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.


Becky said...

Susan, I will never forget meeting you at your first show in Vancouver B.C. It was a pleasure (and easy!) to sell your books! I had to smile when I read what you said about Canadians being a bit passive. As an American from San Diego who now lives in Canada I have sometimes wondered if anyone can tell that my heart is still wild and crazy American!! I help folks sometimes to remember where I'm from by singing the national anthem with my hand on my heart. I hope and pray that God will continue to bless you on your tour. Love from your bookselling buddy, Becky

EmilyAdele said...

Hey Susan: First of all I love the way you describe your mom with dementia in this post. It is very similar to my experience of my dad when he was in the nursing home with dementia for the last year of his life. And, speaking of dads, the chapter of your book about the loss of your father had me in a puddle of tears. I think you and I are lucky in that we were able to have a full cycle relationship with our parents. Many people aren't so lucky or feel the "honor thy father & mother" commandment means "stifle thy true feelings"- and where's the healing in that?
Anyway, I had read half of your book before seeing you in Cincinnati. Sorry about the quiet crowd that night...I was laughing loudly but at times thought not enough people were laughing. You were hilarious. I loved your book and the way you framed your journey of letting go of your false perceptions of God through couples counseling. Great stuff!

Susan Isaacs said...

@ Becky! You made it hard for any bookseller to match your kindness and enthusiasm. I have a card coming your way. I'd forgotten you're American born. That explains a lot!
@Emily: I cannot fault Cincy for its quiet. Every crowd has its own personality and timbre. I didn't see the "no profanity, ever" on the wall til after the show. Maybe the "ass" comment made people worry. :) Anyway, I met great people and connected with you!

Marie said...

Hey Susan--I'm so sorry I missed your visit to Portland! I just read your book, at last, and I really enjoyed it. I posted my review on my blog and on Goodreads:



Unknown said...

Bought my ticket to see you and Don in Melbourne next Saturday, as did my boyfriend and friend (the Don fan.) It would be an understatement to say I am ridonkulously excited to see the show and finally meet you. I know you will be great, and just an FYI, one of my friends who spent the past five years in India as a missionary to girls in the red light district (and has a lot of anger at God as a result) read your book and said God used it to heal her so much that she had to read it again. I have 3 friends that want to borrow it because they have heard such great things, but I am going to make them buy their own!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Susan -

Your LA show did not suck. Quite the opposite. I really enjoyed it and several people commented to me about how much they did, too. All actors:)


Susan Isaacs said...

Staci, you rock. Well one young actor came up afterward and gave me notes. Sucked or not, I was thrilled and grateful you and Gary and Ecclesia got us in there. XO

Anonymous said...

Susan, I really enjoyed seeing you in Memphis a few weeks ago. And I have to say that your book made me laugh out loud. I finished it last night and plan to recommend it to several friends who I'm sure will love it too. So much of it could have been MY life: the anger, the ranting against God, the questioning, the feelings of betrayal, the rebellion, and the reconciliation. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting your journey into words.

Becky said...

Got the card! Thank you Susan. I hope you and Larry have a wonderful Christmas. P.S. I always make sure that your book is FACE OUT on the biography shelf in the Big Book Room and when I pass that unmistakable cover on my way coming or going I smile inwardly and think, "Who else can I recommend this book to?" I have a new writer friend named Melody Goetz and I wish I could be in a book discussion with you and her and an author named Margot Starbuck. I think you would all like each other and would have so much to laugh about and talk about. Maybe in heaven...Thanks again for taking the time to write Susan. Your affirming words made my day!

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