Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Something Merry

It turns out that I already wrote a post far more articulate than the one I was just thinking about writing, which says basically the same thing, so you should really go read that. However, since I've been pondering this issue again, I do just want to say this:

I get kind of . . . at least uncomfortable, and at most upset . . . when the Milk Guy decides to throw out Jesus' name, randomly, without actually talking to Him. Most Christians I know don't like it when Jesus' name gets used that way, or any form of God's name gets used that way, really.

So why are so many of us so insistent that people who don't believe in Jesus, don't love Jesus, aren't actually talking about Jesus, aren't celebrating Jesus, use the word Christmas? How is it different from what we call "taking God's name in vain"? Is it? Isn't it? I'm just asking . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green Eggs and . . . a Jewish Carpenter? or, What I Got Out of a Facebook Quiz

At various times in my life I've had people who aren't particularly enamoured of Jesus say things like, "Do you really have to try so hard to find Jesus in everything?"

No. I don't. It just kind of happens, I'm afraid. Like last week when I randomly took a "Dr. Seuss Personality Test"on facebook. First of all, let me say that you should never take a facebook quiz too seriously. This one, for example, only asked five questions, and I'm not sure how they related to any Dr. Seuss characters at all, actually. Secondly, if I were going to really do this scientifically (?), I should probably take all the other Dr. Seuss quizzes online, just to see if they match up. There are quite a few of them, I've seen. But . . . I'm not going to bother.

Still, though, when it turned out that, according to this quiz, "I am Sam--Sam I am," and that cute little short guy with the sign and the plate appeared on my profile, I thought, "Yeah! That's me! Sam-I-am!" Well, except for the short part.

Check it out. Here's Sam. He's all stoked because he's got something he thinks everybody would (or, at any rate, should) love. He doesn't give the impression of thinking he's better than anyone. He's just so enthusiastic about green eggs and ham he can't let up until his friend/innocent bystander/person-that-doesn't-really-like-him-much tries them. He doesn't seem to realise that, to an onlooker or an outsider, such a dish looks at the very least sketchy, with any inherent delight being, to that perspective, indiscernible.

Not to be discouraged, Sam tries to "frame" his green eggs and ham in ways that might appeal more to his resistant friend. The two characters, now thrown together under more and more bizarre and extreme circumstances, continue their back-and-forth for several more pages. At the point when the train has driven off a cliff, the boat has sunk, and both Sam, his victim and an entire menagerie of animals and other characters are floundering in the water, the poor beleaguered green-eggs-and-ham-avoider decides that he will try the dish just to get Sam off his case. Then--joy of all joy and surprise of all surprises!--he likes them! Sam is vindicated! Green eggs and ham really are delightful! They're so great that the former hater doesn't even worry about swallowing his pride along with the green breakfast and whole-heartedly thanks Sam-I-Am for, as wikipedia calls it, "his persistence."

I dunno. It kind of reminds me of my life . . . a little . . . ? Here I am, both suddenly and gradually delighted and overwhelmed by the knowledge that, messed up as I was and still easily am, God Himself came here to join in my life and to sustain me through it. He came to be my life, and though life with and through and by Him can often be alarming, I also wouldn't (by His grace) have it any other way. And I just know that He came to be life to everybody, and I just want them to realise it.

So sometimes I can get a little annoying. I'll try to be "all things to all people" like the Apostle Paul, sometimes even to the point of ridiculousness, and sometimes even to the point of some suffering and inconvenience. But I still think that, though they may "swallow" the whole thing differently than I do, that the real source of life for anybody--anybody--is Jesus. And so . . . it's not that I want to be annoying. I just want my friends to experience how worth it this is, in spite of the difficulties and the sometimes sketchy-looking nature of what I'm trying to share. Right now, I guess I'm still pushing green eggs and ham on people in boxes and houses and trains and boats, but one of these days I really hope someone--or a lot of someones--will decide that . . . well look. I don't even care if they decide they want me off their case. I just hope they see that Jesus is for them--and that at the end of the day they'll thank somebody.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing His Own Reality

So, for those of you who haven't been following along, in the last two posts I've been processing the idea of God's having created and set human history in motion as a way to work through His own issues. I don't think He did, but still, sometimes you have to process thoughts you disagree with, too, and give them an honest look.

While I was talking about this, though, I had one of those moments where you say something and then you wonder if it means something more than you meant when you first said it. This was the thing I said:

You feel, if you're writing a story through which to work out your issues, that you can't make anything happen that you don't want to happen to you, so you allow some conflict and stuff, but you can't let anybody get into really deep water, because you don't want to get into it yourself. You might end up writing your own reality.


It suddenly occurred to me that here was something God actually did. He wrote His own reality into the human story. I don't mean He wrote it through the vehicle of the human story. It's not that He had issues and has been inflicting them on us this whole time. It's that we have issues and He allowed us to inflict them on Him. I didn't love my NaNoWriMo characters and so I didn't want to get to involved. But God? Well, evidently He wasn't afraid of getting into the deep water Himself.

I didn't know, before, when people talked abstractly about how amazing it is that God entered the human story, or that God suffers when we suffer, quite what that meant. And I'm not sure I can really describe in words what those abstracts mean to me now. But I have this sense that "amazing" doesn't even come close, and that God knew what I only discovered by talking about it--that if I got close enough to my characters to create real, transforming conflict in their lives, I'd get close enough to get hurt myself. But God didn't just know it. He did it anyway.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

(Isaiah 53 segment, The Message)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unloved Characters

Sometimes there are things you know, and then there are things that you confirm by doing, and I can certainly confirm, now, that a writer, a story-teller, an artist, might craft something solely to exorcise his or her own "demons." (Or, you know, zombies or whatever.) But here's something else I discovered through the whole NaNoWriMo project:

If the author doesn't care about the characters, nothing is going to happen to them.

I suppose it's not really a coincidence that right before NaNoWriMo started I read Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (Or is it A Million Years in a Thousand Miles? Or something else? I can never remember. The book was better than the title.) Miller (or maybe his friend Jordan, actually: chapter eight, page 48) defines story as "a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

He makes the point that conflict is a necessary part of story, and if God is telling The Story, and He wants it to be a good Story, then there's going to be conflict. He even kind of implies or maybe even states outright that at least some of the time God puts the conflict right in there.

It's maybe a little presumptuous to imagine that every life experience I have can turn into a point-by-point analogy about God. On the other hand, even though I don't agree with the Milk Guy that image-of-God necessitates that God actually behave exactly like human beings (or that we always behave exactly like God), I do think it means that we can learn things about God through our experiences and even our reactions or those of others.

So, while I was writing the Story That Shall Likely Never See the Light of Day (oh wait--that's kind of all my stories except Trees), it finally dawned on me that if God is really a storyteller, it's not very likely that this story is just His way of working out His own issues. And I'll tell you why.

I do believe there is something cathartic about storytelling and that you can process what you are going through by telling a story. But if that's all it is--if it's just a psychological-healing exercise--if there's no actual story being unearthed in its own right, as Stephen King describes it, it's kind of rubbish. It ends up like the "story" I wrote during NaNoWriMo--boring. If I don't care about the characters (which I discovered I didn't last month), I can't be bothered . . . or even think how to . . . find out what they want or what conflict they need to overcome to get it. I don't know them, who they are, what they like, even if I'm writing from their points of view. Their personalities change from one day to the next, not because they are developing as characters but because they are subject to my allegory which, it turns out, isn't a very good one. In a sense, we (the characters and I, too) are slaves to the story, but since it is a lame story, we're all just stuck and bored. In the end the whole thing--characters, story and author--
grind to a screeching halt.

If you're in a frame of mind which makes you think God's writing you a lousy story, you might wish for it to grind to a screeching halt, or think that it already has done, but whatever got you to that point, though painful, was probably not boring, and just might have affected your character a little bit. And I will also posit that it doesn't mean God hates you, or that He is indifferent to you. To hate a character, I feel, requires too much energy and the author might then just as well become indifferent to him or her. And indifference, as I've said, does not elicit conflict or suffering--or peace, either. It elicits boredom and lack of resolution.

I'm not trying to justify God in this particular post, nor am I trying to minimise anybody's pain, because what do I really know about it? I am saying that, from the perspective of "creates worlds," I think it's pretty unlikely that all this creation is, is a cosmic attempt to sort out the psychological convolutions of the Divine. I thought it was unlikely before, in theory. Now I think it in practice.

