high stakes testing

It happens a few times every school year: a student sees me in the hall, and shouts, “Ms. Lauritzen! My mom showed me a clip of you on the news!” Other days, a student will casually mention seeing a recent article online, waiting to see if I’ll reveal my secret identity as a freelance writer.

I’m  usually busy trying to do other things-grade a paper, teach a class, confiscate a cell-phone mid snap-chat, so I respond to any mention of my “outside life” by changing the subject, and redirecting the student’s attention back to whatever I’m trying to teach. I try to act natural, but mentally I’m freaking out, trying to remember if the last thing I wrote was potentially inflammatory.

Sometimes I get the impression that a student is speaking in code, referencing an article in order to alert me to the fact that I’m not the only feminist/democrat/weird Mormon in the room. My online presence becomes a modern way to say “shibboleth” and identify common ground. Regardless of their intent, I try to stay in teacher mode. My job as a public servant depends on my ability to separate my role as Ms. Lauritzen, history teacher and stealer of phones, from Stephanie Lauritzen, writer of minority opinions and one-time activist. (In the interest of honesty, I will confess that sometimes I let my students distract me with silly tangents and stories, but I try hard to stay on task, and somewhat on message.)

A few months ago, I wrote about teaching the new AP U.S. History curriculum, and why I disagree that the new curriculum represents a “hostile liberal take-over” of American history, a claim issued by many Republicans. A few people responded with outrage that I, as a teacher, do not maintain personal political neutrality. They worried that I would be unable to teach subjects portraying Democrats in a bad light. Others worried a student would inevitably read my piece and feel scared to express counter opinions to the views in my article.

Concerns about my online presence resonate with me. I frequently worry that writing publically will negatively impact my ability to create a safe and inclusive classroom for all of my students. I worry that my decision to publically disagree with the LDS Church might make my LDS students might feel I dislike them, or don’t value their contributions in class. I worry that conservative students might feel intimidated to share an opinion, or feel the need to constantly defend their position in order to be taken seriously. I don’t believe any student should feel afraid to speak up in class, nor do I believe my job is to coerce students into adopting my interpretations of history. I do believe that as a teacher and authority figure, I’m granted a position of power, so it is my responsibility to let students know their opinions and ideas are valued, even if they differ from my own.

I am not perfect at this, but there are a few things I work on each day in order to create the best possible environment for critical thinking, writing, and discussion. First, I remember this quote by educator Eric Rothschild, “The more I say in class, the less my students learn.” Teachers are prone to god-complexes and I’m not immune to the siren call of my own voice. Sometimes it is necessary to talk a lot: to lecture on historical context or to model successful analysis strategies. But I try to remind myself that my students can’t truly learn unless they have the opportunity to explore idea and concepts without my interference. Each day I give students time to study ideas on their own, discuss what they learned with a partner or in a group, and then talk together as a whole class. I mediate the conversations without trying to control the outcome, and I’m always impressed with how well my students tackle difficult subjects while respecting differences of opinion.

Secondly, students appreciate honesty, so when I do share an opinion-based idea I let students know explicitly that they are hearing one side of the story. I make sure to counter my opinion with the opposing viewpoint, so that my view is never the only interpretation presented in class. In discussing different historical perspectives, including American Exceptionalism and Revisionism, I let my students know about the recent controversy concerning the new AP U.S. curriculum. I shared my thoughts on the limits of Exceptionalism, but also told my students that all historical models are flawed and incomplete when studied in isolation, so we will study all of them and use what we learn in class to create new interpretations and ideas.

I think it is healthy and good for students to see that multiple viewpoints can exist in the same space, and that disagreements do not mean people can’t work or learn together effectively. As students graduate and enter the workforce they will encounter countless people who disagree with them on fundamental issues. It is unrealistic to train students to remain silent on issues they care about in order to work effectively with others, just as it is unrealistic for me to pretend I am a non-existent neutral party outside the classroom. If my students read something I write and disagree with me, I hope I've modeled sufficient tolerance and open-mindedness in the classroom to give them the skills necessary to navigate their thoughts productively and honestly. In the end, the only test I truly want my students to pass is one proposed by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Also, the ability to go 86 minutes without snap-chatting on one’s phone. 


she is risen

For all those standing at the door of the tomb.

I always hesitate when people ask me to explain the catalysts that led me to my current state of post-Mormonism.

I hesitate because there was no single event, thought, or behavior that truly caused me to question my identity as a Mormon. My faith narrative is complex, and when I try and explain things in a chronological narrative, the significance of those things always feels diminished.

