Sunday, October 8, 2017

Authentically Me

My last two years have been an interesting journey for me. I guess the journey has been longer than that, but the last 21 months certainly have been heightened, if that makes sense.

21 months ago I renounced the culture I was raised in. I don’t know how to express the significance of that except to say that, even as a 34 year old woman who is a solid ENTJ and usually falls on the bold side of things, I was scared to tell my parents. It took me four months to tell my family. I was feeling so much happier and freer and better than I had in years, but I was afraid to share it.

When I finally did tell them THAT was freeing too. And in the months that followed I’ve felt increasingly comfortable with letting my authentic self show.

There are things I’m still a little private about...but for the first time in my life I feel allowed to figure out who I am—not just who I’m supposed to be—and more than that I am learning to feel comfortable letting others see that me.

I had a fascinating conversation with my therapist about a year ago about three photographs.

This was taken during a family reunion, where my entire family came to Alaska for a week with us. This was the first time I'd seen them all since 'coming out heathen' as it were, and I'd had a lot of anxiety about it.

We'd hired a photographer for a session to get pictures of the whole group. We'd taken family by family, all the grandkids, all the boys, all the girls...and then we gathered the siblings. We all lined up and took what one might call a 'normal' photo, and then for some reason I got it into my head that we should all get on each other's backs. I'm the oldest and when I suggested it (while grabbing my brother and pulling him onto my back) they all just sort of did it within a matter of moments...and this photo resulted. In those few moments I felt something between us that I hadn't felt since childhood. (That's funny to say, because we weren't even all children at the same time, but it's how I felt.) I don't know how to describe it except to say that it was a feeling of camaraderie and knowing that we all had each other's backs.

This was a moment where I felt unfiltered family, and it shows on my face.

That unfiltered feeling shows in this photo from a few days later. We were on a hike, we were hot, sweaty, tired, and trying to keep continually moving because if anyone stood still the bugs would swarm. I've been self conscious about close-ups of my smile for years because my teeth aren't quite straight, so I normally keep my mouth closed.

But my little guy was cuddly as I carried him out (I carried kids the whole hike, but switched out which one many times. Yay babywearing!) So on impulse I snapped a selfie. And in that moment--in  spite of feeling a little bit miserable--I felt genuinely happy. And it shows. That wasn't something I'd seen much of in my photos from the prior few years, and it wasn't until I saw this one that I realized what had been missing.

Finally, last fall I went to a fancy fundraiser with my husband. I tried on a dozen gowns at the consignment store, and bought a nice short-sleeved one that was flattering...but this one just stayed in my head. Finally, just a day or two before the fundraiser, I went back to the consignment store and it was still there so I got it.

This was the first time I'd ever worn something strapless, and not only doing it but then sharing the photos publically on facebook was definitely something new. Mormons have an easily recognizeable dress code (based upon the temple undergarments which cover significantly more than 'worldly underwear'), and this gown blatantly doesn't meet it. I hadn't hidden my exit from the church but I hadn't really announced it to anyone except my family, so I knew that  sharing this photo was going to 'out' me to many people.

Part of me really wanted to share this photo and part of me about had a panic attack...but I finally posted it.

And you know what happened?

Comment after comment after comment about how lovely the gown was, how good I looked, and how happy I looked. Not a single negative comment. In that moment, I felt accepted for me. Not because I fit within some mold or matched some expectation, but just because I was a person who picked a pretty, sparkly dress that matched my eyes, and who looked nice in it.

That felt so good. ☺

This authenticity thing is certainly much broader than clothing choices or body acceptance, but that's been an important part of it because it's bringing my outside to match my inside. I'm not opposed to modesty at all, but I think a person should be able to be comfortable in their body--not ashamed of it--and that is a journey I've had to take. Taking ownership of my body has been an important part of my authenticity.

18 months before that strapless gown I'd taken two pictures but only shared one.
Wanna guess which one?

 Look at those scandalous double-pierced ears--which I'd had done just hours earlier. 
And those bare 'porn shoulders' tsk tsk.

This week I did something else new: I've been wearing strappy tank tops to exercise in for a few years, and after a while I started wearing them to/from class without always taking a shirt or jacket to cover myself en-route. I happen to think I have very nice shoulders, and I wasn't willing to feel guilty about it anymore. I started making friends with my cleavage too, instead of hating it and fighting it, and that spared me a lot of grief.

