Friday, November 7, 2014

On Headbangers.

No, I'm not talking about Ozzy Osborn fans. I'm talking about toddlers, the little people with huge emotions, and a specific subset of these little people: Headbangers.

Baby Girl is a head banger. Her anger and frustration escalate so quickly and to such proportions that she can't express her feelings any other way than thudding her head on something hard. Wood door. Wood floor. Sometimes she'll just hit herself with whatever she's holding in her hand: baby doll, magic marker, Play-Doh, her sister's head. It's shocking and scary and very upsetting to behold.

The first thing people always say when I share this is: "Is she autistic?"

"No. She is not autistic."

Then I get the sideways glance, the thoughtful pause in the conversation, and we move on to another topic, because my head banger toddler makes people anxious.

Oh believe me, she makes no one more anxious than me.

But she shouldn't. She has been looked at by occupational therapists, behaviorists, and pediatricians, and they all give her a clean bill of psychological health. She's just a normal kid who, when she feels bad, copes by banging her head. In truth, about 20% of toddlers do this, almost all of them healthy kids who, when they're really mad, put bruises on their dear little foreheads. And believe me, it's awkward walking around with a bruised kid. I have never, ever hit my kids. Ever once. Never. But people wonder about me when they see those bruises, and that hurts.

If you have come to this blog post, I'm assuming it's because you are out of ideas and you've performed a desperate internet search looking for answers. I got all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts, and ALL of them told me some version of this: "Put her in a safe place where she can't hurt herself, ignore the behavior, and she'll stop it."

I followed their advice. I bought a play yard, covered it with foam so she couldn't hurt herself, and we named it The Thunderdome. When she lost control, we'd put her there, saying something like, "You're not allowed to bang your head," and we'd let her tantrum run out. I was told by doctors and occupational therapists and behaviorists and speech therapists this was the right thing to do. For more time than I want to admit here, baffled and scared and worried, I ignored her head banging, walked away, withheld the attention she was supposedly seeking with this violence, assured by these folks she would get the message and stop.

Did she stop? No. She did not stop. In fact, it got worse.

Finally, one day we realized that maybe not every emotion a kid has is meant to seek attention. Maybe not every single behavior they engage in isn't about making Mommy pick me up. Maybe our poor baby girl was banging her head because she didn't know what else to do.  Her emotions were just as scary to her as they were to us, and this practice of isolating her was making her feel alone and rejected when she most needed love and understanding.

It makes me weep. But at least we caught it while she's still young.

We retired Thunderdome. We said goodbye to those well meaning experts. Now, when I see her escalating, getting ready to bang her head with something, I don't walk away, I don't isolate her. I get down on one knee, put a hand on her back and say softly, "You're feeling really frustrated right now! I don't blame you! You wanted things to go another way and they didn't work out, and now you're upset! Let me give you a hug sweetie."

Empathy. Lots and lots of empathy, with a very soft soothing voice, and a gentle touch.

It doesn't always work perfectly, but more and more she puts down the hard object. She comes into my arms. She snuggles against my neck, and I kiss her little cheeks.

Which is what I wanted to do the whole damn time.

Is there a moral to this story? There is, and it's this: When your kid is feeling out of control and scared, don't give her the message you don't want to be around her. Give her the message you love her, you're there to support her. Instead of banging her head, she'll eventually come to you for hugs, and everyone in the house will be MUCH happier. Always, ALWAYS, err on the side of love.

And read this book:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Stories We Tell Little Girls.

I have three little girls and they're all at an impressionable age, so I let them watch Frozen, written by the brilliant Jennifer Lee, as much as they want to. I do this because Frozen is the most important children's film to come out in decades, and I hope that it's as influential on future films as it deserves to be.

That's a pretty big statement I just made, but I'm prepared to defend it.

Frozen explodes one of the predominant fairy tale conventions of the twentieth century, (and probably every century before,) that the love and attraction of a man is the only thing that can save our heroine. The trope of the dashing prince, or rogue, falling instantly in love with the accursed princess dominates Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and probably others. Even Tangled, which is a very well written movie, still operates under this convention, portraying romantic love as the saving force for our besotted princess. While the heroine of Tangled is hardly helpless, Frozen is the movie that recognizes the fallacy in fairytale logic. The two pronged idea of a man falling hopelessly in love with a woman based mostly on her beauty, and that without this love she is lost, amounts to an indoctrination into the patriarchy that has kept women vulnerable for centuries, and gives members of both sexes a very unrealistic idea of romantic love. Frozen begins to undo the damage.

Anna is our princess in trouble in Frozen, and the first time she's released from an isolating childhood she meets the dashing Hans. They have a conversation full of sparks and laughter, and she takes an instant liking to him. She is so excited about the idea of romance as the solution to her troubles that she accepts him as her future husband by the end of their first night together. All this follows the trope of the princess being saved by the dashing prince who is so taken with her beauty that he proposes immediately. But then the trope begins to unravel. Her sister, the queen, refuses to grant her blessing for the union because she sees how unwise it is for Anna to marry someone she just met, and this causes a fracture in the already fragile relationship between the sisters. The crisis point is reached when Queen Elsa loses control of her powers, causes a deep winter freeze in the middle of summer, and flees the city to isolate herself in the mountains. Anna must delay her marriage to Hans and go on a quest to bring back Elsa, and with her, summer.

This bit about Elsa and her powers constitutes the second fairy tale myth that Frozen explodes, which is that powerful women tend to be evil. Indeed, the original Hans Christian Andersson story upon which Frozen is based, The Snow Queen, depicted an evil, powerful woman causing all kinds of mischief with her magic. Evil queens, naughty witches or malicious mother figures inhabit many fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled. Frozen rises above this trope to beautiful effect by telling Elsa's story in a new way.

Elsa is incredibly powerful. She can manifest snow and ice at will, just by thinking about it, but in childhood her magic injures Anna by accident. And so she is taught to hide her power, to pretend she is ordinary, to dread her own magic, and above all, to fear her own emotions. "Conceal it. Don't feel it. Don't let it show," is a mantra her father repeats with her again and again.

