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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Star of wonder, star of light

My only goal in taking Astronomy, aside from fulfilling my last Gen-Ed science requirement so I can graduate in May, was to be able to gaze up into the sky with greater wonder, amazement, and knowledge. This evening as I was walking home from the chapel I was able to identify Polaris, Casseiopea, Orion, Sirius, and the Pleiades; if I don't learn anything more this semester, the class will have been worth it for that.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kid-tested, mother-approved

(If you're coming here via ManSpeak, welcome! You can find my response to the ManSpeak/GirlTalk Friday Funny here. I was very surprised by all the traffic it attracted, and I may do a follow-up post sometime in the next few days, so check back if you're interested.)

I just got back from downtown, where I met Daniel's parents for the first time. They took us out to El Gaucho Steakhouse, the fanciest restuarant I've been to in Portland. As in, they make the Caesar salad table-side, multiple forks and an expectation that you know when to use each one, hyper-attentive waiters, fruit-and-cheese-course fancy. The food was good, although very rich: Daniel and I split the crabcakes appetizer; all four of us had the freshly-made Caesar salad; then I had French onion soup, a taste each of his mom's risotto side dish, his dad's grilled sturgeon, and Daniel's scalloped potatoes, and some grapes from the fruit course. I was stuffed but his parents insisted that we order dessert so Daniel and I split a chocolate ganache. Everything was delicious! More importantly, his parents were really nice, and I think they liked me. I was super-nervous, but I didn't need to be: they were totally friendly and not scary at all. I'm going to chalk the evening up to a success.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Another unfunny "Friday Funny" from the GirlTalk gang

Call me a humorless feminist if you must (and if you do, please do so tongue firmly in cheek) but where's the humor in making fun of men for being inconsiderate, selfish slobs? Isn't that the premise behind all of those crappy According to Jim-type shows? Haven't we reached a cultural consensus that According to Jim is not funny? Isn't that kind of "humor"--the kind that reduces men to inconsiderate Homer Simpsons and women naggy, wet-blankety, emasculating Marges--actually incredibly insulting to both men and women? I thought so. So why are conservative evangelicals/Reformed folks still laughing?

This week for their Friday Funny, the ladies of GirlTalk linked to a post on a blog called ManSpeak. (Interesting contrast between the names of the blogs, by the way: the women of GirlTalk infantilize themselves in their blog name, while the men of ManSpeak proclaim their manliness in their own title. The men are also allowed to have favorite books and favorite cuts of meat in their bios, while the GirlTalk ladies don't even allow themselves hobbies: "Interests? What interests? We're wives and mothers. We don't really have time for interests. But that’s OK.")

The post on ManSpeak, far from being "funny," was really depressing: it's an anecdote about one of the guys who basically invites himself over for a homecooked meal at a female friend's house ("So it more closely resembled me saying: “You’re cooking for me, it better be good.” As if it would be the most enjoyable thing for her to cook for me! I am so arrogant!) She, being humble and loving to serve, agreed.") then blows her off at the last minute. See, it's funny because we women are so neurotic that we plan everything and spend money on ingredients and arrange flowers and everything, whereas a man would have just microwaved something. "So, when I called to cancel dinner on my friend, she was about 95% of her way through the 40 hours of work that went into preparing the meal. But I didn’t give it a second thought!"

...Are you laughing yet?

I would not be surprised if the comment I left on ManSpeak were removed. So, here it is: I know a standard trope of conservative evangelical/refromed theology is stark gender essentialism, which usually translates into the old “women are emotional / men are inconsiderate” thing…but really, what you describe? You treated your friend like dirt because you thought you were entitled to a home-cooked meal then blew her off. Call me a humorless feminist, but this isn’t funny and I’m surprised it was linked as the “Friday Funny” on the GirlTalk blog. What’s the humor in this: “Oh, MEN! They’re so inconsiderate!” Feminists actually have a higher opinion and respect for men: we hold them accountable for their actions and assume men can show consideration towards others.

