by Patrice Gopo
Spin, I hear my thoughts say. Spin. And so I do. My right foot steps away from my left, and I am a bride in motion. First one circle. Then another. On my wedding day a gentle breeze from an open window rustles my dress while smooth satin brushes my ankles. Peeking from under the swaying hemline is crimson nail polish framed by my velvet-brown skin. In a mirror I see something beyond bright lips curved in a smile or the A-line silhouette spreading from my waist. Spin again. As the skirt inflates and the current of cool air rushes against my bare legs, I know I look just as I had envisioned. Within a moment, the dress descends to reality, the current disappears, and folds of soft fabric kiss my skin once again. A final look, then I reach for the bouquet of white calla lilies secured by a single scarlet ribbon. With my flowers in hand, I approach an aisle dusted with red rose petals.
Just days after my fiancé slipped a bold blue sapphire on my ring finger, I hugged him beneath the bright, red digits of an airport clock. Until our wedding six months later, he would remain in Cape Town, and I needed to return to the States. Twenty minutes after exiting security and ten minutes after clearing passport control, I rummaged through the magazine section of a bookstore. A bride-to-be with a sixteen-hour flight ahead of her deserves a bridal magazine, I reasoned.
As the plane accelerated down the runway and the wings cut through the clouds, I inhaled the sharp scent of fresh cut paper. With each turn of the page, I encountered dresses: formal, modern, princess, ankle-length casual in whites, off-whites, creams and the occasional ivory. After one last glance through the plane window at the rippled turquoise of the ocean, the magazine went in the seat pocket in front of me. My eyes closed, aware that the glossy pages couldn’t offer what I already envisioned.
One day at the train station in the suburbs of Cape Town, my coworker mentioned “beige children.” Just after graduate school, I had received a grant to leave the States and work in a township on the outskirts of the city. As my time across the ocean dwindled, my South African coworker and I waited on a hard bench. A half hour stood between our seat on the platform and the inbound train to Muizenburg. She sipped a bottle of soda while I tore open a bag of chips. After a day spent helping women develop their business ideas, it would have been acceptable for the conversation to meander to lighter topics. Perhaps a comment about my coworker’s love of cola or how chilly the afternoon felt. We could have even diverted the focus to the sweet, Zimbabwean man I had met a few weeks earlier. In my daydreams, I let myself think he was on the path to permanence in my life.
But after some time in Cape Town, I had realized my classification as a black American unlocked certain conversations with black South Africans. Today was no different. So with the wind blowing off the water beyond the station, we instead chatted about the fresh engagement of two acquaintances, a white woman marrying a black man.
“People celebrate such marriages as the new South Africa. How we cross cultures and create beige children. But I married outside my culture too,” my coworker said. I thought about her Xhosa heritage and marriage to a Sotho man. Her annoyance made sense. In our small social group, intercultural marriages received a special nod as if they scaled a mountain of enlightenment. But I had noticed that “intercultural marriage” was a title bestowed on only those who fit the more obvious sub category of “interracial marriage.” And the interracial marriages that merited conversation involved a white person paired with someone of another race. Somehow skin color became what determined how far couples ventured outside their individual identities.
Ten months later on a two-week return visit to the Southern Hemisphere, the sweet Zimbabwean man proposed. As we stood mere feet from the edge of a cliff overlooking a suburb of Cape Town, my squeal of affirmation joined the strong wind around us. The glint of sunlight bouncing off the blue waves of the Atlantic soaking the beach below reminded me of the sapphire now heavy on my finger. As his hand reached for mine, I couldn’t help but notice his skin, just a shade darker than the brown of my own.
Shortly after arriving in Cape Town the first time, on the car ride back from her birthday lunch, a new friend told me about “white weddings.” The alliterative phrase piqued my interest. “Well, versus Lobola,” Vuyi said in reference to traditional wedding ceremonies people in several southern African countries practiced. “First at the Lobola ceremony, the family negotiates the bride price.” She talked about how after this the couple is traditionally considered married. Then days, weeks or even months later, there could be a typical western wedding. “It’s complicated,” she explained after I asked why people do both. “Some want an opportunity for a party. Others believe church weddings are more official. Perhaps some dream of spinning in a beautiful, white dress.”
