Tuesday, May 31, 2022

my secret, sacred name

The temple matron leaned in and whispered in my ear, “Sophie.” My temple name. The name my husband would use to call me through the veil to the highest level of the celestial kingdom. Only he and I would know my name (though I would never know his). This was secret and sacred and it was mine. I treasured it.
I had always been fascinated about names acquired after you were born, not just the name you were saddled with by your parents. The Catholic kids got confirmation names and I was jealous. I didn’t know when I was growing up that I would eventually be getting my own special name. 
It seemed magical...like my temple garments, full of weighty covenants and hushed promises in ceremonies heavily borrowed from the Freemasons; I had to pledge to keep the name and covenants secret. Under penalty of death actually, though that was communicated without words but by the sign of drawing one’s finger across one’s neck. Clear as a bell, that one.
I was as serious as a nun and twice as obedient. My family converted to Mormonism when I was eight, followed with baptism by immersion at the age of nine. Religion fit me like a glove. I was ripe for dedication and structure. Of my family of seven, I was the most fervent. The line between letter of the law and spirit of the law never waffled with me--it was letter of the law first; spirit of the law second.

If being Puerto Rican/Irish did not make me peculiar enough in my seriously white Long Island public school, Mormonism tipped the scales. I couldn’t drink alcohol/coffee/tea, smoke, do drugs or have premarital sex. I remember one boy I was dating asked me (upon learning about my invisible chastity belt) Well, how far can you go? I insensitively, almost gleefully, announced that we were there. Kissing. That’s how far I could go. His disappointment was palpable.

After a fairly successful stint in high school (I squeaked into the top 10% of my class--which percentage was, by the way, the same amount that I gave to the church every time I earned money. Gross earnings, not net. God, I was insufferable.) I was accepted at several Ivy League schools but my parents sent me to Brigham Young University because 1) it was cheaper--I was a smart kid but not full-scholarship-smart and church members got a tuition discount and 2) it was a more controlled, safer environment.

Whenever I hear the word “safer” as it applies to how women are protected, I hear “Hymen Protection.” BYU was safer, I suppose. And godknows I was fine with being in the Mormon Mecca. I met Dave after my first month in Provo. I was 17. He was 21, fresh off his Mormon mission. We dated for less than four months before my father urged me to marry him. Oh, the humanity. And of course, marry him I did right after my freshman year. I was 10 months out of high school and convinced that this was my righteous path. Which led to the whole temple ceremony and my secret, sacred name.

Many years later, after my divorce from religion, god, heterosexuality
and husband (in that order), I was talking with my younger sister who had also gone through the temple ceremony. We wickedly and giddily exchanged our temple names like we were breaking the rules (and we were; they just weren’t our rules any longer) and then, she said, you know, the temple name you got was given to every woman who got married that day. No shit? The same name? So, what, is there a whiteboard in the Holy of Holies with the Name o' the Day scrawled on it? Seriously, my sacred, special, secret name was shared with scores of others? Well, isn't that the proverbial cherry.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

2 Mini 1000, Day 2–My Children

The vacuum in the wake of my grown two children departing from our home is sharp and bottomless. They live (by birth order, respectively) about 2,000 and 5,000 miles away from us. Adages like "great love risks a greater sense of loss" bubble up to the surface, useless and true. Mostly the love is clear and mutual but there is no pure sense of completely resolved love. The part that sharpens the black hole edges is the unresolved conflicts and the memory of conflicts resolved but still sore. I am tangled up in my love for them. My anxiety for their often precarious lives. Our desperation to reunite, all three of us, is real but there are mounting difficulties with those reunions. New health issues and old financial constraints.

We dropped off our youngest with our grandchild just this morning. The first day of absence is the keenest. Tomorrow I will remember the delight of an orderly house. Of removing the Play-Doh and rice from the area rugs. Of getting all the treacherous trike and step stool obstacles out of the walkways. Of walking through rooms not littered with clothing. Or small shoes and stuffed animals. Of things put away where they belong. But today I miss the tiny spoon a two-year old used to spoon yogurt into and around their mouth. There is a void where the chatter of a burgeoning vocabulary and new words being strung together filled this space...just a few hours earlier. I miss the way my youngest engaged that little person with compassion and patience. I miss the way my youngest and I navigate the difference in our expectations of each other. Perhaps I am not the ever-ready grandparent they had hoped for. Perhaps I'm not the grandparent I was hoping for. Perhaps I am just the best grandparent I can be.

