Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Is Church Funny?

Yesterday I went to church with my mom to hear Don Piper speak. He is the fellow who wrote "90 Minutes in Heaven." The short version of his story: killed when an 18 wheeler hit him head on in excess of 60 mph. Declared dead by four different sets of EMTs. Dead. Definitely dead. 90 minutes and lots of prayer later, he was singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and somebody was telling the police officer, "Hey, the dead guy in the red car is singing."

I'm not going to weigh in on the tale or the religious implications. I haven't reviewed x-rays or medical charts or verified eye witness accounts and don't feel particularly driven to do any of these things. Draw your own conclusions. Aside from the amazing personal account I left church with one other burning question.

Why is church funny?

Am I just by nature sacreligious? I don't think God is funny, although I'm pretty sure He has a sense of humor. But honestly, I cannot get through an entire church service of any type without stifling laughter at the most inappropriate times. Yesterday, for example, I almost lost it when the internalized narrator noted in a dry voice that the soloist bore a disconcerting resemblance to BTK. Perverse, I know.

If you could get inside my head at a funeral you might be diagnosed with grief induced hysteria. My own wedding witnessed shudders of silent laughter that began with me and spread to include my sister and the very dignified, dedicated pastor performing the ceremony. (The flower girl rolled backwards down the stairs with a series of thuds that sounded for all the world like a bowling ball. In my defense it was pretty funny.)

I think it is all the dignity at church that makes me laugh. People are just not dignified. I sit there in the pew and contemplate the nature of God, the failings of humanity, the remarkable notion of redemption, and wonder how many other people there are hungover or thinking about lunch. Stomachs growl, the guy next to me in the pew has killer garlic breath and sings with too much gusto, kids who are too old for the children's service squirm, we all sweat or shiver because one octogenarian power-hungry harpy of a church secretary controls the thermostat. No single place in the world brings to focus the foibles of humanity like church.

I have many friends who no longer attend church (or synagogue or whatever). They cite a host of reasons for their lapse but chief among them is that church is full of hypocrites. Naturally church is full of hypocrites. How can you have hypocrisy without standards that you value and fail? It's really the whole point of church, if you think about it. A place for all us hypocrites to get together and try (or pretend) to be better than we are.

It's the dichotomy, I suppose. The incongruous juxtaposition of the beauty of spirit and selflessness with the inescapable reality of corporeal form. That being said I really should go to church more. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh. And if the sermon takes too long I usually leave with a really good idea for a book.

Yesterday's service taught me one very important thing about myself. I do NOT want to get run over by an 18 wheeler in order to achieve publishing success. God does speak to us, even if we laugh too much during service.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Day Off

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a public service message. To be more accurate, a good old fashioned grumble session.

There is a large disparity between my husband's definition of "a day off" and mine. Before I continue, let it be known that in reality I have no cause for complaint. None. I married a wonderful man who is a great dad. He works hard, comes home and plays with the kids, does more laundry than I do, mows the lawn, takes out the garbage, and very seldom leaves the toilet seat in the upright position. He's a jewel.

That being said, I need a day off. A weekend would be better. For every gift giving occasion over the last two years this question has been posited:

"What would you like for your birthday/anniversary/Mother's Day/whatever?"

The answer has been the same each and every time.

"I would like for you to take the kids and go away."

I'm such a romantic. But seriously, I would like a whole weekend to not hear a whine, wipe up juice, change a diaper, or blow bubbles in the front yard. And read and write with NO GUILT.

The thing is, that boy I married often takes one or the other of los bambinos somewhere for an extended period of time on Saturday afternoons which cuts my responsibility load considerably. Occasionally, however, I am promised a day off. Last weekend he made noises about actually taking the kids to see his mother this weekend. I had palpitations.

