Fashion and Feminism


Model: Lorna Foran for 2018 Resort Orla Kiely Collection

For anyone who has ever been confused about my combined interests in fashion and philosophy, please read this from Vogue’s Luke Leitch about the 2018 Resort Orla Kiely collection.

For anyone who has never been confused by the connection between these two interests, this will be an affirmation of all you believe to be true and good.

“Around the time she started incubating the colors, shapes, and ideas for this third edition of the capsule collection, L’Orla, produced alongside Orla Kiely, stylist Leith Clark was transfixed by the Women’s March on Washington. This, Clark said in Kiely’s London showroom, made her connect the dots between the fixedly nostalgic filter through which Kiely envisions her world and the radicalism of second-wave feminism that emerged from the 1960s counterculture. ‘I was thinking about the way that women chose to stand up for peace: outside the Miss America pageant, or when Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s Oscar,’ Clark said.

As Kiely watched, Clark expounded on her theme and Lorna Foran modeled the pieces. A black velvet and guipure-trimmed dress of a weight Clark had specified she wanted to swoosh ‘in slow motion,’ some micro-corduroy bell-bottoms with matching trucker jacket in soft pink, and a synthetic-shot organza smocked check dress were some retro-woke calling cards. A complementary embellished and piped corduroy weekend bag was perfect for packing those marching outfits.

Kiely’s brand of embellishment-rich retro-femininity predates the recent surge in demonstrative resistance to mainstream misogyny. There are lots of thorny questions to ponder when it comes to contemplating the relationship between fashion and feminism; without real thought and soul and consideration, you run the risk of careless Kendall Jenner/Pepsi–style crassness. This felt true through a subjective reflection of the fourth wave cast in a mirror customarily bent to reflect a time that coincided with the second.”

This is the second designer I’ve come across in the last two days explicitly referencing our current political climate as their inspiration. For one designer, it was naming her dresses after powerful women in government. It’s important to me that the clothes we wear are not disembodied from our experiences. Often, fashion designers are accused of being too insular, referencing only their own industry.

Some History for You

Coco Chanel basically hid out in the Ritz Hotel during WWII and was lover to a Nazi spy. It has also been argued that she even spied for the Nazis herself. She had made a name for herself in fashion and perfume, so much so that when Americans liberated Paris, GIs lined up outside her shop to buy Chanel No. 5 for their wives and girlfriends. So, no one really cared that she was an anti-Semite who cozied up to the enemy. Other women were publicly punished for their relationships with Nazis when the occupation ended, but not Coco. She became even more famous with her tweed suits, empowering women the world over. I do not begrudge anyone their admiration of Coco Chanel. I cannot help but appreciate her maxims and her role in doing away with the corset. However, I think her complicity in one of the century’s greatest evils is a powerful contrast to the example I present today.

A Little More History

When the housing bubble burst in 2008, and there was talk of the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression, I took the opportunity to design clothes based on the Dust Bowl. During the actual Dust Bowl, designers took the stock market crash as an opportunity to make movie stars more glitzy and glammy than ever. Sequins galore! I understand that impulse, the one where we hide from the mess we made with the glamorous lives of actors and the fictions they portray. Of course, my Dust Bowl inspired burlap skirt was in the minority. In mainstream fashion, sequins and beading took center stage, as we saw dozens of red carpet looks harrowing back to the golden age of cinema and the starlet. In 2012, The Artist, a silent film about the rise of the talkie, took home the Oscar for Best Picture, and I felt the empty void of a culture who refused to reckon with its failures.


This collection is unarguably feminine and strong. Note the poses and facial expressions Foran is captured in. It is a manifesto, In Defense of Beauty: the Fundamental Strength of Culturally Prescribed Feminine Characteristics.

