Fair-Trade Back-to-School Shopping

 Abraham models his new favorite outfit: second-hand t-shirt and Beru sweatpants

Abraham models his new favorite outfit: second-hand t-shirt and Beru sweatpants

I'm really passionate about Fair Trade shopping. There are a plethora of cheap, fast fashion clothes on the market that are bad for the environment and bad for workers. Several years ago I started a blogging project Life's Not Fair Trade as I researched different products I buy and their impact. When I started that project, finding fair trade clothing was next to impossible. I found one shop in Vancouver and there was American Apparel, which had its own problems.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since then. It's now easier than ever to find Fair Trade clothing. This summer I set myself a challenge to only get second-hand or Fair Trade clothing for myself and my kids. 

How did we do? I started with the fantastic blog, Style Wise. This is a great directory which breaks down companies by what they sell. Part of sustainable fashion to me is only buying what you need rather than anything that pops into your brain, so I bought underwear and a bra from Pact. When they sent me a coupon for free socks, I bought some socks, too. I really like them! Their clothing seems to be high-quality, very comfortable, and reasonably priced. On vacation I hit up some second-hand stores for a blazer, a top, and a super adorbs British sun hat.

 

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Shopping for the kids was tougher. I have successfully second-hand shopped for them before (pajama pants are the best 2nd hand--does anyone else's kids blow out the knees of their pjs???) but I'll be honest, sometimes you luck out and sometimes you don't. And shopping with kids is trying at the best of times, so I decided to try online Fair Trade. 

I downloaded an app, even though I hate apps, called "Good On You" which is pretty helpful in rating conventional and Fair Trade clothing brands. I could see it being very helpful if you're headed to the mall anytime soon. Unfortunately, most of the kids' Fair Trade sites I found were geared toward ridiculously cute baby clothes or little girls' clothing, neither of which I was looking for. I basically just needed boys' pants and socks.

I hit pay dirt when I spotted a blog that mentioned Beru. This is organic cotton clothing made in Los Angeles AND it's reasonably priced?!?!? What kind of witchcraft is this???? I loaded up on chinos and sweat pants (my 3yo ONLY wears sweatpants). They arrived quickly and are very comfy. PLUS they came with cool silver tattoos! I only wish they did denim.

All that being said, I did cave and get the kids some jeans and one t-shirt at Uniqlo, and I will have to buy them some probably non-Fair Trade socks pretty soon. Progress not perfection, right?

Do you have a Fair Trade tip? What kinds of things are important to you in a clothing brand? Leave a comment below!

One Thing Must Change After the Hijacking at SeaTac

Content warning: suicide.

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Last Friday night a SeaTac Airport ground crew employee named Richard Russell stole an empty Horizon Air plane and flew it around the Puget Sound before crashing it on Ketron Island. 

In the wake of this incident, officials are meeting at SeaTac to discuss how to prevent incidences like this in the future. You can bet there will be new waves of security measures just as there were after 9/11 and the "shoe bombers" a few years after. This will lead to more delays, fewer flights, and heightened security theater at our nation's airports. Meanwhile, Americans are many times more likely to die falling out of bed than being killed by a terrorist.

 

 

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It strikes me as ridiculous that we keep enacting security measures at airports. There will always be flaws. Our airports can never be made 100% safe and the odds of airplanes being used for terrorism is incredibly low. 

What, then, could have prevented this hijacking and the death of Richard Russell? Better mental health care. Listening to the cockpit audio of Russell's flight, it seems clear to me that he was suicidal. Profiles of Russell have painted him as a quiet, religious guy, who was very kind. He was a Young Life leader. In case you are unfamiliar, Young Life is a high school youth group-type organization. Russell was not some isolated loner, he had community.

I didn't know Russell. I don't know what his mental health was like and whether he made attempts to get help. But I do know that churches far too often fail to identify people who are struggling with mental illness. In many churches things like depression and anxiety are treated more like sins to be prayed away than serious illnesses. If a parishioner is brave enough to tell a pastor that they are struggling, they are often offered counseling by pastoral staff, who rarely have any background in clinical psychology. In many churches taking psychiatric medication is seen as a sin.

 

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We have a long way to go in recognizing and treating mental illness. People do not have to die of their mental illnesses. We need churches and communities that recognize that mental illness is an illness just like diabetes is an illness. We need a healthcare system in which EVERYONE can access therapists and psychiatrists. Until then, no amount of airport security will prevent hijackings like this from taking place.

