Vacation Ends, and a Word on Forgiveness

Dear Reader,

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Jackson, WY, next to my BF for lyfe, Leslie. We’re beginning our road trip back to Chicago today, and making a few fun stops on the way. I’m not telling you where we’re going, just in case you’re creepy and want to follow us, but if all goes according to plan, we’ll be back in the Windy City by Thursday.

Pictured: Heffa and Beezy, together at last.
Pictured: Heffa and Beezy, together at last.


The family I nanny spends the month of July at a Jewish Summer Camp. I can’t overstate how much I miss them, and I’m so excited to see them when they get home next Sunday. But no matter how much one loves their job, one must get at least a little sad and nostalgic to bid the Fatherland goodbye and return to real life. Let me tell you a little about my trip.

On the way to Utah, I called my brother, Matt, and asked him to prep a bed for me. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Totally.” Great, thought I. I’ll actually have a place to sleep this time. Congratulating myself on thinking ahead, I sped forward along I-80, feeding myself and Lois our combined body weight in Cheetos, and listening to the Grapes of Wrath on CD.

When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, I was greeted enthusiastically. Lois immediately bullied the other dogs into submission, and I was pointed in the direction of my bed. My “bed,” as it turns out, was a carefully constructed row of three couch cushions on the floor, with a pillow placed on the northernmost cushion. “Um,” said I, “I’ll just take the couch.”

I basically spent the next two weeks on the couch, drinking Utah beer, watching Mad Men, and eating corndogs and other healthful foods prepared by the little bros. I did get off the couch for a few nights of rabble rousing with old college pals, and I went to a lovely wedding reception for my old ladyfriend Alexa. We all got good and drunk, shot a terrible game of pool, and talked late into the night. It was swell.

Growing up, my grandparents had a cabin in Island Park. It was built on a forest preserve, so Grandpa was always yelling at us for nailing forts out of the trees and trampling the grass down too much, but it was one of those building blocks for good kid memories. After we all came to live with my Dad, he began renting a cabin in Island Park every other year or so, and this year was a lucky year!

Thankfully, my family sees vacations the way that I do: an opportunity to sit on my ass, have a smoke with coffee in the morning while I appreciate the scenery, catch up on sleep, read, eat, drink beer, burn shit, and otherwise get fat. So that’s what we did. Sure, we went to Yellowstone, but Old Faithful is basically Old Hat after all these years. After our amazing-slash-awful hike to Union Falls a couple of years ago, we played it safe and preserved ourselves from overexertion in the form of aerobic exercise of any kind.

And then, like we do every time we go to Island Park, we drove down to Jackson, and blew way too much money on a once-a-year meal with such excellent food and wine that it nearly makes me weep just to think of it (I got roasted duck boob, and gnawed the bones of Dad’s Leg-o-Lamb. Cakebread Cabernet. Superior old fashioneds. Cue weeping).

So here I sit in the hotel room, slightly hungover, simultaneously dreading and looking forward to the drive home. It’s sure to be filled with me vehemently advocating for Bernie Sanders and Leslie listening patiently, even though she’s heard it all before. She’s a hell of a friend. I hope you all have a Leslie in your life.

On a more serious note, I got a message today from somebody I haven’t thought about for a very long time. It doesn’t do anyone service to tell the story here, but a long time ago, in college, I had a friend who did some awful things. Not just to me, but to everyone around them. Most, but not all, of these things came in the form of lies so big and fat that, in retrospect, it’s almost easy to chide myself for believing them. But believe I did, and when the facade eventually came crashing down, I invited this person in no uncertain terms to never involve themselves in my life again.

Then I unconsciously set about the process of forgiving him. It look a long time. Sometimes I could ponder on it, detached enough to wonder what would drive anyone to do the things he did. On those days, I felt pity and empathy, and sorrow. Other days, I was still so angry about everything that I had to distract myself just to keep my heart rate from skyrocketing. (Side note: About a year ago, I found a can of corn in my brother’s room that had a massive dent in the side. Apparently, in a fit of rage about this person’s obscene bullshit, I had thrown the can at the brick wall in the basement. It hit the wall so hard it dented halfway through the can and my brothers kept it, although I must say it hasn’t been an effective reminder to them about what happens when Lizrage breaks loose.)

The process of forgiving is a funny thing. You almost have to forgive yourself to forgive the other person – forgive yourself for hating them, for hating yourself for allowing yourself to be hurt by them, for going through the seemingly endless cycle of anger, hurt, resentment and still not quite coming out on the other side.

But, at some point, you realize that you’re not doing yourself any good by not letting go. You certainly aren’t getting back at them. And life continues to go on, regardless of what this person did. At some point, you realize that most of the time people hurt you, it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. You begin to truly experience empathy for them. And then, maybe one day, maybe over the course of many days, you realize that you are breathing easy again. Thinking of that person doesn’t catch your breath painfully in your chest, and you don’t want to throw canned corn full-throttle at brick walls anymore. You’ve forgiven them.

So anyway, this person wrote to me to apologize and ask me to forgive them. And because I know you read my blog, person, and because I said some really awful things about you to a lot of people who read my blog, I just want to say that you are fully forgiven. You were a long time ago. I still think of you from time to time, wondering where you are and what you’re up to. Sometimes I’ve even asked mutual friends if they know anything about you. I’ve wondered if you’re alive, if you’re happy, if you’ve learned how to love yourself enough to be honest with everyone else. I’ve wondered if I’ll ever hear from you again, or whether you’d remain this occasional figure in the dusty vestiges of my alcohol-reduced college memories.

Everything that happened during that year was a period in both of our lives that caused huge amounts of growth (I guess I can’t speak for you, but it certainly pushed me to be better in ways I didn’t even know I needed to.) To not forgive you would be to forget all of the wonderful times we shared together – convincing other people that we weren’t in love, reading each others’ writing, eating ramen, bitching about Mormons, and drinking boxed wine into the night.

I Facebook stalked you a little bit. You’re married. You look amazing. I’m happy for you. And you are forgiven, you dumb little shithead.

Day The Last

Lois and I have been talking tonight. We’ve been doing that a lot this week, what with getting ready to move and reminiscing on our first home in Chicago – really, the only home Lois can remember. Because our conversations have been so touching and poignant, I thought I should share.

Stage: Me, sitting in bed, drinking wine. Lois laying on the floor, pointedly staring at my crotch area.

Lois: “You know, when we first moved here, you mostly ate Ramen and eggs when we were at home. I noticed because the only time I truly pay attention to you is when you’re eating.

Me: You’re a bitch, but you’re right. I didn’t have much money for a long time, although I had these fabulous friends who had me over for dinner here and there. I guess you missed that.

Lois: That makes you the bitch. Where were my leftovers? Anyway, those friends donated a lot of furniture, which I promptly chewed. I guess that’s justice and democracy in our modern world for you.

Me: Fair enough. Have you seen the stairs at the new place? You know, the ones that lead from the downstairs to our new bedroom, that are really steep and twisty?

Lois: Yes, and I have to say, I feel like it’s a plot to keep me out of the bedroom. I should also say that, in all honesty, I think Ulises put you up to this. I like that guy, but I hate how he keeps me from sleeping in the bed. You’ll probably despise me for this, but Christ, you’ve lost a lot of backbone with him. You know?

Me: Uh-huh. I could blame him, but you’re right. I acquiesce to his requests. Your dander makes him stuffy, and you can sleep on the floor. He can’t.

Lois: Debatable. There’s these things called Benedryl and Kleenex. Also, when you guys are having fun wrestling and jumping around and wiggling in bed, and I try to join in, and you seriously kick me away like I just peed on you? It’s extremely rude. And the floor is fine; you could at least talk to him about switching nights with me. Like joint custody, but more important.

Me: You can’t join us for coitus, Lois. No matter how much I love you.

Lois: *deep sigh* Aaaanyway…

Me: So. This is our last night here, you know. Just you and me.

Lois: Yeah. I think if I understood what was going on, I’d be feeling a little nostalgic. Instead, I’m just looking at all the stacked up boxes and feeling confused. Also, wondering if I could poop behind them and whether you’d notice.

Me: I’d find it eventually.

Lois: Yes, but you couldn’t punish me because by then I’d have no idea how it got there.

Me: Can we just focus on what’s going on right now? I’m really going to miss this place. I’m going to miss Rogers Park. I might cry.

Lois: Please do. I love to lick your salty tears.


Lois: What?! I’m going to miss it here too. I love running out into the lake, but not too deep, then into the tennis court, and the tracking all that shit into the house. But seriously, I love this neighborhood. I know I was born in Idaho and that we lived in Utah when I was but wee, but I can’t really remember that. I also can’t really remember yesterday, but that’s besides the point.

Me: You’re right. We sure have been through a lot together. You’ve really been there for me during some tough times, girlfriend.

Lois: Yup… … … Say, you haven’t got any food on you, have you?

Me: No.

