Know You

I wasn’t consciously thinking about #MeToo or the conversations we’re having around consent in this cultural moment, but as this song took shape I can see its influence.

Just this morning I finished the last in a three-part Radiolab podcast called “In the No.” Which I did not enjoy but forced myself to listen to for my own good, like going to the dentist or cleaning the bathroom. In general I don’t like talking about sex or seeing/hearing it reenacted (all of which happens in this series, including both staged and real audio recordings of sexual encounters), let alone discussions of BDSM (a main topic of the last episode).

But I’m trying to parent two humans who mean more than anything to me, and this is their world. I won’t – and don’t – always understand, but I want to be engaged and informed.

Though there were important moments of insight and perspective throughout the series, all my discomfort in listening was worth it for the very last few minutes of episode three, starting at 24:35, when Michael Lissack, director of Empowering Victims, said this:

“Unfortunately, [consent] frames the entire question the wrong way. Consent means that you’re giving someone permission to do something to you. We don’t do sex to someone else. We have sex with someone else. . . It’s the wrong word.”

And the very last words of the series, from an unnamed woman discussing her current relationship:

“It’s so nice to have a partner that can read your body language and be like, this doesn’t feel right, are you okay?”

“Consent” is legal language and an obvious and irrefutable baseline. It’s unconscionable that it’s taken us this long as a society just to get to the point where this is an expectation for everyone, including men in positions of power.

But as a measure of a meaningful relationship, consent is much too low a bar. I want to know my partner, in every sense of the word. And I want my partner to know me, and to want to know me. This is what I hope and pray for my children too, as they grow into adulthood and seek out life partners, to love and be loved, body and soul, heart and mind.

Here’s my song for week 43 of #songaweek2018:

Tell me all the things you think about honey
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me all the jokes you think are funny
Tell me everything you know about love

I really wanna know
I really wanna know
I wanna know you

Tell me what scares you, what hurts and haunts you
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me about the hands you couldn’t hold on to
Tell me everything you know about love

Tell me all the things you dream about baby
Tell me everything you know about love
Tell me what can make your legs get shaky
Tell me everything you know about love

I’m listening
With all my ears
And all my heart

Your Call

Every moment of your life is a gift. You can stack all those gifts on a shelf and save them for later, but the little gremlins of time and urgency will tear into them and do with them what they will, and then you will be left with cleanup duty. Or you can quit waiting on everyone else, everything else, and take each gift in your arms, each moment, as it arrives, open it up, live it with intention. You can answer the call with your own voice and actions – take full responsibility, full pleasure, full heartache, whatever it is – from each moment.

My song for Week 20 of #songaweek2016 reflects on the passivity I and many women learned by osmosis growing up in a fundamentalist environment, and the ongoing conversation I’ve had with my younger self to work through it. So that even those moments I passed on the first time have become precious to me, have shaped me, as I perform the aforementioned cleanup duty.

It’s all good. All shall be well. This I still believe.

Hey little girl with the starry eyes
falling in love for the very first time
you always keep your toes in line
you always keep your tongue so tied

don’t hold back the words you need to say

You should tell him
you should tell him ’cause the mystery haunts my dreams
or you should leave it
you should leave it ’cause the mystery inspires me
I just wish that you had known that it was all your call

You spend your afternoons in secret gardens
writing all your secret thoughts
waiting for the world to come and find you
waiting for permission to come alive

don’t hold back the moves you need to make

Get up and dance now
get up and dance because my memories could use more joy
or keep your quiet
keep your quiet ’cause my memories could hold more peace
I just wish that you had known that it was all your call

but i’d never go back
not for a minute
and I wouldn’t trade it
not for a million
’cause I’ve learned that every moment is my call
and that my life is ringing
off the hook

 

Why I Wish I’d Kissed Him Sooner

My man and I have been through a lot together. Including a hands-off, touch-less pre-marital relationship.

Sixteen years later, we’re still living with the consequences of our choices.

Oh yes. I know, that sort of talk usually refers to the choice of “too much, too soon,” and I don’t disagree that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture. But for some of us, more needs to be said about the dangers of overly-prohibitive romances.

Nathan and I fell in love over our guitars. My first memory of him is a long-haired, earring-bedecked, goatee-trimmed Minnesota boy lazily strumming a guitar, sitting at the church missions fair behind his booth about his recent travels in Romania. I was hooked. He doesn’t remember much about the first time he met me, but he says he fell hard for me when I pulled out my guitar and sang a song I had recently written.

The summer of ’96 was one long conversation, deep into the night, punctuated with music and, I assume, eating and sleeping too.

