Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Little Stuff

Today we had a 3.0 quake while I was in my office. I felt my couch shaking, but that was it. I'm getting more used to the small quakes, although I certainly hope we don't have a big one!

My Dansko shoes came today, and I love them. They seem to fit perfectly. I've been wearing them for the past hour. I'm sure there will be a breaking-in period, but I foresee a long and happy partnership here.

In knitting news, I'm working on two projects: a birthday gift for a friend and the first of many Christmas projects. I hope I can get them all done by Christmas!

I've been badly behind on writing columns for the "Faith and Health" newsletter the Church Health Center will start publishing later this year. The editor, John Shorb, asked me to contribute a regular column based on my blog, which was more than a little flattering. He wanted twelve (a whole year's worth of content) by May 1, but as of the day before yesterday, I only had seven, even though I had plenty of ideas!

I wrote number eight yesterday and number nine this morning, and hope to write number ten tonight. Eleven and twelve are slated for tomorrow and Friday, respectively. These things are immense fun to write, but I've been bad about budgeting my time! I hope John will forgive me the deadline slippage.

My last set of classes is Monday; I give a final the following Friday and have a final party/reading for my fiction workshop the Monday after that. In the meantime, there are lots of meetings and events at work. Two weeks from tomorrow, we fly back East -- God willing and the airline doesn't go bankrupt -- for our niece's wedding. Gary will be flying straight back here, but I'll be detouring through Madison for WisCon, where I'll see Inez.

It's nice to lead a full life, when I have enough energy!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grand Rounds Smackdown

This week's edition is up, with a World Wrestling theme. I didn't submit because the theme doesn't do much for me, but I'm sure it will be fun to read!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Yet More Fun!

At 10:51, we had a "minor earthquake" measuring 3.1, followed at 11:01 by a "microearthquake" measuring 2.8. They were small, but we definitely felt both of them.

Hey, the partying never stops around here.

I've been sitting in my study, which is probably the least earthquake-safe room in the house. I think I'll get into bed now!

Earthquake Stories

This morning at 4:33, Gary and I were woken up by a 4.2 quake. The walls rattled, but nothing fell over, and we managed to get back to sleep.

People were swapping stories at school, of course. My workshop class had a lively conversation about the reaction of pets, both to these earthquakes and to others (several of my students have gone through big earthquakes in California). There was the cat who kept pouncing on the floor, trying to catch the earthquake; the cat who ate steadily and obliviously through the earthquake; the cat who threw up for twelve hours straight after the earthquake -- poor kitty! -- and the five cats who became giant bristling furballs and then "slowly deflated," after which all five of them made a frantic dive for the foodbowls and commenced stress eating.

One of my students has friends whose fifty-gallon fish tank broke, soaking their living room and killing several of the fish. He also said that there were gas leaks on his street. A student whose daughter is epileptic said that now she knows how her daughter feels when the uncontrollable shaking starts.

I was glad to learn that I wasn't the only person who was freaked out and super-jumpy. That seems to have been a fairly common reaction.

This evening, Gary and I went to the supermarket and chatted with our checkout lady about the quakes. She and her manager were the only people in the store -- which is closer to the epicenter than our house is -- when the Friday night quake hit. She said bottles were shooting off the shelves. The store lost thousands of dollars of stock, and the clean-up was a hideous, smelly, slippery mess, especially in the liquor department. They had to use snow shovels to clean up all the broken glass.

Luckily, a lot of employees who weren't working showed up to help with the clean-up. Good for them!

Gary and I had noticed that bottles were now positioned well away from the edge of shelves, and also that bottled water was very scarce. Evidently the store ordered immense amounts of bottled water, but hasn't been able to keep it in stock.

I've also been keeping my gas tank as close to full as possible, just in case something happens and gas stations aren't working for a while. I haven't noticed unusual lines at the pumps, though.

And, of course, there were lots of people who didn't feel a thing during any of the earthquakes, and couldn't figure out what the fuss was about. Lucky them!

Reclaiming Christ

Here's yesterday's homily. I told our clergy that I was nervous that it might be too political, but after the first service, our deacon told me, "It's not political enough!" And one of our priests asked me for a copy and then e-mailed me today to find out where he could order his own Christian Left bumper sticker (that would be from Cafe Press, which also has a slew of Episcopal products covering every conceivable political and religious position).

The funniest moment came in the eighth paragraph, in the line, "If we look upon others with condemnation, instead of compassion, the world will rightly assume that Christ came not to save the world, but to condemn it." Just as I reached the word "condemnation," the windows started rattling, because we were having another earthquake (a small one, fortunately!). Everyone laughed. Gotta love that divine sense of humor.

The Gospel is John 14:15-21.


For the past few months, we’ve heard a series of homilies devoted to the Eucharist, working our way piece by piece through our Sunday service. This will be the last one. My part begins with the invitation to the feast and ends with the deacon’s dismissal.

Nine years ago, in my pre-baptismal classes, I learned that the Eucharist is the center of worship. We come here to receive the bread and wine, to be fed with the body and blood of Christ. Everything else that happens on Sunday morning, as important as it may be, is secondary.

