Sep 29, 2010

Permission to Speak Freely

This fall I'm going to go on a mini tour with author Anne Jackson to promote her new book, Permission to Speak Freely.  Have you heard of Post Secret?  A blogger invites people to send postcards detailing some deep dark secret they're afraid to tell others.  The blogger puts them up on  his blog. People have submitted some wild secrets: funny, tragic, poignant.  And their art is pretty amazing too. Post Secret blog has taken off and the blogger published a book. 

Anne was taken by the idea. So she asked her fans and readers this question:
What's the one thing you don't feel safe to talk about in church?
People sent in their responses. Anne's book features those original post cards, as well as her own essays, poetry, and story about her own secrets.  The secrets she wasn't allowed to share in the one place we should all feel safe to be our whole selves, warts and all: church.

Permission to Speak Freely Tour this fall.

We've got a few dates schedule in the Pacific Northwest, a few in the midwest. We'd love to go more places, so if you think your church would benefit from us stopping by, please contact Chaffee Management.

Sep 27, 2010

Your Monday Morning Fun Pic

Where's Waldo?

And where's your scintillating caption for your Auntie Susie?

Sep 21, 2010

Fall and Honey

Fall is here. I don’t know why they wait until September 21 to call it autumn. I can feel it weeks before. I always sense it first in the sky: the light gets low and melancholy long before the temperature drops and the leaves fall. I sensed it as early as the end of August. It feels like earth must hit a particularly sharp curve in its lap around the sun, where it loses more time each day than in, say, June or July.  I'm not an astronomer, just guessing.  At any rate, I could sense it from Labor Day, that low achingly sad light in the afternoon sky, the slow slipping down of the temperature.

And now, finally the leaves are beginning to fall (what leaves actually fall in LA). The pepper trees shed their seeds, the maples are beginning to turn. And our wisteria vine is losing its leaves.  I've only now been willing to go into the back yard.  The gladiolas died off completely, but I haven’t had the will to pull them from the ground. I haven’t been able to go into the back yard. There’s too much of Honey back there.

I've always loved fall the best: that time to be thoughtful and beautifully melancholy.  It prompts a time to reflect, take stock, then hunker down and get to work. It's no surprise to me that the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement occur in the fall.  Except this has been a particularly sad season. Too much loss this summer; so I'm not appreciating the melancholy of autumn this year. (Then again, if the sun were blazing happily above me I might resent it mocking my sadness).

I haven’t watered in the yard since the day before Honey died.  I'd been “gone” working on a movie for nearly a month: either pulling 16 hour days in town, or gone completely on the road. That Friday was my first real day off. So I went out into the back yard to pull the dead gladiola flowers off their stalks. Honey padded over, trilling “burrup” the whole way. She kneaded her paws into the grass, then lay down at my feet and rolled over. I sat down and petted her for a while, then scooped her up, held her for a while and brought her inside. Thank God I did.

Just a few days before I’d groomed her, which she enjoyed. In retrospect, I must admit that thought that crossed my mind, “if she Is in pain, this must be a welcome distraction, t his pleasure she has in getting groomed.” I’d noticed her complain when I picked her up the wrong way. I worried she had some undiscovered mass, but when Larry took her into the vet, he said he didn’t feel any masses at all, and her blood work was fine. So I was lulled into believing. Still, grooming her a few days before I wondered … if she did in fact feel any kind of pain, perhaps the grooming made her feel better. Funny, the thoughts which float over the transom of your mind. Funny how you wish they’d lodged in your brain and made you pay attention. Made you ready.

Thank God I scooped her up that day. Thank God I’d made sure she went to sleep on our bed that night. It would all be over ad she would be gone less than 24 hours later. Thank God for one last memory of Honey.

Death turns everything into an affront. I winced at the violets in the window box: “How dare you go on living? How is it you can still be here, pulling life out of that soil and she’s gone?” I remember feeling that way when my father died. How could people go on, driving their cards and shopping for food and bickering and, well, living?! How could they go on living like the world was the same; when it was so horribly altered? That’s what it felt like when my father died. That’s how it felt when Honey died.

