Rebirth of Mothra.

I spend a lot of time in the car. My to-and-fro activities are sometimes accompanied by music, but more often than not, I’m listening to podcasts. I’ve probably been listening to podcasts almost as long as there have been pods.

One of the podcasts I currently enjoy is Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins. Paul is a notable comedian whom I adore. He does a lot of podcasts but Spontaneanation is his newest one. It’s basically an audio improv show. Things run off the rails pretty quickly. The format of the show starts with a question to a special guest and then a short chat about that question is inspiration for the improv performance that follows. It’s fun! It’s weird.

This week’s question sort of struck me. One of those moments that sucks you back to a certain place and time. “What is the earliest memory you have of doing something cruel?”

I knew immediately of my memory.

When I was four, I didn’t possess a fantastic knowledge of insects. We lived in a house with a small front yard and a large garden that crawled uphill, littered with many flowers and strawberry plants. The flowers attracted lots of bugs – bees, beetles, ladybugs… and then there were moths. I can’t tell you why we had so many moths. But there were oodles.

And they were slow.

I would catch them in my hands. Their wings were white, covered with powder that came loose if you handled them too much. After the powder came off, there would be clear spots on their wings. …This is where my ‘catch and release’ program went awry.

I remember in my young mind noticing that their little green bodies looked a lot like the caterpillars I’d seen in the garden. I remember being upset that on inspection I’d tarnished their wings. So. I uh. I plucked them off, so the moths could begin again as caterpillars.

It didn’t seem cruel at the time! It made total sense to me. The bugs would go back to eating leaves and then they’d grow back new, beautiful wings! And while I no longer damaged their wings myself, I do remember inspecting any moths that would land near me to make sure their wings were in good shape. If not? Welp. I didn’t realize I was hurting them. I didn’t realize the green stuff leaking out of them wasn’t something relating to healing or regeneration.

I’m not sure when it occurred to me I was a mass moth murderer. Some years later, when the memory bubbled up, like it did today. My memories of early childhood aren’t always great, but this one is in vivid technicolor. Their wings, their legs… Like when Dorothy steps out into Oz. To that end, maybe it was vivid for the moths as well. A monster of a tiny pink girl in pigtails… coming for their wings. I bet they’ve named a monster in their mythology after me.

So I uh. I won a writing thing.

Last month, I was named one of the winners of a creative writing contest at my college. They selected five pieces and I was the fifth. It was awesome. It was unexpected.

I don’t usually put myself out there. Well, okay, yes, you are reading this blog which is expressly my inside thoughts being put out there. But this is different. This a conversation. It’s not a story I invented and crafted and refined. I made a world and told its tale. A good enough story to be held up along with four other very, very well crafted works.

They asked me to read from it, which I had forgotten about until I got the email letting me know I was one of the winners. For some reason, reading something I wrote in front of people is way scary. And I say this having had many years of improv experience! I’d take pretending to be a lizard that is also a lawyer over reading a short essay I wrote any day. One thing is playing in public. The other is sharing a secret conversation you had with yourself.

The reading went fine and I chatted with folks after the ceremony. One of the committee members approached me and said how much he enjoyed some choices I had made and I thanked him. I confessed that part of me was still detached from the whole experience. “I’m still getting over that adult people read this and liked it.” I said, blushing furiously. Somewhere I had gotten the idea that it was a student committee. That idea was really comforting. But the committee was all faculty. The teacher sort of laughed at me and said something like, “Yes, adult people read these.” Embarrassing. But hey. That’s on brand for me.

There was another experience with a writing contest I had when I was much younger. I’m talking like 5 or 6. I knew I liked to tell stories and had learned about a small writing conference at a college near by where we lived. I boasted to my teacher that I was planning on going to it. She asked me to report back.

Things went awry. That was many years ago, so the details are fuzzy. But there was family conflict and at the end of it I wasn’t going anywhere. The feeling of disappointment and shame are still attached to the memory, though probably mostly because of my actions afterwards.

The teacher asked me about how the conference went. There was a writing contest for the young age bracket that I had planned to enter. The true story of what happened wasn’t what I wanted to share. So instead I informed my teacher that I had won third place, if my memory serves me, “of pretty much the whole thing”.

