Mar 20, 2014 - World Religions    No Comments

Quid Pro Quo

I went to college with Fred Phelps.

I went to the University of Kansas for school, and he went there with his congregation to protest the Big Gay Agenda. He held signs promising us a swift trip to Hell in front of the liberal arts building where my first out gay friend and I boywatched together on the broad, sunny plaza known as Wescoe “Beach”. He protested outside the Kansas Union where I got gouged on textbooks—believe me, I wished to protest those days too.

And to my everlasting mystery, he picketed and shouted outside every single one of my college choir concerts. Monteverdi’s Vespers. Tallis’ soaring, complex 40-part motet. Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Franz Biebl’s achingly beautiful “Ave Maria”, sung at every Christmas concert. The greatest music ever composed—most of it commissioned and performed for the greater glory of God—earned his scorn without fail. Not that he ever heard a note of it.

Obviously, this defies logic, as did his entire mission in life. Logic has little to do with fear and hate. To Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, all that mattered was the existence of LGBT people living happy, honest lives on and around the KU campus. Do liberal arts and the fine arts department have a particularly higher number of them? Who knows.

In any case, a kind tradition developed among the upper- and underclassmen at KU. The first time freshmen encountered the WBC was usually on Jayhawk Boulevard. The placards they held proudly weren’t the only statements they made; they said hateful, hurtful things to anyone who walked by. Many freshmen felt compelled to stop and try to reason with them, to ask them to reconsider their beliefs—especially if they had children with them (which they usually did). Reason turned to frustration as the students met their implacable, mile-high wall of bigotry and conviction.

Just as fury began to ignite, some upperclassman would approach and put a gentle arm around the freshman’s shoulders. “Come with me,” they’d say quietly as they guided them away. Out of earshot, the older student would say something compassionate and honest about futility and self-care, irrationality and good intentions. With a pat on the shoulder, they’d go their separate ways: one gratified at having done a good deed, the other sadder but wiser for the experience.

In a year or two, they’d be the older students, guiding another generation of freshmen away from Phelps.

I don’t hate Fred Phelps—he hated enough for a million people’s million lifetimes. I don’t believe he’s in Hell, because I don’t believe in Hell. But if God is Love in the Christian Gospel, he spent his whole life away from God, which is the very definition of Hell in many religions. And he died in a world that more lovingly and openly welcomes the whole selves of LGBT people than it did when he began his work, so he must have known that his mission was an abject failure. He was even abjured by his own flock on his deathbed, after watching many of his own children and grandchildren defect from his church (and even Christianity, in a few cases) over the years. When you pursue scorched earth policies, all you have left at the end is a whole lot of scorched earth.

I know the immeasurable psychological and spiritual harm his hate has caused people over the years, but I don’t rejoice in his death. I don’t want to dance on his grave. I think he would take it as a sign of his righteousness if hundreds of people picketed his funeral with profanity and disrespect. The silence of business-as-usual in Topeka that day would be the most effective punishment of all.

But he wished my friends and me dead at every one of my choir concerts. And I find I have the urge to sing towering works of glory and beauty where he lies dead.

Feb 10, 2014 - Social Studies    2 Comments

Denial of Service: A Modest Proposal

I’M GOING TO FIND YOU AND KILL YOU.

I WILL RAPE YOUR WIFE AND MURDER YOUR CHILDREN.

YOU SHOULD DO THE WORLD A FAVOR AND COMMIT SUICIDE.

It’s not hard to find violent online threats these days. In fact, it was much harder for me to make up examples without the filthiest language humanity can conjure. Whether it’s a sports player who misses a critical play, a programmer speaking honestly about misogyny in the tech industry, or a woman of color pointing out convergence of sexism and racism in society, critics—often people with no discernible stake in the subject—spew the vilest threats and insults. It’s not always men, and it’s not always anonymous.

The cost is too high. This behavior drives valuable voices out of the public conversation, along with the perspectives they might bring to important discussions. We lose their stories, their insights, even solutions for situations that damage us all.

