Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Knottier Wretch Post: Mary and Martha and Rest Vs. Work

Did you know that when you do an anagram of “Protestant Work Ethic,” you come up with “Procrastinate, Ewok!”

O.k., not really—it leaves a couple of letters unused and you have to throw in an extra “a.”

You do get “a thickset rotten prow” or “a sphincter totter wok” or “a thrice strew topknot,” however (all courtesy of a fun anagramming site, but you should also Google anagram). Overall, my general lack of anagramming skills is one of three or four things that would keep me from competing in an actual Scrabble tourney. But I really, really want to mess with that Protestant work ethos.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary and Martha this summer.

The basic story is in Luke 10: people are gathered at Mary and Martha and Lazarus’s house (L. will later be raised from the dead by Jesus), and Martha complains to Jesus that Mary isn’t helping, “Don’t you care that she’s left me to do all the work by myself?” There may well have been a lot of work—Jesus was traveling with a crowd of up to 70 disciples (not that they were all in that one house together), and this is a time and a place where hospitality was taken very seriously. And the house is identified as Martha’s in the story. She has a prominent role in the gospels. In this story she’s an antagonist, but then she’s the first, even before Peter, to identify Jesus as the Messiah.

In this particular story, instead of helping, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet & listening to him. Jesus apparently enjoys that, because he tells Martha she’s worried and distracted, and that (in the King James Version), “only one thing is needful.” That Mary’s listening is more important than Martha’s bustling.

A blog post I like, “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality,” on the “Grace Rules” blog (not sure who the author is but it was written in response to a request from Julie Goss Clawson, a writer I enjoy a lot) deals with the M&M story and says, after quoting Jesus’s response to Martha, “At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.” “Grace Rules” outlines how subversive Jesus was being here, and I think that’s exactly right. He’s upending expectations about gender roles and hospitality and busy-ness and lots of other things in the mix.

I was wondering a while back who would spend more time on Facebook—Mary, Martha, or Lazarus? I said I was pretty sure Jesus would have friended all three of them. Here are some of the responses:
⋅ “I think it would have to be Lazarus, since he would get a second chance at it.”
⋅ “How much would Jesus love FB and Twitter?!”
⋅ “Mary wins out. . .her sensitive, caring, compassionate side means that she would answer even the wildest commentary the social network has to offer …. In other words, she would be a terrific online friend. Lazarus, I fear, will probably just sit at the gate of the city, dreaming of his ordeal, not wishing to share with anyone. He would not be a good friend.”

I thought Lazarus would have one of the all-time great status updates, post-resurrection, though, if he chose to post it, “I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” or “Know how we all thought I was dead?”

We agreed that Martha would have short posts, things like “Just mopped again!” or slams, “Wish I had more time to spend on Facebook, but I have things to do, unlike some people I know.”

The thing is, of course, that sometimes, things just need to get done.

I also asked a more serious question this summer on Facebook—who’s your nominee for someone who does more than just “get a lot done,” someone who seems to get the right things done. I didn’t word it as clearly as I might have because there was a lot of confusion about whether I meant “do the right thing” as in a moral choice—but I mostly meant someone who isn’t just busy or efficient, but has real impact in important ways. I got several nominees, and I emailed those nominees to see if they could talk about HOW they do that (in my ongoing quest to figure out how to GET SHIT DONE). Three of them were nice enough to respond—

Michael Broh, a member of Spring Green’s Village Board and Production Manager at American Players Theatre, said, “I’m honored by the nomination, but I must decline. As far back as I can remember, I’ve believed myself to live in a subjective universe, one in which there is as little place for right as there is for wrong.

In terms of what drives me to make the decisions I do make, and when, I suppose it is a combination of self interest, and a feeble attempt to look beyond the immediate, and treat long term implications with equal importance.”

(I guess I’m not technically letting him decline since I’m mentioning him here—the nomination didn’t actually lead to anything other than a public compliment and a mention in an obscure blog, but it’s a sincere compliment, and he did say I could quote him.)

Melinda Van Slyke is the owner/operator of Heart of the Sky Fair Trade and a local Progressive activist. Here’s what she had to say:

“True story: One day at swimming lessons (I was probably 4 or 5 at the time) we were all lined up at the side of the pool with the instructions being to jump one by one into the arms of our awaiting swim teacher. The little boy in front of me would not jump in. He just stood there, refusing to jump in, knowing that he should, (in my little girl mind) holding up the show. I very calmly pushed him in and immediately jumped in right behind him.

So that’s the secret to my so-called success. Don’t over think it. Just jump in and do it. Don’t wait for other people to be ready and sure as hell don’t wait for permission. But I like to think that now instead of pushing people *out* of my way I push (encourage) them to get involved and do things that they haven’t done before and hopefully they realize that hey, that wasn’t so bad after all.”