Lois: Uh-huh. Okay. Well, I’ll tell you what. Take me with you to this new place. Feed me every night, and you might think about feeding me in the morning, but only if you want. Also, keep me around when you have kids. And sneak me scraps here and there. Even if I can get up those spiral stairs at first, pretty soon I’ll be too old and fat to get up there.

Me: Me too. My knees have really hurt a lot this week.

Lois: Here, let me stare at you to show you how sorry I am. Oh look, there blows a tumbleweed of my hair.

Me: The first chapter of our Chicago adventure is over, Lois. On to the new apartment. Oh – Did I tell you the new place has a washer and dryer? Also, a garbage disposal, a parking spot, and a dishwasher?

Lois: I’m going to sleep.

Me: I love you Lois. More than Chicago and dishwashers and parking spots. Basically as much as I love Ulises.

Lois: Food now, or it isn’t true. Can I just point out that he has yet to give you a foot massage, and yet I chew your feet through the blankets whenever you kick my face? Whenever you let me on the bed that is……. Where is that guy, anyway?

Me: Overseeing some structural changes at the new place.

Lois: Whatever. Goodnight…

… … … Can I get on the bed?

Me: Sure. Get on up here. Goodnight, Lois.

Lois: ZzzzZzzzZzzz

We Have Nothing To Hide – The LDS’s announcement on blacks and the Priesthood

A year ago, the LDS Church officially released a statement entitled “Race and the Priesthood.” Interestingly, although I follow trends in the Mormon community fairly closely, I just barely came across it. I’m sure it’s been discussed repeatedly by those who follow the Church more closely than I, but I find it interesting that there was been very little public discussion on the matter.

Interesting, not because I’m surprised at Mormons’ general lack of giving a shit about their shady history; interesting because, just as they did with the release on the information that Joseph Smith did practice intensive polygamy, the Church did it, as it were, in the dead of night. Quietly, with most of their constituency’s focus on Christmas and the lovely MoTab concert and the pretty Temple Square lights. If any Mormons paid attention, they’d surely forget it quickly.

The Salt Lake Tribune discussed the race publication it only a few days after its release. It took the Church-owned Deseret News six months to talk about it. In June, they finally published a ridiculously biased announcement – oops, I’m sorry, news article – that claimed LDS blacks and scholars cheered the release! In an excellently staged PR move, they gave a “special citation” to one light-skinned black man named Darius Grey, who helped write the Church’s piece. Translation: Taking a leaf straight from Fox News, the LDS Church picked a token black guy, had him help write the statement, and then gave him a fucking award for it. Well gee, if one of the people who helped write it was black, then it must be true! Yippee!

“How else could you feel but great?” That’s a quote from Don Harwell, president of the church’s Genesis Group for black Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. “They’ve renounced the silliness that blacks were fence-sitters and less valiant (in the premortal existence), all the things some members had used to justify the racism.”

Oh, right. All that trite silliness, which definitely wasn’t taught by the LDS Prophets and Apostles. Ahem:

“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God… Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.” –Letter of the First Presidency, August 17, 1949

“A black skin is a mark of the curse of heaven…. We understand that when God made man in his own image and pronounced him very good, that he made him white.” The Mormon Church’s Juvenile Instructor, vol 3, page 157

“The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence. Along with all races and peoples he is receiving here what he merits as a result of the long pre-mortal probation in the presence of the Lord….The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing.” –Bruce R. McConkie, 1966

“Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures.” In his book he made clear that the contents were his opinion.” — Joseph Fielding Smith, 1935

“[t]he Negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin. But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fullness of glory in the celestial kingdom.” — Apostle George F. Richards, Conference, 1939

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the White man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” — Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses

Okay. So we really don’t need to go on here. It is clear that the doctrine, whether official or no, of Mormon leaders has been racist – right up until the “restoration” of blacks having the Priesthood in 1978. But in their release, the modern Church suggests that the reason that the blacks didn’t have the Priesthood had nothing to do with poor guidance from the Lord. No, no, no, no. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege,” the Church says, and then goes on to quote the Supreme Court affording privilege only to whites.

So all that nonsense had simply to do with the times. That’s all. And by golly, if you can quote the Supreme Court as being complicit, well it really isn’t the Church’s fault, right?

I apologize for making no attempt to disguise my snarky attitude here. It’s just that, after years of racist policies, enacted by racist men claiming to be the mouthpieces of the Lord, the Church releases bullshit like this and expects that their sudden bout of honesty will make everything okay. There’s no apology. No quoting of Presidents past and asserting their wrongness. There’s no attempt to explain why God, in His all-knowing goodness and kindness, found himself bound by idiot sentimentalism of the time, rather than just being equitable from the very beginning.

No, in fact, they go in the exact opposite direction and quote how inspired they felt, how fucking hard the prophet and apostles in 1978 supplicated our Good God for the opportunity to change the doctrine. To quote Gordon B Hinckley: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren.” The Church wept for joy at the time of the change.

Yay! Here come the good, kind white people, sweating blood in their effort to share blessing of Eternal Consequence with blacks. It’s so sweet, isn’t it?

Maybe I need to take a break before I can write less heatedly on the subject. It might be a little easier if the Church didn’t sweep everything so easily under the rug and actually took ownership of their shitty behavior in years past. But they don’t, and they won’t. This is the closest they get: “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.”

So, there’s that. No apology. No refutation of former teachings. I’m sure this is just another one of those instances where, you know, these Prophets and Apostles are just men, after all. Even though they teach that “We will not and cannot lead you astray.” (That’s M. Russel Ballard just two months ago in General Conference).

Which is it, Mormons? Either your leaders are appointed mouthpieces of God and cannot lead you astray, or they were racist assholes who you should hold accountable and apologize on behalf of. You can’t have your caffeinated beverage, and drink it too.

Oh, wait. You can.  

Determining Whether I’m a Determinist

Mormon doctrine strongly emphasizes the importance of personal agency. In what Mormons call the “Preexistence”, we were all in heaven existing in a non-physical, pre-mortal state. God presented us, his children, with the knowledge that in order to become Godlike ourselves, we must become mortal, endure the trials of having a physical body, and put our faith to the test to prove our worthiness. There were two divergent beliefs, one held by Satan, and the other by Jesus. Satan was of the opinion that God should compel us all to behave whilst down on Earth so that we could all be saved and become like Him. Jesus believed that we should get to choose for ourselves whether we wanted to follow God. God went with Jesus, and Satan got so angry that he revolted, got a third of the pre-mortal population to follow him, and was kicked down to hell. The rest of us (this means you) decided to choose the right and follow God’s plan, effectively putting our agency to use for the first time.

Once you get past the kooky nature of a pre-mortal existence where God permanently disavowed 33.33333∞% of his children for making a bad choice (which, really, if you get into the ethics of it isn’t all that bad), you’re left a very skewed kind of agency. Sure, you get to decide what you want to do. But if you decide wrong, you’re screwed. Sorry. So you really don’t get to decide.

Mormons will say that every action has its consequences. You drive drunk, you kill someone, well, that was your choice and now you will deal with it. You drink coffee and screw someone before marriage, well, damn you to hell. You made your choice and now you’ve got it comin’ to ya.

But if our everyday decisions unilaterally and unequivocally affect our potential for happiness in eternity, do we really have agency? A one-size-fits-all approach to lifestyle, particularly one that finds personal edification in the denial of virtually all physical pleasure, is not only tough to achieve but oddly sadistic. (I think it’s part of the reason that Mormons tend to be so unbelievably fat. Denied virtually ever other pleasure — smoking, coffee, wine, sexual freedom — they often turn to the one unrestricted vice: food. You’ll see morbidly obese people shuffling around Mormon temples, but they’ll be damn proud they have never even so much as sniffed a chai tea latte.)

Perhaps because this was the doctrine that helped shape my early understanding of the world, the idea of agency has always been very compelling for me. We know that one of the factors that most affects employees’ happiness in the workplace is a sense of ownership over their behavior. People are much happier when they feel like they have a choice in what they do. And yet it can also backfire; having too many options can cause us to second-guess or regret our decisions more than if we only had option A versus option B.

So where does an atheist such as myself sit on the topic of agency? Generally speaking, I try to approach my decision making in a fashion that positively affects me only to the extent that it could personally impact someone else negatively. If I wanted a candy bar that you had, I wouldn’t take it. But I would take no ethical issue with stealing that same candy bar from a Wal Mart. It doesn’t mean I would, but that’s the line of thinking. Obviously, it gets more nuanced, but there it is.

But the more I really think about it, I wonder. Do we truly have agency? And I don’t mean it in the “If you really had agency, you could kill someone and have no consequences” type of way. I mean it in a more existential “How much control do we really have over the reasons we make the decisions we do?” I’ll recount the first time I considered this question and began to move towards where I am now.

