Friday, December 28, 2007

Memphis Pizza Cafe

I'm coming home to you.

Soon. Very soon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

For you, my heart bleeds...

No, not really.

OMG! Suburban schools have different grading standards and don't all give students the same amount of credit for AP and IB hurting little Johnny and Susie's chances at merit scholarships at prestigious universities. That's like, totally unfair.

Give me a break. The real disparity and unfairness is between filthy rich suburban schools who can actually offer AP and IB classes, and poor schools in the inner cities where you're lucky if they actually manage to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the poor schools in rural areas, where maybe they teach reading, writing, and arithmetic very well, but there's no resources available for advanced classes.

Yeah, it's really a tradegy that Johnny or Susie didn't get extra GPA points for their AP classes. It's not like a county or two over, or in the inner city, there are kids who aren't being taught to read, or graduating without being able to make change for a dollar. Oh, wait, nevermind, it is.

Thank god, I'm from a family of inveterate geeks!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Wake Up! Time for the sex talk!

First comment, Whithorne Middle School has real DJs at their dances?! Us kids at the unloved stepchild of the Maury County School system had to make do with having the Student Council and friends haul in what CDs we had, and dragging Cousin Eric's speakers and player down the hill to the school. A real DJ? At 300 dollars a pop? That's . . . there have to be better uses for that money -- get creative!

Yes, I know that I'm overlooking the fact that Hampshire has somewhat older kids, somewhat better equipped to collectively disc jockey a school dance than a middle school does. But I'm all for unit schools anyway.

Okay, so, what's the occasion? Apparently, some parents were offended by lyrics they overheard while waiting to pick their kids up from the dance and with the normal wisdom shown by the powers that be in Maury County, the director of schools is contemplating suspending dances at middle schools.

Yeah, so, I might be wrong, but I think the song in question "Get Low" is kinda passe. I believe I remember it from my high school days . . . and four years does seem to make all the difference as to what's cool in the musical tastes of pre-adolescents. Seriously, you hadn't already heard this song enough to be offended by it? I'm not questioning whether the song is offensive or in bad taste -- the lyrics make my feminist skin crawl. And, actually, I'm not the most sensitive flower in the field. There would literally be no way to edit these lyrics. Of course, you also can hardly understand them -- with the exception of "My BALLS" being yelled at points, which is probably where the offense was taken.

But, no one remains innocent forever, and while the school should have guidelines for the music played at school-sponsored dances, you can't escape "Get Low" -- believe me, I tried for most of my junior and senior years of high school.

But then what offends me about the song was probably not the parental objections. The Herald article doesn't mention people being offended by misogyny and the abject objectification of the female body. Just offense at mention of genitalia and explicitives. So, they'd probably also object to The Dresden Dolls, without distinguishes between the two. (No, I wouldn't play most of the Dresden Dolls' catalog at a middle school dance, in part because they wouldn't get it.)

The sad thing is that songs like this, Cosmogirl, television shows, and misinformation on the school bus is roughly all the sex education the kids of Maury County are getting. So, not only are they not innocent -- they have nothing with which to balance the pop culture. And the solution, dear parents and school board of Maury County -- is not to suspend school dances because of an inappropriate song, the solution is to get some real sex education. Something to counter the prevalent mythology. To teach respect in sexual situations, both for your own self and for whoever else is involved. Maybe some basic knowledge of how things work -- because I, being known as the smart kid, was once asked on the bus if you could get pregnant if you were taking birth control pills and using a condom. I was in middle school at the time! The girl asking me was, I think, a junior! Something isn't quite right with this scenario. And, this scenario is far more harmful (and objectionable) than an inappropriate song being played at a school dance.

But why would anyone think of doing a silly thing like that. Nope, no, let's bury our heads in the sand.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More Religious Madness in Memphis...

Just when you thought the buckle of the Bible Bible couldn't get any weirder...

I mean, we've got the Bellevue Baptist's mock calvary, Love In Action, Getwell CofC, more nutty things I could probably think of if I took the time, but the World Overcomers church has surpassed -- ah, I mean, overcome -- all previous expectations for lunacy. I mean, some literally freaky fundies. Read more at Theology and Geometry.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If I’m Going to Have Monks Coming Out of My Ears...

...I might as well play with them.

I scribbled the beginnings of this a while ago on the bus (the seven, oh, the seven) meditating on my favorite subject – gender and ascetics – and thought I would clean it up a bit and post it. However, the citations are going to be a bit hazy – given my current limited internet connectivity, and being half a world away from my library. (I rarely identify with St. Jerome – but I need to have my library, okay, man. Understand!)

The gut reaction in an encounter with hagiography is a sense that early Christians (or at least those who had time and education for writing) hated the physical body, and while it’s true that the relationship of Christianity with the body is a difficult one, but it is far more complicated than a simple rejection. (Barring a handful of folks here and there, who did flatly reject the physical body.)

So, if one looks at monasticism and asceticism not as a rejection of the body, but as a rejection of social constructions placed upon the body, requirements of sexual renunciation and celibacy take on a new meaning – relating back to the construction of gender and gender roles in Early Christianity.

For example, this offers an alternative reading of the separation of male and female bodied persons into single-sex monasteries. The practice may not necessarily reinforce gender roles and boundaries. By removing the physical differentiation of sex, monasteries could also remove the temptation to attach social meaning to that physical difference. As there aren't men and women in a single sex monastery, so there aren't men's roles and women's roles within the microsociety of the monastery. Further there is evidence in the Lives and Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers that this lesson was intended to extend to the monastic’s interactions with society as a whole. (I’m thinking of the anecdote in which one of the desert mothers upbraids two monks for making her femaleness an issue – which might be in the Sayings or might have been in The Forgotten Desert Mothers, which is by Laura Swan.)

Obviously, it would be a mistake on my part to attempt to argue that everyone in Early Christianity was thinking along these lines. There’s more than enough misogynists running about through early Christianity. (Tertullian, Jerome, Augustine – I blame you three for many, many things.) And lots of ascetic hagiography is heavy on the “woman-hating” as my sister termed it after what, I suspect, will be her first and last Religious Studies class.

But we’re not talking about a monolith here. ;D And I’m fairly convinced that a decent minority of early Christians were out to overthrow gender norms.

And the Recommended Reading

Today's recommended reading is from Russ Adcox's Ramblings, regarding the "war" on Christmas.

Quote of the Day

"Look at this beautiful sunset! It looks like a building is on fire." Bryan

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My Computer is Unhappy

Insanely slow. As in, it takes it 15-20 to start up slow.
I suspect this is mostly just the effects of age, but I'm sure that falling on the ice didn't help. Oh, and the last update of Firefox screwed up Google Gears.

But enough of that. Let’s Talk About Fantasy

High fantasy is my bad habit. Okay, well, one of my bad habits. Both the reading and writing thereof. (Poking around old palaces results in scribbling high fantasy, apparently.)

I think I’ve written about Carol Berg once before, back in the beginning, commenting on her sadism toward her characters, and worrying that she was falling into the trap of repeating the same basic plot. Since then, I’ve read the third book in Bridge of D’Arnath trilogy – The Soul Weaver. I’m actually into my second reading. Do pick up this book if you’re looking for something to read.

First off – Berg is a more than capable writer. She doesn’t hit the sublime height of the greats, but she’s better than many, many writers who are currently being published – including a number of the “literary” writers.

I’m impressed with anyone who can write a novel in first person from different points of view and successful change the tone, dictation, and mannerism of each. And, she’s quite successful in pulling that off in the novel. The style changes appropriately for each character and deftly captures character’s the mental state. Berg’s characterization continues to be strong even with characters who do not get to narrate their own sections. She has a hand for dialogue and indicates dialects and education levels without resorting to obnoxious misspellings or offensive uses of dialect.

There’s a tendency in high fantasy for info-dumping – dropping a lot of description in together. Perhaps this is because fantasy is typically set in an imaginary world and authors want to communicate the setting. While Berg has created some of the most fantastic alternative worlds I’ve ever read about, she also manages to avoid this flaw. She picks just the right details and works them into the development of the plot.

Her characters are deliciously complicated. There are villains of pure evil here and there – but she develops them into three dimensional figures of evil – but on the whole her characters are quite human. Virtuous but mistaken. Blinded by their own needs. So on and so forth. A rare thing in fantasy.

Second, and this is why I’m currently raving, Berg develops some of the most interesting philosophical scenarios in fantasy. In some ways, I even prefer her to Phillip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials Trilogy would be a pressing second. Perhaps it’s because her scenarios are more divorced from the real world, which gives her more freedom to work. Her first trilogy: Transformation, Revelation, Restoration – dealt in part with the question of how a good person should respond when he or she discovers that his or her religion is predicated on a tragic misunderstanding. (You can see how this would appeal to me.)

