Category Archives: Status Quo

The Interview Series: The Shame Game

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“When it went down originally, people wanted to push it under the rug. I lost a lot of friends,” she told me, as we began our conversation about her experience of being raped during her junior year of college. She had been describing the reaction of a recent long-term boyfriend, and how his response wasn’t unlike that of her social circle at the time of the trauma. After dating for over a year, she had finally worked up the nerve to disclose to him that she had been raped, an important step for relationships with men that appeared to have long term potential. “It’s a pretty defining moment from my life. It creates trust issues for me. If you want to know me, you need to know this.” They were on a ski trip together, and one night after they had some drinks, she ventured into her past. No sooner had she spoken the words than he became angry, visibly upset and uncomfortable. She dropped the subject for the time being, bringing it up again the next day. He became defensive, informing her in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want to hear about it, or talk about it. He wasn’t the one who had raped her, so why should he have to confront her truth?

As she and I spoke we returned to the theme of silence, again and again, brought on by forces internal, social and cultural. Continue reading

Misconceptions About A Mormon

mormonWhenever I tell people I’m Mormon, I wait for the inevitable response. I wait for a misconception, an allusion to Mitt Romney, a comment about underwear and/or polygamy or an insinuation to the absolute undeniable fact that I must be anti-gay.

You know what I say to all of that? That’s okay that you think those things now. Why don’t we get to know each other? Let’s chat. Let’s talk through what you’ve heard and clear up some things. Also, do you want to know how I became a Mormon? Continue reading

The Interview Series: Reflections Of A Woman At 40

IMG_20150220_170714“Being forty, I wish I was living a life people envied. I’m not there and truly wish I was,” she began, as we settled into her living room couch to talk about her life in the first year of a new decade. She seemed to be alluding to her circumstances, the freedom that comes with being unmarried and childless. She cited Jennifer Lopez, a woman in her forties who is in fabulous shape, arguably looking better than ever, single and holding on to fame. “When I hit forty, I gained weight. It was like my womanly curves hit at forty.” She described a whole new crop of stress and change she’s begun to experience ever since her birthday–finding work and relationships draining, she naps (and she’s always hated naps); she’s at her highest weight with no motivation to make changes; she experienced her first bout of seasonal depression this winter; everything seems more expensive, creating barriers to the life she wants. And what life might that be? Continue reading

Filling The Void

filling voidI was talking with my dad about Candid Uprising, telling him about our mission and purpose and encouraging him to read. While I knew he’d be proud to hear that I’m exploring a passion project, I was also concerned about how he might react to some of the opinions we’ve put forth. While he is socially liberal, and overall of a progressive mindset, he was raised in the Midwest in the 1950s and has some closely held traditional values. My dad is a rather reserved, reticent person, but he came alive when I told him I had written and published a couple of posts on not wanting children. “Right”, he said animatedly, “people have kids to fill the void. Things get stale. People’s lives plateau and they tell themselves, now it’s time.” He continued to expound upon the subject as I frantically scribbled notes. “Kids fill up the room”, he continued, “they take all your extra time, all your extra money, all your extra love and affection. Kids are all consuming. Being a parent is a bitch, and the most responsible thing you’ll ever do. You fuck up someone elses life, and it’s terrifying”, he finished. “Dad”, I exclaimed, “then why in the world do people do it?”

“It’s biology, for god’s sake”, he cried. Continue reading

It’s Not A War, It’s Inclusion

inclusionThe concept that there’s a war on Christmas frustrates me. The indignant assertions abound: that it’s ok to say Merry Christmas to all people, and that the December holiday season needs to be branded as the Christmas season, and public and government property should rightly be festooned with Christmas trees and creches. It seems the justifications are that the U.S. is a Christian nation, that Christmas is the foremost December holiday, that Christian tradition takes the mantle over public life. Personally, I can’t understand the celebration of one religious group’s holiday requiring the exclusion of all other traditions. For what purpose? My perspective of what I’m going to call the holiday season (a period that ranges from the third week in November through January 1st) is that it’s a time we challenge ourselves to open our hearts, to reach out, be inclusive, give generously and think of those less fortunate. Goodwill towards all, don’t be a dick, treat others with beautiful kindness. And of course, mindless consumerism. In fact, my almost physical inability to say Merry Christmas has its roots in my many years working retail during the holidays. Continue reading

