Sunday, June 28, 2015

My own mess: my favorite self-help books

My new boss at the library is awesome. During our weekly staff training, she played this video about vulnerability from Brené Brown's viral TED Talk:

The video left me wanting more, as all good stories do. It inspired me to check out Brown's book, Daring Greatly. I'm just at the introduction, and I've already found a part that resonates with me. I had to stop and write it down. Oh, this is good:

"Social work is all about leaning into the discomfort of ambiguity and uncertainty, and holding open an empathic space so people can find their own way. In a word, messy." --Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

When I first started going to Johnson County Community College in 1989, my plan was to transfer to KU and major in Social Welfare so I could get a job working with sexually abused children. I ended up dropping out and working at the library, later going back to get my AA degree so I could become a paraprofessional librarian.

I ditched my plan to become a social worker for a few reasons. I needed to get a job to pay my rent and buy groceries and put gas in my car, and I couldn't figure out how to do those things and go to school at the same time. I also needed time to get my own shit together before I could attempt to help other people get their shit together. My teens and early twenties were the most emotionally unstable parts of my life. It was too draining to spend my days pretending to know how to help others when I spent my nights sobbing in bed at home.

I also knew, deep down, that I'd be a terrible social worker. I'm too passionate and hot-tempered. Our social welfare agencies are chronically underfunded and too wrapped up in bureaucratic bullshit to be able to fully help people change their lives for the better. There's no way I could work in such a broken system. Seeing hurt people hurts me. I'm sure I'd freak out some day and try to "rescue" as many kids as I could, holding them hostage at my house until I realized I'd have to feed them. Then I wouldn't have a clue what to do. I'm about as far from a domestic goddess as you can get and my financial planning skills are about as good as you'd expect from a social worker type. We'd run out of boxed macaroni and cheese and canned peas and I'd have to call the agency I'd kidnapped the kids from for assistance.

I'd boss the parents around and try to tell them what to do with their lives instead of sitting back patiently and letting them figure it out for themselves. I can barely stand to listen to my friends complain about their lives without wanting to slap them, shake them, and scream at them for not listening to my advice the last time we talked. I'd be a terrible social worker.

I went to work at the library because I believe in the healing power of books and ideas. So many books have changed my life that I feel compelled to share my discoveries. I want to help other people find books that can change their lives for the better too.

As a librarian, I get to recommend books that enrich people's lives. But I'm not a social worker. I'm not actively involved in the daily lives of the people I help. I have no idea if they actually read the books I recommend. I have no proof that the books I recommend change anyone's attitudes and behaviors. I have no guarantee that the ideas I'm slinging will fix anyone's problems. And that's good. For an emotionally damaged control freak like me, it's good that my job is not to fix other people. If I were busy all day trying to fix other people, I'd have no time to work on myself, the one person who needs my attention the most. If I've learned anything from the many books I've read over the years it's that the only person's behavior I can control is my own.

By being a librarian instead of a social worker I get to step out of other people's messes, other people's crazy, and the dysfunction of other people's daily lives. My job is to provide resources for people who wish to learn how to empower themselves. The best way I know how to test those resources is to try them out myself.

Here are a few of my favorite "self-help" books. I expect to add a Brené  Brown book to it in a bit. I couldn't even get past the introduction without being inspired to write this blog post.


The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner

Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth Behind Your Weight by Linda Bacon

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults by by Michael M. Piechowski and Susan Daniels


The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Laminated quarter

When I was sixteen, my dad gave me a laminated quarter and told me to keep it in my wallet. This was back in the dark ages before cell phones. There were payphones all over the city. Drop in a quarter and make a call.

When dad gave me the laminated quarter he said, "My buddies and I used to do stupid things when I was your age. Here's a quarter. Call home if you're ever stranded somewhere drunk and you don't have a ride home."

My dad and I have the weirdest relationship. When I was growing up, Dad was both incredibly controlling and surprisingly lenient. I had no curfew. I had no restrictions on what movies I could watch or what books I could check out from the library. I could talk openly about sex if I wanted to around my dad, although I never wanted to. Yuck. I reserved sex talks for my mom.

