Sunday, December 31, 2006


Above the little house the cold stars shine, and from the open door comes the sound of fiddles. It's around three in the morning and the crowd has thinned down to about a hundred people, standing in the kitchen or perched on the arm of a sofa or dancing across the creaking floorboards. Some college student from Oregon is working magic with the piano, and five or six fiddlers are pouring out jigs and reels with the aid of a flute and a double bass. All week we've been dancing in spacious gyms and classrooms, but this is folkdance in its native habitat. It feels perfect.

You try to avoid major collisions, but it's so close and bumping into people so inevitable that you feel part of a single organism. We've given up on formalities like ballroom hold and asking people if they would like to dance - we just take a handy person around the waist for a waltz or a mad approximation of the Levi Jackson Rag, holding each other close out of dizziness or affection. There's not enough room for distance, anyway. I scuff through a polka with my head on Daniel's shoulder and keep banging my teeth every time we get jostled because I can't stop smiling.

In a few days we'll be scattered from this town in Kentucky. We all have other lives and know we can base nothing on this one week of the year. But as we drive or fly or walk home, tired-eyed, we will all dream of each other and of this house. Jim's smile, Will's perfect blue-green eyes, Wendy's laugh, a hand on your knee, the wild high notes of a violin, the curl of Michael's hair, a kiss after a botched jig, Alice's sweet alto singing "Goodnight Irene" - we'll remember these things and smile.

"You know - on some level, we live all year for this night," says the man I'm dancing with. He's right, whether we all know it or not. I do know it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Look at Misha leaping around with all those muscles."

One of the advantages to growing up is that when you watch The Nutcracker with your mother, you can both comment on how attractive Mikhail Baryshnikov is without either of you feeling weird that the other has noticed.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I think my favorite part of academia is those brilliant sentences you find sometimes late at night and just need to share with somebody. Last night's gem (from research on trans inclusion in women's spaces): "Penises, on their own, do not commit violence against women."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Look here, Karl

I'm really fed up with utopian theories that want to magic workers away by mechanizing all labor. I'm all about utopian societies, but this part is too ridiculous. I laughed at Valerie Solanas when she wrote that women's liberation depended on mechanizing and abolishing work. I laughed when a friend suggested the same thing (though his aim was to liberate everyone, not just women). Today in class I learned that this was Marx's solution to noncreative work from which people were alienated - simply automate it all - and it made me furious.

This is always people's objection to educating everyone well - "But someone needs to clean the bathrooms!" (Somehow this is never said by people who actually clean bathrooms for a living. It's always said by people who are glad they will never have to clean a bathroom and don't want to change that system.) Yes, someone does need to do the dirty work. To mechanize a lot of the drudgery people do - scrubbing toilets, busing tables, changing diapers, loading dishwashers - isn't very feasible. And when it is, it's not always pretty - imagine a world where all the telephone systems were fully automated and you could never get a real person who would actually answer your question.

I spent a good portion of last summer at Pendle Hill vacuuming floors and scrubbing toilets, and it wasn't pleasant work. But I didn't mind, because there was a culture that honored manual labor there. The director washed dishes next to you. At dinner the man who fixed the plumbing sat with the woman who taught religion, and both talked about their lives and thoughts. No one was degraded for the work they did, and everyone had the same access to music and art and books and discussion.

Don't erase the person who cleans the bathrooms. Honor her for the work she does, honor her as a human being, and let her talk with other people about what she does at work. Pay her well, at least as well as people who do pleasanter jobs. Let the nursing home worker and the taxi driver and the fieldhand be able to sit down at the table with the lawyer and professor and artist. Let them all have good educations - not so they will feel themselves too good to mop the floor, but so that their world extends beyond the mop. Liberal arts educations aren't job training - the point is to be well-rounded. Why shouldn't the janitor also be well-rounded? The accountant isn't a better accountant because he can read poetry. Why should a trash collector be worse at what he does because he can also read poetry on his lunch break?

If we can mechanize more labor and then distribute the resulting leisure, everyone could have more time to be human. Instead of working a second shift at the restaraunt, people could be reading to their kids or taking a walk or learning something new. That distribution of leisure (and thus of resources) is where things get really tricky, and I don't have good answers as to how to do that. But without redoing the economy we can at least redo our social interactions.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mine eyes have seen the horror of the ending of the term

I just uttered the words "But then queerness is a category of otherness rather than primacy." In conversation. On a Sunday afternoon. It's probably a good thing the semester's nearly over.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I am the real world.

Part of the point of single-sex education is that women learn to be leaders in a female community so that when we go back into the “real world” (like Bryn Mawr isn’t real) we have skills and confidence we would never have developed if we’d let men lead. There have been times when I’ve doubted whether it makes that much difference, but lately I've become convinced.

Hearing my sister describe her new life at a big state school – frats, her alcoholic boyfriend, hookups, breakups, cops with breathalyzers, her cleaning up other people's messes because they're too drunk – makes me really glad I’m not at a big state school. Not that there isn’t drama at a women’s school, but somehow it seems more civilized.

A few days ago I was reminded why using humor to attack is so popular - you're unassailable because you can claim that it was all in the spirit of fun regardless of the seeds you plant in people's minds. Any argument I could make to the author of this editorial would be met with "Chill out - it was satire!" The author would then no doubt tell his buddies over lunch that his every point about bitchy castrating women had been validated.

Last night some Haverford students came over to the house and we wound up arguing about capitalism late into the night. It was interesting, not least because it was the first time I’ve had a conversation with strange men in some time. I really enjoyed the debate, but the part that surprised me most was that I turned into Strident Feminist Woman. One of them was making statements like "It makes more sense to have a dude making decisions as long as the group can rely on his judgement" and ignoring my "Or a woman. Or her" after every "dude" and "his". Eventually he told me that using only men in his examples was just a product of "the male psyche," just like Bryn Mawr students are always using women in their examples (which is total rubbish because everyone is trained to see men as the default. I use women in examples because people don't expect it.) Kaity made them orange juice and ramen, which they didn't thank her for. Afterwards they left the dishes for her to clear up. It's probably a good thing I was asleep by then.

Strident Feminist Woman should be my superhero identity. I should have a logo. Power: nontraditional pronoun use.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Go there anyway, but...

I shudder to think that there are people who actually buy the ugly wares advertised on the Breast Cancer Site and the Animal Rescue Site. "Nostalgic Reindeer Cards"? "Gold-tone Flowerpatch Bunny Pin"? I can't believe it sells.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006


There are times when I'm embarassed about my idealism. My socialist politics, for example, never went over well with Sandy and Florina. They come from countries crushed by communism - they have every right to be jaded. And maybe my ideals are just silly untested things. I'm in such an ivory tower that I can afford to be concerned about whether the phrase "that sucks" is derogatory to women and queer men.

But I'd rather struggle to live small ideals than live none at all. Idealism is useless when it's not lived. When people go to protests but then go home and pay their taxes and drink their can of Coke and don't write their Congresspeople, they're doing nothing but feeling self-righteous. In middle school my closest friends put their hearts and souls into Star Wars and the cause of an imaginary rebellion against an evil Empire. We made up innumerable scenarios in which we, freedom fighters, died for our ideals. Where did that go? In a world where our tax dollars aid the massacre of real people, why aren't they willing to risk their lives for the lives of innocents here and now?

This weekend I met people who've had their idealism tested. I was at the School of the Americas vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia. The US military runs a training camp there for Latin American soldiers, a camp that's trained many of the worst human rights abusers in the area. I heard torture victims speak. I heard a man talking about having a machine gun put to his back for illegally filming government atrocities in Mexico. Last year a man who spoke at the vigil was killed upon returning to his home country.

But people still come, and they still speak out. People who have witnessed the worst side of humanity come every year to talk about peace and progress. Yesterday they led 20,000 people in singing "Hay esperanza!", and I believed it when they sang it. There is hope, and that hope is worth dedicating our lives to.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Anybody who knows me well knows that I spend a good deal of time getting excited/worried planning how I'll live in ten or twenty or fifty years. This week I've outdone myself.

