March 31, 2010

-image-church: the last 20-minute day

One Sunday, quite a while after our last official Sunday at Maybe Church, we drove up there again, on a whim. I don’t know why, really, other than some vague rewriting impulse on my part.

I sometimes believe I can rewrite unhappy endings in my life.

Maybe we’d go inside. Maybe things would be different. Maybe we’d finally have a conversation. Maybe people would say they were sorry for things that mattered, not things that didn’t.

Maybe the way it all ended wouldn’t stay the way it all ended.


But probably not.

You see, there’s hope and there’s reality and the two are not always synonymous and sometimes you cannot explain why you continue to have hope.

When a situation ends badly, I have a mystifying ability to continue believing that something redemptive will still happen, oh yes it will it will it will. This goes on for longer than it should and longer than I’d ever admit. (Psychologists call this “denial,” Trace.) Basically, I prance about in my own little Happy Hopeyland for a good long while, clinging to the belief that redemption will triumph over pain. That healing will triumph over woundedness. This doesn’t always happen when humans are involved. Actually, I’ve rarely seen it happen when just humans are involved.

Hope in people, I suppose, is never the best idea.

Following vague impulses to rewrite endings is also, let’s face it, never the best idea.

But there’s what you know and what you do and those two are hardly ever synonymous.

So, of course, we drove up to the church.

We pulled into the shady side of the parking lot, all hopped up on caffeine and ambiguity. Once MB turned off the car, however, we froze in our seats and just stared at the entrance.

Uh, what are we doing? Oh, that’s right, we have NO plan. So, yeah, what are we doing, again?

MB does these things for me. Hopes with me for a different outcome. Thumbs his hopeful nose with me in the face of stubborn reality. He frequently sees with great foresight how things will turn out even when I do not see — or, really, will not see — but at times he will lay aside this knowledge, temporarily, and go there with me. Out of solidarity. And love. And the weird thrill of a who-knows-what-will-happen caper.

This, alas, is his life with Tracey.

So, yeah, we had no plan. Just a couple of Sunday morning goobers sitting in a car in a church parking lot, wondering what to do, imagining something might change if we just showed up, as if our mere presence would alter reality. Well, I’m pretty sure just one of us imagined that.

But there we sat like lumps, MB voluntarily entering my personal Happy Hopeyland without so much as a sigh. Turns out, this is what goes down in Happy Hopeyland when you’re a couple of Sunday morning goobers sitting in a car in a church parking lot hoping for a rewrite: Fidgeting. Debating options. Drawing straws for who feels more ridiculous.

We watched the men in the perpetual orange vests with the perpetual orange flags wave people into their pre-ordained parking spots. Still doing that, I see. Predestination at work in the very act of parking. No free will here. If you choose that lot, you are choosing to have your choice made for you. We chose that lot just once and never again. There is plenty of parking available, so this seems to serve some other purpose. The men wave their flags even when no car is approaching, which I find silly. Actually, the whole practice seems vaguely anti-American, anti-freedom to me, but others are clearly fine with it. Slow, as usual, to get on board with the crowd — that’s me.

A car pulled up, perpendicular to ours. After a few moments a man, a woman, and a teenage boy got out and walked past us, still in our car, spinning our mental wheels in Happy Hopeyland. As they passed, the man turned around to look at us. He leaned in to say something to the woman and she turned around too. Finally, the boy pivoted and threw a furrowed look at us. The woman strolled over to the nearest orange-vested man, in her appropriately modest and unflattering skirt, and spoke to him. Then he, too, joined in the sudden alarming fad of looking at us.

MB muttered.

“What is going on?”

“I don’t know.”

As we watched the man and boy walking to the entrance, turning this way and that, trying to look casual while they stared us down, simple curiosity trumped indecision and we were now glued to our seats for a whole new reason. Apparently, we’d been spotted as oh, no! people sitting in the parking lot, ohnoohnoohnooo!!