This is a terrific description of her mode, except I see her more as “offering to push.” And as I was diving into collecting signatures for Walker’s recall, for example—I was grateful for the push.

The other person who answered the email was Jan Swenson, who’s so good at getting things done she made the news. Her response to the question of how she gets things done was this: “I do the right things politically when the need arises (i.e. when ‘my’ candidate needs support or when a governor needs to be recalled). Musically, I do concerts when there is a need to raise money for something I want to support or when I can help publicize community events. My last choral concert was to raise money for our local food pantries and for ‘4 Pete’s Sake.’ The concert before that was in memory of Mitch Feiner (one of our finest musicians!) and was a fundraiser for his 3 children’s college educations. As for volunteering in the community, I do that because I love APT and want to support them any way I can, and my volunteer work at the school in Arena is to help those kids continue their amazing reading program. They read so many books that the librarian can’t keep up with filing the books!”

Not one of them mentioned the sort of stillness and listening and contemplation we associate with Mary in the M&M story (because, of course, that’s not what I asked them about, and not what they were nominated for–each nominated by more than one of my Facebook friends). They all sound productive, they truly are productive in important ways, I’m pleased to be a part of the community they’re active in, pleased to benefit from the fact that they are, in KJV lingo, “cumbered with many things.” They’re inspiring, and if I can generalize, I would say that they’re describing the need for vision, courage, and responsiveness, all three of which I know I am capable of only if there’s rest and contemplation on my to do list somewhere.

The thing that I find most difficult in balancing my Mary side with my Martha side is knowing WHEN to focus on resting versus acting. In recent blogs, I’ve described my struggles with figuring out how to honor the Sabbath (“Day of Rest, My Ass”) and figuring out how to procrastinate at just the right time (but not all the time) and stay busy (but not be consumed with busy-ness) and how burning trash is one of my all-time favorite activities, apparently (“Summer Theologica”).

It’s a hard balance—knowing when to get busy, and knowing when to rest and listen.

Even Jesus struggled with it. In the later story about Mary and Martha, Jesus shows up at their house because their brother Lazarus has died. Both sisters tell him that if he’d come sooner, they know he could have healed Lazarus. This is when we get the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” You could say he’s weeping in disappointment because his good friends Mary and Martha don’t understand he’s capable of raising the dead (though to be fair to them, he had done that only one other time that we know of, and that was in a different gospel than the one they appear in, so they might not have heard about it). I’m sure I heard sermons like that—that his tears were tears of judgment. I don’t think so. You could also say, and these are the sermons I’ve heard most often, that he’s showing his human side and his love for his friends. That comes closer to feeling like the truth for me, but what if—what IF he’s crying not just out of sadness, but out of frustration with himself?

I have to think he was a good friend, and a good friend might well think here, “Oh my God, they’re right. So what if I can raise him from the dead? If I’d gotten here sooner, I wouldn’t have to, and they wouldn’t be so torn up….”

(It is possible that Jesus would NOT say “oh my God,” but would instead say, “Oh I’m God” or perhaps not take the Lord’s name in vain at all, since that is one of the Top Ten.)

Fortunately for me, since I’m a writer, writing about work qualifies as work, or I’d have to admit that all my time blogging is neither restful (especially not these last three posts–I kept thinking I was writing about Mary and Martha but finding I had too much to say about the points I thought were going to lead quickly to M&M) nor productive.

Even when writing feels like hard work, it doesn’t feel like work–partly because I do it pro bono most of the time.

It’s all the other things on my to do list (28 things on today’s list, 15 of which I’d hoped to have done before I hit the sack tonight, which doesn’t seem likely, although writing this blog is on the list so I can check that off at least) that feel like work that make me wonder:

If I’m allowing myself to indulge in a Mary moment, am I really resting and listening? Or am I just procrastinating the next needful Martha moment? Am I giving due diligence to the “incubation” stage of creativity? Or am I resisting every other everything that has to be achieved for successful creativity?

Let me just meditate on each moment of my answer to the above questions:




Day of Rest, My Ass

When I say Sunday dinner I mean lunch (although on other days, “dinner” means supper—I don’t know why) and I also mean hot meat of some sort. Today it was baked chicken, real mashed potatoes (skins-on), and three-bean salad (cheated on that—it came from a can).

In an alternate universe, this meal would have been served by me, wearing an apron, after a morning spent in church.

In this particular universe, there was no apron and no morning in church.

I never remember to put on an apron, and organized religion and I are spending some time apart. I am participating in what Wendell Berry’s character Jayber Crow called “disorganized religion,” which I typically call being a Zen Baptist.

