The Author’s Note: “Son of God”

I have a new published work out – a short story, entitled “Son of God” in Mount Holyoke College’s literary magazine, The Blackstick Review. An excerpt:
  

“Son of God”

“Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops,

equipped for battle with all the weapons of war,

 to help David with singleness of purpose”

– 1 Chronicles 12:33 –

 Zebulun, North Carolina, is the town that Israel forgot; the Wal-Mart parking lot stretches fatter than cars can fill, styrofoam cups piled beside crusting waste bins. There is not a truck without a Confederate flag or a church without a fire-and-brimstone mantle.

Nothing good could ever come out of Zebulun.

Joshua was about to turn eleven and, for his birthday, had asked for another My Little Pony doll. He imagined his own hair turning the same shade as the lilac hair that sprouted from her mane. He knew every song and every line from the DVD collection of the show his parents had first purchased for his sister some four years earlier.

His mother had taken him shopping for presents the Wednesday before his birthday. They were not of much money, nor of many options, so to the overflowing parking spots of Wal-Mart they went.

Joshua made a beeline for the toys section. His father had warned his mother that, being in middle school, Joshua had no business asking for toys anymore. But Joshua paid his father no mind, and so neither did his mother.

The cardboard sign for the Ponies had peeled, tight rows of brown corrugation interrupting the magenta and purple promises that “Friendship is the Best Magic of All!” A February birthday always meant the shelves were lean with all that had been pulled from deep storage after the holidays. None of the toys corresponded with the price tags and there were dents in the plastic casing.

Joshua, however, did not notice the desolation. With glee, he fingered the edge of the princess pony. The packaging was particularly damaged, which was probably why the doll was left in the wake of Christmas. Joshua looked expectantly at his mother. He lifted his eyebrows, a smile tucked in the corner of his face.

Joshua’s mother gave him a gentle grin in return, lifting the toy off the rack and leading him back to the checkout. The man running the register shot a questioning look at the doll, and then at Joshua, but he bagged it anyway.

Continue Reading … 

 

[SPOILER ALERT: the following author’s note contains details from the full story!]

I don’t think it is my best work.

But it is the story i have tried to write all semester.

The assignment was to write a story inspired by a newspaper article. I was home for Jonathan’s birthday and the Durham Herald was unfurled on our kitchen table. I combed through, looking for something to supplement my usual off-beat attempted-humor. Instead, i read “When Reality isn’t Magical for Youth,” an op-ed by Lydia Lavelle. She was writing about an eleven-year-old boy who had attempted suicide after being bullied for loving My Little Pony.

I wept. He was only eleven years old. He was only eleven years old.

The story was born then, with only a few of the fact of Michael’s reality before me: he was eleven, he was bullied for liking “girl’s toys” and he had tried to kill himself. I know now, from following his facebook page,  that his youth group and church community has surrounded him and his family with true Christian love. I am so glad my story is not what really happened.

I want to make one thing very, very clear: my short story is fictional. It is not Michael’s story, i am not telling it for him, and you can follow his story and make a donation to support his recovery on MichaelMorones.org.

I wrote my story based on what i have seen and known growing up in North Carolina, growing up as someone who chooses Jesus and chooses love without seeing these choices as conflicting.

And as glad as i am that my story is fictional, i do believe the truth in it is, tragically, very real. 

I crafted the story intentionally to sound almost Biblical, littering it with so many references it clobbers any Biblical scholar over the head with symbolism. I did this because i think Jesus condemns hypocrisy as much as God loves all of us.

It fascinates me that people who read this story often assume Joshua, the little boy inspired by Michael, is gay. Though i am of the John Green bent that books/stories belong to their readers, i do want to say i never wrote this story with Joshua’s sexuality in mind. I wanted to dip into a deeper critique: that we associate gender so inextricably with sexuality, that we think feminine things are so degrading that boys liking pink things must immediately be of a “lesser” or “deviant” sexuality, that humans have the ability to so shame a little boy for loving something that he thinks his life is no longer worth living.

Of course the narrative of gay kids being forced in the closet by conservative Christian communities is a real thing. But what scares me so much is that the very idea of being gay – of being a feminine boy, of liking something designed for girls, God forbid – is so repulsive, so pervasive, that it drives children to suicide. At that point, though sexuality is important, the reality of a person’s sexuality becomes almost a moot point because the taboo has more power than reality.

I didn’t write this story exclusively to show how queer people ought to be loved by Christians the way queer people are loved by Christ. I wrote it to show what a culture of hatred, of homophobia and of exclusion, can do.

Because if we call ourselves Christians, we all have to remember that which Mother Theresa taught us: Every one of them is Jesus in disguise.

A Little Bit of a Rebel.

I remember when i was given the dress: black, capped sleeves and a full, hoop-ish skirt that looked both bohemian and bona fide all at once. Mom had taken Granny shopping and i, insolent, was dragged along to Coldwater Creek.

Not prime hunting grounds for a fourteen-year-old.

While Granny picked out her usual sweaters with mom and the attendant, i amused myself by trying on the dress. I didn’t expect to like it, and even less did i expect to open a box with the black dress tucked inside for Christmas that year. Granny had seen me prancing in front of the dressing room mirror and Mom had helped her tuck it inside her stack of cardigans.