I’ve always been in great admiration of my brother Mike. Right after me in the kid chain, Mike is about to graduate from the Air Force ROTC with a degree in some complex kind of engineering that I can never remember. He received a coveted pilot slot and has achieved top marks in both grades and physical fitness. Mike’s work ethic is incredible. He’s very bright, and whatever he might lack in intelligence, he makes up for in perseverance and dedication. Mike is also an incorrigible pessimist. It’s not that he has no hope for the future; it’s just that he tends to analyze everything so critically that the negative possibilities perpetually worry him. (Maybe he’ll deny this and I’m about to really piss him off. Tee hee.)

In many ways I’m like Mike, and in many ways I’m not. I have neither his intelligence nor the hyper-rationality that often comes along with big smarts. Having a laid-back, cheery attitude is just easier for me than for him, although Mike’s cynical sarcasm is so much funnier than I could ever hope to be. And it’s not like any of this is a good or a bad thing; it just is. But I remember one night after a lengthy conversation with Mike in which he was sharing some aspects of his life that were very much stressing him out, I thought to myself, I would not be stressed about that. Those things would not bother me in the least. And then I thought about the idea, perpetuated by sickly sweet memes all over the internet. that one has only to choose a positive outlook on life to make everything better. Okay, maybe, but what if, like Mike, simply making that choice doesn’t come naturally? What if some people naturally worry more than others, and that’s not a bad thing, but it just is?

And then I considered whether or not, if he really wanted to, Mike could choose to be perpetually sunny about tough things, assuming that it was useful for him to do so. Knowing Mike fairly well, I would say that no, he probably could not. And that is through no fault of his own. A combination of truly difficult childhood experiences that Mike has valiantly toughed his way through, and a genetic predisposition to worry excessively that very much runs in the family, has made Mike who he is today. I think Mike is great. You’d have to ask him, of course, but he’s happy and successful and I admire him greatly.

But the approach that Mike and I would take to a very similar situation might be very different. We’d each “choose” our reaction, but… would we? Having gone through different childhood experiences, which are totally out of our control, and having a different tossup of genetics, which is also totally out of our control, could Mike and I really choose our reaction to any given circumstance? Sure. But that choice wouldn’t really be our choice. We make decisions because of who we are, and who we are is shaped by the two factors that we cannot control: the ever-battling Nature and Nurture.

Of course, this makes so much of what we believe, especially in America, obsolete. It totally takes away from the “self-made” man (which I believe is a myth anyway, and you can read a great piece about exactly that in Slate by John Swansburg). It strips the pride from the wealthy, the ego from the successful, the shame from the homeless. It shoots down the idea that the only difference between you and me is our strident efforts at bettering ourselves.

It also has tough implications for criminals that I’m still trying to work through. If someone has an impulsive desire to steal – or, to be heavy-handed here, to kill – are they morally culpable for their decision to do so? Could they really decide not to? If so, knowing the consequences for their actions, why wouldn’t they?

Anyway, that’s what I have thus far. More to come.

Was I Raped?

Let’s start with a story.

About six years ago, before I turned 18, I met a guy that we’ll call J. I was in the very beginning of my life post-Mormonism, and the sense that I could do whatever I wanted was setting in full-swing. I started, albeit self-consciously, wearing very short shorts and shirts without sleeves. I began dabbling with alcohol and marijuana (although at the time, I didn’t particularly like either). I cut off all my hair. I started going out late at night. So thus it was that I found myself at a alcohol-free Mormon “standards” nightclub in downtown Salt Lake City. If you had shirts whose sleeves were too short, the staff would provide you with an oversized white t-shirt to cover up your immodesty. The swear words in the lyrics of the music were blurred out. But it was the only club that an under-18-year-old with no connections could hope to sneak into, so we did, and that’s where I met J.

He was a break-dancing, ball-cap wearing Polynesian dude with a disarmingly cute smile and a great sense of humor. I liked him right away. The night we met, we fooled around a bit, exchanged numbers, and parted ways.

The next weekend, J invited me to his apartment. He would come and get me in his car. I’m sure that we exchanged racy messages in between the first and second time we saw each other, but I can’t remember anything specific. I do remember, very specifically, knowing that J wanted to have sex with me, and also knowing that although I definitely saw him as a potential candidate, I did not feel comfortable having sex with him then. I wanted to get to know him better, to feel a little safer. But combined with that was a burning curiosity to know what sex was like. I felt like I was ready to have sex, and I raged with hormones that I’d worked hard to repress during my Mormonism.

Nevertheless, I explicitly told J that I did not want to have sex with him if I came over. I figured if I set up that expectation, then it would be clear and there would be no more negotiating of the subject. Anyone who’s navigated the rough waters of teenage sexuality knows it’s never that simple, but maybe I naively thought we would just “hang out and watch a movie” (which any woman learns in due course is code for “have sex”).  So I went to J’s.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, not much movie-watching was done. J was too intent on taking off my clothes, which if I remember correctly, was done under a “You’re so beautiful, you should just lay next to me in your underwear and we’ll take a nap” sort of strategy. Once we got to that point, all ensuing activity was mostly comprised of J kissing, fingering, and then fucking me, while I lay there fairly inactive. I did not say no. I didn’t push him off. He wasn’t violent, and he wasn’t cruel.

Anyone who’s had sex knows that the first time, under any circumstances, is awkward and often painful. But I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wasn’t wet. I wasn’t turned on. An older, more experience man might have clued into my complete lack of reaction.  Maybe J did know, and he just didn’t care. He didn’t wear a condom, and I didn’t know better than to tell him to put one on. We had sex, twice, and both times he pulled out. Then he fell asleep. I just lay there.

I didn’t say “No.” I didn’t say “Stop.” If I had, I have no doubt that J would have stopped. He wasn’t a jerk, or an insensitive brute. He was older than me by three or four years, and I was under 18, but he wasn’t an old, wise man taking advantage of a young, innocent girl. He was horny, and presented with an opportunity that he knew he had a good chance of successfully taking advantage of. So he did.

When I left, I went home and, feeling the need to get clean of J, took a shower. I felt residual guilt from a life spent in a sexually oppressive religion. I felt excited and proud that I had taken this key step towards adulthood and reclaiming my sexuality from Mormonism (even if I wouldn’t have termed it that way at the time). But I could not decide, even right after the fact, whether I felt violated or not. I have always considered myself a strong, outspoken woman, and I felt sure that if I had not really wanted it, I would have said no. And yet.

I kept the underwear I was wearing that day until Lois ate the crotch out of them a couple of years ago and I finally threw them away. Maybe it stands as some representative of my conflicting emotions that not only did I keep them and wear them regularly, but I did so even though every time I saw them, I remembered their significance and called into question, yet again, whether or not I was raped.

Let me make something clear: I was not, in any way, violently taken advantage of. I wasn’t injured; I wasn’t traumatized. Fortunately, I didn’t get pregnant, and the encounter did neither lasting good nor lasting harm. I had plenty of opportunity to say No, and I think that if I had taken that opportunity, my wishes would have been respected. But I had told him no before I even arrived.

Here’s one more personal story. I go to a nightclub in downtown Chicago with a group of girlfriends and drunkenly bump into a hot Latin hunk who isn’t as drunk as I am. Over the course of the evening, we dance, drink, and I invite him to my home. We screw the bajeezus out of each other. The next morning, when we wake up, I can’t even remember his name.

This is the definition of rape: The unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse. It’s a crime because it causes such emotional trauma to victims. So, here’s the question. In consideration of the events as related, the definition of rape, and the potential consequence of rape behavior, in either of those circumstances, was I raped? Is there an answer? If the answer is yes, would either men deserve prosecution?

I’m not sharing my experience because I think it’s unusual. In fact, I’d bet the substantial sum of my student loan debt that both the scenarios I just shared are very common. And that’s exactly why I’m sharing – illustrating the subtle complexity of rape isn’t as easy as Yes, s/he was raped, or No, s/he wasn’t. But my very common story also illustrates what I believe is the most critical, and yet the most ignored, aspect of the Rape Culture Conversation right now.

Which is this: rapists, would-be rapists, potential rapists, almost-rapists – they are not the trench coat-wearing, around the corner-hiding, scary, violent, horrendous bad guys that the Rape Conversation often paints them to be. Sometimes they are that. But more often, they’re not. And right now, the conversation surrounding rape is taking such a strong victim-versus-predator stance that it becomes unproductive by virtue of its tenacity.

I’m not saying that that stance isn’t necessary. It is, in moderation. It’s absolutely necessary to take any means to evict our victim-shaming mindset and to bring to light sexual abuses and their perpetrators. But in doing so, I think we sometimes look so much to the What, When, and Where of rape and sexual abuse that we overlook the Who, and most importantly, the Why.

For example: Much discussion around rape currently says that when inebriated, people cannot consent and therefore sex with an inebriated person constitutes rape. Perhaps if one person is sober and the other person entirely drunk, the question of rape becomes cut and dry. But my experience is that a situation so simple is usually not the case. So what if both people are equally inebriated? Could they charge each other for rape? Is the man always the rapist because he is the penetrator? After a few drinks, is a woman’s decision to have sex really made incredible enough to call such intercourse rape? If so, when does she become too inebriated to consent? Should every guy who has a decent sense of ethics refrain from sex with a woman who’s been drinking? Does that mean I didn’t purposefully bring that toothsome Latin home, and that he raped me? None of these questions have easy answers, but they need to be asked. So much is at stake if they are not.

