The Acceptable Overdose

Most folks, regardless of religion, don’t encourage binge-drinking on a regular basis. Most of us tend to look askance when a friend habitually runs up credit bills. Overdosing on any substance, illegal or otherwise, is usually cause for serious concern.
Yet, regular binge-watching has become a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time, in Christendom and beyond. In fact, any stigma or shame around the word “binge” has seemingly dissolved to the great delight of Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services to which we subscribe.
Zombie-like he stares at the screen
OH SNAP. NO SHE DI-INT. Ol’ prudeyface Kendra just yanked the plug on the joy cord.

Hah. Oh, dear friend. If only that were true.

If anything, this is a missive to myself on my own habits, an examination of my own penchant for blazing through the latest program on my queue like it’s my full-time job with bennies. I love me a good drama (“Six Feet Under,” “The Wire,” and “13 Reasons Why”), and have been known to drop out of life for the sake of a compelling documentary, e.g. “Making a Murderer.” My attention rapt, I go to sleep hypothesizing about what will happen next and wake up having dreamt about D’Angelo Barksdale and Hannah Baker. But it’s all well and removed from my life and no one gets hurt, right?
Family watching TV on their boat - Fort Lauderdale

The danger of writing about a seemingly innocuous habit, e.g. binge-watching all 7 seasons of “Parks and Rec,” is sounding overly pious and adding more killjoy rhetoric to an already heaping pile of legalism. So few of us respond well to rules for the sake of rules. Change that is sustainable begins in the heart. And as far as binge-watching, my heart is good, right? Who’s saying anything about change? You’re the one titling this post, Kendra. Maybe we don’t agree on the definition of overdose. After all, even Christian publications endorse binge-watching. CT Women recently featured the interview with Andy Couch, “How to Binge-Watch like a Believer.” However, the piece was technology-focused and did not address actual binge-watching. Even Relevant Magazine endorses binge-watching for believers.

And this, I think, is the problem. We have bandied around the term “binge” so freely in recent years that it has lost some of its potency. For example, I expect most of us would be troubled if a friend mentioned that she spent all weekend watching porn. I mean, all weekend. Like, barely slept. Concern for her would abound, surely. But it’s all good in the ‘hood if she spent all weekend watching “Parks and Rec.”

‘What’s happened to the man I married?’

So what you’re saying, Kendra, is that Hard-Core Porn and hard-core watching Amy Poehler are the same thing.

Well, are they?

I heard writer David Dark speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing a couple years ago. Dark, whose writing I admire, said his “guilty pleasure was binge-watching” certain shows. We could unpack what it is to have something that is both pleasurable and guilt-inducing but Dark had done his own unpacking of this paradox. He observed that in his own life, this meant that he was drawn to particular story lines. For example, he wondered aloud, “Is there some unacknowledged despair in my own life that is better articulated in ‘Breaking Bad’?”

That resonated with me. A season of NBC’s “Parenthood,” for example, had once felt eerily pulled from my life’s narrative. It was a balm to watch the show, to see a clean resolution in their stories in contrast to the raggedy edges of my own life.

Dark’s identifying of being drawn to story lines was a great point to begin my own self-examination. What I took from Dark was that we should not deny the inner situation that draws us to certain stories. Whether it’s resonance or total escape from our reality, we should not be afraid to examine the reason for our intake of stories. Because that is, after all, what binge-watching is all about: stories. Whether fact or fiction, whether in short spurts or long-binges, we should not fear walking past a mirror on our lives.

This was incredibly freeing. Especially because we know addictions are often rooted in shame. What good can come of more shame?

I believe Proverbs 4 is not meant to shame us, but to call us to this very kind of freedom. We are exhorted to guard our hearts. Above all else. Above our time, above our physical health, above our money. Maybe this is because, as the verse continues, “everything you do flows from it.” Everything you do is a heart matter. So guard your heart. To me, this is a better petri dish for examining how we spend our time, and how we populate our Netflix queues.

