Daughter of Colonisers

On this particular day I find myself reflecting on what it means to be the descendant of colonisers.

My ancestors came from England, Norway, Denmark, and Wales. The first American to bear my name, my great (times nine) grandfather William Washbourne, fled the English Civil War and settled in Connecticut in 1639. I don’t know if he himself took the land (two sizeable farms) from the natives or if he purchased land already conquered, but the fact remains my family found their first toehold on this continent on stolen native land.

Fast forward two hundred years and Daniel Abraham Washburn is travelling with the Mormon pioneers to Utah. Salt Lake City was founded on land that was only seasonally inhabited, but land that the Utes and Shoshones both ranged on. Land that became unavailable for them to use because the Mormons built a city on it, and excluded natives from that city.

Brigham Young despatched Daniel Abraham among others to settle Southern Utah, on land belonging to the Paiutes. His son, Abraham Daniel, went to modern day San Juan County and plopped a farm down on land historically grazed by Navajo flocks. Again, I do not know if my ancestors used guns to take it, but the fact is they settled on land that did not belong to them, and gave no recompense to the people who inhabited that land before.

My great-grandfather, Alvin Lavell, was living in Blanding when the Posey War (also called the Bluff War) broke out in 1915. It was one of the last armed conflicts between Native Americans and the Federal Government. He didn’t have any part in that, so far as I know, but he was a white man on native land, that only 104 years ago was still being taken at gunpoint. Some 150 native bands living in San Juan County, Paiutes, Goshutes, and Navajos were rounded up and deported to the Ute Mountain Reservation during the war. 4,000 people, taken away from their homes and sent to a glorified concentration camp, their land divvied out to white ranchers and miners.

I was born in Salt Lake City in 1994. I spent a lot of my childhood in San Juan county, wondering why the Navajos in Blanding seemed so much worse off than the whites, ignorant of the historical forces that caused them to live in squalor amidst better-off settlers. 

Utah is my home, and I love the mountains, red rock canyons, and arches as only a woman born there can. It’s my native soil. I love England and imagine I’d love Norway and Denmark, but the fact remains that I am not English or Norwegian or Danish- I’m an American. I was born here, my family has lived here for nearly 400 years. But we are still settlers, and for three hundred years we were the direct beneficiaries of land seized from native peoples by force. 

How can I come to terms with the fact that my birth in Utah, my home, was the byproduct of imperialism and genocide? I didn’t chose it. The forces of history that had my European ass being born on stolen land were obviously not within my power. How to make restitution to the people who’ve lived on the land that I love as my own for so much longer than my people have? How can I make amends while still being happy to have been born amidst the grandeur of the Wasatch Mountains? 

All of us white folk can’t go back to Europe. I’m fairly sure the E.U. doesn’t want some 180 million fractious gun-owners trying to resettle in the lands to which we are indigenous. But what is the solution? How can we heal the wound that our ancestors inflicted on theirs? I’m not asking to be trite or glib, I ask because I see how grievous the injustice that my ancestors inflicted on the indigenous people of the Americas was. I ask because I see how people with my skin colour still oppress, mistreat, and misunderstand the indigenous people who’ve survived our genocide. I ask because as a Christian woman I believe that we must confess and atone for our sins, and seek reconciliation and justice. How can we have that justice, knowing that it is impractical and impossible to turn back the clock, for all of us with Caucasian blood to just up and leave? How can we move forward, and try to mitigate the damage done, to make restitution without restoring a past that is forever lost? 

 

I don’t know. But I’ll keep asking the question. Keep seeking out ways to be an ally and advocate for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. I understand that I will never fully understand the immensity of their grief, I understand that my white skin and European culture advantages me in this country and likely will continue to do so for years and years to come, and I understand that I am the unwitting beneficiary of one of the greatest crimes in history. With that understanding, I hope I can do my part to redeem my family name, to set myself right with the God of Compassion, and to set myself right with the infinite capacity of humanity to seek justice.

Why I Write

I write because I love it. I really do. I love to put proverbial pen to paper (or fingers to my keyboard) and forge a story or an essay from a jumble of thoughts. I love to have the organisation and permanence of the page to contain the messy fireworks show that is my brain. 

