Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Religion majors make bad pastors

My college required we each enroll in one"religion" class per semester.

Some of us got hooked. We were the kids who majored in Religion.

And so it came to pass that in those days, a great many well intended, thoughtful men (mostly men) and women opted out.

Instead of exploring the philosophies and or histories of our collective civilization, we studied Paul's original Greek when he established the 1st Century church in Corinth.

Stuff like that.

As a consequence, at graduation, we weren't fit for much - other than a life in parish ministry.

So off we went - in droves - to seminary.

The "Yikes!" factor

When we broke into the congregations, we discovered the obvious.

No one cared about Jesus' Hebraic roots.  No one was moved by our facility with first Century Greek.

Instead, we were the ones "moved."

We encountered real people with real jobs, real lives - with real problems.

Husbands and wives who hated each other. Lost children - tossed aside by busy parents.
Addicted teenagers - lonely, anxious and hooked to smart phones for dear life.

Unfaithful spouses who lusted after co-workers.

And the yearning.  The ever present, non-stop yearning - for all the many, many things they would never have - and then many, many people who would never love them.

Our response?

Let us pray.

Before it's too late

I know there are still young people in love with the church - on fire with the gospel.

Perhaps you're one of those young people.

If you are -  take my advise. Major ye not in religious studies.  Study other things as well.

Entrench yourself in the science, American and European history. Explore the regions of geography and astronomy.

Experiment in new ways of organizing reality; consider the Buddhist approach to disengagement, the Hindi love of compassionate action.

Take time to dip your spirit in the real world of suffering.  Volunteer your time at a shelter for battered and abused women.  Talk to the women.  Seek out the men.  Hear their thought processes and let it all in.

Learn the ways of the hungry, the empty and the old.  Deepen your knowledge of the systems of poverty, loneliness and despair.

Then - return to us.

Come home to the Beatitudes.

Live again in the light of the Lord's Prayer - where we believe and know that the Universe alone holds the power and the glory of all good things.

Because, my young friend, unlike other professions you chase, ministry is a forever work.  Life, as you knew it, disappears.  Like childhood - once you cross into the intimate world of ministry, you are never the same again.

Never again will you look at a family and assume all is well.  Never again will you take for granted the good health, stability and strength of people you meet.

Because - you are a pastor - and pastors know otherwise.

And they learned it the hard way.

It is wonderful work - but hard work, and all consuming.

So - if you must do it, get eager.  Get ready.

But more than these - get a good education.

And get real.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How solitaire made me normal

When I was four-years-old, I was a little  (how shall I put this?) schizophrenic.

I talked to numbers.

They were my friends -  and each had a distinct, particular personality.

For example - number One was an only child, growing up on Summit Avenue.

His father was number  Fourteen,  who didn't believe in God.

The wife of Six. 
Six, if I recall,  was married to Miss Francis from Ding-Dong School.

Ricky Ricardo loved Nine.  He almost married her, but Lucy came along - and ruined everything.

Numbers were my playmates. 

I still remember when Five, Seven and I put pennies on the rail-road track near the Dunlap Avenue Short Line.

After the train passed, we knew we couldn't  keep the flattened souvenirs - my mother would have beat the daylights out of us for playing in the ravine.

Instead, we sold them to Eight and Ten; a couple of red heads growing up in an over-crowded duplex on Lincoln Avenue.

How many kids in the house?  Beats me.

I didn't know how to count.

The adults in my family would never call me "crazy."

Even so, they set about to change the way I thought about numbers, television and reality.

Howdy Doody wasn't a real boy,  Crusader Rabbit was not my boyfriend and numbers don't marry and have children.

My folks came at this project from a variety of approaches.

My father asked me to "count" nails as he hammered them into a screen door.  

My mother, ironing my dresses,  asked me to fetch Ten hangers from the closet.

I counted the nails for my dad - but Ten thought ironing was silly - and my mother was a little stupid to spend her time doing it.

I told her to get the hangers herself .

You can imagine.

Flash cards and the jealousy of Three.

My dad tried to teach me addition.

He bought a set of flash cards and asked to add Two plus Four.

I tried to explain that the Two and Four  could never be together. They were both in love with Three.

I thought everyone knew that.

Next, he took out a deck of cards.

