Are You Going? Tomorrow. Are You Going?

red door me

There is still time to get advance tickets to David Steinberg’s talk at the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture tomorrow night, Thursday April 2nd at 7:30 pm.

Event Details:

April 2, 2015 @ 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm  Free signing and reception after!
1608 15th Ave W
Bldg. B, Seattle
WA 98119


Photo courtesy Kim Mears

If you just want to come and hang out after the talk, this is free so join me and meet David Steinberg. He is the author I have been working with on This Thing We Call Sex: A Radically Sensible Look at Sex in America, the book that may have saved me from completely losing my mind these past two years.


scary me

..come have your mind blown, you know you want to…

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Here it is! This Thing We Call Sex: A Radically Sensible Look at Sex in America


If you know me at all, you have already heard about This Thing We Call Sex. If you don’t but are interested in the topics I tend to write about, this will still be good news. The book I have been working on as both editor and project manager for Booktrope is finally here! Once you have ordered your own copy and have had a couple of weeks to digest it, send your questions in and I will ask them in a blog interview with David here.

Through Hubby’s deportation, surgery, moving to Mexico and Hurricane Odile, I have continued working to get this book published even when sometimes I wondered why I was pushing so hard. Sometimes it feels like I have too many balls in the air, and likely I do, but seeing this book finally available (with all these great photos to boot!) makes it all worthwhile.

Once you read even a few of the essays in this book, my personal favorites being, “One Man’s Abortion Story,” and “Men and Pornography,” I hope you will see why I thought this book was so important. I found David Steinberg through my interest in Marco Vassi’s work. David wrote up a wonderful piece which is included in the book titled, “Marco Vassi: Avatar of Eros.” The book has something for everyone and possibly  something you will disagree with as well. What I love about this book is the same thing I loved about Henry Miller and Marco Vassi when I found them: frank, honest discussions of topics people rarely discuss in a thoughtful manner, much less with anything new to say.

What I also found extremely validating is that I am not the only one, as a fan of this book I am in great company. From Susie Bright to Christopher Ryan, Clarisse Thorn to Annie Sprinkle and Betty Dodson, many have contributed their thoughts on the book. I have added the blurbs at the bottom of the post if you are curious.

Here is a little about the book from the back cover:

In this long-anticipated collection, columnist, photographer, critic, and sexual explorer David Steinberg has gathered the best of his essays, anecdotes, and photographs into a uniquely insightful, engaging overview of sex in America.

For 25 years, Steinberg has documented the American sexual landscape from teenage sexuality to Viagra, swingers’ parties to erotic spirituality, lap dancing to women’s sexual liberation, fine art sexual photography to pornography, homophobia to BDSM. He calls on readers to question their sexual assumptions and fears, and to embrace sex as an opportunity for intimacy, self-understanding, and psychic adventure. Rejecting sensationalized rhetoric rooted in shame and fear, Steinberg offers an emotionally grounded understanding of a topic that is endlessly debated but rarely approached with depth and calm awareness.

Whimsical, philosophical, unapologetically political, and revealingly personal, This Thing We Call Sex will take you into sexual worlds that include Marco Vassi, the Marquis de Sade, 19th-century feminist Victoria Woodhull, erotic photographer Jan Saudek, and porn producer, exploring the spectrum of human sexuality with an unflinching eye, a compassionate heart, and a keen mind. After reading this book, you will find yourself doing the same.


Photo courtesy Kim Mears

David Steinberg has been writing about sex and gender since 1989. His Comes Naturally columns appeared in Spectator magazine from 1992 through 2005. His writing has also appeared in such journals as Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, Playboy, LA Weekly, SF Weekly, The Sun, The Gay and Lesbian Review, The Realist, Transgender TapestryChanging Men, and Issues in Radical Therapy. He lives in San Francisco. His website is at

This Thing We Call Sex is available at Amazon, B& and soon to be at several bookstores near San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Here is what others are saying:*

These beautiful, sensitive essays, photos, poems, and stories portray some of the most honest and frank representations of human sex in all its wide range, with joy, ecstasy, and even pain. Inspiring.—Susie Bright, author of The Sexual State of the Union; editor of the Best American Erotica series 

This Thing We Call Sex is a fascinating exploration of sexuality, and a profoundly honest, open look at one man’s life experience. This is a highly readable, provocative, and eloquent book for anyone exploring their sexuality.—Eli Coleman, Director, Program in Human Sexuality, University of Minnesota Medical School

David Steinberg’s edgy, educational, compassionate, and fascinating book is for searchers—people who want to know the full range of sexuality and emotion.—Pepper Schwartz, PhD, Professor of Sociology, coauthor of 50 Great Myths of Human Sexuality

Steinberg’s witty, candid, and deeply intelligent essays leave no doubt that his heart is as open as his mind. The shameless sensibility of Steinberg’s work is to be treasured, shared, and emulated.—Christopher Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

This Thing We Call Sex is a fascinating read for people who want intelligence with their sex. Steinberg is unafraid to expose his personal sexual truths while challenging us to face and accept our own. I’ve already started my list of lucky friends who will be receiving a copy!—Candida Royalle, founder, Femme Productions; director of Femme, Urban Heat, Revelations

David Steinberg explores the nuances of modern sexuality with an expert and empathetic eye, humanizing aspects of eroticism that our culture often dismisses. These powerful, persuasive essays challenge the conventional wisdom about sex, and force readers to reckon with their own preconceived ideas.—Rachel Kramer Bussel, author of Sex & Cupcakes

Steinberg understands what works for women and how we have our orgasms. His voice is a calm, reasoned call to rise above the standard porn nonsense about what it means to be a fully alive sexual man.—Betty Dodson, PhD, artist, author of Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving and Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex

David Steinberg is one of our foremost commentators on human sexuality. In a culture capable of astonishing levels of hysteria and illogic over these matters, he stands among our sanest voices.—A. D. Coleman, photocritic, author of Depth of Field: Essays on Photography, Mass Media, and Lens Culture

This is a fantastic book, written from David’s big heart, brilliant mind, and experienced sex organs. David takes on a variety of touchy subjects with honesty, integrity, and courage. Bring on the literary awards!—Annie Sprinkle, PhD, performance artist, author of Post-Porn Modernist and Dr. Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex

David Steinberg’s writing and photographs are surprising, truthful, courageous, humane, and loving. Investigating what can be understood about sex, and reveling in what cannot, David’s work reveals us to ourselves and deepens our connections with each other.—Judith Levine, author of Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex

David’s core message is important for everyone: that sex is a treasure to be celebrated, and a path to self-knowledge. David has been advocating intelligently and passionately for sex-positivity since before that term was coined. It’s exciting to have the best of his writings collected in this long-overdue volume.—Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations; author of Femalia and A Kid’s First Book About Sex

David Steinberg is a writer of consummate intelligence and compassion. I am consistently touched by what he reveals about the changing nature of being a man. His prose is deceptively simple, drawing you into the story he is telling until you find yourself agreeing with much more than a simple anecdote. This is a great book.—Patrick Califia, author of Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex and Speaking Sex to Power: The Politics of Queer Sex

David Steinberg is simultaneously a thoughtful observer and a participant—an explorer with empathy, a writer with honesty. This Thing We Call Sex is on the right side of history.—Paul Krassner, editor, The Realist; author of Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?

David Steinberg’s ability to write clearly and honestly about what he feels and observes is a gift. He gives us stark, naked truth, rational philosophy, cultural history, and erotic wisdom. Look, feel, be exposed, get real. Sex is life. Think about it. David has.—Jamison Green, president, World Professional Association for Transgender Health, author of Becoming a Visible Man

Since sex became a legitimate beat for journalists, David Steinberg has been the right man in the right place at the right time. Moving beyond the role of witness, consumer, or critic, he participates—fascinated with the emotional power of what’s happening before his eyes. His prose is honest—sometimes funny, sometimes angry, but always just. If you’ve ever wondered about the incredible, ongoing whirlwind of sex, read this book.—James R. Petersen, former Playboy Advisor; author of The Century of Sex

David Steinberg’s magnum opus helps shift the conversation away from fear and shame, toward a radical embrace of sexual complexity and diversity. David brings thoughtful and wise dispatches from sexual arenas many of us will never visit. This Thing We Call Sex takes you on a journey that will bring you home to your sexual self with new comfort and a deeper sense of who you are. Some of my best conversations about sex have been with David. Open this book and you’ll see why!—Carol Queen, PhD, Founding Director, Center for Sex and Culture; author of Real Live Nude Girl and Exhibitionism for the Shy

Steinberg’s writing is thought-provoking and compelling. This important collection asks us to grapple with the complexities of real sex—to face our sexual angels and demons instead of turning off the lights and hiding under the covers.—Katherine Frank, author of Sympathy: Strip Club Regulars and Male Desire

 David Steinberg is a living, breathing sexual oxymoron. He dares to push, probe, poke, and prod, asking questions related to the mystery of sex. This Thing We Call Sex should be required reading for everyone who thinks they have sex figured out.—Jack Hafferkamp, cofounder, Libido: The Journal of Sex and Sensibility

 David Steinberg has been a calm, measured voice of reason for the sex worker in an era of scandalous journalism on the subject—the sort of sensible journalism on the culture wars you rarely see.—James Ridgeway, journalist; author of Red Light: Inside the Sex Industry

 Few writers about sex are as thoughtful, thought-provoking, and insightful as David Steinberg. He shows what sex-positivity really means and gives you new ways to think about sex and relationships. If you’re interested in sex or sex-positivity, This Thing We Call Sex is for you.—Charlie Glickman, PhD, author of The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure

This Thing We Call Sex pushes us to increase our understanding and acceptance of sexual controversies and practices, and thus grow in our sexual lives.—Dr. Tuppy Owens, author of Supporting Disabled People with Their Sexual Lives

Steinberg has developed a unique style of depicting the diverse spectrum of sexual attitudes and lifestyles. Exploring this hauntingly beautiful, thoughtful book is a mind-opening experience I heartily recommend.—Cheryl Cohen Greene, author of An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner

 I loved reading This Thing We Call Sex. David is a true sex-positive pioneer.—Allena Gabosch, Executive Director, Center for Sex Positive Culture

Steinberg’s insightful essays and reports on sexuality stand above anything available in mainstream media. His perspectives remain fresh, far ahead of the curve, and brashly counter to conventional thinking about sex. This book is a cutting edge treat.—Layne Winklebleck, former editor, Spectator magazine; author of Moral Turpitude

