Saturday, August 5, 2017

All I Need

One year ago at this moment, I was trying to sleep. Slight contractions plagued me the entire day. They weren't debilitating, and I had roamed the streets of my neighborhood as they hit, timing and tracking and trying to find regularity. Once I realized there was no set rhyme or reason, my deathly fear of arriving at the hospital and being sent home led me to diminish the pain's significance. I took a shower to soothe the cramping. I thought I'd rest up for what would undoubtedly be a busy tomorrow. So at that moment, 365 days before this one right now, I was cuddled in bed listening to In Rainbows and waiting for glorious unconsciousness.

It wasn't long before a shattering 10+ minute contraction forced the headphones from my ears, rocked me down the stairs, out the door, and into a knuckle-gripping wait for a blessed epidural.

This is not meant to be a birth story. So I'll just say that about seven hours later, with unrealistic ease, my world exploded. When the pieces were put back together, I was shocked at how much the planet had expanded. Infinite vastness sat on my chest. Infinite vastness grew in my heart. I thought I had charted the edges of my universe, yet there it was, pushing outwards into possibilities I'd never imagined could exist.


I could write (and have written) extensively on this first year of motherhood. I could be wry, hilarious, philosophical, righteous, awed, or irreverent by turns in my observations. But for now, I'll try to keep it short and sweet, as sweet as my Alexandria.

I love my daughter. I love what her birth has made of my family. I didn't know that Taylor and I could be so content, had no clue of the mysterious peace we could carry with us.* I loved the way we've grown. I love my pleasant, curious child.

My in-laws have a birthday tradition. They bestow birthday wishes, hopes for a person as they trek through the next year. I've made wishes for myself on my birthdays, so here's one for the girl.


Daughter, I wish the world for you.**

Tonight, as I thought about your entrance into existence and how radically my life has changed, I took a nighttime stroll. Right now, there is a full moon. I walked barefoot on cement that held the vestiges of the day's heat. The darkness of mountain silhouettes cut into the night sky, and I felt immensely powerful. I felt the embrace of night and moon and stars, and I wished that power for you. I want you to walk through the world and feel fearless, because it is there for you, and you are there for it. There is so much for you to see. There will be so much for you to do. Don't be scared. Yes, it can be daunting, and yes, you might be nervous, but always tap into the strength I know you already have.

This is going to be a great life, my darling. And I hope that I can show you that.


I love you. Happy birthday.

1

*peace tempered with a giant helping of "wow, the world has so many ways a human can die, how does anyone survive to adulthood," but peace nonetheless. 

**so just a simple, tiny wish for this first birthday, no biggie. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cracking the Shield

I knew motherhood would change me.

I fully anticipated a complete upheaval of my status quo. As I've said before, I steeled myself against screaming and sleepless nights and general grumpiness. And wouldn't you know, those haven't been my issues. Instead, I'm faced with a shocking wave of emotion. Not just having emotionwhich is fairly new, but has been in the works for about five yearsbut having a specific, softening of emotions.

In other words, I'm now an utter marshmallow.

This softness blindsided me. I wasn't fully in the can for children yet, I didn't consider myself warm or inviting, and out of the two of us I was always a little more standoffish than Taylor. But as soon as they laid that squirming kid on my chest, it was over. I was hers.

And now I'm a crier. Pop culture that didn't penetrate my hard shell now annihilates me. Any children in peril, or separation from parents? Done. I'm done. After Alex was born, I tried watching Six Feet Under, but found it hard to continue after episode 11, where the mortuary prepares a baby who died of SIDS. I just finished Robin Roe's novel A List Of Cages. I started it in January, but had to put it down for a while after the descriptions of child abuse got too oppressive.

Essentially, I was a giant bleeding heart, which belied my carefully carved and crafted outer shell.


That brings us to Wonder Woman. The recent batch of DC movies holds little to no interest for me. This might be traced to my complete Zack Snyder disdain, or my recent weariness with superhero flicks as a whole. That being said, I did enjoy the teasing of Wonder Woman in BvS, she seemed to actually have a musical theme (saints be priased!), and oh yeah, women are important. Even if it sucked, I knew I would see this movie in theatres. It was my duty.

What I didn't expect was how watching it would fully crack my protective shield. It was a super hero movie! About I character I'd never connected with, even as a child, interpreting her as cheesy and a little bit exploitative! How could I have expected a film about her would rip out my heart and show to the world?

