Monday, November 19, 2007

A Failure and a Wound

Hey lovies,

This blogging every day thing has been great, but I'm afraid I've overextended myself. Again. You didn't really think I'd make it to the end did you? For a moment I did. Really! But now I have to burrow deep into the work of this novel, and it's going to take everything I have.

Sorry I didn't make it til the end.

My deadline for Wounded is November 30th, and I'm going to go down under and not come up again until I'm done. I'm limiting email, IMing, everything. Until the 30th it's just going to be Jesus and me, and this task ahead. I'll meet you back here on December 1st.

Here's a taste of Wounded. I hope it will remind you to pray for me.

Pax et Bonum! And Happy Thanksgiving, and beginning of Advent!

Coming September 1st, from David C. Cook.

Chapter One

Ash Wednesday

Gina Dolores Merritt

I was sitting in church at the Vineyard when Christ first wounded me. Just minutes earlier Ben had fingered a cross of ashes onto my forehead.

Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.

Sounds like a plan, I thought, and shuffled away from him.

Throbbing pain in my knees heavied my steps--that and the grim mood of my fellow Vineyard pilgrims. The way we trudged back to our seats you’d think Ben had forced us to peer in into our own caskets, our footfalls a solemn largo cadence on the red, flecked carpet, and our movements as stiffly ceremonious as mourners in a funeral procession.

For the heck of it, I pictured my tombstone:

Here lies Gina Dolores Merrit,
the world’s oldest twenty-four-year-old.
Mother of Zoe.

I filled the blank space after Zoe's name with all of the love and lovers I didn’t have.
I could’ve throw down a punch bowl like Florida Evans did on Good Times when her husband died, shaking my fist to the heavens shouting Dang! Dang! Dang!

She didn’t say dang, but I don’t cuss.

That was my darkest moment during the whole service, and it had more to do with my life.
We didn’t do somber much at the Vineyard. Not that we were shallow, but lets face it, joy themes garner more enthusiasm, one notable exception being Ash Wednesday. Today until sundown those of us who’d gathered together in Jesus’ name would wear our dustings of ash like nuns and monks wear habits.

I sat back down in my seat in the near empty balcony, thinking of how our Ash Wednesday service made me feel so happy, deep down in my ragamuffin soul. I could practically hear the dulcet sounds of Donny Hathaway’s crooning, coursing through my soul with the slow ease of the opiates I used to take for pain.

“Take it from me someday we’ll all be free.”

Amen, Donny!


One day I’ll lay down my pain-filled body and bipolar brain, stuttering between dancing with glee and lying in sackcloth and ashes. I’ll take off the cheap polyester dress of corruption, and put on glittering incorruptible resurrection couture. I’ll be with Jesus. Face to face. That’s all I wanted. All I wanted in the whole wide world.

Now seated, I closed my eyes to press the mute button on my senses and surrendered to the sweet delights of silent contemplation—if you can call our worship band softly playing Hillside praise songs silent. But I could contemplate with that. Ben had already darkened the sanctuary so we could focus on an image of Jim Caviezel hanging on the cross. The audio/visual team had projected him onto a giant screen hovering above the worship band.

I definitely wanted to avoid looking at stills from The Passion of Christ. Personally, I found Caviezel way too good-looking to play Jesus, especially when he smiled—which I’ll admit he didn’t get to do much of in the movie. I mean, come on, he played J-Lo’s boyfriend in Angel Eyes for crying out loud. If I looked at him, I’d never get my holy groove on.
So, having avoided movie magic, I did what old, black, charismatic folks sing about and kept my mind stayed on Jesus.


I hugged my arms to myself and wrapped God’s peace like a soft, soothing blanket around my fibromyalgia-broken body. Exhaled. Burrowed my weary soul deep within the consolation of Calvary.

There’s my comfort. The only reason I’m still alive.

Unlike the other crosses in my life, the marking on my forehead, that looked more like a plus sign to tell you the truth, caused me no discomfort. The migraine headache clawing its way up the base of my neck however, raged on like the great tribulation. My limbs burned like they’d been injected with liquid fire, and my knees, two circles of misery, heralded “ouch!” like a couple of talking drums.

I didn’t use drugs, not even prescription ones. None of them—and I do mean none—worked once the “honeymoon” period passed. Now just a few simple words kept me sane in chronic pain, if you could call a bipolar sistah with fibro, who took prayer over Percocet sane.

My prayer?

Share with me, Jesus.

A breath prayer I’d come up with as homework when Ben decided to do a series on the Spanish mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the cross. I dug my little prayer because it was my way of asking Jesus to bear my cross, while at the same time opening my hands to receive a little bit of His.

Yeah. I knew I couldn’t really take on the suffering of Jesus. But if even the desire to give Him a modicum of relief from the agony of the cross pleased Him…

Heck yeah.

Once again I opened my eyes to see if the image on the big screen had changed.


Jim Caviezel still looked like ground chuck. I squeezed my eyes shut again, my thoughts flying back to Jesus.

You could have could have pulled rank, being God and all, and busted up out of there, leaving the cross far behind You.

But You didn’t.

You knew nobody would take care of our sin problem like You would. And there you hung, naked and nailed through the hands and feet. Your side pierced by a sword. And though none could see it, except maybe your mama, your very heart impaled for the love of us.

Oh, my precious, magnificent God.

Share with me, Jesus.

I could understand what happened if there were something special about my worship, but I don’t think I did anything different than what everybody else gathered there had done. Yet, torrents of luxuriant peace flooded my very being. The grace of it spread through me so profusely that I opened my eyes from the shock of it, and found Jesus, not Jim Caviezel standing right in front of me.

His countenance shone with such blazing brightness tears filled my eyes and I blinked to shy from the pure light of His radiance. All the colors of the prism danced within His body. I think I heard music, unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It felt as if my heart stopped dead.
My breathing ceased and my thoughts, a tangle of questions, halted as if I’d finally found the center of centering prayer. All awareness of anything and everything else in the room vanished.

Time stood still.

Angels must have froze and watched with stunned silence.

The Son of God Himself knelt before unworthy me. He picked up my hand and his mouth descended, then Jesus, with the gentleness of an ardent lover kissed me, leaving a perfect red rose in my hand.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

First Mass in a long, long, time...

Today I went to Holy Family, a local Roman Catholic church. It's my mother-in-law's church. In fact, she's the Director of Religious education. Ken grew up in this church, and there was that sense of somewhat vicarious nostalgia at being in the church where my husband, and man who doesn't go to church at all now, knelt, prayed, and connected with God.

Man. He used to go to church. Despite our interfaith marriage, which was heavy on the Jesus Claudia style, he made an effort to get to his church every Christmas Eve. And a few other services. I can't help but wonder if I weren't part and parcel of why he doesn't go now. Me and my unrelenting God hunger. Me and my clawing for the truth. His relationship with God was so much simpler. And I ignored it, because I was the one with "the truth."

Lord, have mercy.

So, I get there, and because I don't sleep normally it was hard to get up and be on time. I left here at about 9:40 AM. I figured Mom would already be at church. I didn't even bother to call her. She usually gets there by 9:00. No one went with me. You'd think we stayed up getting drunk and carousing for Fuzzy Pajama night, but none of that happened. Still, I was the first one up, and I headed out alone.

I walked into the Nave and I realize that I hadn't been there in maybe, 9 or 10 years. Holy moley! How does time pass so quickly? I didn't see the thing that looks like a birdbath I sometimes see on television. But there was a metal Holy Water Stoup, dry, and I was mildly disappointed.

Today I read about Catholic devotions that one could cross his or herself with holy water and it could bring to mind our baptism. The writer says the ritual purified her for spiritual action. She said if the stoup is dry she feels cheated. It's hard to settle. She feels as if it makes her own prayers dry. Like the holy water is some kind of spiritual activator.

That's one thing I love about rituals. They feed me in a very holistic way. I always feel protected when I make the sign of the cross. I think I'd probably like it even more, with a little water to quench my ever parched soul.

So I go inside the sanctuary, and I'll tell you the truth. I was mildly disappointed. I missed the beauty of the Orthodox church. The sight of the icons, taller than myself. Jesus. The Theotokos. John the Baptist. St. Raphael. These windows of heaven have welcomed me into God's house for 2 years now, and seeing them, shining gold, does something good for my senses.

I missed the incense. I don't know why there wasn't incense, but I noticed. But there were candles. Church isn't church without candles! Still. I didn't know I'd grieve the things I loved about church now.

