30 January 2007

Things that make you go "hmmm"

I had a funny blog for you. It came to me some time yesterday evening. Oh, how it will make them laugh, I thought. Shall I write it down? No. This one, I’ll remember.
And then it left not more than a half hour later. I traced every detail of the past week, every conversation, in hopes of recalling the antidote. Nothing. I’m beginning to buy into Stephen Hawking’s black holes in the brain, the miniscule ones that eat up your memory. In bed last night, I thought and I thought and I thought. And again this morning, just before falling asleep between snoozes, I thought and I thought and I thought. I’m turning into a veritable Dr. Seuss character. But you see how dedicated to you I am.
I need to tell you something other than I was going to tell you something.
How about two high school classmates of mine? I haven’t thought about them since high school. Khalid and Waleed. It never occurred to me in school that they were from the middle east, but thinking back, they must have been. I have no idea as to their religion. If they were Muslim, they weren’t the denomination that took out their mats and prayed five times a day. Nobody took notice of those things back then (as if back then was so far away. Can I say back in the day?) In fact, the only thing foreign about them was how they took their studies seriously. Well, that and the way some of the boys in class pronounced Waleed’s name as if it had an interminable number of e’s. So why mention them now? I don’t know. I just began The Kite Runner, and it made think of them. I wonder if they’ve gone through hard times because of the current politics.
B-de, b-de, b-de, that’s all folks.

27 January 2007

Review - A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

Well, really this will be less of a review in technical terms and more of me blubbering about how brilliant a book this is. The four main characters are quirkier and more real than most people on the street. These four characters meet each other on the top of a popular building for suicidals. Yes, they all had intentions to jump, but in meeting each other, they take the long way down, namely, the stairs. The book centers more about their experience after that night. Hornby writes nothing trite; he gives away no feel-good, shallow hope. He never betrays his psychology and philosophy, which runs deeper than blokes with tweed jackets with the patched elbows and a pipe who alternatively suck on the ends of their glasses and sip brandy. Oh, and these folks usually have some pained look on their faces, which is supposedly construed as “thoughtful,” but which might just as well be “constipated.” But back to this book. It inspires me to broaden my vocab simply so that I may have more words with which to describe the book, words such as ingenious, sharp-witted (and quick-witted along with all those other wits), sage-esque, crafty, see also discerning without any of the erudite and highbrow nonsense.
If you are a writer and would like to learn about these: writing, then you need to read the book. Okay, okay, yes, yes more specific: voice, developing backstory, conflict (I threw that one in for me), did I mention voice?, plot, communicating a philosophy of life while telling a darn good story and never saying things like, “And Kierkegaard said…”, comedy in the midst of depression, flat out telling a good story, and, um, yes, voice.
If you are a reader, then read this book.
I would like to mention, though, so that I may avoid my forty minus one cat o’ nine tails, that the book contains language that many would consider crude. You know, curse words. Quite a few of them, actually. So that’s my warning.
And, in case you didn’t realize this, I love this book. Can I read it again?
Oh, and props to Mike Snyder for telling me I need to read this author and not just see the movies (Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy).

24 January 2007


I’ve been listening to these philosophy of religion lectures. Recently, the professor came to Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher. I have to admit up front that I’ve never read Buber (that I remember, although, come to think about it, I think I did read one of his essays several years ago, but that hardly counts), so these thoughts come from hearsay.
Buber wrote a book entitled I and Thou (actually, the title is technically in German, so it might be something like Ich und Du). The important thing to notice, according to the professor, is the word “thou,” which, because of its use in Shakespeare and the King James, I have always took to be some high-falutent word. Not so, says the monkey. (I don’t know where the monkey came from, but that’s what he said. And there was no arguing with him.) Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that our English is one of the few languages that does not have a separate formal and informal “you.” Apparently, many moons ago, we did, and thou was the informal usage. Point being, if I can get out my machete and hack through all this, the Christian life (for Buber, the Jewish life) is about encountering God everyday. Buber argues (again, from what I understand) that God is not this object to be studied with scientific methods and the like, but He is someone to be encountered everyday. Corollary: (and here’s what hit me like a piano falling in a cartoon) our particular experiences with God can be idolatry. Huh? How can an experience be idolatry if it’s with God? When we long for the experiences more than we long for God, then, well, you fit the jigsaw together. And I think this is a lot of our culture. We want these mountain top experiences to get us through the week, whether it’s some big concert or extreme sport or a worship experience. I confess, at times I have thought, oh, remember that time at the Passion conference and how we all felt so close to God and each other? And I want that back. Idolatry.
It makes me wonder if this is the root of some of the worship wars: I want this music. No, I want this, says one toddler to the other.
Don’t get me wrong. Praising God is a good thing, a very good thing. And to feel good while praising Him is a good thing. And praising Him with music or art or whatever we like is a good thing. It’s the longing for the feeling good over the praising God part that catches us. One of those fine line things, methinks.
So the question is thus: how do I encounter God every moment of every day when I clean the toilets or call a friend or write or practice piano or go to church or take cookies to my neighbor or, well, you get the idea.

