Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Fog of Life

In the summer of 1983, I traveled to what was then called Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). I spent six weeks showing the Jesus Film with Campus Crusade.

That first night when we arrived in the hot, chaotic airport, I couldn't really see anything of the countryside. Our luggage and selves were hustled through customs with big African men shouting and smiling and waving and grabbing. Our entry to Africa remains a blur in my memory - bright flourescent lights and wide open doors and heat. It was already so hot.

We stuffed ourselves into old taxis and drove on bad roads for miles and miles, flying by trees (those Belgians thought tree-lined streets the bomb, apparently). When we arrived at our destination, we were ushered into tiny quarters at a Catholic monastery. The odd number of college girls meant I got a dorm to myself.

The little room was bare, with a cot and a nightstand. A dingy mirror hung on the wall with a pedastal sink beneath it. Exhausted after the long flight from Europe that began in New York, I collapsed into bed.

The next morning, unfamiliar bird song roused and reminded me that I was a long way from home. I padded to the door, barefoot, in my nightshirt, nothing beneath it but my bare body. Moist air slipped under the doorway, lifting the shirtails, embracing my skin. I cracked the door open; where was I? Had I walked through the wardrobe?

In an instant, the warm fog transported me to the center of the little garden. I stood under thick, green, rubber tree plant leaves, receiving their blessing. Red hibiscus flowers popped through the mist like lover's lips. Insects and birds sang to me, called to me, prayed for me. Soft grass cushioned my feet.

I opened my eyes wide, but could hardly see. I stood still... watching, waiting.

Every cell in my body vibrated.

I raised my arms over my head and turned my face to the sky (filled with low-hanging clouds). Life, fog, warmth—covered and penetrated me, right through to my insides. My Garden of Eden. Nearly naked, not ashamed, safe in the bosom of Africa. I wanted to hug the earth and leave the ground all at once.

Some time later (I lost all track of time), another door creaked open and two giggling American co-eds bounded out of their quarters, heading to the veranda for our breakfast of crusty bread and nescafe with evaporated milk. I came to and found that I was starving.

On mornings like today, where the mist rolls in and the humidity rises from the topsoil, I am transported back to that African garden. It's good to remember that one of the more honest, transcendent moments of my life happened in a warm, embracing fog.

Monday, May 30, 2005

The IM Pick-up Line

So my 15 year old daughter is on IM the other day and this new guy she met at a show is on too. Here's how it went down:

Him: Hey, I saw you last night at the show.

Her: Yeah, that was me.

Him: You're pretty.

Her: Uh, okay.

Him: Wanna hang out?

Her: Maybe.

Him: Can you come over to my house this afternoon? We can make-out on the couch.

Her: No way! I'm not a slut. I don't even know you!

Him: Okay... then you wanna come over and play Uno?

Quick on his keypad, eh?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Throw-up Stories

An Engrossing Narrative of Vomit

Sympathetic pukers, beware. What follows is a heave by heave account of throwing up. Not for the squeamish or those inclined to vomit out of respect for the queasy of stomach.

It wouldn't have been camp if my daughter's best friend hadn't puked in the middle of the night over the rail of the top bunk covering all her bedding, two different mattresses, the ladder, and a miscellaneous towel.

I, however, was blissfully oblivious. I was playing hooky with another counselor... I snuck off after lights out to go spend time with a friend to have six words of adult converse after a day of "What are we doing next? No I mean after that? But why? But I don't waaaaant to." ...bad girl, bad girl.

I tried to return to the cabin discreetly (read: without getting in trouble) only to discover that the door had been tied shut with a bandana to prevent the boys from a dawn raid. They had told the girls they would squirt toothpaste in the girls' hair followed by a sound spraying of silly string. The note on the door read:
Boys smell bad. They look bad. And if we ate them, they would taste bad, too. So STAY OUT!
Said midnight writer needs some new material, clearly. Anyway...

I nearly yanked the door off its hinges, waking the counselor in the first bunk. She staggered toward me with the eyes of Carrie. Yes, red like that.

I glanced up to see my co-counselors race by. I escaped the angry gaze of red eyes by joining the race to the bathroom... where I found little Sarah upchucking the rest of the mashed potatoes and popcorn into the sink. I quickly took my position - holding her forehead and tummy - while she let loose three or four more heaves of the yellow stuff.

I had to hold my breath. What a hero.