But it wasn't all bad. There were hymns! How I missed them. And these were kinda funky hymns! I heard some Andre Crouch! And I loved Andre when I first came to the Lord. There was a lovely hymn called Bread of Life. I turned to this hymn by mistake. The priest said number 335, but I thought he said 325, but I think God wanted me on that one. Listen to these words:

I myself am the bread of life
You and I are the bread of life
Taken and blessed
Broken and shared by Christ
That the world might live

This bread is spirit
Gift of the maker's love
And we who share it
Know that we can be one
A living sign of God in Christ


Here is God's kingdom
Given to us as food
This is our body
This is our blood
A living sign of God in Christ


Lives broken open
Stories shared aloud
Become a banquet
A shelter for the world
A living sign of God in Christ

Okay. You might find that a little self-centered for worship, but it worked for me. I was surprised when I searched for the lyrics online how many people trash this song. I don't understand it. But I guess that shows the kind of Jesus freak I am. I'm not always standing in church singing to God. I need to remember that we, the Body of Christ, are a continuation of the Incarnation. We really do have this treasure in earthen vessels. Christ within.

My God! That's stunning.

I don't mind that He breaks me open. If He can serve me up to feed His hungry sheep?

Yes, Jesus.

Now you may think that's praying amiss. But that's where I am right now. Blessed, broken, and given. You'll have to take that up with Jesus if you don't like it.

At one point, we sang the Lord's Prayer. Oh man! I remember that! How I loved it. I loved it as a Methodist gal back in the day, when I fell in love with "Let us break bread together on our knees." That was before I became a "wild Penty," Ha! Thanks Terry for that one! It was before the songs changed to the call and response ditty's that surely are infused with the spirituality of my slave ancestors at the Church of God in Christ where I had my first, big juicy love thing with Jesus. I used to sing the Lord's prayer when I lived with demon lover. Man, I should stop calling him that, shouldn't I? But he really was evil. And I don't say that about many people. Anyway, he hated when I sang that. But it gave me much comfort. I think that's one reason why I chose it as central in Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man. In Mom's church, we sang it holding hands, and there was this old black man, and he'd lifted his hands so high to the Lord. Made me a little teary. There are so many of us God lovers, relishing every taste of Him we can get.

Some of us are glad to be in His house.

Then there were prayers. And God, I missed singing, "Lord, have mercy." I see what Augustine meant when he said, "He who sings his prayers, prays twice." I missed the rhythm of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Finally, it was time to partake of the Eucharist. They do it just as beautifully. With just as much reverence. I almost RAN to the front to partake of Him. It's been weeks and weeks. And I missed Him in my mouth. I missed Him becoming one with me in the closest thing that comes to making love with Him I'll ever find in this life. It is during the Eucharist that we become one. His body enters into mine, and I receive Him, in all ways opening myself to Him.

But I just didn't have that boldness, even though I know, I know, I know He is mine. But the politics of bishops and popes and holy wars that should have never been fought got in my way, and I knelt there, with tears streaming down my face, because it just didn't make sense to me. He was serving Jesus, and I couldn't partake of Him.

I didn't understand it.

I think I'll go back home to St. Raphael's next Sunday, skipping even black Jesus church. I'll go back with the dilemma of still being as Catholic as I was the day I was born, yet in love with the Orthodoxy Liturgy, and crushed by an almost thousand year old battle, that I neither caused, or believe in.

Jesus prayed that they we all... ALL... may be one. Surely as He knelt with me in that church, Jesus wept.

We still have it wrong.

We still refuse to give Him what He asked of us.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fuzzy Pajama Night

Okay, there are waaaaaay to many Burney's to accomodate the tiny camera on my MacBook, so you'll have to be content with my descriptions.

Tonight the whole lot of us stormed K-Mart, and any time my entire family goes shopping it is an EVENT. And a tiring one at that. But we left that place armed with blue light specials and more! And lemme tell ya, blue light specials ain't what they use to be.

As you can see, my little wild thing got some funky zebra print. Momma got a long-sleeved t-shirt, not exactly fuzzy, but it can withstand the FLASHES I shouldn't have to tell you about and won't. My shirt says, "Sweet Little Cupcake". I'm waaaaay too old for that, but that has never stopped me before. I figure, if I'm covered now, I've come a looooooong way. And I'm Ken's sweet thing, all day. In fact, he can taste all my flavors.

Mercy! Let me clean this thing up. Kids may be reading!

Nia Grace has some kind of flowery snow flakey, I don't know, but it's JUST LIKE NIA GRACE to pick something like that. And hey, don't those dark pink leaves look kinda like Mary Jane? I mean, I do teach the kids to say no, but could I unwittingly be aiding and abetting in her future addictions?

God help us!

Once Lumumba had a suspicious leaf on a shirt he bought. Told me it was a Japanese Maple or something that I so didn't buy.


Those off-camera wore (girlies) Joe Boxer 3 piece sets, with the pants and the boxer shorts over the pants, and really cute shirts. Kamau got South Park PJ's. The boy has stars in his eyes, and if any of my kids were going to be an actor, he's the one. He has a t-shirt of the SP gang that says, "Players Club."

Lord, have mercy! That's all I've got to say.

Crabby Abbie actually got "Grumpy" pajamas--from Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged Human Beings fame. It came with a long sleeved shirt, and a short sleeved one, too. And like me and the other girlies with three piece PJ's, she wore both. Her shirt says, "I'm cheerful deep down inside... very deep down." Or something like that. I can only add,
"Very, very, very, deep down."

And again, with a heavy sigh this time, "Lord, have mercy."

Well, I've got a cuppa hot chocolate with real milk, and a peppermint stick to go with it for a yummy festive treat.

Sweet cup cake here is out!
love ya!

Okay, Ken got the fuzziest pajamas of all. See he won't burst into WET FLAMES in the middle of the night like some of us. He's got some Northern Exposure lookin', Alaska

Friday, November 16, 2007

Fearfully Writing

Hi lovies,

I sure am tired of blogging daily. It's seriously looking like I'm not going to make it 'til the end.

I'm not just tired of blogging. I'm tired. Period. I finished a massive rewrite (again) of The Exorsistah, and turned it in yesterday. That was the same day I was supposed to turn in my final corrections for Zora and Nicky. Final after it's been copy edited more than a few times. It's beginning to seem like the only novels I'm getting to read are anymore are my own! And whatever I read for research. These books are being fired back at me so fast I can hardly keep up with any of it.

So, I finished reading through Zora and Nicky again today. With a migraine I've had for two days, might I add. And the got right back to writing Wounded. And it's hard. Somehow I thought writing would get easier, but it actually seems to get harder as I go!

I read a lot for research, and I'm reading Nikos Kazantzakis's St. Francis. You may know Kazantzakis because he wrote The Last Temptation of Christ. One thing I can say about him, he sure knows how to take a saintly person, and show their real, human struggle.

I came across this passage about writing in St. Francis, and it got a hearty amen from me. I even shared it with Chip's class at Taylor University when I lectured (lectured? Nah. We just kicked it.) on Tuesday:

"I had taken up my quill to begin writing many times before now, but I always abandoned it quickly: each time I was overcome with fear. Yes, may God forgive me, but the letters of the alphabet frighten me terribly. They are sly, shameless demons--and dangerous! You open the inkwell, release them; and they run off--and how will you ever gain control of the again! They come to life, join, separate, ignore your commands, arrange themselves as they like on the paper--black with tails and horns. You scream at them and implore them in vain; they do as they please. Prancing, pairing up shamelessly before you, they deceitfully expose what you did not wish to reveal and they refuse to give voice to what is struggling, deep within your bowels, to come forth and speak to mankind."
Um. Yeah, Nik. I can't even lie, it's JUST LIKE THAT.
Will you lovies pray for me? I'm feeling really impoverished, and not in a good way. I don't feel like I have any more words left, and yet, I've got a whole lot more I'm supposed to be writing. I feel like I'm making all the gestures of one speaking, but my voice is completely gone. Or like I'm talking, but I ran out of things to say a long time ago.


peace to all of you, in the midst of all our storms, I pray, even if our storm is only a flurry of words we can't make sense of tonight.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good News!

Peace and all good, good people. I want to thank you for your prayers for my lovie. She's back home and sorting things out with her loved ones.

Praise God!

And I got more good news today. I found out my first novel, Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man was picked up by a big honkin' book club!

Yes lovies, turns out that somebody at Simon and Schuster is earning their keep!

The premier African American book club, Black Expressions, is going to feature the first of the Amanda Bell Brown Mysteries as their Featured selection alternate for February 2008. I can't tell you how exciting this is to me. The club gets a huge amount of exposure, and frankly, I never thought anything I wrote would make it in there.

We've got a lot to party about today, my friends. As the Mother of God said so beautifully in the Magnificat, "My soul doth magnify the Lord; and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my savior."

Rejoice with me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pray for My Lovie

One of my lovies is missing. I can't tell you exactly who she is, but I will tell you she is gone. She's been gone since this morning, and this isn't like her.

She got in trouble. It wasn't the worst trouble in the world, but it was enough for her to maybe think she had to run away.

At least I hope that's what she thought. And it's what I hope happened, because in truth, it could be worse than I'm willing to imagine tonight.

It's rough out there. I don't have to watch Court TV as much as I do to know the kind of treachery that exist in this world. I remember being a teen on the cusp of womanhood. I remember the dangers that lurked in the shadows that I didn't fully see for what they were at the time.

