Archive for the ‘Philosophy of the world’ Category

When housewives and bridges collapse

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Last Easter, while others were churching and/or brunching, Matt and I went to see a locally-made film called “The Public Domain.” We are acquainted with Patrick Coyle, the film’s writer-director, which gave us additional incentive to see it, above and beyond our civic duty as supporters of independent art–and it did not disappoint.

From the film’s website:

 August, 1, 2007, 6:05pm, the hottest day of the year in Minneapolis.  A bridge spanning the Mississippi River collapses during rush hour. Thirteen people die, 145 are injured, a U.S. Senator arrives on the scene and declares that “a bridge shouldn’t just fall down in the middle of America.”  Five years later, the lives of four people, impacted by the tragedy and on the run from their personal demons, intersect in a waterfront bar operating in the shadow of the bridge.  The name of the bar is THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

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An important point: “The Public Domain” is not a film about things that fall down. It is a film about how things, and people, rebuild.

After watching the film I was reminded of how deeply the bridge collapse affected the entire Twin Cities community, including one  housewife-columnist for the Minnesota Women’s Press. Like Coyle, I also used the fallen bridge as a way in to some pretty deep shit.

The housewife’s collapse
By Shannon Drury
August 23, 2007

I am an at-home parent. That’s how I identify, purposefully avoiding the popular, gender-coded acronym SAHM that implies all stay-at-home moms are the same. I’m not. Another label I created is The Radical Housewife, a moniker that seemed pretty funny when I set up a MySpace page. I’m just that kind of post-hipster, Gen-X irony-laden spouse and parent who wants to reclaim “housewife” from the June Cleavers and Barbara Bushes of American history.

Why the distinction? Why deem it necessary to create a goofball label at all? Not simply to declare my leftist leanings to the world, surely. No, my choice to differentiate myself runs deeper than my political beliefs-it’s about the long-suppressed secret of full-time motherhood.

Housewifery really sucks.

But it sucks no more or less than any other job, when evaluated critically. Kissing ass can be as soul draining as wiping ass, but the white-collar worker doing the former lacks the suffocating aura of love and devotion and all-consuming cultural sacrifice of the latter. Back when I slung lattes for a living, I didn’t have the world’s expectations upon me. I wasn’t molding the future, I wasn’t anyone’s savior, I wasn’t anyone’s model of goodness and purity. I made coffee people liked. People liked it enough to buy more. The corporate coffee gods rewarded me in turn. You don’t need a radical outlook to miss the simplicity of those capitalist days.

At times, I do like my job. At times I even love it. But lately, I hate it. I suppose this admission is as radical an action as any.

Strip housewifery of its pink aprons and banana bread scent and it’s a job like any other, with aggravation and burnout and depression or worse. And when we housewives finally implode, it can be spectacular.

It’s not too much of a stretch to call moms the neglected infrastructure of our society, taken for granted each and every day. My children certainly careen over me with abandon, caring little of the wear and tear they exact. Whining demands are like rust, intractable demands are hairline cracks, bellows of “I hate you!” are deep shudders. A child’s special needs diagnosis turns into a fracture that’s harder and harder to repair. But it’s supposed to be that way, isn’t it? We’re built to withstand the strain, right? Maybe. Some bridges and moms are built tougher than others. Unlike highway bridges, however, moms aren’t subjected to yearly inspections, no matter how flawed. How would anyone know if I were structurally deficient if I didn’t tell them so? And I’m not going to. It seems even radicals cling to outmoded ideals of motherly perfection, in spite of themselves.

Is it any wonder, then, that the horrific Aug. 1 bridge collapse affected everyone so deeply, and me so viscerally? To me, the fall was a tragedy not only for the people lost and for the survivors whose lives where irrevocably shaken, but for my entire city, and by extension, me. How else to explain the constant tears and the intense, almost physical discomfort at seeing my city on the front page of the New York Times?

I recoiled in disgust watching Matt Lauer’s handsome mug reporting from the riverbank. What in hell was he doing here? When the nation’s First Housewife and her husband flew in to witness the rubble for themselves, I’d finally had it. Get away! I shouted at the television. Leave us alone! We don’t need you! This was wrong, utterly wrong. This was not supposed to happen here. The despair twisting in my gut felt familiar, as it was the same churn I experienced only a week or so before, when my own mother told me, “You are falling apart from stress and you need help.”