Yeah, I’ve Got a Problem With Authority, So?

authorityI can scarcely remember a time in my life when I wasn’t involved in challenging the authority figures in my life one way or another. My mom likes to tell a story from when I was very young, probably about two or three, when I wouldn’t stop walking directly in front of her, causing her to stumble and trip. We were walking in the fields behind our house in pastoral Middlebury, Vermont, down to a small pond. Though I can’t remember, I’m sure I was getting under her feet with the express purpose of tripping her, likely with a literal display of toppling authority in mind. She relates that she became so frustrated after telling me multiple times to stop that she pushed me down into the soft tall grass. Apparently I got up and we finished our walk without incident. Being underfoot as a toddler was the first of many, many confrontations with authority figures I’ve had over the course of my life. The lesson has never been learned, which leads me to believe I will always be looking for a weakness in my superiors to exploit. Sigh. Continue reading

I Can’t Breathe

Eric-Garner-Killed-998x561My carpool buddy and I had left work early that late-August day, hoping to avoid the miserable, inching gridlock of Seattle summer traffic. About a mile from our respective apartments we came to a complete standstill, not moving for a period of many minutes. We checked our phones to find the cause of the delay and found reports that the Seattle Police Department had shot a suspect to death, just blocks from where we sat, a half hour earlier. The report began to fill in, as the afternoon and evening wore on. The shooting was a confrontation of a single suspect by a single cop. The suspect was a known street inebriate, a man in his 50s, of Native American descent. The cop was young, white and in his late 20s, rather new to SPD. The suspect had a name–John T. Williams–and a family tradition of woodcarving. He had been crossing the street, using the crosswalk, head down, a chunk of wood and a pocketknife in his hands. From this point, I will refer to Williams as the victim, because I believe very strongly that SPD Officer Ian Birk chose to murder him that afternoon.

Williams had been living on the streets of Seattle for many years, struggling with severe alcoholism, hearing loss, and eking out a meagre living selling his woodcarvings. Seattle has a large population of transient individuals, and you begin to recognize the faces of the homeless who dwell in the neighborhoods where you work and live. I can remember arriving for early-morning opening shifts at the GAP on Broadway, a street populated by many people dealing with homelessness, mental illness and addiction. The cops would shake these folks awake, or tap their feet to rouse them from doorways, offering a ride to detox. It seemed like a sensitive way to manage potential clashes between business owners and people without stable housing. I assumed that SPD officers were familiar with the street folks on their beat, getting to know them over time, their personalities and behaviors. If I knew some of their names and many of their faces, their lines for soliciting money, the substances they were using and parts of their stories, didn’t SPD, whose job it was to serve and protect the citizenry? I assumed they would know the people on their beats well, allowing them to more accurately assess threats and respond safely and appropriately .

Why then, did Birk, after cruising along on a beautiful August afternoon, feel the need to pull over and leap out of his car when he saw a frail, homeless man, head down, slowly crossing the street? For what purpose did he begin yelling “drop the knife!”, firing multiple rounds and killing Williams within four seconds of getting out of the cruiser? Because a vulnerable person of color was carrying a small pocketknife while crossing the street? I believe that Birk got up that morning with the intent of murdering a person of color. His actions chilled me, and shook me to my core.

As a middle-class white woman, I’ve had the privilege of viewing the police as my protectors, feeling safe and secure in their presence. When I’ve called, they’ve shown up, giving me the benefit of the doubt, listening intently to my side, guarding me. I have zero concept of how it feels to be profiled, menaced, stopped and searched. I’ve basked in this privilege. Birk’s fatal shooting of Williams that afternoon shattered my perceptions of SPD as “peace officers” and forever changed my feelings about police.