When I was a little kid I could leave my toys all over the place and Dad never yelled at me to clean up my mess. My friends would come over to our house to play Barbies because we could leave our doll furniture out in our living room all summer long, without having to tear it down and pack it up at the end of the day, only to have to unpack it and set it all up again the next day.

These were the ways Dad was surprisingly lenient. Surprisingly because, by nature, Dad's default mood is controlling. Before he retired, Dad's title at work was "controller". I asked what that means, and Mom explained it means he bossed the other accountants around in the office and made sure everyone showed up to work on time. Yep, that sounds like the perfect job for Dad.

It wasn't just at work. At home, Dad wasn't just a boss, but the king. Dad's the kind of guy who has a temper tantrum if he doesn't get his way. Everything in our daily lives centered around keeping Dad calm. We lived where he wanted to live in a house to his liking, regardless of whether or not it was good for anyone else in the family. We ate at restaurants he picked and saw movies he wanted to see. The first vacation we took was when I was nine and we drove to St. Louis. Dad wouldn't pay for us to go up in the arch. I once asked Dad why we didn't go on many family vacations. I knew he'd been to Europe after the war and that he'd traveled all over the country on road trips with his first wife and daughter. "Why don't we ever go anywhere, Dad?" I asked. "Eh, my traveling days are behind me," is all he'd say.

There were other, sillier, but still controlling things. I wasn't allowed to drink the canned pop we kept in the fridge. That was reserved for Dad's sack lunch. I wasn't allowed to sit in the comfy chair in the living room. That was reserved for Dad's hard working ass. But it was also important, philosophical things. I wasn't supposed to disagree with Dad on anything--politics, religion, how often I should mow the lawn, although by the time I was sixteen I discovered that I could actually hold my own in a shouting match. I stopped running off to my room and crying every time Dad raised his voice. I fought back.

It felt great. Letting my voice be heard improved my self-esteem. I felt courageous and strong. Not like Mom, who avoided confrontation at all costs. Even, in my opinion, at the cost of herself.

Arguing with him did nothing for my relationship with Dad, though. It did worse than nothing. I couldn't wait to get out of the house and away from him.

I used to hate Father's Day. I remember once, in my twenties, I had to leave the store because I was starting to cry. I had spent thirty minutes in the Father's Day card aisle and found absolutely nothing I could relate to, nothing I could buy for my own dad. This one was too sappy. This one too funny. This one made our relationship sound better off than it was. This blank one, even. No. What would I write it in? "Happy Father's Day, Dad. Thanks for waiting until I was eighteen before kicking me out of the house!"

Then time happened, as it does. I grew up. I learned to stop shouting and start voicing my opinion in a calm, rational and empathetic way. Dad and I both went on anti-anxiety medication. The wonder drug that works wonders on our father-daughter relationship. I no longer feel distraught when I visit the Father's Day card aisle.

Today my eight-year-old daughter Katie sat at the table and asked me a question that was important for me to answer, not just for her, but for myself. She was drawing a picture of herself on a card she was making to give to my dad for Father's Day. She asked, "Mom, why do you think your dad was mean when you were a kid, but he's not mean anymore?"

"Oh, Punk. It's a lot of reasons. He had a hard life when he was growing up. And he's experienced a lot of sad things in his life that made him mad. And he didn't know how to not take out his anger on his family. But now we don't see him much, and he's old and he's calmed down. And he takes meds that help him stay calm. And so do I. And I've grown up. And we're just, you know, OK now."

"Yeah," Katie said without looking up from the picture.

We visited my dad and, you know, it was OK. He said some things that annoyed me, but so what? I see my dad a few times a year. Big deal. I can ignore his annoying bits for that short amount of time.

It's just funny to me that my daughter is growing up with this idea in her head that my dad is a pretty OK guy. She didn't know him when he and I would shout at each other in high school. She wasn't there to see him call my mom "stupid" and to kick me and my siblings out of the house. She only knows this calm old man who likes to dance and play bridge and eat pie. He's just some mellow old man who's not so hard to love.

