White Genealogy, Black Genealogy

The image in the header is an Ellis Island passenger record. On lines 55-60 are the names of my ancestors who immigrated to the United States from Glasgow, Scotland on November 10, 1884.

I found this a few months ago when I was trying to put some family tree puzzle pieces together with my mom. I found it so strange that here I was, living in Scotland, wondering how and why this family made their way to What Cheer, Iowa. I had goosebumps thinking about how if they hadn’t boarded that ship, I wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t be here, where they were.

When my mom came to visit me in Scotland, we found the church where her grandmother’s grandparents were married and a flat where they’d lived. We went on to the Netherlands where I took a photo of her beaming next to the township sign for ‘Roekel’, where her Dutch side of the family came from. We bought my dad an Ancestry.com DNA test for his birthday this year. Both of them have been into genealogy and tracing family history since I was little.

In conversation, I’ve had many Scottish and Irish people bring up and have a laugh at Americans’ obsession with their Irish/Scottish heritage. I’ve had Uber drivers tell me how crazy Americans are for coming here and having them drive around to cemeteries looking for old relatives’ headstones. I grew up in a town that clings so hard to it’s Dutch heritage that it has an annual Tulip festival, a canal, the largest working windmill in the US, and a Wal-Mart with a ‘Dutch front’ so that it matches the rest of the town’s architecture. Americans love to trace their ancestors’ journey and map out their global origins. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that DNA tests have become all the rage.

What is it about wanting to know your family history? Why do people spend so much time and money on documenting their family trees? I won’t try to psychoanalyze this, but there must be some reason humans desire to know where they came from. It must help inform their identity? Or a sense of belonging? I’ll even admit to this. As I’ve gotten older, as my own body has brought a curious new life into the world, I’ve come to appreciate it more. Maybe there’s a desire to look back when you’re in the process of bringing forth.

Isn’t it fascinating how in this way, we will so easily acknowledge that we are a country of immigrants? Yet, so many Americans have anti-immigrant sentiments. My European friends will tell me that America doesn’t have a history. That we’ve culturally appropriated every damn thing from hot dogs to Halloween costumes. But America does have a history and we are seeing the repercussions of it right now.

A few days after I found this Ellis Island record, I was listening to The Moth Story Hour.  Trina Robinson, an African American woman, told her own story of going down the genealogy rabbit hole. Only hers isn’t one of looking at census records or immigration documents. There were no Middle Passage passenger lists.

She looks at Property records. Bills of Sale. Estate records. Listed just below the cattle, china and piano she finds the sectioned labelled ‘Negroes’:

David $300

Martha $1000

Her ancestors were two of 14 on the list. They had a monetary value. Their births, deaths, names and residencies belonged to white families. Trina goes on to tell the story about visiting the estate in Kentucky where David and Martha worked as slaves. There was a private family cemetery on the property. She walks by 20-30 graves with beautiful marble headstones. Then her guide points over to the field markers. Stones, embedded in the ground to mark where the slaves were buried. Her family.

Trina may have found this information, but for many African Americans, there is no record of their ancestors on this side of the ocean. There is no record of their ancestors on the other side of the ocean. And yet they existed. And by the time my European ancestors had made it to Ellis Island, more than 3 times as many Africans had boarded ships to the Americas— an astounding fact that underscores the significance of African contributions to life and culture in the early Americas.

Adding to the complexity of being a Black person trying to track your ancestral lineage is the fact that most enslaved people experienced sales and separations 4-5 times in their lifetime. This means they were separated from their families more often than not. Historians have found documentation evidencing that hundreds of children under 10 went up for sale. Even one record showing a 3-day old infant was sold without its parents.

What does it do to a people if you rob them of their family, their history, and their family history? What does it do to a people if they can’t hold photographs or visit marble headstones? A DNA test will only help them locate which country Europeans stole their ancestors from.

America does have a history. It is a history of violence against black bodies. It is one of looting Native American land. It is one of serving and protecting white feelings and white power by all means necessary. To give you some perspective, in 91 years Black Americans will finally be “free” (I say “free” because slavery may have been abolished in 1865 but racial segregation laws lasted until the 1950s/60s) for as long as they were enslaved in this country. I’ll be dead by then. You will, too.

Derecka Purnell, a social movement lawyer and US Guardian columnist wrote, “I do not search for my African name, but rather the names of Africans who led revolts against empires and colonizers. More than our DNA, people of African descent share a political struggle intimately connected to all oppressed people in the world. Due to current conditions of economic oppression, most black Americans will never see the continent. But studying our political roots is the key to securing a better future where we can be truly free.”