“What can we do, though?” people ask. “It all comes down to freedom of speech.” In this, as has been pointed out by many people, most folks are mistaken. The First Amendment to the US Constitution only guarantees the right to speak freely against the government, without fear of arrest or other retribution from the State. Freedom of speech in no way guarantees freedom from consequence. Sure, we’ve expanded this right to free expression to cover some of the most grotesque public statements, such as those by the Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan. But people have learned that the best way to exercise their own rights against them is to to create effective counter-protests. From the Angels whose wings block out the sight of hateful signs to miles-long biker escorts for soldiers’ funerals, we’ve found ways to allow hateful speech but deny its effectiveness.

So that’s what I’m proposing for online abusers. Every person who sees someone use threatening, terrorizing speech online should take a moment to reply, message, or tweet a simple phrase questioning that behavior. If just ten people responded in this way every time, to each user they see engaging in uncivil behavior, it would send the clear message that the Internet is not blindly permissive or a safe shield for violent behavior.

It does not need to be profane—“What is wrong with you?” It does not need to attack them personally—insulting their race, gender, parentage, or sexual orientation only lowers you to their level. It does not need to perpetuate harmful stereotypes of mental illness—“If you think saying these things is okay, you’re totally wrong” is just as effective as “You must be a psychopath” or “You must be crazy”.

There’s only one catch: You can’t pick and choose when to do this. You can’t wait until it’s someone whose politics you disagree with; we must be even more critical of our allies as we are our enemies. You can’t leave certain areas alone, with the excuse that “that’s the culture there”. If people are willing to say horrid things in one place, there’s a high likelihood they’re willing to do it elsewhere. And you can’t wait for other people to do this for you. If you want online spaces to be better, it has to start with you.

Good people can deliver a Denial of Service attack on people who cannot follow basic rules of human-heartedness. With enough people doing this, not only will there be plenty of voices against every hateful speaker, but there’ll also be plenty of the emotional support that’s needed when you look darkness full in the face. It’s not a perfect solution, but it couldn’t be much easier to start. If you’re receiving threats, share them publicly, so we know who to respond to. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and give it when requested. Remember your own compassion when you do.

Maybe I’m sounding too much like Pollyanna here, but the Internet doesn’t have to be a cesspool. So many of us have met wonderful people who enrich our world there. Let’s use that community to support those who suffer its inhumanity.

Meltdown in the frozen north

Our rental managers at Como Park Apartments stepped up to offer day-long activities for the apartment complex’s kids when school closed this week. This came as very welcome news, as our car remained resolutely opposed to starting in the sub-zero temperatures. Big-hearted community efforts like this keep us here when, to be honest, we could use a little more room—there just isn’t anywhere else with neighbors and management who give each other such close-knit support.

Monday was grand, and the DH and I got loads of work done while the boys played the day away at the party room. They came back with tales of new friends and pizza-sauce stains on their faces. Tuesday seemed to be headed the same way, but at 2, my cell phone rang. “I need you to come down,” our neighbor said. “Connor’s having a meltdown.”

When we got there, he was sitting in a corner with two of the staff who were talking calmly despite his sobbing. I helped him up and hugged him tight, despite his wet swim clothes, then convinced him to come sit with me so we could talk more easily. I held him until his breathing and tears slowed, then we started to dissect the series of events that left him so upset. A scare from some horseplay in the pool, combined with embarrassment over his friends seeing him cry, kicked it off. But it was the clever liar of depression that told him everyone hated him, that he was a waste of space, and he should just die.

While it was good that the DH and I were home so we could reach him quickly, the neighbors and staff had done everything exactly right. That’s far from guaranteed when it comes to folks who don’t deal with autistic or mentally ill kids every day, and I wanted to take a moment to write about what they did and how it might have made the difference between a bumpy patch and a potential disaster.

First, the adults recognized that he was starting to meltdown. In my experience, this looks different from a regular episode of angry or sad crying; instead of falling apart, getting limp, or long wailing, a kid in meltdown usually winds tighter, with shallower breathing and critical self-talk in an escalating pattern. They may lash out at people who try to get close, or even throw things, but they’re generally not interested in hurting anyone but themselves. The best case scenario is to derail the meltdown, and distraction is the best way to do it. Give the kid something to play with, like a fidget or craft—one friend kept knitting in her bag when she worked with a child who found the motion soothing. Strike up a conversation on a common interest, ask questions. If they’ll accept a hug or something heavy for some comforting pressure, that helps too, but it’s rarely the right move to force physical contact.