I write because I think I have some good ideas, ideas that tend to improve once put to paper. On paper I can give my own thoughts an honest assessment, whereas in my own mind they are assailed by a deep-set self-loathing implanted in me by years of gender dysphoria and the cruelty of others. Writing liberates my thoughts from the prison of my mind, and with editing and rearrangement and revisions I can make those thoughts better, clearer, and stronger. That’s why I write for myself.

My goal in writing for an audience is to educate, to entertain, and to provide a new perspective. I’ve always loved sharing information, ever since I was a little child and wanted to tell everyone about Scottish castles and the fantasies that I’d derive in my head. I like to tell stories, and in writing I can craft those stories to be better than anything I could tell off the cuff. Stories matter, and the way they’re told, who they’re told to, can change the world.

I want to be a writer because to be a writer is to sow the seeds of thought, of future culture. The words we read and hear shape the words we say in the future. My words are shaped by my predecessors, and I have the audacity to say that my words might help shape future culture to be a little more compassionate and thoughtful. I have no illusions about being the godmother of some great revolutionary movement, but if I write a story or an essay that sparks the mind of someone down the line, I’ve done my bit, and left the world a little better than I found it. That’s what we’re all really here for, right? To live our own lives well, and to improve the lives of others, both living and still yet to come. The way I can do that best is with my words, and my words are best when I write them down.

 


Exciting things are happening with An Unremarkable Girl! The memoir, co-authored with my amazing and supportive Mum Nan Seymour, is about my young life as a transgirl growing up in Utah and my struggle to inhabit my identity in the face of a conservative society and my own struggles with mental illness. We’ve recently signed with an agent and are beginning to explore our options for publishing- expect this blog to be a lot more active in the days to come! If you enjoyed this piece (or any of my writing) please feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you prefer. Thanks as always for reading!

Dropping Out and the Media

As I leave school behind for good, in March of 2011, I experience a profound increase in my depression. Depression has daunted me since puberty began, situational and chemical, but it swelled up as I cut myself off from the world, from my few friends, and from life itself.

Days and weeks pass by, blending into one another. I stay in bed or I pace around my house. Very occasionally I try to write a short story or work on a novel, but I have no motivation and no drive. Life is grey. 

I lie in bed in the mid-afternoon. This could be any day of any month. I watch videos on Youtube or do laps on the same shows on Netflix. I play computer games, almost always cheating at them because I can’t muster up enough energy to face even the small and meaningless challenges they present. Sometimes I read something from my growing library, but more often than not even books, which I adore, fail to engage me.
I feel wrong. Wrong about everything. My body disgusts me, my habits disappoint me. In every aspect of my shambling half-life I feel a failure. “Home school”, which is what I claim to be doing, engages me even less than regular school, and knowing that my mother is exhausted and distracted by her own schoolwork I evade most of the assignments.

On occasion I dare to do more research about being transgender, with the same paranoia and care that I take when I occasionally read erotica or watch pornography and masturbate. I feel more ashamed about researching transgender issues than about masturbation, and given that I’m fairly certain I’m violating my own decency by masturbation the amount of guilt and fear I have about the research is almost incommunicable.
I look at transition timelines, I even go through a photo series of a vagioplasty, the surgery by which a penis can be reconstructed into a vagina. I try to imagine myself as a girl. I have long hair already, but I dress solely in turtlenecks and jeans, not particularly feminine attire.
However, when I consider transition, it is coloured by the depictions of transgender women in the media that I consume, especially since I spend so much of my days doing little else beside watching shows on Netflix.

