You have a little over eleven months to prepare, which should be plenty of time to get me this combination staircase/bookshelf/slide:
Just what every girl needs, really.
You have a little over eleven months to prepare, which should be plenty of time to get me this combination staircase/bookshelf/slide:
Just what every girl needs, really.
Posted by emilylhauser on October 17, 2013
Not that kind of shipping. Shipping. Like when you write fan fiction (on paper or in your head) in which fictional characters fall in luuuuve with each other and (presumably, at some point) have sex and/or are permanently joined together in sacred and/or fleshy bliss. It comes from the word “relationship” – hence “shipping,” as in: “I ship Harry and Ron, everyone knows they were the real love story at Hogwarts!”
And if you don’t know it yet — yes, that really is a thing, all across the various realms of geekdom, and recently more broadly in popular culture. So you’ll have fan communities who create art or write stories or make videos that bring together two (or more) characters who were not imagined by their creator as romantically involved.
Coupla things. Thing the First, and let’s just get this out of the way: I have a thing about canon. The creator is, to my mind, God in the universe of these characters to whom we feel so attached, and thus, if JK Rowling didn’t think that Harry and Ron would fall in love — well, she would know. Plain and simple. It’s one thing to create fan art that builds on the creator’s world, but I honestly think it’s another thing entirely to upend the story as the creator intended for it to be told. In my always humble (and probably minority) opinion.
But here’s Thing the Second, and Thing the Second is actually the thing that I believe is most important.
Most of these imagined relationships (Harry-Ron, Kirk-Spock, Jess-Jules [Bend It Like Beckham], Arthur-Merlin [Merlin], Katniss-Peeta-Gale, etc and so on, ad infinitum) don’t just upend the story as originally conceived, they upend the sexuality of those involved, often because the characters are so close — their relationship runs so deep — that we do not know how to let it be friendship. We do not know how to understand need and longing and fierce loyalty, unless it’s about romance and sexuality.
And thus, to my mind, when we ship Kirk and Spock, or Arthur and Merlin, or Sam and Frodo, we’re not only doing a disservice to the creator’s vision, we’re dishonoring the characters, and revealing more about about ourselves and our society than we may have intended.
Note, for instance, that most shipping seems to entail male characters — as a society, we’re usually ok with girls and women loving each other and expressing that love in a way that is not romantic or sexual. Men on the other hand? We really don’t know what to do with that.
So we change it. We diminish and dismiss men’s capacity for loving each other — truly, deeply loving each other — and insist that such love can only find true expression in something akin to 21st century notions of romance and sexuality.
Once upon a time, in mid-19th century America, men wrote love letters to each other — honest to God, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our last hours spent together,” love letters to each other. Like, it was thing. You wrote to your friends and told them how you felt.
And true to late-20th/early 21st century form, letters such as these have led some to conclude that Abraham Lincoln himself was gay, despite copious evidence to the contrary — because why else would he express such tender affection for a man? Even though I presume that at least some of the men writing these letters were, in fact, expressing an emotion to which they were otherwise unable to give voice, sheer statistics would suggest that most of them weren’t. Which is to say: We weren’t always like this, America.
I do understand that some fan fic/shipping comes in response to the appalling dearth of LGBTQ love stories in our culture, and I guess it’s easier for me, a straight woman, to not want to validate the work that some people create around a love they’d like to see expressed. I will concede that.
But beyond that, mostly it just cheeses me off. You cannot tell me that a romantic, sexual relationship between Sam and Frodo would have been deeper or more real than the relationship we are told they had; you cannot tell me that Merlin’s love for Arthur was any less because they didn’t have sex.
I’m tired of telling boys and men that they cannot, may not love each other — frankly, shipping of this kind is little more than the flip-side of guys who yell “No homo!” after a big hug. There is nothing wrong with men falling in love with other men; there is also nothing wrong with men having loving friendships.
And with that, I have likely sealed my fate in the geek community, and so I bid you adieu. It was fun while it lasted. I’ll just be over here, reading my books.
