NoShoes

Never a helpmeet Part 3: Patriarchy, what happened to it?


Part of a series inspired
by this book.

So what is patriarchy, anyway? This is an area where the Quiverfull version is, at least, honest, openly declaring itself to be pushing patriarchy and setting itself against feminism. Secular anti-feminists — the informal kind you run into on the Internet, anyway — are in the habit of denying that patriarchy is even a real thing that exists. I don’t know if this is

  1. Because they don’t actually know what patriarchy means,
  2. Because they want to claim more symbolic territory, by making the conflict not “feminism vs. Patriarchy” but “feminism vs. The default that doesn’t even have a name because it’s so obvious and inevitable,” or
  3. Because they are sincerely misinformed and think patriarchy is real, but the word only describes the most extreme versions of it — Saudi Arabia, Republic of Gilead.

In its broadest sense, patriarchy describes a society in which men are given, in both law and custom, more power, autonomy, and resources than women. The father or eldest male is head of the family. Inheritance is traced through the male line, with rules of progeniture set up to strongly favor males without necessarily cutting out women entirely (ie, the reigning Queens of England).

Our particular version of patriarchy is heavily invested in the idea of a patriarchal nuclear family (mom, kids, dad is the boss) as the base unit of society, which is one reason anti-feminists are always accusing feminists of being “anti-family” or claiming that feminism is bad because it “destroys the family.” You have to translate. “Family” means “a very specific type of family” and “destroy” means “tolerate and support other kinds of families.”

In our culture, times where women gain power relative to men are often followed by a period of backlash. Women had been gaining power relative to men for the first half of the 20th century, and the post World War II period brought a backlash.

Then the 1960s happened.

Not to encourage Baby Boomer naval gazing or anything, but the 60s really were a big deal in terms of social change. They were such a big deal that a lot of people found them traumatic, and after they were over, started wearing earth tones and making art that was boring on purpose. Eventually they even voted for Ronald Reagan, whose campaign narrative was basically “let’s pretend the 60s never happened.”

The 1960s were open season on many traditional areas of social propriety: dress, language, sexual behavior. You know, people started the decade wearing gloves and hats and starched collars everywhere, and ended the decade wearing jeans and T-shirts and sandals, when they bothered to wear anything at all.

It was open season on patriarchy too. Nobody realized this at the time, because one of the myths patriarchy has always told about itself is that it is natural and inevitable, and that nobody has to do anything in particular to keep it going.

During the 60s, young men decided they were free. Free of the expectations of their fathers (The actual patriarchs). Free to avoid the buttoned-down 50s lifestyle of wife and kids and job and commute. (The patriarchal nuclear family arrangement) Free to have no-strings-attached sex with women they optimistically assumed to be using newly available hormonal contraception. (Upending the patriarchal sexual norm of sex as a precious restricted commodity that women must use as leverage to extract a marriage promise) Free to patronize strip clubs, sexually harass secretaries, and do all that other stuff you can watch them get up to on Mad Men. (Violating traditional patriarchal sexual propriety.)

All this male freedom often came at the expense of women. (Again, see: Mad Men.) But, almost as a side effect, women were also becoming more free and less defined by traditional patriarchal family-centered roles, moving toward a kind of proto-feminism without always getting all the way there. (see: the Cosmo Girl.) It’s the difference between “liberated women” and “women’s liberation.”

The 1960s model of sex relations will forever be a paradox, in which one aspect of patriarchy, the power and freedom differential between men and women in society, got more extreme, even as patriarchy itself was crumbling.

(You can see this paradox reflected in the science fiction of the era, and in the eternal fandom debate over how to interpret the work of Robert A. Heinlein re: feminism.)

I think this 1960s dynamic — lingering patriarchal controls and attitudes that apply to women, but not to men — is what a lot of less religious anti-feminists, “Men’s Rights” types, want to get back to. Even though they express a lot of Quiverfullian ideas about the essential depravity of women, they don’t seem to want to practice a neo-traditional patriarchy from the male side. They just want to inhabit a sort of generalized male supremacy, where men can do whatever the hell they feel like and women can take it or shut up.

Quiverfull types, at least, recognize that sustained male supremacy requires male responsibility. They encourage men to play the role of the nuclear family patriarch, and within their own culture have reinstated many pre-60s norms, such as sex as a precious restricted resource. But they do coast a lot on the assumption that if women can only be coerced, cajoled, or shamed into making the choice to submit properly, good Christian men will just sort of naturally dominate properly. Most of their messaging is directed at women, implying that their rebellious and corrupt feminist hearts are the only things standing between now and the glorious patriarchal appearing.

But, honestly, it seems like most men out there are pretty okay with a lack of being actively dominant. They can deal with a woman who brings home the bacon, fries it up in a pan, and never-never lets him forget he’s a man. They don’t start to get pissy until she suggests that maybe he could cook the bacon sometimes.

And that’s… well, that’s kind of where we are. Still. Women get stuck with the dirty domestic jobs, cleaning up after people and all that, because somebody has to do it, right? And we’re also out there having regular jobs for pay. And it kinda sucks and day care is ridiculously expensive and a lot of lingering sexism makes everything much harder than it has to be.

Anti-feminists sometimes look at this state of affairs and say: independent ladies, aren’t you exhausted? Wouldn’t you rather stay home and have a man take care of you? Except, even if I did want that, it’s never been a practical option. It’s not a practical option for most women.

Quiverfullers know that. That’s why they emphasize that you need to make the impractical choice, in the faith that God will make it all work out somehow. And if he doesn’t make it work out, if everything really kinda sucks and you end up sick and poor and suffering, your sacrifice is supposedly pleasing to God.

The equation isn’t a life of perfect, secure domestic serenity vs. a life of exhaustion. It’s exhaustion with your own money or exhaustion without your own money.

So, we take the money. Duh.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

Never a helpmeet Part 2: The cult of lifestyle Christianity


Part of a series inspired
by this book.

The Christian patriarchy has a plan for world domination that involves out-reproducing feminists, liberals, heathens, secular humanists, etc. This plan is very white-America-centric. It also assumes that each subsequent generation has no apostates who leave the faith.

Evangelicals typically believe in a literal hell which only their particular version of faith will save people from. This gives evangelical parents an exceptionally strong motivation to try to ensure that their children will remain believers as adults.

One major theory that I remember from my own youth appeared to be that children fall away from the faith as teenagers because they are lured away by the siren song of pop culture (sex, drugs, rock & roll). So the idea seemed to be to replace secular fun with an equivalent Christian version. During the 80s, this manifested itself as a concerted effort to create an entirely separate pop culture just for Christians, especially Christian youth. So we had Christian™ pop music and Christian™ novels and Christian™ dates and Christian™ movies and Christian™ television and Christian™ T-shirts and Christian™ hairstyles and Christian™ comedians and Christian™ wall art and Christian™ comics.

