Life at the Ephrata Cloister

They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide.

In my last post, The Ephrata Codex and the First Known Female Composers in America, I discussed an interesting compendium of music from 1746 that is currently housed in the Library of Congress. This music was originally created at the Ephrata Cloister in what is now Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. These Germanic hymns are remarkable in their simplicity, and are very haunting and beautiful if you have a chance to hear them performed. (More details on how to do so can be found in that post.)

Deep within the pages of this beautifully illuminated codex, a scholar named Chris Herbert discovered that several of the compositions were attributed to three of the sisters who led celibate lives as part of the religious commune. These are now considered to be the first known written compositions by women in what is now America.

I wish we knew more about Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura. Currently it seems that all we know was that they lived to be about 79, 67 and 79 respectively, at a time when most women would consider themselves lucky to make it into their 40’s. Life in 18th century America tended to be unhygienic, brutish and short.

Think about it. According to this article, today, about 15 American women die in pregnancy or childbirth per 100,000 live births. That’s outrageous and says much about our broken health care system in this country. But in the 1700’s, when it wasn’t uncommon for women to have 8 children, the death rate was more like 1200 women per 100,000 live births. And by the last half of that century, long before reliable birth control, about one in three girls were already pregnant when they walked down the aisle.

Those are some scary statistics. Women must have felt like they had little choice but to play Russian Roulette with their ovaries. Most of them could expect to stare mortality in the eye several times throght the course of their lives. Under those circumstances, joining a celibate commune would be (sorry) a Godsend.

Joining the Ephrata community afforded a woman the opportunity to not have to focus on mere survival as most people did. Not only was the average woman raising a large family, she was preparing meals from scratch, making her own clothing, soap and candles, and fetching water for the laundry she had to do by hand. And if she found herself, by some misfortune, to be left as the only surviving parent, there were scant opportunities for her to make money. The only occupations that were common for white women back then were domestic service, childcare, gardening, and household production in the forms that I described above. (I specify white women because slavery was still very much in effect at the time and that’s another subject entirely. Suffice it to say that the lives of most black women were, at the very least, a thousand times more brutal.)

To make matters worse, that era was also plagued with smallpox, typhoid fever, dysentery, malaria, yellow fever, and measles. Often these maladies were brought on by unsanitary living conditions and made even more deadly by a dearth of formally educated medical professionals, especially outside of the larger cities.        

Clearly, most colonial women didn’t have time to consider composing music or producing art of any kind. It wouldn’t even have been on their radar. But the sisters who lived at Ephrata Cloister led different lives, indeed. Celibacy alone afforded those women a longevity that other women merely dreamed of. A longer lifespan meant more years to be musically and artistically creative. It makes me wonder whether all the sisters in this community were genuinely pious. This life sounds like a logical choice if you’re a woman living in that era and you want more out of life.

But that’s not to say that the sister’s lives were easy. They slept on wooden benches that were 15 inches wide, and they used wooden pillows. They slept in two 3 hour shifts per night, and usually ate one small vegetarian meal per day, often consisting of roots, greens, fresh baked bread and water. Witness reports say that the celibate sisters and brothers all looked thin and pale, but they appeared healthy.

The sanitation at the cloister was poor at best, and they were not able to bathe often. The white robes that they wore must have glowed in stark contrast to their dirty state. And yet I imagine those robes were a nightmare to keep clean as well.

When Sisters Hannah, Föben, and Katura and their fellow celibates were not composing, creating art, or praying, the sisters would spin thread, often to be woven into linen by the men at the fulling mill, in order to produce the cloth needed for the robes. They would also copy music and tend gardens. Brothers would run the water-powered saw mill, the grain mill, the paper mill, and the oil mill that extracted natural oils from seeds or oil rich vegetables. The brothers also, of course, built all the structures in the commune.

Their religious philosophies seem to have been rather unique. They believed that God had a male, wrathful side, embodied by Christ, but also a female side that was pure love and wisdom, and was embodied by someone called Sophia. The brothers and sisters were married to one side or the other, and therefore were expected to remain faithful to that spouse. Hence the celibacy.

The community’s collection of books subscribed to a wide range of ideas, including alchemy and astrology.  It seems that members of the community were not strictly bound to a rigidly defined creed. Some in the community believed in sacred visions, and that all parts of nature are intimately interconnected. One book on alchemy describes how to generate life from the lifeless. They also read about Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, the Harmony Society, Hermeticism and Kabbalah.

You can peek inside some of their books on the Historic Ephrata Cloister’s website. One book, called The Golden Chain of Homer, includes a page in an unknown language.

The community also highly prized a book that opined that although the earth was round, its basic nature was cubic, and at its center lies the holy point of rest, also known as New Jerusalem. They also had a well-illustrated book that described the process of spiritual transformation on the body. Clearly these people were dedicated to seeking out the proper spiritual path for themselves, by any means necessary.

It appears that some members also practiced powwowing, which originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s a folk magic tradition that includes aspects of folk religion and healing charms. (I was fascinated to learn that the term abracadabra is associated with powwowing.)

In this article about Chris Herbert’s discovery of the female composers in the cloister, he states that “Rules about worship changed frequently at Ephrata. At times devotees shaved their heads, at other times they slept only three hours a night. Treatises were written about what to eat in order to sing properly, and what to eat in general — no meat, no honey.”

The founder and spiritual leader of this community, Johann Conrad Beissel, seems to have been philosophically influenced by Radical Pietists and Mystics. He came to America from Germany in 1720 and was still forming his belief system when he was baptized by the Brethren-Anabaptists in 1724, but he eventually rejected the brethren when he decided that the Sabbath should fall on Saturday rather than Sunday. (Scandalous!)

By 1732 Beissel decided to move deeper into the Pennsylvania forest and become a hermit, stating that he had a distrust of organized churches. He wanted to lead a quiet life of contemplation, but friends who believed in his philosophies followed him and built homes near his. They called this place the Camp of the Solitary. Yet, oddly, many of them lived in shared dwellings.

Then came other followers who chose not to be celibate. They were called householders. They were couples who were farmers and craftsmen. They lived nearby, supported what became the cloister, and worshiped with the brothers and sisters, allowing them to have more time to compose and draw, and hold ceremonies that included the washing of feet.

When Beissel died in 1768, membership really started to decline. The last celibate member died in 1813. At its height, the community consisted of about 80 celibate men and women, and 200 non-celibate householders living on farms nearby. After 1813, the buildings that used to house celibate members were divided into apartments and rented to church members. The last surviving (non-celibate) resident of the cloister, Marie Elizabeth Kachel Bucher, died in 2008 at the age of 98. She apparently moved from the Ephrata area in 1927, but before that she had given tours of the now empty cloister.

Today, the historic Ephrata Cloister is maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, and from the looks of it, they are doing a wonderful job. They certainly have a well-designed website that makes me long to visit the actual place someday. The information on this website has taught me much about Ephrata Cloister despite my distance. I lingered on its pages for hours. It includes a virtual tour, a well-made introductory video that is also played in the visitor center, and some interesting slide presentations (I particularly recommend the one called Hidden Knowledge at Ephrata) and if that ignites your interest, you can even attend a Virtual Ephrata Academy, which includes a dozen very fascinating lecture-length videos on a whole host of subjects related to the cloister in its heyday.