Clothing as Revolution

It is also valuable for me to address stereotypes. It is often believed that people in the fashion industry are vapid and dumb. It’s easy to believe that when the craft is presented as fundamentally shallow: a mere presentation of our outward appearance. I contend that it is not. We can read dozens of emotions on a person’s face, whether they are wearing makeup or not. Likewise, we can read a great deal from a person’s apparel, whether they are wearing it or designing it. We expect our artists to be able to make statements about the nature of the world. Art and philosophy go hand in hand throughout history and medium. I often think about the protest music ignited by the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights Movement. There is no ambiguity about the importance of these songs and we accept them both as art and political commentary. Maybe it is because as a society we are so far removed from the production process of our clothing, but every third teenager at summer camp can play a little guitar. Whatever the reason, we put less value on the fact that in the former USSR, wearing blue jeans was an act of sedition, or that in the French Revolution, the revolutionaries were known by their attire, shunning the breeches of the aristocracy for the trouser of the working man. In other words, clothes matter in a political sense.


In the final shot of this collection, Foran is captured wearing a dress with the same pattern as the backdrop, as if to say that tenets of the 2nd wave feminism blend into the broader context in which they were formed. It remains to be seen whether it is the feminism or the context which originated these patterns.

Was it self-preservation that lead Chanel to hide out in the Ritz and seek the companionship of a Nazi? Perhaps. Certainly, the stakes are lower for Leith Clark at Orla Kiely, but her philosophy remains potent. She is using her collection to look at the stages of feminism and the implications intentionally blending the visual cues of the 60s and it’s 2nd wave feminism with today’s increasingly progressive ideals.  It is an undeniably retrospective collection. And so maybe the revolution is not so overt. However, it is introspective as well, in a way that Leitch argues we really need as a culture.

Of course, my question will always be, “does it have pockets, though?” Because for all the visual philosophy, unless we end the pocket gap, it’s just lip service. More on that later.




I confess that these clothes do not resonate with my personal design aesthetic. As many people have commented, I tend to pull more from the 1920s-1940s for my inspiration. But I recognize it as good design, what’s more, as substantive design. There a plenty of moments when our clothes can and even should be frivolous. This is a moment in history where frivolity feels too much like perpetuating injustice, too much like going on a twitter rant, too much like being a 2-year-old in a man’s body, too much like the facade of glitz and glam that have exhausted their appeal for the last decade.


8.5 Things I learned from my Mother

1. Anything can be a party

From potty training M&M parties to first bra celebrations, my mom knows how to take the most ordinary things in life and turn them into a party. She really was so excited about my first bra that she wanted to tell our barista when we went for a celebratory coffee afterwards.  Even cutting and weighing 45 pounds of butter was so much fun, it might as well have been a party.


2. Be Silly Sometimes

Some people don’t know this, but I was a very serious child. I took everything personally, and used my empathizing skills to focus on the injustices of the world. This meant I cared a great deal about people and, well, everything, but I wasn’t having very much fun.

Then, my dad told me a story about why he fell in love with my mom. He said it was because she was so much fun, that she turned walking across campus into a spy game of ducking behind trees; she knew how to be goofy. This story triggered a transformation in how I viewed the world. I suddenly felt that I had license to have fun, and have spent my adult life perfecting the art of it. And yes, sometimes you do have to laugh so hard you pee your pants.

Photo Credit: Noah Burkitt

Photo Credit: Noah Burkitt

3. An appreciation for Free Things on the Side of the Road

I grew up going to thrift stores, as did a lot of people. However, not everyone grew up stopping at every garage sale and “free” sign we saw as we drove down the street.  A significant number of couches we have had in our house were adeptly discovered by my mother’s innate junk-o-meter. Call it a sixth sense. The great thing is that it wasn’t actually junk; it was usually pretty nice. Of course, with six children in the house, it didn’t stay nice for long, so it was just as well that we got it for free. This skill is especially useful while in college, just so you know.

