Dec 25, 2009

Two Different Handels

This one has a protracted intro; you can skip forward to 1:35

Dec 22, 2009


This past Sunday's New Testament reading was from Luke 1: Mary Visits Elizabeth and Mary's Magnificat. If you're like me and you've been going to church for years, it's easy to gloss over the Christmas stories with detached calm. You know it turns out OK: Joseph doesn't divorce Mary, Jesus is born, and the wise men return home by another way. Personally, I have a hard time visualizing the players as anyone other than the figurines from my childhood crèche: blonde Mary in her pink dress and blue robe: a couple of barn animals and a shepherd boy who looks like Percy Bysshe Shelley. My placid nativity diorama didn't change until Larry added a lacquered piranha and a Norwegian troll to the scene. You know, to mix things up.

But the story was mixed-up from the very beginning: the rulers were brought down and the humble were lifted up. God used the unqualified and the scandalous in his plan to enter the world; and the proud missed it. I have to be careful not to miss it myself, and for that I need to get down into the story: understand the culture and circumstances into which Jesus arrived. It took a scholar, a sermon, and a movie to do that for me.

First the scholar: N.T. Wright's study guide, Luke for Everyone, explained the setting and circumstances in a way I'd missed all these years. We all know Israel was being occupied by Rome and longed for a Messiah to liberate them. Well, the Jews were divided on how it would happen. The Sadducees didn't really believe in an afterlife, so the best was to cooperate with the Roman authorities.Peace was a kind of liberation, wasn't it? They had their token throne, and Herod sat on it. If there were a messiah, their eyes were on the house of Herod. Boy, were they off.

The Essenes had totally given up on the world; salvation was not of it. So they went out to the desert and lived in community. Like the hippies. They ate bugs, took enemas to purify themselves, and hoped Messiah would arrive via some transcendent experience. They were partly right. (About the transcendent experience, not the enemas. Enemas may purify you but they won’t make you see God). Anyway, it's a good thing they didn't have telescopes to see Hale Bopp, or it could have gone terribly awry.

Then there were the Pharisees. God had promised a Messiah, and God didn't lie. If Messiah hadn't shown up yet, it was because Israel wasn't obeying the law God gave them.  So they would do whatever it took to get messiah to come: even if it meant bludgeoning the people into obeying that law.  Oh, we love to hate the Pharisees, don't we? They were the whitewashed tombs; they got Jesus killed. But they were true believers. They hadn't forgotten God's promise.  We love to peg our modern day Pharisees, too, don’t we? They're the fundamentalists, the people who flame out everyone else as a heretic. But be careful whom you call a Pharisee.  How often I have clucked my tongue at those bible thumpers or those uber-hip Jesus followers. But as Pastor Matt Chandler said at a conference recently: "Liberal hippies versus old white guys. I've never seen the Christian world so polarized by secondary IDIOT issues." Besides, Jesus didn't arrive in the camp of the compromisers, the hippies or the fundies. He went thatta way, and none of them were looking.

That's where the movie came in. "The Nativity Story" humanized the story for me. Mary's parents were no one special. The actress who played Elizabeth was over fifty; imagine her getting pregnant sans in-vitro? The actress who played Mary was 15. (Okay so she went and got pregnant a year later, but at least she didn't parade it all over "Entertainment Tonight" like every other single-mom celeb does. But I digress.) Mary was just some unmarried teenaged nobody. If she were around today, she'd look like an Hispanic girl in the barrio, or a dropout in Appalachia, or the girl in "Precious."  I wouldn't have believed her. But Joseph did. We don't know much about Joseph, except that he was a merciful enough not to let Mary's "infidelity" be exposed and risk her being stoned to death. But the movie showed his heartbreak over it. And when an angel told him the truth in a dream, he didn't write it off as bad lamb the night before. He went with it. He trusted Mary. The movie showed their relationship blossoming in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

And into those circumstances this teenager went to hide out at Cousin Elizabeth's. Maybe Mary was unsure how Elizabeth would react. Maybe Elizabeth was unsure herself. But when Mary walked in, Elizabeth's baby kicked, Elizabeth got it, and Mary  broke into song.  Kind of like an episode of Glee.

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."
Oh but there were perils ahead: the difficult journey to Jerusalem, the later  escape to Egypt, and of course the inglorious birth - not in some Gainsborough pastoral but in a cold dark cave; with no one to notice except a few barn animals, some migrant workers and three tarot card readers to notice.

To the sermon: last Advent, I visited my sister's church. Her pastor used to be a Buddhist and ran a dojo in California. When he became a Christian he never lost respect for the seekers he'd met. He was quick to remind us that the wise men were astrologers. They were reading horoscopes, my dear devout friends, and that's how God alerted those pagan new-agers: through star charts. Egads! Their methods were wrong, we argue.  But their hearts were right, God throws back in our face.

If Jesus were born today, would God tell you and me? Or would we be so proud of our scriptural purity or cultural relevance - so busy arguing secondary idiotic issues - that God would move on to Miss Eugenia the palm reader? Would Juan, the illegal-immigrant grape picker, be the only guy available to come? 

But before we despair over how blind and unlike God we are: remember that's why Christ came. Because no matter of scriptural knowledge or cultural relevance will make us more holy or groovy or like God. So God became like us.

Preach it, Linus:

Dec 1, 2009

A Million Miles Tour: Wichita to Diane

I’d never been on a tour bus. When I was young we rented a motor home from our neighbors and drove to the Grand Canyon. IT was a terrible trip. My sister and I were in junior high; the last thing we really wanted to do was be stuck on a bus with our parents.  Our older brothers didn’t even go.  My mom hated cooking on one burner, my dad hated emptying the septic tank, and he was a terrible bus driver.

But we’d been used to driving in a large van, so the bus was gonna be great. “You’ll love sleeping on a bus,” My friend Mark Gersmehl said. He was in the first Christian hair band called “White Heart.” He met my friend Brynn on tour, they fell in love and got married. So of course he has great memories of tour buses. Mark said “the motion of the bus will rock you to sleep like a baby.

Yeah, a baby with colic. The first night on the drive to Kansas, I was awake for every lurch and blip on the road.  The bus arrived in Wichita, Kansas, some time around dawn. I slept until noon.  By the time I’d awakened, Jim Don and Brent had already gone to breakfast and back.

Wichita. What was in Wichita? I could only think of that line from “Planes Trains & Automobiles. “Train don't run out of Wichita... unlessin' you're a hog or a cattle.” This was a last minute gig: some guy in Wichita heard we were looking for a venue between Denver and Arkansas, and he called our manager. He only had two weeks to put it together, so we had no idea what the night was going to look like.  The guy showed up around 1pm to give me a ride to Wallgreens. His name was Kirk; used to be a sound engineer in Hollywood. The minute he heard Don was looking for a venue, he jumped on it.  He drove me back past the mayor’s old mansion, through streets with big old houses and tire swings and front porches.  Past the boulevard of cars and old hot dog stands and under the train museum, back to the bus. It felt good to be in the Midwest.

The venue was at the Wichita Women’s Club: an old mansion that the local junior league converted for their use. They renovated it, installed an old theater, with an elegant proscenium and old theater chairs.  It almost looked like the theater where Lincoln was shot. Not to be morbid, but it was that old and dignified. 

There was a wedding taking place  we arrived. I was snoozing in my bunk when the bride and groom emerged to a hail of bird seed.  Don and Melody said they looked like they were 16. "How old did you have to be to get married legally in Kansas?" Mel wanted to know. One of the guests at our show that night was at the wedding and assured us they were out of college.  This is what happens when you get older. Anyone younger than you HAS to be in high school.

Kirk’s volunteers showed up en masse. They were young, educated hipsters; smart, enthusiastic and lots of fun. And get this:  the best prescription eyewear I'd seen. A youth pastor named Grant had a pair of prescription Rabyans, and another guy named Todd had some really hip looking frames. I know these things; my father was an optometrist. They were styling. And great people.

