Put a Bird on it

I made a shot glass with a swallow on it. Get it? A shot? A swallow? It is possible that I’m confusing my birds and this is a swift. If so, this joke makes no sense.

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The boys didn’t think my arrangement was all that “spooky,” so I added a raven and a severed limb.

It is so fun to decorate now that there is a little one around. But if I’m being honest, it’s really for me. Ethan just wants the candy.

What Would Myra Do?

So, I chose the wrong time to start The Handmaid’s Tale.  Jesus.

I wanted to hide from my phone.  I knew that Brett Kavanaugh was going to be confirmed over the weekend, and I wanted to think about other things.  I stayed in, I knitted, and I watched episodes of Handmaid.  I emerged from my basement on Monday morning unsure of what year it was.  Where am I, again? The black and white past?  The red and white future?  Oh, no.  It’s just the dystopian present.  Goddamn.

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I can’t stop thinking about the episode where all the women are sent home from work because a law has been passed making illegal for them to have jobs or bank accounts.  They decide to protest but discover it is too late; the moment to take a stand slipped by and they have been slowly “boiled to death in their bathtubs,” as June says.

It is so disturbing to think about. Where is all the progress that I thought women had made since 1991?  There another credibly accused creep on the SCOTUS and a majority of Republicans polled said they supported the nominee even if the allegations against him were proved true. And now I’m reading that proposed restrictions to demonstrations at the White House and places on the National Mall are being considered.  I don’t want to sound like an alarmist crazy person, but keep protesting while they let you.  Watch the Handmaid’s Tale to see why I’m feeling urgency.

Last week, before I realized that the FDA investigation was a complete fraud, I kept thinking about Myra Bradwell, and wondering what she would think about all of this nuttiness.  You’ve probably never heard of her, so here is a brief summary of her badass life.

Myra Colby was born in Vermont in 1831.  After she completed her formal education at the age of 24, she became a school teacher.  In 1852, Myra married a law student named James B. Bradwell.  In 1855, they moved to Illinois where was admitted to the Chicago Bar and became a successful lawyer and judge.  Myra was also interested in the law, but women were prohibited from attending law school.  Instead, she studied under her husband and apprenticed in his law practice.  She was quoted in the Chicago Tribune in 1889, saying:

“I acquired the idea [of studying law] from helping my husband in his office. I was always with him, helping in whatever way I could.… I believe that married people should share the same toil and the same interests and be separated in no way. It is the separation of interests and labor that develops people in opposite directions and makes them grow apart. If they worked side by side and thought side by side we would need no divorce courts.”

Maybe it is because I have always had boring jobs, but that seems like a terrible idea to me.  If people don’t go off and do their own thing all day, then what do they talk about at night?  “Oh, one of my co-workers made me so mad today…”

“I know.  It was me.”

“Oh yeah! That was you! Did anything happen to you when you got out of my sight today?”

“In the men’s room? Not really.”

Then the sad couple would just go back to eating their peas in silence, I imagine.  Until one of them would say, “I can’t stand it! I’m going for a walk.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and be chased by a bear. I’ll tell you about it when I get back…”

Anyway, Myra put her private studies on hold when the Civil War broke out.  She went to work for charities that raised money for sick and wounded Union soldiers.  She eventually became the president of the Chicago Soldiers’ Aid Society. After the war she went back to her studies and in 1869 she passed the Illinois bar exam with high honors.  She applied for a law license, but the Illinois State Supreme Court denied her application because, as a married woman, she could not lawfully enter into any legal contracts, which would be necessary for a practicing lawyer.

Myra continued to fight her case and appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1873, but the lower court’s decision was upheld. It was the opinion of the highest court in the land that the 14th Amendment (equal protection) did not provide women with the right to practice a profession.

Furthermore, in the opinion of Associate Justice Joseph P. Bradley, “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life….The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator.”

So that was some bullshit, obviously.  Myra Bradwell made no more attempts to gain her law license after that, but managed to stay busy.  She helped to write the Illinois Married Women’s Property Act of 1861 and the Earnings Act of 1869, allowing married women gain control of their personal wealth.  In 1968, she founded the Chicago Legal News.  (Actually, she had to get her husband’s help to persuade the Illinois legislature to pass a special law so that she could edit and manage her own newspaper.  They were really hung up on not letting married women work.)  In time, it became the most widely read legal newspaper in the United States.  The paper was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, but Myra rebuilt it and carried on.

Myra Bradwell was also a well-known suffragette.  She helped (along with Lucy Stone and others) to form the American Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869.  Myra insisted that equality for women was a non-partisan issue and  fought to help women in other states attempting to study law and become lawyers.

In 1879, an anti-discrimination bill to allow women to practice in federal courts was passed and signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes.  Though Myra Bradwell did not re-apply for her license, the Illinois State Supreme Court, acting on its own motion, approved the original application.  (Feel a little guilty, there, Illinois?) It was the year 1890, 21 years after she had applied and four years before Myra Bradwell died of cancer in 1894.

