Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011, A Review

So it's the end of 2011. Let's review.

In case you are curious, here are the ten most amazing cats (according to Animal Planet). My favorite is the barking cat, though I do love me some inter-species communication!

And it was a pretty amazing year for me too.

I played Eva Peron in Evita, chorus girl #8 in Stop the World I Want To Get Off and Amalia Balish in She Loves Me in Georgetown, Austin and Wimberley, Texas. I wrote some things and sometimes spoke what I wrote to large groups of people... once in Guatemala... and once at my grandpa's funeral. When I wasn't singing or writing or preaching, I was changing diapers; nannying is my day job. I vacated in Colorado, at Disney World and went home to St. Jo Mo a record three times this year (and none of those was Christmas!). I turned 33 and threw myself a Jesus Died When He Was My Age Birthday Party. I had a boyfriend for a while and spent the rest of the time dating republicans, millionaires and men much older than me. I don't know what I was thinking either. And then I had a tonsillectomy. A rough ending to an exciting year.

Ugh that was horrible. Think about kittens... christmas... puppets! Let's see what Jibjab has to say about 2011.

Yeah, that doesn't make me feel much better. And when I look at the most infamous oopsies of 2011 (according to Yahoo), I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

So back to animals. Here's the top 10 Animal stories of 2011 (according to Huffington Post).

In theater, here's the 10 best things on Broadway (according to the Hollywood Reporter) that you can feel free to take me to see anytime in 2012 :)

And speaking of art, here's the 14 most inspiring looks (according to Fashion Gone Rogue) of 2011. O to be beautiful and have someone paint my face and let me wear amazing costumes. Le sigh.

Are you getting all health conscious since the New Year (and its resolutions) are right around the corner? Check out the 10 most amazing biomedical advancements of 2011 (according to New Scientist)

Speaking of breakthroughs, the NRDC emailed me this, thanking me for the work I did (donations made, petitions signed, letters written) to help make a world of difference in 2011 :)

But damn we still have a long way to go.

Not even mentioning the environment, Reuters has the most depressing overview of 2011 though their layout is pretty cool. (The only positive thing they dipicted was Britain's Royal Wedding).

But never fear! Because I believe that hope prevails, that love wins, Google's overview is probably my favorite... :)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

This has been a strange Christmas.

A Christmas of firsts.

Strange firsts.

In honor of the first strange Christmas here is a website with awesome (and sometimes blasphemous) nativity scenes. Here's my favorite...

And the one that most made me go... "Wha...?"

And for my strange Christmas of firsts, this was my first Christmas away from my family. Yep, my first Christmas not in St. Jo Mo with Mike & Carol in 33 years. Whoa. Santa's been down that chimney a lot of years, but this year, the tracking sheets arrived with *Emergency! Re-Route! * Papers all over them.

Why am I not in St. Jo Mo you ask? Where have all the slightly sad, tongue in cheek posts about life in Missouri and Christmas at the Pittman household been? (Exhibit A... Exhibit B...)

They were traded for a trip or two to the hospital.

Because of frequent (three this year) bouts of tonsillitis and my new career of performing (I was only without throat ailments in one of the three shows I did this year), my doctor decided that 20 years of tonsillitis was enough and we scheduled a tonsillectomy. Unfortunately, this is not an easy surgery for adults. Apparently 33 years old is like 97 in tonsillectomy years.

So despite the fact that my surgery was the 15th and the nurse said I could still go home for Christmas since home was near a hospital, I did not get to go home this year because for my first major surgery, there was a major complication.

Of course there was.

My sister, an ENT surgeon herself, aptly noted (after the fact) that because of she is a doctor, there was bound to be a complication. It's Murphy's law. So while Murphy was clearing his throat, I started bleeding from mine. I threw up a blood clot the size of a golf ball if you want the gory details. So skipping the ER, I went straight back into surgery where they sutured me up. Awesome and horrible. All wrapped into one.

They said this didn't really delay my recovery, but losing that much blood after already losing about 10 pounds on a liquid diet, and I felt like I was back at square one. No talking. Major pain meds. Mucho sleeping.

And no singing.

For the first Christmas (ever probably), I didn't sing. Not one note. For the last, probably 15 years, I've gone caroling, been in Christmas choirs, sung at Christmas parties or at somebody's church for Christmas. Usually Wyatt Park's Christmas Eve service. But not this year. Not even a carol from the choir or the pew. This little strange bird was silent.

And alone.

Did I mention this was my first Christmas away from home?

I know, I am such a baby.

But thanks to modern technology this was my first Skype Christmas as well. Christmas Eve we opened our one gift as usual, and as usual, Amy, Emily & I got jammies. With fuzzy sweaters. Nice!

We arranged a time (12 noon since mom had church this morning) when we would open presents Christmas "morning." I was to be at dinner with a family here in Austin at 2pm so we thought that would suffice. As always, mother delayed us with work in the kitchen which I unfortunately would not reap the benefits of this year. But we soon got started with stockings. I got tights and make-up for my theater kit and jewelry. Amy & Emily got Mary Kay, Sephora and jewelry.