Even as she spoke, I imagined the reach of western culture extending like long fingers across continents. Black South African girls must have witnessed movies and television programs with fluffy white dresses and handsome grooms—just as I had as a young American girl. “White wedding” seemed like a nice way to package the western trappings of marital bliss as if bridesmaids, a minister, a wedding march, and a white dress made a marriage. Only later did I consider that the word “white” may not have meant the wedding dress as I assumed. Perhaps it could have referenced the people who originated the custom.
The summer before graduate school, I shouted across the apartment to Jessica about the book I was reading on race and Christianity. For the few months before school began, I lived with her in the second floor apartment on Garson Avenue. That lazy Saturday afternoon while Jessica made herself tea, I sat in the living room with my legs curled up on the faded couch, flipping through the slim book.
“It’s not just me.” I raised my voice to reach her over the whistle of the kettle. “It’s not just me,” I said again before she could answer. “Metaphors about being ‘washed white as snow’ bother other people too.” I pulled myself from the deep couch that threatened to suck me in. Our paths met at the edge of the kitchen where her pink hands wrapped around a large mug. “It’s just that sometimes all this talk about being made white as snow, all the images of being black with sin before cleansing makes us white. Sometimes it’s just a lot.”
My voice trailed off. I held the book before her, offering it as if the words could rise up and articulate what I was stumbling through. I wanted to explain to her the weariness of knowing the name for the color of one’s skin equates with evil, sin and death. I wanted to talk about faultless colors shoved in hierarchical structures. Instead I just said, “The color white gets tiring.” She nodded her head as if she understood. And I think she did.
A few months into my junior year abroad, the day after my friends and I ate dinner at the Indian restaurant down the road from the Bayswater tube station, I found an empty seat in the student computer lab. The spicy masala had faded into my memory, but the previous evening’s conversation left me curious. On keys faded and worn from hundreds of papers typed and computer programs written, my fingers tapped out a query, “History white wedding dresses.” My brain absorbed a pile of new information about what I had considered an ancient tradition. And why not? White wedding dresses felt as traditional as diamond engagement rings—which I soon learned were both about as ancient as the end of the 19th century. After an hour at the computer, I felt as if I was unearthing some conspiracy plan to either equate white with goodness and purity or, at least, to dress all the world’s brides in the same color.
A single year: 1840. A single marriage between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, her in lacy white. At first, I assumed Queen Victoria had picked white to flaunt her chastity, as if to cloak herself in her own virginity. A few websites later, I realized she may have been a queen, but on her wedding day, she was first a bride. Modern brides turn a favorite necklace, flower, or season into the theme of an entire wedding, and Queen Victoria was no different. The inspiration for her white dress came from a treasured piece of lace. And a century and a half later, the western world and so many parts of the rest adhered to the tradition like an eleventh commandment. Even I felt pressure to adhere to a rule not originating in my own culture.
Thank you, Queen Victoria, and thank you, imperialism.
The evening my friends and I ate dinner at the Indian restaurant down the road from the Bayswater tube station, Shamik mentioned how brides in India get married in red. Over a table full of chicken tikka masala, saag paneer and dahl flanked on either end by steaming baskets of naan, he explained an ancient tradition I had never heard of. How the conversation emerged, I am uncertain. There were enough barely twenty-year-old women at the table, myself included, who could have hijacked any discussion and lured it to the topic of weddings.
As Shamik continued his explanation, my thoughts wandered to Hester’s scarlet letter back in high school English, femme fatales with bright red lipstick, or Eve reaching for a perfect crimson apple. I heard Shamik’s voice, but only snippets of his explanation reached my ears: passion, joy, commitment. As the discussion continued, my fingers sopped up bits of the savory, spicy curry with a piece of naan. Occasionally I saw vibrant red-orange streaks of masala painting the cloth napkin I used to wipe my hands. Could red really be a bridal color?
During freshman orientation at college, Zalenda asked me if I was “mixed.” Zalenda, the girl who lived in the only single on the dorm floor. Zalenda, the girl who would later be my bridesmaid and whose mother would design my wedding dress.
“Mixed?” My eyes rested on her, searching for a clearer question. I had just told her about my Jamaican parents, and I wasn’t sure what more she wanted.
