Can’t Wait

The other day I was driving away from the barn. I’d just ridden Johnny, the big, black thoroughbred I am exceedingly taken with. The sun was shining. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait!” Those were the words that popped into my head. “I can’t wait!” I paused and thought, “Can’t wait for what?” I had no plans that evening, I had no significant plans coming up that week, or even really for the rest of the year. I planned to write and ride and do comedy, but that’s just everyday sort of stuff. All the same, that sunshine-sparkling-on-water feeling of happy expectation rose to the surface anyway.

It’d been a long time since I experienced that sort of feeling.

Today is New Year’s Eve, a day where it’s natural to look back, especially on past New Year’s. For a good long stretch there, my New Year’s were internally sad affairs. Hoping against hope that this year would be better than the last. Sometimes, like at the end of 2012, I was simply glad the year was over. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to 2013 – although I should have been, because that year rocked – I was just relieved to get to the other side of a finish line. 2014 has been, in a lot of ways, sort of an endless slog. It’s been a year of waiting, of preparation. Of trying to get my mind right and deal with all the battle damage I’ve accumulated. If 2013 was like Mardi Gras, one giant Fat Tuesday, then 2014 was Lent. A time of withdrawal and reflection.

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I look forward to the flip of the calendar page with the feeling that Easter morning is almost here at last.

To be sure, Ruthless doesn’t come out until July, and that will function as the natural centerpiece of 2015, but straight out of the gate this is going to be a different sort of year for me. Before things really kick off, though, I am – much like Luke Skywalker – going to head off to the Dagobah System, and by that I mean Charleston, to spend a month in final preparation. I have found a Yoda, and by Yoda I mean a CrossFit instructor named Beth, and it’ll be her job to teach me to move X-Wings with my mind. When I am not moving X-Wings with my mind, I’ll be writing. And then off I’ll go…

This year is going to have a lot of adventures in it. A lot of travel, a lot of things brought to fruition, and hopefully plenty of surprises! (I love surprises the most.) Regardless, it is time to do. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I’ve been trying for a long time, it feels like, and that won’t cut it anymore. It is time to make good.

I can’t wait.

Epiphany

So last night I was listening to Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down and I had an epiphany. I want to tell you about it, but first I need to back up a bit.

W.C. Fields once said, “I was born with a fatal facility to juggle.” Because of his natural juggling ability, he fell easily into vaudeville and subsequently into comedy. Personally, I was born with a fatal facility to con people. We all have good qualities and bad. I’m just being honest about one of my shadow sides and con artistry is one of them. Luckily, I’m both risk averse and at least fairly moral, so this tendency has never veered into criminal territory. Instead, it has been relegated to my personal life and various aspirations. Historically, anyway. I’ve been drifting away from this modus operandi for awhile now, and since late September I’ve picked up speed.

During my first counseling session with Father Pat, he told me I wanted to “steer” – by that he meant orchestrate outcomes. I’d always mentally referred to it as “bending the universe to my will.” Note to any self-professed Christians who may be reading this, if you sometimes use the phrase “bending the universe to your will” you should probably invest in some self-examination. In order to bend the universe to my will, I’d use my ability to read people to put events into motion and hopefully secure the outcome I’d deemed the correct one. I had some talent in this arena, but more than that I had a habitual way of thinking. I was always looking to game the system. Two exceptions were writing and riding. I’d learned nothing replaces a work ethic and dedication when it comes those activities. Somehow, those lessons didn’t spill over to the rest of my life.

Somewhere in 2011, I was playing cards with my dad at the cabin. We were talking about faith and I told him that I felt I was pretty solid in all areas except obedience. I knew about my penchant for thinking I knew best and universe bending. My dad kind of laughed and said, “That’s the most important quality a Christian can have.” I blithely thought, “Huh. Oh, well.” Cue Johnny Cash singing, Sooner or later God’ll cut you down…

I got cut down, alright. But it didn’t fully change my thinking. I started down the road, but I kept returning to my steering mentality. (No doubt, I’ll tend toward that my whole life. “It’s a process,” to quote my friend Charlie Grey.)