I am grateful that this cloister existed, especially for the sisters. It allowed them to lead fuller, healthier lives, and demonstrates that women of that era were just as creative as women are today. They simply needed the time and space to express themselves. That time and space, given to them in the form of that community, was a precious gift. We are all beneficiaries of that gift, because we can still hear their music, view their art, and walk around their community.

Other Sources:

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/common-diseases-18th-and-19th-century

https://clickamericana.com/topics/health-medicine/us-life-expectancy-in-the-1800s

https://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/six-unbelievable-but-true-facts-about-colonial-life/

Travel vicariously through this blog. And while you’re at it, check out my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

The Ephrata Codex and the First Known Female Composers in America

“April 1775. This curious book was lent me by Doctor Franklin just before he set out for Pennsylvania.”

As I write this, I’m being serenaded by a haunting a cappella quartet. The music they are performing echoes across time from the mid 1700’s. It was composed by members of the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Listening to these devotional Germanic hymns is a welcome retreat from the modern world.

It is miraculous that this music was preserved. In fact, the historic cloister, which you can still visit, boasts of more than 1,000 original compositions. Many of them were gathered together in 1746 to make up the Ephrata Codex, an anthology of all the members’ compositions up to that year.

The 972-page codex is a handwritten, gorgeously illuminated work of art that is housed in the Library of Congress. It’s the only known copy. It has been digitized, thank goodness, so you can look at every page of it online here. But I’m including pictures from some of the pages in this post, since the entire volume is now in the public domain.

There are many things that intrigue me about this codex. One of them is the note on the inside cover. It says, “April 1775. This curious book was lent me by Doctor Franklin just before he set out for Pennsylvania.”  The quote is attributed to John Wilkes.

I would love to know this book’s entire provenance. The Doctor in question had to be Benjamin Franklin. According to Wikipedia, the year before, he had been Postmaster General of British America, and was living in England. I’m quite sure he rubbed elbows with Wilkes, who was the Lord Mayor of London at the time. But as Franklin’s sympathies for the rebel cause in the colonies started to increase, it was time to return to Philadelphia. One month after he loaned out this book, Franklin became a Delegate from Pennsylvania to the Second Continental Congress, which was convened in support of the Revolutionary War. Those were heady times, indeed.

One assumes there was no time or opportunity for Wilkes to return the book to Franklin during that period, and the fact that Wilkes wrote in it gives one the impression that he expected to possess it for quite some time. Why would Franklin bring such a heavy book to England in the first place? And why would he loan such a treasure out to someone who would soon become his enemy in nationality if not in spirit?

How did Franklin come to possess this book? Did he ever visit the cloister? It isn’t that far from Philadelphia, and the cloister did house the second German printing press in the colonies. Franklin started off as a printer’s apprentice, so this press would have been of interest to him.

And when would he have come to own this large, significant book in order to loan it out just seven years after the death of Johann Conrad Beissel, the founder of the religious community at the heart of which was the Ephrata Cloister? While the codex was being passed around, the cloister was still limping along, with the last celibate member surviving until 1813. So why hadn’t the community held onto the codex?

The second thing that intrigues me about the codex is that, according to this article, Chris Herbert, a modern-day vocalist and musicologist who has extensively studied this book, and in fact is considered to be an expert on it, discovered, almost by accident, that several of the musical compositions therein had been written by women.

That meant that these women, Sister Föben, Sister Katura and Sister Hanna, are the first known female composers in America. (You can see their work on pages 653-679 in the codex, which seems to correspond with Images 680-706 in the Library of Congress’ digitized version. It was very exciting to see their names!)

Composing is a stellar achievement for women in the mid 1700’s, a time when most women were housewives and mothers and did all the laundry by hand and made all the meals from scratch. That these particular women had the time and opportunity to compose, and that it occurred to them that they were allowed to take credit therefor, is impressive indeed. It was their lives at the Ephrata Cloister which made that possible. (And it was a fascinating community. I’ll delve deeper into it in my next post.)

But let’s circle back to this hauntingly simple and beautiful music. It is Chris Herbert who produced the album Voices in the Wilderness, which I’m enjoying so much as I write this. He included the works of those three female composers, and the album was recorded in the Meetinghouse at the very cloister at which it had been created. Bearing witness to that would have given me goose bumps.

Seriously, check out this music. It’s amazing! Also check out this video entitled The Music of Ephrata Cloister on Herbert’s YouTube page. And while you’re there, check out Hebert’s own performances as well. I just love discovering new (to me) music, don’t you?

Additional Source:

https://blogs.loc.gov/music/2019/05/a-sweet-bitter-sweet-find-in-an-eighteenth-century-pennsylvanian-music-manuscript/

Do you enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

A Deep, Deep Discount

The arrogance.

There is nothing that irritates me more than not being taken seriously. I don’t mean that you have to agree with everything I have to say, but don’t be dismissive. Don’t roll your eyes or smirk or do a bitter little laugh that implies “Oh, here she goes again.”

There’s nothing more rude than assuming that what I’m saying must be wrong because I’m, I don’t know… me. How am I supposed to make a touchdown if you instantly place me 30 yards deep into my end zone, while you allow others to start on the field?

It’s especially annoying when I happen to be expressing an opinion. Opinions aren’t facts. They’re how a person feels about a subject. Again, you don’t have to agree, but to imply that I don’t really know how I feel, or that how I feel does not bear any consideration whatsoever, or that you know how I should feel better than I do? Nope. Not acceptable. My opinion does not require your stamp of approval to be valid.

If you’re not even willing to entertain what I’m trying to say, then why do you bother asking my opinion in the first place? It’s insulting. It’s a waste of time. It makes me think rather less of the person who is doing it.

I come by my irritation honestly. I am discounted all the time. All. The. Time.

Sometimes it’s because I’m a woman. Sometimes it’s because I’m of a lesser rank in one pecking order or another. And heaven forbid that things happen the way I suggested they would, or that others eventually come to the same conclusions that I did. Do I ever get an apology or even the tiniest bit of credit? Of course not.

A few examples:

There’s a minor repair that is long overdue in my office, and I have even volunteered to do the work myself, if they will just provide me with a particular product that I’d need to do the job. I’ve been asking for over three months now. First, they sent me a different product, and I explained why that wouldn’t work. Next, they ignored me for weeks. But I kept asking.

Mind you, this product costs less than 5 dollars, and it’s readily available at a store where they shop for supplies on a daily basis. The fact that they refuse to provide said product when it’s so cheap and easy to get leaves me with only one conclusion. They think I don’t know what I’m talking about and/or they don’t think the issue is important.

I remodeled my first house, for the most part, all by myself. I may be “just a girl”, but I know what I’m doing. And why would I lie about the importance of the issue? Why on earth would I make all this up?

