Monday, February 27, 2006

New Best Search Phrase Ever

"all quiet on the western front" "answer key"

Some student in Canada is clearly desperate.  Hate to tell you this, dear, but teachers generally don’t put answer keys on the internet for all the world to see.  At least I never did.  

And I never taught that novel, though I did enjoy reading it.

Judge Me!

OK.  I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid, but I just did the thing.  A co-worker talked me into it.  

I’ve been “talking” with a guy all day long (well, we’ve been answering canned questions at each other all day long, at any rate).  

I’ve never done anything like this, and I’m more than a little scared.  I’m also more than a little intrigued.

So, you decide, gentle readers – brave or stupid, or some weird combination of both?

Oh, and happy Lundi Gras!  (I have no idea if I spelled Lundi right.  I took Spanish in high school).

Sunday, February 26, 2006


So in the name of avoiding laundry for as long as humanly possible, here is the long awaited entry on Grace.  Oh, and I’m going to stop capitalizing that now, partially because I’m not really sure it should be, and partially so I don’t have to hit the caps lock key quite so often.  I have freakishly tiny pinkies, and I tend to hit other keys when I reach for the shift key or anything else I need to hit with my pinky.

So, grace.  I’ve been noticing over the course of the adult inquirer classes at church that Lutherans talk about grace a whole lot more than Catholics do.  Oh, the concept is all throughout Catholic theology, but it’s never really discussed in a Bible study or educational setting or whatever unless the topic happens to be the Sacraments.  But my current pastor has talked about it in every class we have had so far, and mentions it in just about every sermon he preaches.

Last Sunday, when he called the decision the paralyzed man’s friends made to cut a hole in the roof and lower their friend down to see Jesus a “graced moment,” I started to contemplate exactly what grace was.

Now, I know that there are about a million websites out there that will give me a theological definition of grace from the perspective of about a thousand different religions, denominations, and churches.  That’s fine and dandy.  But I wanted an understanding of grace that would be something I could live with as I went through my everyday life.  If I am about to assent that I believe in “justification by grace through faith,” I should know what exactly that means for me.

Amateur linguist that I am, I thought I would start my quest by considering the secular uses of grace and words that come from grace.  When we say that an athlete or a dancer, or whatever is “graceful,” we usually mean that they move with such smoothness, such flawlessness, and such…panache as to make even the most difficult movements seem effortless.  When critics talk about graceful brushstrokes in a painting, or graceful lines of a sculpture, they usually mean that the work of art manages to draw the viewer into it, almost to the point that it ceases to be an inanimate object and becomes something more.  When a home itself is described as gracious, it usually brings to mind a rather large home that is well-decorated, but still manages to feel warm and “homey.”  

If someone is described as a gracious host, he or she is usually very attentive to and generous with his or her guests.  If a person acquits himself or herself with grace in a particular situation, he or she managed to get through a difficult time with his or her dignity intact, and without offending anyone or causing any further strife.

The prayer we say over meals is called “Grace.”  My mum belonged to Grace Lutheran Church.  Thousands of girls have been named Grace, especially since Grace Kelly married into the royal family of Monaco.  Entire websites are devoted to poems about grace.  When we see someone in a tough situation we barely avoided ourselves, we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”  One of very few hymns sung in just about every Christian church, regardless of denomination, is “Amazing Grace.”

So what does all this mean?  First of all, it means that grace is intangible and ephemeral.  You can’t say, “Well, if I only had two more ounces of grace in my life, everything would be OK.”  And I personally can’t imagine ever asking a pastor or a spiritual director how to get more grace in my life.  

But it also means that grace is undeniably real.  Like air, we often only recognize it by its absence.  If you gathered a group of random people in a room and asked them to come to a consensus about 10 people who are graceful, it will probably take them quite a while, and much contentious discussion.  But if I get up on the dance floor (or walk down the hall for that matter), no one is likely to think that God has blessed me with grace of movement.  (And if you need further proof of that, consider that I broke my foot while practicing the Mexican Hat dance, that I broke it again when I was walking down some steps, and that I ran over myself with a van.)

All this is well and good, but what does it mean?  How can I recognize a graced moment, and how can I live grace in my life?

I had planned to write something a little different than what I’m going to, but I had yet another revelation as I was typing this.  The first lines of “Amazing Grace” actually offered me an interesting idea: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me…”

Sound.  When I though about grace as a sound, something clicked for me.  One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament is when some Old Testament guy (yeah, I was raised Catholic – I remember passages, but not details)…wait.  I’m going to get a Bible.

OK.  It was Elijah (I knew it was an “E” name – I had Ezekiel on my mind, but as soon as I saw the book, I remembered that he was the creepy prophet - Fr. O’s words, not mine).  The passage is 1 Kings 19: 9-13.