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

 all dressed up at Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland

all dressed up at Sterling Castle in Sterling, Scotland

I found myself surprisingly anxious before we left on our four-week trip to Europe. Maybe I had good reason: a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, jet-lag, eating in restaurants, sleeping in strange beds, and no hope of a peanut butter sandwich anywhere.

Traveling with children rarely feels like a vacation.  What to an adult looks like a plush hotel room feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable to kids. Even if you do manage to get them to sleep there, odds are good they'll be up before sunrise. Young kids, especially preschoolers, love routine and must therefore hate travel where everything is so different. But we weren't doing this trip for the kids, we were doing it for ourselves my husband and I would periodically remind each other. 

This was a selfish trip. Yes, we took our kids to many playgrounds and even Lego Land in Windsor, but this trip wasn't fundamentally for them. If it were up them we would've just stayed home and visited the Lego store every few days. 

I have no regrets about taking this completely selfish trip. We reconnected with old friends. We overindulged in delicious food and drinks. My husband and I reminisced endlessly. Our kids came along with us, and we tried to share things with them, but like all kids, their interest is random and therefore almost impossible to satisfy. The Tower of London was meh, the double decker bus was amazing. The Deutsches Museum (possibly the world's largest science museum) was OK but "the wave" on the Isar River where surfers practice was spellbinding

There were tantrums in picturesque piazzas, there were many requests to "go back to Seattle," and there were two incidences where we had to physically remove them from restaurants; but for the most part the kids adapted well. Even though they complained, I think they did enjoy the trip, as did my husband and I. My only regret? Not being even more selfish.

Before we left, I told my husband that I thought it would be a good idea for us each to take some time to ourselves during the trip, to be able to go the more boring sites sans kids. He was genius enough to plan a date night for us in London's West End, complete with babysitter he found online, and I asked a friend to babysit one night for us while we were in Frankfurt so we could go wine tasting with friends, but other than that, we forgot to take time for ourselves until our last two days.

In fact it was the very last day of vacation that I relinquished some family time (a visit to yet another "dino museum") to go to City Beach, a rooftop beach bar in downtown Frankfurt. 

 City Beach Frankfurt

City Beach Frankfurt

It was heavenly. I ate lunch without worrying about anyone else's behavior. I ordered an outrageously priced raspberry mojito and finished my vacation read. The whole time I was thinking why didn't I do this sooner? After a few hours, Ryan and the kids joined me on the roof and I felt relaxed and happy to see them.

If I learned one thing on my summer vacation it's this: it's OK to be selfish. It's good to take time away from being a parent. Not everything needs to revolve around the kids all the time. 

I'm hoping to be more selfish in the future. I've started by taking advantage of our preschool's parents night out this week to go on another date with my husband! (That's 3 in 5 weeks, look at us!) And right now I'm making my children do "quiet independent play time" in separate rooms. It's good for them and me.

Our current culture of paranoid perfectionist parenting, admitting to not centering my children's desires feels scary. But it also feels right that they learn they are not the center of the universe. By "taking turns" doing things I want to do, I'm teaching my kids to be considerate of my needs, just as I am considerate of theirs. 

Fashion File: Packing for a Month in Europe

My husband and I have made the (possibly insane) decision to battle jet lag with small children and take our family to Europe this summer. If you know me at all, you know I am an obsessive list-maker, so it comes as no surprise that I've started packing already. But since I have some experience in this arena, I decided to share some of my vacation packing tips.

 

1. Ditch the sneakers. The "American tourist" uniform goes something like this: sneakers, visible socks, shorts, sweatshirt, baseball cap. Europeans tend to be dressier. I'm swapping out sneakers for some comfortable Birkenstocks and these Alice & Whittles ankle-height rain boots (because, Scotland.) If I weren't going to be spending so much time at the playground on this trip, I'd be going more skirts and dresses rather than shorts, too.

2. Pack light! When I first started traveling, I'd bring enormous suitcases filled with outfits for every possible occasion. But schlepping suitcases is no fun, and it turned out I didn't even wear a lot of the things I brought. This trip each member of the family is limited to one carry-on. The photos above are pretty much all of the outfits I'm bringing. Mixing and matching is fun, and since we're staying mostly in VRBOs or with friends, I can do laundry once a week and save myself a lot of hassle. Another good rule of thumb is: Europe has stores. I don't need to bring giant bottles of shampoo or whatever, because if I don't pack it I can always pick it up in Europe.

