Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Conjectures of Guilty Librarian: A Short Story

This story is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental and unintentional.

 Early Reader

 “Take up and read.” 

 I remember my older sister, reading me to sleep. My mother is AWOL, already tucked into her boozy bed. P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? is one of my not so ironic favorites.  But, what really rocks me to sleep are the cadences of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.

I never make it to kindergarten.  I am no wunderkind reading at three. But I remember coming home from my first day of first grade screaming: RED! I can spell RED!

And from that day forward, I could read. Yertle the Turtle. Horton Hears a Who. Nancy Drew.

My dad’s library beckons.  The smell of pipe tobacco. Kingston Trio on the tape deck. So many books looking down at me.  Books of the Month Club. Heritage Press. Penguin Classics.

A playground for my gray cells.  In my dad’s library, I find my literary friends. Imaginary and necessary. They get me through school: elementary and high and launch me early into university.

Where I fall in love – head over heels in love –  with books.

For the Love of a Good Book

 “A library is a place where you lose your innocence but not your virginity.” 

My lover is an open book.

Currently I am intimate with White Noise by Don DeLillo “Hilarious, beautiful, and strange.”

It’s easy on the eyes, lovely to hold and stimulating to my gray cells.

The perfect companion to take to my bed.

Pillow talk with DeLillo is delightful.

Babette and I have turned our lives for each other’s thoughtful regard, turned them in the moonlight in our pale hands, spoken deep into the night about our fathers and mothers, childhoods, friendships, awakenings, old loves, fears. No detail must be left out, not even a dog with ticks or a neighbor’s boy who ate an insect on a dare. The smell of pantries, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin.

Such language, it makes me jealous.

Books are sensuous things.  Smooth pages, ragged edges, the whiff of oak trees and earth.

Printed words slither from left to right clarifying things in black and white.

Yes, books are quite the tease.  Breathless, I dream of what’s on the page’s other side.

And the best of books not only get into my bed; they get into my head.

I’ll never be an astronaut, but I have explored the cosmos. I’ll never be a philosopher, but I have pondered by Walden Pond

All for the love of a good book.

Tumbled between the sheets, my lovers lie spent. Their covers lost. Their spines broken. Their pages torn. Their corners bent.

No man can possibly compete.

Next semester, I begin a two-year tour at Library School. There I will see and taste all this temple has to offer: its collections and its history; its legends and its lore.

A bibliophile’s dream.

Library School

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They should be warned.” 

The campus and quad are verdant and fresh.  Fall leaves crackle under my feet. Muddy gray buildings loom overhead.  At the registrar’s office, I drool over the curriculum as I wait in line.

The first day of class arrives. I sit up front. Eager to please. The Dewey Decimal System is a bit of a bore. The History of the Book more tedious than I care to admit. But Libraries: Ancient and Modern is nothing less than a revelation.

I could listen forever to the professor’s Irish lilt.  His cable knit sweater could use a wash. His bristly chin could use a shave. Stereotypically rumpled, he is a virtual card catalog of information.

He dazzles the class with tales from ancient Alexandria to the Papal Library at the Vat.  I imagine him unrolling a parchment scroll or pulling down a tome from antique shelves.

I check the syllabus and read ahead.  I cannot get enough of this stuff. And to be honest, I cannot get enough of this Scholar-Librarian.

Occasionally, he graces my nerdy lunch table. No better banter than book banter. Banned book lists. Fights over first editions. Salty stories from the stacks at Cambridge.

Cracking jokes with my classmates, along with a professor is just plain fun.  Deftly deploying my tongue, I hold my own.

We agree on much. We argue even more.

The best arguments of my life. Intellectual and spirited. Brutally honest and exceptionally kind.

I am listened to and understood in a way that I have never known before. Like a rare book, I find my value.

I find my home.

In the Library.

Book Jockey

“Libraries should be open to all except the censor.” 

 Second semester, lucky me lands a job at the front desk. The most menial job a library has to offer. But the hottest spot in town. Through the front doors stream a bunch of biblio-types: faculty, students, researchers. I love getting to know them. Their peculiarities. Their preferences.

I love to watch the preening professor holding court. I love hearing researchers excited about their books. I even love the occasional overly-long conversations at the desk.

And though I am the most verbose of library assistants, the hierarchy believes me deaf. Like a mic hidden in a house plant, I overhear faculty squabbles and gossip of student affairs.

Libraries appear tidy but really, they are quite messy places to work. Alive with an eclectic cast of characters. Haunted by the ghosts of their past.

Meander through the stacks, open a carrel door, run your fingers along dusty spines, mystery permeates the place.

Thousands of books, telling tales, stand silent on the shelves.

They never speak.

Shhhh, the Head Librarian whispers.

At the front desk, I sit in silence. Quietly in the know.

Like a pastor, I hand out bibliographic advice. But I keep my own counsel.

Public Services are private. Circulation is secret.

And there is no censorship in the library.

The Scholar-Librarian

 “To build a library is to create a life.”

I want to be James H. Billington when I grow up. A recently retired Librarian of Congress, Billington is also an acclaimed historian.

A voracious reader, I dream of being a prolific writer. About what yet, I am not sure.

But I know that a Scholar-Librarianis everything I want to be.

Master of collections. Mistress of catalogs. Scribbling away in my private carrel, some passionate brilliance.

But I am held back by library anxiety. Yes, that is a real thing:

Confusion, fear and frustration especially when lacking experience while facing pressure to master a subject.

It leads to procrastination. Timidity. Feelings of inadequacy.

So, how do I score? Much too high. Though I might ace a project, I fall all over myself presenting it.  I fumble with my notes. I look down and not up.

Practicing in my living room, I’m polished and funny. In front of the professor, I am an intellectual klutz.

Why?