Several moments passed while we debated what to do now, after seeing that. We suddenly felt like trespassers. It was 20 minutes into the service. People were still arriving, milling about, not going inside. This church, I’d observed before, does not arrive when church actually starts. They really should hold the service in the parking lot or the lobby, where most people seem to be.

While we talked, an orange-vested man, the one previously alerted to our presence, approached our car. Hm. Here we go. I guess he really had been alerted.

He went around to MB’s side, where window was down, leaned in and peered down at us, like a cop. An unsmiling cop. I actually fought a reflex to grab the registration from the glovebox.

“Can I help you?”

“No, not really,” said MB.

“Are you just looking for a shady place to park?”

“No. We’re debating whether or not to go in.”

Well, not quite. We definitely weren’t going in now. I think Oprah got a friendlier greeting on that Mormon compound a few years ago.

“Oh.” He looked us over.

Uhm, do they give tickets here? I wondered.

“Well, let me know if I can help you,” he said, in a dismissive tone.

He seemed like a salesperson who will greet you but then sigh mightily if he actually has to help you. Or a cop.

“Uh-huh,” said MB.

The man walked away. We sat open-mouthed at the weirdness, the paranoia. Once all the orange vests had disappeared, we raced home on wheels of creepiness, and wondered aloud:

Is this how they welcome people now? Coming over to a car and questioning them? If we weren’t supposed to park there, why not just tell us? He said nothing about it, so it clearly wasn’t that.

It was either: We were unfamiliar and just sitting there and that totally freaked them out or we were familiar and just sitting there and that totally freaked them out.

Either way, calm down, peaches.

So did they know who we were? That bosomy tart with the slanderous anonymous blog and her crankypants letter-writing husband? That would surprise me a bit on one hand because we didn’t know anyone while we were there, really, and we didn’t recognize any of these people, either, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit on the other hand because there are no personal boundaries whatsoever at this church and everyone seems to know about everyone else’s business which is somehow, amazingly, NOT labeled as gossip, but this blog — with its tale of our anxious foray into an unnamed church — IS. Literally, I don’t understand anything anymore.

So if they knew who we were — again, creepy — are we officially unwelcome at this church now?

Who knows?

It was bizarre.

All I know is that the smell of paranoia is completely incompatible with Happy Hopeyland.

March 30, 2010

-image-excerpt: “a reliable wife”

A short excerpt from A Reliable Wife, mentioned here.

Brief backstory of the main character, Ralph Truitt.

They prayed at breakfast and every other meal. They prayed at odd times, when the children had been reckless or rude or prideful, prayed as though hell were right next door instead of far beneath the earth.

His father did not believe. His father winked. He was damned, although he didn’t seem to know it, or at least it didn’t seem to matter. His mother worked on him in public, and worked harder in secret, sure from the first breath he ever took that he was lost.

His mother was sewing at the kitchen table. “What is hell like?” Ralph asked her, and she paused and said to him, “Hold out your hand,” and he did. He could feel the heat from the kitchen stove; he could see the deep gouges in the kitchen table from which his mother scrubbed away, every day, every trace of human hunger. His hand was steady and his trust was infinite. He was six years old.

“What is hell like?” His mother’s hand flew through the stifling air of the kitchen as her son stared into her piercing eyes. She stabbed her needle deep into the soft part of his hand, at the base of his thumb, and the pain tore through his arm and into his brain, but he did not move, just watched his mother’s fierce and steady eyes.

She twisted the needle. He could feel it scrape against bone. It sent a pain like nettles in his bloodstream, through every vein of his body, straight to his heart.

Her voice was patient and loving and sad, without anger. “That’s what hell is like, son. But it’s like that all the time. Forever.”

And she took the needle out of his hand without ever taking her eyes from his and wiped it on the apron she always wore except to church. She calmly resumed her sewing. He did not cry, and they never spoke of it again. He never told his father or his brother or anybody. And he never for one moment ever forgot or forgave what she had done.

“The pain of hell never heals. It never stops burning for one second. It never goes away.”