Elijah was looking for God, but he didn’t find him in fire, or earthquakes, or wind – all big, noticeable things.  Elijah found God in a tiny whisper.

I think that tiny whisper, that God-sound, in all of us is grace.  It’s our assurance that, no matter how crappy things are going, no matter how mean other people are, no matter how bad we feel about ourselves, or how bad we screw things up, we are Loved.  Grace is the knowledge that there is nothing we did to deserve that Love, nothing we can do to buy our way into that Love, and nothing we can do to lose that Love.  

That God-sound, God-love, helps a dancer or athlete through the hours upon hours of rehearsals and practices that make their tasks seem effortless.  That God-sound, God-Love enables an artist or sculptor to see the beauty of creation and the motion of a piece of canvas or lump of clay.  A composer is able to bring that God-sound to the page, and a musician is able to translate it into something almost tangible.  A writer releases that God-love through ink and paper (or pixels and electrons) and shares it with others.

The God-sound of grace is what compels someone to be generous and gracious to his or her guests, or to total strangers.  It is what sends people to remote areas to help make other’s lives better.  It is what encourages us to listen to someone who is lonely.

I think this is a definition of grace I can live.  And I pray that I may always listen to that God-sound, and appreciate and share that God-love.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Generally speaking, I’m pretty happy being single.  I don’t spend my free time longing for a man to complete me like so many single women do on TV or in the movies.  I don’t feel like less of a person because of my singleness.

But lately, I find myself longing for the intimacy of a married relationship. I want someone to confide my anxieties, joys, and boring details of my life to, and vice versa.  I want someone to lay next to at night in bed, and know that I am loved.

And even more oddly, I want to have a child.  This week I found myself picturing myself holding a tiny baby and telling hoe much Mummy and Daddy love him.  I imagined holding her on my lap at the library and reading the Velveteen Rabbit together.  I can see myself tucking him into bed at night after saying prayers together.  Heck, I’m even a little excited over the potential battle over math homework.

Perhaps it’s just a phase, and next week I’ll be back to normal.  Perhaps this is normal.  Who knows?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Little More Info...

Just to clarify a bit on my last post, my main character is a woman – a straight woman.  The gay priest is her best friend, and the dead drag queen…well, that’s a bit harder to explain.

The novel asks the question that so many 20- and 30-somethings ask: “Who am I, really?”  That sounds cliché on the surface, but I hope that I am approaching it in a somewhat unique way.

I’m not going to write much about my main character, Ella, because it would give too much of the plot away for me to write anything about her yet, and I’m not ready to do that .  But I can tell you a little bit about these two supporting characters without giving too much away.

Scott is the gay priest.  He didn’t start out gay, but he did start out a priest.  He wandered over from another story I started, and changed his name as well.  Scott became gay for a lot of reasons.  First of all, he wandered into this story right around the time the Vatican started making noise about gay seminarians and priests.  It frustrated me because if priests are supposed to be living celibate lives anyway, what difference does it make if they are straight or gay?  Come to think of it, it shouldn’t make a difference even if they weren’t celibate.  But that’s a story for another time.

Anyhow, I made Scott gay because I was a little ticked off about the Powers that Be deciding they had the power to deny that someone had a calling to ordained ministry simply because he is gay (or female, or heterosexual and married…but again, story for another time).  And I made him gay because, despite the fact that he is firmly in the closet with everyone but Ella, he is remarkably self-actualized.  He knows who he is, Who created him, and he is comfortable and happy with that.  I needed someone like that to act as a confidant for Ella.

As for Uncle Betty…well, would you believe I literally dreamed him up?  I had an odd dream that I was buying a house in a planned, intentional community.  They had a huge green space, a communal garden, and they actually did things together in the evenings and on the weekends.  Anyway, the person who is selling the house is showing me around, and the most remarkable thing about the place is that there is a bathtub in every room except the kitchen and dining room.  When I remark on it, he told me that the house formerly belonged to a drag queen and his partner, and that he insisted on having a tub in every room.  In my dream that seemed perfectly normal.

So, when my mind was wandering during the sermon (it wandered a lot that day, actually, and spawned the entry I plan to write about Grace as well.  It was a really good Gospel, I guess), I realized that that drag queen and that house was exactly what I needed.  Except I couldn’t figure out how to tie that back to the main plot .  

So, as I was driving home from work one night, taking the long way to avoid the horrible Baton Rouge traffic (which will only be worse this weekend thanks to two LSU basketball games, baseball games, and Mardi Gras parades), it hit me that the drag queen needed to be a character.  The only problem with that was that he was dead.  So, what do you do with a dead drag queen (That could be the start to a horrible drinking song.)?

