Category Archives: Revealing

You are Here Stories: She Will Grow On Laughter

When my mother was pregnant with my older sister, she was a visiting nurse. She drove around Aurora, Illinois in her blue Plymouth Horizon, stopping at the Dairy Queen drive through on the way home from work. She’d slurp banana milk shakes while listening to the instrumental theme from St. Elmo’s Fire.

While pregnant with me, she chased around my toddling sister. She exercised weekly at a local Christian workout class called “Believercise.” That is, until mom lunged too far, causing significant bleeding; the doctor ordered at least a week of bedrest. She had to pee in a bucket, another reason she’s the best mom of all time. In her third trimester, she survived summer days by scarfing down dripping slices of watermelon, a fruit I still consider to be one of my favorites.

There’s something sacred and terrifying about the way babies go wherever their mothers go. They eat the same foods, hear the same noises, and even pump the same blood. They can benefit or be harmed from the womb they inhabit, which is why pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat Subway or drink cocktails. Now that I’m pregnant, I worry my tiny has been anchored to a sinking ship.

You see, I’m not the best at being pregnant…

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories!

You are Here Stories: While We’re Renting

Old houses have a way of making themselves dirty, they crumble pieces of rusty radiators and cracking tile grout. My husband and I rent a place like this. In beams of sunlight, I can track fuzzy dust trails intertwined with all kinds of hairs and particles from disintegrating flooring. Clumps cling to the baseboards and slip under doorways, blown by invisible air currents.

After living here for well over a year, certain quirks get my particular attention. I can get quite distracted by the kitchen flooring, a 1980s white linoleum that turns mop heads and rags black, even on the tenth scrub. The dirt captured by its textured surface has been sealed in by grease and time, yielding just enough to fool me into thinking I’ve made progress by attacking it on hands and knees.

Under the cabinets, the edge of the linoleum curls up, a page of history begging to be turned. Splattered, brown grime creeps up in the crevice between the base of the cabinets and the well-worn flooring. This inevitably sends me into panic, a deep heaving, sweaty fear of mold and the other things that lurk in nooks and crannies…


Read the rest over at You are Here Stories. I’m so excited to be working with this amazing community all this year as a fellow! Click around their sight to read delightful place based writing!

I Want to be Afraid of Other Things

I’m so honored to be guest posting over at Lindsey Smallwood’s blog. She and I met up because we circulate around the same online writing watering holes . I immediately connected with Lindsey’s spirit and her writing, and let me tell you something, this woman is a fierce encourager! In spite of the pervasive “scarcity” culture that haunts online writing, Lindsey makes me believe in abundance. She shares the work of her writing friends and makes us feel seen, heard, understood, and valued. Check out her work on her blog, at Middle Places, and across the Internet. I hope I get the pleasure of meeting her in person some day!


 

One of my improv teams went on a trip to a cabin in the middle of a series of corn fields. It was an unlikely retreat, a small town in Wisconsin where bars and churches compete for the attention of bored citizens. Certainly not a vacation town, just a place where people live, farm, drive their pickups, and gaze at outsiders with suspicion and curiosity.

After arriving under the cover of night, straining our eyes in the darkness to discern whether we were on a road, long driveway, or cow path, the daylight made the area seem friendly– a pastoral ideal or perhaps a Mayberry, where everyone knows your name.

We walked down the country roads as a team, and I even picked a wild violet and tucked it behind my ear. We sang to cows, taking thirsty gulps of the country air, stretching our limbs in the wide open spaces. Those who had arrived yesterday had some magical locations to show the rest of us, places already storied with the adventures of the day before.

As we approached one of the properties, I felt my palms begin to sweat. I hated the feeling that I might get caught, and as we sauntered down the road, it felt like the eyes of the town were on us…


 

Read the rest at Songbird and Nerd!

*Feature Photo courtesy of Lilliana Winkworth

A Line With No Order

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of sharing my work on Abby Norman’s wonderful blog. Abby shared a piece in my own series this summer. When you become a blogger, you start to get overwhelmed with just how many bloggers there are. Amidst the overwhelming experience of reading the body of work available on the internet, you find a few places to land, writers that have you saying, “me too!” Abby’s page, Accidental Devotional, has been one of those landing places for me. Not only do we share experiences as educators but I find that she fits words to the the things I’m mulling around in my head. I’m thankful for Abby’s strong voice and her convicting word-smithery! Here’s an excerpt from my addition to her “Modern Day Parables” series.


