Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Plant a Tree For Earth Day

Today, we planted a tree in my mom's front yard.


We wanted to give them a Dogwood, but we couldn't find one, so we went with a Redbud.


We all did our part (except for Scott, who was still at work). But the kids did the majority of the digging.


Some of us even did our tree-planting in style. I'm talking skinny jeans and heels.


We would have loved to have planted a tree in our own yard, but alas, we rent, and we didn't want to worry with all the fuss of getting permission from the landlord to plant a tree.


At least now my mom and stepdad have a little memento of us, for when we eventually move on to "greener pastures".


Saying that, I'd love to make tree-planting our little family's Earth Day tradition. Give back to the earth a little of what we take so much of.


Teach the children a little about sustainability.


And get in touch a little more with nature.


Happy Earth Day!



Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Do you have a book that digs so deeply into your heart that it pains you to read, yet you can't stop reading it because it reveals truths to you that even you did not realize - or want to accept - were inside you?

That book is Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose for me.

I have just finished it. It's actually the third time I've read it. The first time was over ten years ago for an online book club while I was engaged to Scott. I did not know what marriage would be like, and I didn't know my soon-to-be husband the way I do now, but even then, every word of the novel was a warning: Don't underestimate him. Don't try to change him. Don't betray his trust. A quiet man is not an unfeeling man; don't confuse the two.

The second time I read it was while pregnant with Baby Jaguar. Once again, I was struck by how similar my husband is to the novel's Oliver. Once again, I heeded (and was thankful) for the warnings: Do not stand in his way for selfish reasons. Do not wish him to be anything other than what he is. Appreciate his strengths, though they are different to yours, and forgive him his weaknesses (for you have your own). Defend him against criticism. Do not hold him at arm's length.

This time I found myself thanking the book wholeheartedly for all those warnings. For this time I saw in myself how like Susan I am. As little as I'd like to admit it, I too am proud, a little snobbish, a little over-concerned with appearances. Every time I have read this book, I have noted how too close the story cuts, how in an alternate universe, this could have been us. Without those warnings, with less magnanimity, with less careful effort, we could have been doomed to the same fate - the same discontent woman, the same stubborn man, with such promise but too many mistakes.


I have wanted to review this novel a hundred times, but I am unable. It is too close, it is too revealing. I recognize in it how lucky we have been - no, not lucky. Careful. Hardworking. Fair. Open and honest. Aware. We have not, we shall not end up the same as Susan and Oliver Ward, living the rest of their lives at the angle of repose, after a downward tumbling life eventually settled near the bottom of the ravine. We shall have our ups and downs. We shall have our adventures. We will not settle for living happily-unhappily ever after.

All I can say in review is a quick synopsis:

Historian Lyman Ward, the grandson of Oliver and Susan Ward, much to ignore the effects of his debilitating skeletal disease, takes to his grandmother's letters to her dearest lifelong friend Augusta to write about her and her husband's life developing the West in the late 1800s. She, an Eastern genteel and he, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed only in correspondence, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West. In her mind, it is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and became an Eastern engineer. He understands that an engineer's life is in the West and will always be. And thus they begin a life of disappointment, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile. Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse. He is living in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried from a life lived happily-unhappily ever after.


It's a long book. It's a hard book; not word-wise, but emotionally, at least for me. It could have been me. It could have been Scott. I am imperfect, I am not the best wife for a quiet, intelligent, deep man... or am I? Was Susan? Maybe she was, and maybe I am. It is possibly our choices in life that make us perfect or not perfect for someone, not simply our temperaments. All I know is that I have read this book three times, and all three times I have found myself not merely tearing up, but quite literally sobbing throughout and especially at the end, not only over the plot line but the truths it has revealed. It is without question my favorite book. It is heartbreaking. It is real, it is honest.

I could never write a full review of it, for to do that would be to write a full review of the worst versions of my possible self, the versions that could have been me, that in an alternate universe might actually be me. I can never reveal those flaws of which I am too acutely aware my capacity of exposing. I'd rather keep those revelations securely bound between the covers of this remarkable book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Ways In Which Arkansas Wants To KILL You

With a severe weather warning season firmly upon us and after shooing a red wasp out of my car yesterday AND a suspiciously bulbous black spider with a violin on its back (red or white, which one is in under contract with Satan?), I decided it's time to make a list of some of the reasons I need to leave Arkansas.

