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I’m training for a half-marathon.

Oh, god. I said it. Out loud. In a public forum.

I am now contractually obligated to really do this thing, I suppose.

Okay. Breathing.

Let me explain to you all how I came to this completely insane life goal.

I started running before getting married back in 2010. I wasn’t really running to get into shape (I think I had more physical changes from walking, actually). It was more of a challenge thing. I double-dog dared myself. I owned a treadmill at the time, and had been walking for quite some time. But then the walks just felt too easy. I barely even broke out in a sweat. So, I started increasing the speed on my treadmill, until I broke from a walk to a jog. Two minutes jogging. Two minutes walking. The first time I did that, I went until I hit a mile. Eventually, I double-dog dared myself again. I wanted to run a 10-minute mile. It was speed like I never thought I could achieve. I had to take time. Had to train to get to that pace.

And then? I did it.

Then, I did it again.

Finally, I decided to leave the comfort of my bedroom. I started running outside, and I was certain that the entire world was watching my butt jiggle in my yoga pants (They were, it turns out. My neighbors were both retirees, and they both made comments at one point about seeing me running around the neighborhood. Then, our mailman really put the nail in the self-conscious coffin. I had to sign for a package that spring, and gleefully exclaimed, “Oh! These are our wedding invitations!” He replied, “Ahhh, so that’s why I keep seeing you out running all the time! I always see you and think, ‘Well, now, she doesn’t need to lose any weight. What’s she doing running around like that?’ But now I know.” He winked. “You’re trying to fit into a very special dress.” He meant all of this as a compliment, but I couldn’t help but feel violated by his uninvited judgment of my body. It was hard to go out for a run at my usual time after that.). It was terrifying.

But I did it.

Then, I did it again.

running

I was never fast. My 10-minute mile on the treadmill translated to about a twelve and a half-minute mile out in the real world. I shuffled. My form was terrible. I don’t think I ever even fully extended my legs as I ran. But I was running. Right before my marriage, I ran 6 miles. A long, long, slow 6 miles. I started thinking about signing up for a 10k.

Then, my new husband and I started trying to get pregnant. I was on Clomid for 6 months. We had to be artificially inseminated. I was emotional. Hormonal. I ran about once a month. Then, not at all.

My last run was when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my first daughter. I managed to run a half mile before having to stop and retch on the side of the trail.

I didn’t run again until my second daughter was about 3 months old.

I was out of shape. Out of practice. I had experienced severe incontinence after the birth of my first daughter (that has since cured itself). I was terrified. I had to double-dog dare myself. One mile. 12 minutes. On a treadmill. Inside.

Then, last December, I started running outside. About twice a week. I worked in mile increments. Just run a mile. A single mile. Down to the end of my road and back.

That first run, I did in 11 minutes and 57 seconds. 3 seconds faster than my treadmill time. For the first time ever, I had beaten the machine. Without a mechanical device pushing me along, I was running. On my own.

It’s weird, but for the first time ever, I realized that I controlled my pace. I could determine whether a run was fast, slow, or some combination of the two. I could change my posture. I could think about pushing off of my toes. I could relax my hands, or hold them stiff, slicing them through the air and feeling the breeze against my sweaty palms. I was in charge. I had control of how I ran. Me. Nothing else was pushing me or holding me back. It was just. Me.

ryan running

It took a long time to break through that 1-mile mark. By summer, I was frustrated. I had cut two and a half minutes off of my mile time (I regularly run a 10-minute mile now), but I couldn’t push my body to run past 1.25 miles. It took months of frustration to finally figure out the concept of pacing. Of running slower in order to run farther.

In October, I finally ran my first 5k loop around my neighborhood. I still had to stop and walk for a spell, but I did it.

Then, I did it again.

By the end of October, I started cross-training. I did Jillian Michaels’ “30 Day Shred” and worked out 30 days in a row (I’m still kind of amazed I did that). I finished on Thanksgiving day. Two days later, I ran another 5k loop. In 33 minutes. 5 solid minutes faster than my one official 5k race pace (I ran it with my sister about a month before getting pregnant with my first daughter. I went into that race with absolutely no training or preparation. It was miserable).

I’ve never felt stronger. I’ve never felt lighter. My husband told me that he thinks I’m more fit now than I’ve been in the 12 years we’ve been together.

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New Year’s approached, and I knew that I wanted to run a race.

I consulted the Internet. I consulted some of my good running friends. Some of my friends who, like me, struggled with reconciling their personal body image with athleticism (The people who, like me, looked in the mirror and didn’t see an “exercise person” or a “sports person”). They all said the same thing: We know you can do it. Go for it. We double-dog dare you.

So, I am. This is my first week of official training, and I’m terrified. Granted, this “training” week doesn’t look all that different from last week, but I’m starting every workout with a ball in my stomach and jitters.

Because I can’t stop thinking that I’ve never been that person. The exercise person. The running person. The “pain is weakness leaving the body” person. (Note: I’m still not that person. That person just sounds dumb and eager for a torn ligament.) I’m honestly afraid to tell my mother that I’m doing this, because I’m worried she’s going to laugh at the idea of her little book nerd, her little baby, her PhD, trying to become an athlete.

But I’m not trying to be an athlete.

I’m just trying to do something difficult.

Something that once seemed impossible.

Something that still kind of feels impossible.

But something that can be controlled by me and me alone.

Something that I decide the success or failure of.

But only if I dare.

Today, I’m going to talk about guns and gun regulation (I’m not going to use the phrase “gun control,” because, Lord knows, I don’t need people losing their shit, thinking that I’m advocating some sort of Big Brother dystopic fantasy of government officials bursting into your home and forcing us all to only eat Raisin Bran for breakfast from now on. Chill the fuck out, guy I knew in high school, and just listen to me first).

But first, I’m going to talk about cars.

Cars have a fascinating history of government regulation. As early as 1904, the city of Detroit had set the legal driving age to 16 for its municipality and required all vehicles be registered with the city as well (for a $1 “wheel fee”). Detroit, naturally, was an example for vehicle regulation in the country, and soon the requirement for registration, as well as age limits on drivers, had spread to all 50 states.

By 1910, with the popularity of vehicle sales increasing in the United States, the number of vehicle related fatalities was soaring (New York Times, 1907), and people started raising a stink about the dangers of unqualified drivers operating ever-faster vehicles on roads that were still regularly peppered with pedestrians, carriages, and bicycles. By 1913, states started requiring all potential drivers to take licensing tests, and (based on the already-established European model) set the age for vehicle operation to 16 or 17 years old.

Car manufacturers continued to develop cars that were more affordable, but also faster, and highway and traffic administrators began taking notice as they charted the numbers of injuries and fatalities on American roads. In the late 1960s, the precursor to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was developed. They analyzed the data (collected since 1950), and promptly began multiple campaigns to increase driver and passenger safety for the ever-changing car market. By 1979, NHTSA was crash testing popular vehicles and publishing the results, making recommendations based on the safety of the cars they tested. This led to the seatbelt campaigns of the 1980s, which saw the implementation of mandated seatbelt usage in 49 states (New Hampshire remains the one hold out. What the hell’s wrong with you, New Hampshire??). Then, in 1986, NHTSA required all car manufacturers include a third brake light. More recently, in 2009, NHTSA required all vehicles included roll cages that could withstand up to 3x the vehicle’s weight.

Meanwhile, on the other side of things, driver’s licensing tests became more rigorous, and individuals seeking licenses started going through months-long processes in order to be considered eligible for full licensing privileges. Whereas the age of qualified drivers varies slightly from state-to-state (South Dakota lets kids as young as 14 take driver’s education), by and large, a driver must be at least 16 years of age. Starting in the 1990s, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have established Graduated Driver’s Licensing (GDL) processes (though Louisiana began certain restrictions as far back as 1983), which force new drivers to go through a 3-stage permit process, limiting such things as passenger ages (new drivers must have an adult present) and time of driving (nighttime driving is restricted).