Posted by emilylhauser on October 15, 2013
Josh Hutcherson — a young man who might just make the 40-something among us long for their misspent youth, and furthermore can be seen below holding a puppy, just to make that longing more acute — appears to be a hell of a young man. If one is to believe the interviews one occasionally reads, most recently, in Out Magazine:
“I have this dream that one day, my kid’s gonna come home from school and be like, ‘Dad, there’s this girl that I like, and there’s this guy that I like, and I don’t know which one I like more, and I don’t know what to do.’ And it’d just be a non-issue, like, ‘Which one is a good person? Which one makes you laugh more?’ ”
To read the whole interview, click here – but let me warn you: You’ll have to look past an inordinate amount of fashionably applied hair gel. I mean, it won’t kill you, but honestly, Out Magazine – his hair was fine.
(Also, I may or may not have just re-watched The Hunger Games with the family and not for nothing but #TeamPeetaForLife).
Posted by emilylhauser on October 11, 2013
Earlier this week, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) issued the findings of a study it conducted among 552 American rabbis; in its report, JCPA found that “nearly half of the rabbis in this survey hold views on Israel that they won’t share publically, many for fear of endangering their reputation and their careers.” The report goes on:
The challenge is not only to sort out their own positions on complex Israel-related issues, but also to discern how to express views that may challenge, annoy, or even distress friends and people who hold influence over their careers and livelihood. They frequently find themselves fearful of or caught in the maelstrom of tension regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and their personal views about it.
About 12 percent of the rabbis defined themselves as “closet hawks,” while some 18 percent could be called closet doves; less than a quarter of the hawks were found to be “very fearful” of expressing their opinions on Israel and the conflict, while 43 percent of the doves were “very fearful.” All told, in the last three years, nearly half of those surveyed reported having refrained from expressing themselves on the topic “for fear of offending” people with whom they were engaged in conversation, or anyone who might be listening.
Yet more interesting numbers emerge from more focused questions: When asked if Israel should freeze West Bank settlement expansion, a whopping 62 percent agreed “to a great extent,” while only 10 percent said “not at all.” The reports finds “some considerable doubts” among American rabbis over the idea that Israel is more invested in the peace process than its negotiating partners, “with even a majority of rabbis from the largest denomination demurring from the idea that Israel truly wants peace more than the Palestinians.” Fully 93 percent of those surveyed said they are “very attached” to Israel, “a figure about double that found in many studies of rank-and-file American Jews.”
Speaking with Dina Kraft at Haaretz, report co-author and newly-ordained rabbi Jason Gitlin said:
I saw many of my classmates and younger colleagues come under attack or question by the broader Jewish community about how important Israel was to them and where they stood. They are among the most informed and knowledgeable people, and to not have them serve in the most honest and engaging way is a loss to the community.
It’s important to note (as the JCPA report does) that the group surveyed doesn’t constitute a fully representative sample of American rabbis, if for no other reason than that Orthodox clergy are underrepresented. As such, the authors warn that “the nature of the sample obviates strictly generalizing to the universe of American rabbis”—and yet, anyone who’s been involved with two-state advocacy over the past twenty years will not be at all surprised by the figures, which if not strictly representative, are broadly characteristic of anecdotal evidence that’s been building for years.
Moreover, the findings are entirely resonant with the experiences of rank-and-file Jews as well, and I would argue are a major reason why so many of the rank-and-file have chosen to remove themselves from communal life, or give up on caring about Israel at all.
I agree with the report’s authors that the fact that so many rabbis feel they can’t be honest with their parishioners is “a cause of concern for a community that champions open and free discourse on key issues affecting it”—but I also worry about another facet to all of this.
I don’t know a single Jew for whom questioning the conventional wisdom on Israel is easy. The path from consensus to questions is generally fraught, and often both emotionally and spiritually challenging.
I worry that a sizeable minority of our spiritual leaders are “very fearful” of telling their own truth about the Jewish people’s national and spiritual homeland (a homeland to which 93 percent of them are very attached) not just for the sake of the rabbis themselves, but also for our own sake, as a people.
What do we lose when our clergy feels they cannot be honest with us? What do we lose when political argument pushes out spiritual practice? And who have we lost along the way—which intellectual giants, which tziddikim, how many Arnold Jacob Wolfs and Abraham Joshua Heschels—have broken down and walked away because we wouldn’t let them engage honestly with the challenges presented by seemingly endless conflict and occupation?
