Friday, April 29, 2016


You might have noticed that I haven’t posted a roundup in about a month (or maybe you haven’t, and could care less, which is do you). I was on the road for about three weeks straight, first attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual meeting in LA, then back to North Carolina for a couple days at the coast with my sister, then up to Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Festival of Faith and Writing. Upon my return to Durham, it was time for final papers (which I am still grading…), so I haven’t had much time to decompress from either of the conferences, much less read the many articles and essays sitting in my Instapaper account. I have a lot I want to think about and discuss from both AWP and FFW, but it will keep for a while. I’m not much for hot takes lately, anyway. I’ll let ‘em cool. In the meantime, here are a few things I’ve been enjoying from airplanes and hotel rooms over the last few weeks.

The best thing I did to prepare for all the flying I did in April was download some audiobooks to my phone. I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and the first half of Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, both read by the authors. (Bonus: fend off chatty strangers with headphones.)

On paper, I finished The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. It was great, and confirmed some of my instincts about where I've been directing my own time and energy. I’m waiting until I post my final grades to start the last of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child, so I can savor it over glasses of wine on my porch. Then, on to the huge stack of books I acquired at AWP! More on those later.

I re-read this older essay from the now PULITZER PRIZE WINNING Emily Nussbaum on Sex and the City, and I still love it.

Nicole Chung wrote a fantastic piece about money and anxiety that resonated with me.

Apparently I’m having a throw-back kind of week, because I also re-read this essay from Laurie Penny on sexism and storytelling. Yep, still good.

Have you heard about Kazoo magazine? I can’t wait to get a subscription for my nieces. (They’re not even a month old yet, so I guess I’ll have to get a subscription for myself in the meantime.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Dancing in the Dust

Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship
March 27, 2016 - Easter Sunday
Isaiah 65:17-25

“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

These words from Isaiah prophesy a beautiful future, a renewal and rebirth – triumph over death and destruction. Easter.

Weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday we remembered that we are dust, beginning the journey of Lent with a collective acknowledgement of our mortality. During Lent, we follow Jesus into the wilderness, emerging only to follow his journey to the cross during Holy week, to hell and back again. But once we’ve arrived at Easter, how do we make sense of what it is for death to have lost its sting? For a dead body to rise from the ashes, alive?

The Lenten season of preparation for Easter often focuses on denial, discipline of the body, submission. There’s a sense that our bodies are something to be feared and tamed. That bodies are dangerous.

But instead, in light of the resurrection, we ought to considered all the ways our fragile bodies, made of dust, are sources of joy. That God delights in us so much that God would join us, become embodied with us, and in so doing conquer death.

This year, my Lent “discipline,” if you can even call it that, was rather simple. I wanted to practice being embodied. That is, just to pay more attention to the joy of being made of flesh and bone, the gift of this life made from ashes, from dust. For me, this meant I did a lot of slow, gentle yoga. I took long walks.

I snuggled newborn babies. I gave and received hugs, especially the kind of uninhibited hugs the kids seem to love, that come out of nowhere, when someone leaps into your arms or grabs onto your leg and won’t let go. And I danced. I danced so much I had to take a few days off because my knee swelled up like a grapefruit. I quite literally danced until I couldn’t dance any more.

Our bodies are dust, I thought, as I sat with an ice pack on my knee, but they are also a delight.

Still, there’s a lot of dust swirling around us. What are we to make of it?

“No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days,” Isaiah says, “or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.”

I read these words, and they don’t sound like the world I know, a world where people die too young, where we struggle with illness, where pregnancy and giving birth are not always as simple and beautiful as we hoped they would be. A world where some bodies are valued and others are not, where some bodies are erased by laws created out of fear and pushed through by leaders who missed the memo, it seems, that we are each and every one of us a source of God’s joy, a delight to the risen Lord.

