November Made

I’m planning a series of more reflective posts for Advent, which starts next week, but I didn’t want to get off schedule too much before then. So bear with me for a brief overview of my November creations.

I’ve been crafting again! Okay, I didn’t stop. In the past month, I’ve crocheted three pumpkins (orange, white, and green) and a turkey (Terence, my first foray into stuffed animals, as evidenced by the crooked tail feathers and oddly proportioned head). I turned a few empty ornaments into mini winter wonderlands and displays for our keepsakes like graduation tassels and a bracelet from our honeymoon. I have plans for a few more ornaments, if only I can get the right size and shape plastic ornaments.

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I made a banana pudding that only required me to go back to the store once. I chickened out on the meringue, as I’ve never made it by myself before and the pudding was intended for Tyler’s family Thanksgiving. Tyler and I made beef stew, taco soup, and a potato casserole together. The soups were experiments in our Instant Pot, both of which turned out well and froze well (important when you’re only feeding two at a time). We also baked whipped shortbread cookies and snickerdoodles. The snickerdoodles will definitely come out of our kitchen again.

Tyler created a gorgeous and highly delicious unicorn cake for my 30th birthday that I love too much to not mention here, though it certainly wasn’t my accomplishment.

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I read two books: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof and Cancer Just Is by Morgan J. Bolt (this one was for work and I loved it). Both are excellent memoirs, the first about two years sailing the Caribbean and food, the latter about four years of cancer treatments and theology.

I didn’t participate in NaNo in a traditional sense this year, but I did use it to track the words I wrote on all my many writing projects, most of which are secret. I’m happy to report that I broke 10k words yesterday, which was my goal for the month.

I’ve seen 12 Hallmark Christmas movies so far this season, my top two favorites being “Road to Christmas” and “It’s Christmas, Eve.” (The full list is below.) Tyler hasn’t been very impressed with Hallmark movies so far, but he’s now seen 5 and has survived very well. I particularly enjoy when he starts shouting at the characters.

-Christmas at Pemberley Manor
-Christmas Joy
-Road to Christmas
-Let It Snow
-Christmas at Reindeer Lodge
-Christmas in Love
-A Bramble House Christmas
-Engaging Father Christmas
-Marrying Father Christmas
-It’s Christmas, Eve
-A Veteran’s Christmas
-Christmas in Graceland

We’re planning to put up our tree this weekend and I’m hoping to finish the ornaments and a wreath I have in mind by then. The calendar has really thrown me off this year. I’m used to transitioning directly from Thanksgiving to Advent, but we have a whole week in between. Whatever your week looks like, I hope it’s bright and life-giving.

Getting Crafty

I noticed the change about a month ago. I was in the midst of wedding chaos and moving chaos and the heavy presence of family and expectations and scrutiny. I didn’t have enough time. I didn’t want to write. I read to survive, mentally and emotionally, but I wasn’t particularly excited about any one book. What I did get excited about, though, was crafts.

Two weeks before the wedding, I went to Joann’s after work to buy a hot glue gun, scrap fabric, matching thread, and a small mason jar to make my own pin cushion. I had found an unopened box of straight pins and was returning my mom’s sewing kit, with pin cushion top, after 10-15 years in my possession. I’d noticed a lot of things I’d quietly pilfered from her over the years and I wanted to give them back. After doing so, I needed a pincushion. I could buy one online and it’d be delivered in a couple days (Amazon) or a couple weeks (Etsy). I could buy one in an actual store and save some shipping time. But I wanted to make one.

A few days later, I got together with a couple of friends, and we each painted a canvas. I created a spooky (spoopy) pumpkin on a black and grey streaked background, which I set on the bookshelf in the living room as soon as I got to Tyler’s apartment that night.

We returned from our honeymoon to actual fall weather, and I realized I had less than 10 days to take full advantage of the Halloween season.

A day or two later, I had an idea for a wreath while at work, and raced home on my lunch break to see what I could cobble together from materials I already had. I found a rope circle such a people use for macrame, and which I’d originally intended to turn into a spring wreath for my parents. I grabbed a length of off-white yarn and a pair of scissors and plopped down on the living room floor to spin a spider’s web.

Twenty minutes later, I clipped a black rose barrette, my makeshift spider, to the end of the string and hung my new wreath on the front door as I headed back to work. I remain really proud of it. Tyler’s dad makes wreaths for their house, so I showed him a picture of my creation and earned a “looks good.”

Sunday afternoon, I flipped through a magazine of winter holiday crafts at Tyler’s grandparents’ house and took pictures of the instructions for several projects I’m happily dreaming about.

Sunday, I crocheted a little sleeve to help protect my new phone until it’s case comes in.

This week, I intend to crochet a couple of pumpkins that I can also use to decorate through Thanksgiving.

