Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Fireworks!!

Once upon a time, the very first fireworks were concocted in a cooking pot: cooked up by a Chinese cook in her kitchen. At least, so the legend goes. Apparently the combustible ingredients were right there in her spice cabinet: saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur and a dash of who knows what. A happy and dangerous accident, the recipe erupted pyrotechnically.

Stuff this stuff into bamboo sticks, throw them on the fire, and “POOF! BANG! BOOM!”, fireworks are born.

Great for warding off evil spirits.

Grand for celebrations of state occasions.

Glittering demonstrations of prowess and power (our current POTUS not withstanding.)

Picture a Tudor king’s wedding day, the coronation of a Scottish king, pyrotechnic displays at Czar Peter’s palace, and bright illuminations at Versailles,” a Wikipedia article suggests.

And this 4th of July, Roman Candles stand ready to light up our skies.  Stand up and sing with me the poetry Francis Scott Key scribbled  after the Battle of Fort McHenry, 1814:

O say can you see,

By the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed,

As the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars,

Through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched,

Were so gallantly streaming.

And the rocket’s red glare,

The bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night

That our flag was still there.

 And it was on the eve of that very first 4th, that John Adams, our second president presciently described how future Americans would celebrate the day.

“…with pomp and parade, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

 In other words —  fireworks!

Many-a-time, downtown on the Mall by the Reflecting Pool, in my hometown of Washington, D.C. I have seen those fireworks fly.

In the bicentennial days of my marriage, there was no holier day than Independence Day: the most romantic day of the year.

We’d pack a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches, cookies, and fruit, and a six-pack of clearly illegal beer. We’d stuff our duffle bag with baseball hats, books, and bug spray: all for the marvelous day.

We’d head out early on metro, crowded into subway cars with the tourists – all vying for prime locations and the very best views.

We’d stake out our claim by the Reflecting Pool and spread our old cotton quilt on the ground. We’d plop ourselves down and stretch out under the setting sun, waiting for the blanket of dark to come.

We’d read to each other from Herman Hesse and tune into WHFS. We’d talk and talk and talk and then just be quiet: that lovely intimate quiet wrapped in each other’s arms:

Fireworks — of a different kind.

Now forty-seven years on, we have gone our separate ways. Sixteen years now, he has had his life by the sea. Sixteen years now, my Alexandria life is my own. And that is how it is supposed to be. The happiest place for me in my 64 years. And yet it is so strange, that my ex-husband is a stranger to me.

I harbor no resentment and I wish him well. It has been ancient of days since I have missed the man.

But what I do miss and what I hope to find are those fireworks of the intimate kind: the easy conversation; the comfortable silence; bright bursts of passion: a meeting of the minds. “POOF! BANG! BOOM!”

On a blanket,

On the mall,

On the 4th of July.

Fireworks!


Conjectures of a Guilty Librarian: A Brief Novella

In honor of National Library Week 2019, I offer this brief novella. “Conjectures of a Guilty Librarian” 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.”


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Jesus: The Electric Album

Take out your pencil. Today’s post begins with a pop quiz on that Jesus-on -a-mountaintop story in the Gospel of Mark.  Have you read it? Have you heard it? Do you know what it means?

Don’t worry. There’s only one question on this quiz and it happens to be multiple choice:

Trans-fig-ur-a-tion means:

a. First century plastic surgery

b. A biblical plan to compute your tithe

c. A Christian weight loss program

or….

d. The glory of God breaking open the heart of a man on a mountaintop.

(Ding. Ding. You’re right. Of course, it’s “d”.)

To be transfigured, to have your whole self, your whole person turned inside out, is an experience that many a mom knows well. Carrying a child for nine months reshapes everything.  Your heart swells with love and your body with life but so do your hands and your feet. Rings no longer seem to fit and shoes are too tight.

And just when you think there is not a single inch of you that this little person does not occupy, delivery day draws nigh.