After HB2, the anti-LGBTQ bill, passed this week, I remembered a song by Mount Moriah's Heather McEntire that I first heard her perform at Motorco called “When You Come For Me.” Heather told the story behind the song, and I've never been able to hear it since without the one sentence she offered by way of explanation ringing in the back of my mind – one sentence that it seemed to me contained a whole world. This is a song, she said, about wanting to be buried on her family's land, to be accepted by them.

She sings, “Mama, I dreamed that I had no hand to hold
and the land I cut my teeth on wouldn't let me call it home.
So lay me down easy, in the valley or the pines,
tell me that you'll be there waiting,
standing in the light.”

It is a song about death. About longing for home, for a safe resting place. A longing for love to triumph in the end, for love to win even in the face of death, for love to have the final word.

As I listened to the song again this week, I anticipated Christ’s triumph over death on Easter morning, and I wondered what it means to long for acceptance even in death. To believe that a good life leads to such a resting place, held by the mountains that birthed you, your body's dust returning the land where you were raised. As we celebrate the resurrection, we continue to live in a precarious world of death and destruction. We wait for the final fulfillment of what Isaiah promises. We make our home here, and pray this land, these people, can sustain us. We plant, and hope that others will continue to harvest after we’re gone. We build, praying that others will inhabit for years to come.

When protesters of HB2 lined the street in Raleigh on Thursday chanting “I believe that we will win,” they no doubt hoped that could be in their lifetimes – but they, and we, will labor on regardless of whether we see the fruits.

People who support exclusionary laws like HB2 have clutched their pearls this week, saying, “Think of the children!” as if such laws protect, rather than hurting, children. Jesus’ resurrected body and these words from Isaiah push me to turn the question back around. Indeed, think of the children, and the possibility that they might grow up in a world that loves and accepts every fiber of their being, where they know their bodies, however they identify, are a gift. That God delights in them. What would it mean to build a world like that?

“They shall build houses and inhabit them,” Isaiah says, “they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit...for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity, for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord – and their descendants as well.”

How do we live in the light of this promise, and the knowledge of God's triumph over death, in the present reality of the dirt and dust of daily life? How do we live the story that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again?

We continue to dig into the soil, to plant and to harvest what we can. We build. We cook, we feed each other. We hold babies. We sing and we dance. Especially the last, if you're anything like me.

When I dance I've found I come home to the present moment. This fragile frame and it's tentative movements can somehow get lost in a song and a crowd and stop caring about looking foolish because it feels so free, to move your feet on this earth, to trust the ground that holds you, to believe God made us good and delights in our particular embodied joy.

I thought about this freedom of movement, about bodies full of life, on Friday night, at the Pinhook in Durham, at the Queer Sweatcore dance party. After a week like this the Pinhook, where the bathrooms have always been inclusive, felt like an especially beloved place. Micky Bradford was there, dancing. You might have seen footage online of Micky, a black trans woman, at the HB2 protests, as she danced in front of the governor’s mansion, on a street lined with police officers, her grace a beautiful, powerful, risky resistance against those who would deny her body’s freedom, her right to exist. “It’s important to see a black trans woman be unafraid of police and policing,” she told a reporter. Anger, exhaustion, and sadness moved her body in this act of protest, rising from the ashes, announcing her presence to the man inside the gates, a testimony to life in the face of death.

On Friday, at the Pinhook, people danced in a different setting, in a club with a sign posted on the wall reminding everyone of the necessity of consent on the dance floor, of respecting other people’s bodies. You don’t put your hands on someone else without permission, without an affirmative y-e-s. This weekend that sign, something I’ve never seen in any other bar or club or anywhere, had a heightened sense of meaning to me, considering our legislature’s violent efforts to control and erase certain people’s bodies. Part of the freedom of dancing in that space on that night, it seemed to me, came from the knowledge that the gathered bodies were respected and celebrated, that no one would intrude upon that freedom of movement. You can dance without fear. You can dance with joy.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem” Isaiah says, “And delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”

As the disco ball spun around reflecting glittering light on people’s faces, I imagined that, for a couple of hours at least, instead of dancing in the face of destruction and injustice, we were dancing in the dust around Jesus’ empty grave, dancing a victory dance, basking in the light of God's love, which has already won, which will win in the end.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Link Roundup!

