Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Our First Trip to Disneyland: Some Naval Gazing!

Well hello world!

I did something ridiculous last week. On my middle child's 7th birthday, I surprised the kids with a last-second trip to Disneyland. I took a video of their faces as they opened the trunk of the car and saw the packed suitcases-- their confusion turned to deeper confusion. The new 7 year old began bouncing around and the 9 year old munched on her doritos in profound shock. Hours later at the airport she asked, "Why are we going to Disneyland?" I said, "Just for fun!" She looked blank. "Oh."

So I may have failed in instilling a rabid lust for all things Disney and Princess in my children. Up till now I always thought of that as a sort of cultural triumph-- that and they've never been to McDonalds. After this week though I feel a little differently about my kids' cultural upbringing. I've missed some opportunities to create a shared experience with them-- to plant the seeds of nostalgia. The first few years of my oldest's life, we didn't do Santa Claus. Christmas can be perfectly lovely with just stories about Santa, and Jesus, and Sinterklaas, and Saint Nick, and a few token Hannukah books for good measure. But as my kids and I have all gotten older, I've embraced the fantasy of Santa and Elves and Sinterklaas and his horse tripping across the roof-- of the Tooth Fairy (and if she's unavailable, the Tooth Troll), of the Easter Bunny leaving weird fruits, and other little moments of imagination and surprise. When the kids ask if it's REAL, I respond with a Dumbledorish line: just because it's happening in our heads, doesn't mean it isn't real.... And we're on the same page. We can foment magic in those moments of connection and play.

So back to Disneyland. It was magical. It was. I loved the way I could point in any direction and have the details be charming and interesting. From the landscaping choices to the details on the sets-- everything is so lovingly, so commitedly performed. Plus, it's BLOODY expensive, so I was savoring every moment, knowing that each minute in Disneyland was ringing Cha-Ching and cheerfully draining my bank account. I was reminded of the $100 melons I saw in Japan a decade ago-- they were gently and lovingly grown in square boxes, so that when fully mature, they were delicious, organic melon cubes. The point? You buy one. It costs a lot of money. You get a little thrill spending the dough. You give it to someone whom you want to impress. They get a little thrill. In the meantime, it's 80 cents worth of melon, but you've gotten $100 worth of thrill out of it. The more you spend, the more thrilling it is. So Disneyland was kind of a square melon for me. The expense made it more titillating and dear.

At first, I found the myriad adults wearing Mouse Ears a little embarassing. And the couples and families in matching T-shirts-- yeesh! But by the end of the trip I was utterly won over. Those mouse ears are ADORABLE. Come on, there are STEAM PUNK MINNIE EARS. And the matching shirts-- so convenient! So fun! So easy to spot in a crowd!

I loved the people watching: the tattoos, the aggressively applied highlights and rectangular eyebrow makeup. The dainty Japanese tourists. The many languages and races and clothing and families. The pros-- those folks who clearly have the Disney thing down to a science. And then us-- I'm clearly a mark-- underinformed, underprepared-- just take all my money already. My baby was patient with the whole thing-- in and out of the stroller as we waiting in line, jostled on a fun and bumpy ride, strolled across the park. One of the sweetest moments was when were tired on our first day there and sat down on the pavement to eat some ice cream. A little kid, maybe three, came up to me and gave me a piece of popcorn! She scampered back to her mom, in a hijab. I said, "oh, thank you! That was so sweet!" Did we look like beggars? And what beautiful impulse for a tiny kid to share their precious Disneyland popcorn with strangers! I wondered what that family's story was-- things are so grim in the US right now, a Muslim travel ban stalling innocent people at airports, causing pain and stress and confusion around the world, and emphasizing dark strains of xenophobia and racism. What brought this little family to this place? How do they see the pure-distilled American Dreaminess of Disney? And how did they raise their little kid to be so automatically sweet and generous? People are good.

It was fun to realize that Disneyland is really for adults and enthusiastic groups of teenagers racing to every attraction. The place is nearly orgasmic for 6 year old girls-- lucky ones can sign up for a slot at the Bibbity Boppity Boutique and for a mere $80 get all a glittered and bedecked and float through the park for the rest of the day in a transcendent aura of sparkle and rainbows. My seven year old admired the extra fancy dresses wistfully, and even the disgruntled 9 year old admitted that they were nice, and I fought my urge to throw money at my kids' happiness. But no. We can admire and enjoy without the spending, I repeated to myself like a mantra. Ask me how I know this truth? My 9 yo was growling about the horrifyingly racist river cruise (shrunken heads and black-skinned tribesmen? WTF Disney) and the downright STUPID tiki stuff-- she bloomed into full RAGE when a little animatronic dared call itself Pele. I agree, but still. "Let's choose to have fun! We're at Disneyland!" Grrrrrr was her answer. "Fine," I said as we were waiting in line for our Dole Whip Floats, "Sheesh, next time we'll just go camping at some junk BLM land desert mesa!" Both kids said, "really? Yaaay!!"

