So You’re Dating a Christian Podcast

When we were first becoming friends, Rachel and I loved arguing about our worldviews.  “You don’t believe ANYTHING is evil?” I would shout at her across the table while we ate brunch.  “What about sex traffickers who sell people for money?”  She would roll her eyes.  “You’re being extreme.  But even then, I don’t think it’s useful to call anyone evil.”  I would pause, realizing she had a point.  “Okay, maybe people aren’t evil, but some acts definitely are.”  “Well…”

One time she excitedly brought out a Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy book.  “This essay references American evangelicalism, and you’re American.  What do evangelicals believe?”  Almost overwhelmed by the irony, I laid out the gospel for her according to the acronym I learned at a high school Dare 2 Share conference.  She could tell this was rehearsed.  “How excited are you that you just witnessed at me?”  “You becoming an evangelical is the literal last thing I want.”  “Good, because this is all ridiculous.”

But when we started dating, religion quickly became a touchy topic.  It felt too personal and too heavy.  We would dance around issues, and we went to a Christmas Eve service at an queer-friendly Anglican church, but mostly, we ignored the conversations that had once been so easy.

One day, I mentioned that once, a donkey talked in the Bible.  “That’s in the Bible!?” she asked.  “Oh yeah, there’s all sorts of weird shit in the Bible; it’s great!”  “Tell me more!”  Thus began our tentative Sunday Bible Story Time.  Over brunch or in the car, Rachel would suddenly say, “Tell me a Bible story!” and I would reach into my brain and pull out the funniest and most interesting stories from my childhood.

I always want to turn everything into a podcast, but I knew we had to be equally invested, so I kept my mouth shut.  After one story on a lazy Sunday evening, Rachel said, “We’re funny.  We should make this a podcast!”  I’ve never lunged for my laptop more quickly.

We started from the beginning, covering the book of Genesis in twenty episodes over five months.  At first, we were irreverent.  Rachel was skeptical of Christianity and I was determined to show off how cool and emotionally distanced I was from the literalism I grew up with.  But as we kept making episodes, we found a really great middle ground.  We still laughed at the silliest parts and picked apart the dangerous elements, but at the same time, we developed a respect for the stories.  Rachel realized some of it was meaningful, and she appreciated getting to know the thing that has made me me.  I realized that I really enjoy discussing the Bible as stories, debating their themes without having to view them as moralistic historical fact.  And we both were surprised to fall in love with the 2014 movie Noah starring Russell Crowe.

At the end of season 1 of So You’re Dating a Christian, I’m proud of what we’ve made and excited to see where we go from here.  I hope some of you will listen to our podcast, though I know this isn’t for everyone.  As we say in every episode description, this podcast is for:

  • Non Christians who are curious about the craziness of Christianity
  • Christians who want to laugh at the absurdity of Christianity
  • People who want to understand a different perspective
  • People who are dating across a religious divide
  • People who are put off by dating someone with faith
  • People who try to hide their faith when dating non faithy people

And maybe it’s for YOU.

Listen to So You’re Dating a Christian on Apple Podcasts now!

Podcast Recommendation List | PART 6

If you’re a fan of history, science or social science, do I have some podcast recs for you!

HISTORY

1 | Fall of Civilizations

A history podcast looking at the collapse of a different civilization each episode. Host Paul M.M. Cooper wants to ask: What did they have in common? Why did they fall? And what did it feel like to watch it happen?

Episode Examples: Roman Britain – The Work of Giants Crumbled | The Aztecs – A Clash of Worlds

2 | The Exploress

Join us as we time travel back through history, exploring the lives and stories of ladies of the past, from the everyday to the extraordinary, imagining what it might have been like to be them.

Episode Examples: When in Rome: A Lady’s Life in the Ancient Roman Empire | Alexander’s Women: Olympias and the Ladies Who Helped Shape a Conquerer

3 | The History of Sex

In today’s culture of gay marriage, trans rights, and a new politically-correct term everyday, things can feel a little chaotic. It makes you long for the good old days when men were men, women were women, and nothing could be more clear, right?

Well, sorry to break it to you, but…those days never existed. If there’s one thing the history of sex teaches us, it’s that sex and gender have varied fantastically across different eras and cultures.

Episode Examples: Toxic Masculinity in Nazi Germany | Did Da Vinci Omit the Clit? A History of the Clitoris

4 | Wonders of the World

In this podcast, we’ll visit 200 Wonders of the World, from the Pyramids to the Great Barrier Reef, to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet. The world is filled with amazing places that reflect the greatest achievements of human accomplishment. We’ll discuss the history of each place and the story of the men and women who lived there. We’ll cover travel notes, examine what else to see while you’re in the area, and dig into the local cuisine.

Episode Examples: The Theater of Dionysus | The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza

SCIENCE

1 | Advice for/from the Future

Should I follow my boyfriend to Mars? Can I ask my friend to turn off her Alexa when I come over? Is it okay to have kids while the world is burning? Should I cryopreserve my dog? Your resident futurologist Rose Eveleth tackles the real, the almost-real, and the totally out there questions from today and tomorrow. The future is going to be weirder than we can even imagine, so let’s get ready for it together.

Episode Example: Should I follow my partner to Mars?

2 | Flash Forward

Flash Forward is a show about possible (and not so possible) future scenarios. What would the warranty on a sex robot look like? How would diplomacy work if we couldn’t lie? Hosted and produced by award winning science journalist Rose Eveleth, each episode combines audio drama and journalism to go deep on potential tomorrows, and uncovers what those futures might really be like. The future is going to be weird, so let’s get ready for it together.