But gun-to-my-head, why are you no longer practicing? I'd say my primary motivator concerned my visibility, or, more accurately my lack of visibility, within the church. One day, I could no longer "see" myself in the church institution, so I left to look for myself elsewhere.

My first experience with invisibility occurred in in high school, during a lesson on "The Proclamation to the Family." It was the first time I really studied the document’s implications, and I immediately felt bothered by the very rigid gender roles exemplified in the document:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." 

At this point in my life I already knew I wanted to work outside the home. I wanted children, but I fully intended to pursue and advanced education and career. I did not intend to be "primarily responsible for the nurture" of my future children. I was comforted by the next line of "The Proclamation," which states, "Fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners… other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” I hoped my deep passion for my education and future career as an educator would be enough for God to grant me an exception under the "other circumstances" clause, and I hoped that the claim of "equal partnership" somehow negated the “fathers are to preside over their families" rhetoric. I did not intend to be presided over by anyone, even someone I loved.

In 2007, I was newly married and considering applying to graduate school. In the fall session of General Conference, Relief Society President Julie B. Beck gave her now infamous "Mothers Who Know" talk. For me, Beck's talk represents the first time women like me were publicly and openly derided as "less than" the Mothers who conformed to the gender roles outlined in "The Proclamation to The Family."

"President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels."

I fully intended to postpone having children. My goals were focused on my degree, (a possession) my career, (position) and becoming the best educator possible (fortunately public educators never need to worry about prestige going to our heads-whew!) At this point, I could clearly "see" myself in the church. Unfortunately, that vision of myself was one of failure and sin. Clearly, I was not a "woman who knows." My role in the church was one of the cautionary tale, the prideful woman unwilling to give up the things of the world in order to conform to a one-size-fits-all template for divine womanhood.

"Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world."

“Mothers who know do less… These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord’s kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power.

And suddenly, I was invisible. I don’t begrudge or invalidate the value of women who do fit into this description of a “mother who knows.” But where was the woman like me? Why was there no mention of Mothers who know, and therefore pursued advanced education and degrees in order to help sustain their family’s economic well-being? Of women who worked carefully and faithfully in order to "choose it all," and influence the world both inside and outside the home? Of a woman who knows how to provide her children with multiple examples of successful parenting, including examples of women enjoying successful careers and happy families?

I couldn’t see myself as a woman in the church, let alone a mother. I went searching for examples of womanhood and motherhood elsewhere. I hoped other examples of “modern revelation” would allow me to “see” myself in the church. Instead, I found statements like this:

In the world today, there are observed strenuous efforts to distort and desecrate this divine pattern. We hear much talk -- even among some of our own sisters -- about so-called 'alternative life-styles' for women. It is maintained that some women are better suited for careers than for marriage and motherhood, or that a combination of both family and career is not inimical to either…God grant that that dangerous philosophy will never take root among our Latter-day Saint women…” -Ezra Taft Benson

   "We have often said that this divine service of motherhood can be rendered only by mothers. It may not be passed to others. Nurses cannot do it; public nurseries cannot do it. Hired help cannot do it; kind relatives cannot do it. Only by mother, aided as much as may be by a loving father, brothers and sisters, and other relatives, can the full needed measure of watchful care be given. The mother who entrusts her child to the care of others that she may do non-motherly work, whether for gold, for fame, or for civic service, should remember that 'a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” –Spencer W. Kimball

“Your wife will be fortunate indeed if she does not have to go out and compete in the marketplace. She will be twice blessed if she is able to remain at home while you become the breadwinner of the family." –Gordon B. Hinckley

While I naturally found a few instances of talks encouraging women to pursue an education, or of heroic mothers forced to work outside the home due to unforeseen circumstances, I never found an image of myself in the descriptions of righteous, good, LDS women. President Hinckley once gave a talk praising a woman who managed to work outside the home as a nurse with flexible hours, thus eliminating a reliance on outside care. This was comforting, but still not a fully formed image of a woman who worked successfully while creating a happy and functioning family, even if that meant using outside care. I could not see myself in the church, and that hurt.

Apologists are always quick to point out that personal revelations make it okay to deviate from the ideals described above. (Unless personal revelation leads one too far outside church norms, and you start acting crazy and asking for female ordination.) Many told me happy anecdotes of their aunt who worked as a UN Ambassador, or Dads who stayed home to raise children. But anecdotes do not represent institutionally and doctrinally supported roles for working women. If you are a true believer (which I was) who trusted that church leaders spoke for God, the lack of visibility feels like a very real emptiness. I’m consistently reminded of the comfort many Mormons take from Genesis 1:27, which states than man is made in the image of God. We need to “see” ourselves in our divinity.  Visibility and familiarity within our faith tradition creates the stability, community, and closeness that makes organized religion appealing. But according to LDS doctrine, I was not made in the image of anything divine. Instead, women like me were worldly, selfish, alternative, not divine but unholy, not sacred but ungodly.

