Precious

 

It wasn’t the first time he’d come to visit me in Seattle, but it was the most significant. Raw and wounded from his recent separation and impending divorce, my older brother and his young daughter made the three hour drive up from Portland late in the day on Thanksgiving and stayed only one night. It would have been the first holiday they’d spend alone, and I had insisted he come join my circle.

Continue reading “Precious”

Lessons in Orange

Six years ago, my first fall back in the Northwoods after a 23-year hiatus, I was out for a walk on the quiet gravel roads of our off-season when a slow-driving truck of orange-clad elders slowed beside me. They were all smiles and we spoke of nothing significant, but before driving away they cautioned me to wear hunter’s orange next time I was out and about on foot. “Even on the road?” I asked in disbelief. “Even on the road,” they said.

Continue reading “Lessons in Orange”

#Me Too

(This is the unedited version. Trigger warning)  I publish this despite my many misgivings and trepidation about its reception in our small, tight-knit community. The brave editors at the Warroad Pioneer worked with me to change the graphic descriptions, edit it for length and they also included the following note – see image. I feel grateful and a certain sense of pride in writing for a rural community paper that doesn’t shy away from issues such as these. 

Column 70 Me Too Editors Note

Walking home from middle school one day, I passed a driveway where three men were working on a car. They made some sort of catcall that I didn’t understand, but the intent was clear so I hurried along. After a few minutes, I noticed they were following me. It was a long straight stretch before my neighborhood and I didn’t want to show them my fear, but they were gaining on me and calling out. Continue reading “#Me Too”

Deb Butler Retires, Closes Island Passenger Service

As one of the lake’s only female Captains, Deb Butler initially faced a lot of challenges when she took over Island Passenger Service. But she thrived by making the job her own. Now she’s hanging up her captain’s hat and reminiscing about the many memories she made along the way.

The waves were already cresting over the dock as Deb and oldest granddaughter Molly made their way down the narrow walkway out to the Red Head. The 25-foot sport-craft, named for its bright red rag top, strained against its lines as they boarded and made ready to leave their northwest facing bay. This was nothing new. Wind wasn’t fun, but it was common. No matter the weather, there were people to be ferried and a schedule to be kept. Continue reading “Deb Butler Retires, Closes Island Passenger Service”

Left-handed Lives Matter

My guy and I got into an argument at the breakfast table early one morning. I had asked the four-year-old at the table to please use her fork. She scrunched up her nose at me, picked the fork up with her un-practiced left hand and accidentally flipped scrambled eggs everywhere. “Sweetie, try using your other hand,” I suggested.

Since birth, she’s shown predominantly right-handed tendencies. I’m left-handed, and while it would have tickled my lefty-bone for her to have been also, I’m quite happy that she won’t have to deal with being left-handed in a right-handed world.

“Life is just easier if you’re right-handed,” I said nonchalantly while cleaning up scrambled eggs. I honestly believed the entire human species, or at least the people at the breakfast table, would concur disinterestedly.

Surprise. No.

My normally agreeable, right-handed partner became immediately defensive, and we had a heated volley with a little blonde referee interjecting as she could:

“Mama, don’t be mean to my papa.

“Papa, don’t yell at my mama.

“We’re not supposed to be loud at the dinner table.”

I had to stop and smile at that one; she still messes up the names of meals.

It wasn’t an ugly fight, more of a passionate debate. I was stunned to the point of silence that a right-hander would try to tell me what it was like to be a left-hander. (“Right-splaining?”) He doesn’t believe there’s any real difference or hardships, and as proof, he knows other left-handers who have never complained. In essence, he was calling me a whiner, a pessimist, and overly-dramatic. He assumed it must simply be my negativity and propensity to play the victim while blaming others that made me believe life was so much harder for lefties.

Of course, I hadn’t said that life was “so much harder”, but when I suggested righties might have it easier, that is what he heard.

Right-handed privilege may seem paltry, but it is in fact real. Lefties deal with uncomfortable school desks, unavailable or more expensive sporting equipment, our dominant hands being “unclean” in certain cultures, not to mention the countless everyday items built specifically for right-handers that often cause accidents and even death for lefties attempting to adapt. Lefties don’t live as long for this exact reason. Approximately one in ten people is left-handed; we are not a mass market. But our lives still matter, don’t they?

After the exchange ended, I felt slyly excited about what I had just witnessed. This was a cut and dry case of a societal privilege so ingrained that it had become invisible to someone who benefited from said privilege. And when it was called out, the privileged one basically exploded in defensiveness, blaming the minority who doesn’t benefit from said privilege for any discrimination they might face. My character, my beliefs and whole way of being were called into question simply because I dared to suggest he might have it a little bit easier.

