Offensively Nerdy

You are the reason why people laugh at homeschoolers.

Someone recently informed me of this fact. And that wasn’t all! I was also informed that my family is an embarrassing stereotype, that we aren’t diverse enough, and that we are “cringe.” It was certainly an enlightening afternoon on the internet.

It started with a post about Teacher Appreciation Week. DJ and I were featured as part of a series on homeschooling parents. We answered a few questions (years we’ve homeschooled, favorite book, a piece of advice, favorite memory, etc.), and our answers were posted with a family photo.

It was the photo that did it.

In the picture, we’re all posing with books or plushies or other items that reflect our interests. It’s a bit goofy, but that’s part of the fun. At just a glance, you get an idea of the different personalities and interests that make up our family. You also get the idea that we’re a nerdy bunch of people. We are, and we embrace that fact. It’s a pretty good picture of us and we figured others would enjoy it too.

What we didn’t expect was that a few people on the internet would find it completely baffling. Despite the fact that the Q&A clearly identified us as the family pictured, a couple of women thought it was a stock photo of a “stereotypically nerdy 90s homeschooling family.” They were insulted that they, real homeschoolers, might be associated with this embarrassing fake family photo. They commented as much.

DJ and I quickly entered the thread to let them know they’d blundered. Not only was it a photo of a real family, but that family was reading the comments. We were gracious about it. After that, their only real recourse was to make awkward apologies and drop the subject.

Oh, hang on, my mistake. It seems there was one other option: double down on their opinions. All of them responded by expanding on the fact that our photo was embarrassing. They explained that we were the kind of stereotype that they had to push back against. People like us made life harder for people like them. We were the reason why people laughed them.

At the same time, they didn’t think that DJ and I had any reason to get upset about their opinions. After all, all of them said things like, “I’m sure these are lovely people, but…” and “I’m not judging the people, just the photo.”

One commenter even stood her ground on principle. She “refused to deny the reality” that we were an embarrassment to everyone else. I’m sure she thinks we’re lovely people, though.

It stung, I won’t lie. Yet like Elizabeth Bennet in my favorite novel (as identified in the Q&A that none of these commenters appeared to read), I saw the humor in it. Along with Lizzie, I could laugh at these people echoing Darcy’s dismissive, “She’s tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” These people were comically obtuse. They continually insulted us… oops, I mean our photo… without understanding that they were making themselves, not us, look bad.

But it could have gone very wrong.

Firstly, I’m at peace with who I am, but I wasn’t always that way. For years I disliked myself, hating being “the dorky one” and wishing I was prettier or more interesting or—yes indeed—cool. Had this happened to me in those previous seasons, it would have devastated me. No matter what dream I tried to pursue, I’d have those nasty voices in my head telling me I was a nerdy stereotype, and that others resent me because I make people laugh at them.

Secondly, what if any of our kids had seen these comments? Sure, I could explain that these commenters appeared to have deep insecurities, and the problem was theirs, not ours. But how much of that would a teenager really take in, when they could actually see the unkind words being hurled at them? There’s no humor in that situation. We would be furious, and rightly so.

As it was, the situation resolved much better than it could have. Our friends weighed in, commenting on how much they appreciated our family. Complete strangers jumped to our defense. And other complete strangers ignored the drama, instead reading our Q&A and responding with their own favorite books or memories. Meanwhile, the admin of the post stayed busy all afternoon, hiding the astonishingly rude comments.

Gradually, things calmed down. The trolls, having gnawed on our egos enough to assuage their gaping hunger, disappeared. So did their comments, thanks to the admin.

Yet one woman hung on. She’d been one of the first to comment, saying that “she was sure we were lovely people, but…” that it was a silly photo. DJ cheerfully agreed, adding that he kept it in his office and he enjoyed it. You’d think this would have taken care of the matter, but no. Every time someone would post their dismay at the rude comments directed at us, this lady showed up to clarify that all she said was that the photo is silly, that it was an odd choice, that she questioned why it was chosen.

Even when I responded to her directly, she clung to the thread like a bug on a windshield. (She shouldn’t be upset by that comparison because I said she was like a bug, not that she was a bug. I’m sure she’s a lovely person.) When the admin pinned a general comment reminding everyone to interact with grace and kindness, this woman replied again.