My grandmother was never an outspoken woman; she was South Carolina sweet-aggressive to her core. Dabbing napkins at her lips even when the strokes had ravaged her mind of so many of the manners she prized. “Whatever you’d like, sugar,” her automatic reply to anything asking her opinion.

At Granny’s funeral, my mother stood in the pulpit, unable to wear her robes because it was a Catholic service and her full ordination at a United Methodist Elder seemed irrelevant to her childhood priest. She was not allowed the Eulogy, either; she had fought to say even a few words to celebrate the life of her now-dead mother.

But half an hour before the funeral, she’d asked me to retrieve something she’d left at her own church down the road. Breathless from my sprint in heels, i’d managed to make it there and back in time for the opening hymn.

My mother stepped up to the microphone after the sermon. She began by describing how docile her own mother had been in life. “But,” she smiled, preacher-smile. Eyes sucking you in and fire catching. “She raised her daughter to be something of a rebel.” Turning her head back to the priest, all South-Carolina-Sass, she donned the white stole i’d fetched for her.

“So if you’ll allow me, I’m going to speak to y’all today as that little bit of a rebel.”

I still have that black dress. It’s a few inches higher above my ankles than when i was fourteen, but i could never bear to part with it. Granny and i may have mostly listened to the Classical Station while eating Lowes fried chicken when the strokes started, but she was still my grandmother.

Which is why, this past International Womyn’s Day, i donned the dress once more.

One of my favorite new nonprofits, Women’s Voices Worldwide, sponsored its second-annual Celebration of Speech. (I’m only a tad biased in my feminist fervor for them, having worked as an intern two falls ago). The event is a day-long rotation of womyn speaking: recreating historic speeches, featuring freedom-fighting womyn in the area’s speeches, and highlighting winners of a contemporary speech competition sponsored by WVW.

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My hair was curled in as 19th-century fashion as i could muster, black dress and pearls the closest i could get to resembling Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

I read a selection from her “Declaration of Sentiments,” which she delivered at the start of the suffragette movement when she was only 32. I was familiar with her speech, opening with lines taken verbatim from the Declaration of Independence, with the key insertion of “men and women created equal.” But what resonated with me the most reading it aloud were some her more poignant reasons of patriarchy’s repeated injuries against womyn:

“He allows her in church, as well as state, but a subordinate position, claiming apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and, with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

“He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God.

“He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Even as early as 1848, feminists weren’t “just” tackling voting rights. There is a fundamental challenge in Stanton’s words both to “Biblical” male authority and to the denigration of womyn’s self-worth because of this perceived cis-male authority. Of course these early waves were imperfect; though born out of the abolitionist movement, they were enormously racist and exclusive of the fierce work done by womyn like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These are racist ramifications we must still, as people and feminists and Christians, grapple with and work to change.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Reading as Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Yet the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton did not end in vain: the 19th amendment was passed, divorce laws radically changed, and in many Christian churches apostolic authority no longer denies womyn like my mother the right to lead congregations.

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With J, after the speech!

But one perusal of Sarah Sentilles’ A Church of Her Own or the introduction of Jacquelyn Grant’s White Woman’s Christ, Black Woman’s Jesus makes it clear that ordaining womyn does not universally eliminate sexism in the church.

And as i read Stanton’s fiery words, surrounded by so many womyn re-creating and creating words of their own justice-seeking bent, i was not wearied. Sometimes, when i’m plugging along at my thesis or feeling overwhelmingly frustrated that my mother could not “officially” preach at her own mother’s funeral, i have to wonder: has nothing changed? It’s exhausting, this lenten season i sometimes feel perpetually stuck in.

But mustard seeds sprout mighty branches.

My grandmother’s docility did not breed docile daughters. We turned to rebellion out of love for her and love for all our foremothers. So we keep plugging along, against the microaggressions that we are only worth what we weigh and the macro claims that as womyn, we should not pursue ordination or call on Mother God or think of Mary Magdalene as the ultimate apostle.

We remain, exhausted and exhilarated, in rebellion.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s full speech can be read here.

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Reflections from Last Night’s Talking Taboo Event

“It’s been a long time since we wrote these essays,” Bristol chuckled. “And it’s a scary thing, preserving somewhat permanently that part of yourself for other people to read. It’s my past, I can’t change my past experiences, but still. It’s out there … When you google my name, this comes up!”

As Atinuke Diver had said of other people reading our essays: “It can flatten you.”  Suddenly, we may only exist in someone’s mind as the five pages we filled in a book.

1460098_2151719597859_1585428693_nMeeting more of the contributors to Talking Taboo was, as i expected, a delight and a dialogue. At last night’s event, i was grateful for the solidarity of each of us speaking for ourselves gave way to an authentic, vulnerable conversation. It was refreshing and reaffirming, the reminder that all 40 of us had snapped wide our secrets made it easier to continue to speak against silence.

And i’ve not stopped chewing on what Tinu and Bristol said. There were so many insights, and since the whole point i want to make is reducing someone to one essay or one quip is dangerous, i’m already having trepidations. These are two brilliant womyn who each contain multitudes, as we all do. So i don’t want to wrangle down or warp what they said.

