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Archive for the ‘Thanksgiving’ Category

The Case for Desire

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Hint: your smartphone is symptom not cause

Advertisers bank on it. Ascetics deny it. Libertines fan it while most of us try to tame it. Desire always drives behavior. The question is training ourselves to desire the best things, which are often not the immediate things. Habit can work for or against us in training desire. But it is desire—that glowing reactor in my mind/heart/instinct—that pushes me toward some object that has just now become irresistible.

Beautiful things can grow from years of tending

Beautiful things can grow from years of tending

But when desire fails—what then? That sounds perfect, right? Always in control.

Not so much: In talking with my depressed friend, desire seems suppressed and/or forgotten and nothing matters. Nothing is interesting. Tiredness, life-weariness, stress, maybe age—all of these seem to affect desire. Without desire, curiosity vanishes. Without curiosity, life’s luster languishes.

How to rekindle desire—and especially desire for things/people/relationships that will prove generative after five, ten, or 70 years?

My hunch is that my smartphone is not the secret to rekindling the right desire. Whatever is being sold there is likely not the direction that will sustain over the long haul. Gratitude seems a potential route to rekindled desire—on this point, both my atheist friend and the poet-king agree. A good conversation with a person full of life may rekindle desire.

Connection may rekindle desire. If your smartphone helps make connections with real humans, that’s good.

If not, focus.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Mary Oliver: “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”

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Just so.


…for always the new self swimming around in the old world feels itself uniquely verbal. And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”

–Mary Oliver, Long Life (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004)


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

A Word About Thanks

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And that word is “Thanks.”

In the United States we have a day set aside for giving thanks.

Media-wise it is overshadowed by Black Friday and the ritual purchase of unnecessaries. And please don’t miss the tasty irony that at least one definition of “Black Friday” pins it as the day of the year when retailers move from financial loss to profit–so here in the U.S. we celebrate the religion of corporate solvency.

But for me Thanksgiving has little to do with buying stuff.  Instead, I prefer to see Thanksgiving as a time to pause.

I like the work of Australian philosopher Damon Young, who at the end of his Distraction recommended giving thanks. Though an atheist he still noted that gratitude was a pretty good way of going through life—it ordered things, kept desire at bay and helped set perspective—though I wondered aloud how gratitude works without a being at the other end.

LookingWestFromOregonThanks-11272014For quite a while I’ve taken cues from a poet-king who penned a number of poems, each deeply infused with gratitude. His poems offered gratitude as a way of ordering life and seeing opportunity and obstacle as part of the whole deal. Unlike the Australian philosopher, the poet-king cited Jehovah as the One to offer thanks to, and he did it again and again. And again. This is typical:

You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. (Psalm 65.8b)

The whole poem shows off stuff Jehovah does in the world and it is worth reading (check it here). Interesting that most of the 150 poems (not all written by the poet-king) had very little to do with the ritual purchase of unnecessaries—but our culture won’t rethink that until the next great depression.

Two things strike me about the poet-king’s words:

  1. Gratitude incites calm. When I meditate on those words, calm happens. I appreciate that. Thanks is a much more potent perspective-maker than desire.
  2. Gratitude generates a sense of presence. In particular, the poet-king had the sense of taking a seat at table with the very One. Invited by Jehovah. And that is pretty cool stuff.

I’m grateful for Mrs. Kirkistan and for our kids, parents, in-laws and friends. I’m grateful for way more than enough (food, shelter, clothing). I’m grateful that you stop here and read these posts.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

November 27, 2014 at 9:42 am

Collaboration in Real Life: The Book Cover

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Self-promotion is stinky poop

This week I spoke with a copywriter who writes plays and novels on the side. But he doesn’t work too hard on promoting his finished bits of literature. He prefers to stick to the writing part (who doesn’t?). This copywriter is not atypical on two counts:

  1. If you don’t need to get your message out (that is, move product to earn the feeble coin a book represents) you can let it languish.
  2. Copywriters are bad at self-promotion.
Listen Talk Camp Fire-RD-10212014

Roger’s cover

Not all copywriters, and probably not the copywriter I spoke with. But many are bad at self-promotion. It’s funny because while copywriters have insight into the psychology of business problems and use divergent thinking to solve those problems, they have a hard time turning that insight onto their own projects.