Episode Examples: Easy Bake Organs | BODIES: Switcheroo

3 | Ologies

Volcanoes. Trees. Drunk butterflies. Mars missions. Slug sex. Death. Beauty standards. Anxiety busters. Beer science. Bee drama. Take away a pocket full of science knowledge and charming, bizarre stories about what fuels these professional -ologists’ obsessions. Humorist and science correspondent Alie Ward asks smart people stupid questions and the answers might change your life.

Episode Examples: Oikology (DECLUTTERING) | Quantum Ontology (WHAT IS REAL?)

4 | Short Wave

New discoveries, everyday mysteries, and the science behind the headlines — all in about 10 minutes, every weekday. It’s science for everyone, using a lot of creativity and a little humor. Join host Maddie Sofia for science on a different wavelength.

Episode Examples: How to Correct Misinformation, According to Science | How Bears Come Out of Hibernation Jacked

SOCIAL SCIENCE

1 | Code Switch

Code Switch is the fearless conversations about race that you’ve been waiting for! Hosted by journalists of color, our podcast tackles the subject of race head-on. We explore how it impacts every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, sports and everything in between. This podcast makes ALL OF US part of the conversation — because we’re all part of the story.

Episode Examples: Unmasking The ‘Outside Agitator’ | A Decade of Watching Black People Die

2 | Nice Try!

Avery Trufelman explores stories of people who tried to design a better world — and what happens when those designs don’t go according to plan. Season one, Utopian, is about the perpetual search for the perfect place. From Curbed and the Vox Media Podcast Network.

Episode Examples: Jamestown: Utopia for Whom | Disney World: Celebrating Utopia

3 | The Happiness Lab

You might think more money, a better job, or Instagram-worthy vacations would make you happy. You’re dead wrong. In “The Happiness Lab” podcast, Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos will take you through the latest scientific research and share some surprising and inspiring stories that will forever alter the way you think about happiness. She’s changed the lives of thousands of people through her class “Psychology and the Good Life,” and she’ll change yours, too. Are you ready to feel better?

Episode Examples: Mistakenly Seeking Solitude | The Power of a Made-up Ritual

4 | The Next Big Idea

Think bigger. Create better. Live smarter. Ideas are coming at you every day from all directions. Where do you even start? Hosted by Rufus Griscom, and featuring thought-leaders Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink, THE NEXT BIG IDEA brings you the most groundbreaking ideas that have the power to change the way you live, work, and think. Each episode dives deep into one big idea through immersive storytelling, narration and curator interviews with the most interesting authors at work today.

Episode Examples: BOYS & SEX: Coming of Age in America | JOYFUL: Why Ordinary Objects Can Make You Extraordinarily Happy


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Staying Connected while Social Isolating for COVID-19

I am starting to feel the repercussions of socially isolating to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Seattle’s Comic Con was cancelled, as was a podcast event I was really looking forward to.  For a while, I was playing games with small groups of friends, but as of this week, even that is stopping.  I’m an introvert, so most of my favorite activities are at home.  But when I think about living under these restrictions for weeks, or even months, I feel overwhelmed.  It is going to be important that we find and prioritize ways to stay connected even while we socially isolate.  Here are some places to start:

  • Marco Polo (Apple / Google)Marco Polo is an app that allows you to send and receive video messages.  They can be as long as you want, and if you catch someone at the right moment, you can watch the video live.  Previously sent videos are always available in a thread at the bottom of the screen.  I find this so much more convenient than FaceTime, since you can send a video at any time without having to coordinate times.  This was a favorite of mine before the pandemic, but it’s become even more essential after.
  • Google Hangout (Google)When you want to chat with multiple people at once, Google Hangout in the way to go.  I’ve used this to talk to the whole family at once (we’re in different cities and countries) as well as to play games with friends from our own homes.  Everyone’s picture is on the screen, but the person making the most noise automatically dominates the space, so this can be a bit fiddly if someone is snacking loudly without actually saying anything.  Still, it’s a great platform for group conversations!
  • Roll20 (Roll20)For my fellow D&D nerds out there, Roll20 is a necessity.  I have only used this once, and my group couldn’t actually figure out all the facets of this system, and STILL I recommend it.  It’s incredible.  With video and audio available to interact with your group, the DM can create a shared map upon which you move your character as you advance the story and roll virtual dice.  It’s a brilliant set up, and it makes me excited to play D&D with more people from different spaces!
  • WhatsApp (Apple / Google)There are other apps like this out there, such as Viber or Facebook Messenger, but WhatsApp is my favorite.  A free texting, calling, or videoing app, you can create individual or group chats with people all around the world with any kind of cell phone provider. Always a necessity!
  • Write Letters and Send GiftsTechnology allows us to stay connected quickly, but there’s something especially lovely about receiving snail mail from our loved ones during stressful times.  And since so many people are struggling with the loss of work, why not throw in a gift card as well?  We’re going to get through this strange and scary time together, so long as we prioritize staying connected!

I want to get back into blogging again, especially as having content and distractions is more important than ever.  I’m planning on doing some recommendation pieces next, but if you have a request or a suggestion for something I could write about, leave a comment.  I’ll see what I can do!

