Hey look, I haven't blogged in months. I'm working on a graphic novel. Finally. More soon.
Be excellent to each other.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
If You Are in Favor of Religious Freedom, This is Why You Should Be Mad About Burwell V. Hobby Lobby
I do not agree with the recent SCOTUS decision on the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. I have read the entire opinion as well as a substantial amount of associated legal and lay commentary, and I consider myself very well informed on most aspects of the case and decision. These are my very brief arguments:
- The case should have entered certoriari to begin with because it was premised upon two logical fallacies: 1) that a medical claim (which has no basis in medical science, and neither is supported by text in the Bible) can be considered a “religious belief” and 2) that a corporation can exercise religious freedom (i.e., the SCOTUS majority mis-applied the Dictionary Act).
- Evidence, including current financial investments in Teva Pharamceuticals, suggests that Hobby Lobby’s beliefs are not “sincerely held.”
- Compensation for labor is fungible. The possibility that an employee of Hobby Lobby could spend a portion of their paycheck on a good or service Hobby Lobby considers to be sinful is no less attenuated than the possibility of an employee taking advantage of health coverage that pays for the contraceptive drugs or devices in question.
But it is not my intent to spend this post arguing my side. I have been in this game long enough to understand that even the most evidence-based and logical argument may not be enough to sway the opinions of many, especially those with ideological beliefs that are deeply rooted in their religion. This post is directed, in good faith, at those of you who identify as religious and/or as defenders of religious freedom—specifically, those of you who think this ruling is a victory.
One of the most important aspects of this ruling is that women’s access to the four contraceptive drugs and devices in question will not change. To keep in line with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the ACA, SCOTUS could not change the fact that insurance must cover all 20 FDA-approved contraceptives and that cost-sharing is prohibited (i.e., women don’t have to pay anything for these items). The ruling states that corporations with religious objections, such as Hobby Lobby, now do not have to pay for plans that cover items to which they object on religious grounds. However, accommodation must be made to continue to provide the coverage with no cost sharing. This means that either the insurance issuer will have to cover it, or the federal government—i.e., the taxpayers—will.
Many religious conservatives are hailing this as a victory because the Greens of Hobby Lobby will no longer have to compromise their religious beliefs by contributing to an act they consider potentially sinful. However, under RFRA, ACA, and the SCOTUS ruling, someone still has to pay for it.
If the accommodation comes from the insurance issuer, that “someone” may be those in the same insurance pool. That’s how insurance works: your payments don’t directly pay for the care you receive; it is pooled to pay for the care of all people covered by the same insurer. If the Greens are part of their own insurance group plan, they are still (albeit in a convoluted way) paying for contraceptive coverage.
Alternatively, should the accommodation be that the federal government pays for the coverage (as is suggested by the SCOTUS majority), that “someone” may be all American taxpayers. This, of course, includes others who hold the same beliefs as the Greens.
In other words, SCOTUS has granted “freedom of religion” to a small minority of rich business people while taking away the same exact “freedom of religion” from countless other Americans.
Upon close examination, this decision is not about women’s rights (which haven’t changed). And it’s not about freedom of religion (because that “freedom” is now restricted across a much greater population). It’s about how much more power the rich have, and how they’re willing to leverage that power to further their own gains at the expense of everyone else. It’s about the dangers of corporate personhood. It’s about the powerlessness and the increasing minorityhood of the 99%.
If you are a sincere follower of Christ, you know that using one’s riches to create hardship on others is antithetical to his teachings. I encourage you to educate yourself about the true ramifications of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, then take action.
There is no victory here but for the rich and powerful.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
I bought a gun when I was 22 years old. I didn’t particularly want a gun. But the thing with guns—as with many consumer products—is that whether or not you want one has not been entirely your choice to make.
It was 2004 and I had moved in too soon with a man I, by all accounts on paper and off, should never have been dating in the first place. Daniel (not his name) was a recent transplant from a poor town across the country. I was single for the first time since I was in high school. We found each other when we both needed someone, and that’s how these things start sometimes.
His life in his home town was what some might idiomatically call “hard.” He’d been to jail twice. He had a bullet wound to show me; he let me touch it. This kind of “hard” seemed to neutralize the naivety within myself that was growing tiresome at age 22.
Daniel and I moved into a suburban apartment 15 miles outside of Baltimore. It was the kind of apartment complex with a tree in its name, where every wall and furnishing is ecru, and the pool is open every summer but they don’t do much to maintain the tennis courts. This complex concerned Daniel deeply. He had seen questionable characters in the parking lot late at night. I realized later this simply meant “black people,” but at the time I figured someone like Daniel knew a crime when he saw one.
