...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

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mysteriummmmm Tremendummmmmm... (spooky!)

Today has been weird and disjointed. I was up late reading The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto for my Methods class, then I had to wake up earlier than normal to go see Wendy, my Hispanic Studies advisor. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I normally have class at 9:40, and as I walk over to Miller I pass dozens of people returning to their dorms, going to class, standing around, chatting, smoking, but today since I left earlier I was the only person on the foot bridge, the only person out on that rainy wet morning. It was disorienting. Then after Short Story, as I was walking to James Joyce/Virginia Woolf, I ran into a classmate who told me that the professor Rishona had cancelled class. On the one hand, I'm glad, because I still I had to write my reading summary on Otto for Methods, and it makes me nervous to try to cram that in to the 50 minutes between the end of Joyce/Woolf and the beginning of Methods (which, when you factor in stopping by the bathroom, going over to the library, getting set up, and printing out the paper, really only translates into a half hour of writing time). But on the other hand, I was disappointed to miss a class with Rishona, and she's not normally the kind of professor who cancels class). I hunkered down in the Dovecote for a few hours and got the summary done, but the change in schedule, combined with the misty hazy raininess, made the day feel very strange and unreal--made me feel like I might accidentally become detached from the day and float away somehow. "Jessica J. had become unstuck in time." That kind of thing, you know.

Methods was good, though. Rudolf Otto, a Christian theologian and a rough contemporary of Emile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud, developed this theory of the mysterium tremendum that's at the heart and inner core of all religious experience. It's a sort of mystical experience of awe and dread when the individual comes into contact with the supreme, sublime universality of the Divine. He describes it thusly:

"The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over intoa more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane,' non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic form and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of--whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures."

I can't tell you how thankful I am that my undergraduate education in Religious Studies includes a dramatic reading of that quotation by Paul Powers. I'm not being sarcastic; it was great: tortured, Frankenstein-esque facial contortions, dramatic changes of voice and tone, the whole works. I bet he's great at reading books to his toddler son; you know he's the kind of guy who--as the kids I used to baby-sit would beg--"does the voices."

I repeat: Times New Roman is for pussies

Jason Gantenberg's letter to McSweeney's nicely parallels this post I wrote in September. In fact, it kind of makes me wish I had expanded my blog entry and sent it in. To read it, go to the Letters to McSweeney's page and scroll down to the third letter from the top. It's dated October 15 and begins, "I've been doing a lot of thinking lately."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The brain! The brain! The center of the chain!

Okay, so there was a post here about BSC slash, but I decided to delete it. If you really want to know, ask me, or Matt. But yes, it was about the Baby-Sitter's Club, and erotic fan fiction, and the phrase "The brain! The brain! The center of the chain!" so if you let your imagination run wild, you can probably reconstruct it for yourself.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Continuing the "If it's not about Judaism or the Baby-Sitter's Club, it doesn't go on the blog" theme...

This evening (Friday) Daniel and I went to Chaba Thai, a Thai restaurant in Northeast Portland. And I swear to God, when I heard the name of the place, the first thing I thought was, "Chaba Thai? I wonder if they named the restaurant after Shabbatai Zvi, the false Jewish messiah who converted to Islam in 1666 after leading hundreds of thousands of European Jews astray."

I think it's safe to say that they did not name Chaba Thai after Shabbatai Zvi.

Friday, October 20, 2006

This class would be a lot easier if I just had the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic body of texts memorized

Prof. Kugler today in Apocalypticism, discussing Islamic apocalyptic theology: "Anyone go back to 4 Ezra to see if the Mekkan verses quote it accurately? Anybody?"
*crickets chirp*
Kugler: "Well, I did...and I have to prepare for four classes!"
Eric: "Hey, so do we."
Kugler: "Do you chair two departments, too?"

It was really funny.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Conversation between me and Frances yesterday

Frances: "Oh, I forgot to ask you the other day. Were you wearing a Baby-Sitter's Club shirt?"
Me: "Yes! I'm so glad someone recognized it. You have no idea how disappointed I was that no one commented."
Frances: "Well, I wasn't sure, so I asked Colleen, but she didn't know. You were giving your presentation, so I couldn't say anything during class."


Hipsters, you're off the hook. Although I think I'll wear the shirt again and see if I get any more reactions.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Simchat Torah, take two

Note: This is copied and pasted, with a few minor revisions, from an email I wrote to a Jewish friend. Because of that, I don't explain some things, like what Jewish Renewal and Simchat Torah are. If you don't know, I encourage you to Wikipedia them.

