Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Thomas Monson, Love, and Biological Fragility

Shortly after he became prophet, I happened to run into Thomas Monson at Little America. He was escorted, with his wife, to the table next to ours, where we were out eating with our family. Frances, his wife, ordered soup and ate it with single minded purpose, not looking up as people came to talk to her husband. At first, I thought of trying to hide my diet coke, but then didn’t. It was so very… Salt Lake City… to run into the prophet at dinner and to worry about my caffeinated beverage.
            But as I watched him talk to people, something changed.
            It was a feeling.
            I couldn’t pinpoint it.
            His words weren’t slurred. He made eye contact. He answered questions. But… something was wrong.
            Something was wrong and I felt it, even if I couldn’t name it.
            Looking back, I think it was the beginning of his illness. I think, from the very beginning, he was losing a bit of who he was.
            For nearly my entire life, I loved Thomas Monson.
            I loved that he preached love. I loved that he said people were more important than problems. I loved the stories he told about being kind. Helping the widows, serving the orphans. I loved that his message was always inclusion and love, never exclusion. He called us to gather together, never to cast out.
            Which was why Proposition 8 was so painful.
            It was a departure.
            It was unkind.
            It was choosing the letter of the law over Christ’s command to love one another.
            When it happened, I remember feeling sick.
            And I remember thinking of that moment, in the Little America, when I had been so excited to see a man I had loved for so long and so struck that… something… was wrong.
            I am a gay Mormon.
            The church’s backing of Proposition 8, the 2015 policy of exclusion, barring the underage children of same-sex spouses from baptism, these represented, for me, the end of my membership in the church.
            I am a Mormon. I will always be a Mormon.
            But, largely because of policies enacted by Thomas Monson, I have been cast out from my people.
            But as a gay Mormon, here is something I know: none of us can escape our biology. We are all subject to the primal forces that cause our cells to cleave, drive our lungs to breathe. We are all fragile creatures, corruptible, imperfect.
            Thomas Monson spent most of his life teaching us that God loves us anyway. Even when we don’t deserve it. Even when we know we are unlovable. God loves us, even when we are broken.
            And all of us are broken.
            It is hard to celebrate someone who is largely responsible for a great deal of my own personal pain.
            But I saw with my own eyes his fragility. I felt with my own spirit that this was not right. I know, with all of my own biological imperfections, that God loves me. That god has never abandoned me.
            And so I am trying to forgive his brokenness. I am trying to remember what he spent the vast majority of his life teaching me: that, in the end, people are more important than problems. That, in the end, God loves us. That, more than any law, we should love each other.
            Love must always be more important.
            Let that lesson be his legacy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Bodies are creepy and powerful

I am thinking about bodies today. They are eerie and mysterious and they know things and they do things and they affect us in ways we only barely understand.

Last night I had PMS. 

I assume it was PMS. I was lying in my bed, weepy and tired. My lamplight was on, the room smelled vaguely like our puppy--who really needs a bath because damn. I kept trying to think of why I was weepy. What had made me that way? What was wrong? I couldn't settle on anything. But it had been about a month since my last major bout with the weepies. 

I don't really have periods (God bless my Mirena), but ever since seeing Heather became a daily thing, I get PMS. 

I also get sick when she's gone. Within a day of her leaving on her last business trip, I'd lost my voice and found myself shaking in the hot bathtub, cold, coughing, and miserable. Within a day of her getting back, I had my voice again, my throat no longer burned, I felt--and was--better.

Human bodies affect each other. Through touch, through breath, on a molecular level we affect each other. The swings in oxytocin, in estrogen, in the countless other hormones and neurochemicals that swim in our veins, through these, we affect each other. 

We are, all of us, biological creatures. 

We fight that, I think. 

We want to believe we have choice. (I want to believe I have choice.)

But even if I do: my body has an opinion. 

Awhile ago I had to make a choice--decide what to do. I'm not going to talk about that choice here. (I'm not sure I'm ever going to talk about it, to be honest. Though I might. Someday.) What matters is this: I wasn't sure what the right thing was. I wasn't sure at all. But I knew when I thought of the one option--no matter how much I wanted it, no matter how much I thought it was the right one, no matter how much it was what I'd always thought I wanted--whenever I leaned toward it, I would feel sick.  

I am Mormon. 