This is a good reminder to me. Throwing money at my kids' happiness-- giving in to the requests for ice cream and stuffed animals and cute Star Wars gear-- it feels good for a second. It's the emotional equivalent of a sugar rush. They want something! They beg with big shiny eyes! I give it to them! We all feel good for a moment! But then the new star wars sweatshirt is wadded up, the oversized lollypop is dropped on the ground. It was the exchange, the connection that was the actual goal. So rather than go from one emotional sugar rush to the next, I can sustain myself and my kids through a steady diet of ordinary connection. This trip was fun! I had a great time! It was a $100 melon! But I don't think the expensive stuff actually made us any happier as a family. But playing Monkey in the Middle in the hotel pool did. And making up silly riddles in line did. It's a tired old lesson I suppose, but I needed to learn it for myself.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Showing Up In the Body At The Rally

The rally last weekend was under clear blue skies. A middle aged white man in a fleece jacket and khaki pants addressed the crowd from the pulpit. Pulpit? Yes. "Every world religion castigates its followers to be wise stewards. We are charged with the care and keeping of ourselves, our families and our earth. Without the clean air and pure water of our planetary home, we could not survive to glorify god."

I was bemused, standing next to my new friend Cinnamon, hip length red dreadlocks, big husky dog on a leash, and well-used bicycle.

We had not stumbled across a church meeting. We were at a Provo, Utah clean air rally.

The previous week the air quality had gotten to "red." When I dropped the girls off at school, a placard outside announced "Inside Day." When the air is this bad-- grey-yellow and soupy-- the children can't play outside.

Kids with asthma and allergies are encouraged to stay home; to stay inside.

As if walls and 60 year old insulation and some crumbly plaster forms some kind of filter to the sinus-coating particulates outside.

The baby's snot was gray.

My middle child got sick. She was up all night heaving, trying to breathe, chest rising and falling, ribs prominent. Each intake of breath was a little yelp.

We spent the next day at the hospital. Lung X-rays, throat cultures, a horrific tube jabbed up her nose, she screamed as it went up into her sinuses.

Children waste away so quickly-- three or four days with no appetite and my healthy 1st grader suddenly looks gaunt-- big brown eyes prominent in her ashy face, pants loose around her waist. It takes so little to diminish her already-smallness into real tinyness.

My fear crescendoed. I took action: radical diet changes. Anti-inflammatory foods only, immune-boosting goodies loaded into the pantry. And on Saturday, while the kids stayed home and watched shows, I went to the clean air rally.

The worst of the pollution had blown away-- good for our lungs, bad for our rhetoric. But the heavy lifting of the rally was as subdued and politic as a sermon-- a collegiate plea for moral earth-care. BYU professors encouraged stewardship, as God charged Adam to care for his garden. A sleekly-dressed non-profit spokesperson in a tailored jacket and pearls encouraged us to come to the capital and to engage in the conversations with our legislators that would guide the state towards cleaner air.

Meanwhile, black-face-masked anarchists crept widdershins along the perimeter of the crowd, handing out mimeographed scraps of paper stamput  with "Air Warriors" and muttering: we do this all year. I thanked the skinny young guy who gave me his. He had scraps of cloth pinned to his black hoodie and silver chains looping over his skinny butt in shredded black jeans.  He looked ready to punch a nazi. Good. It takes all sorts, I think. The patchouli-scented hippies with their tricked out bikes, the worried moms like me, the straight-edger anarchists and the clean BYU students.

I'm trying to be more physically present with politics. I'm trying to use my body, and not be satisfied the non-thing that is digital slacktivism. I'm using my larynx, my soft-palate, my teeth to talk to my representatives. I'm using my legs, shins, and feet to stand in protests, show up at rallies, and lift up my hands and face with other people in prayer and protest. I cannot rely on anyone else's bodies to take up my space for me. I may be just a dot in a population-- a single pixel. I have to show up. I can't just stay home, stay inside on red days, and watch my baby struggle to breathe.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

BBC SHERLOCK IS GAAAAAAAY: Or At Least I Really Really Hope So

Anybody who has spoken to me in the last five years or so knows that I have a bit of a Sherlock Holmes obsession. I want to try and explain why these fictional characters are so important to me, especially in their incarnation by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on BBC Sherlock. 

