Author Archives: Christie Hoos

About Christie Hoos

I'm a bookworm, nature lover, kick-boxer, candy fiend, sci fi geek, home body, progressive Christian and part-time student. I love my crazy life and the messy, fun, stubborn, silly, brilliant people who populate it.

Full of Sound and Fury

A swirl of bright colours and perfect faces;
cheap laughs and predictable drama,
where nobody knows your name.

I’m drawn in,
like a moth to its shiny doom.
Here there are no expectations,
no obligations,
no need to be or do or say the right thing.
Here is an easy void.
And I fall in,
barely noticing.

It’s so easy,
so comfortable to shift mind and body into neutral;
letting time wash over me like a lukewarm shower.
Hours down the drain,
with nothing to show for it.

Click, click, click… sigh.

There’s nothing on.

couch potato

So here’s me, unapologetic TV and film buff,
but the first to admit that it’s 90% useless, pointless crap.

This is my Five Minute Friday contribution on lisajobaker.com for the topic: NOTHING. I must admit, that I went back and reformatted (totally against the rules), but after writing it, I realized it was more poem than prose.

5minutefriday


I Live In Between

Most of my life is spent in a place of too much and not enough.

Too much to do, and not enough time.
Too much stuff, and not enough space.
Too much eaten, and not enough activity.
Too much spent, and not enough saved.
Too much stress, and not enough rest.

You get the picture. You probably live in this picture too. Most of us internet-trawling, Facebook-posting, smart-phone-clutching, Consumers-and-Users do. We don’t want to. We don’t plan to. We read and write and repost all sorts of things to avoid it. But, it’s the curse of modern life.

I suspect the subsistence-farming, factory-working, drought-surviving, war-enduring, HaveNots-and-MakingDoers are living their own form of too much and not enough. A far grimmer version. Perhaps, it’s the curse of human life.

This morning I gamely wrestled six bags, three children, a dented flute, a half-eaten muffin and a small plastic snailery (hastily fashioned out of an old pop bottle for Mrs Gander’s class) out the front door. We were running late. Again. With even the smallest chance of sunshine, ghostly white people like us must sunscreen before leaving the house. I always forget to account for this extra 5 minutes in my mad dash to all our various schools.

Fortunately we have very good friends who give the highschooler a ride everyday. The elementary schoolers were impatiently buckled into the van, the preschooler was crawling between the seats chasing a bug and I was checking one more time to make sure I had a good copy of my paper for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Even Mom goes to school these days.

As we pulled out, we began our not-so-beloved, but totally neccessary for Mom’s sanity, prayer ritual. Everyone pitches in a couple items, out loud, on the way down the street. And I remember that I actually love these little people and that life, and this day, is bigger than the latest version of yes-you-really-have-to-wear-that (shoe/sock/coat/sunscreen). It’s like a reset, as we face down another day. My favourite was the boy’s prayer:

Ah… God,
School!!!
Ah-mennnnn.

What more needs to be said, really? We arrived at our first stop, flush with success, just as the first bell rang. Of course the snailery was sitting on the porch by the front door. Of course.

Pack it back in, turn around, scoop it up, try again. Even later than ever. Again.

I used to think that this is where life is lived – in the doing: in the tasks accomplished and customers served. The bulk of my life – so  full of too much, so starved by not enough – is not a bad place, not really. I don’t regret it or hate it. I’m not willing to trade it in for another rendition. I’m not looking for a transformation or some fancy new system guarunteed to cure all my woes. Sure, I’ll seek a better balance, but I don’t imagine I’ll ever arrive.

Instead I’m changing my focus. I picked the word “Breathe” as my resolution this year. And it’s a strangely powerful one.

I’m as busy as ever, but that is not how I live. Not anymore. I live in the spaces between too much and not enough.

I live in the slight breeze tickling my face.
I live in the warm press of little bodies beside me at 6 am.
I live in the stretch of my legs on the trampoline during ‘ring-around-the-rosie.’
I live in the laugh shared over a ridiculous inside joke.
I live in the beat of a catchy tune, the blue sky as far as I can see, the smell of rain on the horizon…

I live in these moments that are just right and more than enough. There’s no trick, no equation, no escape needed. Life trickles into the gaps of everyday. It’s a gift. We just have to live it.life

Be still and know that I am God.

Breathe.

So here’s me, the crazy person who thought an intensive May/June writing course (cram 13 weeks of work into 8) would be a great fit for our life. Maybe not, but I’m actually feeling a lot LESS stressed than expected because those technicolour moments of life are powerful. Who knew, I just needed to learn to breathe all these years.


What I’m Into: April 2014

How did May sneak up on me? Not to mention the entirety of this past year. Yet, here I sit with sun beams and computer screen competing for my attention (sunbeams are pulling into the lead… I may never finish this post).

On Friday, for Pro-D day, I packed up all the kids, and a spare, along with juice boxes, pita chips, sushi, a giant umbrella, towels, kites, buckets, shovels and dozen plastic dinosaurs. The first beach day of the year was definitely the highlight of the month!

