Archives for October 2012

Going Catholic, part 1

More than a few of you have asked, so I thought I would take a few weeks here to explain. This is my story—no one else’s. The people I know who have left the Catholic church have very good reasons for doing so. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.

The first time I ever walked into St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg was for Katie Stevens’ funeral. It was January 2010. I would go to my grandfather’s funeral that next week, and my mother’s that March.

Katie was 15 when she died in a car accident on the way home from an ACTS Bible study. The student who was driving was not drunk, just reckless. This was the second funeral for a teenager from St. Mary’s that school year. In September, 13-year-old Quinn Kott died following a football game.

The sanctuary holds about 750, and it was packed an hour before the funeral started. They opened up the St. Mary’s School gym across the street and broadcast the funeral to a standing-room only crowd.

Steve Wiggins gave up his seat for my daughter and I to attend Katie’s funeral. My daughter wanted to go because she knew Katie’s younger sister. I’d been to a Catholic wedding before but never to a Catholic funeral.

While we waited for things to begin, I just looked around. There’s a lot to look at. Maybe that’s why all the kids weren’t too noisy.

St. Mary’s is one of the painted churches in Central Texas, built by German (or, in some cases, Czech) immigrants and intricately painted. The main colors are salmon, sage, forest and sienna. There are the stained-glass windows, most of which feature Mary. Plus, there are lots of statues. There’s a painting of Jesus breaking the bread at Emmaus and another one of Melchizedek blessing Abraham while Lot looks on.

I’d never heard the priest, Father Enda McKenna, and I couldn’t be sure of his accent. I’ve since learned he came from Ireland. He’s spent his 50-year career mostly on the south side of San Antonio and in northern Mexico. His accent is Irish-Mexican-Texan.

The service was in a slightly different order from what I grew up with in the Episcopal church, but it wasn’t exactly foreign. I knew the “Hail Mary” prayer—no idea where I picked that up. I knew not to go forward during Communion.

My daughter was shocked that I seemed to know my way around the service.

“Are you Catholic?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

Two years and three months later, I would be.


She never heard the teacher —

“Time to come in.”

Practicing how to flip on a swing

She chose the lower one

Hit her head

blacked out

everyone gone    recess over

that’s all right

I’m all right

pain aside    one more time


now the nurse

Word Candy Wednesday

Not Royal Doulton


In this world

we must handle injustice like fine china

it must be kept safe from our fancy appliances

washed by hand

dried with a linen towel

packed in bubble wrap

In the next world

injustice will be flung aside

each child will receive a place setting of unfairness

to smash against the pearly gates

God tosses a gravy boat to an eager toddler.

He does not count the cost.

Tig Notaro: Live

Imagine you’re at a comedy club. Tig Notaro walks onstage. These are her opening words:

“Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you? Hi. How are you? Is everyone having a good time? I have cancer. How are you? Oh. It’s a good time. Diagnosed with cancer. [sigh] Feels good. Just diagnosed with cancer.”

What follows is perhaps the most astounding 30 minutes I’ve ever heard in my life.

Tig’s set, recorded in August, addresses the previous four months of her life, which included pneumonia, hospitalization with life-threatening C. diff, her mother dying unexpectedly, her relationship ending, and a diagnosis of Stage 2 cancer in both breasts. How is any of this funny? You have to hear it to believe it.

Comedian Louis CK, who introduced her that night and is offering an mp3 of her performance on his website for $5, Tweeted, “In 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo.”

How does she pull this off?

In her October 10, 2012 Los Angeles Times article titled “Tig Notaro Turns Pain Into Laughter,” Deborah Vankin quotes Ira Glass, who featured Notaro on “This American Life” in May: “Tig plays on the audience’s expectations in a completely masterful way.” That’s what Tig does in this show—play with our expectations about what a piece on tragedy should sound like. (A shortened version of her set recently premiered on “This American Life.”)

Tig gets at the question that I keep asking myself: How do we tell our stories? The answer depends on many factors. Will I hurt people with my testimony? In Tig’s case, no. Most of her story has no one to blame. Except God.

