Monday, November 19, 2012

For Annie

Today one of my favorite authors was in Atlanta (which is saying something since I"m not exactly a prolific reader...or maybe it doesn't say much since I can count on one hand the authors i "like").  Anne Lamott was in Decatur. Across the street from Corey's apartment. It could have been so easy, so inspiring and cool and spiritual. But alas, life called and left me little margin for enjoying an evening out. We leave tomorrow for thanksgiving in highlands, the kiddoes needed baths, Jeff needed a run, Buckley needed the run. I knew the venue would be jammed and I'm too old and too much a mom to have much tolerance for traffic or large crowds.  All of which, on paper seems a slim excuse for skipping out on the event, but I have more and more excuses these days.  The tension between wanting to live, really live and do shit apart from being a wife, mom, housekeeper (which I'm bullocks at anyway), and the inherent stress that accompanies whatever that "living" is. Bottle prep, shower (I know, right...hassle city..), timing, trying NOT to leave wonderful husband with too much to handle. I'm often weighing the stress versus reward. Plotting little pro/con charts in my head. Too often (maybe?) I fall back to the easy, the home route, the sweatpants option.  

I hope some of it, a shred at least, is because I love my family desperately. Love them enough that another blasted evening of chasing a naked near-three-year old around to wrangle her pajamas on, wrapping up a fussy baby who may or may not sleep more than 3 hrs., baths, cleanup, all that is enough to keep me here, or at least not want Jeff to suffer it alone.

So with all that said, I write now for them, and for her, for Ms Lamott whose books have inspired me to be a better writer, a more open person, a better parent and have made me laugh, and even cry.  If I couldn't go see her tonight, she'd want me to write once all the Life was worked out and done for the night.  She'd not want me to watch Monday Night Football or No Reservations (though maybe that because something tells me she and Bourdain are sassy kindred spirits), but she'd say: butt in chair. write something.  

Right now the only story I really know how to tell is my own.  I can tell you about my baby boy's chubby cheeks. How everyone, I mean EVERYONE comments on them and how edible they are and pinchable and all sorts of other horrible action words that shouldn't be done with babyflesh. But I grin and nod. And when I grin they probably realize where those chubsters came from.  Maybe I seem nonplussed by the showers of affection because I secretly fear for him looking in future mirrors, wishing he didn't have chubby cheeks, just like I did when I was younger (okay, and sometimes now).  Using my veiny hands to stretch back and up the flesh around my mouth to just see, for an instant what it would be like to have visible cheekbones and an oval face.

But he is a he, and chances are he won't gaze in mirrors obsessively like have have, and its likely that those adorable cheeks, and all the other rolly parts of him will evaporate into his toddler jeans and he starts moving around in this world and I'll long for all those rolls again.  

He says "mah, mah, mah." Yep. No hint of "dada" but when he's sad he says "mah!"  Melts me.  He laughs with this breathing-in cackle and gummy smile that is out of this world.  Like when I accidentally learned that he is really ticklish under his arms the other night while changing him.  His mouth went agape and he breathed in this deep cackle and sigh and I smiled so big my (big) cheeks hurt.

I haven't had a moment when I wanted to throw him out of window yet.  I'm sure it's coming, or maybe just my adorable little female child will have that kind of rage-inducing effect on me.  Maybe I'm just okay with a cranky babe once in a while. I was not with her.  Okay, I've had frustrating times with him when the crying seems inexplicable, and So. Damn. Loud. Does he know its 2 am, I JUST woke up and I REALLY am trying to get you milk asap.  That's frustrating. And its frustrating that he's reverted from those nice long sleeps he had as a newborn, snuggled next to our bed. He'd hit a 7 hr clip here and there. Not so anymore. We average about 4.5 at night. He goes down about 8.30, which is nicely in rhythm with Hadley but also means if I don't also go to bed at 8.30 then I'm not getting much consecutive sleep.

One day, I have to remember, one day I will sleep for more than 4 hours at a time. And I'll feel like superwoman. I'll feel like I could bathe babies, pack for 5 days away, write, make dinner, do laundry, clean house AND go see my favorite author all in one day. But for now, I have to settle for just a few of those.  And tonight, I missed Annie, and my house is a mess, but by God, I'm writing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012


We have a small repetoire of favorite Wittgens-family stories.  You know one of those stories that get's told at the dinner table at every third holiday dinner and several times in between. And when it's told, the details are fuzzier, yet somehow more grandiose.

It goes like this:  my Dad rented a house for us for a week one summer on the Yucatan coast of Mexico. I was still in highschool, my sister brought along her boyfriend who-would-become husband.  The town of Akumal was small and charming and about an hour south of Cancun.  The house was delightful in its concrete-block, Mexican riviera style grandeur.   Blue waters lapped on rocks, just a short walk from the door, a hammock spread under a palm tree, a blender, fresh seafood.  It was a fantastic vacation. 