I’m so happy with these projects, but the change still feels a little random, a little sudden. I didn’t spend a lot of time crafting before. I’d intentionally avoided Pinterest-ing any aspects of the wedding decorations so that my friends and I wouldn’t be rushing to fold enough paper roses or arrange the right number of silk flowers by the wedding date. So what’s with the sudden crafting passion?

In all my packing and moving, I rediscovered a bunch of craft supplies I’d forgotten about, plus buttons. And I still have those seashells from the beach at St. Augustine last year. What can I do with all that? A crate full of yarn is hard to give away, so what can I do to whittle down what I do have? Yes, I intended to make a scarf from that skein and a hat from that one, but what can I do with it today?

I think the lack of a deadline (except Halloween or Christmas) is a big draw. I can do these projects casually, whenever I get the chance. And it’s something that I can finish. I can’t finish all the laundry in a day (though I tried). I can’t finish all the unpacking in a day (again, I tried). I’ve yet to finish this book I’ve been working on for 7 years or this scarf I’ve been crocheting all year. But I can create something I like, something I wanted, in just a few minutes or a few hours.

Plus, I don’t have many holiday decorations. The last five years, I’ve lived with someone who had her own decorations for the living room, kitchen, and other shared spaces before I got there. The decorations I did acquire were mostly for my bedroom and mostly Christmas-themed. I don’t have decorations for fall or for a whole apartment. I don’t know how Tyler will like the ones I do have. And I don’t want to spend a ton of money on ornaments or red pillows just to have ornaments and red pillows. I’d rather build our collection over time, but have enough this year to make things feel festive and homey for our favorite season of the year.

Do you have a favorite fall decoration? Have you been getting crafty lately? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Emails to My Senators

I haven’t been writing blog posts lately because
1. I’ve been planning my wedding,
2. I’m in the process of moving,
3. I’ve been calling and emailing my Senators regarding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.

I believe sexual assault survivors of all genders. I’m sick to death of men deciding that crimes against women don’t matter, particularly if the culprits are straight white men, the wealthier the better. And I believe a great deal will be lost if Kavanaugh is confirmed. I am increasingly convinced that most people who support Kavanaugh’s appointment believe Dr. Ford. They just don’t care. They don’t think sexual assault matters. If they did, Trump wouldn’t have been elected. But he was, and Kavanaugh was nominated, and here we are. Women are still less than human. Powerful men can still shout and rant and interrupt Senators and lie under oath and be appointed for the highest court in the country. (Although I pray and pray that he won’t be.) Therefore, I have been contacting my senators, including Lindsey Graham on the Senate Judiciary Committee, multiple times a day.

Below are two of the emails I wrote to my Senators today.

To Senator Tim Scott:
I am calling on Senator Scott to demand the White House ask the FBI to reopen the probe into the three allegations of sexual assault brought by Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez, and Ms. Swetnick against Brett Kavanaugh. This is a job interview process for a permanent position on the highest court in the country. We cannot risk putting an ill-qualified judge into that position.

Kavanaugh has already lied under oath during these proceedings. If his word cannot be trusted about the legality of his past actions—such as whether it was legal for him to consume alcohol in Maryland when he was a teenager—his overall character and all allegations against him must be subject to the closest scrutiny.

During the past few days, Senator Graham has demonstrated alarming partisanship while threatening to abuse his power in “revenge” against Democratic candidates. I am relying on Senator Scott to uphold the integrity of the Senate, the Supreme Court confirmation process, and South Carolina by demanding the reopening of the FBI probe. Until that time, I urge the Senator to call for the delay of all votes.

To Senator Lindsey Graham:
I have placed multiple calls to your local and DC offices over the past 24 hours and your voicemail inboxes remain full. It is obvious that you do not want to hear from your constituents. However, your outrageous displays of partisanship cannot go unanswered by the people you represent.

Considering your previous service in the Air Force, I expected you to put the interests of your country above that of your party. Considering your position as the senior senator representing South Carolina, I expected you to uphold the integrity of the Senate and our state. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I expected you to uphold the integrity of the confirmation process. Instead, you undid all your work with Senator Durbin on the Dreamers bill, impugned the reputation of our state, betrayed the best interests of the country to appease the Trump base, and threatened to abuse your power by taking “revenge” against Democratic candidates. In short, you have behaved shamefully.

The only way to begin to make this up to your constituents is to demand the White House ask the FBI to reopen the probe into the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh and to delay all votes until that probe is complete.

Your state is watching. We will remember in 2020.

The News Makes it Hard to Sleep

When I’ve been depressed and anxious, I’ve disciplined myself not to look at the news or get online an hour before I go to bed or an hour after I get up.

