Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We Can't Legally Drink, but Let's Get Married, Baby: Evangelical Flashback Corner

Angie's Story:

In Clouds, Shelly scores herself a marriage proposal at the ripe old age of eighteen. While a tempting offer for a lass circa 1937, Shelly, being of sound mind and body, realizes the batshittiness of this life decision as the proposal came with the fun little caveat that Shelly would have to abandon her dreams of being a flight attendant to wash out her betrothed's bowl of Easy Mac while he attended college. Did she gracefully reject her neighbor-boy lover? Of course not. Because she’s an eighteen-year-old idiot. And yet as an evangelical survivor, a proposal at eighteen was rather unsurprising. Evangelicals marry young. We just do. There are plenty of articles about it, but I have loads of anecdotal evidence. I attended my first "friend" wedding a year after graduating high school. 

I took Elise as my plus one, and we made the above face the whole time.

At my Wesleyan college, they had super sad married housing section on campus. Most students managed to make it to graduation unwed. But a few decided that they just couldn’t wait and decided to play house in between intramural soccer and Biblical Literature 101. And so they had a foot in two major life stages at once, and I can’t imagine that would be terribly fun. Senior year, I was hanging out with a young wife acquaitance at her off-campus house that she shared with her equally young husband. I remember looking around her cutely decorated living room thinking, "I think I'm supposed to be 'Christian girl jealous' right now, but damn, I'm glad I'm not you."

At least we don't marry this young. Looking at you, Jerry Lee!
The simplistic answer for why baby marriage happens is “dat bootay.” When sexual relations are off the table until you get that ring that is a mighty powerful incentive to sprint toward the altar. But there’s more to the story. Successful relationships are meant to progress, to move forward. So if you’re an evangelical who happened to find your person when you were a freshman in high school, what are your options? You delete a step that the rest of society relies heavily on—moving in together. Even if you were able to get the courage to say, “Hey, I’m not ready to make a lifetime commitment as a junior in college but let’s try sharing a lease,” your Baptist grandmother would burst into shame-flames. 

There is also a different sort of social pressure—female competition. Many will deny this exists, but it so does. To be married in the evangelical world is to have a privileged status. To be married with children is to have a privileged status. Don’t believe me? Ask a single church lady in her late 20’s or *gasp* beyond. They are either explicitly or implicitly objects of pity, curiosity, or even suspicion. Is this a sexist pile of turds? Oh yes, but that doesn’t negate its existence. 

Pumped to be splitting TP costs.
I strongly believe that a person should buy their own toilet paper before getting married (The day I became a woman was the day I bought my first 24 pack of Angel Soft. While I was annoyed to be buying such an unfun purchase that I would literally be flushing down the toilet, it was nice to know that tush paper was allll mine). Experts agree with me. When you marry before your brain has fully formed (around age 25), things can go very, very wrong. But of course, I know happily married people who tied the knot just out of high school (including my own parents) and I know couples who are divorced or should be who got married when they were twenty-five or older.

Evangelical culture is starting to take its cues from secular society a bit more when it comes to appropriate marriage age, and I think nothing but good can come from that. Maybe I won’t be trying to set my daughter up on blind dates when she’s twenty-one like my mom tried to do for me. Maybe married housing will be bulldozed to make way for, oh, I don’t know, a library that contains more than just theology books and the biography of the founder of Chick-fil-a. And any rate, remember kids, there’s no need to walk down the aisle before you’ve reached your permanent cup size (James 7:34). 

My college's library contains busts of "World Changers" including the Chick-fil-a founder, Ben Carson, James Dobson and YEP! Kirk Freaking Cameron. I know Growing Pains and tasty chicken changed my world.

Elise's Story:

Here is what I did the spring and summer of my senior year of college:

I hope this doesn't read as snark directed towards my lovely bridal-tastic friends pictured above, just evidence that evangelicals do things fast, maritally speaking. I myself got married at the ripe old age 24 (multiple by 1/3 and add that to the original number to get the age in normal people years), after being engaged for 2.5 months. 

We dated for one year before getting engaged...
We became exclusive on...
I met his parent's on...

I know to some people outside of evangelical culture it might have seemed too fast, or kind of strange, but we really really wanted to get married so we did. Looking back, we often laugh about how we had no idea who each other really were yet. Our honeymoon was in a remote cabin in the woods, and at one point I had to spend 10 minutes mentally convincing myself that my new husband probably wouldn't murder me in my sleep. That's how well I felt like I knew Kyle "mostly sure he wouldn't murder me" well. It's worked out pretty great so far, but I don't think it's right for either of us to take credit. Who knows if we got married "for the right reasons" or what the right reason even is. Did we just meet the right person, and if yes, whose to guarantee that we'll stay the right person? All I know is that if Kyle is going to murder me, at this point I respect his dedication to the long con.

