Unhappy People

Frown

In my experience, you can usually recognize unhappy people quickly because they spend a lot of time telling you why they are unhappy.

Back when I was heavy (I lost 80 pounds several years back), I would spend a lot of time telling people why I was heavy and why I couldn’t get fit. I must have had dozens of conversations with people who were in better shape that sounded something like this.

Wow, you’ve gotten in really good shape. I’m totally envious.

You know, you could get in shape, too. It all comes down to diet and exercise.

Yeah, I know, but I wasn’t raised like that. I don’t have the time to catch up. And you’re so far ahead of me.

Lots of people lose weight and get fit. It takes work and dedication, but it is totally possible.

I understand that as a concept, but those people don’t have my life. I’m working 60 hours a week and I have Church callings, I have kids, plus I have a bad back. Maybe in the future. And eating healthy takes so much time and money. It’s just beyond me right now.

Well, the truth was, I could get fit (and I later did). It wasn’t that I didn’t have time, it’s that I didn’t manage my time well. It wasn’t that I had a bad back, in fact my back pain was much much worse when I was heavy. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the training, I just needed to train myself. It wasn’t that eating well took time and money, it is that I was lazy, uneducated, and unwise in my food choices, and I consumed far too many unhealthy things.

Yet I spent a lot of time telling people why I envied them, why I was unhappy. I wanted their attention and sympathy, even as I went to grab a family size bag of Peanut Butter MnMs, microwaved popcorn with butter, and a large Coke for lunch, and then hit the fast-food drive-thru on the way home. And ate it all and wanted more. While feeling sorry for myself.

I see the same types of habits with people who feel stuck by life, who are struggling with physical or emotional health issues, who have financial burdens, who are frustrated by a certain type of success that they want to achieve, or even who are in unhealthy relationships that last way too long.

People that we perceive as successful, that we honor and laud for their success, are those who don’t waste time whining about the status of their lives and instead get up to affect change.

Despite my recent accomplishments, I have fallen into a few old patterns lately, isolating myself a bit and feeling sorry for myself, even while lamenting a certain quality of friends or relationships. I’ve had my reasons and excuses this past year: a few professional ventures haven’t succeeded like I had hoped, a relationship I put a lot into didn’t pan out, and my best friend died. But these old patterns have held me down. I have had decades of practice at putting them in place, all those years spent as the quiet closeted Mormon kid who didn’t think he had a future.

I want to point out that there is an enormous difference between unhappy and sad. Every human needs time to be sad, to grieve and be heartbroken, to be a little numb and even to have a good cry from time to time. But being momentarily sad is vastly different than being unhappy long-term.

The truth is, I have every potential for happiness, fitness, financial freedom, healthy relationships, and success as anyone else. It all comes down to how I spend my time, what I spend my time on, who I spend my time with, and what I choose to make my priorities.

I’m making a new firm commitment with myself that I will stop wasting time being unhappy and will spend more time making decisions that lead me toward happiness. I only get to do this once, and 38 is beckoning ever closer.

Advertisements

Shakespearean ghosts

Cedar1

My favorite part of any theater production is eavesdropping on the crowd at the end. Here are a few snippets of conversations I heard on my way out of Henry V last night.

Oh, well, that was pretty wonderful. Just about a half an hour too long!

So wait, why was that French girl not speaking English when all the other French characters were speaking English?

I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I was living for it all the way through.

It was good. Yeah, the sets were pretty. I didn’t really get the storyline, but that’s not that weird. It’s Shakespeare.

They needed air-conditioning! My back and rear are all sweaty! But I stayed awake!

Shakespeare! That was brilliant! Have you seen the other Henry plays? You have to see all of them. I have copies if you want to read them.

It was a perfectly beautiful evening after a hot day, a light summer breeze blowing; Cedar City had reached 100 degrees today earlier. I walked down the stairs from the large outdoor theater, where the play had been performed down in the center with the audience sitting on raised seating all around.  No one seemed to be in a hurry, which I noticed quickly; Americans always seem to be in a rush to leave places.

I walked through the Shakespearean statues, quotes on the walls. There were separate theaters here for the Shakespeare festival, and a nice center venue for refreshments and green shows, lounging in the grass in the hot sun for conversation. I walked around the perimeter of Southern Utah University, all long shadows at this time of night. And then I kept walking.

I felt a bit haunted by history, after a day of heavy, and somewhat emotional, research. The ghosts were there. Not actual ghosts, of course, but the presence of those who have come before and all the stories that must be told. Then I smiled as I realized that was perhaps the perfect mood to have seen Henry V in. Shakespeare would want me to feel haunted right now.

