Month: October 2015

Picture Taking: On Being Selfie-ish

If I turn my head to the left and tilt my chin down– like I’ve just caught sight of a Midwestern field mouse who finds me as interesting as I find myself in this spotlight– my body leans lightly on the door frame in my mud-brown-red dress, then click.  From behind, a perfect A-line silhouette.  From in front, a cross-ankled JCPenny ad, complete with old wooden steps balanced by three orange pumpkins.  And me, a model no one but an imaginary field mouse is here to witness.

I am in picturesque Nebraska: corn fields fading, twilight leaning, train whistle wailing Nebraska and its nighttime splendor.  And all I want is for someone to photograph my perfect moment as my perfect self as I stand at the top of a new stranger-to-be-friend’s back porch with a maglite spotlight glaring onto my face.  And then, I realize I am the most selfie-ish creature alive.


As previous blogs and friends and therapists will attest, while not as far as a Truman Show syndrome, I have a small growth in my outer consciousness that insists that at every moment, I am being watched and processed and delighted in.  For a minute, it was God.  Then Big Brother.  Then the abundance of iPhones.  Then, the Universe.  Now, it’s something like the Big Holy iPhone Brother of the Sky.  Regardless, it is these moments when I am so completely enthralled with how the environment is treating my beauty, that I miss the beauty of my environment.  Crickets.  Stars.  Rugged steps.  Falling leaves.  Click.  And still, only me.


Social media in its wicked and unruly ways reminded me last Friday that five years previous, a hundred witnesses brought a camera to a party to actually document my every subtle move.  White dress.  Brown suits.  Butternut squash ravioli.  Dancing.  Click.  I don’t hate looking at my wedding photos because I’m not married, anymore.  I don’t hate them because they feel gaudy or outdated.  I hate them because my face is not one of someone who is happy.  My face is one of someone who knows she is being photographed for happiness.  Look at the way my chin never doubles and my arms never press flatly and fully to my sides.  Look at how my head tilts just so and my ruffled hoedown petticoat sways correspondingly.  Look at how naturally unnatural I am as I pass from single to married in one perfect, without-a-hitch (except with one unfortunate hitch) day, fully documented, fully celebrated, fully unfeeling.  My perfect moment as my perfect self.  Click.


Maybe this began my obsession with capturing myself– a real moment in back woods Nebraska, maybe.  Or in the middle of the street in the Bricktown of OKC.  Or an abandoned motel off of Route 66 in Midway, Texas.  Or a bathroom in southern California.  I want something genuine from myself.  What did I do before I found these perfect situations for my perfect self to be captured?


This is how it went: too elusive for film.  I let the Universe vibrate and let the feeling of all the feelings rumble my gut and fall out my eyes.  I was still and seeing.  I was captured not for the future, but by the present.  The goddamn Snow White of imaginary field mice, but then with that poison apple lingering under my trigger finger.  Click.

Jesus Again: On Paying $60

The details are as important as they are unimportant– it’s a familiar story, aligned with human nature and mistrust and volatility making way for more volatility.  It’s the story favored my fables and parables and allegories.  And it begins when Sacha owes Yoga Lady money.


We were gathered in the Carter’s new living room, full on build-your-own spaghetti squash bowls with acorn squash and apples baking for dessert.  It was the last day of the big rain, a holding pattern the most recent hurricane kept in our corner of North Carolina, leaving everything we owned damp.  We meandered through usual topics of missing cigarettes and interpreting dreams, when another story unraveled from small town past.  Sacha owed Yoga Lady money.

Sacha told Yoga Lady, “I owe you money.”

Yoga Lady says, “Please, don’t worry about it.”

Sacha says, “I will pay you.”

Yoga Lady says, “Please, stop bothering me with this, don’t worry about it.”

Sacha says, “I will pay you, anyway.  I will pay you $60.”

These are the interactions of 3 months time.  Sacha agrees that three months is a long time.  I assert that in living and working in Black Mountain, an area comprised half of tourists, three months is a difficult time to conjure $60.  Right out of college, this was my home, sharing rent with three to five other girls in a two bedroom house, working as many jobs as offered.  When winter came, we had to let the oil run out, and dangerously made due with a lit, open oven to keep our teeth from chattering.  We each began separately collecting small items– toilet paper, garbage bags, pieces of bread– from our work place.  We weren’t lying to ourselves: we called it stealing.  We also called it surviving.  It was the recession, and our student loans hit us all faster than we could get jobs to pay them, and thus began the desperate and typical beginning of our generation.  Five dollars toward a pack of cigarettes went further than five dollars of food, and curbed the appetite longer.  We were poor, but we weren’t alone.


The inevitable conflict of the fable occurred when Yoga Lady lost her zen unexpectedly and reamed out Sacha in her place of work.  Then again in the street.  Then again in the grocery store.  All snake eyes and venomous words.  All no-going-backs and tables-have-turned.  All Sacha hurt and wondering what happened between the words, It’s okay and Deadbeat.