22 January 2007

Warranty Schmarranty

Chris is a yes person. He will always say yes. Hey, man, can you help me move? Yes. We’ve got a new HDTV on sale. Would you like to spend 3 million dollars to buy one? Yes. (Good thing he had his wife there to step in.) I, on the other hand, am a no girl, except for a few of my favorite things, of course. Would you like to lead- No. I don’t even have to know what it is. It just takes me a while to warm up to some things.
So a few weeks ago, when we bought my new car, Annie, we knew we would be seeing the bells and whistles guy. We agreed. I would stay strong.
B&W: Would you like to extend your warranty? It’s normally $1800, but for you guys, I’ll make it $1300.
[Apparently we’re a good looking couple.]
Me: No, thank you.
Chris: Tell me about it.
[Oy vey. Let the games begin.]
B&W: gibberish, gibberish, gibberish…
Chris: That sounds good.
Me: We don’t need it. Look at this list of things they won’t cover.
B&W: What type of work do you do?
Chris: Internet ministry.
B&W: Well, since you work for the internet, I can bring the price down to $1000.
Me: Great, but we still don’t need it.
Chris: But, honey, look at-
Me: See that $1000? We can either use that to buy this extended nonsensical warranty, or it can go towards an HDTV.
[Shot through the heart, and you’re too late. B&W knows he’s met his match.]
B&W: But yada yada yada and you need it because blah blah blah.
Me: So you’re telling me that we are buying a car that the manufacturers plan on breaking down?
B&W: Well, no. Of course not, but just in case.
Me: Uh-huh.
Chris: It might be a good idea.
Me: [To B&W] Please don’t take this personally. I know you are just trying to do your job and sell this.
B&W: I’m not trying to sell anything.
[Uh-huh. And I’ve never dreamt of singing on Broadway.]
Me: [To Chris] Sweetie [We use pet names a lot – never thought I’d be the pet name type of person, but I am. It’s even worse. Most of the time, I call him Baby.] Sweetie, even if we buy the warranty, they will find every reason to not cover something. It’s like any type of insurance. We’ll have to jump through hoops that have been set on fire on the backs of poodles. [I give myself extra points for the poodle reference.]
We walked out with the warranty, I’m ashamed to say. You can cancel it within the first 30 days and get a full refund (except for a “reshelving” fee). B&W, when I asked if one or both signatures are necessary for the refund, told me one, but, with fear in his eyes, said I shouldn’t cancel it without my husband’s knowledge.
So we get the paperwork the other day. Chris looks at it and says something to the affect: “This warranty doesn’t cover anything.” Really?

18 January 2007

The Boogie Man and Other Heebie-Jeebies

Pam told us all about her little spider fear, which inspired me to tell you guys of my snake phobia. Even now, just writing the word, I’m looking under my desk, just to make sure.
A couple of years ago, my roommate was showing me pictures of a trip. When we got to one picture, I could tell something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t tell what. A snake! One guy held a snake! I inadvertently threw the laundry bag I had in my hand right at my roommate and leapt over the couch to get as far away as possible in our tiny apartment. Poor Mandy couldn’t figure out what happened.
Evidence B: when Chris and I first started dating, Chris made dinner for me at his house. He had just gotten back from Africa, so this great photo book of Africa sat on his coffee table. I flipped through it while he marinated. Landscape, those small, flat trees, hippos, giraffes, lions, little kitten next to a snake. Chris ran out of the kitchen into the living room when he heard the scream and saw this girl, for whom he was making dinner, standing on his couch and his photo book flying across the room. To this day, the photo book is in hiding.
Why, you may ask, why this fear? I don’t really know, except to tell you one more story: when I was very, very young, I remember my parents taking me to the zoo, which happened quite often. This particular time, though, we went through the reptile house. Big, big mistake. I remember losing track of my parents. A snake in front of me (behind glass, of course, but that didn’t matter), I backed up. Slowly, slowly, one foot behind the other until I bumped into another glass cage. I heard the hiss and turned to see a cobra, fully spread, eye to eye with me, teeth bared.
Okay, enough of these stories. I’m not going to make it through the day, now.
Chris tells me when to shut my eyes and open them in movies and TV. When we walked through this oh-so-romantic garden in Austin, he redirected my path when he spied a Gardner snake. In fact, he said, there were several. How did I not see them? God had pity on me, I think, and blinded me.