When I was seventeen, I got a co-op job for a minister who went to my church and had a wife and six kids. Once day he looked at me and said "If I weren't married you'd be mine." He said several things like that to me.

I can assure you he was completely and utterly wrong about this. I would die a virgin martyrs death before I succumbed to him! And it was a creepy experience. Sexual harassment. And as much as I forgive, I still remember it with a great deal of distaste. He left said wife and six kids for another woman later, and though he's still in the ministry, it's really hard for me to respect him. Pray for me. It's hard for me to respect him.

So right there in God's house there was this creepy guy who would have willingly taken advantage of me, I'm sure, had a shown him the slightest bit of interest. I was a church girl. Jesus burned within me, but I still ended up having sex when I was seventeen (not with him, beloved. Not that it makes it better...), and everything went straight to hell from there.

Oh lovies, there are smoothed voiced, very fine angels of light that will make you feel good, good, good, and take you far away from the things you must do, but don't know with certainty you must do because you're only seventeen. And if you let them, they will sweet talk and stroke you to disaster and ruin. And leave you scrambling to retrieve your losses. Sometimes with a baby on your hip. Or worse. And you will almost surely return from your prodigal days with broken heart, and possibly spirit.

You may have a broken body.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

My lovie is far more confident and sophisticated than I was at that age, but that doesn't mean she is wiser. I wasn't wise. I was a teenager. I only thought I was wise.

I worry about her and her friends because the whole world looks bright and shiny to them, and no matter how much the adults around them try to tell them sometimes shiny things, like knives, can hurt you, they still can miss the sharp edges that cut so deeply, because the radiance of the blade blinds them to its danger.

Will you pray for her? Pray God sends her home to the people who love her a lot more than whoever thinks they're shielding her from imagined wrath, if that is indeed, what that person is thinks.

Everything will get sorted out when she makes it back home.

Bring her home safely, Lord. And keep her while she is away from us.

I'll be keeping vigil for her.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Missing Daddy

My daddy died in February, and even now, there are so many times I wish I could talk to him. Nobody loved me like my daddy. It wasn't perfect love, but it was daddy love and nobody calls me baby in quite the same way he did, or makes it okay for me to be his little girl.

Sometimes I read things and I want to call him share and talk about it. Once, when I couldn't find my keys and Ken got mad at me for losing ANOTHER set, I prayed that Jesus would help me find them. To be honest I asked St. Anthony for some intercessory prayer on this matter, as well as St. Anne. I heard they're prayers are helpful when you lose things, especially important things. And since I'd gotten so chatty soliciting the prayers of people who were in heaven, I went ahead and asked Daddy to talk to Jesus about it, too. Ha! St. James! I don't think the Holy Spirit would have gotten them mixed up--the more the merrier! You can't have too many friends in high places. I just knew he'd tell the Lord, "She's kind of a goofball, but she gets it from me. Will you please help her find those keys, Jesus?"

Not that Jesus needs help hearing our prayers. I just think We belong to each other, on earth as it is in heaven. And praying for one another is what we do.

I did find my keys! And before Ken had to change the locks. AGAIN. I think those prayers were instrumental in touching Ken's heart, too. I'm telling you, that man was not gonna let me have any more keys!

Yeah. I miss Daddy.

Lots of times I've wanted to ask him about all of this Catholic stuff. He was Catholic once, and he missed it, but he didn't like all the Latin. I'll bet I could tell him how a part of me feels like I'd be betraying my Orthodox friends if I switched, but I'm certain, CERTAIN, he'd give me the assurance that God wouldn't be mad at me for wanting to serve Him better. He'd see my heart in this. He wouldn't think this was more restless wandering.

I think he'd give me permission. He'd tell me to follow where Jesus and my heart led me. I think he'd let me know that life is too short to get caught up in minutiae, and if being Roman Catholic floats my boat, then do it, because the water gets rough.

But still, it would feel so good to hear his take on all this. This man who despite his drug habit, made sure he and my mother had me baptized shortly after coming home from the hospital (I was a preemie, and stayed six weeks, until my weight went up to five pounds). And here's the irony, I was baptized Roman Catholic. Don't think the humor of that is lost on me.

Grace and peace,

Monday, November 12, 2007

It's Beginning to Taste a Lot Like Christmas

Just so you know, Fuzzy Pajama night was postponed because I had to get zillions. But it's still on the calendar. Tonight, however, we implement another tradition at La Casa Burney, lemons and peppermint.

I acquired a taste for this odd culinary combination when my sister Penny was in high school and I was just a wee one. I had it around this time of year I'm sure, because you really can't find big honkin' peppermint sticks readily available any other time. I've been hooked on this concoction ever since that first time, and at the first sign of big honkin' peppermint sticks (I found them tonight in Walgreen's), I buy a bag of lemons and we do it big, the whole lot of us Burney's.

You need a relatively thick peppermint stick, and make sure you get a straight peppermint stick, not a candy cane. If you get the cane you'll have to cut the curved "handle" off.

And you need a lemon of course. Squeeze it so it's nice and juicy. The idea here is that you're going to make the peppermint stick a straw, and the juice you'll be sucking through said straw is lemon juice, only you'll be experienced with the sweetness of peppermint, for a yummy, minty yuletide treat. Think of it as the expresso of lemonade, with a kick.

Cut the top off the lemon, and break the peppermint stick in half and plunge it inside of the lemon. I like to go just past the center. Squeeze the lemon some more, and joyfully partake! Pretty soon your peppermint stick will begin to dissolve in the more porous center and it'll become a wonderfully wacky straw!

So, try it already. Lemme know how it goes.

Warning: this is messy, but so much fun.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Holy GAUCAMOLE that took long!!!

I have the assurance of why I love the teeny weeny afro. Teeny weeny afros are really cute, cheap to rock, and do not make my spine feel as if it is going to collapse on itself.

I went back to Nina this morning, having spent five hours with her yesterday. I spent another ten with her today.

Yes. Another ten.

It wasn't all her fault. Most zillions are done with two or three braiders in shops. Nina is on her own, and I'd dare say a good many of her customers do not have a really bad case of Fibromyalgia Disorder slash Chronic Pain Disorder (believe it or not, some doctors say those are two different things).

I went in for the zillions in a fit of African missionary inspired inspiration. The worst part is that is absolutely a true statement. I wanted to try out hairstyles. I wanted something that would hold up for international travel for a couple of weeks, and still make me look fabulous! I'd forgotten it takes several years off one's life span to get zillions. My spine forgot. All I could see was one fly missionary being the hands and feet of Jesus with really cute hair. Even though nobody I'd actually serve would care what my hair looks like. And YES! I know that's vain. Do not think for one moment I'm not vain! I want to look cute! I wear all day lipstick even when I am sick and languishing in misery in bed, but darn it, I've got the most kissable lips for a semi conscious person you'd ever want to see!

I don't want to look twenty, but darn it, I want to work 43 like it'll be gone next year. And yes! I need prayer about that. Don't say I never gave you anything to talk to God about.

But I digress...

After about eight hours I still had a goodly portion of hair left in the front, but if Nina didn't stop braiding she'd have to finish on my corpse! She offered to cornrow the front to save time, and God knows, by then I may have let her talk me into keeping a small tuft of "afno" in the front as a fashion statement. But she didn't want me to go out like that, and I couldn't take anymore.

So, now I've got cornrow/zillions! And THANK GOD I'm done. The next few weeks will spent determining whether or not I will try this EVENT again before I head to the Motherland.

A teeny weeny afro sounds really good tonight. And I did notice that girl cannot rock a hairstyle that cost so much financially and PHYSICALLY when she is ready to rip out her spine with her bare hands, hold it up to God, and say, "Can we try that again, please?"

You know, I could play with color for the low 'fro. Get a fierce lining. And don't a lot of women and girls in Swaziland wear their hair like that anyway??? I'd be right at home.

Ack! What an ordeal.

Pax et Bonum,
vain mair

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Fuzzy Pajama Night

I interrupted my coma this afternoon to go see a braider named Nina.

The idea was that for an incredibly good price for her services Nina would spend eight hours putting "zillions" in my hair. I totally punked out after three hours. My body screamed in pain and I could no longer sit there, but we shall try again. Tomorrow.


So I get home and of course I go to sleep.

I'm grateful for Paula Clare's gift of a quote from succulent SARK. On the comments for yesterday's entry she posted:

"Beloved Friend,
There may be times when you need to lounge about in your pajamas all's okay. At least make sure they are CUTE ones...Also, you may find that you occasionally need a nap...have a fluffy pillow, snuggly quilt, and sleep mask awaiting you...24/7. Declare your bed a "Guilt Free" Zone. Do not fight your body's need for rest...pray yourself to sleep."

Kinda love it, yes? But...

I so don't look cute right now.

