Interviews, Inadequacy, and Immortatlity

http://www.sapphirebooks.com/blog/2012/09/29/getting-to-know-beth-burnett/

My first interview. It was like an awkward first date where the other person is asking all kinds of questions and I am trying to be intriguing and honest at the same time and the whole time, I’m sure that somewhere, in the back of her head, she’s thinking, “Man, what a dork.”

I learned a couple of things. One. It is very hard to be witty and brilliant without human interaction. You would think a writer would be equipped to handle this, but I found the format of answering paper questions to be difficult and stifling. I think I would be better off with a live interview, but I’m not sure of that because of lesson number two…

This shit is going to be out there forever. I realized as I was rereading this interview today that whatever I said is still going to be there tomorrow. And the next day. And forever after. It makes me wonder about big time celebrities who spout political opinions or strong feelings about toilet paper or breast feeding and forever after, those opinions and statements are out there for anyone who has the persistence and interest to find it.

I think I need someone like a football coach to go over every question with me afterward and completely break it down play by play. “Why did you answer this question like this?” “Was that supposed to be funny?” We could have a big chalkboard and a pointer and I could sit there, earnestly taking notes and trying to remember all of it so that next time I can do better.

Or maybe I should get a “get out of jail free” card. I could go back and scratch the answers that I didn’t really like. Did I really say that I want to drink wine in bed? I HATE WINE! Am I going to be sorry for making loving reference to that particular woman someday? Should I have mentioned  reading chick lit? Why did I say I wear cotton underwear? Does anyone really care that I was listening to light hits of the 70s when I wrote Davey and Danny’s first love scene? Why didn’t I follow my friend Wen’s advice and just write “Intelligent. Articulate. Charming. Sexy. Looking?”

Be yourself may be some of the crappiest advice my mother ever gave me. I don’t want to be myself. I want to be brilliant and adorable and have people falling all over themselves to love me and shower me with affection… or maybe I just want them all to buy my books.

At any rate, the first appearance has been conquered. And now the first paper interview has been conquered. Maybe the next time, I won’t feel the need to pick myself to pieces after.

Nah.

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Writing, Edits, and the Inability to Sleep

“Man Enough” needs to be edited. I think it is a great book, and so do 99 percent of the people who have bought it so far. Or at least, the ones who gave me feedback or posted reviews. “Man Enough” was my first novel, and I am still in love with it. But polishing a novel for self-publishing and polishing it to be published by an actual paper publisher are two different things.

So, on the fine advice of one of my favorite authors, and with a list of potential problems in hand, I have taken to editing my baby. I feel like the narrator in that Anne Bradstreet poem.

Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.

Right? I love my child. I labored over it, I cried over it, I gave birth to it, and I absolutely love it, but the more I look at it, the more I think about what I could do to help it be better. It’s a conundrum. On the one hand, I am in love with my characters and I want to leave them alone to live their lives in peace and happiness.

On the other hand, couple with my awesome characters are some run-on sentences (from me, who could believe it?!) and perhaps some dangling participles. (Why didn’t one of you let me know I was dangling?) A few minor typos. Some awkward sentences. You know. All of that boring stuff that has to be done if you want a good grade. I have the same problem with research papers. “Beth, you have a great voice and I love your ideas, but you are lazy. Punctuation goes *outside* of the parentheses.” Oh yeah.

This is why I have been awake all night, tossing and turning, and eventually deciding just to get up and work on the damn thing, because there isn’t a magic wand that is going to go through and take care of all of this for me.

So, I am digging back into the mechanics of the thing and hoping to get it done soon because the new novel has been put aside to do this work, and the new novel has absolutely no interest in mechanics. The new novel is all about the love and the raw, sweaty, unfiltered underbelly. There is no editing there. There are no misspellings or run-on sentences or split infinitives. There is only passion. That is, until it is finished and I have to pull myself out of author mode and into editor mode. I much prefer author mode. We are allowed to be careless and eccentric, and we can work in our underwear.

http://www.sapphirebooks.com/beth.html

Mini-meltdowns, drunk texting, and safe spaces.

