Resurrection is Nonsense: A Sermon for Easter

 

A few weeks ago i wrote why the sadness of holy week matters to me;  here is why the resurrection matters to me, as it interrupts and subverts all that grief. (And while Easter is past, the good liturginerd in me assures you: Easter is a season! So indulge me?)

Luke 24:1 – 14 

24 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, that the Human One[a] must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words. When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.

“Their words struck the apostles as nonsense.”

Resurrection is nonsense.

I don’t mean resurrection is not real – or even that resurrection did not happen – no, the resurrection is real, it happened, but it is nonsense.

Non-sense, non-sensical, non-sensible – resurrection does not make sense.

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Why the Unapologetic Sadness of Holy Week Matters to Me

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original art by lizzie mcmanus 

We had a death in the family this week. On my spouse’s side.

Standing in the three-hour-long receiving line, i heard it over and over: she has been promoted. She’s in a better place now. We’re sorry for us but happy for her.

These are not, inherently, terrible things to say to someone grieving. This death was sad, but it was the kind of death that was long expected and happened surrounded by family. So to tell her family that we will be okay, is not as insensitive as it was, say, when my cousins were killed before they had even graduated middle and high school. Then, it felt like people were so horrified by our wailing and so afraid it might happen to them (or our wailing reminded them of when it did happen to them) that they wanted us to hurry up and get out of sight, to get better and stop reminding them of the banality of senseless loss. Grieving people are painful to be around.

It is far easier for me to hear people’s concern and good intentions when the death felt natural, and right, and known.

I get why we default to these heavenly-happy platitudes: there is a gaping wound open for all to see and usually, wounds are for our consumptive entertainment or for tucking back into the closet. So we reach for what we have, which is our faith, and we offer it. Out of love, out of empathy, out of deep, deep care.

But if i’m honest, words like these still feel a little callous- even when it is given from the depths of care and concern.

Death is the only guarantee we have in life, and still, we do not know what to say when it comes.

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Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

On Mary & Elizabeth (Rethinking Advent, Days 6 – 10)

We meet somewhat biweekly over home-cooked food for conversation. I’ve been piecing together small lessons and discussion guides on womyn in the Bible; we started with Eve, my notes guided from “Eve and Adam” by Phyllis Trible. Then there was Hagar and Sarah, and last night we did one of my favorite pairings: Elizabeth and Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the wash of Christmas, i think the conversation documented in Luke 1:26 – 56 gets barreled over. Marked as less radical, less important than Mary about to pop on a Donkey in the City of David. I think our neglecting of this passage is because we focus on Mary’s “virginity” rather than her willingness to rebel against society for the sake of her faith. This text, when we grapple with the incredulity of the conversation and the context, is revolutionary. What happens between these two womyn causes us to pause in our assumptions. Forces us to realize that womyn are going to play an instrumental role in the ministry of Jesus, going to challenge and subvert systems of patriarchy that the religion founded in Jesus’ name itself will uphold.

Day 6: Awake.

Day 6: Awake.

Mary, an unwed teenager is pregnant – and her life will be on the line when people find out. Elizabeth, whose husband has gone mute at the announcement of her conception, is apparently in her 90s and plump with her first child. Both womyn are in extraordinary, and painfully marginalized, circumstances. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who wrote of Mary in Fear and Trembling: “Has any woman been as infringed upon as was Mary, and is it not true here also that the one whom God blesses he [sic] curses in the same breath?”

Mary may have chatted with an angel about what she is now carrying, but that angel certainly didn’t ensure everyone in her community knew she wasn’t some philandering whore. Elizabeth may have long awaited this child, but her youth is clearly long gone and her husband has such disbelief he cannot even speak with his wife.

Day 7: Ready.

Day 7: Ready.

And yet the conversation in Luke is one of nothing but elation; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth greets her cousin (Luke 1:42). Words later that will be woven into rosaries, laid at the feet of Mary’s likeness in cathedrals that are literally named “Our Lady.”

But Mary doesn’t get to know all that, in this moment. All she knows is that she is with child, and definitely not by the usual route. She’s young, she probably knows how unlikely her story will sound to her fiancé, and she has been chosen to live up to an enormous task.

And still, still she is filled with wonder.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is  meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus' lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus’ lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

“This is like, sisterhood at is absolute best!” commented one of the participants in our discussion. The fact that there are two named womyn having a conversation without a male present is radical enough when looking at the scope of Scripture. But this? This companionship, this fearless faith in each other and that God provides even when the rest of society does not? This is revolutionary.

Day 9: Delight.

Day 9: Delight.