Myra Colby Bradwell first popped into my head when Lindsey Graham histrionically asked, “What am I supposed to do, go ahead and ruin this guy’s life based on an accusation?”

Really?  I thought.  Tell that to Myra!  Not getting your dream job is only “ruinous” to privileged and entitled people who are used to getting what they want. Many people have been denied the opportunity to pursue careers and interests for countless unfair reasons.  And some people, like Myra Bradwell, still found ways to kick ass.  One might even say, “she persisted.”

I wish I were writing this in a snarky way to “Judge Kavanagh,” after a failed vote left him off the highest court.  “Take heart, little bean sprout,” I might have said.  “Let Myra by your inspiration to rise above!”

But it didn’t go that way.  Justice Kavanagh, to the manor born, has achieved his dreams despite all the credible accusations and his own disgraceful display in the final hearing.  No snark for me.  Not this week.

Instead, I’m still focused on Myra Bradwell because she reminds me that things have been worse.  Yes, thing have not progressed as far as I wanted to believe.  And maybe we have done some backsliding.  But I don’t believe we have passed the point of no return.  We are not yet Marthas and Handmaids to the end of democracy.  Myra took her defeat, but then kept writing and working and pushing other women around her to achieve their own goals, and things got better.  Not on its own, but because of the work of the people like Myra Colby Bradwell.

Defeat sucks, but it isn’t final.  Justice Kavanagh may be on the court for forty years (God help us), but not forever.  Damage will be done.  Meanwhile, we will keep writing and working and encouraging one another.  Take heart, dear sprouts!  We will persist!

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Rage Against the Machine

Last week, in the middle of the Supreme Court hullabaloo, I took a break from my computer and walked down the street to get lunch at a fast food taco place in my neighborhood.  I put in my order and stepped out of the way to wait my turn when suddenly there was a young man in my space.  He stepped toward me and put a piece of paper in my line of sight and said, “Hey, this is for you.”

I flinched.  I was startled by the lack of introduction or transition of any kind and tried to avert my eyes, but then realized what I was seeing was a glossy professionally printed pamphlet with a picture of Jesus and the letters “LDS” across the top. “Oh,” I said, placing my hand to my throat and catching my breath.  “No, thank you.”

The man gave me an expensively orthodontured smile and a quick nod of his blonde and blue-eyed head and went out the front door.  For a second I almost went after him.  I didn’t know what I would say.  “Don’t do that!”?  How could I possibly make him understand why?  Did I even understand why? “Hey, haven’t you heard all the women in the nation are ‘triggered’ right now? Well, we are.  So don’t jump out from behind Coke machines and Guerilla-Jesus them, maybe?”

Then, and every day since this incident at the taco store, I have returned to this thing that happened to me many years ago.  It was the summer of 1997, before my 20th birthday.  I was working on campus at the art museum and I had walked across campus to get change for the gift shop cash register.  I was heading back and a man in a beater car pulled up next to me with the window down and asked me what time it was.  I told him and he thanked me, but didn’t drive off.  I didn’t think anything about it when I walked away but quickly realized he was following me.  I picked up my pace, but before I could go far he plowed the car into a driveway in front of me, blocking my path.  His window was still down and he was yelling at me.  His penis was out of his shorts and in his hand.  With his other hand he held up a pornographic magazine and asked me what I thought about it.

At the time I joked, “I think it was a photo of Pamela Anderson.  That was the worst part.”  But that wasn’t the worst part.  The worst part was looking up at the parking lot in broad daylight on a beautiful summer afternoon and seeing lots of cars but no people.  The worst part was knowing that my path forward was blocked and that if I ran back the way I came he would be able to follow me with his car and overtake me before I could get away down a path the car couldn’t follow. The worst part was knowing that this could and might get a lot worse, and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

It was such a long time ago. I can still remember what I was wearing. I remember some general things about what he and his car looked like, and I remember feeling a sense of rising panic. I don’t remember deciding what I was going to do, but I do remember hopping over the hood of his car and running toward the stairs between the library and the Behavioral Science Building that led up to the art museum.  I remember yelling over my shoulder as I ran, “You are sick! You need to get help!” and then later thinking, did I really say that? I’m so sure he went straight to a phone book to find a therapist, you Dork.

Maybe if you know me and you love me, you are thinking ‘she got out of the situation because she kept her head. She is smart. She is X and that that protected her from winding up like one of the girls who are Y.’

No.  Wrong.  I wasn’t physically harmed because I was lucky.  That was all.  But he still got what he wanted from me.  He got off on frightening me.  If he wanted to shock me with the photo or just scare me by reminding me that he could hurt me if he wanted to, it worked.  It scared me.  More than twenty years later, I picture that empty parking lot and it still scares me.

