Title Dropping

September 27, 2020

Every book the narrator of Want by Lynn Steger Strong references reading. This book got a lot of buzz but I hated it for many reasons that I’m more than happy to elaborate on if you would JUST GIVE ME THE CHANCE. I honestly feel like this reading list encapsulates some of my irritation: I’m super highbrow and super, super sad!

Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight

Gayl Jones, Corregidora

Imre Kertesz, Kaddish for an Unborn Child

Marguerite Duras, The Lover

Merce Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves

Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero

Claire Lispector, The Passion of G.H.

Henry Tree, Party Going

Dorothy West, The Living is Easy

Gerald Murnane, The Plains

Mariama Ba, So Long a Letter

Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time

Magda Szabo, The Door

Tom McCarthy, Remainder

Jean Rhys, D.H. Lawrence, Colm Toibin, Deborah Eisenberg, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Comyns, Penelope Fitzgerald, Doris Lessing, Jane Bowles, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf

Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac

Louise Erdrich, LaRose

Is This Funny?

September 22, 2020

I started to write a “humor” piece about someone calling Gd’s office asking to reschedule the end of 2020 like it’s a doctor’s appointment, but I’m not sure it’s funny, or, even if it is, there’s enough to go on. Thoughts?

Hi. Oh, yeah, hi, um, can you hear me? Sorry, trying to use Skype cause of long-distance charging and all, sometimes the service isn’t so great. Uh, hi. I’m trying to reach God, or whoever is in charge of His scheduling there? Sure, I can hold.

Hi! Yeah, so I’m really sorry for the late notice, but I’m calling to reschedule an appointment. Yes, it’s “the remainder of 2020.” I’ve been meaning to reschedule for ages, but things have just been so hectic, with the Zoom school and the remote working and everything.

Yes, I do realize you have a 24-hour-cancellation policy, but if we start the cancellation from 24 hours from now, can I avoid the fee? You know what, actually, on second thought, I don’t think I can endure another day, so I’ll just pay it. Yes, the credit card on file is fine.

So as for rescheduling, hm, let me take a look at my calendar. I was really hoping to make it up when my kids are able to dress themselves, but before I am no longer able to. Some kind of sweet spot like that––maybe when they’ve just gone to college? Do you have any openings in 2040? Really any time that year, I don’t have anything scheduled yet. Oh, there’s another pandemic scheduled for then? And a world war? Shoot. Is there anything else I should know about for 2040? You know what, don’t tell me, I almost think it’s better if I don’t know.

Mask as Religious Garment

September 11, 2020

I might get in trouble for this, but: I can kind of understand why people would have some confusion, or even skepticism, about masks right now.  The experts did a 180 in terms of mask advice early on in the pandemic, as we all remember, and even though the guidelines have remained mostly the same for a while now (insofar as we’ve all been told to wear masks) there has been some conflicting data on the topic: for example, a recent-ish study showed that masks made of certain kinds of material were actually actively unhelpful, while different health authorities in different states have mandated mask usage in different environments, i.e. outside all the time, or only when you can’t socially distance, or even in your own home.  Recently, researchers have floated the possibility that the mask might be just not-protective enough to actually engender immunity to Covid-19 in the wearer by exposing them to small particles.  This is purely speculative and is not really relevant to the conversation at hand, just to say that I get why people would be confused, generally speaking.

Let me be clear: I believe the research that shows masks help stop the spread of Covid-19.  As someone who is not a scientist or a doctor, I don’t know exactly how the process works––I can give you a sketch but not a detailed explanation––but I buy it.  And I totally do not care about people who think that masks are bad for you because they cause your teeth to rot or your oxygen to get low or whatever else they’re saying these days, because often these people are the same “medical freedom” fighters who are always talking about the body is a miraculous healing organism and can survive cancer without chemo, so if the body can do that then surely it can breathe through a thin cloth every now and then?  Some consistency, folks, please.

For those people, and for others who struggle with masks, I would like to propose another way of viewing them: as religious garments, which are non-functional, occasionally talismanic pieces of clothing that serve an ideological purpose rather than a practical one.