Because Arkansas wants to KILL you.


1. Black Widows. It's like, it's not enough to just be a spider; it has to be an ugly, deadly one.
2. Brown Recluses. One that will destroy your flesh. Then kill you.
3. Red Wasps. So they may not kill you, but they will build their nests on your front porch and then attack you and sting the crap out of you. If they could talk, they'd have little collective demon voices.
4. Scorpions. So far, haven't seen one. But they are out there, and they are mean little bastards.
5. Ticks. Lyme Disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And they will leave their heads inside your flesh if you aren't careful. WTF?
6. Rattlesnakes. Deadly AND have that creepy Western movie prelude playing in the background. Cue tumbleweed. Then death.
7. Copperheads. Seriously, these guys THRIVE in my neighborhood. Domesticity doesn't phase them one bit.
8. Baby copperheads. These little buggers are even meaner than their mamas.  Like little Children of the Corn, but snakes.
9. High heat indexes. If all of the above doesn't kill you first, the 110°F in the middle of July and August ought to finish you off.  And if even that can't take you down...
10. Tornadoes. No, seriously. Not being funny. I am terrified.

I'm actually not sure how I survived my first twenty-two years of my life living in this state and now the last almost two. Living in Arkansas is like playing a never-ending game of Russian roulette, and surely my luck is going to run out soon.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

New Ink: Into the Looking Glass


A few weeks ago, my main squeeze and I went on a date, where we ate bison burgers and sweet potato fries dipped in marshmallow sauce, and got ourselves inked.

This was Scott's first tattoo, and it was a big deal. He got this:


(We've been kind of amazed at how few people have been able to figure out what it is.)

Me, this was my fourth tat, so not quite such a big deal.

As a reminder, I have a tattoo trio already of faith, hope, and love, all in Arabic calligraphy. And yes, I know enough Arabic to know that they all say exactly what I think they say. I may not remember much from my year of studying Arabic, but I still know enough. Enough to read something to you but not have a clue what it says.

I considered going a totally new direction for this fourth tattoo, leaving behind the Arabic calligraphy theme. I also considered seamlessly continuing with the Arabic calligraphy theme by getting the word peace in Arabic. But I kept turning around this other idea in my mind... a slightly cheesy, somewhat embarrassing idea, but one that really meant something to me.

Illusion.

It's a beautiful design. (I'm sorry I can't give credit to the person who designed it though, because she seems to have removed it from the web. I'm glad I downloaded it before she took it down. I wonder, does tattooing yourself compromise intellectual property rights?) This is also Arabic calligraphy. The idea of getting illusion tattooed on my skin did seem cheesy and possibly misleading, but at the last minute, it's the one I chose to go with.


I love it. However, the inevitable question has since popped up repeatedly: "What does it mean?"

An old friend once cautioned me never to get a tattoo that didn't mean anything, because you'd spend the rest of your life shrugging when asked that inevitable question. Those three squares on his arm mean nothing.

The word in Arabic, وهم (pronounced "wa-HEM-a") specifically means "illusion" but can be loosely translated in other ways. I've been finding it easier to loosely translate it as "imagination" for the average person on the street, rather than explain what "illusion" means to me.

But I'll explain it here.

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a fat girl. There, I said it.

The word "fat" is supposedly banned in our house. It's our family's f-word (and is way worse than the other one). I am so very against body shaming, so supportive of positive body image and loving your body... for everyone else but myself. I still look at myself and see a mess. Even though I'm now at a healthy weight and have a pretty healthy lifestyle (let's not discuss the Easter chocolate though, please), I still have very poor body image. It probably wouldn't matter if I lost yet another 30 lbs, I'd probably still see someone twice my actual size in my reflection.

I have to tell myself consciously, explicitly, daily, that this is an illusion.

What I see in the mirror is illusory. It's something my brain invents to tempt me to do all sorts of stupid things. I have to constantly tell my brain, You're wrong. I'm beautiful. I'm healthy. I love my body.

This tattoo now stares back at me in the mirror too. It tells me the same thing. I am healthy. I exercise regularly. I *generally* eat well. I am beautiful. Anything I believe about myself otherwise is an illusion.

It is الوهم.

