________________

Do you have a favorite piece of children’s literature?  Please share it!  We’ll make a library trip this weekend to pick up some new theology. 

Every Single Second

Parents have love-catch-phrases.  They are the things we say when we tuck our kids in at night.  You know -

“I love you to the moon and back.”  Or, “I love you with my whole heart.”

Mine is,

“I love you every single second.”

That’s the one I tell them when the love is bubbling in my guts and I have to clench my teeth and my fists to keep from squeezing them too tightly, like Lennie Small.

This is what I told Henry this afternoon when he woke up all groggy and snuggly.  I smushed my face against his precious, smushy face and I whispered, “I love you every single second.  There has never been a second of your entire life that you have not been loved.  Every second that I’ve known about you, I’ve loved you.”

Then I felt a kind of aching swell up inside of me.  I thought, “There are children to whom no one has ever said these things.  There are children that have been neglected, forgotten, resented, and abused.”

For a moment I despaired, hard.  I wished that I had infinite time and infinite resources and that I could love all the babies.  I wished that I could hold them all, skin-to-skin, and sing to them and read to them and kiss them and fix all their hurts, physical and otherwise, and tell them that I LOVED them, and that they were important and special to me.   I thought, “There are children that have not been loved every single second.”

But something in my chest caught, snagged.  I couldn’t finish that thought, because I knew it wasn’t true.

There has never been a child that wasn’t loved every single second.

I almost didn’t write this post because I was afraid that it would sound like I was glossing over the NECESSITY of earthly, human love.  I assure you I am not.   I want to love all the babies because it matters, I know this in my bones, and much of my giving is directed toward that end – children getting loved well.

But because of what I believe to be true about God, I cannot say that there has ever been a human being that God didn’t love every single second.  That He didn’t yearn for.  There has never been a person that was excluded when He said that He longs to be gracious to you.  There has never been a person that God did not die to save.

This shapes the way I understand the world and they way I interact with all people, but I don’t want to direct this thought OUT today, I want to direct in.

You have been loved every single second.

There has never been a second in which you were not loved.
There has never been a circumstance in which you were not loved.
There has never been a thing you did, or a place you went, or a thing you believed that made you unloved, even for a second.

There is no season of hate or anger or disbelief that made God stop wanting you.  You cannot be mean enough to make Him give up on you.  You are not trapped; He will let you go, but He will watch you walk away with great pain, loving you every single second.

In your darkest days, in your deep, endless depression, in your worst, most offensive thoughts, you are loved.

Maybe you are an addict and you’ve known it for a while, and your nights keep getting darker and your mornings more uncertain.  Or maybe you are doing a thing that you swore you would NEVER DO.  Maybe you haven’t changed your mind about it, you still hate it, but you’re doing it anyway, which makes you hate yourself.

You are loved in the middle of that mess.   EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND.

If you are absolutely OVER IT, and life has become, as dear Anne Lamott says, “just too life-y,”  you might be unhappy, unhealthy, unhopeful, and scared to death – but you are not unloved.  You can be un-everything else, but you are not un-loved.

You have been loved every day, every hour, every minute, every second.  You have been loved every heartbeat of your entire life.

When you were abandoned here, you were not abandoned there.  I cannot unpack the problem of evil here, or even fully in my own mind, but I can tell you this:  you were not delivered from all pain, but you were loved through all of the pain.  Every ounce.  You were loved every second.

God compares his love to parent-love.  He compares his arms to the wings of a mother bird, drawing her babies in close to her bosom, warm and safe.  He says he could no sooner forget you than a mother could forget the baby at her breast.  He says “I have loved you with AN EVERLASTING LOVE.”  He says that he wants to give you good things, like Dads want to give their little boys and little girls good things, only better, because God is better than human dads times a billion.

He loves us with parent-love, only purer.  More long-suffering.  This means that, unlike me, He doesn’t ever want to give one of his loved ones away free to a good home when they are being really pig-headed and annoying.  He never loses it.  He never grows tired or weary.

