A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.22 “Always Use Your Voice”

Dear daughter,

Yesterday was difficult. We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, so it was just another day of hanging around the house. 

You were putting up a fight for some very basic things — brushing your teeth and getting dressed. You’re four and you don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like threatening time-out but it seems to get the job done.

The fights and frustration continued throughout the day. I don’t even remember what it all was about. What was concerning was that by the end of the day when we’re all tired, you were crying and I couldn’t understand what you were saying. This has been happening more frequently. I wish I knew what was going on so I could help you.

Daughter, I’m sure by the time you read this letter I will be able to understand you when you’re upset. Language skills and emotional regulation will come (and hopefully soon.)

It’s okay to be upset. Always use your voice. Communication is crucial. If you need help, always speak up. Be clear in what you need.

I don’t cry that much. It’s not that I’m afraid to let go, it’s just me. When I do cry, it is a good indication that changes need to be made. So when I break down, I listen to my mind and body. You always should, too. 

Beautiful daughter, life is full of ups and downs and good communication will help you get through all of it. Always use your voice.




Sharing another poem from my book, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy.


(a message to my younger self)

among the stares
meant to strip your future naked.

among the words
meant to leave your outlook tainted.

outside the conformity
of the minds no longer free.

free of the Book
that binds their hands and knees.

in your community
on the outside looking in.

among your neighbors
ignoring their own sin.

because you’re strong
and love will always win.


My poetry book gives an atheist perspective on being a Midwest Mom. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.21 “Frustration”

Dear daughter,


Your frustration is through the roof. It’s most noticeable when you play video games. If something doesn’t work right in the game, you yell, cry, and sometimes throw the remote. It escalates very quickly — zero to 100 in no time flat.

But it’s not limited to video games. Sometimes if you’re not understood in conversations you get very upset. 

I get it. I really do. I’m a very impatient person and am often frustrated, too.

When I look back on my childhood, I remember a lot of confusion. It just felt like I never knew what was going on. I didn’t know how things worked and I didn’t understand why people would act the way they did. I remember several times when I got in trouble and never understood what I did wrong. It was very frustrating.

My smart and beautiful daughter — you are a little more passionate and fiery than I was growing up and I think in life, that might serve you well. That doesn’t help the frustration you are feeling now, though. So many things are new to you and there’s a lot to take in.

I can tell you to try to stay calm, but you’re only four right now and I know that won’t work. So I will try to stay calm for you. 

Always ask questions when you don’t understand and give it time. Don’t give up. When you get older things will become a little more clear. Growing up is confusing and frustrating but you will get through it. I promise. 



February 23rd — Speaking to the Nottingham Secular Society!

Getting excited! I’m speaking to the Nottingham Secular Society next week!


“Poems and Tales from an American Heathen Mommy”

Megan Rahm

Speaks, via Zoom, from Toledo, Ohio, USA.

Tuesday 23rd February at 19:30

Let’s have a good turnout for our

American friends.

As usual, you will have to request a link, etc. for this meeting and the information will be sent out a couple of days before the meeting.

email: nottinghamsecularsociety@yahoo.com


Megan is an atheist, humanist and secularist all rolled into one,

and she comes highly recommended by the Great Lakes Atheists. (founded by one of our members!). Megan will take us on her journey through life.


Everything about Megan Rahm screams “Midwest Mom” with one big exception; she’s a very passionate atheist. While often a source of tension, this juxtaposition in her life is also a source of creativity, which led to her writing “Free to Roam: Poetry from a Heathen Mommy”.  In her talk, as in her book, Megan will passionately explore coming of age, faith and atheism, motherhood, and womanhood. With honesty, poignancy, and humour, Megan Rahm covers life’s most exhilarating highs and the heartbreaking lows. Her words are sure to both make you cry and awaken your sense of life’s adventure.


This is departure from our normal annual Darwin Lecture where we have always had a scientist as a speaker – but let’s give the Arts a go!