How did I reply to her? To the woman over whom I ran roughshod in my own way, so many years ago? Get away! Leave me alone! Some things never change. Until they have to.

For when we are unsupported, we will fall. Cracks and fractures happen; they are part of life and as such are easy to ignore. If only our deeply held myths were as vulnerable. If a mother weren’t held up so high and trod upon so often, all the while supporting the desperate hopes of so many, maybe her collapse wouldn’t be so unavoidable. And maybe, just maybe, if a wounded community can accept the scrutiny of the entire world, one mom can too.

That would be radical.

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FFI:

35W Bridge Memorial

“The Public Domain” on Facebook and Twitter

 

2014 in bests and worsts

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

2014 is over, long live 2014! Was it the BEST year I ever had? It couldn’t have been the WORST, but a lot of really crappy things happened.

In the BEST year file is the culmination of a lifelong dream and five years of hard work: the publication of my first book.

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Too bad it had to happen when I was laid up with two additional, accidental firsts: my first broken bone and my first surgery.

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Those were such painful WORSTS that I had to wonder if the universe had a message for me. I mean, neither Ariel Gore nor Cheryl Strayed broke their dominant wrists seven weeks before a book signing! Maybe this was evidence that I needed to use the laptop not for writing but for reposting videos of my daughter playing drums with the girls from rock camp:

 

OMG, right? She is the BEST. As a frustrated drummer myself it is a thrill every day to hear her practice and to remember how much fun she had being part of a band. Gina Schock and Georgia Hubley should watch their backs.

But as much as I love my daughter, her band wasn’t the BEST concert I saw this year. My sister and I got to relive our youth with the Replacements’ hometown reunion show in September.

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Paul Westerberg looks tiny because I was not going to twiddle with the settings on my phone’s camera while I was watching a performance by the band I’ve loved dearly for close to thirty years. The Replacements are the BEST band in the world.*

One of the WORST things in life is definitely air travel, but the end result can be spectacular. In October, still with a cast on my wrist, I traveled with my family to the Grand Canyon.

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This is probably the BEST place on earth to have a nice hike and contemplate your tininess, your absolute meaninglessness in the presence of millions of years of geologic time. You think to yourself, “is it really the WORST thing ever to have just 14 reviews of the book up on Amazon? Will it matter a hundred, or hell, even a dozen years from now?”

That’s the tricky thing about achieving a lifelong goal–the day after, you still have to get up and brush your own teeth. Everything around you looks the same; the world didn’t shift off its axis like you thought it would. If you let that get inside your head, it can be the WORST.

I should know.

So I come back to this photograph, one of the BEST I think I’ve ever taken, with three of the BEST, most adorable people on the planet:

 

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2014 is over, long live 2014–the best and the worst.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Anyone who complains about the lack of Bob Stinson, Chris Mars and/or Slim Dunlap is the WORST. Let it go.

 

 

 

Why do I write a blog?

Monday, July 21st, 2014

 

I received my first blank book as a Christmas present in 1982. Prior to then I scribbled my thoughts and various Archie fanfics (though in those days we didn’t call them fanfics, we called them silly stories about comic book characters) in notebooks and scratch pads around the house. My mother believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up, so she thought I finally needed something Fancy to Write In.

And write in it I did. I was a faithful correspondent in that book for months, pushing myself to write something every day, including what I had for dinner (Green Mill pizza) what I watched on TV (Powerhouse) and whose family got a mysterious machine called a VCR that showed movies you actually wanted to watch (Rachel’s, the lucky girl). Then I realized that my fifth grade existence was actually pretty boring and I gave it up.

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In 8th grade I was given a new book, perhaps to sort out my complicated feelings about my parents’ yearlong separation, but family problems barely made its pages, devoted as they were to my single-minded pursuit of the cute boy who sat in front of me in math class. Oh sweet heavens, he was adorable. Even the sudden death of a classmate gets only a page of reflection before devolving into a navel-gazing meditation on how important it was to make that cute boy like me before I, like Lisa, got run over by a car on my way home from school.

After reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in high school (another gift from my mother, who still believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up), I ditched the B. Dalton brand blank books and returned to notebooks. Goldberg swore by the unassuming nature of the lowly school notebook, believing that fancy books deterred creativity instead of inspiring it. I kept a journal only sporadically, however, as I was more interested in writing teenage angst fiction based on the skaters and McPunks who hung out at the Uptown McDonald’s.