For people still  dismissive of the very deep pain feeling “invisible” causes a member of the community, I’d first ask you to check your theological privilege. Do you fit the sanctioned role for femininity or masculinity? Do you seem to fit within Beck’s description of a mother who knows? Are your decisions regarding employment and family planning supported, praised, and even glorified as divine by the church institution regularly and publicly? Visibility within your community is like air. You often don’t consciously acknowledge its necessity. Your church, like your body, automatically sends messages to your respiratory system telling you to breathe, telling you that you are welcome, that you are godly, and that God sees you as a member of his church.

Lack of visibility is like dry-drowning. Often it doesn’t look like you are drowning at all, you bob above the water desperately snatching breaths of air from snippets of scripture and doctrine that reaffirm your belief in self-divinity.

But still you drown. Mormonism talks a lot about spiritual death as a result of sin or distance from God. From my experience, spiritual death comes from lack of visibility. If you cannot “see” yourself at church, you cannot breathe.

In the next few years, I continued to look for myself within Mormonism, only to realize that I could not “see” myself within the doctrine. I did not “see” myself when the church supported Proposition 8 in California, or in any of their subsequent statements opposing marriage equality. I could not “see” myself after the first Wear Pants to Church Day when hundreds of self-described “active” Mormons collectively held my head under water and told me to leave the church, fully supported by coinciding church leadership talks reaffirming that “women of God did not need to lobby for rights.”

I could see myself with those who also felt invisible within the church. The LGBT activists, the feminists, the members of Ordain Women, the historians, the hundreds of other people searching for air in the closed tombs of our faith. I stayed there, looking at my reflection, “seeing” myself for the first time, drunk on fresh air. I will forever maintain that I simply went to where I believed the Savior would go: to the Samaritans, to the lost sheep, to the outcasts, to those deemed “sinners” by Pharisees masquerading as Prophets. I mourned with those who mourned, and in loosing myself in Christ-like empathy, found myself again.   I don’t regret my time “seeing” myself in the fringes or unorthodox Mormonism, but when the people who allowed me to “see” myself in the church for the first time lost their membership, or were disciplined, I knew I needed to continue looking elsewhere.

For me, the most beautiful story in the New Testament occurs in the days after Jesus’ death. In John 20, Mary Magdalene goes to Joseph’s tomb to prepare the body of Jesus for preservation. She finds the tomb empty, and after telling the disciples of her discovery, returns to the tomb and weeps.

Years after my initial faith crisis and transition, I can still feel her pain echo sharply in my chest. I know the pain of searching for a Savior and finding and empty tomb. I know what it feels like not to see what you believed was there.

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.”
Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

When I couldn’t see myself in the tomb of my former faith, I felt like Mary searching for Jesus. I felt like someone had taken away my identity, and I didn’t know where to find myself once the stone was removed from door. I didn’t recognize myself when I first left my faith, I didn’t know how to see myself as anything other than the image presented to me at church: the unholy and ungodly distortion of an idealized feminine form that didn’t match how I saw myself in my heart.  I kept searching the tomb and weeping when no one was there.

What if Mary never left the tomb? What if she never found Jesus, and never learned of the miracle of his resurrection? What if she never heard Jesus’ message: “Peace I leave unto you,” because she never turned back?

Mary couldn’t see Jesus until he called her name, until he recognized her, until he “saw” her. Only then was she able to see her Master, only then could she stop looking for Jesus in the empty tomb, only then could she run and tell the world “He is risen.”

What if I never left my own tomb? What if I continued to drown searching for myself in a gospel that did not recognize me? What if I never learned to see my own worth outside the confines of Mormonism, and what if I remained a spiritually dead corpse, never finding a resurrected soul in the graveyard of my faith?

Like Mary, I turned myself back. I stopped looking for my body in the tomb of my former faith, and begun to to see myself: a living, breathing, fully visible self. I heard my name. After years of mourning and grief, I could finally leave the tomb and tell the world of my resurrection.

So weep not, she is risen.


the sometimes people.

Here are some things I've been thinking about:

Since ____________ (departing, going inactive, moving on?) from Mormonism, it's been very hard  to accept that there will always be people in my life who think I made a mistake. In the past few years, loved ones have taken time to let me know how much their relationship with the church means to them, and how desperately they need me to know it is "True" in the same way they believe the church is true. They know, without any doubts or reservations that they are living their lives in the correct way, and they know I ought to be doing the same thing.