Oh, little Lauren.

My teacher was excited and we informed the class. But when I struggled to explain what I had written, she was on to me. My mother was called and came up to the school and I burst into tears when the truth was revealed. The phrase “very disappointed” was tossed about. I sobbed about not wanting to share about the family fight and not knowing what to do and the situation revealed itself to be more complicated, much to my mother’s chagrin.

A sad experience, true. But it didn’t stop me from writing. I continued to invent worlds to adventure in. Places to spend my time. While the root of all this may lie in childhood escapism in its purest form, the stories I create now are like little vacations in my brain. This story that was selected for the contest is a pretty shining example of that. It’s a girl with an ordinary life that takes a turn for the dramatic and unusual. A common tale, though laid out on an uncommon path.

The story selected for the contest was actually based on a dream I had. It was so vibrant and real. I tried my best to document it. I tried to take the reader there into my dream. I’ve gone on some really terrific adventures in my dreams! I’ve joked that my subconscious is the greatest author I’ve ever known.

I have so many other stories I could tell. Stories from my waking mind. There’s no one stopping me from telling them, now. No one other than myself. If this win meant anything, it’s that my secret conversations need to end up on paper. I should tell them if for no other reason than to give someone else the chance to come along with me to some other place. A place that no one can bar them from.

Off I go.

Musings about religion from a Church.

My fascination with religion started at an early age. We never had religion in our family. The closest we would ever get to a discussion about religion would be one day in my teens when I asked my mother what we were. “Catholic, of course.” she answered, like she was confirming what day of the week it was. This was troubling to me, as my understanding of Catholicism was that at the bare minimum one needed to be baptized. None of us had been. We didn’t have a church. We never even said grace or prayed. “Look, Lauren, we’re Catholic, okay?”

By virtue of my friends I was able to shop around different religions. Episcopalians. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jewish. Catholic (real ones, not like us). Christians. Pagans. I always tagged along to different services, but nothing ever absorbed. I was always an outsider to it, observing. It was never coming from a place of skepticism… I just thought they were stories. Stories that helped people make sense of life.

This may stem from my earliest encounter with religion. This time of year always makes me think of it. I was in kindergarten and our teacher Mrs. Ritchey had asked us to bring in our favorite Halloween books to read for story time. I had one called The Three Little Witches.

The Three Little Witches was a simple story. The plot was the three witches wanted to make a stew. They flew around looking for ingredients, located them, and made the soup in a cauldron with a touch of magic (for flavor). Simple story. Not quite Halloween, but my teacher didn’t mind.

In the days leading up to Halloween she’d pick a book and read it to the class. I’d sit near my best friend at the time, tiny blond girl. I don’t remember tiny blond girl’s name, but we were good friends… until my book was read aloud.

You see, tiny blond girl’s mother decided to come to class that day. And tiny blond girl’s mother threw a fit when she heard the story of witches and their witchcraft. Shortly after it began, she shrieked about “this filth”. She grabbed the book and demanded to know who brought it. I raised my hand. Soon she was carting me off to the principal’s office with tiny blond girl and my book. I can’t recall where the teacher was, maybe behind us? But I was in tears. I could not understand what was wrong.

Tiny blond girl’s mother yelled at the principal. She talked about witchcraft and said I was a wicked child, bringing books about devil worship to school. I bawled. I can still remember her pointing her finger at me as I sat in my chair and felt small and confused. Tiny blond girl was crying too. She wouldn’t look at me. Her mother had hold of her hand and wouldn’t let her go. She shook the book with her free hand. I don’t remember a lot from being that young, but these images are still vivid in my mind.

The principal agreed with Mrs. Ritchey and really didn’t see the harm in the book. The mother hissed about how we were godless and how her daughter wouldn’t attend school to learn about devil worshiping and witches and magic.

My mother was called and I was picked up from school. I never got my book back. And I lost my friend, too. My mother explained that their family was very religious and I couldn’t talk to that girl anymore. I would remember seeing her for awhile after the incident, but we’d never really spoken again.

