The Terror of Not Logging In

A computer keyboard showing the keys "Control" and "Option"

What about when control isn’t an option?

One morning last week, I couldn’t login to my work computer.

On the one hand, this was a total champagne problem. I was not in danger of losing my job, of physical violence, or of anything else truly disturbing.

But it almost sent me into a panic attack.

If I can’t login, I can’t do my work. Stuff will be happening without my knowledge, people will be asking for my help, and I can’t do anything about it.

I can’t write, I can’t edit. I’m a writer, I’m an editor.

I’m rendered useless.

*

My email was behind a firewall. So were my files. So was the internet (though I could have accessed that from my phone).

What was frustrating wasn’t so much any terrifying consequence of my lack of access. It was more the loss of control. If I’m locked out of my home, I can call a locksmith. But the walls of technology are a lot less climbable.

I wonder if there’s a spiritual equivalent of being unable to login. We long for access to truth, to a sense of order in the universe. And we can tell it’s there.

We just don’t have the password.

*

After about two hours, David from the IT Service Desk liberated my computer. He reassured me that the lockout wasn’t my fault: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” He was pleased when he saw me typing in a new long passphrase, instead of a puny password.

And I have access again.

For now.

Until the system goes down, until my computer dies, until I accidentally delete all the documents that populate my digital kingdom and that I’ve forgotten to back up.

For now, I can get in where I need to go.

My soul, though? That’s still pressed up against a sheet of colored glass, looking at the lights on the other side, wondering how to break through.


Photo by Frederico Cintra via Creative Commons.

The Fine Art of Arguing

“My brother,” writes G.K. Chesterton in his autobiography, “was born when I was about five years old; and, after a brief pause, began to argue.”

The two brothers (Cecil and Gilbert) were both journalists and well-known writers in post-Victorian England. Chesterton is best known for his writings on Christianity, his Father Brown mystery series, and his strange and disturbing novel The Man Who Was Thursday.

I was touched by Chesterton’s description of his brother and their relationship. I was also impressed by the distinction Chesterton draws between arguing and quarreling.

GKC seems to see arguing as engaging in stimulating debate: the kind that makes your own thinking sharper, by honing it against someone else’s perceptions. Both people walk away feeling smarter.

Quarreling, on the other hand, means having a heated personal disagreement, where feelings get hurt and one person walks away feeling smaller.

As someone who is uncomfortable with conflict, it’s hard for me to appreciate how much other smart people enjoy verbally jousting. They take pleasure in it! For me, it always feels personal, like I’m peeling my own skin off by trying to state why I disagree with someone else.

GKC, from all accounts, was a genius at it. And it didn’t get in the way of his friendships. He was happy to dismantle a friend or brother’s faulty logic, without putting the relationship itself at risk.

Our political discourse today involves lots of quarreling. Lots of name-calling, cat-calling, and mud-slinging.

Let’s take a page from the Chesterton brothers’ book, and learn to argue better.

Here’s a terrific essay by Gracy Olmstead on G.K. Chesterton and why we need him today.


Photo by jon collier via Creative Commons.

A New Name and a New Theme

A classic car with its hood open to show the engine.

Let’s take a look under the hood!

This website has a new name: Curiosity Central.

The former name, Better Than a Baby, hasn’t been accurate for a while. When I launched the site, I was exploring my identity as a late-30s woman with no kids: the ups and downs of that, and the adventures it’s easier to enjoy when you don’t have children.

Since then, my life has shifted and turned. I’m 43 now, and I’m still content—mostly—at the prospect of never being a mom. However, I’m also open to becoming a parent, whether through marrying a guy who already has children, or through fostering or adopting a child.

Life with kids is incredibly rich and complicated. Life without kids is too. Right now, I’m in a good position to nurture others: my Little Sister, my friends, and my family members (parents and cousins).

Maybe there will be a new chapter where I get to nurture stepkids or adopted kids, too. We’ll see.

In any case, the whole “childfree” thing has been losing its pull on me. I’ve been writing about it less and less.

And it’s led me to question: What the heck is this website about, anyway?

*

To answer that, I’ve been trying to find a unifying theme in my posts from the last year or so. And the prevailing one I’ve found is curiosity.

Curiosity and kindness are two key qualities I’m looking for in a man.

November’s election results sparked an immense curiosity in me about the divisions in our country: between Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, the coasts and the middle.

Lately, I’ve been attending a Baptist church, which has flooded me with curiosity about Christianity and how I understand God.

I’ve also been reading Barnabas Piper’s wonderful books about how doubt and questioning are essential for a robust religious faith. In his book The Curious Christian, he writes:

…curiosity is more than a mere trait. It is a discipline, a skill, a habit—one that will expand your life in magnificent, if subtle, ways.

*

So, readers, please join me in expanding our mutual curiosity: about love, about politics, about faith, and about how we strange human creatures interact in our bizarre and dynamic world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the new theme, and learn how curiosity plays out in your life. What have you been curious about lately?

Photo by the author, taken at the Bath, ME antique car show.

Need Help Concentrating? Try the Refrigerator Method.

An open refrigerator full of food and drink
When I was a kid, my mom got annoyed when she saw me standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open, deciding what to eat.

I was wasting energy, letting cool fridge air out. But also, I was wasting time.

She’d tell me to think about what I wanted to eat first, then open the refrigerator, get the item I wanted to eat, and take it out. Remove the phase where I gaped at all the food inside, cool air flooding out around me.

There are several ways this memory resonates with me now. For one thing, my mom’s German efficiency. For another, my family’s good fortune, that any time I opened up the fridge, I’d always be able to find something to snack on.

But it also makes me think about how I use social media, and the internet more generally.

*

My mom’s rule was the same for TV as for the fridge. If there was a specific show she wanted to watch, she’d turn on the TV to watch it, and turn it off when the show ended.

This is so different from how we use the internet now. We go on Facebook or other sites to see what’s going on, and the sites are designed to deliver the most addictive kind of intermittent reinforcement (where you get rewarded some of the time, unpredictably). So we just stay on. And time slides past us, like cool air from the fridge door.

Lately, to staunch this time flow, I’m applying the refrigerator method. I’ll go on a news site to read a story, and then get off. I’ll dive into the Class III rapids of Twitter for 20 minutes for Twitter, and close my laptop when that time is up.

I’ve found this helpful because it builds my self-control and my patience. It also helps my brain feel less frantically stimulated by everything I could be reading, watching, and thinking about at any given moment.

*

In Cal Newport’s wonderful book Deep Work, he examines methods for concentrating and producing high-quality results while surrounded by distraction and stimuli.

The book is full of practical advice, but it’s also philosophical. “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on,” Newport writes.

Let’s get stingier with our focus. Let’s narrow our spotlights. Let’s turn them off regularly to let them recharge.

Photo by osseous, via Creative Commons license.

Read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work and his Study Hacks blog.

Listen to Ben Domenech’s interview with Cal Newport over at the Federalist Radio Hour.