Thursday, December 17, 2015

making America great already

God, I miss New York. And I feel like a defunct adult because I possibly could have romanticized parts of the middle class New York experience such as "eating bagels for every meal" and "never owning a home", if it weren't for the fact that my family is here and the people I loved in New York, the ones who neither fathered my children nor actually are my children, almost always had someone better they could be hanging out with, something better to do. The person I believed I'd grow up to be would have fit right in there, but the person I actually became could never quite compete. New York was out of my league -- but it never had the time to disinvite me, and when I daydream about her, she and I are always friends.

It is inopportune that we moved to rural Pennsylvania when we did. Here, we are welcomed on the one hand -- I had the babies, I pay my bills, I have a real job that doesn't entail writing antagonistic essays about the inherently oppressive nature of discourse -- and, on the other, I do a lot of keeping my mouth shut. 

I miss living in a place in which most people took for granted that children should always get to eat and women should have control over their bodies and education is for everyone. There are people who believe that here, but it's also disconcertingly acceptable to believe that no, some kids should have thought of that before being born to poor parents, or, we came into the country the right way (by being born into the Trump family? by being born white?) and it is hurting us if we allow political refugees to stay here and take out (minimum wage, unfilled) jobs.  

We want the job to go to the best person, the most deserving person -- provided that that person is white. We'll extend a Supreme Court hearing to a white girl whose GPA couldn't get her a seat in law school because somewhere there might be a black student with a lower one who got in, but we have nothing to say to someone who, by virtue of her birth, gets to choose between watching her babies get shot and watching her babies drown. We'll celebrate the courage of a woman who forgoes cancer treatment because of her fetus --at least, we'll "like" her on Facebook -- but we want a wall to keep out the mothers who will risk their lives to smuggle their children across the border so they can live. We complain about the flagging work ethic of "the millennials", but we cheered as Trump used our fear of one group of brown skinned people to promote a wall to keep out an entirely different group whose members ubiquitously do all the jobs white hands are loath to set their iPhones down in order to do. 

I wish I had the courage of your average illegal immigrant. I wish I had that kind of love. I am glad, of course, that my circumstance doesn't call for it. But I like to think that, if what stood between my children and life were something as abstract as laws, they'd be pulling me off that boat and out of the water. 

We don't actually need to make America great again. America is great. If Donald Trump knew the Americans I know -- the teachers and nurses and shelter directors and volunteers and parents and friends and citizens -- he would know that. 

I'm a selfish, mentally ill, flawed person; but three nights a week I make myself as useful as I can to people who are sick and need care. But I do my best to love my kids in such a way that they will be better than me. But I try to recognize where the privileges I have actually come at the expense of others, and to look for opportunities to do the right thing, the fair thing, the kind thing. And I am like the lowest common denominator of people. Almost everyone I know is doing greatness better than me. 

That's what actually makes a country great. It's what makes anyone great. If Donald Trump had picked up a g-d book at some point in his life, he'd know this. Calling names, threatening people, pitting the "strong" (that is, those of us bowing with bumpers on from the time we apply to college to the time we retire) against the "weak" (those for who "no one helped me" isn't overlooking one's college educated parents, consistently-visited pediatrician, and adequately funded school) -- these things don't make anyone great. 

In the last few weeks, I've been focused, first, on cutting back to a single job with consistent hours, and, second, on cleaning out the discouraging amount of space my eating disorder continues to occupy in my mind and life. The better, I hope, to spend 2016 doubling down on Trump's project of "making America great", on continuing to make America great, on making America greater. It's just that I think that looks like fewer old people sitting in feces and developing non-ventilator acquired pneumonia, like more kids reading, like fewer of us looking the other way as black children and adults are shot and unfairly imprisoned, like the incredible and beautiful people that make up our country getting what they need to flourish. It doesn't look like a wall, it doesn't look like a sneer,  and it doesn't look like the mean girl's table in your average junior high school. 

We can do better than a president who "says what he thinks". Blame it on the raging sinus infection, but I am sure that any day now we will realize that. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

going through the unimaginable

This month, I began the important and terrifying work of establishing a sense of who I am apart from my weight, how much I eat, or how much I work out.

Two realities, one short and one long, in this vein:

I don't love running lately. I hit a point in which I do, but that usually happens when I'm more well rested and better fed than I have been lately, because as my dad acknowledge on our last family outing, "Your shit's still not all together." (I said it first!)