Tuesday 30th March at 19:30

Speaker: Alistair Lichten from the National Secular Society.

“No more Faith Schools!”

Tuesday 27th April at 19:30

Speaker: Margaret Christopoulos on

“Conscientious Objectors in World War 2 in the UK.”


I am available for more speaking engagements! Please leave a comment if your group is interested!

Do you mourn the people you’ve lost as an atheist?

In the past few months, I’ve become a lot more open about being an atheist and I feel I have been lucky. Other than my friends list on Facebook becoming a little shorter, it really hasn’t disrupted my family’s life. Close family members were already aware of how I felt. Older family members — the ones who would have actually cared — are all dead now. It also helps that I no longer live in the conservative rural area where I grew up. 

So my question is this — have you lost people in your life due to being an atheist? How did you deal with it?

I would like to think you could just say you are better off without people who don’t accept you, but I know it’s not always that simple.


The Descent of Man: “I’m Not Alone”

“I’m Not Alone”


It started with a feeling just over a week ago. Pause for a sec — and there it is again. That nagging suspicion that I’m not alone.

Keys, wallet, notebook. I’m going to be late for work. Work is only an eight-minute drive away, but I always push it to the last minute.

To my surprise, I clock in just in time, grab a smock, and head out to the produce section. I start stocking a display with waxy red apples. I get into a rhythm and that’s where my wandering mind takes over. I wish I could carry my notebook out on the floor with me and jot down ideas as they come. I’m happily withdrawn into my own world as I stack the apples one-by-one. 

And there it is again. Is someone watching me?

I return to the apples with my senses a little heightened. I finish the display and break down the empty boxes. 

I spend a lot of time working by myself at my job and I like it that way. I stack. I clean. I point customers to the right aisles. I like the days where I have a list of simple tasks ahead of me. I work at my own pace crossing them off and I love when my progress is something visible — a dirty floor now clean, a sparsely-stocked shelf filled. My job isn’t anything fancy but I’m proud of my work and I’m a great employee. I’m happy here.

I make my way to the break room and grab my notebook from my locker. I take a seat and jot down, “mason jar floral arrangements — buy twine.”

I spend most of my afternoon stocking the produce section and my shift is up before I know it. Clock out. Keys, wallet, notebook.

I climb into my Mercury Tracer — it’s an oldie but a goodie — and crank up the heat. Even on that short drive home, I feel like I’m not alone. I glance in the rearview mirror several times wondering if someone is in my backseat. Nothing.

I shake it off, park the car, and head into my apartment. Pants off. Netflix on. 


Keys, wallet, notebook. Today is my day off and I’m on my way to visit Amelia, my newly-engaged, super excited little sister, to go over wedding ideas. 

Amelia lives in an adorable ranch house on the edge of town. A cheesy cement goose sits to the left side of her front door. She dresses it just like grandma did. Today it is wearing a blue summer dress even though it’s a cold October afternoon.

“I want to make you an arbor. I’ll collect sticks and grapevine and we can decorate it with tulle and artificial flowers. I saw a bunch on Pinterest.” I show Amelia a few of the pins on Pinterest and she’s in love. She hugs me and thanks me. I respond, “You haven’t even seen it yet!”

“I know, but you always do beautiful work,” she says.

I excuse myself and stop to use the bathroom. I do my business and I swear someone is looking in the window. I glance over and no one’s there. I wash my hands and head back to the kitchen where Amelia is busy ordering pizza — pepperoni and sausage — our favorite.

I always have a great time hanging out with Amelia and I love helping her with her wedding plans. Jessie is a wonderful woman and they make a great couple. I know they’re going to be happy together for many years to come. 

There it is again. On the drive home I swear someone is in the backseat. I glance in the rearview mirror and this time I see a slight shadowy figure. My stomach drops. I glance again and nothing. I figure I’m just tired. The rest of the drive is uneventful, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the night.

