Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Confessions: A Letter to Everyone In the World

Dear everyone in the world,

I apologize if sometimes I am awkward. I'm sorry if our attempt at talking came to a screeching halt, if I gave one-syllable answers, or if I can't easily say in person what I can say in writing. I do care about you, and want to make a connection. I'm just often a little bit at a loss as to how to make that happen.

The truth is that I have no idea how people make friends outside of the world of theatre. Or outside of a common activity. I'm friends with the teachers and staff at Alianza because I'm with them every day, helping to run a school. We have common experiences to talk about. But when I first meet someone, there aren't any of those common experiences yet. And I doubt that people would be interested in just discussing the "small talk" things that come to my mind in those moments--the convergence of Jupiter and Venus, the old English letter "thorn," or a collection of short stories retelling Biblical tales that I've been reading.

But I'm always afraid that there's not time for me to talk about things I really want to know about you. I don't want to make small talk. I want to know how you discovered the thing you're passionate about. I want to know if you get angry or sad when you're afraid. I want to know if you're closer to your mother or your father, and what books influenced you most as a child, and how you feel about Disneyland, and if you like spicy foods or not. I want to know what you are constantly telling yourself.

It's been fifteen years since middle school, but when I walk into a room of strangers who know each other, there are still moments when I feel like that bespectacled 8th-grader in a new town in Oregon, wondering where to place her lunch tray in the cafeteria. I forget how to sit, how to talk, how to be.

But here's what I keep reminding myself: The deepest and most beautiful friendships in my life have come from the moments when I had the courage to reach outward. Moments when I chose to stop doubting that people would love me, and instead, chose to reach out and love them. When I chose to ignore the voices saying "you are not good enough, you do not belong, no one is interested in your life." When I chose instead to tell someone else "you are good enough, you belong, I am interested in your life." When I did ask them those questions about how they discovered their passion and what books influenced them most.

And in those moments, I feel most like the truest version of myself. It's a strange paradox: that to find your truest self, you have to forget yourself, and reach outward.

So dear everyone in the world, I'm working on that. For every room full of strangers I've entered, with a little time, I've often left with at least one genuine friend. I remind myself of that when faced with the next room full of strangers. I remind myself that moments of feeling out of place will not last forever. I know that I will still have plenty of times when I feel awkward, and scared, and uncertain, and lost. But I'm learning to choose my way out of those moments, and to be my truest self--the self that's brave enough to reach out to the people I sense a connection with, and let them know how wonderful I think they are.

Because I really do think that so many people are wonderful.

photo via

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another Reason to Love Salt Lake City

I have just discovered my new favorite place. To write. To eat. To hang out.

There’s this little café on the corner of 900 East and 3300 South. It’s an old house, transformed into a little cafe called "The Greenhouse Effect Coffee & Crepes." It’s full of local art, and local artists. The crepes are divine, and there’s a “Take a Book, Leave a Book” shelf among the tables and chairs. The people here have dreadlocks and hemp jewelry. There was a group smoking hookah on the porch, and there are skateboarders out back. Right now there’s a guy tuning a guitar on the couch. Another guy is drawing at a table near me. A few other people are writing. I can hear someone playing hand drums outside. All the men have beards and all the women have gauges. People are BAREFOOT and TATTOOED and PROFANE and BEAUTIFUL. Many of them seem to know each other--like this is a regular place to come and go from.

It’s this tiny corner of Ashland, Oregon, of Haight-Ashbury, of Berkley. A hub of modern philosophers and mystics. Phrases I’ve overheard in the last ten minutes include:

“…but it’s Schrodinger’s cat all over again…”
“…it’s like this old school hip hop with rock…”
“…the layers of meta are so deep at this point…”
“…we had been partying, and I was really hungry, and all the Christmas potluck was gone except for the ginger snaps…”
“…I don’t care who fires the first f***ing missile, because whoever wins will be the world leader of the biggest cinder…”
“…the missing link for everyone’s psyche…”
“…there really is an Elizabethean collar for cats…”

I almost feel like I don’t belong—like I'm not actually hip enough to be here. Because I'm straight-edge and introverted and don't converse easily with strangers. But I am barefoot and wearing a peasant skirt and I do henna tattoos and I love the earth. But whether or not the people who come and go here are to be my tribe, I’m in love with this café. I’m going to come often to this café. I’m going to share this café with my husband and my sisters and my friends and my co-workers.