The show went terrifically well. Performing on a real stage helps the audience know what they are getting. And well, the audience was enthusiastic and eager and hungry for good things. There was a young couple with dreadlocks and two infants. There were some over forty types.  Hipsters and even  a few Mennonites.  They all came to see Don because they’d read his books, and I was just the whipped topping on the sundae.  This was the first night I had my T-shirts to sell and they loved them.  I really have to reserve my sense of judgment on a town, just because they made a joke about it in a movie. These guys were great.

The next night we were in Oklahoma City at a Nazarene church.  Brent forgot to tell me that the pastor didn’t want me using the word “ass.” But after the show the pastor was cool with it, he’d heard it in context. Language was going to be an issue on the tour. Different parts of the country have vastly different ideas about what a cuss word was, as I was going to find out.  I met a young man just out of college at the intermission.  He’d come to the Midwest for college and was still sort of finding his way.  I enjoyed speaking to him but he slipped out when two women came up to say hello. The next day they took Melody and I for lunch and drove us to see the Oklahoma City memorial. It was beautiful and tragic.

The next night we were in Little Rock, Arkansas. This would prove to be my worst show on the tour. No fault of the church itself. It was a great church. The head pastor had left his cush job at a wealthy mega-church to start this one. It was right in the ghetto. They bought an abandoned Walmart space in a depressed strip mall. They had a vision to reach the underprivileged. When we arrived they were in the midst of their weekly food bank distribution.  Needy families were walking out with food and clothing.  Inside, they were running an after-school program, helping kids do their homework, giving them a sense of belonging and keeping them off the street. This really is the work of the church. It was great to see that.  They treated us to an amazing dinner, too.  The chef, Larontia, had her own catering business. I caught one of the guys doing a little bowing motion to her, but when I tried to get a picture of it he wouldn’t let me. “She’ll use it against me when I need something form her.” All he allowed was a handshake on camera. They were fun, too.

But the show itself would prove to be difficult. The problems started when the crowd walked in. Don’s audience is predominantly young, 20 and 30 something white educated hipsters. And they were in the ghetto. The local police even brought a car to the parking lot to watch out for everyone. We wondered later if the audience wasn’t sure if it was OK to laugh. Because they didn’t. They were so, so quiet. Of course I may have sucked in my performance. And I myself felt kind of idiotic, standing up there talking about my middle class white-girl’s problems, when the church itself saw real life problems every day at their church. But you just have to do the show, hope it edifies someone, and work on doing better the next time.  I was sure that anything next was going to feel better. Little Rock: My slice of Humble Pie.

The next show was in St. Louis. I got to meet a friend I’d made on facebook. Kim had read my book and emailed me, and we’d struck up an e-friendship. She came early and had dinner with us. She was in charge of spiritual direction at her church, and told me a bit about her history and involvement in spiritual direction. It’s like having a mentor guide you through your spiritual life. I had been thinking I wanted to do something like that when I returned from the tour, and talking with Kim really piqued my interest. Plus I enjoyed talking to Kim. When I got home from tour I would find a box full of books on spiritual direction. Kim sent them to me.  I love my tweet buddies.

It was great being in the Midwest.  They made real goods here.  Factories dotted the landscape: places where they made shoes or furniture or cut meat.  And the trains shipped it out.  I live in LA, I don’t see real things being made. LA is a vast sprawl of services. Sure, movies get made, but not stuff you need like beef and coal and shoes.  But here they made real things.

We had a day off and Don rented a car and we drove to downtown St. Louis. We visited the City Museum, which was an old shoe factory. Some freak genius creators came up with the idea. It’s a museum/play park filled with castoff items; everything from conveyor belt dowels to abandoned school buses. It was packed with kids.  Later Don treated us to a showing of Phantom of the Opera, and we hung out with a couple of his twitter buddies.  I was really loving how twitter and facebook brought out new friends from everywhere.

Next up was Des Moines, Iowa. My friend Diane Neinhuis was coming to see me. I met Diane through the Burnside Writers’ Collective. We’d gotten to know each other through email and spent time together in Portland in the spring. I felt a kindred fun spirit in Diane.  We were allowed to bring one or two guests on the bus, and Diane got the coveted spot.  It was going to be great for Diane: she needed to get away from her routine. Oh, what with her missionary brother in law dying in a plane crash. Horrible crap like that.  But I had just completed the first ten days on the bus with a show every night, and I was tired. I didn't know if I was going to be up for guests. Any guest. Even my husband.  So I was nervous about her arrival. but the moment she showed up, she lit up the bus. She brought gifts, too. Diane is an amazing cook. home made eggplant parmesan and chocolate raspberry biscotti.  YUMM.

She would come and ride the bus for a couple of days, then get off at our next venue in Grand Rapids.  When we first made the plans, there was talk of taking a day off at our tour manager's family's summer house on Lake Michigan. But plans changed; we would drive straight through to Chicago.

We drove all night and parked the bus in Chicago, right outside Oprah's studios. The reason being, Don had an interview for Oprah radio (!!!)  Don and I had the same publicist. I asked her if she’d take a copy of my book with her to the studio.  So while Don was being interviewed at Harpo Studios,  Diane, Melody and I went walking around Chicago, checking out the cold gray day and looking for Starbucks.  When we got back and Don returned to the bus he told us that they walked into the studio and came up to the guy at the security desk. His name was Ezra, and he was reading my book! I went back later with Diane to take a picture.
From there we drove straight on to our next venue: Calvin College in Grand Rapids: Diane’s hometown. So much for Diane’s road trip. But she stayed with me at the conference center. It was like being in college again, the cinder block walls and small desks. But we had a great time. The breakfast at the conference center was great but the coffee was terrible.  Watery and bland. Diane loved it. How could she? She was Dutch. Didn't they make great coffee?   Diane and I went out and she showed me around Grand Rapids. She herself had been a student at Calvin College back in the day.  So she zipped me around the campus, on to East Grand Rapids area. We also went to her favorite sushi place and her personal Mecca: Meijer.  Meijer is like Walmart and Target rolled into one. Meijer, Diane sighed. "I just like going there and looking around. It makes me smile." Oh  you can mock the stuff from China. But some of us buy it. I got a few things.  I didn't have to worry about having Diane to play with for a couple of days.  It didn't tire me having a guest, it energized me. Well, it was Diane.  It was a balm in Gilead to spend time with her.

The show at Calvin College was going to be a challenge. I had work to do. Like: cutting ten minutes out of my piece.

Next: A Million Miles drives into winter .... 

Nov 30, 2009

Christmas Music

Larry and I both love Christmas music. He tends to favor the pop/contemporary, I the classical. Too much of either make me squirrely. And of course there is a host of bad Christmas music (yes NSYNC did a Christmas album).

Check out Bob & Doug Mackenzie's "Twelve Days of Christmas" (Dr Demento Christmas novelty songs) or David Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries" ( NPR Morning Edition archives).   "I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day" comes  from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  John Gorka did a great version on a Wyndam Hill album, but the new Casting Crowns is pretty spectacular.

OK, Emily, I added the second CD list (As if anyone listens to actual CDs when they've got iPods) Bruce Cockburn's "Cry of a Tiny Babe features Rosanne Cash and Lou Reed. Yes, Lou Reed 'singing.' I couldn't leave out the 1980s hit, "Feed The World." George Winston recorded "December" 20 years ago. Still holds up.  David Bowie and Bing Crosby made an odd pair on Bing's last Christmas special.  Sorry folks, no Elvis' "Blue Christmas." I can't stand those lady background singers, woo-ee-oo'ing like the Great White North.

