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.


Steve said...


Great post! The hero's journey is an archetype because we mortals can live it also. Heroes come in many forms. Aren't heroes just people displaying good character in pressure filled situations?

The accounting Department you encountered reminds me of the aliens in Independence Day. They don't care who theyrun over, they just move forward and devour. It takes "ordinary" heroes to stop them.

Thank you for your reminder of being a hero each day.

Steve in Central CA

Jana said...

Love this post,too! One of my gracious friends who loves me a lot tells me I am very "justice-oriented." What a kind way to put it. :)

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