I Like Your Body

I like your body;
it’s a good body
,
you said as if in defiance of
years of bad theology too apt to cling
to my skin, acting as filter through which
I made too many decisions,
telling girls too young to know
how to put on a bra or wear a tampon
that they are never subjects, only objects,
so stay atop the tree, and never let yourself become low-hanging fruit.

These conversations turned the air stale
until the implication had insinuated itself into every hallway
and after-church donut:

If you have a body, maybe God doesn’t want you.
Don’t like your body;
it’s a bad body.

And knowing what a lie it is
doesn’t matter as much
as hearing the truth,
the liberating syllables,
of seeing creation
and saying, it is good.

Scarves, Mittens, Hats

One memory of my childhood that has resurfaced as I reacquaint myself with Minnesota winters is of a bin full of winter wears. This contained any winter accessory you could desire–scarves, mittens, hats, gloves, neck warmers, even thick socks. When it was time to bundle up for a romp in the snow, we raided the bin. It was in this way that a single glove whose partner had long since disappeared could linger in our home for years, at the bottom of the bin, only to be used in desperation, when there were no matching gloves that fit. It was a way of holding onto memories, in a way. Plunge your hands into the bottom of the bin and pull out the gloves you wore when someone ran into a fence with the toboggan and split his lip, or the hat from the winter your neighbor plowed the entire neighborhood and dumped all the extra snow in massive piles in the empty lot.

I have been amassing winter clothes. It is cold as tits here–a bad simile, but fun to say. It snowed hard in October and then it felt like a complete month where the temperature never broke 30, and dipped into the low teens. And I know it gets even worse in January. My nose has been mildly bleeding for 6 weeks, because it’s so dry; and my phone battery is shot, because it was not designed for use in these temperatures.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a coat and snow pants for skiing. Also, so I can once again rollick in the snow. I finally have proper winter boots. I had been muddling through with thick socks–which is a pretty good way to do it.

I have to think about ice almost every time I set foot outside. I have not fallen yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Right now, I have no organizing principle around my growing pile of heavy scarves, hats, and gloves, so they are just kind of overflowing in the front closet or the desk chair, where I plop things I don’t have a plan for.

I don’t like holding on to things. I have few tchotchkes. My best possessions are my clothes, books, and, more recently, my sewing machines. Those are what I care about, and those are what take up the most space.

I need a bin though. A tub where all things winter can live for easy access in the cold months, that can be tidily put away when it warms up again. I need a spot where partnerless gloves can cling to me for too many years, and remind me of yesteryear, of the cold, of the magical, confounded snow.

My Chili

This isn’t a food blog.

BUT…

I think people get chili wrong often, and I think my chili is above average, and I’m going to share the secrets I learned from my mother that make it so good.

First some facts: if you’re from Texas, you will want to refer to this recipe as bean stew. I am not from Texas, so, to me, chili is any soup that is bean and tomato based and seasoned with chili powder. The meat is totally negotiable, which I fully understand is sacrilege to the Texans in my life. This particular recipe is vegetarian (vegan if you wish), but the secret ingredients are applicable to meat chili as well.

Second, some opinions: soups and stews are not exact sciences. It is ok to approximate, make substitutions, etc. I like following a recipe when I don’t know what I’m doing or for a technically challenging dish, but soups are usually easy for me to get a handle on, and I can manage proportions from memory and feel. This intuitive approach comes from cooking for most of my life and following a lot of recipes first. What I’m saying is, my approach to cooking is not for beginners, because I’m not breaking down the basics. If you basically know how to make chili already, do that and add my secret ingredients. I think you’ll like it better. As general soup wisdom goes, the longer it cooks, the better it tastes (with rare exception), and alcohol makes everything taste better. Wine, beer, vodka, rum, brandy. Take your pick.

Ok, if you aren’t just rolling your eyes about this interminable description and scrolling through to the recipe, here’s the deepest secret that nobody knows. Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud of the tree called life–well, at least, here’s the secret my mother taught me: use mustard, brown sugar, and chocolate (not enough chocolate for it to be considered mole–I’ve done that and I’m over it now). They all cut the acidity of the tomatoes and add layers to the flavor. The chocolate also deepens the color and creates a more stew-like texture. Plus, mustard and chocolate are binding agents, so your fat won’t separate.

