“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

08 December 2014

No-Shave November

I have not shaved my legs or armpits since November 1st.
I'm not the only one.

It began as a joke between my husband and I. He said there was no way in hell that he'd shave his legs, even if he were a woman. I said, "Really? Because I could stop right now. I don't do it for me." And he said, "Sure. I really don't care."

And you know what? He doesn't.

Or, more accurately, he'd probably prefer if I did it, but it's not going to stop him from snuggling close enough to steal my side of the bed. Or wrestling with our daughter and I on the sofa. Or, you know, other stuff. He doesn't think it makes me uglier or less desirable.

All of that is secondary to how I feel about my own hairier body, of course, and that is... more complicated. I don't feel less feminine. I don't gross myself out, not even a little. After a lifetime of body-shame conditioning, I did wonder if I would. I don't even find it ugly. But I do find that it makes me feel vulnerable.


Vulnerable? Yes, that's the right word. I feel like I'm setting myself up for awkward and potentially hurtful conversations. One person I told said, "You finally just decided to let yourself go." What? No. What part of myself have I let go of? What do those words really mean? Did I lose some part of who I am because I decided not to fight my body's natural functions?

I don't think I let myself go. I think I found something.


I found extra time not wasted in the shower or tub. I found that I grow very little body hair at all, but that in places it grows in nearly black. I found that long leg hair does not itch more, and armpit hair does not increase stinkiness. I found that, objectively, lack of body hair does not delineate between the male and female of our species. We all grow it pretty much everywhere.

I've also discovered that our cultural bias toward hairless female bodies runs deep, and people just don't know how to deal with girly body hair. Have you noticed that historical dramas (both on screen and in books) feature hairless ladies? What about ancient statuary? Classical paintings? It's true that women have been ripping out, melting, and shaving their body hair for thousands of years. But surely they aren't all so adept at it, and no one ever mentions that it's happening. I find it hard to believe that the lower classes had the money or the time.

Venus and the Lute Player, ca. 1565–70
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and Workshop (Italian, Venetian, ca. 1485/90?–1576)
Oil on canvas

Let's be real here-- we're talking about thousands of years of self-mutilation. Many of the most effective methods of hair removal are excruciatingly painful, as well as time consuming and expensive. Yes, men remove their facial hair, but so do women. While shaving, for men, as been largely optional for all of human history, removing female facial hair is a societal requirement. Women are also supposed to remove nearly all the visible hair on their bodies from the neck down. Removing all of this hair is a lifelong commitment. It never stops sucking, and we only do it because we think we can't be pretty without it.

From a feminist standpoint, there's no question: removing our body hair is an act of self-oppression. Any time a group of people wants power over another group, they first have to figure out how to sell their innate superiority. When women remove most of their natural body hair, they look softer, more childlike. We can tell the sexes apart from a great distance, even from behind, even with a passing glance, because hairless women are so visually dissimilar from men. The greater the visible difference between the Oppressor and the Oppressed, the easier it is to get away with oppression. It's easier to say, "Well, we're just naturally different. It's the natural order for us to do different things." It's easy for men to say, "Women shouldn't do these difficult jobs. Look how soft and sensitive they are! And look how much time and energy they waste on their looks!"

Remember: None of this is natural. Women do not naturally appear so different from men. We are being told that it's natural, lied to about that, because it makes us easier to control. Do not believe these lies.

They told us we couldn't run fast enough because we wore high heels and tight skirts; we demanded a chance to try combat boots and khakis, too. When we demand the same opportunities, we prove--over and over--that we can perform just as well as any man.

But no one will even the playing field for us.
Woman have to do that for themselves.


(It's strange how hard it was to get photographs of my body hair. I feel like it is very visible in person, but it hardly shows up at all on film. Huh.)

Honestly, I am not sure I could personally hack the shave-free lifestyle in the Summer. I don't know if I am brave enough to rock natural body hair in a skirt and tank top. I just don't know. It makes me angry that I even have to consider this problem, when my husband gives it no thought whatsoever. I am also not prepared to stop grooming my facial hair. I am a part of the machine, too, folks. I'm just trying to understand the mechanisms I'm powering.


