Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hello Kentucky/Indiana

Oh, just pick a state, willya...

I greet you from a lovely bed and breakfast in Charlestown, Indiana. It's a charming mansion with many rooms decorated in a comfortable, Victorian-inspired style, a billiards and music room downstairs and lovely gardens, at least what I could see when I arrived after dark.

So far I approve.

The only downside of the room: No desk, and I neglected to charge the laptop, so I can't work at the nifty writing-desk in the hall. Therefore I have the laptop balanced on my knees in the Victorian contour chair so I can write this blog. The things I do for you people.

Today was supposed to be a leisurely drive to the Louisville, Ky. area to explore the area before the marketing symposium for writers at Karen's Book Barn, the store hosting me and many other authors this weekend. Of course, I got hit with about five errands to run "on my way out of town," no less than two minor crises, and got twenty minutes away from home before I realized I'd forgotten something important, so I had to double back and get it.

Despite booking it across three states, I missed the first part of the symposium, but it was still valuable info from Tony Acree of Hydra Publications and ... I didn't catch the other speaker's name, because I was late. I took notes anyway. I've been meaning to work on my marketing, since a friend told me the other day "I didn't know you did photography too" and apparently my marketing attempts thus far are FAIL. (Note: The long gaps between posts in this blog.)

According to the symposium, I need to work on my newsletter, because it turns out y'all don't buy books off Facebook much. Sign up, wouldja? Don't worry, I'm waaaaay too busy to spam you. You'll be lucky to get an email once a month.

Dinner was a lovely little place a few blocks from the bookstore called One Nineteen Main Street. Tasty! I had a hard time deciding between steak and gouda mac and cheese or the chicken avocado sandwich. I went with the latter, with sweet potato fries and a cinnamony-sweet dipping sauce, and did not regret it at all. They use board games as wall art, which is just nifty.

The bookstore is in La Grange, Ky., a charming little town outside Louisville. It is the only Main Street in America where full trains actually come down the middle of Main Street. This happened shortly after the symposium had ended while I was shopping (duh, I was unsupervised in a bookstore) and I gaped: train, right outside the store window! Couldn't be more than 15 feet from the door.

I am very tempted to go back tomorrow and see if I can get a good photo of the train coming down the street (not standing in front of it, I am adventurous but not suicidal). There's a couple of neat cemeteries, and a riverwalk festival in Louisville that looks promising. Tomorrow is exploration and photography, and maybe a little writing if I can find a good coffeehouse. I got a spectacular new idea while driving. Very creepy.

Then Saturday: the signing! Come to La Grange and meet more than 100 authors from all across the midwest and mid-south. I'll be there, but don't let that stop you.

In the meantime, I think I'm gonna see if this house is haunted. C'mon, what's the point of sleeping in a 100-year-old mansion if it isn't haunted?

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bakery Math and the Spring Whirlygig

So let's recap, friends and neighbors:

This weekend:

• I have a signing at Maeva's in Alton on Friday night - "Writers of the Riverbend."
• On Saturday, I work for Ye Olde Newspaper.
• On Sunday, I am running a fundraiser at Pottery Hollow for the Relay for Life team. This requires baked goods, as treats were promised to the people coming to paint things. I might be able to get away with cookies and punch.
• Meanwhile Boy goes through his Ordeal for the Order of the Arrow.

Next weekend:

• I am doing a signing in Louisville, Ky. I am leaving on Thursday so I can do some photography on Friday before the signing on Saturday.
• But as soon as the signing is over Saturday, I have to book it back to Illinois. Because...
• Sunday is the 175th anniversary of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. I am responsible for the coffee hour baked goods. And coffee hour is, as we all know, the eighth sacrament of the Episcopal Church.
• Therefore all baking must be done by Wednesday of next week and then hidden from the menfolk.

The following weekend:

• I am coordinating a group author signing at St. Andrew's and the Relay Cafe.
• Which means more baked goods, plus the chili and hot dogs and other schtuff for the cafe, which likewise is raising money for the American Cancer Society.

Therefore, I need to do large-scale bake-sale-type baking in my ha ha ha spare time.

Cookies. Brownies. Cupcakes.

I AM OPEN TO RECIPES, PEOPLE. Preferably things hard to screw up, which don't require refrigeration, and keep for a good while, and tempt people to drop extra dollars in the donation jar.