In Futurama, one of my favourite shows at the time, there is a particular episode which focuses on a gender transition. In “Bend Her” (Season 5 Episode 13), the foul-mouthed alcoholic robot Bender undergoes a sex change in order to pass a gender check after he competes as a “fembot” in the Robot Olympics. After this operation (which involves the severing of his antenna, a clear analogue for robots to human penises), he proceeds to be an exaggerated stereotype of femininity and female behaviour, to the chagrin and disgust of the show’s other female characters. The episode resolves when he is “fixed”, ie returned to masculine forms and behaviours.
I describe this in depth because it is representative of media focusing on transgender women in the 2000s, media which deeply impacted me as an adolescent coming to terms with my gender identity. Bender is not a transwoman in any meaningful sense of the word, he suffers from no confusion about his gender identity. He undergoes transition as part of a con. The changes that occur (including increased emotionality and sensitivity) are played for laughs, and at one point Leela (the most prominent female character) says “Please get out of my gender”. It’s comedy, one might say, but the joke is that it is ridiculous that anyone perceived as male would become female. That’s the punchline. The message I get is transwomen are laughable.

I’m afraid of being a joke. I’m already a pitiable individual, a depressed 16 year-old reclusive high-school dropout. Pity is bad enough, I tell myself, I don’t need to be laughed at too. I’m afraid. Afraid. Afraid. Under the relatively placid pond scum of lethargy, apathy, and sadness that an outside observer sees I’m a roiling cauldron of fear and panic. I know I’m transgender and it terrifies and disgusts me. I’ll be a joke. I’ll lose my extended family. I’ll be hated. I’ll be ugly. These refrains ring in my ears, a thousand shrieking harpies that only I can hear, the cacophony of loathing, doubt, and terror echoing through the relative silence of my dark, book-lined bedroom.

Jesus is a Dirty Commie

I am a communist transgirl. So far I’ve said nothing remarkable; anecdotally speaking I can say that the majority of young transwomen are either communists or anarchists. What makes me unusual is that I am also a Christian.

I’m embarrassed to say the word. “Christian” has been tarred by the child abuse scandals of the Catholic church, the flatulent bleating of mega-church mega-pastors with their mega-mansions, and the legions of bible-thumpers threatening hell to all those who do not ascribe to their narrow interpretation of God’s purpose on Earth. In most of my social circles online and in person, Christianity is almost universally considered to be a force of repression and reaction.

I find these interpretations of Christianity as abhorrent as my militantly godless friends do. Perhaps more so, because they are sacrilegious perversions of something that I love; the Apostolic Church. The Christian Church before Emperors, quacks, and prudes (Looking at you, Constantine, Augustine, and Paul) shaped it into an arm of a repressive state. The Apostolic Church of the first and second centuries was defined by a communalist worldview; Acts 4:32 proclaims “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (New International Version)

This was the early church; a radical group of communitarians who rejected both the authoritarian nature of the Roman Empire and the society of slaves and masters which defined it. Inspired by the example of Jesus, early Christians went forth across the Mediterranean and formed communities that lived according to his counsel in Matthew 25:40 “”And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!‘” (New International Version)

At the beginning of this year I was an atheist. I became convinced that religion’s sole purpose was to be a tool of the ruling class, a justification for subjugation of women to men, slave to master, one race to another. If it wasn’t Karl Marx’s “opiate of the masses” it was the call to slaughter the unbeliever or heretic. No good could come of it, I robustly proclaimed, and the evidence for God’s existence was trivial. Reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion lent a smug logic to it all; religious and spiritual people were simply deluded or hypocritical.

On November 11th, not quite two months after I moved to Tucson, I went to Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It was recommended to me by a dear friend (and former Episcopal priest), and though I remained hostile to the idea of faith I had been longing for community, so I decided to give it a shot.

November 11th of 2018. One hundred years to the day since the last shot rang out over the Western Front. I enter the sanctuary, and I take a place in the pews, listening to the choir rehearse. A feeling steals over me, a sensation I haven’t felt since I was young; peace. True peace. I kneel, and for the first time in years I pray with some genuine intent. And as I gaze upon the stained glass window above the altar, a depiction of Christ, tears start to run down my face.

I’ve made many mistakes in my life. I have been a toxic person, I have been a problem drinker, I’ve stolen, I’ve lied, I’ve deceived. Where possible I have offered my sincere apologies, knowing that I owe them to those I’ve hurt, but I am not owed forgiveness for my trespasses. When I gaze upon the figure of Christ, I feel called to step forward into the future. I feel renewed. My mistakes remain in my past, and doubtless I have yet to atone for many of them. But I cannot go back into the past and undo what I have done wrong; I can only strive to go forward in the spirit of Christ.