I'm an ordinary person who, through some compound of off-kilter brain chemistry and growing up in the 80s, came to feel that I need to do extraordinary things. And I never see anything I am doing as extraordinary enough: enrolled in a PhD program and with a  real possibility of becoming a published writer, I decided writing for a living was for the bourgeoisie and left to work in education; finally working as an educator, I decided education was ultimately hopeless and political and became a nurse. 

Now, I drive all over in the middle of the night because someone's parent or husband has fallen or died or gone to the hospital or stopped responding when their family says their name. You would think, in those situations, a person would get someone remarkable or extraordinary. But no; they get me, and I do the best I can to make the situation seem somehow manageable. And because people -- male and female -- are mostly strong as hell, they get through, ten seconds at a time, and then they thank me, though I can't imagine they mean it sometimes, because there's really so little I can do. I tell them the time of death and that their mom looks peaceful, I call the funeral home; if I can, I stay until their mom or dad is gone. 

I do these things, and I wonder why I don't feel more, and then I drink too much wine and cry on the kitchen floor about the Hamilton soundtrack. 

It becomes almost meditative, a constant bringing back to this moment -- all of anyone's patients, all of any group of people, are going to die. But my patients are only seeing me because they are going to die, and in the face of this I can only say: today, things are okay. Tomorrow they will be harder, and then they will become unimaginable, and then you will find yourself living through what it impossible to imagine right now. But today, here is what we have, and here you are, living through it.

And then I say it to myself. I can't keep my parents or my children or my husband from dying. But today, things are okay. Today everyone I love is here. 

I am learning to do this -- to let go of everything that I can't prevent from happening in ten years or two years or tomorrow and holding on to this exact moment with both of my hands -- because of my job. It is an incredible thing to be learning at work, though I feel lucky to complement it with plain old nursing in my off-call weeks -- to go into a hospital and care for some people who don't expect to die soon -- and with the act of mothering my children, whose death still stays firmly in the space of the unimaginable to me.

It is a remarkable thing that I get to do, and I am learning to respect and value myself for being the specific kind of ordinary person who chooses to do this exact remarkable thing. Just as you, whether you are teaching children or writing articles or recording music or preparing food, are doing exact and remarkable thins with your day, which is to say, with your life. 

I want for my awareness of this, for the attention I pay to the extraordinary nature of my existence and of the existence of the people I encounter, to constitute an identity that matters more than the size and shape of my body. I want to believe that it does, and for that belief to feel more real and immediate than the belief that I must run every other day or weigh less than a hundred twenty pounds or else I am worse than nothing and everything's all over.  

I want to be recovered from my eating disorder in the sense that my well being is no longer predicated on having worked out a certain number of times this week, to be enough of a person without that qualifier. 

It's frightening to consider the possibility that it never was, and that I am the bad guy who has insisted it was -- that all along, I never had to be doing this, no one was making me do this; that I could have weighed two hundred pounds and been the same mother and nurse and person I am right now and it's only me insisting that it matters whether I run or not, go to the gym or not, maniacally patrol whether my soda is diet or not. 

It makes for lousy, unbalanced blog posts -- but sometimes, this is where one is, teetering along the ridge of a paradigm that seems to have shifted and that feels ready to shift back any time. 

You are more than your body and its dimensions(?)

It doesn't matter how much you run or weigh or eat (?) 

Actually, you have always been enough (?)

Later, I think, I'll affirm each like everyone around me does without really thinking: Yes, and Yes, and Yes. As though it is obvious. But it is not obvious to me, not really, because if it were I could let go of my eating disorder entirely, and I either can't, or I can, but haven't yet. The other things about me matter, but really they only matter if I am also thin, or if I am also a runner. The idea that

I am the same person whether I work out or not (?) 

and that

I would be the same person at two hundred pounds as I am today (?)

are still turning up at their ends, still dogged by question marks.

But at least I've started to say them. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's probably okay

One day, friends, my grandchildren will read my blog and will ask: but who was Donald Trump? This occurred to me this morning, and it is well on its way to making my entire day.

In the meantime, while Mr. Trump and his Hair that I Will Not Mock -- because we don't make fun of how people look in this house -- are engaged in their attempt to make the country just a little meaner and more ugly, I am cheerfully failing my children, as evidenced not only by my own unfortunate hair situation (mommies who work two jobs put less thought into the preschool drop-off line than do other mommies, I guess) and also the fact that my beautiful, intrepid, creative son is kind of, well, a jerk.

He bosses me around. Sometimes he tries not to, and sometimes I don't even know if he's trying not to.  Sometimes it seems as though he has been told that speaking one's mind is, in and of itself, some kind of virtue, regardless of whether what is on one's mind adds or detracts from the net quality of the world.