Meanwhile, I am trying to manage:

• logistics and paperwork for Ian's summer school enrollment, freshman orientation arrangements, orchestra trip to Florida, summer camp counselor gig, and this weekend's Ordeal for the Order of the Arrow;
• travel plans for summer and fall for me, Jim, Ian, and occasionally some combination thereof;
• prom, which happens while I'm in Kentucky so I will MISS IT;
• three (3) separate fundraisers for Relay for Life with another on the horizon plus the Relay itself;
• three (3) group author signings that somehow I am coordinating;
• SPJ and its various spinning plates, including the annual report;
• the side gigs for fiction, photography and editing;
• more doctors' appointments than a syphilitic octogenarian.

Before you say, "Elizabeth, you're doing too much!" ... yeah, I know. This time of year is always nuts, since all the speaking engagements pile up in the spring and Relay comes right at the end of the school year and so on. It's a little crazier this year, because of the one thing I left off the list: Ian's graduation and Jim's 50th birthday, which happen the same weekend.


So I'm gonna go find my Zen, which may or may not resemble rum, and y'all feel free to share cookie recipes that will feed all these people with a minimum effort from me, and if you're so inclined, share some of your Zen with me. Because I could really use a vacation.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Peace which the world cannot give, I give to you

I give you a new commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this the world shall know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.

Yeah, brace yourself. It's church talk.

Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the three-night observance leading up to Easter, known as the Great Triduum. I had to go check the spelling. Not everyone knows (or cares) that Easter is not a day or a holiday, it is a season. There are three nights of preparation leading up to Easter Sunday, and then forty days of celebration thereafter. More chocolate for everyone!

Maundy Thursday is my favorite service of the entire year. Alas, this year I could not sing, because after five weeks of illness my voice is destroyed. It remains to be seen whether I can stand with my fellow choir members and my son to sing the Hallelujah Chorus on Sunday. My voice is my offering, and without it, I feel as though part of me is missing.

Of course, we would be singing my favorite anthem, one I love so much I asked them to sing it at my wedding and have asked Jimmy to please remember to have them sing it at my funeral.

In remembrance of me, eat this bread.
In remembrance of me, drink this wine.
In remembrance of me, pray for the time
that God's own will is done.

It is the service that remembers the Last Supper, the Seder among Jesus and the disciples. Everyone knows how that night ended, with betrayal and terror and people fleeing into the night in fear for their lives, religious and political oppression crashing down on their heads. But what I tend to remember is the beginning: a group of people gathering to honor their faith, and their leader startling them by washing their feet.

I leave it to the true Biblical scholars and historians to go into the details of why this was absolutely staggering in the cultural mores of the time, as shocking as when a woman used precious perfume and her hair to wash Jesus' feet. But I think one of the true reflections of faith is not necessarily what an action or story meant to people at the time or even how it has been interpreted through the centuries, but the lesson we take from it today.

In remembrance of me, heal the sick.
In remembrance of me, feed the poor.
In remembrance of me, open the door
and let your brother in.

For me, the story and the way my church chooses to symbolize it is a central tenet of my own faith: let us be servants to one another. In the Maundy Thursday service of the Episcopal Church, people may choose to have their feet washed by the priest before the altar. This is done in a ritualistic manner, with bare feet and a basin placed in the center of the aisle.

The priest states in his prayer beforehand that none should be so aware of their servanthood than those whom God has called to be his ministers, and that he does this to remember whose servant he is. And, as he says, we are then called to be servants to others.

Some people don't like it. They don't always choose to participate. Some parishes to which I've belonged had almost complete participation in the foot-washing; at this Thursday's service, there were fewer than ten, I think. And that's one of the nifty things about being Episcopalian: that's okay. Do or do not, as thou wilt.

Sure, it's awkward and weird. We don't usually take our shoes off in public, at least in an Episcopal church. We don't usually let other people wash our feet as long as we are capable of doing it ourselves.

But then, there are so many things in faith that ask us to set aside How It's Always Done and do something different.

Take, eat and be comforted
Drink, and remember too
That this is my Body and precious Blood
Shed for you

Being a lifelong Episcopalian means I've seen the footwashing performed in many different ways. What's the old joke: ask five Episcopalians for their theological opinion and you'll get six different answers. At my church for the last couple of decades, the priest washes everyone's feet, while the choir sings in the background.

At another church I attended in the past, each person washes the next person's feet. This is logistically more difficult, but I like it better: servants to one another. As the person in front of me washes my feet, so I will wash the feet of the person after me.

