Taking Back 2020

On January 2nd of this year, I turned 40. I had one overarching goal for my 40th year on the planet: live with intention. Basically, decide beforehand how I was going to spend my days, choose my reactions to setbacks, make some purposeful changes in how I was spending my time, etc. etc. etc. I bought a 365-day journal with the intent to record this very intentional year.

It was going to be a big one. I had a full calendar of writing and book events lined up. I was anticipating making a little extra money from them, garnering a little extra name recognition, building a little bigger network of fellow writers. I thought to myself, in my delightful naiveté, that this would be a year of building my career. This is where I would lay the foundation for future success.

And wouldn’t you know it, things didn’t go according to plan.

I abandoned the journal in early February because it was straight-up boring. I mean, who cares what I did each and every day? If I didn’t, certainly posterity wouldn’t. Gone.

And then…well, you know. Everyone’s plans went up in smoke. Our family trip to Yellowstone was canceled. The writers retreat I direct in Albuquerque was canceled. Nearly twenty events at libraries, book clubs, bookstores, and conferences were canceled.

I thought, well at least I can use that extra time to write more. [Insert sick, desperate laugh.]

There’s something about a pandemic and a 24-hour news cycle and the dumpster fire that is social media that really hijacks one’s concentration if you let it. Add in a kid suddenly home from school 24/7 and you’ve got a recipe for slow writing. Or, no writing for awhile.

Instead of being intentional and proactive, I, like many of you I would imagine, found myself in reactionary mode for about six months. My schedule, my comings and goings, my very thoughts felt like they were not my own. This was the most unintentional year I could remember.

And yet…

There were some things I did manage to make happen. I finally got the new fence I had been needing/wanting for the backyard. I lost fifty pounds and starting fitting into my old clothes. I spent a lot more time outside over the summer, reading, working, and yes, even writing a little. (Thank you, Lord, for such incredible summer weather this year.)

And there were some things that happened to me that were good. Because everyone in the world now knows how to use Zoom, I was able to talk to a number of far-flung (as well as local) book clubs and libraries, the furthest afield being a book club in Honduras. I won both the debut and general categories of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s 2020 Star Awards for my debut novel, We Hope for Better Things, which also had the honor of being selected as a Michigan Notable Book for 2020.

But the thing that I think has really been a turning point for me, mentally and emotionally, is that I kept something precious to me rather than losing it to a virus. Instead of loosening my grip and accepting that in this world, in this year, I will not be able to do this, I squeezed a little tighter and did something anyway. Even though there was some risk involved. Even though it meant spending money we should have saved. Even though it would invite public censure on social media (see my last post for another positive, intentional action taken in the wake of that).

What I kept was my annual writers retreat in Albuquerque. Not the retreat I’d carefully planned for nearly 100 writers. Not the retreat with the notable speaker and all the great food and all the socializing with writer friends. All I kept was a plane ticket and a hotel reservation. All I brought was some clothes and my laptop and my intentions of getting some writing done. All I wanted was time alone in a place I had grown to love and to need in my life over the past six years.

And I got it. Well, perhaps I should say I got it and then some. Not only did I get precious alone time after a season of everyone being stuck in the house; not only did I get time and mental space to write; not only did I get to spend five days in a hotel that feels like a second home to me…I also got community–unexpected, unintentional, and unequivocally soul-restoring community–at the best cigar shop I have ever been to.

An acquaintance local to Albuquerque told me about it and then, when Uber was uberexpensive, was kind enough to drive me to it in order to pick out some gifts for my husband. This friend smoked his first cigar as I perused the largest humidor I’ve ever set foot in and pawed through a gorgeous selection of pipes. I made my purchases after consulting with the very personable owner of the store (the third generation of his family to run it) and chatted with some other patrons–members of the store’s private cigar club–as I finished my own cigar and the glass of bourbon the owner poured for me. Then I figured I had imposed upon my driver long enough and was going say my thank yous and have him drive me back to the hotel.

Instead, one of the cigar club members invited me on a tour of the private lounge. After the tour, another gentleman who was in the lower level (yes, this amazing lounge had multiple levels and rooms) of the club invited me to sit down. I had already finished my cigar and my bourbon and I felt I had abandoned my ride, so I demurred. But the thing is, I didn’t want to leave yet. And these guys didn’t want me to leave. I was handed another bourbon, another cigar, and prevailed upon to stay. Eventually other guys came rolling into the room until I was holding court with five men, only one of whom I’d ever met before that afternoon.