These two humans that I pushed out into the world continue to surprise and delight and challenge me. I like them each so very much. They think and converse and laugh and weep with me. They care deeply. They know how to be stubborn and they know how to apologize. They teach me to be better. To be quiet and listen. To let go of my expectations and accept their changing lives. I wonder if we lived in the same village, would we love each other so fiercely?

I began my journey into parenthood at the ripe age of 19. I had been married for a year and was plagued by the paranoia of the religiously brainwashed, "if I wait too long to have children, would god make me barren?" Whatever the premature impetus, I never regretted having children. I had always wanted them, even if I jumped in too young. I was taught by my 1950's-era parents that the successful parent has obedient, well-behaved, compliant children. That my job was to ensure that I won the battle of wills and kept them safe and churned out productive, independent human beings. How differently I would approach that job today!

I watch my youngest with their child; doing the emotional work of not crushing a child's will is amazing, while maintaining their safety and teaching them a sense of communal cooperation. I took this toddler to a toy store, for heaven's sake, and they not only enjoyed looking at the toys, they were cooperative about putting up 90% of the toys they pulled off the shelves. They did not fuss when we left the store and I never had to threaten or get angry at them. There are just better ways. If they fussed about crossing the street (they wanted to push the stroller themselves), that was the only time I calmly picked them up and said it wasn't safe for them to push the stroller in the street. Both the Saint and I had them help with all kinds of activities: sweeping, laundry, cooking and vacuuming. They are enthusiastic about helping. Throwing things out, putting toys away, folding laundry and decorating cakes. It takes longer, is a bit messier but so much more fun.

The one memory from their visit that is etched forever in my mind is the night that we (my two grown children and I) stayed up until 2am. Just the three of us, talking and laughing. It felt as if no one wanted to break the magic of the moment. They are the...I've used up the superlatives...delight/joy/wonder/pride of my life. I am so goddamned lucky.

So my kids survived my mistakes, like I survived my parents' mistakes. If nothing else, it is the thread that binds all generations: our screw-ups. Today, one of the hardest part of parenting for me is the same as it ever was: how to be supportive but not swoop in and fix problems that they need to solve by themselves.


Postscript: So it's not 1,000 words and I didn't complete this challenge. I probably shouldn't have scheduled this at the same time as a daily drawing challenge! However, this essay is valuable so I'm posting anyway. I think I am overwhelmed with the idea of "telling our* story" because it feels like too much. This is predictable but still, I have to deal with it. I hope to get back to telling it because it's a great fucking story.

 *The Saint's and mine.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Winter 2022 Mini 1000, Day 1–My Mother

My earliest memories were of my tireless mother, "D," always in motion. Cooking, laundering, tidying and scrubbing. I joked with my sisters that, like a vacuum cleaner, I thought cleaning tools were mom's bodily attachments. Even when she was swimming upstream against Fisher-Price, discarded Keds and Barbie Doll clothes, mom would eventually emerge from the chaos, everything neatly folded in its immaculate place. 

Every weekday, she was down in the basement at 5am to do some laundry, then, back in the kitchen laying out the assembly-line of lunches for 4 or 5 kids while making or monitoring breakfast. She showered and ushered all of us out to our various bus stops and was off to work herself. At the end of her day, she'd pick up groceries, have dinner on the table by 6 for my father and all of us kids. She'd wash the dishes, pots and pans and prepare for the next day's domestic assault. Saturdays were cleaning days and Sundays we spent an inordinate amount of time at church, for which she usually brought a hamper of food for lunch. We were bathed, fed, clothed in clean and pressed clothes and always knew that home meant our own clean beds, warmth, meals and safety. There were eventually five of us kids with dental and doctor appointments, school rehearsals and performances. She was in charge of all of it.

I think my Mom loved having an orderly house but she never expressed any joy in it. She was a very good home cook but I don't think she enjoyed that either. She loved her children without a doubt, but I would argue it didn't seem like she enjoyed raising us. Everything was an endless chore. Fucking endless. She grieves now that she never stopped to play with us (she rarely did) and I remember her stopping to read a novel once in my life. Valley of the Dolls–so rare that I remember the title. My father worked hard too but nowhere as relentlessly as my mother.