“Mixed,” she said. “Something besides black.” Didn’t she know with skin the color of mine, the color of hers, we were black?
“Is there something else?” she said again.
I nodded, pondering a question no one had ever asked. “I’m part Indian. Like the country.”
“Who’s Indian?” she asked with a wide grin because she had guessed something of my background.
“Both of my grandfathers.”
“Both,” she repeated. She paused the length of a deep breath before she verbalized the basic sum of two fractions. “So then both your parents are half Indian, and you are too.”
“Yeah, I guess I am.”
My grandfathers had passed away years before, and throughout my American childhood, discussions about ancestry had not really strayed beyond black and perhaps Jamaican. I stared at Zalenda with my mouth open, wishing I could stare at myself instead. How had this stranger identified in a few seconds what I had failed to realize over the expanse of nearly 18 years?
It is after church one Sunday, and I am perhaps three or four. I stand behind my mother’s leg as she speaks with a friend in the foyer of what will later be my high school. My church lacks a building of its own so we meet in a school, in classrooms that will one day be my chemistry class or my calculus class or my world history class—which really just serves as a euphemism for European history from the ancient Greeks until just before World War II. We walk through hallways where I will one day exist as the rare brown face in the snow colored landscape of students sprawling around me.
At three or maybe four, I press against my mother’s leg, wearing a red-checkered dress with matching red tights and bright red shoes. As I wait for my mother, I think of the immense twirling power hidden in the soft folds of my clothes. My mother’s friend turns to me and comments on my beauty. Being reminded of a truth I somehow know, her words compel my mouth to smile, my body to shift away from my mother, and my right foot to accelerate me into motion. A blur of bright red fabric rises around me, and without knowing, I spin myself into a reflection of my wedding day.
Patrice Gopo, the child of Jamaican immigrants, was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. Her essays have appeared in Literary Mama, Relief, Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place, and on Charlotte, North Carolina’s NPR Station WFAE 90.7. She is currently writing a collection of essays exploring race, immigration and identity. Patrice, her husband, and their two daughters attempt to carve out a life of beauty in North Carolina.
Image is from here.
by Patricia Bruininks
On my right shoulder blade.
At the Missing Piece studio.
These are two answers to the question, “Where did you get it?”, which is often asked after someone learns that I have a tattoo.
The word ubuntu surrounded by three flowers shaded with orange and yellow.
This is the answer to “What is it?” And before being asked what it means, I explain that ubuntu is an African word that means “a person is a person through other persons.” My humanity is tied up in your humanity. We’re all in this thing together.
The answer to the question, “Why did you get it?” is a bit longer; it speaks to my spiritual journey and the joy, love, and hope that I eventually found in Christianity:
I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church in northeast Tennessee. I dutifully attended church three times a week, and the majority of my social life centered around church activities. Religious teachings primarily focused on “being saved” and I was charged, as all church members were, with the responsibility of witnessing to the “unsaved.” My interactions with this outgroup were to always incorporate some version of proselytizing, regardless of that person’s interest in hearing about the love of Christ. If I failed to share the word of God and that person died without converting, I would face judgment day with his or her blood on my hands. I remember fire and brimstone sermons that scared the hell out of me. I remember my devotion to God being scrutinized under a microscope. Despite the fact I had undergone believer’s baptism, I never felt good enough to be in the saved group.
As I became more educated, I had more doubt about Christianity. In fact, I was halfway through my graduate studies when, for the first time, I understood what it would feel like not to believe in God. This was an informative – albeit very unsettling – experience. I never lost my faith in the existence of God, but I did lose my faith in organized religion. As a social psychologist in training, I had become too knowledgeable about persuasion tactics, misplaced obedience to authority, and powerful patriarchal systems to trust what was being said from the pulpit.
For several years, I didn’t really know what to do with Christianity. I still prayed and read the Bible, but not as regularly as I had before. At the time I was teaching at a church-related – but not Christian – college, and during my five years there, a few opportunities came my way that guided me to where I am now. One of those opportunities was getting to co-teach a course on love with a professor in the religion department. We explored this topic through evolutionary and psychological theories (my part), and Buddhist and Christian teachings (his areas of expertise). It was through teaching this course that I first encountered the word ubuntu.