Curiously Strong Podcast

For the last several months,
my friends April and Jess have been working on a new project:

Curiously Strong Logo

All ten episodes of season one are available now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.  Check out episode descriptions below if you want to pick and choose your way through our conversations about identity in our new and confusing phase of life after leaving a lifetime of evangelicalism.

  1. Introductions (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Meet your hosts: Jess, April, and Trish as we introduce ourselves in this pilot episode of the podcast. Learn about how we met each other and how we got to the point of starting this project as we talk about growing up evangelical and ultimately what led to severing ourselves from that identity. How do people identify themselves nowadays and what does it say about them? Get ready for lots of questions, lots of (loud) laughs, and lots of fun stories about how we cope with the aftermath of a religious upbringing.

  2. Enneagram (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    In this episode, your hosts discuss everything Enneagram related: how we typed and mis-typed ourselves, how we got into it in the first place, how this relates to our evangelical and post-evangelical selves, and what we like most about our own types. April realizes that there is a type pattern in her friends/family circle, Trish has an ability to move from her type to her wing with ease when the situation necessitates it, and Jess is still working on not apologizing so much. Rather than having this be an explanatory episode about what the Enneagram is, we assume that the listener already has a basic knowledge of this typing system and discuss how it impacts us personally. Find out whether there can be a future for this podcast if two out of the three don’t like engaging in conflict (spoiler: there can) and what Trish said that made April respond with: “I’m going to get that tattooed on me.”

  3. Religious Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Let’s talk about religion, the reason we are all here. You’ll find out what religious climate/culture everyone grew up in and what we would consider ourselves now. A major discussion point revolves around reasons and catalysts for leaving the faith or making pretty big adjustments if not leaving entirely.  While religion certainly has its positive parts, we have also felt the awkward, isolating, and even hurtful aspects of it that influence our thoughts and behaviours to this day. We have all felt the in-between of not belonging to the Christian group anymore but also not really belonging to the secular community, and that can be a lonely place. We raise a lot of serious (and not so serious) questions such as “What the hell is flag-waving?”, “What is the age of accountability and should it be lower?”, and “What does it mean to have an identity as a changing human?” Prepare to either relate to a lot of the facets of Christian upbringing or be pretty weirded out by the stuff we used to do.

  4. Work Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    On today’s episode your hosts talk about our day jobs, what we love most about them, how they relate to our identity, and whether we find them fulfilling. Work is a big part of everyone’s lives because we spend so much of our time doing it, so it is bound to influence us in a major way. But how much of our life is work, really? Does it consume us entirely or do we find a balance to enjoy it when we do show up?  We should be seeking alignment, not have one thing take over everything. But we also recognize that having these choices is a privilege, an opportunity that we are going to take and run with.  Listen to us answer the daunting question: “If you had to step away from work for a period of time, how would you feel/how would it affect you?” As structure and productivity prove to be essential for a fulfilling life, the idea of not having a work identity would be difficult for us.

  5. Sexual Identity Pt 1 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    Today April, Trish, and Jess spill the tea about all things sexuality. The episode starts off with us explaining how we currently identify sexually and the complicated journey from childhood until now where we are finally comfortable with who we are. Sexuality is hugely influenced by a religious upbringing and can sometimes be incredibly damaging. They bring up the struggles of sexuality, the harmful purity culture, the idea of casual sex, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and why Jess read Every Young Man’s Battle. We realized that much of our sexual “sin” was pure thought crime (i.e. lusting) and how this ultimately led to dissociation from our bodies. Surprisingly there are also some good things about growing up in a conservative sexual culture that come up. But then the conversation shifts back to the weird, heteronormative concept of virginity and how in actuality sex is nuanced, individual, and personal.

  6. Sexual Identity Pt 2 (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We now talk about what our sexuality means for our day to day mental space and relationships. Hear why Trish thinks it’s different coming out in Canada versus the US. We also discuss the question: “Is it necessarily our sexuality changing or is our relationship to it changing? What situations am I putting myself in that are going to draw out these sides out of it?” Sexuality is very fluid and weird and nuanced and that is okay, because for every human that exists there is a new way of being. And as language changes, so can labels. We also really get into how sexuality relates to feminism, body positivity, and power.

  7. Relational Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    How has the experience of leaving evangelicalism affected the relationships we have with the people around us? We need to be shifting away from an “us” versus “them” mentality because so much of conervsative Christianity is defining yourself by whether you are in the in group or out group. Whether you are bad or good, right or wrong, saved or lost. Christianity had taught us that everyone is our responsibility because we put them on a path to either heaven or hell purely based on our interactions, which creates an impossible burden. But now we can say: “I can remember someone’s humanity but I don’t have to interact with it. Not everyone is my responsibility.” We also tackle topics like forced vulnerability in small/community groups causing psychological harm and how much we dislike it when people tell us they are going to pray for us. Some questions we consider are: How do we balance real vulnerability and sharing experiences while not having to justify and defend our life choices? How do we say no without having to explain ourselves and how are our boundaries with other people now that god is out of the picture?

  8. Privilege Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    A Canadian, an American, and a German talk about what privilege means to us and where we source it from. Whether it’s the colour of our skin, our respective home countries, or the religion we grew up with, we all had immense privilege in our lives despite our individual seasons of pain. We try to be as honest as we can be with ourselves in this episode and acknowledge the things that have paved the way for us to succeed in this life. We also talk about the rarely discussed idea that growing up Christian gives you the unique privilege of being trusted within your community. There is an assumption of good character as a Christian that influences someone else’s decision to hire you since you share the same values, as we all have experienced.

