Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the topic of God's purported absence from our schools

I see "Christian" jargon like this being disseminated across the internet from time to time, particularly following events like the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

A few days ago, a friend of mine quite appropriately asked some very important questions about the message on this particular t-shirt.  She made no apologies about the fact that she felt insulted and infuriated by this sentiment.  It applies a seemingly personal, direct blame against her, given that she does not call herself religious or a Christian, and she has no problem with God not taking front-and-center in our schools.

I appreciate the time and thought she put into the questions she raised, as well as the anger she was brave enough to express.  Here's what I had to say in response:

Simply put, a statement like that is bad theology. It projects certain attitudes onto the character of God when, really, we have no business saying just who God is or what he has allowed. Bad things happen all the time because we are broken people. We’re flawed and complicated and often do not operate under anything but blind selfishness. There are certain things that as people of faith, we just have to accept as unknowable. I can try to wrap my brain around this world and God and all the hurt, but try as I may, I will never understand all of it. God is God, and I am not.

And you’re right. The assumption, “God isn’t written into the curriculum or etched into walls, therefore, he isn’t here for us” is absolutely wrong. We can write God out of every textbook and sideline him from formal public conversation, but that does nothing to deter God’s love or his desire to see us live full, long, meaningful lives as we were created to have.

The statement tastes just as bitter and mean to me as it does to you, and I’m a Christian.  I resent every insinuation and sentiment those words express. They do not speak for me and the God I’ve grown to know and love. These are the small, foolish words of small, foolish people who have taken it upon themselves to literally attempt to speak for God. I, too, am a small and often foolish person, but I’m long past thinking I have the authority to announce the will of my Savior.

I am sorry that you feel judged, accused, blamed, and disrespected. Sentiments like the one you mention are so politically loaded and theologically skewed that, to the majority of us, they paint a picture of holier-than-thou Christians peering down their noses at the “unbelievers.” You have every right to feel infuriated and insulted. Just know that I respect your perspective. You’re speaking out with very valid anger as a compassionate human, a mother, and a person who doesn’t stand for anyone—religious or not—who walks around waving a big stick like they’re some sort of god.

At the end of the day, I think the thing we need to remember is humility. We need to listen more than we speak. We need to ask more questions and make fewer arrogant pronouncements. We need to be present and mindful in the midst of our neighbors’ pain and anger without trying to mitigate, justify, or sensationalize the tragedy they are dealing with. I read this article yesterday and found it very appropriate and helpful in responding to the situation. I hope it is helpful to you in reiterating some of my thoughts as mentioned earlier. 

Keep asking the tough questions, loving those girls of yours, and sticking up for what you believe. And know that it’s okay to be angry, to have more questions than answers, and to wrestle with God. He’s not going anywhere.

Friday, October 19, 2012

space soup under my bed

If you didn't already know, my mom is pretty terrific.   I mean, really.  She's a cut above the rest.  It's not like she sent me to New York with a credit card or pays my rent or buys me designer purses.  Because she gets me.  And she knows I'm not about money and "stuff," just like she never has been.  We both care about the small things, the thoughtful tokens that say, "this made me think of you today" or "I know this silly little thing will make your life a bit easier this week" or "I just love you. THIIIIIIIIIIIIIS much."

What she's really great about is coming through just when you know you need her--or didn't know you need her, but you do.  For instance, even if I feel ridiculous doing it, if I need to, I can call her at 3 in the morning, and she'll be just as happy to hear from me as she would be if it were 3 in the afternoon.  She's also good at knowing how to keep me truckin' when I really slow to a grind.  Like when she visits me and insists on putting $40 on my Starbucks card because she knows sometimes, I'd really benefit from a little caffeine but, often, I can't bring myself to fork over the cash.  

Another classic example is an enormous package I got from her last year.  She'd hosted one of those parties with her lady friends--you know the kind: with the candles or kitchenware or kitschy jewelry... Anyway, this one was about easy-to-prepare meals.  Open the box, add 6 cups of water, heat, and BAM! Instant dinner.  Well, because she hosted the party, she got this enormous prize package of food.  And what did she do?  She had it sent straight to my apartment in Harlem.  So the UPS guy showed up one afternoon with enough food to get me through a small apocalypse (assuming I have access to basics like water...and cream cheese and milk). :/

Admittedly, being the make-it-from-scratch-when-you-can foodie that I am, all this super-prepared, preserved, freeze-dried, dehydrated astronaut food kind of creeped me out.  But without fail, every time I've found myself pinching pennies at the end of the month--or simply too lazy to go to the grocery store--there's something just right in that giant box of food under my bed.  

Tonight, I surveyed the kitchen, only to find I'm down to half a block of aged Gouda, three eggs, some carrots, pasta, and marinara.  There are a few more things, sure, but not much to pull together a passable meal (I already had eggs for breakfast, thank you).  And that's when I remembered the box under my bed!  Success!  After a mental shout-out to Mama, I decided on potato cheddar soup.  Sure, I'd rather make the real thing with whole potatoes and a block of cheese, but this will totally suffice for tonight. Thanks, Mama!

All this to say that there are probably lots of little things your mom--or someone else who loves you--does to make your life a little brighter and less complicated.  Like providing that silly little box of scary-yummy space soup.  So offer up a hug or a thank you, a phone call, or an old-fashioned just-because card to let them know you noticed their little gift to you.  Gratitude makes everyone feel good.  Pass it on. :)

Thanks for reading. Love you all.

