Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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.”


Celtic Crazy: Boudicca, Brigid & Fidelma

Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile.  

I have made four pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as steeped as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people.

And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)

Let me recount just a few of the things that connect me so deeply to my Celtic ancestors.

They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They wove the sacred into their most ordinary of chores. They hallowed each and every very hour of each and every day with prayer. Their sanctuaries are the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwell their streams and inhabit their oak groves. Holy winds blow on their most remote islands and holy waves crash on their island’s shores. Every little blade of Celtic green grass practically shimmers with the divine. Well almost.

Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the Celts were a nomadic people who probably practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many. The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power. What’s not to like?

And this brings me to Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen.

Boudica, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudica’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped.

No one would have blamed Boudica, if she gave into defeat and despair. But hell no, Boudica rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9th Legion, destroyed the Roman capital and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers.

There was bloodshed beyond measure and Boudica was eventually beaten back. It is said she took her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudica is buried.

But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.

And so this brings me to  Brigid.

In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare.

Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint. For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord.

And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles.

The Roman Catholic  Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had  put in her rightful and inferior place.

Until there was Fildelma.

The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictitious and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar turned mystery writer, pen-named Peter Tremayne.

Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of history and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare, and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf  are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby.

Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked.  Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”.

Who says women can’t have it all?

Boudica. Brigid. Fidelma. When feeling the need to slay a dragon or two – or just feeling a touch grandly grandiose — who better for my bipolar brain to channel than the spirits of these holy three, this Celtic and oh so feminist trinity. Boudica — queen, warrior, widow, mother and savior of her people. Brigid — goddess, abbess, priestess, bishop and saint. Fidelma — princess, sister, lawyer, detective and murder mystery solver. Their icons and statues grace my halls and walls. Their books and biographies fill my bookcases. I have embraced their stories and made them my own.

It may seem silly, but to tell you the God’s honest truth, I believe these three women are kin to me. And oh my this little trinity has given me the energy  to get my warrior on — from time to time.. And so I believe myself to be their sister – their soul sister. Joani, the soul sister of Boudica, Brigid and Fidelma. Crazy, huh?

Yes, Celtic crazy. And you can celebrate this craziness, too.

Come join me Sunday, February 3rd for a Celtic Eucharist at both 8:00 & 10:30 AM, a between the services forum on Women in The Celtic World at 9:15 AM, and an “Irish Coffee” Hour in the Parish Hall with an Irish Step performance by the Boyle School dancers! Emmanuel is the place: 1608 Russell Road Alexandria, VA.

Wear green!!


Story District Top Shelf 2019 – Joani made it!!!!

Woo hoo!

U&U Readers & Followers!

A secret fantasy of mine, ever since the first time I performed with Story District in Unhinged: True Stories of Living w/Mental Illness, has been to ascend to the Top Shelf stage.

This annual show at the Lincoln Theatre in D.C. features the top eight stories (chosen by twelve judges) culled from one hundred thirty-five of the previous year.

I was psyched and honored to be nominated this year. I am even MORE psyched and honored to be selected to be up there with veterans Katy Barrett, Morgan Givens, John Tong, along with other “Top Shelf virgins😊” like myself!!

A secret fantasy no more!

If you are anywhere in the greater D.C. metro area Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I encourage you to grab tickets. They fly fast!

And I guarantee you a knock-your-socks off evening. You will laugh and cry and then cry and laugh some more. Entertainment and enlightenment for the very affordable price of $35.😊

For more info & tickets click here!

Hope to see you there!!


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Wonder Bread

My apologies to the gluten-intolerant.

(Though I am happy for you that there is  gluten-free everything,  including communion wafers.)

Yes, my apologies, I confess that I am CRAZY about gluten.

“Bread is the staff of life,” has been my motto since I was a child.

Remember Wonder Bread? Wrapped in a package printed with bright balloons, the commercials claimed it could ‘build strong bodies”. Eight ways in the 1950’s. And in the 1960’s twelve!

Not so sure how. It was bleached so bright-white, no nutrient could possibly survive. As kids, we would roll it into balls and back into dough. And when spread with peanut butter, Wonder Bread would often tear. At least, that’s the reason my mom gave us why we couldn’t have the crunchy kind of Peter Pan.

But now, that I am so grown up, I buy the crunchy kind all the time. And my favorite food group remains – bread.

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I have an actual bread box in my kitchen – labeled Bread. Atop it, I keep two bread plates, shaped like bread. Yes, literally in the shape of a slice of bread. And I always have a few varieties on hand: Challah, Irish Soda Bread, and maybe sourdough.

