Smoldering

Time is passing by slowly as I tick down the hours until I go to work. I’m excited and I can’t wait to jump in. I’ve missed having a team, working on projects together and then maybe going for a drink afterward. I don’t know yet what kind of environment it will be, and I am hoping for the best. The owner of the business certainly impressed me with his letter, and the person who interviewed me was awesome as well. I love that in this job, they want my visionary capability instead of trying to stifle it. I am much better in a creative role than a technical one, but I can do technical when I’m needed. I’m just grateful that it’s not my only definition. Yes, I am a geek. But I am also great with ideas.

The idea of figuring out who I am has helped me the most. I am more secure in my vision for myself, in both what I do for a living and in writing, my career. I know more about what I want out of life and what I am willing to sacrifice for it. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I know the fire I am capable of creating, both the fire that tears me down and the fire that tempers me, remolding me into a new creation.

I know more about love, and what it means to me in a working definition of marriage, friendship, and family (blood and chosen). I miss the day-in, day-out of being emotionally close to Aaron, Argo, and Dana… but I have recreated family in DC that is just as precious to me as they are. At the same time, I have learned more about why I needed to move away emotionally from them (not so much with Aaron, who will always be one of my “lesbros,” but you get the picture). I couldn’t find myself without a great amount of silence, as I have right now, sitting here writing to all of you.

It’s been a hell of a year.

Today it is raining and cold, 41 degrees to be precise. I am sitting at my desk wearing lots of layers, but soon I will retire to my bed and watch TV with my electric blanket on H until I warm up enough that my fingers have blood in them again. I just started a series called “Covert Affairs” that is about the CIA. I have no idea how realistic it is, but the characters are great and it’s action-packed so that I forget everything around me and just enjoy the story. It’s a lot like Alias in execution. The characters all struggle with the dissonance between their real jobs and the amount of lying it takes to create the world they present to their families… and are as lovable as Sydney and Francie.

The weather is so dreary that I might fall asleep, but I’ve had enough coffee that I really don’t want to take a nap and will try to avoid it at all costs. If I take a nap, I will not be able to fall asleep when I’m supposed to and it will throw off my schedule (again). No one wants that. I am better-equipped when I go to bed early and get up at 5:00 or 6:00. I am a morning person, and writing as the sun comes up is one of my greatest pleasures. I don’t have to be in the office until 9:00, so that’s a solid hour of writing until I have to leave for the Metro station. I am planning to stick to that schedule as long as possible, rather than writing into the night.

I am also the jackass for whom “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” was written………………

Praying on the spaces, though. I want my inner thoughts to match my outward behavior, and am doing a better job of it than I ever have before. I am leaning into the person I want to become, rather than the person I have been in the past.

I didn’t love her.

 

The List

I’m starting to make a list of the things I want to buy with my first paycheck, those things I’ve put off buying since I’ve moved and only sort of need but would make my life a whole lot easier here. They’re all small because I am, again, trying to live simply. It’s things like new ink cartridges for my printer so that I can print out a few photos for my room. It’s amazing how expensive ink is, but in a digital world, how often do I really need my printer? In the entire time I’ve lived in this house, I have printed one document because it was needed and one document just because I wanted to write in the margins on scripture. That’s it. That’s the grand total. And technically, it’s not that all the inkwells are empty. Just the black one. But the printer will not print, even though C, Y, and M (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta) are all full.Operating systems, man…..

I also need some new light bulbs, so I want to splurge and replace all six with CFLs so that I never have to change them again. Like I said, tiny things that will make life easier, but nothing extravagant. I’m still debating on whether I need a car or not, and that debate will continue for quite a while, for two reasons. The first is that I’m not that great a driver (that fucker came out of NOWHERE). The second is that I don’t want to pay for or maintain a car. I don’t want to have to finance a car and I don’t want to have to empty out my savings if something goes wrong with a used one. If Volfe were here, I’d have no problem with plunking down a couple of thousand (literally, not figuratively) for a car, because I’d have someone to spend my Saturdays with fixing it up and/or doing maintenance). The last time Volfe and I worked on a car, it was me assisting him as he installed power steering in Dana’s car on our driveway in Houston. And while I said that I assisted, mostly what I did was make him laugh and hold things.