This illustrates another indoctrination into the patriarchy, and it's a well known one. Little girls and women are, both subliminally and overtly, taught to hide their anger, control it, to concentrate on being cooperative, nurturing, and helpful. (For a study that illustrates this perfectly, see here.) Strong, fiery little girls who are destined to be leaders are softened, and they learn to hide their leadership attributes. These pressures have very negative effects on young women. More than one study, (see here) has shown that a girl's self esteem is likely to drop when she reaches her teen years. Many specialists think the reason is she is increasingly aware of her passive role in society as a sexual object rather than as a powerful agent acting for her own good. Even worse, suddenly it becomes a girl's job to be in competition with her sisters for male attention, which alienates them from each other, complicating friendships between women, sometimes irreparably.

Elsa's journey follows this social tragedy almost in lock step. Just as she is discovering her own personal power in early adolescence, she is taught to hide it, deny it, and cover it up, which alienates her from her sister Anna. This fracture between the two girls sets off a spiral of psychological torment for both. For Elsa, this torment only intensifies her power, and she loses control of it altogether. Only when Elsa finally learns to accept and embrace her power, and to mend her relationship with her beloved Anna, is she able to assume her proper role as a powerful leader who can accomplish great things for her people. In other words, my dear sisters, it isn't the love of a man who will always save you. We women will all do better if we accept and cultivate our own power, and admit that our relationships with our sisters are just as important as our relationships with men, perhaps more so.

And what about Anna and her love affair with Hans? By the end of the movie we learn that Hans
seduced Anna, making her think there was an instant connection between them, for his own selfish ends. When he denies her the "true love's kiss" that would save her life, we see he is a nasty little sociopath who wants to feed off of her and her family. This is how a lot of stories of "love at first sight" end in real life, and it's a valuable lesson for every little girl, and boys too.

So yes, I let my daughters watch Frozen as much as they want, and we talk about it, and I answer all of their questions, because I want them to understand how easy it is to be tricked by a man you're attracted to, and how easy it is for a girl to lose her own sense of personal power and her connection to her sisters. This knowledge will, I dearly hope, help them avoid some of the more negative experiences many adult and teenage women have in their love lives and their working lives. Above all, I want to see more movies like Frozen that take a second look at the fairy tales we tell our children, and refashion them into the truth.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday October 1 is BLOGFEST!!!

Look for me at the BLOGFEST! 
Lots of giveaways!! 

Sometimes writers help each other out. Sometimes we all use our various platforms to help everyone get a little more exposure in this huge marketplace. Apryl Baker is the organizer for this event, and she's gotten some very impressive people to participate. (She's impressive herself, with a film deal for her Ghost Files series!) Click on the picture above to check out the guest list, and to read some really fun posts from a dizzying array of writers! 

Also, on Wednesday, October 1 there is a super fun Facebook event, so if you're interested, friend me on Facebook and tell me you want to attend, and I'll officially invite you! Follow the link:

"Amy, are there giveaways?" you ask. 
Why yes. Yes there are: 

 US giveaway (Available only in the United States:) a Rafflecopter giveaway International giveaway (Available outside the United States:)  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let's junk libraries and buy everyone a kindle.

Says Tim Worstall of Forbes: "More titles, easier access and quite possibly a saving of public funds. Why wouldn’t we simply junk the physical libraries and purchase an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for the entire country?"

What an idea! What a deep thinker! It's pure dollars and sense! Fire the librarians, tear down the libraries, and give all the money to AMAZON! After all, they know what to do with it, right? Let AMAZON be in charge of what the public reads from now on and into eternity! I trust them.

Business purists like Mr. Worstall are dummies in intellectual clothing. The only thing that matters to him is money. Forget after school and adult literacy programs, lecture series that are free and open to the public, literary events with guest authors, and the plain and simple public good of having a gathering place where people can read, think, research, and be together.

Forget the blow to the economy of all those millions of suddenly out of work librarians, who would now have far fewer places to tender their valuable skills. (And they are skilled. Very.) 

Oh wait! Mr Worstall has a solution! They can work at AMAZON!!

Forget the slap in the face to all those people who have dedicated themselves to the love of literature, and to the good of their communities. Forget the deep insult of devaluing them to the level of a portable reading device.

The fact that this guy has a national platform is honestly baffling.

What concerns me about this article isn't really the idea, which is ridiculous and obviously stupid. I'm more concerned about this trend of devaluing our public servants. If we devalue our teachers, then we devalue learning too. If we devalue librarians, we devalue literature and research. And do I have to point out that both these professions are populated largely by women? Is this a coincidence, or are suggestions like Mr. Worstall's just chauvinism in the guise of fiscal streamlining? 

I'm not providing a link to the FORBES article because it's probably click bait anyway. Instead I'll link to this blog piece by a NYC librarian that responds to Worstall's article rather hilariously:

If you love books, if you love your library like I do, you have to stand up for it. We all must defend our teachers and librarians, because they're under attack in a very real way.  Teachers and librarians are heroes on the front lines defending our crumbling society, trying to battle the forces that are destroying literature and love of learning. They deserve our utmost respect.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cheer up: Here is a joke about writing.

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

I didn't write this. Found it here, a great page with jokes for writers:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Blog Tour: Writers share their process.

I have been asked by my good friend, Jil Picariello, (isn't she cute?) author of the beautiful memoir Jessica Lost, to participate in a blog tour. I'm to invite a third writer to a conversation about process, but first let me tell you a little something about Jil. She is a brilliant cook, so brilliant that she even makes her own cheese. She's a sweet and loving presence, and she has an infectious giggle. I was in a writing group with her for a few years after we both completed our MFAs in Creative Writing from The New School, and I learned a lot from her, not just about writing, but about life in general.
Jil is all around delightful, and so is her memoir, Jessica Lost. (The picture to the right is a link to purchase the book on Indiebound.) In it, she tells the story, with the help of her biological mother, of how she was given up for adoption as a baby, and how she found her way back to the woman who gave birth to her. It's a beautiful story of loss and healing, and I highly recommend it. Jil writes very charmingly about her own process here:

And now let me introduce the next writer on the tour. We've chosen to have a conversation about our writing process, and I'm honored she agreed to be here.