First of all only the back of my head is braided--really cute, teensy weensy wine colored braids that are soooo ghetto fabulous. All I need is some door knocker earrings and I'm totally a sistah from around the way. Truth is, no matter what I look like I happen to really be a sistah from 'round the way. With modifications, yes, but you can take the girl outta the hood, but you can't take the hood outta the girl.

Right now I look like urban bush woman gone wrong with my afno (between an afro and hell no!) zillions combination. We were supposed to have Fuzzy Pajama night tonight here at La Casa Burney. It's a family tradition, though honestly, we abandoned it for awhile, mostly because nobody cared anymore, and we almost never had money for it once we got coats, boots, and accessories to prepare the kids for winter.

Fuzzy Pajama night happens when it finally gets cold and you KNOW it's not gonna warm up again until... May. If you're honest with youself you say May, but in the dark night of February you tell yourself it will happen in April like it's a mantra. We go shopping TOGETHER, which is an ordeal in and of itself. We all pick out outrageously fuzzy pajamas, and we lie around together in our new jammies, watching movies and eating copious amounts of food.

This year it was our daughter Bianca fondly remembering tradition. She's one of Inkster's gifts, and living next door enables us to see her so much more. I think the last fuzzy pajama night she spent with us she was in sixth grade! She's in 12th now! Bianca so has me wrapped around her finger. I slept through today, but tomorrow come heck or high water we're going to go somewhere and score some PJ's if only because my Bink-a-boo craves it!

And I can lie around and actually look cute. I'll make you proud SARK! I will!


Sigh. I hope.

I'll post some picchas. Will you pray I'll stay awake for the fun?

love ya,

Friday, November 09, 2007

Blessed Are the Sleepy?

Sometimes I feel for all the world like this sunflower, all my petals folded inward. Feeling a little too green to bust out like the other sunflowers in the patch, loud and proud and "look at me!"

I don't want anybody to look at me today. My blood plunged to 97 over 63 and stayed that way for awhile. I tumbled to the floor in the living room by the bookshelf. When Ken didn't hear me calling him I crawled upstairs to bed and slept for hours.

I couldn't write.

I couldn't be a good, involved mommy.

The only thing I could do with any conviction was listen to what my body screamed it needed (at least it's what I could hear). My body may be screaming for a lot. Vitamins. Water. Fruit. Raw almonds. I dunno. I couldn't hear all that today. All I heard was... sleep.

So I did.

But not without guilt. Not without the feeling that I was committed a deadly sin. But what if I was doing exactly what God wanted at the moment. Even expected. 97/60 is pretty low. Maybe God looked down and said, "Go to sleep. Blessed are the sleepy, for they shall have rest."

And in His perfect will, I did it.

Sometimes I think He makes things just that simple. It's me who usually mucks it all up.

Pray for me. I'll pray for you, too.

Photo from

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Loving Lisa Samson

I fall in love with people easily, and often, I fall in love with them because of their words. This definitely happened with Marilynn Griffith. From her first comment on my blog I knew she was my soul sistah.

I've got another big, juicy literary love. Her name is Lisa Samson. I met her on her blog by way of Dave Long's Faith *in* Fiction blog. This is what she said way back in the day, before I'd ever read one of her amazing novels:

"You know it's scary when you're reading the Bible and feel you have more in common with Legion in the land of the Geresenes than you do with, oh, let's say Mary or Martha or Lazarus. And wouldn't you love to be able to sit around their house? I mean, that's the place Jesus relaxed, visted, kicked off His sandles and hung out. Were they ever lucky. The Madman reminds me of me. Here he rushes up and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He does. The real guy inside there with all of those demons. He makes a desperate showing, a last-resort push to dash those demons once and for all."

That did it. We were destined to be BFF's.

I read her blog as often as she posted, and found she'd experienced some of the same dark nights as I had. Sleeplessness. The beast of depression. She was a bit of a mess, but lovable, and often hilarious. Brave and afraid. A star who didn't mind wearing the rough garment of a scullery maid. I can't tell you how many times I nodded and sighed as I read her words, my soul affirming the testimony of her grace drenched suffering with "Me, too," which is a fine way of saying "Amen."

Last year Lisa taught at the ACFW conference, a class called "Published, Not Popular." Mary and I sat in the first row (the Holy Ghost row) and we wept as she laid bare her writers soul, and we realized, maybe for the first time, how much being a "Christian" writer costs. That was a gift, lovies, and an initiation that would give me the strength and fortitude to get through a particularly rough publishing year.

Yesterday I went to the "Big Noble" and got a cup of overpriced coffee and a copy of the November/December issue of Today's Christian Woman. I had to laugh, because it had a black woman on the cover, and that was the reason why I picked up the issue I did in 2004 that put the fire in my desire to write for Jesus, even though I so stole that magazine from the surgical waiting room at U of M hospital. I know a ragamuffin like me will never make it in those pristine pages, but lemme tell you, I could have partied like it's 2099 when my ragamuffin friend Lisa Samson was featured in a four freakin' page spread.

She looks so beautiful in those pages. As welcoming as the porch on Third Street house. In her piccha she's wearing something we shared, sister to sister, bff to bff, and my heart swelled to see it. So maybe I'm there in TCW with her--just a teensy part of me.

I found out today her book Quaker Summer was chosen as one of Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year. My girl is on fire, right now. But I know her. She's humble, always a servant, never a celebrity. She knows how to laugh at herself and make us all feel like we're not alone, no matter what kind of freak we are. And sis can rock some scullery maid gear.

I love you, Lisa.
Rock on!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Black Jesus Church

On my quest to find some semblance of a spiritual home (or at least resting place), today I took the advice of my lovely bff Phyllis Tickle, who is convinced that I'm Anglican, to check out the Anglican Communion.

At first I resisted the notion. "I am NOT (insert nebulous idea of what it is to be Anglican here) Anglican, " I said to myself. But she insisted that I had all the hungers, and all the sensibilities. She's been Anglican a long time. I'm sure she knows what she's talking about. And I totally trust her.
Still, I was a little annoyed because wasn't it hard enough to have to figure out if I were Orthodox or Catholic? And now this!

I took a hard look at my life and realized I have several deliciously marvelous Anglican friends, who I want to be just like when I grow up. I have more of DMAFs that Roman Catholic friends. And frankly, I have no Byzantine Catholic friends at all. Maybe she was right! And what a tragedy it would be to be Anglican and not even know it.

So I began to seek my inner (and outer) Anglican.

I've been thinking of providing practical ministry to the housing project where I lived for some of my childhood. You wouldn't BELIEVE what it looks like now. I'm beginning to think social justice begins at home, literally, and there's much to be said about a church home right where you live. So, I looked for an Anglican Church in Inkster, and believe it or not, for a town six miles square, I found one.

Every city has it's mythology. Inkster is no exception. Said Anglican church is called St. Clements Episcopal Church (see piccha above). I've never been to a service there, but I'm going to venture to say that it's probably predominately African American (Inkster is very segregated. We just don't mix it up like all that). Now, I could be wrong about St. Clements members, and if I am I'll gladly report back. So think of this African American Episcopal church in the heart of Inkster. And the mythology attached to it? Weeeeeeell, all my life people who don't go to St. Clements Episcopal church has called it, Black Jesus Church.

While yes, they're (most likely) an African American congregation, I don't think they worship a decidedly "colored" Jesus. Like him:

He looks great, doesn't he? Look how good those dreadlocks look, even with the crown of thorns. His face is sober, yet approachable. I could totally understand a few 8x10's of Him dotting the walls.

They didn't promote an image of Christ like this one either. You gotta admit, he looks awfully nice. He's got a toddler, and some daisies or something. It's easy to believe a God who digs small children and gives people flowers loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life.

I'm definitely not seeing the St. Clements faithful getting into this black Jesus. Though the cornrows look like a whole lot of fun. He's smiling, too. I dig the more upbeat images here. For people who have been historically subjugated in America, and who battle disparaging stereotypical images in the media, I think we're pretty positive about how we view Jesus. And to me, that testifies of the hope and resilience we found on these shores in Jesus Christ, who we didn't, from the start, get the most fair picture of.

So, why is St. Clements called Black Jesus Church?

Well, I'll tell you.

You can't see if from the piccha, but on the side of St. Clements Episcopal church there is a





He's been there as long as I can remember. Hanging with his arms over his head like he was literally crucified on a tree. He's immense! Powerful! Stylized and sharp angled, wearing a modest robe with hood. For the 'hood? I dunno, but you can't help but be impressed by him. He's legend in Inkster.

When I moved back here in August, St. Clements was having their Vacation Bible school. They invited all the kids in Inkster in that age group to attend for free. I'd loat my flier in the craziness of living out of boxes. So, when I asked my neighbor Mickey if he still had his flier for the program at St. Clements he said:

"You mean the kid's thing at Black Jesus church?"

"Um hmm."

Black Jesus Church.

What was I thinking calling it St. Clements, especially when talking to somebody who was old!?