But it’s this idea of flattening, this confining the words your read by someone to being all of who they are that has sat the most with me in the remnants of our conversation.

I think about my favorite authors who are currently living: J.K. Rowling, John Green, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker. John Green especially has led a rather public career with his (excellent!) video blogs, but even he has on occasion had to remind the nerdfighter community that he’s a whole person, someone who has struggled with Depression and social anxiety as much as he is a New York Times Best-Selling author. Someone who has two kids to raise and most days is trying to be a dad and a husband with a kind of banality we forget about when all we see is a clipped-together four minute hoot on trademarks.

The first month i lived Edinburgh, everywhere i went i carried a small, paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I frequented the Elephant House reading it so much i felt myself oozing cliché. (The Elephant House Café, for those who don’t know, is where J.K. Rowling penned much of the first three Harry Potter books). I tucked it in the middle pocket of my backpack for one main purpose: were i to run into Jo Rowling, to have something for her to sign.

It was silly, and more than a little freakish, but also an emblem of my total devotion to the books that defined my childhood. I knew, if i ran into the famous author herself, that i wanted to earnestly thank her for the gifts she had given me in the world she had made with Hogwarts. For teaching twelve-year-old lizzie that “Happiness can always be found, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” 

But the more i thought about it, the less i carried the book around. I imagined running into her while she was out with her own children – imagined how clumsy and imposing i would be, asking for an autograph from a mum having normal old mum-time with her kids. I recalled times when i was out with my own mother, having normal mother-time, and members of her congregation interrupted our lunch to talk about their church-y needs. How as her daughter, i tried to be understanding of her position as counselor and confident to these people, but couldn’t help the irked sense that these congregants didn’t fully respect that my mom was a whole person whose whole life did not revolve around her church.

I think we do this all the time in our lives, in so many ways – we box people in. By race, gender, sexuality, class – but also by how we have conceived of them in our minds. Teachers don’t live in their classrooms, pastors have vices too, authors are more than their words.

I am so grateful for every message, email, and dining hall happenstance when someone says they’ve read my essay and it meant something to them. I’ve not learned how to stop turning a delicate shade of tomato, nor how to properly communicate how flattered and humbled and thank-you-for-holding-my-heart-so-gently i feel with every one of these encounters. More than once these encounters have made me weep. Bristol is right, a lot of life has happened between when pen was first to put to paper and publication. My essay rings to me now of too many run-on sentences, of how early in my now engagement i was writing about intimacy and the toughness of love. But what has not changed is the nakedness i felt writing it – the nakedness i feel when people say they’ve read the book.

So please, don’t get me wrong: thank you for reading, thank you for your kindness, for your affirmation, for your talk back and pushing and pulling and questions and comments. 

I guess what i want to say is thank you, thank you, thank you, but know there’s more. Not “just more to the body-image, sexuality, relationship journey, and not “just” more that i will never want to write or talk about publicly because even intercom-level-lizzie can be private. But more in the sense that some days i am a very boring, very not-creative, very not-roaring-feminist lion lizzie. I like eating cookie dough and really prefer days spent watching zombie movies in my pajamas with my brothers to any other activity and i know, acutely, that i talk about myself too much and i definitely over-analyze how much or how little this blog/my essay means to other people (i mean, really, i may wish i was Alice Walker, but let’s be real). Even now, i’m biting my nails and thinking will the twelve people reading this think i’m some ungrateful whiney snob with poor taste in adverbs?

So maybe this post is an over-analyzing, over-thinking mess and i should just pop in World War Z and pull out the tube of Pillsbury’s. John Green, after all, says over and over we as humyns must learn to imagine complexly, realize that the truth resists simplicity and that there is always more nuance than we want and more questions to ask than answers to find. I’m trying to find that balance of imagining others complexly as i ask others to do the same.

When asked how we found the courage to “talk taboo” in our essays, Tinu and Bristol had yet more fantastic replies: “I didn’t really find the courage,” they both said. “I wrote while i was still scared.”

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current jam: “i’ll fly away.”

relevant resources: Atinuke Diver’s blog, the official Talking Taboo website

Body Talk.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Body Policing]

“Are you growing your family?” his eyes glued to my stomach. His implication, sinking deep into my cellulite insecurity. It was like i was in eighth grade all over again, my so-called “friends” writing me emails with weight-loss tips as the reason no boy would date me.

“Your family? Are you growing it?” Jonathan looked baffled, not realizing what this man talking to us was implying. But i knew. I knew the moment he looked at my stomach. I mean, i knew i’d packed on extra with mom’s pound cake on Thanksgiving, but Jesus. Relatives and strangers have already started pressing on when we’ll have kids. Have asked me if i will drop out of school to get married sooner.

But this was a first: a man – anyone, really – asking if that extra wedge of fat pooching over my belt was a baby. He felt comfortable and entitled enough to ask us, relative strangers, if my very not-pregnant body was bulging under the weight of a new fetus.

It was not, however, the first time a cisgendered man felt entitled to my body.

