I am driving down Hull Street Road, coffee in the holster, string cheese in my teeth, driving into the sunrise. I am back in this town with my boots strapped on tight and my coat swishing at my knees when I walk, so I can run on the ice and so I might not get seen if you look at me from behind. My hair is brown now, like I want to take a shadow and paint it over my energy and slip along the side of the wall away from those walking toward me.

We walk our days out in cycles, circles on circles, turning into each other and kissing and turning away to meet the next thing before coming back again, later. Richmond is a boomerang town, they told me. I laugh and I know. These trees by the river know me, all my faces. I walk along at Pony Pasture with a friend and I forget who I’ve been there with. It all runs together, circles on circles, meeting the place in time immaterial with those I love, over and over. The story is the same. Am I chasing a destination in a straight line or am I running along behind myself, trusting that she knows where to go—have we been here before? I think we must have. I’ll keep running. The trees remember me. The ground still tells me stories.

I run around, a spider clinging to the center of her web, overwhelmed and frozen by the vibrations hitting her from each side of the strands she’s set, each tying her to a piece of life that she has claimed as her own. It’s windy here and the sun is opaque and distant, cuddling the mist and turning her back to me. I’m not in California anymore. I do not have the sharp lines of sunlight and dust and salt to cut up my day into spaces that are mine or not mine. I melt into the hours and the interactions, we sink into blankets on the couch and the ownership of feet is forgotten. My sisters and I are the same skin and voices and we circle in and out of each others’ days—who did I tell that to? Is this hers or mine? I had to stop eating that, your body might too. We laugh in cycles. It’s good. But I have no borders. Even when I close my door, my new phone buzzes and chirps and my mind becomes a set of tiny spinning gears and I chase the circuit around this circle and into the next and into the one below before getting tossed up to that one just up there.

My heart is warm. I have so much love for these people, for these places. But I have woken up here from an enchantment, a moment of life between dreams. They are the same, and they are not the same. We hold hands and move in the same steps as before, but I notice things I never saw before—how she carries her weight in her hips now, how his voice is more kind, how the fear in her eyes has eroded her shoulders, too. And I wonder if this is the dream or if this is the real life? Seven weeks left and then I pass into the next spell, a large and weighty unknown which has my name and is going to swallow me up. And I plan to submit to it, to ask it questions, to wait for it to teach me. So here I am, here, but not here, but unable to slip backward or forward—both feel dreamlike and opiate. I do not know if I actually kissed the stars or swam in the cold water. I do not know if I will be cold and catch the light. I do not know if my tongue tasted you or if it will shape strange sounds.

I am here. The hollowness of this house spins me around. There are whole patches of carpet I do not dare to dance on, whole shelves in my closet that I pretend do not exist. The street beyond the driveway might be water, and I might suddenly have weight and sink into it if I touched it. You might become real if I let you touch me.

Of course I cannot see the stars here—this must be a dream. Or maybe, the stars never were, and I have woken to my future.

I applied to the Peace Corps last summer. I got my invitation in November. I accepted. I got my medical clearance last week. I’m waiting on my visa. My passport has my new [own] name on it. I’ll be volunteering as an English teacher to primarily middle school and high school students, but I won’t know the details of my assignment or my exact placement until this summer. If all goes according to plan, I’m leaving for Kyrgyzstan for two years at the end of April. 

And: if I put together a chapbook of some of my poems and made it available for download for a couple bucks, would you like that?

xo,

h


I wrote this back in September 2014. xo, h.

*

It was raining when he picked me up. I dashed through the steaming air and bounce-slam into the back seat behind Jean. Jean was tense, her shoulders riding high and her chin tucked in.

“Hi,” I chirped, settling into my seat. Her dad looked at me in acknowledgement, but didn’t say anything as he put the car in gear and backed out of my family’s driveway.

“Hi,” said Jean, glancing back at me like a timid rabbit. She giggled.

“Excited?” I asked.

“Are you kidding me?” she said. “I’m terrified but I can’t wait to have my license.”

“I’m really glad we’re taking a class. My mom’s too stressful to drive with. Can you imagine doing this at home?” I leaned forward and put my chin on the shoulder of her seat.

She giggled again. “Yeah, my mom is just INSANE to drive with. She just throws her hands up and screams or grabs the steering wheel and tries to grab the keys out of the ignition.” She glanced at her father, unmoved.

“Dad’s so much less stressful to drive with, but he just doesn’t have the time,” she finished.

I nodded. She pulled out her book. “Have you read this yet? You have to.” She lifted it up: Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “It’s SO good. Seriously hilarious.

“No, I haven’t, but I will!” I said. “I’m reading The Black Arrow again right now.” I pull my book out of my bag and we fall apart and become quiet, cocooning for the ride in our separate worlds.

This is our default, if we’re not in the woods or on the ball field or watching Homestar Runner clips after chemistry class together. Books are our native world. Here we retreat from our separate personal insanities and find stability.

My world: age 16, oldest of 7 kids, part-time surrogate mother to the youngest, infant twins, and self-taught homeschool high schooler. Home is 4 bedrooms and 9 people and perpetual cries for all hands on deck.

Her world: age 16, one of two daughters, self-taught homeschool high schooler. Mediator between an emotionally distressed mother fighting brain cancer and an angry and withdrawn younger sister, and a father who, to me, was a mere question mark of intense, quiet social presence.

Both of us were sold out for Jesus, youth group junkies in our local cult, distressed at the appearance of of our new boobs and hips, struggling to distinguish ourselves amid our peers, who seemed to us like peaches and cream southern belles dreaming of secretarial positions, prince charming, and motherhood.

She wore a lot of neon orange and combat boots and she had a pixie cut. Sometimes I called her Ivan. I wore overalls and the smell of baked goods and always had charcoal on my hands, and I put my hair up in a bun with a pencil.