A few more writerly thoughts on this still to come.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Working Out the Issues

When the Milk Guy and I used to talk about this stuff (and by the way, we still talk about stuff--just not this stuff, nor do we hang out very much), he would say he thought if there was a God, that God was just working out his own internal issues through people's lives. He said that if we're made in God's image, then everything humans can do, God Himself does. Not that He is capable of it--He does it.

We would argue about this, and nothing the Milk Guy could say would make me see that this premise is a logical necessity, and nothing I could say would make him see that it isn't. Bummer about that.

I still think I'm right--that it isn't a logical necessity. There is nothing about the "image of God" doctrine that makes it impossible that that image could, given certain circumstances (like, you know, turning away from God), become skewed, twisted, malfunctioning. "Image of God" does not equal "lack of free will," although the Milk Guy denies free will if there is a God. (Also not a logical necessity, despite what he says.)

On the other hand, ever since NaNoWriMo, I have had to have a second think about at least the concept of God working out His issues through us. I don't think God had issues before He made us, although one might posit that He does now. And while I don't believe His issues cause Him to sin (He's still complete in His Triune Self and doesn't need to be ruled by anything), I have recently entertained the thought that this idea--this concept of God as a sadistic puppeteer--isn't a logical impossibility, either. (Actually, it is if you look at all the data, but just as an off-the-cuff theory it isn't.)

Here's why I had to take it into account: I started writing this novel at the beginning of November. I started it as kind of a sci-fi/fantasy allegory about cancer and the issues that I've had to mull over in the last year since I had it. This story at the outset was, I suppose, a way for me to work out my own issues. It was a way to process things like chemotherapy versus natural preventatives and remedies, via metaphor and symbol. It didn't take long before issues of God and His involvement, and even some of my tension over the Milk Guy, sneaked their way into the allegory, too.

By that time, the whole plot had started to get murky, and I realised that my characters, as mere caricatures of people I really knew or of concepts I was really dealing with, were kind of annoying. Like, all of them. The most interesting one (and even she was kind of boring) was the one who turned into the zombie-like manifestation of cancer. Thought-processes of semi-conscious monsters are kind of hard to transcribe, though, so I couldn't take it very far. Still, it turned out that if there were any of these characters who I wanted to succeed, it was really only her.

I didn't care about the other ones. They were just vehicles for my issues. They bored me. I could have cared less what happened to them. Let the poor monster-girl eat everybody, frankly, for all I cared. But of course that's not what I want to happen to me. I don't want my cancer to come back, and I certainly don't want it to take over. You feel, if you're writing a story through which to work out your issues, that you can't make anything happen that you don't want to happen to you, so you allow some conflict and stuff, but you can't let anybody get into really deep water, because you don't want to get into it yourself. You might end up writing your own reality.

I guess that's sort of magical thinking, but sometimes I think like that. (You might know that by now.) Realising all this made me really have to sit down and think about the Milk Guy and his theory. I did. I sat with it for most of the month. But stay tuned. I'll tell you later why (besides holding onto what I already believed) I realised that wasn't the whole story.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

More About Apostrophes

We have discussed apostrophes before. Then the other day, Antagonist-Andrew (long-lost Starbucks friend recently rediscovered on Facebook) pointed out to me this link. I find it delightful and I think I kinda want that t-shirt.

It did start me off on one of my etymological musings, though. I started wondering who decided apostrophes would be used for possessives and not for plurals, when normally they're used for contractions. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm really sorry. You can just skip this post. This is, perhaps regrettably, how I think sometimes.)

Then I wondered if originally possessives were contractions--like, maybe people used to say stuff like, "David, his book," and the "his" got smushed into the preceding word and ended up as "David's book." This, of course, doesn't immediately explain why we don't say, "Anna'r book" for women ("Anna, her book"), but there might still be some reasons:

1. When possessives started coming into the English language, it was a more patriarchal society so they didn't care about gender-inclusive language.

2. If you must say it, "Jesus's" is easier to say than "Jennifer'r."

3. No one except people from central Massachusetts wanted to sound like people from central Massachusetts by adding "r"s to the ends of words that ended in vowels.

So. Now we actually have a reason for possessives to have apostrophes and plurals not to have them. Listen up, apostrophe abusers! Just stop it, okay?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

One Lesson Learned

Much as I may enjoy reading (or watching) sci-fi/fantasy stories, I am utterly unable to write them. I've tried it before. This last attempt, through NaNoWriMo has sort of put the nail in the coffin on that dream for me.

But maybe I just need to read more of it. Even (or maybe especially) children's. Which makes me grateful to Son-of-Milk-Guy, who gave me his entire collection of Spiderwick chronicles. I'm pretty sure he never read them himself, but I was rather pleased that he thought I might like them . . . all by himself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The End

Ah! It's over! NaNoWriMo is over! I can now go back to watching TV and other useless activities in the evenings!

(I think I just overdosed on exclamation points.)

I think I kind of cheated. My novel ended up being this long rambling inside the minds of four characters. It got badly out-of-focus and off-topic and working on it was like pulling teeth for the last two weeks, because I wasn't going to start all over again. So tonight I spent my last thousand words modifying the "It was only a dream" cop-out . . . I mean, "construct." My version was, "It was only a NaNoWriMo novel gone wrong," and I had two til-then never encountered characters talking about the inconsistencies of the characters and whether it was a good story or not.

Look. I'm agreeing with you. It was a cop-out. But also look. It took me 48,500 words to get to the point I had intended to write about in the first place, so I wasn't going to be wrapping it up any time soon, and I had to, by midnight tonight. And . . . I wanted to, because if winding it up took this long, I sure didn't want to to see what wrapping it up was going to look like.

Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall give you a new list of things I've learned from this process, or otherwise bore you with the philosophical musings this has brought up. Meanwhile, take a gander at that nifty little new badge in my sidebar.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Just In

One of the life eaters (whose label I'm going to have to change because I somehow forgot about the Harry Potter Death-Eaters--which are not the same thing) just ate his human sister's arm and now she is about to turn into a life eater, too. (They're kinda like zombies, because I couldn't think of anything else in "character" that acted more or less like cancer.) I didn't think that was going to happen. I thought . . . well, I thought other things were going to happen. This half-eaten sister happened to be one of the characters from whose perspective I was telling this NaNoWriMo tale, so now I am about to be telling part of the story from the point of view of a monster. Or cancer. Which is the same thing.

If I succeed, I might actually be a good writer. Or crazy. But good writers often are, I've heard . . .

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Run-ins

So I've had my new car for about three weeks. Two nights ago, I got pulled over already.

I was driving home from work right around dusk, and had just gotten off the highway and was taking this short-cut bumpy-road home. I had just turned onto it when a car going the opposite direction suddenly turned into a police car. It flashed it's blue lights but then, as far as I could tell, kept on going. So did I, but you can be sure I was being pretty careful about the 30 mph speed limit.

All of a sudden the blue lights reappeared. What?! I pulled over. I rolled down my window. (Actually, I now have a car for which I don't have to roll down the window. Convenient for getting pulled over by cops.) I put my hands on the steering wheel. Oscar, quiet little black dog, sat up straight and still in the seat beside me. We both waited.

It seemed like it was taking this officer quite a long time to come over and tell me I had been speeding--which I was pretty sure I hadn't. Finally a dark shape started moving in front of the really bright headlights shining into all my mirrors. I looked up. The cop shone his flashlight into my face.

"You know you need headlights, ma'am?" he asked, sounding like he was trying not to laugh. "It's a little dark out."

Oh brother. There are only two things I miss about my Corolla: the tape deck (yeah, I said it) and the automatic day-time lights. I apologised and thanked him, because I am a Grosser and that, apparently, is what we do. (We also cry a lot, but I didn't do that this time.) I turned my headlights on. He shook his head disbelievingly and went back to his car. I get that a lot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NaNoWriNotes

National Novel Writing Month is just beyond half over, and I am just below the number of words I should be at, and I could be writing some more, but instead I thought I'd let you in on what I think of the process so far.

Week 1:
Two thousand words a day. If I just write 2,000 words a day, I'll be all set, and actually exceed the 50,000 word goal. Two thousand words isn't that many. I can do this.

The novel is begun. This is the first piece of writing I've ever tried which tells the story from multiple character's points of view. It's kind of fun. I always thought I couldn't do such things, but they even all have their own "voices," though I'm writing in the third person.