Last summer I started reading up on cohousing, where people have seperate houses or flats with kitchens and bedrooms but share communal kitchens, outdoor spaces, etc. The advantages are having a tightknit community and sharing meals, appliances, etc. The problem is that they're often built from scratch in the suburbs, thus ruining down forest or farmland and isolating residents from public transit. Urban cohousing seems to exist only as expensive flats, which I'm not interested in. But I was determined to live in some kind of intentional community, so I figured I'd have to find a way to make the cohousing thing work. And I was going to be a social worker.

Last week I realized I don't want to be a social worker at all, and I certainly don't want to go to grad school. That was earthquake number one.

Earthquake number two was Tuesday when a friend told me about her plans to study intentional communities all over the world, including one in Leeds, England with twelve young activist types running a printing press, a resource center, and a garden. It sounded ideal, and my immediate thought was that West Yorkshire was the place for me. I could work in nonprofits there, meanwhile enjoying life in the font of Quakerism, good folk music, the Pre-Raphaelites, no hurricanes, no language barrier, and all other good things. I walked about in this dream for two days when I started worrying that I'd wind up married to some Englishman who'd want to eat high-cholesterol food and name our children Nigel and Rupert. The children would grow up to be hooligans using words like "naff" and "twee" in conversation. (I'm like the Grimms' clever Elsie who's terrified that the axe in the beam that may fall on her future child but doesn't think to just pull the axe out of the beam.)

This led me to the directory of intentional communities to see if there were similar houses closer to home. And voila! We've got lots. Bright Morning Star, Quaker House, and Sophia Community are some that looked delicious. (The Emma Goldman Finishing School gets the prize for best name.) Rent is cheap, often $300-$500, meals are shared, and you get to know your housemates far better than in a cohousing community with scores of families. Lots of these houses seem to attract activist types, which is exactly who I want to be around. I've always known I don't need much space as long as it's pretty, and a dozen people can afford to share a beautiful old Victorian far more easily than any of them could afford an ugly apartment.

I'm so delighted with this idea. You're welcome to lay bets on how soon I change my mind, though.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Get it right

I'm fascinated to read that the movie of The Importance of Being Earnest is rated PG "for mild sensuality". What exactly are the characters doing that children shouldn't see? Feeling the satin lining in their coats? Licking maple syrup off a fork at breakfast? Smelling the air as they walk outside in the morning? I'm so tired of people confusing sensuality with sexuality.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sweetheart on the barricade

Dear Richard Thompson,

Don’t get me wrong, I love that you’re one of a handful of people writing songs about working class women. “We stood on the picket line, my Jennifer and me.” “She's my bright jewel of the alley / She's my Cooksferry Queen.” “I fell in love with a laundry girl who was working next to me.” Okay, you’ve established factory girls as romantic leads. But I assume there’s not a Jennifer out there writing songs about how much fun it was to picket with you as an accessory, her Richard, the equal of any woman? Not so much fun to be cast purely as the love interest, is it?

While you’re at it, why don’t you do a cover of “Union Maid” and advise us all to “get you a man who's a union man and join the ladies' auxiliary”? It might not go over so well with Jennifer, though.

your feminist academia queen

Monday, October 23, 2006


The National Folk Festival came to my hometown last week. Part of me was annoyed that nearly all the musicians were men, but part of me was not at all displeased to spend a day and a half watching curly-haired, step-dancing, rollicking, hurdy-gurdy-playing Quebecois and Cajun guys. Anyone who thinks folk music is the realm of old boring people needs to go see Le Vent du Nord's accordion player, or the Lost Bayou Ramblers' fiddler leaping onto his bandmate's double bass as they both continue playing.

On a related note, I want to learn to play the concertina. This seems unlikely to happen given my lack of free time and a concertina, although I'm having visions of spare time in the Peace Corps (and a handy desert or rainforest to practice in where I won't bother anyone). Although, come to think of it, sand is probably not good for concertinas.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ms. Wise Goes to Washington

I agreed to go on the school trip to Washington to lobby senators about Darfur, but the night before I was chewing my knuckles and wondering what I had been thinking. I hate politics. I don't have a suit. The only shoes I've got to wear are the grubby black flats I schlepped around Europe in. We're going to a reception at some swanky club and I won't fit in. Everyone else will be a political science major.

In the end I convinced myself that as a good Quaker I needed to force myself to go. Even if I didn't know much about Darfur or say a word in the meetings, I could at least watch other people and be prepared to do it myself next time on some other issue. So I got on the bus the next morning with my best white shirt and the briefcase my mother got for her failed landscaping business.

And lo! it was okay. The other students did seem to be mostly poli sci majors, but most of them didn't have suits either and some didn't even have black shoes. And once I met them I realized that my disadvantages on Capitol Hill weren't so much. I didn't have an accent or wear a hijab. If I had asked a question about another country no one would have written my opinion off with "Of course she's biased, she's Jewish/Korean/Muslim/black."

I felt out-of-place in the Washington mystique, but maybe that's as it should be. I don't actually want to own a suit or be a poli sci major. I should be able to talk with senators without pretending to be one. And what kind of a system would we have if only people who owned suits went to their Congress members' offices? (One not too far removed from our own, unfortunately.) They have some beautiful marble buildings up there. Go visit them, even if you don't have a suit. Give them a piece of your mind.

Monday, October 09, 2006

My life is complete

I get to read an Alison Bechdel graphic novel for one class and talk about her strip Dykes to Watch Out For in a paper for another class.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sampling the wares

I would be a better library worker if I didn't get keep stopping to skim the books on the shelves. At 8 in the morning finding books is the perfect job: no one else is in the stacks yet. I don't have to talk to anyone. I'm very efficient when it's dusty old psychology manuals or novels, but the art books and social sciences are completely distracting.

My favorite shelves are the HQs on the back of the third floor, with titles like The Essential Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings (roses all over the cover on this one), Prostitution : an Illustrated Social History, and the delightfully alliterative Queer Iberia. They have lots of words like "negotiating" and "deconstructing" and "subjectivity". It's addictive.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Persuasion Frustration

The real problem is not a lack of men to date, or menstrual synchronization. The real problem with going to a women's school is that when you're done with classes and you really want to watch a Jane Austen movie, everyone else at your school has already thought of that and checked them all out. Nobody at Swarthmore or Haverford has checked the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice and the 1999 version of Emma out of the library. Just us.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Feminasque veritatem dilexi

I'm psyched about the professor for my gender and sexuality seminar. She's the only person I've ever met who uses the word "queer" in both its meanings, as in "That's really very queer" and as in "They always give me a mullet. I go to the salon with pictures and I say, 'See, this is the haircut I want.' But no matter what I say they go, 'She is a big queer! She shall have a mullet. Snip snip snip.'"

But then, I go to a school where there's lesbian grafitti in Latin etched into the sidewalk. I'm going to bask in it for the next eight months.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My life as a shiksa

A few days ago my best friend's grandfather, a dear man I'd met a couple of times, died unexpectedly. They needed someone who knew the grandmother's house to let the caterers in and show them around while the family was at the funeral and burial. It being a Jewish family, the whole thing had to be pulled together in a matter of hours.

So yesterday I took the train to Delaware to be a sabbath goy (or funeral goy, I suppose). The caterers were at least as clueless as I was about Jewish food, but we managed fine until we came to the dish designated for pickled herring. We searched all over the house for herring and were completely baffled. I was looking for something like Danish herring and it's anybody's guess what the other two were looking for, so we poked at salmon fillets and peered in tupperware bowls to no avail until some relatives arrived back at the house and told us it was in a jar marked Vita. Suddenly said jar appeared before our eyes on the top shelf of the fridge.

When everyone arrived back home there was a meal and the first of a series of religious services. It was the first real Jewish service I had been to, though I think I was a little more comfortable with it than a couple of the other goyim there. I'm not a fan of the smite-our-enemies type texts, but some of it was beautiful.

