Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Year in Words

At this time of year, the proliferation of end of the year lists can be a bit overwhelming, but I want to offer up one of my own if for no other reason than that it helps me to see what I did in 2016. Invariably, I accomplish less than I hope to in a given work week, especially now when so much of my time is consumed by teaching rather than writing, and yet somehow I end up stringing words together, creating essays, reviews, sermons. And there's more to be done next year.

"Write as if you were dying," Annie Dillard says, "At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?" Here at the end of 2016 her words are the closest I can come to describing why I press on. "At its best," she continues, "the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace."

Here, in no particular order, my year in words:

"Contentious Women of the Old Testament," originally published in Leader magazine, cross published here.

"Pencil Skirts and Power Ties," in Rhubarb magazine. Consider buying a copy here.

Two posts for Words & Spirit, here and here.

An op-ed for Religion News Service about my pastor's credentials being revoked, as detailed in the article above.

A review of 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams for the Englewood Review of Books.

Hunger, an essay about women and soccer, for The Other Journal.

A series of six columns for the Mennonite World Review: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

A ten-week series of snarky feminist commentary on The Bachelor last winter, on Patreon, because over analyzing bad TV is my preferred form of self-care.

Oh, also: I finished my book. Forthcoming from Cascade books in 2017. Time for some champagne...or a really long nap. Cheers!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Link Roundup

Meghan Florian, Hannah Heinzekehr, Megan Ramer.
The biggest news of the week is that the Femonite and the Femmonite finally met in person! Hannah Heinzekehr and I started our respective blogs back in 2012 within mere weeks, with no knowledge of each other at the time. Four years later, she's the Executive Director of The Mennonite, and I sometimes get to write for her there. As Drake would say, Started from the bottom, now we're here/Started from the bottom now the whole team here...

Now, on to this week's recommended reading:

Alexander Chee on historical fiction.

David Remnick speaks with ANNIE DILLARD! This is a fifteen minute recording; I wish it were 1500.

I loved this piece about makeup and men’s unwelcome, uninvited opinions on it.

Pickled radishes on Reading My Tea Leaves. YUM.

The P.G. Wodehouse Society of Lahore.

A new comic from Kate Gavino on Catapult.

Laura Turner on The Insufficiency of Self-Care.

Book-wise, I finished 99 Stories of God by Joy Williams. And now I’m trying to figure out what to say about it. I'm also slowly working through Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. It's phenomenal.

Tonight: I have a hot date with Elena Ferrante’s fourth Neapolitan novel, The Story of the Lost Child. Unless I collapse from exhaustion and spend the evening watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries instead. Stranger things have happened.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Link Roundup

It’s been a big publishing week for me! I'm giddy and exhausted, excited and also sad, insofar as I'm writing a lot about events that I lament. Here are the links:

In case you missed it, my article about my pastor’s suspension, in The Mennonite: Love is a verb, not a suspension.

An op-ed I wrote about the same situation, this one aimed at a general audience, over on Religion News Service.

The RNS article was republished by Sojourners.

And finally, a short piece about Lucy Knisley for Words & Spirit.

This is probably a good time to alert my readers to some changes to my Patreon page. Check it out here. If you don’t know what Patreon is, you’re in luck, because there are some links below that will explain. Some people think of it as a subscription, others as a sort of online "tip jar." One thing I’m noticing with Patreon, though, is that people hesitate because they still seem to think they need to subscribe at a high rate, maybe because they’re used to giving larger one-time amounts to Kickstarter style campaigns, or maybe because we assume that for artists to be paid art has to be “expensive” somehow. These are just guesses, but in any case, with Patreon, you really, really don’t have to pledge a lot. My Patreon is set up as a monthly subscription. It’s a little at a time, over a long time (the kind of time it takes to make art, incidentally). Personally, I subscribe to several writers I like on Patreon at the $1 level, because that’s what I can afford right now. But if a writer has hundreds or even thousands of readers at the $1/month or $5/month level, they can make big steps toward making a living by making art. It’s pretty simple.

What I’ve been reading:

How do artists make a living? An ongoing, almost impossible quest, by Monica Byrne (who is also on Patreon writing brilliant fiction, here).

On the flip side, here’s a Jacobin article about the issues with crowdfunding. Yes, I realize it seems weird for me to share this article while also saying, “Hey! Subscribe to my Patreon!” I'm nothing if not nuanced, eh? Ultimately, I want to see both the economy and the publishing industry completely revolutionized. But that won’t happen next week, next year, or maybe even in the next decade, unfortunately. (Call me cynical, but really, can you make an argument that I’m wrong about that?) So Patreon just makes sense. I mean, really, HOW is it acceptable for well-known publications to just not pay their writers? Writing is labor, and these publications don't exist without us, yet the choice is often write for free, or don't get published at all. We're screwed, over and over again. So, I'm slowly realizing that I'd rather write for small publications and crowdfund than write for big publishers who could pay me but won't.