But not touching. We had both been in previous relationships with a strong core of making out, and, doing our best to protect ourselves and one another from the dangers of sexual sin, about which we had heard plenty throughout our years in church youth groups, we agreed to a hands-off policy.

No, really. Hands-off. In premarital counseling with our pastor, when the subject of sex came up and he somehow discovered that we didn’t even hold hands, he looked concerned. He said something about light switches and wedding nights, akin to the idea of 0-60 in 10 seconds flat, and that maybe this wasn’t the healthiest way to go about building a marriage.

Considering his advice, we agreed to hold hands before our wedding.

The big day came, and soon enough, that first kiss. Of which I remember hardly anything. Shy and public are good descriptors. Hundreds of people observed this model couple’s first kiss, and I’m sad to say that we heard from more than one family afterwards, how our kissing decision was held up as a standard for their own children.

Listen, kids. Life is a struggle. We try things and fail, then try again, and sometimes we succeed. But always we grow, if we are willing to. That includes the decision my love and I made about touching each other. We have grown. But because we chose not to touch before our wedding, even while building profoundly deep emotional and cerebral bonds, we’ve had a little trouble connecting our sex life with the rest of our relationship.

The first few months, we were the stereotypical 1950’s newlyweds, exploring and enjoying sex like hungry adolescents. But if sex has been forbidden for most of your life, especially if you are a girl and are told you are responsible for protecting boys from temptation, then you can’t just jump right into it one day and feel that everything is good now. A subtle sense of self-loathing built up in me, which I began to vent by verbally abusing my husband, along with petty arguments, dramatic cry-fests over small disagreements, all of which seemed to come from a basic feeling that I was not lovable.

I wonder if a woman who has been told that sex makes her dirty, premarital sex makes her “damaged goods,” feels some sense of that consequence even after she has supposedly done everything right, secured the marriage license and kept all the rules.

And maybe it isn’t any easier for those couples who did kiss or – gasp – go further before their wedding, but felt compelled to hide this part of their relationship from that same church-induced sense of shame.

(And I am only beginning to listen to – and still far from truly understanding – the pain and shame heaped on anyone identifying beyond assumed heterosexual norms who grew up in church youth groups like mine.)

“It is not good for the [hu]man to be alone.” That’s fundamentally what sex is about – companionship, partnership, intimacy. As we parent our children, as we encourage the young ones – and really, everyone – in our midst, we must give one another space and grace to fail and grow in our reaching out for companionship, partnership, intimacy.

Go on. Kiss him. I’m talking to you, woman married twenty years who still habitually fends off the “temptation” to touch your husband.

A rough draft of this post has been in my drafts folder for nearly two months. Thanks to TC Larson for posting on this topic today and inspiring me to do the same.

God in a (Blue) Box and the Rise of the Wise Old Woman

© zir.com

© zir.com

Fifty years ago an unnamed time traveler appeared in the gap left when modernism and fundamentalism agreed that faith and science must be at war.

Known simply as the Doctor, he is the raggedy man, the intellectual genius who weeps and laughs, the miracle-worker with a profound comprehension of the physical laws of the universe, whose imagination, fierce hope and deep love enter into those laws, bending and transforming them. He is a scientific mastermind who can be taught, who can change his mind, who continues to explore and discover, to wonder – and wander.

A living breathing creature who lives and loves and loses and fights, who dies and resurrects (himself and others), who changes and is changed by his companions, his friends, creatures he meets only once, his enemies – anyone with whom he is in relationship.

A god in a box. Which is bigger – immeasurably – on the inside.

The Doctor travels through all of space and time in his box, the TARDIS. He comes to help, to save, and often he comes especially to those who have lost hope, lost belief, lost imagination.

That’s why I’m hopelessly geeked-out on Doctor Who. If you’ve been with this blog – or me – for a while, you’ve seen me lose each of the above at times. I fought in the faith-science war, first on the faith side, then on the science side, and then I ventured into the unstable no-(wo)man’s land in between. Before I put my foot down on a land mine, though, the TARDIS whooshed in, and the Doctor, with his goofy smile and ancient eyes, invited me to fly with him.

I know. It’s only a TV show.

But there’s a story there. There’s a living idea that moves me.

My young son said to his father recently, “I can think of four wise old men – Gandalf, Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, and Sensei Wu.” I would add the Doctor to his list.

But the wise (someday old) man I love challenged our son to imagine more. He asked if he could think of any wise old women. The two of them thought hard, and together they came up with Galadriel and Professor McGonagall. I have yet to come up with any more from popular media. (Help me – can you think of more?)