We taught the book No Future Without Forgiveness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In it, Tutu describes the development of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a committee designed to address the human rights abuses that took place during apartheid in South Africa. Instead of putting the perpetrators on trial, the commission practiced restorative justice: in exchange for amnesty, violators fully admitted their crimes in the presence of their victims. This often led to asking for and receiving forgiveness from people they’d caused to suffer. Ubuntu was at the heart of this astounding historical event. In cases when the victims offered forgiveness, they gave a gift to the assailant and to themselves. Tutu explains that if we are all connected, then doing something good to someone is doing something good to oneself. If I am to be a person through other persons, then the better I treat others – no matter who they are or what they may have done – the better person I become.
Tears streamed down my face. Ubuntu was the most beautiful idea I had ever encountered. God wasn’t up there just waiting for me to screw up; he was delighting in the beauty of my existence. He is up there experiencing unconditional love for every single person, whether they know him or not and whether they obey him or not. I didn’t need to “be good” to please him; rather, obedience was the path through which I could continue to deepen my understanding of love. And by deepening my love for God, I would deepen my love for others, ingroups and outgroups alike. My view of Christianity was forever changed; ubuntu had rocked my world.
Fast forward a few years, and I am now teaching at Whitworth. I had been entertaining the idea of getting a tattoo for a while; it appealed to the rebellious streak that still resided in this 40-something woman. I wanted it to be meaningful, something that I would want to share with the world for the rest of my life. I finally decided on ubuntu. One afternoon I went to the Missing Piece Tattoo and met with the owner, Zach. He really listened to me when I explained what the word meant – what it meant to me – and he captured it beautifully. The artwork turned out better than I could have expected. In the matter of three hours he had designed the tattoo and I was branded as belonging to this new Christianity.
I often tell my students that the Christianity I now believe in is not the same religion of my youth. While it is a long process to lose the fear of judgment and feelings of inadequacy, I have come far. The best thing is that I no longer feel pressured to awkwardly bring up Christianity. Instead I can just focus on loving others and learning from them. As the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi goes, “Preach the gospel often, and if necessary use words.” My word, sometimes visible in the summer months, is ubuntu.
“I like your tattoo. Can you tell me about it?”
Of course, I would love to . . .
Patricia Bruininks grew up in northeast Tennessee. She left the South to attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, eventually graduating from nearby Hope College. She pursued her doctoral work in Social Psychology at the University of Oregon, becoming a lifelong Ducks fan. Before coming to Whitworth, she taught for 5 years at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Dr. B is married to Mr. B (Jim) and has two grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and two rescue pets (one cat and one dog). Her hobbies include crossing national parks off her bucket list (23 down, 36 to go), reading for fun (mostly in the summer months), and watching edifying TV shows like The Walking Dead (for the psychology, of course). She is Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Psychology Department.
by Heather Caliri
I swore I wouldn’t use poison.
The kids, you know? Also, the smell of the spray gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s sweet, cloying, with a hard chemical edge.
Last year, when you invaded in the dry days of August, we got diatomaceous earth from a friend. It’s a white powder that some people use as a nutritional supplement, but it happens to destroy exoskeletons. We sprinkled it hither and yon, and poof!–you were gone.
Or was that because the weather cooled down?
Anyway, this year, thanks to the California drought, you invaded in May, not August. And I got right on the diatomaceous earth—no idea how to pronounce that—and the next day, you were gone.
Until I left the dregs of my sweet tea on the counter. And you came back.
Since then, you’re always here. Scouts on the counter. Trails snaking over the bathtub. I can feel you lurking behind the walls, in the cracks of the floor, in the minute space between the cabinets.
I parry, you thrust. I clean, you find the one crumb of sugar I left behind. You appear in irrational places, clustering in a sink upstairs. Where there is no food. My husband makes a joke about the half-eaten hamburger he left in there, but I feel dizzy from the idea that you will mass anywhere, for no reason.
I joke with a friend that the kitchen has never been so clean. She chuckles, leans against a counter, and then abruptly jumps away because there are more ants. The scouts are around even when the swarms are not.