So will I shave again?

I'll let you know. Right now, I really am enjoying this strange new awareness of my body. It feels liberating and kind of naughty. It feels like a revolt. It feels scary and sassy and a little bit stupid, all at the same time.

Go on, ladies and gents. Give natural body hair a try. What are you afraid of?

06 December 2014

...

A human being is only breath and shadow.
                        - Sophocles (496 - 406 BC)



how brave we've become

playground bravado
stick game graduation
point finger and bang

how brave we've become

five men on his chest
she asks, is he bleeding?
blue shirts soaking red

how brave we've become

too dark to question
toy slung over shoulder
kill first, then explain

how brave we've become

one gun, one shooter
six bullets too many
not guilty enough

how brave we've become

not safe to argue
human snake at his throat
i can't breathe,
i can't--

how brave we've become

pressed uniform pride
protected and serviced
point finger and bang



Our grandfathers had to run, run, run.
My generation's out of breath.
We ain't running no more.
                        - Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998)



04 October 2014

SNAP Challenge

The blogger at one of my favorite food blogs, Budget Bytes, recently completed the SNAP Challenge.

http://www.budgetbytes.com/2014/09/feeding-america-snap-challenge/

The Challenge asks you to survive on the average amount of money provided through SNAP (food stamps) in the USA. You also have to follow SNAP rules, which don't allow you to purchase any "prepared" foods, like TV dinners. You can spend $4.50 per person per day.

We are not on food stamps, but our family spends roughly this amount on food, with the exception of eating out (probably three or four times a month). We are able to do this because we occasionally receive free meat from my husband's family farm and because I am at home to cook.

Cooking every day is luxury that most families don't have, which Beth--the blogger at Budget Bytes--takes into account by prepping most of her food for the whole week at one time. Let me be clear on this: COOKING EVERY DAY IS A LUXURY. Many people on the SNAP program absolutely cannot do this because they work long hours, are disabled, or don't have access to a stove that works. Even if they have the time and equipment, they may not have the necessary skills. My husband wouldn't be able to eat healthfully like this because he just doesn't know how to cook. How and when are impoverished people expected to learn?

Why is this important? Because almost a year ago, the federal government rolled back SNAP benefits from (roughly) $1.50 per meal to $1.40. That means that a family of three, like mine, lost $29 per month from their food budget. That is significant.

Conservative pundits have been railing against the SNAP Challenge for a while now. I won't call them "Republican pundits" because I'm sure they aren't all Republicans, and not all Republicans agree with cutting SNAP benefits. What these people do have in common is a fiscally conservative viewpoint and absolutely no capacity for empathy. They think that because they can run out and buy $70.64 of high-quality food at their local mega-mart, anybody should be able to do it. They completely disregard reality, which often includes working long hours at multiple jobs, urban or rural food deserts, and lack of access to a car and/or working kitchen equipment. Not to mention that food costs vary widely, and are highest in densely-populated urban areas or very small towns, where the majority of SNAP recipients reside.

Reduced SNAP benefits really mean hunger pangs in the classroom. It means parents going hungry to feed their children. It means senior citizens surviving on canned beans and oatmeal. It means that food security--the one thing most responsible for a person's future success--may be denied to 48 million Americans, many of them disabled, children or the elderly.

I can attest to the fact that this kind of shopping and cooking is really, really hard. I've lived on a smaller food budget than even SNAP provides, as many of the working poor do, and so I've learned how to grocery shop and cook as a survival mechanism. It takes practice, and it requires much more effort than most middle-class people comprehend. Doing it with dietary restrictions (gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut allergies, IBS) often feels impossible. Gluten-free bread and cereal is far too expensive. Alternatives to peanut butter, like almond or sun butter, are absurd. Beth at Budget Bytes discovered she couldn't afford coffee on her budget. I don't buy breakfast cereal anymore. But living on a SNAP budget can be done.