I think this is the sisterhood Mary Daly wanted us to embody, the kind of witnessing and loving and supporting that is needed amongst womanists and feminists. Being unafraid of wonder, even when such wonder is at odds with the world.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class' project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class’ project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Elizabeth is the first to know whom Mary is carrying; an old, pregnant woman is the first to see the promise given to a teenage girl – a promise then given to all.

And that, that fills me with wonder, too. 

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current jam: “christmas is all around” billy mack.

relevant resources: enuma okoro’s beautiful piece, “when a christian and a muslim meet in paris,” my first post on the rethinking advent photo-a-day project.

The Drive Back.

It was the ninth time i’d made the trek.

Four Augusts ago, my mother came home armed with Bugles and window-paint Crayola markers; the Bugles, because she says no road trip is complete without crunchy tornado-shaped crackers from a gas station. The markers, so i could plaster her CRV with “Mount Holyoke or Bust!” and “Go Pegasus!”

It was the first road trip to my new home in South Hadley, Massachusetts. We took I-95, with a stop-off at an Aloft hotel somewhere in New Jersey. Mom did all the driving, because i was barely 18 and really not adept at highways in New England. Further proof of my inaptitude for staying in the lines came when i realized i’d mixed up my move-in date – we were a day early. Gracious Residential Life staff handed me a key anyway, and my mother set to work arranging my furniture in spacial relation sense and i planned wall-pockets for my posters.

I remember going to the parent-daughter tea without her. I’d insisted i’d be fine if she left before all the parent orientation activities. Strapped up my red boots and Ghanaian bracelets and told myself i was brave and true like any good Mount Holyoke woman. I sat in the corner, keeping tears in my chest and falling in love with new friends all in the same cup of chai. She says now it is one of her greatest regrets – listening to me and leaving when she did.

Everything and nothing has changed since that August. I still make her mix CDs when i leave for long periods of time. I don’t record voice messages on them anymore, but they’re as carefully curated as the day i handed her my “i’m grown and going to college and trying to be cool, but damn will i miss you” CD. (I changed the title for her; something cleaner and more sophisticated in block Sharpie writing). She came over before this big drive to help me fill my van again, her spacial relations genius only paralleled by her ability to leave hidden notes among my treasures.

But the most obvious change was who i made the drive with.

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I picked Jonathan up from the Divinity School around 2:30 after an embarrassingly tearful farewell to our kittens (they were having a weekend with my mother). We made excellent time, pulling into our stop in Pennsylvania at precisely 10 PM. Our route has changed since the plastered-in-paint CRV days. I prefer the leisure of I-81, the highway clinging to Appalachian mountains and off-the-track home diners. And the decided lack of the Jersey Turnpike.

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Day two took us through rural Pennsylvania which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Trossachs in Scotland. Clearly, i wasn’t the first to think so:

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(I’ve also seen a rather gruesome-yet-compelling film that re-tells Macbeth, entitled: Scotland, PA)

Scotland felt so far and so close all at once. Mount Holyoke has been such a constant in my last three years that it seemed unfathomable to think of it changing, and yet i wondered how new it would look to me after nine months away.

Contemplating what it would be like returning to a home so beloved as a woman so changed sat with me for the drive. I loved my time abroad, still ache a little when i think about how beautiful Edinburgh must be in the (assuredly rain-splattered) fall. Missing my friends across the pond, missing my friends scattered across America. It had been a long summer. A summer of tremendous loss in my family, but also a summer spent with the man i’d committed to spending the rest of my life to. More transition than i thought possible in nine months away from school.

But there are some things that never seem to change. With New England temperatures come New England donuts – and our first Dunkin’ Donuts run! (I’m aware they do exist in the South, just in disappointingly small quantities!).

IMG_4730Clambering off of I-86 in Hartford onto I-91 remained a nightmare (the tunnel!) but my hands were steady on the wheel, the route still ingrained. We were staying with friends with Amherst for the night, but i insisted on taking the long way round. I wanted to drive past it, a tease, to see the campus from the roadside before moving in the next day.

My posters have changed since first year – all save one. I keep them all stored in the same long green bin, but the only recurring character is Rosie the Riveter – a poster i bought on my middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C. She’s crumpled on every corner and it takes some ten thumbtacks to hold her up, but it wouldn’t live in a room without her. Some days just need that muscle-bearing woman to get me through.

Jonathan was an asthma-saver unloading the van while i flittered with where to put what. The lack of A/C in our dorms rarely poses a problem past the fifth of September, but move-in day is always a humidity fest of misery and stale air.