P’nai Or, the Portland's Jewish Renewal congregation, meets at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (which they call “St. Mark’s Shul” on their website—I love that) down the hill from campus. Chris and I left walking to get there a little before sundown at 6:11. We got there in plenty of time but the only people at the church were there for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the community room. The sanctuary was completely dark, with the pews all in order, a big cross at the front, and the altar set up as though for communion, with the chalice and a loaf of bread; it didn’t look very Jewish to us, but then, religiously both of us are WASPs (she’s Episcopalian, and I’m Congregationalist…yeah) with a lot of theoretical knowledge about Judaism but almost no practical knowledge, so we thought we might be mistaken. Chris called her Jewish friend and he told her that the 6:11pm on the website calendar was probably just to inform people of the proper time to light candles at home, not that there were actually services at that time at the shul. We walked back to campus pretty disappointed. (I’m just glad we didn’t assume that the AA meeting was the P’nai Or congregation and join them—our mistake would be pretty immediately apparent, I think, and it would be incredibly awkward to leave in the middle of an AA meeting.)

According to the calendar on their website, though, Saturday they were definitely celebrating Simchat Torah at the shul. We talked about whether it would be inappropriate to go to P’nai Or for the first time on a holiday, but their website said they welcomed people of other faiths and people who knew nothing about Judaism, so we decided to just show up for the service and hope for the best. I’m so, so glad we did. I almost don’t even have words to fully describe how much I loved it. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming; the rabbi introduced himself to us and welcomed us; they were cool with us not being Jewish and not knowing any of the prayers or the liturgy or the traditions.

The service opened with the lighting of the candles and prayers sung in Hebrew, everyone (there were maybe 25 adults and ten kids there, but I’m bad at estimating group size, so who knows) standing in a circle around the Torah table. The rabbi directed four men to hold up the chuppah and said that we were going to sing to the Torah and welcome it as though it were a bride—the bride of the Jewish people, I guess. We all got into two lines, with an aisle down the middle; a woman holding the Torah walked down the aisle to the chuppah while everyone sang. After a break for dessert and conversation we all went back into the sanctuary and the rabbi explained that we were going to circle the room seven times with the Torah, each time dedicated to a different sefirah. (As far as I understand it, according to the Zohar, one of the principle texts of Kabbalah, the ten sefirot are envisioned as different emanations or energies of God, with each one corresponding to a different body part, color, gender, etc. They’re also arranged hierarchically from the female Shekhina, the sefirah that accompanied the Jewish people into exile up to the male Keter, the crown, which leads to the Ein Sof, or most holy and pure expression of God. Wikipedia can probably explain that way better than I can). As we circled the room we sang a song dedicated to that sefirah and were supposed to meditate on its influence on our lives. The sefirot songs tended to be slower and were sometimes in English—I recognized a verse from Isaiah, and the 23rd psalm; they were more like chants than songs. After making each rotation we stopped and began clapping hands and singing a fast-paced, joyous song in Hebrew while someone danced in the center of the circle with the Torah. The scroll was passed from person to person; whoever was dancing would leap and twirl with the scroll, stomping their feet, cradling it as though it were a baby, eyes closed, joyous, while on the edges we all clapped and stomped and sang and swayed. After the sixth rotation we processed outside the church into the parking lot, with the Torah under the chuppah; while cars slowed in the street to try to figure out what was going on, we sang and danced in a circle around the chuppah. We went back into the sanctuary for the last rotation, then a couple people unrolled the scroll and the rabbi talked about the importance of endings and beginnings and read the last Torah portion, simultaneously and seamlessly translating it into English, explaining its historical significance, and interpreting it. His interpretations definitely seemed to draw on Kabbalistic and Hasidic thought, but were grounded in a decidedly non-literal reading of the text—that combination is unique to the Jewish Renewal, as I understand it. After reading the last Torah portion he rolled back to the beginning and read the very first portion from Genesis.