Ah, at last. The recipe. What you came here for. What you skipped the description for.

Claire’s Chili

2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 C (2-3) carrots, finely chopped
1-3 jalapenos, finely chopped (this directly impacts how spicy your chili is, so know your audience)
5 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tbs cumin
3-4 Tbs chili powder
salt and pepper to taste (beans are like black holes for salt, in my experience, and I always use more than I think I ought to)
1 cup barley
1 large can San Marzano tomatoes
2 – 15 oz cans kidney beans
2 – 15 oz cans black beans
1 1/2 cup vegetable stock
1-2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1-2 Tbs powdered or baking chocolate (I literally put a fancy truffle in my last pot, because it was the only chocolate I had on hand)
3 Tbs brown sugar
2 shots of tequila

(Top with grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro)

  1. Heat olive oil in large pot at medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, jalapeno, and garlic. Saute.
  2. Add cumin and chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients. Break up tomatoes with a spatula. Bring to a boil while stirring regularly. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour or until the barley is fully cooked (a tender but still springy texture). The longer you cook it, the better it will taste, so keep simmering as time allows, and add more water or stock if needed.
  4. Serve with cheese, sour cream, and cilantro as desired.
  5. (you can do all of this in an instant pot as well, and set to pressure cook for 30 minutes. I have yet to do this so it doesn’t shut off because its thinks it’s burning, but you should try it and see. Maybe an extra cup or two of stock would help).
  6. (If you want to use meat, simply add your pound or so of preferred meat after the veggies and before the spices. You’ll want to brown it for texture and flavor. You can skip the barley too).
  7. Serves a goodly number of people, like probably 6-9.

Paris Fashion Week (Yes I Know if was Two Months Ago)

This outfit makes me irrationally angry. I also love it, which is why I’m irrationally angry.

First things first: I hate almost all the components of this outfit. I think puffy coats are the worst–yes, they are warm, but they look and sound terrible. Second, I hate slouchy jeans. I would never buy the shoes or the scarf–both of which I would categorize as fine.

But this is a great outfit. Roberta Benteler looks fantastic, effortless and yet intentional. She’s probably achieving the golden ratio between the length of her coat and the way the she’s rolled up her pants to expose the slenderness in her boot’s ankle. This look is working.

I guess that’s at the heart of what sometimes gets to me as a designer and enthusiast. It’s one thing if a look doesn’t work because of failed design elements or ill-fitted garments (I’m looking at you Zac Posen). That’s just human error, and now we have to suffer it walking down a runway or on a famous person. But this–Roberta Benteler–is a different thing. The whole outfit is greater than the sum of its parts. So now, it’s not human error, it’s the universe’s error that clothes I could never bring myself to buy, appreciate, or want, based on their aesthetic appeal manage to look so good.

Hipster Baby Names that are Also Cities in Minnesota

Finding that perfect name for your baby takes some effort. You take into consideration family names, fictional characters you’ve loved since childhood, even geography, religion, whichever names your friends haven’t used yet. And of course you have to consider what sounds good and expresses the unique relationship that created your bundle of joy. You are unique and so is your baby. You remember the days of too many Samanthas, Katies, and Jessicas in every class, when every 6th boy was named Josh, and you know we must forsake such practices so that your child knows from day one who they are.

Well, Minnesota has a solution for you. I give you the top Hipster Baby Names that are Also Cities in Minnesota, ranked:

