Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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The Waiting Game

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Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.

When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”

 No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient..

Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.

Point, click and shop till you drop.

UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue from Amazon Prime will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.

Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.

Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.

Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.

Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)

Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.

But no one came.

Be patient, beloved, be patient.

Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it.  After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?

Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.

The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.

Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.

When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.

It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.

So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.

We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.

And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.

Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)

Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?

Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

 “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”

 “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,

 and a little child shall lead them.”   — Isaiah 11:1-10

 Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit’s seed be planted in our souls.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that in the darkness of our hearts, this love take root.

And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,

Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and battered world that cries out for the love  of God so loudly.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

JoaniSign


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Little Sister, the Movie

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My firstborn Zach Clark is an indie filmmaker. And a successful one at that. He is the writer, director, and editor of all of his films. All five of them have played in festivals all over the world including SXSW. Gifted with his own unique John Waters sensibility, his movies are dark, quirky, funny, and sad.

Zach’s movies are autobiographical but not literally so. The characters are composites and each film a mosaic, pieced together from his experience and boundless creativity.

Zach is also partial to holidays. At 34 he is still just a great big kid at Christmas. His previous film White Reindeer came out in 2013. It is an outrageous, hysterical, and touching film about grief and loss at Christmas. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll feature throughout. The New Yorker called it “and instant holiday cult classic.” It’s available on Hulu! Click here to watch trailer!

And Zach’s newest film, Little Sister, is now playing in 20 cities and available on demand. And the critics are raving about this one too!

“As sweetly funky and improbably pure hearted as its young heroine, a trainee nun and erstwhile Goth making peace with her troubled North Carolina family…” Variety

“A strange spiky movie that refuses to beg for our attention. ‘Little Sister…molds the classic homecoming drama into a quirky reconciliation between faith and family.”
The New York Times

“Nothing less than an up-to-date vision of the new weird America.” The New Yorker

Again autobiographical but far from literal, Zach developed the story with his “creative life partner” and coproducer Melodie Sisk. And the lead characters share our family names and some of our traits — all mixed up.  “Colleen” is the hopeful young nun (played by Addison Timlin.) “Joani” is the manic depressive mom (played by Ally Sheedy. Yes, Ally Sheedy!) And “Jacob” is the wounded older brother (played by Keith Poulson.)

Politics lurk in the background in the election season of 2008. And Zach’s favorite holiday – Halloween plays into the plot:

“October 2008. Young nun Colleen is avoiding all contact with her family, until an email from her mother announces, “Your brother is home.”…Her parents are happy enough to see her but unease and awkwardness abounds. Her brother is living as a recluse in the guest house since returning from the Iraq War…Tenions rise and fall with a little help from Halloween, pot cupcakes, and GWAR. Little Sister is a sad comedy about family — a schmaltz-free, pathos drenched, feel good movie for the little goth girl inside all of us.”

Really timely topics this crazy election cycle, when dark and darkness, depression, and despair pervade our public discourse. Little Sister takes on faith, and family, and politics with a deeply personal lens. Its not a happily ever after movie, but it is a very hopeful one.

Lord, knows we could all use a little hope right now.

Click here to watch in a theater near you!

OR

Click here to watch on demand via Amazon, iTunes, or Vimeo!

And every ticket sale and every rental goes right back to the filmmakers, cast, and crew!

So pop some popcorn, invite over some friends, and watch Little Sister. Its a balm for your soul.

JoaniSign

 

 


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“Besties, Bromances & Soulmates” -Post-Election Therapy

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This time last year, I was feeling “Bookish”.

Having met Meredith Maslich, at the Story District rebrand bash, I was psyched to learn that she heads – Possibilities Publishing – a unique, boutique, partnership approach to the book trade.

Maybe I could turn Unorthodox & Unhinged into a book?  A radically manic idea! Meredith and I met over coffee to discuss the possibility. But the journey, from blogger to author, is in reality a gargantuan leap.

Long story short: U&U has not morphed into a book.

But short story long: U&U has made into a book.

A reflective piece I wrote, Make New Friends and…, is the opening chapter in Besties, Bromances & Soulmates, this year’s Possibilities Publishing anthology. Between its covers, half a dozen writers explore “pivotal relationships” and the gift of friendship through short story, essay, fiction and non.

So is it any wonder that”Thank you for being my friend”, the old Golden Girls’  theme song, is ringing in my ears. And this post election week, it rings all the more dearly and resonates all the more deeply.

Our country has just come “through the great ordeal”. Well, we are not actually through anything.

Post election, I am experiencing waves of grief. I am stumbling, disoriented as if awoken from a bad dream. My bleeding heart liberal sensibilities have been overwhelmed. Knocked down and beneath these waves, I struggle to come up for air.

How about you?