Until now, it had never crossed my mind that something as simple as being able to log on to ancestry.com or dig through boxes of old family ephemera is my white privilege. But it is.

None of us can change what is already written in history. I cannot erase America’s abusive history toward Black people. But you bet I will validate and defend centuries upon centuries of anger, fear, sadness, grief, pain, and rage from the Black community. Who am I to tell Black people how to feel, protest, or mourn what is beyond my understanding? I will choose to UNlearn the false narratives and biases that I’ve absorbed growing up in a white-washed society. I will continue to work on confronting white privilege and dismantling racism wherever I find it (even in myself). I’ll mess up and I’ll keep trying. I hope you will, too.

Until Black people have justice in every facet that white supremacy oppresses (housing discrimination, voter suppression, the preschool to prison pipeline, police brutality, disproportionate rates of maternal mortality, disproportionate prison sentences, and on and on), we must continue to show up in solidarity and fight the political struggle. We must amplify Black voices and never stop trying to secure a better future for the lives that have been robbed.

Most of our ancestors came here willingly to the ‘land of opportunity’. But Africans were forced here against their will. The least we can do by now is let them breathe in deep the economic benefit and capitalist opportunities that we have to thank their ancestors for. America is, after all, an economic superpower in large part to the productivity and profitability of chained feet in cotton fields.


Happy birthday to my sweet Milo, who has always been, and continues to be, a terrible sleeper.

This morning, before the dawn of his 2nd birthday, he came and woke me up at 4:30 a.m. by shouting “Mommy! Orange.” and he never went back to sleep. So there we sat on the couch eating oranges at 5:40 a.m.

He is the busiest guy I know; into everything, always moving, constantly onto the next thing, and usually blabbering away. His curious, playful energy is wearing but brings me a lot of joy. This year he earned the nickname ‘mooch’ because he is always mooching our food and is an avid smoocher.

Year two was FULL. I wanted to write down a few things to remember about it:

He learned to walk, hug, kiss, jump in puddles, use a spoon, high-five, snap his fingers, sweep the floor, stick his tongue out, say quite a few words, blow dandelion leaves, and probably lots of other things I’m forgetting.

He traipsed around Berlin in buggy and on bike, visiting alllll the playgrounds, discovering a love for soft pretzels, and excitedly practising animal noises at the zoo.

He saw his Aunt Madison get engaged on the Isle of Skye and married in South Carolina.

He and Nell threw rocks into rivers, dug in the mud for treasure, and frolicked through forests in the Highlands.

Got his first haircut in Croatia from his Nana.

Attended two weddings in kilt attire.

Splashed in fountains and rode a carousel in Florence, ate gelato and ran around naked in Lucca, and had his first dip in the sea at the Marina di Grosetto.

Spent one night in the A&E for accidentally ingesting peppermint oil and 5 other nights for virus-induced wheeze. As a result, he was also given his first inhaler.

At the moment:

He asks for a snack 5,200 times per day, specifically apples or oranges.

Pronounces “milk” with a very thick, German accent.

Loves Peppa Pig (what is it about Peppa Pig?) and Elmo.

Enjoys feeding the ducks at Holyrood Park and walking up to every door we pass to just give it a little touch.

Gets excited about buses, ambulances, fire engines, and airplanes.

And is a big fan of bathtime now that he’s gotten over his fear of bubbles.

I am the luckiest.



Saying Yes to the Mess: a letter to my son

You have been around for seven months and this is the first time I am getting around to writing in your baby book because, well, new beginnings are hard.

Filling out this baby book is particularly hard because it wants a nice, tidy storyline. You know, the kind that can easily be penned on ‘fill-in-the-blank’ lines from prewritten prompts such as:

“When your parents first met, we_____”

“We knew we were ready for you when_____”

“When we found we were expecting you, we celebrated by_____”

Look, I can’t answer these questions. Our life doesn’t follow this script. There are not enough lines in this whole book to do your beginning justice. After staring blankly at the first page for several minutes, I got flustered and ripped it out. In its place, I’ll insert this first life lesson for you:

It’s all messy—life, words, love, hair, bed, heart. All of it.

Here’s the thing, baby boy. When your parents first met, we started down a long, hard road to heartbreak. We were never ready for you. You were, quite frankly, a big oops. When we found out we were expecting you, we lied down in a dark room for hours and cried guttural, ugly, “my life is over” cries. This is not exactly the heartwarming sequence of events I would like to recount on the pages of a book decorated with tiny, smiling clouds and animals, but this is how your story starts.