4. Morning Singing

There were two ways my mom would wake us up in the morning. One was calling our names up the stairs at the ungodly hour of still-dark-outside o’clock when it was time to get ready for school. The other was after she’d make pancakes and sausage or our absolute favorite: popovers. The sun would be shining, and my mom would start singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma! There is no better way to be woken up in the world.

5. How to find things in cupboards

A typical conversation with my mom:

“Mom, where is the cinnamon?”

“With the spices, on the second shelf of the cupboard, in the kitchen.”

“I can’t find it.”

My mom would stop what she was doing, walk to the cupboard in question, assume a power stance, close her eyes, furrow her brow, and call out in an authoritative tone, “Cinnamon! Come forth!” Opening her eyes, she would reach into the cupboard, pull out the cinnamon and hand it to me. She has a 100% success rate.

It is for precisely this reason that I do not accidentally buy duplicates of things like spices, over-the-counter medications, and Band-Aids. I do believe the Finding Things in Cupboards is a genetic predisposition.

5.5 Being Xena the Warrior Princess

In case you hadn’t heard, my mom is Xena (No, not Lucy Lawless). She can shut sticky minivan doors, find anything in a cupboard, paint and stencil our front porch while pregnant, take care of her entire family while ill, clean the house until it’s spotless, and fight off ALL the bad guys.

Actually, being Xena is more like a life goal than it is something I feel I have accomplished. I’m not nearly as good at these things as my mom is.

Lucy Lawless

6. Don’t be Friends with Boys

I’m going to be really honest, I haven’t learned this one. My mom does not give direct advice on most subjects, but this has been one she has freely instructed me in since puberty. It just hasn’t sunk in. Sorry, mom.

7. How to go to Weddings, Attend Funerals, Hold Newborn Babies, and Visit People in the Hospital

I know that these may seem somewhat unrelated, but a lot people reach their adult lives never having done any of these. I had friends in college trying to plan their weddings without ever having attended one. When a family member dies, very little prepares you for the grief, but if you’ve been to the funerals of acquaintances as a child, you have the basic framework for what to expect from the actual proceedings. Newborn babies are not like any other kind of living creature you will ever come across. They are tiny, fragile, and floppy. They are basically aliens. For this reason, they are often a source of anxiety when one is not trained in handling them. Visiting people in the hospital is usually awkward because we aren’t taught how to be around people who are in pain.

My mom is wise, and she made sure we went to the weddings we were invited to, went to the funerals for people we knew, and visited all her friends in the hospital—whether they were sick or just gave birth.

8. How to Draw Ladybugs

As an inarticulate child, I would bring my mom a marker and some paper and ask, “Mom, willyoudrawmealadybug?” I’m not sure how she managed to understand this jumble of syllables, but she would sit and draw ladybugs for me.  Now, I draw pretty stellar ones too.

9. Coffee

I drink coffee. I wouldn’t say I drink a ton of it, like maybe one cup per day (which is teaspoons in Seattle standards). However, I do enjoy it a great deal. I started in on coffee when I was two. As the story goes, I would sit in my highchair, pound my fists, and yell, “Mommy! Coffee!”

I would like to thank my mother for enabling me from such a young age.


Photo Credit: Noah Burkitt


I imagine that once my mother has finished reading this, she will be weeping unapologetically. Over the years, I have had the chance to compare her to the other mothers I have had. I can say without question that she is the best mother of them all.

Distance is not Distance

I’ve been asked to read ee cummings’ [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] at three different weddings. I managed (much to my embarrassment today) to wheedle my way out of two of them by presenting alternatives. One was a poem I had written myself for my brother and new sister-in-law, and the other was my favorite of cummings’ poems.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                             i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

I do not object to this poem, although, it might be too commonly read at weddings for my taste. Cummings has an unparalleled way with words that has not escaped my notice in any of his poems. However, I had, until recently, always found this to be somewhat, well, idolatrous. You’ll notice the following lines, “i fear/no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want/no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)” This sentiment has often made me feel a though too much power is given to the subject of the poem, power and reverence, reverence that should be reserved for God.