I am very good at making toast. It’s one of my very best recipes. (I will share it, if you like.) I am partial to real butter and whole fruit preserves.

Ciabatta.

Focaccia.

Baguette or Boule (which is just a fancy word for loaf.)

 I don’t bake bread myself, but I love the idea of it. Kneading it. Rolling it. Punching it down and watching it rise and grow in the oven.

Now everyone who has ever gotten a Christmas card knows that Jesus was born in a manger – in a corn crib. Born in a town called Bethlehem, which you may not know means the House of Bread.

 Alan Copeland writes:

Was little baby Jesus actually laid in a manger? It seems like a very strange and dirty place to put a newborn. Mary and Joseph would have to be crazy tired or plain silly to put a newborn in a feeding trough!

 But the manger (manger – which means ‘to eat’) – is a reminder that Jesus is the Bread of Life. Little baby Jesus in the food trough points to big guy Jesus feeding the 5000.”

 Such a well-worn story, it is easy to miss Jesus humoring his cranky disciples:

“Six months wages cannot buy enough for these people to get even a little!” His friends  whine as they throw up their hands.

So, Jesus asks a little boy to help him – a little boy who opens his lunchbox and shares his bread and his fish.

(Maybe like you even did as kid, sharing your tuna fish sandwich.)

Five thousand people sat down in the grass.

Jesus said the blessing, broke the  bread, the pieces put into baskets. And the disciples passed them all around.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Jesus gave them that and more.

Jesus – who the gospel-writer John calls the Bread of Life.

 Grace Church in Georgetown (at Wisconsin & M), was my field work parish in seminary. Every Sunday they acted out the loaves and fishes – in a very down to earth way.

Grace was a house of bread in a hungry city. A half-time social worker worked there every weekday helping those in need with rent and food and medicine.

But the homeless came to church for more than bread.

The fiercely proud families who camped out on the C&O canal, resisted shelters because to go there they had to split up. These families also worshiped with us on Sunday mornings.

In Grace’s nave there were no communion rails, no kneeling and no wafers.

Instead the little congregation encircled the altar, as David Bird the rector blessed a yeasty loaf of bread. He would break it into pieces and place it into a basket that was then passed round. Shared hand-to-hand, with each crusty piece, the worshipper would say: The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

 And there was always some left over, not twelve baskets full, but there was always extra. So, we would pass it around again until all were full.

At Emmanuel, we do use wafers. Though less messy and not as apparent, Emmanuel equally  loves to feed people. It’s a ministry we hardily embrace.

Collecting staples and canned goods for the ALIVE Food Pantry.

Making sandwiches with the Bag Lunch Program at Meade for the homeless.

Delivering food to the elderly with Meals on Wheels.

Serving a Saturday breakfast and a Tuesday dinner at Carpenter’s Shelter.

The Loaves and Fishes is much more than a sweet little bible story. Loaves and Fishes is the way to live a Christian life.

It’s a hungry world out there full of hungry people. Our lunch boxes are overflowing. Let’s feed one another and share as we are fed,  here at Emmanuel, God’s House of Bread.

JoaniSign


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Sur/real: NPR Invisibilia w/Story District!

Woo hoo!

This past spring I was honored and overjoyed to be part of NPR Invisibilia’s first live event with Story District.

My Sur/real story of the summer of 2005 –navigating the space between the mystical and the manic — was one of six selected.

I felt a bit like an impostor – included with other heavy hitting storytellers I am in awe of. Working with Amy Saidman, Story District’s Artistic Director is an exercise in the craft of first class storytelling.

Each eight minute story is the end product of several coaching sessions, rewrites and rehearsals. It’s a rare and rewarding collaborative creative process.

And finally my knee-knocking performance April 17th at the Lincoln Theatre in front of a packed audience. Yikes!

Exciting for me but also I really hope my story might resonate with yours. All those listening who also have the gift of a bipolar brain. And those whose spiritual life lights up their world. This one is for you!

So take a listen to 47 minutes of great stories.

NPR Invisibilia Live with Story District Podcast

Or watch the the Sur/real performance on YouTube!

And please share! (I’m a shameless self promoter!)


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Show Up. It’s the Least You Can Do.

Show yourself, Jesus.  In the middle of drought and famine and disease, for God’s sake, why can’t you just show up?

This was the lament of the little village of Kingala, whose story is told by novelist Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. It is the fictitious epic tale of a misguided mission to the Congo in the early sixties. Each chapter is narrated by the somewhat miserable minister’s wife and daughters. The youngest one writes:

Looking back over the months that led to this day, it seems the collapse of things started in October with the vote in the church. The congregation of Father’s church interrupted his sermon to hold an election on whether or not to accept Jesus Christ as the personal savior of Kingala.