If you can’t de-escalate, safety is critical. Thoughts that hurt as much as the ones that bubble up in meltdown make a person want to flee, and they may bolt for the door, or try to hurt themselves, or both. Connor had been in the swimming pool, and tried to drown himself when his self-loathing got so heavy so fast. Once they had him out of the water, he wound his scarf around his neck; they got it away from him. He ran to the far end of the balcony, and they sat with him. Location, tools, and support—they had the bases covered.

Third, they stayed calm. Kids in meltdown are loud, and sometimes they’re saying things you don’t want to hear: dark things, angry things, scary things. The temptation to talk over them, to force reason atop their disorder until both of you are screaming, is powerful. But it doesn’t help. Even your silent presence, steady and resolute if non-communicative, is better than pushing them toward a brink they might not otherwise approach. Mostly, they just need to spill. Don’t silence, don’t argue—the storm will blow itself out if it’s not being fed.

We’re grateful for many things on the good days, but sometimes a bad day turns up a cause for thanks too. I can’t say enough good things about the compassion and quick-thinking our neighbors showed in a situation that’s hard to manage even with years of experience. The same factors, managed with indifference or inattention, could have yielded tragedy I can’t bear to think about. Every parent knows that sending a kid out into the world on their own is to live with your heart beating outside your own chest. Having the right understanding of a meltdown situation can equip you to handle other people’s hearts and children with care.

Dec 31, 2013 - Psychology    1 Comment

My New Year’s Revolutions

Most of the time, autocorrect takes us further from the truth, to hilarious effect. But every once in a while, it reveals a deeper wisdom. Today, that message shows up as autocorrect turns everyone’s New Year’s resolutions into New Year’s revolutions.

That substitution may make some people uncomfortable. A resolution is a low-bar challenge. It’s self-enforced, so if (or when) you stray from your resolve, the only person let down is you.

On the other hand, revolution is naturally unsettling because it throws out the status quo, and it frequently happens on someone else’s timetable.  Revolutions have ripples that go beyond your sight—if you start a revolution, expect it to have unintended consequences. And above all, revolutions strike at the heart of the systems that oppress us.

These statements may not seem like much to you, but each one of these things is something that defies a message or expectation I’ve received in the last year, many of them fostering doubt, shame, and worthlessness deep in my heart.

So, in these hours before 2014 begins, here are my New Year’s Revolutions:

  • I will say something out loud, to another person, about my beauty everyday.
  • I will work out more to recapture my stamina, not to lose weight.
  • I will listen without talking so I can learn from people whose lives and voices are not like my own.
  • I will answer questions fearlessly about myself and my story, so others know they are not alone.
  • I will begin to give my eldest son a comprehensive, emotionally-grounded sex education so he knows that that part of himself is not a source of mystery or shame as he grows into it.
  • I will work on yelling less.
  • I will not apologize for prioritizing self-care above overcommitment.
  • I will actively work to rewrite my unrealistic standards for self-worth.
  • I will not denigrate or be afraid to lift up my skills and accomplishments.
  • I will build stronger, more responsive connections in the groups where I work and play.
  • I will keep showing up for issues and communities outside my own.
  • I will create works of information, imagination, and enjoyment, even if they’re only for me.
  • I will make my voice and presence a powerful force in the halls of government and the streets of our community.
  • I will not accept or internalize shame for the way my family and I live, and what we value.

Dear Santa, You Suck

I was 5 when I figured out the Easter Bunny wasn’t real. It wasn’t that I failed the suspension of disbelief–it was that I noticed the Easter Bunny had the same handwriting as my aunt that year. In my usual, filterless way, I started to announce my observation, but my mom clapped a hand over my mouth and dragged me toward the bathroom like she was making off with the Lindbergh Baby.