It's an identity I claim, however much I no longer fit the rigid definition of Mormonism I grew up with because I am queer and I have decided to stop fighting that fact. I am queer. And I am Mormon. And both of those things are part of me. Even the church can't take that away.

I was taught as a child about prayer, about stupor. Discernment. My patriarch told me I had a gift for it. You know the right thing in your mind and your heart. You know the right thing, because you cannot hold the wrong thought in your head. You feel the spirit in your body. 

Truth manifests: in the body. 

Mormons are not big on the "weakness" of flesh. We don't particularly believe that humans are fallen, that mortality is a corrupted state. 

But we do believe in the sanctity of the body. 

My body has taught me things that the Mormons couldn't. 

But the Mormons taught me to trust my body. 

It's only one of a thousand contractions I'm only just beginning to work out. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The End of my Secret Page of Doomed Love

I've been following this page on Twitter. It had 3 followers and, like, years of tweets. One-sided conversations. Maybe there was another Twitter account responding, but there were no outside replies, no linked @accounts, posts only responded to themselves. It was, like, this doomed love story. Like watching a broken heart rage and prattle into the void. She posted love songs, she asked how her love was doing. On the top of the page was a thing about how "I will always love you."

Based on the times posted, and the vocabulary used, I think she's based in the U.K.

Tonight she locked the page down. Said Twitter had lost its meaning. That she needed to move on and had to let [him?] go. She posted one last, heartbreaking, song, and then wrote GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT before locking the page.

I'm surprised how gutted I am by this, y'all.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Love makes fools of all of us

Here is what I know of love: it makes fools of all of us.
            We can be perfectly rational creatures. We act with sense, with decorum, with measured steps. That is, we normally act that way. But love: it makes us irrational. We find ourselves doing things. Ridiculous things. We cannot control the way our thoughts ever circle. We cannot control the surge of feelings in our chest, our fingers, our stomach. We cannot stop the torrent of images that dance behind our eyes as we try to sleep.
            Love renders the strongest of us utterly powerless.
            I do not try to excuse what I did.
            For no matter the cause, my actions were still my own.
            I would like to think that if I knew the consequences, I would have done something differently. But that is impossible. We cannot know how things will end. Things that are utterly tangled unweave themselves and work out for the best. And things that feel clean and true can end up staining us deeper than blood.

            One thing is clear to me now, now that everything has passed: I am not sure I would have done anything differently. Even knowing how it would end. Because love is not the elixir of fools because only fools drink it.
            All of us—
            Every blessed one—
            All of us can be lost to it.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

You Cannot Stop Your Body From Screaming

Found this in an old text this morning. It seemed... useful to the day.

What I learned from cancer: you cannot stop your body from screaming.

We have this arrogant idea that how we respond to stuff is a choice. We say to ourselves, "Well, I can't help but feel pain, but I can choose how I respond to it, right?"


When you hurt enough, it does not matter.

There is no choice.

You will scream. 

Meaning: things we think are choices? They are not always choices.

Only God knows the difference--knows where the line is.

The rest of us just have to forgive ourselves.

And the people who hurt us.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

And then I went, "Well. This dream is very unsubtle."

I dreamed that I went back to visit my old BYU colleagues. They'd been relegated to a temporary building--the kind that made up the bulk of my over-crowded elementary school. On the white board in the front of the classroom/office was a quote about "Daughters of Zion."

Lisa Rumsey Harris came up to me, apologetically. "So..." she said. "BYU has this new policy?"

I knew she meant just for the women. (Or maybe just for me.) Because it was a dream and you know stuff like that.

She was holding a chain in her hands. "We're going to have to actually bind your hands. I'm sorry. I won't do it very tight."

I held out my hands for her to bind. "This is so BYU," I said. "It's not like I'm gonna hurt anyone with these. Boys are, like, way more likely to do that. Yunno. Statistically speaking."

Lisa said, "Oh, I hear you. It is ridiculous." She wrapped the chains around my wrists once, twice. Three times. "But, hey," she said. "At least these chains are really cute ones."

I looked down at them. They were cute. They had little sparkly hearts on them.

And then I went, "Well. This dream is very unsubtle."

And I woke up.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

This morning I woke up thinking, "I was having a sex dream..."

and I was super excited cuz I never do, so before I opened my eyes I tried really hard to remember it...

and I did...

but I wasn't having sex.