Full disclosure so that you can gauge how incensed you should be at me right now: no, we were not wearing masks (hard to smoke a cigar through a mask) and no, we weren’t a full six feet apart. Probably we managed an average of four feet of distance. Yes, we were inside. Yes, I had shaken every one of their hands (at their initiation), as well as the hands of nearly every man who had entered when we were just standing around talking and smoking in the non-club portion of the store. These men ranged in age from their mid-20s to around 60. They worked in law enforcement, health care, the film industry, the news industry, in finance, for the military. And every single one of them made me feel…welcome, at ease, happy.

In a year of hunkering down and not even seeing the people I’ve known for years (or in some cases, for my entire life) I was introduced to this new community of instant friends. I was made to feel utterly welcome in what has become a very stand-offish world. The things I said were not met with raised hackles and links to articles to show why I was wrong/careless/borderline evil/probably a murderer. I was not walking on eggshells about how I worded things or anticipating the objections or arguments to come. I was not dreading the fallout from simply being myself.

I was just…there. Amongst people who were in all ways generous and gracious to each other and to me. They gave away pieces of themselves to a stranger in their midst, sharing their stories, trusting me to be gentle with them, to take them at face value, to simply derive enjoyment from them. We had nothing to gain from one another beyond a few hours of congeniality. But I don’t think you realize how truly precious such a thing is until it has been stolen from you, first by an invisible virus and then by the near-constant piling on of guilt that accompanies your every action in a world where everyone is watching and feels they have a sacred, self-appointed responsibility to judge and condemn you for each and every small way you deviate from their impossibly high expectations of you.

We had such a great time chatting, six hours flew by. We all missed dinner.

Over the remaining days of my trip, I was able to get together with a few of the guys again, and each time I discovered that a little piece of me was being put back together. A little confidence in myself that had been chipped away by listening to too many people was being restored. A little boldness I once had came creeping back in. (I know that someone reading this is horrified that I accepted rides and drinks I didn’t see poured from men I had just met, but why the hell should men have the freedom to hang out with anyone they want while women are taught to be afraid of everything and everyone? It may shock you further that the reason I saw any of these guys again was because I invited them to join me for drinks and dinner in the days that followed.)

Here’s the thing about meeting someone new in the context of having no “mutual friends.” When you meet someone new, apart from your previous relationships and work and accomplishments, apart from your carefully crafted online persona, you get to see yourself in as pure a form as you are likely to get in this life. They are meeting you, undiluted, unadulterated you. Not you the student or you the wife or you the mother or you the writer or you the former football star or you the once prom queen or you the executive or you the mechanic or you the failed artist or you the real estate mogul. Just you. You’re an unknown quantity. You’re a risk. And when they take that risk to spend time with you, and then have the exact reaction to you that you wish everyone would have–they find you interesting, charming, intelligent, fun to be around, worth their time and attention–it feels good. It feels like maybe there is something more to you than all the stuff about you.

We all want to feel that we are worth something in and of ourselves, irrespective of who we know or who we married or who we gave birth to, regardless of what we have accomplished and what we have failed to accomplish. And when someone sees that pure spark of you inside and wants more–more time, more stories, more eye contact, more of your attention–it’s intoxicating. It’s the kind of thing that makes you miss a meal and yet never actually miss it. It’s the kind of thing you want to share with other people even if it means you’ll get raked across the coals for daring to leave your house and deciding that social niceties like handshakes are still important and are worth a little risk (and a lot of public censure).

Reader, something important that I realized during this “inessential” trip is that I’m still essentially me. I’m still me, in and of myself, the me I’ve always been. The me that prefers hanging out with guys to hanging out with women. The me that loves hearing other people’s stories more than telling her own. The me that is not afraid to get into a car with a man I just met to go get some waffles. The me that is done being acted upon by distant forces and judged by distant people.

The me that doesn’t actually care what you think of me.