He shuffled, mixed the Numbers together, and laid them on our kitchen table, row by row.

Some were face-up; others were hidden, snuggling against the back of an unknown stranger.

"This game," he said, "is called solitaire - because you play it all alone."

Silly man, I thought.  A girl and a stack of Numbers is never alone.

And that's how I grew to love solitaire - hearts - gin rummy - all the card games that saw me through my childhood.

Saved by solitaire. 

I'm happy to report that my schizophrenia abated.

By the time I started kindergarten I could count with the best of them, without regard for the emotional lives and social entanglements of the numbers I threw around.

Even so - even today - the ghost of old friends sometimes visit.

I bought my little bungalow in Como Park in 2002 - a lovely, orderly number.

I remember when I first saw the adorable little house.  I parked my funky Volkswagen at the address given - and for some reason, didn't think of the address until I saw the numbers above the front door.

There they were - my dear friends - Seven and Five.

The price was perfect as well - I paid $175,000 for this great old house.

A fine price.  A lovely price.

Not a Three in sight.

Still crazy - after all these years.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The day after generosity

When I was a little girl, everyone around our Thanksgiving table had the last name "Holmgren."

My father coveted our privacy and so the Hans Holmgren family always dined alone.

At least - until the Thanksgiving of 1958 -  when  relatives from "up north" managed to weasel an invitation.

I remember the phone call as if were yesterday.

My mother was busy in the kitchen. My father was smoking a pipe and reading the paper at her pinewood table.

"Don't answer that!" he warned as she picked up the receiver. "Nothing good ever comes from a telephone call on a holiday!"

It was my father's Uncle Oscar and his wife Millie -  people I'd never met.

Millie called from a booth in Nisswa.  They were on their way to town when she remembered they had family in the cities.

Covering the mouth piece my mother whispered to my father - "You know people in Thief River?"

Of course he did.  Uncle Oscar was his father's oldest brother. My father grabbed the phone.

There was a baby shower in Minneapolis tomorrow, Millie told him.   They were going to have to spend the night somewhere.

Would it be okay if they stayed with us? Millie was more than happy to help with the Thanksgiving meal and they would be no trouble at all.

I was stunned when my dad said "Come on ahead.  We got plenty."

But when he hung up, his irritation exploded through the kitchen.

"What am I going to say to them?" he shouted at my mother.  "The last time I saw Oscar, god was a little boy!"

But the harm had been done.  By nightfall - Uncle Oscar and Millie were at our door -  in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

I remember that holiday as if it were last night.

My father greeted his uncle with a handshake; something I never saw him do before.

The old man sat in my dad's chair at the table, while my father perched on our too-skinny piano stool.

The meal, of course,  was perfect. The stuffed, dressed turkey was moist and surrounded by roasted vegetables. The cranberries were crushed with mint from my mother's summer garden and mixed with fresh orange.

All of this - performed by my mother before anyone dreamed of the word "Cuisinart."

Oscar and Millie ate with noisy gratitude.

"Bernice," Oscar said, "you make a happy, happy table."

My mother blushed behind the compliment.

That night, Millie and Oscar slept in my bed while I slept on the couch.  They were gone before I awoke on Friday.

I never saw again saw them alive.

Traveling north on one of the many, many country roads leading to Fosston, Grigla, Bagley, Thief River - Uncle Oscar swerved to avoid an oncoming truck and threw the Oldsmobile into a tree.

We learned on the evening news - like everyone else.  Stunned, disbelieving - my father phoned the television station to confirm that the dead were Oscar and Millie Holmgren.

The bodies were at the county morgue, waiting for family to claim. My parents had a terrible argument about funeral expenses, Christmas obligations and how stupid they were to own a telephone.

The following week we drove north for a funeral.

We arrived in time to view both bodies.

My great Oscar and his wife Millie were the first dead people I ever saw.

My father led me to Oscar's coffin and placed my hand on the cool, shaven face of the dead man.

"Say good-bye," he said.  I held my breath and considered the object under my touch; a body without life, a husk, an empty shell.

When he moved me to the next coffin I felt the air in the room grew thin - the floor swirl.  I awoke coughing on smelling salts tucked under my nose.

"She's a little young for all this," the mortician scolded my father.

"She's old enough," he said.

