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

He for She

I was wicked obsessed with Wonder Woman as a kid. Felt appropriate to make mention of that here.

So, I have some thoughts to share about the He for She campaign. (I’m kinda sick and sort of feverish, so I am not even going to try to write this well. Heads up on that. Just going to bluntly express some ideas.)

When Emma Watson spoke of her childhood, it resonated with me. Much like her, I wasn’t limited by my parents or school or culture. When I was in about the second grade, I told my dad I wanted to be a wide receiver in the NFL. God bless him, my dad didn’t squash that dream. I remember that occasion so vividly, and his, “Well, anything’s possible” sort of reaction. Even though, in that case, it clearly wasn’t. But the feeling that anything was possible was an important one, and infectious, so that when my dreams shifted to something more doable, but still difficult (film school and life as a professional writer) I carried that energy with me. Similarly, my mother embraced by tomboy nature. She never tried to force a more feminine way of being upon me. She accepted me for who I am, as I am. Just as importantly, my grandfather, who could tend toward mean, tough, and chauvinistic, would tell me that I could be the first female President of the United States. That’s a whole heck of a lot of empowerment I was gifted with, and I thankful for all of it.

It saddens and angers me to think of little girls whose natures are squashed because who they are doesn’t fit into their parents preconceived notions. Be they more feminine or more masculine than what is wanted – it’s important to note that sometimes familial pressure goes the other route, too.

It equally saddens and angers me to think of little boys who are similarly squashed – and similarly squashed in both directions. For all the little boys growing up in some redneck household who are told to not be a pansy, there are other little boys growing up in the suburbs being told it’s wrong to be dominant.

And herein lies part of my issue with what feminism has become.

As a kid, I heartily identified with the word feminist. And I still do with its base definition. But as Emma pointed out in her speech, it has become an unpopular word. Here’s the thing – the reason why it’s become unpopular isn’t simply because the world is filled with jerks who don’t understand feminism. It’s a mix of factors – from jerks who are threatened by true equality (and screw those guys and girls) to feminism being a word applied to behavior I find pretty appalling.

Here’s an example of such behavior.

Recently, I’ve had multiple male friends deal with charges of “threatening” a female co-worker. I am familiar with these cases, and in each instance, the woman was simply told her project wasn’t good enough. She was given tough criticism and she couldn’t take it. To be fair, I blame this behavior not just as a perverted form of feminist thought, but also on the belief that everybody is a precious snowflake these days.

I cannot really explain to you how angry this situation makes me. I love my people and I am protective over them. When I’ve watched dear friends spend decades building their careers, through conscientious effort, hard work and dedication, and then to watch some twenty-something twit wander in and – because of hurt feelings and never having been told “no” before – come close to wrecking everything my friend has built…the rage, you guys. All of the rage. These are good men. Men I know well. Men who self-identify correctly as feminists, in that they believe in equality between the sexes. Equal pay should be a reality. As well as an equal ability to handle the job at hand.

The first time this happened, I was surprised. I’m not surprised anymore. Now it’s something I expect. When a certain sort of twenty-something female doesn’t get what she wants at work she goes to HR and says she feels threatened. (Doesn’t matter if her boss is male or female, but if he’s male, that gets added to the complaint. It is a very mercenary sort of selfishness at play.) And here’s the thing – as angry as I am over the potential impact on my male friends, I am equally angry over what this does to women who are legitimately threatened. That is something I’ve lived through, and frankly, it goes down as one of the very worst times in my life – to feel threatened by a male boss and to work for a company who will not help you. No woman should ever have to deal with that. Because I’ve dealt with the real McCoy it adds to my anger to see these women issue complaints over honest critique of their work.

So here’s the other part of my complaint. Emma Watson makes a strong point about how men should be free to be themselves – sensitive and not controlling, unaggressive, etc. Which is 100% true. Men should absolutely feel free to be themselves. But what if who they are is aggressive and tough? Emma makes one mention of men and women both needing to be free to be strong. One mention. (Though to be fair, I was heartened by many aspects of Watson’s speech, including the fact that her father’s role in child raising is not as valued as her mother’s.)

