This is super exciting: the recordings from various sessions at the JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) 2010 Conference are available on line.
You can listen here.
Yesterday J and I went on an adventure. We were trying to find a farmer’s market, but ended up lost, frustrated and longing to get out of the crappy city we were driving farther and farther into and back to Northampton, oasis of books, coffee and progressive politics.
For a long time, one of my worst fears was that I would have to return to the town I grew up in. A lot of my friends from high school had, or they’d never left to begin with, and now they were making families there. Much like the seeming inevitability of marriage and children which I thwart, the idea of returning to our medium-sized New England city was both depressing and terrifying.
There’s no reason why I’d have to, of course, especially now that my family is either dead or dispersed. There’s no house, no structure, in addition to the fact that I have been trying to get as far away as I could for as long as I remember. As a kid, I imagined Europe, California, New York City, rattled by the knowledge that my mother and grandmother had never been out of the country and had lived in this town their entire lives. I remember being told by my grandmother that she too had wanted to live in New York in her youth, but she’d outgrown the desire and I probably would too.
It’s hard to explain the geography of Western Massachusetts if you’ve never lived or been there, but essentially, the place where I went to college is about 45 minutes from where I grew up. One is a city and the other is a college town, one suffocating and bleak and the other rife with possibility. Still, I avoid one and run to the other. It’s not a coincidence that that the town is where people in high school warned me that “the gay people live.” I guess that meant I was supposed to avoid it, or be afraid of it, and with that, dismiss the fact that “the gay people” lived in our town too.
I suppose everyone has a weird relationship with the place where they were born and raised,but it’s particularly intriguing to me that I feel like I lived somewhere for years, but I grew up elsewhere. When people ask me where I’m from, I’m at a loss as to what to say. It’s like anything else, the expectation that we will have easy answers, that everything will be clear, that there are somethings everyone knows, that none of us are lost.
I don’t know how I forgot to post about this-it’s likely that I was watching hour 95 of Criminal Minds, but nevertheless, my piece on wealth, class and the Jewish community is up at the Sisterhood Blog. http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/128028/
Oh, the derech (the “map”, referring to living a traditionally observant Jewish life). I am so far from you. I guess it’s questionable that I was ever on the derech, but I thought I was maybe on some version of it at some point. Now, I doubt we would even recognize each other. We had a fling, briefly, a few years ago, when I stopped wearing pants outside of the house (insert joke about going pants-less here), I got supremely anal about kashrut, and I attempted to keep Shabbat. Only one of those pieces remains, the keeping kosher, which for some makes me a Super Jew, and for others is irrelevant, because I still eat dairy in non kosher restaurants.
On Saturday, T was in town from Oregon. We lived together in Boston years ago, and she is my radical activist hero. I met her and some other folks in the park in Brooklyn to celebrate her 30th birthday. We joked about me buying snacks and traveling on the subway on Shabbat, which is funny because I never didn’t do either of those things-neither of us did. I’ve always particularly struggled with Shabbat, because it’s hard for me to stop doing certain things (write, watch tv), and I’m so compulsive about my time- I need to control it and it’s difficult for me to relinquish that control, which keeping Shabbat in a traditional way dictates.
T and I discussed the fact that I’m now unemployed. She’s been in a similar situation more than once, and we talked about how that feels when it happens in the Jewish community, which is far worse than if it were some gargantuan for profit company (we imagine). In short-in spite of all the bullshit (and there is a lot of it-political and otherwise), you work insanely hard, because you love it, because it’s part of you, because it’s your family, like it or not. But because they’re your family, they inevitably disappoint you, and then you’re just left holding the bag.
I’ve spent a long time networking my way into Jewish communities, which is sort of funny, because I know so many people who are trying desperately to work their way out. Regardless, it’s felt familial to me, even though I have a precarious at best relationship with families and communities I haven’t chosen myself. (Cue arguments about what it means to be a Jew/who is a Jew/if you can get out of being a Jew.) Even when Jewish communities hurt and anger and disappoint me, which lately has been often, I’m for some reason still in. But staying in means I have to edit the situations I can be in-low(fine, very low) on the traditionally observant scale, high on the hanging out with people with similar frustrations and politics and also on the being quiet rather than going to giant Jewish social gatherings (i.e. shul).
I have no idea if this is a permanent change, but it feels a lot like being eleven or twelve and trying to figure out who I am by being who I am as opposed to being other people and doing it by process of elimination. For now, it’s impossible to know who the Jew coming out on the other side will be.
I am notoriously bad at staying on top of reading anything that has “New York” in the title-specifically, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the New Yorker. They arrive at our house, I look longingly at the covers and then I proceed to ignore them, except for the photography, the crossword puzzle and the cartoons. I’m not proud.
