Archive for October, 2009

Here’s the conversation …

Me: “I’m just not sure where I stand with God.”

Friend: Smiling, “I don’t think that’s true.”

Me: “Not sure what you’re saying?”

Friend: “I think it’s the other way around. God is never sure where ‘he’ stands with you.”

That’s ironic, isn’t it? Half of me says the conversation is a moot point. Half of me wrestles with what that exactly means. The other half (I’m a pretty big girl) truly and deeply believes God could care less about whether I exist or not.

I’m working on story right now — professionally and personally. I think I’m pretty good at telling an engaging story. I’m the one at the water cooler who can pull people in, and my philosophy is “when in doubt, go for the laugh.”

Fortunately for me, I have a few people who see through the crap. Fortunately for me, I’m very adept at keeping these relationships where I want them. For a good character in a great story, the character has to be real, believable, empathetic and have the ability to pull empathy out of those around them. I’m working on becoming a better story teller — and a “better” character.

That’s why people struggle with issues of faith so much (in my opinion). Whether you believe in God or not, he is a great character in the story of human history. Like him, hate him, or totally disregard any instances of his existence, he “fits the bill” of a protagonist. Or, at least, a classic Greek hero. The entry of Jesus Christ into history, and having him named “God incarnate” made God approachable. The church, in turn, used these two powerful characters and re-wrote history into a vehicle for personal power, manipulating the “character” of God for personal gain.

Enter post-modern philosophies (which are difficult to define, even by those who claim to be among its congregants). Emerging in a culture without common background, strung between the apostates, the heretics, and the traditionalist, what chance does simple faith have? Those of us who still strive to balance the faith and doubt within us find ourselves pulled, manipulated, condemned and not taken seriously, simply because we ask questions. Such is the stuff of the story of faith nowadays — at least where I live.

So, back to my original conversation. I appreciate what my friend said, and in all honesty, on my faith-filled days, I think she’s 100% right. But, most days, I can’t take too much time figuring out what other people think. I have no desire to pontificate and try to swing people to “my side,” because honestly, many days I’m unsure exactly what “side” I stand on. Inside, I have myself figured out (OK, again, most of the time). Outside … I travel from place to place, not trying to offend, but refusing to back down or be beaten up by simple rhetoric by people who really, truly don’t believe what they think they do. And those goes for people on either side of the church walls.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this blog become something that is used against me, or those I love and care about. So, if you’re reading this and become offended … sorry. If you read this and think I’m “lost” on either side of the argument … you’re wrong. And if you’re really, truly my friend, we’ll talk a lot about a lot of things, and not stall on one simple piece of the story puzzle.

Just keep reading …

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Reconsidering my profession ….

Started reading Story by Robert McKee tonight. It’s interesting, to think of the lost of story — good story — is the bane of modern writers. In just a few brief pages, I’m starting to think maybe I just can’t do this thing.

What makes a good story? We all know it when we see it, but before it’s birthed, what is it? McKee brings up so much “meat” in just a few pages … how, in the past, we all came from a similar set of values and expectations, and how writing about something as simple as “love” brings up hundreds of variations and leaves a writer scratching his or her head as to how to present a love story. Simply mind-blowing.

McKee asserts that anyone can learn the craft of story-telling … which is why I’ll be using my Border’s coupon on Monday to purchase this book.

But he’s absolutely right. Think about it. What was the last monumental story you read/watched/heard of? I’m not talking flashy CGI, or incredible music, but solid, fresh story? I understand the use of archetypes, but I mean something that made you feel … human?

I’m not really throwing in the towel, so all my well-wishers don’t have to send me encouraging comments. But I am fascinated with the process.

When I was in college, I was a decent writer. Things came easily for me (yeah, the student you loved to hate). Everything, except Dr. Covey’s classes. Oh, I did pretty well in etymology (always have been a word freak). But the writing classes … broadcast writing, advanced news writing … he use to give me grades lower than I felt I deserved.