Christmas CD Mix

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - The Beatles
Christmas Time Is Here - Vince Guaraldi
* Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen - Chanticleer
Gaudete - Steeleye Span
All That I Want - The Weepies
Christmas I Wish I Could Stay - The Rayvonettes
The Twelve Days Of Christmas - Bob & Doug McKenzie
Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) - Mariah Carey
The Holly and The Ivy - Wyndam Hill
Coventry Carol - King's College Cambridge
Christmas for Cowboys - John Denver
The Infant King - King's College Cambridge
Huron Carol - Chanticleer with Dawn Upshaw
O Magnum Mysterium - Chanticleer
* I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day - Casting Crowns
Peace - Michael McDonald
Mary Had a Baby - Bruce Cockburn
Hallelujah Chorus - Chicago Symphony Chorus
Joy to the World - Mariah Carey
Oi to the World - No Doubt
* Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Solveig
Santaland Diaries - David Sedaris

CD 2
Song for a Winter's Night - Gordon Lightfoot
Baby It's Cold Outside - Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel
Feed the World - Band Aid
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent - Choir of St George's Chapel
All I Want for Christmas is You -  Mariah Carey
Variations on Pachelbel's Canon - George Winston
Blessed Be That Maid Mary - King's College Cambridge
Sleigh Ride - Ella Fitzgerald
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy - David Bowie & Bing Crosby
Same Old Lang Syne - Dan Fogelberg
Of the Father's Love Begotten - Richard Proulx
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
A Mighty Fortress /Angels We Have Heard On High - Amy Grant
Run Run Rudolph - Sheryl Crow
Cry of a Tiny Babe - Bruce Cockburn, Lou Reed, Rosanne Cash
Some Children See Him  - George Winston

Oct 17, 2009

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

The night before I left to go on tour I stayed up late packing. Larry had gone to sleep and put Wally in his kennel. I was organizing my desk when Honey, my cat, jumped up and curled next to me. She placed her paw on my wrist, as she often does. She likes the late night best, when the dog is asleep and caged. It’s like the old days, before he was around to torment her. I forget that she used to be cuddly and sweet all the time. But she can’t be anymore; he has to watch for that canine on her back at all times.

One morning she woke up, sat in front of his kennel and hissed at him till her spit was dry. “I hate you. Why don’t you just go off and DIE!” Then Larry let Wally out of the kennel. Honey escaped to a chair. She should count her blessings: Wally is a corgi; he’s got short stubby legs. He will never be able to jump where she can jump. Except that she’s getting arthritis. I hope they make friends before she can no longer jump.

I left for the tour in early September, when it was still hot. Honey spent most of the summer outside. There’s a cool spot between the hydrangea and the house; she lies there in the thicket, away from the sun and the prying eye of the dog. We don’t like her to go out at night. We have a high fence, but one never knows how wily the coyotes are. She frequently slips out when Wally goes out to pee, so Larry or I have had to go find her. We know where she is. I’ll stand out there in the dark, calling for her a while. She doesn’t come right away. She wants to know for sure that Wally isn’t behind me. She also wants to know that I’m not just there to get her inside. She wants to know she’s wanted. She wants you to hold and comfort her. Eventually I see her dark gray shadow moving toward me, slow and dainty. And I will pick her up and hold her. The night before we left on tour, I found myself crying, “Don’t leave me. Not yet.”

Old cats can die when a puppy shows up. It happened to my sister’s cat when my parents got a pair of fox terrier puppies. Lucy was 14 when they arrived. She took great umbrage and died a few months later.

My sister and her husband got a pair of cats before they had children. A couple of years ago when the last one died, Nancy called to talk about her: how Uffie would sit on Phil’s shoulder and try to bat the food off his fork. Or how she was the only one else awake when Nancy got up. So many dawns with the coffee and the bible and the cat. So many memories a pet is there for.

I was living at home when my parents got those fox terriers. It was a rough, dark time in my life, and those dogs meant the world. Especially the boy, Patrick. He stayed close to me. I moved out six months later, but Patrick never forgot who I was to him, even if I forgot who he was to me.

Eventually Dad died and mom moved in with my sister. I was visiting them in Colorado when we had to put Patrick down. I held Patrick in my lap as the vet gave him the sedative. Maybe it was the altitude that got to me; or maybe I finally remembered all he had meant to me. A week later I was home in California, having a morning meditation/prayer time. I got an image of my father playing catch with Patrick, like in a field. But it was heaven. A few hours later my brother James emailed me about one thing or another. Oh, and he’d had a of vision of my father playing catch with Patrick. In a field. In heaven. The same day.

A couple summers ago, Nancy and Phill got another cat. Well, they got three. They were to stay in the barn and chase mice. But how can you keep cats in a barn when you have children who want them for friends? One of the cats liked to wander. She wouldn’t come in during the summer. One day Elsa didn’t come home at all. They called and called for her. Jonathan went out to the road and called all day and into the next. Late on the second day, Jonathan’s tears turned to shouting. Elsa came home.

But the following summer, Jerry and Elsa died of rat poisoning. It hit Jonathan and Emily the hardest. They’re both NF: Intuitive Feeling on the Myers Briggs test. Jonathan loves baseball and cowboys, but he feels things deeply as well. And Emily is a preteen girl. Her friends are her greatest prize. And she lost her first best friend. They buried Jerry and Elsa under their favorite tree. They read from Romans 8, how all of creation is waiting expectantly to be liberated from decay. It’s right there. All of creation liberated from death. Here I am sappily hoping that means that redemption will be true for cats and dogs.

C.S. Lewis believed that, in the same way God breathed his spirit into Man and gave him the capacity for eternity, so we could breathe the capacity for eternity into those we love, even our animal friends. Pets in the afterlife. When N.T. Wright says that God is going to restore this heaven and this earth, then I hope those creatures will be here. It’s up to me to love those creatures into eternity.

The tour bus stopped in Wichita. The following morning, my manager and I walked to an Episcopal church nearby.

It was the Feast of St. Francis; and pets were invited receive a blessing. The pews were loaded with animals: old labs, nervous poodles, dachshunds, a couple of cats and a caged canary. People brought them forward: A thick lady with her basset hound; a single mom with kids and dachshunds. A little girl held out her stuffed animal for a prayer. The rector gently blessed every one of them.

I could see how much these critters meant to the person who brought them, and how gently the rector treated them. I believe that God sees that too. I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s a kingdom I want to belong to; where everyone gets a shot at heaven, even the least of the least of these. I want to believe in a kingdom where God’s gentle, patient love can breathe eternity into a lizard. The same way he spoke and I existed.

Oct 10, 2009

Million Miles Tour: Canada to Denver

Larry and I drove up to Portland the weekend before the tour was to start. We stayed with his sister’s family, then left our dog with them while we started the tour.  There would be a few people on the van: tour manager Brent Gibbs; World Vision sponsor Melody Wilson, who’d be running a sponsorship table at each event. Don's and my manager, Jim Chaffee, came for the first week. Plus Larry and I. We got off to a smooth start. Well, except the 520 books I ordered from my publisher weren’t there, so it was questionable when I’d have them to sell. And then half way to the Canadian border, Jim realized he’d left his passport back in Nashville. We ditched in Seattle while he waited for it to arrive, and he’d have to fly in to Vancouver the next day. Oh yeah, the wi-fi didn’t work in the van. (Insert Louis CK’s rant here).


We were excited. Crossing a border into another country. Canada feels deceptively familiar. We speak English and wear Nikes and drink Starbucks. But Canadians are different. Their collective personality is more laid back; maybe even passive. Maybe it’s because Canada was an English commonwealth so long that they got used to the Crown making decisions for them. Or because it’s so cold and so sparse they have more fundamental things to worry about than living some big dream the way Americans think they can. Or maybe it’s us Americans who are odd, thinking we can do anything, that real estate will always go up and all the answers are Yes and Amen. Maybe we’re the odd ducks. But that’s another story.

We had a great debut in Vancouver. The church was terrific and the crowd was over-the-top enthusiastic. So was the team from the bookstore that came to sell our books. One of their staff, Becky, chatted up my book and sold 20 copies before the event started. We started off on a high. The next night the crowd was quiet. I wondered if I sucked. But there’s the collective personality thing again: maybe they weren’t in the mood to be loud, maybe they wanted to think. Who says that you have to be loud to get it. And maybe I did suck. It was only my second performance, and I had tone and beats to work through. I met some great people afterward, including a tweet buddy I’d only recently got to know in 140 characters or less. Maybe the tour wasn’t just going to be about the show.


