Sunday, June 27, 2004

Wickey wickey wahoo

Blah. I feel kind of...blah lately. Of course, that doesn't deviate much from how I've felt for the last year and a half or so. My experience at St. Al's Church and Country Club did a real number on me, moreso than any other negative work experiences I've ever had. Maybe because the Church isn't supposed to be just like any other business. Maybe because things like how much money a person has shouldn't matter there. Maybe because I just don't see how not being in a sorority makes a difference to how I do my job as a youth minister.

Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I honestly believe that this whole scenario has been brewing for a while. The person they hired in my stead is the son of dentist and an heiress, the grandson of founding parishioners, and a founding member of the currrent incarnation of their youth group. He started e-mailing me in the fall making all these suggestions about our youth ministry, and now that I look back on it, there were certain implications that he was going to be more involved than a "regular" volunteer come this fall (of course, at St Al's CCC, "regular" volunteers pretty much run the show anyhow, at least if they have enough money). I should have suspected something when I asked the DPM for advice about how to handle something she said and she basically ignored me.

I just hate the hypocritical way all of this has gone down. If they wanted to hire this kid (he's 11 years younger than me - I can call him a kid) after they graduated, they could have at least had the decency to just say so. They didn't have to humiliate me by making me basically impotent in my job. I would have less hard feelings if they just told me the truth.

But instead, I get 30 minutes to clean out my office and update whoever needed to be updated about my projects, I get told that I can't be on campus without an escort, even to attend mass, and I still get sent multiple appeals for stewardship of offering and building fund. It just plain sucks.

So you may be wondering why I call it St. Al's Church and Country Club. There are too many parallels to list. First, the parish is lily-white, second, they only want you if you are wealthy, third, they all but kick you out if you don't pay your dues (also known as offertory).

You know, I was getting really tired of your place in society being more important than who you are and what your gifts are anyhow. I did have a letter of resignation written. But that 's not the point. The point is that this experience has just given me one more reason to resent the Catholic Church.

I mentioned before that I'm in the midst of a spiritual crisis right not. The crux (Monn! I used crux!) of that crisis is whether or not I can remain a Catholic Christian. I honestly don't know if I can. I've given the Church a lot of second chances over the years. I stayed even though I had a priest in elementary school who lived to humiliate me and make me cry. I stayed even though I was at best ignored and at worst made to feel unwelcomed in high school. I stayed even though my parish didn't have the decency to make sure my dad received Eucharist on the weeks I couldn't get home to take him to Mass. I stayed when no one from my parish even came to the funeral home when my dad died. I stayed when I felt abandoned when my mom died. How many second chances am I supposed to give them? And I haven't even mentioned the global issues.

But you know, I think that the my issues may go deeper than that. I was thinking last night - scary, I know. Anyhow, I was thinking about the way we always use the metaphor of a journey to talk about spirituality. The winding path, and obstacles, and all that stuff. Well, more and more, it seems to me like it's more of a scavenger hunt. Everything you need is out there, but you have to search for it. You may get what you need and you may not. And what is God's role in all this? Well, I'm not sure. Maybe he's a benevolent clue giver, maybe he's the mastermind behind the game, laughing as we stumble along. Maybe he is the good samaritain helping along the way. Maybe it's something else. Sometimes, I just don't know.

Well, my monitor is having it's nightly fit. I guess that's my cue to go. I promise I won't be this depressing all the time. Probably. Maybe. OK, it all depends.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Happy Might-Have-Been

Well, here is the first piece of actual writing I'm posting. I'm sure it's awful, but cest la vie and all that jazz. The title above isn't really the title of the story, but I'm horrible at titles, so there you go. Well, here goes nothing.

Oh, I have to give credit to this website, where I got the idea. I can't remember exactly what elements I drew (they are saved on my other computer and I'm too lazy to hook it up), but I know my main character was a writer, and it involved a bank in some way. It's kind of a cool site if you are just looking for for a writing exercise to do.

“I’m afraid, Ms. Parker, that there is nothing we can do,” the loan officer said. “Once foreclosure proceedings have started, they cannot be stopped. It’s too late.”

“But can’t I take out a second mortgage or something?” Edna Parker pleaded. “I have collateral. I mean, something other than the house.”

The banker’s eyebrow rose fractionally on his otherwise impassive face. “Oh? What might that be?”

Edna reached into a tattered tote bag she carried everywhere she went and pulled out a sheaf of paper. “This,” she said as she proudly placed them on the desk.

The minute interest the loan officer showed vanished instantly. “And what, precisely, is this?”

“The novel I’ve written. It’s going to be published soon.”

“Really? And which publisher will have the immense honor of getting your words in the hands of the reading public?”

