Tuesday, March 31, 2009

21 Men I'd Like to Have Lunch With

Well, we're not playing Blackjack, but 21 does seem to be the number lately. I've given you 21 women I'd like to have lunch with, 21 places I'd like to visit - and now, 21 men I'd like to have lunch with. So if you're wondering, no - I haven't run lists of 21 somethings into the ground yet.
So here, in no particular order, are the 21 men I'd like to have lunch with.

1. Kim Jong Il. It's obvious the North Korean dictator is off his rocker, which is precisely why you want him at any lunch party you throw. His pantsuit would add a certain "Communist chic" to the fashion around the table, and I could ask him about his rap albums, and if he's ever tempted to hold a press conference and tell his citizens, "Just kidding! I'm not divine."

2. Charles Barkley. This former basketball player, current sports commentator is famous for h
is mock turtlenecks and conservative politics. I think he'd bring a very unique perspective to conversation. I'd also like to see how tall he is, and what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to better represent conservative ideas. Plus I'd like him to play some one-on-one with Kim Jong Il.

3. Paul McCartney. As the remaining Beatles are slowly whittled away, it would be historically memorable to have Sir Paul grace my table - a man who's crafted the songs we sing, hum, recognize, and love. I'd be tempted to ask him about Heather, but wouldn't have the guts. But I would ask him to play a bit on the piano as other guests arrive. And hey - the man recently sold out a Vegas show in eight seconds. SECONDS.

4. Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger). While I'm not much of a fan of the German language, I do appreciate the current Pontiff. My perception may be way off base, but he strikes me as fiesty and possibly prone to crankiness, though not unkindness. I like gruff old guys, and he certainly is a bulldog for doctrine, which I respect. I think he's a good man, and a very, very intelligent man.

5. Christopher Hitchens. Though I wouldn't seat them next to each other, Christopher Hitchens has all the bulldog, cranky tendencies with none of the kindly ones. He's an abso
lute so and so who frequently looks hung over and disheveled. But he's an intellectually honest atheist, and by that, I mean he's consistent, and he doesn't pretend to be nice, which I can respect much more than the sniveling Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens isn't easily pigeonholed, either - I've enjoyed reading his rather conservative political opinions.

6. Nelson Mandela. Enough said.

7. Paul Lieberstein. "Toby" from "The Office," Paul is also a frequent writer of my favorite comedy, as well as producer. He's tended to write some of my favorite episodes, and I think it's interesting to see the "small town" tendencies that this show has, of writers who act, actors who produce, producers who write, and on and on. I think it's a healthy trend that keeps the "brand" of the show consistent, and really develops loyalty to a series.

8. Bono. The Irish rocker's latest musical efforts on U2's "No Line on the Horizon" have been called some of the most blatantly spiritual of the band's albums to date. He's never
claimed to be a saint - but he's always allowed himself to be driven to search for truth. And he went from singer to international humanitarian, working tirelessly with politicians of all stripes (including George W.) to secure funding to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa.

9. George W. Bush. To paraphrase, of all people, Barbara Walters, "say what you will about this Presid
ent, for whatever reason, we haven't had another 9/11 while he's been in office, and that's something we can all be grateful for." Love him or hate him, he was elected for two terms as a leading figure in the free world.

10. Anthony Hopkins. He is a treasure of a classic British actor. Whether his films become timeless (his Hannibal Lector portrayals) or under-the-radar ("The World's Fastest Indian"), Anthony Hopkins raises the bar. Interestingly, he also paints, and is quite good at it, t

11. Billy Graham. The famous crusader has preached to millions, over decades, a
nd has remained a true gentleman through it all. Never haunted by scandal, he lost his beloved Ruth a couple of years ago, and his health has faltered considerably as he ages. But the world is a better place while he is in it, and it would be an honor to visit with him and enjoy his gentle presence.
12. Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani fascinates me. He's likeable, for one thing - you don't have to agree with all his politics to think he must be an interesting guy to have a conversation with. And he epitomizes the New Yorker. He has his faults, but you get the idea that he's well aware of them.

13. Prince Charles. I think his treatment of his young bride was revolting. That being said, I'm curious to see whether he's as much of an idiot as he manages to appear frequently. He's a gardener, and I have a hard time writing gardeners off completely. Simply because he's a gardener, I would give him the chance to redeem himself from the classic Monty Python "Upper Class Twit of the Year" award.

14. Speaking of which - Monty Python. I'm not sure if they're all still living, but I would like to have lunch
with those who are. I know John Cleese and Michael Palin are still raising heck, but that's because they've established pretty successful post-Python careers. Monty Python still makes me laugh, and embodies some of what I like the best about British humor. And I think they'd really enjoy sitting next to a Communist dictator. And I would enjoy surrounding him with Monty Python alums.

15. Elie Wies
el. The tragic, broken Holocaust survivor would have a warm place of honor and welcome at my table.

16. Mel Gibson. The tortured soul, riddled with addictions, "found religion" and
has been a devout adherent to the Tridentine Mass, a Latin, pre-Vatican II rite. I have a lot of respect for Mel Gibson. He made a movie - "The Passion of the Christ" - which was sure to be received well by many of the Christian faith, but would also be sure to get him blackballed in Hollywood. He doesn't pretend to be something he's not. He still has a sense of humor. But I believe he's sincere in his faith, and I appreciate that.