I think a chance to observe the workings of any other family is always an education, and this was certainly a moving one. Mostly I'm honored that I could help out a bit, that they asked me to be part of it. If this were a Jane Austen novel, this would be the turning point in the plot. Clearly my life is not a Jane Austen novel.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tricky business

I'm feeling very nervous about criticizing US economic and military policy in my Peace Corps application. I'm applying to work for the government, after all. But when they ask why I want to serve I can't honestly answer any other way.

I'm also realizing that my relationship with being an American, which has gotten really painful in the past months, is only going to hurt more in the Peace Corps. That love-hate thing with my country is only going to intensify.

Cross your fingers for me?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Oh dear

There's something sickeningly appropriate about reading Wilde on the treadmill.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


One of the things I always loved about books set long ago was the descriptions of spices. No wonder oranges and cinnamon were near priceless to people who lived in a cold rainy land eating parsnips and leeks. I used to wonder how something that tasted so extraordinary to the fifteenth-century English could be so boring to me in the supermarket.

Tonight as I unpacked the co-op kitchen for the coming year, the rows of spices caught my eye with their labels that tell not only with what's in each jar but where it comes from. Saigon cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, Canadian mustard, Turkish bay leaves, Albanian sage, East Indian nutmeg. Five hundred years ago, not even kings owned the contents of that cabinet. Even in a time when practically everything we use is made in El Salvador or Taiwan or Indonesia, when we can hop on a plane and get anywhere, it's exciting to look at that spice cabinet. If I close my eyes and breathe in the scent of cloves, I can still imagine it's priceless.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I love my family.

Scene: Late afternoon, a street in Baltimore. My mother's brother is guiding us to the local anarchist bookstore. I have just realized that we don't have a place to stay tonight because I can't get into my college room until the next day.

Mom: We could just walk on the streets all night. We might make some money.
David: I'd rethink your clothing choice.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In brief

Have ear infection
and dropped my daal in the sink.
Rotten afternoon.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

If only it worked like that.

With the program at Pendle Hill over and its participants scattered to several continents, I'm left marvelling at the fact that I can go home. Ever since I was eleven and realized not everyone's home was as happy as mine, I've been looking at friends and thinking their lives would be smoother if they could just get out of their toxic family environments and live with my family for a month or two. Now even after we're all old enough to move out, I'm looking at the friends I've made whose whose lives are still restricted by what their parents' reactions would be if they led the lives they want to. Some decide to restrict their lives so they can maintain contact - others can't go home at all because it's too poisonous there.

I want to say to them all, "Come be in my family instead. We're not perfect and there's an ugly new rug in the hall, but we'll love you. I'll make you a cake. My family won't push you away if you marry a woman or move to San Fransisco or shave your head. Come home."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Take me back oh hills I love

I've decided that being buried is really just a way of punishing people who love you. If your descendents don't give a hoot about you, they let your grave go to seed and never have to deal with your remains again. The only people who suffer are the ones who actually care enough about you to buy you an expensive rock and maintain your final resting place indefinitely. It's even worse in the crowded graveyards of Denmark, where people have to pay a yearly fee so their dearly departed don't get dug up and replaced with the more recently expired.

In other words, the group spent the weekend in very rural Lancaster, PA doing maintenance on an unused Quaker meeting house and the accompanying graveyard behind. (I felt kind of guilty running a weed-whacker all morning while the Amish guy next door ran his push-mower over his immaculately kept lawn. I stopped feeling bad after lunch when he got out his weed-whacker. Not sure what that was about.)

It made me really determined never to be buried so I'm not a bother and an expense to people who care enough to mow the poison ivy from my grave. Quaker graves are especially weird, since the simplicity testimony at one point had folks measuring each other's tombstones to see if anyone was getting too worldly. Thus the guy who founded the meetinghouse is under a very unassuming marker with only his name, while the much larger stone for "Our Son Georgie" obviously came from a less Quakerly family. I think I'll be super-Quaker and have my ashes scattered someplace so no loyal cemetary-maintaining descendant of mine winds up with poison ivy between her fingers and on her ear like I currently have.

On a more positive note, spending time in the country turned out to be the remedy for the lack of relationship to this country I was feeling around the Fourth of July. Watching the sun set over the curves of cornfields and forest was exactly what I needed to fall in love with this land again. The Danish word for "nation" or "country" is just land, which feels so much more accessible. Even if I can't always respect my country, I can always love this land.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why I'm becoming a fag hag

Early in this program a friend said he was thinking of asking people to use gender-neutral pronouns with him to raise awareness, so the burden wouldn't always be on intersex and trans people to teach the rest of us. I was amazed, since I had thought of him as pretty square before - "Wow! I never thought I would hear a straight guy say that!" Once again demonstrating my amazing lack of gaydar.

The more I think about who's actually on top of this gender stuff - both more traditional feminism and the added complexity of fiddling with the gender binary - the more ticked I get at straight cisgendered men. I used to think I liked being around gay men more than straight ones just because they felt safer. But that doesn't explain bi men, who I still find more fun to be around on the whole. Now I think it's that queer and trans men are the only ones I know who have actually considered our society's silly gender boxes and aren't interested in being in one. And they're not interested in putting me in one, either.

White guilt used to agonize me until I accepted that no amount of feeling bad will do anything to end racism. I can't change who I was born, but I can educate myself and change how I act. Likewise, I'm not going to assume all straight cisgendered men are doomed from birth to be ignorant oppressors, because they have the same chance we all do to better themselves. So why isn't that happening? The only guy I know who's my age and not trans and not queer who's worked through any of this stuff was one I led by the hand through most of it. (Today I was gratified to hear that my having made him learn to cook is serving him well.) I'm currently leading my dad kicking and screaming through it. It seems that nobody deals with this stuff unless they're whacked over the head by their own identity or someone else makes them think about it. What is wrong with you guys?

We'll save the question of why women, trans people and queer people seem to hold the monopoly on vegetarianism for another day.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Loving the invisible

When no one is looking and I want
To kiss

I just lift my own hand

- Hafiz

Today I was introduced to a man who feels like an old friend - Hafiz, a fourteenth-century Persian poet. He presents God as lover and beloved, as friend, as present in everyone around us. I'm so lost in his work I forget that I can't usually manage to believe in his lover. It's so seldom I feel close enough to the brink of believing that I can send anything out to God - but tonight I can, and I'm hankering to reflect some of that light back out into the air. I feel like I'm mailing a letter with no one's address written on the envelope. But it feels good to mail the letter.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day

Dear America,

I'm not sure if "dear" is the right word, actually. In fact, I'm not sure I even want to be talking to you. Today I almost wish I were somplace else, someplace I didn't have to look at this holiday. A day when we celebrate the beginning of a war, when we eat meaty foods and gather in obese sweating herds to listen to bad music and watch beautiful lights in the sky and say we love our country.

I used to love riding into Philadelphia and seeing your gleaming prismatic towers. I was proud that this was my city. I don't feel proud anymore, knowing how many destitute live here. In Copenhagen even the homeless had healthcare, and people lived with trust that the country was there for them. Americans don't live with that trust. I used to be proud that at least our nation was a beacon of some sort of democracy and well-being, even if an imperfect one. Now I wonder why we've twisted all we had going for us into a beacon of what's grabbing, wasteful, and blind. I'm wondering why on this day there's no mention of the economies and peoples we hold in sway as surely as any redcoat ever held a musket to a colonist's back. It makes me feel sad and sick to be an American today.

But much as I want to not belong to you, this wouldn't all hurt so much if I didn't. There's no point in going away because wherever I am, you are in my blood, in my skin, on the tip of my tongue. Your mountains and cities are my home, your heartbeat my music, your people my people.

For better or for worse, your daughter

Monday, July 03, 2006


Even in what is (in most ways) the safest of environments, I'm aware as I never have been before of the ways people are out or not about our identities. We've been coming out about our race, our sexuality, our gender, our experiences. For the first time I'm regularly outing myself as nontheist in a religious setting, which is harder than I would have thought.

