New Year’s, Zombies, Lamentations

I set out today to write about New Year’s Day and the blank wall it seems to offer each year. I sat and stared at that blank wall, thinking, “Well, there’s that then. Time to get on with the big bright shiny blank new year.”

It’s not really blank, you know. There are variations in the paint, chips here and there, maybe a faded handprint, if I look real close. I might spend too much time looking at it real close, finding the variations, finding the handprint. I forget, in those times of looking close, that the wall isn’t the thing. I stare at that blank wall for a long time, thinking about how to fill it, thinking about what to hang, how to paint, putting in a window or a fireplace. How hard would it be? How expensive? How long will it take? How messy?

When I look into the start of the new year, sometimes it’s a blank wall I see. Other times it is a dark and deep hole in the ground. How deep is that? I wonder to myself. I drop some coins into it. I listen for the plink into water or thud into the dirt, at the bottom. It does not always come. I peer into the dark a long time, waiting for my eyes to adjust, making out anything possible, anything moving, anything bearing just a little light.

I woke up today cranky, and it was not because I stayed up too late, or at least, I do not think that’s the reason. I moved through my familiar shuffle to the coffee pot. I greeted the now fully-waked children, who were already deep into the new box of cereal. I poured out a little prayer as the coffee dripped into my cup. Morning always seems promising. The first coffee bolsters that promise. The “New Year” catches me in a current, and I am riding it– so far, so good. But it doesn’t last, and my cranky mood takes over. What is it? I think to myself.

I know what it is. I remember it now as I sit to examine the sharp tone of my reprimands, the exasperation when I see the stack of dishes in the sink already, the tightness in my chest when, despite my best intentions, I find myself comparing my “New Year’s Eve” to the pictures I see on the computer, my last year to everyone else’s last year. It’s a new year. Why am I still so far from the goal?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
-Lamentations 3:22-23

After the second cup of coffee, a closing of the social media windows and maybe one more round of “why” I make a slow descent into prayer. I don’t want to go. I’d rather stare at that blank wall. I’d rather stare into the deep well in the ground. It’s astounding how fruitful that promise of the blank wall or the deep dark hole in the ground seems and yet, we both know Henri Nouwen is right when he tells us about the descent into the heart through prayer, don’t we?

“To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seing, within you.”
— Henri Nouwen The Way of the Heart

The start of the calendar New Year is a trap for me. It sets up a false expectation that change came in the night while the fireworks went off while the clock hands moved past midnight while my children slept soundly in their beds. Resolutions are made whether I meant to make them or not. Force of habit. Promises, not kept from last year, resurrect like zombies rising, arms outstretched and groaning. Remember me? They say, with voices that are eerily familiar from years of repetition. But it’s a trap. The idea that I woke to a blank wall or a deep well that formed while I slept and that the world somehow “reset” is flawed, at best. I just don’t buy it. I cannot buy it. It’s too expensive a cost because it is such a large purchase every year.

But the descent into the heart– not a deep staring into the dark once a year, but a daily, “new every morning” kind of looking, that’s an investment worth making, no matter what day of the year it is. The blank wall will be there, but great is His faithfulness. The deep dark holes in the floor will open up, but great is His faithfulness. The turning of time on the calendar will continue, along with the many and varied ways I can showcase my failings, but great is His faithfulness. Great is His faithfulness.

On Living and Dying and Making a Difference

Header-Ruminate-Logo

“I think I’m dying,” I said, and I coughed weakly. My children gathered around me, stroking my head and handing me small squares of toilet paper instead of Kleenex. My oldest got me a glass of water as I propped myself on some pillows. I tried to watch another season of Hell’s Kitchen but it made me hungry and being hungry made me feel nauseated. This sickness is not consumption, though that would be a far more literary way to write about my sick bed. This sickness is just a nasty head cold, a head cold I developed because my children are in grade school, and I just cannot help but hug and kiss them even when they are sick, which is always, because they are in grade school.

All that day I camped out in bed, and I read the stack of magazines I keep on my nightstand. I collect literary journals like some kids collect bottle caps. I line them up on the shelf under my nightstand. I stack them under the bed. I pile them on the coffee table. When the magazines arrive I read them while sitting on the couch, feet up, absent to everything else. On this day, I am reading Ruminate Magazine, one of my favorite journals. It is one of my favorites because of the beautiful work inside, the feel of the thick paper between my fingers, the splash of color of the artwork every few pages.

