Jun 27, 2008

NT Wright on Comedy Central?

Larry and I started reading N.T. Wright about a year ago. He's an Anglican bishop who's been writing long scholarly books about the faith, in a way that takes us out of the traps of the Enlightenment (truth can be discovered by reason only, science only). His book, "Simply Christian," is to the post modern age what CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" was to the modernists. Lewis explained Christianity using logic and philosophy. Wright explains our faith through story.

In his new book, "Surprised by Hope," Wright asks us to rethink our ideas about heaven. All great, but who'd ever imagine Wright on COmedy Central, being interviewed by someone who was sympathetic?

A girl can dream, can't she?

Jun 26, 2008

Middle Class White Girl's Story and Conflict

Our toilet isn't flushing very well. I noticed in the past week it smelled bad, like too many guys got together and peed in there without flushing or using a urinal cake. You know like the Arco station on I-5 in Buttonwillow. Like that. And then Sunday it just started swirling instead of flushing.

So after two jugs of Drano Gel and a lot of work with a plunger... our home owner Ted asked me to try one last thing: go to a hardware store in Glassell Park, where they know what they're talking about (unlike Home Depot) before I call the Roto Rooter.

Glassell Park was in the news yesterday when police swooped in and arrested 30 gang members in a big sting. So on my walk down into gang territory I listened to a podcast Don Miller gave at Ecclesia church.

Don's been talking a lot about Story. His thesis is that the same elements that make for a worthwhile book or film are the same that make for a worthy life story. The main character, or hero, has a strong desire or goal, must encounter great obstacles (internal and external) to achieve it. Depending on the hero’s goals or how the heor changes, the story can be a comedy, tragedy, romance or a dud. Stupid goals make for a stupid story and a stupid hero. Like if your life's goal is to buy a Volvo or be a TV star. Well, at least the Volvo is stupid. Safe, wise, but not an epic story.

I’d thought about this myself. A few years ago I heard Sir John Polkinghorne speak. He said that physicists call true science “beautiful.” There’s a beauty and elegance to an equation when it works. I marveled, even then, if it might also be true that there was a true science innate in true art. Not simply a formula, but a formula because there was a precision and truth to how stories are told. Even before Don started speaking on it, Joseph Campbell said the same thing in The Power of Myth. And most religions, cultures and myths tell the same story: there’s a hero who must go on an arduous journey in order to grow up and give something back to his people. Look at Star Wars. And why do we love these stories? Because they echo deep inside us, we know they’re true.

And so I have been praying, God give me a good story! A good story to live! With bigger dreams and goals that might be worthy of a good story, a good life. And this has led me to examine my spiritual life. Sure, I’ve felt loads of professional regret, but what about spiritual regret? If I hadn’t walked away from God or spent so much time complaining, how much further along would I be by now? How would my prayer life look if I’d stuck with it? How many people might I have blessed or helped, if I hadn’t been such an idiot? How have I and others missed out, because I didn’t try to live a good spiritual story? Man, that will get to you…

Okay this is probably in part, a post-partum depression brought on by finishing the book. I spent the entire year working on it. On top of it, my period is overdue, circling like a jumbo jet and bringing down the room.

This week I signed on at a temp agency. The guy told me I could earn anywhere from $12 to $14 an hour. Maybe $17 on the mid-level jobs. I remember signing on as a temp in New York ten years ago. It felt like a come-down ten years ago. Imagine how it feels now. I’m not in some great story. I’m not in a movie that’s moving forward. I’m in some nihilist German expressionistic film were nothing happens.

In the past two days I had auditions all over town for mindless, meaningless products; a commercial that even if I got it wouldn’t pay more than $500 out the door. My air conditioning went out and it’s going to cost $700 to fix it. We just enjoyed temperatures in the 100s last week and it’s coming back.

And then there's the toilet. And my car's AC not working. Here’s the topper. I worked for an unnamed organization a couple years ago. When you work as an independent contractor, you receive what’s called a 1099, not a W-2. They don’t take federal taxes out of a 1099, so you have to pay tax on that money. Well, I’m avhign to redo my taxes and I realized this entity included all of my expenses on the 1099 as income. $4,000 of expenses they’re calling income and I’ve got to pay taxes on? The 1099 had a number to call to get your 1099 corrected. I called and left a message. The taped message said they’d get back in 24 hours. 48 hours later I called again. Four days later, no answer. So on Monday I emailed the supervisor I’d worked with, asking if he could contact them. He did.

They emailed me: We haven’t heard anything from you. (I guess they don’t actually listen to that phone number printed on their 1099) We don’t have the ORIGINAL receipts (their caps), so we don’t have to correct your 1099. We suggest you hire an accountant.

My first response was, “Is this the Accounting Department or the Gamma Phi Bitch Sorority?”

