Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Linda 1941-2011

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
~W.S. Merwin

I led a memorial service tonight for a woman I do not know, with people I'd never met, in a place I'd never been. The spiritual life and practices of Linda or her chosen family and friends is unknown to me. I did a quick google search for her name and couldn't find anything. So I thought I would mark a space here on the internet and to simply say that she lived and died among friends and that we gathered together to pray and remember her life. 

Everybody said she had a wonderful smile.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Intimate Violence: Purity

In high school I attended one youth group most of the time, but occasionally I visited a friend's youth group up the road at the Baptist church. We weren't church people, so I struggled with Baptist theology, but there were people there I liked, so sometimes I went. One time we drove over to the local university to attend a purity rally. All the local churches were invited to this event, so there were several hundred high school students present. We gathered in a large gymnasium and listened to music, speakers and other such things. This promo for a similar event in 2009 gives a feel for it:

It was exciting, actually. Loud music, pulsing beats, hundreds of teens shouting in unison. Do you love Jesus? "YES!!" Do you believe God has a plan for your life? "YES!!" Do you want to honor your body? "YES!!" And on it went with dynamic speakers, humor, more music. And we were talking about love and sex and bodies, always a favorite topic of mine, even at age 15 or so.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

TwitterByrds "Tweet, Tweet, Tweet"

"Tweet, Tweet, Tweet"
~By the TwitterByrds*

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a season
Tweet, tweet, tweet
And a tweet for every purpose under Heaven

A time to hashtag, a time to @
A time to link, a time to RT
A time to block, a time to spam
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a season
Twinter, Twing, Twummer and Twall (and all you have to do is tweet)
And a tweet for every purpose under Heaven

A time to preach, a time to siddown
A time to <_<, a time to
A time to backspace
A time to leave out vowels to meet the character max

To everything
Tweet, tweet, tweet
There is a reason
We should not tweet
And let our words float up to Heaven

A time of twitter infatuations, a time of twitter beef
A time of TMI, a time of PDA
A time to tweet something you later regret
A time to @reply 6 days later

A time to gain followers, a time to lose ‘em
A time to troll, a time to pray for strangers
A time to tweetup, a time to run the other way
A time to log off, I swear it's not too late

*This is a parody.

NAMI and Just Kids

This afternoon the children and I attended a program through NAMI Mercer called Just Kids. They are a chapter of the national organization, NAMI, which stands for National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

I have been meaning to take the children for a few years now, but it seems like something always comes up. My friend, Ann Renee, just started working there and reached out to me a few weeks ago to get our family involved.

The thing about living with people with mental illness is that being out with other people can be a real challenge--especially other family groups. Playgroups are all well and good until you tell that story of the stupendous tantrum your kid threw last week--or worse, your kid throws that tantrum right there on the playground for all to see. People offer parenting tips as if your child is neurotypical, as if you haven't tried every darn thing you can think of, as if you weren't wishing the ground would swallow you up this minute.

So it was delightful today to be with other families who can accept my family for where we are at. We had George the Magician in to dazzle the children, and the parents met to talk about activities for the year. We swapped some stories about local school districts and managing IEP's (individualized education plans). We fretted a bit about the future and tried to stay focused on the moment. Two of the kids tried to sneak behind the magician's screen to peek at his secrets. The kids and I talked about family pets. It was a lovely afternoon, and I'm glad I went.

NAMI Mercer can be reached at 609-799-8994

So thanks, Ann Renee. And thanks to NAMI Mercer and George, the Master of Illusion. It was nice to ignore the stigma of mental illness for a while and just have fun.

Intimate Violence: Language and Fluency

I spent the evening with old friends from seminary, eating homemade tacos and drinking wine. The children wandered off to the other room, restless, uninterested in the conversation of six women old enough to be mothers and grandmothers. We mostly spoke in Spanish with some English thrown in for my gringa self. I followed along a good part of the conversation, but there were many times when the words flowed too rapidly into each other, or two people spoke at once, or somebody dropped a word at the end of a sentence. Towards the end of the night we were telling jokes, and they paused to translate as best they could so that I could understand the funny. I'm not sure if we were laughing more at the jokes or the bewildered look on my face as I tried to keep up with the nuances of language.