Watching Eric Garner’s strangulation by a New York City police officer over the summer sent shivers of revulsion through me, taking me back to that afternoon in 2010 when I lost trust in cops. Here was evidence of cops continuing to choke-hold an individual (who struggled with severe asthma) suspected of a petty, victimless crime as he struggled for air, saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe”. For what purpose did Daniel Pantaleo push Garner’s face into the concrete sidewalk, choking the life out of him? Because he suspected him of selling individual cigarettes? I believe that Pantaleo got off on exerting his power as a law enforcement officer, abusing it, stopping short of nothing, not even murder.

The documented incidents of police using lethal force on unarmed, young, old, vulnerable people of color seem to be happening in a tidal wave of excessive violence, yet I think this is nothing new. I think now that nearly all citizens have video and photography equipment in the palms of their hands at all times, we’re seeing a stark reality that has always existed. The 24 hour news cycle and the ability to upload images to social media in seconds are showing what has always been: an utter lack of common humanity. In other words, our society has drawn illusory lines between individuals and groups and we’re selling ourselves on the idea that we’re not all human. That some groups are worthy, special, important and valuable and others aren’t. That some groups can’t be trusted, are guilty until proven innocent, and must be killed to avoid a perceived inherent threat to other groups. It’s so dead wrong it makes me sick. Even with our big brains, we’re too stupid to meet each other with common respect and dignity, thereby acknowledging all lives have value.

I struggled with whether, as a privileged white person I had a right to write about my feelings and reactions, in light of the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting MIchael Brown to death. I didn’t know if anything I said would have any gravity or accurately express how disgusting I think our society is, for treating non-white citizens like garbage, and worse. Right now I feel like nothing has improved, that we’ve made no progress as a species, simply running racism, fear, resentment and bigotry underground. It rears up, showing its hideous face and convincing me humanity is too fucking stupid to ever be better. This is why I’m an atheist, and in my most pessimistic moments, this is why I think the sooner humanity is wiped off the face of the earth, the better. If not all lives matter, then how do any lives matter?

 

Holiday Survival or, Just Say No

holidayThe holidays have come back around again, seemingly more quickly than they did last year. It feels like they are happening every year now…wait. Yeah, they’re a thing. I know people who look forward to them with great enthusiasm each year, counting down to special traditions with friends and family who make each other feel warm and loved. I know others who would rather crawl into a hole in the ground, emerging sometime in the first week of January, because the holidays evoke painful family memories and gnawing loneliness. You may believe the holiday decorations went up before Halloween this year, that there’s a war on Christmas being waged, retailers are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, crass, crazed consumerism is rampant, we’re all at risk for gaining weight and developing alcohol problems and type II diabetes by the time this whole season ends. Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, pour a cup of spiked eggnog, stream A Christmas Story, gather with loved ones and roast chestnuts, reveling in the love and beauty of the season. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the last two months of the year are a time when energy and tensions run high. My mantra for staying sane: just say no. Continue reading

Better Living Through Atheism, Pt. 2

Atheism 2(Continued from Tuesday)

I tried again with Catholicism on a few occasions, in times dark and desperate. At sixteen I was chronically sick with Strep throat for a year and no medical treatment was working. I went to mass and took communion as a last-ditch effort towards a healthy body. I started exercising regularly around the same time. I’ll let you decide which healed me, because I was indeed healed.

At seventeen I had sex for the first time and was promptly dumped, then chronically used by the boy whose penis was the first to enter my vagina. I was terribly attached to him, and miserable from his rejection, yet desperate for more physical interaction. I went to mass to beg for strength, hoping it might be poured over me, so I could make myself whole. Kindly and sensitively, my dad discreetly took me to a Saturday night service, where a younger, anonymous-to-us crowd prevailed. He never asked why.

At eighteen, my new college friend group felt it was important for us to attend mass around Easter, so I went, to fit in. Many of them had grown up Catholic too, and felt it important to honor family traditions while away from home. The social pressure was there, so I thought I’d make one more honest go at belief, and while the rituals were familiar and reflexive, I felt nothing but boredom and restlessness. I looked down the pew at my friends, who sat quietly, going through the motions. I couldn’t tell what they were getting out of it, and we never talked about it.

