Imagine being four years old. Your parents are unstable both financially and mentally, making your homelife chaotic, and your mother is pregnant again. You suffer housing insecurity and food insecurity in your small religiously conservative town of about 600 people where you encounter more judgment than compassion. The three of you are outcasts, judged for your poorness, and both your parents are forced to beg for work, food, and places to stay. The older children scorn you and tease you and make you a target for their own attention-seeking entertainment. You know nothing beyond the hunger and cold caused by your parents’ fates, but it’s about to get much worse for you.
On March first your mother is jailed for being a witch. On March twenty-fourth you are imprisoned with her for the same crime. They interrogate you about your mother relentlessly, using your forced testimony to justify sentencing her to die once her next baby is born. You are with your mother in jail when your baby sister is born. You are with her in jail when your baby sister dies. On July 19th you are left behind in your child-sized shackles when adults – supposedly intelligent, educated, well-regarded adults – lead your mother and others to the gallows.
You were never indicted but your father struggled to collect the $50 fee owed for the expense of your imprisonment, and you could not leave until he paid. Your birthday comes and goes, and at the age of five you are finally released from jail on December tenth, nine months after being arrested. You were released but your life is never recovered, and you are driven insane by the events of your childhood. You die at the young age of sixteen, still in the same small town where your childhood was destroyed, never able to escape any of the nightmare you suffered through.
200 people, over 30% of your community, were charged as witches during your incarceration. They were targeted with zero evidence, only hysterical performances by children encouraged by selfish adults. At least five people died from the conditions in the jail you were housed in. Nineteen of the accused, including your mother, were hanged. An eighty-one-year-old man was crushed to death under heavy stones for refusing to confess to being in league with the devil.
There was never true evidence of occult practices in Salem. Most of the accused were devoutly religious people, in line with the rest of their community. Out of an abundance of coincidence, the accused were involved in political or family disputes or were part of the fringe outcasts of society. The world knows about the Hatfields and McCoys, but the bitter dispute between the Putnums and the Porters was disguised as a holy war against the devil himself with the help of a Reverend, and their enemies paid the price. Some of the accused owed money to the accusers, some owned desirable land that couldn’t be pried away if they were living. Only after the governor’s wife was called a witch, did they decide it had gone too far and the trials and the hangings stopped in Salem.
Once the frenzy died down, the accusers went on to claim it was they themselves who had been taken over by the devil. It was easier to say “The devil made me do it” than it was to admit the witch hunt they’d participated in was a farse they could have prevented. Not one of them faced a trial of their own despite the number of deaths they caused. The town eventually issued an apology and made a poor attempt at pardons and reparations. Your father was paid $30 eighteen years after his wife’s murder, $20 less than he paid to get his daughter out of jail.
Now imagine, over three hundred years later, your life and deaths of the accused in Salem are nothing more than a lure to various tourist traps. The list of things to do in Salem is dotted with “witch tours”, and kitschy slogans cover everything from home decor to t-shirts. The accused remain stand-ins for occultism they never followed, and actual Pagan practitioners have their beliefs tied to times of religious persecution and mocked as a source of dark entertainment.
We still refer to the events as the “witch trials” instead of what they really were, a true witch hunt. A search for imaginary criminals guilty of imaginary crimes spurred on by greed and hate. Even the term “witch hunt” has lost its importance, and people throw it around in modern day without acknowledging the devastating origins. The witch hunts happened as part of a larger cultural shift to further silence women and it was successful in many ways. For 300 years around the globe the crime of being a witch was used against those who were different or in the way. Estimates range from as high as nine million people murdered down to 40,000, due to bad recordkeeping, but everyone agrees roughly 80 percent of the accused and murdered were women and girls.