I want to reclaim Christ from the theocrats and prosperity theologians. I want to reclaim Him from Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence. I want to discard the Old Testament, the idea of God as a jealous and wrathful man in the sky. I don’t know that I believe in God, but I believe in Christ the Man, who preached revolution and resistance, who broke bread and drank wine with his friends the night before he died. Christ who suffered a brutal and painful death as an act of love for all of humanity.

The Internationale, the anthem of Communism, begins with the call “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the Earth!” I believe fervently that we must do away with billionaires and millionaires, we must smash the hierarchies of class, race, and gender. We must do this for the sake of all humanity, and for the Earth upon which we live. I feel called to this task by virtue of Marxism, yes, but also by the spirit of Christ. Christ who overturned the tables of the moneylenders, Christ who broke bread with sex workers and tax collectors, Christ who said “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Christ who taught me as a child to be compassionate, and Christ who now, at the age of twenty-four, calls me to love and serve humanity and the world in the broadest and most compassionate way.

So I go forward, a living contradiction.

 

The First Love – Excerpt from An Unremarkable Girl

Before I transitioned, I didn’t think I’d ever fall in Love with a capital “L”. I felt sexual attraction for people, I had crushes, but as long as I hid beneath the facade, I couldn’t really love, with all the intimacy and vulnerability that word implies. As I began my transition in March of 2015, I then became afraid that I might fall in Love but that no one would reciprocate. I still had that image from the early days of discovering my identity, the image of the foolish and not quite right looking transgender woman, in my mind. I was still afraid that all the hormones and female clothes in the world would never make me look like what I thought a woman should look like. I still hardly knew any transgender people, MTF, FTM, or otherwise, so I didn’t really know what transition could do on the visceral and personal level.

Three weeks into my transition, there were still very few noticeable physical changes. My face maybe looked softer, but I wasn’t sure if I was projecting a hope when I looked into the mirror. I still looked much the same as I had before starting transition, and I was worried that perhaps I’d always look like that. At about the same time, a friend of my mother’s had recommended to her that I should meet a young transgender woman who worked for her, and so I passed along my phone number. I learned that the young woman’s name was Hailey, and I arranged to meet her on Wednesday, April 1st, just two days after I’d returned from a stressful St. George trip.

We set up a meeting at six at a coffee shop in downtown Salt Lake City, Café Nostalgia on 1st South. I got there rather early, at 5:40 or so, but thankfully I came with a book, Volume II of Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs. I was very nervous, and so despite trying very hard to focus on the avuncular Soviet premier’s recollections of his contribution to agricultural policy (which normally would have made for enthralling reading, at least to me), I was glancing up every few seconds to try and see who this “Hailey” might be. I admit that I was looking for the negative image that had grasped my brain, of a very mannish person in feminine clothing.

As I cast around looking for an obviously transgender woman, a tall willowy thin girl with long dirty-blonde hair and an aquiline, graceful visage came up to my table.

“Hi?” I said awkwardly.

“Hi, Beatrice?”

I did a bit of an internal double-take. This was Hailey? Not only did she look completely and naturally feminine, she was outstandingly beautiful.

“Yes…, You’re Hailey?”

“Yeah, it’s nice to meet you!” she replied brightly.

Her voice, too, was girlish. It was neither falsetto nor deep. It was a sporty kind of voice, unpretentious and playful. Perhaps it seemed that way because her whole manner of being was actively delightful to me.

After ordering cups of tea we began to talk. I wish that I could say what we talked about, but I can only recount that we were deeply engaged in our conversation, engaged so deeply that when her parking meter ran out we decided that rather than leaving it at that we should go to dinner together. She suggested a sushi place that she enjoyed, and I happily agreed. We got into her car, a brand-new little Fiat convertible, and set off.

In general, I’m nervous in cars. No doubt due to my suicide attempt in 2011, I have very vivid fears about crashing. This nervousness is usually exacerbated by fast drivers. Hailey was a very fast driver. But she was also a very skilled driver. So where I normally would have been terrified, I was rather thrilled as we sped down State Street, and I giggled when she angrily urged other drivers in German to have “Macht schnell, bitte!” “More speed, please!”

