Category Archives: God Stuff

Once Again The Wire Explains My Life to Me


Yes, once again The Wire has helped me figure out my life. WHY WHY WHY have I seen an uptick in essays that have a gorgeous structure—intro/thesis, clear transitions, academic style, good introductions of sources, clear citations AND YET almost entirely random quotes that DO NOT MATCH the general statements that precede them?

I’m just guessing on account of teaching to the test.


Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 8.44.47 PM

The Wire Season 4, Episode 9, “Know Your Place”

In this episode of The Wire (NO SPOILERS! I’m only on Season 4 for chrissakes) Pryzbylewski is lamenting having to teach students to begin and end each answer in a formulaic way, and somehow KAZAAM! everything was clear to me.

I have clever students who are (as Ken Bain would point out) strategic enough to do what they need to do to get the grade they want, so they learn the format, and the tone, and YET:

It looks something like this (totally made up, not based on a particular student paper):

General statement: Even though girls are thought of as being cleaner and neater than boys, that’s not always true.

Quote used: “RQ1: How do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”

Or, even, “In a scholarly, peer-reviewed article called ‘Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment,’ Lapinski et al. ask “how do male college students’ self-reported hand washing behaviors compare to perceptions of hand washing prevalence in the population of male students on campus?”‘(Lapinski et al. 341)*,

p.s. I’ve lost track of the whole single quote/double quote thing.

p.p.s. *I totally made up that page number

THE POINT IS, if you’re just skimming, the way I’m sure I would if I were an AP exam reader (and the way in which I’m sure actual AP readers don’t skim, right?), it sounds fine. But if you actually read for content, for substance, for MEANING, Jaysus, it don’t work at all. I mean, Jeebus.

Which reminds me of a Bible verse: 2 Timothy Chapter3, verses  (written, as we like to say, by the Apostle Paul to the lovely young Timothy):

“3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will [all kinds of stuff Paul is bothered by, some of which I am bothered by, some not so much] having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

A form of godliness, but denying its power. That so much applies to churches, and “godly” folks, but also language, to quote scripture: “The word of god is seldom, and  tremblingly partook.”

Did Paul get exhausted? This exhausts me. Have nothing to do with such  people.



What’s Waiting on the Other Side of Turmoil?

–a Thanksgiving poem in a difficult time,
ending with a paraphrase of Julian of Norwich
which also contains a reference to Husker Du


What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
We can hope, but the ugly truth is we don’t know
if all will be well and every everything will be well.

We’re partial to our own peculiar ordeal.
Our depth of field’s so shallow it can’t show
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil.

It’s hard to line up the practical with the theological.
Would Julian say, if she got her car stuck in the snow,
“all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well?”

I bet she sometimes just muttered “oh well.”
I bet she had her doubts a mothering God controlled
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil,

the gruesome news, the shit at work, the hell
through which we make each other go and go and go.
If all will be well and every everything will be well,

the obvious question is when? Does anyone know?
Could one tiny seed of calm actually grow?
What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
When will all be well? Will every everything be well?


It does seem to me the setting on turmoil is turned way up lately.  But this Thanksgiving I am trying to nurture little seeds of calm where I can.


Vanessa Quivertail when she was a baby kitteh.



How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not-Hate Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day, Part 1: I Have Issues

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep
with them that weep” has been so hard for me
on Mother’s Day, just starting with myself
because I always felt both the yin and yang
of the day—deep gratitude for my amazing son
and mother and grandmother and so many others,
but not that by itself, because I also felt
trace elements of the grief from all the years
we were trying to get pregnant and could not.
Then so much hurt for the motherless, the ones
who never got pregnant who wanted to, the ones
who had mothers who hurt them or children who died.
And this word: miscarriage. Or this one: miscarriages.
And then so many who are childless by choice are told
so many times that choice is the one invalid one
of all our choices. And so I hated Mother’s Day
the first few years I was one and I still
would just as soon ignore it but I won’t.

