About Tania Runyan

My Own Desert (Tortoise) Father

This post originally appeared on “Good Letters” on July 21, 2014.

I didn’t spend enough time with Oscar this summer. For forty years I’ve believed time will never run out.

Visiting California, I took my annual walk through my childhood backyard of bougainvillea, crepe myrtle, and fruit. I picked some strawberries, paid homage to my name scratched in a concrete border in 1980, then wandered to the side yard to find Oscar.

I sat in the gravel as he gummed a piece of lettuce hanging in seaweedy strips. He’s always been a sloppy eater, clomping around the yard with leftover pollen or hibiscus petals sticking to his mouth. We exchanged eye contact briefly: aging gray meeting steady green sea-glass. I tapped his nose, just as I did as an annoying kid, and he snorted, yanking his head back in his shell.

My mother rescued the brooding desert tortoise when I was four. She found him lumbering across the street, a reptilian tank with no regard for traffic.  She grabbed the huffing beast and went door to door asking if he belonged to anyone. According to Mom lore, everyone laughed, exclaiming, “We don’t want that ugly tortoise!” and slammed the door. [Read more…]

Making Contact: A Christian-Atheist Friendship, Part 2

shadow-friends-by-monika-on-flickrAn introduction: Decades ago, in the faraway land of Orange County, California, two young women made contact. Jen and I shared a number of classes but traveled in different social circles. I was scary nerdy awkward—E.T. and Laura Ingalls’ lovechild, and she was scary sexy cool—black eyeliner, skateboards, and bands I couldn’t pronounce. Only in the past few years have we developed a deeper relationship, sharing our lives with one another on Facebook.

Recently, during an intense chat about religion, science, and philosophy, Jen told me that the movie Contact—a 1997 sci-fi flick based on Carl Sagan’s novel that engages the intersection of science and faith—is the key to understanding her spiritual struggles.

Maybe we can write something about it together, she said, comparing our points of view as a Christian and an atheist. Well, that was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Yesterday’s post featured Jen’s letter to me, using Contact as a central theme. Today I respond.

Jen,

If someone told me thirty years ago that one day I’d be writing you a letter about God, a letter that virtually anyone in the world could access on a pocket-sized screen with the click of a button, I would have called it science fiction.

And today, as we write to one another about aliens, science, and spaceships—the stuff of Contact—I realize how quickly those thirty years have gone. [Read more…]

Thirty Minutes Without My Phone

ihop coffeeThe fact that a half-hour meal alone in an IHOP occasions its own blog post shows just how far I’ve devolved in my practice of solitude.

I’ve gotten pretty good at putting my phone away when going out for meals with friends and family. But when I’m alone in a waiting room, in line at the store, or even on the sidewalk waiting for the pedestrian light, I reach for that phone like an itch.

Of course I love the convenience and connection of mobile technology. I usually choose e-books over paper (I’m ducking virtual fists as I type this) and cultivate dozens of deep friendships online. But I can barely sit by myself, even for more than a minute, without running my fingers over that screen. It’s not so much that technology itself has ruined me. I’ve forgotten how to sit, how to just be—period. [Read more…]

Lashing Out at Myself

human-blur-by-craig-cloutier-on-flickrI was born with a certain level of anxiety in my blood—an electric edge that keeps me vigilant, wise, creative, and, arguably, a little humorous at times. As a child, I funneled much of my worst-case-scenario thinking into colorful stories that helped me face pain and fear head-on while developing an imagination that would shape the rest of my life. My propensity toward uptight, Type-A thinking has helped me keep a relatively organized house and healthy to-do list, and I like it that way. In short, my dysfunction often serves me well.

But the dark side has its dark side. [Read more…]

Interview with a Zombie

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Halloween costumes and decorations. If I’m a vampire, Pinterest is my garlic. Not only do I cut and paste at a first-grade level but tolerate little more than a basic jack-o-lantern or paper bat in my house.

But come September, neighborhood front yards become graveyards. Styrofoam headstones with epitaphs like “I.M. Dead” and “Bone Voyage” litter the leaf-strewn lawns. In the more high-achieving displays, bony hands, and sometimes even bright rubber intestines, work their way out of the soil.

Your more conservative Christian is often exhorted to avoid this kind of thing. Churches replace Halloween parties with “harvest festivals.” Some parents even forbid their kids from wearing costumes or trick-or-treating. I’m far from fundamentalist, but I tire of the two-month long (if you go by Wal-Mart’s shelves) celebration of death and decay. Last year I had to drive by all that tacky gore while my good friend was withering away to cancer. I resented the daily, macabre assault.

But there’s something different about Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America, the amusement park fifteen minutes from my home. Yes, the decorations push the icky limits, but the “scare-actors”–the zombies, clowns, and werewolves who roam the park from 6 p.m. to closing—have lurched their way into my heart. [Read more…]