The Birdbath: A Work in Progress

I’m slowly working my way through the challenges presented in the British reality TV series, “The Great Pottery Throwdown.” My friend and pottery studiomate, Stef, are calling it our Wee Pottery Throwdown.

The first challenge was five nesting bowls. That one took me several tries. I had to throw about ten bowls to get five that nested nicely.

The second challenge is a birdbath, and I had a false start with that one, also. I threw a large platter starting with five pounds of clay. I liked the shape I ended up with but I decided it wasn’t wide enough, and the sides were flatter than I intended. I was going for that classic wide bowl birdbath shape, like this one:

What I ended up with was definitely more of a plate. I decided to make a decorative wall hanging with a witchy steampunk energy.

I was really happy at how it turned out. It’s hanging on my wall now.

I have been back at the studio and I’m taking another crack (poor choice of words given the pottery context) at the birdbath challenge. I started with more clay this time, closer to ten pounds. I got the bowl shape I was aiming for!

This week I added fish for decorative effect. I’m hoping it will look nifty when it is full of water.

I used a fish mold that I found on Etsy. I think it’s supposed to be used to make resin jewelry or maybe for candy making. I got it to work with the porcelain clay, though. After some trial and error. Though, I still have some cleaning up to do before I fire.

Now I need to decide if I will throw a stand or buy a metal one and balance the bath on top. Then I’ll need to figure out how to glaze it! That’s assuming it survives the firing, of course.

Wish me luck!

A Moment of Introversion

I have always been introverted. In the past, I was able to build my extroverted muscles so that I could flex into that mode if it was required. After working from home for the better part of a decade compounded by the effects of a pandemic, those muscles have apparently atrophied. I took a personality test for work this week and my results showed that if I were any more introverted, I would be a mollusk.

I spent the work week at the corporate office, interacting with other humans. The point of the personality test was to give us some insights into our strengths and preferred communication styles. I’ve done this at past companies as well. It’s a thing.

I was reflecting on my score and the way I seem to have settled into my introverted tendencies over the past several years. At the same time, we were making some dinner plans. My boss’s boss made arrangements to take all of the out-of-town people to dinner two of the nights, but it seemed like everyone was begging off on the second night to do their own thing. It occurred to me that dinner might be a one-on-one meal with me and my boss’s boss and that made me uncomfortable. She’s lovely, but I can’t handle being responsible for 50% of the conversation with a person I don’t know well.

It occurred to me that this was a good thing, considering my personality test. It would be a good opportunity to rebuild some of that extroverted muscle mass. It was a rare chance to build a professional relationship with the head of the department. And aren’t I supposed to be interested in networking? I feel like the internet says I should be, even if I am not clamoring for a promotion or more responsibilities. I decided that if it ended up just being the two of us, I would go. I would be open and interested in getting to know her better. I would ask about her plans for the department and how I could play a role. I would “lean in” like it was Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 and not post-Covid’s 2023. I was going to go out and enjoy myself, even if it made me miserable.

Right about there in my thought process, my boss’s boss approached me and said, “looks like it is just you and me for dinner tonight. Should we cancel?”

“Yes,” I said reflexively without consideration, because that is what I always say if someone asks if I want to cancel.

Damn, I thought. So much for networking.

Maybe this is the real reason I don’t eat oysters. I’ve been telling myself that it’s a texture thing, but maybe I’m just too closely related to the little dudes. My introverted soul doesn’t want to consume the slimy booger fish; it just wants a shell of its own.

The Other Boats

Matt and I went to the movies last weekend. I think that is the fourth time I have seen a movie in a theater since the beginning of the pandemic. I can’t blame Covid for that, entirely. I’ve reached that age where I can’t go that long without my bladder bursting, and I need a “pause” button so I don’t get confused. There was a time, however, when going to the movies was my favorite thing on the earth, and I got a tad nostalgic about it. I bought popcorn and a soda and I brought a blanket (because even though it is August, the frosty air conditioning makes me risk tearing nipple-sized holes in my tops) and I got comfy in my “luxury” reclining theater seat.