I finished The Queen of the Night and I am still contemplating the final line. It’s gorgeous. I can’t bring myself to start another novel yet, because I’m still walking the streets of Paris with Lilliet Berne. I'm finally planning to read some reviews of the book this week, so I'll report back with my favorites next week.

Danielle Dutton On Terrible Writing Advice From Famous Writers.

David Ulin considers John D’Agata and the Art of the American Essay. There are things I love and agree with about this, and others things that I...don’t. But that’s a topic for another day. A good read, either way.

Mallory Ortberg reviews The Ninety-Five Theses, Part I.

Jessa Crispin on women traveling alone.

“You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed,” writes Caitlin Moran to teenage girls. Gorgeous and gutting.

Sarah Ditum, A Woman’s Body is Not a Disgrace.

My essay "Pencil Skirts & Power Ties" is finally out, in the Winter 2015 Issue of Rhubarb Magazine. LOOK HERE IT IS:

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 8

Tired of waiting for these posts? Subscribe to my Patreon to read my recap of week nine, now available, and to get first access to my thoughts on the finale later this week.

You Are Enough

Ah, hometown dates. Let’s take a moment to remember the time we didn’t go to anyone’s hometowns because the producers knew Kaitlyn Bristowe wanted to marry Shawn Booth, and they didn’t bother to fly everyone all around the country. Instead, we got two awkward meet and greets in a Utah hotel suite! I’m glad that didn’t happen this time, although the certainty Kaitlyn felt is probably something Ben is a little jealous of at this point.

Amanda’s hometown date, the one I was most interested to see play out, started strong. Even the most cynical viewer had to feel a little something when she ran across the beach to greet her children, right? Ben was a pretty big hit with the kids. A little awkward, a little nervous, but not bad at all. The producers tried to play up the crying kids after the long day at the beach, but honestly, that’s not drama, that’s totally normal, and Ben seemed only about as uncomfortable as anyone would be in a situation where he wants to help but also can’t really do anything, because the kids are just tired and he’s still mostly a stranger to them. Getting grilled by Amanda’s father, on the other hand, was worth getting nervous about. While the overprotective men in this week’s hometowns irked me, Amanda’s dad had some fair points to make about the day to day reality of becoming a parent. Ben might not have realized this himself, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Yes, he wants this -- but not yet,” as I watched him with the kids. Amanda is young too, of course, and has chosen this life devoted to her children. Now she’s trying to make some space to be young, to date, to be other things in addition to a mother. But for Ben, at 26, diving into that life must look terrifying, no matter how much he cares about Amanda. He can’t have just Amanda, on her own, and even the most adorable children are not adorable all the time.

Leaving Amanda behind, Ben headed to Portland. Yes, The Last Lauren Standing is from Portland. Nothing about her says “Portland” to me, which I will readily admit is probably the fault of the producers for so rarely indicating what the women are actually like, in addition to my internalized Portlandia stereotypes. In any case, the most important take-aways from this date are, a) Lauren plans a better date than Ben -- food trucks and a whiskey library? Sign me up! -- and b) In case you missed it, Ben is in love with Lauren. When Molly first asked Ben what he likes about her sister I was pretty annoyed with his “I can’t put words to it,” response, which to me is the kind of answer that reads as, “She’s really hot and I’m infatuated, how can you ask me to actually talk about who she is as a WHOLE PERSON?” But then he started to cry, so I kind of forgave him, at least a little. This is not the last time we’ll see Ben cry.