So what about J? What about my sexy Latin boy? Much more importantly, what about those horrendous scenarios when women are brutalized by strangers with weapons? And what about everything in between? Who are these guys, these assholes, these evil men who commit atrocious acts of violence against children and women and other men? Well, that’s where it gets complicated.

They’re dads. Husbands. Little brothers.  Best friends. Men who come from traumatizing backgrounds. Men who are previously molested. Mentally ill or unstable men. Sociopaths who have no control over their lack of empathy.  Does this justify their behavior? No, but looking at the motivating factors can begin to explain it – and if we’re really to stop rape, then it means stopping it at its genesis, and that’s much harder than simply telling victims to stand up against their violators and then putting them in jail.

So how do we tackle the problem of rape from the perpetrators’ perspective? There are myriad speculations on why men rape (and yes, I know women rape, but the numbers and reasons are very much different and nowhere near as pervasive). Is it power? Is it really sex? More likely, it’s a complex combination of both of those factors in addition to anger, or mental illness, or past abuse. The reasons are different for different abusers.

This is where I stop. I wish I had more answers, but I’m not a psychologist, a sociologist, or a scientist. I’m not writing this article to offer a solution. I just keep seeing stories on my Newsfeed from friends who are on the Rape Conversation bandwagon, but approach it from a very one-dimensional ‘Fuck those bad-guy rapists and send them all to jail’ kind of way. I don’t think that works. It especially doesn’t work if you read recent conversations on Reddit from so-called “Rape apologists” (some are, some aren’t) who are having a difficult but very important conversation about the stories of rapists from their perspective.

In conclusion: there is no conclusion. Was I raped, either of those times? I don’t think so. I don’t feel like I was. But I’m offering my stories and suggesting to you that, wherever you stand on rape, it’s more complicated than you think. What does or does not constitute rape is sometimes unclear. It depends on individuals and their circumstances. What may constitute rape to one woman may not constitute rape to another. So I’m suggesting is that we rethink the most common denominator of rape – people who we know and love – and figure out why it’s happening and what we can do to stop it. Stop the partisan good-guy bad-guy approach to rape and take what I believe is a much scarier, and yet much braver, approach. These guys are our friends, our neighbors, our partners. The way we behave towards them now will very much impact their behavior in the future.

What do you think?

Thoughts on motherhood and those darling parasites we call “Human Babies”

No, this isn’t going to be controversial. It’s actually probably going to be a little sentimental for my usual flavor, but since my blog seems to be moving in that general direction anyway, bear with me.

I have seven brothers. Six of them are younger than me. Living with them until you’re 22 means a lot of childcare, particularly in the various households we’ve lived under (divorce, custody battles, change of parenting, etc. We’ve done it all).

So there was a significant period of time, particularly from about 18 to 22, where I was pretty sure I didn’t want kids. I was ready to launch off on my own and stop, stop, stop changing diapers, making dinner, picking up socks, making sure everyone was dressed and ready on time, arranging family pictures, sweeping floors of incessant hair and dirt (Lois scrapped that last idea prematurely). God dammit. I was so ready to be on my own. 

So then I left Utah: by and far the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s been over a year and a half, and in some ways I’m lightyears away from the person I was when I first arrived in Chicago. I’m more confidant; less angry; less stressed; more happy. I’ve spent a lot of time fine-tuning my sense of humor, and improving my writing style. I’ve read countless books by new authors and perused all of my favorites. I’ve spent copious amounts of time alone, realized my fingers ache without a piano, fallen in love, and actually spent time missing Utah. I’ve found out all these nifty things about myself and become comfortably comfortable with my family, my past, who I am now, and who I am turning into. 

And who am I turning into? Well, the jury will probably always be out on certain parts of who I am, but I do know a few things with pretty firm certainty. After nearly a year spent in the banking industry, where one is expected to compete, rise through the workforce, and eventually settle into a comfortable position, I realized that being a career-driven 9-to-5er is so not in my bones. Competing against coworkers, teamworking with coworkers, doing what for me is the mundane day-in-and-day-out of office work was nothing less than mental torture. I’ve overcome the idea that working in the restaurant industry is sub-par, and realized that out of all the jobs I’ve had, it’s the one I enjoy the most–particularly in a small, non-corporate entity with invested coworkers, like where I am now. I’ve discovered my introverted tendencies are increasing, and that I need less and less time with friends, that I crave the cherished one-on-one conversations that happen maybe once every month or so. I’ve realized I love Chicago, but I won’t stay out here forever because being around my family is more important to me than anything in the world, and I actually miss the mountain ranges and big open spaces of the west. 

All these things are important, but the biggest change of all has really come about in the last year or so. As I visited libraries, museums, zoos, and parks on my own, I found my inner monologue taking a weird twist–“Hey, look,” I’d say to myself. “That rhinocerous is looking right at us! He has three huge toes!” or, “What do you think we should read next?” or “This is a really strange bug, huh?” I’d be laying in bed on a rainy Sunday morning and imagine a faint pitter-patter of little feet come running down the hall, or the noise of springs popping up and down as a chubby body bounced in bed, letting everyone know “I’M AWAKE! COME GET ME!” Little dudes running around the grocery store caught my rapt attention and earned a goofy smile. Moms pinching their kids in public for misbehaving stimulated an immediate thought salad of, “When I have kids, I will never pinch them. What a fucker.” And then, “My kids will totally say ‘fucker’ on their first day of school.” And then, “Fuck it, my little fuckers will be homeschooled or private schooled because public schools here suck and don’t let you say fucker whenever it’s appropriate.” And then, “No, I won’t use the f-word around my kids or anyone else’s.”

Many–actually, I’d say most–of my high school friends are mommies or planning on becoming mommies soon. I’ve also met a large group of friends here who don’t want kids, and will never have them. I was torn between shedding my prickish opinion of girlfriends who had kids “too early”, and curiosity about what life would be like without kids at all (in honesty, I still am–isn’t any childless individual?). But then, last Christmas Eve, my whole family was around the dinner table and my older brother Sam, and sister-in-law Brook, made an announcement that made my Dad cry and all the rest of us shriek with joy: Grandkid #1. Aris, 17, immediately dubbed the child of unknown sex “Shagnu,” and even though now Shagnu is actually Claire, and Claire is beautiful and perfect and a month and a half old already, we still call her Shagnu because we’re so unbelievably excited to have a baby around again (you can see pictures and read Brooke’s fun blog here).

And I watched Sam and Brooke over the next few months, and I watched my Dad and my other brothers, and I watched my little Lizard heart pretty closely, I thought, Man. That’s really cool. I want that. And when Brooke decided she was going to stay home with Shagnu for the next few years because she didn’t want to miss a moment of her quickly-growing baby, I thought, Man. That is really, really cool. I want that, too. 

And so my magnetic draw to the kids’ section in Barnes and Noble started to make sense. All the books I’ve been saving up for years and years and never could throw away–Dr. Seuss classics, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Little House on the Prairie–started to make sense. My inability to endure the corporate climb, the craving of bedtime snuggles from a warm little body, the draw to make my house full of music and flowers and art and good food–Well, I that’s it. I want kids. 

I want have kids, and I want to be home with those kids, because home is where I like to be. Home is where I do my writing, where I play my piano, where I make dinner and where I come after a day of being around crowds wears me thin. Home is where my good dog is, where my good books are, where NPR plays and dishes clatter and keyboards click. 

Don’t think I think mommyhood is a bed a roses, or that I’m in a particular hurry to get there. I’m fully aware of sleepless nights, of saggy boobs, of neon diarrhea that shoots up the back of the onesie and requires a Hazmat team to clear up. I know that I’m not there yet. But it’s cool to think about, and gives me a interesting take on life direction. Who you date, how to save, what you do with your body–these and a million other things, all seen differently through the lens of prospective motherhood. It’s weird and scary and super nifty. 

And I hope it’s coming my way. Time to find a good therapist. 

She loves me (but she don’t know why)

My mother, the incorrigible humanitarian she is, remains convinced that whatever connection dogs and humans have is based on humans projecting their emotions/expectations/desires on dogs. She seems to firmly believe that dogs are in no way differentiated from the rest of the animal kingdom, and treats them as such. Growing up, any family dog we had was neglected, isolated, and eventually put down when he/she ceased to “behave” properly.


Well, no shit. If you use the same glasses to look at dogs as you do to look at chickens, you’ll end up either blind, or putting down the dogs. Both, most likely. Why? Because dogs are unique. They’re pack animals; they need companionship. They need structure. They’re incredible interpreters of human will, capable of binding themselves permanently to their people much in the same way that lifetime human partners do, of grieving when they lose their family.  Recent research indicates that, rather than being tamed by humans, dogs and humans evolved together, mutually benefitting from each other’s’ independent strengths.