The drive home was ugly.  My dad swore Oscar and Millie would still be alive if he never invited them to Thanksgiving dinner in the first place.

My mother reminded him that the Holmgrens were in town anyway - to attend a baby shower.

My father did not agree.

"No one in their right mind would drive from Kandiyohi County to Saint Paul in the middle of winter without a decent meal waiting for them on the other end," he said.  "Baby or no baby."

But my mother insisted.  

"No one cheats death," she said.  "You miss it in Kandiyohi,  you meet it in Thief River.  You die in your car, or you die in your living room. No one," she repeated,  "cheats death."

Her words hung heavy in the dark cold air of the Plymouth as silent my father drove,  chastened.

In years to come, others visited during the holidays - and sat around our Thanksgiving and Christmas table.

All of them immediate family.  None of them, traveling from far away.

 And all of them returning to their homes - without incident.

"We must be doing something right," he used to say.  "Nobody dropped dead in a long, long time."

For the rest of his life, my father never, ever, ever again -  invited anyone outside our immediate family to share a holiday meal.

And that's why you won't hear much from me this time of year.

Nonetheless - a  happy holiday season to you all -  from another member of the inhospitable, ungenerous Holmgren family.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top five reasons to honor Halloween

I did it last year.  The year before.  And I'll do it again on Thursday night.

The children who come to my door will meet a hideous old woman, wretched and hidden inside her black, hooded cape; her features smashed by a dark,  opaque stocking, her hands vanished in black socks.

She doesn't speak.

Instead, she gurgles a terrifying, muddled murmur.

To the tiny brave ones who dare to step into the eerie, green-lit porch where bats and dismembered bones abound, she offers marvelous, full-sized chocolate bars.

Sometimes the candy draws the children closer.  More often, it makes them cry from frustrated fear.

Many turn down her candy rather than step into her lair.

The neighbors complain

When I was in my fifties (yes, when I was fifty-something-years old!) the neighbors began their annual complaint about my Halloween antics.

They claimed I take Halloween too far.

I don't need to be so frightening - the kids seek only sweets and a soft congratulations for the mother-made costume. They don't need the terror I impose.

Some said I have fun at the expense of children - an immature act that robs little ones of both the innocence and merriment of Halloween. They said I replace good stuff with fear.

I've heard this for over ten years, and I don't give a rat's ass.

My attitude?


There are only so many Halloweens in our short, sweet lives.

Think of it - one day, when we least expect,  we will wake up - dead.

When that happens, the opportunity to "haunt" will be authentic and meaningful.

Until then, all we have is one night of the year - Halloween.

I intend to squeeze every possible scream out of every single child who dares knock on my door.

For those of you who choose (for bogus religious reasons) to ignore this magnificent celebration of the dead, I offer these five, simple, clear reasons why you are wrong.

Dead wrong.

The top five reasons

to honor Halloween - irrespective of age

Reason #5 - Halloween is the only holiday when we are encouraged  (and allowed!) to cultivate and exploit an alter ego.  If we cannot let loose and enjoy the dark side of our personality (or, the light, miraculous, cheery side) - we are poorer for the lack.

Reason #4 - It's true - Halloween is for children.  And we're children as long as we grab Halloween by the gonads and wrestle it to the floor.  Celebrate and stay young!

Reason #3 - Locking the door, turning off the lights and pretending to not be home on Halloween night will provoke the neighborhood children.  Granted, they might not commit outward acts of vandalism.   Even so - who wants to be known as the "mean old man" in the corner house, who can't open his heart or door on October 31st?

Reason #2 - Halloween is the first of a string of wonderful, fabulous, festive and outlandish holidays.

 Shutting it down is a bit like turning your back on fun.

Making it a grand event will deepen your gratitude for autumn and winter - - here, in the land of sludge, crabby neighbors and people who wear too many clothes - - even in the summer.

And reason #1 - Childhood is short.  Without your good example, those little children at your door will "trick or treat" five, maybe six times in their lives.

Don't let that happen.  Show them adults know how to have fun too.  Be a witch. Be a vampire.  Be Peewee Herman, if you choose.

Be the best Halloween grownup you can be.

Be a child again.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Some "Smart" words

Today, I share with you some cynical wisdom 
from a successful playwright, 
Mr. Matt Smart.  