My love, when your life goes off script (not if, when, because at some point it will) and you find yourself playing an unexpected part or trying to navigate an epic plot twist, own it. If there is anything that life and a love for stories has taught me, it is this: the messy, the mistake, the imperfection of the thing…that is what creates the beauty of it.

Someone asked me the other day if I could imagine my life before you. I laughed. “Oh yes, definitely,” I told her. I paused for a moment and then finished, “…but I can’t imagine my life without him now.”

That is the magic of the mess. The tears I shed the night I learned of your impending arrival were real and warranted. My life as I knew it was over and I had every right to grieve it’s sudden, unexpected finale. But the thing that you think will ruin your life is actually what transforms it. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. Saying yes to the unknown, saying yes to the hard thing, even when I’ve had to drag my own feet (or, in this case, grow my own belly) has only ever resulted in various forms of goodness and growth.

Your beginning was complicated and hard, unexpected and initially uncelebrated, but you were an epic plot twist that I owned. You are a change that I still choose to embrace with each new day.

This is the part of the letter where I feel like I should elaborate on all the ways I have become a better person and how you’ve transformed my life and made it so wonderful. Instead, I’m going to admit that I’m still learning and uncovering those things while being very tired, consumed by your spirited energy and trying to take care of both of us.

On really hard days, I remember that the goodness of you, the ways that you grow and cause me to do the same, will only enhance my story. I know that saying yes to you will impact me in ways I cannot yet fathom. I wait with great anticipation to see the beauty of our story, of your story, unfold. I promise to always try and find the magic in the messes you will make.




Photo credit: Ivory House Photography

Hello, Again

The last time I wrote was in July.


Although, not writing since July was a very intentional decision. A surprise pregnancy with my ex-husband who was working half way across the world at the time was too big and life changing for words. It’s overwhelmingness left me unable to focus on anything else, either. So, I stopped with the self-reflection. I just lived with this growing reality (literally).


For me, pregnancy was not a glowy situation. It meant being exhausted, nauseous, and constipated. I had round ligament pains and leg cramps that made me wish I was dead. Because I had a vasa previa (a condition occuring in 1 of every 2,500 pregnancies), I was on partial bedrest for half of it, which only made me feel more gross. I was in the hospital/NICU for 5 weeks, had to give up my drug-free/birth center plan for a c-section, and ended up getting mastitis in both breasts and the flu the week we brought Milo home. I recognize how fortunate I am (because, hey, even worse things could’ve happened), but it was a time full of complications on multiple levels. My support system got me through it. I suppose I should give myself some credit, too. After all, I worked hard these past few years to say yes to hard things, surrender to unknowns, be fierce in the face of change, and expectant of the good that will come. One day, maybe I’ll look back and think life was preparing me for this all along.

But today is not that day. Today, yesterday, tomorrow…these are the days of working a full time job while sleep deprived. Of feeling like your body belongs to everyone but you. Of having 2 hours free and feeling absolutely paralyzed about whether to spend it cleaning the kitchen, grabbing dinner with a friend, finally taking the box of clothes that has been sitting by the door for a month to the consignment store, going to a yoga class, actually writing in the baby book, cutting your fingernails and shaving your legs, working on your side hustle that is one day supposed to be your dream job, or playing with your baby that you don’t see all day (and then second guessing whichever one you chose to do). Yes, these are the days of feeling like a shitty friend because you always forget to call or text back. Of falling asleep at 8 pm on a Friday night with a bag of m&ms and spit up in your hair. These are the days you don’t know what is happening. You just live with this growing reality (literally).

Any time I go to my phone or computer seeking insight on how to achieve some sort of balance for ‘these days’, I am overwhelmed. The mommy blogs, podcasts, forums, Facebook groups. AH! There is too much information available for the infinite number of ways there is to do everything related to raising a person. Additionally, it seems like I always see a raw, relatable essay on the messiness of newborn life coupled with a perfectly curated Instagram feed or I’m supposed to follow someone’s post partum workout journey with their portion controlled containers to “get my body back” but also be super feminist and body-positive about the changes I just went through. I don’t have a point to make here other than it’s annoying.

I don’t understand how having a child changes everything, except that it does. I have this inner resistence to the lack of control I have over this change. In some ways, I had just gotten to know myself and now I’m afraid of losing myself completely in a world that revolves around someone else. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not yet. Not like this.

But it did. And now I have a 13 pound chunk of cute, rolly flesh that smiles at me every morning in complete obilvion to the fact that he ruined and enhanced everything with one swift many tiny kicks.