I first watched the show in about 2012, when the first two seasons are on Netflix. Matt had already watched it, and I had slept through it. He was in the habit of staying up all night with Netflix going while I slept. He watched it and he thought I should watch it. I was Luke warm. My only experience with Sherlock Holmes was Laurie King's wonderful feminist reimagining about Mary Russell. The rest of it seemed sort of, I dunno. Stodgy. Ridiculously masculine. But I agreed, and watched it all in one sitting more or less. As we often do now in this age of Netflix binge-watching, over two or three days I got to the end of the Reichenbach fall, the sixth episode and final episode. It ends with Sherlock leaping from the roof of Saint Barts hospital apparently to his death. He leaves poor Dr. Watson bereft and in terrible pain, and unable to express the last important thoughts with his mad flatmate. 

I wanted more. Only six episodes? How is this possible? And not just more action and mystery, or clever British banter and high speed rooftop chases or technologically dazzling deduction scenes. Because actually, it's a terrible action show. The mysteries are ridiculous (there was a giant Hungarian living in the sewers, an enormous glowing hound, and a killer Chinese circus, and the biggest baddy of all flashed his undies. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP.) The effects border on silly (the flashing screen at a bank heist "Hacked.") And the dialogue continually elevates your expectations and then pooh-poohs them. It's like a Monty Python skit where it'll say look at the beautiful distant shining Camelot! Nope it's only a model, full of self aware parodies and metatextual injokes. There's something about that rug pulling give-and-take dialogue that gives the show the same kind of otherworldly absurdist poignancy of Doctor Who or Torchwood. Make sense, since it's shares some of the same creators. One of my favorite examples of this is the way that Sherlock and Mycroft appear to be playing Chess but actually it's Operation. This isn't some highbrow intellectual show, it's a bit of silliness about a cartoonishly broken heart. 

So I wanted more. But there was one thing specifically that I desperately needed after watching those first six episodes. I felt like the relationship between John and Sherlock needed more. To see poor John slouched in grief and unable to speak his feelings, standing at Sherlocks grave, and to see Sherlock heading out on his post fall adventures without John… No. It was all wrong. I needed them together. 

I'll admit it. I needed specifically for them to kiss each other. 

I'm not sure where this need came from. I've never been a shipper, I've never been in a fandom. But after watching those six episodes, I needed to see their relationship become romantic. I think there were cues built into the text of the film that made my desire to see their relationship become romantic the natural outcome of what I was seeing. The dialogue about whether or not Sherlock has a boyfriend or a girlfriend, the dialogue about Watson being "a very good boyfriend" to Sherlock Holmes, the dialogue with Irene Adler about how John and Sherlock are a couple whether or not John admits it, and how Irene, although she is a lesbian, still finds herself attracted to Sherlock because attraction and sexuality are sometimes unexpectedly complex.  

These all suggested to me that the real question that is left unanswered by those six episodes isn't whether or not Moriarty  really died, or how Sherlock faked his death. The real question is how are these two damaged humans going to be able to connect romantically and, as John says, find fulfillment as a human being through romantic entanglement.

The obstacles to the connection aren't external. They're internal. They are Sherlock's bizarre claim that he's a high functioning sociopath. It's John's adamant claim that he's not gay (as if you have to be gay to fall in love with a man: #bisexuality is a thing John!) It's John's concern about how other people perceive them, and when the press insinuates they might be in a relationship ("confirmed bachelor John Watson") he says they have to "be more careful." It's Sherlock's internalized lesson from Mycroft that sentiment is "the fly in the ointment, the crack in the lens," and that "alone protects me." They have terrible obstacles to overcome in order to be good for each other, and to be together romantically. 

I made a terrible-- or wonderful--decision, depending on how you read what happened next. I googled: John and Sherlock kiss. Imagine the heavens parting! Google served me well! It turned out that there were beautifully done photoshopped images of John and Sherlock kissing and there were entire novel length stories written about how their relationship could progress forward, could survive the separation and betrayal of the fall from Saint Bart's, how John could overcome whatever resistance he had to gay love, and Sherlock could overcome whatever beliefs he had about himself being inhuman. I fell hard into the world of fanfiction. And wow, what a world. The writing in some of these works is so astounding it takes my breath away. It was staggering, the amount of creative energy that existed around this show. 