Lauren’s dad kept the “overprotective male relatives” theme going for us. Did you notice that he said these weeks away for the show are the longest “LoLo” has ever been away from them? I want confirmation on that. Does she still live at home? Did she not go away to college? Is Lauren actually 18? I need answers as to how a grown woman in 2016 has never spent more than two months away from her family. This is a potential red flag, Ben. Time to ask some questions. Note that I have no problem with close-knit families -- of course close family ties are wonderful. It’s just that given the other undertones of this situation, I find it disconcerting that Lauren might essentially go from her father’s care to Ben’s care in the most patriarchal fashion. Granted there are some bachelors who are looking for precisely that, also, but I’m not entirely sure Ben is -- though it would also be fair to say that some of Ben’s desires potentially conflict with one another.

Caila’s hometown date had a similar feel to Lauren’s, insofar as she and Ben were predictably cute and happy together all day, and Ben was subjected to another fatherly interrogation over supper. Caila’s dad brought his A-game -- he didn’t bother stealing Ben away, but dove right in with the awkward questions at the dinner table. Caila was so mortified by his question about “microwave fame” that she was visibly squirming.

I’m now imagining Lauren and Caila’s dads horror at watching their babies have breakfast in bed with Ben next week after the overnight dates.

I’m getting worried for Caila, though. I fully expect her to make it all the way to that final rose ceremony, but I still can’t imagine Ben ending this with anyone but Lauren. Every time Caila gets misty eyed and says, “I think this is it,” I brace myself for the heartbreak to come. Dear, sweet Caila -- even if he picks you, the chances that this turns out to be “it” are not good.

Now, we’ve saved the best for last. JoJo’s hometown date in Dallas was so over the top. First off, rumor has it that when you go on the show you have to write down your ex boyfriends’ phone numbers, so it should come as no surprise that the roses on JoJo’s front porch that she kept awwwwwww-ing about in an incredibly annoying way were not, in fact, from Ben, but from cheating ex-boyfriend Chad. JoJo put an end to that mess pretty quickly, but then had to explain her tears to Ben when he arrived. This is another instance of the bizarre way that situations on this show supposedly bring people closer together. JoJo had to break up with her ex a second time -- that is, she had to remind him she’d broken up with him already, and why -- and somehow this is the thing that shows Ben that they might have a future together? I mean, this is very basic stuff here. She’d already ended things with Chad. Chad is a moron. Not wanting to be with your ex is step one for dating someone else, I think, not “Okay, I’m ready to meet your parents and maybe propose now!”

Anyway, apparently working through this Tough Situation brought them closer.

I’m not sure how to even address everything that went on with JoJo’s family. Her mother is awful and amazing at the same time. “You’re not going to get hurt, you’re beautiful!” she quips to JoJo (I wasn’t aware that beauty granted immunity from pain), and then moments later she’s drinking Moet straight from the bottle (I approve). This could be your future, Ben.

And the brothers. While I want to sympathize with their skepticism, I’m too busy being appalled at their blatant misogyny. They might think Ben brainwashed these women, that he sounds “coached” (newsflash guys, Ben has been the least coached sounding Bachelor ever), they’re the ones who seem to literally think that being JoJo’s brothers means they own her and control her life. They’re the ones who can’t believe JoJo could possibly know her own mind or make her own decisions, that she needs them to steer her in the right direction. There’s a difference between offering advice to a family member and this heavy handed control the brothers are asserting in front of the camera. I’d suggest that if JoJo does get that final rose she high tails it to Denver and away from these jokers to live her own life, asap.

As I watched the women reassembled in LA for the rose ceremony, I was fascinated by how the women in this group interact with each other as they walk in. I don’t recall another season in which the final four have honesty seemed to be friends, as best they can given the circumstances. I think this results from a combination of their abilities to compartmentalize, and the similarities between each them based on the personality and character traits that Ben seems most drawn to. The look exchanged between JoJo and Amanda when Chris Harrison came out to say, “This is the final rose tonight,” stunned me. In any other season I would have read undertones of “You’re going down” in one of their eyes, yet here it looked like genuine solidarity, the knowledge that one of them is going to be heartbroken in a moment, and whoever gets the rose will be sad even as she is happy. After Ben gave the rose to JoJo, her hand on Amanda’s back ever so briefly as she rejoined her in line was a small gesture, but it got to me.

