Sunday, June 18, 2017

Puzzle Pieces Purloined from Polyamory


Here's something you may or may not know about me: I and a handful of other ladies I know run an LDS sex website for women called Eternal Intimacy. A few of us got so tired of not having clear, honest resources about sexuality with an LDS perspective that we just created one. It's not super active, but I'm still really proud of it. (I'm especially proud of the "Newly Engaged Kit" section of the website, where we give details about birth control, answer common questions, give some basic anatomy, and detail what to expect on your wedding night.)

ANYWAY, a few months ago, we ran an article called "What Mormons Can Learn From Other Communities." In helping put together the article, I stumbled into all kinds of rabbit holes, but I spent a lot of time learning about the polyamory community, and now I'm coming back to my own world with some wisdom.

Polyamory is a blanket term for any consensual non-monogamy. It could be anything from a group marriage to an open relationship. It IS NOT adultery--the difference is knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Polyamorous people can cheat, the same as monogamous people. (You can learn more about polyamory here.) I'm not here to debate the idea of polyamory, or discuss whether or not is a real, sustainable thing. I'm just sharing some of the ideas I've found in that community that resonate with me. Because there are a handful of ideas in the poly community that I think apply to ALL relationships. Or at least they should. Not just romantic relationships, or sexual relationships. All relationships. Monogamous and otherwise.

I've been thinking a lot about relationships in general lately--everything from marriages to friendships. (Understandably.) And I keep feeling like I'm on the edge of figuring something big out...like I keep stumbling on puzzle pieces, but I don't know what the finished puzzle is yet. I'm probably tilting at windmills in trying to put it all together RIGHT NOW, but in the meantime, here are some of those puzzle pieces, stolen straight from the poly community.

Puzzle Piece #1: "New Relationship Energy" (NRE)
This refers to that giddy feeling of excitement and infatuation at the beginning of a relationship. Sometimes this is called the "honeymoon phase" of a relationship. You know the phase. The butterflies when they call. The way your stomach drops when you think about kissing them. The grin you can't wipe off your face when they say something nice. That phase when you want to talk to them all the time, and they're so awesome, and everything in the world smells like rainbows. This phase (or some variation of it) can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

CLEARLY, this is something that most people feel, not just poly folks. But poly folks have a name for it for two reasons. 1, being non-monogamous means you're more likely to experience New Relationship Energy more often. 2, poly folks have learned that this phase is not a good time to make big decisions. And THAT'S the lesson I'm carrying with me. Hollywood and romance novels would have us believe that if that big sparkly feeling is missing, something is wrong and you shouldn't be with someone. But Hollywood and romance novels are full of crap. The polyamory world says, "Enjoy those giddy feelings! Have fun! But know that it wears off. Don't make any big decisions about your relationship during this phase. Wait until things cool down enough for you to think clearly." That's a damn sight smarter than how most of us do things.

And I think this can apply to more than just romantic relationships. I think we sometimes get a version of this in friendships, too, just not as strongly. But sometimes we get so excited about new friendships that we make plans, either consciously or unconsciously, that can't be sustained. Because NRE wears off. THAT'S NOT A BAD THING. Feelings don't disappear. They shift. They settle.

Puzzle Piece #2: Dealing With Jealousy
There's this myth about the polyamory world that poly folks don't get jealous, and that that's why they can have open relationships. But that's not quite true. There are poly folks who get jealous, and there are poly folks that don't. But here's what poly folks recognize about jealousy. 95% of the time, jealousy is about your own fears. There is the 5% of the time when there really is an issue that you need to talk about with the person in question. But before you do, you can pause and ask yourself, "What am I afraid of? What am I worried that I won't get? What am I scared I'll lose? What needs am I afraid won't be met?" And most of the time, you can work that stuff out for yourself.

Let's say your significant other has lunch with an old boyfriend/girlfriend. You're pretty sure they won't cheat on you, but you still feel jealous. That's an opportunity to tune in and say, "Okay, what am I scared I won't get?" Maybe the answer is time with your significant other. Maybe the answer is you're afraid they'll feel new relationship energy and not want to be with you. Maybe you're scared that if they leave you, you'll never find love again. Once you've identified those fears, you can go through and address them.

I don't know about you guys, but this has happened to me with friendships, too. I'll have a really meaningful connection with someone, and then they'll also have meaningful connections with other people. Which is actually just how friendship works. But dammit if I don't get jealous sometimes. Blame the trauma of middle school or whatever. But in recent months, when I feel twinges of jealousy, I've taken time to stop and think about what I'm afraid of. And then I've addressed those fears.

This doesn't prevent jealousy from happening. But it's a healthier way of dealing with jealousy.

Puzzle Piece #3: Compersion
So, the poly community coined this new term that's basically the opposite of jealousy. It's a feeling of joy or elation you get when your significant other (or one of them, if you're poly) finds satisfaction in another relationship.

This is another tool to help deal with initial feelings of jealousy. Step one, address your own fears. Step two, think outside yourself and try a little positive empathy. This doesn't just apply to people--you can feel compersion that your significant other/friend/roommate/sibling/parent/whatever has found a great new video game that they love, or a TV show that they can't get enough of, or a friendship that's enriching their life. Your initial instinct may be to resent whatever it is that seems to be drawing this person away from you. And you can't really force yourself to feel compersion if you don't. But sometimes you can choose to feel that way.

Puzzle Piece #4: Don't Make One Person Responsible for Meeting All of Your Needs
I've been realizing lately that I tend to do this sometimes, regardless of whether the relationship is romantic or friendly or what have you. This is something I'm still trying to figure out--how much ANYONE else is "responsible" for meeting someone else's needs. (I'll let you know when I figure it out...probably sometime around 2053.)

But this is one of the benefits that polyamorous people experience in their romantic or sexual relationships. Say you love playing video games with your partner, but you fall in love with someone who hates them. In a monogamous situation, you're stuck. But for poly folks, you simply find someone else to play video games with. (Technically, you can also do this if you're monogamous, but sometimes people make rules for themselves and their relationships that prevent it.)

THIS APPLIES SO MUCH TO FRIENDSHIPS. Sometimes I get into this weird head-space where I sort of put all of my eggs into one friendship basket for a little while. But it means that when that person is busy, or has other obligations, or other desires, I am basket-less and egg-less. This also means that I spend a lot of time in that friendship being selfish and TERRIFIED that they'll take away the basket and the eggs at any second and then I WILL NOT HAVE ANY FRIENDS.

(We're all neurotic somehow. Brene Brown, please high five me for being vulnerable right now.)