To her everlasting credit, she didn’t lie to me. I asked if EB was real; she said no. I remember scrunching up my face, heaving a sigh, and saying, “Santa too?” She nodded silently, then issued the death threat to end all death threats if I wrecked the “magic” for my sibs and cousin. I got it, and we left the bathroom as co-conspirators. In the years that followed, ones of poverty and divorce, I knew that magic didn’t put presents under our tree. I knew that my brother’s Cabbage Patch Kid and my sister’s Barbie Dream House didn’t come from a workshop–they came from year-long savings and a tiring wait in line at the toy store. And I liked the thought of my mom sitting down to eat some milk and cookies after we’d all gone to bed on Christmas Eve. I knew she’d earned it.

When the Darling Husband and I set out to have children of our own, we thrashed out a lot of our game plan far in advance. One of those things was Santa, and the conclusion we reached was that we would never actively lie to our kids about the fat man’s existence. But we’ve done a whole lot of evasion and omission over the years. When they ask if Santa is real, we ask them, “What do you think?” When they ask how Santa knows where to find us when we travel, we ask them, “What tools would you use to find someone?”

This year, though, I’ve really had it. There are so many things about the Santa tradition that piss me off. Let’s leave alone for the purposes of this discussion the whole creepy, stalker, NSA-level spying, remorseless housebreaking aspect. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” should be giving kids nightmares, and making parents peruse home alarm systems instead of Brookstone catalogs.

My first objection is that Santa compliance is mandatory for American kids. Nobody knows how to leverage peer pressure like grade-schoolers, and woe betide the kid who has to explain why Santa doesn’t visit their house. Maybe it’s because their family celebrates Hanukkah or Diwali instead. But maybe it’s because they don’t have money for presents. Kids are quick to point out that how much you get from Santa is an indication of your worth and goodness. No presents means you are lacking as a person, and kids internalize that message along with the holiday mythology.

My second problem with Santa comes from his whole Modus Operandi. To get presents from Santa, you fill a letter with all the things you’re wishing for, stick it in a mailbox, and wait for your wishes to arrive. We don’t write Santa letters in our house, but the grandparents are quite the sticklers about wish lists. This process always begins with the paralysis of choice: they’ve been told all year long not to ask for things we can’t buy, but now they’re supposed to summon up all the things they’ve wished for in the last 12 months? We’ve tried to mitigate some of the stress by constructing categories, explaining that they should have things that are cheap, medium-priced, and crazy-go-nuts over-the-top. I’ve wished for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for the last 20 Christmases; my brother politely requests the Eiffel Tower every year. Recently, we’ve moved to a “Wear/Read/Play” model, which seems to function even better.

My third complaint is that Santa requires no gratitude. Since everything the man in the suit brings is magically constructed (apparently for free) in his workshop, and you get what you deserve, why be thankful? If Santa gets all the credit, kids don’t have any reason to think about what it costs for their loved ones to make those presents appear. Why is money so tight in November and January? Why does Mom look absolutely thrashed by December 26? As much as kids understand that a poor showing from Santa means that they’ve been bad, parents understand that if they don’t give enough presents, they’re failing a part of the parental contract laid out by society.

So that’s it, fat man–I’m cutting you off. This is the last year you get all the joy and none of the blame. I’m not falling for the line that taking away Santa will “deprive my children of a sense of wonder.” You know what they can feel wonder for? Real things, like nature, the cosmos, the infinitely woven tapestry of story and life that surrounds them. Instead of watching the NORAD website for Santa’s supposed location, we’ll bundle up and look at the cold, clear night sky.

When my kids get the things they want for Yule, they’ll know it’s because their parents worked hard, and that every gift cost real money that someone had to earn. They’ll learn the joy of giving by seeing and understanding why we’re happy that they’re happy with their gifts. The holiday magic will come from family stories and traditions, from the candles and songs on the darkest night of the year, and from the Time Lord with a Christmas special that we can feel good about our kids believing in.

Dec 3, 2013 - Literature    No Comments

Midwinter Tales, Part the First

Every holiday clustered around the winter solstice is about pushing back the dark with the promise of light. And the tool they all use is story, whether it’s the Maccabees or the Nativity or the Unconquered Sun. Story is what we turn to for warmth in the darkest depths of winter. It passes the long nights, and carries us out of the cold to anywhere our imaginations can take us.