Her dad dropped us off at the classroom for our driver’s ed, housed in a refurbished house-turned-office with a familiar (and terrifying) local pastor’s name on the next-door office space. We entered the classroom, the first ones there, picking middling seats together at the plastic tables. Neither of us had been in class with public schooled kids before, and we were strung tight and hyper-attentive as the other students filed in, jostling and laughing and damp from the rain, exuding largess as they spread themselves out at their spots.

One of the guys announced to the class that he’d taken this before in another state, but didn’t finish because his parents moved, but that he couldn’t WAIT for the video portion, because they were “just sick” in how gruesome they were. He glanced at the girls as he said this. Jean and I looked at each other, eyebrows cocked. This was going to be interesting.

The teacher walked in, a short soft woman with cropped greying blonde hair and wearing khaki pants with a white polo tucked into a thick belt. She shut the door behind her and faced us, clearing her throat. “Hello class,” she said, her voice buzzing with years in the south. “I’m Mizz Ferris.”

The door behind her swung open and a girl in a black t-shirt and a sparkly pink skirt and red heels walked in. “Hiiii y’all sorry I’m late!” she cooed, scooching into a seat on the end, her backpack tumbling open on the table in front of her. She set her phone on the table next to her travel mug. Both were bright pink.

Ms. Ferris nodded at her. “I’m Mizz Ferris,” she repeated. “And I’ll have you go around and introduce yourselves in a minute, but first I want y’all to know one thing: I have a concealed carry and I’m happy to use it. And no, I will not tell you where I wear it.” She eyed the boys, daring them to give her body a second glance.

“Now,” she gestured to the girl at the end. “Why don’t you start off and introduce yourself to the class?”

The girl sat up straight. “Oh, okay!” she said. She looked around the room. “I’m Princess Jordan!”

Princess Jordan?” Ms. Ferris raised her eyebrows.

Princess Jordan pulled a plastic tiara out of her backpack and placed it on her shiny brown hair. “Princess Jordan,” she repeated. “I do pagents. I’m a role model for the community.” She applied a bit of extra lip gloss with precision.

One of the boys let his hand drift to his mouth, hiding a smile.

“Okay, then, Princess Jordan, everyone,” said Ms. Ferris.

Princess Jordan angled her chin in the air just so and smiled down on all of us. The boy who had talked about the gory videos (we later learned his name was Cody) snorted. Jean hid a smile. I kept my face blank, but in my mind I mocked her—how could she want to be so girly? Didn’t she realize that no one could ever take her seriously if she acted like that?

The rest of the class introduced themselves, and we settled in to listen to the rain and Ms. Ferris tell stories of her days as an EMT and why defensive driving could save your life.

Waiting for my mom to pick us up after class, Jean commented that she wished her dad was getting her instead. When I wondered why, she just shrugged and said she didn’t see him much with his new job—and with the side effects from her mom’s cancer, it was a nice break from her constant anxiety. “Maybe I can get him to take me bass fishing this summer,” she said. “It’s been far too long.”

At the end of the class, Ms. Ferris’s husband and business partner walked in and she introduced him. He was the foil to her bubbly and intense personality, reserved and understated. He matched her outfit—white polo shirt and khaki slacks—and sipped his Wawa coffee while she chattered, his bald head shifting its shine with each sip under the florescent lights. His quiet presence and his shaved head reminded me immensely of Jean’s dad, but I didn’t realize this until we were on our way home, telling my mom about our first real-life classroom experience. Jean volunteered, “I really like Mr. Ferris. He seems really cool.”

“I like him, too,” I said. “The in-car portion should be really low-key with him.

“He doesn’t seem like he’d be the sort to stress out a lot at you,” she said.

We were right—the in-car portion of the class was intense, but Mr. Ferris was placid and stern, so long as he had a fresh cup of Wawa coffee to keep him company. We mapped our driving routes all through Richmond by way of a compass rose delineated with all the Richmond Wawa stations. Most of our rides involved two of us in the car, plus Mr. Ferris, and a few times we had three students to a drive.

One hot July day saw me, Princess Jordan, and Cody in the car together. Princess Jordan was driving (she was an unremarkable driver and we were thoroughly bored), and she stepped out of the car to use the bathroom during one of Mr. Ferris’s Wawa stops.

When she got back in the car—which we had kept running to keep the AC blasting–with Mr. Ferris, the AC must have hit her hard, because Cody laughed to himself. When I raised an eyebrow at him in curiosity. He muttered “she’s cold, ha,” and nodded his head at Princess Jordan (who was being instructed on “disco driving” as a method for backing out of a space smoothly by Mr. Ferris.

I shivered and didn’t respond, suddenly thankful for the layers of coverage provided by my thick cotton sports bra, t-shirt, and overalls. I glanced at Princess Jordan, wearing her black Playboy pajama pants with a cheap cotton top that clung to her round shoulders and large breasts, the rhinestone letters marching across the shelf of her chest. I couldn’t see anything, but I was also sitting directly behind her.

I’m glad I’m not allowed to wear anything like that. Causing boys to stumble is so repulsive, I thought, slumping into my shoulder blades a little bit more, making my own small breasts even more hidden.

Jean and I both passed our driving tests with top scores by August. In our last class, we gave presentations about something related to what “safe and responsible” driving mean to us. Princess Jordan handed hers in to Ms. Ferris and refused to present it, saying it was “too personal.”

And then we were done and had our licenses. My mom breathed a sigh of relief and I was integrated into the family grocery shopping and swim team carpool rotation. Jean was given an old white Taurus for her first car. I negotiated for turns with my family’s rusting blue minivan.

