...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

In defense of the Academy

Yesterday in Game Theory, Bekar was talking about how college education is nothing but one big signalling device, in game theoretical terms: something that you do to signal something about your background, your intentions, your actions, blah to your opponent. By graduating with a Lewis & Clark degree, what I'm signalling to a potential employer is not how smart I am or how hard I worked or what I majored in, but how much money and time I was willing to sink into a degree, and that's why a Harvard degree is worth more than an LC degree: not because Harvard is demonstrably harder to graduate from, because it's not (as they say, the hardest thing about Harvard is getting in) but because there's this assumption that it's more expensive and therefore more elite and therefore more prestigious and therefore worth more to employers. According to Bekar, nothing we do in college really makes any difference as long as we graduate, because employers aren't going to look at our GPAs or our transcripts or how many times we missed class, but at the price tag on the diploma. What's more, as a highly motivated scholarship student, I'm wasting my time to a greater degree than a perpetually stoned slacker is wasting his or her time, because I'm losing four years I could be spending climbing the corporate ladder in a college program that is, ultimately, devoid of most of the meaning with which we normally associate it. The stoned slacker isn't wasting his or her time, because what else is he or she going to be doing? Flipping burgers?

Bullshit.

I can accept elements of his argument: that the majority of liberal arts students aren't learning definite skills (you know, bow-hunting skills, numchuck skills, computer-hacking skills...) that they'll be using in their post-college employment. And I understand that unless a student is going on to academia (which I am, probably, so ha), what he or she majors in isn't going to affect his or her first job out of college, or even any job after that. But as I sat in that classroom, listening to him deride the intellectual basis of the Academy, I felt a vague sense of growing depression and anger within me until every fiber of my being was crying out in protest No! Education is worth it, and not because of the jobs to which it will lead, but because education and intellectualism and the free exchange of ideas are the most beautiful things and the most precious ideas in the world.

I love learning, and by that I don't necessarily mean school, or college all the time--God knows I wasn't jumping out of bed every morning in high school, all "Oh boy! I get to go to school today!" But even then I had some sense of the enormous gift and privilege of education. I think that's why I have very little respect for people who take the easiest classes possible, or who only do the minimum, or who skate by, even though according to Bekar and the game theoretical model they're doing exactly what they should be doing. I believe in challenging oneself. I believe in pushing oneself. I believe in the power and beauty of the exchange of ideas. I believe it is through education that we transcend our own world and become, at the same time, more fully and completely and perfectly ourselves. That's why I'm taking Game Theory in the first place, for chrissake: it's not the easiest way to complete the quantitative general education requirement, and it's almost certainly going to be a (hopefully minor) knock to my GPA, but I don't want to take the easy way out and waste four credits and three hours a week on some dumb-ass opt-out, because I would never be able to respect myself for taking that class. Game Theory is interesting and difficult, and even if I get a C I'd feel like a more complete person for having taken it.

That's the whole philosophy behind the liberal arts, you know? I may not be learning specific skills in my Religious Studies classes (although actually I am, since I want to go into the study of religion, and the classes I'm taking now provide the background upon which I build my postgraduate work), but I'm learning how to think. How to engage with ideas. How to be. And I know that regardless of what I do after I graduate--whether I go on to seminary, or join the Peace Corps, or work for a nonprofit, or at Starbucks, or get married and have a million babies--regardless of what work I do, I know that my education and my college degree will have served me well, because they will have helped shape the window through which I view the world.

The imperative to explore. Knowledge has to be integrated into service in the world and ethical considerations, obviously, don't get me wrong: that's a large part of the reason that I can't get behind the idea of Mars exploration. The pursuit of knowledge cannot come at the expense of compassion and social and economic justice. But we don't have to go to Mars to further humanity. Reading, discussing, conversing with others, exploring new cultures and ideas and philosophies: that's the value of education. That's the value of college, and it is worth it.

There is nothing more precious, in my mind, than learning for learning's sake.

Monday, March 28, 2005

O Joy, O Rapture Unforeseen!

For now the sky is all serene! Observe:

When I checked my email about fifteen minutes ago, I found this glorious announcement from my Game Theory professor, under the subject heading "Mid Term:"

"Some news. I woke up this morning utterly grateful for Spring Break and all it represented. Realizing how much I needed the break I thought it cruel and unusual punishment to inflict a test on you this Thursday. You probably needed the break too.

