Apr 30, 2006

Inspire Me!

While a certain Christian conference was going on (which I recently blogged about), Larry and I met my friend Todd to see The Peaceful Warrior at the new agey Inspiration Film Festival. I was struck by the similarities between the two events. The Inspiration Fest speaker talked about making movies that matter, and the power of the human spirit. In the film Q&A, the producer said the Universe wanted this film to get made. Replace "the Universe" with "the Lord," and, Bob's Your Uncle, Christian film fest.

Beforehand Larry and I were having a conversation with a journalist next to us; when a bunch of rowdy men in shaved heads, Buddha beads, and dashiki-Nehru-granola shirts sat in the VIP row behind us. They were squirrelly and loud, and I couldn't hear the journalist talking.

I turned around. Hey guys! You are outta control excited! What's up?
We're here friend of the "The Peaceful Warrior" producer! they gushed.
Well you sure look like warriors! Not very peaceful though.
They laughed. I mentioned I did yoga and they lit up. Yoga! That's what it's all about man. Oneness!
I liked them. Even if they were rowdy.
I turned back around.
Larry smiled at me. You did great.
Why? Did I "engage the culture?" I was "salt and light?"
No, you just got them to quiet down.

The film was The Karate Kid meets Ghandi. Obsessed gymnast meets mysterious mentor (Nick Nolte) who teaches him a new way of living, how to let go of the results, let your dreams die so they can be reborn. "Be here now" and all that.

Larry hated it. It was so preachy and obvious. They even ripped off GOLLUM! he cried. And he was right. The music swelled in Olympic grandeur so many times, that when he finally got to the Olympic trials, I had no more grandeur to feel.

But I still liked it. A lot. It was inspiring! We ALL need to follow our bliss, die to the results, and learn how to 'be here now.' Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 6: Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Seek first God's kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well. Don't worry about tomorrow tomorrow will worry about itself.

I even cried. But that was because something deeper was going on for me. Something that the film helped to touch in my deepest heart. The real inspiration was about to happen on the way home, when I talked to Larr about it.

More later...

Jesus Jargon, Yoga Jargon

I’ve made a stink about how Christians can talk and write so … Christiany: mission statements filled with buzz words and clichés, engaging the culture, unpack … Jesus Jargon. If you remove the Jesus Jargon, you’re left with writing that doesn’t really mean anything.

It’s also artists. We're plagued with this magnificent obsession to create, use art make sense of the world, to make a difference to others. Everyone wants to matter, but artists want to matter more.

So take the artist's obsession, add the religious burden, and you’ve got a recipe for either (A): profound and redeeming art; or (B) grandiose, narcissistic, megalomaniac, mediocre art. Jesus Junk, Jesus Jargon.

So why do Christians have to get so churchy about everything? I ask, self-satisfied and evolved. Well, it's not just artists, and it's not just Christians. Every group religious or not, has its own agenda -- I mean, vision. And they have their own jargon.

Take the yoga studio where I "practice." The people are nice, it’s pay by donation, and most people are there because they’re on a spiritual search.

However, Yoga people have their own Jargon. Spiritual practice, spiritual path, journey, evolve, set your intention, bliss, equanimity. I love equanimity, especially when my teacher trips over it. Yoga, he purrs, is about achieving equaninnim ... equanit... balance. Yoga is about balance.

A Buddha head rests on the side counter. I don’t park my mat near him. At the end of class, we say "Namaste" to the teacher. Namaste (nah-mah-STAY) means the god in me salutes the god in you. At the end of class, I look at the Buddha and say, Namaste: The God in me CRUSHES the god in you. No, not really. When they say Namaste, I say God bless you. if they say Ohhhhhhhm," I say "OhAAAhhhhhhhmen.

I stay away from the classes that get too Hindu. There’s this one really young yoga chick teacher who irks me -- not because she goes all Big Sur on me. It's because she gets smug. She sashays around, dispensing her 31-year old wisdom ... her voice all velvety smooth and blissed out -- from the triple nonfat latte with six Splendas I watched her drink at the Starbucks across the street. First time I went to her class she purred: Unlike Western religions, Yoga is rooted in the pagan tradition, which sees ALL life as sacred. WHAAAT? Hindus are very religious. They’ve got like 300,000 gods. And Christianity believes creation is sacred; matter actually matters. (Not that you'd know, the way the current "evangelical" administration is raping the environment.