Of course, that difficulty in me is nothing compared to what it takes for some people. I had never realized what a moving experience it can be when someone comes out to you. I had never appreciated what an act of faith it is - like a bird landing in my hands, trusting I won't crush it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


The pride of Pendle Hill's tree-filled campus is a 300-year-old American Beech behind the main house. Of course the fact that it's well known makes it a target for amorous knife wielders, so its bulging thigh-like limbs are covered as high as a person can climb in declarations of love from decades past. When I look at the carvings - C.F. + M.L., Carrie loves Elaine, Tom + Alice 82 - I'm struck by how different they are from the grafitti on walls and sidewalks and bathroom doors. Nobody carves "CJ wuz here" or "Philly Kings" in a tree. It's no quick scrawl with a sharpie or an aerosol can knowing it'll be gone with the next coat of paint - you have to be determined to carve something in a tree, and it will in all likelihood outlast the relationship you're memorializing. I regret the scars on this leafy giant, but the tree carvings give me a kind of hope for humanity. What people really put effort into, it seems, is love.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Songs in the night it giveth

There are few things funnier than a dozen Quakers sitting around trying to sing "How Can I Keep From Singing" from three different lyric sheets and books and their respective memories. You get about as many versions as Quakers.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Who we are

After a fairly static spring and summer, I feel I've aged a year in the past four days. In a good way (since twenty-two is still pretty green, no?) Lots of talking with people who are a lot farther along than I am and thinking.

One thing that's come up fairly often in my thoughts here is how partnerships and marriages should work. One woman told us about her cousin whose husband realized at age 62 that he was supposed to be a woman. He has now transitioned, but the marriage is still together. Another transwoman gave a talk on her experience, including how at the time she realized she was a woman, her wife decided the marriage was over.

I'm having a hard time with that. I can't imagine revoking a marriage because the person I loved was in a different body or a different gender. All our bodies and minds change anyway - and if he's not the man you married, well, at 62 he wasn't the man you married anyway. It makes me think a lot about the nature of love - how much can a person change before you don't consider yourself bound to them anymore? What is it that you love about a lover that's different from a friend? And what is it that makes you you - how big a part of you is your gender? Your sex? Would you still be you if either of those were different?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Worn smooth

I'm nestled into Pendle Hill: land of homemade yogurt, 6 am yoga, communal chores, and a really good swing big enough for two.

This morning someone helped me put together what it is about old Quakers. There's a quality in many of them that I've marvelled at for years - a kind of stillness, a depth. I used to be afraid of getting old and decrepit and ugly until I met them. Their age seems like a virtue instead of a weakness to be pitied.

Before meeting for worship one of the teachers asked us to imagine ourselves as rocks entering a stream as we went into meeting, to let our jagged edges wear away in its current until we're smooth and shining. She read us the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit where the shabby old Skin Horse explains that he's real because he's been loved by a child. And that's what these people are, what makes them elders instead of merely being old - they're real. Their bodies are shabby and their spirits worn smooth by years of action and trial. It reminded me of Donne -

Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I don't think you become smooth and still like they are just by willpower. It's not something I'm going to achieve at 21. But seeing that they've been through it before me makes me less afraid to be battered and smoothed.

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

Friday, June 09, 2006


In four days, I turn twenty-one. At 6:30 am I'll be in the Greyhound station bound for Wallingford, Pennsylvania for seven weeks as an intern at a Quaker center called Pendle Hill. I think I'm unreasonably excited about the idea of a bell calling us to meals and meeting every morning. Probably it's because I always wanted to live at Redwall Abbey.


I'm finding The Giving Tree's message very weird now that I'm reading it as an adult instead of hearing it read to me. The tree gives body and soul to this boy who gives her absolutely nothing in return - not even a thank you - and we read it to kids why? To teach them unconditional love? To teach them to be doormats? "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away . . . and be happy."

I think adults like The Giving Tree a lot more than kids do, and it's a classic because we keep reading it to them. Adults get choked up reading it, which kids never do. I picture a mother reading this to her three-year-old when she's trying to get him down for a nap. She's tired, her shirt is all sticky from where he spilled applejuice on her at lunch, and she hasn't washed her hair in days because what's the point? She knows in a few years he'll want to build a house and sail away, and he'll come dropping in occassionally to ask for cash. Of course she cries when she reads it - it feels like the story of her life. But she still loves the boy.

I'm reminded of Margaret Atwood's rewrite of "The Little Red Hen", which ends not with the hen refusing to share her hard-earned loaf, but giving it up to the other animals: "I'm a hen, not a rooster. Here, I said. . . . Have some more. Have mine." The feminist in me wants to say we shouldn't be teaching children this, especially girls - they should be learning to take care of themselves first and others second. The humanist in me is saying the world would be a better place with more nurturers, more selflessness.


Birkenstock-tanned and
perpetually dirty,
I have summer feet.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Do your mitzvah for the day

This week the House will be voting on closing the School of the Americas. The SOA is a US military training school to train Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency, interrogation tactics, etc. Basically, we've trained a lot of Latin America's worst dictators and human rights violators there. After SOA manuals were revealed to be teaching torture tactics, the school was closed but reopened with relatively few changes under the name of "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation."

The protest in Georgia every year is mostly for show. This is where it counts. People have been trying to get this bill into Congress for six years, and today and tomorrow are when they're trying to get lots of people to call in and support it. Call your representatives. I don't know what else to say - please do it.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


It seems I'm destined to spend car trips asking boys please not to sign while they're driving. But on the whole I can't complain.

Also, when you make risotto with white wine like you're supposed to, how do you tell when it goes bad? I'm not used to food tasting alcoholic after a single day. Not that there's any danger of this risotto lasting long enough to spoil.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Brief rant

Who let an Eastern European compose the "international" language? Did the man stop to wonder if ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, or ŝ appeared on anybody else's keyboards or were even letters that made sense to anyone else? And why the ham sandwich would you construct a language with cases if you wanted to make it so easy to learn? The random choice of vocab from Germanic and Latin roots is driving my poor etymologist's brain up the wall, too - you can't have "god" be the word for God and "adiaŭ" be the word for goodbye!

In other words, I'm learning Esperanto. Even my mother thinks this is a new height of geekiness. It's almost certainly my most pointless language yet, but it's keeping me busy.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Eighteen years and one day ago my dad was fired and I had conjunctivitis in both my eyes. A storm broke our attic window, flooded our basement, washed out the roads, and swept away my mother's flower bed. Eighteen years ago today, there was a rainbow and my sister was born. Not a bad deal in the end.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse - and Thou

I've fallen in love with a pronoun. "Thou", specifically. I've just finished reading a lovely book called Ella Minnow Pea, in which more and more letters of the alphabet keep getting outlawed, so after "u" is banned people have to call each other "thee" because "you" is impossible. It makes their dialogue so much sweeter.

I'm sad that we ever lost the word. I've always liked that older Christian texts address God not with the formal "You" as if to a superior, but "Thou" as if to a parent. The language that seems stuffy to modern ears is actually a mark of closeness, almost an endearment. Familial, intimate. "Be Thou my God" just doesn't work in modern speech. Joseph Campbell talks about the relationship between Native Americans and the bison, and how they addressed all living things as "thou". The whites came and called the bison "it" and slaughtered them. "The ego that sees a 'thou' is not the same ego that sees an 'it.' And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into 'its.'"

I've met a few old Quakers who still use "thee" - although they've developed their own grammar for it, which is a little distressing. The custom of using only the informal started in the 1600s when the Quakers began trying to break down class barriers, so refusing to address authority figures with the formal "you" and instead using the informal "thou" was quite a radical concept. Now it's almost never used with outsiders, so it's become a marker of intimacy and belonging - I've only ever heard it used within families or with other Quakers. Unfortunately it's now archaic because English happened to be a language that erased the informal entirely and started calling everyone formally.