Being a mama's-girl, I tried to please her. Once when I was about 10 years old, I announced that I would clean up after dinner. I washed all the dishes, pots and pans; swept the floor and wiped down the counters and stove. It was so hard and I was so proud. Her only feedback was to pass her fingertips along the formica and say, "the countertops are greasy."

So when I stumbled into adulthood, I knew very little of what my future would hold but I was sure as shit not going to spend my life cleaning house. A wasted life. A feminist affront. I would play with my children. I would be creative, even if it meant household chaos. And I was true to my word. Even with a partner who carried none of my fierce anti-housework baggage and didn't mind cleaning, with two kids and school and work, housework felt like a monster I would never tame. There was no point in fighting it. Besides, I was a narcoleptic and sleepiness piggy-backed onto my sense of defeat. It was utterly impossible.

Recently a lovely friend wrote an article about us in Outsmart (our local gay magazine). It was sweet but made me realize how much I'd rather write my own story than have someone else do it. So, for at least part of this Mini 1000, I'd like to do that. And I am starting with my mother.

I start with my mother with some trepidation. First of all, she is still alive, I don't want to hurt her feelings and I love her dearly. She did so many things well. Raised by alcoholic parents, she was often left to tend to her four younger brothers and fend for herself. Compared to hers, our childhood was completely carefree. She was a part of a different generation. Born shortly after the Great Depression, she married because it was what she was taught to do. Her pendulum swing from her own mother's irresponsibility was to make her life a model of selfless martyrdom. She was, and still is, one of the most duty-driven people I know.

I start with my mother because I empathized with her (though empathy was not a well-developed emotion in D's House of Silent Suffering. Being sick in our home had better involve febrile convulsions, compound fractures or bleeding from an orifice if you wanted any show of sympathy). My father was volatile, demanding and loud. I saw her as a victim because I had a particularly black & white world view--even for a child, I was powerfully drawn to the Good/Evil dichotomy. I needed her affection and got very little of it but she was never cruel to me. And she was funny. When she could release her iron grip on Making House Immaculate, she was quite funny. I needed that like other people need god.

I start with my mother because her domestic perfectionism transferred like osmosis into my creative and academic cells. Doing something extremely well was a way to honor her. I was a smart kid. An over-achiever. I was chubby. I was a religious fanatic. (I had all the components you'd need for a walloping eating disorder except one: I can't throw up. Seriously. My digestive tract is a violently one-way street...but that's a discussion for another essay.)

Finally, I start with my mother because my father frightened me, enraged me and made me feel small in ways that my mother did not. So I needed her. As I have grown I have learned that I am more like my father than I'd have ever thought possible and I loved her because she was not.

As we've grown older, my mother and I, I am continually amazed at how this stoic, duty-driven woman is so full of self-doubt. She skipped her childhood and adolescence and I'm sure learned to measure her worth by how she was perceived as a wife, mother and House Cleaner Extraordinaire. Now that my father has passed and she is well into the great-grandmother phase of her life, it is unsettling to constantly see her devalue herself. At the same time, she is finally able to express some feelings of affection for me and heaps praise on me for my accomplishments. Often, unfortunately, with a nod to her lack of them.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

triple whammy–mini 1000 - 06

I was all set to write this last post of the mini-challenge about body hair and our sometimes ridiculous attitudes towards it. But, the day presented one piece of sad news after another. So I need to talk about sorrow.

This morning I found out that one of my best friend's niece had died.

I did not know this child. I know her parents, her sister and of course, her loving uncle. Why has her death hit me so hard? The tendency for people to adopt the tragedy of others and wave it as a flag for their own need for attention is repugnant. I do not want to appropriate this tragedy as my own. It is not.

Yet, what is it about this news that has me at sixes and sevens? Why does this create more pain than other tragedies I read about every day?

  • First, it is connected to someone I love dearly.
  • Second, the woman was only 31 years old. With two children of her own.
  • Third, she had struggled with the lifelong disease of addiction and finally died from it.
  • Fourth, I have two children who each have struggled with different issues over their lives and I find it unbearable to think about losing them.