Middle child, in a crazy household, it was best to disappear. Teacher’s pet in parochial school, I gave only the right answers. Rebel without a cause in high school, finally my questions started to fly.

But I am swatted down. Hard.

Which drives me underground. Secret and subversive.

And so, in college, I become an amateur philosopher – arguing with the sages of the ages.

Term paper wise, but never really in person wise.

Bookworm, I am drawn to the Scholar-Librarian like a moth to a flame.

Basking in his light, terrified of getting burned.

Bibliolatry

 “Anyone who’s worth anything reads just what she wants.” 

 I love spending other people’s money on books.  Well, I don’t actually spend the money myself, the Head Librarian does but I do get paid – minimum wage – to find them.

There is a lot of down time at the desk. I flip through the Times Literary Supplement. I skim the Chronicle of Higher Education.I scour professional journals for the latest and greatest of books.

An academic pursuit. But not entirely.

When the first little Library of Congress burned, Thomas Jefferson offered to sell Congress his books. Jefferson had one of the finest libraries in the young United States. His shelves were packed with history, philosophy and the arts.  He had volumes on every topic: bee keeping, Italian cooking, magic tricks.

Congress balked. They just wanted the law books.

But Jefferson argued: “There might not be subject to which a member of congress might not need to refer.”

In other words, he was passionate about everything.

“I cannot live without books,”Jefferson famously said.

6,487 of them.

Reading cultivates desire.

I have long played it safe in my life. I am the girl next door hesitant to leave the house. I am a good girl with a crush on a bad, bad boy. My love life does not amount to much. Study groups. poetry readings, book store crawls.

And now I want more.

Epic poetry, mystery, astrophysics.

I fill out bunches of book-recommend slips for the Scholar-Librarian.

I write little notes.

Does he read them?

I don’t think so.

I really don’t’ think so.

 Reading People

 “One must be an inventor to read well.”

 I am undercover. Circulation is not a simple as it appears. Like a secret agent, I take a read of everyone who comes in the door.

I am expert, of course, because on my break I read an article in Psychology Today. Look “past the masks into the real person. Logic alone won’t tell the whole story about anybody. You must surrender to other vital forms of information.”

 Surrender. I love that.

Pay attention to appearance, posture, movement, expressions of the face.

Trust your gut. Honor your feelings

Monitor the mood.

Tune into the tone of voice.

And eyes, of course, are windows to the soul.

Head Librarian?

Tweed suits. Oxford cloth shirts. Master of tasks.

Reference Desk?

Polyester mix & match. Counter of fines.

Rare Books?

 Sweater sets. Tome duster. History buff.

Archives?

 Dockers. Button downs. Glad hander. Ghost story teller.

Scholar-Librarian?

Here, I pay very close attention.

Not just to the sound of his voice but to sentence structure, punctuation. He laughs louder than he should, his sense of humor raw. His clothes are sloppy, on the preppy side. Solid as an oak tree, an inquisitive sage. Tenured and comfortable in his Ivory tower.

Sometimes he climbs down. His disciples as his feet.

Monday. Wednesday. Friday. First period. 8:30 AM.

Surveys, seminars, group discussions.

All four semesters, I turn my life upside down, so I can take his every class.

Every single one.

On the Shelf

 “Speed now book and make yourself known. A thousand hands will grasp you with warm desire.” 

 Flipping through National Geographic, I happen upon an article about mating rituals in the wild. I read it, of course. The subtle art of seduction is what book displays are all about.

Maybe I can learn something from a preening peacock.

Apparently in the animal kingdom, Birds of Paradise find tickling a turn on. Hooded Seals blow up like pink balloons. And Bowerbirds collect tiny trinkets to lure females to their bachelor pads.

Thank you, Nat-Geo.

Displays are front and center. To entice you.  To tempt you.

Current affairs. Famous authors. Or maybe something more unorthodox.

Having closely read the Scholar-Librarian, I design a few.

October.  History of Halloween. Haunting, delightful.

March. Mental Health. A public service, of course.

And in May, the sexiest of all – Books about Books.

These are the books literally in the Z section— where only librarians go.

Books that make me weak in the knees:

A Gentle Madness

The Library at Midnight

Paper

 Touch me.  Crack open my cover. Check me out.

I take note of the readers who stop by my display.

The Dewey-Decimal professor.

The periodicals specialist.

And yes,

The Scholar-Librarian.

 The Librarian’s Apprentice

 “From this slender beginning, I have gradually formed a select library, the foundation of my works and the best comfort of my life.”

Unpacking a cardboard carton of moldy books, I find a hand typed term paper from 1976: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Case Study in the Role of the Mentor. A heaven- sent self-help title. Wearing library gloves, I unpeel it from the bottom of the box and begin to read.

The Scholar-Librarian, approaches the desk.

Books on Books. Are you the curator of this little display? “Well done,” he continues without waiting for an answer.

“Your work is really fine. Your projects. Your papers.”

“Would you consider applying for the Heritage Apprenticeship? Applications are due end of the month. Interviews start next week.”

Cheshire grin on my lips, I reply: “‘Thanks. I’ll give it some thought.”

I Google the program: Preservation. Oral Histories. Archiving, Digital Curation. Special Collection.  Rare Books. Museum Libraries.

Of course, I’ll do this. I download the application. But before filling it out, I do a little homework.

What sort of sorcerer is he?

Look first to Homer’s Odyssey the moldy term paper says.

Mentor is the caretaker of Odysseus’ household while he is away fighting in Troy. Mentor takes young Telemachus, the warrior’s son, under his wing. Like a spirit-guide Mentor opens doors for his charge to an unknown world.  Mentor walks alongside his apprentice until he is ignorant no more.

Socrates and Plato. Freud and Jung. Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller.