But if I pass you on the street, and you ask me what it means, I'll probably just say "imagination". Because that's easier to admit.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Limited Time Only!

For all my faithful readers, I have a little treat for you.

My eBook of poetry, Meatloaf and a Rosary, is now FREE on Smashwords for a limited time only!

To get everyone excited about my upcoming book, I'm offering this free gift to my loyal readers (and anyone else who stumbles across the book too, I guess). It's very different from my new book; I published this while I was still a Christian and many of the poems in this book have been rewritten (and some will feature in my new book as chapter headings in their rewritten form). It's also poetry, which makes it, of course, different from my memoir.

Now I know, I know. Poetry isn't everyone's cup of tea... However, I highly recommend taking advantage of this free offer; you never know, poetry may actually grab you in ways you never expected! Simply click on the link provided above (or the image below) and download to whatever you have - a Kindle, an iPhone or just your PC. Vote with your, erm, download, to show me you're looking forward to my new book!

Remember- this is a limited time offer only. So go now. Go, go, go!

Monday, April 06, 2015

Church Signs To Make Your Skin Crawl

There's a church just down the road from me that needs my help.

Badly.

They change their signs weekly. I really, really wish I'd been photographing these slogans, but as soon as they are up, they are back down again. From now on, I make the commitment to photograph. Because it's just so sad.

They CANNOT spell.

A few weeks ago, the sign said "FORBIDEN FRUIT CREATES MANY JAMES!" I wanted desperately to remove the extra E and add a D. Then again, maybe it was a political statement. Maybe it was saying, "For Biden, fruit creates many, James!" Or something. I don't know. They've had spacing problems before.

Like a few weeks ago when they posted, "COME IN! GOD IS EXPECTING YOU!" But the spacing was all wrong and all I saw was "Come in! God i sexpecting you!" which of course, led some anonymous riff-raff to go and take away the first E and the I, making it "COM IN! GOD SEXPECTING YOU!" Sigh.

Today, the sign says:


"A FAMILY ALTAR CAN ALTAR FAMIY!" I get what they are doing here, I really do. But altar is different from alter. The first is a noun, the second a verb. If you want to be clever, you've just really got to spell like you're clever.

Also, did they run out of Ls or is that just another oopsie?

The other side is either another error, or just a really weird phrase.

We've all heard "Jesus loves me, this I know." But "Jesus knows me, this I know"? I don't get it. Maybe they are trying to turn a phrase. Or maybe they just got mixed up. Either way...

This church needs someone to review their signs before displaying. I'd do it for them for free. It's just gone well past humorous into cringe-worthy.

My heart actually hurts for their signs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Challenge Accepted! March Books

Another month down!

Last month, even being a short twenty-eight day one, I got in seven books. This month wasn't quite as ambitious, but I have good reason for it. I spent the first half of the month finishing my own book.  Which, incidentally, I figure checks off one of the categories of the reading challenge: A book that takes place in your hometown.

My hometown is Nowheresville. If there was ever a book set in my hometown, I don't think I'd even want to read it. Except... my book in set in my hometown and I think you should read it so... I take that back.

Regardless, I was never going to find such a book, so I'm ticking off my own book for that category.  After all, I've read it a gazillion times now, it ought to count.

So.... the first of four:.

Not the actual cover art
The Last Petal Falling by Lori Arnold McFarlane (A book that takes place in your hometown)
This book is, for lack of a better word, a memoir.  It takes you through my most formative religious experiences, starting from elementary school gospel sharing at the community pool to my spiritual revival at The Grove in college to the Day That Jesus Didn't Return. I've written the book in a sensitive and non-confrontational way, even as I describe the anger and disillusionment I experienced during my early post-Christian days, for my aim is not and never will be to needlessly attack believers of any faith, however much we may disagree. It's just to tell my own story and show others with similar ones that they are not alone.

If it's possible to be diplomatic and unbiased towards my own book (it's not), and if you'll spare thinking me a narcissist (I'm really not), this book is a book to read if:
A) you've BTDT (been there done that)
B) you've never been religious and don't understand how religious people can believe things so unbelievable or
C) you are a Christian and want to understand how a devout Christian could ever possibly turn away from the faith.