Based on actual historical events, Shakespeare wrote a series of less popular plays about the various Henrys in the history of Great Britain. This story had unfolded with a powerful undertone of conquest and righteousness and destiny in it, underlying the entire production like a steady and distant percussion. The set had been simple and beautiful, all dripping candle wax and flowing banners with sigils and shiny gold. The costumes had been elaborate, golden crowns and swords in scabbards and thigh-high boots. And the casting had been wonderful, the actors with booming voices and conviction behind their words and fully formed relationships there on stage.

As I walked, I thought of the pride and arrogance of rulers. Toward the end of Henry V, the king reads scrolls of the deceased in battle, accounting the numbers of soldiers and peasants quickly, then taking time to read the individual name of each fallen lord. Pride and ego on both sides led to war and bloodshed. The play was full of underlying intrigue; a soldier hung for robbing a church, three of the kings closest allies caught in an assassination plot, a wife bidding a husband farewell knowing that she would never see him again, the most innocent character being tragically killed just as the conflict subsided.

I found a particular vantage point and watched the stars in the night sky over the rolling hills. I felt the heaviness of it all for a moment. Talent and ambition, pressure and worry over what comes next, tragedy and lives cut short, streets walked by people day after day and generation after generation. And then I thought of this single production, nearly three hours of brilliant theater, that brought together the lives of actors and attendees, hundreds of people in one room all moving on now to their lives, night and then day, all of us writing our own stories.

And I grinned as I remembered Henry V in the play telling his men, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.”

Polygamy, second generation

Joseph Smith first introduced polygamy in 1831, shortly after he established the Mormon Church, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Depending on your view point, he either was commanded by God to marry dozens of women, and he did so reluctantly, or he really wanted a lot of wives and he used religion as an excuse to obtain them.

Joseph had his closest allies, such as Brigham Young and John Taylor, who became the next two prophets and presidents of the Church after Smith was killed, take extra wives as well. In 1835, Smith published a revelation from God that condemned polygamy, even while he was practicing it. The leaders of the Church began expanding the practice, even as they publicly denied it, and more and more men and women were encouraged, at times coerced, to enter polygamy. There is evidence that shows Smith, and others, used coercion, or their influence as church leaders, to marry women, some who were already married to other men.

polygamy mormons

It wasn’t until 1852, when the Mormons were settled in Utah (then not part of the United States) that Brigham Young publicly acknowledged polygamy, and then made it a standard practice. Young, who had more than 40 wives, talked about it as a divine principle; one man spreading his time, money, attention, and energy among the number of wives he took in. Members were taught that in order to be holy and in good standing, they had to participate, and if they didn’t want to, they were called selfish or sinners; all faithful members should want to enter these complicated family systems because it is what God wanted.

The United States was outraged, and began to work tirelessly to shut down polygamy in all United States territories (as Utah wouldn’t become a state until 1896). In 1862, polygamy was deemed officially illegal, but the Mormons thought their religious status protected their rights to practice it. The case went to the Supreme Court, and in 1878 it was deemed that even for religious institutions, polygamy was illegal. But by this time, there were thousands upon thousands of families in Utah practicing polygamy. And men as they aged continued taking young virginal wives, some 14 and 15 years old marrying men in their 60s and 70s. But it wasn’t until 1890 that the fourth Mormon prophet, Wilford Woodruff, publicly stated to Mormons that polygamy shouldn’t be practiced. But families were now into their third generation of polygamy; children who were born into polygamous households now had grandchildren becoming fourth wives. And polygamy was still being practiced. In 1904, the Church again had to remind members not to practice polygamy anymore, but it still continued happening, and then again in 1920, the Church finally made it grounds for excommunication. By this point, polygamy had been practiced for approximately 90 years, and it continues to exist in many communities in 2016.

Ida Hunt was born in a central Utah town in 1858. In 1882, she became the second wife of David Udall, a local church leader who already had a wife, Ella. David and Ella were reluctant to be polygamous, but a personal letter from the prophet of the church, John Taylor, told David that he wasn’t setting a good example for the Mormons who followed him, and told him that all Church leaders were expected to be polygamous. So David married Ida in 1882 . Ida became pregnant. And then David, by all accounts a good man, went to jail for polygamy. Ella was left with her children without support, and Ida had to go into hiding with her daughter so they couldn’t use her as a witness against David.