3. Mix, match, layer. Packing light is a lot easier if you keep your patterns in one area of your clothing. I picked two pairs of patterned shorts and a polka dotted dress while keeping my tops solid colors. I'll probably also pack a polka dotted scarf to jazz up some of these outfits and for an added layer in Scotland. I also made sure to pack layering pieces, like the denim shirt which can double as a beach cover up. I'll be bringing a compact rain jacket too. 

 

 packing list...what am I forgetting?

packing list...what am I forgetting?

Can Makeover Shows Be Feminist?

 from Barbie to Real Housewife: Jade, contestant on episode 1 of "100% Hotter"

from Barbie to Real Housewife: Jade, contestant on episode 1 of "100% Hotter"

I love a good makeover. In fact, I just had my own hair makeover yesterday! I think playing with fashion is really fun, and I'm intrigued by the way our appearances influence how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. Back in the day I'd gladly binge hours of shows like "What Not to Wear" and its ilk. So when "100% Hotter" popped onto my Netflix recommendations, I was STOKED. Not only is it a makeover show, but a BRITISH one. When I lived in the UK I really admired how put together British women tended to look (at least more so than the average Seattleite). But as I watched, a knot began forming in my stomach. I began to realize that my evolution has a feminist may very well have ruined makeover shows for me.

The premise of "100% Hotter" is that women are selected for looking "too extreme." Three stylists show their picture to a bunch of strangers who rank them on a scale of 1-10 for "hotness." Then they are set a series of fairly embarrassing tasks, before being madeover, revealed, and re-ranked. It's like the show was dreamed up by all the mean jocks in your high school.  

The judges attempt to soften this bullying by assuring these women that they are actually "quite pretty" but that they currently look slutty, fat & trashy. Yes, it's the unholy trinity of slut-shaming, body-shaming, and class-ism. Why did Jade have a cheap DIY bleach job instead of a "classy" blond bayalage? Probably because she can't afford it. 

The judges often mock the contestants for wanting to emulate beauty standards like Barbie or Alice in Wonderland while shoe-horning them into other, equally restrictive beauty standards. The judges treat fashion as if there were a morally correct way to dress.

If fashion is an art (as I'm sure these judges would say) then why isn't there room for people to express themselves in unconventional ways? In the whole makeover process all of the emphasis is on impressing others, not on what the women themselves actually want. It all feels very regressive, like "these young women must be brought in line."

I can't help but contrast shows like this to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," which provides not just fashion and hair advice, but also helps its contestants accomplish a personal goal. The men's interactions are framed in a funny but loving way, with far less bullying, and they use their advice as a means to an end. The assumption of women's makeover shows seems to be that looking good is the goal; perhaps the only and ultimate goal for any woman.

The final straw for me was that the hairdresser clearly put Jade in a wig for her final reveal (see above) but pretended like it was her own hair. I enjoy a wig as much as the next gal, but seriously, does they think we're stupid?  

I hope that someday we can have a makeover show where the contestants are in the driver's seat rather than the object of ridicule. Fashion should be fun, it should be a means of self-expression, not some way of forcing women into the narrow confines of someone else's standards. Until then, I will be giving "100% Hotter" and its ilk a pass.

Saint Samantha

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We didn't have HBO growing up, but when by the time I started attending Christian university, Sex and the City reruns were playing on basic cable, albeit heavily edited. My roommates and I would occasionally gather to watch it, me with a certain feeling of nervousness. While our Evangelical culture told us "modest is hottest" and "true love waits" and that even the most innocuous things (hammocks, slow dancing, pajama pants) could lead to impurity and ruination, Sex and the City was shocking. These four women seemed to be happy, although I secretly suspected they were wrong. Surely happiness came from being a wife, mother, and good Christian?

Most of them seemed redeemable (particularly Charlotte) but Samantha was beyond help. She was brazen in her desires, slept around without shame. In one iconic episode, she breaks up with a guy by telling him: "I love you. But I love me more."

And that is what was so transgressive and fascinating about Samantha. She was the antidote to the image of the martyred wife/mother that seemed to be held up as the Evangelical ideal. She loved herself the most. Samantha never had children, but if she did, I imagine her being the type of mom who wouldn't feel guilty about parking her kids with the ipad so she could work out. She wouldn't feel compelled to sacrifice her identity in order to be a mom. 