I did begin by saying, “I don’t appreciate your tone.” I went on to explain that I had indeed filed all my ORIGINAL (as she had referred to them in all caps) receipts with them. I faxed her all of my invoices. I wanted to suggest to her some more polite, constructive and professional responses that would actually resolve the issue, but I left it at that.

Only I didn’t leave it. The anger has been eating me up. So much that for the last two mornings I have awakened, upset and churning. I was praying out loud about it and didn’t realize my husband was still at home. He got a laugh out of that. I didn’t. This particular company used to be owned by Newscorp. I used to work for Newscorp and I knew a VP there. I had a fantasy of calling up the VP and having him call Accounting to scare the shizzle out of them.

I don’t know how to let go of injustice! And yet, what kind of injustice is it, really? My sister has some friends who just returned from a mission trip in Mozambique. Some of the people there are trying to help the people in Zimbabwe. If you don’t know what’s going on there, it’s pretty terrible. Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia. They have amazing farm land. If a native bothers to build a decent farm for himself, someone in the government comes along, says, “I want it,” and they just confiscate it. People are poor and starving, and worse, they have no hope. So these missionaries in MZ, sneak over the border at night and bring food and clothes to the poor.

And I’m upset over a botched 1099? I need a better story.

I’ve never done well with injustice. It gets under my skin and it eats me up. I know what God is telling me to do. “Susan, you’ve got to give it to me. You’ve got to let me fight your battles. Stop trying to fight and scratch and claw to get your needs met.”
(I still have to fax multiple copies of my receipts to this sorority bitch that loosely refers to herself as an accounts payable manager. And you know, I may have to get my brother in law, who is an accountant, to contact her and make her do her job)

Why can’t I let got and hand it over to God? Deep down I am afraid God doesn’t think I’m worth justice. Or he won’t. If he can’t bring justice to Zimbabwe, he can’t fix a 1099. I’m afraid God thinks I’m the one who’s wrong because I get angry. I’m afraid God thinks I’m a complaining jerk, even if I just want to be treated fairly.

I talked to my sister about that, too. And she reminded me that it’s more than just a 1099 or God working on our character. There’s a spiritual battle going on. Satan or The Dark Side or whatever, knows how to draw me out and get me to screw up. How to get me angry, how to get me to doubt God’s goodness, steal my joy, make me forget what’s good in the world, make me forget what’s important, what’s a better and grander story.

So today I sent my brother in law, all the paperwork to see if he can help. I left a message with the company guy I know to call me. Just “hey, please give me a call so we can fix this.” Nothing else. And I said to the darkness, “you can’t have me.”

And off I went to the hardware store in gang territory. It gave me some time to listen more to Don's podcast.

Conflict, real conflict where you don't just get what you want, produces a great story and great character. Don talked about a friend's daughter who threw a tantrum when she didn't get chicken nuggets for dinner. A good father doesn't give a kid the nuggets when they throw a tantrum. And right now, God's not giving me the nuggets.

When I got home I did this: it didn't work. I'm calling Roto rooter. I'm not asking for nuggets. Just a toilet that flushes.

Jun 19, 2008

Mormon, JW Smackdown

Here's one of my favorite scenes from the mockumentary "Change Your Life." Pam and her kids are off to make some door-to-door sales. But at this house, they witness two Mormons and two Jehovah Witnesses engaging in a turf war.

Jun 18, 2008

More Cisco

More Cisco Videos appeared on their website. See the Blooper Reel HERE.

And here's the next video!

Jun 17, 2008

Abe Rooney Turns 1

Our lovely house mate, Abe Rooney, turned one year old on Friday. He and Lori have been down just about a week and a half and I can see how much he's grown since they were here last, or even since he got here. Here's Abe trying out his new vocabulary, coordination and strength skills, while looking up at our cat, Honey.

And here he is, testing out a new birthday gift. Adorable!

Jun 16, 2008

Change Your Life! Video Clips

I did a movie a while ago, a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary called "Change Your Life!"; that skewered the multilevel marketing industry, motivational speakers, scams and stupid products. I finally got clips, so here for your enjoyment: These were half-scripted, half improvised, and total fun.

Les and Pam discuss the effect of multilevel marketing on their personal life.

Here's Pam waxing on about "The Secret" she's learning in a new self-improvement book.

Pam thinks "hell" is a "Gateway Swear Word."

Pam's email regarding a Nigerian Investment Opportunity!

Jun 12, 2008

Sex And The City: the Ordeal

I finally saw Sex and the City: The Movie. Most of my girl friends saw it the first weekend, so I was delighted to discover my friend Lori hadn't. As soon as she got down here from Portland and had a free afternoon, we went.

