Monthly Archives: April 2015

Best Friends 

  

My best friend is in town this weekend.  She got here last night, and tonight, she’s meeting my boyfriend.  Since my family has no interest in meeting a boyfriend and would either like to see a girlfriend or present I’m completely celibate, but my best friend is like my family that accepts me and loves me just the way I am.  So it’s like taking my boyfriend to meet my family.  Since my best friend lives in Louisiana we don’t get to see each other much, so it’s great when we can get together.


Tolerance and Diversity: Part II 

 

 Two of my favorite movies about the U.S. Presidency are Dave and a movie that Ethan mentioned in his comment yesterday, The American President. (I’m also a little partial to My Fellow Americans, because how can you not love a movie with Jack Lemmon and James Garner.) But I’m off topic.  I wanted to use the quote from The American President that Ethan used because I think it makes an excellent point:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”. 

I’ve always loved that quote and I’m glad that Ethan brought it up.  The American President came out at a time when flag burning was the hot topic of conservatives to rant against.  They even proposed a constitutional amendment to make it illegal.  Now the hot button topic is gay rights, particularly gay marriage and conservatives again are calling for a constitutional amendment to prohibit it.  The reasons amendments like these would never pass is because all of the 27 amendments to the constitution guarantee rights and protect them, none take away rights and legalize discrimination.  Again, I’m a bit off topic, so bear with me.

The point I’m making is that LGBT issues are in the spotlight right now.  We are finally becoming more accepted by American society, especially outside a few pockets of staunch conservatism.  In order to continue gaining ground, we need to make more allies ryan enemies.  We need them not only as friends who can offer love and support but as critical community members to further our cause. As much as we wish to fight our own battles, it is often our allies in the majority who have chosen to fight for the minority cause who can have the greatest impact. They can serve as intermediaries, given the time and space to say and be heard saying the same things that the minority group has been preaching for years. And it is only through changing hearts and minds in the majority that we can reshape the dominant views that we spend hours debating in LGBT circles. 

In “Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?” by Mason Hsieh as featured in the Huffington Post and brought to my attention by a friend who received it in a diversity email from his employer Walmart, Hsieh suggest five ways to be better to our allies, particularly the new ones.

  1. View alliances as a continuum.
  2. Leave room for political incorrectness.
  3. Remember the big picture.
  4. Take pride in small victories.
  5. Be an ally to your allies.

And I want to take a closer look at these five suggestions, because I think Hsieh makes very valid points.

1. View alliances as a continuum.

Often allyship is painted as all-or-nothing: If you don’t support all our beliefs, you’re not an ally. We must remember that, like any self-identity, allyship is an ongoing process, made up of small, gradual steps. It is a “becoming” process that grows and develops over time, and not always following a linear trajectory.  I have friends who if I had to agree with everything they believe or they agree with all of my beliefs, I’d have no friends at all.  You will not see eye to eye with everyone.  Even countries who are allies don’t always agree on each other’s policies. So why should we think that our allies must support ALL of our beliefs?  Maybe this would be the case in a perfect world, but we all know that this world is far from perfect.

2. Leave room for political incorrectness.

While checking our privilege and engaging in conscientious discourse are great ways to practice thoughtful and inclusive speech and action, we must leave room for political incorrectness. We have to give people, particularly newcomers to the cause, the benefit of the doubt whenever possible and consider making room for political incorrectness in everyday life. There is a difference between fighting homophobia and scrutinizing everything a person says or believes. While the two are not mutually exclusive, the latter can be tiring and lead you further from what you are actually fighting for.  People who are newcomers to our cause can be ignorant to some of the things we find offensive, so we need to be understanding and educate them in a way that doesn’t drive them away.

3. Remember the big picture.

Pick your battles and keep the bigger picture in mind. I find this true of so much in life.  Some battles just aren’t worth fighting and can be handled with a different tactic.  When discussing difficult or touchy topics, give people room to voice their opinions. Let them say their piece, and rather than formulating a retort for every problematic assertion, step back and listen for the bigger picture. What is the most important part of this discussion?  Quite honestly, we do this everyday.  We don’t need a Pyrrhic victory,  we need new allies.  Pick your battles and know when to use more subtle approaches.  True southerners are known for our way of knowing when to be subtle and when to be blunt.  It’s an art that more people should learn.  Besides, both done correctly just makes us more charming, and some activists (and it doesn’t matter the cause) need to learn how to be charming and not caustic.