I wish I’d been more disciplined last night. I was curious if there were any new pictures of Blair Braverman’s sled dog puppies and ended up discovering, among other things, that a thirteen-year old black boy in Houston was kidnapped by a group of white 17-18 year olds as he was getting off the bus from school, and taken to a cabin filled with weapons. He’s a baby. His name is Zavion. And he barely escaped torture and lynching.

I couldn’t sleep for a while. I don’t understand what my country has become, how so many people think that the president is anything but a lying, corrupt, incompetent white supremacist. Calling Latinx people “animals” (don’t make the MS-13 excuse; humans are humans) is a deliberate dehumanization tactic often seen employed to prepare the way for gross human rights violations, like property theft, enslavement, abuse, and genocide.

When faced with innocents being killed, as in Gaza, I see a lot of people taking the cue of the US ambassador to the UN, who walked out of meeting rather than listen to the Palestinian ambassador speak. The act was supremely disrespectful and undiplomatic. Much like the deliberately provocative decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem or to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Not being trustworthy, consistent, or respectful on the world’s stage is a bad look for a country that loves carrying its bully stick around, policing the world, threatening dictators, and taking credit for other countries’ accomplishments. (Lest we think calling Kim Jong Un names on Twitter is a savvy political move.)

The news is flooded with so many stories of terrible things happening to innocent people because of corrupt, immoral, distinctly un-Christlike political leadership. So many people feel that their worst inclinations are justified by the racist, ablest, homophobic, misogynistic, greedy language and acts of these politicians. And those people act on those inclinations. They rant at people speaking another language or call the police to have brown and black people removed from the areas they want for themselves.

Anyone who cannot accept that someone is not exactly the same as them is dangerous. Zavion knows that. Palestinians know that. A restaurant full of people in Manhattan know that. So do two men in a coffee shop in Philadelphia. As do school after school full of children.

I must constantly remind myself that, as a Christian, I am to be a person of hope. I struggle to understand how Christians around me can extend such beautiful, selfless love and compassion to their friends and neighbors but offer venom to people who don’t look or identify as they do. I struggle to comprehend how Christians, specifically, voted for people who are known pedophiles and harassers and literal Nazis merely because they belong to the political party that Billy Graham insisted was the Christian one.

I’m white and abled and heterosexual and a Protestant Christian. My existence isn’t inherently politicized in the way that, for example, a disabled queer Muslim person’s is. I can wear a symbol of my faith and not have to worry about being attacked or harassed because of it. I don’t think it’s radical to want everyone to be able to wear a symbol of their faith with the same security. I won’t be fired for my sexual orientation or physical abilities, and I want everyone else to be protected in the same way. Marginalized people being protected doesn’t mean I, as a non-marginalized person, lose any protection. It doesn’t mean, as I’ve heard other Christians—even ministers—argue, that Christians will be persecuted if homosexual or Muslim people are not oppressed. The standard can be dignity and security for everyone. Not because of what they can contribute to the world, but because they are human. And all humans, so says the Bible in Genesis 1:27, are made in God’s image.

Hatred and apathy are both un-Christlike. Despair is understandable (thank you, Jeremiah and Job), but Christians are called to hope (thank you, Naomi and David). These days, it’s hard to find the balance between taking care of my mental health and being informed of the instances of rising bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hatred. Because of my privilege, I can choose apathy and my life won’t be greatly affected in the short term. But I have seen this pattern of propaganda, government-disseminated lies, dehumanization, and society-accepted abuse before in my political science and history studies. And I know that widespread abuse and oppression, even genocide, can happen anywhere. Even here. And it is ungodly. It is unconscionable. It should keep me up at night.

These days, I’m making a concerted effort to learn about communities in the United States that I don’t belong to. Through educating myself, I hope to better understand, respect, and support people who don’t look like me or identify as I do, and who are oppressed for it. God has shown us mortals what God wants of us: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Self-education is one way to obey all three commands. Lately, a favorite resource has been W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America.

I’m also leaning on my word for the year: believe. I believe that people will have verbal, active compassion for others. I believe God is with those in pain. I believe I can change one person’s mind. I believe I can be generous or brave, for God’s glory, to make another person’s life a little better. I believe that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (MLK, Theodore Parker).

“Believe”

I know many of you are expecting a blog post about Tyler’s and my engagement, but I need a little more distance (and time) to put that together. Instead, I want to talk about 2018. People usually post New Year’s Resolutions and the like in January, but I’m a rebel and not going to do it that way.

I did make a resolution for 2018, but I’m not going to talk about that. It’s not that interesting. (Okay, fine. I resolved not to buy as many new hardcover books. Yay Gottwals and county library and eBooks.)

However, I also chose a word for the year: believe.

Believe I can be a novelist.

Believe I can change my habits.

Believe my relationship will get stronger.