Spring water gushes from the pump. Cold and wet.  Like a slap to a baby’s bottom, the apprentice is woken up. The sorcerer spells out words, his hand in hers.

Yes, I am Helen Keller. And he, my Annie Sullivan.

Application done, interview behind me.

I am appointed the Librarian’s Apprentice.

It starts off slow.

Typing up his research. Culling books from the shelves.  Xeroxing notes.

Busy work turns scholarly. More time in the classroom.  More time in the stacks.

I arrive early each day.  I linger late.

Intellectual tinder.

Road trip to a conference. Study tour at the LOC.

The sexiest organ?

The one between the ears, of course.

Borrowing Privileges

 “The Library is a candy store, and everything is free.”

Libraries are for lending.

You will be carded, of course but there is no cover charge.

Miles of books free for the taking.

At least, for a little while.

It’s an illusion, of course, the book is not really yours to keep. You have to give it back.

Borrowing privileges are ranked. Night school: 2 books for just 5 days. Undergrads: 25 volumes for 5 weeks.  Grad students: 50 volumes for 100 days.  Faculty: Infinity books, forever.

That’s a whole lot of trust.

Libraries did not start out this way. Medieval libraries chained the books to the desk. A kind of book-bondage.

Before then, monks squirreled the books away in their carrels – for only them to see.

Chaining a book to a lectern, tethers the book to a place. A more public place where any novice who passes by can read.

Basically, a biblo-tease.

I chain myself to my sorcerer’s schedule. I let him read me whenever he pleases.  His borrowing privileges far outweigh mine.

Trucking books up the elevator. Shelving in the stacks. Cleaning up a reading room.

A professor and his student, a literary liaison.

Forbidden, like a banned book.

Does he love me? Does he love me not? My yellow rose petals fall to the ground.

Truth be told, I have learned, that out there, somewhere is a mousy little spouse, cozy in a faculty house, of whom he never speaks.

Matter and anti-matter should never collide.

Office hours fly out the window.

One more sentence, one more paragraph, just one more book.

Working away in the professor’s carrell, it’s publish or perish.

The Scholar-Librarian, working on tenure.

The sorcerer’s apprentice, hoping for more.

With a borrowed man and on borrowed time.

Running the risk of overdue fines.

  Tattered Covers

 “Literature is my utopia.”

 A very smart person just died. How do I know? I know because a van just pulled up out front. The driver gets out and starts unloading boxes. Liquor boxes, produce boxes, Ivory Soap boxes.

Intoxicating, bubbly and luscious fruit.

It is the library of a lifetime.

It is an intimate process – holy even — to unpack them.

Classics and comics. Plato and pulp fiction. History and mystery. Anais Nin.

Which were beloved? Here’s how you tell.

Cracked covers? Multiple reads.

Marginalia? Conversation.

Folded corners? Returned again and again.

Ephemera flutters to the floor.

Postcards and birthday cards, letters and electric bills, business cards and theater tickets.

Once, even a 19thcentury blank check from a Chicago bank.

Vacations, celebrations, obligations, and complications.

This is how the Scholar-Librarian and I become beloved of one another.

Our lopsided couplings, exciting and brief.

And for now, I believe this is all that I need.

It seems presumptuous to ask for anything more.

So now — back to the boxes.

Up go paperbacks and hard covers to the used book shelves.

Fifty cents for the former, a dollar for the latter.

Imperfect, vulnerable, and beautifully flawed.

Don’t worry, beloveds, I will find you new homes.

You will be cared for.

Not cast aside.

Bibliomania

 “When I have a little money, I buy books. If I have any leftover, I buy food and clothes.”

 My Facebook photo is a tower of book boxes.

Emptied, depleted, and totally spent.

I have caught the book lover’s contagion. I covet classics as well as the trash.  So, I steal a few books now and then.  (Actually, free for the taking.) They pile up in the backseat of my car.  Three grocery bags full in just a month’s time.

Inside my apartment, I can barely cram anymore. But somehow, I do.

Bibliomaniac. A hoarder of sorts.  Intervention is needed. But there is none to be had.  I am surrounded by addicts of a similar kind.

Book junkies. Library rats. Closeted collectors.

Just can’t get enough, we get it wherever we can find it.

Libraries, book stalls, drugstore paperback racks.

Now Bibliomania is an actual diagnosis. You can read all about it in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.

Among the gently mad, I find my truest self.

Reading reveals the inner life.

Deflated, I barely focus on a dust cover.  Caffeinated, I buzz through a book in a day. Inflated, I consume half a dozen tomes at a time.

Surely the New York Times will ask me to write a few reviews.

I will dazzle the book world with brilliant commentary.

Utterly delighted. Hopelessly distracted.

This must be what passion feels like.

Touched with fire,

I have fallen madly in love with the Scholar-Librarian.

Romance Novel

“What wild desires torment the hapless soul who feels the book disease.”

Headlines scream:

CHANLER ESCAPES. Search Fails to Find Wealthy Demented Man. Former Wife, Also Insane.

This is the dark and delicious tale of Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age.

Archie is John Armstrong Chanler, heir to the estate of John Jacob Astor.

Amelie Rives is the goddaughter of Robert E. Lee.

Archie’s family fortune was built on ‘the fur trade, clear-eyed capitalism, and Presbyterian rectitude. Orphaned, Archie and his siblings were “a wild and willful bunch.”

Intellectually curious, a romantic and eccentric soul, Archie“was an inventive young man full of ideas and boundless generosity.”

Amelie Rives was a gifted young writer — gifted — with a dark sensuality. Her first novel The Quick or the Dead? both shocked and impressed reviewers of her day.

Amelie’s Virginia home had “an air of civilized taste and ancient leisure.” Her ancestors included revolutionary war heroes and ambassadors to France.