Then we moved on to Santa gifts I got skinny jeans (to wear with boots - don't confuse me with those oh-so-hip-hipsters) and 2 adjustable window screens, and hair hot rollers (also for my theater kit). And we had drawn names to ease the burden on the three girls (none of whom make very much money) and added in Grandma this year. I had Dad and had worked hard on a frames of six pictures from my father (and mother's) production of Stop the World I Want To Get Off back in the 60s at William Jewell and my production at Austin Playhouse earlier this year. Unfortunately, communication lines had gotten crossed and my package had been addressed to mom and when she opened it I burst into tears because the one thing I was supposed to do this Christmas (since I didn't get to go home or sing at church or do any of the other Christmas favorites) got fouled up (and let's face it, I was emotional anyway). So I started crying.

My sister's boyfriend Jesse saw me crying on the computer first, but I could tell he didn't know what to say and eventually the rest of them caught on and then the round of apologies began and the "I like it's" started, etc. etc.

I eventually got over it.

But then 2 o'clock hit and though we weren't quite done, we finished quickly and said our good-byes. I wore my comfiest outfit ever (some people eat comfort food, I wear comfort clothing) complete with arm warmers, a jingle bell ring, my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas tee-shirt and a fuzzy hat. My sister said I looked ridiculous. I prefer precious.

So I headed off to lunch where I ate my first Christmas meal free of meat. This year I decided to be a full out vegetarian. No more being polite and eating meat at dinner parties or at Holiday feasts. It's been about 10 or 11 months now. Thanksgiving was my first major holiday meal and I made it through! But this was my first Christmas meal sans meat!

Truthfully, I cheated a little.

I figure the gravy was probably made from meat, but since I'm a full-fledged vegetarian now and I can only eat soft foods, my choices were really limited. So I filled up on mashed potatoes and gravy, cooked veggies and a soft croissant. Yumilicious. Food. Is. So. Good. And it had been So. Long. My pants were falling off me I'd lost so much weight. And then dessert: coconut cake, moist and amazing. The jeans are fitting a little better now :)

It was strange being with other families: visiting their homes, eating their meals, listening to their stories. While we may have visitors to our home every Christmas (who hasn't made the trek to St. Jo Mo for some holiday or another, really?), I rarely am the visitor, the outsider, the guest. And that was different... to be welcomed rather than to be the one with open arms. I admit. I liked it. I thought it would make me sad, but it made me feel special to be invited into someone else's sacred tradition.

I drove around the city I live in from friend's house to friend's house and it was weird. A day that is so special because it is the one day every year that my entire family is together: all five of us, but I was in Austin, in my place of ritual. So it was strange looking at the city through the lens of the Christmas lights.

And one thing I see in Austin every day, I never see in St. Joe. Or at least, never on Christmas.

A homeless man.

Standing on the side of the highway with his cardboard sign, his backpack, and his dog. Because I worked in a downtown church for 5 years and interacted with homeless people on a daily basis, because I know Austin's statistics on people who beg for money on the sides of roads versus people in shelters and agencies, I never give money to the people I pass in my car. If they approach me, I explain that I donate money to Caritas or Salvation Army or the Trinity Center if they'd like to seek food or shelter there, they can. But today when I saw the man with his dog, I grabbed all the coins from the tray in my car and rolled down my window. Because for heaven's sake, it's Christmas. And as far away as I felt from home this day, at least I have a home of my own and a home for my family and I can't imagine Christmas without one. Since today was my first day driving in 10 days and I have no real food in my house, there were no bottles of water in my car or pb&j sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. I had nothing to give him but those coins, but hopefully that was enough.

It was a Christmas of firsts. Firsts from and firsts for. And strangely enough, I survived. And I may have even liked it.

So Merry Christmas. From Austin... a first.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011

"For Anna Catherine on Thanksgiving"

by Samuel Hazo

The first girl in generations,

you came when the century clicked

We studied you

as our particular event,

our small surprise, our bonus.

Months earlier, I prayed

that you'd be born intact

and healthy, and you were.

Today I wish you beauty, grace,

intelligence—the commonplace

grandfatherly clichés....

What makes us crave for those

we love such bounties of perfection?

Life, just life, is never

miracle enough no matter

how we try to church ourselves....

Squirming in my arms, you save me

from my tyranny of dreams

with nothing but your version of a kiss

and the sure, blind love of innocence.

from nines to zeroes to plus one.

Capped on a pallet, you flexed your toes

and let us count your fingernails.

First holiday in Austin with the family... Mom, Dad and Grandma. A thankful day indeed!

Monday, November 21, 2011

She Loves Me!

