Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fear and Freedom and Fear


I listened to a bit of Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress this morning. To tell the truth, the sound of mature-looking professional men yelling at each other in public wakened long-dormant memories of observing Baptist business meetings with my dad--when I was amazed to see a mild man, whom I had only previously known behind the pulpit or shaking hands, turn red-faced and angry when someone dared question the financial priority of his beloved softball!

When I turned the livestream on again later, a Republican Congressman was forcefully explaining why he didn't care what Cohen said. Cohen's words could not be trusted, he said, because Cohen is a liar. Greedy. A bully. A narcissist. He went on.

I shut the screen off again, because, really? As I learned decades ago from Winnie-the-Pooh, "there is no real answer to 'Ho-ho!' said by a Heffalump in the voice this Heffalump was going to say it in."

I used to love irony, but it has been so sadly stretched the last few years, so turned inside out, so prolapsed as to require surgical reconstruction. It turns out that irony is a kind of inside joke that is far less enjoyable when it is hanging out 24/7 and people are cruising past pretending it isn't even there.

Whatever words are spoken in the Capitol today, they will not solve my larger question:
How do I treat individuals...
      who voted for a sneaking, grasping bully... 
             with the dignity and humanity they deserve? 

Because I sure as hell* don't trust them.

Oh, they may seem like kind, decent people--they may be my neighbors, my relations, (heaven forbid!) my dance partners?--but their ballot choice exposed them as a threat, if not to me personally, then to my children and to other children and to the planet on which my children must live with their peers long after I've taken my leave.

I can imagine that these particular individuals, some of whom I must interact with, bear no malice toward me or mine. It does, however, require the exercise of imagination. Their alignment with a cruel incompetence may stem from ignorance--an excuse which, at best, reveals a deficiency of curiosity so acute as to be actually dangerous. Dangerous to me and to the ones I care about. Dangerous to women around the globe. Dangerous to anyone categorized by powerful men as "other".

The scent of danger on the air puts me on alert. My body stiffens, my heart pumps faster.

Fear. But we are warned against fear.

"Fear is a sin. We are commanded to 'fear not'. God has not given us a spirit of fear..." Jesus! I don't even believe in sin, or god, or spirits. Yet the deep anxiety over fear is ingrained.

"Fear is the path to the dark side! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate..." Shit, Yoda. You're no help!

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Yeah, right.

I've spent the last five years learning that it's okay to protect myself. That my fear can be a signal, that my instincts are a strength, that boundaries are my salvation, that not everyone is safe. And when people show me who they are, I believe them and take precautions accordingly.

What am I afraid of, exactly?

My life is great, after all! I have the intertwined privileges of being white, straight, married, educated, insured, Midwestern and middle-class. So what fear is set loose when I see men yelling at a New York lawyer who is on his way to prison?

Well, rational or not, I am afraid of enslavement. Not literally, though it has come to mind. Of losing my hard-won autonomy. Of having choices taken away. Of being punished for asserting my humanity. I fear coldness and narrowness. I fear losing a debate and with it, my freedom. And it does make me angry. Cages--for the body or the mind--make me angry. Injustice and inequality make me angry.

I saw the faces in Congress today. I know there are plenty of powerful people in Washington, in Kansas, in my neighborhood even, for whom I represent a threat to the fabric of society. With as much glee as they deport immigrants thirsty for a new life, they would put me back in the box where they deem I will be most "fulfilled".

Deep down, that is what frightens me. I may have anxiety about the environment, about global conflict, about economic trends, but small-mindedness scares me most of all. That is why my pulse quickens when I have to share a road or a sidewalk or a room with someone who is comfortable with a government that separates children from their parents, or a god who would barbecue me for eternity. People with an abusive and narcissistic god have grown accustomed to manipulation and abuse. We do not cherish the same values. We are not building the same future. Where I want bridges, they want walls. 

I don't want to live in fear. I want to live bravely, boldly, out in the sunshine. I also want to feel safe.

So... it's a dance.

The humans who remind me that this world is a good and beautiful place, who take risks, who expose truth, people with wise hearts and kind hands, who see with compassion and love without judgement--to them I show my truest self. Them I hold close to my heart. Them I wish well.

And those who--from ignorance or misguided zeal--empower cruelty, and greed, and lies, them I will be on guard against. Because I have known abuse. I have known narrowness. I have tasted freedom and I refuse to go back. I give myself permission to respect my fear. To use caution in the presence of people who have not earned my confidence. To jealously guard my best gifts. To be a wise serpent always, sometimes taking the shape of a dove. Because by fostering my own humanity,  I honor theirs, as well.



*Irony!


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Out Loud Thoughts on Motherhood



How is motherhood "supposed" to feel?