And yet, all my tummy-knots were coming unraveled one thread at a time. It had been a fat nine months of change, but the campus was as beautiful as that first drive four Augusts ago. When mom and i pulled up to a building i didn’t yet know the name of that now i know houses the Religion department. My second home on campus. When we looked at the green and the lake and the Hogwarts-like library and both wondered who i’d be when i left this place. Wondered how i’d get through those first few tummy-knotting weeks.

Sometimes i still wonder. The similarities can seem minute, like the spaces between them eat away at the reminders they bear. But still, devotedly, i tack those ten pins around Rosie the Riveter. Still i look to her on those miserable Massachusetts snow days.

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And i’m learning, in that sluggish every day way, to sit with the paradox of big changes in small things. Jonathan and i are old pros at the distance, now, however begrudgingly so. And i wouldn’t trade that big change for the world. So with new Scottish flags on my wall and well-worn pens in my backpack, the semester is starting. And i’m glad to be home, if for only one more year.

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current jam: ‘from this valley’ the civil wars.

best thing: convocation!

pre-order my book here! 

Talking Taboo: The Big Announcement!

I’m seated in the church pew, unsaid words pressing against my clamped teeth. I’m chewing instead of talking for any number of reasons; i’ve had this experience so often i can’t delineate which memory belongs where. It could be a flagrant disregard of the female characters in the lectionary reading by the pastor. It could be a subtle refusal to even consider female pronouns for G-d in Sunday School. It could be when a member of the congregation makes a combo homophobic-sexist comment about a woman in leadership needing to be “straightened” out by a man.

I’m not in an obvious rage. It’s not always a rage – sometimes it is a thoughtful frustration. But the most important thing is that it’s quiet – i am quiet. I might rant, later, to my ordained-minister mother. She’ll remind me that women have come a long way since the days she couldn’t be a pastor by virtue of her gender. I’ll nod, but exclaim: “we’re not done yet!” If i’m being particularly good that week, i’ll pray. Pray for my anger, pray for the reasons i’m angry.

But i don’t start a conversation. My anger turns into silence, and this silence becomes the taboo i never dare to bring up with anyone who i suspect might disagree.

And the thing is, i know i’m not the only Jesus-lovin’ lady out there who feels this suffocation. I can’t speak for all women who encounter such prejudice – i can only speak for myself. And this what i have to say, boiled down to the basics: i have enough faith in Jesus and the Church that we, people of all gender identities, are capable of confronting the everyday sexism in Christian communities. Capable of engaging compassionately and critically in dialogue with one another about faith and feminism. I am capable of voicing my frustration, even when it requires boldness . It is time i stopped staying silent in the pews.

Because when a chorus of individuals share personal narratives, i think a truly transformative space for conversation can be created.

And that, i hope, is exactly what my co-contributors and i have done in a stupendously exciting new book. It’s called  Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, and it’s set to be published in October of 2013 by White Cloud Press!!

Forty women under the prowess of two fabulous co-editors, Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, have each contributed their own story. An essay that embodies the marginalization they have faced because of a clash between our gender and our faith. In the spectrum of women represented there is an equally wide spectrum of perspectives – some claiming feminist as an identity, and some decidedly not. Women of many denominations, races, backgrounds, long publishing resumés and shiny-eyed newbies (like me!). Women coming  together to instigate a taboo dialogue.

A proper book! With a proper cover and everything!

A proper book! With a proper cover and everything!

But having a Big Conversation like this requires a lot more voices than the 40 contributors, which is why today we are kicking off an Indiegogo campaign to help launch Talking Taboo with a bang. It would mean the world to me if you would make a donation to the campaign. Your support helps generate conversation, and the conversation works to end these silences. As an added bonus, we’ve chosen May 7th because it is the feast day of Saint Rose Venerini, who was a teacher of girls & women.

As the youngest contributor to the anthology, i stand on the precipice of my adulthood filled with explosive hope because of my co-contributors’ courage. Having my own story shared in the company of women who have paved so much of the road before me humbles (and, if i’m frank, terrifies) me. Their courage leaves me cracking with expectation for the kind of boundary-transgressing dialogue this book will generate.

Mostly, though, i want to say thank you.

I said yesterday i have always wanted to be a published author. By the grace of G-d and some wonderful mentors, this book is making that happen. It’s people like you – friends, faithful readers, neighbors, kin, and internet-passerbys that empower me to keep writing in the spaces of silence. You are wonderful, and sharing this news with you wonderful people makes the excitement tremendously tangible.

So let’s go shatter some stained-glass ceilings, shall we?

For more information about the book: check out the campaign’s website!

Pre-order your copy of Talking Taboo on Amazon!

Like Talking Taboo on Facebook!

A prologue to today’s announcement.

current jam: ‘i wanna dance with somebody’ whitney houston!