When I hear people even subtly hint that the person suffering from a mental illness is to blame, I get furious. Ditto for blaming the parents. Partly because I used to be as judgy and smug and I'm ashamed. This child suffered from an illness like cancer. She didn't ask for it, she just had it. Her parents went to great pains to get her treatment, help raise her children and support her. If they had sent her to chemo and radiation therapy for cancer everyone would be clear about empathizing and not blaming them. But this was about addiction so lots of folks insinuate that something more could have been done or something could have been done differently, etc.

My children have grown past most of the developmental minefields that keep parents awake at night. We are never completely free from danger but the recklessness and confusion of adolescence/young adulthood ups the ante quite a bit.

The announcement was made 10 days after her death, which was weird as I would have expected my friend to call or write me. Until I found out the family didn't find out about her death immediately. She had been dumped at an emergency room without ID and I assume she died there, so it took days to identify her. There are few things more heartbreaking than a parent having to identify their child's body at the morgue.

That was the hardest news of the day.


We have a standing lunch date with another close friend who is housebound due to illness. He is a great person and incredibly dear to me. He should not be living alone but his wife died unexpectedly a year ago and he is coping the best that he can. It is painful to see him struggle to stand up or slowly shuffle from place to place with a cane. I took him to the pharmacy (first time he has ever left the house with me or gotten into my car) because they were supposed to deliver his medications and kept putting him off. 

He is one of the least confrontational people I know but he stood there, all thin and stooped, and explained to the face of indifference that he's just taken his last pill and that if he didn't get this prescription by noon the next day, he would begin to have seizures. The idea of him having seizures alone in that now chaotic house chills me. He and his late wife have a beautiful home. She kept it up immaculately and tastefully. But the February freeze caused extensive damage and the house is literally torn up. Drywall cut away, tiles upended, furniture piled into different rooms. He is living in three rooms. His dining room table (makeshift closet) is piled with clothing like a mock garage sale. He hasn't had hot water for 6 months. I have repeatedly asked him to get me the name of his contractor so I could maybe move things along but he says he wants to handle this and I don't want to usurp his autonomy. It's just hard because he's pretty ineffective.

In spite of all this, it is fun and good to spend time with him and his beloved little Yorkie dog. We bring lunch, help him change refrigerator filters, move cases of water off the floor that are too heavy for him to lift and troubleshoot any mechanical problems in the house and yard. He has a good sense of humor so we laugh a lot. I love him so much.


On the way home from lunch I called my friend whose niece had passed. I hadn't seen him in almost two years because of the pandemic but he and his husband were due to visit in less than 2 weeks and we were so excited to see each other again. Except we weren't going to because they decided canceled their trip. Fucking COVID 2.0. (This Delta variant is sweeping the country, especially in Texas where idiocy rules the day with a governor who will not only not issue a mask mandate but forbids school districts and other state agencies from imposing one.) I didn't fully realize how much I was looking forward to this visit. Man, was I bummed out.

Being retired is like an endless weekend for me. Seriously. I keep getting told that this feeling will wear off and I'm sure it will but it's been seven months and my delight persists. But weekends for the employed do create a structure and rhythm to one's life so visits, travel, occasions and celebrations had replaced this structure. I love my everyday life but I look forward to and mark time with these goalposts more than ever.

I'm also in a low-level panic about the possibility that our trip to the Netherlands (in exactly two months) will be canceled for the fourth time. We need to see our grandchild. We have already missed their entire babyhood and the thought of postponing again just breaks my heart. Of course, I don't want to expose that sweet child to this damned variant either. Ach.


Everyone has to deal with shit like this. Sorrow is inevitable. I am an incredibly fortunate human being. I live with a woman who is goodness personified. I have my dream house. I am healthy and financially secure. I adore my grown children and they return the sentiment. It's just when your get hit three times in one day, as another beloved friend suggested, you get to wallow in it a bit. So I did. And said friend was there to hear my sadness–another gift that has no price–and then, she had fresh cookies delivered to cheer me up. And well, eating my emotions never tasted so good. Today was hard. Tomorrow will be better.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

mise en place all over the place–mini 1000 - 05

This subject keeps popping up with friends and strangers so I've decided to give it some space. The conversation is about how we take our ideas and turn them into art or literature or food or whatever creative expression we choose.