As a coping mechanism, I have poured myself into my work. In just two days, I plowed through two week’s worth. I have stayed up later and gotten up earlier, cramming 27 plus hours into my day.  Possibly by abandoning sleep, my busyness will belay my fears.

Mania, for a day or two or three, is awesome.

Mania, for a week or two or three, not so much.

So how do I – do we – rein in the mania when we are feeling so unmoored?

Well, very simply, by tightening the ties that bind.

By calling friends,

talking with friends,

having coffee with friends, dinner with friends,

walking with friends,

hiking with friends,

biking with friends,

Netflix/Hulu binge watching with friends,

cocktail partying with friends,

road tripping with friends,

book clubbing with friends,

bar hopping with friends,

pew sitting with friends,

praying with friends,

couch surfing with friends,

shooting the breeze or catching a movie with friends,

cooking with friends,

baking with friends,

crafting with friends,

board gaming with friends,

protesting with friends,

witnessing with friends,

volunteering with friends,

peace making with friends,

reconciling with friends.

Common ground, mutual support, trust, concern and compassion.

Love, respect, and admiration.

Friends restore one another’s souls and revive one another’s spirits.

This art of “befriending” is fueled by our tending to our friendships. Befriending the other, the new, the stranger, in this post-election season, is desperately what we need. Not rushing to an easy or happy-clappy reconciliation, but working towards deep, honest, life affirming connections.

Working towards a radical “we”.

Which brings me back to Besties, Bromances & Soulmatea perfect little book to honor a friend or tuck into a Christmas stocking (or for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). These half a dozen stories celebrate the  pivotal relationships in our lives.

Friendship begets friendship.

Love begets love.

December 11th at 4:00 PM, this little book is going to be launched. Its a friendly affair with author readings, book signings, and refreshments at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Rd in Alexandria, VA.

Bring a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a coworker. Invite a Muslim friend, a Mormon friend, a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, an agnostic friend, an immigrant friend, an LGBTQ friend, an African American friend, a Hispanic friend, an old friend, your BFF, your next door neighbor, or the new guy who just moved in from across the street.

Ask a Hillary voter or a Trump supporter to come along.

It’s the Christian thing to do.

The price of admission? New warm hats/gloves/mittens/scarves in all sizes for our friends at Carpenters Shelter in Alexandria. Click here to RSVP.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

JoaniSign


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The Pseudo-Librarian, the Priest & Her Wardrobe

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1963. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Brown courdouroy smocked dress and white puffy blouse. Navy blue polka dot shift and striped Danskins. Parochial school uniform and Peter Pan collars. Mary Janes, saddle shoes, and Keds.

1973. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Peasant dresses, halter tops, and army jacket. Denim cutoffs, bellbottom pants, and macrame belts. Parochial school uniform and Oxford cloth shirts. Platforms, flip flops, and saddle shoes.

1983. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Pleated skirts and cardigan sweaters.  Padded shoulders and tailored slacks. Designer jeans, and tasteful flats.

1993. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Khaki trousers, corduroy jumpers, and denim overalls. Cotton turtlenecks, kilts and tights. Embroidered vests and cable knit sweaters. Black flats, brown flats, and tennis shoes.

2003. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Target basics and Talbot’s work clothes. Cotton sweats and running suits. Clergy shirts and clerical collars. Random flats, Birkenstocks, and flip flops — in every color under the sun.

And thirteen years on.

2016. Open my wardrobe and what do you see?

Funky tunics and interesting tops. Comfy leggings and skinny jeans. Prints, patterns, and primary colors. Autumn hues and basic black. Dressy dresses and dresses just for fun. Lululemon trousers and button down shirts. Bits of ribbon and bits of lace. TOMS, saddle shoes, ASICS, and a multitude of multicolored flats.

I have both lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Middle child, parochial school girl, head of the class.

Flower child, high school nerd, and rebel without a cause.

Computer programmer, working mom, sometimes a wife.

Seminary student, kindergarten volunteer, and Del Ray mom.

Parish priest, divorcee, and mostly manic.

Half marathoner, storyteller, blogger, irreverent reverend, and pseudo-libarian.

I have lost and found myself in my wardrobe.

Clothes are the window dressing of the soul. Spiritual expressions of our psyches and personalities. Creative expressions of our passions and our moods.

In my darker days, my wardrobe was all solid colors. No prints. Basic and boring. I would buy three colors of the same pants and the same sweater.

All the better to hide in. All the better to disappear.

Those dark days are long — and hopefully forever — gone.

How do I know?

Because my wardrobe therapist tells me so.

My therapeutic fashion consultant, Stephanie Hernandez, helped me work through my closet issues.