My new obsession wasn't something that I felt like I could tell other people. There is such stigma against fan girls, against gay pairings, against fanfiction, and against the whole world and culture of shipping. For the uninitiated, shipping is when you imagine that two fictional characters should be in a relation"ship". Hence the ship. Most of the time, these ships are fun and based on actorly aesthetics. For example in supernatural, many people ship the angel Castiel and the demon hunter Dean. There's certainly some on-screen sexual tension between the characters but the show runners emphasize repeatedly with plot lines and in world characterization that no, they are not going to have a romantic relationship. And although they have adventures together and share a "special bond", shipping those two characters is more an exercise in creative fun--more about the giddy silliness of taking two pretty people and making them kiss. And there's nothing wrong with that kind of shipping. I enjoy all kinds of ships that really have nothing to do with their text of origin. 

Shipping is a great game. You take characters with her own sets of personalities and emotions and motivations and back stories, and see how you could change their paths and put new obstacles in their way and clear others, and or in order to pair them with another character. 

But Sherlock and John never felt like that to me. Their relationship seemed much more imperative. My viewing of that pairing was way more than just an aesthetic appreciation of Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones or Martin Freeman is adorable little run and compelling assholery. In fact I don't want anything to do with the celebrities themselves, and although I think they are admirable actors, I don't need to follow all of their other work. It's just those characters. Just John and Sherlock. I needed to see them together, healed, and united.

So for years I read tons of fanfiction. Pretty soon I had favorite authors who I would follow, and favorite online communities where I could find recommendations in conversation about the show. Sometimes these are squee filled insanity posts, fueled by the horrendously long time between the release of new episodes. This in the world of the fandom is affectionately known as hiatus hell. Hiatus -- often YEARS between seasons, and only three episodes per season-- tends to generate marvelous but ridiculous content, like reimagining Sherlock as a giant tuna. I don't know and I don't understand tuna!lock. But it's funny. Theres a lot of absurdity. 

There's also incredibly articulate and in-depth textual and meta-textual analysis, compiled by brilliant viewers and readers of the original text and of the films and the movies. The online communities fed my obsession. I found works of art that hundreds of thousands of other people have read. I found fic that made me weep, like Alone on the Water by Madlori, imagining Sherlock's death by cancer, and the terrible unspoken things that live in Watson after his chance is gone. I've read mind bending time travel ultimate reality science fiction fic like Chrys's A River Without Banks. I've read novel length hard-core military gay erotica, "221 Bravo Baker" by abundantlyqueer, and thoughtful crossovers between the world of Sherlock and the Harry Potter universe like "You Are A Paradigm" by 1electricpirate. And I've gained a shared language, with thousands of other people who've read and loved the same things. And it's not just online. 

I have gone to Watsons Tin Box meetings in Maryland, and been inducted. They said if you go once it could be an honest mistake but if you go twice then they figure you're there on purpose and you become a member. I teared up when they said that. I went to an astounding Sherlock Holmes film conference in Indiana and got to watch vintage Sherlock Holmes films and hear speeches from producers of the BBC Sherlock Homes radio show and the Granada Sherlock Holmes television series starring Jeremy Brett, David Hardwick and David Burke as Holmes and Watson and Watson.I went to the astounding Scintillation of Scions meeting in Maryland, where I heard brilliantly comical and ludicrous and insightful speeches about Sherlock Holmes in the ACD Canon, Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek and Watson's unreliability about Homes' musical taste. I was so overwhelmed and thrilled to meet these people all coming together to celebrate Sherlock Holmes. It felt like coming home to meet them in person and since then they've been a real source of love and support to me, and I feel like they are friends, even if I've only met them once or twice. I know about one's abusive ex-husband. They are real people to me. 

One of my favorite artifacts of this fandom has been the Three Patch Podcast. It's a wonderfully well executed podcast focusing on the BBC Sherlock fandom, with segments interviewing fan artists and video creators and writers, a book club section where they read and discuss interesting fic with a panel, fascinating segments about sexuality and film studies and The Sherlock Holmes Canon… These episodes come out about once a month and they are long-- about three hours each. And I relish every single soundbite. 