And that is true for all of us.

It’s not just because self-promotion has the feeling of swimming in a septic tank. It is also because we are truly blinded to the very things we are most passionate about. We’re typically deep inside those passions, and we have no clue what it all looks like from the outside. That’s why we need to tell others and get the outside insight that telling affords.

A client and friend provided a quick insight that has proved far better than anything this insider could produce. My first book, ListenTalk: When Conversation is an Act of God, is on its way through this marathon called publishing. Encapsulating the message into an image and a few words has proved daunting to me. Roger’s cover, with the fire, well, most people love it better than my covers. I’m not bitter, I’m grateful: grateful to have people around who can offer very tangible insights. These insights regularly, well, cover my arse. And I’ve always maintained that I am neither a designer nor photographer.

I thank God for people with such quick insight.


My covers.

A word about ListenTalk versus “conversation is an engine”

If you’ve dropped by this blog, you may have noticed I hit on different topics as they relate to conversation. Business and the business of writing, and the business of how faith and craft and work fit together are key drivers for me as I write.

My first ongoing project along these lines was to develop a sort of practical theology of persuasion—something I was desperate to understand as a copywriter who regularly trusts in God. That is what ListenTalk represents. It takes some topics from “conversation is an engine” but develops them specifically for people of faith. Here’s the draft copy from the back cover:

“Talk is cheap.”

So we say, but deep down we know different.

We know talk is a potent engine for war and love and all that lies between. Talk is our entertainment and our tool for exploring every relationship. Talk is an economic engine. Lives change—culture changes—when we talk together. In many ways, the future is patterned after our speech.

And this: even God responds to talk.

Yet we pay scarce attention to the working parts of conversation: the listening, the words used, and the intent behind the words. And we hardly think about God’s purpose in speaking, and how God speaks today with fierce desire for reunion—and how that desire motivates all God says and does.

Every day, people work out God’s desire in thousands of ordinary ways. Not so much through sermons and high-minded programs as through the ordinary conversations among themselves.

ListenTalk will help you to re-think what God accomplishes in even your smallest, most ordinary conversations.

ListenTalk is a wonderful book with deep wisdom, practical advice, and heart-warming encouragement. Read it, converse with it, and share it with others.” –Dr. Quentin Schultze, Calvin College

“In our contemporary world where words and ideas seem to divide far more than they unite, ListenTalk provides an antidote of balance and sanity. ListenTalk reminds us of a power that can lead to greater understanding, intimacy, collaboration, and even personal transformation…culminating in deepening our life with God.” –Judith Hougen, University of Northwestern—St. Paul



Hey—wait a second. You could buy ListenTalk!


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

With new eyes.

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And thanks.



Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 28, 2013 at 5:00 am

Posted in photography, Thanksgiving

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Grateful to See Modernity Limping Away

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A Few Things For Which I’m Thankful


Modern: When we thought we could control everything. Then we thought everything we controlled was better than all that was out of our control.

After Modern: Turns out we control very little.

But God is still in control—and He tends toward giving good gifts (though my friends living in the Bible—Abraham, Job and Paul, among others—developed lots of nuanced language about what constitutes “good”).

I’m grateful today for much, like Mrs. Kirkistan and the Youth Culture making their way out of the household of Kirkistan and into/through the world. And that’s just for starters.

And I’m grateful modernity has been sent packing.

And I’m glad to get back to the certainty of uncertainty and the life-giving power of chasing tomorrow’s dinner.


Image credit: via thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

November 28, 2013 at 10:41 am

Posted in Thanksgiving

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Why So Distracted? Distraction by Damon Young

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Any shiny bauble catches my eye.11132013-tumblr_mvsq94YlZG1qe0lqqo1_500

Any bare wisp of an idea pulls me from a thought-intensive task.

