Rest, In Good Conscience

Rest, In Good Conscience

Thirteen years ago I quit my “day job” as vice president of marketing for a local hospital in order to launch my coaching practice full-time. During the first week I had a conversation with God. (Before you call me crazy, know the conversation was, or at the time seemed to me to be, one-sided.) I promised God that I would work as hard as I had to for six days a week in order to make my fledgling business successful. On the seventh day, though, I promised to”honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

I was reminded of my promise to keep that Commandment after reading an opinion piece by the renowned professor of neurology and author Oliver Sacks in the New York Times’ Sunday Review. The article, entitled “Sabbath: The seventh day of the week, the seventh day of life,” highlights Dr. Sacks’ own tradition in his Orthodox Jewish family of origin. During his childhood the Sabbath, or Shabbos, was a day during which no work was allowed, not even the use of the telephone, although his parents’ roles as physicians gave them special dispensation so they might be available to their patients. The day began around midday on Friday and the family gathered in the evening just before nightfall to light candles and say prayers. Saturday meant services at the synagogue, men seated downstairs and the women upstairs. The rest of the day was spent with his extended family.

In my faith tradition, the Sabbath is on Sunday. I can remember a time when most stores were closed on Sundays and commercial activity came to a screeching halt. “Blue laws” prohibited the sales of liquor on a Sunday. In our family, like Dr. Sacks’, we were expected to put work and play aside, attend services and spend family time together. We understood that this time was apart from the rest of the week and although we kids sometimes grumbled, there was something special about knowing that day was just for us.

Tiffany Schlain agrees. Ariel Schwartz, senior editor at Fast Company magazine, wrote about Ms. Schlain’s commitment to setting aside one day a week during which her young family unplugs from all digital devices. The article, entitled “Instead of a Digital Detox, Why Not Take a Weekly Tech Shabbat?” includes this link to a short film called “Technology Shabbat” from a series Ms. Schlain created called “The Future Starts Here.” Ms. Schlain, a self-described mother, film-maker and founder of the Webbie Awards, admits to being only “culturally Jewish,” not necessarily religious, but says she loves the rituals of the Jewish faith. So she and her family for the past three years have honored the Sabbath by refraining from using any technical devices from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. The result? Time to be a family, garden, rest, read and enjoy each other’s company. An added benefit, she says, is that when Shabbat ends, everyone comes back to their labors and their laptops, refreshed and renewed. “The Technology Shabbat has changed my life,” she said.

Dr. Sacks completed his memoir, “On the Move,” in December 2014, only to learn that he has metastatic cancer. Now weak and coming to the last days of his life, he wrote in his opinion piece in the New York Times that his thoughts focus “increasingly not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life,” he writes, “achieving a sense of peace within oneself.” He says his thoughts drift to the Sabbath, the day of rest, “the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well,” he writes, “when one can feel that one’s work is done and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

A day of rest. Unplugged, detached from technology, from the perpetual concerns about survival and commercial gain, focused on the things and people that renew the spirit. That’s what the Sabbath means to me. I organize my time, and my life, to make sure I leave that one day to honor the Creator. I carve out time to worship with people who share my faith, observe the rituals and devotions that sustain me. I take the day off because I figure, if God can create the world in six days and then take a day off, so can I.

MacArthur “Genius Grants” Favor the Mobile

MacArthur “Genius Grants” Favor the Mobile

Well, it’s official. The MacArthur Foundation announced the 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows who received the so-called “Genius Grants” and I was not among them.

Drat.

The cast of Fellows this year range from a social psychologist who studied racial bias and how it affects criminals’ sentencing to a poet, a playwright and a saxophonist. Also present among the winners are people dealing in cryptology, nanomaterials and black carbon emissions. A civil rights attorney, a labor organizer and a documentary filmmaker are among the winners, too. What, I ask myself somewhat querulously, do these 21 people have that I do not (besides, of course, the $625,000 no-strings-attached stipend they’ll be receiving over the course of the next five years)?

To answer this question, I turned to “Five myths about the MacArthur ‘genius grants‘”written by Cecilia Conrad and posted on the Washington Post‘s website on Sept. 20. I wanted to find out more about the people, the process and how I might ingratiate myself into someone’s favor enough to be nominated. Here’s what I learned:

  • You don’t really have to be a “genius” to win. Turns out that nickname was coined by the media in 1981 when the MacArthur Foundation announced its first class of fellows and like all good nicknames, it stuck. Rather than genius, “We are looking for individuals who are engaged in the process of making or finding something new, or in connecting the seemingly unconnected in significant ways,” writes Ms. Conrad. “We are looking for people on the precipice of a great discovery or achievement.”
  • The process for selecting the Fellows isn’t really a secret. I had heard that you can’t curry a nomination, that it’s a secret process and the winners just get tapped on the shoulder and told “You’ve won!” The people who do the nominating are chosen by the MacArthur Foundation and invited to put forward names of the most creative people they know. Those names and information about their accomplishments are then evaluated by an independent selection committee. The nominators, evaluators and selectors are kept anonymous, though. Even after a Fellow has won the grant, he or she will not know who nominated them.
  • The winners are not just artists and academics. According to the article, between 2001 and 2012 36% of the Fellows came from the fields of arts and humanities, 36% from science or social science and 26 % worked on issues related to social problems like healthcare, homelessness and food security. If there’s a common theme among the diversity of these professionals it would have to be the ability to see, think and act creatively.

Color Outside the Lines Tyler Lewke officeOne other thing I learned from another article written by the same author on the MacArthur Fellows website is that MacArthur Fellows are more mobile than the general population. “This pattern of mobility of MacArthur Fellows resembles that of exceptionally creative and innovative people throughout history,” Ms. Conrad writes. Fellows tend to be drawn to cultural centers, live outside the states in which they were born and some even have more than one residence. Nearly a quarter of them were born outside the United States. The conclusion seems to be that these creative folk are drawn to centers of diversity and seek that diversity to nurture their creativity.

That last point–that the Fellows are more mobile than most–gives me hope. As someone who has lived in places all over the country and who is drawn to cultural centers like Chicago, New York, Paris and Rome, I’m well-suited for this grant. I’m bursting with projects and ideas that need only the injection of some cash ($625,000 to be precise) to flourish. Oh please, MacArthur Foundation, won’t you pick me next year?

[Photo credits: Masthead–“Man Dealing the Four Elements” by Robert Heinecken, 1998, from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; Inset–from the offices of Keller Williams Success Realty, Barrington, IL]