Monday, February 24, 2020

The Crypt, Part II

Part 2 of the tale of Dominique and Tricia, and their attempt to release the spirit of Dominique's sister Sarah, before being interrupted by a terrifying creature called The Carrier. Read Part 1 here.


Then a growl echoed through the empty chapel. Tricia leapt through the air and knocked into the Carrier, pushing it away from Dominique. Dominique had just enough time to scramble backwards and stand up before the Carrier turned towards her again. It swiped at her again with its chain, and she ducked as the chain shattered the wood of the pew in front of her.

Suddenly it let out a long shriek. Tricia had leapt onto its back and was about to sink her teeth into its shoulder when the Carrier’s chain knocked her onto the cold stone floor, where she lay, not moving.

Dominique glanced around quickly. With her dagger in pieces on the floor, she had no weapon, and she couldn’t imagine fighting the Carrier off with her bare hands. As if it had heard her thoughts, the Carrier looked up at her again and began to advance, its chain swinging.

Dominique thought fast and turned to dash up the steps of the platform where the priest’s body lay. That conversation she had with Tricia about not eating people seemed like it happened ages ago. The Carrier swung its chain again, but she was out of its reach. She grabbed the crucifix off a nearby table and got into a fighting stance.

I’m getting too old for this, Dominique thought, as she used the crucifix to block another swing of the Carrier’s chain. Maybe she could have kept this up 20 years ago, when she was Tricia’s age, but fighting off dark creatures in a church at midnight was not how she had envisioned spending her retirement.

The Carrier swung again and again, the sound of rattling chains reverberated off the chapel walls. Dominique blocked every blow, but the Carrier was advancing. She was having to take a step backwards every time the chains came near.

All at once, her foot met with something and she slipped and pitched backwards. It was the vial of holy water Tricia had filled. As it rolled away, Dominique looked up just in time to see the Carrier’s chain whip towards her. She closed her eyes and threw her arm up to protect her face, and the metal wrapped around her wrist once, then twice.

But…it didn’t hurt. Dominique expected a bone-shattering pain, a cold grip, but the metal felt warm against her skin. She opened her eyes and looked at the links wrapped around her arm. They didn’t bite into her flesh. She was so surprised that she reached up with her other hand to touch the metal. It was as soft as a flower petal. It was like a vine had grown around her arm, with the appearance of a rusted metal chain.

A small cry made Dominique look up. The Carrier was gone. And in its place, holding the other end of the chain, about fifteen feet away, was Sarah.

Dominique was too shocked to do anything for a moment. She simply sat, staring up at the sister she had come to release. It couldn’t be Sarah. Could it?

“Sarah,” she said. “Is that you?”

Sarah didn’t answer. Instead she looked up at the ceiling and let out a mournful wail. But it wasn’t a human sound. Her keening seemed to multiply in the room around them, and it went on and on and on. Dominique stood, the chain still tight around her arm, and took one cautious step forward.

“Sarah?” she said again. “Sarah, it’s me! Sarah, are you okay?”

Sarah tilted her head forward and looked at Dominique. The two stared at one another for a moment, and then suddenly, Sarah’s face contorted in fury. She yanked on the chain she was holding and Dominique stumbled forward. Suddenly, it was no longer the caress of a vine on Dominique’s arm, but the cold shock of metal. Whatever magic had made it feel harmless before had dissipated.

“Sarah!” Dominique cried out. She tried to brace herself but Sarah yanked on the chain again, closing the distance between the two of them once more. Sarah’s mouth opened and she began shriek. Another yank of the chain, with a strength so far beyond human, Dominique couldn’t fight it.

“I’m sorry!” Dominique yelled. “I’m sorry!”

But her voice was drowned out by Sarah’s angry cries. Dominique didn’t know what would happen when she reached Sarah, but she knew she wouldn’t survive it. She was only five feet away now. Three feet. Sarah’s screams were deafening. Dominique closed her eyes and tensed against the pull of the chain, when suddenly she felt it go slack.

She opened her eyes to see Tricia on Sarah’s back, biting and snarling. Sarah’s cries of anger turned to cries of fear as she struggled to fight the beast behind her. The two stumbled down the steps and into the aisle below.

“Tricia!” Dominique yelled. But Tricia was relentless, and a moment later, Sarah went limp and collapsed onto the stone floor. Dominique ran and knelt beside her. Sarah was staring wild-eyed at the ceiling above her, her breathing labored.

Dominique fought back tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Sarah, I'm sorry." She was about to reach down and touch her face when the sound of a thousand rattling chains filled the church. There was a mournful cry, and a shadowy figure slowly rose from where Sarah lay. Dominique recognized the shape of a Carrier. It circled above them for a moment, keening, and then disappeared. Tricia, still panting from her fight, watched the ceiling with a frown.

Dominique looked back down at Sarah. Her labored breathing had stopped. But her wild eyes had closed, and her lips were formed into a soft smile.

“Sarah?” Dominique said quietly. She reached down to touch Sarah’s face once more, but before she could, Sarah’s form disappeared, and Dominique and Tricia were left alone on the floor of the old church.

Dominique looked up. Tricia had resumed her human form. She stood and smiled. Dominique smiled back. And they strode out into the sunrise.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Crypt

Beckah and I are in the same place this week! So we decided to write in tandem, like we did for this entry about a year ago. In two weeks, each of us will continue/conclude this story individually, in our own ways. Here was the prompt we started with: "A woman in her late twenties, who is very selfish. A woman in her late forties, who can be quite idealistic. The story begins in a church crypt. Someone is tormented by the memory of a dead family member. It's a story about freedom. Your character has to do some quick thinking to keep ahead."


Tricia ran her finger along the arm of the statue, then brought the finger to her mouth, wiping the blood from the edge of her lips. She felt the angel was a tad sentimental, but it wasn’t her family she was laying to rest. She hoped Dominique would come soon. She was growing bored.