See where I’m going with this?

We’re hearing a lot more about “privilege” these days…male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, cisgender privilege, and so on. None of these ideas are new, of course; it’s just that people of all walks of life are finally finding their voices and a more equitable platform on which to be heard.

But in large part, the comfortable majorities don’t like to talk about these kinds of topics. I get it. Hearing that others think we come from privilege makes us feel uncomfortable. We love our cozy bubbles and if we’re forced to look at those who aren’t so cozy, then darn it, we don’t feel as good about our cozy bubble anymore. We’re quick to pipe up about our tough lives while discounting the hardships of others. We all want the disadvantages we face to be recognized.

In truth, everyone falls somewhere along the broad spectrum of privilege, and frankly, it’s time to listen with compassion to those who don’t benefit where we do. On all fronts.

Acknowledging that I benefit from white privilege makes me feel, well, white. I haven’t had to “feel” my skin color before, and that’s exactly what privilege is. Simply being aware helps me see that there are a million examples throughout daily life where someone with a different skin tone would very much feel “not white”, not to mention be faced with pure discrimination. Especially now in the “get out of my country” Trump-era.

Speaking of male privilege, I am not male. Every single day I feel, in some minor or major way, the disadvantages of being female. This is not self-pity; I absolutely love being a woman. An unbroken woman has the fire and fight of a roaring lioness, beautiful in her power and cunning. Yet, undomesticated women are often vilified in their freedom, in their audacity to lead. They are torn down with a level of hate and vitriol male leaders simply don’t experience. (By the by, did you know that some research shows it is actually the alpha female who is the true leader of wolf packs observed in the wild?)

Women are turned into objects, possessions, and domestic role-fillers. We are diminished, discounted, and passed-over in ways that men will never have to worry about. We are abused, assaulted and killed by those closest to us in numbers men will never match.

The patriarchy is very real and often overwhelming in both its overt and invisible oppressiveness.

If you’re dismissive of this idea right away, slow down and ask yourself why you might be resistant. If it’s true for some, does that make it generally true or generally false? Remember the Women’s March earlier this year? My Facebook feed was full of derogatory comments from both men and women who were mistaking benevolent sexism for gender equality. Putting a positive yet patronizing spin on how women are treated as compared to men still points to privilege.

The idea of Christian privilege is sure to set some of us off like errant bottle rockets in a dry field. Mind you, I’m not saying you don’t have it rough, but faith-based persecution does not disprove Christian privilege. Your religion gets away with making laws out of your beliefs while other religions do not have that luxury. You get your religious holidays off, while Jews, Muslims and basically all other religions don’t. Your places of worship (except black churches) don’t get bombed, set on fire, surrounded by people openly carrying guns, and many other forms of targeted hate. Your religion isn’t seen as radical or inferior by school teachers who often openly normalize and subtly preach their own. You aren’t viewed by the general public as needing to be saved.

Before you fire off another Letter to the Editor cancelling your subscription because some woman dared to have an opinion, please know that I’m not saying it is wrong or bad to have privilege. All I’m saying is that life would be easier if you’re a right-handed straight white male who calls himself a Christian. Wouldn’t we live in a better world if we recognized our privilege and helped make it easier for those who don’t benefit where we do?

Perhaps you could let yourself sit in your discomfort for a little bit. Pray, maybe. At least just feel it. Hopefully own it. The unprivileged have to. Every day of their lives.

Or, you can bash about angrily, displaying your fragility for all to see, railing against the inevitable tides of positive change all these types of conversations point to. We all have a choice.

As for my family and me, we’re uncomfortable a lot. And that’s perfect; we want to grow in love and compassion. Even though it’s still a right-handed house, in doing research for this column, I learned that female cats are largely left-handed and since we have two, lefties are now the majority. Take that.

(Published in the April 2nd issue of the Warroad Pioneer. 120th Year, Issue 34)

Family Portrait (Part 3)

(Column 45 – Published December 13, 2016 in the Warroad Pioneer)

I sat down to finish the Family Portrait series I started and have found it achingly difficult. Looking in the True mirror is, perhaps, the most difficult thing any of us will ever do. It’s why so few do it. Mine is broken into a million chards and the reflections I see are all different and all something I have painstakingly created. Like a character on a stage, I built Me out of a million little beliefs of who Kellie should be…my should chards. I started writing about one:

I was a “feminist” before I even knew that there was such a thing, and before I understood that the idea of a feminist was so misconstrued and reviled by so many.

Not a fan of labels but not sure how to get around them, it’s taken me many years to come to terms with calling myself a feminist. When I am called one by other people, they are almost always hurling it as an insult. And I always took it as such then.

But now, things are different. On the way to giving something up, first I must believe I own it. And so, right now I own being a feminist.