Edna’s mask of confidence slipped somewhat in the face of his sarcasm. “Well, I..I don’t actually have a publisher yet. But it’s good. I know it is. It’s just a matter of finding an editor willing to take a chance on me.”

The bank officer sat back in his chair and stared at Edna for a moment before saying, “Ms. Parker, a bank is a money-making institution. When making loan decisions, we evaluate such things as annual income, credit scores, and the like. Surely you are not naïve enough to believe that we would speculate on potential works of…genius.”

Edna clutched the arms of her chair. She was uncertain if she was holding back an angry outburst or desperate tears, but she was certain that if she let go of that chair she would shatter. “Isn’t there anything at all I can do? It was my grandmother’s house, and, well…it’s all I have.”

“Ms. Parker, your credit report shows a history of late payments, your debt load exceeds your income, and frankly, according to our lending criteria, you are a poor risk. I am sorry.” There was no trace of sympathy in his demeanor.

She took a moment to school her features to an impassivity born of years of hiding from herself. She looked at him and said, “Well, thank you for your time.” She stood and turned to exit the office. Before she actually left, though, she turned back and said, “Mr. Johansen? I hope you have a kind word for me in two weeks when you see me living under the Fort Pitt Bridge.” She spun quickly and left, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

Edna had taken the day off work, and had nothing else to do – and no money to do it with. So she slogged slowly to her bus stop. She was surrounded by hoards of office workers on their lunch breaks, but she was invisible to them. No one could see her collapsing, wrapped up as they were in their quest for greasy food, the shoe sale at Kaufmann’s or a quick work out at the Y. Edna just assumed her usual place in the world – part of the scenery.

When Edna reached home after a twenty-minute bus ride and a mile and a half walk, she dropped her bag and kicked off her shoes violently, allowing them to hit the opposite wall. “What the hell?” she yelled. “It’s not like it’s my wall anymore!” She stood in the center of the living room for a moment, wanting nothing more than to break something. Her eyes settled on a hideous, green glass vase that was a birthday gift from an aunt with an aversion to good taste. She picked it up and slammed it forcefully to the floor but the vase didn’t break. She tried several more times before finally hurling it at the same wall her shoes impacted. The vase still didn’t shatter, however a fair sized chunk of plaster broke loose from the wall, leaving a hole and a long crack in its place.

Edna began laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Her laughter had a hysterical quality, and it soon degenerated into hopeless sobs. She dropped to the floor, shaking with the force of her despair.

After a while, the tears stopped coming, and eventually even the sniffling and dry sobs stopped. Edna stood on rubbery legs, her whole body weakened by her outburst. She walked to the corner of the room and collapsed in an old rocking chair, the same one she was rocked to sleep in as an infant. She reached behind her and wrapped a soft, slightly tattered shawl around her shoulders. Even through many washings, the shawl retained the scent that would always be her grandmother: a combination of Avon Wishing perfume and sweet tea. She could usually find comfort in imagining that she was wrapped in her grandmother’s embrace rather than just a memory, but she couldn’t even conjure that fantasy.

Despite her unease, Edna was emotionally and physically drained and allowed herself to drift off to sleep. When she woke a short time later, she allowed herself to believe for one moment that everything bad that happened in her life to that point had been a dream. For one moment, she had a successful career, a perfect family, an ideal life. Then reality intruded, and she sunk under the weight of it.

Edna pushed herself out of the rocker, keeping the shawl draped across her shoulders. She went upstairs and entered the room that had been hers since she was five years old. It was tiny – there was barely room for a twin bed, a small dresser and a night table – but it was hers. She sat on the end of the bed and picked up a cardboard jewelry/music box from the dresser. One of the only memories she had of her father that didn’t involve his illness and death centered around this box and its smaller companion. It was Mother’s Day and, coincidentally, Edna’s fourth birthday. That morning, her father had presented both her and her mother with a box. Edna’s, the smaller of the two, was tan, had a picture of a little girl picking flowers on the top, and played, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” when wound up. Inside was a cheap, gold tone bracelet with a huge paste emerald in the center. It was the kind of cheap jewelry given to children because their parents knew they would lose it. But Edna never did. In fact, it was still nestled in that same jewelry box on her dresser.

The larger box, the one Edna now held, was white and had a picture of a little boy and a little girl riding a bicycle-built-for-two on the top. When wound, it played “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago, her mother’s favorite movie. When her mother first received the box that Mother’s Day, it contained a small silver cross on a delicate silver chain. She wore it until the day she was buried, when it was retrieved from her body and placed back in the jewelry box. Edna never could bring herself to wear it.

She wound the music box up before she opened it. She didn’t touch any of the jewelry it contained, but rather took out a small stack of letters written on everything from fancy stationery to the backs of receipts. She carefully unfolded the top one, written on a page from a steno pad, and read.