Sometimes I think their motives are less than pure. It can be very threatening when someone rejects previously shared values. Sometimes friends tell me we can't be friends anymore because I cause them to question what they believe, and they don't like it.

Sometimes their motives are very pure, and I remember the zeal and confidence that comes from knowing something. It makes it so easy to assume that if someone just prayed harder, or exercised more faith, or somehow became more like you, they would change their hearts and come back to the fold. If it worked for you, it should work for anyone, since that is how Truth works in Mormonism.

Sometimes people need to know something because they based every decision in their life, from who they married, to their careers, to how they raise their children, on their notion of truth being True. To question that, or allow someone else to, would cause them to not only question their faith, but their entire sense of being. I don't expect anyone to do that for me.

So it really isn't the knowing friends that bother me, at least not anymore. I know I can't ever change their mind, and trying would only cause significant conflict, and I'm not in the business of hurting people just to prove a point.

Instead, it's the friends that see just enough nuance in my situation to come very close to accepting me for who I am, only to fall back on their belief in universal Truth to avoid the abyss of pluralism and dichotomy and gray.

Sometimes they agree that maybe the church isn't the best place for me right now, they agree that God might tell someone it was okay to leave, as a trial and test of faith. Strong people like me who leave the faith are just "a sign of the times" a sign that even though Satan might get a few "good ones," it just means Jesus is coming soon, so everything will work out. Whatever the reason, I am a problem that eventually will be solved. This is the charitable view, the Christ-like view, the one people like me are expected to respond to with gratitude.

Sometimes, people try and be empathetic by telling me how sad my situation is. In many ways, loss of  faith is sad, but their misplaced empathy  creates a "deficit" view of my life: my life is "sad" because it isn't the same as their life, not because faith transitions are frequently painful and challenging.

 Overcoming this internalized deficit thinking is very difficult for me, mostly because I didn't realize how much I let this type of thinking influence my perception of self.  Learning how abandon the  deficit mentality model: the idea that because I'm no longer a believing Mormon, my life is somehow less happy, less good, less honorable, less everything, will probably take me a very long time. That's okay.

Part of overcoming deficit thinking is accepting that some people will always believe I've made a mistake. If I can accept their Truth as right for them, (I believe Mormonism is true for people who need it to be true, because their reality belongs to them,) I need to actively believe my Truth is true for me, even if no one else agrees with me.

That  seems obvious, but I was raised in an environment that praises conformity with ritual and ceremony. When I was baptized, friends and family celebrated with me. People traveled long distances to honor my temple wedding. Every week, people praised and supported me and my fellow Mormons for our lessons, our talks, our tangible manifestations of faith. People frequently told me how proud they were of me, how happy the felt when I made the same choices they did, the choices deemed acceptable by a God who grew increasingly unfamiliar in the months leading up to my initial crisis of faith.

When I left, no one was proud. There was no ceremony celebrating my decision, a decision I believe represents my integrity and honesty. There are no medallions for young women who leave.

Unless we make them ourselves.

I'm learning to view my life outside a deficit model. To stop seeing my new faith as a lesser equivalent to Mormonism, as a sad and deficient outcome of spiritual failure.

My life is no less honorable or holy because I left the church. When I think of all the opportunities my choice grants me, I am filled with joy. I am filled with joy every time I recognize myself in my thoughts and my actions, a self I abandoned for years as I tried to fit a mold that did not accommodate a very big soul. I am happy when I realize that my relationship with divinity and spirituality is mine alone, and my many mistakes are not sins, but chances to grow and thrive. There are no limits to my potential.

The most transcendent and spiritual experience of my life occurred the moment I realized my past life was over without feeling sad. When I let go of my grief, and my anger, and my sadness, I saw my world explode with possibility and wonder. The air filled with light, and I physically felt my soul re-enter my body, and felt the world turn technicolor after months of black and white.

So where is my deficit? The negative space supposedly left in my heart when I abandoned someone else's notion of Truth?

When I stop letting the Sometimes people dictate my worth, I move one step further away from the deficit model of spirituality, and one step closer to the world I created when I let my soul crash back into my body. That's where I am now, and where I want to stay.

That's what I've been thinking about lately.


Some ramblings on some letters to the editor....

Over the years I've developed a relatively thick-skin regarding reader responses to my writing. But any advances I've made in overcoming my natural over- sensitivity are the result of hard cognitive training and time- certainly not by way of natural ability. I work hard to recognize that negative reader responses are a natural result of public writing, while simultaneously acknowledging that many times the things written about me aren't automatically true simply because someone else believes it. (That's true of what I write about things too, I guess.) 