Her dad never took her bass fishing. I pushed my mom to let me take more “out” classes that fall, but lost the battle. She took only out classes that fall, and her dad took another night shift job and her mom went under the surgeon’s knife and was declared cancer-free. I carried my baby siblings around after church every Sunday when the AC was too chilly and had my dad double-check every outfit for modesty approval, all in an effort to be unnoticeable. She wore Demon Hunter t-shirts and belts with studs and kept her hair short and played basketball fiercely and watched all the movies the guys liked in an effort to be unnoticed. She became one of the guys. I became a shadow.

Years later, when she was engaged for the second time and planning her wedding after cutting her dad off for physical abuse, and I was stunned at being newly divorced and reeling from the new freedom found outside of the cult, Jean and I reconnected. She told me that she was now using gender neutral pronouns. I told them I was using a last name other than my father’s. We cursed father’s day when we were both too tired to cry about it anymore, and I Snapchatted them my first timid forays into wearing crop tops. They Snapchatted me their femme days with bright red lipstick and their Ivan days of fauxhawks and binders. We talked about polyamory and consent and body image.

I still think about disco driving and Wawa coffee every time I parallel park (which is basically twice a day, here in LA). The Ferrises taught the next two of my siblings how to drive before moving to the deep south for their retirement. Now when I visit, we parallel park in Carytown in Richmond, and head to the Galaxy diner. My brother and I split deep fried oreos and Jean has a beer, and we make jokes about Hitchhiker’s.

And I scroll through Tumblr and wonder, what happened to Princess Jordan and her fuck-you-I’m-into-pink attitude that paralleled Ms. Ferris’s fuck-you-I-like-guns stance? Is she posting fatspo fashionista selfies in crop tops and red lipstick? Does she sing ***Flawless by Beyoncé when she’s in the car? Does she still do pagents and make her own way in organized settings? Or did the guys like Cody get to her, and did she end up losing her size 20 and her glitter to shrink herself into the life of some boy? I sure as hell hope not.

And I wonder, what other lovely pieces of life and human connection have my pride and privilege caused me to miss? How can I ever learn to truly see someone from where I sit?


“Love and abuse cannot coexist.” – bell hooks.

It’s been over a year since I first read bell hook’s masterful treatise on love, All About Love: New Visions.  The book called to and was answered by changes stirring in my heart, little epiphanies cracking the surface of my reality, and it was the catalyst for a radical reevaluation of what love meant and how I practiced it.

I have always craved justice and sincerity. As a child, I distrusted adults who laughed too much or were effusive with praise or compliments. I gravitated toward those who were sarcastic, cynical, pointed. Pastors were suspect unless they seemed to have a healthy respect for suffering.

And yet, I was divided from myself in my own cynicism, emotionally connecting to missionary stories,  reading the Anne Shirley books over and over, and accepting the tenets of courtship and fundamentalist neo-Calvinism without question for the sake of the utopian emotional future they offered. I was too cynical to ever seriously write letters to my future husband, but secretly hoped that the gilded fidelity of guarding my heart and wearing a purity ring would secure me true love where I could hang my cynic’s hat by the door and stretch out by the hearth and have a marriage where I could get my belly rubbed and never fear betrayal or complicated emotions.

Emotional idealism of this sort is dishonest and lazy, and I paid dearly for my naïveté and blind trust. I could wear out pages with my experiential research on cultivated codependency in courtship culture and cultivated female helplessness in patriarchy, but the larger thing I have learned is less specific to male\female relationships or romantic relationships and more relevant to relationships in general, and is especially relevant to relationships touched by fundamentalist thinking on the part of one or both parties.

Fundamentalism, when I use the word, generally implies a measure of absolutism and hierarchy of belief. It is a relational militarization of ideology at its core (which is why I believe it is not something religious people have exclusive province over). Fundamentalism says “my way is better and our relationship is going to be defined by that assumption or we have an impasse.” It costs relational parity and ends humane discussion.

In the slice of human experience where I come from, fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, it exhibits itself when a parent asserts their “right” over their child in the name of ideological purity of some sort and negates that child’s right to autonomy and voice.

Example: “you will not bring Harry Potter into my house” because you, the parent, believe that witchcraft is worse than the sin of rebellion (see the story of King Saul) and rebellion is the sin that caused the fall, and witchcraft is aligning oneself with the enemy of God, and you want your household to follow in the ways of God (“as for me and my house…”) and you believe that God has called you to be the spiritual head of the home (circle of blessing) and your child is under your authority because you are under God’s authority, and Harry Potter does not condemn witchcraft as being of the devil, therefore: your child has no rights when under your roof because of God’s ordained spiritual hierarchy and you are accountable to him to protect your child from evil and Harry Potter threatens that order and your ability to be blessed by God for following in his ways…so Harry Potter has to go, no matter what your kid has to say about redemption narratives and metaphor and literary genres. By doing so, you are honoring God, and any opposition to this order is your child’s natural sin nature expressing itself and an opportunity to use corrective discipline to help your child along in the path to sanctification and honor God in their own life.

In fundamentalism, ideology and hierarchy > person and emotional healthy relationships. Every. Damn. Time.

bell hooks writes that “abuse and love cannot coexist” because (as Christian theology teaches) love is about considering another person’s best interest. When I chose to break the rules of courtship and tell my boyfriend I loved him before we were engaged, I did so because I believed that if we broke up, my promise of “I love you” would still be true: if our relationship ended, it would be because the relationship was no longer in his or my best interest and love does not demand the other partner to suffer to satisfy the other. Love should not be mutable, but the terms of the relationship will be in order to be consistent with love. Love respects the other as a separate, autonomous individual with unique needs. Love does not require the other person to fix your emotional problems. Love is considerate, respectful, ethical, generous. Love is not craven, demanding, or manipulative.