Laura Pritchett is kind of famous in the town where I live. She's got a Ph.D. in creative writing from Purdue University, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her novel Sky Bridge was chosen by School Library Journal as a top ten book for that year --very impressive. She also writes beautiful essays that you can find in such literary journals as The Sun, Orion, and High Country Review. You can learn more about her at her website:

Her latest novel, Stars Go Blue, draws heavily on her experience having a parent ill with Azheimer's disease. The book is heartbreaking and absolutely beautiful, and it's getting all kinds of wonderful reviews and well deserved attention in the media. And the cover is just gorgeous! (Click on the picture to order from Indiebound.)

“Pritchett delivers a brilliant novel, filled with heartache and humor,that will strike a chord with many readers.
A heart-wrenching exploration of a family in crisis.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

“Pritchett’s prose is so beautifully crafted that she manages to make
 sadness beautiful and tragedy compelling.”
—Real Simple

Amy: Hi Laura! Thanks for being here! 

Laura: Thank you for having me! And Amy, YOU are famous in this town. And for good reason. I have to say: this town has such a wide diversity of voices, which is how, I suppose, we ended up doing a blog post together. First, I heard of you and your incredible books, and now I have the extreme pleasure of getting to know you. Whether YA or sci fi or historical or whatever – it is an incredible joy to share this writing journey with others. Also, I think all this speaks to the importance of community – of being part of the larger scope of things. When I first started writing, I was often home alone, writing away. And I still do that. For sure. But I also realize the importance of engaging in the larger community of writers and book lovers ---- which has (luckily for me) brought your work into my world. It’ s an honor to be sharing this conversation with you. You and your works are a complete joy and wonder. 

Amy: Thank you so much for that! (Ego swelling very pleasantly. Enjoying sensation...) But let's get down to business: I'd be so interested to hear about what you're working on right now.

Laura: Besides celebrating the release of Stars Go Blue, my new novel set in contemporary Colorado, I’m working on essays that revolve around that. For example, I got asked by O Magazine to write about issues of caretaking, since that’s one of the themes in the novel. Frankly, this type of writing has been a joy – to “write around” and explore a book that just came out. Besides that, though, I’m working on a novel about a young woman in eastern Colorado who is running illegal drugs and immigrants through a well-known route there. It’s a sequel to Sky Bridge, my first novel. How about yourself? 

Amy: I am a bit cagey about it because it's still in process. Suffice to say that I'm writing another young adult epic, but it's not contemporary and it's not science fiction. It's a new animal, and I like the way it's flowing out of me so far. I'm wondering, Laura, how would you differentiate your work from the rest of your genre?

Laura: My work is literary and set in the West – so I’m going to address that. I’d say that here in the American West, the West has been portrayed one way: Men were the focus, they were quiet and stoic, they had a bunch of broken dreams, and they had a minority and a woman to help them out. But literature has rapidly changed; we’ve evolved. We’ve quit being so romantic and nostalgic, and new voices have become part of our literary dialogue--voices by minorities, women, and complex men.

I am often afraid, however, that we’ve backed ourselves up into another corral. Perhaps the myth has not gone away, it’s just changed, and I wonder if our books have romanticized us yet again. One example? I often wonder if we Westerners are we all to be fishing, camping, kayaking outdoorsy tough folks? Are we just the mythic male, only in slightly different form?
So I hope my books at least attempt to deal with this myth-busting. I think lots of other writers are doing this, too, just to be clear. We are trying to tell the untold stories: Besides the ranchers that live all around me in my little rural hometown, there are also painters and musicians, army personnel and homemakers. There are folks suffering from anxiety, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorders. There are meth addicts, illegal immigrants, the very poor and the very rich. There are plenty of people in the West who aren’t outdoorsy, don’t fish, don’t camp, hike, or fix fence.
So, what is my plan? To keep pushing the boundaries of the literature set in the West. I want the full spectrum and an honest gaze directed at politics, poverty, wealth, sex, sexual orientation, class issues, overpopulation, climate change. A good book’s job is to expose real lives, the blood and heart inside us all.
How about you, Amy? How is your work different from most YA?

Amy: I guess I'd have to say that I'm a bit philosophical in my writing, or at least I try to be. I'm not the only writer of YA who is philosophical, not by a long shot, but I would say that most of the genre tends to be more about story and character and voice, and less about theme. (Though it would be a mistake to say theme is absent in YA.) My Sky Chasers series is, in the final analysis, an argument for the separation of church and state. I look at how corrupting it is when a leader is both the spiritual and the political figurehead, and why it's better for the two roles to be kept separate. Beyond that, I tackle pretty weighty issues like religion, medical ethics, and the futility of violence, so my books, though they are full of action, are not your typical shoot-em-up adventure, even though I think it's a pretty exciting story.

It's always a mystery to me where writers get their ideas. How does it work for you? Why do you write what you write?

Laura: Because I love to read. Be a part of the larger community and conversation. Books have a lot of power, after all. They show us how to live, or how we could live. They make us less lonely, they connect us, and they illustrate ways of being human.  Always, as a writer, I am seeking to put words to the inchoate, as truthfully as I can.

And by the way, Amy, I’m a huge fan of your work. And I have to say, I just ordered another to catch up with all you’ve been doing. The other day, at a conference, someone questioned “young adult literature these days,” and I went into a semi-rage rant. He obviously hadn’t read your work – or the work of so many YA writers out there. Frankly, there is TONS of great YA out there, and it makes me a bit crazy when it gets dismissed as being less sophisticated (or something) than “adult literature.” Wrong. YA Lit is EVERY BIT as sophisticated and complex and important as adult literature , and your work is one amazing example. I know you’ve posted on this before, and I so appreciate that.  Okay, but back to biz: Tell me, why do YOU write? 