17. Alvin Plant
inga. Quite simply, he's written some of the most academically challenging material I've ever read. A philosopher of religion at Notre Dame, Plantinga is One Smart Cookie. If academics is cerebral weight lifting, you gotta spend some time in the gym and work up to Plantinga: but it's worth it.

18. Yo-Yo Ma. He is an artist for your ears. It would be a treat to discover more about
him in person.

18. Tony Du
ngy. The former Indianapolis Colts coach embodied what it means to be a gentleman and an athlete. He let the Colts through a historic Manning era and weathered the personal tragedy of losing a son, in the midst of it. He recently retired to spend more time with nonprofit work, and in devotion to his public Christian faith.

19. Jack White. Bandmember of the "White Stripes," the Detroit native started out as an upholsterer - a rather unusual one, upholstering only in certain colors, and frequently issuing invoices in crayon. The other member of the "White Stripes" was his ex-wife, girl-dru
mmer Meg. Jack always looks like he's walked out of a Tim Burton movie set. He'd be a great guest to throw into the mix.

20. Russell Crowe. At one point known most for his temper, the actor has played some great historic roles, not least of which in "Master and Commander," a favorite movie of mine. More recently, he's settled down with his family, though the Aussie still isn't particularly overfriendly with the media. But he did have a Byzantine chapel built on his ranch, and was baptized there along with his sons, when he realized he wanted them baptized. He's a gifted actor and unpredictable person.

21. For purely curious and nosy reasons, Jack Kevorkian. I completely disagree with eve
rything the man stands for; therefore, I want to meet him. I'd be tempted to almost let him choke on something, then whack him on the back and say "sorry, I couldn't tell if you wanted to live or die."

Okay, I used up my 21. Let it be known that I would also set a place for the dead: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, Martin Luther, St. Thomas Aquinas, Albert Einstein, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Heath Ledger, Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, Gengis Khan, Henry VIII, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Douglas Adams, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Christopher Wren, Don Knotts, Charles Dickens, and my own grandfather who has joined the "choir invisible," Robert Bruce White.

Also, I would scoot everybody a little closer together and invite Andy Griffith to my lunch.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Around the Web in Eighty Seconds

I'd like to serve up a bit of recent news and a couple of comments to garnish it. So, here's a brief trip around the web.

First, it's fascinating to observe culture, rather like a birdwatcher. After two years at the helm of University of Kentucky basketball, the administration fired the U.K. coach Friday, to replace him with a new coach today - Calipari, from recently successful Memphis. The spectrum of reactions range from national sports commentators, who find it puzzling and inexcusable to fire a coach after only two seasons, to local sportswriters, who think that Billy Gillespie can't get out of town fast enough. And that, my friends, is the fervor of Kentucky basketball fans. This year, U.K. didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament: the equivalent in newsworthiness here in the Bluegrass of, say, the Madoff scandal breaking in Manhattan. I understand the outsiders' perspective, but there are a couple of traditions in Kentucky you don't mess with: mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby, and a winning basketball program at U.K.

Today I heard a clip of President Obama's press conference, an update on the automotive bailout and extension of the hastily drafted Hail Mary plan that the two loan recipients need more time to work on. He made a couple of statements that left me with some questions.

While it's true that the economy can't handle the loss of any of the Big Three automakers - let's just take that as a premise - and while we all recognize that the government can't bail out every industry - that simply isn't feasible - my question is this: if the bailout plan calls for lots of infrastructure spending, and if the auto industry was seen as an indespensible part of American identity, innovation, and economy - what about the newspapers that have, quite literally, been folding?

I can't keep up with the number of classic old papers turning out their lights and shutting their doors - and magazines, too. Here was the presidential reasoning in the press conference: the economy can't absorb the loss of a Detroit automaker; the automakers are emblematic of American invention, innovation, industry, and economy; and lots of support businesses will fail if the automakers fail.

Given those specific criteria, why would the publishing industry not be worthy of a bailout? Newspapers from sea to shining sea are stopping the presses - yet journalism is richly emblematic of American invention, innovation, industry, and economy; just look at "Citizen Kane."

"But," you say, "it's a dying industry. Everything's going digital."

Is it? Is that why vinyl records are becoming popular again, alongside iTunes? Is that why investors spend thousands of dollars on comic books? Is that why I still enjoy buying a tangible copy of a magazine at the supermarket? Is that why I love getting mail in my mailbox - the one outside by the road, not my email?

Consider this: technology is at once globally accessible, and globally inaccessible. For instance, a reader in Great Britain can agree or disagree with my words above. But the poor do not have as easy access to computers and the internet. In many countries around the world, internet cafes still exist. When I visited Mongolia, we stopped by a business with about eight computers set up, and paid per twenty minutes to be on the internet. It's not only in other countries, though - there are still people in the United States who can't afford Blackberries, or who live in rural areas with limited internet access. I notice that it's only people with high speed internet, or iPhones, who declare print to be dead. But has anyone noticed a slight, oh, credit crisis in the past six months? Individuals who have augmented their monthly expenditures with credit cards or second mortgages are going to have to cut back - majorly - on luxuries.

And accessing the Wall Street Journal from your phone is a luxury.