A line curved out the door of my church and wrapped around the block. I hadn’t intended to stop at the church, but driving past this event, I found myself pulling over and parking on the side of the road. Frankly, I had never seen this many people here ever. Not even the Sunday my pastor preached a sermon from the roof (a story for another day).

A few women pulled blue coolers and children along with them as the line inched forward, leading to something through the double red doors of the church; people were piling into God’s house. The June day paraded around like one in mid August, cloaked in heavy, humid air. The voices and sounds outside the church layered on top of one another, the sounds of caps popping off bottles joining low resonant voices, all punctuated by the high squeals of children’s laughter. Sweaty in my car, I watched out of suburban curiosity of the unknown, watching the citizens of the line.

I could not tell where one family started and another family ended, or which children belonged to which adults.  Kids wove in, around, and through the line, running and taunting one another, while the parents watched them together. A sign stuck in the church lawn announced the presence of the Mexican consulate helping with “los pasaportes.”

Read the rest over at Accidental Devotional!


 

*Image courtesy of shoehorn99 on Flickr

Click to Find Out Who You Are

There’s danger in classifying humans like you would insects found on a nature hike. We’ve found all different ways to categorize and stratify humankind. I’ve learned many of my own types and labels, seeking them out  on bookshelves and Buzzfeed quizzes; I am an INFJ, Type 2, Rachel, Mrs. Hughes, Charlotte, Tiana, Beaver, with strengths in empathy and ideation.

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Sometimes we seek out the labeling and sometimes the labeling finds us. I spent much of my late high school years trying to accept admonitions that I looked like Lily from princess diaries, or as I came to call her, the ugly best friend.

“Do you know who you look like?” Pause searching their brain… “Oh, I know, have you seen the Princess Diaries?”

Please say Princess Mia, please say Anne Hathaway. Heck I’ll take Julie Andrews as an elderly woman, not the quirky best friend with bad eyebrows and bad dye job. Trust me, my eyebrows aren’t always this bad, I’ve been busy with play rehearsal and I have bad eyesight so I miss a lot of hairs…

“Oh I know, her friend! Lily. You look just like her.”

Sigh. Crumple. Resolve to pluck eyebrows better.

In the church, people have come to compare one another to various biblical characters and types. Get called a Barnabas, and you may feel pretty ok, although somewhat out of the spotlight.  But have someone call you a Martha, or worse yet, a Leah, and you will be unlikely to see their intuition as something very helpful or prophetic. “You’re the type that would be in the kitchen doing dishes if Jesus was at your house!”

Comparisons can be useful schemas to organize our worlds and reading about our strengths and weaknesses can empower us or make us feel understood. But these sort of descriptors can be excuses or feedback loops as well.

Knowing I’m an introvert makes me overly anxious about plans of any kind. There’s the original anxiety I felt as an introvert, than the added pressure from meditating on my introverted-ness.

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“Man, I will really need some alone time after this large gathering of college friends! This will be a chore, speaking as an introvert who WILL NOT like this party. My energy will be drained and I will want to be alone, alone, alone…woof…introvert problems, am I right?”

The less reliable the test, the more we can determine the outcome by picking things we know are “Rachel-like” in friends quizzes or will align us with the type we think we are.

I can remember doing this as early as 6th grade on the occasion of taking a career inventory. I was upset that my best friend said she wanted to be a teacher, which was my thing. As I took the future determining quiz, I filled in the scantron with the determination to be more suited to teaching than her. Much to my delight, I received the coding of social-artistic which made me eligible to study being an elementary school teacher or a priest or rabbi for that matter.

I’ve been privy to arguments between others who will debate whether so and so can really claim to be a seven on the Enneagram when they’re more clearly an eight. I’ve had relatives question various letters in my Myers-Briggs based on their idea that I’m “not like them.” And had others claim that their personalities are the most compatible for marriage according to one source or another.

There are plenty of edifying and healthy reasons to explore our personalities. Finding useful vocabulary to talk about the way we are can give us new agency or explain family dynamics.

But today, I want to catch myself before leaning too heavily on man-made schemas to explain me. I’m a little fed up with all these ways I can pigeon-hole myself.

I’m clamoring for someone to tell me who I am and what I have to offer. Whether I have what it takes to be the female David Sedaris or to echo the voice of Joan Didion. Is my people pleasing making it hard for me to make genuine connections, should I have put that “I like to speak my mind” if I wanted to get Sybil on the Downton Abbey quiz?