What about you? Are you resting on this day of rest?

Some of the people who take the Bible most literally, who insist that Genesis is a literal description of creation (despite the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis and a third in Proverbs 8), are adept at ignoring Genesis 2:2-3, when God rested and created the Sabbath—something Yahweh cared enough about, apparently, to put it on his Top Ten list, (this from Exodus 20)“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work….”

Of course, there are those who take this commandment very seriously, who won’t drive on the Sabbath, who work hard the day before to make food that can be eaten without work to prepare it. But that’s not what I grew up with, not my adult experience, although one of the reasons I love living in Spring Green is that I can function really well without driving anywhere. (Walking home from the bars is only a small part of that pleasure.)

It’s one of the more striking ironies of my life–any time I’ve belonged to a faith community, been an active participant in one, Sunday was anything BUT a day of rest.

Stretches when I’m in a wilderness time (which can be nasty and involve dehydration, or wonderful, like now), Sunday stands a much better chance of actually being a day of rest.

What do I mean by wilderness time? It’s a reference to Jesus’s time in the wilderness, first of all. Three of the four gospels tell the story of Jesus going into the desert, immediately after being baptized, to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. He’s tempted by Satan there (the best depiction of which I’ve ever seen occurs in the movie Jesus of Montreal, when the actor portraying Jesus in a suddenly-popular passion play has a lawyer telling him all the ways he could parlay this into fame and fortune).

If you focus on the gospels (as opposed to the epistles of the apostle Paul), one of the things that stands out is how often Jesus heads out on his own. My friend Tammy is the first person I recall hearing preach on this–she’s also the first person I remember pointing out to me that God pronounces he is “well pleased” with Jesus before Jesus has done anything we consider part of his work on Earth. Even after he begins that work, Jesus sneaks off a number of times, which should comfort both my slacker and my introvert friends.

I’m not saying that he was resting, exactly, as he was fasting and being tempted, but it was sort of a pause, an episode of time off the clock. His ministry won’t start until he leaves the desert, but it can’t start until he’s spent enough time in the desert.

Once his ministry starts, he somehow gets a reputation as a “wine-bibber and glutton,” which I grew up understanding was slander, that people were falsely accusing him of that. Really? I don’t know. I think Jesus had a prescription for chill pills, and knew when to take one.

Matthew 11 is a really interesting chapter. John the Baptist is in prison and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the Messiah (when John baptized Jesus, he didn’t seem to have any doubts about the matter). Jesus sends them back to John with a list of what he’s accomplished, a sort of short-form resume, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Then he adds, bizarrely coming at the end of this list, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”

He spends some time praising John the Baptist, and then does a little comparison/contrast:

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

(I personally prefer “winebibber” to “drunkard,” because it sounds like so much more fun.)

It’s not literal, of course, John did eat and drink (honey and locusts, at the very least), and we don’t have Biblical evidence of Jesus eating too much or getting tipsy, but we do have evidence he appreciated good wine. Otherwise why would his first miracle be turning water into, not just wine, but wine pronounced as good wine?

The chapter ends with verses I’m pleased to take literally (and poetically, which is why I quote the King James version here): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Never, not once, has my participation in a faith community felt easy or light. It has felt terrific, and right, and sustaining, and wonderful at times (not so great at other times). But easy? Or light? Not that I’m remembering.

So was Jesus just being ironic there?

I don’t think so, although he says things other times that contradict this (“Take up your cross daily” comes to mind—I often feel that just getting out of bed is my cross).

As someone who is nearly always teetering on the edge of burnout, I want to cling to those verses, make them real.

The title of this blog, “Day of Rest, My Ass,” is a poem written by a character in an old novel draft of mine, written during my first sabbatical, in 2004. She’s a burned-out preacher trying to find her way by working at a church camp one summer.

I understand why Jesus blesses anyone who doesn’t take offense. He did and said so many things to upset the apple quo, and advocating rest, for me a lot of days, tops the list.

Summer Theologica, Part I

In an earlier version of the following poem, which I, ahem, can’t seem to find, there was a line that said, “Television, being neither action nor contemplation, must be sin.” I’ve been contemplating the notions of action and contemplation this week (not so much acting on either notion), so I thought of that now-homeless line.

There is a burning ban in Wisconsin now (I’m scared to use the barbecue grill even), and we haven’t had enough rain for a very long time (and not much rain in the forecast), so even if we still lived out in the country, which we don’t, we wouldn’t be burning trash. The images of cold and wet are comforting to me at the moment:


Burning trash is better on the other Solstice,

December, the colder the better,
And even wind is fine
With enough snow cover.
Deep dark. We pile in
Two months of cat food bags
And Pop Tart boxes, low APR deals
And wadded up rough drafts.