I’m only 4 months in and learning that this part of life is about holding and balancing just as much a paradox as all the other parts. There’s the feeling of intense pain that comes when he latches onto my cracked, sore nipples but then there’s the feeling of peace that settles over me as I watch him sleep on my chest. There’s a lack of freedom to live life the way I used to, but an abundance of wonder at all the new feelings and experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy. I sleep way less but find more energy to do what I need to. Which means, I suppose I can understand how one can work for a sculpted core but be proud of the stretch marks on it. Or write about the hard and messy, but capture the clean and beautiful.

And no matter how contradictory or confusing life becomes, no matter how unaccomplished and unbalanced I may feel, I can always remind myself that I grew this…


to this…


exclusively with my body. That is power.


And then there was Nell


I will never forget October 17, 2016.

This is because I was sitting around a big dining room table with your mama and friends when your existence was announced (well, it was more directly inquired about…and then revealed, despite the early days, because she couldn’t hide behind that big sheepish grin). You were the size of a chia seed then, but that was still big enough to put a little blue + on the test she peed on while camping at Joshua Tree. I thought to myself, of course that is how she would find out.

I will never forget picking out a pregnancy journal to give your mama for Christmas (and allllll the subsequent poloroid photos taken and stuck in there to document your journey in what I am certain was a nutrient-dense, Mother Earth Goddess of a womb). That weekend, we drove north and slept in a cozy caboose during a snowstorm. I felt her stomach start to get hard and begin to bust at her pant button. We tried to imagine you joining us for this annual adventure next year.

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I will never forget being at the cabin for McP’s birthday where we danced, hiked, and hot tubbed with you. At night, your mama would lie on the bed and tell us when you started to move. I remember all 7 of us circled around her, taking turns with our hands pressed to her belly, anticipating your every kick or high-five. It’s crazy. All you did was move your body and we were so impressed and amazed. Even then, you were incredibly loved by many.


I will never forget your mama’s 30th birthday party. Simply because it was cat-themed and I convinced the guy on the phone at Hy-Vee to make a cat shaped pizza. And it made me think about how there will be just as much thought, heart, and soul put into your future birthday parties. We take theme parties very seriously in this community, as you will see.


I will never forget how radiant your mama was at her mother blessing party, or the way my heart wanted to burst as I listened to everyone tell her why she would be an amazing mother. She is gentle, nurturing, a great listener, an exemplary vegetable-eater, and playful in the best ways. You are one lucky lady, my friend.


I will never forget all of the walking. Walking at the Women’s March. Walking at the Immigration Ban March. Walking in the woods, around the block, at the market. Walking to try and get you to come out.

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And I will never forget July 7, 2017 so long as I have breath. Your very first birthday. And my very first time ever seeing a baby be born. I woke up at 6 a.m. and saw I had a missed call and a text saying you were coming. I was so afraid that I had missed you in the night that I literally jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera bag, put on my sandals and walked out the door in my pajamas. But it would still be another 6 hours before you gave your queen her crown. And in that time, this happened:




Your mama labored in a hot-as-balls room with no drugs, so she’s basically Wonder Woman. And while she had support from a lot of people (the nurse, midwives, doula, your grandmere, her lady tribe, etc.), your dad was the birth partner every man should aspire to be. Their love and partnership is something I admire very deeply, and it was a privelege to witness them on your birthday. Your dad was always holding her up physically and mentally, reminding her how powerful and badass she is. And the look of excitement on his face as he waited, hands cupped, to catch you falling into the world– well, that was absolute perfection.

You rushed in clean, calm, wide-eyed, and expressive. I think pretty much all babies look like weird little aliens at first, but you were stunningly beautiful from minute one. Getting to see your parents set their eyes on your for the first time was intensely wild and magical.

I am so happy that you are healthy and here. I cannot wait to find out who you are and to continue watching you grow (thank God we can stop comparing your growth to various fruits and vegetables).

May you always remember how loved you have been since you were the size of a chia seed, Nell Clover Burbank. And please be nice to your parents forever.



Heartache to Heartache

I feel an urgency right now to redefine and reexamine everything. Perhaps this is because I’m watching nations all over the world divide themselves so extremely. If what is good for you is not good for me, is it possible that we will ever agree? I understand that something benefits you, but what if it hurts my brother? Who is more deserving to see the fruition of their deeply held conviction? Is it actually possible to put policies and practices in place that bridge divisions or please everyone? What are we actually working towards?