Well, all I’m going to say is that he isn’t a ghost, an angel, or other spiritual/paranormal manifestation.  I’m also going to say that he acts as a mentor figure for Ella.  Beyond that, well, you’re just going to have to buy the book in a few years.

Oh, and for the few of you who read this who know me, sorry if you disagree with anything I wrote.  Most people get more conservative as they get older.  I seem to have become more liberal.  I’m just a rebel, I suppose.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Have an Announcement to Make

The Great American Novel now has a title. Or at least a working title.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

Hold onto your hats...

The Great American Novel is now called...Advice from Uncle Betty.

OK. The two or three of you who actually read this thing are scratching your heads right now. I promise you that the title makes sense in the context of the story. Besides, wouldn't that title make you want to at least pick it up and read the cover blurb when you walked by the Discover New Authors rack at Barnes and Noble?

The title came to me last night when I finally figured out how to tie together two plotlines, one of which I didn't even know was going to be in there until Sunday, when my mind wandered during the sermon at church (I know, bad Sheryl).

The only problem is that on the off chance I ever finish this thing and actually get it published, I can never submit my name to the list of published authors my alma mater keeps. How exactly do you tell someone from a fine, Catholic institution like Gannon that the two supporting, protagonistic characters in your novel are a gay priest and a dead drag queen?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Before I Head Home...

...from an outrageously long day, I just have to say that the medals being awarded at the Winter Olympics look like CD's suspended from a piece of ribbon. Ick.

These are the flowers I sent to the church for my aunt. They were inexpensive, but at least I did something, I suppose.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006


I had a nice, long post planned on the subject of Grace, but something happened that changed that.  

Actually, I may still write about Grace after I write about this something else.  They fit, in a weird sort of way.

I happened to check the obituaries in the Pittsburgh paper online tonight, and I discovered that my last remaining aunt died (well, except for the one in TX who I only know in theory).  No one called me or anything, and had I not decided to click on that link tonight, I may have never known.  I certainly hadn’t known that her husband had died, or another one of my uncles…at least until tonight.

My feelings about all this are terribly mixed.  This is the aunt who I could never get a clear read on; sometimes it seemed like she supported my academic success and independent nature, and other times it seemed like she reviled it.  This is the aunt who has never forgiven me for an incident that happened at her grandson’s First Communion party, when I was 18 and too stupid to know when to gracefully give in and ignore other people’s insults.  This is the aunt who informed me at the visitation for my mother that as soon as Mum was in the ground, our relationship was over.

On the other hand, she was also my dad’s closest sibling.  He was godfather to one of her children.  Her daughter is my godmother.  I know she and my uncle helped my dad out of more than a few tight spots.

I find that I can’t cry over her death.  I really want to, and I really want to feel regret that I can’t fly to Pittsburgh for the funeral.  But honestly, I don’t.  No one has made an effort to stay in touch with me since I moved down here.  Heck, no one has made an effort to stay in touch since I left for college.  It was almost like my dad’s family viewed my childhood as a burden to be borne until I was of age, then they forgot about my existence.  As much as I don’t want to admit it, that hurts.

I told my shrink about all the feelings of inadequacy my extended family had engendered in me.  I explained how my mom’s family really didn’t value education, and to them, college was just a waste of four years and a bunch of money.  I explained that, because I was by far the youngest of my cousins in my dad’s family, there was never anything special or unique about me, because someone else had already done or accomplished everything I did.  I told him how sometimes I hated myself because I was just me – not an attorney, or a chemist, or an IRS agent, or a special education teacher.  I don’t have the mechanical skills that are so prized on both sides of the family, and I’m almost 35 years old and haven’t married or popped out any children yet.

We spent almost two full sessions counteracting all the lies they told me.  And even despite that, I don’t know if I really believe the things I learned to tell myself.  It’s hard for me to believe that despite the fact that I haven’t found my career niche, despite the fact that I don’t have a graduate degree yet, despite the fact that I don’t know anything about the stuff under the hood of my car and I always end up with pieces left over when I try to put together do-it-yourself furniture, I am a good, talented and worthy person.  If anyone else in my family, other than my parents, had told me that just once, I might not have so much trouble believing it.

I don’t know why their approval, especially from my dad’s side of the family, is so important to me.  I suppose it may be because it’s the one thing my dad really craved and never really had assurance of.  My dad adored his brothers and sisters, but they never really did right by him on an emotional level.  Instead, they held petty childhood grudges, they reinforced the fact that he was less successful than them or their spouses, and they – especially his brothers – made him feel like less of a man than he really was.  Yet all he wanted, the only thing he felt was missing from his life, was their approval and acceptance.  

