Monday, August 31, 2009

"It's your birthday? Well, happy f&%$!g birthday!"

People are actually reading this, and I think that's completely wild. You know who you are (mostly because you are here right now, reading as we speak), and I say hello, thanks for being here, and feel free to say hi.

You know, I keep having these phenomenal days, and I'm afraid they're going to spoil me. The first mild, uneventful day I have may send me climbing the walls, afraid I have somehow lost my capacity for good, interesting times forever. Check me tomorrow, will you?

Today started off with lunch with Robin and Gabe, which then led into our friend date time, started by a run through the Powell's on Hawthorne (Baby Powell's, as I affectionately call it). Robin was looking for a book to take with her on her honeymoon, and I was just trailing behind, happily awash in the glow of so many books I will never remember to read. Though I had just praised Nick Hornby's "How to be Good" to the sky for her, and told her to read some Zadie Smith at some point, I didn't feel that either of those were really honeymoon-appropriate books. As we wandered up and down the aisles, asking one another if we had read this or that (usually responding with "no"), I confessed that Powell's makes me extremely lustful. I want to wrap the entire place in my arms and take it home, and more often than not I just end up talking myself out of it. I remind myself of the large, full bookcase at home, and all those stories waiting to be read.

I usually will have more than one book going at a time, as what I want to read tends to change with my mood. I keep a mix of novels, short stories and non-fiction around most of the time. This is the same reason I have so many cds in my car. If what I'm doing doesn't fit the mood I'm in, it won't work, or at least it won't work as well.

I also like to pass books along, unless they are my favorite. I have been keeping more and more books lately, though. I don't know for sure, but it feels like, since I haven't read for pleasure in so long, my brain has decided it loves everything. Or maybe, if I want to give myself more credit, I've become such a discerning reader that I know what I will love before I read it.

Robin ended up with some Umberto Eco, some David Sedaris, and some book I had never heard of that she swore everyone else had been talking about. I felt a little ashamed that I had recommended the Sedaris and not the Eco, but that's always what happens. In the face of the literary, political and poetic, I will almost always go for the starkly comic and honest. I'm not sure why this makes me feel less cultured, as I believe humor is as much a talent and a gift as any other kind of art, but comedy as a whole has been so diluted by the cheap and the easy that it can often get written off as an entire form. Personally, I hope Robin reads David Sedaris on her honeymoon and leaves the others behind...

We continued the conversation at Sound Grounds, where I am happy to say we had the best service we've ever had. There's a stereotype about Portland restaurants and cafes, basically that the servers will treat you like they hate you, and like you have interrupted a deep meditation or a private party when you request service of any kind. I hadn't been to Sound Grounds in almost a year because they had seemed to fit the stereotype so perfectly... I had stood at the cash register and waited for the staff to finish their conversations or tickle fights or whatever too many times, and so I stayed away. This time, I am glad to report, the coffee, the service and the conversation were all delicious.

Robin asked some more about the blog, and I updated her, and told her about my early paranoia about writing at all. We talked about Beer & Blogs (she's set on attending when she comes back from the honeymoon), and we talked about the impulse to compare ourselves to the creativity of others (see yesterday's blog). I realized, after picking this blog and my language apart in my head, that what people most say they love about my stories is not their eloquence, their freshness or even their wit: they say they love the storytelling. And so then, I decided, I should just be faithful in telling the stories, the mundane and the glorious alike (and so often the same). The rest will take care of itself.

After I left Robin, I picked up my friend Ashley and her new roommate, whose name I do not know how to spell properly and so I will not butcher it here. We headed down to Fernhill Park for Emmaus' first ever free hip hop concert. In the interest of being honest, I have to say that I drove there with some trepidation. Brand-new things are always hard, and no matter how much you promote them, there's always the potential of plenty of things not working out. When we got there, things were running a little behind, and I thought, "Oh, my goodness, this is gonna be a mess." I was proven so wrong.