Right now in the first world, we are in this cultural whirl of female empowerment. Check out this Pantene commercial, which is definitely on the money, this viciously manipulative trap of a commercial by Always, which still succeeded in making me cry (screw you, Always!), and this ever present campaign to raise a horde of superwomen bent on taking over the universe. Each of these things individually are fine. Put them together and it’s all. so. freaking. much. It’s everywhere. It’s stifling. And it has absolutely nothing to say to the men of the world.

Where are The Mighty Boy campaigns? Where are the commercials empowering men to be men? Look at the movies we make today. You don’t see the Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch roles. Where are the Jimmy Stewarts as George Bailey? The true man – strong, authentic, imbued with both integrity and feeling – is an archetype we’ve lost. As a culture, we’ve split men into two camps – emasculated suburbanites and psycho aggressive NFL types. We’ve lost the middle way for our men. And Lord knows we’re going to need them, once all those Mighty Girls grow up and takeover the universe.

Here’s the thing, you guys – a strong woman must have an equally strong man beside her. We are bent on creating a new breed of strong woman. Equal attention must be paid to raising a similarly strong generation of men. Right now, we don’t know what that means as a first world society. We have a clear vision of what the woman of the future should look like. No such image exists for boys. As Emma rightly points out, we won’t have true equality until men are free to be men. My contention is that we need to relearn just what, exactly, a man should be.

Even more to the point – I think we need to figure out what a good person is, period, and strive toward that as a society. Because that is an umbrella that covers us all – all genders, all races, all ages, all financial statuses – I feel that too often our emphasis on division does nothing but deepen our divisions.

A Home for Molly

I'm hoping somebody has a cat-shaped hole in their heart that Molly could fill.

I’m not sure where to start this story. Normally, that’s one of my writerly strong suits. So let me start by saying, I am hoping this blog post leads me to a new owner for Molly, an old white cat who lives across the street. It’s very important to me that I find a home for Molly. Here’s why.

When I moved into this house nine years ago, my neighbor across the street was a vibrant woman. She was single, I guessed she was about forty. She had a white cat, Molly, that she hung out with on her porch. She had a big truck she took to the barn every day, always coming home in her half-chaps and breeches. Perhaps three years later, her horse passed away. He was the equine love of her life, and she did not replace him. I could tell she was slowing down – slowing down in a way that didn’t seem quite right – but she still had Molly, her constant companion.

Then, a few years ago, an ambulance showed up at her house and took her to the hospital. A couple of days later, Evan and I were outside doing lawn work. It was blazingly hot, in the middle of summer. We smelled smoke, and even though it was the wrong season for it, I thought someone was burning leaves. Then I saw flames emerging from under the eaves of my neighbor’s house. The fire was so intense I couldn’t even get close to the house. Both her car and truck were there, but I thought it was likely she was still in the hospital. What I was worried most about was Molly. I called 911 and prayed Molly had the sense to flee out the back kitty door.

Luckily, Molly was indeed smart enough to save herself.

The fire was destructive. However, because firefighters got there so quickly, they were able to save the house. That said, saving the house took a very, very, very long time. My neighbor was a renter, and her landlord was in no hurry to get renovations underway. I presume my neighbor stayed with her mother during this time. I also presume Molly wasn’t welcome at her mother’s house.

I presume these things in part because every single day my neighbor came over to the burned out house, gave Molly food and and water, and then sat with her cat, keeping her company.

For hours. Every day. For months.

Somewhere in that stretch of time, I saw an animal control officer poking around my neighbor’s house with a live animal trap. I told the officer that she absolutely could not trap Molly and take her away. I told her about my neighbor’s ill health, the fact her house burned, but that every day she visited Molly, and that she needed that cat more than anybody has ever needed a cat. I also got the officer’s name and number for my neighbor.

The next day, when my neighbor arrived, I walked over to tell her about the appearance of the animal control officer. I’ll never forget the horror on her face. She said, “Oh no. That cat is my whole life.” And I said, “I know she is.”

My neighbor called animal control, got that sorted out, and eventually she was able to move back in. Molly and my neighbor were fully reunited.

But her health continued to decline. Ambulances came and went. Many months went by. The ambulances were replaced by hospice workers. Eventually, my neighbor was transferred out of her home.