We did four shows in the Pacific Northwest: Gig Harbor, Spokane, Portland, and Seattle.  Still my books hadn't arrived. My manager called and foudn out the shipping company had lost them. Lost 520 books. They Fedexed 120 to our next location, but those arrived a day late, to a church we'd already come and gone. it would be a while before we got the books straightened out.

In my show I talk about my time at a Pentecostal church. I say that the pastor looked like Big Bird, and spoke in alliterative sermons. The Seattle church got a laugh out of it. Afteward the pastor came up to me. “Hi,” he smiled. “I’m Big Bird’s brother.” The color drained from my face. “You described him well," he winked. I was so glad I said good thing about Big Bird. Like the fact he had authority, and I'd sorely needed his leadership at that time in my life. Big Bird’s Brother asked if I might come back and do my show for his whole church. I was delighted. I also made a note to research what kind of church we were at before I walked in and blabbed.

We then made our way down to California. I got to see my old friend Bonnie, whom I’d met at one of the churches described in my book. I’d call Bonnie a post-Christian. She left church for many of the reasons I avoided it. She saw too much politics and prejudice; she has a heart for the underdog, and she wanted to build a life where she could really live out, well what I think, a kind of life that reflected Jesus’ life, including being on the outside of the religious elite. Bonnie became a foster parent to one of her students who’d been kicked out of her home. Bonnie nurtured and encouraged her, and her foster daughter just finished her MFA in public policy. Her foster daughter is out there, carrying on similar work: helping the outcast. I think Bonnie’s life reflects Jesus in ways mine never has.

We drove down to LA for three shows. My friend Gary bent over backward to help us host a show at his Hollywood church that meets in a theater. It was great to do a show in a space I could invite secular friends, where they wouldn’t feel too formal, the way some non-church people feel when they walk into a narthex. I was excited about that show. But it was tough show for me. Hollywood people have high standards. They’ve probably seen one too many showcase events. My friend, Tony, later wondered if there were too many actors in the room, and when I talked about my promising acting career dying, it made them squirm. I thought, no. I sucked. Or well, maybe they weren't expecting me to go ut there and do kabuki. Yeah, maybe I sucked.

I walked out into the side hall after the intermission was over, and a young woman flagged me down. She’d driven from Redlands, a few hours away, to hear me speak. She’d just gone through her own career heartbreak and was trying to find out just why God had let her dreams evaporate. We sat and talked for a while. I hope I encouraged her as much as she encouraged me. SO you know, maybe I can suck, but still help one person. Maybe I have to let it go once it’s done, and think about doing better the next time.

Land of the Sea, Home of the Beige

We drove down to our show in Irvine, and I brought my suspicions. The church was next to UC Irvine, a school I called, “the Beige Circle of Hell.” All the houses are beige in Irvine; everyone seems rich and beautiful and blonde. In fact I recognized part of the church buildings. I’d been there once in the late 1980s. The pastor had porcelain veneers and frosted hair. He talked about how Jesus could “add something to your life.” You know, like a mutual fund or a second mortgage. I felt gross at the time and never went back. I found out that night it wasn’t the same church. Another church came in some time ago and bought the land. They rebuilt it. They added a fountain and a bookstore and café. It looked like the J Paul Getty museum. My defenses went up: another night of beautiful beige people. But then I met them.

The pastor was ecstatic to have us there. They were hungry to bring new and challenging events to their church, they supported whatever we wanted to do. The audience loved the show. Loved It. I ran into a lot of old friends: friends from past churches, from high school; I even saw a woman who’d been my father’s secretary when I was in junior high. The best part was my high school drama teacher came. Barbara encouraged me at a time in my when no one really got who I was. She said to Larry afterward, “I know it’s a shame Susan’s acting career didn’t turn out they way she’d hoped. But what she’d doing now is much more important, she’s changing lives.” I bet Irvine ends up being my best show of the tour. And to think, I'd judged it as beige.

We flew to Phoenix and I saw four more childhood friends; two who knew the Lutheran bully, two more who knew me from high school. The upside of going on tour is: you get to reconnect with lots of old friends, meet twitter and facebook friends you only know online. The downside is, you don’t have enough time.


We had a few days off. That was good, because I threw up on the plane. It took me a day to feel better. I borrowed the rental car and drove down to see my mom at the rest home where she now lives. She has advanced dementia, so I’m never sure if she’ll remember me, or if it will be the last time I will see her alive. I stooped down to say hello. Her eyes clouded over, trying to remember who I was. I said my name and her eyes cleared. She smiled. We sat for a while in the sunroom and I showed her photos of Larry and Wally. I had a few photos of her, one when she and my father were in their twenties. Her face lit up. She talked about my brother’s wedding and about my sister who lives just a few miles away. She said she went to my brother’s wedding in Switzerland. She didn’t, but she has a picture of them on her bedside table. Maybe in her mind she was there.

When it was time to leave, she teared up and said I was beautiful. I corrected her; she was the beautiful one. She really is the most beautiful person I know. When you progressive dementia as Mom has, the little strokes rob you of your superego "editor" that keeps your id in check.  Mom is all id by now. And all those years she was faithful to God through dark times and light … all those mornings she prayed and all those hymns she sang off key, shaped her id into the sweetest, happiest person I know.  I dread the day I have a stroke and my unbridled id runs the show. I will be the ugliest gargoyle in the nursing home.

I had friends coming to our Denver show. In fact I had too many friends coming – one group I’d said I’d have dinner with – but forgot about making the Group dinner sponsored by a local nonprofit. I was going to overbook myself again on the tour. It’s not a good thing. The show itself was great, a packed house and an excited audience.  I saw my friend JP whom I'd lost touch with for 12 years.  Denver we finally met up with our tour bus. It’s like those buses rock bands travel in, two lounge areas and a shower and kitchenette, and bunks for us to sleep in. Wi-fi and cable TV. Insane. But it was easier and cheaper than renting planes, trains and automobiles.

We drove out at night into the prairie.  It was going to be a long stretch of prairie for many weeks.

Oct 6, 2009

Why I Love Glee

I was never in show choir in high school: the drama and vocal music departments had a rift, and so I never got to do a musical.

I heard Glee's creator Ryan Murphy on "Fresh Air" in April. He said there's something amazingly tender and vulnerable about high school kids just singing their hearts out, and cited the success of American Idol as proof. The proof for me was watching this in the pilot. A show choir on steroids singing Amy Winehouse's "Rehab."

Larry and I don't watch TV. We don't have cable, we take forever to watch our netflix. But I've been tuning into Glee every week now. Here's why.


Sep 18, 2009

I (will) 've Been Everywhere


I'm on a 65- city tour with author Don Miller. I never got to do a national theater tour, and now I feel like I'm getting to do that. What's more, Larry is with us for the first two weeks of the tour.

Speaking of touring tour, we opened in Canada (like opening out of town in New Haven), to a terrific audience in Vancouver, then on to Victoria, and last night in Gig Harbor Washington. We are still working out some lighting cues (Thanks a lot Brent, next time stay awake during tech).

We've got a great team: our manager Jim Chaffee, who you can see don't take shizzle from no one. Brent Gibbs, who's been driver, tech guy, roadie and alarm clock. And we've also got the lovely Melody Wilson from World Vision on the tour with us.

A few nights ago, we got to stay with Barbara and Dave Pine in their house in Gig Harbor. We stayed up listening to stories far bigger than ours: like this woman Barb knows who escaped Rwanda, but not before seeing her husband and several of her children murdered in front of her. Now she's in Arizona, working hard to raise the money to get the rest of her kids out of Rwanda and to the US. These are the kinds of things that make me realize: yeah, my problems are pretty silly in comparison. Which is kind of what I learned while I wrote my book, but it brought it home hearing this woman's story.