As I would reflect on the incident later, I can understand why she was angry. I understood that the book conflicted with her beliefs. But why yell at me? Why the ire directed at a child, innocent and uneducated like so many people in religious texts, who have so much to learn? It was fascinating to see someone so encapsulated by their faith that they bordered on fanaticism.

So I have taken the perspective to be an observer over these years, not falling into any particular category myself. Funny coincidence, for someone who took the last name of Church. I find myself not drawn into to any particular flavor of religion. I just don’t feel that strongly about it, and frankly, I can’t commit because I can’t say definitively that I know the truth to the mysteries of the universe. I might be wrong… and I’m 100% okay with that.

About the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin.

Today I am visiting a local social media conference. (Hello world!) Since there might be new visitors to the blog, I thought I’d share a good one this week. So here it is: the story of the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin. This might be painfully awkward to read. You’ve been warned.

This takes place around the fourth grade, which means I was about 8 or so. My brother hung out with the Bergston boys who lived a block away from our house. Their parents were both very fit, very wealthy accountants, if my memory serves me, so they had all the best outdoor toys. Moonshoes. Rollerblades.  A trampoline. Basketball hoop. Everything.

I was a girl, so I was of course NOT ALLOWED. Sometimes I’d go over pretending to need to find my brother… then I’d just hang out for awhile. “Oh? I uh. Mom said to make sure to drink a lot of water. Are… are those moonshoes? Do you use them while on the trampoline so I can jump super high?” My true intentions were always quickly discovered and I was chased off.

One time I came over to the house looking for my brother and he wasn’t there. The usual namecalling and uncomfortableness commenced and I hurried back home. But this time was different. This time I decide to do something truly ridiculous.

I was going to charm them, not as Lauren… but as my Swedish twin.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to recall the fake name I used, and I keep coming back to Vilka. I’m fairly sure that was it. I would make them laugh as Vilka, they’d see how cool I was, and we’d hang out and I’d be doing flips on that sweet trampoline in no time!

For some reason at this point in my life my mother dressed me in ridiculous sweaters. Usually black, with pictures knitted into them of cats or flowers in red, purple, or white. Why did she do this? To ensure my reputation as a total buzzkill and coolness ruiner? Who knows. I had been wearing a t-shirt, but changed into a sweater to feel more eccentric (as I imagined Swedes to be). I am like a quarter Swedish, but I’ve never met any of those people, so I was pulling the whole charade straight out of my ass. I managed to find a pair of thick framed glasses to complete the illusion, and charged out the door.

I walked up to the Bergstons boys and announced that I was Vilka, Lauren’s swedish twin. I was wondering if they’d seen Lauren around.

The best part might have been the accent I affected. Think of the Swedish Chef if he was from Minnesota and couldn’t stop bouncing up and down.

The boys immediately started poking holes into my story.

“How are you Swedish and her twin? Lauren isn’t Swedish.”

“Uh, I wus sent oooh-ver seas!”

“Why didn’t we hear about you before?”

“I wus a secret!”

“Can Lauren and you show up here at the same time?”

“Uh uh uh uh… if I cun find her!”

The boys told me I was full of crap, but like any true performer I never broke character. I thanked them for their time, cheerful as can be, and bounced down the street, still certain that I had charmed them on some level.

A few minutes later I showed up as Lauren asking if they’d seen Vilka. I was told to shut up and leave. So I did.

The time I was almost-but-not-even-close-to famous.

My mom was always banking on us growing up and being famous. I was a 24 hour variety show for many years of my childhood. And while my mom constantly reminded me that there were no hidden cameras to be hamming it up for, I think we were always her hope to leave the Northwest and move to Hollywood.

My childhood living room had a fireplace that was on an elevated platform made of bricks with a spotlight mounted above it. This was no doubt there to illuminate some family photo with everyone’s smiling doughy cherub faces beaming as the family is gathered in matching sweaters, but there was no such photo of my family. So instead it was my stage, and it being the 90s, the brick background and spotlight made it perfect for me to put on my best Seinfeld impression and do a little stand up. The act was extremely short and extremely regional humor… the region being our house.