I was always in the latter category, believing that those who turned away "were never saved to begin with". I'd like to think this book, at the very least, will push that envelope, if only just a little. Clearly there will be a plethora of responses to dismiss my "salvation" or to reason away my experience by pointing at all my foibles and follies, and I fully expect that, it's the nature of the business of bearing your soul to the masses.  I just hope it will at least open eyes just a little wider to the reality that so many comfortable religious people face when life gets real.

*Once I've completed the publishing stages - I'm going to self publish - I'll include a link from which you can all go purchase it! Likely it will be e-book only to start (gah, I hate e-books), but I'm looking into Print On Demand options as well.


The rest of the books I read in March all followed a theme.  In February, a theme of hell and loss of faith emerged, but this time I found myself drawn to books about mental health.



I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg (A book from your childhood)
I read this book in high school as one of my additional reading requirements for AP English.  We had to choose from a list a certain number of extra books to read and take simple quizzes on, and I being the go-getter I was always chose the shortest, easiest books on the list. This one was relatively short but it was not easy, and it impacted me deeply as a teenager. Ever since then, I've thought of this book often and considered finding a copy of it to re-read but never did. Until now. And I'm so glad I did.

First of all, I don't know how much of the book I possibly could have really understood in high school. Maybe I was more intuitive and empathetic than I remember, but the book is so full of complex and difficult concepts, I just wonder if I really understood it the way I do now.

One thing I know for sure: I can relate to it better this time around.

The story revolves around Deborah, a seventeen year old schizophrenic in a mental hospital.  She lives in between two worlds - Yr, the land in her mind, and Earth - and the constant coming and going is agonizing. She wants to be fully Yri but the other world keeps pulling her back without her consent. Her greatest battle in the hospital is sharing Yri secrets with her therapist, whom she grows to love and trust,and is possibly the first person she's ever loved or trusted, and the horrible backlash from the Yri gods that this betrayal earns her. It's a beautifully complex and delicate book.  I absolutely loved it again upon this second read and highly recommend it.

The book deals a lot with mental illness versus mental health.  It's a great novel even if you just read it for the plot, but the themes are really thought-provoking too. I'll just share one of them that spoke most powerfully to me.

The girls on the ward naturally despise certain nurses and are naturally drawn to others. While the aides themselves don't know what motivates these seemingly random responses, Deborah does. The nurses and aides that are the easiest targets are the ones the girls recognize as afraid. Not only afraid of the girls in the ward but afraid of themselves. They are the ones who fear they too could end up as crazy as these lunatics, and they clutch their keys tightly in their fists as proof that they are not stuck on the inside like the nuts but are still living on the outside, still "normal".  The other aides, however, the ones the girls felt protective of, were the ones who knew they were only a few steps away from crazy and were comfortable with this fact. These attendants didn't hover in suspicious groups or exercise their authority with violence or clutch their jingling rings of proof in their pockets. They smiled, shook their heads, told the girls off, maintained control (as best they could) and earned rather than demanded respect. They knew they weren't all that different, but they did have a job to do, and they were going to do it right.

I get this. I totally do. I'm not sure if I realized this as a sixteen year old, but as a thirty-three year old, I recognize that I'm really just one or two breakdowns away from crazy myself.  It could happen at any time. In fact, isn't depression a mental illness? Isn't body dysmorphia?  If I have mild cases of both, I must realize that all it would take to put me over the edge is a nosedive into either or both of those trenches.  At the moment, the only thing keeping me from either is the decision (which is remade regularly) to choose health over illness.

This is the other really powerful insight the book offers. Deborah's therapist tells her that once Deborah has experienced both mental illness AND health, she will have a choice. She can choose Yr but will likely want to choose Earth. For now, she has never experienced health, so has no frame of reference for wanting to choose it. Yr is familiar and safe; the world is mean and terrifying; that's all she knows. But once she has experienced both, the therapist is confident that Deborah will choose health.  It will be the hardest choice she'll ever make, and one she'll make over and over and over again, but she will finally for the first time have an actual choice.

I think that's profound.

There is nothing simple about choosing health. It's not as easy as choosing baked chicken over pizza. It not only feels unreachable, it feels undoable. For one experiencing mental illness (and who has at least known what it was like to be well at some other point in life), be it depressive or psychotic or what have you, the choice may be visible far off in the distance but unreachable.  To make all the efforts and take all the steps that it would require to start the slow, difficult journey towards that unreachable goal seems impossible. Once you are in the throes of mental illness, it is a painful, seemingly impossible uphill climb to get out of it.  It's much less exhausting to remain sick.  At least that's my own experience.