2020 has been a trial of a year, for sure. But I am taking it back. I am accepting with open arms the unexpected gifts it has given me. There are three months left in the year. Those are my months. I’m going to live them intentionally, without fear, without second guessing, without explaining myself to people who hold no power over me.

How about you?

Breaking Up with Facebook (well…almost)

It’s felt like a longtime coming, but I finally did it. I finally decided that enough was enough. I’d tried. I’d put in effort and care and time–oh, so much time. But there comes a point at which you have to decide if a relationship is working. And in our world, sometimes there is a point at which you have to decide if hundreds of relationships are working.

For me, they weren’t.

I joined Facebook back in 200…6?…7?…after someone in my graduate program at MSU told me about it. It was fun at first. Actually, it was mostly fun for the first eight or nine years I was on it. And then it became not so fun.

But I stayed engaged, kept accepting friend requests, more and more from people I knew through writing organizations, some I’d never actually met or interacted with but who had mutual friends in the writing community I was involved in. I gathered in people I worked with either in the past or present. I acquired more relatives from my husband’s rather large extended family. I collected some of my relatives’ friends, some brothers and sisters and spouses of people I graduated high school with, some people who read my books and wanted to connect on my personal page rather than my author page.

And it got…difficult. You see, you’d never invite all of these people to the same function in real life. You’d want to connect people who would get along with each other, who would treat each other a certain way. People with similar interests and values. That’s not to say you wouldn’t hang out with everyone in certain contexts, but everyone all at once? Bad idea.

In 2014, Facebook introduced the “unfollow” button. In 2017, it introduced the “snooze” feature. And I used these features liberally in order to tame this list of people I knew, sorta knew, and didn’t know at all, which had grown to more than 1,400.

Now listen, I’m an introvert in a solitary profession who has worked from home since 2005. I do not know 1,400 people. I certainly do not have 1,400 friends. And frankly a lot of those 1,400 people didn’t treat me as a friend would.

A friend–a real friend–knows you. They know your heart. They know that even if you have a different opinion than they do on any given topic, you’re still a decent, intelligent, caring person. They know this because they have actually spent time with you. Real time. In the real world. They’re people you can be honest with and you know that if they disagree they’ll just kind of smile and nod and bite their tongue, then give you a hug and look forward to the next time you see each other.

In the snowballing of my social media accounts, it was those actual friends who seemed to be getting squeezed out on my feed and in comments by “friends” who didn’t know me all that well yet had a lot of opinions about how I should vote, how I should think, and how I should live my life. And social media, while certainly social, wasn’t any fun. And if you don’t have fun with people…why would you spend time with them? Why would you spend time with people who only want to argue or scold or explain how you’re wrong about everything?

Answer: you wouldn’t. No one wants to spend any amount of their leisure time with people like that. And yet we do. All of us do.

It was the summer 2018 that I started yearning for a return to real, offline friendships. That was the year of my 20th high school reunion. That night, I spent time with a few dozen people who, even if some of them weren’t my close friends back in school, even if we had differing opinions on politics or religion or child-rearing, still knew me. In fact, those people I hadn’t seen in 20 years knew me way better than almost anyone I had met since. Because I’m basically the same person as I was back then, though hopefully slightly improved (read: nicer). Many of them had known me since kindergarten. I’d been in real fights with them back when hormones ruled our brains and we’d say anything to get the insult upper hand, and yet I still knew they liked me. I bet none of us could even remember what those fights might have been about.

Not so online, with the arguments that last for days and suck people in from all across the spectrum of your acquaintance. That never resolve, never change anything, never build people up but always manage to knock them down. Day after day on social media, there is instead a steady tearing down, gnawing away. We become afraid to say anything because even though we know it will make this person laugh, it will make that person incensed. The audience is so big you can’t talk to any part of it without stepping in it with another part.

I’ve tried to walk that line for a while. It’s exhausting, disheartening, joy-stealing. But I also didn’t want to unfriend anyone and make them feel bad. I do want to be friendly to people. I don’t want anyone to feel rejected or unwanted. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to them. It’s just that I don’t want to talk to them and everyone else about everything all the time. It just got too big.

Facebook also became a place for me to seek out attention, accolades, likes, comments, and compliments. A place I could puff myself up. A place that fed into my most problematic besetting sin: pride. It feels good to rack up those little hearts and thumbs-ups. And social media companies know that. They know how to keep you coming back for more (watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you don’t believe me).