The automotive/driving industry in the United States is truly one of the most regulated, policed, and legally enforced privileges qualified citizens enjoy in America today.

And you know what?

It fucking works.

Automotive fatalities are at an all-time low. Every single time NHTSA required a new set of safety standards, the numbers of injuries and fatalities in America significantly, visibly dipped. GDLs have reduced young and inexperienced driver fatalities by 30%. Seat belt legislation has saved over 10,000 lives. Safety glass alone has saved probably hundreds of thousands of lives since its invention during World War I. Vehicle fatalities are at their lowest recorded percentage since 1973, and that’s even with an astronomical increase in cars on the road. (Interesting tidbit: 2008-2009 saw an increase in vehicle fatalities for the first time in 40 years. Concerned, NHTSA investigated the cause, and discovered that distracted driving was the likeliest culprit of the spike in deaths. They started a huge campaign, encouraging especially young drivers to stop texting while driving, asked individual states to consider putting laws in the books limiting cell phone use in the car, worked with cell phone companies to devise apps that would disable certain cell phone features while a driver was in the car, and managed to drop those deaths right back down again. NHTSA ain’t no joke, man!)

What is truly remarkable about the regulatory history of the automotive industry is not only how well it has worked in the last 100 years to increase the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, but how even these “big government” interventions have not squelched the feelings of freedom and liberty associated with the American automotive. Driving remains a quintessentially American pastime. It represents freedom, escape, liberation, rebelliousness. Americans are drivers. We have the biggest, best roads in the world, and we use the hell out of them.

My first car was a ’95 Chevy Cavalier. It was so stripped down, it didn’t even have a cassette player. The windshield wipers would stop working occasionally—often halfway through a heavy downpour—and the oil pressure gauge was broken, so I had to keep a stash of old rags in the trunk, pull over, and check the oil level any time the light would turn on. It didn’t have air conditioning, cruise control, power windows or locks, and it only had one cup holder. But that car was freedom. And, trust me, I didn’t feel any less free, any less American, because I had to pay insurance on it, or wear a seatbelt, or could only drive to the mall if my dad was sitting next to me. I was still an American kid in a car.

Now, that’s not to say that there haven’t been a ton of people who argue that our vehicular freedoms have been compromised. There have, and there are. We all know that one “uncle” who, while cracking open his fifth Natty Light after Thanksgiving dinner, has to chuckle and scoff, “Seatbelts?? Hell! You’re better off just getting thrown from the car!” (You’re not. Not in any sense. Not in any way. NHTSA states: “Most crash fatalities result from the force of impact or from being thrown from the vehicle, not from being trapped. All studies show you are much more likely to survive a crash if you are buckled in. Ejected occupants are four times as likely to be killed as those who remain inside.” All studies. All. Regardless of age. Regardless of gender. Just shut up and wear your damn seatbelt already, okay, Uncle Vick?)

And even as far back as 1904, when the city of Detroit mandated vehicle registration, Henry Ford and Horace Dodge sued Detroit, claiming the new laws were unconstitutional, infringing upon the vehicle owners’ rights. Ford and Dodge argued brilliantly, bringing in the best legal minds. They campaigned and publicized with all the impressive force of their incredible wealth, whipping the public into fervent support of their cause.

Then? They lost.

Because rational minds prevailed. Because the collective populace took a look at cars and said, “Hey, these things are becoming really easy to get. They’re everywhere. And they’re awesome. But they’re also potentially really, really dangerous. And when something goes wrong with one of these things, it’s usually not just one person who gets hurt, or just one person who’s inconvenienced. So, yeah. Let’s regulate these things. Because we can all recognize that a general public safety is perhaps more important than this false definition of ‘freedom’ that is being manufactured by those who oppose legislation.”

If we take the history of vehicle regulation in the United States as a good example for how to control the safety of an American “right,” then I think that we need to consider several key aspects to its success, and then apply these same principles to gun legislation:

  1. Research. NHTSA’s effectiveness as a government agency comes primarily from the free reign the United States’ government has given it concerning research and development. They are privy to all injury and fatality information throughout the country. They work with automotive manufacturers, are present at crash tests, and are given copies of the data. They look at the information provided, analyze it, and reach logical conclusions based on the information before them. (Take the example of texting and driving I mentioned above. NHTSA knew that nothing had happened on the manufacturing side to create a spike in young driver fatalities, so they concluded that the cause must have been driver-error. That’s some good data analysis right there!)
  2. Enforcement. Police and highway patrol aren’t the only ones looking out for vehicular safety. The American automotive industry has always been highly competitive, and has responded to this competition by making safety one of its primary concerns. In an effort to be seen as a caring company, many American manufacturers (and foreign manufacturers with a manufacturing or R&D presence in America) emphasize their safety features alongside power and speed. (Of course, though, such enforcement is really circular. Customers demand safety from car manufacturers just as much as any regulating body does.)
  3. Publicity. Commercials, billboards, YouTube videos, social media experiments. They work. They spread the word, and have been shown to be highly effective. Though we might mock certain commercials for being cheesy, or trying too hard, study after study has shown that getting a message out works. Even if it’s doomed to become a late night comedian’s tagline. “Click it or Ticket.” “Txt Ltr.” “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.” We all recognize them, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Unpopularity. In 1904, when Henry Ford and Horace Dodge sued Detroit, they had the popular vote on their side. People were furious about having to pay an additional $1 to register their car. They considered it double taxation. Ford and Dodge had all of the support they needed to win and to make vehicle registration illegal and unconstitutional. But they didn’t. Because someone was willing to be unpopular. Because someone was willing to sacrifice political safety for public safety. Americans don’t like being told what to do, especially by authority figures. But I, for one, really like knowing that sometimes, when smart people are brave, the American populace can be pulled, kicking, screaming, and clutching that last can of Natty Light, right onto the right side of history.

But it’s only when smart people are brave.

Be brave, America.

I am not anti- individual ownership of firearms. I am not pro- nobody gets a weapon. This is not an all-or-nothing post. This is a post about being the right kind of brave.

Research. Enforcement. Publicity. Unpopularity.

We don’t have to keep seeing these headlines. We don’t have to keep hearing about the deaths. About the fear. We can be brave.

Research. Enforcement. Publicity. Unpopularity.

Only then will we ever be fully armed against these shootings.

Some days, you’re the pigeon. Some days, you’re the statue.

As far as snarky sayings go, this is one of the snarkiest.

Some days, you get used. You feel used. You are the target for other people’s shit. You are the one who ends up dirty, pecked, whittled down, and finally left behind while others fly away, refreshed from the time they spent resting on your heavy shoulders.

I often feel like the statue.

I am the emergency babysitter. The errand-runner. The problem-investigator. The consummate volunteer. The “Rachel, we forgot the . . .” The “Rachel, do you think we can . . .” The “Rachel, can you pick up . . .”

I mean, I volunteered to teach my daughter’s Vacation Bible School class this past summer, and I’m not even certain I believe in God!

I’m the statue for a lot of people.

And here’s why I love it.

Statues are strong.

Statues are immovable.

Statues are designed to weather. To ride out any storm. To face the winds. To survive.

If you are the statue, then you are someone’s constant. You are someone’s always. You are someone’s someone special.

Statues can support more than their share of the weight.

They are home:

Hoagy Carmichael--In Bloomington, Indiana. My home.

Hoagy Carmichael–In Bloomington, Indiana. My home.

