Burn it down

I recently attended a brown bag session at work that was framed as a discussion of  harassment that some of our female scholars face when they speak publicly. My colleagues spoke about their experiences by saying “it’s bad” or “the criticism goes beyond a critique of my ideas to some really nasty stuff.” The women in the room nodded.

They didn’t have to be explicit for us to know what they meant—that there is no right way to be female and speaking. That the attacks they get are about being ugly or slutty or fat or prissy or frigid or stuck up or old. A certain scary swath of the population is angry and resentful that you get to talk, feels you need to be taken down a peg or ten, and is disgusted by your deigning to imagine yourself as anything other than a sex toy or servant. A larger cohort are people who don’t think they have a problem with women, and yet whenever they disagree with one, their responses are shot through with a critique of femaleness. The rest of the men–the good guys you know–probably don’t think about this much at all.

I think that is the category many of my male colleagues in that room fall into. They didn’t recognize that coded language the women were using. When we pushed on the language a little, the women articulated that often times the responses threatened violence, usually sexual, and some of the men were shocked. The men with public platforms were used to hearing that their ideas were wrong or stupid, but not that they themselves were wrong or ugly, or that as a consequence they should be raped or worse. Continue reading “Burn it down”

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Lover, Beloved

When my friend Gary first asked me to speak at church today about how our congregation finds community,  I said no. I assumed they wanted someone to talk about how awesome we are at it–and I just still get that “alone in a crowd” feeling–even though I’m in charge of a lot of stuff there. Luckily, Gary agreed that my sales pitch might ring hollow (“You want community? We got community by the bucketful at FCPC!!!”) and assented to a slightly less enthusiastic meditation on community, why it’s hard, and why it’s important. A slightly edited version of that talk is what follows.

When I was in college, I was in a women’s a cappella group. I auditioned when I transferred to this school and was so happy to get in—I hoped that these dozen women would be my new friends in an unfamiliar place. After about a year, I was elected the musical director.  I was so excited to get the gig—I had more musical training than anyone else in the group—so I knew I had the technical skills to arrange the songs, and the ear to tune us up to sound better than we had last year. I worked all summer to plan a great set of songs; I stayed up late working to arrange them for the voices in our group; I mapped out an aggressive rehearsal plan to make sure we’d sound perfect come the end-of-semester show.

I worked hard. We sounded good. I knew what I was doing.

And I was so lonely.  Continue reading “Lover, Beloved”

Prayers of the People

My turn to pray this week on behalf of our congregation. I read all these tweets this weekend that called on clergy to address Charlottesville on Sunday morning or be complicit. I nodded and wondered what my pastor would do for the sermon.  I read tweets that said, “church leaders, this is on you” and I nodded and then said “oh crap, that’s me.” Continue reading “Prayers of the People”

Yes I will

A family friend starred in a musical called “Mother, I’m Here” that had its one and only performance in Schenectady in the late 80s. We had the cast recording on heavy rotation in my family’s house. The show followed four girls from childhood to adulthood and into old age and has a million beautiful moments in it. Today, I’m remembering a line in the song “Dear Diary,” sung by our friend as she played a teen:

Dear diary, I think the mirror lies, ’cause when I take a look I don’t see me at all. Inside I know I’m brave and beautiful, so tell me why I look so pimply, scared, and small?

I always loved that line–it seemed so perfect to me as a pre-pubescent girl. Why did I look like a spazzy, frizzy-haired, powerless *child* when I felt like a force of nature, like I contained universes? Nothing about my life as it appeared seem to match how it felt. I was particularly irritated that my parents had chosen such a pedestrian, common name for me. I really felt more like a “Cassandra” than a Kerry. If I’d been Cassandra, they could call me “Cassie” if I remained girl-next-door cute and spunky, but I’d have Cassandra to fall back on if I reached my full majestic potential, or became a partner in a law firm. It would work either way. Clearly they hadn’t thought this through. Continue reading “Yes I will”

Missing persons

I miss my dad, I said to Nathaniel last night, when I could not stop myself from crying during the Barcelona-Manchester United game. We’d bought a ticket for my dad back in the spring. It was going to be the first in-person Man U game for both of them.

I miss my dad sooo much, I said on Facebook, immediately regretting it. Triple “o” so? Not my usual style–I’d counsel against it. Multiple vowels to intensify the “so.” “So” to intensify the “much.” “Much” to intensify the missing. Vague upon vague upon vague. Much missing? What’s missing?

I’m not missing anything. Continue reading “Missing persons”

Visions

On the day my father died, I came home from work early and sat with him. His eyes were closed most of the time, which was par for the course over the last two years. He’d mostly stopped speaking, but when I kissed him he moaned a little and fluttered his eyelids, acknowledging my presence.

I had a vision of him then. He was outside, moving through a field. Ahead of him, the sun was so bright that I couldn’t see what was there, and it threw him into silhouette. I couldn’t see his face, because he was striding away, moving quickly as usual. But his hair was thick and dark, and he moved with purpose and ease.

In the bed, he grasped my hand.

After he died, I held it for a very long time. I remembered my duty: to be a witness. His skin was soft and smooth. He lay as if sleeping. I memorized his face and his fingernails. For each of my sisters and brothers, I held his hand, keeping it warm though he no longer could. Silently, one by one they each had their turn: Continue reading “Visions”