“You should get a gun to protect yourself.”
The reason he phrased it like this was that, as a convict, he couldn’t buy one; only I could. The underlying implication was that he didn’t need protecting; I did. Buried even deeper was the idea that I would never conclude on my own that a gun was what I needed, and that he needed to lead me to this important decision. I acquiesced, but the reasons I did are more complicated than they appeared on the surface. I began to believe that if he felt we needed a gun for protection, he must have been frightened, and if I could do my part to offer some solace I would. I loved him. I also believed that if a person had been shot by a gun, he had a pass to want one around.
It was also correct that I would never conclude on my own that a gun was something I needed. But suddenly this seed of desire was planted. While it would have felt powerful to say no to my boyfriend, no to the culture that said I needed protecting, no to fear, it actually felt much more powerful to say yes: I am going to buy a gun. I didn't immediately understand why, but I didn't question it because it is a perfectly normal thing for a gun to make a person feel powerful.
Daniel did the research (by which I mean he visited gun stores and looked at guns and held guns and talked to gun-sellers about guns) and found the “perfect” used handgun that would fit our needs and our budget—a Glock .40. I played the part of the gun-shopping Independent Woman as I autonomously picked the gun out of the case and asked to see it. Daniel lurked across the room in a not-at-all suspicious manner.
“This gun is too big for a girl like you,” the gun-seller told me.
I took a breath and thought about the Desert Eagle scene from Snatch, how there were much bigger guns I could want. I said, “It’s the one I want.”
We took it out back and I shot it into a hill. It was the first time I’d ever fired a gun. My arm hurt for the next week because I locked my elbow when I shouldn’t have. He told me not to knock my elbow, and I did anyway. Independent Woman.
Inside, I watched a training video and signed all sorts of paperwork that told me what I was doing—buying a firearm on behalf of a convict—was clearly illegal. I’m doing this for me, I told myself. I told everyone. I told myself.
Once I had the gun home, I almost never touched it. I shot it a sum total of about 40 times, at Daniel’s behest. But Daniel always had it out: to clean it, to show our guests, just to have it nearby. Once, it was laying on the couch and my cat cuddled up to it. It was funny, so I took a snapshot and posted it on Flickr. That picture later ended up in the satirical pamphlet, “How to Talk to Your Cats About Gun Safety.” Funny things, cats. Guns.
I talked about it though. I liked to tell people I owned a gun because it shook up their image of me. I’d always leaned punk and I liked anything that shook up people’s image of me. I liked to wear my Doc Martens and tell people I was President of the National Honor Society. I liked to vote Democrat and own a gun. Owning a gun was never about the gun. It was about the idea of the gun as a marker of status and identity. It wasn’t the power of being able to shoot someone; it was the power of being able to say “you don’t know me.”
Spoiler alert: Daniel and I broke up within the year. We split the cats and the furniture; I kept the gun, due to laws and stuff. But I was less interested in having it around than ever. I was moving to the actual city of Baltimore and, ironically, having a gun with me felt more dangerous than not having one. I got a gunlock from a free giveaway at Dick’s Sporting Goods, locked the gun, and left it at my parents’ house. I haven’t even seen the keys for the lock in almost a decade.
My father wants me to sell it. He works on an Army post and knows a lot of potential buyers. One of my best friends says Glocks are hot right now and I could make good money if I sell it, and besides—“It’s too much gun for you.” Locked up like it is, uncleaned and unshot for years, it’s a 100% useless tool and I don’t want it anyway. It makes all the sense in the world to trade it for $400. But I guess the reason I don’t want to sell it is that people want me to sell it. It’s a weird inverse of the same reason I wanted to buy it—because people didn’t expect it of me.
Ideologically, I am an outspoken proponent of gun control. In the wake of the UCSB shooting, my guts are turned inside out and I basically can’t stop thinking about how to approach the issues that so badly need to be discussed—but not in the way they have been. I’ve come to the conclusion that the most potent lesson I’ve learned from owning a gun has nothing to do with the physical capabilities of the gun itself, and everything to do with how guns get tangled up with your identity. This is why guns are different from knives and cars and other things that can (and do) kill people. Even the etymology of “arm” comes from the Latin prefix ar-, meaning “to fit together.”