One big blue kitchen match or two
Scraped fast against the barrel,
Which once was painted bright blue,
And the flame touches,
Tickles, dances, overwhelms
The trash. The chemical residue
In the barrels sends up thick smoke, sky blue.

Transformed! Detritus of the modern life
Consumed by fire, condensed to steam
And ash. Another chance to start again,
Another slate scorched clean.

The fire keeps you warm.
On Christmas Eve once, I sang
“Away in a Manger” while burning trash,
cows actually lowing nearby.

Bits of paper rise in the night,
Against the starry sky it’s hard
To keep saying paper, fire, ash—
Orange lace makes more sense,
Flickering warm constellations
In a coldly growing universe.
Our dwindling friend, the past, is receding.
One gust and there’s a gray hole
Where the tiny fireworks had been.

But we keep up with trash better
Spring, fall, summer, letting it pile up
Only if there’s a burning ban, and this summer,
There’s way too much rain for that.

Loading the barrel raises a cloud
Of mosquitoes from the puddle inside.
Die, demons, die, I say,
Lighting it fast. But they’re so thick.
I want to wear a smudge pot
Round my neck, dip my clothes in Deet
And citronella oil, set myself on fire.
At least immolation wouldn’t itch.
At least not at first.

There is something holy about fire,
I think to myself, dancing on the squishy
Ground to dodge all the whiny
Little proboscises aimed at me.
All that was is less.
The volume visibly reduced.
Blue incense rising slowly toward heaven.
Here it is, God, what was, what we no longer want.


This poem is about so many things, and it used to be about so many more. (In that version I can’t find. I don’t think I burned it–I’m just not sure where it is.) There used to be a line in there from a friend who burned trash with me once and said, “I’m the worst person you know.”

There is redemption in burning trash. In getting caught up.

A couple of weeks ago there were three posts that people were sharing on Facebook, all related, I think, to burning trash—at least metaphorically.

First, there was this one, on the potential benefits of procrastination, called “Procrastination Rules.” The only point at which I disagreed was in the penultimate paragraph (most of which I did agree with), in which Frank Partnoy said, “If we aren’t working at all, we are being slothful. If we are working on something unimportant, we are showing bad judgment. But if we are working on something important, then does it really make sense to judge us negatively for not working on something less important? If we put off errands because we are trying to cure cancer, are we really procrastinating? And if that is the meaning of procrastination, why is it so bad?”

Terrific questions, but two other posts were flying around the same day that made it clear it’s not true that we’re being slothful “if we aren’t working at all.”

One was this one, “Why Killing Time Isn’t a Sin,” in which Leo Babauta says “Killing time isn’t a sin — it’s a misnomer. We’ve framed the question entirely wrong. It’s not a matter of “killing” time, but of enjoying it….Now we might spend this moment working if that work brings us joy. But we might also spend it relaxing, doing nothing, feeling the breeze on the nape of our neck, losing ourselves in conversation with a cherished friend, snuggling under the covers with a lover. This is life. A life of joy, of wonderfulness.”

What’s interesting to me is that this seems like neither action nor contemplation to me (I see contemplation as somewhat synonymous to meditation—something requiring focus and effort). This just seems like fun.

And fun, as an anti-dote, can be very powerful, as Tim Kreider points out in “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” I loved how forthrightly he said, “I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know.” But beyond his terrific voice (I’m really enjoying his book, We Learn Nothing), he has some really important points.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

This is connected to what a lot of creativity researchers talk about in the steps, or stages of creativity (which I covered in my first blog, “Creativity: A Pumpkin Saga”):

“People who describe the stages or steps of creativity use some variation of the following list (much of which comes from an early researcher named Wallas, though he is rarely cited):
• Immersion (where you consider all the possibilities)
• Incubation (where you set your work aside and let your subconscious stew)
• Inspiration (when, like Archimedes, you have your “eureka!” moment—and bathrooms rank high statistically as places where we report getting inspired*, btw. But I shouldn’t say “we” because I would never report that, even if it were true, which of course it’s not)
• Verification (where someone whose judgment matters, for whatever reason, says, “Yes! Tastes great!” or “I’ll publish that!”).”

Procrastination gets you in trouble sometimes in relation to this list, because if you’re working with a deadline, and you spend too much time on the immersion stage, you might not have much time to leave for the incubation stage, and that might cut down on the likelihood of inspiration.