He never forgot it because he knew she was right. Whatever happened or did not happen to his faith after that night, whatever happened as his hand got infected and swelled until yellow pus oozed from the wound and then got better, whatever happened as the scar rusted over from deep purple to a faint and tiny dot that only he could see, he knew she was right. And he never, for one moment, from that night on, he never breathed a breath without hating her.

March 28, 2010

-image-sad news

One of my favorite spiritual bloggers, Michael Spencer aka The Internet Monk, is terminally ill with brain cancer. He was just diagnosed in December and now it’s just a matter of time. He’s discontinued chemo, which wasn’t helping anyway, and is seeking hospice help.

I’m just numb. So sad. I’m feeling a bit adrift, thinking he’s leaving us.

I’ve read him regularly over the years and he is real and smart and funny and challenging. He isn’t some rigid legalist — he’s too free. He isn’t some nutso Charismatic — he’s too solid. He isn’t some blind follower — he’s too smart. He’s never been bound by how MEN think the Christian life should be lived but focused on Jesus, on truth, and has helped me — oh, how much he helped me and will never know! — to do the same.

I’m missing his “voice” already.

Prayers for him and his family.

March 26, 2010

-image-the perfect cover!


Okay. So it’s a magazine cover generator. I couldn’t make the bar code go away. And I had limited control over where the elements went.

Still. Totally workable cover for this book.

You don’t even have to read the book to KNOW I’m right.

Sometimes you just know it when you see it, don’t you?

March 25, 2010

-image-book covers

I am obsessed with a book cover. I hate myself.

But it’s true.

Why am I bothered by this? It’s not like I have nothing else to consume my thoughts like, oh, healthcare reform and the ongoing fallout from the Maybe Church debacle and why the toilet isn’t flushing properly and what is up with that one chick’s eyebrows on America’s Next Top Model. This is big stuff. Important stuff.

I am, mentally, VERY busy.

But, nevertheless, squeezed in between those pressing thoughts is the nagging thought of how very much I dislike the cover on my copy of A Reliable Wife.

(Summary: A rich man with a past places an ad for “a reliable wife.” A woman with a past responds. Hijinx ensue.)

Here is my cover — the only one I see in bookstores now. It makes the book seem like a bodice-ripper, which it decidedly is NOT:


It’s the red dress, you see. It makes me nuts. The red of it, the sheen of it, the it of it. That I even have to refer to “it.” There is actually a scene at the beginning of the book where the “reliable wife” is on the train, steaming her way towards her new husband and she opens a window and flings all her fancy dresses out into the dark and the snow. She deliberately dresses down for this man. So it bothers me and it’s ridiculous that it bothers me, but it does. I mean, the red dress keeps me up at night. The stupid red dress. The book sits on the floor by the bed now and the red dress says, “Hahaha. I bug you.” And I say, “No, you don’t, shut up,” and I shove another book on top of it so I don’t see the red dress while it just laughs and laughs.

You know, it’s quite possible I have bigger problems than the stupid red dress.

But here are a couple of other covers I found online for this book. They must be available somewhere. I mean, someone somewhere is HAPPY with their cover of A Reliable Wife. Why can’t that be me?

Okay. This one is better. Not my favorite, but somewhat better:


I like the old-fashioned banner, the lettering, the soft black and white, the non-Perfect Storm font, the utter lack of a red dress. Not spot on, but better, yes.

Here’s my favorite though:


I love the starkness. That feels right. And the old-fashioned kind of bookplate title. The little red bird has a context within the book and I like the dimensionality of that detail. The covers with the dress and even the woman imply too much or even mislead, but this one works for me. The spareness of it is SO right for atmosphere of the book. It’s pretty spot on for me. Yes. I want this cover.

So, okay, I’m a little overwrought about a stupid book cover, but there’s an underlying issue here for those of us who love books and that’s this, I think: We like the look of the book to FEEL like the book, don’t we? The cover needs to feel right, encapsulate the vibe, the atmosphere, the story found inside, and when it doesn’t, it’s just off. Wrong. Of course, you can’t know the rightness or wrongness of the cover until you read the book, but then, if you’re like me and the cover suddenly feels like a huge mismatch on a book you really liked, you become unattractively obsessed — as opposed to attractively obsessed, please understand the difference and tell me what it is — and NEED to scour the bookstores and the Internets until you find a version with a better, more fitting cover.

