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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She loves me (but she don’t know why)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Love,

 

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

Seven Boys and Me

I have seven brothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, my 2003 list, verbatim:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life, love, and the habit of being happy.

Life:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Happiness:

 

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

 

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

 

 

Love:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Blast from the past: Sex and shame in Mormon teenhood

This last trip home to Utah, I actually remembered to bring back to Chicago my box of old journals (Dad, I know you tried to throw them out, and I have almost forgiven you) . The Mormon Church strongly encourages its young women to keep journals. And, being the little Mormon princess extroardinaire I was, I kept one basically throughout my entire childhood. They’re a pretty interesting look into the brain of cute little bratty self-centered me over the years.

Tonight, I was flipping through one that I wrote in less journal-y things and more just whatever came to mind. Apparently at 13-14, I went through this list writing phase. It accompanied my Aaron Carter phase, my creeper stalker phase, and my gift giving phase (she listed, haha). In this journal, there is a litany of lists and most of them are painfully stupid. But besides the lists, there were other entries like poems, writing assignments, and names I thought would be good for chickens, which I can explain later.

For now, I’d like to offer one o’ my early works of art to illustrate with mouth words just how bizare extreme religion can make kids in their heads. And for those of you gentiles who may not know, the Sealing Room is the room in a Mormon temple where people believe they are spiritually superglued to each other for all eternity. Romantic?

Ahem:

“If I’d saved myself”*

The Sealing Room is splendid with a heavenly glow And I stood there and smiled in a dress white as snow. Then I looked across the room at my soon-to-be-spouse And I knew that I’d never rather be somewhere else. But as he slipped on the ring and leaned close and we kissed I knew–I was sure–there was something I’d missed. It took only a moment to realize what it was And to know why I felt strange, because I’d known what it felt like to kiss long before Many times I had done in at night, in a car While I’d never done anything bad, nothing wrong I’d kissed too many boys and I’d kissed way too long. I looked straight at my husband and smiled, and he Smiled back, and I knew–he’d saved himself for me. Yet his smile brought no comfort. No, it made me feel worse. Oh, how nice it would feel if that kiss was my first! Many times now, I’ve tried to set it on the shelf, But I known I’d have been happier if I’d just saved myself.

Take away the lovey-dovey teen girl bullshit and poor tense changes; in my defense, not bad footwork for a homeschooled kid whose exposure to poetry consisted singularly of tacky Mormon musical prototypes. But still. I’m slightly embarrassed.

More than embarrassed though, I’m shocked by how sincerely embroiled I was in the Matrix. I wrote about it ALL the time. And that might not matter if it were a harmless teenage obsession like Harry Potter. But this was a life -long way of thinking that had been drilled into my skull since before I could scratch my own butt. At this juncture of my fragile teenage identity (kidding, I was always kind of an overconfidant little asshole) I truly believed that my self worth and .marriage potential and likeability and ETERNAL FUCKING LIFE depended on me keeping my metaphorical chastity belt strapped tight around all of my body between my neck, knees, and and shoulders. Can I emphasize that enough?!? I would never allow anyone to teach my daughter that her virtue lay in her quiet, meek virginity. I would also never have a daughter, but that’s besides the point. I would never teach a son to believe the same things about himself, either.

This theme clearly weighed heavily on my mind, as it crops up repeatedly: My #1 goal was to get married in the temple. I worried incessantly about being worthy. I guilted myself for being curious and having “bad” dreams because I was 14 and horny as shit and really had no idea what sex was.

And why didn’t I know? Because my mom wouldn’t talk about it, and neither would my friend’s moms, and I definitely did not hang around the kinds of kids who knew too much about sex. Once, I asked my mother something about sex, and all she said was, “You’ll know when the time comes for you to know.” Which pretty much may as well be code for,”Since I won’t tell you, I encourage you to go find out for yourself.”

The cruel irony is that you really don’t just “know” about sex when the time comes for you to know. You know later when you get pregnant and you contract hepasyphilherpesaids, neither of which things happened to me, but which did happen to many of my friends. Why? Because we were human, and fucking is only bad if you do it unprepared and/or dishonestly. It’s is as natural to humans as picking your nose and eating it. We’re all inexorably driven to do it.

Overshare? Anyway, the moral of the story is to not imbibe your kids with weird notions about sex and guilt and worthiness at a young age. It causes them to fear and resent the most natural parts of who they are, and that’s not good for anyone. And, if you need more incentive, it causes them to have all kinds of complexes and fetishes.

Almost all of which I have gotten over. Now bring me that blow up rhincerous doll!!

*Author’s note: I suffered through my first kiss shortly after this. It turns out saving yourself is less tender and romantic and more spitty and awkward.

Being grateful for the chance to scoop poop.

November, November, it’s time to remember.. all the things we are grateful for… at least, that’s what Facebook wants me to believe. I should participate in the statitude of gratitude, but I have so much to be grateful for, that I couldn’t possibly post it all. Plus I’d forget to post 50% of the time.