  1. Chaska
    She wants none of your shit today. She knows exactly who she is and what she wants, and she’s not afraid to tell you that carrots are gross and mommy looks tired.
  2. Edina
    Sweetness incarnate. Everyone she ever meets will ask her where she’s from, and most won’t believe the answer.
  3. Anoka
    Anoka knows how to get woke-a.
  4. Afton
    Sweet summer child, wind, and wisp, Afton is a poet, a sensitive soul, who probably won’t publish anything but will spend their free time at local poetry workshops working on purple prose. Afton will use words like “stentorious” and “arbitrarily” incorrectly at the age of six.
  5. Eagan
    This baby is definitely wearing a bespoke onesie by six months.
  6. Blaine
    It’s almost Blake and almost Blaire but it isn’t quite either. Rest assured, your child will constantly smell like vanilla and the tears of the innocent.
  7. Duluth
    Boy or Girl, Duluth will love jumping in a pile of leaves in the fall and reading books on economic theory by flashlight in the closet.
  8. Albert Lea
    It’s almost a normal name, but those three extra letters are a real curveball, as will be your little slugger.
  9. Eveleth
    Not your grandma’s first name. But it could be, and that’s the point.
  10. Minneapolis
    Minne, for short, will have an ongoing complex about being named after a major city, but somebody’s got to break the ice. This complex will eventually lead to them going by their middle name or embracing Wicca.
  11. Hinkley
    Hinkley will always have a sophisticated rustic charm, leading to the establishment of the American version of a British, dying aristocracy. Hinkley will skip the glory days and go straight to defending the antiquated ways of wealthy country folk who have been on the land for generations.
  12. Hastings
    Typically a family name, young Hastings Phillips will often confuse his teachers as they attempt to call him Phil Hastings. Nonetheless, his name will always have a nice ring to it, dignified, said quickly, but never rushed.
  13. Hibbing
    Hibbing was born a child of the earth, and never gets over wearing overalls.
  14. Owatonna
    On second thought, Owatonna was an actual Sioux princess, so don’t name your child after her unless you are really, verifiably Sioux or someone who is Sioux has naming rights to your first born.
  15. Minnetonka
    Minnetonka means “great water,” so expect to change more than the usual number of diapers.

Honorable mentions that are a) actually people names or b) should be people names:

  1. Winona
  2. Bethel
  3. Mora
  4. Bemidji
  5. Cloquet
  6. Chanhassen
  7. Isanti
  8. Saint Paul (pronounced: sin pl)
  9. Zumbrota
  10. Welch (pronounce with a hard ch)
  11. Hopkins
  12. Mankato
  13. Mazeppa
  14. Eyota
  15. Walbo/Dalbo

Names that will make you child sound like a member of the British Aristocracy, but ironically. Every one of these kids has a pair of suspenders and no fewer than 4 tweed jackets by 12 months. You, as their parents, are obligated to end or begin your sentences with “my dear boy” when speaking to them, regardless of gender:

  1. Rochester
  2. Lanesboro
  3. Ostrander
  4. Brainerd
  5. Bloomington
  6. Woodbury
  7. Hazelton
  8. Winsted
  9. Blakeley
  10. Vermillion
  11. Lewiston
  12. Rushford
  13. Andover
  14. Brunswick
  15. Monticello

 

Next week: A list of hipster baby names that are also lakes in Minnesota.

Eat The Rich

I’ve been saying this a lot lately and kind of hoping someone will get bothered or curious about it, but no one has, so I am going to gratuitously explain why I think it’s important that we all make “eat the rich” our own mantra.

First of all, why eat the rich? They don’t taste very good. They are usually past their prime and pumped full of preservatives and chemicals. Plus there’s the tangential concern that cannibalism is frowned upon in our society.

Being rich is immoral. I was convinced of this by A.Q. Smith’s article “It’s Basically Just Immoral to be Rich.” Many utilitarians have made similar arguments, most notably Paul Singer, a philosopher who promotes philanthropic giving to the extreme. Other supporters include Jesus, several Old Testament prophets, and quite a few theologians since then. The long and short of Smith’s argument is that it doesn’t matter how you got rich, the extreme amount of suffering and struggle caused by poverty gives rise to an ethical burden on the wealthy not to keep their wealth.

While this isn’t an unpopular opinion in the history of ethics, it’s an unpopular practice, especially under capitalism.

If you find yourself wealthy, give your money away, like most of it, anything more than, say, $70,000 per year. If merely gifting makes you uncomfortable, create jobs. Pay your employees better.

This last bit is a concession to resistant capitalists. Giving people cash is a pretty sure way they will get their needs met, but cash assistance is unpopular because we view poverty, not wealth, as morally reprehensible.

Let’s refocus though, because we were talking about eating rich people, not convincing them with moral philosophy to change their ways. There’s a carnal difference.