This might still be the case. But my romantic heart still has many things to learn, and recently I understood what cummings meant when he wrote this. I finally took his meaning when he talks about never being without his love’s heart. His words capture perfectly the swell in my chest as I go about my day in the knowledge of being loved by another. Distance is not distance and time is not time, because your love is always nearer than any dimensions. When cummings speaks of fate, it is not because the subject of his poem determines his fate; it is because his fate is inseparable from hers. They have become so entwined, that where he begins and she ends has become imperceptible. So he can rightly say that “this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.” Love is just such a wonder, and it is by no mistake or idolatry that cummings perceives the cosmic aspects in the way his heart beats.

(Im)possible Standards: Part Two

I recommend reading Part One first.

In high school, I refused to date. This might have been just as well, because I don’t know if I could have had I tried—I was just really weird in the there-aren’t-a-bunch-of-other-weirdos-just-like-me kind of way. For inspiration in my commitment to singleness, I relied heavily on Beatrice from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, fully equipped with witticisms and snarky quips. However, as is the case with Beatrice, this was all posturing and had little to do with how I actually felt. I liked boys just fine and definitely wanted to get married some day.

However, there is a kind of power in being flippant and biting. You insert yourself into the human hierarchy this way. Those less equipped at wit must take their place lower than you and remain quiet onlookers to your verbal sparring, during art class when the teacher leaves the room for more than twenty minutes at a time. Anyone who ventures into this foray had best be well prepared, lest she be forced to creep back into sedges and tend her wounds.

Unlike other people who just have a mental list of desirable qualities, I actually wrote mine down and would refer to it if there was a boy who struck my fancy. And contrary to Beatrice’s catch 22, my impossibly long list of essential qualities that a man must possess in order to be worthy of me was made in complete sincerity. Most of the things that made the list were in the interests category: Shakespeare, fashion, poetry, language, dancing. Then there were other things regarding values and the number of children he’d prefer. This list took up pages.

Of course, in the process of growing up and discovering how to be human along with experiencing disappointed expectations, I realized that ideally, it boils down to something pretty simple:

Find someone kind.

(Im)possible Standards: Part One

“…but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. Rich she shall be, that’s certain; wise, or I’ll none; virtuous, or I’ll never cheapen her; fair, or I’ll ever look on her; mild, or come not near me; noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what color it please God.”
-Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

I often ask myself, why did Shakespeare stop there? Those are but a few of the requirements for any qualified suitor. There is so much more that is absolutely essential to tempt me.

Essential Qualities that a Man Must Possess in Order to be Worthy of Me

He should also have an insatiable appreciation for the arts, like underwater basket weaving and car wash bumper sticker art.

He has to have read The Story of Ferdinand and the entire Curious George canon, every version of The Three Little Pigs, and hate Harold and the Purple Crayon, until he’s read through to the end. He has to love Green Eggs and Ham, until he’s read it through to the end (I mean gross, Sam I am).

He must shop exclusively at Kohl’s and only wear one pair of shoes, except under extreme duress, like when he needs to prove a point or has been captured by dragons who breathed fire on the other pair he had.

He needs to have space monkeys and an Elvis suit for his black Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix. He needs to be a cat person (he only adopted the dog because it looks kind of like a cat and because it belonged to his best friend who tragically died in a freak gasoline fight accident).

When he says he likes long walks on the beach, he had better mean the entire coast of Chile. Or he could just hate beaches and have a really poor sense of direction.

He needs a completely disproportionate hobby, preferably one that takes up the entire guest bedroom and occasionally occupies his dining table, and maybe part of his roof, or a hobby that is a boat.

He has to sniffle with just one nostril at a time.

He must obsessive-compulsively say every word that an acronym stands for three times each, in alphabetical order, uncollated.