Week 2:
English-Jayne is here, but I still have a little time to write. If I get slightly behind, I can catch up easily enough.

I am reveling in watching the characters do their own thing right before my eyes. One of the advisor-priests (priests in this imaginary world are priests of science, not religion . . . although really? what's the difference) has suddenly and unexpectedly become a main character and, it turns out, is in love with the queen. The queen is best friends with a cook in the kitchens. And the way you can tell if a person has turned into one of the monster Life-Eaters is that they start growing extra appendages, while their original ones wither and fall off.

Week 3:
I can't get caught up. I like my ideas, but this story is progressing like molasses. I have taken all the hyphens out of all my made-up roles, like advisor priests and life eaters and my word count is still down. I have more blog-posts in my head than normal but I can't write them because I have to write this super-boring story, simply because I said I would. What if I quit? Can I quit? Why are all my stories boring? I will never get another book published because I put my own self to sleep with everything but Trees in the Pavement.

The individual voices are merging into one, boring, somewhat grumpy voice. (I wonder why.) Plus the advisor priest who is in love with the queen is probably going to turn out to be an unwitting villain. That could be interesting, but right now it's just annoying. Not enough things are going wrong for the characters, but the things that are, are the wrong things. Ugh!

So there. Back to writing. I figure I need to write about 6,000 words today to catch up. And I'll only get behind again, because this weekend I have an all-nighter with the youth group. Sigh.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Signs

God and Moses are having their little back-and-forth about whether God knows what He's doing in choosing Moses to get the rest of the Israelites out of Egypt, and whether Moses is going to do it, and God says, "Here's how you'll know it was me who sent you to do this: after you guys all get out, you'll come back and worship me on this mountain."

The first time I really noticed that (and many times subsequently), I thought, "What kind of a sign is that? It's after the fact." You really have to step out in faith for that kind of thing . . . only finding out if you went the right way or made stuff up after you've tried it.

Well, Moses and the Israelites got out of Egypt, and they did worship God on that mountain, but it wasn't exactly easy sailing (or hiking, or whatever) anyway, and the Israelites were more prone to say, "Why didn't you let us stay in Egypt? Huh? At least we could eat leeks and garlic there." (I like leeks and garlic--a lot--but I have often thought that was a strange thing to choose as a consolation for slavery. You'll say anything when you're desperate, though, I guess.) Even though that worship-on-the-mountain sign was after the fact, it ended up being before a lot of other challenges, in the end, and I wonder if Moses hung onto that when the people he was more or less babysitting for forty years got particularly annoying. "Well. I'm not entirely sure how wandering around with this lot is God's will, but He did say we'd worship Him on that mountain, if it were true he sent me to get them out, and we did it, and here we are. I guess I'll carry on then." I suspect there were times, though, when he wished for a few more signs to keep him motivated.

Right now I have a much less history-altering (I think) application of this same after-the-fact-but-you-aren't-out-of-the-desert-yet-honey sign principle. Remember how I was trying to figure out if I should get that car? And I was wondering if the $2 over the monthly amount I was wanting to spend was significant or not? Then I made the decision to get the car after all, and took out a loan from a local credit union. Not only did I get an excellent APR (relatively speaking, of course), but I also learned that the amount I thought I'd have to pay per month was $27 less that $202. (It is not difficult to do the math. I just wanted to write it that way. So there.)

This, I thought, was kind of like one of those retroactive signs: "As a sign that I have chosen this car for you, you will have smaller monthly car payments that you asked or imagined." Pretty cool.

Only . . . then I discovered I'm not out of the desert yet. My car insurance rates just jumped up with this purchase, and I didn't realise just how much excise tax and all that stuff was going to cost, so I probably should've asked for a slightly larger loan, and in the meantime, my health insurance changed hands, so I'm now paying for premiums and deductibles again, and I have no financial buffer. Is this evidence that I made a bad decision and should have waited on the car? Or is it the Red Sea and dearth of water and the plague of poisonous snakes and the battle with the Amalekites? These are just some of the things I'm thinking about these days . . . but I'm kind of a fan of Moses.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm."

Today I went into a Starbucks I'd never been to before. The guy taking people's orders looked like quite a nice young man, and sort of like someone I might have seen before. I decided that was probably because he looked like a Type. This is the thought that went through my head after I decided that:

"He looks like he might be an evangelical Christian . . .

. . . Or gay."

Then I had to stop and think about that. From a whole lot of angles. I'll bet you are now, too.

Respond.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beyond Settling

So really. How do you know when you're supposed to be content with something, seize the opportunity available instead of the one you might have wanted, and take things as they come, versus when you're supposed to hold out for something better? How do you know the difference between contentment, resignation, and settling? I've asked these kinds of questions before. Here's a new context for them.

You may have noticed that I keep obliquely mentioning I need to replace my car. Bela Corolla, serviceable as he has been, is rather ailing these days. Even though three years ago he got all new brakes, new tires, a new battery and a new starter, and even though last year he got his wheels re-applied (when they almost fell off) and a couple of other things, this year he's burning oil so that I have to put at least a quart in every week, I can't see how fast I'm going at night (due to all the interior lights having died), and the struts are shot. The car basically clunks along, no matter how smooth the road surface . . . and in Central Massachusetts the road surface is not always very smooth (regardless of ongoing attempts to fix this). There are also more minor cosmetic issues, like the fact that when a droplet of water hits a fabric surface in the car, it spreads to an unremovable stain 1000 times its size. And the fact that one of the lights on the passenger's side is taped on with packing tape.

Car-Shop-Dave, from my church, has been helping me in my quest for a replacement vehicle, and the other day when they were moving cars around at his dealership, he discovered a 2005 Nissan Altima with only 52,000 miles and an excellent Carfax, that he thought would be just what I was looking for. Even though they want to sell it to me for $1000 more than the maximum price I was willing to pay (since I am not entirely sure I have the money for this venture to begin with), yesterday I went in to look at the car.

As soon as I sat in it, I uttered an involuntary sigh, and thought to myself, "I had no idea my car was so uncomfortable!" Car-Shop-Dave and his car shop let me take it home for the night so I could have my mechanics check it out this morning, and naturally, the more I drove it, the more I loved it. But . . . it is still $1000 more than I was willing to pay for it. And . . . I discovered that Bela's trade-in value is only $1000. Not only are all those things wrong that I mentioned before, but I'm sure my Corolla's Carfax tells all and sundry that one particularly rough year, I crashed him. Twice.

There are people who would say God doesn't care about my car needs, mundane as they are, and I'm not one who subscribes to "prosperity gospel." (I find it kind of horrifying, honestly.) However, I do believe He cares about the details of our lives, and I also believe He is able to do, as the Bible says a few times "more than we ask or imagine." I have a pretty good imagination, so that's saying something.

So let's say I had this pipe dream of an expressly environmentally-friendly, safe car which I could somehow get for under $10,000, at payments of only $200 a month. Unlikely, but God can do anything, right? So . . . do I hold out for this? Or, when the opportunity arises to get a car with an excellent reputation and history, which is more comfortable and more spacious than I could have hoped for, but which costs slightly more than I had wanted, and when my car's trade-in value is less than I'd hoped for (though honestly probably better than I should've expected), and they tell me I can make payments of $202 per month, do I take it? Does $202 count as "more than $200 a month"? Or is this some kind of divine dig-in-the-ribs, where God's saying, "Oh no, darling--you don't get out of making an actual decision that easily." (Interestingly, today I saw a car with a license plate saying "UDCIDE." It felt a little more personal than the last one. Who are these people?) Another factor is that the dealership's interest rate isn't that good for financing, but my bank that could give me a better one apparently doesn't deal with them. On the other hand, the car's so good that if I don't decide to buy it by tomorrow at 2 p.m., the dealership owner wants it.

So really. What am I supposed to do? I'm asking. This car's pretty great. I want it. I do. But it's kind of none of the things I asked or imagined. Does this mean I'm settling, or that it's more than I asked or imagined? It doesn't feel like more. It just feels like different.

I have less than 24 hours to figure this out.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cancer Updates

Since pretty much last Thursday, everyone's been asking, "So, how were the ultrasound results?" And I kept having to say, "Not this past Wednesday. Next Wednesday."

Today I went to the Ultrasound Place and they said, "Oh. You were supposed to be here last week."