They are luck:

Frog Baby--Ball State University

Frog Baby–Ball State University

They are powerful:

Bird Girl--Savannah

Bird Girl–Savannah

They are sacred:

Easter Island

Easter Island

They are loved:

Love--Indianapolis Museum of Art

Love–Indianapolis Museum of Art

The pigeon who roosts on the statue may poop on it. But they love the statue anyway. The statue keeps them safe. Keeps them from falling to the ground. Gives them the space they need to rejuvenate and ready themselves before the flight.

Statues protect.

Being exposed to the elements, statues do wear down, it’s true. But they only become more beautiful for the slow rounding of their corners, the gentle climb of the moss up their trunks.

And, after all, a simple rain can wash the statue. Can make it new again.

Statues are silent, but their very presence speaks volumes. The comfort and assurance of their simple “I am here. I am beaten and chipped. But still here,” reminds those who are weary that sanctuary can be found. It may be heavy and broken, but it will still stand for you. Still be here.

Yes, statues get rained on. Yes, insects nest and burrow in their crevices. Yes, they get covered with shit. Yes, the pigeons’ claws dig, and beaks peck, and the noise can be deafening.

But, remember, only the statue stands close and still enough to see the oil-slick beauty of the pigeons’ feathers.

Only the statue can hear the language of the birds, the calls of protection and love and parenting and joy.

Only the statue sees the incredible spectrum of the pigeons’ colors—grey, and beige, and white, and almost blue.

Only the statue is rewarded with these gifts. With this rainbow. With these songs and calls.

Yes, I am a statue.

And you, my dear friends, are not pigeons.

You’re doves.

And I am humbled.

Nine months ago, I finished my PhD in Literature from Ball State University. It was a huge accomplishment, and “Dr” is now a title that I have the right to pretentiously carry around with me and impose upon others for life (I seriously have fantasies about correcting misogynistic mansplainers. “Listen, Miss, I think that I know exactly what I’m talking about–” “Actually, it’s Doctor. Dr. Baumgardner-Burke.” BOOM. Drop mic. Walk offstage.). Though I’m still having nightmares where my committee comes to my door and claims that my degree is invalid because I never finished my required Physics II course (please notice that my subconscious is a dick), as one of my good friends told me, “You DID this. It’s DONE. And they can never take it away from you.”

I did this.

It’s done.

So.

Now what?

For nine months, I’ve grown increasingly anxious. Increasingly frustrated. Increasingly depressed. I finally get to be a fully dedicated stay-at-home mother, with little to no outside commitments to distract me from my family, from my two girls. I get to make crafts. I get to plan and execute elaborate birthday parties (the last two have been sick, trust me). I get to read books. Perfect my banana bread recipe. Take up running again. Play tea parties and picnics and princesses and dress up. I’ve done all of those. And it’s been fun. It really has.

And I think I hate it.

Now that I don’t have a dissertation to complete, I feel as though I’ve lost a sense of purpose. A sense of urgency. A sense of motivation. A sense of self.

I’ve started questioning my own value in my home.

“I could weave something today, but if I don’t, nobody’s going to care, because nobody’s waiting for one of my blankets.”

“I should clean out and organize my desk and paperwork. But what’s the point? I’m not writing a syllabus anytime soon.”

“I can try out this new recipe. But the girls just want to eat Happy Meals anyway. I guess I could use a burger, too.”

And, worst of all: “What’s the point of writing? I could publish something for a dozen people online, or I could just stop. The only people who might notice are my father and my sixth grade teacher.”

My novel, my memoir, my blog, my short story collection. It wasn’t that I was too busy or otherwise occupied to write them these past months. Instead, I convinced myself that they were just never going to be written. That they were nothing but the lucid hallucinations of a lazy daydreamer. These past nine months, I have written less on my creative projects than I ever did while I was writing my dissertation. Back then, the rigors of a schedule, of needing to make progress leeched into other areas of my life. Though I felt guilty taking time away from my studies, I still usually found an hour or two every week to work on my blog, to weave, to have coffee or wine with friends. Not only was I better at scheduling such “luxuries” when I had the pressure of my deadlines beating down on me, but I also felt more deserving of such breaks from mothering and researching.

Now, working towards nothing, I feel worthy of nothing.

A few weeks ago, I hit my lowest point. For two days, I did nothing. Nothing. I woke up the girls, got them dressed (eventually), poured us all bowls of cereal, then I turned on the television. One day, we watched 9 episodes of My Little Pony and two movies. They paced in laps around the play room. I played sudoku on my tablet. We kept the door to the outside locked.

I cried when I realized what I had done to them.

Back when I first became pregnant, I predicted that being a mother would certainly be rewarding, but not entirely fulfilling for me. I like organization. I like structure. I like having a schedule. I love the feeling of crossing off things on my to do list. I’ve always found that I’ve accomplished more when my time is constricted by schedules, by conflicts, by the delicate balance between necessity and pleasure. I’m worried that this early prediction is really coming true. My dissertation wasn’t a job in the strictest sense of the word. I wasn’t being paid (I was paying them after all!). It was solitary, isolating even, and I would go months without having a meaningful conversation about my research with another adult. But it was work. There was visible progress. There was a goal. Yes, I complained and stressed and worried endlessly about the nightmare of planning and scheduling, but I had something to schedule.

It took a long time to figure out what has been missing for me, but I think I recognize now what I need to do. I don’t know yet if I’m going to look for an actual job, but I am actively searching for some form of employment. Maybe volunteering more at my girls’ school. Helping out a friend with a business website. Becoming more active in the family business. Organizing a crafting collective for my mom’s group. Something. Something to give me drive and purpose. To anchor me again. To fix what has broken in me.

I think I need to be a working mom.

I need to work again.

Because nothing works now.

I need me to work again.

A working mom.

A Mom. Working.

Over a year ago, I wandered into my local Goodwill and fell in love. It was a small typewriter desk from the 1940s. Somebody had replaced the original hardware with hammer-beaten brass pulls, and then painted it a horrendous shade of institutional green with a faux paint finish over the top to make it look like black brush strokes. (Someone had taken some time to make this poor desk look really, really ugly.)

Faux finish hell

Faux finish hell

But, when you opened the top, slid the inner panel out and locked it up into position, suddenly, you saw the original, rich brown wood. The machinations for moving the typewriters up and down: gorgeous in their simple complexity. The small scuffs and gouges that marked its use and love and age—dents in the stiles where a desk chair had rubbed against it for years, a sweat ring on the top from a spilled cup of coffee, places where the paint had rubbed off from years of fingernails scratching behind the handles while searching for a pen. Best of all, I found inside that desk the original instruction label: “Please Note Typewriter Positions.” It was selling for $25.

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I think I walked into that Goodwill looking for lampshades. I came out with two store clerks, carrying a seventy-year-old desk into my minivan. I had to have it. It was a piece of furniture made exclusively for writing. For creating. It wasn’t the greatest piece of furniture ever constructed (there was some veneer peeling off on the back, and I was convinced it was probably a cheap desk even when it was new). But there was something about it that called me. I couldn’t walk away. The Goodwill worker smiled when I asked her to put a “sold” sticker on it.

“Oh, I was hoping someone would take that desk. I remember my grandmother having one of those. It’s so cool!”

I put it first in my guest room (my parents smiled when they saw it. They still remember using typewriter desks. Everyone else cringed at the ugliness), then up in my master bedroom. My plan was to repaint it. Maybe something fun. I toyed with the idea of a cream base and orange top. Or a stately, dark brown. I wanted to turn it into my vanity table. I’d remove the horribly warped top, and instead place a mirror on it, tucking all of my makeup into the hidden lower panel. My style tends to lean towards mid-century modern. Clean lines. Bright colors. Either very dark or very white woodwork. Square corners. This desk had curves, routes, panels. It didn’t quite fit, but I still just loved it. I couldn’t really explain why.