My One Word this year is “Breathe” as I’m learning to taste and savour life moment by moment. I’m still a novice at this. But, somehow, it’s so much easier in the sunshine.

Here’s a taste of my past month…

Reading

What if you woke up one day and 10 years had passed? One minute you’re happily married, expecting your first child and the next you’ve got three kids and are in the midst of a messy divorce. Although the bump-to-the-head-causing-amnesia plot device is pretty cliché, What Alice Forgot (Moriarty) is engaging enough to live it down. I couldn’t help but wonder what 29-year-old me would think of how my life has actually turned out.

Another fun read by Rainbow Rowell, Attachments is an offbeat romance which unfolds primarily through email. Lincoln, an internet security officer is tasked with reading through all flagged messages on the company server. Instead of reporting the witty banter between two of his coworkers he finds himself enjoying and eventually falling for one of them, who he’s never met.

On a more serious note, I borrowed I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Yousafzai) from our 12-year-old neighbour and am currently concocting schemes to get my children to read it. Yes, it is an interesting look at life as a Muslim in Pakistan, but it is the personality of Malala herself that is most compelling. In light of the kidnapping and enslavement of Nigerian schoolgirls recently, the issue of girls education is more pressing than ever.

It’s not all fun reading at our house. The Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder (Kranowitz) is practically required reading for anyone whose child has trouble coping with the demands of daily life and seems a little out of step with the rest (typically developing and special needs kids). Whether it is to rule out or better understand this particular brand of struggle, this book presents a ton of information and many practical suggestions.

I put off reading A Generous Orthodoxy for a long time, because the subtitle is both long and confusing. I’m glad I did, because it is a perfect time for me to read it now. McLaren explores both the strengths and issues embodied by many distinctive groups within Christianity, encouraging us to recognize and embrace the contributions of each one while building a less defensive faith community. Something for everyone to both appreciate and hate. Good stuff.

Watching

Netflix apparently knows me well. They suggested I might like The 100 about a post-apocalyptic earth – both the humans who’ve lived for generations aboard a space station and the group of 100 teenagers they send to earth both to reduce the strain on resources and to ascertain if it is now survivable. What would we sacrifice in the name of survival? At what point is our humanity at risk?

I’ve converted my husband. After season 1 of Veronica Mars he is a believer. If only I could break him of his nasty House of Cards habit. Yuck.

Call me an idealist. Most of the time I like a hero who is unswervingly good. Which is why Captain America is my favourite Avenger despite his terrible costume and cheesy patriotism (after all, I am Canadian). I wasn’t disappointed by Captain America:  The Winter Soldier - definitely the best Marvel movie so far!

Thinking Deep Thoughts

As we’ve found ourselves moving into a new spiritual community I’ve been contemplating the nature of friendship, both building new relationships and maintaining established ones. I am, admittedly, a technophile with my iPhone always close at hand. I feel the draw of easy, efficient, but ultimately superficial social media connections. Ironically, there are several articles and videos making their way around Facebook right now about the drawbacks and dangers of our new virtual communities.

also: Loneliness in the Age of Facebook

They’re not wrong. As I click back to my newsfeed after watching/reading these kind of things I’m filled with guilt and discouragement and worry. Social media certainly has a dark side. It can be too much about too little, a poor substitute for real intimacy, and it can swallow up my actual life.

BUT, it’s only a tool. Built to serve us, not for us to serve it. We can use its power for our good.  I’m reminded of the advice and encouragement I’ve gotten from friends and family when I needed it most, the nephews and nieces whose faces and habits I am familiar with though they live far away, the childhood companions I’ve connected with (both online and in person), the new friends I’ve gotten to know and appreciate though my face-to-face with fellow adults is limited, and the cherished old friends I haven’t lost touch with though we no longer move in the same circles. There are so many things I love about it, that make my life better, when I use it to enhance reality and actual friendship, not to replace it.

Now, to figure out how to do that…

Blogging

I’ve  added another post to my What I Believe series about my changing views on God and the world and our place in it: Embracing a Bigger Gospel

I also posted a short story I wrote which was… wait for it… published in UFV’s literary magazine! Yay! The Stranger (aka – Who Will Remember) is about memory and family and losing both through dementia.stranger

So here’s me, from the sunny West Coast. My sincere condolences to everyone else in the world. While I was splashing in the ocean my family in Calgary was digging themselves out of yet another snowstorm.

Once again, I am linking up with a group of talented bloggers for Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into”
– definitely worth checking out!
what I'm into

 

 


What I Believe: Embracing a Bigger Gospel

This is a record. I have never spent so much time, so much energy, so many words on a single blog post. Thus far, I have written 2 complete drafts, only to scrap them entirely and start again.

I had promised another edition of my What I Believe series (where I broke up with my church and decided I’m not sure of anything), to whoever might still be interested in my post-evangelical philosophies (concerned family and new church friends mostly).

