Delight

Yesterday I invited a bunch of my closest friends, and a bunch of people I want to get to know better, to have dinner at my house. Everybody was to bring a craft and something to feed people. It went extremely well and I am thoroughly pleased, and one of my friends’ crafts of choice is craft cocktails, so I am also a tiny bit hungover. I’m doing a latte to it. (This is going to be a short post; I’m on my weekly writing date, and I’m going to go write something that requires a great deal less focus when I’m done with this.)

Anyway, for a pretty big chunk of yesterday, all was right with the world. My house smelled like delicious food that I and other people had made; there were no fewer than three kinds of baked good, and a variety of savory snacks and dips; libations were provided by most comers and by the cocktail-making friend (do you know about the Manhattan? I have learned, and it is good); and everywhere loads of the people I like best were speaking to each other, laughing or teaching each other things or just talking about whatever they were working on.

This morning, my mom (who is my best friend) said that she was proud of me. “Why?” I said.

“You took a chance,” she said, “and look what happened.”

She’s right; I, generally horrified by the thought of having lots of people in my personal space, invited about thirty of them to come over and eat food I made all by myself and hang out for a relatively unrestricted amount of time. And in exchange, my home was filled with delight that I will be able to carry with me for weeks – maybe all the way to the next crafty dinner party night, which will surely happen. What an easy trade-off. What a gift. Thanks, my friends.

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Clinic Escorting in Baton Rouge

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The Delta Women’s Clinic of Baton Rouge is one of three remaining abortion providers in the state of Louisiana. The parking lot is small, with room for  twenty to thirty patients’ cars, and is regularly full by the time the clinic allows patients to begin to check in. It is surrounded by other businesses whose attention it tries to avoid; empty parking lots, which patients are not permitted to use; and a steady group of screaming protesters. On days when procedures are actually performed, it is also attended by two to four people in bright pink vests: clinic escorts, who shepherd patients and their companions to and from their cars while men and women purporting to represent Christ preach to them about the horrible fate to which all those who enter the Delta Clinic fall prey.

Clinic escorting in Baton Rouge is managed by the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), as it has been since the late eighties. Then, violence was more of a promise than a threat; bombs were planted, blockades enacted, and so on, and so forth. Depending on the perceived threat level, patients today still must sometimes leave their purses in their cars to avoid the risk of bombs or weapons. Phones are sometimes banned, too, to prevent protesters from pretending to be patients so they can get in the door and film the inside of the waiting room.

Delta is next to the Women’s New Life Center, one of several “women’s health clinics” that show up next to places like Delta and claim to offer similar services. The protesters often stand in the servitude between them to advertise for it and to get as close to patients’ cars as possible. They often use the “no purse or phones” policy to get patients to come to the other side: “They don’t trust you,” one often says. “We trust you. You can bring your purse and your phone into here.” Clinics like Women’s New Life Center are known in activist circles for spreading false information, such as the Louisiana state-government-approved medical myth that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer, and even for falsely telling women they aren’t pregnant so it will be too late for them to have an abortion when they learn the truth.

The protesters, known to clinic escorts as “antis,” are not allowed to block the driveway, but they approach each car as it enters. This forces the driver to slow down to avoid hitting them and provides an opportunity for the antis to shove pamphlets in the window and force a conversation. Antis are both male and female; male protesters tend to run heavy on themes of punishment and sin, saying that God will no longer love them, that Delta is a “death camp,” that Satan has possessed the escorts and will “get” the patients if they make their appointment. The women are gentler, focusing on love and acceptance, offering hugs and a myriad of alternative options. They highlight the virtues of adoption and the foster care system. With nearly 5,000 children in Louisiana state care and nearly 700 waiting for available adoptive families, there are few practical solutions on how to keep an unwanted child fed, housed, and educated when it is born. One anti in particular chants, “I’ll adopt your baby, support you through the pregnancy.” She brings a crowd of blonde, blue-eyed children with her and encourages them to scream, “Let the babies live,” at the waiting room windows.

Antis will sometimes target the patient’s companion, if she has one, and insist that they protect the patient from her choice, because she will hate them if they do not. A few of them like to yell short, context-free Bible verses, and to alternate between damning clinic escorts and patients to hell, and cajoling everyone into obeying a loving God. Occasionally one shows up with a sign that shows a (false) image of an aborted fetus on one side, and on the other asks whether an infant deserves to be murdered because it was created by rape. One cannot help but wonder exactly which of the protesters’ actions are meant to show love.

All of this is difficult to listen to, not only because the language is insulting and often factually inaccurate – the noise alone raises concerns. The Delta Clinic has always been controversial. It is difficult for them to maintain a lease; neighboring businesses complain either about the work they do or about the protest and accompanying noise pollution that gathers around them, for which Delta is blamed. Increasingly restrictive legislation on what a clinic must feature to be allowed to perform abortions pushed Delta out of several locations, and at one point just last year forced a temporary shutdown. The clinicians kept counseling appointments and referred patients to the Women’s Health Clinic in New Orleans until they were able to meet new requirements.

