The holiday season thus far has consisted mostly of baking. I’ve made apple cider caramels, applesauce donuts, chai cookies, toffee-chocolate puddle oatmeal cookies, and milk chocolate cookies with orange zest. The process of baking and producing something really delicious makes me feel productive, and I always have Chris take them to work, so it’s something I can do to share, too.
I’ve also made a lot of biscuits and gravy, which I’ve decided is my best meal. Christmas menu will consist of some kind of pasta dish (possibly salmon or shrimp alfredo), green beans with a miso dressing, crispy potato stacks, and for dessert, an almond-jam chocolate cake I’m super excited about.
We’re at home for Christmas for the first time, which means we actually have to decorate and get a tree. Because we’re in Oregon, that means getting a fresh one. For music, I’ve made a Spotify list of the old standbys: Sarah McLachlan, Avalon, Enya, and Pentatonix. Joining them this year are Johnnyswim, Tyrone Wells, Dia Frampton, Sia, and Penny and Sparrow.
I’m almost done with Christmas shopping, which is always more expensive than I expect, but that’s because I pride myself on my gift-giving. Chris and I both have birthdays right after Christmas, too, and then it’s Valentine’s Day.
On the less happy side of things, the lack of sunlight is starting to get to me already. I need to get vitamin D. In the last three days, I’ve had naps that are much too long, and they’re those depression naps where I can tell my body is not actually tired, but my brain is so foggy I can’t do anything else. Those naps almost come with strange dreams, too, like Chris getting abducted by aliens and me trapped in another person’s body. I’m still grieving for Baxter. Haven’t cleaned his room yet, though now it’s more just because I don’t want to go to all the effort. I still miss him the most at night when I can’t sleep, and I don’t have anywhere else to go and lie down to calm down.
What else, what else…still grinding away on my novel. I write about 3-4 pages a day in my moleskin. Still writing cookbooks and food books for work. My Gildshire book hopefully comes out soon. That’s about it right now.
I lost my pet hedgehog on November 5th to a sudden heart attack. It still feels surreal, to think about it. He was the first pet I’ve had in my life that died of natural causes, while I held him. For the first few days, I just felt sad, like a piece of me was missing. Going upstairs at night was the worst, because I would always go check on him, change his water, etc. My schedule was thrown off.
The later part of the week, I started feeling guilty. People had thrown out various ideas about what could have caused his death, and a hibernation attempt kept coming up. Hedgehogs hibernate in the wild, but if they try to hibernate while they’re indoors and domesticated, it can kill them because they haven’t been prepping all autumn long. I kept watching the last video I took of him over and over again, trying to figure out why he was wobbling. I looked at his pictures, comparing them, to see if he had lost weight and I hadn’t noticed.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have much to work last week, since I was ahead of a project and waiting for another one. To keep busy, I paid more attention to the dog. We went walking. I took him upstairs to nap with me, since that was usually what Baxter and I did every day. I cleaned more. Still, every night, I had to pass his door, knowing he wasn’t there.
I still haven’t cleaned up his room. I’ve decided to get a cage for my next hedgehog, whenever that will be, so I’ll be throwing away all of Baxter’s old house, which I made with cardboard boxes. I have two bags of cat food I don’t know what to do with. I don’t want to wash his snuggle sack, because then I’ll lose his scent forever.
Grieving a pet is weird, especially since I was the only one who spent time with him, because it’s so personal. At the same time, it isn’t, because Baxter had over 9,000 followers on Instagram, and people who saw him on Facebook and loved him. That’s made me feel better. I’m not totally alone in this.
If you’re anything like me, than you have had a handful of friendships take a sudden left turn after going really well. The beginning is almost always the same – an immediate, spark-like connection. We have a lot in common emotionally, even if our backgrounds are different. It feels easy to talk about anything, and like we’ve known each other our whole lives.
I used to believe that these connections were brought into my path by God, but now, I know it’s not that simple. One friendship ended after she moved away suddenly without telling me, while another friend who moved changed all her contact information and I had no way to contact her. I’ve had friends suddenly become emotional abusive, cuss me out, or ghost me for no apparent reason. Every time it happens, I tell myself, “Never again,” and build up my walls by another brick. At the same time, though, I’m always ready to be vulnerable and listen to my “gut.” However, after this past weekend, I’m just really tired.