I always “did the work” he wanted. Followed the form, completed to a “tee” what he said he wanted …but the “a’s” never came. So, being the consciousness student I was, I went to him and asked him what the deal was.

“You are capable of more, Gina,” he would tell me. “More? What do you want, and I’ll do it.”

“You are lazy. And until you learn the craft and stop being lazy, you will never be a great writer.”

I was angry. That was so, so … abstract? I thought I “knew” what he meant, but the truest essence of his judgment continues to rain down on me. So, through the years, I’ve done things … taken classes, made relationship with other writers to help with the accountability thing, taken jobs that “make” me learn more about writing …

Robert McKee is simply my next hurdle on the way to what I dream about.

My New Addiction …

So I have this friend, and she said to me, “I’ve made, like $400.00 selling old curriculum on Ebay.”

Says I, “Hmmm … I have way too many books around my house. Maybe, just maybe, I could do that, too.” I put it off a long time, but then, I sucked it up, asked a lot of questions (it’s really not that hard, but I’m a little slow), and posted about three different items. They sold, and sold big!

So I did it, again and again and again. I just checked my account, and multiple people are “watching” my stuff right now. I sense the blood in the water … the bidding frenzy is about to begin (seeing I only have a little over a day left on this batch).

It’s not the money for me. Yeah, it’s nice, and the way I’ve been selling stuff, I’ve actually made as much $$$ as I would have working at Starbucks over the same period of time (less clutter and income? Sheee, yeah. I’m not THAT stupid). The excitement comes down to the last few days, when people in cyberspace are eagerly pressing keys and out-bidding each other for my stuff. I see it akin to a legal dog fight, you know? My books are in the ring, and people are duking it out to see who gets the prize.

So every morning, it has become a part of my “routine” to check and see who’s watching what I’ve posted. Today — the last “full” day of bidding — is my favorite, because the numbers change constantly. Knowing there’s money at the end of the day is OK, too. But somehow, it’s the thrill of the hunt that sparks me the most.

The process has also been good discipline for me. I have to be conscientious about getting the books shipped, making sure everyone is good with my customer service, etc. So in a way, it’s kept me “professional” without ever having to get out of my jammies — well, except to go down to the post office.

Oh Ebay, my newest and sweetest (and legal) addiction! Thank you for gracing my life with a little shot of capitalistic adrenaline every few days. While you stand for many things I am against (the whole materialistic thing being the outstanding candidate), I still love you and plan to be wallowing within your addictive grasps for many moons to come.

Truths I’m Learning …

Pain makes a good story.

Healing — especially emotional — is never really, truly complete.

Tattoos should be markers of our journey.

I’m basically a selfish person, regardless of how much I want to believe to the opposite.

I think that, deep inside, we are really a lot more alike than we like to think. We’re just all in different stages of self-disclosure to the world — and ourselves.

Sometimes, the words just won’t come, no matter how hard I try. So, sometimes when I stop trying, the best words come. Paradox, huh?

I’m working hard to get to 100 words on this blog entry. There’s just so much to say, but not a lot worth saying right now.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Going to see Don Miller speak about story on Monday night (http://donmilleris.com/) in Flint. My college boy is home this weekend, and has the guy’s newest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I don’t read a lot of “religious” stuff anymore (no rants right now), but have always loved Miller’s ability to tell a story. He’s conversation; he’s funny. He’s a guy you want to sit down with over a beer, because you know he’s as self-conscious and obsessively self-aware as you are. And if you both know you’re in the same frame of mind, you can laugh and have a good time.

Anyway … I’m trying to buzz through this book before Monday night (I hate not knowing what’s being talked about when I do something like this). So, I’m downing it on this blustery Friday afternoon, and I run smack-dab into this statement:

“I keep imagining these people, just living their daily lives, and then having them suddenly ended in unjust tragedy. When we watch the news, we grieve all of this, but when we go to the movies, we want more of it. Somehow we realize that great stories are told in conflict, but we are unwilling to embrace the potential greatness of the story we are actually in. We think God is unjust, rather than a master storyteller.”