It’s also a place where colossal amounts of my life have been wasted over the past decade plus. And I have far better, more rewarding things to do with my time than scroll. (Read Deep Work if you need some encouragement to rethink how distractions like social media are eating away at your ability to do solid creative work.)

But…I didn’t want to throw the whole thing out. Not yet. I am connected with my writing community through our Facebook groups. I communicate with people coming to the retreat I direct through Facebook. I run my own author page through Facebook. And there are people I’m happy to be able to keep up with through Facebook. I love all the Facebook memories that pop up containing hilarious or sweet things my son has said or done while growing up. I like seeing old photos pop up. And there are some people I connect with on Messenger that I have no other way of contacting at the moment. So I knew I couldn’t quite quit it cold turkey.

What I did do this year was two big waves of unfriending. The first wave, early in 2020, was simply people I realized I didn’t even know. That allowed me to drop 500-600 people from the list. But I still had a list that was too large. What I really wanted was to separate out my personal, professional, and public lives. So I dropped about 750 more people. People I like just fine, but maybe people it was okay to simply see in person once a year and not keep up with the rest of the year. People whom I wish the very best, but am letting go out of my everyday life.

I’m a big believer in white space. Clearing out the stuff you don’t need. Leaving room in the margin. Allowing for empty time in my schedule. Reserving mental space for being creative.

Most of my social media interaction over the past five years can arguably be called clutter. How much of it actually needed to be said? Precious little. How much of it led to unintentionally hurt feelings? Probably more than I know.

So I’m letting it go. Mostly.

If you’re reading this and you were let go, I need you to know that it had everything to do with me and nothing to do with you.

If you’re reading this and wondering how to keep up with me and my newest books, you can follow me any of these places:

But please don’t be offended if I don’t follow back. It’s not you. It’s me.

Retiring the Blog

Hello there, blog. Remember me?

I’ve been spending a lot of time so far this year over on other people’s blogs talking about my debut novel, We Hope for Better Things. And other people have been spending time over here on my blog as I’ve shared interviews with other debut authors. And, of course, I’ve been sharing my new podcast episodes here. And if you get my email newsletter, you know I’ve been spending a fair amount of time on that for about two or three years.

All of this has added up to a lot less time and brainpower spent on blog posts. Perhaps that’s all well and good. People aren’t reading blogs as voraciously as they used to. They’re spending more time on Instagram and Twitter and podcasts. And those who are still reading blogs are less interactive than they used to be, because we’re all reading on our phones far more than on our computers, and that’s less conducive to typing out comments.

I must say, I miss the time I used to spend in this space. It has been, in one form or another, a part of my life for more than a decade. A decade during which I struggled to decide what it was I wanted to say and what I wanted to do with my time. It used to go by other names: Stuff No One Would PublishThe Consummate AmateurA Beautiful Fiction. It had several different faces and two different web platforms. I’ve written about nature, gardening, seasons, travel, Michigan, family, sewing, quilting, and my long and determined trudge toward publication.

And now, here I am. All of that practice and all of that striving has paid off. And that means that I have less time than ever to muse in this space. Most free moments must be put to use in the creation and promotion of my novels (and there are more coming). I’ve set myself a rather punishing schedule with a weekly podcast and a monthly newsletter, one which I feel I must pull back from a little in order to give myself more time for novel writing.

All of this to say, I think it’s time to retire the blog, or at least put it on hiatus. I won’t delete the content. But it will be moving to a less prominent place on my website in the near future. Sort of a digital spring cleaning, if you will.

So if you like hearing from me now and again, may I suggest signing up for my at-the-moment monthly (though likely to become quarterly) email newsletter? And if you like more frequent glimpses into my life and mind you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter. And if you like photos, you can follow me on Instagram.

Just as the seasons change, life changes. What we once valued and took time for falls by the wayside, replaced by something better. And that’s just the point I am in my creative life right now. I hope you’ll join me in one of those other spots. Until then, I’ll be writing my next novel.

Thanks for reading. Really. My sincerest thanks.