When I was a teenager, we had a terrible storm here. One of those numbers where the sky turns green. Lemme tell you, beloved reader, a green sky always means trouble. But not for Black Jesus. He got a little bit jacked up, but in the end, when a lot of property was damaged all over town, Black Jesus still stood! My brother took a piccha of him after the storm! Wish I had it to show you.

If he hadn't already been hanging there crucified already, I could imagine him raising a single, black fist in the air. He'd triumphed over the elements! Black power, for real!

I don't know why, but in the materials I collected today, and from a peek at the online history they give of the church on their website, nobody mentions that big, honkin' black Jesus.


Not how long he's hung there. Was he there from the very beginnings of the budding parish? A gift that came later? I dunno. And why can't you see Him on the church's piccha!? No photo of Him in the parish photos on the website, either.

Maybe it's taken for granted that everybody in Inkster knows he's there. Maybe they're a little salty that people call their parish Black Jesus church, totally dissin' it's patron saint. While there is a drawing of him on a flier, I could get no satisfaction finding any history of him.

Still. You gotta love something that homey and delightful. I plan to attend Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning. Maybe someone will tell me about him then.

Or not.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Pax et Bonum!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Needing Buddy Jesus

Because this is the beginning of my difficult season, and this time around I don't have medical insurance to get relief that way, I find myself with very little energy.

It's hard to get the kids to school. Fortunately, they've been with me so long they've learned to fend for themselves. The schools serve free breakfast to all the kids, whether or not they are eligible, and my kids still get free lunch. This means I don't have to wake up at the crack of dawn and cook breakfast. Truth be told, I rarely cook now. That's Ken's job, and for a man, he can be a really good wife sometimes. That's not an insult.

These past few days have been filled with me furiously writing. I think I wrote a fresh 70 pages yesterday alone. That's brand new material, not a rehash of old stuff. There's a psychological toll, and a physical one, too. So I worked, not in my newly cleaned office, but in my bed (not so clean). Mak was right. I so folded after three days! Okay, before three days. But I'm still not giving up on myself, even if I am an ENFP.

I am a firm believer in a personal relationship with God. Can't help it. I was Pentecostal first. Marie reminded me of something one of my former pastors said. "We need a God we can feel sometime." Or something like that. I certainly have been graced with His presence, but that doesn't stop the disappointment that comes just from being me.

I get tired of being tired. I want to be out in the world exploring it all, but I just can't sometimes. I have seasons of self-pity majestic in it's depth and breadth. And nobody will beat the crap out of me like I will. I'm an expert at it.

But then, sometimes grace breaks through, and I get a sense of God being more than willing to cut me some slack. When I first started blogging I saw something on a friends site that has stayed with me all these years. He said...get ready for it it comes:


I can't tell you what a relief that is.

I didn't like Buddy Jesus when I first saw him. I thought it was mocking, and I don't like anybody mocking my Lover. And maybe it was, but he sure does look good to me today. Smiling. Giving the thumbs up. Winking. His hand extended in blessing in a very different way than the icons I see. And I love icons. Don't get me wrong. But I just get the feeling that Buddy Jesus is down with a sistah. I'm getting a serious, "There is now no condemnation" vibe from him. And I need that today.

Thomas Merton said, "For me to be a saint is to be myself." I had that same kind of discomfort when I read that. It was like the literary version of buddy Jesus. Not mocking, but disturbing because I found it frighteningly...self absorbed? Narcissistic? I wasn't sure. I thought about it for awhile, then something occurred to me. This is not unpalatable if you believe that God loves you. If you believe like everything else He created He spoke, "Good" when you were formed. If being yourself means becoming all that God created you to be: joyful, lovely, sensuous, giving, and even messy, then it is an honor to be yourself, and a shame before God if you are being anybody else, or beating yourself because you're not some nebulous idea you have of a saint.

Love supports us, even on the worst of days. Sometimes it takes a friendly email or phone call to remind me, but always, God seems to get this message back to me. The God I can feel. The God who made me "Good." The God who isn't too high up to for me to share a high-five with.

St. Francis de Sales, (ha! You thought I'd say of Assisi, didn't you?), said "Be who you are, and be that perfectly well." He's the patron saint of writers, you know. I think after the big marathon of work I've done, and the one I'm about to do--Wounded is due in three weeks--I'm going to allow myself to receive the happy grace of Buddy Jesus, and let the spiritual work for today be just being me.

St. Claudia Mair

Peace and all good, good people!
p.s. Thanks, Paula Clare.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It is Finished.

Sometime just before 7pm I sent The Exorsistah to my developmental editor. I can honestly say that I have never struggled so hard, or felt so completely lost during the writing of a book.

Maybe some of you will write and say, "You feel that way every time. I can show you transcripts of our chats." But you'd have to show me, because it always feels like this was the worse one ever.

Some of you have read my rough drafts, and you know they are unapologetically rough. It's in writing like a nut job that I find the startling and surprising. I have to allow myself to go wherever I want to go. Sometimes I have to see how a scene feels, even if I will likely scrap it. In my drafts a whole lotta scrapping goes on.

I couldn't grasp this story though. It slipped out of my hands whenever I tried to hold it. Characters walked around confused, wondering what to do, and I couldn't tell them. I wished I could. I'm not joking when I say I have no skill. I'm a cheap story teller that has found myself in a world that I'm certain I don't belong in.

I feel awful.

There's like this tremendous crash, and a mild hysteria that takes hours to dissipate. Maybe days. I think, "This one will ruin me." At some point tonight I will cry my eyes out. I may be crying right now. I won't say.

I never want to disappoint a reader. Books aren't cheap, even if I say I'm a cheap storyteller. I want people to have an experience. I fail every single time. And yet, here I am doing the thing I've always dreamed of. What I couldn't have anticipated in my dreamy longings was this wound. This sense that I can't say what is really inside. That grappling with the ineffable. I never want to do it again. But I do.

I see why writers are often alcoholics.

Then again, maybe someone can offer me some cheese with this whine. Tell me to go to sleep since I've only had two hours worth in 48 hours or so. Say, take a hot bath. Dream of the pain medicine you don't have to halt your physical aches. Go to bed early, Mair. And pray that you'll clean it up in the copy editing phase.

Or that your readers are merciful.

You know what I just thought of. Jesus. Remember when he was dying, and that thing he said. I'll give you a hint. I named the blog post that. He said, "It is finished." He may have been crucified, but He didn't say, "I am finished." That'd be my spin tonight. I think it's a grace for Him to drop that bit of hope in me. I'm still here.

I'm still here.

We'll see what tomorrow holds.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


This year my birthday came at a time when we didn't have much money. I was still in earliest "great zeal" stage of my Francesco love, and I didn't mind it. Poverty was actually good for a change.

Remember the St. Francis themed birthday party, even though some of you got drunk off cyberwine and Steve ended up frying twinkies. Or was that one of my other parties? Who knows. We get festive over here at raga-d. I also had a RL St. Francis gift theme. That stands for "real life" this time. Not "raggedy leather".

My pumpkin heather bought me a book I'd been longing for. Terry gave me an Amazon gift certificate and I bought, you guessed it, books about Francesco. Gina came all the way to Inkster and we went to this great Catholic book and gift store. She'd and my friend and son's godfather Robert gave me a monetary gifts, and I knew exactly what I wanted: a San Damiano cross.

No good Franciscan goes without one. Many of us wear them, though some wear Tau crosses. But I'd be willing to bet a San Damiano cross is somewhere in their life, even if it's on the wall. I felt so excited in the store. Looking at it. Talking myself out of it. Thinking of all the stuff I could do with that thirty dollars, an longing for it just the same. I don't know how long I stood at that jewelry counter while Gina sat in the book reading.

Finally, I talked myself into it. There were things that needed to be done, yes, but it was thirty dollars. The entire bottom wouldn't fall out of my life if I bought a pendant. And Gina and Robert would be happy if I got something I really wanted. Just to be sure, I went back to Gina and we talked it out. Of course she told me to go for it.

I had that crucifix on before we got out of the store. I can't begin to express how happy I felt wearing it. I felt like it was for me what some folks call, "an outward sign of an inward grace." My friends in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans wear a simple San Damiano cross as a habit. It's their monastic "hook-up!" Though a few have robes, too. At that point I hadn't decided on the order I wanted to join. I was chatting with sistuh Paula Clare a lot, and the crucifix we shared in common connected us profoundly.

It wasn't expensive, especially the chain, and I didn't want to break it. I started taking it off when I went to sleep at night, and putting it on when I started my day. It was fabulous!

I had my liturgical prayers several times a day. My Bibles and St. Francis books. A new community of people I was in conversation with about Franciscan spirituality. In some ways I felt on top of the world. This was before the drama started about church. This was before it all mad me sad. Before I felt I had to choose.

