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In my 43/43 goals, I planned to walk the Civil Rights Half Marathon in January, 2011, in San Francisco. However, it clearly isn’t going to happen (I guess the organizers quit), so I’ve been looking for other races, and I’ve found the one I want to train for: the Canyon Meadow Trail Run, in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, the first Saturday in June. It’s a serious hike, so I’ll be glad of the long, slow leadup–giving myself six months to become able to walk 13.1 miles with an 1900′  elevation gain sounds good. Training in San Francisco should do nicely.

So, I’ve laid out a training schedule, and begin on Monday. Whee!

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Given at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, CA

December 24, 2010

Homily

I’ve been without my regular life-drawing session, as the regular schedule is suspended for December (it resumes Monday, yay), but there have been a few sessions here and there, and last night there was finally one at a time I could manage. It was great to get back to it.  (My plan to draw on my own every Monday morning lasted one week; I’ve had to either work or take care of the munchkin the rest of the Mondays of this month, though of course I could have found a different three hours.)

I’m feeling, and resisting, the urge to try (1) some color and (2) better paper than the newsprint I’ve been using. I probably will try other paper soon, because it really makes a difference to the process and appearance, but using newsprint helps keep my punishing perfectionism at bay; it reminds me this is just practice, stuff to be thrown away (though frequently scanned first, so I can look back and learn from what I’ve done). As for color, with this figure drawing I just want to keep working on the basics for a while yet.  Maybe a long while.

Here are several from Wednesday, in the order I drew them, and from the shortest to the longest pose.  Interestingly, I think that besides the 45-minute pose, the most successful are two of the 7-minute poses (drawings 12 29 10 d and 12 29 10 f).  I do like the hands and foot on the 20-minute pose, though.

According to the Stanford Blood Center, I’m a gallon donor. But they’re just being nice. They mean I’ve had over eight appointments. I think only about three of them have ended with my giving an actual pint of usable blood. I’m on the verge of giving up, and it has me feeling really sad.

To me, donating blood has always been one of those no-brainer acts of mercy, like giving clothes you don’t need anymore to a clothes closet instead of throwing them in the trash. That pint of blood is the difference between death and life to the recipient, while to the donor it costs nothing but the mildest of pain and a couple of hours (including the time spent getting to and from the center and eating the re-energizing snack of cookies and juice). Also, when my dad was badly injured some years ago, he received about 40 units of blood. He barely survived; blood donors gave me my father, and I’ve felt ever since that I owe the world some blood. I hear from blood center staff that that’s a common motivation.

Still, it took me years to start donating even after that, because I’ve always been queasy about needles, and have even been assured by nurses that they would really rather not deal with people who are shaky about the whole thing. However, when I shared my ambivalence with a nurse at church, she urged me to try at a blood center (as opposed to a blood drive). Not long after that conversation, I got pregnant, and while that ruled out donating for several months, the many blood tests involved made me sanguine (heh) about needles. I figured, how much worse could donating be?

So a couple of years ago, I donated for the first time, and it was true: it isn’t really any tougher than a blood test. And I felt fantastic. I bounced out of there, absurdly pleased with the little bruise on my arm, determined to donate once every eight weeks for the rest of my life.

However, it hasn’t gone so well. More often than not, I leave without having donated much blood, if any. I flunk the hemoglobin test, or no one can find a good vein, or the flow is so slow that I can’t fill a pint in the allotted time, or all of the above. I’m stubborn. I take iron, I drink my eight cups of water a day for three days before giving, I tell them up front that with my veins, they’re going to need a small needle and their best blood-drawer. But I’m getting discouraged. In October, when the very expert nurse said time was up, she said, “Maybe this isn’t your ministry.” Damn the woman. She knew just the language that would reach me, and she said it with such compassion. I barely got out of there without crying.

I decided to give it one last try, so last week I went in again (deliberately on a different day of the week, to avoid the mind-reading nurse), having observed a strict regimen of three days’ iron supplements and having drunk enough herbal tea over the same three days to float the QEII. The finger stick turned up a sub-par hemoglobin level. Sometimes you just need to warm up your hands, so the nurse asked if I wanted to do that and try again; I did; the second level was worse. I took a consolation cookie and went to work.