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After graduation, I decided to take up the journaling habit again, this time in a series of beat-up notebooks covered in random stickers, including one from my place of employment. I wrote constantly. I wrote at home, in coffee shops, at bars. I wrote so much I gave myself cramps in my hands. In 1997, I fell head over heels for the cute boy at the record store–but this time, I was so busy being loved  in return that I didn’t have to pine about it. Requited love is a great productivity killer. I stopped journaling for a very long time.

Until I started a blog.

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Of course I wasn’t nearly as candid in a blog as I was with my blank books or journals, but I was still pretty honest when I wrote about my children, my family of origin, my best friend, the parents at my kids’ school.

Surprise! The only people who weren’t pissed off were my kids–because they were too young to have MySpace accounts.

About a month ago I wrote another personal blog post in which I reflected on the end of a friendship. I received a swift and brutal response from the person I wrote about, in the form of a comment that hit me so hard I felt dizzy and unsettled for days (last week I finally removed it). Again, I had to wonder why I ever thought to make the jump from easily hidden packs of paper to digital diaries that are open to the whole goddamn world. Why?

Why do I write a blog? These days I could say that I do it to push the soon-to-be-published book that shares the blog’s name. But we’re going to go deeper and REALLY WONDER WHY:

To make friends? To make enemies? To make manifest the promised Writer When I Grew Up? To feed my penchant for narcissistic navel-gazing? To make sense of what Mary Oliver called my one wild and precious life? To embarrass myself? To make myself happy?

All of the above?

I’m sure I’ll post something here when I’ve figured it out.

 

 

 

 

 

To linger at the bus stop

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

 

I can usually be counted on to announce when one of my columns appears in the Minnesota Women’s Press.  I like the gig, I want to keep it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the magazine.  But the column that appeared in last October’s issue was different.  It felt too raw, too emotional, too vulnerable to link to on Twitter with the usual “HEY EVERYBODY CHECK THIS OUT!”

How could I be happy to publicize a column I wrote about a loved one who is dead?

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My friend and neighbor Pam Taylor was diagnosed with an aggressive and virtually untreatable brain tumor in November 2011.  In one week Pam went from being just another mama at the school bus stop to a semi-paralyzed terminally ill hospital patient.

This was nothing at all like other times cancer has touched my life.  My friend Liz’s colon cancer treatment, though eventually futile, allowed her at least some time with mobility, hair, and most importantly, hope.  A family member with lung cancer has been trucking along for six and a half years, switching out medications in search of whatever works.  Not Pam.  Once her cancer was diagnosed it was too late for anything but goodbye.

 

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A new mother I know told me recently that she was surprised to see the parents in her neighborhood linger at the bus stop long after the children had been whisked away to school.  It seemed odd to her that busy people, commuter mugs in hand, would yak at the corner for up to a half hour in the mornings, longer on warm afternoons.  I told her that I might have thought that was silly, too, if I hadn’t lingered at my own bus stop and gotten to know some incredibly funny, thoughtful and supportive parents who I’m happy to say became dear friends.  Including Pam.

 

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Pam’s diagnosis was shattering for me.  In late 2011 I was already in a pretty crappy headspace, dealing with professional rejection, interpersonal drama, and a long-festering depression that required more attention than I cared to give it.  I used to write a couple blogs a week, but in 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple blogs a month.  I say this just to be honest, not to make you think that my own pain in any way compares to the suffering endured by Pam and her family.  And what a family!  Pam loved her two daughters so fiercely that she defied the odds and lived 14 months after her diagnosis, more than a year than any fancypants oncologist expected.  She was stubborn like that.

Pam passed away on January 30, 2013, in the house just up the street from where I type one year later.  I still miss her.  As I wrote in that October 2013 column:

I could pretend, in my worst days, that Pam was merely behind schedule and was seconds away from opening the kitchen window to ask me if I’d seen the school bus cresting the top of the hill. All of that pretending failed to make her materialize; on my very worst days, I blamed myself for not trying harder. 

The bus is scheduled to drop my daughter and Pam’s youngest off in ten minutes, but will likely be delayed due to last night’s heavy snow that has yet to be fully plowed.  With the windchill factored in, it feels like three above zero, not the ideal conditions for hanging out on a street corner, gabbing.

