Monday, February 28, 2005

Alright! Alright! Who's down with G-O-D?

Please rent the movie Saved.

Regardless of anything you have heard or read, rent and watch this movie. Because I asked you to. Trust me just this once. It’s a phenomenal portrayal of real people learning that God loves them regardless of their mistakes.

I believed all of these characters, even the huge goofballs. Maybe it is where I am in my life right now, but I completely empathize with their desire to believe the rules are black and white and their sense of both betrayal and freedom as they try to figure out just how much grey is acceptable.

I think that the people involved with this movie show so much for respect for the faith of Christians and accurately portrays the struggle that faith involves and the beauty of grace. Please take the time to watch it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

100 Things About Me

1. I live on Orcas Island, which is off the coast of Washington state.
2. I don’t really belong here because I’m not really a back-to-nature outdoorsy person.
3. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.
4. I’m learning about different lifestyles than the ones I’ve always known.
5. I’m also learning about community and how it is developed and maintained.
6. I recently urinated outside successfully for the first time ever.
7. I work out as often as I can with a girl named Mindy.
8. When my lease is up on the trailer that I live in, I will go live at Mindy's house.
9. I will learn about living with pigs and chickens there.
10. My younger brother Daniel is one of my favorite people in the whole world.
11. I have two other brothers: Paul and David.
12. I have a pug named Retha who lives with my parents in Glen Ellyn.
13. I have been a high school teacher in the past and probably will be again.
14. I currently work whatever jobs come my way in order to pay the rent.
15. When I’m feeling good, I compare myself to Thoreau.
16. When I’m not, I think maybe I’m just a slacker who doesn’t write very well.
17. I discovered I was funny when I was in college but people generally need to get to know me to know when I am kidding.
18. My brothers and my father are uproariously funny, which is why I didn’t discover my own good humor until college.
19. I went to Illinois Wesleyan University and loved it.
20. I’m dating a man named Jeff.
21. We both realize that we won’t date each other forever and can now thoroughly enjoy each other in the time we do have together.
22. I live by myself in the aforementioned trailer.
23. There are rats here but no stigma is attached to that on the island.
24. I have been married.
25. I work very actively at not being bitter about the fact that I am not anymore.
26. It’s still hurts, though.
27. That’s another reason why I’m hanging out on this island, though: to heal.
28. I felt like I was in a soap opera the other night when I had a burst of emotion attached to washing a bowl that was part of the dishes we got as wedding presents. It was the classic scene of me holding myself up at the sink while unexpected tears dripped into the dishwater. I laughed at myself even though I had no control over the drama.
29. It’s been almost two years since my husband left.
30. We were married for 3 and a half years.
31. He turned out to be a pathological liar who fooled everyone. There were lies that he told me on the first date.
32. Yesterday, I brought cupcakes to a party that had marshmallow filling and chocolate icing with little chocolate flecks in it.
33. I’m a regular Martha Stewart if Martha Stewart allowed her house to get filthy dirty while she was making adorable things like decoupage picture frames and heirloom squash.
34. I consider myself a dilettante.
35. That means that I don’t go too deeply into any particular hobby or passion that I enjoy.
36. For instance, I really like the Star Wars movies, but I don’t go so far as to write my own fan fiction.
37. I also really like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, but I didn’t plan my week around watching them, then jump on the internet to comment about what I just saw.
38. Sometimes I wish that I could be that passionate about something.
39. I struggle that I don’t know what to do with my life.
40. I had a plan once but it got shot to hell.
41. Instead of focusing on that, though, I took it as a sign that I needed a new plan. I just haven’t found it yet.
42. That’s another reason I’m on this island.
43. I’m 27 years old.
44. I wish there was a label for my generation. I’m not an X-er and I’m not like the kids coming up behind me either.
45. I’m a big nerd but I have fashion sense.
46. I love nerds.
47. Once, I wore my “I love nerds” T-shirt to the Renaissance Faire on accident. I was looking pretty cute that day with hot jeans on and I had been working out so I was pretty tightly curvy. The shirt was cut pretty small.
48. I made a lot of nerds smile that day.
49. I have impressed men on dates when I talked about Dungeon and Dragons characters that I’ve had.
50. Those men did not impress me, however.
51. Someday, I will meet a man that will be impressed with my sci-fi/fantasy knowledge and will also have a full range of social skills.
52. I hope.
53. If I had to choose two foods that I didn’t want to live without, I would choose Coca-cola and cheese.
54. Baking is one of my top five skills.
55. The other four are shopping, interacting with teenagers, analyzing oral and written communication for effectiveness, and reading.
56. I like playing board games.
57. I’m happier with my life right now than I have been in a long time.
58. I’m trying to figure out what parts of this laid-back island life I can take with me when I leave.
59. I like having enough time to help others fulfill their dreams.
60. Recently, I’ve been helping a woman named Rhonda start an organic farm.
61. My knee is bruised from planting yesterday.
62. I helped serve communion today. I’ve done that because I was a deacon in my last church but today, there were only 10 of us there, so I was asked during the passing of the peace if I would do it.
63. I like being part of a small church.
64. I wish the hymns that we sang were hymns that I know.
65. I like traditional hymns like “Softly and Tenderly” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”
66. I like to be lazy and just lay naked in bed, wiggling so I can feel the soft flannel and just letting my mind wander contentedly.
67. Luckily, church isn’t until 12:30 so I get to do that most Sundays.
68. I’ve been having some trouble socializing lately. I just keep saying the wrong things at the wrong time.
69. I accidentally offended a girl I didn’t know because I said that wearing patchouli would make someone smell like a dirty f---ing hippy. I forgot that not everyone in earshot knew me and my sense of humor and the girl with dreadlocks looked pretty pissed.
70. My perfume has patchouli.
71. I thought the joke was funny because I was making fun of myself and the phrase DFH sounds funny and because it’s a ridiculous stereotype.
72. I don’t know how I’ll take that one back.
73. I write in a journal in addition to these blogs.
74. Sometimes I think I’ll start an anonymous blog so that I don’t have to self-edit.
75. However, I’m not sure I’m that much of an exhibitionist.
76. It all comes back to being a dilettante.
77. I feel like I have become good friends with both of my parents now that I’m an adult.
78. I still think of myself as "not old enough" sometimes.
79. I’m growing my hair out now, but prefer it when it’s short.
80. I was fired from my last teaching job totally unfairly.
81. That’s another reason why I’m on the island: to recover my self-esteem.
82. I have the tendency to collect interesting little things.
83. I gave away half of a house full of stuff when I moved here.
84. I only miss my couch.
85. I worry that I’m collecting it all again.
86. I work at a re-use facility and so have full access to all sorts of neat things that come out of people’s basements and attics.
87. I’m a pretty good singer.
88. I’ve had two formal recitals.
89. The old ladies at church like it when I sing out.
90. I’ve never had a group of friends that was successful. I’ve always done better with individual friendships.
91. My favorite book is Cryptonomicron by Neal Stephenson.
92. My favorite colors are light blue (of all shades) and spring green.
93. I would use the word “whimsical” to describe my personal aesthetic.
94. I believe that we can change the world by loving each other and making decisions based on that love for one another.
95. My favorite number is 22 because that was my dad’s baseball number in college.
96. Although my dad is a great big jock, none of his kids turned out to be.
97. My mom is the most fascinating person I know.
98. I want to live deliberately.
99. I think I was put on this earth to accomplish big things.
100. I still wish more people liked me, as much as I know that’s an unhealthy thing.