And to add to my irritation, winter is finally upon us in terms of temperature, even though the solstice has yet to occur. That means that the needed repair is going to be much more urgent. But I guess since only three of us will suffer by freezing in this office, it’s insignificant. Forget about the fact that as the problem worsens, our options for repairing it will be ever more expensive and time consuming.

But, you know, my thoughts don’t matter. They’re not even worth hearing. The arrogance!

(UPDATE: Admin finally provided the product I needed. It only took 13 weeks.)

And I get that same dismissal any time I walk into male-dominated territory and attempt to contribute to the narrative. I walk into a mechanic’s shop and explain what’s going wrong with my car, and I’m not believed. I walk into an auto dealership because I’m hoping to purchase a car, and they think I haven’t done my homework, and that I’ll primarily be interested in learning about features such as the makeup mirror in the visor, or that certain buttons were designed so one won’t break one’s nails. (Never mind the fact that I don’t wear makeup and I keep my nails cut short.) And the arrogance of some doctors when I’m attempting to explain what’s going on with me, the person who has occupied this body for 57 years, is beyond the pale.

Don’t worry your pretty little head, honey. Just take my word for it, or buy this overpriced lemon, or shut up and take the damned pill. Why do you insist on thinking?

Even my own mother, may she rest in peace, was such a product of her generation that she would discount me all the time. When she was cold, I used to tell her that you do lose a lot of body heat from your head, so if she’d put on a hat, she’d feel warmer. I told her that every winter for decades. She ignored me. But when my brother-in-law said the same thing to her, exactly once, she put on a hat, and said she did, in fact, feel warmer. I wanted to scream.

Throughout my adolescence, I kept telling her that my mattress was too short. She said I was being silly. I spent 7 years having to sleep with my feet and ankles sticking out over the edge of the bed. Even when I showed her that this was the case, she didn’t believe me or her own eyes. Then, one day, when we were moving, I took a break by lying on my mattress, which was, for the moment, in the front yard. My feet were hanging off one end, my forearms were hanging off the other. She looked at me and said, “Wow, that mattress is way too short for you.”

My head nearly exploded.

After spending the summer in the Youth Conservation Corps, I was looking forward to showing my mother and my oldest sister the many construction projects we had done. I was really proud of them. My sister wanted to go see a certain project, and I said, “We might want to skip that one. To get to it, you have to go several miles down a road that’s covered with deep, soft sand, and I guarantee you that your car will get stuck.”

She said nonsense, and insisted we go. I told her it was a really bad idea. And sure enough, her car got stuck and had to be towed. She was furious.

So when I suggested we see a different project, she refused to go. (She often meted out this form of punishment, and I think she delighted in it.) I told her the work site was on a paved road, with a paved parking lot, and there was absolutely no risk in visiting that site, and still she refused. And at first, she convinced my mother not to go either.

Why would I lie when I hadn’t lied about the first project? What would my motivation be? Did she think I wanted to ruin her car or something? Did she think that, at the age of 16, I was incapable of distinguishing pavement from sand? It felt like I was at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I half expected one of them to turn to me and say, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Eventually, my mother did go with me, and was impressed by what we had accomplished. Unfortunately, by that time I was so frustrated at having to beg to be believed that the compliment fell flat for me. I still struggle with the idea that she felt I couldn’t be trusted but at the same time knew that I had done some very complex construction work that required a great deal of trust.

Another example: When I mentioned to someone with no drawbridge experience that opening a drawbridge for a vessel on a river that has a strong current is much different than opening for one on a canal with almost no current at all, he said I was wrong, and that, anyway, the canal had a strong current.

I only sit here 5 days a week, looking out at this body of water, and the behavior of the vessels thereon, all shift long and have done so on one bridge or another for more than 20 years. But of course, I’m wrong. (He also believes in mermaids, and that homosexuals are aberrant. So yeah. He’s an expert. Pffft.)

Like every woman on the planet, not a day goes by when I’m not underestimated. I’m told I shouldn’t feel the way I feel, shouldn’t react the way I react, can’t possibly know how to do x, y, or z, and that I need to be quiet and just take whatever comes my way, all while being told that I should smile much more than I do.

Discounting people seems to have become the cultural and political norm. Women are not even allowed to control their own body parts. Politicians are ignoring their constituents. I worry that all of this will end badly.

There is no end to the damage that can be done when people believe that they have a right to determine who gets to be heard. It’s like a heinous, twisted, even more despicable version of banning books, because the censorship takes on human form.

I am so f**king over it.

The Strange History of L’Inconnue de la Seine

She has been kissed more than any woman in history, yet no one knows who she is.

No one knows her name. Where her body rests now, and where she came from also remain a mystery. Her beauty has inspired artists, poets, musicians, writers, dancers, and even doctors. She has been known to inspire an international, cult-like following. She has been kissed by more people than anyone else in the history of mankind, and yet no one knows anything about her life. All these unknowns simply add to her intrigue.

She has come to be known as L’Inconnue de la Seine, or the unknown woman of the Seine. The oft repeated story about her goes something like this: A girl’s body was found floating on the river Seine in Paris, sometime around the 1880’s, and it was taken to the morgue. Because there was no evidence of foul play, it was assumed she committed suicide. The mortician was so taken with the girl’s beauty that he had a death mask made of her face, as was often the custom at the time. And her visage has been haunting and/or intriguing us ever since.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that any part of that story is true. Some say that her name was Valerie, and she was a Russian of noble stock who somehow became a prostitute in Paris, and committed suicide, either due to the shame or because someone broke her heart. Again, no evidence of this can be found. Some say she was the daughter of the owner of the factory that first produced and sold these masks, and that the cast was made while she was still alive.

I subscribe to the theory that she was indeed alive when the cast was made, because her features are too perfect. Apparently it was the custom to “improve” death masks back then, but if you look at death mask images, the majority of them are of people who were unquestionably dead. And a drowned woman would not have such fine features. In addition, some people say that you can almost make out the dents that would be caused at the corners of the mouth if someone needed breathing tubes while the plaster set.

The fact is, we don’t even know where or when she was buried, let alone her age or year of death. But one way or another, the mask became a thing. People would purchase replicas to hang on their walls. Art schools would use her face so their students could practice painting and sculpture. Apparently her face was even used at beautician training schools for a time.

And her face is, indeed, beautiful, although her features have become blurry and indistinct throughout the years, as people have taken casts of casts of casts of it, making it but a mere shadow of its former self. But she looks serene. She looks content.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, she was the center of a cult-like following of people who romanticized female suicide, saying that to die without pain while still beautiful and full of promise was somehow something one should aspire to. I wonder how many people have themselves committed suicide because of this supposed serene expression?

When a woman is rendered anonymous, it’s easy to overlook the fact that she had emotions and aspirations and a history all her own. She had a tragic life if she really did commit suicide, and an even more tragic one if she was murdered. Yet L’Inconnue has become this mythical creature, someone to be idolized and revered.

I think the myths surrounding this girl who died too soon do her a great disservice. I suspect no one ever asked her if it was okay to turn her image into a thing that is widely profited from and used as a teaching tool. I wish we knew something, anything about her that was verifiable. Instead, she becomes whatever we want her to be.