But I’ll do it anyway, and if you have the opportunity, I hope you can too.  Who knows?  Taking the time to linger at the bus stop could change your life.

It changed mine, for the better.

 

 

 

 

Repose en paix, Monsieur Seeger

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

 

“Aw no, Pete Seeger died,” I said, turning up the radio so I could hear the entire report from NPR news.

“Who’s Pete Seeger?” Elliott asked.

I paused for a moment, listening to the familiar plinkety-plunk of his banjo on the cold airwaves.  “I know you’ve heard of him,” I said.  “Pete Seeger, probably the world’s most famous folk singer.”

“Nope,” Elliott said.

“Have you heard of him, Miriam?” I asked.

She stared at me blankly. “Who?”

“Are you telling me that you’ve both been in public elementary school music programs for years and you’ve never had to sing “If I Had a Hammer”?’

“NO,” they shouted.

“Crap,” I said, snapping the radio dial off when talk returned to the ongoing disaster in Syria, the kind of hopeless warring between brothers and sisters that Seeger spent his music career denouncing.  “I’m sorry,” I added.  “I guess I goofed on an important part of your musical education.”

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I cannot hope to add much to the public conversation about Seeger’s contribution to music, politics, and culture.  Instead, I’ll use my tiny platform to share my favorite version of “If I Had a Hammer” outside of an elementary school music class. In the wobbly but magnificent clip below, it is performed in French ye-ye style by the obscure but amazing group Les Surfs.  Enjoy it as part of your musical education.

Merci beaucoup, M. Seeger.  RIP.

 

 

 

 

The dream

Monday, January 20th, 2014

 

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

 

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“….when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

Manuscript Monday: “Patriarchy and our sons”

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Hi readers!  Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but it’s sorta hard to type when you’re hiding under your thickest blanket, scared to death not only of the bizarro Minnesota weather (nine inches of snow last week, eight inches more expected tonight) but also of the United States Senate.  And that thing that happened in Boston.

 

 

I can’t get over how young and vulnerable the boy in this photograph seems.  He’s a baby!  What the hell happened between the moment this picture was taken and the moment he decided to drop a bomb in a crowd full of people?  

As this face flashed across my television and computer screens myriad times over the last five days I flashed back to the intense, white-knuckled terror I felt in 1999 when, within weeks of each other, the Columbine tapes were released and discovered the sex of my first child.  

 

 

Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men.  I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.

If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy.  Men make the world go ‘round.  Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule.  A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that  “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful.  Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk.  How will we upend patriarchy?  By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.

Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here.  But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence?  Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation?  Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?

The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath.  Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin?  In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?

Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine?  I don’t think so.  Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.

 

 

So why the hell are you so angry, fellas?  Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others?  Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?

Would you like to talk about it?

 

 

One from the heart

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

 

I have started and stopped this post more than a dozen times. Here’s the conversation I hear as I type, delete, type, hit save draft…

Head: “It’s time to write a blog post.”

Heart: “Yeah, probably, but I don’t wanna.”

Head: “You have stuff to say, publications to plug, yadda yadda.”

Heart: “Ugh, I would rather sit under a blanket and watch Scandal, the best show on television.”

Head: “You streamed every episode available.  There won’t be a new one until March 21. WRITE THAT POST.”

Heart: “Dammit.”

 

In last month’s issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press, themed “Matters of the Heart,”  I wrote a fan letter to feminist men.  It was pretty good, I think–at least good enough to warrant many hetero women to inquire where I found my awesome feminist husband (behind the counter at Cheapo, of course).  But I didn’t do the usual thing and hawk it here, for an uncomfortable reason.

My big fat feminist heart is in pieces.

On January 30, my friend Pam Taylor passed away from brain cancer.  She died with her family at her side, at home, in typically stubborn fashion–her doctors gave her just weeks to live, but she pushed that out to fourteen months.  If you knew Pam, you knew she was not about to leave her two daughters THAT quickly.  No way.

Usually, I respond to upheaval by writing.  I wrote volumes when my dear friend Liz passed away in 2007, also of cancer, also at home, also leaving behind two young daughters.  At the time I kept my blog on MySpace, a charmingly mindless place to vent about the ugliness and unfairness of life.  As a plus, you could add the music you were listening to at the time, which in 2007 was always Paul Westerberg’s “Let the Bad Times Roll“:

The good times hide/and so do I/out of my control/I dig a hole/I’m gonna let the bad times roll

It should be noted that this song was released in 2002, a decade before Scandal was available to cheer ol’ Paul up.