And it's good for me to be reminded of it too. Dad was never all bad. He once offered to come pick me up if I ever needed him. I still have the laminated quarter to prove it.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The light little big girl

The world is so full of hate and injustice. People shouting. No one listening.

In despair. I'm stuck in this chair. Helpless and sad.

What do I tell my lily white girl? So cute and spunky.

So full of light and life. The little girl who rolls her eyes when I call her a little girl.

What do I tell the light little big girl who looks up at me and asks, "What's wrong, Mom?"

And all I can think of to say is

The world.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Preschool-K storytime activity: Is it a tool or is it not a tool?

I'm the storyteller at GCPC VBS for the preschoolers/kindergartners. Tomorrow's story is about Solomon building a temple. For our after-story-activity we're going to play a game of "Is it a tool or is it not a tool?" It goes like this:

Despite appearances, my daughter Katie is not a tool.

What you'll need:

1 shopping bag
12 or so kid-friendly tools (small plastic "play" tools, plastic measuring cups, wooden spoons)
12 or so kid-friendly objects (a small ball, "play" money, random toys from fast-food restaurants)
a bunch of kids, ages 3-6

What you'll do:

Have each kid take a turn pulling one object from the bag, without peeking. Have the kid show the others what it is, and everyone calls out whether or not they think it's a tool or not a tool. The kid decides whether or not they think it's a tool or not a tool. If it's a tool, ask the kid to explain what it helps us do. Have the others help come up with answers. If it's a tool, the kid places it in the laundry basket marked "tool". If it's not a tool, the kid places it in the laundry basket marked "not tool".

Katie let me borrow some of her toys. I also grabbed some kid-friendly kitchen tools.

Katie displays some objects you could use for the game,
"Is it a tool, or is it not a tool?"

This would also be a fun activity for library storytimes, or for parents and caregivers to do with kids at home after reading books about buildings and tools. Here are some of my favorite:

img via Goodreads

Tap Tap Bang Bang by Emma Garcia
img via Goodreads

Who Uses This? by Margaret Miller
img via Goodreads


I tried out the "Is it a tool or is it not a tool" activity today (6-2-15) with the three to six year olds at VBS. It was a major hit. I noticed some of the kids who were holding back yesterday wanted to participate today. One boy in particular--I had him last year at VBS too, but I'd never seen him smile until today, and he wanted to do it "again! again!" I'm definitely going to try this game at some library storytimes. Remember, what might seem like a lame game to you might be loads of fun for younger kids.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (book review)

Glory O'Brien's History of the FutureGlory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My main pet peeve about many of the young adult novels I've read is that they don't have strong adult characters. And I get that. Teenagers often don't think of their parents and teachers and other adults around them as interesting, complex individuals. Why would a teenage protagonist bother to flesh out the adult characters in their story? A.S. King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is different. Probably because the main character, Glory O'Brien, is different. Actually, she's completely normal, but she feels different. Glory's mother, Darla, committed suicide when Glory was four-years-old. Now Glory is graduating high school, motherless, wondering about her own future, worrying that she'll end up with her head in the oven like her mother. Her dad, a widower these thirteen years, was once a painter but now he slouches on the couch balancing a laptop on his knees while eating microwaved frozen dinners from a plastic tray. It is just as much his story I enjoyed seeing unfurl before my eyes as Glory finds her own way.

Then there's the whole drinking a bat and gaining super psychic powers and writing the history of the future bit. It was surprisingly not difficult to suspend disbelief with this part of the novel. I'd recommend this book to teens and adults who tend to lean toward more realistic fiction, but who want to explore a relatable dystopian fiction book. I'd also recommend it to teens and women dealing with eating disorders or body dysmorphia, and anyone interested in a strong feminist character's point of view.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Josh Duggar sex abuse scandal, my brother, and me

***trigger warning: child sexual abuse***

The Josh Duggar case is all fucked up. And I'm all mixed up about it. I feel both sympathy for and disgust with pretty much everyone involved. Except for the Duggar girls. For them, I feel just sadness and sympathy. My disgust is mostly directed at the parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who did too little too late, and at TLC, the television network that chose to broadcast a marathon of episodes of the family's reality TV show, "19 Kids and Counting" after news broke that the eldest son in the Duggar clan, Josh, had been accused of sexually abusing his sisters when he was a teenager.