He came up behind me, without a word announcing his presence. It wasn’t until his hands were down my skirt that i realized there was someone behind me at all.

He thought it was innocuous enough: my shirt tail had come untucked, and he had taken the liberty of adjusting my appearance.

Apparently, his hands on my underwear, securing the hem of my shirt in place, was perfectly appropriate behavior for an elderly man towards a young woman.

I whipped around, his hand still halfway down my skirt. I knew only that unknown hands were winding their way down my legs. All words glued themselves to my throat. I tensed to run, wishing i had my keys in my pocket. I’d always been afraid of this, remembering when i was eleven and my Godmother told me never to walk alone after dark without a key between my pointer and middle finger. We may have always believed in nonviolence, but as womyn we knew the threat. We knew what we faced.

There was nowhere for me to go. I was working, at the host stand, as i did for four years at the same restaurant. We were packed, on an hour long wait at least, a crush of grumpy and self-important businesspeople waving pagers in my face.

“There!” he smiled, wriggling his hand out. “You’re all fixed!”

I stared back, horrified and shamed into silence. He didn’t even blush, just walked away, his good deed of feeling up a minor done for the day.

I wasn’t even sixteen. It was a new skirt, too, one i’d bought for my first real job. Appropriate knee-length with a button-down that showed no cleavage. I’d checked all the boxes, hadn’t even been looking at him. As if such victim-blaming checkboxes would have protected me.

I could have been standing there naked, and that would not have excused his non-consenual, unwanted, and unwarranted handling of my body.

You can make your excuses: he’s old, he’s old-fashioned, he thought he was being helpful.

I reject all of them. He did not ask, or even bother to tell me what he was doing. Saying i’m being over-sensitive or over-reacting is to gaslight me. I don’t care that he was older, he was old enough to know you ask before touching someone. As Lara Blackwood Pickrel writes in her Talking Taboo essay: “Citing cultural and generational differences, the offender wipes her hands of the matter and assumes a posture of innocence.” (Talking Taboo, 46)*

No, i was not molested or raped or even attacked. But someone i did not know, or give consent to, felt entitled enough to my out-of-line body that they saw to “fix” it. Tucked me in, made me look “appropriate,” deemed their vision of what i should look like was more important than my own opinion.

And what is most angering, most saddening, most bra-burning-inducing of this incident?

This was not the only time it has happened to me.

Standing in the communion line at church this summer, a man i don’t really know behind me pulls at my dress. My bra was showing, he whispers. He had to ensure no one could see that strip of white polyester above my strapless dress.

Men, as i would walk them to their tables at the restaurant, sliding their hands on my waist and bending close to my ear. “Can’t you get us a better table, sweetheart?” they’d ask. A wink added, for good measure.

Out at an underage-friendly club, age fourteen: a man i don’t know comes up behind me, wraps his hands around my hips and pulls me into his groin. He’s pushing into me, trying to force me to grind when the words stop being glued in my throat. I untangle myself, i turn around, i say firmly: “I am a woman, not an object, and you cannot treat me this way.” His friends dog me the rest of the night, calling me a slut and asking why i won’t dance with their friend. Eventually, i feel chased out and leave and try not to cry the whole way home.

Over, and over, and over again. What is lacking in every story is my permission, my consent. Not once did these men ask if they could touch me, shove their genitals against me, think that their sexualization of my body might be damaging or hurtful or frightening. Sure, there were varying degrees of harassment, but the message remained constant: your feminine body is not your own.

And no, this man asking if Jonathan and i were expecting was not sexualizing or objectifying my body in the same way as these men who physically touched me. But the immeasurable discomfort i felt at his question, the shame i felt for my body, was very much the same. Except this time, instead of feeling like i had dressed too scantily (which actually is never an excuse for harrasment) i felt fat.

And i know – i know this is body-shaming and internalized misogynistic self-loathing and all that good stuff feminist literature has taught me. We’ve all got body fat, body fat is good. Being fat is not bad. It’s this socially engineered be-smaller-ladies shit.

J.K. Rowling says it perfectly: “Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil, or cruel? Not to me.”

I have the proverbial fat shame problem. The hate-the-flab, love-to-eat, try-to-have-healthy-esteem balance that 99% of womyn my age try to strike. 

Trying to love ourselves, our curves and hair in demonized places and flabs of skin hanging over our jeans, all while the onslaught continues: you are not small enough, stop taking up too much room, your bodies are not your own. I’ve never had a friend who didn’t grapple with loving her body. It has not mattered her weight, build, race, height, BMI index, or gym membership; it is not a “womyn’s problem.” Men have eating disorders too, men are spoon-fed sexist body policing all the time.

But i, as a woman, have a body that seems to be subject to the male gaze no matter what i do. I’m tired of social standards deeming what is and is not “appropriate” for me.

I’m tired of the phantom permission that allows people to pry into my sex life or pry open my skirt without pausing to think that i may not want them there.

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Want to talk more? Come to the Talking Taboo event on TUESDAY NIGHT at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 7 Woodbridge St, South Hadley MA. 6:30 PM.