I was eating a sandwich.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Caterpillars, Hamburgers, and Mayonaise

Something happened in my class today.
Or rather… it didn’t happen.
And it’s not happening… I am haunted by it.

We were discussing our biases. (It’s a rhetoric class. We do that sort of thing.) The class was lively, everyone chiming in with only perfunctory attention to traditional decorum. Hand raising was half assed, at best.
“I have a bias,” someone said, “against caterpillars.”
“Against Caterpillars?” I asked.
“Yes.” She nodded and sat back in her chair. “I love butterflies. But I cannot stand caterpillars.”
I tilted my head in mock shock, “Isn’t that, like, the insect equivalent of hating babies?” I asked.
Someone from the back of the room shouted, “I have a bias against babies!”
There was a gasp of laughing horror at that.
“I will tell my mom everything about my roommate’s love life,” someone said. “But I refuse to tell her about my own.”
“I only like little dogs,” said someone else.
“I don’t even like dogs!”
And then a girl in the front row said, “I am always falling in love with women. I don't ever want to date anyone but women. But I just never like sleeping with them as much as I like sleeping with men.”
“Well,” I responded. “Pretty sure you’re not the only one who’s felt that.” Which made people laugh even harder than they already were.
And then someone said, “I hate hamburgers with mayonnaise. Just hate them. I mean, why even have a burger if you’re going to do that to it?!”
And the game went on.

About five years ago, before we moved to Maryland, when I was at still teaching at BYU, a boy—brown hair, troubled expression, wrinkled T-shirt—said during class, “I think we’re too mean to gay people in this church.”
The initial response from the class was silence. It lasted maybe ten seconds.
And then there were protests. Polite at first. “We love the sinners,” someone said. “We hate the sin.”
But the boy, his face growing ever more troubled, said, “I… I guess I just don’t see the sin.”
At which point the class completely pounced on him.
I don’t even remember what they said.
Stuff about obeying the prophets.
Stuff about right and wrong.
Stuff about morality and purity and chastity.
The carpets had been cleaned that week. I remember the stale smell of still-wet fibers, clinging like a mildew to it all.
Because there was something nearly primal about the way they turned on him. Animals, encircling a threat.
And they literally encircled him.
They turned from all corners of the room, some nearly jumping out of their chairs. Everyone facing him. Everyone talking over each other.
They utterly and completely shut.him.down.
I felt helpless as I watched. Their reaction was so much more violent than I expected. Their speech so little concerned with charity.
They seemed to have absolutely zero awareness that, odds were nearly certain, at least one person in that room was gay.
I stuttered.
I tried to interject.
There was nothing I could think to say.
In my entire teaching career, I have never felt more helpless, more at a loss, more of a failure to my students than I did that day.

And then today happened.

Today: when we talked about caterpillars. We talked about how it was just so hard when you couldn’t decide which gender you preferred to sleep with. And the (non) response?

That hamburgers are so destroyed by mayonnaise.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

And then I go, "Oh. This is an allegory."

The good news: I remembered my dream last night for the first time in forever!

The bad news: It was as judgy as a bad Sunday School lesson.

It started with an earthquake.

But it wasn't, like, a scary earthquake. It was more like a, "Hey! Pay attention!" Earthquake.

And then I looked outside the window & there was this bum who was eating the leaves off our bushes. Then he'd spit out the berries cuz poison. He was obviously hungry.

Then I was all, if I were Christian, I'd feed him.

But he was scary looking so... I just sat there.

But then I did a re-take & was like, *if I were Christian I'd feed him.*

So I drag myself up, go to the door to look for him & invite him in.

But he's gone, and instead there're crowds of hungry people.

And then I go, "Oh. This is an allegory."

And I wake up.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Afternoon conversation

Me: Hey, Lil. How was school?

10yo: Productive. Catherine and I spent some time conducting Scientific Research.

Me: What kind?

10yo: We timed how long it would take to spin in circles, get dizzy, and fall down.

Me: That sounds like two physiological events: first, the onset of dizziness and second the point at which the dizziness resulted in catastrophic loss of balance. How did you separate the two?

10yo: We didn't. It's tricky to tell the start of dizziness, but when you fall, you fall.

Me: So what you're saying is that you favored the objective event over the subjective reporting of one?