I believe that. As the owner (life partner?) of a big, goofy pup, I totally believe that. Lois, who turned two on Sunday, looks to me like a toddler looks to its mother: an independent, intelligent will, easily manipulated by comfort (read: cuddles and food, mostly food).  But loved, loved, loved, and appreciated nevertheless.


Indeed, dogs (even the smartest ones) seem to mature at about the mental capacity of two year old Homo sapiens. Lois, not the smartest of all canines, may not quite hit the learning curve that her more evolved counterparts do, but she displays common characteristics of young humans nonetheless. A constant need for physical affection. A desire for incessant praise. The need for reward for good behavior, and immediate, reasonable punishment for the bad. A stubborn desire to do whatever the fuck she wants, even if you’re calling her to come, and she looks in your eye, and knows exactly what you mean, and refuses to cooperate. A frustrating tendency to pee on the floor when you least expect it.  But she, especially as she gets older, comes when I call (unfailingly if I hold a piece of string cheese). She knows that I feed her, and when I say, “Want to go outside?!” that a really awesome treat is coming her way.


Once, I read online about dog intelligence tests. There were all these fancy ways to tell how smart your dog was, and just by looking as most of them, I was able to say, “Lois would never be able to do that.” One, however, seemed reasonable and feasible. You can, in theory, take a hand towel and drape it over your dog’s neck. The amount of time it takes them to figure out how to remove said towel corresponds with their intelligence (there was a time limit, I can’t remember exactly). I thought, “That’s easy enough. Let’s try.” I took the kitchen dish drying towel, called Lois close, and carefully draped the towel over her neck. She looked at me. I looked at her. She looked at me some more. I breathed. She breathed more loudly. I said, “Come on, Lois!” She breathed some more. We looked at each other some more. I clapped my hands. She wagged her tail. Then, with rampant abandon, she got bored and threw herself onto the floor with a desperate sigh. The towel remained in place. I snatched it off, shook my head, and poured myself a double shot of whiskey.


Lois has begun to display some of the early signs of hip dysplasia. Her back legs have ever so slightly begun to bow outwards like a lanky cowboy’s. She limps just a little when we come back from long, brisk walks (which, admittedly, don’t happen often—she doesn’t like them that much, and neither do I. We’d rather ramble slowly along Evanston’s sidewalks for an hour, take our sweet time, and then come home and take a nap. Along the way, she admires fire hydrants and piles of poop, and I admire houses and gardens).  I’ve placed her on a diet, consisting of less food, more often. We’ll see if that helps. I hope so.


If not, I’ll get her a hip replacement. Fuck it, I’ll get her two. Even if I’m not the best dog mommy in the world, my great big little Lois means the world to me, and I’ll keep her around as long as I can. She’s hairy, loud, shifty, sneaky, dumb, lazy, and I love her.


As she gets older, Lois’s personality is changing. Sometimes, she needs some coaxing to get up in the morning to pee (for some inexplicable reason, she sleeps between the bed and the wall with her face firmly wedged under the bedframe). She doesn’t jump on me anymore when I come home, although she’s still very excitable. If we turn around and come home from a walk sooner than she wants, she begins to growl and crowhop until I say, “Knock that shit off, Lois,” and then she actually does, promptly, knock that shit off. She eats less. She chews less. She sleeps more and snores more deeply. Her nightmares (of what? Chasing rabbits? Scaring the neighbors on the stairs?) become less frequent. She’s growing up.


I loved Lois as a puppy, and I’ll love her as a dog. It’s a testament to how much we trust each other when I say I want Lois to be alive when I have kids, and I know she’d equally love my mini-humanites. When we were at the beach last summer, and the little Mexican niños asked if they could look inside her floppy ears, and I let them, and she loved it, I knew she’d be a good baby dog. You know what? Now that I think about it, I knew way back when Chad and I took her to an outdoor patio restaurant and a baby just old enough to walk came right up to Lois, sat in her lap, and began to pull Lois’s face to and fro. Lois loved it, and she was maybe three months old.


Isn’t that weird? That I want Lois around for my kids the same way I want my friends and family? That’s because Lois is my girl. She’s my wingwoman, my sidekick, my best bud. She gets me and I get her. I wish she would live forever, keep me company till I get old, and then we can meander Evanston together at 1.3 MPH, because I know she wouldn’t rush me and she’d scare away all the ne’er-do-wells. She’d probably still lay down in the snow, mid-walk, just because. I’ll never be a little old lady, but maybe I’ll be a large old lady, and if we were large old ladies together, I’d lay down in the snow next to her, and we’d just be tired and snuggly and snowy together. It could happen. Right?


Lois and I are bonded through the invisible process of oxytocin release, that same mind drug that makes humans fall in love. When you pet a dog, your brains both explode in a total happy neurochemical Baker bomb of happiness. They get it, you get it, and it makes the tough, strong, intense connection that we silly humans call love.  Even if dogs (or my mom) can never quantify why they love us, they do. It doesn’t make it mean any less, or devalue the relationship between the two species. If anything, it makes it mean more.


Lois, I love you. You’re a total dumbass, and so am I. We get along in our stupid, goofy way because I’m a walking disaster and so are you. I pick up your poop, and you pick up my food spills. I scare away vacuums and hair dryers, and you scare away the neighborhood punks. I provide you with food, and you provide me with total destruction of all valuable property I own. We provide each other with companionship, female buddyhood, silent communication, and long moments of looking into each other’s eyes (you panting heavily, me drinking heavily) and we. get. each. other. We’d probably menstruate together if I hadn’t paid someone to scoop out your lady parts years ago (sorry about that). You didn’t like that guy who stopped us midwalk, asked for my number, and constantly harassed me thereafter. I should have trusted your judgment. Screw him, right? (nonliterally. You’ve never humped him and neither have I).


Happy motherfuckin’ birthday, girlfriend. May you have many, many more.




your mommy, best friend, roommate, and unintentional chew toy provider

Seven Boys and Me

I have seven brothers.

I used to say it for the shock factor. People were surprised even when there were only four boys, and their reactions grew correspondingly with the ever increasing physical embodiments of the XY chromosomal combination.

I remember I used to go with Mom to the ultrasounds. I wanted a sister so badly I was regularly dressing the youngest boys in my clear lip gloss and clip on earrings, pulling a large t-shirt over their shoulders so it hung like a dress. On at least one occasion, I remember crying bitterly when the nurse located a little phallic shadow and congratulated us on another boy.

Reactions from those I informed of my dire lack of sisters ranged from, “You must be so spoiled!” (HA!) to, “I bet you’re pretty tough, huh?” (sometimes) to, “I’m sure you help your mother out around the house” (you have no idea—according to my calculations, if beginning at age five I changed at least two children’s diapers thrice daily (although by the time I was ten it was more like three or four little dude’s bottoms needing wiping throughout the day), over the course of about ten years till the youngest was potty trained, that makes at least six diapers a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for a grand total of 21,840 diapers. That’s only including calculations for two kids, not including major baby diarrhea blowouts, waterlogged diapers that exploded all over the backyard in the summer, or toddlers who went through phases of taking off diapers just because. It also doesn’t count the kids who were potty trained during the day but still required nighttime assistance and the resulting cleanup. If I never have children, I will be sixty years old before I have changed one diaper for every day I’ve been alive.) There were also those who sagely assured me that when we grew up and stopped beating the shit out of each other, I would have seven devoted bodyguards who all happen to be well over six feet tall. I scoffed.

Happily, they were right and I was wrong. I could never completely and sufficiently express the extent of my love for my brothers, but I’ll tell you a little about these seven incredible men and you can judge for yourself whether they’re deserving of my abundant admiration (hint: I think you shall agree).

Before I can mention why they are so wonderful, you have to understand a little bit about our family as we grew up. First and foremost, we were homeschooled from infancy—a decision my mother made in part because she (rightly) thought public schools are frequently a rampant waste of time, and also partly because she was a well-educated woman who wanted to give her kids a good start (by the time we were five, we were all reading and writing well beyond our peers, and she encouraged us especially in the realm of math and science, so much so that I finished Calculus the first time at age 16). This meant the boys and I were constantly home, around each other, all the time. We played together, fought together, ate together, napped together, and basically existed in our own little Emery kid world. It was both awesome and miserable at the same time; as you can imagine, we got fairly sick of each other and fought constantly, but there were so many of us that you were basically guaranteed to have someone on your “side” in all conflicts.

On top of being homeschooled, we also moved a lot. By the time I left to my own apartment in college (the first time), I had lived with my family in ten different homes. (State College, PAàLogan, UTàSandy, UTàSomewhere I can’t remember the name of, CTàNorwalk, CTà Millersburg, KYà West Jordan, UTà West Jordan, UTà West Jordan, UTà Logan, UT.) This meant that our friend groups were frequently uprooted or broken up (in addition to regular accusations of “stealing” each other’s friends), which brought us even closer together. By the time we lived in Kentucky, the older kids were getting old enough to start being pretty good buddies more often than not. The boys began creating their own characters and worlds, whether based on people they knew in reality or no, and played off each other so efficiently and so hilariously that years later we still speak to each other in our various (probably obnoxious, always very funny) character demeanors.

