Even When You’re Not.

It’s National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I’m going with this picture to commemorate the day. It’s me, right after my last chemo in November 2014.

imageI think it says a lot. It says things I like to say and that people like to hear.

What it doesn’t say? Cancer: It’s terrifying, and expensive, and so lonely, no matter how much the people who love you try to love you during and after. And none of that has anything to do with how hard you “fight,” because that isn’t the way it works, and sometimes angry and depressed people make a full recovery and sometimes people full of peace and joy and light and positivity and do not. Because Cancer doesn’t care about your attitude. Or how much money you make. Or what kind of insurance you have. Or how you voted. Or if you’re a nice person, or an unkind person, or a religious person, or a person with a family. It doesn’t care because it’s not a person; it doesn’t strike because it isn’t a missile and it wasn’t aimed at anyone. All it does, really…is happen.

And I didn’t think so much about it before it happened to me, but now, just in the two and a half years that I’ve been in remission, it’s happened to so many people that I know and care about.

And I see them being strong and brave and wise and funny and–well, Ripley. They are all Ellen Ripley. Badass. The hero of the story. Not fearless, but enduring all kinds of things in spite of, and while continuing to experience, fear. Which is the actual brave part, because–and I am kind of only now figuring this out–you couldn’t be brave if you were never afraid in the first place. So rock on, you fantastic, bald, port-implanted, needle-bruised Ellen Ripley.

And I, well, I maintain that I’m Hudson. At least I have in the past. But you know what? No. As great as he is, I want to be Ripley, and we all get to be Ripley, all of us who have to go up against this thing that we REALLY DID NOT WANT TO GO UP AGAINST EVER. Ripley probably wants to fight an Alien Queen about as much as any of us want to sit in a chair and have poison pumped through our bodies. Some of us would RATHER fight an Alien Queen than have chemo, particularly Adriamycin.

So even though I kind of hate the “fight” and “battle” terminology around all of it, it’s not really going anywhere, because maybe that’s too much a part of who we are as a people. And if it has to be framed as a fight, I say every last person who ever has to do it gets to be the iconic, ass-kicking hero (if they want.) Even if you cry; even if you puke; even if you can’t even get out of bed sometimes, much less operate a Power Loader; even if sometimes you are too
much for the people taking care of you; even if you feel like it should somehow be transforming you as a person and it’s not, really; even if you find yourself still caring about things you never thought a person would still care about once this has happened but, surprise, you’re still you and you still do.

We’re all Ripley, which is definitely better than if we were all Spartacus.

So tell yourself you’re Ripley even if you’re sure you’re not and your achievement for the day was not puking up Saltines; tell your puny friend or loved one that they’re Ripley, even if you’re secretly just really over this and are approaching a point where you can’t anymore. (Because you’re a little bit Ripley, too.)

Unless you hate “Aliens” a lot and need me to stop because it has nothing to do with cancer and yet, here I am.

Happy National Cancer Survivors Day. You’re awesome and you’re doing great.

Even when you’re not.

image

Voyeur

It was really interesting looking at the #thingsonlychristianwomenhear discussions on Twitter today. Why was I reading that in the first place?

a) Because I was procrastinating and
b) Because even though I don’t go to church anymore and am probably a godless heathen in the eyes of several people who care about me–I’m still a voyeur. I like to check in with Matthew Paul Turner and Rachel Held Evans. I also read National Review and Christianity Today so that I can at least try to understand some things.

A lot of the experiences that women shared in that thread were funny/sad. Some were horrifying. There was a lot of kindness and support in many of the feeds.

I also saw a lot of the following types of responses from both men and women:

“Look at these evil liberals attacking Christianity” and

“Wow, the way you’re focusing on negativity is really divisive. We’re called to unify” and

“Well then you were in a bad church, my church would never do anything like that, that’s not widespread, it was your church and only your church.”

There are a lot of reasons why I left. Those are some of them. Did every single Christian I’ve ever met act like that? No! Certainly not. But those are attitudes I encountered again and again. The idea that anything critical is an attack, and the idea that by speaking out about a problem, YOU’RE the problem, and the idea that anything bad that happened to you is an isolated incident.

There’s an experience that I was repeatedly advised not to be open about. Why? Because it might have backed up negative things people already thought about Christianity. Because it might have influenced somebody who was on their way to getting saved and then because of me, they didn’t. Because that was focusing on negativity. Because I needed to be better at forgiveness. Because it’s not a widespread problem. Because sure, it’s really unfortunate that this happened, but remember, #NotAllChurches.

Please let me be clear, this is not an attack on your faith if you’re a Christian. If you’re still reading, it means you’re probably someone who’ s take would be of value to me. d I don’t think you’re The Enemy and I’m also not in, like, an Athiest Coven. Primarily because I’m not an Athiest and also because that’s not a thing. Why am I still talking? Because for some reason, I really want Christians to Understand.

I can’t speak for everyone who leaves or falls away, but I can assure you that I didn’t wake up one morning and say “I hate Jesus. I’m not a Christian anymore.” That’s not true at all. And I didn’t get lured away by something evil and shiny. I did not think, “You know what I want to do instead of going to church? DRUGS!”

