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.

39321-handmaidenstale1200

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!

21684-004-91C4B13A

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.”

IMG_4241

Auntie Fail

Auntie Rae tries to talk to the kiddos about bullies:

Me: So she bullied me from second grade through the sixth grade, and it was terrible. And I didn’t handle it well but I learned from it. And then, the last I heard, she was a single mom, working at the American Fork Walmart. The end.

My Nephew (9 years old): I don’t understand. How can you be single and a mom?

Me: um…. what? I don’t think I said that. Time for bed!

Ask an Atheist

Last Thursday (April 18th) was “National Ask an Atheist Day.”  I did not know that was a thing until I ended up getting sucked into a Facebook conversation started by an atheist friend of mine who was soliciting questions.

Most of the questions were some version of “how can you prove that there is no god?”  I was reminded that the way most people define atheism is wildly different than the way that I define it.  I know that language evolves and words come to stand for something far beyond their original definitions.  That is a natural phenomenon of language.  But the words “atheist” and “agnostic” do have simple meanings, and that is important to me.

Here is the origin of the word “atheist:”

And here is “agnostic:”

 

An atheist is without god.  An agnostic is without knowledge.  That is it.  The way I define my atheism is very much in line with the basic components of the word, and not all the other things that people want to put on top of that simple absence of belief.  I live without a belief in a god.  That is, I do not accept any version of a god that has been presented to me and therefore I do not worship one.  Do I know for certain that there is no god or anything that might take the place of a creator? No, I don’t. I accept that I don’t know, therefore I consider myself both atheist and agnostic.

Most of the atheists I know describe themselves this way. And most of us don’t want to tell you that you are wrong to believe in something we don’t accept or that you are backward for keeping your traditions.  I understand that atheism isn’t for everyone, just as Mormonism definitely wasn’t for me.  I would love to be a live-and-let-live atheist.  But then someone inevitably wants to teach creationism in science class and I can’t just ‘let live’ anymore, because I consider that an encroachment on the separation of church and state.  But that’s a whole other conversation.

I was reading the thread with interest and not weighing in, but then I lost my self-control.  I really need to get out more.  I don’t get enough human interaction working at home and I have been making Facebook debates my substitute.  I’m going to get myself into trouble.

The question was something like, “If you know that the word ‘atheist’ offends people, why wouldn’t you call yourself an agnostic instead? And if I lack belief in a god but believe in a higher power or force in the universe greater than myself, am I an atheist?”

This is what I wrote in response:

I know the word atheist is loaded and most people define it differently than I do (simply without belief in a god). I think of it like the word “feminist.” It’s loaded with controversy but its meaning is simple. I guess I would say, in answer to your question, I’m an atheist feminist living in Utah. I have accepted that my basic beliefs are offensive to the general population.

As for the second question, this is how I think about it: I am confident there are forces in the universe that we will never understand. We are so limited in our scope and ability to comprehend, that I am confident that we will never know enough to understand the questions to ask, let alone the answers that are out there. (Which is why I love the Douglas Adams answer to life, the universe and everything turning out to be 42.) But let’s just say for a second that we could, and it turns out that the answer is a physical law or a set of physical laws that guides the universe, and we all go, “Oh! Now it makes sense!” And then my bishop from my childhood jumps up and points and me and says “See! I was right! I told you there was something!” Then I would turn to him and say, “Excuse me, but is it a bearded magic man who cares a whole lot about whether or not I masturbate? No? Okay, then fuck off.”

I didn’t tell him that, yes, by my definition, he is an atheist.  I kept this to myself because it was clear that word was inherently pejorative to him. Nor did I tell him that most of the people I meet who consider themselves agnostic are actually atheist by my definition.  I don’t tell my ‘agnostic’ friends that, either.  They seem to think that agnosticism is a politer form of atheism.  Or rather, a refusal to take a side.  The Switzerland of dogmas.  My atheist friends think of themselves as agnostic, but my agnostic friends think of themselves as people who just don’t care and would like to talk about something else, now.  But they are living without a god.  They are atheists, too.

That’s okay.  I hold fast that words have meanings and those meanings are important. But I also want the right to define myself and what I believe.  I can give others that right as well.

Precision Cooking

My man is making dinner.

Me: Why is there dough on the tape measure?

Matt: The recipe says the biscuits should be 1/4 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches across.

IMG_2632

Latter Day Saints and Sinners

I allowed myself to be drawn into another family’s facebook fight last week.  I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself.  And anyway it has been so long – I think I just needed to be reminded that you aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion.  Not on the topic of homosexuality.  And not on facebook.