  9. Online Identity (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    From AOL chatrooms to Myspace to Instagram, we have evolved in how we communicate with and to the world. Embarrassing posts and status updates were a part of all our online lives, but we were lucky that it all happened when no one was really paying attention. We discuss how, because of the compulsive need to share, it makes it hard to “be in the moment” without thinking of the different lenses for this situation. Are we just living for the end product? Or is it possible to actually achieve a balance of being present in a moment as well as capturing it for future memories? Context matters, so we also talk about how we recognize that we may not be entirely the same person online as we are in “real life”. We answer the question: Since becoming an exvangelical, how has your online presence changed? It turns out we all have very different answers.

  10. Religious Identity (the Good Stuff) (Apple Podcasts / Spotify)

    We have talked a lot about the ways that our religious upbringing has hurt us, but we wanted to dedicate an entire episode to the good things we are taking away from evangelicalism. 
    What did we learn from church? What opportunities were presented to us? Community always has been an important one and one we hear from lots of other exvangelicals and ex-religious people as well. Another facet is the charitable spirit of Christianity (when done right) and how it often changes lives for the better. Trish loves the Bible as wisdom literature and likes thinking about the good things we can get out of it. Jess has been taught that everyone has inherent value and no one is beyond redemption. April values the importance of not seeing people as objects but rather as full human beings. Listen to find out all the other positive things we’re taking for evangelicalism as this season of identity comes to a close. 

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Join the conversation!
Reach out to us on Instagram, Twitter, or email us at curiouslystrongpod@gmail.com.

It’s Freezing: Stay Indoors and Play These Table Top Games

It’s too cold to be outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to be anti-social (unless you want to, in which case you might check out the games below that work for a single player).  Play one of these table top games that I can personally vouch for!

I want to acknowledge that board games can be expensive.  If you don’t think you’re ready to invest in a board game, you can still enjoy them!  You can borrow a game from a friend, check out a board game from the library, or head out to a cafe or pub that allows you to play a huge variety of games while eating and drinking.  (If you’re in the Vancouver area, I recommend Storm Crow Tavern or Pizzeria Ludica.)

5-Minute Dungeon (2-5 players, 25 minute gameplay)5 Minute Dungeon
5-Minute Dungeon is an excellent game to start the evening.  Each round literally lasts five minutes, so it’s a quick and chaotic cooperative way to get in the gaming mood with your friends.  Using D&D archetypes such as rogue, wizard, or barbarian, you have the option of choosing from five character cards (male or female on either side, equaling ten option in total) to team up and defeat five increasingly difficult boss battles.  The gameplay is simple, as you and your teammates match icons from your hand to defeat a series of monsters and obstacles, and the five minute time limit guarantees that you will be laughing and screaming in an attempt to be victorious in time.

Unstable Unicorns (2-8 players, 30-45 minute gameplay) Unstable Unicorns
Unstable Unicorns is an adorably designed game of killer unicorns with hilarious names and powers (Americorn!  Stabby the Unicorn!) that combines strategy and ruthlessness with seriously, just the cutest illustrations ever.  Build up your stable of unicorns (as well as narwhals, the unicorns of the sea) and try to destroy the unicorns of other players.  It is a simple system with the potential for a lot of clever gameplay.

QuelfQuelf (3-8 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Quelf is my favorite party game, and I have historically described it as “if you are willing to look ridiculous for 30 seconds, you get to watch your friends look ridiculous too.”  It is out and out bonkers, as you move along the track by miming falling down an elevator or scouring your kitchen for materials to make a scuba mask that must be worn for the remainder of the game.  Sometimes you lose points if you forget to bark at someone entering the room.  It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever voluntarily done on repeat, and it never gets old.

MunchkinMunchkin (3-6 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Munchkin is a card-based strategy game wherein you strengthen your character with loot like the Kneepads of Sexiness and fight monsters, racing to level 10 before any of your competitors.  It’s a lot of fun that never gets old, because holy cow, there are so many expansions.  You can work your way through Adventure Time scenarios or Cthulhu horrors or dinosaurs.  This game has a fairly simple conceit, but it’s heightened with creative twists like giving monsters additional hit points for every drink that’s on the table.

Eldtrich HorrorEldritch Horror (1-8 players, 2-4 hour gameplay)
Eldritch Horror is one of the most complicated, most difficult games I’ve ever played.  In fact, in the three times I’ve played this with groups of experienced gamers, I have never once won.  Yet this only makes me want to try again!  A cooperative game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s novels, you and your friends race to find clues and defeat horrors appearing through rifts all over the world before your health and sanity disappear.  It requires strategy, flexibility, and the willingness to mourn the takeover of planet earth after hours of attempting to prevent the apocalypse.  Defeat was never so fun.

Arkham Horror Card GameArkham Horror: The Card Game (1-4 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
If you’re not a fan of board games that require hundreds of game pieces, switch over to Arkham Horror: the Card Game, which adds role-play to the original concept of partners uniting to defeat otherworldly horrors before you lose all health and sanity.  The card setup is unique, and the scenarios allow you to fail but continue moving forward so long as you note your “two mental traumas” in the gameplay notebook.  Again, this is a game designed to be almost impossible, which should be obvious by the rule that states, “If you are unsure how to apply a rule, choose the option that causes the most pain to your characters.”  So hard!  So fun!