In the last few months I've discovered an astounding YouTube series by Rebekah TJLC, and it has reignited my passion for this John/Sherlock aka Johnlock ship. In over 50 videos, often an hour each, she goes into detail examining the soundtrack, the character arches, the cinematography, the subtext, the tropes, the writer's motivations and back stories… And she presents a wonderful case that Sherlock and John are indeed destined to become a romantic couple. In spite of the societal pressure that says that a mainstream action TV show can't be gay, in spite of the writers' protestations that that's not the story they're telling, in spite of late night talk show host mocking the fandom and their dirty little shipping, and the essentially misogynist anti-fan girl rhetoric that pops up anywhere you mention the wish for this ship to become canon-- for their romantic relationship to be a part of the show. I'm glad for these videos, because they are so well done, and they are just a really beautiful example of the level of love and care and thoughtful analysis that fans bring to create their experience with the show. But I think what these videos do, and all of the other detailed meta-textual analysis produced by fans, is just break down why I had that initial feeling that I needed to see John and Sherlock in this romantic relationship. 

It seems that these creators have intentionally, softly, softly, created a drama that inevitably brings these two characters together in this way. Not as brothers in arms, not as platonic roommates, but as two men in love with each other, completely devoted to each other, sharing their lives in every way. I am intensely invested in this outcome. I feel like my heart is absolutely on the chopping block. So far two episodes of the new season have come out, and only one remains. In the two so far, we've seen them pushed together and torn more apart. Their own issues are becoming apparent, and the obstacles between them are still terrifyingly hazardous. But I still feel like they are destined to be together. Not in some kind of wish fulfillment "I just want to see them kiss" kind of way. I want to see them overcome those painful emotional hurdles that form the real conflicts in these episodes. As John says to Sherlock, "you're not a puzzle solver, you're a drama queen!"

If this show is not about their relationship, then it's Dadaist nonsense. I feel that it's vitally important that the show actually produce a mainstream action hero who is gay. And not just any mainstream action hero, Sherlock Holmes. From the moment of his publication, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have been coded as queer characters. But they never in their 150 year history I have been able to be romantically involved. To be married. It's so overdue. 

I'm so invested in this, especially at this particular moment in time, because the level of vitriol and hatred against people under that large queer rainbow umbrella of gay-bi-lesbian-trans-intersex-asexual-etc. Right now everyone under that umbrella is threatened. The world is taking an alarming turn to the fascist. For a little while with the legalization of gay marriage across the world in many countries, it seemed as though we were seeing a break in the historical phalanx of anti-homosexual relationships. Sure, as my grandmother said, everybody always knew that there were same-sex couples who are deeply in love and build their lives together, just the way that everyone always knew that Sherlock Holmes had his Watson and Watson had his Holmes, but there was just no need to say it out loud. 

Why do we need to bring it out into the open? This is a question that I know many people who are even fans of the show ask. And it's so difficult for me to put into words why I so desperately want and need to see these characters be openly gay on television. I guess the simplest tiniest answer is that representation matters. In this era where hate crimes mean that trans youth are likely to be murdered, bisexuality is a high suicide risk, where gay couples can legally lose their jobs or their apartments based on their the sex of their partner, where gay youth have to look at subtext rather than text in order to see a mirror of themselves, it's just too important. They have to show these characters being gay. They just have to. I know, I know-- artist don't have a duty to tell "very special episode" stories that go in trying to push a particular political or cultural agenda. But this show is so so close, and they could really change history if they dared to be the first to tell this story in this way. 

So I hope I'm right. It's such a little scrap, to hope that there will be some kind of fulfillment, some kind of confirmation of this deep feeling that I've had for years and years that Sherlock and John indeed are destined to be together. Not his housemates, not as partners solving crimes, but as husbands. I desperately hope that in twodays time, my five-year-old wish to see them kiss will finally be granted. If it is, it's a fist pumping moment for anyone who is desperate to see themselves reflected in characters on screen. Anyone who is broken and needs love. Anyone who is straight but maybe with a question mark about who it's OK for them to love. Anyone who has such a stuck idea about who gets to be gay and who gets to be straight but they can't even imagine the characters that they love could be anything other than straight. This would be an incredible victory for representation. I'll go into this weekend with all of my fingers and toes crossed that the makers of this beautiful show won't let me down, and that Holmes and Watson can be together at last.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Admit it: Not all Suicides are Preventable

"How do people keep themselves safe?"asks a reporter to Inspector Lestrade in BBC Sherlock's first episode, "A Study in Pink." "Well, don't commit suicide," he quips. Then he takes a softer tack: "Obviously, this is a frightening time for people, but all anyone has to do is exercise reasonable precautions. We are all as safe as we want to be."

Sherlock Holmes then texts everyone in the press conference with the single, emphatic word, "WRONG!"

What can we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? Parents are terrified of the specter of teen suicide. In Utah, my new and old homestate, the teen suicide rate has tripled since 2007. It has the 15th highest suicide rate in the country.