Between this one and the Men Are Just Happier People post, unfunny Friday Funnies from GirlTalk may just become a regular feature over here at Everybody's Got Something to Hide.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Pointless Rinse

One of the many things I don't understand about other people is when they go to the bathroom then exit to the sink, turn on the water for two seconds, run their hands under the water, then turn it off and shake off their hands. Ew! Ew! Ew! Watching someone do that makes me want to wash my hands extra hard five times to compensate.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're not lathering up, your hands are not clean.

Post title from the last letter to the Tomato Nation advice column.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Everything that rises must converge

Saturday afternoon Daniel and I met downtown then took the shuttle back up to campus. The shuttle was packed with students chatting about their weekends, reading, lugging bags of groceries; when we arrived in front of Templeton everyone rose to file out, while the crowd of kids waiting at the stop pressed into us, eager to claim seats. As we separated from the crowd and headed towards the apartments, D. said to me, "I am so glad I'm not a college student anymore."

It's a sentiment that I understand but don't share: I love being a college student. Now, obviously, you don't have to like school or have gone to college to be smart: D. is probably the most intellectual, best-read person I know, excluding professors. I'm sure that college didn't hurt, but I know he would be the same way even if he hadn't gone on to higher education, because that's just the way he is: he decides to learn about Derrida and then checks a bunch of books out the library and reads them and teaches himself about Derrida. I admire that autodidactic impulse but I'm not sure if I share it: I never would have read Ulysses, for instance, if it hadn't been assigned to me.

I don't always love my classes, and I don't always love the people around me, and sometimes the assignments seem stupid and pointless (viz. my recent crappy two-page essay about the life and work of Miguel Cervantes) but I love the spirit of the Academy and the life of the mind; books and papers and late nights and mid-morning naps and sipping ginger-lemon tea while making notes in The Mormon Experience or The Sociology of Religion; used books and the accumulation of knowledge; professors who become mentors and role models and friends who get excited about what they're studying; discovering new passions and finding unexpected convergences and parallels.

For me, the joy of learning is wrapped up in the Academy. It's one of the hardest things about this semester, I think: knowing that I'm almost done. D.'s example is inspiring: although my formal education (at the undergraduate level, at least) is almost over, as long as there's a library around I can continue learning and discussing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

It's kind of just an excuse to hang out with cool nerdy people and talk about Weber

Inspired by Angela's Spiritual Discussion Group of last semester, Mariah and Danica's poetry salons, and Iliana's Joyce/Woolf salons, I'm kicking around the idea of starting an informal Religious Studies film series. Amy and I have been talking about watching Trembling before G-d, the documentary about gay and lesbian Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, since last semester; I think it would be really interesting to watch and then discuss something like that with a group of intellectual people familiar with, or interested in, the academic studies of religion and sociology. Other movies that would be good for this kind of thing: The Devil's Playground, a documentary about Amish kids on their Rumsprigga years; and Jesus of Montreal, a sort of postmodern intellectual take on the Passion story.

Would you, dear reader, be interested in participating in something like this?

Friday, January 19, 2007

WWWS (What Would Weber Say)?

I have recently acquired four very different religious texts:

1) The NIV Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible, $24.95 from Black Sun Books in Eugene. Kind of spendy, but it's in great condition and it would have cost twice as much new. It has annotations for tons of words in Greek and Hebrew, as well as lexicons in both languages and grammar guides. So, for instance, after the phrase "corrupted flesh" in Jude 23, there's a little number 4922; looking up "4922" in the Greek lexicon in the back tells me what the original Greek word was in that verse ("sarx," in this case), as well as every other place in the Bible where that word appears. You can do the same thing with the Hebrew words in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures. I don't love the New International Version, or NIV (I prefer the New Revised Standard Version, or NRSV, which is what most people in my Bible Study use, so following along with the NIV is kind of jarring) but it was the only translation they had this Bible in, and I think I'll learn a lot from it.

2) The Book of Common Prayer, on loan to me from Mark, the Dean of the Chapel here. This might come out of the blue for some readers, but I'm considering becoming an Episcopalian, so I thought it would be good to familiarize myself with the Episcopalian liturgy and prayers. I'll probably write another post about why I'm thinking of converting sometime in the near future.