I wasn’t as in love with her second series. Still good, but just not quite as meaty of reading. Surprisingly, however, the third book – which I picked up for airplane reading – is philosophically satisfying. The Soul Weaver features at marvelously created alternative world – or rather a world being called out of chaos. She refers to it as The Bounded, and it is populated by residents who, due to physical deformity would be outcasts in either of the two “formed” worlds of the novel. Names have particular power in this world, and all the residents of the Bounded desperately desire one.

A number of questions are posed. What is the power of names? (Not that uncommon of a theme in fantasy, but this take is well-done.) Who gets to distribute them? Are people allowed to name themselves – that is, determine the “wholeness” of their being?

Further, the boundaries of this world are in constant flux – growing outwards. How should those who have just been brought into the “bounded” be treated by longer term residents? Kindness, suspicion, welcome, fear, envy? Significantly, “the philosophy” of this world, lives closest to the boundary – on the edge of comprehensible reality.

Obviously, this is a novel – not a philosophical text, so while the questions are posed and explored to varying degrees within the novel, no conclusions were really reached. Berg isn’t especially didactic, as is Phillip Pullman or (to be fair and balanced) C. S. Lewis, which overall, I feel makes her books a more enjoyable read.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Homeward Bound- The Playlist

Otherwise known as a way of procrastinating while using other people’s creativity to attempt to express my complicated relationship with that odd concept of “home.” And for anyone who ever wondered what I listened to beyond the endlessly quoted Soundgarden and Depeche Mode.

Yes “American Idiot” would be on here, if it had ripped correctly from my CD. Alas, it did not. Although, perhaps, it would have been redundant.

1. “Homeward Bound” Simon and Garfunkel
(Maybe I should add “Keep the Customer Satisfied” – “I get slandered. Libeled. I hear words I never heard in the Bible.”)
2. “South is Only a Home” The Fiery Furnaces
(This song perfectly expresses my relationship with the South – nonsense, with an odd overlay of perceived meaning.)
3. “Runnin’ Blue” The Doors
(“Back down, turn around slowly, try it again.” I should add this to my mirror I think.)
4. “Honky Cat” Elton John
(I may have quit those redneck ways, but I want some redneck food.)
5. “Be Yourself” Audioslave
6. “Otherside” Red Hot Chilli Peppers
7. “Barrel of a Gun” Depeche Mode
8. “Graceland” Paul Simon
(No, I still refuse to actually go to Graceland until I no longer live in Memphis, or have visiting guests to use as an excuse.)
9. “Soul Man” Sam and Dave
10. “Big Machine” Goo Goo Dolls
11. “A Pain that I’m Used To” Depeche Mode
12. “Dirty Business” The Dresden Dolls
(Yes, if I ever get slings in Paris – they will be from the dumpster.)
13. “An American Prayer” The Doors
(I love the lyric “I touched her thigh and Death smiled.” I don’t exactly know why.)
14. “Vincent” Don McLean
15. “You Could Have It So Much Better” Franz Ferdinand
16. “The Bitch is Back” Elton John
17. “Rush” Depeche Mode
18. “Green Onions” Booker T. and the MGs
19. “Broken City” Audioslave
(So what if it was actually written about Detroit? I can make it about Memphis.)
20. “You May Be Right” Billy Joel
21. “Pretty Noose” Soundgarden
22. “Laughing Out Loud” The Wallflowers
(Cause things are so ridiculous in my life, that laughing is the only correct response. Perhaps followed by crying. People known to be sane agree with me.)
23. “Seven Nation Army” The White Stripes
(Perhaps, when the inevitable crack-up does occur, I will go be a welder in Wichita.)
24. “Rusty Cage” Soundgarden
25. “Carry on Dancing” Savage Garden
26. “Flagpole Sitta” Harvey Danger
(“ see a little bit clearer, the rottenness and evil in me...”)
27. “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” Ray Stevens
(one can only hope)
28. “A Little Less Conversation” Elvis Presley
(yes, the Ocean’s Eleven remix)
29. “All Apologies” Nirvana (Maybe this should follow “Dirty Business.”)
30. “Bright Lights” Matchbox Twenty
31. “California Dreamin’” The Mamas and the Papas
(As much as I love Memphis, I hope to be relocating to California at some point in the near future.)
32. “Smile Like You Mean It” The Killers
(Someone is, in fact, playing a game in the house that I grew up in.)
33. “Mean Town Blues” Johnny Winter
34. “Evil” Interpol
(Cell mate? You mean, I could have a cell mate instead of talking to the wall? Surely you must jest. No seriously.)
35. “The Dead of Night” Depeche Mode
(I will be jet-lagged. This will be fun, fun, fun.)
36. “Manic Depression” Jimi Hendrix
37. “Curbside Prophet” Jason Mraz
38. “What a Scene” Goo Goo Dolls
39. “What You Live By” Harvey Danger

iTunes tells me that this puppy is 2.4 hours worth of music. Should get me through at least part of the flight. Will probably add more as I goes along. It is a ten hour flight from Frankfurt to NYC, I think. Hopefully, no obnoxious little boys this time around.

Navigating Clothing Racks

Inspired mostly by many posts of the fantastic Dw3t-Hthr, but specifically by this one.

I’ll confess to having somewhat more than adequate navigational skills. I’m quite good at finding my way from point A to point B. I get lost, but I usually don’t stay lost for very long. (I’ve gotten lost twice in Memphis, once on the North side and once on the South side. Neither time for very long – well, if I turn south and keep going straight, eventually I’ll hit Sam Cooper or, oh hey, there’s Jackson Avenue, groovy, home we go! Midtown is a beautiful grid that navigates with great clarity.) And apparently, this is impressive enough that one friend went on a 15 minute ramble to another friend about what a good sense of direction I possess – mostly because after we had wandered through the Gostinii Dvor mall in search of mythical non-pay toilets, I knew in which direction Nevsky Prospect lay as soon as we walked out.

Here’s the funny thing. I can’t follow directions. At the beginning of the program our baby-sitter (program manager) kept trying to give me directions, and I just wanted him to point out the location on the map, and don’t worry, I’ll be there on time. I have to be able to visualize things. If I can look at a map, directions are useful – of course – but directions alone don’t help me much. I think in terms of geometry, not go until you see the two silos, and turn right.

According to a Discover article I once read, years and years in the past, this is the way male brains navigate. At the time, I thought it was pretty groovy that my brain did directions like a boy. Guess what, I still think it’s groovy. And – I can navigate without the Boy Scouts teaching me – hah!

I, of course, take this as personal proof that the male/female categories of gender are hardly as discrete, coherent, and eternal as the majority of people would like to think.

All in all, I’m not good at the whole “girl” thing. There’s a photo of me when I was two or three in a flouncy, pink ballet inspired dress. This is probably the last time I was doing good at being a girl. I’ve fought off the term “young lady” for as long as I can remember. It always felt confining and box-like. Role like, if you will.
– Sit up straight, you’re a young lady!
– But, I’m not a young lady!

I’ll ‘fess up to having gone through a couple of periods during my rapidly coming to close undergraduate career of trying to conform to being a “young lady.” I would try to up the standards of wardrobe a bit. Nice blouses. You know, one’s with pretty gathers, and made of lightweight fabric. Tighter fitting jeans. A pair of capri pants. No fashions that were offensive to my aesthetic eye. Every article of clothing I bought, I liked the look of on my friends, on my little sister, etc. Very pretty, very aesthetically pleasing clothing.

What happened? I felt ridiculously self-conscious in the flipping things. I would feel naked in the loose, flowing fabric. I would be acutely aware of every little crack in the facade. *ack! there’s a bit of my leg I forgot to shave! Wait! My posture doesn’t fit this outfit. They’re going to find me out!* So, inevitably, these pretty, feminine clothes would end up unworn in the back of my closet, whilst I run around in tie dyed T-shirts (or plaid shirts, of course), men’s jeans, and rope sandals.

In one such phase, I told my roommate that I wasn’t allowed to buy clothes from the men’s section and she was to enforce this. (She’s my normal shopping partner, or rather I’m her shopping partner and occasionally buy things for myself.) While following C. through various stores in the mall, I kept finding myself drawn to the men’s section. That’s such a pretty plaid! Look at those pearl buttons! Ah, those pants have so many pockets!