But what is the purpose of the Eucharist? What is communion for? To remind us that we are part of Christ, who is also part of us? Yes, certainly. To comfort us in times of sorrow and need? Yes to that, too. I don’t know about you, but I rarely feel as safe and loved as when I’m waiting at the altar rail, holding out my hands to receive the bread. I always feel like a baby bird, secure in the nest, waiting with gaping beak for the mother bird to come and feed me.

There’s an even more important reason for communion, though, and it’s emphasized in the post-communion prayer. After we have thanked God for feeding us, we say, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses to Christ our Lord.” The dismissal, a few minutes later, repeats the point. “Let us go in peace,” the deacon says, “to love and serve the Lord.”

Communion is food for the journey, the meal that strengthens us to go into the world and do the work Christ has given us: to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, and to serve the lost, the needy, and the broken. Seen this way, the Eucharist isn’t why we come to church after all. The point of coming to church is to leave it again: refreshed, resolved, and ready for ministry. The baby bird has to learn to fly. That’s why her mother fed her all those tasty morsels: to make sure that her wings will be healthy and strong, so that she’ll soar instead of falling.

People at St. Stephen’s have many ways of loving and serving the world. We’re active in prison ministry, bring services to nursing homes, distribute bread to the needy, help feed and shelter homeless families, set up Eco-Palian booths at Earth Day festivities, visit sick friends and strangers, pray for the needs of people both near and far, and contribute time and money to many worthy causes. We do a lot, but because we’re Episcopalians, we tend to do it quietly. Many of us favor the maxim of St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel without ceasing. If necessary, use words.”

If I weren’t very comfortable with that approach, I wouldn’t be here. But there are as many other approaches as there are other kinds of Christians, and I’ve recently been reminded, to my dismay, that some of those styles give all the others, including ours, a bad name. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.” We see Jesus, but the rest of the world sees us. We are Christ’s disciples, his visible legacy. As St. Teresa of Avila reminds us: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

Whatever the world sees us do in Christ’s name, it will attribute to Him. If we sow fear and hatred, the world will rightly assume that our Lord is a God of fear and hatred, rather than love. If we curse and shun others, rather than blessing them, the world will rightly assume that Christ offers threats, not welcome. And if we live in compassion, love and blessing, but don’t specifically name Christ as our Lord and teacher, the world will have no way of knowing that there are Christians who don’t believe that exclusion, fear and hatred are the Keys to the Kingdom.

I believe that most Christians believe in, and try to walk in, love. But we all know that there are some who don’t, and we also know that some of the people who favor that other style have gotten a great deal of publicity. For one thing, fear and hatred make better news headlines than love does. Remember the famous -– or infamous -– Christian who announced that feminists and the ACLU were responsible for 9/11? Yes, now you know the truth: it was all my fault.

I’ve met a lot of people who fear and hate Christians, because they think we’re all like that. And when I tell these people that I’m Christian, but that neither I nor my Christian friends are anything like that, they don’t believe me. They haven’t seen evidence of Christian love, only of Christian condemnation. Whatever I say to the contrary, I’m only one person. Those of us who want to reclaim Christ from the hate-mongers need to become a lot more visible.

This is hard work. People see what they expect to see, and they often simply dismiss anything that conflicts with their worldview. For years, my car boasted two bumper stickers, one that read, “Christian, Not Closed-Minded,” and another that said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Last week, I discovered that the first bumper sticker had been defaced to read, “Christian, Closed-Minded.” Someone, apparently oblivious to the second sticker, had used a magic marker to cross out the “Not.” I ordered more bumper stickers. I now have one that reads, “Christian Left,” next to an Episcopal Church shield. Certainly not everyone agrees with that pairing, but at least it establishes that not all Christians have the same political views.

Bumper stickers probably aren’t the best way of letting people know where we stand. Personal testimony, as much as we might cringe at the phrase, works much better. The world needs to hear firsthand that there’s more than one way of being Christian.

A few years ago, a group of Christians set up camp in front of the UNR library. They waved signs claiming that anyone who didn’t follow Jesus would go to hell. They yelled hateful things about Jews, Muslims and sexual minorities into bullhorns. They ignored anyone who tried to talk to them. They were very loud and very unpleasant. Everyone on campus was on edge. In both of my classes that day, I told my students, “I need to tell you that I’m Christian too, and I don’t agree with those guys. Lots of us believe that Jesus is about love, not about hatred.”

I think my words reassured my students, but my own approach bothered me. Wasn’t I just setting up another us/them dichotomy, becoming the very thing I hated? Thinking about the believers with their bullhorns outside the library, I remembered reading a book called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. When Miller was in college, he and some other Christian students set up a confession booth during a large campus event. Most people who stopped by the booth said something like, “So I’m supposed to tell you what I’ve done wrong and ask God’s forgiveness, right?” But Miller and his friends explained that the booth was for something else entirely. The Christian students wanted their neighbors’ forgiveness. They wanted to confess, and apologize for, all the pain and damage Christians had caused in the name of God.