This is obviously a problem. It can make my friendships all about me and my fears instead of about who someone is or our common interests. It also means I'm miserable if they can't meet my every need. It means that any time I spend with that friend has a faint undercurrent of terror that makes me not quite genuine. It means that I think I have to bribe people into being friends with me.

I've found myself in this situation a little more often since Jacob and I separated, and I'm grateful it hasn't been drastic enough to burn any bridges down. I'm still learning how to get out of that head-space, and how to reach outward with less fear. (Granted, I'm a little fragile when it comes to any relationship at all right now, so I'm trying to be patient with myself as I stumble through. If you've been hurt by my neurosis, I apologize deeply. Come talk to me.) But I think the poly community has something right simply in recognizing that it's unreasonable to expect one person to meet all of our needs, all of the time. You gotta spread that love around. (In a platonic way, if you are monogamous.)

Puzzle Piece #5: Talk About It
Final thing I'm stealing from the poly world? I have rarely seen any group of people emphasize communication as much as these folks. It's simply a necessity. After the New Relationship Energy fades, a great deal of any relationship is just administrative tasks. For those who've been in a relationship, think about your schedule and how difficult it can be to make time for each other. Now double that. (Or triple it...etc.) And add on top of it discussions about making sure everyone's needs are met. Poly relationships demand that people talk to each other honestly and often.

But let's be real. Every single relationship we have, romantic or otherwise, could probably benefit from talking honestly and often.


I'll probably be gathering puzzle pieces like these for the rest of my life. I feel a little frustrated sometimes that I don't just HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT RIGHT NOW. I'm impatient like that. About most things. And given my recent circumstances, my desperate desire to figure things out makes sense. But I'm learning to just live in the moment a little more. To appreciate the knowledge I have, and to try and do kind and happy things, instead of worrying so much about whether or not I'm doing everything "right." Sometimes the road map we have doesn't have as much detail as we'd like. So for those moments, I'm grateful for what guidance I can find. Even if it comes in puzzle piece form.

I'm mixing my metaphors here, but I trust you know what I mean.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Themyscira: Benefits and Hazards


Jacob moved out in mid-February. (I'll write more about our divorce another time.) I drained my savings account to redecorate the entire apartment (and it looks awesome), because it was cheaper to do that than move, and because I won't find another apartment for $525 in as good of a location.

This also means that I'm currently living alone, something I did only once for a summer when I was in my early twenties. For the vast majority of my life, I've shared a bedroom, or at least an apartment or house. But I find I enjoy living alone. There are definitely benefits.

- I can wear whatever I want around the house, without making anyone else uncomfortable or distracted. (In these summer months, this means that I'm mostly naked, most of the time. I mean, do you see the title of my blog?)

- I can decorate every space however I want to. Do I want to put glow-in-the-dark stars on the bedroom ceiling? Do I want to re-arrange the furniture in the living room? Do I want to post this subversive cross-stitch in a prominent place? The entire apartment is my space, and I don't have to consult anyone about how I want it to look and feel.

- I can stay up as late as I want, and turn lights on and make noise without disturbing anyone. (Within reason...I do have neighbors.)

- I can keep thing as messy or as tidy as I want, without it affecting anyone else.

- I can have friends over any time, without needing to notify or check in with someone else.

Basically, I don't have to be considerate? It's good to be considerate, and when I'm living with another person, being considerate is its own reward and I didn't MIND doing these considerate things. It's just kind of nice to not have to worry about it.

Of course, there are hazards of living alone.

- There's no one there to rub aloe vera on my sunburned back. (I've currently got a patchy sunburn from camping this weekend...I'm only burned in the places where I didn't reach with sunscreen. Which means I also can't reach those spots with aloe vera.)

- It's hard to shop for one person. I'm not going to eat an entire loaf of bread in one week, but I can't buy half a loaf? So I have to freeze half? And some weeks I go through a gallon of milk, and sometimes just half that. I don't want food to go bad, but I also want food. I'm still figuring out how much to buy for myself.

- I have to make an effort to be social. I'm a fairly introverted person--I much prefer meaningful conversations with a few friends to a big party, and for every hour I spend with other people, I generally need an hour on my own. But I DO need those hours with other people. It can be lonely to live alone. So when I want to spend time with people, it takes more coordination. I have to call or text to set something up, and sometimes schedules don't quite line up. In college, if I wanted to spend time with people, I would just go into the living room, and usually a roommate or two would be available.

- Sometimes I start thinking about zombies/aliens/serial killers/ghosts and it's spooky to be in an apartment by myself in those times. Although, if I really WAS in some kind of danger, I'm pretty sure the ladies in my apartment complex would have my back. I live in a four-plex, and right now it's just women--three single ladies and a lesbian couple. The departure of all of the men in our building happened within the last few months, and that departure was marked by a strange uptick in building maintenance. The weeds in the yard have been removed. Stepping stones have been added to a pathway. Curtains have been hung up in the laundry room. Potted plants sit on the porch. We're just five badass women making a life for ourselves in this apartment building, and we just each needed "a room of one's own" to do it. I've started calling this place Themyscira, after the island where the Amazons live in "Wonder Woman." (Important note: I don't plan on killing any of the men who visit our island. Men are welcome here. There's just something special about having a place for just women--it's something that's been denied women for centuries, and often still is--to be away from male supervision.)




In general, I like living alone. (Someone suggested using a paint roller to apply aloe vera, so that problem is basically solved.) So I'll raise a glass to all my wonder women who make meals at midnight in their skivvies: "Here's to living alone!"

Saturday, May 27, 2017

If I were a drinker...


...I might pick this weekend to drink.

It's just been a long, intense, emotional week, and I dealt with it by spending WAY too much time in my head, to my own detriment and possibly to the temporary detriment of several friendships (sorry, everyone). There's not really any one particular thing going on. It's lots of things.

It's "Mockingbird" closing, which hurts so much that I haven't even really had the courage to face it. I was not ready for that show to end. And while I trust that I will have plenty of other meaningful experiences with other wonderful people, "Mockingbird" came at such an important time and I built so many incredible friendships and the story is so important...it's just hard to let go of.

It's this paper I'm supposed to be working on for my Narrative Journalism class, that I can't find my way into, that's so big and sprawling and all the quotes and research are all so overwhelming. And my interview with the one source that would have been the perfect "way in" fell through.

It's being divorced, and navigating all of the new territory I find myself in. The loneliness and freedom and uncertainty and unfamiliarity of it all.

It's missing my sister so much that my chest physically aches.