And, it isn’t that I absolutely detest dressing up. I normally don’t do so for classes, because I don’t see the point (I’ve only been to class in pajamas once, I promise), but yes, I recognize that there are situations which require looking neat, put together, and formal. I have one outfit that I tend to use when giving presentations or doing interviews. Black dress pants and a nicely detailed, striped, pearl-buttoned shirt (women’s even). Sometimes, I’ll even break out my high heels to go with it, because I want the extra inches. And, I feel perfectly comfortable in this outfit (provided I don’t need to walk far, but those cases I go for flats). It’s formal. It’s not masculine enough to make other people uncomfortable, and it’s not feminine enough to make me uncomfortable. Structure. Details. (Lace can be a good thing.) But not frills. All is well. I’m confident and ready to take on the world.

So here’s the ironic thing. When I’m “cross-dressing” that is wearing clothes which were manufactured with boys or men in mind or in the case of my business-formal wear inspired by traditionally male fashions, I feel perfectly nature and at home. It’s not a skirt versus pants things. A plain black skirt, mid calf or longer, doesn’t make me feel self-conscious. An awesome, funky skirt (such as the brown, black, orange, and red, huge print on polyester number I refuse to throw out) won’t make me self-conscious – it’s in a category all of its own. Put me in "feminine" clothes and I am going to be a nervous wreck, feeling like a house of cards about to fall down – doing drag and failing miserably at it.

And this has very little to do with wanting to look like a boy, or not look like a girl. It’s just that the things that I like on a garment for my own wear – patterns, straight lines, subtle but present detailing, and a certain level of practicality – show up more frequently in men’s clothing than in women’s. And since I can get away with wearing men’s clothes since I have no hips and am not well endowed in the bust area – why bother with making the distinction?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trainwreck Fascination: It Just Keeps Getting Better

A: This post will be rather inappropriate.
B: I seriously need to find better uses of my time.

Setting: Facebook. Church of Christ Group. Discussion Board. Watching from Sidelines Only. With Malicious Glee.

(linking, but I think having facebook will be necessary) Topic: "Is Masturbation, In and Of Itself, Sinful"

And just in case that weren't potentially amusing enough, we have one fellow obsessed with wet dreams. (Do I hear Augustine calling? Yes, yes, I do.) So this is literally the best quote ever to be found in an online fundie discussion:

I do agree that alot of people stimulate masturbation with lust(male & female) yet you can masturbate without sinning(thinking impure sexual thoughts). Wetdreams(half voluntary half involuntary) are a natural thing God created for us to enjoy. It's just man corrupted it with impure things.

Made even better by the follow-up question of "what's a wet dream?"

Pet Peeve

People commenting that I must not have read a text because they either disagree with my interpretation, or, in some cases, are in fact pointing out a legitimate flaw in my interpretation. Second time this has happened in recent memory. Incidentally, the texts in question were both religious.

I'm far more likely to consider your interpretations and critiques of mine, if you give me the benefit of the doubt on having read the text. Because, while you may think I haven't read something, you don't actually know whether or not I have.

And for the current instance, yes, you do get points for otherwise being polite, which I appreciate. And for having legitimate critique. But still...

Randomly Religious

Are you like me and have trouble with defining your religion? Don't worry. Steven Colbert is looking at for you and has the solution -- The Religion Randomizer!

h/t: Reclaiming the F Word

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh, I had better get brownie points for having read Judith Butler and Monique Wittig.

On my own, no less, because we all know how easy it is to find classes on queer theory up and running in Memphis. Even if I haven’t quite yet made it around to Foucault.

Okay, moving on to the point of the this post. I noticed while having another revision session with my paper that WordPerfect 10 doesn’t recognize “deconstructed,” “gendering,” or “anathemizes.” Or rather it didn’t. I added them to the dictionary, of course. Silly WordPerfect!

On to finding a new title since I can no longer use “Origen and the Angry Inch.” *sniff* I’m currently meditating on the merits of “Breaking Both the Vessels: Narrating the GenderQueer Kingdom of God.” Not as much fun, but I dig the Bible verse twisting.

Teehee. As I told a friend the other day “I have losted my mind.” Oh, yeah, RSL – must do RSL things. But having made it through the oral presentation for the nationalism in Eastern Europe class, I deserved a trip to go play with the ascetics.

Yes, I play with ascetics. They have a great sense of humor. ;D

Monday, December 10, 2007

Notes on Russian Rock

So I recently managed to massively expand my Russian music collection. (Still am failing to find Provoda’s album. Maybe I should try rereading the news section of their website with my improved reading comprehension. But I’m pretty sure it was released. And, yes, I’m too scared to just ask some dude in a music store. Okay, and I don’t know if liking Provoda – which is certainly pushing the beautiful emo boy stereotype – means that I have lost my hard rock cred, but that probably went out the window when I decided I loved Depeche Mode, anyway.)

A general note – the rolled “r” works incredibly well in rock and roll.

So, here’s the preliminary run-down.

Akvarium: F’ing amazing! Happy folk rock. Paul Simon is a fairly apt comparison but I do believe that Boris Grebenshikov, the lead singer, for Akvarium has a much better voice than Paul Simon ever did.

And I just saw a poster for a concert in Petersburg before I leave. If I can get someone to go with me, I might just shell out what I’m sure will be a decent amount of money to go.

Kino: Definently likable. I don’t dig Victor Tsoy’s voice nearly as much Grebenshikov’s. But the eighties stuff I’m listening to at the moment has some nice synthetizer action (and I have a thing for synthetizer and electric organs). Moving on later Kino . . . late eighties as Tsoy died in 1990. Ooo...nice guitar – country/western sound, but paired with a heavy rock and roll drum. One of the things I like about Russian rock is that they seem to feel freer to cross genre boundaries, than American rock bands do. (Probably not a Russian thing, Russia just happens to be the only foreign music I’ve really had a reason to look into.)

So, I’m not feeling the immediate blown-away love Akvarium inspired, but Kino has (well, had) a lot working in their favor.

Mumii Troll’: I took a walk today so as to not acquire cabin fever, and decided to check out a CD to give my walk a purpose. Picked up a 2 CD greatest hits number, because the guy who wrote Lonely Plant mentioned this as a good band. Musically, I like it. It’s not the type of music I love, but not bad. Again, the voice is slightly grating, but something I probably just need a bit of adjustment to. I will listen with more care later – bit overwhelmed with music at the moment.

Unfortunately, one of the photos in the album art is the lead singer holding a chihuahua. I now find it impossible to fully respect anyone who owns a chihuahua. Or well, to look at a chihuahua without thinking violent thoughts.

Nautilus Pompilius: Hardly a new find for me, but it fits the topic. This is the first Russian band I heard (T.A.T.U.’s brief foray into the US does not count), while watching Brat (Brother) and falling in love with Sergei Bodrov Jr. Then I promptly got on the internet, found out that Bodrov had died in an avalanche was briefly sad, and then went to find out what group was responsible for the amazing soundtrack of that movie and secure a CD in my grubby little, trembling music junkie hands.
I bought Kryl’ya, a later album of Nautilus’s, because that’s the one mentioned in the film, and I had nowhere else to start. This album isn’t particularly hard, but you can’t quite call it soft rock. It opens with violins, a synthetizer droning in the background. And then, enter Vyacheslav’s ---- strong vocals, and then a beat of a single kettle drum. Ah. Lovely. And that’s just the beginning of the album. Nautilus uses a lot of elements from jazz, it has the effect of making their songs incredibly catchy.

Second CD I purchased was the earlier Chelovek Bez Imeni, which is a harder, darker album – which, I might add, ended up being played on repeat at Burger King several nights in a row during my tenure, because my co-workers liked it – that on the whole, I think is stronger than Kryl’ya. The first track has resulted in me wandering about singing that I’ll never again trust women’s eyes, while describing a rather impossible scenario. (I can’t knock up a girl I don’t love.) The second track starts slow and then becomes a becomes a driving ballad with great drums. The highlight, however, is track five – Kras’naya List’ya. Many different tempos, different moods – it alternates between recalling a industrial scene, a circus, has a great jazzy interlude that I swear is the metro, and then the end just fades into longing. All in all, a gloriously haunting piece of hard rock.

DDT: Another vocalist that takes a little getting used – and unfortunately, the vocal type I associate with chansons, which I don’t care for in the least. But instrumentally, another amazing group. Catchy goodness.

So, in conclusion, Russian Rock – particularly that from the eighties and nineties – lots of good stuff to be had here. (I suspect that has something to do with all of the above bands starting out as very underground, but were hugely popular by the fall of USSR. So they weren’t produced by a music industry, and when the fledgling music industry picked them up, it didn’t have creative rules and boxes like the US industry.) The closest thing I’ve heard in mainstream US music is – surprise, surprise – Gogol Bordello. And they mostly share an infectious exuberance and the ability to blend genres to great effect. Gogol Bordello, however, is a New York band, and there’s a certain difference that I can’t quite describe, since I don’t read enough music reviews to know how to write them.