I want wealth to be suspect. I want the accrual of large sums of money to be so repulsive in our culture that rich people are afraid to be rich. I want them to be performatively philanthropic, because to be wealthy is worse than cannibalism.  

(If you are feeling defensive right now, it’s either because you are rich, or you wish you were rich, and you should feel ashamed of yourself and your perversion).

So eat the rich. While you may want to dismiss such a directive as hyperbolic, it is meant to erode our collective agreement that being rich is a moral good. It is not.

Eat Jeff Bezos. Eat Brett Kavanaugh. Eat Elon Musk.

Then, make policy changes. Make it easy to get food stamps, cash assistance, and housing assistance. Make it hard to be wealthy. Because our spending on social programs is peanuts compared to the massive amounts of capital accumulated by the wealthiest people in the world, wealth accrued while evading taxes, wealth accrued while employees subsist on government assistance, despite working full time, wealth accrued while benefiting from a system that supports white, straight, cis, able-bodied men, and actively excludes everyone else. Stop worrying that someone who gets a few thousand dollars per year in government benefits is gaming the system, and start worrying how someone making millions of dollars in a year is evading taxes. Impose steep inheritance taxes.

Our culture is so biased toward protecting wealth, that we are still just fighting for a living minimum wage, but there has been no discussion around a wage ratio. This would create a dependency between the lowest paid workers and highest paid workers. If a CEO wants to make a lot of money, their employees also need to make a lot of money.

I do want to make policy changes, but until then (and maybe even after), I will do my best to be performatively repulsed by the rich. I won’t keep my distrust private. If you’re rich, I think you are bad and deserve public censure until you prove otherwise.

Eat the rich. They are the leeches of our society.

Eat the rich. They are bad at sharing.

Eat the rich. They break laws and use their money to cover it up.

Eat the rich. They don’t put their money back into the economy, but you do.

Eat the rich. They live in gated communities.

Eat the rich. They voted for Trump.

Eat the rich. They are liars and thieves.  

Eat the rich. Eat the rich. Eat the rich.

Man Interrupts Woman at Party

One of the things I have dealt with since childhood is men talking over me. It doesn’t matter if I am at a party or in a meeting or in school. I will be talking and a man will talk over me. This was a prominent feature of growing up evangelical. While I was at times amusing to men who found my passion and conviction unthreatening due to my youth, overwhelmingly, men paternalistically explained things to me. There are men with whom I had meaningful conversations, who invested their time and resources in me as a person. They typically were not the ones talking over me; although they did, at times, explain things to me.

One of the reasons I have distanced myself from identifying as evangelical is because of this tendency at church and the Christian university I attended. It was always annoying, and as I learned more about feminism and equality, it became infuriating.

I have managed to build a life where this rarely happens to me now. Part of that is because of my partner who is remarkably good at giving space to women, which in turn promotes other men in our social circle to do the same.

I recently went to a party without him, though. I was having a conversation with one of the partygoers that ended up being broadened to the whole group, where I explain my position about why I think baby boomers are The Worst. It is an unpopular opinion in media today, but a correct one nonetheless.

Two things of note happened.

One, a man interrupted me with an even more unpopular opinion that was both off topic and off base.

Two, the rest of the men in the room wanted nothing to do with it. They repeatedly attempted to give me the floor and enact other mild social shaming approaches to no avail. The first man continued to insist on talking.

This resulted in all of us leaving the room.

I was with active progressives at this party—they are both politically engaged and intersectionally knowledgeable—including the man who couldn’t stop interrupting me. The dominant feeling was that women with valid points should guide the conversation, not the man with an invalid point. Still the other men were unable to successful subdue the interrupting man and proceed to engage on the original topic.

This reminded me that extricating myself from evangelicalism has not solved this issue for me or for society as a whole. The striking difference was that rather than no men helping me be heard, I had most men helping me be heard. Just the same, the outcome was that of a derailed conversation where no one felt heard, including the interrupting man.

Please Sir, Can I have a Job?

Job hunting makes me anxious.