Amy: To me this is an unanswerable question, because I really don't know why the stories that come to me almost always star a teen protagonist. Just like for any writer, all my ideas come from deep inside my subconscious, and my subconscious seems fascinated with the teen years. I guess I like the fact that teens are dealing with adult issues even though they have less power and experience than adults, so the stakes become naturally higher --I like a high-stakes story. Plus, I really care about young people, and I want to give them something to read that makes them feel less alone. I slip some heady ideas into my stories to encourage my readers to think, because I know what most YA authors understand: Teens are just as smart, and just as good at reading complex texts, as most adults. And that's the truth. So I try to write books that challenge them, and believe me, that's not easy.

Your books are so evocative and lyrical. I'm curious how your writing process works?

Laura:  Generally I think of a character first. I let her sit in my brain for a while. Then I start to ask questions: what’s up with her? What’s her main problem? What’s her main source of joy? From that comes a plot, a story. Then I try to make that character more complicated, more human. When I write a character, I think of that person as having a certain “weather pattern” going on. They are calm, stormy, violent, dull, bright. Of course, a character can change, and needs to change, but still, the character’s core is unique in some way. If I can find that core and write from there, then I feel like that character is a one-of-a-kind – and thus my story will be one of a kind. That’s the most important part of my process, bar none. How about you? What gets you going with a story?

Amy: For me the process is mostly about creating a space in my life for writing. I have three young children, so this is a lot harder than it used to be. I have about ten times more housework than I used to, and a million demands on my time that make keeping a writing practice very difficult. Lately I've been getting up very early, making myself some coffee, and getting some writing in before anyone else wakes up, maybe a couple pages. Then I make breakfast for my family, and they're off to their little social engagements with their nanny, and I get a few more hours to write mid-morning. I find that those few pages I write in the wee hours sets my whole day up for writing during stolen moments the rest of the day. If my book is the first thing I do, it's naturally on my mind all day. I like that. As far as where I begin, for me, it's always a scene, or a conversation between characters. I think I write down the action first, and then hone my characters from there.

Laura: Time to introduce the next writer on our tour! I’m very interested in issues of environmental and social justice, and to that end, Laura Resau’s work has been an inspiration (her work is very imbued with social justice issues, particularly those pertaining to poverty and life in South America). She’s helped me a lot with this upcoming book, in fact, and she continues to be a guiding influence in both my writing life and my regular day –to-day life. She’s brave and courageous – and so is her work. You can find more about her at:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

SLATE, on the embarrassment of Young Adult Fiction.

What a fascinating turn of events! Another writer has ventured forth with an article condemning the genre of Young Adult literature. This time it's Ruth Graham writing for SLATE, and she wants you to know that if you are over 18 and you read young adult literature, you ought to be ASHAMED of yourself!

I'm not going to write a response to the actual article, because it is full of false logic and reductive thinking with a healthy dose of arrogance. This writer has obviously read precious little of the current genre, and assumes adults who read young adult literature, like me for example, aren't reading anything else. (I'm well into Persuasion by Jane Austen for the second time, but never mind about me.)

I think the real reason for this article is a cynical observation by the editors of SLATE, or by Ruth Graham herself, that every time another condescending piece of "criticism" is posted from on high, pointing the judgmental finger of Culture at all us YA lovers wallowing in our narrative "simplicity," legions of incensed readers and writers of YA march to their website to register their rancor. And then SLATE makes more money.

They want the controversy. They want us to go to the article and defend our reading tastes, (which, by the way, need no defense.) So my suggestion is, don't do it.

Which is why the above hyperlink takes you directly to a picture of a rainbow, which is much more worth your while.

A picture of a rainbow.

Now isn't this nicer than reading some mean article on SLATE that will just make you mad anyway?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

On Mother's Day

People say, "Parenting is a lot of work." And you get that, but you don't really understand until you have kids of your own. You don't understand how tired a person can be until you have a baby. Your back aches, you can't get a full night's sleep, and you have to carry around a tiny person who needs you to carry her, no matter how bad that kink in your neck is, no matter how much you need to sleep or you really just might fall on your knees and cry.

Having kids is like winning the most wonderful prize in the world, but you kind of miss life before the prize. The prize makes you happier than you've ever been, and clarifies your life's purpose in a way nothing else ever could, but that prize requires constant attention, constant work, constant worry. Nothing is more exhausting than a baby. Nothing, that is, except a toddler.

And more babies.

Your body changes, whether you're a mom or a dad. Your life changes. Your house changes. Your car changes. Your schedule is a shambles, your ability to work severely compromised. You discover you have a terrible temper when you're too tired and overworked, and sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you yell, and you see innocent faces looking at you, bewildered and hurt. You apologize, you hate yourself. You sometimes even hate being a parent.

Parenting is a lot of work.

But nothing else gives you those warm cuddles, that soft baby-breath, that sweet silky skin on those chubby arms. Being a parent reconfigures all your senses. You become more fully alive. You become more fully yourself. You learn to love better than you ever have. You accept your mistakes, you move on, you try your hardest to make your all-consuming, unconditional love understood to little people who are as amazed by earth worms as they are by hearing Beethoven's Ode to Joy for the first time. Then you realize earth worms are just as amazing as Beethoven. You see the world in a new way, and that new vision is more precious than the freedom you gave up to get it.

So on this Mother's Day, I wish all of us mothers the very best of luck, because we'll need it, and for the most part, on most days, we probably deserve it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Here only, a chapter that was cut from FLAME.