So I addressed her: You have now stated that opinion four times. The choice of a photo doesn’t affect your life, but your continued insistence that it’s “odd” and should be removed does in fact affect mine. We like this family photo, and if you don’t, feel free to move on. Your opinion has been seen. Please stop now.

Surely, I thought, she’ll let go and let the wind take her away. See if you can guess her response:

  1. I am very sorry. I didn’t stop to think how it made you feel.
  2. I don’t know why it bothers you so much, but fine. I have other things to do.
  3. I WAS DEFENDING MYSELF AGAINST THE SCOLDING ABOVE

Yes, it was 3, ensuring that everyone understood the truth: that she obviously did think she’d put her foot in it, but was unable to admit who tracked in the bad smell. At this point, I had to laugh again. The admin brushed her off the windshield, and I could relax. By the next day, it was over—a little Facebook tiff over the fact that our family photo triggered a few people’s “bully the nerds” response.

One of the reasons why we chose to homeschool was because we knew some of our children wouldn’t conform to traditional expectations. We didn’t want them to be targets simply because of who they are. Well, what do you know—here were fellow homeschoolers coming for us because they didn’t like how we looked.

There are bullies in every community. Fortunately, many more people in our community were quick to run to our side when we needed it.

I’ll probably never encounter these trolls again, either online or in real life. That’s fine by me. But if by some chance it does happen, I know what I’ll do. I’ll straighten my shoulders, blast Taylor Swift singing Mean, and I’ll see all those lovely people…

…right out the door. Good riddance.

Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne

“Hey, guess what,” DJ said to me last week. “Jesus and John Wayne came in!”

What he meant to say was this: “Remember you asked me to look for the book Jesus and John Wayne for you? The library called to say it came in today.” But my first mental image was of Jesus and John Wayne popping in to DJ’s office, as if they were in the area and decided to come by and say hello.

But I was glad to hear it, even if the reality turned out to be less exciting. I was looking forward to reading it, in my ongoing to attempt to understand exactly how the white evangelical church got to where it is now.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez wasn’t really a revelatory book for me. I grew up Southern Baptist and spent my teenage years in Bill Gothard’s ATI program. Our house was full of material from Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Rush Limbaugh, and Eagle Forum. During my introduction to HSLDA in the late nineties, I brushed shoulders with pre-Vision Forum Doug Phillips. I wasn’t just familiar with the white evangelicalism that this book talks about, I was one of those white evangelicals.

What this book does, however, is lay out my own religious history in a way that I never understood before. It showed me patterns of ideas and behaviors that still hold true today. And it also showed me just how far I drifted from my roots in the early 2000s, which was why I was shattered by the white evangelical church’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump, instead of expecting it as an inevitable outcome.

In fact, if I’d read this book before the January 6 breach of the Capitol, I wouldn’t have found that event nearly as shocking.

The book isn’t a dense read, especially for someone already familiar with most of the major players. Yet every time I try to discuss it, I get tangled up in so many thoughts that it’s hard to have a conversation. So what I’ll do here is highlight the patterns that struck me as significant.

Pattern #1: Evangelicals have always courted political power. I was taught that a real Christian doesn’t “put confidence in princes,” that we trust that God will work His own will no matter what. In practice, however, the leaders in my life were all about currying favor at the White House. It’s why Ronald Reagan is practically a saint in evangelical circles — he was very cozy with the powerhouse of influence, James Dobson, and other church luminaries. Billy Graham was instrumental in getting Richard Nixon elected. Both Bushes knew to appeal to the evangelical vote. Had I known all this, I’d have known that when Dobson, Franklin Graham, and other leaders fell over themselves to line up at Trump’s feet, they weren’t selling out principle for power. Their principle is power.