We kept saying "I can't believe people are letting us do this!":)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

These Motherf*@%ing White Crew Neck Sweatshirts are Going to Change our Goddamn Lives.

Shelly slightly shifted her eyes towards the sounds of a cardboard box being slammed down on the rough hewn, shabby chic kitchen table. She barely reacted to Meri’s strange fits anymore. Meri would go days and days fixated on the screen of her blue clamshell iBook, pouring over “manuscripts” for her job as “Senior Captain Acquisitions Editor at Publishers R Us” before suddenly jumping into a bizarre task, expecting Shelly to follow. Shelly was beginning to wonder if Meri was actually even employed, but she knew better than to question her at this point. Anyway, Shelly would have to stir out of this disturbingly comforting brain fog in order to ask questions, and the fog was starting to feel like an old friend. The sound of acrylic nails ripping through cardboard and clear tape roused her enough for Shelly to turn her head fully. She saw a bright white flash as a thick fabric square was pulled out of the box. With a quick flick of the wrist, Meri unfurled a white crew-neck sweatshirt, lined with creases where it had been long folded. The smell of stale chemicals hit Shelly’s nose as a matching white square was flung into her lap.  Meri calmly stated with dead eyes “These motherf*&%ing white crew neck sweatshirts are going to change our goddamn lives.”

It was Day 5, post sweatshirt, and Shelly didn’t know how long she could keep going. Constant power walking, through meadows and forests, along the tiny coastline of the island, up steep bluffs, fists clenched, hips swaying back and forth, walk walk walk walk. The sweatshirts were still white, so white, glowing in the moonlight. Everything else was dim and dark, but not the sweatshirts. Nothing could mar their glowing surface. “These will keep us safe” Meri explained, “We can go wherever we want on the island now. Even in the dark, we will be unharmed.” 

Day 8, and Shelly was so tired. They slept during the day and walked at night. But it wasn’t enough, she couldn’t keep going. Meri now shrieked at a continuous high tone during the night walks, later she explained it was her “quiet time with God.” 

Day 20 and holes were starting to form in her tennis shoes, but still the sweatshirt glowed. 

Day 23 and she started to develop a plan. It was the whiteness that bound them as much as it protected them. 

Day 25 and she put her plan in place.


Day 28 and as Meri made it to the top of a rocky precipice, her perfect sweatshirt perfectly white, Shelly finally struck. She pulled a hidden thermos of Irish Breakfast tea out from beneath the depths of her glowing white sweatshirt and flung its steamy brown contents at Meri’s sweatshirt. Meri screamed in agony as the sweatshirt immediately burst into flames. Shelly fell to her knees and tears streamed down her face as she poured the rest of the tea onto her own heaving, sweatshirt clad chest. “Lord forgive us” she screamed as the smoke obscured her vision.

The next morning the two sisters lay sprawled on the edge of the precipice, motionless. A bright white butterfly, flew down and gently landed on each of the sister’s soot-smudged cheeks. Shelly gasped as air rushed into her lungs, choking into consciousness. Meri did the same, and immediately began vomiting. After the sisters shakily stood to their feet, Meri whispered “I think it’s time we found...Jonathan.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

CLOUDS: Rebounding with a High School Ex, the Tar Pit of Life Decisions.


What even happens in this book?

Flight attendant school...
Clouds follows the story of Alissa’s (from Sunsets) former roommate, flight attendant Shelly, as she deals with her life spectacularly imploding into a cloud of diarrhea. You may remember Shelly from her unique character traits of “having wicker furniture” and “rightfully moving immediately out of her duplex when known stalker Alissa moved in.” When Shelly’s story picks up, she’s dealing with her recent transfer to an airline in her hometown, is living with her parents, and is obsessing about the one that got away… her childhood neighbor/ almost teen fiancée, Jonathan. As Shelly regrets choosing her dream of flight attendant school over locking down a husband pre-puberty, she eventually “escapes” her parents and moves in with her sister Meri (a 21 year old editor at a major publishing firm…sure) on a secluded island in the Pacific Northwest, as she deals with cutbacks at her airline. Eventually, after a montage of bonding, the sisters tire of racing across the island at night in matching white sweatshirts (more on this later) and decide to go to Germany to visit Meri’s old friends and surprise Jonathan at his job at a youth center in Germany.