“Tricia.” A voice echoed through the chapel, and Dominique strode out of the shadows near the distant front doors. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she said. She wiped the blade of her dagger clean as she walked, and sheathed it at her side. She frowned at the blood on the angel statue. “Did you have some trouble, too?” she asked.

Tricia smirked, and Dominique scowled.

“We had an arrangement,” Dominique said, pouting. Tricia shrugged.

“No, you asked me to not eat people, and I said I would try.”

Dominique glanced down at the body lying at the statue’s feet and frowned.

“Trish…”

Trish crossed her arms as Dominique stepped closer, lowering her voice, as though there was anyone else within earshot.

“Trish, is that the priest?”

Tricia shrugged again and made a non-commital sound. Dominique’s face filled with worry. Tricia lowered her arms and rolled her eyes.

Dominique closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Well, at least you didn’t eat...all of him.” She began rummaging in her bag. “Let’s just...do this and get out of here. I brought sage and the candles. And chalk to draw a pentagram. Could you fill this up?”

Tricia looked blankly at the small vial Dominique handed her.

“Holy water, Trish. From the bowl over there.”

While Tricia wandered over to the silver dish a few steps above them, Dominique pulled a lock of hair from her bag and laid it gently down on the cold stones. “It’s got to work this time, Sarah,” she whispered to herself. “I can’t keep doing this.”

A clatter came from behind one of the pews and both women spun around.

The church was empty, but Dominique drew her dagger. Trish’s nails grew and she bared her sharpened teeth. They moved forward together, each eyeing the space between the pews as they advanced. The light was dim--the sun had just set and there were only a few candles lit at the altar.
The clatter came again. This time it sounded like something metal falling to the stone floor. It rang loudly in the small chapel, and Tricia suddenly brought her hands to her ears.

“Dominique…” she said through gritted teeth.

Dominique heard it too, but it didn’t affect her as it did Trish. The ringing went on, far too long for a normal object, and suddenly Dominique knew what was in the church with them.

It was the Carrier.

“Dammit.”

Dominique crouched to the ground, squeezing herself in between a row of pews. She was lucky. She hadn’t begun the ritual that would allow her to save Sarah’s spirit, or the Carrier would sense the magic in her. Tricia, on the other hand, was exposed and reeked of the magic that had caused her transformation.

“DAMMIT,” Dominique whispered again. She brought her dagger up to her lips and whispered a few words into it, until it began to glow a faint blue. It was a risk but she didn’t see what choice she had. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stood.

The Carrier was only a few rows away, its eyeless face turned toward Tricia, who stood stock still near the altar. It took one gliding step, and the long chain it carried clanged against the stones. The chain was long--Dominique had seen grown men strangled by Carriers with chains of only ten or twelve links, but this one was made of at least fifty. The Carrier took one ragged breath in and then let out a wet growl. Dominique heard Tricia snarl in return.

Dominique stepped into the aisle with her dagger raised towards the Carrier.

With horrifying speed the Carrier turned toward her, its chain whipping through the air toward her neck. Dominique quickly dropped to the ground and felt the whoosh of air over her head as the chain swung past, narrowly missing her scalp. Taking advantage of the few seconds she had, she scrambled forward on her hands and knees and lunged forward, burying the dagger with its magical augmentation deep into the Carrier’s flesh.

To her horror, the dagger froze and shattered, falling to the floor in pieces. Had she used the wrong spell? She had felled only two Carriers in her past, but they had been much smaller, much weaker.
She heard Tricia shout. The Carrier leaned down over her, its putrid breath poisoning the air around her. She stared up into the blank face, silently pleading forgiveness from her sister, prepared to be borne away into the darkness.

To be continued...

Monday, January 27, 2020

It's Gonna Be Okay

There are so many things I want to write about. Kathleen and her memorial, opening night of Safe, thoughts on loneliness and friendship and love and illness and grief and self-esteem and romance. But every time I try, my psyche is like NOPE. So I’ll just have to let those things out slowly I think—just let them grow until they’re ready to be set down fully formed, or else put them down a little bit at a time.

So instead, I’m going to write a bit of encouragement to myself. A short imagined letter from the future Liz. If I’m continuing the growth metaphor from above, consider this the Miracle-Gro. (Or maybe this is an oblique way to write about some of those things I listed after all.)

Dear Liz,

It’s okay to feel grief. It’s okay to not “handle it well” and to accidentally fall short while you’re trying to process your sadness and fear. Grief creates a fog that sometimes you simply must walk through. You’re doing your best, and it’s going to be okay.

I know you’ve got the blues lately. It’s partly just January. Keep going on walks—I know you never feel like it, but you can handle the cold for 20 minutes, and those 20 minutes of walking make all the difference in the world to your mental health. You’re always glad you went, even if you never feel like going. Take naps if you need to. Be compassionate to yourself.

I know you may feel lonely lately. In your efforts to be professional as a director, you’ve put up a few walls between you and the cast and crew. In your efforts to protect Patrick from your own sadness, you’ve put some distance between you. And after Kathleen’s memorial, it was hard to leave Medford and Beckah and everyone behind—all of that love felt blinding and you still ache with it. But it will be okay. You are loved and loveable, even in your grief and sadness and confusion.

I know you haven’t felt very pretty lately. That’s okay. We all have those phases. So you’re fatter than you used to be and your hair is kind of at an in-between stage and your body hair is doing weird things lately. You still rock those curves, girl. Your eyes still sparkle, you beautiful soul. Give yourself a pedicure and a face mask just because it feels good. Stand in a hot shower with your beautiful body just because it feels good. “Pretty” isn’t objective. You’ll find it in yourself again eventually.