Every time I went out into the back garden it ached; it hurt from her absence. Today I walked down to the bottom of the garden and noticed how ragged the roses had become, rust on the leaves and trapped with spider webs. I didn’t care. Let them die for now. Maybe I’ll think about the roses in spring.

There have been more tears for Honey than I've shed for anyone else, and it was more than my midsection could handle. Everything from my neck to my pelvis hurt. My arms hurt. That was an odd, my arms hurting from grief. Like something had been ripped from them and the vacant space just made them ache.  The hole she left made my arms hurt. My chest hurt from crying. My heart hurt. Everything hurt.

There were things to put away or to hide: bags of catnip, her scratching post, her winter bed and her summer pillow. I couldn’t even throw away the unopened cat litter I’d bought just a week. Larry got rid of the things he could see, but there were always more things to find. More things to remind you of a friend who’s been with you for what seems like most of your adult life. I had to reach back into memory to recall a moment before she had been around. She was in every place I lived for the past 13 years: the first place I got by myself, where I drank my way into sorrow and then got her to heal my way into sobriety. The house in New York, where I moved when she was only two years old. That house had about eight women come and go over the course of five years. They all knew Honey. And then there were all those house-sits and sublets and flats I’d lived in up until the day I got married. I couldn’t bring my mind to recall that last studio apartment I lived in alone. Because I didn’t live there alone; I lived there with Honey.

A friend emailed me. She recalled the writing groups we had at my house, and remembered how Honey plopped herself in the middle of the room, or the table, or the couch, and made sure she was part of the group. She was special, that cat. That soul. That little girl I loved so well. And miss so much.

I miss her more than I miss my father; perhaps more than I will miss my mother when she goes. My mother has been leaving us, bits at a time, to the point that there’s little left of her. I marvel to think she stood up and watched me get married four years ago. She can’t walk anymore. She doesn’t remember anything. When Mom goes, of course I will cry and miss her. I’ll ask Mom to look for Honey when she gets there. I’ll ask Mom to tell Honey I miss her.

I tell that to God a lot: that I miss Honey, and that will he please let Honey know that. I’m more than convinced she’s made it to heaven. She’d make it before I would. She never sinned or disappointed God or told him to “go away,” the way I had done. She was just her true, loving self: more of a completed soul than I’ll ever be this side of heaven. But I wonder what she knows, what she sees? Does she ask around, “where’s Susan? When is she going to be here?” I pray she finds my friends and family and they look after her until I arrive.

You don’t really notice when grief finally leaves. It just gets a little easier every day. I don’t recall when I stopped crying every day. But I did. Still, all I need is a little prompting. Just last week I was sitting in a coffee shop and cried. Larry and I were sitting at the kitchen table, and I noticed her waxy ear-mark on the corner of the fridge. I had to stop eating. Her collar hangs on my corkboard, next to the many photos I finally had printed off my computer. The collar hangs in such a spot that my lamp usually obscures it. But I moved the lamp just a few moments ago, and there it was: the black braid, the gentle bell, the tag with her name and my phone number that told people to whom she belonged. Only once in her life did someone have to call me. I’d been working all day, and Honey had been sitting out on the front lawn, waiting for me to get home. The kind neighbor called to let me know “your cat is on the lawn, looking around.” I came home soon after. I remember several nights back at that last apartment, coming home late, and seeing her little silhouette next to the driveway. Patiently waiting. She never strayed beyond the parkway. Never once saw her run across a street. She knew where home was. Home was the only place she wanted to be, except when I wasn’t there. And now it’s hard for me to be home, when she isn’t here.

Our dog is little comfort. He’s young and arrogant, and he’s Larry’s dog. He adores Larry; he only tolerates me. I’m still his biggest competition and he lets me know it. It’s tiring. I want my cat.