Last Saturday, while my children napped, I decided to finally start working on my desk project. My husband has been working about 80 hours a week recently (we just broke ground on a new building for our family business, and he’s overseeing the entire, massive project), so I had been looking for something to fill up the lonely hours without him. I grabbed a screwdriver, took off all of the hardware, pulled out the drawers, cleaned it all with some Windex (I would never use that on a wooden surface, but it wouldn’t hurt the paint, and I needed to get the years of grime and dust off!), and carried all of the drawers down to the garage, where I knew we had some leftover paint stripper and mineral spirits. It was while carrying all of this downstairs that I noticed it. Underneath the largest drawer was an original factory stamp: “F.1117-846.” On the underside of both of the slide out writing panels, handwritten in orange, was “No. 846.” I chuckled, and texted my husband, “This thing is numbers matching!” I instantly started calling the project “The 846” in my mind.

20150723_152759[1] 20150723_152746[1]

I decided to strip the center drawer first. I poured on the stripper, following the instructions I had read on an online forum, and got increasingly excited as I watched the green paint bubble across the surface. After a half hour, it looked ready to test, so I grabbed a putty knife, and dragged it across the paint surface. (I have since switched to plastic stripping tools. This just shows what a big learning curve I had in front of me!) I actually gasped out loud. The wood. It was gorgeous. Dark, rich, reddish brown. Book-matched. With flame figuring. I texted my husband a picture, “Holy SHIT!!”

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When he got home that night, my husband asked to see the center panel again, up close. The top three center drawers were all made of the same kind of wood. The bottom ones were something different. A straight, whitish wood that was occasionally speckled.

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“I was expecting pine. Or oak. Honestly, I never see wood anymore. Furniture is almost all made with veneers and particle board now. What the hell kind of wood is this??”

My husband, who builds guitars (and therefore knows a lot about various “tone woods”) started getting excited. He was almost antsy, turning on the lights, inspecting the grain, talking about the pores, gently wetting it to bring out the figuring. He checked his phone, looking up various wood species, murmuring, “It couldn’t be . . .” Finally, he looked up.

“This is mahogany. This is what raw mahogany looks like. I thought from your picture that it still had a stain or a lacquer on it, but this is just the wood. This is just what the wood looks like.”

“My $25 desk is mahogany??”

“It’s not just that,” he was shaking his head. “I’m pretty sure—especially given the age and, really, the coloring—that this is Honduran mahogany.”

I started laughing. And shaking a little. You see, Honduran mahogany is an endangered species. It has been farmed almost out of existence. Prized for its coloring, its smoothness, its beauty, and only found in a specific climate region, Honduran mahogany (as opposed to the more plentiful African mahogany) is considered “genuine” mahogany. It is also almost impossible to get in the United States right now. Though there are mahogany plantations in Honduras that grow, sell, and export the wood, “genuine” Honduran mahogany is from the old growth forests. Massive trees that can reach up to 100 feet tall, and that, because of some genetic fluke found in many trees from that region, demonstrate the most amazing flame and quilted figuring. Those trees can no longer be cut. Their wood can only be used if and when a tree falls from natural causes. And there are now laws in place, strictly limiting the amounts of Honduran mahogany that can be exported. Mostly, instrument makers get small pieces of the wood, to use as guitar backs or necks (my husband’s custom-built Taylor acoustic has a mahogany back and neck, though there is no figuring on it).

And I had it across the front of my little desk. In fact, it turns out that the entire back, both sides, and even inside panels are genuine mahogany. That piece of veneer that was popping off the back corner? Yup. Mahogany.

The sides are mahogany veneer framed with cherry.

The sides are mahogany veneer

We determined that the other wood was cherry. I was expecting it to appear reddish, but the paint stripper had removed the original lacquer and revealed wood that had never been exposed to air and sunlight before, so the wood was still a fresh white. The entire desk was cherry wood and mahogany. Nothing else.

We sat and looked at the drawer fronts for awhile.

“Is it strange that I really want to honor these materials? I mean, I want to honor them. I want to show them off, treat them right. I want them to shine.”

“That doesn’t sound strange to me at all.”

I paused, thinking. “I want this to be my desk. My writing desk. I want to write my first book on this desk.”

My husband nodded. “I think that it should be.”

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I have just now finished stripping all of the paint and original lacquer off of the desk. I also straightened the warped top piece. I’m waiting for the wood to dry before I start hand-sanding it all. Then, I’ll look into filling a few dings on the top with wood filler (though I don’t mind them. Dents in wood are like wrinkles in a beloved face: evidence of their years and wisdom). My plan is to protect the mahogany. Seal it, coat it, and polish it until it shines. Then, I’ll mix a custom stain to make the cherry wood match the mahogany. The final touch will be these handles. They’re reproduction, but the style is period-correct (though the material isn’t. This desk likely would have had brass pulls). I’m hoping that by the end, this desk will look like it still has its flawless, factory finish. (I found another person who restored one of these desks, but I feel as though his final product doesn’t look cohesive. He stained both the mahogany and cherry the same color, so they don’t quite look like a family in my opinion. I also think that the finished product makes the cherry look almost grey.)

It will be quite a bit of work, but I’m willing to expend the energy, give the hours. I think about the beautiful, long-dead trees that were used to make this desk special, and I feel a responsibility to their legacy. This wood was once a living thing. Perhaps, with the right amount of care, it can feel that way again.

I want to tell you a story. And I promise. This is entirely true.

D’Shawn was a young man growing up in a poor neighborhood in Peoria, Illinois. His father was a factory worker. His mother stayed at home with him and his two older brothers and baby sister. Their neighborhood was tight knit, filled with other families from the factory, and very dedicated to their local church, at which both D’Shawn’s mother and father volunteered.

Then, D’Shawn’s father got sick. For two years, he fought leukemia, sometimes being hospitalized for over two months at a time, losing work, losing pay, seeing his family’s meager savings being used exclusively for medical expenses.

When D’Shawn was 12 years old, his dad died. D’Shawn’s oldest brother was just finishing up his degree program at a technical college, and his next oldest brother was getting ready to graduate from high school. D’Shawn’s baby sister was only five years old. D’Shawn’s mother fought with the administrators at the factory, arguing for an increase in her husband’s pension, asking them to extend and expand the company insurance to cover her and her children. These were both programs that had been in place when D’Shawn’s father passed, but he was forced to quit his factory job before these policies came into effect. The administration was sympathetic to the family’s story, but corporate policy was corporate policy.

After over 20 years, D’Shawn’s mother had to start looking for work.

Luckily, their church rallied around the family, offering childcare, food, and quietly leaving little gifts for the family such as shoes and school supplies (gifts that D’Shawn’s mother would certainly have been too proud to accept if offered openly). D’Shawn’s mother was determined that her children would attend college, and would finish. She knew that it was one of her husband’s last wishes: that his children succeed, be educated, have opportunities that he never had. D’Shawn’s mother threw herself into finding work. She started as a part-time employee at an elementary school, and at night took correspondence courses to earn her teaching certificate. She needed to see her older boys educated, her baby girl happy.

Sadly, in many ways, D’Shawn was left to fend for himself.

He started to drink. He tried drugs (mostly marijuana). He would sneak his way into bars, and took up gambling to make some extra money. A smart kid, his grades dropped as he started skipping school.

Then, one day, he was picked up by the police. He was driving his friend’s car, going way too fast, and it was obvious that he had been drinking.

He was thirteen years old.

This is a true story.

But the boy’s name wasn’t D’Shawn.

It was Roger.

And it was my father.

My father who was released later that day into the custody of his very disappointed and angry mother.

My father who was arrested for drunk driving at 13, but who has never had a criminal record.

My father who was punished for his juvenile stupidity as all children should be—grounded, watched carefully and continually by his stern mother, forced to perform chores and volunteer at the church.

My father who then went on to earn his master’s degree in English, primarily studying classic literature and dramaturgy (50 years later, he still has large sections of Macbeth and Hamlet memorized).

