Not Good Men

In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, girl world and boy world were separate universes, with their only obvious meeting place in the Not-at-all DeMilitarized Zone of fizzing, popping, zapping, overactive hormones. I never liked that place. It seemed unnecessarily fraught. It was irrational. I didn't like girl world either. (Same reasons.) So I spent a lot of my time in boy world, and also, mostly during school lunches, in a place I helped build with a boy who didn't like the NDMZ any better than I did and who also didn't like boy world any better than I liked girl world.

His name was Greg.

He was tall and beautiful and bookish and brilliant. We went to school "banquets" together a few times. (At our little evangelical Christian school, we did not dance. We banqueted.) We were not really a couple, but we almost were. We sort of were. I sort of wished we were. We had a mutual friend named Tim, and it may be that Greg and Tim liked each other more than either of them liked me, but we never talked as if that might be true. (At our little evangelical Christian school, we did not have sexually ambiguous relationships. We banqueted heterosexually.) And besides, one of the main reasons Greg and I wanted to be in the same room was because he hated the NDMZ as much as I did, and neither of us wanted to be in it, so we weren't.

Instead, we argued.

In high school, back then, there were fights and cliques and spats and grudges. Of course there were. We were teenagers. But when I tell you that Greg and I argued, I mean that our school did not have a debate team and so Greg and I had no other choice than to avoid the classrooms already full of students (at our little evangelical Christian high school, we didn't have a lunch room, so we ate in the classrooms), and find an empty room into which to carry our brown paper sacks of sandwiches and Cheetos, our cans of pop, and our readiness to battle it out in a contest of intellects. We lunched on white bread and ferocity.

We didn't care what the topic was either. We just wanted to be free from interference so we could oppose each other without holding back. We were peers in that room. We were equals standing on a level playing field. Neither young or old. Neither from parents and siblings and privilege in a middle class house in a middle class neighborhood, nor the only child of a single mom who paid the rent on the space in the trailer park. In that room during lunch, we were not even representatives of boy world and girl world. We were just Greg and Stephanie, arguing. And nobody interrupted us because nobody wanted to get caught in the crossfire. (Or maybe they just thought we were impossibly dorky.)

But then we had a real fight.

I don't remember what it was about. Probably I said something out of line. Something personal. Mean. Something straight out of girl world. Something I hated girl world for in the first place, but, probably, I used it as a weapon because I knew those weapons work.

Whatever I did to piss him off -- to hurt him on purpose -- he retaliated.

He wrote me a note. (I wasn't stupid enough to write down my meanness. It's evidence. That's something you learn if you spend enough time in boy world, and like I said, I might have spent more time in boy world than he'd spent there.) The note was excoriating. A folded up piece of filler paper, sizzling with jagged, black, ballpoint ink. A few paragraphs. Not long. I remembered it this morning, and I do not remember one word or phrase, but only that it was very angry and as articulate as any lunchtime argument had ever been. He was furious with me. He wanted to hurt me back.

I showed that note to my mother.

And that day, the day my mother saw the note Greg wrote, was the only day of my entire youth when my mother said to me, "Do not let your father see this." This might be most of the reason I remember the episode at all, actually. Greg had scared me, but my mother shook the very foundation under my feet. We all knew that in our family there were absolutely no secrets between our parents. None. Ever. (Which, of course, with the passage of time and the awareness of maturity is a pretty silly thing to "know," but I knew it then as surely as I knew my own surname and my mother's maiden name and the fact that eventually I'd change mine like she changed hers and for the same reason.)

I think Greg must've scared her too. Some primal fear of hers woke up. Something suddenly made her know for sure and all at once that my dad was dangerous -- just by virtue of the fact that he was my dad and therefore a man, and the fact that Greg was a boy who was becoming a man, and the fact that all boys are from boy world even if they do spend their lunch hours arguing with girls, and that all boys are dangerous and become more so as they get closer to being men. I might have misinterpreted her reaction. I might have read into it. But it looked to me like she'd been thrown back into her place in her own girl world. It looked like she thought Greg would not be safe from my dad if my dad saw the note Greg had written.

In boy world, violence is normal and sometimes unstoppable.

Today, in the news, a popular evangelical "Christian" preacher, the son of an even more popular evangelical "Christian" preacher from back in the decades when there were fewer of them, has defended and championed the cause of Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh stands accused of being a particularly disgusting emissary from boy world when he was a boy and when he was young man. Franklin Graham now defends the loathsome, aggressive, girl-world-conquering behavior of a youthful Kavanaugh by saying that such behavior is "not relevant."

In Franklin Graham's world, where men like Kavanaugh and Trump and all the rest of the triumphant boys from boy world live, this is true. Such behavior is not relevant. It's so ordinary that Kavanaugh probably really doesn't remember it any more than he remembers tying his shoes that day or whether he had white or wheat bread at lunch.

