out of discord

"Opposition brings concord. Out of discord comes the fairest harmony." Hereclitus

Confession: I've felt weird about my last post (regarding Laurel Thatcher Ulrich) since I hit "post." One of my few rules in blogging is that I will not use my blog to hurt other people.* There have been times when, in battling feels of anger or betrayal, I've wanted to use this platform to fight back. To reveal how ridiculous or silly someone is, while painting myself as the victim or victor, depending on the circumstances.

But I will not use this blog as a platform to hurt people. It isn't fair, and it isn't right.

At the same time, however, I think it is okay to respond to ideas or concepts I don't agree with. While I struggle with showing emotions in public, it's easy and healthy for me to show them here. Not only is it easy and healthy, but in many ways, it improves my writing. Admitting that I was hurt by something said about me lends an honesty to my writing that I can only hope to duplicate in real life. So while I will not use my blog to hurt people, I will try and find a balance in honestly writing what I know, and what I feel, and protecting the people in my life who did not consent to an online presence on my blog.

 In struggling with how to present certain people or circumstances in my writing, I've discovered an uncomfortable truth about myself. Despite a potentially hyper-sensitive ability to see nuance in theories and belief, I struggle to see nuance in individuals. It is easy for me to see the world as one filled with superheroes and villains. I justify this because I see myself in a similarly dichotomous light. I've written before about my struggles with demanding personal perfection, but I didn't realize how I apply the same destructive standard of perfection to other people.

A few months ago I said something very stupid and hurtful in a Mormon Feminist forum filled with people I didn't know. Some of what I said was rooted in truth, and some of it was just anger and frustration, and all of what I said wasn't very nice. Naturally, many people were angry about my comment. But what surprised me was the readiness in which some people dismissed me as "bad," a villain in our own Mormon Feminist Gotham. Days after (equally unfairly) being praised as a hero, I became the evil genius, identified solely by a misguided comment online.

The most painful part of this experience were the disappointed messages from people who didn't know me, including one that said "It's too bad, I really wanted to like you."

Similarly, a friend recently ended a friendship with me because of a series of small disagreements. To me, they were nothing insurmountable, just a different approach to living. But for her, the disagreements were a sign of disloyalty. Likewise, I failed to be as sensitive and understanding to her needs as a person. It was a painful time for her, too. Both of us unfairly concluded that I was either with her or against her, and the nuance we both shared regarding the rest of the world did not extend to our admittedly fledgling friendship. It was an incredibly painful experience in an already painful time, made even more poignant by my inability to remedy the situation.

Eliciting similar reactions to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was not the intention of my last post. I recognize that I'm small potatoes and don't have the kind of power to make people like or dislike a particular person. But intent is important to me, and my intention wasn't to cause people to think "Too bad, I really wanted to like her."

A friend recently asked me why I continue to write things when the internet is filled with really mean people, some of whom are convinced that I'm akin to the Anti-Christ. (Potential topic of discussion with a therapist: why do I see these sort of those accusations as a compliment, believing that you know you've made it when someone sees you as a potential sign of Armageddon? Might want to look into that...)

I write because it gives me empathy. I write on the internet because it forces me to recognize and alter the flawed belief that people either exist as superheroes or villains in my personal narrative. The woman who left the angry comment accusing me of hating men (and babies, and Jesus, and...) is someone's mother and someone's wife. She said a really mean thing to me, but she probably volunteers somewhere in her free time. She's probably a loving and devoted Mom.

She's probably in a lot of pain sometimes, too. Interacting with world via the internet has given me a tiny insight into human nature: most of us are in a lot of pain, a lot of the time, sometimes without even realizing it.

When I choose to see people as either good or bad, friend or foe, I limit my ability to really see them for who they are. If Heraclitus (and a bunch of Mormon people) are right about the necessity of opposition in all things, I cannot limit people to the confines of either good or evil. To do so would to see the world as a place full of archetypes, and to continue to force myself to fit into a paradigm of accepting nothing short personal perfection. If I want to reserve the right to forgive myself for the many, many mistakes I make, I must to learn first to stop classifying people as "good" or "bad" based on their interactions with me.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (or anyone else) isn't "bad" or "wrong" for disagreeing with me (obviously). She exists in the same universe I do, with good and bad irreconcilably  intertwined, and a whole lot of neutral ground as people just try and survive.

So I write to learn enough empathy to see people as humans, not Jokers or Zod, Supermen or Batmen. I write so that selfishly I can learn to see myself as I really am, even if that person may not be as cool as being the Anti-Christ.

* Have sometimes failed. I'm sorry.


Short Lessons on Mormon Feminism

          So I liked THIS article on Mormon Feminism in City Weekly and not just because I was quoted in it, or because my friend wrote it. But I have some thoughts on some things, as one does. Here they are:

1. I agree with the premise of Ordain Women. I think the church should move toward full-equality yesterday and I think it is a good thing to ask for female ordination directly.