I know it makes everyone anxious, but for me it reminds me that I spent three years after college trying to find work and only being successful with temp work. It brings up memories of day-long stints in the library pouring over any and every job posting I could find. I am reminded of those feelings of defeat, as I took a low-wage 4-month position over an hour’s bus ride away, doing employment verifications for a fish processing company (even though I kind of loved that job). It reminds me of being homeless, of the uncertainty of my next paycheck, and daily general fear that I was actually just mediocre.

I’ve spent the last three and a half years fighting that feeling. I have a proven record of learning and improving, earning a promotion, a certification, several raises.

I designed entire functions of my job that had not previously existed. I formalized informal aspects so that whoever took the role in the future would have a better job to walk into. It is hard to be creative in an administrative role. I did it anyway. Not to mention, I worked on the largest project my company has done to-date: moving 700 employees to a new headquarters. I am so proud of the work I have done in the last three years.

I am not sure if I know how to put any of that on my resume. I’ve employed resume writers and sought out the advice of recruiters to make sure that I’m showcasing my very best self and accomplishments.

I have applied to 40+ jobs in the last two weeks. LinkedIn tells me whenever a recruiter looks at my profile, which is around three times per week. They also tell me when someone views my application, which is around 5% of the time.

While I didn’t do much online dating, I suppose that’s what this feels like. You put out extensive information about yourself and hope that someone sees it and likes it. It’s one of the reasons I liked Tinder as opposed to almost every other dating site. I liked not knowing much going into the first date. I liked not relying on an algorithm to tell me whether to be attracted to someone.

The other thing I realize, amid all this job anxiety, is that I have only ever gotten a job by knowing someone or through an agency. The one exception is the time I got a job because I walked up to a group of people speaking French and started speaking French. The one woman in the group that didn’t speak French became my boss a few weeks later. Even then, it was not at all conventional. I didn’t submit a resume and get a phone call. I met someone. It was a meet cute.

I don’t have a solution to these feelings. Graduating from college into our worst economic recession has just been hard for my career. I will keep applying to jobs. I have more to say about how the process of advancing in a career feels like dating and what kinds of gender norms exist in this space, as well as the influence of capitalism on this process, but I will save that for next time.

In the meantime, if you live in the Twin Cities, I am looking for entry level project management roles in just about any industry where a physical product or a social good (bonus points for both) is the outcome.

When I was Homeless in Seattle

In 2013, I was homeless.

It was 5 months, August through December.

I was lucky, because I never had to sleep outside.

I put all my things in storage, and I slept on some friends’ couch or my then-boyfriend’s couch.

I had a small selection of clothes and I went everywhere with my laptop (borrowed from a friend who had an extra one).

I was working, but couldn’t afford a place by myself. Honestly, I still can’t.

The uncertainty, the stress of applying for food assistance, the strain on my friends’ lives who helped me, the daily anxiety, it was awful. Thinking back on it, I can’t imagine what I was thinking starting a relationship while I was in that situation. I didn’t tell my boyfriend I was on food assistance, but he knew I was homeless—even half joked once about how I was dating him for his money. All of this reminds me of how classist this particular boyfriend was and all the reasons why it’s really good things didn’t work out.

During this time, I also read an article on poverty by Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth. If you haven’t read either, I encourage you to do so.

My parents kept telling me to move back to Minnesota. My therapist and I agreed that I should keep trying as long as I was working. Moving back would have meant giving up at the time.

I almost moved to the eastside to rent a room from a friend of a friend. She wanted $500 per month (which today sounds like a dream). I was making about $1500 per month after taxes and I wanted to save up for a deposit on an actual apartment. I couldn’t afford a third of my monthly income for temporary housing. I could only afford $300 per month. She didn’t seem to understand and kept offering the room at $500, like I could somehow just be flexible. Also, I was off food assistance now, because if I worked a full 40 hours per week, my gross earnings put me $20 over the cutoff. So, I had to pay for food, a bus pass, my cell phone (still a dumb phone), my storage unit, student loan payments, and still have enough money in three months to put a deposit down on an apartment—three months was the length of my contract for the job I was working at the time.

Then help arrived: my cousin was moving from California to Seattle. His parents were financing him until he got on his feet, and they offered to rent a 2-bedroom apartment so that I could stop being homeless.

They covered most of my rent and utilities for 2 years. I floated my cousin $300 for rent when I was working (which was only sometimes).