Doing the math here, it was four years AFTER the United States declared polygamy illegal even in religious institutions that the Mormon prophet was encouraging/coercing leaders to take more wives. And 8 years after the marriage of Ida and David that the Church first said it was no longer a sanctioned practice. I recently read Ida’s published journals, her accounts of living on her own, without support or husband, for years as she had to stay hidden while trying to provide for a child. President Grover Cleveland eventually pardoned David, and Ida named her first son after the president. She ultimately had six children. She spent the next few decades, strained financially and having problems with Ella, and David struggled financially with both. Ida died in 1910 of a stroke, far too young. David and Ella ended up married for 50 years before their deaths.

Reading her words, I was struck by her thoughts about the United States government. She expressed again and again how she felt Satan was influencing the government, forcing adversity against God’s Saints, forcing prejudices against the holy order of polygamy. These beliefs were backed up by her local leaders. She never once saw the institution as illegal or morally wrong, because she had been raised believing it was right.

I was raised Mormon. Polygamy was always something in the shadows. Mormons still believe it to be an eternal principle, something that will be practiced in Heaven, men with multiple wives. They tone it down to soften the blow, saying things like it is only in place so that women who never got a chance to have husbands will get the chance in Heaven. All that said, nearly every Mormon I know is a little disturbed by the practice; it elicits discomfort and sadness when it comes up in conversation.

At the same time, I see the same defense mechanisms that Ida had in place with Mormons today as well. I hear excuses about how Satan is influencing the government to do things like make gay marriage legal, and how Mormons have it right with traditional and Celestial families. These same arguments were likely used during the Civil Rights era, and during the “women’s liberation” movement.

Ultimately, though, the Church comes around. Polygamy was declared illegal, blacks were given the Priesthood, and in time, gay marriages will be allowed, in some measure that will allow the Church to save face.

What makes me most upset, however, are the lives lost in the balance. The young mother hiding with her child while her husband is in jail, the black child growing up believing he is less than his white peers, the gay couple keeping their relationship a secret so they won’t be excommunicated. The consequences of these teachings in family last entire lifetimes, and in the generations that follow. Even now, there are thousands upon thousands of families engaging in polygamy secretly, feeling it is their religious obligation to do so, and blaming the government for persecuting them.

Idah1

 

hummingbirds

Hummingbird.jpg

I woke up in someone else’s house this morning.

It was peaceful and I had the realization that it felt more like home than my home does.

I sat out on the veranda at 6 am, clutching my hot cup of coffee in my hands, and I watched the sun rise over the valley. The house is up in the hills, behind the Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, and offers a beautiful view of the valley for miles and miles around. I looked at long stretching roads toward the south, rolling hills to the east, lights and buildings and distant traffic, clouds and atmosphere.

My heart literally skipped when I looked up to see hummingbirds at the feeder. Two of them. Their wings flapped swiftly, in little blurs, as the birds launched themselves several feet in one direction, then hovered there in the air before launching somewhere else. I watched them for a full 15 minutes, these small and fragile and amazing creatures.

Back inside, I looked at the home itself. Hardwood floors and marble countertops. Soft lighting. Black and white photos of trees in snow on the walls. An espresso machine. Freshly picked lilies on the table. Comfortable chairs with pillows. Wide spaces and high ceilings. Air conditioning. I looked behind me and the hummingbirds were still there, visible with the entire world behind them.

I’m alone here, and that is appropriate. I’m house-sitting for a friend of mine, a man who came out of the closet around the same time as me, a man who also has two children, although his children are much older than mine. A man who fell in love with another man right away, a relationship that lasted two years. And now he was in love again, going on another two years, and he and his boyfriend had moved in together, in this beautiful home in this beautiful place, with hummingbirds and lilies.

In some alternate world, this was my fate. A beautiful home, a partner, a yard and a view, a place for my children to feel grounded and at home when they come over. My path has taken its own turns, though, to an apartment filled with furniture and toys that doesn’t feel like home, like the one before it didn’t and the one before that.

I sat down in one of the chairs, sipped my coffee, and contemplated where I am at in life right now. Things are changing all around me. Of my two best friends, Cole is in love with someone now, and Kurt is gone. My ex-wife has been in a new relationship for over a year. My sons are entering kindergarten and second grade soon, and the younger one is having his fifth birthday in just a few days.

And here I am, feeling more at home in someone else’s home than my own.