So I'm going to move the test to next week.
"

Fuck yeah! God bless you, Bekar.

To further plagarize Gilbert and Sullivan (this time from The Mikado, not the HMS Pinafore:

The threat'ning cloud has passed away!
And brightly shines the dawning day!
What though the night may come too soon
We've yet a month of afternoon!


This is by far the best news I've gotten in a long time. Good God, this makes my week so much easier. I'm going to do my darndest to not squandor the gift of all this free time (relatively speaking; I still have probably 350 or so pages of reading for this week, along with work, exercise, and a rigorous TV-watching schedule) and make some progress on 1) my ethnography for Qualitative Research Methods; 2) my final Seminar paper about God knows what; 3) my Judaism paper about Etty Hillesum; and 4) my final Women in American Religion paper about clergywomen. Those aren't due until late April or early May, but I'd like to avoid as much as possible the (probably inevitable) crunch at the end of the semester. So, no Game Theory test until next week? Means that at least I won't be worrying about that.

I wish he'd cancel the final, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I hate bugs.

And I know it's super unscientific, stereotyped, and a little illogical, but by "bugs," I really mean bugs, insects, anything with six or more legs, most non-feathered, non-pretty,things with wings (that means that butterflies--but not moths--and bees get a pass), and most land-dwelling things with no legs: snails, slugs, and worms.

Right now, especially worms. I don't hate the idea of worms. I'm totally in favor of the existance of worms, plugging away underground, nutrifying our dirt and digging tunnels and composting stuff. I just never want to actually see a worm.

See, it's been raining all day, and in the afternoon I walked down to a cafe that's about a mile away to get some reading done. Walking there, I noticed some worms on the sidewalk, but no big deal, it was light out and I could just step over them. When I was walking back, though, it was dark, and still raining, and about halfway back I realized that all of the straight little things on the pavement--what I thought were sticks that had blown off the trees and bushes--were really worms, and I freaked out just a little bit. There had to have been hundreds in a half-mile. There was no way I could dodge them all, but the idea of walking in a straight line and crushing them made me sick to my stomach, feeling sorry for both myself and the worms. At one point, I stepped on a squishy pine cone, and for one brief moment I thought it was, like, the king of the worms come to kill me and I jumped and went "Aaah!" Out loud. I convinced myself that I could smell the soft crushed bodies of the poor worms sticking to my shoes, and when I got back to the dorm I did the dog-doo shuffle all the way back to my room.

The funny thing is, I used to be pretty into worms, and bugs in general. We had an ant hill in our front yard, and until our grouchy old next door neighbor poured gasoline down it without our consent (and my parents were pissed), I used to sit on the sidewalk and let the ants crawl on my arms and hands. I used to actually seek out worms to play with in the back yard, and somewhere in the vaults of, like, KEZI or KVAL, there's footage of eight-year-old me in a tie-dyed jump suit, grinning and holding out handfuls of dirt squirming with worms to the camera when they came to Crazy Hippy Elementary School to film a segment about our composting program. Really, I don't know what happened.

The other day I was sitting on my bed studying when I noticed a huge crane fly or something on the wall perpendicular to me. I sat and watched it for several minutes, goosebumps on my arms, making sure it wasn't going to make any sudden movements towards me. The thought popped into my mind that one benefit of living with three guys next year is that I'll probably never have to kill or remove a bug from the apartment. I was sort of shocked at how sexist and stereotyped the thought was, and I promptly chastised myself.

But still.

Oh, and quotes:

K, the second-grade classmate of my little cousin D: "You're the best twenty-year-old I've ever met!...You're also the only twenty-year-old I've ever met!"

Ryan: "I like the newspaper. It's like the news, in printed form."

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Can we maybe take back just fifteen minutes? Please?

If you go to Lewis & Clark, and most of you who read this do, and you're not blind, then you must have noticed the Take Back the Night fliers in all the bathroom stalls around campus. "Take Back the Night!" the fliers proclaim, explaining the purpose of the event, why such an event is necessary, and--near the bottom of the flier--what Take Back the Night is not. To wit:

Take Back the Night is NOT:
1. An event only for women
2. An accusation against all men
3. A chance for all the man-hating feminists to get together and intimidate men.