However, once you've made that climb, however you managed it, it's important to daily make the choice to stay on top.  I've felt myself slipping so many times, yet reading this book, and now thinking of it as a choice (again, not an easy, flippant choice) has had a huge impact on me. It's far more worth it to fight slipping into depression, even though it takes so much out of me, than to effortlessly glide right back down into it (it's so easy to glide) and find myself at the bottom again looking up in desperation with no idea how to get out.

I'm going to post more on this later. I might get a lot of negative feedback on my interpretation of this, and disagreements are welcome! I recognize that my experiences are mild compared to so many others and value other opinions and comments.

And that leads us to...

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (A popular author's first book)
While Sylvia Plath published books of poetry prior to The Bell Jar, this was her first "novel", so I'm going to use that definition to check off this category.

This wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I'm still not sure how to interpret it.  It's basically a vaguely fictionalized autobiography, so I don't doubt anything in it. I'm just surprised by how, well, normal she was. In fact, maybe I'm even impressed. After reading I Never Promised You... above, a book where mental illness was explicit and strange, reading about a depressed, suicidal girl who "had it all" and, on the surface of it and in the eyes of others, had "no reason" to break down, was unexpected. But it plays into the same idea that any of us are just a few feet away from crazy.  She broke down, and not over any particular traumatic event, but simply from mental and emotional overload - or underload - or who even knows what.  She just happened to walk those extra steps that you or I haven't walked yet... but could. At any time.

I didn't love this one nearly as much as I Never Promised You... but I did really like it for its own worth. The most disturbing - and eye-opening - aspect of this book to me was her relationship with suicide.  We sometimes tend to think of suicide victims as morose and wearing lots of black or perhaps as social outcasts who cry alone all day in bed.  I'm not saying this doesn't accurately portray some suicidal people, but it doesn't cover the hidden majority.  In reality, studies have shown that those who actually go through with committing suicide tend to be very detached from the idea of death. They buy their bus tickets in the morning even though they plan to die that night.  They fill the fridge with groceries, all the while planning their deaths in very pragmatic terms. It's a matter of practicality. It's frightening.  It's life in the bell jar.


Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (A memoir)
All these books about mental illness brought to mind the movie Girl, Interrupted with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. I was pretty sure it was a novel first, so I searched for it, and found it, on Amazon.  I did not realize it was a memoir! I had assumed it was fiction. Being Susanna Kaysen's actual story (complete with hospital notes) made it far more interesting.

It doesn't read like a story. There is no narrative threading the story together.  I didn't even really feel there was an arc or climax, and at the end, she just sort of "got better".  No real discussion of how or why.  She just kind of did.  Instead, each chapter is either a vignette, a bit of commentary on a subject or a combination.  The little stories are colorful (and are what make up the plot for the movie), and the commentary is relatively interesting. Considering "borderline personality disorder" is such a vague diagnosis, she admits she finds it hard to discuss, for either she feels she is defending her diagnosis and trying to "prove" she was crazy or she ends up playing it down as nothing, which she knows wasn't true at all. All she knows is she wasn't well, and she did have some episodes of "crazy", but "borderline personality disorder" doesn't explain much of anything at all, which she laments.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as I Never Promised You... or even The Bell Jar, but I could relate.  I sometimes feel when discussing my own issues with depression or body dysmorphia or my relationship with eating, I am stuck between apologizing for not really having that big of a problem (when I know that's not true) or feeling like I'm defending my problems and making them appear bigger than they are in order to prove that they are valid and worthy of comment.  I heard an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with a journalist who suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after witnessing an assault on a woman. (She wrote a book about it.) The media tore her apart, claiming she had no right to suffer PTSD after merely witnessing an assault, when others had been through so much worse. She explains that it's not a contest, and people with PTSD do not discount other sufferers' trauma just because one experience was more violent or horrific than another. Suffering is suffering, to whatever degree and whatever the reason.  I think that's what Kaysen is getting at in this book. Her crazy looked different from another person's crazy which looked different from yet another person's, but at the end of the day, it's all real and it's all valid and it's all worthy of recognition.



And that, my friends, takes me down to 35 books to go!