It’s a strange realization that I’ve been out of the closet for over five years now, and that I have achieved so much, yet I still haven’t found a home. I’ve lived in 8 different apartments in two different cities in that time span, searching for that grounding, that sense of belonging. But it simply isn’t there yet. I’m grounded in my own skin, that part feels wonderful, but I haven’t found a place to belong yet.

Much remains elusive to me, and it may always be so. Satisfaction, love, financial success, nutrition and fitness, things I continually strive for. My path is my own now. It feels like my own. I enjoy being hungry for more in my life. I enjoy the balance of the pursuit of knowledge and success and raising my children, at least so far. Despite all of that, it’s been a rough and strange year.

I look back at the hummingbirds. One of them is at the feeder now. It looks almost serenely still for several seconds as it drinks, it’s body not moving. But it’s wings… it’s wings are going one hundred miles per hour in order to hold it in place.

Then a huge smile crosses my face as I watch it, and realize maybe it and I are just a little bit alike.

refugee

Muslim1

Look, I get it, I get it. You don’t need to explain. The refugee camp was bad, I know, I’ve seen the reports. But you’re wasting your breath here.

Things are bad here, too. We have religious freedoms being attacked by homosexuals, and traditional families being threatened by very definition. We have cops being attacked by black people. Our political parties are at war. We have poverty, unemployment, people are divided on the most basic issues. Immigration is out of control. And terrorism! Our current political climate is divided between Hillary Clinton, a known and proven liar, and Donald Trump, who is just plain crazy. I’m losing sleep over this stuff. I can barely afford my house payment and my medical insurance for my kids. I had to cancel Cable and my gym membership in order to survive.

You’re still here? You want to be heard, I know, I heard you. We all want that. Will I just review your report? Okay! Okay, fine, but if I review it, then you’ll leave me alone? Okay, deal.

All right, let’s see. Born Muslim in Somalia. Grew up with your mother, brother, and sister since your father left your mother for a younger wife, and you were being bullied by your older brother, who couldn’t be punished because he was male and had authority over his mother and sisters. At age five, your grandmother had strange men come into your home and hold you down so they could cut off your clitoris without anesthesia, then they sewed up your sex organ, so that even though the procedure could kill you and would make it hard to urinate for the rest of your life, this would make sure your husband would know you were a virgin when you married after he forced open the scar tissue on your wedding night. It would also make sure you didn’t experience that particular  type of sexual pleasure in your life again.

It says here that you heard about women who were raped returning to their families who were ashamed of them. Many of these women were killed by their families because they were impure, and some of them chose to commit suicide. It says that women were considered less than men and that Allah created them to be so. It also says that you grew up knowing you must keep yourself completely covered at all times, as the exposure of any hair or skin could tempt men and give them impure thoughts, and that would be all your fault.

It says you grew up with barely any education, except that of the Quran, and that you had only rudimentary nutrition, and barely any medical or mental health services available. No clean water, often isolated for weeks at a time, regularly beat by your mother and sometimes locked into rooms for days for being undutiful.

Says here that when your government went to war, you started hearing even more terrible stories, like your friend who was brutally raped by multiple soldiers, and how she became pregnant, and how after the baby was born one of the soldiers tossed it into the fire and forced the woman to watch it burn alive. You say many starve to death and many others die from superficial wounds because there was no clean water or first aid available. You nearly starved to death.

Okay, let’s see, what next. Your father tried to force you into a marriage with someone you didn’t know, even as some of your friends were being married off to first cousins.

I’m sorry, but I have to skip to the end of this, I have other people waiting. You got out of the war zone and made it into the refugee camp. Some of your friends have been raped by the soldiers here, and now they have been disowned by their families for being unclean. You’ve been waiting for a Visa to another country for five years. But you have basic food and medical care, so that’s something new, right? Oh, you still have family in the war zone. Well, tell them to come here to the refugee camp! They’ll be safer here!

Okay, I read your papers, are you happy now? Look, I don’t mean to be unsympathetic. You’ve certainly had an ordeal. But I have to think of the big picture here. If I started helping everyone who has a story like yours, America’s shores would be flooded with refugees, and we are already stretched to our limits as it is. Come back for your check in in another 90 days, and maybe we’ll be able to help then.

In the meantime, though, here is a copy of the Bible. Seriously, your religion sounds crazy. Maybe you should consider changing? Good luck to you. Oh, grab yourself a chocolate candy on the way out, there is a bowl there on the desk. American chocolate is the best. I like it a little too much, you can probably tell from the cushion around my waist. Haha. Anyway, have a nice day.

Next!

