Issue #14: January 17th - 23rd, 2003
Sister Janice Saves The World!
Sister Janice Saves the World!
Hello my dears,
My name is Sister Janice. I am a cosmic adventurer. I used to be a nun, but it got very dull, so I left.
Ask the nuns at my old convent and they'll tell you a different story. They'll tell you about an unfortunate incident involving a bottle of lemon-fresh bleach and the mother superior. And the visiting cardinals. And the papal emissary. And the convent dog, little Julia Andrea. And lots of ambulances.
They'll say that's why I left. Don't believe them. Nuns are inveterate gossips. All that dreaming of Jesus and twiddling their habits from dawn to dusk gives them plenty of time to think of rumours. They're lying. They do that a lot. And they scheme against you, if they don't like you.
And, if they decide you aren't right, they'll have it in for you right from the start. If you happen, just purely for the sake of example, to like loud disco music and... er... alternative gardening.. and they don't, they won't look any deeper than that.
After all, is there any reason why a nun SHOULDN'T enjoy a little smoke every now and again? I don't see any reason... do you? No, you don't, of course. Because you're a broad-minded individual. Not like those black and white habbitted bitches.
Anyway, as I was saying, my name is Sister Janice, and I'm a cosmic adventurer. I'm very happy nowadays, in my shed that flies through space. Very happy. I don't miss the past at all. I don't miss the certainty of knowing somebody was looking after me, and I don't miss the security of being part of a community that claimed to care. I don't miss the sing-a-longs, I don't miss the country dancing and I sure as fuck don't miss the rugmunching.
Anyway, as I was saying, my name is Sister Janice, and I'm very happy these days. Being a cosmic adventurer. Up in space. With no problems. I'm not bored at all, I just want to help, which is why I wrote to the editors and asked them if they needed an agony aunt on their magazine.
This week, I have received a letter from a Gentleman from Northern Europe.
'Dear Sister Janice
I find this time of the year very difficult to deal with. I'm very busy over the December period and find it hard to accustom myself to the darkness and emptiness that fills my January days. I've tried everything, from devil-worship, to hard drugs and thrash metal music. Nothing works. Please help. The next step is watching daytime television.
Well, Mr Christmas. I can only advise you to balance your time more effectively. Have you ever thought of...oh sod it, this isn't going to fool anyone... look, I wrote the letter myself, okay? It doesn't mean I'm not a good agony aunt. Everyone improvises. A good problem-solving counsellor should be particularly resourceful. Marjorie Proops recycled letters on a regular basis. And Claire Rayner used to have a marvellous use for chicken legs, at a certain time every month.
Anyway, you don't want to hear about that. They didn't know anything. They were crap agony aunts. They couldn't help people, because they weren't in touch with the universe. Not like me. I'm happy, and in touch with my cosmic flow. I'm not tied to the past, no sirree..
You can write to me here, at friends of the heroes. ALAWP. Errr, that is... all letters answered with politeness. The politeness that only a nun can muster. Ignore what I said earlier about us being gossips. And about me not being a nun any more. That doesn't really matter.
Thank you for reading, and may God Bless Your Soul
The Dreadlock Substitute
I spent three days in a small town art celebration in South Africa called the Grahamstown Festival. If you were there too, I was the one in that small group of backpacking Americans walking down the colorful alleys, seeking to buy the perfect African drum, pipe, and skirt. Creative energy and unconditional acceptance is high, as artists gather from all around Africa for this annual festival. Colorful people flood the streets. They captivated me in their silk and flower chains. One woman, however, stands serenely above them all. She was an artist, standing in front of her booth talking with a man. She had long, brown dreadlocks under a flamboyant scarf. My whole body said, wow.
I'm the shy kind, really. But despite my shyness, I somehow find it in me to very freely approach strangers just to say, "You are absolutely beautiful." I don't say it unless I mean it, and only if I can see something deeper in them than just their face. But when it came time to approach this beautiful dreadheaded artistic woman, my whooped soul just stuttered.