Then, my parents divorced and a complicated five years followed where we hardly had any relationship with Dad; Mom feared we would follow him in his apostasy from the Mormon Church. She worked hard to inculcate in us strong notions of his debauchery, and only a few months after they separated (which literally consisted of Mom packing us into the car and driving to Utah from Kentucky without alerting Dad until we were well on our way), we were convinced he was a drug-addicted, cigarette smoking, frivolous money-spending whoremonger who would drag us down the path to hell. He only visited two or three times a year. Even when he did visit, I was so alertly on guard, watching for his sinful ways, and he was so virtually a stranger to us, that the visits tended to be short, awkward, and frustrating because there are only so many things you can do out of a hotel room in Utah. What’s more, because she seemed sure that Dad would do serious physical violence to her if given the opportunity, Mom always brought along a witness to our visits (Grandma, usually) just in case. I’m no psychologist, but my uneducated guess is that it’s not particularly healthy for a young child’s psyche if they’re seriously concerned that one parent intends to inflict egregious bodily harm on the other.  Fortunately, Dad never killed Mom and the visits saw us safely back home at the end of the weekend.

Near the end of our five-year tenure living exclusively under Mom’s stewardship, it was pretty clear things were not going well on the home front. One brother had long since moved to live with cousins in Arizona, one brother had been kicked out and lived with Dad in Pennsylvania, I had been kicked out for encouraging Dad to move to Utah, and one brother had been taken out of the home by child protective services. Until this point, Dad had never lived in Utah after the divorce because Mom insisted if he did so, she would take the kids and leave the state again; but things had gotten so bad that, at the encouragement of a close relative, Dad finally came to Utah in the summer of 2008. True to her word, before his furniture had even arrived, Mom disappeared with the four remaining children on an impromptu “vacation,” and turned up in North Carolina two months later, where they were going to remain forthwith (if you ask the little dudes about this time, they distinctly remember thinking it odd that the vacuum cleaner had to be packed in the car for a vacation).

An ugly three year custody battle ensued, with Dad finally earning custody of all of the kids under 18. We were in Utah. Mom stayed in North Carolina. Except for Sam, who went on a Mormon mission and then attended Brigham Young University, we were all living together again. But the period from when Mom and Dad divorced, all the way up until we were finally reunited, was a time of intense familial hardship. Even though we kids fought continually, we really learned to depend on and support each other. Whether that meant sneaking out to get “real food” when Mom frequently left us alone at the house, or buying clothes and shoes for each other, or creeping in blankets and pillows to the ones in trouble who had to sleep on the bare kitchen floor as punishment—we did it all, always to the best of our abilities. The big kids watched out for the little kids, the little kids looked up to the big kids, we all beat each other up here and there, and we are who we are now because of our past.

Which brings us to now. The oldest, Sam, is happily married to an excellent woman who’s baking a young girlchild due in July. The youngest, Jason, lives with Sam because Dad travels for work so much. I’m lucky enough to have two of my brothers, Nate and Matt, here in Chicago with me. Jared and Aris, self-sufficient in schoolwork and other aspects of their lives, live with Dad. Mike is almost done with college (he got a pilot slot with the Air Force! yay!) and lives in Logan still. We all talk fairly frequently, and holidays in Utah are momentous occasions for playing poker, eating enormous piles of food (happily prepared by yours truly), watching South Park, laughing our butts off, and, of course, fighting. When we all get together, it’s loud, it’s rambunctious, and it’s really, really, really fun.

And the most incredible thing about all of it—the divorce, the ensuing drama, the changes in custody and schools and etc.—it how sane we’ve all turned out (thus far, I guess). Seriously, though. I know I’m biased, but my seven favorite people on the planet are all smart, funny, loyal, hungry, funny, intellectual, wise, funny, kind, generous, and insanely funny. We’ve been through some crazy shit, but they’ve all turned out impressively well, and—what’s more—they’re nice to look at (see Exhibit A). Imageexhibit A, for your viewing pleasure

All this awesomeness translates to me having an unlimited supply of brotherly support. It means breakups aren’t the end of the world, because seven good strong men are always in my life. It means that if I have a shitty day, I can play Brother Phone Roulette and be guaranteed to be cheered up in no time. It means that, as I search for a partner to start my own family with, I can be sure that exactly the kind of man I want exists—having all the qualities I already listed—because I have empirical evidence seven times over.

So last night, pretty late in the evening, Nate and Matt and I are all hanging out at my apartment. We get the notion in our head that going out to the backyard and skipping rocks on the lake is a decent idea, so out we head. I’m entirely inept at rock skipping, and as an ardent sisterly admirer of everything my brothers do, I prefer to just sit and watch them. These two guys—tall, muscular, shocks of dark Emery hair sticking in all directions—vacuum the beach like six year olds for perfect skipping stones, emitting shouts of delight every time a “dude, look at this”-worthy rock is discovered. They’re trying to beat each other for best skip, farthest skip, longest throw. Matt picks up a ten pound rock and manages to skip it twice, to gleeful hoots and celebratory clapping from me and Nathan. I can’t hear everything they say, but they keep cracking each other up. The lake is practically still, and it’s cold enough that we have the park to ourselves. Orange lamplight floods the beach and tiny pricks of light on the black horizon are airplanes coming in to land at O’Hare. Every once in a while they fly over, dragging their loud whine, and quickly changing speculations of “Oh my god, it’s a—no wait, it’s bigger than—dude no, I swear that it’s—747!” ensue. I’m so happy sitting here watching them that if I weren’t slightly shivering, I could do it forever. Even still, I’m tempted to try.

Sometimes I’m plagued by the kind of motherly fears that come from being so incremental in their upbringing. I feel a very complicated sense of responsibility towards them (another subject for another time). What if one of them gets caught in a drive-by on their way to work? What if someday one of them becomes hooked on dangerous drugs, the plague of so many brilliant minds? What if a drunk driver, or gang banger, or careless teenager makes a mistake and takes one of my brothers away from me? Dreams of ridiculous accidents—Jason falling through the floor of an airplane midflight, Jared getting lost and freezing to death wandering around Logan barefoot in a snowstorm—wake me up with a pit in my stomach so sickening I can’t go back to sleep. It feels too real. These kids mean the world to me.

And all of this combined: our fierce loyalty to each other, our complicated, difficult lifetime of history, the complete assurance that nothing any one of us could do would ever permanently break our relationships—completely affects how I perceive family, especially after so many family members ostracized us when we left Mormonism. I can never take seriously when fraternity “brothers”, or coworkers, or any other group of nonrelated people who really don’t know each other all that well throw out the “family” word. “We’re like family,” I hear way too often, and all I can think is, “No, you’re not.” Until you’ve slept in the same room every night, bugged the living shit out of each other just because you can, punched each other for touching your toys, risked receiving serious parental consequences for each other, schemed with each other, fed each other, kept each other somewhat sane over weeks and weeks of being grounded on end—you’re not truly family. It absofuckinglutely blows my mind that any family lets money, or possessions, or education, or even religious differences separate them. Real family sticks around, treats each other right, overcomes differences because the relationships are worth it. Real family acts like my brothers always have.

I’ll jump off my didactic soapbox now, and say that for all intents and purposes, my brothers and I are readily on our way to the happily-ever-after part of the story. I think, I hope, the hardest parts of our lives are behind us already, and that moving forward we continue to grow and develop and foster nurturing, badass families of our own. Someday, when I’m ready, I’ll write the full story of everything that happened at Mom’s house, during the custody battle, and our almost unanimous exodus from Mormonism. Until then, I’m looking forward to everything that’s heading in our family’s direction. I have seven best friends, and I’m related to all of them. I’m a pretty lucky girl.

Non-negotiable: What I want in a life partner, then and now.

Again, going through my stacks of old journals, I found a list of attributes I want in a life partner (at the time I wrote this list in particular, I was 13, had yet to confront my burgeoning curiosity about ladies, and was steeped in Mormonism like a tea bag in a sealed Mason jar. Of course I would marry a man, in the temple, relatively close to my 18th birthday, and we would be happy forever. Right? Well, now that I’m a million miles away from that fantasy, I thought it would be interesting to compare what I thought were non-negotiable traits at thirteen to what I consider mandatory requirements ten years later.

First, my 2003 list, verbatim:

1. Honest. He has to be honest with God, others, and himself.

2. Hard working. He has to be willing to work hard, and do a good job.

3. Good education. If he’s been able, he has to have acquired a good education about what he does.

4. Love kids. He has to love kids, cause if he’s marrying me, he’s gonna have some!

5. Return missionary. He has to have gone on his mission, unless there is a good reason why.

6. MOST IMPORTANT: Temple worthy. He has to be able to take me through the Temple (SLC, preferably), and has to have a current Temple Recommend.