In honor of the tradition of midwinter tales, I decided that every evening in December, I’ll post a video of myself reading a bedtime story. Some of them, I’ll do live as a Hangout On-Air at 6pm CDT. Others, I’ll tape in advance and post in the evening.

Some of the stories will be quiet and peaceful. Some will be funny and rambunctious. All of them will be favorites, read many times to me or my sons. I really can’t wait to share these stories with you all.

I’ll also be including links to Amazon for each book, through an Affiliate link that gives a portion of the book’s cost to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an organization that seeks to put autistics in the room with policy makers and media so our voices are heard on the issues that affect us directly. You’re also welcome to stick something in the Tuition Fund here on the blog if you want to support this project.

gargoylesThe first night, I read God Bless the Gargoyles by Dav Pilkey. You can watch it here: Midwinter Tales, 1 Dec 2013(You’ll want to move the video forward to 2:57 where the story starts. I accidentally went live before I finished dinking around with technical stuff.)

 

littleoneThe second night, I read I Love You, Little One by Nancy Tafuri. You can watch it here: Midwinter Tales, 2 Dec 2013

Spread the word, and let folks with kids know there are free bedtime stories online–maybe it’ll buy them a few minutes of peace during this busy season. I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoy reading.

A World of Hate

I knew Griffin had a bad day by the way he walked in the door after school Monday. Slow shuffle, hangdog expression, sad sad puppy eyes. “Rough day?” I inquired gently. He nodded, took his folder out of his backpack, and handed it over without a world.

I wasn’t surprised by the discipline slip. But I was absolutely flattened by what it said: “Griffin called another student the ‘n-word.'” I felt a wave of horror and nausea that it’s difficult to describe, which can’t be anywhere close to  how it feels to be on the receiving end of that slur.
“Griffin,” I demanded, “what n-word did you call someone?”

Eyes filling, lower lip trembling, he sobbed out, “NOOB!” before dissolving into a mass of tears and remorse in my lap.

I had to restrain my reflexive laughter in that moment, but I held him away from me for a second. “You said noob?! That’s what this is about?” He nodded, and collapsed against me again. I stroked his hair, and told him we’d get this straightened out, that “noob” isn’t really a bad word, though calling anyone any name isn’t a nice or friendly thing to do.

I went on to question him from a half-dozen oblique angles over the next half-hour, trying to figure out if he even knew the actual n-word. The kid isn’t above trying to lie to save his skin, but he’s pretty terrible at it, and the look of blank incomprehension at my suggestions were more telling than anything he might’ve said.

Finally, I asked him quietly, after a long silence, “Griffin, have you ever heard the word ‘nigger’ before?” He frowned and shook his head. After a few quiet moments, he asked in a whisper, “Is that the bad n-word?” I nodded and said, “You cannot ever, ever say that. It’s the most hurtful word there is.”

I got in touch with the school, seeking resolution. The staff and teachers there are outstanding, and they know the DH and I as the first line of enforcement when there’s any kind of behavior issue. We’ve been unfailingly cooperative, and they’ve been unfailingly kind and loving toward our kids. When we went in to talk this over with the principal and the cultural specialist, I expected that they would’ve found what we did.

But they said they’d questioned the kids present at the incident, and several of them said that Griffin did, in fact, use the real n-word, including one of Griff’s buddies, an African-American kid who couldn’t even say the word aloud when asked.

There is nothing about this incident I don’t hate to the core of my being. I hate that I cannot reconcile what I saw in Griffin when I talked with him about the name-calling, and what the school’s investigation found. I hate having to mistrust his narrative. I hate that I don’t think this will be able to be one of those funny stories we laugh about in the decades to come.

I hate that I was forced to speak a word to my child that I would never, ever say for any reason. I hate that someone might have already introduced him to it–maybe through a YouTube video of game play, maybe on the schoolyard.

I hate that I have to talk to a seven-year-old boy about racism in specific terms. I hate that the fact that he has more friends of color than white friends apparently didn’t protect him from this kind of violence. I hate that he may have made one of those friends aware of his own race and the sickness of heart that comes with it.