It's auditions for "The Heart of Robin Hood" coming up in a week, and being so busy and overwhelmed by other things that I didn't finalize an audition song until YESTERDAY, so now I'm trying to cram a lot of preparation into seven days.

It's feeling like my testimony is being rearranged a little bit right now. Which is, ultimately, a good thing, but it's not exactly comfortable.

It's not being able to find an ENTIRE 50,000-WORD DRAFT of one of my old NaNoWriMo novels, which is actually still so overwhelming that I haven't fully pursued looking for it.

It's trying to balance my introverted need for alone time and my lonely need for companionship, which I haven't had to do to this extent since I was twenty-two or so, when I was a slightly different person under very different circumstances.

It's re-evaluating what I really want. In friendships. In Church. In life. In relationships. In how I spend my time. I feel like I have a solid core of understanding about who I am, and about the big abstract things I want. I want to be kind and learn a lot and experience things fully and make other people's lives better and create meaningful art. But it's figuring out the concrete, every day ways to do those things that's taking some re-evaluation.

It's doing one improv show and feeling like my contributions to it were small and pretty mediocre, and then doing another improv show that was so so solid.


But it hasn't JUST been challenging things. There have been great things this last week, too.

Getting really positive feedback on one of my workshop pieces for my MFA.

My 3-year-old nephew gleefully screaming my name and running to hug me when I showed up to babysit, and the hilarious speed with which my 10-month-old nephew crawls.

Sitting and talking with girls from the "Mockingbird" cast while we played with five adorable tiny puppies.

Having some pretty awesome validation for my work as an actress.

Buying a bunch of new bras that I'm OBSESSED with.

Eating popsicles and watching a documentary with a friend on a Tuesday night.

Finishing a painting and having it turn out even better than I had envisioned.

Spending time with the cast and crew of "Mockingbird" on a Sunday afternoon, eating food and talking and laughing.

Good conversations (even though some have also been scary conversations) with friends, with family, with my therapist, with my God.

Dinner with an old friend and his significant other, eating amazing Thai food and laughing and talking and reminiscing.


See? Beautiful and challenging things. It's just I've got a lot spinning around my mind-grapes nowadays, and it can be overwhelming experiencing all of this while simultaneously working 20 hours a week, taking MFA classes, and also doing all the little stupid things that need to be done, like filling the gas tank and doing the dishes and fixing the bathroom faucet and folding the laundry and restringing the guitar and finishing that graphic design project and refilling a prescription and getting groceries and watering the plants and sewing the sleeves on those blouses and eating and sleeping and basic hygiene.


I'm real grateful for a 3-day weekend, y'all. I don't have any solid plans, and I keep thinking about possible impromptu road trips that I probably can't afford to go on. But boy, are my feet itchin' to go on a road trip. I started this blog by saying that if I were a drinker, I'd drink this weekend. But I think it would just be another form of "running away." There have been lots of times in my life when I've "run away," but I've always come back. It's just a momentary escape. A moment to re-align my mirrors, get my head on straight, take a breath. I'd stop running away if it stopped working.

When I left work on Friday, my boss asked me what my weekend plans were. I said, "I might go on a road trip." When he asked where, I said, "I haven't decided yet." And I'm still deciding. Deciding whether I even need or want to run away, and if I do, what form it will take. But whether I hop in the car and keep driving or sit at home and paint, I'm really glad I have a long weekend to do so.

art via David Wallace

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Funny friends = a medicine for melancholy

The quotebook is one of my very favorite things. I've been adding a lot of gems to it lately, so I thought I'd share. Laughter is a good remedy for a bad day, I think. 


"How did more babies NOT get swallowed by dogs? That's my question." - Ashley

Anne: I'm obsessed with sharks. They are the greatest animals on the planet.
Dawn: If you had the chance to be a shark, would you do it?
Anne: I want to get eaten by a shark.

"Daniel just wants to go to a nude beach and I just want to do things I'm not supposed to in communist countries." - Isha

Willis: Every time I take a shower and put a towel over my head, I take a picture of myself.
Erica: Because you look like Jesus?
Willis: Because I look like Jesus.

"What's that one thing where they throw the thing...? Oh, the Super Bowl." - Liz

"Nothing makes me feel smaller than going to a concert in a warehouse." - Ben

"'Skinwalker Ranch' sounds more like a porn studio than a paranormal hotspot." - Josh

Mary: Were you wearing a wetsuit?
Daniel: I was wet. I wasn't wearing a suit, though.

"I just admire Annalicia's combination of recreation and acts of rebellion." - Dad

"Nice shirt, Bryan. Do you want to stay a virgin forever?" - Kylee

"Like, that was funny. I just couldn't get my body to laugh." - Collette

Mary: I like your man-bun, Daniel!
Beckah: It's just a bun. It's the same thing on a man or a woman.
(15 minutes later)
Mary: It goes well with your man-bun.
Beckah: IT'S JUST A BUN!

"I KNOW it's a movie theater, but it has a recliner! We should be able to bring blankets and take our clothes off!" - Dad

"Do you know that song? I think it's from a Book of Mormon movie. Or Pocahontas..." - Collette

(after I lost him briefly in the grocery store)
Liz: Where did you go?
Dad: I was admiring the pickles.

Ben: Wait. What do you mean by "cold showers"?
Dan: No heat.

"Hey Dad, we're twins! Except you ain't got no hair." - Yahosh

Brighton: Wouldn't it be weird to not know what you look like? Like in the Middle Ages?
Collette: That's why you go into the woods and look in the puddles.

Josh: Does being a hermit living in a cabin next to a lake count as a profession?
Liz: Definitely. Unless you're planning domestic acts of terror or something.
Josh: Nope. Just gardening.

"I was so worried about lunch, but then I remembered that I never eat lunch." - Gayle

"I love things that taste like dirt." - Dan

"That's like the calligraphy of tongue-rolling." - Ben

"That sack looks so turnip-y." - Brandon, to no one in particular, as he walked by the prop shelf

“Why would you pour lemonade like that?!” - Ryan, to himself, while looking at his phone

“Is it bad that I get turned on by watching my own crossfit videos?" - Mandee

Me: I’m so tired.
Cairo: Oh. I have ADHD.

"You WILL listen to me. I will have you ARRESTED.” - Miss Rita, to a 1st grader

"Cool red pants. I almost wore red pants. Actually, that's a lie, but I have some red pants that I could have worn if I had wanted to.” - overheard

Liz: That's a good, strong hug.
Cairo: I can crush 70 pounds with my thighs.