Tall orders, no? I particularly like the “do a good job” part. Not sure what that means; I’m assuming I expected him to wipe all of the toilet down, and not just the inside of the bowl and the rim.

I guess my expectations for a partner now are a little more extensive, but not altogether different from what I wanted when I was 13. In some regard, I think I had a pretty good idea of what makes a good man or woman, and since my family was still in the throes of my parents’ nasty divorce, I had spent time carefully observing the women who I considered to be in happy marriages. What did their husbands do to make them happy? What did they do to make their husbands happy? How did they resolve conflict? How did they treat in each other in public, especially when they disagreed on something in front of others?

Of course, I had very little idea about relationship dynamics, never having been in a serious partnership before, and I had absolutely no knowledge of the role physical intimacy plays. Now that I’m old and wise, my list has changed and grown in some aspects, but in others stays much the same. The role that religion played in my initial list (return missionary, temple-worthy) obviously isn’t part of my qualifications now, but I think that what those things represented for me (devotion, honesty, good heartedness) remain aspects of a partner’s personality that I still couldn’t do without.

Now, before I present The Lizt circa 2014, I’ll add my own disclaimer that I understand you can’t really write a list of things you’d like in a partner and expect to find one person who meets all of the criteria, all of the time, without fail. The natural give and take of relationships dictates that sometimes, you sacrifice things you’d like for things you love, and there are pieces that you just plain don’t get to have. That’s okay. But as my high school friends are getting (re)married, then divorced, sometimes having kids, and otherwise engaging in partnerships both hetero and homo, there are a few trends I’ve noticed that have affected the things I seek in a partner of my own.

So without further ado, the non-negotiables of a relationship for Elizabeth Emery:

1. Kindness. I’m still beginning to fully appreciate the critical role that kindness plays in a relationship. Partnerships lacking in kindness inevitably lead to nasty power-struggles; finding forgiveness for major and minor fuck ups becomes difficult, and bickering erupts over every little disagreement. Getting frustrated with your partner is unavoidable, but two truly kind people can overcome just about any obstacle because they can get outside of their own ego and understand why their partner feels the way they do–and, what’s more, they really care about why and how they feel that way. They can listen to and consider someone else’s opinion carefully, and come to an agreement without feeling threatened. They find joy in making their partner happy.

2. Honesty. This is still top of the list because I’ve had and seen several otherwise good relationships ruined by dishonesty, and I don’t mean by straight out lies (although of course those are included). I mean by the little omissions of truth, the late-night Facebook chats with an ex who you know is still interested, the text messages that you have to delete before you get home, that app you never quite got around to deleting, the coffee dates that give you a little pit in your stomach when you think about disclosing; once inevitably discovered, these turn into huge issues. When trust is compromised, even a little bit, the seeds of doubt are sown and they can be a real motherfucker to weed out of the fertile soil of a relationship.

3. Good humor. I mean this in not only as having a good sense of humor, but also retaining a positive outlook on life. Someone who gets agitated over inconsequential issues like bad traffic and toothpaste on a black t-shirt is someone who explodes over big problems. A raging temper, particularly in a man (extra particularly in a large man, which is I how I like ’em), gets scary very quickly even for a 7-brothered woman like me. Letting go of the small things, picking your battles, and being able to laugh at your daily heap of shitty little events makes a big difference in someone’s character. That being said, for me, this also encompasses a riotous sense of humor. A quick-witted man or woman who is alert and involved in a conversation is unbelievably sexy. Even sexier is the person who can be quick-witted without making cruel jokes at other people’s expense (going back to the kindness), and sexiest of all is someone who has these traits and can appreciate them in others. I’ve been with men who feel threatened by a woman with a sense of humor, and I’ll tell you right now–never again. There’s nothing more shriveling to an ego when you say something, no matter how ridiculous, and your partner gives you a demeaning, “Wow, I can’t believe you’d say something that stupid,” look and refuses to laugh with you.

4. Interesting, interested. A good sense of humor and quick wit usually comes along with a high level of awareness of the world around them. There is nothing wrong with being disinterested in world affairs, in literature and arts, in culinary delights and intense conversation. But without these things, a relationship would, for me, feel hollow and be short lived. And although an education fits into the picture with most people these days, I don’t think it’s mandatory for someone to be successful or intellectual. When a person thinks interesting thoughts and does interesting things, is willing to try new hobbies and attend unfamiliar events, they continue to change and develop over the course of their lifetimes, and that is really fucking sexy.

5 Work ethic. A man or woman with the innate desire to produce at a high level, even when doing work they don’t particularly like, is attractive and admirable. I have very little tolerance for laziness. Get shit done, and get it done right. Of course, this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t enjoy a lazy Sunday, even on a weekly basis. I’m (in?)famous for my propensity to fall asleep wherever I go, and there is no one who enjoys waking up, eating breakfast, and going right back to bed without doing the dishes as much as I do. But the daily grind is a part of life, and shirkers aren’t sexy. And call me old fashioned, but for me, an important part of my partner’s work ethic needs to be rooted in an instinctive drive to provide for their family. With increasing clarity and obnoxiously nagging baby-hunger, I know I want to have kids, and I want to be home with them until they’re in grade school. I harbor no judgment against those who have children and want to return straight to work, but I will not put my babies in daycare. I don’t want to miss out on the short, short window where you are their whole world, and every day they’re changing and growing so rapidly you can’t keep tabs on them even if you tried. This isn’t a lala fairy tale expectation–it’s something I’ve experienced through my own little brothers, repeatedly, and I want it with my own kids. Fortunately, my career is in writing, so I can work from home, but my partner would have to understand (and want) a mama who will stay at home during the first years of parenthood. Which leads to…

6. Desire for family. I want babies, I want teenagers, I want young adults, I want grandkids. Regardless of the poking and prodding and and pressure of my friends to wait (which I fully plan on doing) and to put a career first (which I also plan on doing, to an extent) and to live my own life (already there), I want a family. Kids are so much fun, and so interesting, and so much hard work and so incredibly rewarding. A potential partner’s gotta want a family, and they have to see little dudes and dudettes as independent, free-thinking people–not vicarious extensions of themselves. Along with this comes the potential for positive parenting, and the extra importance of aforementioned traits like kindness and work ethic. It may be an odd test to put to a partner, but if we’re six months into our relationship and I ask myself, “Will s/he get up and change a diaper in the middle of the night?” and the answer is no, the relationship is null.

7. Conservative religion-free. I’ve spent a lot of time considering whether I could date a religious person, and the answer, I think, is yes–to an extent. Some of the most incredibly awesome people I know are religious, and some of the biggest assholes are atheists. And much of religion is based around one’s childhood and family culture, which I find both compelling and interesting and not to be taken lightly. That being said, the kind of mutual respect two people with different religious beliefs must have is critical to building and maintaining a strong bond, especially when kids are involved. My partner might be mildly Catholic, and I might be atheist, but my kids will never be pressured to attend or not attend church. And progressive views on issues surrounding conservative religion–women’s rights, birth control, homosexuality, etc–would be  mandatory. Even the most masculine bro of a man who would for one second considering disowning a gay son is no true man to me. At the appropriate time in child-rearing, a conversation around my partner’s beliefs would have to go something along the lines of, “This is what Dad believes, and this is what Mom believes, and since both of your parents are crazy, you get to pick whatever you want.” If I found a religious person who was cool with that, awesome.

8. The capacity to cherish. I work in an area where I have mostly old clients. One of my favorite customers is a 94 year old gentleman named Charles who comes into the branch almost every day. The ladies behind the service line love this guy. Why? Because he deeply cherishes his wife, and it shows every time he talks about her. The two of them have been married for 75 years, and although he jokingly complains about always giving her her own way, the little things he mentions–always making sure she has a certain amount of money in her wallet, or putting gas in her car for her, or sitting on the porch with her drinking coffee on Sunday mornings, even the very tone he uses when he talks about her–the man cherishes his wife. We have another favorite customer, Jerry, who isn’t quite as old as Charles, and whose wife died just a couple of months ago. They used to come into the branch together, and after she passed away, he just stood at the counter with tears in his wrinkly old eyes, his scratchy chin quivering, and told us how he misses her the most when he’s driving in the car alone (although, to be completely honest, I’m not sure he should be on the road). But you know what I mean? A couple who cherishes each other are the ones who truly enjoy each other’s company, who see their partner as the best person they possibly can be, and who appreciates the things their partner does that contribute to the relationship’s success. They’re the couples who still hold hands, who push each other’s wheelchairs, who give and give and give because the relationship is never a power struggle and they know they can expect the same in return.

You marry who you date. You really do. I think everybody’s tried out a lighthearted relationship, but I know too many girlfriends who had relationships that were “just for fun,” and ended up getting knocked up and stuck with someone who really didn’t make them happy. So why waste time dating someone I don’t find myself compatible with long-term? (And yes, it really is a waste of time–heartbreak sucks, and so does moving out, working out custody arrangements, and paying for divorce lawyers).