The first one I crafted was full of scripture references, arguments and intellectual debate. Like I’d  been taught. A gospel staked out in careful boundaries, defensible territory against the attack, with a few darts strategically thrown at the theology I once called home. A gospel of knowing.

The second swung the other way entirely – a way we’ve only recently embraced. Apologizing for the years I believed that I (and those like me) cornered the market on truth. Offering questions in place of answers. Exploring a God who reveals himself through a bigger story, defying simplistic outlines and smug certainties. A gospel of not-knowing.

The truth is, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I wish I had the wisdom, ability and time to properly express the flavour and freedom of this knowing-but-not-knowing journey we’re on (no doubt this sounds utterly absurd to many of you – it certainly would’ve to me, until recently). We are Christians, but not the way we used to be.

The gospel I once knew

In this context I’m using the term “gospel” to refer to an overarching central truth, specifically as it relates to the purpose and message of Christianity. It is used interchangeably in many churches with the phrase “the Good News.”

hellThe gospel I have believed most of my life goes something like this: God created humanity, but we rejected him (sin) and are as a result condemned to an eternity of punishment (hell), but God loved his wayward creation, so He sent his own Son (Jesus) to become human and take that punishment on himself (dying on the cross and rising again), now everyone who consciously chooses to believe this gospel (usually praying a prayer or having a spiritual experience) and live a Jesus honouring life (not as a prerequisite for, but as an inevitable proof of your sincerity) will become favoured children of God and eventually escape punishment.

This belief was the filter through which I understood the bible and the world around me. It was the motivation, sometimes inspiration and sometimes guilt, behind most of our life decisions. In theory, all evangelicals consider themselves missionaries. We wanted as many people as possible to know God and escape an eternity of brutal torture (and we would have been evil schmucks if we didn’t). It’s hard for people outside this paradigm to fully appreciate how all consuming this worldview is.

We all filter

A few years ago, a close relative of mine decided that there were only 7 righteous people left in the world (including him). Because that’s what the bible said. To him. He believed it sincerely, and everything he read in scripture and saw in the world only confirmed this further. It was his filter.

It seemed clear to us that he wasn’t thinking straight. This was not logical, nor was it an historically acceptable interpretation. But it seemed evident to him.

It’s entirely human to see what we want, what we expect. This is how we make sense of the world. It’s how our brains work. And we all do it.

Christian Smith describes this phenomenon when it comes to understanding the Bible as putting a puzzle together. Whatever picture you see on the box, that’s how you fit the pieces together. Some pictures (systems of belief) fit better than others and are more widely accepted, but there are always a few pieces that don’t work as well. We filter those through the words and ideas that seem more important, more central to our big picture, whatever that happens to be.

The picture on the box

My own experiences and interpretations of the Bible, of nature, and the still, small voice in my heart give me insight, but as a human being I can be misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse. History shows that the whole of the Christian church has been misled, mistaken and willfully obtuse over the years, on many issues.

But faith is not about perfect understanding or certainty, it’s choosing a confident hope. I still believe. I believe that a loving God created the world and redeemed it through Jesus Christ. I believe this powerful grace stretches farther and wider and deeper than I ever imagined.faith-hope-love

This is the good news I embrace. A gospel where love has the final word; where Christ’s sacrifice to redeem all humanity is powerful enough to do just that. The picture I see is one of “Ultimate Redemption” – that while there will be judgment and may be punishment, in the end, all will have a clear understanding and ultimately be reconciled to God. To me, this picture better reflects the overarching story of a broken world and a loving Messiah than an extremely limited redemption of those who adhere to a certain theology, say the right words in the right order (sinners prayer) or live a certain lifestyle… most of whom are born in a specific time and place where this is a cultural inevitability.

There is a surprisingly strong scriptural basis for universal reconciliation (which has many different forms). It’s not simply wishful thinking. It’s not even a stretch. Some of the key bible verses are: Galatians, John 12:32, Acts 3:21, Romans 5:18-21, 1 Cor 3:12-15, 15:22-28, 2 Cor 5:19, Eph 1:10, Phil 2:9-11, Col 1:20, 1 Tim 2:14, Titus 2:11, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 – for a more thorough explanation of this picture: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm.

This is not a new position. Historically it falls within the orthodoxy of Christianity, though some modern evangelicals like to believe otherwise. Even Gregory of Nyssa, who edited the Nicene creed (which is widely accepted as the most basic definition of Christian orthodoxy) taught this, along with several other significant fathers of the early church.

Final word to Jesus

When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God, he didn’t diagram, or alliterate, or clearly outline the steps to get in – instead he told stories. “The kingdom of God is like this…” he would say. Telling ridiculous stories about a love that defies the rules, that was, and is still today, a scandal to good, moral people.

Jesus declared freedom to the oppressed, an end to the Law and an inclusive grace. This is the picture I see now, and it fits. I’m trading in systems of sin management, a focus on who’s in and who’s out, a fear-driven and defensive perspective – for freedom. To trust that Jesus has both the power and the will to reconcile all things to himself. To extend the same unconditional love to others without agenda (which sounds pretty, but can actually be very uncomfortable). To see that there is more to truth and to life than my own perspective – but all truth is God’s truth, so this is nothing to fear.