In high school sometime after we got our licenses, my best friend, Moxi and I were driving somewhere, probably to Kelly's just outside of town, or maybe to Dominic's in the Country Club Village, or on our way to Savannah... who knows. But I remember being on a highway and Moxi putting a CD into the player in her car (we always took her car because it was relatively new, had air conditioner, and a CD player... I drove a 1980 Buick Century with none of those - or any - amenities). It was the 1993 Broadway Revival of She Loves Me. Theater was not just a hobby but probably a passion for Moxi and me. We did shows at Central High School together and even some at Robidoux Resident Theater, I think. Mox was always getting new CDs of musicals, and her parents often took her to see professional shows in Kansas City, Chicago or New York (and sometimes let me come along - Phantom of the Opera National Touring Company circa 1995). So Moxi put She Loves Me in the player and immediately began skipping to her favorite songs. "Listen to this guy's voice!" "How cute is this song?!" I remember as we were either leaving or arrive at our destination, we had to pull over alongside the road to listen all the way through the best song on the CD, "Vanilla Ice Cream."

Fifteen (or perhaps more, but who's counting?) years later, and I am singing that song onstage in the Wimberley Players production of She Loves Me. I drove to Wimberley several months ago to audition, knowing that the lengthy commute (often over an hour) and the lack of financial reimbursement/compensation for the performance (it's a community theater) were two strikes against it. But there seemed so many good reasons to do the show, I couldn't help but audition. Wimberley is a very quaint, hill-country town. My best friends Chris & Michelle were married in a creek in Wimberley, and I often visit their family who live around the area. The commute, while long, is pretty, once one has developed an appreciation for the hill-country landscape of gnarly bushes, cacti, alpacas and longhorns :) The town itself has lots of local shops and restaurants and when my family flies in this week, we'll stay three days down there in a cabin to take in the town. Additionally, my good friend (and husband in Evita), Jim Lindsay, auditioned for the show too. It's one of his favorites and I knew it would be fun to be onstage with him again.

Plus, I love the show. She Loves Me is a delightful adaptation of the French play, Parfumerie, written by Hungarian playwright, Miklós László,. Other adaptations of the script include movies, The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime, and You've Got Mail. And all of these hearken back to Shakespeare's Beatrice and Benedick.

So depending on which version of this story you're familiar with, I play Margaret Sullivan, Judy Garland and Meg Ryan, or any number of women starring in Much Ado including my favorite, Emma Thompson.

Last weekend marked our opening and the audiences really seemed to enjoy themselves. Here are a few pictures from our dress rehearsal...

Also, local Austin radio station, KOOP interviewed Jim (who play Georg), Dawn (the director) and me (I play Amalia) last week. You can catch us on their show, Off Stage and On the Air around minute 40. This is the same program on which I did promo work for Evita, but I didn't sing this time around. Jim and I did do a short scene from the show though!

So, this holiday season, journey to Wimberley and back into the thirties with She Loves Me, a delightful romantic comedy starring Austin actors, Jim Lindsay and Ann Pittman! Opening November 18th and closing December 11th, She Loves Me runs weekends, Fridays and Saturdays with 8pm shows, and Sunday matinees at 2:30. Directed by Dawn Youngs, with book by Joe Masteroff and lyrics & music by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, She Loves Me also features Celeste Coburn, Derek Smootz, Bill Claussen, Guy Ben-Moshe, James Springer, Ryley Wilson, Ari Pickett, Amber Randolph, Cindy Forsyth, Molly James and Elisa Nieto.

If you're in the Wimberley area, you can buy tickets at the Wimberley Players website or by calling 847-0575.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Head and the Heart...

My first day of class at William Jewell College in 1996, the professor announced that Moses and that whole 10 Commandments business never actually happened, and then assigned us to read 60 pages in a three-ring binder-of-all-binders textbook that he and another religion professor were writing together. My professor smiled, laughed and sent us on our way.

And that pretty much sums up my Jewell experience.

I was shocked at what I didn’t know about the Bible (or rather, what I had spent years asking the church about, but never received any answers for).

I was shocked when I met students from small towns and conservative backgrounds here at Jewell who thought that women couldn’t do the same thing as men, that women didn’t belong in church leadership.

I was shocked that I couldn’t have a good Christian boy in my dorm room past 10pm on weeknights, and I was shocked when that same good Christian boy (and many others after him) sent all my romantic ideals sprawling after breaking my heart.

But I was kind of naïve back then. Perhaps I still am.

I started calling God “She” at some point during my junior year at Jewell I think. I did it mostly to prove a point to my male classmates, to make them feel as estranged by the gospel as I sometimes felt. And sometimes when I would read whole passages of scripture out loud, I substituted all the “he’s” with “she’s,” but mostly that was just to drive my point home. If Jesus could be hyperbolic (remember that whole if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off story?) then so could I.

Once I got to seminary I actually got called out once by a professor for some over the top feminist comment I wrote in one of my papers. “I think you’re citing this source just to be dramatic,” he wrote in the margin. Perhaps I thought, as I flipped through my paper, noting that he gave me an “A” anyway.