Shelly hasn’t spoken with Jonathan since he proposed to
her the second they both hit puberty, and she (sanely) rejected him. She decides that now that she’s 23, he was probably the best she would ever find, and showing up unannounced five years after their breakup is a great idea. Except this is a terrible idea, and she is rewarded accordingly by being forced to go on a road trip to a small town in Germany with Jonathan and his...FIANCEE. His TEEN FIANCEE WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE TEEN SHELLY. Buwhahahahaha!
Shelly's trip to Germany.
Germany did maintain one spark of hope for Shelly, in that Jonathan clearly still has feelings for her. But alas, Shelly and Jonathan are too boring to ever do anything about their feelings, so Shelly returns back to her island to work on what really needs help, her life. Shelly eventually finds a new career path
, and reconnects with her faith. Conveniently, this happens 10 minutes before she learns that Jonathan’s teen-fiancée has dumped him, and he is now living in a treehouse (owned by Jessica’s husband, EMT Kyle) on the same island as Shelly (there is no way to explain this any better). Shelly and Jonathan run into each other in the most anticlimactic, stunningly blasé reunion I have ever read in my life. But they’re married now or whatever and it’s definitely not because Shelly panicked about never getting married, and decided to retroll for second hand booty.

Wait Whaaaaa?

There’s a lot of questionable behavior in Glenbrook. This is where we judge it all.

Public Service Announcement: A major plot point is that after Shelly refused to be a child bride, her ex Jonathan mailed her a Shakespearean era poem communicating that there was still a chance that their love could be saved. Shelly, unfortunately, was in flight attendant school, and it therefore took her five years to correctly interpret the poem. Don’t use poetry, song lyrics, or movie quotes to communicate important messages kids. Sufjan Stevens is never as clear as you think he is.

This song is called National Bird Day
and is about why you should take me back
So I JUST LOVE how heiress Jessica’s EMT husband (Secrets) is now viewed as this wealthy benefactor despite the fact that...
1. It’s not his money. Everyone in Glenbrook is all like “oh  man Kyle is sooooo generous, he just gives his money away like it’s not even his" when it is JESSICA'S MONEY. 
2. Kyle spends Jessica' money all on orphanages or camps or things that are generous... but also designed to convert people to a religion that Jessica herself converted to about 5 minutes ago. We don’t even know if she has fully recovered from her head injury at this point, and her money is flowing out like the Blood of Christ.
They had to sex it up
for the book cover

Shelly’s sexy outfit for meeting her ex for the first time: A shapeless A-line smock over a long sleeved turtleneck, head covered with scarf. You get it, girl. 

Precious Moments
Our favorite quotes.
Shelly reflecting on her first act of sexual assault: “The only thing that haunted her was her impulsive, aggressive kiss. Never would she have guess she had that kind of fire inside her or the audacity to assault her best friend with such a misuse of her passion.”
Jonathan on his mother: “My mom never even went to college. She found fulfillment in marrying my dad and making a home for him. She molded her life around his.” (Who needs a real person when you can be “Wife”?)

Conspiracy theory:

We tell you what’s really going down in Glenbrook.

Elise: Shelly’s grandma was a member of Hilter’s youth.

Shelly’s grandma has a series of tasks and pilgrimages she wants Shelly to complete on her behalf while she is in Germany, and becomes emotional when she sees a leaf Shelly has brought back from her trip to the Black Forest. As a red blooded American who grew up on Stephen Spielberg movies, I am naturally suspicious of any elderly person who reminisces about the “Vaterland.” Sure, Germany has beautiful forests, and castles and links upon links of delicious sausages. But you know what else they had when Shelley’s grandma was growing up? Nazis. I know when a spade’s a spade and this little old white haired spade is a goosestepping her way to Sunday School every morning.

Jonathan's dream 
Angie: Jonathan proposed to Shelly at eighteen because he couldn’t take his mom with him to college.

Jonathan’s mom is portrayed as the quintessential Christian wife/homemaker as evidenced by her fierce cookie baking game. When faced with the prospect of leaving his mom-slave for college and having to do his own laundry and wipe his own ass, Jonathan panicked, got down on one knee, and popped the question. His grand plan to take a maid with benefits to college with him was thwarted by selfish Shelly and her ultimately stupid career dreams. She learned. We all learned.   