I completed my education at a university where the strict dress code included refraining from unsuitable or loud hairstyles. Like dreadlocks. Actually that's probably a lie. However, I like to use the code as an excuse as to why I have been too chicken to get my own dreads done for the past several years. I've only been able to delight in noticing others pass me by.
After my four months in Africa, and being prone to accommodate the eclectic youth living in me, I am happy to announce that I dreaded my own hair. It was an extremely conscious, four-year decision, taking into account my career plans, my spiritual life, my social life, family, everything. Whether we want it or not, how we look represents who we are. Researching the natty lil' guys let me know that I don't have to neglect my hair until my head is a huge rat-hairball. I can even wash my hair just like normal. Two weeks of backcombing and beeswax later, I have dreads. Now it was time for their debut.
Wow, was it fun. It's still fun.
My in-between job is being a substitute teacher. Any time I'm living at home for more than a week I like to spend time in the schools, finding out over and over what heroes our teachers are. I adore elementary teachers' creativity. (Fishing for thoughts, spin a web of knowledge, we 'orbit' around reading.) Then there's junior high and high school. Telling stories about these entertaining days left a friend of mine belly-roll laughing off her chair with the last sigh of her laugh reserved for "You should write a book about this! Call it, Substitute Teaching: For People with Dreadlocks."
Somehow, as I have discovered, among the cosmic, extraterrestrial forces of our planet a substitute teacher with dreads is automatically "cool". You are hands down the best sub ever. You are a confidant to the woes of being 16 because, naturally, "You understand."
In a ninth grade science class, I sat quietly at the front of the room and watched as the stream of students noisily walked through the door. As one boy was talking to a friend he cut himself off mid-sentence. He stopped as if by a lightening bolt with his hands out to protect the others, and yelled, "Whoa!! Our sub has dreads!" This boy was the very vocal, very social kind. In the five minutes before the bell rang it was obvious that past teachers have probably labeled him as the troublemaker of the class. After the first bell rang I stood up to get the class's attention. The noise level was high, and I'm not a screamer. "Give me your attention, please," I said in a normal tone. In the front row this same boy, probably louder than them all called to the class, "Quiet everyone! She's talking." I had to try so extremely hard to hold a straight face. It was spoken with such respect and awe that it was just too bad that with all these young minds looking up to me with their full attention that I wasn't in a position to relate a discourse on the effects and power of one individual to change the world. Or elaborate on the vital importance of following dreams in a world where reality can suffocate you. Instead I passed out that inevitable worksheet so that they could take notes on the film for the day.
It was about rocks.
After lunch that same day I noticed a group of boys standing outside my classroom. I observed one boy pointing at me, saying to the group, "See, that's the sub that Tyler has a crush on." I turned to glance at them, which must have acted like a shotgun. It sent them bolting down the hallway for their lives.
Oh the power of natted, tangled hair. Strange, really.
"So are you a pothead?" It's a standard question, one I should expect. "Nope, it's not my thing." Suddenly the busywork handout doesn't seem so important as we launch into a serious discussion about drugs and alcohol. Nothing shocks me anymore, even though they try. I sit and listen. Getting past the pink hair and spiked choker is enjoyable. They are real people, with real joys and real fears. When it comes to that one point when they look up from behind their "I'm cool because I get stoned on the weekends" mask and truly look for acceptance from me, I can simply say, "I'm just not down with that scene." I realize it's the dreads that really talk. It often seems absurd to them that someone with dreads, wearing a hippie Indian flower dress wouldn't think it was way cool to shoot up.
I don't plan to be a teacher, and I don't know if my own future kids will choose pink hair or blue. Now I'm going to have to let them. ("But Mom, you had dreads.") Whether you would have agreed with me that the dreadhead artist woman in Africa was a perfect wow or not is irrelevant. What does, however, carry the heaviest of weights is the ability to see past the spiked choker on your daughter's boyfriend's neck. What are his joys. What are his fears.