I got really tired. I got really worn down. Maybe I allowed myself to feel that way because my faith wasn’t strong enough, or was never real in the first place. It was the seed that fell on the stony ground and made a good showing for a while, but not long. Those attitudes I mention were not in the hearts of the people closest to me. They were just…so big. They were All Around. I couldn’t remember a time without them.

Those ideas can exist anywhere, and everywhere, and they do. It’s not unique to Christianity: “any criticism is an attack” and “just stop talking about it and it won’t be a problem.”

I guess what keeps me up at night is that sometimes, I feel like I take a step back in the direction I came from, and peer in, because I am hoping it will have changed and it will be different.

I keep doing this.

I have been doing it for years.

That probably won’t change.

Gratitude, mostly.

This is a cancer post.

I was really, really grateful on Friday. Thankful, relieved, and lots of other happy and positive words. I did really enjoy the #D&DGOP thing, but for the most part I don’t have a lot of room for Schadenfreude, if that even counts, because for once more room is being take up by happiness, gratitude, thankfulness, etc.

I don’t have access to healthcare through my employer, so I have a plan I purchased from the marketplace. I know for a fact that I need a scan that will run thousands of dollars, at least once a year, for the forseeable future. Annually, I have a PET or CT scan done to check my body for cancer, in addition to blood work and labs every six months.  My deductible is currently $500, and my co-insurance after that is 20%, so that means that I’m not going to be completely on the hook for a procedure that is $5000 or more.

A lot of people don’t really understand healthcare.  At least one of my parents voted for Trump, which I do have feelings about as at least one of the things he had said often on the campaign trail was that he would make the repeal of the ACA a priority, so I felt like either this parent did not understand that health care is a priority for me, or thinks my cancer will never come back and nothing else will ever happen to me so it won’t be a problem, or maybe since Oregon is a pretty blue state, I’ll be okay regardless of what the rest of the country does. One of my parents said “Do you really think the state of Oregon is going to just let people die of cancer?” I mean…I don’t know? I know that lots of times people don’t go to the doctor to find out what’s wrong with them because it’s too expensive. I was one of those people. Both of my sisters have said things to me along the lines of “Oh, but most insurance just Is Bad and expensive, so I don’t really think it matters.”

I guess that’s a very Person Who Hasn’t Had Cancer thing to say? I used to say I was fairly sure most people didn’t understand health insurance unless they’d had a serious medical condition or been pregnant, which many people don’t consider to be a serious medical condition but certainly seems like it would be to me — but one of them has had two kids and the other is pregnant now, and neither of them knows what a deductible is so I think my initial assessment was just wrong.

If anyone’s curious, I will break some things down in numbers, “Erin Brockovich”-style.

3: The number of times I went to doctors at Kaiser who told me that probably, nothing was wrong, even though I showed up several months after my initial visit with a second lump right next to the first, on the left side of my neck.

4: The number of denials I got from various insurance companies when I tried to find affordable insurance in my gap months — insurance from my old job ended in August of 2013, and insurance at my new job wasn’t available until November. I had been treated for anxiety, which was a pre-existing condition, so they weren’t going to take me. I ended up getting useless gap coverage just so that my new insurance couldn’t refuse to cover pre-existing conditions as well. The lumps hadn’t been diagnosed, and they also hadn’t gone away. It was before “Pre-Existing Condition” part of the ACA kicked in.

19: The number of months in between when I felt the first lump and when I found myself on an operating table, counting backwards from 10 so that a surgeon could take one of the lumps out, send it to a lab, and tell me what it was.

13: The number of dollars I was making per hour. Sometimes, you simply can’t afford to have cancer. You can’t afford to go to the doctors, so that they can rule it out. So you just tell yourself you’re fine. That’s free.

3 again: The number of lumps that I had to feel on my neck before I finally decided that I had to find out what it was, even if it meant I had to be in debt for the ret of my life. The third one was on the right side and the other two were on the left. I’d been able to tell myself that maybe something was just wrong with some muscle or joint when it was on one side, but when it was on both sides I knew there was a problem. The ENT did, too. He knew as soon as he felt them. He told me not to leave without scheduling the biopsy. There was definitely a very cool surprise later on when I looked at the first PET scan of my body and saw the mass that had been growing right next to and above my heart for at least two years, maybe three.

4: The number of days I had to wait after the biopsy before finding out I had cancer.

3,000: My deductible, which was part of the reason I waited, part of the reason I put off even going to an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist) as long as I could. A deductible is that amount that you have to pay before your insurance will begin to contribute. If you have 20% co-insurance after your deductible of $3000, that means you have to pay $3000 before they start to help you.

5000: My out-of-pocket max. After I hit $3000, my insurance paid 80%, and I was responsible for 20%, until I hit $5000, after which point, mercifully, I would have no more costs that year aside from copays. The timing of my diagnosis and treatment actually was pretty lucky, as my plan year had just started and I was able to get treated and cured within that year. You are absolutely going to hit your out-of-pocket max if you have cancer, no matter what it is.