It's also what Don's new book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, is all about: The elements that make a great novel or a great movie, are the same elements that make a big life: A main character with a big vision, sets about accomplishing that goal and has hardship and conflict the whole way. And if your dream is to own a Volvo, you're not living a big story. God wants to give you a big story to live and to tell.

The church preaches that if God loves you and you are doing his will, your life will go well. God wants us to be "favor minded," or if you learn these keys or this prayer, God will expand your life and you'll be living your best life. Now. I wonder how to tell that to the woman who watched her family slaughtered in front of her. Don't get me wrong: God is not a masochist. I think he does want to bless us. but he also wants to give us a life that's worth living.

It really upsets me that churches preach this idea that God wants to bless you and make your life go well. Which either the church conveys the idea, or we interpret that as, God loves me = success money power love, BMWs and iPhones. There's a preacher on TV who attracts as many people on a Sunday as you'll see God has given you a big dream or a big story, God has given us each a big story to live and tell. Not a small story like owning a Volvo. And big stories mean conflict and hardship. Think of Frodo or William Wilberforce or Amelia Earhart or the Rwandan woman who's getting her kids back, one at a time.

The Million Miles tour is going all over the country, we'll be stopping at 65 cities. I hope one is near you and that you can come see us.

Check out our Tour Dates at
Check Don's blog,
Follow Don and me on Twitter.

Sep 12, 2009

Sept 11 and The Rising

I wrote a piece a while back, remembering my experience of 9/11. I lived in New York City then. My then-boyfriend and I had spent the weekend prior in Miami. Mostly we argued. By Monday we had reached a detente. Tuesday morning he was heading to a special conference downtown. Little did I know, the conference was being held at Windows On The World, the top floor of Tower One.

You can read that piece here.

Every year that memory recedes a bit further into my history; into our own history. But I still remember how everyone pulled together and treated each other differently. There was a kind of somber camaraderie you could feel it on the streets and see it in the shops and subway cars. We'd gone through something together, we needed to help each other. That camaraderie didn't last. But it was there. I remember it.

Can't see nothing in front of me
Can't see nothing coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I cant feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far Ive gone
How far Ive gone, how high Ive climbed
On my backs a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

Left the house this morning
Bells ringing filled the air
Wearin the cross of my calling
On wheels of fire I come rollin down here

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

There's spirits above and behind me
Faces gone black, eyes burnin' bright
May their precious blood bind me
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light

I see you, Mary, in the garden
In the garden of a thousand sighs
There's holy pictures of our children
Dancin in a sky filled with light
May I feel your arms around me
May I feel your blood mix with mine
A dream of life comes to me
Like a catfish dancin on the end of my line

Sky of blackness and sorrow ( a dream of life)
Sky of love, sky of tears (a dream of life)
Sky of glory and sadness ( a dream of life)
Sky of mercy, sky of fear ( a dream of life)
Sky of memory and shadow ( a dream of life)
Your burning wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life

Come on up for the rising
Come on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

Sep 7, 2009

The Jesus Story Book Bible

My friend Sally Lloyd-Jones is an accomplished children's book author. She's written the popular series, "Handbag Friends;" the hit "How To Be A Baby, By Me The Big Sister" and its sequel, "How to Get Married." I love Sally's quirky, silly and smart humor. Her books are fun for kids, but parents will find them hugely entertaining.

Sally is my kind of gal; just as quirky, fun and smart as she is in her books. Plus she's a Brit. I can do my Brit accent with her, drink PG Tips, make comments about the Queen's Corgis, and she gets it.

One of Sally's greatest accomplishments is The Jesus Story Book Bible: a book of key bible stories, whimsical illustrations and language that will capture a child's sense of wonder. And it's theologically rich. When her pastor, author Dr. Tim Keller, read the book he exclaimed, "This is my life's work!" Apparently Sally was paying attention all those Sundays.

Well, The Jesus Story Book Bible is available on Audio! And it's read by David Suchet, who played Hercule Poirot in the popular BBC Series. Read About the Book.

I have a chance to win a whole box of JSBB audio books. And if I do, I'll get to give them away on my blog!

So click through and check out the Jesus Story Book Bible website.

FREE! PDFs and mp3 Downloads.

Sep 4, 2009

Burn Notice

Larry and I went to Colorado last Wednesday. The day before I noticed a massive plume of smoke rising from a canyon to the east of us. It startled me, how quickly the smoke had appeared; I'd been in the vet's office for only 45 minutes, and there it was: billowing into the sky like a mushroom cloud. It was horrifying and amazing at the same time. And it was pusillanimous compared to the fire to come.

We read with horror about the Station Fire in La Canada, burning north and west and southeast all at once. It plowed through Big Tujunga canyon. We'd just taken a Sunday drive through it a couple months ago. I remember noting the luxurious houses nestled into the hillside. I remember thinking how dry everything looked. I wonder if I worried about fire then.

It's weird when something important happens when you are not at home. I was in Switzerland for ten days after Michael Jackson died. It felt so surreal. So did these fires, except that I knew the area it was burning and I knew people in its path. I clicked on the interactive fire map and watched the Burn Boundaries expand like Hitler's Army in 1939. By the time we flew home Sunday evening, the fire had tripled and was 0% contained. "Out of control," said fire officials.

We were on the south side of the plane. We could see a smaller fire in Idyllwild . I couldn't take my eyes off it. We are so hermetically sealed from Real Life, with our cars and shops and TV, that when Nature shows up, it's awe-inspiring.

One friend posted pictures of the view outside his condo window at night. Black with a dot of orange one night. Black with many splotches of orange the following night. And then a wall of orange. He says he's safe. I emailed our other friend again. I looked up his address on Google and gasped. His house was one street away from the burn perimeter. They're OK and so is their house. But most of those houses we saw on our Sunday drive are gone. One of them belonged to a woman who worked at Larry's old job.

Mount Wilson is the highest mountain in Los Angeles county, home to communications towers and an historic observatory. The fire was marching toward it quickly.

If Only That Were Snow

Some Cal Trans workers who live up near Mount Wilson are bitter that the fire fighters didn't douse their homes, and instead took care of the historic observatory. I feel very bad for them. But I can't imagine that the firefighters took time out to say, "Hmm. Nah, let's skip those guys." But then if my house burned down I might be so angry I'd think the same thing.

Author Mike Davis made it pretty clear we should let Malibu burn. It's a desert. Don't build a mansion on hills that the Chumash Indians were doing controlled burns for centuries. But then it happens to you or someone you know.

Eventually the fire moved east, into the mountains high above Sierra Madre, where we live. We never saw flames but we saw the smoke. There's been smoke for days. And we saw those red helicopters with their giant hoses that drop loads of water.

The fire burned east again, into the hills high above Monrovia. Like termites taking over one room at a time. This afternoon, we went out to the supermarket. There was a pinch of white cloud above the smoke. By the time we got out of the supermarket, a towering pyrocumulus cloud had erupted. That's when so much heat gets thrust into the atmosphere, it creates its own weather.

We are OK.
But it's only September.
The Santa Ana winds haven't even started.

There are some stunning time lapse videos available here.

This one is particularly jarring.

Aug 27, 2009

Wally Really IS The Cutest Dog

Our wonderful friends Maria & Dean McCoy took Wally in for a few days last week, when we had to go to Seattle. Maria calls Dean the Dog Whisperer. Dean just loved on Wally, and we were so grateful they puppy sat.

Here's a pic they took. Now this really IS the Cutest Dog. Come on admit it.

Aug 6, 2009

Goodbye John Hughes.

John Hughes died today. The director of Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and Planes Trains & Automobiles was only 59.

My acting career high point occurred courtesy John Hughes, in Planes Trains & Automobiles. I played John Candy's wife, Marie. You never do see Marie, only her photo. Del carries the photo around with her; he talks to it. It's sitting on the bedside table when John Candy and Steve Martin are sleepily snuggled in that motel bed, hand between two pillows...
Neal: Those aren't pillows!

Actually, This is my favorite linie from PT&A

Neal: [riding in back of pickup truck in freezing cold] What do you think the temperature is?
Del: One.

