Dec 21, 2007

"Rooneys Have A Baby, Yes Lord!

Our friends Ted and Lori Rooney are adopting an adorable boy from Ethiopia. After many months of waiting and many miles of paperwork, they finally got their "referral call." We have your son! There's still another hurdle. The court in Ethiopia has to approve of the adoption, and then he is theirs. Please send them thoughts and prayers so they can bring him home soon!

Dec 5, 2007

I'm not Striking, I'm Writing

I'm not on strike from my blog. I've just been writing. My book manuscript is due January 15 and I. must. finish. So if you check in and I haven't been posting, it's because I'm In The Zone. (Or totally having a disco freak OUT).

Once I finish the manuscript I'll be out on the picket line, supporting the WGA. Before I dip under the radar, here's a cartoon my cousin Eric sent me.

Dec 4, 2007

Justice for Miss Barstow

"They told me that if I didn't give up my crown to Miss Barstow, my personal integrity could be questioned."

California's annual state beauty pageant crowned the wrong woman. Per a CNN article, five celebrity judges miscounted the votes, giving the lowest point to the true winner (Miss Barstow) and the highest point to the fourth runner-up (Miss Sounds-Better-In-A- Headline).

See, this is what happens when there is a writer's strike. Unemployed celebrities, desperate for media attention, agree to be beauty pageant judges, forgetting they have to DO things, like add and subtract. With math skills like that, they could get jobs as movie studio accountants, who cooked the books to show that "Forrest Gump" was a financial loss, so the writers weren't due any royalties.

For those who don't know California geography, Barstow is a eyesore desert town, half way between Las Vegas and Hell. (wait, Las Vegas is Hell) ... Anyway, you never heard the Beach Boys sing about the girls from Barstow, did you?

Well Barstow has the hermits with the rusted cars on their lawn
And the girls so bored, they turn to crystal meth,
And pop out kids like demon spawn ...

The chicks work at the outlet mall, it's the only job in town
Or the ARCO station, selling gas and twinkies for the desperate, Vegas-bound.
I wish they all could be Barstowfornia girls ...

Well you go, Miss Barstow. Go prove that Barstow has something to export besides despair...

Nov 11, 2007

Why The WGA Is On Strike

You may or may not know that the Writers Guild of America is on strike. You may or may not care. But for those of us who are trying to make a living in the entertainment business, it does matter.

The issue is over residuals. Networks don't want to pay writers a piddly 2 1/2 percent residuals for shows broadcast over internet. And everything is going to the internet. And if writers don't get them, you think we actors will? My brother-in-law was an accountant for MCA Universal. He saw where the money went. It's one reason he left entertainment biz. Studio chiefs and networks make gazillions of dollars. And they charge their lavish lifestyles to a production. Because they can.

The Youtube video below will explain it all. or read this blog posting from Ed Bernero, producer of Criminal Minds .

Nov 6, 2007

Take me back to 1977

Larry got this email with a bunch of pics from the JC Penny Catalog, 1977. It looked like it had been circulating around, so I did some sleuthing and found the original. It's a blog posting on 15minutelunch. Here are some previews. Seriously did anyone ever wear this?
Or take a dump while sitting on this? I don't want to steal the blogger's thunder. Go check out the original post.

Nov 4, 2007

My letter in the Times

Every once and a while an article prompts me to write a letter to the editor. Like downward spiral musings of Chrissy Hitchens in "Why Women Aren't Funny." Vanity Fair published part of my response, along with scores of other women. And I got a good rant of it on Burnside. A week and a half ago, LA Times writer Carina Chocano "No Laughing Matter For Actresses" about the dearth comedy roles for women. Which is probably a better examination of the issue. Anyway, they published my letter in the Sunday Calendar Letters today! I don't know if it's available online but it's on Page E2 of Today's times. Aw heck, here it is. ...

Nov 1, 2007

Purple State of Mind, Take This Bread.

I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed this week with the amount of work I've got to do on my book; As well as depressed over how little I've managed to do, and how little I've been contributing financially in my marriage. Not to mention my car has been in the shop for 8 days.

Last week Larry was shooting a video, which was great because that meant he didn't have to write boring fund raising copy. But for the second time we've missed a screening our friend Craig Detweiller's film, A Purple State of Mind.
It opened the City of Angels Film Festival last week. Craig co-chairs Fuller Theological Seminary's Reel Spirituality program, where they integrate faith and film. Here's a synopsis from the Purple website

Craig Detweiler and John Marks have known each other for twenty-five years. When they roomed together as sophomores at Davidson College, they were devout Christians. It was Craig's first year in the faith, John's last. After college, they parted ways, and when they met again, years later, they never talked about what happened... until now... Their conversation starts as a bull session between pals and becomes a story about how people make friends, and how they lose them; how people change, how they grow, and how they deal with the big stuff: death, sex, the meaning of life, God. The conversation between Craig and John captures in all its intimacy and difficulty a one on one reckoning between two people who want to understand each other but won't compromise their beliefs.

Now this is a film I am determined to see, and I don't want to wait for Netflix.

I emailed Craig my apologies and frustration over missing his film. I also wanted to tell him about a book I stumbled upon. Take This Bread by Sara Miles. An amazing story of a terribly inconvenient, 21st century conversion. Here's an excerpt I condensed from her prologue....

Mine is a personal story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian, a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism. I'm not the person my reporter colleagues ever expected to see exchanging blessings with street-corner evangelists. I'm hardly the person George Bush had in mind to be running a “faith-based charity.” ....

... At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn't about angels, or going to church, or trying to be “good” in a pious, idealized way. It wasn't about arguing a doctrine--the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce––or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honored. ... In this book I look at the Gospel that moved me, the bread that changed me and the work that saved me, to begin a spiritual and an actual communion across the divides.

You can read more about Sara and her book on her website.

For more on Craig and his movie, check out A Purple State Of Mind. They're taking their show on the road, so check the Purple Website to see if it's coming to your town.

Halloween is over. Today is All Saint's Day. I'm inspired by saints everywhere who are living out their faith, no matter how inconvenient, difficult or challenging.

And now I'll get back to my book and stop whining ...

Oct 29, 2007

Become Your Best You, Doo-bee doo-bee doo

Joel Osteen has another book out entitled, "Become a Better You." It follows his wildly successful book, "Your Best Life Now." Maybe I can contact George Clooney and see if he can air drop some of these books on his next mission to Darfur. They can package them along with "The Secret." You know, if the Muslim extremists in Sudan could just apply these seven principles on how to "become a better you," maybe they'd drop the whole genocide thing. Or maybe they'll become better at mass murdering. It could go either way.

Osteen is the pastor of a massive church where ten thousand people flock every week to hear his uplifting sermons. He seems really nice. Sweet. Happy. His wife seems really pretty. So why does the guy makes me nervous? Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. I know our world is mired in negativity and we could all use a boost. His uplifting messages aren't evil. But haven't the past 30-40 years of therapy, self-help, self-actualization, etc, proven that SELF-improvement isn't why we're here? Or as Jesus put it: "The Son of Man did not come to BE SERVED but to SERVE, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

I remember hearing an actor at a seminar say basically this: In movies, the characters we most admire are those who face horrible circumstances, insurmountable odds. They struggle, they doubt, they despair, but they push on. Even if they fail or die, they win a larger victory, and we love them for it. And yet, we wake up every morning and want God to make everything go our way.