3, one last time: How many paid sick days I had per year.

8: The number of Aetna representatives who told me that my wig would be covered even though in the end it was not, which I realize is not the worst thing that happened that year but my current job has confirmed for me that Aetna reps in particular do not always provide correct information.

100,000: How much it would have cost me without insurance. That’s more than my grad school tuition. And even though I wish I had better insurance, of course $5,000 is a lot better than $100,000. It was slightly more than $100,000, but I like tidy numbers, and inside that particular tidy number were three surgeries, two ultrasounds, an EKG, lots and lots of lab work, at least four PET scans, 8 rounds of chemo, and various other things I can’t remember or have blocked out. My favorite test was the one that checked to make sure my lungs were in good shape before chemo (bleomycin fucks them up) because when I looked over the bill I got from my insurance, it was listed as “Explanation of Wheezing,”
and I thought that was funny. There were not very many things related to treatment or insurance that I thought were funny.

If I have a point, it’s that cancer is expensive, and it’s hard, and it’s especially hard if you don’t make very much and you don’t have very good insurance, and a lot of people in America don’t make very much and they don’t have very good insurance, and a lot of them don’t get diagnosed with cancer until it’s too late. I became friends with one, via a mutual friend. (My poor best friend. Two friends with the same kind of cancer at the same time.) He was stage 4 before he even saw a doctor, because he didn’t have health care. He didn’t make it. He very likely could have if he’d been treated sooner, because Hodgkins’ has a 95% cure rate if you catch it in stage 1 or 2. His wife is now one of the youngest widows I’ve ever known. It shouldn’t be that way. He should be here. He should have been able to treat it.

I didn’t write the number of times I’ve been terrified that it would come back or that I’d have a worse kind than Hodgkin’s as a result of the chemo and radiation, because that has happened far, far more times than I could begin to imagine. Like daily. Sometimes several times a day. Currently, because it’s been a couple of years and because my next scan is still several months away, when the thought rears up I push it back down with a “Not right now. You can worry about that later.” I might as well kick that can down the road as much as I can. I have been doing better with each day and month and year that passes, gotten more efficient at telling those thoughts “Nope. Not today.” I try to Arya Stark the shit out of them.

My biggest fear, since the election, has been that the ACA would be repealed and replaced with nothing, that I’d have cancer a second time, that no insurance company would touch me, and that I’d have to ask other people for money or take on massive amounts of debt or…just not, I guess. And my parents would probably say “That’s ridiculous. We would never let that happen to you. No matter what.” I believe their intentions. But they aren’t made of money. It was $100,000 for an easily treatable type of cancer that went away quickly. I can’t even say what that might look like if it happened a second time.

I’m privileged to have that be my biggest fear. I’m white, straight, and cis-gendered. Increasingly afraid that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is about to be real life, but there are many, many things that I do not have to worry about happening to me personally. That’s privilege.

I’m not always very good at wrapping up, or at having a point. I’m really good at talking and talking and talking and spinning my wheels in the mud. I started this post out very positive and happy. Because even though I know those who oppose ACA will be back, probably empowered by the dark side of The Force, for now I feel much safer. For now, I can begin to imagine a 2018 in which I might have health care that I can afford.

I’ve been terrified since the election and now I’m less terrified about that particular thing for right now.

So, in other words–typical 2017.

 

 

 

Light ‘n Fun Thoughts on Faith

Someone I love and who loves me dearly chose to share with me, recently, a fairly horrific dream that involved that person going to heaven and me going to hell. This person meant well. Truly. And that’s the thing. That’s what makes it worse.

So naturally, I took to the internet, but not the part people I know look at, to vent all my special feelings about. It’s kind of like a message in a bottle, I guess.

I did not go skipping away from the church and throw my hat into the air. I didn’t stop because I wanted to devote my life to some bacchanalian orgy. I left because I got hurt, a lot, usually by people who meant extremely well. My faith was the seed that fell on the stony ground. It grew initially, but there was no depth. Or it just wasn’t for me. There are a lot of ways to look at what happened depending on your worldview.

If anyone thinks that I don’t think about it all the time, that person is very mistaken.

I am so weary of people trying, at best, to bring me back around by repeating theological points that I already know–I fully understand the concept of Christ being the son of God who was sent to earth to die for our sins, I can easily recite various verses from the Gospels–and at worst, talking to me about Hell. I know about Hell. I began learning about Hell at a very young age. It was the reason I got “saved” in the first place. It was, if I’m being honest, the only reason. I am very afraid of fire.

People repeat theological bullet points to me. And people, who I do understand mean very well, talk to me about hell.

That’s it? That’s your argument? Fear? That’s what you want to use? Why do you need to use fear? Is that stronger than talking about who Jesus is to you and what you believe he stands for? It must be.

THAT IS WHY I DO NOT WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR DEAL. SHAMING AND FRIGHTENING PEOPLE TO PRODUCE A DESIRED RESULT DOES NOT SEEM TO ME TO BE A COMPASSIONATE OR MORAL THING TO DO.