4. Take pride in small victories.

Minds are not typically changed overnight or through one impassioned debate. Remember that everyone is on his or her own learning curve, and that small steps in the right direction are still steps.  For all the teachers out there, you know how true this is.  We don’t get many victories, but the small ones are worth our weight in gold.  I’m not an out and proud gay activist, mainly because I’m a closeted teacher in a small private school, but I also don’t tolerate derogatory speech in my presence.  It’s a small way that I am helping.  I do my best to teach tolerance, often I use religious lessons (because I can and its something these kids have been taught to respect) to get my point about tolerance across.  It’s a small victory, but it’s a victory.

5. Be an ally to your allies.

Standing up for a community that you are not inherently a part of can be scary and leave a potential ally feeling vulnerable. Welcome newcomers, make room for them in your circles, and remember that alliances go both ways. Support your supporters.


Tolerance and Diversity: Part I

 

When I think of gay-friendly businesses, Walmart does not immediately come to mind.  In fact for many years, I’ve often thought of them as a great evil for gaining a near monopoly on retail stores in small towns (which is still kind of true, but we do live in a capitalist society).  However, my overall opinion of Walmart has changed in the last six months.  A friend of mine went to work in their corporate office.  He is openly gay, and at first, I was a little worried about him moving from a gay Midwestern haven to Bentonville, Arkansas, smack dab in the Bible Belt.  So before he even moved, I did a little research, and I was quite surprised at what I found out.  In 2014, the HRC’s Equality Index gave Walmart a score of 90 (the same as the very gay-friendly Starbucks).  When one looks at the HRC report, you see that they offer the same benefits to same-sex partners as they do the opposite sex partners. Furthermore, sexual orientation has been included in their non-discrimination policy available in the employee handbook (since 2003, and they include gender identity.  All employees are required to attend LGBT diversity training and even has written guidelines concerning employees who transition genders on the job.  They market and advertise to LGBT consumers and support LGBT organizations.  They also have a PRIDE Resource Group to help LGBT employees.  With all of that, why did Walmart get a 90/100?  It’s because they do not cover transgender benefits in their health coverage. 

Since my friend began working for Walmart, I have increasingly became more impressed by them.  When Arkansas tried a Religious Freedoms Restoration Act like Indiana, Walmart pressured the governor to not sign it.  Instead, the governor sent the bill back and said he’d only sign it if it had the same language as the federal law already in place.  I’m glad Walmart stood up, because as much money as the Walton family has, as many employees as Walmart has, and the impact Walmart has on the Arkansas economy, I doubt any candidate could be elected if Walmart put its might behind opposing them.

With all that I have already mentioned, I have to tell you what impressed me the most.  Each Monday, Walmart send its employees a corporate diversity email covering topics about women, African-American, and LGBT issues.  My friend has shared with me several of these emails, but this week’s email really caught my eye.  Included in the email was a link to a Huffington Post article, “Is the gay community scaring away our straight allies?” by Mason Hsieh.  In the article, which I plan to discuss in more depth tomorrow, it begins with this story:

Hearing straight men identify as allies to the LGBT community always makes my heart melt a little. So when one of my new straight-male friends asked if he could sit in on a QSA meeting, I immediately said yes and took him to a panel on LGBT dating, hoping to show him how cool the queer community is. The discussion was mostly civil, until my fledgling ally worked up the courage to ask one simple question on a topic he was genuinely interested in: “In gay dating, who’s the girl?” This question did not go over well.
Within milliseconds the P.C. police had descended on him, vehemently demanding that he check his straight-cis-male privilege as well as his narrow-minded assumptions about dating and gender roles. He should be ashamed, they said.

Hsieh notes that he understands that his friend did not phrase the question in the most politically correct way, but, honestly, how many of our straight friends have asked us that same question in one form or another?  Straight people always wonder that, just as they often wonder “what do lesbians do in bed?” (Not a question I want to ponder too much, but most of our straight male friends can answer from watching porn.). Hsieh’s point is that why should we get offended by a question that was not meant to be mean spirited.  Just like with my students when they make an insensitive or ignorant remark, I explain to them what was wrong with what they said.  It amazes me the number of people who do not understand that some of the things they say are offensive, so it’s our job to educate them and try to make this a better world.

So I want to ask you two questions.  Does knowing that Walmart makes an effort to be supportive of the LGBT community and to foster a comfortable working environment for LGBT employees, change your preconceived notions of Walmart?  And, I’d like to know your opinions (before I wrote more about Hsieh’s article) about how to handle our LGBT allies who want to help but aren’t always politically correct?  


