So Long, Status Quo by Susy Flory
Beacon Hill Press, February 2009
*Included in this post: My review, an excellent interview with the author, and the first chapter. Enjoy! *
Wow. Can I say it again? Wow. This. Book. Is. Amazing.
Have you ever felt like your life is on the verge of being stale? I have. It’s totally the norm nowadays to sit at home on the couch watching Lost (oh the GUILT!), talk ourselves out of helping others (won’t someone else do it?), and watch time fly by as we get into our own personal routines. We tend to limit ourselves, it’s true.
…this is the story of how, slowly, I began to get up off the couch of my boring, safe, sheltered, vanilla existence to something more real, sharper, in focus. Rosie led the way. Along came Eleanor, and Jane. Then Harriet, Elizabeth, and more. These women became mentors calling me to a different kind of life. Passionate for change, each woman sacrificed money, love, comfort, time, and ultimately self to make a difference to thousands, maybe millions of people. – pg 18
So Long, Status Quo chronicles Susy’s personal experiences challenging herself to shake things up in her life. Her inspirations were women in history who weren’t afraid to change the world and acted selflessly – Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt (my personal favorite), Rosie the Riveter, and Jane Austen are a few.
This book is so inspiring! I didn’t even realize how flat I had let my life become until Susy challenged me to evaluate it. The great thing about this book is that Susy shows us how we can change things and help others in small, underwhelming ways – and it’s not as painful as it sounds at first! I don’t know about you, but I’m intimidated when I think of trying to compare to Harriet Tubman or Mother Teresa. Really, what is there that I can do that could ever measure up? I don’t kid myself that I would be that brave in the situations Harriet Tubman found herself in. She was selfless – I am not. I realized after reading So Long, Status Quo that I don’t have to compare to these great ladies, but I can use them as models and be inspired by them. I can do what I can to help and find my own niche. See what God has in store for me. Even if it’s just helping at my local church and being there for my family, that’s something!
Susy is refreshingly honest.
I love my couch. It’s covered in a squishy, soft, velvety material the color of oatmeal laced with honey, and the cushions are fat. – pg 13
My secure couch cocoon was really a picture of what I had let my life become. Lethargic, sleepy, with a love for security and for comfort, I lived for self. I avoided suffering at all costs. I didn’t want to ever do anything uncomfortable. I think I was addicted to comfort. – pg 15
I don’t know about you, but that makes me think. Am I addicted to comfort? Um, yes.
I love the way Susy shares her heart. This book is SO easy (even *gasp* FUN) to read and apply to your life. Not only that, but I learned a great deal about the women who “mentored” her. After reading So Long, Status Quo, I decided I had to read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography. I’m wondering if I can find out what made her tick, what drove her to do the selfless things she did. In short, I’m feeling driven to find out what they had in their lives that I’m missing in mine.
A few of Susy’s very thought-provoking challenges:
♥ Make an inventory of your possessions (she shares her list and her eye-opening realizations). Harriet Tubman gave everything she had away.
♥ Try fasting from something important to you (television, sugar, etc). Mother Teresa practiced self-denial.
♥ Help out at a soup kitchen or take time to greet the homeless. Elizabeth Fry bravely faced the horrors of Newgate Prison and helped to change it over time.
Seriously, I have not words enough to convince you that you should buy this book. This review is just not adequate. So Long, Status Quo is dynamic, an inspiration, and a book I will be recommending to my friends, my family, and people on the street.
Note for Susy:
Thank you, Susy, for encouraging me to get up off my couch and “start a little adventure”. I haven’t done much yet, but I am so inspired! I know that you are going to bless a lot of people through this book. Thank you for courageously stepping forward (getting off that soft, comfy couch) and writing it!
Interview with Susy – April 22, 2009 (Reprinted with permission)
Q. You describe your middle class suburban life as safe, boring, and predictable—like staying curled up in a comfortable couch. That sounds pretty good! Why were you so dissatisfied with your life?