My father who dropped out of his PhD program after spending a semester teaching children about literature in a recently desegregated high school in the south.

My father who saw his own lost self reflected back at him in the faces of the black students who had already been deemed “lost causes.”

My father who decided to dedicate himself to teaching, to reaching, to helping those students, those children, while they still had the chance. While they were still young enough to be turned around, supported, upheld, guided.

My father who believes to this day that there’s no such thing as a bad kid. Just bad circumstances.

 

And that’s why I’m a racist.

Because I know that, had my father been “D’Shawn” instead of “Roger,” I wouldn’t have spent chilly fall days attending plays at the local theater, or making family road trips to national parks. I wouldn’t have grown up in Michigan’s north woods, but probably in Peoria, not too far from dad’s old neighborhood.

And I’ve said nothing.

Because I have seen the incredible poverty in which my father grew up as more of an interesting historical artifact of his childhood rather than a defining characteristic of his personality, a reflection of his or his family’s moral compass, work ethic, or worth. But I know that “D’Shawn” would have been vulnerable to all of those assumptions. And more.

And I’ve said nothing.

Because I’m eternally grateful for the white privilege that was extended my father when he was a confused, grieving, frightened young boy. The privilege that made other people, important people, people of authority, people with power, look at my father and acknowledge that he had potential. Because, as much as I academically, ethically, and personally abhor the white privilege that gave my father “potential” when it could have given him “criminality,” I also secretly love it.

And I’ve said nothing.

I’m a racist because, as a white woman, just about every single aspect of my public life has been made easier by my whiteness. By the racist system under which America operates today. I’ve made jokes—jokes—about my “cloak of invisibility” that renders me unseen to police officers, airport officials, security guards. I’ve said several times that I’d make an excellent thief because, as I’ve said, “Nobody suspects the little white girl.”

I’ve made jokes about this.

I’ve laughed about it.

As though incarceration were funny.

Because I’ve never had to consider how fundamentally unfunny, unamusing, and unfair the prison system is. The prison system that incarcerates 20 black men to every 1 white man. Even while whites outnumber blacks in arrests (especially in drug charges).

I have the freedom to blend in. I have the privilege to feel comfortable. Everywhere.

And I’ve said nothing.

And that’s why I’m racist.

Because being complicit to a system is tantamount to supporting it.

Being complicit to a system that you know, statistically, logically, morally, ethically, academically, scientifically, is wrong is unjust is bullshit is tantamount to criminality.

My father is not a criminal.

D’Shawn wouldn’t have been either.

It’s me.

Because I keep doing what I know is wrong. I know that my life benefits me and those around me, while it hurts others. That’s what criminals do. They do bad things to other people in order to satisfy a need, a desire, a drive of their own. It’s the ultimate in selfishness. And it’s me.

I am not a Good Samaritan.

I would walk by D’Shawn. I would avert my eyes. Focus on the ground. Look straight ahead. Gaze anywhere else but at his broken body. His broken spirit. His broken community. Our broken country.

But I’d run to my father.

Because, deep down, if I admit it honestly, I believe that my father’s life is more important. Is more valuable. Is more worthy of salvation.

And I’m so sorry, daddy.

I’ve said nothing.

I’ve been quiet.

And I’m sorry.

You raised me better than that, daddy. You saw your own second chances, and observed with empathy the need for second, third, fourth chances in the children around you. I never had to encounter my own second chances. That was my privilege. Because of you. Because of your protection. Your love. Your realized potential.

I don’t want to be quiet anymore.

I want to pay for my crimes.

I really do.

But.

How?

Be forewarned: I have zero medical evidence for what I’m about to say. I am fully aware that I am about to sound like a crazy person making ridiculous claims, on par with the colon cleanse/multi-vitamin/essential oil/obsessed with “toxins” people who also have no actual medical research to back up their claims. But still. I want to tell this story, if only to potentially reach another woman who could be in a similar situation. Maybe to give her hope. Maybe to give her an option. Maybe to give her a fellow sidekick. Maybe to create a community of similar women who are fully aware that, to a medical doctor, we’re on par with a guy wearing a tinfoil hat and yelling at the clouds.

Or maybe I just want to show off how cool my tinfoil hat is to all of you.

Either way, I get it. This could, and likely will, sound crazy banana pants.

I make no sense. I am one in a million. One in several million. Even scrolling through to the fifth page of a Google search reveals not one other person who can claim the crazy, the wonderful, the insane, the ridiculous, the completely unbelievable medical miracle that I am finally willing to claim. Not a single other conspiracy theorist nut job on an international forum. No other person seems to have actually experienced what I am now going to declare. Here. Publically. Fearfully.

My C-section cured my incontinence.

Cured it, you guys. Like, gone. Like, mama don’t need no Depends no more. Like, I can go for a long run without fear of leaking. I can laugh and sneeze with impunity (well, unless I already really have to go, then I need to do a little leg-cross-and-squeeze to avoid a dribble). I can jump. Jump.

Because I delivered my second child via C-section.

Perhaps I need to start at the beginning:

I have already written about my first child’s vaginal delivery. I was in complete denial the entire time that it would actually work, and apparently my instincts were spot on. I pushed for over an hour and a half to no avail while my baby remained stuck behind my pelvic ridge. The nurse set up a mirror in front of my hooch while my daughter was crowning (completely against my wishes—I’d like to put that on record. I did not want the damn mirror. I did NOT want to see what was happening to my poor little coochie), and I watched, helpless, as her head wiggled, adjusted, shoved, and bulged against my pelvis. But she never advanced. Then, suddenly, her heart rate plummeted. The nurse tapped my OB on the shoulder, and pointed to the monitor. Just an instant later, the mirror was gone, my baby’s monitor was turned away from me, and a tray appeared next to my OB with scalpels and surgical equipment on it. Quietly, he murmured, “Rachel, I’m going to have to cut you.” I must have nodded, though I don’t remember the exchange at all. My husband had to tell me all of this later. I just remember the sharp pain as he gave me an emergency episiotomy, and the strange contraption that appeared—a suction cup—and affixed to my daughter’s head. There was a loud pop as the cup lost its grip on the small part of her crown that was exposed. We all jumped at the noise, then laughed, more nervous than amused. He reattached the cup, and on the next push, my daughter was finally born. After almost two hours of pushing and crowning, my daughter was yanked out of me within the span of a minute.

This final violent push on the day of her birth wreaked havoc on my body. Ten weeks later, while trying to take my newborn for a walk, I called my OB, crying, while urine dripped uncontrollably down my leg. His voice was gentle on the phone, and he said exactly the words I wanted to hear at that moment: “No, you’re right. This isn’t normal. Come in. Right away. This isn’t normal.”

I saw my OB, and he recommended me to a urogynecologist. I was given catheters. I had a scope placed inside of my bladder. I underwent months of pelvic therapy. The diagnosis? “Nerve damage, resulting in atrophied urethral muscles.” My urethra had lost the ability to close, leaving only my external pelvic muscles in charge of keeping the urine from dribbling out. Kegels couldn’t help. Abdominal exercises couldn’t help. Luckily, my bladder was itself still healthy and functioning (the sphincter that connects my bladder to my urethra was still functional, which meant that, when I did go to the bathroom, I was successfully emptying my bladder, giving me a few moments of relief where I didn’t have the constant leaking). But it was sagging now, falling into my urethra and pelvis. The only solution was surgery. Vaginal mesh surgery. They would have to put an artificial sling around my bladder, connected through my vaginal walls, and lift it up, taking the pressure off my urethra and hopefully relieving most of the incontinence (though the best number the urogynecologist could give me was “80% relief.” Not the best scenario). They could do nothing for my open urethra (which left me susceptible to “walking bacteria” and severe UTIs. I was in the emergency room twice with those things. I can’t even describe how horrible they were. From fine to pissing blood within the span of an hour. It was misery). They could do nothing for the nerve and muscle damage around my vagina, which made me—ahem—significantly looser than I was before having my daughter.