Patience Taught by Nature 

 

 Patience Taught by Nature

 By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“O Dreary life!” we cry, “O dreary life!”
And still the generations of the birds
Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds
Serenely live while we are keeping strife
With Heaven’s true purpose in us, as a knife
Against which we may struggle. Ocean girds
Unslackened the dry land: savannah-swards
Unweary sweep: hills watch, unworn; and rife
Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees,
To show, above, the unwasted stars that pass
In their old glory. O thou God of old!
Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these;—
But so much patience, as a blade of grass
Grows by contended through the heat and cold.

About This Poem
“Patience Taught by Nature” was published in Browning’s book A Drama of Exile: and other poems (H. G. Langley, 1845).  Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England. Her books include An Essay on Mind and Other Poems (1826), The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838), and Poems before Congress (1860). Browning died on June 29, 1861, in Florence.


I am praying that God give me patience with these headaches.  I had thought I was given relief when I went through the first round of treatments with prednisone, because I had periods of no pain followed by periods of mild headaches, but in the last several days, they headaches have gotten worse.  When I woke up Sunday and couldn’t even get out of bed all day because of my headache and any medicine I took brought either mild relief or no relief at all, I knew. Had to go back to the doctor.  Sunday’s headache was by far the worst I’ve ever had.  My doctor was actually out of the office yesterday, but I did get in to see his nurse practitioner.  She gave me a Toradol shot and samples of a new medicine called Bupap.  Bupap has been known to help with tension, migraine, and cluster headaches but is not a first line of defense but usually a last resort.  It is effective at controlling he pain, but as a barbiturate, it is highly addictive, so I have to be careful taking it.  At least it is providing some relief.  I also found out that my CT scan came back clean, so I do not have a tumor, thank God, though I really wasn’t worried about that.  The nurse practitioner and my doctor may send me to a neurologist if the headaches do not improve. 

Headache

 

One of the worst I’ve ever had. I’ll write more when I can. 


He Died, So We May Live

 

 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”-and that he had said these things to her. 
John 20:1-18

Easter reminds me of something better than tolerance; I was loved to death.  I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus. I believe in doing our best to follow God’s word and make it an active part of our lives.  I also believe that every human being should be treated with dignity, respect and love—no if’s, and’s or but’s about it!  I am heavily dismayed when I hear that people of my faith truly believe that discriminatory laws such as Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are admissible.

As a Christian, I know the Bible speaks to any number of critical topics that shape the trajectory of my life. I value my religious liberties and believe they must be protected, but I think what this means is that I am allowed to worship the way I wish to and no one can force me to practice a particular religion or to practice my religion in a particular way.  However, my beliefs are confined to the walls of my church.  Outside and inside of my church though, I must follow the dictates of Jesus and try to live and worship by his example. I cannot, not will I ever try to force someone to believe what I believe. At the same time, I can’t escape this sinking feeling that politics, convenience and more than a little resistance to other perspectives has muddled the central redemptive message of my faith.  Easter brings all that back into focus.

A radical Jewish teacher despised by the religious establishment stood before false accusers and politicians. The proceedings against him were not just; it was a lynch mob. They mocked him. They beat him. They spit in his face.  He did not become angry. He did not vehemently defend his religious liberties. He did not go down swinging a sword. In fact, with little regard for himself, he stood and calmly answered. He knew it meant his death, a cruel death on a cross.  But that was the point.  His singular objective was to show just how much he loved broken, fallen people riddled with sin and pain. He even asked God to forgive those who drove the nails through his hands and feet.  He ministered to those that others ignored and gave hope to the downtrodden and outcasts because they needed his message of hope the most.  Jesus did far more than tolerate those who despised him. He loved each one of us to death…literally.  In a world where tolerance isn’t even the norm, that’s hard to comprehend. Why would anyone do something like that?

Unlike the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993, Indiana’s RFRA leaves room for religious freedom to be used as a defense if for-profit businesses are accused of discrimination. Laws like this are the antithesis of the love that Jesus demonstrated because any law that leaves room for the denial of basic human needs and dignity is immoral.

When discrimination happens around the world to people who identify as Christians, we are infuriated. When discrimination happens to people of ethnic minorities, we call it unjust. When discrimination happens to women, we say it’s appalling. When discrimination happens to children, we say it’s detestable. When discrimination happens to religious minorities, we say it’s abominable.  Why then are so many people who call themselves Christians silent, indifferent or even in support of this treatment when it comes to LGBTQ people?