Oops.

Fortunately, they were able to "squeeze me in," which turned out to be a pretty apt turn of phrase, since I got a mammogram as well as the ultrasound. Neither diagnostic test showed anything alarming at all. The technician said, "We're about 96% accurate, so I really think it's safe to say you are okay."

I'm going with it. Thank God.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Have I Told You Lately That I Love . . . My Dog?

Well, I do. I love how he follows me around everywhere and comes when called (didn't used to do that) and is starting to figure out the whole "playing" thing. I call him buddy and sweetie-pie more often than I call him Oscar, which, you know, is really saying something.

The other day I was looking at Petfinder.com, not because I want to "cheat on" my beloved dog, but because twice in one week close friends suggested I should get a second dog so that Oscar can keep learning how to be one. I had previously considered this myself, since he likes other dogs so much. I can't afford a second one, and I kind of like having him as my "familiar," going to hotels with me when I go to Emmylou Harris concerts and going to my Grandmothers' with me and such.

This morning we were at the full-service gas station right near the church and as the guy pumped the gas into my car, I explained to Oscar why cars need gasoline. It wasn't until I was finished that I realised how ridiculous that was. Sometimes I think I subconsciously imagine he's a toddler and if I repeat the same words enough times, one of these days he's going to come out and start talking. This would probably still happen with a second dog, but I kind of like the weird verbal bonding I have going on with this dog who doesn't bark.

So, I have no immediate plans for altering Oscar's and my tight little Pack, but there were some other cute dogs on Petfinder. Little white, curly-haired dogs to attractively contrast with Oscar's black curly-haired-ness.

I clicked on one of these and read the description of her. It said she had been a breeding dog. It said she had spent her whole life in a crate. It said she was shy and quiet and had a little trouble with housebreaking. It said she was good with other dogs, and needed to be touched on her own terms.

Oscar was a breeder's dog, and I have wondered all these things about him. Right now he's going through a phase where he won't sit with me on the couch (even though he refuses to let me out of his sight), and before that, when he would sit on the couch, he'd lie at the far corner, as far away from me as possible. But in the mornings after our walk and before my work-out, he comes up and leans against me to be patted, and when I'm washing the breakfast dishes (or, um, more typically the dishes from the night before), he sits right up against my legs.

Things that seem like they should be instinctual for a dog don't seem to come naturally to him, and he'll probably always be quirky. But this is my dog we're talking about. How could he not be quirky? Meanwhile, we've bonded, and he's blooming, and he really is a sweetie-pie.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Oscar is Now a Local Celebrity

Click on the link and scroll down. We're so proud . . .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Like many people, I have an "alternate email address." This is the address I give to grocery stores and Borders Booksellers when I sign up for their rewards cards and don't really want to get their advertising interspersed with the email I actually want to read. This means, though, that sometimes I miss out on some deals I might be interested in. (Not usually, though.)

Today I was checking Alternate Email and noted that CVS was offering to let me "Choose My Free Gift!" Woohoo! Of course I knew enough to be fairly certain it was going to be a choice between items they might want to give me for free which I might or might not be actually interested in. Sure enough. The choice was between a four-pack of CVS-brand disposable toothbrushes (Aren't all toothbrushes ultimately disposable? What makes these special? Do they dissolve in water? And isn't that counterproductive?) and a chocolate bar. So . . . basically? Between dental hygiene and not dental hygiene, evidently.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Celebrity You May Actually Have Heard Of

I seem to recall having made name-dropping disclaimers on this blog before, but the fact is, as you've probably observed, I like having connexions to famous people. Does anyone not like this, actually? I mean, maybe someone doesn't. I just don't know what that's like. So, just this once I'm going to stop fighting it and stop pretending I don't actually care, and am going to let it all out, okay? We've covered the (tenuous) Rob Bell connexion and the (late) Lloyd Alexander connexion. Here, as far as I can remember, are the rest of them.

My uncle, Phil Madeira, is one of those famous people you have to be in kind of an elite crowd to have actually heard of. No, I'm really serious--he hangs out with famous people and writes songs for them and plays in their bands, and his name is in all kinds of album credits, but unless you really pay attention to stuff like that (and, lately, listen to country music), you might not necessarily know his name.

When I was in high school, I was also a lot more into "Contemporary Christian Music" than I am now, so it was pretty cool to get autographed black and white tour photos of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Even cooler, since my tastes have always been a little fringe-y, was hanging out with Phil Keaggy and his family, and Ben Pearson and his, at a party during fall break. And best of all was having breakfast at a Nashville pancake house with Steve Taylor and his amazingly talented artist-wife Debbie. (We went to their house briefly afterwards, which is how I found out Debbie was amazingly talented.) Since I'm being all braggy right now, I'd just like to observe that I met both Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson before Donald Miller did (for his Blue Like Jazz movie) . . . but neither of them offered to make a movie of my life.

A few years later, I went to a Steve Taylor/Newsboys concert and, after a brief reintroduction, Steve remembered me and suggested that all my friends and I get together with him for a photo. (Maybe I'll scan it in here one of these days . . . although I'm pretty sure I was in a bad-hair phase at the time.) He should have. My brother and I had black and white tour photos of him, too, and he had signed my brother's "Any nephew of Phil Madeira's is a nephew of mine." So when it came time for me to get my photo (the day of the pancakes), he just wrote, "Any niece of Phil and El's . . . Your loving Uncle Steve."

In more recent years, Uncle Phil has been has been hanging out with the likes of Buddy Miller, who I met in Greenfield, MA a few years ago. But this year, both of them are playing as two of Emmylou Harris' "Red Dirt Boys." They were played in Portland, ME on Saturday, and Uncle Phil managed to get me two passes to get in. My friend Folk-Musician Gale drove up with me and Oscar, we put Oscar up in the hotel room I had booked for the night, and we went to the concert.

It was truly amazing. The music, if nothing else. Also, can I just say that Emmylou Harris is, physically speaking at least, my new post-sixty-year-old hero--she could belt out an entire concert of songs and wear a sleeveless tunic and strum a guitar, and she never acted tired and there was no upper-arm jiggle. Not even a little. How does she do that? (I should note that my parents are my other post-sixty-year-old heroes . . . but I'm pretty sure even my mother wouldn't try the bare-armed guitar-strumming thing.)

Also, I was so proud of my uncle. Other band members just played their drums, or their guitars, but Uncle Phil? He played piano, guitar, accordian, and sang in a trio with the lady herself. It's cool to be related to him because of the connexions, but it's cooler to be related to him because of himself. Still, I don't mind, as a final punch, posting this photo:

Is the Definition of Crazy Ever to Do Something Different?

I was studying at Denver Seminary when I first stumbled across NaNoWriMo. This semi-acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it's this crazy internet endeavour to get a bunch of writing freaks to churn out 50,000 words of unedited fiction between November 1 and November 30. At the time, I thought it sounded cool, but I also thought I was in grad school, and I probably was also in the process of packing up my life to move back East. (Unless it was earlier in the year. In which case I was having personal problems and might not have had the emotional stamina for such an endeavour anyway.) So I sat there for a minute, imagined how much crazier my life would be if I signed on, said, "Nah," and probably shut down the computer. Or sent an email. Or wrote a paper. Or something. I didn't even have a blog back then.

I'm fairly sure NaNoWriMo crossed my mind at some point in the next three years, but I know I never returned to the site. Then I started this blog, and met other people through their blogs (or, as in the case of Scott, sort of got reintroduced) and then suddenly I knew people who actually did the NaNoWriMo thing. (A Musing Mom and Scott are the two who come to mind, but if you're a blogging buddy and a Wrimo and I'm leaving you out, please register your dudgeon (not dungeon) in the comments).

After that, every November someone I knew was talking about NaNoWriMo, and people like A Musing Mom have kids even, and I felt really wussy for never taking on the challenge. But I just couldn't, you know? You don't really get enough sleep as an up-at-3.45a.m. Starbucks employee anyway. And what do you do about Thanksgiving? And how about, you know, a social life?

Plus, although it has occurred to me that if I just sat down and started writing whatever came into my head for 30 days, it might be interesting to see what happened, I haven't had any story ideas in years. Ever since Trees, people have been asking me, "What are you writing now?" And the truthful answer is that all I have are two stalled novels, one of which has been stalled for eight years and the other for five. Even though, over the summer, I had a sudden and uncharacteristic burst of motivation and sent out a bunch of proposals to literary agents (after I found out the one I had was fraudulent) for one of them, I haven't heard anything back from any of them and that, my friends, is not a good sign.

