Science Boy and the Searle Girl

At dinner a few days ago, one of my children tried to explain bitcoin to us while another competed for attention by doing a little dance number that involved a combo of gymnastics, Riverdance, and dabbing. The juxtaposition of substance and circus reminded me of the first dinners I had at David’s house back when he was a new boyfriend. At that time, dinner for the Searles was a boisterous but coarse affair–mostly yelling at the boys to take those green beans out of their nostrils, thank you very much, or arguing about the obvious injustice that in setting the table, Tracy had folded the napkins and put the forks down, while I had gotten the knives, plates AND placemats. At the Grannis home, people had extended conversations about politics, or etymology, or baseball during the meal. Thanksgiving featured a fearsome pun competition. They seemed to deal in sophisticated wit, where I was used to prop comedy. I was amazed, and terrified that I would not be able to keep up. There was immense pressure to prove you could spar at that level–no easy feat with this family of accomplished and intelligent people.

As the youngest in a family of sharp wit, David was used to punching above his weight class. He had never had to hold back on that zinger so as not to hurt the baby’s feelings–he WAS the baby. Continue reading “Science Boy and the Searle Girl”

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And I softly listened

Christmas mornings, Dad made us wait at the top of the stairs until he gave the all clear. He’d queue up some Christmas music, put on the kettle for tea, plug in the lights on the tree, and when we were quite young, turn on the little train that went around its base. When he returned, we’d pose in our pajamas on the stairs for a photo before being released to see what surprises awaited. When we opened presents, it was clear he’d had nothing to do with the planning, purchase, or wrapping of a single one. But he would sit, watching, taking us in, content.

As a teenager, most years I would sing at church on Christmas Eve. My family sat in the fourth pew, and when I stood up front, I’d see my mom mentally singing along with me, silently counting, willing me to attack the notes from above, to open up and resonate, to keep my breath support strong. Basically she was working along with me. And next to her, Dad–who always thought it sounded great–relaxed, usually with eyes mostly closed and his mouth turned up slightly in a hint of a smile, rocking back and forth, out of time but content. Continue reading “And I softly listened”

If I built this fortress

Five years ago today is when I began to crack open. Twenty little fireballs, twenty little humans full of possibility were murdered. My youngest child–my own sparkling fireball of a little human–was 5 years old, just a few months younger than these dead children.

I cried for hours every day for about two weeks. Sitting at my desk. Sitting in church. Trying to fall asleep at night. Drinking coffee in Starbucks.

Since then, I have not really stopped. Continue reading “If I built this fortress”

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”

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”