Because, well, you’re insane, is the problem.

Insanity is the problem, not book covers.

Insanity, Trace. Okay?

March 23, 2010

-image-beautiful and sad

Fiber artist Stephen Beal’s embroidered inventory and appraisal of the estate of a slave owner — someone who happened to be a very distant relative of his. The artist was given the actual document a few years ago and conceived this stark, stunning piece.

Read down the document. See how “goods” are lumped together. And wait until you get to “Old Milly.”




March 20, 2010

-image-a repeat: “make me feel good”

Because MB was asking for this post from a few years ago and because I’m lazy. It’s about the horror of babysitting a then 2-year-old Original Banshee. I think I still have PTSD from this one single day. That’s possible, right?


“Make Me Feel Good”

Our niece Button Baby — or Banshee Baby, as I like to call her now — is 2 1/2 and there are some seriously unappealing personal issues going on with her. I babysat her a few Saturdays ago and, frankly, I am still traumatized.

It all started while she was eating her dinner. She sat there, playing with her cup straw, waving it around, shoving the straw in and out, spilling milk, doing anything but drinking milk.

Ohhhh, no. Tee Tee don’t play that, Crackie.

“Button, you may drink it or not drink it. You may not play with it. I will take it away if you keep playing with it.”

She understands me quite well. She continues playing, spilling.

Second warning.

“Last chance, Button. I will take it away if you do it again.”

She continues.

“All right, Button. I’m sorry. I think you’re done with that.”

I take it away from her and she begins to waaaaiillll literally like a banshee. It is horrible. God-awful. The tone of it — the tone. It is a shiv gouging my eardrums. I wait for the spurt of blood signifying my head has exploded.


I hold my ground, put the cup in the sink. She is howling at me, hating me with her entire shaking little being.

I come back to the table, sit down.

“I’m sorry, Button. I told you what would happen.”


A pause while she actually breathes and hiccups and then discovers heretofore untapped reserves of terrible. Her tone becomes desperate, like she needs a drink or a smoke or some crack.


Um, what?


I grab a napkin. Dab her cheeks, her eyes. I keep my movements even, unhurried. At this moment, I am her polar opposite. A goddess of calm confronted with a yowling demon.

But …… hullo. What’s this? This itchy feeling I’m having?

Yeah. What IS that?

Why, that’s just the palm of my Spankin’ Hand, itchin’ and twitchin’ and beggin’ me to use it!

Oh, I feel it, but I ignore it. I don’t spank my nieces and nephews, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever wanted to, like now. I make my voice smooth, but somewhat cool.

Goddess of calm:

“There you go, Button. I’m sorry you’re upset.”



A “special wipe”? What in tarnation is a “special wipe”? Who made her think there’s such a thing as a “special wipe”? I begin to question my brother’s parenting, start to inventory all the ways he bugs me. This could be one of them. Meanwhile, she is still flailing and screaming.

Sheesh. Look, Banshee, the fact that I’m wiping you at all during this gross unravelling of your entire personality is special enough.

I use the sleeve of my hoodie. I mean, it’s soft, right? And special enough. Cotton is comfort, you know. The fabric of our lives and all. Dab, dab, dabbity-dabb.

She cracks apart with renewed vigor.


Well, that’s it. I have broken my niece. She is, quite simply, ruined. Maybe ruined forever — all because of my cotton sleeved hoodie.

Goddess of calm, Trace. Goddess of calm.

“All right, Button. Let’s get you down from your chair. I don’t know what a special wipe is. Why don’t you get down and show me?”

