Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


The Getaway Car

Midlife crisis.

He had all the outward and visible signs. He started wearing a baseball cap to cover his balding head. In his late forties, he got a tattoo for the very first time. 

And he got a getaway car – the classic imported convertible kind. Even used, it was a car we could barely afford.

I should have paid closer attention.

One day, he jumped into that car and escaped — never to return. A getaway car indeed.

Please, do not feel sorry for me. I strongly believe that just as it takes two people to get married, likewise it takes the same two people to get divorced. It’s not a no fault situation. It’s more like there are plenty of faults to go around.

And for sixteen years, I have cherished my independent life, as he does his.

And because of this, I have come to more deeply understand that everyone, from time to time, needs a getaway car. Literal or figurative.

The Rules of the Road, The New York Times

The world keeps crashing down in ways both private and public.

Have you checked the weather?

The planet is warming, the seas are rising and as I write, there are a dozen storms brewing in the Atlantic and Pacific. Young people all over the world have gone on a Climate Strike.

Have you read the news?

No matter where you get your news (CNN, Fox, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal), the news is bad. Especially that 24/7-news-cycle-news – horrible! I want to cover my ears and chant “lalalalalala” so none of  the nasty stuff can get through. At least, for a little while.

Overwhelmed by the world? Or work? Or family?  It might just be time to get your very own getaway car!

Getaways themselves come in different lengths and sizes. Short. Medium. Long. Forever.

As do the  problems we are trying to escape. Momentary. Temporary. Passing. Permanent.

Have you ever read Anne Tyler? She is one of my favorite writers. In her novel, Ladder of Years, she tells the story of Delia Grinstead. 

 Delia is forty years old, a doctor’s wife and daughter, and mother of three. She packs up her family for their annual trip to the shore. Bethany Beach is soothing relief from the blistering heat of Baltimore.

Family summer fun.

But this year, Delia finds the beach a burden.  Her family is just as demanding by the sea as they are back home. (Have you seen the satiric Onion’s headline? “Woman washes dishes in closer proximity to the ocean.” )

Delia’s domestic duties overwhelm her.  She feels trapped, resentful, ignored.

After unloading the car of all their luggage, making beds and stocking the fridge, Delia orchestrates the family trek to the beach. With all the clutter and all the stuff.  Beach chairs, blankets and boogie boards. Sunscreen and insect repellant. Plastic buckets and Turkish towels. 

They stake out their territory on the sand. When everyone seems settled, Delia in her swimsuit dons her husband’s robe, slips on her sandals, and walks into the sunset, not looking back. 

With a $500 traveler’s check in her pocket, Delia hitches a ride inland to Bay Borough, a town she has never laid eyes on before.  She buys a few necessities at the dime store and purchases a dress at a second-hand shop. She rents a room at a boarding house planning to stay just one night,  just to make a point.

But one-night stretches into a week and then a month and then a year. She gets a job, as a secretary.  Her new life is spare and sparse. Clean and uncluttered. Quiet and uncomplicated.  No possessions, no family, no fuss.

But before you know it the people of Bay Borough intrude into Delia’s routine.  The landlady at the boarding house, the single mom from across the street, the cashier at the Rick Rack Café.  Pretty soon acquaintances become friends and friends become like family. And Delia, alone on her bed with a book, begins to ache for that family she left behind. 

Maybe it’s time to get back in the getaway car and go home again.

Back to family. Back to work. Back to the real world. 

After a year, Delia did go back, and she was better for it. And so was her family that had taken her for granted.

This Monday morning, I am going to hop into my little blue Hyundai and head out of town. I love my family. I love my work. I care about this crazy world. But I will be better at loving and caring about all of that, if I give Joani a little tender loving care. Three nights. Four days.  Bumping around a nearby historic town, exploring used bookstores, sunning by the pool, drinking Mr. Jefferson’s wine.

Friday, I promise to return. My money will run out, so I can pretty much guarantee it.

So friends, when is your next trip in your getaway car?


2 Comments

“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.

IMG_4877

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!

IMG_4875

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!