Pattern #2: Evangelicals create and then believe myths. From the first, John Wayne has been an evangelical icon of “real manhood.” The strong, rugged cowboy lives by his own code of honor, is indomitable in battle, doesn’t take guff from wimpy men or any woman, and earns the respect of everyone he encounters. He’s a real man. Of course, it’s a completely fictional construct. Wayne himself wasn’t a cowboy, never served in the military… heck, even the name “John Wayne” was fiction, replacing the much less craggy “Marion Morrison.” Yet the fact that the ideal has no roots in reality does nothing to diminish it. This myth is so strong that the evangelical concept of Jesus himself has been shaped to fit into this mold.

Similarly, ideal womanhood is built on the same myth-making process. The two examples of great evangelical women in my younger years were Phyllis Schafley and Elisabeth Elliot. Both were outspoken women, household names, and inspiring to young evangelical women. Both pushed hard the idea that a woman’s highest calling is as a mother, wife, and homemaker. Yet neither of these women lived up to that ideal at all. Schafley poured her energies into politics, not “staying home and baking cookies,” as Hillary Clinton was famously reviled for saying. After her missionary husband was killed, Elliot spent her life writing books, hosting a radio show, and traveling around the country to speaking engagements. She married twice more, but never took those men’s names for her professional life. In both cases, these women were able to fulfill their obvious gifts for leadership by reinforcing the idea that they supported “traditional” women’s roles. And just like in the case of John Wayne, evangelicals agreed to believe the myth instead of the reality.

Although it’s still astonishing how quickly the John Wayne myth sprang up around Trump, now I can see why so many evangelicals eagerly believed and invested themselves in it. It’s part of a long pattern.

Pattern #3: Evangelicals feed on fear. There’s always got to be a bad guy for these John Waynes to fight. In fact, I remember the moment when I was 18 and listening to David Barton (a problematic “historian”) at a Bill Gothard conference in Knoxville. We’d spent all week being reminded that America was on a path toward destruction because we, the small remnant of faithful, couldn’t keep her true to her Christian roots. Barton was telling how the Library of Congress was transitioning to digital files, and “destroying hundreds of books.” He implied that it was an Orwellian book-burning designed to erase the Christian foundation of the US, allowing evil people to snatch the country away from us. And all of a sudden my exhausted mind shut down and I thought, “I am so tired of being scared all the time.”

But like any subculture, evangelical leaders need something to keep their followers focused. For many years, the Communist threat was enough to keep the troops galvanized. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, it left the army at a loss. So evangelical leaders focused on domestic threats, such as feminism, homosexuality, and religious liberty. Not saying that there are no reasons to be concerned on any of these issues (have you read 1960s feminism? It has venom-dipped fangs), but evangelicals aren’t famous for their nuanced take on issues they oppose.

Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Evangelicals quickly coalesced around this new external enemy. Anti-Islamic panic was high. Reading this section of the book, I realized that these were the years when I was drifting away from my roots. I was vaguely aware of what was being said and passed around as facts about Muslim beliefs and behavior (much of which was highly exaggerated or sensationalized), but I rejected it as unChristian prejudice and racism. I suppose I assumed that most other people did the same. I was wrong, which I found out painfully enough about fifteen years later.

Du Mez keeps a narrow focus in this book. In describing the evangelical response to various events, she doesn’t give much room to presenting a well-rounded view. For instance, she discusses the evangelical distaste for Hillary Clinton, both as a First Lady and as a presidential candidate. Briefly she touches on concerns about Clinton’s policies and possibly corruption — which are valid, non-sexist, non-partisan considerations for any candidate — but she mostly focuses on the overblown rhetoric and rumors that evangelicals passed around among themselves. If you want more than just the evangelical reaction to any given person or incident, you’ll have to go back and fill in the gaps yourself.

I found this a helpful book on a very personal level. Intellectually, I left evangelicalism years ago. I gave up on political activism because I don’t like rallies and canvassing for votes and writing emails to Congress. DJ and I revamped our entire understanding of the “essential” doctrine of creationism. Once we saw the damage that “traditional” gender roles (man = leads, woman = submits) inflicted on our marriage, we cultivated a relationship based on mutual submission. Early in our marriage, we considered joining the Catholic church, but ran into too many theological roadblocks; instead we made our way into the Anglican church, with its focus on liturgy and social awareness. I’ve become sharply aware of the national sin of racism, and the need to for the white church especially to repent. I haven’t voted Republican in a national election since I opted out of the 2008 election (and now I wish I’d participated in the historic event of electing a black president). I’ve revisited and refined many opinions which, in my evangelical days, came pre-packaged with inflexible answers.