A siren, Amelie cast aside her corset for flowing robes. “A sizzling vessel of molten lava, she made her reviewers blush and her suitors swoon.”

Archie madly pursued her, proposing three times.

Like fire and ice, their eight-year love affair was doomed from the start.  The first two years the couple was more unsettled than not.

Amelie seemed to love Archie most when he was absent. And when together, Archie never quite knew how to rekindle her heart.

Eight years later, Amelie runs off with a penniless prince.

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

The truth be told, they drove each other mad.

Their marriage was heaven and hell. Episodes of bliss.  Bursts of passion. Disrupted by storms. Overwhelmed by sadness.

It could not possibly last. Indeed, it did not.

Sheer madness.

Biblio-therapy

 “Many people feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

Books are the answer to everything.

When lost at sea, I grab a book. To navigate my way.

Having never written a book, I bought a bunch about how to write one.

The Art of Memoir.

Fiction Writing.

How to Write a Novel.

I confess that I have not read them. Really, I have just skimmed the tables of contents.  The Art of Memoir,I managed to read a third. Mary Karr is very good.

This seemed enough to get started. But I keep them close just in case.

As Jane Smiley says, “Many people feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

 It’s reading for healing’s sake.

Often self-administered.

Also, a field of psychology, “Biblio-therapy can help people with the emotional challenges of existence.” 

Dealing with acute physical pain, Ceridwin Dovey took the cure. He was doubtful at first.

The insights are still nebulous but therein lies its power.  I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of myself, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.

Lose  yourself in a book to find yourself. So, what to read?

Flipping through The Novel Cure, I diagnose my maladies– alphabetically.

Without editorial comment, here are a few:

Anger:   Old Man and the Sea.

 Breaking Up: The End of the Affair.

 Cry, in need of a good: The Fault in Our Stars.

 And we are only up to letter C. From A to Z, there is  enough therapy between these covers to last a lifetime.

“One sheds one’s sickness in books” D.H. Lawrence wrote.

Read. Return. Repeat.

Two years of biblio-therapy, I break through, leaving the Scholar-Librarian behind.

At least, so I think.

Dominatrix of Library Science

 “This is a library. Crossroads of civilization. Refuge of the arts. Armory of truth.  You stand on sacred ground.”

 Decreed my MLS, I am at last a Mistress of Library Science.

Not quite a Scholar-Librarian but on my way.

And I have arrived here alone and on my own.

I take the Librarian’s Oath:

I solemnly swear to execute professional practices to create, select, organize, manage, preserve, disseminate and utilize collections in all formats. I promise to pursue scholarly endeavors that may benefit the Temple of Learning in which I serve. In the name of Demetrius of Phalaeron, the ancient Librarian of Alexandria, this is my solemn vow.

 I sign my name with a feather quill.

A name I have not told you and never will.

Out go resumes to libraries great and small.

Then I shoot for the stars.

The Library of Congress.

The Bodleian.

Leaving Library School is just about the best thing that has ever happened to me.

My car’s overloaded with boxes of books.  A suitcase of clothes. A carton of kitchen stuff.

I turn the key in the ignition.

I leave no forwarding address.

Not even for the Scholar-Librarian.

 “Betsy returned to her chair, took off her coat, opened her book and forgot the world again.”

JoaniSign


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Not So Old Woman & The Pool

I am no Hemingway…

But like the Old Man of his Pulitzer winning novel, I have long had a problematic relationship with large bodies of water.

Sea water and pool water.

As a child – by the sea, by the beautiful sea – my fair, freckled skin would fry to a crisp. Bright red and hot to the touch – it took just 15 minutes splashing around in the waves – until I was thoroughly cooked.

Slathered with Solarcaine I was waylaid on the sand.   To shield me from the sun, I had to wear my father’s t-shirt and my mother’s floppy hat – while my siblings boogie-boarded and had  a grand old time.

The sea was not my friend —  but neither was the neighborhood pool.

My older sister, Maureen, once she reached driving age, chauffeured us in a fish-tailed Plymouth station wagon to our swimming lessons.

I flunked.

I flunked swimming lessons three times.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice.

Terrified of heights, I never learned to dive. The best I managed to do was doggy paddle the length of the pool. By the time I finally passed, I was at least a head taller than all of the other pollywogs in my class.

Yes, I have long had a problematic relationship with water.

Water won. I lost.

So water and I made a deal.

“I’ll wear my swim suit, Water, but I will never get it wet.”

Be it by the pool or by the sea, I would find a comfortable chair, slather my fair and freckled skin with SPF 100, sit under an umbrella and read a book – or two – or three.

Slather, rinse, repeat.

And that is how  I thought it was going to be –for all eternity —  with water and me…

Until.

Cross training for my first half marathon, I signed up for twice weekly water aerobics at the local rec center.

Now most people think water aerobics is just a bunch of old ladies splashing around in the pool.

Nothing is further from the truth.

Barbara, the instructor, works us like a drill sergeant. The routine is demanding and never boring. Armed with noodles and styrofoam barbells, water shoes and swimming gloves:

Like frogs we skim  the surface.

Like divers we explore the depths.

Like cyclists we pedal the length, the breadth.

Like bells in a belfry we swing both to and fro.

Like flying fish we shoot out of the water.

Like dancers we pivot and turn.

Like soldiers we march.

Like taskmasters we kick our butts.

Like yogis we stretch.

Like runners we run.

Like rowers we row ourselves ashore.

Like dolphins we submerge and rise again.

Water is buoyant – it bolsters my spirit and lifts my mood.

Water is a solvent – solving and dissolving my daily cares.

Water is a liquid –it pools my soul.

Water crashes in waves – washing over me and making me clean.

Water ebbs and flows  – its moods and mine obeying the moon.