Today, I encourage you and me to drop the vocabulary and just behave. At the risk of being a “Mr. Rogers,” you are most like the you type, someone just like you. You truly are unique, a complex tangling of nurture and nature, raised by families and cultures, embodied creatures with long torsos or lopsided boobs (at least speaking from personal experience).

And me, I am most like the me type. Which may not always help me pinpoint my strength or articulate what I do in situations of conflict, but it gives me freedom to be and behave and discover, to change and react and surprise myself.

Courtesy of Phillip Dean on Flickr

Courtesy of Phillip Dean on Flickr

And don’t worry, I’ll still be touting the cause of the introvert and drawing inspiration and information from my Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram, and Strengths Finders results, but…

I’m also going to give myself the freedom to confound them all, led by the holy spirit, the wind, or a twinkle in my eye.

Unexpected Sacred Spaces: Everyday Monotony

This series might start existing under the alternate title “Friend Crushes on the Internet and People I Wish I Had Gotten To Know in College.” Eleanor is the latter. She has a poetic voice and an eye for beauty. I love running into her at weddings of friends and on the internet. She has been a strong voice of encouragement on my blogging journey and having read her wonderful work, I am always blushing when she compliments mine. I’ve loved watching her and her husband Scott raise their son, observing the beauty and intentionality with which they live and make their home. Eleanor invites us into a process of wonder about the divine and I hope you’ll connect to this piece as much as I do…


I have dreams. Dreams of an ocean, of a hive of bees and a tribe of children, of tea taken promptly at four o’clock (and always with a slice of cake), of beauty as far as I can see. In these dreams I write poems for a living and work on a novel in my free time.

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But for now I’m living a different sort of dream in the coast-less Midwestern plains with my man, a very ornery pug, and one little boy whose nap ends promptly at four o’clock (I’m still trying to get into post–pregnancy shape anyway), with a view of neighbors’ closed shades and a busy through street. In reality, I recite nursery rhymes and change diapers for far less than a living—and what free time?

And it’s wonderful. It wasn’t always.

I cried every day for a year when we moved from Savannah to Omaha. Those who have been to both (most likely vacationed in the former, endured a layover in the latter) can surely empathize.

We left endless Southern sunshine for Midwestern malaise. When, within that year, I was in labor for the birth of our son (a drug-free torture I had devised for myself and the reason I will probably never actually have a tribe of children), I called out to my god—and heard only silence. In that hospital room, with the midwife, nurses, doula, and Scott by my side, I had never been so deserted.

After that, I searched for signs of God everywhere. More to prove he wasn’t there than with any confidence in discovery—I like to have the last laugh. But the more I searched, and learned, and listened, the more bits of belief I recovered.

I held fast to my little faith those first sleepless nights with a new baby and clung desperately to it in the throes of depression and anxiety that followed.

God was there after all in both sleeplessness and dreams, in Paradise and Middle America. Not quite the same god I had knelt before as a child, followed to Christian college, and cried out to in that hospital; I’m not entirely sure that god ever existed. But I digress.

I had a brief moment as a Catholic once, mainly defined by my earnest efforts to avoid Purgatory – that temporary state between Heaven and Hell. Now, I begin to understand the purpose of such a place.

One needs to lose God to find him in the first place. My small period of darkness—triggered by a move and most marked in the maternity ward—was essential. And so there is a certain beauty, a sacredness even, in the absence of God.

I might have written this post about the sanctity of motherhood, or the freedom I gain in growing my own food, or the beauty of the everyday. But that would be to confuse God and the sacred with good—connected things certainly, but not the same.

And in truth, I see God now more clearly in the monotony and unpleasantness of today; I come across holiness strictly in unexpected places.

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This is real-life, written amongst piles of laundry and wilting houseplants, where most days I do more waxing poetic about compost and cloth diapers and couponing than writing poetry.

But God is still in the dreams too. Lest the everyday become too everyday, I am taking tea when I can, and drafting verses in my head, and pinning that dream house. It’s just that finally I am at peace with wherever the road winds—even if it takes me in the opposite direction of those tides and waves.


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Eleanor is a professional writer who is currently on hiatus in order to, in the words of one of her fictional heroes, Anne Shirley, “write living stories”—aka her two-year-old son, Clay. She and her husband, Scott, were caretakers of the blog, Things We Notice Now, about the journey of parenting. They might update it someday. 

The Church Needs More Recorder

The church needs more recorder.