Believe in God’s sovereignty.

Believe the best of the person I’m in conflict with.

Believe that I can be adventurous again.

Believe that wedding planning can be more fun than stressful.

Believe that I can like my body more than I do now.

Believe that I can be a good friend while being a spouse and full-time employee.

Believe that I can be a good spouse while being a full-time employee and friend.

Believe that I can be a good employee while… you get the idea.

I’ve been shaking the branches of the internet (mostly on Etsy, if I’m honest) looking for a small sign with my word on it, which I can put on my desk at work and on my wall at home.

I want a reminder. It doesn’t do me any good to have a word for the year if I don’t remember it and don’t try to act on it.

While cleaning one night in February, I came across a printed photo of myself in Egypt my senior year of college. I’m standing in front of an ancient volcano in the Black Desert (so called because the soil of the volcanos has eroded and now the desert is covered in the black, broken up pieces of the cooled magma). I’m wearing my favorite shirt. My hair is golden from time in the sun. I can see my shape. It was an incredible trip, full of struggles but also rich in joy and knowledge and confidence and good health and adventure.

I slipped the photo into a cheap plastic frame and took it to work. Now it sits beside my monitor, in front of the hand sanitizer bottle, and I look at it multiple times a day.

It doesn’t make me feel badly. In the weeks the photo’s been there, I haven’t once bemoaned what I’ve lost since then. I feel inspired by my past self and I feel encouraged because she is me. She became me. My life is one of the ones she dreamed for herself, and in many ways is even better than she’d hoped. In ways, I can be her again.

I can take a painting class because I used to enjoy it.

I can reconcile with people who have hurt me.

I can resist the candy bowl on the corner of my desk.

I can drink more water.

I can learn the names of more countries.

I can start a new story.

I can slay the Jabberwocky.

She believed she could so she did.
—R. S. Grey

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
—Hebrews 1:11

Let’s Talk Socks

I wear socks almost constantly. I’m cold natured and I feel much colder if my feet are cold, so I have amassed a small army of pairs to help keep me warm. Although I grew up only wearing white socks, in college at added black to my repertoire. Now I have tons of colorful, patterned socks, mostly ankle socks.

I might choose to wear a certain pair for the padding or arch support, to go with boots or tennis shoes or dress pants. But when all else is even, I choose based on the traits or feelings I want to have while wearing them.

I don’t really think that my socks embue me with Gryffindor-eque courage or anything. But knowing I’m wearing them, that I chose them for this purpose, is helpful. It stays in the back of my mind.

Let’s take my superhero socks, as examples. Last week, I got home from a Bible study hangout downtown. I was so tired, but I had a lot to do when I got home to prepare for the next day and the coming weekend. After I took a shower, I opened my sock drawer and surveyed the kingdom of clean pairs. I have a lot of black socks, a few white athletic socks, my narwhals socks, Gryffindor socks, Hufflepuff socks, Doctor Who socks, and superhero socks. I had a lot to do and wanted to get it all done efficiently and get to bed quickly, so I focused on my superhero socks. Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl were all clean. Supergirl gives me a general boost, and reminds me to remain optimistic. Wonder Woman helps me feel empowered to accomplish something difficult without becoming disheartened. Batgirl is tough and funny and smart and kind of crafty. I chose the Batgirl socks because she thrives in the night, and I needed to, too.

I’ve noticed that I wear my Slytherin socks more often than those of the other houses. I find myself wanting the cunning or confidence of a Slytherin far more often than I want the reminder to be loyal or intelligent or brave. My fox socks remind me of a specific friend, so when I wear those it’s a bit like having him with me during the day because I’m thinking about him more often that day. My Doctor Who socks, though beloved, are old and I haven’t watching the show in years. Still, I find myself drawn to the striped TARDIS pair and the yellow Daleks. At St. Patrick’s Day, I wear the pair I bought in Ireland. My mom gave my pandas with blue hearts for Valentine’s Day. I keep a whole armful of Christmas socks tucked into my sweater drawer until December.

I didn’t notice this phenomenon until last November, when I recorded on Twitter how much I had written that day, what project I’d worked on, and other details, including a photo of the day’s socks. I thought it’d just be a quirky excuse to add a colorful photo to the tweets, but it became a profound part of my ritual. I wore a different pair of socks every day that month and was more aware of what I wanted or needed when I chose a pair.

I think most people have a shirt or tie or dress that they really like and feel good wearing. I remember exactly what I wore on my first first date with Tyler because I intentionally chose to wear all my favorite things, wanting to feel as confident as possible (black turtleneck with heart-shaped buttons down the sleeves, darkest skinny jeans, black flats, peacock button earrings).