One night, a couple houses down from our cozy cul-de-sac, a raucous party ensued.  In truth, I don't remember how raucous, in fact, I may have been zonked from sun exposure and swimming well before the rest of my family so not fully cognizant of the loud rowdiness.  According to lore, there was loud music playing, beer bottles crashing about, people shouting and yelling. Standard party fare that gets more embellished every year.  At some point we'll call "in the middle of the night" - whether it was 11pm or 2:30 am, we'll never know, but the revelry was late enough to draw the ire of my father, who had hoped for a peaceful vacation.  He proceeded out onto our deck and yelled, somewhat unconvincingly apparently, "quiet down!"  No quieting happened.  The party partied on.  A bit later, Dad had had enough and went back to the deck yelling at the top of his lungs "SILENCIO!!" (because perhaps these latinos needed to hear his stern command in what he guessed was their mother-tongue.)  

His wish was granted, but only momentarily.  The revelers stopped, and I can only imagine as they looked up from their Tequila shots and Norteno music.  Then the brief silencio was broken with a chorus of raucous laughter, and a series of mocking "silencio" replies. 

We recount the story with the same festive mood as those party-goers must have enjoyed, however on that night, I imagine my Dad was miffed.  In fact as the story goes, he may have even feared for the tires on our rental-car or the safety of our rented property after such an affront to the partiers.

I recount that story because I feel as my Dad did that night.  Only the racket I'm enduring here on this OTHERWISE peaceful afternoon is of my own choosing, I suppose.  We're getting a new roof, and a new screen porch and for days now the hammering, hacking, sawing, and occasional Spanish commands have been my background music. Every hard knock shakes the house just a little and I marvel how my daughter is sleeping through this.  I just want peace, silence, meditative rest. Space to pray in earnest for my friends in deep need. And yet, all I want to do is scream "SILENCIO!"  Doubtless mis amigos from Mexico up on the roof would find it entertaining as those partiers in Akumal, Yucatan. 

But for now, I'm forced to absorb the sounds and be thankful that at least my dog, and my daughter are at rest. 

Well, scratch that. Now its just the dog at rest.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Thursday Reading

Perhaps as a sign of age, or more distinctly because I am a parent, I find myself governed too often by fear.  From the simple: what if I spent too much money on this thing and it won't yield its value? or What if this meal I'm bringing a friend turns out gross and they think less of me?  To the more serious ones that keep me up lately:  What if Jeff died in a motorcycle wreck (as did the husband of a high school acquaintance this week)?  What if Hadley was abducted like those kids I've read about in the news? 

And my mind paces back and forth between to-do lists and fears and irrational things on which to dwell while lying in bed at midnight. And suddenly it's 1am and I can find only some peace in silly iPhone games or reading other people's blog posts. 

That was last night for me, and now this morning, earth seems new a pleasantly more hopeful in the new light. 

I read from Thomas Merton's A Book of Hours this morning and found these Thursday passages helpful:

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.

If, therefore, I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfillment, or joy. To find love I must enter into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God. 

O great God, Father of all things, Whose infinite light is darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void, You have called me forth out of yourself because You love me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of Your inexhaustible and eternal reality.  I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from You into this void, if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only begotten Son. 

Perfect Love drives out fear.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Blessed are the Dudes

There was  a good bit of chatter on the interwebs today discussing a recent talk by the popular pastor / author / speaker John Piper.  Piper, in his talk, spoke about Christianity as truly masculine, arguing that we should work to maintain this.  He pointed to things like Bibilical language portraying God as King (not Queen), Jesus as son (not daughter), that Old-testament priests were all men, and that Christ's apostles were men.  

(Notes: I own John Piper books, he says some good things. I'm married to a man, I like him.  I do manly things like play sports, watch ESPN, drink beer and burp aloud -mostly b/c I'm pregnant right now - so I'm not anti-man.  Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for inviting responses and curating another good discussion.)

Okay, so to begin with, Piper's arguments seem sorely ignorant in cultural understanding and theology, but other smarter people can address the original Hebrew and Greek Scripture meanings, cultural contexts etc.  And others can point more accurately to scriptures highlighting women champions of the Bible (for all those smart-people responses, keep an eye on Evans' blog or Twitter feed.)  But I feel led to address Pipers point - that Christianity is Masculine.  

It does seem an age marked by Eldridge's Wild at Heart, Driscoll and his anti-effette rants, and even Promise Keepers, which all, in some part, seem bent on reclaiming the manliness of being Christian.  “Yeah dude, you can be an awesome Bible-believing Man of God, and go bow-hunting and zip-lining and brew your own beer. But hey, love your wife, too."  Some of this dude-centric work is important. Statistics show that women are larger percentage of church attendees than men.  And I know from experience that it is often women working behind the scenes (because that’s often where they are relegated) to ensure the smooth-running of many a congregation.  Yes, men need to step up:  too many kids today have absent fathers, or Dads who are just jerks.  Christian guys still do drugs, hire under-age prostitutes and have porn addictions.  Yes, men need Jesus and the community of church.  But not to reclaim their rightful headship, but just because they need it, like we women do.