P.S. I'm also trying to finish The Restaurant At the End of the Universe, the second book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series by Douglas Adams.  But since the rest of the series doesn't tick off any boxes, I probably won't review them. But I'm still reading them!

To see what else I have read this year:
February
January

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Pride and Prejudice

I'm not a prejudiced person. I'm not racist or homophobic or sexist or a bigot.


Am I?

It's easy to test, right? Take homophobia, for starters. I am completely comfortable and at ease around gay people. I can make jokes without worrying I'm coming across as offensive. I don't wince when I see a man kiss a man or a woman kiss a woman. I support marriage equality. I totally get it; love is love and it doesn't bother me who loves whom. I can be totally myself around LGBT folks without feeling I have anything to prove - eg prove I'm not homophobic. Except... when I meet someone who is gay (either openly, obviously or assumedly), I immediately want them to know "we're cool". I immediately have the desire befriend them. Without even knowing them (knowing if they are nice or mean, boring or interesting, someone I'd have anything in common with or not), I want to like them, because, you know, "we're cool".

I have to wonder - is that just prejudice in reverse? Am I overcompensating somehow?

Or take sexism. Anti-feminist comments, sexist remarks and patriarchal attitudes infuriate me. I am completely against gender stereotypes and the boys-will-be-boys mentality or the pretty-in-pink girly girl thing. I believe women are just as capable as men, and men are just as capable as women. Yet when I first heard about the documentary Women Aren't Funny, my very first thought was they aren't. Replaced immediately by self slap on the hand and a recognition that that's exactly the problem; even we women are accepting the anti-female attitudes and lies. Or the first time I met a stay-at-home-dad, I had to correct my knee-jerk mental reaction dead beat.

Does having that instant reaction to women (or men) mean I'm actually a total sexist?

Take racism. I'm not racist. People are people, skin color is decoration. But I live in the whitest of white towns, and I am white. I acknowledge - with embarrassment - that I've got white privilege just dripping all over me. My parents and grandparents, while not wealthy, have also had white privilege serve them well, so somewhere down the line, my parents, easily obtaining jobs and living in nice, fairly safe towns, never being sent to inferior schools and forced to drink out of special water fountains, were fortunate enough to send me to private school for several years, pay for school trips to Boston and mission trips all over the world, and later pay for the college tuition left over after my scholarships, which has left me a well educated and well traveled young woman. Since then I've easily obtained many jobs, I've been pulled over a couple of times by police officers but sent on my way with just a warning, I've never been viewed suspiciously by strangers because of my hair or skin, and even when I totally look like I'm shoplifting by putting my hands in my coat pockets, I've never been questioned. In fact, my whiteness has been so advantageous that I actually don't even have a clue what setbacks black people or other minorities experience day to day in areas I take totally for granted.

When I start to dwell on just how lucky it is to be white in the United States, I feel guilty. Isn't "white guilt" just another branch of racism?

Or when I walk out of a store late at night in one of the surrounding non-white towns, and I see a group of black guys hanging around the parking lot looking at me and I feel an instant pang of worry followed by an instant rebuke of "wow, that was racist of me". Does this prove I am actually racist? Maybe, but I hope not. I mean, I immediately realize that any group of guys staring at me while I'm alone and vulnerable will make me feel nervous (because while I might be white, I am also female), but maybe I'd be less worried if they were white guys instead...

Isn't that racist too?

So, I often ask myself, am I a prejudiced person after all?

Do our first gut reactions of discomfort or disdain of the unfamiliar make us bigots? Or is it the following moments of realization and restructure that count for more and better define how tolerant we actually are?

A picture recently went viral of a woman in a bikini that had everyone cheering this mom on for being confident enough to show her imperfect belly on the internet. I was annoyed by the sexism implied - yay, a woman is showing her body and it's kind of flabby, good on her! - as if perfect bodies are the norm and she was a trailblazer for being imperfect. The question was asked, do people judge women for their bodies or do women just perceive they are being judged? (The answer is both.) My friend admitted that her first instinct often IS to judge, followed immediately by a self-check of non-judgment. I didn't think she was being anti-feminist by this admission; she was being honest. Human. Is it simply human to not understand what is not known? Is it going beyond human instinct to recognize we are uncomfortable by what is not known and to correct those feelings when we discover them?