A friend and I recently discussed this accessorize-for-a-boost phenomenon. She had a favorite blouse, of course, but when I described my sock choices, she shared that she has pieces of jewelry decorated with symbols for strength and endurance. Based on what she feels like she needs that day, she’ll wear one symbol or the other, or perhaps both.

Is there anything you like to wear when you want a boost? What is it, and how specific is the boost?

Power, Institutions, and the Force

***Extensive SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. You have been warned.***

In the emotional climax between Kylo Ren/Ben Solo and Rey, Rey is tortured by Snoke, Kylo Ren turns on and kills Snoke, the pair defeat the red-clad guards, and now they must decide what will happen next. Both have entered this fight with assumptions about their end goals, and only now, when it’s just the two of them, do they realize how different these expectations are. Kylo asks Rey to join him in making a new order in the galaxy. Rey begs him not to choose this path of corruption.

They’ve been explaining their positions throughout the movie, but until this point they believed the other thought enough like them that the two of them could agree. And, honestly, I found Kylo Ren’s argument surprisingly relatable. All the only institutions are broken. Let them die, he says. We know how broken it all is. We can do things differently. We just have to let the broken institutions die. We have to let go of our ideas of how things have to be so we can build something better.

Even Luke, our dear, salty space uncle, is disillusioned with the institutions of the past and he makes sure Rey knows why they shouldn’t be resurrected. His unilateral decision about his nephew Ben’s darkness, and his power over him, is what pushed Ben to the dark side. Rey points this out to Luke, that his failure was a misuse of his power as the sole Jedi master and as Ben’s uncle and mentor. By the red throne room confrontation, it seems Kylo has come to the same conclusion: the Jedi Order is just as broken as any other institution. His uncle tried to resurrect it and Kylo suffered, and was nearly killed, because of it.

This morning on NPR, I heard a similar argument to Kylo’s, along with a guest asking young people, particularly millennials, not to completely abandon all the old institutions of government and civil service. The speaker agreed that institutions are fundamentally broken in many ways, but insisted that they serve a vital purpose: continuity. This is more of Rey’s philosophy. The First Order is tyranny. The Republic and it’s Jedi Order were also deeply problematic. But Rey doesn’t think others’ lives should depend on her whims, and in Leia and Poe’s arcs we see the need to learn and pass on wisdom so that the resistance, its members, and hope survive.

Kylo is willing to kill many people and to let many many more be killed for this purpose. And murder—since we’re talking about the rise of fascist regimes, it probably needs saying—is wrong. Including murders you allow to occur because the results will further your own purposes.

Kylo asks Rey to join him, to be his balance in the Force and in power, to let him be her balance and teacher. He asks that she accept that the existing institutions cannot be redeemed or saved. He asks that she give up on everyone who still clings to these institutions. He demands that she be complicit in the murders of hundreds of resistance members within sight of the late Supreme Leader’s command ship and the oppression of millions across the galaxy. After her experiences with Luke and Snoke, and confronting the truth about her parents and life on Jakku, he believes she will.

You don’t have to do it yourself, Ren says of the deaths. You just have to let it happen. Which is exactly how fascist regimes come to power, with the majority doing nothing so that, one day, they can hold more power. Even if that promise of power is a lie. I’d even say that it’s always a lie. Power corrupts. No one interested in sharing power with the masses wants loads of people to die in order to obtain that power. You can’t care about people’s freedom while not caring if they die.

I believe Kylo recognizes that he is a better person because of Rey’s influence. He wants Rey to be a part of this mission. He doesn’t want to be alone. But when she rejects his worldview and refuses to join him—refuses to accept the murders of hundreds and the oppression of millions in the name of one powerful person’s version of progress—Ren does not accept her decision and go about his mission on his own. He doesn’t wait out the battle on the planet or begin to dismantle the existing First Order power structures. He doesn’t wake up, fire Hux and Phasma, release all the Stormtroopers, and destroy the First Order ships. Rather, he lies about Rey and embraces again his existing power within the largest, most corrupt institution in the galaxy.

Remember, this is minutes after Rey disagrees with his worldview, which is minutes after he promises to share power with her.

We don’t know Ren’s ultimate vision for the galaxy, but we are given a glimpse of possibility: a trusting and caring team, Rey and Ben Solo working together to eliminate oppression and bring balance to the Force. He is more dark, but possesses light. She is light, but possesses some darkness. Together, they can be in balance. If only she will accept oppression of others, but Rey will not. If only Kylo will work within the existing institutions, but he will not. Rey asks him to use his existing role of power to save lives, but Kylo wants them all to die instead so he and Rey can rule together, as they see fit.