The response to alarming statistics about suicide is to bulk up prevention programs and access to mental health. The school where I did my initial student teaching 13 years ago, Lone Peak High School in Alpine UT, responded to a contagion of suicides by hiring a full time counselor, holding rallies, and involving parents (source).

I'm sure it feels good to take action like that. How do we stop suicide? We tell people not to do it. We share the suicide hotline information on facebook. We make blanket statements of encouragement: "You are never alone."

 "Some say they feel stigmatized by such statements … as if others now look at them as having failed to do enough." (Source)

And that's how it feels.
Just don't do it, don't kill yourself. Even if you're thinking about it all the time, even if you're waking up from attempts horrified at what nearly happened, screwing your courage to never ever do it again, even if your mind is constantly flooded with death-pornographic images of your own violent death. Even if the things you do to quiet that insistent jackhammer of self-violence only feed the monster that's urging you toward's the cliff's edge, just... don't do it.

Up until the moment of death, suicide is preventable. That's the party line.

It's a terrible party line. It robs us all.

If I had known Matt was dying, I would have lived with him differently. If he had known he was dying... Well, he did. But he couldn't admit it. He just felt himself jolting inexorably towards that cliff's edge, each secret attempt bringing the inevitable closer.

I didn't know. He hid it well-- behind ordinary grumpiness, work stress, family busy-ness. I knew he wasn't okay. I didn't realize that "mildly depressed" (the diagnoses he admitted to) could be deadly.

Matt thrashed and struggled against his own death. He went, hating every second, to a counselor who told him about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She sent him home with a book called "Feeling Good" which he tore in half with his bare hands, and then tore in half again. He came with me to three different counselors and a psychiatrist. He said it was like sitting under the eye of Sauron, or like being sent to the principal's office. He was smart and he was in pain and he was terrified.

Later, after his death, those counselor's told me his prognosis was never good.

I wish I had known that-- all the little statistical towers piled up-- he was high risk across the board. Even his ethnicity-- "mixed race"-- put him in the highest risk racial group for suicide. Add in everything else, it echoes in my mind: "His prognosis was never good."

I can't change what happened. But I can be a noisy little wasp in the ear for other people.

You might lose them. You MIGHT. If you can't stop it from happening, what do you do? How do you make room for pleasure and delight when that fatal shadow is looming?

A friend called me the other day. Her husband was on his dozenth suicide attempt of the year. Should she leave him to spare herself the ragged shredding of her heart? Who knows. But I told her what I wished I had known. I wish I had known he was dying. I couldn't have stopped it, but I would have savored those last brutal months with him, just as I was able to savor the last months of my mom's life as she died of cancer.

There is an alchemical transformation of suicide death, and fault.

Up until the point of completion, the suicide was a non-thing. A non-disease. Not like a tumor that has given you another day. But maybe we should think of suicidal depression that way. A growing tumor. It might be healed, with vigorous treatment. But it probably is the death sentence.

That inevitability of the backwards look means that things were coming to this. Looking forward the road ahead is infinite splits-- a tessellation of possibilities. But looking backwards the forks are invisible-- alternate universes shadowed, and only the path we took is the one illuminated. That makes it feel like there was only ever one path.

That single path changes the blame. There was nothing else that could have happened.

And pronouncing glibly that suicide is preventable is a horror and put the burden on the surviving family members.  "he who is bent on ending his own life, on some level, must first re-gain a modicum of clarity in order “to be saved.” In some small way, that person must be willing to open up just a little and let someone in. To make a gesture. Reach out. To ask for help." 

I don't feel blamed for Matt's death. I feel baffled and knocked out of orbit and my heart is in tatters. I don't feel responsible for it. With the information I had, with the resources I could muster, I did everything I could. But I still wish I had known that not all suicides are preventable beforehand, and that, as the therapists said, "His prognosis was never good."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Today is six months since Matt​'s death. I am relieved to feel time passing, getting us further and further from that moment of horror and pain. But it also means that the finality of it is starting to sink in-- all his chances and options were suddenly closed off and there will never be any explanations or answers or happy endings for him. I've found unfinished screenplays in his work notebooks. I've found journals with just one or two entries. And that's it.

When someone dies by suicide, they don't get rid of their unbearable, impossible pain. They give it to their families-- to their children.