He has to be a wizard, or if he’s not he should be descended from one. He should also be descended from some kind of large predatory mammal like a lion or tiger or a cougar or a cheetah or a leopard or a wolf or a griffin or a lynx (this is not even an exhaustive list).

He has to be a master weaver and cottage cheese maker.

He has to know the answer to ALL the riddles.

He has to smell like naked trees shrouded by fog.

He has to pine for the simpler days of his youth, now 197 years ago, when adulthood is just too complicated and hard, even though it’s really just post hoc nostalgia and his childhood was terrible at the time. They didn’t even have summer back then.

He has to pretend to hate most dairy products because of being self conscious about the way they make him smell.

He has to be a chameleon.

He has to own an iguana that just swallowed an entire salamander and is now eyeing his Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix.

He has to think dry elbows are sexy—not the most sexy, just enough.

He has to know how to complete the following sentences:

Since today is our last day on Earth, I hope________________.
Cardboard boxes are best used for__________________.
The main thing cellphones and syphilis have in common is___________________.

Yes. Such a man would win any woman in the world, and I don’t think perfection is too much to ask.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

By ee cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Let’s Be Honest Peach Pie

I have a friend who will sometimes pour us what she calls “let’s be honest” glasses of wine. These are very full—very full. I have yet to determine whether she wants to be honest about how much wine we want to drink in the first place or if she thinks that if we drink more, we’ll be more honest. Maybe it’s both.

Ok, so let’s be honest.

peachesI don’t really like peaches. Sure, perfectly ripe peaches are divine, or at least point us in the right direction. Eating an under-ripe peach, I’m positive, is akin to eating squishy tree bark. Eating over-ripe ones: just don’t. I will admit there is a narrow window of acceptable peachiness. That version of peaches, I could eat until I die.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t like peach pie. What is worse than a raw peach that is outside of the acceptable ripeness window? Cooked peaches. This includes canned peaches. This includes peach cobbler. This includes all peach-flavored things. To quote an incredibly obscure song from an incredibly obscure musical I was in once, “Peaches have fuzz, and I don’t like ‘em cuz, they’re soft and squishy, kinda slimy like a fishy.” Mix that with a dry, heavy, crumbly crust, over-sweetened filling, and corn starch holding all the goo together, and you have a pretty terrible pie.

You can imagine my skepticism when my mom told me about this fantastic peach pie she had made. Even though there was no wine involved, I pressed her to be honest about why she thought this particular pie was so good.

My grandparents used to live in a house with a peach tree in the front yard. This provided a plethora of peaches in late summer, which my grandpa preferred to eat with cream. I decided to make the pie, not because I thought I would like it, but because it would give me a way to use up a lot of peaches. At the very least, my grandparents could enjoy the dessert.

I wrote down the recipe based on my mom’s instructions. I gathered ingredients. The crust called for lemon juice and butter instead of shortening, yielding the best crust I had ever come across. This was encouraging.

The filling called for mace.

I know what you’re thinking. Claire, don’t you use mace to ward off an attacker or scare away evil demons? The answer to this is yes. However, mace can scare away the demons of your soul when you eat it, by being delicious, because it’s made from the outer casing of nutmeg.

Additionally, the filling called for flour, not corn starch to keep the juices from being too oozy; it also called for an egg wash over the top crust.

The resulting pie was the best pie I have ever had.

It was gloriousness wrapped in a flaky, light crust that had been browned to perfection. The mace gives it a kick of spiciness—not too much. There wasn’t too much sugar, allowing for the best part of all: the peaches tasted like peaches. Sure, they were softer and warmer, but they still tasted like the sun-kissed glory that peachy perfection should be. It also doesn’t even need ice cream.

So now, when I make a pie, it’s a peach pie. I have made dozens by now.

I am a pie particularist, meaning I can get really picky about pie—about most dessert, really. So, when people offer me pie and I tell them I’m not really in the mood for dessert, the truth is that I am just not in the mood for that dessert—this is about honesty, after all.