Luke believes he’s right that the Jedi order should die when Yoda’s force ghost sets the ancient tree on fire, but that wiley master knew that the sacred texts, the building blocks of the Jedi and their understanding of the Force, were safe aboard the Falcon. In Rey’s choices, Yoda’s lightning, and even the final exchange of the movie between Rey and Leia, the filmmakers seem to be saying, “Yes. Tear down what’s broken. But don’t burn it all. Don’t hurt people to do it. Go back to basics. The basics are good. Start from there.” Considering the “Weinstein effect” presently gripping Hollywood, I find this argument particularly poignant.

Recently, a friend shared about a dysfunctional dynamic in an organization she belongs to. The person with the most power in the group felt threatened by anyone who disagreed with her and was actively discouraging discussion and making others feel small. This leader initially joined the group when only one person had a voice and only that person had any power. In her eagerness to dismantle that system in which she was voiceless, she created a new system in which only her voice mattered. She doesn’t realize that she had helped created a system of oppression, just like the one she had suffered under, but this time she was the oppressor.

I read accounts of abuse, death, oppression, corruption, and listen to analysis of incompetence run rampant in the most powerful positions in government, supported by people claiming to value the opposite traits in humanity. I am tempted by Kylo’s message. I think the tired, jaded among us were meant to be tempted by it. Let it die. Just let all this horrible crap crash and burn. We’ll make something better. But power doesn’t work like that. Nor does creation. We must have honest group discussions, diverse voices, a populous that asks questions, leaders afraid of their own power, and checks and balances to both power and privilege. And I believe that we do need institutions. Not as they are at present, but institutions that will provide a framework of fair operations and protection of the vulnerable and marginalized so that no one is oppressed. I believe our rebuilt institutions should be able to survive in tact without its builders and leaders.

I don’t know where Star Wars is headed, if Kylo Ren will be redeemed somehow or not, if Rey will manage to create a freedom-oriented teaching environment for force-sensitive people. I come back to hope. I find more hope in a Falcon full of porgs and friends and mentors who work to give others freedom than in powerful people promising to forsake their power once they have a different kind of power. This year, as I call members of Congress and sign petitions and ask questions in response to diverse sources of news and commentary, I am leaning on hope. I am choosing to believe this country can be better. Rebellions are built on hope.

The Last Jedi Reactions – No Spoilers

The following are my reactions to The Last Jedi, which I saw last night, in no particular order with no spoilers and absolutely no context.

It’s already dead, what’s the problem?

Her hair really is much better this time.

I swear, the Skywalker men are weak as hell.

Get it, Chewie.

Swoooooon.

This seems like a bad idea. This seems like a bad idea. This is a Bad Idea. What are you doING THIS IS A BAD IDEA?!

#squadgoals

Hey! They gave her more than 1 line this movie!

DOUBLE TAP.

Well, like, wait a second.

I really need to learn the name of this pilot. She’s awesome. And I remember her face from last time.

Okay, but like, how are you going to get more of those?

The swoops. Why the swoops?

Luke Skywalker, actual drama queen.

So pretty. So deadly.

Maybe it’s a purple thing.

Dang, son.

Why did you leave a man in charge!? He’s going to ruin everything!

It’s a trap!

Well that was… a thing.

Ooooo, it looks like blood!

Okay, but physics tho.

Shoot him again!

Actual queen, Carrie Fisher. Oh! I mean Leia. Well, both.

Why do they always mumble when they’re saying new things? Let’s bring back the cool lady that enunciates when she says stuff like “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”

…I thought they were gonna fight.

I did NOT see that coming!

I TOTALLY EFFING CALLED IT.

What time is it?

It’s a FAMILY!

You could say sorry, you know.

Devil’s Snare meets that scary cave place.

Aww, not the green one!

What’s wrong with your face?

Luke must have a thing for round houses. Better than a thing for sand.

Finn looks like he just leaped off a horse in an Recency romance.

Was that really necessary, Disney?!? I might expect that of Lucas, but not you.

Wait, that was it?!

That sounded much better than in the trailer.

I want that ring…. And Leia’s from before. #spacejewelry

Salty old man Luke!

Yuuuuuuuuusss.

Ok, that’s just creepy.

Ooo, shade! Massive shade. Here for it.

They even sound pretty!

Blue or green? Blue or Green? BLUE OR GREEEEEEEN??

Bahaha! Rocks!

*cries*

Starting on Year 29

Today is my birthday. I was born just after 7 in the morning after only 4 hours of labor. It was the first time I willingly got up early, my poor mother. Although I have friends, and although I had the best family support I can imagine—including the best brother—I was a lonely child. I felt unnoticed, at times unwanted, and usually wholly misunderstood by the classmates and others around me. Not understood wrongly, so much as not worth other people trying to understand. At least, that was the impression I received.