Oooh, a nice, juicy sex abuse scandal: what a lucky break! Great for ratings! I wonder how much money TLC made off of advertisements featured during that Dugger marathon?

I didn't have time to catch any of the episodes even if I had wanted to. I've been busy making myself sick reading the news articles and straining my eyes, averting them to the bombardment of advertisements on the sides of the news websites. It's not my usual empathy-fatigue from reading news headlines. This one is triggering. This one hits too close to home. And yet, I can't stop reading the story. It's not schadenfreude. I would not wish this sad story on anyone's family, even people I consider to be intolerant nutjobs.

In case you've somehow missed it, here's a timeline of the Duggar story. Feel free to familiarize yourself with the creepy details at your own risk.

I don't know why I'm following it. It's like maybe if I keep reading about these people whose sick story is so eerily similar to mine, I'll see some warning sign, some clue to understanding my own story, something that can help me make sense out of the sadness, the secrets, the sexual abuse.

Who am I kidding? Who can make sense out of any of that?

And still, I try.

Let's just get it over with. My story. Rip the Band-aid from the wound.

When I was a young girl my brother, Pat, molested me. It started when I was about three and Pat was about twelve and ended when I was about five and Pat was about fourteen. The last time he brought along his friend and they forced me to touch his friend is disgusting ways and they touched me and I hated it. I had enough. Pat had told me not to tell our mom because it was our secret, and if I did tell her, she would be so upset that she would have to go to the hospital and stay for a long time. But I did. I told her. And she didn't have to go away to the hospital. In fact, it opened Mom and me up to a long-lasting conversation that has helped me learn to heal.

It was brave of me to tell my mom. The threat of her hospitalization was real and always in the back of my mind. But I had to protect myself. I had to tell.

Before I was born, Mom was hospitalized against her will, after she had a "nervous breakdown". What really happened is that she spoke up against an abuse of power and she was punished for it. Mom showed up at a bar one night, surprising her (first) husband, Jim--who is Pat's dad but not mine--and his girlfriend. After confronting them, Mom left the bar. Jim ran after her and threatened to kill her if she ever embarrassed him like that again in front of his friends. Mom didn't know what to do. She had given up a scholarship to attend college so she could marry this man when she was 18. So she could cook for him. Clean for him. Have his children and take care of them. She didn't have a job. She didn't know how she could support herself and their young kids. She didn't want to die, but she didn't want to live like this.

She broke down. Her husband and her mother had her hospitalized where she received electroshock therapy and sat in the clean, white hospital bed, making potholders. It was the Sixties. Mad Men era, for you TV junkies. Women had few options. Husband cheats on you and threatens to kill you? You're gonna get locked up if you complain about it.

When my brother Pat and I were both adults and we could speak on equal terms, Pat told me that his first memory was of Mom being taken away to the hospital. Pat was four, clutching Mom's legs, begging for them not to take her away.

Four is extremely young to experience trauma. I know. He knew. Too many of us know.

Pat's dad finally split and Mom filed for divorce. She remarried, my dad, and had me. Pat was nine when I was born. At first, Pat was glad Mom had remarried and had gotten them out of our grandparent's house where they spent their days. Mom marrying my dad meant she could quit her job as a dental assistant and be a stay-at-home mom again. Our grandmother who babysat him after school and during summer break was psychologically unstable, and whenever she'd abuse Pat, she'd tell him not to tell our mom or it would give her a nervous breakdown and send her back to the hospital.

Pat was glad to get away from our grandmother. But soon, my dad turned out to be too rigid and controlling, authoritarian and violent. Pat moved in with our grandfather, who had by then divorced our grandmother, and soon after that he moved out of town, hitchhiking around the country by the time he was 18.

I'm not trying to excuse Pat's behavior. He should not have abused me. I didn't deserve it, for sure. But I also understand that sometimes people do disgusting things because it's all they know. Not because they're full of sin. Not because they're monsters. Just because it's all they know.