“What’s the deal with Buster the Dog (our dog)? He wants to go outside. Then he wants to come back in. Out, in, out, in. Make up your mind dog! WELL THAT’S BEEN ME THANKS SO MUCH” Mild chuckling from my family. The late show with the same crowd didn’t elicit the same response and so my barely two minute act was retired.

But my mom never lost hope. Once, while attending a local black box theatre show, my mom was chatting up one of the actors during the intermission. I walked up, candy bar in hand, and my mom started talking me up. How our little Lauren was hoping to be an actor some day. “She has the face of an ingénue!” the actress proclaimed, which my mom took to be confirmation of my future stardom. I had no idea what it meant.

“You have such a young, innocent face, and you’ll always look young.” I shrugged and munched on my candy bar. I’ve had many such encounters while eating something. Someone once asked me for a copy of my resume while I had a rice krispy treat hanging out of my mouth. …this was like three years ago.

But the problem that plagued me then, and still plagues me now? Crippling anxiety. I enjoy improv and singing, that silly spur of the moment stuff. But stick me in front of an audience to do something rehearsed and I come apart. I psyche myself out.

When I was eight and my brother was six, Mom took us to a slightly seedy hotel hosting a kind of modeling star search. I think this was her last ditch effort to try to see if she could ring some cash out of us. My brother was starting to lose his baby teeth, which all of the paperwork we were filling out expressly said not to bring any children with missing teeth. They were not worth it because they would not be selected, and since there was an entrance fee, it’d just be as waste of money. She did it anyway.

Once the paperwork was turned in we waited. I remember the waiting being agony. There were lots of kids there, but they looked a lot more… well, dolled up than we were. Costumes, make up, the works. I put on a hand-me-down dress of my sisters and had my hair brushed and was told to smile at all times. I also seem to remember my mother listing that I had special talents like acting and dancing and “she’s quite funny!” with a smiley face in my mother’s signature loopy handwriting. (My chicken scratch is still probably a rebellion against that handwriting.)

Finally, we were called up. First was a basic photo test. Much like kiddie mugshots, we were asked to look forward and smile, then to turn to the side and smile. “Great, thank you!” and off to more hours of sitting and waiting.

Sometime later we were called up again and asked to get in line. We’d walk down a runway, stop, say our name, our age, our favorite color, and something we liked, and walk back. My brother trounced down the walk, snaggletooth on full display. He stopped, rattled off his answer, and walked back. My mother enthusiastically hooped and hollered in the back. Then it was my turn. My turn to bungle the job.

I walked down the catwalk with an eye on precision, but wanted to look casual. This meant that my arms were swinging but my legs were doing a kind of robot tin soldier metered… thing. And I was staring at my feet. I stopped and looked up to my panel of judges. Again, a desire to be accurate but coupled with CRIPPLING ANXIETY.

“Hi, I’m Lauren. I’m eight years old. My favorite color is actually three: white, pink, and blue. And I like… um…” A stumble! And they were writing notes! OH GOD. “Ilikedogsthankyouverymuch.” I bolted back down the runway, my mother’s cheering at my back.

I was not invited to become a “star”. My brother, however, SNAGGLETOOTH AND ALL, was asked to join them. Alas, his road to stardom was soon ended as my mother discussed the details of modeling and acting program they offered, which (of course) had a tuition of several thousand dollars we could never afford. She was irate she could not get some kind of discount or guarantee he would be on TV and soon we were piled into the minivan and driven home, only then my mother cursing the program for what a sham it was.

Sometimes I ponder that life where Little Lauren was a star. In the 90s, child stars where everywhere. Our sitcoms, our game shows, our children’s variety shows. I could have been somebody! But after seeing how many of these kids turned out? I’m kind of glad I’m nobody.

Let me tell you about ladybugs and forts.