Are we not human? Do we not deserving of a chance at life here on this earth and in heaven? The answer my friends, whether or not you affirm our sexual orientation or gender identity, is that we do indeed deserve a chance at life!  LGBT people deserve all of the basic essentials that straight people deserve such as eating a meal peacefully at a restaurant or a night’s stay at an inn or medicinal treatment at a private medical practice if they are in need.  LGBT people deserve dignity and respect because we are humans and because God does not ever put a person on this planet if they are not meant to be here. The type of systematic injustice that is allowed under Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is in blatant violation of anything that Jesus Christ stood for because Jesus Christ stood for life. 

Whatever a person’s identity or beliefs, there is no question that we are all human.  And my purpose as a fellow human being and a follower of Jesus is to do all in my power to make sure that every person I encounter is shown love.

As a Christian, I also believe in the freedoms granted to us by the First Amendment, including the freedom of religion! I love that I am publicly allowed to wear my cross necklace and read my bible app and talk about God with my friends or people who want to. I love that my boyfriend and I can eat at a restaurant and openly talk about our religious beliefs without fear of persecution!  But also remember that only 60 years ago “religious freedom” was used as the justification for laws that permitted racial segregation.  I would hate to see us go back to a society that supports discrimination and exclusion. 

Amazing opportunities for ministry and human connectivity close when a person decides to shut someone out because of their identity.  At the end of the day, I believe in compassion, empathy, and a concern for human dignity.  I ask you this: where in the scriptures did Jesus ever deny or say it was acceptable to deny any human being access to food, shelter, water or medicinal care? Where did he preach that killing, torturing, humiliating, bullying and isolating people was ok or allowed to be the law of the land?  The answer is nowhere. Jesus is compassion. Jesus is mercy. Jesus is forgiveness. Jesus is just. Jesus is grace. Jesus is love. Jesus never turned away a human in need. He embraced them with open arms.

Many Christians have gotten so wrapped up in themselves and in legality that they are forgetting human dignity, compassion and the Gospel.  They are forgetting the very Christ who they fell in love with: The man who healed the sick, feed the hungry, comforted the brokenhearted and perfectly exemplified the love that God has for us all. They have forgotten that it is not our righteousness but God’s grace that saves us all.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” 
Romans 13:8-10 

Let’s remember to be like Jesus. Let’s live out His love!  Unconditional and universal love is Jesus’s powerful example this Easter. It does not change the nature of sin or require you to endorse it. Jesus sacrificed himself as a redemptive act of love because we couldn’t save ourselves. We still can’t.  For Christians, this should be about how we respond to a broken hurting world. Will we respond to those who hate us by telling them what we believe or will we show them real love inspired by the One who first loved us to death?


Moment of Zen 

  

Today’s Moment of Zen does not have a subtitle.  Quite honestly, I just couldn’t come up with one because the picture with its hint of something more is one Moment of Zen, but it’s not the one I want to talk about.  I didn’t know what picture to use for my true Moment of Zen, so I used the one above because I really like it for many different reasons and because I’ve wanted to use it as a moment of Zen, but didn’t know what I would title it as either.  So the picture and today’s Moment of Zen are two different things.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about going to the doctor and being diagnosed with cluster headaches and how my doctor had ordered a CT scan.  At the time, I was worried how I’d pay the $300 copay.  I was so gratified that several of you sent in donations to help with the expense.  (For those who did donate, there are handwritten thank you notes coming to you in the mail.  I haven’t been able to write them until now because I’ve shook so much from the prednisone treatment that I really couldn’t write very legibly.). And here is the moment of Zen.  When I received donations, it wasn’t enough to pay for the whole copay, but it would go a long way to helping with the cost and I am extremely grateful; however, when I arrived yesterday morning for my CT scan, the office lady said she needed to discuss the copay with me.  She told me that my copay was $300, but the problem is that if a patient is paying without insurance, they only charge $175.  I had the choice of paying the $300 copay for Blue Cross Blue Sheild, or they would not file on my insurance and I could simply pay the $175.  I was pretty happy with that, but here is the true miracle (and it happened on Good Friday), the amount of donations I received to help with the expense was exactly $175.  I could not believe it.  I told a friend of mine who knows my financial troubles and reads my blog about this and his response was “Someone is watching over you.”  And it’s true.  I do believe God is watching over me. This to me is a true moment of Zen.