I want to figure out a way to help people know better.

One of the things that's helped me survive this crazy battle is the open dialogue between my mom and me. The conversations we have shared since my first day of bravery, when I was five, when I told her about my abuse, have helped me enormously. For a long time I didn't like to talk about my struggles with Mom because I was genuinely afraid that she might get taken away by men in white lab coats. But as I matured, and as I watched Mom grow stronger herself, I realized I could tell her anything. Having access to that kind of openness, that kind of unconditional love, has helped me heal.

Mom was always open about sex. I could ask her anything about it and she would answer to her best ability. Sometimes if she didn't know the answer, she'd recommend a book or a TV show. During my early teenage years Mom and I were avid viewers of the Dr. Ruth Show on TV. Mom never made me think that sex was dirty or that my thoughts were impure.

The most difficult thing was watching my mom be controlled by the men in her life. The stories she told me about her first marriage to Jim. How my dad would throw a temper tantrum if he didn't get his way and how mom too often caved to his every whim. It took a long time, but she finally got up the guts to leave him. She was single for ten years, and it was good for me to see her take care of herself.

I was once a victim of sexual abuse, but I've grown into a strong woman by watching and learning from my mom. And the biggest support she gave me was an open mind and an open ear.

What worries me the most about the Duggar situation is that people will just read the headlines and think they know what's right and what's wrong. They won't delve deeper and think for themselves. They won't stop and reflect and wish peace upon all the people involved, from the obtuse parents to the inept "authorities" who covered up the mess to the girls who are the victims and, yes, even the boy perpetrator who grew to be a man of power in conservative political circles. Peace be with them all.

The only path to peace I know is with eyes wide open. Covering up disgusting secrets makes them fester and eat away at our souls.

It's more than just covering up disgusting secrets, though. It's relegating sex and sexuality to a place of darkness and shame. Our society is so warped. Most of us think it's "normal" to see women in bikinis selling sports cars in ads. And yet we get uncomfortable talking with our kids about sex. Some parents still want to teach abstinence only sex ed when it's grossly ineffective at preventing teen pregnancies and STIs.

It is perfectly natural for teenagers to experience sexual feelings. I found this fact on the U.S. National Library of Medicine's website:

"Having regular nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) marks the beginning of puberty in boys. Wet dreams typically start between ages 13 and 17, with the average at about 14.5 years."

Instead of telling teens to ignore their natural urges and pray for help, we need to help them find healthy outlets for sexual expression. How about encouraging masturbation like they do across the pond? Why not teach children that sex is natural between two consenting people, and that it's wrong to fondle people in their sleep, or when they're drunk, or when they are too young to understand what's going on?

Keeping kids in the dark about sex and sexuality does not lead to healthy sexual experiences.

I'm mostly worried about the Dugger girls, the victims of their brother Josh's abuse. They have been raised in the Quiverfull movement, which subjugates women and girls, as this excellent post on Patheos points out:
Even the parts of conservative Christianity that allow women to participate in church leadership still unofficially condone treating women as less than men. The Duggars are part of the fundamentalist Protestant movement called “Quiverfull” which is known for seeing children as an unmitigated blessing from God and therefore it promotes procreation and, for the most part, equates contraception with abortion. 
Not surprisingly, even former members of the movement says it is also known for the subjugation of women. 
It should come of little surprise then that when the Duggars learned about what Josh had done to his sisters, they stuck with their conservative Christian convictions and protected the boy and not his victims.
So what are the Duggars teaching their daughters about sex?