I sent a letter to a friend of mine today. It was a paper letter in a nice note card. Email is convenient and quick. Facebook is fun. But to me, the act of picking out the right card, putting the words onto paper (no backspace) getting  a stamp, looking up the address, and going to the post office tells a person that they mean so much to me that they are worth the extra effort to send a paper letter.

It was important to me to send a paper letter to this particular friend because I was in her safe space this weekend… the farm she shares with her wife and kids and several animals. Horses, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats. It’s a haven. It’s a place where I can go and act exactly like myself and be completely honest and not have to worry about being entertaining or funny or intelligent. It’s a place where I can forget for a time that I am terrified of the future. It’s a place where the fact that sometimes I am stunned into inaction by the sheer force of all of the things I want to do can disappear for a while. It is a place where the younger child is the embodiment of a spunky, female child heroine from some delightful novel by an author who truly believes that girls CAN do anything, the teenager is an angsty and intelligent writer like myself, and my friend’s wife is exactly who you would think Mrs. Walton would have been if she had been a sexy and tough, yet caring lesbian instead of … well, Mrs. Walton. When you want breakfast in the morning, my friend gets eggs from their hen house and picks veggies from the garden and cooks something delicious. Look, the place is just miraculous.

I’m only outlining this because I think it is important to note that while I was in this safe space, I had a meltdown of sorts. I think I have been gunning for one for a while. I really have spent the last several days staring at all of the open files on my computer screen and not working on a single one. I’m overwhelmed with everything that I have to do and instead of just putting them all aside and just working on one, I ignore them all and either stare blankly into space, or play around on Facebook or lie down in bed and read a book or take a nap. So, come my weekend at the Farm, I was ready to just blow off some steam.

I drank way too much. Way, way, way too much. And I didn’t eat anything. And it is probably important to note that I don’t actually drink in my regular life. So, I got drunk. And then beyond drunk. And then I went into one of those states where I became convinced that everything I said was ridiculous and wrong. I took off from the rest of the group and launched into a full-fledged panic attack.

I was feeling too freaked out to go back to the party and ask for help, so I texted a few friends. Then I called my sister. When I was done talking to her, I was calmed down enough to make my way to the rest of the party, where I was able to let my friend’s wife know that I was having a problem. She took me back to the house and gave me a comforting mix of hugs, no-nonsense talk, and food. My friend came in, felt my pulse at my behest and assured me that I was not having a heart attack. I’m pretty sure I was crying and apologizing over and over. They set me up on an air mattress and gave me warm blankets and turned on a fan because I can’t sleep without one, no matter how cold I am. Then my friend gave me a blessing, or what seemed like one to me at the time. “I promise you that you will not die under my roof.” Then, my other friend got into her bed in the same room and talked to me for hours. It was the comforting sound of the low voice of someone you love. My sister later equated it to the lull of grown up voices from the living room when as a child, you are drifting to sleep. It was a cocoon of soft sound and, combined with the other care, completely brought me back to earth.

I woke up in the morning feel refreshed and better, though incredibly embarrassed. Or at least, I was embarrassed until the first thirty seconds of apologizing to my friends. They are incredibly gracious and understanding and realistic and they just *get* that sometimes people break down and when they do, you might have to put them back together.

I’m writing about all of this for two reasons. One is because somehow, I thought that once I made the right decision about how to live my life, I would suddenly be all Zen and peaceful about it and all would feel right with the world. I made the decision to quit my job and drive by myself across the country. And I decided I could afford to spend that six months writing full time. But do I feel Zen about it? No! I feel that there is a chance that I will spend all day every day staring at the computer, being overwhelmed by everything I have to do. Do I sometimes think I should just ask the grocery store to let me stay and just continue to hang out here at my mom’s house, where I know nothing scary is going to happen? Yes. I never had any belief that I could become a full-time writer. But suddenly, it has become so important that the importance is dragging me down and I am terrified. So, a mini-breakdown was probably inevitable and there is a part of me that wants to call in sick for three days and go right back to the farm where my friend points out every root so I don’t trip and her wonderful wife doesn’t let me talk shit about myself and their kids entertain me and the cat comes and sits on my lap when I am sad, and just collapse again and be taken care of and not have to worry about whether or not I am going to completely fuck up everything.