Last Thursday afternoon, I suddenly realized she had passed. I don’t know how I knew, I just did. It was, in part, because nobody at all had been to the house for some time. At least two weeks. The lawn had grown long. Most importantly, I realized I hadn’t seen Molly. Not for a long time. I was filled with relief. I had anticipated, for many years, that when my neighbor passed away her family would fail to take care of Molly. I had anticipated that I would need to find her a home. This had always bothered me. That cat was my neighbor’s world. Why wouldn’t her family seek to do right by the creature she loved most and who loved her most?

That evening, I looked out across the street and saw, as I had so many times before, a white cat on my neighbor’s porch. It was Molly.

I ran over to her, bringing food and water. She’d lost weight and was hungry, but not starving. Her ears were chewed up, possibly by one of the ever present strays. In short, she’d declined, but not as much as you’d expect if she’d been completely abandoned. Still, seeing her looking rough and unloved was profoundly sad.

I was reminded of a scene in the movie 25th Hour where a man, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, adopts his friend’s dog, Doyle. (His friend is off to do several years of prison.) PSH is honored to adopt Doyle, because of his love and respect for his friend is transferred into love and respect for the dog. I know some people do not view animals the way I do, or the way my neighbor did, but even if you don’t, shouldn’t you adopt your loved ones view on the matter, just out of respect for the dead? I hope that, if I still have animals when I die, that there will be someone who wants them. Or someone who cares enough to find somebody who wants them.

I care enough to find somebody who wants Molly.

On Friday, I learned that another neighbor is putting food out for Molly on her porch. We agreed that the adjustment to being an outdoor cat has been hard on Molly. Although Molly hung out on the porch with her owner, she primarily lived inside. Molly is older, at least ten. Her vision and hearing aren’t as good as they once were. She is a sitting duck for the aggressive strays around here. The woman who is feeding her can’t have an indoor cat, but also believes that would be the best thing for Molly.

Her whole life, Molly has been an only cat. I would happily adopt her, but I don’t necessarily think that the chaotic zoo I have going on here would be an ideal situation for her. I’d really like to find the best thing for her. I am happy to drive – even a long distance – to deliver her to her new home. If that home is currently cat-less, I am happy to provide a full kit to go with her (carrier/litter box/food/etc.)

Normally, I don’t ask that people share my blog posts, but in this case, please do. I’m really hoping this story will help me find a home for Molly.

Something Good

As it so happens, orange Gatorade is my favorite Gatorade.

Just now, I was driving along in Seneca, South Carolina. I stopped for a red light, a UPS truck ahead of me. The sun was on its way down — the sunlight stuck halfway between summer and fall. My very favorite sort of sunlight, as it so happens.

A beautifully landscaped island was next to the road. Standing in the middle of it were two Hispanic men with lawn care equipment. It has been a hot day in the South and their clothes were soaked through with sweat. The light turned green, but the UPS driver didn’t go anywhere. For once, I was feeling patient and waited, content in the idea that at some point, the UPS truck would move along. In the meantime, I’d take in the sunset and the flowering crepe myrtle trees and green grass.

Then I noticed the Hispanic men were speaking with the UPS driver. My first thought was the driver was having a problem with his truck. Then the two men walked over to it, smiling. I watched as the driver handed them two giant orange Gatorades. The bottles were dripping water, giving the impression they were fresh and icy cold from the cooler.

I smiled.

The UPS driver made it through the light, but I didn’t. The men were so happy with both the gesture and with the Gatorade. I was so happy for them. They noticed me smiling and they raised their drinks to me in a sort of toast. I nodded in return, the light turned green, and I went on my way, better for having been a witness to that small moment of human connection.

It made me realize, too, that it has been awhile since I’ve been the UPS driver in that equation. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done nice things for people, I’ve given to charity, I’ve tried to be there for friends going through hard times. (Don’t know how great of a job I’ve done with any of that). But it takes something else to make moments like that happen. It is not something born of effort, but is rather a natural external expression of an internal reality. It takes a largeness of spirit to create spontaneous moments of human connection. I don’t have that right now. I have in the past, but not right now. Which is, as The Dude would say, “A bummer, man.” But such is life. It ebbs and flows.

I’m grateful to have seen the gifting of the Gatorade, though. It was good to be reminded of what that looks like.