As Drew and I slipped into the back row of our new church, a ten year old named Cameron tooted away on his neon green recorder in the front of the sanctuary. I skimmed the bulletin and found his name printed alongside the piece he was playing, which apparently is called Furusato, arranged by “Jennings,” and it is slotted as the “Music For Reflection.”

I look around at my fellow parishioners who seem delighted with this display of musical talent. They lean forward in their seats, exchanging smiles with one another, and soon I find myself smiling too. Cameron finishes the piece with a dramatic, held note that quavers with his waning breath; he releases, and the congregation gives him a hearty round of applause.

A woman in her late sixties takes the stage next, wearing a color best described as “blurple,” to lead us in an opening hymn. She sings unaccompanied by instruments, barely reaching the high D’s in “For the Beauty of the Earth.” If you had transported my grandmother from her church pew at Grayslake United Protestant Church to the stage, the music would not have sounded noticeably different.

Photo Courtesy of Drew Coffman on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Drew Coffman on Flickr

The congregation falls into the four part harmony of the hymnal with ease, the voice of our song leader only discernible when she skims the bottom of a pitch. We sing all five verses of the hymn, including one about the joy of the ear and eye that I’m not sure I’ve ever heard. We are leading each other in singing.

The ear and eye verse ends with a comment about sin molesting us, which must be why we usually skip it. Sin being associated with creepy pedophiles isn’t the most popular metaphor for the human experience, but it’s kind of visceral and thought-provoking now that I think of it.

A child runs on stage, interrupting his father’s recitation of the day’s scripture reading. The dad  picks him up and puts him on his hip for the remainder of the holy words, thanks be to god.

The day’s scripture is an obscure section of Jeremiah, the type of passage you try to skim past to get to more greeting card appropriate passages about God knowing the plans he has for you. In this section, God commanded Jeremiah to buy the ancient world equivalent of underwear, and then God uses Jeremiah’s skivvies as a prophetic symbol.

And at this point in my life, I just want more of this. I need more recorder. It’s so uncool, so irrelevant, so holy.

It’s church.

There’s no fancy name for it or way to hide it; I am at church in a room full of people that believe that God knocked up a virgin to give birth to his son, that this son grew up to be executed on a cross, and that his death atoned for the sins of the entire world, which happened in the first place because of a fruit-eating incident somewhere near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It’s uncanny and weird, and I wish the church would just let its freak flag fly.

There’s a lot of conversation brewing about the millennial longing for traditional church. According to Clint Jenkins, vice president of research at Barna and lead designer of a study on millennials and church, millennials have a complex relationship with sacred spaces:

“It’s tempting to oversimplify the relationship between Millennials and sacred space. For instance, it might be easy to believe such a place needs to look ultra modern or chic to appeal to teens and young adults. But the reality, like so much about this generation, is more complicated—refreshingly so. Most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.

When I stand in a service that feels orchestrated to make me feel a certain way, and I don’t feel that way, or feel anything at all, I walk away disillusioned, fearing that I’ve woken up from a lifelong worship coma to find myself in the ranks of a cult.

Beyond just tradition, the neon green recorder reminds me that we need to let church be awkward and holy and weird.

If we take away everything else, the stylish looking pastor, the indie praise band with accordion and cello, we are left to let Christianity stand on its ownto let Jesus stand on his ownwithout our help or selling points.

Christianity is super weird, and I long for the church to lean into this reality rather than distract me from it. I wish more churches knew that awkwardness, roughness, and downright uncoolness are ok, even preferable to seamless productions of lights, sound, and other accouterments that get us “in the mood” for worship.

unsplash_5252bb51404f8_1I have stood in congregations where the entire “audience” stood in pitch black darkness, closing out the reality of standing with several hundred people singing a rock song to Jesus.

I worry that among our production teams and fear of distracting people from worship, we’ve forgotten how to gather and listen to Cameron play the recorder. We’ve stopped reading passages about holy underwear. We’ve  lost our tolerance for failure or discomfort in a worship service.

I don’t want to be swept away by a worship experience. Rather, I want to be present, alive, and awake among a gathering of real people trying to believe that our redeemer lives.

Let’s turn on the lights and look at each other and at the cross.

And if Cameron wants to play his recorder again at the end of the service, let’s encourage him to do so. Let him play our benediction of Amazing Grace and Ode to Joy unto the Lord, and unto us, a community gathered not to feel a certain way, but to live out the radical call of Christ.