Could you do it for a week? How about two?

These people did:

Forty Days of SNAP
Brotman: Snap Challenge is No Snap
Because I Said So: My five days on the SNAP Challenge were not fun
SNAP Challenge: Finishing Strong

True, the official SNAP Challenge month is over. You can (and should) give it a try anyway. If you try it, shoot me a message to let me know how it's going. Or to commiserate over the price of winter fruit.

Good luck and good eating.

12 August 2014

From a Dark Place

Robin Williams has died. They believe it was suicide.


Mr. Williams has been sick for a long time, battling clinical depression and anxiety. When I heard that they believe his death was self-inflicted, I just... It hit me in a physical way. I can't imagine what Mr. Williams was thinking or feeling, what prompted him to take his own life. Only he knows exactly how his depression affected him.

But I can tell you what it feels like for me.

It starts with anxiety. Normal anxieties: money, due dates, doctor's appointments, chores of all kinds. Then some less-normal, more intense anxieties: election results, chemicals in our soap, unexplained illnesses, an empty fridge that needs filling, preschool placement, bad cat behavior, potential dental work. And then some totally absurd but terrifying anxieties: cars crashing, planes falling out of the sky, terrorism, muggings, burglary, kitchen fires, cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, immunizations, rabies, dogs that bite, black widow spider bites, bug infestations, bedbugs, wetting the bed, poisoned drinking water, acid rain, and so on. And on and on and on.

The anxiety feels like a monstrous fist inside your chest. Sometimes the fist relaxes a bit, lets you breathe, but it can tighten up again at any moment. The anxiety itself becomes cause for great anxiety. All of your energy becomes focused on controlling that anxious feeling, preparing for it, holding it off as long as possible. The pressure slowly builds, until you cannot contain it anymore without fracturing.

The next stage is guilt. Profound, crippling guilt. Remember, you've already been anxious for a long time, so you haven't been performing normal tasks in a normal way. You've missed things, put things off, while you deal with controlling the anxiousness. When you layer guilt on top of anxiety, it turns into something like this: "I have not called my best friend in a month, and she is probably so angry with me because I'm a terrible friend, a terrible person, really, and I can't possibly make it up to her with one, too-late phone call after a month (a MONTH) of friendship failure, and oh god, that means I'm a failure as a friend, a total failure, and what a terrible thing to do. No one should have to be friends with such a terrible person. I'm a terrible, terrible person."

So you do not call. You can't.

Because guilt is immediately followed by inertia. When I say guilt is crippling, I mean that literally. It weighs down your limbs and your heart. There is only so much guilt and anxiety that your body can take, and so it has to shut down. It has no choice. You tell yourself, "Come on, get up, you have to get moving," but your body isn't listening to your brain anymore. Your brain has been running you ragged. Your body rebels. It is a tired, inert rebellion. Even opening your eyes in the morning feels like too much to ask. Your heart and mind race an anxious, guilt-ridden marathon every day, and your body responds as if it ran a marathon, too.

This is the dichotomy of depression:
Your brain won't stop, and your body can't go.

It is very hard to find help when you're clinically depressed, even if you recognize the signs. When you are stuck in this place, in this loop of anxiety-guilt-inertia, you cannot crawl your way out of it. You are crippled. You are helpless. And if you are stuck in the loop long enough, you are hopeless, too. It's not enough to say, "I will be better tomorrow." You can't turn off the loop by force of will, because you no longer have any willpower. You're just too damn tired. You are fighting your own brain for your sanity, and you can't even put up a fair fight.

This is where depression takes you...

Everyday, you fight a battle that no one can see and many think isn't real. The opposing army has held the high ground from the start. You are terrified and exhausted. The voices inside your head are your own, and they tell you the world is a place you should fear. They tell you that you are useless, worthless, because you cannot fix the world. They tell you that you should be ashamed. And you can't make your own voice stop... it's your head, so you're to blame. What good are you, really? What's the point of you? You can barely crawl out of bed.