The booth got a lot of business. Maybe St. Stephen’s and other churches should set up booths like that. In the meantime, as each of us takes communion, I ask us to think about how we will do Christ’s work this week. As we become Christ’s hand and feet and heart in the world, how will we use love to proclaim our faith? How will we reclaim Christ from, and offer Christ to, those we believe have misunderstood him? How will we feed others as we have been fed?


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Quake Update

Last night's quake has actually been downgraded to a 4.7. That's a refreshing change!

Thanks to everyone who left comments on my previous posts. Several of you said that these little quakes are letting off steam so we won't get a big one; I'd have assumed that, too, except that the magnitudes have been increasing, which is evidently very unusual. So all kinds of bulletins are going out about what to do In the Event of a Major Earthquake. We even made the front page of AOL, which specializes in breathless, fear-mongering headlines. "BIG EARTHQUAKE SET TO STRIKE? Scientists tell city to get ready!"

Some houses had a bit of structural damage from last night's quake, and lots of ketchup bottles and mayonnaise bottles fell off supermarket shelves. Let's hope we don't get anything worse. Meanwhile, I ate on the "safe" side of the dining room table again tonight, and also skipped swimming in favor of taking a walk. When I thought about swimming, all I could see was the rest of the building collapsing into the ground-floor pool. I'm sure the building's safer than that, but I still felt safer walking.

Gary and I both twitch whenever we feel anything resembling a tremor: cats jumping onto furniture, the other person tapping a foot, the fridge making noises, etc. Don't anybody jump out at me and yell "boo" for a while, okay?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Okay, That One Was Scary

We just had another quake, bigger than the others we've had -- the whole house shook for ten or twenty seconds -- although I don't know magnitude because nobody's reported on it yet. A fair amount of crashing in the house, and what sounded like glass breaking, but we can't find any actual damage, just some stuff knocked over.

One of the crosses hanging on my study wall was still swinging back and forth several minutes later.

There were two, I think, small aftershocks afterwards.

We're more rattled emotionally than physically. The fact that these have been getting bigger is somewhat alarming. And of course, there's no way to predict if/when another one will hit.

We've put extra water in the fridge, and I've put the most valuable of the breakables in my study on the couch, cushioned by pillows.

I said to Gary, "I'm starting to rethink the wisdom of living in a two-story house," and he said, "I'm starting to rethink the wisdom of living in Nevada."

Okay, here's the story. The initial estimate is that it was a 4.9, followed by a 3.0 a few minutes later. But I know I felt two aftershocks.

I'll be interested to see if that estimate changes; the intensities of several of these recent quakes have been revised upwards.

Enough, Already!

Some of you may have heard about the earthquake swarm Reno's been having for the last few days. They've all been small, but they're still unnerving, especially since they keep happening.

I was at the hospital yesterday when we had three within about ten minutes, although I only felt the last one. Gary, who was home, told me later that the third one made our plastic shower doors shake and clatter. The cats stared at Gary with "What the hell are you doing?" looks on their faces.

We both felt one in the early evening; based on that, I decided to sit on Gary's side of the dining room, the one across the table from our six-foot bookshelves (they're bolted to each other, but not to the wall).

Today seemed quiet until a bit after six, when we were eating dinner and felt a short, sharp shock. Nothing in the house fell -- or even moved, that I could detect -- but I still moved back to Gary's side of the table. Having my back to the six-foot bookshelves didn't seem like such a great idea.

This has reminded us that we're not especially well prepared for an emergency. We have candles, flashlights, and battery-powered radios, and would probably be okay for food, but we don't have extra gallons of water lying around. I suppose we ought to do something about that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Behold the Bumper Stickers

Here's the new bumper-sticker configuration. The "Christian Left" one is a bit wobbly, because there are air bubbles under there and when I lifted the sticker to try to get them out, it stretched. And when I put it back, there were still air bubbles. So I'm just going to leave it the way it is.

I hope these don't get vandalized, but if they do, I have others in reserve.

The sites I was browsing had both left-leaning and right-leaning Episcopal stickers, and one of the latter said something about how the Episcopal Church gets its preachers out of Crackerjack boxes. This makes me wonder if there's some controversy over lay preachers that I've missed. I wouldn't be surprised.

Homesick for Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up, and looks terrific! Dr. Val Jones has organized posts according to the limbic system, the dominant emotion each post is likely to arouse in readers. My dominant emotion, looking at this edition, is homesickness, because I haven't submitted to GR in so long!

I have to do something about that. But since I have 160+ pages of grading to do by next Monday -- and a homily to write for this Sunday -- it may have to wait yet another week.

I've also started having long, wistful, complicated dreams about the hospital. I'm not sure what that means; maybe that my brain wants me to get back to writing hospital posts?

Monday, April 21, 2008


Harley, who isn't ordinarily a lap cat, loves to rest under (or preferably on) my knitting. Today I got this shot of him cuddling under my latest shawl, which is almost finished; this is the one for my cousin Scott's wife.