Inclusivity is hard to practice when neither side wants to stand with the other. Humility is hard to practice when everyone feels humiliated. How many of us are okay with ignoring huge lapses in decency and character in the name of personal benefit, power, and greatness? How many of us are shouting about compassion and equal rights for everyone but trampling on those in red hats or holding pro-life signs? It is complicated, messy, and completely overwhelming to me. Discrimination, hate, and prejudice towards anyone based on their race, class, sex, or anything else is unacceptable. But what about the blurry things? How do we support someone else’s views, experience, and rights when it seems doing so betrays our own? These are age old questions, I know. Are we really loving people if we’re expecting them to change? As someone who tries to follow the teachings of Jesus, I don’t think I have ever fully understood the charge to “love your enemies” until now because I could think of no one who felt like a challenge to love. But this is a good personal pain point. This is where growth happens. I wonder which is the greater display of love: to stand up or to step back? It is probably a both/and answer rather than an either/or answer. But what if the loving union I desire is realized by surrendering to it, not by trying to achieve it?

My hope will always be for my country to have leaders who are people of integrity and character that I respect even if I don’t always or often agree with their agendas. I’m not sure that is going to happen for me this year. But a lot of people felt that way the last 8 years and in remembering that I will also remember this:

I told someone close to me about being sexually assaulted and how the Trump Tapes were a trigger for me. I know I’m not alone in that. I expressed how upset I was about the possibility that we would have a president who publically shames and objectifies women and boasted about grabbing their genitals for anyone to hear. Her response was, “I’m not saying that what he said was right, because it’s not, but the media distorts and plays up what he says.” I love her more than anything and it’s all good, but her immediate reaction was to make less of what he said and in doing so she belittled my feelings and intelligence. She missed the point. I’m not an idiot. I know the media has a tendency to do distort and play up, but in this particular instance, it did not. And in this instance, the media was irrelevant, because all I needed was for her to be present in my pain. The pain of being used for a vagina. The pain of living in a culture where male identity is based on rejecting the feminine, and then we’re all surprised when men don’t see or treat women as fully human. I needed her to not want this to happen for me, even if she wanted it for herself, because she understood what it would mean to me.

At the same rate in which I stand with awe at how wonderful and beautiful people are, I am deeply saddened and ashamed at how terribly mean and hypocritical people are. I hear and see spews of hate, passive aggressiveness, and deafening silence far more than words of love for those with opposing views. Yes, I am sad about so many things I see happening all over the world. Let me be sad. Let me feel what I need to feel. Let me have my beliefs and convictions and do not belittle them. They have been birthed from my body, mind, and spirit, which is just as valid as yours. But know that I am committed to listening to others who have life experiences far outside my own. I want to try and understand and support what is best for you, even if it is not best for me. I want to hear ways I can practice this and put it into action. Pain is an equalizer. We all have it and we should not compare one against the other. But not experiencing racism, poverty, discrimination or oppression is no excuse for not recognizing it, empathizing with it, learning about it, and taking action because of it. We are all one and we all belong to one another. Perhaps we would learn if we surrendered to our one-ness.We must stop telling one another what to believe and instead find ways to live within our interconnectedness, our interrelatedness, our sacredness. Wouldn’t that be nice?

We must start writing a better story, not tweeting a worse version of ourselves.

Have courage. Be kind.






I started a tradition with myself where I ring in the new year with a word. Maybe it sounds weird, but every year it feels more like the word chooses me than I choose it. And during the 365 days which follow, this word becomes my grounding point, my focus, my meditation. I learn all it’s meanings and contexts. I study the etymology. I basically spend the year trying to embody this word. It has been ridiculously uncanny how the word ends up becoming a perfect descriptor for the year it’s ascribed to.

2014: surrender (the year my entire world turned upside down)

2015: fierce (the year of facing fears, growing pains, and healing)

2016: expectant (the year of patience and waiting)

Latin expectare | ex– “thoroughly” spectare– “to look”

Await. Defer action. Look out for. Desire. Hope. Long for. Anticipate. Regard as about to happen. Count upon. Trust. Rely on.

All year I have worked to create a sense of expectancy in myself. To trust that good, beautiful things are both here and to come. To fall open to anticipation even when the waiting feels arduous and itchy. To not grow anxious about the unknown, but to be expectant– hopeful.