I was 23 and just out of college. I earned the trust of a casting office, so they brought me in. They took my Polaroid; the director wanted someone who could pass for really young and innocent. I got the job. I was just going to shoot a series of photos. An early 1960s high school graduation photo (the one you see) but also a string of photos: Del and Marie on vacation, Del and Marie at Christmas, et al. Del would flip these photos out of his wallet and bore Neal (Steve Martin).

I was young, unafraid and full of ideas. So I started to send "Del" letters to the set on location and signed them Marie. I sent Del cards. I told him to be well as he sold his shower curtains. I guess Mr Hughes liked my creativity. He decided to put me on camera.

I went to the Paramount lot and we filmed improvised scenes, just me and John Candy. Del and Marie at Thanksgiving. We did a couple Thanksgiving dinners. It was at the very end of the shoot. They were so strapped for time they were actually filming scenes with Steve Martin on the other side of the sound stage, so we had to keep it sorta quiet. I spent a lot of time in John Candy's trailer, talking to him about the business. John Candy was a sweetheart. I don't remember much about Steve Martin. But I remember Mr. Hughes. He was a very nice man.

A month before the movie came out I was scheduled to do ADR (automatic dialog replacement) where you redo the audio because the sound wasn't so great. Maybe we were being too quiet for Steve Martin's corner of the sound stage.

They had a special premier at Paramount Studios. I brought a friend. At the very end of the film, Neal is sitting on the train platform and thinking back on everything Del has said. Cut to: Del alone. He's thinking back on Thanksgiving with Marie, and then you have the flashback to Del and Marie having Thanksgiving. Cut back to Neal. He realizes Del is alone.

Only, no flashback. Just Del alone, then back to Neal. I was cut from the film. I was crushed. The fundamentalist Nazi church counselor I'd just fired predicted God's judgment would descent upon me for removing her authority in my life. The film editor said it happened all the time, just like Kevin Costner in "The Big Chill." He told me not to worry. My time would come.

Well my time went and never really came. That PT&A photo is my one shot at cinematic immortality (okay and Seinfeld). John Hughes went too. He left Hollywood. Rumor had it he didn't like the way Hollywood treated people: he blamed them for working Candy to death. And he didn't like the way Hollywood was starting to warp his sons' ideas about reality. So moved to Chicago where he hoped his family could live like normal people He occasionally wrote under a pen name. I don't think those scripts were so good.

I hoped he would return to Hollywood some day. My motives were selfish: I wanted him to come back and do a director's cut of Planes Trains & Automobiles and include my scenes.

That hope came to an end today on a Manhattan street. John Hughes was in Manhattan to see family. You see, he had one. He even had grandchildren at age 59. That tells me, he raised his sons right: they were healthy enough to grow up and into adulthood and have their own children; rather than follow Hollywood's directive and extend adolescence up until the time Medicare kicks in.

I just read a blog written by a woman who started corresponding to Mr. Hughes when she was in high school. Mr. Hughes went above and beyond the call of answering fan mail. He became a friend and mentor. Please, please read it. It might restore your faith in humanity. And if you're like me, you will repent of any selfish desire you had for Mr Hughes to go back to La La Land.

Goodbye sir. We've missed you for a while. Now we'll miss you forever.

Jul 30, 2009

Tour T-Shirt Ideas: I Need Your Votes!

I'm heading out on tour in September as the warm-up act for best-selling Donald Miller, who's out to promote his latest book, "A Million Miles In A Thousand Years." While there's little upfront money, it will pay off in book sales, not to mention the chance to tour with a terrific, well-known author.

Don wants me to make some dough and asked if I had a DVD to sell. I don't yet. But I've had some ideas for T-shirts. What do you think of these slogans? Would you buy them on a T-shirt? Some of these my manager doesn't think I could get away with selling them in a church foyer.

Which would you buy? In a church lobby or elsewhere?

Here are some with logos from the book.

Leave your preferences in the comments. Thanks so much!!

Jul 27, 2009

A Swiss Wedding

Some of us worried my brother Jim would ever get married. But they worried about me too, and I managed. So I shouldn’t be so surprised it happened for Jim. But we are surprised at how well it happened.

And it could very well not have. Like me, my brother Jim spent a lot of time in a charismatic church that emphasized inner healing. I did a lot of inner healing myself, but sometimes it seemed like you were supposed to wait until you were healed, before you were qualified to go out and have a life. I got out after ten years, but Jim stayed in, going from conference to conference, waiting for God to Do All The Healing So Jim’s Life Could Happen. A couple years ago, Jim looked at his half-lived life and got very angry.

Jim got the worst deal from my father. My father berated Jim for being a musician. At Jim’s college graduation recital, he conducted the university orchestra to a packed auditorium. Jim got a standing ovation. My father sat in the third row scowling, refusing to applaud. Refusing to stand up. Is it any wonder Jim spent years trying to heal himself of that?

At one point, someone prayed over Jim and said they had a vision of Isaac getting Rebecca. Well, our last name is Isaac. Then a pretty, young German violinist showed up at Jim’s grad school with talent, faith, and the name of Rebekkah, James fell for her. She didn’t fall for him in return. But he chased her anyway, for several years. We all thought Jim was whistling Dixie. But then I heard some of the things she said to him, and she encouraged his devotion. But she was young, she had time and people to burn.

It’s really hard to see someone you love get stuck. Jim is the smartest sibling in my family. He’s like scary MENSA smart. He’s a classical musician, and those guys are brainiacs at math, not to mention steel traps for the most arcane minutiae. I jokingly wondered if he had Asperser’s, the high functioning autistic behavior that geniuses like Bill Gates have. Jim's that kind of smart. Still we all ached to see him stuck, and worried that he never would get unstuck.

Along the way Jim ended up touring with a well-known Christian musician. That took him overseas a few times, where he often went to visit the German violinist who was still leading him on with the whole comenzie here goenzie way routine.

But four years ago, the tour stopped at a church in Zurich, Switzerland. He stayed in a large house where several people from the church all lived; among them was this sweet young German pianist. He said he lay awake thinking about his life, and how cool it would be to live in a place like that with different church friends on the floors, to play classical music in one of its rooms. But he lay there despairing of how far his dreams had escaped him. The German pianist was on a floor below him.

Two years ago, the same Christian musician toured Europe, with an extended stay in Zurich. Jim was put up in the same house, got to know that German pianist a little better; flew to Egypt for a few weeks, then back to the house in Zurich and the pianist. And he didn’t take a side trip to Germany to follow the violinist's lures. He’d found a different German musician, one who was an accompanist, not a soloist. In music and life. YEA!!

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and my brother Jim – “James” as his Swiss friends call him – got married to that delightful German accompanist. There in attendance were all the people at the church and the house who went to the same church. Some of the people who’d prayed different kind of prophecies over him, and ones that were ready to kick his butt if he ever did any harm to their beloved pianist sister.

At the evening dinner James recalled a vision he’d had years ago in one of those healing conferences. James had a heart for Germany and classical music all these years, and he envisioned himself playing classical music in Germany. But he was conflicted about what Germany did during WWII. And then he told the story about staying at the house with all the people from the same church, wishing he could stay in Switzerland and play music, while the German cal played music a few floors down.

Annkatrin is beautiful, funny, incredibly talented, quirky like us, and shares not only my brother's faith but his kind of faith. I am delighted to have a new sister! I'm sad they are far away, but now Larry and I have family members we can crash with, when we tour Europe.

It made me rethink how I’ve dismissed the more charismatic elements of the church; the prophetic, the need to heal. I did a lot of it myself, but after I got burned I locked all of that away. Jim/James and AK reminded me that God doesn’t ever stop inviting us to a bigger vision for us.
Jim got the girl, the music, and the community to support him, whoop his ass when he gets out of line. What better vision is there than that?

Here's their friend, jazz saxophonist Bene Muller, serenading James and AK on the day.

Jul 20, 2009

This Week's Graph

My friend Joe turned me onto these graphs.
I found this one especially funny.