I also work hard to see constructive critics as editors I don't have to pay for: they help me develop more nuanced and complex thoughts in order to defend my opinion, and that's very valuable, even when the criticism stings. 

There is, however, a hierarchy to the type of comments I receive, and I tend to react differently based on where I perceive the comment to fall. For instance, attacks regarding my religious and spiritual beliefs rarely bother me anymore. I get it. You think I'm a stupid feminist who has penis envy, and therefore wants the Priesthood to compensate for my anatomical deficiencies. That's fine. Carry on. I don't bother thinking about these criticisms because there is nothing I can do to change their mind. No matter how deeply or carefully I express my spiritual convictions, until I agree with Mr. Penis Envy, he (or she) isn't going to change their opinion of me, or even engage in any type of meaningful dialogue. Same goes for people who disagree with my political views, or my liberal tendencies.

While I usually don't spend too much energy on truly ridiculous feedback, if the argument or claims are insane enough, I tend to find them hysterically funny, and therefore worthy of incorporation, at random, into conversations. My current favorite phrase: IT'S THE LIBERTY BELL, NOT THE EQUALITY BELL, a reader response to a column I wrote about female ordination. I use it kind of like a swear, which is handy when you have a two year old who repeats everything you say and traditional swears become tricky. 

Openly violent,  sexually graphic, or hostile comments still bother me a lot. Logically, I know to ignore these comments completely, but I admit that they sometimes make me scared. I don't believe anyone is going to hurt me (I hope I'm right,) but it makes me nervous that there are people in the world who react so strongly to differences of opinion, thereby justifying a threat of physical violence. I'm mostly scared because I don't understand the rationale, and therefore cannot predict the end result. Is the threat enough? Someone once looked up my home address and sent me really long screedy letter on how stupid and awful I was. It wasn't threatening, but obviously someone felt strongly enough to hunt down my address. What if that isn't enough for the next weirdo? I don't know. 

I get stupidly annoyed by letters to the editor or comments that don't actually reflect anything I wrote. For instance, a few weeks ago I wrote about the new AP U.S. History curriculum, and the backlash in conservative circles to what they perceived as a "hostile liberal take-over" of the curriculum. 

If you want, you can read the column in City Weekly HERE. 

In response, someone wrote in this letter to the editor:

Who the What?
In what alternate reality would Anita Sarkeesian be worthy of a mention in an AP U.S. History class [“Teach Me Liberty,” Oct. 23, City Weekly]?
A blogger? Are you kidding me? Did she bump Al Sharpton from the syllabus? Hopefully, teaching them to think critically includes the ability to recognize leftist claptrap when they see it.
I challenge Ms. Lauritzen to ask her enlightened students which party fought for the Civil Rights Act and which party filibustered it. What was the party affiliation of the governor who fought school integration?
Remember: Don’t fear teaching them the truth—and the means to explain why—to avoid being a failure.
Dave Cloes
Since this is my blog, where I can do whatever I want, I'm going to take a minute to explain why this bothers me. Would it be reasonable, or even possible, to do this with every letter? Of course not. But it's a good example of the often dysfunctional relationship between the producer and the consumer of opinion media. And like I said, I'm irked.
First, in my column I mentioned rising suicide rates among LGBT teens, and the death threats against Anita Sarkeesian, to make a point: minority groups are often excluded from the traditional history curriculum, perhaps explaining why their voices and experiences are silenced in contemporary culture. I never said I intended to teach a lesson on, or even mention, Anita Sarkeesian* in class. I did say that I disagreed with conservatives who believe this statement from the APUSH curriculum, "Activists began to question society's assumption about gender and to call for social and economic equality for women and gays and lesbians" represents some liberal revisionist conspiracy. Rather, I believe it's historically relevant to discuss the activism for gender equality, especially since the fight isn't over yet, as evidenced by the recent media focus on LGBT suicide rates, and the backlash to Sarkeesian's statements on gender and media. In class, I'd most likely mention Harvey Milk and Gloria Steinem, as well as their early activist grandparents, i.e. Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton. (Though I suspect Mr. Cloes wouldn't like Milk or Steinem much either. Fortunately, he doesn't write the AP Curriculum.) 
Secondly, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. I hate, hate, hate, the smug "gotcha" type comments trolls make, especially when they aren't based on anything I said. Here, Dave (can I call you Dave?) assumes that because I'm a Democrat, and because I disagree with some Republicans on how to teach history, I must be too cowardly to teach about good things Republican presidents or politicians contribute to our country. "I challenge Ms. Lauritzen to ask her enlightened students which party fought for the Civil Rights Act!" Hahahahaa GOTCHA MS. LAURITZEN! HUH? HUH? WHATCHA GONNA DO NOW."