Many religions feature such types of garments.  There are the famous “Temple garments,” referred to also as Mormon underwear, which I used to make fun of liberally and now would never, bequeathed to Mormons during their initial participation in an endowment ceremony.  Sartorial signifiers of religious affiliation are hugely important in Plain Anabaptist traditions––you’ll remember the joke from Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise” about buttons, although the Amish actually do wear buttons–– as well as Orthodox and, to an even greater extent, Haredi Judaism.  From kippot (yarmulkes) to shtreimels(round fur hats worn by married Hasidic men on Sabbath) to the monochromatic, floor-length dresses worn by Amish women and the suspenders worn by their husbands, Judaism and Anabaptism in particular make great use of the fashion as semiotic communicator.  The list goes on: having specific uniforms for cloistered Catholics like vestments for priests, the hijab for women in Islam, robes of specific colors for Buddhist monks, and so forth.  You get the idea.  Particularly in more conservative sects/expressions of major religions, there is an intense focus on the minute detail of the clothing, garments or accessories: for Hasidic women, how long the hair of your wig is, or whether you wear a snood or a tichel, says a great deal about where your ancestors came from, what sect you belong to, and/or how liberal you are.  Years ago, I met an Amish Mennonite convert who was also an academic sociologist who had written an entire book on the variations in Amish women’s head coverings and what they symbolized.  Though an outsider would spot the difference between a black head scarf and a gauzy white covering for a bun, the sociologist delved into differences so subtle––type of pleating, width of band––as to be completely imperceptible to the uninitiated, but deeply meaningful to the Amish themselves.

What does this type of garment do for its wearer?  There are two main purposes, and how much the wearer emphasizes one or the other depends on a number of factors including general level of religious conservatism.  First, in some cases, like with the Temple garments and tzitzit, there is the idea that they literallysupernaturally protect you from harm.  But the broader one, and the one more interesting to contemplate here, I think, is the way these garments serve as a visual shorthand for tribal affiliation.  (That can be cultural or religious tribal affiliation, but in the case of many faiths, like the Amish and Haredi Judaism, the two are so intertwined that they can be indistinguishable both for the religious person and the observer.)  There are the tiny signifiers––like the bowsworn on beaver hats by Hasidim, on which side depending on the wearer’s sect––and the more overt ones, like hijab = Muslim.  Whatever the prominence, the dress lets everyone the wearers interact with know immediately who the wearers are (in broad strokes, of course): from their ethical precepts down to the nitty gritty details of their diet.

An example from my personal life: I dress modestly, which means I basically cover my knees and elbows and wear dresses and skirts.  I don’t do this 100% of the time––I wear pants a few times a year when I’m feeling spunky, and sometimes my dresses don’t fully cover my knees, which I don’t really love but that has more to do with style than religiosity––but mostly, I follow the precept of what we call tznius, or modesty.  I definitely do notdo it because I feel like men are wanton sexual beasts and I must protect them from my skin, and I don’t even really do it because I believe Gd wants me to (the Jewish texts are not particularly persuasive when it comes to this argument).  Mostly, I do it because doing so marks me as a part of a community, it lets other people know how I identify, it tells them certain things about how we should behave together as humans interacting without my having to explain it (i.e. don’t offer me bacon-wrapped shrimp, for instance, or don’t go in for a hug if we’re not related/married and you’re a dude).  Although to be fair, modesty being as unstoppable a trend as it’s proven to be, and liberal Orthodoxy being what it is, many people might not immediately get this.

Lots of people think this stuff is the height of religious stupidity.  Why would the God or a god care what you wear?  And why would people think their choice of shirts made them more moral, or even holier?  I get that.  There are definitely cases where people obsess over the vehicle at the expense of the engine, and then, when there’s some kind of vehicular malfunction, their hypocrisy is that much more embarrassing.  Maybe sometimes they’ve confused visual piety for actual piety (in some environs, that’s understandable, because the education is sub-par, or there’s inter-generational trauma that leads to fanaticism or a general blending of cultural expression and religious expression) and they think that as long as they’re wearing the outfit, they don’t need to worry so much about behaving ethically towards others or engaging in study or being mindful of other specific religious virtues.  Kind of like the faith version of the Peltzman Effect.  But in the best case scenario, wearing distinct garments that point to their religiosity reminds the wearer that they are beholden to ideas greater than themselves, and that they should conduct themselves in an overtly dignified and considerate way particularly in public but ideally everywhere.

So this is where the mask comes in (and yes, I’m admittedly writing this thinking of the obvious overlap between Evangelical Christianity and Covid-deniers/mask skeptics): if you just can’t wrap your mind around the idea that the mask might provide us some literal protection from the virus particles, what about, instead, viewing it as a cloth that symbolizes your belief in the idea that, as members of society, we have to make a covenantto protect each other?  Your willingness to make yourself a little uncomfortable (have you ever dressed modestly in a sweltering New York City summer?) so that people will know, upon meeting you, that you are committed to conceiving of our society (micro, as in local community, and macro, as in world) as a holistic entity that needs constant vigilance and nurturing?  Your desire to show others, via how you treat your physical being, that you care about them, and that you are aligned with the tribe that values that caring?