There’s a balance there–as in most things, as in the story of Mary and Martha (tune in tomorrow for that one), as in burning trash–you don’t want to put it off too long, because then you’ll have bags and bags of things to burn and it’ll take forever to get it done. But you don’t want to do it every day, because then you’ll have a tiny little boring fire that will be out before you have time to appreciate how wonderful the moment is, how beautiful the flames, how delicate the ashes are as they lift up and float away.

The Zennoyance of M. Bullock Dresser

[Pardon me while I Prufrock a minute.]

“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai dietro una vettura lenta,
perché eravamo in un no sorpasso di corsia….”

“Whether it’s pain or pleasure, through lojong practice we come to have a sense of letting our experience be as it is without trying to manipulate it, push it away, or grasp it. The pleasurable aspects of being human as well as the painful ones become the key to awakening bodhichitta.” Pema Chodron Start Where You Are

Let us go then, you and I,
While the drought sucks all the rain out of the sky,
Like a baby nursing at its mama’s breast,
Let us go through several tiny towns,
The kind with no uptown or down,
And speed traps their biggest revenue stream,
The middle class mostly a dream,
One of those nightmares where you find a room
That leads you to numberless other rooms
You never knew you had–
Oh, stop. Don’t tell me about your day.
Let’s just hit the road.

On Highway 14 the woman drove too leisurely,
In a lime-green Mercedes named Martini.

The heat wave that sharpens its teeth on a wheel,
The heat swamp that buffs its nails on a wheel,
Licked its lips along the shoulder of the road,
Turned off the cruise control at some point,
Rolled down the window to watch something congeal,
Did a three-point turn, put the pedal to the floor,
And seeing no sheriff’s car anywhere in sight,
Broke the speed of sound, and drove out of sight. But

On Highway 14 the woman drove too leisurely,
In a lime-green Mercedes named Martini.


I might work some more on that, being as I’m middle aged, and wondering what I am not (nor was meant to be) and wondering, A LOT lately, “Do I dare” and “Do I dare?”

In the meantime, let me talk about that Mercedes. My parents and Wendell and I had set off this morning about 10 for Rockford, to see my Aunt Margie, who’s in a nursing home there. Somewhere between Spring Green and Madison, we ended up behind a lovely lime-green Mercedes convertible with the license plate “MARTINIS.”

First of all, I’m not sure I’d want to advertise I LOVE ALCOHOL SO MUCH IT’S MY PERSONALIZED PLATE, just in case I ever got pulled over.

(Not that I get pulled over a lot. Mom and I talked today about traffic tickets we’d gotten–neither of us has gotten many. But I remember being very impressed when my Gran’mommy got a speeding ticket when she was in her seventies, for going something like 60 in a 40mph zone. My cousin Jodie and I used to freak out when we watched her drive because she was old-school—she would have her right foot on the gas and her left foot poised over the brake. I particularly like to think about her as a driver because it stood in marked contrast to her basic mode as a kindly and gentle and extremely ladylike Baptist.)

Second of all, WOW that Mercedes was going slow. About 45, and it’s actually a highway, where you can go pretty much 60 and not worry at all about getting pulled over. There was some slight lane meanderage on the Mercedes’ part as well.

At the stoplight in Black Earth, the woman who was driving was fixing her hair in her fetching visor-cap and YES, the light turned green, and she kept working on her hair for a count of 1-2-3.

We couldn’t pass–Highway 14 is two-lane most of the way, and a lot of no-passing zones (or, as I like to think of them, no sorpasso di corsias) and a fair amount of traffic. It was timed exactly wrong almost the whole way.

Third of all (or is it fifth of all?), it wasn’t really “MARTINIS.” It’s the name of a popular cocktail, though. I just don’t want to go listing license plates on my blog. Except, if you make your personalized plate really easy to remember and then drive in really annoying ways in front of people, you should kind of expect to show up in a blog.

In a very dramatic moment, the minivan behind us gunned it to pass them, and barely made it back over before the passing lane ended, with oncoming traffic approaching, too. The passenger in MARTINIS flipped off the minivan, which puzzled us, until my Dad pointed out that maybe someone in the minivan had flipped them off first.

“I’m pretty sure they’re just out for a cruise,” my son said.

Finally, we were able to pass them. I thought of them briefly as we drove through Janesville later and it was raining—were the Martinis o.k.? Did they get the top up in time?

If I’d been in a hurry, I’m sure I would have been mad. My friend & UW System colleague Ryan Martin explains why we get so mad when we’re driving in this great post, “All the Rage.”

But honestly, my annoyance didn’t shift into anger today. They were so annoying it ended up being hilarious. I asked on Facebook this evening if anyone knew them, and I now know who they are. They own a bar, actually, so I’m wondering if I can turn this into a free drink somehow.

Because this is a totally flattering portrait of them, right? And of me, right?