Mat Smart worked at McMurdo Station in Antarctica 
from December 12, 2011 to February 22, 2012 - at which time he moved to New York City and began writing in earnest. 

His newest play, Tinker to Evers to Chance
was recently workshopped at 
PlayLabs at the Playwrights' Center in New York City. 

Other plays include: Samuel J. and K. (Williamstown Theatre Festival), 
The Hopper Collection (Magic Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company) 
and The 13th of Paris (City Theatre). 

Smart is a co-founder of Slant Theatre Project. 
An avid traveler and baseball fan, he has been to six continents 
and seen games at twenty-eight of the current MLB stadiums.

I share his words with you.  
May they challenge you as they did me. 

There is a widespread defeatist attitude among “emerging” playwrights that the system is broken. It’s impossible to make a living. We don’t have enough time to write after making rent. Sexism, racism, commercialism, stupidism runs rampant in established theaters (i.e., theaters we can actually make money at). Development opportunities are imperfect, too short, too finite. Theaters just need to do our plays already. We’ll do all the work we need to do on the script in rehearsal, trust us; your audience will come, trust us; you won’t take a bath on my play, just do it already—no really, the theater will die if you don’t support new work, assholes. Dear Artistic Director of a Major Regional Theater That Will Only Do New Plays by Playwrights Who Have Won Pulitzers: Fuck you. Sincerely, The Future of Theater That You Are Killing.
On a bad day, that is what we “emerging” playwrights will say. I am not qualified to speak for all “emerging” playwrights, but this is often how I feel and what I hear over coffee or whiskey or the internet. I am not qualified to speak for all “emerging” playwrights because I am a straight, white male, and I don’t have a trust fund. I live on the $19,000 to $31,000 I make per year from a combination of playwriting royalties, commissions, fellowships, teaching, and working part-time at a real estate company. I am not qualified to speak for all “emerging” playwrights because I like to write linear plays with dramatic action and a climax where the protagonist makes a decision that changes him or her irrevocably. The diversity of we—the “emerging” playwright—is vast and necessary and I am unable to speak for all of us. However, this is what I believe, with all due respect to my peers:
our general laziness,
inability to commit,
defeatist attitude,
lack of talent,
and unwillingness to truly listen and change—
are the real reasons we—the “emerging” playwright—fail.
It’s Not EnoughWe—the “emerging” playwrights—are fucking lazy. This is what we don’t want you to know, Dear Artistic Director. Most of us don’t really know how to keep working on a play. Not what it really takes. To get a play where it needs to be—to get a theater to pull the trigger on a new script—you have to be relentless, indefatigable. You have to love the actual working on the thing—the actual writing—so much that there is an inevitability about it all. Every day you spend six hours writing, eight hours temping, three hours sending business emails and you know it’s not enough. You’ve had a ton of workshops at fancy places where you’ve stayed up all night writing for weeks on end. You’ve finally integrated that big note. It is not enough. Writing a play, revising it, really working on it, staying open to the good and bad criticism, really reworking it, getting it out there, seeing it through to production, dealing with poor casting, weathering pans or rave reviews, reworking it, getting it done again, reworking it, repeat for the next script, repeat— all this is an act of love. It has to be. In the end, our approach to our own work is the only thing we can control—and I believe that you have to love the doing. You also have to love the chase, love the absence of any resemblance of fairness, justice, or due course. And as long as it doesn’t make you too desperate or crazy—there is a nobility in this endurance, in this brand of foolishness. There must be a sense that “I am going down with the ship.” And frankly, it is a commitment that I don’t see many emerging playwrights make.
The Good LifeI believe the life of a playwright is fucking great. We make up shit and if we ask big, messy questions in a compelling, theatrical way—if we’re good at getting scripts, projects out there and constantly improving—people will pay us to do it. People will fly us around the country for it, around the world. Parts of the system suck, but there is a lot that is working about it. There are a lot of places that do new plays, know how to nurture them, and will pay a playwright real money. Sure, it’s hard to make money writing plays, but try making money writing poetry. Granted every dollar you don’t make writing, you have to make doing something else—and that can add up to not many hours writing. But I still think there’s enough time in the day, if you are driven, to be a playwright.
So all together, how about we “emerging” playwrights stay away from the defeatist attitude? It’s bad for business. Let’s stay away from it by thinking about companies like 13P and Workhaus Collective—theaters like Playwrights Horizons and City Theatre in Pittsburgh—organizations like New Dramatists and the Playwrights’ Center. Defeat defeatism by opening up your laptop at the beginning or end of the day—no matter how much other shit you have to do. We can all take matters into our own hands. It does us no good to sit around and complain about having our hands tied, even if Dear Artistic Director is already on the third knot. You know what? I take back the fuck you, Dear Artistic Director. Just do your thing. And I’ll do mine.
All Playwrights Are Not Created EqualOne thing we “emerging” playwrights don’t like to talk about is talent. There is a sense that the wealth should be spread around—that prizes, fellowships, and productions shouldn’t keep going to the same playwrights. But the reality is that some writers are flat-out better than others. Yes, art is subjective and there is a vast gray area. Yes, plays that are deserving of production get overlooked for a wide variety of good and bad reasons. However, as you get to know a playwright’s body of work, it becomes very clear who was born to do this and who wasn’t. Even if that playwright is “emerging” and still developing his or her voice—the pulse is there or it isn’t—and if it is there, the only way a playwright can truly fail is by quitting.