Figaro shows no interest in knitting. Bali likes wool, but scorns the acrylic I'm using here.

Harley looks decidedly annoyed at having his photo taken; he got off my lap, in a huff, shortly after I snapped this picture.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dear visitor from Winston Salem,

Site Meter shows me what people searched on to get here. That's how I know that your Google search for HOW MUCH INSULIN NEEDED TO COMMIT SUICIDE led you to my post Heaven Can Wait.

I hope you aren't suicidal. I hope you were doing research for a book or something. But if you are suicidal, I hope that post convinced you to wait, to call someone for help, to stay alive at least a little longer.

The Internet is a strange and sometimes wonderful thing. It can lead people who want to kill themselves to resources that, with luck and grace, will keep them from killing themselves. I would be humbled if my post were one of those resources.

North Carolina's a long way from here, and I don't even know your name. But please know that I'm praying for you.

Happy Earth Day!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!

We live on a beautiful planet. Let's all do whatever we can to keep it that way, shall we?

Hug a tree for Christ. Or, if you don't believe in Christ, hug a tree for your grandchildren. If you don't have grandkids, hug a tree for your friends' grandkids.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Separation Anxiety

Here's tomorrow homily. I'll be guest preaching at St. Catherine's in south Reno, and I don't know the parish, so I've kept the theology in this homily slightly more orthodox than my own.

The advantage of being a guest preacher is that this congregation hasn't heard my other homilies, which allowed me to recycle two paragraphs from this homily. Fitting for Earth Day, don't you think?

The readings are Acts 7:55-60 and John 14:1-14. Thanks, as always, to Gary for his excellent editing.


Today’s Gospel is both one of the most comforting passages in the lectionary and, paradoxically, one of the most dismaying. The comfort is obvious: Jesus assures his followers that His Father’s house contains many dwelling places, that there are rooms for all of his friends. I like to imagine that each of these rooms is decorated to personal taste, that the Christian who favors dayglo wallpaper and shag carpeting on the ceiling will be made as comfortable in God’s house as her neighbor, who prefers Shaker simplicity.

After this assurance, the disciples still have questions. Thomas asks, in effect, “How can we follow you if we don’t know where you’re going?”

Jesus answers, famously, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” But then he goes on to say, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is the sore point. During my Preachers-in-Training class, our teacher talked about this passage. Because it promises comfort after death, it’s often requested at funerals, but most funerals are attended by a number of non-Christian family and friends of the deceased. Comforting his own followers, Jesus appears to be slamming the door of God’s house in everyone else’s face. He seems to be saying, “There are many dwelling places for my people, but there’s no room at the inn for the rest of you.”

I’ve attended Christian funerals where pastors emphasized that message, promising hellfire to anyone sitting in the pews who didn’t embrace Jesus. But that isn’t how Episcopalians tend to do things. Many of us believe that, to paraphrase Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Jesus is our Way, Truth and Life, but that God -- who is infinitely bigger than our own hearts and imaginations -- offers other ways to people of other faiths. And even if we believe that everyone must come to Jesus for salvation, most of us wouldn’t use a funeral as an occasion to deepen the pain of people in grief, to widen the gulf between us and them. To me, at least, that seems an odd definition of loving one’s neighbor, not to mention a shaky recruitment strategy.

How, then, can we extend the comfort of this passage to everyone? And why are we reading this passage today, anyway? This morning’s service isn’t a funeral. We’re still celebrating Easter. But that means that we’re also preparing for the Ascension, for the time when Jesus will no longer be available to us in bodily form. That’s the proper context for this morning’s Gospel. The disciples know that soon they won’t be able to see Jesus anymore, and they’re scared. Having gotten him back after the Resurrection, they don’t want to lose him again.

Separation anxiety connects all of the situations I’ve mentioned this morning. At funerals, we mourn our separation from those we love and see no longer. We may also mourn the separation of the faithful from nonbelievers, and of nonbelievers from God. In this morning’s Gospel, the disciples are mourning Jesus’ imminent departure, wondering how they’ll follow someone they can no longer see.

“Anxiety” may be too mild a term for it; I think “terror” is closer to the mark. Rereading this passage, I remembered being a little girl and losing sight of my mother in a crowded department store. Everything was taller than I was: the racks of clothing, the other shoppers, the display counters. The store was so big! I couldn’t see over or around anything, and I couldn’t see my mother. I started sobbing, convinced that I’d never find her again.

The story had a happy ending. I couldn’t find my mother, but she found me. Because she was bigger than I was, she had a much better vantage point. She picked me up and wiped away my tears, and I clung to her hand all the way out to our car.

Jesus promises the same happy ending. “If I go to prepare a place for you,” he tells his disciples, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus is bigger than we are, and he has a better vantage point. Even if we can’t see him, because the world is so big, he’ll find us when we cry for him. He’ll pick us up and wipe away our tears, and he’ll hold our hands while he takes us home.