The second reason I am laying all of this bullshit bare is that no matter how terrified I am, I have started to believe that when you make the right decision, you will find a way to make it happen. I may be having terrible anxiety about my choices, but I have the farm, which is an incredible safe space. I am headed for Phoenix, where I have another circle of love. And just recently, I have met another friend who is warm and loving and non-judgmental and who somehow manages to get me to talk about every truth about myself, and still loves me. So, I am striking out on my own and that’s good… that’s the way I want it to be. I have been taken care of in one way or another all of my life, and having been recently separated from someone who did all of the filling of the gas tank and checking the tire pressure and getting the oil changed, and memorizing the directions, it is important to me to go across the country by myself… if for no other reason than the fact that I need to prove to myself that I CAN do it by myself.

But really, in the long run, I won’t be by myself. I will be carrying the blessings of all of these people who love me, both the new friends and the old. I’ll be a text away from someone who thinks I’m wonderful, no matter how much I fuck up. I’ll be able to call one of a handful of people and say, “I’m at a gas station in Oklahoma. How do I check my tire pressure?” So, yes, I will still be doing it on my own…. but I won’t be abandoned.

And maybe that knowledge is the beginning of the end of the fear. Maybe this circle of love, from my dear soul sister K to my newest friend, L and everyone in between is the invisible wall between me and panic. Maybe, just the fact that they love me and will continue to love me whether I become a best-selling novelist or remain a grocery store clerk for the rest of my life is the catalyst I need to keep making the right decisions.

Yes, I’m still terrified. But, as Walt Whitman once wrote:

Henceforth, I whimper no more. postpone no more, need nothing. / Strong and content, I travel the open road.

Yep. If you get a chance, spare me a good vibe or two for my travels.

Inspiration and co-authoring

I have to admit that I never understood the urge to co-author a book. Oh, sure, if Neil Gaiman asked me to co-author a book with him, I would say, “Yes,” but only because it’s Neil Gaiman and I would be able to meet my favorite author and hopefully, his incredibly talented and gorgeous wife.

But I digress. The thing is, I find writing to be such a solitary activity. You are completely inside of your own head, your own soul. You have to dig into recesses in the deep, dark places and access that stuff that you don’t share with anyone. Ever. Then, you wrap that shit up into your character’s personality flaws or past experiences, get rid of the *really* squirrelly stuff in the editing process and let it go.

Co-authoring means you have to allow someone else access to all of that crap. Someone else gets to see the ugly stuff. Someone else gets to see what goes on behind the curtains. Someone else gets to see the pure, unvarnished you, whether it shows you in a good light, a bad light, or a terribly embarrassing light. It has got to be terrifying.

The thing is that even with having a blog where I talk about my thoughts and feelings and insecurities doesn’t mean that I am opening my ENTIRE self up to the world. I still edit these posts. I still sometimes go back and say, “Oh, man. That is too much. Not that. Nope.” Yes, there are my real thoughts… these are my real feelings. But they’re not  the low down, raw and bare thoughts that come out in private journals in the deep, dark recesses of the night.

So what happens when you decide you are not only going to co-write a book with a friend, but that it is going to be about such a deeply personal subject that the entire thing will consist of laying bare these raw emotions, dissecting them, and putting them back together with another person? Terror, that’s what. Trust plays a big part in it… but trusting someone to love you unconditionally and then giving them everything you have ever done wrong, or thought in the middle of the night, or worried about, or wished for, or desired, or hated, or cried about takes a huge leap of faith in the other person. And in yourself.

But (and I do have a point and it is an important one to remember, at least for me) writers have to write about the hard stuff, even if it hurts. And when an idea comes and the idea is good, a writer is being a coward or an asshole if she ignores the idea. If the idea is there, begging for attention, then it is because that idea needs to be written. So, I have recently been half of a two person team that came up with an amazing idea, or series of ideas for at least another two books. And the idea of sharing all of that inner shit with someone is dead terrifying. But the idea of being untrue to myself as a writer and refusing the idea altogether is untenable.