Nobody opens with “The greatest of these is love.” Nobody closes with it. Not to me. Not ever. Not EVER. If you’re reading this and you do use that in your presentation, good. Great. Please keep doing it.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “I’ve never once tried to frighten her about being hell-bound, who is she talking about?” Other Christians who are not you. So maybe you can talk to them. Maybe you can let them know that they make agnostics like me want to run screaming into the desert to eat locusts and figure it out on our own terms.

“But it’s important for you to fellowship with other believers.”

Well, I have panic attacks when I’m around too many of them at once so that’s actually going to be a hard “No” right now.

Oh, and one more thing, if you’re inclined to say of our current president “He might be a Christian, we don’t know his heart,” maybe you could also extend people like me the same generosity of spirit. Because you also don’t know mine.

The greatest horror novel I’ve ever read: “Prom Dress” by Lael Littke

I’ve now told the plot of this book to several people (not one of them asked) and every time, they’re like:

We need to start with the cover. It’s amazing and I love it so much. That dress is an Anne Shirley monstrosity.

Robin is this high school girl who is poor. She is a good dancer. Remember that. She has a rich boyfriend. She is super insecure about going to the prom with him because she doesn’t have anything nice to wear. She’s an after-school caretaker for an old woman named Miss Catherine who is scarred because of the time her deformed sister threw acid on her.

She tells Robin that she’s welcome to go upstairs and check out all her beautiful vintage dresses and borrow one for the prom. Just not, you know, the ONE dress. You can see where this is going.

Robin goes into the attic and the dress starts glowing and talking to her.

“The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.”

Robin steals it. “Borrows” it. Whatever. It’s important to note that when she holds it up to admire it in the mirror, she thinks she sees some sort of shadow on her face.

She wears the dress to prom and apparently all of the other girls are very jealous of it.

But then. BUT THEN. She and her boyfriend are crowned king and queen of the prom and The Dress makes the Prom Throne fall on her legs and then it smashes them and she has to be rushed to the emergency room and she might never dance again! But: this is also important: The dress has no blood on it whatsoever.

So Robin’s out.

Next, we meet Felicia. She’s Robin’s nurse. She’s dating a divinity student named Mark who sounds real fun at parties. In fact, she has to go to an EXTREMELY fun-sounding party that very night where she’ll meet the dean of Mark’s department, and if he doesn’t like her or think she’s good enough, apparently he’ll need to break up with her. This is quite a predicament for Felicia because all her dresses are slutty whore dresses, meaning they have bare backs or spaghetti straps. It’s just like a really hard situation because apparently she’s unable to go shopping for a different dress.


Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress, and obviously Robin says no, and also, Felicia is bad at her job because it’s maybe not a good time?! You already know she is absolutely going to borrow this dress. She holds it up to see how gloriously puritanical it will look on her and, like Robin, sees a smudge or shadow on her face in the mirror. The Dress is really consistent about telling you that it is going to fuck you up.


Felicia steals the dress anyway and wears it to the Puritan Dinner of Judgement. She looks like really awesome in it.

Image result for dakota johnson oscar

You guys. The next thing that happens is: the dress starts choking her. It keeps getting tighter and tighter and she feels like she can’t breathe! So she runs upstairs to steal some clothes to change into, and then steals a bag to take the dress back to Robin at the hospital, not realizing this bag has a string of expensive pearls in it. She runs out of the house and is obviously seen by Mark and various other people at the party. She tries to get on a bus but is apprehended almost immediately and comes up with some story about a sexual deviant apprehending her at the party, forcing her to strip, etc, and I don’t know what I’d expect her to say but the whole thing is just–

So Felicia leaves the bag containing the dress and pearls on the bus, where it’s found by young Nicole, who is a genius high school student who is also hot for her her teacher. She has disgusting fantasies about this man leaving his wife and children for her.

“She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.”

I’m very pro-college but Nicole is dumb and gross in the way that she thinks about relationships. So then. SO THEN. Nicole has a big fancy Debate Team Smart People Event she needs to look swellegant for, so she steals The Dress and puts it on and looks great in it, because the thing about this Satan dress is that it really conforms to whoever is wearing it, it’s like one of those expensive mattresses or whatever. So Nicole looks mature and not like the twerp she is – I totally picture her looking like Mallory Pike, who even Ann M. Martin does not care for — and her adult teacher starts flirting with her!

Even I think this is getting tedious. The cops show up, following whatever bizarro lead Felicia gave them, and are about to come talk to Nicole. She gets freaked out, runs away, runs straight into a pillar, and essentially smashes her brain and will have amnesia forever. Everybody at that town’s lone hospital is probably like:


So Nicole is taken to the same hospital as Robin, Felicia is there for some reason, I guess she went back to work after her fake trauma of lies, and Felicia and Robin agree that the dress is evil and must be destroyed.

They give it to Robin’s little sister Gabby to take back to Miss Catherine’s attic and to definitely not put it on under any circumstances. Gabby is a very gifted piano player and also a little shit who is hot for her sister’s boyfriend and wants to steal him, so once again we can see where this is going.