This cuts two ways. Loving others well is easier (and probably better) the better you are at loving yourself well. It’s hard to love someone else well if you are abusive toward yourself, and if you try you’re more  likely to expect the other party to love you the way you should be loving yourself, and then resent them for not fixing your emotional disassociation with yourself. No person, no religious belief, no creature comfort will be able to fix the fundamental need for self-acceptance. I’ve been learning this, and it’s not easy. I can deflect and distract myself, but there is no substitute for sitting with my own emotions and owning them to myself and accepting that the me I’m living with is messy and not quite all who I want to be. I have to live with (and learn to love) me in real time, as I grow and learn, and not with my idealized future version of myself. This means also recognizing when I’m in unhealthy relationships or situations and being responsible for standing up for myself, and not expecting others to read my mind or know my needs and rescue me. Boundaries, communication, and actively engaging my day-to-day life and owning my responsibility to and for myself: these are ways I can engage in loving myself well.

Loving others well is an extension of understanding how to love myself. I need to respect the fact that others need different things and that what is good for me might not be good for them, that my perception of reality might not be their story, that they may be growing and learning faster or slower than I am. I respect them as individuals and not as caricatures or emotional food sources for myself, and that paves the way for healthy relationship.

This means: I cannot demand my more fundamentalist friends to change their beliefs on things, because their emotional needs (and reasons for holding on to various positions) are different from mine. I can, however, write about what I’ve learned and how various elements of religious fundamentalism have been harmful. I can also limit the ability of their more negative positions to affect me personally by reducing my exposure to toxic relational dynamics, and I can also appeal to their desire to love others when I see them hurting people close to me and ask for them to change how they treat people based on our shared assumption that they care about the other person’s best interest. (In this vein, a great opportunity Clare had before her was recently leveraged against me to require that I change the offensive-to-patriarchy language in her “Fuck the Patriarchy” post. The situation has now resolved itself, and I have reverted the post back to the original content, but necessary steps have also been taken to remove myself from being able to be manipulated by those who value image and control over people.)

This also means: when a friend has to go no contact with a family member because of abuse, or when someone’s marriage ends and you don’t know all the details, respect their choices. You don’t know what’s best for them and we are in danger of practicing the fallacy of a “single story” when we require someone to meet our socially acceptable normal behavior because we think that they should be in relationship with someone that “normal” people have in their lives. Eliminating abusive relationships from my life seems heartless from the outside, but it’s been a way I’ve learned to love myself: by admitting what (or who) I can and cannot handle if I am going to be mentally healthy and thrive. It seems heartless, but in reality, it’s a way of having compassion for myself and not expecting others to do that work for me.

I recently had a treasured friendship end because of a non-conventional theological position (but one I think has sufficient evidence in the Bible to be supported) that I hold and have written some about. The details are moot, and were moot to the end of the friendship, too. The point, however, was: if you are a Christian, you cannot support this position, and until you recant, I cannot be your friend. It’s the same mindset as I demonstrated before with Harry Potter: ideology supersedes the individual. I’m saddened by the outcome, but there’s no way to debate the issue because our starting premises are so far divided. What has been healthy and freeing and brought light to my life is seen by this individual as a darkness that threatens to devour the “real” me and is an affront to their own perception of themselves: if I am right, then everything they’re betting on is wrong. As high-stakes spiritual premises go, they can’t afford to be wrong, and so I must go. It’s understandable. I love this person, and as I understand the emotional cost of this sort of gamble, I know that this decision is (in their estimation) in the best interest of this person for the sake of their mental health, and it’s not my place to question that. I’m sad for my loss, but if I am honest about caring for them, I need to let them go and wish them the best from afar.

And I need to be honest, too. In my pilgrimage to understand love and to heal, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that church and Christian culture are antithetical to my emotional and mental stability. The solvency of Christianity for some, I believe, is viable and good. I think the church can be better and radically change lives for good. I think the teachings of Jesus are precious and radical and good. There is much that I love, but I have had to remove myself from it and remove it from me in order to be kind to myself. All things are lawful, etc. For me this means: I’m not a Christian anymore.

The damage done to my brain by code-switching in Christianese and by tiptoeing around emotional land mines from my time in the cult outweigh the worth of holding onto the Creeds for the Creeds’ sake. If Jesus is the Christ and all of that is true, then I’d rather be a Calormen in the end and be sound of mind and live ethically and love well than be a martyr for something that has fostered so much suffering.

I do not recant anything I have written. I still love the things I have always loved. I still believe in the power of radical love to transform. I still believe in the magic of community and the mystery of burden-bearing and communion. I still love justice and mercy and crave light and truth.

But it is the learning of the loving that calls me to keep exploring, and so I’m discarding things that are impotent or emotionally destructive. I’m not merely disassociating from the label of “Christian”or organized church in pursuit of being a “Jesus-follower.” I am closing that chapter completely. I’m not sure if I’m an atheist or just agnostic, but I don’t think it’s salient right now. For now, what I know is: this path has taken me away from Christianity and that has been immensely freeing and healing.

I’ve known this for a while, but I wanted to sit with it for a season first, to be sure. And, honestly, I was afraid to tell you.

You readers have been along with me for quite the unexpected journey. I originally started this blog as a place to try to do some fiction and poetry writing, assuming that I’d be able to be productive in those things now that I was graduated from college, employed in an adult job, and settled into married life. What followed was so far from that reality that it seems a little hysterical to think about, now. I wouldn’t trade this journey for that reality, though, and I am thankful for how much I have learned and grown through it. And I’m thankful for those of you who have supported and loved and stayed with me since then. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I’d be touched if you are, too.