I also think small victories and gradual changes in thought dynamics should be celebrated, because life is short and celebrate what you can. I think the two strains of activism need and thrive off each other in positive ways. We don't need to create artificial divisions in the Mormon Feminist movement, for instance, suggesting that you either support small, gradual changes OR you only advocate for full and complete equality. Welcome to 2013, you can have both. This is feminism vs. patriarchy, not feminism A versus feminism B. I can say this now because I used to think this way, and I realized it was wrong.

(I'm not suggesting that was what Kate Kelly meant, but it is an argument I hear frequently, and I don't agree with it.) 

2. I admire Laurel Thatcher Ulrich immensely. I grew up reading Ulrich, and her works shaped my perspective in many ways. So naturally I was a little put-off by her dismissive response to the current strain of Mormon Feminists:

"I don’t think many of the Mormon feminists I know worry much about what they wear to church on Sunday or even whether women pray in General Conference."

Maybe you need to get to know some more Mormon Feminists, Ms. Ulrich. I run a facebook group of about 800 of them who care very deeply about what they wore to church on December 16th. Their feelings are just as important and valid as yours. 

I also refuse to accept that a person who won the Pulitzer Prize doesn't understand the significance of visual imagery (It wasn't about what we wear to church, and everyone, including Ulrich knows it,) or the significance of seeing a woman in a leadership position for the first time in our well-behaved history.

In regards to this quote from the article: "Ulrich knows feminists who are “lawyers, college professors, CEOs, politicians.” These women “raise their voices often and well in local settings where they are usually heard,” she says, adding that they “are too busy trying to make a difference in areas where they have significant responsibility to worry a lot about what is happening in SLC.”

I think it is wonderful that there are female, feminist "lawyers, college professors, CEOs, and politicians" who have avenues in which to express themselves and change the world. But there are also Stay-At-Home Moms and teenagers and college students, and under-employed writers and artists and dreamers who also need to have their voices heard. For those people, Wear Pants to Church Day afforded them the right to express their views in a small and meaningful way. I think it is disrespectful to those men and women to suggest that the only place to be a feminist is the work-force. I also think it is strange that Ulrich wouldn't include church as a place where women "can make a difference." 

I also respectfully reject the idea that it is somehow superior not to "worry about" things that seem "beneath you,"  or which happen in SLC. I believe our Heavenly Father is a feminist. I believe our Heavenly Mother is a feminist. I believe Jesus is a feminist. The same Jesus who counts the hairs on my head and watches sparrows fall worries about what happens in SLC. Small people, and small things, matter. Our Heavenly Family celebrates the victories of both CEOS and young mothers who dressed their baby girl in pants back in December. 

There is also something deeply important about having your voice heard at home. I'm a teacher, I have a wonderful career that I value, and where I feel my voice is heard and appreciated. Not just with my students, but with my colleagues as well. 

But I wanted to hear my voice heard at home. For all of my life, the LDS chapel has been my spiritual home. It is where I was raised to talk to God. I may move away from home, explore new avenues, and talk to God in numerous other places, but for me, wearing Pants to church was a test of the old adage, "you can never go home again." I wanted to know that if I went to church as my true self, my wandering-hearted, angry feminist self, if God would still hear me. Turns out God was listening. 

Which, in the end, means I guess it shouldn't matter (and I will repeat this to myself over and over until I believe it,) if a childhood idol dismisses my actions as less than those of a CEO or politician. It was never about making history anyways. 


daughter, believe me

This poem is a High School English class staple, (Extended metaphors!Enjambment!) but I love it anyway. It is also a perfect poem for father's day. 

First Lesson

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you. 


providers and homemakers

          disclaimer: I'm talking about life choices that work for me, and my family. I recognize the validity of many life choices for many different families, including those incorporating "traditional" gender roles or work/life arrangements.

             I made dinner tonight. Nothing to clap your hands about, but it was edible and mostly healthy, and when we sat down to eat, I exclaimed, "Look! We are eating dinner like a real family!" I know, I know, I'm lame. This dinner was approximately the 28th meal I've made in 6 years of marriage. It is probably the 19th meal that was actually tasty.Not that I'm counting. (Of course I'm counting, I'm obsessive compulsive about numbers.)

           In my defense, I'm married to a man who enjoys cooking, and it made sense for him to be the meal-provider in the first few years of our marriage. He had flexible work hours, he liked it, it worked for us. But in the last few months, his work has become increasingly demanding, and with me working part-time, it made sense for me to bite the bullet and learn that my husband wasn't playing a trick on me when he sent me to the store for white pepper. White pepper is a thing. Shallots look like onions. Things bake differently at different altitudes. Flour and powdered sugar look the same, but are not the same, so maybe taste test first if you are an idiot.