With this dearth of wise old women, why would I latch onto yet another wise old (and so far very white) man?

Because if the Doctor has taught me anything, it is that everything that lives – even he – has a future. And that future, always true to the essence of the life from which it grows, often looks very different from the past. 

The wisest of old men and the most profound ancient stories are forever leaning forward, letting go of ego and convention, imagining the impossible.

I like to believe that the Doctor himself is a transitional and transformative figure in the evolution of human imagination – that in fifty more years, the Doctor will have helped to move us into a literary universe shining bright with wise old women.

Not only beautiful intelligent young women (a transitional and transformative figure of our current popular media), but also wise, wrinkled, heavy, gray, faded, quirky – even bearded! –  old women. Women who are respected, and heard, and believed in like I believe in the Doctor.

And Who knows what else?

What Women Want

Reading Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting yesterday, I came across the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathely Lady. The authors’ retelling of the story shortens it and softens its rough medieval edges, focusing on the answer to its central question: what do all women really want?

If you have a few minutes, I suggest reading this translation of the story before coming back to this post. Spoilers follow this paragraph, and it’s a fun story to read before listening to further discussion of it. Especially this week, with Valentine’s Day coming up, I invite you to enjoy a romance that is decidedly of a different time and place! (Why do I suggest this particular translation? Because it appeared to be the most authentic translation of the original story that came up on the first page of Google results. Yes, thank you, I am such a scholar.)

In the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathely Lady (aka Dame Ragnell), we learn that what all women really want is sovereignty. When I read this story in Everyday Blessings, I thought for a minute that it couldn’t be an actual King Arthur story, spouting modern ideas like this one!

But reading the translation of the original, I see that “sovereignty” is treated more as “in charge of everything” than as “the right to rule oneself.” So that it may be more about the classic battle of the sexes, and the notion that in any relationship between two people, someone must always be in charge.

But, defining sovereignty as “the right to rule oneself,” I think this is a fitting answer to the question, and I might clarify further that women – just like men, just like politically-defined nations – want their sovereignty recognized, not bestowed (because it is no one else’s to bestow).

Or, as Mary Pipher writes in Reviving Ophelia (quoted in Everyday Blessings), though women all have different wants, each woman wants to be “the subject of her life and not [merely] the object of others’ lives.”

You Are. Now Eat.

This morning I crawled out from under my rock and learned about thinspo. Sometimes there is absolutely no fun involved in a loss of innocence. This was one of those times.

I first heard the term “thinspo” last week on a podcast. Yes, really. Just last week. I googled the term today and glimpsed an Internet subculture that shocked and saddened me. There really are women who publicly, matter-of-factly, and completely reject their fully-functional, highly complex human bodies, because they are “fat.” There appears to be no self-pity in this, no seeking of a “there-there, I love you just the way you are” virtual hug from anyone.

The images and pep-phrases of thinspo (“thinspiration” – think “successories” for weight-loss fanatics) strike me as stoic rally cries for soldiers going to battle. The war is for acceptance in a cruel world that has no place for cellulite. These soldiers seem to be past making value judgments, as any effective soldiers are. They purse their lips and accept hard reality, willing to fight to the death for a place in this wretched culture rather than live oppressed and kicked around any longer.

Just over a year ago, I stepped on a scale and faced a new tens digit – one I had only seen between my feet before when I was pregnant. I looked up my height, weight and frame size on a BMI chart and discovered I was overweight. So I decided to change direction. Over the last year I lost twenty pounds and gained new strength as I began running regularly and started eating mostly whole, plant-based foods.

Blah-blah-blah. If keeping my mouth shut about my success would in any way encourage a thinspo soldier to open hers and eat something substantial, I’d do it.

But maybe the best thing is to talk honestly about it. Yes, I moved the needle on the scale. Yes, I dropped a couple jeans sizes. Heck, I even have some defined abs to show for my regular core-muscle workouts.

But the only way an image of my body would make it into thinspo would be as reverse-thinspo, images of not-thin-enough bodies to inspire the thinspo soldier to keep that mouth firmly clamped except for the occasional diet soda and iceberg lettuce.

The thinspo ideal is not the human body at its best. It is a matter-denouncing self-loathing shroud.

I met my weight-loss goal, and I did it because I wanted to, when and how – and if – I wanted to. Now I run and eat well because it’s my habit, my lifestyle, and one of my life’s pure joys. Not my means to salvation from a hateful body-self.

A thinspo soldier doesn’t know or care what she wants. She can’t do her soul-crushing job with any effectiveness unless she shuts her mouth – not only to food but also to her own voice.