Getting Left Behind and other Christian Horrors

I arrived at my private Christian high school a little too late that morning, not uncommon for the Bazzoli family. It’s in our bones to time commutes around ideal conditions and serendipitous traffic lights.

I waddled into the building, hunched under the weight of the half dozen or so bags I carted with me throughout high school, a casualty of picking tote bags on their perceived “artsiness” over capacity for textbooks and gym uniforms.

At all times there was at least a main book bag, a lunch bag, a purse, and a plastic gap bag swinging from my wrist holding the closest thing I owned to “athletic wear,” and tap shoes, if it was musical season.

Instead of stepping into a school day already in motion, the building was entirely empty, as it might be during summer holiday or on a snow day. As I walked toward my locker nearer the center of the school, I tried to justify the full parking lots and  deserted hallways (we’re talking tumbleweed worthy), but at this point, my chest already tightened with anxiety knowing somewhere beneath my rib cage that this was a moment for panic.

IMG_0692My pace picked up, as I noticed that the classrooms, although missing the students, were filled with their backpacks and coats, propped up like a fire still burning in an abandoned house. I peeked my head into each room: backpacks and coats, backpacks and coats, backpacks and coats and school papers left with pencils laid across the top, pencils likely still warm from human touch.

There are several logical explanations for the empty hallways, but as an evangelical raised in the era of Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series, there seemed only one possible reason for an empty Christian school building littered with backpacks and coats…

God had called all his souls to himself and whatever was in store way beyond the blue, backpacks and outerwear were not required. I had been… left behind (echo echo echo).

Along with being the host of the second immaculate conception, getting left behind in the case of rapture was something I fretted as a young evangelical. While me and my peers were sealing off our chastity with fourteen dollar rings from the Christian bookstore, Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim Lahaye were publishing their novelized take on the end times as described in the book of Revelation, which is about as clear as mud.

My older sister and I first found the books on the new arrivals shelf at our local library. Carolyn prefered post apocalyptic books and nonfiction accounts of doomsday cults, so the thick book entitled “Soul Harvest” and emblazoned with a bright orange “Christian horror” sticker on the spine was too intriguing to leave behind, so to speak.

Soul_Harvest_CoverAs Carolyn devoured the first four books of the series, I cracked open the first book, goaded on by Carolyn’s rave reviews. Christian horror indeed. These books terrified me, filled with beheadings, underground bunkers, and eluding the forces of the anti-christ, a charming european man named Nicolae Carpathia (this is how I knew Obama was not the antichrist).

My current reading log filled with Jane Austen novels and YA favorites like Harry Potter and the Princess Diaries, I had to wade through a lot of accounts of the tribulation to get updated on the romance of Chloe and Buck, two members the band of believers converted after the big vacuum in the sky sucked up the rest of the global church (lots of traffic jams ensued).

I went around the school looking for any signs of Christian life, and with each corner I turned, all I saw were more backpacks and coats. Jansports leaned against desks, Vera Bradley totes spilling flowery day planners and flair pens, and North Face bags clipped to frosty Nalgene water bottles.

“God, I thought I was a Christian, you know, I thought we were tight.” The silent but frantic prayers played in my head. I squeezed my eyes shut tight hoping that God would do one more pass through allowing a few more of us to walk the streets of gold. “I do believe in you. I do believe.”

I thought of all the others that had made the cut, the boys who secretly went to the local strip club, the ones who put chewed up eggplant in my coat freshman year, the few openly atheist students that said the right things in their entrance interviews. What was it about me that merited my left-behind-ness?

Throughout my childhood and adolescence,I had a sneaking suspicion that I hadn’t properly done the Christianity thing.

Even now, I am deeply terrified that I do not love God enough or in the right way; I picture my heavy doubts tipping the scale of salvation towards “not christian enough.”

These  same fears consumed me at altar calls during summer camp, where I questioned whether asking Jesus into my heart had stuck or whether I should raise my hand for re-dedication every year.

All eyes in the room were to be closed but those of the preacher administering the call, and even if I didn’t raise my hand or  look up and make eye contact to show I had made a commitment, I said the sinner’s prayer,  just in case, throwing it like salt over my shoulder.

Even then, I envied those crying at the front of the room, their salvation easy to spot, clearly Jesus had entered their hearts and inhabited their tears, but I was unsure whether he ever lived in mine. Focusing on my sinfulness and the love of Christ, I tried to will my eyes to well up with the proof of salvation, but it left me looking red and constipated instead of transformed and repentant.