I imagine there are other pie particularists out there. Maybe some of them think that peach pie can only be mediocre, inferior to the glory days of a finicky fruit. This recipe is for them. I have tweaked it slightly, but a similar recipe can also be found in The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl.10505032_10152222696326714_7157565454620626393_o

Let’s Be Honest Peach Pie

For Crust
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cold water

For Filling
3 lbs perfectly ripe peaches, pealed, pitted, and sliced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs rum

6 Tbs all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of mace
2 Tbs butter

For assembly
1 large egg yolk 
1 Tbs water

For Crust: in a large mixing bowl, mix flour and salt. Cut in butter with a fork or by hand until the butter is pea-sized or smaller and the mixture feels grainy. Add lemon juice and blend gently with a fork. Add cold water one Tbs at a time, blending with a fork until the crust is slightly sticky and all the mixture forms one lump of dough. Do not over-mix. For the most delicate crusts, the less friction created during the assembly, the better. 
Separate the dough into to pieces and form into disks about 1.5 inches thick each. One should be slightly larger than the other (this will form the bottom crust). Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For Filling: in a large mixing bowl, combine peaches, lemon juice, rum, flour, brown sugar, salt, and mace. Be sure to stir very gently, tossing the peaches so they maintain their shape, being careful not to bruise them. 

Preheat oven to 425°F. 

For assembly: Remove crust from refrigerator. Generously flour your counter-top or pastry board. You should give yourself at least 18×18 inches. Take the larger piece of dough and roll it out, beginning from the center and pushing out. You may want to turn the crust over once or twice to ensure that it won’t stick to the counter. When you are finished, the crust should be even, less than 1/8 inches thick. Gently fold crust in half and in half again and transfer to a 10 inch pie plate. Unfold the crust and center it in the plate.
Add the peach mixture, spreading it evenly. Next, roll out the second piece of crust in the same fashion as the first. Instead of folding it, cut 1-1.5 inch wide strips and lay them across the top of the pie to form a lattice.
In a small bowl, mix large egg yolk with water. Using a pastry brush, slather the egg wash over the pie. Using a fork, press the edges of the crust together, then trim the excess crust with a knife. 

Place pie on center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375°F and continue baking for 45-50 minutes. Let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Don’t forget to eat the entire thing right out of the plate at least once.

Demons, Church, Anxiety, and Doubting Everything

There have been times, and maybe there will be again, when fear gripped me so tightly, that I struggled to breathe. I forgot everything else. I forgot to see. I forgot how to turn on the lights to scare away shadows. Those moments have shaped and rearranged me. I am not my anxiety. I am not my depression. But I carry them with me, even on the sunniest days, in the happiest moments.

The first time I had an anxiety attack, I was thirteen. This was right after a Sunday school lesson about demons, and I found myself wondering for months, maybe even years, whether I had experienced a demonic attack. It was a scary time, a time before my nightmares had stopped, a time before I knew how to have faith without positive emotions. I thought that if my emotions could be swayed so easily, my salvation and my Christianity were false. I questioned God’s existence, and, despite continuing to attend church regularly, I felt wildly alienated from it.

It happened just before I registered for seventh grade. I would be in a new school, in with the big kids (in my school district, 7th through 12th graders shared a building). I had been dreading growing up all summer and mourning the loss of my childhood. Finding comon ground with Peter Pan, I didn’t want to grow up at all.

It was a Sunday night. I had been lethargically spending my last days of summer, being as unstructured as possible. After the talk about demons, I had an uncomfortable feeling as I got ready for bed, a tightness in my stomach, a sense of dread pawing at the back of my head, right above my neck. I decided to sleep downstairs, on the main floor, instead of in my bedroom, upstairs. This is something I did often when I was younger due to frequent nightmares; I had grown adept at predicting when I would have one and preferred to be close to my parents’ bedroom. This way I could stay up late reading without keeping my sister awake, hoping I could ward off the various villains of my dreams with a book. I would eventually fall asleep, regardless of my efforts. Then, the nightmare would come.