As I reach to lift her out, she declares, insane with blubbing:


Oh, no, she dihn’t. Ohhh, no. I am agape. I understand that she’s 2 and all, but that, right there, that thing she said — it’s everything that’s wrong with the world and it came from the mouth of a baby: “I have a right to feel good always, no matter what I do or say.” I feel that crazy itch in the Spankin’ Hand again. For the first time in my life, I think I actually want to spank a child because I utterly disagree with her philosophy of life.

Which is insane. She is two.

What happened to the goddess of calm??

I stare at her. She glowers back. Lifting her out of her chair, I say, drily, “Uh-HUH.” The second her little feet hit the carpet, she streaks to the bathroom, shrieking from me the entire way. She cannot get away fast enough from Tee Tee, that terrible woman who makes her feel so SO BAD.

I follow at a leisurely pace. At the bathroom door, I can see her, reaching up to the counter, grabbing a sanitary wipe from its box, smushing her swollen face deep into it.

I roll my eyes. Between gulping sobs, she chides me, waving the wipe at me:

“THIS is a special wipe, Tee Tee!! A SPECIAL WIPE!!”

I pick her up, move toward the arm chair.

“Uh-huh. Well, you may take that special wipe and stay in this chair until you are all done crying.”

I deposit her in the chair and turn away.

Pause, heavy with doom.



Later on, after this harrowing day of babysitting was finally over, I went home to My Beloved, threw myself in his lap and yowled:


He offered me his sleeve. Sensible man.

March 19, 2010

-image-what else lacrosse is

At one point in the game, a kid on the other team fell to the ground and stayed there for a little too long. A coach ran out. Another coach ran out. I think his dad ran out. He just lay there. There was silence until the coach yelled, “Get the cart!” A murmur of panic went through the small crowd in the stands. They loaded the kid onto the red cart and as it passed slowly below us, you could see his lower leg bent at a very bad angle. He was not making a single peep, that kid. Shock.

Turns out, he broke his tibia. The kid quietly broke his tibia.

That’s what else lacrosse is.

March 18, 2010

-image-what lacrosse is

Lacrosse is a giant game of keep away with big sticks and little butterfly nets and a tiny frustrating ball.

That’s what it is, pippa.

Boys in long shorts and long jerseys and helmets and footwear run around a field and, get this, BEHIND the goal if they want, wielding, uh — sticks? batons? 2 x 4s? — with little nets on the end. They catch an alleged ball in these little nets, although I can’t claim to have actually seen this alleged ball from my personal vantage point with my personal myopic eyes.

So let’s change my definition:

Lacrosse is a giant game of keep away with big sticks and little butterfly nets and a tiny frustrating ball played by people who can actually see the tiny frustrating ball.

That’s all I know.

But, thank God, my dad was there to explain things to me. He doesn’t know what lacrosse is either, but he’s a dad. He explains things. That’s his job. Even now, with his full-grown daughter, he does his duty. And without fail, whether or not he actually knows things, he does his duty and explains them. He’s a dad.

“See, Tray, the guys on offense have the longer sticks.”

He placed the merest emphasis on the word longer. Knowing my dad, it was purely innocent. But I started to laugh because I’m an immature cow.

Dad kept to his duty.

“And the defenders have shorter sticks.”

Again, the slightest emphasis. I frowned.

“Ohhh. Hm. Bummer, Dad.”

His eyes widened at me in shock. Uh-oh. I was pretty sure I was seconds away from being sent to the car for the rest of the game. Then, phew, I remembered I’m a big ol’ grownup with my very own car. Still, the threat looms eternal, doesn’t it?

A split second later, though, Dad was giggling and saying “Tracey!” in a mock scolding voice.

Timeout averted.