Is there a book I’ve not read? Let me order it right now, in the middle of this sentence.

I am easily distracted.

I am not alone in this.

I recently had the distinct joy of slowly reading Distraction by Damon Young.  I followed Mortimer Adler’s advice in his lovely How To Read a Book (I should reread that—let me order it right now), which often leads to relaxed hours of thoughtful graffiti in a bound book.

I’ve written about Mr. Young’s book before, like here and here. But now that I’ve gone through it a second time, made annotations, outlined his argument, tweeted the author (twice) (now thrice), ordered half a dozen of his suggested books and quibbled about and finally recommended it to friends and family, I need to look at my own patterns of distraction before disengaging from the book’s orbit.

First:  Mr. Young did a good job explaining why it is we are easily distracted and, in fact, why seek out distractions. The short answer is that we seem to recoil from our life purpose. As free people we choose where we spend our time (or at least how we spend our otium). We can spend it sorting out our life purpose. Or not. But we have to know our life purpose. And that takes work, which is why distractions are often so preferred to focus.

The longer answer is to look at the smart and thoughtful writers, poets and artists Mr. Young researched to see how they were distracted and how they attempted to focus. His stories brought to life Heidegger, T.S. Eliot, Nietzsche, Matisse and Henry James and many others (especially Plato). That’s why Distraction is fun to read (are stories always magnetic?)

Second: toward the end, Mr. Young cites the notion of gratefulness. That set me to wondering whether thanks needs a being at the other end. Young, a [critical but] sympathetic atheist, pointed to giving thanks as a primary building block for the undistracted life. But not the thanks of the poor to the benefactor for relief from a low condition. Instead:

…there is a primordial, anonymous gratitude, not to a patron or a savior but for the simple fact of existence itself. If we cannot choose our birth, or vault the impermeable barriers of place and time, we can still warm to the existential endeavor; we can smile at the opportunity to live, instead of flinching or close our eyes.

Thanks, for Mr. Young, is a bold “Yes!” to all the stuff of life:

But at its most profound, this is a simple, primal yes: to the attempt, the aspiration, the lurch towards freedom. To seek emancipation from distraction is to accept this ambivalent liberty – an unspoken, unrepentant thank you for the adventure of becoming. (160)

But is there such a thing as “anonymous gratitude”?09032013-9781844652549_p0_v2_s260x420

Maybe: friends have thanked the universe for bestowing good fortune on them. And certainly developing a generally grateful attitude to the stuff of life makes rational sense. But for me “thanks” minus the Almighty is like leaving Minneapolis intending to drive to Des Moines but finding yourself living for decades in Ankeny without ever having reached Des Moines (surely you know the splendors of Des Moines, Iowa).

But that’s just me. I greatly respect Mr. Young’s marvelous book and I agree that thankfulness opens the quintessential way of living. Thankfulness puts all other things in perspective, which is the essence of focus.


Image credit: Robert Huber via MPD

Written by kirkistan

November 13, 2013 at 8:28 am

How to Regain Wonder

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Target cannot sell you a loaf of wonder

tumblr_mih9w8F9JC1qbmgeto1_1280-02212013It would seem that life beats wonder out of us. This project went sour. That team sucks. My career seems more about false starts and abrupt ends than ascendancy to the corner office. The boss or CEO or pastor or professor are in it for the money or the power or both. People and institutions disappoint.

It’s easy to paint most anything black with the brush strokes of cynicism. Our culture largely applauds and rewards this attitude, often providing pulpits for the world-weary naysayers. It’s a stance we learn early in life. We chide optimists as Pollyanna and naïve.

But if you look around, it isn’t the cynics who make things different. It’s the people with faith. I’m not talking about religion, though faith in God applies big time. It’s the people with a sense that things don’t have to be this way, that there might be a better way. And beyond that: people with a basic wonder at how the world works. People with a sense of wonder and curiosity are the refreshing people who are fun to be around. They entertain just by pointing out the invisible stuff that we never thought to think about. These are the gratitudists, whose stance of thanks sweetens the well for all around. Their faith and wonder refuse to let today’s seeming realities push forward as tomorrow’s certainties.