Part of being a con artist lies in control of information. Or, as my mother has said, “You like to keep your cards close to the vest.” And I do. Even here, on this blog. People give me a lot of credit for being brave, for sharing personal information, but there’s a degree of illusion in that. I do genuinely share. My eulogy for Little Bastard pops to mind as something I wrote on this blog that cut deeply. But I don’t share quite as much as it seems like I do. So, even as I tried to give up steering, I held onto my Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler mentality – living in constant analysis of what cards to hold, what cards to play.

Recently, I was struck by the largeness of God and the smallness of man. An image came to my mind of boys on a beach at night, scribbling in the sand, their noses inches from the ground. At their backs was the moonlit ocean, above their head was the vast, starlit sky. This scene came to me one night when I was feeling particularly fatigued at the prospect of walking around the doctrines of men. And I do mean “men.” I have no woman in my life that I must similarly walk around. For whatever reason, it’s much easier to look up at the stars with women. Men want to show you their scribbles in the sand and tell you why their scribble is better than their neighbors’.

C.S. Lewis said repeatedly in the Chronicles of Narnia that “Aslan was not a tame lion.” Even as a child I was struck by the brilliance and the necessity of this observation. On Monday, Pope Francis spoke to Curia, telling them, “The Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it.” It is precisely the same sentiment and it is the engine behind my image of the night sky above the scribblers on the beach. When we tie ourselves into the knots of doctrine we lose the vastness of God. Doctrine is important. It is a needed map. But it is inherently human in its construction. When we lose sight of that, we bind ourselves to something smaller than that which our doctrine describes.

For awhile now, I’ve been cognizant of the fact that the more authentic and honest one is, the better your life will be. Fabricated and edited personalities are where the seeds of unhappiness take root, and we edit ourselves out of fear that our true selves won’t be accepted. It’s Bad News Bears, you guys. It is our job to embrace the idea that we are wonderfully made, to celebrate it and live joyfully. This hit home for me when I recently visited my friend Mary Tannery. Mary’s boy Lachlan is in the hospital with leukemia, and it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to spend time with her. I’d been having all these thoughts rattling around in my mind, but to be with Mary was to see these thoughts in action. Mary, in so many ways, is living the way I want to live. So many of the rooms in the pediatric oncology ward were sad, drab affairs – and this during Christmas. Lachlan’s room was a celebration of life and to walk into it was to walk into a party. How healing for him to wake up to that! Laughter is good medicine. Mary’s ability to not only be her true self but to choose hope, faith, and joy blew me away. Seeing Mary’s choices in action made me aware of how often I choose the opposite – and for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

Not long after visiting Mary, I went to Midnight Mass at St. Anthony’s of Padua. Father Pat’s homily was about the Christmas truce of WWI. It was amazing, as always. Then he talked about how Christ died for us, how “He died to save us from ourselves. To save us from phrases like, ‘Whatever,’ and ‘As long as nobody finds out.'” This struck me, but not yet in a fully formed way.

Then, last night, I cued up a Johnny Cash song, but instead of the one I selected “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” started to play. It’d been a long time since I’d last heard it. Along with the refrain of “Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down” there is the stanza:

Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

And this is what brought me to my epiphany – that my Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler mentality stretched all the way to my relationship with God. Subconsciously, I felt I could control the information I shared with the Almighty. I could withhold cards from Him. Granted, I wasn’t so stupid to think this intellectually, but I realized that on a subconscious level that’s exactly where my head was at. Or perhaps more accurately, I thought I could bargain with God via the way I thought. Again, a note to any Christians reading this – if your conversations with God resemble Clarice playing quid pro quo with Hannibal Lector, it’s time to take a second look.

As much as I was wanting to be a stargazer, I was scribbling in the sand, too. Worse yet, I wasn’t even scribbling primarily for my neighbor’s benefit, but for God’s. My con artistry, my bent toward gaming the system, included a twisted belief that I could game God. Listening to Johnny Cash, I recognized I’d paid a lot of high prices for my lifetime of disobedience, but what also struck me was that, to quote Shakespeare, “The truth will out.” Aslan is not a tame lion. The Holy Spirit cannot be domesticated. I cannot manipulate God into manifesting anything other than the truth, for God and the truth are one and the same. With this thought came the realization that all my mental aerobics amounted to nothing, and with that realization, great relief and freedom. The actual words that came to mind were, “It doesn’t matter.” My assessment of what “should” be doesn’t matter. It’s not my job to bend the universe to my will, to make things happen. That’s God’s job. My job is way easier. Namely, be true to what God made me to be and let tomorrow take care of itself.