This particular GOTCHA comment is especially stupid since I never claimed, or even implied, that I disagreed with the conservative attacks against the AP curriculum because the Republican party is inherently evil and therefore all mention of them must be scrubbed from the curriculum. I disagree with the attacks by (some) conservative Republicans because I don't believe exclusively teaching American exceptionalism is appropriate, nor do I think examining the negative aspects of American history renders one "anti-American."
In fact, I recognized that the new curriculum is sometimes biased in favor of liberal perspectives, and that the solution to education bias is to provide a variety of "balanced and robust" materials to the curriculum, meaning perspectives from both sides of the party line, as well as perspectives from multiple historical disciplines. When I say I intend to teach American history, even the dark parts, I have zero qualms including members of the Democratic party in that process. I challenge enlightened readers to reread my article before accusing me of promoting "leftist claptrap."

In the end though, and this is what drives angry readers to hunt down my address, or try and catch me in some "GOTCHA" mind-trap, it comforts me to realize that people who attack my character, or my beliefs, or threaten my physical safety, do so in an act of desperation. It's a futile attempt to stop me from doing something they don't like: wanting female ordination, teaching about LGBT rights and feminism, or even simply existing on the same planet.  

But they know they can't succeed, hence the turn to their keyboards. Even if I was a crazed penis-envying messenger of Satan refusing to recognize the failures of any registered Democrat, there's nothing anyone else can do about it. Just like some of my angry readers, I get to say what I want. **

And that makes me really proud to be an American. It really, truly, does. 

*Except for, after the AP test is over, how interesting would it be to create a mini-unit on outraged responses to female activists throughout U.S. history. We could start with the Grimk√© sisters, or maybe Sojourner Truth, and work our way through Alice Paul to the Riot Grrl Manifesto, and culminate in a glorious day of Sarkeesian idol worship. Anyone who objects fails fourth quarter! That would actually be a really fascinating series of lesson plans. 

 (I need to be very clear that I'm kidding about the failing part, and the idol worship part, because sometimes people are very literal.)

** With obvious exceptions regarding hate speech, or any other violation of someone else's rights

I also recognize that while I can hypothetically say whatever I want, I can't always control the consequences. If I truly intended to refuse discussing anything negative regarding the Democratic Party in AP US History, while forcing students to tear out any textbook pages referencing Ronald Reagan as they quietly prayed by whispering excerpts from President Obama's Inaugural Address, I probably would get fired. Good thing I don't actually do that. #leftistclaptrap


before they died, a lot of people told me I was a really good listener....

Sometimes you find a piece of literature so profoundly life-changing it almost makes you believe (or reaffirms your belief) in a divine presence guiding the universe. How else can you explain that one book or poem that so completely describes your person?

For me, those books are The Poisonwood Bible and My Name is Asher Lev. And...

THIS article. The title alone should merit a click-over: Sorry I Murdered Everyone, But I'm an Introvert.

Some noteworthy excerpts:

Sorry that everyone is dead. They weren’t respecting my quiet power and inner strength. It’s a common misconception that introverts can’t lead; we’re just not always the first to speak up.

Some famous introverts include Albert Einstein, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, and all of your friends are dead.

I’m so sorry I killed your friends. Making small talk is just really hard for me. It’s so stressful.

Spouseman can testify that when my introvert need for space and time to recharge isn't met, I'm absolutely misanthropic, if not actually murderous. A story: once, some old neighbors came to visit us unexpectedly. I walked in the door from work, and there they were! Sitting on our couch, casually chatting with Spouseman.

Usually after work I immediately retreat into my bedroom cave to recharge for a while (sometimes a long while) until emerging to actually participate as a member of a family unit. It isn't my favorite thing about myself, but possibly going to prison because I killed Dan for asking about my day is also not my favorite thing, so I take what I can get.

That day, I got friends. Friends I really enjoy! Friends I didn't see very much, and might not see again for a few more years, since they announced plans to move.  Friends who, had I known they were coming, would make me feel excited and happy about their impending arrival.

But I really, really needed to go sit in my bedroom quietly for a little while. Without these friends sitting on my couch outside my door TALKING and INTERACTING. (The nerve!)