Guess I am going to be a co-author. 🙂

“Guest author, Beth Burnett.”

I had my first author appearance today at the trans family support group at the LGBT community center in Cleveland. I was terrified, because terrified is what I do. I was anxious about any number of things. Will they hate me? Will I make my pitch and ask for questions and get nothing but dead silence? Will this group which consists mostly of transgendered people wonder why I think I have the ability to write a trans character that they will find believable or interesting? What if my voice completely shakes? What if I pass out, can’t talk, forget what I’m supposed to say, screw up dreadfully?

Yeah, that’s me. Ms. Confidence.

My sister Dorothy went with me. When we got there, right on time, there was no one there except the couple who run the group. I was worried that no one was going to show. However, people started to filter in as we got closer to the start time. As we got very close to start, I decided to make a quick bathroom break. Well, I got locked in the stall! It wouldn’t open. I tried unlocking it, relocking it, jiggling the lock and it wouldn’t open. I had this moment of panic where I thought that I was going to have to try to crawl under the door at my first author appearance and could just picture someone walking in as I am stuck halfway through! Finally, I yanked on the door and it slammed open. Later, on the way home, Dorothy said, “I forgot to tell you this earlier, but guess what happened to me in the bathroom?” I said, “Did you get locked in?!!” She said, “Yes!” I was like, “Thanks for the warning!”

Back to the meeting. We arrived with business cards and fliers. Per the advice of my mentor, Linda Kay Silva, I had a giveaway. I marked three of the business cards and let the people know that someone was going to win a free book at the end of the session. That got them all talking a little before we even started.

The meeting started with everyone in the room introducing themselves. I introduced myself in turn, but didn’t really give any info about myself and told them that I wanted to save it so they would all feel inspired to ask me questions after my speech.

There were about twenty people there. There were three young people, maybe teenagers or possibly early twenties. Some people who looked to be in their thirties, the rest older than that. The only ones who seemed uninterested were the three youngsters. Everyone else looked excited to have a “guest author.”

After the introductions, I got up and stood at the head of the room, so I could make eye contact with everyone there. I had written a speech, but at the request (read: order) of my mentor, LKS, I didn’t bring it. Instead, I decided to wing it.

I started off with my name, the name of my novel, etc. Then, I realized my voice was completely shaking. So, I said this:

“Some writers are also natural born performers. They can get in front of a crowd and suddenly, they are in the spotlight, working the crowd, getting the laughs, and selling themselves without a care in the world. I am not one of those authors. I have terrible stage fright right now. But I try to live by the motto of ‘Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.’ And that’s what I’m doing.”

At that point, they all got interested. Every single one of them, including the youngsters smiled at me when I met their eyes. One woman gave me a thumbs up when I looked in her direction.

I went on to say, “I had a whole speech written that I was going to give today. It was a delightful speech. I read it to the dog. I read it to my mom and she loved it. I practiced it in front of the mirror. I totally had it down. But when I woke up this morning, I realized that I didn’t want to give a delightful speech. I want to talk to you instead about the lack of transgender representation in the media. So, please excuse me if this sounds a little stilted, but I didn’t get a chance to practice this one on anyone, not even the dog.”

They laughed and I suddenly relaxed. My voice stopped shaking. They were all smiling at me, every single one. Then I asked them to give me a show of hands of how many of them thought transgendered people were fairly represented in mainstream media. No one raised their hands.

I said, “Off hand, two transgendered characters come to mind. There’s the transgendered character in Silence of the Lambs who was… oh, yeah. A serial killer! And there was that stupid Jim Carey movie… Ace Ventura? Sean Young’s character was a Male to Female transsexual. The big joke was that she had made out with Jim Carey earlier in the movie and when Carey found out that she was transgendered, he yells “Einhorn is a man!” and runs into the corner to puke. Really funny, right? Right. It just seems to me as I was looking for lists of transgendered characters in mainstream media, what I was finding were predators or criminals or “sneaky” transsexuals who pretend to be something they’re not in order to fool the poor, innocent cisgender, heterosexual males. Give me a break.”