Yet I still love the people I came from, and I didn’t realize how far away I’d traveled until the rift became impossible to ignore. That’s why I have so many knots and tangles when it comes to discussing my thoughts on this book.

Your experience reading this will vary. The book might enlightening, uncomfortable, or disturbing depending on your relationship with white evangelicalism. I think it’s valuable regardless. If you’re at all interested in understanding the white Christian Republican devotion to Trump, then you should read Jesus and John Wayne.

Just be aware that you have to say the title very carefully. Not only does this dynamic duo make the rounds at DJ’s office, but I found myself asking, “Did anybody see Jesus and John Wayne in the living room?”

A 2020 Planner

At the end of last year, I bought a 2020 Planner. Isn’t it lovely?

I had a good reason to buy one. And no, it wasn’t so I could schedule my days, track my goals, and do all that other weird organizer stuff that people usually use planners for. (Note: I tend to be friends with weird organizer people. Also, I marry them.)

No, I liked the idea of filling in a planner for a fictional character. This one promised lots of space for that.

I mean, you could even rate each day, track your goals, write to-do lists, track your water intake… It was perfect for developing an entirely different person in an entirely different life!

But of course, this the year that things went so haywire that even the phrase “2020 Planner” is a joke.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out this planner and flipped through the few pages where I’d jotted down some initial thoughts. The planner fell open to December 2019, and I wrote at the top, “This month I saw one article on Facebook about a new virus in China.”

My fictional character faded from view as I paged through the blank calendars and began to write notes. Everything began shutting down this week. It was hard to get toilet paper. I made masks for the family and felt a little sheepish, but figured it was a good policy.

And then came June, when our old national sin of racism flamed to the surface again after George Floyd’s death. DJ and I attended our first protest, and I saw white friends finally see truths that the black community has been saying for generations.

But I also saw other friends repeating the same old defenses — the same ones I wrote about in my current novel. Many claim to be Christian, who insist that we must repent as soon as the Holy Spirit shows us sin, and our entire duty is to obey God and let him handle the consequences, Yet when it comes to the hard work of repenting of a history of racism, they can’t manage to let go of their political loyalties enough to do so.

I ended in August, when homeschooling is suddenly mainstream, masks still political statement, and the presidential elections looming.

I also noted that I’ve decided to set my novel aside until the end of the year. 2020 threw me off-balance. I feel like I need to reconsider everything from my setting to my characters to the scope that my story takes in. I hope to fill in the rest of the planner at the end of the year, and maybe I’ll be ready to engage with the novel again.

As I look at this accidental journal, I’m glad I took a couple of hours to fill it in. I didn’t set out to write an overview of this year; it just happened. And I think that’s a fitting theme for a 2020 Planner.

The Best Name Book Ever

But not, surprisingly, by Richard Scarry! (Parents of small kids will probably get that joke.)

The Baby Name Wizard, 2019 Revised 4th Edition: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by [Laura Wattenberg]

When I was a teenager, some of my favorite reading was baby name books. Not only did I have characters to name, but my family shared a general interest in names and naming trends. It took me a while to figure out that not every dinner table perked up at the mention an odd or trendy name you came across last week. That, in fact, some people didn’t even care about the difference in spelling a name Michaela or Makayla.

I also learned that I needed couch my hobby in the proper terms. An 18-year-old reading a baby-name book gave rise to two immediate assumptions:

  1. I was pregnant.
  2. I was not pregnant, but so looking forward to having babies that I was already thinking of names for them.

Neither was accurate.

I grew up, got married, and for a while I read baby names books with actual babies in mind. (Although I found our third child’s name long before I got pregnant with her — I just thought of it one afternoon, called DJ at work and asked if he liked the name, and it went on the list.) Yet it was also simply because I love the subject. It was during these years that I first discovered The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg… only the best name book ever.