“Ugh!” she says. “Get off of me.” She sweeps her hands down her arms as if contaminated.
It is constant, my vigilance. At first, I thought I would conquer. But now I see this is hubris.
I flick one of you off of my leg as I write.
I’ve been thinking about my journey of faith recently. How the truest parts of my faith came in the midst of awful messes.
Over and over, the trouble arrives. At first, I think: I can handle this. I think I’ll just keep on top of things. Besides, things will get better soon. I am sure that my ever-present vigilance will be rewarded, that soon order and success will prevail.
But when these storms of trouble hit they are relentless, aren’t they? They wear you out. Sometimes things don’t get better right away. Sometimes the meaning is a long time coming. Sometimes meaning isn’t forthcoming at all. Sometimes you find out only afterwards that the control you thought you had was part of the problem. The control is poison, if you will. The absolute solution turns out worse than the plague.
Oh, I am fond of a solution, an airtight plan, always thinking that outcomes are under my thumb. I love to believe that good intentions and upright thoughts manage this world.
But you keep coming, a black swarm, over my carefully sanitized life. You get in through all the cracks.
Ants, can I confess something? The relentlessness of your kind has been a kind of baptism.
Somehow, when you undo my control, you put me back together.
You come in certain seasons, no matter if I’m prepared, and I’ll admit it, even the worst poison won’t extinguish you. Wikipedia claims you form a quarter of the biomass of this earth. You are laced through the ground I walk on.
Perhaps the problem is not you. Perhaps the problem is my assumption that I can outlast your scouts, overcome the pourousness of these walls, be sure my home is impregnable.
Nothing is impregnable, in this life.
Look, ants, you are not welcome. I will keep the counters clean, I will sprinkle that fancy white earth, I might even go buy ant traps. I won’t invite you in.
But I will try my best to stop believing that my plans are any match for you. I will stop blaming myself when you get past my defenses. I will think of the great, grave God, who made your tiny, lithe bodies with the strength of Samson. I will thank Him for you, the swarming lot of you, and be ready for you to leave come the first rains.
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego. She started saying yes to joy in her faith two years ago, and was surprised to find that joy led straight to Jesus. Get her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-perfectionist Faith in Five Easy Verbs, on her blog, A Little Yes.
Ant image is from here.
by Katherine Karr-Cornejo
Katherine Karr-Cornejo teaches Spanish and Latin American literature and culture at Whitworth University. She played soccer as a kid, which she can thank for an early concussion and a hatred of running. She’s never scored a goal, which sometimes happens when you always play defense. She roots for Colo-Colo and River Plate, no matter how well or badly they may be playing. She’s undecided about the Sounders.
Image above is from here.
Huge congratulations are in order for Julie Riddle, nonfiction editor for Rock & Sling. Riddle’s memoir was chosen for the American Lives Series from the University of Nebraska Press. The series is edited by Tobias Wolff, and the book is slated for publication in 2016. Read more about the book here.
Julie is the craft-essay editor for Brevity. She works as senior writer for marketing and development at Whitworth University, and is associate editor of Whitworth Today magazine. Her essay, “Shadow Animals,” from her memoir manuscript, appeared in the fall 2013 issue of The Georgia Review and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a National Magazine Award. She holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Julie is also a fiend on twitter (@jriddle).
We’re delighted for Julie! And get in line, people, to order this book!
Many Parishes by Adrian Gibbons Koesters
BrickHouse Books, 2013
Hard, dense, sometimes frightening, Koesters’ collection leaves me in awe of her ability and fearlessness. While we were at Rainier Writing Workshop (Pacific Lutheran University) together, I saw her quick mind, sense of humor, and obvious skills. I had no idea of the depth of her experience.
Many Parishes opens another door. Rather like the music of Shostakovich, Koesters reveals the sudden world of pain and inhuman selfishness. In “Sonnet for SoWeBo,” she horrifies through implication and, clearly, memory—
and she shrinks from the men who crawl along the back gates
to beckon: “Come on down, sweetheart, I got something
over here to show you,”
Here’s that same, nearly off-hand bravery, off-the-wall sense of humor and anguish in “A Nun Considers that the Righteous Hold Up the Corners of the Earth”:
…I used to scream at the
television set in the parlor, the sisters puzzled I should care
for the evening news but honoring me for my charming impotence.