But you know what I'd bet anything Brett Michael Kavanaugh never ever ever did? I bet he never spent his lunch hour debating whatever subjects were at hand with a girl. A chalkboard and some desks don't provide enough applause and back slapping for boys like that. A level playing field doesn't provide enough of an advantage for such men. Violence in boy world is what success is made of, and girls, to the members of boy world, are one tool men use for gauging success. They're not human people. Their intellect is not relevant.

Back in the 1970s, when my mother was suddenly afraid for the safety of a high school boy who had been mean to me, the assumption of good men and the women married to them was that the girls in girl world needed protection. Brett Kavanaugh and his Yale frat buddies in the same era assumed that women needed conquering. And now the son of Billy Graham, a popular evangelical "Christian" preacher and his buddies, one of whom is the President of the United States, have told us everything we need to know about what kind of men they turned into. They tell us that the violence in boy world is beside the point. They tell us that's the part they kept when they graduated.

They are not telling us that they are good men.


Do a Word Study

In Bible Study circles, there are books with names like "Study Bible" (these have a particular teacher's notes in the margins), and "interlinear" (translations and notes laced into the text), and "parallel" (side-by-side translations). There are Bibles with different colors for different sorts of things (one teacher made a multicolored prophecy Bible so his studious followers could tell which era of history particular parts of sentences were referring to). And most people know about the "red letter editions," in which the "words of Jesus" are in red letters. Then there are commentaries, handbooks, and dictionaries of all sorts. There are at least as many problems as there are benefits to be gained with approaching any book, much less any sacred text, in this way. But there it is.

Mostly, in my experience anyway, such a shelf of books ends up being laden with text-based tools with which to convince yourself that the text says what you already think it says. Or what the teachers at your church say it says. Or what you're telling yourself God says it says. But, in the end, the Bible is a book, and books contain narratives, and narratives cannot be read and also understood without interpretation of some sort, and interpretation never comes solely from the book itself. It can't. Books don't work that way, and anyone who believes every thought that occurs while reading a Bible is a thought that's coming from God is delusional.

And some stuff in there is metaphor. Some of it is poetry. Some of it is page after page of simple lists and historical records. Some of it is one person telling a teaching story to other people. Jesus's parables are that last kind. A sower went out to sow. Or a younger son wasted all his inheritance on riotous living. That sort of thing.

But some of "the Bible," whatever canon you accept those words as encompassing, is plain speaking of plain truths. And if you call yourself a person who accepts any version whatsoever of "the Bible," please do not try to convince me that God supports Donald Trump. Or, at least, don't do that unless you're saying it to mean the same thing as God "supported" invading hoards of Babylonians or Syrians, allowed to cart his disobedient people off to foreign lands as punishment for their despising of the poor.

Because that reason -- the despising of the poor -- that's one thing that keeps coming up as proof that the people of God were not obedient to God. The poor were despised. The rich had too much power. The stranger was not welcomed. The poor were despised. The poor were despised. If this is news to you, that will either be because you're not one of the people who uses a Strong's Concordance on a regular basis, or because you have not been paying attention.

Don't believe me? Do a word study.



A couple of years ago, I came across the "School Days" book of my childhood. You know the type. Each page has a pocket for putting report cards into. There are lines for filling in things like height and weight and What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. The pages look like this.

(gender specific much?)

I must have gotten mine in the first or second grade, because the retroactive filling in of blanks matches my writing from those years. And when I went back in time, I filled in second grade and first and Kindergarten with a tidy little X in the box next to the blank. On the blank, I wrote, "author."

It's been a lifelong dream, writing has. It's a think I have always wanted to get good at. When we were in high school, and had a Career Day, and heard from such visiting Career people as the longtime Portland newscaster, Mike Donahue, and the author, Walt Morley, I still wanted it. I remember which classroom -- which desk -- what he looked like when he said it. "If you want to be a writer, do two things. Write every day. Write everything. Read a lot, and then write some more. But mostly, live your life. Living your life will give you something to write about."

So that's what I've been doing. I've been writing and I've been living. It feels as if I have been gathering baskets of fibers. All different kinds. I didn't like what was in the Education basket, and so I went back to school and got a different Bachelor's degree (accredited this time), and then a Master's. These fibers are tough as well as beautiful. 

I have things in the Meta-metaphors basket, and smaller baskets ranged around that one, various baskets that hold the smaller metaphors, down to the word level, sorted into type and color so that I can twist them together before they go into the loom. 

I have things in the Philosophy and Religion basket, and things in the Health of Body and the Health of Relationships baskets. There are only a certain number of these baskets. Not many. There used to be more of them, but I've consolidated and weeded and given things away and made fires of some stuff to get rid of it forever. I've been gathering. Gathering. Gathering.

And now I'm ready to weave.

Bookstore. Writing. Home arts. Prayer. Bookstore. Walking. Writing. Prayer. Bookstore. Writing. Home arts. Prayer. Strength training. Take a hike. Cook a feast and clean up after it. Bookstore. Writing. Home arts. Prayer.

The clatter of the loom as the fabric becomes real is the sound of the life with which I clothe myself now.


The Week Will End in Lights

Something happens when I post in this blog.