The Baby Name Wizard was a revolution in the world of baby-name books. Most of them tended to just be a list of names with dubious definitions attached to them. (Many name meanings are uncertain or irrelevant anyway; our culture doesn’t generally choose names for their meanings. And in a world where you can build names like Abralyn and Jaycee, name meanings don’t even exist.) Some of the better books would give you a short commentary about a name, or list famous people who have the name.

TBNW does way more than that. In one small entry, you get:

  1. Name pronunciation
  2. Variations in spelling
  3. Common nicknames
  4. “Brother” and “sister” names. These are names that the author has decided match the name in style and association.
  5. A graph to show its popularity trend, especially which year it was the most popular
  6. A short blurb about the name — its sound, its origin, its associations
  7. A brief mention of well-known people who have the name

Here’s the entry* for my name:

And it sure doesn’t hurt my feelings that she gives “Sara” its own entry, separate from “Sarah.” When I was 13, my very first stories featured a character named Sarah Robsin who was not in any way a fantasy version of myself, since Sarah is such a different name from Sara.

Beyond the actual name listings, you also get sections that group names according to certain styles — African-American, Brisk & Breezy, Mythological, Nicknames… Y’all. It’s just good reading.

I’ve used this book extensively while writing my current novel. I needed to know what a woman would be named in the 60s (so, naming trends from the 40s). This book lets me find a name, then follow it to other, similar, names. I can see from the graph whether the name “Brittany” would have been cutting-edge, trendy, or passe depending on how old the character is. For someone who finds it jarring when a contemporary teenager is named “Judy”(and nobody remarks on it as unusual) or 35-year-old man in 2011 is named “Tristan” (and he wasn’t tormented in middle school in 1991?) — or, heck, who thinks it’s wildly convenient that all of the Twilight Cullens have trendy old-fashioned names like Edward and Rosalie and none of them are named Herbert or Flossie — this book has been an enormously helpful resource.

The 2019 (fourth) edition just came out, and I just got my copy. It’s familiar and fun, and good quarantine reading. You should pick one up! Just be prepared to explain to people that you aren’t actually pregnant.

*(Not the whole entry, just in case, and here’s hoping Laura Wattenberg doesn’t object to me posting this. Or maybe she’ll track it down, realize I’m a longtime loyal fan, and become pen pals with me.)

Revision in a Time of Quarantine

Nothing like rekindling your memories of your first great literary love just as a pandemic sweeps through the world.

To be honest, my daily life hasn’t change a whole lot even as everything is canceled and shut down. We already homeschool and we already prefer to stay home as much as we can. I’m used to shopping for a week or two at the time and feeding six people all day, every day. I’d also stocked up a bit because my mother told me to. DJ is working from home for a month, so that’s been a big change for him; but it turns out that my preferred lifestyle adapts pretty well to pandemic living.

While we continue with school and take long drives when the walls start closing in, I immersed myself yet again in that original Great Literary Work of mine.

An advantage of the revision of 2007 was that the story now had a plot. A disadvantage was that for some reason I decided to lower Ria’s age from 18 to 13, and I changed the tone of the story accordingly. It was not a happy choice. Re-reading it was, as my kids would say, massive cringe.

“Most of the time, she was just plain Ria. And this morning she was a very sulky Ria.”

“She didn’t intend to apologize to him, either, once she got her revenge.”

And to think she’d complained about being bored in her Castle. What a silly little princess she’d been!

Apparently in 2007 I was temporarily possessed by the spirit of an early 20th-century Sunday school teacher.

Earlier this month, I sat down to rewrite the terrible first chapters, and then send the rest to my sister. But once I got the first part in better shape, I couldn’t leave the rest of the tripe that Miss Flossie Jones of Millerville Baptist Church, circa 1902, communicated through me.

So for the past two weeks I’ve worked my way through the story, smoothing out the dialogue, creating better conflicts, and removing the saccharine moralization.

Since I returned Ria’s age to 18, I also reintroduced the romance that Flossie seemed very uncomfortable with. I suspect it was this aspect that made me decide to lower the age in the first place. I spent my teenage years in a real-life version of the Fellowship, so even at 30 I didn’t know quite how to handle romance in fiction.