A couple of people actually said “Yeah!” at this point. I was not even close to nervous at this point. I felt like they all wanted me to succeed by now. It was pretty awesome.

Then I said, “I don’t claim to be some Pulitzer prize winning novelist who penned the next Great American Novel in which the transgendered people are so believable and rich and well-rounded that everyone in the world will read about them and change their ignorant minds immediately!” (They all laughed again here.)

“I never had any intention of writing a novel at all. I mean, I was technically a professional writer. That is to say, when I was working as a bartender at a beach bar in the Virgin Islands, I wrote short stories on bar napkins and sold them to drunk tourists for five dollars a pop. Of course, the laws in the Virgin Islands are a little more lax than they are here, so more likely than not, I was a little drunk writing them, too. Most likely, they were all used to mop up spilled drinks. Still, I was broke, but content. I might have told people that I wanted to write a novel, but most writers do say that, whether they actually intend to do so or not. ”

Another person actually said, “Right on” here and everyone laughed again. I could totally get addicted to this stuff.

I went on. “But one night, I was sitting with a group of supposedly enlightened and educated friends. They were different races, but they were all gay. The ages ranged from the mid 30s to the mid 50s. As drunk gay people are wont to do, we started talking about gay politics, and stuff like that. I simply mentioned that I thought the T in LGBT was largely ignored by the community as a whole. Well, I was attacked. The transphobia coming out of the mouths of so many of these people was depressing. And I was shocked and appalled at some of the ignorant things I was hearing. I guess I’m naive, but I honestly could not believe that people who have suffered from oppression and bigotry because of something that they can not help or change would turn around and do it to someone else. So, yes, I was shocked. And frankly, I was pissed. And when I get pissed, do I beat people up? No, I’m a total wimp! Instead, I write nasty things about them!” (Another big laugh here) I wrote several blog posts about it, then decided that since fiction is my forte, I needed to go a little deeper. What I really wanted to do was to write a light, funny, romantic book which happens to contain transgendered and gay characters in which all of the so-called “fringe” people are completely normal and the only ones who are idiots are the ones who judge my characters! Basically, the bigots were the bad guys. My book involves the good guys… my FTM character, the straight ally, the pot-smoking single mom, the big, sexy butch lesbian… they are all beautiful and loved and valid. They’re flawed, yes. But they’re good.

I think the important thing about my book is that is may contain subject matter that some people find uncomfrtable, but it isn’t in your face. It’s sweet and light and non-confrontational. It addresses the issues without pounding it down people’s throats. It calls out the bigots without calling them bigots. I have had several great reviews on this, including a few from straight Christians. And the reviews from people who have never really had any dealings with trans people are saying that they will never be able to look at someone, regardless of gender or orientation without realizing that it is not their place to judge.

THAT is some kind of amazing! So, while I really want all of you to read my book and love it, which I think you will, what I really want is for “mainstream” society to get a hold of this novel, read it, and possibly change their minds. Wouldn’t that be a trip?”

At this point, taking the advice YET AGAIN of the lovely Linda Silva, I said, “Before I ask you if you have any questions, let me ask you a question. Is there anything that you would like to see addressed in my next novel as I continue to write transgendered characters?” There was silence for a few seconds, then a few people started speaking up. One wanted to know if I would talk about the process. One wanted me to address the high suicide rate of trans people. Another thought that it would be good if I could talk about depression and loss.

Then, I said, “Does anyone have any questions?” (I was armed here… Linda warned me that there might not be any questions, or people wouldn’t know what to ask. If that happened, I was going to say, “One question I am often asked… “) But there was a moment of silence… then one lady said asked a question. By the time I finished answering that, three hands were in the air. Everyone had name tags (total bonus for me) so I just called on everyone by their names. I spent AN HOUR answering questions!! An hour! They asked all sorts of things:

Did you miss your characters when you were done writing the book?

How long did it take you to write?

What are you working on now?

Why would you leave the Virgin Islands to come back to Ohio? (That one got a lot of laughs.)