That being said, there is SO much I am grateful for. I am increasingly reminded on a daily basis what a wonderful support network I have–my brother Matt is here with me, casting a gently protective eye over every doucher who might even want to do me wrong—and I am surrounded by friends who have gone above and beyond to help me in my transition to a new city. My roommate is a total badass, who loves to cook and never ceases to surprise me with her impressive intelligence and good humor. And then I am always humbled by the incredible kindness of my oldest brother, Sam, and his wife Brooke, who is probably the most incredible woman I have ever known in the history of ever. The two of them are deserving of both gratitude and respect of the utmost kind. To top it off, I have five more brothers who are smart, kind, funny, and interesting. I am such a lucky gal.

But tonight, despite all these wonderful things for which I am grateful, there is one individual who sticks out disproportionately large in my mind. We’ve known each other practically since birth, and she’s been there by my side through thick and thin. She’s my best friend, my constant companion, the receptor of every stupid song I make up in the shower, and the chewer of everything sacred I own.

I am talking, of course, about Lois.

Everyone knows I love Lois, even if I joke about beating her brains out on a regular basis. It is unbelievably irritating when I come home and there are irreparable pieces of everything all over the floor. She eats more, shits more, sheds more, drinks more, and sleeps more than I ever knew was possible in a dog. But she’s my eating, shitting, shedding, drinking, sleeping dog, and tonight I think I’m more grateful for her than I’ve ever been. Let me explain.

This evening, I went to the local dog-friendly corner bar. I’ve taken Lois here before, and she’s enjoyed herself; and since I had no plans tonight and drinks are cheap, I decided we probably ought to check it out again. Lois was excited to go, and pooped thrice on the way there to make room for her eager anticipation. Once we arrived at the bar, she made friends with everyone there and promptly greeted every new customer. After a while, her true personality came out, and she laid herself out on the floor and couldn’t be bothered to get up or even wag her tail. Good dog.

Nevertheless, everyone loved her. Everybody at the bar told me what a beautiful, sweet, calm dog I had. And I had to agree! I mean, Lois really is a people pleaser. What with her nose being exactly at the perfect butt-sniffing height, she can crotch-rocket to her heart’s content and nobody can blame her. I really love hearing all the wonderful compliments on the attitude of a dog I have no control over. I take all credit.

But after the surface-y compliments that always accompany a dog of such high Idaho-farm accidental breeding, come the stories. Lois seems to resemble everybody’s dogs that have passed away, and in a bar environment where everyone is a little tipsy, I get to hear about these other dogs.

And I love it. I love, love, love to hear people’s stories about their animals. For some reason, people can talk about their animals much more openly than human loved ones; dogs, especially, seem to open the flood gates of conversation. All night, I was privileged to hear tales about loyal best friends, and the incredible adventures they had with their owners. A couple of times I admit I was brought to tears by the tender loss that the bargoers experienced when their dogs passed away. But, invariably, they’d look down at Lois, say things would be okay, and take another shot. I was convinced.

Before I met Lois, I’d known people who had had animals their entire lives and then lost them. Weird was it to me that these people experienced such devastation when their pets died. Growing up with lots of faunae, but having parents who didn’t particularly cherish indoor animals, I had never truly bonded with a pet, especially with one as sentient as a dog. I thought tragic pet death was this odd liberal phenomenon, exclusive to those who replaced childbearing with other, less important beings; surely, their suffering was not really that deep.

Boy, was I wrong. Just listening to the painful stories that came in from wiser pet companions than me makes my heart hurt. The toughest dudes have to take work off for a week when their dog dies. The most uncommunicative folks will tell you, in vivid detail, of their last visit to the vet with their old companion. A serial killer will cry when he recounts his last night with Bubba (I made that up, but I’m sure it’s true). A couple of months ago, I read “Where The Red Fern Grows” and I cried the whole goddamn way through. Thinking about the time when Lois’s hips are splayed and I have to (attempt to) carry her down the stairs fills my stony soul with such tenderness I can hardly bear it. God forbid she should have to save my life from an angry black bear on a freezing winter’s night; I might die of loving sentimentality.

I mean, dogs aren’t people. I get that. But the kind of bonding you experience with a dog is so intimate, so incredible, so (and I hesitate to use this word) sacred; I think that, once I lose Lois, I will never have another dog. It just takes one time, one round, one perfectly perfect animal who loves you, trusts you, eats everything you own and then asks you for more—how could I ever expect that again? How could I ever own another dog and ask him/her to measure up to Lois? How could I expect that dog to terrify the creepy guy at the park who tried to follow us home? How could I bring another dog to a neighborhood bar and expect him/her to garnish so much attention that I’m the proudest parent within a mile’s radius? How will I ever recover from the loss I know I’ll experience when Lois’s time to be my beastie bestie has come and gone?