When I was halfway through elementary school we moved “out of town” –  which was only fifteen minutes away from “in” town. Still, it seemed we’d immediately jettisoned ourselves to the country. The area was a brand new subdivision and still very much ‘under construction’. Most of the roads in and out were just dirt, and the house plots only home to real estate signs and huge swaths of a plant we called honeysuckle (dalmatian toadflax, a weed). A lot of summer days of my childhood were riding through those endless plots and weeds on my bike, picking the flowers off the honeysuckles, sucking the nectar out, and make swords out of their long, woody stems.

A few houses had sprung up near ours, wooden skeletons looming in the distance. We would investigate them on the weekends in the summer, when the workers were absent and the daylight seemed to last forever. We’d play games and climb the unfinished stairs and talk about what we thought the finished houses would be like. Our parents told us not to, and sure there were a few falls through open unfurnished holes into the basement, but we always crawled up out the window wells and never told a soul. It’s remarkable no one broke their leg.

Among the amber waves of weeds and yet-to-be-filled domiciles was a small hillside next to our home, known ominously as THE HILL, with an industrial trash heap at the top. WHY was there an industrial trash heap in this newly forming neighborhood? WHO KNOWS. It, too, was verboten but we adventured there on our bikes anyway. We suspected the developer didn’t much care about what happened to the trash so it all ended up there. Tree stumps, metal tubing, wire, buckets, unknown discolored plastics baking in the sun… I’m sure we risked life and limb going into the heap, but we did. The BEST PART was the pile had been stacked in such a way that it actually made an enclosed cave you could enter with different little “rooms”. That part was mostly giant pieces of tree and tree stumps. I’m amazed we never had an issue with ticks.

We pretended it was our fort and we’d truly moved OFF THE GRID, into the WILD. We had a club that was disbanded almost as quickly as it was formed, due to a breakdown in communications over what the “secret password” was. It spent a good deal of time as a spaceship as well. It was the perfect playground.

One day, us neighborhood kids gathered and headed up to the heap at the urging of one of our own. Something odd was in the heap. We parked our bikes at the top of The Hill and looked out on the pile. A young tree had sprouted straight up in the middle of a sea of trash. The trunk was at least an inch round and it rose up into a perfect canopy of leaves at the top; a topiary with a perfect sphere. I remember it being large when I was a kid, but everything is large when you’re small.

None of us remembered seeing the tree before. Had it been planted? Had it just popped up over night? We probably just hadn’t noticed, but it was quite the sight to see a perfect tree growing straight out of the waste. We were bombarded with so much talk of recycling and ecofriendliness in my new elementary school – it almost seemed like some sort of staged reinforcement of the message. “EVEN OUT OF TRASH, BEAUTY CAN SPRING. REMEMBER TO COMPOST!” We ignored the tree and went into our cave and this repeated for a few days. But again, one of the kids called us out of the fort. “LOOK.”

The tree was now covered with hundreds of ladybugs. The branches and leaves were coated, a humming sea of red dots flowing all over the heap tree. Occasionally one would fly away. We were transfixed by the sight. We waded through trash to get a better look. We were awestruck. It was magical. It was Disney. It must have a meaning. We stared until nightfall, when the calls of our parents for ‘dinnertime’ urged us home.

The next day we went back to see the ladybug tree, but they were all gone. No trace of them. As quickly as they came, they had disappeared. Had we dreamed it? Could we all have had the same dream? The tree seemed so unremarkable now that it wasn’t swarming with life.

Soon the tree was gone, too, crushed by some additional metal waste that was soon our “mountain” on The Hill, which the boys would climb to go “hunting” and bring “food” back to the fort. We stopped playing on it when someone cut their leg pretty good on some rebar. Years later it was cleared it away and a house was built there, but it could never be as good as our fort.

I was the flower girl in a living room wedding.

Image brought to you by Stephanie Ku

Image brought to you by Stephanie Ku

In honor of the upcoming nuptials of several friends, this Casual Friday’s story is about the time we had a wedding in the living room of my childhood home.

I was probably about twelve when a family friend was getting married. We didn’t have hardly any family friends and I’d never attended a wedding before so this was a Pretty Big Deal(tm). I had a special dress bought for the occasion since I was the flower girl. I had decided that my gift to the happy couple would be troll dolls outfitted with a little tux and wedding dress, presented with a handmade pillow with interlocking rings hot glued on. I was committed to executing my role in the wedding with grace and class, just like every wedding I’d seen on TV or in movies.