I might never have subscribed to Ruminate had I not met the editor, Brianna Vandyke at a writer’s conference in Michigan many years ago. I met her while walking through the “vendor” room. She was positioned behind the Ruminate table, smiling. I browsed the sample magazines on the table. They were a young outfit back then, just getting started. I had heard of them through a few other writers, and I had submitted to one of their writing contests. When Brianna saw my nametag, she said, “I know your name! I’ve been wanting to meet you!” and then she came out from behind the table and hugged me. At that point in my writing career, no one knew my name. I had no publishing credits to speak of and in fact, I was still unsure of whether I could truly say out loud that I was a writer.

I subscribed that day. And it was in that generous greeting, that moment of recognition and that small, well-loved journal that I began to form some solid understanding of what it means to create something beautiful. It’s something I still value to this day. Truly, I’m grateful for the work of Ruminate.

Because you might never have come across Ruminate before this post, I’d like to tell you that you also might never realize that they are in a funding crisis. Years of working on this magazine for no monetary compensation have taken its toll on the creators, and they are faced with closing their doors. This post is just to say that it will most likely not cut into your Hell’s Kitchen viewing. It will not keep you from your important engagements. If you have not heard about the magazine, the closing of Ruminate will not affect your daily living so far as you know.

What you don’t know is that the effect of this magazine on creative and talented folks is immense. Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we’re weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.

Will you help? You have a couple of days yet to lend a hand to help pull this powerful force from the water. Subscribe today, give a subscription or just toss some coin in this direction instead of a couple of pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Be a part of something foundational and good where art is concerned. Your small contribution makes a difference, I promise.

And listen, if you’ve never subscribed to a literary journal before, consider this your opportunity. Even Gordon Ramsey would agree that work like this needs your support.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Share the love…

NearlyOrthodox.cover

It’s a full on social media blitz over here at Angela’s Book Release Headquarters.

I promise I will do my level best to keep it to a dull roar on weekends and after 10pm on school nights but for the balance of the time I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit crazy for a while. I apologize in advance if that’s annoying. I intend to post more about my love of doughnuts and pre-occupation with the zombie apocalypse as time marches on so that’s something to look forward to, right?

For those of you who do not already know I’ve written my first full length book and the fine folks at Ancient Faith Publishers have decided to put it out there into the world. For a writer who has been pitching books like a crazy person for the last 10 years (me) this is kind of a big deal. So now that the hard work of writing the thing is done we now enter into the hard work of telling everyone I know that I’ve done this thing and ask politely if anyone within earshot would like to take a look and maybe pick up a copy for their own perusal.

The book, Nearly Orthodox: On being a modern woman in an ancient tradition is best described as spiritual memoir. It began as a detailing of my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy after a lot of years of wandering from my roots but it’s more than that, struggle, redemption, humor, maybe a little angst-ridden ranting. It’s a book for anyone who has been on a road they did not intend to take. Lonesome pilgrims, sign in here. Fellow travelers, represent.

If you go to the publishers website you can even read a full chapter to whet your appetite, how great is that? If you like your books the Amazon way you can grab it up there as well by clicking here: NEARLY ORTHODOX. You say you like eBooks? No problem! Go here and get it! The point is, the book is here and it’s waiting for you. All of you. No matter what your walk, your journey, you ice cream flavor preference.

Now, the best possible way to get the book into the world is for me to reach out to you lovely friends, family, faithful readers to let you know it’s out there. If you like what you see the crucial part is that I need to ask you to do this really important thing.

Share.

Are you on Facebook? Put a link to the book on your timeline-  http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Are you on Twitter? Write a quick tweet to say you’re excited about the book and post the link- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Instagram? How about posting a picture of the book when it arrives in your hands? And tell ’em to go here to buy a copy- http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Google+ is your bag? Simple. Post this link and some words of affirmation- http://store.ancientfaith.com/nearly-orthodox/

Other unnamed social media sources? No problem…post this link, friends! How easy is that? http://www.amazon.com/Nearly-Orthodox-modern-ancient-tradition/dp/193627096X/

Online social interaction not your jam? Are you a live and in person type? Easy peasy. Get you a book and carry it around. That stunning cover art ought to open all kinds of doors. Then you can pull out a pen and just write “Nearly Orthodox by Angela Doll Carlson” on their palm. Well, okay, maybe write it on a piece of paper to avoid awkwardness.

In any case, what’s going to make this thing happen for this untried first time author is your participation. It’s just like your kindergarten teacher always said, “It’s good to share.”

Thanks in advance my dear, wonderful, kind pals! Your support over the years has been a true gift.

-Ang

Stay.