Robin’s boyfriend apparently also plays the piano. He and Gabby are practicing a very complicated song to welcome Robin home from the hospital. I just don’t feel like that would help me feel better in the situation if I were Robin. But I don’t know their family. Regardless, Gabby is trash because she and Robin’s Boyfriend have been practicing so mush that they now have a job playing the piano together.

Robin has the bag with the dress in it, which she wheels on over to Miss Catherine so that she can return it and come clean. Miss Catherine loves this. Because Miss Catherine is not Miss Catherine. Miss Catherine is Rowena.

Rowena explains that she thought some guy named Michael was going to ask her to prom back in the day, but he didn’t. He asked her sister instead–Catherine, who had no birthmark, and was beautiful. Rowena started making the dress for herself, and ended up giving it to Catherine to wear to the prom, and when Catherine got home, Rowena threw acid on her face. She made sure to do it while Catherine was still wearing the cloak, though, because Rowena didn’t want the dress to get ruined.

This is very dramatic: Gabby is about to go off to the Boyfriend-Stealing Piano Event with Robin’s Boyfriend. Robin arrives at the house just in time to see her leave. WEARING THE DRESS. Robin has a very Jude Law in “Gattaca” moment and forces herself out of the chair and drags herself to the car to prevent Gabby from driving away, because obviously they will get in a car accident and Gabby’s fingers will get smashed forever. Robin passes out from the pain but does manage to prevent The Dress from ruining Gabby’s life as well.

When Robin comes to, she finds out that Rowena was released to Catherine’s care after spending some time in an insane asylum, and eventually Catherine died in a fire and Rowena gouged her birthmark out to make it look like the acid burn so she could pretend to be Catherine.

The book ends with a young woman who is an aspiring actress with a really great voice discovering the dress in a thrift store. It is too much for her so she steals it. She’s really excited to wear it the next day. The end.

The thing is I legitimately love this book though.

 

The Best Time I Went to a Purity Seminar and Wished for Death

I was sixteen. I found the whole thing so embarrassing that I hoped I would just die. And then about seventeen years later I got cancer. GOD WAS LISTENING.

The thing is, I did say that I wanted to go to the purity seminar. I remember the day I saw a one-sheet about it in the church bulletin and shot my mouth off to my mother. And then about a month later, there I was, slouching and scowling my way into what counts as a mega-church in Visalia, wishing I hadn’t chosen a semi-goth look for the day because I could tell immediately that I was going to be regarded as a wayward youth. I didn’t think about this before. But I thought about it all during The Purity Seminar.

I know exactly why I said I wanted to go to the Purity Seminar. It was the same reason that I borrowed a friend’s copy of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” later that year. There were no takers and I wanted to feel better about it.

I’m disappointed in my teenage self for not at least making a grand and dramatic statement and claiming that I’d become a nun, but we weren’t Catholic and in fact I had a book by Josh McDowell in one of my classes that talked about why Catholicism was a cult (spoiler: everything that isn’t Evangelical Christianity is definitely a cult) and this is sort of unfortunate because I think in some ways, Catholicism might have really worked for me as a moody adolescent. My parents were really hesitant about having me go see a therapist, reasoning that I could talk to our pastor or maybe even just to God, and if I’d had Mary as an option it might have turned out differently.

I always really liked the idea of being able to talk to Mary. Mary had periods. Mary seemed like she might Get It. Also Catholics were cool with drinking and I heard rumors that they learned science very differently than I did. The grass is always greener.

The Purity Seminar was very pink. Lots of pastel decorations. Run by well-meaning people. The only moment that sticks out clearly, all these years later, is the moment during the anonymous Q&A toward the end where one of the questions was “What if you feel like God has a Princess for you to meet instead of a Prince?”

The answer wasn’t so much about the sinfulness of being gay, but how that was probably not the case because if you just look at the human body, God obviously designed us to fit together in that particular heterosexual missionary way. Several people looked my way, even though I hadn’t even asked a question and it was supposed to be anonymous. The Semi-Goth look made a real splash.

I don’t look back and hate the people who ran the purity seminary. I grew up in that culture and I understand where they’re coming from even if I no longer agree with it at all, even a little bit. I was pretty mad at them for co-opting Shakespeare’s Ophelia as an example of why you shouldn’t Do It outside of marriage, because the theatre kid was ready to stand up and scream “She went crazy and drowned because Hamlet broke her heart and she had to SHOW HIM, not because he broke her hymen!” I didn’t stand up and scream that. The Semi-Goth look was saying enough.

I remember surveying the girls there and being sad that some of them were so young. They had enough time ahead of them to be told what to do and what not do with their bodies, and it was one of the first nice days we’d had all winter. They should have been out playing with their friends, not in some room where a lot of grown women were talking about flowers and petals because of course we couldn’t just come right out and say “vagina.”