Big Man

            Jacob Pauley liked thinking of them sleeping in their beds with no idea of what was going to happen, all those self righteous little people singing their little hymns praising God for what? For bearing the children of their enemies? That’s what they were doing; didn’t they realize? They were raising the brats of the people who had killed all their families before they even existed. They were living a nightmare, but the good thing about bad dreams was you could wake people up from them. He was going to be their alarm clock. Him and Ginny.
            He smiled at her. They hadn’t been able to get a gun; they were too closely guarded by Mather and her small army. But they’d been able to score a whole lot of bullets. Now Ginny was carefully sawing the butts off of them and pouring out the black powder from inside them. She’d already done a case, and had a nice little pile of powder. She knew lots of tricks like that, stuff she’d learned during early childhood from her dad, a man who’d been one of the last chieftans living in the rocky mountain survival camps. How the old man had gotten Ginny a place on the New Horizon, Jake never knew. He supposed he’d closed down some supply chain that led to the construction yard for the ships, held up some ore or fuel for ransom. There was uranium in those mountains, Jake knew. Maybe Ginnie’s Dad had known how to get it, for a price.
            Jake’s own father had had money. Lots of it. And land too. Tracts and tracts of grasslands in the Midwest where they used to grow corn. Daddy owned the land, he even farmed it. But Daddy’s money had come from the chemicals they put in the soil, those chemicals that fed the world corn while killing the fish in the oceans. That was his daddy. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
            Jake remembered the safety that came before the fear. He remembered the big house and the big woman Marta who took him from his mother’s thin arms and held his head to her bosom, rocking him back and forth, murmuring in his ear. Marta was the one who told him the doctors didn’t know anything. “You are smart, mi hijo,” she’d tell him. “You will surprise them all, and be a great man some day like your daddy.”
            But Jake knew what no one else did. Jake’s daddy was a bully. Jake only wanted to please him, make him happy, so he could earn a rare smile, a nod of satisfaction. Jake was learning. To prove the doctors wrong he’d learn about his daddy’s job so that he could take over the business someday, and make even more money, build an even bigger compound than his daddy had.
            As often as he was allowed, Jake would stand by his father’s desk as Daddy made his morning phone calls to his business associates, working to keep the supply chains open so the supplies could keep flowing. He watched the cold eyes, listened to daddy’s rapid-fire words, watched as Daddy clenched his fists, hardening his knuckles, trying so hard to understand what his father said. But none of it made sense, and he knew better than to ask questions. He didn’t give up, though. Even if he couldn’t understand the words, he could study Daddy’s method. Daddy always spoke with a sharp voice that was sure to whittle down any resistance, break through any silence.
            Daddy talked on the phone every morning until the day came when, suddenly, there was no one to call. Jake watched as Daddy dialed and dialed, one number after another, his eyes growing colder and colder until he finally threw the phone through the glass window and left the room without a glance at his son. Jake went out to retrieve the phone for his father, to please him. He dusted it off and placed it carefully on the big man’s armchair with an unsure grin.
            “We don’t need it anymore,” was all Daddy said.
            “What if someone wants to call here?”
            “They’re all gone, Jakey,” Daddy said, and surprised him by lifting him up and hugging him so tight his ribs rubbed together. Jakey tried to hug his daddy back just as hard. Inside though, Jakey was sad. He didn’t understand what his daddy was doing. He didn’t understand throwing the phone away, and he didn’t understand the hug. He’d never understand his daddy enough to be a great man like he was. Marta was wrong. Jakey was stupid, just like the doctors said.
            For a long while after the last phone calls, the house was very quiet. Mommy stayed in her bedroom for days at a time. Jake played quietly in the attic because Marta didn’t think it was safe outside anymore. “Why isn’t it?” he’d ask her.
            “Don’t you worry, mi hijo. That is for the grownups to know. You stay upstairs where I can find you. And if I call, you come fast like a bunny, okay?”
            He didn’t understand why Marta always looked so afraid, but it all became clear the day the fires came. Jake remembered the smoky sting in his throat as he watched from his attic window the line of red winding its way up the grassy hillside toward his house. There was a sudden explosion of angry voices downstairs, and Marta’s heavy footsteps running up to get him. “Come fast, mi hijo!” When Jake and Marta went downstairs, Jake saw the hard man who worked for Daddy holding a gun. “There’s no guns allowed in the house,” Jakey said to the man with his squeaky little boy voice.
            “Those were your daddy’s rules,” the man said with a wink of his yellow eyes. “They don’t hold anymore.”
            “How long do we have?” Jake’s daddy asked the man.
            “They’re about two miles away,” the man said.
            “I’ll give you money,” Daddy said. “If you let us go.”
            “Money ain’t much good anymore, or haven’t you noticed?”
            That’s when Mommy started to cry. Jake hadn’t noticed her sitting in the corner, a shivering pile of bones wrapped in a cashmere blanket.
            “You’ve worked for me for fifteen years,” Daddy said to the hard man. There was something in his voice Jake had never heard before. Daddy sounded almost like the dog they had a long time ago when he cried to be let in at night. Jake didn’t like hearing his father that way, and wished Marta had left him to play in the attic.
            “I don’t work for you anymore,” the hard man said.
            “I hired you when no one else would,” Daddy said, straightening his back against the hard wood of his chair. This was the daddy Jake understood, angry and commanding. Jake saw Daddy making his fist hard under the table, twisting it inside his other palm as though polishing it. “I trusted you. I gave you a second chance.”
            “They’ll kill him,” Jake’s mommy said to the man. She stood up, and the afghan hung off her sharp shoulders. “When they get here, you know that. They’ll kill him, right off. And Jakey…” Her voice dropped off.
            The head guard looked at Jakey then, and Jake made himself stare at the man in the eyes. He knew he ought to feel afraid, but he felt only confusion. Marta reached for his hand, but Jakey didn’t take it. He wanted to stand up straight like a grown up. Later he would wish with all his heart that he’d taken her hand.
            “You can have one of the helicopters,” the hard man finally said to Daddy as he tossed a burning cigarette onto the floorboards and ground it out under the toe of his boot. “I’ll tell them you snuck out and stole it.”
            “Thank you,” Daddy said quietly.
            Daddy didn’t wait. He grabbed Jakey, called to Mommy over his shoulder, and ran out the back of the house and up the hill, coughing out smoke from the fires. He threw Jake into the back of the helicopter and got in the pilot seat. Jakey’s mother sobbed, wrapping herself around her son as Daddy started the engine.
            In that moment, all Jakey could think about was how daddy had thanked the man! He’d actually thanked him!
            The helicopter lifted off the ground, hovering in the air over the house before Jake realized they’d left Marta behind. He screamed and screamed, kicking his mother in her fragile legs, reaching for Marta, who was running out of the house, her thick brown arms lifted up as she cried for her Jakey. Jake screamed until his voice broke in two. Marta got smaller and smaller as they flew away, until she became a tiny brown dot scurrying over the hillside like an ant.
            In the distance, Jakey saw them coming, the men on their horses and in their wagons, a vast horde of them. They made the shape of a knife blade, cutting through the prairie.
            Daddy flew for hours as Jake’s mother peered at the ground, her eyes filled with helpless fear as Daddy shook his head time and time again. Didn’t look safe there. Didn’t look safe here either. They were nearly out of fuel before Jake realized his parents had no idea where to go. They set down near a tree by a stream. How Jake’s mother had cried when she realized the polluted water wasn’t fit to drink.
            “Where will we go?” Jake’s mother had cried the next morning, watching her husband with round, darting eyes.
            He stamped out the fire with his foot. “We’re going where money still matters,” he’d said quietly. “To the shipyard.”
            “The shipyard? That’s a thousand miles away. How will we get there?”
            “We’ll walk.” Jake saw the fist he made, and stood up to show he was ready to go right away.
            “Walk?” Mommy whined? “Are you joking?”
            “Get up,” Jake’s father said, and pulled on Mommy’s shirt until she stood.
            “I can’t! You know I can’t!” Mommy wailed.
            So he slapped her. He reared back and slapped her right across the face.
            After that, most of what Jake remembered was filled with darkness.
            But life became clear somehow. The confusion Jake had felt before sitting at his father’s knee was replaced by total understanding. The world he lived in now, after the billowing curtains and soft furniture of the old house and Marta’s warm arms –this was a world he understood. The bigger man always won. The man with the gun beat the man with the knife. The man who was ruthless beat the man who hesitated. And Jakey’s father always won.
            Those were lessons Jake would use now, to make things right on this ship. His father would be proud if he could see him now, with his wife, making the tools he’d use to get what he needed to become the man he was always meant to be.
            Anne Mather was finished. That’s what his friends told him, the people who brought supplies to his and Ginny’s hiding place. They said she was weak, and it would be time to strike soon. He liked imagining her smug little smile wiped off her face by a bit of shrapnel. Jake was going to make that shrapnel. He and Ginny were going to make the bomb that changed everything.
            It had to be done very carefully, like a surgical excision. He couldn’t damage the hull, not if he wanted to have a ship when it was all done. But he had the advantage. He knew where Anne Mather and all her friends and supporters would be when it was time. Every week they sat together, all in one room, like lambs waiting for the blade.
            When he and Ginny were ready, things would change.
            Change would come so fast no one else would know what to do.
            That’s when Jake would step in.