Beautifully illustrated with intimate photographs of couples, This Thing We Call Sex brings together two decades of insightful prose and poetry on the subjects of sex, sexual expression, and freedom. A thought-provoking and timely collection.—Catherine Johnson-Roehr, Curator, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

Steinberg passionately proves he’s on the right side of history, examining our progress toward sexual freedom while providing frank, intimate details from his own sexual explorations. This Thing We Call Sex is a philosophical journey that calls you to consider the meaning of sex in your life.—Susan Wright, spokesperson, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

 Wherever Steinberg ventures, his explorations take us closer to the heart of this thing we call sex. In Steinberg’s view, sex is who we are, how we live, how we experience desire, yearning, joy, and life.—Michael Castleman, author of Great Sex and Sexual Solutions

In the early 90s, when I was a budding sex worker rights activist, Steinberg’s rants on sexual liberation fueled my passion for speaking out in favor of sexual self-determination. Some of my best arguments were shaped and refined by David’s fearless, feminist, human rights approach to sexuality. Thank you David!—Veronica Monet, ACS, author of Sex Secrets of Escorts; host of The Shame Free Zone

Here you’ll find everything from the tale of a famous, wealthy 1800s prostitute stockbroker to a description of in 2009. This Thing We Call Sex is a clear, well-researched, and highly entertaining exegesis of sexual politics.—Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist

David Steinberg steps outside cultural straightjackets to present us with an honest, breadth-and-depth vision of our human sexual nature. This Thing We Call Sex will bring you to understand someone who is dancing to the beat of a very different sexual drum. It has definitely done that for me.—Kenneth Ray Stubbs, PhD, author of Erotic Massage: The Touch of Love

 Steinberg never fails to be both thought-provoking and entertaining. This Thing We Call Sex is a fine tapestry featuring boldness, sensitivity, and wit, in service to the crown jewel of human sexuality. This is the real stuff.—Howie Gordon, aka Richard Pacheco, author of Hindsight: True Love and Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn

 David Steinberg is a rare artist, a revolutionary, a visionary, and a practical man who’s not afraid to get his hands (and other body parts) dirty. This is a book for anyone who’s ever contemplated having sex.—David Henry Sterry, author of Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent

David Steinberg’s way of thinking about sex is inspiring. In place of moralism, cynicism, shame, and guilt, it’s about honesty and the search for nuances. Steinberg is not afraid to be wrong because, as this book helps us remember, sex is not a matter of being right.—Phil Jourdan, author of Praise of Motherhood and What Precision, Such Restraint

David’s clear, passionate intent has been steady over the decades. This Thing We Call Sex brings inspiration mixed with urgency: We must we get the word out. We must heal the intractable hurts our still half-puritan society inflicts.—Bill Noble, former editor Clean Sheets

David is a courageous explorer, artist, and cultural critic—a rare, informed voice in the mélange of discourse on sexuality. This insightful, engrossing, and well-researched compendium from someone who has spent decades on the sexual frontiers offers an essential history lesson in American sexuality.—Carol Leigh, aka Scarlot Harlot, author of Unrepentent Whore








Do I sound too much like I’m applying for a job with Publisher’s Weekly?


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What Happened: Ground Zero—Day One

This post is dedicated to A, L, R, J, J, D, C, L and A: There are no words to express my gratitude for all of your support during these first few days.

David Fire pit

Here is a picture of my hubby taken two weeks before the events described below. During the week I was in Taos he tore up an enormous stump in the backyard, taking apart the deck to get to it, then he built us this fire pit. We were looking forward to S’mores around the fire, having friends over for drinks and enjoying our beautiful yard through the rest of the summer.

Throughout the tumult of having surgery and schlepping back and forth to Mexico so the girls could see their father, I had very little time to do the kind of writing that is necessary for a blog post about this.  When I wasn’t in an unbearable amount of pain, or incoherent from the drugs, I spent some time making notes and outlining all the various posts that could easily end up comprising a book, but always ended up switching back to survival mode: keeping the house and work projects from completely falling apart.

Throughout the hurricane I kept thinking what an incredible metaphor that event was for the way our life has been since Tuesday July 30, 2013. I still have some Odile posts in the works, but just found a few pictures that got me thinking about why I am here in the first place.


The week of July 29, 2013 was supposed to be as close to heaven as I a person is likely to see. My daughter was in a math camp in Bellevue all week and rather than drive back and forth, I was camped out at the Eastlake library working until it was time to pick her up. Thursday night would kick off the Seattle Erotic Art Festival where I was presenting my work.

Hubby has always been more conservative than I, but he was impressed by SEAF’s Seduction Ball and he let me sign him up for the festival.


That’s Hubby there in the back. He made such a studly headbanger in that wig.

The author whose book I was editing was presenting his photos at the festival.  Since each had heard so much about the other, I was really looking forward to introducing them.  I was also excited and nervous at the prospect of sitting with Hubby through the live sex photo shoot we would be attending on Saturday. My biggest worry when the week began was that Hubby would not be as enthusiastic as he seemed and would embarrass me. On Sunday I was going to read my poem “She Is,” which was featured as part of the literary art anthology. I was thrilled to be able to have him in the audience when  I read.

To say I was excited is putting it mildly. I was looking forward to a week of catching up on work and visiting a few of my eastside friends for lunch. At the end of the week I would be accompanied by my beautiful husband for three days of immersion into erotic imagery as well as meeting all the exceptional  people who put it into the world. This weekend was to be a serious bonding event for Hubby and I. We had a sitter lined up and he was going to be there for it all.

On Tuesday at 2:30 pm I was just finishing up lunch with an old friend. I had a bad feeling all though the meal, mainly because this friend had had some negative interactions with a former coworker who was known to frequent the place where we were eating. The food was too good to pass up, however, so we enjoyed a two hour lunch catching up while I anxiously watched the door.

I was also plagued throughout the lunch with the abdominal pain that was becoming more and more of a distraction. I had promised Hubby that after I got back from Taos I would go to the doctor.

I said goodbye to my friend in the parking lot and was just closing the door on the minivan when the phone rang from deep inside my purse. I dug it out, saw that the number was blocked and almost ignored the call. “Blocked” is not “Unknown,” however. Blocked for some reason indicated that whatever was on the other end might be important.

One of hubby’s pet peeves has always been that I ignore the phone. When I am lunching, or interacting with people in general, unless there is a pressing issue at home, I keep the phone off altogether. Today must have been our lucky day.

“They got me,” Hubby’s voice was calm but serious.


This is something we have been afraid of since we got married. Ever since we consulted our first attorney, the news stories of ICE raids and deportations had been becoming more common. While I was at Taos I took the enormous step of confiding in another writer who is active in the immigrant rights community. This was not something I generally told people about myself. I never wanted to be judged or have Hubby judged by the label that is put on people who are here without Proper Papers. Hubby to me and most who know us, is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to do as much as I have in my creative life.

My schedule and the opportunities I have been able to take advantage of have depended mostly on the fact the he makes a good enough living that I can stay home to write and edit, plus his schedule was flexible enough to allow him to take the kids so I could attend all my events.

Hubby continued, “The officer here wants to talk to you.”

It sounded like a three-way call and I could still hear Hubby breathing on the other end as this man spoke to me. He identified himself as Officer — and told me that Hubby was being held at the Tukwila Office of Homeland Security. I remembered my trips over there to file papers to try to get Hubby legalized.

While the Officer spoke, the green of the trees, the blues and reds and whites of the cars in the parking lot became richer. The sunlight was more bright and warm than ever. The grungy walls of the Taco Time across the parking lot stood in contrast.

“Where do I send our attorney?” My voice was shaking. My hands and arms were cold.

“If you are getting an attorney, you better hurry up.” Officer—’s voice held a touch of humor. “We are sending him over to Tacoma for processing in the next hour.”

“Don’t hurt him!” I blurted, aware that this might scare Hubby, but I also wanted the Officer to know that if anything happened to my husband, I would make sure he was sorry. My voice was probably much less intimidating than I was aiming for. I thought right then that I might even sound hysterical.

Officer — responded I am sure, but I cannot recall what it was he said. I do know he must have been reassuring in some way as I was able to get my next question out.

“Where can I see him?” I asked. Still trying to sound intimidating and failing. I wanted him to know that this wasn’t some peasant or criminal that he was holding. This was someone Important. He was connected to an American. I wanted him to know that I had the resources and capacity to deal with this.

The way the officer spoke to me was an introduction to the way every other government official would school me in the importance of my status as an American citizen.

“He will be processed and sent over to Tacoma. You won’t be able to see him for 24 hours.”

There was nothing left to say. The Officer spoke with such finality and I had no idea how to end the call. I might have blurted out more questions but was very aware of the panic creeping in to my voice and was desperate for some way to both process what I was hearing and respond in a way that indicated to Hubby that I had the situation under control.

I told Hubby that I loved him, hating that a stranger was on the same line.

After I hung up the phone I thought about my daughters and what I was going to tell them. I thought of the attorney I had to call, I thought of Hubby’s boss, and about my other daughter. I thought about the bank account, I thought about Hubby, I imagined him sitting against a sterile concrete wall in handcuffs. Then I pictured him in the dark.

Somewhere between getting back in the car and searching through the phone for the right numbers the pain hit again. I spent ten minutes in the bathroom at Taco Time trying to make it stop while I called my sister in law to tell her what had happened. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that family needed to be informed.

The hour until I needed to pick my daughter up from camp was impossibly hectic. I called Don—, an older man who had worked for Immigration years ago and now worked with an immigration attorney. We had begun consulting with him in March based on a strong recommendation from one of Hubby’s friends. In June he had advised me to go to the Homeland Security Office to request Hubby’s case file so we could move toward filing the proper forms. The phone rang until I finally got a message that the mailbox was full. I called several more people to get a number for the friend who had referred him to us, hoping to get another number for the office. I cursed the backup assistant that was supposed to transfer numbers when I switched phones. I cursed myself for not having all the numbers ready in case this ever happened. After twenty minutes I got a hold of him at his office.

“I have been calling your number,” I said, “a message says your voice mail is full!”

“Sorry, the cell is in the car.” He sounded like he had his feet up on his paper-strewn desk without a care in the world. I wondered how many messages it took to fill the mailbox.

The sensations and feelings I experienced during this time were a compression of the weeks around my father’s death. Rage and panic replaced every other emotion.