I never returned to Yoga Chick's class. My other yoga teacher, however, is loving, humble, and open. She knows I'm a Christian. She wants there to be room for everyone. I like that. So, I stick with the yogis whose jargon I can handle. After all, I’m spiritually evolved enough to affirm them in their spiritual search, maintain healthy boundaries, and guarding my heart from psychos.


Apr 27, 2006

Sedaris, Interruptus

My wonderful writing teacher Terrie Silverman came into three tickets to see essayist David Sedaris at UCLA's Royce Hall Wednesday night. Terrie teaches Wednesday nights, and a celebrity is in her Wednesday class. Celeb chose to go to Terrie's class instead ... which says a lot about Terrie’s class. And the Celeb’s commitment. Anyway, Terrie gave them to my friends Catheryn, Ann, and me. We’re all Sedaris fans and aspiring essayists/solo show writers. Our seats were not just good, they were Celebrity good. Front row center. Literally. Front row center seats to hear an essayist. David Sedaris. We could have been literary groupies. But we were phantom celebs.

First of all, a 12-year old skateboarder kid walked out, stood on an apple box behind the lectern, and said, "Hey everyone. Um, so I'm Jesse Portnick. And --- Oh hey, Grandma! She's in the audience freaking out. Anyway, please welcome David Sedairs.

David was terrific. He read three or four new pieces, including two essays recently published in The New Yorker. One was about buying his boyfriend a human skeleton as a gift; another about a conversation between a crow and a sheep; another about a scary babysitter. He also tried out a commencement address he’s working on for a certain Ivy League school. Afterward he answered questions, one of them mine. Pays to be front row center.

He was funny and sad and deep and delightful. I wish I could say I enjoyed every moment, but I was distracted. Partly by the fact I'm madly in love and it's hard to keep my mind off of my Sexy, Jesus-Loving Boyfriend. And partly because, in the second row to our right, sat a woman who wouldn’t stop laughing. It was a loud, flat, cackling, rat-a-tat tatt, like a big Pink Girlie Tommy gun. Sure, you laugh when something's funny. But she laughed all the time. At the ends of sentences, in the middle of them, for no reason. She laughed at words like "through " or "and" or "the."

It was clear she was laughing to get attention. The whole of her was trying to get attention. She was overweight, wore Lisa Loeb glasses and that almost-current hairstyle that’s bleach blonde on the top, and dark brown underneath. Like a root beer float, or Uncle Fester’s wife. She wore a Medium trench coat over her Extra-Large body, pulled so tight she looked like an overripe peach ready to split. I figured with that laugh, she was pushing her luck.

Everyone around her started looking at each other: Who’s gonna say something? There was a tall man directly behind me. I know he was tall because his knees were crammed against the back of my chair, like a basketball player flying in coach. I wanted to ask him to kill the Tommy Gun laugher. But Catheryn whispered that he was the producer on HBO’s Project Greenlight. And the thing with celebrities is, you’re supposed to ignore them. You pretend you don’t know them, or that you do know them but don’t care.

Then it occurred to me that maybe Project Greenlight was there because he was trying to talk to ME -- he'd expected Celebrity to be sitting in my seat; he'd spent a year tracking her down, but instead I'm sitting in her seat. Now he's wondering, who I am so he can pretend not to care who I am. Then I drifted to thoughts about the Man in My Life: his wit, intelligence, talent, spiritual maturity and vision, I respect him so much I just want to rip off all his clothes. But I can't: I"m a good Lutheran Girl. And --BRAT-A-TAT TATTTT! I can’t even daydream without that laugh interrupting me.

About 30 minutes into the show – right the middle of an essay -- Fat Pink Machine Gun writhed out of her seat and climbed over a dozen people to get to the aisle. She was only a couple seats away from the right aisle, but she chose to writhe over 12 people on her left, including Project Greenlight Man.