Emerging or Languishing?Lastly, I think most of us “emerging” playwrights are dinosaurs. We don’t change, we don’t adapt, we don’t truly know how to truly listen to criticism and rewrite in an effective way. I am involved with various development programs, as a playwright and in other capacities, and I see this time and time again. Plays often get a bit stronger, stay about the same, or get ruined—but rarely does a play blossom from a good play into a great play. Rarely does a mess of an act two turn into anything else. Rarely does an act two truly further the dramatic questions/situation of act one in a rigorous, meaningful way. We need to better learn when to hold to our guns and when to imagine things anew. Sometimes ego should be taken out of it. Let the play go wherever it needs to go. Sometimes that’s the worst thing to do.
It’s widely discussed that many plays languish in a constant state of development, but I also think playwrights—especially “emerging” playwrights—languish in this same state. Between workshops, between the seventh and eighth draft of a play, between productions—how do we keep growing and changing? But even new plays that receive productions are often half-baked. Perhaps the answer is that it’s hard to write a great play and hard to produce a great show, but then what can we do to get better at what we do?  The system may be broken, but there’s also a lot that’s broke-down about us “emerging” playwrights along with it. Too often we use the same process, make the same mistakes, and expect a different result. If we look inward to ourselves, not outward at the system, what can we do?
I think it has to do with listening—to each other, to our collaborators, to our audience and primarily, to our hearts and guts. We “emerging” playwrights need to kick each other’s asses more, challenge each other more, invest in one another more, and be more honest with one another. I expect this rant will piss some of my peers off, but it comes from the place of hoping we can lift each other up. We can do our part to fix the system. Can we shed the “emerging” label? Can we figure out how to arrive?
Matt Smart - New York City Playwright 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ghosts in the heartland

My new play is a ghost story.

After Elsie dies, she realizes her life was peppered with unfinished business.

She returns, hoping to open the doors she closed in life.  Along the way she discovers most of life is "unfinished."  Nothing comes to a conclusion.

And no one is irreplaceable.

I was only eight-years-old 

when my grandfather died.  

Oscar was a cranky, difficult Swedish immigrant with little tolerance for childhood.

He never learned English; never had to.  Everyone in my family understood the language of rage.

Grandpa Oscar died on a cold afternoon in May.  Three weeks later, my cousin Cherry died of acute leukemia. She began to bleed on a Friday afternoon and was dead by Wednesday.

My cousin Cherry was eight-years-old. 
And so was I.  

Death was not proud in that year.

My Aunt Olga followed Cherry - and within a few short weeks, another uncle and aunt died together in an automobile accident.   For all of this loss, I was too young to attend funerals, too old to be ignorant of grief.

Theologians tell us that our first exposure to death is lasting.  The sudden shock of mortality changes a child.
Early exposure to death may result in everything from a propensity to alcoholism and drug addiction - or, as in my case -  an adulthood dedicated to parish ministry.

Elsie's death leads her people to a  new appreciation of limits and a fresh compassion for the imperfection of all things.