The kingdom of God is like this: we need, God provides.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus],
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood,
shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

So here’s me, embracing a new picture of God and the world around me.

Stay tuned for my final installment:
What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?
Why I support feminists, gays, tree-huggers and other crazy liberals Mark Driscoll has been warning you about.

 


How to Make a Real Live Friend

It starts with my best face, my best chit chat, my best me. A brief warmth and pressure, hands touching, nothing more. Tentative, sanitized, easy.

Next, we test the waters. Lining up topics from lightest to heaviest. Basic information with hints of personality. I don’t always follow the rules, I overshare, I talk too much and listen too little. Did you really want to know about my day? Did I really want to know about yours?

If all goes well and life allows, we invest something. Some time. Some memory. Some effort. Venturing onto private property, dishes in the sink, lego on the floor… I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

Time is the final ingredient. The yeast in the dough. Settling in, getting messy, sticking it out for the hard stuff. I’ll show you me, if you let me see you.

It’s not like it used to be. When “wanna be my friend?” wasn’t quite so complicated. When clicking “confirm” didn’t mean anything.thumbs up

So here’s me, where making friends at 38 is different for a whole lot of reasons, but definitely worth the effort.

Today I’m joining Lisa Jo Baker‘s
Five Minute Friday writing challenge on the word:
Friend

5minutefriday


The Marriage of Two Minds

The challenge: “Tell a story, in 50 words or less.”

“Opposites attract!” friends quipped.

He, drawn like a moth to a flame, warmed to her vivacity, sparks of passion and life. She, lured by his depth, quenched herself with serene and steady.

Inevitably, her words burn and his silence douses. Opposite becomes opposition. Coexistence, a chore.

So they become something new.

Together.

fire and water

So here’s my verse for the Word Press Writing Challenge:Fifty http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/writing-challenge-fifty/
That was easier said than done.

The title of this piece is a play on Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare. It’s one of my favourite poems, a tribute to timeless, unfailing love. Although love itself must never alter or compromise, we must if relationships are to endure. Not entirely, not unilaterally, but in little ways every day.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 


The Stranger: A Short Story

Somewhere between fact and fiction lies this story.

My trip down memory lane this summer has sixteen lanes of traffic, on both sides. Interstate 5 stretches all the way from Canada to Southern California and it’s a road I know well. At every stop on this familiar road trip, I’ve been reading and re-reading an article written by Martha Gellhorn, about her memories of World War II. She was front and centre at some of the pivotal points in history, yet 50 years later she’s struggling to make sense of it all. With her memory fading, the coherence and purpose she once had now elude her. It’s frustrating as hell. How do we make sense of the world when we can’t make sense of ourselves anymore?

As I muscle my way across the lanes of traffic onto my exit, I try to focus on the mission at hand. This is difficult under a deluge of my own memories. I spent many blistering summers here in Eagle Rock, a relatively affluent suburb of Los Angeles. My holidays were punctuated by trips to the library, to the beach, to church, and to buy household items and underwear with Grandma at the Glendale Galleria (which sounded SO much more glamorous to my childish ears than “mall”). Occasionally, a longsuffering relative would bundle some of us kids off to Knott’s Berry Farm or, on a really good day, Disneyland.

I angle my wheels toward the curb and pull on the parking brake, before clambering out with an armful of bags and papers and empty soda cans. I once tried to roller skate down this very street with my cousin Janis. Lined with palm trees, Hermosa Drive is just as picturesque as I remember, but seems even steeper and more dangerous to my adult eyes. What were we thinking?

But today isn’t a holiday. Nor is it time to wallow in nostalgia. Today, I’m here to work, reviving an old skill set for an important man. It’s been years since I coddled, cajoled and provided personal care to several elderly clients. It wasn’t a job I loved at the time, but it feels important in hindsight. At least I know what I’m doing.

The white house halfway up the block is a poor man’s Georgian mansion. What it lacks in size, and adjoining plantation, it makes up for in sheer panache. The four towering pillars at the front would seem pretentious on any other façade, but this house has the supreme self-confidence to pull it off. No longer pristine, it maintains an air of shabby elegance. The extra wide front door has an antique brass knocker on its brow and I’m thrilled to announce my arrival with a brisk rat-a-tat-tat. “Simple pleasures for simple minds,” my husband always teases. When no one comes after several minutes, I’m forced to resort to the doorbell after all.house

Shifting from one foot to the other, I juggle my packages back and forth, sagging under the weight of old insecurities. As extensively as the family has briefed me on the situation there is still so much uncertainty. I’m not sure how I’ll be received.

When the door finally opens I am surprised by the blast of heat. It’s even hotter inside than out. An industrious Mexican woman greets me before bustling past.

“I will see you next week SeñorBob,” she calls over her shoulder.

