Dear NOW: This Is Why I'm Not Giving You Any Money

Dear NOW:

I wanted to explain to you why I am not sending a contribution in response to your recent U.S. mail solicitation to me. I have three primary reasons for not wishing to send you my dollars:

1) As a queer woman, I am uneasy about supporting an organization that has a history of marginalizing “the lavendar menace” from the feminist movement.

2) The overt fear-mongering tone of your letter (“Do you want animals and clowns teaching your children about sex?) bore a marked resemblance to the emails I get from the Family Research Council. I believe strongly that hope and compassion conquer fear and loathing. Nixon’s campaign back in the middle of the last century appears to have had far-reaching consequences in the realm of national and local politics. One of the reasons Obama was so refreshing as a candidate, and why people rejoiced in his election, was because he ran on a platform of positive change rather than the fear and paranoia that marked the Bush administration. I expect the organizations I support to deliver the same sort of message.

3) I find that other organizations seem to be doing a better job of working for goals that I care about.

That being said, I am glad to see that you have joined the Web 2.0 revolution (hahaha) and will be following your actions via Facebook, Twitter, and email. I’m open to persuasion. So persuade me that your organization is still relevant and working toward the type of change that is in line with my own values.

Open Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor:

I am writing in response to your recent article in Salon.com criticizing Cambridge, my home church of First Parish Cambridge (Unitarian Universalist), and the Unitarian Universalist faith in general.

I have been a loyal listener of Prairie Home Companion since you first went on the air in the 1970s. I have always loved listening to the News from Lake Wobegon, the gentle and forgiving and open-eyed way that you described the imperfect and well-meaning individuals from a small town in Minnesota that seems to resemble your own. I listen to the Writer’s Almanac every day. In many ways, your soothing voice and gentle words have followed me all the days of my life. I have dwelt in the house of public radio my whole life long. Your work has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me since I was a small child.

That is why your recent article was particularly dismaying and disappointing to me. I am not angry about what you wrote, Mr. Keillor, just very, very hurt.

In one of your stories, you describe a young man who is a dancer in New York City. In this story, you describe how much easier his life would be if he were desperately attracted to the woman who shared his apartment. But he is not attracted to women. You go on to say, “his life would also have been easier if he were a lawyer.” Like that dancer in New York, I discovered some things about myself that have been very hard for me — and many people — to accept. I am a bisexual woman, and I am a witch. Neither of these things did I choose for myself, anymore than I chose to have blue eyes. These labels do not define me, but they are a part of my identity, just as much as my blue eyes and my love for Prairie Home Companion.

After leaving the Catholic Church of my birth, and after many years of practicing my beliefs in private and seeking a spiritual home, I became a member of First Parish Cambridge. I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation because it was the only church that would take a witch as a member. I discovered for the first time in my life a vibrant, organized, active community of people with deeply held beliefs that I shared. These beliefs and their creed may be different than yours, but they are beliefs nonetheless. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as those of mainstream Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam.

UUs care passionately about things like social justice, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Do not mistake our aversion to written dogma for wishy-washiness. Wishy-washy people do not work for the survival of Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany. They do not face criminal charges to keep immigrants from dying of thirst in the desert. They do not face violence and death in their own houses of worship.

You accuse us of having no creed. Our seven principles and six sources are even easier to understand than the Apostles’ Creed.

One of the most hurtful things you said in your article, Mr. Keillor, was that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and that if we don’t like it, we should go off and celebrate another one. Christmas is a part of my cultural heritage, and I refuse to abandon it to bigots and dogmatists. Furthermore, most Christmas traditions have pagan origins, including the Christmas tree, Christmas caroling, the exchange of gifts, and the Yule log. Good Yankee Congregationalists and Calvinists like the Rev. Lyman Beecher even refused to celebrate Christmas.

According to many Biblical scholars, it’s much more likely that Jesus was born in the spring. But there’s already another big Christian festival at that time of year. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Easter (from the German Ostara), a holiday that, like its pagan predecessors, celebrates life, death, and rebirth with the coming of the spring. Easter is also full of traditions that date back to its earlier pagan origins. I, for one, am not going to deny my children the pleasure of an Easter egg hunt in the service of theological purity.

Religion, like all of human experience and culture, is constantly evolving. As a Protestant, you should be well aware of how much your version of Christianity differs from that of Rome. And religious tolerance has always been one of the bedrocks upon which American society has rested. Please don’t fall into the same trap that Rev. Fred Phelps did. As a Christian who celebrates the birth of your Lord Savior Jesus Christ, you are no doubt aware of these words from the Book of Peter:

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.
1 Peter 3:8-9

I will not repay your insult with more insults, but with this wish: that you be treated with the same kindness, tolerance, and forbearance that all beings deserve.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad:

Just a few days after you came to visit, we elected our first black president. Some people call him bi-racial, some people call him African-American, but we all call him Barack Obama. His father was born in Kenya, his mother was born in Kansas, and he was born in Hawaii.

Grandpa told me a story once about a time when you brought one of your college professors home to dinner. He was a black man, and I got the impression that Grandpa and Grandma weren’t too happy to be having a black man over for dinner. Grandpa may have actually called him “colored.”