I was kind of dogmatic back then. Perhaps I still am.

The world we live in is a startling place. If one thing isn’t surprising you, it’s surprising someone else. And what seems status quo to someone else is shocking the socks off you. Cause we’re all at different places on our journey and the curious part about journey is we don’t even end up at the same destination. My grandfather was baptized by immersion in my parents’ Baptist church when he was 89 years old despite the fact that he grew up in the Methodist church and continued to attend the Methodist church after his Baptist baptism. My second cousin is a UU (pronounced youyou), a Unitarian Universalist despite the fact that for years she taught on a religion faculty and called herself a Christian. A woman I went to seminary with dropped out halfway through our time there, converted to Judaism, and then married a rabbi. Albert Camus, arguably one of the greatest existential thinkers and nihilists of modern time is said to have converted to Christianity on his deathbed.

The funny thing about the journey is that we don’t all end up at the same place.

I wrote a friend once, “Do you think it’s possible to believe in Jesus but not believe in God?”

“Well,” she responded, “Most people who abandon one tend to believe in God but let go of the Jesus stuff. But you’re not most people and that’s what I love about you.”

Why am I telling you all this? Why tell the stories of those who have left the faith, confused the faith, added to the faith, subtracted from the faith? Shouldn’t Jewell have hired me to come give you clarity, insight, hope, maybe even a little God-breathed Holy Spirit?

I was asked to speak tonight about the head and the heart. How do we reconcile intellectual Christianity with emotional Christianity? Are they compatible? If so, how do we balance the two? How do they influence and inform each other?

While I enjoy speaking from a specific text and equally enjoy speaking on a given subject as both give me time to wrestle with my thoughts juxtapose them with academia, ask how that relates to my personal experiences and then wonder at the role that beauty plays in it all, this subject of “the head and the heart” really threw me for a loop.

And then I remembered something another religion professor said to me my second year at Jewell. “Christianity should be like a three-legged stool,” he said, “the Bible, your experience, and Christian tradition” (or what I would call, community) “should all three inform your faith.”

A three-legged stool.

And if we apply this head and heart thing to the stool analogy, then the head or academia would be Scripture: our stories, our laws, our literature. And the heart would of course be our experiences. And if that’s the case, then the two elements of our faith that we’re talking about tonight are insufficient in and of themselves. Using this metaphor, our stool would only have two legs.

So I turned to the text.

The Jewish shema, or Deuteronomic code, found in Deuteronomy 6 is a prayer and admonition that sums of the Torah and its teachings, sums up the law. If anyone asks a Jewish person to give a testimony of their faith in 10 seconds, this would be a possible starting place. “The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” it reads. “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”

If you’ve never read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it will at least sound familiar to you because it’s the latter half of this that Jesus cites when he is cornered by the Pharisees and others who ask, what is the greatest commandment of all. Each of the synoptic gospels records a similar response.

In Matthew, Jesus states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37). And in Mark he says, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (12:30). And in Luke 10:27 we read, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”

As Luke 10 demonstrates, Jesus and the man talking to him, add, “Love your neighbor as yourself” to the “love your God with your heart and mind” part of the Deuteronomic code. Matthew and Mark do the same: “‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,” writes Matthew (22:39). And Mark says, “‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (12:31).

In John we don’t get quite the same stories in quite the same fashion. In John, Jesus doesn’t reference the Shema, he simply tells his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

So in reflecting on these texts, I wonder if this whole head and heart conversation is missing something… what if it’s missing our hands? What if the question of intellect and emotion isn’t leaving out part of the equation? What if the best Christianity is practiced when it’s a combination of our heads, our hearts and our hands?

There were Jewish scholars like Nicodemus who snuck out at night to have theological conversations with Jesus. There were broken-hearted women who came to him seeking acceptance and love. There were sick, bleeding and ostracized people who needed a little dirt and spit rubbed into their wounds. And to each Jesus gave his mind, his heart and his hands.

And perhaps, so should we.

Some of us make great medical missionaries, we build houses with the best of them, we can teach sewing and farming and other sustainable economic options. We know how to use our hands.

And there are some of us who can go into the rich, white, suburban classrooms where the teenagers have everything their hearts’ desire (clothes, cars, collagen, cocaine, all the best colleges calling on the phone) and offer those teenagers hope, that indeed, despite all their stuff, stuff that will eventually expire, there is grace, that indeed, there is a God who loves them apart from it all, loves them as they are with or without the purse, with or without their ability to perform.

And there are some of us who can look at the night sky and name all the stars and constellations and clusters, and give a name to the Wonder who created them.

The hands, the heart, and the head. Some of us are better at one over another, but truthfully, we need all three to survive. And it’s all three that Jesus asks us to engage.

Love the Lord your God will all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor. Love God with everything that you are, and take care of the people around you.