Do you think bigotry should be confronted with anger or patience? This was a great one for me to answer. Earlier in the session, before I spoke, a sweet trans woman said that she didn’t mind ignorant comments as long as they weren’t spiteful. A few other people scoffed at her and said that ignorance is ignorance. I was able to address her comments for this question. I said, “As XX said (I am not putting names here because not all people are out) if the questions are not meant in a mean-spirited or ugly way, I think you can use it as a learning tool. A case in point, I recently had cause to confront some of my own bigotry in regards to religion.” Then I talked a little bit about that and they were all nodding and smiling. The lady who had made the original statement looked very excited that I called her name and agreed with her in my response. It was really cute.

“What color is your mini-van?” (What? LOL… I had mentioned earlier that I was going to drive to California in my mini-van. But I thought it was an odd question.

“Is it true what they say about fiction writers?” (Said with a bit of a leer.) Me: I don’t know… what exactly do “they” say about fiction writers?  “That you use your family as your characters.” (Looks at Dorothy.) Everyone laughed.

“Why do you think there is so much bias in the gay community against trans people?”

“Do you have any MTF characters in your book? Is there going to be one in the next book?”

It was an incredible time. I think that right from the beginning, they had empathy for me because I was nervous. I forget who gave me the advice to tell them I was nervous, but it was spot on. I’m also glad I didn’t bring the speech because it felt more like a conversation than a speech.

After the meeting, I was approached by almost everyone there and they all thanked me for coming to speak and said they couldn’t wait to read my book. A few people actually said, “Wow, I’ve never met an author before!” which almost made me laugh, but didn’t. (Not laughing at them, mind you, but at someone being excited to meet me.) The teenagers (or twenty somethings) who were so bored at the very beginning, but so excited a few minutes in, made sure to come over and tell me how much they loved it. They ended up asking more questions than anyone else, and asked for my Facebook information so they could find me there.

All in all, it was an incredible time from start to finish. I tried so hard not to be nervous and I hate that my voice shakes like that. I don’t know what to do about that, but hopefully the more appearances like the one I have, the more comfortable I’ll feel with them.

Quick funny side note. My sister Dorothy kept smiling encouragingly at me… so as I was looking around the room as I was speaking, I would often glance at her for encouragement. Well, at one point, when I was talking about bigots being forced to confront their bigotry, she claims I was looking right at her the whole time! She said she was thinking “Hey! Stop, they’re all going to think *I* am one!!”

In the end, the entire thing was awesome and I am so glad that I went. And again, as seems to keep happening these days, I was confronted by the fact that things are rarely as bad as I think they’re going to be. Wow, I sure don’t seem to be able to swallow that lesson, do I? 🙂

 

Refusing to Learn My Own Lessons.

Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I wrote something about learning the futility of getting myself all worked up and anxious about something because it is never as bad as it seems? Yeah. I wish I could take my own advice.

I have my author appearance tomorrow at the LGBT community center where I will read a couple of pages, talk about myself a little bit, engage the audience, and try to get them to like me so they buy my book.

Frankly, I’m terrified. I don’t know why. I told my day job boss about it and she asked, “What’s the worst that can happen? They hate you?” Um, yeah! “Who cares?” she said. Who cares? I do. I do, for some reason. Is that a sickness, wanting to be universally liked?

The strange thing is that when I meet people who are strongly racist or ridiculously assholic or whatever, I don’t care about whether or not they like me. In fact, I prefer for them not to like me. And I’m usually proud to be disliked for things like my feminism or my liberal views or my queerity, because I am confident of those things and if someone has a problem with them. screw them!

It’s when it comes to the things I am a bit less secure about that the anxiety sets in. My writing is so important to me and sometimes I feel as if I am balancing on a string trying to make it my life’s work. I want people to like my writing. More importantly, when I am marketing myself as a writer, I want them to like me. I don’t want them to think that I’m a phony. I don’t want them to wonder why this woman is up there speaking to them as if she knows what she is talking about.

So here I sit today with a little knot of anxiety in my gut about an event that isn’t even happening for 28 hours and no amount of common sense coaching is making it go away. Still, the good news is that once I do this appearance and it is *not* as terrible as I have psyched myself up to think it will be, I will have YET ANOTHER lesson slammed into my face about the futility of worrying about things I can’t control. Maybe this time it will sink in.