I hate that my personal and our family’s real lived values about equality and kindness frankly don’t count for anything in this situation. I hate that this happened in the middle of the most intensive racial equity work I’ve ever engaged in, work that’s made me feel like a soft, naked thing in a world of hedgehogs with quills of bias and bigotry and privilege that constantly draw blood on my aware, exposed heart.

I hate that I don’t know how to be a good parent in this situation. I hate that apparently, I haven’t known how to be one for longer than I imagined.

Hey, I blogged a thing somewhere else!

In light of the recent outrages from the shameless assplugs over at Autism $peaks (yes, I’m unhappy, why do you ask?), my friend Elsa asked if I’d do a piece for her bang-up awesome disability blog Feminist Sonar. You can find it here.

The biggest surprise for me was that my brain decided to go the cold, academic dismemberment of a faulty argument route, as opposed to the table-flipping screed I’d been expecting. In any case, I hope you find it illuminating.

Nov 12, 2013 - Social Studies    No Comments

Alone at the Ball

I’m participating in an intensive series of workshops on race called Beloved Conversations. It’s being hosted by a local Unitarian Universalist church, but it involves members of several other UU and African-American churches as well. The workshops have included large and small group conversations; the building of a series of timelines showing important racial/ethnic events of our city, our congregations, and our personal lives; and other activities.

So I wasn’t surprised when we were asked to line up for a Privilege Walk at Saturday afternoon’s session. In this exercise, people start in a straight line before being asked questions about advantages and disadvantages they’ve had in life, many of which are keyed to social privileges we receive by virtue of our birth. For advantages, participants are required to take one or two steps forward; for disadvantages, one or two steps back.

Different lists are more or less focused on racial privilege, but the one we used Saturday was more inclusive of gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and disability. As people fan out, patterns become undeniable: mostly white men at the front of the room, followed by men of color, then white women, and women of color at the back of the room. I’m used to being in the back third of the room, where white women from poor families and more advantaged women of color merge.

What I didn’t expect on Saturday was to be dead last, by one or two steps. It was just a function of the questions, not a significant worsening in my circumstances since the last time I did a Privilege Walk. There weren’t many questions about the advantages conferred by formal and cultural education, and the effort to include more forms of dis/advantage meant the hits just kept on coming.

Own stock or a trust fund in your name before age 21? Take a step forward.

Identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender? Take a step backward.

Given a car to drive yourself to high school? Take a step forward.

Have a visible or invisible physical disability? Take a step backward.

One or two paychecks from being broke? Take a step backward.

Told you are handsome or beautiful by complete strangers? Take a step backward.

It’s not that I didn’t take steps forward—I know my privilege. I’ve traveled, I’ve studied, I’ve received gifts from my parents and my race that benefitted me directly. But I felt a sudden, visceral solidarity with the women of color with whom I stood, and I admired their strength in the face of the challenges that put them there too. And as I stood there, looking at the backs of the other participants in these deep, meaningful conversations, I was filled with anger and helplessness at the accumulation of injustices that put me where I am.

It wasn’t even the first time this weekend I’ve felt profoundly alone in a room full of people I know. I attended the TakeAction Minnesota gala celebration Friday night. The three people I’d invited to join me ended up missing the event for a variety of reasons. While I literally couldn’t walk through the crowded social hour without bumping into someone I consider a friend, and I gave out as many hugs as I collected donation envelopes during the fundraising portion of the program, I was seated at a table of strangers, with other strangers at all the proximate tables. I whooped and hollered, stood and clapped, all throughout the program as beloved friends and fellow organizers paraded across the video segments and stage, but I felt it necessary to apologize for my enthusiasm to people who had none of the same connections in the room that I had. We weren’t celebrating the same year, and I felt isolated by my circumstances.

So there I was again, Saturday afternoon. Two members of the group noticed the silent tears streaming down my face, and each came over to hold me as they turned to quiet sobs of frustration and humiliation. Another took a few lateral steps to hold my hand throughout the rest of the discussion. Other participants who’d executed that awkward box step of advantage and disadvantage with me at the back of the room argued that the questions posed didn’t reflect anything beyond socio-economic values for privilege, while those at the front of the room grappled awkwardly with unasked-for entitlement and “luck” that attached to the chance of their birth. And one beloved friend argued that we at the back had an invisible advantage, that we were “all Cinderellas”—we belong at the ball, but we have a deeper reality we can return to, one that gives us a greater appreciation for those occasional invitations to the dance.