3) The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, $9.95 from Powell's. I'm taking a Mormonism seminar this semester and these three were required texts. I adore the edition that I found: all bound together in faded black leather, with the names of the books stamped in gold on the cover and "To Ben from Velda 3/19/45" written in cursive inside the back cover. Someone--Ben, possibly--made notes and underlined some verses, and someone carefully wrote the dates that the golden plates were originally written next to the table of contents in what must have originally been blue ballpoint ink but has now faded to a purpleish-pink: next to where it says First Book of Nephi, Ben wrote in "600 BC-570 BC;" next to Book of Ether, he wrote "Jaredites left Babyon 2200 BC.

4) The Liqqetei Amarim, or Tanya, $11.95 from Powell's. Now this was really a find, and is the crowning jewel of my growing collection of Chassidus. The Tanya is a mystical book written by the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, in 1797. It's smaller than I would have expected: about the size of CD case and about 300 pages long, with a faux-brown leather hard cover and a faded pink ribbon to mark your place. My edition is translated into English, of course, but I expect I'm going to learn a lot of Hebrew (at least, "a lot" relative to my current Hebrew vocabulary of maybe two dozen words) since most of the mystical concepts are transliterated, instead of translated. Plus, there's a glossary in the back.

I'm pretty sure that owning Jewish books is one of the mizvot (commandments) that Chabad most fervently encourages Jews to practice, along with hanging a mezuzah outside their doors, praying with t'fillin, lighting Shabbat candles, charity, and recitation of the Sh'ma. I can see why: there is something very sacred about books, the history contained in decades-old pages, and knowledge. On the evangelical teen forum, they're currently debating whether reading books like the Qu'ran is "playing with fire;" when I flip through the Book of Mormon, a text which I consider to be historically false and offensive in some instances, I have to think that the teenage crazies are missing the point.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

“You don’t have to convert to Judaism to find a spiritual path through Judaism.”

Last Thursday I met with Rabbi Asi, who along with his wife Aviva runs the Chabad House at the University of Oregon, to interview him for my thesis. (Thesis in a nutshell: the different ways that the theology of tikkun olam, “the healing of the world,” is interpreted by different Jewish movements, particularly the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect and the Jewish Renewal movement; the reasons for those different interpretations; and how the interpretation of tikkun olam affects practitioners’ orientations towards the world.) I was dead nervous about meeting Reb Asi—I’d honestly never met an Orthodox Jew before, let alone a Hasid, and I was unsure of what to expect. He wouldn’t have expected me to present as frum (observant), since he knew I wasn’t Jewish, but I wanted to be as respectful as possible so I was careful to dress modestly, making sure that my elbows and collarbone were covered as per halakha (religious law). I kept reminding myself not to extend my hand when I met him, since physical contact between us would violate halakha. Preparing for the meeting, I regretted that I wasn’t meeting with the Rebbetzen Aviva, who I thought I had much more in common with. Both she and Reb Asi are baalei teshuva (returnees to the faith, literally “masters of repentence”—Jews who take up a more Torah-observant or Orthodox lifestyle after growing up in less- or non-observant families) but she was raised Reform in California, rather than Modern Orthodox in Israel as he was, and graduated from Stanford; according to the pictures on the UO Chabad website, she looked kind of like how Ani DiFranco would look if she were a Hasidic Jew.

In some ways Reb Asi was as I imagined him, and in some ways he was different. He looked enough like my stereotyped mental picture of a Hasidic rabbi that I was able to identify him when he walked through the door, but his clothing wasn’t conspicuous by any means, and the only thing that would have marked him to the casual observer as a Torah-observant Jew was the tzit-tzit that dangled from below his Eddie Bauer-style forest green jacket. I was impressed and thankful for how openly he talked about tikkun olam with me; I learned a lot that will definitely be useful for my thesis, especially about his opinion of the way tikkun olam has been interpreted by the Jewish Renewal movement: the way he saw it, in their social-justice activism, they emphasize the “olam” (world) part of tikkun olam, while Chabad believes that the healing of the world must begin with the healing of the soul of the individual Jew, which comes from recognition of the relationship between God and the Jewish people and observance of the Torah. In the Tanya, the mystical work composed by I believe the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the n’shama, or soul, is envisioned as being connected to God by 613 strands representing the 613 mitzvot (commandments) given to the Jewish people in the Torah. Severing even one of those strands alienates that a part of the n’shama from God; the project of tikkun (healing, mending) is to reconnect the strands of the n’shama to God by observing the mitzvot.