Last week I had my tarot cards read for an upcoming Fundamentally Free post. The tarot card reader talked a lot to me about boundaries (something I'm also working on in my support group). She said to me, "Relationships require compromise, but not sacrifice. Do you know the difference?" I nodded, but she kept pressing me, "Do you? Do you?" While I don't believe in the magic of tarot (spoiler alert) I do think it's something worth considering. How we draw these boundaries matters. After all, Jesus commanded us to "love our neighbors as ourselves" not more than, not less than, but equally.

That is a surprisingly difficult line to walk. But maybe I need a little less Mother Theresa and a little more Samantha.

Jesus & Perfectionism

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Christians have come up with a variety of ways to discount the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. I've heard sermons that talk about how Jesus' words were not actual commands but rather an illustration of how human beings could never measure up, and therefore are in need of grace. (Maybe that's true, how are we supposed to know? Jesus didn't offer additional explanation.) Don't get me wrong, there are parts of the Sermon on the Mount that are really beautiful and amazing (I'm looking at you, Beatitudes) but, if you take Jesus' words at face value (as we were taught to do as Evangelicals) then there are a lot of problems.

In this sermon, Jesus equates being angry with someone with murder (Matt 5:22), lust with the act of adultery (Matt 5:28), advises people to self-mutilate rather than sin (5:29-30), advises us to turn the other cheek, without asterisk for abusive situations (5:39), and sums up this whole series by commanding us to be as perfect as God is.

Perhaps the well-adjusted among us can read this chapter and ignore the parts they find unrealistic and simply get on with their lives, but this command to "be perfect" was a huge problem for me. I am a perfectionist, and here in the Bible, was justification for it.

Perfectionism is one of those quirks that tends to get laughed at, or even secretly admired, by those not afflicted with it. But, I've learned in the past year what perfectionism really is: a dysfunctional behavior that is the result of intense anxiety. Perfectionism is the driving fear that if something is not perfect, there will be trouble. It's the belief that if I can just control everything, make everything just right, then I won't get in to trouble and people will like me. It goes hand-in-hand with people-pleasing and being controlling. While others may look on in admiration at the amount of things I'm able to accomplish, how clean my house is, how much I read, or do x, y, or z, I know that this is an unhealthy behavior that doesn't lead to happiness.

I'm working now on letting go of control. It's very scary. A friend of mine who also struggles with perfectionism has started a new ritual. Each day she aims to make one mistake, and when she does it, she announces it, and her family have to applaud her. I thought this was silly, until the other week at breakfast, I spilled Cheerios all over the floor and was huffing and puffing in irritation. My three-year-old son looked at me sweeping and muttering and said, "Mommy, you made a mistake."

He said it without judgment, just as an observation. And then I realized that I need to treat myself the way I treat my kids. I need to allow myself to make mistakes, even applaud them. Maybe that's not Biblical, but it certainly feels healthier.

The Church of Daniel Tiger

 the pieta

the pieta

As the parent of two small kids, I watch a lot of cartoons. Most of them are terrible, but some of them are truly great. Daniel Tiger, a PBS show for preschoolers, teaches children (and parents) emotional intelligence through a series of bizarrely auto-tuned yet irresistibly catchy jingles.

It was one such jingle that prompted me to rethink the Christian doctrine of sin.

Sin is a complex and depressing topic. In the Evangelicalism I was raised in, sin is of the utmost importance. ALL people sin, and therefore "fall short of the glory of God." We have "sinful natures" that we cannot overcome no matter how hard we try. The idea is that God created us to have free will, but once Eve ate the forbidden fruit, our natures became sinful. Not only do we sin constantly, but sin is defined in ever-increasing ways as the Bible progresses. Jesus tells us that even thinking about adultery or murder is sin. Christian doctrine draws on the gospels and epistles to say that all sins are equal before God. Telling a lie is as bad as committing mass murder. We are "slaves to sin" and the only solution is the Atonement of Christ.

This bothers me. I disagree that all sins are equal. And it seems to me that "sin" is not a bug, but a feature of humanity. Babies care only for themselves. But hopefully, as they grow into children and then adults they learn to put the needs of others as at least equal to their own. But how can you learn this without ever messing it up?

Which is why I prefer the doctrine of Daniel Tiger to the Bible here. Thus spake the Tiger:

It's OK to make mistakes
Try to fix them
And learn from them, too

The tiger offers no shame. The tiger doesn't threaten us with eternal damnation. The tiger requires no bloody sacrifice to blot out the mistake. The tiger acknowledges the mistake and tries to go forth and do better. Instead of the Bible's all-or-nothing, perfectionist thinking, the Tiger offers us nuance and space to mess up.