 

Write Like Everything is at Stake: A Response to ‘The Pen is Mightier’ by Sarah Sentilles

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

It’s no secret i have a great intellectual love affair with the writings of the Mahatma. Plastered on the cover of my notebooks are curlicued, hand-scripted quotes from his prolific works, laboriously detailed with ink and marker when preparing my school supplies for the semester. My study and subsequent commitment to a life led in nonviolent practice began with a sophomore English class study of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

I don’t pretend the man was flawless, but i treasure his words. I treasure these words most when i am writing. Often i stare at the flickering cursor on a half-filled screen, repeating a mantra to myself: be truthful. be gentle. be fearless. Be unbridled by the possibility of failure. Be unafraid of honesty. Be loving. Be kind. Be fearless.

But sometimes, i’m not truthful enough with myself. I fret over participles, furrow my brow over clumsy phrasing – worrying my work will never be satisfactory enough. My stomach churns and i turn instead to making cups of tea or re-organizing the bookshelf. Tangible tasks that enable me to see an end. Clean, unperturbed by the messy process of discernment and requiring little courage. Sometimes the task of writing even a small term paper seems daunting, because i fear my own inadequacy will rob my ideas of their merit.

And yet, writing is an addiction. Writing for me is more than an academic requirement; it is a passion manifested in leather-bound journals tucked in all years of my life, photos infused with words scattered to the four winds of the internet. The torturous stomach clenching and tea-making is a ritual i thrust myself through in unending cycles of crumpled paper and tossed-out ideas, for no simpler reason than writing is what my life depends on. The way to make sense of a half-filled cup emptied by my Earl Grey consumption. The way to cope with the millions of burning words from the authors on my bookshelves. It’s a religion, it’s a way of coping with and being religious. It’s my sacrifice and my offering.

Though i do not know the path my life from hence will take, i am certain writing is central to the journey.

But the fact remains: women writers face an inordinate amount of sexism, bigotry, and misogyny in the publishing world. And women who write within religious spheres face a double-scrutiny of secular and sacred sexism. I recently stumbled across a brilliant piece by Sarah Sentilles on the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin entitled “The Pen is Mightier: Sexist Responses to Women Writing About Religion” (thanks to a tweet by my friend Erin Lane). I highly encourage you all to read the entire piece. In it, Dr. Sentilles articulates her frustration with sexist reviews of her most recent work, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. She uses this personal example to engage in a critical conversation with the scope of sexism women writers have faced and continue to cope with:

“Unfortunately, this distrust of women’s words and the assumption that women do not know what they are talking about, no matter what their credentials or expertise or experience, are widespread in the literary establishment (though they are often coded as ‘reasoned critiques’). “

This distrust of the validity of women’s words isn’t news to me; i’ve been working to live into my feminist consciousness actively since that same sophomore English class in high school. I work for both the on-campus Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Center as well as for Women’s Voices Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers women to use their voices most effectively within all spheres of communication, with particular attention to the double-standards women in public speaking face. My focus within my religion major is on gender and sexuality. My copy of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father is a highlighter and post-it note war zone.

But more than all of these put together, i have to defend my arguments and theological ideas daily by virtue of my gender. I claim saying “mankind” excludes me based on my sex, and somehow i’m whining or “overthinking it.”If i speak with too much authority, i’m pushy or aggressive. If i’m meek or apologetic in my tone, my opinion is overlooked.

Despite my sometimes crippling self-doubt or imposter syndrome, i refuse to be too afraid to not say anything at all. I will not apologize for speaking my mind. This doesn’t make me perfect, or always right, or better than anyone else. It means i refuse to buy into the idea that i should sit tight and hope for the world to change all on its own. But, as one of my favorite feminist authors Audre Lorde, once wrote in her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” women so empowered are dangerous. The threats against us magnify when we refuse to comply with sexist standards.

Writing and speaking out when we are told we aren’t good enough to is the exact reason we should keep talking. Dr. Sentilles articulates that:

“Those who have written from the margins—feminist and womanist and liberation theologians, black critical theorists, postcolonial theorists—have always recognized the need to write as if their lives depend on it, because their lives often do. Words are world-creating and world-destroying; they can be used to liberate and to enslave.”

To write can be a way to dismantle the master’s house with tools the master never wanted us to have. As quoted by Dr. Sentilles, Mary Daly wrote “[t]he liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.” We begin our deconstruction of internalized misogyny in utilizing our voices.

But what about the days when i never get past the tea-making? When the writing sits, untampered and untouched and unpublished, because i feel like it’s senseless or pointless or wrong? I don’t claim everything i write to be publish-able or even good. We all have to slug through the suck sometimes to make a breakthrough.