I love spending time with these friends who speak Spanish as their primary language. Opening myself to different speech patterns and word possibilities reshapes how I think of the world and my place in it. Once, when I was a young woman, I spent a little time in Mexico as an exchange student. My sister Berta took me all over the city on the buses with her friends, and we spent hours talking and laughing as young people do when they gather in every language. One afternoon I said with great enthusiasm, "¡Vamonos en el camaron para comer camiones!" This translates to "Let us go on the shrimp to eat buses!"

There are few things that tell a person they don't know everything like immersion in another country, learning another language.

As I drove one of my friends home, with my sleepy children in the back complaining like mewling kittens, we chatted about family and children and the difference between "American" culture and "Hispanic" culture, the way children are invited to exit the home at age 18 vs. the way multiple generations live together to create networks of support. It was a lengthy conversation that stretched the limits of my Spanish, and by the time I got home I was very, very tired.

As I crawled into bed it occurred to me that living in the middle of intimate violence is like being immersed in a primary language. And then I fell asleep while typing. Immersion in another language is good for the mind and soul, but it takes years to gain fluency. Learning how to be in this world without repeating patterns of intimate violence is good for the mind and the soul (not to mention the body!), but it takes years to find fluency.

Think of it this way: those of us who live with intimate violence (as perpetrators, victims, or both), learn to function in those situations as best we can. There are ways of being, moving, and speaking that can minimize violence. There are times when the tension in a household builds slowly, but inexorably, toward an explosion, and we learn to set off verbal dynamite to relieve the tension and minimize the explosion we know is coming. We learn to avoid anger, to become invisible, to protect others as best we can. We learn, without knowing it, that there is no escape from this intimate, familial situation. The world, when one is living with intimate violence, can become a very narrow, constricted place.

This chart is one way of looking at how patterns of intimate violence carve a narrow existence:

Sometimes we get a chance to learn a new language, to immerse ourselves in another culture, to live with people who do not hurt us. How frustrating it is to our friends and loved ones when we cannot acclimate to a new environment quickly! Individuals leave abusive situations, only to return home to more abuse a short time later. It seems from the outside to be an easy choice to stay where one is safer. But it's like this:

Walking away from intimate violence is like moving to another part of the world and learning a new language by immersion. Suddenly one must learn new patterns, new ways, and new words. If I don't have the correct papers, I may not be able to work. I don't have the right currency, so I am constantly having to exchange my old bills for new--and I must trust strangers who speak a different language to do it.

Learning new languages is easier for some people than others. Leaving intimate violence for healthy relationships is easier for some people than others. It takes years to become fluent. The process of learning the new language is exhausting.

It might be good for the body, the soul, and the mind to learn a new language, but it isn't always easy. There is need along the way for bilingual translators and a great deal of patience. Learning a new language requires a sense of humor, because sooner or later you're going to say with great enthusiasm, "Let's go ride the shrimp to eat buses!" And your companions are going to dissolve into laughter. For a while you're not going to get the joke about the boy corn ear who married the girl corn ear and got so hot that he became popcorn. It just takes time.

At one moment one might say "I need your keys" but it sounds like "I need your kiss."

Or perhaps one might simply mix up pronouns and verbs to say, "Te amo, Katie," instead of "Me llamo Katie." And the poor man you've just met will look at you quizzically.

Learning to live in healthy relationship when one's primary language has been intimate violence is difficult. And sometimes, especially when one is tired, it's easy to slip back into old patterns of behavior, old words, old ways of being. It seems sometimes like everybody else around is speaking too fast, one person on top of another, leaving a person behind, bewildered and longing for the familiar--even if that familiar is unhealthy or dangerous.

Sometimes the right words don't even exist to translate. In English there is no good verb to say "make love."  We have euphemisms and curse words, but not a verb to express the act of "having sex" between loving partners. Even with bilingual companions, concepts do not always translate well and must be lived in order to be understood.

Or sometimes there is a problem of pronunciation. My friends last night asked me what the word is for a chin dimple. "It's a cleft," I said. And we spent a few minutes rolling around that word, trying to see how the sounds fit together. "Cleft" is not a Spanish word. It is too short, too few vowels, with consonants crammed together.