I had only ever heard two of the five performers (Ragen Fykes and Theory Hazit) in action, even though all five of them attend Emmaus. But every single one of them (Da'rel Jr., Propoganda and Odd Thomas were the other three) did an incredible job, and the crowd grew as the evening progressed. I was manning a table with chips and water for people, and it was so fun to watch people enjoy themselves. I don't know how many people were there; Courtney came out for it, and she thinks there were between 100 and 200 people. While I think those numbers seem high, the point remains: the turnout was incredible.

I have never been a big fan of hip hop, have never followed the culture or had reason to do so until now. But two things impressed me about today. Firstly, it was clear that this type of event does not happen often, and so it was special for the people involved, both the performers and the crowd. And secondly, I found myself with a new respect for these folks as artists. The music was good, the rhymes were smart, and I honestly enjoyed every moment of it.

Today was Christina's birthday, and she had told me that she wanted to go to this live-action Star Trek re-enactment at the Baghdad, and we had laughed and laughed. So, shortly after the concert ended, Courtney, Christina and I and some other friends found ourselves at the end of a very, very long line to get in. I grumbled inwardly and shuffled along, posting from my phone onto Twitter, asking how I got here and announcing that I felt very, very lame. And then guess what happened?

(Photo courtesy Courtney Durham)
I laughed my face off. I have never liked Star Trek, and somehow I have always had friends who were fans. But I had no idea the cultural significance of the episode we were witnessing, replayed in simple, post-high school senior play fashion. For any of you Star Trek dorks (and I use the term affectionately) out there, this was the episode where Spock needs a wife, and at some point he and Kirk (who is not only his o captain, my captain, but also his BFF) are in a fight to the death for some Vulcan girl in a gold dress.

Trust me, it was hilarious. The movie followed, and I have to admit, it was the second time I have seen it, and I really like it. J.J. Abrams somehow managed to make Star Trek sexy and fun, which I would have told you was a feat that was utterly impossible. Watching it with this crowd, however, was an experience. Every new character that appeared, every knowing wink to the original show, got hoots and hollers and such a dorktastic ruckus that I leaned over to Courtney and said, "What am I doing here?"

It reminded me of the time, in college, when the second Lord of the Rings movie came out, and my friend convinced me that we needed to go to the first showing on the first day that it opened. We ended up sitting in the very front row, directly in front of two guys who were dressed in full chain mail. As they clinked and clattered through every moment of the film, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, "Who ARE these people? Does the fact that we're here right now make us like them? We're not like these people, are we?"

The fact is that I am exactly like these people, which is why I found myself in a crowded theater laughing at a bunch of people being silly on stage. I'm like these people because while I may not embrace the culture as they do, and I may in fact be a total stranger there, we're all there for the same reason. We're there because we like the ridiculous, the fantastical, and maybe the oddly familiar. And who doesn't like laughing?

In a sense, I was in two unfamiliar territories today. The hip hop culture and the Trekkie culture may appear to have nothing in common (aside from me not being a massive fan of either), but today showed me that both will make space for whoever comes in, however they choose to do so, and for however long they plan to stay.

There's probably science fiction rap somewhere, right? I hope I never find it...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"They were just so salt-of-the-earth, what's falafel, you know?"

I've decided, at least for now, that the titles for these entries will be my favorite quote of the day behind me. They may be funny, or not, but they will not be explained or contextualized. I think this gives the blog an air of whimsy, which is more fun than an air of sophistication anyway.

Today was another strangely free-form, purely blessed day. I hung out with my friend Molly, who is one of the funniest women I have ever met, and who I hadn't seen in what felt like forever. Someone once told us they liked listening to our conversations because it was like a constant battle of wits, and it's true. It's never a competitive battle, but I love talking with her because she consistently matches me and makes me want to be more creative. We've both been in weddings in the last couple weeks, she as a bridesmaid for her cousin and me as maid of honor for my friend Robin, and post-wedding stories are always fun to swap.

