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Archive for January, 2006

I spent the afternoon doing my taxes. I love to do my taxes. In an odd way it’s sort of like an Internet Meme, except instead of finding out which crew member of the Battlestar Galactica you are, it tells you how much money you have to fork over to keep Senator Byrd in office with needless geegawgery in West Virginia. For the past several years I’ve had to pay amounts ranging from the large to the very large to the painful.

This year, surprisingly, I’m getting money back. Whoa. I know not what this feels like.

I’m sure gonna be happy when the refund gets automatically deposited, but I’m ticked that my accounting was so bad throughout the year as to float Uncasam a hefty interest-free loan. Oh well. Who am I kidding? I’m not gonna complain about having the cash!

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Well, that’s what I would have called this event, had I been the one to name it. But no. It is merely called Connecting: A Day For Readers and Writers. But it’s on March 4th. So my name would have been better. Oh well.

It still sounds interesting:

to benefit the Tennessee Young Writers’ Scholarship Fund, Humanities Tennessee

Sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association (Nashville Chapter) and the Hume-Fogg Writers

Saturday, March 4, 2006 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Hume-Fogg Academic School
700 Broadway
Nashville, TN 37203

Featuring

• workshops on Investigative Journalism, Romance Novels, Writing the Perfect Mystery or Thriller, Poetry, Memoir, Songwriting, and more
• a keynote address by Robert Hicks , bestselling author of The Widow of the South
• a closing performance by Marshall Chapman , singer/songwriter and author of Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller
• sessions led by Willy Stern, Etta Wilson, Pat Ballard, Darnell Arnoult, Bunkie Lynn, Lonnie Cruse, Gary Slaughter, and many more
• book sales and signings

Registration is $40 in advance or $50 at the door. Lunch may be purchased in advance for $10, or you may bring your own.

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Hide And Seek

Brittney inadvertently brought up a sore subject today. I have hesitated bringing up my views on Seeker churches because I know they are the elephant in the room. At least when talking with various friends and family members who’ve embraced the Seeker Driven Church. My own feelings on the matter are complex and continually evolving and revolving. It’s odd that I don’t write about this more often, since it’s the crux of a lot of my prayer time–but I think that level of personal involvment generally lends me to consider it for private viewing only. But today, thanks to a PrimitiveSouthern Baptist Minister new to his pulpit, the issue is public and I’m going to chat a bit about it.

Worship is the act of acknowledging our Creator and Saviour with praise and thanksgiving. For those who have been saved and enjoy that personal relationship with their Saviour, our Worship time is similar to the time spent with our spouse. Daily devotions become akin to the suppertime conversations I have with my husband. They are intimate discussions about the mundane. They are the way He reveals himself to me through His written word and His Spirit. A church Worship Service is more akin to a date–time out on the town where you get to more fully worship his majesty in public.

(Ironically, “Personal Saviour” is a relationship that Pastor Dan says is not possible)

These public worship times have evolved over the centuries, leaving us with remnants of the myriad flavours of Church. If you most fully express your worship through liturgy and ritual you have all manner of High Church to attend. If you lean more toward Low Church you will find yourself in a more Traditional Worship setting. Chances are that if you are an American Christian (insert Randy Newman expletive here) your experience is either with a Traditional Worship or Pentecostal/Holiness style church. Both of these involve a pastor who is somewhat formally dressed, some type of choir (robed or in plainclothes) and a sermon buttressed by hymns. The hymns sung in the Traditional church tend to be more staid. It seems like 95% of them were written by either a Wesley, a Luther or Fanny Crosby. In a Pentecostal/Holiness church, the hymns are generally more upbeat and the congregation is more vocally participatory.

Pastor Dan’s latest piece addresses the ills of the “Seeker Friendly” church, which is where I take issue with him. Many churches are Seeker Friendly without altering their church name or style of worship. A Seeker Friendly church is merely one where they don’t wince if you come in jeans and allow you to participate in communion if you profess a relationship with Christ.

The problem as I see it is with the Seeker Driven church. These are the ones who have so completely altered the Sunday Morning Service from a time of worship to a time of entertainment. There are bands on the stage, skits, dancers in gauze who “interpretively move” to the music. There are clips from popular tv shows and films which buttress the Brief Message, and there is usually–not always, but usually–an overeager guy with a guitar forcing a repetitive drone through a simplistic chorus. The problem I have personally with these types of churches is not the way they dress but the type of “food” they serve. Worship has been redesigned. Instead of being an intimate time for the larger Body of Christ to experience their Worship, it is designed almost wholly to entertain the unbeliever. The theory (as I see it) is that people will come to church for the fun and realise that Jesus ain’t no stuffy dude. They’ll hopefully get saved and become members of the church.