I know you’re dreading that audition on Wednesday. But I promise, it will be fine. You dread every single audition you ever do, and then you survive it and sometimes you even get to do a show afterwards. You have nothing to lose in doing this audition. The worst that could happen is they could say no, and if you do get cast and are overwhelmed by scheduling conflicts and other challenges, you can decline. It’s good to just practice auditioning, if anything.

I know that there are a lot of things that just feel uncertain right now. And you can look for guidance in tarot cards and universe splitter apps and self-help books, but sometimes you have to just embrace the uncertainty. You can embrace the age-old wisdom of that damned Serenity Prayer, which is so trite as to be cloying but is nevertheless one of the truest prayers ever written. You can accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and be wise enough to know the difference. Trust your intuition. It hasn’t failed you yet. You are a divine being navigating a beautiful world where you can grow and learn and give and heal. Trust that your journey is perfect exactly as it is. Let yourself be carried where you need to be carried.

And to give you some perspective on the goodness you do get to experience, here are a few things to give you hope and happiness. Between your tax return and your savings, you’ll be able to make a down payment on a car in the next few weeks…one that gets better than 18 mpg. Aaaaand you’ll be able to start saving for a bike soon too, which for short distances will be better for your wallet, your body, and the earth. In two weeks, you’ll be in Disneyland with Beckah and Mom and Ray. You have wonderful roommates and a wonderful boyfriend and a wonderful family and wonderful friends.

It’s gonna be okay. Better than that…it’s gonna be beautiful. It already is.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Gratitude Journal, again

Sunday, June 17, 2019
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Thursday, September 26, 2019
Friday, October 4, 2019
and a dozen others
Today I love my life for naps/sleep.

I rarely want to go to sleep at night. There are just usually more interesting things to do. Books to read, shows to watch, Instagram feeds to scroll. But I find myself enjoying more and more the slow drifting in and out of long afternoon naps, or weekend mornings when I can sleep in.

I’m enjoying the simple possibility of naps. My therapist once gave me permission to sleep if I need to, and I think that absolution is what makes the naps so enjoyable. I don’t need to be productive every second of every day. Sometimes living life to the fullest means listening when your body says it needs rest. My instinct is still to think of naps as a “treat” or something to indulge in on special occasions. But I’m learning to let that go. I’m learning to embrace the “unproductive” “lazy” “indulgent” and “childish” practice of naps.

*  *  *

Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Today I love my life for going on a walk and rehearsing for auditions even though I didn’t feel like doing either.

I don’t feel like doing any of the things I need to be doing tonight either, or even could be doing tonight. I don’t feel like taking this dog on a walk, and I don’t feel like blogging, and I don’t feel like reading, or watching something, or sleeping, or being alone, or being with friends, or eating, or sound designing, or anything. But I’m going to take this dog on a walk, because I’m being paid to and because I suspect it will actually make me feel better. And I’m going to eat, because I suspect that will make me feel better too.

But that’s as far as I’m going to plan ahead. If I don’t actually feel better, maybe I’ll at least have the satisfaction of doing 2 things. I’ll figure the rest out after I get that far.

*  *  *

Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Today I love my life for Aaron and Jessa.

I’ve got some kind of poem building in me as this chapter closes. Right now it feels too big to write. Right now I’m simply holding it in my heart, waiting to see how it grows.

*  *  *

Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Today I love my life for impeachment.

I know it’s complicated. And I know that it all feels so partisan. And I know that it’s very unlikely that all of the Democrats and all of the Independents and at least 20 of the Republicans all currently in the Senate will convict the current President.

But dammit, we did the right thing. Even if it doesn’t lead to removal from office, impeachment was the right thing to do. It showed our commitment to the just laws that govern our citizens and leaders. It emphasized that no one is above the law.

I don’t think impeachment is meaningful ONLY if it leads to conviction and removal from office. No President in United States history has ever been convicted and removed from office. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both impeached by the House, but not convicted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before he could be removed. But we remember that Nixon was impeached. We remember that Clinton was impeached. We remember that people stood up and said, “You can’t too that.” And that’s powerful. I like to think I’m bipartisan in this, even though I know my own biases run pretty deep. The rule of law applies equally to both/all parties.

*  *  *

Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Today I love my life for a beautiful Christmas with someone I love.

Here’s the problem with healing old family traumas and wounds. It means that now I miss my family all the time, and especially on holidays.

I think every family has traumas and wounds—it’s just the nature and extent of them that differs. I won’t spend time here describing mine, because that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve spent the last few years in therapy working to heal. And I’m discovering that all of those old wounds and traumas were also a wall keeping me from connecting with loved ones. And now that the wall is crumbling, I miss loved ones. We’re spread far and wide—California to Oregon to Colorado to Nevada to South America.

And holidays can be hard. I wish I could spend Christmas in the kitchens and living rooms of my own family, eating good food and singing and laughing and playing games and watching movies. I miss being with my people. I miss baked goods and caroling and homemade candy and reading aloud. I miss conversations with the people I belong to.

So if I can’t have all of those things with my own family, I’m grateful I could share some of them with someone else’s, and with someone I love.

Patrick and I opened presents together at his mom’s house, along with his sister and her husband, and it was a beautiful chaos of wrapping paper and explanations and thank you’s. We had dinner at a neighbor/family friend’s, where we played games and talked. I read “Angela and the Baby Jesus” and we did a Christmas Mad Libs.

But my fondest memory of Christmas is later that night, when Patrick and I listened to musicals and sang and played Rummikub and talked and laughed. It's so easy get lost in the stresses and uncertainties of life and dating and schedules, especially during the holidays, and in my anxiety, I forget to do the things together that fulfill us: good music and good company and good conversations. That Christmas night, just the two of us, I felt connected to him and to myself and to us as a couple, and it was beautiful. It felt like family.