99 Stories of God by Joy Williams. Yes, indeed, it’s summer and I’m reading a book. I’ll be reviewing this one for the Englewood Review of Books. Look for that in the next print issue.

What I've been listening to:

This week's Book Riot podcast: I listen to this podcast every week, but I particularly recommend this episode because it includes a nice breakdown of what Patreon is and why it matters for mid-career writers in particular.

Nicole Cliffe talking about her conversion to Christianity. I adore Nicole Cliffe, and was super confused when one day she started tweeting about looking for a church. I thought she was an atheist! Well, turns out she was, and then things got interesting. Hear her tell the story on this podcast. It made me cry, in a good way.

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.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Link Roundup!

This week's roundup is brief - it's been a full week out in the world! But the brevity reflects no lack in quality. Here are my favorite things in print and online right now:

Print-wise, I’m still working on The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee. It is gorgeous. It is also quite long, and I haven’t had much time besides Saturdays for pleasure reading lately, so don’t take my slowness for lack of enjoyment. On the contrary, I can’t wait to spend tomorrow in my pajamas devouring the remaining chapters. On deck once I’ve finished? The fourth and final Neopolitan novel, The Story of the Lost Child. Although, a copy of The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight just arrived in today’s mail, so I might have to dig into that first...

On the interwebz...

Hanna Brooks Olsen on Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexually Harass Us.

Kelly J. Baker on academic freedom and the neoliberal academy: Silence Won’t Protect You.

I’m on day 12 of YouTube Yoga Camp with Adriene. I’m skipping days here and there (for example, on Saturdays it’s not uncommon for me to tally 2 hours of biking and walking just getting around, so I feel zero need to add 30 minutes of yoga to that), but even so this series has been immensely helpful in developing a consistent home practice. I think more clearly and sleep better when I’m being kind to my body, and these gentle yet challenging videos do the trick. For free! And I can do it in my pajamas on the floor of my writing studio!

I just finished streaming season 1 of UnREAL on Hulu, and OMG I’m in love. Obviously I have a thing for reality television, so I was primed for this show before I ever watched an episode. When Rachel appeared in a “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt in the opening episode, it immediately became apparent that I am the target audience for this show. Gladly so.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Link Roundup!

Another week, another roundup. Take and read.

Briallen Hopper on How to Be Single is hilarious.

Speaking of being single, usually I hate articles about single women or women in general "having it all," and so on (remember when The Atlantic declared “The End of Men”? HAHAHAHAHAHA oh wait, that’s NOT TRUE AT ALL), but Rebecca Traister’s piece in New York magazine was smart and thought provoking. I do wonder if perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we are becoming politically powerful, but Traister herself notes that the world she’s describing is not “likely to happen quickly, especially not with a Republican-led Congress. But it is the beginning of a new kind of relationship between American women and their government. Single women are taking up space in a world that was not designed for them. They make up a new republic, a new category of citizen. If the country is to flourish, we must make room for free women, and let go of the economic and social systems built around the presumption that no woman really counts unless she is married.” A new kind of citizen, eh? It's about damn time, since we've been here the whole time. Roxane Gay also interviewed Traister on the subject, and you can read it here.

Once more, for the single ladies: I had so many thoughts in response to this piece by Briallen Hopper on friendship I could write an essay of my own. Some of it resonated, some of it didn’t, but all of it was very good.

Okay. ENOUGH ABOUT BEING SINGLE. Here’s a recipe for bread you bake while you sleep.

Alya-Monic Mckay on poverty and creativity (especially for women) is right on.
"'Find what you love and let it kill you.'
I wish we could all afford to do so, because I would love to fill the world with artists. Anybody with an extra six hours a day could of course do amazing things. But in a capitalist economy like ours, where profits are more important than people and their passions, we can’t have that. 
Or rather: some people can have that. There are many other people who would also love to rise to Rhodes’ call to creative action, but we can’t.
Unfortunately, we’re too busy being poor."

Speaking of classism, here’s another related piece about millennials and the absurdity of trying to live on minimum wage these days, among other things.

I’ve never been a bike messenger, but as a woman and an urban cyclist, I resonated with a LOT of this story about street harassment.

Jeff O’Neal at Book Riot wrote an excellent response to David Denby’s pearl-clutching about kids not reading enough “literature” -- e.g. books by white guys.

I’m making my way through Syndicate’s Theopoetics symposium right now, and it is solid.

Lunch Ticket tweeted a link to my essay A Few More Miles this week, which reminded me to remind you that you can read it here if you haven’t yet.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 7

I'm working on my Week 8 recap, which will go live on Patreon sometime tomorrow -- read it as soon as it's published by subscribing HERE.

The Pontoon Boat of Love

This week, we went to Warsaw, Indiana, but by the excitement levels you would think we were headed to Paris. In seriousness, I suppose one can understand the women looking forward to this, at least in theory. You can learn a lot about a person by seeing them in the place they grew up, so going to someone's hometown is bound to either propel a relationship forward or possibly bring it to an end. Still, it’s Indiana. And Ben doesn’t even live there anymore.

