...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, December 25, 2007

Notes on going through my books

1:16pm: I've never read anything by Karen Armstrong or Rick Warren--so how did I end up with two copies of The Battle for God and two copies of The Purpose-Driven Life? I'm keeping one of the Armstrongs, but ol' Rick Warren is going straight into the sell-back pile.

1:17: Mama Lola: Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown: YES. What a phenomenal book.

1:20: I quickly realize that I don't actually want all my religion books to come with me to Portland: I have no desire to ever again read The Vimalakirti Sutra. That might be influenced by memories of the professor, though.

1:23: Am I ever again going to need to reference Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora by John J. Collins? When I randomly open the book I come to the subject heading "Pseudo-Eupolemus." I think that answers my question. (On the other hand, I found myself thinking about the Letter of Aristeas the other day...maybe I should keep it around.)

1:28: Why do I have a copy of The Notebook? Gross.

1:30: Someday, I bet I'll finish The House of Mirth.

1:35: The 1992 World Almanac and Book of Facts. Yep.

1:43: Was Willa Cather a Christian Scientist? I find in my books a biography written by Cather of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. I haven't read it, so I don't know if it's a hagiographical or critical. Hmmm.

1:48: Elementary Differential Equations: Seventh Edition. I took that math class at the University of Oregon my senior year in high school, which means that I've had this book for over five years. I'm sure I just held on to it for so long because I resented shelling out almost a hundred dollars for it back in 2002--used, even!

2:00pm: Done with the first four boxes. Six more to go...

Merry Christmas!

My fever is down to around 99.6, which is really just high-normal. I'm still coughing a lot and producing copious amounts of phlegm and snot (at school with the kids, we're not supposed to use the word "snot," since the directors think it has a negative connotation; rather, we are supposed to say calmly and empathetically, "S., I notice you have some mucus dripping down your face; let's get a tissue together"), but I feel like I'm on my way back to health. Hurray!

My parents gave me a huge bookshelf for Christmas for my new apartment, so I'm looking forward to going through the boxes and boxes of books I have down here in Eugene and deciding what I want with me in Portland. I'm operating with only a skeleton of my collection right now, since I've been moving a lot this summer; now that I'm going to be in the same place for at least a year, I think I want all my feminist books, all my religion books, all my sociology/anthropology books, and all my Baby-Sitter's Club books.

Finally, I just got an email from McSweeney's--they're going to publish on their website a New Food Review I wrote! The email said that it might take several months for it to make it to the front of the queue; I'll let you all know when it shows up.

I hope everyone is having a great day!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Update: So now I'm "pretty sure I'm running a fever"--to the tune of 103.6 degrees. I'm taking fever reducers and drinking lots of water, and so far it's gone down a degree, but my roommate tells me that if it goes over 104 I have to go to the emergency room. Eep. Keep me in your thoughts, please.

I'm generally a healthy person, but for the past two weeks I've been battling a nasty cold. It started with an innocent cough the week of Chanukah; on the way back from P'nai Or's Chanukah party, my co-worker/friend Jade asked about it and offered me a cough drop. I think most cold remedies and treatments are exactly as effective as placebos, so I declined (without going into my reasons why). (Incidentally, there was a great article in the last Skeptic magazine about cold remedies and Emergen-C, etc.) (Also incidentally, Skeptic is a fantastic publication, and one I reference a lot.) My cough got worse over the week, culminating in taking Friday off to try to kick it over the weekend. By Monday morning I felt worse than Friday, but I can't really afford to take more time off of work unless I'm actively vomiting or bleeding from the eyes (ah, to be a wage slave!). So I just tried to avoid close contact with the kids and wash my hands a lot. A lot of parents gave us holiday presents so that was a big upper, but baking sugar cookies with the preschoolers had the same result as delivering a syringe full of saccharine straight to their veins, so that was a downer. I was feeling better by Saturday afternoon, but today out at breakfast with Daniel I felt really weird and clouded-over and now I'm pretty sure I'm running a fever. I'm taking a late morning bus down to Eugene tomorrow; it will not be fun. The upside is that I have a paid vacation all of next week, as well as Monday and Tuesday of the week afterwards. It will be the longest I haven't worked since I began the job in May.

Other than being sick, things have been going pretty well. I'm reading a very interesting book called A Gay Synagogue in New York by Moshe Shokeid, an Israeli anthropologist. It's an ethnography written in the early/mid-1990s of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the largest gay synagogue in the country, and is interesting from a theoretical sociology/anthropology of religion viewpoint, a Judaic Studies viewpoint, and a Feminist/Queer theory viewpoint...hey, that's all my interests, wrapped up in one book! Next on the docket is Devil in the White City, a true crime book about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago...a topic with which I imagine Eric is all too familiar.

This evening I went to a Chanukat Habayit, a kind of Jewish housewarming and mezuzah scroll hanging at the home of a friend of mine from P'nai Or. When she sent out the invitation, I assumed it was a party having something to do with the holiday of Chanukah; in reality, "Chanukah" just means "dedication"--as in, the holiday celebrates the dedication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans/Maccabees after it was sacked by the Romans. I knew that Habayit meant "the home," as in the phrase "shalom bayit," peace/harmony in the home, which is traditionally the woman's responsibility to foster. So, "Chanukat Habayit" means "Dedication of the Home." You learn something new every day. I was stressed out about arriving late and missing the mezuzah-hanging ceremony because the bus was off-schedule, but as it turned out, even arriving ten minutes late for the ceremony, I was twenty minutes ahead of the rabbi. The ceremony itself was beautiful and meaningful, and full of kavvanah (spiritual intention).

Finally, I am moving again in mid-January, this time to my very own A Room of One's Own apartment in North Portland. I'm looking forward to living alone. I paid the security deposit last Thursday, and will sign the papers in the first week in January. Apartment-warming news forthcoming!

I look forward to seeing you all again in January, especially those of you who have been away this semester. Merry Christmas to all, and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I've been sick enough recently to justify taking last Friday off from work. I spent most of my day off laying in bed, drinking tea and reading Fantasy: The Incredible Story of the Cabbage Patch Phenomenon, which I bought a week and a half or so ago at the vintage store down the street from my house. I now know more than any reasonable person should about Xavier Roberts, founder of Original Appalachian Artwork, Inc, and inventor of the Little People babies, which were renamed the Cabbage Patch Kids after a licensing deal was struck with Coleco toy company. Expect all future conversations to be peppered with Cabbage Patch trivia.

Edited to add: After checking my referral logs, I'm a little tickled to find that I'm the number three response on Google for "use tampons on Shabbos;" I doubt the searcher found the answer she was looking for on my blog, though. I'm not an expert on the subject, but I don't see any reason an observant Jew couldn't use a tampon on the Sabbath, provided it was already removed from its wrapping (since one is not permitted to tear anything, including toilet paper, on Shabbos).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Excerpted from a comment on a discussion at Internet Monk (excellent blog, by the way):

"...I likewise know lots of crypto-Christians who insist on the Christian label despite their rejection of about half the Apostles Creed. What makes them call themselves Christian? Because they like Christian traditions, they’re fond of Jesus’s pacifism, and they like being spiritual without being religious. But when I call them Deists, they object… because they don’t reject Jesus. (Just His deity, lordship, sinlessness, forgiveness, resurrection, present-day mediation, gift of the Holy Spirit, and eventual return.)"

Well, if the shoe fits...

I'm curious how my Christian friends would respond to this comment?

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Last night I went to a house party in North Portland for about eight minutes. I first heard about it from my co-teacher Eduardo; during afternoon snack, right before he left for the day, he asked me in Spanish if I was going to go (shhhh: we gossip in Spanish a fair amount throughout the day, which helps keep me from going crazy) and we made loose plans to meet up around nine-ish at the house of one of our other co-workers. Out on the playground at the end of the day, another preschool teacher who I'm friendly with asked if I was going to go and we, again, made the sketchiest of plans to meet up there. All the party information was posted on the refrigerator in the staff room. I copied down the address and dutifully looked up the bus information on the staff computer.

By the time I got home from work, I had a pounding headache and wanted nothing more than to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and Kristy and the Haunted Mansion. I wished that Eduardo had never told me about the party--then I wouldn't feel any obligation to go or regret if I skipped it. But I would like to be better friends with my co-workers and I've always enjoyed socializing with them in the past, so I decided to suck it up and head over there.

I arrived around 9:45. There were a dozen or so people standing around talking in the living room and kitchen of the house; there wasn't anyone I recognized. I looked around for the co-worker whose house it was; she was nowhere to be found. Eduardo was not there. I used the bathroom and thought of what I was going to do. When I came out of the bathroom, I pretended I had to take an urgent call, got the hell out of there, and went back to the bus stop to wait for the next bus back to the Rose Quarter.

It was a comic and slightly ridiculous situation that mirrored almost exactly an experience that Daniel and I had a few weeks ago. Another co-worker had sent out an email inviting everyone to a "mustache party" she was having with her housemates on Mississippi. I would say that she downplayed the mustache element of the party in her email: when Daniel and I got there, every single person (and there were a lot of people there) was mustachioed and bunched together in the kitchen. No one noticed us enter except for one guy wearing a paste-on black mustache, who smiled at us in a creepy way that managed to be both vacant and all-knowing. "I kind of want to get out of here," I said to Daniel, and we high-tailed it back to the bus stop.

Next time I go to a party, I hope I won't have to bail out--but I do end up leaving right away and busing it back home, at least $1.75 isn't too much for a scenic bus tour of North Portland.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Erev Shabbat at Temple Beth Israel

Friday night I went to Shabbos evening services at Temple Beth Israel, the local Reconstructionist synagogue. Since P'nai Or was my first real experience of Jewish services, I'm always interested in seeing how other synagogues, and other Jewish denominations, compare and contrast with what I've come to know at P'nai Or. Some things that are seen as totally commonplace at P'nai Or--for instance, blessing a baby by laying it on the Torah--are apparently so unusual that when I mentioned them my thesis advisor Sylvia or Kugler, their eyebrows nearly shot off their foreheads. Kugler chuckled in surprise and said something like, "Better kasher that Torah," whereas Sylvia's response was more of wide-eyed shock mingled with horror.