Monday, November 25, 2019

So much past inside my present


PART I: TEN YEARS

I’ve been seeing people posting a cool little summary of the past decade on social media. And it occurred to me that I’ve had a pretty full decade, and I feel really happy looking back on it. I have a handful of socially celebrated “achievements” on this list—school and career things. But I’ve also accomplished a lot of things that were personal goals, or things that I’ve dreamt of for years. And many of them don’t come with particular rewards or accolades. But I love that I did them. So in my long decade summary, I’m including both the things that were a big deal in general (whether accomplishments or just experiences), and the things that were a big deal just to me. So here are the things I accomplished from 2009 – 2019.

Moved back to Rexburg after living and working in California.
Did improv comedy with Comic Frenzy at BYU-Idaho.
Performed an original song at Acoustic Café at BYU-Idaho.
Got married.
Got a Bachelor’s Degree.
Taught English as adjunct faculty at the university level.
Finally got an iPhone.
Visited Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
Met Mike McCready and attended 2 Pearl Jam concerts.
Moved to Utah.
Got a talent agent.
Worked in public education.
Worked with Stephen Soderberg and Michael Cerberus on an HBO mini series.
Worked with Rob Reiner and Cary Elwes (FIRST TEENAGE CELEBRITY CRUSH) on a film.
Got divorced, and survived the trauma and heartbreak of it.
Got a Master’s degree, which included writing a 143-page thesis.
Lived in seven different places.
Got paid to act.
Played a romantic lead in a comedy.
Performed in 26 full-length theatre productions.
Sound designed 8 full-length theatre productions.
Auditioned over 135 times.
Joined the Improvables Improv Comedy team in Centerville.
Had a speaking role in a Lifetime horror film.
Did 3 commercials.
Did 2 industrials.
Worked as background on 12 film/television projects.
Watched a ton of live theatre, both in New York and in Utah.
Became a company member at An Other Theater Company.
Opened an Etsy shop of subversive cross stitches, which made a little over $1,600 in its first year.
Wrote 655 blog entries.
Upped my dose of antidepressants from 50 mg to 100 mg
Spent 3 days in a psychiatric hospital.
Started working with a therapist to unpack and work through past traumas, and build a toolbox to help me through current and future challenges.
Became an aunt (x4!)
Began a “Sister Blog Challenge.”
Got my first tattoo.
Had a major faith transition.
Worked in a law office.
Worked as a simulation patient at a university medical program.
Started a long-term relationship, post-divorce.
Began training as an intimacy choreographer.
Started directing my first full-length theatrical production.
Got called back for my #1 bucket list dream role of Miss Hannigan in “Annie” (which callback I bombed because I was WAAAYYY in my head and also because I hiked a volcano in Hawai’i, took a red-eye flight back to Utah, showered and changed at home, then drove to Orem and attempted to do the callback with very little sleep or preparation and it was probably the worst callback I’ve ever done in my life).
Started learning how to read tarot cards.
Went on as an understudy for a theatrical performance.

That’s a pretty damn awesome decade.


PART II: FOUR YEARS

I was thinking about how my life has changed since early 2017. I’ve had the occasional sensation of “being on the wrong timeline.” It feels like the end of 2016 sent our universe spinning off into some unfamiliar dimension. But I also feel like I’ve been “leveling up” since being thrown off course. And I feel like each year has a particular theme.

2017: Survival
This was the year of just getting through it. A morally dubious and incredibly un-qualified man was in the highest office of the United States. My marriage of almost seven years was ending. The whole world seemed upside down. So I had to just sort of hibernate for a lot of it. I embraced the self-induced coma. I worked and studied and rehearsed and performed and slept and cried and art journaled and watched a helluva lot of TV.

2018: Distraction
I did like, six overlapping theatre projects during 2018. I didn’t need to be in survival mode quite as much anymore, but I wasn’t quite ready to just be still. I wasn’t quite ready to “do the work” outside of my therapist’s office. Some of the distraction was to avoid feeling and working through things, but some of it was just circumstantial. A new romance is generally pretty distracting, in a good way.

2019: Incubation
This past year, I’ve felt like there are all these little seeds that have been just waiting, growing, getting stronger, getting ready to burst into the light. Things with careers and relationships and friendships and just…life in general. I’ve been preparing, consciously and unconsciously, to take some steps towards some of my mountains.

So I think 2020 will be the year of building. I think it will be when some of these seeds sprout, and some of them may wither and some of them may grow roots. But we’ll see.

I'm excited to see.




Monday, November 11, 2019

Stories I Inherited

Children playing in the rubble, Hamburg, Germany, WWII

For most of my life, there was only one time I can remember my Opa speak about World War II. We were watching television, some program on the Discovery Channel, and from the silence, he said in his thick German accent, “I have seen a plane wing falling from the sky in Bavaria.” I turned and looked at him. He lifted his hand and let it drift, floating towards his knee, demonstrating the path the wing he saw followed.

“When was that?” I asked.

“I was a boy,” is all the detail he gave.

Opa’s father lost his arm during World War I. Ferdinand Wolff. When Hitler called men up to march, I’m told that Ferdinand sat behind a desk. Oma’s father, he was a soldier, too. Friedrich Flack’s military records no longer exist, but I know that I am descended from men who wore swastikas on their arms. Oma was ten when World War II ended, twelve when her father returned from a Russian prison camp, 90 pounds, tuberculosis-ridden. It’s difficult to untangle the war from the Holocaust. They aren’t exactly the same thing.

I know my great grandfathers weren’t tried at Nuremburg. Neither of them were not Goethe, or Hoesse, or Himmler, or Mengele. I’ve heard other stories, the thoughts of the men and women who knew their ancestors were the architects of the “final solution.” Monika Goethe, whose father ran the work camp Plaszow. Rainer Hoess, whose grandfather was in charge of Auschwitz. His grandmother used to tell the children to be sure and wash the strawberries they brought in from the garden; they always “tasted of ashes.” Niklas Frank, who executes his father anew every time he speaks at a school or a community center.