On Hating Mother’s Day (and other days)

I posted, on Facebook, for two or three years running, this diatribe against Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott. It always got such a strong response, positive and negative. The positive is relatively easy for me to understand and explain—there are a lot of us for whom Mother’s Day is not all sunshine brunch and flowers, for a lot of different reasons, and until Lamott’s piece, I don’t remember someone writing about “I hate Mother’s Day.”

In that, Mother’s Day is different from other holidays people tend to hate. Someone ambivalent about Christmas? Or angry about it? We might not agree, but we’ve seen repeated complaints about the commercialism of it, they way people who practice other faiths feel excluded, the way the war-on-Christmas-craziness asks us to pretend “happy holidays” is bad (when wishing someone a holy-day is pretty religious actually).

If someone were to write about being the adult child of an alcoholic and how Christmas was always tense when they were a child because maybe Dad would be drunk and abusive or maybe he’d just be gone, and either way, it was a relief when the day was over, we’d be sympathetic.

I think most of us are open to complaints about Christmas, even as we put up our tree and fa la la through the season.

Same with Valentine’s. If your romantic life is anything other than where you want it to be, this is probably not a great day, and we all get that.

Here are some holidays it would be harder to complain about and get general sympathy:

I imagine that if you’re a certain sort of conservative Christian who thinks demons are real, Halloween pretty much sucks. I also imagine that if you’re a pacifist, Veteran’s Day is difficult. Thanksgiving is all football and family and feasting, right? Unless you are a Native American. Or even if you’re just thinking about the way Native Americans might view the first Thanksgiving and what came pretty soon after.

In my experience Mother’s Day is more in this second group—just not something people are terribly open to hearing complaints about (especially from someone like me, with a living mother I adore, and a 9-year-old son who’s just awesome).

So that explains the positive responses—people who have ISSUES with Mother’s Day but have antipathy that dare not speak its name (a small version of saying “Voldemort” out loud).

And it explains some of the negative responses—people who just can’t imagine why someone could possibly hate such a lovely day that honors women who’ve blah blah blah.

The other negative responses have to do with the fact that Lamott is being pretty crabby and diatribey and not terribly logical (which she mostly never is, not terribly). My friend Jenny explains that well in her latest post.

She says Lamott’s  “vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies.”

Rejoicing With Them That Do Rejoice Or Not

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Ambivalent as I am about the man, I have to admit he just nailed it sometimes (am I remembering right that someone theorized he was short and ugly or did I just imagine that? I picture him that way, regardless).

Here’s why that verse is hard:

Times I’ve been unhappy with whatever portion of my life, I haven’t always done well rejoicing with those who were getting what I wanted but didn’t have.

And, I have to say, those who have so much aren’t always awesome about being sensitive to those who have less.

It’s not just a matter of holidays, either—it can be any random status update, or even that terrific practice of expressing gratitude regularly (some do it daily)—if someone’s expressing gratitude for something terrific, and I have something less than terrific, it’s hard not to snark inside my own head “well of course you’re grateful. I would be, too.”

I’m guilty of both sides of that—I don’t rejoice sometimes for those who are rejoicing.

And then sometimes when I’m rejoicing, I forget (entirely, utterly, blithely) to weep with those who weep. Or even that there are people weeping.

It’s something I’m trying to get better at, and I guess I’m writing this only to ask that we all remember both sides of Mother’s Day—that it’s wonderful and awful both.

Let’s weep with those who weep.

But also rejoice with those who rejoice.

(How can we do that all at once, every moment? I haven’t got a clue—for me it’s just the awareness and the attempt.)


On Hating Mother’s Day Less

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that part of my own ISSUE with Mother’s Day stemmed from a long list of “shoulds.”

  • Since I struggled to get pregnant, but finally did, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my mother’s alive and wonderful, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my husband does laundry and dishes all the time, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my son routinely makes me laugh and smile, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.