Terraforming MarsTerraforming Mars (1-5 players, 1-2 hour gameplay)
Terraforming Mars a perfect game for one or two people who want to strategize and create a long term plan, stacking resources and implementing opportunities at just the right moment.  This game wins extra points for feeling like you’re really terraforming Mars.  Points are earned as you raise the temperature and oxygen levels, and you have access to developing microbes and searching for life before opportunities to plan grass ever come along.  An incredibly nerdy and delightful game.

Twilight ImperiumTwilight Imperium (3-6 players, 4-8 hour playtime)
The game of all games.  I first played Twilight Imperium in a group of six, and we played for thirteen hours.  It is a testament to this game that we played again within a month, and the second time breezed by in a quick seven hours.  This complex game somehow manages to never feel QUITE too complicated, though I cannot imagine trying to play without at least one player who has experience.  In this race to conquer the galaxy (which you create with tiles, guaranteeing a new game every time), you can lean into technology, war, trade, or diplomacy to earn victory points and become undisputed champion of table top gaming.

How to Survive Being Unemployed

When I was laid off, I thought it would be a month before my application to be a permanent resident of Canada would be approved.  It was easier, in that context, to think of the time away from work as a vacation.  I later found out that the time had been extended to an additional five months, with the expectation that my application will finish processing by the end of June.  Suddenly, the first half of the new year found me unemployed and purposeless.

That’s the thing, isn’t it?  I associate my purpose with my work.  This setback wasn’t primarily financial, though this was a huge concern; it was personal.  Who am I without a job?  How do I create meaning when the socially acceptable route isn’t available to me?  I’m still wading through this emotional and practical quagmire, but here are some things that I have found helpful so far:

  • Feel the feelings.  This is my rule for everything, and this situation is no exception.  Over the past month, I have felt shocked, angry, frustrated, hopeless, hopeful, energized, depressed, disappointed, and overwhelmed.  When I repress those emotions and pretend they aren’t there, they become more powerful.  They last longer and pop up in other areas of my life where they don’t belong.  To avoid this, I try to feel the feelings.  For me, that means naming them as they arrive.  Simply saying, “I’m sad today,” goes a long way toward accepting and moving through the emotion.  Have a good cry or a good rant, and let that feeling go.
  • Set boundaries on feeling the feelings.  There comes a time when feeling the feelings turns into saturating yourself in the feelings.  Instead of letting your emotions be signposts to show you what you need, they become quicksand, eager to pull you under completely.  I have a rule for this as well:

    Have your pity party, but only for one day, and only if you invite someone else.

    I have found that this validates my emotions without empowering them.  It also has the fortunate side effect of infusing humor into the darkest emotions.  When I’m in an especially bad mood, my conversation with my girlfriend looks something like this:

    “What kind of balloons are at your pity party?”
    “Black ones.  No, black is too good for my party.  They’re like, watery grey.  And only half inflated.”
    “Where are they?  Hanging on the walls?”
    “No, they’re just…on the floor.  And I’m on the floor.  Laying face down, making the world’s saddest balloon angel.”
    “I’m going to try to sit on some to pop them.  But they’re so uninflated that they won’t pop.”
    By now, I’m trying not to smile at absurd mental images.  “You look ridiculous,” I insist, before bursting into laughter.

  • Be careful who you share your story with.  There are all kinds of people who are not going to help you.  Some unsuccessfully hide the fact that they are happy about your misfortune, because it makes them feel more secure in their not-that-bad situation.  Others seem helpful, but their commitment to being with you in your experience can actually keep you mired in the worst emotions without allowing you to move on.  If you find that you’ve opened up to someone who is making things worse, you can always back away from the information updates and give less intimate reports when they ask how you’re doing.
  • Balance productivity with laziness.  This has been my biggest struggle.  When I was first confronted with so much time off, I had a list of projects I wanted to complete, from decluttering my closet to designing podcast logos.  As I checked off the projects that excited me most, I started to falter.  I watched more Netflix, played more video games, and wasted more of my time.  The shame increased, which made escaping into tv shows even more appealing.

    It’s the shame that is the problem here.  Once I told myself that I was allowed to be a lump on the couch as much as I wanted, it didn’t feel quite so appealing for quite so long.  Am I playing video games more often than usual?  Yes.  Once I chose to see that as a perk of being unemployed, I could enjoy it without getting sucked into it forever and always.  I could work on projects when necessary, and be lazy when necessary.  Always keeping my eyes open for new shame attacks, of course.  Those things aren’t a one-and-done deal.

Being unemployed is a struggle, and following the four pieces of advice laid out here will not make it a magical experience.  But this time doesn’t have to be seen as a waste.  It can be a period of self-growth as you explore and strengthen your emotional intelligence.  You can discover new hobbies, or pick up old ones that fell by the wayside when you were too busy with work.  It is going to be uncomfortable, but it is survivable.

The Terrible Thing is Coming, So Be Here Now

One of the reasons I was happy being single was that I did not have to worry about future heartbreak.  Someone once told me that the best case scenario for romantic relationships is staying together until one of you dies, and my risk-avoidant brain immediately decided it would be preferable to just stay by myself, thanks.  How annoying to find myself dating someone five years older than me, so that even if we hit upon the best case scenario, odds are I’ll be the one burying her.