I can’t pick a specific moment in time when I started to become a feminist – maybe when I read “The Awakening” in college, because I’m all about owning my Basic properties these days– but I think that day at the seminar day might have contributed a lot. I’d heard a lot of my friends talk about wanting their husbands to have had some experience on their wedding night so that “someone would know what was going on.” And I didn’t think that was exactly fair, for a few reasons – one, I thought the people saying things like that would hate whichever girl or girls their future husbands “practiced” with, even if they didn’t know them. The idea that other women could exist simply for “practice” with our theoretical future husbands was disturbing, all alone.

But there was also this idea that I began to have, which was that I didn’t think I would really care if the guy I ended up marrying had sex before he met me. Even then, I was more concerned about, was he the kind of person who would pressure a girl into having sex? Would he be the kind of person who would make a girl seem like a slut when he talked about it afterward? And if I didn’t care if the guy I ended up with had had sex before, it didn’t seem like it was fair for him to care about if I had. As long as everybody was safe. As long as everything was consensual.

I told my mom I’d go to the seminar, and I borrowed “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” because at the decrepit age of sixteen, I’d come to believe that I would never find a guy who—it wasn’t that he couldn’t be into sports, he just couldn’t care that I wasn’t into them. And he didn’t have to be into theatre, he just had to think it was cool for me to be into it. I would want for him to read books. I would want for him to be nice to me. I would want for him to not act like he was in charge just because of being a dude. I knew for a fact I wouldn’t say “obey” in my wedding vows because that just never made sense to me as a thing that adults do for one another. Dogs obey.

And then I grew up and moved to New York and became a liberal and lost every single one of my morals that I’d never held particularly close to begin with. That’s not actually true. But I did start to figure out what I actually valued and what I did not.

I was afraid of sex, because of an incident that had happened when I was a child. But I’d only ever thought that it was wrong outside of marriage in the way that I thought anything I wasn’t allowed to do was wrong – I knew it was supposed to be wrong, but didn’t quite understand the reasoning. It was like not being able to do “Halloween” or watch “The Simpsons.” Because I’m Christian. My reasoning went no deeper than that.

And even I don’t wish to go in-depth into my personal sexual history on a blog, but it didn’t take me very long to learn that “sleeping around” was applied to a whole lot of situations that were nowhere near as exciting as they were made out to be. A friend of mine mentioned that his sister would stay at her boyfriend’s house more often than not. Another friend made a comment about him being fine with his sister “sleeping around.”

Staying overnight at her boyfriend’s house when they were in a committed, monogamous relationship was “sleeping around?” K.

Earlier this evening I finished listening to the latest episode of the Savage Lovecast, which routinely features many examples of callers who are “sleeping around.” And a lot of that wouldn’t be a great way for me to be, because it wouldn’t make me happy, but it’s not important for other people’s sex and dating lives to make me happy. It’s actually not important at all. I wonder how the Savage Lovecast might have sounded to me when I was sixteen and in the Purity Seminar. Probably quite interesting.

I had a long way to go, in terms of overcoming prejudice and judgmental nature and understanding concepts like cis privilege and white privilege – I am sure I still do – but even then, I think I just had the sense what whatever anyone chose to do with that person’s own body should be entirely up to them, so long as they were not using it to hurt someone.

I am sure Purity Seminars still happen. I am sure those creepy Purity Balls do. I am sure the focus continues to be on “Don’t do it!” as opposed to “Basics in how to respect other people.” And I chose to leave the church so it’s not like I have any right to influence how they do things.

I wish I could time travel to the day of the Purity Seminar. I would tell myself “Don’t do a goth look today. Don’t wish for cancer. And when you have your realization about what you think would actually make you happy in a guy? You’re actually right. And you’ll meet him in about twelve years. You won’t get married right away. You might not get married at all. But you’ll be really happy with him. You’ll love him a lot and he’ll love you a lot. You’ll enjoy watching soccer together and you’ll also got to plays together. He’ll be so proud of you when you finish the play it takes you years to write. He’ll be next to you at your first chemo and he’ll be next to you at your six month scan and he’ll be just as overjoyed that it’s clean as you are. He’ll love you and try to make you feel beautiful even when you are bald.”

The TL;DR of that is “You will meet a guy who stays with you even when you have no hair.”

I mean, what else would a sixteen-year-old possibly want to hear?!

Agnostic Bible Study

 

I’ve taken a poll among various Christians in my life, told them about how it seemed right and fitting to me to listen to some guy on Youtube read the Gospel of Mark on Christmas Day as I was making a pie (it turned out well and I for me I do feel like the ability to make a good pie crust is up there with the time I got my MFA and the time I didn’t have cancer anymore, just like a serious Monumental Life Achievement) and apparently the next one I should try is…Luke!

Reading/listening to the Bible is an odd thing for me to be doing, primarily because I’m not a Christian. I’m not anything, really, other than a person who wishes The Force was real. But I did grow up going to a very conservative Evangelical church. It’s called Calvary Chapel. People who go there seem to really like claiming that it is non-denominational. Calvary Chapel has a big focus on Hell, and The Rapture, and The End times, and other things that I’m still terrified of if I’m being completely honest, even though there is sadly little else about the faith I was raised with that has stayed with me. It’s not rational for me to be afraid of those things after leaving the faith because I decided it didn’t make sense for me. But I’m also somewhat afraid of zombies, and I hold my breath on bridges and in tunnels so that things won’t collapse. Being afraid of The Eternal Fires of Hell is different than being superstitious, sure. But maybe they’re somehow related.

