Saturday, January 23, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Recently another grad student, raising his eyebrow accusingly, asked, “You’re not one of those girls that likes bad boys, are you?” No! I answered immediately. Of course not. I will always go for the nice guys. But then, as is often my problem, I started thinking about it. I thought of my romantic heroes: V, Bruce Wayne, Athos, Gambit, Spike, Han Solo, Thomas Raith…. all heroes, to be sure, but certainly not nice guys, and definitely not for the women in their lives.
But that’s fiction, not real life. Yet, I can see it. Not necessarily the men I dated, but all the way back to Chris in kindergarten, the only 6 year old bad enough to wear a leather jacket I have, in fact, liked the bad boys.
Okay, don’t panic. There has to be a reasonable explanation for this. I am a smart young woman. There must be a reason I am attracted to jerks. Evolutionarily speaking it makes sense. I would want someone who could take of himself, me, and our tiny offspring. But that seems reductive. I would like to think I am a little more than the random sparks of instinct from a long dead jungle. So it must be something else.
So why do I do it? What attracts me about my heroes? They’re all passionate men, each so focused on their goals that they are oblivious to the outside needs and wants of humanity, or, in some cases, so in tune with those needs that they are completely unable to focus on themselves. Passion is sexy, as talent is. This is a fact. I’m not talking here about hobbies or likes, but when your significant other has something that makes them really, truly big-stupid-grin happy, it has a similar effect on you. The fact that, in this case, those passions tend to be semi self-destructive is, while worrying, no less impressive.
But what about the women? Abandoned, tortured, longing, left again and again, they certainly aren’t treated like princesses. But, and I think this is the heart of the matter, they are treated like the only thing of notice in the world. They are, in fact, the only thing that could make these characters focus on something other than their own goals. They are what every girl secretly wants to be: the only woman in the world. It’s classic Rebel Without a Cause Effect.
It’s a stereotype of women that we want to change men, and maybe in some sense this is true, but maybe not because we want to ‘fix’ them. Perhaps it is only because we want to be the thing that improves them, that motivates them, that turns them from their path if even for a second. And I don’t think it’s just women. I’ve seen dozens of relationships flare up between a ‘nice ____’ and a known heartbreaker. We all want to be the One, and this is easier to measure when the other person doesn’t seem to care for anyone else.
So, do I want a bad boy? Heavens, no. So you can all relax your eyebrows. You too. You know who you are. But I do want to feel like that. I don’t think that’s so odd.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I’ve had trouble sleeping lately, which is a very new development. Of all the stress induced physical effects I’ve encountered, sleep loss has rarely been one of them. Headaches, soreness, back trouble, and disturbingly detailed dreams I’m familiar with. I’ve also lost sleep before, but simply lying awake staring at the walls for hours at a time has never been an issue before. I know that it is a result of the exponential increase in the complexity of my life, (both personal and academically - the material I am approaching). I try to explain this to friends. Grad school is not harder it is just more. It is not another language, but a tone and cadence and vocabulary that you have, you think, maybe encountered once before, but no one ever expected you to know it or write in it or speak it.
When I was younger I used to have the same trouble with sleep, I recall, but that was 10 years ago. I was 12 or 13, teetering on the verge of highschool, a transition that seemed, at the time, completely terrifying, insurmountable, impossible for my mind and body to adjust to. During that time I could sooth myself to sleep by engineering. I spent the school day sweeping my eyes across the classroom and taking note of objects or tools, the function of which I did not understand. I made lists of these on the last page of my notebook. (I have always kept the last page of my notebook blank for personal use, even today). At night I would try to reconstruct their innards in my mind. It worked best if I started with the question, “Okay I need an object that does _____. How would I go about doing that?”
For example, I had no idea how a spray bottle works. Think about it. You use them all the time, but could you really explain, to a child for example, the mechanisms that make the transfer of liquid possible? I doubt it. So I thought, how would I make such a thing. Well, I would need to create a vacuum, though not exactly. I would need suction, like trying to get too much shampoo back in the bottle. So if I had a tiny shampoo bottle inside the head of a squirt bottle I would need some way to squeeze and release it, thus moving the liquid into the shampoo bottle and out again. That would be the trigger. Of course there would need to be a sort of trap door over the bottom bit which was released when the shampoo bottle contracted. By this time I was asleep.
The next day, during lunch, I snuck into the coat closet and coaxed the spray bottle apart with a pair of scissors and a pencil and, sure enough, everything was where I planned it would go. Success! The next night I began on the mechanism that raised and lowered our desks.
I had to avoid complex mechanism, like projectors. Here difficulties arose. I would have to assume the entire piece of machinery that provided electricity, and I had no idea how the magnification or focus took place. What I discovered was that there were actually very few moderately complex items in our lives, like the squirt bottle. Most things were simple, a desk, a pen, a chair, a black board, hinges, stairs. The rest were highly complex. Very few things could be solved out in a single sleepless night.
Of course I realize now that I should have approached each larger machine through the subsets of its smaller ones. Electricity is not so terribly difficult. The problem of the me as a child was not that I lacked insight, but that I lacked the patience to focus it.
Or perhaps that is not the problem at all. Lately, as I mentioned before, I find myself staring at the wall, holding the dissected pieces of a poem in my mind, raging, “How!? How does it work!? Where does the light come from?”