This is the big problem with the Bible, or at least how we most of us were taught to interpret it. Two thousand years ago it was truly progressive (parts of it still are). But many parts of that book no longer are. We don't stone adulteresses, that's good. But many churches still ostracize divorced people even though our entire model for marriage AND our concept of women's rights have changed radically in the last 2,000 years. So instead of pulling us forward, the Bible holds us back. We try to apply first-century rules to modern life and continually butt up against science, reason, and empathy. 

I don't know what the solution is, if there's a way to sift through the scripture and retain the useful while disregarding the parts that are bizarre and barbaric. But I do know that Daniel Tiger has never let me down! At this point in my faith deconstruction, I feel a bit like Gretchen on the first episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, when she escapes the bunker and then thinks Matt Lauer of The Today Show is her new cult leader, "I go with you now, yes? I'm married to you?" It's strange to walk away from an institution that has been your home for your entire life.

So, what say you, loyal readers? Do we start our own Tiger-based cult? Ideas? Locations?

The Gospel According to Hedwig

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The first time I saw the film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I thought I would probably be sick. It was the early 2000s and I was an uptight Evangelical teen. I had never heard the words transgender or genderqueer. Hedwig's graphic talk of sex acts and the gory description of how a "sex-change operation got botched" was scary and probably evil, I feared. But there was something else, there. Hedwig was a compelling character, part philosopher and part diva-off-her rocker. She was the opposite of everything I was raised to believe was good and right, and I couldn't stop thinking about her.

That was many years ago. I've changed a lot since then. I've had the opportunity to see the movie and the stage production several times. Watching the film as an Evangelical teen, all I could think about were the sexual aspects. Looking at the film now, as an #exvangelical, is how intertwined Hedwig's story is with the gospel.

At first glance, Hedwig seems much more concerned with Platonic philosophy, particularly The Myth of Aristophenes, wherein Plato describes the origin of love. But there's a certain amount of Evangelical theology hidden there. One of awkward teenage Tommy Gnosis' first questions to Hedwig is whether she'd accepted Jesus into her heart. 

But the central theme of the show is power and its use, as discussed in the following scene:

HEDWIG: Jesus said the darndest things!
HEDWIG'S MOTHER: Don't you ever mention that name to me again.
HEDWIG: but He died for our sins.
MOTHER: so did Hitler
HEDWIG: huh?
MOTHER: absolute power corrupts
HEDWIG: absolutely
MOTHER: better to be powerless, my son.

The theme that is repeated throughout the play is that those in power hurt those without power. Those who are abused pass on their pain to others. Hedwig's parents hurt her, Luther hurts her, Tommy Gnosis hurts her, and so she abuses her bandmates and her spouse, Yitzhak. Hedwig's mother posits that it is better to be powerless, to be the one absorbing the pain than the one inflicting it. 

This is an idea taken up by rebel theologian Rob Bell. He posits that the power of the crucifixion is that rather than passing on the pain inflicted upon him, the all-powerful Jesus absorbed it. Jesus was stronger than those who killed him because he chose to absorb the violence and turn it into redemption and forgiveness. Forgiving people is infinitely harder than getting revenge or passing on abuse to those weaker than us.

Hedwig is a deeply flawed character, but she's also lovable and compelling. We care about her because she undergoes a transformation, from hostile, revenge-focused, toward forgiveness. The climax of the play comes in an intense, crucifixion-like moment, when we see Hedwig stripping off her wig and costume, transforming herself before our eyes into Tommy Gnosis, her former love and the object of her ire. Hedwig/Tommy performs a reprise of "Wicked Little Town" (a song Hedwig used to help Tommy transcend his small-town imprisonment).

But this time, Tommy sings

"Forgive me for I did not know
I was just a boy, you were so much more
Than any god could ever plan
More than a woman, or a man
And now I understand
How much I took from you
That when everything starts breaking down
You take the pieces off the ground
And show this wicked town
Something beautiful and new

The play feels ambiguous at this point. Is the actor now playing Tommy, offering a real apology? Or is it Hedwig pretending to be Tommy, imagining what she'd want him to say to her? Did she have the answer to her own problems all along? Does an imagined apology work as well as the real thing? 