As a teenager I was extremely cynical about all that. For one thing, it was obviously a marketing ploy. For another thing, many products intended for the Christian lifestyle have a naive, self-consciously wholesome sensibility about them that’s easy to mock. But mostly I was cynical because it seemed so obvious that it had nothing to do with faith. It had to do with taste and social conformity.

But this focus on lifestyle trivia is explicitly part of patriarchy doctrine. In their “decompartmentalized view of Christianity lived every minute, God cares equally about prayer, faith, prolife activism, and the particulars of domestic life.”

Quiverfullers are typically also devotees of the dangerous, extremist child-rearing theories of people like Michael and Debi Pearl and James Dobson. These writers outline a strategy for “breaking a child’s will” through physical and psychological torture, in order to (supposedly) condition them to immediate, unquestioning obedience of their parents. Homeschooling is another necessary part of the picture, to keep children away from divergent influences, even those that might be found in a Christian school.

Just raise children right, they promise, and they will always turn out exactly as you want them to. But the fact is that children are individual human people who eventually make up their own minds. Some adult children of homeschooling stick with the faith, sure. But many of them leave, and the Internet is full of their stories of misery, abuse, and estrangement.

Their stories have a common theme: as children they were trained in debate and logic in order to prepare them to function as intellectual “warriors” for God, but as they grew up, they found their own faith didn’t hold up under that same scrutiny. Their faith had been treated as a tender little hothouse flower, nurtured carefully in a special environment, and it died in the outside world.

Lifestyle Christianity is based on theories of child-rearing that are not backed up by science or facts. Most scientific studies of even “regular” spanking show it doesn’t work and can cause lasting psychological and behavioral problems. But the Pearls’ recommended style of extreme abuse is literally deadly.

There’s no sure-fire formula for anything, from finding true love to raising well-behaved children who won’t leave your faith as adults. And anybody who tells you there IS a sure-fire formula for something is a charlatan and a con artist and a fraud and you shouldn’t listen to them.

They might be trying to get you to join a cult.

It’s possible to debate whether or not various congregations built around patriarchy doctrine are truly cults — are the Duggars a cult? Is Mars Hill a cult? There’s no clear, objective, agreed-upon definition of a cult, possibly because the word itself is so loaded. When used in a religious context, it often implies “weird” or nonstandard doctrinal ideas. Patriarchal Christianity is clearly too common to be considered a cult by that marker.

But if you regard “cult” as a common idiom for “totalistic religious community” things become clearer. Robert Jay Lifton places eight items on the totalistic checklist: (1) Milieu Control, (2) Mystical Manipulation, (3) Demand for Purity, (4) Cult of Confession, (5) Sacred Science, (6), Loaded Language, (7) Doctrine Over Person, and (8) Dispensing of Existence.

Most of these are not merely present in the culture of patriarchal Christianity, they are explicit in its doctrine and teachings. For example, in Rachel Held Evan’s personal story, her parents attempt to limit contact between her and her still-at-home siblings after she leaves their Quiverfull-style faith, on the grounds that as an ex-member, she might sway her younger siblings from the one true path and endanger their immortal souls.

A doctrine that requires complete 24/7 immersion with no outside input  is no longer faith — it’s brainwashing.

A common story among ex Quiverfullers is that their families started homeschooling for normal-seeming reasons, but got gradually radicalized and sucked into extremist patriarchy by the homeschooling culture. You know, you go to a conference, you pick up materials, and everything you’re seeing and all the people you meet reflect this very specific worldview and lifestyle, which makes their most whacked-out ideas start to seem normal, and before you know it you’re engaged in “radical submission” and actively trying to have a dozen or more kids and putting your daughters under house arrest, I mean, lifelong male “headship,” where ownership of girls passes from father to husband without a break.

In patriarchal theology, women are not individual human beings who belong to themselves. They’re chattel, a natural resource, like livestock, that belongs to whoever owns them.

Does that sound grotesque? Ugly? Like I must be exaggerating?

It is ugly. But I’m not exaggerating. Patriarchy cultists are very careful about their language, because the plain truth is repellent. The idealized wife under Christian patriarchy is a “helpmeet,” not a “servant” or a “slave.” I was told that submitting to my parents was good practice for submitting to a future husband, but my brothers weren’t told dominating their mother was good practice for dominating a future wife.

Because that sounds gross. And weirdly sexual. In fact, a lot of the ideas and practices of the patriarchy cult come across as weirdly sexual to outsiders — creepy “purity balls” where fathers act as a stand-in for a daughter’s date; “engagement parties” that look an awful lot like underage sex trafficking; wife spanking.

Check out high priestess of the patriarchy Debi Pearl’s description of her relationship with her husband Michael. Does it sound Biblical, really? Jesus-like? Or does it sound more like a 50 Shades of Gray-style dom/sub kinkfest?

When Michael throws a bag of garbage at a dumpster and, missing it, strides away, leaving his wife to pick up the trash, she chooses to view this as an endearing insight into the proud male psyche [..] In practice, Debi’s submission involves “reverencing” one’s husband [..] That means keeping an eye on his dinner plate and jumping up with enthusiasm, not resignation, to refill his cup with “the quick, carefree swing of your body [indicating] your delight to be engaged in serving your man.”

And, look, if two consenting adults want to enter into a mutually agreed-upon dom/sub relationship, fine. But leave the rest of us out of it.

Patriarchy doctrine emphasizes an isolationist idea that every family unit becomes its own church: “What a day it will be when all God’s women return to homeworking and every wife has a church in her home.” But in practice, it turns every family unit into a cult, with the man as supreme cult leader. And just as in other cults, most of the deprivation and suffering and mind control fall on the lower-status members — women and children — not the leaders — adult men.

People who push Christian patriarchy often cite this as a benefit for men, something that men will want, which will cause them to want to join the church. Mark Driscoll was using patriarchy doctrine to combat the “feminization” of the church  — he saw male supremacy as something that would make evangelical Christianity more appealing to men.

In Christian patriarchy, a man doesn’t have his individual identity obliterated by the cult. A man is allowed to think for himself. He’s allowed to interact with the outside world as he sees fit. He doesn’t lose access to the financial resources that would allow him to leave. The cult doesn’t dictate every little detail of his life. If somebody has access to their friends and family cut off, it’s not going to be him.

The cult doesn’t demand that he put himself in physical danger to serve its doctrine. If somebody dies from the medical complications of an ill-advised pregnancy, it’s not going to be him. If somebody starves because you’ve irresponsibly had more children than you can care for and there really aren’t enough resources to go around, it’s not going to be him. If somebody has sex when they don’t want to, it’s not going to be him.