A. I loved my comfy couch, and my safe life, for a long time. But at some point it became like a trap, like a safe warm cocoon that I couldn’t break out of. Do you remember when you were a kid and you longed for summer vacation? During those long hot days of school just before break you dream about summer and can’t wait for school to be over so you can sleep in, play with friends, relax, and enjoy yourself. Then summer comes, and it’s wonderful, and you get to do those things you were dreaming about, but after a while it goes on too long. You get bored, and there isn’t much of a routine or purpose to your days, and all of a sudden you can’t wait for school to start again. Do you remember that feeling? That was my safe-on-the-couch life. I yearned for something more.
Q. So what became the “something more”?
A. First, I studied a group of amazing women who changed the world, like Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mary Magdalene. I immersed myself in their lives and tried to get to know them better. Who were they? What were their lives like? Why prompted them to step out and make a difference in the world? Then, for each woman, I created a little adventure in order to follow in her footsteps and live out one of her ideals or values. So for Rosie the Riveter, I went into a metal shop and learned how to weld. For Eleanor Roosevelt, I traveled to Cuba on a secret humanitarian mission to work with children. For Mother Teresa, I went on a fast. Now that one was hard!
Q. The book’s title, So Long Status Quo, sounds familiar. Where did it come from?
A. It’s from the chorus of a Nichole Nordeman song called “Brave,” about letting go of your fear and stepping out in faith. I love this line: “I think I’m letting go…” Faith is about letting go of your plan, and trying to live out God’s plan. And His is better!
Q. So Long Status Quo highlights nine amazing women who changed the world. Of those nine, who is your favorite?
A. My absolute favorite was Harriet Tubman. She had so many obstacles to overcome. She was born into slavery. She was illiterate. She suffered a brain injury when she was young that caused her to go into a coma. She had slave catchers after her. She had no money. She worked all alone. Yet, she accomplished unbelievable things. She never quit. Even after she had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad – she led 300 slaves to safety, to freedom, without losing one – after that she became an army scout, a spy, and an army nurse during the civil war. She was unpaid, just a volunteer. When she was an army nurse she was the first line of care and would care for the soldiers lying on the battlefield. They were just lying there, suffering and in pain. She took care of them with her own money, her own supplies, and no one to really help her. She was doing it on her own. And, at night, when she would go back to her room, she would bake 50 pies; she would make homemade gingerbread and homemade root beer from actual roots she got out in the woods.
Q. She would cook and bake at night after she’d been working all day?
A. Not only that, but the next day she’d hire ex-slaves to go out and sell the food and drink in the camps. Then she would use that money to buy supplies for the soldiers. So, I was just amazed by how resourceful she was and how she didn’t give up when she didn’t have the things that she needed to take care of these guys. Even when she was an old lady, she started a retirement home for former slaves. So I just like her. I like that she didn’t quit; I like her resourcefulness. I like that she didn’t make excuses and I like that she used her own hands to help in whatever way she could, even when she wasn’t paid, even when she wasn’t welcome. I think she’s probably just about the most amazing woman I’ve ever read about in my entire life.
Q. What are some of the lasting impacts of writing the book and venturing on your journeys or adventures to change the world? How is your daily life different?
A. I think I am measuring my actions, the things I do everyday, in light of eternity. There are some things I have to do to make ends meet, pay the bills, that don’t necessarily have eternal value. But, I am measuring my life, I’m measuring my actions, I ’m measuring the choices I make in light of eternity and with a goal of lasting value.
Q. In the book you talk about the particular project where you sold jewelry for fresh water. You took an inventory of the things you owned and were surprised by all that you have. Now, have you found the clutter level climbing back up? Are you more proactive about reducing your purchases or consumption of goods?
A. After I wrote that chapter I went through my closet. And it’s not that I’m a huge shopper, but when I did count my shirts and my underwear and my shoes, it really showed me that I had way more than I thought I had, and, definitely way more than I needed. So I did give away a bunch of stuff. I think we can accumulate things sometimes for emotional reasons, almost like overeating. So my closet is on a diet!