Right now we are still struggling to breathe under the weight of that sudden horrifying tsunami of pain, and trying to find ways to understand it, forgive it, be gentle with it, move through it and with it, transform it from jagged spikes into rolling waves. It's already been six months. It's only been six months. Time expands and contracts weirdly with death-- it was yesterday-- it was another lifetime.
But it's also thanksgiving time. And I'm filled with gratitude. I'm so grateful for my grandmother who allows me to make her meals and clutter up her life with kid art and wild gigglers, and for the seasons turning from ripe fall into stark and thoughtful winter. I'm grateful for the made-family that has come around me and mine.
And I'm thankful for a memory like this that makes me smile. This was his version of a love note. He stacked MY favorite books on the goat cheese to press it, and left it there for me to find in the hurry and scurry of the day. I saw it. There were good moments. They can sweeten the darkness.
Matt's cheese-making is a literary process. Special thanks to JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, Ray Bradbury and CS Lewis. And the goats.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who Would Jesus Shun?

Last night my aunt and uncle brought over their 9 kids and a vat of spaghetti and meatballs. My girls and a few cousins disappeared downstairs to craft American Girl doll sandals out of ribbon and foam. I was tired-- my focus to a pinprick, and wanted to be flat on the ground. That is what grief feels like to me sometimes. Dull, flat, tiny, mute-- my grieving body.

After dinner my aunt and uncle, really generous and loving people, called the kids into the living room around grandma's recliner and asked for a prayer and a spiritual thought for family home evening. Their oldest daughter volunteered. She's a beautiful girl-- with a sort of timeless prettiness. She seems poured from a Jane Austen novel or L. M. Montgomery-- no makeup, no hair product, a ponytail, rosy cheeks, clear eyes. My grandma has an old picture of her with a tea set on her fridge-- that is where she belongs. Under an apple tree, pouring tea into floral china.

She shared Matthew 7:1-3. "Judge not, that ye be not judged." She added, "somewhere along the line, the translators just messed it up, or thought they'd change it."
This is the Joseph Smith translation, which is added as a footnote in the LDS version of the New Testament. " 2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment."

She read this version to us. She explained that people think this Bible verse means it's bad to judge other people, that somehow judging other people is wrong and makes you mean, but REALLY it means it's only bad to judge other people --- if you are wrong. If you are right and they are bad, go ahead and judge them. The original verse makes it sound like you should just let everybody do whatever they want and focus on your own issues, but no.  Joseph Smith fixed that for us.

She illustrated. Her seminary teacher met some really cool folks-- really smart, really kind. But they were swearing and he knew that sometimes they drank coffee, tea or alcholo (all verboten in Mormon theology). So he decided he couldn't spend time with them because they would have a bad influence on him. That, she explained, is an example of righteous judgment.

"Don't SHUN, them, exactly... just limit your time with them, and their influence on you."

One of the twins, a year older than her, piped up. "But what about your influence on them? Can't you spend time with them to lift them up?"

She grimaced. "Well, no, because influence goes both ways."

I wanted to say, "So, maybe you shouldn't bring them spaghetti dinners?" I have tattoos, I happily drink tons of coffee, I've had my name removed from the church's records last year (when they banned the children of same-sex couples from getting baptized), and I have a prominent rainbow magnet on my car. I have kept the things I loved from my LDS upbringing, but many things from that legacy are damaging and took a lot of gentle untangling to heal from. I am not lost or strayed-- I am healed and healing from the church. I won't categorically say I will NEVER go back, because life is weird and you never know, but I certainly don't feel like I SHOULD go back. I feel like me and Jesus and God are on good terms. I certainly feel blessed and loved and guided by the universe. I feel like I'm learning-- I'm a work in progress. I am on a path, I'm not wallowing in a ditch waiting to be hauled back onto the road.

I felt a little astonished listening to this lovely child say these things-- fearing so much for the fragility of her goodness that any exposure to difference would damage it.

The parents tried, bless them, to bring Jesus back into it. My aunt asked her daughter, "What would Jesus do?"

My cousin agreed heartily. "Exactly. Think of the standards of behavior Jesus expects."

"Who would Jesus spend time with, though?" my aunt asked.

My uncle said, "That's a high bar."

My cousin agreed again, somberly-- "It IS a high standard we have to hold to."

"Well," my uncle said, "loving as Jesus does is a high bar."

It didn't get through. The conversation ended on an uncomfortable note-- or maybe it was just my discomfort. Are they spending time with me in order to have some good influence on me? Are they careful to seal themselves up from my influence? I was tired. I felt smaller.

Jesus spent his time LOVING the most despised --- the most "righteously" judged-- people in his society. And he got out a whip and knocked shit over. That was against the hypocrites and the people making profits off of others' faith. He embraced the sinners and the unclean and the damaged. He wasn't worried that they'd somehow damage him.