I am a woman, and my body does not define me.

It only takes one ugly comment to sour my night.  

All in all, I've had a glorious week: great fellowship with friends, plenty of hearty laughs, and a couple good drinks to boot.  Plus, one of my dear friends from home is in town, and when I finally get to see him, it's gonna be like Christmas.  But for a minute tonight, on my walk home, I forgot all that.  In an instant, my cheery, confident attitude shrank to something small and angry.  I walked past a rowdy group of young men and heard this: 

"Damn! I'm gonna be ninety-eight and still scoring pussy like that.  Ha!"

He said it loud enough for me and all his friends to hear.  And suddenly, I was in a twisted fit of rage and embarrassment.  But because there was nothing I could say or do to take back what he said, I kept walking.

A few days ago, before Romney's Binders Full of Women debacle overtook social media and our collective American feminist conscience, I posted this article from Slate.com to my Facebook wall.  To many of you, male or female, catcalling may seem a rather benign issue, unworthy of much public scrutiny.  Indeed, the most recent comment on my link to the article was a condescending, belittling one from a high school classmate of mine: "Meanwhile in Afghanistan..."  By no means do I wish to detract attention from the major socio-political crises of our day.  At the same time, I don't think "smaller" issues in our own country involving our own people deserve to be overlooked.  In fact, the problem of catcalling stems from a much deeper global crisis: the world over, to varying degrees, women are treated as second-class citizens.  It's not a new problem, and we've only begun the work to solve it. 

Generation after generation, misogynistic cultural mores continue to engender negative, shallow attitudes towards the value and purpose of women.  That's why catcalling comes so easily to many of the men of our day.  It's been ceaselessly tolerated--even condoned--by our male-dominated society, and only in the last two or three decades have women really been granted an arena to voice their disgust. 

The author of "Stop Catcalling Me" validated many of the internal struggles I've faced living as a single woman in New York City, apart from the safe, appealingly insular community of my mostly WASPish college campus.  For me, the entire article was spot-on, but here's what really put a lump in my throat:
I suspect it’s difficult for men to imagine a world in which their bodies have long been inextricably linked to their value as an individual, and that no matter how encouraging your parents were or how many positive female role models you had or how self-confident you feel, there is an ever-present pressure that creeps in from all sides, whispering in your ear that you are your body and your body defines you. A world where, from the time of pubescence on, you can feel the constant and palpable weight of the male gaze, and not just from your male peers but from teachers and sports coaches and the fathers of the children you baby-sit, people you’re supposed to respect and trust and look up to, and that first realization that you are being looked at in that way is the beginning of a self-consciousness that you will be unable to shake for the rest of your life.
I can guarantee that no man has quite understood that "constant and palpable weight" of being watched like that.  But I can assure you that every woman of a certain age absolutely has.

Growing up in a small town with a strong father and teachers and friends who looked after me, I didn't really have to deal with negative, subjugating attitudes about myself or my sexuality, at least not on a regular basis.  Even in college, I was pretty sheltered; the guys were polite, intellectual, and thoughtful, for the most part.  But I distinctly remember the first time I knew I was being looked at that way.  

I was nannying away from home for the summer, and one night, after the kids were in bed and their dad had one too many beers, I sensed a shift in his attitude toward me.  Nothing tangible happened, but my gut was screaming at me that the way he smiled and the ease with which he chatted at me was wrong.  He had the position of power, and I was made to feel small and foolish.  He was a married man.  I was barely twenty.  It was his behavior that was inappropriate, yet I was the one who suffered the silent humiliation.

After I moved to New York, I quickly learned that it doesn't matter what you wear, where you walk, or what time of day it is--men will shout at you all they like.  None of this really bothered me much until I moved to Harlem.  I don't claim to understand the cultural intricacies of why this behavior seems more acceptable in upper Manhattan--I'd like to know--but I noticed the difference as soon as I moved into the neighborhood.

Last summer, on my way home from a late-night shift at work, I got off the train at 145th Street to walk home.  It must have been about 2am.  I can't remember.  What I do remember is the man standing there on the corner as I reached the top of the stairs.  He called for my attention, and, assuming he was asking for the time, I answered.  To make a long story short, he made more than one very direct, explicit, entirely unsolicited request for oral sex.  He actually offered to put me in a cab so we could go "to your place or mine."  It was, by far, the most despicable, humiliating thing I'd ever experienced.  And to make matters worse, I was wearing my work T-shirt, and he made mention of it.  

Afterward, I called 911 to file a sexual harassment report.  And for the rest of the year, I couldn't bring myself to get off at that stop after dark.  And I started taking a change of clothes to work.   I only shared what had happened with a couple of my closest friends here.  Even my mom is reading this for the first time (sorry, Mama).  

I don't pretend to know the all the pain of what it sometimes means to be a woman.  Believe me, there is a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in my family that keeps me grateful for every day of safety and respect I'm given.  Even so, I have no shame in admitting that I've been hurt, and every violation of my dignity and privacy only galvanizes my desire for a serious shift in how our society treats women.  My future daughters deserve better than this.