Q. Because your book is focused on women, do you think it could be considered feminist or sexist?
A. To me “sexist” is when you elevate one sex and denigrate or put down the other, and that is not what So Long Status Quo is about. Amazing men have been written about extensively all through history, but women have not, and this book whetted my appetite for women’s history. I’m really trying to focus on a subject – women’s history – that has not been given the time and energy and passion and interest I think that it deserves.
I think a good example from So Long Status Quo is Perpetua, a Roman martyr, an educated and amazing woman who wrote her own story, who showed true heroism facing death in an arena – and no one knows about her!
Q. If you had to choose some powerful women currently impacting our world in a positive way, who might they be?
A. Catherine Rohr was a very successful stockbroker in NYC. Something happened; she felt a call on her life. She sold everything she had, and along with her husband, rented a U-Haul truck and moved to Texas. She started a business-training program in the Texas prisons called The Prison Entrepreneurship Program, and it’s been going for about ten years. She went behind bars and taught business classes to these guys who were the lowest of the low in society. She’s had tremendous success and has given these guys a chance for a new life.
Another one is Wendy Kopp. She came right out of college, an Ivy League school, and founded a non-profit called “Teach for America”. She recruits the best and the brightest students across the country to go into inner city schools and teach for a year or two, before they start their careers. A lot of them end of staying in those inner city schools because they love the kids, they love the challenge and find it very rewarding. Wendy is brilliant; she could’ve made a million dollars, but instead she started a non-profit and built it from the ground up. Wendy Kopp is a woman changing the world.
Q. What would you say to someone who is reluctant to climb out of their comfortable couch to try to make a difference in the world? Sometimes people feel like they already serve at their church, or give donations. Isn’t that enough?
A. That’s exactly where I was, before I started this journey. I don’t want to be judgmental, at all, but since I was part of that mindset, I think it’s quite widespread in the American church. We have this inner feeling that if we can give money, then that should be enough. But, there’s something very special, something you cannot reproduce by watching about in movies or reading about in book, about going and interacting with people, and serving them however you can. It’s life changing. It just doesn’t happen when you write a check or put something in the offering plate. It’s happens when you go get your hands dirty and you love people – and they love you back.
Q. So you experience their humanity, or their struggle?
A. Absolutely. You go to serve others, and to bless them, and, of course, you’re the one who is blessed a thousand times more than you ever gave. It’s from the connection with others and the joy that comes from the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. There’s just no substitute for it.
Q. To really be there…
A. Yeah, and that’s what I see with Jesus’ life. He was in the market place, he was down at the well, in the fields with people … He was down in the dust and grime of everyday life talking to people, helping people, healing people. And I think Jesus is our example. We should do the same.
Q. In your book, each chapter ends with suggestions for readers to try a little adventure on their own. Where should a beginning volunteer start?
A. I think a lot of times when you’re doing volunteer work or you’re trying to make a difference you look at what other people have done. But, I think that’s the wrong place to start. I think that you have to start in your own community, with the needs that are in front of you. Use whatever resources or gifts or talents you personally have. So if you love to knit, knit for others. If you love to create scrapbooks, if you love to cook, if you love to spend time with people, if you love to take care of children, serve others. Start with yourself and what you like to do, and then find someone who needs what you like to do.
Q. Would So Long Status Quo work for book clubs or women’s groups?
We just created a Reader’s Guide for small groups or book clubs—any kind of group that wants to work through the book together. It’s free and you can download it at www.susyflory.com. I’ve also started a blog that highlights women changing the world, both past and present.
Q. How can we become women who change the world?
A. By starting in our own backyards. And if God wants it to turn into something larger, that’s up to Him. I think if we do what we can, with the tools God has given us and the resources that we have, then who knows what can happen? Mother Teresa put it this way: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Don’t be the missing drop.