It’s not that I was raised in a particularly Dugger-esque, fear-mongering faith tradition, but I still disagree with the fear tactics embedded in the evangelical church. We talk about what Christ gets us out of, but not what he invites us into. We accept his grace and then go back to combing the bible for the real way to salvation.

Beyond “turn or  burn” messages and “Hell is real” billboards, there are parts of scripture that pastors presented as catch-twenty-twos in God’s plan for grace. God died for our sins on the cross, but not for blaspheming the spirit, being unforgiving to your brother, or living as a  lukewarm believer, than you might literally get spit out of God’s mouth, or get put with the goats, or told that God never knew you.

campus pictures 012-2So with these possibilities in mind, I headed toward the chapel, where I assumed the others left behind would gather. Maybe the school chaplain, Chip Huber, had made a time capsule for those who didn’t make the rapture team. I burst through the chapel doors, moved to tears by my status as an orphan of the rapture, turning the heads of the jam packed chapel. The head of school thanked the student body for gathering for the emergency chapel to discuss a tragic loss in the student body.
Breathing shallow breaths, I took my assigned seat next to my friends, scooting down in the auditorium chair, and balancing my feet on the armrest in front of me. I sighed with relief, glad to have another day to repent and be saved.


 

Anyone else ever think they got left behind?

Unexpected Sacred Places: The Land of Dick Jokes

Today, the “Unexpected Sacred Spaces” Series continues with the work of Rachel Mac.  July has ended up being a month featuring the work of fellow Wheaties; Rachel and I graduated together from Wheaton College in 2011, and I’ve been watching from a distance as she moved out to California and pursued her comedy dreams. As a writer, comedian, teacher combo, she and I have a lot in common. So much of this piece rings true with my own experience in the comedy improv scene–dark and light, crass and sacred, scrappy and serene, all at once. 

I love the irreverence and honesty in her work, reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott or Nadia Bolz Weber. She has a way of saying the thing we’re all thinking and invites readers into her own very revealing stories. Be sure to check out her blog under “schedule” for her performance dates; she will be performing stand-up in Chicago, August 13-17. I know you’re going to love her voice–I know I do!


I park my 1990 Honda on a steep street in Echo Park, Los Angeles, pop my trunk and try to balance an amplifier, a mic stand, and a 24-pack of PBR. I moan. It is Thursday, 9:30pm; I teach summer school in the morning but my night is just beginning.

“Hey! You guys goin’ to the mic?”

A group of 20-something men shuffle along the sidewalk a block ahead of me and I call out. They stop but don’t respond.

“Come help me carry this beer!”

When they draw closer, their faces strike as familiar, but we’ve never met. I tell them what needs to be carried, and then I scamper ahead.

“I’m sorry, I’m late!”

Dodging abandoned construction work, trash cans, mattresses, I find my way down the road to Terrence’s house, and I step down the stone pathway until I arrive at his backyard, the Grotto. Like myself, Terrence is a stand-up comedian. Unlike me, Terrence lives with comedians, and the house next to his is also occupied by comedians, and tonight I will host a stand-up open mic here: Lotto Grotto.

I throw my purse down and hastily tear up paper for people to write their names on. Wearing his black baseball cap and the jovial attitude which he maintains in both sobriety and end-of-the-night drunkenness, Terrence runs around, greeting our peers, attaching cords to other cords, adjusting the spotlight so we can actually see what’s on the stage.

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Yes, down here in an overrun garden of a yard, there lies a stage. Beside the stage is an old couch covered in a blanket that Terrence says one day he will wash but is currently speckled with leaves and small stones and other remnants of the outdoors. Logan and I host together, and we will sit on this couch for over three hours, drinking beer and listening to hundreds of jokes.

“You get three minutes. We light you at two. We’ll be sitting right there. Let’s have fun. Let’s listen to each other. Give us some money for the beer.”

Names are scrawled onto notebook paper and tossed into the bucket as Logan explains the terms. Logan, my fellow comedian, who has become not only my friend but a daily fixture in my life. Since I began comedy, I haven’t gone more than a few days without seeing her.

I know her jokes about as well as I know my own.

Logan and I have been hosting a weekly open mic together for over a year. Some nights are good, and the comics stick around to watch after their own sets are over. Other nights there is a bleakness in the room – people bomb, strange drunks get on stage to rant nonsense, white dudes throw around the n-word, angry guys showcase their misogyny. Some nights I get very sleepy, some nights I hate stand up, I hate comedians, and I hate that I’m giving so much of my life to this.

But tonight is magic.

