Jan 31, 2007

Web Discoveries: Yoga Dawg, Creative Little Daisy

Yes the internet can be a terrible thing, all manner of crime and fraud, and much worse. But it's also a great thing. Take, for example, research. Who needs the public library, with all those kids on myspace, when you can stay home and read wikipedia. And if you're Bill Gates, you can use wiki as false advertising. Ooh let's not go there.

But here's to the good stuff. It was on the internet that I discovered my husband; through emails I fell in love with his words, and his love of words, and him. And on his blog I found more of who he was and more to love.

I've discovered some terrific blogs, too; like The View from Wood Road. For more, check my LINKS at left.

My Latest Discoveries: I love yoga, but yoga can be as dogmatic as church and as cliquish as high school. You know, you gotta have the right clothes, yoga mat bag, hair, the right mantra. So it was with sniggering delight I found the Yoga Dawg Website and his blog: My Third Eye Itches. Check out his page on Yoga Styles where he satirizes the too-serious, too-hip yoga joints, like his skewering of the "hot yoga" school. The "Crombies."

This school of Yoga has managed to blend all of the things America love most: a limited set of yoga poses for the attention deficient Yogi, sex scandals, copyright litigation along with hot, sweaty and half naked bims and bimbos in a tropical heat. Combine this with a swarmy, smelly studio led by a loud-mouth, swaggering Yoga Star swinging a big dick with a couple of radioactive balls and you have a winning formula for the Yogic success in America.
And his page on Yoga Fashion, where you too can look like a winning yogi, including getting your yogic beard extensions, and Super Shakti Yogi Loin Cloth.

Hey, it's all in fun!

I was doing a search for "aqua and brown," the color combination I used for my website and then my wedding. From this search I found some really cool images, and more: gorgeous purses at Creative Little Daisy. This woman makes amazing tactile art in the way of handbags and other usable delights.

And if you are looking for a way cool yoga mat bag, visit Wendyloo.

Not that I'm doing any internet shopping or editing wiki for money. Not now , I'm too busy writing.

Jan 26, 2007

The Nice Jesus On Every Wall

Three weeks into my sixth-grade year at Prince of Peace Lutheran Day School, I got sent to the principal's office. My family were loyal members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, and I'd been attending POP Day school since I was four. This was the first time I had ever gotten into trouble.

It was also the first time I had stood up for myself.

As I sat on that hard wooden bench, waiting for Miss Olson, the retired-missionary principal, to come out and paddle me, I looked up at the picture of Jesus on the wall.

You might know it: Head of Christ was painted by Warner Sallman in the 1930s, and is arguably the most famous portrait of Jesus from the 20th Century. Not like Jesus had his portrait done, but you know what I mean.

Painted in humble, muted yellowy browns; a kind Norwegian-looking Jesus sits there, looking calm, sober, and slightly depressed. His eyes turn upward, as if he's listening to the Father. Maybe God is just now telling him he's going to be crucified, and Jesus is steeling himself for the sacrifice ahead.

Sallman painted a lot of pictures of Jesus. He must have had some old Lutheran friend stand in as a model, because Jesus always has the same long brown hair, square Nordic forehead, delicate features and sad eyes.

There's Christ Our Shepherd: Jesus tending sheep in the Alps. There's even a black sheep, though it is placed in the background. And then there's my favorite: Christ At Heart's Door: Jesus knocking on the door of your heart. Well it's really a farmhouse door, like a Thomas Kincade, painted before they invented anti-yellowing agents. But I saw the love and patience in Jesus' eyes as he stood there knocking. Like he would have stood there forever, waiting for me to open the door. "Oh Jesus don't be sad, I would pray, "I'm here, I’m here opening the door!" That was my favorite of the paintings.

But the one I knew the most was Head of Christ, or the "Nice Jesus" as I called it. And it hung in every classroom, pastor's study and toilet at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and School.

I spent many a day praying to the Nice Jesus on the wall: Jesus please raise my kitty from the dead ... Jesus, please make Toddie Williams love me ... Jesus please make my dad stop cursing. Jesus didn't answer many of my prayers. But that was okay. I knew he was listening, and I knew that he loved me.I saw the love and concern in his eyes. I saw his loneliness and sorrow, so I knew that He saw mine.

That's my image of Jesus: Jesus who loved, who listened, who never left; and who rarely intervened. Which was why I was in Miss Olson's office the third week of Sixth Grade.

My early years at Prince of Peace Lutheran School had been happy and uneventful. My mother was a timid Norwegian Lutheran who took her four children to church every Sunday while Dad stayed home and cursed at the TV. My brothers were already in public junior high; it was too late to reach them for Jesus. But my older sister Nancy and I attended the day school from kindergarten through sixth grade.

All of my teachers were little old retired spinster missionaries who smiled and turned the other cheek. My pastor, Torvald Ingebretsen, was a gentle man who never got angry, except when he preached on the Old Testament. In fact, no one at my church ever got angry. Which is why my dad rarely went to church. My anger was why I was in the principal's office.

Since my first day of fourth grade, I had been openly bullied by a Lutheran sociopath. Lisa Shanahan kicked my chair in choir when I got a choir solo. Oh, you think you're so cool! Bang, bang, my chair vibrated. She ridiculed me when I got better grades than she did. Oo, Susie wrote a poem! A poem about Egypt! DORK! The other girls laughed with her, terrified she might turn on them next. One day I got her out in Four Square. She got the girls to whisper and ridicule me, through the rest of the day, the rest of the week. For three years.

Oh sure, my friends would come to me in secret. Susie, we really like you. We just don't want Lisa to get mad at us. I believed them. How could anyone Lisa? Still, nowhere was safe, not even Girl Scouts: Lisa's mother was the troop leader, and they worked as a team. Camp outs were hell. I was alone.

Susie, my mother sat me down on her bed. This was the one and only time I ever remember my mother sitting me down to give me some parental guidance. Susie, I hear you say you're angry a lot. And that's not good. Because if you're angry, people won't like you. Well, that really pissed me off. I was angry was because Lisa was bullying me at my own birthday party in our house! And Mommy wasn't stopping it. Mommy never stopped it.

This torment went on for three years. My kind spinster missionary teachers told me to forgive Lisa and turn the other cheek. My friends came to me in secret: Susie we arelly like you! We just don't want her to turn on us. But my mother?

Mom, go tell Mrs. Shanahan to make Lisa stop!
My mother got flustered. I can't! I can't face her! She's too bossy.
Then talk to Miss Olson? I countered.
Susie, mom's voice trailed off a moment. Her voice came back trembling and scared. Susie, I can't handle your problems, you have to learn to resolve your own arguments!
But I didn't argue with her, Mommy! I didn't do anything!

My mother turned her back to me and wept.
I had no one.

But I had Jesus. I'd read about Jesus in the Bible, how he healed the sick and stood up for the weak and defenseless, and how he loved the unlovable. That was me.

Jesus was my invisible buddy who listened and loved me. The fact that he also loved Lisa made him a traitor or a wimp. But then, no one had stood up for me. Not the spinster missionary teachers. Not my callow friends. Not my mother. My father never came to church except to criticize the sound system. At least Jesus had the excuse of being too busy with the Viet Nam War.

So I trusted him. I spent many afternoons staring up at the Picture of the Nice Jesus on the wall. I prayed to him as Lisa kicked my chair or cackled to my gutless friends. "Please Jesus, make her stop. Please Jesus, make her nice. Please Jesus, make her die."

Jesus sat there, looking upward, listening only to his Heavenly Father. I hoped God was telling Jesus about it. Maybe Jesus was so sad, because he loved me and he couldn’t intervene.

So that is how I ended up in Principal Olson's office.