At some point a few weeks ago, I had the fleeting thought that I should try NaNoWriMo this year; for one thing, I'm not a Starbucks employee anymore. And for a little while I thought I might be up for surgery again (who knows? I still might); what better way to spend recuperation time (besides, you know, working from home) than to churn out words? But then I remembered I'd probably be starting a Semlink course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and so I'd probably be spending my recuperation time working on that.

Then suddenly, within the last two days, I've had a new story idea. I think a bunch of people have wondered whether I'd get a novel out of my cancer experience. I wondered about the same thing. But I'll bet none of us imagined the kind of idea I just got for it. I've been mulling over the concept of chemotherapy and how opposed to it I've become, and how Weapon of Mass Destruction on a Microcosmic Scale it seems, and suddenly I had a fantasy novel going on in my head instead of a "young woman survives (or doesn't) the ravages of cancer" story. Hmm, I thought. Too bad I'll be taking Semlink courses soon. And then this morning I found out the scholarship the church was planning on using to fund my education has already been disbursed this year, so I have to wait until sometime next year anyway. And so all of a sudden, at four o'clock this afternoon, I found myself registering for NaNoWriMo. Yikes.

Fifty thousand words sounds like a lot. But the powers that be over at that site say this:

Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who've had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

I suspect this is true. So I'm telling you.

One Step at a Time . . .

So on Wednesday I went to see the Surgeon. He said, "I don't feel anything." But he scheduled me an ultrasound of the area just in case. That will be happening next week (on Wednesday).

Either I was over-reacting (which the Surgeon said he'd prefer for me to do, given my history), or he's somehow missed it (last year he didn't think I had anything to worry about either), or, as our Pastor Barry says, "maybe there was a small miracle."

In any case, the verdict is still out. I'll continue to keep you posted. So far there's nothing definitive, but at least it sounds like there may well be good news . . .

Thanks again for all your prayers and support the last week.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Global . . . Snowing

So, I know that Colorado already had snow in September or something. Maybe more than once. But they also had the biggest blizzard I've ever experienced in my life, in 2003, so I might kind of expect it.

Last night, on October 16th, it started snowing here. What.

It was still snowing this morning when Oscar and I took our First-Thing-in-the-Morning walk, and we were both probably still too groggy to do much with it, though it occurred to me to wonder whether Oscar had ever seen snow before, from his kennel in Arkansas.

When I let him out a little later, he was much more fascinated by the stuff, getting thoroughly distracted from his "Business" by the fascination of munching the cold white stuff off the grass. He probably would've tried to eat it off the whole yard, if I had let him. In which case he really would've had some Business to attend to.

The snow was mostly melted by 10 a.m., but it had stuck around enough to accumulate a little before that, and it was weird-looking. I mean, the trees haven't even finished undressing for the winter yet. They've scarcely begun. The effect was kind of like putting a slinky ball-gown on over the flannels and overalls you were just wearing to muck out the barn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Here We Go Again

It used to be that every year between September and April, I would get a run of about four flu/cold-type maladies that would last for at least three weeks each. Sometimes I would be sick for about 80% of that time. They incorporated everything: sneezing, coughing, runny nose, congestion, digestive issues--you name it. Because Starbucks never closes and can't really function if one of its scheduled people doesn't show up, I would go to work anyway, feeling terrible and trying not to alarm customers or sneeze into their beverages. (Sometimes I probably tried less hard than others.)

Now, is the new thing cancer every winter?

Last year, during all that cancer diagnosis/surgery/radiation nonsense, I didn't get sick once. I think I might have gotten a cold sometime in March, but it only hung on for about five days. I didn't even get a flu shot.

This year I got a flu shot, because I wasn't planning on getting cancer again and I figured I wouldn't have anything to trade in the colds for. But on Monday morning . . . I discovered another lump. Same side, different location.

I'm hoping it's nothing. Just like I hoped the last one was nothing. But none of the doctors are saying that to me anymore. Nope. Already had this problem once--now they want to see me as soon as possible. I expect my Surgeon (or his nurse practitioner) will call me imminently to set this up.

Meanwhile, if you get into praying at all, would you please pray that this will go away? Completely? I don't want to do this again, and I sense the Valley of the Shadow of Chemo coming into view. Can I just tell you? I'd rather die than have chemo at this point. I'll talk some more about that later. Just for now . . . please pray for me. I've known of--and expected--greater miracles than this.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Do You REALLY Feel?

I have an idea that it's politically incorrect to make a statement like, "I love Jewish novelists," even though it's a positive statement and it is, to date, true. Or at least I can accurately say I love the novels that Jewish novelists write. Chaim Potok, Bernard Malamud, and now Saul Bellow, are the writers whose books I love. I suspect I should and would love the works of Elie Wiesel also, but somehow I seem to have missed them thus far. Don't ask me why. (We could also include the Coen brothers in this, but they're not exactly novelists, and some of their stuff gives even me pause, though I have huge amounts of respect for them.)

Now what I'm trying to figure out is why I like Jewish fiction so much, and maybe also why, by and large, I find Christian novels so unappealing. There are exceptions, like C.S. Lewis (obviously!) and Tolkein (of course!), and I'm sure there are some out there today who write compelling or thought-provoking stories. I think the "Christian Publishing Industry" (can an industry be a Christian?) is trying to raise the bar these days on the kinds of books that hit the bookstore shelves, and three cheers to that, I say! But I haven't read the new generation of Christian fiction, because an enormous percentage of the small percentage of Christian fiction I have read is, in my opinion, just not that good. (That is probably not politically correct either.)

Even though I feel free to have strong opinions about this and to air them on the internet (potentially to my own undoing if I want to have any more play in arena of getting-books-published) I don't really feel very qualified to talk about this much because, as I say, I'm really only comparing the novels of three Jewish guys with the novels of a spattering of Christian ones, and I can't say that this is really a very well-researched point of view, or that there's a very representative cross-section of these books.

But here is my hunch. There are some similarities among the books of the three Jewish authors I'm citing. Often the action in the stories takes place as much in the characters' heads as it does internally. The characters may be at varying levels of Jewish Orthodoxy, but somehow their identity as Jews is ever-present. On the other hand, it is often not very overt. You can't forget that you're reading about Jewish characters in these books, even if they're not actually directly talking about it. The people in the stories are sometimes sort of caricatured (for example, Moses E. Herzog, about whom I'm thinking a lot right now because I'm reading Herzog), but they still ring true. They have identifiable thought patterns--either ones I've had myself or ones I must, come to think of it, have experienced others having. They struggle with the identity they impose on themselves, and with the one the world imposes on them. There's always a morality and there's always a message, but it is rarely if ever spelled out; the reader is, in a way, left to his or her own devices at the end of the book, to come to an interpretation themselves.

In the Christian fiction I've read (previously named authors mostly excepted, although even Lewis gets bogged down in his message sometimes), the characters generally seem flatter. The books are more plot-driven, and the plot, it seems to me, is often contrived. The characters usually have struggles, but they get worked out in the end, under the auspices of Christ. All the people the reader comes to care about (if the reader comes to care about them) become Christians by the end, if they aren't already. Things tie up neatly. There's an Answer. And just in case we didn't get it, it's usually spelled out for us.

This makes some people feel comfortable. I guess it makes evangelicals like me feel like the message got out there or something. But the problem is, I don't know that the people who we wish would hear the message are usually going to get it in this format. I think it's too bad. I think there is an Answer, and He is Jesus. But I don't think He usually ties up loose ends, exactly. I think walking with Him involves getting mad at Him, and trying to run away from Him, and fighting with Him, and then getting to the point where you realise life is often going to stink no matter what, but that you'd rather go through it all with Him than without.

Friday, October 09, 2009

How I Almost Got My Head Shaved

I've mentioned Bledi before--he's the guy with the scissors. I go to him and his fancy salon for the best haircut ever. I really don't go there to get into theological discussions. Apparently, though, he likes to argue with me, because he keeps bringing it up. I guess we feel more comfortable with each other than when I wrote about him last. Our discussions are still not always entirely helpful ones. Today's mostly went like this:

Bledi: But see, I look at science.

Me: I look at science, too.

Bledi: No you don't.