Here's a pic from the LA Times: 20-something girls dressed up to see the film on opening weekend, at the chichi Arclight Cinema. I don't see labels. They probably had to save up for the $15 movie tickets and the gas to get to the theater.

I had a love/hate relationship with the TV show. I loved the portrayal of friendship: the love between friends is really the big love in the show for me. But the sex didn't seem realistic to me. Yes I know women sleep around nowadays, but I don't think we can do that without numbing ourselves out first. Maybe that’s why they drank so many cosmopolitans and went shopping. Yet so many women who came of age during the show’s tenure believed that was what life is about: “labels and love,” as Carrie begins the VO in the film. If Carrie Bradshaw sold off her shoes she could feed Darfur for a couple of years.

But I had a certain nostalgia with the show. I moved to New York in 1998 when the show debuted, and when the show made its final bow in 2004, I was finally done with New York and my single-woman dreams. Actually, my relationship with New York was much like Carrie’s relationship with Mr. Big: that exciting, suave, bad-boy boyfriend who strings you along with promises but is too difficult and to expensive to maintain. Still you're haunted by the moments of brilliance. They say New York is only for the very rich or very young. By the time the show ended, I knew I was no longer young, and I was never going to be rich.

Anyway, Lori and I went to the first matinee of the day. There were only two other people in the audience. Two men who were probably in the SATC closet: too ashamed to admit they loved the show, they bought a ticket for Iron Man and slithered into SATC with their caps pulled down.

The first half hour of the film was a glee-fest as the girls reunited on the street and went shopping. When Carrie and Big decided to move in together, there was another squeal-fest as the girls get together to pack up Carrie’s apartment. (After ten years of dating they’re only now moving in? RED FLAG). Samantha is living in exile in Malibu, so every time she shows up, which is like once a week, they squeal as if she’d just returned from Gitmo.

The biggest romantic moment in the first two acts came when Big builds Carrie a massive closet, whose construction budget outspent the Sudan economy for a year. Anthony Lane said in his New Yorker review, that women in the audience sighed, gasped and applauded. His review sums up how I felt in much better language.

A half hour into the film I didn’t care what happened and I didn't like the women anymore. Charlotte had no conflict, Miranda was bitter, Samantha griped about living in a massive house on the beach, and Carrie—always my hope for humanity and balance in the show, was forced into a plot contrived split with Big.

Speaking of Big, the men in the film felt castrated. Charlotte’s husband had little to do but glow at his wife. Smith shrugged. Steve was on the verge of tears the entire movie. And Big: well Big’s allure is noncommittal devil-may-care nature. Chris Noth seemed to be gritting his teeth every time he had to say something sincere.

Top be fair, it’s hard to cram an entire TV season into two and a half hours. The writer/director had to follow four separate plot lines. So to flesh out four different versions of “Girl has boy, girl loses boy, girl must go on or get boy back,” was impossible. And he tried.

I do appreciate that the film starred four women over forty and celebrated friendship. But isn't there more to life by that age, than labels and love? And what kind of friend lets another friend spend $500 on shoes? For me anyway, if there is absolutely no spiritual search in anyone’s life, that’s what you end up with. Sex, shoes, distractions. Samantha’s goodbye line to her boyfriend was, “I love you, but I love me more.” Was that the take-away? Narcissism? Yucch.

It relieved me of any residual nostalgia I had for the TV series. As for a romantic vision of New York, that died in 2004. If you want a more poignant, realistic depiction of a young, single woman’s life in the Big City, read Joan Didion's short story, “Goodbye to All That.”

Jun 10, 2008

I'm on Cisco Does "The Office"

Spinal Tap and The Office propelled the mockumentary comedy style to new popularity. So I got hired to do some short films for Cisco Systems. Here, my friend Tim Washer and I play husband and wife going in marriage counseling. There will be more episodes to come, but here are the first three.

Meet Don (improvised)

Meet Rhonda (improvised)

Counseling Session One (partially scripted)

You can subscribe to the Webisodes on You Tube here:

Jun 7, 2008

Jim Gaffigan on Religion

I love Jim Gaffigan's comedy. Here's a clip from his Comedy Central Special.

And here's Tim Hawkins, who I just discovered. Way funny.

Jun 6, 2008

Eternity in an hour, Jesus in a french fry

Woman Sees Jesus In A French Fry.

Art, Dogma

Tonight I went to see my friend Erik's play, He Asked For It, a "frank and eye-opening view of contemporary urban gay culture that's hard-hitting, funny and tragic." (from the theater's website). Erik is such a gifted writer. His play was at places hysterically funny, yet he pulls no punches when dealing with the dark side of addictive sex, AIDS, death and forgiveness. I left the theater in tears and the last play that moved me that much was "Terra Nova," by Ted Tally. I can think of only a handful of films in the last few years that have moved me: The Lives of Others, The Station Agent, and my recent favorite, Lars and the Real Girl.
I was listening to a podcast in which Don Miller talked about story: the elements that make a good story are the same elements that make for a good life: a strong character, a deep desire, and of course conflict. Conflict shapes our character; joy and peace don't so much. And I mean conflict over high stakes issues, not getting a massive apartment or lots of Jimmy Choo shoes. Don quoted screenwriting guru Robert McKee. McKee is an agnostic and anti- religious, but he writes the following in the preface of his book, "Story."