The Señor is enthroned in a frayed green armchair on the other side of the room. Straight-backed, legs planted wide, with a cane in his hand like a sceptre, he scowls over the coffee table at me.

“Well… you gonna come in, or what?”

I’ve never encountered a more intimidating stranger.

I try to ease the heavy door shut, but the hot Santa Ana wind wrestles it out of my grasp with a resounding bang. I take a deep breath and paste a smile on my face. The key to confidence is: fake it ‘til you make it. I’ll pretend he’s glad to see me.

I try to make nice; the polite chit-chat strangers use to grease the wheels of introduction. “It sure is windy. I guess they don’t call the Santa Anas “devil winds” for nothing. I thought they were going to knock me right off the road. Is it normally like this? I see they’re filming a movie in the house up the road. Do you get a lot of that around here? Have you had lunch yet?”

Smooth. Nothing says “trust me, I’m here to help” like a nervous ramble.

He’s unmoved. Not a word; just a glare.

I feel less like an intruder when I notice the food stains on his white dress shirt and catch a whiff of his scent. Unwashed Old Man will never make my top ten aromas, but today it smells like a welcome. He does need me, even if he can’t see it right now.

Putting down my things, I excuse myself to the washroom, a genteel Canadian-ism which makes him snort.

“The bathroom’s in the back. Don’t touch anything.”

The washroom’s a study in pink. Someone loved dusty rose once upon a time. Behind the toilet a faded sign, written on the cardboard sleeve salvaged from a package of pantyhose, is taped to the wall. The feminine script reads, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Ah yes, the classy prose of drought country. Before I dare to let anything mellow I help myself to a rag and give the whole room a wipe-down. It’s what my Grandma used to call a “lick and a promise,” but at least it’s a start.

He’s right outside, when I’m done, leaning heavily on his cane, stooped nearly in half.

“Might as well show you around,” he snarls.

Waving his hand dismissively toward the stairs, “Bedrooms,” then nodding toward the front room, “Keep the curtains closed; we don’t want the furniture to fade.” As we inch our way through the dining room, “Fer company” is all he says. Apparently the kitchen is self-explanatory.

He lights up as he hobbles into the backyard. Rendered speechless, I’m impressed by its beauty: the charming nooks, the hidden paths to benches and bird feeders, the dramatic blooms and rustic gazebo. Then he starts talking. He shows me the system he’s rigged to open the back gate with the touch of a button. He explains the construction of each sprinkler. He points out the fruit trees and names each type of flower. Even the grass receives an extensive lecture. “St. Augustine’s the way to go. It’s not like most grass around here, but it’s tougher, better, needs less water. No weeds dare grow when it’s taken root. Ya see how low to the ground it is. It don’t grow much higher than that; it don’t need much fussin’.”

Sure enough, the grass is unlike any I’m used to. It’s prickly and barely gives way under my feet. It suits him.

He settles himself on the back patio; waiting, I assume, for his lunch. He barks out an order: “sardines and crackers.” I try not to gag as I put a tray together. Whether that’s the rather pungent main course, or my deep seated aversion to submission, I can’t tell. I don’t generally take orders well.

We sit in silence. Chewing. Eyeing each other suspiciously.

“Used to have a dog around here, a stray. Just showed up one day begging for food and wouldn’t leave. Huge slobbering mountain of a beast. Not a lick of sense. No use to no one, that mutt.”

“What did you do?” I wondered.

“Spent a fortune on him, got his shots, took him to the vet, fed him here on the patio.”

“So what did you name him?”

“Didn’t name him. He weren’t my dog. We just called him ‘Dawg.’ This one time he got hisself tangled up in some barbed wire the neighbour left out. Howled bloody murder; most awful racket I ever heard. I was in the shower at the time, but I hoofed it out here fast as I could to save ‘im. There I was, buck nekkid, trying to unravel that dumb Dawg, ‘til Doris comes screeching out, ‘Grab a towel, Pa.’”

The floodgates have opened. Suddenly, he’s talking about anything, about everything. About his wife Doris and how she was always the smart one. About “The Meeting” and serving the Good Lord and walking the straight and narrow. About his son and grandson, who lived in an RV on the driveway for more than a year. About the doctors who told them to put their daughter in an institution when she was born, and were surprised by their vehement refusal. About the time they got into the car to go on a drive and didn’t stop until Michigan.

With each mumbled story the picture of a different man emerges. He’s an old school patriarch living “in the world, but not of it;” rough around the edges, with an unexpected marshmallow center. Listening to him feels like coming home.

Sometimes he finishes a story before moving on to the next one, but not often. Sometimes he simply trails away, then jumps in with a new thought from yet another decade. His memory seems to wax and wane without conscious control.

Out of the blue, he turns to me, tapping his fingers against his brow, “I’m losing my mind, ya know.”

There’s an edge of panic to his voice, but the statement is made with complete resignation. This man, who proudly pointed out his workshop and many homemade inventions throughout the house, who spent years building his own equipment, who was the go-to handyman in every sphere, cannot fix himself. And neither can I.