 The crops were flat and dead. Fruit trees were barren. There were rumors of rain in the river valleys to the west and those tales aroused – the thirst of dying animals and crops. Tata Kuvudundu (the local witch doctor) cast her bone predictions. And nearly every girl in the village danced with a chicken on her head to bring down rain.

 Church attendance rose and fell. Jesus may have sounded like a very helpful sort of savior in the beginning, but he was not what the villagers had hoped.

 We went ahead and had church that day and Tata Ndu, the chief sat in the front pew. Papa preached a railing sermon against idolatry:

 ‘The people revered the statue of Baal and went every day to worship him, but Daniel worshipped the Lord our God. Don’t be fooled by a statue of clay and bronze!’

 Papa paused in his sermon for dramatic effect. Tata Ndu stood straight up and held up his hand.

 ‘Now is the time for the people to have an election. If you don’t mind, Reverend we will have our election now. We are making a vote for Jesus Christ in the office of personal God for the Kingala village.’

 Papa tried to object by explaining that Jesus Christ was exempt from popular elections and that matters of the Spirit were not decided by polls. But Tata Ndu forged ahead.

 ‘You Americans say elections are good. You Americans say Jesus is good. Now we will have a vote.’

The voting bowls were passed up and down the pews.

 Jesus Christ lost: 11 to 56.

 One week after Easter, we are waiting for Jesus to show himself. One week out of the grave, we are waiting for him to make an appearance. To show up and do his job. His savior thing.

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Now most of us recognize the messiah, the same way we measure success. By the measure of peace, the measure of power, the measure of prosperity. Money in the bank?  Fancy car in the driveway? Promotion on the way?

We want a successful savior. One in a three-piece suit and a power tie. One who gets things done. One who can heal whatever sickens us. One who can resurrect whatever we may have ruined. Only water walkers and wonder workers need apply.

On this traditionally ‘low Sunday’ we have very high expectations. But given the current state of the world, like Thomas we have our doubts.

Doubt has dogged the faithful for two thousand years.

How can the divine die? How can the eternal end?

How can the dead bring the dead back to life?

Is this stuff historical? Or just mystical?

Physically true? Or just metaphysically true?

So much ink has been spilled struggling with these questions. Theological tome upon boring tome, has been penned trying to make sense of it all. Theology that would surely put you to sleep.

I typed  resurrection in the Bishop Payne library catalog search box and 2043 titles popped up. Type in Easter, you get 1002.  Doubting Thomas scores a mere 28.

Because maybe the story is ultimately not about Thomas (though we are ALL Thomas and Thomas is US). Maybe the story is about a “God coming to us, wherever we are”, no matter where we are.

Christians believe in a God who shows up.

On the second Sunday of Easter, two thousand years ago, Thomas the Apostle, was hoping for just that.  Frederick Buechner writes:

Imagination was not Thomas’ strong suit. He was a numbers man, a realist. He did not believe in fairy tales. Thomas wasn’t around at the time the rest of the disciples were as they sat together in the Upper Room. Doors locked. Shades drawn. Scared sick one of them would be next to be nailed to a cross.

When suddenly Jesus came in. He wasn’t a ghost or a figment of their imagination. He said ‘Shalom’ and showed them some of the Romans’ handiwork. To show them that he was as real as they were – and maybe more so.

 He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, gave them a few directions, and then he left.

 Now nobody knew where Thomas was at the time, maybe out for coffee, but he missed the whole thing. And he said, NO, I don’t’ believe you. Let Jesus show me himself, the marks in his hands, the wounds in his side.

 Eight days later Jesus shows up.

 Dumbfounded Thomas does not have much to say except, ‘My Lord and my God!’

 Jesus’ response to Thomas was to show up in person. Not in a book. Not in a creed. But in the flesh. Jesus let Thomas see his face and hear his voice and hold his ruined hands.

And that is the conundrum and miracle of Easter. We have a God with a human face – we may not recognize at first – but who shows up again and again.

In the tired nurse by the hospice bed.

In the relief worker handing out bread.

In the mother, hiding a timid child beneath her skirts.

In the words of a counselor, assuaging past hurts.

In the service of a soldier, setting captives free.

In the face of a stranger, in acts of random kindness and hospitality.

Thank God for this God. In this crazy and broken world, for me, this is the only kind of God who makes any sense. A God who embraces our lives despite our faults.  A God who believes in us, though like Thomas we doubt. A God who lifts us out of the dirt and into the light.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

To live this earth bound but also resurrected life.