"I hate to pat ourselves on the back, but we didn't clean the church this last week, and it doesn't look as good as when we did it." - Sunday school teacher

"I hate paisley. It looks like a bunch of sperm got drunk and went square-dancing." - Daniel

"I didn't know that aioli was fancy mayonnaise. What the f***. Just call it mayonnaise." - Betsy

(while chatting online)
Liz: Dude, you are not showing enough enthusiasm for this eclipse. THE MOON IS GOING TO BE DIRECTLY IN BETWEEN THE EARTH AND THE SUN IN A COSMIC MIRACLE AND WE GET TO SEE IT!
Josh: Sorry, went for a grapefruit.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

"It's a sin to kill a mockingbird."


"To Kill A Mockingbird" opens in a week and a half. And I'm loving every minute of rehearsal, even though there are moments that are emotionally draining just to watch. I've been doing something I've called "daily doses o' dramaturgy," where I research some aspect of 1935 or Alabama or the world of the play, and post about it on our private Facebook page. (Yes, yes, my nerdiness is well-established.) I'd do this research anyway, just for myself, so I might as well share what I find.

And something I sort of knew, but didn't quite fully comprehend, was how much this fear of a black man raping a white woman was a part of the American psyche. It was (and sometimes still is) everywhere. I started researching a few examples for my "daily dose o' dramaturgy," and it's been overwhelming.

For those unfamiliar with the story of "To Kill A Mockingbird," it takes place in a small Alabama town called Maycomb in 1935. A poor white woman, Mayella Ewell, has accused Tom Robinson, a Black man, of rape. The lawyer Atticus Finch defends Tom Robinson, even though most of the town assumes he's guilty. During the trial, Tom tells his experience, and it becomes clear that Mayella Ewell tried to seduce him, and when he rejected her advances, she accused him of rape.

I was going to share some of my research with just the "To Kill A Mockingbird" cast and crew, but it just...felt too important to keep there. I waited and waited and waited to post it, because it’s just so relentless. It’s heavy and wrong and offensive and hard to read and I hated researching the details of these cases and stories.

I originally just intended to talk about the film "Birth of a Nation" and the founding of the KKK. But my research led me into this awful rabbit hole of fact after fact after fact. White people have feared that Black men will rape "their" women for centuries in America. That unfounded--COMPLETELY UNFOUNDED--fear has been the shaky foundation of so many riots, so many crimes, so many tragedies. (The real danger has statistically always been white men sexually assaulting Black women.) There are whole books written about this idea. But here are just some of the things I found. Here are some of the plot points on the timeline that led to Mayella Ewell accusing Tom Robinson of raping her, confident that everyone would assume his guilt:

The 1765 Index to the Laws of Maryland has one entry for laws surrounding rape. It reads “RAPE: See Negroes.”

From 1812 – 1965, rape was a capital offense in Alabama. During this time, the state put 72 men to death for the crime of rape. Dozens of others were hanged or sent to the electric chair for unspecified crimes. All but 3 of them were Black. 

The word “rapist” wasn’t used in America until the late 1800s. The first recorded use was in a newspaper article, which referred to a “n****r rapist.”

In 1900, Congressman Benjamin Tillman stated on the Senate floor that “We have never believed [the Black man] to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

In 1914, “experts” at Congressional hearings on drug use claimed that “most of the attacks upon white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain.”

In 1915, the film "Birth of a Nation" portrayed Black folks as incapable of being civilized, and as animals who lived by instinct. One famous scene shows a former slave sexually (and literally) pursuing a white woman, eventually leading to her death. The film inspired a re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan (which was basically obsolete at the time). The current Klan imagery was adopted directly from the film. 

The 1917 pamphlet “ABC of the Invisible Empire” listed one of the main goals of the KKK as “to shield the sanctity of the home and the chastity of womanhood.”

In 1921, a white mob incited a riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after 19-year-old Black man Dick Rowland was accused of raping a white female elevator operator. The riot destroyed more than 35 city blocks, and left 300 people dead. The claim of rape was unsubstantiated.

In 1923, a white mob destroyed almost the entire community of Rosewood, Florida, which was mostly Black, in response to a rumor that a white woman in a nearby town had been raped by an unknown Black man. At least 8 people were killed, 6 of them Black. During the massacre, two Black women were raped and then strangled to death by white men.

In 1931, 9 Black teenagers were accused of raping two white women on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama. All but 12-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, despite a lack of evidence. Their story includes rushed trials, all-white juries, and poor legal representation. The case was appealed several times, and charges were finally dropped for 4 of the 9 defendants. All but two served prison sentences. They were threatened by a lynch mob while waiting in jail for trial.

In 1934, "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama put a Black man on trial for raping a white woman. There was no hard evidence and witness testimony was unreliable, but Walter Lett was convicted and sentenced to death. Eventually, he was pardoned, but by that time, he had spent so long on death row that he suffered insanity. He died in an Alabama hospital in 1937.

And it didn’t stop in 1935, the year that "To Kill A Mockingbird" takes place.

In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was falsely accused of flirting with a white woman. The woman’s husband and brother brutally beat and mutilated the teenage boy before shooting him and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. The white men who murdered Emmett were acquitted by a jury of their peers. A year later (protected by double jeopardy), they openly admitted that they had murdered Till.

In 1989, five Black and Latino teenagers were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park. Each of them was convicted, despite a lack of evidence, and served time in prison. They were exonerated by DNA evidence in 2002. At the time of the crimes, $85,000 worth of full-page advertisements in four major New York City newspapers called for the death penalty to be used on all five of the accused teenagers, regardless of the facts of the case. The ads were written and paid for by then-real estate mogul, Donald Trump. 

And on June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and told its Black congregation, “You rape our women. You’re taking over our country. You have to go.” He shot and killed 9 people soon afterwards.

THIS is why we have to keep reading "To Kill A Mockingbird." This is why we have to keep doing this play, and telling these stories. I'm a white girl who has no actual idea what it's like to be a Black man in America. My own privilege means that I'm sometimes clumsy and ignorant when it comes to issues of race. In some ways, this isn't my story to write. But I don't want to ignore it either. I can't ignore it. I'm so grateful to be a part of this production of "To Kill A Mockingbird." When Tom Robinson sits onstage and speaks, he is sitting there on behalf of all of the men and women who can speak no longer. He's sitting there for the men and women killed by Dylann Roof. For the Black folks in Rosewood, Florida. For the Scottsboro boys. For Walter Lett and Dick Rowland and Emmett Till and Darryl Hunt and Thomas McGowen.

Mockingbirds are still flying among us, and we're still shooting them.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Hello again, and thank you.

I'm still here!