I lapsed into a passive agnosticism. I prayed at night as I was falling asleep, and it was mostly a list of the people for whom I was grateful. I didn’t give much thought about whom I was directing this litany of thanks, really a superstition against bad luck, lest I appear ungrateful and court it.  I knew for sure I wasn’t religious, and while I continued to celebrate Christmas, I didn’t consider myself Christian. In secular Seattle, it was easy never to consider one’s spiritual/religious beliefs, because if you had them, you didn’t discuss them in the circles in which I moved. There was no impetus for religious conversation or contemplation. Once, a fellow student approached me on campus to ask me a couple of survey questions. The first, did I believe the Bible was written by god, was easy. No. The second, did I believe the Bible is the word of god, took me back to my Catholic school days where that belief was the foundation of every lesson. No, I said, realizing in that moment what I believed.

During my master’s program we were instructed to understand and explore ourselves as cultural beings, while building awareness of the resulting biases. This work was the foundation of the program, for the purpose of educating culturally sensitive, self-aware mental health counselors. We were urged by our professors to seek a clear understanding of our ethical and moral values and their origins. I spent that two year period thinking deeply about my beliefs, and came to grasp my atheism. The evidence from the visible world, as I understood it, indicated a lack of a guiding force outside physics. There was too much fucked-up shit throughout human history up to the modern age for me to reconcile with a concept of a higher power. I truly, totally felt there is no god, no afterlife, no guiding higher power, no pre-determined script. My belief that the universe is a random and chaotic place became unshakable, an idea both fearsome and comforting.

Throughout the course of my life I have not felt a connection to a higher power. There were fleeting moments during middle school, but I see now that those flashes were about wanting to feel something, to fit in. My values came from my parents, from conversation around the dinner table that centered on kindness, empathy, reflection and forethought. We didn’t read the Bible, we didn’t invoke religious or spiritual teachings when problem solving, searching for direction or explanations. For ninety minutes each Sunday we sat next to each other in a pew, going through the motions, lost in our own private thoughts. Religion didn’t enter the home, it was an external event.

As time has passed, my atheism has strengthened. Our endless, easy access to information about the world’s suffering is one reason. I simply can’t understand how a loving god would allow most of the horrific things that have befallen humanity throughout history. My feeling is that if there’s a god who is all-seeing and all-controlling, who master-planned this shitshow, they are an asshole. I reject the term “worship”. Why, if god is the end-all be-all, all things to all things, the alpha and the omega, why do they need to be worshipped by people? Like, if your self-esteem is that low, why would I look to you for guidance and truth? How is it that the clashes of the world’s religions cause some of the worst violence? To me, a loving god would intervene. I just can’t put stock in an almighty power when the world is such a revolting place. There’s no way I can look up to a being so insecure I’m expected to stay in constant contact, put them first in all things, and care about them more than anything else.

I need to believe no one is in control of this hot mess, that we are all plodding along together, collectively not very intelligent even for our big brains. I feel a greater sense of urgency to live in the moment, to practice patience and kindness, to exhibit the behaviors I want to see in others, precisely because I believe this is my only life. If not me, who? If not now, when? I strive to be a better person and to treat others well because of how I feel inside, not from a sense of expectation. I feel internally compelled to be good because I feel better when I am. Because I believe I am walking an uncertain path, alone, I’m driven to seek the love and company of others, and to develop coping skills and resources. I’m my own protector, caregiver and motivating force. I’ve been tested. I’m resilient and strong. I have myself to thank for that, and the people who have helped me along the way. My life is here and now, and I show myself the way.

A Is For Atheism

Atheist_Atom_Symbol_ArtI never liked the word atheism. I never understood how someone could be atheist. I always thought, “how could someone that doesn’t believe in god or an afterlife live happily? Wouldn’t they feel incomplete thinking that this life is the only one? If someone didn’t believe in heaven, hell and almighty consequences, what would stop them from doing bad things?” Writing these thoughts out now makes me cringe, but (as you may have guessed) I was a devout Catholic for four years (and a “Holiday” Catholic for the years that preceeded them). In the grand scheme of things, four years is not a long time and it by no means makes me an expert in Catholicism or religion, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. Continue reading