An Agnostic Lesbian Goes to Church.

So. I went to church. It wasn’t horrible.

That was about the extent of what I intended to write about my experience. I felt my blog on Gays versus God was pretty complete and didn’t need a sequel. I went to church and it wasn’t horrible. I wasn’t struck by lightening, I didn’t trip as I walked in the door and slam my head into the altar. I didn’t call down the wrath of God just by being there. The end. Right?

But, of course, it was far more than just “not horrible” and if nothing else, I think I should at least give an honest accounting of the whole experience. But first, I need to explain a little bit about what an agnostic lesbian who writes romantic comedies about lesbians, gays, pot-smoking single moms, and transsexuals is even doing inside of a church.

Here’s what happened. Jenny. I could probably end it at that. I met Jenny and for various reasons, I can honestly say that there is nothing on this planet that I wouldn’t do for her. She asked me to go to church to hear her sermon. So, I did. I’ve written about Jenny a few times before. She sort of seeps into everything I write about religion or the music festival. Jenny is a subject that requires a billion words and I’m not sure if I have the talent to make you understand why I would be standing on the steps of a church in a decent outfit, with my hair combed and a knot in my stomach just because of one women with whom I’m not even having sex. Yeah, she’s that good.

Jenny. Jenny of the strong and joyous faith. Jenny who cooked me oatmeal when I was cold. Jenny who shared her soul with reckless abandon. Jenny who laughed with affection whenever I talked to her. Jenny who calmly challenged every negative thing I said about myself with something positive and irrefutable. Jenny who was completely honest with me from start to finish, no matter how uncomfortable the subject and demanded and received the same from me. Jenny who obviously and unashamedly loves me without judgement or conditions. Jenny who is fun and funny and smart and giving and who also happens to have the ovaries to say out loud, repeatedly, at a womyn’s music festival consisting of a huge amount of wiccans, pagans, non-theists, atheists, and agnostics, “I love God.”

After the festival, as we were chatting on the computer,  she said, “Come visit for the weekend,” I thought it would be fantastic. “Come meet my wife and kids.” Excellent idea. “Come meet all of the animals.” I would love it. “Come see our farm.” That would be a fun way for this city girl to spend a weekend. “Come to church with us on Sunday.” Um. Church? The idea made me feel a little sick to my stomach. Still, as I have said… there isn’t a single thing I would not do… so…

“Sure. Church.” I probably sounded about as enthusiastic as I would have sounded about a root canal. Or a colonoscopy.

Now, it isn’t as clear cut as that. Yes, I have had a terrible experience in church and vowed to never set foot in one again. I think there may have been a few f-bombs involved. It’s quite possible I swore at God and told him his followers were a bunch of dicks.

But this wasn’t just about going to church… this was about Jenny giving the sermon. Well, I would be hard pressed to miss an opportunity to hear Jenny give a speech, even if that speech is in a church and all about God. Even if I don’t know anyone there. Even if I don’t know the hymns or the responses or what’s expected of me, or what to wear.

Of course, I had to argue a little.

Me: I won’t know the responses.

Jenny: They’re printed in the program.

Me: Will people ask me strange questions about my beliefs?

Jenny: No, they’ll say “Welcome to St. Paul’s, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Me: Do I have to wear a skirt?

Jenny: You can wear whatever you want. Sometimes I wear dockers and my cookie monster t-shirt.

Me: Do you think I might get struck by lightning?

Jenny: I promise you won’t get struck by lightning.

Me: I said the GD word yesterday.

Jenny: Even so.

It went on like that for some time. Bear in mind, we weren’t debating me coming to church as that was already a given. I was just outlining every single possible anxiety in my head and Jenny was assuaging the worries. Repeatedly. With the patience of a million years.