Three weeks prior, on the first day of Sixth Grade, I walked into class, only to discover that Wendy Barnes, the only girl who'd ever stood up for me, had left for Tewinkle, the public junior high. Lisa had planted herself in the seat behind mine, ready for one last year of taunting and torture and tyranny.

That afternoon I went straight home and found my mother in the back yard.

Mom, I want to go to Tewinkle.

Mom kept her back toward as she watered her irises, for what seemed like an eternity. The water spilled over into the strawberry troughs, and on into her nasturtiums. My mother put a lot of work into her garden. It was her outlet for being ignored by my father. Like she was ignoring me now.

Mom? I repeated after a long silence.

Finally Mother's back heaved and her voice pinched up into sob. "Why do you want to leave Prince of Peace?"
She was acting like I wanted to leave Jesus. But I didn't I wanted to leave Jesus, I just didn't want to be bullied anymore.

Mom began to cry openly. I went inside the house. Nothing more was said.

Three weeks later I was in Miss Olson's office. As I looked up at the Nice Jesus on the wall, I realized how much He reminded me of my mother: Maybe because they were both brown-haired, Norwegian, and depressed.

Miss Olson came out of her office and sat down next to me on the bench.
Susie, do you know why you're here?

I did. That afternoon, Lisa had hit me out in a game of prison ball. And she was on my team. Prison ball is like Dodge ball played in teams on a soccer field. Once you're hit with the ball you go to the goalie, and all you can do is throw the ball to one of your team members in the game so they can get an opponent out.

Lisa was hit out almost immediately. So she stood with the goalie, simmering every throw that I was still in the game. As other members of our team got out and joined her at the goal, she began her diabolical plan. She whispered to them. When they got the ball, oops! They didn't throw it to me; they threw it to the other team, so the other team could get ME out. That's all she wanted. She wanted me out. But I was fast and agile and angry. I dodged the bit fat red ball aimed right at me. Or I caught it and hurled it back at my opponent, getting them out instead. I was going to win.

Lisa had each side chanting for my demise. Girls are catty and fickle. And the boys, well boys always love watching girls fight. It was down to two players on our team. Me and Becky Knapp, a retarded girl who limped. She'd been ignored most of the game. Finally Lisa slipped the swollen rubber ball to Willie Snow and he slammed me, hard. The ball dropped. I was out. Becky the Retard was the only one left.

I ran straight for the goalie. Straight for Lisa. She was squealing in delight. My face was throbbling with adrenaline. I grabbed her thick red pony tail, and spun her around like a lasso with her head on the end. Like you spin way you pick up a toddler and swing them for play. Only this wasn't for play. This was for everything.

I let go and Lisa skidded several feet along the blacktop before stopping in a puddle of scrapes and terrified screams. The boys erupted in whoops and applause. Lisa ran off wailing. Her mother came to pick her up, threatening to remove her from POP forever. We could only hope.

My girl friends came over to reassure me they'd always liked me. I shoved them away and waited for the PE Coach to drag me to the office.

Susie, do you know why you're here? Miss Olson repeated.

"Because of Lisa?"

No. Miss Olson surprised me. "Because your mother says you're not happy here. Is that true, Susie? Are you not happy at Prince of Peace?"

I thought of my mother crying. Crying on Miss Olson's shoulder because her daughter wanted to leave Jesus. So I said nothing.

"Well, Susie. I think things will change after today." She smiled put a coupon for an ice cream in my hand, and sent me home. In good Lutheran fashion, Miss Olsen had turned the other cheek.

As I walked out, I looked up the picture of the Nice Jesus on the wall. Silent and sad and immovable. I prayed, "Please Jesus. Please understand."

Jan 25, 2007

Oh No. I Bought An Oprah!

Okay, Iadmit it. I bought a copy of Oprah! magazine today. Wait: is the ! reserved for her TV show title? Oprah! Maybe she's eliminated the ! altogether. It not the Oprah empire large enough that it needs an exclamation point to get noticed? Wait, I just checked. Her magazine is just O. She's more famous than Madonna. She's just a letter.

So, I bought my first copy of O, The Oprah Magazine today. I had to do 45 minutes of cardio at the gym and had nothing to read (I can't do cardio without something to distract me. I might realize what a waste of life it is to be running in place on a stationary machine in a gym run by minimum-wage college drop-outs, while real life is going on outside in the sunshine)..

So I stopped by the grocery store to buy something to read. I'd finished Vanity Fair, I had several New Yorkers at home. Vons was limited to Women's Day, LA Latino Angeleno, and the glossy gossip rags OK! In Touch! People was outdated. Justin and Cameron's breakup? Sooo last week. The current US Weekly cover story was on "Britney's New Man." Britney doesn't even have time to put on underwear, and she's had time to find a new man? Why is this news? Why do we care? Why is this happening? No. No I can't buy that magazine.

I am also trying to distract myself from my growing suspicion that America is truly falling apart in a this-time-it's-for-real-folks fashion. in a Rome Is Burning, can't you smell it? No, because you've got your head so far up up britney spears smelly uncovered ass,that's why you can't smell ROME BURNING!

The only justifiable magazine left was O. I perused the cover. . "David Sedaris gets dumped!" on the cover. I love most everything he writes. Something else about improving your relationship without taaaaaalking about it. Compared to everything else, this was Chaucer. I bought it, went to the gym, hopped on the elliptical trainer and read.

David Sedaris' piece was three short paragraphs. It was a series of Firsts. My First Crush, My first Job (Donna Karan), My First Day Off (Colin Powell). I was disappointed I only got three paragraphs of Sedaris, but the rest of it was pretty good. An article written Lance Armstrong's ex (not Sheryl) on how to get over. Pretty good..

There was an article about couples with at least 10 years difference in age. It was fascinating in a train wreck kind of way. I admit this is x sexist, but it wasn't the older men/younger women who made me squirm. It was the younger men. Men who were 10 to 18 years younger. For on thing, only one of the pairings were married, and many of them had only been together for two years. Come on, you’re not really a couple until you buy real estate or have kids.

I guess it made me squirm because I recognized myself. I almost always dated men who were younger. In retrospect, I was avoiding dealing with myself, by dating men who needed babysitting. Larry is 7 years older than me. Given our age, experience, maturity, life experience, he’s just such a great fit. For Me. And I have to deal with myself.

I’ve still got to read that article about “how to improve your relationship by not talking about it.” And I haven’t gotten to the Oprah-worship pages. I’m worried about that.

But I did notice Oprah's Mission Calendar. This month Oprah's mission is Love. The Banner read:

Let love rule—give it your best, and receive it with open arms.

Who wrote that? That's just horrible. Fingernails on a blackboard horrible.

Look, Oprah does a lot of great things for people. She has amazing power and influence, and I respect her. The fact she has all that and is black and a woman makes me smile, considering the role minorities and women have played in our culture. Good on you Oprah! But she’s just a little too ... self-focused?

Maybe I should sample more Oprah before I make generalizations about her media empire. But what other celebrity has her face on the cover every month? I have several friends who love Oprah. One of them, I am no longer friends with. Because took Oprah's self-actualization, self-worship theology too seriously.

One afternoon I was at the gym and they had Oprah on the TV. Susan Sarandon was on to promote a movie. Oprah asked her about a Susan was part of wherein she bought a sheep for a mother in Africa. Susan talked about how the sheep empowered that family, and how it really touched her as well.

Oprah then said, “Well we have flown that African Mother out to the studio today!” and Susan and the matriarch had a startled, overjoyed reunion.

Then Oprah announced she was giving 50, count em, 50 sheep to that village! Wow Oprah! Susan may have given one. But you just gave fifty. Mad me think of that verse in Matthew: Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired ... don't shout about it as the hypocrites do ... they have received all the reward they will ever get ... Give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you.”