16 January 2007

Straddling the Fence

Today is another one of those can of worms days. Sometimes I’m not sure which side of the fence I fall on (ha, I’m amusing myself with that pun), but I want to discuss the whole issue of building a fence between U.S. and Mexico. Yup, I just love getting myself in trouble. This issue has become more of a question in my mind while doing research for the book I’m working on.
I realize that the fence is a safety issue in that I’ve heard that terrorists are going to Mexico than accessing U.S. through that border. I also realize that this is affects issues with illegal immigration: economic, health care, education. But I keep coming across a couple of values that make it hard for me to say definitively we need to build that fence: hospitality and loving your neighbor as yourself. The ideal, of course, is that everyone who wishes to come to the States could go through the process and become citizens. However, the poor (who are more likely to want to come to pursue different opportunities), can’t get through the system. They would need a sponsor, and, honestly, how are they supposed to meet said sponsor?
Let me give you the model of the people of Indiantown, FL. When the Mayans were fleeing genocide in Guatemala, the people of Indiantown took them in, fed them, got them jobs, bound their wounds, taught them how to live in the U.S. (simple things like using Laundromats and showers, shopping in grocery stores, cooking on gas grills, disinfecting after working in fields that swim with pesticides), taught them English, set up schools where migrant kids intermingled with permanent residents. These Mayan Guatemalans worked for their citizenship and are now productive members of society. If there had been a fence, these Mayans would have been stuck. They first fled to Mexico, and though Mexico did not kick them out, the Guatemalan army raided the refuge camps in Mexico. The Mayans realized they needed to go further.

    Resource: Children of the Maya: A Guatemalan Indian Odyssey by Brent Ashabranner (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1986.

This is risky with all the homeland security issues, I know, but the Christian faith is risky. You might even get killed for it, Jesus said.
What about separation of church and state? you may ask. This smacks of Christianity. But our beliefs always undergird our vote. Why else would I continue to affirm the whole “do not murder” law the land has? Because I believe human life is to be valued and that murder is wrong. In this case, I believe the command to love your neighbor to be pertinent. I believe our value of hospitality should outweigh our value of security.
Yes, it presents difficulty. But how much more beautiful would it look to work with the Mexican and other govts to eliminate the risk (i.e. the risk of terrorists taking advantage of the situation)? How much more beautiful would it look to aid both other countries to eliminate the need for migration as well as helping the individuals become productive members of society?
Yes, some will take advantage of us. But there will always be those who take advantage of grace.

12 January 2007

Six Weird Things About Me

Jennifer tagged me. It’s been a while since I’ve done a meme, I think, and this one seemed especially apropos for me. Six weird things about me. Huh. Where to begin…
I name everything. Our fish have names. My car has a name (Annie). Our Christmas tree had a name. I didn’t think this weird, but Chris tells me it is. You know, my piano doesn’t have a name. I’ll have to remedy that…
Everything reminds me of a song. Even now, what I’m typing reminds me of a song. Several, actually. Which means that I have a constant soundtrack running in my head.
I break out into song and dance. Even when I worked in an office, I was known for random pirouettes and big Broadway finishes. During specific songs, all heads turned toward me because they could count on me picking up my imaginary microphone and bellowing. Secretly (or not so secretly), I’ve always wanted to be a Broadway star. In my head, maybe I am.
I have a special spot in my heart for all things pirates, gypsy, and mafia. Love em. (This was before Pirates of the Caribbean, by the way, but I do absolutely love that film and gave quite a bit of grace to the sequel just because I love pirates.) The Godfather is one of the best movies ever. I used to dream of marrying into mafia. I have bought shirts because they remind me of gypsies.
I’m not so good about following cooking instructions. I’m the queen of substitutes. Oops, forgot to pick that up at the grocery store. Hmmm, this will do nicely. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. (See this story, for example.)
Letters and numbers have genders in my mind, and personalities, come to think of it. For example, A is a girl, sweet and shy while D is a very overbearing girl. E is a shy guy (probably because he’s next to D). Ask me any letter or number, and I’ll tell you all about them. I told a friend this fact once. She suggested I never share this. Oh, well. Now you know.
I'm tagging Michelle, Erin, and Willowtree, and anyone else who wants to participate.