I’m not convinced, though, that my personal self-doubt is a symptom exclusively of a universal writing process. This very essay is not up for any kind of major publication par to Dr. Sentilles’ works, and yet her articulation about the faceless, sexist trolling of the internet and anger at unjust critiques resonated deeply with me. The writing process may be a freeing space,

“[b]ut what happens when your words are published? What happens when they are released into a sexist world, into a patriarchal culture in which reviewers and anonymous trolls have the power to frame how your writing is received? Writing this essay has been a powerfully liberating experience for me, but it is also terrifying. I was supported as a feminist when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, but I was also disciplined for being a feminist, and I worry that I will be disciplined for writing this essay. I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I so identify with everything she says here, from the trolls of the internet (i’ve been told i’m “too hot to be this smart” and i’ve been likened to a Nazi more times than i can count for saying patriarchy exists – because, apparently, calling out sexism as wrong is equivalent to mass genocide) to the simultaneous terror and liberation of writing. It’s almost meta, writing this, because as i do i wonder if the comments section will be filled with chastisement for talking about religion or gender.

In another portion of the article, Dr. Sentilles discusses how death threats have become normalized for women content creators on the internet. This past summer, one of my favorite vloggers, Laci Green, went offline for a few weeks because the police were investigating anonymous death threats that were sent to her accompanied by pictures of her apartment building. Laci, fortunately, is now back with a swing and fearlessly continuing to make her sex positive videos on YouTube. But the fact remains: she should never have been threatened like this in the first place.

Seeing what happened to Laci fills me with dread and hope. Dread that it happened. Hope that she persisted in putting content online despite the threats.

And ultimately, i have to chose to live in that space of hope. If i see only the bullying and violence women face, i miss the whole point of Dr. Sarah Sentilles’ article and Laci’s refusal to give up her online career. Right after Dr. Sentilles articulates her fear that she will be told she doesn’t know what she is talking about, she enumerates:

But I’m also hopeful that this essay will encourage people to engage in a conversation about what to do next, about how to respond concretely to sexism in the literary world—and to the sexism in our syllabi and on our reading lists for general exams, in the language of our liturgies and in the leadership structures of our communities and churches and synagogues and mosques. Because, really, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much to argue with here. I am simply sharing data, stating facts. Facts that aren’t new. Facts that have been stated and restated for decades, for centuries.

I especially love the facet of conversation in responding to the sexism women writers (and content creators) face. In fact, it was this very prompting for a conversation that made me sit down and write this. I’m be-lieving i have something, as a young feminist and aspiring theologian, to contribute to this conversation. I’m choosing to not buy into imposter syndrome today.

Dr. Sentilles’ whole essay engages in the history of women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a George Eliot) to today. Women have been coping with these double-standards in speaking and writing for as long as people have had voices, and the time has come for this conversation to radically grapple with the subtleties of such prejudice. For women who write about religion in particular, this has to occur in places wherein our faiths hinge: sacred spaces. Sacred places of worship, sacred places of conversation.

For, the fact remains: the work of feminism is not done. And, frankly, i don’t think there will be a time in my life when i look around and say “this is it, we’ve reached equilibrium.” But that is all the more reason to continue to try. To continue to write letters to the editors of magazines where reviewers use sexist language or the authorial staff is predominantly cisgendered men. To continue to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. And this means incorporating male-identified allies. It means educating ourselves and others in this transformative process. It means being in sisterhood with one another, in engaging critically with women writers and supporting one another as creative be-ings in a complicated world.

I think, for me, it means taking to heart the words scrawled on my Intro to Islam binder: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Be truthful: expose the sexism, especially where it hurts. Be gentle: love yourself, even on the days when the critics are going for the jugular or the words just won’t come. Be fearless: write like everything is at stake, fierce in conviction.

best thing: work & the internship.

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: a Review.

It’s no secret i am a voracious consumer of Young Adult fiction. I have yet to start what surely will be the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this is only because i have been utterly enthralled and consumed by another YA novel for the past three days. When not running around Manhattan, i have been glued to my recently acquired copy of Libba Bray’s most recent masterful work: Beauty Queens.

I’ve been a fan of Bray’s writing ever since i checked out A Great and Terrible Beauty from the local library some five years ago; she is fresh, manipulates a story with ease, and has one of the most wry and clever senses of humor i’ve yet encountered. Having read a smidget of the review for this book on Spark, i knew it promised to be a book of equal calibar to her other works, if not completely different in its setting and style (A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in Victorian England, as i recall).