Once she left, we breathed a sigh of relief and went about enjoying David Sedaris. He was now reading an essay that had been published in a recent New Yorker. Good. I could read what I missed live because of the Pink Machine Gun and my day dreaming.

Sedaris is so good with the dry delivery and word choice. He described this scary babysitter as having skin the color of Vaseline. If you haven’t read him, I recommend Naked, or “The Santaland Diaries.” David Sedaris is the first guy I ever heard reading his own essays on the radio. It made me want to do it myself.

Unfortunately, Fat Pink Machine Gun came back about 20 minutes later. Catheryn said she came back smelling like smoke. If you paid $50 to see an hour-long show, would you spend 25 minutes smoking?

Anyway, if you want to hear David Sedaris and haven’t, here’s one of my favorites of his: Go to This American Life

Get Episode 104: “Music Lessons."

It includes Sedaris and Ann Lamott. Here’s an excerpt from Ann’s essay:

My friends like to tell each other that I’m really not a born-again Christian. They think of me more along the lines of that Jonathan miller routine when he said: “I’m not really a Jew. I’m Jew-ish.” My friends think I’m Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born again Christian. And certainly like the apostle Peter I’m capable of denying it ... of presenting myself as a sort-of leftist liberation theology enthusiast, and maybe sort-of vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are screwed unto the very Lord. So I told the truth: I’m a believer, a convert. And I’m probably about three months away of slapping an aluminum Jesus fish on the back of my car. But first I want to see if the stickem interferes with my lease agreement. I just love the guy. I just love Jesus, it’s that simple.”

Thank you David for an almost perfect evening. And thank you, Terrie, and Generous Celebrity.

Apr 26, 2006

I Can't Believe They Just Said That

I admit, I'm a cynic. I derive some kind of schadenfreude by observing others' failures. And lately, nothing makes me more freude at others schaden than by watching evangelical Christians make a mess of language.

My beloved writer-boyfriend Larry Wilson sent me a link to an upcoming Christian media conference, and the following caught both of our attention:

We’ve assembled a stellar team of luminaries in film, TV, radio and journalism to ask the hard questions and push for more than easy answers. We want to tap their collective, Christian wisdom, to figure out how to leverage, with humility and grace, our new standing in Hollywood.

First Of All: Why is the collective unconscious always tapped? You don’t really hear about nudging the collective unconscious, or even waking it up. Or else it would no longer be unconscious, now would it? But to tap the collective Christian wisdom? Do they mean "tap" as in "nudge," or as in "beer-on-tap?" In which case, they’ve mixed metaphors. But who am I to criticize? I’m barking up the wrong door.

Second: Is it grammatically correct to leverage your standing? You don’t leverage your own standing -- you use your standing to leverage something else. Further, can you really leverage ANYTHING with humility and grace?

And as long as they’re using “humility and grace” as a compound phrase, I’d feel better if they added “engaging the culture” and "relevant" in there somewhere. And "pagan." Then the clichés and insults would be complete.

Third:Our friend Anna enjoyed the conference's boast of a "stellar team of luminaries." Why not a stellar team of black holes or dark matter? Anyway Anna recalled her years as a proofreader/editor for a Christian non-profit: I found the best typo ever, and I almost let it go:"___'s mandate is to clothe and feel the naked.

Hey, Cut Them A Break I don't want to be a total Captain Bringdown. This media conference is trying to do something worthwhile. They get an A Plus for intention. They just need to fire their PR writer.

Moving On Larry and I were snickering about a possible coffee table book, along the lines of “A Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat” which was recently published. (I know what you're thinking: how did those two sick, dark minds ever find each other? Praise the Lord.)

Let's say we call it: I Can’t Believe They Just Said That:Malaprops and Other Embarrassing Moments In Christendom. (I'd stick to literary genocide since the Spanish Inquisition has already been covered.)