I would suggest that if what one is thinking is I want more, or I don't like this, or You didn't give me enough milk.  or You have a big butt, mommy, well, the act of sharing these thoughts is at best morally neutral. You'll get no points from me for speaking your mind until and unless your mind takes it up a notch, son. Does your mind have any ideas on how we can help Syrian migrants? Thoughts about The Blind Watchmaker? Thank Yous for the five per diem shifts mommy is working on her "week off" so that you can have milk?

The thing is, my son does have an abundance of clever and interesting and wonderful things to say, but he's doing absolutely nothing to separate the wheat from the chaff, brainwise, these days, and is instead expecting the same reaction for verbally abusing his grandfather as he gets for speculating on the differences between engines in cars and engines in trains. In both cases, kiddo is speaking his mind; it's just that actually, sometimes your mind could just remain unspoken and we'd all be happier. And there's essentially no social pressures in place to help my three year old distinguish welcome and valuable mind-creatures from the sundry whines and demands that comprise his interior landscape.

It's like we spent three years in Brooklyn and the kid got titrated in such a way that without the constant pressure, the sense that a grown-up near by is about to come unglued and start screaming at you at any moment, he just can't act like a decent person.

It's also like moms in Pennsylvania spend a lot more time planning family vacations than I am used to, and a lot more time actualizing their children, not so much by instructing them in the practice of not being jerks as  by buying and making cooler and more expensive things for them than my kid is likely to get out of this mom.

I mean, I felt good about my little hand-quilted train bag, completely furtively during a week on-call --  until I saw all the other kids' back-to-school  bags, which had, not 99 cent swatches of fabric stitched on, but personalized iron-on monograms of their names. One mom appears to have simply bought, or else constructed, an entirely new bag, one made not of canvas but of some sort of printed Frozen fabric, because CHEATING. Several parents appear to have invested an amount of money comparable to that I spent on my kid's entire back to school wardrobe on little bits of flare for their kids' bags.

I 'm joking, of course. I spent nothing on my kid's back to school outfit, because when your kid starts day care at twelve weeks old, there really is no "back to school" outfit. The back to school outfit here is that we are consistently wearing pants after an eight week pants hiatus while mommy was on maternity leave and the world was ninety-eight degrees.

So there we are, folks. I left my babies at Child Watch at the Y this week to hop around on the elliptical machine, where I eavesdropped on two moms debating the merit of a ten thousand dollar Disney Cruise for their wildly blessed little ones. Meanwhile, in this house, we have yet to start a college fund and are just now getting the hang of keeping our balls covered. As we are only to happy to discuss with anyone who will listen, up to and including the seventy-fie year old "check out girl" at Wal-Mart.

Is this why my kid's such a brat lately? Is he just now having to contend with the reality that mom's not actually very good at her job? (The mom job, I mean -- not the other two jobs I also have, which are perhaps what's damaging him in the first place, and why didn't I think to be rich before having him?)  And does "good at my job" mean giving him more stuff or finding a way to bring his appalling attitude into check before he becomes a monster, fit only for Fox News sound bites? Fifty years ago, was a now-forgotten Mrs. Trump facing down this same dilemma?

Geez, I don't know. But I've gotta believe it's probably okay. That one day my kid will show signs of giving some semblance of an eff about someone besides himself.  That being a working mom with a hand-sewn bag and baloney sandwich lunches  ultimately will be enough, because it's literally the only option for one malcontent little ginger.

In the meantime, at least he humors me with daily little bits of serendipity and genius interspersed between demands and complaints and entitlement. The first words out of his mouth today were I Want, true-- but later, when the 35 grams of sugar rom his daily hit of instant oatmeal kicks in, we can talk Halloween costumes (he wants to be a lemon).

His costume will look nothing like this

It's entirely possible I'm doing everything wrong -- and that, like my son, I lack even the will to pull my shit together -- but here we are. And on occasion, at least, it seems that I got pretty lucky anyway.

Monday, September 14, 2015

(don't) Trump it up

Donald Trump continues to have a face, and to talk out of it, which would be enough to send me spiraling on your average Monday.

But I won't. Not today, lovelies, because today it is Autumn.

And because to Donald Trump --  and to those who wish to rub his cancerous blend of entitlement, racism, sexism and hate all over their mindflesh like the corrosive mayonnaise it is -- I am bequeathing Facebook.