JoaniSign


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The Tide Washes Out; The Tide Washes In. 2017/2018

tide washing out in pictureSifting through the sands of this crazy-making, head-banging,  life-changing, heart-stomping year,  I turn once again to my annual exercise of cataloging its “ins and outs”.  So much to process personally, spiritually, politically, professionally! Yikes!  So after three hours of scribbling in my notebook, listening to Christmas carols on my couch, I present to you my hundredfold list —  in no particular order and without commentary.

2017 Out/ 2018 In

  1. 62/63
  2. 3 kids/4 kids
  3. Divine Intervention/Home for the Holidays
  4. Fabletics/AdoreMe
  5. Day on the couch/Day at the office
  6. Joni Mitchell/ Wailin’ Jennys
  7. Little Sister/Big Sister
  8. Not Ready to be a Cat Lady/Cat Lady
  9. TOMS/Rothy’s
  10. Egg Salad/Tuna Salad
  11. The Crown/Victoria
  12. Guardian Angels/Better Angels
  13. Muslim Ban/Love Your Muslim Neighbor
  14. Newspapers/Manuscripts
  15. HuffPost/Washington Post
  16. Author Once/Author Twice
  17. No TV/Fire TV
  18. Virginia/Vermont
  19. Organic/Oreos
  20. White Christmas/White Reindeer
  21. Peacemaker/Truth Teller
  22. Good Girl/Bad Ass
  23. DC Singles/Elite Singles
  24. St Patrick’s Day/St Valentine’s Day
  25. Celtic/Irish
  26. Library of the Seminary/Library of Congress
  27. Preacher/Poet
  28. Left turns/“Right Turn”
  29. DayQuil/NyQuil
  30. Mom/Biomom
  31. Liquid soap/Bar soap
  32. Resistance/Persistence
  33. Blinds/Shades
  34. Book of Mormon/Cats
  35. Shirley Jackson/Erik Larson
  36. Angie’s List/Emily’s List
  37. Safety pins/Clothes pins
  38. Laurel & Hardy/Cheshire & Charlie
  39. Facebook/Instagram
  40. Almond milk/Coconut creamer
  41. Vitamins/Probiotics
  42. Walking shoes/Saddle shoes
  43. Colored pencils/Colored pens
  44. History/Her Story
  45. Fleece/Wool
  46. Evening Prayer/Night Prayer
  47. Quaker Oats/Quaker Meetings
  48. Cincture & Alb/Cassock & Surplice
  49. Daydreaming/Critical thinking
  50. Advent/Christmas
  51. Snow Globes/Snow flurries
  52. Linoleum/Tile
  53. Keeping secrets/Spilling the beans
  54. Democrat/democratic
  55. Burt’s Bees/Bare Minerals
  56. Amazon.dot.com/East City Book Shop
  57. Digital/Paper
  58. Credit cards/HELOC
  59. Single/Available
  60. Communion/Reunion
  61. Survival/Revival
  62. Categories/Cat toys
  63. Trump Nation/Salvation
  64. Great kids/Grandkids
  65. Anthropologie/Anthropology
  66. Head space/Fireplace
  67. Scrambled eggs/Egg Nog
  68. Pill box/Litter box
  69. Granola/Muesli
  70. Luther Strange/Stranger Things
  71. Humidity/Humidifier
  72. Gilligan’s Island/Great Cranberry Island
  73. UPPER  CASE/lower case
  74. Walking Dead/Exquisite Corpse
  75. Russians/Russian Orthodox
  76. Laundry room/Kitchen
  77. Pier One/World Market
  78. Anonymous/Anonymous Four
  79. South Meadows/Huntley Meadows
  80. DVDS/Blu-Rays
  81. Semicolons/Ampersands
  82. Ruminating/Illuminating
  83. Life jackets/Life Savers
  84. The Bells of Saint Mary’s/The Bells of Dublin
  85. Trash/Treasure
  86. Nurture/Nature
  87. WD40/DNA
  88. Off ramps/On ramps
  89. Anarchist/Archivist
  90. Green apples/The Big Apple
  91. Scarlet Alabama/Purple Alabama
  92. Puzzles/Puppets
  93. Confession/Reconciliation
  94. 6:30/Half past six
  95. Tea lights/Votives
  96. Maternal Outlaw/Mother-in-law
  97. Peacock things/Peacock persons
  98. Bananagrams/Scrabble
  99. Celebrant/Priestess
  100. Pink Hatter/Madder Hatter

& forever the Unfiltered —  Unorthodox & Unhinged!

A very happy 2018 to you and yours!

 

JoaniSign