Listening to these tragic tales from other folks—stories about taking their dog to the vet for the last time, holding their puppy as he suffers his last stroke, gently wiping up blood from the corners of their mutt’s aged mouth—I can’t believe how intensely and intimately these folks love their dogs. You never hear casual stranger just talk about people who have died, and yet they’ll share every detail of their dogs’ life and death with you. It’s a really neat thing, and I am SO grateful for it.

And that makes me grateful for Lois. I’m grateful for her, even if she’s really kind of stupid, and even if she chews a lot of shit, and even if she takes over my side of the bed in the middle of the night. She protects me, loves me, kills infinitely-legged bugs in the bathtub for me, licks my armpits even when she knows she shouldn’t, is too lazy to get off of the bed to pee in the morning, sleeps 80% of the time, eats a pound of food a day, poops three pounds of poop a day, sheds six pounds of fur a day, and still manages to give me those giant, gentle “I-love-you-so-much-even-though-I-don’t-know-why” eyes while doing it. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to live without her.

But, gratefully, it looks like the day when I have to answer that question is quite a ways away. Lois is healthy, without worms, fleas, or hip dysplasia—something I worry incessantly about. The fact that she’s a mutt from Idaho who happened by total accident seems to have ensured that she has lived life thus far without any physical deformation (besides the lack of a normal sized brain). She’s dumb, but she ain’t hurtin for it.

I’m so in love with Lois, and I am so grateful she’s in my life. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May you scoop poop with an attitude of gratitude, because you never know when the poop scoopin may stop.

Dance like EVERYBODY is watching: A lesson learned (with lots of parenthetical insertions)

The tacky, overused, overmemed phrase “Dance like nobody’s watching” follows every girl from her preteens forward. The essential idea of the phrase–that you should let go and be “yourself”–is idealistic at best, misleading and dishonest at worst. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t respect your personality and convictions, or fully release and enjoy yourself on occasion (I, myself, like to poop like nobody’s watching whenever it is practical to do so). You do have to realize that not everyone is going to love you or your proverbial dance technique, and that’s okay. But the idea that you should simply relax, dance your heart out, and generally fall into the trap of permanent self-loving torpor has gotten my generation into a lot of trouble.

I think the same principle applies to the now equally meaningless maxims of “Follow your dreams,” and “You can be whoever you want to be.” My peers and I were told this by our parents, our mentors, and by every goddamn stupid fucking bright yellow twat poster plastered all over our middle school walls (I hide it well, but I actually really hate motivational posters). It’s been ingrained in our heads from youth; that we have the ability–no, the right– to be whoever we want! And we’ll be damned if you’re going to stop us from pursuing our entitled notions of universal success.

Well, as most recent college graduates quickly find out, we are kind of damned if we think that way. You don’t just get to be whoever you want to be, and you can’t just fart your way through life following your dreams. Every one of my English Major peers studied what we loved, and dreamed of being the next amazing poet, or teacher, or critic. We wrote our hearts right onto our sleeves. And then, we graduated and couldn’t find jobs (contrary to popular belief, this predicament also afflicts more than just those of us with useless liberal arts degrees). So, some of us went back to school, some of us started up careers in vastly different areas, and some of us flopped miserably and moved back in with our parents. Some of us, but certainly not me, succumbed to the dregs of self-inflicted psuedoalcoholism and danced our way through a string of really stupid jobs. One by one, we began to realize that success and dream-following doesn’t just come because you really, really, really want it, because in the real world, everybody really wants it, everybody works hard, and there is always a multitude of people better than you and doing what you do.

In a perfect world, where everybody values art as much as they value the stock market and getting bills paid on time, you would certainly be able to follow your dreams and dance until the cows (who are also not watching) come home. But, since we don’t live in that kind of a world and nothing we do will change the fact that humans mostly operate on the basis of “What can you do for me?”, we have to do our best to find a healthy balance between passion and reality.

That reality dictates that we are, in fact, being watched. We’re being watched very closely by our peers, our teachers, our potential employers. We’re being watched by people who could have very real impacts on our future success, and the funny thing is that most of the time, we don’t even know when it’s happening or who’s doing it, because the watching is frequently quite arbitrary. The regional manager of a Staples doesn’t walk into a store, announce his presence, and then tell everyone he’s carefully watching and evaluating their performance; he might step in for some double-sided Scotch tape, ask for help a couple of times, purchase a printer cartridge, and leave the unknowing employees, his mind firmly and permanently impressed by each of their work ethics–on that particular day.  Even more arbitrary are parties stranger to you, doing unconscious evaluations every time they step into your office or restaurant or lobby, and with online networks like LinkedIn or Facebook or Instagram, the chances of you being anonymously viewed and judged on your behavior are at an all time high. Enter anecdotal evidence:

A couple of months ago, I was finishing up Chicago Job #3, and prepping for Chicago Job #4 (when I first moved here, I ran through jobs like Freddy Kreuger running through a cornfield filled with young children, although I think my results were slightly more disastrous). It was my last table, on my last night, at the last restaurant I swore I would ever work at again. Actually, it was actually my second-to-last table, but I believe in lying as long as it enhances dramatic effect. As I finished up with my “last table,” joyously sweeping away the plates and thinking happily about the next job that I would also soon end up quitting, the woman at the head of the table handed me her business card, complimented me on my service, and told me to call her if I was ever looking for a job.