Jul 17, 2009

Christian Music Graph

I can't take credit for this one. It's from Graph Jam.

I'm also a bit perplexed at the feature I added below, that tries to lead you to similar posts. I'm not sure why a humor post would suggest you want to read about my Thanksgiving trip.

Jul 12, 2009

New Dog, New Friends

All of our Dog Woes ended yesterday. We secured Wally a month ago, but he wasn't old enough to leave the nest until yesterday. After I got back from Zurich (more on that in another post!) I had a day or two to recover, and off we drove up the Central Coast to pick him up.

As it happened, our new friends Rob and Jen just moved to the same town! Rob is a pastor and just got relocated to the very same small town where Wally was born.

Jen and I met through the blogosphere. We found we had a great deal in common, and just bonded through writing each other. Well, a month ago, Rob preached his last sermon in their little desert town; Jen had a book club in town all these years. For her final book club, she asked that they read Angry Convos, and then invited Larry and me to come down for their book club meeting. I wondered if it would be awkward, like the participants couldn't say what they really felt about the book, but it turned out to be a blast. More than the book, we all talked about our own experiences that the book touched upon.

After dinner concluded and the waitresses kicked us out; Jen, Rob, Larry and I stood in the parking lot and talked for an hour. Lar and Rob share a love of theology and discussing what's happening (or should be) in post modern Christendom. It's great when you meet someone you connect with, like Jen and I have. But when your respective spouses hit it off you feel even more lucky. Except for the fact they lived four hours away in the middle of the desert. And now they were moving four hours away from us in the other direction! Fortunately, just ten minutes away from where Wally was born.

So yesterday, we went to get our Boy. Here he is: Wallace Winston WIlson.

Afterward we stopped in to see Rob, Jen and their kids. Yes, they have terrific kids too. Another lunch with them and Larry and I feel good inside. The older I get and the longer I live, the more I discover soul mates in new towns. Some in Zurich, some in New York and Virginia; now we've got Rob and Jen half way up the coast. I feel sad they're a 3.5 hour drive away. Then again, I guess I know a bit more what heaven will be like. We will all be five minutes from each other. Don't know how we'll figure that out. But we will.

On the drive back we stopped in Buellton where my Mom's side of the family has their annual reunion. Yes it was happening that weekend. I saw two of my cousins, Shirley and Kari, whom I hadn't seen in a decade!

All this, with a new bundle of fur in our keep. He woke us up at 6:30 yelping. We are too old to have "real" children, so this is ours. We are very happy indeed.

Oh yes, heaven will have dogs, too.

Jul 1, 2009

Rotisserie Chicken Gospel

Larry just informed me that Christianity Today's interview with me just got posted. Here's the link.

The Rotisserie Chicken Gospel: Author Susan Isaacs on comedy, church hopping, and having a 'middle-class white girl's Dark Night of the Soul.'

In the meantime, here is a pic of my trip to Zurich.

My sister Nancy, Sister in Law AnnKatrin, brother James, niece Emily
My brother is one lucky dawg. AK is terrific! The only downside is, they're going to live in Switzerland so I won't get to see enough of her. Upside: Euro travel just got easier!

Jun 24, 2009

Gad Zooks, Great Ukes!

My brother found the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. In their repertoire you'll find Smells like Teen Spirit, Life on Mars, the Good Bad & The Ugly, and this my favorite.

Jun 14, 2009

Weeping lasts for a night; Dogs come in the morning

Larry and I let the idea of a dog go for the time being. I was emotionally exhausted. But Champion Corgi Lady kept looking. She knows where to look, since it's her goal in life to rescue these guys. She found a couple of ads for corgis online and sent me links: a stud dog that's 'no longer needed for our breeding program' (that makes me sad. Why not neuter him and just keep him as a pet, since he's yours?), a seven month old pup that hadn't been sold yet.

But by the time I followed the links, they'd been scooped up. However, one ad had a link to a breeder info website. The link in question, all the pups were sold, but there was another ad for And there was one link for four-week old corgi pups!

I emailed, called, did everything to get a hold of the breeder. And waited.

Larry drove home past the bike shop. He's been resisting buying a new bike for the past year ... the cost, blah blah. But his bike is 15 years old, and he hasn't been out riding it for at least a year. The doggy disappointment sent him over the edge, so this time when we stopped he was ready to buy one. (This is what you do when you hit a midlife crisis, and you're too old to have kids and too poor to buy a sportscar: you get dogs and bikes.) Not that I'd want him to get the red sportscar. I like Larry as he is. A guy who buys bikes, not cars.

We got home and there was an email from the breeder. Yes, she had four tricolor males left, and sent pictures. "That's it," Larry said, "Tell her we want one, and send a check." Yea. Finally!

But then Corgi Lady contacted me about a 1 1/2 year old "free to a good home" corgi. My heart sank. I've wanted to save a rescue before buying a puppy, and this guy looked really sweet. I guess it's me and my bleeding heart, the person who'd rather eat fast food or go hungry than spend money on trendy gastrobars; who'd rather be married to a guy who buys a bike than a Corvette. Who'd rather save the outcast than jockey for the popular pick. But I have my cat. It's going to be Larry's dog first. And Larry's wants the puppy.

Corgi Lady's going to get the "free to a good home," and I know she'll find him one. (anyone want a really sweet 1 1/2 year old dog, let me know and I will hook you up with Awesome Corgi Lady.) And we're going to get this guy. We're paying a breeder fee, but she's half the price of the other breeders we contacted; and not anywhere near as emotionally expensive as losing a dog in a raffle.

So this is our guy. We'll get to take him home on July 11.

The breeder said that once we choose a name, to let her know; she'll start calling him that, so he'll know his name when we get him. He's a Welsh Corgi. Got any ideas for a good Welsh boy name? Besides Aberystwyth?

Jun 13, 2009

Take a Dog Breather

It was two days since we lost the corgi raffle. Larry and I settled into our sadness, as well as the greater awareness that God is good even if he doesn't get involved with day to day disappointments. Well at least not those involving dogs. The longing and disappointment didn't belong to the dog; those are my emotions, not the dog's. He'll be happy wherever he goes, as long as the new owner is a good dog person I hope the owner's wife isn't the lady with stilettos. And if she is, well, maybe the chubby Chinese guy really needs that dog for solace. Who knows.

The Corgi Lady has been awesome. She started trolling the web immediately, looking for corgis for sale or adoption and sending me links. Talk about a kind, forgiving person.

I stopped by the Pasadena Humane Society, knowing it was too soon to look again; knowing that no dog would be good enough unless it looked like the corgi we lost. And then I saw this.

Yep. Time to give it a rest.

Jun 12, 2009

A Dog By Raffle

It would come down to a raffle ticket. Anyone who was interested in the corgi in Kennel 7 at the Pomona shelter had to come in between 8 and 9:45am and turn in their application. You couldn't turn it in ahead of time, had to be this morning, between 8 and 9:45am. At 9:45 they would close applications. And if there were more than one applicant, they would hold a raffle. You had to be present for the raffle at 10:02 am. In Pomona.

I hadn't heard from my agents in two months. And whaddya know, but I got an audition for 10:30am. In Santa Monica. 60 miles away from Kennel 7 in Pomona. Now, often commercial castings will have a category open for an hour or two. But my agent's assistant was brand new, trying to figure everything out and do it punctiliously, so when I asked her for the casting window, it was as if I'd launched a virus in her brain. Poor gal, I could see her sitting at that busy desk in that manic office. I said yes and hung up.

Larry had back to back meetings, so he couldn't go to the shelter. Larry's heart sank. "I had a feeling just as I came home, that something was going to keep us from getting him."

"Don't think like that. I'm not giving up. I'm going there. I'll find a way."

I loaded the dog crate in the back of the car; the one I drove 30 miles to buy off a guy in Encino. And the dog collar and leash I got Larry for Valentine's Day. I kept my mind on the what ifs. What if I got the dog but because I had to go to Santa Monica they'd give it so someone else? What if someone else got the dog? I put those thoughts out of my head.