This most recent friendship probably took the quickest turn I’ve experienced, which makes it all the more jarring. I was left gasping, shaking, bewildered, and outraged. I’ve thrown up once every night since. After talking to others about the situation, a mix of those who know and don’t know the person, I know that it wasn’t my fault. Still, I find that I blame myself for taking yet another chance on a connection that had all the signs of a disaster just biding its time. I keep asking God, “Why, why, why.” Why do these people keep crossing my path?
I don’t have a lot of answers or “lessons.” The one thing that all these experiences have taught me though, is that good friendships don’t always begin with a spark. If my track record is any indication, if they do, they’re destined to explode. The friendships that are more likely to succeed are the ones that take work. A lot of awkward silences. A lot of me asking myself, “Do I keep trying?” I’m someone who likes to rush into deep, personal conversations, but most people aren’t, so I’ve learned to be patient. Somewhat. It’s a work in progress.
During a meeting with a legal scholar, President Trump, VP Pence, and the scholar started talking about gay rights. Trump pointed to Pence and said, “Don’t ask that guy – he wants to hang them all!”
There’s a lot that’s disturbing about this statement. Joking about the deaths of LGBT people – a group that’s been experiencing record numbers of violence – is yet another example of Trump’s total disregard for the issue. The other thing that’s disturbing is that it proves Pence has not budged on his defining quality – hostility towards the LGBT community.
In 2006, Pence supported a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and woman. He didn’t stop there however, but said that being gay was a choice and accepting it into society would lead to its collapse.
Just a year later, he opposed a law that would make discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace illegal. Apparently, not being allowed to fire people because you don’t agree with their sexual identity “wages war on freedom and religion.”
In 2010, Pence wanted to keep Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which forced military personnel from identifying opening as gay. His reasoning? He didn’t want the military to be a “backdrop for social experimentation.” That’s a really confusing reason because it isn’t like there haven’t been gay people in the military. How is letting soldiers be open and honest about their lives back home an “experiment?”
In 2015, Pence made his name known nationwide when he signed a bill that would let Indiana businesses use their religion to refuse service to LGBT customers. I’ve heard conservatives talk a lot about “slippery slopes” when it comes to issues like gun control, but letting business owners refuse service because of a customer’s sexual identity is EXTREMELY slippery. It’s also just plain ol’ discrimination. To Pence, it might make sense because he thinks being gay is a choice, but he’s wrong, and you don’t get to make laws based on lies. That’s a slippery slope.
The most troubling thing about Pence, in my opinion, is his support for conversion therapy. He hasn’t been outspoken about it, because he knows it’s controversial, but when he was running for Congress, he suggested that federal money that was being used to research HIV/AIDS would be better diverted to “provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Um, what? That would be “conversion therapy,” which is derided by the American Psychological Association and has a long history of misconduct, including lobotomies, electroshock, testicle transplants, castration, female circumcision, drugs, and verbal abuse. While methods have changed, the goal is the same: convince someone their sexual orientation is wrong and needs to be “straightened out.”
Conversion therapy is banned in a handful of states, but it’s not banned on a federal level. I heard someone say that being gay was “protected and celebrated” in America, like it was a bad thing, and I had to laugh. What groups are ones that need to be protected? Ones that are in danger. And what are some reasons to celebrate being gay? When it’s been stomped down for decades and told it’s destroying society, perhaps? A celebration is simply telling a person, “You’re not bad. There’s nothing wrong with you. We love you.”
Pence wants a world where every LGBT person believes there’s something inherently wrong with them; that because of the evil in their souls, they’ve “chosen” a dark path and need to be “converted.” He ignores every personal story and every sound piece of medical research on the subject, and instead chooses to uphold outdated and hateful misconceptions on what sexual orientation is, and what life is actually like for LGBT people.
Pence may be quiet, but he’s dangerous. And unlike Trump, Pence has a lot of people on his side.
We live in a society where it is legal for someone to modify a semi-automatic gun to fire like an automatic weapon, even though all fully-automatic weapons made after 1986 are banned.
There are always two things I hear after a mass shooting: “Thoughts and prayers,” and “There are no laws that could have prevented this.”
In arguments between proponents of gun control and those against it, you always hear someone say, “Banning all guns is like banning x,” even though gun control has never seriously been – and never will be – about “banning all guns.” It’s a red herring that distracts from actual implementable policies that could save lives. Other phrases you will hear: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
People will always break laws, but what about the laws that have loopholes or that allow shooters to get their equipment? Why wouldn’t we strengthen the laws we have, close loopholes, and take a good long look at how well laws are actually being implemented? We can’t just settle for the belief that because people will always break gun laws, we should just throw our hands up and give up. Are there seriously any other crimes that people look at it in that way?