Now, I wholeheartedly agree that Take Back the Night isn't just an event for women, and it's not and should not be taken as an accusation against all men. The last sentence, however, makes me so angry that when I first read it I wanted to take a ballpoint pen and scribble over the sentence on the flier until the paper ripped and then stab it a million times with the pen. That's how angry it made me, and after discussing it with both Peggy and Ryan, I think I've pinpointed four distinct reasons why.

1. This whole "man-hating feminist" thing. Man-hating feminists are a myth. An urban legend. There is no such thing as a "feminazi," and the fact that intelligent people throw around that word as though it describes a subset of women...well, again, it makes me want to stab something a million times. Feminists do not hate men.

1a. Corollary to the first point: I don't mean that there's no such thing as an angry feminist. Frankly I don't see how women can seriously examine the structural and personal oppression that has historically been built into American society and not be angry. So I'm not discounting anger, or de-legitimizing it--I'm angry, too, sometimes, at the fact that I feel scared walking alone downtown sometimes, or that my body is vulnerable, and that women have traditionally been treated as chattel and inferior beings and still are, in our own country. But, you know, I don't hate men. In fact, I'm going to be living with three great men next year. Sing it with me: feminists may hate the patriarchy, but they do not hate men.

2. The use of the word "the" in the sentence. Not just "man-hating feminists," but "the man-hating feminists." You know, the ones who are running around campus hating men. But not us! No sir! We're good feminists who won't disturb the status quo in a way that makes anyone uncomfortable. This goes far to illustrate the discomfort that women (and men, even more so) with using the term feminist to describe themselves, making necessary the qualifiers that you often see: "I'm a feminist, but not, you know, like that." As Sars once wrote in a fantastic essay that you should all go read right now, qualifying the term feminist so that guys won't think you don't shave your legs is ridiculous and splinters the movement by making straight-up feminism seem like something to be ashamed of.

3. Take Back the Night is not designed to intimidate men? Sorry, but who are we taking the night back from? The men who rape and abuse women and other men. Okay, women can be and are abusive too, but exactly what is the purpose of taking back the night if you're going to give it right back to the fucking rapists? "Oh, so sorry, Mr. Patriarchy--we didn't mean to intimidate you. You can have most of the night, and we'll just take this little bit. Say, the hours between 9:30 and 11:30? And then you can have the rest? Would that be alright with you?" No. Of course Take Back the Night is designed to intimidate, on at least a symbollic level, some men: the men from whom we're taking back the night!

4. Finally, the fact that this flier was printed up by the fucking Womyn's Center is, in my opinion, mind blowing. I can't believe that no one in that organization found that sentence offensive, or that whoever wrote up the flier felt that it was necessary on the Lewis & Clark College campus to include such a sentence. I mean, if they're going to go to the trouble of spelling "Womyn" with a "y," then you'd think they'd be cognizant enough of feminist issues to not fall back into the "yeah, there are man-hating feminists running around, but not us!" paradigm.

Whew.

So...what do you all think?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Aw, my first hangover

I realized last night that Minnesota Trucker Hat and I have never had a meaningful conversation without both being quite drunk. So, last night brought the grand total of meaningful conversations we've had up to...two: at Landon's election night party and at the thing last night at Peggy's friend Dave's. We started talking about the relative merits of the Religious Studies versus the Political Science departments, which spun into loud proclamations of the awesomeness of Professor Cortell ("I fucking love that man." "Seriously, dude.") and then somehow developed into a shouted argument about whether or not Lynryd Skynryd is racist, and damn that is an obnoxious name to have to type, and I maintain that "Sweet Home Alabama" glorifies the Wallace era. I mean, come on.

The party ended the same way all nerdy liberal arts parties end: with people gesticulating drunkenly and yelling about capitalism and socialism and workers owning the means of production. Hee. SMASH CAPITALISME! But also, I got beer spilled all over my jeans (not by me), and that was not so much fun.