**Thank you to Ayaan Hirsi Ali for sharing her powerful story in her book, Infidel.

 

 

red onion

redonion

This morning, I sliced a red onion. The small circle severed from the whole, maybe an eighth of an inch thick, and lay there on the cutting board. I picked it up in the palm of my hand and looked at the spirals within, purple on the edges and a thick white, stripes spinning into the center vortex. A slice of life, I thought. How complex. How beautiful.

I chopped the slice into small slivers, no bigger than the nail on my pinkie finger, and used the blade to deposit them into the tablespoon of oil that was slowly heating the pan. I saved the last sliver and placed it on my tongue. The savory bitter flavor was soft until I bit into it, releasing the juice of the onion, the essence of all that onion was released in that small piece. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was strong, almost over-powering there on its own. It was delicious.

spinach

I took a handful of fresh spinach leaves out of the bag and tossed them in the pan. I took one leaf between my finger and thumb and pulled it free from the pile. Thin, delicate, I could see the veins of the leaf work from the strong core and stem, delivering nutrients to the rest of the life, but one part of the plant, each centimeter vital to the whole. I popped the leaf in my mouth and chewed on it as I cooked, still mostly tasting onion.

alfalfasprouts

Using two fingers, I pulled a wedge of alfalfa sprouts out of the mass of alfalfa I had in a small bag. They clung there, not wanting to be separated from the rest, holding tight to the collective, and it took a bit of force and tearing to get them free. I rubbed the sprouts together between my fingertips, releasing them into the mixture in the pan. The smell of the cooking onion entered my nose, and I felt my mouth water as my stomach rumbled.

eggs

I used sharp clicks against the countertop to open three separate eggs, and I poured their small universes into the pan individually. The bright yellow yolk reminded me of the sun, life-giving in the vast expanse of sky. The protein-rich source, life-giving, contained in a single shell. The pan was hot now and I used a whisk to blend the ingredients together, swiftly taking the form of scrambled deliciousness.

coffee

I scooped freshly ground coffee, the rich deep smell hit my nose and heightened my senses. I leaned down and took a deep, long smell, among my favorite in the world. As I finished cooking, the coffee brewed, black and strong and rich, into my mug.

I took my breakfast out onto a veranda overlooking the city that enchants me with its history and haunts me with its realities. I savored my coffee and crunched ingredients between my teeth. I sat shirtless, wearing only sweatpants and slippers, and felt the cool breeze against my skin. I closed my eyes and listened to the leaves rustle, the distant motors, the sounds of Rufus Wainwright playing in a house nearby, the dulcet and dripping water of a fountain in the yard next door.

I thought of hummingbirds. I thought of the human spine. I thought of hot water showers with perfect water pressure, and Seattle lake shores, and rhythm, and the arms of my children around my neck. I thought of Kurt. I thought of history. I thought of apples. I thought of taking an hour after breakfast to compose this blog, and wondered who might read it and if they might feel the way I feel now. I thought of having someone to wake up next to. I thought of mountains, and mountaintops, and climbs to get there. I thought of the black sky I went to sleep to an the soft blue it was now. I thought of push-ups, and swimming pools, and comic books, and words on pages.

And then I thought of red onions.

redonion

 

Righteous Indignation

Girlpower

“There had better be righteous indignation,” my ex-wife told me, a mix of humor and outrage in her voice.

I laughed. “Okay, I think I can manage a bit of that. Let me have it.”

I heard her clear her throat over the phone and then take in a long breath. “Okay, you remember how I wanted to change my last name back to my maiden name?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if you remember, when we got married, we had to get the wedding license and then it only cost like $15 to change my last name to yours. I filled out a form and then just informed the companies. I had to get all my identifications changed over, like my driver’s license. It was a hassle, but relatively easy.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Okay, so I went in the other day to see if I could change my name back. I was informed that if I had wanted to do this at the time of our divorce, it would have been a simple process. I request the name change, I pay the $15, and the name is changed back. But now… now since it has been a few years since the divorce, I have to go through this whole process. Apparently it costs around $450! And, get this, I have to have your permission to change it back! We’ve been divorced for years!”

“Wait, what?”

“Yes! She told me that you have to give a letter of consent to change it back.”

“If you were getting married again and wanted to change your name, what then?”

“$15. No hassle. But if I, as a single independent woman, want to change it, it’s several hundred dollars and permission from my ex-husband.”