Again I know she goes great stuff. More than I have ever done. But if she’s going to call down James Frey for writing a fiction book and calling it nonfiction, why hasn't she called Tom Cruise back to excoriate him for acting out an entire fictional life on camera? Come on Girl! You can do it!

If I ever get to meet Oprah, I will probably brown nose her, stumble over how much I respect her and how she's helped so many people self-actualize, and how I admired her ... in The Color Purple. And that will all be true. Hopefully she won't ask me how I like her show. I might have to lie.

Jan 19, 2007

Grazers at Whole Foods

Today I went to Whole Foods. Not because I like the place, but because it sells the food I need to buy. Plus, I was meeting my friend Mim for lunch, and their café sells food I eat. So I arrived early and wrote until Mim got there.

I've written about my distaste for the snobs who shop there. Forget that a lot of my friends shop there; I mean the overall clientèle. The rich, privileged Westsiders who are educated about the benefits of organic food, but willfully ignorant of the dangerous toxins of being an asshole.

Where else can you get organic goat milk gouda, or cumin encrusted sheep's milk Jalisco? Today the shoppers were relatively calm. Although one man shoved his way toward the bulk chocolate trail mix and did not write the price code on his tag. (this helps the cashier from having to look up the item from a list of hundreds of codes. Not for him, this man was important. He needed his organic chocolate fix. We needed to move. I had to ask a woman to let me past her cart to get an item from the shelf, which she was blocking. She was not happy about it. I beamed, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

I took my food to the café and took out a notebook. I was having writers block at home. had forgot the freedom of writing long hand, with a real pen and ink, in my own organic scrawl. I wrote a lot. Last March I was in New York for a week, and my friend Chris Myers and I went to the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle to write. Getting one of those round booths was an ordeal. And you had to show your receipt that you bought food there in order to stay. but we got the booths and we wrote up a storm.

I remember my most prolific writing period: it was when my life had seemingly fallen apart, I couldn't stop crying, so I went to anonymous cafes, wore sunglasses, put on the headphones and wrote. And wrote. I can't say that the material was much good. But the act of writing helped me get through the day. And eventually got me to write good stuff. It was good to sit there and work.

Today, I noticed a segment of the population I haven't noticed at Whole Foods before: single old men. There were at least three old men eating there by themselves. Two of them were quite old and shuffled, hunchback, to their tables, to consume their lunch.

Little old men make me cry. They seem so helpless and lonely. Little old women do fine. They're home making their lunch. And afterward, they'll have knitting and cross stitch to do. But what can little old men do?

One man managed to get his plate to the table next to me. He sat facing my direction on the far corner of the table. I wondered if this was his only hot meal of the day. Maybe he opens a can of Campbells at night. I wondered if he was ever married, if he had family close by. I wondered if he felt lonely or he liked his life just as it was.

At one point he was looking blankly for a napkin, so I got him one. He smiled and told me he had dropped his, and couldn't reach for it. I smiled and continued to write, because I didn't want him to see I had teared up.

The New York Times published an article this week stating that for the first time in recorded history, the majority of American women are living without a spouse. Whether they're divorced, widowed, never married, or living with someone they're not married to; they're alone.

And I realized again why Whole Foods does well. It creates the home cooked meals for those who don't have a home at home. Who don't have a family to cook for or eat with. I wondered what Whole Foods is going to look like in 30 years. Maybe we'll see more old ladies here. Ladies who never learned to cook for a husband or family. Ladies who have no one to knit for or crochet.

I thought how our culture is in such deep trouble. We are so isolated from each other and ourselves.

One of the lies of Whole Foods is that incidental salvation can be found in buying better food. It may be good food, and it may be healthy for you. But Whole Foods is nothing like the average Mom & Pop health food stores that are run by aging hippies who grow their own wheat grass and ride the bus. Whole Foods has a creepy cultish feeling to it. Like you've walked into a pagan temple only the rich can enter. It makes me uneasy. I realize there's always something good underneath a popular movement, or else it wouldn't be popular. But I will make an effort to patronize Rainbow Acres and The Co-Op and LifeSource before I go back to Whole Foods.

Mim arrived and we chatted for a while. I noticed during the course of our lunch another man had come in on his own. Only he wasn't a sweet little old man. He was a chubby middle class baby boomer man. Baseball cap, Bubba Gump sweatshirt, and a stack of mail. Maybe he'd recently separated and stopped to get his mail at the house before his estranged wife got home from her broker job.

What drew our attention was, he kept going up to the soup bins and taking samples of the soup. You know those little plastic cups they provide for you to scoop out salad dressing? They can't be bigger than 1/8 of a cup. He kept going over to the soup and 'sampling it.' At first, he pretended to be curious about it, as if this, his fourth sample, was only his first. But then he went back, took yet another sample, and returned to his mail.

I noticed soon afterward that a slightly anorexic woman in a sophisticated track suit and a severe face lift was doing the same thing. Sampling the soup and going back to her table. She didn't have a stack of mail to read. She just sat there.

We stared at Bubba. Perhaps he felt our stares, because he collected his mail and left his table. He proceeded to go to back to the soup tureen, only this time he did take one of their paper soup container. Yet rather than ladle out soup and going to pay, he stood in front of the tureen, drank it down, and refilled his container. It wasn't until a woman stood behind him, waiting to get in, did he leave. And got back to his table. He rummaged for his keys in his big fat shorts.

Oh my gosh is he going to leave and not pay?
I envisioned myself running after him and saying, "hey fat ass, go back and pay for your soup."
I asked Mim what we should do. Turn him in!
But he eventually walked toward the counter to pay. For a meager 6 oz container of soup, when he'd probably consumed a quart.

I wonder how Jesus would react? Would he have compassion for them? Or would he think they were selfish brats, like I do? Or would he look at me and say, "beware of the pharisee who sits in the temple saying, "I'm better than these people because I pray and fast, and I tithe."

Jan 18, 2007

Tired of Tofu

I've been a new food plan that's good and clean and healthy. And for the most part it's been good. However, I am tired. Tired of tofu. Weary of its tasteless, boring, bleak appearance and texture. I know they say that tofu can take the flavor of anything you put on it. But I can't put chocolate sauce and whipped cream on it. Not on my new food program.

I'm also tired of cooking. Tired of cooking and chopping and chewing. I'm especially weary of chewing. One good thing about a Snickers. In four easily swallowed bites you've downed 300 calories. But try downing 300 calories worth of carrots? Or red peppers? Man that takes time. And chewing.

The good thing is, bed time is only two hours away, and a new day on the other side. And that means, OATMEAL. Which is so much more flavorful than tofu. Especially with sugar.

No, Susan NO.

Jan 16, 2007

Christopher Hitchens Jumps The Shark

Some of y'uns were asking, so here it is: the full text of my Response to Hitchens, previously posted on Burnside Writers Collective. BTW: Graydon Carter is the Editor in Chief of Vanity Fair.

Ah Graydon, we thought we knew ye. But you have been sucked into the swirling eddy of a drowning man. Christopher Hitchens’ neo-con politics aren’t sexy any more, on account of the whole Iraq War thingy, and Hitchens being a grumpy atheist British drunk. So now Hitchens is reaching for attention, as evidenced in his latest (and we hope, his last) article for your December issue: “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”

I can just see Hitchens in the Vanity Fair story meeting, desperate to convince you, VF's editor, while draining his last bottle of Peach Schnapps.

Hitchens: On me life, Graydon, people’ll buy the Chrissimus issue, just for me article.
Graydon: But Pro-Rumsfeld stories are dead …
Hitchens: Wait for it, Wait for it. You ready? “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”
Graydon: Just because they’re not laughing at YOUR jokes.