Take it and do with it what you will. From here on out I am logging on only to post new blogs and to like Josh Koehler's daily requests for gun control. Because again, we are plagued by complex issues, but, much like welcoming the alien (do it, say both Yahweh and SBJ), this is not one of them. It's not hilarious, but actually deeply sad, how we are so histrionic about the rights of some people to own guns that we are willing to take chances with the rights of other people to live.

I won't speculate on the skincolors, ages, and socioeconomic state of the former and latter categories, because, again: Autumn, and joy, and those of us willing to interrupt our pumpkin-spice-latte consumption for a hot sec don't actually need to be reminded of how our current economic and political systems are literally killing poor and brown and young and female people all over the world and then directing our attention to what this effing schmuck says about women's faces.

Instead: here's some joy. Well before Trump even thought to co-opt our natural stage for his Parade of Hateful Irrelevancies, Doctors Without Borders was doing what they do all over the Middle East. And what they do, friends, is save the eff out of some babies and their moms and their families. To wit:

You can read all about all the amazing stuff MSF (if you're feeling Frenchy) does right here .

So, kids, here's what we're going to do.

1. Not vote for Trump. (One would think it'd be obvious, like when you get a delicious-smelling candle and there's a warning to not eat the candle, or like those warnings that Compound W is not intended for genital warts, and yet, those labels exist.)

2. Whenever your eyes or ears or a single minute of your glorious and finite life is assaulted by this guys and his hateful bullshit, trot on over to this page right here, plunk down what you'd spend on your average generous belt of liquor, and then check out what your money is doing.

Gradually or suddenly, you'll find this odious character replaced by images like this:

Check out these heroes; I promise Trump will still be odious when you get back.

And this:

Antagonize DT by helping some deaf toddlers!

 Hell, even this:

(I promise this fundamentalist Christian neurosurgeon does not support abortion, you guys)

Look, I'm not saying it's not depressing that I have to tell my three year old that "We don't say mean thins about how people look" and "We don't call names" and then live in fear that actually, what is acknowledged as bad behavior in preschool constitutes a political platform if you're a rich white guy with no experience as a public servant, running for office on a platform of rich whiteness and a rejection of the notion of service itself.

 All I'm saying is, wouldn't it be remarkable and thrilling if Trump's awfulness casts our own low-grade suckage and lack of empathy into relief and pushed us to be, like, deliberately provocative in our willingness to love our neighbors rather than shit all over them on Fox News? What if Donald Trump is actually engaged ed in some sort of subversive reiteration of who we've become, and we are all forced to celebrate whatever acts of grace we can in order to avoid going completely insane a la that guy at the end of Heart of Darkness? Wouldn't that be both hilarious and deeply sad, but also deeply hopeful?

I don't know about you, but I choose to think it would. I'm Molly Blooming it up these days, embracing the Yes I will say Yes instead of The horror! The horror! Call me weak if that's your thing, but it's exactly what I'm capable of this glorious Monday morning.

Next up: when your three year believes he is Donald Trump, and other calamitous failures.

Friday, September 11, 2015

selfie segueway

The lovely Ann Voskamp wrote a much better and more timely piece than I could have about the refugees and what can be done, as did my hero and girl crush, Sarah Bessey. Both of them top their lists with the suggestion that we tweet selfies of ourselves with signs saying #refugeeswelcome.

And while I initially thought, well, that's useless, maybe not, because the last few weeks have left me newly cognizant of the fact that we actually cannot take it for granted that refugees are welcome here. 

I don't have much use for the idea that having the right opinions makes a person better.: what matters, I maintain, is what you do, not what you think or believe. (A more devout Christian than myself will immediately recognize that fatal error in that premise and might begin to understand why my six years of Christian two-room-schooling might have been somewhat of an ordeal for me.)

But what you do grows out of what you think and believe, because if you don't believe that refugees should be welcome here, in your country or community or home, then you are not only not taking selfies to that effect, you are certainly not going to do anything to make them welcome. (For you, read "I".)

And it becomes a cycle: they have nowhere to go (because we don't intend for them to come here); so certainly they are doing something wrong by trying to come here ; so we cannot be expected to welcome this influx of no-place-having refugees here; so they have nowhere to go.

In this way we seem able to convince ourselves that, actually, these refugees are doing something wrong to us by being in such devastating need that we are forced either to contend with it or to engage in tortured efforts to explain away those un-nuanced and deceptively simple red letters -- the ones about being hungry, sick, in prison. The ones about giving everything away and loving one's enemies. The ones that will slam the breaks on literal interpretations of the Bible when neither prohibitions on shellfish nor endorsements of slavery seem to slow it down.