The catch was that it was going to be in our formal living room. The bride and groom would take their solemn vows surrounded by their family, friends, our four Pomeranians, two plecostomus fish, and several overgrown house plants. I have no photos from the day, but I’m sure you can imagine its splendor.

The wedding day arrived and we were scrambling to get the house ready when the bride realized she’d neglected to contact a priest. Now, while this is usually a quintessential part of any wedding, this minor detail remained overlooked until just a few hours before the ceremony. Many calls were made to churches around the area. We weren’t religious and neither were they, but the situation was explained to a Christian minister who took pity on them, found his way to our house, and probably performed the strangest wedding of his life.

My attempt to be the ideal flower girl was also mired in awkwardness. I carried the peach colored rose petals in a white wicker basket as the wedding music played on my parent’s stereo. I’d take a step, my hand would throw petals, and I’d step again, all the while trying to march to the slow pace of the music. I’d then try to switch the basket in my hands. Then take another handful of petals with the opposite hand, attempting to evenly distribute them along the path between folding chairs. “Hurry UP.” my mother hissed. The hand switching and throwing became hurried and I’m sure painful to watch. But flower girls in movies switched hands… I thought? The petals had to be just perfect or surely the wedding would be ruined and it would be my fault. The memory is giving me anxious heartburn as I type this.

Soon the wedding was over. Kissing happened and everyone left to go celebrate in the backyard. I cleaned up the petals off our carpet. They weren’t pretty anymore. Just limp, broken, and bruised. No one shows you the aftermath of trampled flower girl petals in movies. I never realized that they could look so ugly. I collected them back in my basket before ripping them to pieces in my hands on our back porch; the smell of dying roses on my fingers, the significance of the moment totally lost on my young self.

SPOILERS: I didn’t stab anyone.

I have a story for you. It’s about the time I answered my front door holding a bayonet and our house’s cordless phone. NOW THIS MIGHT SOUND SKETCHY. And maybe it was, a little.

I was sixteen, maybe seventeen. My parents had decided to go on a road trip with my other siblings to see Barry Manilow perform out of state. I had been taken out of the loop for the trip to see him and I was informed that I was going to be home alone for about a week. Without a car.

I’d never been home alone before. Sure, I’d babysat for my siblings. I’d spent an afternoon hanging out at the house while the family dispersed, left to their own devices. But I was never alone for so long… and I was NOT comfortable with it. You must remember, this was the age of the Scream movies and I Know What You Did Last Summer. I reached out to my friends who were around town to let them know I might need a ride somewhere or that I might call if something went awry. We didn’t really have family friends and didn’t know our neighbors well… so this was the best I could make of a less-than-ideal situation.

Generally everyone was pretty supportive. But one of my old classmates, Rosie, thought she’d play a trick on me. One night, after dark, she came to my front door and knocked on the door. She’d hide. I’d look. No one there. I certainly wasn’t expecting anyone. Knock knock. No one there. Knock knock. No one there. Knock knock OKAY SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.

At this point, I am terrified. My homeland security meter is colored somewhere between crimson and maroon. I’m alone, miles away from help, with knocking sounds at my front door. I scrounge up our cordless phone. I pre-dial 911 but do not press the call button. I go into my father’s office closet and proceed to remove his World War 1 bayonet. LIKE YOU DO.

My father bought this bayonet some years ago, mostly because it is completely bad ass. It is in fantastic shape – a name and year are etched into the blade, along a channel in the side of the blade that allows blood to flow down and out of the person you’ve stabbed with it. It is shiny and it is sharp and it is my first line of defense. I’d be damned if I was going down without a fight.

I open the front door with a cry and look around, bayonet and phone in hand. “JESUS LAUREN WHAT THE HELL” was her, given the circumstances, fairly rational response. There was a brief exchange of expletives and apologies from both sides. I didn’t stab her. She never pranked me again. And we both got a good story out of it. Well, I suppose her version of it might not be as colorful as mine was. But we all laughed about it in the end.