And I couldn’t have any more children. I’d have to be finished with children before going under the knife.

But it was my only option. It was my best choice, even while it felt like I had no choice at all.

So, I got pregnant again. What the hell? I was already pissing myself. May as well complete my family first.

Everyone agreed that a scheduled C-section was going to be the best course of action for me. It would minimize any damage; keep it contained to what it already was.

The pregnancy was miserable. During the height of my morning sickness, we were staying with my in-laws while waiting to move into our new house. Every morning, I’d have to leave my mother-in-law in charge of giving my daughter breakfast while I went and threw up. The force of vomiting always made me pee on myself, and I spent most mornings, sobbing on the bathroom floor, using my own sopping pants to mop up the puddles of piss that I left behind. I quickly learned that I needed to run to the bathroom, take off my pants, and throw a towel down on the floor before puking (if I had enough time, that is). I didn’t want my mother-in-law to know, so I would try to be discreet as I ran for the cleaners and paper towels, trying to hide my shame, the smell, and my own tears.

My daughter was born over three weeks early, after two weeks of early labor. I was already 6 centimeters dilated when I was wheeled in for my C-section. I could have delivered her vaginally. She probably would have had an easier time than my first child. But my new OB (we had moved, so I changed practices early in this pregnancy) had already assessed my medical records and agreed that mitigating my nerve damage was essential.

It was three days after my Caesarian when I first noticed it. I coughed. I was in the NICU with my baby, and the dry hospital air gave me a coughing fit. I pushed a pillow over my incision, and hacked for a good fifteen seconds. I looked at my husband, happy that the soreness from my incision wasn’t really that bad at all. Then, I looked at my legs. I stared at them as though they were a strange genus of algae. They weren’t crossed. They were straight out in front of me, propped up on a footrest. Lifting my legs had proved to be the most painful part of my C-section recovery, so I hadn’t bothered trying to cross my legs during the coughing fit. Didn’t think about squeezing my thighs to stop the urine. And I didn’t pee myself.

Since the C-section, my incontinence has all but disappeared. For perhaps the first three months, I still wore a light Poise pad every day, more out of habit and fear than necessity. Then, I switched to panty liners. Then, I just stopped. When my baby was still a newborn. By six months post-partum, I tentatively went for a run, with a pad. The next time, I used a panty liner. Then, I found myself running without any protection. My youngest is now almost two years old, and I haven’t worn any incontinence protection for at least a year and a half.

So, what happened? My OB couldn’t really explain it. She said that she had seen something like this happen just once before. She shrugged, “Your body is an amazing thing. It’s always finding new ways of healing itself. It’s like sympathetic nerve pain, but in reverse.”

“It’s like all the healing powers of my body rushed to that one area and fixed everything in the vicinity??”

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She chuckled, “Sure, Rachel.”

So, I coined a new phrase, “sympathetic nerve healing.” It’s actually called something like “neuroregeneration” and “axogenesis” that occurs at the “nerve repair site.” Usually, though, neuroregeneration just doesn’t happen on its own. It requires a skilled surgeon to physically reconnect the nerves that have been damaged, either at the nerve site, or directly in the brain. And it’s not supposed to happen suddenly, and never after an occasion of physical trauma (like a C-section). But, basically, it’s sympathetic nerve healing. My brain suddenly realized that there was a big trauma to my generalized girl parts area, and sent my immune system and blood cells and nutrients to that part to fix everything. Then, while it was busy repairing the big slice in my uterus that the OB left behind, some of those blood cells noticed that my bladder and urethra needed some attention too. So they went to work on those. And voila! They nudged those nerves, and woke them up from an 18-month-long hibernation.

At least, that’s how I like to think about it.

So, there it is. My freaky body. My tinfoil-hat level medical claim. My strange miracle. I am no longer a candidate for vaginal mesh surgery. I no longer get UTIs. I’m not crying on the bathroom floor in a puddle of my own urine, and things have gotten, ahem, tighter down there again. I’m cured.

I have no medical proof that any of this is actually what happened to me. I have no other testimony from another woman, making similar claims. I have no facts, figures, or studies to back me up.

But I have an opened, yet unused, package of Depends in my bathroom.

And a new PR on my 5k time.

So I guess that’s all the proof I’m going to get. It’s all the proof I need.

Recently, I’ve been complaining that I never received my “Adult Memo.” You know what I’m talking about. That magical publication that was supposed to arrive sometime in our mid-20s and describe in glorious detail how, exactly, to function as an adult. Finally and definitively. Clearly. Laid out like a Vegas buffet, just waiting for me to dive in and gorge myself on responsibility, reliability, and cocktail shrimp. I’m 32. I’ve been waiting a good decade for that thing to arrive. I was complaining about this to my mother this past weekend, and she just said, “Hey, management is dealing with some serious backlog right now. You’ve gotta figure it out for yourself.”

Touche, mommy.

So, without further delay, and in absence of the real thing, here is my version of the Adult Memo: Your Definitive Guide to Adulting.

1. Wash all of your sheets, your pillow cases, your towels, and even your bathmats at least once a week. Dust is something like 95% sloughed off human skin. Your body is covered in billions of microscopic bugs (most of them good, so don’t freak out). Your lose an average of 200 hairs a day. Your skin maintains its elasticity and coloring by producing buckets of oil and grease a year. You are a gross, disgusting animal (if you doubt me, just take a look at your pillow underneath the pillow case). Wash it all. Regularly.

2. Clean out your hairbrush. Once, I was in a friend’s bathroom, and noticed that her hairbrush was packed full of hair. “Don’t you ever clean this out??” She shrugged, “Why? I’m the only one who sees it, and I don’t care. It still works.” Well, here’s why: Because you should care. Because you are worth a clean hairbrush. Because self care isn’t just about getting out the tangles. It’s also about making sure that while you’re making yourself beautiful you’re not leaving any ugly behind. Because there’s something satisfying about cleaning up after yourself. Finally, clean your hairbrush because just ewww, man.

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"That's disgusting."

3. Finish what you start. Especially if it’s hard.

4. Know when to quit. Especially if it’s toxic.

5. Don’t put fabric softener in a load of laundry that includes towels. It reduces their absorption properties.

6. This is how you fold a fitted sheet. You’re welcome. (And special thanks to Brandon, who taught the entire wing of the Honor’s Dorm at Ohio Northern University how to fold one during our first week of college.)

7. Remember to rinse off your chicken after you take it out of the package. Pat it dry with paper towels before slicing, seasoning, and cooking it. And don’t thaw it on the counter. I know, I know, it’s faster, but salmonella in your kitchen doesn’t exactly bring all the boys to the yard. Addendum: It came to my attention that rinsing your chicken actually serves to spread more bacteria, which, coincidentally, will definitely not be bringing all the boys to the sink. Instead, just remember to cook it thoroughly and to the proper temperature, and deal with slimy feeling chicken beforehand.

8. Try to find a good news source and let it keep you regulalry informed. I don’t care which one you choose. But think about it. Try all of them. Really. Try them. And don’t be afraid to think carefully about why you like the one you picked. It’s okay to like Fox News because you feel as though you agree with them more often than not. Recognizing our personal preferences and our personal biases (and how those preferences and biases shape our decisions) will let all of us realize the individuality of choice, the idea that what is meaningful to me is not necessarily meaningful to you. And that’s okay. Just make sure that you do listen to the news, that you do know a little bit of what’s going on.

9. Let it go. All of it. Learn from it. But let it go.

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I get chills every time she pulls her hair down. Every. Time.

10. Learn how to drive a stick. And how to change your own oil. Just once, get grease packed so deeply underneath your fingernails that you can’t wash it out.