Me: Yes I do.

Bledi: No you don't . . .

You get the idea.

The last time I was there maybe our discussion was a little more intelligent, but he got told off by his boss later, evidently, for talking too loudly with me about controversial religion-laced subjects.

He said it's a bummer I'm not hanging out with the Milk Guy anymore, because they probably would've gotten along. You know what? I think they would. And I wouldn't even have minded hanging out with the two of them together, although probably I would've felt a bit beleaguered by the end of it. I find these discussions, if not always stimulating, at least entertaining.

You know what drives me crazy, though? The current fad of blaming the spread of Christianity on some combination of the emperor Constantine, conspiracy theory and politics. Even if Constantine's conversion was not genuine (and I don't really see how anyone can prove it was or it wasn't), if Jesus had needed some power-mongers to spread His good name, the Church would've died out long before Constantine, and there would've been nothing to spread. I think it mostly drives me crazy because there is usually so little thought that goes into this accusation--it's just something somebody heard somewhere, very few people check out the facts, and they get exactly as dogmatic about it as any Christian might get about, say, the divinity of Christ.

This came up today, too. I got a little heated. I still got the best haircut ever, but next time I decide to get heated, I'm going to make sure I'm not in the hair stylist's chair. You know. Just in case . . .

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Writing About Myself

It turns out that, though I love writing about myself so much that I have two blogs, I really don't like it all that much when I have to do it. Like, for a proposal to a literary agent. Or for a seminary application . . .

I just thought I'd, you know, procrastinate a little bit to tell you that. By writing about myself.

What?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Newbie

So, I am no longer the newest staff person at church. Last week, Pastor Barry officially started as our church's "settled minister." Everyone's pretty excited about that, although of course with any new person, there are always adjustments, and some people are already balking at change.

Even though Pastor Barry and I had met and have been shooting emails back and forth for a few weeks regarding programmes and such, it wasn't until yesterday that we were able to really sit down and talk and get to know each other. I have decided I like Pastor Barry. (I suspect I will like his wife, Mrs. Wendy, too, particularly as she was named after Wendy from Peter Pan, but I've had even fewer interactions with her.)

Last week had started out a little uneasily, because the Sunday school staff had decided to have a communion service once a month and Pastor Barry, on hearing this, was not happy at all, since he doesn't consider it to be communion unless an ordained person is administering it. I hadn't really thought this through much, but I thought it through a lot after that, and while I do believe communion should have a certain "set-apart" feel to it--it's not just french fries and soda and no thought involved--I also don't think you have to have a piece of paper from an acredited institution giving you permission to administer it, though I decided it wasn't worth arguing the point.

Yesterday, though, we had quite a nice chat, and I was impressed. First of all, I trust his book selection. Of the titles I could see at a near-to-middle distance on the book spines on his shelves, he has Celebrating the Disciplines and Prayer by Richard Foster, Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris, and Soul Friend by Henri Nouwen. Also, I was telling him about my car situation (about which I shall probably tell you one of these days), and he was very supportive. He said he didn't know anybody selling right now, but he seemed like he thought it was important for me to get an new (or at least improved) vehicle, and like he might actually look into it for me a little himself.

He was also really supportive of my getting ordained. Did I tell you I was thinking of getting ordained? I didn't really know I was either--at first all I knew was that the church wanted to pay for me to get some extra training. Then, right before they left, Pastor Ron and Mrs. Dona said they thought I should ditch the Christian Education training track and go for an MDiv. Given the fact that the last time I went to seminary before I quit, the classes I actually liked were the Bible ones, this idea did have a certain appeal. Given the fact that I have had, in the last four years, a complete reversal in my thinking about women in professional ministry that I wasn't even looking for, it doesn't seem like a complete non-sequitur.

I'm still trying to figure it out, and Pastor Barry said, "If this is something that God is calling you to do, I definitely support it." Right then, apart from the books, I decided I liked him. I'm glad he brought God in as the condition, not as an afterthought, and that he didn't just say, "What do you feel like doing?" I don't think God totally discounts our feelings (although in my more cynical moments I might say He doesn't discount them at all--He gauges them and then finds something for us to do that's exactly the opposite). I also don't think it's all that easy to discern what God wants all the time. But it matters to me, and I was glad to have His role in the process and in our lives in general acknowledged and reminded to me.

The church has some scholarship money available, and so I had written to the Trustees about the possibility of using it, but when I told Pastor Barry this, he said, "It's not just about handing out money! A decision like this needs the spiritual oversight of the church, too. You need to bring this to the deacons." I liked that, too. I also liked that he got right on it, telling me he was meeting with the deacons that night and I should send him my request that afternoon.

Apparently the deacons were enthusiastic about the ordination idea, as Pastor B was pleased to tell me this morning. "Now," he said, "we can take it to the trustees." I need to get cracking with my application, I guess!

I like this guy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Things I Wonder About Sometimes

1. Hybrid Words:

Why do I like making them so much? I was going to say, "Not only was the last post my cancerversary post, but it was also post number 444." Groundhog Day was the Milk Guy's and my e-niversary. I was inordinately proud of the word guacaritas the other week, and there have been a few others on this blog, like Buxerati. See if you can find them all. I can't!

And yet, hypocritically, I hate when other people do this. Actually, maybe I just hate when famous people and corporations do this. I liked it when the Milk Guy called his chihuahua/min-pin mix a doberhuahua or a chihuaberman. But daycation and staycation give me hives. Adding holic to the ends of words similarly makes me want to tear my hair out. I don't really know why.

2. Accords

Why in the world did the Honda corporation's advertising department never jump on the Pirates of the Caribbean craze and spoof one of the many scenes where a pirate says, "Do we have an Accord?" What? Because it doesn't look piratical? Psshhh!

3. Forgetting

Why do I never write this stuff down so that when I finally decide to blog about it, I only remember half of what I wanted to blog about?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Anniversary

A year ago today, a game of phone tag with the man who became "my" Surgeon ended in a conversation like this:

Surgeon: Jennifer. It's never easy to give news like this, and I'm really surprised because the mass definitely didn't feel like this at all, but we got the results of your biopsy, and you do have a small cancerous tumour.

Actually, I'm not sure it was much of a conversation really. Probably some "oh"s and "uh-huh"s from me while the Surgeon said some things about what he anticipated the prognosis to be (good) and what things were going to happen next. I don't really remember too much about that, although I do kind of remember my brain going something like:

Brain: Oh. It's a cancerous tumour. Well, I guess that's what I got it checked out for. I knew it was something. They all said it was nothing, but I knew it was . . . wait a second . . . I have a cancerous? tumour? I have cancer. Oh my God [that was me not taking God's name in vain, okay?] I have cancer.

I remember me trying not to cry on the phone. Then the phone call was over and I called my parents. "Hello?" said my mother. I thought I was going to say something, but instead I just burst into tears. She's my mother, so she knew exactly who it was and exactly what had happened.

Then I called my brother. Then I called the Milk Guy. Then I talked to Heather-of-Six for a long time.

I remember thinking about dying, and not feeling afraid of it at all. Being with Jesus finally would be nice, I thought. Things had been pretty stressful for a while. It would be nice to just go rest with Him instead of dealing with all this stuff here. I was afraid to talk about any of this (wanting to die without wanting to kill myself) in this blog, because I thought someone would misunderstand and get alarmed and . . . well, it would just get complicated. But now I'm just remembering.

In the end, I didn't die, and although there were a whole lot of upsetting and difficult steps in the process, I have kind of a nostalgic feeling about the time from October through December 2008. It was kind of the best of times and worst of times for me. I don't know how I got the support system (all over the world) that I have, but they've always been amazing, and last autumn they really pulled out all the stops in ways I could never have predicted. The Milk Guy hung in there and helped me think through my medical decisions instead of abdicating all control to the doctors. My parents flew back and forth from their Alternate Country to be with me during the scariest parts.

Now it's a year later and sometimes I forget I had cancer at all, and sometimes I feel guilty that I "got off so easy," because most people don't. I am cancer free, I didn't have chemo, and after my last check-up my doctor said, "I don't know what you're doing, but keep doing it--you're in great shape." I am on tamoxifen, and it does kind of wreak havoc with the rhythms of womanhood, such that, for example, I had PMS for the entire month of August (if you didn't see me in August, be thankful). But when I think of what it could have been, and of what, in some cases, I was told it was, I'm so grateful to be in the state I am now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grin

There are a lot of movies I like, but very few about which I can say I grinned almost the entire time (if not the entire time) I was watching them. Neither of them were ones I would have expected to feel this way about. The first one was Hairspray. Tonight it was Romancing the Stone.