For many years (until his deserved #MeToo fall from grace) I listened to Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac." I did love his baritone rendition of beautiful poems but the main appeal was listening to him talk about great writers. Mostly, about the how they did what they did. There were writers who wrote books in frenzied 3-month jaunts. There were writers who only worked at night. There were others who wrote only on weekdays from 6am to 2pm and then stopped to have tea and play chess every day. There were as many approaches to writing as there were writers.

I love learning about process. What motivates an artist? What daily rhythms create sympathetic vibrations with their craft? What timing or settings help propel them? How do they approach the execution of their art? What do they do when they can't get there? What does it feel like when the struggle (finally) yields a perfect sentence?

My creative process can be fundamentally split into three parts. The first is about inspiration. You read something or have a conversation or have an experience that takes your breath away. Then, there’s the exciting idea-explosion part. How do you take inspiration and craft it into something that captures that feeling? Finally, there's the execution. The technical crafting of a thing.

(Incidentally, this is seldom a linear experience. You could collide with, trip over or have any one of these parts settle into your lap in any order. Like when some random material trips a switch before you've even decided to create something. Or when the need to put pen to paper whets your hunger and the inspiration follows. And sometimes, the execution takes you to places you had never planned to go.)

For those of us driven to make, write or express, this shit will not be silenced. There's this itch. There's this tickle. To take an idea and breathe life into it through whatever art language you speak. To find an angle, to find a light that makes even the familiar sparkle again. The first two parts, inspiration and brainstorming are usually seen as the creative parts. What will this look like? How will it feel? But right now, I want to talk about the last part. Execution. Often seen as the tedious and deep-in-the-muck phase.

When I am designing a thing or when I am preparing to write, I am also thinking about how it will come together. I’ll use the example of a piece I did for my house because it's easier for me to talk about the creative process as it applies to a tangible piece of art. But the principles apply to writing an essay, baking a cake, building a table or knitting a shawl.

I made this mosaic backsplash for my new kitchen:

Above: The backsplash before range and exhaust fan were installed.

For months before I started the piece, I poured over patterns and colors before I settled on this (uncharacteristically whimsical) trompe l'oeil style. I imagined how it would integrate into the wall. I daydreamed about seeing it every time I used the range. I asked questions and tapped the expertise of friends. Then, I cobbled together lots of images and drew others myself
into a 3' x 4' layout. Finally, I began the actual building of the piece. I just had to get started, mistakes be damned.

Aside: I had always thought of myself as chaotic and unorganized. As a kid, I was a mess of sagging socks, misbuttoned coats and creased paperwork crammed haphazardly into every container. As I've gotten older, and according to my friends, I'm not only not disorganized, I'm Sister Attention to Detail. I'm over-the-top about precision. (Which, I cannot emphasize strongly enough, has nothing to do with creativity--it's just a personality tic.) I have learned to tame the chaos I used to live in for one reason only: so I can do more creative work. Chaos got in my way. Chaos meant I couldn't find my tools. Chaos meant that shit got dirty that wasn't supposed to be dirty. Chaos was a fucking roadblock.

Anyway, I embraced the process of getting things done as an art form of its own. There was beauty in the engineering of this piece.

Which brings me to the mise en place part of our show. When professional cooks prepare meals, they get everything they need ready: garlic minced, liquids measured, root vegetables diced, dry ingredients weighed, spices arranged in small bowls, etc. This part can be tedious as hell, and if you don’t have the time and guests are coming over, frenetic. But, when you spend the time setting up the bits, the actual cooking part is a pleasure. You can pay attention to how quickly the meat is cooking, rather than racing around trying to find the next ingredient. You can focus on folding ingredients together rather than look for the right spatula while your egg whites deflate.

When I constructed this mosaic, I used the same approach.
The tiles all had to be sawed into the same size tesserae. The matching cut tiles were organized in trays which made hunting for the right color and size unnecessary. The shelves with tools were arranged so that if I needed to change a broken saw blade or grind down a jagged edge, I'd just have to reach over to grab it. Extra glue and bottles of water (to keep the saw/grinder cool) had their place. Wrenches to change out grinding bits and tweezers for picking up the little weird-shaped tiles were lined up and accessible. Ditto safety goggles and rags. 