I have suspected for a long time that the sentimentality about mother-love and maternal instinct and "you know you'd just die for them" and "my heart outside my body" is either a fantasy or more bullshit propagated to make women feel guilty.

After a decade of helping raise my baby siblings, I was very curious about how motherhood would feel different from sisterhood. I cared for my siblings: I fed them, changed them, bathed them, wiped their noses, brushed their teeth, braided their hair, played with them, cleaned their scrapes, kissed their bruises. I prayed for them, sang to them, rocked them to sleep. When Mom wasn't there, I did my best to keep them safe and happy so I could present them back to her--healthy and mostly clean. As far as I could tell at the time, the only things I didn't do were grow them in my uterus and feed them from my breasts. I looked forward to having that experience because that would make me a full-fledged woman, equal in stature to my mother and her friends, not a mere surrogate but the real thing.

Having babies was expected. I didn't particularly want babies or not want them (I had an alternate life plan should we happen to be infertile), but I believed motherhood was the surest route to feeling like a true adult, and I desperately wanted that. So I was excited when I found out that everything "worked" and we had made an embryo.

When my first baby was born, I cried over her every day for weeks. She was by far the tiniest person I'd ever held, I was amazed by all I'd just experienced, and the chemicals rushing through my sore and swollen body were a combination I'd never felt before. For the next few months, my focus was sharpened to a single point: keeping her alive at all costs. By which I meant keeping myself alive, because I was her lifeline, her energy source, her matrix. I expected the same response when my son was born, but it never happened and I wondered if this meant I was a terrible and unfit mother or simply a tired and seasoned one, non-stick like a well-used cast iron skillet.

I've always felt a strong responsibility for my kids when they are in my care. But I rarely spend much time thinking about them when they are at school or under the supervision of an adult I trust. It's as if, deep down, I still believe my responsibility is to keep my kids happy and safe until their mom gets home when I will be rewarded with, "Good job; thank you." And it turned out that having my name on three birth certificates still did not make me feel like a grown-up.

Many people have heard me speculate that my maternal "instincts" were burned out on my siblings, my first batch of children, as it were. I did worry about those children for years after I left home, fretting that I couldn't give them the care and love and protection they deserved. By comparison, I felt less attached to my own children. They were always present, of course, so there was no pull to be nearer. I didn't feel the way I expected to feel as their mother. Perhaps because they developed in a healthier atmosphere, they began to differentiate from me on a much more natural schedule. And even though they came slipping out of my vagina and their multiplying cells were fueled by food I swallowed on their behalf, they could have been another series of brother and sisters, or nieces and nephews--more small humans whose DNA resembles my own. Even today, whenever I am around my family of origin, I inevitably call my kids by my siblings' names, as if they are a continuation, rather than a new generation.

Perhaps I never had "maternal instincts" at all. I've certainly never wished that babies would stay babies; I was the one counting off how many more years till they move out of the house. The smaller the child, the more energy they required, and it seemed better for everyone when they could do more things for themselves. The most fascinating thing about babies was to watch them become increasingly responsive: when my daughter's nervous system developed enough to be ticklish, when she made eye contact, when she could mimic her grandma, when my son could be saddened by words on the radio.

Watching minds grow has always brought me joy. Feeding information to children is fun, in the same way that it was fun to feed peaches to the zoo bears when I was a kid. I must have been in second or third grade when my dad came home from a business trip and handed me a paperback with a colorful cover: The Silent Storm. I had watched enough Little House on the Prairie to grasp blindness; I'd been exposed to sign language and to braille. As I read about Helen Keller and W-A-T-E-R, I could imagine being locked in black silence with peaches and cake and toys--but no alphabet. No words. No books. No songs. No Sesame Street. To my mind, it was a fate worse than death. And tragically, no amount of parental love could bring Helen to life. Their desperation, however, led them to Annie Sullivan who slipped the key of language under the door of Helen's prison. That story gave me goosebumps. I reenacted it more than once, holding one hand under a cold spigot while spelling w-a-t-e-r with the other. Annie Sullivan was my kind of superhero; her spectacles were better than any cape. I longed for a Teacher, a companion and mentor to feed me all the knowledge I could hold. I wanted to be her. I would choose Annie Sullivan over Mrs. Keller any day.

And maybe that's who I've been.

Sometime in my mid-20's, I realized I'd grown up in a linguistics laboratory. And soon it was my turn to give my own children language. And not just language, but literacy: literature, comedy, journalism, speculation, poetry, song. They have the tools with which to experience this world and to express their sensations, as well to imagine new worlds and to communicate those images. They have inner resources I didn't have, and outlets for idea exchange that I didn't have, either. I'm thankful beyond words that they have teachers and friends and support systems outside the four walls of this house.