It takes time and energy to learn a new language. Time to learn new ways of being and perspectives on the world. And sometimes, when one is learning to live without intimate violence, this new language is so exhausting that one crawls into bed and falls asleep while typing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Intimate Violence: Healing is the Name of the Game

One of the times I was in therapy (and for those of us involved in intimate violence, a good therapist can make all the difference), I was working through my startle reflex around men. I haven't perfected this, I've never quite lost my fear of men, even though I've learned to stand my ground when every nerve in my body says "run!" 

One day I was at the park, working on math puzzles in my car. It was a sunny day out, but a bit chilly, and I was enjoying the solitude and the quiet without the children or the cats or the spouse or the-bills-to-be-paid or the things-to-be-done.

After a while, I looked up, and a man walked by my car, unzipped his pants, and urinated in the parking lot. I doubt he even realized I was sitting right there in the car. I was shocked, stunned, terrified, frozen in place at the sight. It's not that I'd never seen a penis before, it's just that this one was unwanted, pushing into my space. That unintended violation triggered a deep responsive memory and flashbacks galore.

When I went next to the therapist I was still in distress. I told him about the guy in the park, and we talked around it for a while. Finally, he said, "Well where do you think Jesus urinated?" And suddenly the situation normalized for me, and the association of rape and abuse with the sight of the clueless man's penis in the park faded. And it was then that I realized how much of a threat male genitalia symbolized to me--and for that matter, to much of feminist theory and literature.

I was thinking about that as I walked to the dance studio tonight to take my salsa class. On my way to the studio there is a Man's Gym (it's actually called Man's Gym), and out front of the gym is a full sized statue of David in all its naked glory. You can see on the statue evidence that it used to have a loin cloth, but apparently the loin cloth was stolen. The statue stands proudly outside the gym 24/7, rain or shine, and I have found it a bit intimidating. I nicknamed it "the penis statue." I've tweeted about it a few times when I walked by. I've thought about sneaking by at night and donating my string bikini bottom for the cause. I usually cross the street to avoid it. 

But I have been lamenting the cost of joining a gym lately. My body feels out of sorts because I haven't been taking proper care of it. It's time to get back into a workout routine, but my house is not the best place to work out. It's getting dark, and the weather is iffy. I can't afford most gyms on my budget, and the contracts and joining fees are annoying prohibitive.

So I decided tonight after dance class that I would stop at the Man's Gym and find out the cost. I would brave the penis statute. On my way home I looked closer at the window, and the sign said, "Bodybuilding for Men and Women."  I looked at the sign. I looked at the penis statue. I looked at the sign again. I took a deep breath and remembered my therapist gently laughing at my horror of public urination. I thought about Jesus, and that made me laugh. And then I went in.

I went into the gym because I'm not going to let child rape stop me from being healthy now at age 39. I went into the gym because the men who frequent this place are not the men who have raped/assaulted me in the past. I went in because I refuse to be afraid of the penis for its own sake. I went in because this gym has everything I need at a decent price, and I can't afford to let my history of intimate violence scare me away from becoming strong.

I am healing, I think, although it's been a very long journey. I have come to feel a certain gentleness about men that I never thought I could feel. It has taken 20 years, but I'm coming to see the vulnerability in men. For the moment there is a certain sweet, masculine absurdity about this Man's Gym with its penis statue that is drawing me in. So I will go tomorrow and sign up for a while, and I'll breathe deep each day before I go in. The woman at the counter with the tremendous biceps said, "This place is a nasty ass gym where your outfit don't have to match." And perhaps if I go there a while, and work out beside the men in this space, I won't have to breathe deep every time I go in.

Healing is the name of the game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm Queer, I'm Here, and other such things

Today is National Coming Out Day, and while I had my coming out ball last year, let me pause to throw around some confetti.

There is a stereotype of queer folk as very sad, lonely, frightened, oppressed individuals, cowering in a closet, unable to love or be loved except in furtive, secret moments. There's all kinds of truth wrapped up in that stereotype. But I want to say this:

When y'all weren't looking, perhaps to our own surprise, queer folk have created a rich tapestry of life and love. There are whole communities of queer folk going about their day in a celebratory way. There's a lot of us living, moving, and having our being in the midst of heterosexual, cissexual, straight, normative culture. And while that can be constraining at times, I do not go home at the end of the day to cry in my soup. At the end of the day, I'm not begging God to make me different; I'm begging God to send me more mischief to get up to.