If you are not, a person of faith, this statement poses little problem, because you have determined that every choice you make directs you on to the next step. Your “story” is written without any existential editorial help from a “greater power.” Whatever happens — happens. The only determinant is what you chose to do, to act on, to accomplish. So, the triumph, the blame, the conflict and the “happy endings” all fall on you and those you choose to surround yourself with.

If, however, you are a person of faith — of any type of “belief” — this statement becomes a truism. None of us like pain. No one I know enjoys disillusionment, betrayal, brokenness. Some of us have made a “story arc” of these tragedies, connecting fracture after fracture, slipping more than occasionally into cynicism, and yet still struggling like an abuse victim to “save the relationship” with have with the Divine. Not willing to walk out.

I’ve walked both paths in search of … myself? Truth? Meaning? I have good friends on both sides of the fence, all calling out and claiming they have the answers. But in all my wanderings I continue to stay somewhere in the center lane … not willing to chuck faith totally, but not willing tie myself eternally to the system of dispensation known as religion.

So when the question of pain and loss are thrown into the dialog, I become a bit quiet. I know the “good” that comes through honing, through struggle and the wrestling with “God” that brings me to a stronger, better place. But I also know the seismic fissures that it brings to many people, separating them from all things physical, spiritual, mental. Some times,  pain is the catalysis for a person’s leaving of any type of faith. And while the hurt doesn’t keep them there … eventually, most people “get over it” … it does open doors for doubt and intellectual reasoning that can no longer align itself with faith of any kind.

So, what is my story? Is it one of spiritual mud wrestling that will result in a pillar of faith, touting the Divine as the answer to all life’s questions? Or will it be a tragedy of love and live and loss that finds the protagonist wandering the streets of Ethiopia, looking for meaning?

Ah, isn’t that the best part of a good story? Struggling, day by day, read by read, walking along with a person as they discover their own story unfolding? Not reading ahead to the ending? Like Harold Crick, I know I’m a character. And somehow, I still think I can interact with the author, and I have some say into how this story goes.

Time after time …

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s menopause, but the last few days tears have come easily to my eyes whenever I think of what’s gone before and what it to come — especially when it involves my kids.

It’s an unusual situation for me, because I’m not over demonstrative when it comes to emotions. I laugh easily, but the tears … the tears show weakness, and somehow clear the way for people to look deeper into places I prefer to keep guarded. It’s OK for everyone else — just not me.

The big boy is home tonight from college for the first time since learning. It’s all different … but in a wonderful and fulfilling way. He’s doing so well. Learning so much. Experiencing so many things, clothed in confidence and wonder and thankfulness and fearlessness. I can’t even begin to voice my pride in him. My love, my joy … and again, the tears come.

They’re all growing up way too fast. Kara, beginning to think about which college will win her amazing intelligence, gentle beauty, and deep, deep soul. Ethan, with the little girls just beginning to notice him and the pull of boyhood still deeply entrenched in his beautiful smile.

And Aubree. Aubree is ten, going on twenty-one. Thinking, thinking, always thinking … beginning to lose the little girl gullible nature and, sometimes sadly, seeing the world for what it is rather than always what it could be. Still, her beauty and wonderment is an inalienable part of her, and her joy and enthusiasm is like water to my soul.

My friend Joanna tagged me today with a reference to this poem:

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Beautiful (and there are those pesky tears again). And listening to my kids, laughing and enjoying catching up with each other, playing games together and just living, I don’t regret a single year, day, or moment.  And I look forward to “whatever” is next.

I just wish I could do it a little more dry-eyed ….

Chai Morning

Been walking. Regularly. It’s becoming a little bit … enjoyable? Obsessive? I’m taking it slow, hoping it becomes a real lifestyle habit, you know?

