Thursday, June 28, 2012

2012 Milestones

2012 has been a year of milestones and transitions in the Attractor household.  Since May, Tall Daughter E has graduated from high school and turned 18.  Tiny Daughter M has completed elementary school and is on her way to middle school this fall. This is taking quite a bit of mental adjustment on my part.

For one thing, I have no more small children.  Much like when we completed potty training I have the sense of transitioning to a different stage of parenting.  Because the girls are 5 years, but 6 grades apart, I have had a child in elementary school every year for the past 13 years.  This fall will be the first time in a long time that the rhythm of the grade school year will not be a factor in our home.  That is a little weird.  If you spent even 15 minutes with Tiny M, you would be quite sure that there are no more little girls in our home.  She will be 13 this fall – definitely 13.  With older children comes a certain amount of freedom, but also some anxiety.  As Bridget once told me, “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.”

The everyday things with Tall E are much the same as they have been, but there is the adjustment that we are now learning to live as adult women in the same home.  I’m still her mother, but she is an adult now and that makes things different.  She still needs guidance and support, but I need to temper my bossiness with respect for her autonomy.  That doesn’t exactly come naturally to me.

Next month my mother turns 70 and Fabulous Husband S turns 40.  This doesn’t seem to bother him much, but for me, staring middle age in the face is uncomfortable.  I don’t think I’m breaking new ground by saying I feel much younger than that and am astonished to find myself in this state.  Remember how old and out-of-touch middle aged people seemed when you were young?  That’s me now.  Those Facebook friends from high school who look so old? That’s how I look to them. While neither S nor I are aged I have to admit we are not young anymore.

The last few months have been a sort of a microcosm of life.  Each day is much like all the ones before and after it, but taken as a whole, I feel like there has been a huge continental shift and I am standing on a new piece of land, watching the familiar piece drift away.  I’m sure this land will soon become more comfortable and I will get used to our new normal, but it is still noticeable that things are not the same.  On the positive side, this season of transition reminds me to be present in each day and treasure it.  The stuff that will seem to have been important later is the stuff that is happening now.  As the hero of my generation, Ferris Bueller, once said, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Of course, Ferris is looking a little older, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alaska Hosts the PNWD

You may have noticed I haven’t posted anything here in a while.  For the last six weeks or so life was just too overwhelming and busy.  As a sanity-saving measure I did not make time to write.  I didn’t even make much time for the introspection necessary to write something interesting.  Getting through one task after another without falling apart was the big goal – anything else was gravy.  I don’t think I will write about all of it, because most of it is banal and boring to anyone not living it.  You lucky readers will get just the highlights.
One of the things taking up my attention lately was the Pacific Northwest District Assembly, held in Anchorage last weekend.  Alaska has never had the honor to host anything UU-specific like this.  Knowing that we may not get to host it again, we pulled out all the stops.  Since this was the 50th anniversary of the PNWD, the theme was a birthday celebration. The event went really well, but it was a lot of work.  If any of you came up for this event, thanks for coming and I hope you had a great time.

Talking to people, the PNWD was eye-opening for many Alaskan UUs.  Due to the logistics and costs involved, most of us don’t get to interact with other UU churches very often.  This isolation can lead to people being fairly uninterested in the UUA and the larger movement.  I hope that the interest piqued in many Alaskans about expanding our vision beyond our own churches continues and grows.

I have never been much of a joiner.  While it might be very nice to believe that I have such a charismatic personality that people are just dying to get to know me, the truth is it is very easy to attend and even join a church, and stay a stranger to most.  “Oh yes, I’ve met so-and-so” is not the same thing as a personal relationship. There is no doubt that I over-extended myself this spring, but I am finding that the best way to get to know  people is to get involved and do some work.  This is probably not a news flash to you, but it is progress for me.  I appreciate getting to know some our local members better.  Now I just need to figure out how to schedule increased involvement with times when my personal life is not blowing up.  Here’s to finding a balance between staying an outsider, and biting off more than you can chew!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Congratulations to Heather Christensen

A very excited congratulations to the Rev. Heather Christensen who is now in preliminary fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Those of you who have met or “met” Heather know what an amazing and genuine person Heather is and how lucky the UUA is to have her among their clergy.