If somebody gets physically abused, that’s not going to be him. If somebody gets cheated on with near impunity, that’s not going to be him.

The theory is that true Godly men won’t abuse this autocratic power. But, just like Quiverfull theories about raising perfect children, it doesn’t hold up in the real world.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

Never a helpmeet Part 1: Selfish

I finished reading Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce (2009). I was looking for additional insight into the kinds of experiences Abby might have had growing up in a family cult based on patriarchy doctrine teachings, such as Quiverfull. The book was informative, but I found reading it to be a weird, triggering experience. I had to keep stopping to process overwhelming feelings of rage, shame, and fear, some of them buried since I was a teenager.

My usual narrative of my religious past is pretty simple. I was raised as an evangelical Protestant and remain a Jesus fan, but the rise of things like satanic panic and the religious right drove me away from the church. When I talk about the doubt and fear and second-guessing that went on in my teenage head, I talk about the cosmic questions I wrestled with. Things like, did I believe in literal salvation from a literal hell? And if I didn’t believe in that, was I still a Christian?

I never talk about doubting my feminism. I tend to see my belief in gender equality as a rock, a foundation of my identity. But reading this book released memories of self-doubt that I had honestly forgotten. It opened a weird Pandora’s Box in my head, and I started being hyper-aware of the power dynamic within my own marriage. Am I submitting to my husband? Am I expecting him to submit to me? If I were submitting, what would I be doing differently? Would me being a submissive “helpmeet” eliminate this conflict, or just make it worse? Is this thing I’m doing a submissive act, or just a normal thing you would do for somebody you love? Is there truly a neutral ground of cooperation where nobody is really “submitting” to anyone?

It made no sense and I didn’t expect it. But I think it might have happened because teenage me glossed over a lot of patriarchal messages I was getting from the church by putting them in a box labeled “irrelevant because, never getting married.” This seemed reasonable at the time. I was a nerd. I didn’t date. I wasn’t popular. So it all worked out! Simple! I was going to die alone in a garret in London (or possibly a cabin in the mountains) surrounded by brilliant unpublished fantasy novels that would make me famous after my death!

I found myself having to re-process all that long-buried patriarchal poison in light of my actual for-real marriage to an actual for-real man.

Christian women are vulnerable to patriarchy doctrine, in part, because as Christians and also as women we are primed to see ourselves as martyrs. We learn that sacrificing ourselves for others is virtuous; ennobling; beneficial. The one who makes the sacrifice is HOLY — a beacon — an inspiration to others. Your reward, if you sacrifice properly, is infinite and eternal.

And if you don’t sacrifice yourself, you’re being selfish.

Because you are “created to be his helpmeet.” If you’re just a person living your own life — well, that’s wrong. You can’t do that.

It’s insidious. You want pleasure? Convenience? Safety? Respect? Financial security? Family planning? A good night’s sleep? A career? An identity of your own? Leisure time? How selfish you must be!

It’s easy to feel guilt, to feel that you’ve hurt someone, let someone down, taken something that wasn’t yours, even when all you did was insist on your right to be yourself. But who are you to insist on being yourself? That’s so literally self-ish!

The guilt kicks and we repent. We grovel. Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ll never do it again. I’ll change my ways. I won’t be selfish anymore. I’ll put God first. And by God I mean what you tell me about God, because it’s not like I’ve heard from God directly or anything. You know, I’m just taking your word for it about what God wants.

Hey, WAIT a minute…

I always felt on much surer ground when I opposed patriarchy doctrine as it hurt other people. After all, I couldn’t be accused of selfishness when I was concerned about discrimination against LGBTQ people, could I? Or when I was concerned about its effect on poor women? Look, if I wasn’t even having sex, right, then my pro-contraception and pro-legality of abortion stance couldn’t possibly be selfish — it was a principled ethical judgment!

Christian patriarchy doctrine characterizes “feminism” not as a political movement or philosophy, but as a principle of rebellion and original sin.

Feminism is woman’s fundamental sinful nature. Yes, woman’s, specifically. In Christian patriarchy, men don’t really have a sinful nature. They sin only by failing to adequately control their women. And if you’re a woman and the thought of being controlled by someone else horrifies you? Selfish. How dare you want to be an independent person who makes your own decisions?

Even in a supposedly neutral context, it’s common for women who don’t have children to be derided as “selfish.”  And how does that make sense? It’s not like my husband wanted children and I’m selfishly keeping them from him — of the two of us, he’s always been much more adamant about not wanting children.
But then, the role of men as individual people who make choices regarding sex and childbirth has a weird tendency to disappear from every conversation on the topic, even ones that aren’t ostensibly anti-feminist. Women get pregnant (or not) from sheer force of will, or from the nebulous quality of “sluttiness,” which is something that involves having sex with men, yet somehow mysteriously doesn’t involve the usual male role in the biological process.

It’s like it’s the Middle Ages out there and people aren’t entirely sure how pregnancy works.

Anyway, the world is not currently in danger of running out of people. I am not selfishly refusing to perpetuate my species. And there’s not anything super-special about my own personal genes that causes me specifically to be selfishly depriving the world of some necessary thing by failing to reproduce.

But scratch a natalist and a lot of times you’ll find a nativist hiding just underneath — somebody who didn’t want to have to say it, all right, they wanted that “selfish” epithet to hang in the air unchallenged, but okay, if you press them, they do think I’m refusing to perpetuate my species, my species being “U.S. Americans who speak English and their ancestors came from northern Europe,” and they do think there’s something super-special about my own personal genes, which are for pale skin, light hair, and light eyes.

The Christian patriarchalists usually don’t declare their nativism in explicitly racist terms. But their mission is to fill the world with exactly their own sort of people: “Christian” babies who will grow up to be “warriors for God” and sweep the earth with a great revival before the end times, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord.

As described in the book, at least one leader of the movement made an optimistic little chart plotting out two hundred years of exponential growth as each righteous generation begats a new righteous generation and eventually takes over the world through the force of demographics. But the math on that doesn’t work as the thesis for the movie Idiocracy, and it doesn’t work for the Quiverfullers either. Reproduce all you like, white American evangelicals, you’re not going to get larger than China and India.

But then, what kinds of math skills do you expect from a bunch of people who have decided they don’t believe in science?

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

Bumbershoot, having a good time without me

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A year ago I went to Bumbershoot, and wrote this, but didn’t post it:

I didn’t want to have to tell you this, Bumbershoot, but this year you kind of sucked.