To use the words of someone I once respected, no, I definitely don’t know my “place” (as he defines it) as a woman and I definitely take women’s rights too far.

And I always will.

I don’t care what anyone’s religion says. Women are meant to lead. And lead we do. Though it’s not the common definition of leadership we’ve grown to abide by in this barbaric civilization. Deny it if you like; most men and some women simply fear the outright recognition of this truth and will dance themselves around it to feel better, safer, less afraid.

Women lead because we survive in the face of a masculine-dominated world that has hidden, owned, beaten, raped, and murdered us for thousands of years.

We lead because given the choice, we will almost always choose non-violence.

We lead because we know that violence gets us nowhere, despite the smirk-worthy country songs that glorify murdering an abuser.

We lead because nurturing is a law of nature and it comes more naturally to us.

We lead because if you look truly at gun violence, domestic abuse, terrorism, drug wars, sanctioned wars, and all other killing and violence in our world, the kind of person 99.9% of these incidents have in common is … men.

Now, this is where a woman-hater would accuse me of being a man-hater. But I’m not. I simply hate violence. To the point that when that person I once respected called me a “lay down and die” kind of human being, I had to agree with him.

I have unlearned how to resist. I have unlearned how to fight. (Much to my detriment and all the other peace-lovers stuck on the broken escalator.)  Maybe I’m not such a good feminist after all.

I grew up going to a church my family helped create and build…the one just west of the Ridge. We called it the Church of the New Covenant at the time, and I remember riding bikes and roller skating on the big cement pad as the volunteers readied it for framing.

I was arriving at an age when I could process some of what was said during the sermons. Sunday School was never for me. Suspending belief for the fantasy-like stories and the rote memorization of Bible verses seemed a chore that taught little more than close-minded obedience. We were taught to be afraid of what might happen if we didn’t choose these beliefs. We were taught that everyone who didn’t choose that same path were Sodom-and-Gamorrah-evil. We were not taught love and compassion and mercy in any large quantity; we were taught to believe or DIE.

But faith for fear’s sake has never sat well with me.

And when I listened well enough to understand how religion differentiates male female, masculine feminine, that was enough for me.

I was nine and I was decidedly a feminist.

That’s how deeply these chards of Self are embedded.

The ache at the core of my being comes from much more than an ego smarting to be right or being a feminist in a man’s world. No, this isn’t an ego suffering. This is a lonely soul longing to remember it all, the connection of everything, the Consciousness that is the only Truth.

I can’t yet paint myself into any portrait, even the cute little family portrait that my ego sees and that I spent two columns writing about. Sure, I could give a little elevator spiel about how my family sees me, how The Angle sees me, and maybe that’s what you want, but what good would that do anyone, the world, me?

The labor pains are starting and it’s a pain as real as any physical pain. I have to drop the million chards of glass I’ve been holding up all these years. And they’re going to cut me to ribbons on their way down. That’s their job. It’s the only way. The big ones I’m holding, the ones I thought were the clearest reflection, such as “I am a feminist,” are going to be the toughest to drop. I fear I’ll bleed out before I can let the rest fall.

But fall they must. Part of waking up is breaking the mirror. And part of waking up is also letting the mirror fall away. I can be afraid all I want, but in baby-birthing, fear only makes the labor pains worse. The same is true in this kind of birth as well. I’m no longer afraid to be a feminist. Now I have to get over my fear of NOT being a feminist, of not defining myself as such, as anything. In a nutshell, it’s facing the fear of No Self.

That is how I will be born to my family.

That is how I will see clearly enough to celebrate my own birth.

(If I lost you in all this, don’t worry. It’ll only get worse before it gets better. I’ll go quite a bit crazier before I go sane. Oh, and there are open seats on this train, by the way.)

“I’m not racist,but…” I Am

Column 40 Published in the November 8 Warroad Pioneer

We had buried my grandpa earlier in the day and though many of us were emotionally spent, we gathered for living-room conversation of light-hearted fare, marriage, babies, the future.

An old family friend and self-made pastor was commanding the floor in his well-intended, often over-bearing comedic way. With my pregnant cousin and her hubby at the center of it, he steered the conversation from jokes about baby names to having all your babies with the same father to “those women down in the Cities who have 14 children with 14 different men” – his words.

Normally I would find a quick exit at that point. Words such as those collide with all my spinal sensory nerves, make my root chakra wince and then I flee.

But grief does funny things to filters, to nerves, to practiced patterns.

The speaker didn’t falter. “I’m not racist,” he continued loudly to the group, “buuuut…” and then, muting his voice with his hand he said glibly out of the corner of his mouth, “…but they’re almost always black.”