            Until then, he had a pet project. He was going to find a way to get to Waverly Marshall, even if he had to kill every one of Anne Mather’s guards to do it. And when he was finally alone with her, he would finish what he started.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On useless crap.

I love New Year's resolutions. I appreciate the impetus to take a look at my life, and choose something I'd like to do differently, and then acting on that desire instead of letting it nag the back of my mind. That's why I actually take my resolutions very seriously, and I even announce them on Facebook to hold myself accountable.

This year my resolution was not to buy anything for myself for a year. No sweaters, no shoes, no boots, no underwear or socks. No hats, no coats, no tchotchkies, no cosmetics. No. More. Crap.

I was surprised by the reactions I got from friends when I announced my intentions. "Seems extreme," was one comment. Another person joked that I was going to be pretty smelly if I didn't buy soap. Didn't appreciate that one. Of course I'll purchase what I need to keep clean. My husband didn't believe I'd be able to do it, which provides some hint at my reasons for choosing to. I can now report that I've reached the third month of the year, and I still haven't bought myself anything new, at all, except I decided to switch my brand of drug-store face cream, and so far I'm happy with the change.

A lot of people are baffled about my sudden aesceticism, and I decided to explain where it came from, partly because I wasn't absolutely certain of all my reasons for doing it. I'm never certain about anything until I try to write about it, actually.

When I became a mother, I had the same reaction most new parents have: Complete joy, unparalleled love, and paralyzing, keep-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night terror. Suddenly I was responsible for small being(s) who were absolutely dependent on me for sustenance, shelter, and safety. Until you have a child, it's hard to feel in your gut the total responsibility a parent has toward her baby. Take my word for it, non-parents, it's a definite blow to your psyche. Suddenly, nothing you desire comes even close in importance to seeing that your child is safe, well-fed, warm, and loved.

When my baby cried, it was emotional agony for me if I couldn't make it better. If my baby was in pain, or was simply mysteriously freaking out and I couldn't figure out why, I honestly felt like I would go crazy if I couldn't fix it. It's so scary, all the possibilities of what might be tormenting an inconsolable baby: Is it a hair wrapped around a digit? A migraine headache? A potentially fatal intestinal blockage? Or is it just that I'm holding her the wrong way? The anguish a new parent feels in those moments can be intense.

For me, though, I always knew she'd had enough to eat. It wasn't dysentery, or typhoid, or a poisonous insect bite, or an undiagnosed birth defect in one of her organs. I knew this because I live in America where I have access to health care, and I have enough money to buy food for my kids and to provide safe haven for them.

I'm so lucky.

Because these conditions of ease and comfort do not exist for the majority of parents in our world. The majority. MOST people in the world are food insecure, which means that there are lots of parents, today, this very moment, watching their child moan in pain from being hungry, and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. The anguish of being a parent, knowing what is wrong, knowing that your kid might even die from the problem, and still not being able to fix it? Unimaginable. Unbearable. Horrific.

When my kids were babies, I started having a kind of strange image that kept recurring to me. I have three young kids. I can't carry them all. I saw myself on a lonely highway, exhausted, pushing them all in a shopping cart, mountains on my left, mountains on my right, and nothing but nothing up ahead. I couldn't get it out of my mind. I think it's partly because I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy while I was pregnant. That horrible situation of trying to raise a child in a world that has lost its humanity has haunted me ever since, and when I became somebody's mommy, it became my recurrent nightmare. Somewhere along the way, as I imagined this image of myself exhausted, trying to keep them alive, trying to stay alive myself so that I could, I realized: This is actually a reality somewhere in the world. There are parents right now trying to see their kids safely through a war zone. It haunts me. It really does.

Obsessive? Yes. Neurotic? Sure. But I bet you every parent goes through this, at least at first, until things settle, and parenthood becomes the New Normal.