Relevant Resources: National Sexual Assault Hotline & RAINN, Local Crisis Center Locator, Sarah Over the Moon blog (i recommend her “You are Not Your Own” series), and The Dinah Project: A Handbook for Congregational Response to Sexual Violence by Monica Coleman.

*Who, by the way, has just written an amazing blog post i think a beautiful companion to this one: “What Not to Wear: Church Edition.

Bears in the Shenandoah.

My throat was made of glue. The girl (let’s call her Ginger Dreadlocks) behind me on the verge of shrieking her head off. Ponytail-and-Manicure next to her was valley-girl-shushing her. There was nothing to be done, except:

“ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT!”

I was not even eleven and reeking of the day hike in the New Mexican mountains. The whole family had made the flight to Philmont Scout Ranch, NM, for my Dad and his bud to complete Boy Scout leader training. Mom was busy ziplining with the other spouses, the boys doing boy-things, and me?

I was a day’s hike into the woods on a camping trip with a dozen other pre-pubescent girls, staring down a mama bear and her two cubs. Our two counselors were younger than i am now.

We’d been strictly informed that, were we to see a bear, under NO circumstances were we to react with fright. We’d even had bear drills. No shrieking, no panicking, no fleeing into the woods without a guide. Instead, in an effort to keep us calm under duress but still, you know, let the leaders know a monster-sized mammal was in view, we were to sing “row, row, row your boat.” Loudly. But calmly.

Of course it was i who sounded the alarm, loudmouthed and lung-lusty even then. The two women in charge of us, all their lessons aside, flew into a panic. “Hey!” they screamed. “Back up girls, BACK UP NOW!” I yanked Ponytail-and-Manicure behind me, staring down the scream clearly welling up in Ginger Dreadlocks’ throat. Surely, these adult leaders knew what they were doing. Surely, they whom we had put our wisps of armpit hair and water-bottles half-full trust in, would take care of us.

“HEY, BEAR! RUN AWAY!! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!”

These “adults” were, quite literally, chucking rocks at the mama bear. Not exactly what i’d had in mind when i envisioned them ensuring our safety.

Shockingly, it worked. The mama bear barely gave them a glance before lumbering deeper into the woods, babies in tow. When at last her large brown rump was out of sight, Ginger Dreadlocks next to me broke out into sobs and Ponytail-and-Manicure gushed a stream of more EhMyGawddddZZZ than i had ever heard in my life.

I tried not to let my ear-to-ear grin explode. A bear! A real bear! I was really a warrior in the wilderness, saving my team with nursery rhymes!

We strung up our bear-bag that night, a white trash bag stuffed our snacks and the illicitly smuggled perfumes from Ponytail’s cohorts. If we heard a lumbering giant in the night, we were under NO CIRCUMSTANCES to leave our tent.

The next morning, the bag was slashed. Perfume bottles and chewed-into wrappers cluttering the roots of the tree the bag had been hung on. Luckily, there was enough food for breakfast and a slimmed-down lunch, pushing our hike back to base camp on a considerably less luxurious schedule than the hike out.

I don't have any pictures of the bear itself, but here's me about to head out on the hike.

I don’t have any pictures of the bear itself, but here’s me about to head out on the hike.

That was to be only my first encounter with a bear.

The second was less rife with pre-teens: Jonathan and i were cruising along Skyline Drive, a chunk of the Blue Ridge Parkway that edges the Shenandoah Valley.

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We were on vacation with his family, trailing behind them to enjoy the sun set while they made dinner. Naturally, we’d seen the placards warning not to feed bears (i’d like to keep my arm, thanks) but hadn’t expected to see any ourselves.

Until we rounded the corner on a dead stop in traffic.

“What’d going on?” i craned my head, trying to see past the truck ahead of us.

Jonathan swore loudly. “Look!! Over there!” his fingers indecisively jabbed out the window and tried to roll it down in one motion.

“What is it? I can’t – oh my God!”

Her arms, wrapped around the trunk of a particularly sturdy pine, looked bigger than my torso. “Quick!! The camera! The camera!!” Jonathan was scrambling with his arms, head locked on the bear.

Of all moments to have left the camera in the backseat, this was it. I handed him my phone with the scold not to chuck ANYTHING under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES at the mammal in front of us.

And then, to our bewilderment, the bear unlocked her arms and sauntered across the road. She didn’t seem to care there were five cars piled in either direction, tourists hanging out the windows with Nikons in hand. She stopped right in front of us. Turning her head back, she must have made some kind of magical bear-call because two little cubs came gallivanting out of the woods behind her.

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They dipped down the side of the road, the knobs of their tails disappearing in the darkening forest.

And that was the last we saw of the Skyline Drive bears.

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in case you missed it: my favorite summertime 2013 blog, when my mom got arrested for moral monday.

The Season of Weeding: Abim & Kotido, Summer 2011.

It was a two-day journey from Kampala to Kotido, only half of the way on paved roads. We did it in one day once (well, i did it once, my housemates lived there for three years and i, only three months). And the one time we did in one day was hell – my stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut with its inability to keep anything down for three weeks, i was dehydrated, and i’m pretty sure i hallucinated.

But when we made the trek over two days, it was a dream. To get to Kotido, we had to pass through the Abim region.