I’ve heard a lot of stories this week about women who did not report assaults or harassment in their past, and I did not intend to report this incident.  But I got back to work and the security guard, who was watching the shop for me while I was gone, immediately saw from my face that something was wrong.  I told her what had happened as a friend, not really thinking about it anything coming from it.  She was the one who called the police.  She had to; it was her job.  They came and took a statement.  A week later, an officer came back with postcards of photos (which I later learned from Harry Bosch novels is called a “six pack”) for me to look at to see if I could identify the man. I told her before we sat down in the main gallery of the museum to talk that I only saw him briefly and wasn’t sure if I would recognize him, but when she laid out the photos I was shocked by my certainty.  There was no doubt in my mind as to which man had exposed himself to me.

The police officer did something like a joyous fist pump and shouted, “Yes! We got him!” I was surprised because I always watched too much TV and expected her to have more of a poker face, but she was elated.  She told me that the same thing had happened to several women on campus and that they now had multiple victims identifying one suspect.

This next part is the hardest part of the story for me, the part that I’ve been grappling with for the past few days. For the next few months, I spoke with the officer a few more times on the phone.  She was always very kind and sympathetic toward me, so much so that when I told her I didn’t want to testify, she just said, “I understand.”  She didn’t even ask me to explain, even though I had prepared an explanation. I didn’t want to testify, because I was afraid. I was afraid that then he would have my name and he would know how to find me.  I was afraid because I figured that there was a low chance that he would get “help” as I had urged him at the time and a high chance he would get no more than slap on the wrist from a judge.  And I was afraid that this was a sick person who was working up the courage to do something much worse than what he had done so far.  And I was in the phone book.  But like I said, she didn’t ask.  She hung up the phone I never heard from her again.

I remind myself now that I was very young when I made this decision.  And that there were several other women who were willing to testify.  My account probably wouldn’t have made a difference, even if it had gone to court, which it probably didn’t.  If it had come down to it, if they had needed me, the officer would have called back and tried to talk me into doing my civic duty, right? But she didn’t.  And maybe that guy did get some help.  Or maybe he didn’t.  Maybe he went on and hurt someone else, even if he didn’t get a second chance to hurt me. I will never know.  I just know that when I see someone like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her story in front of the world, I feel like a coward.  And when I hear other people (men and women) speculate about what she could possibly remember, or how she could possibly still be affected by some bad behavior a few decades later, I shake with rage.

I walked home with my bag of tacos last week with my mind awash in emotions and angry thoughts.  I was still trying to think what I could have told that young man with the rich-people teeth.  The thing that really stuck in my craw was that I had said, “Thank you.”  He frightened me – unintentionally and maybe with good intentions – but he frightened me. And I fucking thanked him!  I’m so programmed to be polite and unburdensome that at forty-one years old I still treat every man I meet with deference and respect even when they get in my face uninvited and ruin my day.

I can’t articulate how angry I am right now.  I can’t articulate to others in my life or even strangers what I need.  I don’t know what to do with all this anger that I am feeling.  And I know it isn’t just women who are angry, so please don’t bother reminding me.  But I also don’t want men to read all these stories about ‘why I never reported’ and get too comfortable with the idea that they have been too sheltered to be an ally, either.  I told the men in my life this story back in the 90s.  I’ve shared many other stories about things that I have happened to me over the years with my partners and male friends.  These are not secrets that the men in the world are just now finding out about; I don’t believe that for a minute.  Many of them seem to be listening with new insight right now, and I am so grateful for that.  Many are not and don’t seem to understand why we are suddenly changing the rules on them.

We aren’t.  Nothing has changed.  But we are angry.  And we are insisting that everyone pay attention.  I am changing one thing, though.  I’m no longer thanking men just for not hurting me.  That part of my life is done

My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

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My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

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The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Adulting

None Shall Pass… Without Cake!

When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”

“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.

“No,” Ethan said.  “Like knights that fight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I got it.”

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily.  At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance.  But it wasn’t a problem.  I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station.  Easy peasy.

There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood.  This took care of seating and shade.  Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.

I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have.  I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations).  I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control.  For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell.  I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity.  Hopefully the guests felt the same.  (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)

The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon.  Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword.  I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery.  Archers were from the lower classes.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “Also, there’s a dragon.”

“True,” Matt said.  “Very true.”

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Just a Note

A few years ago, I went to a writing conference here in Salt Lake. I don’t actually like conferences because they are always full of strangers and I’m awkward and anxious and I am terrible at small talk. But there was a girl there with a beautiful shy smile. I immediately recognized Samantha as a member of my anxiety ridden tribe and without saying anything she made me feel at ease.

The conference was three days, but we didn’t talk much. As much as I liked her I was a bit intimidated. Ten years my junior, and she was a published author!

I was leaving the conference on the last day and had just reached the front door of the building when she caught up to me. She gave me a copy of her book and wouldn’t hear of it when I tried to pay her for it. We exchanged goodbyes and well wishes. I’ve seen her a few times since at other conferences.

Today, I heard that Sam was killed in a car accident yesterday.

There’s no lesson. I’m not wishing we were different more outgoing people. We were our true selves and we connected in our quiet “small talk” free way. She was kind and gifted and I’m so sorry she is gone.

Hug your people close. Share your gratitude for the small gestures. Be kind when you can. It all matters.