If what I've said in any way appeals to your conscience, here are a few small things you can do to help:
  • If you want to compliment a woman, “you shouldn't tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is because her outfit is her choice whereas her face isn't” (Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower).  
  • Resist the temptation to gush over how "pretty" or "cute" or "adorable" little girls are.  I read an article once that encouraged adults to engage young girls in conversation about their favorite hobbies, music, or school subjects, not just the color of her favorite tutu.  They're more impressionable that we realize, and we should inspire their minds, not their makeup collections.
  • Don't catcall.  As Kendall Goodwin writes in "Stop Catcalling Me," "when in doubt, keep it to yourself."
  • If you're a man and you see your friends objectifying women, see if you can get them to think twice about what they're saying or doing.  We need all the allies we can get.
  • And because it's election season, give serious thought to whether your candidate of choice will really look out for women (equal pay, access to health care, a new national law demanding paid maternity leave, etc.)

As seems to be the trend for me of late, this was not a "light" blog post.  So if you've read this far, thank you.  You've blessed me just by hearing me out.

Love you all. xo 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

no exit wounds

This morning, I wake up two hours before my alarm is set to go off.  My eyes snap open.  I haven't moved a muscle, but I'd swear my body was made of lead.  I'm sobbing in an instant, and I gradually work myself up to a near-hyperventilating state.  Dial Mom.  No answer.  Dial Daddy.  He picks up.  They're still in bed in Phoenix, but I don't care that I'm waking them up at 6am.  I haven't called like this since the summer I watched someone die in the middle of West End Avenue.  And I haven't had a morning like this in years.  Last time I had a nightmare this horrifying, I was sixteen, and I crawled right into Mom and Dad's bed, crying hysterically between the two of them, no questions asked.  In my dream eight years ago, I held a gun to an abuser's head.  This morning, the gun is on me.

As far as I  can tell, I'm doing NGO work somewhere in the middle of Afghanistan in winter.  It's biting cold and desolate.  The sky is one great slab of heavy gray steel, a perpetual dusk with no clouds, no movement, no change.  Everything is eerily still.  

I'm in what seems like an abandoned hospital or army barracks.  The place is desolate and mostly uninhabitable, save for a few others like me and some locals roaming about, presumably because they're too old or frail or tired to go elsewhere.  I stand on a second-story terrace, watching another woman like myself run after a supply truck that's mistakenly left with a stack of emergency blankets we desperately need.  She's banging on the back of the cab, choking back cold, chalky dust until the driver stops.  We have our blankets.  And the rations of food they left.

Then I sense a shift.  Someone who is supposed to be on "our side" suddenly is no longer. I don't know who he is, but I know that yesterday, he was an ally, and today, he is not.  Standing on a hill about fifty yards away, dressed in a smart red uniform, he turns from his lookout position and fixes his sights on me.  I am startled, but he gives me a knowing look.  Knowing I could never move quickly enough to outrun him, I take a breath, turn my back, and brace myself.  Why his loyalties have shifted, I don't know, but he seals the deal with three shots: two square in the middle of my back and one in my head.  

I'm face-down on the floor and acutely aware of the pain at first, but my body goes into shock quickly, and soon, I don't feel much.  I have no exit wounds in my abdomen, and I don't know what's going on with my head, but I am somehow able to stand up, wander the mostly-empty corridors, and ask how to get to the nearest hospital.  It seems everyone else here has resigned themselves to this losing battle and cannot bring themselves to muster much concern for my current state.  

At the end of one corridor, I find a young, white-coat American woman whom I hope might be able to help me.  She reads my face in a single glance and understands my situation immediately.  

"I'm prepared to die," I tell her, "because I know where I'm going."  And it's here that I lose what little composure I've managed to keep.  "But I just have to get home to my family.  You don't know what this will do to my parents." 

She is kind and sympathetic, and I'm comforted by something she mentions about God and His purposes.  But she can't get me to a hospital.  Her advice is the same as that of everyone else here: find a cane and start walking, or come up with $15k for a MedEvac.  My situation is becoming more bleak and absurd by the minute.

I leave the corridor and stumble into some sort of kitchen where, inexplicably, my dear friend Mitch is washing dishes.  I collapse against him, sobbing, and he just stands there, stunned and dripping soap suds into a puddle on the floor. 

By some twisted bit of luck, I have cell service.  But I can't bear to call my parents.  Instead, I text them both vague "I love you" messages and decide to call my little brother.  I'll tell him everything.  He has to take care of Mom and Dad and Chelsea.  He has to be good to them because unlike me, he gets a shot a living a bit longer and being a part of their lives.  I'm about to call him...

And that's it.  That's when I wake up feeling like I've been encased in concrete.

I don't know what dreams like this are supposed to mean.  But I know they remind me of how much I cherish my time here on Earth with the people I love.  This morning, I made sure to tell my parents I love them.  And as she was running out the door to work, bewildered by her crying roommate crumpled up on the sofa, I told Hanne I love her, too.  And I'm saying it now to the rest of you: I love you.  Whether I see you daily or haven't seen you in years, each of you means something to me, and I count myself immensely blessed to have you in my life.  My life would be nothing if not for the people in it.

If you can, tell your parents you love them.  Tell your wife or your husband.  Tell your siblings, your nieces and nephews, your friends.  

Life is short.  Make love a priority.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Food Not Lawns

I have a new obsession: Goodreads.  It's both a website and and iPhone app, and the bookworm in me simply cannot get enough of it.  While browsing book suggestions based on what I'm currently reading (The Velvet Rage... and Animal, Vegetable Miracle...), I ran across Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood Into a Community. Which got me to thinking: how on Earth did we ever get to laying down a bunch of potentially-clover-choked sod in our suburban backyards instead of planting gardens?