The question is not, how many episodes of “When Calls the Heart” have you watched this week, but how is the calling on your own heart?

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Why no one tells you how to be a woman

You hear this refrain often. You hear it in fond toasts by groomsmen. You read it in Father’s Day greeting cards with pictures of old timey vehicles on the front, the hood popped open. “You showed me how to be a man,” they say, and these tributes are usually followed by specifics. You showed me how to shave,  how to parallel park, how to hook a fish,  how to cook a perfect ribeye on the grille. Or maybe it’s just a general platitude offered to someone a man admires. A salute to a strong oak of a man who stood firm even when the winds of change or his son’s mood swings or his son’s girlfriend-of-the-month swept through.

I take no issue with this tribute, even if it is sometimes an affectation. We need men to mentor well, to usher in a new generation of moral leaders. We need good men to model virtuous manhood. I don’t think anyone is arguing against this the business of Showing a Boy How to Be a Man.

But no one ever tells you how to be a woman. Never, never have I ever heard a bridesmaid tell another woman,”You showed me how to be a woman.” Mother’s Day Cards are usually covered in flowers with floral script, populated by words like “sacrifice,” “patience,” and “love.” There is no mention of womanhood–there is no holiday or occasion to salute Being a Woman. I have several theories about why this is.

The first is that the business of being a woman is murkier. Womanhood cannot be boiled down to feats like tying a bowtie or changing a tire as are the hallmarks of manhood. Womanhood is evolving for each of us, by its very definition. The entry into womanhood is often marked by a change so profound it is uncomfortable. Just now, for instance, I have lost all 2 of my male readers who are afraid I’m going to mention something about menstruation. The horror. But if we are honest, this is part of the reason womanhood is so veiled in mystery. Each girl will go through a reproductive change at a time over which she has absolutely zero control. If you think about it, it is incredible how something that has been happening since the beginning of time to girls is still something each one has to learn how to navigate for herself. She has to listen to her body, understand its rhythms, overcome the discomfort and pain that reminds her regularly that the business of being a woman is so freaking fluid.

Another reason is that we seem to be afraid of proactive womanhood. Instead, womanhood is often reactive. You don’t have to look far to see evidence of this. We could spend a lot of time discussing what this past presidential election taught us about proactive versus predatory behavior, but it is just a microcosm of a larger culture that favors women tossing up the white flag of surrender rather than canvassing for a cause about which she cares.

This is why Wonder Woman blows us away–because a girl reared by all female elders to fight evil is so radical an idea we don’t even have a context. Then she goes and partners with a mere mortal of a man and doesn’t emasculate him? Holy Novel Narrative, Batman.

If machismo is the affliction of believing too fiercely in one’s manhood so that he belittles women, there should perhaps be an equivalent for women. There is no womanismo, though. Women who are independent to the point of self-sufficiency are often portrayed as simply man-hating. What a shame that no one tells you how to be a woman because that might threaten men.

There is a final reason I believe we don’t tell girls how to be women, and I think it’s the saddest of all. I think it’s because we lack creativity about what it means to be a woman. 

Forgive me if I am too strident here, but why am I more likely to read an article about “How to fight an attacker” than I am “How not to raise a rapist”? Why do colleges and universities need to teach matriculating co-eds about self-defense, about not being ruffied, about the protocols one should follow if one is sexually assaulted?

What if we spent half the time and energy expended toward reacting to the inevitability of rape and instead fueled our energy reserves toward cultivating an equitable world for girls and boys. What if instead of raising awareness about rape culture, we poured a modicum of those resources into investing in the awesomeness of girls and their interests?