By the time I moved out, I had a full-time job with benefits. While I still can’t afford Seattle rents, I can afford to live here with a roommate. But it took 2 years and a lot of money from my aunt and uncle. I lived somewhere nice with in-unit washer and dryer. I basically won the lottery.

It’s important to understand some things when you are talking about helping homeless people.

 

  • People need what I got—2 years of housing—but sometimes, most of the time, they need it from the state, because their family doesn’t have the kind of resources my aunt and uncle do. Being able not to worry where I was sleeping changed my life. I overcame the worst of my depression and anxiety. I kept my room clean—like for the first time in my life. I bounced back from injuries caused by an accident on a bus. These are things that people in ultra-tiny houses and temporary shelter don’t have space to do—literally or metaphorically. I’m not saying we need to give every homeless person in-unit washers and dryers, but our standard for getting people off the streets needs to be better than a roof and four walls. It needs to be better than a dormitory filled with strangers. People need breathing room. They need keys and doors with locks to keep their stuff safe—even shabby stuff. And they need enough security where they aren’t constantly worried that tonight is their last night indoors. That includes people suffering from mental illness and addiction.

Seattle, huge swaths of it, has forgotten this—and perhaps never bothered to know in the first place. They think it’s ok to dehumanize and demonize people on the streets. These are not lazy people. They are people who started out without a lot and got less and less, even as the people who started out with enough got more than they knew what to do with.

I continue to be in favor of the employee head tax that the city council just repealed. I am in favor of a state income tax and capital gains tax. There is no imaginable reason why we should have two of the richest people in the world living in King County while we have more homeless people than New York City (a city with 11x our population).

The way we treat our most vulnerable matters. It doesn’t matter if we protect big businesses. They have so much going for them, because they already have enough. We need to take care of the people who don’t have enough. Those people, you’ll find, will most often be people of color, neural a-typical, LGBTQIA+. They will be the people whose families have neglected them, whose generational wealth has been stymied over centuries of oppression, who don’t have affluent aunts and uncles. If we’re going to be a progressive city, we need to do this and do it right.

Risk Management and Homelessness

My company is moving to a new HQ in Seattle’s downtown core. Crime rates are higher as is the concentration of homelessness (not that either is nonexistent just 1.7 miles north) . This is a risk in terms of employee safety, but another risk is employees being skittish about being in an urban environment–because of pearl clutching, which could affect employee retention or adoption of the changes. You can’t do a lot to mitigate genuine safety risks when people are outside of the building–because they are a) rare, b) random/unlucky, c) in the open air.

Nonetheless, we’ve taken security risks seriously and planned substantive security processes to reasonably address them.

BUT what we haven’t done is account for perceived threats: AKA homeless people. A large chunk of my coworkers don’t like homeless people and don’t want to be around them. This is because they incorrectly believe their safety is threatened by the existence of homeless people. It’s a weird risk. It’s an extremely common risk.We risk a mutiny as soon as the safety police start sharing articles about crime rates in the neighborhood on our community message boards.

How do you get your employees to treat their homeless neighbors as people? After all, we’re moving into their neighborhood. They were there first. Aren’t homeless people only a “problem” when we treat them poorly? Isn’t that why they are homeless in the first place?

Mitigation: have a volunteer day. Wear our company t-shirts. Introduce ourselves. Hand out food or clothes or toiletries or bus passes. Do something for our neighbors. Then they’ll be people to us, and we’ll be people to them, and those safety alarmists won’t get nearly the amount of traction they would otherwise.

Sometimes the best way to mitigate a risk is to act like a human being. Also, safety and security trainings just make people never want to leave their homes. Anything could happen and has happened, and there is no realistic way to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

I haven’t seen my boss’s risk log on this project, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that at no point did he think that our employees might be a risk to our homeless neighbors.

 

Edit: a previous version of this piece included specifics about the security steps my company is taking to keep employees safe. This was meant to provide a robust account of how seriously we take employee safety.  I agreed to edit those details when a former coworker took umbridge with some adjacent but unrelated interactions and reported this piece to my HR department in the hopes that I would be disciplined or fired. I agreed to pair down the security details, in the interest of security, but I was not required to edit this piece as a condition of further employment or as a form of discipline.