I knew it! I had been against trying to file any more papers on Hubby’s behalf even as he and my best friend urged me to do it. I love my country, but had limited faith in my government after a decade went by while Congressmen and Senators shook hands over compromises on immigration reform and then did nothing. Against every instinct I had, I had taken a leap of faith by trusting this guy: Don—, this pendejo, at all.

When we first started working with him, Don Pendejo said explicitly that if we filed papers to get Hubby fixed and Hubby did get picked up, the attorney he worked with would go to court and file a waiver specifically designed for people in Hubby’s situation. This new waiver was the reason I trusted him at all. I had heard something about this elsewhere. The recommendation by Hubby’s friend who had worked with him was the reason I looked past the small messy office and his inability to write coherent emails or return phone calls. Hubby and I had disagreed over working with Don Pendejo since the beginning and here I was proven right in the worst way.

I told him that Hubby had been picked up and was going to be sent to the detention center in Tacoma. He told me that the attorney he worked with was very busy and he didn’t think he would be able to take the case, but he could try. I made one attempt to explain that he said this attorney would be available for us before the phone started beeping with an incoming call. Time was slipping away and I was about to waste more by screaming at him.

Hubby’s boss was the call coming in and when I was through with Don Pendejo I called him back. This is someone who had done a great deal for Hubby and we had spent a few enjoyable nights at company functions with him and his wife. He was calm and in charge, asking if there was anything he needed to know and I told him no. I explained this was not because Hubby had been doing anything he shouldn’t, only that somehow ICE had decided to pick him up. I had no idea what had prompted them picking him up.

During this time, there was a lot of speculation about why this happened at all. Hubby had made a few enemies at work and one of them had recently begun breaking into his office and causing other kinds of trouble. Several of us were convinced that this guy or another one of his friends had hoped to cause more problems by calling Immigration. I know how these particular types of people think. I lived with one for almost ten years: Mexicans are damn hard workers, they put Americans out of work and all of them are illegal. My bet was that this guy had called the law to exert his meager authority and shake things up. I speculated with Hubby’s boss about this but told him I had to get off the phone so I could find another attorney. What to say and to whom was another concern I had as the week unfolded. If everything in the end turned out okay, I did not want anything I said to effect Hubby’s relations at work.

I had to go pick up my daughter. How do you tell your eight-year-old that Daddy is not coming home? How do you explain something like this? I still don’t know. I know that when I pulled up in front of that cheerful log cabin, walked in and collected her, I was shaking. My thinking was already racing through every possible scenario. Hubby might be home with us in a couple of days. Hubby might never come home. There might be an accident and Hubby might die in there.

I smiled at the teachers who were getting the kids ready to go.  I smiled at my girl who showed me what she had done and walked her quickly to the car, already worrying that the drive time was going to eat up the remainder of the Office work day. I had to get Hubby an attorney before 5pm when all the offices would be closed. I made lists in my head as she talked and I walked her to the car and asked her how her day was.

David girls

I do not usually post photos of Hubby and the kids, but here the benefits outweigh the concerns.

This moment reminded me so much of the hours leading up to my mother’s funeral. My sister and I were practicing our readings for the funeral and were both struck by a fit of laughter. The situation was so grave that it became comic. There is that weird feeling of being outside yourself and thinking wraps inward. How can you laugh? How can you not laugh?

The need to burst out laughing during moments like this is probably due to some emotional response a shrink could explain, but all I know is that it was difficult not to. Laugh or cry? I couldn’t cry because that would be more upsetting to her, I knew that much. I had to be the strong one, I had to set a solid example. I always urge my children to cry; it is healthy. I hoped at some point I would be able to.

With a straight face and pinched mouth, I told her that Daddy had been picked up and I didn’t know when he would be home.

Her face went blank, then she had tears in her eyes and with a rising voice said, “What?”

I hugged her, and she asked, “How can they do that?”

She cried, and then I explained that I was going to have to call the lawyer to try and get Daddy out. I might have told her everything would be okay. Part of me hopes I did and part of me doesn’t. That would have been a lie.

I love my father

She drew this on the chalkboard almost a year later on the day that we left for Baja.

As I write this I am struck by how cold I must seem in how I handled things with her, but what I remember about this interaction was both the need to avoid scaring her and the knowledge that I couldn’t stop that from happening. No matter what, Daddy was not coming home that night and I couldn’t change that with reassurances. What was immediate was the pressure to get an attorney involved to get Daddy back.

I called another friend who had told me about an attorney she had almost worked with but the fee was too high, then I called one more who had told me about another one she was working with. The drive home seemed to take forever and time was a major concern. Leaving messages and then waiting for responses during a time like this is awful. Nobody else has the same sense of urgency and they don’t appear to understand the gravity of the situation, though their words are comforting. I was left to wait and fend off the apocalyptic images and scenarios my mind was trotting out.

I had asked my sitter to keep my youngest with her for an extra hour but now it was time to go get her. When we were home I got a call back from one attorney’s receptionist. She said that normally it would have taken a week to get someone to go down to the detention center but one of their attorneys would already be down there dealing with another case. She said he would stop and see Hubby after that.

Now, I at least had a sense that the immediate problem was taken care of. It was time to talk to my youngest. She was four. When I told her that Daddy wasn’t coming home for a few nights, she took it in stride. “Can we watch a movie?”

I was grateful that she didn’t understand what was happening and wasn’t going to ask as many questions. My other one was crying in the living room. For the rest of the night they watched TV and played with their Pet Shops while I fielded  more calls. Hubby’s truck was left in the parking lot at work and people were already worried about what I was going to do with it. The friend who gave me the attorney’s name (who ultimately came through) came by with food and I tried to talk to her while ignoring the phone. There were some calls I ignored, and others I took while she talked to the kids and remained cheerful. One person sent a video which I have attached below of the actual pick up. I might have eaten. I think my friend fed the kids. I don’t think they got their nightly shower.

By ten o’clock, the phone was still ringing, but I was only answering calls from people who could help me in some way. This is cold, but I had no energy left to explain to anyone else about what had happened, why it happened or anything else. I knew I was going to need to be ready for the next day.

fridge us

I took this on the day we left for Baja. As I was stuffing the last batch of junk from a drawer into my purse, I looked up and saw this sticking to the side of the fridge. One of our magnetic poetry words sticks beside it. That small word:how.


The pickup video clips:

A promised, here are the video clips of Hubby being taken in the middle of the day outside his workplace by two ICE agents. These were taken on a cell phone by a two men who stood watching. Hubby got to work about 5am and was on his way out at  1:30pm to pick up some parts for work. He does not generally leave work before he goes home at 4. This parking lot fills up after 6am so the two black SUVs that were waiting on either side of his white pickup truck (on the left in the video) must have been waiting for a while. They waited until he was in the truck before they approached him.

In this first clip, we see two agents with Hubby at his truck. He says one approached him while he was sitting in his pickup, the other agent went around to the passenger side door.

Pickup Video 1

In this second video the agents are getting Hubby out of his white pickup, explaining his rights and leading him to a big black DODGE (this was stated in one video as a possible make) that we don’t see yet but has been there since the start of video 1. What is extremely important to note here is that while he was in handcuffs, they made him lock the truck. They took his keys.

Pickup Video 2

In this third clip, Hubby has already been placed into the DODGE SUV that we can’t see just yet.  We will see it pulling away near the end of the final clip. Hubby sat in the SUV for a short time by himself. In this third clip, we see the agents go back to the truck, open the passenger door and look through it. This is not just my interpretation of what I see, you can hear commentary from the guys filming this.

Pickup Video 3

Here we see one of the agents go to what looks like a black Lexus SUV and pull it around to face Hubby’s truck, then we see the DODGE SUV that Hubby has been placed in pull forward. It had been facing the exit. The Lexus swings around and follows behind the DODGE that holds my husband and both cars drive away. How many minutes until I got my call I can’t say, but from the timing Hubby gives me, it was probably a half hour.

Pickup Video 4

I love the commentary in video 3. “What the fuck are they doing? Fuckers.” I bet they went home and indeed fucked someone and slept quite soundly. Hubby told me that the way they put the handcuffs on him was rough, and he asked them why they were doing this to him. He explained that he had a wife, kids and a job. He asked who was going to pay the mortgage. He says he tried to talk to them like they were all people.

The response he got: “I am just doing my job.”


Further reading:

A couple of months after this happened, a group of protesters made the news while attempting to stop a bus outside the Tacoma Detention facility. Here is a link to their online home: #Not1MoreDeportation. They post reports, timelines and other information related to the deportation crisis. Each time I visited Hubby in detention, he told me that Obama was behind the deportations. While he was in detention he heard stories and listened to far too much rumor. I thought this was too simple and still do: Follow the money. Still, the information, particularly the timeline, made me doubt my faith in a man who, initially, gave us all so much hope.

In April I finally followed up on my friend Jack’s suggestion to seek out other women who are in the same predicament. I found this.


Posted in Citizenship, Deported by Association, Memoir, Ugly Hard-to-Define Stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alphabet Soup: Cuisine Inspired by Hurricane Odile

9-14-14 Incoming waves

I am really proud of this recipe, especially considering the circumstances surrounding its creation. My friends who were anxiously following the hurricane, and the subsequent tourist exodus, will now be able to sink into my stories in a more tangible way.

Preparing and eating this soup will be a transcendent experience; we can enjoy it together as we appreciate the good, even when the rest of our lives might seem terrifying and out of control.

9-25-14 Alphabet Soup


10-12 habanero peppers

4 serrano peppers

12 roma tomatoes

8 cloves of garlic

1 dried cascabel chili


1/2 onion

1/2 bag of Costco chicken wings

4 bay leaves

12 dried allspice berries

5 peppercorns

2 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon (Knorr Suiza)

1 package Swanson broth

2 packages Italian letter pasta


If you plan to make this soup in the same spirit of adventure that I did during the aftermath of Hurricane Odile, the best thing to do is begin preparation expecting to lose power at any moment. Anxiety may yet be one of its ingredients though the eating will chase away your worries in more ways than one.

From the moment the winds began to gust outside, I was boiling eggs, making salsa, and simmering beans with epazote in the crock pot. I rushed to prepare anything that would be edible for a few days without power.

For salsa:

Boil six roma tomatoes, three cloves of garlic, three to four habaneros (seeds removed), one serrano (seeds removed), one dried cascabel chili (seeds removed) and a good dash of salt. Removing the seeds of the peppers before will cut the heat. Once everything is boiled to softness (a half hour or so), place everything in a blender, or as I did, use a hand mixer to blend in the pot. Let this cool on the counter, then refrigerate. This sauce is great for topping eggs, and will be used for mixing into the soup later on. Mine sat for two days in a cool refrigerator until I used it in the soup.