“Ma’am,” I chuckled, “How did you know I typically keep jobs for an average of 1.67 months before I quit, and that I start a new one tomorrow? Of course I’ll call!” Actually, that’s another lie. But I did tell her I was beginning a new job on the morrow, took her card, and thanked her sincerely.

About 1.63 months later, just as I was beginning to realize next said job was another disappointing career dead-end, I found the woman’s card in my car’s middle console, and with a jolt of excitement I figured, what the hell, it couldn’t hurt to email her. She was so kind, she tipped well, and lo! She was also a manager at a bank. Maybe this was my chance to pull myself out of my shitty job pickings and begin to be a successful post-grad.

After the interviews, the job offer came, along with the notification of so many paid days off a year I literally thought for a moment that my manager-to-be was joking. I did not feel like it was really happening. As I wildly speculated on what this would mean for my future, I experienced a sense of what I imagine a mild case of survival’s guilt must entail. Why me? Why did I get this job, when so many of my peers still struggle to find a fulfilling career path? I initially chalked it all up to luck: I was in the right place, at the right time. And although both of those things are definitely true, it wasn’t until my brother was kind enough to point out that I was doing the right thing in the right place at the right time, that I was able to feel like I actually deserved the job.

Not to get all advice-doll-out-y, because the good lord knows I’m a glutton for foolish mistakes, but I learned a very important lesson from that experience. You, I, anyone who wants to be a true success–who desires to follow their dreams, and be whoever they want to be–cannot afford to dance like nobody is watching. You are being watched, and if the person watching you has the opportunity to give you that critical leg up and you’re dancing your pants off in a nonchalant way, you may very well be passed over. People who begin their careers as McDonalds burger flippers become regional managers, because whenever somebody important is looking, they’re performing well in a job that isn’t exactly fulfilling.

Unfortunately, that fickle bitch Life is all about doing the things you don’t really want to do so that, eventually, you can do the things you do want to do. For Tina Fey (a personal idol), it was doing the stupid skits at high school dances until she was hired by SNL. For Kim Kardashian, it was fucking Ray J like nobody was watching until everybody was watching. For you, it might be being the friendliest hotel greeter, or fastest pizza dough cutter, or most organized line cook until you earned recognition and move up the chain of command. It does take time, and luckily my career break happened pretty early on, but if you’re doing the right thing all the time, the right time and place will eventually find you because you can’t be missed.

The moral of the story is this: I could have served my second-to-last table ever with a nonchalant style befitting someone whose feet hurt very badly and who really doesn’t care about their job. It would have been easy to be lazy, or neglect the standards of service just because, well, I could and get away with it. But, whether due to my own OCD compulsions, or I was in a good mood that day, or simply because I’m, heh, the world’s best employee, I did not neglect that table and my career path was permanently changed because of it. And, get this–I was “discovered” at an extremely dead-end job.

*Cue happily-ever-after theme music*

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Ignore this child’s advice. He also shits his diapers like nobody’s watching.

Q&A with A Raging Atheist

Ladies and Jellyspoons, boys and girls, I’m coming out. I’m an Atheist! Yay! I’m not Agnostic, I’m not curious or questioning; I don’t believe in God. Not Islam’s God, Christianity’s God, or New-Age “The Universe Loves You” fabrications. There is not one fiber of my being that believes some higher moral entity exists to govern our behavior towards one another. As a matter of fact, I don’t even want to believe that. I can’t find a single reason to support an argument in favor of divine guidance.

Of course, this joyful announcement may not be news to some of you. I have no shame in my views, nor do I think they make me a pretentious, arrogant bastard (although I am certainly that for other reasons). But I do receive a fairly common string of questions that I want to address, partly because I think I share these views with many fellow Atheists who may not care to articulate them, and partly because I’m lazy and will simply refer future askers of said questions to this blog post.

Doesn’t being an Atheist give life no true meaning?

If you define “true meaning” in the sense that there is no ultimate, existential purpose to human existence, then yes. Because I don’t think a God put us here in order to perform some extraordinary task, and because I don’t think there is any afterlife, that may mean I don’t see life’s “true meaning” the same way you do. Does that mean I believe life has no meaning at all? Absolutely not. I still experience pain, joy, hope, and love exactly the same way that you do. Cooking a mega Christmas dinner for my family and then sitting down to eat and laughing our butts off together brings me joy fit to burst. Having a giant, hairy dog who loves me so much she freaks out every time I come home makes me feel needed and happy. Experiencing the loss of a good friend makes me cry, rage, and hurt. I experience humanity whether there’s a God or not, and that’s meaning enough for me.