This is the conversation that we’re just now starting to have. Journalist Adam Weinstein recently tweeted, “Elliot Rodger forces us to ask not whether America makes it too *easy* to wield a gun, but too *desirable*.” Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, recently said, “I am angered by how they [the NRA] have worked to normalize this.” The NRA and groups like them have worked to not only create a climate wherein guns are accessible; they have worked to manufacture a desire for guns that is as unconsidered and insatiable as a biological appetite. They buttress this appetite with questionable jurisprudence turned into sound bites, and the result is a terrifyingly polarized conversation that has people losing their minds.
The reality of my situation was not that I bought a gun because I was an Independent Woman. Rather, I can trace back the transference of desire for a gun like a chain of custody, or like a virus. How that desire manifests in each individual is itself individual—whether, as with me, as an act of subtle rebellion that grew uncomfortable, or as with Rodger, as the means to reach the Alpha status he’d coveted. Fear and aspiration have been the most successful and most insidious tactics of marketing and advertising for ages. They are intrinsic to identity. What are you afraid of, and who do you want to be? Fear and aspiration are also what drive gun desire.
I believe it’s irresponsible (and not to mention unproductive) to make this most recent issue into a discussion about gun control OR mental health OR misogyny. The topic an individual and groups grabs hold of is as wrapped up in their identity as gun ownership itself is wrapped up in the gun owner's identity. Our reactions are a barium swallow that makes a part of us glow to reveal what’s really going on inside.
The first incremental step in being able to have the conversation that will move us toward a solution is to recognize the effects fear and aspiration have on our idea of self. Then we have to try to override our personal biases to the best of our ability. Only then can we start to understand the culture we have created, which is the same culture we have to transcend, individually and collectively.
We have to be able to lose ourselves before we will be able to stop losing one another.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
I am so honored and humbled that Literary Orphans has chosen to include a reprint of my short story “Clean” in their latest issue, Bettie. I have not published a short in a very long time, and I couldn’t have chosen a better venue (and in fact I did not choose it; it was recommended to me by LO alum Matthew Kabik). So many online literary magazines exist simply to eliminate layout and printing costs; I had one magazine print a story of mine without any line breaks. But LO uses the features of the web to transcend its paper counterparts, and the effect is entrancing. I plan to curl up with this issue glowing from my iPad later tonight, tea and cats beside me.
There is beautiful and brave work in this collection. Please take some time to join me there to feed your brain and heart.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
My fiance and I just spent a week in Bali, Indonesia. This is from the travelogue that I did not keep past the first day:
After 30+ hours of travel, we arrived on Sunday night to the Bali airport in Denpasar to broken ATM machines and difficult decisions about whether to declare Gabe's oranges. For brief moments I was terrified we would spend the week in Bali without a way to get cash. But we found a working ATM and for probably the only time in our lives, we got to view bank balances in the tens of millions. After an hour and a half drive to Candidasa, we did little more than pick at the delicious traditional Balinese meal, then fell into a hard bed in sticky heat with only a single three-blade fan to cool us, and had the best sleep of our lives.
Ryan warned us we would wake with the sun, around 6:30am, and his prediction was vindicated, for me at least. Gabe was still deeply asleep beside me as I rose, found the villa's promised yoga mats, and padded outside to the postage stamp lawn. The sun rising to my left, I faced the ocean and practiced five rounds of sun salutations. It was the most peaceful and beautiful I have felt in so long.
Immediately, we were surrounded by people who wanted to help. They got us to our feet and aimed hoses at the dirt that stuck in our wounds. Gabe had landed squarely on his shoulder and suffered a deep contusion, but thankfully no dislocation or breakage. He had a deep, large scrape on his elbow and is already proud of the scars he will undoubtedly grow. I was not as injured: a big scrape on my knee and cuts on my right hand, with minor scrapes on my elbow, arm, and shoulder. Gabe seemed to have a tear in his eye when he told me how thankful he was that I wasn't badly hurt. I knew the feeling.
The Australian owner of the Bayside Bungalows took good care of us, strangers. He sent one of his staff for iodine at a nearby "dokter," then sent two more to see us home: one to drive us in a van and a second to follow with the fateful rented scooter. Our brains mush from the accident, we mumbled apologies to the driver as we stared desperately, trying to remember where we were staying in this new town that had not even known us 24 hours. Finally, we were relieved to find our road, which Gabe will attribute to me, but what was really a lucky accident of our driver. We paid the scooter owner 100,000 rupia for the damaged bike (about $9USD), then limped home to Villa Nilaya.