In Portland, we both had little Nissan pickups (his is named Moriko and mine was named Shirley) that we loved beyond all measure. The funniest thing that happened with Shirley is that Volfe freehanded some graphics on one side of my truck and ran out of spray paint, so the truck had splash graphics on one side the entire time I owned it.

The alternative side is that I am a total gearhead and I LOVE CARS. Love them. It doesn’t matter what kind, although I am partial to old Mercedes Benz, because when I lived here before, I had a 1988 190 E that I literally drove into the ground. I didn’t wreck it, it’s just the the repairs became  worth twice the value of the car. The hardest part was being sentimental enough to want to pay it, but not foolish.

It would also be nice to have a transportation mode in the winter without having to wait for the bus. But I’m not stupid. The cost of riding the bus and the Metro is infinitely cheaper and wiser for me, because I do the same thing on the Metro that I do while I’m driving- listen to podcasts the whole way. They’re free and brain-engaging, way more so than music. I put an MP3 player on my Christmas wish list because my phone is running out of space with all my apps to hold podcasts and music, plus I can’t stream music and podcasts on the Metro. I want something small on which I can install Rockbox and an expansion card when I need it. In other words, nothing that’s tied to the iTunes store in any way. Plus, MP3 players are so cheap now. It’s what happens when you want a gift from the ’90s… although the exception is old iPods. Those are expensive because they come with up to 160 GB of storage, but the main reason I don’t want an old iPod is that most other MP3 players come with a radio and an expansion slot. Beat that with a stick. NPR, holla! DC pleasure- listening to NPR while walking by NPR. In the beginning, when I first got an MP3 player, the radio was why I chose the Zune over the iPod. I have never regretted that decision, because even though the Zune was less popular, I listened to NPR more than I listened to anything else, and it came with 32 GB of space, while for more money, iPods only held eight. iPods held nothing for me.

iPods and the iTunes store were created in a moment of undeniable humanness when Steve Jobs didn’t include an optical drive on the iMac. It was a garbage dump of a situation, paraphrasing Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, because people didn’t have a way to rip their own CDs onto their computers, which to me, created a different problem- namely, having to buy the album again in a different format (guess I’ll have to buy The White album again…), but consumers didn’t seem to mind, so that’s none of my business.

Sometimes, people are dumb. Even me. I’ve seen me do it.

 

 

 

Sermon for Advent 1C: The Baby Shower

This year the Gospel for Advent starts with a bang. Before we begin, I want to present the whole thing.

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I am giving you the entire text because there is a troubling paradox to explore. How does this picture of The Son of Man coming in a cloud of power and glory fit in with the image of the Nativity? Aren’t we supposed to be waiting for a baby? In this scripture, as in life, justice and joy are inextricably interrelated.

Jesus was preaching to a people that had been systematically broken down long before he was born. The last time that the Jews felt they’d had a good leader was King David, and they were waiting for someone like him. While waiting, they were violently wrested from their homeland by the Babylonians and in despair that Israel would ever be great again… and then a prophet appeared with words of hope:

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

These are words that Jesus surely would have read, because he quotes Jeremiah almost verbatim in his parable of the fig tree. He uses the imagery of knowing summer is near by talking about “sprouting leaves.”

In so many ways, we are in that place, waiting for hope. Bombings are happening all over the world. Police brutality comes to light seemingly every day. Women’s health is threatened by lawmakers and yesterday, a gunman who shot a police officer and two hostages in a Colorado Planned Parenthood. There were fights in many malls across the U.S. as people shopped for, of all things, Christmas gifts. Transsexual people are being killed in what seems like brutal sport. Some members of Congress say that the minimum wage is high enough, and yet nowhere in the entire country is a two-bedroom apartment affordable for someone who makes it. Anonymous has threatened to release over a thousand names of a still-active Ku Klux Klan around the anniversary of the Ferguson shooting. We are bombarded with local news of robberies, murders, and anything else that falls under the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality.

In this way, we are also a systematically broken-down people, waiting for signs that things will get better, just like the Jews hundreds of years ago. We can identify because we can see it… hear it… smell it. Violence touches all the senses for the people directly involved. The rest of us feel helpless as we watch.