After we discussed all the questions I had written out in my field notebook, I asked him about some more personal questions I had been thinking about. He knew that I was Christian and that I’ve been attending Jewish Renewal services; as I told him, although I still identify as Christian, I feel a strong spiritual connection with chassidus and the Judaism that I find in the Jewish Renewal movement. So then, I asked him, as a non-Jew, to what extent can I be involved in Jewish practice without disrespecting Judaism or crossing inappropriate boundaries? I was heartened and reassured by what he told me: “You don’t have to convert to Judaism to find a spiritual path through Judaism.” Although he told me that Shabbat was given by God just for the Jews, I’m pretty sure that he meant the halakhic observance of Shabbat; he emphasized that God can and does use non-Jews in the project of tikkun olam, as envisioned by Chabad: he reminded me that it was the non-Jewish captain of the ship that woke up the reluctant prophet Jonah and reminded him of his responsibility to the people of Ninevah; Jonah, the only Jewish prophet called to prophesize to the gentiles. I had the idea—partly reinforced by some statements made during services at P’nai Or, the Jewish Renewal congregation, that Chabad would be totally uninterested with talking to me, since I’m not Jewish; my experience with Reb Asi was totally the opposite. I do think it helped that he knew I believed in God, and that we could connect on that level; I wonder how the interview would have gone if I had presented myself as totally secular or as an atheist: he told me that, for instance, he would much rather his neighbors were devout Christians than secular humanists.

I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I didn’t expect to: as much as I’m inspired by Chassidus and a lot of what I know about the Rebbe, for instance, I could never get behind the stark gender essentialism and rejection of the secular world. But interviewing Reb Asi gave me a great perspective on the Chabad understanding of tikkun olam, shattered some stereotypes I had about Hasidic Jews, and gave me a lot to think about with regard to my own spiritual practice.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Yeah, the patriarchy is hilarious

Check out GirlTalk (tagline: "Conversations on Biblical Womanhood and Other Fun Stuff)'s most recent Friday Funnies post: Men are Just Happier People, a list of advantages men enjoy. Everything on the list is something that:

a) wouldn't exist without the patriarchy ("Your last name stays put"--check out the excellent recent post on Pandagon about last name politics; "You can be President")

b) is based on out-dated/silly/offensive stereotypes of the men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus type ("You never have to drive to another gas station because this one is just to icky;" "One mood all the time;" "You know stuff about tanks")

c) is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy ("Car mechanics tell you the truth;" "Wrinkles add character")

d) is nonsensical ("Everything on your face stays its original color"--wuh? Is that...about lipstick? I don't get this one.)

"You can open all your own jars." Ho ho, GirlTalk! Oh no you didn't!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Orthodox religious demographics that are more technologically advanced than I am, as demonstrated by their possession, and my lack, of cell phones

1. Amish teenagers
2. Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic rabbis.

My meeting with the Lubavitcher rabbi this afternoon went wonderfully. Longer update forthcoming!

Observation

The only drawback to dating an intellectual is that when you're writing an email and you've got Weber's The Sociology of Religion balanced on your lap and Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students propped open with your elbow and you're quoting both (and bringing in Durkheim and Eliade, no less) and trying to construct an argument about Bloom's misunderstanding of the sui generis nature of religion and his oversimplification of the Weberian theory about The Prophet, you might feel slightly like you're back in your Methods in the Study of Religion class.

Unless, of course, you loved your Methods in the Study of Religion class. Then it's not so much a drawback, as a huge plus.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Harry Potter y el príncipe mestizo

That is, Harry Potter and the Mixed-Blood Prince** (see note at end), for which I'm taking shhhh! merely the briefest of breaks from David Foster Wallace's Infinte Jest. MBP came out just days after I left for Chile a year and a half ago, and it it would have been prohibitively expensive for my family to ship it to me from Oregon, so I was forced to await its translation and appearence on the streets of Valparaíso.