This shift in my world view sapped the joy of shopping from me. I keep thinking about parents fleeing Syria, trying to carry their children across a desert, parents in Somalia, whose children have stopped growing, parents right here in the USA whose kids eat rice every meal, knowing the food stamps won't last much longer. Getting something for myself, with all that on my mind, wasn't fun anymore.

I know that what I'm doing is kind of useless. It's self-absorbed, really. Who am I helping? No one. I give to charities, but not enough. I could give more. Actually I think I will. I just wanted to stop feeling so guilty after the initial fun had worn off from my latest needless purchase. I wanted to change my relationship to the material world.

I've hesitated to write about this because I didn't want to seem sanctimonious. I don't begrudge anyone their new jeans. I truly don't. Life is hard, sometimes crushing, and if shopping is your way of coping, then I say go for it. Shop instead of drinking, or doing drugs, or doing yourself any number of possible injuries. Right now, this year, my way of coping is to not shop. I think of it as an expression of solidarity with the parents who don't even have the option. And you know what? I do feel a little bit better about my choices. It's a break from stuff.  A break from shopping. A break from my own petty preoccupations with the material world.

I didn't expect this, but I feel so free.

UPDATE 3/16/2015: So over a year has passed since this experiment, and though I didn't make it all the way to a year before I bought something for myself, (I made it six months,) I can report one positive outcome of this experiment that seems to be holding true: I no longer enjoy shopping online like I used to. Before, if I was bored I would look at the websites of my favorite stores, or I would check out Ebay for that JCrew sweater I saw somewhere, and I would buy something, enjoying the feeling that I was doing something for myself. Just now, for the first time in months, I went to one of my favorite stores' websites and just the process of looking at stuff to buy was boring for me. Ebay too. Online shopping just doesn't give me the same emotional lift that it used to. I don't know why this happened, except to posit that the six month hiatus I took from buying anything at all forced me to find other ways to spend my time when I was bored. And now I cure boredom with social media, (a waste of time but at least it's free,) reading, and other more productive uses of my time. I suspect I spend a great deal less money on useless crap, and that's a relief to my wallet. All in all, I recommend this experiment for anyone looking to change their orientation to the physical world. I think I am definitely less of a spendthrift, so even though I failed to make it for a whole year, I still think I gained something valuable from taking a break from shopping.

Friday, February 21, 2014

On hiding the female form.

Once upon a time, women's bodies were hidden this way:

Waists were cinched with whale bone corsets, full skirts concealed legs and ankles, hats and veils on heads, gloves over narrow fingers, parasols between skin and sun. To expose a woman's body was to disgrace her. A woman's body was treated with shame.

Now women's bodies are hidden like this:

The fat on this girl's legs has been hidden, her true skin tone obscured, corrected, her waistline digitally cinched ever tighter, her legs narrowed, because Jessica Alba was not beautiful enough.

So now women try to hide their own bodies:

They hide their bodies by eating less, until their muscles atrophy and their internal organs stop functioning. They hide their bodies with Spanx, with cosmetics, with collagen injections and laser treatments, with surgery.

But some women refuse to hide their bodies. Sometimes they are ridiculed for it:

In some places, the consequences are worse:

These women are brave.

We are brave.

We are aging naturally, we are eating healthy food and exercising for our health, not our appearance. We are raising our daughters to be cunning, strong, and fearless. No one takes our picture and puts it on a billboard, but we are your doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, musicians, artists, and writers. We are mothers. 

We know what true beauty is.

True beauty does not hide itself. True beauty is not afraid. True beauty is timeless.

We don't learn the lessons they try to teach us. We refuse to hide behind their idolatry. We find our own idols.

MAYA ANGELOU, Pulitzer Prize winning poet

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR, first woman US Supreme Court Justice

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, the first US Secretary of State

Whoever you are holding the camera, the scalpel, the needle, the laser, the stone, we do not need you to see us as beautiful. 

We don't need you at all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A brief history of the hoodie.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, a hoodie called up images of heroic athletes working to overcome crushing odds to better themselves and win the day. Rocky Balboa wore his hooded sweatshirt as he ran up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, accompanied by a choir of singers belting out, "Feeling strong now!!" This was back when Sylvester Stalone made great movies.
When people wore a hoodie in the 1970's it meant they were working hard to better themselves, sweating it out, getting strong.

But somewhere along the line, hoodies started to mean this:

If you do an internet search that pairs the words, 'hoodie,' with 'crime,' you find that lots of criminals wear hoodies. This is logical, given that the hoodie can obscure your face from a security camera, and make you hard to identify in a line-up if you're caught. A hoodie can be useful if you're up to no good.

But that's not why most of us wear hoodies. I've got one, and I wear it when I go running because I can put up the hood during my warm-up on a cold day, and then once I'm sweating, I can flip it back and I feel cooler. I can unzip the front and get cooler still. When I'm done with my run, I can bundle up again on my walk home. If it starts to rain on me, my hood provides a little shelter. My hoodie is warm, and comfy, and it's one of the most useful, versatile pieces of clothing I own.

I bet that's how Trayvon Martin felt about his hoodie. He was the unarmed teenage boy who, in February of 2012, went to a 7-Eleven to buy iced tea and Skittles, only to be shot and killed by George Zimmerman.

Throughout the media circus that followed, we heard countless mentions of Martin's hoodie. Geraldo Rivera famously said, "I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” (Read more: Rivera, perhaps hearing the mistake he'd made, tried to explain himself: "It’s those crime scene surveillance tapes. Every time you see someone sticking up a 7-Eleven, the kid’s wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace." Even if Rivera's intentions had been to advise young men to protect themselves, the logic is right there in his words: Dark Skin + Hoodie = Danger.

One has to wonder if that was George Zimmerman's logic, too.