In beginning Advent, we are called to look for our own shoots of green, sprouting in the midst of tremendous conflict, and Jesus is asking us to be on alert for them. He doesn’t explicitly state it, but to me the underlying message is that the more people there are alert for signs of hope, the more chance that peace has to reign.

Pregnant women are the best at it.

Signs of hope stir within their own bodies at an alarming rate as they don’t just look for hope… they feel it. As the baby moves and grows and flutters and kicks little videos of what their new person might be like take over their thoughts in both dreams and wakefulness. Watching and talking to pregnant women imbues conversation with possibility. We give baby showers to share in their gift to the world.

As their partners and friends, we give gifts to honor a new life and the new hope it brings. We are lifted from our own despair, if only for an hour or two.

The timing of the coming of The Son of Man is not for us to know, but being alert for the good things that life has to offer is. I believe that Jesus talks about not letting your attention get pulled away by “dissipation and drunkenness” not necessarily as a judgment, but advice. You know the ways in which you check out of life and let the good things pass you by. So does he. In that time and place, there were just as many ways to check out as there are now. They were just different in that they didn’t have Candy Crush Saga. The fact that we are content in life to go to work, come home, have a drink, lather rinse repeat has not changed at all.

We, as Christians, are tasked not to wait for hope, but to create it.

We need the consolation that Jeremiah gives in not saying that God might come, but that God will. But we cannot hang our hats on that one precious day. We create our own futures, and whether that is one of darkness or light depends on the decisions we make for ourselves.

There is no message of hope more explicit than a brand new baby, but we are asked to look for all we can find.

In the 1850s, Europe was hit with what is now called The Great French Wine Blight, so named because France’s vineyards were hit particularly hard, with estimates that up to 40% of their grapevines were infested with phylloxera. It nearly destroyed the French wine industry until a Texan named Thomas Volney Munson provided Mustang grape rootstock for grafting to the city of Cognac, making ancient grape varietals that had been used in France for hundreds of years resistant to phylloxera as well. For his work, Munson was given The Order of Agricultural Merit (Ordre du Mérite Agricole), an award second only to the Legion of Honor (Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur).

Thomas Munson literally caused new shoots of hope to spring in France, and to this day, Cognac is a sister city to Denison, Texas, where Munson’s work is housed.

The grape that Munson used is called Mustang, and it grows in the wild… just like hope.

Hope is found in the wild, but as Christians we are called to cultivate it, graft it onto our pain so that new shoots are allowed to grow. If there is any judgment from Jesus in this passage, it is that our decisions matter. Are we bringing light into the world, or are we living in darkness by choice?

As our literal darkness grows longer until the solstice, we are given a chance to turn inward and evaluate the choices we’ve made with our lives and whether we are waiting for hope or bringing it.

I’m buying a TARDIS onesie. What about you?

Amen.

Oh boy.

Facebook has this cute little thing it does where it gives you your memories as soon as you log in, and the Advents of years past are almost enough to make me cry. First it was a status update about adding Advent information to Bridgeport’s web site, and both Susan and Diane leaving comments about how good it looked. Then, it was pictures of Dana and me several years in a row putting up our Christmas tree. And last but not least, this friggin’ hysterical story from last year:

Dana and I are putting up the Christmas tree. So far, there have been two times where I just could not even. The first was Dana struggling with the angel on the top of the tree. “Light up, BITCH!” Then, she dropped the light on the inside of the angel and said, “Son of a whorefucker!” Her dad was a Marine. I know you can’t tell. Actually, there were three times that doubled us over. The last was me saying, “yes, Mom. She really did say that.” Then Dana looked over at me and without even blinking did the Allyn “DANA!!!!!!!!!” Did I mention I could not even?

Christmas has always been important to Dana and me, jointly and severally. We’d both come from childhoods in which faith was very important. She’d been Episcopalian until she moved to Portland (and is now Episcopalian again). I’d jumped around several protestant denominations, but while Dana and I were together, we only attended three churches. In Portland, we divided our time between Bridgeport UCC and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. In Houston, we found Epiphany because we’d passed it several times and knew it was in our neighborhood, but didn’t go in until my old trumpet teacher, Theresa, said she went there. After that, I didn’t want to go anywhere else.