The book could have chapters on:

  • Mixed Metaphors and Malarpops
  • Bad Grammar and Syntax
  • Please, Don't Overuse the Formatting Keys!!!!
  • Us Vs. Them: referring to non-Christians in negative terms such as pagan, anti-Christian, Jesus-haters, the Non-Elect, Those Chosen For Destruction

Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, does a yearly cartoon called “Forbidden Words," enumerating the overworn catch phrases that have got to go. His 2005 list included:

  • SWEET!
    and of course, it’s time to fire:

I think it would be funny to do such a coffee table book, and include a chapter on “Forbidden Words” for evangelicals. “Engaging the culture” would be at the top of my list. What does that mean, to engage the culture? Is the culture idling in neutral? Sorry, the culture has already von von von down the autobahn. It's the evangelicals who've had their foot on the clutch.

As my intellectually cogent writer-friend Mark Kellner wrote: "Tempted as I am to think outside the box and unpack the sublimity that is your writing, while pushing the envelope ... I think I'll stick to a quick "hi" ...

Thanks, Mark. I totally forgot about "unpack." Next time I hear a pastor say he's going to unpack something in a sermon, I am going to throw my Samsonite at the lectern.

Anyway, while engaging the culture and unpack are at the top of the forbidden words, “leverage with humility and compassion” could get the trophy for Beyond The Literary Pale.

More later ...

Apr 22, 2006

Desires, and saying Yes

"If in your heart you’ve wanted it, then God put that desire there, and He intends to fulfill it."

I’ve heard people tell me that over the years, when I was suffering through some career disappointment, or more likely, some romantic Hiroshima.

"If you’ve prayed that God would take the desire away if it’s not from Him, and you still have that desire, God probably is going to fufill it."

All my adult life I wanted to be an actor; to write and do comedy. Just make a living at it. And I have. In the past. But the fact is, the market has changed, I’ve gotten older, and well, shit happens. Were my desires wrong? Or did God fail to come through? I don’t know the answer.

I recently got cast in a national network commercial for Expedia.com. Finally! I thought. It had been way too long since my last national network spot. Finally. Thank you Lord.

Four hours later my agent called. "Susan, this has happened to me twice in my 15 years as an agent .... " I had been removed. Un-cast. Fired before I'd worked.
It wasn't the Lord's will.
So the Lord's will was to mess with my emotions? What was the real answer?
Sometimes, Sometimes the right answer, is "that sucks.

Well, some good did come out of this career death. I decided. Okay, if I'm not going to make a living at this: do I really want to do with my acting and writing talent? So I started to write essays and work on a solo show. And I’ve loved it. I’ve gotten some writing gigs out of it. I feel more joy and satisfaction about my talents than I ever did. But you know, God would it have been so wrong just to let the Excpedia commercial stay in?

Or it came to the guy and marriage. I figured, there isn’t really anyone right for me. So if I’m going to live the rest of my life as a single person, what do I need to do to make that life a good one? Who’s my tribe, my family? Where can I give back and not get stuck being a selfish old woman with cats? What’s going to bring me joy and happiness?

SO I started a writers’ group, I did more reading, I got involved in a church, I volunteered. And you know, my life is really rich. I have a lot going on and it’s wonderful.

And lo and behold, He shows up. No, not some guy. THE guy. The guy who's beyond perfect for me. Our lives fit in a way I could never have imagined.

However, God DID NOT actually grant me the desire of my heart. Beucase my heart hade stopped desiring. God did not give what I wanted. He gave me more than I ever dared want. And that’s where I’m blown away. I feel sad that I didn't meet him sooner. But if I had, maybe I wouldn't have been able to recognize him.

Whether or not all this heartache was meant to be, it is. It was.

My wonderful man sent me this yesterday. Author Dave Eggers, quoted from the Harvard Advocate: What matters is that you do good work. What matters is that you produce things that are true and will stand. … What matters is not the perception, nor the fashion, not who's up and who's down, but what someone has done and if they meant it. What matters is that you want to see and make and do, on as grand a scale as you want, regardless of what the tiny voices of tiny people say. Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a f__load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.

My cynical heart is learning to say yes.
Go out and say yes to the life in front of you. When it sucks, say Yes, this part sucks. And when it's glorious say yes to that as well.