Then they sent me back to bed, where I have been for a while.
The poems are brilliant, dense, hard, except that throughout her parishes–from “Parochial” to “The Nuns Who Never Existed” to “Many Parishes”–she also writes of the dangerous, vulnerable lightning of hope. Koesters opens “In Another Winter” with–
We take this child we call belief, stand
it up against the darker children,
make it behave in rounder consonants,
as if there were soft ways
to see into the sky.
She leaves us with the possibility of “soft ways”—or at least the implication that there is such a thing as a soft way to see the sky.
Adrian Gibbons Koesters holds an MFA in poetry from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, and a Ph.D. in fiction and poetry from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Hotel Amerika, Saranac Review, International Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. She teaches writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is also the host of the online recorded reading series for Air Schooner, and she is a fiction editor for A River and Sound Review.
After a career in marketing and public relations in New York City and Santa Barbara, California, Judith Shadford moved to the Northwest to focus on her writing. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University of Tacoma in 2009. Shadford is the online newsletter editor for “News from St John’s Cathedral.” Recently she’s had essays and short stories published in journals including The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Shark Reef Journal, and River and Sound Review. The weekly online religious news source, SpokaneFAVs publishes her series “Bible Backstories.”
by Emily Dufault
My first, or maybe second, tattoo; I’m not quite sure.
Softly flowing letters, paz, the Spanish word for peace, a little dove adorning its side.
Four years ago, when I first starting dreaming of this particular tattoo, I was living in Central America. My life that year was a jumble of Spanish and English. Given that it’s the language that most deeply speaks to my soul, my spirit language, if you will, of course my tattoo would be in Spanish.
The word itself? No, it isn’t because I have a bachelor’s degree in Peace Studies. Although it is the word that best encapsulates my studies, my faith, and all I hold dear.
Growing up, my siblings and I had a deep affection for C.S. Lewis’s classic The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. Once, during a high-pressured moment near the end of my undergrad years, I remember my mother repeating the words of Lewis’s Santa: “Peace, beaver.”
It stuck with me, under my skin. Something about someone actually speaking “peace” into my situation gave it new meaning. Jesus left us this example, not simply talking about his gift of peace, but many times actually speaking it to his followers, particularly upon his resurrected return. Peace be with you.
So I took to writing it on my left wrist in black ink. I wrote it on myself for days at a time, a visible reminder.
You see, that year was painful. Although I’m grateful for the experience of living and working abroad and all the learning that goes along with it, that year was beyond difficult. I was pushed past my limits physically, emotionally, spiritually. And I just couldn’t find ways to deal with it all.
So I wrote it on my wrist. Paz. Peace, beaver. Peace be with you. Take a breath; pray for calm, for wisdom, for strength.
I always told myself that when I got a tattoo, I needed to wait, to hold the image, the idea, in my mind for a while. Make sure it will be meaningful, always. That year, it was that word and all its promises that got me through some days.
In the years since, it continues to speak to me. It calms in moments of anxiety. It serves as a reminder of all I stand for, all I hope to be. A humble and loving Christ follower. A person of peace. One who accepts Christ’s gift of peace, and gifts it to others.
Oh, you’d like to see it? Well, the thing is, I don’t actually have it yet.
Mostly it’s just a lack of money, what with paying grad school tuition and all, and perhaps a lack of opportunity. Last summer some friends and I almost went to get tattoos together on a whim. I would have gotten it then. But we didn’t.
Maybe I’m just waiting for someone to sit with me while I get the thing. Someone to whisper gently, “peace, beaver,” as I cringe in anticipation of the needle.
My first, or maybe second, tattoo; I’m not quite sure.
Emily Dufault is a pastor, novice candle maker, and aspiring tattoo-owner. She left Whitworth University in 2010 with bachelor’s degrees in Peace Studies & Cross Cultural Studies, but has since returned for graduate studies in Theology. Currently serving at The Porch in West Central, Spokane, she spends what free time she has walking the Centennial Trail, enjoying the beauty of the Spokane Falls.