This might all come across as another white woman whining about her taste of the unfairness that people of color—especially queer women of color—live with every day. Maybe that’s true. But after the tears dried and the hurt dulled, what was left was an even deeper commitment to tearing down the walls that keep those of us at the back of the room apart. We know more about each others’ struggles, despite the differences of neighborhood and skin color, than we do about what it’s like to be one of the people at the front of the room. We can be present and supportive for one another in ways that are deeply meaningful. We can see to each other’s representation in critical public discussions about our neighborhoods, schools, congregations, and democracy.

We Cinderellas gotta stick together.

Oct 28, 2013 - Psychology    No Comments

Who on earth are you?

Our amazing minister, the Rev. Victoria Safford, preached a sermon this morning that asked a very existential question: “Who are you?” The funny thing to contemplate is that only at Halloween do we ask one another—even the very youngest in our midst—and accept with gravity and respect whatever answer we receive. In the spirit of revealing my true self in a time of masquerade, I thought I’d answer the question.

I am a woman. I am a daughter and sister, both biological and by marriage. I am a mother. I am still fertile. I am done having children. I am violently ill when I use hormonal birth control.

I am a wife. I am a partner. I am faithful. I am dedicated. I am a believer in true love. I am wildly, impossibly lucky.

I am an educator. I am a teacher of history, and religions, and languages, and rhetoric. I am an academic, conversant in the jargon of the ivory tower. I am a bit lost when I can’t practice my vocation. I am committed to learning everyday. I am a repository of vast stores of mostly useless information.

I am a creator. I am a writer. I am a musician. I am crafty, but not very handy. I am incapable of drawing a horse. I am at home in the kitchen. I am a fan of romance novels, the Muppets, lesbian erotica, rules-light roleplaying games, and morbid humor.

I am a bit of a slob, and a lot of a pack rat. I am convinced I am preserving valuable artifacts for future generations. I am a devotee of the chaos theory of organization. I am fond of folding fresh, hot laundry. I am reluctant to shower every day. I am in need of a housekeeper.

I am in pain every minute of every day. I am willful and heedless of my own limits sometimes. I am frustrated with the unpredictability of my disease. I am bad at self-care. I am disappointed that I cannot do more.

I am blessed with an autistic mind and keen senses. I am the owner of an eidetic memory and perfect relative pitch. I am susceptible to migraines from loud sudden noises. I am self-trained to read others for clues in their words and bodies so I can navigate the world more easily.

I am a survivor.

I am trained as a crisis counselor. I am a world traveler. I am an extrovert. I am dedicated to social justice. I am incapable of more peace work, because I am unable to engage in a fight for which there is no quantifiable chance of victory. I am drawn to anti-racism work. I am enchanted with issue politics and the feeling I get from a good protest. I am unsure whether I’m valuable to any of the people or causes I engage in.

I am insatiably curious about people. I am in love with stories and storytelling. I am a good listener. I am told I’m an entertaining, satisfying audience. I am never going to get tired of learning about others’ lives and views. I am honored to be allowed to share each and every journey.

I am a geek. I am a cat person. I am a Northern girl who needs at least four seasons. I am a Jayhawk and a cheesehead, but I am NOT a Nittany Lion. I am not a very good sports fan. I am a voracious reader. I am a stickler for grammar. I am a polyglot. I am good at improvisation. I am good under pressure. I am not good at getting quality sleep.

I am overweight. I am poor. I am naturally brown-haired. I am weighed down by crushing debt. I am never going to be a homeowner. I am not sure where this week’s meals will come from. I am scared for the future. I am tired of being afraid. I am always looking forward.

I am broken. I am forgiving. I am a child of Nature. I am made of star stuff. I am convinced of the divine nature of this planet. I am a skeptic. I am mystified by and utterly committed to my human brothers and sisters. I am in need of love, and I am devoted to giving away more love than I get.

And I am going to squeeze every drop from this short, precious life.

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