Larry and I talk about getting another dog, mostly for Wally to have a playmate to run around with all day. Cut down on our doggie day care bills. Larry says, “We don’t need to get another corgi. Get the kind of dog you want.”
I say, “I want a cat.”

My friend Katherine has had many cats. She grieved over the loss of every one of them; but there was one special cat. Miles. Katherine has never forgotten Miles. Katherine says you never heal adequately until you get another cat. Maybe we'll get a dog for Thanksgiving. Maybe I'll get a cat for Christmas.

But it's only September. I’m not ready.

Sep 20, 2010

Your Monday Morning Fun Pic

A pic to brighten your dreary fall Monday morning.

Now how about a caption for your Auntie Susie?

Sep 17, 2010

Friday Fun Video

This video has been up on YouTube only a week and it's had nearly a million views in that time. See why. A groom had a special surprise for his bride. If this won't make you smile, I'm afraid you may be in a coma.

Sep 15, 2010

Merengue Dog

So for Wally's next dog training class, we shall NOT be attempting this....

If we are learning anything from Cesar Millan, it's that dogs need activities and tasks and exercise. Okay, so retrievers weren't bred to dance on their hind legs, but this looks like s/he's having a lot of fun.

Sep 14, 2010

Emily Timbol Takes It To Video

Meet Emily Timbol. We connected last year after she read my book. She was a writer waiting to happen. She has since published articles on Relevant Magazine, and now she's taking it video. Here's one she made using the format of the Google "Search On" commercial. I think this is terrific.

Sep 13, 2010

Your Monday Morning Fun Pic

It's Monday. You need a laugh.

Now, how about a caption?

Sep 10, 2010

September 11: A revisit in a new book

Sometimes it's hard for me to recall the events of 9/11. They can feel like a dream. But I know it happened. I lived in New York City at the time, and my then-boyfriend happened to have a meeting on the top floor of the World Trade Center. At 8am. And he was never late.   I wrote about it a while ago. You can read it here.

We all have our stories about what we were doing that day.  Author Sarah Cunningham was a "23-year-old save-the-world idealist" living 600 miles away in Jackson, Michigan.  She and her now-husband recruited 45 professionals from her church, to go to New York City and help in the wake of the disaster.   "Being stationed near the makeshift morgue for the New York Police Department felt like being on the set of a disaster movie, except that it was all sick reality."

Sara wrote about the whole experience in her new book, Picking Dandelions: A Search for Eden Among Life's Weeds.

Here is a more lengthy excerpt:

In the first week after September 11th, it was my dad’s dream come true: It seemed like every human on the planet had become a New York Yankees fan. During the downtimes at Ground Zero, longtime Cubs and Braves fans could be found saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if—after all this—the Yankees won the World Series?” And then they would add, “Just this year though.”

Unfortunately, the Arizona Diamondbacks later determined that New York’s comfort would not come via Major League baseball, as they defeated the Yankees in the best-of-seven series that November.

At the time, though, it seemed like everyone wanted New York to find some small good to tide it over until the city could flourish again. Emergency personnel, of course, worked through the night and through the day and through the next day, logging weeks worth of overtime they’d never be paid for. Department store chains sent their delivery trucks to transport literally tons of bottled water to the disaster site. Cruise ships arrived in the harbor to feed and house volunteers, cell phone companies handed out free phones to relief workers so they could keep in touch with their families, and therapists administered free counseling and even massages.

I could not believe that in this unlikely patch of ground, what was growing reminded me so much of Eden."

Visit Sarah Cunningham's website. And if the book intrigues you, check out the book giveaways going on.

Sep 9, 2010

Jimmy Fallon's Emmy Opener

The Emmys this year were filled with some great winners and upsets. But I missed Jimmy Fallon's Glee-inspired opening. Just found it on YouTube.