"HOME AGAIN - A GHOST STORY"  premieres in 2015. 
Watch for opportunities 
to attend a staged reading
at Theatre in the Round Players
 January, 2014.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Putting the baby to bed

Writing a play is like raising a child.

The idea for one comes from someplace other than the intellect.

The time for one is nonexistent.

The money, enthusiasm, energy and imagination for one emerges when the time is right, and not a moment prior.

And the launching of one is as painful as the launching of the other.

My new show, EFFIGY, opens tonight.

The gestation was about nine months.  The labor was intense; my actors passed through confusion, delusion, illumination and clarity.

My mood swings were prolific.  Euphoric at first, self-doubting after the second trimester, and courageous confidence at crowing.

Now, my baby takes first steps into the public realm of criticism, review, rejection and celebration.

I drink my post-partum tonic from the wings, hoping for the best. 

Off we go - into the wild, blue yonder of literature.

And motherhood.

Fly, little bird.  Fly away.

EFFIGY is a big, strong, sassy grown up.

Click the image above for ticket information.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five good reasons to stay single

I know, I know.  You're a little lonely.

You're not getting any younger.   The biological clock is ticking, and  all your brothers and sisters are married.

So, you're beginning to worry.  Perhaps you've been to fussy.   Maybe you should lower your standards.

You know a few acceptable men.  True - none of them ring your chimes.  But maybe you need to revisit your former criteria.

Before you make that sows ear into a Gucci bag, consider these five romantic deal breakers.

If your guy falls into any of these categories, take a deep breath and step away from the man.

1. He doesn't share your spiritual values.  

He loves Krishna and you've got a serious thing for Mohammad. 

He  doesn't think old people have immortal souls and wishes men could get pregnant so he could have at least one abortion. 

When he was old enough for "Confirmation," he announced his affection for Satanism.  About the same time, he began to test the "nine lives theory" on several neighborhood cats.   

Sorry.   The handwriting is on the wall, toots.  When it comes to faith-systems, if he's not in sync,  it's as grim as you think.  Or worse.  A whole lot worse. 

2. He's emotionally vacant.

He never calls his mother.  He evades the IRS and is hounded by bill collectors.   And when his autistic son got too big for him to handle, he divorced his wife, put the boy in a county home for profoundly retarded children and began to hide his assets. 


3. He doesn't understand finances. 

His dining room table is covered with unopened bills from his creditors.   He confesses he doesn't believe in 401Ks, and doesn't trust an employer stupid enough to match his contribution.

He sends cash each month to a mysterious off-shore investment group.  And he asks you to pay for your own dinner.

 4. High expectations

He says he never wants to live in a "used" house, and he loves over-sized, leather furniture.  He wants veto power over any china pattern you choose, and he only drinks Perrier with a twist.  Of fresh mint.

He refuses to learn to iron his own shirt, and a former girlfriend to cleans his apartment.  For free.

5: Self Satisfaction 

He doesn't walk into a room - he saunters. He never asks directions, even when the two of you cannot find the movie theatre. 

At first you thought all of this stemmed from confidence.  Then, you began to notice his lack of imagination and ambition.  

And he might be lazy.  The weeks grow three feet tall in his garden, and he doesn't seem to notice. He refuses to walk his dogs - and insists on owning Irish Elk Hounds. 

Darling, dead "Dear Abby" would say (if she were still with us), "Wake up and smell the coffee, stupid"


Okay, okay, okay.  Maybe she wouldn't call you names.

But you get the picture.

The best thing to do with any of these bozos is run.

As fast as you can.

And tonight, when the stars shine through your tiny kitchen-for-one window, take a silent moment to count your blessings.

Make yourself a tall mug of green tea, light a candle and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving for your freedom.

Because here's the truth the fairy tales never share.

Having a man does not always mean living happily ever after.

Most of us are as happy as we decide to be.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Her husband is a cheater. Should you tell her?

My mother was twenty-five-years-old when she learned her husband Carlos was an adulterer.

Everyone in her small town of Fosston, Minnesota knew - but she didn't have a clue.

Later in life she told me how she misread the quiet signs.

"Everyone tried to tell me," she said.  "But I didn't want to know."