More than ever, as a New Yorker with very limited personal green space--I have two flower pots, thankyouverymuch--I miss the backyards I had growing up.  

home on the prairie
In my childhood subdivision, we lived on a quarter acre with a massive greenbelt for a backyard.  I'd get lost in the trees and moss and blackberry bushes for hours, making forts with my friends and dreaming of getting that tree house I always wanted Daddy to build. 

When we moved south to the Prairie, we had even more space: five acres of hay and crab grass. I remember our first season on that land very well. Dad rented a "billy goat" and a roto-tiller from the local Hertz, and we spent hours upon hours pounding and chopping and grinding the earth into submission, only to see it reclaim its wild ways a few months later. Eventually, our alpacas made good use of the space, but apart from that, our five-acre expanse--which now seems like an insane luxury--went mostly unused. Granted, Daddy's love of trees ensured we planted our fair share of paper bark maples, weepings spruce, and my personal favorite: a larch.  But save for a few flower beds and a relatively small plot we kept maintained for blueberry bushes and, eventually, some out-of-control raspberry bushes, our yard was just one massive lawn-mowing project.  Even on a gas-guzzling riding mower, it was a four-hour project just to keep the grass in check.

my front yard from 6th to 12th grade
The Northwest certainly lends itself to gardening, or so it seems.  In reality, our yards are more often seeded and mowed and edged, then decorated with beauty bark and lava rock, then sufficiently doused in moss-killing, bug-ridding chemicals.  We wage war against dandelions, clover, and fields full of daisies.  But I wonder how much more we'd gain from our green space if we gardened instead.

I distinctly remember being awestruck by two particular gardens as a child.  My next-door-neighbor, Mrs. Hatfield, was an elementary teacher and an avid gardener.  Some of my fondest memories are of her weeding around her rhubarb plants in her green rubber, leather-trimmed Sperry slip-ons.  I had no idea what rhubarb was at the time--I eventually learned it pairs well with strawberries in a pie--but I knew I loved her garden. And, for that matter, every book she ever gave me for Christmases and birthdays and for looking after her dogs while the family went away on vacation. (Mrs. Hatfield, I still read Holiday Handwriting School every time I go home. :) A perennial favorite.)

The other garden I loved so dearly was at my godfather's house.  Uncle Ron, as I called him, had a massive garden surrounded by a fence taller than me to keep out the deer.  Zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, broccoli...his was certainly a garden of plenty, and when we'd visit in the summer, we always drove home with a load of fresh produce--and usually a box of freshly-picked apples from the front yard, for good measure.  

berries from the garden, summer 2012
I realize that gardens, however big or small, require constant upkeep and effort.  But really?  If we took all that time we spent mowing and edging and fertilizing and pesticide-spraying and spent it on a garden instead...WOW. That would really be something.  Or if you really feel like cutting loose, why not pull up some of that grass and throw out a few handfuls of wildflower seeds?  We did that one year on the prairie, and the outcome was glorious.

So if you're one of my lucky friends with a little bit of a yard, think about growing a few things yourself this year.  Strawberries, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, corn... just start somewhere.  I, for my part, will try to coerce some basil into finally growing--and staying alive--in one of my little clay pots here in Harlem.  As for the apples and squash this fall, my girlfriends and I will just have to take a Zipcar to an orchard upstate if we want our bushel of seasonal delights.  I'll be sure to document all my (hopefully successful) attempts at apple pie, applesauce, and apple butter.

In the meantime, happy gardening--and say goodbye to that riding lawn mower!  

Thanks for reading! Love you all. xo

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

a lesson in shallow thinking

Let's be honest. As much as we like to think of ourselves as uncritical, as much as we hope to be concerned with what's on the inside and not on the outside, we're massive failures. We've been raised in a culture where looks matter, and it's hard to maneuver around that.

I'm riding the train right now with a woman who, ten years ago, would have been the perfect candidate for Extreme Makeover. Her chin is virtually non-existent. I look across the train and imagine what a little nip-tuck work would do, and I want to slap myself. My God, Mollie. Who do you think you are?

And just to compound my feelings of guilt at my shallow judgements against this woman, I catch a glimpse of the book she's reading: Dying Well.

For all I know, the woman sharing her train ride with me could be dying of cancer--or God only knows what. How stupid of me to suggest, even to myself, that she'd benefit from a little cosmetic help.

On days like today, especially, when life seems just a little more precious, just a bit more fleeting, the reality checks seem to hit me at all sides. Shame on me and my simple-minded foolishness.

So for her sake and mine, I hope my neighbor on the train is well and fulfilled and perfectly joyful about the life she's been given. She'll never know it, but she just taught me a very important lesson: live well and love the life you have right now.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Eye on the City, Part II

Finally, here is the long-promised follow-up to "Eye on the City, Part I."  While the majority of my blog posts center on a single topic or theme, some things about life in the City are simply too fleeting, odd, or just plain difficult to categorize to constitute an entire post.  But I hardly think the quirky little fragments deserve to be neglected.  So here they are, in no particular order, for your amusement.  Or so I hope.