I think it's easily argued that the publishing industry is not only emblematic of American drive and innovation - it represents Freedom of the Bloomin' Press. The poor have a right to the news as much as anybody. And mark my words, if the economy continues to get worse before it gets better, you'll see more people unable to pay huge monthly fees to get internet access on their MIR-level cellphones, and more people digging around in their pockets for a few quarters for a newspaper.

The bailout I'd like to see? Subscriptions to newspapers and magazines for every federal employee. And I'd like to see aggregate sites - sites that link to other people's hard-earned news - have to pay through the nose. Websites like the Huffington Post rake in lots of profits from their ads - but they link to stories that newspapers, yes newspapers, have produced. It's not much removed from pirated movies or music. But it's legal. If a website does over a certain amount of profit, specifically from providing a high volume of links to other peoples' stories - well, I think they should have to pay the producers of the newsstories for the use.

Well, if you're too stressed to think about the state of print in the United States, have some fun designing a new Dunkin' Donuts donut at their website. Mmmm. Donut. Reminds me of Election Day, when Starbucks gave me free coffee and Krispy Kreme gave me a free donut for voting. That was a delicious vote.

Speaking of Starbucks, have any of you recessionistas noticed a renewed interest in gift cards? Old gift cards with a few bucks on them have all of a sudden become an intriguing commodity again. Go through your wallet: you may find several dollars for a restaurant or store.

I admit: that was my way of subtly implanting "Starbucks" and "gift card" in your brain when you think of this blog. What's that? Grande nonfat mocha with whip? I'd be delighted.

I'll sip it while I read my tangible, ink and paper local rag, and watch local Kentuckians dust their hands with satisfaction at getting a new coach.

Alright, that was longer than eighty seconds. Don't worry: only a few newspapers folded in that time.

Friday, March 27, 2009

21 Places I'd Like to Visit

Something about lists soothes me.

Ask my sweet husband. I try to make lists for him all the time. Even if he only needs
two things from the grocery store, I start to reach for a notepad. "I THINK I can remember milk and sugar," he says with a raised eyebrow and a smile.

But I like making lists. So I make lists for grocery shopping - ongoing, of course, conveniently located on the side of the fridge. I make to do lists. Boring classes were always good places to make to do lists.

Before Chr
istmas, I make lists of who I need to send cards to, who I've already bought for, who I still need to buy for, and the ideas I have for potential gifts.

I don't always follow my lists, but it feels great to have the internal out in the exter
nal world. And I'm enough of a scatterbrain that without lists, I can't cope. If I don't write it down, chances are, I won't remember it. I'm the kind of person who has to sit a video out in the middle of the living room floor in order to remember to return it. (Yes - yes, I've actually done that. Yes, it worked. No, I'm not insane. G.K. Chesterton was so infamously absent-minded he once sent his wife a telegram saying, "am at such-and-such a station. Where ought I to be?" after losing track of his surroundings. I'm no Gilbert Keith, but it's comforting to know I'm not alone.

And now, fo
r today's list.
21 Places I'd Like to Visit: cities, countries, regions, in no particular order
(places I've already been: Scotland, England, China, Mongolia, Canada, around a great deal of the continental United States)

1. Italy. Not just Rome - the whole boot. What a country overflowing with a bounty of beauty. History and beauty. Good food and history and beauty. Sure, the mafia's becom
e such a big problem that public marches were recently held to protest mafia killings. But have you ever seen a gorgeous pair of Italian leather shoes? No wonder people would kill. I want to spend long enough in Italy that I develop favorites - my favorite Italian city, favorite museum, favorite village area, favorite beach, favorite restaurant (okay, restaurants plural). To stay long enough to be able to recommend a village or town or hotel to someone else. Italian is the most beautiful language, in my opinion. (In case you're wondering, I consider German the ugliest to listen to - and I've taken some German.)

2. Ireland. I've such a mix of Anglo-Saxon blood in my veins - I know Scottish, Welsh, and English - I can't help assume there's a drop of Erin in there, too. I'd probably wish to visit Ireland and North Ireland, out of the curiosity to compare. It's gorgeous, with moody weather - my cup of [Irish Breakfast] tea. I think there are some great ancient burial sites too, that I'd want to check out (morbid soul that I am, constantly linking everything to death).

3. France. A bit of time in Paris - museums, cathedrals, cafes - but most of my time in southern France. Give me Provence, or give me a slow, painful death. I wish to smell the mingle of gentle lavender, tangy goat cheese, and unwashed peasant. If Gaul was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me.

4. Prague. This was an old flame recently rekindled thanks to a great few pages on Prague in a Martha Stewart Living magazine. I must go there: the famous bridge, spellbinding ribs of Gothic arches in a palace, a beacon of eastern European identity - and plenty of myth-bound old cemeteries (after all, vampire lore was bred in eastern Europe - insert evil Vincent Price cackle). Prague makes me think of 19th century literature, women in fine silk gowns, royalty, and intrigue. It's obvious I must go.

5. Ausch
witz. It is Europe's cemetery, a muffled insulator against millions of voices crying out. The former death camp is not exactly postcard travel - but sometimes you have to run the gauntlet. There is no modern emblem of evil more stark with which to be confronted - and few places where more people should be honored and remembered.
6. Morocco. A Moroccan bazaar sounds like a spice-laden, brilliantly hued place to be. I would like to visit Morocco, observe customs and traditions, visit some sites, and most definitely invest in some souvenirs. Who needs Pier 1 when you've been to Morocco?