We both loved it, but I jumped ship quickly when I realized it was Dana’s place to fall, not mine, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is that…

Well, I’m not sure what the point is. Maybe that I am so angry, sad, depressed, and grieving that we don’t get to do Advent this year. We don’t get to do our “botionals” (my sister’s childhood word for “devotional”), and open one present the night before and all that stuff you do with your family… and by that, I mean Dana and me. Long before we moved to Houston, we had our own traditions.

One year, I got window crayons for Christmas, and so the next Advent, instead of buying a tree we just drew one on the sliding glass door to our patio and taped candy canes to it.

Other years, we went to Bob’z U-Cut and Dana gallantly cut us a spruce (or something, I don’t know my trees). Eventually, though, I realized that the allergies weren’t worth it, so the saying became “we don’t go to Bob’z U-Cut because we don’t want to live in Leslie’z U-Sneeze.”

There are so many things I would have done differently last Christmas if I’d known it was going to be our last one together. I would have spent less time in my office, and the memories of being shut up in there haunt me because I was so sad and lonely. I got out my horn and started playing Christmas carols, coming up with an obligato for this one. Dana was at handbells or something, and it was the first time in years that I actually felt my emotions coming through my horn. I’d forgotten how to do that in the years since I’d become a singer. I’m no Miles Davis or anything, but at times, my horn is a better extension of my mind than anything else.

So I’m sitting there, putting these emotions into music, not thinking of anything else. I should have been doing something, anything to change my frame of mind. Maybe putting on some gangsta rap and and getting it handled. I could have made myself happier.

I just didn’t.

Everything was drawing to a close, because by February, the marriage was really, really over. That Christmas, I was so lost in my own mind that I cut myself off from the rest of the world. Maybe sitting in my office playing Christmas carols was my way of letting things go. Who knows? In retrospect it seems like it could be true. But I also have the advantage of some distance from it now.

I just felt like even though there were people around me, I’d never felt so empty. Good writing came out of it, though. Last year, instead of doing a devotional by someone else, I wrote one for each Sunday:

And perhaps the blessing of this year is this- I am single, and yet, have never felt so surrounded by love.

Lit up, bitch!

 

What Kind of Day Has It Been

The sun set long ago, and I am ending my day with the satisfaction of finishing all of my Christmas shopping. I did it all on Amazon, so I didn’t even have to put on pants. I’m wearing pants, but that’s not the point. The point is that I did all of my Christmas shopping in a situation where pants are not even necessary. That is #winning in my book.

Earlier, I went to the bank to get a temporary debit card, but apparently a printout of my driver’s license was not enough. I was able to get cash, interestingly enough, but no debit card. Bank of America has long mystified me, and I wouldn’t even have created an account if I didn’t need a national bank. The good news is that now I’ll have a direct deposit, making my account free. There’s nothing like coming home to a negative balance when I haven’t remembered to leave enough for that $10.00 charge… actually, it’s probably more, but I’m too lazy to look it up. The take-home message is that by next month, my money issues will look a lot different, in that I will have some.

I plan to keep living the way I do now so that I can just sock away money for undergrad and grad school. I’m single, I don’t have a car payment, I don’t have kids, and my salary is what I was making in Houston, where my rent was almost double what it is now. They say that DC is an expensive city, and it is, but not when you find a room on Craig’s List and eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and hot dogs. I really only splurge for three things. I love Ezekiel Bread, Daiya cheese, and diet grape soda. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I just like Daiya better, especially on pizza. In fact, my favorite pizza in the world is Daiya and “Sorta Sausage,” which to most people is weird for someone who also loves bacon. Groceries are truly a love in my life, because cooking at home is so much more satisfying than going to a restaurant. When you marry a chef, people assume you cannot boil water. In my case, Dana was the boss at work, and I got to be the boss at home. Although for the first few years this was not the case. I was primarily in charge of grating cheese. I had to earn Dana’s trust with the All-Clad. 🙂 If I still lived in Houston, I’m pretty sure I would ask for visitation rights. I doubt she would give them to me, but all she could say is no, and she’d definitely say no if I didn’t ask. That’s been a life lesson for me, that “all they can say is no, so what do I have to lose by asking?” At this point in my life, there is very little that I want, and I am grateful for the chance to be able to provide.

I will not want for anything, and that is something for which to be extraordinarily grateful. Thanksgiving was exactly that for me this year. I prayed over all of the abundance I have achieved by paring down to the bare essentials. It’s funny that living on nothing gives you everything.