There is an element of the imaginary when people talk about the witch hunts. We make jokes and cutesy signs linking witches to Salem, and linking Salem to fall festivities even though the events themselves did not occur near Halloween. Like so many other points in history where the truth is ugly, we sweep aside reality to make it palatable that real people were murdered in the guise of lawful execution, and they were murdered because they were different. In the early years of the witch hunts all it took was three neighbors to agree that the accused was a witch to convince those in charge. Three contrary neighbors could cost you your life.
While Salem was not the first nor the last time people used religion, mental health, or financial status to rid themselves of those they didn’t like, it is one we continue to make light of. The fictionalized account of witchcraft is overwhelming when it comes to Salem, erasing the reality of who the victims were and what was done to them and their families. To think about a town running out a few warty-nosed crones is much easier to profit from than the fact that a town had child-sized shackles made to imprison a toddler. So, next time you see a t-shirt for the “Salem Broom Company”, or a little witch knocks on your door for a treat, take a moment to remember little Dorothy Good, and the thousands of others who were murdered by people disguising themselves as the devil.
I started taking some writing courses recently. It was a bit intimidating at first. I haven’t taken a writing class since high school but these classes with Laura Lentz have helped me hold on to my vulnerable side while writing about the emotional things I’m trying to hammer into a novel. Durring the class we do one-minute writes and 13-minute writes, and some of the one-minute bursts have been some of my favorites. I’m going to share a few here to hold on to them. The final poem, Glass Warrior, was a 13 minute write.
We are all pinned against time. It moves through us, around us, and eventually without us, continually ticking after our own hearts stop. How reckless can one afford to be with so little time to hold onto?
We bless each other with our voices, speaking, singing, shouting, words of praise, of power, of protection. We bless each other with our words of truth. Don’t whisper, though. Raise your voice. Let it ride on the echoes of the ones who came before and be the guide to the ones who will come after. We were warriors once, women of the world, stopped by a cold storm that left us silent. Do not let silence be the sound of the future. Rile it up with the warrior’s scream.
My heart, my heart, my heart
Can you help me find my heart? I was pretty sure it was here yesterday.
Or maybe that was last Tuesday?
Still, I was pretty sure it was all here
Today it seems to be missing
The beat silently ungiving
So, can you help me find it?
My heart, my heart, my heart
What is My Heart
My heart is glass, fractured but not shattered. My heart is the warrior’s shield, knicked and battered. My heart is the dragonfly wing, iridescent and glowing. My heart is the part of me that believes it is all knowing.
She lives in a sacred cavern
Hidden by its secrecy
The rhythm of her, her only betrayer
Sounding out to those close by
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom
To be hidden is crucial
It’s a must if she wants to survive
Glass things shatter if hit hard enough
Her fractures are deep
Her structure barely holding
She welded her shield in front of her
She lashed her sword to her side
She is a fearsome Warrior
Even if her mighty spirit she must hide
To give in to self-destruction, is not of her mind
Glass things shatter if hit hard enough
(And she’s come oh so very close to hard enough)
This Glass Warrior now must hide
Growing up, I was a Barbie Girl. I had everything a young girl in the 80s needed for the perfect Barbie World and it occupied most of my closet floor. I had the multi-level Barbie mansion complete with working elevator. I had all the furnishings Barbie needed for her mansion, including a “flushing” toilet. I had the giant Barbie pool with wrap around deck and water slide. I had the fancy silver Barbie Corvette with Barbie Pink interior. I had a massive Barbie closet with an enviable wardrobe and more tiny shoes than I could keep track of, and way more than my dozen or so Barbies could wear. Twelve Barbies is a guess because I don’t really remember all the Barbies I had as a kid, but there were several. And while I had several favorite Barbies, I only ever had one Ken, and he was a gift.