Do you believe in anything?

Sure. I believe that humans are fundamentally creatures of tribal existence, with intelligence cultured by millions of years of brutal evolution. I also believe that humans are fundamentally “good” in the sense that they want to be happy and see the people they love happy. We are each motivated by very similar things—the need to feel needed, loved, praised, successful, attractive. Although the extent to which we feel these things varies by person, I haven’t met a single person who didn’t care to be treated kindly. Once you take away threats to someone’s well-being, people are generally pretty willing to be nice to each other. Studies show that altruism breeds altruism—which is why, at my very core, I believe that treating others with humanity is the most important thing we can do in this life.

What happens after we die?

Nothing. We die and (hopefully, unless we were real assholes) our family and friends celebrate our life, and mourn our loss, but we cease to exist as intelligent entities functioning within a living, breathing body of organic matter.

Then why even bother getting up in the morning?

Because I’m hungry, I want to brush my teeth, Lois has to pee, I love my job, and I’m excited for the future.

What gives you hope?

I have to admit that, sometimes, there are things that bring me down. Watching the incessant war in the Middle East and doubting whether it’s ever going to stop—that doesn’t make me feel great. It often seems like humanity is its own worst enemy. Going back to true altruism though, I also think it can be its own greatest hope. When I see groups of people coming together, united under a cause to make life better for people for no reason other than just to be good, I am extremely hopeful. Why must we wait or depend on God to be good? 

Why are we here, then?

Does it matter? We’re here, whether you believe there’s a reason to it or not. I personally believe we’re here because billions of years of complicated evolution brought us to a point where we’re sentient enough to realize we exist. Again, that may not be the existential purpose you’re looking for; but as far as I’m concerned, we’d all be a lot better off if we got past the “whys” and delved deeper into the question of “How can I make positive contributions to the life quality of myself and those around me?”

What if you’re wrong, and there is a God?

I probably get asked this question more often than anything else. For the sake of argument, let’s just pick the god I’m most familiar with—the Christian God of the Bible—and play out a little scenario. If I die and float (or whatever one does when they’re dead) off to the pearly gates and am confronted with Jesus Christ and his rather abusive, neglectful father, I have some serious questions to ask them. 1) If you are going to base my entire eternal existence on my behavior on Earth, why did you create me with a brain that cannot believe in a higher power? 2) Why, being the all-powerful dudes that you are, did you allow such senseless, pointless, needless suffering to occur to the innocent? 3) Why were you such as asshole in the Bible? 4) Why did you permit people to carry out atrocities on each other in your behalf? 5) Why did you make such a painstaking effort to conceal yourself, and demand belief anyway? 6) Why use the process of evolution when you can command the elements at will? 7) Why didn’t you turn my water into wine? I really could have used all the money I spent on booze throughout my life.

All joking aside, though, I think believing in God simply on the off chance that He exists is tantamount to base cowardice. Simply believing in God because you’re afraid of retribution is living a life based only on fear. Step back and observe those around you: Does God really, truly bless only those who believe in him? Of course not—you see happy people, hungry people, hurting people in every walk of life and religious denomination. And if there is a God, which God is it? Your god? My god? The god of the starving child in Detroit, or god who tells parents to mutilate their daughter’s genitals? I haven’t heard of one single higher power on this planet that I believe is worthy of worship by human beings. In most cases, the things the gods we worship command us to do, or do themselves, are so much worse than anything we do to each other of our own volition (I guess this might be misleading, because since I believe humans made God up, we are doing anything they “command” us to do of our own volition). But you know what I mean? What is it about a mean, vindictive, jealous, murderous, racist, homophobic, and inconsistent God that you want to worship? If that means I don’t get to go to heaven, count me out. 

Do you think you can do whatever you want because you’re an Atheist?

Sure, I could do whatever I want. So could you. It doesn’t mean that we will, because whether I’m an Atheist or not, I still have to operate within the restraints of civilization and basic human decency. And if the only thing between you and committing capital murder is your belief in God, I’m a little worried, bro. 

If everyone were Atheist, how would the world have any “morals”?

Let’s just make one thing clear: Morals are not Ethics. I see religious people all the time acting unethically based on their “morals”. So your kid is gay—your morals dictate that his sexual orientation is a sin, so behaving according to your morals, you decry him as a sinner and refuse to allow him to bring his partner into your home. What if your morals dictate that the female sexual drive is fundamentally evil, and those women who experience orgasm will inadvertently stray into sexual sin? Your morals dictate that their genitalia be removed, but ethics say that is the bat-shit-craziest, ugliest, bloodiest, most reprehensible thing you could do to a young girl. Morals are a poor thing to base your decision making process on, because they’re dictated only by what other people believe. Ethics, however, are based on the fundamental principle that we should do good to each other and our behavior should reflect that decision. Morals remain stagnant as part of a religious code—Ethics evolve and become better, higher ways to treat others. I daresay we could use a world without any so-called “morals.”