And one of the things we want her to be, apparently, is the face of a resuscitation doll named Annie. The inventor of this CPR dummy was looking for a female face, because he believed most men would be hesitant to “kiss” a male face. He came across a bust of L’Inconnue and was intrigued by it, just as we all seem to be. He decided she would be the perfect face for his teaching tool. If you have ever gotten a CPR certification, chances are that you, too, have kissed this unknown woman. In retrospect I kind of feel guilty about it. She deserved better.

To add to the tragedy, the survival rate from CPR is not as high as Hollywood would have you believe. It’s actually about 16 percent. That’s got to be heartbreaking for all first responders. And it is said that only 3-5 percent of Americans have CPR certification, and even if they do, it’s estimated that most people forget their training within 3 months.

It is also estimated that if you have a heart attack in public, you are much more likely to be helped if you are a white male. If you’re female or a minority, you have a better chance of having people standing by and looking at their shoes. I suspect L’Inconnue would be disgusted by that prospect.

If you’re interested in learning more about L’Inconnue de la Seine, I recommend that you read The drowned muse : casting the unknown woman of the Seine across the tides of modernity, by Anne-Gaëlle Saliot. You can get an intriguing taste of this book here. And Radio Lab did a fascinating podcast about her.

If you are ever in Paris, there is a shop that sells death masks, called Atelier LORENZI, that has been in business since 1871, and has a 19th century plaster cast of her which they have been using ever since. You must make an appointment to visit this establishment. But if you do, you could “own”  L’Inconnue de la Seine, and if you hang her on your wall, she could, for the rest of your life, gaze down at you serenely, still keeping her secrets.

Women are rarely consulted in these matters. That’s nothing new. L’Inconnue de la Seine, whether she likes it or not, has become a woman you can take home with you. For the right price, of course.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please call 988, or visit the website for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Additional sources:

Are you wondering what to bring to Thanksgiving dinner? How about my book, Notes on Gratitude? Place your orders now! (Or any other time, since we’re on the subject.) And… thanks!

Mahsa Amini: Say Her Name

She must never be forgotten.

As I write this tonight, women in 12 cities in Iran are protesting their utter lack of human rights. They are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in a public outcry like no other. No doubt many of them will be tortured and/or killed for their efforts. Because, you know, we women need to be kept under control. You can’t have us running around, all willy-nilly, deciding that every single part of our bodies belongs to us, now, can you?

Why is this happening at this particular moment in time? Because of a beautiful, 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini. She was visiting Tehran, not causing any trouble, when she was stopped by the Morality Police. Every woman in Iran has been stopped by these sick people, or knows someone else who has been, and women therefore live in fear of them.

The Morality Police decided that Mahsa was not wearing her hijab properly, and must therefore attend a class at one of their detention centers. It was only supposed to take an hour. But other women in the van say that she was beaten and humiliated during the ride, and when she got to the center, she collapsed, lapsed into a coma, and then died in the hospital.

The authorities would have you believe that a healthy young woman with no pre-existing conditions had a heart attack. What a convenient coincidence. But images from the hospital show her bleeding out of both of her ears. That’s no heart attack. That’s head trauma. Her future was cut short because she let a few strands of hair show, intentionally or unintentionally. And does her intention in this instance truly matter? People have no right to kill someone simply because they don’t like their morals.

Before we Americans get all high and mighty about our vastly superior society, please remember that as you read this, American women are dying, too, based purely on legislated morals. They aren’t getting the healthcare that every person has a right to have, and therefore infant mortality rates are higher here than in any other developed nation. It has been legally proclaimed that we don’t have the right to personally decide whether it is safe for us to carry a pregnancy to term, and even the medical professionals we choose to consult can’t make that decision with us, and therefore women are dying from complications. More and more women will be forced to seek illegal and dangerous abortions, because, as is shown in Iran, you can legislate all the morals and values you want, but you can’t make anyone agree with that legislation. Abortions aren’t going to go away simply because you say so.

Please understand that I have nothing against the hijab if it is worn voluntarily. We should all be allowed to dress as we please and demonstrate our faith, or lack thereof as we please. But no one, NO ONE should be allowed to dictate what any woman does if she is not harming others in the process. And no one is harmed by a hijab or lack thereof. What they are harmed by is religious dictatorship.

NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO DECIDE WHAT YOU WEAR OR HOW YOU CHOOSE TO ADDRESS YOUR PERSONAL HEALTH ISSUES. NO ONE.

So take your morality police, Iran, the US Supreme Court, and fundamentalists everywhere, and shove them up your a$$. Sideways. We’re done being obedient.

The death of Mahsa Amini seems to have been the final straw for women in Iran and the men who support them. They have seen decades of governmentally sanctioned violence against women, and they are no longer willing to take it. Mahsa is now every woman. She must never be forgotten.

But the saddest, most telling part of this unfolding story is that I have yet to see any reportage on who Mahsa Amini was when she was alive. All we know is where she was from, and the names of 3 family members. That’s it. That’s all.

What were her interests, her accomplishments, her dreams for the future? Did she go to university? Did she want to? What stories could her friends tell us about her? At the time of this writing, it has been 5 days since her death, and we don’t know any of these things, and we will probably never know.

In a religious dictatorship, women not only don’t matter, but they are so closely controlled that they are rendered all but anonymous. Mahsa was a living, breathing human being. But now she has been turned into a symbol for a long-overdue protest that, I fear, won’t change a thing when all is said and done.

What a shameful, despicable waste.

Please vote.

Sources:

Being Beaten by Baguettes

Assault with alliteration. And carbs.

I love alliteration, and I love bread, so the title of this post came naturally to me. It actually manifested long before the content did. But I knew that a title that trips off the tongue so tantalizingly should not be tossed out. (See what I did there?) I had to find a way to make use of it. But how?

And then I had an exceedingly bad day.

We all have those, of course. But I didn’t handle the situation well at all. It was entirely too triggering, and I therefore had a massive melt down. Whenever someone witnesses that occasional coping flaw of mine, I can see them looking at me like I’ve become completely and utterly unhinged, and the look of confusion and discomfort on their face makes me feel worse. Off I slide into a negative spiral. It’s not fun. (It could be argued that it’s not exactly a picnic for those who helplessly bear witness, either.)

Welcome to my world.

It’s really hard to explain an apparent overreaction to someone who is basically cool, calm and collected. They are seeing a minor thing and what appears to be an over-the-top response thereto. To that I say: you have no way of knowing what negative memories one has rotting in the basement of one’s brain. You don’t know which straw will be the last one for the camel. You see a surface situation and a surface reaction, but you don’t see the crux of it. You don’t see the scar tissue or the deep, deep down final freakin’ straw of it all.

So back to the headline. It alludes to assault with alliteration. And carbs. So here’s what I came up with to accompany it.

Imagine this: You’re walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris (lucky you!), and you happen to see a man hit a woman with a baguette. Naturally you are startled by this. One does not witness such a contretemps every day. Oh non.