Without the mask of hostility, his confusion is more pronounced. Even as he reminisced, his memories seemed to slip through his fingers no matter how tightly he grasped for them; not just what he had done, but who he was and why he was here. Gellhorn once asked, “What is the use in having lived so long, travelled so widely, listened and looked so hard, if at the end you don’t know what you know?” It’s frightening, and worst of all, so very pointless.

I came here hoping he would recognize me. I imagined a few meals and a good cleaning and a friendly face could hold back the tide of dementia a little longer. I thought that was the job. But I was wrong.

At the end, when memory fails and we can no longer make sense of our lives, it’s up to our loved ones to do it for us. That is how memory, and meaning, lasts forever. This is the job. I am here to catch those memories as they slip away and make them mean something in the world, to make HIM mean something. It’s all I can do.

I put my hand on his arm and leaned close. “Don’t worry Grandpa, I’ll remember for you.”

This piece was published in the literary magazine “Louden Singletree” under creative non-fiction. 

What began as a composite character of all the clients I once worked with who suffered from dementia, evolved into a picture of my own Grandpa, as seen through the lens of my mom and sisters, my aunts and cousins, and those last few visits we had on the back porch of the Hermosa Drive house.


The Winding Road to Baker Street: A Guest Post

Welcome to my very first Guest Post, and to sweeten the pot – a Free Prize! Everyone who leaves a comment on this post before April 10th will be entered to win an e-copy of Angela Misri‘s brilliant debut novel – Jewel of the Thames.

When I think of Angela, certain moments come to mind: my first meal of authentic Indian food, dressing up in a sari, whispering into the night and between classes about the great mysteries of life (that’s right – boys). I assumed, the way teenagers do when life is supposed to make sense and you don’t know what you don’t know, that Ang would grow up and become a writer. Of course she would. It seemed so simple.

But life is never a straight line.

So here’s Angela’s story…baker street

There are these moments that <dramatic music please> change your life forever. Christie can attest to this, she and I have shared one or two of these moments over our 20-year (!!!) friendship. These are the moments that led to Jewel of the Thames becoming a reality.

Everything changed for me one spring day in 1992 at an assembly in the gym where, as per usual, I was giggling and whispering with my friends in the audience. Suddenly my name was called by the Principal of the school and I was jostled out from the safety of the herd and to the front of the room. Having not really listened to the preceding speech, I was shocked to learn that a poem I had written as part of a school assignment had been published in an anthology of like-quality poems by Canadian children. The Principal smiled the biggest smile I had ever seen on a teacher, and handed me a copy of the coil-bound anthology, turning me back towards the audience of my schoolmates and starting the applause that followed me back to my safe haven between her best friends.

That was the moment when I discovered that despite being of Indian descent, there were in fact other options for your life’s work than medicine or engineering.

You would think that that moment would be enough to put me on the right path, but no, I struggled gamely through two years of pre-med, an MCAT and a summer dissecting cats in a neurology lab (no, really, it happened) before taking my first University-level Shakespeare course. The class was a requirement for the BSc I was clawing my way towards despite terrible grades in math and physics.

I was getting an A in the class and thoroughly enjoying it, sad that it would be ending, and sad I would be leaving my favourite teacher, Dr. Batycki when on the very last day of class she called me over. My classmates and I were lazily talking amongst ourselves about the spring and plans for the summer, so I remember feeling very comfortable and happy that day. Dr. Batycki stepped outside the classroom, holding the door open for me, and then grasping both my hands in hers, proceeded to tell me that I was a writer. No, not just a person who enjoyed reading and writing, but a person who SHOULD be writing. I of course denied it, explaining that I was going to be a doctor, that maybe someday I would write medical textbooks (my father’s suggestion when years earlier I had asked about writing as a profession) but I was not a writer – that’s just something I did for fun. She smiled at me then, and took up my hands again (which I had dropped in shock and denial) and just said it again, “You are a writer, Angela,” and then patted me on the shoulder and went back into the classroom.

That was the moment I discovered that you can deny your destiny all you want – it will, like Lady Macbeth’s spot – mark you forever to all who meet you.

Between that moment and my truly horrendous marks in math, I switched to English Literature, and excelled, moving further and taking a Masters in Journalism before my 23rd birthday. I wrote my first full-length novel in those years, a historical fiction set in 3B.C. India called ‘Savitri,’ and many poems that will never see the light of day if I have my way. I also wrote a thesis about Sherlock Holmes that would set the stage for the Portia Adams Adventures. It was a psychoanalysis of the great fictional detective in which I postulated that he was bipolar. It was incredibly fun to research and write and allowed me to read everything about Holmes and Conan-Doyle and many of the other authors who had taken to writing about the Baker Street detective since then.

You remember Galadriel’s lines at the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.” Ok, so my writings were not lost for that long, but for almost 10 years, while I was excelling in Digital Journalism at the CBC and raising my son, I barely wrote anything that wasn’t a news story or a web documentary.