And now these summer days, you will find me likewise swimming like a fish in my neighborhood pool.

Water. Baptismal water.

Thank you, Lord God of the Universe, for the gift of water. Over it the Spirit moved at the dawn of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan.

And in these baptismal waters — twice weekly — and on the weekends — I  die and rise again.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


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Let the World Turn Without You

My dad, Dr. Peacock was a healer and I was in awe of him.

When I was a child, I remember him pulling wondrous things out of his little black bag – the things he would use to prod and poke me, if I claimed I was too sick to go to school. A stethoscope to listen to my chest.  Tongue depressors to look down my throat. A little flashlight to peer into my ears.  A little hammer to knock my knees which, mysteriously made me kick somehow.

Invariably he would pronounce me well, prescribe two aspirin and send me off to school.

(I won the perfect attendance ribbon – seven years running at Holy Family School!)

Being a doctor, of course, he worked doctor’s hours: weekends, holidays, Holy Days, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter – no exceptions. As a child, it seemed to me he was always making rounds. And on very rare occasions, I got to go around with him and troop behind him at the hospital – like an acolyte.

He was forever coming home late. After dinner was over. After we had already gone to bed.

Healing is exhausting work.

Just ask Jesus.

Jesus’ reputation followed him from town to town. Who is this wonderworker that restores sight to the blind and makes the lame to walk? Wherever he went, crowds pressed upon just to touch the hem of his cloak.

Just say the word, Jesus, and I shall be healed.

He cared for all who came to him — the sick whether in body or soul. But Jesus, just like us, had only 24 hours in his day. Just like us, he needs to eat, to sleep, gather his thoughts, recharge his spirit.

The Lord’s prescription? Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. That includes him. That includes everybody.

He needs a solid 8 hours, like the Jesus Christ in the Superstar song:

Let the world turn without you tonight. Close your eyes and relax and think of nothing tonight.

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Sunday is the Christian Sabbath (which we swapped out for Saturday, the seventh day of the week.)  God rested from hanging the stars and stocking the oceans. God rested on the Sabbath and made it sacred.

The old Blue Laws, once upon a time, helped us to keep it holy.

On Sundays, we went to Mass, slid into the back pew, squirmed in our seats, and tried to look pious. We listened to the lessons, snoozed through the sermon, rattled off a few Hail Mary’s and nodded our heads in prayer.

Sunday afternoons after church were lazy and uneventful. Even my workaholic dad, Doctor Peacock put on a pair of jeans and puttered around his workbench. We read the Sunday comics, played board games, and took cat naps.

It was not all  Let all mortal flesh keep silence. There were nine of us, after all. But we slowed WAY down. We stopped doing and just started being.

Not so true anymore, right? On Sundays we shop ‘til we drop. We’re glued to our devices: our smart phones and our MACS.  We answer email, we return calls, slip in meetings. All stuff that could wait.

Sunday blurs into Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. You know what I mean.

Being summer, sabbatical time, we are a little better at this.  But even our vacations are often over scheduled out the wazoo.

This Sunday, give it a try and see if you can keep it holy. Put down the newspaper. Leave the dishes in the sink. Leave the beds unmade. Go no further than your backyard. Swing in a hammock. Listen to music. Read a good book. Soak up a little silence along with the sun.

Close your eyes and listen. To the birds in the trees. The airplane overhead. The occasional breeze. Water gushing from a hose. Kids kicking soccer balls in the yard next door.

Tune in to the sound of your breath. The rhythm of your beating heart.

Be grateful for the life that surrounds you.

Be grateful for the life within you.

And for 24 hours, just like Jesus, let the world spin without you.

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.

It’s God prescription for a hurting world.

JoaniSign


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Dancing with the Stars

The definitive scholar of liturgical dance ( of the divine kind) is none other than Kevin Bacon. Memorialized in the film Footloose, he makes his argument before the court:

People have danced since the beginning of time. People have danced in prayer. People have danced to bring down the rains and bring in the harvest. People danced before the hunt to bag big game for their tables.

Dance is the most ancient form of Jazzersize.

Dance is an expression of  the human spirit.

A full body celebration of the soul.

Everywhere.  Everyone. Dances.

Professor Bacon pulls out his Bible and turns to Psalm 149:

Hallelujah!

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.

Let Israel rejoice in his maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their king.

Let them praise his name in the dance; let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.

And King David, the musical king (who supposedly wrote the psalms) dances his heart out before the ark – the prophet Samuel tells us  – before the golden throne of the Lord of Lords.

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals… David danced before the Lord with all his might…And David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, with the sound of the trumpet…King David leaping and dancing before the Lord.

Michal, his wife was not too happy about all this dancing. She thought it unseemly. But thirty thousand of God’s chosen people tossed aside their inhibitions and threw themselves into it and danced with their king before the Lord.

A full body expression of unbounded joy, praising the Lord not just with your head but with your feet can make a body hungry.

After the dancing, they were famished.  They feasted on bread and meat and raisins. (Don’t forget the raisins.)

Now we Episcopalians are not prone to dancing in the aisles. We are known as the frozen chosen. In church we sit still. We are quiet. We speak only when we are spoken to. In the. beauty of the call-and-response liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. (All the parts printed in BOLD.)

And I myself am not much of  a fan of modern liturgical dance. It can be done well but often it is baby boomer ladies like myself performing in tights. A sight better unseen. A performance not meant for audience participation.

David, on the other hand, gets EVERYONE up on their feet.

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So when was the last time you felt like dancing? When was the last time you actually danced? Weddings, of course, are one of the only places, grownups can still let it rip on the dance floor.

But where else?

What are those favorite tunes that set your toes to tapping?

(Click and take a listen.)

For those a decade or so ahead of me, maybe the classic crooner Frank Sinatra?