Opening the Door to 2019

If you follow me on social media, you know that the past week has been on the busy side, and that it’s not over yet. Christmas celebrations on both sides of the state, time with friends in different cities, my wedding anniversary. Now New Year’s (though we blessedly have zero plans) and my birthday rapidly approach.

And…release day. We Hope for Better Things will be out in the world on its own, like a young bird finally pushed out of the nest into the cold air of the unknown. Today’s podcast is about what that feels like.

That’s little first-grade me in the picture, reading. And for the past few months, I’ve been reading a lot.

 

 

 

 

These are all books that will release in 2019 like mine, with the exception of the first, which is already out, and I’ve enjoyed reading each one of them for different reasons.

Reading has always been important to me. I cannot imagine my life without books. And in the past eight or nine years, writing has been just as important to me. So as I consider what 2019 will bring and make goals for myself, reading and writing figure heavily.

It’s hard to believe we are entering the last year of the twenty-teens. The last year of my 30s. The last day, today, that I will consider myself an unpublished author or an aspiring author. 2019 is sure to bring with it a lot of excitement and opportunity, some stress and probably some overwork, and certainly some disappointments or failures. But one of the things I am sure it will bring in spades is more great books to read, more stories to write. And what book-lover could ask for more?

Thanks for coming along this journey to publication through the storytelling vehicle of this blog. Some of you have been here since 2012. Some came along with me to this space from earlier blogs, starting way back in 2008. Ten years! Ten years of reading my words, looking at my photos, watching me sew, seeing my son grow from a baby to a fifth grader…it’s nuts how quickly the time slips by. And it’s exciting to think about what the next ten years will bring.

I’m so grateful to you for reading this blog and my newsletter.

I’m so grateful to those of you who will read We Hope for Better Things.

I’m so grateful that I get to do what I love and that what I love to do can offer you some pleasure, comfort, laughter, or maybe just a moment to slow down and think.

May the Giver of all good gifts bless you in the coming year with faith, hope, and love. See you in 2019.

NaNoWriMo Success, a Goodreads Giveaway, and the Return of #Debut19Chat

The past week has been busy in a good way.

I topped 50,000 words in my newest novel manuscript and won National Novel Writing Month for the second time (the result of the first time will actually be my second novel, coming out in September, and which has a shiny new title I can’t wait to share with you).

I finished up several PR items my publicist needed in order to spread the word about We Hope for Better Things.

I actually did my very first interview with a writer for a magazine!

I made much progress on an advance reader copy of The Patricide of George Benjamin Hill by James Charlesworth, another author who will debut in 2019.

dusted. I actually dusted.

I decorated for Christmas.

I did some laundry (finally).

I prepped food for a church potluck.

I started my Advent reading, Wrapped in Grace by Deana Lynn Rogers.

And #Debut19Chat is running again on Twitter, with new questions and answers to get to know 2019 debut authors and their projects.

Now I sit back a moment and consider the reality that 2018 is racing to a close and I have a very busy year ahead of me, in which I have two books coming out (one in just a month!), two books in the process of writing and revising, and I’m directing my beloved WFWA writing retreat.

If you want to keep up with what I’m doing, including my book launch events, speaking and workshops, my podcast, and more, you can get my newsletter in your email inbox by subscribing here.

If you want to enter to win one of ten free copies of We Hope for Better Things, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway here!

And if you want to listen to me riff about the cute online animal videos I would have attempted to make as a child had the technology been available to me, click here to listen to the latest Your Face Is Crooked podcast episode. Or click the graphic below, which is my husband communing with a goat.

 

Anticipating the First Day of School

The vacations and day trips and camps are all done.

The notebooks and folders and pencils have been purchased.

The cupboard and fridge are full of lunch staples.

And my anticipation of silence while I’m working is palpable.

No more Clone Wars or Pokemon or slamming of plastic light sabers into the floor to get them to collapse.

No more being asked for the Netflix PIN.

No more walking back into my office after getting coffee to find that my desk has been usurped because, “My tablet needed to be plugged in,” or, “I just wanted to look up [insert bizarre word that is probably a Pokemon].”

I love my son. Dearly. But he’s not the ideal coworker.

And that’s okay. Because he’s only nine.

Still, I’m more than ready to work alone again.  🙂

These Early Summer Days

The last few mornings have been picture perfect. Calm and bright at sunrise, with birds and squirrels and one little bunny spotted in the dewy yard.