10yo: Exactly. I spun for six minutes before I fell down. My head hurt at the end.

Me: That was probably a predictable outcome.

10yo: But worth it. Because Michael only made it five minutes before he fell down.

Me: Impressive.

10yo: Unfortunately, Catherine's dad showed up to take her home before she got to spin.

Me: Well, that's just going to skew your whole dataset.

10yo: I know! It was a very disappointing end of the study.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Afternoon Conversation

10yo Lily: You know what the problem with this world is?

Me: No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me.

Lily: Gender normative hegemony. That's the problem.

Me: I never should have taught you that phrase.

Lily: Do you know what that means?

Me: I literally just said I taught you what it meant.

Lily: It means that maybe I don't want to have an appropriately girly Halloween costume. Maybe I want to dress up as Thor.

Me: Be honest. You just want that hammer.

Lily: It means that maybe I'm sick of people asking me if I'm going back to work after I have my baby. Maybe I wish they'd ask my husband that.

Me: You realize you're neither pregnant nor do you have a husband, right?

Lily: And don't even get me started about Trump and Hillary.

Me: Please. Please don't get started on that.

Lily: The thing is...

Me: You're right. One day without talking about the election was WAY too much to ask.

Lily: The thing is, people don't even realize that, like, so much of their dislike for Hillary comes down to bias they're not aware of.

Me: You really don't need to have this conversation with me.

Lily: I bet you never thought of that, did you?

Me: Oh for the love.

[& BTW, Lil: yes. Yes I did. ]

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Implicit Gender Bias and Authority

FMH just posted an essay I wrote about implicit bias. I think my sister's post on gene editing still probably wins the "coolest blog post of the month" award. But she works for Mayo, so that's a totally unfair comparison.

Also: my mom is totally not going to believe me when I say my motives are more about discussing the neuro/cognitive effects of bias than politics. But, yunno. Full disclosure: not a Trump fan.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Afternoon Conversation

Me: [playing the piano]

Sam: “MOM! What IS THAT?!”

Me: “It’s called ‘Jupiter.’ It’s from the ‘Planets.’”

Sam: “OMG, MOM! It sounds SO GOOD. It sounds like… It sounds like it’s from a video game!!”

Me: “Well, it is a classic.”

[Obviously that’s not me in the video. That’s cuz I didn’t take one. The part I was playing was the “Chorale.” It starts at min. 3:30.]

Monday, May 18, 2015

Morning Conversation

Lily: “OMG, Mom. It is, like, wet outside. I can feel it on my toes and my face and my arms… But there isn’t actually any water! There’s no rain, there’s no puddles. But it’s just... so… wet!”

Me: “Yes, Honey. That’s called humidity.”

Lily: “It would never do this in Utah.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

First sign that spring is coming

There are no leaves on the trees, no grass, no plants at all, really, and there are snow flurries in the air. But this little guy was sticking straight up in my front yard this morning, defying all of it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

We’re Moving to Maryland!

And it is a crazy beautiful place. For example: a tree on our street, and our new backyard.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lily and Mette: On Happiness

I was reading this post by Mette Harrison (author of, among other things, one of my favorite books from my dissertation sample, The Princess and the Hound).

She pretty much outlined everything that people don’t want to think is true about publishing their books. (And she’s pretty much right about all of it!) Publishing a book isn’t going to automatically fix our problems and make us suddenly more confident and/or emotionally stable. The people who will be happy after publishing a book are the ones who were happy when their book was unpublished. The miserable will find a way to stay miserable and the goal-chasers will discover that achieving the goal of publication only leads to the sudden appearance (and importance) of newer, bigger, more urgent goals. It’s not the achievement of our ambitions that makes us happy. It’s not really any single event that brings happiness to us. We are happy people, or we’re not. Maybe we can choose to be happy. But it’s never going to come from outside. Happiness is internal, not external.

I’ve known that. I’ve read people who argued the same and I’ve seen studies confirming the argument and I believed it before and I believe it now. (Most of the time.)

But Lily hasn’t. And Lily doesn’t.

And the timing of Mette’s post (well, the timing of my reading of the post)… it made me laugh!

See, just yesterday, Lily was having this epic meltdown.

This, in and of itself, isn’t terribly surprising. My beauty of a daughter has a meltdown every.single.night at exactly 8:30pm (or, yunno, pretty close to then;). She has done this every night for the last eight years. (aka, her entire life.)