My small group is going through scenes and movies that have impacted us spiritually. Last night we watched a scene from The Two Towers. Frodo and Sam are exhausted from trying to get the ring to Mt. Doom. Here's the text:

SAM: It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

What is it, do we not have anything worth fighting for any more? It seems like the battles worth fighting are taking place elsewhere: in Darfur or Somalia. Places where real lives are at stake. Or if they are here, but they're in the ghettos and the prisons, far from any photo ops. Meanwhile the battle to eradicate our own selfishness and narcissism is glossed over by cute little principles about "Becoming Your Best You." I wonder if we whole foods shopping botox shooting middle class chumps have forgotten what really matters.

Seek pleasure -- and in the long run you will find boredom, disillusionment and enslavement. Seek God -- and you will find, among other things, piercing pleasure.
John White, "Eros Defiled."

Oct 24, 2007

Katrina It Ain't

Maybe we've learned lessons from Katrina. The LA Times praised Qualcomm stadium as "a relief center to behold." Cots, games, free coffee from Starbucks, ethnic foods, and jazz bands. The number of volunteers rivaled the number of refugees. Neighborhoods reconstructed themselves. Good. I need to focus on the good.

I need to check out the photo galleries, the faces of the people who've lost everything. Well OK, there's an aerial shot of a burned down mansion with a six car garage. They have other houses I'm sure. But I need to keep my mind on people when I pray.

Because my cynicism kicks in. Some areas hardest hit by the fires ... Poway, Rancho Bernardo, are where the mansions are. Are they receiving this treatment because of their wealth? PS: Please read comments from aazmom at the end of this post. She's in northeast end of San Diego on the front lines and her observations are worth noting!

A fellow Burnside blogger posted a link to a Mike Davis' book Ecology of Fear, to the chapter, "Let Malibu Burn." Davis exposes the disparity between how the rich and poor are treated. Worse, the way LA leadership caters to developers and landlords at the expense of the poor.

My friends have a ranch about 25 miles northeast of Castaic (site of the northernmost LA county fire this week). It looks north to the Tehachapis, and down into the southernmost tip of the Antelope Valley. It’s rustic. No DSL. A computer modem can't go faster than 24K on dialup. But they bought it for that purpose: to get away from the speed an insanity of urban life. To them, quiet is beautiful.

They nearly lost the ranch a few years ago to wildfire. They were lucky. But it's sub-desert. It's risky country.

Land developers don’t view it the same way. They’re trying to convince the locals that a self-contained town would do well down in that empty unused valley space. They come in, build some houses and a mall, and Bob's Your Uncle, you're set. Think of the revenue, the jobs, the consumers ... think of the Starbucks! My friends have gone to the town meetings, bringing fears about the lack of water, the fire danger, and the noise pollution. But the developers talk louder about revenue. Maybe the fires will convince neighbors to vote against building. But they already voted in a Dick Cheney style Hunt club.

I hope to get back to their ranch. After the fires die down, before the snow. And before the developers bring their back hoes and destroy that valley's greatest resource: Silence.

Oct 23, 2007

World On Fire

Larry and I are safe here in Eagle Rock. On a clear day wecan see he Glendale foothills to north, Mt. Baldy far to the east. Last week we were driving a stretch of the 134 freeway along the foothills. We could see far west far into the San Fernando Valley; the Pacific Ocean was shimmering in the south. Made you understand why people moved here. Long ago. Before the other people got here.

But today the world is on fire.

When the sun came up this morning, it rose through a thick band of smoke, the smoke magnifying the sun into a bloated red balloon; the sun igniting the brown band into fire orange; like the flames that generated it. it's smoke from Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort has lost over a hundred homes to the inferno. So far.

To the west, the sky is thick with dirty beige. To the south it's brown brown brown. Smoke from San Diego. The LA Times reports that fires have consumed about 270,000 acres, more than 420 square miles, across seven counties. Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated. I thought I heard the radio newscaster say "half a million." He was at Qualcomm stadium in San Diego, where the evacuees are trying to sleep on the hard, cold concrete. One family got out just in time, but they couldn't find their pets. They heard later their entire apartment complex burned to the ground.

And the fires are raging north of us as well. Simi Valley, Valencia, Castaic, Agua Dulce. We used to drive that way every Christmas to visit my uncle in Lancaster. It was an eternity's drive through wasteland. Today, that sixty-mile stretch is pock-marked with houses. Tract homes and shopping centers. Most of them work in LA, but can't afford LA home prices. So they live here in the wasteland and drive to work.

We drove out to Colorado last Thanksgiving, and took that highway north in the predawn hours. All we could see was a ribbon of white headlights, slinking south at 20 miles an hour. The masses of commuters living lives of desperation.

Stevenson Ranch is on fire. I shot a TV show out in Stevenson Ranch in 1991. It was a ranch then. This past April I went to a cabin in Tehachapi to write. I stopped in Stevenson Ranch to get groceries and gas up. It was one housing development after another, pimpled with Designer Shoe Warehouse and Ross and Linens 'N' Things and Toys R Us and Marshalls. A city-approved sign boasted, "The Shops at Stevenson Ranch." It looked like every shopping development I'd seen in Nashville and Denver and New Jersey. I got out quick. Driving the desert wasteland was a relief after that.

And now it is all on fire. And I can only feel empathy for these poor people, who pitched their overpriced tents in the middle of nowhere, put up some grass and some shopping malls and schools and called it home. I hope they have homes to come home to.

PS. I wrote this at 10am on Tuesday. As of 7pm, nine hours later, nearly 1 million people in California have been evacuated. One in three households in San Diego County. And the fire has spread. See new imagery from NASA...

Oct 5, 2007

A Tea Cozy that's A Hat, a Sweater that's a Tea Cozy

When Larry and I were in New York, there was a street fair on Columbus near our apartment. I remember most street fairs as being a mix of one or two cool things, along with booths selling Verizon phones, irregular sheets and last year's Tommy Hilfiger socks.

I was drawn to a booth selling hats. And lo and behold I found a Tea Cozy that's Really a Hat. Handle, spout and all. Being the tea lover I am, I couldn't resist. it was soft, cute, and the colors perfectly matched a "cashmere" scarf I'd just bought at a booth one block down. I wore it to lunch that day, not thinking what it was like for Larry to sit next to a woman with a tea pot on her head. I got some looks. Mostly chuckles and "you go girl." But a few, 'Run Away" as well.

Well you decide.

It's fall, and the few days of cooler weather prompted me to get out my knitting. When I was working on "My Name Is Earl," the actress who plays Earl's mother showed me what she'd done with felting. Ever thrown a wool sweater into the laundry by accident, and it came back the size of a Barbie suit? Well, with felting you do it on purpose. The actress old wool sweaters at the thrift store, felted them, and then used them as fabric. She'd sewn baby booties to give to orphanages.

This was the coolest thing. Especially, I thought, since sewing a tea cozy out of felted wood would be a lot faster than knitting and felting, which I'd already done. They take HOURS.

So last weekend I sewed a tea cozy. Made from an old sweater I found at the Salvation Army and felted.

Voila. With autumn here and Christmas gifts coming, I've got work to do.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, you may have heard of the Advent Conspiracy, an organization that is trying to take the consumerism out of Christmas. Instead of blowing wads of cash on useless items, make gifts for each other (They provide a list). Then donate the money you saved to a favorite charity.