So, now, ask yourself: What are your options? What hope is left for you?

I know people want to believe that prayer or time spent in nature or the love of family can save a person from him or herself. Sometimes, I'm sure that it can. But this is my experience, and I can honestly tell you that none of that made a bit of difference to me. What worked for me? Drugs. Prescription drugs and psychiatric help. Without those two things... I don't know. What were my options? What hope was left for me?

I don't really have a message here. I'm not trying to make any particular point. I just felt like it was important--right here, right now--to be totally honest about depression. About what depression feels like to me. This isn't easy for me, because it takes me back to a very dark place. But we all have dark places inside ourselves, and I think, with the right trigger, those dark places can swallow us whole. I wish it weren't true. I wish he wasn't dead.

Robin McLaurin Williams, 1951-2014


We miss you, Mr. Williams.
You are finally out of the loop.
I hope it has given you peace.

09 August 2014

Mindful Sobriety

I made a decision as a teenager to wait until I was of legal age to drink alcohol. At 21, I decided I didn't want to drink alcohol at all. I'm almost 29 now, and I've never regretted it. Here are the answers to all the standard questions:

1) I am not a teetotaler. My husband drinks, my parents drink, my friends drink. If she wants to, and she's of age, my daughter can drink, too.

2) I've never had problems with drugs or alcohol. I've never tried drugs, and I've only had a few alcoholic beverages in my life, but I don't have a tendency toward addiction.

3) I don't feel I'm missing out on anything. Ever.

4) My religion does not forbid alcohol, or even frown on its consumption.

5) I'm not judging you. My life choices have nothing to do with you.

Why don't I drink alcohol, then? Like most major life decisions, it's complicated.

When people ask me why I'm not drinking at parties or in restaurants, I say, "I don't like the taste." This answer is both honest and simple; it doesn't provoke much argument, and it can't be interpreted as judgmental.

It isn't easy to be sober.

The older I get, the more people look at me sideways if I tell them I'm not drinking. The assumption is that I am a Mormon or an alcoholic. I'm neither, but this doesn't offend me. I have no problem being lumped together with either group; in fact, I sympathize with them in many ways. It is not socially acceptable to be a nondrinker in the USA. It takes backbone, an ability to tell people that no means no. It also requires you to drink a lot of disgusting soda fountain lemonade. After many years of voluntary sobriety, I know that "I don't like the taste" is the best answer to the question. But it probably wouldn't be worth it if that was my only reason. It's only part of the story.

I've struggled, all my life, to feel connected to something bigger than myself. There is a conscious hum in the universe, and its vibration is very real to me. There is a deep part of me that needs to be tapped into that larger consciousness--the group soul that grants us a unique and abiding empathy.

My oldest memory of this feeling took place at my father's summer resort in Minnesota when I was five or six. I was sitting on the dock in the lake, looking out across the water, and I was overwhelmed by a sudden feeling of smallness. Not insignificance, really, but the general sense that I was very little and the world was very big. Although it didn't scare me, it was incredibly dissatisfying. I wanted to be a part of that bigness.

As I grew older, I realized that other people weren't feeling the hum. They didn't think of themselves as small, and they didn't seem bothered by a desire to be big. So maybe it's my personal neurosis; maybe being a small part of the bigness is only important to me. In my teenage years, the conflict between wanting to be an individual, wanting to be like my peers, and wanting to be linked to something larger broke me into pieces. I clung to the few absolutes I could find: no drinking, no drugs, no unsafe sex. Absolutes were easy.

My friends and relatives use alcohol to relax, to escape, to give themselves an excuse to have fun. It does look fun, and it also looks very mindless. It frees people from the stress and thoughtfulness of ordinary life. I don't mind admitting that the mindlessness of it scares me. It isn't what they do that scares me; it's that they become new versions of themselves. I often wonder what my friends would have done, thought, talked about if they hadn't been buzzed.

