I freaked out with the Jill Abramson stuff started to happen. I have a book coming out in August and what if I botched it? What if in the book I messed up people’s stories or sold out their identities. (I have a few people in there with pseudonyms because they tried to perform a coup on a Methodist church, and I was like, “Nah” and things got ugly. Read the book to find out more.)
So, that’s when I messed up.
What I did right was send chapters to the people who shared sensitive information with me to make sure that they were attributed properly and that the stories I told were not retraumatizing them.
What I did wrong was send a chapter about spending a miserable week with Baptist ministers in rural Iowa to the minister in charge.
Let me explain.
Before I went on that trip, the group I was going to visit made me sign a covenant that had a morality clause that basically said I’d abstain from non-marital fuckery and drinking. Which, my marriage was barely together at that point. (A month after the trip, I asked for a divorce.) The non-marital fuckery was easy to avoid because it was rural Illinois and I was so tired, I didn’t want to even shake anyone’s hand, much less let them in my bed. And I was supposed to stay with a nice couple who were hosting me and another woman—the only female pastor in our group.
I also planned on staying away from whiskey, after all, it was just a week. But one hour into my drive, I stopped for gas and started crying.
I was raised by Baptists. Over half my life has been spent in hot brown, brick churches, fanning myself with the church bulletin and listening to the judgment of the Lord rained down from a red-faced man in shirt sleeves. I know how it feels for a pastor to pat me on the head and say, “Little girl, just stop asking questions only the Lord knows the answer to.”
I’ve seen men use Jesus to deny me my voice and my words and my authority. And well, honestly, my soon-to-be ex had just called me a heretic only a month before the trip. And if there was a chance any of that was gonna happen during that week, then I needed to be prepared. I needed to have a safe place.
So, I booked the room and bought whiskey. I called my host family. Made an excuse for why I wouldn’t be at their house. And I’m glad I did. Those moments in the hotel room, with Forensic Files on and a plastic cup of whiskey centered me and allowed me to keep going back into it. I put it all in the chapter. Along with some other things. I didn’t put everything in the chapter. There were a couple of moments when I was asked to turn off my recorder and I did. Those moments were kind of damning for the ministers, but I kept my journalistic integrity if not my whiskey integrity.
Needless to say, the ministers were not impressed with the chapter. In response, I received a roughly two page email accusing me of making the divide in America worse.
Don’t worry. Two friends have thoroughly yelled at me for sending them the chapter. One friend, an editor, was like, “That was really dumb of you.” DIRECT QUOTE. Another said, “Are you stupid?” And I agree. I just didn’t want to Abramson anyone. Yeah, it’s a verb now.
As a result, the ministers asked me not to put them in the book. I refused. They already knew about my project and my thesis and my intentions when they agreed to have me and agreed to go on record. They also quibbled over whether we went trapshooting or skeetshooting, and I think I know the difference, but okay. We can call it trapshooting. That was truly the only change I made.
But I think about that criticism—“You are making the divide in America worse”—a lot because, I do not believe in bridging divides. As my pastor told me, “If something is dead, good, let it die.” If something is divided, it’s better to understand the reasons rather than to blindly band aid the gaping wound.
In any case, my publisher is doing a giveaway on Goodreads for my book. And you should enter, because my book, according to 2/2 Baptist ministers polled, is what is wrong with America.