It's just a dog, right? It feels silly. We have friends who can't get pregnant, friends who've had miscarriages -- one who miscarried in her seventh month. And our friends who are trying to adopt overseas. They are really going through the ringer. This is nothing comparatively. But this is what happens when you get too old to have kids or raise kids. You get pets. And well, Larry needs a buddy. I'm going to be traveling a good deal this fall, and I don't like the thought of Larry alone and lonely. Larry's such a soft-hearted guy; he cries whenever we go to the pound. It's one of the reason I love him. True, I wish he looked good in more daring footwear like Doug can pull off. But overall Larry's got everything right. Including that soft heart.

So I was glad it was I who was driving down there to face the nerve-wracking drama in Kennel 7. I'd first seen the Corgi on Craigslist. "Is This your dog?" the post asked, hoping to reach the owner. "I couldn't keep it; I took it to the Pomona shelter." I went last Friday hoping to find him, but he wasn't there. I'd hoped his true owner found him.

But the following day we were at Corgi Fun day, and passed the shelter on the way back. "let's stop just in case." And there in Kennel 7, was Craigslist Corgi. He was adorable, sweet, alert, interested. He wasn't available unitl the following Friday. We wanted him. But so did an Asian couple at the shelter. I'd just witnessed two young Asian women with massive boob jobs at Corgi fun day. They'd parked their luxury SUV in the fire lane and left it there so they could go off and show off their uh, corgis. Now this Asian couple was drooling over our boy. The woman, in stiletto heels barked at her husband: "you are coming back for him on Friday!" I wasn't having a good experience with Asians that day.

Friday came today, and I hoped I wouldn't see her. I arrived at 8:15 and turned in my application. I was the first person there. The lady behind the desk smiled." Oh he's a really sweet dog!"

"Yeah," I laughed, "We've kind of been pining for him." She took the application and left the front desk area. Maybe she held the raffle. Maybe she made the decisions about who was raffle-worthy? Maybe she saw the longing in my face.

I sat in the parking lot for 90 minutes. Finally the dashboard read 9:44. I went back. "Yes, there's going to be a raffle for him," she said. There were other applications for him.

I looked at the people milling in the breezeway: an old white guy with a trucker hat. An elderly white lady; an Hispanic woman and her nervous daughter. A couple in their thirties. A group of four Asian 20-somethings, a Chinese guy with a pot belly. I say "Chinese because he looked like a Chinese friend of mine. I hoped he wasn't the guy whose high-heeled wife barked at him to "go get him on Friday."

My heart was racing. This was silly! I thought of Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets," crying over Verdel and then scoffing, "Over a dog!" at his own tears.

"Everyone inside for Kennel 7," a lady said flatly. We marched in. She made sure we were all present: no absentee applicants. Then she pulled out four raffle tickets -- four of those yellow paper tickets you see at a carnival. Oh my, they really did mean it. It was a raffle, with random raffle odds. No factoring in the fact I saw him on craigslist a week ago or had come to see him twice since then. No it was all a raffle crap shoot. The woman tore off four tickets, kept her corresponding tickets and threw the other four into a tin lid.

Go ahead, she said, "pick one." We stood there for a moment. I was closest to the lid. I reached and took the one on top. Oh god I should have fished around. I should have fished for another one!" This was so random and lame.

We all got our tickets. The lady shook the tin and picked a ticket.
She read out the number.
It was not our number.

The Corgi went to the pot bellied Chinese guy, who may/may not have a wife at home with stiletto heels.

"You're welcome to go look at all the other dogs we have available," the lady said.

I got into the car and cried. And how ridiculous, that I'd bothered to pray about it; an act that would make Richard Dawkins sneer. And maybe I should sneer at my own stupidity. God is the creator of the universe, he doesn't get involved. He has more important things to deal with, like world peace and Darfur and clean water in Africa. And so my little middle class white girl's disappointment is meaningless to him.

But then I wonder, you know, why "take it to the Lord in prayer?" Why bring your heart to Someone who doesn't give a flying wallenda, or is just too powerful, and important to give a flying wallenda. He still doesn't give a flying wallenda. So why why bother? And then was Larry to call -- Larry with his soft heart and inevitable tears, waiting to hear about a forever friend who was not coming home. Yes I know God is good, all the time. I know I'll get over it. I know that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." No shizzle, Spinozza. It won't come soon enough.

I drove 60 miles to Santa Monica with an empty kennel in my car and a lump in my throat.

Loose Blogs Sink Dogs

This was a week of mounting frustration. Our search for a dog had gone on for six months, and culminated in losing a Dachshund we were foolhardy enough to name before we had him. On top of that, and maybe because it, I’ve had writer’s block. I’ve got a 90 minute solo show script that’s overdue. And I can’t write.

I fessed up to Larry and some friends about the writers block, but the confession didn't break my writer's block. Thursday night came along. I got an email from a friend who needed to vent. I vented back, and we laughed about it. I published that vent in my blog.

When you’ve got writer’s block it helps to write to somebody. You have a person in your mind when you write. You know what they like to hear, what entertains them; you're more likely to write with details and specifics, because you know what makes that person tick.

My friend has had her own pet adoption nightmare. She found a cat at a local shelter, but they interrogated her with questions like, “Will you have teenagers visiting the house? Visiting teenagers would be too disruptive for the cat.”

My friend is from the South. She knows how to be polite. So she replied in her kind Southern lilt, “Shame on you, ma’am. This cat is in danger of being euthanized. I love this cat and want to give it a home. And you are worried about teenagers visiting my house? Shame, shame on you.” She got the cat.

So when I wrote her back about my pet search frustration, I regaled her with the details she’d appreciate. As a comedienne, I look for the absurd. I exaggerate. I use details; like saying our friend Doug’s shoes looked like Aladdin and Buffalo Bill had a brawl; or calling the corgi rescue lady, the “Crazy Corgi Lady.” I was just venting out of my id. It felt good. I got through my writer's block. I even posted my email to her as a blog.

Don't ever publish a blog when it's a vent from frustrated id. Because people read blogs.

The next day I thought, “That was not a cool thing to say about Doug’s shoes.” SO I added some important details: like the fact the shoes looked good on Doug. (Doug can get away with extreme footwear because he’s a jazz musician). Or clarifying Corgi lady. We met her the next day at Corgi Fun Day. Turned out she was really Nice Corgi Lady .. and Smart Corgi Lady. she knows important things, like the fact the breed is protective of its food So no, you really DON’T want small kids playing “Tease The Corgi With His Dinner.” SO I added more about her, and wrote more about our search for the dog.

I felt better. Only ..

Well, corgi ladies read blogs too. And she found mine. Needless to say, she was not happy with what I wrote. And she was not interested in letting Bitchy Blog Bitch adopt one of her corgis. Would you, if Blog Bitch just called you crazy?

I was mortified. I wrote her back and apologized. I explained as a comedienne I exaggerate things for comic effect, it came out of my id and all that. But you know, it wasn’t cool anyway. It wasn’t cool at all. She was still not comfortable in having us see her dogs. And I hardly blame her.

When I told Larry his eyes welled up with tears. He knew I was just being a comedian. He had to delete his entire blog, because employers read something in it and took it the wrong way. So he didn’t fault me.

But I did. And not just for losing out on a dog or seeing Larry so sad. But because I hurt a really nice lady. Really, for the sake of a funny blog piece? It was so not worth it.

Corgi Lady was crazy enough to forgive me. She noticed on my blog I’d said Larry had his heart set on a tricolor male corgi. She saw one at a shelter in the central Valley and sent me a link. I called and the dog already had two people fighting for it.

We saw another tricolor male corgi at a shelter about 25 miles away. It goes up for adoption tomorrow at 10am. And wouldn’t you know, my agent calls me with an audition: in Santa Monica at 10:30. An hour away. I’m going to the shelter anyway. I’m getting that dog. I’m doing it for Larry. And for the corgi lady.

Sometimes getting over writer's block just isn't worth it.