I taped down my image, overlaid it with a large mesh fabric grid to which I would glue hundreds of small square ceramic tiles. I would need to custom cut and grind the edges of additional shapes. Before I started installing the small tiles, however, I would need to cut away the larger, background subway tiles so the image would look like it was integrated into the wall. I approached each step as its own project with specific tools and materials. (If I looked at the whole, it was too overwhelming.) And while most of it was technical, there were times that creative solutions were needed to deal with an unexpected challenge. For example, I cut down standard square and rectangle ceramic tiles so I ended up with many sloped edge pieces. I found that some of the shapes (like the kettle handle and knife edges) worked well with placing all the sloped tiles in the same direction.

All in all, the prep made the actual doing seamless and enjoyable. For the most part!

If you don’t like the tedious or don’t have the patience for what some people find mad boring, then don’t do this kind of work! Use a more freeform style or choose a variety of mosaic stones so uniformity is not a component of your piece.

I’ve never gotten into yoga. Or meditation. They feel like a waste of time. But when I settle into a repetitious process that builds something beautiful, it feels like what others say meditation and yoga feel like. Grounding. Calming. Peaceful.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

heaven can't help me–mini 1000 - 04

I mentioned in my last post that I fucking hate religion. Let me clarify. The vast majority of the people who know and love me are believers. They are kind and generous human beings. For the most part they do not communicate any of that "love the sinner, hate the sin" nonsense. I am grateful that they are in my life. My inner-inner circle has quite a few more atheists but there are believers in there as well. I still hate the power religion has over humanity but I love my people.

So much damage has been caused by religion over the millennia that you might be tempted to blame it on ancient shit. You know, doctrines based on biases from hundreds of years ago. Stuff that should be dismissed as a relic of another time. But you would be wrong. The damage is still here in spite of progress made by feminists, anti-racists, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists, etc.

How do I communicate this without outing anyone? Okay, here's the anonymized story: one of my best friends is a bright star in this world. Full of love and acceptance for everyone. Fiercely anti-racist and supportive of her LGBTQIA brothers and sisters both literal and metaphorical. She is both delightful and passionate. She has two children. One of her children recently found religion with an It's Yahweh or the Highway kind of fervor. This "revelation" has been rapid and smells like cult behavior. But, not my kid, not my nightmare. I do, however, ache for the pain my friend is experiencing. Let me explain.

Her youngest grandchild (offspring of this now “saved” child) is a toddler. He is an adorable bundle of a baby. Recently, she bought him an outfit. Here's what it looks like:

Pretty much standard fare and pretty much adorable. Yet, here is the text her child's partner sent to her about this gift:

I'm not a fan of this weird ass crap you're running with buying these gay ass unisex/girl clothes. I'm grateful for the other clothes but I've been told you how I felted [sic] about that crap. If you feel like you can't buy normal boy clothes keep your money and your clothes. I don't need that gay stuff pushed on my seed. You can wait until a real baby girl is born. Stop with that crap. I'm trying to be nice about this.

All this bullshit because there was a UNISEX label on the outfit.

Let me start off with this irrepressible internal commentary: 

You’re not trying to be nice, you dick-for-brains. You are making an issue out of something so benign it defies comprehension. Also, "normal clothing" is a social construct (see how we dressed boys during the Victorian Era, moron) and he's your child, not your seed, bible-fucker. Your homophobia is so over-the-top one might question your own sexual issues. But your sexual hypersensitivity aside, let’s get back to religion.

Obviously, my friend’s child has taken her partner and his church’s dogma in: hook, line and sinker. The real shame is that this grown child was raised with more significant queer people in her life than most. If she had godmothers (or godlessmothers, as I like to refer to them...but enough about my preferences), they would be the two lesbians her mother has been close to for 35 years. If she had a (fairy) godfather, it would be my friend’s best friend. Not to mention all the relatives and teammates–a veritable cornucopia of queer goodness.