We returned to the gooey bunk where (the saint of the story) Holly, wiped up layers of puke. Not her kid's puke. Not the puke of a husband or father. But some other woman's child's puke. Do you know what fortitude that takes? Like, crunched muscles in your stomach. Like an iron liver or intestines or something... something I don't have anyway. Sympathetic puker that I am, it's surprising I wasn't already laid out somewhere throwing up my salad bar contents.

We scavanged new bedding (not easy when most kids brought sleeping bags). I gave up a sheet, someone else dug out an old blanket from inside her car, another folded a towel to make a pillow.

Another counselor ran down the hill in the dark to the high school cabins to retrieve the mom. The mom flew to her daughter's side in time for the next round of throw-up. No more towel pillow - the latest casualty in the throw up stories.

Seeing that this would be an all night puking party, I fled back to the high school cabin to retrieve the mother's bedding so she could stay with us and her daughter.

Finally, we all went to sleep.... for about two hours when:


I slid under the covers a bit more to hide from the sound and stench knowing the mother was here with the daughter... when a body lurched by my bunk. I jumped out of bed, ran to the bathroom in bare feet (remember the bare feet), slid (yes, I did slide... remember that too) to the sink and found Sarah's mother hurling her cookies. No joke!

By then, four counselors had slid into place beside Sarah's mom.

"Yeah, I'm the one. I didn't quite make it to the bathroom. It's a long way from the bunks!"

We all looked down at our feet. You guessed it. Orange, yellow and puce slimey stuff on every one of our feet.

Moments later, four right feet were poised over four sinks, when the next counselor entered the bathroom.

"What in God's name is happening in here?"

"Our feet are throwing up."

Yep, camp was fun. A real BLAST!

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Yesterday, our best friends' youngest daughter graduated from high school. These are the kinds of friends that one rarely makes in life. We knew this family in Morocco as missionaries, left the mission field together on the adventure of following God to California, lived next door to each other for five years in Anaheim, and then within 18 months of one another, we moved to Ohio - Columbus for them, Cincinnati for us. This youngest daughter is the same age as our oldest son.

During the requisite slide retrospective of Eva's life, our kids showed up in a third of the pictures. I recognized every home, room, chair; I remembered the clothes and hair styles; I could tell you about the events in more than half the pictures because I was there.

Our two families were in the Vineyard together and both moved to Ohio to work in large Vineyard churches. This is where the paralells end, for our friends have steadily risen in the ranks of their church while we left ours only 18 mos after moving here.

Being around them brings up all kinds of nostalgia - the time Dotty massaged my feet when I was in labor with Jacob, the morning we made the solar system with our bodies, the pony express on bicycles that took the entire length of the cul-de-sac, all our trips to the Pirate's Cove at Newport Beach, late night pie and coffee at either of our homes while we listened to sleeping kids through a baby monitor.

I love their kids. They are genuinely kind, open, and free - free to be themselves while also being terrific to be with. Isn't that what we all want for our kids? I've loved how Dotty and Bill parent. They've been those rare role models of parenting - deeply attentive and naturally permissive... Their kids are poster children for the power of that kind of parenting, I tell you.

Yesterday at the open house, I watched families filing through the perfect party (Dotty appears to throw parties like this one, effortlessly) and remembered being in the vortex of all that connection and good will, history and hope... and keenly aware that this is all gone from my life now. It was rough on me.

So this morning I found myself at the Catholic church at Xavier. School is out for me until the end of August and I just missed the campus too much. I couldn't concentrate on work and thought maybe a dose of church might do me some good. I dropped Noah off at Shakespeare rehearsal and drove to Bellarmine chapel. But once there, I couldn't bring myself to enter the service. I hovered with the crying babies outside the glass and watched the congregation stand, kneel, sit, kneel. I picked at the brochures and pretended to read the bulletin boards, when suddenly, a friend who works there spotted and rescued me. Mercifully, we chatted away for half the mass.

When it ended, I offered to hold a young mother's nine month old "Buddha" baby - so-called because this little pixie is the picture of peace - so this mama could send a letter to our senator telling him to vote "no" on making more nuclear bombs. The baby giggled any time I touched her nose. I fought back tears remembering how I held my babies at church, remembering all the people who brought me meals post-partum, thinking about the way my kids bounded out of the doors of their Sunday school classes to find friends...

I felt sick at the loss. At all the losses.

I felt sicker at what is necessary to rejoin.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Haunted by Capital "R" Reality

"She tears down her house with her own hands...."