Some of you may be getting a felted tea cozy from me. Or a felted hat. Or wallet.

You've been warned.

Oct 3, 2007

Here Come Da Germs!

I've got a book manuscript due in January, so I made the commitment to ride with my husband to work. So for eight straight hours, while Larry is slaving away writing fundraising copy, I'll be at the library slaving away on my manuscript. At home I've got distractions like phone, email, and a cat who thinks she can convince me I haven’t fed her. The library is free of those distractions. Well, I don’t answer MY phone. But last time, a pudgy Pilipino turned his table into a home office. Every three minutes his cell phone went off with a factory issue jazz riff, followed by his p-peppered voice popping along.

I carry ear plugs. It got so bad one guy came over and offered to buy my spare pair off of me, earwax and all. There’s no cat to ask me for food, but there are a lot of Section 8 Types trying to snore on the comfy chairs. There’s no at the library either. But that’s not intentional. There’s supposed to be wi-fi access, but the signal is about as reliable as a memo from Blackwater.

Despite the drawbacks, I was getting into a good rhythm working there, until Friday. “Is it cold?” I kept asking my husband, who always likes things warmer than I do. The next morning I had a sore throat. By Saturday night my esophagus was on fire, my bones ached, and I was craving plain water. By Sunday the bug had arrived. I’ve been hopped up on Theraflu, Airborne, Zinc lozenges and Vick’s Vapo-Rub ever since.

Sunday night I couldn’t breathe. Monday I sneezed nonstop. My nostrils were so raw it burned. Today my nose ran all day. I have newfound compassion for allergy sufferers.

And my writing? No can do. Theraflu does that to you. Did you ever try to write when you were on drugs? I got wigged on Percoset once, after an endoscopy. The upside was, I finally “passed” the eHarmony personality test after failing it three times. Downside was, I got matched with Percoset addicts. So trying to be creative when you’re hopped up on antihistamines, Tylenol, VapoRub and lemon flavoring is bad. You can’t put together a sentence. Which makes me wonder how I’m managing to write this. Maybe the Theraflu is rubbing off. Ack, here comes a sneeze.

I did see minor progress today. I was able to nap for a few hours after dinner. Which has left me wide awake at 1:30 AM

As soon as my ears normalize to the same pressure as the outside world, I’m going back to the library. But I’m bringing the Instant Hand Sanitizer with me.

Sep 24, 2007

Kathy Griffin Dissed Jesus?

When Kathy Griffin won an Emmy last week for her reality show, The D List, she said in her acceptance speech: "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. This award is my God now!"

One Christian theater company scolded her in a full-page ad in USA Today. According to the general manager of the Tennessee Miracle Theater, "When word reached our cast that a Hollywood celebrity had stood before TV cameras and said such vulgar things about Christ, they were incensed. It's just not OK anymore to mock Christians and Jesus with impunity."

Kathy responded, "Am I the only Catholic left with a sense of humor?"

No, Kathy you're not the only Catholic with a sense of humor. But you could count the number evangelicals with senses of humor (at least the ones who’d watch your show or understand your irony) on a single frostbitten, gangrened hand in a South Pole winter.

True, her remark was a bit outré. True, Christians are made fun of a lot in Hollywood. Jesus, not so much, but Christians definitely, with jokes that, if you made them about an African American or a gay or an autistic person, you’d get fired. Just ask Isaiah Washington.

But maybe the members of the Tennessee Miracle Theater didn’t quite understand the joke. Or Kathy Griffin. Or Hollywood. Or Hollywood’s idolatrous worship of awards and fame.

So in the verbosity of postmodern hermeneutics, let’s unpack this.

1) Did Kathy make a vulgar remark aimed at The Savior?
Vulgarity is defined as "crude, common, conspicuously and tastelessly indecent, usually referring to language, gestures or expletives." You know, your average teen blockbuster like Talladega Nights/ Wedding Crashers/Superbad. Which, God-fearing Americans went to see in droves. Kathy’s remark may have been ragged, but I don’t remember hearing vulgarity. All I heard her say was that Jesus had nothing to do with her Emmy. And since her show is coarse and R-rated, wouldn’t polite Christians be pleased that she absolved Jesus of any involvement in it?

2) “This award is my God now!”
Given Hollywood’s obsession with awards and awards shows (Oscars, Emmys, MTV, VH1, Americas Choice, People’s Choice, American People’s Choice) Kathy spoke gospel truth: that Hollywood worships fame. And let’s not leave out the rest of the Christian-God-fearing America, that has turned American IDOL, Dancing with the Stars and America’s Next Top Model/Nanny/Trump Clone into ratings hits.

3) Not thanking Jesus for her award
Haven’t we all seen some celebrity thank God an award, meanwhile they're sleeping around, into drugs or guns? Gangsta rappers who thank Jesus for their grammy. Or Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, and their PASTOR DAD who’s pimped them into objects of sexual idolatry? And then Thanked God for their success? GROSS.

My friend Russ told me about a seminar at his church last summer. The leader asked the participants to invite a non-believer to come and tell the seminar what they thought was wrong with the Church. Everyone who was invited, came to speak. They were vulnerable and honest. One man said, “I'm tired of the church telling me what not to do ... ‘don't, don't, don't.’ I want to hear what you want me TO do.” What troubled Russ the most was how many people mentioned the hypocrisy they perceived in the church. Of course, hypocrisy is a flaw of human nature, it's not limited to religious people. But we of all people should be above reproach.

In his book, Simply Christian, NT Wright points to things that all human beings long for: justice, transcendence, beauty, and relationship. Those are the points where we can engage others -- find our commonality -- because every human being desires them. And if we are telling the story of God and what Jesus did so that we can experience transcendence, beauty, justice and relationship, people might not think first of hypocrisy when they think of the church.

I was in the Groundlings Sunday Company when Kathy was in the Main company. I remember her as a talented, abrasive, tough, funny, hard-working broad. Most comedians have a lot of pain in their lives, and humor is how they got through it. The insanity of the entertainment business makes them even tougher. Maybe that's Kathy's schtick. But her show The D List beat out all those other vapid, soul-killing reality shows like "The Hills" and "Laguna Beach." So to that I say, hoorah.

Kathy's show exposes the idiocy and hypocrisy in the entertainment business. Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of religious leaders. So my guess is, Jesus appreciates Kathy doing the same. Her remark may still be offensive or coarse to some.

I wonder if rather than taking action against her , we might want to send some love and grace. Let's think of how Jesus would want to approach her. If you’re stumped, take a look at the initials on that bracelet you bought at the Maranatha Everlasting Word Bookstore /Coffee House/Build-A-Christian-Bear workshop. “W.W.J.D.?”

Sep 21, 2007

A Moment Of Silence For The Apostrophe

I posted this on the Burnside Blog, so if you read both, my apologies for the redundancy.

NOTE: This blog originally contained two photos of signs found at Target advertising Trouser's and Jean's. But Blogger removed the photos. Maybe Target owns Blogger?

Anyway, without the photos, the blog just reads like a snobby rant. Which I guess it is ...

I know, I'm a grammar snob. I know that far worse errors are being overlooked in the halls of education. Like, bringing guns to class. And I know we all do things in our private penmanship we aren't proud of. (Or, "of which we are not proud.")