Where do you find wonder in your life? Hostess has closed and Wonder bread may or may not be available. But I plan on seeking out those places and people where wonder presents.


Image credit: Adam Pękalski via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

Of Crotchety Old Men and their Winning Ways

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Get off my lawn.

A few days back George Tannenbaum, the crusty old copywriter behind Ad Aged, wrote about the box of good ads he ripped out of magazines and carried with him from job to job. These good ads became a starting point or a kind of measuring stick to gauge his own practice of the craft. To have a box of ads you consider good is itself a positive statement. Most folks in advertising are quick to point out what is bad, what doesn’t work. What is worthless. Copyranter does this constantly, so every once in a while when he says something positive, his readers sit up and take notice. To say something is good is also to say something about your taste level. Doing most anything positive opens you to criticism. Maybe that’s why most of us prefer to not step out of the crowd. I locate myself in that passive crowd.

I’m a fan of George Tannenbaum’s blog. So are a bunch of other people, which is why his blog appeared on somebody’s top 100 list of influential bloggers. He may be the very definition of a crotchety old man, but his near constant kvetching holds lots of secrets about how a person makes it through life as a creative person. What I like about his raw, scenic and often obscene musings is that they give insight into a person and an industry. In a sense, to follow his posts is to follow a story. Not everyone has the courage to tell a few successes, complain about useless meetings (in real time) and the people who organize them, and tell of his own screw-ups.

There are a couple other of these seasoned, old-guy blogs I like and keep returning to, including Dave Trott’s blog and Hey Whipple. It would be a crazy fun party if all these guys showed up. I would not invite my grandmother.

My only point is to express thanks for these vets who share their experiences so willingly and so poignantly. Nearly every day there is an actionable thought to come from their writing. And that is saying something.


Written by kirkistan

July 18, 2012 at 5:00 am

Please Write This Book: A Year in Chesed

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of course there is dancing

In A Year in Provence, British copywriter Peter Mayle, moved to France and wrote about this place of exceptional food, wine and beauty. Mayle provided his reader with nearly first-hand experiences of cooking, shopping and conversation. Along the way we saw hints of a different way of living.

I want to read a book that takes a similar journey, but rather than air travel to a glorious foreign country, I want the author to settle into a land devoid of anxiety and full of bonhomie toward men and women. I want the author to get there by following the thread of meaning from a very particular foreign word: “Chesed

Google chesed and you’ll find a central Jewish value that means (for starters) “lovingkindness,” but points to much, much more. This old Hebrew word appears 247 times in the Torah and 127 times alone in the Psalms. “Chesed” has shades of meaning in the Torah, variously translated to English as: loving-kindness, mercy, favor, pity.

I imagine living in chesed is something like life in a foreign country. My glimpses of this country come mostly through the Psalmists who use the word again and again as they respond to or acknowledge God’s care. It is a word that describes a way of life that is the polar opposite of my country’s “Black Friday,” and all that consumerist orgy represents.

As you write this book, please take long, generous expeditions into this land of living in gratefulness and thanksgiving. Explore how the inhabitants of this land depend on materials and attitudes already in their possession. Please show me what contentedness looks like. Show me how they brush off the slights and insults and lack of fame because they are grounded with a deeply-rooted faith-joy in the creator. I imagine this land as anti-Kim Kardashian: Sopping with contentment. Joy. Stability. Not glamorous. Not narcissistic. Not attention-seeking. So that means your book won’t get on the news every evening. But I’ll buy a copy.

Spend a full year there. Show me what happens when the crops are not bountiful and enemies encroach. Show me chesed when taxes are due and when plans go terribly wrong.

Please write this book soon because my land is teaming with insects whose bite results in a longing for more shiny stuff and much daily fame. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking through the postcards the psalmists sent.


Image Credit: Via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

December 7, 2011 at 9:15 am

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