7. Israel. Fra
nkly, Israel is a toss-up. I'd love to visit Jerusalem - and while a friend has led many archaelogical trips over there, and has even cleared brush with missiles flying over head, I'm just not sure I want to plant myself mid-war zone. That being said, it's Jerusalem. Israel. Tangible history, and bed of three major world religions - including my own faith. I'd love to visit, I'd just want to dash over in relative peaceful circumstances.

8. Egypt. One word: pyramids. Okay, two words: pyramids and mummies.

9. Moscow.
The east is so different. Russian ways of thinking are distinct, not only from American, but from European. Moscow is literally Eurasian: read a bit of Dostoevsky and note the nuances. In many ways, Moscow always strikes me as a sad place: bitterly cold, gray, and with the haunt of former power and splendor lost. But I would enjoy seeing Russian Orthodox churches, and historical sites around the city. Although if I saw Putin, I'd give him a piece of my mind, power-grabber.

10. India. I would like to visit Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying in Kolkata, and I would like to visit some tea plantations, and actually see Assam being grown. But I hate hot weather, so I might be grumpy while I'm there.

11. Liechtenstein. Come on, who doesn't want to visit a pocket-sized country? How fun would that be. An "I went all the way to Liechtenstein and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" shirt? Okay, maybe not, but you have to imagine that it's fun to say, "oh, you like that mug? I got it in Liechtenstein."

12. Cape Horn. It seems wild, untameable, and weirdly south - like Antarctica south - on an otherwise hot, muggy continent. I want to watch storms blow up and walk beaches in search of driftwood from sunken ships.

13.The Outback. Sydney may be interesting, I don't know, but who goes to Australia for the urban life? No, well covered in umbrella-sized hat, long white cotton sleeves, and
spackled in zinc oxide, I'd like to meet Aborigines, and see koalas, and especially - especially - kangaroos, wombats, and kookaburras. Thank "The Rescuers Down Under" for that. And "Crocodile Dundee."

14. Prince Edward Island. Most of my childhood and adolescence, I considered Prince Edward Island to be the closest thing on earth to heaven - because, of course, Anne of Green Gables lived there. No matter that Anne Shirley never trod a square foot of God's green earth in the history of mankind. Prince Edward Island was, to quote Miss Shirley, My Ideal. And I would still love to visit.

15. Victoria Falls. From one part of the old Empire to another: Victoria Falls infamously needs no introduction, but suffice it to say that the stunning view of the falls would, I am certain, be worth the trip. Also, note that Victoria Falls plays a small role in Agatha Christie's "The Man in the Brown
Suit," in my opinion the funniest of her novels, and one of the earliest.
16. Greece. It's startling how blue the Mediterranean can actually muster itself up to be. And Greece? Home to a couple little blokes called Plato and Aristotle. I can't imagine living in a place where antiquity is constantly underfoot, like a brood of children barging around at Sunday dinner. Sign me up to tour the country, Athens, of course, included.

17. Switzerland. What an interesting little country, like the responsible older sibl
ing of Europe, who moderates fights, fixes your watch, monitors your piggy bank, and gives you a bar of chocolate when you're down. How disarmingly mature.

18. The Bahamas. Let it be known that I love beaches, waves, the sea - everything about tropical paradises. They just don't like me. My pale British genes react to direct exposure to the sun about as well as Henry
VIII reacted to his lack of male progeny - which is to say, not well. I burn in about fifteen minutes on a hot summer's day - in midwestern North America. But that doesn't mean I don't like the idea of sitting under a large umbrella on a beach, sipping juice and watching the waves go in and out. Just don't let me actually get IN the sun.

19. China. I know, I've already been there - but briefly, just overnight in Beijing, en route to Mongolia. So when I want to emphasize the places I've been, I mention China, but when I want to emphasize the places I want to be, I mention China. I haven't seen the Great Wall, or the stunning countryside. And while the People's Republic did mos
t certainly not make it easy to get in or out of their nation, I'd be willing to undergo the bureaucratic hassle again if I have to. Also, I'd like to visit tea plantations in China.
20. Wales. Have you ever seen signs with so many consonants packed in like sardines? Probably not since visiting oh, say, Eastern Europe. But I have Welsh ancestry, and I'd like to visit the land of the Prince of...Wales. For literary cross-reference, see "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

21. Hawaii. Never been. It looks leafy and lava-y and hey, THAT'S where all the vowels from the Welsh signs went...Hawaii! Now, I mean Hawaii the state, not just Hawaii the main island. Hmm, this is making me hungry for pineapple. Barkeep! Fetch me some pineapple!

Now, a couple of my favorite countries are absent from this list - England and Scotland. This is partly because I've been both places before, and partly because I love them so much they are places I don't want so much to visit - I want to live there. So a brief nod to Edinburgh, the Isle of Skye, and Oxford are in order - three of the best places on earth, in my experience. Too good to visit only once.

So - where would you go?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

21 Women I'd Like to Have Lunch With

March is Women's History Month, and as March is drawing to a close, I thought I'd share this fun little list of Women I'd Like to Have Lunch With. It's a motley combination, and I might have to spend some time developing a careful seating arrangement to avoid awkward moments. But here are some women I would invite to lunch:

1. Queen Elizabeth II. She's fallen short of the grandeur of her namesake, but she's nonetheless fascinating. Love or hate royalty, she's iconic.

