Saturday, April 19, 2008

Calvin Festival, the Vortex, and Franz

Sometimes my on-going conversion feels like a tornado keeps touching down, sweeping me up, spinning me senseless and abruptly flinging me onto the hard ground of someplace I thought I'd never be. Like the Catholic Church. And it's never where I thought was home. Never Kansas. But not quite Oz, either.

I went to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing to do nothing. Just hang with my confirmed (literally) bff Lisa Samson and recharge my writer batteries. Why do I think I will just do nothing at any time? Of course I found myself right back in the vortex, my ambition flying wildly, and me screeching because just last week my future seemed almost tame and made sense. Then BLAM! I'm on strange (though familiar) territory and life is suddenly different. I'm not in Kansas and the whole writing future thing is somewhere else or even, for a time, no place at all. For me, on-going conversion is violent, leaving me limping and with both a broken hip and a blessing.

But there is always that gentle surprise that lets me know a winsome, lovely Jesus loves us all. For me, for all the wonders at Calvin this weekend, there was my quiet falling deeply in literary love. His name is Franz Wright. I didn't care that he won the Pulitzer Prize. He captivated me immediately by his ragamuffin demeanor and quiet voice I had to strain to hear, even though he spoke in a microphone. He was like me. I just knew it, his broken pieces now bonded together with the Bread and Wine that is life. Like me he loves words, only he's honored this part of himself and served it. I have not. He's bipolar. I knew it immediately. He was saturated in sorrow and grace. I could have written his poem myself--if I honored the craft as he does. What I mean is I have lived this poem.

The Only Animal

The only animal that commits suicide

went for a walk in the park,

basked on a hard bench

in the first star,

traveled to the edge of space

in an armchair

while company quietly

talked, and abruptly

returned,

the room empty

The only animal that cries,

that takes off its clothes

and reports to the mirror, the one

and only animal

that brushes its own teeth—

somewhere

the only animal that smokes a cigarette,

that lies down and flies backward in time,

that rises and walks to a book

and looks up a word

heard the telephone ringing

in the darkness downstairs and decided

to answer no more.

And I understand,

too well: how many times

have I made the decision to dwell

from now on

in the hour of my death

(the space I took up here

scarlessly closing like water)

and said I’m never coming back,

and yet

this morning

I stood once again

in this world,

the garden

ark and vacant

tomb of what

I can’t imagine,

between twin eternities,

some sort of wings,

more or less equidistantly

exiled from both,

hovering in the dreaming called

being awake, where

You gave me

in secret one thing

to perceive, the

tall blue starry

strangeness of being

here at all.

You gave us each in secret one thing to perceive.

Furless now, upright, My banished

and experimental

child

You said, though your own heart condemn you

I do not condemn you.



Now that's a poem, lovies. That is a poem.

I couldn't stop thinking of it. Or him. The way he sat in his chair, as if he had no right to be there, carelessly tossing words on me like blossoms after a long, cold season of no green. I don't write much poetry, but I love it. I wrote Franz a poem:

Just a note...

Dear Franz,

I know you. I've seen your back curved into a question mark with sorrow arching and descending till it plunges straight down into an empty space. An emptiness interrupted by a black circle of pain much too heavy to hold.

I know you, even though I don't.

I've never heard your voice though I've lived with it through a thousand winters. Even now I feel it murmuring, a breath flowing through the hollow body of a flute, filling cavernous holes in me with music.

Jesus told me about people like you. Said you were poor in spirit. I thought, once again, who the hell wants to be poor? But because He said it, I pondered it in my heart. He said you were blessed.

Yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Only sometimes heaven takes a really long time to see.

I just wanted to write to say I know you. Even though I don't. And I've always heard you, your voice falling down and covering me like snow on a grave. And I still ponder you in my heart, even though Jesus said you're blessed. Or maybe because of it.

mair francis

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Weeping With Those Who Weep

I spent a good deal of time last week weeping with those who weep, which ended on Saturday with me attending two funerals. I was so spent by then I told my daughter Abbie that the only thing worse than going to multiple funerals, is going to a single funeral for multiple people.

"That's what would have happened to us," she said, and once again I thought about how me and four of my children almost went to be with Jesus last Easter. God was truly merciful.

But this isn't about my own sense of mortality. It's about how every death is important. It means something to God, every single time.

A church lovie died. She'd been rejected by her family largely because she spent so much of her time around black people. She was her family's black sheep in more ways than one. She used to tell her friends that it didn't matter what happened to her after she died. Nobody would care or come out for her. And in so many ways she was right. Her funeral was sparsely attended and no one in her family came. In fact, when they were informed of her death her brother turned her body over to the county. He didn't want to be bothered with burying her. As for her effects, he said, "Just leave the door open and let the Salvation Army take whatever they want." Unimaginable cruelty.