Isn’t that like meeting and marrying someone on a cruise ship? And then staying on the cruise ship for the rest of your married life? Sure, cruises are fun and the food is good, but there’s no real-world relationship there.

I am an Evangelical Christian, though, and therein lies my largest beef with the Seeker Driven church. Many believers who have built these churches have done so with the best of intentions. They want to minister to the non-saved, to get them into church and into Christ’s family of the redeemed. I understand their desire to bring new people to Christ. I just can’t shake the feeling that it is contradictory to both parts of the Great Commission. First, are we “Going ye therefore” into “all nations” if we’re just pulling a Mickey Rooney and “putting on a show”? And really, honestly, does the Seeker Driven church “[teach] them to observe all things whatsoever [God] commanded [us]“?

Is Sunday Morning Church to be food for the believer or a cheese-baited trap for the unsaved?

UPDATE: Pastor Reed has updated some information via the comments. I’ve corrected his church affiliation appropriately.

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Harper Lee

One of my heroes made a rare public appearance last week..

Since the release of “Capote,” much of her time has been spent writing demurrals to reporters seeking interviews about her life. Someone suggested she come up with a form-letter response to such requests.

What it would say, she joked, “is hell, no.”

I’m sorry, but I just love her. Or what little I know of her anyway. And I’m just that much more jealous of Exador, whose niece is named Harper Lee. That’s much cooler than Katherine.

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Somebody’s husband was once laid off in the same year that the president of the company was awarded a $30million bonus. Another lady had her pension stolen by embezzling crooks and has to wait tables in her retirement years. You hear about stuff like this all the time. One person’s lust for more-more-more robs opportunity and peace of mind from other people.

We all have a mental picture of these Gordon Gekko guys. White, middle-aged and dressed in an expensive suit. Me, personally, I picture them stepping off a Learjet, with the breeze ruffling their distinguished manhair. The Crooks. The Guys Who Stick It To The Little People. The Little Guy From Monopoly.

Ahhh.

I spoke with another writer on the phone this evening. This writer was dejected, discouraged and depressed. Which, for a writer is par for the course…but for a writer with an agent?!? Yes. My writer friend (let’s call him Charlie) has achieved aims 1 and 2 of all serious authors. He’s finished his book and found an agent to shop it, saving his pearl from the sandy dross of the slush pile. But then here’s the kicker. After years of labour on this book, after an finding an agent who was proud of the material and eager to sell it, he’s lost his bite at the apple. He’ll probably, if the book is to see the light of day, have to self-publish. That means a huge chunk of change and absolutely no distribution channel. See, the agent called him Friday with the good news. She can no longer rep non-fiction memoirs like Charlie’s book to any publishing house anywhere. She’s repped NF for years, but thanks to the junkie who didn’t think the truth was as interesting as his fertile, pot-soaked imagination, the market for memoirs is apparently gone with the wind.

We’ve had this discussion before, and I’ll probably have it with myself again. But there is a reason that truth is important. When you are selling the truth you have to be telling the truth. People don’t like to be lied to, no matter who’s telling the lie. The big guys at Enron or the dude shilling his book on Oprah–it’s all the same. They’re asking you to trust them, their word and the information they give you. Sure, James Frey didn’t bilk investors but he has robbed a lot of people who had a story to tell. Right now there’s a writer who can’t sell a once-saleable book and a literary agent who may be out of a job. Granted they’re not factory workers or pensioners. But broke is broke. And I now picture Frey stepping off that Learjet.

[In the spirit of this post, let me add that the anecdotes about the bilked workers were told to me in the Weight Watchers General Discussion forum and not verified. I have also changed pertinent details about "Charlie".]

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First off, Kay West should just get a blog. She appears to be in dire need of the catharsis wrought by typing out one’s opinions on other people. Her review of Maggiano’s begins with a tired dismissal of people who first bother her by vowing to exercise and then bother her anew by failing to keep that vow at her crowded Y.

[A personal aside: Perhaps if those of us who’ve tried that before had been left to our own devices, we would keep coming to the Y instead of building our own home gyms. We’re sorry that we’ve “tried [your] patience”, Ms. West. Hope you enjoy continung to judge us from your lofty “perch on the StairMaster.”]