Suddenly, on a trip to San Francisco, I was so inspired by the landscape and colours of the desert that I started writing a short story in my moleskin notebook. That story grew to over 80,000 words of a time-travel novel and inspired more writing, and more poems and suddenly I was writing all the time – stopping only because my hand would cramp up around my pen. I wrote on the train in to work, I wrote at lunch time, I wrote on the ride home, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

During my last two years at the CBC, I that novel set in San Fran plus three books about detective Portia Adams – 35 moleskin notebooks in all.

During my last two years at the CBC, I wrote that novel set in San Fran plus three books about detective Portia Adams – filling 35 moleskin notebooks in all.

That was the moment when I discovered that I should write novels.

Finally, the pressure of having all these books written with no one to read them got to me and I hung up my headphones (I worked in radio, follow along people) and left the CBC to get published (again).

Life is about moments. These are the ones that led to me becoming a novelist.

Angela, the real life author, at a book signing! Photo by Wayne MacPhail

Angela, the real life author, at a book signing!
Photo by Wayne MacPhail

I’ve already given my review of the book itself, but judge for yourself. Here’s a brief synopsis:

There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street

jewel of the thames front coverSet against the background of 1930s England, Jewel of the Thames introduces Portia Adams, a budding detective with an interesting — and somewhat mysterious — heritage.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia puzzles over why she was left in the care of the extravagant Mrs. Jones but doesn’t have long to dwell on it before she is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her new guardian. Once there Portia discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first involving stolen jewelry, the second a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.

So here’s your big chance, leave a comment here (before April 10th) and you can win a FREE e-copy of Jewel of the Thames! Answer a question, or simply leave your name to be entered into the draw.

What childhood dream have you recently reclaimed?

What moment has changed the trajectory of your life?

Which fictional detective do you most closely resemble?

 


What I’m Into: March 2014

Today was a sunny day.

Ya, that’s right. Sun. Blue sky. Green grass. I wore shorts.

We who live on the rainy West Coast complain a lot. And it is grey and soggy and unrelenting. But sometimes, while our relatives are digging themselves out from another snowstorm, we’re digging out the sunscreen. We win.

Reading

I’m SO relieved I don’t have to think of diplomatic things to say about my friend Angela’s new book, Jewel of the Thames. I loved it! You know when you eat a meal that hits the spot – feeding a craving you weren’t even aware you had? That’s what this book did for me.
BBC’s Sherlock rekindled my fascination with the unconventional genius detective; Angela Misri feeds it with this fun read. Portia Adams, recently orphaned, discovers she is heiress of 221 Baker St from the mysterious grandfather she never knew. As with all my favourite detectives she is quirky, tough and brilliant. The mysteries are intriguing and I whipped through it at record speed.
PLUS – as a special bonus, my friend Ang has agreed to be the first official guest poster on this blog on Thursday!
jewel of the thames front cover

I also read The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall this month – exploring the necessity of narrative, a power so integral to humanity we rarely notice how completely we are immersed in it. It’s a dense book exploring competing ideas about everything from literature to dreams to LARPing (that’s Live Action Role Playing, non-nerds), but it is full of story itself, never once feeling like a textbook. I usually dislike evolutionary psychology, but this author manages to present his ideas without sucking the mystery and magic out of life. So much to think about… a fascinating read for every bookworm and amateur sociologist.

Surfing

My second cousin and a friend put together this unusual blog. Weekly Love Story tells a unique story about real-life love each week. They reach beyond formulaic Hollywood romance to show us everyday beauty: a meeting of the minds, sister and brother, a beloved child, passing friendships… there is so much out there worth celebrating. It always brightens my day!

Watching

A friend reminded me of this poem recently: The Shrinking Woman, about our tendency as women to agonize over how much space we deserve to occupy in our own worlds, not just physically, but in other ways too.

As usual, I’m behind the times in watching Call the Midwife. After the first couple of episodes I liked it just fine, but didn’t see what the big deal was. By number 4, I had fallen deeply in love with this series. It is by turns gritty, sweet, challenging, heartwarming and deeply human – a celebration of community and womanhood set in East London during the 1950s.

After watching the (pretty good, but not as amazing as the series) movie with me, Glen agreed to watch all 3 seasons of Veronica Mars together. That’s love!

Our family gives The Muppets: Most Wanted a unanimous “okay” – a fun show, but not nearly as good as the last one.

Advocating

Last year the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that our prostitution laws are unconstitutional. The government has been given until December 2014 to draft new laws. The conservative government has been here before and ultimately committee recommendations to implement a Nordic (abolitionist) model were overlooked. Although the official deadline for public input was March, we can still influence the direction our country takes.

As for me, I’m an abolitionist. Here’s why:

abolition infographic

abolition 2

abolition 3

abolition 4

abolition 5

abolition 6

Infographic by: rethinklife.org

For more info or to get involved, check out:

The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution

Blogging

This has been a strange month for So Here’s Us. I’m all over the place.