From a ridiculously young age, I imagined what it would be like to have a boyfriend. In my mind a boyfriend would validates me and help me others see me as I secretly believed I was, someone worthwhile and important and funny, with all the makings of someone who was popular. Popular kids didn’t get picked on or bullied. And I just knew that if one person could see that I was worthwhile, and would choose me, then everyone else would see it too.

It’s easy to see now how sad and, well, wrong, that thinking is. And, in some ways, how common. Everyone wants to feel special, everyone wants to be noticed. Everyone wants to be appreciated and I was no different. And our culture glorifies relationships. Even from a very young age, I believed that a relationship would magically fix a lot of hurt in my life.

On big occasions like birthdays, New Year’s, and the inevitable, evil red and pink holiday of Valentine’s Day, I would feel especially lonely. And I would console myself with pep talks about how I was too young, how I didn’t like any of these people in my classes anyway, and how I would have all I dreamed of at some point in the future. By the time I was 15, I told myself. By the time I was 16 or 17. No, 18 for sure. Before I finished college. Probably by 25. But around my senior year of college, I began to realize that the years were passing faster and faster, and I seemed no closer to being in the relationship I hoped for.

I began to see how guarded I was and how my need for order and predictability would sometimes get in the way of possible relationships. In short, I began to look at my life and choices seriously. I’d long known, logically, that nothing would be fixed by a relationship. I saw my friends enter into relationship after relationship, the good and the unhealthy, and both kinds ended. Both kinds led to marriage, too.

And, as I grew happier in my life, and more mature in general, I put less desperate hope on a relationship that would validate me and make me a better person. I worked to do those things for myself, to build great friendships everywhere I went, but I was still lonely.

I kept extraordinary busy. My mom says I’ve been busy since I was eight, and that sounds right. I look back with amazement at how responsible and disciplined I was from about that age. I certainly am not that person now, but I’m also really glad I don’t have to be. It was a stressful life, one partially-built to keep me from dwelling too much on what I was still waiting for: recognition and appreciation and classmates’ kindness and being chosen by someone.

Once I passed a mile marker age by which I had thought I would have all of my romantic dreams realized—or just to have a boyfriend at all—I could look back and see how I wasn’t ready before. Of course 12 was far too young, and 15, 16 hardly better, 17 basically the same. And 18 was such a transitive year and I was so young and nervous and twitchy! I think about all I grew to know and learn, all the ways I was able to travel, to focus on other people—many people—and how blessed I have been.

So you can guess how weird it is that, this year, I’m dating someone on my birthday. I was dating the same person on Valentine’s Day of this year. I’m about to head into a major season of holidays and I have a boyfriend. It’s very good, but it is also very weird. I’m learning for the first time how to juggle this relationship and the possibility for new traditions amidst all the other relationships and traditions I’ve built over the past 28 years.

How do I make sure that my friends continue to know how important they are to me while also allowing Tyler to take an active role in the day? I don’t want to manage people, allotting certain hours or days to one group or person versus another. But, this year, that’s kind of how it feels.

At work I’ve been reading about the Israelites transitioning into the Promised Land. They had made lives for themselves in the desert. They knew how desert living worked. This generation have been taught by their parents, who had figured it out themselves with help from God through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

And even though they knew that this is what they’ve been promised, that the new land would be wonderful, they were afraid. They needed signs from God and reassurance in Joshua’s ability. They had trusted Moses, but this new leader was untested as a solo act. He’d only ever been Moses’ apprentice. Everything felt different, even if it’s what they had dreamed of their whole lives.

I don’t mean to be particularly melodramatic. These are very small concerns in light of so much pain in the world. Still, I built my identity around being single, advocating for the unmarried to be as respected and cared for as any other group, particularly in the church. But just as no person is unimportant, no concern is trivial to our father in Heaven. Transitions need growing pains. That’s how you know it’s really growth: a bit of pain is involved, some discomfort, more than a little uncertainty.

Tyler, I love texting you good morning and goodnight every day. I love knowing my hand is welcome yours, and I love when you reach for mine. I’m so grateful that you picked me to listen to and to ask questions of and to sit beside whether the day is good or bad. I’m so grateful I picked you to get to know, to learn from, to choose to love. I look forward to every single time I’m going to see you.

My friends, thank you for waiting so long for me to text you back. Thank you for understanding that I have no idea what I’m doing. Thank you for being so understanding when I fumble stuff. Which isn’t to say that I’m not still messing up. Thank you for being excited with me and for making my life so warm. I wouldn’t have been half as happy as I’ve been these past 28 years without you. You made my life interesting and you made me a better person. Thank you.

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”

Three Red Dresses

In the business and legal worlds, so taught my high school debate teacher, red is a power color. My dance teacher taught that less is more when trying to stand out. But red dresses are designed to attract attention and are worn to make statements, to distract, or as a disguise.