While my Barbies had many adventures, Ken was decapitated in a horrible, single-car accident in the convertible Corvette. Yes, I started writing death scenes early in life. In my mind, what did I need Ken for? Ken didn’t have a fancy mansion with an elevator. Ken didn’t have a pool with plenty of space for entertaining (even when the water was left in the closet a little too long and went a little funky). Ken didn’t have a killer wardrobe or a cool car to drive around in. In fact, all the things Ken “had” belonged to Barbie. I didn’t hate boys any more than any other ten-year-old girl who thought boys had cooties did, but I didn’t need them to be in my play world for it to be complete. When Mattel told me Barbie could be anything, I believed it. A Veterinarian? Of course! An Astronaut? Absolutely! In my Barbie World, girls could do everything that wasn’t encouraged in the real world, and that was why I loved her.
Even though I loved Barbie in my day, I was pretty uninterested in the Barbie movie that’s been everywhere. It wasn’t because I have anything against it, or Greta Gerwig, or Margot Robbie. I have a weird taste in movies. For storytelling, I like books. Rom-Coms and typical “Chick Flicks” don’t usually interest me. If I sit down to watch a movie and it’s just two hours of things blowing up, I’m happy. We haven’t been to a theater in a long while, and I know my husband misses it, but I had no intention of the Barbie movie changing that. Seeing the vitriolic reaction to the movie might just get me back in a theater seat though. It’s not the GOP flipping out over a cartoon map that piqued my interest. It was a rant that went on for over 40 minutes by a guy I call Dollar Store Tucker that pushed me over the edge. The whiny little twit went on and on about the movie being anti man. He accused Barbie of misandry. Misandry being opposite of misogyny, isn’t what Barbie is all about. From what I understand, this movie tells girls they can do anything, and no, they don’t need a man to make them successful, and that message really hurt his feelings. So much so that he went out and bought some Barbies to burn them, and then got upset that people thought he was a little over the top about the whole thing.
Barbie isn’t a Man Hater. She also wasn’t created for forty-year-old men who fear empowering girls. The people who are trantruming over this message in the movie missed the entire point of what Barbie has always been. Growing up with her as a role model of sorts, Barbie never told me men were bad. The message she’s been giving to young girls since the 1960s is that Women are pretty awesome all by themselves and it is fucking vital for young girls to know that. I loved other dolls as a kid. I still have all five of my Cabbage Patch Kids from the 80s, and I played with them constantly too, but that play was different. You were just playing Mom when you played with those dolls. You were in a pretend pastry land when you played with Strawberry Shortcake and her Friends. But with Barbie, she told you you could be anything, and that message was so important to me.
Barbie lets you play a grownup in her world and no matter what the real world told you, in Barbie World the sky was the limit. Young girls need to be encouraged to be themselves and follow their dreams. They need to be told that they are equal to the boys in the world. They need to be empowered. Young girls do not need to have adult men politicizing their play and making it into something hateful. They do not need adult men feigning offense at the message that girls are good enough. They’re already living in a country that won’t call them equal almost 250 years after the signing of the constitution, they don’t need adult men interjecting that same insult into Barbie World. Now it looks like I’ll be going to the movies…
I started a writing class recently and last night we wrote about finding our voice and I decided to share here what I wrote for class. While preparing for the class I realized that using my voice, especially my written voice, was something I learned long ago…
I’ve learned many things from my mother. She is who I modeled my heart after, and she is where my drive to fix everyone in front of me comes from. But, I couldn’t learn her sweetness, and she is not who taught me to use my voice. My voice came from my dad. “You have to fight and scream no matter what they say, because if someone gets a hold of you they’re gonna kill you anyway, so you have to fight.” That fatherly advice came after a news story, sometime in elementary school, around the age of eight. It stuck with me my whole life. You have to fight.
Sometimes, like when the Adam Jepsons of the world hit you on the school bus, you have to fight with your hands, but sometimes you have to fight with your words. He taught me about fighting with words when I was a kid. Words he’d type out on his powder blue typwriter. Words that formed one clever op-ed article after another for the local paper. Words he’d throw like darts during family “debates” in his parents living room on weekend visits. Words can be mighty and forceful, and you have to be able to stratigically use them. My dad taught me that.