And therein lies Hitchens’ faulty reasoning. Just because the media doesn’t reward funny women doesn't mean funny women don’t exist. For men to complain that there aren’t enough funny women is like the Nazis complaining there were no more Jews in Warsaw.

You got rid of us.

Men don’t want women to be funny; you just want us to look good in a thong.

Hitchens says that “the chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex,” and that humor is his best shot at winning a woman. That may be true, humor is a big aphrodisiac for women. But then Hitchens claims women don’t need to work at attracting men: “you’re already appealing.”

I beg to differ. If “Ugly Betty” doesn’t say it all, there’s this whole cottage industry called Women’s Magazines, and the covers don’t advertise stories about how women are fine just as we are. They don’t show a woman how to win a man by using her biting, incisive wit. Not even with her non-threatening apple-pie wit. They’re all about how to get a man by losing ten pounds, using the right lip gloss and getting Jennifer Aniston’s Japanese flat perm.

Let me reiterate: men don’t want women to be funny; men just want women to look good in a thong. And this says more about men’s inability to value humor than it does about a woman’s inability to be funny.

Hitchens admits that humor could be threatening. “If humor is a sign of intelligence, perhaps men do not want women to be funny. They want them as an audience, not as rivals.” Well now, that’s the first bit of honest writing the man has done.

But he doesn’t go anywhere with it. He writes that, for women, “cunning minxes that they are,” humor is secondary to our higher calling of bearing children: a job so wondrous and serious a matter, we can never laugh about it.

Hitchens has never been to a MOPS meeting or a baby shower or Chick Night. I get together with my women friends once a month. We eat chocolate and cheese, drink wine, and laugh our Over Size Zero asses off with stories about men, dating, sex, and yes even episiotomy scars. But those meetings are kept private under a sacred, solemn oath; so I cannot disclose their grave and mysterious content.

And excuse me: cunning minx? Who calls a woman a cunning minx? Hitchens little Mickey Spillane and phoned it in. What a hack.

Hitchens is not completely off base. It’s quite true: there are far more successful funny men than funny women in entertainment (I assume we’re omitting the clowns in politics, economics and astrophysics). Check the cast list of TV and film comedies: it’s always an average, dopey but likable guy, cast opposite a hot woman. Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne Smith. Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston/Renee Zellwegger/Jenny McCarthy (no Jenny, standing with your mouth agape in a silent scream doesn’t make you funny).
Adam Sandler and Kate Beckinsale. Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate. Will Ferrell and Leslie Bibb in “Talladega Nights”. Who in the H-E-Double toothpicks was Leslie Bibb? Just the latest charmless pretty girl. Fat-boy Kevin James got Amber Valetta in “Hitch”. Who are we kidding?

There are many funny women in entertainment: Molly Shannon, Anna Gasteyer, Tia Leoni, Amy Poehler. Diane Keaton. But you don’t see Hollywood developing sitcoms with Anna Gasteyer getting it on with Josh Duhamel, or Molly Shannon bedding George Clooney. Even pairing Diane Keaton with Jack Nicholson in “Something’s Gotta Give” was scandalous, she was so close to his age.

Hitchens was also correct that there are far more male standup comedians than there are women. But standup comedy is solo venture, in a dark, lonely, competitive, and solipsistic atmosphere. Women are more relational. We're better at improvisational comedy. Look at the successful women who came out of Second City and The Groundlings: Edie McClurg, Jula Sweeney, Julie Louis-Dreyfuss; Gasteyer, Shannon, Poehler. And let's not forget the amazing Tina Fey, erstwhile head writer on SNL, who now helms her own new comedy, 30 Rock.

I don't believe think Hollywood’s beauty bar was set so high forty or fifty years ago. Leading women had to be attractive, of course; but they didn’t have to be smokin’ hot. Take for example Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell. In “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” it was Jean Arthur who saved Jimmy Stewart, using her humor and intelligence. Lucille Ball was pretty, but she wasn’t Greta Garbo.

So what changed?


Well, sex and the decline of Western Culture. But let’s start with sex. We all know that when dating, if we don’t jump into bed right away, we might be forced to talk to each other, and become attracted on more lasting qualities such as intelligence and humor. The same is true in films and television. Actresses could carry a picture based on their humor and intelligence. Even sexy movies, like “To Have or Have Not”, were sexier for their subtlety.

Since the sexual revolution, women were free to have sex with no repercussions; and men were free to desire women solely for sex, with no repercussions. Playboy had a lot to do with turning women into mute, two-dimensional sex objects. You’ve come a long way, baby. A long way down.

And this is a lot of what we are dealing with: the demise of Western Culture. With no God, there's no higher authority to answer to, nor needs greater than, our suckling narcissistic ID. So: men turn women into blow-up dolls, and women turn men into money machines. And there’s no better example than Donald Trump and the women he occasionally marries.

Yes, women aren’t the only victims. Men have also suffered from the sexual revolution: they're wanted simply for their power or pocketbook. And that’s gotta be frightening for men like Christopher Hitchens. And judging by his slide down the credibility ladder, he’s scared and angry. So he blames it on the women for not laughing at his jokes. Methinks the wino doth protest too much.

A few humorous asides: Hitchens, bitter atheist that he is, sites the embarrassing human anatomy as proof there is no God. He then describes a scene in hell where demons snicker at our pooping skills. I've heard of people who believe in heaven but not God. But people who believe in Hell but no God? That's a special kind of nihilist.

Hitchens also states that religion is the “official enemy of all humor.” But just who are the leaders of most religions: girls? Who’s at the pulpit most Sundays delivering those humorless three-point, alliterative sermons: Girls? Well, if religion is the enemy of all humor, and men are the figureheads of religion, then men are the enemy of humor. And girls win.

Jan 15, 2007

I Hate Diets

I haven't been on a "diet" in years. Not a real one where you have to stick to a food plan and someone weighs you once a week.. I've done my versions of diets in the last years: the cigarette diet, the lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne pepper fasting diet. Except I allowed myself treats. Like a piece of sugar free chocolate. Which became fruit juice sweetened malt balls, or carob almonds. SO no it really wasn't a fast. I did lose weight. But I felt like crap. I'm not good at rules. I’m not good at dieting either.

The first diet I went on, I was a junior in high school. The only thing I remember was that I had to eat two apricots at 10:30 am on the second day. A strange thing to ask of a high school girl, to eat two apricots at precisely 10:30 AM. Why not figs or prunes? And why 10:30? I guess we need rules.

The next time I went on a diet was during my first year of college. It had been a horrible year. I'd broken up with my boyfriend, John Lennon got shot, and was stuck at a school I hated: UC Irvine. It was like going to school in a test tube. Sterile, uncreative, depressing.

So, four weeks shy of my 18th birthday in March, I decided to really go on a diet and really do it right. At least I'd have something to be happy about. I picked the Scarsdale Diet. It's a low carb, high protein diet like Atkins, but with fruit. You do the Diet Plan for two weeks, then do a maintenance plan for two weeks. Two weeks on, two weeks off.

After the first two weeks I'd lost so much weight, I just kept on the Diet Plan. By my 18th birthday I had lost nearly 15 pounds. My food was so "clean," that when I ate ice cream on my birthday, I got nauseous and threw up.

And so an eating disorder was born, and the rest is a middle class white girl's history. Overachiever girl, obsessed with perfection, finds her life is out of control, so food becomes the one thing she can control. It started out great. I felt great, I was exercising, I felt good because I was eating clean food. And I lost the weight I wanted to lose. But that addict thing in me clicked, and I became obsessed. My lowest weight was 92 pounds.