Yes, I am aware of my morbidity!  I regularly kiss my cat’s head and tell him how sad I will be when he dies.  I once sat outside and enjoyed the brisk autumn breeze by wondering how it would feel if I were a corpse and it could get to my bones.

Best case scenarios are not the only option, however.  Opening myself up to loving someone and being loved in return means also opening myself up to the possibility of that love disappearing.  Here I find it very unhelpful to have a counseling background.  I don’t have the luxury of blind belief in our relationship being special.  I know we will lose the honeymoon desperation and affection.  I know that if we replace that with a deeper, committed love, we are likely to fall into the ten year pit that sinks a huge proportion of relationships.  And I know that if we choose to stay together through that, there’s still a chance we will be physically together but emotionally separate.

Is now a good time to mention that we have been together for less than six months?  In addition to my morbidity, I am also aware of my anxious overthinking.  My tendency to plan and sub-plan will always be with me, and honestly, I’m grateful for it.  My knowledge of potential future outcomes makes me eager to set up our relationship for success by having hard conversations early and establishing habits of communication and affection that will see us through rough patches.  But sometimes I get stuck anticipating and preparing for the terrible thing, and it becomes all I can see.

“The terrible thing is coming, so be here now.”  I heard that in a podcast referring to job failure, and it illuminated my problem.  The terrible thing is coming, whether that terrible thing is breakup now or later, death now or later, dissatisfaction now or later.  But the solution to the terrible thing coming is not to look over my shoulder and around every corner so that I can catch a glimpse of it.  The solution is to be here now.

Something terrible will happen in my relationship with Rachel.  That’s the inevitability of life.  So because of that, I want to be with her, fully and in deep appreciation for what we now have.  I want to laugh with her, dream with her, hold her and listen to her affirm me.  What we have is good.  It’s so good.  When I spend my time anticipating the terrible thing, I miss what’s happening right now.

And that’s a terrible thing in itself.

A Truly Terrible Day of Traveling

When I say I had a terrible day of traveling, I mean it on the level of absolutely rotten, throw it away forever, because this hell had multiple levels.

For starters, I was leaving a reunion in Greece that caused me to realize that I had quite a lot of unresolved grief surrounding the abrupt end of my time living there. This left me randomly weeping as I walked through the Athens airport remembering all the times I’d been through the place and sat there with that person on that trip. Emotionally raw was a set up for added physical agony.

I was also only one day clear of a bout of flu that had knocked me unconscious for two days straight. I wasn’t feverish anymore, but I still had the sort of head cold that made my eyes randomly weep from sinus pressure when not already producing fluid due to aforementioned sadness. That’s not so bad, but liquid also leaked from my nose quite often, and I spent most of my time trying to cover all this up so that the people around me would not worry that I was most definitely spreading the plague.

Added to all this was a total lack of sleep. My flight left Athens at 6:00 am, which meant I was supposed to wake up at 3:00. I went to bed at 10:00 the night previous, then promptly did not sleep as my brain was terrified that I wouldn’t make it to the airport. You see, the flu I had so recently come out of was now happily residing in the people who controlled my transit. They had already downgraded from driving to the airport to driving me to the bus stop out of a fear of not being able to stay awake, and I laid in bed for five hours doing nothing helpful to the situation. I was very tired going into 19 hours of travel.

On the first flight I had the dreaded sinus head implosion that drags all the mucus in your body to the surface of your face, as though gravity wants to pull it from you through each individual pore. It also feels as though your teeth are slowly being peeled from their gums, and I had to keep running my tongue around to ensure they remained in place. As I privately groaned and snotted and contemplated face-removal, the young couple next to me laughed together and kissed noisily in Greek, the monsters.

Knowing how much food is given on transatlantic flights, I had not considered my four hour layover and how hungry it would make me. I spent each hour debating whether it was worth using an ATM to get a few euro for a snack, always choosing no and then regretting it. It was at this point that I realized one final thing: I had started my period early, and in an incredibly uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared. I haven’t been without a spare tampon or pad in my purse in over a decade, and I paced the Amsterdam airport in an anxious fugue, still wheezing and dripping from the nose, but also begging feminine supplies off strangers. One woman looked at me in pity, saying, “Oh honey, I haven’t had to worry about that in years.” Several simply said no or avoided my sick-addled English question, made unhelpfully more awkward when I added gestures to the question. Finally, one heroic soul, after saying she didn’t have a tampon, watched me sadly mouth-breathe at the bathroom door, waiting for a new victim to enter my lair. She paused, then clarified, “I might have a pad.” She properly dug into her carry-on suitcase, opening it fully and rifling through her life possessions in pursuit of the Spare Pad that no responsible adult woman goes without. When she gave it to me, I nearly cried, from relief or from sinuses, or both.

I could tell you how the nine hour flight from Amsterdam to Vancouver slowly turned the experience around, how a very kind stewardess searched both the back and the front storage areas to surreptitiously hand me three more pads that could have been made of gold for how much I valued them. I could tell you how I made eye contact with the man standing beside me as I accepted them and stuck them up my shirt, daring him to comment on my personal hell. I could then mention that the food was truly excellent and the seating comfortable enough that I quadruple checked my ticket and seat out of a fear I’d accidentally upgraded myself to business class. And I could tell you that my sinuses dried up and I spent the majority of the flight sleeping whilst breathing through my nose, deeply satisfied with the simple pleasures of my body finally working properly.

But mostly I will just tell you: I have never wanted so deeply and so desperately to fall through my apartment door, to hug my newly reunited cat, and to be as gross as I needed to be without anyone else around to notice.

