Shiny Happy Things

Hello. It’s been a while.

Last year was tough. I didn’t write almost at all. Instead I did a lot of foundation repair work, and focused on routine and stability. It’s paying off, I think. And so hi, here I am, writing again. Thinking about essays as I do chores again, daydreaming about ways to tell you about what I’m seeing in the world, what’s catching my eye or becoming an earworm in my head.

The basics, which you may or may not already know: I’m taking a couple years off from teaching to work a desk job that pays during the summers (since, you know, adjuncting did not) and gives me time to write and garden.

I’m living with friends and we’re doing a massive multi-year project on the house and land in a suburb of DC where we are amending and restoring the soil and removing invasive plants, and building out a native plants pollinator garden, a woodland native plants garden, and a bit of an urban farm in the backyard with raised bins on a slope behind the house. I’m trying to document some of this project over on Instagram @the_elms_ if you want to see what a shared special interest turned collective obsession looks like.

Part of the project is happening through the VA Conservation Assistance Program–a cost-sharing grant–because we’re creating a conservation landscape that will reduce erosion and catch rain runoff. The property is one big slope, which eventually runs into a Chesapeake Bay tributary, and this eventual end is the reason for the county’s investment in such projects.

While most of my creative energy has gone into things like the garden this past year, I’ve also continued to put out the Kitchen Table Cult podcast with Kieryn.

We hoped KTC would become obsolete after Trump left office, but it continues to be depressingly relevant as we watch the parental rights extremists of the homeschool deregulation lobbying movement of our childhoods become the playbook for antagonizing trans kids. We just finished doing a deep dive series on parental rights extremism, and it’s been good work but emotionally exhausting to tackle.

Adjacent to that, I’m still on the board of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE), and this issue is one of the ones we’re focused on there, so much so that we’ve been made a messaging guide around parental rights extremism for our advocacy partners.

CRHE also recently instituted our first annual Day of the Homeschooled Child on April 30th–wear green!– and it’s part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Here’s the rundown on what the day is about:

And that’s the housekeeping part of this little greeting. On to the real stuff.

I’m in a documentary about Bill Gothard’s fundamentalist high control group, Institute in Basic Life Principles. It’s called Shiny Happy People and it comes out tomorrow, June 2.

I was pulled in as an expert source, given my presence on the board of CRHE and thanks to some of my writing about Anna Duggar’s situation as trapped, financially abused, educationally neglected housewife when half the internet was raging on about her husband’s crimes and yelling that she should have left him already. (She should have, but it’s not that easy.)

However, the cut you’ll see in the documentary when it drops tomorrow, in its final form, has me also grouped with the survivors of ATI (IBLP’s homeschooling program) as well. Given that I grew up Quiverfull (like the Duggars practiced, just with fewer kids), this makes sense. But for the record: I didn’t grow up in IBLP/ATI. Lots of people I was close to were involved, and we did use some wisdom booklets one year in elementary school for a supplemental educational resource, but we never went all in. (The reason? My dad liked playing electric guitar. IBLP is fundamentalist Baptist, so rock is banned. Satanic stuff, you know!)

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be writing a few essays here as a supplement to what the show covers. I’m also going to be posting these over on my website so they have a permanent home that’s easy to find (hello, blogging, it’s been a while!). Working on that still, so for now it’s Buttondown newsletters all the way, baby.

I’m really pleased with what this documentary covers. I think it will be a relief for a lot of survivors to see what they experienced in ATI represented clearly. It’s shown to be as horrible as it actually was, in many respects. And it raises the question of complicity for the TLC execs and the audience who ate up the content. I’m glad to see these issues raised, I’m glad to see some of these things getting hit with sunlight, finally.

If you didn’t grow up in this world, it’s dark stuff. Brace yourself. But consider that watching this an act of witnessing what a generation of Quiverfull kids went through, what our parents sold our childhoods for. That act of witnessing is a kind of solidarity that is meaningful to us.