I'll write all about the roller coaster that the last few months has been, but I'll do that later. I'm still kind of motion sick from the ups and downs, so I need to take a little while to process them. Despite the rough ride, just know that there are lots of good and wonderful things in my life that make me grateful to wake up every morning.

Here are just a few of them:

1) The bedroom ceiling. 


I got a pack of glow-in-the-dark stars from Amazon.com, and spent two and a half hours covering the ceiling and upper walls of the bedroom, unsure about the result. And then when I went to bed, I couldn't sleep for a solid half hour, because I was just grinning at the ceiling. I am OBSESSED. (Note: The above picture is not my bedroom. I do not have a camera that has the ability to capture a star ceiling that well. Also, that bedroom is five times bigger.)

2) The apartment in general, actually. 
I've made a few changes around here, and it looks awesome, and I enjoy coming home to it every night. Someday I'll muster the energy to do a before-and-after blog, but today is not that day.

3) The Great British Baking Show. 


You guys. I am obsessed. I can't help it! It's so charming and British and everything is so yummy and I love cooking shows anyway, but there's none of this cut-throat American falsified DRAMA. It's just British people baking their tushes off and it's so charming. I'm in the middle of re-watching it. Already.

4) California. And family. 


The stars aligned last week and Beckah and I got to visit Mom and Ray and Oma and Opa and everyone in California AT THE SAME TIME. With our grown up jobs and grown up schedules, that's not always easy. Beckah got there the day before I did, and when they picked me up from the airport, we went STRAIGHT to the beach. Didn't even stop to drop off luggage. We also spent some time at my uncle's log cabin in the woods, and that was wonderful, too. Mad Libs and good music and books read aloud were all included, of course.

5) S-Town. 

The producers of "This American Life" and "Serial" created a new podcast called "S-Town" and it's amazing. It's one story with seven chapters, which they released all at once on Wednesday this past week, and I finished the series today. It's funny and sad and poignant and beautiful and mysterious. 10 out of 10, would recommend.

6) Curls


I love having curly hair. I had an especially good hair day today, and it made me feel especially pretty. I love days when I feel especially pretty. (Ain't vain. I just think women should spend less time focusing on what we think are flaws in our appearance and celebrating the pretty instead.)

7) The wind outside the bedroom window as I write. 
I can hear it rustling through the trees, making the branches creak slightly. It's eerie and lovely.

8) To Kill A Mockingbird


I've loved every show I've ever done. Even if it was hard or had challenges or wasn't as fulfilling, I've always found something to love, or at the very least, something to learn. But some shows just sort of stand out in your memory as special. There's just some extra magic somehow, and everyone is passionate about the work, or maybe the story means something important to everyone involved. Macbeth. Enchanted April. And now, To Kill A Mockingbird. This show came to me at a very difficult time in my life. And that's the case for a few of us in the cast...a lot of us are dealing with loss or heartbreak of some kind. It's so meaningful to have a place to go every night where we can all pour our hearts into a story...all the heartbreak and joy and anger and fear and laughter and sadness.

And everyone is SO TALENTED. These freaking little kids and tweens, even, the ones playing Dill and Scout and Jem, are INCREDIBLE. And that actually goes for everyone. We had a run-through earlier this week, and I cried roughly eight separate times? (In reality, I started crying at the top of Act Two, and sort of kept crying off and on until the end.)

I have some dear friends in the cast, and it's been wonderful to strengthen those friendships. And despite my feelings of social anxiety, I'm slowly forming new friendships, too. Most of the cast were strangers to me at the beginning of rehearsals, but I love that friendships sort of naturally form while we're all building a show. Even though I feel awkward and uncertain sometimes, I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such amazing people. People who care deeply about this work, who are funny and kind and smart.

So many members of the cast have shared what "To Kill A Mockingbird" has meant to them over the years. During rehearsals, people have shared personal experiences, poems, things they've learned, thoughts on the show. Tears have been shed. Not every rehearsal is this overwhelming emotional experience. But that's beautiful, too--the banter-y rehearsals, the missed lines, the just dragging through it. I may be blinded by my love of theatre, but I'm legitimately disappointed when I'm not called to rehearsal. During our first read-through, the director pointed out that this story is timeless, but unfortunately, it's also timely. I think all of us feel a small sense of responsibility in telling this story. It's such an honor to be even a small part of this process. I feel so so so blessed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Social Justice Perfectionist


It's a tough time to be an INFJ.

That's a "Meyers Briggs" personality type, and it's "pop psychology," which can only be trusted so much. But in my case, it's pretty damn accurate. You can read more about it here, but basically, the nickname for this personality type is "The Advocate." INFJ's are deeply sensitive people who feel a strong moral obligation to create fairness for all.

And at this point in American history, "fairness for all" is feeling pretty threatened.

I don't know how to talk about this without sounding like an insufferable, self-righteous jerk. So you'll just have to like, trust that I'm not sharing these things to somehow prove how good of a human I am. I have to talk about it because it's the premise to this entire blog entry.

Because here's what's going on. I'm EXHAUSTED. I'm tired of explaining systemic racism to friends on Facebook. I'm tired of defending my place in the Women's March. I'm tired of making phone calls to senators whose voicemail boxes are always full. I'm tired of checking Twitter/Facebook/any news website, and finding something else that terrifies me and breaks my heart and demands some call to action. I am mentally and emotionally overwhelmed. I need a break.

And I feel like I can't take one. I feel like the whole fragile world is collapsing, and I've got to do my part to keep it upright. I know I'm not single-handedly holding it up. I am CERTAIN that I'm not that important. But I feel like if I let go, if I walk away, even for a moment, it forces everyone else to work harder to keep it all up. I'm making other people do my work. And it just feels so selfish.

Here's what's always in the back of my mind:


How can I walk away when people are fighting for their lives?! I have a moral obligation, as a human being, to fight for the equality of all human beings. I want history to show that I did that.

Now let's talk about the fact that I deal with anxiety and depression. My anxiety manifests itself most often in perfectionism. That perfectionism is a double-edged sword...I feel like a lot of the success I've had in my life has come from my relentless desire to do things really well. My perfectionism is what drives me to make to-do lists, and organize office drawers, and rehearse with intensity. A desire to do things well can be healthy and productive. But there's also a dark side to that perfectionism...at it's heart, perfectionism says, "I HAVE TO do this, because if I don't, no one will love me."