Here’s the thing, and the reason I quoted Pema Chodron—at some point, getting annoyed at someone who’s being annoying, and then expressing that annoyance, is all just annoying. Same with obnoxious behavior. It’s hard to respond to rudeness without also being rude.

Like last night, during the performance of Skylight (PHENOMENAL—everyone should go see this play), I paid good money for a great seat in the second row, but there were three people in front of me who thought sitting in the FRONT ROW of the Touchstone Theater, a small venue, during a terrific show–they thought that was a good time to talk. It wasn’t so much that I could hear them (I have hearing aids), but they were leaning over a lot, so it was visually distracting. There were some odd dynamics going on, too—I couldn’t tell if the woman in the middle was sick, and her husband and friend were concerned, or if they chose Skylight because they were currently in a ménage a trois. I wondered about the latter because there seemed to be a lot of meaningful shoulder-rubs and knee-strokings in all kinds of variations (him on her, him on other her, her on her, her on him, other her on him). Regardless–what I really wanted to do was thump each of them on the head.

(I did once kick the seat of a woman in front of me at Sundance theater once during a Clooney movie—she was texting on a smart phone and it was REALLY BRIGHT.)

But it’s rude to thump someone on the head, and I was worried that my thumping might be an even bigger distraction to the actors I was already worried were distracted (Clooney couldn’t see me kicking the seat of the woman in front of me), or make them talk MORE, or begin to rub the sore spots for each other where they’d been thumped.

I moved to a different seat at half-time, but the three lovers (or the married couple and friend, one of whom was sick) didn’t return. Which was a little disappointing, since I’d complained about them to numerous people while eating my much-anticipated brownie, which, frankly, was a little dry (the brownies are usually amazing there).

One moral of these stories is, I don’t mind being annoyed as long as I get a story out of it.

Another part of what it comes down to is I’m not sure I have the right to be angry (or even annoyed). My Gran’mommy wouldn’t let us say “darn” or “heck” when we were little, because they were just substitutes for “damn” and “hell.” I remember asking at some point what I was supposed to say when I got mad, and she essentially said, “Don’t get mad.”

I don’t think of myself as an angry person, but maybe these lines from Justified apply (I’d love it if they did–I’d love being an Elmore Leonard character):

At the end of the pilot, Raylan has broken into the home of his ex-wife and her new husband in the middle of the night, and is then chatting with her out on the deck.

“I just never thought of myself as an angry man,” he says, after explaining why he shot a man.

And Winona says, ”Oh. Raylan, well, you do a good job of hiding it—I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly? You’re the angriest man I have ever known.”

What I’m hoping for is some sort of Zen Baptist process by which I can feel annoyance (read: anger) and express it without making the world a worse place, without cancelling out the benefit of however many days of meditation and Bible reading I’ve managed to string together.

This won’t be easy. The Baptist part of me remembers this verse, Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Most of the time I complain, I feel compelled to point out my own guilt. That’s not the worst habit in the world (I find it annoying when others don’t admit their own guilt, ever), but do I really have to list all the ways I’ve annoyed people who were driving behind me before I can say, “that Mercedes was really annoying,” before I can allow myself to be annoyed?

Is the height of Zen training really to get to the point where I drive behind a car going slower than I want to go and my actual response goes something like, “it is what it is,” and I use the slower pace to be mindful about my surroundings? How different is that, really, from trying never to get angry?

Just asking. I’ll stop now before I get carried away.

The pilot of Justified ends with Raylan processing Winona’s comment, goes to the credits, and we get to hear, once again, Tone Z with Gangsta Grass:

“On this lonely road,
trying to make it home
Doing it by my lonesome-pissed off, who wants some
I see them long hard times to come.”

If I were an Elmore Leonard show, I’d be done already. Since it’s me, I’ll just say that my new life goal is to mention Timothy Olyphant every other blog entry.

And also to get a free drink from restaurant owners who drive slowly enough, for long enough, that I think they owe me something. Unless that annoys them, in which case I apologize for being annoyed.

The Weather Rules: If It Doesn’t Rain, Tlaloc Just Isn’t That Into You

Say what you will about nature being female—Mother Earth, Earth Mother, Mother Nature, Gaia, what have you—now that this heat-wave-drought-thing is stretching on and on here in the land of dried-out cheese, I’ve realized I recognize this feeling of abandonment and desertion the lack of rain leaves me with.

It’s just like waiting for a guy who said he’d call to call.

That moment of enlightenment reminded me immediately of The Rules, and that got me wondering if we could generate some weather rules.

(Disclaimer here—I did not use the book or website as any part of the mating ritual that led me into my wonderful marriage),

My basic opinion is that rules like The RULES work best for people who play games.