Slowly with the help of counseling, Overeaters Anonymous, and just being sick and tired of dieting, I got better and put some pounds back. But I had issues with food and body image from then on. I suppose I always will, our culture doesn't exactly promote healthy view of normal body weight.

I stayed very slim until I got my monthly cycle back. Oh yeah that was another byproduct of being so thin. I didn't buy Kotex for years. My doctor patted me on the shoulder and said, "when you start dating again, you'll start your cycle again."

This proved to be true. I met this really hot guy, we dated for several months. He lit my pilot light and Bob's Your Uncle, I was back patronizing the Women's Hygiene section. But with it came the extra pounds, and so began again the weight battle and all its attendant issues.

This time, instead of controlling my weight by controlling my food, I started smoking. That, and because I was pissed off at God at the time, so cigarettes worked with the weight and God-anger issues.

After a few years I put the cigarettes down. But I would pick them back up on occasion, especially when my boyfriend at THAT time made comments like, "you gain weight when you're on your period, right?" My response was to walk out, not talk to him for two weeks, and go on the cigarette diet(cigs, and chocolate malt balls). Which also works with weight and boyfriend-anger issues.

This same boyfriend inspired another diet a couple years later. When we finally broke up, it propelled me into what I refer to as "the Heartbreak Diet." It hurt to eat. It hurt to breathe. I starved myself down to a size Zero, but I didn't even want to live to enjoy the clothes.

Well, that was four years ago. And today I am mighty glad I broke up with the guy, but wish I could replicate some of that heartbreak lack of appetite.

It's been a terrific year. I met the True Love of love of my life. And he loves me just as I am. I also quit smoking for reals, interestingly enough, about the time I met him. I'd been off cigarettes, but resorted to them in a pinch, ie moments of stress, or feeling HALT: hungry angry lonely or tired. When I stopped the cigs I chewed the Nicotine gum. But that changed a year ago when I met Larry. I quit altogether.

And I gained 10 pounds.

Our friend Doug says that this is natural when you get married. He says it's because your entire single life, you carry around the tension of being single, and this burns calories. When you get married your body relaxes and it slows down. And you gain weight.

I came back from the honeymoon fatter. Well, we kept a huge bag of Costco trail mix in the car, that was part of it. But since Larry and I have been married, I swear I haven't been eating any more than before. Maybe less. I quit my late-night eating too. But I kept putting on weight. What was up, man?! Well, OK the occasional (often) dip in the "fruit juice sweetened carob almond bin at the "health food" store. But come on, man!

By Christmas, I had gained two pant sizes since my Heartbreak Diet days.

So I'm on a new fitness regimen and "food plan." Food plan is waymobetta to say. And to do. I'm eating all healthy food. I even gave up my Atkins protein bars.

I'm also back taking lots of yoga. A studio opened up the street called Your Neighborhood Studio. The classes are great, inexpensive, and I love the proprietor, Denise. They have amazing teachers, including some of the teachers who taught at the place I was driving to and from in Santa Monica. I like Power Yoga for the physical challenge as well as the relaxation. But the drive to and from Santa Monica was so maddening ( blogged about it here), that it canceled out any relaxation I'd gained. So walking six houses down to the studio is a no-brainer.

So I'm committed to eating right and exercising. At least for the next four weeks. I'd like to give Larry, and me, a really nice Valentine's present.

Jan 10, 2007

A Response to Hitchens

I've got a new piece on Burnside Writers Collective: Christopher Hitchens Has Jumped The Shark. It addresses Hitchens' embarrassing rant in Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren't Funny.
Have a read!

Cats On Prozac, Susan On My Name Is Earl

The LA Times feature an article about Animals on Prozac. I hardly know how to respond. Except to wonder, how did anxious pets cope before now? This may put the pet psychics out of business.

Monday I had a callback for a teensy role on "My Name Is Earl." I had a callback for Earl several months ago. I kicked ass. I didn't book it.

I've had a lot of callbacks but haven't booked the jobs. The other week I had a callback for Crestor. Drug commercials are lucrative. I even wrote a piece for NPR about it. But they always pick earnest women to say At mycholesterol.com, we learned that Bob's cholesterol, plus his age and family history, means he has to do more. Or, Do you have a Cholesterol Plus problem? Women who can say that a straight face.

I didn't book it. It was one of those epic auditions, where they kept there for two hours, mixing and matching. And then they let us stay or we got booted off the island. I only went in once, then a half hour later they booted me off. I think I lost it when they asked for profiles. Me and my Jay Leno chin.

I used to make a living as an actor. Which makes it sucky when you don't anymore. When you've lived your life on a notion that God is involved in guiding your life, and you've seen him open the doors. Then you see Him blessing everyone within striking distance of you, you wonder … what did I do to earn God's malignant neglect?

Saturday we'd been out to dinner in Los Feliz, a trendy area made famous by the movie "Swingers." It's a place where lots of Hollywood hopefuls hang out. Not the America's Next Top Model gorgeous, but the funky weird gorgeous. A gorgeous I could have been once. I remembered what it was like to be that age and full of hope, because I had all the world and time in front of me.

Well I don't have the world and time in front of me. It lies behind me in the years I was soft and hopeful. I spent a good twenty years trying to make a living in this business. And now it is over, and the line of time is drawn and fixed behind me.


Monday morning, Larry and I were having our devotional. For some reason when we started to pray for the day, I got emotional and prayed to God, "Come on man, I'm not asking to be rich and famous, I just want enough for health insurance and to afford an apartment with a door on the bedroom and an actual bathtub!"


It's not just yuppies and Westsiders who act like they are entitled. Christians are the worst, and I have been one of them. I started my acting car
eer (and my career as an entitled Christian) sporting ideas like:

God has a wonderful plan for my life. He wants good things. Translate: I'm God's Kid: I don't have to work as hard. And my preachers gave me the Bible verses to back it up: God will open the doors that no man can close.

But then, life didn't work out that way. So pastors and teachers smiled, they downgraded my promises from holy writ to Hallmark maxims: When God closes a door, he opens a window.

To which I replied, Yeah, a window leading to unemployment and despair. And anyway, why can't God close the window, and open the door?

Monday afternoon, as I drove to the Valley, I thought more about that morning's prayer. Actually I thought about my transmission. Last time I drove to an Earl audition, my engine light went on. I thought about that. Then I thought about my whiny prayer. It was time to revise it.

I know this isn't your fault, God. Life is good and also hard. I know that I took much for granted. I was lazy and thought I was entitled to happiness and success, because I was yours. I am yours but I'm entitled to that alone. Please forgive me.

The women competing for my role looked like characters out of a Fellini film. Maybe my Jay Leno chin would help. We were all women over 35, dressed like drunken floozies. Vying for a chance to be funny. A chance to make rent money or health insurance.

While I was at the audition, a woman came up to me who recognized me from a temp job I had done four years ago. She still works at the law firm. Gives me the freedom to do this, she said. Go on auditions and have health benefits. I wondered again why I haven't sucked it up and gotten a full time law secretary job that allowed me to go on the occasional audition. I thought more about it, the image of life being a road behind me rather than in front of me. I got depressed.

I saw another woman there who'd been at the Crestor callback.
How did you do? I asked her.
They called me in once and released me. I don't care anymore, she said. She was dressed in a leather mini skirt and a crop top that showed off her ample cleavage. She didn't care anymore.

I realized my skirt was far too long to get this role.

I was the first one in for my category. The producers and writers in the room were friendly and fun. I was friendly and fun back at them.

I thought about joking that my skirt was too short. I didn't. I just got to the scene.

RANDY: Hi, I'm Randy. Are you drunk enough to come home with me?
The Woman downs the rest of her drink.