Despite TBI's official affiliation, my impression is that the Jewish community in Eugene isn't really large enough to support several synagogues, so TBI attracts everyone except the Orthodox, not just those who have a spiritual or philosophical commitment to Reconstructionism. There's a pretty strong Renewal ethos at TBI as well; in fact, the senior rabbi at TBI received his smicha, or rabbinic ordination, from Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, the founder and rebbe of Jewish Renewal, and is good friends with Reb Aryeh of P'nai Or. We actually sang one of Reb Aryeh's songs during the services. The other rabbi at TBI received his smicha from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. Some day, I think a fascinating avenue of research would be on the philosophical, spiritual, historic, and social relationships between Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionism.

Compared to P'nai Or, Kabbalat Shabbat at Temple Beth Israel was different in some ways and the same in other ways--of course, right? A couple of the songs were the same, but sung in a slightly different way. Other elements of the service were sung with a totally different melody than what I was used to, like the Barehu. We probably sing a little more in English at P'nai Or, but at TBI we read a couple prayers in English right out of the siddur, which we generally don't do at P'nai Or. Reconstructionism has an official siddur, or prayer book, called Kol Haneshama, while I think each Renewal congregation puts together their own, though drawing from some common Renewal sources. Kol Haneshama had some interesting notes and annotations accompanying some songs and prayers, but sometimes it was difficult to find the transliterations of the Hebrew, especially when we skipped around in a song.

During the oneg after the service I talked for awhile with the woman I was sitting next to, who is in the process of converting. It turns out that both of us had assumed that the other was a born Jew and when we discovered that neither of us was, we had a good time talking about our journeys. The oneg itself seemed a tad more halakhically observant than at P'nai Or. They salted the challah, which I had never seen done before, and there was a pitcher and basin for anyone who wanted to do the ritual handwashing. I don't think anyone did it on Friday, but when I've been to Shabbat morning services at TBI I've seen some people do it. Overall it was an enjoyable and meaningful service and made me look forward to the next Kabbalat Shabbat service at P'nai Or.

Blog updates have been, and will continue, to be sparse until I get my computer situation figured out (my wireless card is either damaged or broken). I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Water, water, everywhere

This morning when I rode my bike up to work, the doors of the school were all propped open and water was running out of them. I jumped off my bike, stepped into the the building, and my jaw dropped open. At least an inch of water covered the floor. Several of my co-workers had brooms and were sweeping water towards the drains in the hallway. Others were hauling furniture outside. The director was pacing around carrying a clipboard and wearing rubber boots. Needless to say, there was nary a child in sight.

Apparently sometime last night, a water main in the ceiling above the younger toddler room burst, flooding the whole school. The force knocked down a row of shelves in the toddler room, including the shelves that were holding all the children's journals (we're required to keep a journal for each child, which we update multiple times a week). Some of those journals were started when the child was an infant. When S, the toddler teacher, found the journals in the morning, they were lying in a pool of water, all the words washed away. S was near tears when she told me about finding the journals. About a third of the ceiling panels in that room came down was well; another third were so swollen with water that we were concerned they would fall on us as we cleaned the room. S finally poked them with the end of a broom handle until they came crashing down with a thud and splash. Water ran down the insides of the wall in between S's room and my room; the wall has kind of a spongy feel to it now and will probably have to be torn out and replaced. All of the baseboards will probably have to be replaced to guard against mold. Carpets may have to be replaced. Plumbing will have to be reworked--at the very least S needs a new sink for her room since the shelves fell on their sink and knocked it out of the wall.

My shift begins at 9; I worked with everyone trying to salvage what we could and document the damage for an insurance claim for a couple hours. A little before noon, the director told us that there was nothing more we could do and sent us home. We're closed for Monday for Veteran's Day, and probably the rest of next week as well--possibly for two more weeks. The person I feel worst for in the whole situation is J, the school owner and executive director: she just left yesterday for a two-and-a-half week vacation in Mexico with her family.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hope it works out better for you than it did for me

I derive no end of mirth from the fact that the vast majority of my blog referrals come from people searching some combination of Teach for America Final Interview Advice. For some searches, I'm the number one result--even ahead of Teach for America's own website! TFA applicants, best of luck to you, but don't take my advice: I was rejected!

(Of course, in reference to the title of this post: it did work out for me. I found a great job teaching at a private preschool and get to spend more time with my wonderful boyfriend and friends from college, and live in a city that I come to appreciate and love more and more each time I bike over the Steel Bridge or down NE Alberta. Getting rejected was a blessing in disguise, although it sure didn't feel like it at the time. So really, I guess I can say: I hope it works out exactly as well for you as it did for me--which is to say, very well.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I spent about an hour and a half in the Powell's reading room this afternoon. I brought three books in with me. The middle-aged man across the table kept staring at me in a way that was slightly discomforting. As I gathered my things to leave, the man noticed the title of one of the books: The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs. "What's that book, about living biblically?" he asked. I moved the book so that he could read the title. He smiled at me. "What church do you go to?" he asked.

The way he asked it, and the way he smiled, made the question seem like the preface to either a pick-up or an evangelization. I wasn't interested in either. "I don't go to church," I said, and left.

As I walked out of the reading room I realized the weight of what I had said. It's true: I haven't been to church since early May. The past few Sundays I've thought about visiting one of the churches in my area, or checking out Imago Dei, but have ended up staying home and reading Christian or feminist blogs instead. Being a practicing, church-going Christian used to be such a huge part of how I defined myself; now, I'm honestly not sure whether I still consider myself a Christian.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

...And when it's bad it's horrid

Little Boy C makes me feel inadequate and ineffectual as a teacher, and then I come home and lay in bed and think about things and worry and cry.

(Edited to add: Oh, how I relate to this post of Mizz Marvel's: say hello to your symbol of childhood ocd. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I know more about the Baby-Sitter's Club than I do about any other single subject. And right now, I think I'm going to go take a long bath and read Welcome Back, Stacey and eat a caramel apple and drink red wine. Take that, C!)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Confidential to an acquaintance from high school, with whom I am now Facebook friends

You don't get to say that Fight Club and Garden State sucked if you list Forrest Gump (ode to anti-intellectualism) and Independence Day as two of your favorite movies. As Amy could tell you, the "Q" in "Randy Quaid" doesn't stand for Quality.

(That said, I do still think that Indpendence Day would be a fun movie to get drunk and watch all together...and I did used to have a crush on Jeff Goldblum (shut up).)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hitchens is not great

Man, if there's one self-professed public intellectual/professional curmudgeon I can't stand, it's Christopher Hitchens.

Yesterday morning the Powell's Review-a-Day service sent me a review of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens. The review was written by Richard Dawkins. Yeah, like that's going to be an objective review.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

When it's good, it's very very good

Teacher Cara and I are beginning an octopus exploration with the kids. We're reading books about octopuses (didactic side note: "octopi" is a common but incorrect pluralization) and squid and talking about how we can convert our classroom loft into an octopus's garden. We spend our days singing "Octopus' Garden," listening to the kids' amazingly creative sea creature stories, and tossing around ideas about papier mache-ing a giant octopus for the loft. It's strange to think that at this time last year, I was killing myself over ancient Near Eastern apocalypticism, Lazarillo de Tormes, and Judith Butler.

(Of course, the opposite is true too: teaching preschool full-time has convinced me as could nothing else that I really do want to go to graduate school.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Whiplash is a Five-Point Calvinist

Stinker and Piglet, our classroom guinea pigs, died late this week. When my co-teacher Cara went to take them out of their cage Thursday morning, they were huddled together in their little house, cold and stiff. It was very sad, and of course the kids had a lot of questions about it. For some of the kids this was their first experience with death; others have already lost beloved pets, grandparents, cousins. The school director came in and led a circle with the kids and allowed them to hold or pet the guinea pigs one last time. She asked what the children thought we should do with the bodies. "Put them in Heaven!" E piped up. S suggested we flush them down the toilet. Whiplash wanted to bury them in a pile of dirt by the tree outside our classroom, and J started crying. He sniffled that he didn't want dirt on top of the guinea pigs--he wanted to just set them down on top of the ground by the tree.

We talked about how when something is buried in the ground, worms go through it and turn it into soil and then it becomes part of the Earth and helps living things grow. We all agreed that burying them would be the best, and the kindest, course of action. (After S suggested flushing them down the toilet, the director said, "Hmm, would that work? Would guinea pigs fit down the toilet?" Whiplash exclaimed, "Let's chop them in to little pieces!" "Hmm, that doesn't sound very kind," the director responded carefully.)

After we decided to bury them, E raised his hand again. "What about putting them in Heaven?" he asked. The focused energy of the circle was breaking apart by this time and Whiplash was getting a little worked up. His Five-Point Calvinist began to emerge . "No!" he answered loudly hotly. "We don't get to put them in Heaven! We don't get to 'ecide! Only God gets to 'ecide!" A pretty clear exposition of the doctrine of of Limited Atonement coming from a four-year-old! Based on past experiences I know that he's got Total Depravity down. I'm hoping that during circle next week he'll explain Unconditional Election.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

For Daniel

Happy one year! I wouldn't have rather spent it with anyone else.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shameless self-congratulation

So, the preschoolers are currently doing a penguin unit. We've been talking a lot about rookeries, penguin creches (which we call "penguin preschools"...they love looking at a picture of a creche, finding the one adult penguin tending the dozens of chicks, and shouting "There's Penguin Eduardo!"), penguin food chains, and the penguin life cycle. Each day for our learning circle we read a story about penguins or look at pictures or something. Once a week or so we write a question related to the study up on a sheet of poster board, ask it to the kids, and record their exact responses. For instance, once the question was "What's a predator?" We write down exactly what they say in response, including "ums" and "uh"s. The idea is that the child gets to witness an adult taking their idea seriously, writing it down, seeing how the letters are formed and the words sounded out, etc. Up on the wall near the circle-time carpet we have several sheets of poster board with the kids' questions and responses, the penguin paintings the kids did with their accompanying stories, a penguin poem we all worked on together, and a chart we made of the penguin food chain. There's a lot of written word stuff all over the classroom. We also have large photo documentation boards of the kids doing various activities, like playing with the musical instruments. All of this is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, one of the philosophies around which the school is centered.