Stephie is a very good friend of my awesome daughter Colleen. Stephie is a young LCSW with a passion for style and an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s the founder of  “Look Good, Feel Good” — “a therapeutic approach to finding your personal style.”

A brilliant idea! This bipolar soul signed herself up right away!

Personable, warm, and observant, Stephie first sat down on my couch and we had a chat. I walked her through a “regular day” so she could learn about my bipolar life — both at work and at play. I gave her a one minute tour of my condo and then we took a thirty minute walk through my wardrobe.

And then for the next half hour, we played dress up. Mixing and matching funky and flattering combos, Stephie helped me come up with outfits that I can wear just about anywhere: @ LOC, @EEC, walking Del Ray, or strolling DC.

Working with Stephie made me feel so much cooler and so much cuter than I actually am!

It was very therapeutic.

It was so much fun!

“Look Good, Feel Good Style”

It’s not just a catchy slogan, it’s fashion philosophy.

I recommend Stephanie Hernandez and her new enterprise most happily!

So friends, what’s in your wardrobe?

JoaniSign

Note: Also posted on Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating

 

 


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Grounded Flight

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I know nothing of aerodynamics but I do know that I have a helicopter in my head.

The propellers  begin to spin slowly, slowly at first.  Then faster and faster they pick up speed.

I feel a rush of wind, a little cyclone swirling counter clockwise.

My feet take leave of the ground.

Climbing skyward, I soar over the trees. I taste the clouds.

There is a lightness of being almost too delicious to describe.

I hover high above the earth. My heart beats so, I  hear the swoosh, swoosh of a rush of blood.

Heaven expands before me. Space and time, they stretch.

Gazing above, I truly believe the only direction is up.

Gravity has no hold on me.

Gazing down, I have no fear.

No fear at all.

Buoyant. Euphoric. Exquisite.

Mania.

Or at least hypo-mania.

A mild and manageable outbreak.

Please do not ask me to medicate it away.

Yes, I have a helicopter in my head and I like it that way.

Hypomania is flying just under the radar at optimal altitude. It is the passion of a polymath.

(I love that word – “polymath”. Go look it up!)

This Peacock believes herself to be a person of insatiable curiosity. Engaging in encyclopedic endeavors. And with boundless energy, of course.

I blog. I preach. I write. I teach. I walk. I read. I talk and talk. I swim and float  and dive in deep. I delight, dig in, and devour my work. I scatter seeds and rattle beads. I vocalize and volunteer. I spin tales and search for holy grails. I cruise the river front. I wander DC. I pound the pavement in front of me.  I breakfast with the birds, lunch alone, and dine with friends. I binge watch Stranger Things. I speed read three tomes at a time. And I drink lots and lots of coffee.

Good coffee.

My head expands exponentially as does the universe, so Hubble says.

The world is so, so wonderful, I dare not miss a thing. I dare not go to sleep.

My brain says that I do not have to.

I stay up later.

I wake up earlier.

I hear the engine sputter. I feel the propellers falter, the copter lunge and lurch.

Turbulent, nauseous, like stumbling and tumbling over rocks.

Sky sick, I lose control.

The ground comes rushing towards me.

Crash landing.

CRASH.

I hate when this happens.

My grandiose pride bruised. It begrudges me my humanity.

But wings of wax melt in the sun. Weight returns to my body. More than I would like to admit.

You know, I think I need a mental health day. I play hookie and “call in crazy.

“Yes, Joani,” my colleague Chuck says, “that sounds like the sane thing to do.”

So I do.

Sleep in.

Drink coffee in my pajamas.

Stretch out on the couch.

Read the paper.

Veg out.

Surf Hulu and wade through Netflix.

Take a late shower.

Get dressed.

Tune in.

Gather my thoughts.

Scribble them down.

Publish  and post them on U&U.

The helicopter has landed.

This Peacock is safely on the ground.

JoaniSign

NOTE: Manically submitted at midnight, Sunday, September 12, 2016.

 


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Bipolar Love: The Tale of Archie & Amelie

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“On December 5, 1900, the New York Herald headlines screamed:”

“CHANLER ESCAPES

Amelie Rives First Husband

IS OUT OF ASYLUM

Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man

Who Left Bloomingdale Institution…

Former Wife, Princess Troubetzkoy, Also Insane.”

This is the dark and delicious tale of doomed passion: meticulously researched and wonderfully told in Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age by Donna M. Lucey.

Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, born in 1862, and heir to the estate of his great –grandfather John Jacob Astor of New York.

Amelie Rives, born in 1863, is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee and descendant of a storied first family of Virginia.

Archie’s family fortune was built on the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned at a tender age, Archie and his siblings were raised by committee. “A wild and willful bunch” they were tamed by “nannies, tutors, and distant guardians.”