Fast forward. I’m wearing my dress jeans, a nice shirt, and sandals without holes in them. I’ve combed my hair and put on lip gloss. I’ve given myself a pep talk. I’ve braced myself. I’m ready. Jenny’s wife, Nicole, drives me to church since Jenny had to go for both services. Jenny is in the parking lot when we arrive.  I don’t know what’s on my face, but whatever it is moves her to touch my back as I walk past her into the church. I meet her eye. She quietly says, “I’m happy you’re here.” I nod at her without speaking and she smiles. I know she’s thinking, “You’re going to be fine.”

A few people introduce themselves to me and welcome me to the church. Nicole goes off to talk to someone, so Samantha, her teenager daughter takes me into the church to find seats. She opens the hymnal to the first hymn and hands it to me. She points out where the responses are in the program.

People file in. Jenny brings her mother and son over to introduce them. Jenny’s mom is adorable and keeps leaning over to talk to me as the rest of the people are getting ready for the service.

Jenny is wearing her vestments. I feel  a little awed. She looks so different. I know that this is my friend. I know this is a person I trust, but I’m suddenly feeling a little awkward for some reason, and I’m glad that there isn’t time to chat before the service.

The service itself is a pretty standard service from what I remember of my semi-church upbringing. The bells ring, a few people read, the congregation stands and sits and stands and sits. There’s no kneeling, thankfully, because I’m getting a bit old for that sort of thing. It isn’t until Jenny stands up to deliver her sermon that things get a little intense.

First a man reads a selection out of the bible, and Jenny does a reflection on it. Then another person reads another selection and she reflects again on that, tying the two together. Finally, Jenny gets up for the last time and reads a scripture. The whole thing to this point was about Christians being called to go out and witness, not even particularly with their words but with their lives. It was about taking in those “fringe” people and making them understand that the word of God doesn’t have to be about hate, but about love and acceptance.

Jenny talks about her own experiences with witnessing and how something told her not to lie about her vocation when she went to the music festival, but to be honest and let the chips fall where they may. She “let it be” and let her own life be a testament to the healing power of a *good* religion. (As a side note: She was absolutely right to do that. She was not mocked, she was not shunned. She was adored by many. Without qualification.)

Jenny is back on the pulpit. She reads my “Gays versus God” blog, out loud, in its entirety to the congregation. She bleeps the word asshole, but she leaves in the word douche at the end. She is a powerful reader and I don’t think anything that I have ever written has sounded as intense and majestic as it did right then, not even something I read myself. She nails it. She nails it big time. Then she improvises. She ties all of the previous readings, the earlier reflections, my blog, and everything else together in one authoritative, strong, powerful, but ultimately loving and joyous sermon that seems to affect everyone in the room. It is only through my sheer force of will that I am able to keep the tears that are in my eyes from escaping down my face.

After the service, Jenny stood by the door so people could talk to her about the service or their lives or whatever people talk to their clergy about.  I asked Samantha if we were supposed to go over there, but she said we should just head downstairs. It was good, because I wasn’t ready to open my mouth yet to Jenny. I was afraid I would either start crying, or come out with some huge gushing diatribe about how amazing she was. Neither option was acceptable. I went downstairs and had some coffee. I was perfectly composed by the time she came down. And she was wearing civilian clothes. She was just my friend again.

That was about it. The people were nice to me. The hymns were pretty. The coffee was pretty good. Jenny was beyond amazing. There is a part of me that thinks it is possible that God was thrilling through her while she spoke. Certainly, her faith was shining through everything she said. Personally, whatever I believe or want to believe, I can say with absolute certainty that Jenny has found her calling.

As for me? Well, I don’t know if what I’m looking for is in a church, even one as accepting and loving as that one. I don’t think my search is leading in that direction. I think what I’m looking for is in my writing and my travels and I think as soon as I figure out exactly what it is I am looking for, I will have a lot better luck finding it. Still, there is that little voice in the back of my head that says, “Maybe? Maybe that way lies peace?”

Maybe not.

Which isn’t to say that I wouldn’t happily and peacefully go to church the next time I visit my friends in Michigan. If nothing else, I’ve had one more lesson in the fact that as much as I chew on things and worry about them and have knots of anxiety about them, they are never as scary as I think they’ll be. I wonder how many times I’ll have to have that lesson rammed down my throat before I start to believe it.