Does this mean you enter every relationship with the goal of marrying the person? Absolutely not. It takes time to get to know someone and see what they’re all about. But it does mean doing right by yourself in the long term, and not being ignorant of red flags that could sabotage a relationship later on. Speaking from experience, I’ve learned that being honest about the person you choose to be with, and carefully assessing the things you like and maybe aren’t sure about, can make the difference between a little heartbreak now, and a lot of heartbreak down the road. A person doesn’t fundamentally change much, and if they’re boring, or PDA-phobic, or a poor listener now, you can bet five years down the road it won’t be any different.

And did you see what’s not included on that list o mine? Lots of money, sports cars, a full head of hair, enormous muscles. I think I speak for most sane women when I say that the personality traits of our partner far outweigh the superficial aspects of a relationship. Yes, physical attraction is a prerequisite, and yes, I need someone who can pay bills before buying clothes–but I’d take a balding, good hearted man with a bit of a carb belly, but who loves and appreciate me, me over a full head of hair, a big house, and a rippling physique on a man who thinks I’m too outspoken and has an enormous ego. You lose those things eventually anyway, and they just aren’t that important when it comes to being happy.

So that’s it. No pressure, right? I guess I’d feel more hesitant about my expectations if I didn’t spend time around two couples who seem to be exactly these things for each other. These relationships exist, and holding out until I find that person is worth the wait now as much as it was when I was 13. Congrats, little Lizard. You weren’t too far off the mark after all.

Life, love, and the habit of being happy.


It’s amazing, the clarity that getting older brings. I know, I know—”older” in quotation marks, because I’m still very young. I really do know that. But–as my Aunt Debbie would say–now that I’m the oldest I’ve ever been, the perspective with which I interpret the world around me has a steadier, more fulfilling depth.


Things just aren’t as big a deal as they used to be. I mean that in the sense of the everyday casualties that used to bring such intense ups and downs: bombing a final, losing a favorite earring, not hearing from a lover within an expected time period. Not long ago, these would have been the difference between a good weekend and a frustrated, bitter few days. Everything changed faster than I could wrap my head around. My handwriting refused to stay the same, the clothes I bought last week totally did not reflect my personality this week, the person I had wanted so badly two months ago I regarded as boring and asinine today. I wanted consistency but I couldn’t find it, least of all in myself; I, Elizabeth, felt fundamentally different from day to day, and in the face of that uncertainty, every little thing caused an emotional earthquake.


Well. I guess the experiences that unavoidably come with time force you to have more perspective. I couldn’t help but realize after mending a cherished but broken friendship after six months of not speaking that maybe six months was really not that long after all. Or, as I’m now approached by relatives I thought would never want a relationship after I left Mormonism, even five years doesn’t have to be much time in the scheme of things. It’s kind of a powerful thing to appreciate.


More powerful is that in realizing this now, when I am still quite young, the understanding of how much time I truly have sometimes amazes me. Not time to waste on making poor decisions, or unhealthy relationships, or inconsequential jobs. Rather, time to spend doing the things that make me happy, that bring fulfillment, that really expand my tiny view of our big, big world. I have an unlimited supply of Sunday afternoons to snuggle with Lois and read e.e. cummings. There is going to be a summer, every year, for the rest of forever, and so winters aren’t a sad time anymore. I will someday have a piano that I will play and play and play until my fingers fall off, and then I will reattach new fingers and play my piano some more. And while I wait to have that piano, there are other things I can do to pass the time. Right now is a delightful time of coming into myself and realizing how much time I have to continue doing exactly that. Luckily for me, I’m in the perfect city to do it in.





I suspected when I left Utah that it would be the best decision I had ever made; but I admit, there was no small amount of worry that my dissatisfaction with life would follow me into a new location. Since, as I once read, wherever you are, you’re there—I was afraid that I would bring my attitude of overwhelming skepticism and constant irritation to my next home. Writing newspaper articles that outraged the Logan locals was funny to a pissed off twenty one year old, but it came with nearly complete alienation from my peer group; did I want to do that again in Chicago? And what if it really was me, and not Utah? What if I really was an outlier on the political and social spectrum, what if I was wrong, what if it was me who was crazy and not the cramped culture around me? But I think, deep down, the greatest thing about living in Utah was exactly what made me so desperate to leave—the personal baptism by fire, as it were, that gave me absolute conviction in myself. I had faith that there was life outside of Utah, outside of Mormonism, outside the guilt and the shame and the anger that made me want to antagonize everyone and everything. And I was right. Even though leaving Utah led to some of the scariest, loneliest, most desperately independent points in my life, I feel vindicated in my decision every single day because I am so happy here.


And the more I’m happy, the easier it is to find thorough satisfaction in life. Happiness really is a habit—it took some time practicing it every day to shake the feeling that I was fooling myself, to be convinced that my general sense of contentedness was not just a brief reprieve before something awful happened to fuck everything up. But now I’m a believer! And how sweet it is to feel that guiltless appreciation for the little things that make every day a place and time I deeply want to be a part of.





So there I was, a couple of months ago, lying in bed just a little drunk on a fine whiskey, and thinking about how nifty life is. I had the next day off of work. The house was swept clean of hair and chewed stick detritus. There was a blizzard raging outside, and everything I could see over the top of my blanket was a lovely, soft monochromatic black and white. I wiggled myself just a little deeper into my sheets and pushed Lois’s face out of my armpit, grabbing her fuzzy snout and giving it a big kiss (on the top part, not the boogery tip). She breathed a sigh of resignation, turned over, and promptly began to snore.


All I could do was lay there and feel wonderful. It was so good. And then, for the first time really since I had come to Chicago and been on my own, I had this thought: I want to fall in love. Just like that. It wasn’t a steamroller of an epiphany; it didn’t slap me across the face. It was just a quiet little idea that floated into my mind like a drifting feather. I sort of mulled it around, watched it sway this way and that, until it settled right between my ears and I found I had unwittingly convinced myself. There wasn’t anything in the world that could make my life better, except having someone to share it with (and a piano).


I know! I know what you’re thinking. Stop it right now. Since when did buttheaded Liz, the raging atheist and lover of all potty jokes, get all cliché and romantic? Writing about love and mushy sensitivity isn’t something that I usually do. But I think the general lack of angst has brought out a softer side of me, and in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I like this Elizabeth much more than the pissed off, racy, loud mouthed character hell bent on proving everyone, including herself, wrong.


And I think now that I really like where I am, and who I am, the idea of finding a companion who will complement (not complete) the picture is appealing. So just fucking humor me while I explain myself, ok?


I want to fall in love. I want to meet someone, and revel in the part of the relationship where everything is a pleasant surprise. Anything they do seems to confirm what you suspected all along—that somewhere out there exists a person who really can be funny and sweet, whip smart and maddeningly witty. I want to delight in discovering the quirks and oddities in their personality, the little things that irritate them, the hot topics that get them inflamed and the poetry and music that moves them to tears. I want to hear them tell stories about their parents, their childhood, the people they love and the dreams that they hold.


But I want more than that. Because after the first burst of delirious romance, I want the settling of our friendship to make something even better, a connection that is practically tangible in its intensity. I want a companion who can understand that when I come home from work, I don’t want to talk, and so we sit and read together in the living room, not saying a word. I want a partner who will constantly think interesting thoughts and write compelling lines, and share the things they discover with me, and encourage me to do the same. I want someone who will feel at home listening to me practice the piano for hours, even if it irritates them, and who will tell me—kindly—that what I made for dinner sucks and that we should probably just order in. I want someone whose actions demand respect, who I can argue with without fighting, who makes things become important to me just because I know they are important to them. I want someone to lay in bed and hold hands and stare at the ceiling with, to fall in and out of sleep on lazy mornings, to kiss my nose and forehead. I want someone who will hold me when a book makes me cry, who will listen when I talk and understand when I won’t, who will dress up and go to the opera with me even if we have to find change in the sofa for tickets. I want someone to make love with, to sing with, to take road trips with, who will inspire me to be better, to learn more, to push myself harder. And then, when we exhaust the most important things we want to do together, just us, I want someone who will inspire me to make our own family.


I am selfish. But to find that person, I will give in return whatever it is—and who are you, what will it be?—that makes them feel as loved by me as I do by them. Endless back scratches? I can do that. Time alone? That’s fine with me. Your favorite meal that I hate at least once a week? Tough, but I can be accommodating. The give and take, the push and pull, the sacrifices that make a relationship hard but not unpleasant work, the unspoken respect that is emblematic of the kind of love that leave people saying, “Those two are really special. I know they’ll stick together.”


That’s what I want. Too much to ask? I think not—I’ve seen it happen before. And if there’s one thing about me that will never change, it’s the stubbornness that makes me wait and work and want something until I get it. Which, of course, I will.


And when I do, I’ll be sure to write about it as mushily as I possibly can. You’re welcome.