In short: When we force our rabbis to lie to us—what are we doing to ourselves?
Posted by emilylhauser on October 11, 2013
My mother and I took a trip to Scotland in the spring, and it was really lovely, in all ways (with the possible exception of the snow we encountered on the Isle of Skye on May 1) (and even that was kind of funny).
Ever since, I’ve been torturing myself by following Scottish newspapers and Twitter accounts and gazing at pictures of Edinburgh Castle and/or Elephant House, a cafe which (aside from being the place in which JK Rowling wrote the first book in the Harry Potter series) is the very cafe of which I have always dreamed. Here’s a picture I took on our trip — the Castle is visible through those windows, and I wish I were sitting there right now:
Now, I have a dear friend who grew up in Edinburgh and went to school there and could probably tell me all the really good reasons a person wouldn’t want to live there — strictly speaking, pretty much any place loses its sheen when it’s the place in which you have to battle traffic and are not on vacation.
One of funny things about which I’ve learned a great deal more than I’d have guessed I might want to know in the meantime is the Forth Bridge. It spans the Firth of Forth (the estuary of the River Forth), it is an engineering marvel, and it is apparently held in deep affection by the folks who cross it now and then on their way to and from Edinburgh (crossing, as it does, from Queensferry to North Queensferry. Or, I suppose, from North Queensferry to Queensferry).
Journalist Peter Ross wrote a genuinely lyrical piece about the men who for nearly 50 years maintained the bridge’s paint-job, but now most of them are out of work, because the once constant, year-round painting has been replaced by better, fancy new materials that make their work redundant. Men have died on that bridge, and their family members have returned to keep working on it. The daughter of one man who fell told Ross about her father’s love for the bridge:
He was proud to be part of the painting crew, she said, and considered the bridge as being his own. What makes this especially moving is that it is precisely what you hear from many of the bridge workers; it belongs to those who toil upon it, and though their devotion is sometimes sorely tested, it seems to endure like steel.
Next September marks the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge (the younger sibling of the bridge pictured above)**, and there are apparently all manner of celebrations planned, and gentle reader, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve been fantasizing about how I might get my mother and myself back for it (with another nip up to Skye).
That won’t happen. But in the meantime, I have discovered a local band called Bwani Junction who plays a lovely tune called “Two Bridges” (a reference, I think, to the fact that the original Forth Bridge is now accompanied across the water by the Forth Road Bridge), which has in turn kind of made Bwani Junction the bards of the bridges (despite the fact that, if you read the lyrics, it’s not really about the bridges, and in fact refers to “the rotten
veins frames* of these two bridges”, sooo…), which in turn means that they will be a central pillar of the musical events next year.
ALL OF WHICH (…) leads to the following, which is a clip of them singing “Two Bridges” at the Forth Bridge Tower (a thing that looks like no mean feat). I <3 it, so here it is:
It’s worth noting that the people of Scotland will also be voting on independence next September – a “yes” vote would undo the Acts of Union from 1707, so yeah. There are all kinds of reasons to wish I could be there next fall.
As John Steinbeck noted in Travels with Charley — some trips never really end.
*UPDATE: No less an authority than Bwani Junction themselves got in touch to tell me the correct lyric. [o_O!]
**UPDATE NUMBER TWO: I’ve corrected a complete error on my part — the 50th celebrations are for the Forth Road Bridge, not the original engineering marvel — a fact one would have gotten right, if one had bothered to pay attention to the fact that the first bridge was built in 1890, and the second in 1964. Apologies and thanks to commenter Jenny Meader for pointing it out. /hangs head
Posted by emilylhauser on October 10, 2013
I just got back from a walk (a thing I have almost literally [in the literal sense of "literally"] not been able to do for the better part of six weeks) and here is what I found myself thinking about: The narratives we construct about ourselves and our lives.
When we think about our past, our family, the day through which we are currently muddling, we always make choices about the narrative. Maybe our ancestors came from eight different places, but our family keeps the traditions of one. Maybe we remember our success (or failure) in one year of school more than the others. Maybe I tripped and fell, but the people who helped me were so kind — do I talk about (think about) my sense of humiliation, the blood on my knee, or the kindness?