Quote of the Day:

Peggy: "Wait, is he the virgin?"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Three short stories about being Jessica

1. When I stopped by Powell's this afternoon before bell choir at church, I noticed that The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath is on sale. I'm almost positive that I'll end up buying the book on Sunday when I go downtown again, but I'm a tiny bit worried that it's going to make me more depressed. I've been feeling a little melancholy lately, and I'm not sure if reading the journals of someone who, on the outside, was very like me is going to be helpful or not. When I am depressed, I tend to seek out sad books, or books that I know will make me cry--the endings ofThe Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden (Steinbeck sure knows how to make a girl cry), The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the journals of Etty Hillesum. I've read The Bell Jar, by Plath, twice in its entirety, and I don't recall crying either time. The week before I turned twenty, I had this crazy urge to quickly reread it, since the protagonist Esther Greenwood is nineteen when the action of the novel takes place, and there are all of these wonderful passages that I connected with deeply about how she saw the world and the relationships between people when she was ninteen. I felt as though, as soon as I turned twenty, I would lose those connections--connections with a fictional character, I know. As it turned out, I didn't reread the book, since if you recall I was already feeling pretty down that week because of Valentine's Day, and also I had to quickly read five hundred pages of Middlesex for my book group.

2. I have a baby-sitting job off-campus on the evening of Monday the fourteenth, and I'm inordinately excited. It's part the thrill of getting off-campus and getting to spend time in someone's house, where I'm not cram-jammed cheek-to-jowel with forty other people, part the fact that I've baby-sat for these particular little girls twice before and they're precocious and adorable, and part this self-congratulatory thing about setting down roots in the community. My book group with DeAnn, the bell choir I direct downtown, the fact that two members of the bell choir asked me if I'd be able to house-sit for them at some hypothetical date in the future, baby-sitting off-campus--all of these things make me feel as though I actually live in Portland, instead of just going to school here. That's important to me.

3. Every Tuesday and Thursday when I go to my Religion in Early America seminar, I'm reminded of why I'm a Religious Studies major. I love that class! I love the vigor of intellectual debate and discussion that goes on among the five of us (six, counting the professor), and the fact that everyone does the reading, and that everyone else is a Religious Studies major also, so we can draw on this shared knowledge of theological points of view and Biblical origins and methodology. There was one point during the seminar today when we were talking about the Protestantization of the study of religion, and I don't remember how exactly, but the idea of multivalence of texts came up. Will--and Aimee was about to make the same point, I think--started talking about the ambiguity intentionally constructed into the texts in some of the Hebrew Bible, and because we've all taken Old Testament, we all knew exactly what scriptural passages he was talking about, like the ending of the Book of Job where the wording is intentionally ambiguous with regard to Job's relationship to God. Since there's only five of us in the class, there's a sense of cohesion, of community; there's a lot of laughter and good-natured teasing during our class sessions and I enjoy it more each day.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Facebook is a giant time vacuum!

The other day I went through The Facebook listings for my old high school again and added several more people from the classes of 2003 (my year) and 2004. Taking a break from writing a Judaism paper, I've spent the last half hour or so reading their profiles and following the links on their pages to see who their friends are at different schools.

When I was junior in high school, there was this one guy in the class of 2002 who went to Harvard. I went to a pretty rigorous, high-achieving school, and every year probably a dozen kids would go on the Ivy League, but this particular year he was the only person accepted into Harvard, and because he wasn't a genius but was huge, it was pretty widely recognized that he got in based on his athletic prowress. When I was a senior he came back for winter break and spoke to my history class, and apparently he was getting a kickback for every extra foot he threw the javelin or something like that.

While I was poking around one of my new Facebook friends' profiles, I found his picture. And brother looks rough.

Like, rough! His skin is orange and plastic-looking, he's got the spiky, gelled, bleached-blond hair, the forced smile, and he's even clutching a drink in the picture.

Oh, Schadenfraude. I love you.

Also, the other day I confirmed a proffered friendship from someone I actively disliked in high school. I'm pretty much a Facebook whore.

"You are Lisa Simpson."

Some wisdom from the Hasidic masters, as recorded in Back to the Sources: Reading the Classical Jewish Texts, edited by Barry W. Holtz:

"...We are here reminded of a famous quip attributed to Rabbi Zusya of Anipolye: 'When I reach the true world,' he said, 'they will not ask me why I wasn't Moses. They will ask me why I wasn't Zusya.'"