She veers from that judgment of the overweight (fat, but too fat to bother her at the Y) to a judgment of the restaurants who serve large portions. As though my fatness and the fatness of all fat people I know is simply because they’re too darn stupid to eat right. As though all fat people are hogs who will mow at the trough until the food is gone. It’s not, you see, that we fat people have made the twin mistakes of being born into a gene pool and enjoying to eat. It’s not that we make our own choices–a legal right of adults in this country. It’s that we walk into a restaurant and blindly eat whatever is set before us, no matter how large or distasteful.

“Wasn’t this a restaurant review? ” I think to myself. Don’t worry. TWELVE PARAGRAPHS LATER she will start talking about the food, dismissive of its quality and damning about the portion size. My favourite part of the review is where she reveals her raw, naked, seething hatred of large portions. She orders spaghetti to go. AND TAKES IT TO THE POST OFFICE TO WEIGH IT. (3.5 lbs)

Lady, get over yourself. So the spaghetti weighs 3.5 lbs. Big Friggin’ Deal. If I were to get that spaghetti I would eat it. For several meals. Sometimes you’re busy and tired and since you can’t work out at the Y and bother all the regulars it’s just easier to swing by a place like Maggiano’s on Monday night, pick up a big container of ready-made food and have it for supper the next 4 nights. Then you can eat at home and work out at home, shower at home (so Kay and her buddies don’t have to stare at your flab in the locker room) sit on you couch and eat your spaghetti in sweats while watching “The Biggest Loser” and feeling a perverse sort of “There but for the Grace of God go I” .

What Kay West never mentions in her review–she apparently forgot to address it, being too busy enlisting the Federal Government in her cause–is that she is a major proponent of the idea of locally-owned restaurants. Her reviews consistently damn the chains for their generic food, low food quality and lack of culinary originality. She openly lauded the establishment of the new “locally-owned restaurant” cartel, the Nashville Originals. You know, the group founded in part by the guy who owns the restaurant across the street from the new Maggiano’s. How much of her damnation of Maggiano’s is propelled by her apparently vested interest in preferring local eateries over chains.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, until I am blue in the face: what does the presence of a Cheesecake Factory, … attract some portion of the corporate parent’s expansion dollar? Except for possibly some negligible design differences, the Nashville Maggiano’s is no different than the 35 others in that chain.

It is the independent restaurant—owned by the couple who live down the street from you, or the man you went to high school with—that speaks to the heart, the soul, the spirit of who we are and where we make our home. Only here can you expect to be greeted by a friendly, familiar face at the door who knows your favorite table; …. In 2006, let’s resolve to celebrate Independents’ Day all year long.

Well, Kay. Here’s the thing. I love restaurants. I love some chains (yay, Maggiano’s), hate others (ugh, Cheesecake Factory.) I love some local restaurants (Yay, Ellendales & Mad Platter), and really don’t care for others (boo, that one Italian place on West End everyone raves about whose name escapes me). I’m rather egalitarian that way. Serve me some combination of good food, satisfying atmosphere, excellent service and respect–and I’m yours. I don’t care where the cheese comes from, who signs the paychecks or who parties with you on the weekends. What’s more, I’ve lived in this city for almost 15 years. There are several locally-owned restaurants we patronised regularly. Never once (prior to the excellent Ellendale’s) has one of these sainted Local Restaurants greeted us familiarly or known our favourite table. Even when we went to Tin Angel sometimes twice in one week, for weeks on end.

Circumstances consipired to have us at Maggiano’s twice this weekend. Once, Friday night for a romantic date. It was hands down the best service we’ve had in a Nashville restaurant–chain or local–in the past year. The leftovers made three extra meals. Our Sunday school class went again for lunch yesterday. We sat at a big table, laughed and talked and enjoyed the bounty set before us. Every single couple went home with leftovers in a bag. Some of us are fat, some of us are skinny. None of us looked down on the other, judged each other by what we ordered or how much we ate. The food was excellent, the service was peerless.

Just a suggestion, but if you want to start looking for why local restaurants are hurting, you might want to start with that “get your fat butt out of my eyeline” attitude. We know where we’re not welcome. So we make our home gyms and we eat at places who don’t tell us we’ve ordred too much food.

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Pink Kitty reminded me.

I needed reminding.

Jehovah Jira

God Provides.

“Jehovah” is an English translation of the Tetragrammatron, which are the 4 letters for the name of God.

When God told His Name, He said “I Am.” He offered that definitive statement. He IS. Regardless of what we are, what we think or what we believe. He IS and Was and Causes Existence To Exist.

It always strikes me as funny how this big God Who Is also cares about me, when I am only here for a short time, and only here because He called me into being, kept me being. The tiny signs of Grace that He sends–even when I forget His largest grace in the sacrifice of His Son.