It’s strange but I’m scared. I don’t want to turn the lights off. I go to bed with most of the lights in my apartment on and I feel the need to cover my head with my blanket. I need to hide, but from what?


Keys, wallet, notebook. I didn’t sleep well last night but I really feel the need to leave the house so I’m dragging my tired ass to work. I clock in, grab a smock, and head out on the floor. There’s a mess waiting for me — a salsa spill in aisle fourteen. 

There it is. I know I’m not alone. The shadowy figure brushes past me and disappears. Are other people seeing this? Am I losing it? A woman and a small child standing in the aisle see my startled look and ask me if I’m okay. 

“Yeah, oh yeah. I just remembered something I forgot to do. I’m okay, thanks.” I lied.

Who or what is this figure? I know it’s the same one I saw last night in my car. What does it want with me? I try to return to my work but I’m hypervigilant, jumpy, and overwhelmed. What the fuck is going on?

I like my life to be simple. My job is straightforward. My apartment is small and basic. So is my car. My needs are met and I don’t have a lot of extravagant wants. I spend most nights watching TV or reading. I shy away from drama. Everything has a place or explanation so having this shadowy figure — this terrifying mystery — hanging around is really making me lose my shit. 

I see it several more times before the close of my shift. I’m exhausted but still jumpy. 

Keys, wallet, notebook. I head home hoping a good night’s sleep will make this all go away. That has to be it. I’m just too tired.


3 am. All the lights are on. I tucked in at 11 pm and haven’t gotten a wink of sleep. I’m pretty certain all eyes are on me. The shadowy figure has sauntered in and out of the room a few times, but I think there’s more of them. What do they want with me?

I head out to the living room and turn on Netflix. I scroll for something light-hearted that could possibly work as a distraction. 

I think he’s a “he” — the shadowy figure — he’s a he. What does he want with me? Why me? I’m a simple guy that stays out of trouble, out of the limelight. What could he possibly want with me?

The rest of the night is foggy but I woke up on the couch in the morning. The apartment was quiet — too quiet. I take a shower and throw on a hoodie and jeans. 

Behind my apartment is a small woodlot and I decide to start collecting sticks and grapevine for my sister’s wedding arbor. An hour or two in the crisp fall air will do me some good. I focused my energy on doing something useful. Here’s a good one. I piled the sticks and grapevine in the garage. I can’t wait to get started but it will have to wait for another day; my shift starts in half an hour.

Keys, wallet, notebook.


I begin mopping in aisle twenty-two and I can feel him watching. He occasionally appears and I notice that the people around me don’t seem to see him. He stares right at me with a passionately angry look — blood red eyes. He knows how much he scares me. He disappears and appears again. I try to focus on my work, but it’s useless. How could anyone concentrate in this situation? 

Clock out. Head home.

I open the front door, go straight to the bedroom, and crash. I’m exhausted and my body can no longer keep up with my racing mind. I don’t even take off my clothes. 


Morning comes and I wake up late. Thankfully it’s my day off. I actually feel a little refreshed but the more I get around for the day the more I remember seeing him these past few days. It just keeps getting worse. I’m once again jumpy and hypervigilant. 

I may be losing it but I still have work to do for Amelia and Jessie’s wedding. I pull out my notebook and start jotting down flower ideas to decorate the arbor I’m working on. “Baby’s breath. Peach carnations. Red and pink roses.” 

A couple hours pass and I’m enjoying a quiet afternoon scrolling through Facebook. Nothing special.

Then it happens again. I’m being watched. I run around the apartment making sure all the lights are on, but it doesn’t matter. He’s sitting on my couch.



He talks now. He knows my name. I’m always jumpy because I never know when he’s going to appear. He is in control. He is in control of every situation. I am not.


Keys, wallet, notebook. I need to get the fuck out of the house.

I drive to Amelia’s. Spending time with my amazing sister will definitely help me. I need to focus on what’s important.