I had said that that was the last try, but I’ve got to give it one more. This time I’m going to take iron every day (which, clearly, I ought to be doing for my own health anyway), drink my eight cups every day (ditto), warm my hands before the hemoglobin test, the works. But it still might not be enough. It might be that this is just not one of the ways for me to bless the world. I wish that it bothered me purely because I want to help people, and not because my ego can’t abide my failing at anything I set out to do.

My colleague Dan Harper blew my mind with a casual mention of Richard Thompson singing “Oops! I Did It Again,” so of course I had to go find it. And you know, I liked it. Thompson deemed it “a pretty good song,” and, hearing it sung by a singer I really like, and unburdened by the “oh no, more bubblegum pop” expectation I bring to top-40 radio (do we still have top 40, or am I dating myself?), I agreed.

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise. Hey, one of my favorite songwriters, Ira Gershwin, said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella [Fitzgerald] sing them.” IMHO, they hold up pretty damn well no matter who is singing them, but it’s true, a great singer can make a mediocre song great, or at least “pretty good.” (And vice versa–I heard a version of Joni Mitchell’s “River” the other day that really should never have hit the airwaves.)

I wonder how far we can take this. I recently tuned in NPR and stumbled on an analysis of the Song Most Likely to Make Amy Scream and Reach for the Dial, “Light My Fire.” Lord, how I hate that song. But I didn’t change the station, because the speaker, one of the songwriters, was walking us through the process of writing it, and that was interesting, plus I only had to listen to his playing the piano and talking, not the original with those noodling instrumentals and that pompous Jim Morrison voice.

Of course, at the break they did play the original, and I shuddered and turned it off. But now I wonder if even “Light My Fire” could be redeemed if someone else sang it.

Nah, there’s only one way to make a line like “no time to wallow in the mire” bearable, and that’s to listen to it in the same state the band was no doubt in when they wrote it: seriously stoned.

On Saturday, we went to the annual Our Family Coalition multifaith holiday party, held at St. Gregory of Nyssa in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.  Aside from the pleasures of getting together with lots of other LGBT parents and their kids, I was looking forward to seeing the inside of this church again.

In the center of the rotunda is the table where they serve communion, and carved on it are words about Jesus welcoming sinners to his table.  (On their website, they say, “We welcome all people–especially strangers—to communion.”)

Then, up above, all around the inside of the rotunda, is a gorgeous mural of several dozen dancing figures, led by Jesus, Lord of the Dance. These “Dancing Saints” include actual saints of the Episcopal Church and many other saints chosen by the congregation in partnership with the artist, Mark Dukes.  Malcolm X holds hands with Queen Elizabeth I; Charles Darwin’s hand is on Saint Symeon’s shoulder. Cesar Chavez dances along in front of Anne Frank. Many of the dancers are barefoot (if not totally naked, as is King David); many wear sandals; Eleanor Roosevelt wears loafers. All have haloes. It’s almost enough to make me want to convert to Episcopalianism and join this church.

Okay, to be honest, it doesn’t come close.  I am just never going to be a Christian.  But I can’t stop smiling when I look up at those dancers. What I love about St. Gregory’s is not only that this beautiful mural reminds me of the people I also wish to emulate, but that they have done three things any religious community needs to do to thrive:  they have proudly laid claim to their tradition; they have given that tradition a form particular to their time and place; and they have declared in a beautiful, striking, and literally indelible way what they stand for. Walk into St. Gregory and you know that their religion is about joyously welcoming everyone into a circle where all may eat and, more, celebrate.

And they do dance in their services . . .

Dancing along with the saints (c) 2006 David Sanger

. . . and from the reports of those who’ve gone to services there, they keep the promise made on their altar and their website–all are welcome.  They host a weekly food pantry and it is held around the altar, under the dancing saints in the rotunda.  And of course they welcome our families every year.

Fun assignment for membership committees (worship committees, altar guilds, buildings and grounds committees, etc.): pretend you are a visitor to your congregation. What do the architecture and art, the chosen or accidental icons of your space, communicate about the congregation’s purpose? Do they get it right?

Icon of Sojourner Truth by Mark Dukes; Photo (c) 2006 David Sanger

I put my favorite serious sites on my blogroll, but I also have a bunch that I visit every couple of days for sheer laughs, such as Cake Wrecks. Its very funny author, Jen Yates, displays disastrous cake-decorating attempts by so-called professional bakers. (Sundays, she posts “Sunday sweets,” the opposite: spectacularly beautiful cakes. So Cake Wrecks the rest of the week isn’t just someone snarking amusingly about other people’s incompetence– it’s someone who appreciates great craftsmanship snarking amusingly about other people’s incompetence. This somehow takes the site to a new level for me.)