Chansons, on the other hand . . . let’s go with a no. I think I might have to go pick up a Delfin album; the idea of Russian rap amuses me. (And he actually seems rather talented, from what I’ve listened to on the internet.)

And, being that I am indeed a music junkie, leave suggestions (for whatever – however, I have a distaste for country – blame going up within the Nashville sphere of influence) should you feel so inclined. I’ll be needing another fix sooner or later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Recommended Reading

Kelly Fryer #3 in "The Things that Tick Me Off About Christianity Today."

Not recommended reading -- virtually everything I'm currently speed reading for a paper on nationalism.

Real post at some point, I promises.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Quick Pity Party

*hands around the cupcakes and the vodka -- Русский Стандарт, конечно*

How can a country have 1/6 of the globe's space and still not have any room at all? Oh yeah, most of it is virtually uninhabitable. Need study space. Need study space badly.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. Or rather, we will when I have figured out how to say the things I have to say.

Addition: It's good to know that I can pretty much keep my self amused forever with religious studies. Unfortunately, wanting to write up and analysis of the portrayal of Saint Mary of Egypt in an icon at the State Russian Museum is distracting me from doing important things. Like starting work for a paper on Nationalism and religion, and the interactions thereof. And so on and so forth.

Can I just go play in happy gnostic land? No, I can't. :(

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chiasmos – Woot! Liberal Academia!

I stumbled across Chiasmos, which is a series of podcasted lectures published by the University of Chicago, a while ago while searching for Russian language podcasts. It’s not a Russian language podcast, but it’s certainly the most worthwhile podcast I’ve come across. It’s quite nice, since my college doesn’t draw this type of lecture, and it’s a great way to rather effortlessly expand the range of subjects I’ve at least been exposed to. And, better yet, it’s – FREE EDUCATION! Something rare.

Generally the lectures are roughly an hour to an hour and a half. Part of that is question and answer – believe it or not the Q&A is generally almost as worthwhile as the actual subject. I’d get fidgety if I had to sit that long, but since I’m listening at my leisure I can do other tasks, pause the lecture, etc.

There’s a lot of variety in the subject matter of lectures. International studies. History. Literature. (I’m downloading a poetry reading by Yevgeny Yevtushenko next time I haul my computer to an wireless access point.) The ill effects of the corporatization of universities and colleges. (Speaking of my college...) Film studies. Queer theory. Human Rights. Etc., etc., and so on and so forth. I don’t listen to every lecture, because I’m only passingly interested in some topics, but there’s plenty of material to choose from.

So, highly recommended for listening material.

P.S. The spellcheck in my poor, decrepit version of WordPerfect doesn’t recognize podcast. How quickly these language changes!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Am I a Christian? Part 4

Freelance Theologian, Will Annoy and Offend People For Food

“I would do it all again. Lose my way and fall again.
Just so I could call again. On the mercy in you.”
Depeche Mode, ‘Mercy in You’

“Yet, I wanted to live in clean air and say Yes, or No, mean what I said and have it understood and no nonsense. I hate half-things, half-heartedness, stupid false situations, inverted feelings, pumped-up loves and hand-decorated hates. I hate people who stare at themselves in mirrors and smile. I want things straight and clear or at least I want to be able to see when they’re crooked and confused. Anything else is just nasty and so my life is nasty and I am ashamed of it. And I have an albatross around my neck that I didn’t even shoot. I simply don’t know how he got there.”
Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools

I think my view of the Divine could best be described as a Cubist painting. I manage to simultaneously hold in my mind that God is at best indifferent. Is a patient father. A wise teacher. Is a demanding lover/master/mistress. A helpful older sibling. A comforting friend. Unknowable and transcendent. Immanent and revealed. And a few other things, depending on recent events. And I don’t have even a fraction of possible angles.
But here’s the important thing.
I’m not scared.
I don’t lose sleep at night worrying about going to hell. A God who would send me to hell for asking a question isn’t a God who deserves my belief or my devotion.
And this is not because I believe I’m right the majority of the time, or because I think I am somehow privy to the mind of God. I don’t know the mind of God. The mind of God is currently unknowable. The ultimate truth is currently unknowable. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an ultimate truth, it just means that any human who claims to know what is, is most likely lying to you. I don’t actually know what God thinks about anything.
I’m only working with what I got. Which is 21 years of lived experience. That and having read way, way too much. Ain’t much – I know. But you’ve got to act on something.
The chorus of voices just said to act on the Bible.
But in my experience, the Bible is not the infallible word of God. A word of God – sure. The word of God – no.
The chorus of voices just sung something about the faith of our fathers.
But, I’m not my father.
The chorus just erected a billboard reading “Give it up to God.”
No, actually, I think I’m pretty much on my own. Just because God could pull off a miracle doesn’t mean that God will, not matter how earnestly you pray. Maybe we need a metaphor of God as Heartbreaker. Not the God who “pricks” hearts with feelings of guilt, or whatever word the King James uses. God the Heartbreaker, as in the being who crushes you for no discernable reason, and with no explanation. None of this dualism where tragedy, personal or public, is the work of the devil. None of this crap about the end times and an angry, vengeful God. Just God the Heartbreaker.
Maybe God wants us to develop a bit of independence. Grow up.
I’m going to dive into some Biblical exegesis here. Ever noticed how in the Gospels, J.C. typically isn’t wandering around in sandals upbraiding people for believing incorrectly. No, the majority of the time when Jesus is pissed off, it’s because he’s come head to head with a group of hypocrites. People who didn’t live honestly. And, I don’t limit hypocrite to people who say one thing and then do another. I think people who deny the individual experience they’ve been given for the sake of conformity to a creed as just a hypocritical as anyone else.
Here’s the main article of my faith. God isn’t going to send me to hell for being wrong. No matter what, I’m going to be wrong about something. But if I live earnestly. If I attempt to treat others fairly and justly. If I honestly do my very best to sort out the right from the wrong. If I learn from my mistakes. And pay attention. And listen to wisdom, and pain, and experiences that others offer to share with me. To discern the real in the maze of constructions. To defend what I believe to be the good and the just as best I can possibly determine it, given the limits of what I have to work with.
I don’t need or want an eldership or hierarchy responsible for my soul. I wouldn’t mind a community of fellow travelers, so we could gather at the end of the day, discuss the sights we saw and our impressions thereof, filling in the gaps in our individual knowledge with the experience of our comrades. Maybe take photos for each other when batteries die in cameras. But I have no interest in a safe guided tour, where we all see the same sights and are told what to think of them.
And yeah. I’m going to screw up. But, for the sake of getting a little closer to knowing what is fully unknowable – I’m willing to do it.

Well, I Wouldn't Do It.

But I'm rather impressed by the young woman who was navigating St. Petersburg's icy streets this morning is six inch high heels. Especially given that I nearly fell twice in my combat boots.

And, why on earth is my computer running so slow.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Am I a Christian? Part 3

“Let righteous anger ripen in you,

Prepare your hands for the work to come . . .

or if you cannot – then let boredom

and grief gather and burn in you . . .

but, without more ado, wipe off

the greasepaint mask of this sham life,

and like the timid mole dig down

from light into the earth – lie prone

and still, hating life fiercely,

despising all the world and – though

you cannot see the future clearly –

saying to the present: NO.”

Aleksandr Blok, from “Yes. This is the Call of Inspiration.” trans. Stallworthy and France

(Also. Happy Birthday, Aleksandr Blok. I would go drink at your grave -- but its in the middle of an industrial area, and I don't quite feel like dying.)

I’ve come to a recognition while wandering through various places in Russia. I want to be a monk. Not a nun. Not a bride of Christ. A monk. A holy fool. On the edge of society and the edge of reason. A Lover of God.

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to serve communion, to lead singing, and to preach. The CofC pays lip service to the protestant idea of a priesthood of all believers. In theory, any Christian can bless the Eucharist. In theory, any Christian can serve communion. In theory, any Christian can fulfill the functions of a priest. In general practice, this means a priesthood of all male-bodied believers.

I read once that Saint Therese, the Little Flower, commented once that it was a blessing that she died young, that God allowed her to die in the year she would have been ordained as a priest if she were a man, so that she wouldn’t suffer. If I were a man, I would be a priest.