The next morning, the marvel of  a golden globe fell across the slowly changing October leaves around the grocery store parking lot we parked our camper in after dinner at the Carter’s.  I squinted at the long gone light and grabbed my yoga mat.  I would downward dog my way out of the Great Sadness that had fallen over the past week.  That’s when I started thinking of the crucifixion.  Classic.


It goes like this: what if the story is more simple than believing?  What if this death we have built thousands of years of argument over isn’t about who gets in and who doesn’t, but a hyperbolic example of not being angry, anymore.  What if Jesus wasn’t coming here to do us a favor by forgiving our sins, but doing us a different kind of favor– the favor of a good example.  Even if none of this business of death and sin is true, even if Hell and Heaven do or don’t exist, the fact still stands that within this Christian narrative, Jesus died so that angry people wouldn’t be angry, anymore.  Jesus paid this debt, real or imaginary, so that we could quit yammering on about holiness and owing.  Less, Now you are free to live eternally and more like Listen, idiots, if I can die for your imaginary standards, you can manage to forgive a few dollars between humans.  


But here is the ending of a fable: the choice.  The moral.  This is how I know this story is real life and not written in a book.  If I were to find Yoga Lady and pay her those $60, would it be enough to stop her being angry?  If I paid her Sacha’s debt double, could Yoga Lady be able to see Sacha without snarling?  This is how I know that I am not the valiant hero in even my own life story: I’m not willing to part with my $60 to find out.  And it seems, as stories of paying up go, for this 7 year debt, if Yoga Lady is not participating in the year of Jubilee, she may be requiring blood.

Pink Elephants: On Idol Worship

“So what you’re saying is, you want to cast yourself an idol and worship it,” he said.

That’s my smart, funny, Pastor-Friend-Bryan who was sitting across from me, as I laid out to him two winters ago what it could mean for me to grapple again with the mystery of a god or a universe or a Great Pumpkin.  I was in the habit of using Bryan’s full name, Pastor-Friend-Bryan, to my other not-pastor-friends and my mother so as to feel safe speaking about general heretical epiphanies as they trailed across my otherwise desolate spiritual wasteland.  It assuaged my guilt, maybe to my now just Friend Bryan’s chagrin.


This day, I was confessing a simple plan I had to build a doll or a teddy bear and dress it up and set it in the corner of my room and talk to it.  I insisted it would help me practice praying, coax me back into the habit of speaking into the abyss, except with a little doll shaped antennae with a cute face to funnel these prayers to where they needed to go.  The strenuous, prostrate agony of prayer left me empty and nauseous, even when it was a daily occurrence in high school.

“So what you’re saying is…”

And I was.  And I am.  When I was approached in college by the Greek Orthodox church to convert, I was either too above or too below the acceptance of their ritual of kissing figurines to commence worship.  I knew better.  I was smarter than wooden faces.  I was stronger than the crutch of carved saints.

But maybe not too smart or strong for fluffy stuffed cats and plastic pink elephants.


In hindsight, the desire for a rocking-chair-or-pocket-sized god is not just sprinkled in my history, but flooded.  The trouble is, I am in a habit of giving my god away.  The plastic lizards of my childhood, carried along and talked to through school and solitary playing, stashed in my right hand during Sunday School and squished between the Old and New Testament in grown-up church, all given away to the children I babysat as I got too old to carry miniature iguanas and life-sized geckos everywhere.  Lizards, hear my prayer.  My adolescent god was a smiling blue doll named Brandon, equipped with a giggle box that activated when I squeezed it.  He held the prayers of my scared self as I huddled for a few weeks in the psych ward as the self-inflicted cuts on my arms healed, and then was given away to Goodwill.  Brandon, hear my prayer.

When the early cracks of marital severance emerged, while cleaning my bosses’ house, a small, pink, palm-sized plastic elephant emerged from the bottom of a donation pile.  The little piece found its way onto my desk, then my purse, then came close as Nashville winter swept it right into my winter jacket.  The following winter, when shove came to divorce papers, I found the little elephant ready and waiting in my jacket pocket.  Pink Elephant, hear my prayer.  Then, on a brisk December day, I handed the little god vessel to another in an act of friendship and in a feat of personal strength.  Even my dog, who I suspected as god incarnate and who has listened to an abundance of prayers, is now shared with my Someone.  Butter, hear my prayer.  I can’t seem to hold on to idols.


Maybe it’s my embarrassment– who wants a god who knew me from the beginning?  Who wants a god who is holding my dark things?  Who needs a constant reminder of my failures?  Great Pumpkin, hear my prayer.

These days, I might hold g(G)od to the sunsets and the trees, to the perfect dinner and to a fine glass a whiskey– same places I hold myself.  I haven’t figured out anything more or new on the subject, I haven’t designated a new vessel.  I’m still trying to figure out what sort of g(G?)od prefers to occupy what spaces.  It wouldn’t matter if I did find the perfect idol, I would likely give it away, anyway.  I’m a regular evangelist, a sharer of the good news.  Or at least of some news.

Anybody, hear my prayer.