So here's the mental loop I've had buzzing in my head/heart since Inauguration Day:

"These laws and practices and ideas are dangerous. I need to fight them because I care deeply about the world around me!" 
"This inspires me! Look at all these other people doing awesome things! I'm so glad I can do things like march and make phone calls and stand up for what I believe on the internet." 
"This is getting tiring. I don't know how to explain this to people in a way that will make them understand."
"I am exhausted. I can't do this anymore. It hurts too much to do this in the face of so much adversity and criticism." 
"I'm going to take a break." 
"But how unfair is it that you CAN take a break?! Other people can't! Why should they pick up your slack because you were 'too tired' to post that reply?"
"You're being so crappy right now. The world needs your voice. You need to do your part." 

There's no clear order to these thoughts...I cycle through them all at varying speeds and for varying durations. In general, I swing back and forth between feeling obligated to fight for truth and fairness, and feeling obligated to save my own sanity.

Jacob has a beautiful habit of asking me how I am, in a way that shows that he really wants to know the answer. If I answer, "Fine," he'll usually say, "Are you really?" And I try to truly be honest. I don't want to play mind games. But I've lacked the words lately to explain how overwhelmed I've been.

Because the other thing is that I also need to just...live my life. I need to go to work and file the things and clean the bathroom and do my homework and perform the show and prepare for the auditions and text the friends. And I WANT to do those things. I CARE about those things. And sometimes life is stressful enough trying to balance JUST THOSE THINGS, without the additional weight of trying to fight fascism in the highest offices of one of the most powerful countries on earth. But how stupid and selfish of me to be like, "Hold up, I can't make this phone call to express my concern about a WHITE NATIONALIST holding a position of power in the United States government, because I have to fold my laundry."

I have wondered briefly if theatre is frivolous in these troubled times. But I know it's not. Whether political or personal or comedic, theatre is a tool for such good. Theatre is one of the greatest teachers of empathy I know of, and empathy is what leads to fairness and equality and the world generally being a better place. And if the show is a ridiculous comedy, then it gives people an emotional boost, to just sit and laugh for an hour or two, so that they can then go out and do good in the world. For as long as I live, I will be so grateful that the show I did right before the election was "Cabaret," and the show I did after the election was "The Nerd." Both hold such an important place in fighting injustice.

Cognitively, I recognize the need for self-care. I mean, I just said that it's valuable to just sit and laugh for an hour or two to recharge. I know that in theory, everyone needs to take care of themselves so that they can be a force for good in the world. I won't be much help to a social cause from a padded cell. But I'm a perfectionist, remember? I need to be better than everyone else. I shouldn't need breaks. I shouldn't need re-charge time. I should just be able to do it--to marathon this sucker until it's finished. I have a MORAL OBLIGATION to marathon my way through this. Other people have to because they have more skin in this game, and I'm a hypocrite if I SAY I fight for these causes, and then watch Netflix for hours and hours.

Writing this out has been helpful. But I think I need to make a solid plan of action. I need to figure out what I can change and what I can't, and come up with practical strategies. I need concrete things I can do and say that will help me find balance. Advice like, "Remember to take care of your mental health" is too vague. I don't know that this blog is the time and place to make that solid plan of action in detail, but because it's helpful to write it out, here are a few ideas. I may not use all of them...I'm just sort of brainstorming here. Feel free to use these in your own life if you need to, and I'd welcome any strategies you all have to stay sane.

HOW TO STAY SANE WHEN EVERYTHING IS THE WORST: A FEW IDEAS

1) Limit time on social media. This is a source of a lot of anxiety for me right now. I do want to remain informed, so I don't want to cut myself off. But limiting my time there may be a helpful way for me to get the info I need without overwhelming me. Maybe I could limit to a certain number of hours per day/week, or have days when I don't go on social media, or have social media "black out" hours.

2) Schedule time in for social causes. Sometimes the desperate need to contribute to the social good sort of looms over me. I can schedule in time during my week/month/day to specifically concentrate on researching issues, donating to causes, attending meetings/marches/protests, making phone calls, etc. Doing this will allow me to contribute in meaningful ways without overwhelming me. It allows me to cross off "stand up for what's right" on my empath and perfectionist checklist, but it also allows me time to heal and recuperate if needed.

3) If things are bad, use healthy coping mechanisms. Yoga, meditation, cleaning/organizing, exercise, walks. Sometimes, cake and Netflix can be healthy, too, even. All things in moderation.

4) Use positive self-talk. This is a cognitive-behavioral therapy technique (which is real psychology, as opposed to pop psychology). It involves tuning in to what your inner monologue is, and creating positive counter statements. I can write a handful of these statements and post them where I can see them often. I can repeat them to myself when I need to interrupt the negative thought loops my brain gets stuck in. (If you're interested in learning more about this, I highly recommend the books "The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook" and "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.")

5) Take time to surround yourself with positive and hopeful things. I was so inspired by the powerful things I saw and heard during the Women's March. I'm bolstered by the efforts of others around me. Reminding myself of the progress that has been made will help me to move forward.



Okay. Keep on walking, Chapman. Deep breaths. Fist raised, heart held soft and grounded.

We can do this.

photo via

Monday, January 09, 2017

Intersectional Privilege: Check it (out), or "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Diversity"

Okay, I know it's a buzzword. “Check your privilege!” The rallying cry of liberal arts students everywhere! Not to be disparaging…it’s my rallying cry, too. But I’m learning that not everyone has the same clear idea of what “check your privilege” even means. I know this because anytime the word privilege comes up in conversation or a Facebook debate, inevitably someone will eventually say something like, "But you don't know what I've been through!" So I want to define some things here.

DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A SOCIAL SCIENTIST. There are plenty of people who know much more about this stuff than I do. I relied heavily on two resources when writing this blog, and I encourage you to check them out: John Hopkins University Diversity Wheel, and "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. This blog just contains the thoughtful thoughts of a thinky thinker with a blog. Okay. Here goes.

Less Accurate: Boxes of Privilege
We tend to think of privilege like this:

Either you’re in the privileged box, or you’re not. And when your life has been really difficult, it can suck really badly to have someone say, "You're in the privileged box!" That hurts, and it feels like that person is ignoring everything about the challenges you've experienced. But the truth is that privilege is much more complicated than that. The truth is that privilege is "intersectional." That's another fancy buzzword that just means that there are entire categories of who we are that all intersect to create our identity. Each of us have some privilege in some areas, and not as much privilege in other areas.

More Accurate: The Mighty Wheel of Privilege
So it's probably actually better to think about privilege like this:



I came up with these categories based on a ton of articles on the topic, and on the input of a few other smart folks I know. In the center of the wheel are things that can be changed, but it takes some doing. And sometimes it takes privilege in one area to improve your privilege in another. (For example, you often need a higher income level in order to make changes to your appearance.) The outer ring of the wheel are things that can't be changed or controlled. (Note: chromosomal sex refers to male/female/intersex...what your DNA says. Gender identity is in the brain, and refers to being either cisgender or transgender or gendered in some other way.)