Beauty Queens is unlike anything i’ve ever read; in its concept, it is nothing unique, and yet it somehow manages to achieve exception both through the quirky narration style and Bray’s masterfully interwoven social commentary. The book begins with an enormous, devastating plane crash: the contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant have fallen on an unknown island somewhere south of Florida. Hell breaks loose, as the collection of the surviving teen girls try to survive the unruly and unimaginable jungle they have found themselves in. Peppered with hilarious footnotes written by ‘The Corporation,’ the apparent official sponsor of the book (by which Bray is making a pretty snarky commentary on product placement and the cult of the celebrity) and rich character development, the book stands incomparable to most other YA i’ve read.

Unmistakably, the premise reeks of Lord of the Flies; and while the fact that the characters are stranded on an island with no adults to supervise certainly lends credibility to the parallel, the commentary Bray is making on humanity is far different from that of William Golding’s (in my humble opinion). To begin with, the characters are women – and women who embody a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and religions. These women may at first appear to be nothing but vapid products of a consumerist beauty aesthetic impossible to achieve, but as the tale weaves on we learn that not all is as it seems with the pageant wannabees.

In this, Bray has created a beautiful (pun intended) portrait of the expectations forced on men and women in today’s media.  Through hysterical allusions to contemporary pop culture icons like Larry King and Sarah Palin, Bray has created a not-so-alternate universe from our own. She handles such ideas with charm and humor, but simultaneously manages to give space to the gravity of what she is speaking about. Hair removal creams can become explosives, gender lines and expectations are blurred, and no sex ed program will ever be thought of as a scapegoat for “loose women” in her saga. Oh, and pirates. As if feminist theory told in a stranded-island form was not enticing enough!

I adored this work; i recommend it to anyone and everyone to read, be you a teenage girl seeking for some supremely well executed feminist theory or an intellectualist wishing for a more creative vessel by which to consider the implications of the reality TV-like quality governmental elections seem to have taken on.

current jam: ‘heard them stirring’ fleet foxes.

best thing in my life right now: books books books.

The 10 Things List in Review.

Greetings, Earthlings.

Ya’ll might recall in early September, i set forth for myself a challenge: to complete ten tasks in the course of four months. And while i managed to accomplish six out of the ten items, i by no means completed the challenge. Alas.

However, rather than ragging on like a negative nancy, i thought it an appropriate start-of-theapocalypse-2012 post to review the list of ten things and share brief reflections on each task. Therefore, without further ado, i present for you:

SIX OUT OF TEN THINGS LIZZIE DID AND NOW FEELS THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT EVEN THOUGH THAT WOULD BE A BARELY PASSING SCORE ON ANY KIND OF REAL TEST SO I GUESS IT’S A GOOD THING SHE IS NOT GRADED ON THIS BLOG.

or,

6 OUT OF 10: MEDIOCRITY AND MIGHTINESS. (a tale by lizzie mcmizzie).

#1: Spontaneously dye my hair an exuberant colour: Check. A mere two days after writing said blog post my friend Hattie (who, by the way, just met PRESIDENT OBAMA) donned some latex gloves and i busted out the red goop and sold my soul to be a ginger. And while i adored my red locks for the time they were with me, i began to really miss wearing rouge or pink. My wardrobe, in all of its vibrant glory, shrank considerably when the hair went all red-like. Thus, the locks have once again been hacked off, and, after some considerably creative dying techniques per my hair-dude Mike, are now a vaguely copper-ish-brown-blonde-still-alittlebit-red tint. Still, the red was fun while it lasted.

i'm fred weasley! but alive...

after!

#2: Vote in local NC elections. Well, despite my political rants, this did not happen. It will, though, in this the election year, occur come November. Alas.

#3: Go to a local band concert in the Pioneer Valley: Okay, so this kind of is cheating. I’m counting the Harry and the Potters concert i attended in November as passable, even if they aren’t technically local. However! Wait! Teacher no! I did have three bands on my show this semester based in the Pioneer Valley, so in a way i attended three private concerts of local groups. So, mission (mostly) accomplished.

paul degeorge, pre-falling on top of me (for the first time...)

#4: Read a book during the semester purely for the enjoyment and pleasure of reading the book, not for explicit academic research or reasons. Um. Yeah. Reading, that’s funny. Do people still do that sort of thing? For fun? What? That’s riddikulus. (While i didn’t accomplish this task, i did start writing my own novel, so… i’m okay being a loser on this one).

#5: Travel somewhere historic in Massachusetts that I have not previously visited- like Salem, or the Lizzie Borden House. Ka-ching! I bonded with my bffl and her momzies on a tour of historic Salem (of the witch trial fame) and shrieked at people in corny face paint while munching on funnel cake. ‘Twas a dream of a day.

bonding.