I sat back and absorbed all of this for a moment, trying to make rational sense of it, turning on the analytical part of my brain. “Okay, part of this doesn’t surprise me. We live in Utah, obviously. There was a mandatory 3 month waiting period before the divorce was granted, and they made us take that divorce class where the presenter basically kept asking, ‘are you sure you want to get divorced? really really sure?’ Plus, Mormon men can marry a woman in the temple, get divorced, marry another woman in the temple and still be considered married to the first woman. Women get married in the temple, get divorced, and if they want to get married in the temple a second time, they have to get permission from their ex-husband to have a temple divorce first. Clearly, this policy stems from the culture.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any less outrageous!”

I thought for a split second before deciding to make a joke of the whole thing, knowing her sense of humor. “Well, if you wanted special privileges in Utah, maybe you should have just been born with a penis.”

I could almost hear her rolling her eyes over the phone. “Ha-ha,” she responded without humor.

“It really is horrible, Meg. Truly. I don’t know what to say.”

“Men!” She answered, half-joking and half-serious. “Seriously, this whole system is set up for men. And here I am talking to a white man!” We both laughed, then she added, “Except you’re gay, so that makes you just slightly more tolerable.”

We ended the call shortly after that, and I sat reflecting on the state of the world, where such needless barriers were put in place. I pictured myself bringing this example up in one of my old social justice classes that I taught in college, using this as an example of oppression. One of the white male, Mormon students in the back would have raised his hand and given an argument like “I’m a white male, and I like women, so I’m not sexist. And I don’t think the law is either. If it was a man who had changed his name to his wife’s last name and he wanted to change his name back, he would have to go through the same process.” And then I would have quipped with a speech about the societal pressure and value that is placed on couples to marry young and for the woman to take on the man’s last name. We would have gone back and forth for a time, two white men arguing about women’s rights.

I sat down on the couch, a bit exhausted with all of it, and wondered how different the world might be if at least 50 per cent of the elected leaders were women; truly, more than that is what is needed, because how long have men been at it, and how much more fair might the world be if women took the lead.

On your wedding day…

 

Hey Kurt,

You were supposed to get married this Saturday. I was texting Elias, and he reminded me that this Saturday was the big day. Or it was supposed to be.

When you first told me you were finally engaged, I remember sitting back and day-dreaming about what this day would look like. I know you had different plans for the actual event, but this is the way I remember imagining it:

Your yard would be immaculate, full of flowers and trees, benches you made with your own hands adorning the edges of the yard. It would have been the perfect sunny day, cool and warm all at once, with shade for your guests. The rows of chairs would be filled with your loved ones: your sons, your stepdaughters, your mom, your coworkers, your best friends. I would have been sitting there on the front row in a suit with a flower on my lapel, and brimming with pride and joy for you. I’m sure I would have been crying, much like I’m crying now.

I envisioned strings, playing beautiful music and welcoming you and Elias as you walked down the aisle hand in hand, both incredible fit and trim and sharp in your suits, all your hard work at the gym having paid off. I know how you would have looked at each other, in the eyes, hand in hand, as you recited your vows, and pledged love to each other for the rest of your lives. I remember how you looked at each other.

It’s hard having you gone, my friend. Your presence just loomed so largely in my life, and so consistently, that I don’t know if I would have been able to predict it would be like without you.

Elias and I text sometimes. We remember you. We think about what you would have wanted for us, in our own ways, after you were gone. We’ve met up a few times to talk and share, but most of the conversation comes back to how we miss you. He’s healing. He’s hurting a lot, but healing. Staying busy with work and friends, planning his future as best he can. And I think all of us who miss you are much the same, in lesser degrees.

I just sit back sometimes and think about how abrupt it was that you left us. You had unfinished wood working projects, new accounts coming in at work, yard work and wedding plans and a bachelor party and a honeymoon all coming up. All the hikes you went on, all the ground you walked upon. And all those miles we traveled together, all of our road trips and long conversations. You know that section on Facebook, where it shows you all of your memories on the same calendar date over the past several years? You come up on my feed nearly every day. So many memories, Kurt! Moab and Denver and Mexico and Vegas and San Diego. Coffee catch-ups and house parties and nightclubs and lunches and hikes. It’s almost ridiculous to realize that you were not only my best friend, you were my primary support system. If someone asked me to list a next of kin or an emergency contact, I would have given your name, and you would have shown up when they called.

I miss you, my friend, but that’s easy to tell. I’m doing well enough, staying social and busy and engaged. I’ve traveled a bit lately, to Seattle and to Island Park; you and I would have texted constantly during both of those trips, and I found myself wanting to tell you things and you would have made me laugh.