New Year

St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. I was talking to Nick Shaheen on my front porch. I can’t remember what I was talking about, but I remember giving a lot of time-related mile markers. “That happened in October of 2005,” or whatever. Shaheen said, “Wow, you’re really obsessed with dates.”

Up until he told me that, I had no clue this was true. In fact, I thought the opposite. I have no memory for anniversaries. Actual dates don’t stick with me, just months or seasons. But recording the specific day isn’t necessary to be really obsessed with dates. And the thing is, numbers don’t mean much. Certainly not to me, who can’t do simple math, but also in terms of the calendar year. Just because you turn the page doesn’t mean things are going to change.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to 2015 like a dog watching her owner open a new can of tennis balls.

2014 has lasted roughly four regular years. I was trying to think back to my first visit to Simon & Schuster. Turns out – December of 2013. WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED. You guys, that’s a year ago. It feels like four. In a way, a lot has happened in 2014. There’s been a lot of comedy and a lot of writing and even a good bit of production. I went to Los Angeles and New York, got to spend time with old friends and make new ones. I found Crossfit (need to refind it, you guys. Anybody know where it went? hahahahaha) and I started riding horses again, which has been awesome. But it’s been a year of waiting. Waiting on my divorce to be final. Waiting for Ruthless to come out. Waiting on collaborators. Waiting on myself to get new writing done.

2014 has been the Year of the Wait.

Yesterday, Evan and I did divorce paperwork stuff. (Quick plot cul-de-sac – we went to the notary for literary the 6th time and – once again – she didn’t know who we were. What is that? This isn’t over a long span of time, just two or three months. What’s up with this woman’s memory? Does she live in a perpetual state of Groundhog’s Day? Okay, sorry, plot dul-de-sac over.) ANYWAY – Evan and I grabbed lunch and, as is often the case, he was sort of taking a long time to wrap things up and I heard the little microwave *DING* that goes off in my head when I’m ready to move on. Evan could see it in my eyes. I said, “I get impatient. I like for the things to be doing.”

I like for the things to be doing.

You guys. In case any of you missed it, I’m a professional writer now. A master of the English language. And I like for the things to be doing. I really do, too. I like roller coasters. Not merry-go-rounds. 2014 has been long and sloggy and against my nature.

More importantly, 2014 has been a year of intense hardship for a lot of my best friends. While a lot of my waiting has been for joyful things like my book to come out, others have been waiting on things like test results. Others have waited for the worst part of grief to pass. I’ve been witness to a lot of suffering this year. There’s an inherent waiting involved in that experience, too. We say, “this too shall pass” for a reason. We are waiting for a brighter day. In a sense, we never stop waiting, because we don’t arrive at our destination until the day we die.

But there are years where you sell your first book and go to New York City for the first time and go back to Los Angeles and reunite with friends you haven’t seen in more than ten years and learn how to just float in a lake and have fun and take up stand-up comedy and finally find your tribe and none of it feels like waiting, because instead you’re wholly in the present, because the present is alive with the new. Of course, every year can’t be 2013. Sometimes, instead, your year is 2014 and all you can do is wait.

The Other Side of Trouble

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

The older I get, the more I appreciate people who live on the other side of trouble.

By that I mean, those who have encountered extreme hardship, and, having found themselves up against the unsurvivable, survive anyway – and choose love as the tool to dig themselves out. It’s a multi-step process. First of all, some folks never run into extreme hardship. Of those that do, some just fold up. They may be alive, but they’re not living. Those that do move on have a choice. They can attack the world, armed with bitterness and anger, or they can let go and choose love. Those latter folks, the survivors who choose to live a life of love, are worth their weight in gold. It’s a process. No one gets on the other side of big trouble quickly. It’s a fight to get to peace. But those that find it are rewarded with strength and patience, and – most noticeably – perspective. Once you’ve survived big trouble little worries don’t vex you anymore.