We had recently made a Costco run and had a freezer full of meat. A half bag of wings was thawing in the freezer so I decided to see what I could do with this since it was the biggest package of meat we had. My goal was to waste the least amount of perishables possible; I knew I wasn’t going to be able to save it all. This knowledge gave me no small amount of anxious sadness every time I had to open that freezer.

camp stove

I cooked the soup over a butane stove.

Fill a large stock pot with your chicken wings, Swanson broth, Knorr bouillon, three cascabel chilis (seeded and stemmed), four or five roma tomatoes, half an onion (chopped), four cloves of garlic, one whole serrano (unseeded) three habaneros (seeded if you want to cut the heat, but I urge you to use at least one whole one as I did), three bay leaves, 12 dried allspice berries, a squirt of lime and enough water to cover with about four inches of water remaining. Boil this for two hours or until the chicken begins to fall off the bone.

Throughout the last hour of cooking, taste the soup and add your pre-made salsa until the broth is to your liking. If you begin to run out of liquid, add more water. Each time you add water, you will add more salsa to give the additional liquid more flavor. Taste the broth and add a squirt of lime right at the end if it needs it.


Eight minutes before you serve the soup pour the alphabet pasta into the pot. These will soak up tons of water and if you are like me, by the time you serve this the second night, you will mostly have pasta, but you can add additional water, lime and salsa to spice it up again.

When I first made this, I cooked the pasta for about seven minutes. My girls and I ate some before it got completely dark* waiting for our new friends to arrive and to make sure they were fed before the craziness of having company. This was the soup’s best time. The pasta was firm, and the flavor was spectacular. Even though it was so hot it actually made me cough, both girls gobbled it down and asked for more.

When I served the soup to our guests a half hour later, it was still very good, but I wasn’t as happy with the texture of the pasta. I tend to be picky about texture though over the course of several days, the pasta held up exceedingly well.


Alphabet soup should be savored by the light of a very small candle, or outdoors under the stars with only a headlamp to click on every few minutes to see what one is eating, as we did on two separate evenings. Most importantly, it should also be shared with neighbors, like ours, whom you hardly know but feel a kinship with and gratitude for.

Ours, most consistently, were two surfers who stayed to defend the fort against the dreaded machete toting banditos. I saw no police on our drives out to look around. There were several however who were helping the banditos, this is according to reports by those who had been at the stores the day before.

The emergency residents meeting we had that afternoon proves how certain of this possibility everybody was. We were to bang pots and pans, honk car horns, and do anything else we could to raise an alarm should the terror arrive. Now it is hard to verify that the banditos did actually exist, so many stories were flying around. The local radio news, after being off the air for two days, said nothing more than, “stay calm, the military is on the way, they’re just having a tough time getting in.”

ancient theater

When there is no contact with the outside world and no reliable information, we were ready for anything. One neighbor speculated (on the day he announced that they were getting the fuck out of Dodge) that the reason the phone lines were down when they had been working that morning, was that the authorities were trying to stop the lootings that were being organized over social media.

Back to our surfers: These two helped calm my nerves and saved me from having to separate from hubby yet again by catching one of the flights home that were offered to the tourists.**

This recipe means something to our family in a way that  none of my other recipes do. Every other one is a hand-me-down from someone else. I have adapted recipes over the years and made them my own, but this is the first one I have come up with on the fly. Each time we eat this we remember the first night: fear, laughter, headlamps, uncertainty, darkness, candles, heat, mosquitos.***

Preparation notes:

This soup is very spicy and the peppers and seeds can be reduced, but the flavor will suffer some as a result. Boiling a couple of whole habaneros with the chicken is what gave the broth the rich flavor that it had.

Mixing serrano with habanero has been one of the best cooking decisions I have made lately. From guacamole to salsa, if the recipe calls for jalapenos, these two together will rock it better than any jalapeno and will likely be easier on the tummy to boot.

I did not do this because I was so frazzled, but it might be best to remove the cascabel, allspice and bay leaves before eating, especially if you plan to eat by candle light. One of my dinner guests ate everything, even the allspice!

Removing the chicken bones is another step that will make this easier to eat, though part of this experience is making do with what you have (in the prep time allowed) and picking out the bones gives your mouth a chance to recover from the heat between bites. One of my Italian friends loves that I leave all the bits in as it makes the experience more rustic. If you are feeding small or goofy ones though, it is better to remove the pieces someone could choke on.

* It got dark so fast! Every night I found myself rushing to put things away and get the candles out.

** After I got online again I looked at the news reports and am ever so grateful I did not make this choice, but the decision to stay or go was really really hard. What if something happened to my kids? I would never forgive myself and there would be no way I could ever fix that. Ever. I also knew that if I left, everything in our house might well be gone when we returned, and I might not be able to get back to Hubby for weeks, if not months while the airport was being fixed and services were restored. Planes are already flying in, but at the time there was no way to know how long the area would be locked down.

*** Inside there were still a few mosquitoes, but not nearly as many as were outside. One of my daughters both attracts and is allergic to them. We had repellent, but it still doesn’t work well for her. Many others who were without power for much longer than we were didn’t have any. When we were finally able to drive to La Paz, the thing people were most desperate for were the mosquito coils, which of course even their stores did not have.

Raidolitos—stockpile them as you would your water or t.p.

Part of the hurricane experience was dealing with both the heat and the bugs. Inside the house it felt like you might suffocate from the heat. Outside (sometimes) at night there was a cool breeze, but then we had to deal with the mosquitoes and part of each day was devoted to talking to my daughter about staying inside, leaving screen doors closed, putting on repellent, not scratching. Thank God we had a full bottle of Caladryl; she carried it everywhere.



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Who Will Join Me at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference in October?

Me w statue boy

My blog post on process and artistic insecurities went up today on the conference page.

The conference runs from October 24-26 and I hope to see everyone there.

This was the conference where I met Katherine Sears of Booktrope, a meeting that led to my involvement with the community and having Sex and Death in the American Novel published by them in 2012. Katherine and other members of the Booktrope team will be in attendance so stop by and say hi when you are there. I promise you will walk away energized. If not, come find me and I will zap you.

The same year I met Katherine, I received excellent advice and encouragement from two of that year’s presenters: Bharti Kirchner and Priscilla Long.

Just me at Whidbey (130x186)

It will be great to be back with my people. Baja has been a real adventure, but the community I left behind in Seattle was what fed me when I was just starting out.

If you haven’t already, sign up for the conference. There is never enough time when I come home, but I do look forward to meeting new people and catching up with the old. I will be presenting alongside two writers who have given me so much over the years: JD Munro and Terry Persun. Between them I get to talk about sex writing and  artistic vision. Who could miss that?

Terry Persun Whidbey smaller

Whidbey: a destination, a state of mind, a community!

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Lost My Space

Stay tuned for the redesigned site and updates. GoDaddy has forced me to move to WordPress for my blog. I came within a week of losing five year’s worth of posts! IMG_4129

Formatting is off, and for some reason line breaks are all over the map. Photos are not where they should be, but most links still work if they don’t refer to another one of my posts. Please bear with me as I get this all back to something that looks like a sober person put these words up.

Man, I miss my old life, but this new one is offering me lots of great opportunities as well.

Check back often for updates and more pretty pictures of Baja!

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Call of Doody: Declare War on Distraction

Someone posted something on Facebook recently about how only crazy people believed what they saw on YouTube. I nodded, feeling superior…yes, those easily manipulated dolts who believe in mermaids and conspiracies.

        Eyes both                           

Then I thought, ‘oh, wait’. That’s me. I have taken to YouTube and of course, big fat wonderful books, to fill in all the gaps in information I am not finding anywhere else. I try to be careful and make sure that any video I take seriously is put out by a reputable organization, or cites information I have read from another credible source. Still much of what I find is shockingly flip about gravely serious matters. That, of course is another post.

What follows is something I wrote up for someone I know who is very conservative and watches lots of FOX news. For whatever else they do in the world to misinform and damage credible arguments, in this case, this was the only voice on TV I heard that was in favor of what the rancher was doing.

My point in mentioning FOX specifically to my friend here is to mention the broader idea that this whole concept that one side of the larger news media is more biased or dishonest than another is ridiculous. I saw this quickly when I began to learn about things like the NSA leaks, drones, extrajudicial assassinations, mass incarceration of tens of thousands of undocumented workers etc., and then I tried to look the same issues up on YouTube. Sometimes there is valuable and thought provoking commentary in the segments posted by the big guys, but often it is just a show, or worse important information is left out or ignored.

One of the comments to a recent article I was reading used the catchphrase, “War on Distraction.” Since I have already drafted a post on the same idea, prompted by my annoyance at all the distracting and seductive celebrity puff pieces that trail down the side of many online articles I commandeered the term for my title. 

I liked seeing the notion put so succinctly, though in the end it seems like the larger problem is how my initial opinions can be controlled by catchphrases in general. Whether I should be better than this or not. Just think about how quickly commentary turned for Cliven Bundy in the media when they started calling him a racist. The story was no longer about government misdeeds and became all about the man’s totally irrelevant views and more idiotic, the personalities who had been either for or against his cause.


Dear Friend Who I Usually Avoid Political Discussions With,

I have been watching quite a lot of stuff on YouTube lately. None of the news organizations, including FOX, can be trusted to report
anything like reliable news. Suspicions that I had, and that I was afraid to voice, are
held by many others who are much better at articulating and proving all of
it, and as far as I can tell, they are nonpartisan.

Reporters have gone over to the many countries in the
middle east and reported on what they found there. Soldiers and contractors are speaking out
about what is going on. At the moment they are being persecuted for it. I think the way the Cliven Bundy story was turned into
a conversation about racism was an excellent example of all of this. One conservative commentator was
backpedaling and defending his initial support by renouncing Bundy for his comments about black people, others followed suit, and still others reported on this. The real story had
nothing to do with Bundy’s beliefs and everything to do
with government corruption and criminal behavior, even if Bundy in the end is at fault as well. Not one person I heard after that said anything about why the whole situation blew up in the first place.