I spent the first five months of 2016 applying for jobs. Fourty of them, to be precise. This came after four months of thirty-nine applipactions. I nannied part time and volunteered at DMCW and The Alzheimer Association. I started my See Through Stories project. I just kept perfecting, polishing, and pursuing. The only door that opened was one that led me to Edinburgh for the Fringe festival. I had wanted nothing more than to be back in Edinburgh and even though applying for jobs there wasn’t working out, I was ecstatic for the opportunity to return even for a little bit. I knew it would feel like torture when I had to leave, though. And it did. Especially when everyone around me seemed to be getting good news and I was still waiting and wishing.

But I came home with high hopes that I’d be back in no time. You see, during my days off of festival work I researched, cold-called, emailed, and visisted organizations doing dementia-related work and talking about my project. I ended up meeting with the founder of my favorite one and the promise of a potential job opportunity was definitely there. A couple of months later, they posted an opening. You guys, if I could’ve written myself a job description, it would’ve been this. A total dream. I emailed. They wanted me as soon as possible. I thought, this is it. It makes total sense. Everything that’s been happening has led to this. All that hard work is paying off. This is what I’ve been expectant for. I’m so happy.

But a total dream it will remain.

I just spent this week moving into an apartment here. I now have a lease and a marketing job. It all happened really fast. I am thankful for it– all of it. But it is not what I was expectant for. I’m so sad. To have that open door slam in your face the second you’re about to walk through. Oooft. Ouch.

My sad self co-hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at the worker with my friend Joe. There were eight of us (some friends, some strangers) and we probably looked like The Island of Misfit Toys, but oh god, was it lovely. I hung sheets for curtains. Joe lit donated hot pink candle sticks. We drank wine from plastic cups. Some of the kindest words anyone has ever said to me were around that table and I will never forget them. We dined by candle light, sharing stories and asking questions. Everyone went around and said what they were thankful for. When it was my turn, I felt extra aware of my senses. Belly tight with food. Eyes beholding faces I love. The smell of hot candle wax and wine. The taste of Joe’s mama’s sweet potato casserole. Intermittent hums, silence, and laughter. All the goodness was overwhelming.

If this is where and how I get to do this: Await. Defer action. Look out for. Desire. Hope. Long for. Anticipate. Regard as about to happen. Count upon. Trust. Rely on.

…then I am thankful for that. Hell yeah, I’m thankful for that. Perhaps the lesson is to only be expectant for this day and to look no further. To trust that I will find whatever I need to get through this day, is something I can do.”Give me niether poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.”



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Faces of The Des Moines Catholic Worker

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“I wear this hat that says Grandpa on it because I love my grandkids. I’ve got two of them. I haven’t seen them in a few years, though. I’m kind of the black sheep of my family.”
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“Uh oh. You got me smiling.”

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“She’s good for me. She calls me out when I’m lying or drinking. She knows my problems and she loves me anyway.”
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“I want a full body shot because I’m fabulous, baby!”
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Rita and her dog Gizmo, who I think is her doppelganger.
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“You know what I always say: Don’t do what I wouldn’t do and don’t name it after me.”
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“I started living on the streets when I was 12 years old, man. I lived in New Orleans for 10 years. I worked on a tug boat. Had myself a wife, house, daughter, grandkid. Then Katrina hit and an oak tree landed on our house. We came back to Des Moines but man, I lost everything.”
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Guests make and sign a “Get Well” card for a friend in ICU.
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“Canda was fucked up in the 1960s. That’s why I left. Came here to the land of the free and home of the brave, man. But you guys are screwed now.”
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“I’m thinking about dying my hair blue. It’d go with my outfit, don’t you think?”
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He goes by the name Hawkeye and I’ve never seen him not wearing Hawkeye gear. Go Iowa.

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“Do you think this picture will get me a knight in shining army?”
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This is Bryan, but she calls him “Too Tall”.
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“My shoulders are my favorite part of my body but I’ve never had a picture of them. Can my portrait be of my shoulders instead of my face?”

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R. Kelly’s ‘Bump n Grind’ is Jimmy’s ringtone. Everytime I see him this plays and I get “My mind is telling me no. But my body, my body is telling me yeeehuheeesss” stuck in my head.



7 Things Sunday

One. I get to take a road trip to Austin, Texas this week (if you have any Austin suggestions for grub to eat or sights to see, tell me!) with my friend Ryan to be his second shooter for a wedding. This will be the fourth wedding I’ve gotten to help Ryan with and it’s nothing I ever thought I would find myself doing, but I’ve found it to be fun and a good creative stretch. I haven’t known any of the couples personally, so it’s been enjoyable to try and discern and capture their personalities with the camera throughout a day full of incredible moments. Here’s a few of my favorite shots of Moses and Nyla, who got married last month and were really boring and not adorable at all.