Plus, where I am mainly creative with words, Molly is creative with everything, and she always has fun projects she's been doing that she can't wait to show me. Most recently, she's made a kind of shadowbox-y kind of homage to Portland, and has transformed a picture of her boyfriend into one of those magnet games where you drag the metal shavings around to give a face hair and a beard and stuff. Would I have ever thought to do that? Afraid not.

Molly's been telling me for months, if not longer, that I have to see the movie Quills. Where she is usually a treasure trove of unique, complex observations, she has always been honest about the simple reason to watch this film: Joaquin Phoenix makes a hot priest.

And I'll admit it, that was enough to draw me in (I even watched Ladder 49, for goodness sake. I have since forgiven myself and begun the long process of moving on.).

Anyone who knows me knows I love movies, and more specifically, I love really good movies. And of course, like every other snob on the planet, I think that my taste is the most refined around, and anyone who doesn't like what I do, or worse, who likes things I think are terrible, clearly needs a lesson in why they are wrong.

But I will say that I don't limit myself only to what I like, and while I try to remain discerning, if you can make your point of why you think I should see something, and make it well, I will probably give it a look. In this case, "Joaquin Phoenix makes a hot priest" is a flawless argument, and one that would cause me to willingly sit down to a movie about the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush!).

The film isn't great--besides the admittedly kind of squeamish material, the actors (apart from the leads) are all kind of kookily wooden, like they tried to do a decent acting job and then were told, "No, really, we're looking for something a little weirder, a little less like normal human beings." Plus Geoffrey Rush is naked for the last half hour and Joaquin Phoenix keeps his priestly vestments on throughout, which proves there is no justice in this world, cinematically speaking. But here's the thing that caught my attention.

A movie about, in part, a tenuous, semi-friendship between the Marquis de Sade and the priest who runs the asylum holding him is utterly stuffed with opportunities for things to go horribly, horribly wrong. And if you have watched any movies at all, or even watched any news at all in the last twenty years or more, you will probably have noticed that when priests come into the picture, something bad is going to happen, and the man of God is going to have a precipitous fall from grace, and more often than not, the viewers are supposed to cheer.

We never said it aloud, but Molly was also clearly aware of this stereotype, and so everytime Joaquin-the-priest appeared on screen and treated the Marquis de Sade (or anyone else) with grace, Molly would say, "See, he's a good man. He's so good!" And it was true.

I have no idea how true-to-life the movie is (I'm assuming it's highly fictionalized, though I know it's based off a play by the same name), but it got me thinking about the depiction of members of clergy, and people of faith in general, in film and in life. There has certainly been a backlash, though I hate calling it that at this point, especially against people in leadership of faith communities, and this is seen most clearly, and very often, in film.

There's no denying that many, many people have been deeply wounded, on multiple levels, by the leaders they were told to entrust with their spiritual health. I in no way mean to diminish the pain there. But I also think that now, especially in film, the desire to get those stories told, stories that have been pushed under the rug for years and years and years, has left us with a vacuum of positive portrayals of people of faith. Combine that with the real-life news of money scandals, sex scandals and any other kind of indiscretion you can imagine in all different kinds of churches, and it's not surprising that many people (especially in a city like Portland) view "The Church" (ie, at large) with a hypercautious eye.

The easy answer to this, and I've heard it before, is for Christians and other people of faith to simply create media that presents them in a positive light. Unfortunately, all too often, these attempts end up coming across as shallow, obvious, and simplistic, and can drive people away faster and more effectively than it draws them in.

I firmly believe that if people of faith want to change how they are viewed by the rest of the world, or even by their local communities, that change has to come from deep within the church itself. There is an open, sometimes vocal assumption that all people of faith are struggling with demons, and as a result, have plenty of skeletons in their closets. While the struggle is undoubtedly true, the skeletons don't have to be. If we, as the church, are willing to allow God to illuminate our darkness, if we are willing to show that there may have been skeletons, but they have been cleaned out by the piercing honesty of the gospel, then perhaps we can begin to move beyond the skepticism and mistrust that so often taints the view of faith in our city and our world.