Before you can react, the man disappears down a side street. You aren’t even sure you got a good look at him. Was he dressed as a mime? (Probably not, or he would have been on the receiving end of the assault. But I digress.) It all happened so quickly. It’s hardly surprising that your main focus was on the yeasty weapon he chose to employ.

When you turn back to the woman, you see that she has dropped to her knees and is doing that kind of chest-heaving, exhausting, cleansing cry that most men cannot imagine. (Unlucky them.) They don’t understand the subtle healing powers of some negative emotions.

But why such a strong reaction? I mean, yeah, it was a strange situation, but after all, it was bread. There are much worse things in this world to be hit with, literally or figuratively. Bread probably won’t even leave a mark. Nevertheless this “hysterical” female is drawing a crowd.

Why is it that so many of us default to judgment rather than comfort? Do we have to agree with her feelings for them to be valid? Must we empathize in order to feel compassion?

For all you know, this woman is being stalked by that man, and this was not the first baked good she had been pelted with this week. Perhaps baguettes remind her of her recently-deceased and much-beloved father who owned a boulangerie not far from this very spot. Perhaps she has a health issue that magnifies even the slightest pain to excruciating heights. Maybe she has a serious problem with food that is not gluten free. It could happen.

I’ve never understood people who believe there is a right way and a wrong way to feel. We are all individuals with different life experiences and different trauma. Our feelings are our own, and we have every right to express them as long as there’s no violence involved.

It may not be easy, especially with strangers, but if you see someone suffering, offer comfort, not judgment or solutions or any phrase that begins with “you should.” Just acknowledge their feelings and offer your presence in whatever way you both feel is appropriate. Don’t pony up unsolicited advice or roll your eyes.

I would like to think that if I saw a woman being assaulted on the street, even if it were just with a pillow, I’d ask if she needed help, or a hug, or just wanted to talk about it. This type of offer allows dignity and agency to be restored to the victim survivor. This gives a fellow human being the opportunity to gather him or herself and take the next step on what will most likely continue to be a very complex life path.

Only the receiver can know just how many “baguettes” they can take before they begin to feel like these implements of destruction are actually baseball bats. And that’s as it should be. But because of that, it behooves all of us to cut people a bit of freakin’ slack.

And… now I’m craving bread.

Choose your weapon wisely.

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Beware of Originalists

They hold an unrealistic and toxic philosophy that is dangerous for an ever-evolving society.

Originalists believe that certain documents (and apparently, they get to choose which ones) should be interpreted as they were understood at the time they were written. If it suits them. Oh, where to begin.

First of all, the documents they choose to apply this philosophy to are usually documents that have a legal and/or social impact upon us all, such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.  And when I say “us all” I’m referring to those of us who are living and breathing and viewing our world through our current cultural lens with our current scientific and technological understanding.

The arrogance of Originalists leaves me speechless. The idea that they have any clue how any document was understood at the time it was written if said document is more than a decade or two old is beyond the pale. If Americans can’t even agree on whether a life saving vaccine is in our best interests, how on earth can we assume that we can crawl inside the minds of a group of men sitting in a room in Pennsylvania in 1787 and accurately determine their intentions?

And a better question might be, why would we want to? For the constitution to continue to be of any value at all to us, it needs to change with the times and the culture that it purports to regulate. The constitution itself provides a framework of how government should be run. It lays out our (increasingly skewed) system of checks and balances, and also explains how the states relate to the federal government. That’s the skeleton of it all. But the amendments are the vital organs, the tissue, the muscle that keeps the constitution relevant and vital and up to date. At least that’s what amendments should be doing.

All our amendments came about because we have learned some hard lessons over time. We have changed and grown as a nation. We’re dealing with things that the founding fathers couldn’t even conceive of back then.

We learned that freedom of religion is critical to a country that wishes to allow human beings to explore their own spiritual belief system, rather than forcing us all into a rigid box where we’re told what to do and what we should believe without question. While many of us seem to actively seek out that sort of treatment these days, it’s increasingly obvious that checking one’s brains at the door does not serve us well.

The second amendment didn’t come along until 1791 and is about the right OF A WELL REGULATED MILITIA to bear arms.  The founding fathers were a group of privileged white men in 1787, who could never have conceived of a toaster oven, let alone an automatic weapon (the Gatling gun wasn’t even invented until 1861). It had not even occurred to these men men to put anything about arms in the original body of the constitution. Do we really think that those men wanted to make it okay for people to walk into classrooms and fire bullets that spin so wildly that they don’t just kill, they mutilate beyond recognition, and they do so at such high speeds that they kill the maximum number of humans in the shortest amount of time?

And from a modern standpoint, are mass shooters, or for that matter, any individuals, considered to be a well regulated militia these days? How is that possible? Why would anyone want to make that acceptable?

When you consider that bloodletting was still being recommended as a viable treatment option by some physicians in the 1920’s, do we really want to look at the constitution as a rigid document that requires a 1787 mindset to be considered valid? Similarly, would you want to only be allowed to pursue the happiness as described in the Declaration of Independence if you had to look at it from a 1776 standpoint? Back then, you were lucky to live into your 40’s. Do you think their pursuit of happiness would align with ours? Do you think they’d have had the same opinions about a lifetime appointment to the supreme court had they known that our life expectancy today would be double what they were experiencing?

We have outgrown certain things in this country. We should modernize our constitution to allow for the importance of civic responsibility and public health. None of us should have to beg for equal rights. None of us should have to be hesitant to assemble, for fear of being mowed down by gunmen. Every single one of us should have sole autonomy over our own bodies, unless said autonomy negatively impacts public health. Voting should be easy. We have no need for an electoral college anymore. Gerrymandering should be outlawed. There should be a way to keep the internet accessible to all, and yet somehow regulate the lies and the misinformation that runs rampant therein. We need to re-implement the fairness doctrine, but make it applicable to the ever-increasing number of ways that we can now communicate. We need term limits for congress. Judges on the supreme court should not be appointed for a lifetime, and for the love of God, they should be held to the same ethical standards as other lawyers. When there is a conflict of interest, it should be mandatory that said justice recuses himself from the case.

Originalism is an unrealistic and toxic philosophy that is dangerous for an ever-evolving society. Six of the nine current Supreme Court judges are originalists to some degree. They aren’t thinking about modern times or consequences when they make their rulings. That’s scary, don’t you think? While we’re modernizing the constitution, we might want to put something in there to require that it continue to be modernized, because if Americans exist in another 231 years, they sure as heck won’t want to crawl into the twisted minds that are holding the reins of power today to decide how decent people should live in their version of the present.

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Deprogramming Myself from Dan Price’s Cult of Personality

Yet another bubble burst.

When I first heard about the Dan Price scandal and started writing this blog post about it, its title was going to be, “No Freakin’ Way!” Then, I started to read up on it, and I decided to change the title to, “Say It Isn’t So, Please”.

And then I read the article in the New York Times.

At first I read it with shock, thinking that the Times isn’t usually up for an all-out vicious attack on someone. They are usually more measured in their reporting. But by the time I finished the article, and read the quotes from something like 75 sources, I realized that there were too many allegations, too many accusations, too many lawsuits, and too many stories for me to continue to deny that they don’t all hold at least a kernel of truth. And given how despicable the stories are, even a kernel of truth is enough to put me off Dan Price for good.