Do I think this argument would sway those who need to hear it most?  No.  As we know, the religious people who are the most mask-averse are Evangelicals, and most of the American Evangelical world (bar the Duggars) did away with most of their outward expressions of faith a long time ago, and also have found a way to de-emphasize the Christian ideals of charity, kindness, non-resistance, and other community-oriented (versus self-oriented) principles and replace (?) them with a warped and relentless entitlement and vague sense of “liberty.”  I don’t know much about how late-era capitalist Evangelism has become what it has, but I could probably take a stab at formulating a theory if you paid me (call Siobhan).

Final observation: would this make a face shield the niqab of the mask set?  I kid!

Possible Narrative Conflicts Available to Filmic Storytellers

September 1, 2020

According to the protagonist of Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind:

Man vs. Man (Woman, Nonbinary, Child)
Man vs. Self
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Society
Man vs. Machine
Man vs. Supernatural
Man vs. God(dess)
Man vs. Two Men (and et chetera)
Man vs. Everything
Man vs. Nothing
Man vs. A Few Things
Man vs. Disease
Man (Sick) vs. Healthy Person of Any Gender
Man vs. Idiocy
Man vs. Memory (Memory is a map of sorts, but hand drawn, incomplete, and full of errors. It can let you know a place exists, but you cannot trust it to get you there. To get you there, you need a computer. A computer is precise. A computer does not think your mother is more important than the chair, or the space that’s not your mother is more important than the space that is, or the glass of water on the table, or the sun pouring through the window, or the velvet drapes, or your mother’s love for her father, or the front stoop, or the cracks in the front stoop. This is why Man must fight it.)
Man vs. Computer
Man vs. Time
Man vs. Fate
Man vs. Marketing
Man vs. Clone
Um…
Man vs. Smell
Um…
Man vs. No Smell
Um…
Man vs. Some Smell

(As much as I stan for Charlie Kaufman, I agree with the reviewer who called this book “exhausting.”)

 

 

Adorable, but…

August 24, 2020

Would children really find these fun?  And if the answer is yes, for how long?  Do Scandinavian babies have some kind of special gene where wood is endlessly mesmerizing to them, and American kids are born with a susceptibility to toys with garish colors and blinking lights and gratingly cartoonish voices?  Honestly just buy me this mushroom basket.

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WHAT IN THE HELL DOES YOUTUBE ALGORITHM THINK OF ME?!

August 6, 2020

Recommended video for me.  I honestly would be curious to know the answer to the above question (if an algorithm could pass judgment, that is).

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Another Idea

July 30, 2020

Remember this post?  I had another idea: anti-vaxxers.  @Cklosterman (that’s how this works, right?)

Food, Huh, Yeah What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing.

July 28, 2020

“Then she’d smelled spaghetti.  Byron had a tincture of this artificial odor on his desk, for sniffing when he ate his meals, which were flavorless nutritional shakes (the shakes were weird enough, but Hazel also couldn’t understand how the only food smell he used was spaghetti.  “Don’t you want to smell something else, for variety?” she used to ask him.  “A cinnamon roll?  A bucket of chicken?”  He’d blink once, twice, then shake his head no.)  Aside from these shakes he really didn’t eat, preferring to get weekly transdermal supplements via pneumatic injection guns.  Eating grossed him out; he felt it was antiquated and menial.  He’d want to get a implanted in his abdomen where he could delivery daily sustenance to his stomach via a gel or blended material, some texture just bulky enough that his digestive organs wouldn’t atrophy, but he’d decided against it since eating is such a metaphorical act across all cultures.  Byron worried that it might affect his business dealings if others, particularly foreign partners from European countries that didn’t romanticize efficiency, found out he did not participate in calorie swallowing and traditional digestion.”

Made for Love, by Alissa Nutting (which you should definitely read right now)

So anyone who knows me knows I have a knee-jerk horror of all the ways Big Tech attempts to hack human’s essential animalness.  Eliminating death, freezing your eggs and implanting them when you’re 80 and unable to put in 15 hours a day at Google so you can give birth to your grandchild: that kind of stuff gives me the willies.  And yet, and YET, I think I maybe coming around on the whole let’s-get-rid-of-food thing.