What about the value of faith?

I find no value in accepting something to be true simply because somebody else told you it was. I think there might be value in having “faith” in humanity, if that’s how you want to put it; but that’s based on the fact that we have observed others doing good, not because of some ethereal concept of human goodness. Failing to ask questions—of everything—is not a virtue. Making enormous, critical life decisions based on what you think God might want you rather than what practicality and circumstances and personal desires indicate you should do—that’s not a virtue. Faith, or blind belief, is not a virtue, it’s a vice, and we’d all be better off without it.

Didn’t Hitler, Mao, and Jeffrey Dahmer do awful things because they were atheist?

There are people in this world who do not care whether those around them suffer. There are people who relish the power to make life difficult for others, who crave the ability to cleanse the world of what they consider lesser human existence. That isn’t atheist—that’s just an ugly part of humanity that, unfortunately, seems to exist across the board. We see it in religious folks and nonreligious folks alike. The Inquisitions were based around doing exactly what Hitler did. The constant wars in the Middle East are pushed onward by religious zealots on all sides. Catholic priests are constantly called into the limelight for preying on little boys. The propensity to do ugly things to other humans has nothing to do with one’s beliefs—it has everything to do with one’s character, and the belief in God doesn’t seem to improve character one bit.

Doesn’t something have to exist in order not to believe in it? Why is God any different?

This is the dumbest fucking question I’ve ever heard, and I’m surprised by how often I hear it. The utter lack of logic evidenced by such a proposition scarcely deserves to be dignified by a response; but for the sake of this post, I’ll just say this. You don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. That doesn’t mean a little green pixie with a tiny waist and giant boobs is hiding quarters under children’s pillows in exchange for a rootless molar–just so you can have the luxury to not believe in her.

Why do atheists hate religion?

Because we see it cause so much damage. Even if most religious people are fundamentally good, religion gives people an excuse to behave in ways they normally would not. If God didn’t say being gay was bad, would we ever disown our LGBT children? If God didn’t say a woman’s virtue is encased in her virginity, would strong, independent women be valued higher and would slut shaming stop? If God didn’t say men were the head of the household, would we see less spousal abuse? If God didn’t tell the Sunnis that the Shiites were wrong, would we have factional wars in Yemen and Syria? Religion spearheads much of the ugly behavior we see in the world today, and for non-participants, it is sad and frustrating. 

What about programs like Alcoholic Anonymous that make people better through religion?

I won’t deny that we humans seem genetically preprogrammed to believe in a higher power. The simple fact that we alone look up into the heavens with a blazing curiosity to understand the powers in the firmament is remarkable. It is hardly surprising that we invented superstitious ways to explain the incredible things we saw. Interestingly, those who have less control over their lives tend to rely on superstition the most. Even in baseball, where superstition is a fundamental part of the sport’s history, it is the players who have the least control over the game—namely, the pitchers—that exercise the most rigorous superstitious rituals. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that make users acknowledge a higher power that can usher in relief and assistance to the struggle of addiction certainly have their place. I take no issue with the fact that simply believing in a higher power can assist those whose lives seem to have lost control to substance abuse. Certainly I would prefer to see that higher power be relationships with loved ones rather than God, but who am I to dictate what makes other people stronger? If they’re not using it as a weapon against anyone, power to them.

What about studies that show religious people live longer?

Correlation does not equal causation. What scientists are finding now is that religions encourage people to unite in groups with a strong foundation in community and common purpose. Humans are social creatures, and we are happier when surrounded by those who love and support us. That is what makes people live longer—not the religion itself. I have watched several people struggle through issues of enormous implication, like death, cancer, and divorce. When these people have family and friends who join together in supporting the sufferer, the entire community is buoyed up and strengthened. Religion acts as a core unifier, not as a magical life-extenze. 

What about the new age spiritualism? Is that better than religion?

I guess, in a sense, I would much rather see people engaged in “spirituality” than religion. Those I’ve seen who consider themselves spiritual are typically in the pursuit of personal enlightenment, and do so because they want themselves and those around them to be happy. That being said, I think the “Law of Attraction” (which is a theory, not a law, and a flimsy one at that), and “Universal Guidance” are absolutely ridiculous and have no ground in reality. The universe doesn’t “love” you, because the universe is not a sentient whole capable of loving anything. Love is a concept that exists for humans because it makes us behave in ways that are beneficial to ourselves and each other. It’s a measurable force that exhibits itself in chemical reactions in the brain, and then causes us to carry out behaviors that reinforce good relationships. The universe is not human, and is not subject to our lovey-dovey wishes. The fact that positive thinking can make us happier is no Secret—but it doesn’t give us whatever we want. If it could, we’d all be manifesting ourselves into millionaires driving Maseratis. And the constant invocation of “Quantum Physics” to support the arguments for the Law of Attraction is the biggest psuedo-science bogus alive and well today. The average layman has so little knowledge of the quantum physics that they can’t distinguish the difference between quack science and genuine physics, but any reputable physicist will tell you that the Law of Attraction is utter nonsense. My biggest issue with this new-age Spiritualism is that it comes from a very self-serving point of view, and seems to blame those who have less simply because they haven’t tried hard enough to attract it to themselves. But that is a whole blog post unto itself (coming soon).