That leaves me wondering how to cope with my sadness and disappointment. I really wanted to believe that the public persona Dan had worked so hard to promote was real. I wanted to believe that there could actually be a rich guy out there who spoke out against corporate greed and corruption. I wanted to think that maybe there was someone in power who actually gave a crap about the little guy. I’d never seen that before, and I wanted it to be true so badly that I fell entirely into Dan Price’s thrall. It’s no comfort at all that so many women have done the same and lived to regret it.

Way back in 2015, I wrote a glowing blog post entitled, Dan Price: Man of my Freakin’ Dreams. And I meant every word of it. Now I read that post and I cringe. But I won’t take it down, because it will forever be a reminder to me to never, ever fall for the branding.

Back then, Dan reduced his million-dollar salary in order to give all his employees a raise to at least $70,000 a year. Every single one, right down to the guy who mops the floors at night. And since then, that figure has increased to somewhere around 80k to 100k, depending on what source you read. I mean, who does that?

Dan Price does. And that’s laudable. I can still stand by that, at least. But that’s not a get out of jail free card for rape, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. And if it turns out that it was just a show to get out of a lawsuit with his brother, as is credibly laid out in this Bloomberg article from 2015, then even that good act came from a bad place.

While doing research for this post, I came across a Facebook post that I wrote nearly a year after my blog post that I mentioned above, in which I gave its link and gushed, “Omigod, a friend went to see this guy at some public speaking event, and I jokingly told her to have him read this blog entry, and she DID! And he DID! He thanked me and said he hoped we’d get to meet some day.”

With hindsight, that Facebook post seems as surreal to me as the current situation. I doubt seriously that the man stood there at that busy event and took the time to read my blog post. Oddly enough, I have no memory of that conversation, or even whom I had it with. But it was obvious that I had stars in my liberal eyes. Now I can see that I was a total fangirl, and I’m nauseated by that realization.

For me back then, Dan was the guy who proved that you can walk the talk and actually prosper while at the same time not grinding your employees down to a mere shadow of their former selves. (You’ll never see Jeff Bezos doing that. Amazon warehouse employees are treated like crap.) But Dan impressed the hell out of me. He led me to conclude that he was a guy who cared about people.

I convinced myself that he had proven that it really is possible to fix capitalism. I’m sure that had a lot of corporate fat cats on edge. They don’t want to be forced to do the right thing. They don’t want to think of anyone but themselves. I was sure that those rich white men would love nothing better than to see Dan Price disappear. (That reminds me of an art installation I saw when I lived in Holland. It was an electronic marquee that said, over and over again, “If you behaved nicely, the Communists wouldn’t exist.”)

I allowed myself to think that Dan was being targeted by someone very rich who was probably paying people off to say these horrible things about my hero. I was still trying to believe that this whole mess was pure fabrication. I comforted myself with that theory for a few days. Because, you know, he really did give those raises. He did.

But in order to write this post, which I thought would be full of righteous indignation, I had to first do my homework. I started off by reading these articles:

They were not particularly credible in my eyes. I refused to allow them to be true. I was still allowing myself to stay in Dan Price’s cult of personality, where I felt safe and where everything was so warm and fuzzy. Without that faith in mankind, where would I go? What would I do?

But as the evidence mounted, I tried to tell myself that maybe this good guy just snapped under all the pressure. (As if that would be a valid excuse.) Being a poster child for anything at the age of 38, after having been sued by your own brother for doing the right thing (as I thought that situation had played out at the time, based, in retrospect, solely on Dan’s version of events), and his not knowing who his friends truly are anymore, must come with a great deal of stress. At the very least, it’s a safe bet that Thanksgiving dinner in the Price household is somewhat tense.

“Poor little rich boy,” My inner voice whispered to me.

But I wasn’t ready to escape the cult just yet. For me, Dan symbolized what is possible if you have integrity and morality and decency. He made me believe that the world could turn around if enough good people did good things. Maybe this big blue greedball on which we all live could alter its trajectory and stop hurtling straight toward the fiery sun. It could happen.

Why would anyone want to give up on that faith in mankind? I clung to it like a drowning man clings to flotsam. I really didn’t want to let go.

Next, I came across a whole series of articles by a guy named Doug Forbes. He had written them over the space of several years. Each one was a damning opinion piece about Dan Price.

But, you know, I tend to take opinion pieces with a grain of salt. I wanted truth, not opinions. This guy was saying he talked to dozens of people, but he did not cite any of them, except, I think, Dan’s ex-wife, who, I told myself, was probably bitter. And this guy Forbes, I told myself, must hate Dan for whatever reason, and he’s given himself this forum to spew his speculations into cyberspace.

I told myself that the accusations against Dan were so disgusting and extreme that the charges had to be trumped up, right? I mean, who resorts to waterboarding a woman? Who drowns a dog in a swimming pool? Who rapes women in their sleep and emotionally abuses employees? (Well, actually, a lot of men do that last bit. But not the good men, right?)

But, just as with so many other cult members who start to wake up, a lot of conflicting thoughts were running through my head.

He’s such a nice guy! This can’t be true! At that point my inner voice was whispering, “But you used to think that about Bill Cosby back in the day, didn’t you?”

There are some sick people in this world, and that’s a fact. I just didn’t want Dan Price to be one of them. Not that guy.

During my research, I kept seeing links to the New York Times article about him. When I’d click on it, I’d get their website, and a few tantalizing sentences, but in order to see more I’d have to subscribe. I have a great deal of respect for the New York Times, but I didn’t want Dan Price to be the reason I got a subscription. Instead, a friend (Hi Tracy!) was kind enough to gift me the article from her subscription. (If you know someone with a subscription, they are allowed to “gift” 10 articles per month to people. It’s perfectly legitimate.)

I read the entire article, and any fantasies that rich white fat cats had created this scandal to destroy Dan Price’s squeaky clean reputation fell by the wayside. In retrospect I can’t even imagine why I entertained such a fantasy to begin with. I don’t believe in conspiracies, because large groups of human beings find it impossible to keep secrets, and those evil rich men would have had to find nearly a hundred people who would be willing to lie about Dan for money.

Impossible.

But the final nail in Dan Price’s coffin, as far as I’m concerned, is that he admitted, before two witnesses who were both willing to speak out, that he used to restrain his wife, but he admitted to them that that was not the right thing to do.

Ya think? And yet you did it, Danny Boy. This was a choice you made, multiple times. That’s seriously twisted.

I began looking back at his interviews with Kelly Clarkson and Oprah Winfrey, etc. through a more cynical lens, and I realized that the people interviewing him were total fangirls, too. Heck, even Trevor Noah compared him to Jesus! They all wanted a feel good segment for their shows, and this guy fit the bill. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking. Why scratch that sexy surface?