But when bad grammar usage makes it into corporate signage, spread on every sale rack in the Target chain whose ads aim for today's hip clientele and tomorrows tastemakers ... Then I really have to speak out. And it's always the same crime. The apostrophe.

Since when doe's an anything with in an "S" have an apostrophe? I's thi's becau'se we're outsourcing our sign's to Ch'i'n'a?

Here's (here is) when to use the punctuation in question.

  • To indicate the contraction of two words.
    here is = here's
    . We will = we'll. You are = you're
  • Or possession; belonging to...
    Susan's pet peeve
    . The pet peeve that Susan has.
    Sophie's Choice.
    The choice that Sophie made.
  • DO NOT USE on Plurals. The S just indicates that there is more than one.
    Pants: many pants. Trousers: many trousers.
    Idiots who make signs. Many idiots make many signs.
Unless you're Arabic, where they put a contraction in everything, al'ham d'Allah, then leave the doggies alone!

And now a moment of silence to remember why we are here: not to eradicate poverty, injustice or Justin Timberlake. We're here to make grammar waymobetta.

PS: As Annina below points out, a common faux pas of the apostrophe is its vs. it's.
only it's when it's a contraction of it is.
  • Baby it's cold outside. It's all good. It's Miller Time.
Not ....

Sep 20, 2007

Nigerian Scammers In Your In Box!

I got an email from a friend of mine today. She's newly married and works for a military defense company in Southern California. So imagine my surprise to hear she's stuck in a hotel in "Africa, Nigeria" with no money, and a keyboard stuck on CAPS LOCK.



Wow, she couldn't even put my name in the salutation. It must be serious. I emailed her right back.

Hey, dolls! Wow, you're just the girl to go to Africa, Nigeria. Did your military defense firm send you on a covert mission? You look so straight-laced, but underneath it you're a mercenary mama! Jennifer Garner, move over!
How did you rack up a $2,000 tab? Aren't hotel rooms in Africa, Nigeria, only like two kwanzaa a night? You must have been ordering a lot of oryx barbecue, or else you charged that safari to your room.
I still owe you a wedding gift (Emily Post says I have a year to buy it!). But why stop at $2,000? Let's make it an even 2 million. Are you free later today? I could pop on over to Africa, Nigeria, and rob the Second Bank of Nairobi. You can be my wing man. Hope to "READ FROM YOU" as you would say.
Apparently hackers got into her yahoo email account and co-opted her address book. So now they're not just sending from random addresses, they're spamming with addresses you think you really know. But come on, who's going to fall for this kind of thing? Well, my friend's great uncle did. He called her, frantic, and asking where he could send the funds. It's the older folks who get suckered. I know, my husband writes boring fund raising appeals, and the oldsters fall for them all the time.

Which reminds me. I'm stuck in this Starbucks in America, Santa Monica, and the barista is screaming at me to pay for my mounting bar tab of ten caramel light frappuccinos and a biscotti. So please, please, western union me some coffee money.


Sep 19, 2007

Almost Autumn in New York

It's not quite autumn; not for another three days. But Larry and I spent a lovely end of summer vacation in New York last week with our good friends, Dave and Heather. If there were such thing as four peas in a pod, I guess it would be the four of us. Dave and Larry are both writer-editors. Heather and I are both writers. The guys are introverts, the girls are extroverts. And it goes on. Plus we can get together and talk about art and books and story and faith, and we can laugh together. They were the perfect couple to enjoy New York together. It was Larry's first trip to New York City, so I was very excited for him to see it.

The first day we walked everywhere, from 76th and Columbus down to the Central Library. We stopped in at the new offices of IAM, where my old roommate Christy works. IAM is a great organization that fosters bridges between the worlds of fine art and faith. I love Christy, I've watched her grow as an artist and a person, and she is so excited about the work they do. It was really great to see her. And she had on this killer scarf, I forgot to ask her where she bought it.

We hopped the subway downtown and took a much-needed break on the Staten Island Ferry. Gorgeous views, mild temperatures, and a stunning view of the city. Did I mention this was Larry's first time in New York?

That night we were knackered, so we got back to the apartment and popped in one of the movies that was there. "You've Got Mail." I pretty much hate that film. Way over directed. Poor Meg was told to "act cute," and "make a face like you're reading an email as you walk down the street. Now pout." Blecch. Tom Hanks is good in everything he does, and he was spared the "act cute" direction. We groaned and sighed through it. But oh it was fun! Because it was filmed almost entirely in the area we were staying. "See Larry, that's Zabars, the store we were just in. That's the subway stop we just came out of. That's Riverside Park where we walked down to watch the boats. It was like watching a video you'd just taken. And well it's new York, it's glorious, and a glorious time of year to be there.

I also stopped in to see my agents, and they'd love to have me back in the city long-term. Which got us thinking and scheming about that. If Larry could work from home that is. Ah what fun it would be to spend a few months in Manhattan. Just to say you did.

We saw some great art at the Met, as always. Go to the rooftop sculpture garden for a great view of the park! Then we saw a fantastic exhibit at the Whitney: The Summer of Love: the Art of Psychedelia of the 1960s. One of the best shows I've seen in years, because they had this great soundtrack that went with the show.

It got really trippy when I approached a furniture installation. A sort of yellow Submarine funhouse you'd expect to see at a Timothy Leary be-in. Patrons had to remove their shoes and socks to enter, and formed a queue around the side. There was a large entrance hole guarded by a midget Ghandi. I carefully edged around the far perimeter so no one thought I was cutting in line, I just wanted to catch the view. Well Ghandi, in a very bad-karma manner, started yelling.
"Sir I just wanted to look."
"THEN LOOK, and GO!" and he shoved his finger at the back of the line."
The people in the queue startled quiet.
I looked at him: "Sir, there is no reason for you to speak to me like that."
He shouted at me again, but his tone changed: "No problem! No Problem! LOOK... and GO!" as if his Go meant "Step Right Up!" I breathed calmly and walked away. I'd watched a kid shove his way into a shoeless installation with his roller sneakers on, so I imagined these guards had been stressed out all weekend. It was the final two days, after all.

Later on, Larry walked past a guard who barked, "NO PICTURES!" Larry had worn his camera all weekend. He assured the guard he had no intention of taking pictures. "Well I'm just telling you, NO PICTURES!"
"Does it look like I'm getting ready to take a picture?"
"Th...this is my job, man. Okay? No pictures!!'
Peace out, man.
Well, we asked for a happening and we got it. That's New York.

We spent an evening walking around the East Village, checking out the places where Andy Warhol had his crew, places that now sold sunglasses, belly button rings and bongs. There's no CBGB's any more but there is a GBGB shop where you can buy T-shirts and coffee mugs and toe socks. Like most organic social movements, The East Village has gone Consumer. Is there any organic social movement going on right now? Or is everything a redux? Even the organic movement has gone Whole Foods on us.

Dave and Heather met up with the daughter of some old friends. A lovely, young, talented woman who's working in publishing and living in the East Village. She graciously showed us her apartment complex, a sprawling building populated with 20 somethings, Men in finance and women in modeling. She took us up to the tenth floor rooftop and we admired the view. She pointed out the three-story penthouse on top of a nearby building. "That's my dream someday," She cooed. "The guy who owns that is only 35. He comes into my bar. He's very lonely." I wondered if she thought the loneliness would come with the penthouse.