It makes me a little sad when I see people anxious and worrying over stupid crap, or caring about trivial nonsense. But at the same time, you can’t know what you don’t know. And for so many of my friends who live on the other side of big trouble, their trouble was so big I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Most – if not all – have lost a loved one. Many of my wisest friends have lived through great tragedy in their lives – the sudden death of parents while in childhood, the loss of siblings, the loss of children. It’s an incredibly high price to pay for perspective.

I personally have not gone through nearly as much hardship as many of my friends, but I’ve taken my knocks. Without a doubt, it’s been good for me. It used to be that I knew things. Oh boy, did I know things. I knew how things should be, you guys. I remember judging the crap out of Angelina Jolie for saying she couldn’t have a relationship with her father at that moment in time. I was like, oh man, family is family, Angelina Jolie, and you should never abandon your father. And then I got into a position where my father-in-law was driving me and my husband insane and I was like, CAN’T DO IT. We couldn’t have a relationship with him at that moment in time. (Y’all may be happy to know that both Angelina and my ex-husband are currently in contact with their dads. Which is great. But sometimes, the cost is too high. Even for blood.)

Another thing I thought I knew at one time – that the day of my divorce would be a sad occasion. And, you know, the end of something always has an element of sadness to it. But the day itself was one of the most profoundly life affirming experiences I’ve ever had. People came out of the woodwork to wish me well, send me messages of love and support. My girlfriends in town made me pumpkin desserts and we ate pizza and they took care of me. It was humbling and reminded me of the definition of grace – the unmerited favor of God. So many treated me with mercy and grace. I don’t believe I have ever felt so loved as I did on the day of my divorce.

Speaking of divorce – you guys want to know the thing I heard most often? It was always delivered to me in the same quote, too. “The best thing that ever happened to me was my divorce.” Isn’t that surprising? It was always delivered quietly, to the side, like a note slipped in class. And you know what? I think I’d say the exact same thing to somebody else in the future. I must confess that, as a Christian who takes such things very seriously, I continue to feel conflicted about this state of affairs. During my marriage, my mantra was, “completion is better than fracture.” Also, “all things are possible with God.” I still believe these things to be true. And yet, by my divorce, I came to another belief, “The only thing worse than divorce is to live in a broken marriage.” I don’t know what it’s like to experience a resurrected marriage, but I can only imagine that such a thing must be better than what I am living now – that it would be a more perfect expression of God’s plan. And yet – I am grateful to be exactly where I am and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I don’t know, you guys. I don’t have the answers on this one. Hence the internal conflict.

Ultimately, trouble shapes you into somebody new, somebody you didn’t used to be. And the thing is, it can either twist you up, deforming your original shape, or you can come out looking more like yourself than you did before.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:14

I think it can be hard for us to believe that piece of scripture. To trust that idea. Internal and external messaging undermines our faith at every turn. We make mistakes and fail, people tear us down, society tells us we’re not good enough as we are. But if we do a good job with this one great gift, this life we’ve been handed, by the time of our death we will be wholly ourselves, the person God made us to be. Not perfect by any means, but wonderfully made all the same.

A Post About My Mom, on the Occasion of Her Birthday

Pacific Northwest tiger lilies.

Today is my mom’s birthday. It would take rather a lot to describe her well, in toto, as it does anyone. It is somewhat easier to describe what she has meant to me, and specifically to me as a writer.

But first, a little about the woman herself. My mom, Mary Irene Bishop Adams, or Irene to the world and Renie to my dad, is both the most direct, honest and straightforward woman I know – and a bundle of contradictions. She is both tough and fragile. She is sharp and perceptive, as well as innocent and naive. She has a great sense of humor, but not that many people know it. She both knows her own mind and is open minded. She has a brilliant intellect and is possessed of a great will to power. Had she been born later and to different parents she would have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, instead she raised four children – and did a darn good job of it, as demonstrated by the awesomeness of the four kids turned out.

My mom is a great beauty. I know people think their mom is beautiful and they’re not wrong. Their mom is definitely beautiful, but great beauties are rare. My mom is both, of the Elizabeth Taylor school of beauty – black hair, purple eyes, fair skin. Although I knew this growing up, I didn’t really know it growing up – it wasn’t made an object lesson, it wasn’t discussed, and it was something of a surprise when, as an older teenager, I learned she’d won about bajillion beauty pageants, had been a dancer, and homecoming queen in college. Far later on in life, I cast my mom in a film project. The woman can ACT. I mean that wholeheartedly. If she’d run away to Hollywood it’s interesting to think what could have happened. (I personally still think she should act. It’s a gift.)