Recently I've been taking a pole fitness class. I wore yoga pants/capri leggings the first couple of times, but discovered that I needed my legs bare to above the knee because the fabric gets in the way of holding on to the pole. So I got a pair of shorts that are shorter than anything I've ever owned. After several times of covering them up to/from class, this week I just went to class. (Yes, folks, I went in public with all this skin hanging out. How scandalous.)

And you know what? This time I didn't have anxiety over it. That feels pretty good.

Hello world. This is me. 
Just me, myself.
No more filters.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


I carried this phrase as a mantra for many years. As a Mormon I knew that there were lots of things said about my faith--including that we weren't Christian. Since I most certainly was Christian by every definition in the book, I tried really hard to show my beliefs through my behavior, so that I would always be 'convictable.'

I remember one day when I was 17 I was talking with a group of associates at community college, and said something about being Mormon. One of them said "Well, I've always heard that Mormons aren't Christian, but you clearly are, so I guess those other people were wrong."
(Convictable? Yep.)

Now, today, I find myself contemplating this question from the other side.

I do not consider myself Christian anymore. I've left Mormonism and fall somewhere in the complexity of athiest/eclectic Pagan. But even though my theological beliefs have changed, my way of living really has not. I don't believe in Jesus as God or Savior, but I do believe that the teachings to love one another, forgive, and care for others are good moral value and I do follow them. In other words, I'm pretty sure I'm still 'convictable' even though now that conviction would be incorrect.

And it's got me thinking.

I think that "christian" and "Christ-ian" are not the same thing.

I mean, yes, in the literal meaning of the word, a Christ-ian is a believer in Christ-as-Savior.
But in the common cultural use, as in "that wasn't a very christian way to handle that situation," nobody is asking--or even caring--about the beliefs of the person in question. They are simply focusing on behavior. And in that sense, a lot of non-Christ-ians are some of the most 'christian' people I know.

So go ahead and convict me of being christian. (You'll probably want to convict me of being a witch too while you're at it...just sayin...) Neither label is technically accurate, but I also don't mind either one.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Edges of Life

When Wolf was small we noticed that he had an inclination toward violent play (as many little boys do). So we taught him the law of the jungle: one may only kill for two reasons, either for food, or to avoid being killed yourself. (This may have slightly backfired when, at five years old, he asked if we could please shoot--and eat--a songbird in the front yard, and I had to explain that it was too small to provide enough meat to be worth eating. He was terribly disappointed.) But I digress.

For the last two years we have been raising chickens. We are in it for the eggs, and we have quite a flock of happy ladies.
We knew that eventually they'd get too old to lay anymore, and we agreed from the start that when that time came we would kill them and eat them (or--since an old bird is tough and isn't great eating--put them in the crockpot to make soup or dog meals etc). However this last summer it became evident that one of our spring babies was growing up to be...not a girl. And so we had to face the prospect of slaughtering sooner than we had anticipated. I named him King Louie, because he strutted around, crowed a lot, and was destined to lose his head.
King Louie

(At this point you may be realizing that this post deals with slaughtering animals. If that bothers you feel free to stop reading. One photo shows blood but isn't graphic. I do discribe the process but it's not overly gory, and I share because the experience overall has been significant and poignant, so I hope you'll read on.)

We had no use for a roo. He eats food, he harrasses the ladies, we don't need fertilized eggs since we're eating them all anyway, and he doesn't need to defend the flock since we have that covered. So in October I sent a message to my friend who has butchered birds before, and asked if I could come over and she could teach me how. She was willing so we set a date.
Bear greeting the turkeys.

Hubby didn't happen to be available that weekend, and neither was Wolf, so I piled the younger boys into the truck and took them to my friend's house. She had a turkey that was destined for Thanksgiving dinner and the plan was to take care of Louie and her bird at the same time. Turkeys are big and strong and have to be wrestled a bit, so she'd invited another friend (also with experience) to come and help. All of us had young kids there, and we invited them to watch or help if they wanted to, but also told them that they didn't have to if they didn't want to. I feel like it's healthy to be part of the process though if you're going to be a meat eater, and to be conscientious of where our food comes from. (Bear opted to watch us kill the turkey and Eagle helped with plucking it.)

I was so glad that I slaughtered with these ladies though, because the first thing they both said to Louie as I got him out of the kennel was "thank you" and then I held him while one of them slit his throat, and as she did she was saying "thank you Louie" to him again.