Sep 8, 2010

Your 20 bucks = 20 years of clean water

Two years ago our friends Lori and Ted adopted their son, Abe, from Ethiopia. Abe is such a charming, funny, expressive boy; he's definitely inheriting his father's personality.  But Abe's life could have been much different.  By getting involved in international adoption, Ted and Lori became aware of the fate of many people in Abe's home c. 

So much so that, Ted did something really COOL for his birthday that September.

Instead of gifts, Ted asked friends to donate to Charity:Water to help build a well in Ethiopia. They succeeded! Ted and Lori helped build a well that, while it wasn't right in Abe's home village, it was in the same region. It was one way they said "thank you" for their beautiful son.

So here's my Charity:Water pitch. This month I'm one of 30 bloggers who are trying to raise $30,000 in 30 days, to build wells in Africa, through Charity:Water. Here's the 30 Bloggers' Donation Site

  • $30,000 will provide clean water to 1,500 people. That's 300 families, 6 entire communities.
  • A single $20 donation provides clean water for ONE person for 20 YEARS 
  • 100% of the money GOES TO THE WELLS. Private donors take care of ALL overhead!
  • We're building for: the Central African Republic (scroll down a bit).
This PSA with actress Jennifer Connelly: envisions what it would be like if NYC didn't have access to clean water.

Or this video, featuring Beck's Time Bomb

If it's hard to think of this in specific terms, just think of little Abe.

Please consider donating $20. 
Go HERE for more details.

Thank you!

Sep 7, 2010

Religious Horror? Q & A with Jonathan Weyer

When I was about five years old, my brothers were watching "Creature Feature" on Saturday afternoon TV. I made the mistake of joining them. The film was The Beast With Five Fingers, starring Peter Lorre. A pianist dies, and his dismembered hand goes around murdering people. It traumatized me. I wouldn't go to the bathroom in a public loo for years. I was afraid when my parents turned out the lights. That hand was going to come get me.

I avoided horror movies ever since. Never saw Friday the 13th, Halloween, Blair Witch, not even Scream, a horror parody. The scariest film I ever saw was Brazil, because the naturalistic horror seemed in the realm of possibility.

I heard that Clive Barker, author of the Hellraiser novels, was religious. So was Bram Stoker: his Dracula was defeated by the Cross for a reason. But I watched 15 minutes of True Blood and thought, "meh."

So I was curious when I heard about author/pastor Jonathan Weyer's upcoming horror novel, The Faithful.  Actually I first saw his cover art on twitter and thought it looked cool.  We chatted in 140 characters or less, then he sent me a copy of the book.

Full disclosure:I haven't read it yet, and it may take months before it makes its way up my pile of books. But I was intrigued by what he was doing. Here's a blurb from his website:

Adian Schaeffer is a young pastor at a crossroads.  Conflicted by the hypocrisy of the church, he feels alone and depressed.  His only companion is his dog, Bishop.  When he begins to doubt his faith, he knows he is entering a spiritual battleground and starts searching for answers. Then he learns his ex-fiancée is murdered in a possibly demonic ritual, and he's a prime suspect; he's catapulted into a deeper fight.  Tormented by supernatural entities, Aidan becomes a medium that will hold the key to solving this murder mystery.

Did I mention that Jonathan is a pastor? We did a Q & A (not via twitter)

Q: So you are a pastor. And you wrote a religious horror novel.  Sundays in your world must be interesting.  Have you gotten flak for writing horror? (from religious people) Or flak from horror fans for being religious?

A. So far, everyone has been great. I think the religious folks have been skeptical about the label “horror.” I usually tell them there are three levels of horror:  the unsettling, the gross out, and torture porn. I would put The Faithful in the first category, but a gross out can be used as well. Torture Porn is out of bounds because it's just horrible for so many reasons. Stephen King said that at its heart, horror has morality that would make a puritan preacher smile. Torture Porn doesn't have that worldview, its violence for violence's sake. Once I explain that, religious folks get it for the most part. I'm sure that once the book is released, there might be more controversy on both sides of the fence. We shall see.