Two. Perhaps my greatest challenge in interveiwing people with dementia is that for some reason they tend to forget I’m coming to interview them . It took three times to properly sit down with Charlie due to memory lapse and his vibrant social life. But this was so worth the wait! Take a look and listen. He has some wonderful stories about being a teacher and peaceful protester during the Vietnam War.


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Three. Over the last two decades the EU has banned more than 1,300 chemicals in the formulas of personal care products and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. The US has only partially banned 11 to date. We have not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938. Isn’t that insane?! What I find to also be insane is how many people I hear about or am friends with in their 20s and 30s dealing with cancer and infertility problems. If our skin is our largest organ and absorbs at least 64% of whatever touches it, we should be careful about what we apply. If you’re interested in learning more or purchasing products that you can feel 100% safe using, I’ve been impressed with the educational resources and products of Beautycounter.

Four. This little lion makes me laugh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjgccWcpQPk

Five. I heard someone today say, “Celebration and mourning in a community don’t look that different. They both result in unity.” It made me think about all that has happened this week. On Wednesday night we anxiously watched, jumped, cried tears of joy, hugged, and celebrated over the Cubs winning the World Series. On Thursday morning we anxiously watched, fell, cried tears of sorrow, and mourned over the unnecessary loss of two Des Moines police officers who were shot and killed in their squad cars. This past month I attended both a wedding and a funeral. Both celebration and mourning involved people coming together to feast, cry, laugh, tell stories, give gifts, show support, and love. This made me aware that, in a particularly difficult season of my life, I should not try and hide or rush through it. Unity comes in through communal empathy in both the good things and the bad things.

Six. I’ve been working part time with this fine gentlemen. His name is Ian and he’s an exceptional dancer, addicted to Days of Our Lives, and he loves to pull pranks on me. The other day he gave me a gift box full of Mardi Gras beads, cookies he had baked, and a CD with one song on it (Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John). He comes on shifts with me at the DMCW every week and brings a lot of joy.

Seven. I’m obsessed with this idea. Who wants to start one in Des Moines with me?


Sad Sex Robots

Note: This can be a touchy subject. The very last thing I want to do is bring any shame to it. This is not about drawing conclusions or saying what is right and wrong. These are thoughts and questions based off of my personal experience, which is mine to own. Yours can be entirely different and yours to own. My reason for sharing this is because it doesn’t really get talked about and if it does, it’s polarizing. But processing through this is a part of my life and I wish I could do that more with people instead of pretending like we don’t all have some level of relationship or experience with it. So please know that is where I’m coming from. My hope is it results in more questions and conversations over a drink rather than Facebook rants and upset messages. My hope is that it simply causes people to pause for a moment and think. That is all.


I spent an hour reading about how sex robots are a thing. AI robots with ‘warming intimate areas’ and the ability to hold a conversation, express desire, and learn about you. Researchers predict that between 2030-2050, sex robots will be normative. There will be sex robot brothels to replace human prostitutes (anyone who finds this intriguing should watch Ex-Machina). I also saw articles that referenced the impending mainstream of virtual reality porn. And another article that mentioned web cam sites that allow users to upload a photo of someone they find attractive (friend, co-worker, celebrity, anyone) so it can use facial-recognition software to pull up similar looking sex-models from their database. This beautiful, humanity-restoring material inspired me to visit some porn sites. It had been almost three years since I’d done that. The same thing that always happened, happened: my ears and cheeks got hot, my heartbeat went funny, and after clicking out I felt sad.

It used to make me sad because I was with someone who couldn’t get enough of these women forever scrolling across the screen, arranged and dominated in window boxes. They were perfect because they were quite literally: unending. Instant, always desiring, never asking, and completely uncomplicated. I was sad because I didn’t know what my response was supposed to be and it confused my perception of what was real and what wasn’t. Is this supposed to be seen as pretend entertainment or an instruction guide? If one is aroused by demeaning, aggressive, exploitative sex, does that mean they want that for their own sexual relationship? If not, what is the value in watching it? If your partner closes their eyes during sex, are they picturing all these other women and does that prevent connection and intimacy? Is this what makes it difficult to stay hard or last long enough and is that the only thing that is going to get people’s attention? If they’re spending hours with them instead of you, does that count as cheating? I used to pray that he’d just ‘actually’ sleep with someone else so that I’d at least be able to make sense of the pain I felt from the constant, quiet competition. It used to make me sad because I had an overwhelming suspicion that I had been having sex with someone for years and yet we had never really touched each other.