I know, it’s hard. You’ve had a lot of turmoil, a lot of difficulty, one budget crisis after another. But is that really a good reason to jack up the single day at-the-door prices from $70 to $109? The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival (from which you could learn a lot) is $70 at the door next year. Are you better than Jazzfest? No, you are not. You have no business being considerably more expensive. What are you doing wrong, such that your prices are so inflated? Where is that money going? Does somebody have a cocaine problem?

And not opening the gates until 1:30 pm was ridiculous. It felt cheap, and after paying those kinds of admission prices, like a slap in the face. Also, it seemed like a blow to your food vendors, by not opening the gates until after peak lunch time.

Speaking of a blow to your food vendors, what the hell was up with that? There were hardly any of them, and they were in the wrong place. A bunch of tedious-looking corporate booths were squatting in the space where the food booths should have been. Most of my old favorites were either missing or un-findable.

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Maybe you were trying for better traffic flow by putting the bulk of the food booths over in what used to be the Fun Forest, but I don’t think it worked. And I don’t know what actual sales figures are like, but it felt sparsely populated, as if I wasn’t the only person who had trouble figuring out where the food booths were.

Actually, everything felt sparsely populated. There was one point where my companion and I were standing, eating, in an empty area that’s usually a crowded area. But we saw about a dozen different groups of people in Staff Pro T-shirts go past. Sometimes it felt like there was more paid staff than attendees. Was that where all the money went?

It certainly didn’t go to the beer gardens. Those were terrible, the WORST ever, and I am not exaggerating even a little. They were sponsored by Budweiser, and what you could get there was tallboys of Bud Light, plus tallboys of a few crappy beers and ciders that Anheuser-Busch happens to own. For $8 each. Or, you could pay $9 for wine. That was it. This is Seattle, chumps, ground zero for fancy hipster beer. You cannot feed us Bud Light and expect us to just suck it up.

We waited in a ridiculously long line to get into the beer garden (even though everything seemed sparsely populated, everything also had a really long line. Neat trick, that.). We drank one glass of wildly overpriced chardonnay each, and left in disgust.

Instead, we sat drinking beer in the porch area of one of the Armory vendors, as a kind of do-it-yourself beer garden. True, we couldn’t see The Cave Singers from there, but then, we couldn’t really see the stage from the beer garden either, thanks to an ill-advised re-orientation.

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The sound from the Fisher Green stage was pretty good, though. I will give them that.

But nothing felt right, and none of the changes were an improvement. The wristbands with RFID chips were terrible, and seemed to be part of the reason for the long lines, as they took forever to register. The later start time made me feel like I was getting a lot less entertainment for a lot more money, which is never a good bet. The overbearing presence of the staff felt weirdly hostile, and might have contributed to an overall lack of a certain ineffable feeling — sponteneity, creativity, fun, whatever you want to call it — some essential spirit of Bumbershoot that was just not there.

I’ve been going to this festival since the 80s. The food booths and vendors and stages and beer gardens are like old friends. This year it felt like my friends had been replaced by the smiling soulless aliens from The World’s End.

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Proof that I’ve been going since 1985 at least. </p>

I’m not one for declaring absolutes — like, “I’m never going to Bumbershoot again.” But I’m not sure if I’m going next year, unless I have reliable reports that you have fixed some of these problems.


As predicted, I didn’t go to Bumbershoot this year,  although I really didn’t make that decision until I was underwhelmed by the music lineup. I don’t know, I’ve seen reports that seem to indicate a bunch of kids went and had a good time. Maybe it’s all kids from now on, as only people who’ve never been to Bumbershoot before would be able to attend without comparing it to better, cheaper Bumbershoots of the past.

And at that point I have to ask myself, is it better for Bumbershoot to survive as something I never want to go to again, or to die out completely? There’s a part of me that is absolutely convinced there’s no way Bumbershoot could possibly survive, after alienating so many old-timers and die-hards. But I’m probably wrong. It’s just going to continue on, having a good time without me.

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Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

2016 Write-a-thon Week 5 report: little failures

Halfway through the final week — we’re really in the home stretch now! (At the actual workshop, this was the point where we started painting each others’ toenails.) Accomplishment-wise, week 5 was kind of a mixed bag. I was on vacation for my birthday and was hoping to check two of my remaining goals off the list. But I actually got less writing done than in a normal work week.

I think this was because my writing strategy was “optimistically carry my iPad around all day with its brand new copy of Scrivener installed and hope vaguely to snatch a few minutes to myself at some point.” It needed to be a lot more definite. More like, “from x time to x time I am parked at that Starbucks/cantina/tiki bar yonder. Do not bug me unless something is on fire.” I only managed to do that on one day. So I made progress on the three remaining goals, but didn’t check anything off.

I already knew I wasn’t going to get much writing done on my birthday, which I spent at Disneyland with my family. On that day I also got a rejection notice. Really, universe? On my birthday? Yes, on my birthday. You can say it was my fault for checking e-mail, but I was in line for the Matterhorn at the time, and it was hot, and even at Disneyland waiting in line can get kinda boring. We were expecting to be joined by other family members who were with my nieces on a kid-friendly ride with a shorter line. So I was in three wait states: waiting for family, waiting for the ride, and waiting to get back into the shade. Like most people nowadays, I tend to fill awkward wait states by looking at stuff on my pocket computer.

Then, right after I got a rejection notice, they told us the Matterhorn had to shut down for a while. Universe, are you just messing with me at this point? All right, I can take a hint. I’m going off to Downtown Disney for a margarita.

I spent most of the rest of that day just trying to have a good time and not think about rejection. But then a couple of days later I got another rejection. (TWO REJECTIONS DURING MY BIRTHDAY WEEK UNIVERSE I KNOW YOU ARE JUST MESSING WITH ME NOW)

I decided to try using it as a teaching experience.

Clarion West teaches you a lot of the things you need to know in order to become a professional writer. But it does NOT teach you how to deal with rejection. By the time you are sitting there in that classroom, you have probably been rejected a few times, maybe even by the workshop itself. But you’re only sitting there because this time you weren’t rejected. This time you got in, you made it.

During the workshop you have to deal with other things that might feel a bit like rejection, like that one week nobody (including you) likes your story. And you probably get some moral support about the rejection process, by talking to other people who Get It. You know, when you find out a writer who’s MUCH BETTER THAN YOU still also gets rejected, that’s a little comforting. When you meet editors and find out they’re regular people who love fiction and not otherworldly monsters who are going out of their way to torture you, that’s also a little comforting.