But I’m not a man. And I’m so bitter now that I’m the person laughing madly in corner, sneering to hide the fact that I’m waiting for the next blow to fall. I’m much too young for this.

Sure, yes, I see the verses stating that the man is the head of the woman. But I’m not a very good woman, and perhaps not even a woman, depending upon how you want to construct the term. And, what about Mary Magdalene? What about Galatians? Why would the Bible tell me in one place that it’s best to remain unmarried, and then later say that if I want to know anything, I have to ask my husband at home?

But we don’t have ordination. And they start training the boys for the ministry as soon as they can hold a Bible in their hands and read. And maybe it shouldn’t have felt like this, but every service where my male peers or even boys hardly old enough to read served the Eucharist, or led the singing, or read from the Bible, or stammered his way through a short sermon, it was another punch, another hit. It didn’t matter that I was as smart as, as talented as, worked as hard as any of those boys. It didn’t matter that when it came done to it, I was a better speaker than the majority of the guys. I was barred for the pulpit. I was exiled to the girls, who giggled together, and thought I was very odd because I didn’t have a crush on any of the boys. A stranger in a strange land. Caught in between two worlds, and in both I’m considered to be a bit “queer.”

Can I be a Christian when the majority of my experience has taught me that there is no place for me in the Body of Christ? No place for the tomboy.

And no, it doesn’t matter than there are many denominations where I would be welcome. I’ve been attacked by too many people bearing the name Christian. Can the goat driven out to the desert ever easily trust another human?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nudes to Bibles

I didn’t bring a Bible to Russia with me. This is actually the first extended period that I have been without at least one copy of the Bible hanging about in easy reach. Geek that I am, its not uncommon for me to have two or three different translations; although, lately I’ve been relying heavily upon my beloved and running out of marginal space NOAB. But the KJV sometimes draws me in.

Well, I now have a Russian language New Testament and Psalms thanks to the Gideons in Moscow. Unfortunately, it won’t help me revise this paper, because my Russian just isn’t that good. While writing this (obviously not while posting it) I’m staring at my notes, thinking, well, crap, it would be nice to look up the exact verse I’m referring to. I can paraphrase it pretty well, and I’m fairly certain its in 1 or 2 Corinthians, but being a bit OCD about this things...

Anyway, by the time anyone reads this, I will have BibleGatewayed to my heart’s content, looked for an e-book Bible, and will be muttering something about BibleGateway not having the NRSV.

Incidentally, I would also like for my scribbled in copy of Butler’s Gender Trouble to magically appear in my hands for paper revision purposes.

Addition: I didn't know it would be so difficult to find a free e-version of the Bible. Big business selling bibles is, I reckon.

Breaking from Religions to Discuss Sexy Soviet Nudes

I went to the Russian Museum last Saturday. First things first, should you ever find yourself in Petersburg, set aside a day and go to the Russian Museum. Just do it. Maybe even two days, it’s a bit overwhelming – particularly if one is from an art-poor backwater (I love you Memphis, but...)

So, after salivating over the portion of the icon collection that is on display, the less interesting portraits of dead tsars and Russian nobility, and the absolutely amazing late 19th/early 20th art, I walked through the two temporary displays up at the Russian Museum.

One titled the Soviet Venus, the other a collection of nude works by a Soviet painter whose name I have forgotten. The latter was a rather banal collection of nude females, several of which were allegories for “exotic” countries such as Turkey and India. Yeah...okay, I wasn’t impressed.

The Soviet Venus exhibit had a little more meat for gnawing on. It was a bit of an awkward experience, in part because a very decent percentage of Saint Petersburg was there to see it, and the gallery it was crammed into had very little space to begin with. Then there was the factor that I couldn’t quite decide whether I was looking at Soviet art or Soviet soft porn.

Female athletes losing their clothing while competing – while a young man with a gleeful smile looks on. Bit of an awkward ideology there. The piece doesn’t just assume an audience, but actually supplies the prototype of the ideal audience. Also, not exactly a good piece of art to begin with, but I’m not a fan of Soviet Realism to begin with. I preferred the female machinists in varying degrees of jumpsuitedness, but that could just be me.

Oddly enough, I found that the best art pieces in the exhibit were the ones that were furthest into the boundary zone between art and pornography. There were two photographs from a series titled Romance with the Theater. They were beautifully composed and dramatically lit, with a great sense of tension and plot even. The two figures were a young, artsy, fully clothed young man, and a completely naked woman, depicted as tied up in one of the photos. It was certainly art. Sex was an element. And, yeah, I was slightly disturbed by the photos, but disturbed in same way I would be by a good Chuck Palahniuk novel or David Foster Wallace.

The setting might have had something to do with my indecision. The good photos were surrounded by bland, disembodied breasts, and the like – no where nearly as compelling. Philosophically, I don’t know why allegorical figures are almost always nude females, but at least this one was intriguing rather than the “exotic nations” in the other exhibit.

I’m still processing.

However, it seems that classic art does teach that all heroic acts should be performed in the nude.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Am I a Christian? Part 2

Your Own Personal Jesus

“The vision of Christ that thou dost see,

is mine vision’s greatest enemy.”

William Blake

What was it that one of my professors said in class the other day: When you try to look at reality closely, you lose the ability to describe it.

I’m fond of Jesus. And I’m most certainly culturally a Christian – it’s the symbol set I’m best acquainted with. I can proof-text with all but the best (and give me a crack at the best, and I’ll take up the challenge). Christianity is the main force that shaped the lense through which I view the world. Not feminism, not libertarianism, not even my beloved Dostoevsky – Christianity. I’ll even admit that I’m very strongly marked by the Restoration Movement. Everything went downhill from Constantine on. Augustine – please, must we? Are you really certain you need an ecclesiastic hierarchy? But I’m a bad Church of Christ girl, because I don’t believe the Bible is the full, complete, and inerrant Word of God.

A chorus of voices in my head are asking right now just how I’m going to know Jesus, if not through the Bible. Welcome to my skull.

Is it enough to think that J.C. ain’t a bad example of the Divine incarnated in humanity? (Russian has a word for this: bogochelovechestvo -- Godmanhood/Divine Humanity/the translators are still playing to get the nuances into English.) Can you be a Christian if you happen to believe that even if J.C. is an extremely good example of bogochelovechestvo, he isn’t sufficient on his own? That we need other images the Divine within the human.

I’m also someone who has a tendency to be fond of various Hindu deities and the Buddha. And I’m developing a strong belief that all churches should have icons and lots of them, because one image of divine humanity just isn’t enough. Not even Jesus. My first remembered instance of religious-themed sarcasm was when I giggled to myself at the preacher talking about how J.C. had experienced all possible forms of human suffering. Jesus PMSing and cramping? Yeah. Right. Sure, he got much more acute physical suffering – but was he ever really trapped in his body the way I am? Trapped in a body dubbed the weaker vessel that revolts on a regular basis?

(I’d be a bad Hindu too, by the way. Karma, reincarnation – yes. Dharma – not so much.)

Can I be a Christian and take offerings of fruit to Sarasvatti? Can I be a Christian if I prefer other images of the Divine? If I light candles for Mary of Egypt and ask her to guide me? If I burn incense before an image of Sophia? If my soul has never wanted to dance more than before an image of Vishnu called by the drums and bells? Not to the exclusion of Jesus, but . . . you get the picture. If Christ is in the name, does Christ have to be the main image?

Maybe the reverse is more important. Can I be anything but a Christian when ultimately Christianity is the dominant force that has shaped my thinking?

Perhaps, I’ll start telling people that I’m an Origenist and see how that goes over.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Am I a Christian? Part 1

I’m filling out school applications again! Oh joy! For graduate school. Religious studies. Yes, I will have a lovely cardboard box one of these days. All kinds of fun questions. (Why are male and female the only choices for gender? Can’t we get past that already? Especially at liberal/progressive schools!) And, among them, we have this kicker.

Religious Affiliation: ________________

Okay, Metra, don’t panic. You’re going into academia, not ministry. It isn’t a big deal. Right. You can, after all, be an agnostic or an atheist and be a scholar of religion.

But it’s a good question. How should I describe my religious beliefs? N/A doesn’t quite seem to work. Half-crazed Mystic seems rather pretentious, as does Cosmic Lesbian Relationship with the Divine Sophia. Citizen of the Republic of Heaven – maybe I should save references to children’s novels for later – like, when I have tenure somewhere. Four years ago my mother got mad because I refused to describe myself as a member of the Church of Christ on college applications. I wrote in Christian at the time.

I read somewhere that the Cathars described themselves as Good Christians. This didn’t mean that they weren’t considered heretics.