Well, that’s over now. We can all resume our regular programming. It’s been a week since Robin Williams died. The words and pictures and tributes are only trickling into the newsfeed. Maybe we’ll see an uptick from time to time as new information comes forth, as new insights are gleaned but for the most part we are cycling around again, coming back into our normal way of operating. Maybe we’ll think of him from time to time, when the quotes and memes resurface, when his films show up on television, when awards ceremonies air their tributes to those we’ve lost this year. But for most of us, those of us who did not know him personally, our regular lives just pick up right where we left them. It’s the way of things.

For those who did know him personally the loss is palpable, I imagine. The loss is daily and will continue to be felt in the day to day, perhaps even in the moment to moment. Haven’t we all lost someone at one point or another? Don’t we all know that ache? That empty? That unanswered question?

Robin Williams suicide raised important issues, awareness issues in its wake. Depression, mental illness, visibility, treatment. Between the posts of movie lines and funny tidbits and grief there were calls to action, to listen better, to pick up the phone when feeling as though all is lost. Despair has depths unplumbed to most of us, I’d wager.

I’d always thought that if someone wants to end their life there’s probably little any of us could do about it. We can see the signs, we can treat the signs, we can listen better, we can call and keep tabs and remind about medication or therapy appointments but it’s not a cure for what ails. In the end it feels to me that those people who choose suicide do so because they see no other options or perhaps if they do see options they seem untenable, temporary, too painful to attempt. Nothing will help, this is the course of action.

But what do I know? Nothing. I don’t know because I have not been there, I have not studied it, I have not survived the loss of a close friend or relative to suicide. I know nothing and of course that makes it so easy to judge. From where I sit, it’s a simple task to unpack all of the anger and regret, grief and despair. I can just pick up my life where I left off, resume my regular programming, unaffected.

Except that I don’t feel unaffected now. I feel some deep dark pressing in from the outside, the “there must be something we can do or could have done or should have done” thought. And it’s there because we don’t want to be absent anything. Loss is terrible and difficult, death seems so final to those of us who stay behind. Perhaps it’s true that there is nothing we could say or do or be that would entice someone so deep in despair that they’d consider and choose to end their own life and yet I’m compelled to try. I’m compelled to encourage all of us to keep talking and trying and exploring and listening well to those around us who struggle

And I’m compelled to put out this small plea to the struggling community at large, to all of us, to any of us but especially to those people who feel there is no other way than to leave the land of the living –

Stay. Please stay.

 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Vacation…all I ever wanted.

I can’t even hear the word vacation without launching into my best Belinda Carlisle. If that reference is lost on you then I’ve kindly attached the video for that GoGo’s song. Watch and learn, grasshoppers. It’ll stick to you forever.

you’re welcome.

In any case, I’m headed out on vacation this week. So if you see or hear less of me then that’s the reason, though I am not opposed to you believing instead that I’ve been abducted by benevolent aliens who are teaching me the secrets of the universe. Good sci fi logic and storytelling insists that I’ll forget all of those secrets when I’m returned safe and sound next week to Chicago. Sorry about that, humanity.

In the meantime, I will entrust the internet to you all. You can have a few friends over but NO UNDERAGE DRINKING and try to keep the music down. I’ll be at Lyric Springs, walking the overgrown trails, breathing in the fresh warm air and splashing in the pool if the forecasted rain lets up.

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In dreams: “It’s for Jesus!”

I keep thinking I should start a new weekly feature here on Mrs Metaphor called, “things my weird subconscious tells me at night.”

About once a week I wake up remembering what I’ve dreamt. Nine times out of ten that dream fades within a few hours but sometimes it stays with me. Sometimes the dream is so real, so tangible I have to talk about it because it bothers me all day, like getting a splinter and feeling it there under the skin. Writing about it or telling about it acts as a pair of tweezers pulling out the sliver.

Last night I dreamt I was headed to Liturgy (the Orthodox Sunday church service) and found that it was not occurring. Like everything in dreams things suddenly shifted, like scenes from Inception with doorways becoming walls and walls becoming streets. I found myself in another place, walking into what my memory told me was a church I attended 20 years ago except that it didn’t look at all like the right building.  But, I accepted it, like you do in dreams, and I entered into the aged brownstone building, walked up a flight of unfamiliar stairs and through a set of wide doors into the sanctuary, which was more like a theater.

I chose a seat near the back, under the balcony seats and someone handed me a “program.” It was printed on lime green paper, laminated and fastened together with a single small binder ring. I paged through it quickly as the music started but did not get far before the first “act” came out. This church service apparently was pretty cutting edge because the opening of the service entailed a group of performers, midgets, who would shoot themselves out of a cannon placed in the balcony. All I could see from my seat after the boom of the cannon was a short person in a bright red or blue costume, sailing through the air and rolling to a stop on the stage. The people around me went crazy for it and I wondered if I was in church after all. When I turned to ask my neighbor, a heavy-set, well dressed young woman she smiled and said, “It’s for Jesus!”