Beams of pure sunlight break and scatter when they hit the trees, whose leaves are fully green and fully extended now.

The sky that begins as a thin blue canopy deepens to full summer. Clean, puffy white clouds skid across the blue in the quickening breeze.

The trees rustle as morning gives way to day. And we busy ourselves with the last week of school, loads and loads of laundry, and watering the garden transplants.

Summer is coming, faster than we imagined it would back in March. It’s still light at 9 PM, and morning follows fast on evening’s heels. I turn the calendar page and marvel.

Donald Trump, Rape Culture, and “What do I tell my daughter?”

Let’s just put it out there: a pretty despicable human being has been elected president of the United States. One of the many reactions to this has come from parents, especially mothers, who are asking “What do I tell my daughter?”

Before I share my answer to that question, I want to share with you a story only a few people in my life know but which is agonizingly common amongst women.

I was nine, one year older than my son is right now, when a friend’s older brother molested me. It takes a lot — a lot — of effort for me to let that sentence sit there. To not go back and delete it. To not edit it out of my story.

But it happened. More than once. And I didn’t tell anyone at first.

Probably the first couple times it happened, most people would have termed it “teasing,” especially back then. But anyone who has been intimidated or tricked into a position of helplessness while someone bigger and stronger has obvious control over whether you must stay or you get to leave will tell you that it’s not teasing. It’s at least bullying. Sometimes it’s assault, even if it is not much more than one person’s weight keeping you down on the floor until you promise him you will come back if he let’s you go.

Though I won’t go into details, the last time it happened, no one could deny that it was molestation. And not long after that traumatic incident, I stopped going over to my friend’s house. But I still didn’t tell anyone.

In sixth grade, I finally told someone. A teacher. I wrote out the story in a journal we kept in class. It didn’t have anything to do with the subject matter — science — it was just supposed to be us writing about anything we wanted and this teacher would be the only person who would read it. So I wrote what had happened to me. When I got my journal back the next week, my teacher had written at the top, “I hope you slapped him,” but he didn’t tell anyone. I guess mandatory reporting wasn’t a thing back then?

A couple years later, that teacher was arrested, tried, and convicted of molesting boys in his scout troop.

The one person I had reached out to was also a sex offender.

Though I doubt it was a conscious choice, the way I saw guys from that point on was fundamentally different. Boys became a force to be resisted, fought, proven wrong, and outdone. I would be better, stronger, smarter, more successful than they were. I would become someone to reckon with.

And I did. I beat nearly all of my male classmates in academics. I beat boys at arm wrestling. I bested them in Trivial Pursuit. I hit home runs. I was never afraid of the ball. I didn’t run like a girl, throw like a girl, or do shot put like a girl. I never backed down from an argument. I opened my own jars. I didn’t believe in the phrase “that’s a man’s job.” I wrote feminist poetry.  And of the girls in my graduating class, I was voted Most Likely to Be President.

I never felt that same level of competition with other girls. Only boys.

Being an outspoken young lady who carries herself with confidence can draw idiotic sexist comments from a lot of guys. Some of them might even call you a “nasty woman.” But according to more than one adult man in my life, the boys were just “intimidated” by me. When I heard that I would think to myself, “Good. They should be.” And I would go on being me.

Eventually, I told the story of my childhood molestation to my future husband (one boy who was not intimidated by me).

In college, I stopped worrying so much about beating the boys. I was comfortably engaged to my high school sweetheart, excelling in my classes, and relishing every moment spent discussing literature, history, and culture. Unlike this woman, my experience as the victim of unwanted advances or outright assault did not continue throughout my life. It may have something to do with the different circles we ran in or it may be that me “intimidating” guys had a nice scumbag repellent effect. For whatever reason, the worst thing that happened had happened a really long time ago. And when you hear what some women have gone through, my story is mild.

But that doesn’t mean that every time I walked home from a late shift at a diner on campus I wasn’t listening for footsteps behind me and constantly running through self-defense scenarios in my mind. Because I was. No matter how long ago, an experience like that never leaves you. This statement from a New York Times article regarding Donald Trump’s treatment of women rings achingly true: “They appeared to be fleeting, unimportant moments to him, but they left lasting impressions on the women who experienced them.”