Something very like that, after all, happens to Stephen in today’s lesson from Acts. About to become the first Christian martyr, he receives a vision of comfort. “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Jesus has come to Stephen, and all Stephen has to do is move towards him. Jesus is the way, the signpost, to the place we are going. We know the way because we know and love Him: and, more importantly, because He knows and loves us. Just as the shepherd searches for the lost, crying lamb, and just as the mother searches for the lost, crying child, Jesus will search for and find us when we need him.

But we already love Jesus. What about the people who don’t love Him, although we love them? There are several answers to this question. The first is that we can, of course, always hope that they will someday come to share our faith. One of the witnesses of Stephen’s stoning was Saul, who underwent a powerful conversion experience on the Road to Damascus. Under his new name of Paul, he argued powerfully against separation anxiety. In his Epistle to the Romans, he wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

But what about people who haven’t experienced Paul’s change of heart? My father, for example, is furiously anti-religious. My sister calls him a “fundamentalist atheist.” But this is the same man who shared his fierce passion for social justice with me when I was a child, who volunteered with the Legal Aid Society to represent poor clients who couldn’t pay for lawyers, who recently gave one of his walkers to a neighbor who couldn’t afford her own. My father loves his neighbor as himself. I have a hunch that he knows Jesus better than he thinks he does, and I’m certain that Jesus knows and loves him.

And I’ve come to believe that the love we have shared in life will comfort us in death, no matter what faith —- or lack of it —- we profess. I know a woman who died when she was nineteen. She drowned and was rescued by lifeguards, who resuscitated her. When she told me this story, she said, “I was dancing with my grandmother in heaven. It was beautiful. I was so happy to see her again, and when I opened my eyes on the beach, the first thing I said was, ‘Let me go back! Let me go back there!’” My friend isn’t religious, but she no longer fears death. She knows her grandmother is waiting.

Some of us may scoff at this story. We may believe that my friend only imagined dancing with her grandmother in heaven, that the whole thing was wishful thinking or a hallucination caused by lack of oxygen. But in my work as a volunteer hospital chaplain, I’ve heard many stories like this, usually from people who seem fully sane and rational. Hospice workers report that dying patients often attest to the presence of beloved friends and family who’ve gone ahead of them. Many years ago, I worked for a woman -— as no-nonsense and unsentimental a soul as I’ve ever met -— who died of cancer. At her funeral, a priest talked about visiting her in the hospital shortly before she died. Trying to comfort her, he told her that many dying people he knew had talked about seeing dead loved ones. Lucie nodded and said in her usual tart tone, “Oh, yes. They’ve already been here. They come and stand around the bed.” If our job as Christians is to “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” surely it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that wherever we see someone we love, we also see Jesus.

And I think that Jesus appears in other forms, that reminders of God are all around us, if only we look for them. When we can’t find Christ in other people, we will be given other signs. This is as true in life as it is in death. Last year, during a time when I wasn’t feeling as close to God as I often do, I went for a walk on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I enjoy collecting rocks there, and I have many lovely stones veined with quartz in interesting patterns. As I strolled that day, I thought, “It would be nice to find a stone with a cross pattern.” This was less a prayer than a daydream; if it was a prayer, it was a challenge.

A few steps later, I looked down. Lying at my feet was this stone. You probably can’t see it from where you’re sitting, but the quartz veins form a perfect cross. Both startled and moved, I mouthed a silent, “Thank you.” Ever since then, I’ve kept this stone on my desk, a reminder that I am known and loved by the Lord who has promised, “I am with you always.”


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gorgeous Cats

I took these shots of Bali and Figaro today. I'm really pleased with them, especially since it's almost impossible to get a good shot of Bali, given his lack of contrast. In this first Bali shot, note the stone and ceramic cats (including the ones my priest gave me) in the background. I didn't plan that, but it worked out nicely!

Here's Bali in his favorite spot: lying on top of Gary's computer mouse. If you don't want the cat to play with it, don't call it a mouse!

I really like this close-up of Figgy. He's so photogenic that it's almost impossible to take a bad picture of him, but getting this close to him when his eyes are open, and when he's not moving, is something of a victory.

In this one he looks like he's flirting with the camera, doesn't he? What an expression!

So here are two of my three beautiful boys. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Productive Day

You may not want to read this post if you're extra-squeamish about distasteful medical procedures.

Today I did a couple of small chores on which I've procrastinated: filled out some paperwork at work, arranged to step down from a departmental service assignment I haven't been enjoying, switched primary-care providers. My former PCP and I have been having some communication problems, and Gary and I used to see an MD we really liked who started his own practice. I checked, and he's taking new patients, so we're going over there. I called his office to make an appointment; they e-mailed me paperwork to fill out, including the form for transfer of medical records. I called our insurance to make sure he's on our plan (he is), and learned that Gary and I can reduce our deductible by 50% by filling out an online survey. So that was all good news. This physician is farther away than our old doctor, but it had gotten to the point where former-doc was chalking all my symptoms up to psychological issues which I don't think I have. I was probably getting thorough care anyhow, but I didn't feel like I was. When I realized that I dreaded going back there because I didn't want to hear the same old mantra, I decided it was time to get a new doc.

