Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘women’ Category

Mother is a Verb

In creativity, women on May 11, 2018 at 7:09 am

These are some women I have never met (yet!) but I honor and thank them for calling forth something good and worthwhile in the world and in me personally.

terry_gross_1000x894Terry Gross has hosted NPR’s Fresh Air since 1975 interviewing thousands of guests, from scientists to celebrities. She can and does talk to anybody and asks them things I’d like to ask too as well as things that make me cringe (but I still want to hear the answer). Just this week she has interviewed an actress, a NY Times reporter, two filmmaking brothers, and a chef. She’s our generations Studs Terkel.

Maria Popova writes the wonderfully wide-ranging blog, BrainPickings, a kind of Whole Earth Literary Catalog. Born in Bulgaria a mere 33 years ago, she calls herself a hunter-gatherer of “interestingness,” and curious mind at large. Others call her writings “an inventory of a meaningful life.” I can’t read anything she writes without ordering something from the library. A towering source of thoughtful wisdom.

Twyla Tharp is an innovative dancer and choreographer who wrote my favorite book on creativity, The Creative Habit. She has choreographed dances, movies, ballets, TV specials, Broadway shows and figure skating routines and won a Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President’s Award, the National Medal of the Arts, the Jerome Robbins Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. Her dances are quirky and accessible even to a lowbrow like me.

When writer Sue Grafton died earlier this year, I mourned her by grieving the loss of her alphabet mysteries and their protagonist, Kinsey Milhone. I love the story of how she started writing mysteries after a bitter divorce when she found herself fantasizing of ways to kill her ex. Been there. How is that for an origin story? Kinsey was in many ways the mother of all female detectives. I’m now working my way through the alphabet A is for Alibi through Y is for Yesterday for the fourth time. I can’t think of a better tribute to an author.


Spiritual Mothers

In Church, creativity, Learning, spirituality, women on May 9, 2018 at 10:01 am

I don’t observe Mother’s Day and not only because I am not a mother and don’t have one. If you want to know why read Anne Lamott’s piece on Why I Hate Mother’s Day. So for the next few days, I will be acknowledging and celebrating several women who have helped me grow into the woman I am for better or worse.
Today I start by thanking the women who have helped my spiritual life. By the way, although I am calling them my spiritual mothers, every one is younger than I am.

Rev. Dr. Betty Jo Bradford—my first pastor. I was delighted to find a church with a woman pastor, and in many ways, she was a perfect fit for me. She welcomed all my questions and invited more, taught me many lessons, and opened my eyes to the fact that church is a volunteer organization. As a minister, her “thing” was teaching while mine has always been learning.

Rev. Kerry Greenhill—a beautiful, creative mind, she showed me that worship comes in many forms. One of my favorite pieces she wrote was a spoken word chorus several of us performed one Mother’s Day. Always a quiet and calming presence, she writes, sings, composes music, makes crafts and shares her creativity without fanfare. She also introduced me to Facebook and Pinterest, which she may now regret.

Pastor Ashley Hawkins—a young rebel and nonconformist and a member of the United Methodist Queer Clergy caucus, she shows her love of God by toiling through good times and bad with a luminous smile. She regularly makes me laugh and that’s always a good thing.

Rev. Mariah Hayden—Like Kerry, Mariah came to my church while still a student at Iliff School of Theology. A tireless crusader for social justice, she taught me that church means being in community with others and that serving God can be done in the pulpit, the front office, or even an urban farm.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

In Books, Friends, women on April 17, 2018 at 7:43 am









Eleanor Oliphant reminds me of the guy in The Rosie Project except she isn’t on the autism spectrum. Her controlled and awkward life is a result of horrific childhood trauma, and although early hints in the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, tell us a little about it, author Gail Honeyman makes us wait for the ending before revealing the whole scope of hideous details.
Eleanor’s life is disciplined and contained. She is unrelenting in her logical, reasonable responses to life and all the people she meets. Her only friend is the vodka that gets her through her solitary weekends. Then she meets Raymond, the IT guy at work, and when they begin to form a tentative friendship, Eleanor’s world opens up.
While she focuses on meeting the man of her dreams, a musician she saw perform one night, her life begins to change. She buys new, fashionable clothing and tries makeup to distract from the burn scar on her face. She accepts a promotion at work, attends a few parties, and makes more friends.
Suddenly her life cracks open and she has to confront all her demons at once. Through it all, Eleanor learns about friendship and the strength of the human spirit.
This is one of those books that I read slowly because I didn’t want it to end. Eleanor is smart, unintentionally funny, and brave. I want to be her friend.
My only disappointment was learning that this is the author’s debut novel. Normally when I really like a book, I will look for other titles by the same author. Picture me pouting. I guess I’ll have to wait for her to write another one.
Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon is turning this book into a movie. It goes without saying that it won’t be as good as the book, but it could still be wonderful. I’ll expect nothing less.