Q. How do you incorporate your love of the supernatural with your deep religious faith?

A. The Bible and the Nicene Creed tells that God is the creator of the seen and the unseen. I find it odd when Christians become too naturalistic in their faith. I don't find the ideas incompatible at all. Are there some tensions in being a pastor and writing a ghost story? Sure, but not the ones you would think. Those lines from the Creed have always struck me and I love stories that try to explore that tension between the seen and the unseen.

Q. Where do you get story ideas for your books?

A: Ha, too many to name! The chief place would be Coast to Coast AM. It's show on in the middle of the night that talks about all kinds of paranormal things like ghosts, aliens, etc. I listen to it when I can't sleep or I'm going on a long trip. Plus, growing up, I wasn't allowed to watch horror movies. I scared myself by reading real ghost stories, stuff about Bigfoot and the scariest of all, the Mothman sightings in West Virginia. Oh, and the Weird America books are invaluable!

Q: Were you always interested in both writing and pastoring? You started as a Presbyterian pastor, then moved to campus ministry. Were you writing all the time?

A. I was. In fact, in seminary (don't tell my professors) I would write little notes to myself that turned in my first novel (not The Faithful). In fact, my preaching professor in seminary told me he loved my writing, but that it would always make it hard for me to preach. I think the reason is because there two different things are going on, and making the switch is pretty difficult. As I kept writing after seminary, I found I loved it more than preaching. When I realized that, I knew I should probably step out of the pulpit and concentrate on start writing. I'm still ordained and ministering to college students. I'm just not preaching anymore.

Q: Tell us about the Thomas Society. That sounds fascinating.

A. The Thomas Society is the name of the student group I founded at Ohio State. It's a group dedicated to providing a third place where anyone, Christian or non-Christian can ask any question in a safe forum. I have an amazing group of Christian students who lead the group. Last year, half of our group consisted of Christians and half consisted of atheists. The discussion is often very intense, but intelligent. Name calling and simplistic arguments aren't allowed.

Q: Did your involvement with atheists and the Thomas Society influence this book?

Not at all in the beginning. When I first came up with the idea, I hadn't even started campus ministry, much less hanging out with atheists. The whole thing started because I wanted to write a ghost story. As things progressed, I realize how much Aidan, the main character, really struggled with his faith. That started to filter into the story, especially as I began work at Ohio State. The biggest influence on the book came in the rewrite and editing process. It happened at the same time I was thinking through what I wanted The Thomas Society to about: being an open place for everyone to ask their questions about Christianity. There is no doubt each influenced the other.

Q: Religious people can form ideas of what atheists and agnostics are like. Tell me what you've observed. How do the atheists and agnostics you talk to, deal with the issue of Evil? Or of the supernatural? 

A. I'm the only Christian minister on the speaker's bureau for the Secular Student Alliance, an International group for atheist college students. This past summer, I took part in a panel discussion at their national conference in Columbus. I actually spoke there last summer as well. When I walked into the room, I got hugs from about ten atheists. How often does a preacher get hugged at an atheist conference? I loved it. I speak to a lot of their student groups. In fact, a group in Seattle is talking about bringing me out in November.
      As for the issue of Evil, there really is no consensus among atheists about that question. In fact, that's the biggest misunderstanding religious people have atheists, that is, we think they are this monolithic group. They aren't. Opinions on evil range from its just a social construct to those who would believe that there really is evil, but it's merely a leftover of an outdated evolutionary necessity.
     As for the supernatural, they obviously think all of it's crap, God, ghosts, the devil, unicorns, etc. They think it all belongs in the same category of stories that just aren't true.

Look at that cherubic face! Hard to imagine him brewing horror up in that noggin.  If you like supernatural horror, check out  The Faithful.  It comes out on October 1. Just in time for a Halloween. Mwah ha ha!

Find out more about Jonathan Weyer and The Faithful at his website.
You can also follow him on twitter.