As a new mom, I imitated my own mom. I was a confident mother because I'd done most of it before, and the rest I'd watched her do. Every good memory from my childhood I tried to recreate for my own kids. But my own childhood ended by the time I was a tween, from then on I was more of a mother's helper than a daughter. I had years of practice raising young children...but now that my kids are teenagers? I'm winging it. It's all uncharted territory now.

Their lives are so different from my own at their age that we might have grown up on different planets. When I speak in the language of my first twenty-five years, only my husband understands the words. I feel lucky to live with someone who still remembers the world we came from, while my kids stare and ask, "What did you say? What does that even mean?" Sometimes we translate it for them, sometimes we let the words evaporate in the space that will always be between our children and us.

So I don't know how motherhood is "supposed" to feel. But when I listen to my children today, I feel pride mixed with awe. I enjoy their company. It's a treat to share new experiences with them. To introduce them to people and places and activities that hold meaning for me. To watch their personalities bloom. Watching them be themselves, I continually learn new things about my self. Now I find myself imitating them. I admire their courage, their discipline, their soft hearts, their creativity, and their wisdom.

They are, unexpectedly, becoming my favorite people and my best friends.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

ATI's Many, Many Programs

And while we're at it, a quick and dirty overview of ATI's programs for kids enrolled in Gothard's homeschool curriculum.  ATI was less a curriculum and more of a collection of Gothard's hobbies and his staff's passions. Most of these programs required cross-country travel and were not inexpensive, especially for large [Quiverfull] families.

Please let me know what programs I've missed! Again, this will probably show up better if you click on the image itself.

How many did you participate in? And which ones did you wish you could do, but it never worked out?







Saturday, January 12, 2019

IBLP Locations


While we're at it, here is my attempt to represent the geographical spread of IBLP. At its peak, the Institute had staffed centers at these locations. Most of these were active in the early 2000's.

Blue: international centers.
Yellow: never quite got off the ground.
Green: residential campuses that Gothard staffed primarily with children and young adults from his homeschool program. (Some paid for the privilege; some worked for free; others received minimum wage.)
Gray: miscellaneous buildings. Some were used to re-program youth sent by the courts or by their parents.
Red: offices of IBLP's correspondence law school, though it was partly run from other locations.


(Clicking on the image should make it clearer.)





Friday, January 11, 2019

What Was That Cult Called?

After snacking on after-school cookies and milk, my teenage daughter casually asked, "What was the cult called?"

"The cult we were in? Um, it had a lot of names. Why?"

"'Cause I mentioned in history class that my parents were in a cult, and some people wanted to know which one, and I didn't know its name."

"Ooohhh...yeah, it's confusing."

So I grabbed a marker from the board (I grew up with a chalkboard in the kitchen and my kids will think it's normal to have a markerboard--I mean, I ask you, where else do you post chore lists, make menus, work math problems, or diagram sentences for the edification of all?) and began sketching and explaining until I ran out of space, my daughter had a decent understanding of the IBLP structures we had been part of, and I had drawn something like a new constellation.

My daughter snapped a photo of my sloppy writing and disappeared to her computer to turn it into a proper diagram. I tweaked and added to it and present it here, gratefully, as her work.

As IBLP ages and Gothard's potency is diluted, I think it is important not to lose the scent of his ideas as they reach corners that would otherwise seem safe from his noxious influence. When prisoners are given "character booklets" from Strata Leadership, for example, they have no way of distinguishing which concepts were actually the grooming techniques of a sexual predator and con man.

I'm proud that Gothard's name is not familiar to my children. But I trust they'll be able to spot his poisonous manipulation and authoritarianism anywhere.






NOTE: I've revised the image to include more programs. (1/16/19)


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

For Whose Pleasure?

You are doubtless aware that Facebook has this sometimes harrowing feature that dredges up historical posts so that while I'm waking up and sipping my coffee I can also wander through a kind of digital wrack line (TIL that is the official name for the debris deposited on the beach at high tide--you're welcome!) and hunt for forgotten treasures while stepping over the decaying fish.

This morning's wrack line included a treasure of a TED talk by Sofia Jawed-Wessel called The Lies We Tell Pregnant Women. The whole piece is wonderful, but this was the paragraph that arrested my attention a couple of years ago:

Every time a woman has sex simply because it feels good, it is revolutionary. She is revolutionary. She is pushing back against society's insistence that she exist simply for men's pleasure or for reproduction. A woman who prioritizes her sexual needs is scary, because a woman who prioritizes her sexual needs prioritizes herself.
--Sofia Jawed-Wessel 

That quote alone deserves to be its own post. So feel free to stop reading here.

Seriously. 


But when those words resurfaced on my pre-dawn Facebook, a weird phrase also danced out of a dusty corner of my groggy brain:
“For His Pleasure”
His? Huh?