About an hour into the movie, a couple walked into the theater with their iPhone flashlights ripping holes in the dark. They stopped at our aisle and lit up our faces to tell us we were in their seats. We told them the movie started an hour ago and asked them to double-check the theater number for their showing. The dude seemed to take that under advisement, but the chick wasn’t having it. She told me to get out of her seat. I took the guy’s phone from him and pointed at the theater number on the electronic ticket, proving they were in the wrong theater. They left after that. The whole exchange lasted 90 seconds or so. I was annoyed but it was an honest (if dumb) mistake and I settled back in. I had just managed to reemerge myself in the story when I felt a tiny bonk on my lap. I brushed my hand over my blanket looking for what had hit me, but it was gone. A few minutes went by and then I felt another bonk. Then I knew it wasn’t a one-off; someone was throwing shit in the dark. I saw a little black dot cut across the screen and drop down in front of me hitting someone else. By the trajectory, I could tell the dick weasel who threw it was directly behind me, but there was no way to gauge what row they were in. I picked up my drink to take a sip of my soda and there was a bonk on my head. I had to fight the impulse to throw my soda up and back and just hope I hit the perpetrator, but that seemed like a long shot. I swore under my breath and Matt looked over, but I didn’t explain. The next time I was struck I considered standing up and yelling, but I didn’t want to ruin the movie for everyone. In the end, I just sat there stewing in anger and waiting for the movie to end.

Once it was over, I got up and looked around, but people were already streaming out, and again, there was simply no way to know who it was. Then I checked the floor around my seat. Gummy bears. Some asshat git-tard spent $15 to see a movie in the theater and throw gummy bears (which, if he bought them in the lobby, cost approximately $1 each) through the last twenty minutes of the show. Why? I was bewildered. It reminded me of the time I returned to my car after a bike ride in the canyons to find my tires had been slashed and my first thought was, “What is the point of that? That wouldn’t even make a satisfying ‘smash’ sound!”

We left the theater and I was so angry that when we got to the car I threw what was left of my soda as hard as I could, scattering ice in the parking lot. Matt gave me a hug which made me cry. “I spend so much time and energy trying to take up as little space as possible,” I said through my tears, as we got in the car, “because I don’t want to upset or disturb anyone, ever. And some people walk around intentionally harming people, for fun. What the actual fuck is that about?”

I’ve been trying to work on this tendency of mine and give myself permission to take up space, and it hasn’t been easy. I think that is why I liked that yoga class so much – the one I wrote about last week, with the monk who finds himself raging at the empty boat that had bumped into him on the lake – because I think I often ascribe intention where there is none. But you know what? Sometimes there is someone in the other boat. Sometimes people act with more than intention: sometimes they act with malice. There are people who would row out to the middle of a lake just to ruin a stranger’s day. Sometimes, there is a douche in that canoe.

I have calmed down now, but I’m not embarrassed that I got angry. Some human-shaped-shit-smear pelted me and the people around me (though somehow missed Matt every time) with candy for twenty minutes, using my need to preserve the fun of everyone else in the theater as leverage to keep me silent, just taking it, and they got their incomprehensible jollies off of it. Of course, I got angry!

However, I AM embarrassed about my last blog post. That is what I keep thinking about since leaving the movie. I thought I had this sweet little epiphany in the safety of a yoga studio, where everyone is on their best behavior and saying “namaste” in unison. I really want the boat to be empty; I want to live in a world where that boat is empty. But it often isn’t, and I feel like I was gaslighting myself by saying otherwise.

So, this is a follow-up to say, “Never mind.” The lesson isn’t, “Don’t get angry because no one means you any harm.” The lesson is, “Check the boat first, and if there is some fuck-wad ramming you with a smirk on their shitty face as they do it, take your oar and slap that bitch right into the lake.”

I probably shouldn’t be condoning violence, but hey. I never claimed to be a monk.

Empty Boats

Katie, the teacher of my Wednesday yoga class, likes to give us something to think about when we are all lying in savasana, the final resting pose at the end of the practice. I usually spend this time recovering from her core workouts, which I find challenging – bordering on impossible – as they require both coordination and superhuman strength, so I enjoy her inspirational offerings which take my mind off the burning. This week, she told a story about a monk that went out on a boat to meditate. I missed a bit of the beginning (because: heaving), but here is the gist: He floated out to the middle of a lake and closed his eyes, and meditated for a few hours. Then, while he was deep in concentration, a boat bumped into him and made a loud noise, and jolted him. He was angry that someone had disturbed him, but when he opened his eyes he saw there was no one in the boat. It was an empty boat that had come unmoored and floated out on the lake where it struck him. The next thing that struck him was the realization that his anger was internal. He thought his anger came from this interruption, this rudeness, but it was in his own mind and body and it was directed at this empty boat.

Anger is one emotion, but this metaphor can apply to them all. Yes, we are impacted by the way that we interact with and are treated by others. But then we tell ourselves a story about what that means as we decide (in half a nanosecond) how we feel about it. If I have a core belief that I am unlovable (which I do; I’m working on it), then when a friend is busy and doesn’t respond to my messages, I tend to go to my core belief as an explanation, as it confirms my dearly held self-conception and is never too far beneath the surface.