It began. I was fine. I saw a little girl running down the street. I was still fine. That little girl stopped to watch a bunch of muscled, fast, strong women training on a field. As they trained, she stood on the sidelines and copied them, little fists punching the air and feet kicking. And as for me? Oh yeah, I LOST IT.


The sobbing was involuntary. My body trembled, my seat becoming it's own little earthquake as I tried to suppress the weirdly uncontrollable tears. I kept thinking, why? Why am I crying? This is amazing! It's also just another action movie, right? Wrong. I mean, yeah, sure, it was. It was pretty conventionally shot, not even too skillfully.* But the ability to see women performing actions that I'd only seen in the realm of menactions that were pure and destructive and powerful, and without an overly-sexualized lens? That was incredible. It was overpowering.

And it happened over, and over, and over again.

Every time I watched Diana fight, I cried. I believed in the fact that representation matters, but I thought it mattered more for other people. I figured that I could watch my Batman and Indiana Jones and those men and just model myself after that. Easy. Except it wasn't, and I felt that in my soul while watching Wonder Woman. There was power in seeing women be strong, independent of a man. The Amazons were created to elevate humanity, to protect not just through emotion (which they had and valued), but through strength. Women had fought onscreen before, but it had been in tight leather with moves choreographed to accentuate every curve. It was, you guessed it, created for the male gaze. There is leather in the movie, and amazing curves, but it only serves to reinforce the idea that women are strong, women are capable, and women act for themselves.

Thinking about showing this to my daughter was exhilarating. That's actually one of the most exciting parts of parenthood right nowthe thought of sharing the culture I love. Her first month, I loved playing Alex the Beatles and Bowie and Nirvana, reveling in the fact that there is the perfect, beautiful being who hadn't heard these things before.

Someday, she'll awake to those bands. And now I have more to awake her to. I've got actual models to point at and say, look darling. That can be you. Pure, unfettered, and minus any mental gymnastics. She can see that, and believe.

*I'm still sorting through my feelings on the slow motion. I didn't love it while watching the movie, and found it a bit distracting, but the more I think about it the more I do appreciate the display of a woman's body in full strength mode, so there's that.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Black Days

I was raised a sheltered kid. I listened to a capella jamz (ugh) and showtunes. In high school I "rebelled" against that upbringing by listening to classic rock and only classic rock. If the band had a hit in the past twenty years, I wasn't interested. In college, I became immersed in the local band scene, and naturally grew into an indie rock chick, black-framed glasses and cardigans and all.

Which is all to sayI didn't know the music of my youth. I'm pretty sure grunge was banned in Davis County. Apparently a few counties over accidentally booked Rage Against the Machine once, and that is still the terrifying stuff of local legend.

Chris Cornell first consciously entered my brain when I was 20. I sat on a couch in Provo with two boys that I loved, loved at different times and the same time.* We watched skate videos and "Like a Stone."



I was not a rocker at that timethe hardest music I listened to was The White Stripesbut I was immediately drawn in by Cornell's voice. I'd later learn to appreciate Morello's guitar skills, but the sheer melancholy of Cornell's singing floored me. I watched that video and saw and heard true despair. I didn't know a voice could rock while carrying that level of sincere emotion.

A few months later, I made a new friend. The first time we hung out we had a massive music swap, where I foisted Andrew Bird and Rilo Kiley on his iTunes. In turn, he filled a USB with all the 90s music I missed. He gave me entire catalogs of Audioslave and Temple of the Dog and Soundgarden. He told me to listen to Superunknown, that it was an album everybody should experience.** When I got home that night I turned it on. My bud Ashley came in and said, and I quote, "This is not Cat music."

No. It wasn't. But even I couldn't resist blasting "4th of July" at full capacity, because that song was magic.



That new friend who gave me Soundgarden? His name was Taylor McCarrey. I soon saw the beauty in his childhood music, fully embracing those 90s guitars. When we were still dating, we moved to Seattle. He was depressed. I was frustrated. We both experienced some extreme growing pains that summer. We visited Volunteer Park, and I felt a kinship with the "Black Hole Sun."



I'd never put Chris Cornell or any of his projects in my top lists when it comes to music, but I can't deny that he has had an indelible effect on my life. My sorrow at his passing blindsided me. His voice was there during the most pivotal times. Its raw emotion still haunts me. There's something warm and unnerving about the edge, that soft blanket lined with sandpaper. I can't shake it, and I wouldn't want to.