On one hand is my usual fare, a poem for World Down Syndrome Day: I Am Me; another one for So-Overwhelmed-I’m-Losing-My-Mind Day (aka – almost every day): Sinking; and finally an introspective piece about things life is teaching me: Excuse Me While I Apologize for Living.

On the other hand, I’ve started a new series called What I Believe explaining our new life philosophy. It starts with a break-up letter to our beloved church: Confession Time and explains the biggest shift: From Certainty to Mystery. For those interested in spiritual matters, stay tuned for Embracing a Bigger Gospel and What is a Progressive Christian Anyway?

So here’s us, panting for spring and all the new beginnings that come with it.

Linking up with Leigh Kramer’s “What I’m Into” list.

 what I'm into

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What I Believe: From Certainty to Mystery

Welcome to my second installment of What I Believe. In my last post I broke up with my church, the one I have loved, and been loved by, for a solid decade. The philosophical shifts that have brought us to this point are less about this church in particular and more about our entire understanding of life and truth. Most foundational in these shifts is what modern writers have been calling “embracing the mystery.”

It was a lot less fun to get here than you might think. But in the end, more rewarding than I expected. I’ve never felt so free.

As always, it’s not my intent to offend. This is my journey, mine alone. These are my thoughts and ideas, and for once in my life, I don’t need to convert anyone to it.

I used to live in a world that was black and white with a slim margin of grey. I shook my head at those who didn’t have quite as much grey as I did, and called them Legalists. I worried about those whose black and white was more smudged than mine, and thought them weak.

I remember being frustrated with these smudge-y people, who refused to play the game right. They would duck and weave their way past labels and positions and absolutes. Blithely shrugging their shoulders, as if “I don’t know” were an acceptable answer.

Until my husband – the missionary, the apologist, the solid, unswerving intellect of our operation – began wrestling, questioning and dismantling his theological boxes. Some that had never held water for him anyway; he’d always believed in evolution and women’s equality. But now it was all on the table. Hell. Gay rights. End times. Inerrancy of the Bible. Truth in other religions. Even the existence of God.question It was scary and uncomfortable questioning the foundations of our whole world – in practice, the very opposite of weak.

It was hard for him to say anything, to anyone. He doesn’t like to think out loud. After years of chewing on revolutionary questions, conclusions had yet to emerge for him. Just angst. Layers of irritated, depressing angst. So he opened up to me anyway. Finally. Hesitantly.

As if I would be surprised.

I hadn’t read all the books on all the subjects like he had. I hadn’t agonized over all the issues for years. But I had felt the same restless discomfort. That the Jesus I knew from the Bible didn’t fit within the strictures of our evangelical traditions. That the “us & them” mentality pervading it was toxic and untrue. That the certainties we were expected to maintain at all costs were dishonest and unreasonable.

So I read the books and had the discussions and did my share of agonizing… I was surprised to find that the “other sides” weren’t ignoring the Bible or explaining it away, just filtering it through a different perspective. Sometimes it fit for me, sometimes it didn’t, but nothing was clear anymore. I slayed my sacred cows and the world kept on spinning.

Taking into account the width and depth of Christian perspectives, it is quickly apparent that sincere, intelligent God-followers – experts, scholars and the earliest church thinkers – have come to radically different conclusions about the same scriptures, the same Christ, the same questions, throughout history. Certain positions that seem foundational, non-negotiable within church tradition are eventually discarded as ridiculous: flat earth, racism, conversion by conquest, slavery… to name just a few.

The oft repeated “the Bible is clear about _______” begins to sound suspicious. Because more often than we like to admit, the Bible is confusing, even alarming, requiring a certain amount of mental gymnastics to harmonize. Because the Bible, set in both an ancient time and a foreign culture, is not easy to understand or apply in a modern context. Because the Bible, as meaningful and important as it is, requires human interpretation, something that is deeply fallible and hardly ever clear.

Could it be that “I don’t know” is the ONLY acceptable answer?

I have emerged from this haze of questions. Not with the conclusions I expected, clear positions and easy-to-read labels for new boxes. With freedom. With peace. That I might be, and most certainly am in some areas, wrong. That I don’t have all the answers. That I don’t have to have all the answers. That when Jesus summed it all up in one sentence: “love God and love others” He meant it.

Can it be that simple? To choose love. Every time. Every issue.

I know that this answer is too smudge-y for many of you, more poetry than equation. But our sacred book is made up of poetry, history, allegory, ancient laws and ultimately grace – not math. Jesus was always more interested in the heart of the matter, in the heart of a person, than in drawing lines and creating policy.

So I’m not sure anymore. About a lot of things. Not like I used to be. But that’s what faith is for.

So here’s my confession, I don’t believe what I used to. I don’t consider myself an evangelical or fit neatly into any denominational box.

But I still believe. In God. In Jesus. In learning from the Bible. In finding a spiritual community. In buying fair trade and wearing sensible shoes. In love, over and above, around and under, as the fabric of who God is and who I am meant to be.

Still to come:
Embracing a Bigger Gospel
and
What is Progressive Christianity Anyway?


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