I write, in a lot of ways, because of my dad. I started with poetry and op-eds like he did, and I express my opinions with forceful conviction because of him. My thoughts on religion. My thoughts on love and guns and police and drugs and addiction. Even my thoughts on womanhood, personhood, sisterhood, I can speak of because of my dad. More often than not,, those thoughts are far different from his own.
Even though our opinions on most things deemed important in life are more varied than a box of unusuall crayons – Mine, an eclectic collection of purple and grey. His, stark shades of black and white – I have the voice to speak to those opinions because of my dad. Even though he is the person I no longer argue my opinions with, I use my voice because of my dad, and I know, deep down, his daughter’s voice makes him proud.
Wow…It’s almost March already in this year 2023, and my non-resolution resolution obviously didn’t stick. I”m to blame, but I have excuses. I mean, I’m a writer, I think we always have excuses! I’ve been trying to work on new stuff, trying not to rewrite old stuff that seems to be in a perpetual stage of being written instead of being finished, and dealing with…well, life. Life has had a lot of ups and downs these past few months, but I am trying to regain my balance. With my balance will come more posts.
The fog was rolling in when I took the girls out for their morning yard inspection and, by chance, I had my phone. This might be one of my favorite shots from my yard since we’ve been here.
I’m not a big new year’s resolution kind of person, but this year I said the one thing I was going to do was get back to this blog and keep it up. I had every intention of starting it off last week and have no good excuse for being late, but I’m going to keep trying to keep at it.
For today, I’m putting this here because I love these two goofs so much even though some days they make me question why.
As a kid, The Little Mermaid was not my jam. The movie came out when I was a bit older and I don’t think I’ve seen it more than once or twice since its Disney release. The most recent backlash regarding casting was impossible to avoid though, even without being a fan. I mean, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula? She’s not even purple and her hair is definitely the wrong color! How could they?!?
I know, I know. I’m making light, but in reality the idea that Ariel must look as drawn by a 90’s Disney artist forever going forward is silly. It’s as silly of an idea as all Tolkien elves needing to only ever be played on screen by white actors. Or Death, as created by Neil Gaiman, only being a fair-skinned woman for anything that appears on screen from The Sandman series. The last one was especially ridiculous for “fans” to throw fits about because Mr. Gaiman himself was involved in the casting of Death and Lucifer – another role people flipped their lids over.
It really is a rough spot to be in as a writer. I think most of us have those fantasies of our work going from page to screen, be it the small screen or the silver screen. I’ve made several casting lists of my own with current actors playing the characters I write. There is a particular actress I’m fond of that I use all the time in my head for my lead. She has the right look, the right mannerisms, the right skill set. I also know I would not be devastated if my dreams came true, my project was picked up and put on film, but she wasn’t cast in the role.
Why wouldn’t I be devastated? Because, as a writer, I would be too far over the moon just knowing someone was going to bring my character to life! This is a death trap for writers. The excitement of seeing something put into that live action medium can be quickly deflated by screaming fans upset that what appears didn’t match what was in their heads. Authors are forced to pick a side and defend a casting agent and film maker, or side with fans unable or unwilling to look beyond what they created. That boils down to tank your own film project or lose part of your fan base.
During a review of the first draft of my novel a friend noted that I didn’t put a lot of physical detail into the characters. I provided enough for them to create a person in their mind without explaining every wrinkle and nose shape, and each of them created someone slightly different. One reader even said the lead was a blonde even though she was described several times as a brunette! Some people approved of my method, some said they missed the details, but by the end of the conversation I’d made them at least consider my way could be right. I thought I was being clever but looking back on it, maybe I was being afraid.