The love that I have for my children is fierce, rabid, overwhelming, and immobilizing.  I love them in a way that doesn’t even make sense.  But even that love is tempered by my own selfishness and humanity – by my need for sleep and food to be a pleasant human being.  My great big love for my kids is tempered by my impatience and my lack of empathy.

But God’s parent-love is not constrained by those things.  His love is constrained by nothing.  His love is unhindered and unstoppable and unfathomable.

The great joy of my life is being this boy’s safe place, the arms that comfort.  I love him, and I could never be close enough for long enough to breathe him in the way I want to.  I love him every single second.  This child of mine is loved EVERY. SINGLE. SECOND.

And so are you.

And so are you.

The Truth Does Not Need Your Help

There is an article circulating, calling into question some of the images and details that have been shared about the persecution in Iraq.  I’m thankful for it, because it’s wise and measured, and because the pursuit of truth is important – but I’m nervous about the public’s response to it.

I am afraid that upon reading that one of the pictures that has been shared dates back to ISIS operations in Syria (not Iraq) last year (not this July), that people will think, “Oh, this has all been sensationalized.  No children are being killed in Iraq, or at least no more than are dying anywhere.  It is not that bad.”

Because it is that bad.  It just isn’t that picture.

I want to grab the shoulders of the people sneaking not-quite-exactly-right pictures into articles and say, “You are damaging your own cause!  You are causing the public to mistrust reports of a very real genocide.   This evil is bad enough without your having to darken it up for public consumption.  The truth does not need your help.”

That’s the crux of it.  The truth does not need your help.  The truth can stand on its own two feet, thank you very much.  The truth does not need you running PR for it.  When you spin truth, it’s not truth anymore.  The only thing you have to do for the truth is tell it.

Regarding Iraq, the truth is that people are being beheaded.  People are being raped, shot, hanged, and crucified.  The truth is that nobody is coming to kill my babies today, and the truth is that Christians in Mosul and Northern Iraq can’t say that – people ARE coming to kill them and their babies.  The truth is that families are fleeing into the mountains and starving to death, ISIS on their heels, coming after them with evil and lies and death in their hearts.  And that truth is enough,  no misplaced pictures of decapitated babies required.

The truth does not need your lying for it.  Will you bring this thought into your speech and your internet sharing and right into the heart of all of your relationships?  The truth does not need my help.

Let us not manipulate by exaggerating our hurt or our oppression.  Black is black enough without us sensationalizing it for shock value.  Be brave, step up to the mic, and tell the truth.  Speak loud and measured and long.  Tell us what happened, and why, and how.  Tell us how it made you feel.  And then step back and let the truth stand.  Discerning, compassionate people will come to stand beside you.

Let us not aim to impress by exaggerating our happiness and our blessings.   Be grateful, step up to the mic, and shout praise.  ”I am blessed.  I am fortunate.  I am excited that this wonderful thing has happened for me.”  Then step back and let the truth stand.  Discerning, joyful people will come rejoice with you.  None of us have the stomach for showmanship; it sours fast.

The truth does not need your shady advertising campaign.  When we hear truth, it grabs us.  I wrote last month about an inner truth cat.  I still think about my inner cat often, because it describes exactly the sensation I have when I hear the truth.  I can also liken it to a bear standing in a river catching fish.  I stand there, letting all the words and all the life flow over me, feeling…feeling…feeling…then I feel it.  THERE.  That’s the true thing.   And I reach out and grab it.  That true thing is what I was after; that’s what will feed me.

One of the books I read to my kids often is Demi’s The Empty Pot.  It’s about a little boy named Ping who grows the most beautiful flowers in China, but can’t get a seed given to him by the emperor to grow.  Everyone teases him when he comes before the emperor, head bent low, with an empty pot.  The emperor then names Ping successor to the throne because Ping had the courage to appear before him with nothing but “the empty truth.”

The empty truth.  I love that.