For one thing, your body is not your own. Your body belongs to God the Father and your father before marriage. Your body belongs to God and your husband after marriage. Look at the sex advice Mother Duggar gives:
Michelle says a friend gave her advice to live by before she and Jim Bob married in 1984: "She said, 'In your marriage there will be times you're going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day's work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you.'" — she's talking about sex, just so everyone's clear — "'Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.'" 
So, never hide your body from your husband after marriage, but never reveal it to the community before marriage. Evidently, the female body is too tempting even to be seen in a swim suit at the beach, according to this saucy spread about how the Duggars do romance:
Duggars believe bodies are "special gifts" to be shared only with husbands. Dancing encourages "sensual" feelings, warns Michelle. Swim dresses with built-in shorts (bought at, are conservative enough for her brood, says Michelle. Other beachgoers' suits are the problem: "It's just too hard for the guys to try and keep their eyes averted."
God forbid you try talking to kids about bodies and sex and encouraging them to discuss their natural feelings instead of teaching them to avert their eyes and avoid the beach.

On pages 114-115 of the book Growing Up Duggar, co-written by the four oldest daughters of the huge Duggar clan--Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger--there is a section entitled "Defining the Purity Ring" which lends insight into their family's ideas about sex, specifically when sex is pure and when sex is impure:

This doesn't mean we're to ignore the fact that God has created us to have a natural physical desire toward men. When these feelings arise, we thank God for making us "normal." Within a godly marriage, this kind of desire can be a wonderful blessing that bonds the husband and wife together in the way God intended. But during our single years, this physical attraction, if not carefully controlled, can also be one of the biggest sources of temptation and struggles.  
One way our parents have helped us understand the principles designed to keep us pure is by giving all of us older girls purity rings. The rings were special gifts we received when the four of us were in our early teenage years (because our family didn't become aware of this relatively new practice until then)...  
...To each of us, the ring has a fourfold purpose. First, it's a symbol of our commitment to keep ourselves physically pure as we wait for the one God intends for us to marry. Second, it symbolizes our desire to involve our parents in our decision of a life partner. Third, our ring reminds us to pray for the man God would have us marry and to guard our own heart so that one day we can share it fully with him. Fourth (and most important), it's a reminder that God is the true fulfiller of all our desires and also a reminder to cherish our relationship with Him and live purposefully between now and the time He sees fit to bring that man into our lives...  
Dad has asked us girls, "What kind of girl do you think a godly guy will be attracted to?"  
The answer is, a godly girl. That's what he and Mom are continually encouraging each of us girls to become. We know that a godly girl is not someone who has lived a "perfect" life but is someone who has received God's forgiveness and is seeking to put the past behind her and choosing to live every day for Him. Some of the greatest people in the Bible were those who had made a lot of bad decisions earlier in their life, but then God got a hold of them, and they completely turned over the rest of their life to following and serving Him.
Yuck. These poor girls.

It's especially sickening to read this line now that we know their older brother got a powerful job with an anti-LGBT lobbying group, The Family Research Council, after he sexually abused them:

This doesn't mean we're to ignore the fact that God has created us to have a natural physical desire toward men. When these feelings arise, we thank God for making us "normal." 

I assume they mean as opposed to gay? Because God knows that gay people are perverts who you can't trust around children. Just ask their mom, Michelle Duggar, who lent her voice to this anti-LGBT robocall asking residents to protest an anti-discrimination ordinance going before the  Fayetteville City Council last fall:

Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men — yes I said men — to use womens and girls restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area? I still believe that we are a society that puts women and children first. Women, young ladies, and little girls deserve to use the restroom and any other women's facility in peace and safety...
When the ordinance failed to pass, Josh Duggar, by then the Director of FRC Action, celebrated by chatting with conservative leader Dr. Richard Land about the successful repeal of a Fayetteville, Arkansas bathroom bill. Here's what Josh Duggar said:

We have to continue to extend laws and respect and dignity to all people, even those, you know, with whom we disagree. But we have to make sure that we're standing up for the rights of privacy and protecting the well being of women and children in our cities. 
Thank you, Josh Duggar, you sanctimonious prick.

I understand that people make mistakes, especially when they are teenagers. Some might even call those mistakes "sins". I don't, but that doesn't matter here. What matters is that many people believe in sin, and in forgiveness of sin, which it appears the Duggars do. And although I'd like to believe Josh Duggar when he apologized on Facebook this week for his past actions, it makes me sick to think that all these years after having used his male status to abuse his young sisters and get away with it, only to go on to a powerful political job speaking out against gay people, spreading hate and fear and lies, scaring people into thinking that LBGT people are harmful to is just too much pot and kettle and blackness.