Amanda seems to be a woman even the other women are sad to see leave, and it goes without saying that Ben struggled to say goodbye. As she gave her exit interview, weeping to the camera, there was much I wished I could say to her. I hope Amanda knows that her family is complete. That she is enough for her children. That Ben would be a bonus, but not this missing piece of some incomplete whole she’s imagining.

After watching the closing shot of Ben crying so hard he couldn’t speak, I wondered if I may have to stop watching The Bachelor after this season. People joke about the women crying, but Ben has shed as many tears over these breakups, often, as they have. It’s hard to watch, but it’s also refreshing. I think that after Ben, any future season will only disappoint me.

No doubt this is a testimony to the producers’ skill as much as anything, which is precisely why I'll keep watching despite whatever I say now.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Link Roundup!

What I'm reading, what's inspiring me, what I'm thinking about, what's on repeat...etc. Happy Friday, y'all.

Surprise! I am still reading The Queen of the Night. It’s still good. And I’m still too busy to read it as quickly as I’d like. (If anyone wants to hire me to read books, I’m game.)

Rebecca Traister’s article on women’s friendships is both helpful and troubling to me. I love that people are paying attention to the importance of relationships between women, the power of female friendship, and so on. But the discussion continues to feel to me like, for all its contemporary importance, it’s framed in outmoded, reductive ways. What I mean is this: the discussion is really heteronormative, and, perhaps unintentionally, even a little bit sexist at times. Certainly it risks essentializing gender in a way I'm uncomfortable with, albeit in some ways that I admit also feel true to certain aspects of my experience. Yes, women’s friendships are vital, and it’s good to see that acknowledged in ways it formerly hasn’t been. But the fact remains that some women also seek other women as romantic partners, blurring the neat distinctions I felt in this article between friendship (between two women) and romantic relationships (between a woman and a man). Furthermore, some women, whether or not they prefer men romantically, also have serious, meaningful, sustaining friendships with men -- men who like women, as well as men who like men, or both men and women, or neither (e.g. male-female friendship is not limited to the “Gay Best Friend” stereotype).

The only thing making me write is all I don’t know,” says Peter Behrens.

Post-Colonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Pico Iyer on Annie Dillard is beyond inspiring. "Yes, she reads everything, and cares about books with the watchful passion of a mother lion surrounded by her cubs. But what I had never guessed until I met her was how much she is in love with every aspect of life."

The Real Laww’s latest video OMG OMG OMG. On repeat.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Contentious Women of the Old Testament

I keep a deck of Women in the Old Testament Knowledge Cards on my desk, and I like to shuffle through them from time to time. Some of the women depicted on the cards are familiar to me -- women like Rahab, Jezebel, and Deborah -- but many of them catch me by surprise. “Who is she?” I ask, as I look more closely at the stunning images on the cards, illustrated by Meinrad Craighead, an artist who was also a member of the Benedictine order, and is known for her portrayal of the divine feminine. I study the faces of Cozbi, Milcah, Asenath, and others. I flip the cards over one by one, and read about women whose names I forgot, whose names I never learned. Mothers, daughters, wives, concubines, and many women who go unnamed.

I flip through this deck of cards, and I am challenged by the stories of these Old Testament women’s faith, of their courage in a time when they had few resources of their own, when their bodies were possessed by others, their names irrelevant, their leadership all but left out of our sacred texts. I think it’s fair to say that we learn to model our faith after the men in the Old Testament, as portrayed in so many well known stories, told in Sunday school and preached from pulpits to young and old alike. Yet we learn little about the even the existence of so many of these women.