I've tried other blogs, but nothing happens there. (There are a lot of them. They're like space junk from all my other explorations, and now they just orbit my planet. One of these days I'm going to take a big bucket and get out there to clean up my atmosphere.) Long ago, when I started it, I said I wanted to go back to school. Now I've got a (second, accredited this time) bachelor's degree and a master's degree to go with it. I said back then that I wanted to be able to navigate the transition from having kids in the house to not having kids in the house. Check. There's just something about telling everyone in the whole interwebs that I've got these plans and hopes and dreams -- something about telling them -- it feels like this.

(From Disney's Fantasia, if you can't quite place it.) The idiotic little mouse is pretty pleased with himself in this scene. In the narrative, this turns out to be a good example of foolish optimism.  Hubris. Getting too big for your britches.

But the truth is that it's also a good example of Try It. Sometimes the Try It ends up like this,

 ... and sometimes the Try It ends up like this.

That last one -- the, "oh crap!! Now what?!" one -- it can happen.

But I don't think it's going to this week. I am not alone on this one. I have a partner. And I think this week will end in lights.

Lights around the front windows, and in the windows there will be books. Bookends. A Christmas tree. And we'll be readying the invitation to come on in to North Bank Books, and look around. We'd like to introduce ourselves. We plan to be here for a good long time.

Lights in the ceiling. We will by then have discussed (for the twenty-eleventh time) what on earth we're going to do about the fact that the entire thing, the horrid drop ceiling tiles and all, is painted black. We might checkerboard it. We might leave it until spring. We just don't know. But the black track lights up there will all be lit.

Lights at the front, at the sidewalk, on the posts, wound through greenery, twinkling in the early evening's darkness in December. Lights and ribbons bows and greens, tied down with an abundance of intention because this is the Gorge and the Gorge has wind.

We're scrambling. Stevenson, Washington, has its annual Christmas in the Gorge festivities at the end of this week. (The fire truck with lights is from the (optimistically named) Starlight Parade -- even though water and cloud cover is a lot more likely at this time of the year.)

This year, we won't be open yet, but we will almost be. This year, while everyone's in town to walk the shops and see the sights, at North Bank Books we'll be adding our lights where everyone who passes by can watch us. Inventory won't be done yet. The final touches won't be on. We'll still be getting ready, but we'll be smiling and waving at passers by while we arrange the displays because North Bank Books is about to make its debut.


Black Friday

Like a barely contained classroom full of energetic middle schoolers, America roars back to life today. I know this because my email inbox is overflowing with the shouting, tap-dancing, jumping up and down of "Sale! Sale! Sale!" We Americans could barely stand it that for one day when we all had to come inside and talk nicely to each other. Mind our manners. Be whatever version of Norman Rockwell models we could tolerate being, and pretend we care more about community than we do about commerce.

And some of my friends really do care more about the family at the feast than they do about Black Friday's doorbusters and good deals. I know this because my Facebook feed is full of really great pictures. My friends are lovely people. Their days looked a lot like this.

My 2017 Thanksgiving Feast held fewer people. It needed to this year. 

This year, to own the truth, I set a somewhat bad example for the good home-and-family-minded people. While the turkey cooked, I went down the hill and used my key to the store. Our store. Mine and Meg's. I took with me the only family member who could be pried loose from the house, and we stood in the space and looked at the leftovers from the previous tenants and figured out what needs to happen next. It's disagreeable. It's exciting. It's the mess in the kitchen after someone else's experiments. It's the place where we're really going to cook.

What is that wall made of? Where does that gas line go? Why is that outlet poked so far out into the room? Where can the wifi come from?

In the post right before this one I said North Bank Books would be coming to Stevenson in 2018, but in the time since I told you the plan -- in the days since that long-distant day (a whole nine days ago) -- one of the best spots in town came available, and we decided to jump. 

There will be a bookstore in Stevenson
by the middle of December, 2017. 

I got back to the house yesterday in time to take the turkey out of the oven before it was incinerated. I seared the Brussels sprouts and balsamicked them. I melted butter in 1/2 & 1/2 and poured it on the potatoes someone else was mashing and threw in some salt, and I made flour-free gravy from the pan drippings and the backbone and giblet broth. I made a huge cookery mess. And we feasted. And we enjoyed each other's company. Me, the Great Husband, the Son, and the Uncle. Four people, enough food for twice as many, and some good wine. 

And all the while I sat and talked and laughed, while I whipped the cream for the pumpkin experiment, while I made some more coffee, my brain was buzzing, humming, acting like a crazed email list sender. Coupons. Ads. Where shall we put the Brown Badger books?

I still loathe Black Friday sales and the commercial insanity of our wealth-worshipping country. I am NOT going to be leaving the house today or any other Friday after Thanksgiving to join a line outside a store so I can get my piece of the holiday scraps cheap. I don't want to earn my own Good Customer merit badge. And when North Bank Books is up and running, we probably won't be open the day after Thanksgiving. 

But I bet we'll be in there. Me and Meg. Putting holly and ivy on the dragon.