2. Martha Ste
wart. She's my favorite felon. Her crime has done nothing to waver my brand loyalty. And she's one of the most knowledgeable women I can think of. The woman is a walking encyclopedia, if notably neurotic. She's provided recipes for my Easter dinners, household items for my wedding registry, and all kinds of household ideas, travel ideas, gardening tips, and more. Hats off, Martha. You Win.

3. Sarah Palin. Love her or hate her, you can't talk about the future of conservative ideology without mentioning her. Unpolished? Yes. Fascinating woman? Yes. Northern Exposure mashes with the GOP. She's a tough northern woman.

4. Angelina Jolie. This sounds so cliche, but check it out: she doesn't fit into the Hollywood categories. She allows her son to play with toy guns and have a military-themed birthday party. She's modeled a global motherhood that many women can identify with, who've adopted children from Asia or South America. And she takes big questions seriously, interested in world religions and human rights. She doesn't pass herself off as an airhead. (This photo shows a very pregnant Jolie with journalist Ann Curry, in Namibia.)

5. Condoleezza Rice. This woman was one of the most powerful people in the world for the past few years. Surprisingly well-rounded: classical pianist, football fan, southerner, well-educated, an African-American woman who remembered the segregated South, and boldly defended conservative foreign policy. Single, known for a piercing stare-down of opponents, and made headlines for a kick-butt pair of boots she wore on a diplomatic trip once.

6. Michell
e Obama. It's so great to see cute fashion on a first lady. But it's surprising to see her very stay-at-home mom approach to her first lady duties. She's an intelligent, well-educated lawyer, who has chosen a very different role from that of the last Democrat first lady, Hillary Clinton. And I wonder why. For the record, she has great triceps, and if she wants to wear sleeveless dresses, I applaud her ability to do so with class.

7. Jan Karon. She has introduced millions of readers to quaint Mitford, and gave a sincere, hard-working priest serious currency on bestseller lists. And her Mitford cookbook? Amazing. Try Harley's brownies.

8. A British
trifecta: Dame Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, and Helen Mirren. These women make many American actresses look like bubble-gum popping adolescents. Maybe it's being born in the land of Shakespeare: I suspect it has more to do with raw talent and years of hard work. But these women possess a commanding ability to rule the screen from the moment they appear on camera.

9. Marilyn McCord Adams. She teaches theology at Oxford University, is Canon of Christ Church, and is a formidable intellectual powerhouse. I met her once in Oxford. Agree or disagree with her thoughts on philosophy of religion, she is nonetheless one of the People To Whom You Must Respond if studying certain issues, like the problem of evil. She represents women in academia with surprising energy.

10. Lauren Bacall. Watch five minutes of one of her black and white screen performances, and you'll be spellbound. She's the woman who married Bogart, who burned up the film in "To Have or Have Not," who trumped Princess Diana's ability to look coyly out from under her eyelids, shyly - slyly? - at the press. She always manages to seem unconciously powerful.

11. Karin Bergquist. The enigmatic voice of "Over the Rhine" includes Sarah McLachlan in her fans. She was born, bred, and has stayed in Ohio, married to her musical partner, Linford Detweiler. Together, they've spun out intensely lyrical albums with sounds tinged with bluegrass, indie rock, jazz, and even Tom Waits. She exhibits keen vulnerability in her singing, especially in concerts, but this same introspective thread often renders her manner a bit melancholic, slightly troubled, or moody. The flip side of this is a sensitive sketch of each note, each word, each pause between notes and chords and rhythms.

12. Jenna Fischer. "The Office" actress who plays Pam seems to take enjoyment in deliberately keeping her Hollywood profile low and midwestern. She blogs about shopping at Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond, while giddily describing her preparations for Red Carpet events, and deconstructing a bit of the glam associated with L.A. life. She describes starving after waiting a long time at awards shows, she took pictures of the photographers at the red carpet, so one can see just what an actor or actress sees as they smile for never-ending flash bulbs. And she kept her recent divorce low-drama, refusing to say anything negative publicly about her former husband. She is the girl next door - just on your TV.

13. J.K.
Rowling. The woman singlehandedly demonstrated the power of quality literature. She not only rose from single mom to author to literary superstar/mogul of a vast empire, she introduced literature that assumed a supernatural world, a reality other than the immediately seen. And with the quality of her writing, she makes one wonder: if one great writer can get a whole generation of kids reading six hundred page books, just what has the publishing industry been producing beforehand that kept kids uninterested and unchallenged?

14. Ali Hewson. The woman behind the man Bono. They've been married for a couple decades and have several children. Ali has weathered all the rock star and international humanitarian fame that Bono has experienced for the past thirty years. She has to be one interesting woman.

15. Kay Warren. I interviewed the "purpose-driven" wife once, and deeply appreciated her recent book, "Dangerous Surrender." She has a vibrant personal faith, and a driving passion to serve the poor and diseased around the world. She displays surprising candor, intellectual honesty, and disarming bluntness. I like her already.

16. Pat Su
mmit. It's always fascinating to watch a female coach stand at the sidelines and contort her face, yelling at her players. Pat Summit has coached women's college basketball in Tennessee for years, and has set records with her wins. What does it take to be a woman who coaches women in sports? Are you always tough, or do you bring brownies to practice sometimes? I'm curious.