Since I’m not going into ministry, I decided to write a sermon on the matter. Which I’m breaking up into four parts, because no blog entry should be 2800 words long.

Dear Family Members who have found this blog, although, in all but one case, I’m not sure how – please, don’t panic. And anyone who comments in anyway about my father – well, I’m not sure what I’ll do – but you do not have the right to do so.

Recovering Church of Christ

“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.

Trying to keep a few, and I don’t know if I can do it.

Oh no, I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.”

R.E.M., ‘Losing My Religion’

“Blessed is the church service makes me nervous.”

Paul Simon

I’m not comfortable with using the word Christian to describe myself. I’m from the buckle of the Bible Belt. Christian is carrying a lot of baggage that I don’t want. And the fundamentalist part of my life has been over for a long time. I don’t want to be associated with the religious right and the Southern Baptist Convention and so on and so forth. Or with that 80 some percent of Tennesseans who voted a year ago to enshrine their homophobia in the state constitution.

Put it this way. I’m not an evangelical. I don’t think Christians, much less the CofC or the SBC, has a monopoly on salvation – however you would like to define it. And if I have to think that to be a Christian – well then, I’m not one. And in the neck of the woods I’m from, the evangelicals have a hegemony of representation.

What is a Christian anyway? There are plenty of people I recognize as Christians who wouldn’t recognize me as such? There are several people who call themselves Christians, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they are. (James Dobson for instance. Distorting science for the purpose of libel, actively promoting the stripping of basic secular rights from persons – yes, that’s what Jesus was all about!) And no, you don’t need to agree with me on every issue for me to recognize you as a Christian. But I’m happy to tell you that from where I’m standing, your actions are dead wrong.

And maybe I should do more to break the evangelical hegemony of representation. In the real world, that is, not just poking badgers with spoons on the internets. I was silent about too many things too often. Sure I made a feeble effort here and there, questioning the doctrine of baptism as necessary for salvation, refusing to hand out certain pieces of literature, playing devil’s advocate in class. Occasionally, when I think people will get the joke, I’ll respond to an inquiry about my religion with “I’m Satanic.” And by Satanic, I do not refer to black masses, but simply to the role of questioning the authority. Nor is this incompatible with being “Christ-like.” One way or the other, the gospel call is a challenge to the established balance.

But more frequently than doing something, I also failed to do something. Senior of high school, I should have gone to the college girl who was teaching a class to middle/early high school girls with the theme: How to be the Perfect Woman for Your Future Husband, and asked her to reconsider her choice of a topic that denied the ability of women to be complete individuals on their own. If she didn’t listen, I should have gone on up the chain. Heck, I should have taken it to the elders, if it came to it. I wouldn’t even have needed to draw on feminist theory for my argument. Instead, I just told my little sister than was a load of BS, and she shouldn’t believe a word of it. I should have questioned the one youth minister who preached a whole lesson on how he had to accept that his Methodist family members were going to hell in order to be a TRUE Christian. But I just ranted with my little sister. But these are times that I failed. When I didn’t try because I didn’t believe that anything could come of it.

I like the title of Kelly Fryer’s blog: Reclaiming the F Word. I love that Soulforce exists – I’m even more pleased that a CofC college was one of the ones that welcomed them for dialogue. I admire that there are people who are far more optimistic than me, who want to reclaim their religion from the Religious Right. I hear my CofC feminist cousin, trying to encourage me to stay in, to try to change things, saying that my generation. But I can’t. There’s too much anger in me. I don’t have the privilege my father did – I’ve been written off too many times. I wish these people the best, but I can’t do it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

God the Father

So, here's a confession. In all my twisted dealings with
fundamentalist Christianity; all my raging that I might have to be
silent, but I didn't have to like it; all my adoration for Sophia,
Divine Wisdom, I've never actually had a personal problem the metaphor
of God the Father. Sure, I don't care for the hegemony of said
metaphor, and I have plenty of first hand knowledge of the fucked up
scenarios created by said hegemony – but the image of God as Father
isn't problematic for me, at least not in any way that would be
considered feminist.

It's probably because my own father was not the representative of the
forces of the patriarchy. He's the one who told me that maybe who day
we'd go to a church where they let women have a role. He's the one
who interfered when they started pushing the marriage and children
agenda down the girls' throats before most of us had our periods.
Yes, he had the privilege of being able to stay in the church because
he was male and therefore had a place. He had the privilege to just
be able to disagree but to not be directly affected. But he didn't
represent the patriarchy.

God the Father conjures up a patient being. One who'll let me keep
asking why questions well past my bedtime. One who won't actually
damn me to hell for not accepting much of anything at face value.
This is God who will be pleased if I wander up and demand an answer.
Someone who's a refuge from all the people trying to shove me into one
box or another. God the Father is the kind face of the Divine in my
personal theology land. If I don't use the image that much it's
because it's painful. My father is both the reason why I can think of
God as Father, and his absence makes it almost too painful to draw on
that image.

I don't believe that any one image of the Divine should have a
hegemony. I believe that there are an infinite number of legitimate
images of the Divine. And I think they're highly personal.

This feminist theologian doesn't need a God the Mother image. The
closest I can get is an appreciation of Kali, but it's her ferocity I
adore, not so much her mothering aspects. Sophia is my Lady, not my
Divine Mother. Again, I can intellectually understand the appeal,
but at a personal level God the Mother is just not useful for me.

There. My confession.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

An Update on my Amusements

So remember the CofC Facebook group where I was generally being a
satanic figure (in the Jobian sense) and poking badgers with spoons.
Anyway I thought I'd spin by and see what "developments" have taken

The answer to the question appears to be none. People are still up in
arms over the meaning of wine in the Bible. Yeah, going on six
monthes of proof-texting each other.

Curiousity satisfied. Back to queer theology. And happy gnostic land.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Foriegn Country or High School

So, I keep having this strange feeling that I'm back in high school, and all the pretty girls are laughing at jokes in a language I don't understand.

That, and the library keeps running out of printing paper.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

St. Petersburg is gloomy, St. Petersburg is bleak...

To everyone who just finished that off in your head -- congratulations, you are roughly the same age as I and infected with historically mangled, song and dance, animated versions of the Russian revolution.

Fortunately, my underwear is not frozen, because I am a smart young thing who put it on the radiator to dry rather than hanging it out on the enclosed balcony after doing laundry in the bathroom sink because my host mom is gone for the week and neither I nor my host grandmother knows how to operate the washing machine. Laundry is further complicated by everything on the machine being labeled in German.

And actually, the weather isn't too bleak to day. There is some sunshine and one of the fabulously blue Petersburg skies.

But lets talk about some other than the weather. Let's talk about something Russia and the US have in common, shall we? Entirely, f'ing disturbing advertising for feminine hygiene products, or whatever they should be called. Because, they do in fact have most anything you could possibly desire in the way of products to deal with your period now.

Of course, recently in the US we had Always' enlightened "have a happy period!" campaign. And I've seen tampon commercials that just make me think, what on earth? No, I'm just not that happy on my period -- I'm cramping and cranky.

Russian tampon/maxi pad advertising is a little different. Always is a generation or two behind, declaring that they are now "with gel action!" Gel action? What is that? Do I really want gel taking action next to my vagina? The bathrooms at the institute were recently invaded by ads for Tampax tampons, relying on the old trope of a woman on her period being unclean, but Tampax tampons will give you a clean feelings every day. Oh yes, my friends. Sprinked over the poster were little declarations: Я чиста! I'm clean! (Sarcastically, I think to myself that increased access to toilet paper would be nice as well.)

So, here's the question: Which type of advertising annoys me more? The upbeat US marketing that ignores the actual problems that many women experience from their periods. Or "the use our product to clean yourself up because you're dirty" marketing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Just in Case you though the blues and rock and roll weren't enough...

Appreciate the Pig. And no, I don't mean the Beale Street BBQ joint. I mean PigglyWiggly. One of the great contributions of Memphis to the world.

You see, if I have my story straight, Piggly Wiggly (which is not, as a Yankee recently asked me, just a joke from Driving Miss Daisy) was the first grocery store, where you walked around, picked out what you wanted and then went to the cashier and checked out, instead of having to ask the clerk for the items you wanted to purchase. And Piggly Wiggly started in Memphis. We have the Pink Palace to prove it.

In Russia, the old system is still in place in about fifty percent of produkti (little groceries) and some larger stores. And while I'm sure that shopping there would be easier if I were used to the system and could speak the language, I now have a greater appreciation for the Pig and all of it's offspring. (Except Wal-mart, which I haven't really missed.)