So why do it? Why stand outside for hours, in all kinds of weather, and listen to people make up all kinds of vicious remarks about me? As a clinic escort, I am there to try to block some of this from a person who is scared, and hurting, and in need of help. Above all, I am trained not to escalate and to keep the patients or their companions from escalating as much as possible. Patients and the people who come with them do not expect (and certainly do not deserve) the constant abuse. Every single one is surprised that people are actually there shouting at them before they can even get out of their car. The protesters might use almost anything as an excuse to call the police or a state senator and get Delta shut down again.

Clinic escorts do not all believe that abortion could ever be the right choice for them – but that does not make it a wrong choice for someone else. Some of the clinic escorts were teen mothers, or single parents, or were pregnant and desperately did not want to be. All of them simply want to ensure that the choice that they made, whatever it was, remains available to other women like them, whatever their circumstances. All of them want to help the people who have made this decision follow it through free from fear or intimidation. If someone decides in the parking lot that this is not what they want, they are free to visit the center just on the other side of the servitude. Clinic escorts are there to help support the legally protected right to choose.

Patients come from three states to access the services that Delta Clinic provides. The protesters never leave; they are there before the clinic escorts arrive in the morning and stay at least as long as the procedures last, so they can again accost the patients as they get in their cars to go home. The clinic escorts, all of whom are unpaid volunteers, stay until the last appointment time has begun, at midmorning. The protesters have time, money, and a predominantly “Christian” and Republican legislature on their side; the police of Baton Rouge are their friends. The clinic escorts, like the clinic’s patients, for the most part have none of those resources. It is like trying to build a bridge out of matchsticks. People in need, no matter what they need, deserve better.

Women’s March New Orleans

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The rough count for the Women’s March in New Orleans was 10,000 people. Hundreds of thousands marched in Chicago, in New York, in LA; probably millions, in total.

In 2017, I marched with my girlfriend and some of my friends from work. This year, the same people were friends from my regular life. We’ve worked on extracurricular projects. We’ve attended documentary screenings together. We’ve resisted, together and separately, in the ways we felt we could. We’ve been angry, and sad, and hopeful together. Twelve tumultuous months have brought these friends into my life, and I am grateful.

Being surrounded by thousands of people who care about the same thing you do, who are angry and sad in the same way you often are, is an incredibly powerful feeling. Those of us who had signs held them high; slogans ranged from what must have been left over from a Hillary Clinton campaign rally to pretty much everything else you can think of. Everyone has their favorite causes. But we all came out.

Though of course marching alone is not enough. In Louisiana, almost anything is an excuse to make a lot of noise and go for a decorative walk through the city. We’re already gearing up for Mardi Gras, which is basically a march in support of the right to celebrate in the dead of winter. A march is a powerful symbol, an opportunity to stand up and be counted, to voice opposition – but I will try to paraphrase Angela Adkins, one of the first speakers at the end of the march: The march can be the first day of your efforts, but it must not be the last. If all 10,000 people gave two hours of their time a week to an organization in their community – if we could generate 20,000 hours of volunteer time a week – we could change the world.

If Louisiana, a red Southern state with one of the highest conservative populations by percentage in the union, can organize a march with 10,000 attendees, what else could we do? If we worked for what we love every day, what could we do?

Last year, I started volunteering as a clinic escort. I attended a few meetings, but eventually let it fall by the wayside, because life is complicated and eventful. This year, I’m not going to give up.

I can’t be quiet. I’ll see you at the march next year.

Horrible Foods I Have Made

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I have a long and quite poorly illustrated* history of completely failing to make edible food. It runs the gamut from no-bake cheesecake that was indeed not baked, and also failed to be anything like cheesecake; to a quite unappetizing stew that was born from a fried rice recipe; to more than a few sets of ingredients that came out of a bread machine almost the same way they went into it. I have learned from these experiments that the human body is basically a garbage disposal and will use as fuel almost anything you put into it.

A friend and I once made a lime-and-chocolate-chip sheet cake that was burnt on the edges and soup in the middle. It took us upwards of four hours. We eventually gave up and scooped off the parts that most closely resembled cake, but in the morning, we found they’d crumbled under their own weight. (I still brought a couple of spoonfuls to lunch that Monday. A high schooler would have done worse for the excuse to eat chocolate in the middle of the day.)

I once decided that I would make something kind of like beef stroganoff, except with chicken instead of beef and rice instead of noodles and a genuinely massive quantity of garlic instead of mushrooms** and so nothing like beef stroganoff at all. The first step to all of this, as you might expect, was to boil chicken bones for about six hours. While that was happening, I started to saute the rice with the onions and garlic. This traditionally takes about five minutes. The broth had about four hours to go. I looked at the rice. The rice looked worried. I looked at the pot of bones and water; it looked smug. I quickly heated up a reasonable amount of water in an electric kettle, thinking the rice, at least, could be salvaged. And it was! I went for a victorious lie-down.