After a quick trip to the bathroom for a mini-freak out, I joined the happy group in the living room. An hour turned into two, and then three, and then Dan invited them to stay for dinner. Dinner, and then, oh hey, who wants brownies? That take an hour to cook! Brownies. More talking. More interacting. By the time they left, it was late, and I as soon as the door shut, I burst into tears. After a few minutes, my tears turned to straight-up frustration. Why hadn't they called beforehand to tell us they wanted to stop by? Who stays at someone's house for that long? DAN. WHY DID YOU INVITE THEM TO DINNER, YOU MONSTER???????????  Sorry I butchered all of your friends in front of you. It’s just that I’d rather curl up at home with a good book than go to a party.

Spouseman was naturally very confused. For him, the evening was fun and invigorating. In all honesty, we'd both had a good time. (Especially when I realized I could take mini-breaks by excusing myself to check on dinner, or change the wash, or check on the cats, etc.) We had just spent the evening with people we loved, and everyone was funny and smart and engaging, so why was I crying?

I explained that I'd been at work since 7:00 a.m., and it was now almost 9:00 pm. That's 14 hours of unadulterated social interaction. I spend my days teaching reluctant teenagers, and repeating the same instructions over and over, (MAKE SURE TO WRITE YOUR NAME ON YOUR PAPER, GUYS! No, you cannot use the hall pass. Can you elaborate on what you mean? Give me an example from the text!) sitting in meetings with agendas I'm convinced could be accomplished more effectively with an email, and trying to talk anxious parents off the ledge via phone when they call the school insisting I explain why their child received a B

By the time I make it home, I need to sit quietly and not talk. Not because I dislike my job, I actually really enjoy teaching most of the time. I need to sit quietly and not talk because my job uses up my mental and emotional resources faster than I can replenish them. It doesn't matter how much I like someone, or how much I want to enjoy spending five hours talking with them, after a long day of work, I need a break.  It’s simply an issue of supply and demand.

I always feel bad when I identify as an introvert who needs lots of alone time. I worry that my friends think I am telling them I don’t want to hang out with them, or that I’m secretly miserable the whole time we are together. It’s not true! At worst, I’m just planning on maiming you. (I’m kidding, I promise.)

 I love spending time with friends, and I get lonely when I go too long without seeing or talking to people I care about.  But I want to give my friends my best self, and not the self secretly planning their imminent demise because they ambushed me after work.

Today I noticed that I unintentionally plan lessons with lots of student group or partner assignments on days I have plans after work. Subconsciously, I’m trying to preserve my social interaction resources during the day so I can socialize later. I probably won’t lecture much on days I want to meet friends at the park, and I probably won’t make playdates on days with lots of work meetings or class discussion.  Just like a novice runner shouldn't try to run a marathon without training, I know 14 hours of social interaction will end in nothing but tears and premeditation.

I’m getting better at identifying my needs as an introvert with a very extroverted job. I haven’t cried after seeing a friend in years, so that’s progress.

But I won’t lie, sometimes I can’t help thinking that if you were all dead, you wouldn't keep trying to talk to me. And solitary confinement sounds awfully peaceful.


Halloween is the only pure holiday

(If you are the introverted, overly-sensitive, vaguely misanthropic type.)

Halloween is my favorite holiday. Here's why:

 No mandatory emotions. As someone who frequently exclaims "ughhhh feelings" whenever a Hallmark commercial interrupts my Hulu, I don't like feeling forced to feel something just because it the calendar tells me I should. I start to get really stressed out around mid-November when it becomes apparent that I am the only human on earth not participating in some daily gratitude challenge.

Am I grateful for things? Absolutely. Is it nice and emotionally healthy to set aside some specific time to deliberately consider your blessings and privilege? Of course! I just don't like feeling obligated to do so on a timetable.

Let's not even talk about Christmas, a time you are expected to be most grateful for your family,  during the very season they are most likely driving you nuts.Oh, you and your family spend the holidays sitting around a fire singing carols and rescuing homeless match-stick orphan children? That's adorable. Are you Whos? Down in Whoville? Members of my family have been known to engage in hours-long screaming matches on Why It Is Important to Be Christ-like During the Holidays followed by a  very terse unwrapping of presents and a fun blame-game of Who Ruined Christmas the Most This Year. Oh family, I love you so much. But sometimes Holidays bring out the worst in us, and I blame Mandatory Emotions.

And then there's Jesus. Evidence that long before Pinterest, baby's birthday parties were over-the- top and anxiety inducing. (Side-note: Can you imagine the gifts the Christ-child would receive if folks had  access to Pinterest? Burlap bunting to decorate the mange! Chalkboard paint wrapping paper! GLITTER. Instead of a star announcing the birth of the Savior, a heavily filtered Instagram photo, #hark#benotafraid#goodtidingsofgreatjoy)

If you are a Christian, there's a lot of Mandatory Emotions about Jesus at Christmastime. Are you putting the Christ back in Christmas? How's your excitement-about-presents-versus-excitement- about-eternal-salvation ratio looking? Basically the only feeling I'm capable of producing on command is anxiety, and I've spent many a Holiday Season worried that I wasn't celebrating the right way. I don't have any Christmas Miracle Epiphany stories or anything that would translate well into an LDS testimony meeting.