The choices that we make have an impact that is literally incalculable (because who’s ever going to figure out a way to calculate that?) on our lives. How I choose to remember my grandmother — the parts I hold on to, as well as the parts I allow to fall away — have a daily impact on how I think of myself, how I use my time, how I talk to my kids (and again, I mean that quite literally. Anyone who knew my grandmothers will know what I mean).
I don’t believe, as many self-help guides would suggest, that we necessarily choose our suffering. First of all, if (for instance) you’re living in chronic, generational poverty and can’t get your clinical depression treated, you haven’t chosen your suffering. But there’s a lot else that we don’t choose. My father died when I was a baby, for example, and my family has had alcoholism wash through it in waves for generations — the suffering those facts have caused me is real. That suffering is a fact, not a choice. There is no way that I can “choose” any of that away. I also can’t choose to upend social stigma or expectations, or decades of socialization, or, I don’t know, natural disasters. Or the government shutdown. Attitude can only take you so far.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a force. What narrative do I want? Even if I can’t upend social stigma — do I at least want to know that I tried? How do I deal, at age 49, with the loss of my father in way that is meaningful? How do I focus on kindness, rather than on bloody knees? The knee won’t un-bloody. But I want the kindness to matter, too.
A big part of why I’ve had so little time over the past two months is because I’ve been teaching a course on politics and the mass media, and the idea of “framing” the news is one we’ve talked a lot about. Though I’m not a huge fan of our text, one line leapt off the page and has remained lodged in my brain: “We live in terms of the stories we tell.”
The text goes on to say “We live in terms of the stories we tell, stories about what things exist, stories about how things work, and stories about what to do” — and that is all true, but unnecessary. It’s all right there in the first nine words. We live in terms of the stories we tell.
What stories do I want to spend my life telling?
Posted by emilylhauser on October 8, 2013
I spoke with many (many) people at the recent J Street conference; middle-aged activists, rabbis of various ages and stages, college-aged-or-just-barely-not-college-aged young men and women of exceeding intelligence and remarkable vision. One of the topics to which many conversations turned, again and again, was the question of Jewish identity.
While not a perfect metric (and it’s important to remember that anecdotes are no replacement for research) it’s worth noting that there were far more kipot in the crowd this time than at any other J Street gathering I’ve ever attended. There were more tziziot. A few speakers even went beyond passing reference to tikkun olam (which, nothing against tikkun olam, but settlers think they’re doing tikkun olam, too). And I was told by people from all over the religious spectrum (as I have been in the past) that the very fact of J Street (or, before it, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom) allowed them to revisit and re-engage with their Judaism.
Which brings us, a little circuitously, to the recent Pew Research poll.
According to Pew, 73 percent of American Jews say that “remembering the Holocaust” is “an essential part of what being Jewish means to them,” whereas only 28 percent can say the same about “being part of a Jewish community.”
Though I hold Pew Research Center in high regard, my sense is that the construction of this survey is not without problems (for instance: What’s the difference between having “an emotional attachment” to Israel and “caring” about Israel? Why was the only question about settlements linked to security?)—but even if we posit the poll as an imperfect tool, imperfection can only go so far in explaining the vastly greater import Jews appear to grant Holocaust remembrance over involvement with other Jews. Forty-five percent is not a small number. We can’t even chalk it up to generational differences: Among 18-29 year olds, the stats stand at 69 percent vs. 26 percent.
Let me be perfectly clear: Holocaust remembrance is a critical Jewish act. It’s a critical human act. The calculated, mechanized effort to rid the world of an entire race of people—man, woman, and infant—because of the blood in their veins is not something that we may ever pass over lightly. We must study the events of the Nazis’ rise and rule, as well as the ideas behind the Final Solution, and we must honor the six million by recalling their lives and their culture. This is part of how we ensure the promise we make every time we say “never again.”
And yet surely it matters that we not only remember dead Jews, but also get to know some living ones. Even if our main goal is to “remember the Holocaust,” surely it matters that we find personally meaningful ways to engage with the very culture that the six million were slaughtered for.