Never mind that early May is always exhausting—the end of a semester, the end of an academic year.

Never mind that every role I love (mother, daughter, wife, sibling, aunt, cousin, gardener, professor, friend, writer, colleague, community member) is a role that also conflicts at least once every freaking day with every other role I love. Sometimes I feel like the guy in Too Many Hats when the monkeys start giving him shit.

I actually enjoyed Mother’s Day last year. As I remember, it was because I told people ahead of time precisely how I wanted to spend the day, and they let me do it the way I wanted, and I went into it with very low expectations—the first few years I think I wanted the day to look like a commercial put out by Hallmark if they sold both cards AND coffee—perky and happy and everyone smiling WHICH IS NOT EVER HOW THE DAY TURNED OUT.

(When my son was still in diapers, for example, he almost never wet through—I think we had to change sheets maybe twice his whole diaper-hood from a leaky diaper. But one of those times was EARLY Mother’s Day morning.)

So my plan is again to tell people precisely how I want to spend the day, and spend it that way, and acknowledge that I will likely feel lucky and grateful and exhausted and conflicted in varying measures and times through the day, the way I do most every day.

And I will be trying, on Mother’s Day and other days, to rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.


Mother’s Day, Part 2: What I Want

To sleep a little later than I usually do.
To sit and watch my mother’s freckled hands
as they tremor just a little holding a cup
of coffee we’ve gone out for, just us two.
To snuggle with my son and watch TV.
To have someone else decide what we’re going to eat.
And then fix it or bring it or take me somewhere.
And then I want to go to bed and read.
And then I want the day to end. Amen.


Jesus Weasels and the Rusty Balloon

Those people who love Paul as much as Jesus—
shall we agree to call them the Paulines?
The schematics of sin, the counting of beans,
fault-finding, blame-placing weasels
not just ignoring the big guy’s red letters, but
also forgetting Shorty’s juicy bits
“Better to marry than burn” must have meant
the epistler burned like an old mattress,
like an oil lamp that never empties,
an abandoned refinery post-apocalypse.
But I get it, I really, really do. Without
a clear sense of rules, how the hell do you
know how to pop the rusty balloon
of anxiety in your chest, let alone actually pop it.


I wrote this sonnet in tweets, a couple of lines at a time, starting on Friday, finishing today. Made me look at the sonnet differently–I may try again sometime. Tweeting the lines makes me want to make them more stand-alone. Hm.

Jesus H. Coulson

I have a copy of this somewhere. It was given to me approximately 30 years before I became a fangirl.

I have a copy of this somewhere. It was given to me approximately 30 years before I became a fangirl.

I’m not the first one to think about Phil Coulson as a Christ figure. You can Google it–Jimmy Kimmel said he might be Jesus or a zombie, and in response Clark Gregg made that half-sheepish/half-sly face he makes and said, “I look a little different, but it’s basically the same character….I believe Jesus has super powers.”

After The Avengers movie, even before we knew about “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,one blogger was seeing Coulson as Jesus partly because of Nick Fury saying, “He died for us!”

But wait! There’s more!

5. He keeps putting together teams of disparate individuals to enact good in the world. He did it with the Avengers & he does it on Agents of Shield.

4. He answers to higher powers. We all know about Nick Fury, but apparently in the new Captain America, we get to meet Nick Fury’s boss, and he’s Robert Redford.  Now there’s a holy trinity.

3. He is VERY egalitarian about the role women play in his life. Ming-Na Wen(whom I’ve admired since she was on “As the World Turns” a million years ago) plays Agent May, and Coulson treats her with the utmost respect. (I know the official 12 disciples were guys, but Jesus had a great crew around him and let’s never ever forget that Mary Magdalene was the first who saw him post-resurrection.  The episode “FZZT,” Coulson and May have a really touching scene where she actually reaches out and touches his chest.  Lots of “sacred heart” image synchronicity there!)

2.He is forgiving.  In both “Eye Spy” and “FZZT” he takes the lead in forgiving an agent who has behaved badly.