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Abim is like nowhere else i’ve ever been. Even at the time, i think i wrote more blog posts about how voracious the colors were of the Abim mountains than i did about Kotido, which i did in fact quite love.

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You could see where the powerline stopped, somewhere in a town in the Abim region but long before we were in Kotido. Our home has a solar panel and small amounts of voltage so long as the sun was out. We’d take turns charging our laptops, running a mini-fridge a few hours a day to keep home-made ricotta cool. It was the rainy season, nothing like the dust-curling bone-heat they told me of when it was the dry season. I remember being grateful for the one sweater i’d thought to slide into my suitcase.

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In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

In the Kotido market, during a rainstorm.

My “room” in the house was a mattress and mosquito net tucked in a corner, shrouded by a collection of curtain pieces like the ones in the above photo. It was Thera‘s (very thoughtful!) idea, to give a fellow introvert some more privacy. She’d even saved me some ticky tack, to hang a collection of photos and postcards on my wall.

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I was re-living this summer while Jonathan (supposedly) studied for his Greek exam.

“It’s kind of crazy to me that you did that,” he commented, the photo Thera snapped of me on a boda-boda on my screen.

Photo by Thera Freeman!

Photo by Thera Freeman!

He didn’t mean crazy as in foolish, or as in out of character. This was a hint of green in his voice. More like it was a reality unknown to him, a part of me before us. And yet it was because of Uganda the “us” even happened. We’d had a champion of awkward first dates, us alone in an Applebee’s save the one guy hellbent on making Karoke night a thing. I’d just buzzed my hair, prepped for a summer of sub-Saharan heat and lack of hot showers. I noticed his dimples, the eyes, even then. But i my focus was on the 7,414 miles to conquer and courage to find.

Thank God for my mom. A friend of ours had prepped and de-briefed with both of us, a woman who had spent the bulk of her adult like working for MCC on the continent of Africa. “You’ll need spaces to really talk, to really be heard,” she’d told us. Mom arranged for me to preach my first Sunday stateside again, at her then-new church. She let me lowercase the bulletin and screen a video i’d edited of my time abroad.

It was Jonathan’s first Sunday as the worship music leader. He was one of the first to really listen, to let me be really heard. I remember noticing the eyes again in worship planning, how he didn’t judge me for wanting to juxtapose John 15 with an E.E. Cummings poem.

The fact that it’s me in that picture feels unfathomable. Not that i had the desire to learn and see and listen in Uganda, i still have that desire. But that time in my life, the depth and wonder and complicatedness of where i was feels far, far in my past and far from here. I know it happened, for how could a summer of confronting my own white, American privilege not leave contours on my perspective today?

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Maybe it’s the coming-full-circle thing, that bite and blister and beauty of seeing the time and the growth and the redaction between lizzie on that motorcycle and lizzie getting married. I have no regrets, the loves of my life all intertwining in the most bizarre of stories. I was so young, so eighteen, so fresh out of my first year of college and so wanting to know more than i did.

I said then it was a summer of pruning, like the name i had been given: Nachap, the season of weeding. The seed that has grown the most, though, is the realization that every season is one of both pruning and growth. Sometimes the balance tips, hands deep in the earth straining with the baobab roots to come up. And sometimes it’s the blossoms, blossoms who need water and sun like all seasons but whose focus is so on being alive there’s little room for weeding.

And sometimes, i think you just have to slap on the gardening gloves and make a choice to keep planting, whatever the weather.

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in case you missed it, some of my favorite posts from my summer in east africa: south sudan’s independence daywhen we went all the way to kampala so we could see the last harry potter movieon our access to water in kotido.

DIY Christmas Craft: Tacky Sweater!

Your criticisms that it is not even Thanksgiving yet, holy-Lord-lizzie-calm-the-eff-down, are totally due.

But indulge me.

It even flurried white flecks of snow here this morning, and however much you New Englanders protest it snows frequently prior to Christmas, this Southern lady refuses to believe it. Snow = holiday season = time to overstuff the cookies and outdo myself with my sewing kit.

I’ve been known to get a little crafty. Well, really, i’ve been known to suddenly be sparked with an oh-my-GOD-do-it-NOW idea that puts everything else in my life on hold until the glue is dry and the buttons sewn. And that’s what happened Saturday.

I was bemoaning to some friends how much i love tacky Christmas things – decorations, sweaters, ornaments – and the plans Jonathan and i have hatched for a ridiculous Christmas card this year. Bemoaning, because he had yet to acquire a sweater fit for the occasion. I was all frustration with the prices such ludicrously decorated Belk’s masterpieces are when they suggested to me i make the sweater myself.

I could not wield a shopping cart fast enough.

A trip to Chicopee later, i was laden with felts in various browns and reds and greens, an idea hatched and the scissors glinting in the LED Christmas lights i’d conveniently strung over my window.

I smoothed out the plain red sweatshirt i’d acquired for the occasion, maniacally laughing to myself and playing “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” on obnoxious repeat.

And then the hacking began.