I used to be uncomfortable with gay people. I couldn't get out of my head the idea of "ew, boys and boys in bed together". It was as if I assumed the whole point of their existence was to be gay. It wasn't until I realized my faulty thinking and began checking my discomfort over and over that I was finally able to see gay people as just people, like me. Who really are more than their sexual orientation.

I used to be very un-feminist. I believed women weren't funny or good musicians, and that they were unfit for leadership (because they were too emotional) and were designed to be helpmates for men. It wasn't until I recognized this faulty thinking and began to check myself over and over that I began to shed this socially ingrained attitude towards gender that I became comfortable with gender equality (and gender identity, which is something I am still in the process of checking myself on). I realized men and women, girls and boys, cisgender or trans, are just people, like me. Who are actually more than their gender.

I used to be uncomfortable around black people. When I left high school, I went to university and joined a gospel choir. I had never, in my white high school life, been in the minority until I joined that choir, where there were forty or fifty black students to seven of us whites. It was there that I realized how uncomfortable I was around black people (and how embarrassed I was for having come from such a segregated town). I realized that while I knew us all to be the same, I felt consciously different, separated by culture. I began to check myself and acknowledge when I felt "other". Since then I've come to recognize that racism in the US hasn't expired, and that it happens in ways I don't even notice. Like with sexism, some things are so socially ingrained, I don't always notice their effects or influence, but when I do notice, I check myself, restructure my thinking, because people of all colors are really just people, like me. Who are much more than their skin color.

So the question I wrestle with is: Are we all actually to greater or lesser degrees prejudiced people? Aren't we all, by default, bigots? Until we recognize the biases we have inside our own minds and hearts, we cannot help looking at the "other" as something to distrust. It's probably evolutionary, but we've long since out-grown the need for it and now it's just a roadblock, cordoning off the road to progress.

I'd like to believe that the more we each individually open our own eyes to our own prejudices, peel away the deep layers of fear and distrust, and teach the next generation how to do the same, our society will grow into a much more inclusive one, where "otherness" is something we love and enjoy and use to our advantage rather than quake and fight over.

I think it's okay to say I'm not a prejudiced person, because in my heart I don't want to be.




P.S. To follow up with a little bit of light-heartedness...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Believe in the Traditional Definition

Marriage, ya'll.

In case you're just joining us here, I'm a person born with lady parts married to a person born with man parts. If you need proof, we have three biological children which can be verified as ours genetically through a simple DNA test. (No, I will not actually let you verify this via testing, so you're just going to have to trust me from here on out about that.)

So, just letting you know where I'm coming from.

I am also a very strong advocate for marriage equality. I 100% understand the arguments against it; I just think they are irrelevant. I think it is completely irrelevant whether one disapproves of homosexuality or not; it's not about approval or disapproval but about equal civil rights. If you are morally opposed to same-sex marriage, fine! Cool! Preach against it! Tell us all what you believe!! You can still be legislatively in favor though. Because - and maybe I'm going out on a limb, but I hope not - you are likely a really nice chap who really loves mankind and realizes that people are different, even if in your humble opinion they are wrong.


Last night I inadvertently kicked off yet another argument on Facebook (because somehow I can't post anything remotely political or religious, even if it's just about Hillary Clinton and includes the disclaimer "should be read by liberals", without causing an insurrection) and the subject rolled around to marriage equality, among other things.

Ahem.  Briefly, please, adjust Serious Volume to 10:

I am so tired of civil rights still being an argument. The bitter taste of Jim Crow is still on our lips; we are not so far past it to that we can forget how churches preached racism from the pulpit and legislation was passed to condone it. The generation before me can still remember the freedom fighters and the day the Civil Rights Act was passed and where they were when they heard of Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination. In the almost fifty years since, churches are still blushing at the way they preached against integration and interracial marriage and in large part have changed their practices and beliefs for the better.

And yet here we are again, banning legislation that would free LGBT human beings from discrimination and refusing to allow them equal rights. It's embarrassing. It just is.

Readjust Serious Volume.

So, after this uprising on Facebook, I got to thinking. This whole marriage equality thing could be put to rest if we could just think about it all in the context of...

Books.


I personally believe in the traditional definition of a book.

book

1. written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.

2. a bound set of blank sheets for writing or keeping records in.