There's a lot of folks seeking equality (however one measures that), and I'm glad the folks who want to marry are getting their chance. But that's not my goal. Part of the fun (yes, FUN) of claiming a queer identity is setting myself at odds with normative structures in this world. Not all of them every day--I've got kids to feed and rent to pay like everybody else. But being at odds is a delightful state of being. Being odd. Being queer. And to my everlasting joy, being queer, being at odds, is satisfyingly compatible with the essential tenets of Christian faith.

So I don't know if I can offer safe space--safety is hard to guarantee, as I've written before. But Beloveds, I can offer love and laughter, a place to share deeply. I can stand with you while you push against oppressive structures (and in this I understand some of those structures will be racist, sexist, classist, ableist, and that claiming queer requires solidarity in those struggles as well).

So come out, come out, wherever you are. The table is set and the wine is poured.

Intimate Violence: An Old Sponge

I am struggling to write tonight. I am raising one child who has been angry at the world since birth, and I have never dealt well with other people's anger. Anger frightens me, and I can smell it the second I walk in a room. I can see it in the clenching of a jaw, the way a body moves, and in terse words bitten off.

Once a friend was angry with me and started yelling. I found myself backed into a corner, crouching. It was an automatic reaction, totally out of proportion with the situation. I remember when I was married that my anger expressed itself in short, tight, mocking phrases. The kind of anger that can slash to the bone with words, but the neighbors won't hear it.

Last week I was at the bus stop, and I saw a couple walking together. The woman was waving her hands in the air, while the man was yelling at the top of his lungs. "You keep walking!" he screamed. "Keep walking, I said! I'm gonna sit right here. I'm sick of your %$#$!! All you do is argue. You keep walking!" The woman stopped and looked at him hard. And then she said, "But you have my bag!" When the bus pulled up a few minutes later the man was still cussing the air blue, and the woman was still standing nearby waiting for his rage to cool.

People work in different ways, but when my children tantrum, it's all I can do to hold it together, to keep from crouching in a corner. It's all I can do to remember that they are small yet, and that I am grown. Sometimes I go outside with them, because outside they shrink to their true size under the sky.

I am so uneasy around anger. I feel sometimes like an old sponge that can't hold any more water. There's just no more room for any more anger and rage in my life, and sometimes no room to get away from it. And so it is difficult to write tonight, because I have weathered yet another blustery day in my household.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Intimate Violence: Sabbath

I am taking a break today. Church council meeting is done. Church is done. Labyrinth is dedicated. Kittens have been visited. Children have been fed. Time to rest before the week ahead. Sometimes honoring the sabbath means putting the pen down and closing the computer. It is hard for the Spirit to restore a body and mind in constant motion. I suspect that the Spirit of God is mightily antagonized when it is trying to settle and we are restless. Silence is not always possible in this life, but I might aim for stillness.

Some wise words from Dr. Emilie Townes:
"Finally, you must give yourself permission to be tired and weary, besides, you must also find ways of renewal so that you can be a creative and healthy participant in dismantling oppressions. Burned out, bitter people do not help bring in justice very often and they are of little help in any search for [T]ruth."
~Emilie M. Townes, Womanist ethics and the cultural production of evil 
 (NY: Macmillan, 2006), 78.

And from Vijay Prashad, who I heard speak in 2010 at an education day dedicated to Mumia Abu-Jamal, the abolition of the death penalty, and prison reform/abolition. I overheard this advice he gave to a young woman asking how to make a difference in the world:

"Find something you can do that's in front of you...and enjoy the work. You're allowed to enjoy the work."