A conversation with Heather never goes quite the way I think it will, and I always leave feeling uplifted, and affirmed, and with more to think about than before we spoke. You can follow Heather at her blog, Nagoonberry, and I recommend that you do if you don’t already.

Congrats Heather!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jupiter's Lesson on Perspective

Stargazing in Alaska is problematic. In the summer, there is too much light to see many stars. Spring and autumn each offer a few weeks with a good view, but in the winter clear means cold. Since I am a wimp and a terrible Alaskan, my normal view of the stars takes place during the walk from the car to the house.

Last night was a rare exception – a dark, clear sky and a not-too-cold temperature. Several planets took advantage of the chance to show off their best view. In the east Mars shone bright red and lonely over the Chugach Mountains. Normally that view would have been a showstopper, but Venus and Jupiter blazed so brightly in the west, directly opposite poor Mars, that I didn’t like to look away from them. I don’t think I have ever seen Jupiter shine bigger or brighter than it did last night.

It was a busy evening, so I got several opportunities to stare at Jupiter last night. Since red lights are for thinking strange thoughts, sitting there I was amazed that I could see anything at all that is 741 million km away. Paradoxically it is amazing that anything the size of Jupiter could ever be made to look like a pin head in the sky. It is strange that something that massive can be made to look so tiny to us. It is awe inspiring to live in that kind of world. I was in a terrible mood, but still, I was moved by mighty, tiny Jupiter.

Since I habitually over think things, I got to thinking about perspective. We never really know the truth or the magnitude of something when we see it from our point of view. There is too much about it that we will never see. The truth is that Jupiter is the second-largest thing in the solar system. At two and a half times the mass of all the other planets combined, and 66 moons, it dwarfs everything else we can see from the Earth except the sun. From my perspective it is a small, bright dot in the sky over Cook Inlet. The space between those two ideas is where I find my place in the universe.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conversations on God as Woman

This past Sunday Melissa Harris-Perry had a very interesting segment on her new show with Selene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, on women as religious leaders and as images of the divine. This is not the type of discussion I have commonly seen outside of liberal religious circles. This is an important conversation and I hope it continues.

Since I don’t believe in a god, you might wonder why I care how we envision him/her/it/them. But I do care. Non-theists are a small minority in America, and we are affected by the policies enacted by and attitudes prevalent among the majority of Americans who are theists. So it is important to me that, culturally, we do not limit our vision of the divine to white maleness. Our perception of what is good and worthy should not automatically make half of the population “other”. When we picture the divine we shape what we think is of value, and we all need to be able to participate in being valuable and seeing others as so.

Even personally, I care about how we picture the divine. I have found a lot of value in some pagan practices. Sometimes I wonder if it is even fair to participate in rituals since my beliefs are out of line with most Pagans, but picturing divine females helps me to deal with aspects of myself. As a Christian, I never felt like I was related to God, but working with goddesses is connecting to parts of myself. They are not other; they are me. Even as I feel my connection to Paganism slipping, I remember learning that reverence for goddess could be a real and deeply experienced religion, and how both welcoming and shocking that was.

It only requires a quick look at recent headlines to see that allowing patriarchy to dominate all discussions of religious faith is a bad idea and does not serve any of us well. Being an atheist does not shield me from its effects. I hope that going forward we have more public discussions of a more rounded view of divinity and religion.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Can't Take Any More Misogyny

I am trying to raise two girls here and it hasn’t been getting any easier lately. I am trying to raise young women who make their own choices and take responsibility for them, young women who can accomplish anything they set their minds to, happy, healthy, well-adjusted young women. So all of the ugly misogyny in the news lately is freaking me out.

While I am trying to tell my daughters that they can do anything they can dream, a presidential candidate is arguing publicly that they should not be allowed access to birth control. Birth control. We are not talking about late term abortion, or teenage sex, or anything that used to be controversial. They are being told that their future should be limited by their fertility and what kills me about this is that he just won primaries in three states. 20-ish years ago, when I was in high school, we never thought of contraception as anything that was in danger. It was just understood that a woman had the right to decide whether or not to conceive and that it was good for families not have more children than they could afford. These were evangelical Christians who understood that contraception was a net social benefit. I never imagined we would be having this argument.