10 January 2007

choose an identity

Every time I leave a comment on blogger, I see those three words. Choose an identity. It reminds me of those Choose Your Own Adventure Books. I loved those.
But this is sad, really. And telling.
We have a nation of painted teeth and sucked out yucky fat. We put on new facades, playing dress-up like little girls in heels five sizes too big, living in a world where every day is Halloween. We spend more time sprucing up our cyber life than we do our real live character. Virtual reality. That’s an oxymoron.
I can buy and sell and borrow (and steal) without ever stepping foot out of my house. I can actually live my entire life without ever brushing elbows with someone.
And if you don’t like who you are, just create an alternate identity. Don’t worry about the hard work of transforming character. Just make someone up. You can live your entire life in cyber space. There’s even this civilization now (someone help with the name, please) where everything is online. Even your money.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love blogging. I love the friends I have that I would have never had without this phenomenon. We can choose to be real and authentic in this world. We can choose to make it only part of our world, to have a life outside of the computer, in that thing called nature or a symphony concert. Or we can choose to escape it all.
Choose an identity.
A nation of schizos.

08 January 2007

I've been workin' on the railroad

I've been workin' on the railroad,
All the live-long day.

Bernie's alarm clock buzzes at 6:15 and again at 6:22 and again at 6:29 before he pushes his toe out of the duvet. His leg follows his toe and so on until his feet his the carpet and his torso pulls upright. The scent of coffee maneuvers its way through the studio apartment from Bernie's automatic coffee maker.
That helps.
Can he just sleep in? Skip one day? Not the first day, he guesses.
The hot water beats on his chest. He peeks his head around the shower curtain, lifts his coffee cup to his lips, and takes a sip.
A little more awake.
Starched and pressed and out the door. Rain. Bernie ducks back inside. Let's try this again.
Starched and pressed and out the door with an umbrella held close over his head. Now Bernie knows why movies always make it rain on funerals and break-up scenes. And the first day of work, Bernie would like to add.
He begins his trek to the subway, the hem of his pants catching drops. A bus swoops by, spilling a puddle on Bernie's lap and belt.
Of course.
All the live-long day.
All the seats on the subway are filled, so Bernie grabs a strap between a construction worker and an overly perfumed business suit. Bernie's allergic to perfume. He tries to sneeze away from the gap in her shirt, a shirt that can't hold its top buttons, but hey, they're there. In his face.
A few more blocks after Bernie disembarks from the sardine can, and Bernie swivels through the rotating glass doors of a massive building. His new office building.
He's alone on the elevator. Thankfully. Just a few minutes to collect himself. The elevator stops at every floor. Every empty floor. Must be a glich in it's internal computer, or something, Bernie thinks.
The 56th floor. His new floor. Bernie checks his watch. 8:00 a.m. He worries that all the clocks in his life are skewed because not a soul stands on that floor. No phones ring. No coffee brews. Bernie shrugs his shoulders and finds his way to his cubicle. Thankfully he stopped by Friday to get situated, so he knows where his cubicle his.
The computer sings her familiar jingle when he presses the power button. He supposes he'll just juggle through the programs and set up his Outlook while he waits for the rest of the office to come in.
Where is everyone?
Bernie can't help but smile at the old commercial. They went to Arby's.
He double-clicks on the Outlook icon, and when it opens, he sees the date for the first time that day. Monday, September 4th.
Labor day.
Dinah, won't you blow your horn?

My new toy

So I've set up this Amazon account, which means that everytime someone accesses Amazon through my blogsite and buys anything (it doesn't have to be what I've recommended), I get credit. Not much, granted, but every little bit helps for this starving artist. And you never know, fellow writers, maybe that credit will go towards buying one of your books. (Nice, huh?) So, if you don't have an account yourself, and you aren't already doing this for a friend or family member or nemesis, would you mind taking the extra second to access Amazon through my blogsite? You can either click on any of the book recs or on this "Heather Favorites" graphic, which I will add to my sidebar (if I can figure it out - I may be many things, but a web designer, I am not). Thank you, my favorite friends of all (insert favorite brown-nosing here).
P.S. I just checked things out. If you want to view my favorites, by all means, click the graphic from this blog. If you are accessing Amazon through my blogsite out of the kindness of your heart, you'll need to go to one of the specific book recs seen on the sidebar in my book review section. Thanks.