Now I realize that Dan Price is his own spin doctor. I discovered that all the memes I had shared about him had originated from… Dan Price. I never allowed myself to think that a humble man doesn’t need to toot his own horn so much unless he either a) knows that he’s not really that popular in real life, and this is his only way to get admiration, or…  b) he has something to hide.

And I was even more disgusted that I fell for all these wonderful liberal memes when I learned that he didn’t even write them himself. He hired someone else to do it. I had always imagined him kicked back on his couch after a long day of decently paying his troops, typing away, speaking from the heart. Instead, he told the guy the image he wanted to have, and the guy provided it. And I inadvertently helped to prop up this image by sharing those memes on Facebook.

Now my inner voice is quoting a dearly departed loved one: “Even if you pour syrup all over something, that doesn’t make it a pancake.”

I need to own the fact that it was highly simplistic of me to think that a member of my flawed species could be pure and good and devoid of tarnish. That’s too much to expect of anyone.

It is possible to do good deeds and be a scumbag at the same time. That annoys me. It would be so much easier if Dan had just picked a side. I really hate shades of gray.

Of course, none of us will ever know the complete truth about Dan Price. If there’s a despicability spectrum, we’ll never be certain where to place him on it. But he’s definitely on the spectrum, and so I’m done with him.

That leaves me in an awkward position. Should I hope the accusations are completely true so that I can at least be comforted by the idea that justice is real, or should I hope they are mostly false, only to watch his carefully honed and oh-so-appealing brand be destroyed by them?

There’s no good answer.

I had always read that breaking free of a cult is hard. I never thought I’d have to struggle through self-deprogramming. I feel like such a fool, and it leaves me wanting to boil myself in bleach.

So, yet another bubble burst. Damn, but it was such a lovely fantasy. I’m going to miss it. And that hurts.

Ululation

It’s primal. It’s a release.

True confession: I have always envied women who could ululate. It’s that trilling, rippling shout that women are known to do in Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia. It sounds like a heartfelt outpouring of emotion. It’s also done in the Basque and Galician regions of Spain. The Lakota in this country came to it as well. It is a sound that peoples in different parts of the world seem to have arrived at independently, so I think of it as very primal.

There are many different ululation “accents”, and people (women, mostly, by a wide margin) ululate for different reasons depending on the culture. It is the sound of celebration, of praise, and it’s done at weddings and graduations and concerts and even in church. It has also been used as a war whoop, and a sound of mourning. In ancient Greece it was sometimes the sound of fury. It’s also a way to draw attention.

Written references to ululation go as far back as 24th Century BC in Egypt. I always wanted to be a part of this amazing tradition, but I didn’t know how to ululate or who might teach me. Recently, I decided to check out Youtube, in the hope of finding an instructional video.

The first video I came across was one entitled, Learn to Ululate. Based on the title I thought that it held promise, until I watched it. It describes pointing your tongue to form the shape of a sausage, and then rapidly wiggling it from side to side. That video almost made me abandon all hope, because the side to side motion doesn’t come at all naturally to me, and I feared I’d never be able to produce the proper sound.

Fortunately, I then stumbled upon this video, called, simply, ULULATE 🙂. It demonstrated a kinder, gentler way of ululating, in my opinion, because the tongue moves up and down. Now you’re talking! I can do that!

Another component of ululating that I hadn’t anticipated was working up the courage to do so. I’m not one who generally calls attention to herself. I’m not one who blasts her feelings up to the cheap seats. And I absolutely hate making a fool of myself. So, even though I now basically understood the technique, it took me a bit to actually try it myself.

I decided to do so, for the first time, in the tower on my drawbridge. I figured that even if someone walking below heard me, they at least wouldn’t see me. So late one night, I tried it.

And a funny thing happened. It left me feeling emotionally drained, but in the best possible way. Maybe I should describe it as emotionally purged. It wasn’t the most sophisticated ululation in the world, not by a long shot. But it was a release. It made me feel powerful. It made me feel connected. I felt as though I had released bile from my stomach that I hadn’t even realized was there. It allowed me to blast joy into the wider world.

Clearly, this was going to take practice to perfect my sound, but now I was looking forward to it. Anyone walking across the bridge that night probably heard some interesting vocalizations. I wonder what they thought.

Since then, I’ve also practiced in my back yard, in hopes of getting the coyotes that live in the adjacent park to sing along. (No such luck, so far.) It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have any other neighbors close by.

The first (and so far only) person I’ve ululated around is Dear Husband. I had a few false starts because I was shy and blushing, but then I did it. I gave him fair warning. And still he pronounced it “startling.”  I’ll take startling. It’s a start!

I suspect that I’ll have limited opportunities to ululate. This is not the kind of sound you usually hear in quiet, staid Seattle. But it’s a sound whose time has come for us all. We women need to make more noise if we want to maintain any rights at all.

I love that this sound is mostly made by women, and quite often it is made in countries where the women are oppressed. It’s a powerful sound. It’s magical. It connects women to each other. It shows strength, confidence, and a depth of mutual understanding that men don’t realize that we’re capable of most of the time. It links us to the women of the past, present, and future. I’m proud to finally be a part of it.

So, I leave you with three gifts, dear reader. The first is a poem about ululation that I stumbled upon. I love the concept of sisters and aunts teaching ululation to the younger generation. That’s beautiful. Check the poem out here.

The second gift is this gorgeous video that gives you that sense of connection that ululation provides.

And the third? It’s a recording of my humble but triumphant attempt to ululate. I’m sure it will improve with time. It makes me feel vulnerable to share this, as if I’m cracking open my chest and exposing my heart to you. But it also makes me proud.

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

How Can This Be Happening?

America is failing its women and girls.

Warning: Please be advised that this post might be triggering for some people. It discusses sexual abuse, rape, and abortion.

This is a picture of me, a few months before my 10th birthday. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to be turned upside down. I was on the brink of being uprooted from everything I knew and loved in Connecticut, only to be trapped in the heat and poverty and ignorance of rural, cockroach-laden Florida, a state that kept me in its vise-like grip, despite my best efforts, until I finally managed to break free at age 49.

When I look at the girl in this picture, so vulnerable, all legs and arms, I want to scoop her up and rescue her. Even back then I was prone to depression. I can see it in her (my) eyes.

But things would be exponentially worse a year from then. I’d be living in a tent, constantly beaten up by classmates in my just recently desegregated school, and my stepfather would start sexually abusing me at age 11. That sent me into such a state of dissociation that I barely remember the two years that followed.

Another thing I can see in that poor little girl’s eyes is the very faint, distant realization that something was not right with her stepfather. He stared at her a lot. He made her uncomfortable. He had begun to tentatively groom her for the abuse to come. Even if I had had a clue what grooming was, I was too young to be able to articulate that there was danger looming on the horizon, and my mother wouldn’t have allowed herself to hear it anyway. Denial is a toxic family trait.

This little girl believed that when people weren’t looking right at her, she ceased to exist for them. She was convinced that if her feet didn’t stick out of the blankets at night, she would suffocate when she fell asleep. She still refused to eat bread crusts because her mother once told her that they would give her curly hair (under the mistaken impression that that would be an incentive.)