1. New Yorkers love their movies.  The bigger the franchise, the better.  Hanne, Britta, and I stood in line down on 34th Street with all the other novel-turned-movie junkies to see The Hunger Games in IMAX.  And this is what the wait looked like.  Mind you, we saw the film well over a week after it had premiered.  I think it's safe to say New York had a hand in setting all those box office records. 

And let's not forget to mention the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, a New York City institution.  If you don't mind crowds, and have a blanket, snacks, and a few hours to spare, you can see a free screening of a classic film almost every Monday night of the summer.  Emily and I saw the last show of the summer, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And this is the insane crowd that turned out.  The line to get in literally wrapped halfway around the park.  Look out, folks.  Serious Indy fans here.


2. New York sometimes gets a bad rap for being frigid, self-serving, and relentlessly frenetic.  But it's mornings like this one in early April that remind us how New Yorkers also invest significant time, money, and energy on broadcasting the kinder bits of life still happening on a daily basis.  If you missed it the first time around, be sure to see Mom and Chelsea on Good Morning America (their segment starts at the 2:37 marker). Make sure you've got your box of Kleenex.   

And as if being on GMA isn't cool enough, you might get stopped in the middle of the street by a total stranger who recognizes you from the program and wants to tell you how your family's story made her day!  Yes, New Yorkers will do this.  Everyone loves a little humanity. :)

3. New Yorkers are fast food pioneers.  This City gives new meaning to food-on-the-go because nine times out of ten, when the guy behind the bagel counter asks you, "To stay or to go?"--the markedly East Coast departure from the West Coast "For here or to go?"--you're gonna say "to go."  Capitalizing on that tendency are the City's ubiquitous food trucks.  

While in town for Good Morning America, Daddy passes one such truck.  Since he's on his way to meet me and wait in line for tickets to Anything Goes, he passes up the truck, along with his breakfast.  We get our tickets--and our Starbucks, thanks to Mom--and then Daddy goes missing.  Pretty soon he turns up, looking a bit glum. "I tried to find that truck, but I think he rolled away," he tells us dejectedly. Not two minutes later, we turn the corner, and there's the disappearing truck. "Aaagh! It's here!" he shouts.

We walk to the Schwarzman Building and sit on the library terrace.  Daddy's breakfast is just what he hoped it would be.  Nothing like a bacon and egg sandwich--and his girl, of course--to make that man's morning. :)

Next time Daddy's in town, we'll have to do a food-truck tour of Union Square.  He'd eat himself silly here:

4. Nothing brings out the best of this City like a good cause.  Charity walks and runs are HUGE here, and the AIDS Walk might lead the pack.   

The day of the Walk, the Apple Store opens its doors the help facilitate the smartest, most efficient check-in I've ever seen.  Walk downstairs, plug your info into one of the dozens of iPads being used for check-in, pick up your little bag of goodies (including a beautiful button!), and you're on your way.

After you check in, be sure to get a good view at opening ceremonies.  Because you never know which folks from the casts of Mad Men and Glee might show up.  And Carolee Carmello might sing.  And David Hyde Pierce might be sitting in there in the front row distracting you the entire time from all the other cool people taking turns at the podium.

And then you join this fabulously proud, passionate (albeit slow-moving) mob of hopeful New Yorkers:

And when, halfway through the walk, you come upon a wizard, you won't be surprised.  But you will snap a picture for posterity (and the blog).

5. Further attesting to New York's endearing weirdness are the many "holidays" celebrated here, including International Pillow Fight Day.  Before Chelsea and my parents got to the City, I made a special trip to the Brooklyn IKEA for $1 pillows.  Best investment.  And what a ridiculous way to have some fun on a spring morning in the Village!

That's all for now! Thanks again for reading! Love you all. xo

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Me? Write a children's book? Figures.

Okay, this is silly.  But I got a hair-brained idea to start a children's book today.  Who knows if it'll actually turn into something publishable, but I'm having fun in the meantime.  I just spent the evening pounding out part of a first-draft over a spread of Thai delivery: panang curry and sticky rice with mango.  It's the good life, folks. 

Like most children's stories (and all of my writing), this is character-driven, and everyone has their own wacky voice and set of idiosyncrasies.  So far, I have a polar bear protagonist on his first field trip from the Bronx Zoo, an overexcited hot cider-drinking hippo, and a precocious little nose-wrinkling Bronx girl who offers the displaced polar bear some practical advice. 

Sounds ridiculous, I know.  But I'm going to do a little research and reading on how to really write for kids, and we'll see if I can make this thing happen.

[At the wise suggestion of a good friend, I decided to edit out of this post the previously included excerpt.  I guess I should worry about protecting my work; anybody can steal practically anything these days.  So you'll just have to wait until later to read it all in print.]

Keep your eyes peeled for a second installment of "Eye on the City," too, because heaven knows I've got about ten thousand photos--several of them subway candids (creeper!)--and I'm dying to do something with them.

Thanks for reading, and if you consider yourself a writer, I'd love your suggestions and cautions!

Love you all! xo

Friday, August 10, 2012

all these things and more: how I've come to be a Christian gay rights advocate

A very dear friend once described me in rather accurate terms: "Explosive. Reactionary.  Attractively naive.  Emotional.  Loud in voice and personality.  Trusting.  Focused.  Intelligent.  Non-religious.  Jesus first.  Easily offended.  Traditional values.  Wonderfully awkward.  Cosmically compassionate.  Selfless.  A dreamer."  