I suspected this attempt to distract us all and I am seeing that others believe this as
well. There is no longer a valid distinction between Republicans and Democrats. If there was Obama
would have had Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld plus scores of others brought up on
criminal charges, maybe even handed them over to the UN to prosecute them for
war crimes. Obama has taken all the insanity further–as I have personally felt
the effects of–and the Republicans haven’t really gone after him for any of it. He
lied about the NSA. He lied about immigration reform. He has lied about civilian
casualties. That sounds extreme I know, but I believe he lied especially in this case by way of changing the definition of a combatant to
anyone who could possibly be a civilian so there is no way to even say what the
numbers are anymore. Enhanced interrogation technique anyone?

I have taken to listening to Jesse Ventura (he quotes John Lennon and wears tye-dyed shirts and knows how to handle a gun) who ultimately may be discredited as a crackpot for his
conspiracy theories, but everything so far that he has said makes sense from the
drug war to immigration to this abomination known as The War on Terror.

All along there has
been a war on truth. Most of our domestic ills would have a chance if we quit murdering populations all over the globe. Mass murder and torture are
expensive. Again, I know this sounds like I have been chugging radioactive Kool-Aid, but I have seen enough interviews and read enough well-researched articles and marked up enough heavily-footnoted books to believe it

If my daughters are strong and brave enough to
speak out and become active in any way, it looks like they could quite easily be
labeled whatever it takes to shut them up. I know I sound paranoid and grim, but what I am finding is scary. There is so much hard evidence, from Top Secret documents to the Abu Ghraib photos to the scores of videos posted that document the misdeeds floating around
out there, and still nothing has happened to make a change.

A few movies I have found especially enlightening can be found
at these links:

Dirty Wars, about the many small wars being waged in so many countries all over the world. My fear before watching the film was
confirmed after watching this. This is my own take, not something the film said: At some point in the not-too-distant
future, citizens who speak out will be labeled
“domestic terrorists.” Anyone who may be thought of as a potential threat to
the U.S. inside our border will begin to be rounded up including our whistle blowers and journalists who right now really need our support.

Drone Wars, this one struck me especially for the young
man–Brandon Bryant–who starts this, he is from Montana. He was actually operating drones and was brave enough to speak about this. He talked about men in
the mountains with guns. In Montana these are PEOPLE, in the places these
drones go they are considered militants and are killed without hardly a shred of evidence. Since when did someone’s judgment trump the law? I expect you may be turned off by the Code Pink stuff but I urge
you to look past that to the bigger picture that the movie explores, as I am sure
you are able. I am not naive enough to believe that in LEGITIMATE battle there
are no civilian casualties, but all that I am seeing–here and elsewhere–show
that what is happening now is just completely out of control and with no regard
for human decency or our immediate self interest.

Bryant said near the end, “We
need to stop letting our public servants be our public masters.” I wrote my last post about some of what has happened after my husband
was deported and I quoted this young man at the beginning.

I am reading about Edward Snowden. He is called a
traitor and enemy but his actions prove who the actual criminals are (still not held accountable by Congress!) and  to think how easily I believed what I heard in the mainstream media while going about my daily life almost a year ago. My thoughts then were undecided but leaned toward him being some kind of egomaniac who was handing over
state secrets to the enemy.

What I have learned is that all the way along Snowden has made sure that responsible
journalists (who even consulted government agencies before they printed) were involved, and that he
couldn’t be PROVEN in any way to be working with either China or Russia, or doing anything but exposing problems that we all need to be aware of. He embodies
our ideals, and the fact that he has to hide in Russia is an example of how whacked the situation has become.

I was initially excited about the Oath Keepers but then found some angry rants done by them posted on YouTube. But I
do think their initial mission is beautiful, as anti-immigrant as I might imagine them to be. When we began privatizing
military to contractors (and paying them six figure salaries when our vets can’t
even get meaningful medical care and have to beg to the general public for assistance via
the Wounded Warrior project) we
lost something vitally important. I loved the idea that there are organized men and women
who put the people and laws of our country first. They are obviously far from perfect but are at least willing to stand up and speak out.

Enough from me, if you find any of this compelling, please
pass it around to your people. I think this next election and other political
action in the near future, will mean the difference between us turning into a modern equivalent of Hitler’s Willing Executioners or returning to a free society where we can focus on regular
old issues like abortion, gay marriage, marijuana legalization etc.

Both parties
have fucked things up so badly it is impossible to get my head around it. As
a citizen I have done nothing to stop it or even lend a voice to the others until now.

The bad news of the world was once just a distraction. Not anymore. Policies that our government has put into place and enthusiastically acted upon are now very much affecting my daily life, and that of my children.

For the sake of our kids who may grow to become the soldiers and private contractors in these events, or who may one day become the victims of them, I feel strongly that it is time to start paying attention before even that won’t make a difference anymore. 

Family ahead of me - Copy

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Masters vs. Servants: Thoughts on U.S. Customs and Border Protection

         “We need to stop letting our public servants be our public masters.”

                                  –Brandon  Bryant                                                                                                                                                     From comments made near the end of the film Unmanned:America’s Drone Wars

Below are my comments responding to this piece by Francisco Goldman regarding his recent trip through U.S.Customs. Though my slavish need to toss myself at their feet has abated, I still admire writers and it is especially galling for me to read about his experience. I was very grateful for this piece, and for
the comments people have left in response. After reading about how frustrated all of us are, and how angry, I do not feel so alone.

Since my husband was deported by ICE in late July, I have had to fly back and forth from
the U.S. to Mexico five times—and return. I am white, so are my kids, one even has blue eyes.  I took my husband’s last name so on paper we are the same color. ‘Deported by association,’ was a term I recently saw online.

Even though I get to see him on these trips and talk to him on the phone, there is
something about the way he went to work one day and didn’t come back, something
about how I had to figure out what to do with all the pieces of our life–without his usual competence and patient assistance–that makes me still feel like he died and I am again living the nightmare left over from Straight, back when lunatics, Oh My Brothers! were still controlling every aspect of my life. 

Many of the comments in response to Goldman’s piece discuss race, and whether or not certain other races besides Latinos feel singled out for more abuse. I think it is worth pointing out that Customs agents are also of different races and some even speak with accents. This is not to say that I don’t think race is a factor when we talk about these abuses, and I will even go further and note that when I told my aunt about how we are consistently at the back of the plane and have these problems with the border patrol agents, she surmised that it was because my last name now ends with a z. She thinks my last name explains at best my being treated like a second class citizen, at worst a hostile enemy. I don’t want to believe this, but I am beginning to wonder.

The people who join me in these lines and checkpoints are like me—even if they don’t dress like me, even if they hold different political beliefs, even if their skin is a different color.  They have kids who are tired and cranky, they have had necessary belongings confiscated, they are missing flights and have no credible avenue through with which to complain. The airlines, at least are expected to take some responsibility for missed flights and wasted time. Congress passed the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights,
but somehow the concerns addressed there don’t apply when you are at the mercy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  


All of us just want to go home. Some are on the verge of tears, some are already crying, some bunch their fists, but do nothing further just to get through the process without adding to the delay. From the Jamaican to the sorority girl returning from spring break, we are all stuck in the same place at the mercy of the same

In fairness I should note that the first time we came through Atlanta was impressive, we were welcomed back enthusiastically, and breezed through the process. I assumed that this was because I had so many suitcases I could hardly steer the cart. The agent even helped me with the cart and replaced my daughter’s car seat which had by then already fallen off the pile several times.  

Another time coming through Houston I was frustrated by the fact that there were hardly any lanes open and an enormous backup of travelers. I am amazed that I made my flight at all, but I did—barely—so in the end I the waiting, the questions, the process in general was annoying and stressful but not traumatic.

On another trip through Detroit I had my daughters aged eight and four with me. This was before my surgery and we got to skip the line because I was in a wheelchair and in a great deal of pain.  I was not cheating, though that was what I felt like everyone was thinking as we blew by them in line.

 “What was your reason for visiting Mexico?”asked the Customs Agent, bending so he could address me.

 “I am bringing my daughters back after visiting their father.”

“And why is he down there?”

I was hoping she wouldn’t say anything, but my eight year old puffed out her chest and said in a loud and clear voice, “He got deported.” She said this with defiance and I hoped he wouldn’t react. My younger one looked to her sister, then the agent, and hung her head mumbling, “Yeah.”

My daughter’s reactions reflect my own conflicted feelings about our government since my
husband was deported.

The customs agent looked to me and grinned, “I guess you’re not too happy with us then,

When dealing with ICE I arrived at the realization that I was dealing with people who not only don’t care, but enjoyed taunting me. They actually smile while tormenting people who are emotionally maxed out (separate post). I didn’t expect anything  better, but still I had hoped for something that might pass for neutrality, if not compassion. Because after all, unlike the Mexican officials who I had initially feared–and who are consistently proving my fears unfounded–these people are my people. I wonder if they realize that they are teaching an entirely new generation of citizens to hate them, and by extension, their own government.

Picture this:thirty years from now the doctor at the rest home finds out you were once a customs agent. “By the way your eyes are watering I think you don’t like the new sandpaper liners we put in your Depends. Guess you’re not too happy with me right now, huh?”


Three weeks ago I returned from Mexico with my girls and we came through Atlanta again. I had an hour and fifteen minutes to connect. The line was so long we were backed up before we even got to the official section with the roped off lanes. Since we were not yet in the official holding pen, people were making calls to friends and family to tell them they were going to be late, and they didn’t know what was going to happen.

It is still astonishing to me that there is no system in place to deal with this. How hard would it be to have someone checking boarding passes for connecting flights and if necessary send them off to a section of agents who can prioritize them?

By the time I got up to the counter, I had officially missed our connecting flight. On top of this, the mistake I made was to bring a bag of food I had purchased on the plane. The thing about traveling with kids is that they get hungry. The other thing is that it is most excellent when they sleep through the entire flight. I
stupidly thought I could feed her the lunch we purchased on the plane at the airport since we were not going to have time to even stop for anything due to the short connection time.

“Why were you in Mexico?”

“Visiting my husband,” to head off the next question I added, “he got deported.”

The agent looked us over, said something to an agent halfway across the line, then looked
at his screen, “Have you ever lived in New Jersey?”

Bizarre questions like this make me wonder about the information they have, or if they
just make this stuff up as they go. “No.”                                  

He gestured to the sandwich bag, “What’s in there?’

“Food I bought on the plane.”

“What is it?”

“Sandwich, chips, nuts. From the plane.”