Lighten Up

In Church, creativity, Learning, Lent, spirituality, women on February 20, 2018 at 9:00 am

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen wrote it, and it’s my favorite song lyric of all time. I’ve been broken in so many places and so many ways over my lifetime that I must be stuffed full of light by now.
That makes me wonder how the light gets out. How do we share our light with the world?
The Gospel of Matthew (5:15) says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.” But that is, in fact, what we do. We hide our talents out of fear of squandering them or being ridiculed or, worse, ignored. The world can be cruel. Sometimes we send out a little glowing gem and people swat it away.
Inevitably, though some of our light leaks out of those cracks. We pick up the pieces and move on creating a life from the brokenness.
We wail and moan and, if we’re wise, make something beautiful out of the destruction, sometimes more successfully than others.
Last May, a massive hailstorm smashed some of my church’s cherished stained-glass windows. Our pastor picked up the shards and gave them to Sue, a gifted artist and craftswoman in our congregation. From those fragments, she made the glorious mosaic cross pictured above.
The British would call it brilliant, and it is, but not in the annoying sense they tend to call anything they like brilliant. It is brilliant because it is shining and full of light. It showcases light inside that Sue shares with the world through her artwork and serves as an inspiration to the rest of us.
It reminds us that art is a way of life. We can use whatever blows our way to create something good and share it with the world. Even if the world doesn’t appreciate it, it’s always smart to put more light into the universe.
If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.

Boo to You

In Arvada, neighborhood, women on October 31, 2017 at 4:08 pm

I’m not a fan of Halloween and I don’t know when (or understand why) it became a holiday for adults. By the way, it’s not a holiday, as I had to continually explain to my students who complained about having to go to class on Halloween. “Did you have to work today?” I’d ask. They’d mutter a “Yes,” and I’d repeat, “See? It’s not a holiday.” Boo hoo.

I liked working on Halloween because it got me out of the house and away from trick-or-treaters. It’s really a terrible night for anyone who lives alone. The young ones always came first, just when I was trying to make dinner. The little kids are cute, although having no contact with current tot culture, I rarely recognized the costumes even if they weren’t hidden under coats for our traditional freezing weather. Looks like tonight will be cold, but not freezing.

Anyway, I had to wonder about the parents who brought their tiny babies dressed as pumpkins to my door for candy. Was I really supposed to believe that Snickers was for the four-month-old?

Later came the older kids, usually boys in packs looking sinister no matter what their costumes and wanting handfuls of treats. A little frightening for a woman alone, so I was happy to be gone that night.

Now I live in a security building with no or almost no kids, so I don’t have to deal with any of those things. I bought one bag of Snickers for myself and put it in the freezer so I wouldn’t eat it fast. My favorite part of Halloween, however, is candy corn. Save your scorn; I LOVE candy corn and allow myself to indulge in a bag or two (who’s counting?) every year at this time.

Other than that, the closest I come to celebrating this day is having a cat named after Boo Radley.

Me, Too

In Learning, women on October 17, 2017 at 6:47 am

Women and some men have been posting “Me, too” on Facebook and Twitter to indicate that they have experienced sexual abuse or harassment. Some men have expressed dismay or shock to see how many of their women friends share this status. Frankly, I’m surprised that any women exist who haven’t had to put up with some form of discrimination based on their gender.
As I posted “me, too,” I was thinking about two specific if relatively mild incidents.
When I was about 15 we visited my relatives in Des Moines. It must have been fall because my cousin and I went on a hayride and I remember wearing blue wool capris. A boy sitting behind me kept reaching around me to rub my crotch. No matter how many times I removed his hand and told him to Stop it! he kept it up. Nobody else said or did anything in my defense.
Maybe ten years later, I parked at the old North Valley shopping center and sat in my car with the window open for a few minutes listening to a piece on the radio and waiting for the store to open. A young man approached me from behind, reached in the window, squeezed my breast, and casually walked off. I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to do and so did nothing except roll up my window and fume. Who did he think he was that he could do that to me? Well, the answer is that he was anyone at all.
Unwanted touching or suggestive comments from male colleagues and acquaintances as well as catcalls on the street were common annoyances. They were so culturally acceptable that they didn’t make it into my long-term memory.
Luckily, I’ve never been raped or physically hurt by a man. Yet. Even as I approach my 70th birthday I know it could still happen anytime.
My gratitude goes to the men (MOST men) who don’t do these things to women and to the mothers and fathers who raise their sons to respect girls. You are changing the world.

Tiny Dancer

In Denver, Learning, women, work on October 16, 2017 at 10:11 am


Yesterday, I met a new waitress at Carl’s named Sam. A petite redheaded twenty-something, she wore an over-sized Bronco shirt with her long hair pulled back into a low ponytail.