Since I was in junior high and high school (in the later eighties and early nineties: the height of grunge) I have always been envious of cool people with worn-out clothes. From jeans with holes and, more impressively, those thin, white spots that still had the strings going across to broken-in leather jackets and jean jackets with touches of paint on them, I was jealous. Dave Griffin, who worked with our youth group, had a jeans jacket that had to be held together with duct tape. My brother David often had to repair his shoes with Shoe Goo and duct tape. Guys had those beautiful T-shirts that were worn so thin, they were velvety soft. Guys also had those baseball hats that fit on the head like it wasn’t even there and looked so much cooler than the stiff ones I had acquired. That was why we girls stole them, not as pre-adolescent flirting, no matter what the teachers tell you.

The love that I learned from my mother for clothes involves having lots of clothes that vary in purpose. This means that I have lots of coats and lots of pants and lots of shoes in lots of colors. Neutrals aren’t really my thing unless they accent something that’s a little wild. Hence, I can’t in good conscience wear the same thing every day or even every other day. Unlike the perfect pair of Levi’s, people will notice if you wear the pink pants every day. Same goes for the red shoes. Plus, often, favorite items couldn’t be worn within the same outfit (pink and red are a definite clash) so that spread out their use even further. Face it, I like variety. Also, when I was younger, my mom still purchased most of my clothes for me and she certainly wasn’t looking simple elements that could be worn again and again. Therefore, my clothing never reached that well-worn “favorite” status. My stuff remained disappointingly new-looking. Plus, my attempts to purchase worn-looking clothes from the only places I knew how to shop, malls, failed miserably in a wave of total wanna-be dorkiness. I was the nerd in the sweatshirt that had been bought with the holes and neckline already cut out of it.

So, I turned to acquiring clothes that had been worn by others. I found my dad’s jeans from the seventies in the closet that were just ready to go white and stringy in places. I also got to put neat patches on those. One of David’s friends left their oversized jeans jacket at our house after coming over to skate on the half-pipe in the backyard. Ditto for the grey, shapeless sweatshirt with ground in dirt and side pockets. I found some of David’s old T-shirts and scrubbed them until the released their pit stains but kept that almost transparent softness. (Double bonus for those is that they were also skater chic. I still treasure my turquoise Powell Peralta shirt.) I could also rescue Converse high tops from David’s closet because he was growing so quickly. He had just enough time to wear them in, but not enough time to wear them out. From my brother Paul, I stole coats like navy pea coats and long black dress coats. He has more than paid me back for that since.

But, I didn’t earn these clothes and that made them less perfect. (Although, I still own many of them to this day.) Going on mission trips and working in the set shop in high school allowed me to create some of my own paint clothes, but I was never willing to wear clothes I actually liked to paint in so they would acquire a nice patina, so I only wore paint clothes to paint in, never to go out. It was a vicious cycle of just plain fashion obliviousness.

I am pleased to announce that I have begun earning my own beat-up - and therefore cool – clothes. I have been doing a lot of manual labor and not much else that requires me to wear the spring green, lavender, red and black striped tights, not to mention the knee-high, three inch black leather boots, so I’ve been wearing out my own clothes! I found perverse pleasure in learning that my T-shirt and my vest had burn holes the other day working for Harold. I have a pair of Carhartt pants that have dirt ground into them permanently from farming with Rhonda. (Yesterday, we formed beds, leveled them, dippled them and planted fava beans and garlic.) Most impressively, my hiking boots that looked like wanna-be boots since I bought them new, now look distinctly broken-in from wearing them all the time. I can’t wear my light blue leather Mary Janes without ruining them here so I’m stuck wearing in a pair of shoes at last. I am no longer mistaken for a tourist on the island. In fact, at Sauna Night last Sunday, Bridget said that it felt like I’d been here forever or a year, at least. Woohoo!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Blue bells and cockle shells

I’m a smart person.

I really have nothing to do with it, though. I’ve always been smart. 99th percentile smart according to the Iowa Basic Tests. I do know that there are other people muchmuch smarter than me. I’ve even been friends with 3 or 4 of them and had conversations and read interviews with scads more of them. However, I don’t often encounter people that are leagues smarter than me on a regular basis. Usually, the topic areas in which we have knowledge balance each other out.

