Monday, February 23, 2015

The dresses

With my head still under my pillow, body weighted down by flannel sheets and down comforter, I thought I would get out of bed and write a blog post about winter--the dull, dirty, frozen grey winter landscape that just will not go away. It may evaporate. Slowly. But melt? Not this week.

But the sun is shining in the east window of my living room and with the laptop open I felt the call of the dresses. The Oscar dresses, on the red carpet, gathered onto a single web page on the morning after at the New York Times.

Fashionista I am not. I recognize names like Chanel and Karl Lagerfield and Armani, but the commentary on trendy designers means little to me. I just like to look at glamorous gowns, with their boned bodices and flowing skirts, luxurious fabrics, bright colors and sparkles.

Yeah, I know--these women are armored, painted, sprayed, worked over by stylists, tanned, taped and shoe-horned into clothing that can't be comfortable for three hours of sitting through an awards show. Yes, we objectify women. Yes, movies use women's bodies as decoration and titillation. But gosh, the dresses!

It's odd really--men who act in movies come to awards shows in a single costume, a uniform--the well fitting tuxedo. They play it cool. Is this because there are plenty of good roles for them, more access to power? Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" made tons more money than its rivals. So yes, dress like Clint, still off-handedly handsome at 84.

Women--we have to try so much harder to be noticed. But there's also pleasure in the spectacle. I look at these dresses and imagine myself wearing them (well, some of them). It's Julianne Moore I want to be -- intelligent, passionate, intent on using the platform of the Oscars to talk about Alzheimer's and its victims who are hidden away and forgotten. Maybe it's the contrast between the gorgeous gown and the women's lives portrayed by Oscar-nominated actresses: Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking, loving someone with ALS. There's power there--ordinary life shared, transformed on the screen, the art of it all celebrated with the silk, the spangles and the spandex.

Anyway, that and the sunshine on the giant icicle outside my window may just cure the dull ache of late winter.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gwen's very long, exhausting Ash Wednesday newsletter printing day

6:50. Roll over in bed. Sleep Cycle app goes off. Hit snooze.

7:00. Regular alarm goes off. Hit snooze. Once, twice, many times. (Worked past 1 a.m. last night.)

7:45. Last-ditch, save-my-butt, emergency alarm goes off. Get out of bed. Make coffee. Talk to Eliza. Not really sure why, but she no longer has PACE bus rides to and from work for the day. Cancelled because of the cold? What? I’ll be driving her at 11:30 and 2:00. Two 25-minute interruptions in an already packed day.

7:50. Get dressed. Pants don’t match sweater, socks don’t match pants. Does not seem to matter at the moment.

7:55. Discovered I only thought I made coffee. The on button is not glowing red. Still time to drink a cup before I have to leave for an eye doctor appointment at 8:30, so I push the button.

8:10. Coffee is finally ready. Pour half in a travel cup, half in a regular cup. Breakfast. Measure out the oatmeal and water and put it in the microwave for two minutes. Grab leftover beans and rice from the refrigerator and put them in lunch bag, plus an orange. Pack up laptop and cords.

8:15. Have to leave for the doctor! The microwave is beeping at me. Why? Oh yeah, oatmeal. Spoon. Stir it around. Can I eat it fast without burning my mouth? No. Pour coffee from cup into a second travel mug.

8:16. Leave oatmeal to congeal on the kitchen counter. Coat, hat, scarf, gloves, keys, tote bag, eye drops, sunglasses, purse, two containers of coffee, and I’m out the door. Three tries with the code on the garage door opener. It won’t work. Pry the 5 button forward. Wait. Wait. Wait. Put the code again slowly. Push open. Up it goes.

8:24. Park at the hospital. Grab the laptop from the tote bag and jam it into my purse. Gotta work while I wait. Down three flights of stairs, through the tunnel to avoid the cold, up one flight of stairs, elevator to the sixth floor. Wait, wait, wait to sign in at the desk.

8:30. Yay, I am on the Hospital Guest wifi, opening files and shooting off emails. Then into the exam room. Pick up coat, hat, scarf, laptop, case, purse. What can I see? Well, nothing, until they close that gadget to just a pin hole. Yellow eye drops. Check the pressure. Back to the waiting room because the doctor isn’t there yet. (Pick up coat, hat, scarf, etc.) More plugging away at newsletter stories.

9:10. Back in the exam room (with coat, hat, bag, scarf, gloves, laptop, sleeve …) Eye looks good. Questions from me. Every now and then I catch a shadow or something off to the left of the eye that had the cataract surgery. Probably, I think, I say, it’s my nose. Or my glasses frame. But I'm nervous. Dilate eye. Back to the waiting room. (Lug stuff!) I will be late for a 9:30 meeting. Make a phone call, send an email, write a text. Back to the laptop. The little letters get fuzzy and I’m back in the exam room. All is well with the eye. Make joke about over-active brain. Put on coat, pick up stuff. New appointment, down the elevator, through the tunnel, up the parking garage elevator, call my mother to say I’ll be there to pick her up in five minutes. Travel mug of coffee is barely warm.