Over dinner we talked more, and talk turned to romantic inclinations, sexual history, and sexual preferences. At some point I ventured to say that she was very beautiful, and she blushed and smiled widely, exposing her very white and rather pointed teeth. While I had found her attractive from the start, and was becoming progressively more smitten with her, that was the moment that I really fell for her. Seeing that sharp smile, the glimmer of excitement in her almost cobalt blue eyes, pushed me well over the edge.

When we finished dinner she kindly offered to drive me home. As we pulled onto State Street, I felt a strong urge to compliment her further.

“You know, when you came into the café and came up to my table, I was really confused?”

“Oh?”

“It’s just you look so totally feminine- I didn’t think you were trans. You’re really transcendently beautiful.”

“I- that’s-”

She was actually speechless. She wasn’t quite smiling, but her face radiated a mix of happiness and surprise.

It took a few blocks for her to recover.

“Thank you, Bea. That’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Well I meant it,” I pressed, “your face is so graceful, your smile is just exquisite, and your eyes? Girl, your eyes are something else. I know it’s cliched to say this but they really do sparkle.”

Again, she was speechless. After a few minutes she managed to speak again.

“You are really amazing Bea. Really,” she said, and the compliment was so genuine, so sincere, and paid to me by a woman who earlier that day I couldn’t imagine existing, much less paying me such a kindness that it was my turn to be speechless for a bit. I’d never felt so thrilled in all the years of my life.

When we pulled up in front of my house in the Avenues, I suggested that perhaps we could go for a walk into the park. She agreed. It was around nine at night by that time, dark. The sky was overcast and the air was cool. Very cool. Hailey, who was very thin, soon started to shiver. By the time we reached the park, only two blocks away from my house, her teeth were chattering.

We sat on the edge of a planter at the corner of the park, which was deserted. I said something sympathetic about how cold she must be. She nodded. I then put my arms around her. She leaned against me, and if anything shivered more. I also shivered, not from the cold, but from the thrill of having this exquisite beauty in my arms. I took her hands in mine and then looked at her, smiling like an idiot I’m sure. She returned my gaze, and I felt a completely new sensation. I felt desired.

“May I kiss you?” I asked.

She nodded shyly.

We kissed. It was my first kiss since I had begun hormone replacement therapy, since every sensation had been heightened. It was magical. Long after I have forgotten the particulars of my first sexual encounters, I am sure I will remember that kiss. At that moment, I felt like the shy young girl I never really got to be, and at that moment I fell in Love. Not lust, not a crush, not a fleeting interest, but hormonal, crazy, chemical, irrational love.

We dated properly only for a month, and had some intermittent romantic encounters over the next nine months or so. We remained friends for a while, but have since drifted apart. I suspect, however, that I’ll always love her. More than her being my first real love, she gave me hope like I’d never had before. Hope that I could be so quintessentially a woman as she was, hope that I could be loved as a woman, even the hope that I could be beautiful. At that moment in time, when the initial thrill of transition had worn off and before the major physical changes buoyed me, I was worried that perhaps it’d all been for naught, that I’d be as miserable transitioning as I was before. Hailey dispelled that. Any hardship that I’d feel more personally because I no longer hid behind a facade was worth it, if only to know the joy, the rapture, of being in Love.

How Writing Saves My Life

First, let me be brutally honest. I’m a mess. There are other kinder and true things to say about myself, but it is equally true that I am a human mess. The cocktail of bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety I was provided at birth makes “functional” life pretty damn hard for me. I try really hard to be functional, and do succeed for short stretches, and then WHAM, I’m back in a depressed morass. I have an irrational singularity of thought which leaves me unable to feel the sense that today is just today, and that tomorrow could be better. Rationally and logically I know that a bad day is just a bad day. But the panicked emotional response is “what if this is the start of a bad week, a bad month, a bad year?”