The hardest part of the rewriting was Ria herself. She was a typical first-timer’s heroine. She had no real motivation, and she spent the whole story being propelled by other people’s decisions. She was also, as a writer friend of mine put it, “insufficiently hobbied.” What did Ria like to do in her spare time? The answer appeared to be “ride horses and complain about having nothing to do.” Ria’s sister, on the other hand, is always designing clever contraptions and figuring out how things work. She would have made a far better heroine. But this is The Ria Story, so I just had to try to work with what I had.

It was a lot of work… but so much fun. I stopped worrying about the unfixable worldbuilding problems and just let the story be what it is. Yesterday I finished it and emailed it to my sister. It’s not a great story, but I think I made it into a solidly “okay” story.

And now I’m at loose ends again.

Well, unless you count my actual serious novel. I’ve left Richmal and Co. cooling their heels in the third draft for nearly two months now. I’ve been stuck on a pretty thorny plot problem. Oh, hey, here’s a message from a reader who has a suggestion! BlessedAssurance.millertownbc points out that Richmal’s story features a lot more kissing than it does Bible reading, and she would be happy to take over the writing for a while.

Get thee behind me, Flossie.

My First Great Novel

Did you hear the light, wistful strains of violins wafting about the other day? I’m sure I did, as I was looking through things in my closet and picked up a tied-up bundle of fabric. The violin theme swelled as I untied it and laid out seven square quilt blocks. I had found remnants of my very first novel.

I’d written stories since I was nine years old, but this one was different. I began it when I was sixteen, and it was the one that introduced me to intoxication of novel-writing. Characters, setting, names, dialogue, conflict, romance, resolution… I drank deeply if inexpertly.

I based the novel on several selections of the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet. I imagined a princess, Ria*, who had to flee from a burning castle, was taken in by a farmgirl and had to learn to live as a peasant, was discovered and arrested and almost executed, only to be rescued and whisked off to a hideout deep in a forest. She eventually learns that the family friend who betrayed her was in fact working to protect her — but despite his being handsome and courageous and blue-eyed, MY princess fell in love with a clever, witty, and not-really-handsome green-eyed prince. Totally subverted expectations there!

(I also subverted the expectation that the novel would have a plot. Plots are hard.)

In case anyone wondered if a sixteen-year-old created this world, it was set in a land where each of the seven provinces was named for a jewel. Because why wouldn’t they use jewel names? Can you imagine how much more interesting addresses would be if our states were named for jewels? “My address is 121 Day Street, Millertown, Peridot, USA.”

Anyway, I can’t express just how completely I was immersed in my own world. I worked on this story almost continuously for three years. I spotted people who looked like my characters. I collected rhinestone jewelry that reminded me of the provinces. I listened to music that let me pretend I was hanging out with Ria and Co. And I dragged my obliging mother and long-suffering younger sister along for the whole dang journey.

Mom taught me how to actually write, while my sister, R, sat through innumerable reading sessions and discussions of my characters. Even my young nieces caught the bug; they used to spend hours pretending to be my characters in their hidden camp. The Ria Story (because I was bad at titles) was an fixed feature of our lives during those years.

So in retrospect, it made perfect sense that R and I spent who-knows-how-long designing and sewing seven quilt blocks to illustrate a folksong that Mom and I made up to go with the story.

Here you go: the Seven Provinces (with two extra blocks for symmetry’s sake): Amber, Sapphire, Vanyth, Amethyst, Ruby, Jaize, and Emerald.

(Oh, you noticed those gemstones you’ve never heard of? Well, Jaize — Ria’s own province — was originally Jade. But “jade” has too many negative connotations in English, so I made up my own gem. And then to justify it, I changed Opal to Vanyth.)

When I re-discovered these blocks, I spent most of the day trying to remember the song that went with them. It came back in pieces — to the point that I’d be browning meat for tacos and suddenly exclaim, “A merry feast on a golden plate and Emerald’s wine in a toast!” I still haven’t remembered the first verse, or the words that go with the ring-and-book block (to my chagrin, because that ring-and-book block was Ria’s own province and therefore The Most Important One). I sent the pictures to my sister R, who remembered each piece of the song after I quoted it to her. Mom had forgotten all of it.