So, here comes the shameless self-congratulation.

1. I have found one of the school's directors to be a little reticent to give praise. But she was in our room the other day, and was like, "Your guys' room looks really nice." Although she said it to me, I'm sure it was directed to our whole teaching team (I have two co-teachers). But since I arranged all of the penguin stuff and the other displays, artwork, and did the photo documentation boards, I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back.

2. All of the parent orientation meetings were held in my room, since it's the largest in the building. After the other preschool class's orientation, the parents of J, a child from the other preschool class, talked to my co-teacher Eduardo about trying to switch J into our class--they liked all of the written word displays we have, and felt that our class was more pre-kindergarten and science-y than the other preschool class, which has more younger kids.

3. A parent a child in the other preschool was showing a friend of hers (I assume) around the school. They popped in to my class while a few kids were looking at books on the carpet and I was washing some paint trays at the sink. "This is the more academic preschool class," she said to her friend.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sukkot, cell phone, moving


The Jewish festival Sukkot takes place this year between the 27th of September and the 3rd of October (or, if you prefer, between the 15th and the 22st of the month of Tishrei--it ends the 21st if you're in Israel). Yesterday P'nai Or held their Shabbat services in a community sukkah about two miles from my house, so I woke up early then bundled up to bike over in the rain. I'd never been in a sukkah or seen a sukkah before, so I didn't know what to expect--maybe something like a small hut or a lean-to. This one turned out to be huge and four-sided (according to Reb Aryeh the sukkah can be in the shape of any of the word's Hebrew letters), and covered with branches, leaves, hanging fruits, and fronds. Probably about thirty or so people were able to pack in. It was cold and a little drippy--the rain held off, but water from the previous night's rainfall dripped onto our heads from the overhanging branches and I was a little concerned that the Torah would get wet when they raised it up at the end of the reading. After the service, we all participated in the mitzvah of eating a meal in the sukkah--the rabbi's wife brought out some hot apple cider and some people from the congregation had brought hot matzvah ball soup, which seemed like the most delicious thing in the world on a cold Shabbat morning.

Fellow Hebrew Bible nerds (Eric?) might be interested to know that it's traditional to read through the whole book of Quohelet (Ecclesiastes) during Sukkot. The temporary nature of the sukkah is meant to remind one of the transience and immateriality of life, a favorite topic of the author of Quohelet. Tthe book is attributed to Shlomo, or Solomon, but as Reb Aryeh pointed out it's almost certainly pseudoepigraphic, as its lexicon contains words that didn't appear in Hebrew until centuries after Solomon's death--a fact that led one woman to crack, "Sure, but Shlomo was ahead of his time!"

Because the service was held away from the usual synagogue and there had been some miscommunication about who was bringing over the Torah and the siddurim (prayer books, with the Hebrew liturgy transliterated and translated into English), we had to start the service without either. The idea of getting through the service without the Hebrew transliterations in the siddur was daunting to me, especially since I hadn't been to services for the past couple months, but it turned out to be not so bad. I knew the opening blessing for Torah study, most of the Elohai N'shama prayer, all of the Ashray, and a significant chunk of the Yotzayr. By the time we got to the Amidah, the liturgy leading to silent prayer before the sermon, the siddurim and Torah had arrived. It was worthwhile for me, I think, to go half the service without a siddur and realize how much I've learned over the past year: at this time last year, I had only the passingest of acquaintences with Jewish Renewal and didn't know my n'shama from my nefesh. In fact, this Thursday is Simchat Torah, which was my very first P'nai Or experience; it's the one-year anniversary of participation in P'nai Or. I won't be going to this year's Simchat Torah, though: as it happens, that night is also Daniel's and my one-year anniversary.

Cell phone

I have a cell phone! After going back and forth about how much I really need one, how much I can afford to spend, what the best service provider is, what kind of phone to get, etc, I finally just biked over to the AT&T store on NE Broadway and bought a pre-paid cheapo Go Phone. The words "Go Phone" are thankfully not written anywhere on the phone--they make it sound like a phone for feisty grandmothers who would describe themselves as "always on the go," or little kids. You should call me, and we should talk. I don't want to write the number here but I'll put it on facebook or something.


Yes, I'm moving, again. Bleh.

Friday, September 28, 2007

maybe you know her?

A facebook message I received this afternoon, presented verbatim (I assume all Jessicas with ties to Eugene received this same message):

I've just arrived in Eugene from indiana in search of a beautiful flower named Jessica. I met her in tennessee about 3 months ago at a music festival and spent the most transcendental night of my life with her. You know, the kinda night that takes everything nightmare every dream every skeleton of what you once were every cocoon of the buuterfly you dream to be and swirls it all together to form some new colour on a new pallete called "here and now" "life" "love"... Well needless to say I've felt disasterously empty these past few months and cant quite go on gardening without her. Trouble is, all I got is her first name, that she graduated this year with some sort of bio something degree and lives in a renuvated warehouse next to the traintracks. My avenues of finding her are minimal, I'm relying greatly on the kindness of those around me. You probably dont know her but I've gotta try everything I can to find her, ya know? Thank you so much for your time, I hope you life will be blessed in many ways. If there is anything you ever need, I'll be around for a while and I'm always here for my family, feel free to ask.

thanks again!

blessing and peace,

Reuben S-------

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Clueless, loveless, AND faithless?

From "Dating: When Words and Choices Clash":

..."Are there some who are not even concerned whether the people they date are or are not saved? In such cases, the kindest I can say is that such are clueless, loveless, and faithless..."

I found that my life got so much more enjoyable and my spiritual life, more meaningful once I stopped believing in a vengeful, angry God and a literal hell. Obviously Phillips and most of the Christian bloggers I read would reject my theology, as I reject theirs.

Phillips rounds out the post by hoisting the old "Dating a woman is like test-driving a car!" canard, offensively as ever: "What would you think of a man who spends his free time going from car dealer to car dealer, checking out luxury cars that he will never buy?" As feminists more witty than I have pointed out, there's really nothing like that New Hymen smell.

Hat tip: Solo Femininity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Occupational hazard

Every late-morning we spend an hour or so outside on the playground in front of the school. When it was time to go inside for lunch, C, my oldest and second-most challenging student, and I held hands and encouraged students to line up by the door. C and I were going to be co-line-leaders, so he was in a great mood.

"Uh, Teacher Jessica?" he said. He pointed to a small, round, scabby patch on the back of my left hand. "What's that on your hand? Do you got ringworm?"

Ringworm? I know it's not an actual worm, but still, are you fucking kidding me? Maybe I need to start a "Communicable parasites I might pick up from my preschoolers" tag.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Career meme

1. Go to http://www.careercruising.com/.

2. Put in Username: nycareers, Password: landmark.

3. Take their "Career Matchmaker" questions.

4. Post the top ten results:

1. Child and Youth Worker: Not a surprise. My actual job, Early Childhood Educator, was #36, but I suppose Child Worker is more or less the same thing.

2. Adoption Counselor: I could get into this. One of the jobs I applied for before I got hired at the preschool was working with an adoption agency. I didn't get a call back, though.

3. Addictions Counselor: Too depressing, probably. Plus, wouldn't I need first-hand experience with addiction?

4. Clergy: I considered going into the ministry for several years. Several people told me that they thought I should, or that I would, become a minister. Ultimately, I don't think I have a strong enough faith to lead others. When I told Kugler that, he said, "That's all the more reason you should consider it."

5. Psychologist: That's Amy's territory. Plus, I think it'd be a little late for me to take up psychology.

6. Sport Psychology Consultant: Um, what? I don't even know what this job is.

7. Librarian: Definitely something I would consider.

8. Dental Assistant: No. Just, no.

9. High School Teacher: Meh.

10. Anthropologist: I would love it!

Professor, my eventual goal, was listed as #11. I find it funny that it listed Gerontologist (#27) before Early Childhood Educator (#36). Maybe I'm working with people on the wrong ends of their lives...

Hat Tip: Mizz Marvel.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oh, those crazy Biblical-era adolescents

Bible Gateway is a great online tool for checking various Bible translations, although for some reason it doesn't offer the New Revised Standard Version (the most scholarly-approved translation) among its options. When I find something proof-texted on a Christian site, I like to check it on Bible Gateway to see the verses in context.

One Reformed blogger, in anticipation of his upcoming wedding, recently quoted Proverbs 30:18-19:

"There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin."

I was curious how other translations dealt with the last word. According to my reference Bible, the original Hebrew word is almah, which it says means "girl, young woman, (in certain contexts) virgin." The New International Version translates it as "maiden;" the New King James as "virgin;" Young's Literal Tranlation offers the last phrase as "The way of man in youth," and the New Living Bible as "How a man loves a woman."

For fun, I checked The Message translation (er, paraphrase):

"Three things amaze me,
No, four things I'll never understand—
How an eagle flies so high in the sky,
How a snake glides over a rock,
How a ship navigates the ocean,
Why adolescents act the way they do."

HA! As our crotchety, Scuttle-voiced New Testament professor used to say, you might as well toss that translation in the Willamette River.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

If we survived pinworm unscathed, we can survive this

Oh, cruel irony! Almost a month after I suggested that pinworm might be a more gruesome counterpart to head lice, we have one confirmed case of--you guessed it--lice. It's in the other preschool class, across the hall, but that's scarcely a relief since we often combine classes in the afternoon. I got head lice, along with most of the rest of my class, in fourth grade, and although it's honestly not that big of a deal, I have no desire for a repeat showing. Of course, my head itches like crazy now. The glamor of teaching preschool!