11. Your office/home/place of employ can and will survive without you. So stop acting as though the entire operation will shut down without you there. Being valuable. Making things better. Increasing efficiency. That’s just called “being a good employee.” It means that you are in a vocation that is suitable for you. It does not mean that you are a precious lynchpin of awesome, made of diamond-encrusted unobtainium. You are a cog made of number 6 plastic. Without you, the machine won’t work as well, it’s true. It’ll need a few adjustments. Maybe a rebuild. But, ultimately, the engines will all fire accordingly, and the whole thing will puff on. Feel useful. Feel important. But every now and then, realize that you ARE, in fact, a cog. It’s not a terrible thing. Cogs get to take vacations.

12. Take a class. Piano. Drawing. Defensive driving. Hungarian folk dancing. Take a class.

13. Remember that 99.99% of people are good. Or, at least, that 99.99% of people are trying to be good, as they have defined those terms. Don’t be afraid to trust people.

14. Quit worrying about your image and just buy a minivan already. They’re fucking amazing.

15. My engineer of a husband once told me a valuable lesson about limits. He said that many mathematical equations (things that most people consider finite, clear, unimpeachable, and definitive) are not “pure” equations. Rather, they only work within certain limitations. You go too far on either extreme, and the math just stops working. It’s the same with life. “Normal” is a surprisingly large range. Nobody feels “normal” because we all have a tendency to think it’s much narrower than it really is. We’re all weird. We’re all outsiders. We’re all non-conformists. We all fit within the equation, more or less. So, go ahead, play with your limits. Figure out where you feel the best, where all the numbers add up. But, remember, at some point even math stops working. Just be aware of that. Be weird. Weird is fantastic. But if you go too far, the very equations of society stop working. That’s why we have laws. That’s why we have cohesion. Community. To keep the math working.

Sometimes, limits aren’t a bad thing.

And with that, the most adult sentence anyone has ever written in the history of ever, I conclude my Adult Memo. Now all I have to do is figure out how to follow the damn thing…

What would you add to your own Adult Memo?

Addendum #2: One more point.

16. Call your mother. She is your inspiration after all, even if you don’t realize it. Love you, ma.

The Squatty Potty® has ruined my “me” time.

Okay, so to be fair, I don’t actually own a Squatty Potty. But I do own about 8,000 step stools. And most of them are strategically scattered throughout my bathrooms, and, really, a toddler stool works just as well as the Squatty Potty for a portion of the cost—and a fraction of the embarrassment. (Let’s face it, explaining an Elmo stool sitting in front of your toilet is a lot easier than walking around, hugging the very recognizable dookie enhancer that is the Squatty Potty.)

She's HUGGING it.

She’s hugging it, you guys. HUGGING it.

You see, according to the makers of the Squatty Potty (and now backed by some serious scientists as well), when we sit on a traditional Western indoor toilet with our hips bent at a 90° angle, we create a huge kink in our sigmoid colons (that’s the last 6-10 inches or so of your large intestine). This kink makes it harder to poop. Imagine a full tube of toothpaste, pinched in the middle by a tight wire tie. If you keep the tube straight, you can squeeze all the toothpaste out through the wire tie, right? Now, bend the tube at the wire tie, and try to squeeze it all out. It takes a lot longer, and it’s a lot harder. Think about the tube as your sigmoid colon. The wire tie is your puborectalis muscle (a muscle that wraps around your colon by your anus to help keep it snapped shut). And the toothpaste is . . . well, you get it. You see, our digestive systems evolved as the result of dropping deuces in nature: by squatting. When we squat, the tube gets pulled straight through the wire tie, and the toothpaste just slides out in one, curly, minty pile of oral hygiene goodness (or something like that). About 1.2 billion people in the world still squat, without the use of modern toilets. And, here’s the real kick in the sigmoid: they’re healthier than we are.

Poop is one of my favorite topics of conversation, and a bit of an obsession of mine. You see, for years, I lived with the diagnosis of “chronic constipation.” I only pooed about 3, maybe 4 times a week. It runs in the family, and I’ve always been healthy, so nobody ever thought anything about it. I even had a few people tell me that my sluggish system sounded very “European” (the theory being that only Americans are as obsessed with poop as we are, and that only we care about pooping every day. I say that, if that’s true, Europeans don’t know what they’re missing!). Studies are now coming out, however, showing that my slow system, my repeated straining, and my inability to ever feel fully finished on the toilet was hurting my digestive tract. Diverticulitis, polyps, inflammation, IBS, ulcerative colitis, all colon conditions and diseases that run rampant around the developed world (Canada boasts #1 in cases of Crohn’s Disease, while Denmark and Iceland are vying for the top spot for Ulcerative Colitis diagnoses). These are also conditions that are nearly unheard of in the undeveloped world. No shit. Why? Diets? Activity levels? Genetic quirks dating back to our collective trek across the Bering Strait? Maybe a little bit of all of these things.

And maybe part of it is the way we’re all presenting our tushies for evacuation. Maybe we tried too hard to fancy up our experiences of baking stink brownies. Maybe we applied too much technology to something that just didn’t need to be improved upon.

What the hell? Worth a try, right?

For a week, I’ve been using my daughter’s step stools anytime I’ve felt like the kids needed to be dropped off at the pool.

Holy. God.

For the first time in my life (without medicinal intervention—a daily stool softener), I’ve been able to dook every day.

For the first time in my life.

And they’re all things of beauty. The first time I tried it, I ran to my husband afterwards. “I can’t believe this poop I just had! It was a ninja poop. I was sitting there, and I realized that I had already gone. I barely even felt it! And when I looked down? Three logs! Three! Logs! Not rabbit turds. L.O.G.S.”

Every time is like that now. I sit down with my feet propped up, open my tablet, and before I can even fire up my Sudoku game, I’m done.

(I’ve clogged the toilet twice this last week alone. You don’t actually need to know that. I just wanted to brag a little.)

It’s so complete. It’s so easy. It’s so satisfying.

It’s so . . . fast.

So I obviously can’t keep doing it. I need those five solid minutes of alone time. Where’s my Rachel time? Where’s my excuse to lock the door on my children? Didn’t you think about that, Squatty Potty, before you started teaching us all about your incredible butt voodoo?

I mean, yeah, it’s great that I can get off the toilet, and actually feel emptied out. That I know things aren’t slowly calcifying inside my guts. That my pants fit better. That I feel lighter. It’s awesome. It’s impressive. It’s efficient.

But where’s the struggle? Where’s the sweat? Where’s the work? The strain? Where’s the feeling of having conquered the unconquerable?

Where’s the love?

I used to have such a great reason to sit quietly, by myself, and surf Facebook while I did something disgusting that nobody else wanted to get near.

Hmmm . . . maybe this means I need to take up smoking again?

On a serious note: Clogged it twice in one week. Twice! If you want some impressive numbers too, I highly recommend trying the elevated/squatting position. It really is surprisingly satisfying. That joy alone is enough to keep me doing it, even if it eventually comes out that the reported “health” benefits are bogus.

Josh Duggar is a pedophile. Period. Any definition of the term will bring you right back to this incontrovertible fact. He not only admits to a lengthy period of attraction to girls significantly younger than himself (as young as 4 years old) and when he was of an age to be aware of “normal” or “healthy” sexual activity and attractiveness, but he participated in and orchestrated serial sexual assaults. He repeatedly, regularly molested girls for the sake of his own sexual gratification, and without their consent. Whether or not he has since acted upon such desires is irrelevant (though unlikely, given the nature of human sexuality). This is not a case of adolescent “confusion” or “curiosity.” It is a case of predatory behavior, calculated and clandestine, hidden in the dark knowledge of its own wrongness. He knew that what he was doing was morally wrong, irreversibly damaging, illegal, and reprehensible. Furthermore, he performed all of these acts with his own sisters. His closest relatives. The girls who loved and looked up to him, who saw in him a protector and an example. He took advantage of this vulnerability, and he reports that he is ashamed of these actions now. His actions of incest and assault.