Either way, Hedwig's next action is to pass her wig on to Yitzhak, a symbolic moment that shows her sharing her power rather than using it to abuse any longer. She gives up her power, fading into the background. Is it better to be powerless?

Trolling Myself

 look into these dead ceramic eyes and know that you are mortal.

look into these dead ceramic eyes and know that you are mortal.

One of the hardest things about improving your mental health is recognizing the way you talk to yourself. It's so much background noise that it's hard to hear it. Why do we do the things we do? What are the hidden beliefs that motivate our behavior? This shit is hard to figure out. 

After my first son was born, something wasn't right. I was incredibly anxious, worried that something terrible would happen to him or that someone would take him away from me. Unbidden, horrific images came to mind; I imagined myself intentionally or unintentionally hurting him. I thought that these thoughts were a sign that I wanted to hurt him. I kept them private because I was ashamed. When I finally went to counseling a year after his birth and confessed all to a therapist, she told me that actually this wasn't the case. What I was describing was a classic symptom of OCD. These images were a manifestation of my anxious feelings. 

What I learned in therapy is to listen to my thoughts and to separate myself from them. It's still challenging, but I work on it by journaling, saying affirmations (even though they sounds stupid), and trying to re-frame ways of thinking these things. One thing I noticed: my insecurities sound less intimidating coming from someone else. If someone else was half as mean to me as I am to myself, I'd tell them to fuck right off. Which is why I gave a ceramic fairy figurine her own Twitter account.

I think someone gave this fairy to me for a birthday one year? My mother recently evicted it from her china cabinet, and I thought about tossing it, but instead I made her an evil fairy who torments me about my writing. I try to remember my negative self-talk around writing and have the fairy troll me. Then I can tell her to burn in hell. I can separate myself from this negative self-talk and not let it define me.

Blubel can troll you, too, if you're on Twitter. @blubelnanofairy

Here's a great Invisibilia podcast about OCD: https://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/375927143/the-secret-history-of-thoughts

And here's a By the Book podcast about self-talk: https://player.fm/series/by-the-book/what-to-say-when-you-talk-to-yourself

#amreading "Educated" and my Year to Date So Far

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to Peak Picks. Peak Picks is a new-ish program of the Seattle Public Library. They take several copies of the hottest new books and stash them at random libraries all over town. You can look online and see where they are, but YOU CANNOT PUT THEM ON HOLD. Moreover, you CANNOT RENEW THEM. They are 2-week check outs only. This beautiful, terrible program turns bookworms into addicts. A friend of mine drove across town twice to get a copy of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere only to find it was gone by the time she arrived. 

So when I was in the Central Library 2 weeks ago and saw Educated, I knew it was now or maybe never. I grabbed it, hoping I could finish it and my other library books before the two weeks were up. It was no problem. This book is phenomenal. It's everything you want from a memoir: Westover doesn't hold back. She doesn't sugarcoat her past. She reaches back through the past and channels the feelings of being a girl trapped in an abusive, fundamentalist home. She translates the indescribable feelings of a mental breakdown into something lucid and understandable. Her story itself, that of a Mormon fundamentalist girl who was never allowed to go to school and somehow managed to earn a PhD from Cambridge, is astonishing, but it's how she tells it that really sets it apart.

Westover's most difficult feat is perhaps how she portrays a family in denial. Denial is a funny place to be, because when you're in it, you never realize it. To the reader, as to an outsider, Westover's father is clearly mentally ill. But Westover illustrates how she could be raised under this man's thumb and never be sure that anything was wrong. That's the nature of denial: you'd sooner question your own sanity than the words of your abuser. This is what so many people get wrong about abuse and manipulation. They scold people who stay in relationships with abusers or addicts, never realizing how that ecosystem looks completely different to those inside it.

There were many quotations in this book that I would've underlined if it hadn't been from the library, but my favorite was this:

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father and to use those truths to construct my own mind.

I think a lot of us coming out of Evangelicalism can relate.

In other #amreading news, here's my year to date thus far:

BOOKS I LOVED:
The Disaster Artist
The Artist's Way
Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud
God: A Human History
The Bell Jar
Little Fires Everywhere

DECENT BOOKS:
Love & Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning
What is the Bible?
Healing Spiritual Wounds
The Very Worst Missionary

What are you reading? Have you read Educated yet? Why not? 

Is It All in My Head?

 "that's what  I  was saying! So glad I'm not the only one who thinks so."

"that's what I was saying! So glad I'm not the only one who thinks so."