The distinction still exists in other languages, of course, though in some places folks are veering (as we have in English) towards the formal and others towards the informal. The informal is almost always used in Danish now, but it still has a slightly closer feel to it because it sounds like the English. "Altid din" on the end of a letter is so much nicer when you read it literally as "thine" instead of "yours." I feel like Professor Bhaer (whom I had a crush on when I was eight) - "Say 'thou', also, and I shall say your language is almost as beautiful as mine."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Graduation weekend

People have champagne they need to get rid of + new haircut = I keep swinging my head around to see how it feels

Also, there may be things more fun than trying to jump on a pogo stick in your one Good Summer Dress while drunk on champagne, but at the moment I can't think of any.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Snip snip

In middle school when Eli's mother asked him who was "that nice Mennonite girl you talk to sometimes" I knew I needed to either cut my hair or wear jeans more often. I think I'm coming to the same conclusion again, only this time if I cut off enough to donate it'll be shorter than it's been since preschool. It'll probably take me the rest of the week to work my nerve up to it, but I'm excited.

"I want to be a society vampire, you see," she announced coolly, and went on to inform him that bobbed hair was the necessary prelude. - "Bernice Bobs Her Hair", F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday, May 05, 2006

Reason #249 I love Bryn Mawr

When you have a birthday party, at least one person who's lived in Italy is sure to show up and appreciate your pesto. Also, everyone makes Anne of Green Gables references when you serve the raspberry cordial (which was, if I may say so, deliciousness incarnate).

See also: I have terrific friends.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I'm wondering about brilliance. I just started reading a book written by the father of one of my friends. He's quite a famous author, and I know people who are in awe of him and his writing. So I wonder: surely Holly's no less brilliant than her dad? But what if your specialties are cooking spinach a different way every day of the week or coming up with a really great costume for the "queens and fairies" party? Then people don't think of you in the same way because the New York Times doesn't have a listing for best tooth fairy costume. And lots of people I know are extraordinary in some way, whether it's my mom's ability to subdue cranky toddlers or Ricky's on-the-spot explanation of how every line of "Quinn the Eskimo" applies to Christianity (the equation of "cup of meat" to communion wine was particularly good.) We don't think of them on the same level as famous people, although when famous people are sitting in your living room they're remarkably similar to non-famous people.

I'm going to try to notice people's areas of brilliance. I'm sure there are lots we just don't pick up on.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Then come lasses to the green

I wish more men identified as feminists. I wish people who aren't women were more comfortable standing together for women's causes. HOWEVER:

May Day (that highest holiday of Bryn Mawr College) has rather soured me to men's presence in female spaces. I don't want to hear a baritone singing "Pallas Athena" behind me at a stepsing. The whole point of writing the school songs in ancient Greek is that they's nerdy and unique and ours. And what's with the brigade of men wearing white dresses every year? Much as I'm usually in favor of crossdressing, this doesn't feel like freedom of expression or solidarity with women. It feels like cultural appropriation. You're not one of us even in a white dress, any more than I would be African if I started wearing kente or Scottish if I bought myself a tartan.

May Day is open to the public, and it's cool if people want to watch the festivities. But there are some things - like the May Hole - that should only be us. Not your boyfriend. Not your pal from Swarthmore, not even if he's wearing a white dress. In a perfect world that distinction wouldn't be neccesary, but after so many all-male spaces I want my all-female space a couple of times a year.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Maybe I'd better stick to lemonade

My first experiment in home brewing just geysered pinkly all over the kitchen and myself. What's left in the bottle smells lovely and raspberry-ish, but I'm going to be good and throw it out so I don't poison everyone at my birthday with raspberry cordial that was unexpectedly lively. I didn't know it was going to fizz...

More wonderful Batten House dialogue shouted at the TV

While watching The Children's Hour, in which Audrey Hepburn loses her job because everyone thinks she's sleeping with her lesbian business partner:

(as the lesbian character tells Audrey she loves her and Audrey tells her she's just tired and confused) "Of course, people always get confused about their sexual orientation when they need sleep!"

(as characters plan getting on a train - "There must be someplace we can go . . .")
"Go to New York!"
"Greenwich Village! San Fransisco!"
"That's it! We're all confused because we're tired!"
"Of course! That's why everyone's gay - we don't get enough sleep!"

Friday, April 21, 2006

Two lovely berries moulded on one stem

Sometimes I'm ashamed at my lack of gaydar. This morning it took me a full hour and a half to realize that a third of the people at this discussion on religion and sexuality were lesbians. Is that a good thing, that I wasn't really thinking about their sexuality, or bad that I was probably assuming them to be straight?

On a related note, I love love love the way Bryn Mawr's Shakespeare troupe (all female, naturally) does sexual/romantic scenes. I'm sure not all of Shakespeare's actors were straight, to say nothing of Will himself, so the romantic scenes being played by an all-male cast must have sometimes had a more genuine element to them than might be expected. It's so great how sometimes the love scenes in Bryn Mawr productions don't look like a woman pretending to be a man in love with a woman. It just looks like two women, and sometimes that's so much better than pretending to be a heterosexual couple you're not.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Quick from the dead

You know how pure color can be really powerful sometimes? I remember once spending a good half hour enraptured with a yard of red satin I found in the sewing room because it was so smooth and so deeply red. I used to eat smarties from darkest to lightest and always examine the last white one, marveling at its perfect powdery whiteness, so bad for you but so pure in color. Yesterday I rediscovered green.

I spent half an hour before a contra dance wandering the edge of the 200 acres of woods at Swarthmore, which I had forgotten all about since my last proper visit there as a highschooler. As I zigzagged down slopes to the wide still creek a song we used to sing at Easter - Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain - was winding through my head. The tune's minor and almost creepy, medeival, and all the references to the dead and lying under the earth sort of seemed to fit the damp earth and the gray tangle of leafless branches all around.

Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain

When I got to the waterside, the smell of the mud and things starting to rot in the spring warmth was strong. Compost is rotting dead things, and it's the best soil there is for growing in.

Love lives again, that with the dead has been

Looking up the slope from the dank water I saw the grey forest lacy with green at its crown - not the deep green of summer but that fleeting almost artificial-looking new green. Here and there a cherry tree sent spires of pale pink into the air.

As a child I believed that sentence in "The Ugly Duckling" about the mother duck allowing her children to look at the green leaves as much as they liked because green is good for the eyes. I would actually stare at leaves to improve my vision. At some point I realized that Andersen was no optometrist, but it still feels really good for something inside you. I stood there and marvelled at the pale green penetrating the gray in the dimming light. There was something in that newness and powerful sappy growth I could just get lost in.

Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Easter used to be like a chemical in my bloodstream, something I could feel and would obey even after I stopped believing in the religion behind it. The more time passes the less effect it has on me, but something's still there. Before Easter, Europeans dedicated the month of April to Eostre, the spring goddess whose name means dawn. No matter how you celebrate rebirth it's good to mark the changing of the seasons, good to notice the newness of the earth. I had my sacrament in the gray-green woods yesterday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Lighter than birdsong
I leave the house,
mummified limbs
loosed by the sun.
April and coatless!

Friday, April 07, 2006


I have an ethical question that I would like to hear people's answers to.

Last night I went to a very convincing lecture on why America's transportation needs to switch over to hydrogen power or at least natural gas. She ended the lecture with a plea to all of us to make our next car a hybrid. It really made me think about it - I'll probably get a car when I'm in grad school, which is about three years from now, and by then hybrids should be a bit cheaper than they are now. They will undoubtedly still be more expensive than a used heap of junk I could get, though.

So here's my question: what's the balance between making your own consumption habits sustainable and providing for others? Do I spend the extra few thousands on making my own lifestyle ethical, or do I give it to Oxfam to save people's lives with? I run into the same question with organic food - is it better that my spinach be organic and local and all that good stuff, or should the extra $2 go towards vaccinations for a child somewhere? Either way I allow something bad to happen - I'm supporting pollution and big agribusiness and probably exploitative labor one way, but the other way I'm allowing someone somewhere to die of TB.