The Nazis I come from do not have stories that are published and dramatized and studied. I do not have that weight to carry. I have the weight of an ordinary man. A man from Hamburg, father of four, who smoked a pipe and got tuberculosis during his stay in a Russian prison camp, and returned years later to the ivy-covered house a few blocks from the harbor. I have the weight of a man whose son and daughter were sent to live in the country for protection, while he sat behind a desk and went home to a freezing house.

Over the years, I’ve heard excuses made for the SS. They were just doing what they were told, Stanley Milgram-style obedience. They didn’t know what Hitler was really doing. They were poor and starving and just trying to survive. And I’ve heard that every single German is culpable for the millions of lives lost in those dark years. My grandparents have stories of homes being destroyed, of eating turnips fried in coffee grounds, of winters so cold and no coal for heat. And I carry the stories of the people who hid, who were taken, who were murdered.

I do not want my feelings about World War II to be complicated. Hitler was wrong, and those who supported him were wrong, too. But I love my Oma and Opa. I love the stories of their fathers, and their families. My compassion for my family feels like betrayal. I am not a Nazi sympathizer. But I sympathize for my family.

There are white supremacists and Neo-Nazis among us still. Skinheads who run poorly designed websites about the “white genocide.” (Which, for the record, is not a thing that is happening.) For years, I thought they were too isolated to do much more than talk, but the last few years have shown me how many have been in the shadows. A tire iron swung behind a bar. An arm raised in an SS style salute. Hiel Hitler. Men with rifles and tattoos, who walk in parades, glowering. Women who cook meals for them and bear them blonde children.

These men, and Hitler, propped an entire movement up on a belief that the worst of humanity must be “bred out.” In 1922, Hitler said to a friend: “We must try to bring to the surface the valuable traits of the people… to cultivate and to develop them, and we must find ways and means to prevent the propagation of all the bad, inferior, criminal and decadent tendencies and all the congenital diseases so damaging to the Volk.”

When I first learned about World War II, there was a part of me that ached. I felt guilt for my family’s part in the story. I feared what I had within me. I feared there was an evil in my heritage. I was born of the “bad guys.” I’ve dealt with this fear in different ways over the years—making jokes, ignoring it, playing devil’s advocate. Writing about it.

But perhaps this fear of what I carry is the very fear at the heart of Nazi thought. I fear “the bad, inferior, criminal tendencies” that may have somehow made their way into my blood. But no doubt all of us carry darkness in our family trees. And if I’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that fear should not rule us. Fear can lead us to betray ourselves and each other.

So if I have darkness in my blood, I will carry it. But it’s not all I will carry. I will carry with me the story of Oma and Opa meeting at a dance hall and spending all night in one another’s arms before they knew each other’s names. I will carry the story of Oma’s mother pulling down the picket fence to burn, rail by rail, to keep her children warm. I will carry Ur-Opa’s pipe and Ur-Tante Maren’s red socks mended with white yarn and Ur-Onkel’s car-tracks in the backyard. And I will give these things to my own children someday. Every story—the aching ones and the shining ones—and they can carry those, too.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Gray Areas


“I think I like the term 'post-Mormon' because it has the feeling of having moved past something. ‘Ex-Mormon’ sounds so…angry,” Sarah said. “Like, a big X. Something crossed out. Or like…an axe.”

Eden crossed her legs as she scribbled in her therapist notebook. “Do you feel angry?”

Sarah studied the art on the wall behind Eden for a moment. “I don’t…know. Sometimes.” Sarah was quiet for a moment. Eden waited.

This must be something they teach you in therapy school or whatever, Sarah thought. How to just be quiet. It used to make her nervous. Like there was a right answer that Eden was waiting for. It felt like the same tactic some teachers use. “I’ll wait until you’re ready.” Like a punishment. The silent treatment. It took Sarah months to believe that Eden wasn’t waiting for Sarah to read her mind.

“I do feel angry sometimes. But I don’t want to be a bitter, angry, ExMo. ‘Ex-Mormon’ sounds like it crosses it all out,” Sarah finally said. “And I don’t want to cross it all out. There was so much good, for so long. It brought me so much light, and so much goodness, and so much love. But I feel like…it’s like I’ve outgrown it.”

“Have you outgrown all of it?” Eden asked.

Sarah thought of the things about the Church that she still loved. The things she missed. The sense of community. The communing. The moments when everyone’s hearts were pointed in the same direction. The times when words came into her head, so clearly, messages from on high. Still and lovely moments when God told her it was okay…the car would start, she would find the right job, that bill would be paid. There were times when it felt like the universe was humming with love, and she was a part of it—she belonged to it.

“I think I’ve outgrown it as an organization,” Sarah said. “And the longer I’m away from it, the more problematic things I can see.”

Eden nodded slowly, her lips pursed like she had a lot more she could say, but didn’t, for ethical reasons.

“There’s so much misogyny woven into so much in the Church,” Sarah continued. “And racism. And homophobia. And just…there’s so much that doesn’t fit anymore.”

Eden waited.

Sarah threw her hands in the air. “But it did fit! It used to fit! And I can’t make it retroactively not fit!”

Eden smiled. “Okay,” she said, leaning forward. “So it sounds like there are things that you still love about this organization, and things that don’t align with your values anymore.”

“Exactly,” Sarah said. God, this therapist was good.

“Okay.” Eden set her notepad down and held out both hands, as if she was holding something in each. “So, can you think of the things that are still true for you” (she lifted one hand), “despite the other things that you now see as problematic” (she lifted the other hand). “What are the things that you learned that are still true?”

Sarah looked down at her feet for a moment. “I’ve learned…well, I have to keep re-learning this one, but I’ve learned the power of letting go. That there’s peace to be found in not needing to control everything.”