I want to have the courage to appear before the world with the empty truth.  I want to show up, every day, truth in hand, and let that be enough.  No fluff.  No lies.  No spin to make the dark a little darker, or the light a little lighter.  I want to say what I mean, mean what I say, and stand – head high and unafraid – because the truth is enough.

The only thing we need to do to the truth is tell it.

More from Kate about telling the truth:  ”Honesty

 

The Keurig

Originally published April 2010.

Last December I was flipping through a catalogue and said off-handedly to Dan,

“What do you think about asking for a Keurig for Christmas?”

His reaction was visceral.

“What?!?!?!  Are you serious?!!?!?  Owning a Keurig is as stupid as buying bottled water.”

I stared at him blankly.
I like bottled water.

He  continued in disgust.

“Ugh! Kate! It is nothing but an evil marketing scheme to get you to pay $15 for a bunch of little plastic cups!  It is completely unnecessary; a Keurig is what you buy someone who already has everything.”

News to me.  I thought that was a fountain pen, or cufflinks.  Dan did not stop with big business, he was going to take down America, too.

“That is the problem with Americans these days, we want to spend our money on indulgences like Keurigs.  If someone buys me a Keurig, I’m returning it, buying a $15 coffee pot and spending the rest on that ice cream you always ask for!”

Chunky Monkey. Dan had not had this kind of reaction to anything since he found out that Panera’s PB&J costs four bucks.

(I should pause here to say: I’ve previously confessed to being the world’s worst gift giver.  I was, at that time, seriously considering getting a Keurig for Dan.  At this point I shrewdly discerned that I should move on to Christmas present plan B.)

On Christmas morning, as we were all sitting in our pajamas amidst piles of tissue paper, I reached out for my last present, a big box that read, “To: Kate.  Love, Sandra (my mother-in-law).”

I tore open the wrapping to reveal a little, red Keurig coffee brewer.  I gasped, clutched it to my breast, and shouted at Dan with a mixture of passion and desperation,

“You can’t take him from me, I love him too much!”

As if I were on a soap opera and Dan were my disapproving father threatening to separate me from my lover.

“Is there any coffee to go in it?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Well good for you!  You got a new toy.”

“Yes, and you’re not allowed to play with it.”

Dan rolled his eyes.

When we got home, I set it on the counter next to our old coffee pot. They looked stately sitting there together, like they were very important machines.  I arranged all my K-cups in their display and stepped back to admire my work.  It was beautiful – a little coffee shrine.

Every time Dan walked by the Keurig he scoffed:

“It doesn’t even keep your coffee warm for you.”
“It doesn’t even make the house smell like coffee.”
“What do you see in that thing anyway?”

“If you must know, I like pushing the little button.  It’s fun.”

“You know the regular coffee pot has a button too.”

“Shut up.”

Not two weeks after the Keurig’s inaugural brew, I was sitting in the living room enjoying a hot cup of joe when I heard a popping, sizzling noise in the kitchen.  I walked in to find Dan staring in horror at the old coffee pot, which was sitting in a large puddle of water on the counter, smoking.  The kitchen was covered in soggy coffee grounds (though to be fair, the grounds could have been courtesy of Dan’s very diligent scooping skills).  We opened the top, slowly.  We gently lifted the basket, and just as we peeked inside, a piece fell off.

It was like it just quit.  Coffee Pot saw Keurig, looked him in the eye and said,

“I can’t…go…on.  They drink…too…much….  Can’t…produce…  Tell the mugs…goodbye…”

and with his last dying breath, he passed the baton.

Dan looked at me.  We observed a moment of silence.  Then he said,

“Can I use your Keurig?”

Thank God for little indulgences.

(Source: Print designed by and available for purchase from fieldtrip on Etsy)
 

 

When Celebrities Die

I cannot yet tear myself away from the Robin Williams clips, movies, and interviews this week.

When celebrities die we collectively gasp, then mourn.  For a few days we honor their lives by sharing our favorite bits of their work, the ways our lives were shaped by their willingness to live in the public eye.