Around the same time as my first draft read, Idris Elba – one of my favorite humans – set fans in a tizzy as Heimdall in Thor. Lucy Liu as Watson on the small screen had people screaming. Then casting for The Hunger Games was announced and a young, black actress named Amandla Stenberg was set to play the part of Rue. People lost their damn minds! I was sent into instant confusion because I was sure that the character had been described in the book as being a young, black girl. I had to go back to my copy and double check. I was right, and that’s when it became clear; no matter how you describe your characters, readers are going to see them how they want to see them, even changing ethnicities to match what they’re comfortable with. This is the writer’s conundrum.
We shouldn’t be afraid to create. The idea that you can’t take something out of a fantasy world, like Mermaids!, and interpret them in different colors, different ethnicities, or even different genders puts a box around creativity. The idea that I can’t write a character with one physical attribute and a casting agent can’t use who they think embodies that same character with different eyes or different skin, unless it’s white skin, limits creativity. It limits the spaces creativity can thrive. That there can’t be spaces in art and movies and literature for a variety of types of people limits us all.
I have this image framed on my writing desk. While my writing style is nothing like Mr. Gaiman’s, he’s one of my favorite authors and I count him as my imaginary mentor after taking his Master Class.
We brought home a new puppy over this past weekend. I went back and forth as to whether or not it would be a good idea. We’d talked for a long time about getting a friend for our four year old Goldendoodle, Astrid, but then she had her accident and lost her back leg. Wasn’t sure if a Doodle puppy would be something she would be able to deal with.
The first 24 hours was iffy, but the two of them are thick as thieves already. Now it’s me wondering if a Doodle puppy is something I’m going to be able to deal with! They’re lucky they’re so damn cute.
It only takes one trip through the Salt Lake valley to see how fond the founders were of keeping things in order. It’s the streets. It took a year of driving the winding roads in the Puget Sound to really notice how straight streets in Salt Lake are. Learning to drive and not having a natural sense of direction like some people, I appreciated the shit out of the street system at one point. It’s like a sheet of grid paper was laid over the city plans, increasing and decreasing the roads numerically in order. Businesses, schools, houses, and of course churches, all fit into their own little box of space throughout the valley, keeping everything and everyone in line.
When you’re talking about streets, keeping everything straight and in order makes sense. When you try to apply the same principles to people it becomes more complicated. Some of us are meant to wind and twist. We need to express ourselves – who we really are inside – to the outside world. But that type of self-expression is not encouraged in a place like Utah. What is encouraged is fitting in, being happy for happy’s sake, and knowing who is in church with you on Sunday. That last part is most important. The people in church on Sunday were the safe ones. They were the worthy ones. They were your community. The people not in church on Sunday were the trouble or troubled. They were lacking. They were to be avoided. I know this form of judgement can be attached to a lot of religious communities but there is a unique difference in Utah created by the dominating population of church members.
As a kid in the eighties and nineties I had a hard time not being myself. That’s not a brag – in most places I still would have been considered a “goody goody.” I didn’t get in trouble much as a kid, and when I did my mom would ground this homebody from my bedroom. As a teenager I didn’t sneak out or party. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink alcohol. None of that normal teenage stuff. I was a huge fan of Pepsi back in the day though, and that alone marked me as a rebel to some. I had a few piercings in my ears which someone else’s grandmother told me would land me in hell. I wore hats, which caused a friend to plead with me not to wear them to her house because her mom thought I dressed like an “easy girl.” We were still in elementary school. Lucky for me, that mom didn’t know that besides my Debbie Gibson inspired hats, I’d also let most our class know I didn’t believe in god.
It was a revelation made in self-defense, really. God is always watching Jenny told me. Jenny who also told me about her dad drowning their kittens in the canal behind our neighborhood like it was something everyone’s dad did. Jenny who licked glue off her hand in class on a dare but then kept going. That Jenny was the first one to leave the sting of judgement that I’d eventually try to get used to. We were lined up for lunch on a Monday and Jenny was talking about whatever it was that happened in Sunday School and pointed out that I wasn’t there. Honestly, I usually wasn’t there. I couldn’t even tell you why she singled me out that day, but she did, and it wasn’t the last time for me. I told Jenny we weren’t in church the day before because we went to visit my grandparents and if that upset god then he wasn’t for me. It was the first time I’d been brave enough to say what had always been my thoughts. It also scared the hell out of me after I said it out loud, but no lightning struck that day.