Your heart, your head and your hands. I don’t know where you’ll end up if you engage all three. I can’t quite even tell you where my faith will lead me. All I can do is remind you to be gentle with one another, for you never know where your neighbor is in the head, heart, and hands journey. And be gentle with yourself too. The world is a scary, shocking place, and if you haven’t discovered that the world will hurt you, you will soon enough, and you will discover that you do your fair share of hurting others too. But with a balance of our heads, our hearts, and our hands, we stand a better chance of being the whole and healthy people God longs for us to be…

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and for heaven’s sake, love your neighbor as yourself.

Deo Fisus Labora.

Rev. Ann Pittman

William Jewell College "Mosaic"

October 27, 2011

When Americans Occupy

When Americans occupy Wall Street or anywhere for that matter, it is unclear to me why is it okay for this to happen. Aren't we supposed to be a civilized nation? Why is it okay to treat our own citizens like this?

Can someone please explain to me why this is happening?

Furthermore, I have a question for rich people.

Perhaps it is okay for you to oppress your fellow Americans. To call us names and tell us if we just had more drive, a greater perseverance, we could be wealthy too; to ask us to bear the burdon of the tax load while your second and third vacation home gets off scot free, but in the grand scheme of things, keep in mind that someday you may be held accountable for all of this: for the way you treated us when we tried to exercise our right to freedom of assembly and our right to petition the government. And in the grand scheme of things, keep in mind that we, the American poor, we the American middle class, we the American upper middle class, are the 1% ourselves. So what does that make you compared to this...

Shame. On. Us. All.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

500 Words

The heart breaking makes a sound, I never knew could be so beautiful and loud, fury filled and we… collide.

The heart breaking makes a sound.

Sometimes it’s loud, like a freight train’s horn as it rattles by you sitting in your car facing the tracks. Sometimes it’s softer like the sound of your roommate’s glasses under your left foot when you jump from the top bunk to the floor.

Loud or soft, it makes a sound.

It’s nice when it’s loud. You hear it, and your professor hears it, and your mother, and even your 82-year-old grandfather who won’t wear his hearing aides hears it. And this is comforting. Most everyone will give you space to pick up the pieces… grief has struck and everyone knows it takes time to put your heart back together.

When the sound is softer, managing our hearts becomes a little trickier. We may not even recognize that the crack, that little pain, those wide eyes with the fluttering lids symbolize the breaking of our hearts, our ideals, our paradigms… ourselves.

I did a lot of laughing when I came to Jewell. I loved, loved, loved college and my gluttony for this new chapter of life was not without cause. I was getting a great education, making fabulous friends, eating delicious desserts at every meal…

But for as much as I loved my first year at Jewell, it did not pass without a tear or two. For “Responsible Self” I turned in a reflective essay to Dr. Walters at the end of the semester: a 17 page, size 9 font, personal novella about my struggles (sorry Mark!).

Life which had seemed so fun to explore, so easy to discern, so manageable became convoluted, complicated, and more confusing the further away from home I traveled.

You know what I mean.

You watch 60+ wild, beautiful animals killed after their owner set them loose and then committed suicide; you see the rebellions in Libya, Egypt, Syria, the cost of which we hope is worth the freedom; you read about the middle class marching on Wall Street and beyond, not welfare families, but people like us seeking justice in this shallow, selfish economy; the 13th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death passes and you know we’re still not done hating the gays; and to top it all off, you can hear your suitemate throwing up her food every night and you struggle whether or not to tell someone.

The heart breaking makes a sound, I never knew could be so beautiful and loud, fury filled and we… collide.

Take hope.

The God who gives us the Ozarks and cherry pie and Arrested Development is the same God who gave Abraham a promise, the Hebrews manna, and Israel a Messiah. God has not left us without hope. The Spirit moves among us like a crisp breeze, breathing sustenance into fatigue and life into death. And we… collide… with God.

And in that collision the depravity and the divinity get all jumbled together and we begin to see it all is sacred so long as God is with us on the journey. So long as God is at home in our hearts.


Rev. Ann Pittman

William Jewell College Chapel

October 26, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grandpa's Eulogy

It will be the past

and we'll live there together.

Not as it was to live

but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.

We'll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,

and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.

And it will last forever. ("Heaven" by Patrick Phillips)

In my first memories of my grandfather, he is always outside. He is on a tractor mowing acres of grass on a farm in Minnesota. He is reeling back and casting into a lake to pull out a fish much bigger in his imagination. He is sitting in a chair on a porch or in a garden watching my grandmother pick green beans off a vine or maybe raspberries off a bush. He is emerging from cornfields with the husks waving high above even his head. He is on a beach in Hawaii in a photo he’s brought back to Missouri; he’s reading a book on a beach. He is outside, living.

"This is what you shall do,” Walt Whitman once wrote. “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."

My grandfather was outside living.

He gave me some fossils when I was a little girl, some old fossils I suppose he had kept in his science classroom, but once retired, he passed on these little treasures in an old cigar box: a leaf imprinted in stone, a piece of petrified wood, and I kept those fossils in the cigar box and in my bedroom knowing that they connected me not only to my grandfather who loved science and nature and this beautiful world we live in, but they connected me to something much greater, much older, much bigger than even he or I could imagine… they connected me to the Creator.