This little girl was a sitting duck.

I can’t be certain, but this could very well be the last remaining photograph of me as someone who still had innocence. This girl still believed that adults had her best interests at heart, and that they could be trusted. She deserved for those things to be true.

I thought of that girl as I read about the 10-year-old who recently had to go out of state to get an abortion after having been raped at least twice. She must have been like me. All legs and arms. Clueless about the horrors that lay ahead. As you read this, she has yet to lose all of her baby teeth. Do you think she still believes in the tooth fairy? I hope so, but I doubt it.

From an adult perspective, I can’t imagine doing anything to put such a child at risk. It astounds me that there are so many people in this world who are hellbent on shattering the innocence of childhood. That innocence is fleeting enough without having politicians and pedophiles rushing it toward the exit.

I certainly can’t imagine turning a little girl into a brood mare for an unwanted fetus that would grow inside her, all but ripping her little undeveloped body in half, and, if she managed to survive that, turn her into an adult too soon. I could not force that child to gaze upon the face of her rapist every time she looked into the eyes of that baby. Especially if it’s only to make a political point.

And yet, here we are. At first, Republicans (and, to my horror, even journalists) tried to say that this little girl didn’t really exist. Then, as the evidence mounted, they tried to get us all to shift our focus from the tragic girl’s need for an abortion and move it to the pervert who impregnated her in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that pathetic excuse for a human being is now in jail, but saying that he should be the only focus implies that this little girl, who has been turned into a political pawn, is some rare unicorn, and that things like this never happen and therefore shouldn’t be considered as a plausible exception in Republican efforts to destroy women’s rights.

In fact, in 2020, 1 in every 5,000 American girls between the ages of 10 and 14 got pregnant. A girl that age cannot give consent under any circumstances. These are rapes. According to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 9 minutes, child protective services substantiates, or finds evidence for, a claim of child sexual abuse. It’s happening to a girl right now, as you read this. And then when you consider the number of child abusers who go undetected, and the number of these children who are abused over and over and over again, that’s a lot of sick violence that should be the real focus of rage for anyone who claims to care about life.

Two true stories for you:

First: When I moved to Florida, there was a girl in my school, a 5th grader, who got pregnant and didn’t understand what was happening to her body. Apparently, no one in her family even noticed. Her teachers didn’t notice, either. That, to me, indicates a horrifying level of neglect and the kind of invisibility that no child should be subjected to.

When she went into labor, she was, predictably, all alone, and didn’t know what was going on. She was terrified by the excruciating pain, no doubt. Then this thing (from her perspective) came out of her body. Can you imagine? She took it and threw it over the hedge into her neighbor’s yard. The infant died on impact. Her classmates never saw the girl again. No adult ever talked to us about it. Not even once. That, in itself, sent a message.

Next: In my 20’s, I was an eligibility specialist for the State of Florida. I was the one who processed the paperwork for people applying for food stamps, Medicaid, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. That job gave me a very cynical view of humanity.

Before your mind wanders down that Republican “they are all welfare queens”  back alley, let me explain that the average welfare recipient is a white female whose deadbeat baby daddy refuses to pay child support. If anybody is a welfare queen who benefits from this country’s largesse, it’s those white guys. That, and when I was working back then, in Florida in the mid to late 80’s, an additional child only increased your check by 53 dollars a month. You couldn’t raise a child on that. Any “welfare queen”, if she existed, would quickly discover that having more babies was not the best of get-rich-quick scams.

There is a lot of need out there. My cynicism sprang from the fact that there is a yawning pit of poverty at the very heart of our society that most of us refuse to acknowledge. And a lot of that poverty is tied directly to the fact that the increasing hostility toward women’s rights pushes women and girls ever closer to that pit, and that benefits no one from a societal standpoint, not even those who are doing the pushing. Anyway…

One day, one of my clients called, wanting an increased check because there was a new addition to the family. It wasn’t her baby. No. It belonged to her 11-year-old daughter. That little girl had carried the baby to term because her grown-ass, neglectful mother didn’t protect her from that fate, and didn’t believe in abortion. To say I was horrified is putting it mildly. Child Protective Services got involved. Personally, I blamed the mother for, well, a lot, including the fact that she wasn’t sure who the father of her grandchild was.

Two years later, when the child was 13, she popped up in my caseload again. And she was pregnant again. She was receiving benefits for the baby she had when she was 11, and now she wanted to document this pregnancy so that the baby would have medical coverage as soon as it was born. She was trying to make the best of her situation, at least. After conferring with her social worker, I processed the paperwork, but I couldn’t get past the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness about the effed up world in which we live.

And then I got a call from the girl’s mother. The girl had died in childbirth, and the mother wanted her two grandchildren added to her welfare check posthaste. She didn’t sound the least bit remorseful that she had allowed her daughter’s little body to be treated in such a way that it had finally said, “Enough.”

Dead at 13. No chance. All doors to her future slammed shut, never to be opened again. Her choices were never her own. And now, that same thing can be said for every female in this country. We are choiceless. So much so that the number of women choosing sterilization is already increasing, because even that is better than having no agency over one’s life. No one should have the right to take our health decisions and our options from us. And we shouldn’t have to consider mutilating our bodies to avoid such injustices.

And now, the Republicans are trying to go after the doctor who helped that little girl and didn’t do anything illegal in the process. At a bare minimum they are attempting to destroy that woman’s reputation. Republicans, along with their Fox News lackeys, also want to divert our attention to the rapist’s immigration status, as if the streets of America weren’t already lousy with rapists who are citizens.

For every thousand rapists, 975 of them walk free. You probably walk past several rapists every single day, unless you don’t get out much. But do the lives of their victims matter to the pro-lifers? If they had their way, that little girl would have been subjected to never-ending trauma. And all because they think life begins at 6 weeks of gestation and that no other type of life matters.

News flash. A fetus cannot live outside the womb at less than 23 weeks. And even then, it needs a great deal of medical intervention to survive. What I’m about to say may shock some people, but a fetus before 23 weeks is a parasite that cannot survive without its host. The definition of parasite, according to Merriam-Webster, is “an organism living in, on, or with another organism in order to obtain nutrients, grow, or multiply, often in a state that directly or indirectly harms the host.”

Questions for politicians. How do you look yourself in the mirror when you are knowingly forcing women and girls to be hosts against their will? How do you look at a 10-year-old girl and think, “Oh well, no exceptions for rape or incest!” and then give her no choice but to flee to another state like a criminal in order to take back her life, which she hasn’t even had the opportunity to live yet? How? How do politicians have daughters and sisters and still vote to cast them into involuntary servitude?

No two lives are identical. For every tragedy there is a unique circumstance. That’s why it’s a fool’s errand, and downright criminal, to attempt to legislate morality. Whose morality? Do you really think this situation was God’s plan for this little girl? If so, I’d start shopping around for a different deity if I were you. Posthaste.

Protect your children. Keep them close. Listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Teach your girls, especially, that no matter what the government says, nobody has the right to meddle with their bodies, regardless of real or imagined consent, even if the government decides that the consent is solely theirs.

Please vote.

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