Today’s Cake Wrecks not only featured the usual horrible cakes and hilarious commentary, but kicked off twelve days of giving. Last year, just by suggesting a charity each day and creating links where her readers could give a dollar to them–and most donations were a dollar–she raised well over $50,000. I’m glad she’s making it an annual event, and I’m giving daily this time.

Apologizing in advance for the time suck I have just introduced to your life, I offer this, one of my favorite Wrecks, in compensation.

I took transit to work Tuesday, a slow way to get there, but it’s so great to let someone else do the driving.  And, although I can’t read on the train (motion sickness), I can think, and it was a nice way to begin the day.  Even nicer was the walk from the station to church on a fall day so perfectly representative of the season that I’m hard-pressed to describe it without words like “crisp.”  The colors seem particularly radiant this year, which is strange because it’s been a wet fall and the conventional wisdom where I used to live (Vermont:  Fall Foliage Central) was that dryer weather makes for brighter leaves.  No one’s told the Bay Area trees that, though, and this was just the kind of day that lit up every leaf like a piece of stained glass.

I walked under one tree I can’t tell you the name of, but its leaves were heart-shaped and almost uniformly yellow, and its canopy made a great round umbrella over the sidewalk.  I stopped a moment to look up through the leaves, and a murmur escaped me:  “O light come down to earth, be praised!”

Slowly, slowly, they return
To the small woodland let alone:
Great trees, outspreading and upright,
Apostles of the living light.

Patient as stars, they build in air
Tier after tier a timbered choir,
Stout beams upholding weightless grace
Of song, a blessing on this place.

They stand in waiting all around,
Uprisings of their native ground,
Downcomings of the distant light;
They are the advent they await.

Receiving sun and giving shade,
Their life’s a benefaction made,
And is a benediction said
Over the living and the dead.

In fall their brightened leaves, released,
Fly down the wind, and we are pleased
To walk on radiance, amazed.
O light come down to earth, be praised!

(“Slowly, slowly they return,” by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir:  The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997.  It is set to music, with small and sometimes mysterious changes to the words, as #342 in our hymnal Singing the Living Tradition.)

I did draw on Monday as I promised myself, though not as intensively as I do when I’m face to face with a model and surrounded by other artists hard at work.  At home, there are the siren temptations of the kitchen (I’ve been drawing for ten minutes!  I deserve a pot of chai!) and Perry v. Schwarzenegger (no, I can’t just listen to the radio and draw–I have to leap up and argue with the attorneys!).  And this model does not sit still very long, so it was largely an exercise in 10-second gesture drawings.  However, she finally slept in one position long enough for me to draw the one on the bottom right.  Using the broad edge of a charcoal stick instead of a pencil was the key to showing fur in a way I’ve never managed before.  Joy really likes this, so I’m going to dig out the fixative and give it to her for her office.

. . . discovering an extra book in a beloved series after you thought you’d read them all.  Donald E. Westlake, writer of great comic mysteries and capers (and lots of hard-boileds under the name Richard Stark, and many other books totalling about 100) had the gall to die two years ago, leaving the world with just one more Dortmunder novel coming through the publishing pipeline.  I still haven’t read that one, and I’ve been a little reluctant to track it down, knowing that it would be the last taste of these very funny, very well-written capers.  Or so I thought.  It turns out that there is another, an older one, that we don’t have and neither of us has ever read.  I brought it home from the library, an odd but appreciated Hanukah gift, and let Joy read it first.  Now I’m reading it and it is not letting me down.

And the story gets better:   Joy greeted it with an “oh yeah, there’s one that’s out of print that we don’t have . . . it’s the first Dortmunder book.”  But it’s clear, reading this, that it is not the first, because it makes reference to a couple of previous plots.  Looking up a chronology confirms that, while these could conceivably be prequels, they’re not.  They did come out first.  So this is actually the sixth, and the first (The Hot Rock) is still out there, republished and waiting for us to read it.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never read Jimmy the Kid either.  And then there’s the really-truly-last, Get Real, also deliciously unread.

Simple pleasures.  Thanks, Mr. Westlake, for a few gifts from beyond the grave.

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