On one trip through Mexican customs I was politely asked by a Mexican customs agent to throw away a bag of pretzels. I thought this was silly, but complied without complaint. I do know there are rules and we must follow them.  In Mexico, the food I brought through the line, though it was not fresh fruit, or crawling with bugs that might infect their crops with some pestilence, is nevertheless confiscated and the whole stupid thing ends there.

Dumbass, next time don’t bring food through the customs line. Even if you bought it on the plane.

plane stuff

Fair enough, we are dealing with a large system that has been set up to accommodate an enormous volume of people who bring all sorts of weird stuff through and after all, the idea is to protect us from whatever weird substance someone might bring in. Right? Or maybe it is really to make sure we are all really fucking
grateful we get to live in a country that keeps us so safe from the bad guys. Who are they by the way?  

Instead of taking the food, or even telling me that if I wished to keep the food I was going to have to go through a separate line, he writes the letter A on my form. The A would not be significant until later.

Once we arrive at the baggage area, I find the car seat was there, but the suitcase that we needed to bring through customs was not. I panicked, wondering what that meant. Could I even go through customs without it or would I have to wait in Atlanta however many days until the airline found it?

Dragging children and carry-on bags forward, I approached the agent at the next checkpoint and handed him my form. “The airline lost my luggage. I can’t bring it though here.”

He motioned to a separate room with a waiting area and another line and said, “Tell them
that up there.”

The line he was pointing me toward was marked ‘Agriculture.’ I got in the line, stared at the people ahead of me, studied the guy with a big plastic bag filled with something hard and wet  in it and decided I was in the wrong place. I stepped out of the line and started toward several high desks behind which sat two agents doing paperwork but not dealing with the people seated in chairs in front of them, thinking they could answer my question.

You would think I had approached the desk with a knife drawn. “Ma’am,” the agent who had
directed me yelled, “get back in line.”

I was clearly confused, a frazzled woman with two children balancing a car seat and other assorted bags, attempting to ask a question. This was the moment when I began to feel afraid, threatened, trapped, and very small. A uniformed woman answered another lady’s question, and she shot back, “You won’t do that again will you?” When she breezed past me I asked why I was in the agriculture line if I had lost my luggage.

“What’s that?” She asked and pointed to the bag.

“Food from the plane.”

“Well now you have to go through this line with that.”

“What do I do about my luggage? It wasn’t on the carousel.” I pointed toward the empty carousel which could be seen through the window I stood next to.  

“You will have to go see the airline about that when you make it through here.”

Here is something else I have thought about. If so many people come through with stupid stuff like food items purchased on the plane, so many that this agent is almost laughing about this scenario, wouldn’t it behoove everyone involved to put some sort of procedure in place to deal with this before passengers waste valuable time, and agents are paid however much money to deal with it?

I have worked with the public, I have worked with processes and policies and procedures, and people who never seem to get it. I understand that it is easy to become jaded, there are behaviors that are idiotic that people continue to repeat, but at those jobs, once it was determined that there was a problem that could be dealt with en masse, we did try to address it before it could come up again. Here agents delight in noting that this is a common problem and ridiculing you for being yet another person to have this problem. Which leads me to ask, if food purchased on the airplane really was a problem, like a real threat, wouldn’t they take it away from you before you made it through the first checkpoint?

While my girls who were at this point complaining quite loudly and quite often, “When are we going to be donnnnneeeeee?”  I watched what was happening in the waiting area several feet away. These people got seats. I still wonder why they were there and had seats and we were herded into this agriculture line. They must have committed some really high level infraction like bringing in too many Rolexes or hiding their doggy-poo in their carry on.  An agent was standing in front of a tall desk, talking to an agent behind it. He appeared relaxed, with his elbow on the counter and one leg hooked over the other. He said something to a nicely dressed older couple who were sitting in the chairs in front of him. The man stood up and took a step toward the agent.

“Sir, sit down!” The agent’s tone was somewhere between a bark and an order.

The man said something in a soft voice to the agent, who then moved toward him and said, “I
was talking to her, not you.”  His tone was harsher, but it reminded me of the way my mother used to lower her voice and speak to our dingy Doberman when she started bouncing around and running in circles. “Sit. Down.”

The woman rose, the man sat, his shoulders curled over his knees. In any other scene this is someone who I would expect to see treated with extra respect. This was a man who was muscular enough to fill out the shoulders of his elegant sweater. He wore dark dress shoes with laces, and his cream trousers were of a heavy shimmery fabric. He wore shiny, but not too shiny jewelry, and his mostly grey hair was neatly cut and styled at the top. Here, in this place, though, it was OK to treat him as if he were a serf plotting murder instead of responding to a question. Unlike me, who offended them by not doing as instructed, he was responding to whatever it was the agent had said!

I was in a nightmare, like the president in Dreamscape who took a Valium and couldn’t wake up: I just had to ride it out. The panic sets in when you realize there is no way to opt out of this, not if you want to
ever see the light of day again.

After close to an hour, I made it to an agent at the head of the line who did nothing more than point me to another agent who was seated in front of a table with his hands folded in front of him. He offered a weak but warm smile. He looked at the sandwich bag and asked me the same questions. I gave the same answers, and then he sent my carry-on bags through a machine with a conveyor belt and
gestured for me to move around to the end of the machine.

Here I was met by one of two more agents, the one helping me seemed possibly apologetic, even friendly.“What’s this?”

“Food from the plane.”

“What’s in it?” He looked over the outside of the bag.

“A sandwich, and some chips, nuts that aren’t even opened still.” By this time all I wanted to do was to go to a hotel and cry.

“What kind of sandwich is it?”


He put his hand inside the bag and moved the plastic with his fingertips and then said, “Collect your bags here,” and pointed to our bags which had come through the screener.

“You mean I get to keep it?”


This is the part of all this that makes me the most insane and sad about the customs mess in general. The larger problem here was not the fact that some agents were bullying and scary. The problem wasn’t ONLY the laziness, or the callousness, or the frustration, the fact of the matter is that this system does not work.

In fact, it is beyond broken, it costs money. It costs the government money and it costs each of us individually money. It costs money in the form of all the salaries that have to be paid, and it costs us, the people who pay these salaries by way of tax dollars, immediate money by way of the cost of rebooking flights, hotel rooms, cabs to get to the hotels, food that needs to be purchased on layovers and whatever other incidentals are necessary. This does not even begin to calculate the other costs associated with missed work time and appointments that result due to the missed flights.

All because someone at the front of the line couldn’t do exactly the same thing that the guy at the end of the line did. If the problem is that we don’t have enough competent people to staff and manage a system like this, we shouldn’t have it to begin with.

kitty porn

This agent, as nice as he was, as apologetic as he seemed to be, didn’t even open the bag and dump everything out to make sure there wasn’t anything sinister inside. All of this, almost two hours since I had seen the first agent, the one who marked my form with an A, the agent who could have taken the food and NOT marked my form with the A, thereby saving me and my kids the time and hassle, not to mention his five fellow agents.

I have dealt with rude agents and decent agents. What strikes me is that they are also my fellow Americans. I have had lots of time standing in these lines to think about the system and the managers that have set up this process. We-The-People pay their salaries with money we work for. Money my husband worked for fifteen years for, and contrary to popular rhetoric, he did pay his taxes. All of these people whether they are doing a good job or a bad job, will all say they were just doing their jobs. Isn’t that what Eichmann said? At what point in his career did he start telling himself that?


Photo courtesy Wikipedia

In the end, this entire experience has opened my eyes. I used to live in a country where government officials could be lazy—just like me. They could make mistakes—just like me. They could be rude when provoked by idiots who wouldn’t follow procedures properly and chose to blame them instead of their own stupidity—just like me. But most of the time, they could be said to perform something like a useful service and my life went on. I shut my eyes to the fact that some races were treated unfairly, and some abuses occurred within the government, mostly outside our borders (like that should matter).

To top it off, thanks to Edward Snowden, it has been confirmed that since I have vented my rage and fear to family and friends over the telephone, the NSA has probably caught some key phrases and I could be being monitored for anything further that could be construed as worrisome. At what point would they decide to act on their suspicions? If they are as diligent, thorough and efficient as these Customs
agents, this concept is terrifying.

One reader said in her comment that she took the time to submit an official complaint and every
time after that was harassed each time she came through.  If we can’t complain through the CBP’s processes and feel like they won’t retaliate, there is some comfort in knowing that there are other people who feel just as offended and are just as bothered as I am by this whole undignified and unreasonable process.

When I finally did make it to the airline counter, I was so tired I forgot to ask for a later flight in the afternoon and we ended up on a flight that meant we had to come back and do it all again in seven hours. We still had not even made it through TSA.

I almost cried when she told me that I still had to go through the huge snaking line twenty yards farther away.  A couple next to me were visibly upset, the woman was crying and moving in circles. She was explaining something about contact lens solution and she had the same question I did, “Why do I have to go through TSA if we are leaving the airport?” I caught glimpses of her puffy red face the whole way through that line, her face mirroring my internal struggle not to completely freak out it in front of my kids, a battle I would later lose anyway over a malfunctioning drinking fountain (they confiscated our water bottle at TSA).

My question for the rude but competent airline attendant who was helping me was how they could get away with this?

“Das da gubmt.”

I knew that, but I just had to ask, and in that response and the way her face softened when she met my eyes, there was connection and understanding. I also stopped to wonder if I am the only one who thinks that isn’t good enough anymore.  

birthday cone

Just because the president says it, doesn’t make it true. I was much older before I learned this. My kids watched the last State of the Union with me, you know the one where he talked about immigration reform? They know that their government lies to them and no longer cares if they get caught in that lie.

I used to feel safe as an American Citizen, not so much anymore. Both because of how I am treated by representatives of my own government, but also by the fact that the more I travel, the more I hear about Americans who say they are Canadians to avoid being treated badly or worse, just give up their citizenship altogether.

The sense that I am now a fundamentally different person has been growing with each pass through the checkpoints, and it solidified with this last trip. I am harassed and abused—as are my fellow Americans—we are treated as if we have done something wrong by returning to our own country, when all we want to do is make it home. 

For the love of God I cannot figure out why this would be true, but I believe a new truth. The proof is in the actions of agencies like ICE, the people who issue passports through the State Department (separate post to follow), and now Customs and Border Patrol. The U.S. government is very heavily invested in separating families, but that is not enough, it then goes further with Customs and Border Protection by punishing them each time they manage to reunite.

                                   God save the United States of America.

Posted in Deported by Association, Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

New Appearance: Whidbey Island Writers Conference

I have been asked to present two workshops at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference on October 24-26, 2014.