I reached out to a handful of Christians in my life in the days after the election. I wanted to let them know that I saw them responding compassion and grace to all kinds of angry people, and that while I didn’t share their faith anymore, the picture of it that they were presenting to the world was something really beautiful, and something that I respected, and something that I was glad for them to have. These are Christians who – I mean, I don’t know for sure who they voted for. I just know for sure that they don’t discriminate, that they display seemingly endless generosity, patience, and kindness, that they are the kind of people who sacrifice for others often and sometimes in big ways. My heart was very hard in those days after the election, and these the people who made me want to figure out how to stop being so angry. Look at me. “My heart was hard.” Still using Christianese.

And then there I was, on Christmas Day, making a pie and deciding to listen to Mark. And I’m sure that some people would say “Oh, God was leading you.” I’m not interested in arguing with them. For me it was more that I realized how angry and vindictive I’d been feeling towards Christians across the board, in particular because I decided that they were a bunch of hypocrites who were misinterpreting and cherry-picking their own holy book. And then inner me was like “Okay, you haven’t read the whole thing, either. Be able to back up what you say if you feel that way about it.”

And so I listened to the whole thing from start to finish. It was only about an hour and a half. I was astounded to discover that I wasn’t bored. Making a pie might have been part of it. I’m ADHD. I hate doing one thing at a time.

But I could not have been more surprised that I thought it was interesting, that I thought it had a pretty good structure, and that I thought several of the characters were fairly well defined. Jesus is…kind of funny. At least the way Mark tells it.

So I’m give Luke a try next, because I’m interested to see if I’m interested. I was never all that interested before. Just afraid. Which, it turns out, was not a great base for a deep and enduring faith.

I obviously have to be very careful who I chose to share this with, meaning that strangers on the internet can know about it but it’s nothing I’d discuss with my parents as they’d likely get excited and think I’m going to start going to church again, when I am most assuredly not because I like my Sunday mornings as they are. On the couch, with my man, listening to “StarTalk” and enjoying the scones we just made.

Is there a point to my revisiting a few books of the Bible? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’ve been called an “angry atheist,” which is untrue, because I’m not an atheist. I’m just not that confident. That was another one of the problems I had with the faith I was raised it. When I started learning a bit about what it meant to be Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, etc. – as soon as the concept of faith as something you could chose made sense to me, it made sense to me that you could choose wrong. You could absolutely believe something, and just…Be Wrong.

I am angry about some things. That part is accurate.

Who knows if reading the Bible a little bit will help?

Probably not Leviticus though because fuck that guy.

YA Revisited: Sweet Valley High #4 – Power Play

We have to start with the cover. It is a picture of Elizabeth and Jessica singing “The Confrontation” from Les Miserables:

This book is all about how sometimes when you’re fat and people are being mean, you can just stop eating and do nothing but run sullenly around the track and then suddenly you’ll be really popular and have no problems

Elizabeth and Jessica are at their house being very Master Race, as they usually are.

“Both girls had the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin, and the same size-six figures.”

Robin Wilson comes over to drop off Jessica’s dry cleaning. She thinks she’s Jessica’s best friend because Jessica lets her do stuff for her and follow her around and worship her.

Elizabeth has a problem with the way that Jessica uses Robin and then talks shit about her weight, so here’s what she does about it:

The book is full of statements about how Robin would be really pretty if she’d lose some weight, or how her eating is rhythmic and Elizabeth is mesmerized by it.

Robin’s mom shows up at the Wakefield compound to talk about how becoming friends with the magical twins is the greatest thing that has ever happened to Robin.

Apparently, though, Robin is going to drop out of school if something Cool and Popular doesn’t happen. She guilts Elizabeth into saying that she’ll get Robin into Pi Beta Alpha, which is the snobby sorority that Jessica basically runs and Elizabeth is part of for reasons unknown. Robin’s mom leaves and Elizabeth is like:

Elizabeth decides to follow through to prove a point to Jessica or something, and tries to shame Jessica into making it happen. Jessica acts like she’s going to play along but vows to make it impossible for Robin. Part of her initiation is forcing her to play beach volleyball in a bikini on a crowded Saturday at the beach. People actually show up and oink at Robin.

Elizabeth and her friends show up and play volleyball with her and make it not so terrible, so there is an instance of Elizabeth not being lame.

Jessica didn’t expect Robin to accomplish the first task, so then she says that she has to get Bruce Patman to take her to The Dance. (It’s Sweet Valley. There’s always a Dance.) This is near-impossible because Bruce is a rich snot. Elizabeth gets Bruce to take Robin to the The Dance by saying she’ll write a newspaper article on how awesome he is or something. When they get to The Dance, Bruce makes fat jokes and completely humiliates her in front of everyone.