This morning, it was damp, rainy and cloudy. *Sigh*. I dressed anyway, grabbed the little one’s Ipod, and took off, determined to “do this thing,” regardless of the surroundings (becoming a mantra of mine). About 2/10th of the way into it, the Ipod quit. *Sigh*. Yank the ear phones out, shove the thing in my pocket, and continue walking.

Glad I did.

If you don’t live in Michigan, this is going to sound — contrived? But before too long, breathing deep and steady, I picked up the hint of a scent. Somehow, between the decaying forest droppings, the clean autumn air and (seriously) a whiff of a nearby dump, I got … Chai. Honest to God, the scent of Chai greeted me with every new breath.

I’m pretty sensitive to smells. I actually stopped for a minute, looking around to see if perhaps someone had a fire nearby I was picking up on. No. No plumes of smoke. No traffic. Just me and the rain and this amazing smell, permeating my being.

According to Wiki, the “Chai” that we’re use to is Masala Chai, longed tied closely to Aryurveda practices throughout Asia. If you don’t know, Aryurveda is the practice of complementary and alternative medicinal practices, tied closely to the elements (earth, wind, water, fire, and ether). Balance of life, spirit, practice is encouraged, and ailments are treated by countering imbalance with restoration — adding or taking away what is too present, or missing.

Integral to certain Aryurveda practices are the spices cinnamon and cardamom — both favored spices in masala chai. In fact, for me, the cardamom — and pepper — are what makes the chai so enjoyable. It was those two essences  I was picking up on this morning, during my walk.

Mind, body, spirit … all coming together to help me feel stronger and more alive. I think the chai (which is, in some languages, translated “life) I encountered this morning was a moment in time, when it “all came together” for just one brief glimmer of a moment. It was … cool.

I quicken my pace a bit, almost missing an opossum in the ditch, pretending not to notice me so that I would not notice him. Smiling, I noticed the rest of the walk flew by, rain-splattered glasses, damp sweatshirt and all.

It’s the little things that make it bearable. Not the huge issues that I wrestle with. Not the impossibilities I waste so much time pondering. But the small, powerful things that wash over me in the most unexpected ways.

This morning was one of those treats.

Trust and …

Seems like I keep learning in the least possible convenient ways for me …

Trust is an issue with me. Always has been. Comes from an abusive background, or so they tell me. Sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, power abuse by authority figures … it’s a reoccurring theme throughout my life. If you pushed me into a corner, I’d have a tough time saying I “trusted” anyone or anything wholly.

Today, I encountered “Bobbie.” Bobbie came into my life, looking to order Angel Food (http://www.angelfoodministries.com/). She needed to do so EBT (our state assisted food program). There’s a variety of hoops we need to jump through to do that (state regulations, Angel Food requirements, etc.). Since it’s not something I do all the time (take orders), I struggled to find out all the necessary paper work.

The long and short of it is that Bobbie had to trust me to take all her personal information concerning her EBT to make the transaction. Seriously, this total stranger left me all the numbers it would take me to take away food from her family for an entire month, if I were a dishonest person. “I trust you,” she said. “No problem.”

No problem? Wow, I hardly trust people I know (some say that’s why I don’t trust them). How the heck could this woman trust a total stranger with something so important? Because I was in a church? Yeah, right. That would be naive. Because I “looked” honest? Doubt that.

Closest I can figure is that Bobbie trusted me because she really had no choice. If she wanted to order food from me, she had to give me the information I needed to make it happen. Forced into a situation where it was trust a stranger or go hungry … she chose to put her trust in a stranger.

I don’t like to be forced into anything. I’d like to be a trusting person, really. I just have a tough time putting myself in a vulnerable position. I see myself as being pretty strong.

Even in spiritual matters, I am not a trusting person. And so I always wonder, when given a lesson from the Cosmos, if I’m being prepared for a major schooling just around the river bend. Fear? Maybe. Uncertainty for sure.