Vancouver

Remember those Nike commercials “If you let me play sports…” and all the gnarly residue of girls who are allowed to participate in athletics? Well, it’s 2017 and we don’t need to use that kind of weaksauce language anymore. We don’t let girls play sports. Boys rarely have to ask to be let to do anything. We just encourage them to play sports, if that’s their jam. And we should not be surprised if they grow up to be men who don’t ask permission. Who don’t need consent. In 2017, we don’t let girls play sports. We expect girls to play sports. And we expect them to be the ones coaching us in 10 years.

How sad that our definition of what it means to be a woman is often so lacking in scope and imagination. I’ve heard of so many friends giving their daughters smartPhones and the attendant restrictions. All the things not to do, the people not to follow, the behaviors not to replicate. This is all incredibly important, but what does it leave us with in terms of cultivating creativity in girls? Is there a Girlfriend’s Guide for How to be Awesome Online? A crib sheet for how to be a woman who inspires?

***

I recently was feeling the freight of all this as I sent my daughter to camp. I was nervous about what she might encounter in girl world, bunking with all her besties away from me for a week. I met her counselor who introduced herself with a confident handshake and told me about her plans to become an English secondary education teacher. I was smitten and grateful for Counselor Raquelle. I was reminded how my nervousness could infect my daughter in negative ways, how it sent the message once again that being a girl was a liability and not a plum assignment.

Missing my daughter one evening, I logged onto the online portal of camp photos for that day. My son saw it first, the image of big sister at camp. It was as if she had memorized the Amy Cuddy Ted Talk.

Once again, I was smitten and grateful for another girl. Showing me that being a girl can be proactive, creative and awesome, lest I forget.

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On the first time you learned your student passed away

The Facebook page was eerie, like seeing the faded lettering of an erstwhile business still on the brick storefront. It said, “Remembering Francis Angelo,” and my stomach dropped. I don’t know why this student came across my mind this morning but it occurred to me I hadn’t seen him come up on my feed in recent months. I’d wondered if he had beaten cancer, gotten married, launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

But instead the timeline had ceased and all that was left in its wake were digital artifacts. A video of the thank you speech he gave at a fundraiser his friends must have thrown him before he received his transplant. It was a wonderful speech, casual but sincere-sounding, and then he pivoted and proposed to his girlfriend.

He died just weeks later. He didn’t get to run for office, using his superb writing abilities. He didn’t get to say his vows, in sickness and in health, pinned to all the hopes of  many more years of health with his beloved. I wonder if he got to see his brother come home from the Army before he passed.

I’m sure much has been written and eulogized about Frank already, so I will not heap more platitudes onto the pile. I think the part that feels heaviest to carry, though, is that he was the first student I ever had in the first class I ever taught, and he is now the first student whose death I have learned about. And I learned of his death in such an inorganic way that it was difficult to process. How he was once sitting in my class, reading texts I can no longer remember, but whose Boston accent I surely can, and how he was so young and how this was all so flipping unfair.

As a teacher, you don’t necessarily know your students better than their friends and surely not their parents, but there is something distinct about a teacher’s encounter with the people she teaches. The relationship is an evaluative one, certainly. But it is also one that must be built on trust in order to thrive, to have some measure of success. Simply by virtue of being a student, a student asks of the teacher, Will you treat me fairly, will you challenge me appropriately, will you remember me after the last grades are turned in? In turn, a teacher asks, We are going to read hard texts, will you follow me outside of what is comfortable? Do you respect me enough to listen and receive? Will you remember the things we learn long after the final grades are filed?

I came to know my students in all the ways a teacher does: discussions and tests and groveling e-mails to excuse their tardies. These are not necessarily singular to the profession of teaching, but they are privileges I enjoyed.

I want to dig up a paper Frank wrote and send it to his parents, offer them one more tactile artifact of his originality and accomplishment. But then I remember that they are his parents and their treasures are unique to the unending bond of love they have for their son.

I? Was only his teacher. What I’ve learned over many semesters in college classrooms is that this is sacred, too, in a way that maybe only a teacher can know.

nye desk 2

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