I have no desire to be mindless. I don't even practice that kind of meditation. I want to mindful. I want to live with a mind so disciplined, so rigorously open, that the bigness of the universe can rush in. I want to truly hear, truly feel what it is telling me.

Whenever the universe has something to give me, I want be ready to receive it.

Why don't I drink alcohol? Because I don't do anything that will deaden my mind or my senses. I don't want false feelings. I don't want chemical relaxation. I want to be sharp, thoughtful, bright and shiny. It's what I need to do to find my small piece of what's big. That is vital to me.



I am sending blessings and mindful moments to you all. With love.

01 August 2014

It Matters If My Daughter is a Lesbian

Sometimes I get publicly shamed on the internet. It happens a lot, actually, because I can't keep my virtual mouth shut. If I think something is unjust, or one-sided, or just plain stupid, I'm probably going to respond. I try to do so diplomatically, but I'm not perfect. I push too hard sometimes.

Recently, I got yelled at by a woman for suggesting that there was nothing wrong with her 2-year-old son. He likes to dress up like a princess. She seemed to want reassurance that he'd outgrow it, that it didn't mean he might be effeminate or gay (which aren't the same thing, folks). She got plenty of that kind of reassurance. Instead, I suggested that it didn't matter if he was either of those things. He might outgrow it, sure, but who cares? I actually used the words "it doesn't matter."

I was wrong about that.

It matters if my daughter is a lesbian.

Yep. It matters a lot.

It matters because she might like princesses, or trucks, or ninjas, or dollhouses, and people in her life will draw assumptions about her sexuality based on that preference. As if the two are connected. They aren't.

It matters because her preschool teacher will assume she wants be the mommy instead of the daddy at playtime, and press an apron into her hands. She might not want to be either. What a stupid assumption.

It matters because jerks in her classroom will repeat the hateful, homophobic garbage their parents have been spouting for years. And she'll believe them, because we all believe our peers more than our parents, even when our peers are idiots. That sucks.

It matters because some of her family members might not understand--not that there is anything complicated about homosexuality. They might say things that hurt her, that linger within her for the rest of her life. And I can't protect her from all of it. Even though that is my job.

It matters because straight guys will try to "turn her" and joke about threesomes, as if her sexuality is some kind of "mistake" she made. As if she just needs to be reminded how much she likes men. Sometimes they'll be very aggressive in their pursuit. This terrifies me.

It matters because dickheads on the internet will taunt her, and flag her posts for removal, and call her a femi-nazi or a dyke bitch. No one will call them out on it because no one wants to be targets themselves. No one will have to take the blame because the internet is an anonymous black hole. How can these people live with themselves?

It matters because someday she might want to get married, and the woman she loves might be funny and accomplished and smart, but their right to be legally responsible for each other will depend upon the state in which they live. Not their love, not their commitment. This country is still a pretty unjust place to be. It makes me so angry I could scream.

Yes, it matters if my daughter is a lesbian or bisexual or transgender, in ways that won't matter as much if she's straight and cisgender. It matters to me, because it will matter to her.

But however she was born--whomever she chooses to crush on--I hope the world is ready for a fight. My daughter has a mother and father who will pull no punches, allow no nonsense, when it comes to protecting her precious soul. Gay or straight or something else entirely, she was born that way. Perfectly herself. We will defend every ounce of that perfection.

So, okay, fellow internet mom. You're right to be worried. But you better get used to worrying for the right reasons. The shame you want to throw at me is nothing. I can take it. Your son could have much, much worse bearing down on him, and you need to arm yourself for the battle. You need to be prepared to be his fortress, his safe harbor.

Mom Up.

That's my rallying cry:

Mom Up.

28 May 2014

#YesAllWomen

If you know me, you might be surprised that it's taken me four days to respond to the massacre in Isla Vista. I've been following this story, and its aftermath, with interest and disgust in equal measure. Interest in the #YesAllWomen response, and what it means to take the emphasis off the killer and put it on a systemic problem. And disgust because, ultimately, I think that effort will fail.