It’s obvious to me in hindsight that my early experience as the victim of sexual abuse had a significant role in molding me into the person I am today. A person who, along with every other decent person out there, was disgusted by comments made (and then lamely defended) by the president elect. To some men it might be just “locker room talk” but to women, dismissing such comments is another dismissal of their own personal story of sexual harassment or abuse, another log to throw on the smoldering fire of what’s become known as rape culture, a culture in which men are rarely held accountable and women are blamed for their own life-altering assaults.

Now then, for the answer to the question, “What do I tell my daughter?”

What do I say to her as we leave an administration led by an honorable man who set up the Council on Women and Girls and eloquently explained the problems and solutions to rape culture, and enter the administration of this guy? (For the record, I don’t think he’s actually done what he says there, but parsing all of that out is a little beyond the scope of this essay.)

Well, you could tell her the truth.

Tell her that while the office of the presidency is to be respected, there have been a number of men who held that position who have been less than honorable in their conduct toward women.

Tell her that unfortunately we live in a world where she needs to be vigilant, on guard against people who might want to take advantage of her. That while sexual assault is never her fault, she can reduce her vulnerability by taking smart precautionary measures, like never walking alone at night, learning basic self defense, supporting her female friends, and remaining sober-minded and alert in potentially dangerous situations.

Tell her that women are not exempt from feeding into a culture that devalues and blames women. Sometimes, while they are trying to protect their own hearts, lives, careers, and families, they do and say things that harm other women. They excuse terrible behavior to protect a reputation that, let’s face it, is bordering on unredeemable. (I say bordering, because if the man actually humbled himself and repented, he absolutely could be redeemed. But at this point his “conversion” is obviously a false one because he doesn’t believe he needs forgiveness, doesn’t understand the meaning of the Eucharist, and tries to make up for the bad things he does with works rather than accepting God’s grace.) They may even perpetuate the view of women as sex objects and call it empowerment. They make bad choices, and may regret them later, but they feel like they have to double down to retain their integrity because there are so many ways to make missteps in our judge now, ask questions later culture.

Tell her that nothing, fundamentally, has changed. Before Trump we lived in a dangerous and fallen world. During Trump we live in a dangerous and fallen world. After Trump we will live in a dangerous and fallen world.

And you might even tell her that the kind of people who put sexual pressure on others or who desire to feel power over others, are often the past victims of sexual pressure, harassment, or assault.

Remember the story of the friend’s older brother who molested me? When I finally told my childhood best friend and my sister about it last year, both of them immediately said, “I wonder what happened to him.”

Those twin statements kind of hit me broadside. I had often wondered why he had done what he’d done, especially since he was only four or five years older than me, still a kid himself. But it had never occurred to me that he might be acting out a scenario that had happened to him in the past, only this time he could be the one who felt in control rather than the one who felt powerless. Leave it to my always compassionate best friend and my former Child Protective Services worker sister to immediately see him as more than a perpetrator, to see him as a unique individual who might have his own difficult past.

Remember that teacher who was sent to prison for molesting boys in his scout troop? The boys who had come forward with the allegations were the same age as the boy who molested me. And it’s possible that he was even in that troop. That he had either heard about this teacher’s abuse or that he was a victim himself. I don’t know. We’re not exactly in touch and I can’t ask his sister because sadly she died after an on again, off again struggle with substance abuse.

The last time I talked to him I was a freshman in high school. He had already graduated. I contacted him and asked him if he wanted to come back for the school’s talent show and do a duet with me. It was a carefully considered ploy on my part to get the chance to put the incident, which I had still not told anyone about, to rest. To get it out of my mind. Surprisingly, he agreed. I chose the song: “Always on My Mind.” I chose it because it would make a good duet. I didn’t think any deeper about the title or lyrics for many years.

We got together a few times to practice. We watched a movie. He taught me how to drive his car, a stick shift, even though I was underage and didn’t have a license. We drove out to the Saginaw Bay, to a remote little spot at the end of a very long pier. In telling my sister the story years later, this is where she interrupted and said, “Without even a cell phone?” I stopped to think about it and said, “Yeah, I guess that was really dumb.”