(As it turned out, no one else in my class ended up with pinworm, thank God.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dog attack on NE 9th Ave

I had a scary experience this evening as I was biking south along NE 9th Avenue towards the Lloyd Athletic Club for my yoga class. Around 9th and Brazee, a large-ish, sturdy dark dog with the face of a pit bull appeared seemingly out of nowhere and began running alongside and a little ahead of me. It's discomforting to be followed by a dog when you're on a bike, but this dog seemed to be enjoying itself just running; I was more concerned with it getting hit by a car (it wasn't obeying the stop signs) as we approached the busier streets around the Lloyd Center than I was with my own safety. At one point the dog ran across the street to check out a pedestrian, then crossed back to continue running ahead of me. Around Schulyer, the dog spotted a woman walking a large white Siberan Husky-type dog across the street and ran over to them. The woman's dog jumped back and she yelled at the dark dog to go away. I had continued biking and was half a block down NE 9th when I heard barking, snarling, and the woman yelling for help. I turned back. The dark dog had the woman's dog's back in its jaws; her dog was lying on the sidewalk. Several passersby had rushed over. Someone had wrapped a spare leash (I saw a man holding his terrier in his arms, maybe he gave his dog's leash?) around the dark dog's neck and was trying to pull it off the woman's dog. Everyone was yelling. Someone was calling 911 and asking if any humans had been attacked. Finally they got the dog off of the other; the woman crossed the street with her poor dog, who had a dark gash in its back. The man restraining the mystery dog was yelling that it should be put down. "I'm probably a bigger animal lover than any of you here, but this dog needs to be put down!" It had no collar and no tags.

The police arrived within about thirty seconds. An officer put a muzzle around the dog's jaws and put it in the back of her patrol car. It didn't seem aggressive around humans (in fact, when I got to the gym I realized that in the confusion I got some dog slobber on the thigh of my yoga pants when the dog brushed by me en route to the patrol car; if it wanted to bite me it could have). I told the officer about how the dog started running alongside me and my impressions of what happened; she took down my name and address. The woman and her dog were across the street with a small group of concerned people. The other officer went over to talk with her. I just hope her dog is okay, and that both the dog and the woman won't be completely traumatized.

We had a strange dog appear this morning at the preschool, as well, right as I was guiding four kids out from our classroom to the playground. This one was wearing identification, and it seemed friendly too--after the kids were in the playground it let me check its tags. It was probably just a neighborhood dog that got out of its yard, but after the experience this evening, it's scary to think how easily it could have attacked one of the kids--not to mention how quickly a seemingly-friendly unknown dog can turn nasty.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wage slave

A couple months ago my mom told me about a conversation she had with my grandmother, shortly after I graduated and began working full-time at the preschool. "What's Jessica going to be doing in the fall?" my grandma asked. Mom snapped back, "The same thing she's doing now! Jessica's not a student anymore, she's just a regular person!"

The bloom is off that rose.

Yesterday morning and afternoon I was feeling pretty sick. I went downtown but I missed the shuttle up to campus (I wanted to go to services at P'nai Or) by literally fifteen seconds, and spent an hour or so wandering around Pioneer Place, all dizzy and weak-feeling. I took the bus home and threw up a couple times, possibly from the heat. I felt better in the evening and enjoyed hanging out with Daniel and Ethan, but I'm still feeling vaguely resentful of essentially missing out on the chance to enjoy Saturday morning and afternoon. Why couldn't I have been sick during the week, so that I could have the afternoon off? And then, of course, the realization hits that unless I'm seriously, violently contagious, I can't take a day off from work: I can't afford to miss the hours.

I love my job 95% of the time, but being a full-time student was much, much easier than being a "regular person."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taking your work home with you

I have very vivid dreams and I often talk in my sleep. Daniel told me that the other day while we were sleeping, I said, "ETHAN, TAKE THAT TOY OUT OF YOUR MOUTH." Daniel asked, "Ethan, my brother?" and said that I responded--still sleeping--"No, Ethan my co-worker." Which is funny to me, because my co-worker's name is Eduardo, and preschool Ethan isn't one to put toys in his mouth.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Like head lice, but much, much worse

(Warning: Do not read while eating. Or after eating. Or before eating.)

Guess what a kid in my class has? Oh, just a nice case of Enterobius vermicularis. You might know it by its more common names: pinworm, or the grossest fucking thing ever. You know, the little half-inch long worm that lives in your ass and POKES ITS HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS AT NIGHT AND LAYS THOUSANDS OF EGGS.

Wikipedia says, "Except for itching, pinworm infestation does not usually cause any damage to the body. Sleep disturbance may arise from the itching or crawling sensations."

Ewww! Ewwww! EWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

And according to the information sheet the school director printed out and tacked up next to our sign-in sheet, in some cases, 50% of children in the group become infected. I feel like bathing in acid right now.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

All of my recent pursuits converge in one weird dream

Last night I had a dream that Ron and Hermione (but not Harry) were in my preschool class, and we took a fieldtrip to the recently-opened Creation Museum in Cincinnati--you know, the one that features animatronic cave children frolicking with baby dinosaurs. Eduardo and I had to wait in the lobby because it wasn't free admission for adults. After all the kids finished in the museum, one of the dads who was chaperoning the trip asked to pop into the conference room, where a UN Summit was going on, to speak with the museum's chef. Only it turns out that the dad was passing on a message from the mafia and the chef was really a mob boss, and soon we had to run for our lives.

I like how transparent the origin of each element of the dream is: longs hours at the preschool, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Mafia Princess: Growing Up in the Family of Sam Giancama, and hours spent perusing the Answers in Genesis website.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

"Tricks are what whores do for money. Or cocaine!"

The energy in the classroom was out of control this morning, and Whiplash was having an especially difficult time, so to calm the kids down I announced that there would be a magic show on the carpet after snack. All thirteen preschools gathered around in a squirmy circle as I made up some very simple I-pulled-this-toy-from-your-ear-oh-look-it-disappeared-into-your-belly-button-type tricks, using these half-dollar-sized multicolored felt discs and plastic sea creature toys. Everyone had a turn to be my assistant and have a toy disappear into their ear, eye, mouth, or hair, then reappear somewhere else. Every time a little octopus wiggled out of a child's ear, the kids screamed with delight. They spontaneously broke into applause. "It's really magic!" they yelled.

They were so into it, and it was so easy to convince them that it was really magic, that I actually felt a little guilty for tricking them. I mentioned it to my co-teacher Eduardo later that day, and we talked about how easy it is to forget how young the kids really are. Since my class is the oldest group at the school, I always view them in relation to the infants, or the toddlers; in comparison, they seem mature, sophisticated, worldly. They're such smart, autonomous, strong, authentic beings; it's a reality check to see them strapped into their car seats for a field trip and realize just how vulnerable, young, and innocent they can be.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Guinea pigs and tzaddikim

I was frustrated almost to tears today as I closed up my classroom and prepared to leave school. My hands were shaking as I took off my apron and stuffed it in the cupboard (we’re required to wear aprons, which maybe doesn’t make sense until you realize the frequency with which you will be handed special woodchips to save, and Legos, and how it really is a good idea to always keep a pack of Band-aids and a rag on hand, and you come to appreciate the extra pockets, even if sometimes you end up holding some kid’s soggy, sandy socks or used Kleenexes). I mean, my frustration was really not commensurate to the stimuli. I didn’t want to mop, I didn’t want to sweep, and I definitely didn’t want to clean out the guinea pigs' cage—but it hadn’t been done for a week, and the little guys were whistling at me to muck them out, so I got down on my hands and knees and started scooping their soiled shavings into the trash.

A few minutes later I gathered my things and left the class to sign out for the day. The time cards are kept by a shelf next to the school’s kitchen, and as I was signing out, T, the afternoon dish-washer, caught my attention. “I read your biography,” she said. A few paragraphs about our personal interests, education, and background are printed outside our classroom doors. “And I have a question about religion. Is it true that, in some Jewish communities, the rabbi is such a central figure, and is respected so much, that it’s like he’s an intermediary between the community and God—like getting the rabbi’s answer to a question would be just like getting God’s own answer?”

It was such an unexpected question, and it made me so happy. For the first time since defending my thesis, I got to use words like Hasidic, tzaddik, and rebbe. I got to talk about the differences between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. I wanted to name-drop Weber, but I didn’t. It struck me that it was such a funny juxtaposition, coming out of my classroom with guinea pig poo on my hands, practically, and getting to talk about Judaic Studies; and a fitting parallel for the day two months ago when I defended my thesis before the Religious Studies department then left campus and jumped on a bus to North Portland to interview for my job at the preschool.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Sometimes you feel like a nut

Sometimes you're in the mood to read a book like The Man Question: Visions of Subjectivity in Feminist Theory, and sometimes you just wanna read Mafia Princess: Growing up in Sam Giancana's Family.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I just got back home from Powell's--it's crazy!! There are several hundred (thousands? I'm not great at estimating large quantities) of people wrapped around the store, waiting until 12:01 am, when the store will begin selling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. At least a third of those people were in costume. There were face painters, tarot card readers, vendors; a news truck had pulled up and blocked off 11th and Couch. Actually, all of Couch between 10th and 11th had been blocked off from traffic and was jammed with people.

I was there just to see what was going on--I'm not buying a copy and I won't have a chance to read it until after August 4, when my brother will pass off our family copy to me (he and my dad are coming up that day to help me move). Realistically, at least some elements will probably be spoiled by then, but I'm going to try to do as much as possible to avoid spoilers--so if you've read the book, don't tell me anything!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Party's Crashing Us

Check out Daniel's new blog, linked here and in the sidebar. I'm also adding a link to Passive Aggressive Notes--having been both author and recipient of passive aggressive notes, the site has quickly become one of my daily reads, although the comments get irritating quickly. I've also added a "Currently reading" thing right below my profile.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two years ago / hace dos años atrás

Two years and a day ago I hadn't finished packing by the time we needed to load up the car and head to Portland, where my family and I were going to spend the night before my flight to Chile the next day. I also hadn't called to confirm my airline reservations and double-check the flight time, something I should have done a week earlier. I threw the overflow clothing, toiletries, and books I was sure I would have time to read over the next six months (I planned on mastering Rilke's complete body of work; I also was positive, for some reason, that I was going to read Anna Karenina) into plastic trash bags and we tossed them in the back of the car. I was frustrated with myself for not having packed earlier and better, stressed about the rush, and scared out of my mind about the next six months. I double-checked the flight time from the phone in the hotel lobby and took a bath.