My grandfather was outside living. But he didn’t just love the land, he loved animals too. I’ve heard stories of the farm in Minnesota and raccoons you could pet, and domesticated ducks named Ike and Mayme, and the old black and white photos of some cat grandpa loved, or Liza who used to lay at his feet near his favorite chair. My Aunt Milly describes the critters that were always kept around the house or in the yard or in Grandpa’s classroom: little mice, salamanders, guinea pigs, snakes and all kinds of interesting things. I can remember as a child, driving back up to the farm from Missouri to Minnesota, if ever we would spot a turtle alongside the road, my grandpa would pull the car over, get out to inspect it, and if it wasn’t a snapping turtle, we were often allowed to keep it, or at the very least play with it for a few minutes in the tall grass alongside the highway.

My grandfather father spent much time living outside and much time living outside himself.

Maybe it was his understanding of science and nature that summoned forth a reverence for the Creator of all things. Maybe it was his sense of connection to all things created, the handiwork of God that inspired his faith. But my grandfather was a faithful man, a man who lived outside himself.

“We’ll take the bill,” I can hear my grandpa announcing to the waitress, loud enough that my mom and dad could hear and later loud enough that I could hear so that none of us would be tempted to lay a hand on the little white slip of paper that would be delivered to the table where we were dining. He was insistent on providing for his family, not because he was the man of the house or out of some acquiesce to a sensationalized gender role, but because he adored his family, because he wanted to make sure that we were all cared for, that we knew we were loved and supported.

His prayers would have been enough though.

“I’m praying for you,” he said to me almost every time I would leave or arrive in St. Joseph for a holiday or vacation. “I’m praying for you,” and I knew he was, more than I (the minister) was praying for him, I’m sure. Even the last time I saw him, when he could barely speak and rarely would put his teeth in which made communication even more difficult, he said to me, and I could understand him, “I’m praying for you.” I can remember my grandpa praying, years ago, at the table in his dining room on Sunday afternoons when we would gather for lunch after church. He would pray for all of those who weren’t with us there in that moment, wherever they were. And I knew he was talking about John and Ardys in Duluth and Ann and John in Honolulu and Milly and Mike and my cousins in Columbia and especially my aunt Gloria in Hawaii. Sometimes he would cry when he came to this part in the prayer. And I never knew why someone would cry right before lunch in the middle of the afternoon. At that time in my life I didn’t understand what it meant to do something you loved, to be somewhere you were called, even if that meant leaving the family you needed. But my grandpa understood that. And while he always wanted each of us to be happy, he voiced in his prayer the desire that all of us would be together in spirit, wherever we were.

His prayers would have been enough, but that’s not all he gave us.

Grandpa loved each one of his children and grandchildren exactly as we are. This kind of love should be a fine art. To allow another person to be fully themselves and to love them without expectation or judgment is a rare trait to find. In a world that spends so much time telling women and men to be skinny, athletic, successful, one-of-a-kind, valuing independence and perfection while at the same time pushing us all toward one generic prototype, we as a people have forgotten what it means to live communally, to live as the body of Christ letting the hand be the hand and the large intestine be the large intestine. J In a world that would rather report on what multi-millionaire just got married instead of what mother just worked three jobs to put her kid through college, my grandfather never asked anything of any of us other than that we be ourselves.

He was so careful to tell every one of us that we were loved. And he always treated people with respect and dignity. My cousin Ruth writes, “One thing that comes to my mind when I think about Grandpa is how he always seemed to accept me as I was. No matter what color my hair was or what crazy trend I was into, he always treated me with love and kindness. I remember when I was a teenager someone in the family commented negatively on how I was wearing my hair. Grandpa jumped in to stand up for me and said (in a matter of fact tone) ‘Well I like it how it is!’” J Similarly, my youngest sister, Emily recalls, “Every time I left grandpa he was always sure to tell me to ‘keep doing what you're doing!’ and would always let me know just how proud he was.”

And my grandfather was nothing if not forthright. While he didn’t always say much, if he had something on his mind, you can bet he was going to say it. And in a family full of Maker women, I suppose you’d have to learn how to be heard. My father recalls one of the first times he was having dinner with the Maker family. Of course, he joined my grandfather as the only man at the table. And as my grandma and the three daughters chattered on and on about the day and school and dinner, my father describes watching my grandpa ask for someone to please pass the butter. Being on the far end of the table, my father couldn’t reach the butter to pass it to his future-father-in-law, and being new, he didn’t feel it proper to tell one of the girls to listen to their dad. But grandpa kept asking and the Maker women kept right on talking until finally my grandpa shouted, “I said, ‘Pass the butter!’ Dagnabbit!” J As my Grandfather grew older and communication became even more difficult, we discovered that Grandpa only spoke when he felt like something was really worth saying. Usually this too was at the dinner table... and often had no relevance to the conversation at hand because my grandfather couldn’t hear well, and was pesky about putting his hearing aides in. So while the rest of the family would be discussing the price of sweet corn or the new candidate who just joined the political race, my grandfather would suddenly bellow out, “Are you keeping Austin weird, Ann?”