The service lasted about three hours all in all. By the end my feet hurt from standing for so long and I was hoarse from all the singing, but happier than I’d been in long time. There was something about the celebration that was so pure and joyous, and transcendent and true—it was almost a mystical experience; the kind of experience I would have called liminal until reading Durkheim and Victor Turner made me doubt my usage of that word. I don’t know how much of that is a function of the Jewish Renewal-ness of P’nai Or, or if Simchat Torah is always like that, regardless of the kind of Judaism, but I’m definitely planning on continuing to attend services there.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Simchat Torah

Chris and I just got back from Simchat Torah services at P'nai Or. Oh my goodness, did I love it. Longer post tomorrow; check back!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hipsters, you let me down

The other day Amy and I were talking about the old-school Baby-Sitter's Club fan club we could have joined in the early 1990s. Neither of us took advantage of the opportunity, a fact I now regret because when you joined you got this sweet t-shirt with all the baby-sitters' signatures on it. Man, do I want one of those shirts. But then Amy pointed out that I already have a BSC t-shirt that I don't wear all that much: a black shirt with the Ramones' logo, only except for their names it says KRISTY CLAUDIA MARY-ANNE STACEY (the original four members of the Baby-Sitters Club) around the seal.

Amy: "You've never worn that shirt."
Me: "Not true! I wore it when we watched the BSC movie last spring."
Amy: "Yeah, and there were ten people there, and we were all drunk."
Me: "Yeah..."
Amy: "I dare you to wear that shirt in public."

So anyways, I wore it today, and you know what? Nobody commented. Nobody! And I had to give a mini-presentation in Methods, so it's not like people weren't looking at me. Amy thought that people probably just assumed it was the Ramones' logo, and I think she was right. But I was disappointed, and I'm going to keep wearing it until I get some comments. Hipsters: get on the ball!

Plans for Fall Break: Sleeping in, starting Ulysses in a coffeeshop on 23rd, finishing Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels, movies and Arrested Development with my fab roomies, Friday night Shabbat services at P'nai Or then Sunday morning worship at First Congregational, seeing Julia for the first time in ten months, many glasses of the finest wine $3.99 can buy. Bliss!

Who Loves the Sun?

Nabbed from the ladies of One Weigh or Another. The idea is you choose your favorite band and answer the questions in song titles from that group. I choose The Velvet Underground:

Are you male or female: There She Goes Again, Femme Fatale
Describe yourself: Pale Blue Eyes
How do some people feel about you: Run Run Run
How do you feel about yourself: Beginning to See the Light
Describe your significant other: Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’
Describe where you want to be: Train Round the Bend, All Tomorrow’s Parties
Describe how you live: Head Held High, I Found a Reason, I’m Set Free
Describe how you love: After Hours
Share a few words of wisdom: Walk and Talk It

I tag Amy, Eric, and Peggy. So get to it!

Monday, October 09, 2006

You know you're playing Taboo with the Pamplin Fellows when...

"Okay, guys, it's like cell..."
"Um--ribosome? RNA! mRNA! tRNA!"
"Organelle! Nucleus!"
"No--simpler! Cell..."

Friday, October 06, 2006

Not a robot

Glarkware is selling Not a Robot shirts again, for a limited time. I got one the last time around and I have to say it's one of my favorite shirts, because I always, always get reactions from passersby: "Your shirt only makes me doubt you!" "Are you sure?" etc. So, all of you, my dear friends, should get one, and then we could coordinate our outfits and make up a secret handshake and form a Cool Kids club and stuff. I mean, Chris and I already have matching Portland Farmer's Market bags, so we're halfway there.

Also, when I came up to visit Amy and Peggy over the summer, I saw another girl in the Powells reading room/cafe wearing a Not a Robot shirt. I totally wanted to go up to her and tell her I had the same shirt, but I didn't, because I am lame.

I'm ridiculously happy right now. I hope it lasts.

Monday, October 02, 2006

How to prepare for an all-nighter at the library

1. Procrastinate as long as possible. You should not head over the library any earlier than one a.m. For instance, you might watch an episode of Flavor of Love, then read some of Baby-Sitters Club #99: Stacey's Broken Heart, then spend half an hour checking out American Girl doll accessories online. You know, hypothetically.
2. Shot-gun a pot of coffee. Then make another pot of coffee and pour it all into a travel mug.
3. Change into the clothes you're wearing the next day. Long sleeves will help fight off the four a.m. shivers.
4. Braid your hair. When you run directly to class from the library the next morning, this will make it marginally less obvious that you haven't showered.
5. Roll up your toothbrush and toothpaste in a handtowel. See #4.
6. You should be carrying at least 20 pounds of books, papers, and computer accessories.
7. Go ahead and pack Stacey's Broken Heart in your bag. Who are you kidding?