Image is from here.
by Annie Stillar
Happy birthday. This is your auntie. You have several, but I’m the funny one. I love fish tacos and eyebrow waxes, and I once stared down a skunk after (hand to God) it came around the corner while I was sitting on my front porch feeling sorry for myself. Other stuff I’ve done that you should totally do someday: I jumped out of a plane two summers ago, road tripped Ireland last Spring, and recently picked up cycling. Our family thinks I should quit because I fell off my bike while clipped in, like that’s hard to do. I’ve decided to stop listening to them–so far I’m much happier. I used to honestly think I was the weird one but then I remembered that I can type 108 WPM and was once told by a bunch of bespectacled (albeit probably drunk) Portland hipsters that I have the voice of an angel, so not only am I not weird, I’m basically a Transformer: there’s more here than meets the eye.
But, enough about me.
What knowledge do I have to impart? So much. I’ll stick to the important stuff, like how there are things one has to work for, to become who you want to be. A few months ago, I put myself in therapy. It’s one of the better decisions I’ve made in life, right up there with keeping activated charcoal pills in my purse because when your tribe of siblings have 21st birthdays, it’s a good precaution especially when they don’t listen to your suggestions to keep hydrating. One of the quickest ways to get your Gunga laughing is to bring up the time we went to Vegas and your Aunt Kelsey, waving a bottle of Jaegermeister, told us we need some medicine and IT STARTS WITH A “Y”!
I digress. While a few months of counseling don’t make me an expert, I feel confident that the following would change your life. So listen up.
Must #1: Use your powers for good instead of evil. I’ve had two jobs in my adult life, both defined by excessive wrangling and an impressive trail of tyranny. I’m a worker bee, not a queen bee. Fortunately, there will always be a need for people like me. I’m allowed to say that. I’ve spent ten years being a linchpin between “success” and “up shit creek without a paddle.” The other side of that coin is that I spend a lot of time keeping copious notes in the event that I get hit by a bus. Because in the words of Beyonce, don’t you ever for a second get to thinkin’ you’re irreplaceable. Make sure somebody else knows how to tackle stupid Microsoft Office, ’cause when the rapture happens (or Europe comes calling, I mean Irish pubs don’t crawl themselves), you are OUT OF HERE. Which brings me to my second point.
Must #2: Travel. Lots of people say this, but only because it’s true. Travel to far or near places, I don’t care, just go places. Also–invite people into your home. Host CouchSurfers! I’ve learned there are two kinds of people in this world: those who think it’s sketchy and those who flip two middle fingersto the first kind. I’ve yet to be chopped to bits and have decided it’s only dangerous if you’re stupid. So be savvy! I’ve met the kindest, coolest people in my travels or upon inviting them into my home. Not that stranger-danger isn’t a thing. It totally is. Make sure your mother knows I told you that. But some strangers are fascinating, hard-working PhD candidates who happen to be dead ringers for Bradley Cooper.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, as a Stillar woman I’m compelled to warn you of one particular cross we bear. I’ve started a list which goes something like Things Only Women With Big Thighs Will Understand. You have a decent shot at these, and though I complain, I should lead with the argument that they’re not all bad. They’re great for balance, which probably explains why I’m so good at yoga. Back to my list.
1) Mending. Your Nanagram is an excellent seamstress, which will come in handy when you rip holes in your crotch because your pants decided they can’t take it anymore, they’re leaving you. It will be the same spot every time, and your desire to emancipate yourself from these genes will burn with the fire of a thousand suns.
2) You will need to buy pants to fit your thighs, not your butt. Which means the waist will probably be a little loose, which means you’ll be constantly be pulling your pants up, which means people will think you don’t know how to buy pants. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s a work in progress.
You have two big brothers, and I don’t say that to be cute. They get a lot of weird looks, like from the buffet cashier who told us 3 & under are free and we said OH PERFECT, THEY’RE TWO–which is another way of saying your brothers are on a helluva lot of black lists. Blake and Gray are really into fire hydrants right now, having moved on from airplanes and trains and sunglasses. Now that you’re here, I’m sure they’ll swarm you for a few weeks then move on to something like tire irons.