“Good,” Eden said. “Anything else?”

Sarah thought. “To trust that all will be well eventually.” Sarah had spent so many hours on this couch over the past two years. She had memorized the shape of the knobs on the cabinets, the titles of the books on the shelves, the art on the walls. She glanced around the room as she thought about her time at school, her time in Young Women’s, her time in the pews. “I learned to be humble. Not in the like, self-hatred way, but in the being-teachable way. Being open to the possibilities, open to being wrong.”

“Those,” Eden said, “are all really valuable and beautiful things to have learned.”

“Exactly!” Sarah said. “So I can’t just cross them out! Even if they came from the Church! The same organization that said Black people couldn’t hold the priesthood or go to the temple is also the one that helped me learn humility and I don’t know what to doooooo!”

“I want you to think of a black and white photograph,” Eden said.

“Okay?” Sarah replied.

“In a really great black and white photograph,” Eden continued, “there is very rarely a lot of black, or a lot of white. It’s really mostly gray.”

Sarah sat back. “Yeah,” she said. She paused, then looked up. “YEAH,” she said again.

“So,” Eden said, “just like with a black and white photograph, can you think of the Church not as something black and white, but rather as something with a lot of gray?”

“Yeah,” Sarah said, “maybe I could do that.”

“And there can be parts of it that are white. And parts of it that are black. But you personally don’t have to decide how much of each there is. That doesn’t have to be your job. Because you can hold both. The good you see doesn’t invalidate the bad. And the bad doesn’t negate the good.”

“Maybe that’s true of a lot of things,” Sarah said. “Religions and organizations and…families and relationships.

“Exactly,” Eden said, smiling. Sarah smiled back, then glanced at the clock.

“See you in two weeks?” she said, standing up from the couch.

“See you in two weeks,” Eden replied.

Monday, October 14, 2019

What Are You Afraid Of?


I am not afraid of heights, flying, or going to the dentist. But otherwise, the standard list applies. I am afraid of spiders crawling on me with their many legs. Being trapped in an underwater cave. Being untethered from a space craft.

I am afraid of raccoons. You laugh, but when I was in sixth grade, my girl scout camp got SHUT DOWN because there were so many raccoons. They chittered and screeched throughout the entire night, they tore open our tents, they ran over us screaming in our sleeping bags. My resulting childhood phobia has settled into a general dislike, but I still don’t like them. With their weird bodies and their human-like hands.

I am also afraid of feral children. Jungle Book may seem like a cute story, but it really happens. It’s extremely rare, but there are a few documented cases of humans being raised by animals. If they are young enough (around age 2) when they leave human contact, they are never rehabilitated to humanity, never acquiring language or other human behaviors, and in some cases, they escape back into the wild. Google it. WHAT THE HELL.

But to be honest, most of my fears are not Halloween-type fears. They’re different and deeper.

I am afraid that the earth will not recover. I am afraid that we will not be able to create the technology to sustain our species in time. I am afraid of the (continued) casualties as sea levels rise, as temperatures rise, as forests burn. I am afraid of my own feelings of powerlessness.

I am afraid of no one showing up for the party. I’m afraid that if I ever threw one for myself, people would be too busy, and that everyone would opt out and not come and not realize how much it meant to me.

I’m afraid anytime someone says “We need to talk.” I’m afraid of difficult conversations. Even though it’s always better to have them.

I am afraid of making the wrong choice. I am afraid of making choices out of fear instead of love. I’m afraid that I will somehow, strangely, end up in a life I didn’t actually choose for myself, because of a whole bunch of smaller non-choices that I made because I was afraid to do the things I wanted to do. If I am a wife and mother someday, I’m afraid I’ll wish I wasn’t. And if I’m not, I’m afraid I’ll wish I was.

I’m afraid of having each tender branch and twig and blossom of my soul chopped off, or singed, or stepped on. I’m afraid that I will never be resilient enough to survive the roughness that will shake each new growth. That I will never be strong enough to speak on behalf of the parts of myself that long to reach for sunlight. Or that I will become so strong and so resilient that no new beautiful things grow.

I am afraid that as I heal and heal and heal that I will still be hurt. And that any and every hurt is a rejection of who I am as a person. That my personhood will be abandoned and that I will be alone. That I will be told that I am too sensitive, when I don’t want to be any other way. I am afraid that my dreamy poem flower of a soul will be too much for another person, that no other person will have the patience to step carefully enough to honor who I am.

I am afraid that I will lose who I am in my desperation to be loved. Which won’t be sustainable and it will eventually shatter all the love I gained in not being myself.

But dammit I’ve learned to live with fears before. Dammit I’ve overcome them. I used to be afraid of dogs until I wasn’t anymore. I don’t even remember how or why that changed. I used to be afraid of swallowing pills, sure I’d choke. As a young teenager, I practiced swallowing tiny broken off pieces of gummy bears until my mouth and throat knew it was safe. For so many years, I was afraid of “going crazy” and ending up in a mental hospital somewhere. And then I spent three days in a mental hospital. And I survived. I was afraid of a spouse leaving the Church, and I survived that, too. I was afraid of divorce, and I survived that.

So maybe I’ll survive if no one shows up to the party. Maybe I’ll survive every wrong choice I ever make. Maybe I’ll survive hurt and rejection and roughness and difficult conversations.

I’ve survived everything I've experienced so far.

Monday, September 30, 2019

A love letter to the International House of Pancakes


“Just you?”

The waiter at IHOP gathers silverware and a menu after I nod.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he says as he leads me to a booth. “I’ve said that to at least one person every shift. Ain’t no shame in taking yourself out to eat.”

I doubt he knows that I’ve been to IHOP on my own more often that I’ve been here with other people. I do some of my best writing in IHOPs. And I’ve got a 750-word blog entry due by 11:59 tonight, so to IHOP I came.