Carl’s is a North Denver institution serving pizza and Italian meals for over 60 years. It’s a friendly, authentic neighborhood kind of place. Almost everybody knows John, the owner/cook and customers frequently know one another. Even if they don’t they chat across the booths like it’s a big family meal. The original space contains six red vinyl booths lined up three by three under pictures of Frank Sinatra and Rocky Marciano, plus three two-seater booths by the door. I sit by the window where I can see everything going on. As I watched Sam work, it occurred to me that some people are made for their jobs.

Waitressing is hard work.

You’re on your feet all day, dealing with sometimes crabby customers and men with roving hands all while continuing to smile. Sam juggled her multiple tasks with grace and good nature.

That day most of the six original red booths were full and a few tables in the back as well. Destiny acted as cashier and took orders over the phone. It was busier than usual with fewer takeout orders at noon, probably because the Bronco game didn’t start until that night.

A Denver police Sergeant came in, and Destiny said, “I swear it wasn’t me, Officer,” to which he replied smiling, “yeah, I seem to have that effect on people.”

Two elderly men at another table chatted with him about playing bocce ball while Sam went about her business, seating people, taking orders and delivering orders, delivering and refilling drinks, wiping down tables, supplying placemats, napkins and silverware, writing and figuring tickets, all while continuing to smile and make small talk with the customers, calling everyone Luv.

When they had a few free minutes, Sam and Destiny folded towers of pizza boxes for the rush sure to come later during the game.

Watching someone who’s good at her job and seems to enjoy it is like watching an accomplished dancer performing intricate choreography and making it look easy.

I’m giving Sam this week’s Tiny Dancer award.

And, of course, a good tip.

High Wire Act

In Learning, Prejudice, women on August 23, 2017 at 6:11 am

When I moved from my house to my condo, I got rid of a lot of stuff. My brother, bless him, helped by taking carloads of boxes and bags to charity. When it came to larger pieces, like a solid oak desk, he questioned why I would just give it away when I could easily sell it on Craigslist.
“I’m a woman living alone,” I explained. “I can’t have strangers coming to my house.”
It’s something most women would instinctively understand and most men would never consider.
Women do dozens of things to stay safe that would never occur to men. We don’t walk or run in the dark or enter an elevator with a single male occupant or open the door to someone we aren’t expecting or leave a drink unattended. We stay aware of our surroundings, avoid eye contact, carry pepper spray, and park near lightposts.
Still, women face danger every day, frequently from the men who supposedly love them.
Think about this: The number of women (11,766) killed in “domestic violence homicides between 9/11 and 2012 exceeds the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the ‘war on terror.’” That’s from Rebecca Solnit’s grim 2014 book, Men Explain Things to Me. She presents evidence that the biggest predictor of violence is gender.
Men commit 90% of all murders.
“Women worldwide ages 15-44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.”
Spousal murder is one of the main causes of death for pregnant women in the U.S.
“We have more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year.”
She points out that “kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy.” Most men are nonviolent, caring people.
That doesn’t change the fact that being female can be risky business. We walk a tightrope that requires constant vigilance. All it takes is one misstep, one momentary lapse of judgment.

Not That Kind of Woman

In Church, Learning, women on August 10, 2017 at 6:33 am

Biblical womanhood is not for me.
Let’s just start there. First, women in the bible pretty much have to be married. Been there. Done that. As God is my witness, that won’t happen again.
As an unmarried woman, I would probably have to move in with my brother, who is way too smart to allow that. If necessary, he would take me in, I think, but with some justifiable reluctance. I can be a handful. I’m opinionated, outspoken, and hypercritical, and I really don’t like being around other people very much. Plus, I have a temper and a cat, and he’s allergic to both.
As I write this, I am halfway through A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. Like A. J. Jacobs in The Year of Living Biblically, Evans set out to spend a year living as the Bible instructs women to live. She combed the Bible looking for every passage related to women’s behavior. Not surprisingly, she found some paradoxes and contradictions.
“So what I have found is that any time you think you have found a sort of blueprint or standard for biblical womanhood, a woman in scripture comes along and is praised for breaking it.” Hmmm. I could probably go for that “breaking it” business.
She decided to focus on a different virtue each month—gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace. She also developed a “Biblical Woman’s Ten Commandments,” but she lost me on the first one, “thou shalt submit to thy husband’s will in all things.” If you’ve ever wondered why I’m not married, that would pretty much sum it up.
Much of the book referred to the Proverbs 31 woman, a person I had never heard of, but who seems to embody the ideal Biblical woman for many evangelical Christians. Evans quickly discovered that the verses “perpetuating a three-thousand-year-old inferiority complex” among Christian women are used by Jewish husbands to honor their wives. So there are two sides to that story.
Some other things I refuse to do: grow my hair, wear skirts, cover my head, and keep my mouth shut in church (or anywhere else).
I will, however, dress modestly, bake bread, and praise women of valor, especially that last one.
Evans concluded that “the Bible does not present us with a single model for womanhood.” As the saying goes, “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” including those in the Bible.
Thank God for that.