This past July, Jonathan and i adopted two of the most purrfect and pesky kittens possible. (Instagram friends are rolling their eyes). After one of our mutually beloved movies, we named them Mary Poppins and Burt the Chimneysweep, or Burt and Poppins for short.

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We adored Mary Poppins before this event, but since naming them we’ve created a situation such where we are constantly reminded of how Supercalifragilisticexpiallidocious the music of the movie is. Jolly Holiday and “Chim-Chim-Cheeree” are now standard over-coffee morning affairs.

Which is what brings me to my utterly genius idea for a sweater.

I laid out four round globs of white felt, plucking off orange triangles for noses and black buttons for eyes. Two snowpeople, stick-y hands clasped, each with a hat on their head. For hers, i detailed daisies and red buttons to emulate how practically perfect in every way she was. For his, i traced the outline of a newsboy cap.

And, lo and behold, were the snowpeople renditions of our cats/favorite film couple: Poppins and Burt.

The work in progress!

The work in progress!

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But i wasn’t done yet. I snipped and i snapped, thought of gingerbread snacks (and probably listened to Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch more times than should EVER be permitted before November 30th).

Gently, with a pat of glue, i pressed the last letter in place. Encasing the snow-people-versions of Poppins and Burt now read the phrase: “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Either i had officially gleaned the shiniest merit badge for Crazy Cat Lady or i had really just pulled off the best home-made tacky Christmas sweatshirt of November, 2013. A quick FaceTime call with the man it was made for confirmed: i was both.

Prior to adding the music notes!

Prior to adding the music notes!

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Nevertheless, i relished in a victory dance alone in my room to (as ever) Whitney Houston. I may have postponed writing my sermon for this coming weekend, but my liturgically incorrect craftings were soooo worth it.

And should you like to make your own version of this sweatshirt, here are the basic steps!

Materials needed: 1 plain sweatshirt, felt (orange, red, green, white, brown, black), fun buttons for the eyes & hat (i found mine at – don’t hate me! – Wal-Mart), plenty of craft glue.

Total Cost: ballpark of about $15.

Directions: Start by laying out four round white circles on the sweatshirt as your base for the two snowpeople. I found it helpful to first cut out everything i wanted and lay it all out to assess before gluing. Working from the base up, add the hats, scarves, arms, and finally the eyes. I sewed the buttons in place but used craft glue for everything else. In the future, i might sew down the base pieces (i.e. the white circles) to secure them and glue all the felt accessories on top. In retrospect, i’d also add an umbrella for her and a chimneysweeper for him, but that was a little toooo involved for my crafting ability. Add your own creative lettering, and voilà!

Happy Christmas Crafting, y’all! Be sure to tell me if you make your own fun Christmas sweater in the comments!

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around the internet: my dear, dear friend Mary has posted a video and pictures from the Talking Taboo book launch – be sure to check it out!

best thing: matching snowpeople headband for my snowpeople sweatshirt!

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The Big League.

The run stretched from the fold of my knee to my ankle. I toppled out of the car, engine still purring, legs wobbling at their unaccustomed new altitude.

“Just stay in the car!” i craned my neck back at Jonathan, his fingers still thrumming on the wheel. He’d probably put NPR back on without me there. I’d been too nervous to listen to the latest exposé on Joy Division, or whatever.

The lady behind the Rite Aid counter gave me a perplexed once-over, my shimmery pink swath of a dress and elegantly messy bun a vision of out-of-place.

“Y’all carry tights?” i was practically yelping, in need of an inhaler but afraid to elevate my heart rate any more.

“Back row, near cosmetics.”

Heels clacking and eyes as wide as my eyeliner would let them, i flailed my way to the rear of the store. My salvation: rows on rows of Leggs silky-sheer. Five dollars later, i was doubled over in the dingy back bathroom struggling to pull a mess of nylon over my prickly legs. Hopping from foot to foot, i plucked off the ring my Grandmother had given me for my high school graduation, gingerly placing it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. As beautiful as the blue stone was, the beast was the reason for this four-inch-heels sprint through the drug store.

And there i was: legs in nylon knots, trying not to collapse into a hypoglycymic meltdown Rite Aid toilet stall, twenty minutes before the moment i’d been dreaming of since second-grade carreer day.

It was the night of the Talking Taboo book launch.

My book, the real book – not the Advanced Reader’s Copy – was tucked next to my vintage leopard-print coat in the car. I’d outlined in pencil the excerpts i would read, rehearsing with a hairbrush-as-microphone like i was still sixteen and auditioning for American Idol. I’d spent the afternoon slathering myself with hollywood mascara, not caring that i’d be overdressed because you only get one first book launch and this was the dress i felt the strongest in. Pink, effeminate, swishy, and tender. Not a congruent image to the ball-busting feminist ricocheting off the Rite Aid toilet stall walls, but just as much me as the foulmouthed bra-burner found on page 170.

I wound a stretch of scratchy toilet paper around my hand, dabbing at the smears in my foundation. Surrounded by flourescent lights and graying tiles, i stared myself square in my mirror-face. You can, you will, you have. I plucked up my Grandmother’s ring and smoothed down the faux-silk of my skirt.