I revised The Ria Story heavily in about 2007, streamlining it and giving it a plot, to the point that these quilt blocks hardly make any sense now. But my sister says that she wouldn’t mind having a copy anyway, just to show her own girls what we spent so much time talking about as teenagers.

So I’m trying to polish up the fairly terrible beginning into a sort-of readable state. I doubt this new generation will fall in love with the story like I did. I’m not sure anyone can. It’s not a viable story, but it will always be my first great novel.

*My princess’s name wasn’t just Ria. It was longer than that. The ability to make up completely new names was kind of a power rush. I got a little carried away. Best to just leave it at that.**

**Okay, okay. Her whole name was Vallarenzaria. Happy now?

8 Late Updates

The updates aren’t particularly late, I guess. But it rhymes!

Interesting how nothing bloggable has happened since November, huh? Well, the truth is, too much has happened — many things that made me think, “I should post about that.” You know what they say about good intentions and how they’re ideal for diabolical road maintenance. I’m just giving up and writing out a list of updates.

1. I’m writing a novel. Yes, the same one I’ve mentioned over the past (sigh) two years. Two or three times, I thought the end was in sight. I got really excited. And then I’d run into a snag that required me to go several chapters back and rewrite. Which is where I am now, having to write in an entirely new event to justify the climax.

2. It’s going to be a good novel! My problem is that I tend to write stories that are similar to existing genres, but don’t quite fit in one. They’re too lighthearted for drama and too serious for beach reads. So in my current novel, I’ve got a young librarian in a small town who has two love interests; but at the same time she’s dealing with the ongoing effects of racism and abuse. So definitely not an easy fit into one particular category.

3. I’m putting this item third, but I really ought to put it first, last, and in between all other points. In January, my kids’ best friend, a 13-year-old boy who was like a nephew to me, died suddenly of a previously unsuspected brain clot. He and his family have lived directly across from us for sixteen years, and he spent hours at our house. His loss is inexpressible. My kids are still pretty numb, and my husband is able to compartmentalize a broken heart. But I go through every day with my brain repeating, over and over, that our favorite friend is gone. It’s very difficult to watch his family grieve, and to try not looking too far ahead at all the years that he won’t be here. It’s hard, and sad, and I wish we could rewind and get another chance.

4. But life goes on, weirdly enough. I can switch from flooding tears to figuring out the day’s schedule in a moment.

5. Some stuff has been happening in the Toxic Christian Patriarchy world. A lot of it happened around the time we lost our friend, and I just couldn’t dredge up enough spirit to care. Fortunately, others have covered it better than I could anyway.

Go here to read about how Bill Gothard of IBLP/ATI had to face his accusers in court. The suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations, but the judge allowed each woman to speak and validated them afterward.

Here’s the Joy frequently covers the various implosions among long-entrenched church leaders.

You know how Christians are always looking at “our country” and shaking their heads and praying for revival? If you ask me, those prayers are being answered. Powerful men are finding that they can’t squash their victims’ voices like  generations of men before them could.

6. We’re finishing up another year of homeschooling, but this year is different — this year we’re graduating our oldest daughter. I wrote an open letter to her to commemorate the occasion. It’s odd to be writing to an almost-adult, when I still clearly remember her as a newborn baby with her nose smashed sideways from the birth.

7. I’m seriously excited about this novel I’m writing. (It’s still untitled since I can’t title my works until I’m done.) I’m finding space to allow my characters to be that confusing mix of good and bad that everyone is. It’s especially important in this novel, I think, because it’s set in a little Southern town with the usual history of racism. It would be all too easy to write it as “bad guys racist, good guys not.” But I strive to write real, human characters — and none of us possess all of the approved virtues that would make us a full-fledged “good guy.”  If only I could keep the plot from tangling up, I’d get this thing done!

8. (The fact that there’s a plot at all is a dramatic improvement from my earlier attempts at novels.)

Summer is coming. Writing is on the docket. That looks pretty good to me.

Fifty Shades of Fiction

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Am I coming out as a secret fan of Fifty Shades of Grey?