Check out the schedule here. This year they have assembled a great group of presenters like Renda Dodge of Pink Fish Press, Susan Wingate, Robert Dugoni and my own Katherine Sears of Booktrope who I first met at the 2011 conference!

When I talk to people about conferences, Whidbey is at the top of the list every time. It is small enough to allow everyone a chance to mingle with the speakers and teachers, and it is well focused on craft and artistic purpose. And…what may be most important: the scenery is hard to beat.

Me under Deception bridge

The first year I attended I sat in on an intimate workshop with one author who was then on the NYT bestseller list, an editor and local author Terry Persun. The way Terry talked about his work, his vision and why he does what he does has stuck with me. This year we will present a workshop together.

Terry Persun Whidbey smaller

Jennifer Munro–most excellent author, editor and teacher–will also be presenting and I highly recommend her workshops (one of them is with me!). I watched her engage a large class in Edmonds with a presentation on comic writing that I still talk about whenever I am asked for names to present at conferences.

What a gift it is to be able to work with two people that I admire and appreciate as much as I do these two.

I hope to see you up there!

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Author Interview: Jim McNeely

Photos to 1-12-13 509

I think art is the only thing that’s spiritual in the world. And I refuse to be forced to believe in other people’s interpretations of God. I don’t think anybody should be. No one person can own the copyright to what God means.

When you’re taught to love everyone, to love your enemies, then what value does that place on love?

–Marilyn Manson

Despite my childish longing to reconnect with the Catholic church of my youth (I actually dragged the entire family to mass this past Christmas eve!) my world views are not generally compatible with religion.

So why would I even think of hosting a preacher on my blog?

What many people would call sin is for me a celebration. What I struggled with as I put this interview together was the fact that after all discussions of grace, I cannot agree with Jim on a key point in his discussions of sexuality, but still found his argument and position thoughtful and in one distinct way, encouraging. Among other things, his words remind me that not all “religious people,” think the same, and they are just as aware of the baggage that comes with words like “Christian” and “Preacher” as any other label.

In Sex and Death in the American Novel I likened sex to the intimate and very spiritual exchange between reader and writer. Here comes this preacher who wrote a book where he encourages people to have a romance with Jesus! I had to know more. When I engaged him he introduced this idea of scandalous grace. Short of Joseph Kramer, if I was going to talk to someone who had ever followed the religious path, it would be this guy. He told me that sex was his favorite activity and he wrote this post that I thought was really cool, celebrating his wife and his physical relationship with her. It even has a picture of people kissing on top. Way cool.

Romance of Grace cover (259x400)

Jim McNeely lives in Everson Washington, and is a teaching pastor and elder at Dakota Creek Christian Center in Blaine, Washington, where he lives with his wife, Betty, and their four sons. In addition to being the author of Romance of Grace Jim is also a jazz pianist and composer.

Jim Mcneeley photo

SM: What is “scandalous grace”?

JM: It is forgiveness and release from responsibility that is so complete and so final that no accusation or guilt or inadequacy can overcome it. It is acceptance and favor that really isn’t even fair. It is one-way love that is so undeserved and so persistent that it doesn’t even make sense. It is love that is so passionate and so outrageous that it is actually scandalous, like a cosmic public display of affection. Grace is karma busting delight coming at you. It makes uptight moralistic people who demand fairness and equality truly angry. For instance we have Jesus telling the story of the vineyard owner who hires people who work all day, people who work half a day, and people who work the last 5 minutes of the day. Then he pays them all the same full day’s wage, and the people who worked all day were scandalized! It wasn’t fair! The vineyard owner says, I paid you what we agreed to, what is it to you if I was generous to these others? These kinds of stories were the hallmark of Christ’s teachings, which is why the prostitutes and “sinners” gathered to Him like moths to a flame, and why the uptight religious assholes wanted to murder Him. He scandalized them with outrageous grace and love for the kinds of people that Brennan Manning calls “ragamuffins”.

Paul was more cerebral in his writings, but it is the same exact message. He raises the question – if we have forgiveness and acceptance so strong and so unbreakable, can we just sin and sin and sin and do whatever we want? (Romans 6:1) If whatever you’re hearing from someone doesn’t end up sounding like scandalous and outrageous love, it may seem obvious, but it just isn’t. I’m not in this to become more prissy and moralistic, I’m in it for the scandalous grace. I’m constantly saying that it is scandalous one-way sloppy-agape love that leads us to true virtue.

SM: Why is religion still relevant?

JM: This is such a great question. There are many people that I really love who would say that grace-centered Christianity is the end of religion. I think you can have grace with or without religion, and you can have religious and non-religious “prisons of ought”. In fact, one of my favorite writers and an atheist, Allain de Botton, did a TED talk on “atheism 2.0” where he talked about the things that are good about religion – there is community around profound ideas, regular organized messages, and good pressure in some cases to do well. So I think that even non-believing types need some sense of community around something that they would consider important or even somehow sacred.

More importantly, I think that we are seeing a backlash among many intellectuals and artists against the purely materialist view of humanity. There really is free choice and creativity and love which cannot be explained by genetics and biochemistry. I am a real boy, not a meat puppet. What happens to me matters. We are really seeing serious philosophical discussion around this with the likes of atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel’s book “Mind and Cosmos”, where he posits that you cannot explain the existence of the rational mind’s relatively sudden appearance on the evolutionary stage, given that according to the materialistic dogma, rational teleological design (such as governs the human mind) is disallowed. We are very spiritual beings and we really need spiritual answers. God is the ultimate spiritual being, you would think there would be some interest there.

SM: What do you read as a pastor that might enrich the lives of my readers?

JM: I read everything. I read Richard Dawkins. I’ve been reading Mary Karr, what a writer! I grew up in Texas and although I wasn’t an alcoholic, I really had quite a damaging sexual addiction back when, so her story really resonates with me. I read C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity is such a deliciously reasoned little book. I read Henri Nouwen’s beautiful books on being a wounded healer. He wrote a book on his years-long journey in coming to a deep spiritual understanding of Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal; I am crushed to tears every time I read that book. I read Brennan Manning’s books, such as “The Ragamuffin Gospel”. Manning is a raging alcoholic who never got control of himself but continued in a fruitful career teaching scandalous grace. I read everything on Mockingbird Ministries’ web site – this is
a truly brilliant bunch who embrace pop culture, literature, music, everything and find stories of scandalous grace in everything. They’re like the opposite of the “religious right.” I spoke at their spring conference in New York City in April 2013, which was a very exciting event! Of course I would recommend my book, The Romance of Grace. I go for the scandal in it, I even actually reference SEX! WOO HOO! I confess, sex is pretty much my favorite thing on earth. My wife puts the oomph in being submissive.

SM: How did you come to be a pastor and how do you feel your experience changes the way you view the world today? Fifty years ago so many things that many religions say are bad; open relationships, homosexual marriages, premarital sex, not attending church etc. would maybe not have been so common.

JM: This is such a great question! I am so grateful for your welcoming tone. Peter Rollins has made the point that in communicating across ideological divides, we are often monsters to one another. In many ways I know I am a monster, and others are monsters to me. We must have the courage and grace to speak kindly and truthfully with genuine respect across these divides, to hold what we hold true as true, and to respect one another’s convictions, while also holding out the possibility of learning and persuasion with each other. I recently posted a piece on my blog on the gay marriage debate, which got 10 times the normal traffic. Almost no one actually read it, they just used it to get into a huge ideological war. I want to try to be more clear here with your readers.

The real jewel in the crown is grace, not my opposition to someone’s set of morals. The standards by which we judge ourselves and judge others are simply the stones of the prison of obligation. I bet porn stars get irritated and argue with each other on moral grounds! Hedonism and religious moralism both have their standards, and we equally have trouble living up to them. My message is that grace is so much better, and offers so much more freedom. When I enter the universe of grace, I do not need to do anything anymore to prove my relevance and significance and worth. I already start off knowing that I am so loved that I am worth dying for. I don’t need to worry about the flavor of your need for grace. I know my own need for grace. What use is it to say, I don’t need grace? You don’t need one-way love coming at you whether you deserve it or not? Who’s going to turn that away? I say stop quibbling over where we each draw the line of deservedness and just take the gift! If someone offered you a million dollars, you wouldn’t refuse unless they agreed that it was OK for you to spend it all on bubble gum. WTF? Take the money! I may think I want grace only so I can pursue my sexual agenda, but far beyond this, I am scandalously loved even when I don’t deserve. I am allowed to be boring, allowed to be imperfect, allowed to fail. I am allowed to be rich or allowed to be poor. I am already guaranteed to be safe forever. People want to say, but you are against homosexuality. OK, I’m also “against” greed and murder heterosexual sin; but the only “against” I’ve got is that your failures and my failures lead us to more grace. In fact I am against my own heterosexual sin, which I don’t always seem to be able to control at all.

SM: So do you believe that you are sinning when you have heterosexual sex?

JM: Of course not. I have heterosexual sin when I leer at women I’m not married to. I’m in a monogamous relationship, which means I’m at least in principle against leering.

It is ridiculous to assume that God is expecting perfection all at once, even a perfection of agreement with His moral lines. Jesus said if you even look at a woman you are guilty of hell; this because the religious tight-asses were so scandalized after he said that you only have to be “poor in spirit” to receive the keys to heaven itself. He is saying, “you want to have to deserve heaven? Let’s talk about how good you really have to be.” If you break your leg, the X-ray shows you clearly what is wrong. The Xray isn’t the solution. Orthopedic surgery may be the solution. These strict sayings of Jesus are X-rays, and grace is His solution. I am saying, stop worrying about what I or you or someone else is calling good or bad, and admit you are poor in spirit. That’s the real key to the kingdom, just give up; I can’t tell you how liberating that is.

I would also say this. In my book I have a whole chapter on the two goods, moral good and aesthetic good. It is an aberrance of humanity that these two are split; we find the forbidden desirable and we deem the moral repellant. Don’t think that uptight religious people are immune from this; they find the moral repellant just like the hedonist, they just try to pretend it isn’t so until they blow up like Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard or all of these Catholic priests who molest children. When grace strips the world of the sting of moral punishment, the only thing left is the choice of the heart, and in the end the heart will have its way for better or worse. We throw away something very cosmically important when we throw away marriage because of this; it is the ultimate picture of the romantic good and the moral good coming together in the desire. It is a love which says, no matter what, you will never disappoint me or bore me or irritate me enough to leave you; I have one-way love for you. Of course no one really is that good at love, but marriage is a shadow of the one-way scandalous persistent love that the Creator has for each of us. Grace, after all, is the air that love breathes. Grace at the center makes for very beautiful romance.