And then it will be you. If I get the courage that day to face your brilliant radiance and to actually walk toward its source, be prepared. You may be approached by a stranger to inform you, "You are absolutely beautiful."
A guide to training your person.
A well-trained person is a happy person. People feel disoriented and confused if they don't know what you want from them. Take for example this conversation with my poor girl when I first got her:
"can I sleep in your bed tonight?" I asked, She was confused but kept trying to understand
The poor thing just did not understand a word I was saying. After I asked her a few more times and she had offered to take me outside, give me some biscuits (which of course I gladly accepted), put a blanket on my bed, I gave in and ran into her bedroom. Her bed was much bigger than it is now and there was no way I could jump on to it by myself. In fact I could only just about see over the top if I stood on my tip toes. Despite this the girl got the message and told me I had to sleep in my own bed. Luckily for me my girl was a fast learner and a few nights later when I asked her the same question quick as a flash she replied: "no you have to sleep in your own bed belle" So I did. It was only a small breakthrough but it made both of us feel more at ease.
Teaching your person can take time and more than anything else PATIENCE. To you, opening the door of the big white freezing cupboard to give you a piece of chicken might seem like a simple task for your person, but wait until you try to teach them to do it!
Think about it. First of all you have to get your person out of their chair, and then into the kitchen and then you have to make them understand that they need to open the fridge door. Its not as easy as it first seems is it?
Start of slowly, start off with the basics.
Something that comes instinctively to your person is the desire to make sure that they open the door when you need to go out to, erm, well you know what for. As whining can be misinterpreted, which is not helpful when you are in a bit of a hurry, you need to give your person a clear signal as to your intentions. I have found that my girl understood what sitting by the back door meant almost instantly.
Unfortunately though, the backdoor is in the kitchen and if the girl is not in the kitchen she doesn't always realise I'm sitting there. On occasions, I have been sat for at least 5 minutes before my girl has realised she needs to open the back door! This slow reaction of my girl happened despite the fact that I was sat as clearly as possible with my back extremely straight, being as quiet as I could so as not to distract her with needless noise.
I can now combat this problem by chosing any door to sit by. The girl was very adaptable and having learnt what sitting by the back door meant soon learnt what sitting by the front door meant with very little effort on my part. This was a very useful breakthrough as it meant I could now get the girl from the front room through the kitchen and to the backdoor. Going back to our original problem of how to get your person to give you that teasing bit of chicken from the freezing cupboard you'll see that we are already half way there!
The next step involves stopping your person from going to the backdoor
and guiding her to the freezing cupboard instead.
My girl, found this particularly difficult and insisted on going to the
back door and saying:
I hope this will act as encourgment to you all. In your darkest moment when you think that your person is never going to learn anything just remember: be patient. Things take time, your person might not behave perfectly all of the time. Even now my girl finds the request for chicken a difficult one to master. An important aspect of the training process is the rewarding of your person. Reward them by jumping up and wagging your tail and they will soon learn when they have got things right.
In the next guide to training your person I shall explain how you can enjoy walks with your people with out them getting lost...
We saw Nev at the cemetery. He offered us a swig of whiskey. He had been drinking for the last four days and he still couldn't get properly wasted, he said he has this hollow where some life should be and I knew how he fucking felt. You can't do anything, you just feel overwhelmed by this helplessness, hopelessness, and your shoes feel like they have lead weights in them because it is that hard to move anywhere, and I know he would probably clip us if he was here now for wasting our time like this, he'd tell us to stop being such miserable wankers and go and get a shag, or a wrap, if the booze isn't working, but whatever you do, don't stop living for something that can't be changed or be bought back, but what does he know?