I let myself be swallowed by those thoughts occasionally.  I can logically know that I’m not a terrible person, that I have mood swings, and that I struggle with pretty severe mental illness. I can logically provide both an explanation and solution for my depressive periods; the depression is biochemical, and the solution is to simply do the easy good things and ride it out because the pendulum will swing the other way, usually within a day or two. However, the emotional and irrational train of thought will say either “what if this one doesn’t end?” or “is life really worth living if you’re going to be this depressed almost every week?”

That last question gets to me. It’s a variation on an argument my brain sends my way pretty often, which boils down to “give me a good reason why your health and neurosis doesn’t justify wiping you off the face of the Earth?” This is the line of thinking, which coupled with the dysphoria I experienced for twenty years repressing my gender identity, drove me to multiple suicide attempts throughout my adolescence. I struggle to see a future worth living, and so I often give up hope. I no longer present a danger to myself because I’m aware of the trauma that any method of self-destruction would inflict on those who found me, as well as the pain I would inflict on my family, but that doesn’t mean I always want to live.

On the worst days, I day-dream about an atomic war with Russia, or some cosmic catastrophe- something that would wipe me off the face of the Earth without causing undue pain to anyone else. (Of course the absence of pain in those scenarios would be because pretty much everyone else would be joining me in death, so they’re obviously not ideal.) I really hate that these thoughts still dog me, usually in lonely evening hours or occasionally in the tedium of a fruitless afternoon.

However, there are two antidotes to such hopelessness and they are simply Connection and Purpose. Connection is vital for all human beings regardless of their mental state. We are social animals with an incredibly complex society that requires innumerable professional and personal connections to function. Most of our greatest joys come from connection with other people. This antidote I’ve become better at using over the years. I try to have a lot of friends and to stay very socially, because making connections brings me joy. It also provides me with alternatives to pondering suicide- I have many wonderful friends whom I’ve been able to reach out to in my darkest moments, to help talk me through the pain.

The real struggle for me is then the other antidote- Purpose. What motivates me, what rewards me, and what challenges me? Some people have an innate sense of drive and ambition that enables them to locate a Purpose and pursue it like a hound after a hare. I am not one of those people.

I at least know my Purpose. This, what I’m doing right now at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, is my proverbial calling. Writing is what consistently makes my life worth living. I love to learn and to experience life, and more than that I love to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced. When someone reads my writing and is moved by it, entertained by it, or challenged by it, I feel a sense of accomplishment and joy. No other vocation or achievement can make me feel quite the way writing does. I love to cook and love when people enjoy my food, but even that happiness cannot lift my soul the same way as when someone says they learned something new from words that I wrote.

The trouble is in the pursuit of that purpose. I doubt myself endlessly because of my mental illnesses and frankly a wholesale dissociation during my adolescence. I doubt who I really am as a person in a world, and I frequently doubt my ability to write meaningful work at any kind of reasonable pace. It’s hard for me. It really is. But it’s getting better. Centimetre by centimetre, step by step. Writing is no longer the fantasy that I clung to for dear life through my adolescence. It is no longer just a dream, or a private comfort. It’s my reality.

If I’m lucky, others will read it. If I’m really lucky, I might get paid for it. Luckiest of all, someone will find in my words or my experiences something worthwhile. Something that makes them laugh, something that teaches them. The truth is I both live to write and write to live. I’m not here to be the twenty-first century’s F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway, I have no illusions about being a genius. Simply put:

I’m here to write, and by hell I’m going to write.

Me Writing

Teachings of the Toothbrush

I have a terrible confession to make. My entire life, I have been bad at brushing my teeth. I’m bad at habit-forming in general, the one-two punch of bipolar disorder and ADHD makes consistency very hard to attain, but I’ve always been fairly ashamed of how bad I am at brushing my teeth. It’s such a basic question of hygiene, it should be intuitive. But for me, it wasn’t.

Until a week ago.

I went to the dentist two weeks ago, and they told me that besides a small cavity I had developed fairly serious gingivitis. They had told me this information before, but this time they emphasised pointedly that if I did not change my habits I ran the risk of infection and tooth loss. The word “necrotic” came up, and that made me listen. Necrosis, or the death of flesh before the death of the entire body, is one of my greatest fears. It’s about as close as one can be to being an actual zombie, complete with the smell of corpse.