This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I’ve been home with all three other members of my family, responsible for 97% of meals (save the breakfasts my husband makes––that’s the easiest meal of the day, though––and the very occasional evening we order out for dinner) since March 9th, when schools closed and life as we knew it ceased.  That’s a lot of meals.  Particularly for someone who from the word go, finds food pretty dull.

I mean look, it’s fine.  It’s just a whole lot of work (and time! and money!) for fine.  If I could eat 1-2 enormous meals of my favorite food every day, I probably would basically like it (3 meals is a bit of a to-do for me).  If someone brought me a bagel sandwich or a plate of sushi or a steak with French fries and spinach whenever I was ravenous, that would be cool.  But given where we are right now in the world, it’s taking all my creativity to pour cereal into a bowl.  I think the other day I gave each of my kids half of a stale bagel with a pat of cold butter smushed into it and a cut up cucumbers and told them to get lost.

So the other day I was wondering if there are any times in human history other than Soylent when people––scientists, wackos, wacko scientists––tried to eliminate food.  I don’t mean anorexics.  Even Gandhi or that chick Naveena Shine, who tried to go 100 days living on sunlight (she made it 47), aren’t really embodying what I’m looking for.  I’m not into eliminating food for either destructive or transcendent reasons: it’s solely just to avoid constant drudgery of deciding what to eat, procuring it, cooking it, cleaning up after it.  It’s just a bit much!  I’m hoping for a neat little pill, or that brown (but apparently tasty?) mush from Defending Your Life.  (Feel free to throw other cinematic or literary references my way.)  Unfortunately at the moment Soylent is really the only option out there, but it’s a little too corporate for my tastes.  There’s a whole DIY Soylent movement (hahahahaha people are so weird!) apparently, but now we’re asking for more of a time commitment than I’m comfortable with (it also has a whole “get healthy” agenda and again, I don’t care about that––I’m not out to optimize anything, just eliminate one more thing to do).

When I was a young anorexic, in my second hospital program, they gave us Boost, commonly marketed toward the elderly, as replacement calories when we declined to finish a meal or snack.  This was not a unique feature of the program: the previous program I’d been in did the same with Ensure, and the one I went to after this one actually put you on an all-liquid diet if you came in below a certain BMI.  At this particular program I’m talking about, the Boost was meant to act as a punishment: even if you didn’t finish, say, one pretzel from a bag of pretzels, you’d still get an entire can of Boost, so obviously the calorie intake doesn’t at all even out there.  And yet at some point, for whatever reason, all the girls in our program decided that Boost was by far the easier way to go.  Forget the anxiety inherent in slicing your meant, the awkwardness of trying not to eat as fast as your neighbor, all those intrusive textures and flavors and temperatures, the occasional time we had to actually choose what to eat (the horror)!  Just make it all the same and get rid of

Eventually a therapist caught on to the fact that we had stopped thinking of Boost as something to be avoided and had started actively replacing our food with it (I think they overhead one of the girls saying offhandedly that it “tasted like cake”).  The main therapist, who probably smoked three packs a day and had the voice to prove it, gave us all a big lecture, but honestly, she should have just saluted us: we were the way of the future!

jowen_soylent

Or now.

Long Post

July 19, 2020

I’ve really been hoping to do a longer post for a while now, but you know, pandemic living has got me (and basically everyone else) down.  So I’m just posting this dumb thing in hopes of looking like as diligent a blogger as Jason Kottke––better a stopgap measure to save face than nothing at all!

Here’s my thought: I saw a think piece on why Twister is the best 90s disaster movie the other day.  I say “saw” because I didn’t actually read the think piece––who has that kind of time?!––but instead just nodded in bemused agreement.  Sure, that seems reasonable to me.  (Also, what else qualifies as a 90s disaster movie?  I guess I was thinking “natural disaster,” although when you Google the phrase it suggests films like Titanic and Independence Day.)  So I put it on when I was cleaning the other day, was mildly amused for the first fifteen or so, and then just started doing something else and didn’t bother to finish it.  But what those first fifteen minutes made me realize is that I am really missing something from my life: the thrill of the chase!  Not romantic chase, of course.  More like, that feeling when you’re with your pals and you all want a glimpse of something mighty and ephemeral and then someone says, “It’s close!” and you all race to jump in your cars and you’re radioing to each other, “Make a left!” and “Don’t let it get away!”  You know, the chase.

I think maybe I just want to be a storm chaser, although I don’t love tornadoes.  A monsoon could be cool.

Good talk eh?

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Hahahaha

June 12, 2020

For work I get the online dispatches from the medical journal JAMA, and today one of their headlines is below.  What an understatement!

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