These people who can just bob along, trusting that God or their families or whomever is going to do right by them … I wonder if they’ve been screwed over. And in the few cases I’ve seen that yes, they have, and still they think that the “best will come …” I have a tough time relating to that.

What am I trying to say?

Bobbie gave me another look at what it means to trust, despite everything in you screaming that it’s a mistake. Day in and day out, I face decisions that will shape my life in the upcoming years. Will I work toward what I think is best — trusting that whatever I can’t control will be OK? Or will I work toward whatever is coming, constantly questioning and doubting that it will be OK, regardless of what I do? Living like that is wearing, I know.

No answers tonight. Just a visual aide from a young woman on the fact that some people can be trusted. Not everyone is “after” me. And that maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to put myself out there without being fearful of the betrayal and heartache that seems to inevitably come.

I guess we’ll see …

Things that realy bug me — post one

Had coffee with a friend today … discussion involved one of her kids. High energy, darling, loving, energizer-bunny type kid (just like one of mine …). Hers is one of my favorite — his zeal for life is good for me.

She’s sharing about how one of her “friends” on a recent field trip “parented” this boy. He was doing something very boy-like … not destructive, not disruptive … just doing boy stuff.  “We don’t do those kinds of things,” this friend said. Mom simply brought boy to her, and left it lay.

Here’s the thing: My kids are my kids. I have four kids, and I’ve asked a lot of people about a lot of things. I have good friends who I trust to bounce things off of, and have always been very conscientious about raising them to be acceptable members of society.

I have not raised my kids to be little cookie-cutter versions of me. I have not raised my kids to think simply like “the system” of the world or the church. Despite what “anyone” thinks, my husband and I have done what we thought of as right, and are damn proud of all our kids.

And you know what? We have good kids. They are not perfect. They are not always easy to live with (but then, neither am I). But people frequently tell us stories about our kids, and their behavior and how they really enjoy being with them. Our kids are good thinkers. They are diverse in their understanding, comfortable in most settings, and are not afraid of hard work or taking the path less traveled.

So … today, I told my friend, “Here’s the deal. You need to try to learn to not listen to people who think they can ‘help’ you raise your child.” Understand this friend is a person who cares about what others think — but it is not her highest motivation. She is quite a bit younger than me, and I reassured her that, at her age, I struggled with other’s perceptions much more. “But,” I told her, “at the end of the day, this little boy is yours and your husband’s.”  His acting socially acceptable to others is not the highest criteria for a kid’s behavior.

Yeah, I have friends who, in my opinion, let their kids run wild. I know parents who are inconsistent, and whose children constantly take advantage of their parents’ weaknesses. But it is still not my job to parent these children. I might avoid them. I might not let my kids spend a lot of time with them. But at the end of the day, until a good friends asks, “What do you think?” I keep my mouth shut.

And, I appreciate others who do the same. I was frustrated for my friend, because she really is a good mom. She and her husband are consistent in raising their kids, and she does a great job letting this little guy be an energetic boy. I told her what worked best for us was to keep our energizer bunny active, busy, and reward him when he accomplished a task I set out for him by letting him run around after completing the task.

We’re so quick to judge others, aren’t we? A lot of judgment, in my opinion, comes from our own inadequacies. We either are not sure of things we’ve decided, or we are overly confident that we have the only answer in certain areas — and child-rearing tends to be a very volatile one. All I know is that, unless you’ve reared a child from day one, you should probably keep your opinions to yourself. Unless you’re asked. Or, unless in endangers your own kids.

Other times, keep it closed, and learn to love with a lot more grace.

Old People

I’ve decided that overall, I really, really like old people. Not for their famously crotchety selves (although that is a lot of fun, sometime), or the way they just don’t seem to get past things that happened twenty years ago. But the stories … wow. The stories of not only the glory days of the past, but the interesting things those experiences have spawned in the present.