#6: Read an Emily Dickenson poem on the Dickenson property. I have no excuses, except my abundant suck-ish-ness at planning and carrying poetry in my pockets.

#7: Write actual postcards and letters. Mail them. I did! Many a time! In fact, if you want a postcard from me, email/comment your mailing address! If that, you know, doesn’t weird you out or anything… (i am, after all, actually a forty-year-old man living in a basement preying upon young women for my feasting and satantic rites, so i would be pretty cautious about such information were i you).

#8: Visit a temple, synagogue, or place of worship from a faith that I was not raised in. Unfinished. Much to my chagrin. After my time spent at the Ba’hai House of Worship in Kampala i was so gung-ho to go exploring for other kinds of temples (etc) in the Valley but the semester got the best of me. Sigh.

#9: Go to bed by ten on a school night. I DID THIS ONE! Never blogged about it, nor do i have any photos for proof (such pictures would expose my true identity as the Satanist in the basement with a rather impressive moustache) so i guess you just have to believe me. Lucky you.

#10: Visit London & see a Shakespeare show! DONE! This was, by far, the biggest and most rewarding and most beautiful and most duckling-filled delightful task on the whole list. And, with the help of one Ralph Fiennes and one even finer dad, i breathed London air and cried tears in the West End while in the audience of The Tempest. Twas remarkable.

the globe theatre! (not where we saw the show, but still. you get the idea).

Alright folks, that is all for now! I have another big road trip coming up soon – one for which i hope to be writing to you plenty. My love to Mafalda.

current jam: ‘king of anything’ sara bareillis (thanks to becca for this recommendation!)

best thing in my life right now:  padfoot and robots.

ALSO: i am now on google+ and while i still have no idea what exactly it does and stuff, i’d love to be your bud (or whatever).

It’s Not as Weird as it Sounds: My Online Friends

Let’s just clear the air: i have friends i’ve made online.

Immediately whenever i disclose this particular piece of information to people who have not done the same, i (99% of the time) get one of two reactions. The first is a mild, “oh-that’s-nice” which reeks of subtextual fear and disapproval. The kind of response that means that people might ask politely intended but poorly phrased questions indicative of their worry that i only have friends online because i’m incapable of making them “in the real world.” I’m not a fan of this response, but i understand it. Making friends via YouTube is still relatively new in the broader discourse, despite YT’s years of existence.

The second response is one of overt judgement or worry – people who make comments like “that’s really weird, lizzie,” or “how do you know they’re who they say they are?” To the first comment, my initial response is simply to say: well isn’t any way you meet someone weird? Who defines normality?

But such esoteric smartass replies are not precisely conducive to communicating my point.

Because, at the end of the day, i get it.

The stereotype of creepy, predatory men lit in a dark room only by their computer monitor is a real one. At least, Criminal Minds tells me it’s real. The idea that there are dangerous people out to manipulate, scare, control, or abuse people (particularly young women) is not merely an idea: it’s a grim fact. I don’t discount that – but i also am aware that there are bullies and threatening people in every corner of our world. There are as many dangers as meeting someone online as there are in meeting someone at a bar or coffeehouse. You have to use your intellect, street smarts, guts, and meet in public places the first time around.

But here’s the other thing about said stereotype: it infers that i am talking exclusively to creepy men in their fifties preying upon my youth via chatrooms or facebook. The reality is quite different (not that you can’t make friends that way). My closest “internet friends” (a term i only use to distinguish them as people i met fist via wireless, and secondly in person, not that they are any less important to me than my “real life” friends) i met because of YouTube.

Which, understandably, might even compound the confusion. I would wager (again, in my non-expertise, totally subjective opinion) that 90% of people who use YouTube watch videos only pertaining to cats (totally acceptable), music videos, Rick Perry parodies (also completely okay), and the occasional school project for the super cutting-edge teacher. What is not included in this is how i got into YouTube – video blogging.