"They will be much more able to give YOU something..."

One person isn't going to be able to do a lot to help these people, although we love those stories about one person just doing good, apolitically, without calling attention to the fact that what is needed is a different world -- one in which refugees are welcomed, one in which we can dispense with arguing if a person deserves to be here or not and say: we're not called to weigh whether or not someone deserves to watch their children eviscerated before their eyes or swept into the ocean or sold into slavery, just as we're not called to determine if that homeless woman is really going to make good use of our spare dollars, if she tried hard enough to make capitalism work for her before she gave up and asked for "my" "hard-earned" money. 

We're called to welcome the orphan and the alien. Any caveats we choose to add are extrabiblical. 

So, my first step here is just to hold that in my mind: no matter what you throw at me with respect to what our society can support or why our (carefully cultivated) fear of Islam, and of brown-skinned people generally, is justified, I'll come back, yoga-like, to the belief that no one deserves to watch their babies die and I have been told to help, not judge. 

The first step to finding meaningful action to take, I think, is to clear away the irrelevant discussions of whether or not people "deserve" to be in America. In the time we've spent arguing over legal versus illegal human beings, we could have run like a hundred after school programs and gotten all the homework done and made approximately a billion grilled cheese sandwiches for these people. We are spending so much time justifying why we don't have the time or resources to share even a little, why we shouldn't have to. I am spending so much time, I mean, because when it comes down to it, I am afraid there won't be enough for me if I do what I'm told and share

And maybe there won't be enough tomorrow. But today, there is enough to share. There is enough to welcome people in, and I have been commanded to do so. there is enough for me to do what I can of the right thing, even if it is crushingly small in the face of all the wrong things with which I'm contending. 

If we are collectively willing to say that ignoring desperate people is not a solution, then we can refocus our efforts to solve this problem, can turn from the enjoyable and masturbatory project of explaining why we really can't or shouldn't help, why our hero is actually the guy who has built a platform out of Not Helping, to just helping. We can add to our prayers for everyone we cannot help that always-relevant prayer of addicts everywhere: I ask only for knowledge of God's will and the strength to carry it out. 

We can't let everyone in? Well, whatever -- we're not talking about letting everyone in. Let's just start letting some people in so they don't die.

Someone else should do it? Friend, my senior class motto was Can't Someone Else Do It? No joke! And yet, I am not in Canada or Europe or "those other Arab states", so I can only say that here, in America, in Oxford, refugees are welcome. 

But they might not deserve it -- or some variant thereof. This one is less frequently said aloud but, I think, is at the heart of a lot of the conversations we have instead of asking What can we do here? As a citizen of the first world, allow me to assure you that I harbor no resentment towards the society that has supplied me with a safe, clean place to live, adequate food and water, and freedom from violent assaults on me and my children -- though I have done absolutely nothing to "deserve" any of these things. 

It's great to be smart if the problem you are solving is complicated. But it seems to me that if we are really debating whether or not our goal should be to help refugees however we can, that we are using fancy words to draw attention away from a much simpler failure. 

So, for today: first, I'll send my money to Doctors Without Borders, about whom I will rhapsodize more next time I write. They are one of many groups doing Actual Things to Actually Help, and one of the places I think one can safely support if one's schedule is crammed with Driving Everywhere Forever and acting as a patron for a thirty-eight-pound artist's rendition of How I Spent My Summer Vacation 

(which is late)

(because three weeks post moving day, we had yet to unpack our crayons).

Second, I'll set an intention to hold in my mind not only the immeasurable worth of the other people's children whom I cannot help anymore and the fundamental truths that

no one deserves to watch their babies die 

and I have been told to help, not judge. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

my nineteenth nervous breakdown

Life, though, is not all baby perfection and rolling green hills.

While I continue to try to eat food and not throw it up, to raise my kids and be loving and not start talking about Kim Davis -- because the absolute value of my contributions to our collective dialogue about What Should Kim Davis Do is always zero -- someone else's kids are horribly dead. Kids whose skin was as soft and whose daily newsfeed was as hilarious and whose lives were as wholly essential as the skin and newsfeeds and lives of my own babies.

And I do, I do all the things -- the hospice nursing and the regular nursing and the snack making and the birthday gift buying and the breastfeeding and the driving home at night -- despite the fact that I actually can't.

My whole thing these days is death: preparing for it, reimagining it, being present in its face. But sudden, violent deaths, deaths of children, kind of destroy everything I think I know about myself and the things I am doing. All of this, the baby-having and caregiving: it's great for me. But we also live in a world in which your children can be ripped out of your arms and under the water and away, forever, while God just effs off somewhere, for all the good He seems to be doing. So now what?