It also occurs to me that the empty boat is a good image when it comes to setting boundaries, also. I was pondering this as a chronic people pleaser, because I tend to ascribe a lot of intention to the people around me and it makes it difficult for me to assert myself.

This is an example of what I am talking about. My husband has established a tradition with his son where, when on road trips, they both take turns choosing an album to listen to on the drive. (Yes, I said “album;” we are Gen-Xers and we buy and listen to entire albums. The car I bought last winter doesn’t have a CD player and I am still trying to adapt.) Matt loves to listen to rock gods from the 60s and 70s. When his son was little he always chose one of the many Star Wars soundtracks. Now he is eleven and it is K-pop or something adjacent to Imagine Dragons. When I joined the family and the family road trips, Matt started asking me to take a turn and pick something. His car is a 2015 and has a single disc player, so I could either bring music or pick something from his vast collection that he keeps on an iPod touch. I usually demurred, however. I would say, ‘oh I don’t need a turn, whatever is fine…’ or, if I did pick something, it would be music from Matt’s iPod; something that I knew they would like.

Recently, while Matt was away on a work trip, I was listening to my music – mostly things I listened to in the 90s and indie-folk from the aughts – and I remembered how good it feels to connect with that part of myself. I know this sounds possible, but I think I had completely forgotten about music. Those few days, though, I listened to songs that felt like old friends and I listened to new (to me, at least) musicians who made me want to get up and move or sing along. I made a rule then that when I had a opportunity to choose music with my family, I had to take it.

It was a few weeks before I got an opportunity, and then I hit a snag. It was just Matt and me in the car, and his album finished and he reflexively picked another one. I had passed so often on my turn he had stopped asking if I wanted one, and I hadn’t noticed. This made it much more difficult because it meant I actually had to broach the subject, which I hadn’t prepared myself to do. I steeled myself, something I am physically more capable of these days thanks to Katie’s core workouts, and said, “Oh, I like this album. But can I pick the next one?”

Matt was surprised and said so. “Sorry, I didn’t think… of course! Play whatever you want.” So I did. And if he hated it, he didn’t say anything. Nor has he said anything since when I’ve played other music. He’ll ask questions about it, and I’ve finally come to trust that he isn’t scrutinizing my taste when he asks. He’s just trying to get to know me better, like a good partner is supposed to do.

Sometimes we are dealing with toxic people or systems who are very much IN the boat, ramming us. That is a reality that many people deal with and I don’t want to naively discount the external factors. But other times, we convince ourselves that people are harboring motivations that aren’t really there. Or, if they are, they are much less important to them than we assume. Sometimes the boat is empty, and all we have to do is give it a little push to send it back on its way so we can get back to what we were doing before the interruption.

Madame Pattirini

In the year 1885, after B. Morris Young returned from the second of what would be three missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Hawaiian Islands, he began performing publicly as a female impersonator under the stage name of Madame Pattirini. Madame Pattirini, styled as a famous Italian soprano, has recently gained queer icon status in social media and through the sale of Madam Pattirini Small Batch Gin, made by Ogden’s Own Distillery in Ogden Utah, which uses the 1901 image of Young’s now famous postcard as its label. This photo has circulated along with a few sneers, side-eye emojis, and more than a few comments posing questions like, “I wonder what his father thought?!”

Young’s father, Brigham Young (the second LDS church president and first Utah Territory governor) didn’t have the opportunity to form an opinion of his 35th son’s stage persona, as he died in 1877, more than a decade before Morris began performing publicly. However, we do have a few clues as to how his father-in-law, Lorenzo Snow (fifth president of the LDS church), may have perceived the act, as Young performed as Madam Pattrini at Snow’s 87th birthday party in April of 1901. According to the Deseret Evening News, Young’s performance was the centerpiece of the evening’s entertainment, and the adoring an unsatisfied audience demanded an encore. I assume from this that Snow was not appalled, even if he was not among the patrons clamoring for more.

“They didn’t see anything scandalous about it at all, “according to Benjamin Park, an assistant history professor at Sam Houston State University. “In the public view, it was seen as a form of performance.”

Connell O’Donovan, a historian working on a historical profile of drag performances in Utah from 1871 to 2021, notes that performances by female impersonators were common in the United States during this period. He estimates more than 200 men performed in women’s dress in Utah between 1871 and 1931 (1931 being the year of B. Morris Young’s death at the age of 77). O’Donovan has found documentation indicating only 10% of these performers were gay, and no evidence that Morris was homosexual. “He was just a performer,” O’Donovan told the Salt Lake Tribune, “and I think performing drag was something he did because it was a good time. It was just a hobby for him.”