Come Dance with Me.

My very first dance record was a 45 – the Beatles Twist and ShoutThe dance for people who did not know how to dance. The dance for people with two left feet — but nonetheless pure silly joy on the dance floor.  No date. No problem. You could dance alone.  Or with a crowd.

But sometimes, I’m happy just to dance with YOUA friend, a partner. A budding relationship that blossoms into romance tete a tete. Maybe.

And even when hearts break, even when spirits crash, we can stretch our limbs and slow dance the sadness away. Like Emmy Lou Harris in A Tennessee Waltz.

And after working for our daily bread, exhausted from dancing through our day — two steps forward, three steps back, like Burt and Ernie we can Dance Ourselves to Sleep.

 (No need for Ambien!)

And you can dance because you’re good at it. Ballet. Tap. Modern. And you can dance because you’re proud of where you’re from. Salsa. Hula. Irish Step.

Sometimes your feet are just happy. Happy for any reason at all. And you can dance like it’s 1999. You can dance like no one is looking to songs with almost no words. Just Dance and Hum Along.

Because isn’t that what the world needs now – deep, authentic, unbridled joy?

Not to escape or bury our heads in the sand. We will not ignore the needs of a hurting world. Our prayers attest to the tenuous nature of the planet, the world, the nation, our neighborhood. All in need of healing.

But….

My Christian brothers and sisters, we are in the reconciliation business, the love your neighbor as yourself business.  We are in the faith, hope, and love business. The resurrection business.

And so that everybody may dance this dance of life — the dance of love — let’s let it rip and dance like Jesus, the Lord of the Dance.

I danced in the morning, when the world was begun.

And I danced in the moon, and the stars, and the sun,

And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth.

At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Dance then wherever you may be.

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.

And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

And I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.

JoaniSign

 


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“The Novel Cure” : We Are What We Read

Read books more. Read the news less.

This is my new mental health mantra.

Because of the number nine.

Nine. I have nine news apps on my phone. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Guardian. NPR. Politico. Buzz Feed. HuffPost. The New Yorker. The Wall Street Journal.

Ten. If you count National Geographic.

Never has it been more important to keep up with the world. It’s head spinning the headlines a single week brings. And it’s an essential part of my work to keep up — or at least endeavor to keep up.

Each week I edit our Sunday prayers so that they speak to this hurting world we share. This past week alone I added intercessions for the Group of Seven talks in Quebec, the Korean summit in Singapore, volcano victims in Hawaii and Guatemala, the LGBTQ community for Pride Month, refugees and asylum seekers.

It’s a moving target.  It matters deeply. But I know as soon as they are printed they are also incomplete and possibly obsolete.

And that’s okay. Even in the best of times it’s not humanly possible to digest it all. Habitually surfing the headlines is not good for your mental health. Not good for my mental health, for sure!

So I have resolved to read books more and to read the news less.

To retreat, to refresh, to restore the soul, to recover perspective.

And yes, simply to escape into the world of a good book.

Call it biblio-therapy. Not a word I made up but a real thing. Biblio-therapy was pioneered by the authors of The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You.

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So, here I present my own little version, a diversionary reading list of my own making. Fifteen books that I have recently read, am currently reading, and are in my reading pipeline — the stack of books beside my bed.

Fiction. Memoir. History. Science. Spirituality. Cats. Dogs. Here I list them all in no particular bibliographic order. Reviewers’ quotes shamelessly lifted from dust jackets.

IMG_4860Jamaica Inn, Daphne Du Mauier: The 1930’s classic tale of romantic suspense by the acclaimed author of Rebecca. This is the perfect book to read on a dark and stormy night.

IMG_4871Vinegar Girl: A Novel, Anne Tyler. William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew Retold. “… a knockabout comedy at its best, genuinely laugh out loud funny, and indeed, Tyler’s funniest book to date.” One of my favorite authors, she’s written a lot!

IMG_4872The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr. I read this because I want to write a book — a book still in my head. This one is “full of Karr’s usual wit, compassion, and perhaps most reassuringly self-doubt.”

IMG_4861Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed. “As loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got punk and spirit and makes an earthy and American sound,” A remarkable debut for a first time author.

IMG_4863When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi is the author who died in 2015:  “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality had changed nothing and everything.” “This is an unforgettable, life affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death, and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.”

IMG_4873The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen, Elizabeth Norton. The title pretty much explains this one! “A power hungry and charming courtier. An impressionable and trusting princess. The Tudor court in the wake of Henry VIII’s death… where rumors had the power to determine fate.”

IMG_4862Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, Christopher De Hamel. A big fat, nerdy book about about books that changed the world with lots of fabulous pictures. “Reading is my life, but only about once a decade do I find a book that seems to tilt the world, so afterwards it appears different.”  My world was tilted!

IMG_4874The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Kathryn Joyce. An investigative journalist’s deep dive into the world of the for-profit adoption business, misguided evangelical theology, and the lost voices of adoptees and first families. Being in reunion with my daughter Rebecca, this is a powerful and eye opening read.

IMG_4865Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, Alan Lightman. Even though my summer trip to Great Cranberry Isle got cancelled, I am still reading this astrophysicist’s beautiful book. “Deeply brilliant. Alan Lightman’s prose is so simple and graceful that it can be easy to miss the quiet, deep sophistication of his approach to the topic of science and religion.”

IMG_4869Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World, Amir Alexander. Okay, yes, very nerdy I know. But fascinating. This brief history takes us into the lives of “Galileo, Isaac Newton, and Thomas Hobbes, and from the Papal Palace in to Rome to the halls of the Royal Society of London to show how a disagreement over a mathematical concept became a contest over the heavens and the earth.”

IMG_4870After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Jack Kornfield. This one I love for the title alone. It draws on the “experiences and insights within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions… Filled with ‘the laughter of the wise,’ alive with compassion.”