What is privilege? 
I guess we should get specific. In social terms, privilege is not something "extra" given to you by society. It's not something that lets you cut to the front of the line, or makes your life easier than it is, or means you have no struggles. No one is saying, "Oh! You are a straight, white, heterosexual male--you get 15% off at the register today!" Privilege is in the things you don't have to worry about. It's not in extra things you get because of your circumstances, it's the things you get because of your circumstances that other people don't get because of theirs. 

Think of it this way. Think of a group that you are part of, just because of your circumstances, whether it's race or sexual orientation or gender. Ask yourself the following questions:


If the answer to the majority of those questions is "yes," then you have privilege as a member of that group.

For example, let's take gender and answer these questions. I'm a woman.
1. Are the majority of people in your area a part of your group? KIND OF--IT'S PRETTY EVEN.
2. Are the people portrayed in film, music, magazines, ads, and other media a part of your group? KIND OF. THERE ARE FEWER WOMEN, AND THEY ARE OFTEN OBJECTIFIED. 
3. Can you do things without them being seen as a representation of your entire group, for good or bad? NOT REALLY. IF I WERE SUCCESSFUL IN POLITICS OR ACADEMIA, IT MAY BE QUESTIONED BECAUSE OF DIVERSITY INCENTIVES. IF I DO SOMETHING BAD, I'M MORE LIKELY TO HAVE GENDERED INSULTS THROWN MY WAY.
4. Are public facilities set up to accommodate you? YES.
5. Are people in your group in positions of power? IN VERY SMALL PROPORTIONS.
6. Are you statistically less likely to be a victim of harassment from strangers or law enforcement? NO. WOMEN ARE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO BE HARASSED, ESPECIALLY SEXUALLY.
7. Are you statistically less likely to be targeted by laws of your land? NO. HEALTHCARE LAWS IN THE UNITED STATES, PAID LEAVE, AND OTHER EMPLOYMENT LAWS TEND TO HURT WOMEN.
8. Are issues specific to your group taken seriously? NOT ENOUGH.

So based on these questions, women have a little bit of privilege, but not very much. If we need a clean-cut answer, the answer is no, women don't have privilege.

But, hey! Wanna know who has privilege in each of the categories of the wheel? I did some of the leg-work for you! You may not agree with this, but based on my reading and talking with others, here's a handy kind of short-cut guide to who has privilege in the United States.




Targeted vs. Underprivileged
There's also the important idea of members of certain groups being "targeted." Often, these are groups that lack privilege. But sometimes it gets a little more complicated than that. Let's say you've got an American community that's 55% Christian, 5% Muslim, 20% atheist, 10% Hindu, and 10% Jewish. The Christians may have the most privilege in this community, since they're the majority. The sayings on our legal documents and money reflect their beliefs, for example. So on the surface, it looks like Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and Jews are all underprivileged. But in recent years, Muslims have been targeted as victims of hate crimes or harassment, more so than Hindus or Jews or atheists. So members of the Muslim community may need more protection, or at least more attention.

Privileged vs. Valued 
There are also some groups that are more highly valued than others, but that aren't necessarily "privileged." Being valued by society means that you'll get more respect for being in a certain group...and it may come with some of those "extras" that we mistake for "privilege." The questions listed above (the ones we used to measure privilege) don't quite apply, but life is easier for the people in these categories. Here are some examples of valued groups:


So what?! 
Here’s why I think this is important. Because it helps us get on the same page when we’re talking about social issues. It acknowledges the fact that even if you have gender privilege, you may lack economic privilege. It answers the point “But you don’t know how hard my life has been!” It’s true. I don’t. And sometime, we should talk about the ways that your lack of privilege in certain areas has affected you. But right now, we’re talking about this specific area of privilege where you have more than me, and I’m telling you how you can help. And then you can tell me how I can help in areas where I have more privilege than you do.

Because until we acknowledge these things, many of our conversations about social issues are going to devolve into “My life has been harder!” and “Privilege isn’t a real thing!” And that doesn't help anyone.

Let's look at an imaginary situation. We've got two people here: Imaginary Person A and Imaginary Person B. The X's represent areas where the person lacks privilege, and the checkmarks represent ares where the person HAS privilege.


Person A is a rich, college-educated, middle-Eastern, heterosexual, cisgender, Muslim woman, who is disability and disease-free, has an average appearance, and has been bullied. Let's call her Amira.

Person B is a poor, college-educated, white, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian man, who is disability and disease-free, has an average appearance, and has been bullied. Let's call him John.

Let's say Amira posts an article on Facebook about discrimination against women wearing hijab in the workplace, and then this happens in the comments...

JOHN: Why don't you just pick somewhere else to work?
AMIRA: That's really unfair. I shouldn't be limited in where I work because of my religious beliefs.
JOHN: You're asking for special treatment! That's the definition of unfair!
AMIRA: Dude, how is it special treatment to want the exact same thing other people want--being able to work someplace?
JOHN: Look, I don't want to sound like a jerk, but it's WAY easier for you to find a job someplace than it is for me. I had to scrape my way through college, and I've got huge student loan debt. I can't afford to be picky, so you should just be grateful for any job you can find! Some of us don't have it that easy.
AMIRA: Just because my parents were rich doesn't mean my life was easy. My childhood was really difficult. You're a white, straight, Christian male, and I really don't want to hear you complain about your privilege.
JOHN: That's BS. I'm so sick of people telling me to "check my privilege" when they don't know anything about me. Did you go to school hungry? Did you have to buy all of your clothes second-hand? Did you have to take out huge loans to go to school? Did you get beat up every day of high school? So don't tell me to check my privilege.

Sound familiar? So here's where I think having a "Wheel of Privilege" paradigm would be helpful. At this point in the conversation, both Amira and John could take a step back and examine their own personal wheels of privilege. Then maybe, just maybe, something like this could happen:

AMIRA: John, I hear you. I know your life has not been easy. Being a white, straight, Christian male doesn't automatically equal an easy life. I shouldn't have implied that. But we're talking specifically about women wearing hijab in the workplace, and that's a game you don't really have skin in, if that makes sense. It feels crappy to have you dismiss my very real struggles when you don't know what it's like to experience them.
JOHN: Fair enough. But will you at least acknowledge that being rich does make things easier for you?
AMIRA: Fair enough.
(conversation continues, remaining focused on the issue at hand)



You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I don't imagine (see what I did there?) that I can single-handedly shift the world's paradigm when it comes to thinking and talking about privilege. But maybe it will help a little. If anything, this gives me a handy link to paste into the comments section of the next Facebook debate about privilege. Feel free to do the same.