But this whole “20 Percent Chance of Rain” icon that shows up on the weather forecast online AND THEN VANISHES every couple of days, or even, “50 Percent Chance of Thunderstorms” (also vanishes) have left me feeling toyed with.

So I’m looking for a weather god to blame.

For nominees, I would say possibly one of the Thunder Brothers, who were part of the Penobscot tribes (I’m thinking of Major Houlihan’s husband here, actually), or Pamola the Moosehead, or even Tlaloc, who was Aztec, but things feel desertified here lately, so maybe he’s expanded his range. But really, I’m just thinking some kind of generic, Pan-Indian, vaguely Celtic (given my own genetic heritage) pissy guy with supernatural powers related to rain. I call him Mr. Rain God.

I’ve thought seriously about this for almost an hour now, and I really think if we all follow the following rules, Mr. Rain God will stop being so damn WITHHOLDING.

Rule #1 is “be a creature unlike any other.” In this case the creature is a state (actually just the southern part of the state) or a region, not so much a creature at all, so I would say the weather rule translation would have to be “show up on Google Street View in really freaky ways.” A number of us have been trying to fry eggs on pavement—I think if those of us in Wisconsin just add cheese, we’ll be a dry region like no other.

Rule #2 involves leaving your house. I’ll admit—this has been hard for me. We have the summertime equivalent of “cabin fever,” only it’s hotter outside than inside. So—all of us, ESPECIALLY those of us who’ve been camped out in our central-air-hidey-holes, let’s get out more. (Just not tonight probably, in my case.)

Rule #3 says “it’s a fantasy relationship unless a man asks you out.” I think the weather rule equivalent would be “a weather myth is just a myth UNLESS IT RAINS.”

#4 is about office romance. If you work at a weather-related job, this applies to you.

#5 is about long-distance relationships, and says “he must visit you at least three times before you visit him.” So that’s it. I’m not looking at another forecast, or up in the sky, or anything, until it rains. Three times.

#6 is about personal ads, and to be honest, this had not even occurred to me. But THE RULES says that a woman should place the ad and “let men respond to you.” So I’m interpreting this to mean that not only should we stop looking at forecasts online, we should instead, place one of those Craigslist “missed connections” ads—“Mr. Rain God—saw some dark clouds in the sky above my house, but when I looked again, you were gone.” And just see what he does.

#7 is, I think, the most famous of the rules: “If he does not call, he is not that interested. Period.” So yeah, that’s how I’m feeling these days about Mr. Rain God. He is just not that into me.

#8 says “buyer beware,” but really—what are my options for rain? I mean—Mr. Rain God is pissy and fickle and absolutely Mr. Wrong, but I feel like Peggy Lee here: “He’s a tramp, but I love him.”

#9 says “Close the deal. Rules women do not date men for more than two years.” Not a problem. If it doesn’t rain for another two years, I’ll have much more serious things on my mind.

I know, I know—some of you are saying Yahweh is in charge of the weather, what with the whole 40-days, 40-nights story, and this: from Leviticus 26: “If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season….” But the problem there is that we had massive floods here in Southwest Wisconsin just four years ago, and I can’t imagine we’ve had a serious change in faithful observance in the last four years.

And then some of you will probably talk about climate change.

For the record, I tend to believe God could affect the weather but almost never does, and that we’ve screwed up the planet, pretty much irreparably. (I don’t know how those two thoughts are connected.)

But the hot, dry weather (dry, as in, no rain, but it’s still humid—how is that fair? Here’s my Rule #1: if you’re not going to send rain, you don’t get to make it humid) makes me crabby and when I’m crabby, I find magical thinking MUCH more satisfying than either logic or theology.

The horrible part is that for me, it’s just an inconvenience, just a matter of higher a.c. bills. It didn’t even increase my watering chores in the garden, because I didn’t quite get around to putting in a garden this year. And nath sure hasn’t had to mow. Also—I’ve been noticing the last few years that when it’s a really good year for corn, it’s a really good year for ragweed, so I’m hoping the converse is true.

But that corn is breaking my heart. “Inconvenient” isn’t even on the same planet as the adjectives that describe what a drought means to farmers. Except where the fields are irrigated, corn here in Wisconsin looks spiky, like pineapple fields, or just brown. I worry a lot about the farmers—some of them have crop insurance, but even so, a bumper crop would always be a better outcome. Farming’s hard enough, you know? A drought like this could send someone who’s close to going under financially ALL the way down (and farming is one of those businesses that is almost always a little precarious).