My brother Pat did not become a powerful anti-gay lobbyist, or even a scandalized former one. Pat lived his life, fucking some things up, making some things right, just as we all do. He learned lessons and he told stories. He did the best he could, and the one thing I can say about Pat is that he was one of the most loving, accepting, open-minded men I've ever met. Pat knew no strangers. You couldn't walk by his front porch without him inviting you on to it for a beer. No matter who you were, or what you looked like. When the love of his life, Sharon, died of liver failure, Pat succumbed a few months later, himself. The person he ended up hurting the most was himself. An hour before he died, I got to say goodbye to him and tell him that I love him. He said he loves me, too. We're good. I can't forget, but I do forgive him.

It's difficult to explain to people who have not been sexually abused how much it fucks with you for life. It's not something you ever get over. I can't give my husband a loving blow job without some small part of me remembering the gagging feeling I felt far too young, against my will. That fucking sucks. Sexual abuse is icky and gross and no one wants to talk about it, but if we want to find a way to stop it, we have to open ourselves up to having the conversation.

As a parent myself now, from the first time my young daughter started asking me about sexual issues, I've been honest with her. I've pounded into her brain these things:

1) You are the boss of your body. You can say "no" to anyone you don't want to touch you.

2) You never have to have sex if you don't want to. Even when you're grown up and married. Your body is yours and you get to decide who to share it with and when.

3) Your body is beautiful and fun and amazing. Explore it. Feel good about yourself in the privacy of your bedroom or in the bathroom. Don't feel ashamed to get to know your own body and share it with yourself and who you decide is worthy of it.

When she's old enough, I'm going to get my daughter the book I read as a young woman, Sex for One: The Joy of Self Loving by Betty Dodson. I'll show her old Dr. Ruth videos on YouTube. I'll answer her questions to the best of my ability and encourage her to not just keep her heart open, but to keep her mind open too. Yes, it's good to be loving and forgiving. It's even better to be loving and educated and strong, to figure out ways to lessen the need to forgive.

My brother sexually abused me when I was a young girl. The main reason I’ve been able to heal is because I’ve been encouraged to talk and write about it openly, and unlike the Duggar girls, I was taught that sex is not shameful, but abuse of power is.


Today is my mom's birthday. She asked for no gifts, just poems. It's a bit too wordy to qualify as a poem, but it's my best effort. So, here's my poem to Mom on her birthday:

Mom and me, sitting around the table, talking, 1974

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging my curiosity. You took me to the public library and taught me how to read. Everything. To be open to ideas and to pay attention to other people's stories. You read aloud to me from both The Bible and Shirley MacLaine's New Agey memoirs. You recommended books by both Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong. You let me check out whatever I wanted to read from the library. You never made fun of me for my interests and obsessions. You taught me that everybody has a story and that one of the best ways to understand someone is to read their words. You made me a reader.

Mom and her wildflowers, circa 1985

Then, you kicked me out of the house and told me to write my own stories. My tortoise pace and weedy path must be excruciatingly annoying for you, more of a hare, to bear, but I'm getting there, Mom. I read other people's stories and I write my own stories every day. I thank you, Mom, for being my first teacher, my role model, and my biggest fan. You made me a writer.

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you.

Gloria Steinem and Other Peace Heroes
img source

How fitting that today is also the "International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament", and that one of our favorite writer's, Gloria Steinem​, has involved herself in some major badassery. Steinem and about thirty other women peace heroes are marching from South to North Korea today, crossing the DMZ, in the name of peace. As Steinem, 81, says:

“We have accomplished our first goal of meeting woman-to-woman in order to break through barriers to make human connections,” said Steinem. “We achieved what we set out to do, which is to engage in citizen diplomacy.”

Mom, you're no citizen diplomat. You cross no international borders seeking peace. You rarely leave your apartment to go to the grocery store.