Which way would you go? Which way do you go? And would you go the same way if it were your child needing the vaccination?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good for what ails you

Pronunciation drills and the erg are not my favorite things, but I'll say this for them: I emerged from two hours of one-on-one Russian class and forty-five minutes in the gym both times realizing that during those blocks of time I was so wholly occupied that I had no time for the more dismal thoughts that had been rattling around in my head all day. I think four blisters is a good tradeoff for a stiller mind.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I'm irritated that grammar check wants to change "thee and thou" to "you and you". As if anyone would actually use the old form by mistake, and be reminded by grammar check "Oh, that's right - it's 2006! 'You' would be more current!"

Cruel youth

To the women of Haverford College:

When a college hosts a swing dance, three types of people will come - a very few hotshot college kids who know what they're doing, the rest of you who don't, and some old men. And so, my dears, you have options. You can sit on a chair next to your boyfriend, and you can shuffle back and forth with some kid who learned how in the workshop 35 minutes ago. Now let's look at the strange men on the sidelines - why are they there? Well, that one with the combover in the blue shirt chewing gum of exactly the same color blue taught the workshop, so you know he knows what he's doing. The others showed up because they've been swing dancing for decades and they love it. Grab one.

Granted, when you dance with them you're leaving the poor clueless boys alone, but since no competent older women have come they're kind of lost either way. If you only dance with other beginners neither of you is going to improve, so you might as well learn with the old guys and then impart your knowledge to that boy from your econ class.

You'll find that, unlike in other pursuits, a dance partner doesn't have to be remotely compatible with you. That fellow whose chest and belly slope out so the dandruff from his beard collects on the front of his shirt may be the least attractive specimin you've ever seen, but the fact that he weighs 270 means he can dip you almost effortlessly because he's just got so much counterweight. You just might have the sexiest slowdance of your life with that man in the bad 80s glasses, because unlike your prom date he actually knows what he's doing. You can make eyes at that greybeard while he spins you and, unlike the guy from your econ class, he will only laugh and won't ever see or pester you again. And you will both have a great time. Go for it.

Friday, March 31, 2006


However much Danish I may have forgotten, Europe does have its lingering effects: I've developed a brightly-colored tights habit and have trouble addressing letters without adding "USA".

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"We are a young family with 2 boys, the farm is in the wild mountain and we can look the Mediterranean . . ."

I've recently realized that with Peace Corps taking 27 months there's no way I'll be able to leave after graduation and be back in the States in time to start grad school in August two years later. So with school year 2009/2010 suddenly empty, I think I want to fill it with the organic farm volunteer thing. There are listings from Ireland to California to Israel, so in a year I could work in a good number of places I've always wanted to see. When it's not the growing season in Sweden it is in New Zealand, so I should be able to find fairly steady work. It wouldn't be paid but at least the lodgings and food would be free, and I'd meet families all over the world. This is exciting like whoah.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Last night I went to a round-sing and was dismayed to find it populated by what are politely called "those girls who wear capes" and less politely called things I won't repeat. The type who are generally into neopaganism, anime, John William Waterhouse, and the Society for Creative Anachronism.

I'm really rather worried that my reaction was so negative. I made Christine's first cloak. I once had a quasi-relationship with an SCAer, for crying out loud. In elementary school I was about as geeky a kid as could be wished for, but now that seems to have changed. I never thought I'd condemn people for being too weird.

So what's my problem with these people? I didn't find them fun to be around, but other people who aren't fun to be around aren't scorned the same way. Is it some kind of recognition that the girl in the tight jeans and heavy eyeliner isn't of a group I want to be like, but she's at least good at what she does? The thing is, there are people out there who are into weird things who aren't socially incompetent. Ellen is as into fantasy novels as anyone (she writes them, for one) but is the kind of brilliant personality who makes you wish you were a Paris hostess of the 1600s so you could invite her to your salons. Allison rhapsodises at length over Priam's last speech in the Iliad, but she's witty and has a great sense of style. Christine and Cass write fanfic, but it's well-written fanfic.

Whereas there's a certain type who just doesn't have that. I want to tell them, "You look completely goofy with a cloak over your backpack, and we're not even going to get into the limits of wearing vintage styles. Dying your hair that color makes you look like a thirteen-year-old trying to freak out the grownups."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Reading material

I'm not sure what the bathroom-wall graffiti is usually like, but around here it tends towards debate on politics and sex. I've discovered a new genre on the second floor of the library: religion.

Penned on a door is "Show me the way, O Lord. Be a light unto my path - I need you now!" The responses vary from correcting the writer's theology ("God is the light, you are the lamp") to advising alternate sources of help ("A good secular novel is much more uplifting"). Myself, I wondered what makes a person choose the door in a women's bathroom in a library as the medium to address a god she evidently views as male? Of all the people I would expect to be in that stall, the Lord is about the last.

High honors

I got one of the best compliments of my life today. After some internal debate, I went to an anti-war vigil outside the public library in commemoration of the third anniversary of the war in Iraq. Turns out the protesters/vigilers were mostly from the local retirement community who introduced themselves as "the fogey brigade". They also do a vigil outside the post office every Monday afternoon, some of them with signs on their walkers. So it was a few of us students and twenty or so retired people clutching at our signs in the wind, watching the cars drive by.

As Mary and I were bent over my sign ("Teach democracy by example, not by war") to repair the tears the wind had blown in the paper, she whispered, "Man, these old people are fabulous."
"Yeah, I hope I'm fabulous like them when I'm old."
"Oh, you will be. You have a good start on it already."

Friday, March 17, 2006

To clarify

Dear Ireland,

The green dress I am wearing today is solely because I like you (and because I celebrate any holiday I can get my hands on) and should in no way be construed as support for St. Patrick, that grove-chopping repticide.

Verdantly yours,
Julia Wise

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The worth of a beating heart

It's so strange how different deaths have different impacts. Recently Tom Fox, a Quaker peace activist from the US, was found shot dead in Iraq where he and several other peace activists had been kidnapped some time ago. The Quaker community has been constantly keeping each other informed of his situation and now his death. It seems strange that a population so aware of the deaths of Iraqis and US troops alike would pay so much more attention to the death of one of our own. The Quakers are the last people I would expect to be exalting one person's death when they are (more than most populations) so aware of the costs of violence in our world. Is Tom Fox's life worth more than anyone else's?

In Richmond when the Harvey family was murdered and the city went into shock, I wanted to ask people why they weren't shocked that other people are killed in Richmond all the time, why the death of a rich white family was worse than the death of black children or adults in poor neighborhoods. But it's not as if it's wrong to be shocked at a murder. Sometimes I feel it's a mark of ignorance to take individual deaths personally, to be moved by them, since it implies that you're not considering all the wrongful deaths and sufferings that happen every day around the world. No one can consider and mourn them all or we'd never be able to function. But on the other hand, what are we if we take all tragedies in stride, if we let nothing affect us? Is that diminishing the worth of all lives, the meaning of tragedy? We may function better, but don't we lose something?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sometimes Bryn Mawr students are a little too single-minded

I was reading that some Jewish families traditionally do a vegetarian meal for Purim, because the only way for Esther to have kept kosher while not letting on that she was a Jew would have been to not eat meat at all. I realize Purim doesn't start until tomorrow, but tonight was my night to cook so I did hummus and pita (surely they ate something similar in ancient Persia?) and hamentashen.

After I had set them out on the table a girl approached me with one, asking "And what are the beautiful . . . vagina cookies?" I replied something about them being hats, but I couldn't help wondering what kind of freaky triangular vaginas she was familiar with.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

All's right with the world

It's raining, but I'm inside with a bowl of Cream of Wheat.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


It's good to have friends with a variety of political opinions, because the ones who seem crazy to you make you realize how crazy you seem to some of the others. I used to think that living in cooperatives and communes and things was wrong because if you're living on one you're not changing all the people in suburban isolation behind their picket fences. Ideally one should be a kind of missionary, talking one's neighbors into sharing lawnmowers and communal vegan dinners. But the older I get the more hopeless that seems to me (except for settlement houses, which some Jane Addams-wannabe part of me still loves). And I've started looking at co-ops to move into after Peace Corps, becase at this point I'm ready to admit that I can't change everything and on some fronts it's okay to eat my vegan meals in peace and try not to make the situation outside worse.