A little background…

When I was a kid, my Mormon bishop was unequivocal about homosexuality.  It was a choice, and it was a bad choice.  This was the message I got from everyone in my community.  But in the last few years, I have noticed a distinct evolution in the way Mormon’s talk about our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Suddenly, there was a different tone.  It is still bad, of course.  But they seemed to get that it wasn’t a choice.  I think the word I have heard most is that it is an “affliction.”  As in, “Have you heard? Her son is afflicted with same sex attraction.”

In the beginning I thought that just the fact that they were moving on the issue was good, because it showed progress.  But I quickly decided that was wrong.  In fact, I’ve decided that the new stance is as or more toxic.  They still believe you have a choice.  If not a choice in who you love and are attracted to, then you have a choice in what you do about it.

This is best explained by the Josh and Lolly phenomenon.  Josh and Lolly Weed are a couple who came out several years ago as “mixed attracted” for lack of a better term.  They wrote a long blog post that went viral and gave a lot of people in the church hope that even if their child suffered from this condition that they could still live a “normal” life, centered around a person of the opposite sex, their children and their church.  And the Saints rejoiced.

But then, a few months ago, the Weeds wrote another post announcing that they were wrong.  It wasn’t working, and they are divorcing.

As a result, in the Utah parlance, people are flipping the freak out.

Last week a woman I know through a writing group posted this blog post written by one such flipper outer titled “Actually, the Mormon Position on Gay Marriage is Stronger Than You Think.  I read the title and knew that I was clicking on danger but as I said already… yeah.  It was a slow work day.  The post has since been removed, but here is the gist: So it didn’t work out for the Weeds.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work!  You don’t have to be attracted to a person to love them, you just have to endure the times when you aren’t ‘feeling it’ until you develop that deeper truer Fiddler on the Roof kind of love.  Then he cites his experience of enduring his wife’s postpartum depression without filing for divorce as proof that this can be done.

It was stupid and my general response was a big eyeroll and an “Oh yeah… I forgot about the enthusiasm with which these people will turn themselves into cognitive knots out of desperation to not have to admit they were wrong.”  Then I started looking through the comments that were being posted and I saw that another person from the writing group, a young and out gay man, returned missionary and current student in good standing at BYU, was trying to have a discussion with the poster’s inlaws, cousins, and other hard believing friends.

“Oh God,” I thought.  “Calvin needs some cover fire.”

So I weighed in and said some pro LGBT stuff, basically stating that I know many LGBT folks in life-long partnerships that are as full of love, sacrifice and commitment as any other couple I have ever met.  Sometimes I think that the one helpful thing one can do in these circumstances is remind everyone that they are talking about real people.  Here is an example of a comment that I got in response.

A homosexual relationship cannot meet the purposes for eternal marriage. Being in love longterm by itself means very little in the scope of eternal purposes for marriage. But in reality, there are relatively few homosexual relationships that are longterm anyway. The media has been very successful in painting a certain picture of homosexual family bliss, but the reality is much much more often promiscuity, damaged people, disease, and misery.

So I said:

I think we worry too much about the afterlife and deciphering God’s plan. I would rather focus my energy on doing the most with this life and caring for my family and loved ones, who are not the promiscuous damaged and diseased people you may think they are. But even if they were, I believe that the Jesus Christ I have read about would pull them in closer and not shun them, IMHO.

That same God loving lady responded with:

It is one of the most successful tools of the adversary, to convince people that disapproval of a sin is equal to hating the sinner. It has become a most powerful lie.

Oh my mistake.  I thought you just wrote off an entire community as diseased and damaged people, which sounds a lot like hating the sinner to me, but whatever.  I don’t know how we got to this place where it is far worse to call someone bigoted than to be bigoted, but that seems to be the way of it.

I lost an entire day on this thread.  I stopped commenting, but I kept reading.  Calvin was fighting a good fight, but he was getting ganged up on and no one wanted to hear what he had to say.  I was proud of him, but was hurting me to watch.  Finally, around midnight, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I fired this off in the comments (please forgive the run on sentences – it was late and I was feeling feisty):