These performances were not what modern fans of B. Morris Young may imagine. The acts were comedic in nature, relying on exaggeration and misogynistic tropes to draw laughs. Nor were they performed “underground” or as protests against mainstream culture. Religious scholar Taylor Petrey notes, “Many of his performances were on stages in LDS meetinghouses for all ages.”

The female impersonators of the late 19th century and early 20th century were not celebrating gender nonconformity. In fact, it is possible the humor of their performances centered around the desire of the dominant culture to enforce conformance. At least, it occurs to me that this time period overlaps with the contentious suffrage movement. In Utah, women had gained (1870), lost (1887), and finally regained the right to vote in 1896, 24 years before the 19th U.S. Constitutional amendment was ratified. Women’s suffrage was more positively regarded in the Utah Territory than in other states as many hoped the enfranchisement of Utah women would improve outside views of the plural wives of Utah polygamists as “downtrodden, weak and uneducated,” as stated in the Deseret News at the time. Still, when acting governor S. A. Mann signed the law granting enfranchisement to the white women of Utah, he noted his “very grave and serious doubts of the wisdom and soundness” of the decision by the Utah legislation, accentuating the common national sentiment by those who saw women’s suffrage as an unwanted disruption of the status quo.

I recently attended a show at the Gallivan Center here in Salt Lake City titled “Drag is for Everyone!” sponsored by Quorum of the Queens and X96. There were performances by queens and kings, and the audience was largely composed of families. I noticed that the children in attendance were having a particularly good time dancing and presenting the performers with dollar bills. Mostly I was struck by the joy in the shared experience of performers’ exploring and presenting their gender identity and the audience’s reveling in the music and sparkle of the night. I thought about B. Morris Young and his (in my opinion) undeserved celebration as part of this drag movement that is at the center stage of American politics in addition to literal stages right now.

It seems to me that Young entertained with a spirit of meanness, not joy. This meanness is exemplified by another fact that may not be appreciated by B. Morris Young’s modern fans: Madam Pattrini was not his only character. In fact, the performance most celebrated by the Deseret Evening News article from 1901 was a portrayal of a Chinese diplomat. “There was no one present who could prove that he was not talking in Chinese, because no one understood that language, but he gibbered away in a lingo that sounded very much like the vernacular of the celestials… The second time he carried on a political conversation that was supposed to have taken place between two Chinamen on a train. Once had a very deep basso voice, while the other had a high treble, and the manner in which Mr. Young carried the animated debate out was amusing in the extreme.”

Opposers of LGBTQ rights and drag performances today often state that their concerns are for children who might be exposed to sexual immorality. Studies show, however, the true danger targets trans youth who are at much greater risk of hate crime violence, self-harm, and suicide than their cis-gendered peers, a fact which does not seem to concern the authors of anti-trans bills proposed in record numbers in 45 states this year. This Pioneer Day, I wanted to suggest that – as performances by female impersonators were viewed as harmless to all audiences more than a century ago – perhaps it isn’t the children that are in danger, but the status quo.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Deseret Evening News April 4, 1901

Just Curious

We were dropping Murphy off at Camp Barksalot for a weekend stay before taking off on a short trip. They took him back to play and I was settling the bill when a man walked in behind me and spoke to the groomer/ camp counselor.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m here to pick up Barack.”

I handed over the signed form and started to follow Matt out the door, but I was dragging my feet. I stopped to look at a shelf of merch and started poking through the discount leash selection.

Matt realized I wasn’t behind him and returned to my side. “Do we need another leash?”

“Oh…” I said, looking back toward the door that Murphy had disappeared through, “maybe? I mean, you never know.”

“I thought we needed to get on the road?” Matt asked.

“I know but…” I leaned in closer and whispered. “I want to see this dude’s dog.”

“Why?” Matt sort of whispered back.

“Because…” I looked to the counter to see if we had drawn the man’s attention. We hadn’t. “I want to see if the dog is black.”

Matt put his arm around me and pulled toward the door. “You know the dog is black,” he said. “Let’s go.”

I was still trying to see as the door closed and I got into the car.

Some Unwanted Advice from Your Great Aunt Rae

Dear Class of 2023,

I want to tell you something that I wish someone had told me when I was your age. You won’t listen. I wouldn’t have either. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

I know you have all been warned about the dangers of drinking alcohol when you are underage. You have been told that it is sinful, or bad for your brain and body, or that it isn’t what smart kids do. I heard all of those things, too. I drank anyway to rebel against those voices.