“Yes Grandpa, I’m keeping Austin weird.”

“Good, I’m praying for you.”

His prayers would have been enough, but that’s not all he gave us.

For a while in the late nineties I think, my grandfather began wearing a little gold angel on his lapel. Like the politicians who speak mindlessly from their podiums about liberty and freedom with their little flags pinned to their jackets, so did my grandpa wear his angel, but thoughtfully, to remind him of who he was and who was in control. One afternoon when I was home from college one weekend, he gave me and my sisters little gold crosses on clunky gold chains. The necklaces were not delicate or fancy, but then again, neither is the gospel, and I think my grandpa knew that. He knew the unending generosity of God and that too much generosity, too much compassion, too much truth-telling eventually led Christ to the cross. And handing us those crosses was his way of handing us his faith. A man of few words but a great many actions, the cross was a symbol of the lifestyle my grandfather had chosen and the faith he hoped we too would embrace, wear around our necks, lay against our hearts. I’m wearing that necklack today.

My grandfather touched many people’s lives. Beyond his wife and his three daughters and their partners and his eight grandchildren and little Jacob his great-grandson, my grandfather touched the lives of students over the years, of people at the church and in his Sunday School class, friends at the senior center and the archaeology society.

My Aunt Gloria tells of how proud she was that the city of St. Joseph called her father, “the expert” when dinosaur bones were found nearby. My grandfather’s expertise and compassion and inclusivity touched the lives of many people.

And we all touch each other in so many different ways. Sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. Marge Piercy in her poem, The Tao of Touch writes:

What magic does touch create

that we crave it so. That babies

do not thrive without it. That 

the nurse who cuts tough nails

and sands calluses on the elderly 

tells me sometimes men weep

as she rubs lotion on their feet.

We touch each other so many

ways, in curiosity, in anger,

to command attention, to soothe,

to quiet, to rouse, to cure. 

Touch is our first language

and often, our last as the breath

ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.

We all touch each other in so many different ways literally and figuratively. And that’s part of the great choice we are faced with in this world. What difference will we make? Who will we be? How will we treat others?

When asked what the greatest of all commandments was, how the law, the all encompassing life of the Jewish people could be summarized, Christ answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

And so as we go forth from this sanctuary today honoring not only a man but our memories. Those memories are testimonies to the life my grandfather led. He lived life abundantly under the influence of Christ’s sacrificial, all encompassing love. And it is abundant life, that is offered to us as well (John 10:10). The life my grandfather embraced was a life in love with God and a life that loved God’s people, no matter who they were.

May we too inherit the legacy of living life outside and living outside ourselves… Amen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Murdock Robert (Bob) Maker, may he rest in peace

It will be the past
and we'll live there together

Not as it was to live
but as it is remembered.

It will be the past.
We'll all go back together.

Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.

It will be the past.
And it will last forever.

My grandfather, Bob Maker, passed away last Sunday, October 9, 2011. He was a really wonderful (if occasionally grumpy) man and he will be missed. I mean who will we warn not to eat the popery at Christmas? ("It's not a cinnimon stick, Grandpa!")

The obituary that he wrote himself is pretty great if, as my mother said, a little exaggerated. :) You can read it in the St. Joseph News Press Gazette. His other obituary was published in the Lake Crystal Tribune, but they don't have a website for that up there in rural Minnesota. His funeral will be Sunday October 23rd at 3:30pm at Huffman United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, MO. I and Rev. Jacobs have the honor of officiating the service.

This is a great picture of my Grandpa and Grandma here in Austin (at Threadgill's) in 2006. It was his birthday...

...And this is my favorite picture of the Maker family because it's how I remember everyone from when I was a kid.

I fly home on Saturday and expect it to be a very fun, if weepy, time of celebration. That man had life, spunk and a little spit in him! What an amazing person my grandpa was...

(initial poem titled "Heaven" and written by Patrick Phillips)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

One Year Later

Summer sunlight
glitters on the water.

Sweet colors of fall
drift down and land
on my new woodpile.

Winter is full of snow
and cold, but inside
the woodstove glows.

Then spring again
Our lives pass away.

It's been one year since I quit my professional job, and to be a self-employed actor, writer, speaker and... nanny.

One year.

One year ago, I wrote this blog which began... "the day my job ended, I flew to Disney World..."
And one year later, I flew back. I ran/walked my second 5K through animal kingdom (and as this year I was prepared, I ran as the Red Queen of Hearts from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland).