I’ve covered as many of these as I can think of; I’m sure there will be more added later. If you’re curious about any of these answers, or feel like they have been explain fully, or even just have a question of your own, I welcome comments and suggestions. May the force be with you. Always. 

Exodus Explained

During my most recent visit to Utah, I was visiting a dear friend of mine whose young husband was in the hospital being treated for leukemia. Though her husband was just released (huzzah! hooray! hallelujah!), at the time we met the outcome was very uncertain. My friend and I got breakfast and, as we chatted over sumptuous bagels and toasty chai lattes, she testified strongly that she could not have endured the trying ordeal of cancer and the potential loss of her soulmate without her beloved religion—the Mormon Church. I voiced my opinion that I always thought she was a pretty tough chick, and that Church or no, she would have been “okay” (as much as is possible in such circumstance). The strength of her marriage is obvious to even the most passive observer, and both her and her husband are lucky (they would say “blessed”) to have supportive families who have been at their sides every step of the way. And, hey—if the Church made cancer suck less, gung ho! I’ve got no qualms with that.

My friend proceeded to tell me that she blamed my loss of faith squarely on the shoulders of my mother. Since we’ve known each other since middle school, my friend is acutely aware of my teenage upbringing. She was often a coconspirator when it came to getting around the fact that I was grounded at least 50% of my high school career.

But to attribute my apostasy entirely to my mother is both unfair to her and me. It discredits the arduous process leaving the Church entailed, and it gives undue influence to my mother who, in many respects, is an ideal Mormon and a pretty neat person. Because my friend and I did not have much time, and because I did not want to offend her beliefs in a time of high tension and need, I allowed the conversation to fizzle and we drifted to the much happier topic of Dream Theater, our favorite mutual (totally kickass) rock group.

I’ve thought about that conversation since then on a few different levels and asked myself some questions. Why did I, in lump summary, leave the Church? Why didn’t I feel comfortable telling my friend right then? Is it a topic of conversation appropriate when one side is devoutly for and the other devoutly against? Should I be sleeping at 2 AM instead of writing this blog post?

Since I generally err on the side of stirring the pot and avoiding early bedtimes on weekends whenever possible, I shall proceed to explain my exodus from the Matrix as succinctly and non-offensively as possible. So, without further ado, I present: “More Shit about Liz’s Life That You Probably are Not Interested In.”

First, dear reader, you should know that when I was Mormon, I drank the probity punch without restraint. I served in every capacity I could; I sang in Church choirs, I memorized Scripture Mastery with a zealous ardor, I did not miss a single day of scripture study in over four years. I did baptisms for the dead, and I knew exactly which Mormon boy I was going marry when he got back from his mission (Brandall, if you ever read this, I’m still holding out hope). I had questions, of course—little nagging things that never quite left the back of my skull, but were easily pushed aside by counsel of church leaders (i.e., “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”). God had a will and He’d make everything clear someday, I just knew it.

I applied to BYU, got accepted, and was cruising on my way to becoming another well-oiled baby making machine, when I went to public school and fell in-very-17-year-old-love with a fellow student, whose anatomy happened to match mine (I’m assuming, since we never got that far).

Confronting the fact that I felt the way I did was in the top three scariest things I’ve ever done in my life (closely followed by a recent trip through Wyoming in a flash hailstorm, and living in a world where the Kardashian sisters are regularly on public television). What did this mean for the eternal well-being of my soul? Was I fundamentally flawed? Could I fix this part of me? Who could I trust to confide in?

I first ended up confessing my feelings to my beloved. She ultimately did not feel the same way, but she did a top shelf job of helping me navigate my way back to sanity. Religious as she was, she believed that God would never punish his children for a tendency so ingrained in who they are; she knew, for certain, that she would never be attracted to a man, but knew with equal certainty that God would not want anyone to be alone forever. So, she reconciled her beliefs and her personality, and she was happy.

Liz wasn’t. Because, particularly at the time, Liz lacked moral color cone receptors and saw everything in black vs white, it boiled down to this: Either I’m a bad person for being attracted to another woman, or the Mormon Church is wrong. There was no in between. Keep in the mind that this is pre-Proposition 8; the Mormon Church was still hardlining on the LGBT topic and hadn’t faced waves of negative publicity over their political involvement with the gay marriage issue to force them to soften up as they have in the years since. I had also never known another gay person up to my first year in public school. I’d heard rumors, whispers, knew “of” but was sure the afflicted individual was just confused—but the most I knew about LGBT people was something my mother had once said to me on the subject, something along the lines of, “I wish my kids could grow up never even knowing that existed.”