Lauren’s one-on-one to start the week seemed like further affirmation of Ben's feelings for her, since she's the one who gets the grand tour of Warsaw. His church, his school, the movie theater where he had his first kiss -- and then, the community center where he used to work with kids. Lauren gets to see him in what appears to be his element, and he gets to test her potential as “wife material” by seeing her with kids. They ended the day at Ben’s favorite dive bar, and the clip of him talking about how great it felt to be hanging out there like this was real life “with his girlfriend” was telling.

In contrast to Lauren, JoJo’s one-on-one date wasn't even in Warsaw. Granted, her date was also totally amazing and completely lost on her, initially. The first sign of excitement we saw was when the Mrs. Higgins Cubs uniform showed up. (Just once I'd like a woman on this show to say, hey, actually it's 2016 and I'm not sure I want to change my name. Just once!) Over dinner at Wrigley Field they had one of those classic Bachelor “vulnerable” conversations in which no one says anything specific, and they both feel so much closer as a result. I honestly can’t decided whether I think JoJo will stick around past hometown dates or not.

Amanda, Becca, and Caila’s group date was rough from the start. As Ben explained how the day would go and that only one of them would get to spend the evening with him, all of their faces were so sad. Ben didn't seem to like the situation anymore than the ladies, and yet by this point he must already know to an extent what he wants to do. His body language with Becca said everything about his intentions (or lack thereof), and he just had a second one-on-one with Caila last week. Unless he's really not feeling it with Amanda (but he clearly is) he needs more time with her, and she with him.

Amanda gets the rose, and with it, a trip to...McDonald’s. Now, I love McDonald's. I know I probably shouldn't,'s oddly delicious, not to mention cheap. So, I'm definitely with Ben when it comes to McDonald's breakfast for dinner. But not on a date with someone you've only just started seeing. Clearly this is just a money grab on ABC’s part, a little extended advertising for McDonald's as they try to return to favor and financial success. I couldn't help musing though, that besides the dive bar where Ben took Lauren, this might be the only thing to do in Warsaw after dark. No disrespect to the small town. Heck, my friends and I used to walk to Dunkin Donuts for a wild night in Kalamazoo, MI, so I'm not one to judge. (We also shot off a lot of bottle rockets, purchased in Ben's home state of Indiana, so I feel some small Midwestern kinship here.)

I may be right about the lack of things to do, but the town (slash ABC) came together and threw a carnival just for Ben and Amanda. Amanda and Lauren, as far as I’m concerned, are the two who really got the hometown treatment.

Well, until Emily’s one-on-one. Can we just note that this poor woman had to endure TWO two-on-one dates? I am confident that is a first in 20 years of The Bachelor. But beyond noting that, there's not much to say about this date besides perhaps that it was kind of a dick move on Ben's part to introduce her to his parents when surely he already knew where the day was headed. One-on-one dates can be an affirmation of existing feelings, or they can be a last ditch effort to see if there's anything worth hanging on to, before sending a woman home without the agony of a rose ceremony. In this case, I think Ben relied on his parents to tell him what he already knew. Emily is just too young. Ben wants marriage and children (he says), Emily wants to be… an NFL cheerleader. And, while I don't understand her goals at all, I'm glad she going to go off and pursue them. That's what you should do at 23. Or 33, for that matter.

Ben's mom crying about Ben possibly choosing Emily was the best and worst moment of it all. She was trying so hard to be nice -- a nice Midwestern mom! -- while in so many ways saying, Oh my word Ben, don't mess this up by choosing someone you clearly can't actually marry.

I’m becoming frustrated with Ben’s new tendency to claim he doesn’t know what to do or what he wants. I think what this maybe translates as, rather, is that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. With Becca, he says he didn’t know until moments before what he was going to do, and yet on their date days before he seemed entirely disinterested. Becca herself said she’d felt no affirmation of her feelings that week. Maybe he really is confused, but I think the source of that confusion might have more to do with his desire to make all the women happy at once, to actually be this Perfect Ben, who he can’t actually be, rather than with confusion about his own desires. The teasers for the rest of the season play out the Confused Ben scenario all the way to the final rose, though, so perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Ben is wishing he could bend the rules and continue to date them all until somehow, someday, it magically becomes clear who is really his soulmate.

On that note, I’ll point out that Lauren was the only one not wearing black at the rose ceremony. Oh no. She was wearing white, again. Everyone else appeared to be at the funeral of their relationship with Ben.

The teaser for next week promised high drama, mostly in the form of protective fathers and brothers, and Ben himself will be on trial as potential step father to Amanda’s kids. Hometowns are usually rough for the women, but I think in this case they’ll be equally rough for Ben. He thinks he’s ready for parenthood, but honestly, who is ever ready for that? And one date isn’t actually going to give Amanda, Ben, or the kids, a full sense of what life together would be. Nonetheless, I think that’s what I’m most looking forward to seeing in Week 8. That, and JoJo’s older brothers lecturing Ben about brainwashing women. I usually expect the drama to die down in the final weeks of the season, but Pontoon Boat Ben delivers.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 6

Here is last week's recap, dear readers. As always, I'd like to remind you that if you like reading these columns you can subscribe (and read them a week sooner!) via my Patreon page. With subscriptions starting at $1/column, you can read a whole month's worth for roughly the cost of a latte. I hope you'll consider it. Click HERE to join the club.