Do snatches of verses ever come back to haunt you? I remember reading that verse years ago and smugly thinking that it was easily avoided. Strong faith, committed marriage, attachment parenting. We were building a home that would withstand those annoying mid-life devastations: teen stupidity, marital infidelity, loss of faith, weakened identity and so on.

Five years ago, I took to re-evaluating my faith. I didn't mean to. It wasn't on some "to do" list like "Buy arugula and make a new salad." I just found myself puzzling over the eternity question - you know, that really long time God sends people to hell—people made of the same stuff as me, except unfortunately, who through no fault of their own, don't have cable access to God.

I really believed if I sought the truth, I'd find it. If I asked, I'd get dialed in to the still small voice station. I figured if I knocked, the mystery would split open at the seams and truth-juice would ooze out.

Oh the tangled webs we weave, to mix metaphors. The small fissure in my faith that I was certain could be stopped up with a new twist on the old teachings became a fault line. Within five years, I agreed with Bono in the ZooTV tour: Everything you know is wrong.

In addition to faith, marriage and parenting flipped upside down - how to relate, how to bond, how to worship, how to educate, how to parent and supervise.... It was like remodeling a house where you remodeled the kitchen but then that threw off the lay-out of the living room so you had to knock out a wall or two in there as well. But who can remodel the living room without tweaking the dining room? And so it went. Pretty soon every room had walls knocked out, wires dangling, decor missing and howling winds blowing right through. It felt open and free, at first, but it's also gotten a mite drafty and exposed too.

I'm still beaten and blown by the wind, blown by the wind...

Today, after crying my eyes out, I decided to put on the hard hat and start reordering the mess. My oldest is turning eighteen. The life he is living and the one I had imagined for him don't match. While no one is mainlining heroin (my deepest fear and most oft repeated refrain: "Don't do drugs"), I find that what I pictured life to be at this stage of the journey looks more like "she tore down her house with her own hands."

I want to believe "Uncertainty can be a guiding light" but today it just looks more like uncertainty.

I'm grieving paradise lost.

And I'm sick of remodeling. Oh. My. God. Would the good ideas and questions just stop stomping around my house tracking in so much dirt?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Music Meme

Music Meme

I've been charged (thanks, Rick!) with the following meme, questions on my musical interests.

01. Total volume of music files on my computer?
No clue. I don't keep track of anything that has a number attached to it... including checking account balances.

02. The last CD I bought was?
"Devils and Dust" Bruce Springsteen

03. Song playing right now:
Silence, except bird song and muffled children's voices coming from our trampoline.

04. Five songs I listen to a lot or that mean a lot to me(in no particular order):
"Captain Fantastic" (Elton John) First album (and title track) that I anticipated for weeks before it came out and then rushed out to buy on that first day of sales.
"American Girl" (Tom Petty) Described me in college to the tee
"Thunder Road" (Bruce Springsteen) Still my all-time favorite song
"Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (U2) I couldn't believe a Christian could admit that Jesus wasn't enough
"Somewhere over the Rainbow" (Judy Garland) Will always hold a dear spot in my heart because I played Dorothy in high school.

05. Which 5 people are you passing this baton to, and why?


(The first four have exquisite musical taste and I want to find out what ShimmerGlimpse's tastes are!)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Soccer Hot-Shot

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I love eight year old girls, especially mine.

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Look at that s-t-r-e-t-c-h in her legs!

Go Caitrin, girl of my heart.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

E. M. Forster and the element of surprise

" The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way." (Aspects of the Novel 78)

He goes on to say that if the character doesn't surprise, it is flat. However, if the character doesn't convince in its attempt to surprise, it is flat pretending to be round.

So much of quality writing is about surprise: surprising settings, surprising worlds (worlds we both know nothing about but can relate to in some way), surprising actions from characters we thought we knew.

I notice that in my copy of Forster's book about the novel, I scribbled "Charlotte Bartlett" (A Room with a View) in the margins as an example of a round character that convinces. She goes beyond what the "script" of who she should be dictates. I found it amazing that Forster succeeded in making her truly round, not just flat pretending to be round (he's right on the edge). He pulls it out right at the end. His hints of the repressed romantic in her throughout the story leading one to accept his conclusions about Miss Bartlett in the mouth of George... Forster just gets it right.

I finished reading The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd a few days ago (her follow-up to The Secret Life of Bees). The amazon reviews by the regular people are split down the middle about whether or not the book succeeds. I am one who thinks it does. Still, where it does struggle is in making the characters as round as they need to be. Hugh, the protagonist's wife, never gets to develop beyond fulfilling the role he is predestined to play in Jessie's life (Jessie, being his wife).