17. I can't get around it: Oprah Winfrey, the woman who only needs a first-name introduction. Alright, I think she needs some humility, and I dislike her propensity of giving out spiritualistic advice. That being said, she's filling a void that needs noticing: female leadership. Women need other women to look up to, and if women are looking up to Oprah, the question is, why? What need is she filling? And even though I disagree with her positions on some things, I also respect her success. She's come a long way, she's branded herself, and has built a whole lifestyle and company based on her name.Where in some ways she's out of touch with people who don't have chauffeurs, in other ways she's constantly wanting to learn - and I respect that native curiosity.

18. Carol Drinkwater. Everyone knows #17, and probably no one recognizes this name. But Carol Drinkwater is fascinating. The actress who played "Helen Herriott" in the Brit TV series "All Creatures Great and Small" in the 80's, Carol now lives in southern France, and has written several books about the olive farm she has worked with her husband.

19. Carol Burnett. One of the few comediennes still living from an era of brilliant female comics - Gilda Radnor, Madeline Kahn, etc. Carol Burnett helped women to be taken seriously (ba-dum-bum) as performers. Her comedy is still funny - which attests to its genius - and spans generations - which also attests to its genius. All my thumbs are up for Carol Burnett.

20. Miss Piggy. Okay, maybe she's not a woman. She's a sow. But Miss Piggy had delighted me with cackles of laughter for years. She's one strong pig - rather Type A, of course, but fiercely - fiercely - protective of her frog. Any lunch gathering would be made better by Miss Piggy's presence.

21. A place set for the dead: women across time I want to have lunch with - Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Madeleine L'Engle, Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, George Eliot, Jane Austen, St. Perpetua, Queen Victoria, Louisa May Alcott, Abigail Adams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Amelia Earhart, Flannery O'Connor, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Alzheimer's victim Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Eva Peron, Diana Princess of Wales, Georgia O'Keefe, and the many, many other voices now fallen silent.

I forgot to make space for Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond, but I'd add a chair to the table and invite her to lunch, too. If you could invite anyone to a grand lunch, to whom would you pen invitations?

Monday, March 23, 2009

What the Dickens?

Since my good friend Angie took her son out of school this spring - and since she herself is finishing her stellar career as an art major this spring, which means readying for a senior show 24/7, and which also means that when we went out the other night, I had to spit-shine a spot on her cheek because she was wearing yellow paint to the area bookstore - where did this sentence begin? Oh yes, since the little bloke is now happily learning at home, I go to her house three mornings a week to keep a wary adult eye on him while she's in class. Okay, I also supervise some of his lessons some of the time. Yes, fine, you caught me: we went on a nature walk, I admit it. AND collected leaves.

This morning, I arrived sleepy and disheveled, and met a sleepy and disheveled friend on the landing of the winding stairs. I started coffee. I collapsed in grey morning langour and then visited a news site to brush up on the day's happenings. And on one side of the monitor was a picture of the plane crash in Montana - but the biggest headline print warned, "Report targets army policy on combat fitness." And, glancing up in a sleepy haze, she said, "What?!? Terrorists are attacking fitness centers now??"

I don't think the editor meant the photo and the headline to go together. Silly editor. Trix are for kids.

After I stopped laughing at the thought of jihadists angrily keeping people from treadmills ("you will NOT be healthy, infidel!"), I remembered my Charles Dickens post.

And now, for something completely different.

When I was perhaps eleven or twelve, or thirteen or fifteen - I try to gloss over those miserable years - I saw "Great Expectations" produced by the Indiana Repertory Theater. I can't say that I liked it, but then again, I can't say that I've ever forgotten parts of it. Something about an old lady wearing her wedding dress, waiting for her fiance with a rotting cake in the background lodged in my impressionable, already over-imaginative mind.

I subsequently relegated Dickens to "God bless us, every one!" every Christmas, or, even better, every Christmas via the Muppets.

And now I have rediscovered Charles Dickens, and Just How Great He Was. Several titles may come to mind as basic Dickens reading, but one has recently been brought to my attention for the first time, thanks to the BBC production. "Our Mutual Friend" is now at the top of my list of Things To Read. I know, I committed the cardinal sin of watching a cinematic version of a novel before reading the actual volume. But how was I to know that "Our Mutual Friend" would turn out to be so brilliant, so insightful, so pointed and poignant? The title didn't even ring any bells with my extremely well-read mother, who has heard of most books, if not read them.

Speaking of BBC brilliance and Mr. Dickens, I have to say I enjoyed "Our Mutual Friend" - the story, at any rate - more than the most recent rendition of "Bleak House." But of course, I'm comparing miniseries, not novels. And I must confess that Gillian Anderson's performance in "Bleak House" elicits a deep desire to see her play more period roles - she was Oscar-worthy in the role. I'm clamoring, now, officially - Agent Scully, are you reading this? - for her to take on Lady MacBeth, or Mary, Queen of Scots, or perhaps some Bronte.

So this spring, I will be reading "Our Mutual Friend" at some point. I'll let you know how I like it. If it's anything like the miniseries, I'm sure it will become a favorite.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Little Deaths; or, Beating At Life With A Big Stick

I have been attempting to beat away life with a big stick.