This particular night it was different. It was dark and warm, as Augusts in Minnesota are apt to be. I laid out sleeping bags and tried to settle in, but I couldn’t. Instead of drifting into an unconscious hell, I was wide awake. My chest got tighter and my mind raced faster until I could no longer think. Fear was all there was. I felt paralyzed. Just the same, I forced myself through the kitchen and dining room—it seemed to take an eternity—into my parents’ room. My mom was still awake, a lamp lighting the room, providing some amount of relief from the terror of darkness just outside.

My mom looked at me and asked what was wrong. I don’t remember if I managed to say anything or if my face gave away my distress. Then my mom prayed. She prayed and prayed. I threw myself on her bed and cried. Eventually, I began to breathe normally again. The gripping sensation in my chest subsided. My mind calmed and I focused on the words my mom was saying, the love and concern in her voice, the reassurance.

My mom began to sing a song that I had heard ever since I was little “Jesus has all authority here in this place, He has all authority here, for this habitation was fashioned for the Lord’s presence, all authority here.” It was immensely comforting.

For the rest of the night, and for several nights after, I slept on the floor in my parents’ bedroom. I would fall asleep holding my mom’s hand.

In the following months, I seemed to lose my identity, my sense of grounding. I didn’t trust anything I thought or felt. Seventh grade began, which was difficult enough; new classrooms, new teachers, new classmates, a whole new way of life. And while cruelty exists among children of all ages, suddenly cruelty was coupled with extreme emotions and the makings of deeply rooted insecurities. For the most part, I could handle the blonde girls with straight hair who had icy stares and snide comments. I could handle the guy from Illinois, (who I thought was kind of cute) calling me ugly “as a joke” every day. Even then, I knew these things were ultimately unimportant.

What I handled less well was the existential angst I was undergoing. I hadn’t discovered Descartes yet, so my eyes hadn’t been opened to the ultimate good that comes out of doubting everything; and I really, really wanted to be a good Christian. I wanted God to exist. I wanted my faith to be real.

I did not know then that my depression was probably made worse because of some vague impression I had that Christians were supposed to be cheerful. I had had little to no exposure to healthy attitudes regarding depression. Mental health was a taboo and framed as a spiritual affliction, not a chemical imbalance. Even when my youth pastor resigned that year due to his wife’s depression, he skillfully skirted around the word, talking instead about stress and serotonin levels. For many evangelicals, maybe even people in general, negative emotions are associated with feelings of shame, when the reality is that negative emotions are healthy in light of negative life events. You can have negative emotions without abandoning hope, and you can forget your hope without abandoning God or the church. What’s more, you will not be abandoned because of these things.

These were things that I did not learn for years after seventh grade. They are things that I am still learning. This keeps my depression more or less at bay, and my anxiety attacks are short and relatively irrelevant. As a thirteen-year-old I used the tools I had available to me, which, while shoddy, have made a significant difference.

The first tool was logic: If God exists, God exists whether or not I believe it. Unless you are hardcore into Berkeley or some other form of idealism, this is pretty basic. I would repeat this to myself to prevent going down mental rabbit holes even Alice would probably have shunned. While I didn’t realize I was being intensely philosophical, this premise became a significant step in the process of understanding the relationship between belief and ontology. That simple sentence was an existential lifeline.

So I had tackled the notion that existence was belief-independent. However, my work was far from over. I had to tackle the eerie feeling that perhaps my experience of God was completely false, and that I was really being tricked by some demon, possibly without an actual will of my own, heading down a path of complete destruction and eternal torment.

No big deal. Buffy deals with this kind of thing in her sleep, right?

I remember sitting in the bathtub one day. I was nearly through my seventh grade year, and I had stayed home from school. I was staring at the faucet sticking out of the wall. The water looked almost as if it were tinted blue-green as it lapped gently against the sides of the bathtub. My mind was turning over and over again, stuck and numbed and terrified.