A housekeeping note: Once I can get a few things sorted out, the header image of this blog will change and I’ll just write under my name rather than a blog title–Wine and Marble has served a good purpose, but no longer fits what goes on here. Just a heads up.


I made chocolate chip oatmeal pecan cookies and have been eating them with breakfast and coffee almost every morning this week for a midmorning snack. I have zero compunction about doing so ever since I made chocolate chip cookies for my French hosts when I was there in high school, and they ate them for breakfast one morning when I overslept — after all, what difference is there between a chocolate chip cookie and a pain au chocolate?

Here’s what I enjoyed reading this morning over my blueberries and yogurt and cookie and coffee.

Female buyers are more likely to get lied to by sellers of any gender, says a recent study. Jezebel parses the results.

If a woman is more in tune with her body and comfortable being present with how she’s feeling physically, she’s going to be having more orgasms. This should not be surprising, but I’d bet money most churched women would be uncomfortable with this. I recommend yoga, meditation, reading erotica, and dance as therapies to purity culture induced sexual shame and frigidity.

A reporter follows an abortion provider in the south who says that he does abortions because he’s a Christian and wants to follow the example of the Good Samaritan.

Real talk about real pay scales for freelance editing.

Apparently the club scene in Boston is pretty segregated.

Eating organic and local isn’t going to help your farmers if you still live with a mindset of placeless American cuisine. (One of my favorite reads this week.)

The New Yorker’s story archive is open to the public and the Awl has some recommendations on where to start reading.

Peace Corps volunteers share their stories in a little collection for the NYT.


I’m pretty passionate about women needing to embrace their own sexuality without shame and without regard to male sexual desire, and today I’m over at The Friendly Atheist to review Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery’s book Pulling Back the Shades, their Christian response to 50 Shades of Grey.

This [is] a pervasive problem in Christian relationship books aimed at women: the assumption that female sexuality begins with the initiation of a woman into the world of male sexuality. This can be through abuse, rape, regretful premarital sex, or happy married sex, but it always starts and ends with a penis. This gets taken to such an extreme that even masturbation is condemned if it uses any sort of imagination or fantasy to speed things along — that would be making oneself dependent on a man other than your husband, even if he’s fictional. Which would be cheating, and a misuse of sex (by their definition of the act).

Gresh is known for her interpretation of the Hebrew references to sex in the Old Testament (yada, according to her) as “to know, to be deeply respected,” and she explains that this is a sign of how sex was intended by God for marriage, where you can have that sort of intimate knowledge of your partner. She further asserts that sex always transcends the physical act, which is how she explains that cheating is wrong (again: no mention of consent here) and why she believes that no-strings-attached sexual encounters are also wrong.

She concludes this little explanation by saying:

“Erotica places undue emphasis on the physical and disables your ability to connect emotionally.”

I find this hard to believe, seeing as erotica is entirely based on the imaginative capabilities of a sexual human being to use fantasy for arousal, and doesn’t require anything physical at all. The focus in the fantasy, I agree, is physical rather than emotional, but can’t it also follow that heightened sexual awareness can help improve intimacy in the bedroom and increase emotional connection during sex? I suspect that Slattery and Gresh both have trouble connecting their own experiences of moments where they owned their sexuality to themselves as whole human beings in positive ways. The over-emphasis on the spiritual and intellectual understandings of sexuality leave the physical out in the cold in a very Gnosticdualistic sort of way.

Gresh brings this split out further in a later chapter, where she tells a story from her marriage where she considered herself to be owning her sexuality in her marriage in a positive way: one evening, she wore a somewhat sheer black top to the dinner table on a night when she and her husband were dining alone by candlelight. He checked her out across the table, and she congratulated herself and felt empowered. Essentially, she was exploring her ability to perform for her small audience’s male gaze and felt good about her success in catching his eye.

But again, this is about him and his arousal and her sexuality is entirely defined in reaction to or performing for his sexuality. He is the fixed point and she orbits him. It’s as if she has no sexuality outside of him, and while she is quite articulate about how women should not be ashamed of their bodies when they are with their husbands, she shows little capability of being aware of herself as a sexual being independent of her sexual relationship with her husband.

This is not a critique of Gresh or Slattery as individuals. Their stories happen to be very common, compared with the many I have heard and witnessed in my years in the church. Evangelical American Christians don’t have a framework for female sexuality that doesn’t start and stop with a husband’s penis. And I think this is ultimately why erotica is seen as a threat: it’s a primarily female-focused genre, and it explores female sexual pleasure in ways that are infrequently seen in our society.

Read the rest here.



Isn’t the American dream autonomy over self in the face of the man, getting a little privacy and a little power — just enough to live well and in peace?

I’m not much of one for American idealism, but this bit has always resonated. We like the freedom to do was we please so long as it hurts no one other than ourselves.

Which is why yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Burnwell v. Hobby Lobby is pesky and awkward. But what’s more, it’s the result of a complex network of decisions and chess moves by the conservative Christian right set in play for more than 20 years. And I haven’t thoroughly read all the details in the ruling and the dissent by Ginsburg (bless her), but this is personal and I know enough to get myself into a little trouble talking about it, and I need to talk about it.

When I was getting divorced, I also left my job without knowing where I would end up next — depression and a detail-oriented job was an unsustainable situation, and I needed to get out of DC. But I was also having funky side effects from my hormonal oral contraception that I was using and I didn’t want to leave my job and have my insurance end without knowing what was going on and what to do to fix it. I researched options and concluded that I needed to be on something non-hormonal, and then, as I narrowed down my best choices, I learned that because the newly-enacted ACA was changing my health care coverage for the last month I was on it, I would be eligible for my birth control to be fully covered by my employer.