The Best Things I Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2018

Best Books I Read in 2018

  1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
    These six books are the most melodramatic historical novels I’ve ever read.  Francis Crawford of Lymond is an arrogant genius with an alarming amount of self-hatred who willingly plays the villain in order to play a long game of justice, so like, he’s my exact favorite kind of character.  These are DENSE books that somehow fly by, and the fourth book (Pawn in Frankincense) had me literally screaming at the pages.  I’ve been avoiding Dunnett’s second series, The House of Niccolo, because I know they will once more overtake my entire life.
  2. Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
    I haven’t yet read something by Oppel that I don’t like, but Every Hidden Thing tops my list of his books.  It’s a Shakespearean story of star-crossed lovers from competing families of archeologists scrambling to discover new dinosaur fossils in the Badlands in late 1800s.  If that doesn’t immediately grab your attention, then…I don’t understand your brain.
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I was entirely surprised to find myself won over by Mitchell’s book, since before this year I only had bad memories of watching the movie in Memphis in a theater full of Yankee-hating Southerners.  But Mitchell is a phenomenal writer!  The story is surprisingly feminist, an unflinching examination of a woman who is willing to flout societal gendered expectations in order to ensure her family’s survival.  It’s messy and inspiring and depressing – three of my favorite things!
  4. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    This is satirical fantasy with a heart, where a bunch of over-the-hill champions have to reform their warrior team to save a daughter from an evil bunny-man.  Which is ridiculous, but also the bunny-man is legitimately scary?  And in the very good sequel, Bloody Rose, there is a hero bunny-man who actually made me cry, so…satire with a heart.  At one point they hide from giant trolls who are idly arguing about whether one is using the word “literally” correctly, and I think that sums up the feel of the book quite nicely.
  5. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    How would the world change if women suddenly woke up with the ability to conduct electricity?  This was a depressing and fascinating story that stayed with me for a long time.  There’s a sense of satisfying justice in the beginning, as women who have been abused or belittled for years suddenly have the power to defend themselves.  But it doesn’t end there, ultimately positing that when power comes from physical force, there can never be equality.  The parts that were especially compelling to me were the eerie echoes of women defending their power (“it wasn’t rape, because he liked it”) that throw real life problems into excruciating clarity.
  6. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
    Not nearly as sexy as its title would have you believe, this is both a murder mystery and an empowering story of overlooked women finding camaraderie and joy through sharing, well, erotic stories.  It covers generational immigrants and their conflicting priorities, the inner lives of those whom society labels irrelevant, and the dangers of the patriarchy.  It was entirely unique for me, and I adored it.
  7. Saga (volumes 1-9) by Brian K. Vaughan
    WHAT A SERIES.  These graphic novels had me hooked within a couple pages, and I am so sad to have reached the end of what is currently published, so now I have to wait for the next installment very impatiently.  This very adult story is about two worlds at war, both of which want to kill the child of two pacifists who abandoned the fight.  It is INCREDIBLY creative, with a nation of robots that are just grey people with televisions for heads, and the higher in status they are, the more modern the tv (royalty’s screens are in color).  And, like Kings of the Wyld, this might sound ridiculous, but it’s all played seriously, and yes, I did also cry because of one of the robots.  There’s a lot of crying in this series, because it covers years of this family’s fight to survive, and a lot of people help them and suffer for it throughout the way.  I don’t honestly know how to describe its brilliance, so here’s just this:  It’s my actual first favorite thing I read all year.

Best Things I Watched in 2018

  1. Call Me By Your Name
    This movie is absolutely beautiful!!  It is sumptuous, capturing a lazy summer in Italy with just, an incredible attention to the physicality of a moment, whether that’s the slap of wet feet in sandals or the magnetic embrace of someone newly in love.  I saw this four times this year, and I accidentally cried while describing it to someone.
  2. Stephen Universe
    This cartoon! is! amazing!  I binge-watched all five seasons currently out, and while it started as cute 10-minute adventure segments, the world slowly expanded and got very emotionally compelling!!  It is one of the most good stories out there, by which I mean its hero genuinely wants to help everyone, even his enemies, and his heart is just so big and so beautiful!  This is one of those shows that I think could actually make the world a better place if everyone were forced to watch it.
  3. Queer Eye
    This is another series that could change the world for the better if everyone were forced to watch it!  This is reality tv with massive heart, as five gay men do total life makeovers for straight men.  And I mean total life makeovers.  While there is the requisite hair and clothing changes, the real magic of this show comes from the inside-out transformation of men blossoming under male attention and learning to express their emotions.  I cry a lot while watching this show, and
  4. Terrace House
    For someone who thinks she doesn’t like reality tv, it’s weird to have two on my list this year!  But this Japanese reality show is so sweet!  It’s a classic “six strangers have to live together” scenario, but instead of in-fighting, they generally support each other’s goals and politely discuss any conflict in the house.  And rather than vote people out, a person can stay until they feel they’ve accomplished their goal (which can be anything from ‘launch a ski clothing line’ to ‘fall in love’), they leave and someone new comes in.  It’s all really lovely, non-confrontational, and funny.  Because oh yeah, there’s a panel of Japanese comedians who interrupt the show twice per episode to make jokes about what’s going on.  Genius.
  5. I, Tonya
    I wasn’t around for the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle, but that did not affect my enjoyment of this movie in the slightest.  Okay, “enjoyment” is a strong word.  It’s an excellent movie about abuse, made even more amazing by how it traces her abusers from her mother to her husband…to us, the viewers who judged and opinionated and laughed at her.  It’s also just very cleverly done, intercutting flashbacks with dialogue from the present day.  Inspiring and depressing…hmmm, there’s a trend here.
  6. She-Ra
    Except for these wonderful cartoons with not a bit of depression in them!  The She-Ra remake ALMOST made me want to have kids, because both girls and boys could be so benefitted by its diverse representations of girls and boys.  It’s all about the power of friendship, and it’s also just so healthy.  At one key point, a sidekick begs She-Ra, “You have to fix this!”  Overwhelmed, she admits, “I can’t.”  And instead of forcing or guilting her, the sidekick says, “Okay,” and hugs her, preparing to be destroyed together.  Spoiler, they aren’t, but that moment of grace made me cry actual tears.  Also, there is a princess prom and Catra and Adora have mad chemistry, and I cannot wait for season two!!