Confused and frustrated, I got down on my little Lizard knees and pleaded with God through terrified, desperate tears that He needed to let me know if I was wrong. If being with this girl made me so happy, and I admired her for what I reasoned to be good principles, give me a signal and stop me now. I honestly would have taken a lightning strike if that would have solved the issue right away. But the only thing that happened was a lot of sniffling and a whole lot more silence. God was remarkably mute on the issue.

That fundamentally cracked my foundation. The more I let myself be, well, myself, the happier I was—and it wasn’t like I was engaging in wanton, reckless behavior or excessive amounts of euphoria-inducing drugs.* I had no idea what the consequences of coming out in Utah were, and I royally fucked it up for myself and very nearly for the girl in question—it wasn’t long before she didn’t want anything to do with my brash, outspoken self, and understandably so. Nevertheless, I had drawn the damning conclusion that the Mormon Church was not right for me.

I thought I would spend some time participating in other religious sects, to see if I was interested in pursuing alternate beliefs systems. I tried to keep reading the Bible every night, but once the flood gates had opened, I was doused in reality. Every creeping doubt about religion I had ever had—Why does there have to be a God, when we’re here regardless? Why are there so many different religions, when they’re all clearly bullshit made up by limited human beings? What does “God” even mean? Why are there so many people born with a tendency to do violence? Why has Santa never brought me that goddamn pony?— crumbled away at whatever else I tried to cling on to.

Then, and this is where the subject of Mormonism gets really touchy, I began doing some research on early Mormon history. Because my own personal roots are so deeply entwined with the religion, I will always harbor a genuine curiosity about Joseph Smith and the history of the Mormon Church. Mormons have a frequent tendency to dub anything that places doubt upon their religion as being “anti-Mormon,” and I approached Mormon literature with a similar skepticism at first. Those worries were quickly cast away as I sought out genuine, well-researched and written books and articles that dealt solidly in facts and impartial documenting. I read books by devout members and harsh critics. I scoured the internet, stole books from my Dad’s shelves, and tried to have conversations with people who reached the same conclusion that I did: that the Mormon Church is one of the most well-planned, well-managed, ingenuous, successful, scandalous, bloody, dishonest hoaxes pulled over mankind in the last 200 years.

Details of why I feel this way are numerous and (I flatter myself) very interesting, but writing them here would cause many readers to become defensive, and that’s not the point of this article. I’m happy to discuss any of the topics with anybody at time, but this post is solely to cover why I initially left the Church. So thar it be.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that much of the animosity I harbored for a long time against the Church was due more in part to the members than to the doctrine. After I decided to leave the Church, at the risk of sounding self-pitying and overly sentimental, I was more lonely than I have ever been in my life. My mother and nearly all of her family wanted nothing to do with me. After I confided my sexual orientation in a good friend I attended church with, she told her mother—who called the mothers of all my friends and warned them to keep their daughters away from me. Not one single person I went to church with every Sunday for over five years ever called to see if I was doing well, or even if I was still alive. Nobody ever bothered to ask if I was actually gay, although I received books, letters, and chastisement admonishing me to change my ways. I was informed that I had betrayed everyone, that I was an utter disappointment, that I had done more damage in my 17 years than most people manage in their lifetimes. It didn’t help that I was wallowing in teenage angst and the insecurity that came along with suddenly realizing everything I had ever believed was not true. I clearly could not attend BYU, so I had no future plans. While all this was going on, my father moved to Utah and my mother absconded cross-country with my four youngest brothers without telling anyone, including them, where they were going (she turned up in North Carolina a few months later).

And I guess you could say all of the above really pissed me off. I was angry for a long time, and although I feel like I’ve resolved most of my personal bitterness towards Mormonism, here and there it rears its ugly head and I have to confront an uncomfortable issue yet again.

But the fundamental reasons for me leaving Mormonism, for my absolute conviction that I will never, ever return, and for my belief that the Church is a giant, ugly corporation that does more harm than good, have nothing to do with my mother, or my ex-worshippers, or any bitter interpersonal experience.

It has everything to do with my personal qualms with Mormon doctrine, history, and ideals. And the only reason I came to know about those issues was due to an intense amout of personal study, soul-searching, and reflection.

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The face of unrepentant sin

That being said, several of the most important people in my life are Mormons. I love and respect them dearly. Although I fail more frequently than succeed, I try to be decent towards their beliefs because I remember where they’re coming from. I get it. I was there before, and even though I’ve now seen the error of my ways, I haven’t forgotten that I am now my 16 year old self’s worst fear.

And, in case you’re wondering, I did try to pray once in the last few years, just to see if I wasn’t actually missing out on something. I sat in my driveway, watched snow slowly coat the hood of my car, and got about thirty seconds into a vague, “Hey, God, if you’re there etc…” before I rolled my eyes, muttered something along the lines of “Such a dumbass,” and jumped out to face the snow and the rest of my life as a glutton for punishment.

See you in Outer Darkness!

*yet