Of course, maybe I'm in denial. But I discussed this in detail with my shrink, and she didn't think so (she thought former-doc was being inappropriate). So that's one vote of confidence.

My shrink has also been nudging me to go back to my GI doc for some mild but possibly worrisome symptoms (former-doc was nudging me about that too, come to think of it), and I finally did so last week. GI Guy was very kind about the fact that I hadn't been in for so long, but said gently, "I want you to have a colonoscopy. You knew I was going to say that, right?"

"Why do you think I waited so long to come in?" He laughed, and I said, "Everything's going to be normal, you know. My tests are always normal."

"Yeah, I know. But if we didn't do them, that would be the one time things wouldn't be normal. So we'll do the test, because that way we know it will be normal."

I like this guy. He thinks the way I do.

We're throwing in an endoscopy for the heck of it, but the two procedures will be at the same time, and they're at the end of May, so I have a while before I have to worry about the Dreaded Prep. I've done this twice before -- lucky me! -- so at least I know what to expect.

A friend of mine needs a colonoscopy too, as it turns out, so I gave my prep briefing. (For the love of God, make sure you get the Half-Lytely, not the Go-Lytely!) Talk about areas in which I never expected, or wanted, to be an expert!

Getting old. It's not for anyone who cares about dignity.

But, as I was saying, all of that was last week. Today was a good day. So, despite the fact that we just got a dental bill for ninety zillion dollars -- okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit -- and despite the fact that we don't know how many extra mortgages we'll have to take out to pay for the May procedures, I celebrated by ordering a pair of new shoes.

Oooooh! you say. Sexy red high heels? Elegant black boots? Darling little rhinestone flip-flops?

Nope. Dansko Narrow Professional Clogs: great arch support, which with luck will help out my aching hip and knees! I can alternate those with my beloved Keens.

I gave up on sexy shoes a long time ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

One Crowded Bumper

I just ordered two more bumper stickers: an Episcopal Church shield, and a "Christian Left" sticker. They'll make a nice combo. I know I'm going a little nuts with this, but Gary says he likes a lot of bumper stickers (and he's happy to ride in the car even though he's atheist . . . or apathist, as he prefers to call himself).

In any case, the stickers make the car easier to find in parking lots.

In more substantial reading news, this week's Grand Rounds is up. I'm looking forward to reading it. One of these days I'll get around to submitting posts again!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Missing the Message

Last night I heard from an old friend, an SF editor in NYC, to whom I'd sent the essay I read at Mythcon. I've been wanting to market it, but I've gotten such mixed reactions that I was alarmed. She had very mixed reactions, too, but she also gave me some very good revision suggestions.

In the essay, I talk about writing fantasy, and also about being Christian and how my faith motivates me to volunteer at the hospital. My friend (who's an atheist) felt offended by this material, which she interpreted as "preachy." She thought I should talk about volunteering without mentioning religion, since she and other people who aren't Christian volunteer too. My take on the issue is that I'm not saying what anyone else's motivations should be; I'm describing my own, and I'd be false to myself if I falsified that. But, I told her, the comment was helpful, because it suggests that I should send the essay to a faith-friendly publication.

She wrote back, asking anxiously if a faith-friendly publication would be open to fantasy.

To which I responded, laughing aloud as I typed, "I write fantasy, and I'm Christian!" She apologized, but pointed out that her initial reaction showed how many people automatically equate Christianity with narrow-minded literalism, thanks to the Christian Right. I told her that one of my reasons for identifying publically as Christian is to try to help change that perception. Yes, the Christian Left exists. We're really out here.

And then, today, my car was vandalized.

I've talked here before about my bumper stickers, which read CHRISTIAN, NOT CLOSED-MINDED and FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE. I also have a Planet Earth decal on my car.

While I was teaching today, someone took a red magic marker and crossed out the "NOT" on the first bumper sticker.

When I saw it, I felt ill. Someone who didn't even know me just assumed that I'm the opposite of what I profess to be. How closed-minded is that? Who's being intolerant here?

I got home and remembered that I have another bumper sticker that says, COMFORT THE DISTURBED, DISTURB THE COMFORTABLE. That's going over the old sticker. Meanwhile, I went to the wonderful Northern Sun site, home of progressive mottoes, and ordered a new NOT CLOSED-MINDED sticker, along with one that says JESUS IS A LIBERAL and another that says WE MUST BE THE CHANGE WE WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD. I won't have room for all of those on my car, but if my bumper stickers keep getting vandalized, at least I'll have fresh ones.

I also e-mailed my editor friend about the incident. She wrote back, ruefully, "I’m afraid the right has been around so long and so loudly that it’s going to take a while for the rest of you to overcome the fear they instilled in the rest of us."

While that's certainly true -- it's the reason I put the Christian bumper sticker on my car in the first place -- I wonder if it applies in this instance. Surely the feminism sticker should have demonstrated that I am, indeed, left-leaning? The vandalism seems more like pure spite to me.