One of the tenets that simultaneously baffled and comforted me in Evangelical Christianity was the idea that the Holy Spirit talks to people. Usually not audibly, but somehow you would feel an impulse and know that it was God communicating to you, helping you know which decision to make. I've experienced this! It's led me to make really good decisions, decisions I look back on and think, "Wow, God was really looking out for me." And it's also led me to make terrible decisions, ones that make me scratch my head and think that I must not have heard God right after all, because, of course, God is always looking out for me, right? (RIGHT?)

When I was a teenager I was certain God was calling me to be an actress. Reading scripts, I knew intuitively how words were meant. I easily entered into stories and understood the motivation of the characters involved. I had loved being onstage since my first role in a church play at age 5. (I played Jezebel) When I was onstage, everyone listened to me.

The trouble was, I wasn't very good at it. I was...OK, but in a profession where only 10% of people doing it actually make a living at it, OK was not enough. Even my personal brand of superhuman perseverance and German work ethic could not make me a spectacular actress. My failure in my chosen field hurt worse because I had thrown everything I had into it. There was no backup plan, because I was certain that if God called me to do this, He would surely provide a way for me to do it.

This weekend I started reading The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever (which is a great read BTW) and I've reached the part where Jamie arrives in a Costa Rican Spanish language school and she's surrounded by rando missionaries. How do you get to become a missionary? You just decide that God has called you to do this. And that's a problem, because a lot of those people should've really been doing something else. Anything else. 

It's probably a problem we can chalk up to the Reformation. We now believe we all have a direct line to God and that God's going to tell us all these things. And we're wrong A LOT. But people rarely question these things, because we expect God to work miracles. And a lot of the time, that just does not happen.

It's likely enough that these instances of "God" speaking to people can be chalked up to things like confirmation bias. When you hear a similar message from several different sources, it can feel like synchronicity. So we could dismiss this phenomena entirely. But I don't.

I want to believe that there is a benign force of good in the universe that can help steer us toward a more just society. I want to believe in a loving God who looks out for all my stupid, insignificant problems and everyone's problems, big or small. I think, most of the time, this is harmless and perhaps even hope-giving. But I also think that taking these "whispers" or intuitions and running wild with them can lead to some pretty bad outcomes. Perhaps what we need most is to temper all this with humility and the knowledge that we could be wrong.

How I Wrote a Novel While Being a Full-Time Mom

  haha, it's cool, I'll just get this baby to write my book, no problem.

haha, it's cool, I'll just get this baby to write my book, no problem.

When I got pregnant, I felt like my brain turned into mush. It actually got worse when my son was born because not only was I mush-brained, I was also a sleep-deprived zombie. But slowly and surely, I got my brain back. I started writing my novel, Manly Man of God, when my oldest was 3 1/2 and my youngest had just turned one. If you have young kids, writing or doing some other form of creative expression is often the last thing on your mind. Still, if the urge is there, you can make it happen. Here's some tips I've figured out along the way:

1. Accept that it is impossible to write and supervise children at the same time. If your children are old enough to ignore for a while that might work, otherwise you will need to find time away.

2. Recognize the difference between investments and costs. This is a great tip from Being Boss podcast: if you look at the costs of preschool, or grocery delivery, or whatever else it takes for you to have time to write as costs, writing does not make financial sense. It takes time to build up your skill set and your contacts. Your first month as a writer doesn't come with a magical paycheck that covers all these costs. Instead, realize that these expenses are actually an investment in your future as a writer. Of course, your ability to spend money on your writing habit will vary. If preschool is too expensive, can you arrange a babysitting exchange with another full-time parent?

3. Pick three things you are currently doing well & decide to do them terribly or not at all. It is impossible to give 100% to watching your kids, running a house, taking care of yourself, and producing art. Something has to go. For me it was exercise, vacuuming, and playing Legos with my kids. Some writer-parents forego sleep, personally I would not recommend it.

4. Seize the moment.  Any time you have ten minutes or more free can be writing time. Ignore the dishes, ignore the fact that you haven't showered, sit your butt on your chair, open your document, and Just. Start. Writing. BONUS: once you get enough practice, writing anywhere, under any circumstances, will become your SUPERPOWER. Non-parent writers will weep with envy. 

5. Write garbage. Just like Anne Lamott says, it doesn't matter if it's terrible, just get started. You can fix it later. 