At yet another church I attended, the entire service was removed from the sanctuary into the parish hall. It was an extremely small church, and they chose a different rite, that celebrates remarkably similar to a Seder meal. We sat at a table instead of pews, ate small symbolic pieces of food, and washed each others' feet when the time came. It was not an attempt to co-opt the Seder, so much as it was paying homage to our ancestors and acknowledging our roots, respecting that the traditions we follow have their origins in faiths older than our own.

As I have washed the feet of my fellow parishioners, I found it among the most moving and spiritual experiences of my life as a woman of faith. I felt closer to my fellow parishioners, and closer to our heritage and the experiences of the people in the upper room.

In remembrance of me, search for truth.
In remembrance of me, always love.

To me, the most direct and beautiful expression of faith is not in words but in actions. When we choose to treat one another with love and respect, we are offering witness to the world. It's easy to sit in judgment and lecture someone else about what they should believe and how they should live appropriate to Scripture or doctrine. It's not so easy to offer kindness in return for anger, to set aside darker impulses in favor of forgiveness, or to recall that we are not the judges of all the world. True sin is to presume to know the mind of God, and to pass judgment in His name.

And it can be difficult for us to listen to the cascade of snide remarks, jokes about Zombie Jesus or Magic Sky Fairy from friends and family who would never be so disrespectful of another faith... and then remember how many of our own faith have used far worse weapons than words against others.

We are all beholden to one another. It was the final lesson our teacher attempted to give, and the one at which we have failed the most miserably.

I know more than most how people can come together and help each other when they choose. I have experienced far more of the love and generosity of friends, family and community than was my share. I continue to strive to give back what I have received, to pay it forward in whatever way I can, but I know that my balance will always be in the red.

As the service ends, the altar is stripped. Everything is removed, leaving bare wood. It is sometimes disconcerting to see the trappings removed, a reminder that these sacred things are only things. Perhaps we need to strip everything down to the floor sometimes in order to truly see what is important.

Afterward we remain in silent prayer and meditation for as long as we wish, so we can watch with Him one bitter hour. Yet it is never bitter to me, a time of silence, of prayer and stillness. We are rarely still in this crazed life, and peace can be hard to find.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

Allow me to wash your feet, and then you will wash the feet of the one who comes after you. What I do for you, you do for another. And thus the five thousand are fed.

In remembrance of me, don't look above
But in your heart for God.
In remembrance of me.

Note: Portions of this post originally ran in 2013.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Snippets: Catchup Edition with bonus HAMILTON!

For some reason, the Illness Edition(s) didn't run when I was sick. I was already on an antibiotic for another ailment when the Mysterious Fever of March struck. It went as high as 103, and stuck around for six days. Flu test was negative, other symptoms were all fever-related, including lower white cell count.

Then it went away, shortly after I stopped taking the medicine. All that remained was pain in my hand and finger joints and a weird, painful swelling at the back of my head, which later turned out to be an infected lymph node. Two days later, my lips suddenly swelled up like Mick Jagger and my arms and legs itched so terribly I had to smear myself with lidocaine gel just to be able to sleep. A few days of antihistimines made it go away.

Methinks I'm allergic to something. WebMD said I had dengue fever or meningitis. Never put your symptoms into WebMD. You're either dying of an obscure tropical virus or having a panic attack.

A few weeks later, and suddenly I have a lung infection reminiscent of Ebola. High fever, the usual delights, plus a weekend bonus of killing my voice. Thirteen days later, the voice is still in hiding, and I'm supposed to sing the great Triduum and Easter in a few days. Grrr argh.

How do I get this twice in five weeks? One of the extra-fun delights of being immune-compromised.

In the meantime... Snippets!

ME: I don't want to get you sick, so I may sleep on the couch.
MAN: ... Okay. I'm not going to argue with you.
ME: That would be a first.
MAN: You do what you have to.
ME: I hardly know what to do. You argue with me on everything. Everyone thinks I've got you like under my thumb, and they don't know how stubborn you are.
MAN: Well, you taught me everything I know.
ME: Did not. They don't know that you're the stubborn one in this relationship.
ME: Hey!
MAN: *grabs little jewelry holder off my dresser and works its opening like a puppet-mouth* You liiiiiie, woman.
ME: a) Don't call me woman, and b) that's NOT a puppet, you're gonna mangle it and then I'll have to throw it away!