I have this friend … let’s call her Dee. Dee is a drop-dead gorgeous eighty (yeah, I said 80) something year old who lost her husband to cancer almost two years ago. She has been overwhelmed by sadness (they spent sixty some years together), and it’s been a long road. She’s held onto her faith, and her sense of humor. She has told me stories of how her husband still takes care of her from beyond, and her honesty and integrity move me.

I see her the other day, giggling and gushing like a twelve-year old. At a recent family function, she ran into an old (hee, hee, hee) friend. “I had a crush on him for six years when I was a teenager,” she says.  They became reacquainted recently, and now her beau (86, for those of you wondering) has spent every day with her over the last month.

He tells her, “At our age, Honey, we don’t know how many we have left. We gotta take advantage of every moment.” He’s working on building her a new house to start their “new” life together.

And I sit back in wonderment, thinking I really am still just a kid.

Or, these two crazy ladies I spent some time with last night. We had a gathering of the senior citizens in our church. I make soup (feelin’ a little reoccurring theme) and they love it (easy on the dentures, you know!), and give me lots of positive feedback. Anyway …

My dad came down to visit, and went with us to this gathering. He’s eight-one, by the way, and a handful. He’s lead a — ah — colorful life, and the older he gets, the more free he is with stories of his youth. Needless to say, he leans over to me at the dinner table and says, “This probably isn’t the right crowd to tell … ” a certain story.

Everything in me screams, “Yes! Tell the story and see what happens.” Then I glanced over to my husband, already worried that Dad and I are whispering. “Probably not,” comes out of my mouth instead. “But you can tell the story about…” which gets Dad going.

Back to these other ladies. Basically, my dad starts flirting with them. Dad says, “How old are those two old girls over there? They’re holding up pretty good.” Translated — they’re cute, and I’m pretty sure they’re within my age range to do some serious flirting.

“I don’t know, Dad, but I’ll ask.” The whole awkwardness with asking a woman’s age ends somewhere between bi-focals and menopause, to the best of my understanding.  I do, and them come out to be 83 and 86 — I was thinking, ten years younger on both. I mean, these ladies are gracefully beautiful, and oh, so feisty. Throughout the night, I watch them trade stories with my dad, and also notice the way they flash their eyes at him, smile appropriately, and even shyly glance and glance away.

They tell me, “It’s been tough to get older. We feel like we’ve slowed down so much.” Let me say right here that both of these ladies tire me out when I watch them work. My son mowed a fairly large yard for one of them last summer, and she had said, “I could do it myself, but my son won’t let me,” and I tell you what, I’ve no doubt in my mind she was lying.

My almost 78 year old, cancer-ridden father in law leaves for India — again — in two weeks. The last time we moved, a man who was 77 left the rest of us in the dust, and was only slightly slowed down last winter when he broke his leg doing something he shouldn’t have been doing, but is now “back to full strength,” he tells me. We have another friend near seventy who just hiked Mount Kilimanjaro last spring, and my dad tricked out his van a couple of years back and still camps by himself up in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, he’s headed down there tomorrow, going to pick up his 94 year old first cousin, and they’re going to do a bit of sight seeing and visiting “while Ruth is still sharp and can enjoy it,” says Dad.

All this to say that I no longer believe my life is on the downward slope, my friends. I know not all old people are like this. But I have an abundance of senior citizens in my life that make me realize it’s only just begun. Honestly. They provoke me to better health and exercise, because I want to be one of those smooth grandmama’s still riding a motorcycle at seventy, and flirting with men a third of my age. I want to bake good cookies and knit, mind you, but I’d like to do it on a sail boat, exploring the Caribbean Islands, on the look out for Johnny Depp.

These men and woman make me smile. And despite all the negativity they can carry with them from years of wear and tear, if you get them telling stories and surround them with other vibrant, fully-living people their own age and younger, you see a beauty and a depth that we, as a society, tend to downplay and ignore.

Not me. I like old people. And I find them refreshing, and fascinating, and challenging, and — dare I say it? Fun. I plan to enjoy every step along my journey of getting there myself.