In another opportunity to try to present the gospel for what it is and not what it is perceived to be, Emmaus is putting on a free hip hop concert tomorrow. I'm pretty excited about it, to be honest, and I hope the turnout is good. There are always free concerts in Portland in the summer, but there's hardly anything for the hip hop fans of the city. And I love that, since it's free, we're able to give something to people without asking for anything in return. Also, selfishly, I am excited because Courtney, my old roommate and one of my best friends, is coming up for it, which means she'll finally get to meet all these Emmaus people she's been hearing about for the last year and a half.

Tomorrow is also my standing weekly friend date with Robin, and that's always a good time. We call it a coffee date, but more often it's beer and fries or gelato. I have a deep love for the standing scheduled dates, where you meet up and hang out whether you have anything to talk about or not. I don't know if it's because of a love of routine, a total lack of spontenaity or what. Personally. I really love the idea that someone would want to see me not just when the mood struck them, but on a regular, committed basis. And I don't think Robin and I have ever actually had a day where we didn't have things to talk about.

Lastly, and here's your "Portland, you are so strange" moment, tomorrow is Christina's birthday, and she really wants to go see this live-action classic Star Trek episode re-enactment. Apparently, the episode we're going to see is something about Spock studying Vulcan mating rituals. Christina and Courtney are excited. I am wondering how I got dragged into this, with my staunch refusal to watch Star Trek, or to even allow myself to be associated with anything vaguely resembling science fiction.

But one thing's for sure: I know I will laugh.

"That's not even the funny part!"

There's been something oddly beautiful about the last couple of days. Neither has gone as planned, neither has been as productive as intended, and yet both have managed to give me more peace than I have experienced in quite a while.

I hung out with my missional community from Emmaus last night, and ended up at the Browns' house until after midnight. I kept feeling like it was time to go, and felt badly for having invaded their house for so long, but each time I thought about leaving, a new topic was brought up and I HAD to stay.

The missional community has been a changing experience for me. Extroverted as I am, I typically hate things that are in groups bigger than three, and so the idea of committing to meet weekly with a group that grew consistently was hardly appealing. But in a very short time I found that it was honestly a joy to be with other people who weren't afraid of wrestling with the hard questions of life, and who were dissatisfied with the perfect, packaged answers they had been given. I found people who were willing to be real, even when that meant admitting failure, or asking questions that were selfish, or even simply confessing that sometimes the mere ideas of God and faith plain wore them out and made them wish for home and a strong drink.

The best nights were when we recognized, again and again, that we were all experiencing the same questions, the same failures, the same confusions. And in the midst of all of that, I discovered that these were people who I loved. So the girl who hates groups found herself waking on Thursday mornings excited to see these other confused, excited, frustrated and joy-filled people Thursday night, and that has never happened before.

Today was similarly filled with friends, but each meeting was one-on-one, over coffee, gelato and Arrested Development, respectively. If I could get paid to live my perfect life, I think it would look like today. That might be incredibly hedonistic, but it seems that these kind of days are what I'm best at. If I can hang out, share stories, share time, and write, I don't know what else I would need. Everyone has that, I think: some people would fish all day; I would talk and listen and drink coffee. And today, Jessie, Ben and Christina managed to give me that.

Jessie and I went to Anna Banana's in St. John's, and we talked about her trip through Italy, and dozens of other things. These are my favorite conversations. You start with a goal, something like your recent travels, and by the end of the couple hours, you've covered the country, your love lives, the best book you've ever read, the state of the health care system, your aggravating coworker, the last time you cried and your favorite recess game in third grade. (For the record, these topics are not what was discussed, but you get the idea.)