However, I passed on the offer to yet again run 5 miles later that evening as part of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay. I gave explicit instructions to Sam and Lynnette to protect me should my adrenaline rush or any euphoria from the Magic Kingdom delude me into agreeing to do so (because I knew the Davidsons would play paper/rock/scissors for who would run that night and I knew I'd get volunteered!). While Lindley seemed less enthused about her run this year in the kids races (I guess Disney isn't always the "happiest" place on earth), the rest of the weekend was a blast and I love spending time with the oogly Ogles and the definitely a little cray cray Davidson family. Thanks again guys for including me in your family reunion. Being adopted by families is the best.

One year ago to gain steady (ahem) income I began nannying for one of my best friends who had beat cancer just a few months earlier... so we thought. But cancer's a bitch, and it came back with a vengeance as you may remember. One year later though and my friend beat cancer a second time and survived her bone marrow transplant and just last week (Wednesday Sept 28th to be exact) she found out that her scans were clean! I gave her a necklace that evening that I'd bought for her with wishful thinking at the Pecan Street Festival the Sunday before. It read, "I Kicked Cancer's Ass." Awesome. And she did.

One year ago I got my first boyfriend (you knew it was coming) since I don't know, like 2008. He was pretty swell, and I did love him dearly. Relationships are hard though, and one year later, we were done with that one. (Yes, I kept the nose ring).

One year ago I began auditioning in and around Austin to begin pursuing an acting (dare I say it?) career. At my second audition I was cast as Eva Peron in Evita, at my seventh audition, I was cast in the chorus of Stop the World I Want to Get Off at my first professional theatrical performance since 1997, and at my twentieth audition, I was cast as Amalia in She Loves Me which opens November 18th with the Wimberley Players. Theater is hard work and despite multiple callbacks, several "we hope to work with you in the future," and even one "wow, you have a wonderful voice, now could you sing that again and pretend to be a gazelle being chased by a lion," 17 rejections is still a lot of rejections. Fortunately, I've been doing theater for over 26 years (my first voice-over was for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest when I was six years old). And I've directed, produced, and choreographed multiple shows in those 29 years and I know that not being cast is (usually) nothing personal. The director has a vision, and you either fit it or you don't. So I keep looking to mesh my dream with someone else's... and three times in one year, that happened. I consider myself a pretty lucky woman.

One year ago I committed myself to more writing, more speaking, more... creating. I called it Operation Strange Bird and since then, I started an author fan page on Facebook (please *like* me!). I flew to Santa Fe to officiate my best friend's wedding. I flew to Colorado and wrote a book (which I promptly decided was horrible). And I flew to Guatemala to speak at a pastor's conference in Queltzaltenango (funded entirely by Crazy Carol Pittman, the Missouri Baptist Convention and the Guatemalan Baptist Convention) about art & faith (feel free to read my notes on storytelling and claiming beauty). It was an amazing (if short) trip and I learned so much and met some freaking amazing like the little girl whose toes were eaten off by rats. I wrote almost every day for 30 days taking the Trust Me Ralph Waldo Emerson challenge. I started writing more openly about my view on politics especially with regard to it's interaction with the church and religion. I preached at a church here in Austin (read the sermon if you want), and October 26 & 27 I will preach at my Alma mater, William Jewell College! I sang at a gala and in churches and for funerals and was hired to officiate a second wedding via a "need a minister?" website reference. I met with a very gifted Internet guru who people would have paid thousands of dollars to get an audience with to talk about a Strange Bird website. All in all, while no one is beating down my door to hear me preach or dying to front me money for a book deal, I am making progress. Baby steps, they say.

In the past year, I've gone home to Missouri four times. Wow! (Thanksgiving, Christmas, for my vacation and when my grandpa got sick). And I'll be home again in a few weeks (when I speak at Jewell) and again at Christmas. I LOVE MY FAMILY! Going home is awesome. I wish everyone could do it more often.

To help pay the mortgage (because nannying, acting, and preaching aren't terribly lucrative), I rented out my second bedroom, thank goodness, because the month I quit my job, my roommate told me she was moving back to Houston. This was great for her, but scary timing for me. Since then I've welcomed three more amazing women to 5406 (and had to say goodbye too) and one year later (tomorrow in fact), two more roomies will move in (I hope they like Halloween!...).

Like you, I said goodbye to a decade, and on 1-1-11 I remembered the past and I mondo beyondo-ed the future. I learned how to live life apart from the church and the church learned to live without me :) In general, I wrote a little and thought a lot. I had very little money and just enough money. I gave much away (mostly books) and took much in (mostly beauty). My faith has broadened as the less secure I felt, the more I depended on God. And my friends, well, I made lots of new ones: Hildreth, Wendy, Taylor, Angela... and I was reminded that sometimes you get by with a little help from friends, and sometimes... with a lot of help. Thank you Chris & Michelle, Lynnette & Sam, Cathy & Ken, Josie & Jay, Jane & Bill, and Bethany, Amy, Melanie, Nicolette, and all the others...

What a year, one year later.

("Our Lives Pass Away" by David Budbill)