Two years ago, my family dropped me off at the airport and we said good-bye. I met Mariah at the terminal (each of us had forgotten the other's name) and we sat making tentative small talk. Carla, Mariah and I rode the air shuttle at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport and we talked about Amelie; I remember the relief of feeling like I had found two friends. A day or so later, Carla, Jon, Alisa and I all sat together in the dining room of Hotel Bonaparte in Santiago, and conversation and laughter flowed so easily that I felt that I would be okay if these three people were the only friends I made in Chile. Thankfully, that was not the case.

It's strange for me to think that I left for Chile two years ago. At the time, six months in a foreign country seemed like such a daunting undertaking that I couldn't imagine life on the other side of those six months. Sometimes when I was travelling, or talking with Ronald or Daniela, or just walking down the street or riding the bus, I would be overcome by the strangeness and wonderfulness of it all. I would think, "This is me. I'm doing this right now. This is happening in my life," simultaneously stepping out of the moment and trying to horseshoe myself back in. Now, two years later, looking back on my photos, I have to remind myself, "You did that. You were there; you took those pictures." I can hear the Chilean inflection in my Spanish when I talk with my Guatemalan co-teacher, and I will always call a strawberry a frutilla instead of a fresa, yet it seems, still, like a dream. I can't remember exactly how good cazuela, or a warm sopaipilla tasted, and sometimes my Spanish feels slow and heavy, like I'm speaking underwater.

In January, I sobbed when I left my host family's apartment for the last time, carrying my five-year-old host sister up the stairs of the complex so we could say good-bye. As six months earlier, packing had been rushed, and a nightmare; the handles were popping off the enormous overpacked black suitcase I had bought on the cheap in Buenos Aires and hauled all through Uruguay and Argentina. I was wearing several layers to carry as much as possible on my body, and sweated in the mid-summer (since the seasons are reversed) sun. My family's nanny and I kissed good-bye for the last time, and I was gone. The end was as rushed as the beginning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Let it not be said that working at the preschool is nothing but hugs, snuggles, art projects, and bon mots, all "Kids Say the Darndest Things"-style. It can also be frustrating, nauseating (it's difficult to maintain a neutral face and positive tone of voice while cleaning up a kid's poop accident), and frenetic. Today was record-breakingly hot and, as the kids noted during afternoon snack, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so we all had to put on sunscreen before we went outside. I sat down with the sunscreen basket (each kid has their own tube, as per their allergies and parents' preferences, etc) and was mobbed by outstretched arms and legs. Kids who got their sunscreen on first ran around in a frenzy, yelling and yelping despite reminders that "Inside the classroom, we use inside voices." My co-teacher Charley was cleaning up from snack, so he couldn't take a group outside while I finished distributing sunscreen to the others. I started letting some of the older kids apply their own sunscreen--looked away for a minute while I helped little S, the youngest child, rub it in to her arms, and when I looked back, 4-year-old C was wearing a white mask of sunblock all over his cheeks, forehead, eyelids, nose, and hair. I sent him over to Charley, who tried to wash it off with minimal stinging; still, for the next hour, C screamed and cried that there was sunscreen in his eyes and was inconsolable. I went over to help little B, who is too small to turn on the water by himself, wash his hands at the sink. B stared at the soap bubbles in the basin of the sink for a long moment while the soap slid off his little hands and the water ran. On the other side of the classroom, C was screaming and four friends were running in circles. "B, wash your hands," I said firmly. B looked at me for a moment and burst into tears. "Teacher, your voice hurts my feelings!" he cried. I felt immediately horrible and knelt to hug his body. "B, I'm so sorry," I said. Sometimes this job makes me feel like the most callous person in the world.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I hold a Rogersian view of the state of nature

Me, describing the philosophy of my preschool viz-a-vis the Enlightenment philosphers: "...So we're not Hobbesian. We couldn't tell the kids that life was 'nasty, brutish, and short.' We're more...Lockeian."
Daniel: "The social contract? But Locke saw the social contract as a means of reconciling the state of nature. He agreed with Hobbes that it was 'nasty, brutish, and short.'"
Me: "You're right, he's not necessarily more optimistic. So which one are we like? We're the most optimistic about the nature of man..."
Daniel: "You're kind of like Rousseau...well, mmmmmm, kind of, but not really. You're mostly just sensitive and really like kids and innocent. You're more like...Mr. Rogers."

Also, earlier in the same conversation, in a devastating error, I misattributed "nasty, brutish, and short" to Thomas Paine, rather than Hobbes. (A Christian homeschooling blogger recently described Thomas Paine as "...the ungodly and licentious pamphleteer who had some influence on stirring up citizens to fight, but not necessarily for the right reasons.") Is it possible to retroactively fail Inventing America? Lewis & Clark already gave me my diploma; I'm not handing it back!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

With the thoughts you'd be thinkin', you could be another Lincoln

E: "My favorite president is the one who looks like a vampire."
Me: "The president who looks like a vampire. I wonder if you mean...Abraham Lincoln?"
E: "I don't remember his name. I have a president placemat. The only ones I remember are GEORGE WASHINGTON!! and...the bad one."
Me: "Hmmm...who's the bad one?"
E: [shrug]
Me: "I wonder if his name is...Bush?"
E: "Yeah, that's him! That's the bad one!...My mom hates that guy."
Me: "Many people dislike Bush."
E: "I hate that guy too. But why do people dislike him?"
Me: "Well, hmmm. He started a war."
E: "I bet everyone at our school doesn't like him."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Two recent conversations about polar bears

Conversation between a community college writing instructor and a student at the same college, overheard while waiting for the 12 at 3rd and Stark a few days ago. The student was enrolled in Composition 1; the instructor taught Composition 2 and was offering advice about the courses:

Teacher: "So, what paper are you working on now?"
Student: "Argumentative. We've already done Cause and Effect and (something else)."
Teacher: "Comp 2 is where it really gets tough, because you get into the research papers."
Student: "Well, I find that any paper incorporates research. Like, my Cause and Effect, I did on global warming, so I did a ton of research for that one. I probably researched for fifteen hours."
Teacher: "Oh...global warming...One of my students is doing her research paper on how they say that polar bears will be extinct in fifteen years...you know, that whole thing."
Student: "Pish posh. Polar bears like water, not ice!"

Conversation between me and E, a four-year-old boy, outside on our playground one afternoon a couple weeks ago:

E: "Mumble...mumble...predator."
Me: "What?"
E: "I said, the sperm whale is the largest predator that ever existed. But what's the largest predator right now?"
Me, confused: "Oh....hmmm...well. I know that the polar bear is very big."
E, witheringly: "That's not even the largest bear. The Kodiak Grizzly is way bigger than a polar bear."
Me: "Well, I guess you're right."
E: "I think the largest predator is the orca whale."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Must delay impending adulthood

Well, crap. One of my Religious Studies/Pamplin friends from college goes and gets herself married! Congratulations, Frances!

It makes me feel nervous and weird when friends who are my age, or a year or two younger, do such adult things: get married, settle down, have kids--since I feel so unready for those things, I always want to assume that they belong to the Realm of the Grown-Ups, those serious people at least five or six years older than me. I'm going to rest in the fact that, today during afternoon snack time, the preschoolers debated my age and decided that I couldn't be much older than six.

Favorite quote from Frances' most recent blog entry: "Anyway, it's time to get back to housewifely duties like cleaning and organizing and jobhunting. I wouldn't mind being a housewife if there were kids around, or tupperware parties, or vibrator parties, or if the house was really dirty, but that is just not the case."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The sweetest thing he could have said

I arrived at work just as Ben, my co-teacher, was preparing to take seven or so friends, including Whiplash, out to the playground to run off some energy. He left me in the classroom with C (boy, 4); V (girl, 4); S (girl, almost 3); J (boy, 4), and twin brothers N and H (4). J asked me to read The Magic School Bus Goes Batty, so we sat down on the carpet and I began to read, J nestled on my lap, V and S on my right, N and H on my left. C was content playing by himself at the art table, where Ben had spread out some fake snow.

" ' "I guess I was wrong," Ralphie said,' " I read, near the end of the story. " ' "Ms. Frizzle isn't a vampire, she's just a really great teacher who sometimes gets too wrapped up in things." ' "

"But, um, um, Teacher Jessica?" N asked. "Why Ms. Frizzle a really great teacher who sometimes gets too wrapped up in things?" Several of the friends frequently repeat sentences almost verbatim, just tacking on the word "why" at the beginning.

"Well, she's a really great teacher because she always thinks of interesting field trips and activities to learn about different things," I responded.

"Oh," N said, thinking about it.

J piped up from my lap. "You're better, though," he said.

A better teacher than Ms. Frizzle?! That's the highest praise a preschooler can give! I was quite moved. Now if only I could turn the kids into raindrops to learn about the water cycle...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

So cute, and yet so undesireable

A mouse.

In our house!!!!!

I was sitting on my bed, writing an email to Daniel, when I saw a furry brown mass dart into my room through the open door. I screamed. It darted out and down the hallway. I met my roommates Amy and Alaina in the laundry room (well, the laundry nook, more like it) and we all screamed for a minute. Then we set up the rest of our mousetraps.

Tomorrow I will be deep-cleaning my room.

Inquiring minds want to know

Last night around 9:30pm I was walking towards Ground Kontrol in Old Town, where my boyfriend's band was playing. As I crossed from Burnside to Couch, a man standing on the corner diagonal across the street attracted my attention. He spoke in a slow, heavily-lidded, stoned-sounding drawl, with audible ellipses between each word: "Hey...what do you think of...hardcore...radical....casual...sex?"