In any case, it left me feeling lousy, which was presumably the point.


The WisCon Fiber Guild

WisCon always begins with The Gathering, a bunch of activities -- clothing swaps, hair braiding, button-making -- held in a large room where people can meet and mingle. I've never suggested an activity before, but this year I did, and it was accepted. Here's the description:
In Patricia McKillip's novel Solstice Wood, a group of women gather with knitting, crocheting and sewing: their crafting creates magical barriers against dangerous invasions from Faerie. This year at WisCon, let's initiate our own Fiber Guild! Come to the Gathering with your yarn, needles, thread, scissors, and beads. Sit with other women -- and men! -- who are creating beautiful objects; talk about how our crafting functions as magic against Oppressive Politics, Formula Fiction, and Inferior Chocolate. Have we healed ourselves with craft? Can we help heal the world? Discuss!
I hope lots of people come. It should be fun!

I'll be doing more intellectual and academic stuff at WisCon, too, but I haven't gotten my full schedule yet, so I don't know which panels I'm on.


On April 27, I'm preaching at my church. This weekend, I got e-mail from a friend who's a priest at another church in town, asking me to preach at her church this coming Sunday.

So I'll be preaching two weeks in a row. That doesn't happen very often!

I'm not sure when I'll find time to write the homilies . . . but I'll get them done. I always do.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mended Angel

Here's the mended angel in his new location, on top of a taller bookcase which, so far, has remained safe from the cats (although I wouldn't put anything past them!). The angel, which I talk about in my Christmas 2004 homily The Angel of Incarnation, is from Gulf Coast Mississippi, made by a local Jewish artist. I bought the statue when my father lived down there.

Ocean Springs, my dad's former home, is also where I acquired the Mexican milagros cross. The painted cat box was a gift from my sister. The two photographs on either side of the angel are baby pictures of my mother; I especially love the one where she has her hand in the goldfish bowl! The metal bird was a present from Mom several Christmases ago.

Because the statue is an icon of incarnation for me, the fact that it's been broken and mended makes it doubly precious, a symbol of healing. And it also reminds me that Communion bread has to be broken before it can feed the faithful, whose job it is to help heal the world. (For a fuller explanation of my personal take on eucharistic theology, see this homily.)

Many thanks again to my student Liz for repairing the angel's broken wing!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Certificate Update

I'd e-mailed a friend at the med school about the typo; I thought it was funny -- and I hope everyone who read the previous post could tell that I thought so -- but she evidently passed the news along. The upshot is that today I got a call from someone over there apologizing for the error and promising to send me a new, corrected certificate.

I won't post a photo of that one, though. You'll just have to imagine it without any typos!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Certificate of Appointment

This arrived in my campus mailbox yesterday. I'm not usually smitten with fancy certificates -- I haven't framed any of my diplomas, for instance -- but I have to admit that this one tickles me (even if the title is a consolation prize for the fact that the med school can't pay me, becauase I'm already UNR faculty).

I laughed aloud at the "eudcation" typo. Obviously they really need an English professor over there!

Gary was teasing me last night. "So if there's a medical emergency, you can handle it?"

"Er, no. I don't even know much first aid. I mean, I know that the 'ABCs' are Airway, Breathing, and Circulation, but I wouldn't be sure what to do about any of those things." (And yes, I've had CPR training, several times. I still don't think I'd be able to perform CPR in an emergency, although I gather that the procedure's been simplified recently so there's less counting involved.)

The form letter that came with the certificate, clearly geared to physicians, was quite amusing. It informed me that for the appointment to be renewed next year, I'll have to send in evidence of continuing medical licensure and malpractice insurance.

That could be a challenge!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cats: Always in Style!

I know I post lots of photos of Harley and Figgy, especially when they're curled up together, but look at all that furry cuteness! Who could resist?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Egg Tree

As previously advertised, we watched Jurassic Park again last night. It's a very silly movie, and also oddly paced: very little happens for the first hour, and then it's all-scary-dinosaurs-all-the-time. Also, we didn't see as much Kaua'i scenery as we'd hoped, although of course the waterfall was very pretty.

But remember the scene when Alan finds the dinosaur eggs between the roots of a tree? As we watched it, Gary suddenly said, "Hey! That's at the botanical gardens! We were there! That might even be the tree where you took my picture!" (See my Kaua'i Kitty post for the shot of Gary.)

And then I remembered the tour guide telling us that the scene had been shot there, although he wasn't sure which tree it was.

Well, cool. Although I'm sure Kaua'i Kitty's delighted not to have to dodge dinosaurs.

Grand Rounds

This week's edition is up. Alas, I was far too busy to write and submit anything, but I'm looking forward to reading it!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bad Mental Hygiene

Yes, I know, I've been a slug, not posting for so many days in a row!

I was really swamped last week and this weekend: meetings, grading, grad committees, more grading, a visit to a local book club -- which was very enjoyable, but did take time -- yet more grading . . . you get the idea. (My students, of course, would say, "If you don't want to have to do all that grading, don't assign the papers!" They have a point.)