It wasn't just Rivera making the connection. Hundreds of hooded images of Martin were paraded about, many of them less than flattering, or downright slanderous:

Martin did NOT steal the Skittles. Here's a link to the surveillance video of him buying them from the clerk the night he died:

There was conjecture that Martin may have been involved in some burglaries, though he was never charged, and it was never proven that the items in his possession had actually been stolen. He'd been suspended for having marijuana paraphernalia in his school locker, but he did not have a juvenile record. It's especially important to note that Martin did not approach Zimmerman in any way. Zimmerman disregarded the advice of the police dispatcher he was on the phone with, followed Martin, confronted him, and when Martin got scared, or angry, or both, and tried to defend himself, Zimmerman shot him. Tragically, needlessly, the boy died.

We all know what happened next. George Zimmerman pleaded self defense, and was found not guilty.

In the wake of the grief and outrage that followed, one must ask the question: Why did the the negative details about Trayvon Martin's past even come up? Why was the hoodie itself so hotly debated? They were irrelevant to the case, but Martin's past indiscretions and wardrobe choice seemed to be on trial just as much as George Zimmerman was. At the end of it all, looking at the way Martin's image was scrutinized in the media, and how Zimmerman was shockingly let off the hook for his murder, one might conclude: If you are a young black man in America and you're shot down, you have to be a saint for your murderer to be convicted. And you better not be wearing a hoodie.

And that, my friends, is what oppression looks like.

Link to The Million Hoodies Movement.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Hi all,

This week I'm running a goodreads giveaway. See below!

    Goodreads Book Giveaway

        Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan


          by Amy Kathleen Ryan

            Giveaway ends February 14, 2014.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.
      Enter to win

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Here is what the e-verse is saying:

From a Kirkus starred review: "...a climax that is tense and viscerally frightening...Detailed and gripping, with a thorough and satisfying resolution."

MajiBookshelf: "Me not being a fan of books set in space, this series totally blew me away! I'm so happy that I was able to read it, and would totally recommend it to all sci-fi readers out there! I will be looking forward to future books by Amy Kathleen Ryan!"

Fresh Fiction: "Fans of Orson Scott Card and Suzanne Collins will appreciate the depth of Amy Kathleen Ryan's world and how it reveals society at its weakest and strongest points."
Snarky Bird: "This trilogy offers a great mix of dynamic characters, politics and well, spaceships." 

Me on Books: "Flame is a tense and dangerous conclusion to a series about survival, faith, power and hope."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

For anyone who thinks gay people should be "reformed."

(Reposting this in solidarity with the gay couples in Utah who have just had their right to marry violated by the government.)

Imagine a world where almost everyone is gay. It’s fully accepted that women ought to fall in love and marry other women, and men should marry other men. Every movie and TV show depicts gay couples and families. In the park, everywhere you look, there are gay couples strolling hand in hand, lying on a blanket looking at the clouds, or just laughing together, having a good time. No one bothers them, because in this world, everyone assumes that everyone else is gay.
Since being gay is ‘normal,’ gay people have all the power in this society. Every school board member, state legislator, and congress-person is gay. Even the President of the United States is gay. In fact, there has never been an openly straight president in our entire nation’s history.
Now imagine that you’re one of few straight people in this world, and you've finally met the squeeze of your dreams. If you’re a girl, you’ve found that super cute guy with blue eyes and dimples. If you’re a guy, you’ve found that gorgeous girl with the shiny hair you’ve been looking for all your life. For the first time, you’ve met a person who feels right, who makes you happy and excited and peaceful all at once. There’s a problem, though. When you walk down the street together, you get dirty looks from passing gay couples who think that you’re disgusting. You can’t even hold hands when you go to the movies because roaming bands of gay guys might come and beat you up. You have to somehow tell your moms that you’re straight, and when you do, they cry, and maybe even kick you out of the house. In fact, now that everyone knows you’re straight, they act weird around you, embarrassed. Many of them stop being your friend.
After a year or two of this treatment, maybe you decide that being with your perfect squeeze isn’t worth all this grief and rejection. You decide that being straight is only in your head, and that if you try really hard, you can make yourself be attracted to same-sex people. So you give up your perfect squeeze, and you try to “pass” for gay. If you’re a guy, you find a decent looking dude, and you pretend you can’t get enough of touching him. If you’re a girl, you find a nice chick with good skin and you make out in the hallways at school. Because that’s what everyone wants you to do.
Could you do it? Could you make yourself be attracted to someone in order to satisfy a social order you don’t fit into? Could you suddenly decide that you’ve had enough of being straight, that you’re gay now, and you’re going to be happy with that? 
 When I met my husband, I thought he was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I loved the way he rubbed my back after making me laugh. I loved kissing him, and holding his hand, and snuggling with him. I didn’t have to force it. I wanted to do all these things because, on a very basic, biological, even cellular level, I was attracted to him. I didn’t decide to be attracted. I wasn’t attracted to him because I thought other people would approve. The attraction came first, before everything else, and I had absolutely no power over it.
            Ask anybody about their squeeze, they’d be likely to tell you the same thing. There was just something about her. I felt drawn to him immediately. There’s no reason they’re attracted to the people they want. They just are. Instinctive, biological attraction is a universal human experience. We want who we want. We can’t help it.
            If attraction is powerful and ungovernable, then Love is a force of nature akin to a hurricane. Love cannot be contained. When two people recognize their soul mate in each other, the world lights up around them. Colors are bolder and the air is cleaner. The future is suddenly not so scary, because they have each other, and they know they always will. They’re so sure of this, in fact, that they want to stand up in front of everyone they know and declare that from this day forward, they will be unquestioningly devoted to each other. For the rest of their lives, they will act as one, because from now on, they are part of a family.
            Because that’s what marriage is. Marriage is two people deciding to make a new family, even if it’s just a family of two.
            I would never, ever want to deprive anyone of that experience. I could never say to another human being: “I can know the joy of declaring my love for my soul mate and committing myself to him forever, but you never can.” Who could dream of taking that away from another human being?
Anyone who thinks that heterosexuality can be "chosen" is either lacking in basic human empathy, or is a self-loathing closeted homosexual themselves. Either way, it's no way to be.
Don't like same sex marriage? Marry the opposite sex, mind your own business, and let other people choose their own lovers. Okay? It's time to grow up already, America.

See this article about a recent ruling on Oklahoma:
Quote from ruling judge:
“Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived ‘threat’ they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority’s disapproval of the defined class. It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships.”