It was a deeply respectful process. 
The place where we took Louie's life.

I somewhat expected to have a moment where I wanted to back out, but I never did. I didn't wield the blades but I helped hold both birds, helped with the plucking, and I cleaned out Louie's insides. We saved some of the feathers from both birds too--I don't know what I want to do with them but they are beautiful and I feel strongly about utilizing as many parts as we can. One of the ladies kept commenting about how clean Louie was so that made me feel pretty good about how we keep our flock. :)

It wasn't until afterward, when I was packing up and getting ready to come home, that I realized that Samhain was that weekend. That's the old observance of final harvest. (There's a grain harvest observance in August, a fruits/vegetables harvest observance in September, and the November observance is for harvesting animals.) I'm sure you know that Halloween has origins in the traditions about Nov 1 being the new year, and the old year dies on the 31st which is why the veil is thin between life and death and ghosts roam etc. Dia De Los Muertos as well as other ancestor-remembering traditions are celebrated at this time, and it all ties into the recognition of death as part of life, which I think is important even if I've never really been into any of those celebrations. This year we ate Louie on that day. It seemed fitting.


But the story isn't over. Because literally the night that I got home from killing Louie, I heard a crow from the coop.

And that's when we realized there was another roo.

I have to explain a bigger story here. We bought chicks in the spring from a local farm store. But in the summer one of our adult hens (from the year before) got broody. So we got her a few fertilized eggs to sit on, and she hatched three babies. So these babies were four months younger than the spring ones, hadn't reached their adult appearance yet, and thus we hadn't realized that one of them was a roo.

Until we took Louie out of the coop, and realized that he hadn't been the only one crowing.

But back to the broody hen: I was checking on her daily, and I was the first to see the tiny fluffy babies when they hatched. I was even there during one of the hatchings--I watched the mama turn this way and that, continually shifting her weight and position and slowly turning a full circle until a third little voice started cheeping with the other two. It was the first time I had ever been present for a non-human birth, and I felt something similar to the births of my siblings or children.

The longer I live, the more I realize that the edges of life are sacred, on both sides.

The transition between life and non-life is an important time, regardless of what you believe is before and/or after it. And regardless of whether the being involved is human.

We gave Chanticleer time to reach maturity of course, but this week his time was up. I had hoped to wait until the snow melted so that we could do it outside, but we've had a lot of snow this winter and finally we decided to just do it in the garage.
This time it was just myself and Hubby. I opened the door of the little kennel we'd put him in and carefully grabbed his feet with one hand and around his body with the other. He flapped and wiggled a bit, but quickly calmed. I adjusted my grip to make sure it was secure.
Since Hubby hadn't done it before, he asked to hold the bird and have me wield the knife. I had expected this, and had had several months to anticipate doing it, but in the process of getting Chanticleer out some part of me had thought and hoped that maybe it wouldn't be me.

Because here is the thing about taking a life: it is easier to do if you can distance yourself from what you are doing (indeed, the farm kills I had seen in my youth seemed to be of this sort). I certainly understand the inclination to dissociate onself from the act of taking a life. But I think that it is important--even vital--to get ones head INTO the space of what is happening, rather than out of it. The end of a sentient life--as with the beginning of one--should be a mindful thing. 

And it was. 

As my husband held Chanticleer's body and feet, I pulled our sharpest knife from its sheath and circled around to face the bird. I gently took his head in my hand, feeling his neck to make sure I would make my cut at the right place. I looked him in the eye. He looked at me for a moment, and then his eye slid shut, as though he knew what was coming; as though he were resigned to it, and knew that he was filling the measure of his creation. I pulled the knife across his neck quick and deep. His death was almost instant.
We quickly tipped him in a large bucket as he bled out, continuing to hold him as his body spasmed a few times. It's disconcerting to feel a body move when you know it's dead, and I had the fleeting fear that perhaps I hadn't done my job right and he was still alive and suffering... But he was not. I did my job properly.

And that is my biggest takeaway from all of this: how to do the job properly. It's not that I've learned how to hold a bird to kill it, or where to put the knife, or that I've learned how to make sure the blood doesn't make a mess, or that I know how to pluck it quickly and cleanly and how to get the guts out. I think the most important lesson in all of this is that life matters, and that whether I am ushering someone into it or out of it, I will always do it with mindfulness and respect for the life in question.

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