Everywhere she went, she said, picking strawberries, Ladies' Aid meetings, shopping for produce at the fruit market, the other married women treated her with a strange respect.

They stopped speaking when she approached.  They whispered as she departed. The ones who knew her best huddled around her, asking again and again if she had any "news."

Sometimes, my mother thought she saw pity in their eyes, worry.

But hindsight, she said, is always 20/20..

Then, one steamy August afternoon, Carlos came home early from the butcher shop and confessed.

He was sleeping with a seventeen-year-old girl named Phyllis.  Phyllis, he told my mother, was pregnant.

"And I don't believe her," Carlos pleaded. "I don't believe a word she says.  Give me six months, Bernice.  Six months alone, at the cabin with her.  I'll prove her wrong and come back to you."

And so it came to pass that  my mother moved her two children back to her father's house in St. Paul and became a "divorcee".

The year was 1938, and it was not easy rebuilding a shame-ridden life among  judgmental,  irritated Swedes.  Even so, my mother worked hard to remove the taint and scandal of abandonment.

Nothing was righted until nine years later when she married Hans, my father.

The power of lies.

Flash forward eighty-something years.

Carlos is dead.  So is his childless widow, Phyllis.  My mother and father are dead too.

But the lessons of all their intertwined lives continue to educate. 

Living in a family devastated by lies,  I learned the importance of always speaking the truth, no matter how difficult.

But sometimes,  the truth is wrapped in bad news.  And bad news is hard to deliver.

Still - if my mother were still alive, she would say what she always said.

The truth never hurt anyone.  And if it does, the pain is always worth the knowledge gained.

So, at midsummer, when I'm certain several of my women friends are unaware of the antics of their ne'er do well spouses, I offer . . . .

Five simple rules for sharing the worst news possible.

  1. Be certain your facts are correct.  Verify, verify, verify. 
  2. Before you contact her, contact him.   Warn the cheater.  Tell him you're about to blow the lid off his lies - unless he tells his wife the truth.  Give him a deadline - but be careful.  A trapped animal strikes out at anyone - so make certain you deliver this message in a bright, sunny place, surrounded by strangers.  And then - leave town for a few days.  Better safe than sorry.
  3. You're wondering what to say and how to say it?  Phone her - and say this.   "I have information about your marriage.  I want to share it with you, but I won't do so if you do not want to hear it." 
  4. She'll beg you to tell her - but never, never drop the bomb over the phone.   Offer to meet. 
  5. Bring flowers.  Bring a bottle of wine.  Bring a box of Kleenex and all your support. 
You will be surprised how easily the words come, once you see her.

Another thing that grows in the sunshine;  friendship. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fathers - the best words

 Don't bother.  It's all been said - and better than you could ever say it.   Below - some of our literary giants share insights to paternity - - and I share it with you - on this, our Father's Day, 2013.
For my father - who still haunts me.  Rest in peace, Hans.
  1. It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.  ~Harper Lee
  2. All fathers are invisible in daytime; daytime is ruled by mothers and fathers come out at night. Darkness brings home fathers, with their real, unspeakable power.   ~Margaret Atwood
  3. When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. ~Mark Twain
  4. Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes. ~Markus Zusak
  5. Few sons are like their fathers - many are worse, few better. ~Homer
  6. He breathed in [my mother’s] hair, the sweet-smelling thickness of it. My father usually agreed with her requests, because stamped in his two-footed stance and jaw was the word Provider, and he loved her the way a bird-watcher’s heart leaps when he hears the call of the roseate spoonbill, a fluffy pink wader, calling its lilting coo-coo from the mangroves. Check, says the bird-watcher. Sure, said my father, tapping a handful of mail against her back. ~Aimee Bender
  7. Perhaps that is what it means to be a father - to teach your child to live without you. ~Nicole Krauss
  8. Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.  ~Tom Wolfe
  9. Never having been in love, this is going to be a real trick. I think of my parents. The way my father never failed to bring her gifts from the woods. The way my mother’s face would light up at the sound of his boots at the door. The way she almost stopped living when he died. ~Suzanne Collins
  10. A man knows when he is growing old because he begins to look like his father. ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  11. The father is always a Republican toward his son, and his mother’s always a democrat. ~Robert Frost
  12. I killed the monsters. That’s what fathers do. ~Fiona Wallace