My body is amazing, and so is yours. I’ve routinely listened to negative self-talk that tells me otherwise – in my case, that my breasts are too small and my thighs are too large. But what does that even mean? What is “too small” and what is “too large?” My breasts functioned flawlessly in feeding both my babies. My thighs have never failed to support my body and move it from place to place.

That’s not to exclude those with dysfunctional breasts or thighs from the statement that your body is amazing. The fact that you are here at all, breathing air, thinking thoughts (or not), pumping blood through miles of tubing, experiencing life as only you – only you of anyone else who has ever lived – can experience it: that is amazing.

Whatever else we are, you and I are embodied beings. Enfleshed. Incarnate. We must learn to live in peace with and within our bodies. Yoda had it so right and a little bit wrong when he said,

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. . . . Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

I beg to differ, honorable Green One. Luminous beings are we, alive through this amazing matter.

I’m including no links to thinspo material in this post. That’s because I know that images and catch-phrases are powerful, and our culture already screams at women, all day long, that they are not thin enough, small enough, weak and insubstantial enough. So if you choose to “go there,” view thinspo’s brutal additions to the daily stream of attacks at your own risk.

And let’s all think twice about how and why we pursue health and beauty, and how we talk about that with each other. There are too many young women of inestimable worth on the brink of enlisting in thinspo’s ranks, and our careless words can give voice to the lies that recruit them.

Matryoshka Doll

Here’s a poem I wrote last year, about my multilayered identity of recovering good girl, wife, mother, and aspiring artist.

Matryoshka Doll

When they drop by the house
I am in my apron in the kitchen.
In their eyes I see a glimmer of worship
At sighting a domestic angel.
My young son is building superstructures in the living room
And I am baking bread
So I am a stay-at-home mom
(Apparently).

Once, remarking on my unpainted face,
Someone asked for counsel
About wifely submission.

They find me writing at the coffee shop
And praise my husband for giving me time off
From what (apparently) is my real work.

A little girl within
Believes them
Craves their favor.

A woman deeper still
Knows more
Feels lonely feisty misunderstood
Amused
Angry stuck sad useless.

At her heart is a human
Being
Living
Gestating
Faith hope love.

The heart of her heart
Throbs with the secret
And the strength
Of labor
The grip of death
That releases life
And, once more,
She breathes.

Women’s History

It’s the end of women’s history month, and I’m thinking of three stories of women today, all part of women’s history.

The first is recent history. In May 2000, Pakistani woman Fakhra Younus claimed that she suffered an acid attack at the hands of her estranged husband, while she slept in her mother’s house. Twelve years and more than thirty-six surgeries later, in Rome, she jumped from a height of six stories to her death.

Fakhra Younus wasn’t the victim of someone’s psychopathically creative crime. “Acid throwing” has its own entry in Wikipedia. And it isn’t limited to the present day or the non-western world. Which brings me to the second story.

I remembered this morning, after reading Fakhra Younus’s story last night, that I had read about an acid attack in my own family history. When I was younger, my grandmother gave me a copy of an account that her father had written of his life. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father took the children to a “Catholic home” and never visited them.

My great-grandfather Gus Dominguez grew up and re-connected with his father. “He started off by telling me that he was married again and has two fine girls and that he changed his name and that from now on I will have to call him uncle. He said he had to change on account of something he had done in Brooklyn – that the law was after him. Then I asked him, did you kill, steal or what was it all about. Then I heard the story.

“He was running around with a young woman and that she wanted to marry him. They became engaged but he found out that she was a high flyer and try to give her up but she did not want it that way, so to get rid of her he throw acid in her face. From then on he left town with the full account in the paper and police after him. So he change his name to Mr. Frank Hidalgo.”

I read this story years ago with great interest. My great-great grandfather was such a colorful man. I told this story to other people and even laughed a bit as I mentioned casually, “he got in trouble with the law for throwing acid in a woman’s face.”

It wasn’t until today, connecting these two stories, especially after seeing photographs of acid-attack victims, that I ever imagined the story from the perspective of the woman who “Uncle Frank” accosted.

Which reminded me of the third story, another one whose most sobering details I had simply missed the first few times I read it. It’s a story in the Bible, in Judges 19, subtitled in the NIV, “A Levite and His Concubine.” When I read this story as a child (oh yes I did; how do you think fundamentalist children get through long boring services with only a Bible to amuse themselves?!), I was most intrigued by the man cutting the woman’s body into twelve pieces and sending them to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Somehow I missed the much more disturbing piece of a husband sending his wife (concubine to be specific) and a father sending his daughter out on the street to be gang-raped by a crowd of men, in order to avoid the “vile” and “outrageous” act of the man himself being raped by the men on the street.