So—instead of simply being sad and worried for the farmers, and worried for people who don’t have air conditioning, and worried for people who have to work outside, and pissy about having a hot summer when this is usually when we get to brag on Facebook about living in Wisconsin—THIS is when we’re supposed to be saying, “Great sleeping weather!” and “Ah….this is why we put up with blizzards….” Instead of all that, I’m working THE WEATHER RULES.

Because, in a direct quote that is directly applicable, Rule #10 is “keep doing the rules even when things are slow.”

Summer of my Relative Uselessness

I’m somehow reminded of when the O.J. trial was on—I spent a lot of that summer on the couch, agreeing with whichever lawyer was speaking at the time. “It’s like they didn’t cancel LA Law after all,” I told my friends.

There’s no trial on this summer that I’m watching, and since we barely have broadcast TV, we’re not watching the lead-up to the Olympics and may not watch much of the Olympics. (Which I’m sure we can add to the list of ways I’m a horrible mother.) I’m also not watching soap operas, because the ones I loved the most are gone. I’ll admit it—I did get a little sad yesterday thinking I couldn’t turn on Guiding Light and find out if Jeffrey were going to make a surprise appearance at the Bauer barbecue and thus lead to yet another Josh and Reva breakup.

Regardless of how little TV I’m watching (other than all of Season 3 of Justified on my laptop through iTunes—just giggling a little here about the juxtaposition of Timothy Olyphant and lap)—regardless:

Between when the spring semester ended on May 24 and, well, any time now, I’ve been pretty useless.

I don’t want to say I’ve earned it, but I did have my gallbladder removed on May 29. Yes, they were able to do it laproscopically, and no, there weren’t any complications, but it took me every minute of three weeks to feel anything close to normal. So many people said they just “snapped right back” after gallbladder surgery. Apparently I’m not snappy. It took a solid month before my son pronounced me 99% recovered.

“Or maybe 98%,” he said. He made this observation after I’d apprehended a runaway grocery cart that was hurtling across the grocery store parking lot toward parked cars. The cart-herd had left it unattended while he moved some other carts back inside. My brain went kind of “phbbbbbbsplat” for a second or two, as I was thinking, “oh, that’s going to hit those cars,” and then, shifting into superhero mode, I scanned the parking lot, said to Wendell “let’s go!” and we ran with our cart after the runaway cart.

I grabbed it before it hit anything, and then pulled both carts back up to the store, where the clueless cart-herd was emerging. I started to say, “I just saved your ass,” but I stopped myself (Wendell tonight at dinner told nath and me that Callie, our kitten, was “pissed off because you’re not snuggling her enough.” I told him that’s another one of those words he shouldn’t use until he’s older, like when he gets his drivers license.)

“I just saved you,” I said to the cart-herd, and it seemed to dawn on him (or, as he’ll probably write in my composition class this fall, dong on him) what I’d saved him from. As we walked to our car, Wendell said, “That’s the first time I’ve seen you run since your operation.”

“I must be recovered,” I said.

“99% anyway,” he said. “Or maybe 98%.” He and nath have been watching Star Trek episodes & Spock is a big favorite.

It was a very dramatic moment.

And that’s pretty much it, in terms of what I’ve accomplished so far this summer.

O.k., not entirely true. I’ve read a lot. I found a lot of terrific apps for the iPad. I actually wrote a fair bit.

And just tonight, I finished transferring my TO DO list from paper to “Things,” which is both a web thingy and an app. It’s designed to work smoothly with David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” religion (I read that book during my recovery stretch). I’m relatively excited about the possibility that these two things will help me be more productive. I would personally be more excited if he called it “Getting Shit Done,” but probably that would not be as broadly appealing.

Other than my gallbladder surgery, I think my summer of relative uselessness can be attributed to ongoing issues with burnout. I’m hoping that taking it pretty easy for a month let some of that heal up, too.

I am very, very grateful to have a job where I can take a month to recover from what is, by all accounts, relatively minor surgery.

(You don’t need to tell me how many things I could complain about with my particular job in my particular state at this particular point in history—-trust me. I’m not one of those people who say, “Can’t complain,” because I know I always could. About anything. I’m creative AND I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker. I could complain. But I don’t, not always.)

It isn’t true that professors “get summers off.” But it is true (especially if we’re not teaching, which I’m not, this summer) we have a big chunk of time to get a big chunk of things done, with a proportionally big chunk of autonomy to figure out how, precisely, to go about Getting Shit Done.

So we’ll see—will this summer of my relative uselessness morph into an incredibly productive stretch of time? Or will I spend ever more time finding addictive word game apps and and then finding ways to get the iPad away from my husband and son?

Tune in tomorrow, soap fans. Or next week—or whenever it is I get another blog posted.

(Also—if the title of this post rang any bells, you’ll be happy to know that Kristy McNichol is alive and well.)