When I'd slip that crucifix on, it changed me, every single day. I wouldn't dare wear anything cut too low or too tight with the same cross that said, "Go and rebuild my house" to Francesco hanging on my tatas. It inspired modesty. It inspired long suffering--perfect joy--when I wanted to get snippy with someone. I wore a lot of black at the time (still do). And it looked pretty darned awesome against my wanna be nun clothes. It really was a habit to me, and I hadn't had any one thing act as such a sanctifier in my life in a long time.

Then one day, when I reached for it in the morning, it was gone.

I'll stack mountains of books by my bed when I'm working. And mostly I work in my bed. Chronic pain makes it an idea environment for writing. I wondered if it had slipped between my books. Nope. Did I put on on the bookshelf in here? I did not. Where the heck was that cross?

I cleaned and it was still gone. I couldn't understand it. I grieved the loss of it. Hurt. It just wasn't the same not to have my little silver Franciscan habit. A lot of time went by, and one day, there it was.

My San Damiano cross hung on my sister's neck.

You may find this no big deal. That's because you don't know much about my childhood, and much of my adulthood. I lived in a house of chaos growing up. I didn't need the craziness of the projects outside. We had enough at home. I didn't have much, but I couldn't lay down the little I had. I had to stash money in my bra. And I didn't have much to work with in that department. So I lets just say I couldn't keep much money. There was no safety in my house to own something nice. Things would sprout legs and walk away--especially money. And one of the culprits was said sister.

For years we had to do an inventory whenever she visited, and almost every time when she left, something else did, too. It use to make me so angry. It felt so violating. And I've tried to help her out. A lot.

So there's my habit. And in shock I say, "I've been looking for that for weeks!" She says, "Oh, I use this for protection. You want it back?"

Okay. Now I've told y'all I wore this cross without fail, everyday. She only got it because I was sleep or in the shower. She never asked for it. She wore it for weeks hidden, because I saw her everyday and I did not see her wearing it.

You want it back???!!!

I did. But I had changed. How do you work on a vow of poverty and detachment from possessions and ask for your crucifix back?

Lots of "stuff" kicked up in me. That old, familiar helplessness from my childhood. That dread of not having the safety of being able to keep something in the privacy of my bedroom. Guilt, because I wanted it back, and that desire warred with some nebulous idea of what was the right thing to do. It was complicated. And I didn't have to ask WWFD (what would Francesco do) because I knew. He'd give his draws to my sister if he thought she wanted or needed them. And I thought, God has given me a lot. Maybe it does make her feel safe (and not just covetous). And I knew by the shady way she does a lot of things, still, that she needed it more than I did.

But I didn't have any more money. I couldn't buy another one. And since that time, I've gone without that bit of fortification for my day. And I know this will sound lame, but things changed again. The liturgical prayer life slipped. My language got sassy and salty again. I didn't pick up the St. Francis books like I had before. And maybe that's just how it is. Yet another abandoned ENFP project or three. But I can't help but think that simple gesture of taking up my cross daily, made me a better follower.

Now I have to play catch up. I have to get back on the stick with no cross on my neck. I'm still very conflicted about if I should buy another one. Believe it or not, I'm afraid I'll get attached to it, and my "crucifixation" will cause the pain that the loss of this one caused. And I've got enough pain.

I know when I finally profess vows in the order I chose, I will be given a cross. And this one has a full habit. Alb, scapular, knotted cinctures. The works. I will be clothed by a gentle, lovely priest, and that will be that. I don't think she'll want to take that.

But that will be at least three years away, and that's if I discern that being Franciscan is truly my calling and I take those vows.

Until, my neck feels as empty as my heart does in this regard, missing my daily "habit."

Pray for me.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Ghetto Writing

Once I was sitting in a hot tub with my BFF and David C. Cook editor Lisa. We were working. The hot tub and vino were just a couple a job perks that come when you are the throes of creation at your editor's cabin and she's got it like that. You get it like that, by default.

We were talking about our books, dreams, threw in some yakkin' about class and social justice, and somewhere in that conversational gumbo she noted that my Amanda Bell Brown characters, as well as Zora and Nicky characters were solidly middle class.

Intersting, since I've never been middle class a day in my ghetto fabulous life. Not even when I lived in Ann Arbor, one of the most affluent cities in Michigan.

"Do you have a ghetto book in you?" she asked.

I sure did. I told her The Exorsistah would be my ghetto book. But I was going to set it in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor has a few hidden ghetto pockets. I lived in one, of course. There a drive-by, was somebody riding down the street and waving as they drive by. Yeah. It's real hard.

Anyway, by circumstances conspired against my Ann Arbor setting, because most of my books are set close to home. I like environments that I can see and experience. But right when I started writing X I found out to my horror, that God would drag me kicking and screaming back to the ghetto land of my fathers. I live five blocks from the housing project that tormented me as a child. Project of sirens and gunshot lullabyes to cry myself to sleep to. Needless to say we had a change of setting. And now, surpise, Emme Vaughn, aka The Exoristah, has found herself, having been dragged kicking and screaming, back to the ghetto land of her mothers.

I was thinking about Bill Cosby and how he is going around speaking about "our people" and how we need to get ourselves together. I wrote Emme thoughtful, intelligent, and well spoken, just so the 'Cos wouldn't talk about me like a dog on Oprah. Then I mixed it up and made her "bilingual." She can speak both English and Ebonics with ease. I thought this would make White people happy, and still give her some "flava". White people love to use the word flava.

In the end, I decided to make Emme very smart, but STRAIGHT GHETTO! Sistah talks all kinda smack. I be slaughtering the language, and yet, you can't miss her smarts. That's how I envisioned her from the beginning, when the idea was just funny to me, and me and my friend Bethany were kickin' it about it on the net.

Well, the problem with ghetto writing, or any other kind, is that once you reached that magic place of really entering the story world, and you've finally found your "voice"? You start sounding like that. I been ghetto for weeks now, and it's gettin' worse, yo'. Y'all prolly noticed a distinct change in Mair "flava" up in this piece. I cain't even help it. You would think I was in the twelf grade again, and ain't have no, what my girl Mary calls, "White people anointing" yet. Shoot. And I on't even know how to turn it off. That's gon' be a hella big problem when I start the other book, which, in the time I got, might haveta be a ghetto book, too. Shoooooed. We gon' see.

But I digress.

I thought since I been workin' on rewrites all day, I'd share a lil' Emme wit' chall. She been puttin' her black leather Timbs all up in my behind. I'm trippin' 'cus I ain't think this book was gon' put it to a sistah like all dat. But yo', what was I thinkin'. This mug is about a exorsitah. But dang. You know? It ain't got to beat a sistah like a slave.

Anyway, check this out. Lemme know if it's straight. Okay?


The Exorsistah (This a rough draft, y'all. Unedited. Uncorrected. Unadulterated. Much. That means you might not see nunna dis when the book is done.) Comin' soon, from Simon and Schuster.

Chapter One

I hate demons.

A demon was the reason why I didn’t get to finish cooking my French fries. I could have had a spiritual experience with those fries. I’d gotten so hungry I was about to go straight up Kirk Franklin—complete with throwing my hands up and raising the roof just because they smelled so good.

I’d spent the whole day cleaning Kiki’s house from top to bottom, and after all that sat in the kitchen peeling what felt like was enough potatoes for an army. It was really just enough for Kiki, her husband Ray, and a few leftover for me. I don’t eat much. I try not to impose on people wherever I stay. The streets taught me the wisdom of eating to live instead of living to eat, and watching Kiki’s struggle with super-obesity only made that truth even more real to a sistah. But man, if Mama could see how skinny I am now she’d straight up trip.
But she couldn’t see me. Not where she was.


I hate thinking about Mama.

So, I watched the fries, cut about as skinny as I am, sizzling in the hot grease, browning to perfection. I could almost taste them, and I was gonna get my grub on.

I deserved those fries. I ain’t gon’ lie. Humility isn’t my strongest virtue, but I didn’t think it was wrong to believe after all the work I’d done I at least earned a little something to eat.
Armed with a spatula, I turned the fries over and tapped the excess grease off to the rhythm of a funky beat I had going on in my head. I liked to make beats and add a little spoken Word to it. When they took my mama away from me, rhyming helped me make sense of my feelings. Words gave me a safe place to channel my pent up rage. Until that rage turned to sorrow. Ain’t nothing to keep you safe from sorrow, baby, but rhyming kept me sane.

I was working on a few verses from Psalm 70 in The Message as I cooked. Turning over possibilities in my head for rhyming:

God! Please hurry to my rescue!
God! Come quickly to my side!
Those who are out to get me—
Let them fall all over themselves.

I liked the urgent feel of the first two verses. I needed to come up with a way to make the last two verses rhyme without compromising the Word. So, I’m tappin’ out a beat on the edge of the skillet, meditating, just doin’ my thing. Not messing with anybody.

I should have been straight.