*It was as dramatic and painful and beautiful as it sounds.

**He also said the same about Stone Temple Pilot's Purple and Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age. What can I say, my husband is a wise man.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Rooted on the Brink

This is me, being 28.

Oh hi, wee hours of the morning. 

It is with great aplomb that I saylook at that! I've finally conquered the fear of selfies! So many selfies.

I'd like to thank Snapchat and the discovery of working my angles for this momentous achievement.
Also no, you can't follow me on Snapchat.

I let myself wake up at 5:20 this morning, a strange rush of sleeping-in rebellion that tasted so sweet. Here's the first song of my 28th year, listened to while I savored the rebellion aftertaste (as rebellious as a responsible working adult/mother can get):



Chased by this, and this, and this. And then a little taste of this and this in the evening. It's been a good music day.

Keeping with the tradition of eating delicious breads for breakfast on my birthday, I sauntered in to work with a warmed croissant from Starbucks. There, I enjoyed a full day of endless Diet Coke, courtesy of the best co-workers I could ask for.

After a day of caffeinated tribute from my colleagues/students, I returned home to a thoughtful, inspiring gift from my husband. I walked in the sunshine with my daughter. I ate steak and ice cream and chatted with those dearest to me. Did I have a great birthday?

It was the best.

It was the best, and yet nothing too out of the ordinary happened. I hope this is a sign of that age, how perfectly content I am with the small beauties in life.

Like my obsession with the sky. Sky in the morning of my birthday (left), sky in the evening (right).

Oh man. 28. Can you believe I'm that young? Didn't 28 happen, oh, five years ago or so?

No. Not for me. Five years ago is when my husband turned 28, a thought that fascinates me. For him, 28 marked the cusp of life. He was on the edgethe edge of marriage, the edge of leaving Utah, the edge of further education and career. For me, 28 is old and stodgy and pretty well progressed in the world.

I love it. Here, at the end of my 27th year, I treasure my capability. It's amazing to feel like I actually can do anything. And I'm not talking about "I'm a starry-eyed college student and the world is the limit I'm going to revolutionize the whole country!" sort of anything. I mean that I know how to work, how to talk to people, how I can realistically achieve goals. It's an eerie sense that anything I want to do, I can do. Yes, there's prioritizing, and working, but everything is feasible, plannable, possible. What strange and heady power.

In my career, I'm perfectly capable. Sure, there are things that I want to improve at, but I've mostly moved past the desperate fumblings of a total beginner. In my marriage, I'm totally capable. Taylor and I have figured out how to communicate, serve, and work together. In my writing, as much as I wish I did more, I feel like I can draft and edit and revise and have a firm, strictly "Cat" voice. I'm so capable, I managed to create a human life.

Which is the most awe-inspiring part of this year. Childbirth and motherhood terrified me, seemed like the most arduous task one could ever undertake. And I did it. I know how lucky I was. How lucky I was that pregnancy did not bother me at the time, and quickly became a new standard of normal. How lucky I was in delivery, so lucky my doctor told me not to speak of it for fear of giving unrealistic expectations. But the luckiest of all is Alex herself. I pictured motherhood as pain and sacrifice, late nights and ear infections. gritting as my soul was stretched tight by endless screaming.

How could I have know the joy? And it's very influenced by the fact that Alex has been so lovely, so patient, so endlessly full of happiness and smiles. There is sacrifice, but it's the kind of sacrifice Taylor and myself needed and are able to handle, the kind that has made us perfectly grow as people. Our family and home are exponentially sweeter. Alex has brought a completion I couldn't have understood.*

Probably my favorite picture of me ever.
Through motherhood, and each minute choice that comes within that minefield, I know I can. I can accomplish anything. I can trust my instincts. I can make choices, and those choices are correct.

And now, as I face down 28, I hope to channel that capability. I've become as settled and established as I wished to be. Now, it's time to push for more. In 28, I'm going to search. I'm going to reach. I will take this newfound capability and create something spectacular.

After all, I'm standing on the brink of sabotage. There's bound to be some explosions.

It's going to be a great year.

27. 26. 25.