So, don't let anyone ever say Memphis ain't paid her dues.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

In Russia, Caucasians are Black

I was asked to comment last Sunday on whether racism in Russian was
worse or better than racism in the South (of the United States). And
I really couldn't answer the question with anything other than – it's
different. For one thing, I haven't been in Russia for a long enough
with enough language comprehension to have picked up on racially
structuring in Russia in anything other than a throughly academic
manner. (After however many years living full-time in Petersburg our
baby-sitter has picked up on the racial constructs, he went around the
room during orientation and picked out who might run into problems
because they do not fit the Russian, Orthodox ideal. Incidentally, my
Southern socialized mind would have classified all of them as white.)
Academically, I know that persons from the Caucasuses are referred to
as chernyi -- literally "black." It's a rude term, but not beyond the
pale, I've heard my eight year old host sister using it in a
discussion about her classmates with her grandmother, and while I
didn't catch all the implications it wasn't so much hateful as it was
entirely dismissive. (I had an awkward moment when my host mother and
grandmother asked if Memphis was a dangerous city, and when I said
that it was somewhat dangerous, one of them automatically followed up
with: "Well, don't you have a lot of blacks there?")

However, Russia has confirmed that yours truly is not color-blind.
I'm used to Memphis. Even if Rhodes remains mostly upper middle class
and white, I am used to Memphis. Russia is surrealistic in its
whiteness. All of the advertising features white people. Smiling
white Russian families – not necessarily blond haired and blue-eyed,
but definitely white (with rosy cheeks). A subtle difference from
American advertising which seems to shoot for a more pluralistic
ideal. (Gender stereotyping is just as bad, if not worse in Russia.)
The vast, vast majority of people I meet in the streets are white to
my mind. I have a sneaking suspicion that not everyone I would
classify as white is "white" by Russian standards. And on the
reverse, if my host sister were suddenly transplanted to Memphis, on
first glance, I think many people would decide she was Mexican, not
Russian. I saw a black man in the streets a couple weeks ago and felt
relieved at some odd restoration of normalcy. If I lived more toward
the center of the city, I think the surreal effects would be worse.
I'm in a working-class neighborhood, so there are more immigrants
living here than might be elsewhere.

So, yes, I'm quite aware of "race" in my white Southern-bred way. I
knew that, but now I know that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Should I Be Scared to Walk Alone?

At night, or at any time really?

I was harassed twice today, or yesterday as it will be when this goes up. Some creepy bastard propositioned me, then exposed himself, at midday in the cemetery surrounding a church – in view of the main road going through the cemetery to the church where there were a decent number of people walking. (I was looking at an interesting tomb. No, I normally don’t go to urban cemeteries by myself, but I normally figure that if there are lots of people visiting graves and other women walking alone that it should be fairly safe.) And then tonight, as a got off the metro, some young hooligan approaches me yelling “devushka, devushka!” wanting something. I ignored him, and tried to walk away – again, decent crowd of people getting off the metro here. The punk raised his fist, feigning that he was going to punch me, and then finally gave up. I swear, the next time I hear a male voice pronouncing “devushka” I’m going to snap.

And, for the rest of my walk home from the metro – a decent portion of which is through areas with virtually no lighting, I found myself wishing that I had waited at the restaurant for one of male friends who lives in the same general area, so that I could have asked him to walk me home even though it would be very out of the way for him to do so. Except, I probably wouldn’t have done so, because I had pretty much recovered from midday, and I doubt that punk would have hassled me if I had been in the company of another male.

Now I’m sitting in my room, upset, angry, shaken, and feeling quite helpless about the whole situation. Is this really what I have to look forward to for the next however many years? Because, I might be innocent, but I know this isn’t Russia, I just haven’t had to put up with the same level of harassment in Memphis because I don’t do much walking in Memphis. And, with any luck, I’ll make it out of Tennessee for graduate school, and be living somewhere where a car isn’t necessary, feasible, or justifiable. But it’s looking like the new silver lining of not getting into graduate school could be moving back to the ‘Shire, where I don’t have to worry about shit like this. (And can get my grandfather to teach me how to shoot. Or something. Maybe I should learn self-defense.)

But what in God’s name do I have to do to be able to go through my day without being seen as a sex object? I’m contemplating getting some sports bras in order to appear flat-chested and tucking my hair under a hat any time I’m walking at night. With the coat I have, I might be able to escape attracting any attention. Part of me is willing to give up the long hair that I’m currently enjoying and the earrings that I love, bind my breasts, and see if I can’t manage to successfully pass myself off as Dmitri, instead of Demetria. Just for cursory glances! And then I start thinking, that I’ll have to worry about being beaten up for being queer if someone looked at me and realized that I was a female trying to pass as male.

And, I even know that what I’ve had to put up with is only the tip of the iceberg really. That there’s so many worse things that could happen. And no material harm was done to me. But why should I have to be afraid to walk alone?

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Too Much Information Post: On Legs, Shaving, Make-Up, Etc.

Writing from a Dayquil induced haze in Saint Petersburg, Russia . . . A place I’m probably not girly enough to be hanging out in.

It’s now been just over a year since I last shaved my legs. No, I didn’t mark a calendar or anything like that, I just happen to know that the last time I had smooth, ‘feminine’ legs, I was creating a scandal in a knee-length, halter top dress at my mother’s second wedding. But you know, I didn’t see any other dresses I liked (and Crystal and I did the shop until you want to drop dead thing), and – according to my standards – it wasn’t an immodest number, and tell you what, next time I wear it, it’ll probably be with opaque tights. Everybody happy now? Good.

Back to my legs. They are gloriously furry. I will not subject you to photos. Know that I thought about it and tremble. Mwahaha!

So here’s the grand revelation – I quit shaving my legs because I decided that it was a silly behavior for me. I was not getting anything out of the practice except: razor burn, occasional cuts, being twitchy because I missed a spot and I’m mildly OCD, and backaches from twisting about in the shower. Probably a few other unpleasantries.

It was a very pointless practice. My legs are only slightly less hairy than those of my little brother. We both have copies of my dad’s body hair gene. My dad had to shave his face twice a day to keep the stubble down. So if I shaved the legs in the morning, by the time evening comes around they’re at that really horrible sandpaper stage. And I hate the feel of stubbly skin. I’ve actually tried a couple of ways to potentially get around this. Nair – at which my coarse leg hair laughed. At home waxing – at which my thick leg hair laughed.

Adding to the feeling of pointlessness – my usual uniform is blue jeans. Maybe dress pants. On occasion, a long ankle-length skirt. Under normal circumstances, no one sees my legs except for me (and, perhaps, my long-suffering roomie). So, not only was I not getting anything out of shaving my legs, but no one else was getting anything out of me shaving my legs.

So why was I shaving my legs? At some point, I was taught that women shave their legs. I do remember shaving as being a sort of rite of passage between being a little girl and being a young woman that I initially embraced.

But the thing is, I hadn’t been shaving my legs for myself in a number of years. I didn’t enjoy the process at all or the result for more than fifteen minutes. Part of this is that conforming to the aesthetic norms of society just isn’t that important for my psyche. When I look pretty, I don’t feel pretty – I feel awkward, and ridiculous, and like I’m wearing a mask that someone will tear off at any second. If I need to be confident and assertive (say for a presentation) – the worst possible thing I can do is femme it up. Better to break out dress pants, an oxford shirt, and a blazer – maybe a scarf in place of the tie I really want to wear. I get angry when I feel like I have to put on make-up in addition to being neat. I understand the need to be neat and tidy in appearance; I don’t comprehend the need to be pretty. The last important interview that I had, I wore make-up to, and I really think that I felt less confident because I was wearing make-up. I felt obliged to wear make-up – a point that was backed up by one friend conflating wearing make-up with being presentable. Society expects that I will attempt to be pretty. I get that other people feel more confident when they are meeting social expectations, but my brain doesn’t work that way.

(Oddly enough, I enjoy wearing make-up or feminine clothing as a part of an act or a costume. It amuses me – as long as I’m intending to be someone other than my normal self.)

And I can understand how a person can wear make-up or shave they legs entirely for their own benefit. I sometimes choose to wear eyeliner or shadow because I feel like emphasizing my eyes. I like for my clothes to coordinate in terms of color and pattern. And I’d be lying if I tried to claim that I didn’t choose my clothes to project a certain image – for me, it just appears to be more boyish, academic, flat-out grunge, or just strange. I use clothes to reinforce my sense of myself. I think it’s a problem for a person to use clothing and make-up to create a sense of self. But clothing, and make-up, and the act of shaving one’s legs (or other body parts) are neutral in and of themselves. I’m simply not a believer in doing things for reasons other than one’s own.