What am I on about? Well, there’s the money that comes out of nowhere when it is much needed and least expected. There’s the phone that rings with a friend on the other line when you really need to know you have friends. There’s the way your soulmate turns up when you least expect it–when the strange exchange student who was your mean boss actually turns out to be from Pennsylvania and will laugh at your jokes. There’s the really good book by an author you like on sale at Border’s when you want something fun and fresh to read. The fact that it’s a 3 for the Price of 2 sale and you can get 2 extra fun and fresh things along with it.

There’s the time your car breaks down on the side of the road and a guy from the cable company picks you up and drives you home. And he’s listening to the Christian radio station and you talk about the God you have in common and he says he’ll pray for you. And you take down the number of the van and call the Cable company and they don’t have a van with that number or a driver with that name and you think that maybe, just maybe, it was one of the angels unaware.

There’s the time when there’s no answer, when you realise you’re in the wilderness. When things are hard and bitter and they don’t work out. When people die, when jobs are lost, when the surgery that was supposed to heal you puts you in agony for an entire year. And you realise that HE was in the wilderness, that He starved and sweat and battled Satan while constrained in the manflesh. And you think that how bad it is for you pales in comparison to how bad it must have been for the One Who Causes All To Exist to limit Himself to the frailty of one body. How it felt for the One who made rain to be thirsty and the One who sent manna to be hungry. And you realise that He did all of that so that He could get to talk to you again and get to see you around forever. No other reason but that He made you and He loves you and He not only died for you. He lived on this earth in a body just as sore and tired as yours, when He didn’t have to.

And you know it is foolish to many to love Him when you’ve never seen Him but you can’t explain fully that you have seen Him. Because the unexpected money comes and the phone rings and the ram is in the thicket.

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Disney World groupies, Rollercoaster junkies and Animal Kingdom lovers, have I got the thing to make your Saturday!

The guys at Inside The Magic attended the soft opening for Expedition Everest at the Animal Kingdom. They’ve posted a QuickTime video of their ride-through. Looks like Animal Kingdom may not be a half-day park anymore…

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Aside from providing me with unreserved glee, the Frey Truthiness scandal has set me to demand justice.

Back in 2000, the New York Times Book Review undertook to redesign its Best-seller list for the first time in more than a decade and a half. The main purpose, it seemed, was to consign these measly little books to their proper place on the new “children’s list.” Never mind that adults buy the books in record numbers.

Now, it seems that the publishers of memoirs admit to an inability to provide thorough fact-checking for the memoirs they publish. As a result these books reign supreme on the Non-Fiction chart.
Is this really fair? Certainly Augusten Burroughs is far more tantilising than Jimmy Carter’s stentorian monograph on What’s Wrong With Kids These Days. Sales reflect the trends of the times, but is it fair. Granted, Kids These Days probably do suck, but should the general dressing down of our culture be forced to compete with fast cars, fast women and hard liquor? Especially since maybe the cars are really Pintos, the women are not so hot and the liquor is not yours to drink. Who knows anymore with these Memoirists.

So let’s suck it up again, NYT. Let’s have a Truthiness list where we can sequester all the memoirs. People will have a better understanding of what the books really are, and the latest How To Build A Pit Barbecue manual will have a fighting chance at the NF Top 10.

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I’m a reformed Oprah fan. I fell in love with her during The Color Purple when she was fat and strong and spoke her mind. When her show was first syndicated out of Chicago it came to Fort Wayne as a Donohue-style debate–but seamier!!! More tawdry for your dollar. Oprah was the personifcation of every raw-boned midwestern worman shocked by tales of incest, bigamy and husbands who spend the grocery money on whores. Before Law & Order, Oprah was the place to get your boring life’s shot in the arm of tawdry, tantilising, titillating junk. I love stories, and these were good ones.

Somewhere down the line, after her clones were too numerous and cop shows started to out-bawdy her, she got a watered-down brand of religion. First, she lost weight. Just as I was packing the freshman 15 (which were the Freshman 30 in my case) onto my belly, out rolls the fatwagon. This new sleek and skinny Oprah was all about size 10 jeans. And she lost a bit of my interest. (I see skinny girls on TV all the time, thanks.) Perched invisibly on top of the 67 pounds of fat was a large part of Oprah’s ability to act as Everywoman’s interlocuter. I’ve since lost track of the fat/thin seismic graphs of her waistline. She was fat and I was fat and I was fine with my being fat because there was a fat girl who made good. Once she publicly announced her fatshame I was done with it. If I wanna hear someone whine about their weight I’ve got nearly every woman I’ve ever met to turn to.