"Not into it," I responded cooly and continued walking.

"Yeah...not many people are..." he replied, in the exact same tone of voice, without missing a beat. "But when it works out...it's pretty cool."

I told Daniel about the encounter when I saw him later that night and we laughed about it. The funny thing was that the man's delivery was so strange and droll that his question came across as less of a proposition, and more a straightforward request for information: am I into hardcore...radical...casual...sex? "Maybe he was trying to proposition you, but because he was stoned it came across as just a regular question," Daniel suggested.

The distinction got me thinking about the different kinds of public comments men make about the bodies and sexualities of women. Like all women living in a misogynist society that objectifies women and commodifies women's bodies, I've experienced a range of different comments while walking around downtown Portland: the straight proposition ("I'd fuck you so hard"); the request for prurient information (above, but also the annoying and unsettling "So, are you married or what?" asked of me most recently by a middle-aged man on the bus after a few minutes of polite small talk); the sexual compliment paid without a proposition attached (a few weeks ago an African-American man asked if he could pay me a compliment, then told me, in slightly different language, that my ass compared favorably to that of most Caucuasion women). And, like all women living in misogynist societies, I've also been publically reprimanded by male strangers for failing to appear attractive and/or fuckable according to their exacting standards--part and parcel of living in a society that considers the bodies of women to be public property, and the sexual and personal habits of women open to public interrogation and judgment.

That said, I can't get too upset about the man's question: ""Hey...what do you think of...hardcore...radical....casual...sex?" Don't get me wrong: the fact that he would ask is absolutely antifeminist, and part of the overarching tradition of men as a class (note: not all men!) naming, commenting on, and judging the bodies and lives of women as a class. It's impossible to proposition a female stranger on the street without objectifying her, and I believe that objectification to be rooted in misogyny. At the same time, mostly I just find the exchange funny, and an amusing anecdote. And you know, maybe it's indicative of my innocence, or a failure of my imagination, but I don't really get the inclusion of "radical" in his question: the "casual" and the "hardcore" I understand, but what exactly is "radical" sex? (When I think of the words "radical" and "sex" together, the first name that comes to mind is Andrea Dworkin--and somehow, I don't think that man meant to reference her work.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

You know you're a preschool teacher when...

...you start talking to the classroom guinea pigs in the same hyper-empathetic voice you use with the children (or "friends," as we call them at the school): "Okay, friend, I'm going to gently and carefully lift your body out of the cage. Oh...I hear you squealing. I really hear you saying that."

Words accompanied by empathetic nodding of head, furrowing of eyebrows, and pursing of lips. (Sometimes I have a headache at the end of the day from maintaining my brow in a constant empathetic furrow.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Quote of the Day

From Amanda at Pandagon:

"Of course, the other part of this is redefining what a child is, taking women’s participation in the creation of one out of the picture and relegating pregnant women to the role of mere incubators for children that men make. To call something a “child” from the moment a man shoots his load and not after a woman has grown the child for 9 months in her body is part of the project of using pregnancy as a tool to dehumanize women and subjugate us to men. Equating a 15-week-old fetus with an actual baby is about erasing a woman’s effort and time put into making a baby, and handing over the credit to the strenously ejaculated offerings of the father. I’ve no doubt that the renewed interest in the post-Roe era of erasing the fact that pregnancy is a process is a big part of the backlash against feminism. Patriarchal traditions like calling children born out of wedlock “bastards” and the naming of children after their father and the assumption that fathers have automatic custody are all retreating to various degrees, and reactionaries are lashing out by trying to make men so important in baby-making that pregnancy itself is seen less as a process of making a baby and more as some sort of danger zone for a man’s property. Which of course is why sonogram pictures of developing embryos have such an emotional pull on anti-choicers—look, with the magic of technology you can pretend that the damn obstacle of the pregnant woman isn’t even there. If only doctors could find a way to erase women from the picture completely."

Read the whole post.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Whiplash boychild

It was a moment both touching and humbling when I realized that my most challenging student wears socks from the BabyGap; curled up on his mat during rest time, he doesn't look like an aggressor or a fight-starter, just an exhausted four-year-old nestled into a red fleece blanket.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I also like James Joyce

You're Ireland!

Mystical and rain-soaked, you remain mysterious to many people, and this
makes you intriguing.  You also like a good night at the pub, though many are just as
worried that you will blow up the pub as drink your beverage of choice.  You're good
with words, remarkably lucky, and know and enjoy at least fifteen ways of eating a potato.
 You really don't like snakes.

Take the Country Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid

Thursday, May 24, 2007

I like gentle touches

When I met my co-workers Lisa and Adriana at the bus stop after work today, they were talking about how we've all kind of picked up the preschool inflection: the hyper-empathetic tone of voice and turns of phrase that the school encourages for use with the kids. Our school is structured around a few philosophies of childhood care and education so alternative (and yet totally common-sensical, once you get used to them) that they don't even have Wikipedia pages devoted to them; since all the teachers and parents support the philosophies, a certain language and vocabulary have really developed at the care center. L., A., and I all trained together and started at the same time, so we've become a kind of cohort group, as we go through the adjustment and acculturation (for lack of a better word) processes together. Today we talked about how we find our school vocabulary creeping into our non-school lives--the other night I asked Daniel whether he was going to rest on his belly or on his back; he responded, "Your preschool voice creeps me out."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What's wrong with calling Paris Hilton a whore?

I spent most of this afternoon in bed, drinking coffee and reading various feminist blogs. One of the ones I came across, via a comment on Feministe, was Taking Steps. I cannot recommend the post slings and arrows highly enough:

"It gave me pause, but of course I jumped in: "Is your problem that she was driving drunk, or that she has sex?" Spluttering from both about her obnoxiousness. "Yes, but is it good she's doing time because she's a rich, entitled person who thinks she can do whatever she wants, or because she doesn't wear much clothing?" My mother notes, quietly, that we could be using 'the dreaded c-word.' At that point, I really had to hold myself back, while my brother insisted that, no, he has no problem with people having sex, I mean, no problem with women, you know, it's just that--"

Read more.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Teach your children well

I spent most of today at a Kindercare in Gresham, becoming CPR and first-aid certified and taking a class on how to recognize and report child abuse and neglect; both classes are required by the state of Oregon to work with kids. On the MAX on my way home, I noticed a tall, thirtyish Caucasian man with a shaved head get on with a young preschool-age boy. They sat down one seat behind me and across the aisle. The boy bounced happily in the seat and smiled at the man, then made a sound of discontent with something.

"Stop whining; you sound like a girl," the man told him.

I turned back to my music and gritted my teeth. "Not my issue," I told myself. Across the aisle, a high school-age guy laughed.

"I tell him that when he whines like that, he starts growing boobs!" the man turned and told the guy. "I say that one day he's going to wake up in the morning and have a full rack!" The man threw his head back and laughed. The boy looked at him in confusion, with the hesitant smile of kids who aren't sure exactly what their parents are doing or what's expected of them but want to please the big people.

I turned up my music and thought about blogging about the incident as an example of the social construction of gender, and the way that hatred of women is taught to children in a patriarchal society, and how that short-changes everyone. The MAX sped towards the Lloyd Center. Some people got off, and more people got on.

After a few minutes I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned back to look at the man and the boy. The man was "play"-punching the boy in the shoulder, hard enough that his clenched fist pushed the little boy's body against the window on impact. The boy seemed to have shrunk and had his hands up in front of his face, huddled in the corner of his seat, still with the hesitant smile on his face. "Say something!" the man demanded. "You're just going to sit there and take a beating?" The boy squealed, "Stop touching me!" As the boy spoke the man moved his punches from the boy's shoulder to his cheekbone, right under the eye. "Pow!" the man said. My heart pounded. I had just completed the class on recognizing and reporting child abuse.

"HE SAID TO STOP TOUCHING HIM," I said loudly. The man turned to me with a surprised, slack-jawed grin. He laughed in a way that made me wonder if he was drunk. "You telling me how to touch my kid?" he said uncertainly. "Just look at the smile on his face. We're just messing around!"

I held the man's gaze for a second and then turned back to my music. The stoned-sounding teenage girl sitting behind me started telling her boyfriend how disrespectful she would have found it for someone to tell her how to raise her own child. "If his mother was here there would have been an explosion if she'd'a done that!" the man said to no one in particular. My heart was still pounding. The MAX arrived at the Lloyd Center, where I needed to get something, so I got off. I thought about the incident throughout the rest of the day.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Quote of the Day

Excerpt from a comment on I Blame the Patriarchy, left by LMYC:

"....Feminism should be threatening to the established order, and if it doesn’t make him confront icky things about himself that make him a bit queasy, it’s not doing its job. You’re all there to work your asses off for women, not kiss some Nice Guy’s backside to reassure him he’s not Like Those Other Guys, You Know, The Bad Ones We’re Protesting Against...More importantly, and I can’t say this enough, hold to extremely high standards and do not compromise them one millimeter. And never allow yourself to back down because you want to “be nice” and “give him a chance.” You do not owe ANYONE that. You aren’t shooting these men dead or throwing them into a lava pit; you’re merely excluding them from a march. If they’re decent or have that capacity in them, they’ll understand. If not, the hell with them. I mean, what is this “be nice and give him a chance” but yet one more variation on the overarching theme of all women’s lives: Don’t Piss Off Mr. Sir Or Else He’ll Get Very Angry And Do Bad Things To Me. It should go without saying that that dynamic has no place in a feminist activist event, or feminism at all. Piss them off, and don’t dare be afraid to do so."

(P.S. Read the post itself. It's outrageous. If you have to ask "Am I raping my girlfriend?" the answer is yes; and if you send that question in to Twisty Faster you already know the answer and are probably getting off from shoving your heteronormative sexualized violence in the face of a radical lesbian feminist. Letters like this dude's make me think that Andrea Dworkin was on to something!)

(P.P.S. I'm in The Dalles right now on my way to Walla Walla to pick up my little brother from college; longer post when I'm back in Portland in a couple days.)