I wanted to swallow something. I had set out a can of Shasta Diet grapefruit, but I forgot to put it in the car. All I had in the car was a plastic water bottle filled with Blue Listerine. So I brought that in. I downed a swig of that. It spilled onto my halter top. Made them laugh. I drove home with a slight medicinal buzz.

I went to the gym, and resumed reading Don Miller's "Blue Like Jazz" which I've read before. I was on the chapter where Don and a friend went on a road trip, to get his real self back. They stopped at the Grand Canyon and hiked down. When they got to the bottom Don just felt crappy. But that night he lay and looked up the billions of stars. He apologized to God for being fake and getting lost. It felt like I was apologizing to an old friend, someone with home there had been assort of bitterness, and the friend was saying it was okay, that he didn’t think anything of it.

I teared up a little on the treadmill. I wanted a do-over for the last twenty years. But maybe I could settle for a do-over of just today.

Thank you, God, for whatever comes. Good and bad. It's a fallen world, and there is sorrow and sadness. But there is also joy.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he opens an air duct.

Turns out I booked the job on "My Name Is Earl." I will be briefly visible in an upcoming episode of My Name Is Earl. Playing a drunken floozy. won't actually drink alcohol during the scene, or even Blue Listerine. Nor will I be going home with Randy. I will be going home to my husband and celebrating the fact we are a bit closer to getting our insurance back. And we will celebrate in whatever way old married floozies get to do.

Jan 6, 2007

A Bad First Date Gone Good

A year ago today, I went on a first date with this man I'd met online. We'd been emailing each other before the holidays, and in a short week or so of emails, we got into a very involved discussion about interesting things, and I was intrigued by him. He had most everything I was looking for, a mature faith without being corporate or churchy. He had a great sense of humor, on paper anyway, and he was interested in the same things that I was interested in. And he looked cute in his picture.

He suggested we meet for coffee at the Bourgeois Pig in Los Feliz. The BP is a latte and wi-fi joint in the too-hip area of Los Feliz, a place where any afternoon, everyone is working on a screenplay or waking up after a late gig at a rock club. Even if we were too old and too normal for it, it was good he knew about it and didn't suggest Dennys or Cocos or the worst: Starbucks.

I got dressed up in a short skirt and makeup. I was talking with a friend on my cell phone on the way there. I said, "I have this feeling about him. I mean he might not be the one. But if he is, I'll remember this feeling, that I knew he was."

I kept talking to her about other things as I walked in. You know how you walk into a date doing something else so you don't look stupid.

I shouldn't have worried. It was not a good date.

The man was sitting in a low couch that made him look slouchy. When he got up to greet me, he looked older than in his picture. More drawn around the face, like he'd gone on a crash diet and his neck hadn't caught up with his thinner self. Or else he was nervous, because he looked drawn. He wore a collarless shirt and clogs. His hair was long but he'd greased it back like a Ducktail. Like a biker who couldn't decide between being a biker or a hippie. It was weird.

I thought to myself, "well, here's one for practice."

He bought me a coffee, and we sat back in the couch he had been sitting in, and I realized why he looked slouchy, it was one of those old low sitting crappy couches that swallows you. No one can look good in a couch like that. I had a hard time figuring out how to sit, what with my short skirt and all.

When we got talking, he seemed to loosen up. We talked about many of the things we'd been emailing each other about: God, church, our own burn-outs on church related stuff, and the persistence of faith despite it. And we talked about music and films and writing. Well he talked most of the time. And as he spoke he stared off ahead and ran his fingers through his long hair, breaking up the pomade into brown strings of hair.

I liked talking to him, it was great to have a healthy conversation. But he never asked me any personal questions about myself. He just kept talking about god faith and music and writing. But never about me.

Two and a half hours later … yeah, there must have been something worthwhile in the conversation, because we kept each other occupied for over two hours. But he was hasty to get back to his side of town before the traffic got any worse.

We walked out together into the bright January afternoon, and he startled me, because he stopped and looked right at me, maybe for the first time, and said, "Hey I'd like see you again."

"Really? Uh okay."

I filled up the space with some suggestion about going to a movie or what not. But I was surprised, he didn't even act as though he wanted to be there now. Why would he want to do it again?

I drove home and called the friend I'd been chatting to on the way in. "Well, that was a wash. Why do I get my hopes up?"

I didn't realize how much expectation I'd actually put into this date. I'd talked myself out of caring but in fact I had. I'd been corresponding with him for a month and he really seemed like a great guy. He seemed like THE guy. But whoever had been emailing me, that was not the man who'd shown up for coffee. That guy sent his stiff, ambivalent preoccupied doppelganger.

The next day I got an email from Coffee Guy:

Hey Friend, great to meet you, I really enjoyed our conversation about blah blah blah..

Friend. Hey, FRIEND. That made it clear where his intentions were. Forget it, f#K it, I'm never going to find a decent guy on this planet. Shit!

A few days later he emailed me, "Hey, I found these articles on Christianity Today about (something or other, wondered what you thought?"

He wanted to know what I thought? What was this, a quiz?
You know what dude, you don't get to know what I think. My opinions are worth something and you don't get to know.

I think I said something polite like, Thanks, looks interesting!

I never told him what I thought.

But then a few days later he emailed me. Two of his friends were going to see "Matchpoint," and did I want to join them?"

Oh brother. This isn't even a date, it's a group movie night with his friends, in some far corner of the valley. Stupid.

But then I thought, ah what the heck. He actually is a cool guy, and he might end up being a decent friend and someone worth knowing. Besides, I couldn't get anyone else to see "matchpoint" with me.
When he showed up, he looked better. Like he was taller, with more hair. No really, he looked more relaxed, younger. And he had gotten rid of the clogs for the night. His friends were cool. He loosened up around them, he even laughed. And he started to look like the picture I'd first seen of him. But when he walked me to my car he gave me this awkward hug, like we were in high school.

An odd thing happened a few days later. His movie friend emailed him, she thought I'd be interested in this spoken word show where she was going to sing that coming weekend. What was odd was, I was performing in the same show. This woman I'd just met was singing at an event where I was going to read. She and I were in the same show.

So, the two guys came to hear her sing and me read. It was a vulnerable and raw piece I was reading, about myself, my faith, my past. He was either gonna get it and like it, or hate it and be gone.

He got it, and he liked it. In fact he kept getting it, getting me. And we kept seeing each other, steadily and slowly the man I'd met in those emails emerged, like a face in a Polaroid.

We got married seven and a half months later.

We have had rough bits and I'm sure we'll have many. But we've had wonderful moments, we've learned so much already about how to talk and how to act, in light of another person rather than for simply oneself. I see the beauty of marriage, how it changes you for the better, so you'll be ready for heaven, with all of your crap burned off of you.

I can't imagine being with anyone other than that man with the clogs and the long wild biker hair. And I look forward to more years to come.

Jan 3, 2007

I Hate The Westside

A great way to appreciate what you have is to leave it. We were in Oregon, for ten days. And man that place is depressing in the winter. Cold, dark, raining. Moss grows on everything. On your roof, under the eaves, on the hood of your car. If I lived in Portland I'd have to go on anti-depressants, wear ultra-violet light bracelets, or go to the tanning booth just for light therapy.

Now, we met some really cool people too. Aaron Donley and Jordan Green, both of the Burnside Writers Collective. These talented creative artists have learned use the winter melancholy to fuel their art. And who've learned to use Zoloft and tanning booths and alcohol. Remember, Elliott Smith lived in Portland. Look what happened to him.