I couldn’t quite recall where I first encountered these words, but they somehow seemed so familiar.

Thinking it may have been a book title, I consulted the omniscient google, which offered both an erotica series AND a book from Moody Press. Naturally. 😂

Of course! All things were made for God’s pleasure. He took pleasure in those who fear Him. Without faith it was impossible to please Him. He was pleased with a broken, contrite heart. He worked in me "to will and to do His good pleasure".

I never questioned it in my decades as a Christian. My body was His temple. I was His blood-bathed bride. (Anyone else feel like they need a shower yet?) And I was told He had opinions on what I should eat, what I should wear, how long I should sleep, in short, what I did with every body part, especially my vagina. 

And while I spent hours and hours pondering how I could please Jesus, my parents--indeed, all my authorities--as a happy and obedient handmaid (a word I applied to myself decades before I'd heard of Margaret Atwood), from my teens on I spent no time plotting how to experience pleasure myself.

Our own pleasure was expressly forbidden, in fact, and twice on Sundays!
  • "He who loves pleasure will become a poor man"
  • "...enjoy pleasure...this also is vanity"
  • "Call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD...not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words"
  • "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word"
  • "Not my will, but thine"
  • "She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth."
  • "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God"
  • "Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton"
  • "the pleasures of sin for a season"

This phrase is probably part of why I lean so hard into my own pleasure now. A compelling reason to prioritize actions--like yoga, like dancing, like mindful eating--that help me be more present and content in my physical body. And I definitely lean into my sensual pleasure—whether I want orgasms, a warm touch, or just a soft, cuddly sweater hugging my shoulders.

Prioritize your own pleasure this week, friends!


"Flow"



Sunday, December 9, 2018

Holiday Drama



I used to think depression around the holidays was a newer struggle for me, until a quick tour through old journals last December showed that it's one of my oldest traditions. This year I began strategizing early to head off, or at least minimize, the holiday blues. Back in September, I auditioned for my second community theater show this year, and to my surprise, I got a part!

Hurrah for intensive DRAMA THERAPY!

If you haven't seen the classic film Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, well, you probably should. In keeping with my "Living Backwards" motto, I am playing a twenty-something single girl: Myrtle Mae. A stay-at-home-daughter, if you will! Myrtle Mae and her widowed mother have been cast on the generosity of her uncle (and his imaginary friend).

This 40's hairdo has been too much fun.
Harvey was the farcical creation of Mary Chase, a journalist from Denver who kept on writing stories of all kinds as she raised three sons with her news editor husband, and the play won her a Pulitzer during World War II. I love being part of plays written and directed by women. This one also happens to include relevant themes like mental illness, feeling trapped, loneliness, and male doctors not believing women. Not to mention the complexities of living with someone who has a "relationship" with an unseen entity!

"Play-acting" as the Puritans in The Witch of Blackbird Pond called it, has been a fun challenge and a very welcome distraction. Memorize lines? But, of course! Didn't I memorize entire chapters of the Bible once upon a time, to recite with my siblings, sometimes with coordinated motions? Every night I get to have angry outbursts and tearful meltdowns, speak sarcastically to my stage "mother", curse the invisible being who makes my life miserable, and despair of ever being found by a man who will be my ticket to a wider world.

Myrtle Mae with Aunt Ethel!
It's been strangely therapeutic to work with a team of no-longer-strangers to create two hours of living, breathing art that will no longer exist after today. Each performance is a dance as together we weave a tapestry of words and movements for our audience--painfully attuned to their sighs and their giggles, their gasps and their coughs; their guffaws energize us. Gently, subtly rescuing each other when one of us stumbles over a sentence or misplaced prop, we own our mistakes and do all in our power not to repeat them as moments of intensity under the lights alternate with stretches of backstage boredom.

The camaraderie of the cast conjures memories from my cultic past. The intimacy of sharing darkness, close spaces, eye contact (remember that one?), dressing rooms, inside jokes, script books, snacks, even bobby pins, with people one may only have known a few weeks is uniquely exhilarating...and exhausting.

Seeing how people look after each other has reminded me how each individual's success (or distress) directly affects that of the whole. Each person's contribution is valued, and supported. The show is an organism made of many individuals filling unique roles--each one vital and, at this theater, each one is a volunteer effort.

Tomorrow night, I will miss these friends. I will miss their kindness, their quirks, and their silly banter. I will miss the anxiety of stepping into a new scene and the sense of accomplishment of stepping out of one. I will miss the countdowns, the cues, these phrases that have finally begun to roll off my tongue when they are supposed to. Perhaps what I will most miss is having a professional coax my hair into victory rolls!

And you may catch me wearing white gloves and 1940's makeup at the Kroger from time to time, just for the fun of it.

In my PJs, learning my lines.