The best human interactions are mutual-- we shine our lights onto each other, amplifying the light, the goodness. The god in me greets the god in you, and we are all lit a little brighter with that heavenly fire.

These parents are good. This family is good. This teenage daughter is good. But they-- and the many other like them (88.12% of the county where we live) will hurt my kids. If my girls, raised out of the church, are supposed to be shunned because of their potential for bad influence, if the name of Jesus is used as a barrier between people instead of a madly, impossibly open gate called Grace... then we're not safe here. We're not safe anywhere near that kind of judgement.

So the Utah safety net... it's appealing. Addresses are easy to find. The schools are safe and fun. I just crash landed here and I have already friends around that I can hike with, build bonfires with. But it's that undercurrent-- in spite of having parents who genuinely want to do and be good-- the Mormon kids pick up on and distill a fearfulness, a self-righteousness, and a resistance to difference that will only damage them and the people around them.

We need a lesson from Frodo. A badness "look fairer, and feel fouler." Goodness-- light, truth, royalty-- can be scruffy and unkempt. Just because something scares you doesn't mean it's bad.

Settling in....Elsewhere.

When I made this blog about 8 years ago, I was living in a one-room ohana apartment attached to a farmhouse on Hawaiian Homelands in Waimea, Big Island. I was thinking hard-- learning hard-- trying to understand the things I saw-- the dusty thorny beaches studded with hidden black petroglyphs in the shadow of a walled resort where you could pet pink dolphins. I was trying to figure out my place in a culture that defined me differently than I had ever been defined. Later I learned the word for that-- as a white girl in American, my whiteness had never been a marker. I was marked by other things, but never race or culture. In Hawaii, I was able to perceive for the first time the existence of my whiteness, and my fluency in white American culture. This is an ungainly process-- and the reason so many white Americans kind of freak out when they move to Hawaii-- something they didn't even know about themselves is in fact a thing that defines them-- every thing they do, and how they perceive reality.

I thought a lot about race. I thought about American whiteness, and about my husband's biracial identity that was so rich and so challenging. He was a bridge for me into Hawaii culture and history-- my kids are 5th generation Hawaii born on his mother's side. He had Japanese and Okinawan and British ancestry, and generations of difficult and beautiful family history in Hawaii. His grandparents were the first people of Japanese descent to be married in the Hawaii Mormon temple. His great grandparents were plantation workers, sailors, and Japanese sandal makers. His grandmother Joyce Teruya, who we named our oldest daughter after, could make the most ono chicken katsu you could imagine, and my husband as a little kid would take it to the beach wrapped in wide ti leaves and eat it with salty fingers after throwing himself hard into the waves. His race put people at ease, allowed him access to the Hawaiian Paniolo culture he served as an ag extension agent, bought him a measure of grace while people got to know him. My race was an obstacle for me-- something I had to push through in order for people to get to know ME, rather than whatever assumptions they had about me. A good lesson for a well-meaning white girl.

Race in Hawaii went from something that seemed pretty clear: transplants vs. locals-- to something much more nuanced. Hawaii-born Japanese vs Native Hawaiian, Haole vs. Portuguese, Filipino vs. Puerto Rican, Haole transplant vs. tourist-- it turned out that all these roles and labels are actually permeable. I know people who identify as Hawaiian without a drop of Hawaiian blood. I know Hawaiians who define other ethnic Hawaiians as un-Hawaiian because of how they act, where they live, where they went to school. It's a muddle, but a fertile one. And in the end, not that crucial since everybody still marries each other, makes gorgeous children, passes on or drops tradition, and the days spin on.

Things that had simple at first became more complex-- as they would for anybody moving from their mid twenties to mid thirties. Parenting babies with a few clear needs became parenting kids with a myriad of challenging ones. Friends went from folks we ran into at playgroups to surrogate family, with lifelong love and unbelievable heartbreak. Our religion went from a source of strength to a source of pain. Our jobs went from post-college entry level to full time and promotions and tenure. My husband reinvented himself constantly, searched for meaning and scrabbling for relief from his depression.

He didn't find it. He just passed it along, exploded his pain on me and my girls who he left behind.

And now we're in Utah-- the land of my ancestors. I met strangers the other day on my walk back from the girls' school bus stop-- I had to stop and pat their dog. It turns out they are my step-mom's cousins. I've got a boomerang history here and ambivalent feelings about it.

I feel like a stranger in a familiar land, and I vacillate between wanting so settle in and get cozy and be easy and comfortable for the rest of my life, and wanting to run for it-- get someplace where I fit in better, where things feel less familiar but more safe.