Although I know I have nothing to do with being smart, other than following up on some pretty primal urges to listen and read, my sense of self rests pretty soundly in the concept that people are often fairly impressed because I know stuff. If an Aristotelian tragedy were being written with me as the protagonist, you better believe that would be the tragic flaw that brought me down in the end. When people don’t really care that I know stuff and start basing their opinions of me on my personality, that’s when the line that represents the journey of the hero takes a great big plunge.

Yesterday, though, I might have redeemed myself a little by actually realizing for myself that the things I know aren’t as important as I think they are (as opposed to someone else pointing it out to me, which always hurts).

I went over to the house of my workout buddy, Mindy. Her friend Gil was coming over to help her build a fence to make a pigpen and I was bored, unfocused and didn’t want to be inside on a beautiful day. When I got there, Mindy wasn’t home (she had already warned me that she was going out for beer and chips) but just after I opened the door and yelled her name, Gil pulled up in his truck. He introduced me to his brother, whose name I hope is Bescente, since that’s how I understood it. I pretty sure he corrected my “Vicente” by saying the letter “B.” If that’s not his name, then I’m embodying some terrible American-centered values. I think Gil’s brother spoke maybe 15-16 words for the entire 4 hours that we spent together, although his English seemed very good and he laughed at some pretty colloquial jokes. I followed Gil, Mindy and brother around while they scouted in her forested 11 acres for some suitable trees, attempted to get the chain saw running and ultimately settled on using two fairly dull hand-axes to create to fence posts. The hand-axes were what started me thinking that maybe my knowledge wasn’t all that impressive. There is a technique involved that requires moving the angle of the blade so that actually chunks of wood go flying, rather than simply creating a split in the wood, like is done when creating firewood. Gil and his brother moved with an impressive surety, despite the rusted blades. One tree, two 9-foot posts. They then dug the two postholes by hand: three feet deep since pigs like to lean hard against their pens. The pig knowledge is not something they read in a book, but from experience as kids in Mexico. Their family builds guitars but apparently grew corn and raised animals for their own livelihood. Then, instead of pouring concrete, they simply filled the holes with rocks and packed the dirt back in over the rocks, using a big board to pack it down tight. (I spent $4,000.00 to have a fence built with the concrete method because I thought that the only good fence was a picket fence.) This made a big square with two posts that already existed. Gil and Mindy stood around talking about pigs and chickens as they worked, then strolled around looking at various plants in the garden and discussing how they’re used and what other varieties might be better and whether or not they’ll plant them again this spring. This was when I was certain that my knowledge was completely unimpressive in this setting. They would turn back to me as I tagged along, asking, “So what do you think, City Girl?” Then they laughed. It was all very nice and I could tell that they were experiencing that novel feeling of seeing their lives through the eyes of an outsider so I didn’t take offense. However, all I could do for myself was make a self-deprecating remark that I could trace the progression of thought through American history. Eeh.

Let me put in a side note about gardens on the island. Generally, people fence in a rectangle about 40 feet by 50 feet with 8-foot posts with deer fencing wrapped around them. Often they will weave willow branches or driftwood into the fencing to take away the angularity of it and over the years, berry bushes grow into the fencing further to create beautiful tangles. Occasionally, people put quite a bit of artistic effort into the gate, as well. Some people keep neat and orderly beds or plots within the garden, but usually, it’s a hodge-podge mixture with a 5-foot square of potatoes here and an 8-foot square of garlic there. Since there is so much square-footage, space can be used this way, with abandoned plots going fallow for years, sometimes. Often, an old bathtub or other irrigation project that didn’t quite work is still inside, with berry vines starting to grow over them. Jeff only plants self-propagating plants in his garden to accommodate the chaos and Mindy lets her chickens wander through hers. It’s quite wonderful and eases some of my gardening fears about the organization that I thought was required.

So, Gil turns out to be an avid gardener. Listening to him talk is different from listening to Rhonda talk. She talks like a farmer. She talks about soil and sun and fertilizer. He can tell you how long it takes specific varieties of plants to cultivate and how to take them from seed in the house to garden when it’s warmer. He talks about the flavor of onions and kale. (Although both of them know the same things, their choice of what to talk about labels them differently in my mind.) So, again, Gil’s knowledge of plants isn’t because he read it, but because he’s done it enough to just know. I would expect this from some old farmer somewhere, but Gil’s only a little older than I am. He and Mindy spent an hour going through the seed catalogue and discussing the pros and cons of what to plant in her garden and in one of his three or four gardens. (I don’t think he has land of his own, but he uses little bits of other people’s. He works at the best restaurant on the island and has a small garden there that he cooks out of. How cool is that?) As I listened, I realized again that it all came down to passion. He has all sorts of skills: cooking, building guitars, building fences, raising pigs and chickens. But, he loves gardening. In the same way that I don’t often interact with someone whose internal library is twice as big as mine, I don’t often interact with someone whose library is full of just as many, but completely different books than mine with whom I can still communicate. Plus, his knowledge was useful in a very direct way, which made it seem much more important than mine. As I floundered to participate in the conversations, I realized that should some sort of apocalypse put society back into an agrarian mode, I would be insignificant. Being able to discuss the larger metaphor of the movie, Labyrinth, as a story about a girl growing into womanhood, or the Christian presence on The Simpsons, or the best way to teach a teenager noun-pronoun agreement would get me nowhere. The sense of self that I have built around being smart would have to be built again around something much less impressive. Something much more along the lines of 30th percentile.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Way the Light Falls

It's a beautiful thing when you're driving home from a party quietly by yourself, thinking about how good that kind of socializing feels and you realize that the light that keeps hitting the dashboard is moonlight and not streetlights.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Tuna Girl

Tuna Girl

The media is all over the new blogging trend. Each report mentions a kid named Mitch who spends 2 hours every day checking all of his favorite blogs. So, since I'm part of this world, I usually try to check out two or three ramdomly by hitting "next blog" after I post and check the posting. I thought that I would never be able to understand Mitch and his desire to know about strangers' lives. However, I have found TunaGirl. I hope that whoever is actually reading my site will not be so charmed by hers that they stop reading mine, but I certainly will be distracted by her. I think that her Valentine's Day entry is particularly entertaining.