1. The whole resurrection from the dead thing.

(NOTE:  Clark Gregg does not appear to be in either the new Thor movie or the new Captain America movie as Coulson–it apparently takes place during the post-resurrection period in which many of the Avengers do not know he’s alive– maybe both took place when he was in Tahiti.  Kind of like when Jesus descended to Hell to free the captives, which was so secret it’s in the Apostle’s Creed but harder to find in the Bible.)

This is mostly silliness, I know. I’m not trying to make the case that this is Marvel’s intent (although a bigger bunch of smarties is hard to come by) or that our lives are better thinking these things.  But it’s fun.

And I sort of wonder if Mr. Gregg his own self would enjoy the speculation.  In the special features section of the DVD of Choke (which he adapted from Chuck Palahnuik’s novel AND directed), they talk about a scene in which Sam Rockwell’s character talks to a stripper about whether Jesus was born good or learns how to become good through life, and she replies that Paul talks about that in Galatians. That’s apparently not in the book (which I haven’t read–it’s on my list, after seeing the movie).  It came from Gregg talking to his father, who was on the faculty of Stanford Divinity school.

The academic in me just beams at that.

I’m late to the whole Marvel-is-marvelous world, but I’m here now, and loving it, and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson is a humongous part of why.

Marnie’s Idea Mill–churning out great ideas since…NOW.

I am pleased, excited, terrified and astonished to be announcing the launch of Marnie’s Idea Mill, a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.

I’m raising money to replace myself in the classroom, so that I will have time to design and implement workshops on creativity.

Thanks in advance for checking out the site and considering making a contribution!

You can help other ways–posting the link on your own Facebook page or blog, retweeting, or forwarding to people who might make a contribution will help, too.

I also welcome feedback on any and all parts of this project.

Also accepting good wishes and blessings!

Metaphor 1.1

Metaphor 1.1

The perks I’m offering include a shout-out on this blog, a copy of Each Other’s Anodyne (a hand-sewn chapbook, a collection of my poems about teaching), feedback on your own creative writing, customized sonnets, and personalized creativity coaching sessions.

As of today, I’ve raised $10,000 in contributions and pledges toward the $24,000 total I need ($6,000 per course x four courses). My fundraising goal on Indiegogo is $4,000, and the deadline for the online campaign is June 17.

My ultimate deadline is July 1.

When I say I love impossible things, I am not kidding.

But I’m trusting Marnie’s Idea Mill can make some magic and attract some magic and make creativity workshops possible (which will then generate even more magic).

Because I am married to a man who is 1/4 Finn, who has read the Kalevala multiple times and also cheers for Finnish drivers in World Rally racing, I know that the Sampo is a mill that generated an infinite supply of flour, salt, and gold.

It was made by Ilmarinen (using a forge, that, as my husband likes to point out, the Kalevala never mentions being destroyed–so maybe it’s still out there…) for the Mistress of the North, who turned out to be a nasty sort, and after a complicated series of events I couldn’t quite follow as my husband described it, the People of the South decided to steal the Sampo. The boat it was in sank, but pieces of the Sampo washed ashore and prosperity accompanied even those pieces.

There used to be a store in Madison called the Magic Mill, which I loved, but it closed. The Sampo, though–that’s a really potent metaphor.

The Sampo one of the images I had in mind when I decided to call my Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign “Marnie’s Idea Mill.”

Idea generation is a huge part of how we measure creativity, so I wanted a metaphor of something that generates. Mill seemed kindlier than factory somehow….

Plus, we have a wide assortment of Peugeot hand grinders (my husband is also 1/4 French).

Another old, old story I had in mind is from 1 Kings 17. In it, Elijah curses the land of Israel, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” The Lord sends him to a brook where ravens care for him, and then to a widow, who, when asked for a wee bit of bread by Elijah says, “As the Lord God liveth,” (which I think would now translate to “holy crap, man”). She says she barely has enough to keep herself and her son alive one more day. But Elijah blesses her barrel and says it will not be empty until God sends rain. (I always thought that should be until a few months after the rain showed up, but I’m sure it worked out fine.)