We call it “The Eight O’Clock Blues.”

But even though it happens every.single.night, even though I take pictures of her crying every night and post them in a “eight o’clock blues” journal next to a picture of the clock and her explanation-of-the-day-for-said-tears-that-is-absolutely-not-and-never-will-ever-be-just-because-she’s-tired, she will NOT believe there is a pattern at work. She says,  “Mommy, I’m crying because I had a fight with so-and-so” or because “I miss grandma,” or “I just can’t get over how much it bothers me that even though I want a puppy so much Daddy keeps being so mean and lame and saying no just because he’s allergic and afraid his throat will close!” or she says she's crying “Because, Mommy! You always take my picture when I cry!" (okay... I’ll give her that one!) or “Because, Mommy, YOU WON’T BELIEVE ME THAT I’M NOT TIRED!”

Basically, she’s sad for a million reasons as long as they’re NOT about the clock on the wall. (Or the “T” word.)

So, yesterday she’s having this epic meltdown and it’s escalating and devolving rapidly into full on tantrum/F-5-level-destruction mode.

I said to her, “Honey, just take a breath and close your eyes. If you just trust me, I promise you will be totally asleep in 2 seconds and it will fix all of THIS!”

She did not appreciate this advice.

She said, “Mommy, you just don’t understand! If Daddy had just listened to me and put a swing in my bedroom today like I wanted him to, I wouldn’t be sad at ALL!”

I said, “Honey, I promise you: you still would.”

Her face got that purple hue of that kids faces get when screaming at the top of their decibel range. “I WOULD NOT!!! IF HE HAD JUST LISTENED TO ME IT WOULD HAVE FIXED EVERYTHING!!! I WOULD BE COMPLETELY HAPPY AND I WOULD NOT BE CRYING AT ALL!!!"

I stopped trying to reason with her.

wanted to tell her about all those happiness studies. About how external events don’t really have control over your long term happiness. About how the experience of happiness is a chemical one and how her brain would be miserable at 8:30p even if every single one of her wishes came true and every person on earth listened to her demands and readily agreed to them.

But I would be wasting my breath.

Because none of us really want to believe that. (Let alone tired 8 year olds.) We all want to think that something can fall out of the sky and make us permanently happy forEVER. That the “fix” for our problems can and might and will probably occur without our work or thought or input. It will just happen and everything will be better.

Actually, yeah. That sounds really great. Maybe I’ll change my vote on the issue...

So. What would make you happy?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lily: On Doctors and Mommy

me: “You know what Lil? You should be a doctor when you grow up. You’d be great at it.”

Lily: “OMG NOOO! I will NEVER EVER do that!!”

me: “Why? You’re driven, smart, you work hard…”

Lil: [interrupting  me] “MOM! Doctors are HORRIBLE PEOPLE.”

me: “Horrible? They’re healers!”

Lil: “They’re sickos!!! They stab people with needles, they use knives and they cut you open! Sometimes, they cut stuff OFF. And I know they do it to kids.They’re the worst kind of people possible. I will never, ever, ever be a doctor.”

me: [confused]

Lil: [pauses, cocks her head a bit and says…] “You could, though!"

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lily: On why Santa Should Bring Some Pepto

Lily was walking around the house looking stricken yesterday evening.

me: “Lil, you OK? You look really stressed.”

Lily: “I am. I am stressed.”

me: “Why?”

Lily: “My stomach hurts.”

me: “Oh, no. What from?”

Lily: “Nervous. It’s from me being nervous.”

me: “Honey, why are you nervous?”

Lily: [looks at me like I’m crazy] “Christmas, Mom. It’s, like, tomorrow. I can’t take the pressure. It’s just stressing me out. Elves are watching and there’s going to be presents and I have to be good and I don’t want to be good. I’m supposed to, like, go to sleep. Well, what if I don’t want to go to sleep?" [pauses, takes a breath and shakes her head] "Nervous. I’m just... nervous.”

me: “But you got a video. You’re on the ‘nice’ list. You don’t need to be nervous.”

Lily: “Tell that to my stomach.”

me: “I’m so sorry, honey.”

Lily: “Me, too. This whole thing is making me feel all gassy.”

(There’s really no good response to that, is there.)

Merry Christmas!