And I was facing rent I knew I couldn’t pay for another month, running numbers on a potential cross-country move, and generally running frightened rabbit loops in my head about money and my future. I had two weeks left, about $1,000 in my name, and a car loan and final bills and gas and groceries and no solid prospect for a job. (Aside: depression makes decision making really vile.) And I knew that a) one in three women are sexually abused and b) I was probably going to be dating again in the near future and c) generally just wanted to take no unnecessary risks with my future and d) the idea of having a child sent me into anxiety attacks.

So I looked at that $700 copper IUD covered by the ACA through my insurance, and I said “yes, please” and got it for myself as an autonomy present after my divorce. That little inch of copper says that my future is my own, my body is my own, and I decide when I’m ready for whatever comes next.

And I paid nothing for it. I swear, this has been the biggest boost in my self-confidence and general peace of mind. It was free, and it gives me my power as an adult woman.

Others aren’t so lucky. I know that my IUD isn’t going to cause abortions, because I researched it and educated myself. But the number of conservative Christian women I grew up with whose science education is so lacking that they don’t know that (for example) being on hormonal birth control actually reduces the possibility of a fertilized egg getting sloughed off in menstruation when compared with the natural risk of this occurring without being on birth control of any sort.

And I also know women who weren’t as lucky as I was, whose minimum wage employers kept their hours just below the full time mark in order to not have to pay for their heath care costs, and who couldn’t afford birth control before the ACA and ended up pregnant or unable to treat their endometriosis symptoms or their PMDD and became depressed, bedridden, suicidal, or just plain overworked and exhausted. And, this isn’t just one or two of my friends. This is a large portion of the women I know.

Contraception isn’t just an extra funtimes experimental drug that women sometimes do for kicks when they feel wicked.

Sometimes it’s the difference between freedom and reduced options, between autonomy and wage-slave exhaustion.

***

There’s a piece of the ruling that rests on something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which was pushed into place by none other than Michael Farris of HSLDA, and his then-compatriot, Doug Phillips, formerly of Vision Forum.  This RFRA is what (basically) enabled Wisconsin v. Yoder to be an active playing card in the religious freedom discussion today (and what keeps homeschool reform from occurring and the parental rights movement alive and well).

The piece of the ruling is the part where it rules that a private corporation is a person whose religious rights can be violated. As sussed out by my good friend, a law school graduate studying for the bar this summer:

The majority says that the answer to the first question [Can a corporation be a “person” within the meaning of RFRA?] is “yes,” a corporation is a person who can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA.  This is a statutory and not a constitutional interpretation.  One interesting part of the ruling is that the majority says RFRA is not limited to restoring the Court’s pre-Smith Free Exercise jurisprudence.  This opens the door for the Court to expand RFRA protection to cover even more things than the Free Exercise Clause covered prior to Smith.  Additionally, the majority limited this ruling to “closely-held” corporations.  This means that this ruling does not apply to corporations that are publicly traded.  However, the majority did not provide any reason to make a hard division between closely held and publicly traded corporations.  It just said it would be “improbable” for a publicly traded corporation to be operated according to religious beliefs.  This leaves the door wide open for a clever plaintiff to get the Court to expand RFRA protection to publicly traded corporations as well.  The majority also dismissed the argument that it would be difficult to determine a corporation’s religious belief when different board members have different religious beliefs.  The majority just said we would turn to state law when such questions arise. ” – Carmen Green

The whole of her analysis of the ruling is intelligent, insightful, and well-worth reading.

The layers of hypocrisy and back room dealing involved in this case are just appalling. Not only does this set legal precedent for clever appeals to chip away at the ACA, and not only is it largely possible due to horrific legal engineering of Christian reconstructionists, it has detailed and sweeping ramifications that make me see red.

The appeal was designed to also prevent women from receiving contraceptive counseling from their doctors related to any of the drugs that their employers happen to object to. Why?

Hobby Lobby seems to have no problem with dealing with China, where forced abortions and sterilizations happen on the regular. Why?

Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund options involve stock in companies that manufacture the drugs they’ve asserted that they object to their employees using. They could have chosen alternative retirement plans that opted out of these investment options, but they didn’t. Why?

Hobby Lobby previously provided coverage for these contraceptives that they apparently object to, but that was before the ACA came along and required them to provide this coverage. Instead of choosing to maintain their status quo coverage, they raised the religious objection flag and started their fight. Why?

Educate yourself. I’m still shakey with how angry this ruling has made me — it’s a deep cavern of lies, money-based hypocrisy, and carefully constructed long-term plans to reinvent how religious freedom is defined.

And ultimately, this ruling is statistically likely to cause more abortions to occur in the U.S. in the future than would have occurred if these employers had agreed to provide ample coverage for reproductive health products. So much for pro-life consistency.


For the last year, I’ve been sleeping on couches, borrowed mattresses, and at last, my own thin IKEA futon thrown down on the floor. I have lived out of a suitcase since last August.

This last week I spent wound tight, my attention turned so intensely inward that I left threads hanging to tangle in the wind out of sheer distraction. Calls left unreturned, texts half-started, emails glaring at me in bold letters, unread. I cooked a lot. It was all I could think about, though if I was honest I’d probably say I cooked a lot because I needed to be on autopilot so my brain could work overtime, like a computer empty of all but the most basic processes so you can run script through it in double time like they talk about in that hacking scene of every late 2000s movie. I made scones and cookies and soup and pizza, each without a recipe, each with a new twist. Raspberries in the scones, cinnamon and oatmeal in the cookies, soup with curry and kale and yams, pizza in a cast iron frying pan. Let me taste my way to culinary fullness so my brain doesn’t have to think about anything even so simple as a recipe.