May your day be free of violence and fear. May your children be safe. May you know love and joy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Intimate Violence: Frog Husk

'Frosche in Bauch und Ruckenlage'
 (Frog on Back and Front)
Once when I was sleeping
     and once when I was sick
          and once behind a door I'd hid behind
You'll like this
     it's good for you
          you need to learn
               shh, just lie back
Asked to choose 
     between the scorpion and the spider
          dead anyway regardless
Like the dried husk of a frog I once saw
     eaten from the inside by ants
          skin intact, flawless
               but crumbled at a touch


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Intimate Violence: Don't Touch My Face

I went to Washington, D.C. this week--it wasn't a planned trip, but the last couple of months haven't really been planned as much as they've been lived. I decided to take public transportation instead of driving, since there's a bus stop in front of my apartment and lots of ways to get from Trenton to D.C. I walked out front and waited a minute, and sure enough a bus pulled up. I said to the driver, "Does this bus go to the transit center?" He rolled his eyes up into heaven and told me to sit down. He'd tell me when to get off to catch the bus to get me there. This blog post is a bit like my trip. It wanders a bit before it gets to the point.

So off I went on my little adventure, flying (as it were) by the seat of my pants. I love wandering about the world without a plan, a little lost, anonymous. Most of my experience with violence and trauma has come from people I know--family members, friends, lovers, etc. Blowing about like a dandelion is a chance to withdraw into myself in a way that is not possible when I am home. Every now and then I just need to hit the road.

Intimate Violence: Grandpa Jim

James G. Ewer
Today I lit a candle for my Grandpa Jim at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  I think every person should spend a day at that museum, because we should never forget what we are capable of, individually and as a state.

Grandpa Jim was a navigator in the Army Air Corp, and was shot down over Germany sometime in 1944/5. He spent a few months in a concentration camp toward the end of the war. I can't tell you much more than that, because Grandpa Jim didn't talk about that time, except with his army buddies. Many Friday nights he would call our house, drunk as a skunk on his favorite scotch. "Is Jjjjjeannie there?" he would slur into the phone. He loved to talk with my mother--they were very fond of each other.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Intimate Violence: Four of Us

Some friends have written in the last two days, by twitter, by email, by facebook. They have asked, "Are you okay?" wondering if my writing this month about intimate violence signifies a cry for assistance. I am well, friends. It has been quite a journey these last few years, but it was quite a journey for the many years before that. No, I am writing this month because we are too silent about intimate violence. I am in the mood to expose roaches to sunlight, to air out the house, to hang up the underwear on the outside line. I am in the mood to trust the fortitude of my neighbors, that they might stare unflinchingly into the abyss with me, knowing that it could be (and has been) many of us...

When I was in seminary a few of us started a support group for survivors of intimate violence. There hadn't been such a group for a long time, and as far as I know it disbanded when we graduated. But four of us met faithfully every two weeks for a year. Two beautiful women from Womanspace met with us. We prayed. We spoke. We heard one another. We sat in silence. We raged. We mourned. We made connections between what had happened in our own families with the dysfunction we found in seminary. We confirmed for one another that we weren't crazy.

Intimate Violence: Words in My Toe

I promised myself I would blog daily this month. So here I am at 36 minutes to midnight finally starting this post. It was partly because the children wanted two different things for dinner and I wanted a third, and it was partly because we moved to a new apartment a month ago and I still have not hung pictures (so I hung a few today). But it was partly because I am struggling to voice my thoughts this month as I consider intimate violence and the way it has touched my life and those I love.

It takes a long time to tell this story. There are so many things to consider. To whom does one tell such a story? Who has ears to hear? Who will be worthy of this story (or these stories, for there are many). Sometimes I have lost those who have known my stories, and then I have to consider to whom I will re-tell these stories, because I cannot bear to move in this world without people who know and love my stories. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Intimate Violence: Light

sunrise from my attic window
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Also known as "intimate violence", domestic violence takes many forms. Domestic violence hides under rugs and behind closed doors. It lurks in relationships, often unknown to friends and family who visit in our homes. Intimate violence is perpetuated by parents, spouses, children, cousins, friends, and lovers. Intimate violence is hard to get away from, since it is closer to your skin than underwear. Intimate violence becomes a way of life that seems normal, usual, like everybody else. It fogs perception for perpetrator and victim. It tears apart one's soul.

Like roaches, intimate violence scatters in the light. But like roaches, it comes back when the light is off and the door is closed. One month a year isn't enough, but I'll take this month and blog daily on the topic of intimate violence. Today is a church day, so I'm reposting from October 2009. Fresh words tomorrow.