Despite all that, I’ve been a little more withdrawn lately. I find myself expecting less of people, staying quiet for longer periods of time. I’ve spent more time solo, and more time quiet when I’m around others. And that’s okay, at least for now. I think it’s a pretty healthy way to process grief overall. But I know you, too. If you were here, you’d show up and you’d be worried about me.

I keep getting little snapshots of you throughout my days. The birthday party you threw me, where you made everyone there go around in a circle and tell their favorite stories about me. The going away party you had for me when I moved to Seattle and how you always gave me a place to stay when I came back to visit. How you always, always answered me and showed up anytime I needed you, like the time you helped me assemble bunk beds for my kids and the time you picked me up when my car broke down. These memories and a thousand thousand more.

God damn it, I miss you, my friend.

This Saturday, I’ll with my sons, but I know it’s going to be a tough one. It was supposed to be your day. Elias is going to ascend a mountain in your honor that day. I’m not sure how I’ll honor you yet, but I want you to know that you’ll be on my mind. I’m working on a book right now. (You were always telling me to write a book). When I finish it, if I finish it, you will very likely be the one I dedicate it to.

I’ve told you this a lot of times already, but  I just want you to know that you changed my life. I still hear your voice of reason, your laugh, your sage advice.

I help people grieve for a living, so I know it’s a process. I’m getting there. The people who mean the most take the longest to get over. And you’re gonna take a long time.

I love you, my friend. And I miss you.

Chad

Kurt10

 

 

that time in 1872 when a feminist and an escaped slave ran for president

In 1872, a woman ran for President of the United States with an escaped slave as her running mate.

Victoria Clafin suffered abuse at the hands of her father as a child.  He was a con man who pulled his daughter out of school when she was 11, and he was run out of town shortly after when he burned down his own home and tried to collect the insurance money.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in his grandmother’s shack. Though he never knew his father, it was believed that his owner had fathered him biologically, but because of his black skin, Frederick would be property rather than an heir. As a child, he witnessed slaves being whipped, interrogated, worked to death, sold, and murdered.

At age 14, Victoria met and soon married Canning Woodhull, a doctor twice her age, and she had two children, a son and a daughter, Byron and Zula Maude. Canning liked alcohol and women a bit too much, and Victoria divorced him. Though she later took a second husband, she later advocated for free love, the idea of having sex as the heart dictates, not strictly confined to marriage or commitment. She kept Canning’s late name, Woodhull. She saw a society where women either belonged to a man in marriage, or were ostracized for being divorced, and she loudly proclaimed that women should be given the right to own their own bodies and choices. She was jailed for speaking too loudly.

Frederick was sold to a new master, and the man’s kind wife taught him to read, but when his master found out, the lessons stopped, as it was believed that an educated slave was a dangerous one. Frederick taught himself to read after that, through guile and dedication, and he fell in love with the New Testament. He began teaching other slaves to read in Sunday School. At 16, he was given to another new master, who beat and whipped him regularly, promising to break him.

Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, opened their own stockbroking firm in 1870, and were hailed as “the Queens of Finance” as they coached their clients toward riches. Victoria used her money to start her own newspaper, which she ran for six years. Its primary purpose was spreading the message of feminism, and it advocated for legalization of prostitution, sex education, women’s suffrage, women’s right to choice, and spirituality, and it even printed Karl Marx’s Communism Manifesto. Victoria used her influence to expose a church leader’s marital affairs, a man who had advocated for monogamy and marriage over the pulpit.

In 1837, Frederick met a free black woman, Anna Murray, and fell in love. It took several months, but he ran away, risking his life, and escaped into the north to be free. He took Anna as his wife and they remained married for 44 years, and had five children. Frederick became a preacher, an abolitionist, and an author. His first book, about his time in slavery, became an international bestseller, and Frederick began traveling the world to speak about his experiences; he was still subjected to violence and hatred at times. He spoke loudly against the hypocrisy of Christianity in the South, Bible-reading men who prayed and paid tithes and then beat and raped and sold and killed their slaves under the protections of religion. He started a newspaper and began giving speeches, like one called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He also advocated for women’s rights, and stayed very politically active through the Civil War.

Deciding to run for president, Victoria stood before Congress and argued eloquently that since all citizens were equal, women already had the right to vote. She ran on the ticket of the newly formed Equal Rights Party, and Frederick Douglass, through no initiative of his own, was voted as her running mate for Vice President. Ulysses S. Grant was elected president in 1872. Women would receive the right to vote approximately 50 years later, and the Civil Rights Movement would take place closer to 100 years later.