Today on the subway, I was reading the May 3rd issue of New York Magazine (Sarah Palin is on the cover, try and get past that), and came across an interview by Curtis Sittenfeld (find everything she’s written and read it) with authors Emily Gould and Meghan Daum. It’s a fascinating read about what it means for women to tell the truth in their writing. One of the highlights come from Gould: “When women are honest about their experiences, it’s destabilizing. It’s not socially acceptable for us to think our thoughts are interesting or valuable.”
Go read the rest.
I have an insane and somewhat deadly process of writing fiction-namely, that I sit and wait and listen to music and walk and doodle and coax the world in my head onto the page like a tapeworm.
Blogging is in some ways much easier for me (see? I’m doing it right now!), it’s more natural, the gratification can be instant, it requires a level of authenticity that feels organic for me. Besides, when I write these posts, I’m usually talking about feminism, one of the defining aspect of my political and personal identity. Chuck Palahniuk says, “Write about the things that really upset you. Those are the only things worth writing about.”
*Spoiler warning* The center is my fictional life is a motley crew of characters based around one-a feisty, artistic, earnest woman named Leah Stern. I’ve spent the last five years sculpting her life, although it’s often a slippery process and she’s constantly changing. I want her to have everything, and because of that, I rarely think about things like race and class when I’m drawing her out. Her main relationship is with a heterosexual man, she went to an Ivy League college, her life is comfortable, she benefits from all sorts of privilege.
Most of this isn’t even my life experience, far from it. But it’s comforting. I’m writing a story I’d want to read-something strong and textured and compelling, but it’s also not an expression of my politics.
I know- it’s fiction. Writing it means stretching in a different way, using different muscles. Living my politics means recognizing my multiple identities and what it means to hold them, but I struggle to reconcile the desire to represent those politics with the impulse to take refuge inside a space of my own creation, knowing that the ability to make that choice is a kind of privilege in itself. I can choose to do one and not the other, I can integrate, I can refuse to pay attention to either.
So the bottom line is that I’m wondering about the purpose of art, and what my relationship is and should be with it. It’s not a simple answer, it shouldn’t be, it’s a deep tension that will probably always exist. The best I can probably do at this point is develop a focal point, maybe a mantra, to the effect of “Make this be for something.”
I’m home alone for the next couple of days, so the tendency to hibernate is running deep. Because of my predilection for crime drama, I’m doing things like checking under the bed and behind the shower curtain for serial killers (how this would help me in an actual serial killer related situation, I have no idea). I also feel like there are many blogs posts to be written, but I’m not entirely sure where to start. After less than a week of unemployment, I’m torn between wanting to nap perpetually and fill every second with productivity. Either extreme doesn’t seem like a very good idea, so I’m trying to find a middle ground without flying off into a caffeine induced frenzy.
Last week, I learned that some folks I was friends with in college are expecting a baby eminently. I am of course glad for them, but I have to admit that my heart sunk a little, and that’s as hard to admit as it is to write. As you know if you’ve read this blog, or if you’ve ever met me, I don’t want to have children. As my friend M says, I “own it,” but I still feel sad when I find out that there is one less person in the world who feels like I do, especially in the Jewish community, where it’s hard to talk about things that aren’t normative. It makes my communities, and often my friendships, very lonely places.
I’m not suggesting that a person should stop wanting what they want, rather, the exact opposite. I’m frustrated, because it appears that everyone wants the same thing, and I know that isn’t true, so either people are deluding themselves, or they’re just not talking about it. I talk about it because when you don’t or can’t say your truths, the silence creates shame and perpetuates invisibility, and because I simply need to.
I think we (and by that I mean if you’re an American) often associate reaching out with weakness, as opposed to what it really is, which is fortifying oneself. You have to know that you can’t do the work by yourself-any work, but particularly the kind that is even remotely maverick (sorry, John McCain). It’s not always about opening doors, sometimes it’s just about maintenance. Knowing that is a revolutionary act in itself.
I found this quote a while ago, and I’m just going to post it. I don’t think it requires any embellishment on my part, except to say that I consider it to be a fantastic and incisive idea about the foundations of what’s really behind the anti-choice ideology and movement -deep misogyny and fear around women’s power and autonomy.
Rachel Grady, one of the directors behind the scarily brilliant film Jesus Camp, brought her latest documentary, 12th and Delaware, to the Sundance Film Festival with her co director Heidi Ewing, earlier this year. 12th and Delaware is about a Florida abortion clinic, its employees and its protestors.When Grady was interviewed at Sundance, she had this to say about the abortion debate: “It has nothing to do with babies. It’s about control, it’s about the power of women and women’s roles, what the purpose of the female gender is, the absolute core of the identity of a woman.”