And I’m going to write a novel in this café.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Diligent Writer Me vs Current Me: A Dialogue

Diligent Writer Me: Pssst. Hey. Hey you!

Current Me: Leave me alone.

Diligent Writer Me: I just wanted to, you know, give you a friendly reminder that you've still got forty chapters or so to edit.

Current Me: I know. It's too many.

Diligent Writer Me: It's not too many! It's not like you have to re-write them completely! Just make a few changes.

Current Me: Lies. I have to re-write like, a fourth of them completely. I have to move those two climactic conversations to the end so that there's one actual climax, and then I have to re-write like, everything from the climax on, and also change almost everything Alice says because you decided I should revamp her entire character.

Diligent Writer Me: Okay, okay. So it's a lot of work. But I'm telling you, if you just do a little bit every day, you'll be done before you know it! I mean, you wrote the whole first draft in only one month.

Current Me: Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do here. It's just that there are so many other things to do right now.

Diligent Writer Me: ............Like what?

Current Me: Like...well, like watch House of Cards! And read these autocorrect fails on the internet. And also watch cat videos. And text this friend. And maybe eat some ice cream? And I bet if I were to refresh Facebook, there would be something else interesting there!

Diligent Writer Me: All right. I grant you, House of Cards is awesome. And autocorrect fails will never stop being hilarious. Same for cat videos. And texting friends can be a good thing. And ice cream is awesome. And while refreshing Facebook that often doesn't usually bring up something else interesting, it MIGHT. But hear me out on this--

Current Me: NO!

Diligent Writer Me: Do I need to start using all caps?

Current Me: Oh, what? Sorry, I can't hear you because of how much I'm LOLing at this cat trying to jump over a baby gate.


Current Me: Didn't you just tell me, like five sentences ago, that it won't take me long?

Diligent Writer Me: No, I said it wouldn't take long IF YOU DO A LITTLE BIT EVERY DAY. You're doing pretty darn good on your other goals. It'd be a shame to not meet this one. Because of cat videos.

Current Me: But--

Diligent Writer Me: BECAUSE OF CAT VIDEOS.

Current Me: Ugh. Fine. Whatever. I'll edit. And write.

Diligent Writer Me: Atta girl.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wandering Wombs: A Brief "Hystery" of Women's Medicine

WARNING: Depending on where you work, this may be NSFW. If you are uncomfortable reading about the history of female sexuality, skip this one. Even though it's enlightening and a little bit hilarious.

So I've been doing a lot of research on "hysteria" lately. And let me tell you, people were completely insane and woefully uninformed when it came to women's health. For like, MOST of human history.

Nowadays, we use the term "hysterical" to mean "crazy" or "experiencing large emotions." But until about 50 years ago, it was considered an actual medical condition exclusive to women.

And it goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Hippocrates (as in "the Hippocratic oath," yeah--that guy) believed that hysteria was caused by a wandering womb. (Hysteria comes from the word hystera, which means "uterus.") See, the basic idea was that lacking the warmth and lubrication of either pregnancy or "the male member," the uterus was prone to wander around the body, blocking important passages and causing disease and general mayhem. As Jacob pointed out, Hippocrates basically said, "I need to create a problem that my penis will solve." (If that ain't patriarchy, I don't know what is.)

By the 1800s, female hysteria was considered an epidemic, with an estimated 1 in 4 women suffering from it. Its symptoms included irritability, sexual desire, faintness, nervousness, shortness of breath, changes in appetite, and "a tendency to cause trouble," among other things.

But don't worry--doctors could get that pesky wandering uterus back into its proper place! Surgery and water hosing were used in drastic cases, but most women could find relief in a "pelvic massage," administered by a doctor.

Let's just call it what it is. (And I apologize if this is crude...) Women throughout the 1800s were going to their doctors on the regular for a hand job.

But take note! Sexual pleasure had nothing to do with it! No, doctors all knew that women experienced no sexual pleasure or desire--they simply submitted to their husbands in the name of duty and procreation. There was no such thing as a "female orgasm." Treatments for hysteria resulted in a "hysterical paroxysm," which was a release of tension caused by that wandering womb.