Deep Intellectual Things Are My Jam

This was a big week for Bachelor Nation, as we saw what was threatening to turn into one of those seasons with a boring march to the final rose be infused with some unexpected drama by a herd of swimming pigs.

But first, back to the beginning, that is, the end of the week five rose ceremony, when Ben had his little heart to heart with Olivia, while everyone speculated that he might take away her rose. I was convinced from the beginning that he wouldn’t. Ben’s approach seems to be to take what he hears from other women seriously, but also to trust his own experiences one-on-one. Every time he’s heard a rumor about one of the women he has immediately gone to her and talked about it, as we’ve seen with Jubilee, Olivia, and later in this episode, Lauren B. He takes the warnings seriously, but perhaps he’s maintained enough of his sense of normalcy -- and all the ways this scenario is not normal -- to know that the dynamics between the women are fraught, and that they might not be showing their best selves to one another. In that sense, I am glad Ben didn’t take the rose away. But as they talked, and Olivia made her first play of the “I’m smarter than the other women” card, I bristled. On behalf of intelligent women everywhere, I’d rather not have the token smart girl on The Bachelor be someone who quit her job to find a husband and allegedly spent $40,000 on clothes for the process. I hope real life Olivia is smarter than Reality TV Olivia, but I have my doubts. More on that later.

There’s not much to say about Ben and Caila’s date, other than that picking her for a second one-on-one was both an indicator of concerns that Ben wanted a chance to work out, and in the end, a confirmation that yes, he’s very interested in her. People have made a lot of their convoluted conversation about feelings over dinner, but it sounded pretty awkward and human to me, especially given the messed up situation in which this date is occurring. Cailia being unsure of her own feelings after six weeks as part of Ben’s entourage makes perfect sense to me.

Things picked up on the group date. I love this date, because it is SO BEN. He’s such a beautiful man, quite a catch in the stereotypical sense, and yet he can be so clueless, it’s adorable. He really thought this particular group of ladies would love swimming with feral pigs, feeding them hot dogs. Oh, Ben.

JoJo summed the day up best: “Like a bar in Dallas, there are pigs everywhere.”

By evening, Leah started to implode, and of all people, she decided to try to throw Lauren B. under the bus. Leah needed to go home for her own mental health if going after someone who appears to be getting along with everyone, and who Ben so clearly adores, seemed like a way to endear herself to him. When she started primping after the group date to go over to Ben’s hotel room, I thought she was going to do what women usually do in that scenario on this show: share some secret part of herself in effort to prove her vulnerability, and then make out for a while. But no! The implosion continues! All that time primping, only to reiterate her concerns about Lauren B. Bye, Leah.

At this point, Ben broke out the vague religious language again, hearkening perhaps to John’s gospel:  "I'm praying for some light in this, because right now it just feels like a lot of darkness." That might just be the hurricane blowing in off the coast, Ben.

The two-on-one date was predictably awful, despite an outcome that pleased most viewers (myself included). The indignity of directly pitting two women against each other in this scenario is self explanatory, I think. Yes, the whole show is a competition, but it rarely is quite so head-to-head as the dreaded two-on-one date with a single rose. These always make for some of the most awkward viewing of the season, but in this case Olivia took it to another level for me. She started this episode playing the intellectual card to try to set herself apart from the other women, and now she continues, talking about how she likes to read about religion and politics. Fair enough. Ben, as he is wont to do, follows up with questions about what she’s been thinking, about these epiphanies she’s supposedly had in recent weeks. Her response? “I’m in love with you.”

Hey Olivia, I don’t actually think that counts as a new insight into religion or politics.

I completely lack any sort of abstract writerly distance on this one, as most of my readers surely know. Heck, I wrote a master’s thesis, in theology, on love, and suffice it to say I found this whole interaction offensive to actual intellectual women everywhere. Even if Olivia is smart -- and I’d assert that some of these women are smarter than they are portrayed as, beginning with Emily, who is waiting down the beach -- to use that intelligence to insult other women is low indeed. Finally, telling someone you’ve never had a real date with you love him is pretty much the opposite of intelligent. That’s not love, that’s delusion. Or maybe that’s my bias against romantic hogwash talking. Maybe there exist brilliant women who fall in love at first sight.

Whatever Ben thinks of Olivia’s attempts to present herself as an intellectual, in the end he sends her home because he doesn’t love her back. Good ol’ level headed Ben.