Upon a tidal wave of contractions, you surf the ecstatic — burning stages of birth.  And with every fiber of your being, this little tiny person is propelled into the world.

You feel like you have just climbed a mountain.

And when they place that little slippery purple person on your naked chest, there and then, life itself is transfigured. In the baby’s face, you see your loved one’s eyes and maybe your grandmother’s nose.

The spitting image of your hopes and dreams.

(And I know that adoptive moms go through their own transfiguring experience, too. And it often takes a lot longer than nine months!)

Bring that little person home and very soon your mantel and your hallway are lined with photographs: baby pictures, school photos, family portraits. Images, reshaped and transformed and transfigured over a life time.

Some of us work like the devil to try to live up our parents’ expectations. While some of us run like Hades to avoid turning into our mother or our father, our parents or grandparents.

Most of us are also scared to death, I believe, to discover whose image actually is stamped on our souls.

The catechism says it is the image of God — the image of Christ. Can you believe it?  In a culture that is prone to value firearms more than families, in a society where profits are often more important than people, can we still believe that each and every on of us is created in the image of Christ?

Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie

“Jesus of the People” by Janet McKenzie

At the turn of this century, there was a contest that called on artists to create an Icon of Christ for the third millennium. It was sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter and it drew nearly two thousand entries from over nineteen countries. Sister Wendy Beckett selected the winners, as well as, the runners-up.

The chosen images drew visceral responses – many written up in the Washington Post.

One anonymous e-mailer shrieked: “It is nothing but a politically correct, modern, blasphemous statement reflecting the artists’ and the judges’ spiritual depravity.” 

 Another critic complained that a certain entry made the Prince of Peace look like the artist formerly known as Prince. And yet another called the winning entry – a blatant rip off of Jimi Hendrix from the Electric Lady Album!

But others were deeply moved by these newly cast images of Jesus. A Catholic priest wrote, “I am sitting here with tears brimming over and running down my face.  These are magnificent images of haunting, inviting serenity. Jesus would recognize himself in these images.

Jesus as a thick lipped and broad nosed ebony woman. Jesus as an olive skinned, dark haired Middle Eastern peasant. Jesus as a gaunt, gray haired, gay man. Jesus portrayed in bursts of color and glorious light.

Jesus transfigured before our very eyes.

Now the transfiguration of Jesus as the Christ, a scholar writes  “is one of the strangest tales the gospels have to tell.  Even with the voice from the cloud trying to explain it, the transfiguration is a cosmic and a confusing event. Even Jesus — who spent his life in conversation with the prophets — has no words.”

Instead, a vision erupts on a mountain top and images appear. Up the mountain, Jesus climbs with Peter and James and John. When they reach the top, Jesus can no longer contain the glory of God.  It splits his heart in two. It spills out of his every pore: blazing and blinding, exquisite and ecstatic.

The image of Elijah is seared onto his soul. The commandments of Moses beat in his heart. The holy three enveloped in a cloud. But when the cloud is lifted, only the image of Jesus remains.

And it is the same Jesus, the man with whom his friends had traveled a dusty mile. The same Jesus whose mother and brothers they knew. The same Jesus they had seen hungry and tired and sore. Out of the cloud, steps the spitting image of God. Jesus of Nazareth. Flesh of our flesh. Bone of our bone.

In this last flash and blast of Epiphany, walk down the mountain, friends. Take a look around and try to catch a glimpse of such glory. In the eyes of a child. In the arms of a beloved. In the voice of a friend.  In the face of a stranger.

Just about anywhere. Just about everywhere. Just around the corner, the human face of God waits to greet us – if we but recognize him.

May God’s glory break open the hardest of hearts – no matter who we are – no matter how impossible that might seem.

May God’s love transfigure and transform us into the likes of love, into the likes of him.

So, let us pray. Day by day.
JoaniSign


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Bipolar Bit/Joani: One Day @ a Time
























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Little Sister, the Movie

little-sister-poster

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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Bipolar Love: The Tale of Archie & Amelie

archie and amelie book cover

“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