IMG_4868Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis. The great Christian apologist of the 20th century, this is his last book. An engaging retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche from antiquity written “with new meaning, new depths, new terrors.” Lewis reminds us of “our own fallibility and the role of a higher power in our lives.”

IMG_4866Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty Things They Do, Celia Haddon. Having become a crazy cat lady not quite a year ago, this was a must read. I refer to it often.

IMG_4867Dog Crazy, Meg Donohue. A gift from my canine loving friend Chuck, this little novel is “a big-hearted and entertaining story that skillfully captures the bonds of love, the pain of separation, and the power of dogs to heal us.” A great beach or backyard read.

IMG_4876French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mireille Guiliano. Self- explanatory!

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Reading has the power to enlarge us and inspire us and entertain us and enlighten us. And dare I say, even heal us.

Reading, Lectio Divina, is a spiritual discipline, no matter what kind of books you read!

So dear readers, tell me. What books do you have stacked up in that pile on your bedside table?

JoaniSign

And check out my favorite book store in D.C! East City Bookshop on Pennsylvania Avenue SE!


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Joani’s Big Adventure or The Blessing of the Bikes

Six years old, I learned to ride a bike on a little red Schwinn. No training wheels. My dad said training wheels were for sissies. “It’s all about balance, Joani Baloney. You can do this.” He steadied me on the seat of the bike and instructed me how to steer and how to pedal. Like the whole thing was an intellectual exercise.  And then he let me go at the top of the hill of a little cul-de-sac. It was a little hill, but to a six-year-old, a very big hill.  I careened down. I crashed. Head on into a telephone pole. I cried.

Now this is not a method I recommend.  (A method my father also used to teach me how to drive a car  – with similar results.)

But I did learn how to ride that bike – and it was my first little taste of freedom. My first little experience with independence.

I rode my bike to school, to the pool, to the store, to piano lessons and softball practice.

Reach back and remember. When was your first bike ride? Who taught you? Where did you go? And along the way, who have you taught in return?

A virtually universal rite of passage for little American kids.

But as a mom, I have flat out failed in this regard. Three of my four children will tell you that they are scarred from the experience – or the lack of experience – of learning to ride a bike.

We lived at 212 East Windsor, a 1920’s bungalow right here in Del Ray, directly across the street from the fire station. This was quite exciting when my kids were little. When they would hear the sirens, they scrambled to the front porch to watch the fire fighters slide down the pole – and gaze in amazement as they raced off in the bright red fire trucks.

As a mom, this spectacle also terrified me. A bit of a safety fanatic, I imagined my bike and trike riding children getting run over by fire engines. The sirens screaming so loud, I feared I couldn’t hear my children’s screams. Extreme. Ridiculous. I know.

In an abundance of caution, I made the street in front of our house totally off limits. And by extension, all streets in our neighborhood – relegating my children to sidewalk transport only.

On foot, of course, but also on wheels: roller blades and skates, wagons and scooters, big wheels.

But never a bike.

And my grownup children have never let me forget how I handicapped their childhood.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So today is at least in part about making amends.

As the liturgist at Emmanuel, as a lark for a friend I was googling “new car safe driving prayers” when I came across the Blessing of the Bicycles. Several urban churches and even cathedrals have held annual Bike Blessings.

I forwarded the link to Chuck, the rector and my colleague, an avid cyclist. “Would you like to do this at Emmanuel?’

 “OF COURSE! LOVE THIS!” he fired back in all CAPS.

We concurred, June 24th, the first official Sunday in summer would be a great day to do it. And we decided to do it up right. Not just a five-minute perfunctory blessing after church. No, we would lean in for the entire service: scripture, hymns, prayers, remembrances.

We are breaking more than a few Book of Common Prayer rubrics. It’s easier, of course, to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. And for the liturgy police out there the early service at 8:00 AM on the 24thwill be entirely kosher.

But what better way to celebrate the summer solstice than to celebrate the spirit of all things bicycle.

As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground…This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.

 They went in any of the four directions they faced, but straight not veering off. The rims were immense, circled with eyes. When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

 Now the prophet Ezekiel, in the 6thcentury BC, was not writing about bikes. They describe apocalyptic visions he had of the Israelites escaping captivity in Babylon. But their wild and vivid imagery suits our purposes for today – a vision of that wild ride, a vision of a spirited journey rising above the road.

Now I myself have not been on a bike in over thirty years. I am an avid pedestrian but not a cyclist.

So, for authenticity’s sake and to genuinely throw myself into the spirit of the occasion, I too had to get a bike. And actually ride it, of course.

I walked into Conte’s Bike Shop on King Street with the following criteria for my purchase:

  • I am not even sure if I still know how to ride a bike.
  • I will not be riding in traffic of any kind.
  • I am only going to ride on flat surfaces and seldom used bike paths.
  • I will not be doing any racing.

I picked out a red one with big fat white tires – an updated version of the Schwinn I had as a kid. And nearly identical to Peewee Herman’s in Peewee’s Big Adventure!

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 I have worked up to an hour’s ride, pedaling on the back streets of my neighborhood. And I have begun to experience a bit of all of those positive byproducts that bicycling brings.

It’s good for your mental and not just your physical health. It can lift your spirits when you are down and moderate your mood when you are manic. It’s very beneficial for the brain for ADHD and bipolar people like me.

Your lungs get stronger. You can breathe better. You can even enjoy a second breakfast if you bike to work.

Cycling can help you sleep better and it can even make you smarter! Boosting blood flow to your gray cells.

Without google maps telling you where to go, you develop a better sense of direction. Better to map your own way.

And cycling can widen your social circles and expand your world: Beyond friends and family, in clubs you can meet fellow cyclists of all kinds and in races for good causes, you can find kindred spirits along the way.