I swore it would never happen, but I'm starting to feel like the realist. Maybe it's just coincidence, but three conversations I've had with friends in the past 48 hours make me want to yell, "Do you have anything we could try now? Do you have any theories that don't require the overthrow of capitalism, the mechanization of all labor, the demilitarization of the country, the colonization of the moon, or the word 'hence'?!"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

No, you're just angry and young

I finally saw someone wearing the "Angry Young and Poor" sweatshirt that Delia's used to sell. For, if I remember, $28. I wanted to laugh in her face, but possibly she got it secondhand.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Now I need to find some crayons

To whatever benevolent creature is responsible for the package I got today from a Quaker bookstore in Indiana:
That made my day! I'm going to go and grin uncontrollably through my class discussion on inner-city drug culture now. Thank you.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Becoming the default

Last night I went to a student dance concert - modern dance, which I've never been much good at deciphering. In trying to figure out what the dancers were supposed to symbolize I was looking at the colors of their costumes, the way they were grouped on the floor, etc. I didn't even consider their gender until I started wondering what non-Bryn Mawr students were making of it and realized that to them the dancers represented four women, and at most other schools they would have represented four women. To me they represented four people.

In a community where a given variable - in this case gender - doesn't vary, you start to ignore it in a way you never could otherwise. You speak in class without feeling that you're representing your group to outsiders, because everyone around you is part of the group. You never walk into a room or sit down at a lunch table where you're the only one of your kind. (Granted, I'm speaking purely for gender, and if I were of a different race or varied from society's defaults in some other way none of this would be true at Bryn Mawr.) We can pretend to be blind to gender or race or any other variable, but that's masking that on some level inequalities and problems exist. Nobody tells jokes about a woman who walks into a bar unless the joke hinges on the fact that she's a woman. It's always a guy walking into a bar. Men are the default, and anyone else is an exception. I don't know if four years of thinking of yourself as a human instead of a woman (or a black at an HBCU, or any other parallel) can give you a lasting power to think that way, but it sure feels good while it lasts.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

National assets

Listening to BBC radio announcers interview Americans is always embarassing. Not that all British accents are beautiful nor all American ones ugly, but the contrast between your average BBC broadcaster and your average American is just painful. NPR's saving grace is hearing Sylvia Poggioli pronounce her own name, although nothing can rival the days when Titilayo Ngwenya was in the credits every week for Sound and Spirit.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Swarthmore library has a Quaker coloring book in special collections! It's called "Color Me Quaker." While this makes me ridiculously happy, I must say I'm distressed at the idea of a coloring book existing in a library where it would clearly be forbidden for you to color in. It also begs the question: what color? Grey?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Someone bless these seeds I sow

My Quakerism professor said the greatest thing this week: "A lot of time when you see Quaker families, they're having a really good time together. It's because they can't physically punish their children, so they have to sort of seduce their children into the lifestyle." Sounds good to me.

Last week Katherine and I planted mint and basil and thyme in cold frames in the hall. I sang them the song my mother used to sing with me in our vegetable garden when I was a toddler: "Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow, all it takes is a rake and hoe and a piece of fertile ground . . ." This morning the seeds had sprouted, craning pale and green towards the window. Maybe it's weird, but I'm incredibly excited about having children and a bit of land so we can grow pumpkins and runner beans and sunflowers.


The other night at a discussion on black feminism I met the greatest couple. At the time they met, he was only having relationships with men and she was only having relationships with women. They said this gets them a lot of weird looks, but they're happily married. They were both Latino and yet the man had such stereotypically gay mannerisms that I had been wondering all night what the story was - had he been white I would have figured he was just raised unusually free of gender regulation, but being Latino I kept thinking "There's absolutely no way this guy is straight. There's no way he wouldn't have had that gesture beaten out of him by the age of twelve."

I once had to explain to Ricky what I'm surprised he hadn't figured out already: why straight women like gay men. In most cases, I think it's because they're safe. You have a defined relationship with them (friendship) and you know what's going to happen and what's not. It's the same reason I'm able to be friends with guys who are taken in some respect: I'm not spending my energy trying to keep boundaries between us. It's the same reason I like dancing with married men more than single ones. It's not that I don't like men - it's that I don't like the idea of them liking me.

But beyond that, I think I have an expectation of queer people that they'll have thought more about gender and be less trapped in it. I'm sure it's not always accurate, but in my experience it's held true. My friend Carter put it really well: "I know the rules, and I think they're crap. I could talk about T-and-A and football and drink like a fish and curse every other word. It's easy to come off as straight." All of the men I'm close to, straight or not, joke that they're bad at being "real men". Do they think I'd be close to them if they weren't?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

And be you blithe and bonny

I hope I never get bitter about Valentine's Day. I hope, no matter how single, I can always smile rather than grimace at other people wearing curlers in their ponytails to karate class or singing "Chapel of Love" in the bathroom.

I did well this year - and let me say I do a pretty amazing vegan chocolate-raspberry cake. I love holidays that give me a chance to feed people.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pre-party wondering

There's got to be an equation - or maybe a set of them - to determine how good I should make this bean dip so that it doesn't go
1) so fast we run out, or
2) so slowly I'm offended.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nostalgia in a technical era

No matter how much time passes
The "I love you" you left instead of your name
Where you won at Snood on my computer
Will always stay,
Because I will never
(no matter how much time passes)
beat your high score
at Snood.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I have a new life goal. The professor for the class I'm taking on the sociology of oppression told us to ask our families what they had been doing during the movements for social justice during the 50s and 60s and 70s - were they involved? Sympathetic? Hostile? I knew the answer already - my family was probably all neutral or at best, sympathetic but disengaged.

Years ago when I was starting to illustrate a retelling of the Persephone story, I was trying to figure out how to write and paint Demeter. I finally figured that she should simply be everything one would want in a mother - gentle, wise, strong, steady, loving, sure of herself. I decided this was a pretty good set of qualities for me to try to live up to, as well.

Now I've added to that. I don't just want to be someone I would be proud to have as a friend or a mother or whatever. I want to do things my children and grandchildren will be proud of. If someone asks them decades from now what their family was doing in 2006, I want them to be able to say that their grandmother was out there doing something for the good of their world.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Reason #42 I love Batten House

Discussions in the kitchen about dating anarchists:

"He wasn't well-dressed. I know that's really shallow of me, but..."
"You could give him your jacket. How was he in bed?"
"Oh, that was fine. Because he wouldn't talk, so he wasn't annoying anymore."
"And fashion was no longer an issue."
"Well, anarchists aren't always so bad - they usually really know their political facts, at least."
"Plus then you can argue politics beforehand and get hot before you get to it."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Coffeehouse pretention

There are few things sillier than white activist college students singing impassionedly about how they'd never cross a picket line. Well-intentioned, but Evan? Of course you won't ever cross a picket line. You went to Swarthmore. You're not ever going to have a job where you will be called upon to scab. Don't be ridiculous.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand

Last night I went to the culture show put on by the African and Carribbean students' group. There was a little girl sitting next to her grandfather in front of me, so as I watched the skits and dances I kept wondering what she was making of it. My first reaction was that the shakings of African dance weren't something I would choose for a child to watch, but as the night went on I realized what a weird Puritanical standard I was holding up to the situation.

Given that this girl probably sees Shakira on TV doing far worse, I was glad she was in this room. Given what else is out there that she could be hearing, I'd much rather her be hearing Maya Angelou's “Phenomenal Woman.” Given the reality of violence in our world, I'd rather her hear a condemnation of domestic abuse and violent African political regimes than be at home playing Tomb Raider or watching Kill Bill (or for that matter, ignoring the violence entirely and thus doing nothing to change it). During the fashion show at the end, as we watched each smiling woman in costume from Ghana or Haiti or Cape Verde sway and shimmy up the aisle to “African Queen”, I was so glad that she was watching them instead of the identical, shiny-haired contestants from Miss America or any other pageant.