We’ve now entered the Canceled Cocktail Party portion of the season. There were no surprises in the rose ceremony, though I think the producers definitely wanted us to think Ben might actually send Lauren B. home. The most interesting thing about the final minutes of this week’s episode were the teaser scenes for the rest of the season. Often times these clips make things seems far more dramatic than they turn out to be in reality (the efforts last season to make it appear as if Chris Soules was actually considering choosing Becca when he was so obviously dead gone on Whitney are a good example). This time I think we might get a bit more of the promised drama, though. On The Right Reasons podcast, after Ben was chosen as Bachelor, Juliet mused that he is so poised, so together and controlled, that he might not be successful in finding a partner (short or long term) on the show. In contrast, what seems to be happening is that to the extent that he’s letting go and getting caught up in the narrative, his own emotions may get the best of him. He’s not prepared to have to break up with women he cares about every single week. He doesn’t know how to be a heartbreaker. He never imagined, I suppose, that he might actually “fall in love” with multiple women -- yet in the way this show, and indeed our wider culture, define “love” it’s no surprise at all that he has. Ben himself probably began this show with a very different idea of the love he seeks than what the show can actually promise him. Manufactured romance, glitz and glamour and impossibly beautiful women will of course produce the kinds of emotions we so often call love. But Ben has always seemed to want something other than that, and even if he thinks he’s found it by the end, I have trouble believing it will last. I don’t think he’ll join the ranks of Sean and Catherine Lowe and other Bachelor Royalty.

Then again, maybe that’s just me getting caught up in the show, too, and my own idea of Ben. That’s what the producers want, after all. For us to believe in a certain manufactured version of Ben, the perfect man. I dare say they are succeeding, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind them.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Link Roundup!

I read some great stuff this week, friends. Enjoy:

Hands down my favorite thing I read this week was Laurie Penny’s “Maybe You Should Just Be Single.” Penny is one of my favorite writers, and this piece was so on point I am about to scurry off to read it again right this minute.

Summer Brennen took 44 unread issues of the New Yorker on vacation with her, and the results are both hilarious and insightful.

I just finished Season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle. I highly recommend the show, in addition to this essay about it in the LA Review of Books.

Kate Bowler’s “Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me” is heartbreaking, and beautiful.

In case you missed it, Apple’s Customer Letter about the FBI’s demand that they create a “backdoor” into the iPhone.

In case you needed a reminder not to write for the Huffington Post, read their UK editor’s comments about why he is proud that they expect writers to work for free.

Watch John Oliver break down voter ID laws.

Did you hear about I’m not saying I’m joining (see above from Laurie Penny), I’m just saying it’s got to be better than Tinder.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Link Roundup!

Happy Friday, y'all. Here's your Femmonite approved recommended reading/viewing/etc, just in time for the weekend.

I should probably just have a Rebecca Solnit link of the week every week. Here she is on The Case of the Missing Perpetrator.

LitHub has Valentines of Badly Drawn Authors and they are wonderful.

I think that, regardless of who you’re voting for in the primary, this essay from a young feminist woman who is voting for Bernie is an important read.

For Ash Wednesday: “40 days — time set aside, not for a great purpose, but for a kind of purposelessness, a time for paying attention to our mundane desires, our ordinary longings, the appetites that are so normal to us that we don’t think twice about them. During Lent, we pose questions to our life, to this flesh of ashes, of earth: What is this body that God has created, my body? And how can it be that God loves it, this piece of earth, this clay, this dust?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 5

I know you're thinking, "Meghan, this is week six of the show, not week five." Well, Patreon subscribers read these posts sooner, so if you're impatient, you should join them!

Villains Gotta Vill

This week we had our first Early Morning Wake-Up Call Date, one of my personal favorite Bachelor traditions. It’s a totally gimickey play on the idea that the women look best without their makeup and that every guy wants the low-maintenance girl-next-door thing, even though the rest of the time they’re all about the fancy, made-up, conventional plastic beauty model. But I still love it, because the women’s reactions are priceless. Perhaps I should feel bad about how embarrassed half of them are to be seen looking totally normal, but mostly I just like finding out who is chill enough to not freak out. Not surprisingly, Amanda took it all in stride. Who knows, maybe she keeps her make-up routine fairly simply ordinarily anyway, what with being a single mom of two (though I’m obviously imposing my own stereotype there), but whatever the reason, I liked that she didn’t freak out. Lauren H., on the other hand, totally lost it, and it was incredible. The best part was Ben’s attempt at calming her: “It’s okay, I wear a retainer at night too.” We know you do Ben, with those perfect pearly whites.

Beyond the dramatic early start, Amanda’s date felt eerily familiar. Waking before sunrise to go on a balloon ride -- we’ve never seen that before.

Oh wait, just kidding, that is exactly what Chris Soules and Britt did last season.

We got to listen in on some more personal conversations between Ben and Amanda about her past marriage, and learn that -- conveniently for the producers -- her ex was a real jerk. Beyond that, not a terribly exciting date.

But oh, the spanish class and cooking group date delivered on the drama. This is the second time Ben has taken the ladies to school, and I can’t say they scored much higher this time around, but we did get to see Jubilee drop some truth when they role played.