What I didn’t know – what I wish I had been prepared for – is once you reach the legal drinking age, you join the “now drinking is compulsory club.” You are now required to drink. It is required to celebrate. It is required to grieve. Alcohol is required to show that you are a fully-grown-ass adult who is living a full life. If prospective paramours see that you don’t drink on your dating profile, they will keep scrolling.

People drink at work. People drink at kids’ birthday parties and baby showers. People drink while they shop for groceries in some places. Meaning, there are some places where that is totally fine but also lots of clear boozie seltzers that you can put in your water bottle, and no one will notice you are getting a nice buzz in the cheese aisle before you head to your child’s soccer game while wearing your “Rosè All Day” t-shirt.

Your coworkers will shame you if you don’t come to happy hour. Your friends will forget to invite you on the Italy trip. No one will pass you a crack pipe and then, when you demure, ask, “What are you, a fucking Mormon?” They will do this with tequila.

We are obsessed with alcohol; it is inescapable. I’m not here to tell you “just say ‘no’.” All I want to tell you is that you can say no. In fact, in a culture this soaked in the stuff, saying “no” to alcohol might be the only way to truly rebel. It might just be the most punk rock thing you can do.

Taking a Stance

I know this is controversial, but I’ve been losing sleep over the SCOTUS lately and I want to share my concern. And, honestly, I think it is about time that I came out.

I am pro-life. I am also pro-choice. I’ll go one step further: I am pro-abortion. It is a life saving medical procedure and it needs to be available and safe for myriad reasons.

Wait, what did you say? I can’t be pro-life and pro-abortion? It isn’t possible? There is only one way to be pro-life and that is to be absolutely certain that life begins at conception and that everything that happens after that is up to fate/God/etc.?

I disagree. Here is a list of ways that one can be pro-life that has nothing to do with insisting that unsafe (did you know that it is still possible to die of childbirth, and – in the U.S. – the chances of this are significantly higher for POC?), unwanted (did you know that contraception is not fail-proof?), and unaffordable (did you know that many women who seek abortions are already mothers and struggling financially to provide for their families?) pregnancies are brought to term. Just off the top of my head:

1) Check with your state on the backlog of rape kits waiting to be tested. Are there a significant number? A few years ago, Utah had nearly 3,000 kits on backlog. But then we passed a bill that prioritized and funded testing and now all that DNA is in a database. Neat!

2) Don’t get NIMBY when someone wants to put a homeless shelter or clinic in your area. Homeless adults usually aren’t cute and cuddly, but they are alive (for now)!

3) Donate to and volunteer for causes that help vulnerable people. Food banks, diaper drives, school supply drives, mental health and addiction support… there are millions of ways you can help struggling families in your community and around the world.

4) Support and vote for political candidates who will push for affordable housing, affordable health care, affordable childcare, parental leave, and other life affirming actions that will help struggling families. Even if it means that you will have to pay more taxes!

5) Pay your taxes!

6) Donate to and support your local Planned Parenthood. They are the only health care option for millions of men and women in the U.S. They provide many services in addition to providing access to contraception, such as cancer screenings! Cancer is NOT pro-life!

7) Be pro-contraception! The abortion rate is at an all-time low right now (and so is teen pregnancy, btw). That is a good thing! And that is due to the increased availability of health care (Thanks Obama!) and contraception. Even if your religion teaches that contraception is sinful, you can still support the rights of others to access it! Contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies 90% of the time and can allow people to plan to have a family when they are ready and able. Insisting that contraception be hard to get or illegal because of your personal beliefs is basically insisting everyone on earth join YOUR religion and that is never going to happen. Find a new dream!

I think y’all get the point.

Are there women who have used abortion as birth control? I’m sure there are. And I’m not saying this is an easy issue. I think that anyone who has really thought about it has struggled with the implications. Which is why I want the decision to be up to the owner of the uterus. Not me. Or the state.

Once Roe is overturned (which is definitely going to happen, in case you hadn’t heard) the states will decide. Abortion will NOT go away; it will be legal in blue states and illegal in red states. Women with resources will still have choices. Women without resources will not. They will be the handmaids of the religious right in the U.S. of Gilead. Many will have unsafe illegal procedures and many will die. That is what happened for millennia and that is what will happen again.

Please. Be pro-life. Not just pro-birth.

Be Advised

I’m cropping to hide the license plate, but yes: that IS a minivan.

Thank You, Baby Kiln Gods!

I owe you one. I trust you to take it… you always do.

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Rachel Lewis on The Other Boats
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