We stood and watched the sun sinking over the bay and I finally got up the nerve. I asked him if he remembered luring me into his bedroom, forcing me down, and laying on top of me. If he remembered cornering me in the tent they had up in their back yard or groping me in their van when we were all playing hide and seek. He did remember. I asked him why he did all of that. All he could say was, “I don’t know.”

And maybe he didn’t. Or maybe deep down he did, but unlike me he was not ready to talk about it, to admit that something may have happened to him.

Again, I don’t know that anything did. But it might have. Because eighth grade boys don’t normally grope fourth grade girls. And that big “maybe” has helped me move past what happened to me twenty-seven years ago. Were I given the opportunity, I’d love to talk to him again and tell him that I think I have finally completely forgiven him. In case you’re wondering, we never did perform that song at the talent show.

I’m not saying all of this to excuse anyone, least of all our president elect, from criminal behavior toward women, lewd comments, or even general skeeviness. Nothing makes me feel more capable of extreme physical violence than talk of sexual assault. If I had 20 minutes, a baseball bat, and the promise of no legal consequences, it would take every ounce of my willpower not to beat Brock Turner to a raw, bloody pulp, and ask for a few shots at that judge as well.

But Donald Trump being president (How? How? How did it come to this?) will not make humanity worse. Or better. Humanity has been broken and sinful since the Fall and anyone who can look at our world and still think that people are basically good is wishing for something that is demonstrably untrue.

We all wish other people were better people. But we only have control over the behavior of one person — ourselves.

So what do you tell your daughter?

Tell her to live in such a way that she intimidates the boys.

When you pair self-confidence with self-control and self-reliance, you get someone like her. And she is a fantastic role model.

Someday, if she can ever be prevailed upon to run, your daughter might even get a chance to vote for her for president. And that would be a very proud day indeed.

Kicking and Screaming My Way into the 21st Century

My husband and I have been longtime holdouts in the cell phone world, dragging our heels and hanging onto phones that do little more than call or text. We’ve had good reasons — the cost seems ridiculous, we’re Luddites at heart, they can become a colossal time-suck in people’s lives. But mainly it’s been that we don’t want to become pointless-amusement-obsessed zombies who can’t even be fully in a conversation with another person without itching to check (or actually checking) our phones. Is anything more frustrating that being in a room of people who are pretty much ignoring you as they work on developing their “iPhone chins” by constantly checking Facebook or playing Words with Friends on their phones? (Probably there’s lots of more frustrating situations, but for the sake of this post, these are the most insufferable people in the world, and I don’t want to become one.)

I am definitely a late adopter in most cases of technology development (though for some reason I got on Facebook relatively early). But there have always been several features about smartphones I’ve been keenly interested in using. MyFitnessPal, instantly posting photos to Facebook, easily finding restaurants near you in an unfamiliar town, instantly finding out what awesome song was playing on the speakers at the coffee shop and being able to buy that song right then and there…. And Instagram. Not necessarily to send photos of my food out into the world (though if it looks amazing, why not?) but to get beautiful photos fed to me and to share the occasional beautiful photo myself. Plus there’s just a really fun kind of Polaroid vibe on Instagram I’ve kind of felt left out of.

Zach (who still proudly uses a c. 2003 Palm Pilot daily, mind you) had to get out of his old but beloved phone’s grip (cost benefit ratio did not add up) and found a very inexpensive Android phone that wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount of money each month (thus satisfying his cheap Dutchman’s heart) but would also interact with his Palm platform, thus not rendering his Palm obsolete, the specter of which I’m sure kept him up nights. And every time he told me something else very practical he could now do, I coveted that new phone. So, now we have his and hers.

And now I’m on Instagram, just in time for gorgeous summer travel Up North and another trip to the Southwest come September. If you want to follow me there, you can by clicking here. At the moment my photo stream is sparse and lacking in variety (hey, I haven’t left the house since I started it — give a girl a break) but I’m hoping to remedy that in the coming weeks. I’d love to see you over there. 🙂

 

He Is Risen Indeed!

I know not all of my readers share my faith, so thanks for this indulgence as I share a bit of it with you. Keith and Kristyn Getty are two fantastic Irish musicians I’ve been privileged to see live several times. They truly capture the spirit of this most joyous of days.