Yesterday I was listening to an Orthodox podcast about Holy Week (note: it’s called Our Life In Christ. Only the archives are available online, but it’s great.  I’m not Orthodox, just an interested voyeur. ) The podcast highlighted one of the Orthodox services of Holy Week that focuses on the woman who annointed Jesus with expensive perfume, and washed his feet with her tears and hair.  In the services and readings, this beautiful passage is juxtaposed with Judas’ betrayal.  He who had been one of Jesus’ closest friends, yet poured nothing out at the feet of Christ, but sought his own gain at Jesus’ expense.  Is it the man in this story who exemplifies the spirit of worship or the woman?  (And to Pipers point that Christ’s appointed disciples were men, was is they who stood by in the vital hours before and after Christ’s death and resurrection?  They betrayed, doubted, and ran.  And the risen Christ’s first revelation was to whom?  A woman.)   But I digress, and my snarky rhetorical questions are a good segue to what the progam hosts explain as the point of the services.  Highlighting these two stories during Holy Week is not to give Judas a bad rap, but to illumine the participant to the fact that the capacity to act as either character lives in each of us.  We can be the annointing woman in one breath, and Judas in the next.  God have mercy.  

Spaghetti Western

The notion of manly Christianity just seems so Western, so Davey Crockett American.  I just can’t imagine it has always been thus.  Again to the Orthodox Holy Week, which are probably the oldest recorded services in Christendom, miraculously consistent with Christianity’s earliest days. And here we see great honor bestowed on a woman, a woman who teaches us how to worship.   And the veneration of women does not stop there.  Several of the feast days that follow Easter are dedicated to women.  And, of course, the Protestant-dreaded Marian doctrines of Catholic and Orthodox faiths were of huge importance in the life of the ancient church, as they are today.  

Has Western, Protestant Christianity REALLY gotten back to the true manly meaning of Christianity by wiping itself clean of the Mother of God, highly honored from the earliest breaths of our Faith?  A Faith that was so entirely counter-cultural as to list Christ’s geneology through his female ancestors in one Gospel.  So as to say there is no male or female in Christ, that all are welcome.  So as to say we should come to Jesus as Children, who at the time were seen more as nuisances than Facebook photo ops. 

This peculiar, liberating, counter-cultural, enduring thing that I’m a part of, by the Grace of God, mustn’t be masculine or feminine.  It is Trinitarian, cosmically relational, a Mother Hen and a scrawny shepherd.  A caring Father and weeping Mother.  It is I AM.  

There seems so much more to say than this on the subject.  Maybe I’ll follow up with some more later.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Greatest

Happy 70th Birthday to Muhammed Ali.  Here's an excerpt from from a memoir project I've been working on with my Dad.  Interestingly, he's had several encounters with Mr Clay / Ali.

....On one such business trip, my manager and I were traveling in first class and our seats happened to be right behind a very familiar face - the great boxer Muhammad Ali.  I'd always assumed that most celebrities fly first class to be left alone.  However, only a few minutes after we were airborne, "The Greatest" turned around and asked us if we wanted to hear some of his poems - a hilarious question from a guy that was known to everyone!  Here was the former heavyweight champion on his way to recapturing his title and suddenly was kneeling on his seat to face us, reciting his poetry.  He entertained us for a long time with all kinds of other crazy stuff - more poems, predictions of greatness to come, and exactly how he was going to knock out his opponents to regain his heavyweight crown.  Eventually, he moved to the tourist class behind us where he did the same thing for the passengers there. 

Interestingly, this was not my first run-in with the boxer.  A few years earlier, when he was not yet champion and still went by Cassius Clay, I had seen his big bus outside a restaurant/bar in Sacramento.  Naturally, I wanted to see him, and needed to make a visit to the restroom anyway.  Once inside the restaurant, I did not see any sign of him and assumed he had left.  But on the way into the men's room I literally crashed into him as he was leaving.  He was huge and all muscle, and knocked the wind out of me.  He gently apologized for the inadvertent collision and went back to entertaining the bar patrons. 

I was to see Ali one more time, many years past his boxing prime. He had been secretly chosen to be the torch bearer to light the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games of 1996 in Atlanta.  He stood just thirty feet from our section and my wife, Evelyn and I watched as this now weakened and ill athlete struggled to control his shaking hands to lift the torch that would light the massive Olympic flame.  The occasion was so sad, but also strangely encouraging and undoubtedly unforgettable for the eighty-thousand people there to witness it, along with millions watching around the globe.