At the pub, we did our best. We played pool, and put some old songs on the jukebox, the sort that would help us forget. A group of office workers arrived, out on their Christmas do, and they were O.K except they had a tendency to break into rugby songs which was fucking annoying because we hate the game, but they soon stopped that when Stu told them to shut the fuck up, which was funny because then we started singing football songs except we changed the words to ones closer to home, and soon every song was about him but it was so fucking strange because, in a way, we sort of forgot about him, that is, we forgot about him being physically alive, he just became this mythical figure, like Zeus or Georgie Best in the sixties, better than Pele because Pele never had to do it in the freezing cold, dripping wet, wind pummelling the face, and mud up to your elbows, every right-back hacking at your shins, or attempting to, but never getting close enough, and I used to love it out on that wing, teasing the lanky defenders, or the stocky aggressors, I'd draw them in, it was so simple, and then tap the ball past them on the outside, or cut inside, nutmeg them even, it was always so fucking easy, even when I wasn't on my game, it always surprised me how slow, how thick they were, and it was even better when they had a covering defender because it made me work a little harder, but they'd look twice the fool, and it was great when dad came to watch me because I used to show off for him, and he was as bad as me for winding the opposition up, he'd stand by their manager and tut-tut and shake his head at their coach every time I skinned their defenders, and that was the life, that was the life…
He found it difficult to stand. And so he didn't. Someone was saying something to him, but he wasn't sure what, so he just sort of smiled and finished his pint. Then they were going, staggering to a start in the sick twilight. Him and J and Stu and Nev-
Where the fuck is Nev? Because he was here and now he isn't and I don't want this day to end because I won't see you for months on end and then Stu was telling me about the pine place he works at, saying he could get me a job there but I'd be fucking stupid to come back because I have spent all my time trying to get away from the place, and I'm lucky to have got the chance "so don't blow it, yer twat," he says, and I know what he means, I really know what he means as I stagger around the bar full of old faces, faces from the past coveting the drink as if it was the last night on earth, but they just want to forget, like me, and I think about Marvell's hurried chariot of time, and he's spot on right then, so spot on that for a split-second I stop breathing which sounds poncey in front of my mates because, where I come from, words just aren't meant to do that to you, only a quick kick in the ribs which is what I would get if I told them what I'm telling you, ah fuck, maybe it's the drink, maybe it's the drink, but this fucking life hammers you like a nail to the head sometimes, this life…
It's funny, almost perverse, how they have a child's park so close to the cemetery. They had renovated the park since his last visit. Painted it in bright colours. Installed a luminous non-slip surface. Removed the drug addicts, though they'll always find somewhere else to go. There were fresh flowers on the grave, two or three bouquets, which made him feel good, like he wasn't the only one who still remembered, who still cared, well, he should've known, of course he wasn't. He took off his jacket, and rolled his shirt sleeves up, shit, it was warm. He thought about the last time he had been here, that Christmas, and he wasn't sure if it was his best friends death that pushed him over the edge, made him quit university, or if it was just the culmination of everything else, because, back then, life was, ah fuck, you know. You know. Living in France was great. It wasn't too far away, but it was far enough. He enjoyed his job on the farm, it was simple, uncomplicated living. He'd picked up enough of the lingo to get by, and, at the end of the day, getting by is all you really need to do, isn't it?
The sun shone its approval.
O for Orange, P for Pink
Scientists have proved that when the sun sets, it is because the earth is turning away from the source of light, and the white light is refracted across the sky. However, like most things scientists have proved, this is not true. What actually happens is this:
There is a boat, with a man and a woman sitting in it. It is their job to travel round the world painting the sky pink. Sometimes they paint it orange. It depends whose day it is. She likes orange, he likes pink. Some say they're brother and sister. Some say they're married (no, they AREN'T the white stripes). Either of these could be true. Nobody knows where they go after dark. That's their secret, and it wouldn't do to follow them.
As they go, they talk about old legends, about the story of the Egyptian god Ra, and his boat which drove the sun round the world. They remember Ra, in the old days, when he'd spend his time doing that. These days he drives a Mercedes and lets people rely on gravity instead. One day, people stopped believing in him, so he didn't see the point any more.
They aren't so easily disheartened. They love their job, painting the sky. They watch the earth turn from their boat in the heavens, and they know they will always be together.