The book market in Chile is very different than in the US; at least in Valparaíso, there weren't huge bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders. There were three main kinds of book vendors around Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, where I lived: a) WaldenBooks-type stores in the malls and galerías, where they sold imported, authentic (not black-market), paperback and hardcover books in Spanish and English; b) musty used-book stores run by old leftists; and c) vendors who would sell black-market and photocopied books in market stalls and on the streets. The street vendors spread out all their books on tables or blankets in Plaza Bernardo O'Higgins in Valparaíso, or Plaza de Viña in Viña del Mar; hundreds of books lined up, children's books, religious books, classics, poetry, everything from Don Quijote to El código Da Vinci. Often they would be shrink-wrapped so you couldn't flip through them and make sure they photocopying was done well, which it frequently wasn't: in the first book I bought from a vendor, Pantaleón y las visitadoras by Mario Vargas Lllosa the photocopying was so poorly done that some pages were totally blurred out, rendering them illegible, and some pages were repeated; after page 50 or so the page numbers dropped off the bottom corners and I had to go through and number them by hand.

At the beginning of each semester at Lewis & Clark, I make a list of the books I need then go downtown to see if I can find them at Powell's; at la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, after Profesor Sarocchi would assign a book in Carla, Mariah's, and my Post-1973 Feminist and Queer Literature class, we would walk the few blocks past the Mercado and Calle Yungay to Plaza O'Higgins, where we would ask the vendors if they had a particular book: "¿Usted tiene Mapocho por Nona Hernández?" "¿Hay Tengo miedo, torero por Pedro Lemebel?" Often the vendors knew their stock immediately; sometimes they invited us to rummage through the boxes and stacks of shrink-wrapped books.

By the time that Harry Potter y el príncipe mestizo hit the book stands, I was savvy enough to know that I was getting a photocopied edition. What I didn't realize was that, instead of being the official Spanish translation, it was some slapshot Google or Babelfish translation of the English text that had been whipped off and photocopied as quickly as possible. The fonts, formatting and paragraph breaks were all wrong; there were some bizarre false-cognates that I only understood because I could figure out what the text must have said in English (example: At one point Mr. Weasley or whoever draws the curtains--that is, he closes them. The Spanish text read, "dibujó las cortinas"--he drew them, as with a crayon); words like "magic wand" would randomly show up in English. (Incidentally, I found an authentic Spanish translation a few days before I left for the US, in one of the classy bookstores at the huge mall in Viña. It was hardcover and looked just like its English counterpart, with the correct fonts and formatting. It also cost at least 25,000 pesos: around fifty US dollars. I bought my black-market paperback Harry Potter for around 10,000.)

But the Spanish text wasn't without its charms. I loved the way the translator rendered Fleur Delacour's French accent, by replacing her Rs with Gs: she called Harry "Haggy," for instance, and pronouncing "Haggy" with a silent H and throaty Spanish G really does evoke the sound of Spanish spoken by a French person. And despite the laughably bad quality of the translation, as I'm reading MBP now, for the first time in English, I'm amazed that I understood virtually everything the first time around. I remember everything, but I'm not remembering it in Spanish or in English, I'm just remembering it. The language is secondary to the experience. In a way, that reflects how I feel about my entire experience in Chile, now that I look back on it after a year: how on Earth did I do that? I think back on the conversations I had, and the people I met, and the things I did, and the classes I took, and I can't believe that I did it all in Spanish. I can't believe that was me. It's a strange feeling.

** Edited to add: I knew there was something strange-looking about Harry Potter and the Mixed-Blood Prince: as my brother just pointed out, the title in English is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The clarification allows me to comment on something interesting: the fact that "Half-Blood" was translated mestizo in the Spanish translation. Mestizo is a fairly loaded term in Latin America, where it's used as an ethnic descriptor to describe the descendents of the Spanish conquistadores and native women who were raped by the Spanish during the Conquest.