This was our first day in Bali.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
It’s been a long time since I’ve written something very personal on this blog. I feel the urge today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve developed a recent addiction to reading personal essays by women. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always had an affinity for dates and anniversaries. Perhaps it’s because autumn makes me introspective. Perhaps it's because September 17th, 2012 was the beginning of the rest of my life.
One year ago today, a significant aspect of my life was flipped upside down. I know it was today because I wrote it down in my writing journal. “September 17th, 2012, ----- --------- broke up with me.” It was a single line in the margins between notes about the book projects I had in progress at the time.
My “partner” of 6½ years, with whom I had been living for almost 2 years, unceremoniously broke off our relationship one Monday morning. It was the first day of a week I had taken off work to dedicate to my writing. We'd had a fight the previous night when he came home too late and lied about who he was with. He woke up in the morning, showered and dressed for work, came out to the living room where I was lounging in my pajamas with a book, leaned against a piece of furniture, and told me it was over. He didn’t even sit down to tell me this.
I put “partner” in quotes because that’s never truly what he was to me. It was only what I called him. I started using that term in our sixth year together, when “boyfriend” was too young an expression and “husband” was something we agreed he would never be. (One of many compromises I made was that marriage and children were off the table.) We had a formal domestic partnership in place so that he could be on my health insurance. I had replaced romance with paperwork, thinking I would take what semblance of permanence and commitment I could get. He never used the term. I’m not sure what word he used to refer to me. I’m not sure he ever referred to me at all. I found out several months ago that his boss at a job he’s been at for years didn’t know I had written a book. He was a photographer who only took my picture a few times, an apt metaphor for our relationship. But despite the many problems, it's hard to overstate the effects being in a near 7-year relationship can have on a person, and even harder to overstate the effects of its sudden end.
We lived passively together for the next 5 weeks, while we worked with our landlord to find someone to take over the apartment, and I tried to find a new place to live. Our life together was shockingly similar to the way it was before the breakup, a fact that made it easier to swallow the reality and the necessity of the situation.
The immediate effect of the breakup, aside from the traditional cycle of grief (which seemed to spin on an endless loop those first few weeks), was a deep introspection and a consuming need for intense self-care, which I had let lapse for years. I planned a trip to Colorado in an effort to reconnect with my semi-estranged sister, my relationship with whom had been strained in large part because of my ex. I emailed another friend with whom I had been estranged for years; he was ecstatic to hear from me, and we forgave each other for past wrongs. I wrote love letters to my friends. I called everyone I loved and made plans with them. I scheduled every day for a solid month to do something, anything. I dedicated myself to a new [semi]-minimalist lifestyle and gave away, sold, or trashed a significant portion of my possessions. I found a beautiful studio apartment in a neighborhood that scared me; I knew living there would make me grow. Moreover, it was somewhere I couldn’t live with another person, so I knew I would have 18 months of living alone—and that was essential for me.
In the midst of all this, as well as being sad and angry and confused, I reconnected with someone else from my past. He was a would-be suitor from a foray into online dating 7 years earlier. We’d run into each other on Facebook in December 2011, when my book came out, and had been “friends” since then, but one or the other of us had been involved. This was the first time we were both single, and to say I began to notice him is a gross understatement. By the time I was in Colorado, we were texting with each other every day, for almost the entire day. We had our first date on November 3. I threw up that morning because I was so in love with him, and we hadn’t even met yet. That date lasted 2 days. Today, we already have plans for a weekend away for our 1-year anniversary, and are planning a trip to Asia. I could write a book about what meeting this man has done to my heart, soul, and mind. We agree it’s a blessing we never went out those 8 years ago; we needed these years to become the people we are, the people who were meant to be together. I lamented the time “wasted” with my ex and he the time wasted on his own dating foibles, but we reminded each other that we are who we are because of what—and who—has happened to us. It truly feels like my whole life was spent in a run-up to meeting him, again, and having him meet me, and then falling in love with each other.
To spend time thinking about what else the past year has brought is not to minimize my new relationship. It is by far the most important thing to happen. But there has been so much more. Indulge me while I take inventory, in no particular order.
- I attempted—and failed—to learn French. Relatedly, I learned that learning is harder when you’re older, and that I am not, in fact, good at everything.
- I turned 31 and threw myself a rager of a birthday party to make up for the failed 30th birthday that had gone forgotten.
- I gained—and subsequently lost—18 pounds.
- My football team won the Super Bowl.