And for real, most of the time it’s all good when I cook for Kiki. The fact that I focus on the Word when I burn is one of the main reasons she likes me to cook for her. Not that she needs a lot of reasons. Let’s just say she don’t cook no more. She can hardly walk. Kiki weighs 568 pounds. The weight she carries is too much for her to bear. And I ain’t talkin’ about just her overburdened frame. I mean it’s a burden for her to be a big girl living in this weight obsessed, discriminating society. People look at her and all they see is a glutton. But it ain’t even about that. Yeah, she used food for comfort a lot more than most of us, but she ain’t no different from a whole lot of people I know who got something that makes them feel good, even though it’s not healthy how they use it. Unfortunately she wore her weakness on her body for all the world to see. Most folks can hide their addictions.

At least Kiki was tryna lose weight. She didn’t eat all that high calorie take-out junk anymore. That left me to do the cooking when Ray didn’t, and they didn’t order in, which means I almost always cooked. But I ain’t Emeril. There’s only so much I can burn, but she wanted some French fries. I can do fries. I know they’re not healthy, but I didn’t have it in me to be the food police when I knew how much she denied herself already. She was workin’ it, and I wasn’t mad at her for wanting something hot, greasy, and salty instead of iceberg lettuce with taste-free dressing.

By now the beat in my head was feeling as hot and poppin’ as the grease in the skillet. I danced in place, fantasizing about some kick-butt diva boots I saw at Briarwood Mall. Prada. Yeah, baby! Black and fine as me. The most luxurious leather you’ve ever seen, like, calf-skin with a kitten heel short enough for me kick some butt in—or run if I had to—and still look fly. Those boots had Emme Vaughn written all over them, and I couldn’t wait for the day I’d trade my black leather Timberlands for something so fantabulously glamorous.
In your dreams, Emme. Cause this sistah was so broke, I couldn’t even pay attention.
I was about to put the spatula back into the grease when the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. The room went twenty-degrees colder in an instant.

Awwww shoot.

My demon sense kicked in.

Some people might think it’s just them when they feel the temperature suddenly drop for no apparent reason. Like maybe they need to put on a sweater or something. They ain’t thinking about the dark side. The Word says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” But come on, who wants to think about stuff like that just because the room got cold. And for real, most of the time it is just a little chilly, but sometimes it’s not.
I ain’t tryna scare nobody, but truth be told demons are all over the place. This planet was their piece before it was ours. So, they’re all up in the air. That’s what the Bible says. Satan is the Prince of the powers of the air. But don’t trip. There are angels, good angels, not the fallen kind, and they’re everywhere, too. I don’t want folks to go around thinking only devils are everywhere when there’s good all around us. Crazy good. And good battles evil all the time. Most people just can’t see it.

Me? I can see some of it. Sometimes.

It’s like we’re all wearing these dark shades, like those joints Will Smith wore in the movie Men in Black, but the ones we got on are even darker. But sometimes, for whatever reason, I my lens changes to, like, blue blockers, and suddenly everything is a little more clear, and for a moment I can see part of the invisible kingdoms.

First of all, I get a glimpse of this take-your-breath-away-beautiful creatures of Divine, perfect light. And yo’, these archangels, and cheribum, seraphim are, like, more glorious than anything imaginable. I see God’s soldiers—angels beatin’ the brakes off of evil. And it’s all good. It helps me remember that no matter what it seems like, in the end, God really is gon’ win, just like the Bible says.

Anway, I’m cooking my fries, and this cold front creeps in. It’s like a suffocating, weighted cold, hanging heavy on my body. My lungs felt like I was about to have an asthma attack or something. For all the problems I had, I didn’t have nobody’s asthma.
I turned around real slow—God knows I wasn’t in a hurry to see what crept into the kitchen. That’s when I peeped Kiki’s husband Ray leaning against the door, leering at me.
I knew things were about to get ugly.

Now Ray is a big dude. Teddy bear type, only I wouldn’t wanna be cuddling with him. Tall ,brown and round in the middle. He wasn’t as big as Kiki was, but yo’, Ray wasn’t no joke. He had stuffed his hands inside the pockets of his mustard colored Dockers, exposing his wide girth straining beneath a white t-shirt. Eyes looking all crazy, with a lust demon the size of a Hummer trailing behind him.

And all I could think was, Daaaaaaaang! That’s a big un’.
I ain’t never lied about that. That had to be the most gigantic, freakiest looking lust demon I’d ever seen. I’d seen freaky demons floating around Ray before, but they were some pee-wees next to that big monster. This one had to be twelve-feet long, blood colored, with a human-looking face—I always see them with human-looking faces—and it had wings that extended four feet on either side.

It had some kind of bold, black markings on its back, and its tail curled like a live wire around its fat body. It slithered around Ray and went up to the ceiling, writhing and baring its yellow fangs like it was tryna smile at me.

I kept trippin’ on the immensity of that thing. Did Ray ask Satan to super-size his demon? He had to be some kinda nasty to pick that one up. Or maybe the demon made Ray nasty. I didn’t know, but I sho’ didn’t want to rumble with that thing. Or Ray. I just wanted to eat! I hoped against hope that thing and Ray would leave a sistah to cook her fries in peace.


The demon snaked around the stove like a bug drawn to the light, and now it was all up in my face, teasing me. It licked its ol’ black, forked tongue at me, and every time it did it, it’s stank breath hit me.

Sulfur. And something dead smelling.

If you want a good reason not to go to hell, demon funk is a fine choice—well, that and the whole eternal damnation and separation from God thing.

And the demon presence didn’t pose my only problem. Ray kept inching up to me. He had the nerve to lick his lips like he was about to use them.

I balled up my fist.

You don’t know me like that, Ray.

I may not be able to physically knock a preternatural being upside the head, but Ray was flesh and blood and I could bust him upside his. Emme don’t play. I was sick of dudes pushing up on me like I was some kind of hoochie mama asking for it. And I hadn’t had any food, either? I was irate!

I swiped another quick glance at the demon cutting a fool right in front of me. I had to make sure it wasn’t about to try something I wasn’t ready for.

It winked at me, and did a little jig with what I supposed was its hips, then zoomed over to just behind Ray’s head.

I hate a showoff, especially a demonic one.

Now I had to think fast about my situation. I was freezing; a big red lust thing acting like R. Kelly was gyrating in front of me; and it’s funk, and not the good kind, was about to make me pass out.

The demon snaked its head out and whispered something in Ray’s ear. I couldn’t hear what it said, but it didn’t matter. It sho’ wasn’t asking directions to the nearest herd of pigs. Then it peeked around Ray’s head and called me out of my name. Loudly.
It called me the ‘b’ word!

Hold up! Don’t nobody call me that, and I sho’ ain’t having a fallen, punk useta-be-angel break on me. This was war.

I rolled my shoulders back and stood as tall as I could, which wasn’t hard since I’m 5’11 in stocking feet. I caught a glimpse of the details of the black, intricate design covering its back. The tattoo-like pattern looked almost beautiful, but not quite. For a moment I let it capture my attention.


It could have incapacitated me until I remembered something my mama told me. She said Satan could appear as an angel of light. Now, I didn’t see any angels of light. The demons I saw were foul looking, but II Corinthians 11:14 backed her up. Anyway, I figured in this case the design was like some kind of demon offense. It was there to distract me from battling it. If I kept staring at it, not only could the demon weaken me, Ray could shoot a move. That ain’t work for me. I forced myself to focus.

I put my hand on the black onyx rosary beads my mother gave me before she got too sick to use them herself. I always wore those beads. She never taught me how to use them, but they gave me comfort anyway. Sometimes, when I touched them, I could hear my mother’s voice praying the rosary.

This looked bad for me. It wasn’t like I could do some serious spiritual warfare if Ray was gonna try and touch me, which made me even madder. Yeah, I could rebuke the demon, and I needed to do it fast. But I was still gonna have myself a problem, because Ray was steady gettin’ ready to get his swerve on, a very human condition.

Floating demons can only do so much, but big men with bodies influenced by a demon, or plain ol’ male lust, now they’re a trip. That didn’t mean I’d let the demon is off the hook.

Heck-e-naw. Especially since I smelled my French fries burning.

I clutched the crucifix hanging from my rosary. I felt the same sweet Jesus my mama kissed so many times before she prayed, laid out on the cross between my fingers. That’s how I put my courage on. If the Lord could hang his broken body on a cross, I could tell a demon in my friend’s kitchen to dip in His name.

I shouted, “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!” to ol’ lusty butt—the demon that is.
It winced. So did Ray, but neither of them went anywhere. Ray stepped up to me and grabbed me in a sho’ nuff dishonoring way. I tried to push him away. Now I didn’t want to start scrappin’ with Kiki’s ol’ man. I wanted to be respectful, but now Ray had violated a sistah, and like I said, Emme don’t play.

I tried rebuking one more time before I started whoppin’ heads.

“I said I rebuke you! Get up outta here in Jesus’ name, or you gon’ get your unholy butt beat. Did you hear me? I said, in Jesus’ name.

The demon trembled. Ray did not. I thrust the crucifix up over my head toward the ceiling, which wasn’t easy with Ray all up in my space.