They weren’t all religiously observant; some rather famously didn’t believe in God. I don’t know how many actually understood the language of our prayers, but I’ll bet a fair number didn’t. They argued over theology and how to stage a play and what a good education entailed and whether or not that one guy’s jokes were funny. The six million and their various communities were, in short, like any other modern people: Vastly different from one another, yet also bound by something real, however difficult to quantify.
Ever since sometime in the 1950s, however, when it became popular across much of American society to be suspicious of anything that was difficult to quantify, the Jewish community has emphasized “Holocaust remembrance” over and above almost anything else (with the possible exception of “caring about Israel”). The late, great scholar Peter Novick explained and sliced through the Holocaust rhetoric, but few really listened; it was easier, I suspect, to teach solidarity based on horrifying memory than on the ineffable nature of culture or faith. The kids in Hebrew school might not buy your whole “God” schtick, but show them a picture from Dachau and you’re in.
Quite aside from the dishonor this brings to all we lost, there’s the simple fact that horror is not culture. “Remembering” is not heritage. And the Jewish people—those rich in Torah and those rich in good deeds, believers and unbelievers, prophetic comic artists and hip hop poets, not to mention folks just getting by—have so much more to offer.
Which brings us back around to the J Street conference. The rabbis, the J Street U enthusiasts, the parents sharing tales of synagogue preschool, they all remember the Holocaust, they all care about Israel—and they all care about what being a Jew entails. All of that brought them to the conference in the first place. All of that is why they risk identifying with an organization that cares enough to question institutional Judaism’s long-held conventional wisdom on what being a good Jew means.
Every person with whom I spoke about re-engaging with their Judaism had something different in mind. Maybe they meant focusing on spiritual practice rather than on the brinksmanship of a particular set of politicians in a modern-day nation-state. Maybe they’re writing a dissertation on the impact of Jewish culture on American music. Maybe they’re reading this blog because Open Zion strives to advance the kind of open debate that was once a hallmark of Jewish thought. Maybe they decided to spend a weekend with other Jews in the Washington Convention Center and act for peace with the Palestinians.
I’m a woman of faith; I speak and read Hebrew. It’s easy for me to be active in a Conservative synagogue. But for many, many Jews, that’s neither easy nor even appealing. Nor, would I argue, does it have to be.
But being with Jews, building something of meaning based in our past with an eye on our future—that’s essential. Whether it be J Street, or Jewish poetry slams, or something like LABA, New York’s non-religious house of study, we need to find, foster, and encourage all that will help us remember not just horror, but also joy.
Basing our identity in dreadful narratives of death and survival, and/or an amorphous “caring” about a country that’s an ocean away (essential to 53 percent of Jews aged 65 and up, and only 32 percent of 18-29 year olds) is a path to failure. Indeed, if that’s all we care about, I’d say it already has failed.
But basing our identity in each other? That could actually work.
Posted by emilylhauser on October 8, 2013
It feels like there is everything and nothing to write about.
Everywhere, everyone is talking about the government shutdown – I don’t want to talk about that. It frightens me and makes me sad, and then it infuriates me. Of course, some are talking about the possibility that the House GOP, not content with damaging the country once this month, will do so a second time by forcing us to default on our national debt – I don’t want to talk about that either. It frightens me more, and makes me leap straight over sad into rage.
I was at the J Street conference last week – it was great, really fabulous, to spend two and a half solid days doing nothing but talking about and meeting people who talk about the very ideas that consume roughly 67% of my head space (see what I did there?). It was like getting to talk in my real language for a time. It was lovely. It was also exhausting, and hard to explain, though, so that’s all I have to say about that. (Well not entirely. I wrote something for Open Zion; I’ll crosspost it here tomorrow).
The holidays have come, been, and gone. Thank heavens. I don’t want to talk about that again until next fall. Yes, the first night of Hanukkah is on Thanksgiving Eve this year, a once-in-humanity occurrence. Beyond saying that, though, what else is there to say about that?