Unnatural noises

Today, as I was exiting the Island Market, our grocery store, and getting into my car, I noticed that the truck next to me had a dog kennel in the back that was about the size of a medium dog. I thought this was odd since most dogs are the island are trained to be loose in the back of trucks. What was stranger was that it was making noises like a small dog would, very high-pitched and almost strangled-sounding. I have some experience with small dogs, as some of you know. The funny came when I was exiting the parking lot behind this truck and could see that riding in this pet kennel was actually a turkey. Ha ha.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Crappy day today. I feel like I should be using all that stupid chat room grammar and syntax that belie the fact that I must be getting old since I don't understand it. I feel so withdrawn that I don't even want to capitalize and spell. As a measure of how bad this day has been , I just spent 8 minutes trying to find an example of aforementioned jargon to add a little funny to the post and failed profoundly. No searches would reveal it and hitting "next blog" close to 20 times, usually a surefire way to find some, was utterly unproductive. So, sorry folks, no funny today. So, I started the day with another speeding ticket. I was thinking about my ex-husband and the money he owes me, not paying attention and the cop just followed me for 3 miles until I finally noticed him and slowed down. Then, he turned his lights on and gave me the ticket. I can't even count all of the different levels that sucks on. So, with the day starting poorly, I seemed to lose any small amount of tact and common sense that I normally possess, revealing things I shouldn't reveal and making jokes that make me look bad in the wrong company over the course of the day while I was working at the Exchange. I have definitely lost all of that newfound contentment, which actually lasted quite awhile. I think I'll go curl up in bed and maybe try to muster up the energy to read my book.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Dust to dust

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Last week, I wrote a blog about my feelings regarding the social awkwardness of some of the people on the island. In it, I expressed frustration, exasperation, anger, a little bit of despair and defeat and some implied superiority. I have felt uncomfortable with myself since then. Not uncomfortable that I published those feelings but uncomfortable that I have them at all.

You really do think you’re better than we are. But we don’t know. We don’t know if you’re actually better. I mean, you came into the world with certain advantages, sure, that’s the legacy. But you didn’t earn it. You didn’t work for it. You never had anybody come up to you and say that you deserve these things more than anyone else. They were just handed to you. So that doesn’t make you better than us. It just makes you luckier than us.
-Anya to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
When I talk about humility, I often find that people rush to assure me that my reactions are normal. And I do feel better to learn that some of the people that bother me, bother everyone else as well. It makes it less personal and I am required to take less responsibility for what I see as a failed interaction. However, in the assurance of others that I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s easy to forget that the code of ethics that I’ve chosen for myself doesn’t always agree with my friends.

What Boba Fett and Darth Maul and Kyle Katarn and to a lesser extend Mace Windu all have in common is their appeal to fifteen-year-old boys’ images of themselves: essentially bad-ass but, you know, honorable about it.
-Tom Bissell, “Pale Starship, Pale Rider: The Ambiguous Appeal of Boba Fett”
I think everyone should live by a code. It makes life more deliberate. It is good to draw a line in the sand. Even if you jump back and forth over it, at least it exists as a point of reference. Without a personal sense of the rule of law, life feels directionless and chaotic. There is no reason to do anything. One becomes a monarch with no parliament to check and balance the laws that we make for the kingdom of our lives. I don’t think even the Red Queen liked herself in that situation, shouting “Off with their heads!” so randomly that she was feared but ignored.

“We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything” –but not everything is helpful. No one should be looking out for his own interests, but for the interests of others.
-1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Lutheran services begin with a time of confession in the liturgy. I have found that since I left behind the fervent Christianity that I practiced as an easy shield between the scary world and myself, I usually think that I don’t really sin all that often. I believe that sin is making a choice that does not follow Christ’s commandments to love God with all of my heart and soul and mind and to love others as God loves me. I believe that those two commandments act as a constitution of sorts. All other laws have to be in compliance with those at the top. (I have yet to decide what should act as the Supreme Court in this analogy.) Anything else in the Bible is just a suggestion or an example of how to apply this new contract to our lives. This makes a lot of the behavior that many public and vocal Christians decry as sinful not necessarily so. They can cite all the scripture that they want; if their letter-of-the-law line in the sand is on the wrong side of the spirit of Christ’s commandment, it isn’t actually relevant to me. Christ represents a new covenant between God and people and that new agreement leaves a lot of room of individual interpretation. It’s disconcerting and a little scary to have so little guidance. However, I don't make a lot of choices between good and evil. I've put myself in the habit of making mostly loving decisions and I rest comfortably on that. This is where the personal code comes in.

River: You're a liar. I don't think your intentions are honorable.
Early: Well, no. I'm a bounty hunter. It's generally not considered honorable so much as... I live by a code, though.
-“Objects in Space,” Firefly
However, I do sin. It’s hard to live by a code. It requires doing things that I know I should do, even though I don’t like the way I have been reminded to do it. :ast Tuesday night, I did not enjoy choir at all. When that stranger spoke to me about sitting up when I sang, I could no longer think about anything other than my posture. I desperately wanted to prove that she wasn’t the boss of me, but I knew that to intentionally slouch while singing in a choir was dishonorable. Most of the time, I ended up in this compromise position in which I didn’t cross my legs, but my shoulders remained hunched. How childish. I felt unwelcome and I covered that up by trying to assert my free will where it didn’t belong. I had made a mistake and I was upset that someone had noticed. The whole purpose of a formal choir is to blend in and create as pure a sound as possible. If I had confessed to myself that I had been wrong, I could have forgiven myself and moved on to contribute positively again.

Remember that from dust thou art formed and to dust thou shalt return.