Somehow or another, that plan faded or fizzled or maybe he was just speculating out loud. I'm not really sure. It was quite a tease, though. Then he floated the idea that maybe he would take the older (my trouble maker) with him on Friday night and Saturday to do some work on the house we are selling. That one never came to fruition either. Today he generously (and bravely) started out with a plan to manage the kids all day and let me put my feet up.

I know that in theory it's the thought that counts. I do. And he was thinking of me. BUT. If everyone is here, it's not a day off. I can hear them when they have tantrums. I feel guilty that I'm not pitching in. (Not quite guilty enough to ascend from our cavelike basement.) And when things get really hairy I have to pitch in because frankly the kids are a little more scared of me. So. In the interest of well meaning spouses everywhere who promise their significant other the day off I am posting the conditions that must be met in order for it to qualify:

1. You must actually go away.

2. If you say you will go away by 9 am, you must comply. No claims of a 9 am departure and then dilly-dallying around until 1. At that point it's naptime for at least one of the bambinos who must then stay home and that is NOT a day off. Every second that dear hubby and kids are still around is on MY time. I get edgier than a two dollar hooker looking for a crack fix while I watch the clock and wonder when everybody is really going to clear out and the house will be quiet.

3. Do not come home early unless it is a bona fide emergency. In our case, a complete melt down of the five year old qualifies. I might want a day off but I can be reasonable and handling him in a public setting when he is in full frontal disintegration mode is just too much to ask. Just please call and let me know as soon as you do that you'll be home early. Otherwise, if I think I have until 6 pm to play with my belly button I really need until 6 pm. If I don't get it I feel ripped off. Shortchanged. Hostile.

4. It is better if the day off is not a surprise. Half the fun of the elusive day off is knowing it's coming and looking forward to it. It's better than jewelry and highly likely to gain you favors of a carnal nature.

That's it. Pretty simple, really. If I ever get a real day off I will let you know. But I won't blog about what I did that day because I guarantee you that to anyone besides me it will be dreadfully, blissfully boring.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ONE LAST DRINK: Clarity of Night Flash Fiction Entry


I greatly desired the man’s death, even imagined it; he could not be suffered to live. You, who so well know me, know it was not covetousness, as my wife ventured to suggest- that she should utter such against her own husband! Her slander against me proved the poison in the man’s deranged poem that haunted and taunted, incessant, unceasing.

I had his acquaintance years prior but dreamed not of meeting again. Such simplicity, such justice in the path set before me as my eyes knew him in the street. He wore the greyness that came on him in his younger days, marking the madness consuming his soul. Madness he inflicted upon us all with his writings. Nevermore. You must understand my course predetermined. What just man, sane man, could deny it? Not you, certainly.

He had a weakness, this supposed genius of our age.

"Mr. Poe! Mr. Poe! How luckily met!" He could not guess my revulsion at touching the vessel of such insanity as dwelt within him.


"The very same! Join me. You must not walk alone on Election Day in Baltimore. Here we are at Gunner’s Hall. Come, have a drink. I’ll see you safely home."

"I should not. I am-I should not."

"You cannot deny me the pleasure of raising a glass together in celebration of your accomplishments. It is many years passed. Come, one drink."

"Ahh. One last drink." So you see, it truly was he, not I, that chose his manner of death.


I want something new to write. It's more fun than editing. Vastly. I still love the book...adore it, want to make out with it and have its baby, but I miss seeing a whole scene of something new in my head and being completely checked out of reality until I can write it down.

Surfing blogs of writerly and industry types I have become a huge Chirs Eldin fan. Those of you who are just supportive friends of mine might not have heard of her but I think you will. I swear she's channeling for Judy Blume. Think "Superfudge" for the 21st Century. Anyway, she plugged a writing contest on ANOTHER blog, Clarity of Night, that I'm all geeked up about. Cliff notes version of the rules follow:

1. Write no more than 250 words
2. Inspired by posted photo.

The photo (Seriously, go look it up if you want to see it but I am too lazy to post here) is a glass of something that looks like claret and a hint of smoke wafting around the base.