At other times, studying these cards, I’m frustrated and saddened by the violent witness of these stories, the wrath and punishment inflicted on women’s innocent bodies. It’s no wonder we avert our eyes. I study the women’s faces as Meinrad has depicted them -- strong and weak, joyful and sad, resilient and broken. Multifaceted. Human. Beautiful. I am disappointed that we don’t know more about them, that we don’t teach the passages that tell their stories, illuminating their history as a part of our history as the people of God. We look away from these women for many reasons. Fear, perhaps, of the complicated means by which they seized what power they could and used it as needed. Fear, also, about how to cope with the wreckage of those that could not seize power, and were instead the victims.

Too much ink has been spilled over other biblical texts which prescribe narrow, gender-specific ways for women to live, while stories of the complicated ways these actual women sought to be faithful simmer in the background. It may be easier to focus on virtuous ideal women than to cope with the tangled history of these other women in the Old Testament. Instead of particulars, we can be tempted to dwell on generalized depictions, such as the idea of the virtuous wife, the woman of valor, depicted in Proverbs 31, forgetting the women of valor living in the background throughout the canon. “A continuous dripping on a rainy day and a contentious wife are alike,” the author of Proverbs wrote earlier, “to restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in the right hand” (Proverbs 27:15-16). I can’t help but wonder if contentious women and women of valor -- women with nerve, audacity, and boldness -- have more in common than we often notice.

To restrain her is to restrain the wind. Here in Proverbs 27, a verse meant to chastise, I find hope. I find encouragement. I find energy. For what were the women of the Old Testament if not contentious? Think of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, who defied the king and kept vigil beside her sons’ bodies for months after they were brutally killed: “Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it on a rock for herself, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell on them from the heavens; she did not allow the birds of the air to come on the bodies by day, or the wild animals by night” (2 Samuel 21:10). She stayed until the king finally relented and ensured a proper burial for them. Contentious, indeed -- and a symbol of love, grief, and loyalty. A vigil of such great length, fending off predators, embodies nothing if not determination. Restrain Rizpah? Never.

Think of Miriam, the first female prophet depicted in the Old Testament, sister of Moses and Aaron, aiding these men as they led God’s people out of Egypt. Presuming equality with Moses, along with Aaron, she asked, “Hasn’t [God] also spoken through us?” (Number 12:2). They both drew God’s anger for this presumption, but only Miriam was punished, inflicted with leprosy, put outside the camp. Miriam was contentious. But the people waited for her return to the camp before they moved on. Miriam was not forgotten.

Think, also, of Noah’s silent wife. Unnamed, but clearly present, the mother of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives…” as the phrase is repeated in Genesis 6. In this oft-told bible story, through this woman the world was re-created after the flood. In the text Noah’s wife never speaks, but surely someone cooked, fed, and cleaned during their forty day and forty night cruise? Noah’s wife, her children, all of the animals, indeed the whole world stand in witness to God’s promises alongside Noah. Had God saved Noah only the story would have a much different ending. If we do not pay attention to these silences, we miss the witness of women like Noah’s wife. We risk repeating the silence, restraining women’s voices in the present, closing our ears and shutting our eyes to women’s work, to women’s witness.

These women and their legacy, their courage and their complexity, cannot be restrained, not even by our unwillingness to cope with the darker passages of scripture. Though their lives were restrained in tangible ways in a time period where women had limited voice, our ability to illuminate their wisdom today, that all men and women can learn from it, is limited only by our own imaginations. As with more well-known passages of scripture, which preachers and teachers carefully exegete, considering the ways stories serve as both examples and warnings, some characters’ actions prescriptive and others failures, these lesser-known stories have much to teach us about precarious human life and God’s faithfulness throughout. These women and their contentious stories refuse to be limited by a small minded vision of who God calls and how we might answer. It is up to us to listen.

Reprinted with permission. Leader Magazine, (Spring 2016), MennoMedia.