When I consider adding my small voice to this debate, I feel like I'm yelling into the wind. I'm screaming for us to slow down, think, take our time to consider. But we are a nation of speeding up, and we are leaving what really matters behind.

Six people are dead for no good reason. That makes me so, so sad.

Yes, the killer (whose name I don't care to type) was mentally ill. Yes, he got legal access to weapons he had no reasonable excuse to own. Yes, he was a misogynist who believed he had a right to have sex with beautiful women. Yes, all women know what it feels like to be considered someone else's possession.

Are these factors connected? Not overtly. But they speak to a commonly-accepted but undeclared part of the American Dream: If a man is powerful, if he is handsome, if he is rich, if he is "manly," then he deserves a beautiful woman to take care of his needs. Or, for the somewhat more enlightened, if he is "good guy," he deserves a woman to appreciate him.

She's what he deserves.

So a gun, and the ability to use it, might make him feel powerful. If he is mentally ill, those who love him might hide it to protect his reputation. When he throws hot beverages at women, hits them, calls them "sluts" and "bitches," the men around him might laugh and commiserate, because they've all felt under-appreciated by girls before. If he took his rage out on others, especially on those same "bitches," society might try to blame it on anything--anything at all--except ourselves.

I've been that bitch before. I've "friend-zoned" many a boy in my time, and I can't say I know how most of them felt about it. Probably awful. When my guy friends complain about how women never want "a good guy," how hard it is to be the "guy friend," I do understand that. Like most women, I've been friend-zoned, too. It's just that I've never felt like any man owed me his affection, his sexual interest, even if I bought him things or took care of his needs. I always acknowledged that I was the fool, even when that hurt. Some men, even "good guys," have lost that capacity. I can be sympathetic to a broken heart, but I cannot be "deserved."

We have idealized unconditional romantic love, but I don't buy into that. My husband still earns my love, and I earn his. It's work. When we stop doing the work of loving, we start to feel entitled. That is a dangerous way to feel.

I don't have the answer to this problem, but I think it starts with redefining what we deserve. In this country, we believe we have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Happiness isn't a right; only its pursuit. And if we value liberty equally, we must acknowledge that we can only have it when both sexes live life with equal self-determination. One person's pursuit shouldn't trump another's liberty.



No one deserves another person. No deserves anything but to live free and try to find joy. I don't have much more to add, except the names of the people who really matter:

C. H. (although his name is known, his parents requested only initials)
Weihan Wang
George Chen
Katherine Cooper
Veronika Weiss
Christopher Michaels-Martinez

And the wounded, who are mostly unnamed but remain in my thoughts.

Hug your sons and daughters, tonight and always.

02 May 2014

The Revolution is Now: I'm Buying a Bikini

It's making the Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook rounds, so maybe you've seen it.

13 Snarky News Headlines About Women, Improved

These are brilliantly done. They were contributed by followers of The Vagenda Magazine, which has the hilarious motto "Like King Lear, But For Girls." The fourth one down is my favorite:

4. Wait, women have skin?

So. Bikinis.

I'm not sure I have ever owned a bikini. If I did, I was a child and I don't remember it. I do remember feeling, around age twelve, that I was "too big" for a bikini. That my body was in some way inadequate--like there were rules for bikini-wearing, and I wasn't able to follow them. I mean, that's insane, right? Too big for anything at twelve years old?

Most women stop wearing bikinis once they have a baby, I guess because they believe their bodies have been "ruined" by children. Every advertisement on Facebook wants me to "fix my post-baby body." Fix what? My pregnancy was miserable but healthy, and my natural delivery went great. I can still breathe, walk, sleep, eat.

Crohn's Disease may slowly eat holes through my intestines, and plantar fasciitis might cause me pain. I might keep getting migraines and ovarian cysts. But none of that was caused by my baby. I didn't need a c-section or an episiotomy. My pregnancy didn't break a goddamn thing. I'm lucky.

Oh, right. They meant my stretch marks. And increased waistline.