But this time I wasn’t seeing it as someone looking to spice up their sex life or trying to understand their significant other. I was seeing it for the first time as someone who has been sexually assaulted. Now it made me sad because I know what it is like when someone picks you out and decides that your body is for consuming. I know what it is like to be arranged, dominated, and rendered completely uncomplicated. I am a part of a system that agrees sex is something that men do to women or watch women do to each other. I understand there is a level of consent in pornography, making it different from sexual assault. But I would argue that both are dehumanizing. There are so many men who would never EVER dream of abusing, harassing, or assaulting a woman. Men who consider themselves feminists. Men who stand up for women, respect, value, and praise women. But I think what they really mean by women is women they know. Because when it comes the women they watch in porn, is that respect null and void? Are they valuing those women for who they are or what they will do? Are those women being stood up for or laid down for? It seems like the only “right” viewers care about is the right to consume someone else’s body as a means to an end without it being abuse or assault. Because we all hope and assume that these people are getting paid well and enjoying their job. But there is also plenty of evidence that the porn industry is rampant with physical abuse, sexual trauma, drugs, and mental health disorders. Documentaries, research, and the personal accounts of ex-porn actors all indicate that there is a lot more to the conversation than is being widely discussed.

Our world compartmentalises porn. It puts porn in this box and says this couldn’t possibly contribute to 1 in 3 women being sexually assaulted, 4.5 million people being trapped in forced sex work, rising rates of impotence and ED, half of marriages ending, and generally being the most addicted, depressed, obese, in-debt adult cohort in all of history. It couldn’t possibly contribute to that because everyone does it. It’s normal. It’s fine. This is just acting. No harm, no foul. But let’s look at these statistics from PornHub’s 2015 annual review. Keep in mind this is just one porn site.

  • 87,849,731,608 videos viewed (that’s 12 videos viewed per person on earth)
  • 4,392,486,580 hours of porn watched (that’s 2.5x longer than homo sapiens have been on earth)
  • Americans account for 41% of overall traffic
  • The most common search terms were “teen” and “stepmom”

You can’t have statistics like this for anything and not have it creating an enormous impact, even if its subconciously. Even if it hasn’t been like this long enough to have conducted comprehensive, in-depth research. That is a lot of people watching a lot of material that propels the message that the female body is an object and that sexiness is a woman’s currency. It propels it at a pace and in forms we have little control over. Technology moves faster than we do. Today the average age of exposure to pornography is 8. And we aren’t just dealing with Playboys stashed under mattresses anymore. I’ve worked with 14 year old guys who showed me Snapchat videos of them receiving head. I’ve worked with girls who feel it is completely normal to send nude pictures of themselves to guys at school because they expect it. The line between liberation/empowerment and objectification is very blurry depending on who you’re asking. There are generations yet to enter adulthood that have learned most of what they know about sexuality and human interaction from the internet and social media, which is fascinating. And kind of terrifying. I just wonder if and how this is affecting our ability to be in relationship, to have empathy, to build intimacy, and to humanize?

A lot of what I’ve experienced has made my state of being feel out of control. It violated a part of who I am and I continually find myself trying to restore that. I don’t want to be angry and cynical. I don’t want to be incapable of trust. I don’t want to feel ashamed of what happened. So I’m trying to grasp how normal, nice guys end up in a mindset where they feel that sexually assaulting someone is okay. I’m trying to understand why we find it so easy to be disgusted by the degredation and objectification of women when we look up at our wives, sisters, friends, daughters, and mothers but when we look down at our laptops or phones we don’t think twice about participating in a system that helps sustain it?

I have this scenario that plays out in my head where I look at the guy who raped me and I say, “Hi! My name is Taylor and my favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip. In high school I was voted ‘Most Likely to Make Your Day’ by my classmates. I have a bunion on my right foot that I’m all self conscious about because it makes me feel like an 80 year old. I come up with terrible analogies. I can remember every movie line and I’ll make you the best mojito of your life. Look, I’m like a really sweet, angel, butterfly type person and if you would just stop to know me you’d never do this so please, please, please don’t do this.”

I want to believe something like this would work. Unfortunately, I know deep down that pleading for people to understand the gravity of what they’re doing has never been a winning strategy. But now all I can think about are the women that just flew across my screen in ‘Freckled Latina Deepthroat’ and ’19 year-old getting gang banged’. I hope that whoever is watching realizes just how very, very real these women are. And I hope that instead of getting off this time, they’ll just wonder what her favorite ice cream flavor is.