MAN: Seriously, if you get worse, call me and I'll come home.
ME: So you can do what, stand over me and cluck your tongue at me?
MAN: *clucks tongue over me*
ME: Fine, if that'll make me better, come do it before you go to work. But I'm not calling you.
MAN: Seriously!
ME: No!
MAN: You will too!
ME: Will not! The only reason I'd call you was if I had to go to the ER, and since all they'll do is pat me on the head, tell me to call the doc in the morning and charge me nine thousand dollars, I'll just stay home to die, thank you.
MAN: ...
ME: Well, I thought it was funny.
MAN: If your temp gets over 104, call me.
ME: Well, I won't, because you told me to.
MAN: That's right, you WILL, and I'll show you who's boss.
ME: And who would that be?
MAN: ...Me.
ME: You wish.


Finally there were a few doctor visits. These are from today. Did I mention I love the Awesome Doc?

DOC: So what's going on? Never mind, I don't wanna hear complaints, don't give me yer troubles.
ME: See, that's exactly what a person likes to hear from their doctor.
DOC: What, compassion?
ME: Compassion, understanding, sensitivity...
DOC: *waves hand* Nah.
ME: *snerk*

ME: I have to come back in three months again, don't I?
DOC: Well, you give me blood results that make me happy, and I'll leave you alone.
ME: *sigh*

At one point we discussed the likelihood of me singing on Sunday, which led to talking about music.

DOC: I've got a nephew in the music business, he was on Broadway. Something called Hamilton, you ever heard of it?
ME: ... Yes, I've heard of Hamilton. So has, um, everyone.
DOC: Yeah, he was in that.
ME: You are totally pulling my leg.
DOC: I swear. His name is Chris Jackson, he played George Washington.
ME: Yeah, I've heard of George Washington, too.

So then I look up Chris Jackson, and holy Hera, he not only originated the role of George Washington in Hamilton and won a freaking Tony for it, but then I saw his photo. I texted it to Jim, and he replied, "Holy shit!"

Absolute spitting image of the Awesome Doc.

Before I left, Awesome Doc wrote something down for my reference.

ME: *examines card* Hey, this is almost readable. Are you sure you're a doctor?
DOC: Stahp it.
ME: *snerk*


Meanwhile, back at the farm...

TV CHARACTER: Sagittarius.
BOY: Pause. *I press pause* What is Sagittarius?
ME: You don't... know? Sagittarius is a sign of the zodiac. It originates from the constellations.
BOY: How do you...
ME: Know what you are? Birthdate. You are... *googles* Capricorn. Your element is Earth, your birthstone is garnet, and your animal is the sea-goat.
BOY: What are you?
ME: I'm a Pisces. You know what that means?
BOY: What?
ME: I'm a fishy character who works for scale.
BOY: *side-eye*
ME: Nothing?
BOY: That was terrible.
ME: I am unappreciated in my house.


ME: I am getting Facebook ads for divorce counseling. Anything you need to tell me?
MAN: ...
ME: Well, I thought it was funny...
MAN: I didn't hear the text. And I have nothing to say...
ME: That's not nearly witty enough for the blog.
MAN: Maybe you should be telling ME what is up, woman! Going to leave me for a mouse.
ME: ... a mouse?
MAN: Disney.
ME: I'm taking YOU with me, goofball.


Boy had an extensive amount of paperwork to fill out for his summer camp counselor job. I swear I filled out fewer forms when I was hired at Ye Olde Newspaper. It took two consecutive nights of listening to him swear at his computer and providing the occasional guidance. He finished approximately 12 minutes before the deadline.

ME: And have we learned a lesson about the dangers of procrastination?
BOY: Yes. Always procrastinate.

Both Jim and Noah (who was visiting for spring break) thought this was freaking hilarious.


MAN: Have you seen Becky yet?
ME: The Becky is here!
MAN: Tell her I say hello. Did you bring her the book?
ME: No, I ate the book. I had the munchies.
MAN: With ketchup? And they have ice cream there! Why eat a poor, defenseless book?
ME: Smartass.
MAN: You taught me well.
ME: I am not responsible for you. You came this way.
MAN: Bad influence.


MAN: Any news about the car?
ME: It's an oil leak.
MAN: No shit. What was leaking, woman?
ME: There's a leaking gasket in the... flux capacitor. I can't remember. It's covered by the warranty.
MAN: Glad it is covered unlike Doc Brown's car.
ME: Also don't call me woman.
MAN: Woman.
ME: Don't call me woman or I'm throwing our defective airbag at you.
MAN: Are they fixing the grenade?
ME: Yes. They have the new airbags in stock now.
MAN: Now car don't go boom!

It's been a long month. I promise to stop forgetting this blog exists... Because where else would you get your snark? Now I'm off to find a song sung by my doctor's nephew on iTunes, because that's just too cool.

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