This guy named Allen who is dorky but in a nice, cute way, has been being really nice to Robin, though, so rest assured that they will fall in love for a couple books but only once she’s thin. Oh. Spoiler.

Yeah, so about that. After Robin runs out of the dance and gets blackballed by the Pi Beta Alphas (there was only one black ball) (it was totally Jessica’s) she pretty much quits food and does nothing but run around the track every day and when Elizabeth tries to get involved and make sure she’s eating she’s like “Yes I’m eating back off.” She is on a mission. She is coming to GET the Pi Beta Alphas.

She’s coming to Get them by…being hot.

Also by letting the whole school know how crappy they (they = Jessica) are and asking for them to vote for her for Miss Sweet Valley High. Robin is over Jessica and knows how to get her where it hurts.

Here’s what Robin looks like training and getting really angry and thin:

She ends up co-captain of the cheerleading squad with Jessica, so the competition for Miss Sweet Valley is even more intense.
Some of the football players support Jessica, and some of them support Robin, the latter by making shirts that say “Robin has us throbbin’.”

Robin gets voted Miss Sweet Valley. She makes Bruce Patman drive her and Allan around the football field for their victory lap.

YA Revisited: Baby-Sitter’s Club #8 – Boy Crazy Stacy

First of all, I’m convinced that Anastasia Elizabeth McGill alive and well and not fictional and is actually this person.

It is summer in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. The Baby Sitter’s Club is getting together at Kristy’s house to have a party before they all go their separate ways for the summer.

Kristy is the club president. Kristy is bossy. She is into sports.

Claudia is the club VP and is Stacey’s best friend. We usually get very detailed description of her absolutely insane outfits, but this is early days in the series, so just know that Claudia is dressed like Lady Gaga at all times.

Dawn is the newest member of the club and is the “Alternate Officer,” meaning they didn’t really have a job for her. She’s from California and the only reason she’s vegetarian as opposed to being paleo or something is because this series started in the 80’s. She is These People:

Mary Anne, the club secretary, is mousy, and shy, and her father is really over-protective and picked out her outfits and made her wear her hair in braids every day until book #4, and I actually love Alison Brie and all of her characters, but Mary Anne is just SO prissy that like:

And then we have our protagonist, Stacey, who recently moved to Connecticut from New York City with her parents, a plot detail that is responsible for nearly every misconception I ever had about New York. She likes to humblebrag about how diabetes and how sophisticated she is. I am telling you: Stacey is the quintessential “Bachelor” contestant.

Stacey and Mary Anne will be spending two weeks being mother’s helpers to the Pike Family and their tone of children. I want to bring some Duggar snark but the Pikes only have eight kids and aren’t religious, so instead let’s just appreciate where this vacation is taking place. Oh yes: THE JERSEY SHORE.

They take two cars and arrive at a massive beach house and the entire point of this book as that on the first day, they all get out onto the beach and Stacey falls in “luv,” as she puts it, with this “blond, tan, hunk of a lifeguard.”

She immediately quits doing her job to hang around the lifeguard station all day with a bunch of other girls who are trying to get Scott the Lifeguard to pay attention to them.

Stacey makes time to contemplate how nicely she fills out her skimpy bikini, while noting that Mary Anne’s swimsuit top isn’t filled out “at all.” Italics hers.

Stacey introduces herself to Scott thusly:
“Stacy McGill. Thirteen years old. Formerly of New York.”

Mary Anne complains that Stacey is not doing her job that she’s being paid to do, and Stacey tells her to calm down because this boy who’s there babysitting some other kids is always hanging around and helping her. Mary Anne is like:

Scott, who is eighteen, calls Stacey “Beautiful” and “Honey” and does gross things like wink at her when she literally runs to bring him a soda and gives her his lifeguard whistle for no reason. He singles her out in front of the other girls and asks “Do you kids know Stacey McGill?”

Stacey declares that this means that Scott is in love with her, and she writes “Stacey + Scott = Luv” on the sand and then runs away so she doesn’t have to see the waves wash the words away.

One night, Mary Anne and Stacey get to have a night out on the town and it’s really important for me to share their outfits with you:

Stacey’s date outfit: “A white cotton vest over a pink cotton sundress. I tied a big white bow in my hair so that it flopped over the side of my head.”

Mary Anne wore: “Yellow pedal pushers, a yellow and white striped tank top, and an oversized white jacket.”

While out having a grand time, Stacey buys Scott an expensive box of chocolates, but then she sees Scott making out on a bench with a girl who is “curvy and gorgeous and at least eighteen.” She is so upset that she throws the chocolates at Mary Anne and then runs off.

Then she claims to be sick and refuses to do her job for a couple of days.

When Stacey decides to do her job again, she meets this other boy babysitter, who is friends with the guy who has been helping Mary Anne. His name is Toby. She likes his sunglasses and his outfit. She is in Luv again.

Mary Anne and Stacey are friends again and go out with their respective boys on their last night in Sea City. They ride the Tunnel of Love and Stacey has her first kiss with Toby!

Metaphorically, at least, Stacey got a rose.