04 January 2007

Called to Write, Right?

Danger, Will Robinson.
I’m going to step on toes, the toes of my friends, the toes of my enemies. Heck, I’m going to step on my own toes. But there are some things I’ve been thinking about, and I think they are worth thinking about. Today’s post will be the first in a series of thinkings, some of which will be writing related, some political, who knows where I’ll go.
Today’s: the idea of being called to write.
Let the games begin.
What exactly do we mean when we say that God has called us to write? A road to Damascus experience? Why do we think God has called us to write? And do we believe with equal force that God called the plumber to plumb? If not, do we believe that we are more important than the plumber? We writers tend to be the romantic sort. I don’t mean romantic as in Love Story, Affair to Remember romantic, but romantic as in French Revolution, Liszt, Romantic Period sort. Being called to write is a very romantic notion.
And although I believe that God is both sovereign and intimately involved in His creation, I wonder if we put too much blame on Him sometimes.
In college, I believed I was called to the music world. Majored in music. Had plans all set up for a master’s in music. I was going to Boston. Then, spring break of my senior year, I couldn’t ignore this “calling” any longer. God told me to go to seminary instead, I knew. So go to seminary I did. Four years of it. Greek and Hebrew and exegesis and theology and preaching. The works. And I knew within the first semester that God called me to missions. Overseas missions. Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in the way. Focused, I was. Studied cultural anthropology and missions philosophies. Honed in on Italy and studied their culture and customs. Applied for TEAM mission board. Communicated with a team in Italy. Then. And then. I met Chris my last semester of seminary. He was not headed to permanent overseas missions. I cried. A lot. I almost broke up with him many times. He almost broke up with me many times. All over the missions thing.
But we ended up together. Happily married. Very happily married. Sigh of contentment. God called me to Chris. And then God called me to writing.
You see what I’m getting at? Where am I getting this notion of calling? Or am I bathing my own desires in holy water?
After I graduated from seminary, I worked as a medical receptionist for a time. Make no mistake. I never felt called to that! My friends in the office are very good at what they do. Organized. Efficient. Great with the patients, even when the patients leave spittle on the glass window from their rants and raves. And they like the job. They like the people, the environment, doing something they are good at. Nobody ever said they were called to be a medical receptionist. But do it they do, and very well.
I’m not a Deist. I don’t believe God just wound some cosmic clock and then left it all up to us. But where did we get this calling language?
People in other cultures, and by other cultures, I mean specifically the Two-Thirds World, are too busy trying to survive to be called to something specific. Don’t get me wrong. Great writers and artists and artisans emerge from the Two-Thirds World, but do they write because they are called or because they have something to say and the talent to say it?
I think this idea of calling is a bit on the Western culture side, heavy with North American ideals. What Color Is Your Parachute? and all that jazz.
But here’s also what I think: God gives us talents and he gives us desires and if we choose to pursue them in His will, He uses them in His kingdom work. He uses everything. In my life, he’s using my music. He’s using all that theological and cultural anthropology training. He’s using my love of writing and reading, two loves I’ve had since I can remember. Do I have to write? Yes and no. I love it. I always have and always will write. It’s hard. It digs. It forces me to think about God and His creation and His kingdom in different ways. But I don’t have to in the sense of publication. I choose to pursue that. I’ve prayed about it. And God will do with that what He will. I know that it depends on Him.
Here’s also what I think: we are called. Called to love, to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, to feed the poor, to follow Christ. I can find that in the Bible. But I talk more about my calling to write, to specifics, than I do my calling to incarnate Christ.

02 January 2007

Review - The Thirteenth Tale

By Diane Setterfield.
A slow story start, but because of the language of the book, I loved it from the first paragraph. I loved the way the words turned in my ear’s mind. The story itself takes interesting twists like a Sondheim musical. I have a feeling that I “predicted” the ending exactly where the author intended me to predict it. This book throws back to the days of Dickens and the Brönte sisters (to whom she plays homage throughout the book) in both style, language, and story with its dark mansion and secrets and plain-girl heroine. I loved the characters.
My one bane: the author tied up every loose end a bit too tightly in the end. In my opinion, the story would have fared better without the last chapter. Let my imagination have something with which to play.
This book has done well in the market, and I think rightfully so. I tried waiting for the hold line at the library, but waiting in line with the other kids to see Santa was not for me. I needed a GPS short cut. I went through Amazon. It was worth it.