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Courtesy of Paul Hudson on Flickr

Tonight, everyone is getting laughs. Their old bits have improved, their new bits are working, their riffs are gold. I’m hitting on the 20-year-olds with girlfriends, Logan compares chowder with semen, people laugh when they think something is funny. We talk about how much the neighbors must hate us, we wonder why Terrence has a light-up snowman on the stage, we try to
turn our lackluster Tinder experiences into jokes.

We are young(ish), it is a beautiful night in LA, and we are doing what we love. On such a night as this, I do feel something larger is at play.The stars are aligned, the forces are moving, God is present. “The Spirit is moving!” I say into the mic, and people groan, roll their eyes.

They don’t believe in God, but they also wouldn’t be able to deny that something good and electric is happening here in the Grotto.

For my birthday this year, my roommates asked what I wanted to do.

“Hit some mics.”

Because they are incredible friends, they joined me. In North Hollywood, we sat in a booth and watched other comedians before it was my turn. One guy talked about how he owned a boat, which apparently meant he got laid a lot. “You don’t believe me?” he asked. “The other night I got blow jobs from two different girls.” In the car, on the way to the next mic, my roommates asked, “Are the mics always so terrible?” I was confused, and I said, “That was a good mic! People were actually listening!”

I began doing stand-up when I was more afraid, more uncertain, and a hundred times more innocent. I have cried at numerous open mics. I have been sexually harassed. I have seen a (albeit flaccid) penis. In the parking lots of open mics, I have witnessed men obtaining prostitutes, I have watched people snort cocaine, I have listened to a comedian with two braids and a mustache argue with a six and a half foot transgendered woman. But now, I am generally unfazed. Last week a guy got on stage and tried to sell LSD. I shrugged. Open mics can still be hellish, for sure, but I don’t simply endure them; I love them.


 

I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to be a writer. But writing can be isolating, alienating. You can put hours and days and weeks into a piece that may or may not ever get read. It’s difficult to track your progress, or if you’re progressing at all. You’re enslaved to words that may remain dull, flat, lifeless.

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But stand-up is alive. On any night of the week in LA, you can try your jokes out at three or four different open mics. I’ve started with a rough bit at 6pm on a Monday at Sardo’s in Burbank, took it to Echoes Under Sunset at 8, and by the time I told the joke at 10 at Jake’s in Pasadena, it had evolved into something with potential.

I love stand-up, and I love stand-up comedians, and on certain nights there is a wondrous camaraderie that we share. But I would never try to say that we are one big, happy family. In this community, there exist jealousies and betrayals and hurt feelings and entitlement and endless shit-talking. Communities are comprised of individuals, and our individuality is weightier because stand-up is a solo activity. We are not a team. Each of us is trying to make it, alone.

And yet, we need each other. Not just because the mics can get long and we need friends in order to preserve sanity. We need each other because at these mics, we are the audience. We need the community to see if what we’re doing is working.

The beauty of comedy is that, in its ideal form, it is clean-cut, fair. If something is funny, it gets a laugh. You know immediately if a joke works. To keep the sacredness of comedy, to give it what it deserves, we must laugh at what is funny, and we must listen in order to know if we should laugh.

A comedian is not unlike a preacher in this way. We are preaching, trying to connect, and sometimes, somehow, if people are listening, we arrive at truth.

At this mic that Logan and I host, our job is not to have good sets. Our job is to keep energy high, to be relatively fair, to yell at the guys in the back who are talking too loudly. Our job is to create a space where people can try out jokes, where they can feel productive, where there is excitement because some of us will make it and while many of us will not, we are still having fun. Hosting an open mic means fighting to reward the joke. It means paying reverence to comedy.


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Rachel Mac is a writer, comedian, and teacher who lives in Los Angeles. She writes about sexuality, faith, and comedy on her blog, racheltellsitlikeitis.com.

Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter!

I’m Hippie Dippy and Other Thoughts on Worthiness

My husband Drew says I have an uncanny ability to call attention to embarrassing situations that no one else finds embarrassing and, most of the time, didn’t notice in the first place. I flail my arms to indicate the occasion and tread water with my words: “Look, I did something awkward. Stop what you are doing and take note. Oh you didn’t see, let me tell you in detail what I just did, it was pretty bad…”

You know the elephant in the room? I call attention to the microscopic mite that no one knew existed or cared to know about.

This past winter I went out to deep dish pizza with my younger sister’s boyfriend and his family. My sister Carolyn started to ask me questions about the Mennonite church Drew and I started attending.