Now, suddenly, her child sees homosexuality as a sin and a choice. 30 years of exposure and she does this 180° turn. I’ve known this kid all her life. She is warm and funny and loving. She has always been headstrong and smart–the makings of a born feminist if I've ever met one. But I know this flip-flop can happen. Sometimes kids find one of their parent’s heartfelt beliefs and subconsciously choose to step hard on that core nerve. Anyway, my heart breaks for my friend. I am slightly hurt but I don’t take it personally. I think this kind of religious fervor is a type of mental illness. Oh, shit, there I’ve said it. Yes. When your life experience is absolutely contrary to the dogma you hear and you make the illogical choice to embrace fanaticism, well, I think there’s something amiss in your noggin.

Which is why when you don’t agree or understand a tenet of religion and are told to “take it on faith,” I am moved to vulgarity. Taking it on faith is the most manipulative and unprovable dodge of them all. Better you were told, nobody knows why, rather than that. But no, you get: God works in mysterious ways. We are not spiritually advanced enough to understand. What a clusterfuck of Mount Olympus proportions.

Or my other favorite: God is testing you. Oh, do fuck that. In my own period of religious illness, I used to think the story of Job was sacred. Look at his long-suffering! Look at his faith! Look at his humility! Over the years, I have revisited this archetype of the God-is-just-testing-you stories. So, God and Satan get in an argument about Job, the faithful servant. Satan says if God allows misery and hardship to rain down on him, Job will curse him. God says he won’t. Satan says he will. JUST YOUR TOP LEVEL MYTHICAL PISSING CONTEST. Of course, God takes the bait and lets Satan destroy everything Job loves, except the Evil One is forbidden to take Job's life. He destroys his livestock, his home, kills his family and afflicts him with boils (because what good Bible story worth its salt doesn’t include boils?). Why? As an example to believers about what righteousness looks like.

Remember we are told that God is a loving father and blesses us if we obey him. 

Unless there’s a hidden agenda, like when a baby dies of some curable, painful disease or from some vicious abuse and we’re handed this: they were so precious, God called them home early. Or some other shit-coated platitude. 

Or unless a favorite child of God (because face it, God plays favorites) had to die because a couple of ignoramuses in a garden ate some fruit, damned humanity and down the line, somebody had to pay hard for that. Because that’s logical as fuck. 

Or unless there’s a point to prove.  Remember that old chestnut: God commands you to kill your own son to show that you REALLY love Him. Attempted homicide as proof of love.

Okay. My point is that religion is illogical and unprovable. Some religions accept this and don’t try to explain contradictions or they weave new information into their story, like in the case of Intelligent Design (and I don’t have enough words to discuss that truckload of shit). But fanatical religions demand that you cede your logic (and quash your brain’s natural inclination to question) to this immovable monolith of obedience and faith. And that’s where the deep damage happens.

So anyway, fuck religion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

when agony killed the ecstasy–mini 1000 - 03

You know what happens to children if major developmental stages get blocked or interrupted? They don’t learn that thing well or ever. For example, if a child is not held or given affection they may grow up to have attachment issues or difficulty navigating social encounters. If they aren’t interacted with verbally, their speech and cognitive abilities may be delayed or permanently stunted.

So what happens when a child’s hand is figuratively or literally slapped every time they try to explore their sexual selves? What happens if the words dirty, naughty and sinful are repeated about their genitalia or breasts or anuses? What happens if sexual urges are made taboo and painted as disgusting? Well, look around you. We are a nation of sexually repressed, sexually deviant and sexually maladjusted humans.

Religion is fucking hateful. Some of you might say, C’mon, Epiphenita, this isn’t just religion’s fault. Really? How about the generations of religious doctrine that have cemented themselves into our culture’s structure about virginity? How about all the modern ways religion hijacks a woman’s right to control her body? The anti-trans, anti-LGBTQIA legislation that we see today? Moral judgments that dehumanized Black Lives were pounded into minds of stupid (and not-so-stupid) people openly from the pulpit for centuries. Hard-wired into most of our psyches are knee-jerk responses to the immutability of gender and sexual orientation. We are damaged by generational ignorance cloaked in religious dogma.

I am damaged. The neural pathways to pleasure were roadblocked/choked off by righteousness. Attempts at self-discovery were slapped and scolded into atrophy. Exploration in early relationships were taboo or awash in so much shame that any pleasure was poisoned by regret and fear.