This is another side of the multi-faceted coin called No Really Kim Davis WHAAAAT that I just keep slipping back into my pocket to consider another day: there has got to be a more nuanced and creative way than literally to approach the Bible, if we are going to look to it and the God it's proclaiming at all. because the Bible is saying:

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all

and Abdullah Kurdi is saying, "I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die." 

I also have been reading that story in the gospel of Matthew in which John is sitting in prison and sends a messenger to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or do we look to another?"

Yes. That. Because you're saying your kingdom is ruling over all and I am looking around like, all of this? 

I can believe that one day there will be something for Abdullah Kurdi besides what he's waking up to today, but my kids are alive in the warm, dry rooms that surround me, and I also believe that I will one day see them grow up, that they will watch me die, years and years from now, and attended to. And as long as my belief in God's kingdom is predicated on those other beliefs, I don't know if it means anything at all.

For my faith to be real, I have to keep going back to these things -- to look straight at the world as it is and work out my salvation in the face of that. To not get lost in the comfortable avoidance of donating money or protesting the war and believing that that is in any way a response to the specific lives that have been destroyed this summer. And then, to find a way to live as if a "God's kingdom" is at all possible here and now, as though backtracking to check on someone else's dying patient, sewing my son's first day of school bag, buying purple birthday orchids, mean anything.

Existentially, pretty inconsequential. 

Clearly, my prayers for Syrian refugees avail them none of what they actually need, which is: a different situation, a different life, an undoing of the past few weeks of this one. God will do what he wants and people who see some kind of cosmic favoritism in the whims of our global economy and the violence it generates -- well, the less I think about those people, the better for us all. But I pray anyway, because by praying I can at least affirm that they matter. And because maybe if I set aside time each day to incorporate them into my life, even in my imagination, I might become a person capable of a response even marginally less useless and hopeless and self-involved than the one I seem stuck in now.

Tomorrow -- or, the next time I get to a computer: links to all the people better positioned and equipped to prevent more horrible losses like those of the Kurdis, and ways you can support them.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Baby girl, you stay on my mind

So: I had my baby. I have a baby girl now. And while we are in this weird cultural moment in which we all imagine, I guess, that the economic and racial privilege enjoyed by white women in America has negated #firstworldproblems like #genderedviolence and #bodyshaming and #incomedisparity, the reality is that I continue to be awed, daily, by the seemingly insurmountable task of raising a female child in a world that still seems bent on telling her that her body belongs on a billboard, in a box, selling yogurt, or generating erections for strangers.

My baby girl isn't for any of that, gentlemen. Not because she is pure and sex is dirty, but because she is a G/D Amazon witch baby and she will do as she damn well pleases.

I started out excited about my daughter's possible futures as the next Serena Williams (she has thighs and nalgas that go on, deliciously, for days; she'll be borrowing my shoes in a week) or the first girl to graduate from Cooper Union (tagging along after her increasingly air-conditioner-and-engine-obsessed big brother, naturally). I'm beginning to get excited about possible less-subversive futures as a concert pianist or a social worker or, God forbid, a little girl like I was: bookish and preoccupied with Japanese houses and American history, scribbling elaborate novels in three ring notebooks and joining Shakespeare club.

I consider this an act of grace, that I am able to overcome a chunk of my own internalized misogyny while all around me, our culture seems to be becoming uglier and more hateful.

I can't speak to what makes someone construct a God whose most urgent imperative is to refuse to let other people get married, and to insist that one's underlings similarly refuse, and then to claim kinship with American heroes when this lousy behavior is shut down. I don't understand what has left people so angry that someone can win an audience by running for presidency on a platform of lunchroom insults, the kind of crap of which I'd had enough by tenth grade.

And I feel torn because I've spent much of the summer hunkering down, wrenching my life into a shape where my parents, my faith, my marriage and my children occupy more space. I feel kind of like I've given up a big part of myself that cares deeply and passionately about people outside of my family, and like maybe everyone else has too, so that the people who are left running the show are the ones whose idea of civic participation is insulting supermodels and preying on our sense of entitlement -- as though being born to United States citizens or to wealthy people is an accomplishment, as though you, too, wouldn't jump any damn border in front of you if it meant your child might eat and live and not get slaughtered. Oh, and making ugly little asides regarding women's menstrual cycles, because when you are in the wrong, the best thing to do is to run back into the safe little fort you've built out of rules like No Girls Allowed.