I used to wonder why burying the dead was a corporal act of mercy. This weekend I saw why. As I sat in my favorite pew on Saturday, a few faithful gathered with me, I heard so many wonderful stories about this woman who's family dismissed her. And here, crying and laughing together, was her real family, praying to God for her soul's rest.

Fr. Gary prayed this lovely prayer, and I was deeply moved:

May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem.

May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer
may you find eternal rest.

Whoever believes in my, even though that person die, shall live.
I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.

In stark contrast, the other funeral I attended was packed to an overflow. Her many accomplishments were hailed and I was honored to be at her "home going". She was a beloved mother to me as a child. Loved me as if I were one of her own. I felt awful that she was so close once I moved back to Inkster, yet I failed to go see her. I thought we'd have more time.

Don't we always believe that lie?

I sat in the room with her daughters, girls I was inseparable with growing up, and honestly, it was like being a child again. All of us were middle aged women, but in so many ways we were in essence who we'd been at seven! And we needed each other. We needed to be together to say goodbye.

Yes, I see why burying the dead is an act of mercy. Mercy is needed for the departed, and those of us who remain. Death conjures our deepest fears, and moves us to our most profound empathy. It is an honor to weep with those who weep. Christ thinks of everything, and of course, we know Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.

So much to think about for me. So much to pray for. And my brain is a little fried after all that this past week.

I'm glad, at least for me, the worst is over. May God have mercy and allow me to continue to be a friend to the grieving, whose pain, many times, is far worse after all the people have gone and they're left with memories and the deep chasm of loss.

"Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Camy's Back!!!! Wooo hooo!!!!

Hey, hey everybody! Camy Tang is here again. I love Camy. Every time we see each other we give a fierce hug, and that sistah knows how to hug! No limp arms for her. And its so easy to make her laugh. I love being around her, and it doesn't happen nearly enough. So, it's my pleasure to have her in this little particle in cyberspace. And now that fabulous book we’ve been waiting for is out and ready for you to purchase.

Only Uni, y'all. Looks yummy, doesn't it? And it is.


Nice cover, eh? And the novel itself? It's even better than the last one.

Okay, Camy, give us the scintillating back-of-the-book blurb.

Sure! Here you go:

Will Trish Sakai be able to follow her three simple rules and hold out against two gorgeous guys?

Trish Sakai is ready for a change from her wild, flirtatious behavior. And her three cousins are anxious for her to change, too. Trish is always knocking something over, knocking herself out, and taking hard knocks in her perpetual confusion about men.

When Trish’s ex-boyfriend, Kazuo the artist, keeps popping up at all the wrong moments, Trish decides to be firm with herself. She creates three simple rules from First and Second Corinthians and plans to follow them to the letter. No more looking at men! No more dating non-Christians! She will persevere in hardship by relying on God.

Except now Kazuo is claiming Trish is his muse, and he can’t complete his major work of art without her. And a gorgeous coworker is reassigned, bringing him in daily contact with Trish. But her cousins are determined to hold her accountable to her plan. She thought three rules would be a cinch, but suddenly Trish’s simple rules don’t seem so simple after all.

I can tell you right now I started this book and I was plunged right into the party. And the food, Camy, the food! Apparently, like in Sushi for One, you’re still all about the food. Tempt my readers with some of the culinary delights in Only Uni.

The opening scene is straight out of a Christmas party I had at my sister-in-law’s house a few years ago. Her family is Chinese, so the food was mostly the authentic stuff—lo mein noodles, the soup with the weird (to me, at least) ingredients, and chicken long rice, which is long, thin rice noodles in a slightly brothy chicken sauce with ginger and pieces of chicken. We also had black bean shrimp (a nice salty savory dish that’s great over rice) and deep fried chicken wings, which seem to be requisite at Chinese parties. Some of the things Trish’s mother mentions are purely Japanese and traditional for New Year’s—kuromame is a slightly sweet cold salad dish made of chestnuts and beans. Konbu is seaweed, which isn’t really as nasty as it sounds, it’s actually quite tasty, if a bit strange in texture.

Yum!

You dealt with some really tough issues in this novel. Characters make some "in real life," huge mistakes. Brave of you. Tell us why you tackled these difficult subjects. You can hint at what they are, just don’t give us a spoiler.

One of my biggest struggles as a single Christian woman was lusting after guys, plain and simple. And I know I wasn’t the only one. But it seemed my church and singles group just didn’t want to address the issue. They talked a lot about guys’ lust, but not girls’ sexual desires, as if we were imbued with more self-control because of our chromosomes.

But I think most women have faced a situation where she’s drawn to the bad boy she knows she shouldn’t spend time with. I wanted to show a real Christian woman with real flaws, and how she struggles and overcomes her low self-esteem and lustful nature.

Oh, those bad boys. They'll jack a sistah up every time, especially when they're "artists." Mercy! And when we make mistakes, sometimes colossal ones, they set off a chain reaction and it's all bad. And the guilt. It's awful. I really like how straight-on you dealt with Trish's guilt. She even wondered if the bad things that were happening around her was some kind of punishment. So real. Bravo!