Memories flooded back to me, of my first days in New York, when I thought my trajectory was upward. Yet I never wanted a three-story penthouse above a bong shop. And I never felt at home among the young, beautiful, carousing New Yorkers. Not then and not now. I started to feel lonely and that creeping nausea of envy and regret and disgust seeped into my breath. She invited us out to a wine bar, but Larry and I politely declined. We walked back to the subway; through St. Marks Place, past the toe socks and toe rings, and headed back to the comfort of the upper west side. If I had been going back alone and unmarried, I'd have been really depressed. But I was with Larry. He's never wanted a three-story penthouse over a bong shop. It's so good to be with someone who wants the things you want.

Sunday the weather turned crisp and cool. We went to church, where they sang old hymns, and the pastor spoke about real things. Not some lame self-help message with stupid anecdotes, like the place we had endured last week. He spoke about God; and in his message we found more than help, we found adoration and peace. We walked home through a street fair, ran into a celebrity couple. I smiled, they smiled back and disappeared into the crowd where no one bothered them. I love New York.

So the weekend was gone. Dave and Heather had to go back. This was hard for Larry. He and Dave have been friends for over 25 years. They're family, really. And Larry feels his most alive, as a creative man of faith with family who really know him. We both cried when they got into the cab.

But we didn't let the melancholy sit for too long. My friend Chris invited us over to his eastside apartment for barbecued steak on his back patio, which he's turned into a garden. Yes, this is the upper east side, not some garden in New Jersey.

I've known Chris a good 18 years now. Wow. That's almost as long as Larry and Dave have been friends. My friend Chris. I can probably say that over half of my accents and characters sprang from silly conversations between Chris and myself. Chris is creative, talented, a man of great faith and horribly incorrect humor. Which is why I love him.

We left Monday. Larry had one last wish to get a piece of real NY pizza. So we grabbed a last slice and headed to the airport to fly standby since our 8pm flight wasn't going to leave until 11pm. We got on the 4pm plane and watched New York disappear under our wings.

I'm already missing it.

I only had time to see two of my New York friends on this trip. It was frustrating. I didn't even get to have a cup of Dunkin Donuts Coffee! Man, it burned. It made me long to come back. the way Larry longed to see Dave again soon. SO I said, "Let's remember this longing, this burn. because it means we should do something about it."

We're back home, imagining a life in New York. Maybe just a few months: Larry freelancing or working from home in some apartment near Zabars; me doing voice overs and writing and doing my solo show. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Larry's dreaming about it too.

Sep 17, 2007

My Angus Burger and Kazoo Commercial

Well alrighty then. Here's me on the kazoo...

Sep 10, 2007

Uke and Kazoo

I did this McDonalds commercial while back. The guy playing my husband played the uke and I buzzed away on the kazoo. On the way to the set he started playing a Beatles song and we vamped. Well that earned props in my book. He's got more. Check out Skip Stellrecht on the uke:

I got an email today asking if Skip and I would be interested in coming to a ukelele festival. Sure I'd be up for it. But a kazoo festival, now that would be wild! In the meantime, enjoy more Fab Four on the Uke

Sep 8, 2007

Cooler Days, Uneasy Night

The heat wave has broken, and Larry and I are relieved to experience an old sensation. Chill. It is definitely early fall. You can see it in the light. It always makes me feel just a bit nostalgic and melancholy.

With the break in temperature, one would think we'd have an easier time getting to sleep last night. Besides, we'd gotten our Netflix selections on time, watched "Blades of Glory," took our aspirin and got under the covers.

After a good half hour we were both still tossing and turning. Well, I turn. Larry flicks his legs.

"Are you OK?" I asked him.
"Uh yeah are you?"
"Uh, yeah." Neither of us sounded too convincing. But there was nothing to be upset about, at least not with each other. Not that I knew. Close to an hour passed and neither of us were asleep.

"Do you smell cat litter?" Larry asked me in the dark.
"No," I answered. "I smell what a cat leaves IN the litter."

Like, a turd. We turned on the lights and searched the room. Our own cat would have no reason to take a dump in our room. But ... Well last week when it was so hot, we put up a bamboo screen outside the back door so we could leave it open, have a breeze without the flies. It kept the flies out, but not the neighbor cat, Fella.

Fella's a likeable, neutered male who made friends with our homeowners. Our house used to be his playground away from home. That is, until we moved in and brought our own cat. He's been pissed off at Honey ever since, and shows up nearly every day, growling at her and expressing his frustration at the revocation of his all-access pass to the house.

On more than one occasion last week, Larry and I looked up to find him jaunting around the house. Larry saw him coming down from upstairs.

Now the insinuation of cat turd in the room made sense. Fella mus have left a protest gesture in the room. We looked everywhere and found nothing.

Larry and I went back to sleep. Or tried to.

After a while we heard a loud POP-POP ricocheting from the streets. We are at the top of the hill, and the noise from Eagle Rock and York Blvds. funnels up to our ears like a megaphone.

Pop-Pop. Not a firecracker. A gunshot.

We both sighed. We hear pop-pop more than we'd like to admit. House prices may have skyrocketed in our area, but the clientele hasn't.

I listened and waited for the sounds of sirens. They came, but not right away. I was listening to see if the sirens would stop, indicating it was closer by. But I must have drifted off. Until I was jolted back by the sound of another pop pop pops. And the pop pop pop answer. And then more.

Now we were very much awake. I wanted to cry but my body was too tired to make noise. I got up and closed the downstairs windows and locked the doors. I took a hot bath shaved the calluses off my heels.

Larry came down to find out what I was up to.
"I can feel it in the air," he said. "It's like a vibe, isn't it?"
"Yeah." It was almost palpable. "Maybe we should pray," I offered.
"Yeah," Larry answered. He went back upstairs, I finished trimming my calluses, and went back to bed. He seemed asleep and I wasn't about to wake him. So we never prayed.

I got up around 8:30 and searched local news for shootings in Eagle Rock. But they never post them. If this were San Marino or Beverly Hills, maybe. But not Highland Park or Eagle Rock.

Larry and I think more about moving. Out of LA. Especially after nights like that. Portland Oregon. That sounds good.

Sep 3, 2007

Labor Day Heat; Mervyns Apocalypto Sale

Southern California has been experiencing a record heat wave, and to me, it’s God’s way of giving us a preview of hell. Heat, despair, power outages, and everyone running to the mall for air conditioning. That was Larry' and my brilliant idea yesterday. “Let’s go to the mall, where it’ll be cool.” Only everyone else had the same idea, and the volume of bodies soaked up what A/C was happening.

The place looked like Grand Central Station. Except at Grand Central Station, the people move quickly and with purpose, because they’re New Yorkers. The mob at the Galleria shuffled aimlessly or sat on the ground propped against the store windows. The kids were tantrumy and the adults loud. How does one pull off listless AND loud? I wished I’d brought my ear plugs.

We went to see the newly opened Target, but it was on the other side of the mall: an obstacle course through noise and smell of people who do not believe in antiperspirant.

Larry was deluded into thinking Target might carry Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass CD. And I that they'd carry webcams for Macs. But no, it's a hip-hop Ashley Simpson, Windows XP world at Target.

We caromed back through Mervyns, where they were apparently having an “Apocalypto Sale.” The floor was scattered with merchandise; as if the US had suffered economic collapse and everyone had panicked for supplies. You know, survival supplies like "Pirates 3" t-shirts and lead paint toys from China and polyester tops for hookers.