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Addicted to comfort
“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place in a corner by the fireside
and simply look on. Life was meant to be lived. Curiosity must be kept alive …
One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt, on her 77th birthday
I love my couch. It’s covered in a squishy soft velvety material the color of oatmeal laced with honey and the cushions are fat. Three big loose pillows rest against the back, the material woven into an exotic, vaguely Eastern pattern of impressionistic flowers and trees in tawny gold and lapis blue. My favorite spot in the entire house is the far end of this couch, with two smaller pillows behind my back and my legs stretched out long ways. I do this every day.
For a while we had an uptight couch. Bright Colonial red with little blue and yellow flowers, it reminded me of the calico dresses Melissa Gilbert used to wear on Little House on the Prairie. The fabric was quilted in the shape of puzzle pieces and the back rose straight up, pierced by a row of buttons. A boxy pleated strip of fabric ran along the bottom. It was really uncomfortable and almost impossible to take a nap in. That couch didn’t want you sitting there very long; it was a little Puritanical, wanting you up and around, taking care of business. We sold it at a garage sale for $20. Good riddance.
But the comfy oatmeal couch—it loves you. It calls you to sink down into comfort, and to stay awhile. A long while.
From the couch I can see the kitchen where my kids are grating cheese for quesadillas or searching the fridge for leftover pizza. I can look out the back window, at the drooping branches of the monstrous eucalyptus tree overhanging the back yard. Or, I can stare at the ceiling fan, slowly circling overhead. But, really, I hardly ever look at anything but words. Books, newspapers, catalogs, magazines, letters from friends—those are the things I look at when I’m stretched out on the couch.
Sundays are my absolutely favorite. After church, we eat lunch at the taqueria, then head home. The newspapers await; I don’t want to waste time changing my clothes so I head straight for the couch. News comes first, then business, travel, entertainment, and the Sunday magazine. Last are the sale papers: Target, Best Buy, Macy’s.
By this time I’m sleepy, melting a bit around the edges. My head grows heavy and I turn, curl up, and snuggle into the cushions. I fall asleep, papers crinkly around me.
A while ago my teenage son, just to aggravate me, staked a claim on the oatmeal couch. He’d race home after church in his little pick-up truck and head in the door, kicking off his shoes and diving into my favorite comfy spot in one gangly flop. He made it his goal to be asleep, limbs a sprawl, before I even made it inside the house. A few times I tried to extricate him but it was useless, like trying to wrestle a wire hanger out of a tangled pile.
I decided to wait him out and so after he slept on the couch a few Sundays, he gave it up. He had better things to do, usually involving his computer.
Things returned to normal, the oatmeal couch remembered the shape of my behind, and I took to snuggling into the tawny-lapis pillows once again.
It was safe, my velvety couch cave.
Just like my life.
In one of my favorite books, A Girl Named Zippy, Haven Kimmel writes about her mother, always on the couch with a cardboard box of books by her side. There she was, forever reading a book and waving at her children as they went back and forth, in and out of the house, busily doing whatever kids in a small Indiana town did. She stayed there, curled up on the couch, peacefully reading her books as her husband ran around who-knows-where, maybe coon hunting, gambling away his paycheck, or sleeping with the divorced woman across town. She was comfortable there. Zippy unexpectedly became a bestseller and Kimmel traveled around giving talks and signing books. The one question everyone asked her was, “Did your mother ever get up off the couch?”
I don’t live in Indiana; I live in a suburb of San Francisco. My kids don’t run in and out of the house; they pretty much stay put. My husband is a hard working, non-gambling, faithful guy who pays the bills. And my life is pretty good. But I have lived most of it lodged safely in the corner of my couch.
My secure couch cocoon was really a picture of what I had let my life become. Lethargic, sleepy, with a love for security and for comfort, I lived for self. I avoided suffering at all costs. I didn’t want to ever do anything uncomfortable. I think I was addicted to comfort.