But he still got off. He put his fingers inside of his sisters, stimulating them against their wills, sometimes while they slept, while he jerked himself off. He pulled their clothes aside, put his hands on their bodies, his dick got hard, and he came.

Does that visual make you feel sick? Does that make you feel uncomfortable? Does that make you feel just wrong? It should.

That, my friends, is pedophilia. Period.

Me recognizing and naming Josh Duggar’s pedophilia is not in any way an admonishment against Christianity in general, nor should it threaten your faith. To insinuate that the Duggars’ very vocal, very evangelical, and very conservative Christianity is somehow responsible for his pedophilia is not only overly simplistic, but psychologically and socially irresponsible. And to treat his actions as strictly a result of his Christianity is a perversion of Christ’s teachings (at least as I understand them). I want to make it clear that I do not hold to the pop psychology explanation for pedophilia as a product of solely social circumstances. For years, the concept of underage sexual attraction as “taught” and “learned” behavior has dominated popular representations of pedophilia (any number of episodes of “Criminal Minds” or “CSI” discuss the “learned” nature of pedophilia, and report that the dangerous adult was often once a victim themselves who learned the “wrong” way to be a sexual person), yet recent research has suggested that the “nurture” argument for pedophilia is mostly incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. As recently as 2012, neurologist James Cantor has discovered convincing data arguing in favor of a biological precedent for pedophilia. Pedophiles frequently share certain biological/physical attributes (slightly lower IQ, smaller brain mass, slightly smaller stature, and—head-scratchingly enough—left handedness), which suggest a biological precedent for their sexual predilections.

This argument makes sense, especially if we apply the logic of biological pedophilia to a growing cultural understanding of heterosexuality and homosexuality as genetically determined (the “Born this Way” movement has done a great job educating the public on the issue of naturalized sexual desire). Of course, if we consider genetics as partly responsible for pedophilia (the “nature” argument), this does not invalidate or discount the importance of the theory of learned or taught patterns of pedophilic behavior (the “nurture” argument). After all, sexologists and psychologists have for decades observed that a significant portion of pedophiles were themselves victimized by a sexual predator at some point (35% reported being abused as children), often within their own families (something like 30% of child molestation cases—of the few which are reported—are committed by a family member, but many people suspect that only about 1-10% of all child sexual abuse cases are ever reported, so the odds of that percentage being significantly higher are very likely). If there is a genetic component to pedophilia, certainly the likelihood of a pedophile man fathering a pedophile child (or uncle, or grandfather, or third cousin, etc.) would be high, and the likelihood of said older individual (95% of the time, a man) sexually abusing the child who is already biologically predisposed to pedophilia would also be high.

What is more, the “nature” argument doesn’t really seem to take into account the environmental factors that must certainly come into play before the pedophile takes the fantasy of his desire and acts upon it, bringing it into the realm of reality. Unlike heterosexuality (and, increasingly, homosexuality), which is protected as “normal” in Western culture, the step between the sexualized fantasy of underage attraction and the reality of a pedophilic assault is for many an impassable chasm. Indeed, ask most homosexuals or bisexuals or even straight people, and they will often tell tales of the fear, the uncertainty, and the courage they felt the first time they decided to act upon their socially “unacceptable” desires, the bringing into being of their long-time secreted fantasies.* It takes a lot to move from thinking about—even masturbating to and sexually enjoying—the fantasy of what one believes is “deviant” to the physical consummation of said deviance.

And this is where we can start examining Josh Duggar’s pedophilia. What, if anything, was present in his upbringing (that was visible to viewers, at least) that empowered him to act upon his desires? Can we glean anything unusual from his formative experiences that made him feel courageous enough, powerful enough, and unthinking enough to injure his young sisters as much as he did?

The Duggars are openly proud members of the evangelical “Quiverfull Movement,” their reality-TV-worthy large family the result of a loosely Biblical belief that they must create an “army” for Christ (based on Psalm 127, which declares that children are analogous to arrows in the quiver of a “mighty man”). This movement is not in and of itself inherently “bad” or immoral. Nor are large families. Just as sexual desire is itself not inherently wrong, but finds wrongness in its potential to violate others, the Quiverfull Movement contains within it the potential for victimization and abuse through its reduction of women to a collection of reproductive parts. Josh Duggar’s ability to separate his sisters from their biological relation (by treating them as sexual objects instead of sisters) and their psychological personhood (by assuming that his pleasure was more important than their victimization) demonstrates the potential to abuse that is within extreme movements such as Quiverfull. The Quiverfull Movement does not see women as fully capable and realized human beings. They are not an arrow used to fight the enemies of Christ. They do not wield the bow or carefully aim towards the target of unchristian injustice. They are not even the quiver. Instead, women are seen as the womb, the vessel, the potted earth into which the man puts his seed with the hopes of creating a child who is merely a reflection of the man (We can see the evidence for this preference of the male in the Duggar’s own home. All of the children are named “J” names, after their father, Jim Bob. Mother, Michelle, has no “M’s” in her sea of progeny.). They are, figuratively speaking, war machines, responsible for churning out “arrows” that men can use to fight Christ’s enemies. They are machinery. Nothing else.

When women are reduced to symbols of (male) reproduction, it becomes natural for children, male and female, to grow up believing not only that women are themselves not full, thinking human beings, but that the female reproductive organs—the uterus, ovaries, and vagina—are the single most important part of the woman.

But only as they exist in relation to a man.

Without the man to place his “seed,” the garden of a woman’s biological reproductive function remains fallow, the quiver empty (thus removing the “mighty man’s” defenses against the powers of . . . What? Satan? Non Christians? I haven’t actually figured that one out). The Quiverfull Movement suggests through its rhetoric of militaristic Christianity that without men, women have no purpose. We are but the empty vessels. How could Josh Duggar consider his sisters, his own sisters, sexual objects? How could he then proudly strut in front of the camera, narrating his large family’s various projects, and standing in as the on-camera, national representative to their loving, large brood? How could he live with that horrible hypocrisy?

How could he not? He had the power of a belief in his personhood, of his religious movement, of being the first born son (a Christic figure in his own way), of his biological maleness, and a likely genetic propensity all to insulate him from his actions. The chasm between his fantasy of touching and the reality of his assault wasn’t impossible to cross, as it is for so many. He was given plenty of pushes along the way. And that’s the hard truth. Period.

* I would never, ever, in a million years insinuate that homosexuality and pedophilia are in any way related or connected. I’m merely using homosexual “coming out” stories as more readily and easily understandable metaphors for pedophilic desire. Many people, before they “come out” as homosexual (or any “non-normate” sexuality, as it is narrowly determined by society) spend a long time, sometimes decades, fantasizing about their preferred objects of sexual desire before working up the courage to act upon such fantasies and desires. Really, straight people do this too. So do people interested in BDSM, feet, fat, butts, moles, anything! If we understand pedophilia as a sexual preference that is as natural as (though unrelated to) homosexuality or heterosexuality, then we have to understand that pedophiles spend just as long, very likely longer, fantasizing about their sexual object choices before acting upon those desires. Usually, something triggers these actions. But what? That’s the question. That’s what we need to start understanding, in order to avoid the initial sexual attack, not just the second.

This also leaves the question of legal action very open and troubling. If pedophilia is a genetic condition, then can we truly prosecute pedophiles? Is there such a thing as treatment for biological desire? Would we want there to be? Should we be litigating people’s sexual desire? If so, which ones? Can we even make that decision as a society? These are all questions that I personally cannot answer. I just don’t know.