(P.P.P.S. I got the job!)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Herakleopolite Gnome

(Note addition to the links bar: umbrellas are for transients, my friend Emilie's blog.)

My parents and I arrived at the Religious Studies department reception about an hour late, since the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony started at the same time (and they didn't teach us the secret handshake! What's up with that??). When we arrived at the reception, Ellen and Tom both came up to me gesturing all excited and whispered that I should quickly go sign the card for Rob and then we could present him with the gnome; I thought it was thoughtful of them to wait for me to arrive before giving it to him. The gnome was about fifteen or sixteen inches tall and was holding a little ceramic shovel. Katie had written "Herakleoplite" in black sharpie on the base of his little red cap.

Katie, Ellen, Tom, Andy, Heidi and I all gathered together and pulled Rob out of the crowd, and Katie gave him the gnome on behalf of our Biblical Studies seminar. He was totally surprised. but got the joke immediately and laughed loudly for a long time. Actually, I don't know if I've ever seen him so genuinely tickled about something, including when he won Teacher of the Year. "This is the most perfect gift!" he exclaimed. "You know, I never made the connection between nome and gnome. This guy is going in my office." He said that he's going to take it with him to the upcoming American Society of Papyrologists conference, where he'll be presenting a paper about texts from the Herakleopolite Nome during the Ptolemaic period; Heidi suggested that he take it with him to Greece next semester and take its picture in front of various sites, like in Amelie. He thanked us profusely, and carried the gnome around with him for the rest of the reception. We were all so happy that he liked it so much; it really went off perfectly. It was a great way to end my Religious Studies career here.

This evening was the Senior Soiree, a fancy dinner for graduates and their families, and faculty; tomorrow is commencement itself, and Monday I'm interviewing at the preschool.

Quote of the Day: Dean de Paolo, at the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony: "Congratulations on being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa; you will find that this key will open many doors...all of them metaphorical. It doesn't open any real doors."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Five things about yesterday and today

1. I interviewed for a position as a bilingual preschool teacher last Friday, and I'm scheduled to go in for a second interview to see how I interact with the kids for three hours on Monday. Please pray or think good thoughts for it going well; it would be a great job.

2. I've been officially dismissed from the community of Christian Noahides because of, among a couple other things, my pro-choice/pro-reproductive freedom beliefs.

3. Last night I couldn't remember the name of Pedro de Valdivia, the Christopher Columbus of Chile. (I realize now that I was confusing him with Pedro Montt, a former president, whose name I couldn't remember either.) I remembered little details--like that Avenida Pedro Montt ran behind the university, parallel to Errázuriz, and that one of the guys Mariah and I met at our tango lessons at la Piedra Feliz bar was from Valdivia--I could even hear him, in my mind, saying "Soy de Valdivia, ¿cachai?" (I'm from Valdivia, get it?)--and that Estrella distante by Roberto Bolano was set there, and that the plane on the way down to Punta Arenas stopped there, and that Nona Fernández (Hernández?) queered Valdivia in Mapocho, one of the books Carla and I read for our feminist/gay literature class, but I couldn't think of the name. It finally came to me a couple hours later in bed. It always makes me sad when I can't remember things like that about Chile--the other day I was trying to think of how to say "bundle up" and I had to search for it online (it's abrigarse)--even when I can remember the details.

4. I finished my final seminar paper on the function of the Word of Wisdom in contemporary Mormon society and how it's used to construct cultural boundaries around the Mormon community. I guess it's my last college paper, but because I never did the Book of Mosiah reading I still feel sort of unfulfilled and incomplete about the semester. I think I will try to do that tonight and tomorrow morning.

5. Carla and I just got back from seeing The Namesake, and it was very good. We both cried a lot and afterwards we agreed that it was a good movie to cry to. I like Mira Nair (but I still don't really want to see Vanity Fair.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Insert your own "melts in your mouth, not in your hand" joke here

From No Greater Joy: To Betroth or Not to Betroth? That is the Question:

Most “Christian” young people are “damaged goods.” Church youth groups are hotbeds of immorality. And I am not limiting my evaluation just to those that have copulated. Would you buy a candy bar that had not been eaten, but the wrapper had been partially removed? What if it had not been handled, just displayed in a partially unwrapped condition? Would you buy the candy bar if it had not been eaten, but just licked? After all, licking by one or more persons would leave the proud, new owner plenty of candy bar to take home for his own.

The lesson: if a woman's hermetic seal has been broken, don't buy her. Somebody else has probably licked out all the gooey filling.

Another addition to the links bar

Joebankey, my little brother's LiveJournal. It's sporadically updated but pretty adorable. "Perhaps Jesus smiled down on me this Easter Sunday as I bought his reduced priced Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. God bless us, everyone!"

I have my Post-Colonial Literature final tomorrow (technically today) at 1pm; it's my last final, although I need to finish my final Mormonism paper and read/summarize the Book of Mosiah (an assignment that was due in February, but that I never did because I was gone that day and also the Book of Mormon is confusing and boring. I don't expect to get credit for it--it was just a credit/no-credit assignment--but I need to do it for my own personal sense of completion and fulfillment**). The Mormonism paper is due Thursday; I wanted to have it done by tomorrow afternoon, since I'm going over to Daniel's Wednesday night and I wanted to be completely done, but if I need to finish it Thursday morning, it's not the end of the world. This evening Iliana and Carla came over for dinner and we talked about Salman Rushdie and Jamaica Kinkaid, google-stalking our professors, and movies. Thursday Carla and I are going to see The Namesake; Friday my parents are coming up to Portland, and Sunday I graduate!

**It was the same situation with my stupid star sketch for Astronomy. The sketch--observe and draw the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Polaris, Casseiopeia, and if possible Cepheus right after dusk, then again three hours later, then predict how you think the stars will look right before dawn--was assigned the very first day of class; we were supposed to do it the first clear night of the semester. I was intimidated, I think, because I've never been able to find Big Dipper (shut up) so I didn't do the sketch the first clear night...or the second...or the third...and then there was a solid month of cloudy nights. By the time I finally did the sketch in early March I was embarrased to have done it so late, so I put off turning it in (I felt I needed to give it directly to the professor rather than risk it getting lost in the shuffle of the homework pile) until the very last day of class. I told him I didn't expect to get credit but that I wanted to turn it in for my own sense of completion; he said he understood and that there was a good chance he would give me half credit, which sure enough was the case. It wasn't going to make or break my grade but I just feel better knowing that I've done everything assigned.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"My name is Judge!"

Sure, when you first look at them, one's a close-talking, festive sweater-wearing, "Judge Reinhold's Courtroom"-hosting disbeliever in Santa Claus and the other's a gay Broadway star. But has anyone ever seen Judge Reinhold and Michael Ball in the same place at once?

Knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding: Cha-Ba-D

Friday I presented and defended my thesis before all the Religious Studies faculty, my advisor, and other seniors (and a few others who came out of interest). (Thesis title: "To Heal the World: Tikkun Olam as Interpreted by Chabad-Lubavitch and Jewish Renewal." If you want to read it, feel free to live a comment or facebook me and I'll send it to you as an attachment.) In my case, it was more "presentation" than "defense:" since I didn't type out a script, but rather spoke from an outline I made the night before, I didn't know how long it was going to be and Rob had to cut me off after twenty minutes or so (we were supposed to speak for fifteen minutes then answer questions for five). One student asked a quick question about the degree to which my Weberian framework was appropriate--he understood how I was using the categories of "inner-worldly" and "world-rejecting/world-fleeing" religion, but wasn't sure how applicable the "ascetic" and "mystic" categories were. I was a little nervous about getting thrown a curveball by one of the faculty, so I was glad that the only question I got was such an easy (but pertinent) one. I chatted more with some of the faculty and students at lunch.

I think the presentation went well. I hit all my main points, but afterwards I realized I could have been clearer and more concise about the ways that Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, adapted Lurianic tikkun olam in the Tanya: the nefesh elohit, or divine soul, of the Jew is connected to God by 613 strands representing the 613 mitzvot, or commandments; the work of tikkun, or healing, is realized through observance of the mitzvot, which restores the relationship of the nefesh elohit with the Divine.

Afterwards, I was talking with my advisor Sylvia and she told me how gratifying it was to her to see how far I've come in my knowledge of Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish history, especially since I knew next to nothing when I took her Intro to Judaism class two years ago--I mean, I'd taken the Hebrew Bible class, but that's not Judaic Studies and it's pretty unfortunate that that's the extent of most Religious Studies students' knowledge of Judaism. In particular she complimented my Hebrew and said that I sounded very natural in my usage and pronounciation. (She actually told me too that she wondered if people understood all of the Hebrew phrases I used--in my topic, there's no way to get around a lot of Hebrew--because I generally only translated things like halakhah, sefirot, nefesh elohit, mitzvah and Mosiach the first time I said them.)

It's a little hard to believe that my undergraduate thesis is complete. Part of writing a long paper (and my final draft turned out to be 43 pages) is reaching that point when you realize that you could just keep researching and writing and reading and working indefinitely, and keep adding layers upon layers. New lines of investigation open up, and dozens of possible tangents become clear. I didn't have time to pursue all of them, but I made a note to myself about ideas for graduate research, and obviously I'm going to continue attending P'nai Or and thinking about tikkun olam...really, rather than being complete, my thesis is To Be Continued.

* Chabad is an acronym of "Chochkmah, Binah, Da'at," or "Knowledge, Wisdom, Understanding," three of the ten sefirot within the system of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Each sefirah is like a different emanation or energy level of God's being. Chabad prizes mystical knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God, so it takes its name from the acronym for those three sefirot. In older literature, like the Tanya, and particularly things that were written for those literate in Hebrew, the name of the dynasty is sometimes spelled HaBaD or ChaBaD, emphasizing that it's an acronym for the Hebrew words. ("Lubavitch," like all other names of the different Hasidic dynasties, refers to the town in Eastern Europe where Chabad-Lubavitch originated.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tzimtzum, the birth pangs of creation

Three in the morning, and I'm finally, finally, done with my thesis, citations, references, formatting, and all. Counting the bibliography, it clocks in at 41 pages. I've never written anything so long before. It makes the 15-page Mormonism paper I have to whip up tomorrow look like nothing. Right now, though, I just want to sleep.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The geekiest present ever

Today we did course evaluations in the Mormonism seminar. After the professor, Susannah, left the room, Katie turned to me: "Hey, Jessica, are you going to the Religious Studies reception?"