People continue to die horrible deaths in Syria. Slightly-less back-channel-y diplomacy continues with Iran (even as the Iranian government continues to oppress its people, because let’s pause for an honesty break here). The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks apparently continue, but no one’s allowed to say anything about them, so who knows what’s going on there? I don’t want to talk about any of that either. Almost all I’ve done for the last several weeks was essentially talk about that.
I’ve read some good books. I’m catching up on TV (a little). Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I should finally get around to watching Deep Space 9 (I know…). I have friends coming to visit this week, and one kid’s parent-teacher conference to attend and another to schedule. I’m literally months behind on matters like annual check-ups and cleaning my heating/cooling system’s filters. I bought a great, bright red cardigan at a resale shop.
This blog has seen a sudden, huuuuge upswing in readership in the past two days, and I’m so happy to have y’all here that I really want to write something. But there are too many, and too few, choices today. Maybe I’ll do better tomorrow. In the meantime, thank you for being here! Here are some puppies hugging, to make you smile:
Posted by emilylhauser on October 7, 2013
I had a post go mini-viral today. Why today and not the day on which it was first posted and I flogged the heck out of it? Who can tell? The internet is a brave new world, man.
But if you landed on my front page for some reason in search of that particular post, you’d have to scroll quite a bit. So here you go — click here to go straight to Training the world – on little girls and body image.
And thanks for stopping by!
Posted by emilylhauser on October 6, 2013
I’ve considered myself a writer since somewhere around late-junior-high, and for a sizeable chunk of my life, I’ve attempted to make some kind of living from being a writer. I am at heart an essayist, but I’m also comfortable with reviews, features, research papers, straight-up reporting, pretty much any non-fiction thing you might toss at me. Poetry and make-believe, not so much, but everything else? I’m on it. In the past, I would occasionally feel that if I were more serious, I would write fiction. And then I realized that I don’t want to write fiction. So I got over myself.
That’s the extent of my writer’s angst — the whole, entire enchilada. I used to kinda think maybe I should try my hand at fiction, and then I went: Nah.
But existing in a world of writers, as I do — and more broadly in a world of creatives of all types — I’m forever hearing (reading) a sort of ritualistic expression of self-loathing, often embracing the idea that if you’re ever genuinely satisfied with what you’ve created, your muse has died. DIED.
What the hell is up with that?
No, seriously. What the hell? Sure, we should all strive to improve. There’s always room for “better.” The top is never truly achieved, because in reaching it, the next mountain is created and if you want to grow in your field, you have to climb it, too. I am absolutely down with all of that.
And there is also such a thing as shitty work. There’s such a thing as work-produced-when-young-and-inexperienced. There’s such a thing as wishing now that you had done something differently then. No doubt.
But I am here today to propose an apparently world-shattering idea: It’s ok to think you’re good at your job. Even if you’re an artist.
There is nothing inherently noble to thinking that you suck, or that all your past work is unreadable, or that every true turn of phrase can only be born of blood, sweat, and dark nights of the tormented soul. Nothing.
I mean, if that’s your bag – if that’s how you produce your work and you really can’t do it any other way – well, ok. I suppose we all have to have our process, and if that’s yours, you do you. It sounds painful, but honestly (really): Who am I to judge?
But can the rest of us just stop acting like that’s the way it has to be? That if you’re a Real Writer (painter, poet, circus clown), you know nothing but dark nights of the tormented soul? We don’t expect brain surgeons, teachers, or software engineers to doubt their every step — why do we expect it of each other?
I’m a good writer. I’ve always been a pretty good writer. This is my gift — my one, single, solitary gift, the only thing I actually know how to do. I won’t deny it, and I refuse to treat self-doubt as a sign of purity. I strive to improve, and on one dark night when I believed I’d never write under my own by-line again, tears streamed down my face as I told my husband that now I’d never get a chance to be as good as I might be able to be. And yes, when I look back and discover work that doesn’t hold together like I thought it did at the time, I cringe. I’ll bet surgeons and teachers, et al, do the same. I may never be great — very few people are — but I’m good at my job.
If you’re a creative, I challenge you to consider that you, too, might be good at your job.
And that maybe less self-loathing and fewer dark nights might allow us to achieve even greater things.
Posted by emilylhauser on October 5, 2013