In the years (yes, years) that I’ve been working on The Radical Housewife, the book, I’ve utilized the services of a number of industry professionals who advised me that my blog should be a place where I “build my platform,” such as it is.  I must be vigorous about promoting myself and my work at the Women’s Press, at MPR, at the Minnesota NOW Times, at any analog and/or digital publication that would have me–nevermind that this is contrary to every introverted cell in my body.  I find that this push towards “branding” has strangled my natural impulse to write directly from my heart, whether it’s broken or whole.

And more and more often I see bloggers are clashing with each other (and with their readers, sometimes) over anything and everything.  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg seem to have reinvigorated the Mommy Wars for 2013, and every feminist writer I know has taken a side.  Page views and well-placed editorials are the reward for the winner, dontcha know!  The Feminist Breeder was so fed up she put up a paywall on her site.  Kinda makes you wish we were all gluing up zines at Kinko’s doesn’t it?

Goddammit, whatever happened to GIRL POWER?!  Forgive us, Bratmobile and Sporty Spice!  We need you!

Ultimately, waxing nostalgic for long-lost “good old days” is as unhelpful as wishing very very VERY hard that people wouldn’t die.  You can give it a go, just don’t expect results.

The heart is a fragile thing.

 

 

Fear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

 

Once upon a time, I thought that the opposite of love was hate.  Now that I’ve grown (much) older, I believe that the opposite of love is fear.

Fear prevents us from asking for help when we need it, sometimes desperately.  Fear prevents us from offering help to others when we know, from the gut, that it is desperately needed.

Fear stops us from accessing our own humanity.

Fear sells weapons.

 

 

Fear enforces stereotypes.

Fear tightens, restricts, confines.  Fear obscures our interconnectedness.

Fear hurts.

 

Fear feeds on fear.  Fear snowballs, compounds, multiplies.  Fear makes you type dumb things on Facebook that you would never say to a person’s face, things like “unfriend me now if you don’t do this or that.”

Fear creates an insatiable need to create and assign labels, from “outcast” to “weirdo” to “Trench Coat Mafia” to “mentally ill” to “autistic” to “threat to society” to “gun-worshipping NRA lunatic.”

Fear stigmatizes.  Fear isolates.

Fear kills.

 

Knowing that, what can we do?  Here’s a thought from Pema Chödrön, who has made the study of fear her life’s work:

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”  

I’m starting to do things differently already–but it’s not easy, and I am afraid.  Are you?

 

 

 

“Atheist Voices of Minnesota” contributor interview & giveaway!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Readers, you are in for a treat. I’ve secured an interview with one of the contributors to the just-released anthology Atheist Voices of Minnesota, and its publisher, Freethought House, has generously offered a copy for me to give to one of my lucky blog readers. Follow the directions on the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post to find out how to enter (offer open to US residents only).

The contributor who chose to talk with me is the author of the essay that opens the collection, a piece that Doubt: A History author Jennifer Michael Hecht called “sensitive” and “compelling.”  A clue to her identity: her name appears on the cover….and it ain’t Stephanie or Greta.

THE RADICAL HOUSEWIFE: Have you always been an atheist?

SHANNON DRURY: My go-to joke is that I was baptized Catholic but it didn’t take. I was raised in a secular home by two products of the adage that the best way to raise an atheist adult is to send him or her to Catholic school–especially in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when nuns were still smacking naughty children with rulers.  My mother told me she was singled out for particular abuse because she had the bad luck to be born redheaded AND left-handed, both of which were considered early predictors of demonic possession.

I bought my mom this Nunzilla wind-up toy back in the ’90s.  It breathed fire as it stomped toward you.  She said it was eerily accurate.

RH: Wait a minute.  I know for a fact that you are a great fan of Pema Chödrön, the well-known Buddhist…..wait for it….NUN!  How can that be?

SD: Hey, just because I don’t think The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is a god or gods doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the quest.

I read quite a lot of Buddhist philosophy.  Longtime readers of my Minnesota Women’s Press columns know how often I sprinkle in ideas from Thich Nhat Hanh.  Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen monk, has written a number of great books, including Buddhism Without Beliefs, Living with the Devil, and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.  And Pema Chödrön is one of my very favorite writers of any genre.  I love her to bits.