Death is always mourned by the people who knew the life, and the more intimately we knew the life, the more deeply we mourn it.  Death is the epicenter of a great earthquake, and the mourning goes out in ripples, through the layers of knowing.

The thing about artists is, by definition, they give of themselves intimately in order to do their jobs.  Actors and musicians and writers – they weep, sweat, and bleed their work.

Ernest Hemingway said, ”There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

When actors step into character, they rely on deeply personal things, hidden in the recesses of their minds, the depths of their souls, to authentically portray that sadness you’re seeing on the screen.  They could not do their jobs well if they did not bleed into their art; it would be flat.  Artists voluntarily prick at their own nerves.

This means that when we watch breakthrough performances, we are seeing real tension, real conflict of conscience, real love, real anger, real everything.  Whatever emotion you saw that took your breath – that CONNECTED with you – it was real.

The words in books and poems are real.  The heartbeat in music is real.  Artists live open wide to the world; that’s what makes them artists.  Celebrity, then, adds yet another layer of vulnerability.  Not only do artists draw on intimate personal experiences to bleed into their work – they live in a spotlight.  It’s The Truman Show for real.  We see them grocery shopping and at the beach and at basketball games and breastfeeding their babies.  They live wide open voluntarily for their art, and then again whether they want to or not because of the paparazzi and TMZ and your and my obsession with pop culture.

We KNOW them.  And largely, they allow us to know them.  They give themselves to us.

That’s why celebrity deaths affect us in a way that is often confusing.   It doesn’t seem proportional, at first.  We think, “I didn’t know this person.  They were just an actor, far away, on a screen.  Why do I feel like I am moving through molasses?”

(That’s how I felt when I heard about Robin Williams.  Grief slowed everything down, like it does.  The face Robin Williams made when he threw back his head and laughed was taking up all of my thoughts, so they came slower, like adding an extra space between all the letters on a page.   My mind was filled with Robin, and everything went into slow-motion.)

For a second I thought, “I didn’t know him,” but then I thought – “That’s silly.  Of course I did.”

I saw real joy, real struggle, and real depression, because Robin Williams was an artist.  Something inside of him bled into Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.  His one little spark of madness, as he called it, poured ALL UP OVER Happy Days and Mrs. Doubtfire, and Aladdin.  Did you know that Aladdin was reportedly disqualified for “Best Adapted Screenplay” because Robin improvised so much of the Genie’s character that they couldn’t even call it a “script?”  He bled his stream-of-consciousness thoughts all over that piece of work and we saw it.  We got to know that bit of him.

We didn’t know all of him, of course.

I love how the French language distinguishes the word “to know.”  There is “savoir,” which is the information-kind of know.  I  know how to ride a bike.  I know how to do algebra.  But they never use “savoir” to describe a person, because people are not facts to be known.  People cannot be read like books.  The French use “connaître,” a to-be-familiar-with kind of know.  I know of this person.  I am ever-growing-in-knowing this person.  But I don’t information-know them.  People are deep and nuanced and ever-changing, every-minute, affected from without and within, like rivers.  We can never know them, we can only keep getting to know them.

We didn’t “savoir” Robin Williams.  We didn’t know everything he struggled with, or loved, or believed, or experienced.  But we “connaître-ed” him.  With every single public appearance, he kept on bleeding self and art for us, and we had the honor to keep getting to know him.

Our collective mourning of celebrities doesn’t mean we disproportionately disvalue the lives of the other people dying around the globe.  We don’t devalue children, or the persecuted, or the cancer warriors, or the noble, heroic, self-sacrificing soldiers.  Those of them we know we mourn hard and long and deep, and those we do not know, we mourn as appropriately as we can – because they matter, and their lives matter.

But the reason we’re all mourning Robin this week is because we KNEW him.

He wept and laughed and bled into his art, and then fame shone a bright light on him so we could all see.

It was an honor to know Robin Williams, and I am so, so grateful that he allowed me to know him, by giving of himself so tirelessly.  He brought incredible joy to my childhood, and I miss him.