For me, this is a story about living from a place of “enough” rather than a place of “not enough.”

I am trusting there is enough good will and money in the world to help me meet my goal of designing workshops to help people become more creative–more people who can forge amazing mills, more prophets who can see plenty when the rest of us see scarcity….

More where there is currently less.
(You can read more about my creativity research, my fundraising, and my ideas for workshops on various pages here on my blog.)

If God’s going to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you….

When I was little, I wasn’t scared of tornadoes.

My Dad always said, “If God’s going to go to all the trouble of sending a tornado after you…” and I actually don’t remember the exact words of what came after that, but the idea was, just give up. If God wants you to die in a tornado and you survive that tornado, he’ll send another tornado. Or a car wreck. Or a brown recluse spider.

I found that profoundly comforting when I was a child and beyond, but I’m sure my Dad’s calm helped, too. (Note to self: try not to freak out ENTIRELY as you’re fleeing your own home, your child in tow, to your parents’ basement across town. When I said, “Get in the car right now!” I’m pretty sure I had the same intonation & volume as “You can’t handle the truth!”)

Back in the 70s, there were watches and warnings pretty much all the time, it seemed, from March through September. We ignored watches entirely, and only grew concerned about warnings if the sky turned green.

Dad and I used to stand in our garage and watch sheets of rain come across the open field northeast of our house. He was probably smoking a pipe. I was probably petting Wooly and Daisy (the best dogs ever in the history of the world).


I now note several problems with Dad’s tornado wisdom.

1. Even if my belief in God had not changed, OH MY GOD. Really? I’m a good Baptist girl and God might just, out of pretty much fucking nowhere, send a tornado to kill me? And I can’t get away no matter what?

2. My belief in God has changed. I have a kind of wacked-out sort of X-Files Mulder/Scully hybrid of beliefs. As in:
a. I want to believe.
b. Maybe God could steer tornadoes in a pinch, but tends not to.

3. The basically impossibly huge question of how a loving God could allow horrible things to happen. (I’m not going to solve that here. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)

When I lived in the second of a series of three trailers I called home as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, I began to have a recurring nightmare about tornadoes. In it, I would wake up in the middle of a horrible storm, feel the trailer begin to shake, watch the walls suck inward, watch the roof blow away, and then try to hold onto my bed to keep from getting sucked into the sky. Then I would wake up.

I suspect this had to do with being in miscellaneous precarious emotional situations in those years. And also living in a trailer. “God’s bowling alleys,” my brother always called trailer parks.

(So, o.k. What is it with men in my family and tornadoes?)

But during one actual tornado warning, I stayed in Trailer #1 and announced to God, “I’ll just die here with my cats, thank you.” Very green sky. Large branches flying by the window. Trailer rocking in real life, not the dream world. (Oh, that girl. I could just smack my 21-year-old self!)

I think, over the years, I’ve just grown less and less fatalistic. Certainly less suicidal! It is also possible my frontal lobe has developed some.

And then having a husband I love and I son I am OVER THE MOON ABOUT makes storms really stressful.

We’ve had a wacky weather week in Wisconsin. More storms coming.

Is it possible, in what I now called the land of “Zen Baptist” on my faith journey, to take wise precautions and yet be at peace about whatever comes?

Sure hope so.

Because what comforted me as a child, comforts me not at all right now.

Here’s what fun about social media. Someone named Kevin posted this on Channel 3000’s Facebook page. The comments are hilarious. Including: “it’s sunny in beloit” and a whole thread of “don’t take pictures while you’re driving” and “it’s not a tornado.”

So. Probably not a tornado. (No one actually said it was.) And also not my picture. But gracious. I wouldn’t mind some boring weather.

Not a tornado.

Not a tornado.