Learning the art of taking a step back from your own fiction, trying to see it from an outsider’s point of view, helps rejection feel less like a small piece of your fragile soul getting shredded by a cruel universe, and more like this thing that just happens, an inevitable (if less pleasant) part of the process. I mean, the very act of living has a lot of unpleasantness associated with it, right? You’re gonna cry every time you stub your toe or have a cold or open the food and yard waste bin and it’s full of maggots and smells like death?

But there’s no way to replicate, in the workshop, the actual act of sending out a piece of fiction and getting a rejection. Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. You can only learn so many things at one time. What can anybody else even tell you about how to deal with rejection? Most advice I see is along the lines of “I know it hurts, but get over it.”

Which… I can’t really argue with that, but… it doesn’t help me DO it. And then I get to feel like a double failure, because not only was my work rejected, but also, I’m a whiny little baby who completely lacks whatever inner fortitude is required to get over it. I don’t even know what getting over it looks like.

I try to imagine it, of course. I tell myself things like “even the best stories of all time have usually been rejected at some point.” And then I think about A Confederacy of Dunces, and how John Kennedy Toole killed himself and it was his mother who actually had that fortitude, and I just get depressed again.

I make analogies. Rejection feels like getting stabbed in the gut. Trying to deal with it feels like trying to cauterize a wound. And a part of me stands back and folds her arms and raises her eyebrows and says, “Wow, you are soooooo melodramatic about this. Is your writing self, like, fifteen years old or something?”

YEAH PROBABLY MY WRITING SELF IS THE MOPIEST OF ALL MOPEY TEENAGERS.

I felt disappointed when we didn’t get on the Matterhorn, too, but it didn’t threaten to ruin my day.

Why are these things so different? Because one involves my — ego, I guess. My identity. Hey, I go on the Matterhorn or not, whatever. It’s fun if I do. I can fret a little about how spendy Disneyland has gotten, and now that you pay a per-day fee, it’s actually worth less on crowded days, and by the way, why is it so crowded today, it’s like 95 degrees outside, why is my birthday in July, I should never have come here in July, I should have celebrated my birthday some other time of year, I should have known it would be hot, I would get a sunburn, am I getting a sunburn? Probably. I think I sweated off all my sunblock. Is this line even moving? This whole trip was a mistake. I should never have come. What was I thinking? Southern California in July. All my plans fail. I should never do anything. I should find a shady spot and just sit there for the rest of my life. Which won’t be very long if I don’t get, you know, water and stuff. And I’ll get bored. I know I will. And they’ll kick me out of the park also. I mean, if I’m just sitting there. They’ll be like, hey, the park is closed, get a move on.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Rejection. I don’t know how people deal with it. Does it ruin everybody’s day? Does it ruin your day at first and then if you do it enough you get used to and it only ruins your day little bit? Is that my problem? I flee in the face of rejection every single time, and never develop the necessary scar tissue?

Getting a work of fiction rejected — when you’re not counting on fiction sales to pay the rent, anyway — should be no more disappointing than not getting on the Matterhorn.

Maybe the problem is that our culture does not teach us how to fail. “It’s okay if you try and don’t make it” is not a message we get. Instead we get “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” “Do or do not, there is no try.” Everything is high stakes, winner take all, zero tolerance. We don’t tell stories about the people who come in second. We’re only half-joking when we talk about a silver medal as “losing.”

But in order to learn, you have to be able to fail. Otherwise you’ll never step out of your comfort zone. You’ll never stop doing only the things you’ve already mastered, which doesn’t exactly lead to more areas, or higher levels of mastery. Little failures are the path to success.

But rejection — of any kind — feels different than other kinds of failure. It feels more personal. And I guess it is more personal, in a way, since rejection is based on a person who is not you making a decision that affects your life. Getting fiction rejected feels like a combination of being turned down for a job and being turned down for a date. It can feel like somebody telling you that you’re just not good enough, fundamentally, as a person. But that is almost never what people mean to be telling you, especially not when it comes to your fiction. I mean, you might turn somebody down for a date or a job if they seem like an unpleasant jerk in person, but most of the time, even if an editor knew you were a jerk, they wouldn’t care.

So why does it feel so personal? Like somebody taking an extra-sharp microplane cheese grater to my soul? (Those things really hurt, by the way.)

I dunno. Because I care, I guess. And maybe because I’ve always had been afraid that there’s just something… you know… wrong with me. When I was young, the other kids let me know I was a weirdo, my church let me know I was going to hell, and my society showed me what was “normal” and I couldn’t find myself there. I think a lot of us take to fiction because we feel like freaks, and fiction helps. Sometimes it tells us, “you’re not actually a freak, here’s a story about somebody who’s a lot like you in all these ways you thought nobody was like you.” Sometimes it tells us, “don’t worry if you’re a freak, freaks are great!” Sometimes it tells us, “when you look at the vast infinitude of all that has ever been and all that could be, the very concept of ‘freak’ vs ‘normal’ vanishes.”

But, freak or not, all of us like getting pats on the head. We like being told “yes, yes, you’re good enough after all.” Some areas of my life — schoolwork, say — were always pretty reliable sources of head-pats, so they became core parts of my identity. Other things, like my many hobbies, were always low-stakes, so that success was satisfying and failure didn’t seem like much of a loss.

Writing is a dumb thing to hang my identity on, I guess, in that equation. Sure, you get a pat on the head sometimes. But then you get a taser blast. And the flick of a whip made from razor wire. And a glass of broken glass to swallow. And a hundred fishing weights sewn into the flesh of your back. (Okay, obviously, I’m not talking about rejection anymore, I’m talking about the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.) What you get is rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection success! rejection rejection…
Getting good reviews means you also get bad reviews. Getting a book published doesn’t mean your publisher won’t go out of business. Failure is built in. Part of the job. Inevitable.

So why do it?

I don’t know. I guess I do it for the same reason it hurts: because I care, because I think it matters. It’s a feedback loop. Maybe everything in life is a feedback loop.

I have a new goal for the remaining two days of the workshop: find a ritualized coping mechanism for dealing with rejection, something other than tequila and self-pity.

Saint Expedite, can you help me?

I’ll come back again next week, with my Week 6 conclusion, and let you know what I figured out.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

2016 Write-a-thon Week 3 report: the second step

My simple goal, to send out that one story to at least one place, became a quest to devise a plan for how to send out stories, period. I put some time into thinking about the process of submitting short fiction at a meta level. What is it? Is there an art to it? How many steps does it take?

I realized there are, practically speaking, three steps:

  1. Match a story with a market.
  2. Polish the story for that market.
  3. Perform whatever clerical work (making printouts, etc.) is required to actually send the thing off to the editor.

I think I’m pretty good at Step 1 and Step 2. My ability to identify a story as “perfect” for a particular anthology or magazine, and have the editor agree, is why I have any publications at all. So, where am I failing?