I'm buying a bikini. I'm not going to believe my body is "broken" a year after I completed the most incredible, badass job of my life. I'm going to go to the pool. I'm going to choose how and what I display, and I'm not going to apologize. My daughter scratches me sometimes, and sometimes I get pimples on my shoulders. I still have excess skin on my tummy. I'm going to wear a bikini because I want to let my stretch marks show. They aren't something I want to be ashamed of.

http://www.goddesslife.com/Websites/goddesslife/images/stretchmarks.jpg

Are bikinis revolutionary? I don't know. Maybe.
Does this look revolutionary to you?

http://everydayfeminism.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/k-bigpic.jpg


Rachele of Fat Babe Designs introduced me to the "fatkini" movement.
It is awesome.

I didn't wear a bikini when my body was young and lithe. Now that I'm older and scarred, I'm not the "target demographic." Seeing me in a bikini probably won't up the market value. And I don't care. I have skin on my stomach that has never, not ever, seen the sun because I thought there was too much of it. How stupid is that?

Bikini Revolution, my friends. Raise the flag.

28 January 2014

New Year, New Site, New MFA!

It's official. I have acquired Mastery.


Seriously, earning my Masters degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults is a big freaking deal. On the list of things I am proud of myself for accomplishing, it easily falls into the top three. Those three include:

1. Marrying my husband (or convincing my husband to marry me).
2. Birthing my daughter.
3. Earning my MFA.

The order rotates continually, based on my mood. Some days, I consider Fae's birth to be a major accomplishment. Other days I think, All I really did was push, hard, for hours, and it's not like I had a choice. Which anyone who has ever given birth can tell you is totally ridiculous. But I'm self-defeatist that way.

So. My Masters degree.


As our college president is so fond of reminding us, "Vermont College of Fine Arts is the Harvard of writing for kids. Or Harvard is the VCFA of everything else." Which is meant to convey that Vermont College is the best of the best, and that we--as graduates--are the best, too.

But a weird disconnect happens inside my brain when I consider my new alma mater.

I know how amazing VCFA is. I mean, look at it:


I know, right? It looks like the beautiful, artsy East Coast college in an indie film about "finding yourself" and true love and the triumph of the human spirit. And it's all legit.

The staff is incredible. The professors are some of finest writers and teachers in the world. The students consistently publish after graduation (and, in many cases, before) and their books win awards and starred reviews. I know all of this. It's why I wanted to go to VCFA so badly.

But when I put myself into this context, factor me into the equation, nothing adds up right. Maybe it's my upbringing, or my artistic sensitivity, or a nice example of Midwestern guilt, but I cannot see myself as "the best of the best" at anything. Ever. It will not compute.

During my final residency, I had to give a reading and a lecture. My reading came from my creative thesis, a science fiction novel, and my lecture was about creating fictional religions. It's easy for me to look back on these two performances (because I can't help thinking of them that way; I am an actor, after all) and recognize how well I presented them. I'm a good reader. I have no fear of public speaking. But when I consider the work itself, I have nothing but doubts.


I doubt that my reading was as compelling or well-composed as the work of classmates, who are so talented that I can hardly believe it sometimes. I doubt that my lecture will do anyone any good, or that it will spark the kind of useful debate that many lectures do. I doubt anyone will remember me, or care that I came through VCFA, or look forward to the work I'll do in the future.

Actually, I am the "best of the best" at doubting myself. Olympic-quality.

This is where I sit now, in a pool of doubt. I'm proud, and I'm scared, and I'm uncomfortable with the academic distinction I've earned. What does it mean to be a Master? What is "mastery?" I do not feel that I have it. I'm not sure I ever will.

But I have friends, good friends, to keep my head up for me. Friends I made in the program, of course, but other friends, too. Pre-VCFA friends. Friends who have stuck it out with me. And lots of family who love me and believe in me. More than I love or believe in myself. I am very, very lucky.


Jennifer Cary Diers, MFA. Weird, right? Weird and awesome.

2014 is already one heck of a year.