While I was clearing out the greenhouses with Rhonda, there were times when we would not speak at all but would simply focus on our tasks. Like road trips and retreats, that type of manual labor invites long talking about life’s milestones and we did a lot of that. But, there were times of quiet, when we left each other to our own thoughts because, in discussing life’s milestones, one usually has to process them all over again. During one of these times, I was cutting twine and stalks with a knife and untangling them from the trellis. I was thinking about my father and the good way that he responded to being caught having committed a white-collar crime. My father’s strong belief in Christ allowed him to utilize the traditions that he was raised in, which allowed him to take responsibility for his actions so that they did not do any lasting harm to my family, and in fact, improved our dynamic in many ways, which is an unusual resolution for white-collar crime families. Christianity offers a tradition of confession, penance and forgiveness. Although the idea has its beginning with the belief that Christ’s innocent penance earned forgiveness for all, even the secular parts of our world are influenced by this idea that if you serve your time, then the deed should be forgiven. Every toddler knows that if you say, “I’m sorry,” after hitting your brother, you won’t get into as much trouble. However, some toddlers learn very quickly that forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission and take advantage of their ability to apologize and get out of trouble without really meaning the words that they say. I’ve certainly dealt with enough teenagers who yelled, “I said I’m sorry already! Can’t you just leave me alone?” I don’t leave them alone because it’s not enough. They can’t feel forgiven until they truly acknowledge whatever mistake they made that brought them out into the hallway in the first place. An apology without true regret for hurting another is worthless. So, to be successful, even secular situations must be brought back to the pure Christian tradition that involves acknowledging what harm was done and truly believing it was wrong –otherwise known as confession- before penance and forgiveness can take place. We must do what we do not want to do by admitting that we made a mistake before the balance can be restored.

I once had a garden / filled with flowers / that grew only on dark / thoughts / but they needed constant / attention / & one day I decided / I had better things / to do.
-Brian Andreas, Mostly True
My landlady is a crazy kook. (Really, have I ever heard of a normal landlord?) She is well into her sixties and she puts false eyelashes on every day plus a good thick layer of what seems to be stage makeup. This is on an island where women don’t shave anything, men go without deodorant and where high-heeled shoes and any kind of dress clothes are certainly superfluous. She pulls her hair back into two barrettes at either side of her head and her hair is just long enough to curl under her ears. It is very much a Baby Jane scenario. My relationship with Carol is complicated, but I try to be polite and speak with her when I get the chance. However, we have some tensions that exist. I'm not sure where they came from, but I think a lot of the explanation lies in the fact that we simply live different types of lives. Recently, I threw some rotten apples out into the woods by the road. Steve had told me to do that and Carol pays for garbage by the can and asked me to be aware of my amount of garbage. She knocked on the trailer door to ask if they were mine. I said they were and she said, “Well, don’t,” and began to talk about vermin, which I certainly know enough about. I was pleasant throughout the conversation and apologized, explaining I was trying to save on garbage. However, I certainly felt like she was being crazy to think that vermin would be attracted to our houses more than they already were because of those apples. Two days later, she left a note on my door, saying she “expected” that the fruit would be picked up and thrown away. She didn’t ask, she instructed me to do this. This was in the middle of that week when everyone seemed to be insulting me or telling me what to do. I chafed at the note and all it implied. I left and went to Jeff’s house so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it until later. I turned it over and over in my head over the next two days, trying to think of what to say to her and how to justify leaving the fruit out there. Believe me, I was creative. I realized, though, that all of those plans were a result of my embarrassment at having made a mistake. Here I was again, having to live up to my own personal code by doing what I didn’t want to do because I didn’t like the way I had been reminded to do it. The moral, of course, is that once I simply took two minutes and picked up the apples, I was calmer and more content. I didn’t have to spend any more energy watering my dark flowers. When I told my friend Mindy this story, she interrupted me before I reached the end. She said: “Can I give you some advice that’s easier for me to say than do myself? Pick up the apples. You’ll be so much happier.” That advice summarizes the goodness at the core of her feistiness that makes me glad I found Mindy for a friend.

Create for yourself a new indomitable perception of faithfulness. What is usually called faithfulness passes so quickly. Let this be your faithfulness: You will experience moments, fleeting moments, with the other person. The human being will appear to you then as if filled, irradiated, with the archetype of his/her spirit. And then there may be, indeed will be, other moments, long periods of time when human beings are darkened. At such times, you will learn to say to yourself, “The spirit makes me strong. I remember the archetype. I saw it once. No illusion, no deception shall rob me of it.” Always struggle for the image that you saw. This struggle is faithfulness. Striving thus for faithfulness you shall be close to one another as if endowed with the protective powers of angels.
-Rudolf Steiner
All of these anecdotes bring me to Ash Wednesday. I was a mess when I walked up the stairs to church that morning. The night before I had driven out to Jeff’s house at 10:45 at night so I wouldn’t have to sob and weep alone. All of the hurt from the slights that had been dealt out combined with my guilt for reacting with arrogance and frustration to them. I had been ordered around by my landlady and told to do what I already knew that I should do by a total stranger. I felt unwelcome in choir, which made me realize that I don’t really belong here. Not that I shouldn’t be here but that this is not my place, my Ebenezer. What brought me to this island was not what brought everyone else here. I was sad that such a beautiful place can’t really be home. I had read the Faithfulness Pledge in a magazine, which brought my thoughts and feelings back to Dennis and my failure to love him through his illness, which is a totally unrealistic thing to beat myself up about but I was already snowballing into an avalanche at that point and logic had nothing to do with anything. Aside from all of this, I realized that I did not remember what Ash Wednesday was about. I remember watching videos of fasching when I took German in high school. I know all about Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday but why there was Ash Wednesday, nope. It turns out that it is a time of confession. The actual holiday commemorates Christ’s 40 days in the desert where he fasted and faced temptation before he allowed himself to be the penance served by the world. We are reminded that Christ is lord and that means we do not have to be. We are dust and this very mortality relieves us of the burden to get it right all of the time. We can confess and be forgiven.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts towards our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt towards those who differ from us, accept out repentance, Lord.