“But you know, what’s nice about all of this is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle. Never. When you’ve had it, God goes, ‘All right. That’s it.’ I just keep picturing God going, ‘You know what? I think she can take a little more.’ And then the angels are standing back going, ‘God! What are you doing? You are out of your mind!’ And God was like, ‘No, no, no. I really think she can handle this.’ ‘But why God? Why? Why?’ ‘No, I just, you know. Trust me on this. She can handle this.'”

Tig goes on to explain how alongside this difficult period, she’s experiencing a lot of professional success. Now, this 30-minute standup set has gone viral, propelling her career to even greater heights.

Near the end, Tig asks, “What if I just transitioned right now into silly jokes?” A man in the back shouts, “No!” Tig responds as if she is speaking for him, “No! I wanna hear more bad news! No!” The man says, “This is f***ing amazing.” The audience cheers.

Until that moment, I’m not sure she knew how well she was connecting with the 300 people listening.

Tig closes with a silly joke, the kind she might have used on a normal night. It’s all the more funny because of its juxtaposition.

I went to Louis CK’s site and bought the mp3 file. It’s called “Tig Notaro: Live,” and the photo made me catch my breath. It’s a woman—shirtless—wearing jeans. Her hands are covering her breasts, but her thumbs are placed in such a way that, at first, I thought they were nipples. Then I realized that since that night at the comedy club, Tig has undergone a double mastectomy.

She’s doing well. Her doctors give her a good prognosis.

Here’s how she signs off (amid wild applause):

“Yay, cancer! That’s the best response I’ve ever gotten! I guess God was right. I can handle this. I can totally take so much more.”

for Merry Nell Drummond on her birthday (10/18)



You always did the dishes, when I was growing up

so now that I am grown up

I do the dishes.


It’s a long time to stand if you do it right

(like you did)

wipe dishes spotless before they’re machine-scrubbed

clean the sink, the counter

mop the floor.


Why don’t you make the kids do that?

my husband asks.


I shrug. Plunge my hands into hot water.

Today is your birthday, Mom.

And I am doing the dishes.

A Secret Name

Thanks to Dena Dyer—occasional roommate, former neighbor, dear friend—for pointing out the recent series of interviews that Stephen Colbert did with Oprah.

My son got me into “The Colbert Report” this summer. I’d never understood that Colbert’s show was satire until my son cued it up on Hulu and I heard the title pronounced properly: Colber- Repor- (the Ts are silent). Since my son is 16, driving, and quite busy, a love of Colbert is the only thing we share most days.

I’m enclosing a link to a particular segment of the interview here, but I want to lift a quote from it. When he was 10, Colbert lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash. He didn’t really grieve until he went to college. Here’s why:

“For years, I sort of thought that was my secret name—that loss was my name. I like the idea that you have a secret name. You have your name, and then you have a secret name. That’s a name that no one can ever really pronounce. You know? Because it’s who you are. And, you know, there’s a magic to your secret name. And that was my secret name—the loss of my father and my brothers.”

Do you have a name no one can really pronounce? I know I do. Every now and then I sit around with good friends, and we sort of share, testing to see if the magic disappears when you say the secret name aloud.

I love that Colbert took the horror he lived through and turned to humor—first at Second City, then at “The Daily Show,” now with his own thing.

A lot of people use their experiences to help others, and God bless them. Some of us find other paths.

Why Poetry Beats Prose

When I first wrote this story as prose, it was 1,000 words. The next day I followed a poetry prompt to write a poem that is one sentence, 14 lines, and about 100 words. Ninety percent shorter is usually better.


When we saw the spider sitting above the doorframe

two of us thought it was harmless

but you knew it had to be harmful because it was a spider

only I knew better because I’ve known lots of spiders

and this one looked kind of like Charlotte,

so I got the broom

knocked it to the floor

then, instead of smashing it,

I coaxed it

down the hall, gently sweeping and whispering,

“this way, baby, c’mon, baby, almost there”

until the spider—dazed—walked out the front door

into the dark dirt and later, when I looked it up,

I found out it was venomous after all.