See, I knew by age twelve that asking about your period or calling you fat is what boys do when they've lost, when they only thing they have left is that they are boys and boys are better. I just thought we'd all outgrown it. Or -- to put a slightly sharper and less comfortable point on it -- I thought that we didn't hate women for being women any more, that white girls like me could focus on being Allies, which is to say, could determine our own level of participation in a struggle on behalf of others.

I thought a lot of things., But really, no. I have a little white girl baby in a world in which being a girl is still a reason to get shut down, if one forgets for a single second who really belongs and who doesn't.

And I have to believe that's good, and here's why: because I think privileged white girls like me believe too easily that things are better than they are, when, in point of fact, things are still what they always were: better for white girls than brown ones, better for wealthy girls than poor ones, and best of all for rich white boys who, at the end of the day, can still win a fight by calling you ugly. Can, apparently, come uncomfortably close to winning a mother-loving presidential campaign by reminding everyone that that girl's a girl, too pretty or not pretty enough, so who cares what she has to say. Because we love a (white male) person who Speaks His Mind, especially and only when speaking his mind costs him nothing and risks nothing and lets us feel good about everything we have while all around us people live lives we feel affronted at being asked to consider.

There's a difference between the reality -- that my personal circumstances involve lots of changes and challenges and that these have limited my ability to reach out to others in love or to respond in a meaningful way to the systemic oppression and crushing needs around me -- and the comfortable belief that things are better than they are because my status affords me the option of turning inward in this way. Buttons and bumper stickers notwithstanding, my silence actually does a reasonable job of protecting me.

And while there's no reasonable option in my mind but to be feminist -- because the idea that my daughter is less than anyone is appalling and incoherent, not much further afield than the idea that my daughter is actually a leopard or a robot or a can of mixed vegetables -- there's also no less complex way to be feminist than to acknowledge that the stakes I have in this struggle are both Super Effing Real and also much less high than those of almost any other woman on the planet. That my participation is not an act of charity or altruism but an essential action, the only possible choice I could make in good faith, and also that I am acting as someone who benefits from the oppression of others and whose needs and agenda and grievances are really not the priority.

So: sexism. Still real, still thumbs down, still requiring hypervigilence and glamorous acts of subversion whenever possible. And also pretty far from the biggest problem on our hands. My daughter is not for you guys and your bullshit, sirs, because she has bigger fish to fry -- among them actively loving those around her and dealing with things that do matter: economic justice, dismantling racism, the millions of desperate and starving and needing people around her.

That's the girl you're looking at, sirs. Sorry for this apparent confusion.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lent reprise

So, this is the third blog post I wrote about Lent. The other two, I took down, because one outgrowth of my two Lenten practices is my desire to stop being so negative -- a desire one might describe as a critical need. I mean, if one wanted to be accurate, and saw me on the floor at work last night, almost yelling at a coworker, "Figure out which team I have, I have ALL the [effing] teams!"

Which is not good behavior. Which I do not want to do again. Which I expressed in a (slightly) less humiliating and appalling, equally cathartic way a few hours later, when, still at work, I buried my face in my hands and said: I feel like I've been asking for help all day and no one will help me.

The details of why my day became so horrible are pretty inconsequential. Sometimes the best grace can manage for me is to gently turn my chin away from how I have been wronged and towards how I could have done better. Since I am optimistic that it might also spare me any embarrassing fallout for a day I'm quite ready to forget about and never, never, never revisit, I won't detail those specific rooms for improvement here, but I will say that, I hope on my next really horrible day I can maintain some perspective and not yell or swear.

And while I have no freaking idea what most of the New Testament, which I read in its entirety for Lent, is about, I do feel like consistent exposure to it, combined with a somewhat more selective reading practice (less --almost no! -- Jezebel and more books by bell hooks and Richard Wright and Roxane Gay) and a No Facebook clause have helped.

Is God real?

Um. Maybe? Less real than, say, my son or my husband or my inevitable demise, maybe. But certainly more real than most of the shit  stuff I think about. As it turned out, I punched out at 11:29 last night from a shift that "ended" at eight, but the cataclysm I imagined when I was ranting at my colleagues was actually not real when I stopped looking at it. I went to the nursing office, apologized for getting done so late, and was treated kindly -- which, honestly, was all I actually wanted for most of the day anyway.

That is real: my desire for kindness. My need to feel loved. My desire to be heard. And the thing that pulls me towards Christianity is the idea of a God who comes to Earth with the unique purpose of redirecting us towards those needs and desires in one another. Who says, my kingdom actually looks like people attending to the things that we know are real, that don't require apologetics.