His was actually a comparison drawn from the character of April Kepner on Grey's Anatomy, but it has been immensely valuable to me nonetheless.  I took his words to heart, and his outside observations have since helped me to clarify my sense of self and slog through more than a few internal struggles.

I am many things: a daughter, a friend, a singer, an actress, a New Yorker, a liberal conservative or conservative liberal (depending on who you ask), a fighter, a champion of underdogs, and a no-holds-barred supporter of equality.  (My dad once called me a "bleeding-heart liberal."  I think he meant for me to take offense; I couldn't have asked for a higher compliment.)

I am all these things and more. But above all, I am a Christian.  

I hesitate to wave that banner too wildly because by and large, society imagines a "Christian" utterly unlike me.  Blame it on the media, politicians, entertainment--the picture is ugly: hypocritical, self-righteous, conditional, homophobic, greedy, heavy-handed, tight-fisted, stubborn, elitist, judgmental, and (sometimes) just downright unintelligent.  

It is the most alienating, least Christlike image I can imagine.  But it is the dominant portrait of the American Christian, like it or not.  I know countless followers of Christ who are just that: people who seek to live like Jesus and impact our culture in a radical, redemptive, arms-wide-open way.  I hope you see me as the latter because I have a confession: I used to be one of those other Christians.  

Make no mistake, I would've never joined the ranks of the Westboro Baptist Church with its "GOD HATES FAGS" signs (to even attempt to align that group with the larger Church is absolutely absurd).  But I spent many of my younger years operating under the well-intentioned belief that President Bush could do (almost) no wrong, gay marriage was practically an abomination, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were just, and that if I just prayed hard enough, maybe my gay Christian ex-boyfriend would become straight and "come back to Jesus."  I really believed it.

Which brings me to the main point of all this soul-searching: I am a Christian and I support gay rights.   

I am an advocate.  Unequivocally.  Proudly.  Personally.  Because some of my closest friends are gay, and I see their struggle every day.  I see them being treated as second-class citizens in every sphere: social, political, and religious.  But what cuts even deeper is that many Christians are complicit in the injustice, if not directly responsible.  Bearing that in mind, it's safe to say that as a Christian, I tend to overcompensate.  However insignificantly, I do what I can to make amends for the way I once condemned the gay community, even if the Church at large is painfully reluctant to do the same.

My friend who made the April Kepner comparison calls me an "anomaly" in this.  "You're an advo
cate for gay rights," he says, "But you really are a Christian."  As if the two truths cannot, fundamentally, coexist. 

But I think that's where we've got it all wrong.  For me, it simply would not be possible to have Jesus at the center of my life and simultaneously stand by while my friends are being denied basic human rights.  It would be a betrayal of my faith and a slap in the face to Christ and those he loves.

Several days ago, I discovered Emily Timbol's Huffington Post article: "Why I'm a Straight Christian Fighting for Gay Rights."  For the first time, someone had articulated exactly how I feel about being both a gay rights advocate and a Christian.  I promptly posted the article to Facebook and was happy to see that a few friends gave it a thumbs-up.  

The only comment on that post, to date, was from a former classmate and one I found a bit disappointing, though not entirely surprising:  
"You will note, however, that whenever Jesus encountered someone living a sinful lifestyle, He always told them to turn from their sin and follow Him. He never treated anyone with contempt, not even the ones who set Him on the cross, but He also wasn't silent about how He felt about someone's lifestyle. From the Pharisees to the tax collectors to the prostitutes to the common man, He always tried to bring them to himself, and that means a change in lifestyle. I would normally not say anything about something like this, since the gay/lesbian marriage law seems to be an opinion-based issue, but saying that Christ would have stood for the law is something I can't keep silent about. Yes, Christ would've treated them with respect and dignity, as I always do, but I don't think he would've condoned their lifestyle anymore than he condoned the lifestyles of the aforementioned people living in sin. That's not something the Christ of the Bible would've done. That's my two cents. :\"
The explosive, reactionary April Kepner in me wanted to respond immediately, but I knew my retort would amount to nothing more than a flimsy, half-realized statement of a very deeply held, steadily built conviction.  I told April to take a back seat and allowed myself a few days to process.  I've decided to answer the above comment one or two statements at a time.

First of all, everything hinges on whether you believe that a person is born gay or that homosexuality is a choice.  Some of my friends, gay and straight, will say that sexuality is a spectrum and a number of factors play into sexual orientation and self-identification, with biology playing a critical role.  Nevertheless, when all is said and done, there remain two adequately delineated camps: the folks that say you're born gay and the folks that say you choose to be gay.  I, for one, believe a person is born gay.  That alone is a huge discussion in and of itself, better addressed by scientists, psychologists, and psychotherapists.  To that end, I highly recommend The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs, PhD. 

Once you've decided which camp you're in, it's time to struggle with the sin part.  It is important to consider that while you may be a Christian, likely very few of the gay people you meet are.  Some of them grew up in the Church, but to one degree or another, almost all of them have been alienated by Christians, many of them their own parents and childhood friends.  So arguing the point of sin with them, directly, is a waste of time and further reason for them to resent the Church and the shame it has so deeply rooted in their lives.  You are just another "clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1) in the greater Christian soundscape.  