Jonathan had turned NPR back on by the time i wobbled my way into the passenger seat. Graciously, he turned the volume off and gave me his best honey-you-can smile. With one hand on the wheel and one hand wrapped tightly around mine, he drove the final two miles to the Reality Center downtown.

“You got this, babe.” He’d donned a sport coat and khakis for me, never letting me be the only one overdressed again. In his pocket was a pen, one i’d use later to sign my first book.

“Do i have lipstick on my teeth?” i blurted. He shook his head. “And you’ve got my inhaler?” He tucked the red plastic next to the pen. “Okay, okay, let’s just take a second.” I envisioned myself on my yoga mat, drinking in oxygen as muscles popped with tension-release. Whispered a prayer of thanks, a prayer for confidence, a prayer of humility.

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

Half-wobbling, half-strutting, we made our way inside.

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush and my own Jonathan at the event!

With the incredible Erin Lane, co-editor, her husband Rush, and my own Jonathan at the event!

current jam: ‘rise to me’ the decemberists.

best thing: signing mary’s book!!

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What are you so afraid of?

I smooth the sticky side down on my wall, willing the fan to hold off long enough for adhesive to adhese (or whatever). I want both the air of the fan and the message of the note to stick. I want both things at once even though i know they are oppositional forces. 

It is a post-it note. “What are you so afraid of?” in block blue letters on a block of blue paper. Above the cross on my desk with a cheesy verse from Jeremiah that i love for both its cheese and its calories.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom is on Skype with me, glasses perched so far down her nose i swear they’ll fall off if she belly-laughs again. My legs are gluing to the wood chair, this miserable heat making me melt like Elmer’s. I envy Mom in the air conditioning promised inside her Southern home. New England winter is coming, you can already see the trees dressing in fire in the corner-most branches. But mostly the fire in New England right now is not a burning heat so much as it is a miserable slop, a clinging film of stick on everything not made of icebox rock.

“What are you so afraid of?”

I pull the fan closer, picking threads of hair off of my neck and re-wrap my hairtie. It’s the longest my locks have been since i started school, a reversal of fifteen-year-old lizzie who chopped off fifteen inches at Governor’s School to prove cookie-cutter wrong and feminist liberation right. Still feminist, still cookie-lover, still no cookie-cutter.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom looks at me now, serious-eyes over the tortoise-shell rims. “You’ve been talking about this since before you started school, honey,” she chides. A perfect blend of you-know-better and you-can-do-it. Someday she’ll teach me that recipe, maybe, if i have to tortoise-shell-glare my own daughter. Maybe. “You should be scared to death. Anything worth doing is scary.” I nod. Air forced in, air forced out. This heat, this heat and my tiny lungs are not friends. Makes oxygen into sluggish glue that sticks going down and never really makes it to the bottom. Anything worth doing is scary.

“What are you so afraid of?” 

I look at my note now, it blue on blue hanging by a thread to my sweating wall. How it hangs on, i’m not sure, but i’m glad i don’t have to move the fan. Mom’s right, i know, and that’s why i call her. When i need her to give me the permission i seem unwitting or unwilling to find myself. Permission to be scared of writing a thesis, permission to be scared of tomorrow. Permission to say “to hell with being scared!” and make defiant post-it notes in cookie-cutter rebellion. 

“What are you so afraid of?” 

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

best thing: blue valentine.

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On Being MIA.

My return to the United States has been nonstop from the moment we stepped of our plane. Twenty-four hours of delay at Heathrow and an obliging hotel nearby made us lose a day of rest before both throwing ourselves into new – wonderful, wonderful – jobs. In the chaos of work commencing and re-settling and family visiting, this blog has fallen to the bottom of my daily to-do lists.

I’ve even got posts on Loch Ness queued up, unpublished, just waiting for my final edits. To think that my last sojourn to the deep waters was almost three weeks ago is baffling; time is flying and yet i still can’t break my UK habits. I’ve replaced casual thank you’s with “cheers” permanently, it seems.

Being in the USA has a lot of pluses, not least among them sweet tea and burritos and visits from MHC friends. It’s also been strange, a total re-immersion into old shoes that kind of blister my unaccustomed feet. I miss my friends, my flatmates, and i downright ache for the city of Edinburgh itself. (More on that to come soon). But there’s been plenty of needed, restful family time and (you knew this would come) plenty of wedding planning to hatch. Again, the outpouring of love and affirmation and delight at our engagement has been the best welcome home gift we could ask for!

And besides, i can’t really complain about the business: my first big assignment for The Internship comes tomorrow night. It’s a creative writing grief group led by a fabulous hospital chaplain  and sub-lead (read: wet-behind-the-ears intern-a-learnin’) me. I get to mesh my love for writing and my interest in trauma counsel together, which makes for an awesome and challenging summer.

So in the next few days expect a fat batch of overdue reminiscings, and plenty of photos from our last few days bidding farewell to my favorite, favorite city. The plan for the summer is to be back with more regularity, though perhaps with a swashbuckle less adventure. Still, there’s plenty to talk about here in North Carolina right now, so maybe they’ll be more action than i thought.

Until then, loves, cheers.

current jam: ‘just give me a reason’ pink & fun.

best thing: vermonters in carolina!