The Ash Wednesday service was Episcopal, which meant there was ceremony, symbolism and kneeling. As I knelt to have the ashes drawn on my forehead and to be told that I am dust, my tears came back.

Our anger at our frustration, we confess to you, Lord.

All of this intensity comes because I try to do this all myself. I believe that if I can heal myself, then I will truly have regained all of my power. It’s not enough, though. Like the teenager in the hallway, I am angry because I have made mistakes and have been caught in it. Not just this week, but also throughout my adult life. I am angry at my frustration that comes from being unable to fix it myself. I must be like Rhonda and give the soil time to reestablish its systems of bugs and minerals and air pockets and whatever else actually does the business of actually forming food before I try to plant new seeds. I must honor the fact that very little in growing has to do with the farmer.

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

It does not surprise me that as the sun shone on the giant miniature train set-up (think Silver Spoons over several acres with its own miniature town complete with buildings 2-3 feet tall) and I drove with funk music echoing in my ears a few days after Ash Wednesday, that I would feel so at peace and comfortable with myself. It was like I had sat down in an easy chair that was also me and the two of us blended seamlessly. I had confessed. I had served my penance of crazy emotional intensity. I had been forgiven. I could be myself.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Pencil Me In

After a month of working only three days a week, all of a sudden I have more work than I know what to do with. First, Jeff is giving me one of his shifts at The Exchange because he is trying to use the next two weeks for intense packing. He has to move from the house he has lived in for the last ten years and that equals quite a bit of stuff to sort through. Also, Bill, my manager and the Flava, waits tables at the best restaurant on the island because he can make more money there in two nights than he could working 40 hours in retail. So I am closing two nights this week for him. Also, one of the men at church needs some manual labor to carrying landscaping rubbish to a trailer, then making a burn pile and watching to make sure it doesn’t get out of control. I’ll make $20 an hour doing that. College degree be damned. So, today I worked at the book store, tomorrow, I’ll burn stuff, Wednesday I’ll be at the Exchange, Thursday, I’ll be at the bookstore AND at the Flava, Friday I’ll be at the Exchange and possibly a dinner party that night and Saturday I’ll be closing the Flava. Whew! Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Putting the "L" back in Lutheran

I have just experienced my first Lutheran potluck and I am not quite sure that it was traditional in the let’s-give-the-ladies-in-the-kitchen-a-hand kind of way that Garrison Keillor has made so famous. First, it was during Lent. Nobody thought to check with the pastor before it was scheduled and announced but after Tom and Karin did so during the passing of the peace, I heard Pastor John mention quietly that we don’t normally have parties during Lent but what the heck. That’s part of why I like Pastor John. He has a sense of the proprieties but he knows when to let go of them, too. He will often stop us all mid-hymn if the volunteer accompanist has taken the wrong tempo or begin prayers again if he starts in the wrong place. One Sunday he was discussing the ritual washing of the hands before distributing the bread and the wine and his use of waterless hand-cleaner to make the ritual pragmatic as well. The woman who carries her oxygen tank with her (and often has to leave right after taking communion first because it is running out) argued with him in the middle of church, asking, demanding that she be able to take the elements herself rather than having them handed to her. He tried to talk about how that would then contaminate all of the host since her hands were not necessarily clean, but she would not back down from her defense of her own health. He gave it one more try and gracefully acquiesced before beginning communion. She did not shake anyone’s hand that Sunday during the passing of the peace. However, two weeks ago, she gave me a great big hug, exclaiming how much better hugs were. This week, she was back to her no-touching routine. I knelt next to her to take communion and noticed that the pastor let her take her own bread and winked at her.

So, despite the fact the the potluck was being held during Lent, it had an “All-American” theme for Valentine’s Day. We were encouraged to bring meatloaf, mashed potatoes, apple pie: whatever we associated with all-American. We ended up with two types of beans and wienies, a lasagna-type dish with cheddar cheese on top, a loaf of bread and butter, five pies (the strawberry-rhubarb was by far the best), and three different kinds of cookies. There was also beer, which I don’t remember Grandma ever mentioning in her Lutheran upbringing but now that I think about the German immigrant legacy, certainly makes sense as traditional. I forgot about the potluck until 20 minutes before church started, so I stopped at the market to get Coca-Cola and Oreo’s, the two most American foodstuffs I can think of.

After eating, we had a sing-along of good old American love songs, such as “Sentimental Journey,” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree,” and “Shine on Harvest Moon.” I’m the only person in our 20-member church who is younger than 40 and most are over 65. They commented when I didn’t know “Peg O’ My Heart.” I thought my mom and my elementary school music teacher, Miss. Marquis, would be proud of my knowledge of the American songbook. Jared, the pianist (who is also the head chef at the Rosario Resort) was taking requests and I think that my grandma would be a little disconcerted that when one of the women shouted, “I Want A Girl” as in the song “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old dad” and her partner leaned over to say sotto voce, “You’ve already got one.” Then, everyone laughed. I’m not sure where in the German immigrant legacy the lesbians come in, but I guess they must be in there somewhere.

There are actual three different brqanches of our church on three different islands and the pastor usually does three services on a Sunday morning. Some of the congregation came over from Lopez to share our potluck with us and I sat next to a lovely couple, Pat and Gordon. They were in their seventies and she mentioned in passing that they had been married for a little over a year. At one point, when we weren’t talking, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he handed her a candy heart, taken from the center of the table that said, “I love u.” I just barely kept the “Aww” in my mouth.

So, all in all, I highly approve of these potlucks, especially the singing. We’re going to have another one for St. Patrick’s Day, or at least we talked about it. It still won’t be Easter yet, so maybe the pastor might nix it until then. However, I certainly hope they slip it by him again.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Big Payback - duh duh da da duh duh da

Today, driving home, exhausted from working out to James Brown, I felt more myself than, maybe, I ever have. It was a moment of beautiful clarity. When I think about the way I behaved when I was younger - all the things I put up with, all the things I was embarrassed by, all the things I didn’t say – I know that I was stifling my true personhood. I was not fully myself. This is not saying that I shouldn’t have been who I was then. She was who I had to be in order to be who I am now. But this sense of contentment with myself now makes all of that angst worth something. I’m even comfortable with this liminal stage that I’m in.