Why is it that we consider certain aspects of adulthood appropriate for children to see and others not? A dance that shows off the shape of the adult female body is considered inappropriate because it's considered sexual. But when I saw my classmates on that stage and saw how much the little girl loved seeing them perform, I saw a celebration of themselves, their bonds to each other, and their national cultures. Here was a presentation of adulthood that was positive for once, something for her to aspire to. Long live Africa.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


When I was eight, we went to visit my grandmother for the last time at her beautiful old rickety farmhouse in the Shenandoah valley before she moved to a retirement "cottage", whatever that means. I fell off her exercise bike and cut my knee open, and when I saw the cut I hoped it would scar so I would have some reminder of my last day in those thistle-covered hills between the mountains. It wasn't a bad cut, but it scarred just like I wanted it to.

The burn where I hit my finger on the heating element of Dorte's oven while taking out a sheet of gingerbread people is fading, but I hope it won't vanish entirely. I'd rather like to have a memento of that evening with Ricky and his cousin in the living room watching "Jul i Valhal", the December night kept at bay by a pot of tea on the table and the Christmas lights hung from the curtainrod, and the smell of gingerbread.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Take my life and let me be

My father says that when he was a child, he had this goal of making his life a constant prayer. He laughs at the idea now, partly because he's an atheist but mostly at the idea that anyone ever could.

In my Quakerism class today we talked about the beliefs of the original Quakers, one of which is that life should focus on continuous and active worship. They believed that God is always present and might send revelations to anyone at any time, so we should always be listening. To do that you're supposed to clear out all the noise from your life and your thinking – thus the emphasis on simplicity. You're supposed to look to the Gospels for guidance on living the nonreligious parts of your life, but the real goal is to fuse your life so there are no nonreligious parts.

And the way you spend your time, the work you do, is to be examined for its implications. So if you go to Meeting every week but the work you do supports the military, that's wrong. But if you work writing railway schedules, you write them to the glory of God, because you're serving your fellow humans by letting them know what time their train leaves. And doing the work God calls you to do, they believed, leads to inner peace. It reminds me of Kahlil Gibran:

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

I don't know anyone who's fused all the parts of their life, who can make every moment intentional or prayerful or whatever you want to call it. But I'm not going to laugh at the idea.

Of course, I can't very well spend my life in worship since I can't bring myself to believe there's anything out there to worship. What am I listening for, since I don't believe there's anyone out there speaking? I know there are agnostic and atheist Quakers out there, but I don't know how they reconcile all this. Perhaps "reverential" is a better word?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sometimes our voices give out, but not our ages and our phone numbers

I've discovered the greatest advantage to living in a rather unwired room: when someone asks me for my number I can answer with perfect truth that I don't have one. As I was leaving the lunch after Quaker meeting this fact was vital in escaping the extremely strange Abercrombie-shirted (honestly! at a Quaker meeting?) fellow sitting next to me spilling soup on himself and asking me, at completely random intervals when I was clearly listening to a different conversation, what kind of music I listen to and had I seen any movies lately and do I play any sports. Never have I been so grateful not to have a working telephone.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Tonight as I was rifling through the house's free box, Kaity joined me and found a purple yoga mat. I was delighted on her behalf, but when she realized I would have loved it too she offered to put it in the spare room where probably neither of us will use it. I love living here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In a nutshell

I've just read the perfect description of my religious identity (or lack thereof). One of the readings for my class on the history of Quakerism mentions a gathering with "great numbers of Presbyterians and several Jews . . . with divers others that neither themselves nor anyone else can tell what sect they follow or imitate." I picture them looking really confused and kind of shrugging when asked.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A room of one's own

Just before heading back to school I was listening to Cowboy Take Me Away a lot and rereading Anne LaBastille's Woodswoman and generally wanting to go live in the wilderness someplace and get up early and drink cold water and spend a lot of time not talking. That hasn't exactly come true, but I'm now moved into my sunny little hardwood-floored room in Bryn Mawr's vegan co-op. It looks over the woods and the creek, now dusted with snow.

When I was dating Simon, I felt like every anecdote from my past life involved Bridget in some way. Being around Ricky, it seemed that every story involved Simon. Before I left Richmond, I was telling some story to Simon and thinking, "Oh, but he was probably there for this" but then realized that it had happened before I knew him. It felt good to suddenly be reminded that I have a life as just Julia, not in the context of a relationship with someone else.

The night before I left I was searching in the attic for something and found a vagabond doll I had made when I was ten. I was very into vagabonds for some reason, particularly with the idea of carrying all one's belongings in sledges or packs. My doll was made of an old pair of white tights and had strapped to her back a pack containing a shirt, pants, a skirt to wear alone or over the pants in cold weather, a cooking pot made of masking tape, a waterproof ground cloth, and a tent. (I think originally she had a cardboard dog and a snare for catching rabbits as well. Unfortunately I forgot to give her a knife or way of making fire, so I hate to think how she would have dealt with any rabbits she caught.) I was delighted to see this miniature Anne LaBastille I had made up half a lifetime ago, a model of independence.

My goal for this semester is to learn how to live without anybody particularly important in my life, but to stay connected to people - alone but not lonely.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Tonight for the first time in my life I heard my mother call someone a turd. The lucky winner of this apellation was none other than Pat Robertson, who later in the evening was called "the scourge of humanity." I'm tempted to bring him up again just to see what new thing will pop out of her mouth.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Academia's taint

I know your studies are supposed to change the way you think, but I'm wondering if academia is supposed to have quite the effect it's having on me: I want to write papers.

I can't listen to the song "We Don't Need the Men" without wanting to write about the irony of objectifying the male body. I can't watch The Fellowship of the Ring without wanting to write about the class paradigm in Frodo and Sam's relationship. You see what it's doing to me? I just used the word "paradigm"! Thanks to having altogether too many friends (read: two) who study philosophy, I have now actually used the word "epistomological" in a conversation with my mother.

I know part of the point of academia is to turn you onto learning on your own for the rest of your life, but if my impulse when I notice something interesting is to formalize it in a paper, does that mean my thoughts aren't free to just exist? Surely you should be able to just have thoughts without needing to trap them in essay form? If so I'm in trouble, since after all what I write here is just a chance to do the same less formally.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

What I'll take away from Christmas School

Despite Sarah's assertion last night that everyone likes to look at women and no one likes to look at men, I've decided there's nothing more fun to watch than college-age guys dancing with each other (unless it's two kittens playing with each other.) There are occasional forms of folkdance that can be breathtakingly lovely done by women, but there's nothing to equal the energy and springiness a couple of 21-year-old college boys can put into a contra dance or a Morris set. If I could jump like that, I would die happy. Hopefully I'll die happy anyway, but until then I'll watch them whenever I can.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Honey lights

My favorite phrase in my translation of the Odyssey is “the honey lights of home.” It’s hygge, it’s what Dorte’s house had that Jorgen’s didn’t. There are a lot of things I’m willing to do without, but to have a house with that kind of glow is one thing I won’t give up.

Danish has a verb for “to stress out over Christmas” – julestresse - which I find entirely reasonable. It’s not Christmas without Mom or me breaking down in tears for one reason or another, which started this year in the computer lab in Denmark when I found out I was only going to have a day and a half in Richmond before we went off to the tour of relatives’ houses. I wondered if I was crazy for spending my one evening at home having four friends over instead of sleeping off jet lag, but I spent the day in a blur of baking and decorating and extending tables and grating potatoes. Suddenly it all came together and the eight of us were holding hands around the table with candles and a big plate of latkes, singing “Joy to the World” in three-part harmony. There they were, the honey lights of home. Especially seeing it through Andrew’s eyes, to have the whole family together and everyone smiling was suddenly worth any amount of julestress and jet lag.

Tonight after the high school reunion I pulled a similar hostessing feat when five people unexpectedly came home with me for dinner. I had hoped that one of the things I would learn from the Danes would be their hospitality prowess, and I think I pulled off a very decent evening with tea and candles and vegan chocolate cake and everything. I'm quite pleased with myself.