I especially love that you give hope to people who have made mistakes and are trying desperately to recover from their choices. Speak to us about that.

We all make mistakes, right? But a lot of the time, I feel so depressed about them that I don’t feel like there’s anything good that can come of the things I’ve done, even though Christ has forgiven me. That’s what’s behind Trish’s determination to change, to “become a person God would like.” We feel like we’re so far away from God even though we know in our heads that He’s forgiven us. I want to show people that it’s okay to feel that way, but to cling to the hope that things will come around, because God is big enough to make them come around.

Yeah girl, I got a whole library of books that were purchased in my determination to change. I called them reinforcements. Ha! And man, was it ever hard to get it right. Maybe three rules would have worked better for me. Which brings me too...

Tell us about Trish’s rules. Can they work? And most of all, can you write a non-fiction book of them and get rich? I'd so buy that book, and hope I didn't need it as badly as I have at some points in my life.

I would hope Trish’s Corinthian Rules don’t work! LOL I wanted a humorous way to show a struggling Christian woman who tries to adhere to self-discipline to reshape her soul rather than learning how to rely on God, His power, His plan, His timing.

Okay, everybody. You gotta get the book to read the Corinthian Rules. And doesn't that sound intriguing? The Corinthian Rules. That can be your title Camy, and in the book business, it really doesn't matter if they work. Will they sell! That's the bottom line. Well, not with our publishers, of course (wink, wink). But I want to go back to something you said. That thing about relying on God. Not that I'm not down with the disciplines. I love how the classic spiritual disciplines enrich and invigorate our lives. They've persisted because they work, but ideally they should work as we lean on those everlasting arms for mercy and grace. It's that whole Jesus Prayer thing: Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. No matter who we are. I'm thinking of retelling this amazing story of a young anchoress who from the time she was seven grew up isolated in a cell next to her uncle, another hermit. She did everything right, but she still ended up falling into grave sexual sin. But the thing is, for all she did, all that prayer, fasting, and discipline, she didn't rely on God. That gets a lot of the good folks messed up, not relying on God. They forget that without God all the discipline and correct doctrine is a whole lot of nothin'. So, thanks for the wimsome, yet poignant way you reminded us of that fact.

What did you love about this book?

My favorite scene is the house scene—without giving anything away, everything in there is true!

Did ya get that y'all? So if you want to get the dish...


What was your biggest struggle writing it? Don’t forget I saw all the times you had on your gmail chat messages like, “I’m tired of writing this @#%^&.” Yeah, I’m telling on you, girlfriend. But I’ve been there. I have rants on my blog and I don’t say @#%^&. I say the real thing. Pray for me, sis.

LOL I had that Gmail message for both Only Uni and Single Sashimi! My biggest problem is that while I’m writing the manuscript (and you probably relate to this), it really feels like I’m puking on the computer screen. I mean, everything looks like total crap. It’s only when I’m done and doing the revisions that it seems not so bad.

I'm horrified by everything I've ever written, whether or not it's published at every stage in the process. These people who say they love my books are just really, really nice to me. Thank GOD!!!
But you’re awesome. I was so pleased to see that already your skill has deepened. And I thought you used language very masterfully in your debut novel. It's so darned hard to write a novel. I have mad respect for anyone who can do it. And if you do it even moderately well, I'm totally bowing in respect and deference. And you're so much better than "moderately well". Like I said, I think I like Only Uni even more than Sushi for One. You RAWK. I said it before, I'll say it again. Any parting words?

Thanks so much for having me here, Mair! I love being on your blog! You’re just so cool, your coolness seems to rub off on me. :)
I have to refer you to my kids, especially the teens, who will tell you in no uncertain terms that I am not cool. But I love that I've got pulled one over on you, lovie. What about the freebies.

I have special Christian fiction giveaways exclusively for my newsletter YahooGroup members. It’s free and easy to join: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Camys_Loft/join. For the month of April, I’m giving away a copy of Sharon Hinck’s funny women’s fiction/mystery novel, Symphony of Secrets.
I'm so there. I cannot resist the opportunity to win a free book.

Thanks for the interview, Mair!
You're so very welcome. Many blessings, Camy. Ragaphiles, you can also find Camy here.

Peace!
mair

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Camy's Coming (again)! And Mary, and Lisa!


Okay, I'm way excited. I've got some girlfriends coming by to kick it with us. First up is my wasabi spicy friend Camy Tang. She's going to talk to us about her new book Only Uni. It's the sequel to her fabu debut Sushi For One? So, come back tomorrow, April 2, and enjoy the fun with us.

And after that lovies, my bff's Marilynn Griffith and Lisa Samson are going to come and talk about their novels, but first things first. Come see Camy tomorrow. There's a great contest you don't want to miss out on!

love y'all!
mair francis