I’d like to thank someone for this and the first person to come to mind is James Brown. However, I know in my heart that God gave me a framework to make my choices and to live my life within and the pattern created by those choices and experiences culminated in this feeling of total recognition.

The last week has been another emotionally intense week. I’ve been trying to get it into some cohesive, elegant writing, but since the intensity has resolved itself into this acceptance of myself, the impetus is less strong.

I’ve always loved the phrase from Fredrick Buechner, “. . . a marriage made in Heaven is one where a man and a woman become more richly themselves together that the chances either of them could have managed to become alone.” I had the entire essay that it comes from read at my wedding. I continue to believe that Buechner was right and that means that my marriage was not, since this current awareness of self exposes that I did not become more richly myself than I have managed to become alone. That is, strangely, comforting.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Rhonda, Part II

Dear Elena,

Do you remember when I was so braindead to the world because I’d been hit with too much betrayal and transition and I had my house to sell and a yard/garden full of weeds and you came over and just did the work since I was totally paralyzed at the thought of where-do-I-even-start? Well, I started to repay you just a little bit today.

This is how the community on the island works. A woman named Rena lives next door to where I live and has a small farm there. She had back surgery this year so she’s taking a break from growing. However, she wants her facilities to be used for good things, so she offered Rhonda the use of her greenhouses. This is a huge boon for Rhonda since she won’t be able to afford building greenhouses for another couple of years and she get a jump on spring planting in this crucial first planting.

So, I went with Rhonda and we cleared out two of the three greenhouses in about five hours. I don’t think I’ve worked that hard since I got here. In the second greenhouse, Rena had been growing cherry tomatoes and the vines were all tangled in the trellis with rope and by their own machinations. All of the plants were completely dried out and moldy. I cleaned that all by myself. It was like hacking through the jungle with Indiana Jones, if I do say so myself. The satisfaction involved in completing that task was like building something but in reverse. Both involve looking at a new image when the job is done and knowing that I was responsible for the change. It was a gorgeous day. It had snowed the day before but the sun was out, making the colors of the farm brilliant as the snow melted. As the greenhouses warmed up as the day went by, the snow would melt and slough off. Neat. We took a break in the middle of the work to eat peanut butter and homemade plum jam sandwiches and to drink homemade chai tea. We cleared every dead thing out of those greenhouses, leaving perfect, chocolaty, turned and raked soil beds. Rhonda like to let the new equilibrium get established before planting seeds so we got to leave all that potential when we came back to my house for some navy bean soup that I had made. She likes to honor the fact that most of what happens in growing doesn’t have anything to do with the farmer.

We’ll just leave that metaphor unspoken and simply enjoy it.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Don't Tell Mom

I'm doing some grant writing for my dad and in the middle of an email to him with a new draft of a particular section of an application, I wrote this:

Braxton just caught a rat. I dropped the computer. It's OK, though. She's here because its snowing so Jeff dropped her off here before going to the Exchange. I'm glad she is because the rat actually tripped the rat trap but got away. I could see the whole thing but I don't think I would have been willing to go catch the stunned creature with my hands. I gave Braxton a piece of leftover sausage as a reward for taking it outside for me.

Don't tell Mom.

Go Gently,

Friday, February 04, 2005


It's hard living in a place where almost everyone has stunted social skills. I mean, I'm physically tired and worn out from dealing with people here. I just want to go home and not talk to anyone for days.

My pastor says that thing about islanders is that they live on an island. Then he leaves a pause for the laughter that an obvious definition like that should cause. He goes on to explain that people on islands are there deliberately. One doesn't just end up living somewhere where most conveniences of modern living are often unavailable. Part of that deliberate choice often comes from not fitting in socially anywhere else.

Now, some of you are forming pictures of cast iron pots and kettles in your heads as you read this and to you I stick out my tongue and say, "Thppss!" My social awkwardness (sometimes I'm a little feisty, for those of you that don't know) is nothing compared to out here. It's hard to describe. I'm afraid that putting it into words will make it seems less. But, after the 10th man has said, "Hey! wake up!" when he has walked into my store while I was reading (my book store, mind you) or suggested laziness in some other way, I have a right to be tired. Guys start conversations with, "Are you in a good mood today?" even if I have never been in a bad mood with that individual in the past. Another man has asked my name four times but still calls me Pyewacket (the store name) because he can't remember it. He's not even slightly embarrassed. He just walked in the store looking for Jane even though he has called twice today and spoken to me both times, learning that Jane wasn't here both times, saying only "You've not who I'm looking for," when he walked in. The warm fuzzies are just rolling out of me with greetings like that. This is in addition to all of the clumsy come-ons that are inevitable on an island full of bachelors of every age. Sometimes I'm charmed by them but lately I just want to tell Larry and Roger that it just doesn't matter how old I am. I think this stems from some confrontations that I've had lately. They fall into two categories: passive-aggressive men and pushy women.