There’s this small, mature voice inside of me that whispers irritating things about sugar consumption and the fact that I haven’t had a green vegetable in probably a week. I’ve got everything from frozen lasagna to steamed broccoli at home, which would have been both cheaper and healthier, but the atmosphere of home isn’t as ideal for writing.

Another waiter seats a couple a few booths away from me. I listen to the man order for the woman he’s with and I’m filled with feminist irritation.

“Yeah, she wants a Belgian waffle, and two scrambled eggs. And she also wants a hot chocolate, but could you not do the whipped cream on that?”

Oh really, Rob? Are you counting calories for her, too? What a controlling asshole. Look man, I know your type. Narcissistic, manipulative, misogynist punk.

When I see movement, I look up. The woman is returning from the bathroom, and takes a seat across from the man she came in with.

Oh. Never mind. He was ordering for her because she asked him to. Call off the feminism troops. It’s okay. Apparently, I’m a little easily triggered when it comes to gender relations.

I’m sitting underneath a speaker, listening to it blast music that reminds me of being a freshman in college. Not that it’s playing music from 2004, but it’s playing the kind of music that I was listening to in 2004. Jet and Bowie and The Cranberries and Weezer.

The waiter brings my food. My usual—Swedish crepes and a side of ham. I branch out sometimes…pancakes or French toast or a waffle. But there’s something pleasant about the ritual. The sharpness of the lingonberries and the sweet umami of the ham. Enough taste to be enjoyable, but not so much that I’m distracted from whatever I’m writing.

I suppose this is my version of a room of one’s own. This is my own gateway to “Cheyenne, Wyoming,” or whatever you want to call the place in your head where you go during deeply focused creativity. A room that’s different from the room in which I sleep, or the one in which I sit and watch TV, or make dinner.

All day today I had planned to go to a coffee shop to write. Sugar House Coffee or Greenhouse Effect. But when it came time to leave, I didn’t want the cozy artistry of a coffee shop, with hip young people chatting and vaping. I wanted call center employees and middle class retirees chatting in slightly sticky booths. I didn’t want the inspiring. I wanted the pedestrian.

Even if “the pedestrian” means a waiter stopping by the booth every four minutes to ask if “everything still tastes all right.” Yes. Thank you. I don’t look up from my screen as I answer.

I think of all the other items on my “to write” list at the moment. Scripts and poems and marketing emails and social media posts and text responses. I think of the rest of my “to do” list for tonight, for the week, for the month. There are a hundred other things I could be doing tonight. But there’s something really satisfying about just sitting in this IHOP, two empty plates next to me, my FitBit off my wrist so that I can type.

I wrote at least half of my Master’s thesis in IHOPs. I’ve written rubbish scripts and good poems and a couple of really good essays. One journalism piece. And a good handful of blog entries. And now a handful plus one.

This might be one of those pieces of writing that’s more process than product. Something I can treat as an exercise, rather than a finished work. Consider this your peek behind the curtain. It’s really just an ode to a lower middle-class breakfast restaurant chain, to the outdated music and wise-cracking waiters and lingonberry crepes. But I hear that David Sedaris spent a lot of his time in IHOPs in his twenties, so I feel I’m in good company.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Hope for the Hopeless (And/Or Those Who Feel Overwhelmed By Society's Seeming Downward Spiral)


The Amazon is being burned. People with PhD’s are being paid poverty wages. Brett Kavanaugh is still a Supreme Court Justice. And I don’t know about you, but I continue to have a visceral negative reaction at any mention of the current President.

The world feels terrible and like nothing is ever going to be okay and it’s effing EXHAUSTING.

And sometimes I need to write about it or talk about it or post about it. But today I’m going to share the things that give me hope when I feel like there isn’t much to be had.

I heard once that the people who fight against justice and progress, who keep trying to prevent society from moving forward to equity, are like toddlers in the backseat of a car that’s being driven to Disneyland. There are times when they are screaming and kicking the back of your seat, even though you keep trying to tell them that you’re going to DISNEYLAND and it will be AWESOME.

And sometimes the screaming and the kicking gets to be too much. It’s exhausting and sometimes even painful. But the thing is that the car’s still f*cking going to Disneyland. Toddlers can be loud and obnoxious but they’re still toddlers who are basically powerless against adults. And adults are the ones driving the car.

So how do you be the adult who’s moving the car moving forward, even when the toddlers are screaming?

I have no definitive answers, but here’s what helps me. All of them are feel-good-y and partly stolen from various self-help books/tumblr posts/Brene Brown/Mr Rogers, and I strongly and shamelessly believe in them.

1. “Physician, heal thyself.”

A lot of the time, my reactions to the screaming toddlers have less to do with the screaming toddlers and more to do with my own un-healed trauma. Because APPARENTLY, almost all of us have experienced trauma. It seems like that’s just part of being human. Ain’t no shame in it. (About a year ago, my therapist asked “Could it be that your parents’ divorce actually had a significant effect on you?” and I replied “NO. Because I’m not a CLICHÉ.” But it turns out I am a cliché and it also turns out that’s actually fine because now I can heal.)

It doesn’t matter if you were physically abused or sexually assaulted or teased a lot as a child. The result is the same. [EDIT: A friend pointed out that it would be good to clarify that being sexually assaulted is not the same as being teased a lot. She used the metaphor of different rooms on a boat. In her words, "Some people get first class trauma like teasing or minor emotional neglect. Others get boiler room trauma where their life is literally hell. But it is all the same trauma boat. We all sailing on the same ship." Which is a way more accurate way to say what I was trying to say. That we all experience trauma in varying levels, and that all of us experience the consequences of trauma.] Your needs weren’t met in some way and your brain decided you were in danger and now it goes overboard in trying to protect you from future danger.