Ben and I went to Staccato Gelato (a shocking break from the normal ice cream routine), and it was again a lovely exercise in "Why on earth are we still hanging out?" Ben and I went to college together, and when he graduated, he would come down every few months and visit. Over time, everyone but me drifted to other towns, and we kept meeting. Eventually it became a monthly event, and it has continued since my move to Portland. I see Ben nearly every month, we have ice cream, we don't talk a whole lot, and yet somehow we both enjoy it. And three weeks on, we're texting one another, saying that's it's almost a new month, and are we going to see each other soon? It still makes little sense to me, and that makes me love it more.

Christina lives just across the road from me, and navigated her seminary career alongside mine. Now we've both graduated, managed to move a couple blocks from campus, and had multiple existential crises (Technically, I can't say for sure she's had an existential crisis. But I know she's helped me through mine.). She baked a delicious banana bread (without nuts, the correct way), I brought a bottle of leftover sparkling cider I stole from Robin's wedding stash, and we watched Arrested Development and laughed and laughed some more. I never seem to get tired of being around her...she's bubbly and joyous, but grounded and realistic at the same time.

All of this has reminded me, for the thousandth time this summer, how blessed I am by good friends and supportive people. It doesn't seem to matter whether the issue at hand is vital or insignificant, or even if there is no issue (though this is incredibly rare)--I always have someone in my corner. This blog is a perfect example of that.

No one has seen this blog, except possibly for the friends I have followed. The address has not gone out--only a mention that I have started one. The amount of encouragement (and apparent interest) has been incredible. Whether it's worthy of the interest will remain to be seen, but I have been so surprised by the response. I figured that the mention of launching a blog would gather a collective yawn, sort of like the mention of getting a tattoo. Everyone's done it, and people are interested to see the results, maybe, but they're hardly going to bother going with you to get it done.

Meanwhile, I have people promising to read it, an offer for guest pieces on the page, and an open invitation to Beer and Blog, along with a buddy so I don't just wimp out and stay home. All in all, it sort of heightens my sense of uncertainty, but in a gorgeous way. I hesitate to use the last two days as some kind of micro-view of my life, but it's there already, so let's run with it.

Nothing in my life has changed in the last two days. I don't have a job, don't have more money, and have not met anyone new. Even without any formal or formative change, I feel like things are happening, things are brewing, things are starting. I'm sure it's partly due to the new creative outlet, if we can call this such a thing, but I think it's largely the repeated realization of the amount of love and support I have around me. The fact that there are people who want to hang out with this girl, who trips regularly, talks too loudly and too much, curses at traffic, spills things, is overly opinionated, breaks things, doesn't return phone calls, forgets things, is tragically unhip, drops things and is constantly overdramatic and longwinded astounds me.

It tells me I am in a very good place.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Unfashionably late

So, as usual, I am hopping onto a train long after everyone else has boarded, and half the travelers have disembarked. But the idea of starting a proper blog gripped me the other night, somewhere around 2 a.m., and it has been dancing around the back of my brain ever since.

On one hand, there's no reason for me to start a blog. My life is in a place of utter uncertainty right now. I am broke, I don't have a job, don't have a significant other to wax lyrical about, and am living in a house with several other women who I barely know. This may not be grounds for the most captivating of stories.

On the other hand, there's nothing keeping me from starting a blog, either. Eventually, yes, a job will be found, I will not be quite as broke, and I may even bond with my housemates and discover some amazing man worth rambling giddily about. And those things may change the nature of my time and my availability. But I figure that leaves me with two options. I can wait for those things all to happen, for my life to finally fall into place, or I can write about them as they happen, choosing to see the day-to-day as my current adventure rather than my present misfortune.

I might even hide this--I tend to claim to want to write and claim to be full of things to say, but when push comes to shove, I hide my work away. More often than not, I run away from the work itself.

So maybe this is an attempt to stop running. That might be too lofty... the truth may be that job hunting is demoralizing and exhausting and I would like something that makes me look busy instead. Both things are probably true.

I don't know who will read this other than me, but that's not important yet. Still, if you did read it, hi and welcome. I can't promise what kind of adventure this will be. I can only promise that it will be one.