This is what Grandpa said:

He kept talking about how money would solve everything, money money money. So I turned to him and I said, “I’m going to take this knife and cut your hand with it. Then I’m going to slap a hundred dollar bill on it.”

I never got to talk to you about that story. It’s one of the many things I never got to talk to you about, because you died in 1989. But I’d like think that you’re proud of our country right now. And I’d like to think that you would have voted for Barak Obama, too. And against Proposition 8.

 

Thank You, Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me

Dear Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me:

Thank you for being such an awesome place to work out. Thank you for always having plenty of cardio machines available without my having to sign up. Thank you, kind, fatherly owner of the gym, who always takes the time to explain things slowly and in the same tone of voice as my old Outdoor Living teacher in high school. Thank you for being so close to my house that I can walk or run there and thus begin my workout before I even arrive. Thank you for having ample parking and being on the way to my job so that I include a visit with you in my morning commute. Thank you for having hangers for me to hang my corporate whore clothes on in the locker room.

Thank you for your comfortable locker room with the wooden doors. Thank you for the carpets in the changing area and the linoleum tile in the shower area. Thank you for having a detachable shower head in one of the stalls, and for having stalls with curtains that are actually wide enough to close. Thank you, ancient scale for reminding me that it’s okay not to know my weight down to two significant digits. Thanks an extra bunch for showing that I lost four pounds this morning, and thanks for reminding that it’s okay to gain those four pounds back. Thank you, sauna, for being so hot and dry and dark like the Womb of Mother Earth. Thank you for being on a timer so I know you’re not singlehandedly causing the melting of the ice caps, although I wish I remembered to turn you on more BEFORE my workout.

Thank you, hardworking, down-to-earth women of my town who conduct your workouts without applying foundation, mascara, blush, and eyeliner. Thank you for wearing normal, baggy workout clothes on your normal, imperfect and yet beautiful bodies and not flaunting your perfectly toned abs, cellulite-free bottoms, and gravity-defying breasts in the latest fashions from the “activewear” racks at Neiman Marcus. Thank you for smiling at me when I smile at you — and I forgive you when you don’t, because this is New England, after all. Thank you for talking to me in the locker room, even when I am naked. I am sorry that I sometimes talk to you when I am naked or when we have not been formally introduced. I know this may make you uncomfortable, but it’s just because I am friendly, not a native New Englander, and jazzed up on endorphins. I’m also sorry if I take up space on the bench with my massive gym bag. I try to be mindful of your needs, but I just tend to take up a lot of space. Thank you for being so respectful of personal property that I never need to use a lock on my locker.

Thank you, little self-locking cubbyholes where I can leave my iPod while I’m changing, since my trust for strangers only goes so far.

Thank you, older gentlemen who use the free weights along with me and scowl when I use them too and smile at you. You are so much better than the alt-rock listening, baseball-cap-wearing, tattoo-sporting fuckheads who so intimidated me when I first started lifting weights back in the 90s. Thank you, nice transplanted divorced guy from Brooklyn who actually talks to me in the weight area and on the mats. Your Brooklyn accent makes me feel all warm and homey and I love that you used to live in Santa Cruz and know my favorite beach in the whole world, the one with the surfer museum. I would totally date you, except that it might make things awkward at the gym.

Oh men of the free weight area, oh women of the gym, I apologize if I have ever offended with you with my tight workout pants and my big-city attitude. I’m a big girl and it’s hard to find workout pants that AREN’T tight, it’s not really because I am trying to show off my hugamundo gluteii maximii, which are becoming more appealing by the day as I continue to do my clock lunges. You should be pleased to know that I have never worn my “Every time you see a rainbow, God is having gay sex” T-shirt specifically because I did not want to offend you. You are my workout compatriots and I treasure and love your unpretentious creamy goodness.

Thank you, housewives who bring your kids to the gym with you and leave them in that windowless child care room under the stairs. I am annoyed by you and your noisy kids, and also jealous of you because you “don’t have to work” (riiiiight, you just don’t get paid for your work) and because your husbands (or wives, but you all look so very, very heterosexual) must be bringing in mad bank for you to raise your kids in this affluent little suburb of Boston. Thank you anyway for being there, for exercising your right to choose as women, for raising the next generation of the human race, and for taking care of yourselves.

Thank you, nice, spacious group exercise room I have never used. Thank you, full roster of exercise classes none of which are at a convenient time for me. If I ever get bored of my familiar and lovely cardio/strength/flex fitness routine, I know you will be there for me.

Thank you, well-organized strength training chart filing area. Thank you for always having a clipboard for me to use and for all those lovely pencils with the pencil sharpener right nearby and the new supply of pencils with erasers that haven’t been worn down to the metal holder. I love you and the way you let me keep track of how often and well I do my lifting.

Thank you, lovely, colorful, but clearly painted by an amateur mural of people running and biking and climbing mountains and doing other sports, with the Boston skyline in the background. You make the walls so very much more fun to look at when I am standing in the dancer pose trying not to fall over or sprain my ankle.

Thank you, EFT transfer of funds that lets me go to the gym day in and day out without ever writing a check. Sure, you sometimes take me by surprise and overdraw my checking account, but you charge me exactly the amount of money I am willing to pay for a gym. And the gym is so very much worth the extra funds.

I love you, Locally Owned Fitness Center Near Me, and I want the whole world to know it.