When I was in high school, my youth group had an all-nighter at our youth leaders' house once, and we watched bunches of movies ranging from Joni to The Empire Strikes Back. Oh, and some episodes of Miami Vice, I think. At some point someone put in Romancing the Stone. I remember thinking I wasn't going to like it, but actually finding it kind of funny, but other people must have had different opinions, because the only part I remember is them staying in the fusillage of the crashed drug-running airplane.

Ever since then, I've sort of thought vaguely that I might like to see the whole thing sometime. And then I got Netflix. I know. It might have to go, given the whole budget thing (October starts tomorrow, people!) but anyway, I have it right now, and discovered that I could watch the movie streaming to my computer from the internet.

I don't really know what it was about this movie that I liked so much. The crazy-lonely-single-female-writer stereotype? The fact that she knew how to deal with traumatic situations because of what the characters in her books had done? The fact that people knew how to thwart her because they had all read her books? The totally inappropriate muzak during one of the chase scenes? Michael Douglas' mullet? A fun, light-hearted romance, where two totally mismatched people end up living happily ever after because they can because it's a movie?

Yeah. All that. Grin.

There's just one thing that's bothering me. Some time within the last six or seven years, I read a book by a Christian author who used this movie to illustrate some deep relational/theological point. It was someone famous in the evangelical world--someone like Philip Yancey or Donald Miller or John Eldridge. One of them. This has now turned into one of those things that is likely to bug me for at least a month now. So, kudos (and, if I know you and can think of something to send, a small prize) to anyone who can tell me who it was and what they were trying to illustrate through it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fuss-Budget

So . . . not everything in life has come to me easily, but I have to say I feel like I've been able to "get away with" an awful lot from time to time. For example, until my surgery last year, I was essentially unable to gain weight--or at least, to gain it and keep it on. One of my friends in London used to joke with me that I had a tapeworm. Occasionally I had to ingest kind of nasty things like "Ensure" to . . . ensure I didn't waste away to nothing, but I've never had to go on a diet to lose weight. I'm not saying this to brag (although I'm sorry if it sounds like it, because it probably does)--I'm saying it to make a point.

Likewise, I've managed to live my entire life to this point without a formal budget. I've never made much money, and so I've never had anything left over, really (this means saving for things like Getting Old hasn't really gone too well), but I always have enough for "my daily bread," as it were. And even to do fun stuff. Like travel around the world, for example. Sometimes things get a little tight, or I get a little nervous, but it always works out.

Recently, however, I've decided that maybe it's time I put myself on a budget. I wouldn't call myself a frivolous spender for the most part, and now that I am working full-time at the church instead of at Starbucks, I have a little more settled income. However, I also have a few new expenses that I didn't have before, and I've noticed, too, that maybe subconsciously I've been imagining more of a pay increase than I've actually received, because when I go out with friends, I'm likely to be a little less thrifty with what I order than I used to be.

Thinking about this, I've decided I feel sort of like someone must who goes on a diet and wishes they didn't have to, and is maybe still not fully convinced that they do. Complete with the rationalisations and excuses, I mean. You know the kind I'm talking about. "Do calories count on weekends? Isn't it true that if the cookie is broken, all the calories fell out? Can I eat this bag of potato chips and skip two meals?" That kind. For a budget, for me, they're sounding like this:

"Okay, so I'm putting myself on a budget. But it's almost the end of the month, so I won't start until it's officially October. It'll be easier to keep track of that way." (Implication being I'd better get any splurging in between now and Thursday.)

"Does petrol, to get me to and from non-work-related events with friends, count as an entertainment expense, or can I just make a separate category for petrol? You have to have it, right?"

"If I'm hanging out with people who don't go to my church but with whom I once talked about having a Bible study, can I call it a 'ministry expense' and get the church to reimburse it? Even if the 'ministry' was guacamole and a margarita?" (Don't worry--I won't actually do that . . . next Friday . . . when my friends and I go out for "guacaritas" . . . but I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind.)

"Can french fries count as groceries?"

There's a lot about discipline and integrity here, and both of those things are important values to me. On some level, I think I've generally exhibited them in my dealings with money. But as I start thinking about an actual budget, I'm starting to notice some chinks in the fence . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Decide

I live about 12 miles away from where I work, which isn't all that far, I guess, really, but because of everything that is between Home and Church, it is very rare for me to get to work in less than half an hour. And then there's this five-minute block of time when, if I hit it just wrong, I end up behind all the school buses and all the other commuters such that if I would have left six minutes later, I probably would've gotten to work sooner.

Can you tell that happened to me today? Fortunately, I wasn't in a tearing hurry or anything. As I was not hurrying, and at the first intersection which is where all the cars get in front of me in the first place, this car . . . got in front of me. On the license plate was one word: Decide.

First I did that thing you do, you know, when you're an evangelical, and tried to figure out if there was some major life decision I was supposed to be making right then, and this was God's way of speaking to me through somebody's vanity plate.

I guess there are some things I could be deciding right now, but I honestly don't think the timing's right, and if I had taken that license plate too seriously, I would be making snap decisions which would probably have deleterious effects in the future. (Ooh--cool. I spelled deleterious right! I'm pretty sure I've never used it in a written sentence. And maybe not in a spoken one, either.)

So after convincing myself that it wasn't a personal message to me, I started wondering what it meant. Why would someone put the word Decide on their license plate? What are they trying to achieve? What kind of person puts a word like that on the back of their car with no explanation?

I actually have a whole bunch of ideas about this, and am now planning on putting some such person in a novel (if I ever get another idea for a novel besides the one I'm trying to get an agent for, which I think might be a lost cause). Look, I called it, okay?

All the same, it would be kind of fun to make a game out of it, too, and you could tell me what kind of character does this. I know, it's pure speculation, and I don't know anything really about the actual person who did this, but . . . that just means we aren't really talking about them. It's not character defamation because we're just imagining. And besides, I think if I were the type of person to put the word Decide on my license plate, I would also be the type of person who, if I somehow managed to stumble across this blog, would be pretty amused to see what kind of person people thought I might be. But you know . . . maybe I'm just making that up.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Defacing Public Property

I go through phases . . . with pretty much everything. Including the library. I will go the library religiously for a year or so, and then suddenly I don't feel like looking through the stacks for books I've never heard of that I might or might not like, and so I return whatever I had out last, and don't go back for another year or two.

Seriously, I don't think I've been to the library since sometime in the middle of 2008. But then the other week I was looking for a book to read in my mom's bookshelves, and I realised that I am no longer really into most of the types of books that she's into. She likes mysteries and historical novels, and I like . . . I don't know, really. What do I like? All the stuff listed in my blog profile, I guess. I read one of her historical novels anyway, out of desperation, and I ended up liking it more than I expected . . . or at least wanting to know what was going to happen. But I took today off from work and all of a sudden decided it might be a good idea to visit the library again.

Last time I visited there, they didn't have Trees in the Pavement in their stacks, even though I had told them about it. I suppose it would have been classier of me to donate them a copy, but frankly, I wanted as many sales as I could get. Anyway, I had this idea that they had quietly decided not to purchase it, and since I'm rarely very pushy about things, I could hardly blame them.

Today I found about four books that I thought I might like to read, with little effort, which was nice. I checked them out. Then, as an afterthought, I decided to search my book on the library computer. What do you know? They have it! In the children's section . . . so I went down to the children's section just to see my book on a library shelf. There it was, next to the Raggedy Ann stories (which, if you know me really well, you may realise is sort of apropos). It doesn't look like anybody has read it. Which--why would they, since they've never heard of me. Still, there it was.

I thought about going up to the librarian and thanking her for having my book on her shelves, and asking if I should autograph it. It seemed like a weird question to ask, though. What was she going to say? No? Besides, she was clearly more than occupied with a family who seemed to have very complicated things going on with their library cards. I went back to the shelves. I knelt on the floor and took a pen out of my pocketbook. I looked around, opened the book to the front page . . . and scrawled my name across it. I suppose I was defacing someone else's property. But it's still my book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of Camp . . .