I’ve found that all I really want out of life is a great pot of tea and a warm heart to share it with. The last time Prianka and I got together, it was at Teaism Dupont, where we had Darjeeling and the chord that runs between us aglow with the friendship that has sustained us in both small and large ways over the years.

This has been a wonderful chapter in my life, this learning who I am (and who I’m not). And in getting this job, I’m hoping to start the climax and denouement; the climax being my ordination and the denouement spending my days preaching, teaching, writing, and most of all, learning.

It is a lifetime pursuit, this learning how to be in the world. One of the characters in “The Man in the High Castle” says something profound, and I will share it here… that being a good man is difficult, and as you get older, it is harder and harder to decide what being a good man means.

There was a while where I didn’t think I was a very good person. When I was in it, I realized that what I thought of myself was true, and made changes to that effect. It’s hard to be a good person when you give up your rules. I was anchorless because I relied on others to provide that North Star.

Having everything was creating my own.


This is not the first time I have used a West Wing episode as an entry title. Here’s the first, so named because Argo was the help line of enormous proportion that got me through the moments when my emotions exploded all over the place. It was the beginning of trying to figure out who I truly was, wanted to be, with lots of stumbles along the way. I want to be the idealist version of myself that does funnel light to others, but I couldn’t in the middle of the mess. In order to get right, I had to want it.

And I do.

I Cannot Move

I think this is the title of every Thanksgiving blog post ever, but it’s true. I have eaten my weight in dolmas, hummus, turkey, you name it. Lebanese Thanksgiving is just like regular Thanksgiving except there are two completely different tables of food. One has all the traditional stuff, and the other is everything you order when you go out to a Middle Eastern restaurant except it tastes better.

Hayat told the story of coming home from vacation and finding out that they had sixteen hamsters instead of just two. The store had assured them that the hamsters were both female.

Guess.

So, Hayat calls the store and the store says to bring them back, they’ll sell them. When she gets there, the manager tells her “well, you didn’t call today!” Hayat says, “you have two choices. Either I hand you this box of hamsters or I set them loose in the store.” Everyone was in tears, and I said, “that story is not funny because of the hamsters. That story is funny because I know just how much you meant it.” A year or two later, they started the remodel on the house to make it multi-family, and a small Samantha says, “oh… hey… there’s Sunshine.”

It feels funny not doing any cooking this year. I miss it, but not that much. It was nice to be provided for in this little cocoon I have made, this family that loves me so much that when I told Mike I’d gotten a job, he yelled, “HAYAT! TIME TO GO UP ON THE RENT!”

See?

I hope your Thanksgiving was as good as mine. It probably won’t be, though. 😛

Losing My Mind

I’ve lost my wallet and I am literally going crazy trying to find it. I haven’t been shopping since Wednesday, so I didn’t realize I didn’t have it until yesterday. I’ve gone through my pants pockets, my trash, under my bed, everything. My room is a lot cleaner, but I am no closer to finding my wallet than I was yesterday. If Dana was here, I wouldn’t have lost it in the first place. Of this, I am sure. However, Dana is not here, and my wallet’s location has not been injected into the Danabase. So, in short, I am screwed until I find it.

I even called the church to see if I’d left it at choir or something. So far, I got nothin.’ And, of course, it’s the absolute worst time to lose my wallet because I’m going to need my driver’s license when I fill out my W-2. My only saving grace is that I have a scan of my passport somewhere, so if I get really desperate, I can use that.

I lose things all the time because I am crap about creating location memories. It drives me crazy on a daily basis. Dear little baby Jesus does it drive me crazy. I should create habits in terms of putting things in the same place every day, but they just don’t stick… unless it’s someone else’s stuff. I can always come up with that. Just not mine. Weird and true.

The reason I have a scan of my passport and not the actual thing is that I put it in the pocket of a pair of shorts that Dana donated to Goodwill. It was just an accident, but I am sure that it’s on a clearance table somewhere. I am lucky that my identity has not been stolen, although I know for certain that I do not have private information anymore. None of us do. We just have information now.

I think I’m going to crawl under my bed with a flashlight to see if that makes any difference.

You haven’t seen it, have you?