I got everything done, but my usual self-care disciplines went somewhat to pot in the process. Specifically, I haven't exercised for the last two days.

Which is why I woke up this morning -- too late to exercise today, either -- feeling like a clump of dirt that had been scraped off someone's shoe. This is very familiar depression territory: when I'm off meds, I tend to feel awful in the morning and gradually improve throughout the day. Even though I'm now on meds, lack of exercise is a sure way to trigger a relapse. So I knew what was going on, which didn't make it any more fun. I even found myself doing my little "twenty-five people who'd miss me if I were no longer on the planet" regimen, which I haven't had to do for several months now, probably since the last time I missed this much exercise. (Off meds, I wind up making my little list at least once every few weeks.)

It was all very tiresome, and I was annoyed that I'd allowed myself to get back into such bad shape, but at least I had a healthy cognitive perspective on the whole thing. And, sure enough, the day got better: both of my classes went well (my students were being very funny and made me laugh, which helped), and when I got home, I found a lovely gift from the Boston couple who were in Kaua'i with us: a copy of Oscar and the Pink Lady, a book they'd read in its original French and loved, and recommended to me. They sent it as a thank-you gift for the fact that we'd included them in the trip, and I was very touched.

Tonight, Gary and I are going to rewatch Jurassic Park, so we can see all that interior-of-Kaua'i scenery we missed because we weren't willing to shell out $270 for the helicopter ride. I'll knit. Tomorrow, I have a meeting in the morning, but then I'll definitely swim.

So I know that things will get better. I must say, though, that there are times when Life gets in the way of exercise, and I kind of resent not being able to take a few days in a row off, the way most people can. On the other hand, I'm grateful to have found something that's actually good for me that helps my mood so much!

Angels and Zombies and Cats, Oh My!

The broken angel is off being repaired by my student the ceramics major, who assures me that if she can't fix it, she'll bring it to her teacher, who can fix anything. Thanks, Liz!

Also, John Joseph Adams has sent out the table of contents for his zombie anthology, which includes my story "Beautiful Stuff" and which you can preorder from his site.

Also, my post about Kaua'i Kitty is included in this week's Carnival of the Cats, which features many other wonderful felines. Head on over for a look!

Oh, and speaking of cats, remember the cute little brown ceramic cat figurine that mysteriously wound up in my mailbox at church, and for which no one would take credit? This Sunday, my mailbox contained a cute little blue figurine of two cats. I asked the friend I suspected of putting them there if she had, but she didn't know what I was talking about. Then I asked one of our priests, who started laughing and said, "Yes, those little statues come in my tea." She doesn't particularly like cats -- in large part because she's allergic -- but I'm glad that she's kind enough to pass them on to a good home!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Mending and Healing

Bali, tearing around my study like a wild thing, just knocked down this angel statue and broke off its left wing. The surface is too narrow to glue; I sent a panicky e-mail to one of my students, who's a ceramicist, to see if she can repair it or knows anyone who can. The statue's from Gulf-Coast Mississippi, and it means a lot to me. I hope it can be fixed!

On a happier note, I just signed up for a "Writing as Healing Ministry" summer session course at the Pacific School of Religion:
This experiential workshop is designed for individuals who wish to incorporate writing as part of a healing ministry to people suffering from poverty, loss, serious illness, or other life difficulties. A variety of therapeutic writing methodologies will be explored through small and large group activities, as well as the reflective and spiritual aspects of one's own writing practice.
The course will be taught by Sharon Bray, who looks like a facinating person. I've seen this course in the PSR summer catalog for several years now, and was always intrigued by it; it always lost out, though, to things that interested me more, or that I needed for church licensure.

Right now, though, the course seems perfect for me. I doubt that I'll be able to use any of these techniques in the ER, where I have so little time with patients. They should be very useful in my work at the medical school, though, and I'm hoping that I can find a way to incorporate at least some of them -- in academic rather than spiritual form -- into my English Department courses.

And I always enjoy spending a week in Berkeley!

Speaking of travel, there's been a change of plans for next March. We were going to go to Cabo with our dear friends Katharine and Jim, but Gary decided that it would be nice to do a spring break on our own (we've spent it with Katharine for the past three years).

He really wanted to go to a big city, and I really wanted sunshine and ocean, essential components of getting through spring semester. He tried to sell me on Seattle. I love Seattle, but not in March. So instead, we're going to see if we can find a good package to Honolulu. The Expedia and Orbitz calendars only go out to February 2009 right now; if we were traveling then, we'd be able to get roundtrip airfare and seven nights in a Waikiki hotel for slightly less than we paid just for airfare to Kaua'i. I don't know if that will be true during Spring Break -- Kaua'i flights would have been cheaper during February, too -- but I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Grand Rounds, No Foolin'!

This week's edition is brought to us by five-time host GruntDoc. Congrats on a great job, and may you host at least that many times again!

Happy reading, everybody. By the way, I agree with GruntDoc that his first listed post is indeed a must-read. So go read it!

And happy April! I can't wait for the showers to bring the flowers, myself.