I also hate crowds at Temple Square, ugly sweater parties, and Elf on the &*%$damn shelf, so clearly I'm going to hell. But it will be warm there, and if that whole Jesus thing works out, less crowded.So I'm feeling surprisingly unanxious about that right now.

Valentines Day, Easter, (the Candy vs. Eternal Salvation  excitement ratio is equally brutal,) Fourth of July, (FEEL PATRIOTIC RIGHT NOW, OKAY. WE ARE GOING TO LIGHT EXPLOSIVES TO HELP YOU FEEL PATRIOTIC. GOD BLESS AMERICA.) all of these Holidays encourage Mandatory Emotions and I'm too much of a broken robot to handle it.

Two days before Halloween I took Clara to a tiny pumpkin patch with some of our friends. We were the only group there, and the nice owner took us on a hay-ride to choose a toddler-sized pumpkin to take back home. We climbed on our  hay-bale seats and waited for the tractor to start up and pull us through the field. When it did, Clara clapped and giggled with excitement. The wind blew our hair, and later we held hands as she ran through the kiddie corn maze.

On Halloween, Clara dressed up as "a pink butterfly dress with a crown" and she skipped up each street waving her "royal wand" and whispering "trick or treat" over and over.

 At each house, I'd ring the doorbell, and Clara would turn to me, using her most serious voice, to reassure me about the expected outcome of my door-ringing: "I'm sure they're home, Mom. I'm sure." She'd wait with her hands folded in front of her, her eyes expectant and laser-focused on the door. She charmed every neighbor, and I about died with pride for my sweet little pink butterfly with a crown.

We were happy. The real kind of happiness that doesn't feel forced or mandatory, or followed by a chaser of guilt for not feeling the right kind of happy or grateful or patriotic or twitterpated.

 Halloween is the only pure holiday.

There's a lesson in this story, somewhere. But...... ugh, feelings. Instead, I leave you with this.


Work that is Real

             First, thank you to everyone who found my blog via Tapestry on CBC. I've received several emails from program listeners, and it's a pleasure to get to know each of you. For those of you unaware, I did an interview with Tapestry last year. They re-aired the interview today, and you can listen to it by clicking HERE.

             Blatant self-promotion aside, I've been thinking about this space again, and in honor of my Tapestry interview, I thought I'd bring back an old MCB tradition: explaining how I feel with a poem. (I mention a poem by Nikki Giovanni in my interview, and because CBC is awesome, host Mary Hynes contacted Giovanni and interviewed her as well. You should listen to that part of the interview. It's amazing.)

            Anyway, behold: a poem.

To be of useby Marge Piercy
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I shared this poem with my friend Gurr last year. Gurr is probably the most non "parlor general" person I know. But it is a personal mantra for me too: I want to do the work that is real.

My job as a teacher is not glamorous. Every day I strain in the mud and the muck, and do what has to be done, again and again. The only thing getting me through the long days and the frustration is the hope that I am making something with a "shape that satisfies, clean, and evident." I am grateful for work that listens to my soul's cry for water to carry. At the end of hard days I picture the black heads of seals, and keep swimming.

Spiritually, it's been a long time since I shared anything particularly personal on my blog. My last "real" post on faith  hid a lot behind words of other people. I realized I was scared of saying anything real, of showing any part of my soul to a world that might respond unkindly. I've become more private, but less vulnerable, in the last few months.

I've  also felt ashamed of myself, somehow. Ashamed that things hurt me, ashamed of being weak in public spaces, and determined not to let anyone see the process of turning clay into vases and pitchers, pretending that I'm content to live as a relic in a  museum. Work is hard and messy, and it's easier to hide until the work is done, and you're dead, and no one can criticize you.

Reading this poem reminded me that I shouldn't be ashamed of my work, or my life. I listened to the Tapestry interview again today, and I realized that even during the saddest most difficult parts, I sound strong. I sound like myself. I sound like I harnessed myself to a heavy cart, and pulled through. I'm proud of myself.

The work of my life will continue to remain unglamorous, and most likely, I'll swim and pull and create relatively privately. But I'll do this without being ashamed of the work I've created, of the harvest I've sown,or of the mud I've shaped. My work-both in my classroom and in my soul- is real, and made to be used.

As always, thanks for following along.