Biking is kinder to Mother Nature and a boon for the environment. No fossil fuels. No greenhouse gases.

And economical too. A car costs about 55 cents a kilometer to operate. A bike, only about a tenth of that. A little more than a nickel a kilometer. With a bike you might not need a second car.

And affordable bike sharing – in economically challenged locations – can help to provide low cost transportation – to work, to the store, to school – for the less affluent who need it the most.

And cycling is good for the soul. Connecting the rider not just to creation but to the Creator. It can get us out of our comfort zones and off the couch and put us in touch with communities we have never dreamed of.

And isn’t that what church is supposed to be all about?

Every ride can be a hymn of praise: for life, for health, for the sheer joy of pedaling down the road.

And while you ride, you can say a prayer for everyone you pass along the way: other riders, pedestrians, motorists and truck drivers too. Pray for safety and the security of all with whom we share the road.

So, let’s end this little blog post with a Celtic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you;

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

The rains fall soft upon your path;

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

And come join us June 24th, 10:00 AM at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia.  Click here for all the details on The Blessing of the Bikes!

JoaniSign

 


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Rebecca Has Two Mommies

Yes, this is a ripoff of the 1989 classic “Heather Has Two Mommies” — but in title only not in plot.

“Rebecca Has Two Mommies” is a maternal tale not of partnership but of parallel universes.

And it’s the story of a child – caught in between – who had no choice in the matter.

Many of my U&U followers have read the story of Rebecca’s return to my life, in one or more of these posts:

Scarlet Letter, No More,

A Room Full of Mothers,

The “Nua” Normal.

I have shouted this story from the rooftops every way I know how both here and in print and on the Story District stage.

For forty-five years out of fear, out of shame, I locked Rebecca away. I was seventeen years-old and kicked out of my Roman Catholic household, the Hester Prynne of my high school. My sin was so mortal, it was dangerous even to speak of it.

My father’s medical practice would be ruined. So Father Kelso, the parish priest (I believe), with a wink and a nod, assured my parents I could be sent to some discrete location. To spare them the scandal. Some Magdalen Laundry. Some home for unwed mothers.

That’s what happened to knocked-up pregnant teenage girls in 1972.

But William and I forged a different path – disowned and on our own.

The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision was about to come down. But I never struggled with my choice. It was a no-brainer. It simply did not occur to me to “terminate” her or to vacuum her out through a tube. (While I totally understand and support the difficult choices that other women make.)

She was a life inside me. She made me throw up in the mornings. She kicked my insides. She gave me stretch marks. For nine months, occupying my every crevice, she was my most intimate companion. It was just the two of us in the delivery room the day that she was born. No other family members were there.

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A child, I gave birth to a child I was unable to keep. The social worker from Pierce Warwick collected her later that week. And handed her over to her older, more stable, more educated, more mature, the so much more ready adoptive mom and dad.

Two people for whom I will be forever grateful.

But before I could let her go, I had to fill out the form. Her birth certificate lay on my hospital tray table. My hand shaking, I filled in the blanks.

Baby Name: Elizabeth Catherine

Name of Mother: Joan Louise Peacock (Me, that’s me.)

Signature of Mother: J o a n________ (Me, that’s me.)

A sealed adoption, this form was locked up tight in a D.C. courthouse for 45 years. In fact, its locked there still.

And for a year and a half now, Rebecca and I have gotten to know one another. We’ve grown close. It’s really quite impossible to imagine my life without her.

I am not her parent. I am Joani. I am bio-mom. But after 18 months, bio has become a cumbersome distinction.

Rebecca says that people have fought for a long time to have two moms. So she reserves the right to call both the mother who raised her and the mother who gave her birth – simply mom.

Rebecca has taught me much about the realities of the adopted life. An adopted child is the only person in adoption who has no choice in the matter.

Adoptees live in an in between world. They are grateful for their adoptive parents and genuinely love the families they grow up in. Simultaneously, they yearn to know where they came from — not just for information but for connection. The hope of reunion. It’s a both/and aspiration.

But many adoptees grow up in an either/or world. DNA does not matter anymore. Only love does, so the adoptee is told. So whatever came before does not matter. In fact, it’s something you shouldn’t talk about or ask about. Because after all, we’re your real family.

And of course, they are. Of course, that is true.

But an adoptee’s life does not begin at adoption. It begins at birth.

Its not just a story of joy, but of grief and loss. Adoption is often born of trauma.

And the stories of the birth moms are written out of the story — whatever their story may be.

Rebecca’s birth certificate, her certificate of live birth has her adoptive mother’s name where mine used to be.

I was so startled. Already a thing of shame, I was erased, irrelevant, like a Handmaid to a Commander’s wife in the Margaret Atwood tale.

Made invisible.

I am one of untold numbers of silent 1970’s birth moms of the “Baby Scoop Era.”

Since I have told my Rebecca story in print, in the pulpit, on stage a swarm of people have come up to me to share their own. That’s my story too. I was adopted. I adopted a child. I adopted a baby from a teenage mother.

But not a single woman  has told me that they did what I did. Not a single one.

Because, I believe, even though it is 2018, the shame resonates still.

The birth mom is a sinner. The adoptive mom is a savior.

It is the ultimate and unforgivable sin for a woman to give up a child. You abandoned her, didn’t you?

And so people like me are written out of the story. And because of the shame, we keep writing ourselves out of the story, as well.

But not anymore. No longer hiding, I refuse to be invisible.

And  I want to help other birth mothers like me to come out, as well.

So I am determined to write this story — a truer story.

And guess what it’s called?

Rebecca Has Two Moms.

Of course.

(And stay tuned for a guest post from Rebecca!)

JoaniSign