Even in academic writing, I find that what drives my thesis is the tension I can create between polarities - the surprise inside the claim. In acting, it is much the same - highlighting the antithesis.

How much more must the journey of a real soul, a real human being, reflect a roundness? An ability to surprise or, as Monk Kidd says of Jessie: the ability to astonish one's self?

I'm thinking that we all need a healthy dose of astonishment as food for the soul.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Don't Let Your Woman Grow

Don't let your woman grow
Build little fences and walls
Stop up the cracks with
    what's for dinner
    bad habits
    fast cars
    and career plans

But don't let her grow.

Don't let your woman go
Send her picture postcards of
    tropical breezes
    spas and pedicures
    captured dreams
    bound in 4x6 cardstock

But don't let her go.

she climbs the wall
pries open the crack
tunnels under the fence—

Blame, shame, withdraw
punish, smirk, humiliate

For if
she sees her reflection...
she will fall in love

and then no one will be home
to cook your dinner

Julie Bogart (Chicago May 8, 2005)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Up Close with Bono... and Edge and Adam and...

Yes, I was. Right up close. On the floor, peering over boney shoulders, between arms raised to shoot digital photos, on tiptoes, craning my neck so my 5'2" frame might be a momentary giant and I'd get the best view of the rock gods' piercing eyes, euphoric smiles, mad riffs on the $10,000 guitars...

It was a lot of effing work, I tell you!

My stomach muscles feel like I just got done doing 200 v-ups in gymnastics training. Standing on pointe for over two hours requires the strength of Athena, I discovered.

My two U2 buddies flew into Chi-town to meet me for U2 Chicago 2 (in fan geek speak) so we could behave like girls half our ages. We lined up for general admission spots at 11:00 a.m. and didn't return to the hotel room until after 11:30 p.m. During the day, we swapped stories with each other, met fans (the one next to us came from Indonesia! - thus rendering my devotion to the level of a slug) and managed to find a cheeze-bourgor, cheeze-bourgor, cheeze-bourgor place for lunch. I stayed behind while my gal pals dug up the grub.

The U2 cam team came by in a van videotaping the fans for the DVD that would be made that night. So look for me next year when it comes out, will ya? I'm the short one, brunette, with the black training jacket zipped to my chin to stay warm.

When the lines split for general admission fans (club members) versus the rest of the population (about the size of Belize all standing in line), a couple of genuine goons began puking on the pavement in front of us and then hurled racial slurs and invectives across to other fans. I will spare you their grotesqueries. Twelve big security personnel swooped into the riotous applause of the crowd and hustled them away, stripping these two bozos of their tickets. While we cheered, the fan cam took full advantage. So if you see wild cheering from tired fans in line on the DVD, you'll know the truth - we were cheering for the security team, not U2. :)

Inside, we skipped to our places on the floor. I will also spare you the rude behavior of the late-arriving GA fans who were bitchy and snippy and have really small breasts (I am not petty) and then dared to hassle us, the bone weary, full of urine, starving fans for wanting to hold our spots while we PEED, for god's sake. Suffice to say, the pushy lot of them found a way to edge my friends and me out of our spots by night's end. I did voodoo behind their backs.

Caution: If you 're 5'2" and want to attend a concert on the floor, wear platform shoes, bring a tall and burly date/hubster or buy a seat ticket. I had the damndest time seeing the show.

However, all was instantly forgiven the first time Bono peered down on us and I could see the cracks in his face! Oh joyous moment! Adam posed on the catwalk like a super model with a bass. We were on the Edge's side and his fingers flew. Finally uninterrupted fixed vision on his hands and parade of expensive, gorgeous guitars. Bliss.

The reviews for Sat. Chicago 1 were rude and unnecessarily harsh - so much so, Bono entered the arena under a cloud. He spent the first couple of songs exorcising his demons, or at the least, healing his hurt feelings. He even changed the lyrics of one line to say "even with a bad review."

But once he was convinced we were with him, the night flew and he relaxed and sang like his old self: with power, and nuance. That there is anything left of our tiny rock star at the end of a night, is astounding. That he can do this night after night for a year is, well, godlike. I'll write more about the actual concert later when I can go over the highs and lows.