Now, some Christians believe that it is not homosexual orientation that is the sin, but the homosexual act that is the sin.  In other words: it's okay if you're born gay, just don't act gay or live a gay "lifestyle" or (God forbid!) enter into a monogamous, committed, lifelong relationship--never mind marriage--with the love of your life.  This position, while more progressive than some, still reeks of the "Love the sinner, hate the sin" jargon, a cheap cop-out that, more than ever, makes me want to rip the plaster off the walls. 

Then there are a few Christians who believe that being born gay is not an accident and being true to your sexuality is not a sin.  I'm one of those Christians.  I believe that my gay friends have just as much right to happy, fulfilled, purposeful lives as I do.  I hope every one of them loves their job.  I hope they each find a lifelong partner and gets married.  I'd even love to see them start families.  But the heartbreaking thing for me is that no matter how much I hope these things for my friends, their basic freedoms hang in the balance.  I have no greater claim to basic human rights as a straight woman.  But somehow, for them, something as simple as being hired at a job--and keeping that job--is up for debate, at least in cities like Jacksonville, Florida.  Which brings me back to that Facebook comment I quoted earlier. 

To be clear, Emily Timbol's article has nothing to do with gay marriage and everything to do with, as she says, "blatant discrimination and legal prejudice."  In fact, the article makes absolutely no direct mention of gay marriage whatsoever.  Given that, I wonder what prompted my classmate to include in his Facebook comment a statement entirely unrelated to Ms. Timbol's article: "the gay/lesbian marriage law seems to be an opinion-based issue, but saying that Christ would have stood for the law is something I can't keep silent about." 

The article is actually about advocating in favor of a Jacksonville, Florida
bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.  According to the Florida Times-Union, the bill would "protect people from discrimination in situations involving employment, housing and service at public accommodations, places like restaurants and hotels."  In short, gay people in Jacksonville will be allowed to eat in any restaurant they like, rent whichever hotel room strikes their fancy, and work at any job for which they are qualified without fear of being discriminated against simply because they are gay.  I can say without reservation that as a straight couple, my parents have never been denied access to a hotel, restaurant, or job opportunity simply because they are straight.  Why should it be any different for my gay friends?

A few final thoughts on that Facebook comment.  My classmate said that "Christ would've treated them with respect and dignity, as I always do, but I don't think he would've condoned their lifestyle anymore than he condoned the lifestyles of the aforementioned people living in sin."  Well, we've already seen that the positions on the gay "lifestyle" are varied and complex, among Christians and non-Christians.  Nobody can agree whether or not homosexual orientation and expression is inherently sinful, so I think making claims about Jesus's thoughts on the matter is a pretty risky move.  

And perhaps most importantly, I'd like to inquire about my classmate's claim that he always treats the gay community with "respect and dignity," as Christ would have.  Is there not respect and dignity in granting the gay community their basic human rights, such as are at stake in Jacksonville?  Is there not respect and dignity in, perhaps, affording them the basic privacy to live their lives however they like behind closed doors?  And is there not respect and dignity in maybe, just maybe, allowing our gay friends to share their side of the story?  Because truth be told, I see little respect or dignity in my classmate's words.  If he would like to argue me on that point, I'd invite him to ask his gay friends, if any, exactly what they have to say on the matter.

So there you have it.  The April Kepner in me has kept her cool, for the most part.  I don't expect everyone who reads this to agree with me on every point.  I can only hope that what I have to say will be an impetus for some soul-searching.  

If you are genuine, humble, and earnest in your desire to better understand any of these issues, please listen to your gay friends.  I say
listen to, not talk to, because years of experience have taught me that I have far more to learn from them than they could ever learn from me.

Before: a group of Christians at Chicago Pride
After: this is what I want my life to speak

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Where in the world?

Today, my parents and little sister are making a huge move: from western Washington (where we were raised) to the suburbs of Phoenix. The news has raised a few eyebrows among our friends, so I think it's rather fitting that my family's new address will be in Surprise, Arizona. For real.

Meanwhile, I'm 3,000 miles away, babysitting a couple kiddos while on medical leave from Trader Joe's. Never one to pass up the chance for a geography lesson, I aim to explain my family's southern migration to four-year-old Jonah.

"Jonah do you know where California is?" Arizona is a long shot, so California seems a more likely point of reference. After all, most four-year-olds have at least heard of Disneyland.

But Jonah just stares at me, puzzled. "Uh-uh."

"Okay," I answer. "Do you know if you have a map of America?"

He shakes his head, content to loll about on the sofa while I cross the room to the bookshelf. I can't find any book that would suggest so much as a map of the City, let alone the country. The books in his room are no help, either. I could really use that Rand McNally world map hanging on my bedroom wall.

It's here that I come to a seemingly small yet critical revelation: I am determined to teach my kids from day one about the world beyond their backyard. Without a doubt, leading my children to a knowledge and love of Jesus is most important to me. And I can't wait to teach them how to swim and sing. But after that, almost nothing seems as valuable to me as raising my kids with a curiosity and respect for the people and cultures around them.

I've always loved maps and learning about faraway places. For as long as I can remember, my dad has had an unassuming yet incredibly handy globe perched on a bookshelf in the den. I loved running my fingers over its bumpy topography and discovering that places like Mali--well, would you look at that!--and Timbuktu actually exist. If I was bored, I'd spin the globe and drop my finger like the needle on Dad's turntable. Wherever my finger landed, I'd look the place up in Dad's Collier's Encyclopedia set. (That's how we learned things before the internet, Wikipedia, and Google Earth.)