6. Get some support! Parenthood is isolating and so is the writer's life. Don't go it alone! Joining a writer's group (in person, online, or both) will make you a better writer and a saner human. Listening to writing podcasts (such as the excellent #amwriting or Magic Lessons) can bolster your spirits and give you great tips on how to do this thing. Check out all the great writing hashtags on Twitter.

7. Look into the mirror and say to yourself, "I am a writer." Now say it to a stranger on the bus. Now say it to two strangers at a cocktail party. Now yell it at your family while closing the door to your office/closet! 

8. Ignore timelines. Some authors can write a book in a year, others take a decade. While some writers find daily (or weekly) word count goals helpful, for others it doesn't work. Cut yourself slack. Any progress is good progress.

Do you have a dream writing project? I'd love to hear about it! Post your wishes in the comment below and perhaps BluBell, the Evil NaNoWriMo Fairy will sprinkle magic dust on them.

A Cool Girl's Guide to Depression

 so depressed, but at least my hair is freshly washed 

so depressed, but at least my hair is freshly washed 

  • look out of windows. Sigh periodically.
  • stop eating. You've lost all will to eat, or maybe you're just so depressed that you forget. Soon your outside will be as frail as your mental state.
  • smoke
  • take a lot of baths
  • pepper your speech with French words like ennui or raison d'etre
  • wear black, preferably a black sweater with no bra
  • be mysterious. Telegraph your depression without illuminating anyone to the specifics or causes.
  • listen to very cool music, preferably on vinyl
  • drink too much, but never vomit
  • continue to be the subject of the male gaze

I Bought a Ukulele Because I Don't Know Who I Am Anymore

uke.jpg

My ukulele arrived yesterday.

It was scary. What if it was hard to play? What if I was terrible at it? What if it was a huge waste of money? What if I only played it 2 weeks and then gave up on it? Won't I look silly? When written down, these fears seem overblown, but they did bounce around in my head for a few weeks. It was only $35. It takes up almost no space.

The uke was, itself, a compromise. A few months ago after I began reading The Artist's Way, I  became inspired and tried to convince my husband, Ryan, that we should buy a piano. I took piano lessons sporadically as a child and decided that I needed music in my life again. But pianos (even free ones) are very expensive, and they take up a lot of space. So, after thinking about this for awhile, I finally decided that the ukulele was a reasonable compromise.

The ukulele is a silly-looking instrument, which is, perhaps, appropriate. I feel a bit silly deciding to take this up. It certainly doesn't feel as important an instrument as the guitar, violin, or piano.

When I was in third grade, one of my favorite songs was a Wynonna Judd anthem called, "Girls With Guitars." It was about what you think it was about. One of the chorus lyrics is "Girls with guitars, what's the world coming to?" I sometimes imagined myself as the titular girl with guitar, but never picked up the instrument. I didn't realize it at the time, but even as an eight-year-old I had absorbed strict gender roles, and guitars didn't figure into my picture of being a desirable woman.

I became a stay-at-home mom almost without thinking about it. My mom stayed home, my mother-in-law stayed home. The Evangelical Church that I was raised in placed motherhood as a woman's highest calling. As a kid I may have briefly dreamed of being a teacher or a ballerina, but in the end, I knew my main job in life was to be a wife and mother. Even though I was smart, hardworking, and privileged, I never imagined that I could be anything I wanted to be. I never tried to become anything like a doctor or a lawyer; I had, perhaps, heard too many warnings about women who "tried to have it all."

Ryan and I were talking the other night about the ages at which we gave up. When I was 5 or 6, I quit doing the monkey bars. I wasn't as fast or strong as the other kids, and I didn't want to look silly. It was the same for Ryan and drawing. Isn't it sad how early we learn to limit ourselves?

There seems to be this idea that we need to hurry and grow up, become adults, figure out who we are and then set it in stone. Figure out who you are, THEN get the career, the house, the husband, the kids. Then, stay the same until you die.

I don't want to be stuck. I don't want to limit myself. Which is, I guess, why I'm a 33-year-old mother of two who just bought a ukulele. I want to play it, even if I totally suck. I want to try it, even knowing I might get bored and stick it on top of a precarious pile of sheets on the top shelf of my closet and forget about it for the next two years. I want to occasionally ignore my children while I practice chords. I want to drive my family crazy sometimes with my terrible playing. I want an instrument all to myself, with no one else's sticky fingerprints on it and no mansplaining about how to tune it properly. I want something for myself. A ukulele of one's own.