Then she decided, about 9 years into her run, that we’d all heard everything before. We all knew, thanks to her show and its many imitators, that some housewives turned tricks for mad money and that normal-looking people had gay family members. Conveniently she decided to be born again into the Remembering Your Spirit Oprah who burned incense, got you to decorate A Room Of One’s Own and very publicly patted herself on the back for giving sheets to orphanages. She disavowed Trash TV and aimed to create a better world. Everyone lauded her for ending racism, homophobia and heck…world hunger. Long about this time (1998), I created my first public website and dedicated it to debunking the New And Improved Oprah. Patrick refers to that period of my life as my 15 minutes of fame, although he’s wrong. It was only about 3 minutes and I was only famous if you read The National Enquirer or E! Online. But it was still enough to get death threats from poor spellers who loved Ms. Winfrey and were apparently Remembering Their Spirit by advocating my demise.

I stopped the website when I lost interest, and moved on to other things. I also stopped watching Oprah, but friends and family keep me up to date–almost gleefully. As though my Quixotic fixation with her windmill is their greatest entertainment. I’m puzzled by the ‘new and improved’ less tawdry version who couches her seamy topics in a good-for-you shell. It’s like finding a box full of Lucky Charms marshmallows with a few twigs of All-bran for legitimacy. I’ve heard tell that Ms. O has done stories on The Down Low, the Rainbow Party and other highly-sexualised topics. Of course instead of just being the “Girlfriend, Do you believe this?!?” freak show of the mid-80s fat Oprah, it’s now in the guise of Public Service. You should be aware that your husband MIGHT be having sex with men and giving you AIDS. You should know that your teenager MIGHT be getting/giving blowjobs with multiple partners. Of course, instead of watching 40 minutes of television you could get to know your husband, your teenager, yourself. That would be too easy. And face it. We’re all pretty darned dull.

Then there’s the bookclub. The point of this particular wordy screed, the thorn in this bitchy lion’s paw. Books are, to put it crudely for those who don’t know, my life. I read them to much success, write them to small success and read about them for fun. The book world is starving to death, and gladly accepts crumbs from the television table. Oprah has been lauded in publishing circles far and wide as the Saviour of The Book. Can I not escape the clutches of this woman? I do understand her interest in a book club though. Books have an air of legitimacy and seriousness that television has always lacked. It may not be fair and it may not be right but that’s the way it is. And it’s no coincidence in my mind that Oprah’s sudden interest in the world of print came about at nearly the same time as her change in tenor for the show. It was a covert message to her fans. “We are now serious tv, stepping away from the tawdriness of life to answer the call to a higher plane.”

Rest assured, fair fans, this higher plane will be just as fun. (And the first book is about a fat girl.) With inerring accuracy she selected one book after another which mirrored the themes of shows in ages past. Incest, addiction, non-traditional sex activity, depression, murder, suicide, AIDS. It was the same Oprah show under the covers, and the readers ate it up. If Oprah recommended a book it was sure to be more interesting than your carpool-lane tuna casserole existence.

My Sunday School teacher’s wife has been after me for a solid six months to read A Million Little Pieces. I refuse politely but firmly each time. People chalk it up to my Oprah hatred, and that is part of the issue. I don’t read her book recommendations because they are inherently depressing. But more than that, I don’t read books about/by junkies anymore. I read Man With the Golden Arm in high school. And of course I had to read Go Ask Alice in 7th grade health class. I may have decided to not do drugs after these books, but they did absolutely nothing good for my seasonal depression.

Besides, I’m a deadhead. I have been for a long time. That means that many of my close friends were junkies, that I’ve seen people OD and that I’ve had people I love steal from me, lie to me and flake out. I’ve been a designated driver through life, and it’s not fun. I’m not about to find the Tales of A Junkie’s Drama intriguing or interesting. And frankly, I don’t believe it. None of the junkies I’ve known–even my uncle, who went to jail–led such an interesting life as James Frey puported. A true junkie’s memoir would be about stealing twenties out of your mother’s purse, getting high and spending all afternoon at the Sizzler in Muncie. High-speed police chases, drunken brawls and whatever else Frey lied about are just movie fodder, as far as I’m concerned. So when I heard that he was selling this interesting life on Oprah I just rolled my eyes.

When I heard that he got caught in the lie and was dragging Oprah down with him I laughed.

When I heard that she finally ate crow on yesterday’s show I was about the happiest I’ve ever been.

But now I’m back to being ticked. Because her next book is Night, which deserves to be taken seriously. I fully expect a passel of Holocaust Deniers to use the Frey scandal in an attempt to “debunk” Wiesel’s masterpiece.

Society turns on a twisted axis.

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