Growing up, I always wanted things to be fair. Not just fair for me, but fair for everyone. It didn’t seem fair to me, even as a kid, that I couldn’t be myself because it was different than what was accepted. It seemed silly that so much of my worth could be tied to something as fantastical as church attendance. Whether or not I was a good person, an honest person, a person worthy of respect, was all tied to where I was on Sundays, regardless of how I lived the other six days of the week. The older I got the more obvious that point became. It is hard to comprehend how overwhelming and lonely the lack of community can be for those of us who aren’t good at fitting in the box. It’s an unfair pressure to put yourself through as a kid. And if you haven’t been there, it’s hard to understand how harmful it is for those who keep themselves locked in those boxes, disappearing like a melting snowflake, to avoid being shut out.
It’s a different kind of isolation you experience as the Non-religious person in an overly religious space, like Utah. They pride themselves at being nice. They smile big and they’ll sometimes be polite, but they’ll shut you out all the same. In some ways it’s subtle – talking to you at school but not playing together after school. Inviting some friends for sleepovers, but only who they saw during Sunday School. Other times it’s more direct, and oddly those usually hurt less. I was gifted copies of the Book of Mormon. I was invited to concerts at the ward house when the music group The Jets were gaining popularity. I was invited to Young Women’s nights, and get togethers, but when my church attendance didn’t also follow their missionary endeavors, those friends broke away. If I wasn’t going to give in they couldn’t play.
There were more extreme versions of the same as I got older, especially during my year away at college, and throughout my unwed pregnancy a year after that. I was unknown by the church members in my parents neighborhood until I sent a letter requesting to be removed as a member. Suddenly, relief society women I had never met were leaving me cards and stopping by the house unannounced and uninvited to see how they could help. And by help I mean help me in my “crisis of faith” not with anything I, as a single mom, would have actually found helpful. And they definitely were not there as friends, which I really could have used. They didn’t know me. We had never met even though my parents had lived in the house for a decade. But the bishop gave the relief society an assignment, and that assignment was me.
When I pushed forward with officially being removed as a member there were no more visits. No more waves from the other young mom on the corner who had dropped off a Ziplock bag of hard cinnamon bears when it was her turn to bring me back. If I wasn’t going to go to church the offers of friendship were rescinded. That’s they way it works for non-Mormons in Utah. If you talk to a devout member of the church about what I’ve written here most will brush it off. People like me always think it’s bad, right? But it is that bad for so many young people living outside of the church but inside of the state, and their options are so limited. I got lucky because my family – some members religious, some not – were always accepting of me.
I didn’t have the pressure at home that many face just to stay connected to the first group of friends we ever make. Family. This pressure isn’t limited to Utah Mormons though, and we’re seeing a push to make this version of righteous discrimination a national standard. Every court ruling and state mandate that is put into play on the basis of “protecting” Christian freedoms is a line dug deeper in the sand between the Evangelical minority and the rest of us just trying to find a place in our communities. Putting on a smile and faking it, even at the cost of your own self, is often the only option kids are left with.
This pressure causes so much pain, anxiety and confusion that they are forced to hide their truth away. They go along with things like praying on football fields and separating out the non-believers to avoid being shut out themselves. Keeping it all neat and tidy while their real self is melting away inside of a box. That type of self-destruction is a hard thing to recover from and our country is on the road to put that pressure on entire generations for the sake of maintaining the power of a few. In my forties, some of those old jabs still sting, and my heart breaks for the kids who will endure the next round.