Siberian man
When I was in third grade and Mom was homeschooling me, I remember doing a huge research project. I put together a butcher paper-sized booklet on all seven continents, each ocean, and the major points of each area--unique animals, climate, industry, etc.--complete with crayon illustrations on each page. I think that project is still in a box somewhere. Mom has always been good about saving things like that over the years. :)

In fifth grade, I was particularly obsessed with the inside front cover of my geography book. It was a two-page illustrated map of the world, and every major region was detailed with a representative portrait of its indigenous people group. I was fascinated by the Aztecs and Mayans, the Australian aborigines, and the diverse and beautiful people groups of the far north, from Greenland to Siberia.

Elephant Nature Park - Chiang Mai, January 2010
It comes as no great surprise, then, that I've developed an incurable case of wanderlust as an adult. I spent a week in Ireland with my grandma after high school, absorbing the culture of my ancestors and visiting Grandma's longtime family friends. My travels abroad during undergrad were no small investment, but they were worth every penny. I spent the better part of a month flinging myself to every corner of London and beyond, relishing my first real sense of independence abroad and annihilating my bank account in the process. I was welcomed by warm, loving host families in Argentina and Thailand, and I am more sensitive to other cultures and their unique sociopolitical struggles because of my time in both countries.

First walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, January 2009
And it is my two-week trip to New York in the middle of the bitter winter of 2009 that, frozen toes notwithstanding, served as my impetus for moving here a year-and-a-half later.

So here I am, on the easternmost edge of the map of America I want to buy for Jonah. It's his fourth summer as a New Yorker, my third. I hope he grows up with the same cutiosity about the world as I have. And for my part, I'm going to fling myself into a few more corners of this world.  Several African countries--and a number of humanitarian efforts--have topped my bucket list since high school, but they'll have to wait a little longer.  For now, I think there's a bus ticket to Boston calling my name.

Get ready, Jonah, buddy, because we still have the whole wide world ahead of us! And I'm just getting started.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eye on the City, Part I

Admittedly, I've been a bit MIA on the audition scene the last six months or so, but I've seen and done a lot of fantastic things in the meantime.  That's the beauty of New York: there's always more to discover, and living here (almost) never gets old. 

It's been on my to-do list to share a few highlights of life here in the City, and almost two years in--have I really been here that long?!?--it's time for me to show you the New York I see.  Enjoy.

1. If it's not already, New York should be known as The Other Windy City.  Here's a clip of a walk I took one night last fall around Lower Manhattan. 

2. Sometimes, I take pictures of people on the train.  Call me a creeper, but I bet all of my New York friends will admit to having done the same at least once.  

This couple riding downtown on the C train made me smile. Quintessential "Old New York."

Good dads always brighten my day.  Loved seeing this napping pair.

I love this guy's style.  I've seen him twice on the train home from work, and he was dressed fabulously both times. 

3. Enjoying the city skyline doesn't necessitate paying $40 to take an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  I shot these from The Allen Room, part of Jazz at Lincoln Center, atop the Time Warner Building overlooking Columbus Circle.  My dear friend, Ben Bonnema, invited me to be his plus-one at the 16th annual ASCAP Foundation Awards night where he was honored with the Frederick Loewe Scholarship for his outstanding achievements in musical theatre composition.  Paul Williams hosted, Stephen Schwartz was recognized for his lifetime contributions to musical theatre, and Judy Kuhn sang (and all the while, I kept picturing her as Pocahontas).  It was a night to remember. 


4. I can scratch "sing at Carnegie Hall" off my bucket list.  On January 16, I sang in the world premiere of The Peacemakers by Karl Jenkins (and under his direction) with choral groups from all over the world.  The soprano on my right came from outside London, and the soprano on my left was from Melbourne, Australia.  Music is the universal language!  (But we already knew this.)

5. New Yorkers, despite their reputation for being hurried, stiff, and entitled, are really good at heart.  One random act of kindness can create a chain reaction.  See?  I found this on a bench in the 72nd Street CB station one night after work.  Someone in need had dinner that night when they otherwise might not have.

6.  Some of my favorite views of New York are on my regular running/commuting routes. 

I snapped this shot inside the northwest corner of Central Park on January 23rd, one of the only snowy days this winter. 

This shot was taken a little farther north the next day, just a few blocks from my apartment in Harlem.

The High Line might be my #1 spot in the City, particularly for out-of-town visitors.  I snapped this series one night in mid-March after babysitting in the West Village.


7. Here's a snapshot of a day in the life on the audition circuit.  The room at Telsey + Co was full of women at the call for the second national tour of Wicked.  And these are only the Equity women.  They typed Equity and automatically sent non-Equity home.  So I walked in and walked out.  Can't win 'em all.

8. I'm a sucker for clever breadboards.  Enjoy.

This hot dog establishment wants to give the legendary Nathan's chain a run for their money. 

Guess you won't be needing that milkshake as long as you've got their cookies!

And this one is just horrifying.

9. This Williamsburg bathroom just off the Bedford L train is the coolest, craziest thing I've seen in a long time.  Just in case you were bored while peeing...

10. It's hard to believe it's been more than ten years since 9/11.  There are still fresh flowers every day at this West Village neighborhood memorial. 

More to come very soon!  Thanks for reading.  Love you all. xo