One of my many memories about how I should see myself, my body and the mysterious “down there,” was from a church lesson. An old Sunday School teacher offered us a stick of gum and when we accepted it, she first unwrapped the gum and chewed it, substituting the new gum for a chewed up wad. Which, of course, was a not-at-all-veiled lesson about our purity. If we fooled around, we would be offering our future husbands a used piece of gum instead of a fresh, unbroken hymen. Let me count all the ways that that is a clusterfuck…

Another trip down Shitty Self-Worth Lane was when the bishop (lay minister) asked me in a private interview if I was “morally clean.” I was 13 and clueless. I didn’t know what that meant so, naturally, he began to list all the ways one became “unclean.” I was mortified. Worse than that, I began to scour my innocent little head for any infraction I had committed when I was younger. Perhaps as a little kid I had accidentally befouled my modesty and touched myself while taking a bath. I spent years sewing extra layers onto the hair shirt gifted to me by puritanical teachings, in the name of atonement.

Don’t get me wrong, long before we became Mormons, the taboo about not touching (or acknowledging) “down there” was clearly communicated. And it was rooted in cultural morality, a direct offshoot of religion. Mormonism just codified the fucking thing in my life.

Among the deeply fucked up ideas here was that all this was wrong and carnal UNTIL you got married (to a man, of course). In one “I do” moment that carefully crafted, meticulously riveted modesty belt was to be shucked and sex was suddenly okay. Not just okay, sex was necessary and righteous (for procreation, of course).

The upshot of it all was that even a married woman didn’t need to explore her sexual pleasure because A.) women weren’t sexual and B.) the man would know what to do and/or C.) the missionary position would be sufficient. Godknows you couldn’t tell your husband what to do to give you pleasure because you didn’t know yourself...unless you did, in which case you would implicate yourself as less than virginal before marriage. This is a formula for lifelong frustration.

I remember the first time I felt sexual arousal. I was probably 12 or 13, reading a “dirty” book at the home of one of the couples I babysat for. The pulsing sensation in my crotch was unexpected and frightening. More frightening because the shame was threaded with pleasure. (That’s a whole lifetime of therapy right there.) I squeezed my legs together, not because it might feel good but because I needed to kill the sensation. I never touched myself. I never got close enough to anything to even enjoy pressure on my genitalia. It was forbidden.

If it hadn’t been for decent pre-internet research skills, I might have entered marriage in a fog of ignorance. But I knew had to read and I learned a lot about sex and pleasure. Book learning. After a couple of years of marriage and reading Penthouse Forum, my ex gifted me with a vibrator and for the first time in my life, I finally understood what all the fuss was about. But it didn’t come easily, pun intended.

“Getting there” required an enormous effort to silence the self-righteous voices of authority in my head. The static was loud and interruptive. The moral judgments deafening. The resulting failures were damning and damming. I began to think of myself as Broken. Unfixable. Damaged goods. (Basically the same adjectives I was told would apply to a non-virgin before marriage.) This, of course, did not help. I also wondered if I had a physical condition that hobbled me. While pleasure short of orgasm was plentiful, it was also frustrating. To complicate things, I was gifted with a strong and thrumming sex drive. It all seemed a terrible cosmic joke at my expense.

Over the past few years I was introduced to/discovered two things. One was
The Vulva Gallery. (Eternal thanks to my youngest for this recommendation.) What a treasure. Seriously. Pages and pages of unique, gorgeous vulvas. As a young woman, I could see pictures of dicks without much trouble. They were everywhere. But an image of women’s genitalia? Non-existent outside of the few over-shaved and mostly homogeneous vulvas belonging to thin white women in pornography. But here was a rainbow of shapes and sizes. Here were prominent inner or outer labia, frilled or smooth. Clits of every size and shape. Some barely peeking out from the clitorial hood, some out and proud. Fuschia pink and deep brown and every shade in between. Vulvas covered in hair, vulvas sporting a thin line only. How wonderful. How comforting.

The second thing is this
site. OMGYes (such a great name) is basically a how-to for women’s pleasure. It is mind-blowing to me. It is what I might have discovered had those purity manacles not been slapped on me so young.

I don’t know if I can undo the damage. I hope so. I really hope so.