Have any of you ever seen Jesus Camp? I just finished watching it five minutes ago and I feel . . . conflicted. Not about my own beliefs or relationship with Jesus. I didn't even find anything there all that surprising.

I guess I feel like what I know from personal experience about the American secular worldview and what I know in the same, but maybe even more personal, way about the American religious right both get plastered across the entire documentary, and I'm just as uncomfortable and unhappy with both as I usually am, only if I'm going to sit there and watch the whole thing, I have to face it. Admittedly, the views and behaviour of the religious right are the subject and focus of the movie, but the secular views opposing it seemed just as evident to me as the frame around the subject. Maybe you're not supposed to notice the frame, but sometimes they're a little more vivid than others.

I wanted to strangle (metaphorically speaking) the radio announcer who deplores what's being done among Evangelicals, because he was being at least as intolerant as the people he was aghast over. On the other hand, I think I got equally twitchy over the mother who was trying to teach her son a limited view of creationism, that global warming wasn't even a viable concern, and that science doesn't prove anything. (I agreed with the later points of view about abortion, though.) It was also rather striking to watch the segment featuring Ted Haggard . . . before his "fall from grace" . . . speaking specifically against homosexuality.

I get why people who don't have any moorings in this subculture--or who have been burned by it--find this kind of indoctrination of kids so alarming. A few times I could sit there and feel it. Personally, I found the kids themselves quite inspiring, and I was encouraged by their prayers. But I agreed with the documentary-makers, not, maybe, that one's faith should have no bearing on how one relates to one's country, but at least that the Republican agenda and the will of God are not (necessarily?) the same thing. I also cringed when the little girl talked so earnestly about the "kinds of churches God likes to go to" and how it's "all about the way the people invite Him."

I think that's what depressed and concerned me the most. It's one thing to teach your children truth . . . or even the truth as best you know it. But when they have questions and you're not willing to entertain them and give them some solid reasoning--or even some solid faith-filled doubt--how are they going to stand up to the questions later? Especially when they come in the form of hypocrisy or failure? Their own or someone else's? I imagine a follow-up documentary on these same kids done in a couple of years and seeing at least some of them running from Jesus as fast as they can, and I think . . . I just hate when we cloud the main Point so that we can't even get to Him.

Good for Animals, Too

We have Conference at Camp Selah, and this year, since I have Oscar, I brought Oscar. Most of the kids had already met him and knew him to be sweet but not very friendly. He'd never bite, but he might not come up and sniff your hand either, because of being shy. He wasn't as freaked out about being at camp this time, since he had spent two weeks there during day camp, but this time around the kids were a lot bigger . . . and a lot louder.

Consequently, he spent much more time hiding out in the back room of the Lodge which he had adopted last time. At first I thought the whole scenario was going to be a set-back for him, but it turned out to be just the opposite.

By Sunday he was doing such a good job following me and coming when called that I allowed him to run around the camp without a lead a number of times. He was delighted. He didn't go very far, but where he did go, he galloped. He leapt up and down hillocks like a rocking horse that had got free of its rocker . . . and was maybe a little off-balance; he kind of runs sideways, it turns out. But it's very cute.

On Sunday night we had a skit night, and I held him on my lap the whole time . . . and incorporated him into my cabin's skit . . . and he actually stayed there. He seemed to be watching the skits, too. After the skits, it turned out that there was at least one other person in New England is allowed to pick him up--that was Back-up Liz. Congratulations to her!

Then the next day he delighted me (and himself) by jumping up next to me on a sofa without any help. He didn't used to think he could do that. A lot of times he reminds me of me as a kid . . . I'd always watch the other kids doing stuff and assume I couldn't do it because I couldn't do it the first time. I missed out on a lot in that way. Oscar had kind of been like that about jumping up on the couch. True, he had finally figured stairs out, but the couch was just so much higher of a jump, and he couldn't figure out how to jump up there as opposed to trying (and failing) to climb up. But Labor Day morning . . . he did it!

You might think this would be a bad thing, but look--he doesn't shed, and I got him to keep me company, so I like having him sit with me on the couch in the evening. He was so proud of his new skill that later that day when I took him into one of the cabins with me so I could inspect it, he made a point of jumping up on each one of the lower bunks.

I think part of the point of Conference is for the attendees to become more of who they really are--to grow in confidence. So, you know. It's kind of nice my dog got something out of it, too.
Photos by Joshua Schlegel: Joe Cool 2009; Paris Hilton's New BFFs 2009.
Photo by jennwith2ns: Liz and Oscar 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Labor Weekend



So, no more Labor Days off for this chick. You should know I'm saying that with tongue-in-cheek . . . why would I have had Labor Day off when I worked at Starbucks? The way I have found myself employed during said weekend the last two years has been much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Last year was scarier, though. This year, though I can by no means call myself an old hand, I felt much more relaxed about my church's annual Labor Day youth retreat, affectionately (and oddly formally) known as "Conference." Which is good, since I was officially in charge this year.

This year we had a video curriculum, which the kids made no bones about making fun of, but I didn't really care, because they were still interacting with it and we still had some great discussions. The theme was "Friends," and we talked about loneliness, peer pressure, comparisons, and identity, while the kids solidified friendships with each other that I'm pretty sure some of them had forgotten about.

In the cabin of girls that I stayed with, we talked about Jesus' meeting the woman at the well, and how He might approach the situation if he were to go on the show Paris Hilton's My New BFF. (We talked about this because we were coming up with a skit.) Probably not too differently . . . although we hypothesized that Paris might not have given Him as warm a reception as the Samaritan woman ultimately did.

During a small-group Bible study group, one of the kids asked, "You say you believe the Bible is true and is from God and everything. But . . . isn't there ever anything in there that you disagree with?" Another kid said, "I know God is good and everything, but sometimes He seems really mean."

It may sound strange to say, but I love these questions. Not because they're easy--they're not. (If they were, a lot more of my friends would be on speaking terms with Jesus right now.) But I love that these kids are actually thinking about this stuff, daring to ask the questions--even of someone who might be, to their manner of thinking, a little obsessed about the whole thing.

The other great upshot of the weekend was that it seemed like everyone remembered how much they like being together. So that the following weekend, when, on a whim, I put out an invite to go to a Christian concert and ride the rides at Six Flags, 13 kids showed up instead of the 2 or 3 I was expecting. About that many came to our youth group kick-off meeting the next day, too. There is also a sudden influx of adults who want to help out.

I can't trace all the whys and wherefores of how this is all coming together, and I'm the kind of person that often looks around the happy stuff for the big crash that I always feel is sure to come around the bend, but I can't deny the good, either. So far the worst that's happened was that I had a headache for two days when I got back from Conference . . . but it was worth it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mornings

I am a morning person. Very rarely do I say bad things about mornings (although sometimes I used to faux-sympathise with Starbucks customers when they complained that 8 a.m. was "too early" and I had already been up for over four hours).

This morning, though? I would like to rewind and get a do-over, please.

It actually kind of set up last night. I'm trying to organise a group of youth to go to a Christian concert at Six Flags this Saturday (and we actually have a lot of interest, coming, as it does, on the heels of a youth retreat that everyone seemed to enjoy very much. More about that in a happier post after I get this out of my system). Although there is a lot of interest among the teens, I'm having a terrible time recruiting chaperones, and furthermore, logistics are proving challenging for more than one family involved. This has elicited some tense moments and is stressing me out a little.

Meanwhile, Oscar had a tummy ache again for some reason, and something even less pleasant than usual was issuing out of his hindquarters last night. I assumed, when I put him in his crate in the kitchen and went upstairs to bed myself, that if he were in distress and needed to go out urgently, he would whimper enough for me, a generally light sleeper, to wake up. This has happened in the past.

Evidently, however, I'm still catching up on the sleep I missed at "Conference." I slept through the whimpering. I spent most of the morning washing Oscar, washing his toys, washing his crate, using up rolls of paper towels (so much for being an environmentally conscious hippie), and then trying to clean up myself.

I'm still not sure I should've brought him to work with me today . . . but the alternative would have been to leave him in his crate all day and come home and repeat the whole wash cycle all over again. And he's doing okay right now. Which is good, because when I got to church I had a phone call from one of our Sunday school volunteers who isn't happy with her assignment and I had to try to convince her that she still wants to help out.

All of this pales in comparison with, say, being persecuted for one's faith in India, but it's still super-annoying, and I'd still like to be able to hit a restart button.
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