Jacob pointed out that it's strange that so many women were seeing doctors for the "treatment"--wouldn't it be simpler to just...take matters into their own hands?* Probably. But women were also taught that they didn't experience sexual desire or pleasure, so when they felt it, it was probably incredibly shameful. Masturbation was considered "self-abuse," with a host of dangers associated with it. I think many women really did believe in the medicine of the time--what else was there to believe? It's much safer and more acceptable to visit a doctor for the treatment of a medical condition.

Here's the rub, though.** By the late 1800s, doctors' hands were getting tired. Fatigue and cramps kept them from giving successful treatments. And so, in 1880, Dr Mortimer Granville patented the electromechanical vibrator.

That's right. The vibrator was invented because Victorian doctors were getting cramps from giving hand jobs to middle and upper class women.

"Personal massagers" became a huge hit, and they were sold everywhere from the corner market to the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. Regardless of what was actually going on, they were considered medical instruments, and there didn't seem to be any kind of shame or furtiveness attached to them. It seems bizarre now, but ads like these seemed pretty common:

At least, ads like this were common until the 1920s. Because what started appearing in the 1920s? Pornographic films. The use of "personal massagers" in film stripped them forever of their medical use, and from that point on, there was no escaping the sexual connotation. Vibrators disappeared from the mainstream advertising world until the sexual revolution of the 1970s. Nowadays, you don't often see ads for vibrators in mainstream magazines, but if you're interested in buying one, they aren't very hard to find.

And the disease "hysteria" was finally, FINALLY removed from the diagnostic world officially in 1980, with the publication of the DSM-III.

Please note that 1980 was only 5 years before I was born.

I mean, doctors had figured out long before this that the "wandering womb" theory was bunk and that women did experience sexual pleasure/desire. Throughout the early 1900s, "hysteria" came to also include what we now know as PTSD and mood disorders, which affected both men and women.

But here's what I want to point out. Here's why all of this matters. Aside from giving you an interesting thing to share at parties, I actually have something meaningful to say with this post.

I think that women today are still feeling the effects of thousands of years of being diagnosed instead of listened to. Women's legitimate emotional experiences are still being dismissed as the result of "hormones."

For so many generations, women were seen as emotional creatures incapable of making meaningful decisions. They were seen as needing either pregnancy, intercourse, or medical attention to keep their wombs in their proper place. In times throughout history when women were treated as property under the law, not given a voice in government, and subjugated to lives of domesticity, they responded with "irritability, nervousness, and the tendency to cause trouble." And when they responded this way, they were told that they had a medical condition.

I'm so grateful to live in a time and place where I have so much. I'm so grateful for the men and women who fought so that I could live the immensely privileged life I lead. But the work is not complete. We still have over 2000 years worth of bogus medicine to overcome. Somewhere buried in our collective unconscious is this persistent idea that women can be dismissed because they are emotional, because they are slaves to the hormones in their bodies.

The reality is that both men and women are emotional creatures who are capable of making meaningful decisions anyway. And it's time to acknowledge that.

*pun intented
**pun also intended

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings." - Lao Tzu

End of the year card from kindergarten. Oh my heart. 
School has only been out for 8 hours and I'm already unsure what to do with myself.

I spent the school day alternating between dancing and eating, so as to keep waves of sentiment from crashing over me. I've been counting down the days until summer vacation, and suddenly this morning, it occurred to me that I won't see these kids for MONTHS. They're all going to be HUGE in the fall. And some of them are graduating and going on to high school and I'm so proud of them but they won't be around to make me laugh and think and grow. WAAAAHHHHH!

Steve (the school's principal) was a wreck by 8:15 this morning, and I spent the entirety of 8th grade graduation pretending that I was a smiling robot, instead of on the verge of waterworks myself.

I think I'm too busy processing this ending to do much of anything else.

I mean, I've got all sorts of PLANS for the summer. Art Assignments, finishing the last edit of my YA novel, deep cleaning our apartment, going through our books (again), doing a bunch of organizing and prepping for next school year, rehearsing "Oklahoma!", visiting Rexburg, re-starting an exercise routine, finishing Personal Progress, etcetera etcetera etcetera. But I just can't bring myself to begin any of these projects at 8 pm on a Thursday evening after the last day of school.

Hell, I can't even bring myself to put away the groceries. I did buy them, though. So that's something.

Anyway, now that I'm alone with my nostalgia, I've discovered that I can't keep it at bay. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch a movie and paint my toenails, because what else can you do on a day like this?

See ya in the fall, Alianza gang.

Alianza Staff on the last day of school, June 2014