10:00. Drop my mother, park the car, catch the end of the meeting. 

10:30. Up to my office. No lunch bag. Write, write, copy, paste, text boxes, logos, grr. I’ll have to leave at 11:25 to pick up Eliza. She calls at 11:25—eek, gotta go. Figure out what happened with the rides and the cold, and what she said they told here, but actually asked her. Coat, hat, scarf, glove, purse, keys, sunglasses. Learn that one of the two copiers I’ll need to use later in the day is broken. Out to the car, drive home. Run in, get lunch bag. Drive. Drop. Park. Inside. 

Noon-ish. Eat half a turkey and bacon sandwich offered to me. (I’ll eat my lunch for dinner, which I had planned to skip.) Drop in on another meeting. Questions that I need answered now. Info I’ll need later this week. Random conversation, emails, files, links. 

1:00. Walk to my office. Stop to meet with someone else. A problem for another day. Write, copy, paste, revise, proof, edit, fuss, scowl, grind teeth. Hit print, revise presets, hit send. Have to pick up Eliza. Coat, hat, scarf, gloves, can’t find the sunglasses, stick laptop and cords back in tote bag in case I need to send the file again from downstairs. Copy room, check proof, looks okay except every other page is upside down. Forgot to check the short-side bind box. Give proof to someone to read. Walk to car, pick up Eliza, drive-up grilled chicken sandwich for her, head home, carry in food, turn around and go back to car.

2:30. Copy-edit, proof, revise, tinker, lock in lay-out, call my proofreader who has two corrections. (I’ve already made at least 20.) Get a text at 3:15 about another meeting starting. Finish tinkering. Put 925 into the number of copies box and hit print. Stop at copier on the way down. Newsletter is running. 

3:20. Sit in other meeting. Scowl. Interject. Wise-crack. Not a happy meeting. Notice that my face is tense and I’m exhaling but not inhaling.

3:55. My mother’s here and needs a ride home. Forgot about that. Check the copier. Discover copier repairman is at police station after a car accident. Find a hand-cart. Move a box of paper. Try to think of alternative ways to get my mom back to her place. Suck it up and drive her home. Coat, gloves, scarf, hat, purse, keys, out to the parking garage. Drive, drop, block the street, thread my way through the jam, return to work and nap time. Or at least lie down and try to breathe time. Set the alarm. Note tension throughout body.

5:00. Alarm goes off. I might be able to make it through the next hour. Heat up rice and beans. Walk around the building and eat. Check the copier. Still waiting for the repairman for copier #2. Review music for choir rehearsal. Make tea.

5:25. Greet chorister #1 and #2. Friendly. Play through new music. Lent. Diminished sevenths and suspensions. 

5:35. Chorister 3 and 4 arrive. Run warm-ups. Work a cut-off. Totally loony today thanks to “Annie” rehearsals and performances at the middle school. Try to persist in serious rehearsing. Kids are performing melodramas with the music.

5:50. Glance at text from son about how he confronted someone who was wearing the jacket stolen from him last December. Wish I could hear the whole story. Or not.

5:55. Phone rings during choir rehearsal, but it’s someone I have to talk to about a program. Four singers rush to the board to draw pictures. Good news on the phone. Focus of rehearsal not so good.

6:00. Soccer singer leaves for practice. Sightreading of Good Friday music with Latin texts begins. Helps to have string players and band members in your choir. Our new anthem is described as a Disney princess song. They don’t like Disney princesses. They do like their songs. 

6:23. Rehearsal ends early. Off to check the copiers. Copier #2 is fixed but running another job. I do some math, load paper, return to my office (up 2.5 flights of stairs), send the print job, return to the basement machine, delete the working job, and at last have two copiers printing my newsletter. 

6:42. Walk into pre-service Ash Wednesday choir rehearsal late. Too tired to sing on key, so combat flatness by singing sharp and bright.

7:00. Ash Wednesday worship. This is my least favorite liturgical occasion of the entire year. Too tired for solemnity. Too sharp for minor keys. Too weary. Too angry for patriarchy. Will someone please just row this boat ashore so we can all go home?

7:50. Downstairs for communion. And another copier check. Load up paper. Shut down one machine. Stack stuff needed for mailing crew in the morning. Haul two reams of 11 x 17 paper back where they belong. Bathroom. Choir rehearsal. 

8:30. Where exactly is the center of the pitch? And my pencil? And why must this song go both into and out of the wilderness to the same tune?

9:00. Very difficult to sing German words like "Fuerchte dich niche" through pursed lips and clenched teeth. Can’t tune. Try to exhale and relax into flatness.

9:10. Choir’s over. Coat, hat, gloves, scarf, tote bag, purse, eye drops, laptop, cords, keys, lunchbag. Thank God, my car is actually where I thought I left it. Look in the mirror on the visor to scrub the ashes off my forehead. Really not up for questions about dirty foreheads when I get home.