None of this, though, was how I knew my mom growing up. How I knew my mom was through things like this. My Mom: “Do you want me to read The Raven to you, by Edgar Allan Poe?” Me: “I have no idea what that is, but it sounds amazing, yes please.” My Mom: “Do you want me to read Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson to you?” Me: “Does it have a super dark twisty ending? Then absolutely.” My Mom: “Do you want to have open-minded conversations about metaphysics?” Me: “I totally had a dream the other night where I’m pretty sure I tapped into Jung’s concept of the universal unconsciousness, so thats a definite yes.”

To me, my mom meant a celebration of capital M Mystery wherever it might be found. My definition of capital M Mystery being, personal experiences, art, historic events, or symbols that express a truth that supersedes language. For a personal example, when I was in the first grade, my brother David was born. I was not happy when I learned my mom was pregnant. Leading up to his arrival, my mom and I had “special days” where I got to pick an activity. My favorite memory from that time is when I chose a walk in the woods to go sketch tiger lilies. To this day, to me tiger lilies symbolize feeling loved and cared for, the idea that I am worth someone’s time, and that it’s okay for something to be of my choosing. Which might sound oddly specific and a little sad, but the truth is, after several years of Marriage Destruction University, these concepts are fragile and hard for me to hold onto.

This focus on Mystery originates in my Catholic faith. This is something we Catholics do and we do it well. I know for outsiders it is easy to see our ritualistic liturgy and find it alienating and purposeless. It’s even like that for some raised in the church. But it has never been that for me. To me, God communicates most clearly in sacred silence, in music, in image, in experience – both in and out of church. It is the way my mind works. At a very young age, I started to draw, and draw well. I remember feeling that I wasn’t getting proper credit for my ability (to those who know me well, you see how far back the preoccupation with credit goes) so I decided to draw the most complicated thing I could imagine. I drew an ocean and shoreline with leaping dolphins and seals. My mom looked at it and was appropriately impressed. (Edit note: My first pass through this I almost mentioned I was three when I drew that picture, but I wasn’t positive. Given my mom’s comment, I feel like I can put that detail in there.) By the time I was in first grade, I thought of myself as an artist, and my mom encouraged that self-perception.

What I am saying, you guys, is that when it came to my artistic endeavors, my mom gave me a lot of love and support. She encouraged my painting and drawing, my photography, and eventually my writing (the writing came along last of all). There was the feeling that not only did she believe that I had talent and ability, but that art was important, a worthy way to spend one’s life. Just as importantly, she affirmed me as being one who had something worthwhile to say. I knew my mom thought I was wise, that I was an old soul, not only because she would tell me that, but because she’d asked my opinion and genuinely cared about my response.

She intuited that her little Halloween baby had a dark side and was perfectly okay with that, raising me on the things I liked – horror, thriller, and true crime, particularly serial killers. Early on in the fourth grade she introduced me to David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and I found both my favorite movie and a mild obsession. (I’d just gone to a new school and things were rough. At the library, I checked out every possible book I could about Joseph Merrick. He was like my best friend who’d been dead for 100 years. Also, there have been times in my life that weren’t horrifically depressing.)

In 2013, newly single, I proceeded to not get a job, do nothing but stand-up comedy, and just sorta hope a miracle would happen. As I learned how to be a comic, I’d call my mom en route to the show every Monday and do my set on the phone. She’s a great test audience. She laughs big at the good lines, and gives you dead silence in the weak parts, along with good commentary. During this time of nothing but comedy and hope, everyone on earth was like, “Well, this doesn’t seem like a good idea…perhaps an income would be advisable?” Everyone except my mom. My mom believed, with a cheerful certainty, that something would happen. Her beautiful refusal to acknowledge pragmatics buoyed me up and – against all odds – actually paid off.

So here’s to my mom, M. Irene Bishop Adams, on the occasion of her birthday. I love you, Mom. Thank you for everything. <3