A book, as far as I'm concerned, is something I can hold in my hands, something I can smell, something that is beautiful and lasting. I cannot fathom why ANYONE would be attracted to...

An e-book.

e-book

1. an electronic version of a printed book that can be read on a computer or handheld device designed specifically for this purpose.

E-book?? I mean, what? Why? WHAT could be the attraction of an e-book? It is so... plain. So cold. There is no personality to an e-book. I will never be able to understand why anyone would look at a beautifully designed hardcover book with it's slick, attractive slip cover and it's crisp white pages covered in perfectly justified text printed in black ink, that fits perfectly on display on a bookshelf, and then look at an e-book, which isn't even a thing, and choose the e-book. I just don't get it.

But you know what?

If reading e-books floats your boat, knock yourself out. If for some crazy, depraved reason, you'd rather choose an e-book over a paperback, well by all means, go buy your Kindle, download a few e-books and read it to your heart's content. What you do in your personal reading time has no bearing on mine. I may not understand it, I may not like it, I may think reading e-books is pretty much a mortal sin, but I'm not the perpetrator. As long as you don't try to take away my physical books, I won't try to take away your digital ones.


People, gay couples getting married doesn't affect straight ones. It's not about beliefs or trying to usurp them or infringe upon them. People do not have to approve. One's deity does not have to approve. But we do not live in a theocracy. We live in a democracy, one that includes people who are different from each other, with different beliefs and different feelings and experiences. And those different people, have rights. They just do. They don't want to insult anyone else's experiences or beliefs. They just want what everyone else is allowed to have. They want equality.

Blacks wanted equality and had to fight hard (wait, "had" in past tense? sorry, "HAVE" to fight hard) for it. We are (or ought to be) embarrassed about this. Do we need to run around in the same circle again with our gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (etc) friends and fellow Americans? Really? Because the Bible tells me so? (Repeat: Civil Rights Act. Embarrassing, shameful times.)

Oops, forgot to ask you to adjust that Serious Volume there. Anyway.

Can't we just let people read whatever kind of books they like to read? Please? So we don't have to be embarrassed again in fifty years by our backwardness?

Ta.

P.S. Did you know some people like paper books AND e-books? Crazy.
P.P.S. I do not think e-books are the same as gay people, because, well, that's just illogical.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Why, Hello There.

So those of you who follow my blog (blessings to you all), I apologize for my recent silence.

I just finished writing my book. I am empty of words!

In fact, even just gathering up the energy to type a short little blog post to say "Hi, I'm still here! Haven't been hit by a bus or caught malaria or fallen into a deep depression over the sudden loss of purpose now that my book is complete!"

(That last one is a very real possibility, though.)


I have, however, been spending my time:

1. Reading.

2. Playing horsey on the floor with Jaguar. (I feel I sort of abandoned him in those last weeks, where I submerged myself in writing, coming up only for air and cups of tea made by my long-suffering husband.)

3. Showering. Did you know that writing makes you forget to shower? (Too much information?)

4. Eating desserts, which I always regret the next day like a bad hangover.

5. Sewing. I made myself a bunch more bookmarks (I might have the Guiness World Record on how many bookmarks I now own) and headbands and even a Spiderman skirt, which I was going to wear the other day when it got really warm, but then the cold front came in behind it, and also Jaguar is offended by my wearing Man-Man on a skirt and keeps trying to yank it off me, saying "Mine! Mine!"

6. Selling Girl Scout cookies with my daughters. (Going once, going twice! One more week!)

7. Watching Netflix. I missed Netflix in those last few weeks.

8. Book Clubbing. Okay, it was one night, but dang, I love book club and the book club girls!



I promise you some substance soon, and even have a blog post in my mind waiting to be put down in actual print (type?).

Until then, thanks for supporting me! I am doing all the post-writing crap that goes into publishing a book (and I'm thinking, if I started a GoFundMe, would people actually send me money to get my book professionally edited? Because it's, like, not cheap) but I will have my book available to order soon. Probably in god-forsaken ebook format to begin with. I am sorry. I apologize to the book gods for that. But unless you guys REALLY want to hook me up with a few thou for printing, it's gotta be ebook. I'll send you a bookmark if you purchase it (that you won't be able to use because it's a freaking ebook).

Anyway, thanks for all your support, dear readers!