I like that a lot. We don't have to be Moses, or Jesus: we need to be ourselves, and the rest will follow.

May we all cultivate and realize our true selves.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Ow, my knee

Yesterday at lunch as I was sitting down, I hit my left knee against the leg of another chair, and it popped my knee cap out of joint. I quickly popped it back in, but it hurt like hell for awhile. I was able to walk all right when I got up about twenty minutes later to get more tea, but later, as I was walking to Game Theory, I kept getting these sharp, sudden jolts of pain to the inside of my knee. Now, it's more of a dull ache, but it still kind of hurts. Please pity me. Thank you.

But I can't feel too bad for myself when I look at pictures like these. I checked her blog last night right before I went to bed, and got so squicked out that my arms felt all wiggly and antsy and I had to keep checking them to make sure I didn't have GIANT BRUISES. So that's about reason #428 that I could never be an intravenous drug user.

In non-pain-related news, last night I went downtown for First Thursday. It was only the third time I've ever been: I actually went with some friends of my host when I was a prospective student back in the golden days of spring 2003, and then in September of 2003, right after we arrived on campus, Clay, Amanda, and Sarah Hill and I tried to go downtown but we never made it to the Pearl District because we didn't know our way around. In any case, it was great being downtown on such an nice evening with so many other people, all ducking into the little boutiques and galleries and drinking wine and coffee and listening to the street musicians. At one of the galleries I ran into Julia, this girl from my Judaism class. What's funny is that we also ran into each other and ended up sitting together at Crónicas, the Ecuadorian movie at the Portland International Film Festival, which ended last week. I guess we both like to do the artsy fartsy cultural stuff downtown, which is awesome. What would be great is if we ran into each other at the Oregon Symphony in April, too.

Edited Saturday to add: My parents are in town for the weekend, and when I told my dad about popping my knee out, he asked if I cried. I didn't, but I kind of felt like it, because it hurt, and I am a wimp with a low pain tolerance. I reminded Dad of the time a few years ago when I was leaning forward on a chair so that only two of its legs were on the ground and I fell and hit my forehead on the dining room table at home. That time, I did cry--more out of shock than anything, in my defense--and Dad and Andy fell down on the floor laughing at me. When I reminded Dad of that story this morning, he laughed for about five minutes. In retrospect, it was kind of funny. Andy still makes fun of me for it on a pretty regular basis.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

An open letter to Nabisco Co., and more Religious Studies nerdiness

Dear Reduced Fat Wheat Thins,

Why you gotta be so tasty?

Faithfully yours,
J.

I learned something in Intro to Judaism this morning that once again highlighted the glorious convergence between Religious Studies and Hispanic Studies. Now, the two main groups of world Jewry, distinguished by ethnicity, language, variations in religious practice, and nation of origin, are the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic Jews. Ashkenazic Jews tend to be from, or are descended from, countries in Central and Eastern Europe, while Sephardic Jews are more Mediterranean. The language Yiddish, derived from German, was spoken by Ashkenazic Jews, while Sephardic Jews and crypto-Jews living in Spain during the time of the Inquisition developed the language Ladino, which derives from Castillian Spanish.

"Interesting," you might say, "But what does this have to do with Hispanic Studies?"

Let me tell you. If you've read I, Rigoberta Menchú, or have studied Central American social movements, the word ladino immediately jumps out. At least in Guatemala, ladino signifies an indigenous person who has been assimilated into mestizo culture--that is, the mixed indigenous/white Spanish culture. Rigoberta Menchú, the indigenous Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, used the term ladino as a kind of derogatory name for the middle-class assimilated Mayan Indians who participated in the oppression of the poor indigenous people.

So, in Central America ladino means an assimilated indigenous person. In Spanish Judaic history, Ladino was the language spoken by Jews who had converted to Catholicism under duress to try to avoid persecution. Same idea, same language, different place and time. I asked my Judaism professor if she knew of any etymological connection between the two concepts, but she had never heard of the Central American meaning of ladino. I'm really curious now, and I think this merits further research. I'll tell y'all what I find out!