When I was about three, my dad recorded me "reading" a Bible story book to him. I was an early reader; I wasn't that early. So my "reading" was essentially creative interpretation of the pictures. I still remember the shapes of the illustrations, the smell of the book, the early 80's color scheme of the printed page.

On this tape, you can hear an amused male voice asking a pipsqueak little girl questions. "What's happening, Elizabeth?"

I said something about a bear and Jesus and turned the page.

"What's going on, now?"

"That's Jesus, and he's poking the whale with a pointy stick."

My exegesis needed some work.

But ever since, my family has occasionally laughed about me telling stories about Jesus, and how he poked an animal with a pointy stick.

I've been poking life with a pointy stick. In this scenario, life is a dead animal on the side of the road, or a raging animal charging me. In either case, I've been wielding a pointy stick.

Things haven't been good.

There are many little deaths in life. Lent, of course, is a season of little deaths. Death to desires, death to self-will, death to one's ownership of time, or food, or choice.

A little longer than a week ago, I died a little death. It wasn't over fasting, or "giving something up" for Lent. No, those little deaths are chosen. This wasn't a chosen little death. It was an endured one.

I wore black; not out of melodramatic sensationalism, or melancholic odes to a bygone Victorian era. It was simply because I like tangible expressions of invisible realities, and my reality was one of mourning.

For two years, I have labored at projects I love; for causes I believe in; with people for whom I have deep fondness and respect. What began to build last fall, came to fruition last week. My position at my beloved nonprofit workplace fell victim to institutional fiscal crisis and economic meltdown. I was notified of this on a Monday.

Two days later, I boxed up some of my workplace detritus and mournfully brought it home. Then Friday I did Last Things; the last time I did this task, the last time I signed correspondence, the last time I did that task. I boxed up the remainder of my home away from home. I left instructions about things I did that my editor will now have to do; I explained things, hung things on walls, in duplicate - like lists for the babysitter. It was surreal: I felt as if I would wake up, or they would say "surprise! just kidding."

All the regret in the world on the part of those who had to Make Difficult Decisions didn't change the Difficult Decision they had to make. We're sorry; in an ideal world, we'd be giving you a promotion. You'll have excellent references; we'll do what we can to keep you involved; we'll even compensate you through the end of the month.

But at the end of the day, it was still my last day. I tidied. I organized. I tried to remember if there was anything I was forgetting. I ate farewell pizza. I was in a daze. And all week, I hadn't cried.

But then it was time to go. And Art Director Bob puddled up, and it all went downhill from there.

Since then, I have feverishly sent resumes and CVs, drafted cover letters and searched online employment resources til, bleary-eyed, I was shuffled away from the computer and off to bed.

Since then, I have dropped a record number of dishes. I have ironed with vigor. I have crocheted frantically.

A voice broke in over the past couple of days: quieter than the tinkle of swept-up broken china, more still than the gentle hush of steam issuing from a hot iron, more comforting than soft threads of yarn being twisted into an afghan. It whispered through words on the phone, counseling that perhaps fevered inquiry might give way occasionally to hours of solitude, rest, repose, writing. It nudged through a simple article title about waiting on a God who is never late - see Jesus tarrying when Lazarus died. It rocked to sleep when a kindly note carried words of prayer over my bent head - not abandoned; not alone - with; loved. It gestured when a writer wished her readers an enjoyment of prayer, pointing toward reflection on the Christian mysteries.

And then I discover that I am not the one poking and prodding life effectively; my big stick is nothing more than a twig in the breeze. But I am the one being poked and prodded, nudged and carried. My voice crying against the wind is not the one that needs to be heard. There is a voice quieter, more still. Listen to that one.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


It's true.

I'm on the radio.

Okay, not regularly - but I was interviewed about Lent last week. You can listen here to Moody radio's "Prime Time America" program (click the "listen now" button). My segment is from about 1:09:00 to 1:17:00 (an hour and nine minutes in to the program, to an hour and seventeen minutes).

It's always pretty awkward to hear your own voice - and truth is, I didn't know this would be a radio piece, I thought it was in print. So then I was all like, "OhmygoshwhatdidIsoundlikeI'msuchanidiotandnowthewholecountryhasproof." But then I listened and I'm happy with the result.

But I have a great editor here at the magazine, who tossed this interview to me. I enjoyed myself - but then, an interview involves talking, and that has never - ever - been my weak point.

The Tightrope Is On Fire

Sometimes in life, you balance precariously. A couple months ago, I wrote in a journal a little piece called "Beggar on a Tightrope."

Sometimes, you wake up to find your tightrope is ON FIRE.

Then certain words start stringing together in your mind like crazy ropes of Christmas cranberries: Prozac. The edge. Hyperventilation. Faulty parachute.

You laugh at people who say they're stressed. Stressed was SO five months ago. You shake your head at people who are worried. Worry was SO last season. No, if you're not breaking out in hives of panic, you have not yet begun to fight.

So it feels when your tightrope is on fire.

It helps a little to know that other people have it worse. Their tightropes are growing thorns and sprouting Medusa-like tentacles to wrap around their ankles. And, of course, are on fire.

The beautiful, struggling non-profit for which I work is clinging to its own tightrope. I have gone from full-time to half-time with benefits, and from half-time with benefits to just half-time. You don't need a crystal ball to see where this trend heads.