This story hit me with its full force when I came across it again in my young adulthood. I spent an entire day simply sitting with the story. I wrote a song for the nameless woman. She needed to be remembered.

Women’s history is filled with amazing accomplishments and beautiful stories. It is also laden with suffering. I end with a simple but powerful word from my friend Jodi, who arrived in Haiti just before the earthquake hit. In her remembrance of that day, she said, “Don’t forget the suffering. Add to the beauty.” These are words for all of us to live by, as women and men remembering and making history.

Random Thoughts on a Touchy Topic

When I was young, I knew with certainty that abortion was wrong. It was a black-and-white issue. A baby is a baby is a baby. Life begins at conception, and abortion stops a beating heart. Abortion is murder. I couldn’t understand how anyone could see things otherwise. I was sure that anyone with a different opinion was godless and heartless.

In my young adulthood, I met a young man who was also an evangelical-striped Christian. But he voted Democrat and identified himself as pro-choice. He explained that even if abortion was a moral wrong, he didn’t think it was right for a mostly-male Congress to be making laws governing women’s choices about what was going on inside their own bodies.

My thought-evolution on this issue has continued. Currently, I would say that I am undecided.

Here is a random list of thoughts and things I have learned related to this issue. These are not points or arguments. Please don’t read them as such. I am thinking out loud:

Planned Parenthood is mostly about providing low-cost or free health care to women. I was always taught that this organization was pretty much pure evil, so even today when I know better, just the name “Planned Parenthood” still elicits a visceral negative reaction for me.

Medical technology has advanced so that surgery can be performed on babies in the womb, and babies can survive birth at earlier stages of development than ever.

The phrase “every child a wanted child” rings a little hollow to me. It has been used as a pro-choice argument that no child should be born to a mother who doesn’t want him or her. I agree with this sentiment, but I think a better solution is to build a world where people welcome and support children (and by extension, pregnant women and mothers of young children), not where unwanted children are denied existence.

I find the ideas on Feminists for Life‘s website intriguing, especially their FAQ answer regarding criminalizing abortion (though it seems a bit evasive).

Adoption is often held up as an alternative to abortion. But carrying a pregnancy to term is a major life disruptor in and of itself, especially if a woman already has young children (and most women who get abortions are already mothers of previously-birthed children).

It is possible to hold a pro-choice position concerning legislation and a pro-life position concerning morality. I suppose this would be a libertarian position, similar to positions on other issues such as drug use, alcohol consumption, sex, and religious beliefs.

This is a controversial issue for good reasons. The entire journey that an egg and a sperm make to become a newborn baby happens inside a woman’s body. Is it really good policy to dictate to her what she does about that activity going on inside of her? If we can make laws about whether women may terminate their pregnancies or not, can we also make laws about how they will treat the growing child inside their body? Can we make it illegal for pregnant women to smoke or drink?

Why are so many “pro-life” people also outspoken critics of welfare in any form? If you want to reduce abortions, wouldn’t you want to help build a world where children are cared for, no matter their household income – and where women have access to contraception to prevent pregnancy in the first place? But I understand that many people who are opposed to government-sponsored welfare think that churches and community groups should be the ones providing poverty relief. And that’s another non-black-and-white issue for another day . . .

According to recent demographic research, poverty – and the inadequate health care and lack of access to contraception that goes along with it – is a significant contributor to the choice to abort a pregnancy. This blog post and video discusses this information more.

Referring to his daughters, President Obama once said, “I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” Unfortunate choice of words, I’d say. Whatever he meant by that, I think it reflects the reality of our patriarchal society which marginalizes women and even more so marginalizes children (and the elderly, mentally/physically challenged, etc.) and the people – often women – who care for them. Once again, this raises for me the reminder that abortion must be understood in its larger context of social and systemic issues that de-value people who don’t “keep up” with the expected pace of American life – 16+ years of formal education, 40+weekly hours working a “real job,” etc.

That’s a long enough list for now.

Abortion, like life, is not a black-and-white issue. I’m weary of both pro-lifers and pro-choicers ignoring the complexities involved  (though of course not everyone from either perspective does so).

These are just some opening thoughts to a conversation I hope we can have here. Let’s talk. What do you think? Or feel? Or wonder? Or what have you experienced? Or learned? Or considered? I’m looking for a thoughtful and respectful conversation about an often-heated topic. So it may be a good idea to read your comment over one extra time before you make that final click.

*Update: Recently I heard this OnBeing podcast  with David Gushee and Frances Kissling about abortion. I highly recommend it as a model of thoughtful conversation on this issue.