So, shaving my legs was a charade for me. It didn’t express anything about me, or reinforce any sense I had of myself. It was just a bother, a source of frustration, and literally, a pain. So I quit shaving my legs.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I saw a Baptist Church of Christ in NYC...

So, the Church of Christ discussion boards I've been following have dissolved into utter chaos. I feel kinda bad for the several very thoughtful people who were trying to get actual discussions/debates going. I actually deleted my membership a week or two ago, because I decided I was getting nowhere very fast, and didn't feel up for another round of defending myself against accusations that I have never read the Bible. I nearly replied with something along the lines of "I've been spiritually beaten black and blue with the Bible, and placed in the top ten of regional Bible Bowl competitions six years in a row, I happen to know my stuff, thank you very much." Instead, I explained that it was somewhat difficult to analyze the usage of a single euphemism in two different narratives without actually reading said narratives a time or two, and later that I thought ad hominem attacks were cheap. Granted, I'm still watching from the sidelines, but I'm just not in the mood to play. But all of that is beside the point, and just more ramblings in the category of Metra likes to poke bugs with sticks.

Several people have expressed concerns that there's too much focus on intra-church practice and not enough on what the church can do in the world. A new topic was started explaining the poster's frustration with the emphasis on correct theology and asking people to respond with what God has done lately in their lives. I thought about rejoining to say something like: God smacked me upside the head and said, "These nutters don't speak for me -- I'm bigger than you or they will ever comprehend." Then, I decided that wouldn't be a productive use of my time, and I was better off reflecting on why theology matters.

Now, I don't think having 100% correct theology saves a person, or is even possible. I have a sort of Animal Farm outlook on theology (and philosophy): All theologies are wrong, but some are more wrong than others. And of course, my standards by which I evaluate theologies are subjective, but one has to work from somewhere. I'm interested in not reducing the Divine into a book and not excluding persons because they don't fit into some mold or another.

My grandfather is always telling me that I just have to be patient and let things change over time. I can't expect the CofC start letting women preach overnight. But, preaching isn't the real issue -- preaching is only symbolic. What is actually at stake is personhood. Not having the pulpit does relatively little damage to me in and of itself -- the accompanying message that I was defective because of something entirely out of my control -- my sex -- was incredibly damaging, even with the mitigating circumstances of a spinster great-aunt who was convinced that there was nothing a man could do that a woman in sensible shoes couldn't manage and a father who commented that maybe one day we'll go to a church were they let women lead songs (the actual incident was song-leading, not preaching). No, no, I was a impure, dirty, weaker vessel, who could not be suffered to speak -- and all the more dirty because I let it be known that I thought something was wrong with that idea. So, yes, the praxis in the mainstream CofC and a number of other forms of Christianity (and other religions) of restricting the ability of female-bodied individuals from fully participating within the life of the community is wrong. The theology behind it is worse and dehumanizing. Maybe not the most dehumanizing ever -- but it is an affront to personhood of roughly fifty percent of humans. Especially among groups claiming a "priesthood of all believers."

However, theoretically (and I'm quite sure in practice, as well) a church could practice good works while restricting women to the most marginal of roles within the community. And, it could be argued that the nutters like me demanding that we have the right to full participation distracts the church and it's resources from carrying out certain good works. Or that we are somehow causing discord where they should be unity. But if a church's mission is unity in Christ, how can they claim any sort of unity when persons are excluded based on genitalia or sexual preference or listening to music.

See the point is not that women can't preach, and the point is not that many churches won't marry same-sex couples; however, the point is that these practices reveal that the many churches have placed themselves in the business of determining who is and is not a full person and thus eligible for all the rights and responsibilities of membership within the community.

I'm not sure if any of that made any sense at all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Continuing Education -- Now for M.R.S. Majors!

It's not an M.R.S. degree; it's a post-M.R.S. degree. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is now offering a home ec. concentration for the wives of ministry students.

Not so much to knock the actual skills needed to do most of things this concentration would be teaching (clothing construction isn't easy). My observation is that to run a house well one needs talent, hard work, and skill -- whether or not one is male or female and working outside or inside the home. But, the SBC is not placing value upon the work traditionally done by women -- they are admittedly doing this to put women back in there supposedly Biblical place.

Cause, in Fundie land Jesus didn't praise Mary and scold Martha. Of course, Jesus would have never praised a woman for sitting at his feet to learn. He would have sent her back into the kitchen where she belongs. Isn't that right, duckies? Pay no attention to what your Bible actually says.

Tipped off by Religious Left Online.

The Rich Young Metra

There's something about packing and moving that inspires the ascetic in me. It's a weak inspiration and one that has yet to make it to maturity, but it's there. It was there in spades as the sister, the friend, and I tried to fit a bit over two years worth of dorm room accumulation into a Camry and a Scion. (I haven't moved off-campus since the end of freshman year.) At such times, I begin to contemplate getting rid of oh, say, 75% of the things I own. Maybe knocking it down to essential clothes. And then, like Saint Jerome, my attempts at simplicity die in the face of my love for my library. My preciouses, my babies, my books.

I'm leaving the state of Tennessee the day after tomorrow en route to Russia for the next four and a half months. I have a goal of taking as luggage: one 32 inch rolling duffel bag, one small carry-on bag, and my backpack (also as a carry-on). And, I think I'm going to be able to pull it off, but I'm having to get pretty creative. The heavy, canvas outer layer of my coat is now rolled up and strapped to the backpack -- that helps. Sweaters have been compacted in ziploc bags. Books are cut down to some necessary plane reading, Russian texts and dictionary, and my collection of Blok poems in translation. And I'm still struggling to make things fit into the bags. It's a game of Tetris -- I'm confident that things will fit, but I'm pretty certain that there is only one possible way that they all will fit.

And then, there's this weird awareness in the back of my head that many people don't have enough to fill up the bags I'm taking, and a separate awareness that I probably all of what I'm packing to live out the rest of my life, much less the next four months.

I'm hoping that living out of a 32 inch duffel bag for four months will convince me to let go of most the rest of my stuff. At least, the majority of the remaining clothes. The books won't happen -- I've just accepted that as a fact of my current existence and fact of cycling through another few rebirths before hitting true enlightenment.

Monday, August 13, 2007

So, The Fountain...

NO! No! and No!

And now I know what not to write.

Seriously, why was the Inquisitor speaking in Gnostic/Cathar code speech? Why? No.

Just don't bother. Not even really worth a breakdown of everything that was wrong with it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I have already packed my brain...

I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for the past few days -- thus the lack of pontification. Packing to spend four and a half months in a foreign country is exhausting (and I'm trying to pack in one checked bag, one carry-on, and a backpack -- I need to work on being an ascetic -- it would be much simpler).

And, any preaching points were used this morning to compose a letter to the editor of the local paper regarding adding sexual orientation and gender identity the hate crimes legislation. (There was an opinion piece which caused Metra's blood to boil, but she made the sister read the letter to filter the snark.) Cross your fingers, and it might get in. Which would be -- interesting -- to say the least.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Biggest Obstacle in Getting to Nashville is Nashville

Out of the past 36 hours of my life, I have spent roughly 1/3 of them on the interstate. I have gone from Memphis to Spring Hill via I-40, then highway 100, then highway 50, picking up 412, around to the travesty of farmland growing houses where my mother now resides, then I-65 on up to Nashville where my sister and I proceeded to sit in traffic for an hour or more, and further up 65 through Loiusville to Columbus, Indiana, and then west of highway 46 to get to another Nashville in Indiana for a family reunion (of sorts). I have a couple of observations.

First, the malicious part of me (that bit that will keep me rotating about the wheel of samsara for a while longer), hopes that the individual responsible for the design of the interstates in Nashville, TN has to spend eternity trying to get through the city during rush hour.

Second, every time now I feel less than charitable about Rhodes, I shall remind myself that professors from back in the Southwestern days are partially responsible for there not being interstates plowing through the middle of Memphis. Which makes Memphis so incredibly superior Nashville (which it is anyway). I shall bless them. And perhaps this shall make me feel better about the current admins.

Third, everyone commuting in and out of cities by way of cars is extremely dysfunctional. I knew this before, but the traffic reminded me. So, everyone in America, listen to me (because you should, you know, I have so, so credentials) stop living in suburbs. Oh, and how about some functional public transportation? Sound good, maybe?

I have no idea what's in Nashville, Indiana. We shall see. I'm expecting something like Hohenwald, but I shall perhaps be pleasantly suprised.

Ugh...too much car time. And, oh, lovely, my sister just found a spider in the hotel bed. Murr....