Mom doing her favorite thing

You're no famous feminist icon. You're no best-selling memoirist. You're a humble person living a humble life. You've had a couple of shitty husbands, and then one decent one, a psychologically disturbed mother, and a compassionate dad, and then you had a bunch of kids with minds of our own. I don't know how you did it, but you did. You made it. You survived with tears and laughter, through good and bad. You are the hero of your own story. 

Mom sharing her favorite things with my daughter, Katie

You might never show up on the front page of the newspaper or inside the pages of a bestseller, but you're life is heroic. Your human connections, though not made on the global scale, as no less grand. You taught me to love people and listen to their stories, to love myself and to share my own. You are my hero, Mom.

Mom, Katie, and me
Happy birthday, Mom! I love you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Paper Towns by John Green (book review)

Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paper Towns is my favorite John Green novel so far, and that's saying a lot. I've read all of his young adult novels except for Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Let It Snow. I loved Looking for Alaska. I thoroughly enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines. I was disappointed with some aspects of The Fault in Our Stars. I let the hype get to me and so I expected it to be an A+ when it is merely an A. Still, it's an A. But this one--Paper Towns--is my favorite so far. It's both deeply philosophical and extraordinarily gloriously full of sophomoric humor, encompassing two of my favorite things, questions about the meaning of life and dick jokes.

This book is cataloged as a "mystery" in my library's young adult section. I dunno. I think it's too literary to fit neatly into genre fiction. It's less of a story about a guy following clues to his missing wanna-be girlfriend and more of a story about two people opening themselves up to being known, to being understood, and to knowing others, after mistaking next-door-neighborliness for closeness. How Green alludes to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in the same novel in which he turns a full bladder on a road trip into one of the most laugh-out-loud scenes from a book I've ever read is a mystery to me.

Piss jokes aside, to me the most memorable scene is the one in which the protagonist steps on a tack and forces himself to pick the other tacks up off the floor, despite his emotional and physical fatigue. I was never that sort of teenager. I was the sort of teenager who would have balled up into a fetal position and sobbed about the injustice of stepping on a tack without ever doing anything to get the tacks off my floor. Sure, I've made it through life OK, but damn I sure had to step on a lot of tacks. As I read about this character picking up his tacks, I wanted to shout out, "Yes! This boy is a hero in his own story. He's going to make it." And, as I got to the end of the book, it turns out I was right.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Dance with Me" by Astronaut Merit Badge (music review)

song: Dance with Me
artist: Astronaut Merit Badge

Grab your thrift-store cardigans, kids! Get your melancholic asses on the dance floor. Check your neuroses at the door. It's time to party nerdy! The band: Astronaut Merit Badge. The song: "Dance with Me". It's my latest lovely earworm.

The jangly guitar. The catchy, spacey hook. Overall, musically, it's just a pretty dang spiffy song. But it's the darkly mischievous, irony infused lyrics, along with the clearly aching vocals--growing increasingly desperate as the song approaches its climax--that I love the most. I catch myself singing along to this part, especially:
You're always there when I almost push you out of the car. You're always there when I run my mouth, take things way too fuckin far... 
Fans of Morrissey, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, maybe a little Cake, a little Radiohead, will dig Astronaut Merit Badge.

Full disclosure: I work with singer/songwriter/guitarist Scott Stone at the library. He's seriously one of the nicest guys I know. But this is no pity review. I'm not telling you to go listen to this song because I think one of the band members is a nice guy. I'm telling you to go listen to this song because it's fuckin fantastic. Further proof that librarians rock.

I hear Astronaut Merit Badge will be playing live soon. Stay tuned for dates and deets. In the meantime, check out their Facebook page here, and their SoundCloud page here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies by Meera Patricia Kerr (book review)

Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger BodiesBig Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies by Meera Patricia Kerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't let anyone shame you into thinking you're too fat to do yoga. Yoga helps relieve stress, improve flexibility, and reduce aches and pains. If you're too shy to try a yoga class, check out this book and try some poses in the comfort of your own home. Health at Every Size® advocate Dr. Linda Bacon says that one of the healthiest things we can do is to move our bodies "in pleasurable ways". Yoga brings my big body pleasure. If you've got a big body and you want to try yoga, this is the book for you.

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