I suspect that if you asked Chödrön herself for The Answer, she might reply that it’s neither the Buddha nor the number 42–it’s love.  Which is what my essay in the book is all about.

RH: Your essay, “An Atheist Grieves,” made me cry.

SD: It made me cry, too.

RH: Was it hard to write?  You’re laying bare some pretty raw emotions: the death of your maternal grandfather, the death of your close friend, the deep anxiety felt by a parent who wants desperately to make sense of the world for her curious children.  

SD: It’s more difficult to read than it was to write, honestly.  It kinda just poured out of me in a few particularly wrenching sessions at the laptop–after years of puzzling and puzzling over why the death of my friend Liz has been so goddamn (pun intended) hard to get over.

When my grandfather died in 1979, it made some sort of sense to me.  He was old (though today 65 doesn’t seem as ancient as it did when I was a third-grader), he had seen his children through to adulthood, including marriages and the births of their own kids.  Though my parents weren’t Catholic anymore at that point, they still relied on its framework to sort the whole thing out.  Grandpa Cliff had a full funeral mass, and everyone said that he was “in a better place” and that kind of thing.

Liz and I were the same age.  We met at Carleton College and both graduated with the class of 1994.  She died just two months after her oldest daughter started kindergarten.  Her youngest daughter was not even a year old when Liz got her cancer diagnosis, and she won’t have any memories of her mom healthy–that is, if she remembers her mom at all.  What the fuck is THAT all about?  How do you sort THAT out?

RH: I have no idea.

SD: Most people have religious rituals to guide them through grief.  I didn’t.  The original title of the essay was actually called “What an Atheist Grieves When an Atheist Grieves,” because over time I realized that I wasn’t simply mourning her, I was mourning a lot of other stuff, too.

RH: Like what?

SD: My illusions of immortality, for one thing, though everyone confronting the death of a peer feels that.  I think I realized that my smartypants attitude about organized religion wasn’t exactly keeping me warm at night, if you know what I mean.  As I write in the piece, “my atheism requires maintaining a delicate and oftentimes painful balance  between intellectual superiority and emotional terror.”

RH: Intellectual superiority, eh?  No wonder you don’t talk about your atheism much.  You could get yourself punched in the face for saying something like that.

SD:  Oh c’mon.  Do I really think that I am smarter than my beloved neighbors, dedicated parishioners of St Joan of Arc?  Of course not!  But when you watch some dope on YouTube claiming that the Bible’s word refutes evolution, the dinosaurs, miscegenation, climate change, homosexuality, and “women’s lib,” it’s hard not to feel like unbelievers are awesome.  And then there’s the Taliban…..ugh.  I do feel sympathy for people of faith who have to contend with the lunatic fringe that makes them appear guilty by association.

I also tend to avoid embracing my atheism for fear of being stereotyped as yet another member of the secular white liberal elite.  Secular, white, and liberal, yes.  But elite?  I’m a garbageman’s daughter, for cryin’ out loud!

RH: Admit it–you almost said “for Christ’s sake” there.

SD: You know I did.

Anyway, the real reason I don’t talk about my atheism much is that faith, and its lack, seems like a pretty private thing to me.  It feels akin to discussing all the gory details of your sex life–though I suppose that’s the very excuse that Elton John made, once upon a time.

RH: Anything else your readers should know about the book?

SD: It features contributions from Pharyngula blogger PZ Myers, HuffPo regular Chris Steadman, science writer Greg Laden, an introduction from Greta Christina, and writings from many other interesting people from across my home state.  It’s available as en e-book on Kindle or Nook, too, though readers should know that the copy they could win is fully analog.

RH: I am aware of your love-hate relationship with technology.

SD: Tell me about it. Just take a look at this raffle widget it took me hours to enable:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

RH: It took me a little time to load because I have “The Inbetweeners” streaming on another tab.

SD: I may be an atheist, but I have seen hell–it’s a computer with sluggish wifi. Love that show, by the way.

RH: How often should people enter?

SD: Multiple times a day until 12:01 am on September 17.  The winner should also think of a witty inscription for me to inscribe on the title page, which will make the book a genuine collectible, suitable for keeping in the glass case with first edition Harry Potters or selling on eBay.

RH: How generous!  Good luck to all entrants!