I don't know if I'm a good nurse or not. But I do know that in the horrible sixteen hour shitshow  Feces Spectacular that made up my day yesterday, I made sure that my wonderful eighty-seven year old patient got home safely, the name on her prescriptions correctly spelled (ratio of things "we can't fix" to things for which there actually exists no solution: HUGE!), as opposed to wandering off the unit to find her own ride. Her lipstick looked beautiful. I know that an hour of my late time was spent helping the oncoming shift settle her patients when I still hadn't charted anyone's admissions, because while nursing is twenty four hours, that truism entered my consciousness some twenty five years after the one about treating others how you want to be treated.

Those things are real, and Jesus says they matter, enough that He has this whole kingdom that's all about those things. And a lot of people I love a lot don't seem to really care much about God, one way or the other, and I wonder, often, if I'm just missing something they all get. But none of the things they care about seem as real to me as do the things Jesus cares about.

I don't know about the Resurrection and the Life, in part because I am so emotionally invested in it that honestly, I don't really care if it stands up as a truth claim or not. But I do know that I want to live in a kingdom in which people's primary concern is recognition of, and care for, those around them. And the God in whom I believe without really trying is a God who would show up in sandals, without a mortgage or a five year plan, saying: look, I can show you where this kingdom is. It's actually the only substantial thing you're going to find here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Examples of God being freaking excellent to me in 2015:

1. My baby is alive. She's still fetal and everything, but she is continuing to grow and kick and generally rock at fetushood, by all indications. Her face, in the little "4-D" sonogram (which, what? Is the fourth dimension not time?), is that of a miniature valkyrie, cheekbones and chin already jutting. She persists in growing while I persist in my ever-humbling battle to put adequate amounts of food into my body on the daily.

2. I don't know why feeding myself like a sane person is my version of Everest, but it is giving me a new appreciation for the Gospels, which I am reading now -- I finished Mark on my birthday and spent this morning trying to care at all about Luke's genealogy of Christ. (Which I still don't, really, but I appreciate that Barclay does).

Given the choice between the model of self-esteem in which I attribute likable qualities to myself without issuing caveats or employing ironic finger quotes, and one in which I acknowledge myself to be wholly fucked, on par with the wrath-fleeing vipers antagonizing John the Baptist, but loved anyway thanks to God's ability to do literally anything -- well, I know which one rings true for me. There are six people in this world whose love is a real thing to me; five of them are totally disabused of any notion of my inherent adequacy, and the sixth is still in diapers. (To be honest, even he is onto me, these days; just last week our proposed trip to the transit museum was rescheduled because mommy apparently cannot manage to enter and exit the library in less than an hour.)

God's grace, and its power to cast a light by which I am worthwhile, is believable to me because I have been loved with grace by the people around me. That is infinitely more remarkable to me than if I actually were good enough/smart enough/liked by people, doggone it.

3. DAY SHIFT. I can't really explain how dramatically I've experienced the shift from nights to days, though if you have any kind of mood or anxiety disorder yourself, I may not have to. I really struggle to organize and make meaning of my days, and not having time in the mornings to collect myself and time at night to close out and come to terms with what happened during the day is very hard for me to manage. It's not that I'm happier since switching so much as it feels like I've gotten a huge part of myself back.

4.  My husband. Not to get all #blessed, but I need to put out there that my husband is basically amazing, pulling 7 day workweeks when I'm on at the hospital and he's left to wrangle our three year old singlehandedly on his days off, doing pretty much all but the most idiot-proof of housework tasks, then staying up all hours putting music into the world because holding down a full time job and raising a toddler isn't enough.

I understand my father, whose reaction to women apart from my mom has always been an indifference bordering on actual blindness, much better now: I married the other best person in the entire world and now get to go home to that person every night. You, person engaging me, are no doubt amazing, too, of course: it's just that at my house is a man whose domination of life is such that even my viperish heart recognized it, without Jesus having to steer me there, firmly, by my collar.

5. New York. This city is so full of amazing people, doing amazing things. There are so many books to read, things to learn, so much work to do and be part of, that even on day shift, I find myself exhausted. It's become hard for me to put myself to bed at night or stay asleep til morning. This weekend, I held my pee for a solid three hours because I was too engrossed in nursing to want to stop long enough for a bathroom break. Then I stayed up three hours past bedtime, unable to stop reading library books, which I had stacked in my bed because I couldn't settle on one and was alternating by chapter. At least I know where Mac gets it from.