Well, that’s obvious. There’s another step:

4. Repeat

If it gets rejected by the perfect place, I have to have a plan to send it off to another, less perfect place. And that’s the part I’ve never really gotten a handle on.

Less perfect. Wait a minute…

DING!DING!DING!DING!DING!

That’s the epiphany bell going off.

I just realized why nearly every story of mine that gets sent anywhere at all, gets sent exactly one place. The ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place. The place I have carefully selected above all others. And if the editor fails to agree, what then? I’m supposed to send it to a less ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place? After the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place already rejected it? What’s the point? If the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place didn’t want it, nobody else will. Obviously. It’s just not a story anyone is going to publish. A practice story. Disappointing, but, oh, well. I guess I’ll have to try again, the next time I have the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ market for something.

Now that I think about it, my trunk stories — mostly complete stories that have never been sent anywhere at all — stay in that virtual trunk because I never came up with the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ market for them. There was never an anthology that called for just those elements, or an open market that seemed to be looking for precisely the sort of sub-genre or mood that I deemed my story to have.

I realize now that I have been going about this all wrong. I have to stop sending stories to the perfect place, and start sending them to an appropriate place, in descending order not of perfection, but of some less esoteric quality. Money, for example. Nothing is less esoteric than money.

Armed with my new insights, my submission to-do list looks more like:

  1. Match a story with a list of potential markets.
  2. Identify the first market.
  3. Polish the story for that market.
  4. Perform necessary clerical work to submit.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary.

I choose to call it progress!

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

2016 Write-a-thon Week 2 report: the first step

This is the Write-a-thon week 2 report. What, you missed the week 1 report? That’s because I didn’t get to it. And here it is, my week 2 report, coming in the middle of the week.

That… tells you something about what’s going on in my life right now. I’m at one of those points where the setting is maximum chaos. And some of it is about what’s going on externally, and all the various distractions and time vacuums, and some of it is about the way the stress affects my brain. Sometimes, right when I need to be most productive and focused, my brain is jut like “yeah…. no. Let’s watch cartoons.”

For example, right now, sitting here. Well, standing here, since I have a standing desk. Right now at this point in time, I am having terrible trouble focusing my thoughts into a coherent nonfictional narrative that will be (ideally) informative, funny, and insightful about the writing process.

Instead, every word that I type, including really useless words like “that” and “really,” feels like it has to get forcibly wrenched out of some part of me. I type a sentence and then just stare at it for a while, uncertain what the next sentence needs to be. I can’t seem to achieve flow, a sense of forward momentum, and I’m afraid this essay will read like a dying car, the engine sputtering to move things forward a few feet before making a kaCHUNK noise as the car stops. It lurches forward again, seizes up again, lurch, seize, and finally just sits there, whirring and chittering and spitting out foul-smelling blue smoke.

I give it a rest, then get back to it, and the engine starts, turns over, hums, moves the car forward — then a dog darts across the road, and I have to slam on the brakes. It takes forever to get the engine started up again.

See that break there? In between the blue smoke and slamming on the breaks? That was me getting interrupted by life. Again.

This essay is turning very, very meta.

Anyway, my first goal for Write-a-thon 2016 was to submit that one story. And if you know me, you know that submit-a-phobia — an inexplicable reluctance to actually submit my fiction anywhere — is the chief bane of my writing career. I have a hard time submitting stories the way a professional writer needs to do.It is my FATAL, TRAGIC FLAW.

So, submitting stories has always been a thing that sputters forward in fits and starts and alarming kaCHUNK noises and toxic smoke. I can’t seem to turn my occasional success submitting and even publishing into any kind of sustained forward momentum.

I’m trying to figure out how to do that. I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn the chaos of my life back into something resembling order, and integrate writing, revising, and submitting fiction into part of that overall system.

Hold onto your hats, this is about to turn into a commercial for Evernote.

I started using Evernote a couple of years ago, when I bought my iPad. Scrivener for iOS wasn’t available yet (and still isn’t available, you guys are killing me here), and I did some experimenting with different writing applications until I settled on one that isn’t technically a writing application: Evernote, a cloud-synced note-keeping program. It comes in a free version and various tiers of paid versions. I have a paid version because once I settled on using it as a writing tool, I really wanted the feature where you can designate a notebook to be available when your device is offline.

Evernote is based around the concept of notes, which are identified with tags and organized into notebooks. It’s a simple framework that can be made as complicated as you want. If you start googling things like “how to organize Evernote” or “how to use Evernote in your writing career” you will get overwhelmed with the number of interesting takes and helpful tidbits. (Still meaning to check out this Evernote for Writers podcast series)

The problem — or maybe it’s not a problem — is that until you’ve worked with it a while, and tried and failed a few different organizational schemes, you have no idea what is going to work for you. Or maybe you do. Maybe I’m the only one who ever changed notebook and tagging schemes half a dozen times. Maybe I’m the only one who stacked and unstacked my notebooks, stacked and unstacked my tags, consolidated everything into one or two notebooks only to separate them out again, named and renamed hundreds of notes as I changed my mind about how to use titles for sorting.

But, here’s the thing. Evernote lets you do that. And sometimes the very act of doing that, of messing everything up and then seeking a new order, is soothing to my brain. It’s like dumping out all your crayons so you can put them back in the box using a slightly different principle of color organization.

I have long been using the Evernote web clip feature to save submission information when I saw notices like “this market is open again” or “this anthology is soliciting stories” passing across a mailing list or Twitter feed. I tagged them “fiction-markets.” And what did I do with them? Just kinda… you know.. kept them. Sometimes I would delete them when I noticed the submission window had closed.

I kept assuming future me would get it all together. Because Future Me is going to be SO AWESOME!

Except, I already know that past evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Future Me is going to be more or less the same as Right Now Me. Future Me is not better.She is not smarter. She is not more disciplined. She is not more organized. She is not less afraid. She is not more creative.

Future Me will still be right here in the same place as Right Now Me, unless Right Now Me gets moving. That’s the only way Future Me ends up anywhere different, is if Right Now Me starts us on the journey of getting there. And figuring out “hey, this web clipping feature in Evernote is really great! And you can attach a timed reminder to notes too!” might be considered the first step. But one step isn’t enough. I have to keep walking. I have to take the NEXT step.

So… what is the next step?

I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to figure that out. How can I use Evernote to keep my story submissions on track? What is it that I need to know? How can I use it to keep the process moving forward at a steady clip instead of stalling out and requiring a mechanic to get it going again?