Friday, January 06, 2017

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Mourning


We made it into 2017, everyone!

There’s been a lot of talk about how 2016 was kind of the worst year ever. And I know that’s purely subjective. There were definitely years in human history that were worse, and there were definitely really awesome things about 2016. I think the insanity of the U.S. election sort of colored everything else that happened—we were all seeing the world through these terrible red/blue-tinted glasses that made everything ELSE feel terrible. (I don’t think red/blue-tinted glasses are always terrible, but they sure felt that way this year.) There’s something to be said for a positive attitude, but even I have to admit that 2016 was a rough year.

But I want to talk specifically about the celebrity deaths of 2016. And why it’s 100% valid to mourn them in whatever way you need to.

During this past week, I overheard a conversation that went something like this:

“I’m really sad about Carrie Fisher.”
“But you didn’t know Carrie Fisher.”
“But I’m still going to miss her.”
“But you didn’t know her!”

The general sentiment is that it doesn’t make sense to mourn the deaths of celebrities we don’t know. Other arguments against mourning celebrity deaths include the fact that we should be mourning the deaths of soldiers/civilians/children/animals/etc, that you’re just mourning because everyone else is and you’re not even a real fan, or that their contributions weren’t valuable.

I’m calling BS. On all of that.

Of course most of us didn’t personally know Carrie Fisher. Most of us don’t personally know any of the celebrities whose deaths we are mourning. But many of these people invited us in to know them by living a public life, or by creating works of music and writing. I know that a public life and a private life are often two very different things. But the public life can still be inspiring.

Regarding the deaths of soldiers and civilians and children and the many other thousands of humans that have died this year: OF COURSE THAT SUCKS. Death just sucks. It’s an unavoidable part of the human experience, but it still sucks. Each life lost should be mourned. But I think the difference is that my own personal life wasn’t as deeply or directly affected by the deaths of many of those others. Yes, I understand that a soldier giving up their life in the line of duty often helps maintain the freedom I sometimes take for granted. And I am grateful for the sacrifices made on my behalf. I ache for the families of those who have lost loved ones to war, to cancer, to poverty, to disease. I ache for that loss of life. But my mourning the death of a celebrity doesn’t have to diminish the meaning of someone else’s death.

And I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a horrible person, but the truth is that Edward Albee’s life and work personally and directly affected my life in a different way than the death of a nameless soldier. I mourn the loss of Edward Albee more than the loss of other strangers simply because I know exactly how he changed my life. I will feel it more personally and more often. It’s more measurable.

If we were to truly mourn every death, we’d all end up in padded rooms somewhere. It’s too much to process that much loss. The human psyche can only take so much. I think sometimes the sorrow we feel for celebrity deaths also includes sorrow for all of the nameless…like we channel some of the despair of the world into the black armbands we wear for the singers and actors and writers who leave us.

And the whole “you’re just mourning because everyone else is and you weren’t really a fan” thing? IT DOESN’T MATTER. Let people mourn, even if you think they’re faking. Let people connect over stuff. Your sorrow doesn’t have to be more legitimate than anyone else’s—this is not a competition. I didn't know much about Prince before he died. But I was deeply inspired by everything I learned about him in the aftermath of his death, and it made me sad we won't have more of him.

As for whether or not the contributions of a celebrity are valuable, that’s in the eye of the beholder. There were some celebrity deaths this year that didn’t affect me very deeply. But there were others that did. I think each human being brings something utterly unique to this earth, and sometimes their contributions get to be widely shared. And when those contributions are meaningful to you or me, their loss is something to mourn. I’m still sad about Ray Bradbury—there will never be another like him. There will never be another story written by that man, in his voice, from his imagination. That’s a loss I still ache to think of, and it’s been almost five years. His dedication and imagination have been a huge part of why I’ve done NaNoWriMo, why I’m doing an MFA in Creative Writing. His books and stories allowed me to escape when I needed to. I know I didn’t personally know Ray Bradbury, and I know he didn’t sacrifice his life for my freedom. But I mourn the fact that the world, and my own life, will no longer read new words penned by his hand.

Many of the celebrity deaths I have mourned this year have left lasting contributions. And I can thank them for those things even as I mourn the fact that they have left us—that there’s a cap on what they brought to the world. So I mourn them.

David Bowie and Prince, thank you for rejecting toxic masculinity. Thank you for being fiercely yourselves, for blazing trails in music. Bowie, thank you for your prolific and ever-shifting career. Prince, thank you for your musical mastery and for being a delightful and enigmatic human.

Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder, thank you for the honesty and humor with which you approached your work. Thank you for Galaxy Quest and Willy Wonka and Severus Snape and Young Frankenstein. Thank you for your passion and dedication.

John Glenn, thank you for being brave enough to put on that suit, climb into that metal contraption and allow yourself to be shot into space. Almost infinite horizons have opened to the entire human race because of your work.

Harper Lee, thank you for “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and the simple lessons it has taught for generations. And thank you, too, for “Go Set A Watchman,” and the harsher, more complicated lessons it teaches. I hope we learn that it’s not as simple as Atticus made it seem.

Edward Albee, thank you for giving so much to the world of theatre—for your fierce and life-changing words. Leonard Cohen, thank you for the music. Debbie Reynolds, you have inspired generations of singers and dancers. I spent hours in my garage and in dance studios and in my living room, learning the steps you danced on that silver screen. You were the lucky star for so many.

And Carrie Fisher. You intelligent, talented, brave, funny, honest woman. Thank you for showing the world that a woman can be both a princess and a war general. Thank you for teaching Hollywood to make the women smarter. Thank you for your honesty in dealing with mental illness and addiction. Thank you for reminding us that good looks are happy accidents of time and genetics and nothing more. Thank you for not giving any f***s.

And there are others that I felt pangs about, even if their lives weren’t inspiring to me in the same ways. Kenny Baker. Muhammed Ali. Elie Wiesel. Ron Glass.

(Ugh, it was awful to make this list.)

I am so so so grateful that I get to live in a world where the works of talented and brave and smart individuals can be spread far and wide. I'm grateful for the lives these men and women led, and I am better for what they brought into the world. So mourn them with me, if you need to. Or don't, if you don't need to. But know that it's perfectly valid to be sad that their lives are over.

photo via