Dad was eating a hamburger when we got there. No. Not merely eating. For 5 bucks, he got a hamburger, some chips, and a soda, and he was chowing down like a starving man at a dumpster. I tell you true: When he’s not at home, that man eats utter trash. Only if Mom can’t see, though. That’s his rebellion. Man doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t swear, doesn’t hang at the tittywiggles. He simply eats trash whenever he’s away from home. One night a few years back, MB went to my parents’ house to talk to Dad about something and had to wait for Dad, who was on a last-minute errand. When Dad pulled up in the driveway and got out of the car, the wrappers from two Haagen Dazs bars dangled from the door opening then drifted slowly to the ground. He had a smudge of chocolate in the corner of his mouth. He’d only run this quick errand — away from mom, you see — but had made sure that part of the errand involved stuffing two Haagen Dazs bars into his mouth during the mere moments he was out of the house. Why oh why do you take these insane risks, Dad?? And caught red-handed with wrappers and chocolate?? Tsk, tsk, tsk.

MB motioned to his mouth.

“Dad, you’ve got a little chocolate there.”

He didn’t want Dad to be busted. Nope. He stood by him, stalwart in male solidarity.

“Oh! Oh! Thanks!” Dad said, wiping his mouth and stuffing the telltale wrappers into his jogging suit pockets.

You see, venue and furtiveness are the keys to my dad’s junk eating. He sticks to one unspoken principle about these indulgences: location, location, location. A car, a camping trip, a lacrosse game. It is always away from home, and because he was away from home last night, he was allowed to commence his gleeful junk eating. He doesn’t hide it from his kids, just Mom, and we’re all willing enablers in this because he’s skinny and that’s irksome. Drat him, anyway. Eat another burger, Dad.

So, yeah, MB and I caught Dad redhanded last night with his half-eaten greasy ballpark burger.

“Wow, Dad. That’s quite a burger,” I said.

“Yep!” He just smiled and munched away, no guilt, happy as a little boy.

Location, location, location.

We found some seats. The game started. Dad further explained things he knew nothing of in his role as dad and I questioned his knowledge of things I knew nothing of in my role as kid. And in this way, we communicated. About what, I don’t know, but that’s not the point.

Turns out, Elder Nephew was some kind of a defender, tall and menacing, whacking dudes with his stick because they were whacking him with their sticks first. That’s how it seemed me anyway, as his loving aunt. I mean, what’s a kid to do? Beat or be beaten. And that’s the game. An organized gang beating with sticks interrupted by the occasional flinging of a tiny frustrating ball at someone’s head.

During half-time, Elder Nephew sauntered over to the giant Gatorade cooler, all casual and no biggie about the gang beatings, and took a giant swig. He was facing us, but we were way up in the giant concrete slab of the bleachers. We began to wave at him like loons. On purpose. Wave, wave, peace sign, we’re cool, wave, wave, wave. And that kid would just not give it up. Pretended not to see us. Would NOT acknowledge us. Well, really, we knew he wouldn’t because, duh, it was hideous what we were doing, very uncool, but did we stop? No. We just became more and more entranced with our hideousness.

At one point, during the lunatic waving, MB said, “I think we should all start yelling at him: ‘NEPHHHHHEW! IT’S UNCLE BELOVED!! AND TEE TEEEEEEE!!! AND POP-POPPPPPPPPPPP!!!'”

With each name, each increasingly ridiculous name, MB’s voice got higher. And higher. My dad fell apart at the insane whine MB achieved on “POP-POPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!” The three of us were howling. Crying. Dad shrieked, “Do it. Do it! Yell at him! Do it!!” He was shaking, laughing, fortified from his dinner of grease and high fructose corn syrup. The man was clearly high.

But we didn’t do that to Elder Nephew. We couldn’t. We wanted to, oh so desperately. But we do love the kid and we want him to still love us. Or maybe, you know, start to love us at some point in the future, fingers crossed. So we just kept it to ourselves, there in the concrete of the bleachers, Dad and I repeatedly begging MB, “Do it again! Do it again!! DO IT AGAINNN!!”

You know, just three manic children, watching a bunch of boys beat each other with sticks.

Oh, Elder Nephew’s team won 7 stick beatings to a measly 5.

And that’s what lacrosse is.

March 17, 2010

-image-a big sporting event

So I’m going to Elder Nephew’s lacrosse game in a few hours.

Uhm ….. what’s lacrosse??

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