In any event, it was great to get back to Southern California, back to the warmer weather and sunshine. Back to the West Side, where the air is clean, we've got the beach, a pedestrian life, yoga, social consciousness and sunshine. It was fantastic.

Until I got into my car.

The Westside always had too many apartments in search of a neighborhood. But back in the 1990s commercial production moved into the warehouses. MTV and Universal and Sony moved much of their administrative offices in. And now it's just way too crowded with commuters going in and out of the area. I'm sure if you bike to work and take your hand cart to the market, and you're a few blocks from your yoga studio, it's fantastic. But try to get anywhere in your car, and it's over. The illusion of the "laid-back west side" is destroyed.

Another thing you can get by leaving is a more objective view. You can live in a hovel and get used to it. But go away and come back and you think, "Man, I'm living in a hovel!" Until you get used to it again. But, once you consider the possibility of moving away, then your mind is free to experience how bad the place is. "Man this place sucks! What a hovel! Was I ever aware of what a hovel this is? How hovelly this is? Geeze GET ME OUT OF HERE!" Of course if you then decide not to move, it's up to you how you handle your new-found awareness of your hovel. "As hovels go, maybe it's not so bad."

If there's one thing I notice coming back to the west side is the sense of entitlement. The drivers, usually men in BMWs and women in BMW SUVs, speed and weave down two lane streets, using the parking lane to pass you. Cutting in front and doing whatever they please. Because they can.

Yesterday I was driving east on Washington Blvd, in the left lane. A Honda Civic was waiting to turn right onto Washington, and behind it, a large Lexus SUV. The Lexus was pissed it had to wait for the Honda, so the Lexus screeched around and careened onto Washington, into the lane where I was driving. I had to honk to get him to see me. Then I realized, he DID see me. he was just expecting me to screech to a halt to let him in. But I didn't. He had to slam on his brakes, and for that he honked at me. I hate the drivers on the West Side. And it's not that much better when they get out of their cars.

The Whole Foods Fetish
I was at Whole Foods on New Years Day, to get some Kumbacha tea, because I am enlightened enough to know that I too, can achieve Nirvana through enzymatic therapy and vinegar tasting drinks. But as for those OTHER shoppers ... I went during the Rose Bowl, figuring it would be less crowded. But what kind of raw foods, organic-eating, spiritually enlightened upper echelon folks watch football? It was crowded, alright. With the rich, beautiful, lonely, angry westsiders: agents who meditate, investment bankers who do sweat lodges, real estate women who juice; rich young mothers with bluetooth phones who don't even hang up when they're checking out.

I was looking at the sushi case, and a man in a baseball cap and close gray beard place himself an inch to my right and shoved his face into the case, forcing me to step aside. I went to the other side and he moved that direction. Was he legally blind? Autistic?

A woman came up behind me, seething because she had to pass me on the left. Later I was walking down the main aisle. People funneling in from side aisles were pissed off that they couldn't just turn into the main aisle in front of me.

"Out of my way asshole, you're blocking my path to spiritual enlightenment."

Take money, privilege and beauty, add a little spiritual enlightenment and you get the worst subculture ever: A culture of entitlement.

I'm sure there are as many brats in Beverly Hills and Encino and Pasadena. But it's worse when you don't think you're a brat. (I know I'm a brat. that's why I need Jesus)

Ex-West Siders
My friend Tony and his wife now life east of the 101. They used to live very close to the beach, but they left for the same reasons. The bad attitude. My friends Scott and TJ live in Atwater. They're looking for a new place and one thing they insist on: East of the 101.

I realized something. There're more than just good air quality. Who wants to breathe clean air if you have to be around spiritually filthy people? (This I discovered through my own spiritual insight gained from Kumbacha)

So Larry and I have decided we are going to move. Somehwere east of the 101, somehwere closer to his new job, closer to some of our NY expat friends who have escaped the tyranny of the West Side life.

Let's hope I don't take my sense of spiritual superiority with me.

PS: Bits of Aaron Donley ... Check out Aaron's "Bits of Life" pieces on the BWC archive. Funnier than Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey. Here are a few...

I think the most terrifying thing about medieval times that even the goriest of movies are afraid to show you is the unforgiving, relentless body odor of everyone present.

I felt weird telling those people at the party that I peed my pants from laughing so hard. Because I knew deep down it was just a little dribble.

If I was a proprietor of an opium den I think I would just sort of casually set out free poppy seed muffins in the kids' play area. And if any of the parents came to me and asked, ‘just what the heck I thought I was doing,’ I would say, ‘Oh yeah, like you’re a good parent or something.’

Jan 2, 2007

Lessons from Christmas

Larry and I started to do morning devotions for Advent. Advent is about waiting: and I wanted my Christmas to be spiritually rich. I wanted it to be about more than just getting excited about our trip to Portland or Larry to open his gifts. I wanted something to offset the stress of holiday shopping. I wanted it to be about the birth of Christ. Or more pointedly, I wanted to put myself into the reality of what the birth of Christ means: that God squeezed himself into a person. That God became incarnate. A vulnerable crying, pooping child who needed his parents. God putting himself at our mercy.

So what was I expecting? God to put me into warp-speed spirituality as a result of this? I didn't know what to expect, but I did remember one Christmas, shortly after I'd taking my faith seriously … I was maybe 18 then. I remember sitting in my parents' living room, reading the Gospels, and crying. And I don't remember over what. Maybe it was gratitude or wonder, or maybe longing. But most of my ensuing years, my spiritual life has been about wanting to get that longing back. I've spent so many years angry or bitter or over it. And I've wanted to get back to that place of longing for God.

So that's a hefty expectation for just a simple devotional. And the readings weren't all mind-blowing. In fact maybe noen of them were mind-blowing. But they've had a positive effect.

For one thing, it's just good discipline to wake up and give time to something other than the news on the net; or whatever emails I've happened to get that day. If I'm not an email junkie, I'm definitely email-dependent. And that's ass-backward, if I'm going to read my Word-a-day or the latest forwarded jokes attributed to George Carlin.

Second, it's been good just to set aside "real time" for Larry and me, first thing. The "tyranny of the urgent: things I gotta do that convince me they're so important I'd put them in front of God or Larry. Tasks that seem so important to focus on, that skip my quiet time, which could actually help me focus: not just focus, but approach those urgent matters with a wiser, skeptical and grounded mind.

So having a devotional, or quiet time, has grounded me and given Larry and me time to get grounded together. What's not to like?

The Hell of Self

The self that crops up in the silence. That's what's not to like. Larry said that marriage is 24/7 therapy, and he's right. You can't run or hide who you are. And the thing about this God becoming real, and flesh, and in my face, has sort of gotten in my face these last few weeks. And I haven't liked it.

For example: the other day I was driving west near one of the movie studios, and a car was stopped in my lane trying to park. Actually it had pulled into the parking spot but was too far into traffic. So I veered over into the lane to my left. No one was there, but there was a sports coupe racing toward me on the left, maybe a car length or two behind me. He started honking his horn and screaming at me, as he raced past me at maybe 10 miles above the speed limit. He was pissed that me veering over in his lane clipped his speeds from 25 above to only 15 miles above the limit. I waved him the peace sign. And that only made him angrier. We spent the next couple blocks riding side by side: him flipping me off and screaming, and me smiling and giving him the peace sign. By the time I turned off of the street I was crying and picturing the man dead in a gruesome car accident. I wanted to rip his head off, and the images were strong in my mind. I said it out loud, "God I want you to kill that man. I want him dead."

And then I started weeping. It was still with me by the time I reached home, and so I tearfully told Larry about it. He came and embraced me, comforting me, consoling me about the holidays bringing out the worst in other people. But not other people, me. I was disturbed by that man, but even more disturbed at how violently angry it made me. Wishing that man were dead.