My journey out of my couch-life started years ago when I was a college student on vacation, idly looking around a gift shop. Flicking through a box full of enameled metal signs, I came across one that read “We Can Do It!” Underneath was a portrait of a woman, looking sort of like Lucille Ball in her cleaning garb, hair up in a red bandanna. Glossy lips, a little pouty, with arched eyebrows and thick eyelashes. She wore a blue collared shirt, sleeve rolled up over a flexed bicep, toned and powerful. Her eyes were wide open, focused, determined. Who was she? I hadn’t a clue, but I bought the sign and installed it in a place of honor by my desk.
Later, when I was married, the mother of two small children and too busy changing diapers to sit much on the couch yet, I learned she was called Rosie the Riveter. She, and six million other women who toiled in factories while their men were off fighting in World War II, changed the world. Even now, as I look at the old enamel sign next to my desk, I’m haunted by the determination in the line of her jaw and the resolve in the curl of her fist. I wanted to be like her.
But the couch called. I forgot the sign; it migrated to the back of my bookcase and I took a part time job teaching English at a private high school. My kids were in school, my husband was fighting up the corporate ladder, and with the days sometimes a blur of homework, basketball practice, and ballet class, I hoarded my couch time.
Funny, though. It wasn’t satisfying. I just couldn’t ever seem to get enough.
And then, one day, stretched out reading the Sunday paper, I saw Rosie again. It was a full-page department store ad. Across the top ran a banner: “Help end hunger.” Something had changed. Rosie looked a little more glamorous than I remembered. The “can” in the “We CAN Do It!” was underlined and capitalized to emphasize the can of food in her fist. I unfolded the page and examined it; it was an advertisement for National Hunger Awareness day. If you made a $5 donation to the department store, they would in return give you a 15% coupon for regular, sale and clearance-priced merchandise. It’s our thanks to you for helping to relieve hunger in our communities.
I pondered the page; something didn’t quite make sense. Somehow, by partnering with Rosie to spend money at the department store, you would help to relieve hunger. Rosie and her factory worker sisters had changed the world by serving for low pay and little recognition on factory lines during a war. They had sacrificed personal comfort and convenience for a cause greater than themselves, a cause they believed in and sweated and grew calluses for. Now the department store was asking me to be like Rosie, tie up my hair, bare my biceps and leave my couch, so I could … shop? You’ve got to be kidding.
But my irritation that day over the hijacking of the Rosie the Riveter image piqued my curiosity. Who was Rosie? Was she a real person? Was she still alive? What would she think about the ways her image, once meant to encourage and inspire the Nazi-fighting women of World War II, had been used for merchandising? I was intrigued by her determination and I decided to roll up my sleeves and get to the bottom of her story. So I did. And after Rosie I found eight other women, amazing women, who changed the world. I found women who, with grit and guts, made their lives add up to something much more than just a satisfying Sunday nap. And somehow, in the finding, the oatmeal couch lost its allure.
I wanted to feel alive, to experience something more deep and dangerous than my middle class life. I wanted more than a Ford Expedition SUV with leather seats or a 401K groaning with employer contributions. I craved something beyond Ralph Lauren Suede paint or a giant glossy red Kitchen Aid mixer. I was ready to wake up from a very long nap and do something meaningful.
So this is the story of how, slowly, I began to get up off the couch of my boring, safe, sheltered, vanilla existence to something more real, sharper, in focus. Rosie led the way. Along came Eleanor, and Jane. Then Harriet, Elizabeth, and more. These women became mentors calling me to a different kind of life. Passionate for change, each woman sacrificed money, love, comfort, time, and, ultimately, self, to make a difference to thousands, maybe millions of people.
Living like the women who changed the world is not easy, but it’s good. It feels right. It is satisfying.
This is how I got up off the couch and tried, with much fear and trembling, to make a difference in my world. And I’ll never go back.
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Thank you sooo much for sharing this post! :-)