"The final cause for the decline of story runs very deep. Values, the positive/negative charges of life, are at the soul of our art. The writer shapes story around a perception of what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, what's foolish to pursue, the meaning of justice, truth -- the essential values. In decades past, writer and society more or less agreed on these questions, but more and more ours has become an age of moral and ethical cynicism, relativism, and subjectivism -- a great confusion of values. As the family disintegrates and as sexual antagonisms rise, who, for example, feels he understands the nature of love? And how, if you do have a conviction, do you express it to an ever-more skeptical audience?"

How many movies have you seen that have presented that kind of story without preaching at you? Or boring you? Or going in the opposite direction and trying to convince you that the answer to your longing is in a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a sexual conquest? And how many of us try to manipulate God into giving us what we want so that we DON'T have conflict? How many of us settle for a goal like a house or a Volvo, Don put it in this podcast.

Larry and I got invited to a literary 'salon' put on by a church known for its theological rectitude. The quote at the top of the evite said, "if Christians attempt to approach culture from a human, cultural standpoint, they will be acting in disobedience to God." (The evite also stated that "all food will be put away at 7pm ... All eating will stop at 7:00pm until after the discussion.) I understand, they don't want distractions during discussion. But it reminded me of Nurse Diesel in "High Anxiety": "Those who are tardy will not get fruit cup."
I couldn't help but notice the contrast between the scolding tone of the evite and the vulnerability of the play. Perhaps it's not fair to compare. One was a play; the other a discussion. But I don't understand how not to approach culture from a cultural standpoint. Isn't that like saying you shouldn't approaching sailing form a sailing standpoint? And how can I not talk about humanity in human terms, when I am human? Of course my perspective is limited and 'broken.' Of course I need to look at life through God's truth. But even God didn't sit up there on high; he ultimately became human to relate to us what it is to be truly human, full of grace and truth.

I've got to knock it off. I let certain language close my ears, I get defensive, and I start thinking I'm better than others; which is just the kind of exclusivity I despise. It reminds me of what author Sara Miles said in an interview: There’s something I need to learn from a relationship (with other Christians) that I didn’t choose. …That the Spirit has something to offer Pat Robertson through me, and has something to offer me through Pat Robertson. It’s precisely the non-exclusive welcome of Jesus that’s the most interesting (if the most difficult) thing about the faith. The thing is, I want to see everything. I don’t want to just see the parts I like.

So really maybe I need to be at that salon. Maybe I'll find it inspiring and wonderful and it will humble me. But I better get there before 7pm or I won't get any fruit cup.

Jun 4, 2008

Things You Do when You're Done Writing


I remember some relationship person said that women tend to stay in a relationship too long, and men duck out too quickly. Which would explain why Mitt Romney ditched his presidential bid as soon as his momentum slowed; and Why Hillary still hasn't officially called it off. I was listening to NPR this evening, some Clinton campaign staffer was upset at the democratic party hadn't voted for her because "they just don't get it." And I thought, "no YOU don't get it." They need to watch that Sex and the City episode, "He's Just Not That Into You." We're just not into her, that Hillary. And I voted for her in January by mail, before Obama fever took over. I voted for her because I thought she had the best experience on the Democrat side. Well the country wants change over experience. So let it go, Hill. I hate politics.


Speaking of Sex and The City, I didn't go see it this weekend. I called two of my friends with whom I watched many SATC episodes, seeing if either of them would want to go see the 2.5 hour film. They'd both seen it already. I'm thrilled that my friend Lori is coming back down to LA this coming weekend, because we can go see it together. I'm already expecting to love AND hate it. That's how I reacted to the series. I loved the friendships because they felt so real. I hated the sexcapades because I'm sorry, women can't jump in and out of bed and not be scarred by it. I don't think men can either, but it's even more evident with women, because sex is tied to community and nesting and feeling safe. But enough about sex in SATC. The clothes? If Carrie Bradshaw took all the money she spent on shoes, she could feed Darfur for a year.


I've been using my free time to complete my 2007 taxes, catch up on some netflix and podcasts. If you haven't already discovered Ricky Gervais' show Extras, put it on your netflix list. The backstage talks are as fun as teh show. Here's a favorite clip with David Bowie:

Well that's it. Another great thing about being done with a book. You can stop when you're ready.