“Are you okay? You look like you haven’t slept in days.” Amelia seems pretty concerned.

“Do you believe in spirits? Or curses? Or hauntings?” I start to sob. “I don’t know what’s happening.” 

Amelia hugs me and we sit down in the kitchen. I spill my guts. I tell her everything. We both cry.

“Maybe you should see a doctor,” Amelia suggested. “Do you remember Uncle Will? It seems like you are experiencing something similar.” She thinks I’m crazy.

“You’re not crazy but there aren’t any spirits either. Something’s wrong and you need to get it figured out. You need help. I’ll go with you — whatever you need.” She’s younger than me but sometimes I think she’s smarter. What am I feeling? Maybe a teeny bit of relief. She’s right. There has to be an explanation. I need to get help. 


Three Months Later

There is an explanation: psychosis. There’s also a solution: medication. 

Amelia was right. I needed to get shit figured out and she was by my side the whole time. This is a medical problem that requires medical treatment. I take my pills like clockwork and I’m feeling like myself again. 

My descent was when I lost my anchor in reality. I had no stable ground to stand on. My sister reminded me to question everything because there’s always an explanation.

Today, Amelia is coming with her truck to pick up the wedding arbor. I can’t wait for her to see it. 

But first, off to work. Keys, wallet, notebook, medication. My life is back to simple and I’m happy.


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Darwintine Festival: Natural Selection Part 2

Six Months Earlier 

“Dr. Gorman?”

Patricia sat back in her chair and tucked her auburn hair behind her ears.

“I have your itinerary for your trip to Chicago.” Patricia eagerly took the paperwork from her assistant.

“Well, this is it. After four long years, my time here is coming to an end. Can you believe it?” Her assistant looked at the floor. “Nope.”

Patricia looked around her small but cozy office. Hideous blue checkered wallpaper. Large wooden desk that’s heavy and worn. Piles and piles of logbooks. “I’m going to miss this place.”

“Me too,” her assistant responded softly. 

For the past four years Dr. Gorman had been studying the reproductive and migration habits of birds in Kandahar and Southern Afghanistan, something there was surprisingly little data on before. Her research was extensive and she developed the groundwork for local scientists to continue the studies. The local scientists were friendly, ambitious, and eager to get started. Simply put, Dr. Gorman’s work there was done.

Patricia placed a few personal items in her tote bag, said her farewells, and hugged her assistant. She took one last look around the office and turned out the light.

After two short days of packing and tying up loose ends, Patricia boarded a plane for the US.

The flight was long and Patricia was exhausted when she finally entered her apartment. “Looks just like I left it,” she murmured to herself. “Tomorrow the job search begins,” Patricia ordered take-out since her fridge was empty and headed off to bed just before 9 pm. 

The bright morning sun and rush hour traffic woke Dr. Gorman. She pulled out her fully charged laptop. After many years of research, Patricia wanted to focus on teaching. She was looking for a place to settle down. Tenure would be nice. Patricia updated her resume and emailed all her contacts. She was surprised when she got a quick reply from the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto. 

She was to meet with Dr. Emily Kimura in just a few days’ time to discuss a possible teaching position in the Biology Department. They needed some help covering undergrad ecology and evolution courses. 

That night Patricia packed. Her flight was in the morning. She decided to spend the week in Toronto. It’s been a while since she had visited the city and she deserved a fun little excursion.


“Dr. Gorman?” Emily asked sweetly with a brilliant toothy smile. It was something electric. Patricia froze a moment as this beautiful creature called out her name. She had untamed curly hair, piercing green eyes, and a pencil skirt that perfectly hugged her voluptuous hips.

“Uh yes, hello, please call me Patricia.” She caught her breath and smiled. Emily led Patricia down a brightly lit hallway to a small meeting room where the Dean, Dr. Coleman, was waiting. Dr. Coleman quickly jumped to his feet, smiled, and shook Patricia’s hand. “It’s so nice to meet you.”