I refuse to look at people as “homosexual” or “polyamorous” or whatever, any more than I want someone looking at me as heterosexual or adulterous or now, religious. Screw that, screw all of it. Are we really going to define ourselves by what closet we were in or came out of or whatever? You know what, I refuse to put people in a box that way. Does anyone really want to define themselves by what kind of scintillating thing they like to do for only a fraction of their time? You were born a glorious and amazing creature, brilliant and creative and with an immediate grasp of justice and truth! I see someone who says they are gay and they think that is how I am going to define them, by the one thing on which he thinks we disagree. Just like with everyone, I am going to look right past that and love who they really are – a brilliant person, in touch with their desires, willing to confess it when it is scary, and so courageous and honest. Those are good qualities, not bad ones, they are qualities which I celebrate. I’m sorry I can’t approve everything you want to do any more than you can approve everything that I want to do. We need love more than we need labels or weird agendas to reform each other. Grace transforms, but grace is far more than an agenda to transform. We are all conscience-ridden love-starved lonely people frightened and looking for genuine acceptance. When relationships end we feel rejected and we feel a little bit like a piece of trash that got used for someone else’s gratification. We know in our heart we are meant for something far greater. We’re not really looking for these other things. We’re looking for scandalous grace. Eternal life means love that really doesn’t ever break.

SM: So the definition of grace here seems to mean that what someone is in their bedroom doing is fundamentally wrong and these actions require forgiveness. What if sex in all its forms was a gift from God and unless hate or greed or hurt entered the picture it was something to celebrate. So do you also believe that you are sinning when you have heterosexual sex?*

JM: I find these constant attempts to peg people and compartmentalize them such a problem. For example, if I say I am a Christian, which I am happy to say, I am immediately thrown in with all kinds of prejudices and weirdnesses that I desperately disagree with.

On the sticky gay issue. It is so sticky, and every thoughtful Christian writer from here to Timbuktu has their take on it, from full acceptance to Jerry Falwell fundamentalism. Everyone is trying to find their right twist. You really can’t believe how churches are falling all over themselves trying to figure out how to be accepting and loving and wonderful while still being against homosexuality. People are not flippant about this, they are tortured by it. I think the now dominant gay-acceptance culture should have some respect for the struggle this represents.

One thing to remember is that no one on any side of this debate thinks that anything that anyone wants to do is right. The question is where you draw the line. I think everyone would agree that pedophilia is wrong, even if all parties seem to be consenting. I would think that everyone would think that sex with animals is wrong, or perhaps sex with fish. We’re not going to arrive at a place where there is no boundary, but if our aesthetic is to find excitement in things simply because they are at or outside the boundary, one wonders if we are truly finding enjoyment in our intimacy. There is going to be some new boundary of unacceptability no matter where you draw the line. As an orthodox Christian believer, it isn’t mine to draw these lines. It’s not my line. Once I stray, I cease to be orthodox, and I throw away a lot of good with this. I think some people outside of these circles don’t understand what they are asking people to do when they want them to redraw these boundaries.

As for me, I cannot imagine having someone come to me who says, “I’m gay, now what Mr. Churchy Pants?” and then rejecting them outright on that basis! I don’t know how many ways I can say this: I am not a single issue person. I would not ask them to as a condition to our friendship or relationship or church membership to change this fundamental thing, which is tied to their sexuality, to their very life, which they have surely sacrificed family relationships and have had great courage in coming out and being true to their real desire and heart. It would be similar to demanding a fat person to lose weight before I would be friends with them. It will not be my focus; living in the light of God’s one-way love for them and for the liberty of the Holy Spirit will be my focus for them. What kind of heartless and damned fool would I be? I am not demanding change, I am offering a very strong and enduring kind of love: GRACE based love. Sadly, I have sometimes found that while it is not my focus, it is theirs, and we cannot communicate past this. If they cannot peg me as accepting them in a certain way, then they reject me and everything I have to say.

This is not to say that there are not standards of right and wrong. The message of grace isn’t, “lets change the standards.”

Catemaco statue

SM: This word is problematic to me. Whose standards? Bishop Gene Robinson came and talked about how in the Episcopalian faith people who are gay or transgender are able to serve officially in the church. Their standards would likely be different than the standards you talk about.

JM: In fact we have Jesus drawing a higher and more stringent standard, such as “don’t even be angry with your brother” and “don’t even look at a woman”. These sayings are not the solution, they are the diagnosis. It is like getting an X-Ray, finding you have a broken leg, and having people say, “broken legs are not bad. Stop being judgmental.” The diagnosis is a good thing, because it makes healing possible. The standards are all heart-level “born-that-way” kinds of things for everyone. I stand equally deficient of the standards on the same wrong side with the same flamingly wrong heart as the gay person. I’m not saying, “be like me, I’m heterosexual. I’m good.” I’m saying, acknowledge with me your helplessness to really love what is right. Grace hugely forgives and accepts the broken and failing. Period. But don’t ask me to change the definition of right and wrong, of brokenness and success, it isn’t my place. It is the wrong direction; we want a more stringent diagnosis, not a looser one. You don’t go to the doctor and pretend to be OK. If you are coming to me to change the standards, I don’t think it is mine to give. Here is where I am a green monster, with a heart of love, saying something alien.

SM: So still the problem looks to me to be how powerful labels can be: one person’s broken is my enlightened and free. One person’s success is my oppression. Standards that for one person mean right, for me mean wrong.

JM:As Slavoj Zizek has said, there is power in orthodoxy. I’m not trying to destroy orthodoxy. I am making poetry with it. The genius of Stravinsky was that he could take 13 weird instruments and within those limits, make something world-shakingly brilliant with it. As Zizek has said, maybe you can stand on a stage naked covered with chocolate masturbating and call that art, but that has become mundane. Beauty does not lie only with the profane. The real power is in knowing how to take a paintbrush and make something real and moving and amazing. It is far stranger and more powerful now to have a marriage and have sex only within that monogamy. Can you carry on a romance without it being bizarre and forbidden? Can you love the person and not the scintillating raciness? I’m not trying to control anyone else, but I also resent being called a homophobe and a religious bigot and idiot because I have a very thoughtful orthodox position. There is a bit of “orthodoxophobia” going on that way too. G.K. Chesterton notes that we can fall over at a thousand different angles, but we can only stand up at one angle. Orthodoxy is like this. The hallmark of my orthodoxy has nothing to do with homosexuality, it has everything to do with grace and true spirituality. Homosexuality, and other flavors of sexuality, are very intimate and very important parts of us, and not to be dismissed or marginalized. However, the power of grace is that it supersedes all of these things and makes something real and honest that is much larger and truer of us. As in Peter Gabriel’s song “Solisbury Hill”, we come to say, “You can keep my things, they’ve come to take me home!” When scandalous grace has dawned on you, you drop everything else from joy over it to grasp this great great beauty. It is this beauty which I am pointing to; I am not pointing at your shame or your wrong sex.

So, there will remain for all of us, regardless of the issue, ways in which all of us will continue to be “little green monsters” to one another. Grace is about persisting in love despite this. I must persist in grace for my own wife, and she for me. This includes respect for our honestly differing ideas about where the lines of morality are drawn, and everyone has those lines. Everyone really does. The community of grace says, we are the forgiven and beloved ones, we see each other in the light of the love which God has for us, not the deficiencies which are so easy to focus on between us. Is it so strange to say that Christianity is supposed to be about love? I don’t think so!

SM: What questions do you not get asked very often and would like to speak to?

JM: I think a question that should be asked more is this: why is religion in general so focused on guilt and morals and forgiveness? If God is love, why can’t it just be about love love love?

I think that the focus on guilt is weird until you think about it. There was an episode of “Touch”, Kieffer Sutherland’s new show, where it turned out that this guy had been in Japan during the Tsunami and had survived. You would think that he was flipped out with PTSD from that experience, but his real pain was much more specific. During the tsunami he had been holding on to this woman for some time, and finally he let go of her so he could save himself. His real pain was that one incident, because it involved his personal guilt. The greatest evil is not the evil that comes to us, it is the evil that we choose. This is the thing that our conscience tortures us over. It is a persistent problem too. If someone has committed murdered, he cannot come into the court and say “I’m sorry – I repent! I swear I’ll never murder again!” It’s too late to make these ridiculous promises. “Repentance” is a crock. We need forgiveness with teeth and muscle in it to free us. So this greater evil is the one that is addressed. Love says, I recognize your greatest trouble, which is your guilt, the evil you chose. I absolve you of that! And that is scandalous grace, real overcoming love. It is about love love love, and that is why the main barrier to love, which is guilt and shame, comes up. It is about removing these barriers to love, not about reinforcing them.

SM: Would you flip if I asked you if you thought Jesus had sex? I just can’t imagine him not getting down personally. If he came to earth to be a man, it makes no sense whatsoever to believe he wouldn’t. I know as a pastor though you might not want to go on record, I can appreciate that, but if you would engage me on this, that would be lots of fun!

JM: For the question, don’t worry, I won’t flip, it’s just a question. To be frank, I don’t think it is true, there is no accepted text that says this. The relationship of Christ with the church is compared to a romantic and even sexual relationship throughout the scriptures. Christianity is the story of a cosmic and passionate love between creature and creator. He didn’t need to do that in a salacious way because that’s what His life was about anyway.

SM: So is sex salacious?

JM: No, of course not, but trying to read that into Jesus’ life kind of is. Also, for God there is no division between the moral good and the aesthetic good. He always loves completely and wholeheartedly in a way that is not immoral, but moves beyond the measure of mere moral acceptability.

Also, see my prior comments about Zizek’s comments about the power of orthodoxy and the mundanity of the shocking.

Taos hole (400x300)

If you made it this far, I hope you have gotten something from this post. If not, I very much appreciate your indulgence. It took me several months of fiddling with this interview to figure out how to deal with this topic and to include all of Jim’s answers. I worried about how to present this interview without giving the impression that I endorse the premise that sexual preference can be wrong at all and therefore require grace and forgiveness in the first place. I am leaving everything in as a way to say that I appreciate the thoughtful nature of Jim’s position, though I do not support it.

I also think in some way these comments will be useful for those who may find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to deal with people who approach discussions of sexuality from a fundamentalist angle. “Well, what about grace?”


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