Ben: “Te amo”
Jubilee: “You said that to the last four girls.”

What?! HE DID.

The other women were, of course, offended by Jubilee’s logic and humor. A foreshadowing of things to come. But first, the cooking portion of the date! Now, I am all about cooking on dates, especially because, as a woman, I’d like to know whether a guy is totally helpless when it comes to feeding himself, much less cooking for me, sooner rather than later. If we end up together I need to know whether we’re destined for a life of take-out, because I am definitely not cooking every night. But besides that, cooking together is fun.

Cooking in teams of two on a date with ten people, however, is not fun. And cooking because some chef told you that a woman who can cook is ready to get married is really really not fun.

So, this date was destined for failure. The main highlights for me were that, first, Olivia’s dish was awful, and second, JoJo said “Ben already tasted my taco” like she had NO IDEA how that was gonna end up sounding.

The evening portion of the date was rough. For one thing, Ben went off with Lauren B. (who of course wore a white dress again) for what was apparently long enough to really get the other ladies worrying -- who knows how long it actually was, since we get the edited depiction, but considering they left the building so that they couldn’t be interrupted it’s not surprising that things had gone sour by the time they got back.

And then, we had to say goodbye to Jubilee, and all of our hearts broke. I think Ben handled things well insofar as, when she asked him a frank question he gave a frank answer, and broke things off. And yet it was so frustrating, knowing how all the factors of the way the show works are bound to cause most any normal human woman to pull back. So, I wished things couldn’t have been different. It was tough to watch what was, in my mind, the first real breakup of the season, Ben said goodbye to someone he’d actually come to care about, who cared for him, too. From here on out I think the show, as usually happens, will get more difficult to make fun of. Manufactured though the situation may be, everyone is inevitably developing real feelings, and people are going to get hurt.

In comparision, Lauren H.’s fashion date was...boring. They tried on some clothes, they strutted in a fashion show, Lauren expressed that she literally never walks, apparently. (I’m not sure how exactly one gets through daily life without walking once in awhile, but maybe she has super powers.) Over dinner, Lauren wanted Ben to know more about who she is, so she told him how her last boyfriend cheated on her, and I now believe that one of the requirements for being cast on the show is that you’ve been recently cheated on. Heaven forbid anyone’s relationship ended because she just decided she didn’t want to be with the guy for one reason of another -- that wouldn’t indicate that she’s Serious about Love and Commitment. No no, she wanted him to be the one, surely, but he was a lying jerk, so it ended. Now Nice Guy Ben has helped her to “open up” again.

This might sound harsh, but: If the most interesting thing about you is that someone cheated on you once,’re not very interesting.

The biggest drama of the cocktail party was obviously Olivia, who got the rose on the group date. As viewers we’ve been frustrated with Olivia for weeks now, but we haven’t gotten much sense of how the other women perceive her. Certainly none of them have been angry enough to risk confronting Ben about it and coming across as the one who doesn’t play well with others. But this week Olivia crossed a line. In her interviews, she’d already made comments about Amanda’s kids, and how they were clearly an indicator that Ben would want to send her home (which...what? Has she MET Ben? He’s like Mr. I Want to Be a Dad). But at the cocktail party, in response to a story Amanda was telling, Olivia quipped, “That sounds like an episode of Teen Mom.”

Not only Amanda, but all the other women just looked at her in disbelief. Did she really not realize how insulting that came out? First off, let’s not hate on teen moms, but also let’s face it that referencing that show is not something a person does to indicate, “Wow, I really admire how you embraced motherhood at a young age and have built a loving, stable home life for your daughters.” Nevermind that Amanda was in her early 20s when she had her kids.

In the end it was Emily who first approached Ben about what was going on, though Amanda spoke with him too. And this was where Emily -- despite being only 22 -- really started to impress me. As she prepared to be framed as “that girl” who brings up drama, since that’s usually what happens to the woman who brings up stuff like this, she was blunt. Olivia is a bully, and Ben needs to know. “If it offend him, it offends him,” she said. In other words, if Ben can handle knowing the real Olivia, that’s Ben’s problem, not Emily’s. I freaking love her. (But also, Emily, maybe don’t get married at 22? I feel like there are just so many amazing things you could do that getting married now might hinder.)

Now. I don’t actually believe that Ben would take Olivia’s rose away. I think she’s going to cry to him about how she’s “learning a lot about herself” in this process (because when you hurt other people it’s really compassionate to make the situation all about YOU, Olivia) and he’s going to trust her. For at least one more week. But maybe longer.

My question is, will Ben Higgins pull a Ben Flagnik and choose the villain? Pick up some extra bubbly for next week, friends, it’s getting real in Bachelor Nation.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Link Roundup!

I’ve decided to go with “roundup” as the official Femmonite spelling, FYI. Now, on to this week’s recommended reading...

I finished Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. Yes, I am still obsessed. However, I’m taking a break from Ferrante this weekend in favor of the just released The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating for...well, a while. But not as long as Chee himself, given that it took him more than a decade to write.