After the death of his wife Anna, Frederick took a second wife, Helen Pitts, a white feminist nearly 20 years younger than him, a union which caused much public scandal. He died in his late 70s, fighting for equal rights for others until his last breath. Before his death, he made peace with his original owner, the man believed to be his father.

Victoria lived into her 80s and lived overseas for a time, taking a third husband in England. She remained much quieter in her later years.

A black man, Barack Obama, was first elected president in 2008, and a woman, Hillary Clinton, was first put on a presidential ticket in 2016. Gender and race equality remain ever-present issues in today’s politics. But it was 1872 when a black man and a woman first teamed up, unwittingly, to run the country. We are long overdue.

 

 

 

Pokemon, Go!

I woke up with a wild Mankey on my crotch.

mankey

It was 5:30 in the morning and I had just stirred awake when, like most Americans, I grabbed my phone to check whatever it was I missed overnight. After clearing some Emails and messages, I opened up the Pokémon Go app that I had just downloaded the night before, a game that uses GPS to position you as a character on a map. You can catch Pokémon by throwing little red and white balls, called Pokeballs, but you physically have to walk places in order to catch the little beasts. I can hunt Pokémon in my city parks, down side streets, on lake fronts, and in cemeteries. When the Pokémon show up on your phone, the app places them in your camera feed and you catch them on your screen. So I might fight a Pikachu on my front porch, a Pidgey in a tree outside, or a Meowth in my shopping cart at the grocery store.

But this morning, there was a Mankey on my crotch. I caught it, then had a good laugh, the irony of that particular placement for that particular Pokémon dawning on me quickly.

I am by no means a video game enthusiast, and I have no particular love for Pokémon. I’m a huge comic book nerd and I love a lot of nerdy things. But recently, my children have gotten into the Pokémon XY craze on television and we play with their little toys constantly, having battles between them all over the house. So when I heard about the new app, I thought I might download it for them.

I first played Pokémon back on a special color Gameboy back in 1998, when I was a Mormon missionary in Delaware. I saved up my extra allowances for a few months and made the purchase at a small electronics store there. The graphics were rudimentary, walking and collecting small creatures and then pitching them into battles in order to level them up and evolve them. It was a fun little mental escape during a rough patch on the mission, a time with no television, movies, magazines, or radio. When I left the mission, I gave the Gameboy and game to another missionary and went home.

And I had nothing to do with Pokémon again until the early months of this year, when my sons became obsessed.

After catching the Mankey, I slipped on my shoes and went for a walk outside, phone in hand. Stationed around the map are little Poke-stations, where you can get free items to help you in your quests, you just have to walk to them first. The closest one was a block away, a local Korean restaurant. I stood outside of it and got a few Balls and an Incense, which would apparently help lure wild Pokémon in. After stopping to catch a Spearow, I walked another block to an outdoor painting of a giraffe, another Poke-station that yielded more merchandise. Another block away was a Mormon church, which had apparently been established as a Pokémon gym, a place you could gather to battle your Pokémon against others, levelling them up and making them stronger.

I walked over to the church and saw three teenagers sitting on the front lawn, all on their phones, pitting their Pokémon against each other. With no shame, at age 37 with greying hair, I took a seat on the steps at the church and tried my hand at a battle. The teenagers didn’t even look up. I quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing and headed for home.

I logged in to Pokémon Go throughout the day and found I was actually really enjoying myself. I went to lunch and a movie with a friend and kept secretly checking my phone. I found a Poke-station at a bike rack outside, and  I caught an Aerodactyl in the restaurant’s bathroom.

After the movie, I returned home to the familiar sight of my next-door neighbor sitting on his front porch, chain-smoking. I casually nodded, went inside and logged on to Pokémon again, and found there in my living room a Pokémon named Koffing, a grey blobby creature emitting smoke and with a skull-and-crossbones on its chest. And I found myself laughing again.

Later that night, I called my son’s, on their weekend with their mother, and their adorable little faces popped up on the screen as they told me about their day’s adventures. I excitedly told them about Pokémon and how we could go hunt for some at the park soon.

“Isn’t that amazing, guys?”

“Sure, dad, but we’re tired, see you tomorrow.”

The screen closed and I clicked back on the Pokémon game, soon catching an Onix in my living room.

And as I walked up the stairs, I realized maybe the game was a little more for me than it was for the kids.

Pokemongo