I wasn't going to enter but I got struck by lightening (figuratively of course) over the weekend with a really cool concept and decided to flesh it out. It turned out pretty well and holy crap, it was so fun! And completely different in voice and concept from what I've been writing. The entries in previous contests have been crazy good so I am not holding my breath to place against that kind of competition but I don't think that next year I'll look back on my entry and cringe. I'll post here tomorrow after I submit it.

I have another fun little germ of an idea rolling around waiting to ripen, as well. I'd better edit faster before it takes on corporeal form and dominates my life to the exclusion of all else...

I hope writing continues to be this fun after I start sending queries.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Different, Like the Rest of Us

Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm "different." The phrase "You are NOT right!" has been directed at me with remarkable frequency. It's a little strange, really, since on the surface I look like a stereotype. Thirtysomething, married, one boy, one girl, two dogs. We worry about money, elections, where our kids will go to school, our parents getting older. We're just like everybody else. And when people tell me "You're not right" it's usually because I have elucidated a universal truth that no one else wants to 'fess up. My biggest dirty little secret? Every single day I count the minutes until the kids' bedtime so I am done being a mom that day. Except it isn't really a secret since I'll tell anyone. Even a social worker.

The thing is the stuff I will admit to is usually stuff everybody else feels, at least some of the time. You know how I know this? Bestsellers. Chick lit is rife with stereotypes like me. The moms are overwhelmed, trying to balance work and kids, sometimes disappointed with where they are as opposed to where they thought they would be at their current age. If nobody else felt this way no one would buy these books. The characters would be impossible to relate to. In real life I am surrounded by the grown up version of Pollyanna. Everyone I know talks about how they are so grateful for their wonderful kids and they say prayers of gratitude all day every day for their perfect, blessed life.

I don't believe them. I KNOW that they all get tired of wiping peanut butter off the TV and crayola off the walls. I KNOW that when no one is looking sometimes they yell at their kids. For no good reason other than that they are tired and the kids are being kids. I KNOW they sometimes let the kids watch too many cartoons just so they can get something done. Or maybe just so they can take a nap. Sometimes, after I admit these things to a shocked group of classroom mothers, a few of them admit it too.

I don't typically gravitate to chick lit because I like my characters to be more exceptional than I am. Better. More. Maybe they overcome bigger problems than I face (or ever hope to) or have some incredible talent that I wish I had. But it's nice to know they pee in the shower despite their amazing, superhuman gifts. Still, part of escaping my life involves reading about things I don't get to actually do.

Gritty realism is not my forte as a person-who-writes-things-but-does-not-refer-to-herself-as-a-writer. My life is full of it. I can't go three days running from bad guys in the woods and still be interested in making out with my boyfriend because frankly, I would stink. A lot. In a book the delightful man who captures the heroine's heart would be entranced by her musky scent. Since I deal with BO and dandruff all the time anyway I don't really want to write about it. Or read about it.

So what it boils down to is I like to read and write things that would never happen to me. Or anyone else. But I still want to know that the character is scared of something, proud of herself, or embarrassed sometimes. Different, but the same as the rest of us.

(Just for the record, though, I really am different. I'm downright odd. It's okay...I'm good with it.)


How's this for gritty realism? Within 30 minutes of posting the five year old stops up a toilet, overflows it, and steps into the playroom announcing he did wash his hands with soap AND wiped his heinie. (In five-year-old vernacular this is code for he did neither of these things.) While he is squirming back into his underwear I notice a poop stain on the carpet. A full seven or eight feet from the bathroom. It is the only one and defies explanation. No poop on hands or feet (that I can see) and no other stain indicating a trail of any kind. Dogs are outside. No idea how mystery stain manifested. Five year old to the bathtub and out comes the carpet cleaner and scrubber. You can't tell me all those other moms would be singing psalms and hymns of grateful praise right now.