The pleasantries ended quickly as Patricia dove right into describing her work experience and goals. The meeting lasted about an hour and she left feeling confident. 

As she packed up her stuff and began to exit the room, Emily lightly touched Patricia’s arm and asked her if she had plans for dinner. Patricia smiled. “No, no plans. You?” Emily asked if she would like to go to Luigi’s, a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place a couple of blocks away. “Yes! I would love to!” Patricia quickly felt embarrassed by her eagerness. 

Luigi’s was small, dark, and romantic. You could smell the restaurant half a block away and it smelled wonderful. Emily was waiting by the front door and waved excitedly when she saw Patricia. The two sat down and talked about their work and university studies. 

“I was in your interview and heard all about the amazing work you had been doing in Afghanistan, but what about your internship with the climate scientist? You didn’t say much about that,” Emily said.

“Oh, it was really interesting. I spent six months studying polar bears in Canada. I’m sure you know with climate change their habitat is in great danger,” Patricia answered nervously. She remembered how demanding and intimidating Big Thinker was. 

Emily smiled that brilliant toothy smile, reached across the table, and put her hand on Patricia’s arm. “I’d love to show you around town this week.” Patricia smiled and froze. “What do you think?” insisted Emily. 

“I would love that,” Patricia responded.

The rest of the week was magic. Patricia really enjoyed Emily’s company. She was fun and her energy was contagious.

The night before Patricia was to leave and go back to Chicago, there was a knock at the door of her hotel room. It was Emily. Patricia knew why she was there. She felt it, too.

Patricia reached up and brushed back Emily’s wild curls then cradled her face in her hands. The two kissed passionately. Patricia’s hands dropped to Emily’s waist. She pulled her close and Emily inhaled sharply. Her skin was so soft.

Emily spent the night at the hotel with Patricia, and as amazing as it was, nothing could prevent the morning from coming and Patricia going back to Chicago. 

Toronto was fun, but Patricia did not respond to Emily’s calls and texts once returning to Chicago. It was a fling and nothing else. Patricia did not get the job. Now she really had to focus on finding work and did not need any distractions.

“There’s always the Orange Corporation,” thought Patricia. “I really enjoyed my internship with the polar bears despite my boss.” She sent an email with an attached resume to BT. She might be a good fit for some of his newer projects. “I hope he remembers me,” thought Dr. Gorman.


Six Months Later

The science team sat stunned.

“One of them is heading toward us?!” Patricia panicked. She wasn’t alone. Fear spread through the room and the next logical thought was security. 

“What kind of protection do we have?” Dr. Stokes asked. “Are there weapons for all of us?”

Emily tried to calm the team down but really she didn’t know any more information than they did. 

“Let’s collect as much data as we can. We can analyze the video and listen to the audio file again. Who here speaks French?” The team began to work but there was so little information.

After a couple of frustrating hours, the wary scientists were shown to their living quarters — rustic but acceptable. They had a chance to catch their breath and get their wits about them, but they were all tired from their travels. Patricia began to unpack with shaky hands when gunshots rang out across the camp. Her stomach dropped to her feet. She didn’t know what to do. Do you stay in the cabin hoping to be safe inside or do you go out and see what the commotion is? She chose to go out. What if someone needed help?

Security personnel were scrambling to the east perimeter of the camp. More gunshots.

Just then, Patricia saw Paul run past. “Paul!” she shouted.

“Go back to your cabin and lock the door!” he instructed and kept running. 

Patricia did as she was told and the other scientists followed.

Suddenly the gunshots stopped and there was a lot of yelling. Patricia swore she heard some French.


Part 1 is at The Bolingbrook Babbler
Part 2 is at From the Ashes of Faith
Part 3
 is at Death to Squirrels
Part 4 will be at Impossible Me
Part 5 will be at Pharyngula
Part 6 will be at Pervert Justice