Speaking of Alexander Chee, here’s a delightful interview he did with The Millions.

This is my favorite response to the CDC’s sexist proclamations about women and alcohol.

You need Haikus With Hotties in your life. They're delightful for obvious reasons, but also poignant in the way the project addresses diversity in pop culture and media representation.

This piece from Dissent magazine is a thorough explanation of a variety of factors relating to why we are where we are with respect to the economics of art.

Yoga for Writers. I’m especially fond of the Form Rejection Pose.

Sign up for The Syndicate Weekly right now and you get a free PDF of their most-read symposia. If you’re a theology person, this is a tremendous resource.

Finally, in case you missed it, I'm still writing a column about The Bachelor, and you can still subscribe.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Bachelor Recap: Week 4

As always, you can subscribe to my Patreon here -- if you enjoy these posts, I hope you'll consider it.

Virgins and Sex Panthers

In week four of his tenure as The Bachelor, Ben Higgins started off the week with a one-on-one date with JoJo. The only interesting part of this date was the first 5-10 minutes, that is, everything that happened on the rooftop helipad.

The prevalence of helicopter dates on The Bachelor is one of my least favorite tropes for a few reasons, all of which come down to the fact that I don’t really understand why it’s considered romantic. Extravagant, maybe, but romantic? First of all, you have to wear those headset things, so they can’t really carry on an ordinary conversation. Second of all, at least half the women go on a helicopter date every season. There’s nothing creative or thoughtful about the gesture of a helicopter date when you know Ben goes on one every single week. The bar is set so low for romance on this shows, guys. (So low in fact that the women went crazy when they arrived in Las Vegas, over a sign that was addressed to all of them, and probably wasn’t even Ben’s idea. Romance? Really?)

All of this to say that Helicopter Date Gone Wrong is one of my favorite moments so far this season. Picture it: Ben and JoJo stand on the rooftop and raise a glass of breakfast champagne. JoJo pretends she doesn’t know a helicopter is coming. They smile, they repeat how excited they are to spend the day together, and turn as the sweet sound of their chopper chariot draws near.

And then -- the table with the champagne blows over, into them, unable to withstand the power of the helicopter’s giant propellers. Nothing like a healthy dose of reality with your “reality” television. But oh, it gets better. When your romantic helicopter date gets off to a rough start, there’s not much else to do besides kneel next to a toppled table and make out, obviously. That’s how I like to start my first dates whenever possible, especially if there are a bunch of other women watching from the windows above.

Here we have a revelation. Olivia apparently has never seen an episode of The Bachelor before, and is shocked -- shocked! -- to see Ben kissing another woman. It seems she really believed that she was the only one Ben had been kissing. Now, no one likes to see her boyfriend kissing someone else, so fair enough, but it’s what they signed up for in this case, it’s how the show works. It’s the entire premise of the show, in fact. Man dates and makes out with twenty five women, gradually narrowing it down to three he wants to spend the night with, and then he proposes to one. That is The Bachelor. Olivia’s reaction to this new knowledge was a foretaste of things to come in week four.

In truth, I don’t have much to say about the Talent Show group date. It falls into the category of Dates Designed to Humiliate Women Whose Only Goal is to Get Married -- ergo, for the most part they don’t, apparently, have any “talents” because they’ve been focused on becoming Wife Material -- and it fulfilled its purpose with flying colors. Given the way these women throw around the phrase Wife Material (uhg), I just want to know what in God’s name Olivia was thinking. As much as I dislike the way the show, and these women, characterize what does or doesn’t make a woman someone Ben would consider building a life with, who really thinks popping out of a cake and all that implies screams “Marry me!” to the Nice Guy from Indiana? Olivia is starting to crack.

Moving on to Ben’s one-on-one wedding date with Becca, who wants to know if Ben got ordained online in order to conduct those ceremonies? Some of us spent years in seminary to earn that right, Ben. In any case, it what sort of endearing how awkward yet serious he was about the whole thing. I think Ben really does want to get married at the end of this, and in the framework of the show Becca definitely qualifies as Wife Material (sorry, I gag every time I write that).

The most interesting part of this date was the surprisingly frank conversation they had about sex. I still can’t make up my mind what to even think of it. On one hand, since both of them on previous seasons had to discuss their sexual history, and since Becca’s virginity has been a point dragged out again and again in both positive and negative ways, it makes sense that Ben decided to bring it up himself. He must know the other women in the house are gossiping about it, and that Becca knows he knows, and no doubt wonders if he has an opinion on the matter. It’s in keeping with Ben’s character to try to keep drama to a minimum by discussing things openly.