After a few minutes of this I looked a little more deeply at the lime green laminated “program” and saw the line up for the rest of the church service. There would be three rock bands, an acoustic set and a poetry reading by a number of community members. Each poet had a number after his or her name indicated the number of poems they would be reading. The third name down listed (25) as the number of poems she meant to read. At that, I stood up to leave but the woman next to me put her hand on my arm, “No, don’t go!” she said, “there’s so much more!” I shook my head and said this wasn’t really my thing and that I had to go but she still tried to talk me out of leaving. “It’s for Jesus!” she said again. I finally broke away as quietly as I could and began to make my way out of the auditorium.

When I reached the staircase outside I felt relief and I stepped out the door into what had become a cloudy, overcast day. Raindrops hit my face as I remembered that I’d left my raincoat inside on my seat. And then I woke up.

Another day in the life

So, this is what I did this weekend, in case you were wondering-

We can’t have furry pets in this house because of dander/allergy issues so instead we have become a foster family to a Russian Tortoise in the boys’ room and a Leopard Gecko in my daughter’s room. Despite some early trepidation about keeping reptiles in the house I have to admit that I love them as much as I would any kind of furry pet, more or less.

The tortoise, Turles, is pretty low-key, forgiving and quiet. I swear that she looks forlorn most of the time but I think that’s just the look on her face. I can relate. Scully, the Leopard Gecko, is also fairly low-key. The only trouble we’re having on that front revolves around his food source, keeping crickets. It’s a constant dialogue now that Scully has grown. He goes through crickets like the boys go through snack food, except when he’s shedding and then, nothing. This means that the food supply present in the little plastic box we bought specifically for this purpose starts to die off and no matter how well I think I’m treating those pesky crickets they just die off after a few days if not eaten. And dead crickets stink, in case you were not aware.

I always feel a little bit bad for the crickets and I imagine what kind of life this must feel like to them. They’re born or hatch or whatever crickets do to come into the wide world and then are shipped off to pet stores to be placed in bags with cardboard, taken to someone’s house, placed into a spa-like environment with food and water and hiding places and then unceremoniously removed to the cage of their predator for consumption. I’m pretty sure this is the plot of a sci-fi movie I saw once.

I try to talk to the crickets and apologize for the harsh life. I tell them it’s a food cycle kind of thing but really, it’s unnatural if you really look at the big picture. And so, I always feel a little bit bad about it even as I sit and watch Scully enjoy the hunt.

The latest adventure came this week, though, when I decided to order a larger quantity of crickets for home delivery. I know, it sounds weird, but I really thought that maybe getting the crickets directly might mean they were healthier and last longer in that plastic utopia death chamber in my daughter’s room. When the box arrived the mailman held it by the edges. A metal screen covered the front of the small box and the crickets were clinging to the screen, trying in vain to escape. The first thing I noticed was that they were not the large crickets I’d ordered but small ones, about the size of the button on my sweater. Fine, I thought, he’ll just have to move a little faster to catch ’em. The next thing I noticed was that there was no easy way to open the box for transfer to the bug house without letting them or at least some of them escape. My clever solution was to open it on my back porch and just dump them quickly into the bug house. Flawless plan, huh?

Except, not so much.

If you don’t have a need to keep crickets for any reason you won’t realize that they usually come with some egg carton cardboard. They like to chew on the cardboard. In the case of this box the egg carton cardboard itself could fill the bug house and there was really no way to get the crickets from the cardboard to the bug house with any efficiency. So, here was me on my back porch opening the small box, seeing the mass of small crickets streaming out from all open areas like the scene from the Ten Commandments when the locust descend upon Egypt. And I am dumping crickets and cardboard into the plastic bug house with a real fury and determination, trying not to pay attention to the number of escapees, trying to shake off the renegades who are climbing on my hands and arms and pant leg, trying to keep my bug panic contained long enough to get the job done. It was kind of awful.

The escapees outside seem to have taken up residence in the garden, eating some of my plants, building their own version of utopia I suppose.

But wait, there’s more.

To make matters worse, the bug house apparently was not made for these small crickets, you see. After a day or so we started to find them here and there around the house. They have been finding cracks we had not considered before because of the larger cricket population that Pet Smart provided and every couple of hours I’d hear a kid bellow out, “Here’s another one!” We began to call it Cricket-pocalypse. I made an executive decision. The crickets had to go outside for the night until I could figure out what to do about their housing situation. We dumped a load of them into Scully’s cage to keep him happy and then I took the bug house outside to the back porch for the night. Was it shirking my pet owner responsibilities? Yes, probably.