- I put out the second edition of my novel, finished the booktrailer, and threw the most glorious book reading for the best of my best friends and family.
- I gave away almost all my art supplies in a conscious decision to focus my free time on my writing.
- I bought more art supplies so I could draw my first comic. I drew my first comic.
- I decided one day to stop texting my ex first, just to see if he would ever contact me. He never did and we haven’t spoken in 7 months. I deleted his number from my phone. I’ve seen him once, across the street at a festival. I don’t think he saw me.
- I learned to love my body, instead of feeling like it is always a work-in-progress. I started to feel truly beautiful for the first time in years.
- I cut out sugar and grains and have subsequently learned to cook some really interesting foods, like greenola and spaghetti squash.
- I started practicing yoga at a studio.
- I allowed myself to grow out my hair because I like it that way.
- I started wearing more makeup because I want to.
- I tried on bikinis instead of one-pieces. (I did not, however, buy one.) I started wearing shorts on the regular for the first time since childhood.
- I decided that I would like to be heavily tattooed, and scheduled 9 hours of tattooing over the next 3 months. I hired an artist to design a tattoo to commemorate my first book.
- I put over 20,000 miles on my car.
- I took my bassoon out of its case, put it together, and attempted to play it for the first time since June 1999. It belongs to my nephew now.
- I reconnected with my sister and spent excellent quality time with my niece, who is becoming an adult faster than I can bear.
- I started spending my money on things that make me—and my loved ones—happy, instead of squirreling it away in paranoia and anxiety. I bought art. I bought pretty dresses. I donated to Kickstarters. I bought plane tickets to Bali.
- I remembered how much I love to walk. I climbed a mountain. I regularly hike through Baltimore just to be sure I am truly noticing all the people and the things there are to see. I replaced driving with walking whenever possible.
- I started bicycling. I am terrible at it, but getting better.
- I took up feminism.
- I realized I DO want to get married and I DO want children, and that I had deluded myself out of those desires because of a man, and fuck that forever.
- I neglected this blog, but I started tweeting like crazy.
- I started listening to more music and less news. I listen to hip-hop without feeling embarrassed about it. In fact, I listen to whatever I want without feeling embarrassed about it. I pretty much stopped feeling embarrassed, because people who make me feel embarrassed don’t count.
- I took a class in religion. I discovered Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism, and started going to church sometimes. These may very well be the answers to the spiritual questions that have been haunting me for a decade.
- I realized I might still like to be a minister some day, and I started looking into it in earnest.
- I decided I don’t need a Master’s degree to feel like a whole person.
- I cut down on drinking alcohol from nightly to once per week, or none at all.
- I finally got over my fear of the dentist and got my teeth fixed. I FUCKING FLOSS NOW.
- I learned that I can’t do everything myself. I learned to let people help me. I learned that the way it makes me feel really awesome to help people is the way it feels for other people when they help me, and it’s only fair that everyone gets to feel that.
- I tried to smile and say hello to everyone I saw on the street. That ended when I realized how much street harassment I was facing. I realized I don’t owe it to anyone to smile at them, so I stopped. I feel very ambivalent about this, but I have become very outspoken against street harassment.
- I went to my 10-year college reunion.
- I networked. Like an adult.
- I go out to eat or to concerts by myself sometimes—not because I can’t find someone to go with me, but because I realized I am friends with myself.
- I Instagram my meals and my cats with abandon because fuck the haters.
- I have more, better sex than ever, and I realized I am no less than one half of that equation.
- I make a concerted effort to see at least one of my friends every week. Depending on your personality, this may not seem like a lot, but it’s a significant change from the way I used to live my life.
- I remembered what it’s like to enjoy things with abandon. I remembered what real happiness feels like. I stopped thinking it was cool to be aloof or critical. I stopped giving energy to people or situations that make me feel bad.
- I’ve made new friends. My boyfriend has made friends with my friends. I’ve made old friends into new friends. I’ve made acquaintances into best friends. I’ve made best friends into family. I got rid of friends-in-name-only. I will never again neglect the people who will never leave me.
- I fell into a deeper, truer, more perfect love than I could have dreamed possible.
There’s more. So much more. What a year it’s been. 13’s always been my lucky number. I guess it figures that I’d be age 31 in the year ’13, and it would be the best fucking year of my life. It took a major shaking up to wake me out of the fog I was living in. It felt like a knife at the time. Now it feels like a gift.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The Red Scans
The Red Skinks
The Rad Skins
And read this mic drop if you haven't.