Let’s walk through the process together. One step, then the next step. This essay is step one.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

Saint Expedite and me: Part 2

In 2006 I started telling the “How Saint Expedite got me into Clarion West” story to anyone who seemed interested. A version of it existed on a previous version of the gothhouse.org website. That’s how my husband’s sister Dorothy knew to call us up and say, “You know that statue that’s been in the crawlspace forever? I think it’s Saint Expedite.”

We thought this unlikely, to say the least. Because there aren’t statues of Saint Expedite — not in this country, anyway. The one in New Orleans was the only one, as far as we knew. As far as anyone knew. That’s why the tour guide could tell that story about the nuns and the mis-delivered statue, because he could be confident that nobody taking the tour had ever seen or heard of Saint Expedite before.

Still, we had to go to Port Townsend and check it out. Port Townsend, where my husband grew up, is a Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula. Like the Garden District of New Orleans, it was flush with money at the end of the 19th century, resulting in many spectacular buildings. But then much of that money went away for a long while, which meant (among other things) that nobody was bothering to tear down the pretty old buildings in order to put up ugly new ones. Now, like the Garden District, it gets a lot of tourists who want to look at the pretty old buildings.

The statue in question had been rescued by Paul’s older brothers from the storage area of their church, sometime in the 1970s, along with several others. One of these rescued statues, of Mary, had been repainted and was on display in the living room of the Port Townsend house. The maybe-Expedite statue had simply been in the crawlspace for as long as anyone could remember.

We took our flashlights and crouched in the dust, wary of spiders.

Me: Well, he’s a young Roman soldier… the hand that would hold the cross is broken off, but he does have grass in the other hand… oh, he’s stepping on a crow with a word balloon! It’s got to be Expedite!

Paul: Plus, the base of the statue says “St. Expedite.”

If the stakes were higher, I would have felt like I was starring in a Dan Brown novel.

IMG_0263 IMG_1964

The two boys next to each other, decked out for Mardi Gras. For probably obvious reasons our boy is decked out a little more extensively…

Paul’s mother didn’t recall much about the statue, only that it was old, a hundred years or more, and she thought all the statues originally came from France. She didn’t know why that statue in particular had been in the storage area — if it was put there because it was damaged, or if it got damaged after being relegated to storage. It looks like somebody started to sand off the paint, possibly as part of a restoration effort. But he’s missing a hand and his nose is half gone, so it would be difficult to make him good as new.

Now he hangs out in our living room, where I can stare at him and ponder the mystery of his existence. Obviously — the material evidence is there — Expedite was considered, at one time, by people who felt strongly enough to make at least two very different statues of him, a “real” saint. Then he wasn’t anymore. And nobody seems to know why.

Was there a directive from the Vatican, like when they tried to get people to put away their Saint Christopher medals? In Port Townsend they put Expedite in storage without a fuss, but in New Orleans… maybe part of the original story is true after all, the part about public outcry leading his statue to be restored to its place in the church. (Because if there’s one thing you can count on New Orleans for, it’s doing things their own way.) Are there Expedite statues moldering away in church attics all across the country? And when did this directive go out? Not recently, I think. But who can say? I have yet to find any conclusive evidence.

 

His “real saint” credentials are found in a couple of records of early Christian martyrs, but the information is fuzzy. He is supposedly a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was martyred the very next day. Therefore he is associated with the principle of carpe diem. That’s why he’s stepping on the Crow of Procrastination.

Not a completely ridiculous story, on the face of it. But… doesn’t it seem a little overly convenient that a person who would later be associated with carpe diem was already named Expedite? Is Expedite even a name? Paul’s theory is that “expedite” was a kind of “and ceterah” in use at the time, but we haven’t found any good evidence of that.

So, ultimately, who knows? The physical reality of the statue — the two statues — cannot be denied. But everything else about Saint Expedite is shrouded in mystery and wonder. He is the only metaphysical being I am one hundred percent convinced is real, but I’m only half serious when I say that. He is a challenge to my skepticism. What spirits and powers truly move us, and why?

In the corner of the living room we maintain a little Expedite shrine, because when you have one of two known statues of the mysterious Voodoo saint who is also your personal patron, seriously, you’ve got to give him a shrine.

I’ve read that he is supposed to like the color red and poundcake, but I’ve never felt any special resonance when I tried giving him those items. I suspect that what he wants from me most is the thing I’ve already been doing: for his story to be told, for his veneration to be rescued from obscurity.

Years ago, when Paul and I had been dating a while, we were having issues with our other roommate situations and were talking about moving in together. We had looked at several places that just weren’t suitable and were getting frustrated. I remember vividly the afternoon we walked down a particular block of Indian street in Bellingham, and one of us (Paul I think) saying “there, that house would be perfect, why can’t we live there?” and me agreeing instantly.

Neither of us had been to New Orleans yet. We had never heard of Saint Expedite. Paul knew there was a status in the crawlspace, but had never really looked at it or made note of which saint it was supposed to be.

Still. The very next day, the house we wanted had a FOR RENT sign in the lawn. We lived there for seventeen years.

So, I don’t know — is there such a thing as fate? Is it possible to have a patron saint you don’t even know about yet? Do cause and effect ever run backwards? Is the universe as we think we understand it even remotely the universe as it exists? Is it true that all we see and all we seem, are but a dream within a dream?

Saint Expedite causes me ask these questions. Saint Expedite makes me believe in magic.

Almost.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.

NoShoes

Saint Expedite and me: Part 1

During the Great Boxing Week Ice Storm of 1996  Paul and I flew to New Orleans for the first time. We spent a day crammed into SeaTac airport with thousands of other stranded travelers, as the airport gradually ran out of food, plane de-icer, civility, and hope. The airline promised us, again and again, that our prospective flight was “your best bet for getting outta here.” And, truthfully, even if we had gotten fed up enough to bag the trip and leave the airport, the entire Puget Sound region was covered in ice and without power, so where would we have gone?

So, we stuck around. Epic delay followed epic delay. When we finally got on the plane, more than 12 hours after our originally scheduled departure time, we were deposited in the Cincinnati Airport in the middle of the night with a can of pop, a pack of peanuts, and a ten minute phone card I never did figure out how to use. (Paul’s assessment: here’s a phone card. Call someone who cares.) We slept on our luggage and finally arrived in New Orleans a full day later than planned, having paid for a hotel room night we couldn’t use.

New Orleans in the last days of December was moderately warm (70s) and insanely humid. Cash and towels were perpetually damp to the touch. A dreamlike mist shrouded the high rise buildings of downtown as seen from the French Quarter, creating the illusion that they were two entirely separate worlds.

Our first act in New Orleans was to wander in a daze down Bourbon Street and allow a nice man to lure us into a restaurant we knew nothing about. Paul had a po-boy. I had crawfish. We sat on a balcony and marveled at the fact that we were there at all. The food tasted delicious. But Paul likes to point out that the end of December is not crawfish season.