Now for the things you should know, I promise they’re few:
- The internet became a big deal back in the 80’s. While a great source of information, it’s also a cesspool of sensory and informational overload. Use it, don’t abuse it, and remember Facebook does not need to hear about your food poisoning.
- Rejection and disappointment are a part of life. They’ll teach you great things. However, good to remember it’s not always about you. I was once set up on a blind date and before we ever went out, he found my family’s Christmas letter online and decided we weren’t a good fit. I laughed long and hard and told him not to let the door hit him on the way out. Because not only is this family the bitchingest family around and a good study on how to laugh at oneself, but sometimes other people are idiots and it’s not your fault.
- Your parents? Everything they do, comes from a place of overwhelming love for you. Remember this before (or after, I mean nobody’s perfect) you call them jerks for not letting you near whatever it is you’ve convinced yourself is a must-do, must-have, can’t-live-without-it kind of thing. And maybe make a note: it’s not the end of the world. It hardly ever is.
I guess I should also say that it’s totally okay not to know stuff, too. Sometimes knowing more about a few things is better than knowing less about more things. As Ron Swanson once said: never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.
I love you more than hummus, buckwheat pancakes, and a warm car on a rainy day. Also, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.
p.s. You may wear brown with black. Don’t listen to your Auntie Grace, she moved to Portland and thinks she’s the Jesus Christ our Savior of fashion. I’m here to tell you that the only accessory you need is confidence. Contrast is in, Julie Andrews.
p.p.s. Maybe don’t let your Auntie Leslie teach you how to drive.
Annie Stillar is a late-20’s triathlete-in-training whose goal is twofold: to make your life easier, and to see amazing things near and far. She’s worked for the English Dept. at Whitworth University since 2009 and says the best part about being surrounded by professors is their willingness to sing karaoke on command. She spends her days cooking good food with good people, attempting to grow an herb garden, and learning how not to ride a bike. She lives in Spokane and, together with her roommate, has singlehandedly set more things on fire than there are members of the neighborhood watch. Annie is the Managing Editor of Rock & Sling.
Couch image is from here.
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by Rafaela Acevedo-Field
Feeling the need to revisit and read some African American Literature, I recently became a fan of Angelou’s page on Facebook. I was hoping to use it as a reminder this summer to read more of her work. Her posts have been refreshing respites of reflection and contentment in the midst of a hectic semester of teaching. Her reflections were so insightful, graceful, full of simplicity and power all at once, that they have been startling reminders of what the command of the language can do .
I just finished teaching my third year at Whitworth University. Before that, I was a graduate student at UCSB. A few days ago I was on Facebook messaging a grad school friend who is still there when some of our mutual friends began to post rumors of the violence taking place. Many of them live in family student housing located close to Isla Vista; it is also where I lived with my husband and two children for six years. The community is full of faculty and graduate student families with children. My grad school friends still living there, some of whom are also parents, must have be terrified about violence anywhere close to their children. I know I would have been.
I’m not entirely sure why it has felt so heavy. I did not know any of the victims personally, but I know the community and it is an important part of my family history now. I met my husband there in the mid-90s and I lived in an apartment complex in Isla Vista when we were dating. I was working on my MA and he was finishing his Ph.D. After we married we lived away for a few years, but then went back in 2004 when I was admitted to the doctoral program in history. Both of my children were born while we lived there. My life as a graduate student there was a juggling act of learning to be a parent in family student housing, while learning to read historiography, doing research, and writing a dissertation.
The IV Deli Mart where many people took refuge from the bullets was a place my husband and I frequented. The place is known for its delicious falafel sandwiches and I always appreciated the gracious man who made them.
A good friend from my old church has been a sorority mother in the neighborhood. It dawned on me later that she would have opened the door if the perpetrator had targeted the sorority house where she lives. Other friends are mentors to some of the students directly affected by the tragedy, and from their descriptions, the otherwise lively campus is in mourning. Healing will take a while.
On my drive home the other day, NPR played Angelou reading her poem “Still I Rise”:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
UCSB and Isla Vista, may you rise again.
Rafaela Acevedo-Field, Ph.D., earned her doctorate in history at University of California, Santa Barbara and holds a master’s degree in Latin American and Iberian Studies, also from UC Santa Barbara. She came to Whitworth’s history department Fall 2011.