Final Judgement:

Is it worth the $0.01 on Amazon?
Robin Jones Gunn perfectly captures what it’s like to be staying with your parents in the
Yes, Shelly does reminisce
about her wicker furniture.
suburbs thinking “my life is a hot mess” and that sinking feeling of knowing that your already shitty job is sliding out from under you. It was also very fun to follow Meri and Shelly around as they explore Germany. 
RJG is actually a great travel writer, and it’s a shame when her books take place in California or Oregon rather than Hawaii or Europe. Unfortunately, while I really enjoyed the first part of the book, the buildup to Germany and the tension between Shelly, Jonathan and his bilingual teen-fiancée, Act III falls apart in terms of drama. This is interesting reversal because in Whispers and Echoes, the third act romantic buildup is where RJG shines. Still, it was a fun book and reminded me of a lot of the pressure and tension that comes with being in your early 20s but still being considered a spinster hag in the Christian community. Overall I give it 3 out of 5 teenage exes!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mending Fences or Bridges or Whatever

Many of you may have been wondering if the rumors are true. The answer is yes, after Angie and I spectacularly failed round two of Cupcake Wars (I blame her subpar bacon infused frosting, she blames my overly salty, salted caramel), we have had a months long falling out. This has resulted in an unplanned hiatus in our razor sharp commentary on 90s era Christian romance novels. Thankfully months of Sister Counseling with the finest Sister Therapists in the land have helped us overcome our differences. I've learned to look past her flagrant disregard for the appropriate use of umami flavors in desserts, and she in kind has accepted my perchance for breaking all of her shit and hiding it beneath her couch.

The point is we are once again a team. Stay tuned for our next book review as we take on CLOUDS and talk about teen marriage, true sisterhood, and if Robin Jones Gunn is a Nazi sympathizer.

In the meantime enjoy this guided meditation that we now do every morning in unison.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Let's Get Virginal!: Evangelical Traumatic Flashback Corner

Angie's Story:
Unlike Alissa and her trampy teen years spent rolling around on the beach with wild surfers, I was a stalwart example of purity in high school for the same reason I was extremely drug free—nobody asked. On the few occasions when I caught a fellow’s eye, I employed the “Shhh! I’m asleep” method. In cars, in movie theaters, in the middle of a mini golf game. Whenever things started to take a potentially carnal turn, Bam! Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I’m surprised people didn’t try to do a narcolepsy intervention on me.
Angie, flirting.

There were a handful of girls at my evangelical school who, let’s say, dabbled with their boyfriends, as many normal, red-blooded American teenagers do. But when you add an aggressive True Love Waits campaign to the equation, logic gets a little murky. Christianity is all about second chances, and third chances, and 1,375th chances. Unlike Catholicism with an expectation of penance when a person effs up, evangelical Christianity is all about forgiveness, which can be a really wonderful, freeing concept. But it also can create some confusion in practical application, especially for something like virginity, which you would think would be a black-or-white, you have it or you don’t type of concept.

Virginity pledges were a big deal at my school. True Love Waits came a-pimping their bracelets, rings, and devotional books. Girls had elaborate ceremonies involving contracts signed by them and their fathers. (I’ll wait right here until you’re done throwing up.) But here’s my favorite twist on the virginity pledge: secondary virginity ceremonies. Daddy’s still there, pen in hand to sign this new, better contract. But now he knows, your mother knows, everybody knows, you are no longer a blessed virgin, but you have “resealed” yourself as a blessed secondary virgin. Are there tertiary virgins? Quaternary virgins? At what point do you stop reading your parents in on your sex life?
"Pastor Dave, we need 300% more promise rings
for these old gum wads in the youth group!"

It’s an easy evangelical subcultural trait to mock, but the reasoning behind these types of ceremonies is actually kind of heartbreaking. We’re telling our girls that their value is tied to their virginity. And so you have teens desperate to regain their value in their parents’ eyes and in the church’s eyes, desperate enough to sign another contract and get that purity bling back on their ring finger until a husband comes along. There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin, especially when you’re a youngster. But when we tell our girls that they are a dirty piece of chocolate passed around a chapel audience, that they’re a piece of gum that’s already been chewed up and spit out, we end up with a damning narrative for girls like Alissa who might regret her choices but shouldn’t be made to feel like a lesser person.