Courtesy of Anita Ritenour on Flickr

Courtesy of Anita Ritenour on Flickr

I impassionately described the wall of ceramic mugs to choose from for coffee time and the way Priuses fill the church parking lot. Mennonites can be pretty badass, and I was enjoying tooting the horn of the anabaptists and allaying suspicions that Mennonites wore bonnets and churned butter (although I’m sure someone in our congregation churns their own butter, none of them wear bonnets, that I know of).

“And you know I really love how the Mennonites place a huge importance on pacifi…” I get half way through the word “pacifism” when I remember that I am surrounded by a military family. Time freezes as I look around at my audience in horror flashing back to Brandon’s mother telling about all the places they’ve lived and her husband’s career as a military doctor.

With two large tables pushed together, I don’t think anyone had processed that I was dissing military force, no one threw down their utensils and huffed off, especially with the promise of the Chicago style pizza ordered but not yet on the table.

In reflection, no one needed an additional explanation of what Carolyn and I shared in our conversation, and I do unapologetically believe in finding peaceful, sometimes radical, solutions to conflict. Plus, I’m sure these people had, you know, heard of pacifists or maybe even held complicated views of the role of the military in America themselves.

But instead of finishing the word, I swallowed it in a chain of mumbles and decided to call further attention to myself. I held up my hands into two peace signs and moved them around next to my head and said, “You know, hippie dippy!”

First of all, when have I ever used this phrase? When has anyone not in the baby boomer generation used this phrase? Secondly, why did I just undercut and call attention to myself, then ram the nail in the coffin by trivializing something deeply important to me.

Why? because I’m chronically afraid. I’m afraid about what people might think of me, what you might think of me. I worry that I am Josie Grosie and that maybe, if I talk you through the mess-ups or the things that might have offended, you’ll let me pass, think I’m an ok sort of person.

I, like many of us, believe that people’s worlds revolve around my views on war and the ice cream sandwiches I threw in my shopping cart on impulse. I imagine that all eyes are on me, waiting for my next very revealing moment as if the paparazzi circulated my home like Lindsay Lohan or other bad press magnets.

When Drew and I were dating, I don’t know what was more nerve wrecking, our first kiss or the first time he went grocery shopping with me. Every item put in the cart had a narrative. “I eat a lot of apples… like one a day.” And if he didn’t look convinced or make an affirmative sign of understanding, I’d keep going, “and you know, I usually only grocery shop every two weeks, so I mean… you do the math. That’s…a whole lot of apples.”

Photo Courtesy of DC Custom Kitchen on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of DC Custom Kitchen on Flickr

Drew likes to bring this up today, tripping me into explaining why I’m grabbing ten Fage yogurts even when it’s clear that we simply cannot pass up a ten for ten sale. “Usually these babies go for $1.29 apiece, so really its such good deal, because…dang it, you got me again!”

And you know what? I don’t think anyone cares. The store clerk doesn’t need to hear that I’m treating myself, the waitress at the Italian restaurant doesn’t need to know that I usually don’t use the word “perf,” and the hipster barista will just need to get over the fact that I put vanilla syrup in my latte, they don’t need to know that sometimes I don’t use flavoring, but today I just sort of, you know, had a taste for it.

While I don’t want to lose a sense of humor about myself, I’m not sure that I always really find myself funny, I think I often find myself embarrassing and worse, unloveable.

So now I’m trying on a third level of awareness, being aware of when I’m being overly aware No, I’m not going to clarify why I put ten books on hold instead of searching for them in the stacks. No, I will not make a comment when I order the big instead of regular size at Smashburger.

A blogger I follow calls her blog “Be Mama Be.” And lately I’ve been saying my own little turn of this phrase (Did I mention I make it through this world by talking to myself?).

“Be, Meredith, be.”

Its a reminder that I don’t owe anyone an apology for who I am. I can be a pacifist or someone who likes artificial flavoring or someone who is ok with having prickly hairs peeking out from beneath my cropped pants.

At 26, I’m still shaking off the braces, stray eyebrows, and coke bottle glasses and learning to walk into rooms of women and feeling worthy. Worthy of friendship, worthy of love, worthy of the benefit of the doubt.

But if my friends on Fitbit are wondering why my step count has dropped below 30,000 for the past 7 days, I just want you to know that there was a whole morning I forgot to put it on and I walked at least a mile during that time period, so you know, you do the math. I’m not inactive or anything.