Think of the (often ill-fitting) red dresses you see characters wear in movies. In “Music & Lyrics,” Drew Barrymore’s character borrows a red dress to help her feel confident enough to confront a former lover. Rhett forces Scarlett O’Hara to wear a red dress so she’ll look the part of the homewrecker she tried to be. Julia Roberts’s “Pretty Woman” character wears a red dress to go to the opera with her John, as if they’re a normal couple who do this often. Peggy Carter wears red to let Steve Rogers in “Captain America” know she’s interested in him. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Downton Abbey,” “She’s All That,” “The Princess Bride,” “Titanic,” “Outlander,” “Clueless,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Arrow,” “The Princess Diaries 2,” countless Bond films, the Harry Potter franchise, and countless other movies and TV shows feature women wearing red dresses for one of these purposes.

I love the color red, but I’ve only worn a few red dresses over the years. Here are the stories of three of them.

The first is a dress of my mother’s. She wore it in high school, but in middle school I was playing Queen Isabella de Castille in a school play and needed something floor-length and regal. The dress my mom remembered, and which my grandmother mailed me, is a somewhat muted crimson with a deep V-neck. It’s not inappropriate, but lower than anything I’d worn thus far. The skirt billowed as I moved and the draping at the shoulder skimmed my upper arms. It was the first time I felt mature and beautiful at school. I was playing a queen. I made a headdress and veil and wore my mother’s red dress. I’d been in at least half a dozen plays or musicals to that point, but I had never before played someone whose voice carried such weight, who was always listened to. I certainly didn’t feel that way at school. I was awkward, anxious, and had been bullied. I had forged together some good friends and had good relationships with most everyone in my class. Still, that dress. Sitting on a throne, surveying my classmates in my mother’s red dress, I projected a confidence I’d never been able to display before. And if I could do it once, I could do it again.

I wore a floor-length, mermaid-style neon green dress absolutely covered in sequins to my junior prom. If I ever had a teen movie-style standout moment, it was in that green prom dress. Every single day of school, I wore a personal uniform of jeans, sneakers, t-shirt, and hoodie, but in my neon green gown, glittering as I moved, I felt light and relished the looks of surprise I received. Near the end of the following summer, my mom and I found a backless, wine-colored prom dress left over from the previous season. This dress was more mature, more romantic, than anything I’d ever put it. In the green dress, I had been vivid, effervescent, but in the red dress I would be daring, mature, desirable. My classmates would remember me differently. This was senior prom, after all. I think we paid $30 for it and I wore it, strappy and gauzy and slinky, in my room, trying to take pictures in the mirror that would capture what I felt while wearing this dress. But it didn’t fit perfectly, and by the time we got to March, I’d decided not to wear it. I was ready to leave high school. I loved my small circle of friends and planned to stay in contact with them forever, but everyone and everything else I was ready to leave. I didn’t care as much how they remembered me, or if they remembered me at all. So I chose to buy a new dress, one that made me feel my best and that befit the new era of my life I would soon be entering: a huge white princess dress, strapless, and overlaid with blue beaded flowers. I donated the hardly worn red dress, along with my green one, to a children’s hospital for their patients’ prom. I like to imagine the girl who got my red gown, and hope it helped her step forward boldly, and helped her say all she wished to that night.

Several years ago, one of my friends from college and his girlfriend broke up. A few months later, she had a new boyfriend but he’d chosen not to date anyone else until he graduated law school and moved back home, where he’d join a small local practice. But first was “lawyer prom”, and my friend’s ex had a new boyfriend, so he asked me to be his plus one. To be fair, I didn’t have a lot of notice for this event, but I happened to have a bright red, strapless dress with deep pockets tucked in the very back of my closet. I’d bought it several years earlier on sale, but had never worn it. His friends hadn’t met me before, as it’d always just been the two of us when we went to the movies or out for lunch. I got the sense that he wanted to escape the constant drumbeat of law school for a while and we’d been friends and classmates all four years of college. So the night of lawyer prom, the red dress to dinner with his friends said, “I am a force you know nothing about.” In the ballroom, where we bumped into my friend’s ex and new beau, my dress said, “Look at me; he’s doing fine without you.” I kept thinking about my senior prom, how ready I’d been to leave and what I had wanted to say, and felt honored that I got to help my friend say it. Plus, going alone to couple-y things sucks (I’d been to enough weddings to be absolutely sure of that).

There’s visual power to a red dress, or they wouldn’t be onscreen, let alone in our lives. There’s also the Jessica Rabbit factor, the woman in the red dress as a seductress or just arm candy. To that point, I’ll leave you with the words of the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, an on-screen fashion icon whose mysteries I’ve been rewatching lately: “A woman should dress first and foremost for her own pleasure. If these things happen to appeal to men, well, that really is a side issue.”