We spent the next day driving around Cajun country, where we encountered charming little towns that weren’t on the map and people who spoke French as their first language. (You know the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild? We went to Montegut, where they filmed that.) We kept being surprised they took US currency.

On the way back into town, I started to feel a bit ill. We stopped at a Burger King, where, Paul tells me, I turned green. Food poisoning from delicious but out of season crawfish? Or an infection picked up from one of the many sad people trapped in SeaTac airport after Christmas? I’ll never know.

I spent the rest of the night languishing in our hotel room watching television. It was a profoundly surreal experience to see our own Bellingham street on CNN, as the National Guard removed five feet of snow from it. Mysteriously, CNN showed every house on the block except ours. Because it was unkempt? Because we weren’t there to sign release forms? Because this whole trip was a dream I was having while stuck at SeaTac airport?

Anyway, that was our first trip to New Orleans.

On the whole, I had a great time.

#

On that trip, we took a Voodoo and Cemeteries walking tour. (This was after I recovered from being green.) According to our tour guide, Voodoo as practiced in New Orleans is the result of enslaved West Africans given time off on Sundays ostensibly for worship of the Catholic God and saints. So, they carried on their own worship traditions under a veneer of Catholicism. In time, the traditions merged (syncretized) and took on a spiritual life of their own.

Our guide took us through Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is the oldest church building in New Orleans. It’s Catholic, of course, but it also has — according to our tour guide — the only genuine Voodoo saint in the US. He showed us the statue of “St. Expedite” (yes, his placard has the quotes) and told us the following story:

This Italian-made statue of a young Roman Centurion is from the 19th century. It was secular, intended for a Garden District mansion. But it was delivered to the cathedral by mistake. The French-speaking nuns opened it and, seeing that it was similar in size and style to the statues of saints in the Cathedral, they assumed it was a saint they were unfamiliar with and put him on display, using the name stamped on the outside of the crate: Expedite.

Some time later they discovered their mistake and tried to remove the statue, but after much public outcry, they put him back up again. See, the local Voodoos had already taken Saint Expedite to heart as the patron saint of getting things done in a hurry.

That’s the story — more or less, as memory serves. I accepted it with the usual grain of salt, snapped a few pictures and moved on.

A few years later I started daydreaming about going to New Orleans again and did a little online research, where I discovered that there were many who insisted that Expedite was a regular, actual saint, and that his veneration was common in the Caribbean and South America. I saw pictures of little plastic statues in roadside shrines that appeared to be the same design as the statue in New Orleans. I also checked out the official Catholic Church website, and found no mention of Expedite at all. So, there might be many who considered him a real saint — but not the Catholic Church, which is the arbiter of these things.

On a return trip to New Orleans in 2001, I think we failed to pay St. Expedite a visit, although I did stop at an occult shop and picked up a bunch of Voodoo-related literature. I learned that our original tour guide was more or less accurate about the syncretic origins of New Orleans Voodoo, although there was (unsurprisingly) a lot more to it. Such as: some of Voodoo’s “evil” reputation is probably related to its role in slave uprisings in the Caribbean.

In 2005 I was starting to daydream again about returning to New Orleans. Then Katrina happened. We finally went in April of 2006. The trip was amazing. With the city still raw and bleeding and half-empty, everyone we encountered — whether tourist or local — seemed to be someone who loved the city passionately. Everyone had a Katrina story. Everyonewanted to tell it.

By then, the Catholic Church website had a mention of Expedite, specifically to claim that 1. He was not a saint, no way, no how, and never had been. 2. The story about the nuns and the mis-delivered crate (which they described as happening in Paris, not New Orleans) was baloney. It had an obvious absurdity that I had never considered: they were NUNS. They knew LATIN. They would know full well what “expedite” meant. Sheesh.

And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that the Catholic site failed to explain — if he wasn’t a saint, and he wasn’t a mis-delivered bit of garden art — where did he come from?

In 2006 I took a closer look at the statue and realized something I should have noticed right off: he was not only the same size and style as the other statues of saints, he had tokens the way they did. Saints, like superheroes, have distinctive markers that identify them. In the case of saints, these markers are related to their stories, often to their martyrdom.

Saint Denis is depicted carrying his own head.

Saint Lucy is often depicted with her own eyeballs on a plate.

Saint Expedite is depicted carrying a cross in one hand and a bit of grass in the other, and stepping on a crow. The crow has a word balloon. It is saying “cras,” which is a pun. It means “tomorrow” and is also the Italian for what crows say.

IMG_0170

The statue in New Orleans was obviously originally designed to be the statue of a saint, no matter what the Catholic Church had to say about it now. My Fortean sense was tingling. There was something truly special about this mysterious saint from nowhere, supposedly beloved of New Orleans Voodoos. So, I did what I often do when confronted by something mysterious and unbelievable: I chose to act as if I believed in it, just to see what would happen. I gave him a little offering and asked for “something good.” Yes, I really was that vague, although simmering under the surface was my concern for the city I loved and its recovery, and concern for my writing and my “day job” careers, both of which had seemed stalled out since 2001.

We returned to Bellingham. That year, I was on the alternates list for the Clarion West writers workshop.  As the months until June went by, I didn’t have much hope of attending. But I did joke that with my luck, I would get a call the week before the workshop started.

I didn’t. I got a call the day before. Saturday, the day before the workshop started. Just like today. Imagine me, ten years ago, getting a call that someone had dropped out of the workshop at the last minute, and the space was mine if I wanted it.

I took a few hours to think about it, but that was just a ritual. In my heart I had already said yes.

Yes, I will completely change my life for the next six weeks, and maybe forever, and I will do it RIGHT NOW.

A couple of months later, when the workshop was over, I dropped by a web development company that I hoped would be a new freelancing client. Instead, I got a job offer. And could I start right away? Like, this afternoon?

Of course I said yes. What else was I going to say?

At Orycon in November, I was recounting highlights of the year to a friend I hadn’t seen since the last Orycon. It wasn’t until then that I made the connection between things I wanted being offered to me, on the contingency that I accept them RIGHT NOW, and having earlier asked for a blessing from the mysterious entity known as Saint Expedite.

Instantly, I turned superstitious. I became convinced that I had to properly express my appreciation, and I had a feeling that the proper way to express it was by making a return trip to New Orleans. I was nervous about bringing this up to Paul — we have a limited travel budget, and I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to me wanting to go back to the same place so soon.

It turned out, he already wanted to go back and was wondering how to bring it up with me. So that worked out all right.

Originally published at Goth House: Julie McGalliard lives here. You can comment here or there.