I’ve posted some videos here before of my own making, and more often than that make references to my favorite vloggers, John and Hank Green of the vlogbrothers. While the Green brothers by no means started the idea of a video blog (vlog), their channel and the community subsequently created around it has initiated an entire online movement. In 2005, the two brothers committed to a year long project where they would engage in text-less communication, predominantly through videos they would make for each other alternating every day of the week. The project, though not daily videos, has grown and persisted into the impending year of the apocalypse 2012. Because of their wit, insight, nerdiness, and utter abandon of self-consciousness on the web, these two gleaned, somewhat surprisingly to them, several hundred thousand followers (over the span of several years). As part of their mission to “decrease world suck” (which is literally to fight, through the power of love, anything that sucks in this world) they believe that all people are “made of awesome.” To this end, anyone who is “made of awesome” (who can be anyone) and wants to combat “world suck” is a “nerdfighter.” Meaning, if you like Doctor Who or Harry Potter and want to support small business owners in developing nations, you are a nerdfighter. Or if you’re into other things, that’s okay too.*

As i’m writing this, i can’t help but giggle a little at how strange this all sounds to put into a textual body. “Made of awesome” may not reek of Shakespearean eloquence, but it is pretty communicative and expressive of what the community is about. Yeah, the vlogbrothers are quirky and strange, but they have – through their own self liberation – given space for the inner nerd flag of anyone with an internet connection to be flown with pride. In their wake, thousands upon thousands of people have started their own vlogs, created nonprofits, made friends, hosted “gatherings” of nerdfighters, and generally united over a front to fight what they see is bad in the world by making connections with people who believe the same.

It’s no different to me then meeting someone at a Harry Potter appreciation society. Or a meeting for a campus organization seeking to promote awareness of injustices within the US Court System. A group of people, with common interests, meeting and talking. The difference is a computer screen.

In January of 2011 – exactly one year ago – i started a vlog. To be honest, i was wretched. My videos were too long, i had no clue how to edit, i talked too much, and never had much of a direction. But, six months new to the nerdfighter community, i desperately wanted to be a more involved part of it. That, and i was doing a little participant-observer research of my own for a potential senior thesis (more on that another time).

And, within a month of making videos, a fellow nerdfighter sent me a message on YouTube asking me if i would possibly be interested in a collaborative channel with herself and three other nerdfighters. I was both flattered and a little apprehensive – making videos on a channel with four people i’d never met before? Talking about what exactly? All of the responses i now get when i saw i have a video blog ran through my head. And yet, a part of me knew that this would be a really cool thing to try, should i only give it a chance. If it failed abysmally, it was just a little internet experiment. If it rocked, then i would have really been a part of this online community. Thus, allmadeofawesome was born a year ago this February made of myself, Jenn, Candace, Sarah, and Sara Michelle.

Fortunately for the five of us, i would say our little project rocked. It’s not famous, we’re not renowned among internet folk or anything like that – but that is not the point. The point is that, in spite of the weirdness of it all, i started talked to four other incredibly motivated, intelligent, and totally nerdy women about nerd culture and being at university. Basically, what i do with my friends “in my real life.” And through our videos, i’ve become genuine friends with these ladies. Not pornography, no predators, no venting of pent-up emotions i am incapable of expressing to people i see and hear and touch in the “real” world. Just friends.

Such good friends, though, that i’ve now hung out with two of them in person. Sara Michelle, who has the Friday slot on our channel, lives pretty close to where i go to school. We’ve attended two Harry and the Potters concerts together and have plans to do more nerdy stuff of the like – and when we’re hanging out, it’s just us talking and driving around or eating guacamole sandwiches (well, the last part is just me with my neurotic eating tendencies). Not weird. Not creepy.

okay, the normalcy argument may be lost here. but look, no serial killers!

With Sarah, i got to see her when i was in London in October. Sarah is, in fact, one of the major reasons i started watching Doctor Who, because she being British means that it’s somewhat compulsory to be awesome and nerdy and moon over Matt Smith (i know, sweeping generalizations (it’s a joke!)). Thus, when i’d fallen so deep in the time vortex that i wanted to go to the Doctor Who Experience in London, i invited her along – and we had such a marvelous time. For, despite his many waonderful attributes, my father is not precisely a Whovian. He was such a dear in spending the four hours with us in the museum, but it was Sarah with whom i geeked out over the tenth doctor’s actual TARDIS and the Ood prosthetics. She got the geekdom, the excitement, and the exhiliration at such silly things the way i did. Friends. Real friends.

sarah and i…in the tardis!

All of this to say, yeah. I have online friends. They’re real, they matter to me, and i realize that culturally this may not be the most acceptable. But as much as the internet has changed, so has our culture. The internet is a vehicle, i think, for what you make of it. For friends, for news, for connections, for cat videos during exam week. I think if we exercise appropriate caution in the same way we do in tangible reality, we can use the internet as a tool for good.

What are your thoughts? Have you made friends via the interwebs? Think i’m still a freak? You are all most welcome.

current jam: ‘safe & sound’ taylor swift, t-bone burnett, & the civil wars

best thing in my life right now: kitties, coffee, and my new mug.

*if this is not clear, i recommend this video as a better, from the horse’s mouth introduction!