Hannah, despite her peroxided hair and punk sense of style, grew up a hippie. She has traumatic memories of having to drink cashew milk, working at the food co-op and coaxing her stoned mother to clean the fridge or to arrive on time to school functions. She has brought to my attention that many people on the island behave passively-aggressively because that is the only way for hippies and other liberals to admit any kind of disagreement with anyone else. Anything more direct and it must be admitted that, no, we can't all just get along. So, when George, the founder of The Exchange asked me, "Don't you think everything looks better now? So much less clothing than before." I looked him the eyes and said, "No." When he asked indignantly "Why not?" I listed my reasons. This offended him to a degree that he attempted to verbally abuse me to get me to agree with him for 20 minutes. The fact that I wouldn't allow him to belittle me or my opinions but rather engaged with him only when his arguments were respectful and pointed out when his other statements weren't, made him more angry. Those of you with the pots and kettles in your heads are laughing but that fight isn't really what I'm complaining about. I will take responsibility for heated words and my occasionally abrasive tone in that one. Later, however, although George and the rest of the staff had approved the wording of a brochure I had written, George proceeded to rewrite every sentence, keeping my organization and ideas but changing the words and submitted that for publication. Plus, although he fought with every member of The Exchange staff that week, I'm the only one who didn't get an apology. I'm not teaching teenagers anymore and I just don't feel like dealing with those kinds of tantrums. Sure, I fight, but I go back later and try to find a resolution, not revenge. Another man implies every time he comes into the store that I'm lying when I say that I like living here. He says things like, "Well, have fun at home for Christmas. It was nice knowing you. Be sure to take everything with you," in this super smarmy Dale Carnegie tone. When I told him calmly, smiling and in a simple straight-forward way that I would prefer it if he didn't suggest that, he slowly boiled into a rage while he shopped for books, finally yelling that I should call the police (he said that four times) because he wasn't ever leaving. I never moved past calm and straightforward in that conversation. Again, it was like standing in the hallway waiting for an over-wrought kid to wind down.

The pushy women make me even more grumpy. I don't mind being told what to do when a hierarchy or even a relationship is already established. Bosses, mentors, directors, close friends, my mother, my father and Daniel: they all get to tell me when I'm out of line or when there was a better way to have done something. The other girl that works at the bookstore left me a list of "Things to do if I have time" that included shelve books, vacume [sic] if needed and to love and accept myself totally. Let's keep in mind that she can't count the money accurately, has trouble alphabetizing and doesn't read anything other than metaphysical books. #1 What does she think I do with my day? #2 Who is she to be giving me suggestions? I don't leave 3rd grade math exercises for her to practice with do I? Also this week, at choir practice, during the break a woman was speaking to the high school girl that sits next to me and I heard something about "and your neighbor . . ." Since the woman's tone was light, I continued walking toward them smiling and asked, "What about her neighbor?" "You need to sit up when you sing, too." What?!? I wish I had thought quickly enough to say, "Hi, I'm Rebecca, we weren't properly introduced before you started correcting me." #1 She walks in late every week. #2 We were sight-reading a difficult piece previous to the break and I was focused on notes rather than tone. #3 Who is she to tell me what to do? The director is the type to make her unhappiness with my behavior known if necessary. I would never dream of correcting a total stranger, especially in such a patronizing way. I was left gaping.

So, all of these slights and insults, both intentional and those rising out of simple social ignorance have put me on edge. This week it's hard to remember the sense of community that I love here, because it feels like a dysfunctional family with all of its hidden barbs and unresolved tensions.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Too-Tight Rhonda

Many of you have asked for descriptions of the type of people that live on the island. One that I have found myself using as an example over and over on my trip back to the Midwest has been that of Rhonda. She's really neat. She's about my age and really adorable, with cute blonde curly hair and that sparkly cute-girl personality. Often her shoulder-length hair is in two pigtails and she has that classic farm-girl aspect to her. Rhonda has a certain fashion quirk of wearing clothes that are way too small for her. She's not at all big, but seems to choose children's clothing, so that blouses gap between buttons and pants force flesh up and over. It seems to be a deliberate fashion choice and is part of what makes Rhonda sweet. (Jeff always looks a little scandalized when I refer to her as Too-Tight Rhonda because I think he thinks he'll slip and actually address her that way if he hears it enough.) Rhonda has been especially kind to me since my arrival on the island. She makes sure to invite me to things and told me, "I've been thinking about you singing all those words all by yourself to I WILL SURVIVE around the campfire. I thought, 'That's the kind of girl that I want to be friends with.'" It's always nice when someone has been thinking about you during times when you aren't actually together and she's the first to really express her approval of me in such an unequivocal way. I'm filled with the metaphorical warm feeling just thinking about how nice she is.

The really cool thing about Rhonda is, though, that she has a vision for her life and she is following it. Rhonda is a farmer. She has been working as a kind of farm manager, I think, contracting with farmers on the islands to help them produce more efficiently. She was working witht the Bullock family, ( who are famous permaculture practitioners. However, recently, she has managed to lease an acre of good farmland in Crow Valley, which is on the main road through the island. I know that it is good farmland because I overheard her telling joe Bullock about it at the celebration party and he got really excited once he realized just what piece she had. I like it because you can see her working as you drive from town to The Exchange. She is going into business for herself, growing organic food sustainably to sell locally. She says she's scared to death, especailly because she does not have all the money she needs to get started but when I drove by and the sun was shining on her kneeling and measuring out the plots by hand while her dog sat above her on the hill, watching, I was jealous. She is doing what I want to be doing: following a passion. She has gained the skills she needs and is now dedicating herself to a goal that doesn't exploit anything or anyone. And she loves it.

Rhonda is offering shares of the harvest for $500 for 20 weeks worth of vegetabes. The list of what she intends to grow includes artichokes, arugula, chioggia & golden beets, broccoli & brussel sprouts, joi choi cabbage, collards & cauliflower, lemon cucumbers, herbs - culinary and medical, deer tongue lettuce, parsnips, trunips & rutabagas, golden & red raspberries, strawberries galore, cherokee purple tomatoes, winter squast and raven zucchini. That's not even all of it. As you might have guessed, the clever phrasing is hers from her brochure. She calls it la campesina project and writes that she is located, "at lone cow farm 1969 orcas road on a south facing slope, of the flanks of crow valley in the salish sea, on beautiful orcas island." She also writes, "An extra pair of hands, another kindred spirit & more kind hearts are aways welcome at the project . . . young & old alike . . ." I've already told her that I'd like to help out but I think I will call again and use this time that I'm not working to at least help someone else follow her passion.