So even though it sounds dumb and counter-intuitive and woo-woo and kumbaya, I actually really believe that healing your own trauma is an enormous empowering step to making the world a better place. It will improve your relationships with yourself and with others, and strengthen your ability to make choices that benefit everyone.

Healing your own trauma won’t stop the toddlers from screaming. But it will help you deal with it. It will help you feel not so helpless. If you can develop coping skills that allow you to acknowledge your needs and fears and also allow you to feel self-worth and self-compassion, you can keep driving that car.

2. Do what you can, and not what you can’t.

I do not have the emotional bandwidth or the financial means to storm ICE detention centers, to picket the capital every day, to never use plastic ever, or to send feminine hygiene supplies to every woman in need. I sometimes feel this need to do ALL THE THINGS.

But I can’t. So instead, I do what I can. I have the emotional bandwidth and financial means to call my representatives now and then, to support Planned Parenthood, and to use public transportation now and then.

And I can create art that teaches empathy. I can write and act and paint and cross stitch the things I believe will bring healing and joy and goodness. Even if it’s just some improv comedy on a Friday night that allows people to take a break from their own emotional exhaustion and trauma.

I’m a big believer that all of us have unique gifts that can make the world better. So figure out what yours are, and do those things.

3. Support those who do what you can’t.

I can’t reform immigration laws or help those in ICE detention centers. But organizations like the ACLU and RAICES can. I can post about them and donate to them. For every problem I see in the world around me, there’s an organization working to solve it. There are people out there doing work that they are passionate about and good at. They don’t need you to do that work, too. They just need your support while THEY do it. Don’t feel the need to do something you are not qualified to do.

4. Remember that things are actually getting better. Objectively.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

Human beings are healthier and less violent than we ever have been in recorded history. Our life expectancy keeps getting higher. Child mortality rates are lower. More people have access to education, and literacy rates are higher. Despite the efforts of some well-intentioned but ill-informed parents in the U.S., more kids are getting vaccinated throughout the world. Fewer and fewer people live in extreme poverty. (For more awesome and hopeful statistics, go here.)

I don’t say all these things to minimize the very real struggles and challenges that face our species. There’s a lot we’ve got to work on. But in moments of discouragement, it’s helpful for me to remember that despite the occasional dip into terrible-ness, humans have done some incredible things.

So while we may experience those dips, and while we may mourn the casualties we fight to avoid, the metaphorical car is actually getting closer and closer to metaphorical Disneyland.

We just gotta keep driving it.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Of lake and parks and creeks


When I was very small, I thought Lake Elizabeth was named after me. It’s a man-made lake in Fremont, a city to the southeast of San Francisco Bay, where I grew up. It’s surrounded by a large park, several playgrounds, and a couple of community buildings. 450 acres, and a lake that’s around 80 acres and maybe 8 feet deep. I sat in my grandparents’ sailboat on Lake Elizabeth’s waters. We rented paddleboats and bought ice cream cones. I fed ducks on its shores. A few times, we went swimming in the roped off area that demanded payment for use. I remember once we found a tiny orange kitten in the reeds on the south side of the lake, his little eyes glued shut with sickness. We named him Moses and took him to the nearby animal shelter.

There was one summer when my sister and I went to a day camp there. My sister and I were separated and the teenagers working there never gave us the color of marker we requested. If I could have figured out how to wander off, I would have. Maybe I did. As a child, I much preferred the company of nature to the company of my peers.

So many of my memories of Lake Elizabeth are of the small creek that meandered from the lake, through the playground, and into a wilderness refuge. To a dreamy girl like me, it was paradise. I was a small peasant girl, fetching water from the river to bring back to my family in our hut. I was a witch, gathering herbs and performing spells in the grass on the edges of the water. I was a pioneer, lifting my petticoats to ford a river on my way across the Oregon Trail.

There are strange, unspoken rules among children in public spaces. There are two ways to stake a claim on a particular area: be the first, or be the loudest. I was rarely the loudest, so I usually tried to be first. If I wasn’t, I had to settle for some other, smaller patch of shore to call my own.

I moved back home to Fremont for one semester during college. In the afternoons before my closing shift at the bookstore, I would take my grandmother’s old bike and ride out to Lake Elizabeth. As a twenty-two-year-old, the walk around Lake Elizabeth was short and manageable, an easy two miles. I would bring a book, or my journal, or a picnic lunch. Sometimes all of the above. I would watch as kids played by the same unspoken rules of territory by the creek. The grass was kept short (and often soiled) by flocks of Canadian geese.

There was less imagination in my use of the park as an adult. I went there for a change of scenery while doing the things I would be doing at home—reading, writing, walking, eating. But I could still feel the green of the park seep into my spine. It made me feel calm and quiet in the same way that it did when I was a child. Like a fish returning to water. Or more like breathing when you’ve been underwater.

I still visit Lake Elizabeth now and then. Everything at the lake is a little smaller to me now. The creek that was a wilderness to 6-year-old me doesn’t have the same untamed nature that it did then. I’ve embraced the fact that it was not, in fact, named after me, but rather after Fremont’s sister city, Elizabeth, South Australia. There’s a tunnel for BART, the public train, that runs right under the lake now. There’s a tree there planted for my late uncle, who died when I was too little to understand what that meant.

We adults still follow the same unspoken rules about territory—whoever’s first or loudest claims a spot. We’re more civilized about our claims, but we make them nonetheless. A picnic blanket here marks the border between my space and yours. Stay away from my picnic table, strangers. I didn’t come here to connect with people. I came to connect with the trees.

I wonder how long Lake Elizabeth will remain. If I’ll wheel a stroller with my own daughter around its perimeter. If I’ll watch her wade in the creek. If she’ll have a daughter that will do the same. I wonder if Lake Elizabeth will be a precious sanctuary to them, as it was to me. I hope it is. I believe it will be.