The show must be good. It sure sounded good. What I saw, I loved, loved, loved. But I feel like I missed the effect of the arena show... which means my trip to Cleveland for our next concert stop will be well worth it since we have seats. :) Wanna come?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Order in the Traffic Court

Lesson: If you live in West Chester Ohio, where teen fatalities by car crashes are about as frequent as order out pizza, and if you drive 69 in a 40 in the middle of the night, and then do so in front of a cop with his new lazer toy, you can be sure that your license will be GONE for 30 days by court order and you will be forced to drag your mother with you to CarTeens driver's training for one night.

This all sounded like such a good idea a year ago when I read about it in the newspaper. Yes! Curb teen fatalities by cracking down on teen speeding. Take their licenses! Make their parents pay! Driver's training for all teen driving criminals. I probably would have supported a big scarlet letter "S" on their chests for "schmuck" who drove too fast.

And then it happened to my baby yesterday... looming before me as I read the likely license suspension: the month of dress rehearsals downtown, the week I leave town and thought said teen could pitch in with the driving. No license. Wow. That really does sink in.

We were greeted by the court stenographer and the very white, older judge with half glasses in a windowless room. We sat down facing a wall. He sat to our northeast. Strange how position can instantly render one humble.

"Where were you driving?"

Noah explained.

"Over on that stretch near the new sub-division after the two hills with Route 4 beyond you?"

Noah nodded.

"Well, there haven't been any speed related fatalities there, though one man crashed due to a heart attack five years ago. You don't forget those." He elaborated on speed related fatalities.

I was impressed with what he knew about car accidents in our county.

"I'm taking your license. But I give you some credit for making it almost to your 18th birthday without a ticket. Still, I'm glad you got caught, son. 69 means you were only one mph away from a 4.0 violation which would really have cost you and it would have gone on your permanent record. Slow down. You've got to. Who's paying for this ticket?"

I assured him Noah would be paying. We left.

Noah remarked, "I'd love to get to know that guy. He's so great!"

It was odd. Quiet force, thorough knowledge of the situation, no condescension, consequences that mattered. Maybe parenting classes ought to be conducted in traffic court...

Monday, May 02, 2005


I was tagged by Shoehound. So here are my replies and the three bloggers I'm tagging in turn at the end.

Pick 5 of the following and then complete the sentences. Then pass this little meme on to 3 more of your blog friends!

But no tag backs!

And be careful…you could be next!

If I could be a scientist…
If I could be a farmer…
If I could be a musician…
If I could be a doctor…
If I could be a painter…
If I could be a gardener…
If I could be a missionary…
If I could be a chef…
If I could be an architect…
If I could be a linguist…
If I could be a psychologist…
If I could be a librarian…
If I could be an athlete…
If I could be a lawyer…
If I could be an inn-keeper…
If I could be a professor…
If I could be a writer…
If I could be a llama-rider…
If I could be a bonnie pirate…
If I could be an astronaut…
If I could be a world famous blogger…
If I could be a justice on any one court in the world…
If I could be married to any current famous political figure…

If I could be a missionary… Been there, done that.

If I could be a professor… I'd work at a small Jesuit college and teach students to see Reality with a capital R and to rid themselves of superstition. I'd also go in for those tweedy jackets and sabbaticals in London.

If I could be a linguist… I would be done studying dead languages and wouldn't have to take New Testament Greek in the fall and face the humiliation of dead adult brain cells laughing each time I try to hold onto case endings during exams.

If I could be a writer…that sold millions, I could change the effed-up world and give up my business and be on lots of talk radio shows and maybe get my own radio show and then show everyone that they are wrong about everything they think they know but really don't because I, the writer know more! C-Span would reintroduce "book shelf" or corner or whatever the heck it was just for ME! Move over J.K.

If I could be an athlete… I would run long distances, like two blocks EVERY SINGLE DAY and look really chic and svelte in those Nike tight-fitting sweatsuits that prove I'm not like the rest of my forty-something peer group that doesn't have the self-respect to move their buns.

If I could be a musician…I'd be Bono.

(I cheated and did six... after all that first one doesn't really count. [g])

Tagging Jeannette, Beth, and Kim. You're next!


Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Room with a View

This is my favorite book of all time. And because I've read it/listened to it dozens of times, I thought it was time for me to intermittently offer my favorite quotes for reflection.

Today's ARWAV quote is:

Lucy, too, was perplexed; but she saw that they were in for what is known as "quite a scene," and she had an odd feeling that whenever these ill-bred tourists spoke, the contest widened and deepened till it dealt, not with rooms and views, but with—well, with something quite different, whose existence she had not realized before. (5)