Without raising my voice, I quipped, “Anyone who says “I’m not racist, but…’ is most decidedly racist.” This got a laugh from my sister, who nodded her agreement. The pastor hadn’t heard me, nor, in my cowardice, had I intended him to.

He continued his tiresome schtick, but the group had quietly divided its attention. My uncle sitting near me turned and said in an exasperated tone, “I’d like to see ONE person who’s NOT racist.” We were still speaking quietly at the outskirts of the small circle, lounged comfortably on my grandpa’s worn living room furniture. Everything quickly got very uncomfortable.

It was one of those moments I wish I had practiced for; the kind that afterwards I would relive again and again, perfecting the response in my mind.

Before I could spit something out, he turned even more directly to me and asked, “What? You’re not racist?”

Though my first instinct was to blurt a vehement “No!”, I stuttered for a second, processing thoughts of all the current events and the volatile national conversation on race.

I stopped myself from a simple denial.

Absolute truth seemed infinitely more important in that moment than simply defending my moral character.

When words came, there was no righteous strength behind them. “I know I have been guilty of it,” I said slowly, cautiously. “I mean, I’m sure I’ve done things…but, I don’t think I’m better than anyone.”

My uncle turned back to face the group but he nodded to show that he was listening.

“I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their ethnicity,” I continued quietly, “or because of where they come from.

“And I don’t think I’m better than anyone because of their sexual preference.”

I added that last part hastily after realizing that several other family members were listening, specifically one who had taken to Facebook referencing scripture in an argument against homosexuality and against marriage equality. (Note – this was all taking place in late fall of 2014, about a year after Minnesota became the 12th state to legalize gay marriage.)

In my typical passive-aggressive way of responding, I had quickly unfriended her. Now, this little verbal jab felt like vindication for having spent so much energy confused about who Christians purport to be and my perceptions of their intolerance for the very people to whom Jesus would have ministered.

The not-racist exchange ended there, and I got up pretending to be concerned about what my toddler was doing elsewhere in the house. In the moment, it had felt egotistically good to finally speak a small piece, but there was no feeling of glee or gloat, just an overwhelming sadness that compounded succinctly with the existing grief.

The thing is, these are not “bad” people, the not-racist pastor nor my extended family. They are hard-working, lower-middle class, Bible-believing people who try to lead good lives and are simply a product of their environment, just like me and just like everyone else.

Perceiving their ignorance only strengthens my own. I must forgive and I must ask for forgiveness.

But, I cannot and will not align myself with the likes of their beliefs, the limitations of their religion, nor their political candidates.

A recent funny but telling social media meme goes, “Another way to look at an election is to see who the Nazi’s and Klansmen support, and then maybe look elsewhere.”

Seriously.

November 8th, the day this paper comes out, is my 41st birthday. November 8th marks eight short month of non-drinking for Tony and me. And, November 8th will tell us if a misogynist or a feminist will take the oval office. Yep, it’ll be a big day in my house.

I grew up telling anyone who would listen that I want to be the first woman president of the United States. At the very least, I’m hoping I get to vote for one.

Back to the not-racist pastor, our old family friend … last week, in a subtly-threatening public post written directly to me on a NW Angle non-profit organization’s Facebook page, he called himself a “representative of God” said he had to love his friends’ kids, and told me I needed to get some help. On a photo of a quilt-raffle, no less.

When my flee impulse resided, I had to laugh. What else can you do?

It was the most bizarre outreach I’ve ever encountered. From a man who used to tease and tug on my baby blonde curls, sing funny songs and make me feel so special. Tony, ever the wise diplomat, said simply, “ignore him.” My decision, which clearly proves why I could never get elected to anything, is to write about it in the paper.

I don’t call myself a Christian, but I do learn from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Dear one, you interpret your Bible and I’ll interpret mine. You vote your beliefs and I’ll vote mine. We are no different, you and I. We both cling to the beliefs of fear, because that is all beliefs are. Every belief, right down to the big one about a God that exists and resides outside of ourselves, takes us further from being Truth Realized and achieving Christ-consciousness.

Clearly, your Jesus would never send messages over a private email server.

And my Jesus? Well, he would never assault women and call names, build walls and deport immigrants, defraud students and mock POWs, make fun of the handicapped and make money owning casinos and strip joints. Jesus wouldn’t sleep with the wives of other men let alone brag it, and he wouldn’t cheat on his wife. In fact, he might stand beside his spouse through a very public, very difficult time of moral failings, not unlike a certain woman candidate who did just that and for which she is now harshly judged.

There are many more comparisons, but the election is over. My breath is wasted.

You don’t believe you’re racist and you do believe you are a representative of God.

I don’t believe I’m not racist. I don’t believe anything. Or at least I’m getting there.

I just Am.