I’ve heard it said that mass shootings and tragedies like toddlers shooting their siblings is “the price of freedom.” I don’t know about you, but I am not okay with that.
*trigger warning* Contains descriptions of dreams involving needles
I’ve always had a weird thing about witches. By “weird thing,” I mean legitimate fear that one would cast a spell on me and manipulate my actions. When I was involved in really extreme, charismatic spirituality, a few authority figures told me I was vulnerable to the spirit of witchcraft. I didn’t really know what that meant. They said it was about the need to control everything, because a witch’s power is all about controlling the elements. Looking back, I feel like “spirit of witchcraft” is just a really bizarre and terrifying way of saying “control freak.”
In college, I wasn’t really as scared of witches as when I was younger, but there was a new fear creeping in. A fear of my sexuality. I became more scared of men and drawn to women, and even though I didn’t believe being gay or bisexual was a sin, or even that the lifestyle was, I was afraid I was wrong. I would dream about a dark-haired woman a lot, and became convinced an evil spirit was visiting me. I abandoned the hyper-spiritual, casting-out-of-demons-constantly lifestyle soon after, simply because I was so exhausted, but I never really “deprogrammed” myself from it.
I read a lot from different spiritual authors like Rachel Held Evans, and went to regular counseling where some of my sexuality issues were resolved. I was able to acknowledge that I was bisexual, but because I was engaged to Chris, I never had to unpack it more than that.
My spiritual life is nothing like it used to be, where every panic attack was treated like an expression of demonic forces or reading the Bible was a desperate attempt to defend myself. But I still dream. I think dreams are the soul’s way of remembering things we wish we could forget.
This week, I dreamed that a witch attempted to take over my body by sewing a long line of thread through my ankle and earlobe. Every time I pulled out the thread to free myself, she would patiently start again. I kept repeating buzz words and phrases I had learned from charismatic teachers back in the day, but nothing worked. Finally, the spiritual counselor who had the biggest influence on me (and who was the one told me I had been molested and then offered no guidance as to how to deal with that revelation), showed up, and the witch went away. She would be back, though, and I was suddenly in one of my old houses lying in bed, in the dark, with tiny needles embedded in my skin. I couldn’t move, but I could hear people outside. They were preparing for the witch’s arrival, and said that I had to let her partially into my body before they could get rid of her. There was a lot more to the dream, but the most notable part was when I was able to see into the witch’s past and see her. I remember really worrying that she would look like one of the actresses I’ve had a crush on for a while.
There’s that whole bisexual fear again. In my head, I’m totally comfortable with it, but underneath is a different story. As soon as I really confront it, it freaks me out. If I wasn’t married to Chris, and the possibility of being in a relationship with a woman was more of a reality, I would need some serious counseling. Now, I don’t know how much it matters. The dreams never bother me, and I know they’re not real. I think it might just take time. I just assumed I was over all that stuff with casting out demons and being stalked by a witch spirit who was making me like girls, but maybe not. I figure the farther away from it I get, time-wise, the less it will affect me.
On Tuesday, a group of conservative evangelicals known as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood came together in Tennessee and wrote “The Nashville Statement.”
In the document, they came out against same-sex marriage, gender-fluid identity, and transgenderism. Not only that, but they asserted that anyone who disagrees with them is not a Christian. A section called Article 10 is the most provocative:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
If there was any room for misunderstanding, one of the authors reiterated what the group meant by saying, ” Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”
He also said, “The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions nor does it leave ambiguity on the question.”
What the hell. I can’t even…like…put my outrage into words. Who do these people think they are? Who has the authority to decide that a certain stance on an issue determines whether or not someone is a Christian? Are there any other indicators? What other disagreement could get someone kicked out of the flock unless they conform?
Interestingly enough, a lot of people who signed this statement have been very vocal about supporting Donald Trump. So…he’s okay because he doesn’t want transgender people to serve in the military? Is someone’s stance on sexuality and sexual identity the only thing that matters when it comes to being a Christian? The conservative evangelical obsession with it certainly seems to imply that.
Who signed this thing? James Dobson and Tony Perkins did. No surprise there. John Piper did, too.
For our first small group session, we did an active listening exercise where we described a moment where we felt most alive. Mine was about a morning in Jamaica, the summer of 2011, where I and a few friends got up early to swim. The sun wasn’t scorching yet, and the water was just cool enough to be refreshing. I floated on my back, eyes closed. The last few years had been extremely rough. My soul felt like a raw piece of meat that had been beat with a mallet. It felt like my body and mind were set against me, determined to kill me.