I was given some medicinal mouthwash to use every night, and I was also told to go buy a Sonicare© electric toothbrush. By the weekend I had this brand new electric toothbrush, and I used it for the first time that Sunday night. This may sound slightly pathetic, but one of the reasons I never developed a good toothbrushing habit is that a typical toothbrush is actually to some degree physically difficult for me to use. I have very bad joints, and spending two minutes with my arm in repetitive rapid motion, while not debilitating, was uncomfortable. However, with the electric toothbrush, brushing my teeth became easy.

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Something that was beneficial to me was easy. A good habit was easy. Here’s the thing- I grew up thinking that everything worth doing should be hard. People who work hard, were, by definition, better than people who did not work hard. The harder the work, the more admirable the person. The more work required, the better. Difficulty equated to morality. Easy, conversely, might as well have meant immoral. This was not a conscious framing, but it was an impulse or an association that got planted deep inside me at a young age by the Protestant/Puritanical culture of America and more specifically the Mormon variant of that culture that is so prevalent in Utah.

I feel almost foolish writing that I went twenty-three years, until yesterday, still with that impulse guiding my actions. However, with the electric toothbrush, I discovered that something objectively good for you and not necessarily pleasurable could be really easy. I’ve brushed my teeth every day for the past week and a half. I brushed my teeth in the midst of a depressive episode. That may not sound like much, but it’s a longer span of time consistently brushing my teeth than I’ve ever had in my entire life. And it’s because easy does not mean bad. Easy does not mean lazy. Easy just means easy.

I gave myself a set of rules, a hierarchy of productivity. Because I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out how to healthily function on a day to day basis, notwithstanding my periods of mania and my periods of depression. A baseline that never falters. With this hierarchy of productivity, I think I may have given myself the tools to actually do it.

1st- Do what is easy and good for you. It is easy to clean a single dish. To brush your teeth. To put a single pair of socks away or to put a single book back on the shelf. Easy things are often small things, but you can always find some easy things to do to say clean a room or finish a project. Pick up the clothes first when you want to clean. Write the introductory paragraph. Do one small thing. And then another. And do…

2nd- Do what is feasible. Some days this will only mean what is truly easy. If you are sick, depressed, in pain, or very tired this may just mean basic hygiene and drinking enough water. And that’s okay. But other days, feasible may mean reorganising a room. It may mean deep-cleaning the kitchen. If harder work is feasible that day, get it done right away. You’ll thank yourself for not putting it off.

3rd- Do what is best. This is at the bottom of the hierarchy because it’s not always possible to do the best thing for yourself. It may be best to go on an hour-long jog every morning, but if it’s unfeasible, don’t sweat it. Sometimes the easiest thing can be the best thing, such as brushing your teeth.

This hierarchy may seem obvious or laughable. But for someone with executive dysfunction like myself, for people with chronic pain, chronic depression, ADHD, and many others, to whom the basic task of life don’t come easily or naturally, this can be a lifesaver.

There is a Chinese fable that neatly encapsulates the underlying point of this hierarchy, “The Foolish Old Man Who Moved the Mountains”. It concerns an elderly peasant whose farm was perpetually in the shade of two great mountains. Longing for more sunlight, the man took a shovel and began to dig away the mountains, shovelful by shovelful. He was of course laughed at by other farmers, who told him “you can’t possibly dig out those mountains in your lifetime, you old fool.”

“I know,” he replied, “but I can move some part of them. And my sons will carry on my work. And their sons as well. One day, the mountains will be moved.”

In the fable, the Emperor of Heaven is so moved by the old man’s dedication that he sends down angels to carry the mountains away. One could read this as praise of hard, repetitive work for the hope of some nebulous reward, very in line with the Protestant ethic that sober and difficult work will be rewarded by admission into heaven. But to me, that interpretation misses the point. The old man saw the mountains not as an enormous impossible whole, but as collections of single shovelfuls of dirt and rocks. He learned to see the impossible in possible terms, the daunting work as a series of easy steps.

We can move mountains, even if it’s just a pebble at a time.