Suddenly I thought of something I had heard in youth group, “God is not a God of confusion.”

For the first time in months, I felt that I could trust my senses and emotions. Sure, sometimes they jumble things up and get it wrong. They don’t always match reality, but for the most part, I can trust my experiences. However defective these tools are, they worked. They gave me enough space to breathe and enough time to sort through other big questions as time went on, without a sense that I was somehow failing all of the time.

I slowly rebuilt trust in my mind, trust in God.

Today, I don’t know how many anxiety attacks I have had. They usually erupt out of an unbearably deep sense of loneliness, at times of great uncertainty, not a fear of the demonic. Lately, they have had an affinity for grocery stores as well.

I have close friends with anxiety who have taught me a lot. Recently, I’ve learned that I have a lot of family members who have anxiety. Some are medicated; others aren’t. Some see therapists; others don’t. Still others don’t even recognize their constant sense of fear as having anything to do with mental health.

Talking about it, sharing my fears, and learning from others’ experiences have all helped me shed some light on those midnight monsters that tried to steal the last moments of my childhood. Despite all the weird and destructive instruction from that Sunday school lesson all those years ago, one things was true: beastly, dreadful monsters cannot live in the light.

Meeting Her

Normally, I take Fridays to reflect on things that inspire my writing or other creative endeavors, but this beautiful poem by my dad inspires my living. There are thirty years behind these words, thirty years of failures, of joys, of triumphs, of grief, of grace, of growing in love. I am often afraid I will fail, and I have already done so in pretty much every way possible, but I am so deeply encouraged to live in love because of the two wonderful people who are my parents. 

Meeting Her
By Chip Burkitt
Back when I was mad at God,
I rattled around the gloomy, tattered world
Dry as an old crust and
Dangerous as a dropped pin.
I ate alone
I slept alone
I stole brief pleasures alone.
Strange, unnamed animals came to me,
And I named them all alone.

I kept waiting for Him to slip up again
Or maybe I was expecting to catch it
For accusing Him
  (Though, really, it was all His fault.
  Who does He think He is?
  I was perfectly willing to forgive Him
  If He would just admit it
  And say He was sorry.)

I slept and had unnatural dreams.
I dreamed of a dark chasm into which one could fall and never 
reach bottom forever and ever, world without end, amen.

She came when I awoke, a little stiff on one side.
In her hair were sunlight and laughter.
Her merriment unfurrowed my brow.
I desired her pixie ears, her strong chin, her lithe limbs, her
   supple skin
I desired her infectious joy.
I desired her.

We fell into step.
The day got brighter.
The road got straighter.
The air got lighter,
   And I gingerly began to trust Him again.

my father moved through dooms of love

Read with your intuition at the ready, not your practiced knowledge of grammar. Then you will know its beauty, and you will see the sky the same way that Van Gogh must have.


my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where 
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who, his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep 
my father's fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy; 
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

joy was his song and joy so pure
a heart of star by him could steer
and pure so now and now so yes
the wrists of twilight would rejoice

keen as midsummer's keen beyond
conceiving mind of sun will stand,
so strictly(over utmost him
so hugely) stood my father's dream

his flesh was flesh his blood was blood:
no hungry man but wished him food;
no cripple wouldn't creep one mile
uphill to only see him smile.

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

septembering arms of year extend 
yes humbly wealth to foe and friend
than he to foolish and to wise
offered immeasurable is

proudly and(by octobering flame
beckoned)as earth will downward climb,
so naked for immortal work
his shoulders marched against the dark

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he'd laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that's bought and sold

giving to steal and cruel kind,
a heart to fear,to doubt a mind,
to differ a disease of same,
conform the pinnacle of am

though dull were all we taste as bright, 
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
---i say though hate were why men breathe---
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

-ee cummings