Some people feel most alive when their adrenaline levels are high, but I’m the opposite. For me, high adrenaline levels mean I’m afraid, that I’m in danger. There’s a theory about anxiety that it was biologically important back in the days when life was really dangerous, when we lived without much shelter and death by wild animal was common. That anxiety kept us alive and told us to run when we encountered danger. Now, however, most of us don’t need that much anxiety. I certainly don’t – I’m not in a bad area, I’m pretty much white-passing, and I’m not being hunted by animals. That adrenaline/anxiety sparked up at every little thing, and told my body that sitting in class was a life-or-death situation. I didn’t feel “alive” in those moments, because I wanted the feeling to stop. I wanted to shut it off. I wanted to be dead, because at least then I could have peace and quiet.
Floating in the ocean, my ears beneath the waves so the only sound was my own breathing, felt like being alive. I felt whole, my mind and body not fighting. It was sort of weird, too, because I also felt disembodied at the same time. That felt like freedom, like I had found a way to escape the chaos of the physical, and just be. Recapturing that is not easy. The closest I get is when I can’t sleep at night, and I lie down in Baxter’s room. It’s the coolest room. The sleeping bag is slippery, and feels a little like water. The only sound is faint rustling. After a half hour or so, I feel calm again, pieced back together, and I can go back to bed and fall asleep.
What this taught me is that my soul is connected to the ocean. Whenever we go to the coast, I know that I could live by it forever. When I’ve visited deserts, like New Mexico, I feel off-kilter, like something is missing. The ocean has its rhythms, like a pair of lungs, and follows the moon. It’s steady, but also not predictable. It’s totally, completely alive.
TV that I’m into: “Playing House” on USA with Jessica St. Claire and Lennon Parham. I’ve been binge-watching this show, and I LOVE it. It’s exactly my sense of humor. It also has the added bonus of having Keegan-Michael Key in it.
TV that I’m looking forward to: “I’m Sorry” with Andrea Savage on TruTV
Books I’ve been reading: I’ve been reading A LOT lately, which is good. Just finished a historical novel called The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. It’s based on a real incident, and pulls a lot from history including the Spiritualism craze, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. I just started my second Erik Larson book, In The Garden of Beasts. It’s about the American consulate in Germany during WWII and his family.
Work stuff: Just finished a book on Ethereum, which is Bitcoin’s competition. It’s unique in that you can create applications on its blockchain, it’s not just for currency. If that makes no sense to you, look it up, I’m not going to summarize the book again. I usually just get blank stares. Still working on the book for my Gildshire articles, too, just finished up editing and writing the intros.
What I’ve cooked/baked lately: Made no-bake brownies with black beans and dates. It’s more like fudge than brownies, but it’s delicious. Getting out a slice is kind of like digging for fossils, because they have to be frozen, but it’s worth it. I also made homemade tomato sauce the other day. It was a bit runny, but I can thicken it up by just reducing it some more. I didn’t make this, but we tried Ben and Jerry’s “One Love” ice cream flavor, which is banana ice cream, graham cracker, caramel, and chocolate peace signs. Chris says it might be his new favorite.
Fitness stuff: Still using the good ol’ mini trampoline and rowing machine most nights. I take just one day off a week. Also got myself a resistance band, which is very convenient. Looking forward to having the toned arms of my dreams. It’s been gross and hot lately, so haven’t been exercising outdoors as much as I (or Yoshi) would like, but what can ya do. I know weight isn’t the goal here, but I am happy that I’ve successfully went down to about 155 after plateauing at 160 for so long. Paying attention to macros and sugar has made the difference. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating just 1200 calories if way too many of them are coming from sugar.
Novel stuff: Still steadily working on my Harley Gray novel. I filled out one notebook, so I’m on to a new one. That feels like an accomplishment. Been focusing a lot on trying to actually picture my characters moving around in the world I’ve created, so I can convey that to the reader. That means writing a lot of stuff that won’t actually end up in the book. I’m still figuring out how to get that in the story without actually putting it in the story (like a character’s whole marriage, basically), but I enjoy the challenge.
So that’s pretty much it, that’s what I’ve been doing. Small group meets again soon. Chris’ parents will be visiting, which means beach day!
At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.
The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.
Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.
Not too much of a stretch, right?
It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.
That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.
During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.
I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.