My Dearest Hank,

I arrived at 3349 Delaware Ave. around 6:00 p.m. As I entered this lovely domain, there was a startling stillness, and not anyone to greet me at the door. I proceeded into the kitchen and started in on the dishes. Finished them at 6:10 and proceeded to make my supper. I heated the stew on the stove (I think, or was it the refrigerator? I don’t remember.) and sat down to eat a nice, quiet meal. It was very, very good, but a very important person was missing.

I missed you so very, very much: your sweet, loving smile, your sparkling eyes and your very gracious company. Till we meet tonight, will think of you every moment and long for that time.

This is your ever loving fiancée


P.S Ethel called and said she will probably call later.

So simple, and so beautiful. Everything about that letter, from the silly nickname in the greeting (her mother’s name was Henrietta, and she hated it), to the casual post script at the end spoke of something more than a casual relationship, more even than a close friendship. Those simple sentiments spoke of love, and happiness, and hope for the future. That note, and the others like it, formed the basis for the novel Edna treasured like a child. She titled it Tender Yesterdays, but in her own mind she called it The Happy Might-Have-Been. It represented what she imagined her life would have been had her father not died when she was five, had her mother not spiraled into depression and…

Edna forced herself to stop that line of thought. She replaced the stack of letters in the jewelry box and closed it, cutting off the pinging tune. The headache that had been building since before she went to the bank was now pounding a staccato beat behind her eyes, but it seemed too much of an effort to do anything about it, so she laid back on her bed and stared at the ceiling as if the acoustic tiles held the secrets to the universe for those willing to discern the pattern. Unfortunately, the stubborn tiles were unwilling to yield their answers to Edna on that day, and she was no closer to finding answers to her problems.

Edna’s headache became increasingly worse, and she was forced to leave her contemplations to go in search of relief. In the bathroom, she opened the medicine cabinet and removed the almost full bottle of pain relievers. Normally, she shook out two or three tablets and replaced the bottle, but on impulse she dumped the entire bottle on the counter. She contemplated the brown pills piled on the Formica. “It would be so easy,” she said out loud. She envisioned herself just swallowing all 75 or so pills, finding an end to her torment, maybe even finding peace.

The enticement of having her problems just fade away was strong, and she picked up a handful of the pills. She was about to fill a cup with water when her voice of reason took over. “She took the easy way out. Did it help?” Edna squeezed her eyes shut against both her physical and emotional pain. She relaxed her hand and the pills fell, scattering across the floor. The last of her energy spent, she sat down on the edge of the tub and simply stared at the pills remaining on the counter.

This isn't the end of this story, but some of you who know me are probably getting worried long about now. If you want to read my feelings about what I've written, click the comments link. But be warned - I'll probably be more open than I am in real life, so be prepared.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Two days in a row - Go Me!

So I was driving on my usual "I need to get out of the house before I go crazy route" tonight, doing a little metacognition. I was thinking about my writing and I realized that I write about death a lot. Does that make me horribly morbid? I don't think so.

One of the things they (ah the ubiquitous "they") teach in any beginning creative writing class is to write what you know. Don't set your story in Mozambique if you have never been there (unless you do some amazing research). Well, I have known a lot of death in my life, both literally and figuratively speaking. So I write about it a lot, literally and figuratively.

But to take it even a step further, from the Christian point of view, death is not the end of the story. Where there is death, there is also resurrection, new life, new beginning. And even though I sometimes don't want that kind of positive resolution to my stories (because one of the other things they teach is that tension and...unsettledness is important in good writing), it always seems to come out that way. I have just come to resign myself to the fact that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how depressed I am, no matter how much I want to write angsty, depressing, "artistic" stuff, at heart I'm just an incurable optimist. So much for being a dark, brooding artist, suffering for my craft.

Oh, tomorrow I'm going to post a part of a short story I've been working on. I'd do it tonight, but I'm still fiddling with the part that's done, and I have one more scene clearly in my mind that I want to add before I post it. So, ciao until then.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Let's try this again, shall we?

OK. I've done the blog thing before, or tried to. But I get bored and lose my interest fairly quickly - I have the intention span of a gnat with ADD most times. But I figured I'd try this out again. Why? Well, I'm in crisis mode lately. A career crisis, an emotional crisis, a crisis of faith (is that still parallel? Sorry - English major in me just won't go away), and probably a few others to boot. I'm a little on the edge of a cliff right now, and I need something to keep me from taking that final step. The one thing that I have consistently enjoyed in my life - in school, at work, and as a hobby - is writing. So, in an effort to keep sane, I'm going to commit to writing more. I mean it this time. Really.

This space will be just a whole bunch of different things. Sometimes fiction I'm working on, sometimes other stuff, sometimes just random mental meaderings (meander is a really good word!). So, assuming this works and it actually posts, I'll be back almost daily - I hope.