I know I wasn’t consciously aware of that as a child – how could I have been?  But I think I sensed it subconsciously, and decided that if that approval was so important to my dad, it should be important to me as well.  So I tried.  I really did.  But I never measured up.

Damn.  Seeing her obituary has dredged up all kinds of stuff in me that I thought I had well and truly dealt with.  I didn’t realize it until I hit this point in my entry.

Well, I suppose all I can do now is make peace with this the best I can.  I know that at heart, she was a good woman, and I know that she is in the presence of God tonight.

I guess the post on Grace will have to wait after all.  I’m not feeling very grace-filled at the moment.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

From the TMI Department...

I don't know if it's because I had "female time" for the first time in about 6 months this month that has made my hormones go absolutely wild, but I don't like it. I have been up and down more times in the past week than I can count, and anything can set me off.

If my body has just been storing that up until now, and if things go back to normal next month (assuming things in general go back to normal next month), I can deal with it. Otherwise, I may either wind up killing someone or being killed by someone.

Now that I've given you more information than you could possibly need about my life, I'm going home to eat pizza, do laundry, and finish the work I didn't get done today because I had yet another crisis to deal with, and yet another meltdown.

Sometimes I wish I were 20 years older and completely past the female stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Didja Miss Me?

No? Didn't think so.

It's not that I haven't had anything to write about - I have. I've just been too tired to sit down and write at night. So instead, I'll take a short break here and there during the day and do it.

Let's see...I wish I could say that I'm too tired to blog because I have been working on The Great American Novel, but the truth of the matter is that I haven't. I've handwritten about 4 new pages, most of which I'll probably end up scrapping. I've been too tired to do that lately as well. I will work on it, however, even if it kills me.

Work It's part of the reason I'm so tired. I'm under a lot of pressure with a new technology we are rolling out, added to my normal responsibilities. Add to that some other issues which I'm choosing not to write about on the off chance someone happens to find this blog, and I'm just going through a down point work wise.

There is an issue I will write about, however, because it is general enough to be anonymous. I am now the only person in our office who doesn't smoke. Now, you are saying to yourself, "That's a good thing. They will all die horrible deaths at an early age, and Sheryl will live a long and healthy life knitting hats for the fish she considers her children (dog and cat allergy, you know)." That's true, and it wasn't a big deal when only two people in the department smoked. They'd take five minutes a few times a day, go have their cigarette, and that would be that. But now that my boss and other two coworkers smoke, those smoke breaks turn in to 15 or 20 minutes three or four times a day. And I'm left in the office, all alone.

I feel exactly like Rachel in that episode of "Friends" where exactly the same thing happens (would that I looked like Jennifer Anniston, though!). They talk about stuff out there and make decisions, and I'm left out of it all. I don't like that, but what can I do about it? I'm not about to take up smoking, nor am I going to subject myself to the second hand stuff. Sigh. I guess I'll have to just grin and bear it. Either that or I can finish The Great American Novel, it can become a multi-national best seller, I can quit my job, go on an international book tour, and live off my residuals until I finish my next novel.

I can also travel to the fantastical land of Boboville where the rivers run with white chocolate and teem with Swedish Fish, and everything you need is provided for you by squirrels wearing colorful sweaters.



I don't think I ever said what the ENT told me. My glands are fine, in general, though he said there was some swelling in one of the parietal glands, but he wasn't concerned. He did a laryngiscope, though, and apparently I have ulcerated vocal cords. He said it's most likely from reflux, but I don't feel like I have reflux that badly. So I have to take another medication for that and go back to see him next month. He was also of the opinion that my thyroid would probably have to come out in the next year or so. Yipee.

I suppose it's for the best, since it seems the medication isn't working anyway. I'm more tired than I was before I started taking it, and my last test results showed that I actually got worse instead of better. I'll know more when I get blood drawn in a couple weeks, or when I see my doctor again in April.

What else...The new members class at church is going well. I'm learning a lot, and my decision to become Lutheran is being affirmed. Part of me, the part that was still raised with fear-based Catholicism, is still having reservations, but even that part is coming around. I just wish that making this choice didn't cost me some of my friends.

Umm...The Superbowl party was fun, even if the game was a little boring. The couple who hosted had an absolutely adorable, teeny, tiny dachshound. Of course, I had to play with it. Of course, I'm allergic. Of course, I got hives. But it was worth it.

Oh, and the Steelers won. YIPPEE!

Well, I have work to get done, so I guess I should get back to it. Tomorrow, expect a deep and profound entry about why fish need hats in the first place. Or something like that.