Ray laughed. “Girl, you don’t think that cross is gon’ do anything to me, do you?”

“Jesus will!”

I was prolly gon’ do something, too.

Ray ignored me. Darn that free will! The demon, however, had to bow to the Name of Jesus. It recoiled and slunk away, its red talons drawn up and tail tucked into its hide.

Ray kept trippin’, like I hadn’t said a mumbling word. Dude had me backed up against the stove, and I wondered when I’d catch on fire. He’d pushed me dangerously close to the flame beneath the skillet. Even though the demon had gone, I still need a little help.
Think, Emme—think like you’ve got on those diva boots.

The hot oil. I could burn him. It’d be self-defense.

My heart pounded against my ribcage like was locked up in jail, and banging on the bars to escape. I let go of the crucifix.

The way Ray had me hemmed as far against the stove as I could go, one of us was gonna get hurt, like, right now, and Emme don’t like third degree burns. I had to negotiate with myself. Should I go ahead and fry somebody influenced by the spawn of Satan? Or no.
I’d give that fool one last chance.

“The fries are burning.” I said. “I gotta turn ‘em off.”

I really needed to turn Ray off. He released me long enough for me to turn around. I reached for the knob and turned it to shut the gas flame off, but the grease was still hot enough to do some serious damage. The fries would prolly stick to him.

My heart thundered inside of me.

I’m sorry, God. But I can’t take this no more.

I grabbed the handle of the skillet with my bare hand. It felt hot, but not so hot that I couldn’t handle it. Fear gnawed in my gut more than hunger did, knowing what was going to happen.
I moved the skillet—maybe a half-an-inch. Rage stormed inside of me. The acrid smell of the burnt french fries and the sulfuric stench of the demon still hung in the air. Ray’s ol’ nasty hands pawed all over me. Emme got burning mad. Ray’s lips touched my neck.

He hissed in my ear, “I been thinking about you.”

Fry him, Emme.

Kiki called from upstairs. “Is something burning, honey?”

I wanted to shout, “Your husband is gon' be,” but what I yelled was, “Sorry.” And I was, because I couldn’t see ‘no happy ending’ as clearly as I saw the demon that ruined everything.

“You need to step off me Ray,” I said through clenched teeth.

“She’ll wait,” he said. “Especially for food. I can make you feel good, baby. A girl like you? You know you want this. You don’t fool me.”

“Back up off me before you get hurt.” Fear and anger mixed together made a volatile combination.

A still small voice I recognized as the Holy Spirit whispered inside me.

You’ll go to juvie if you hurt him. Leave him to Me.

They’ll have to find me first.

Leave him to Me, Emme.


Okay, Lord.

But I had to say something to Ray, at least to get him off me. “Get yo’ hands off me. Now!”
He lost patience with me. Grabbed a fistful of my hair. I had taken down my braids. Kiki was going to put it in cornrows for me when she woke up. It was a wild mess, hanging down my back in thick, knotty afro curls.

Ray sneered, “You’re a pretty little black thing.”

My mind zeroed in on the word black. I’d always been self-conscious about my skin color. My skin is dark—luminous, deep ebony with an almost purple undertone. Growing up the kids useta tease me all the time. Said I was so black you couldn’t see me at night. Or if I went to a funeral I wouldn’t have to put on clothes. That made me even madder.

Ray started rubbing his hands up and down my arms.

“Come on, let me take care of you,” he said.

I remembered the first time he’d said that. I didn’t know this was what he had in mind. I should have. But I never had a daddy. I thought Ray might be different, that maybe I’d be safe with him and Kiki, and they would be like a mama and daddy to me. My real foster parents were never as cool to me as they were. I hoped I could hide out with them until I could age out of the foster system. I only had twenty-three more days. Then I could stop hiding, and we could all be happy.


Ray tried to kiss me again. For a moment I couldn’t move because Ray’s breath was, like, worse than demon funk. I hated the fact that I’d been in this predicament more times than any sistah should have to be. No sistah should ever be disrespect or invaded, and that was me: victimized. In foster home after foster home. On the streets. With a lust demon hovering overhead or not.

What was I gon’ do?

Ray said, “I’ll give you some money.”

Like I'm some kinda hooker.

“Okay,” I said to get him off me, and he moved back. I had my chance. All I had to do was pick the skillet up and change my life.

Only God asked me not to. And I wanted to obey Him.

Shoot. Ray was Kiki’s husband, and besides, it’s like the scriptures say, we wrestle not against flesh and blood.

But since flesh and blood was involved, I gave him something to remember me by: a swift elbow to the neck that left his nasty butt hacking and coughing.

I bounced. The lust demon had, hopefully, gone back to whatever hell it came from, and Ray would no doubt think twice about pushin’ up on Emme Vaughn again, demon influenced or no—if I ever saw him again—which I probably wouldn’t. Problem solved.

But that left me with my next dilemma. Where the heck was I going to go now?

I was officially homeless.



Friday, November 02, 2007

Mair and her BFF's Big Cleaning Adventure, part 1.

So, one of my BFF's called me, and we were deeply in angst. See, we're writers. We're married. and we're total space cases.

She and I are the ENFPesque creative, feeling types, prone to flights of imagination many mere mortals cannot dream to aspire to. Mortal men like our husbands.

They're not really feeling the creative thing. Now, it was all good when they were pursuing us before we got married. Heck, before we were dating. They wanted all that feeling. They had high hopes for creativity, and let me tell you, in some notable ways we delivered! But I assure you, having married us, now, to them our charms are faded, and they'd rather have the dishes done than have us hovering over a computer, enraptured, with an expression on our faces that looks like a statue of a Catholic saint in the throes of ecstasy. If you don't quite know what that looks like, try sister Teresa of Avila here:

And you wonder why I like her so much.

Anyway, BFF and significant other had a painful conversation that made her feel like doo doo. It doesn't take much for people like us to feel like excrement anyway. We really take words to heart. I felt her pain. So I suggested--because I am insane--that we start a PROGRAM. Like house cleaning bootcamp or something. We talk every Monday through Friday morning. We pray. We do things like the Fly Lady Program, or Messie's Manual. We work it. Creative and ecstatic or NOT!

So, I get up even though I'd only slept one hour and so wanted to go back to sleep after the kids went to school. I call BFF and she was EXERCISING.

Okay. She'd kicked it up a notch. I was gonna have to sympathy clean AND exercise. And I wasn't ready for all that. And we have to do this before we write.

Did I say I wasn't ready to exercise? Even though I declared in this public forum I want to lose 25lbs before I go to Africa?


I get started cleaning instead. I chose a single room--ambitious on deadline yes, but sometimes I'm a dynamic, highly motivated starter. I just don't finish much. So, I'm gonna do my "office." This is what should be my dining room, but we ditched the dining table because we have a "bar" in the kitchen. I got six bar stools and called the bar a table. The room was supposed to become a den, and we really did put a sofa in there. Remember Bad A** Leather sofa I told you about last year? Well, now it's Raggedy A** Leather sofa. But I get creative with mudcloth and other African textiles.

So my completely unused armoire desk in there. And my writing book bookshelf. And I feel perpetually guilty because my desk is really a place to store my kitsch. And I love my kitsch. So, I'm gonna clean my "office" slash den, thinking maybe I'll actually want to work in there.

Okay, I'll tell you right now that RAL sofa had become a clothes hamper. We have a family of six now, and two or three extras milling about. And we all leave clothes on RAL sofa because after living in ranch houses in Ann Arbor for years we are are loathe to climb the steps and take the clothes to the bedrooms and put them away. We apparently also have difficulty with folding. So, the den, in general, is always a HOT MESS!

I had to approach Mt. Fold-me of RAL sofa and fold and put away every garment, and find a place for mystery clothes I had no idea who belonged to. This called for old school music. I started off with light-skin boy bands with falsetto voices popular in black communities in the seventies. Got going with Switch. Moved on to Heatwave. Next I went darker and let The Manhattan's tell me why loving me was all that's on their mind. I added the three elements: Earth, Wind, and Fire, and had Reasons to fold.

Oh yeah.

When I finished RAL sofa looked like this:

Which is an improvement. You have no idea.

Dang. Isn't my place uninteresting? I so need good art. Nigerian basketry only takes you so far. But this, Murder, Mayhem readers, is what Jazz would call Shabby Chic meets Africa. Only Bell has more chic. And Mair has more shabby.

This is my desk and bookshelf. I'm salty because Ken puts his hats on top of my bookshelf, but what can a sistah do? The little stand in between is where I keep my art supplies for my completely undone art work. And my room just isn't my room without the saints, and right there in the middle of my desk, is a really cool black Jesus that looks like this:

I love my black Jesus. I needed color in my life.

Anyway. If nothing else, I'm ambitious. I'll keep you posted on how this goes.

Gotta go, lovies. I have to write some more before I do YOGA!

Darn that even more ambitious BFF!

pax et bonum!