So since last fall, when the smoke alarm on the tightrope began to sound, I've been churning out resumes and CVs, cover letters and emails. My sweet husband has sought for a better job. My brother lost his job and moved in to the guest room. Extended family dealt with side-by-side pregnancy announcements and layoffs.

Oh, and the dryer quit working. So I hang up wet laundry sock by sock on the rack. And my laptop - my laptop, which is my preferred writer's M.O. It resurrects for a few hours and then coughs a tuberculine hack and draws back into its shell. And my benefits expired the day before my allergist appointment.

So let's talk, boys and girls. A fireside chat, a pastoral word. Let's chat about practical living.

1.) No matter where you work, or how long you've worked there, update your resume or CV. If your company isn't laying off, it may join the ranks. And if it is, even if it hasn't come to your department - invest several hours in sharpening your resume, visiting the websites of companies, denominations, or organizations you're interested in, and scanning monster.com for the kind of employment available right now.

2.) Take the opportunity of number one to really examine where you are and what you're doing. Change may come to your life, painful, even, like it or not - so if you'd ever want to move, where would it be? If you'd ever want to get some extra education, or switch careers, or examine vocation, now is the time to prayerfully consider it.

3.) It takes a village. My brother is out of work and staying with us, but when I got home the other day, the fridge was arranged, the bathroom clean, the dishes done. Employment stress was relieved a bit by less to do at home. My good friend is a single mom finishing her college degree and preparing for her senior art show, so on Friday nights she crashes in our living room and relaxes from the week, and on Monday nights we watch her son while she's in class.

4.) You're probably spending more time in the kitchen. Either you're eating out less, or buying food that needs more prep work, because eating out is costly and buying pre-prepared meals is more expensive than the raw materials. Try to consolidate food prep time by getting a bunch done at once, and freezing extra stuff in Zippy bags.

5.) If I were working at a church right now, I think I'd host a marketplace day - line up a few mechanics in one part of the parking lot, a couple hairdressers in the foyer, a vet in the fellowship hall. Things like oil changes, hair cuts, and pet care could be given by your local church in service to church members and to the community. You could also swap services - exchange with a friend, an oil change for a couple hours of babysitting. Just make sure everybody thinks the barter is fair.

6.) Use changes in grocery shopping and eating out habits to examine your diet. It can take energy and work to try to pack as much nutrient into a low budget as possible - but it is possible. And if you buy cheaper, less lean meat, cut back on buying something high-fat somewhere else.

7.) Don't assume someone who's been laid off is in the same position as you are. They may have it easier, they may have it worse. They may have thought of the same resources to take advantage of, they may not have. Try to keep your advice emotionally timely: there's a lot of stress around. You don't want to be someone's last straw. A good example of wise counsel was recently given. A family member, on the phone, shared some ideas, but explicitly commented that it could be taken or left, that it was "for what it's worth" - and that was a good clarifier.

8.) Be self-aware of your coping mechanisms. My brother laughed at me last night, because at 10:00 P.M. I was baking cookies, biscuits and black beans (not together). "You look like Marge in 'The Simpsons's' when she's stressed out and is up at three in the morning baking a layer cake and basting a turkey." But when a lot is out of your control, control what you can. Apparently, baking to store up for the next couple days is one way I do this. That being said, if things are out of control in your life, also keep in mind unhealthy ways you have of control - addictions rear their ugly heads, eating disorders for some might gnaw at their minds. Be especially aware that things you thought were behind you might reappear under heavy stress.

9.) Indulge. Indulge in free or cheap recreation, escape. The past week I've been doing this without consciously meaning to - but it's been a lifesaver. I took naps Saturday and Sunday. In the evenings, I've played video games - video games, which I don't often do - and it's been a lifesaver to kill time with "Castle Crashers." Productive? No. Mental health saving? Yes. Movies, books, sci fi, whatever - allow yourself. A hobby a day keeps the Prozac away.

10.) Remember the oxygen mask principle. You know, those placards in the back of airplane seats exhort passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before putting it on a child, in case of emergency. Why? Because if you do what seems natural, and give the kid the oxygen first, you may pass out and become completely useless to help them further. Which simply means, you must take care of yourself in order to take care of others. Financially, spiritually, relationally, physically - protect yourself so you can more effectively help those around you. Even if you've never taken them before, it's a good time to visit your doctor about anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Your chemicals can get out of whack under stress. It doesn't mean you have a spiritual problem. It doesn't mean you're weak. It just means we have souls, and we have bodies. Use common sense caring for your body.

Give yourself some slack if your tightrope is on fire. What may usually be your best may be completely out of your reach right now. And that's okay. Give yourself permission to find comfort in a different set of expectations right now. This may mean you utilize a different set of resources than normal. Regular Bible reading may seem difficult; you might get a lot of comfort from classic devotionals, or Gregorian chants, or visiting a chapel during lunch time, or listening to Scripture on your iPod, or studying religious art, or talking with someone more mature than you are. Don't worry: there's a Psalm for you, or a Proverb, or a Lament. Around that, build a contemplative spirit - in the midst of your burning tightrope.

And check up on one another. Whenever there's a severe storm, local officials always request that citizens look in on their neighbors, to make sure they're okay. Keep tabs with people, let them know how you're doing, see how they're faring through the storm. None of us is alone.