Taming the Busy Trap

3461156831_79c3049815_zBy Allison Backhous Troy

I’m emerging from one of the busiest seasons of my life.

My wedding and a move from Michigan to Wyoming have filled my summer with enough checklists and tasks to keep me running around until one in the morning, until I finally put myself to bed, the set of tomorrow’s tasks stuttering in my ear while I try to sleep.

I’ve been asked numerous times how I’ve held up under the stress. How I deal with feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and stretched too thin.

And, to be honest, I’ve had to say, “Well, it doesn’t feel too bad, actually. I’m doing fine.”

I have felt fine. I’ve been sleeping regularly and haven’t resorted to a diet of coffee and junk food. Maybe my seeming lack of stress is due to the fact that I got to spread these tasks over my thirteen-month engagement.

Maybe I’ve been channeling some inner peace that makes this series of beginnings and ends more tolerable, serene, easy to handle.

Or, perhaps I’m not as stressed as people think I should be because, in the regular routine of my life, planning this life transition has felt like a vacation. Like a pause in the midst of a usually numbing busyness, one that turns every hour into a blank slate, waiting for tasks to fill it. [Read more...]

It’s Advent and I’m Done Waiting

This is not an Advent post. There are enough of those out there. Writing of waiting, of expectation, of a light entering the darkness, of hope. I have heard them all before. I am done waiting.

In class, we were talking about emotions. I teach English to refugees from East Africa. Per usual, they were quick to talk about what makes them feel joyous, but were silent when it came to the negative emotions.

What makes you feel sad? I asked, not thinking about the great chasms of human experience that separate me from the class. A man who comes every day and sits in the front, quiet and smart and well read, speaks up. His eyes are wide, and his voice is low.

[Read more...]

Slogans in Ruins: Land for Peace, Two State Solution


“Hope lost and fear won,” said Udi Segal, the diplomatic correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2 News. Referring to Secretary of State John Kerry’s nine-month negotiations whose collapse in April contributed to the escalation, Mr. Segal added, “I don’t think the people in Palestine or in Israel feel more confidence in those Western, American Kerry-like ambitions to solve our problem with those peace slogans.”

New York Times, 8/29/14

This week, again, the news fills me with despair. But on Shabbat I recover hope. Is this a two-state solution to the problem of being human: six days, despair; on the Sabbath, hope?

This summer I flew in turbulent weather. I gripped the armrest, squeezed my eyes shut, and visualized: land, land, let me stand, once more, on solid ground for peace.

At night, when I’d prefer to be sleeping, my perseverating mind goes to war with my worn body. I need a two-state solution: one that will allow me to sleep when I sleep, one that will allow me to work when I work.

I am not a gardener. I am not a weeder. I am not a pruner. I am not a fertilizer. I am not a tender of soil. I do not turn to land for peace.

My problems are real. My problems are white and American and Jewish and middle class and academic and male. My problems are nothing compared to the problems of others. Reading and watching and thinking about theirs, the problems of those who are walking targets, those who are working poor: could this be the one- state solution to my problems? [Read more...]

An Orchestra Against Ignorance

The alumni magazine of Brown University, my alma mater, begins its article on a unique orchestra like this:

“We are an orchestra against ignorance.” That’s how Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim describes the West-Eastern Divan, which consists of young musicians hailing from Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Picture a teenage violinist from Israel; his name is Ilya. Picture a teenage violinist from Lebanon; his name is Claude. They know nothing of one another’s lives. Or, actually, they think they do know about each other’s lives, because each has been raised on negative stereotypes about the other. [Read more...]

Making Rules for Life

For my forty-first birthday, I decided to write a personal rule of life.

Turning forty hadn’t magically made me wise in the way that translates into action, and I didn’t wish to spend the next decade wading in the same bog of issues and habits and disordered affections that kept me from feeling present to my thirties.

I gathered some resources, ranging from the Rule of St. Benedict to works by some of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers like Paula Huston and Henri Nouwen. There are also, of course, the always-relevant Ten Commandments and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. I found various examples of religious and nonreligious personal rules on the Internet, including Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” (desired things, or things desired), which is not technically a rule but functions beautifully and succinctly as one. [Read more...]