It’s summer here, not spring. There’s no dramatic demarcation of seasons to announce the shifting, settling, creaking in my soulbones. I’ve been writing a shitty poem every day as part of a group project for the month of June. Greasing the wheels or somesuch–I thought it might help me dig my way out of the shell-hole Clare’s post going viral left in my brain. It hasn’t helped and I’ve been dry as a bone.

Back when I was in the church, I used to describe this restless shifty itching that leaves me without writing words and rusty-jawed socially as being in a spiritually dry spot. We had a book on the living room shelf called Streams in the Desert and every time I saw it this is what I thought of: the missing, the hamster wheel brain, the hibernating empathy. Now I’m more inclined to recognize it as an extension of me instead of an abstract force of a “season”–it’s a symptom and I’m learning to listen to it, to tend it, to be uncomfortable until I realize it’s passed me over and exhale in relief.

I really like my job when I’m like this, though I get cantankerous and set in my ways. The physical demands of sorting, shelving, unboxing, and moving product at the bookstore tires me out and pushes me through, much like the cooking does. I am Sisyphus but I am happy rolling up and down the hill because I know I am percolating something deep inside my boulder and then I can leave.

There were a lot of reasons for why I came to California. I suppose I was running away, on some levels. I was also seeking to undo curses that kept me feeling limited. This was my home, and I was exiled. Could I come back home? Was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I couldn’t return? Or would the mother-warm sun and the soft slopes of the foothills embrace me and hold me close? Even though that dream didn’t quite come true, I managed it. I came home. I returned. The curse is broken. Yes, it’s been a struggle and it’s seemed aimless, and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer exhaustion and sometimes I’m still here out of sheer pride. But I am still here.

And the sunlight has finally thawed something deep down, and I’m feeling like it’s time for one of those regulated burns they do in the mountains. I was up there two weeks ago with my childhood friend and her son, kicking pine cones and stomping through a mountain meadow to find “our” trees and a red spring by a creek. I indulged my ruminative state up there, away from cell service and the internet, and I came away feeling stilled.

And then reality bit my ass, reminding me that men like power and women don’t trust their own strength in the face of the blunt childishness of their men. I don’t blame them. Creature comforts are my security blanket, too. But if it is in my power to slice, to arouse, to startle, to blind with light, to burn, and the cost is not so great to those still dependent on these men, I will do so. And I knew I would, but the decision sat above my eyes and pressed down on me until I felt blinded by it. Days passed and everything was aching from the necessity of this little personal Alamo. And so I broke down my words into small pieces and mixed them with my tears (there were few–I can’t cry with a migraine) and poured us our tonic and lit the fire and walked away.

When I woke up from that hangover, all I knew was the clean blue of a June sky and the exhale of relief.

And then I looked around and saw I had been living like a beggar child, hoarding this and that, meeting my necessities alone and ignoring the music and the panache. So I set to clean house, dusting cobwebs out of high shelves and taking out books I’d forgotten out of necessity and drawing up plans again. Coffee was poured and I shifted into another time zone, chasing the zephyr across the horizon.

I used to be afraid of falling in love, and I think I am, still. But I used to worry about wasting a limited resource on the wrong person, of pouring myself out and seeing my everything puddled on the floor and not being able to catch it all back again in my jar. Now, I am afraid out of habit, but I know that instead of a secret stash in a jar, love is like that red spring by the creek where the water runs clear. It might get muddied, but there’s more where it came from and the dirt will either settle or get washed away or calcify and become beautiful in time.

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It feels like springtime in that the cobwebs are gone and the hibernation has ended and the growing things are forcing themselves toward the sun. It feels like spring in that the old hoary curses have been replaced with seductive promises. The miserly desperation of winter is gone, and I’m ready to loll around in the grass and gorge myself a little.


On Friday, as many of you may have learned by now, the YA internet world blew up, and this article by Ruth Graham is why. Here’s the crux of her argument:

…a whopping 28 percent of all YA sales—are between ages 30 and 44. That’s my demographic, which might be why I wasn’t surprised to hear this news. I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.

She argues, essentially, that adults who read YA should be ashamed of reading YA because it’s not very complicated literature. That it’s written for kids. That it’s not very mature of us adults to like John Green, and we should be ashamed of our lowbrow, lazy media consumption.

She writes off Divergent and Twilight as “transparently trashy stuff” but then goes on to talk about John Green and Rainbow Rowell, and it seems as if they are the only authors she read for her essay (did she read Divergent or Twilight? We never learn). Graham clearly hasn’t read much YA, and it becomes evident as the piece goes on that she’s merely read a few (two?) headlining YA novels and seems to resent the time she spent on what she feels is a marketing ploy instead of a legitimate genre.

I feel for her—it’s hard to acquaint oneself with YA if one feels pressured to keep up with the NYT bestseller lists and hasn’t invested much in the genre before it (it would seem) came into its own in the last 2-3 years. After graduating with my English degree in 2011, I decided to take a break from reading “serious” literature and read The Hunger Games. I inhaled them and was surprised at my own enthusiasm for the books. They have weaknesses, to be sure, but the books were innovative and written with care.

Is art only art when someone says “it’s art!” and pays for it and puts it in a frame on a wall or in a museum?

Is art only valuable in the eyes of the receiver, regardless of how much care is put into a piece?

Is art only good if it “challenges” you? But Pollock challenges reality just as much as Kincade does, so where do you draw the line?

After I was done reading The Hunger Games, I read The Marriage Plot and tried (and failed) to read The Corrections. Both held my attention, but reading both books felt like watching rich white English literature snobs jerk off to their own writing. Which is why I didn’t finish Franzen and why I haven’t tried to read David Foster Wallace.

Does that mean that I failed to read good writing, or that the writers failed to write well enough to “challenge” me? Is the problem with the white men who failed to observe that the rest of the world isn’t white or rich or educated, or with me, for failing to be rich or aspiring to be rich and New York and in their circles?