Now, this could have gone badly in so many ways. The virgin/whore dichotomy plays out on this show over and over again. The women who admit they’ve never had sex are mocked by most people and put on a pedestal by a few, and women who are open about their sexual desire and activity, like Kaitlyn Bristowe last season, are slut shamed ruthlessly. Women can’t win in The Bachelor universe when it comes to sex. They’ve always had too many or not enough partners. And yet, no one called Nick a slut for sleeping with Kaitlyn on The Bachelorette, while Kaitlyn meanwhile was dragged through the mud. The double standard is so obvious I feel cliche even writing about it, and yet it’s prevalent enough that it bears pointing out once again. Here’s the thing: whether these women have slept with no one or many people or somewhere in between is ultimately their own choice. If Becca wants to wait until she’s married, well, good luck to her. And if Kaitlyn needed to test things out before getting engaged, well, that too is her decision as a grown woman.

So, when Ben brought it up I wasn’t sure what to expect. On one level, he made it clear that it isn’t an “issue” for him -- which, I mean, if it was he’d be a super duper a-hole so, good work not being a jerk, Ben? -- but also wanted to know if it bothered her that he has a different sexual history. This is in keeping with Ben’s two-way-street approach, and was weirdly refreshing, even if the way he tried to push a religious narrative onto Becca’s choice felt strange. Becca never said (on camera at least) that her commitment had to do with faith -- in fact, when she talks about it to me it always sounds more like a romantic notion of only being with one man, the person she’ll spend forever with, in a Happily Ever After kind of way. But faith is a factor for Ben, and he wanted her to know that he respects that, but that also -- as a person who shares this vague faith -- he has chosen a different approach to sexuality. (e.g. he might respect Becca, but he also respects Caila the Sex Panther.)

It was a weird exchange, but compared to how badly the show usually handles such things it was surprisingly non-cringeworthy. Plus we got a chance to hear Ben use the phrase “jump their bones” in reference to sex.

The last thing I want to tackle this week is the two-on-one date with Emily and Haley, aka “The Twins.” Ben tells us how dating sisters has been difficult, and then decides to do something that makes it even more difficult: he takes them out together. Ben is playing into the twin trope. The best thing to do if you really want to get to know them as individuals is to treat them as individuals and take them out separately, a fact that Haley points out to him during their one-on-one time. She basically says, “Dude, we’re not the same person.”

“I wish there was a playbook for dating sisters,” Ben sighs.

Here’s the playbook: DON’T DO IT.

Even commentary on Twitter played into the trope ABC was so clearly playing with in having twins on the show, as people made jokes about how they still couldn’t tell them apart, and asked if Ben really even knew who he was sending home. In reality, if you were paying attention, it’s been pretty clear where this was headed. Emily has had way more camera time, and she’s the more outgoing twin, thus her personality is more conducive to the fast paced reality show form of dating than the more reserved Haley. I was 0% surprised he chose to let Haley go this week, and if you didn’t see it coming, well, perhaps you made the mistake of assuming they’re the same person, and that’s on you, dear readers.

The final cocktail party of the week was the typical montage of kissing and checking in with the women, with the notable highlight of Ben reassuring Jubilee, who noted again that she’s “complicated” and not confident in her status on the show, to which Ben responded, “But do you know that that’s a good thing to be?” Swoon. But despite what he says, I’m not sure Ben is as ready for complicated as he thinks he is.

Going into the rose ceremony I know we all hoped Olivia was going to be heading home, especially when she informed us that she “reads a lot of romance novels where everything comes together.” It wasn’t really surprising that she stuck around though. This week was awkward, but most of Olivia’s worst side Ben has yet to see. But next week! Oh, the teasers for next week are so promising. The time has nearly come for us to say goodbye, Olivia.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Roundup! Or is it Round Up? Round-up?

Seriously though, I can never figure out the proper way to spell roundup/round up/round-up. Spell check is fine with all of them.

In any case, my computer is sick, so I haven’t been on the internet much this week (don’t get me started on how completely reliant on technology my entire career has become). Ergo, a short round-up of what I’ve been reading this week…

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. Yes, I’m obsessed with Ferrante. But if you start reading her work you’ll (probably) see why.

This is what my little sister does for a living. She is brilliant and talented, and her students sure are lucky to have her. (And I think they know it!)

“Girlfriend, Mother, Professor?” from The Stone blog at the NYT. “The problem is that we, as a culture, don’t really know what a female professor is supposed to be. The archetypal professor is decidedly male — rumpled tweed jacket, argyle socks, bushy beard, pipe — and even if it were an option not much in this aesthetic is terribly appealing to a cisgender woman like me. In my more optimistic moments I try to see this cultural void as an opportunity — I’m lucky enough to have the chance to avoid falling into age-old stereotypes and to invent new, more appropriate roles. But most of the time it just feels like a desert. Feminists have been telling us for a very long time that women in positions of authority find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Too assertive or confident and they’ll call you a “bitch.” Too passive or self-deprecating and they’ll think you’re a doormat and unfit to be taken seriously.” I have an personal essay coming out this winter on a similar topic. Look for it in the gender issue of Rhubarb magazine.

Kate Gavino's The Jeff Goldblum Scale of Anxiety over at Catapult is quite possibly my favorite thing of the whole week. I love Gavino's work in general, and I too am an anxious person. Enjoy this, and check out her book, Last Night's Reading. Every page is a delight.