Well, the books began as a fan-fiction retelling of Twilight. I will say that I don’t like Fifty Shades as much as I liked Twilight. 

And I utterly despise Twilight.

No, I’m not a fan. I did try to read the first book. The writing was abysmal, the characters were intolerable, and having been fed toxic patriarchy in my younger years, the forced-submission stuff made me want to cry. A good sex story shouldn’t make you cry.

So why have I linked to the video below? Well, sorry, it’s actually not as salacious as secret sex dungeons and thinly-veiled abuse. I’m linking to one section of it where he talks about fiction vs. reality, because I think this is an area where people haven’t really thought through things.

I’ve heard many times, “How can a woman support the #metoo movement against sexual harassment when she reads things like Fifty Shades of Grey?” Or any erotic fantasy, really, because the genre so often blurs the line between consent and compulsion. This argument frustrates me. What people enjoy in fiction is often exactly the opposite of what they want in reality. In fiction you want conflict, drama, danger, and uncertainty. In real life, you want trust, reliability, peace, and security. Granted, I look askance at the fact that Fifty Shades was ever so popular because, really, it’s a very terrible series on many levels. But I don’t think that enjoying erotic fiction means a woman has no say in whether her boss can pat her butt or require sexual attention for her to keep her job.

The video explains it better, though. Why do we look for situations and stories in fiction that we don’t want in real life?

If you’ve got time, I recommend watching the whole thing, because he goes on to take apart 50 Shades (book and movie) and explain why it doesn’t work even in the context of fiction.

(Note: I have friends who like Twilight and Fifty Shades. Especially for Twilight, it really seemed to hit people on some deep level while they were dealing with difficult issues in their lives. I have no idea why, mostly because they can’t tell me either. They like it, I don’t, we’ve agreed to disagree.)

Sabbath Restlessness

I occasionally see a meme that thinks it’s solved my church problem for me. It informs me that if I stopped going to church because someone hurt me, then it’s obvious I was focused on people instead of Jesus. In short, if I find church a hard place to be, it’s my own fault.

Do I need to say that I hate that meme? No? Good.

It’s difficult for me to attend church. Even when I don’t fall prey to a panic attack, I find the whole process exhausting. When my choice is to go to a coffee shop and be refreshed, or go to church and be tired… well, the choice kind of makes itself, doesn’t it?

But I try. After all, we’re part of a healthy and safe church now. Nobody reminds me that I have to stay under authority. Nobody is twisting up Scriptures. Nobody watches my kids and judges my parenting. I know it’s a good place.

But it’s hard to feel that.

Recently I attended a service. I even took along colored pens and a journal with faux-reclaimed paper that my daughter got me for my birthday. I listen best when I can doodle, something I no longer apologize for.

Halfway through the sermon, I’d filled up two pages like this:

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When I start journalling like that, it means I’m desperately trying to outrun panic. And I didn’t make it this time. I left long before church was done.

When I looked at the pages later, I was struck at how it captures the frenzy of my thoughts in church. Not only am I reliving and grieving past hurts, but I’m also evaluating every word of the sermon to make sure it’s “okay.” My radar, so long suppressed, is on high alert at all times.

No wonder I get tired.

My husband is very understanding, but a lot of people aren’t. A lot of people look at spiritual abuse survivors and criticize them for not getting involved in a church. Well, here you go — handy-dandy photographic evidence of what a service looks like to someone who has been hurt by people in the church. 

I don’t skip church on Sundays because I’m spiritually apathetic. I avoid it because I’m on spiritual hyperdrive. And I long for the day that a church sanctuary is as safe and restful a place for me as a shabby-chic hipster coffee shop.

A Tip for When You Meet an Author

If you read a book you like, and then invite the author for coffee, here’s a tip: Bring a couple of copies to be signed, and then make sure that your nails coordinate with the cover of the book.

Alternatively, if you’re an author, choose a book cover that complements your readers’ unconventional style.

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I live for the times I hear from readers. Meeting them is a hundred times better.

Check out her blog here to read the thoughts and experiences of someone who grew up in a real-life Fellowship culture.

Thanks for a fun coffee date, Lady Adelaide. I really do love your nails.