"I don't know," I replied. "It's at the same time as the Phi Beta Kappa reception. Why?"

"Oh, well, I got Rob a little gift and I thought you'd want to be there when I gave it to him."

Oh my God! This is actually going to happen! We made a list of all the people still around who were in the Biblical Studies seminar (Eric, Ellen, Frances, Tom, Heidi, Andy, Stephen...anyone else?) and I think Katie's going to get everyone to sign a card or something. This will be the geekiest, but also possibly the most apropos, gift ever given.

Thesis Update: Done, at 37 pages! Now it's time to polish up those citations and put together my bibliography.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I wrote twelve pages of my thesis today (that is, Monday)--I'm up to thirty-two. I think it'll probably be about forty pages when I'm done, not counting the bibliography and title page and table of contents. The only thing I have left to write is the conclusion, which is mostly going to be pieced together from material from my Methods paper for Paul last semester--I hope to finish that tomorrow, after weight training but before my Mormonism seminar. Tuesday night is to work on citations, which always feels like such a let-down after finishing a paper, all triumphant--to have to go back and fill in all the places where I just jotted down "citation needed" or "must find a reference for this" or "year?" Wednesday I'll re-read and make sure it still sounds all right; Thursday I submit it; and Friday I present and defend it.

Also, I found out that even though I only got an 82 on the last Astronomy test, the grade distribution was such that 82 is still an A. Woo!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Itchy, part two

Early last week I got this peculiar feeling in the inner corner of my left eye, like I had something stuck in there, or an in-grown eyelash or something. I rubbed and rubbed and rubbed until my cheekbone felt all bruised, but it still itched. Finally Friday afternoon I went to the health center and the nurse flipped up my eyelid and announced that I have a small sty under the lid, and I need to apply this ointment to it every four hours for five days. It's exactly as much fun as it sounds!

Edited to Add: Note the new additions to my links bar: Autotopia, the homepage of Daniel's band; The Second Sleeve, Christine's knitting blog; Hedonistic Pleasureseeker; The Comics Curmudgeon; Judge a Book by its Cover, and PostSecret. As always, if you're linked here and prefer not to be, please leave a comment and I'll remove you from the list.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Now I can type Guggenheim

Suddenly my "S" key was fine, but my "G" was almost impossible to press down. Then, after Spanish, I was checking my email, and the "B" was becoming difficult! So I took a closer look and it turns out that a little rubber earring back (the kind you slip over the back of the hook so the earring doesn't fall out) had gotten wedged in between the G and the B. I fished it out and now everything is fine. As my dad would say, "Mystery solved, problem resolved."

Also, Rob won the Teacher of the Year award!! I am so, so happy; I'm glad that it finally happened my senior year. Ever since his seminar in biblical studies, focusing on Jewish diasporic identity in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Empire, Katie C. and I have been talking about getting him a garden gnome as a thank-you gift upon our graduation...we would name it Herakleopolis. It would be the Herakleopolite Gnome.


**A nome was an administrative district in ancient Egypt, one of the administrative hallmarks of the Ptolemaic Empire. There were a ton of them--my favorite name was the Krokodilopolite Nome. The biggest Jewish population was in the Herakleopolite Nome, so most of the Jewish texts we read came from that area.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This is kind of like my thesis in a nutshell (minus the sexualized violence)

First things first:

1) I found The Comics Curmudgeon via MizzMarvel, and it is so funny: daily commentary and snark on the syndicated newspaper comics. I'm always up for some good old-fashioned Pluggers-bashing.

2) The "s" and "g" keys on my keyboard are sticking and it's incredibly irritating. I think maybe an ant crawled under the keys. I wish I were kidding.

On to more important things:

Last Sunday I went to a lecture at Havurah Shalom ("Fellowship of Peace"), Portland's Reconstructionist synagogue. Apparently every year they bring in a scholar in residence who gives a series of lectures and classes; this year the scholar was Dr. Tamar Kamionkowsi, a feminist biblical scholar and dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, the principal organization that trains and ordains Reconstructionist rabbis and cantors. (I was pleased that two of my professors--Rishona and Sylvia--know me and my interests well enough that they both gave me a heads-up about the lecture series). The lecture on Sunday was about feminist interpretation of Ezekiel 16, a shockingly violent and misogynistic prophecy against Israel (technically Judea? I don't remember enough from Old Testament class which prophets preached against the Northern or the Southern Kingdoms). In chapter 16, Ezekiel likens Israel and the Jewish people to an ungrateful whore of a wife who spreads her legs for all the passing men and fornicates with phallic idols; the passage we read (up until verse 34) culminates in the gang rape of Israel, which is necessary before God can forgive her.

I was expecting Dr. Kamionkowski's lecture to be standard format: her at the front at the bima (like the pulpit), and everyone else in chairs. I was surprised and intimidated to walk into the room and see that the chairs were all set up around big tables in a square formation and a Hebrew/English copy of the Tanakh in front of every place. The arrangement helped faciliate discussion, though, and I loved the extent to which Dr. Kamionkowski's feminist theory was reflected in her praxis. At the beginning of the lecture, we all got into small groups and read through the text then discussed our reactions to it; I was sitting with my thesis advisor Sylvia, and she followed along in the Hebrew while I read the English aloud. Dr. Kamionkowski herself had tons of interesting insights about significance of the Hebrew verb tenses and translation issues, and the cultural context of the text. Plus, she followed what's now my fantasy academic progression: BA from a small liberal arts college, MDiv from Harvard Divinity, PhD in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis.

I never thought I would hear the words "strap-on dildo" spoken aloud in a synagogue, that's for sure.

(Religious Studies nerdiness ahead)

I mentioned at the beginning of Holy Week that there's a somewhat paradoxical relationship between Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionism, and the more time I spend in Reconstructionist circles, the more clear that paradox becomes. Renewal and Reconstructionism are probably the two most influential emergent Jewish denominations (although Reconstructionism has been around a great deal longer); they're pretty much at the forefront of liberal Judaism. Certainly, most of the literature about tikkun olam comes from either Renewal or Reconstructionist sources--a lot of the articles I've found are from the publication The Reconstructionist, and Havurah Shalom, like probably most progressive congregations of any denomination, urges its members to practice tikkun olam as environmental conservation and social justice.

The ironic thing is that, while tikkun olam appears in the traditional liturgy and in some texts from the rabbinic period, the concept didn't gain any momentum until Isaac Luria picked it up and spun his Kabbalistic theology around it in the Middle Ages. Suddenly, tikkun olam was not just about proper legal action, as it was in the rabbinic period; it was about healing the shattered vessels of God's sacred light that shattered during tzimtzum, the contractions that created the world. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism, further developed Lurianic Kabbalah; this is, essentially, the tikkun olam of Chabad, and Jewish Renewal maintains the idea to at least an extent.

But whereas Renewal explicitly positions itself within a mystical understanding of the world, and draws heavily on Kabbalah (especially the Lurianic "four worlds" theology and the sefirot), and teachings from the Hasidic masters, Reconstructionism, in its founding, was staunchly anti-mystical. Its founder, Mordechai Kaplan, was an opponent of Kabbalah and wanted to strip Judaism of the notion of a supernatural God, as well as notions of spiritual exceptionalism/essentialism. Reconstructionism is much, much more rationalized than Renewal. To explain the difference using Weberian language, I would say that Reconstructionism is characterized by inner-worldly ascetic religious activism; Renewal by inner-worldly mystic religion; and Chabad by world-rejecting mysticism. (That's a really rough categorization...if you want more detail, you should come to the Religious Studies thesis presentations a week from Saturday!)

It's interesting to me that Renewal and Reconstructionism work together to the extent that they do, given that Kaplan was so rationalized and anti-mystical. When I went to Shabbat services at Havurah two weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with the rabbi, Rabbi Wolf, during the oneg, and I asked him if contemporary Reconstructionism maintains the same antagonism or skepticism towards Kabbalah and mysticism that Kaplan did. Rabbi Wolf told me that he thinks, in the years since its founding, Reconstructionism has come almost full circle, to an incorporation and appreciation of mysticism: "That's the entry way into Judaism for people now. Those are the questions people are asking; that's they way that people are finding to relate to God." He attributed the reinvigoration of mystic Judaism to the Jewish Renewal spirit that's pervaded, in his words, "all of liberal Judaism." I found that so fascinating, since it's an opinion I've heard before, but only from Renewal sources.

His daughter came up to say something to him, so I assumed we were done talking and began to drift over to the oneg table. "Wait, Jessica, one more thing," he said, calling me back. "Kaplan didn't like the notion of the supernatural God--okay. And many people nowadays have a problem with the supernatural God, the idea that God is so big and just out there somewhere. But what the mystics tell us, is that God isn't just some supernatural being, out there--that God is within ourselves, that instead of being some big thing, God can be so small, and within ourselves, so small and concentrated that He approaches nothingness."

"The Ein Sof," I said.

"That's right, the Ein Sof. And so you see, that's an entry way into Judaism for many people who are disenchanted with the idea of the supernatural puppet-master God: the Ein Sof."

I don't think I'm going to be able to talk about the relationship between Reconstructionism and Renewal for more than a footnote in my thesis, which is unfortunate. But Havurah Shalom is a beautiful synagogue and the people there are very friendly, and I hope to continue to be involved in their services and events. I love P'nai Or the more full-flung incorporation of mystical theology and Hasidic traditions, and I adore Reb Aryeh. But I think that when P'nai Or has lay-led services, which happens about once a month, I'll try to go to Havurah that morning instead.