I’d forgotten that it was meant to rain that night.

In the morning when I found them the majority of the crickets were drowned in what must have felt like a flood of biblical proportions to them. Some were still clinging to the soggy egg carton cardboard that rose just above the three inches of water in the bug house. It was again, kind of awful.

In the end, I did the only thing I could think to do. I opened the top of the bug house and dumped the whole mess into the garden. A kind of cricket Garden of Eden for those who survived. This is probably where I’d draw some metaphor for life and living, some deeper implications of that whole endeavor but really, all I can think is that it’s another day in the life, for me and the gecko and the crickets who found their way into the promised land this morning. That’s all I got.

Good Letters: Jars of Clay

I’ve got a post up today on Good Letters, the fine blog offered by that Image Journal magazine I like so much. If you’ve got a moment take time to check it out. In light of the heat the band (and front man, Dan Haseltine in particular) took a few weeks ago over a Twitter discussion on marriage equality I just wanted to check in with my friend, Stephen Mason. He delivers some lovely words and sage thinking. Hope you’ll give it a read! 20130614-jarsofclay-600x-1371228007-300x240

Book release….Nearly Orthodox!

So, this is cool. I got the release date for my book, Nearly Orthodox.

If all things go according to plan and the zombie apocalypse doesn’t hit you’ll be able to pick up a copy of Nearly Orthodox on or around July 31st. You’ll have plenty of time to sit on the beach, sipping a mai tai and drinking in the finer points of my conversion story.

But it’s not just a conversion story.

It’s something more, details and memories, moments, insights, confusions and rants. While I was writing I kept thinking about who might read the book. I was thinking about the people I know who will pick it up because they love me and want to support my work (thanks, Mom!) But I was also thinking about the person who has no idea who I am and no real care about conversion or Eastern Orthodoxy, the one who sees it on a shelf and likes the picture on the front or the idea of it or the title or the genre of memoir overall.

I tried to weave the words so that anyone, regardless of religious leanings, gender, position or intention might find something in it, something they would read and find some connection to, some “yes” or “me too” or maybe just a slow nod, a remembrance, a prayer, a sigh, because that’s the point of it all anyway.

We’re all in the daily struggle of finding meaning in our lives, not the wide grand struggle we see on television or in the movies but in the momentary search for meaning- in this breath, in this batch of cookies, in this load of laundry, in this spreadsheet, in this commute, in this blog post. I hope I wrote it well. I hope you find yourself in it and I hope we can connect there, in the words.

More to come…

The more you know…

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On the way to school today, my youngest son Miles read every single billboard and street sign, offering a commentary on each one. He talked and read non stop. He’s wrapping up his last week of the third grade, his first year attending “real” school. He was a late reader due in part of our massively unstructured version of homeschool and in part to his unwillingness to WANT to read. Reading lessons with him were like pulling teeth- for us both. For this reason when he began school this year it was with great trepidation for us both.

I’d warned his teacher that he’d be coming in below level. I set the bar low but she didn’t believe me. Entering third grade he could barely decipher the world around him. When she tested him the first time she called me to say that I’d called it right. She was surprised but she was kind about it, not shaming him, not shaming me. We’re fortunate to have gotten this amazing talented teacher on our first roll of the real school dice. Within one school year he was able to find that sweet spot of learning and then something clicked in him and suddenly he was reading.

His teacher gave me his Spring results this week, he clocked in at the 85th percentile. We high-fived each other. I thanked her for her hard work but she thanked Miles. “It was his work” she said and she was right about that. He worked hard for this, not even knowing what the world would look like once he could read. I hadn’t realized that for him, the goal felt strange and intangible, it was a goal he was not even sure he wanted, like being offered food that looks weird when you’re not hungry at all.

This morning after he read out all the street signs and billboards and before he jumped out of the car to run to line up for class I asked him, “Do you remember what it was like before you could read? It wasn’t that long ago.” He marveled at the question, saying that it was hard to remember. It felt to him as though he could always read. But he did remember how he felt; he remembered the jumble of foreign looking symbols all around him, he remembered the headaches that came from puzzling through them, he remembered the frustration and the anger and confusion. “The more I read, the more natural it is and there are WORDS everywhere. It’s amazing.”

I was struck by how often I take that for granted, that there are words everywhere and I can decipher them, be a part of the ongoing communication they offer and because of that I can enter into the larger world…and it is amazing.