Elise's Story:

I don’t have any stories of my own about purity. I mean, I remember talks in school about not dressing immodestly and not making “men stumble” which I thought was gross. Even at the age of 12 I realized that was a fundamentally unfair argument. “Keep your eyes to yourselves, pastors!” is what I thought. But honestly no one ever talked to me one-on-one about purity or dressing modestly. In fact, all of the serious talks I remember went in the other direction. People saying things like “You need to buy your jean shorts in the girls department” or “They don’t even make one-piece bathing suits for girls your age anymore” or “Can you please go on a date before you graduate college?” Youth pastors would talk to all the girls about being sexual stop lights and keeping the petals on our flowers, but it was always implied “except you, Elise, you don’t have to worry.” My understanding is that many girls who had boobs had a very different experience growing up in the church, so I acknowledge my privilege in flying under the slut-shaming radar there.
"Why can't you be more feminine like
that nice girl, The Icebox?"

I remember one time at youth group getting a purity pledge card I was supposed to fill out and turn back in, but I don’t think I ever did. The weird thing is, I wanted to wait to have sex until after I was married, but I remember thinking it was super gross that my youth pastor would have an index card with my future sexual plans on it. I guess a Ron Swanson-like commitment to privacy was a big value of mine back in the day.
Me at prom.

So anyway, I don’t remember ever taking a purity pledge but I was a big fan of this Christian singer Jaci Velasquez in middle school and she was all aboard the abstinence train.  My best friend “Brawndo” and I went to see her live for our first concert and she was AMAZING. I remember being shocked that she wore a tank top and leather pants. (Do you guys remember when all the pop stars wore leather pants? What a chafing-centric time!) I don’t remember what Jaci’s big purity song was, probably “My Vagina Gift for My Husband.” (I’m just kidding, I googled it and it’s called “I Promise.”) At the merch table she had a TON of virginity-themed merchandise.

Brawndo got a genuine Jaci Valasquez purity ring that said “I Promise.” It was so cool, but the best part was all the jokes you could make. If Brawndo forgot to wear her ring, I would be like, “Hey Brawndo, did you lose your purity?” Eventually she accidentally dropped it in the toilet. One could say she “flushed her purity down the crapper.” Not really, I’m pretty sure she stayed a virgin until she was married, but also I never asked because what  a creepy thing to ask someone.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Alissa Is Watching You Read This...Right Now.

“Just calm down, ma’am, and tell me exactly what happened,” the detective sat back in his chair and clicked his pen absently. The elderly couple sitting in the vinyl chairs next to his desk clutched each other. The gesture would’ve been sweet if circumstances had been different, if they’d never met Alissa.
“She seemed like such a nice girl,” the old woman started with a quake in her voice. “Wasn’t she lovely, Chet? A little heavy, sure, but a good, Christian girl.”
“They all seem nice at first, ma’am. Let me guess. All her furniture is wicker.”
The woman gasped. Chet shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “You gotta help us, officer. This woman, she’s unstable. She’s everywhere. She calls my Rosie here incessantly. She drops by. She plans elaborate itineraries to Italy that we don’t even want.”
“We had to call from Venice and beg her to let us come home,” Rosie said as sobs racked her feeble frame. “But then it got worse. I mentioned we were getting married in passing. Chet and I were cutting the cake when we looked across the dance floor, and there she was. Uninvited. Without a date. Watching us.” Chet handed Rosie a handkerchief that appeared to be pre-war.
“Don’t you worry, Rosie. The police can stop her. She’s only one person. She has to sleep sometime,” Chet put his arm around Rosie protectively. The detective wondered if he knew how futile the gesture was considering who they were dealing with.
“She knows so much about us, Chet. She kept prying and prying for information. She knows where we live. Where we sleep. We only have a few good years left. I can’t spend them sleeping with one eye open, wondering if Alissa and her cat-companion is peering in the window.”

“We’ll do everything we can,” said the detective, signing the police report, knowing a restraining order would do little to stop someone like this. If anything, it might anger her more.
Chet says, "No thanks, little missy!"
As if Chet were reading his mind, he jumped up from his chair, nearly causing Rosie to tumble out of hers. “You know a little piece of paper won’t stop that monster.” He beat his frail old man fists on the detective’s desk. “What are you going to do about this, detective? I didn’t tear my way through Europe, dodging Krauts and The Clap to go down like this, dammit!” 
“Sir, I’m going to need you to calm down.”
“You calm down, son. You calm down!” Chet began to run wildly through the precinct, flipping desks with the strength of a much younger man.

In the end, it took several tranq darts and a 5150 to slow Chet down, the thought of losing his dear Rosie to a deranged stalker was enough to send him over the edge. The detective never saw the elderly couple again. This wasn’t uncommon in his line of work. People come and go. And yet, he always wondered, did Alissa ever catch her prey?