We wished we’d exited the mall at Target and gone back via the street.. Who cared if it was a furnace outside? At least it was quiet.

On the way home, we stopped at the supermarket to buy comfort food, which at this point meant anything in the frozen food aisle. Ah, frozen fish sticks! Who cares if I never eat them. I can sit on them on the ride home.

The lady bagging our groceries was of limited mental capabilities, and she dumped our strawberries onto the counter.

-- What do I do now? She frowned at the checker
-- Go get another box.
--- You mean I gotta go get more?

It was not strawberry season. Leaving our replacement box to a woman of questionable IQ was not going to happen, so I said I’d go pick it out myself.

I closed in on the wilted strawberry display, I heard her disgruntled voice behind me. “I had to come back this way, anyway, lady.”
“I don’t work here,” I snapped. Like it was MY job to dispose of the ruined box?
She sighed and waddled off to the employee break room.
I’d had the last word. And boy did I feel shitty about it.

We pulled out of the parking lot, I wanted to go back and apologize. Maybe she’d been in jail and the store had given her one last chance to turn her life around. Maybe this was the only job she could do, and spilling the berries was her third strike before getting fired.

Larry and I talk about creating a world where God’s kingdom can really come: A world of justice and mercy for the oppressed. A life that's counter to greedy consumerism.

And I was NOT living that life. Yeah, it had been a hot day and we’d been assaulted by a mob of consumers at the mall. But we had gone to the mall, too. We’d been worshiping at the temple of Buy, even if we didn’t put down any money.

Later last night Larry and I read from a book about this very subject, how to bring about God's world today, now. And all I could think was, “I dissed the feeble-minded box lady. I suck."

Every generation has a new word for that kingdom come: a shining city on the hill, Utopia, Nirvana, and a brand new way to make it happen. But there's this problem: human nature. We dream big and always trip up when it comes to the everyday stuff, like being kind to the feeble or undeserving.

I pray for grace to do that in the little things. Cooler temperatures will also help.

Aug 28, 2007

One Year Anniversary

Yikes, it can't be possible that I haven't posted a blog for over a month. But there it sits on my blog site, "July 21" as the last entry. There’s something melancholy about watching time sinking into the past and out of reach, like Leo DeCaprio disappearing into the icy Atlantic.

My lack of posting has been for good and bad reasons. We had out of town friends visiting, good. In-town friends going through personal crises, bad. Larry's Mac G4 dying, bad. Larry buying new Macbook, good.

Our homeowner Ted came down at the end of July for a week to shoot another Rozerem commercial. He’s Honest Abe in those commercials with the beaver. While down, he decided to build a simple carport, thinking he’d come back some time in the future, slap on some walls, and Bob’s your Uncle, he’d have a garage. Then a builder friend told him, no way. You want a garage, build the garage NOW. So Ted ended up here for a month as the garage project stretched on. It was painful to watch Ted go through builder hell. Setbacks, new problems, etc.

A friend Arlene, who I knew in New York was in town. She just finished her Masters in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, so after two years of studying, she treated herself to a vacation in California. Our friends Tony and Martel came over with their adorable and scary-smart daughter, and we sat out on the deck. We talked and ate, and gaped at Loy’s intellectual prowess.

She named most of the letters on his shirt. And then Tony brought out a book of shapes. Not just squares and circles.
“What’s that, Loy?” Tony asked, pointing to a shape in a book.
“Octagon,” Loy replied.
What’s that one? He continued.
"Diamond," she replied again. She said it like she was playing peekaboo. At age three. The girl is 18 months old. And she's sweet and adorable too.

Hanging out was great. Leaving was hard. Tony, Martel, Arlene and I were all friends in New York and part of The Haven. We’ll probably never live in the same town again. Call it nostalgia, but it’s that longing for eternity where we are all together
again. I often think of my friend Aimee who lives in Virginia. I wish she lived close by. That’s what heaven must be like. All the people you know and love are just next door. Heaven must be a brownstone street on the Upper West Side, all your friends living on the same block. Central Park at one end of the block, Hawaii at the other end, The Rockies one block north, the Alps to the south.

Larry and I hit our one-year anniversary on Sunday. All week we were remembering, "what were we doing this time last year?" It made us homesick for our in-laws, for us all being together. We had such fun last year.

For our actual anniversary, Larry took me the OC to see my home town. He wanted to see the places I described in my book, and what made Susan "Susan." So we saw the house in which I grew up, the church I attended and its school where I was bullied by a sociopath from 4th to 6th grade. I showed him the blacktop where the bully got an entire class to oppose me in a team sport. We saw the principal's office I was sent to when I finally exacted retribution on that bitch.

It was weird seeing my old house. My parents owned it for 37 years; it's where I grew up. My sister asked the day before if I'd go up to the door and ask the current owner if we could come in. "NO way, man!" I cried. But when we arrived, I was so curious to see what it was like inside.

We went to the door but no one was home. The front door had lots of beveled glass now, so I got a pretty good view. The kitchen cabinets had been painted, a wood floor had been put into the back room. The entry hall had been decorated with tons of family pictures. Some other family's pictures. It was odd.

We got a room at the Holiday Inn in Newport Beach. We'd brought our bikes and rode down the Newport Peninsula, past the pier, through the million dollar houses crammed onto dinky lots. Watched high school boys boogie boarding the wedge.

Newport Beach people look the same as I remembered them. Waspy faces worn with leisure and money. The tanned, wrinkled skin, some puffed out with botox, others with the weary pursuit of pleasure and nothing else. It’s probably the same in every beach town. Though I remember the faces in New York and New Jersey were more ethnic: Italian, Russian, Greek. Less white, less moneyed. Still the pursuit of relaxation was the same. The same endless pursuit of total stasis.

We rode for a few hours, and everywhere we went, a memory was dislodged. The supermarket on the peninsula where I almost shoplifted in 7th grade. The pier where my sister and I went to buy Dittos pants. The fun zone where we took many photos in those black and white strips.

We took the car ferry over to Balboa Island and there were more memories.

Our neighbors moved to Balboa when I was in fifth grade and I visited them in the summer. Larry and I went looking for the house. I wasn't sure until I saw yellow sign in the water, "Danger End of Storm Drain," and the whole week on Balboa came back to me. Swimming in the still, oily water of the bay. Listening to the parents' copy of Beatles "Rubber Soul," where my Beatlemania would start. That was back in the summer of 1974.

And another memory I’d rather not recall. I'd pledged a sorority my second year at UC Irvine, a misguided attempt to make campus life at less sterile and depressing. The more time I spent, the less I wanted to be part of it. The girls were premed and engineering. I was a lost soul looking for art. Finding it in a sorority was a silly idea. So on an evening in late November, at a house on Balboa Island, I decided to de-pledge. The pledge captain urged me to stay, 'If nothing else, you'll have a party to go to every weekend." But with people I don't like," I thought to myself.

That all came back to me. Especially now in late August, when the light suddenly gets autumnal and melancholy.

By the time we arrived on Balboa Island's main street, it was 6pm on a Sunday, and the weekend was over for Balboa. There were no one left but the locals. They too looked like all the Balboans I knew from my past. Rich wasps in pursuit of pleasure that money can buy. There’s nothing wrong with pleasure. It's gorgeous down here, I understand why people dream to be here. Better than the slums of Bombay, right? But if all you want is the beach, then a beach in Mozambique would do you as well as the beach in Newport. No its’ more than leisure. It’s leisure and comfort and money.

It doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it's fear of losing myself. Maybe it's fear of success. Not sure. But I don't like how it feels being around it. I mean they had a doggie store that sold $50 dog collars, gourmet dog caked with icing. Toenail polish for dogs. How is this happening?

Older well-coiffed wasp couples who live in Pasadena and weekend on Balboa, dining at the local cafes, thinking about how this is supposed to be the good life. But their faces looked blank to me. There were school flags up on the congested mansions. USC, UCLA, Arizona. I thought, wouldn't it be great to put out a flag for "CCNY-Flatbush?"

We walked around the island, gawking at the massive mansions squeezed onto postage stamp lots. A new one was being built on an alley. Probably six bedrooms. Behind it, an even larger house that was already up and lived in. Faux Italianate, a BMW SUV squeezed in front of the garage.

That stuff gives me the creeps. I don't know why. I mean, Larry and I would love to have enough money to know we're OK. But this kind of money? I get scared at the thought of having so much money that I'd be building a faux Italian villa on an island crawling with rich wasps who live to sit on a beach chair in front of an oily bay front.

We saw the same kind of thing at South Coast Plaza. I took Larry there because it was part of my history. My dad had an optometric practice in the Sears Store. When we moved in 1966, the mall consisted of a Sears, May Company and a Woolworth. Since then they built additional malls across every street, discount shops around the corner. It’s so big, it now has its own zip code. The Limited is on the low rent wing. The high rent wing has Cartier, Jimmy Choo, Bulgari, Tiffany. The kind of consumerism that makes me understand why the Muslims think we’re better off dead. Well that and the doggie toenail polish.

This is creepy, Larry and I said to each other. Let’s get out of here.

And to top off our aversion to consumerism, Larry took me to a nice restaurant, the Rusty Pelican, overlooking Newport bay. The food and service were horrible. We had more fun back in the overly chlorinated pool, talking with other guests.

And so on this year anniversary I think: God blessed me with a man whose passion isn’t for things. Not things you can hold onto. Larry is fired up about ideas, the spiritual life. About bringing the kingdom of God to earth now through building community by loving our friends through crises and good times. For making a difference in what we do in our work. For building a life not on wealth or security but on adventure and living. Even if it means we’re not comfortable or secure with a McMansion on Balboa. And for that I guess I'm thankful.

And that's the good part to this entry . I never imagined I could be so happy and at peace. And today, I am. Of course “this too shall pass,” and there will be struggles and crises to come. Or , maybe God figured Larry and I had enough of our pain already. But we’ll be ready. We'll be going together, and we won't have a McMansion mortgage to take with us.

I’m so looking forward to tomorrow. And the next day.

Jul 21, 2007

Performing My Book

My memoir, Angry Conversations With God will be published by Warner/Hachette's Center Street Imprint. Like in March 2009. Why so far away? Well, I have to finish it for one thing.

Meanwhile I'm writing and testing out the material on a variety of audiences, from the holy to the hollywood. Last week I read a chapter at the Zephyr Theater on Melrose in Hollywood.

I read along with my friends Ann Randolph, whose solo show "Squeezebox" was produced by Mel Brooks; and Andrea Askowitz, whose memoir, My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy will be published next year.

I never know how people are going to react to me "using 'Jesus' as a noun," as my friend Anna described it. But the show was a great success. I loaded the video onto my website. If you want to watch, CLICK HERE. Or paste this link into your browser:


Jul 8, 2007

What Else Could I Have Been, an Astronomer?

My parents never got involved in my schooling. But when I graduated valedictorian from high school, Dad tried to make up for lost time and threw in some oblique references to my future.

Dad: There are a lot of great jobs in engineering.
Susan: I hate engineering.
Dad: Well you got an A in physics.
Susan: (sarcastic) Dad, I got an A in everything. I have a 4.0 GPA.
Dad: (critical) Why do you want to go into comedy?
Susan: I like writing, I like Saturday Night Live.
Dad: Well I like Laurel and Hardy, but you don’t see me throwing pianos out the window for a living.

Well no, he didn’t really say that. He just sighed derisively, and that ended our conversation about what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Why didn’t he just speak plainly: “Here’s the deal with the arts. It’s really tough.” Even if he had, I doubt I would have listened. At 45 I still have not been able to resign to a life of comfort, working as a legal secretary or teaching high school English.

However, I have thought about what I would have done. The only other thing that gripped me was astronomy. Yeah, physics. The thing I rolled my eyes at when my father suggested it.

Growing up, we had a small telescope that only got up to 60 power. But with it we could point it at the moon and see the craters and valleys. We aimed it at Saturn and saw the rings. And Jupiter showed a few of its larger moons. To me, the planets in the night sky, the constellation of stars, the way early man tried to interpret them, these were wondrous things.

I remember my father explaining light years to me, and how the stars we were seeing might already be extinct.
Dad: Light travels at a certain speed, see? The light you're looking at took that many millions of years for the light to leave the star there, and get to your eye here, now.
Susie: Oh! Like how God is on the other side of the universe, and he traveled all this way to come to us in Jesus?
Dad: Yeah, whatever.
My father wasn’t into theology.

One of the greatest mutinies against atheism is the nightly view of the sky. The order and beauty and grandeur of it all make us ants in comparison.

Larry took me to the Griffith Observatory for my birthday. I went back two weeks ago with my mother and niece. See the show in the planetarium and you'll know what it means to feel infinitely worthless and small. And yet all the more loved by the infinite creator.

But I could never be an astronomer. I hate math.

In June of 2001, Time Magazine’s cover article was “How The Universe Will End.” I tried to read it but got tripped up, trying to understand how astronomers and astrophysicists calculated the size of the universe, in what direction it is expanding and at what rate. How fast it used to expand. How could they know that if they only have been able to calculate this stuff over the past 60 to 100 years? And what about dark matter and quarks and string theory?

My friend Art said he was reading about string theory. Scientists don’t really know what it is. Further discoveries have come along to contradict string theory. And that’s when the astronomers and physicists admit they’re just trying to figure it out.

I heard physicist John Polkinghorne speak at a seminar in New York, and later heard him on Speaking OF Faith. He helped formulate the ideas about Quarks. He’s also an Anglican theologian and was knighted by the queen. In other words, smart guy who’s found room for both God and evolution and science. I’ve also listened to Francis Collins who helped map the human genome. Another man of faith, and science.

Yeah, if I’d been smart enough to do complex math, and hadn’t been interested in the arts, maybe I would have gone that way. But maybe they’re interconnected: astronomy, arts and theology.

A few weeks ago I came across the US Geological Survey and its Earth Now satellite imagery. You can watch the images from a satellite unfold like a ticker tape. Last night I watched the satellite crawl from the Northwest Territories all the way past the fires along highway 395. It was mesmerizing. Okay, so I’m easily amused.

NASA’s got some amazing pictures on its website. Here’s an image of what they call the North Atlantic Bloom.

Reminiscent of the distinctive swirls in a Van Gogh painting, millions of microscopic plants color the waters of the North Atlantic with strokes of blue, turquoise, green, and brown. Fed by nutrients that have built up during the winter and early summer, the cool waters of the North Atlantic come alive every year with a vivid display of color.

