Quirky Sermon: Tattoos, Rant Poems, and Olive Trees

Classic question to tattooed person: What does it mean? I have an olive branch tattooed on my arm. In this installment of Quirky Sermons, I explain why… and delve into the gorgeous ancient poetry of Psalm 52.

This one is for you if

  • You could use a little grounding and centering right now
  • You like tattoos, trees, or all three
  • You’d like to hear a weird story about King David losing his $#!%

Also file under:

  • Things you never knew about Cap’n Crunch
  • Jen cracking up laughing in the middle of a sermon again

Here it is. Skip ahead to 18:00 (past the music/announcements) if you want to get straight to the sermon.

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the juicy details

If I’ve been posting seldomly, it’s because I’ve been living muchly. Expect some posts soon with juicy details on the following:

IMG_1074Lady tattooers and bizarre coincidences. I’ve been working with my spunky agent Kira Watson to do one last round of polishing on my novel, which is about a young woman aspiring to become a tattoo artist in the mid-1980s, when there were few women in the field. I got to conduct a fresh batch of fascinating interviews with female tattoo artists, including Marguerite (the first woman to tattoo on Long Island) and Lynn TerHaar (the first woman to open a tattoo shop in Suffolk County). My life tends to be peppered with coincidences, for whatever reason, but the ones that ensued in the course of this research can only be described as bizarre. Details soon.


Rivendell Writers Colony, Manor House, Third Floor Studio

Rivendell. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at Rivendell Writers Colony in December. It was full of surprise gifts and lessons; anxiety and peace; fruitfulness and frustration and magic. (Also, a super-moon and a lot of bad ladybugs.) Rivendell just announced that it is closing its doors as a writers colony, which makes the whole experience feel even more poignant than it already did. Details soon.

Book reviews. Recently I’ve reviewed The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone, Posts by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, and Second Bloom: Poems, by Anya Krugovoy Silver. I’ll post all of those soon.

IMG_1539The new tattoo. It’s true that I love tattoos, and I even wrote a novel about them…but I don’t get tattooed often, spontaneously or lightly. Like, maybe once a decade, after months of thought. I’ve never written about my own tattoo experiences. But I got tattooed recently by one of the artists I interviewed (Victoria Ohman of Artful Ink in Bohemia, NY), and something about this experience was special. Again, details soon.

I probably won’t post about transforming my basement into Hogwarts (for a Harry Potter birthday party for my two young sons)…but I’ll share this advice: Don’t browse Pinterest with two little boys on your lap. They may think you can perform honest-to-God magic, and before you know it, you’re making potions out of peanut butter and sunscreen, and you’ve got an edible Quidditch stadium on your hands.


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grunge music & the art of lamentation: a quirky sermon



MIXTAPE: ’90s Grunge

Video is here–skip ahead to 18:30 if you want to get straight to the sermon. 

Some thoughts about lamentation: the passionate expression of grief. How to listen to it, how to do it, and how it can change the world.

Also: My “Grunge Lyric or Bible Verse?” game; flannel shirts and distortion pedals; tap-dancing bumblebee girls; Terrible, Thanks for Asking; and the marvelous word splagchnizomai! σπλαγχνίζομαι


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tossed in with Flannery


My essay “How to Survive the Apocalypse” is out today in the new issue of Image JournalIt’s a fun/serious look at apocalyptic fiction. (Literary fiction. Not the Left Behind series.) Specifically: the excellent novels The Pinch by Steve Stern (Graywolf Press) This Is Why I Came by Mary Rakow (Counterpoint Press), and When the English Fall by David Williams (Algonquin Books).

And from the Department of Happy Accidents: By some stroke of luck, I got tossed into the same bag of marbles as Flannery O’Connor.


(Btw, clearly she’s the big green shooter. I’m the blurry cerulean in the back.)

513x388_flannery-squareThe same issue includes the never-before-published college journals of Flannery O’Connor. In it, according to Image, O’Connor  “keeps a daily record of her thoughts, dreams, amusements, and fears for a period of forty days.” Among other things: “I have so much to do that it scares me.” (Preach, girl.) Apparently they even secured Flannery’s first selfie: “The issue will also include several previously unpublished photos, including a self-portrait photo taken through her dresser mirror.”

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Time for an intermission from all the seriousness.

Dispatch from the Department of Mischief:

In which the writer and producer Sarah Lybrand introduces me to the device known as the Head Tickler.


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Hunger for Salt (Review Series)

Each month I review a new book for ImageUpdate, which is put out by the fabulous people at IMAGE Journal. Here’s the latest.

And I didn’t plan it this way, but it’s oddly synchronous with these posts I’ve been writing on empty space (read them here: part 1, part 2, and part 3)…

Hunger for Salt

Poetry for the End of Seasons
Hunger for Salt, Elaine Fletcher Chapman

Autumn-summer cusp—a breath—a good moment to read “September Begins,” from Elaine Fletcher Chapman’s debut collection, Hunger for Salt. “[O]ne psalm, picked randomly / this morning, one hundred and thirty one: / O, lord, my heart is not lifted up… / I have calmed and quieted my soul/ one poem, not random / Whitman: observing a spear of summer grass / at summer’s end…” This is a collection full of cusps, “iridescent silence” poems, as Chapman writes in “Another Attempt at Silence.” Sometimes it is the silence after loss, after “the violent haze of sea-torched marsh…months after the hurricane.” When the poet calls these pauses “alone but not lonely,” the statement feels earned; even as many of them express yearning, hunger, they feel like the product of a soul “calmed and quieted” with steady intention. The one-room studio apartment in the wake of a divorce, for example, rechristened “Holy place of contemplation.” These are poems, too, for deciphering meaning in the end of seasons, looking at and asking questions of the artifacts (or absences) left behind.

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