9:30. Home. Couch. Cold still creeping along my thigh bones. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, yes. Television, no. Knitting, no. Stay up late enough to make it hard to get up again tomorrow.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blog anniversary: Keep typing

There are four typed-out quotations posted on the bulletin board in my office. Three have been there for a long time. I added a new one yesterday. It comes from a collection of quotes from David Carr, the New York Times media journalist who died a few days ago:
Keep typing until it turns into writing.

That, my friends, has been the motto and the method of this blog for nine years. Start something and see where it goes by typing, editing and  reworking. At some point, maybe, it becomes something that communicates, that might mean something to others. More importantly, at some point I can read it back and discover what I believe.

Because, truly, I can't say I believe much--not in that way we so often take "believe" to mean certainty, or intellectual assent to ideas bronzed into a creed. Like many a Christian child I was told what to believe, or even "what we believe." The challenge then was to make my life, actions, feelings, fit the outline and all its proscribed categories, line breaks, and indents.

But alas, the older I get, the less willing I am to submit to orthodoxy, or to settle for it, at least in matters of faith. I don't feel compelled to express myself in clothing, or accessories, or sparkly phone cases. But I do log in at The Perverse Lutheran to type, hoping it will turn into something I can trust my heart to—my bruised and broken heart.

I type questions. I type experiences. I type anger (though perhaps not as much anger as I feel). I listen to the words and change them until their rhythm matches the ideal heard in the distance. I move sentences around, I point out the dissonance. I hope it leads to a resolution that is sweet, surprising, true.

Today was the funeral of an old friend and a reader of this blog. After two years of cancer treatment she'd had enough. It was her time to die, in the peace of God.

But I, as a living person, was angry with death today, and promises of life everlasting in the funeral service meant very little. It's like that part in the Apostles' Creed where we say we believe in "the resurrection of the body." I always think, what does that mean anyway?

The committal was in the church's Memorial Garden, a cold and blustery place on this Saturday afternoon in February. Finally, in the second reading graveside I heard words that made some sense to me:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.

That comes from the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians, and there's more of it, right on through verse 18:
What can be seen is temporary, what cannot be seen is eternal. (v. 18) 

Another of the quotes on my bulletin board, this one from many years ago, says:
Tell the truth. Don't decorate. Remember death.

I don't remember where it's from. I liked the bluntness, though I think the bluntness is a little pretentious, or at least pretentious on my bulletin board. What do I know of truth? And I'm happy to ignore the fact that all things must die.

Yet I keep typing, and sometimes, if it turns into writing, testing those words against the truth of my heart, shows me what this perverse Lutheran believes.

Though afflicted, perplexed, and remembering death, I believe that God's grace is ever-present. Today it arrived in words from scripture. Sometimes it arrives in a gesture from a friend, or the love of my children. Once memorably in this blog, it was in the bright red tree outside my front window.

I keep typing.

This blog began sometime around Transfiguration Sunday in 2006, and I mark its anniversary not by the date, but by the liturgical occasion. There's been more than one post through the years inspired by death and funerals. Perhaps I'll challenge myself to think happy thoughts on Ash Wednesday. Suitably perverse? Anyway, thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I am trying to think about grace.

This is not easy. For one thing, I work at a church named Grace, so thinking about big-G and small-g grace often ends in irony. Also, my mother-in-law is named Grace.

But grace is ironic--it is something other than what we expect, a second meaning beyond what we see on the surface, though it's not all that hard to see when your heart is open.

This is the place for a story. I could tell the one about finally finding my cell phone last night--lying on the packed-down snow beyond my driveway, out in the street. It had lain there for two and a half hours. How did a snow plow not come along and turn it over into the tall pile of snow by the curb, to be found in early March, frozen and waterlogged?

Avoiding a snow plow is pretty small peanuts for grace. And truly, if I had lost the phone for good I would now be reveling in the grace of an iPhone upgrade, maybe even, with hard bargaining, a slightly reduced cell phone bill. I'd also be enjoying the smug satisfaction of one who has everything on her phone backed up two and three times over.

Nope--grace is more than good fortune. Finding my phone again is a cheap grace. I suffered very little for my carelessness with it, and the suffering I did experience was of the "I'm an idiot, it's just a gadget" variety. In the tizzy that comes with looking for my phone, I often wish I were free of the phone's claims on me. But really, those claims come from the people to whom I can be available via phone, people I feel I ought to be able to keep safe if they can get in touch with me.

But I can't keep people safe, not completely, and that is when God's grace must appear. When friends struggle or old friends die, when my own children keep going through some very tough stuff, these are the places God shows up. When my spirits are low, I listen. Grace—small-g—will show up, and in very human terms.

I probably won't hear it—I have to say this—in stained-glass language about the victory of the cross or the final triumph of the resurrection and life everlasting. Conventional language is, at best, a shortcut expression for something much bigger. Ja, ja, ja, but I want something of my own, God moving in my world, in a breath. In care from a friend when I have been mostly self-absorbed and selfish.  News of the dying when I am avoiding thoughts of mortality. Joys of the living when I am consumed with ends of things. A really great verb (grant such to me!) when all I can write is a string of noun phrases. A prayer--not one prayed well with lots of words, but one where God's voice silences the din of petitions and complaints.