Or the image of the River Thames as it empties into the north sea.

Maybe there is a link between science and art. Polkinghorne said that when physicists figure out a proof, when they’ve finally got the right answer, they say it’s a “beautiful” equation. That the rightness, the order of it is a thing of beauty. Cosmos and cosmetics come from the same root word. Order. There is beauty in order. And for me it’s just another sign of the wonder and weight of God.

I keep telling Larry that one weekend I want to drive way out to the desert on a new moon. Look up at the sky with no light pollution. Just to see the stars.

The Perseus meteor shower is coming in mid-August. Maybe that’ll be our weekend getaway. And I'll bring a copy of the 8th Psalm, that brings together science and art and theology.

O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength
Silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
And crowned them with glory and honor.

Jul 4, 2007

Listening to the still, small voice

I’ve lived most of my life close to the tempering breezes of the ocean. Even in New York I was less than a mile from the East River and Long Island Sound. But now Larry and I live in a Eagle Rock, a hilly inland neighborhood wedged in the hills between Glendale and Pasadena. We may not have ocean breeze, but every night we get to look out at the twinkling lights: east toward Occidental College; south toward Dodger Stadium and north where a ribbon of freeway spools from Glendale to Pasadena. Lights in the hills. It's gorgeous.

But it’s not just lights we get to see. We’ve got wildlife! Two nights ago Larry and I saw both a raccoon and a skunk outside the window. We know we’ve got skunks. We smell them every night. Not long ago Honey came prancing into the house with a baby opossum in her mouth.

There are sounds of wild life as well. Right now I am cringing at the sounds of pop-pop-pop, and boom, of what I am praying are illegal fireworks. There was a fatal shooting up in Eagle Rock a few weeks ago: high school graduation party gone wrong.

Not that we need fireworks popping. LA had just three inches of rain in the past year. Everything is dead and dry and waiting for a stray firecracker to ignite it. We are going to enjoy the fourth of July from our back deck. Our neighbor says we can see three different fireworks shows from our vantage point. I am praying we don’t see a hillside go up in flames.

The bougainvillea outside our front door had become weighed down with dead blooms. A couple weeks ago I batted them out with a broom to let light in on the branches. After two weeks i can see that many of the branches are dead. So this afternoon I pruned the bougainvillea. Hopefully the branches will have a chance to get light and water and survive. It made me think of the biblical parable about how a gardener prunes his vines so that they will be more fruitful.

Man I got a lot of dead wood in my own life to prune. And maybe that’s what this post is about.

My brother-in-law and nephew just returned from a 3 ½ week missions trip to Mozambique. They helped at an orphanage, visited surrounding villages with food, medicine, and the love of Jesus. They built a house for a widow out of bamboo, rocks and cement. The widow got the luxury of a door. Most people live without doors. So there’s no security or safety. “To look at the way you and I live, they’d think we were royalty,” Phil marveled. On his trip he thought a lot about the parable of the ten talents. What am I doing with my talents? What will I have to show for my life at its end? Or even now, half way through?

Larry and I talked about this tonight: the old “what are we doing with the time we’ve been given?” I don’t think there is a formula. It would be easy to sponsor a child or donate to an organization and leave it at that. But God never reduces himself to a formula. He calls us to give money one day, time the other day, neither the following, or both the next. He tells me to speak up, and then to be quiet. He’s unpredictable, which makes it very frustrating for us who want to make God a convenience.

The other day I was walking into Trader Joe’s. There was a man with a donation box standing at a good distance from the front door. I skirted inside and went about buying my sugar free chocolate, wheat free muffins and aspartame free diet ginger ale. I spent a good amount on budget gourmet items. Items that, if I hadn’t bought, I would not starve.

On the way out I skirted away from the man but he smiled and said hello. Before I had a chance to think I found myself walking over toward him. He smiled so friendly and kind. I asked him how he was doing and what his organization was, so he told me his story. His name was Henry, and the group was a transitional living place for homeless. Five months ago Henry had been on the street. He was in a long line at Union Rescue mission hoping for a bed. A man walked by and handed him a flyer advertising a transitional home in the desert that helps people get back on track.

"The guy said his van was leaving in 30 minutes. I thought, I'm not going to get a bed here, so I got on the van." And that's how Henry found himself at a transitional housing place in Lancaster. He said now he’s spending money on clothes and toothpaste, "instead of crazy stuff you spend on the street. I'm learning how to care for myself. I'm learning everything over.

"I got my driver's license renewed, they helped me establish credit. They even got me a cell phone and trusted me to pay the bill. I thought it was too late for me. But I got another chance, man. I want to be a trucker. I got good credit and no marks on my driving record. I can drive trucks."

"You seen me five months ago you wouldn't recognize me." Henry smiled brightly, showing the gaps where teeth had fallen out. That was the only thing about him to suggest what his life had been, up until that night he got on the van.

"I've had a lot of regrets," I said. "Regrets over things I didn't think I'd have a chance to make right. But look at what you've accomplished in only five months. You give me hope, Henry."

Henry smiled. He smiled big. I gave him some money and asked for one of his flyers.

When I got home I saw the flyer said, “please support our volunteers by supplying jobs in the following areas: automotive, landscaping, general labor.”

I wondered if Henry would like to make some money doing some brush clearance at our place.
Today I was at another trader Joe’s. Another man was standing outside. He had the same box and same flyer. I thought, “I should go ask that guy if he knows Henry,” and have this guy tell Henry hello. I also thought about asking him if Henry would want to do some gardening for me. But maybe it would be beneath him.

I envisioned myself calling to ask if Henry wanted to come over for Fourth of July. But then I thought he’d probably want to hang out with his friends at the homeless shelter. And how would he feel with all my friends who had homes? What would they feel like if they had to talk to him? Would it be weird?

But I didn’t. Instead, I went inside the shop, and when I left, I forgot about the guy with the box like Henry’s. It was easier. What if that guy expected me to give money also? I’d just donated five dollars for prostate cancer in line at Vons.

I hate when the checker just asks you point blank at the register.

Would you like to donate money to prostate cancer research?

You have to look her in the eye and say it.
No. No I would not like to give money to prostate cancer.
And it sounds like you're saying No forever. Like Now is the only moment you have to say yes. Now is the only moment you're alive.

I hate that. So I have to give. And I give five dollars. Geeze, what am I doing? And then the checker fails to redeem my dollar-off coupon. So I remind her. And she fails to double it like they advertised on the door. Now Vons has six of my bucks. Money I could have given to ... my sugar free chocolate fund.

I came home later and googled the transitional living place in Lancaster. I couldn’t find anything. Maybe they’re too poor to have a website. I thought I could call the number and ask for Henry. Or I could call and talk to the owner, see if they’re a 501(C)3 organization. that way I could give and claim it on my taxes. But I don’t. I don't call.

I also ignored the impulse to buy my husband a greeting card that says "thank you.” Because I already did that a few days ago.

And I realize I’ve tried to work the formula. Do one good thing so I can then feel good about me. When that's not what God lets us get away with. He wants us to pay attention, listen, and obey. Obey the still small voice not just to talk to Henry, but maybe hire him to do some brush cleaning, or come over for barbecue, no matter how weird it is for my friends. But I was not paying attention.

I remember these lines from “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder.

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. Saints and poets, maybe--they do some.