Calvin, I should PM you… but I’m going to just say this publicly because as we say in Utah County “what the heck.” If the article’s data is correct and 40% of millennial Mormons are struggling with their faith over social issues, then the church is in a crisis. As has been stated in this thread many times over, there is a clear choice. Accept all on faith and stay, or find that is not possible and leave (where I find myself). You have somehow made another choice. The bravest choice. You have your testimony of The Heavenly Father and you have what you know to your bones to be true about yourself… in your own heart. Clearly, the dissonance is painful for you, and yet you stay and fight for an answer. It seems to me that those of us who want the church to survive in the future might look to you and your choice and say “how do we resolve this together?” Not to lecture or to call you wicked or to say your choices are to remain celibate and die alone, without knowing love or affection, OR to leave… Here is the thing. I have what I want. I have a Supreme Court decision ruling on my side. The fact that the future of the church weighs in the balance of the next generation, and it seems they are split… a person who has been fighting this fight since the 90s might see that as icing on the cake, and there may be days where I do. But you aren’t me. You have taken the braver path. You are staying to fight the brave fight. There will be many people who will tell you to sit down and listen. Those people want to validate their own decisions. What they don’t understand is that they are validating my decision, with every young person they call wicked and push away. On my basest most broken level I want that. I want the church to fail for everyone the way it failed for me. I want my decisions to be validated. But I have – even now – an elevated level, where I see that this church has the power to help people find meaning in this world. And that part of me wants to tell you to never be discouraged. Keep seeking. Keep asking questions. Keep challenging the accepted views. Sooner or later, for the sake of the future, they will sit down and listen.

If not, the Unitarians are lovely and they don’t care if you wear jeans to church. Just sayin’.

 

Calvin and I ended up taking the conversation over to private message and had a long chat about all of this.  It was really good to decompress and to ease some of the frustration by preaching to the choir instead of to the gargoyles.  The next time I saw him I gave him a big hug and I felt like I had adopted a new nephew.  I know I didn’t budge any minds on that thread; we all left as self-certain as we began.  If I managed to give Calvin a little encouragement, then maybe it wasn’t a lost day after all.

Did I mean it? Do I hope he stays and fights this fight?  Not really.  It was killing me just watching him stand up to some strangers on facebook.  The actual church?  I can’t even imagine.  If I could make his decisions for him, I would get him out of that church and introduce him to some truly compassionate people.  But that’s the whole point.  I don’t want anyone making decisions for each other.  I want us all to have the space and empowerment to find our own paths, wherever they may lead.

Weekend in Zion

At The Desert Pearl Hotel in Springdale, Utah

Ethan (age 5): The sink in our room is so short! I had to bend over to use it!!!

Me: What sink? What are you talking about?

Ethan: The one in the bathroom.

Me: Right next to the toilet?

Ethan: Yeah!

Me: That is not a sink. It’s a bidet.

Ethan: What’s that?

(Pause)

Matt: It’s European.

Me: Only it’s for when you’re-a-poopin’.

Ethan: WHAT?

Matt: It’s a sink for your bum.

Ethan: 😐

End scene.

(Photo: Zion National Park –  Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive)

IMG_3868

Rhyme Scheming

I like to think of myself as a reader.  Not so much that I’m “well read.”  I’ve read some classics and a lot of nonfiction in the last few years.  I have also read some highly entertaining novels that few would list as “literature.”  I’m rambling… My point is that I like to think of myself as someone who reads a lot of different genres and forms.  But I have a dirty little secret.  I hate poetry.

Maybe you are thinking that isn’t so uncommon.  A lot of people dislike poetry.  I, however, have discovered I have a completely irrational hatred of poetry that I do not completely understand.  I know it is judgey but nearly all poets make me roll my eyes.  I think as a writer I feel like poets should make the time and effort to write a story that might relate to someone besides themselves.  I suppose a poet’s response might be that I’m too inefficient to express myself in a poem; I need an multi-page composition.  And I would defend myself.  With a classically structured persuasive essay.

A few years ago I was talked into going to a poetry reading at the King’s English Bookstore here in Salt Lake City.  I went with a friend and once we arrived I saw that they had an open box of wine, which is my favorite flavor.  Open, that is.

I thought, “Okay… I can do this.  It is poetry, but it isn’t bourgie poetry.  It’s box wine poetry.”

I was fine (bored, but fine) until the second poet got up to read from his recently published collection. You are already picturing him, probably. He was wearing a sports jacket, jeans, and a stringy pony tail.  In the third or fourth poem he recited the line, “The spider scuttled out from beneath the ice cube…” and I had to bite my hand to keep from yelling, “No it didn’t and fuck you for saying that it did!!!”

Where the hell did that come from?’ I asked myself, taking a sniff of my boxed chardonnay to search for clues.  What about this poor cliché of a man had invited the full furnace of my rage, without any discernible prelude?

I elbowed my friend and we slipped out the side door and went to dinner at the Lebanese restaurant next door.  ‘Maybe I was hurt very badly in a past life by a mediocre poet,’ I hypothesized as we crunched through the snow between the two sidewalks.  ‘Or maybe I was a spider who was unsuspectingly crushed by ice.’

We will never know.