Better

  

 When I spoke to Mama yesterday, she was feeling much better and her doctor was pretty sure hat she would go home today.  She needed the rest and the breathing treatments, and she just wasn’t able to rest at home while trying to take care of her own mother.  I did not go back to the hospital yesterday, because she told me to go on home after school.  The lack of sleep and a stressful day caused one of my cluster headache attacks.  Since I finished the initial treatment, the headaches have been much better and significantly milder, with periods of no pain at all, but Wednesday was very stressful and it jus triggered another.  Luckily, I have today off of work.  I’ll be going to visit mama first thing this morning then I have my CT scan scheduled for this morning.  My doctor wanted the CT scan to rule out any other issues, and it is one of the few ways other than examination of symptoms to definitively diagnose cluster headaches.  Well, that’s all the news to report today.  

Happy Good Friday, all!

A short histoeical note, based on the details of the canonical gospels, the Crucifixion of Jesus was most likely to have been on a Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath) (John 19:42), thus Good Friday. The estimated year of the Crucifixion is AD 33, by two different groups, and originally as AD 34 by Isaac Newton via the differences between the Biblical and Julian calendars and the crescent of the moon. A third method, using a completely different astronomical approach based on a lunar Crucifixion darkness and eclipse model (consistent with Apostle Peter’s reference to a “moon of blood” in Acts 2:20), points to Friday, 3 April AD 33, which was one thousand nine hundred eighty-two years ago today that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.

Waiting 

 

 You would think this was my family’s version of a very bad and distasteful April Fool’s joke, but sadly it wasn’t.  The thing is when I got home yesterday, I was told my mother had been admitted to the hospital and my dad (who’s taking care of my sick granny) wanted me to go stay with her until she got put in a room.  Mama was all alone in the emergency room.  My mother has always had anxiety issues about being left alone, so it was no question that she needed someone there with her, and I’d have done so anyway.  What was so unbelievable was that my mother was sent to the hospital just after 3 pm, and instead of calling and telling me to go to the hospital which was twenty minutes away from the school, my family let me drive all the way home in the opposite direction before telling me about mama.  I could understand if this was twenty or more years ago, but I have a cellphone with me at all times.  Once I was home, not only had I wasted the 40 minutes driving home when I could have been with mama, but once home the drive to the hospital is an hour away, not the 20 minutes it is from school.

Even more unbelievable to me is that my sister lives, at tops, with bad traffic, ten minutes from the hospital.  My sister does have kids, but her in-laws live practically next door and could take the kids for at least an hour so she could go be with mama until I could get there, but my sister did nothing.  She didn’t call me like mama had asked her to do, which would have saved me time, and my sister never even came to the hospital and didn’t even call to check on mama.  Her only response was, “She’s not even in a room yet.”  That wasn’t the point.  Mama needed someone.

Once I got to the hospital and I knew mama was okay, I could calm down a little bit.  Mama has acute asthmatic bronchitis and she’s basically been having an asthma attack for three weeks.  Her doctor should have put her in the hospital last week, but she begged him not to because she was taking care of my granny (her mother).  By the time I’d gotten there, they had her in a bed in the ER with oxygen and an IV, waiting for a room, at which time they basically ignored her for the next eight fucking hours.  Eight hours we waited for a room.  They didn’t bring her any food, nothing to drink, and never even checked to see if she needed to go to the bathroom.  I finally got the nurse’s attention and asked for mama to at least get a glass of water.  She was brought a Sprite.  Then mama needed to go to the bathroom, but it’s not like she can just get up and go because of the IV and oxygen.  So I went and asked the nurse to help her.  The nurse said in a snarky voice “In a sec.”  Then we waited, and we waited.  Mama is a retired nurse and at this point she’s got to go and is ready to unhook herself, so I went back to the nurses desk (by the way, the call button did no good, it just went ignored), and that’s when the “teacher voice” came out.  I use my “teacher voice” when I truly mean business, and since I am usually mild mannered and soft spoken, the “teacher voice” usually makes people pay attention.  It certainly got that nurse to moving. (I was polite, but firm.) Shortly after that, they decided they better find us a room before I came back again.

Close to midnight last night, they finally had mama settled into a room.  Thankfully this one had AC, since it was 76 degrees in the ER.  Also, I made sure the nurse went to get mama something to eat.  Once mama was settled, I headed home.  It had been an ordeal for her, so hopefully she had eaten and was fast asleep by the time I got home around 1 pm.  Now it’s off to school.  I’m praying today is a better day, and thankfully, we are out for Good Friday.