            Tonight was my best dinner yet, and I felt stupidly proud about it. I felt really happy to provide food for my family. I wondered if this is what women felt when they talked rapturously about the joys of "homemaking." You make something nice for the people you love and it makes you feel proud and happy.

           I'm not going to lie, it also felt really good to be successful at something traditionally "feminine." I made dinner! I'm practically June Cleaver! In many ways, I am not great at the "girl" thing. I don't wear make-up frequently. I hate my hips and boobs because it means I can't wear the androgynous clothing that looks so effing amazing on "boyish" figures. My hair sucks a lot of the time. Beauty magazines confuse me. I know those are stereotypes, and not truly "girl" or "female" things, but I live in a culture that values those things, and I can't help feel defective sometimes when I don't measure up. But I cooked dinner, so I'm not a complete girl failure, right?

            I realize though, that the feelings of pride, the feeling of happiness that stems from providing something for my family is something I've felt frequently the last few years. I feel the same thing when my husband breaks his hand during ward ball, and the surgery to wrap his bones in titanium wire is covered by my health insurance. I might not make much as a teacher, but my insurance is good, and has been invaluable to our family, since Spouseman is self-employed. When Clara needs antibiotics, or I need a C-section, I don't have to worry about where the money will come from.

            Similarly, when Spouseman has a slow month at work, I take pride in the stability my income provides us. Every year when I sign my intent-to-return form at school, I am guaranteeing my family one more year of stable income. (Unless I sleep with a teen or something. Cross your fingers THAT doesn't happen.) You can say it is superficial or silly of me to need the validation of a paycheck for my hard work (Shouldn't the kisses and hugs from your child be enough you say?) but I love knowing that I help contribute financially to my household. It makes me feel like a good parent, the same way feeding my daughter home-made enchiladas with broccoli tonight made me feel happy and proud.

            This is why I get so annoyed when people suggest that men and women are inherently better at certain life-functions. I'm not saying men and women are the same, so put your biology book down and spare me the "men are physically stronger" and designed to work outside the home lecture. My annoyance lies with the idea that men are men, so they do xyz, and women are women, so they do abc. Throw a line about how archaic and grossly-oversimplified gender roles are somehow "divine" and I'll have a hard time controlling my eye-rolls.

             Some people would like me, at this point, to say that I may be a great provider, but it's because I'm not very nurturing. That I really am a failure at the "girl thing" that is being a mother. That isn't true. I'm a great nurturer. Like any parent, I'm flawed, but not only do I love my child, but I am good at translating that love into caring for her emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. But I'm not a great "nurturer" because I'm a mother, or a weirdo who doesn't recognize my divine role when I provide financially for my family. Working and parenting aren't gender roles: they are people roles, and anyone can be good at them, or alternately, suck royally and raise a psychopath.

             Awhile ago, my friend pinned this C.S. Lewis quote: "The homemaker is has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only...to support the ultimate career." I didn't like this quote. Mostly because I don't like C.S. Lewis, (I know, I know!) but also because it seemed like something I would read on some mommy-war internet forum, in which the working moms and stay-at-homers battle it out to the benefit of no one.

            But after thinking about it for awhile, realizing I didn't like it because I didn't think I could claim the title of "homemaker." And I want all the things. It made me mad I couldn't be a "homemaker." I mean, I signed a contract to go back to work full-time next year, didn't I? But then I realized that if "traditional" gender roles are antiquated, this word, this "homemaker" thing is probably due for a revamp too.

           I'm a homemaker. I'm a homemaker in the most literal sense, because my income pays for stuff in our home, sometimes including our home.  I'm a homemaker in an emotional sense: my income allows my husband to recognize his dream of starting and growing a business from scratch. We are both happy and fulfilled in our careers (but also sometimes very tired,) and what could be more important in the creation of a home than filling it with happy people? Our daughter is happy and healthy and thriving, and we couldn't imagine our family without her. She is a homemaker too. *

            Even when I'm at work, I'm  homemaker. My work, like everyone's work, influences the world around me, I'm part of my student's homes, and my husband helps build companies that sell the goods and products in your homes. Homemaker. Something no one told me about work-life balance is that work and life are not two separate things to manage. They are two things that have to work together to be successful.

          So yes, C.S. Lewis, even though I think you were occasionally a dickalope, (Did you have to ruin Mere Christianity with that bit about how women shouldn't be allowed to work because they would just gossip and back-stab each other too much?) you might be on to something. My ability to make a home, through my work, through my parenting, through my relationship with my Spouse: it's the ultimate career. But I couldn't do it without Dan, both of us, providing and nurturing and mother-effing homemaking together. 

*This is not to say we don't sometimes screw up, or that I don't come home so tired from teaching that the idea of taking care of Clara until bed-time makes me want to throw-up, or that everything is perfect. Perfect doesn't exist, good-enough and mostly happy does.