The eldest and legally responsible for his younger siblings, Archie, at Eton honed a refined and reasonable self-control — while underneath simmered his literary and artistic appetites.

A nephew of Julia Ward Howe, a progressive scion of the salon, Archie was intellectually curious and cautiously broad-minded. A romantic and eccentric soul, he was also an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.

Amelie Rives of Castle Hill was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. The provocative prose of her first novel, The Quick or the Dead?, garnered her both notoriety and the notice of the literary lions of her day – including the likes of Oscar Wilde and Willa Cather.

Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her noble ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France. But the “War between the States” left the family homestead in tatters. Her father, a civil engineer, like a nomad wandered from post to post to keep his family financially afloat.

And so women, strong women, ruled the roost at Castle Hill. Captured in an 1880 photograph “Amelie, a young beauty at seventeen, stands behind the powerful figures of her grandmother and her granite faced Aunt Ella – as if she were next in line in a dynasty.”

Seductively, Ameilie wielded both her pen and her person to woo the men in her life. Though a woman of the Gilded Age, she boldly bucked the constricting conventions of her time.

Amelie cast aside her corset and wore exotic flowing gowns. Described as “a sizzling vessel of molten lava”, she was also surprisingly religiously devout. Most passionate and erotic in her prose, she made her reviewers blush and made her suitors swoon.

Archie madly, deeply, hopelessly pursued her. After three persistent marriage proposals, Amelie accepted and they were engaged.

Hot and cold, like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed to failure. The first two years the couple skipped across Europe — settling down long enough only to become unsettled.

Amelie seemed to love Archie the most when he was absent. And when he was absent, Archie was a tortured soul never quite knowing how to rekindle Amelie’s ardor.

Eight years after their nuptials at Castle Hill, Amelie runs off with a dashing and penniless prince, a Russian royal named Troubetzkoy.

Divorced and disgraced, Archie, still hopelessly in love with Amelie, supports her until the day he dies.

The truth be told, they drove each other mad.

Separately they suffer bouts of insanity. Some real and some feigned.

Amelie is prone to melancholy and takes up some unusual cures in the sanitariums of the Gilded Age.

Archie, wrongly committed by his scheming siblings for seven years, escapes the asylum only to descend deeper into a manic kind of madness. He becomes a prolific automatic writer of the self-published kind. A most generous and penniless philanthropist, he ends his days scribbling his name on the walls.

Bipolar love.

Archie, posthumously, is believed to have come by his bipolar disorder quite honestly. It runs in the family. A gift that keeps giving.

Amelie’s madness is of a similar kind. Euphoric, grandiose, verbose, and highly creative, she cannot help but crash from time to time.

Their marriage was both heaven and hell: Brief episodes of bliss, bright bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms, overwhelmed by sadness.

It could not possibly last. And indeed, it did not.

The madness of such love, can it possibly be worth it?

My sensible side says “NO!”, of course. Who wants to end up on the shores of life an emotional wreck?

But my bipolar soul, the manic-depressive me, screams “YES!”

Let me have a mad, deep, intoxicating, engaging, infuriating, invigorating, reckless, mad, mad love affair…

at least one, or two, or three.

Good for a novel, a movie, a play, a memoir. Good for some crazy tall tales to tell my grandchildren some day.

And maybe good for a blog post — or two, or three.

Who knows? Stay tuned, U&U followers.

I’ll keep you up to date one week at a time – – at Sex & The Single Vicar!

JoaniSign

 

 


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U&U Keeping Up w/S&TSV

 

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U&U readers, most of you know that a little over a month ago I started a second blog :Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating.

But if not, let me catch you up!

Unlike the Pied Piper, unfortunately, I can’t just bring my followers along from one blog to the other. But for those who are intrigued, I would certainly like to!

So I thought I would post my recent S&TSV posts here. After reading a few, I hope to entice you to click “follow” to sign up for email updates. (Not here, but in S&TSV.)

So please join me and read and laugh along!

“Sex & The Single Vicar: Tales of Ecclesiastical Dating” – the launch post that explains the method behind this new madness of mine.

“Fireworks” – the romantic tale of the 4th of July and my search for fireworks of a different kind.

“Reach out and touch…” – the lowdown on “professional cuddling” and the importance of human touch.

“Anonymous Advise” – a review of a “trashy book” and an expose of a so called “expert” in the field.

“Practice Makes Imperfect” – a tale of digital attempts to connect with the opposite sex.

“Truth or Consequences” — the hidden traps of the dating game for my attractive demographic.

If you read this far, I know you are interested. If you read them all, I hope you are hooked.

I plan to file field reports from the battlefield every week or so.

So friends, let’s stay connected. This venture is so much more fun when shared with fellow comrades in arms.

See you next time on S&TSV!

JoaniSign