That's me. That's the incarnation that's being revealed to me this Christmas: this is the all too human self that is me. And it's the asshole in the sports coupe, and it's you and it's all of us. And that's my helpless self that cannot help itself into goodness. Not without God coming down and being here.

We were watching a National Geographic special about the origins of Christmas. They interviewed some people, put them into a studio and put nice lighting behind them. And they waxed on about Christmas. One woman said Christmas was the one time people really look at each other and smile and they're their best selves. I thought, she must live on a giant dairy farm in Vermont, and Christmas is the only time she goes into town. The rest of the year she has everything fedexed to her farm.

Don't Go To Therapy Right Before Vacation

The afternoon before we left for Portland, Larry came home from a therapist appointment, and he was really down about it. That's all he'd say, was that he felt like a failure and a loser.

That's when I got up to embrace him. But I didn't have angry drivers in sports coupes to put the blame on. I initiated the meetings with the therapist, because Larry and I needed to learn how to talk about the hard stuff in our marriage. We are so compatible and mature. But conflict isn't easy for anyone. And I tend to dive in and he tends to retreat. And we've really had only one major issue: finances. "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Yeah this is a hard one, because it's about more than just money, but about who's in charge of our relationship. Apparently Larry never lacked for writing work for 25 years. Until a few months before we met. His friends attest to the uncanny timing of him hitting this slump when I came into the picture. What could it all mean? I don't know, because as long as I've known Larry (only a year) he's been unemployed or under employed, and in limbo about what direction to go. He's gotten freelance gigs here and there. But none pay well, none offer insurance benefits. But he's taken it, because he's had to.

It's hard to see him not get paid much, and it's worse to see him thrown around by the will of others. As much as I've brought up the subject, Larry's circumstances haven't changed.

Right after Thanksgiving I told Larry we both had go to out and get jobs -- any jobs, after January 1. I also said we needed to go see our old therapist, so we could learn how to talk about these things without alienating each other.

So I had my turn: I talked to "Rudy" about my frustrations and fears, and how I wanted to do things right with Larry. I wanted to learn how to encourage and motivate him, and not fall into being the resentful nag. It felt healthy and good. I felt encouraged.

Meanwhile, Larry was watching his 25-year career as a writer-editor die in front of him. And his wife was telling him to get a life. But I understood, too. I remember going through that very same death three years ago, and I told Larry about it. I had wept about it to my sister, and she replied, "Why don't you do acting as a hobby?" Like I could downgrade my life's pursuit to an after-school CRAFT. I wanted to yell back, "Why don't you be a mother as a hobby?"

I didn't want to tell Larry to go do writing-editing as a hobby. But I also knew that whatever death he was going through, something better could be born out of it.

"I know what this is like, Larry. I know because it happened to me. And I look back and think, that God torched my so-called acting and writing career was the best thing that happened to me. I started writing and performing things that mattered to me, because I stopped expecting to be compensated and acknowledged for it. And I was free. Yes God torched that life, and part of it sucked then and still does. But God spared me from a life of triviality. I knew that God was good." I knew that, even if Lar had to get a regular job and do his passions for fun and for free, he might end up doing the best work of his life.

"But this I know, Larry, I know God is good. I know it. I just know it."

I turned to the wall and wept. Because as I was saying it, I felt the reality of it absorbing into my skin. That God was so good. That God was so good to these flesh and bones of mine. That I was loved with a fierce and grand kind of love. And it was terrifying and good.

A few days later, Larry was offered a full time writing job. Not the most glamorous kind of writing, but it would be for causes he cared about, and with people who really liked him. Then he got an offer to edit a spiritual book. Not great money, but it was a start back down the road of doing what he really loved doing.

As he read the galleys and vented about how frustrated he was with the way people wrote about God, he got all fired up. He started to see how he could reshape the book. He got excited about what he was doing. I have never seen Larry like this before. All our courtship he was floundering, faltering, and losing his way. Now he was finding it, firing himself up, stepping into his calling. He was doing the thing that I guess was what got him fired up for the last 25 years. It was so terrific to see.

But then he went to see our counselor, who was going on information I had related weeks before: The Larry who was lost. I wasn't at their meeting, I only know Larry came home feeling like a failure. And I felt partly responsible.

So what happened in his session? Larry wouldn't say. He just said he felt like a failure. I embraced him as he had me. Only this time the bad guy wasn't the guy in the convertible, maybe it was me. Or maybe whatever in Larry's life had robbed him of his spirit to stand up and fight. I reminded Larry what I'd seen happen to him in the last couple weeks, with getting the job offer, and getting the book editing job that fired him up, I told him how excited that made me feel, how encouraged.

He nodded his head. And then we went to Portland.

We stayed with Larry's sister Dianna, and her husband Tony and their son, Joe. We'd been looking forward to this for quite some time, and we were excited to be there. Yes, the weather sucked and we slept on the floor. But it was Christmas, we were on vacation, and we got to relax.

Sitting around the kitchen table Larry's sister exclaimed, "Wow Larry, you got 16 comments on your blog about that therapist."

What blog?

I went to my computer and read Larry's blog. It was all about the counseling session he wouldn't tell me about. He made it sound like the therapist was telling him, unless he was making a lot of money, he wasn't supporting his wife. And then Larry pointedly asked his readerss: "Should I pursue my dreams, or money?"

Is that what Rudy told Larry: to pursue money and kill his dreams? Is that what Larry thinks I'M nagging him to do? And who are all these women chiming in, giving him advice: "WHO says you have to support your wife? WHO is asking you to forsake your dreams? WHO is behind this?

It was not a good moment for us. We talked about it, and he admitted he just threw it up on his blog without thinking, he didn't mean it to become a flashpoint. He felt bad that he didn't come to me first. But that blog still sits there, with a mushrooming list of comments back and forth between a few women who are deciding Larry's fate. And it sits there, evidence of me, the nagging wife, telling him to "get a frickin' job already!"

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?

I know what is true, Larry knows what I think about art versus money. You never kill off your art. But we can't expect the world to fund us. That's juvenile. And I was guilty of that childish notion that the world owed me my living. I was blindsided by the fact that my art stopped paying for itself. Wondering why it was happening. Hadn't God called me to do this work? Didn't he open the doors? What gave? And after all, it was What I Was Supposed To Do With My Life.

But I've come to accept that the world is unfair and is full of sadness and disappointments. But just because we aren't making a living at our passions right now, doesn’t mean we never will. However, until then we do it for fun and for free.

For fun and for free.

The Incarnation In My Face

Christmas was about the incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. god showed up not as a fully developed human but as a crying, pooping, defenseless child, who needed people to feed him and protect him and love him. Jesus needed humans to help him grow up.

Here was the incarnational truth, showing up in my life this Christmas: Larry, the same flesh and blood, crying and vulnerable and making a mess; doing and saying things that hurt me or made me angry and defensive. And I thought of what Jesus said: "whatever yo udo to the least of these, you have done it to me."

And here was the incarnation in me, allowing me to love, forgive and understand. Teaching me to speak with grace and forbearance. Learn to love Larry in his failings and successes, and trust he will do the same for me.

The incarnation was also evident in the experience of being together. Watching movies, playing cards or going to Saturday Market in Portland. Watching Larry's sister Dianna and her husband Tony holding hands, after 18 years of marriage. Watching them make each other laugh and love on their son something silly. That was the incarnation. Not in just some profound idea of God becoming flesh; which is true and beautiful. But knowing that it changed us all, and that we experience love through flesh and blood. Not just some idea of love we can sing about or preach about, but a love that is active and in your face, be it laughing or playing cards or hurting one another and learning to forgive and be forgiven.
For fun and for free.