*Which is the most cliched thing I've ever heard, but for us it is true. Note: for us. Not everyone needs an Alex to get to that point. She is what I needed to become softer and more compassionate. She is what Taylor needed to become more service-oriented. Alex forced us to grow in ways we didn't know were necessary before, and which I'm glad we experienced, but I don't think that parenthood is the only way to develop in that manner.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Truth Lies Low

"If I don't do it, it's just more work for someone else. So it's like, well, I have no other option. Why should I even talk to her? It won't change anything. It will just cause this... friction. So I just need to do it."

It's been quite the couple of years, hasn't it, church? I have not had the happiest time being a Mormon. First there was the women thing, and the excommunication stuff, and then (oh, and then) the big policy reveal. And my heart ached, and I cried, and I stayed and stayed and stayed.

And I'm still staying, just to get that out of the way. No danger of abandonment yet.

Lately the struggle hasn't been the anger or the hurt, or the beautiful wrestling before God. Lately, I've been struggling with the nothing.

No emotion. No connection. No spirituality.

It's been consumed with the never-ending motions of the every day: the go-go-go to work, the go-go-go to spend time with my daughter, the go-go-go- to do housework and cook meals and lesson plan and get sleep so I can function. And oh yes, the barest of go-go-go to fulfill my church calling. The barest, and yet it's enough to make me dread those three hours every Sunday.

I'm in the Primary Presidency, and I spend the first hour stewing over sharing times and other undone administrative tasks, simmering in all my inadequacies. I spend sacrament meeting, that one hour where I could learn of God, consumed by the things I have to do and have not done. I spend the following two hours doing those things, those teaching and organization tasks that are so close to what I do during the week, but worse because it's with small children. I go home exhausted, wondering when restoration will come.

Where is space for the divine? If I don't get to recharge at church, how can I find space to do it myself?

I whine about the culture of the church a lot. My struggle with the Utah ideals I grew up with dominates my therapy sessions. A huge target of disgust is the idea of sanctification through sufferinghow the more we sacrifice in silence, the better a person we are. It's pervasive. Good Mormons sit in silence and suffer through. We put our shoulder to the wheel.

But what if the wheel crushes us?

I talked to my therapist about what I can do with my calling. It seemed an impossible situation. I am called, and so I have to do it. What other option is there? Besides, the primary president has done so much for me, and I don't want to seem ungrateful.

In the middle of listing all the things the president has done for me, and the little I've done in return, my therapist said, "If she didn't want to do those things, she'd say so. That's what people dothey share emotions, they let you know if something's unpleasant or part of a bargain."

"Not where I grew up," I said. Cue lightning bolt.

Oh. I grew up seeing people, particularly women, serve and give of themselves far past the point of enjoyment, and often to the point of silent resentment. Usually that resentment would bubble up, siphon itself out on people. People, but never the person responsible. There wasn't direct conversation. There were clouds of anger, falsity, and a pervasive air of distrust. People wallowed in insincerity because everything was an angry, holy sacrifice. We were the sacred martyrs. Our suffering brings us close to God, even if we sink into personal despair.

And there I was, expecting the same from myself.

I don't have issues setting boundaries and expectations in any other setting. But church? Boundaries shouldn't exist. And although I give good lip service to defying that culture, I find it's unexpectedly buried deep. It's tightly woven into the fiber of my being.

Driving away from therapy, full of solutions and new resolve to be the change I want to see in the church, Andrew Bird's Are You Serious? played on my stereo.* The song "Truth Lies Low" began, and Bird's mellow voice resonated:

Here's a little game, you can play along
Oh you do the walk of shame
From the comfort of your home.
So here's another game, you can play along,
Where you empty all your blame
From your guilty bones.**

Album version here for better sound quality and less song-building.

I don't have to sacrifice. It's not worth my happiness, my sanity, my testimony. Yes, I can do it for now, but it's OK to say I can't do it forever. And it's OK to let people know I'm not happyif I don't tell them, how will they know?

It's OK.

I don't have to walk in shame. There's nothing redeemable about guilt,

*Side note: this album is FANTASTIC. It's his latest, and finally managed to convert my husband to Andrew Bird. Listening to "Valleys of the Young" as new parents was a mind-altering experience.

**I can acknowledge that Bird probably did not mean to write about people tortuing themselves with guilt and self-loathing (especially considering the last verse referencing what sound like trolls), but that's the beauty of lyrics--it just takes one line at one moment to become part of a person's unique experience forever.