On top of the normal fat-shaming and slut-shaming that happens every day in our society, what else has been going in misogyny lately? Well, I’ve read about people being unhappy that women breast feed in church, as if choosing to feed your child means you should be shut out of society. On the other hand, if women bottle feed, they are attacked from the other side for being selfish and not putting their baby’s health first.

A commentator on Fox News recently said that women should expect to be raped if they join the military. She criticized feminists who complain about “too much rape”. I would like to ask her what exactly would the right amount of rape be? Ladies, if you bravely decide to service your country and risk your life, expect that rape is just part of the package. What happened to support the troops?

We have all read about the Susan G. Komen foundation being pressured into dropping, and then restoring, funding to Planned Parenthood. I don’t need to cover it here. But Planned Parenthood continued to be a target because they make it possible for women to have sex, and that is bad.

Abortion rights are being systematically attacked all over the country. In these attacks women are continually portrayed as slutty, selfish, and stupid creatures who couldn’t possibly make a good decision without an authority figure helping her.

The Grammys decided that beating your girlfriend into the hospital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a featured performer. At my house, we turned off the volume while Chris Brown performed and discussed domestic violence. Yes, it was a teachable moment, but what we saw was that one person’s safety is less important than another person’s fame.

Today women were excluded from congressional testimony on the new federally-mandated contraception coverage. Apparently the subject at hand was religious rights, not reproductive ones.

I can’t take much more of this. My daughters’ bodies are not political footballs; they are their lives. I am more sick than I can express of the politicization of the health care of half of the population.

All of this, and more, is poison to the futures of young women. For every lesson their father and I teach them that they have as much value as any man, there are counter-lessons like these. They are being told that they need to be sexy, but not too sexy; independent, but not too independent; that they bring their problems on themselves; and that most of all, they are not to be trusted. These are not the family values I am trying to teach.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Walking in Two UU Worlds

Peter Morales’s recent article and all the responses to it remind me that I often feel like I walk in two separate, but over-lapping Unitarian-Universalist worlds: my church, and the UU blogosphere.

I enjoy Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship more than I ever thought I would. It is not a perfect organization, but there I have been accepted, encouraged, challenged, and affirmed. I have been welcomed there much more readily than I had expected. What I love most about that is that I have both been accepted with open arms just as I am, and challenged to be better and to do more. I love that.

The second UU world is really the first – I found Unitarian Universalism through the UU blogosphere. I have never met most of you, but you UUs who blog or frequently comment taught me about this religious movement until I knew I wanted to look for fellowship locally. I love all you UU bloggers and the community you created. Having said that, it doesn’t feel as welcoming as it used to. In spite of various disagreements and tensions, AUUF has never made me feel like maybe I don’t belong as a UU after all, but the blogging community sometimes has. When I have been hurt by comments I have read, I have been able to push back from the screen and remember that I have a community who accepts and welcomes me.

I believe strongly in the power of the internet and social media as connecting and community-building tools. If we want to use these tools for evangelism to unchurched UUs, we have to spend less time with self-flagellation. Endless material about what is wrong with UU churches and types of UU members isn’t going to attract anyone. People want to join a vibrant community that is going places, not a group who continuously agonizes over everything being done wrong. Give me a vision for making a better world, and a direction in which we are all going to pull to get there. Let’s build a movement based on that vision.

“What is it for us to do? It is for us to heal the world.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Imbolc Resolutions

Happy Imbolc!*

Imbolc is a strange holiday here in Alaska, because even though the light is starting to return (2 hours since the Winter Solstice!), there are no other signs of spring return, nor are there likely to be any anytime soon. Until last year, I never really acknowledged Imbolc as it didn’t seem to fit into my seasonal cycle.

Last year it occurred to me that Imbolc is the perfect time to make resolutions. By New Years I am still whirling from Christmas and usually planning two birthday parties. This puts me in no place for real reflection. By the beginning of February, I have had time, and darkness, and quiet enough to think about what I want to bring with me into the year. Imbolc is celebrated in honor of the Irish goddess Brigid, and her double emphasis on home & hearth, and creativity already make me think about what I want to be and do better.