After a reasonable amount of time, I added the freshly-made broth and all the (cooked) chicken in to the rice. It turned into soup. I hate soup. I turned the fire back up and started adding little bits of flour, trying to thicken it. The rice was pretty confused by this. The chicken was also not thrilled. I turned up the heat, whistling nervously. The soup began to boil. (It still looked smug.) I stirred and stirred and stirred, the way you do, I thought, with gravy. My arm got tired. I gave up and ate it. It tasted like regret. It also tasted of lime, lime being what I add to things when I am just kind of hoping something will help. To this day I have not had scurvy even once.

In one of my early adventures in vegetarianism, I tried to make red beans and rice out of whatever I had in the house and no meat. Luckily, this included, to begin with, a can of red beans.

Now, if you are reading this as a person who has never been to Louisiana or the southern states and so has never had red beans and rice, you may think that sounds like pretty much all you need. There is little I can do to dissuade you. I can only explain to my geographical compatriots that when I say a can of red beans, I do not mean Blue Runner. I mean a $0.97 can of dark red kidney beans from something like a Wal*Mart or a Matherne’s. I mean that I to this day don’t totally know how to make beans and rice so it’s not mostly just rice with texture. I mean, essentially, that I tried to stretch a can of kidney beans to cover probably three cups of cooked rice, that I have just remembered it was not even rice but was in fact grits, good lord! – and the only other food I had in the house was a half a jar of salsa. I offered some of this no-matter-what-else 100% edible food to my roommate. She kindly abstained.

I don’t know if it will help or not to tell you, gentle reader, that I cook only when I am inspired to, that I have been lucky enough to maintain steady employment or school-related funding and relatively low rent since I officially moved out of my mother’s house at 19, and, by dint of living in what passes for an urban environment, that I have rarely been too far from a drive-through to, well, drive through it. In general, I find the combination of time and attention to detail that is cooking pretty boring. What I am getting at is that for the first (mumbles) years of learning how to feed myself on something other than takeout, I was usually two or three glasses of wine in by the time the food was no longer dangerous to put in my mouth, at which point I would promptly eat it. A certain amount of tipsy creativity and tipsier impatience frequently combined for a delightfully experimental style that one could say shows a certain amount of vision. One should, perhaps, not say that, or should say that the kind of vision it shows is the kind you get by looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. But I am someone and I am going to say it. I have vision.

Don’t be fooled by whatever kind of false modesty it is where you baldly confess your utter inadequacy – I, sober, am not a terrible cook (and I am more frequently sober than in days past). If I have a recipe, I can certainly follow it. I would even serve what happens at the end to a relative. Maybe not a friend, because those don’t have to see you at whatever religious holidays the collective has agreed to celebrate. But definitely to someone whose shared DNA means they can’t leave me behind on a desert island when rescue finally comes.

You’re all invited. Who wants dinner?
_____________________

*One does not put one’s failures on Instagram.

**Mushrooms are one of several of my nemeses.

HELLO, WORLD

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, and good night,* internet! Welcome to this, one human’s internet home for the last many of years.

“There are no other posts here,” you may say. “If you’ve been living here that long, why have you nothing to show for it?” I’ve moved everything that was here into “Drafts” so no one else can see it, that’s why. It’s like a reboot. It’s like my life is a comic book franchise. Think of me as Spider-Man: a totally new person every two to five years. Younger and with better jokes every time I appear. Quippy. Athletic. Absolutely necessary for the reasonably smooth function of the Avengers, or at least I assume that’s why he keeps showing up in related media. Oh my god, is Spider-Man my favorite superhero?

(No.)

That said: welcome to this! Surely it is a thing that is happening again. Now that no one can see the posts that used to be here, I can mine them for future content! It’s all an elaborate and well-contrived plan, as opposed to one that I thought up completely at random when another friend who wants to do more writing invited me to start a writing group with her (thanks, friend!).

“Why is it called the Bathtub Diaries?” You sure are inquisitive, narrative device I made up! It’s because once a hurricane knocked the power out for three full weeks in mid-September, which in Louisiana is basically like a sudden and inescapable introduction to the idea that hell might be real and you might be there after all, and during that time I often slept in the bathtub because it was the coldest place in the house. I have long had an affinity for bathtubs as places to hang out fully-dressed while reading or writing or watching TV on a laptop.

“How many times did you turn the water on yourself while you slept?” Ha ha, you! (Once.)

“So, what is this? What is it for?” In this internet place, you will find a lot of me talking to myself! People sometimes call this “personal essays.” Sometimes I will talk about food. I will probably talk a great deal more about books and media. I may frequently have thoughts about the United States government, because I’m one of the people who live here. Some of it will be moderately funny, because I am moderately funny!

If you know me in real life, you may get more out of this than if you are a random stranger! However, if you know me in real life and don’t want to read this, please feel free not to, and to never speak to me about it.

I will probably make a mildly obnoxious effort to cite quotes and/or facts used as supporting evidence, because in my opinion people don’t do that enough. Here, have a mildly unnecessary footnote:

*The Truman Show by way of YouTube’s own iisuperwomanii.

Stick around! Or don’t. I’ll be here either way!

“Good luck, I guess.” Thanks, narrative device!