Friday, January 15, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Classes start Monday and I have spent the day drowning my nerves in drawing, writing, and reading random blog posts on the interwebs. I came across PZ Myers, who is, apparently, famous and who I have never heard of. I guess he’s an atheist or something.
Recently a friend came out atheist. It never occurred to me that this was something one would have to ‘come out’ about. It amused me for a moment to turn the meaning on its head and imagine him as a budding debutant, a new atheist grown into maturity. I imagined pomp and circumstance, the other adults of the atheist community asking the newly emerged young person meditative questions under a crystalline chandelier nibbling on finger sandwiches. There would be lace and comber buns and courtesies.
Anyway, my friend pointed out that atheism in America really is still held in a negative light. Like many things, my childhood assumptions that people’s faith, or disbelief was their own personal issue, turned out to be wrong. He pointed out that, while there were protections, both legal and social, for religious groups and beliefs, the equal did not exist for atheism. Separation between Church and State is the Pegasus of our legal system. Because it’s a myth. Get it? Not cause it’s a winged horse who sprang from Thomas Jefferson’s blood.
I can understand, however, his feelings of abandonment and betrayal by his religion. I found many parts of his story mirrored my own. (The main part where we diverged was his questioning creation vs science. I never had a problem with this. Looking back this seems odd, and I can attribute only to my weird ability to believe two seemingly contradictory things at the same time (I do this with due dates to finish papers early), or my early introduction to literature and art. I could see the Bible as True to the author’s intent as a poem or painting is Truth. This was a very long aside).
When I was young I lived a life of almost absolute seclusion in my catholic school. I found solace in reading, drawing, and religion. I was attracted to religion by the sense of inclusion, of course. It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see why the promise of an everlasting place of belonging where the meek would be not only included but lauded would appeal to a lonely child. But it wasn’t just that. The church protected literature and art. It was a fountainhead for artistic expression for hundreds of years. Being born with art appreciation literally ingrained in my genetic code, this was something I could love. Naturally, I wanted to stay there forever.
One afternoon one of the priests came across the street (our church was literally across from the school) to speak to us about the priesthood. This, of course, was a normal part of his job. The church always needs more priests. He described what made a good priest. Humility, love, creativity, sympathy for your fellow man, enjoying speaking, creating, writing, reading, interest in hard study over your whole life. Me! I wanted to yell. Me! Me! I can do all these things. I would love to do all these things. I still remember how excited I was that day, having finally found my profession. I felt, (I was so sure) that I had been called to do this thing. I held it as the torch of my life.
It never occurred to me that he wasn’t speaking to me. It never occurred to me that I was excluded. How could anyone exclude me? How could religion exclude anyone?
For those who do not know, Roman Catholicism does not allow women to join the priesthood. That is gentle wording, of course. In truth, we are actively barred. (The reason I was given for this, when I asked, was that only men followed Jesus and were told to go preach. I guess Mary Magdalene and the rest of the women didn't count. Kay).
Even after I learned that I was not called to do anything, (but isn’t that cute), I still huddled in Catholicism for warmth. Surely they would come around eventually. I even thought, for a short period, that I could change their minds. The slow death of my warm, fuzzy inclusion in Catholicism started on a school trip my sophomore year of high school.
It was on the beach. The sun was going down and I wandered into a conversation between two of the other students on the trip. One, who I knew, was a self proclaimed atheist and intellectual. I had always been jealous of his sureness in this position; of how grounded he seemed without a death grip on belief. He was talking to a girl I did not know, whose name I have forgotten. Let’s call her Sarah.
Sarah had, she told us, led a hard life. She had been saved by religion. She was arguing with my friend about heaven, or, more specifically, about judgment. It has become a familiar argument. I am sure everyone has encountered it, and I feel no need to reenact the entire thing, though I remember it almost word for word. It was the ending that got me. It was the last thing she said to me, smiling.
“It makes me sad sometimes, that my friends are going to hell.”
“Well what if they’re good people?” I countered, thinking of all my lovely, sweet, non-religious high school friends who adopted the rather damaged me and loved me instantly. Surely for that one act of kindness – like the single acts of kindness in parables – they would be saved?
“Oh yes. They can’t go to heaven unless they’re saved. I know it’s hard.” She added, sympathetically.
“I think God would forgive them.” I countered.
“Isn’t that a sort of selfish way to look at God?” She asked, still smiling.
That question bored its self into my brain, and I often reflect on it, even now. I am convinced, even more now, that she was wrong. It is, in fact, the other way around. It is a selfless thought. I am not special. God does not love me more. Everyone is going. This was my first interaction with the two differing definitions of 'saved.' One meant, safe, removed from danger. The other meant 'one of us.' Religion should be a roof, not a gate, and I certainly want nothing to do with a heaven that is not more forgiving than the humans it supposedly created. It took a few more years, but that night I began to realize I wanted nothing to do with the whole mess.
So what am I now? I’ve been asked this question as if I am a new species, asked to please classify myself so that I fit easily into the biology books. I have no answer for them. I cannot completely dismiss a higher power, nor do I disbelieve the clear logic of the scientific process. Usually I shrug the question off, a practice I plan to continue. I can say that I do not believe in _______ism, even the ‘Athe’ variety. It is, after all, another form of that angry exclusion of ‘we’re right and you’re wrong.’
Though it is difficult to believe, I find comfort in not knowing. It’s probably the same part of me that can believe that my essay is due Monday and also tomorrow. I enjoy the debate and I don’t know. Absolutely anything is possible. Isn’t that kind of fantastic?