Last year at Imbolc I decided I wanted to learn to do some things badly. I have a tendency to only want to things I am good at and avoid anything in which I might not excel. I did learn to both knit and run badly – badly enough to hurt myself even, but I found both learning experiences enjoyable, valuable, and freeing. Kicking off the expectation of excellence was uncomfortable at first, but it allowed me to explore interests in a new way, and opened up whole areas that I had always felt were off limits. I also learned to be a service lay leader this year, and I hope I am not doing it badly. It is really important to me that I do that one well, or move out of the way and let someone else do it better.

Here are three things I am focusing on this Imbolc.

1. Learning to do last year’s projects well. While I enjoyed the liberation I felt in learning those new skills, I want to get better at them rather than coasting. I also want to learn to do new things badly. I’m not sure what those things will be yet, but maybe when I am ready, a teacher will appear.

2. I want to write more without worrying about the readers’ reception. I spend way too much time second guessing what people think about what I write and not enough time writing. This might even fall under #1 as well.

3. 2012 will involve a lot of changes in my house. Tall Daughter E will be an adult this summer and she and I will need to find a new way of living together as two adult women. This might be a big learning curve. I am not sure how to do this, but she is important enough to me to figure it out. Tiny Daughter M will start middle school later this year and I will have no more small children. I need to learn how to parent through this transition.

Here is to more learning, writing, and adjusting in 2012. Check out the 7th annual online poetry festival for Brigid here. For those of you who celebrate, what does Imbolc bring to you?

*Patricia Kennealy Morrison referred to this holiday last night on Facebook as Brighnasa, as the counterpart to Lughnasa in August. I like it, and may use it in the future.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

In Defense of Pink

For one reason or another, the idea of gender was a major theme for me last year. One result of this is that I am defending something I never thought I would.

I am defending pink.

Between the video of the adorable girl criticizing the gendering of toys and the outrage over new Lego for girls it seems like the internet has blown up lately talking about toys for girls. I could spend all day linking to it all, or I could just let you Google it – there is a lot out there. I used to be in the same boat as these critics. I grew up a tomboy and my lust for Star Wars action figures instead of dolls was intense. I hated it when people tried to define my femaleness with traditional femininity. It did not fit me.

While pregnant with my first daughter I put a lot of thought into how I would raise a girl, unconstrained by social expectations of girliness. I was the parent who insisted on gender neutral clothing & toys. Barbie was absolutely forbidden. I ended up with an older daughter who almost totally eschews traditional feminine trappings. Aaaaand then we had daughter number two who is a frilly femme from her waist-length hair to her sparkly blue toenails. No amount of gender neutral propaganda is going to make this child not want to twirl around in lacy dresses and a tiara. And here is the thing – that should never be my goal.

I support gender neutral toys, but I no longer support the ghettoizing of pink ones. When we tell children that pink toys are bad, we tell them that femininity is bad. Girls and women should never be locked into gender stereotypes, but they also should not be denied their true selves if that self feels girly*. We ought not to tell children of either gender that girls cannot be chemists, but we also should not tell them they cannot be fashion designers. In an effort to support telling girls they can be whatever they want and make progress in traditionally male domains, I believe some feminists are painting femininity in a negative light.

One of the things I have come to realize in the past year is that my dislike of the color pink, and various other traditional feminine traits and activities are really my own unconscious internalized misogyny. That is painful to type, because I don’t want it to be true. When I go out of my way to make sure that people realize that I don’t do X, like other women, what I am really saying is that they way women do things is not as good as the way men to them. I’m saying I’m better than other women because I act more masculine. I am not OK with that. I am also finding that the older I get the more comfortable I get with my own femininity – I could not have written this post at 20.

I love my t-shirt & blue jeans daughter and my party dress diva daughter without any desire to make either one more like the other. I honor their true selves. I only hope I do them justice as they grow into amazing young women – with pink or without.

*I’m not ignoring the fact that these issues also apply to boys and transgendered people. I don’t feel as qualified to speak to that. Those issues are real and valid, but they are not the subject of this post.