Love Doesn’t Come with a Syllabus

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Usually, when I listen to an audiobook in my car, I’m okay to stop when I get to my destination.  My daily commute to and from work is a 30-40 minute drive, so a ten hour long book usually takes me about two weeks to listen to fully..  However, every once in a while, I come across a book, and it is impossible for me to leave it in the car.  I find myself listening every moment I get outside of my car, including just before going to bed.  I’ve had books that I’ve read that I just couldn’t put down.  Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City was like that, but it’s generally easier to pause an audiobook.  In fact, I can only think of twice when this has happened.  The first time was Brad Boney’s The Return, and the second was Heidi Cullinan’s Love Lessons.  I got invested in the characters and their situation so quickly, I just couldn’t let go, and though I loved the ending, this was a book that I almost cried because it was over.  I wanted more and thankfully, on the author’s website she has a link to a short story that is a continuation and I loved those twenty pages almost as much as I loved the whole book.  One quick thing, I do love Amy Lane’s books (one of my all time favorite authors) but when I’m listening to her books, sometimes you have to take a break from the emotional roller coaster or your heart will explode.

I’ve already reviewed The Return, but Love Lessons is a book that captured my heart and wouldn’t let it go.  Initially, you might not be endeared to the two main character Walter and Kelly, but these boys quickly work their way into your heart.  Neither are perfect characters.  One is overly idealistic, while the other is overly cynical, and whereas that might sound like a turn off, Walter and Kelly are far more complicated than that.  I absolutely fell in love with Kelly after he suffers a major allergic reaction and is mortified.  Cullinan wrote:

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Kelly’s allergies set him apart.  I think this touched me because so many of us find that there is something that sets us apart and keeps us from feeling normal.  I have a dear friend who suffers from anxiety and depression, and I’ve heard him say, “I just want to be normal.  I’m so fucked up.”  The truth is, he is not “fucked up” but his anxiety makes him feel different and separate.  My depression and headaches make me feel the same way.  We all see that thing that sets us apart as something that is abnormal or fucked up, but we learn to love with our separateness and not let it stop us.  It doesn’t stop Kelly, and probably more so than anything, it allows him to understand the demons that haunt Walter.

The complexities of Cullinan’s characters are not the only only thing that drew me into this book.  It takes place at the fictional Hope University, where diversity and acceptance are supposed to be its major mission beyond excellent academics.  Hope is billed as a family and community for its students and faculty.  However, like much of life, the university isn’t the Disney fantasy it portrays itself to be.  There are loopholes in the system.  They may technically deliver on promises,  but they aren’t following the spirit of their mission.  Corners are cut and the students and faculty find that it’s at their expense.

Heidi Cullinan says she has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending, which means she’s a woman after my own heart. Though her writing spans across many genres, she loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. Cullinan is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. And because it may be of interest to at least one of my readers, I think I read that Cullinan lives in Ames, Iowa, but I couldn’t find the reference again.  You can find out more about Cullinan, find the short story sequel “Frozen Heart”, and links to her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.  I think I’ve found a new author to love.

The narrator for Love Lessons is Iggy Toma, a voice-over artist, musician, and activist based in New York City. He is an avid reader of romance and mystery, and he has a soft spot for daytime soap operas, which comes through in a good way as the narrator of a romance novel.  I was really drawn into his narration and it really brought the emotions alive for me.  I only have one complaint, and this is just a small (very small) thing that bugged me, but I can’t let it go.  As part of Hope University, the upperclassmen dorms, called the Manors, has each individual “manor” named after civil rights martyrs.  Kelly notices one called Dahmer, to which Walter explains, “Vernon not Jeffrey,” which would be clever and I assume that’s what Cullinan meant, but the names are actually pronounced quite differently, no matter the spelling.  The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is pronounce “DAH-mer” but the Mississippi civil right martyr Vernon Dahmer (and someone I have always found to be a true hero) is pronounced “DAY-mer”. I know that is being petty, but I’ve met Vernon Dahmer’s widow, Ellie, and their children several times, and I’ve heard firsthand how they pronounce their name.  I can’t help it that as a historian I caught on to that.  I’m sure most people wouldn’t.

This is one instance where I loved that the book wasn’t filled with angst.  Will they or won’t they get together?  Except for Walter and Kelly, everyone knows exactly where this relationship is headed.  There’s plenty of drama and heartbreak but you know they will overcome it in the end.  Their relationship grows from a great friendship and mutual lust for one another, but grows deeper throughout the book.  I know I’ve said this already, but you become invested in these characters.

There are a lot of lessons in this book, but at its heart is a love story. A beautiful love story and we should remember that as the books tag line says, “Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.”

A blurb for Love Lessons:

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.