Instead, I found myself enchanted with bell hooks, with Chimamanda Nzogi Adichie, with Rainbow Rowell, with Mary Karr, with Francesca Lia Block. I read The Fault In Our Stars and didn’t love it it for all the reasons I couldn’t enjoy The Marriage Plot and Wild and Eat, Pray, Love.

I think it’s very telling that Graham chose to use the language of shame in her piece, saying that adults should be “ashamed” of reading books written for children. (As an aside, she’s wrong there: YA is a genre that is defined by a) a young adult protagonist and b) topical issues that will be relatable to a young adult audience. It is an arbitrary distinction, but these books are not explicitly written for children, by definition of the genre.) Her coding of YA as shameful is a moral coding, which is a symptom of a assumed and defining myopia found in social circles of academia and literati: intellectual rigor for its own sake is morally superior than something that is merely good.

Academic or intellectual rigor in literature is something that is by nature subjective. As much as literature wishes to be a crown jewel of the academy along with science and mathematics, it is at heart an art, and you cannot quantify art. You cannot have evidence-based art. You cannot peer review creative work into being “art.”

The nature of snobbery is to assume that popular opinion is to be suspect, and that one’s cynicism makes one morally superior to the all-accepting, manipulatable masses.

But when the gatekeepers of the literary ivory tower all subscribe to the same standards, all play the same party tricks and indulgently reference each other’s party tricks, and all come from the same five or six variations on the same backstory, you get art that is masturbatory and intellectually incestuous.

Which is why YA is A Thing now. Not because of John Green and his hordes of adoring fans (and he’s a good writer who’s earned his laurels even if TFiOS isn’t my favorite book), but because YA has been snubbed by the literati for the last twenty years (partly because it was nascent and partly because it was “for kids”), and without the critical attention of the ivory tower, YA authors have been experimenting and practicing making messy art. They can afford it: their audience is often more willing to suspend disbelief than a stodgy NYT reviewer, and they aren’t included in the straight-laced social games so often seen “adult” publishing.

And after percolating and sputtering on the back burner for twenty years, John Green came along and lifted off the lid from the pot, and the grown ups table took note. Because it smelled amazing. And just like the little red hen, everyone wants a bite now. But those who haven’t been paying attention (or who can’t be bothered to pick up Laurie Halse Anderson [Speak dealt with issues of rape and victim blaming in 1999], Francesca Lia Block [Weetzie Bat addressed complex family dynamics and coming of age through a psychedelic California fairy tale device], or other standbys of the old guard of YA), happen to read the books that get the best marketing and end up quite confused what all the fuss is about. YA is nothing like a DFW work, after all. You have strong, unreliable narrators focused on one or two traumatic or transformative experiences (who of us doesn’t have that moment in our adolescence that we need therapy for?), and you have complex worlds that serve as elegant metaphors for how difficult life is or what it feels like to be a teenager going through x in a certain space and time.

I think too, that adults reading NYT bestsellers have become inoculated to the world and have forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager. Sometimes the YA authors forget this too, and overshoot their mark. But a truly written YA novel will have emotional complexity and unanswerable questions and truly agonizing life challenges—but apparently we should be ashamed of our primary feelings and distance ourselves into irony and sarcasm and cleverness and cynicism.

I think that the adult who has forgotten what it’s like to be truly troubled by the prospect of adulthood is an adult who should take stock of their choices and ask themselves if it’s been worth it. And then I think they should go read Code Name Verity or Thirteen Reasons Why or The Truth About Alice or Fangirl

If we’re having this conversation using the language of shame and moral choices (though I am not particularly inclined to think is a good or productive way to have this discussion), then perhaps I will posit this: the adult who is too good to read YA is an adult who needs some serious therapy.

Go ahead and write off the YA writers of today because they’re not following your NYC/MFA rules of “good” literature, but don’t forget that history loves to repeat itself and you might be on the wrong side of the Seine.


I’ve been pretty busy elsewhere this week, but I wanted to drop you a line here to keep you updated on goings-on.

Mostly I’ve been doing a lot of writing. And procrastinating by cooking soup and creating salads and new takes on mac & cheese.

A few things to share with you, though.

The first is: I finally wrote a love letter for Ben Moberg’s series over at Registered Runaway. I initially resisted his invitation because I get really fed up with loud LGBTQ allies talking about being allies for the sake of talking about being allies. I want to live that, not talk about it. But something happened this week that pushed me over the edge, so here you are:

My parents used to have a tile they got when we drove through New Mexico on our pilgrimage east, and it hung in our entryway at home for years and years. Mi casa es su casa, it read.

…because invitations are sometimes hard to accept if they aren’t made loudly, let me make it very clear: mi casa es su casa.

This house always belongs to you, too.

Secondly, I’ve accepted an offer to join the blogging team over at The Friendly Atheist. Hemant Mehta reached out to me a couple weeks ago and I think he’s great and I’m excited to be contributing to his Patheos blog as a Christian culture commentator. I’ll still be blogging here, too, so no worries about that!

Also, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to this whether or not I’m an atheist (this isn’t me coming out as one); my writing and analysis on Christian culture issues fits the tone and themes of his site well.  I’m excited for my first post to go up there tomorrow, especially I’ll be talking about the latest updates on SGM “scandal.” (I’ll add a link here when it’s live.) The post is live!

Thirdly, I’m finally posting my explanation of why modesty culture = rape culture, and Convergent Books is kind enough to host it for me. Part 1 is up today!

Fourth: Third: The Swan Children is accepting submissions for our July issue now! Read our latest update here and submit here.

And finally, the YA Wallpaper has a new video up! We’re talking about Meg Wolitzer’s new book (which isn’t out yet), so SPOILER ALERT.