Best Podcasts I Listened to in 2018

  1. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
    Sometimes he interviews famous friends (or his famous wife, Kristen Bell, whose episodes are always my favorites), and sometimes he interviews mostly unknown experts in various fields (I loved the episode with Dr. Drew about addictions).  It’s a long show, and I don’t listen to every episode if it’s a celeb I don’t care about, but it’s always a fun listen.
  2. Buffering the Vampire Slayer
    Two women review Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, but they spice up their routine with character jingles, a sexual tension award, and a legit good song about each episode.
  3. Failed Missionary
    Hosted by Corey Pigg, former missionary in Germany, this podcast tackles some very real problems in the missionary world like the white savior complex (fittingly discussed by Ugandan men and women).  It’s updated irregularly, but every episode is amazing.
  4. Hoist the Colours I didn’t stop being obsessed with Black Sails this year, and luckily there are still people creating new content about the world’s best television show.  This podcast focuses on the numerous queer characters in the show, tracking their character arcs through the seasons, and it literally makes my heart spike every time I see a new episode uploaded.
  5. Milleneagram
    An irreverent podcast about the Enneagram that’s for “babes and trolls, kids and queers,” it maintains the complexity and beauty of learning from the personality test while including a lot more cussing and real talk than the enneagram podcasts made by middle-aged men and women (which I also love, but they are not my favorite).
  6. Queerology
    An amazing podcast for LGBTQ+ people to discuss their relationship with Christianity.  It’s…just exactly that simple, and I love it.
  7. The Daily
    I am very bad at keeping up with the news, but this half-hour podcast makes me feel a little less uninformed every day.  I especially like it because the current topic is framed in a historical context that makes it all a lot more interesting and relevant.

What were some of your favorite books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts this year?
Tell me in the comments, and maybe they’ll make my 2019 list.

Luke Skywalker and the Power of Story

While I was listening to Can I Just Say‘s podcast episode about The Last Jedi, I caught some serious Luke Skywalker feels again!  (See my other blog post fangirling about him here.)  What caught me this time was their discussion about his circular arc: how Luke goes from a young man longing to be a hero, to becoming a cynical and bitter man who sees that heroes are just flawed men and women, to finally accepting that despite reality, people need heroes to inspire them toward great things and to believe in the hope of goodness.  The Luke that is disgusted by the idea of people searching the galaxy for him, knowing that he’s committed or allowed atrocities to happen, eventually decides that it is selfish of him to be an authentic hermit.  Instead, he steps into the role of idealistic hero and puts on a show that will continue the legacy of LUKE SKYWALKER THE JEDI MASTER.  What changes things for him?  Leia’s hologram.  And that’s where things get meta!

The newest Star Wars trilogy is, to me, simultaneously an acknowledgment of its past failings AND a love letter to itself.  While it works hard to correct failures of diversity in its casting, it also celebrates the stories that a bunch of white people created.  Luke is the embodiment of that struggle – he is a man who is revealed to be flawed, but he’s still inspirational.  The fact that it is Leia’s hologram, one of the most recognizably Star Wars moments – “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope” – that helps him see his simultaneous roles is so beautiful to me.  It connects the character to the story in which he belongs, and there is a catharsis there for those who need help accepting that their fav is problematic.

In this day and age, it seems like we only get one side of this issue addressed at a time.  Some books/movies/television shows diversify and become more culturally thoughtful and like to pretend that past regressive behavior never happened.  Others entrench themselves in their narrow storytelling, insisting that you have to end a story the same way it began.  I really admire Star Wars for taking the middle road, for admitting their failures and working to rectify them while also celebrating the fact that Star Wars is a hugely popular and inspirational story that encourages us to hope that good can ultimately triumph over evil.

As someone who is simultaneously obsessed with authenticity AND idealism, I love Luke Skywalker.  He wants so desperately for ideals to be real.  When he realizes that nothing can ever truly live up to his ideal, he removes himself from everything.  But eventually he realizes that ideals aren’t there to be attained.  Ideals exist as something to aspire to, something that pushes us beyond what we can imagine on our own.  So he completes the circle, becomes the ideal he always wanted to be, fully knowing it was isn’t his authentic self.  But that’s okay.  What the world needs is Luke Skywalker the Jedi Master who will be the hero of little slave children’s stories.  Who just might, in Episode 9, be the impetus for their reaching beyond what society has given them and dreaming of something more.

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