have a little faith

I love this photo.

(from NYT)

Gay marriage isn't just for people who hate Christianity or for white people or the flavor-of-the-week social activist cause of my generation, it's also sweet and poingant and meaningful and the kind of thing that makes me tear up in looking at photo coverage because I'm a huge, unapologetic sap.

reclaiming kant

What happens when your Political Philosophy reading is Immanuel Kant the same week as the Vagina Monologues?

Sure, it's hard to concentrate, to find time to decipher his metaphysical morals and really sink deep into his text.

That's why, I've decided to start Reclaiming Kant (with due apologies to Eve Ensler).

I call him Kant. I've reclaimed him,

"Kant." I don't really like him. "Kant."

Listen to it.

K K. Ka Ka.

Kooky, knowledge, knife

key, kill, kill-me-now, k-keep going, keep reading, keep studying

then a

then Ka--

then confusing, metaphysical a-abstract,

a priori,

a posteriori,


autonomy, ack, answers please?

then n

then Kan--

snug letters fitting perfectly together--

n--nature, natural abilities,

no real morals,


not nice,

never nice,

always confusing,

always really long-winded prose,


Kan-n a slow, lost, I'm-might-fall-asleep-by-the-end-of-this-nnnnnn

then soft n--

warm n--



then t--

then sharp certain tangy t--




try harder,



tell me,

tell me



say it,

tell me





get the u-haul

Hey all! I'm temporarily moving!

I started up this little blog for my term abroad. I do realize that it's totally cliche to start a blog when you go abroad, and I'll try to make it as un-self-absorbed as possible, and if I start sounding like an asshat American college student please comment and say so and bring down all my naivete, BUT I want to remember this trip, and getting myself is a whole lot easier when it involves a keyboard and a blog versus good ol' longhand. (Nice in theory, but I'm lazy in practice.)

So, yeah. See you on the other side of things.

life, guarded.

So, this summer, I've spent a fair chunk of time lifeguarding. This job is not revolutionary. It is not starting a revolution. Nor is it particularly rewarding. Yet, it does have its moments of... uniqueness.

A Short List of Things That Happen While Lifeguarding That I Doubt Would Happen Anywhere Else

1. Imagining people in their underwear seriously loses its thrill, as everyone is in their underwear, or less. (Sir, do you wear that ball sac--erm, speedo--because it's comfortable--and how the hell exactly is that comfortable--or the sole purpose of making my poor eyes bleed? Just wondering.)

2. While staring is normally taboo in The Normal World, in the wacky universe of lifeguarding, it is totally normal. Hell, it's beyond totally normal, as it's what we're getting paid to do. Thus, it is the perfect occupation for anyone who had a long history as of "Honey! Don't stare!" reprimands constantly coming from the embarrassed mothers of creepster children. I am one of the ex-creepster children, and let me tell you, it is a grand old time being able to stare unabashedly at the various folks talking, flirting, laughing, jumping, swimming, or doing whatever they are doing. I especially enjoy eavesdropping. '

(Tip to the uninformed: you want to make your local lifeguard happy? Have whatever juicy conversation you're having within earshot of their stand. They probably won't have any idea of who you're talking about, but you'll have done a mighty good deed.) (Speaking of which, why have anthropologists, desperate for a way to observe people, not jumped onto the lifeguard stand yet? C'mon! It's the perfect way to be invisible and observe people without, ya know, violating ethics or something.)

3. Picking up someone else's shit--and yes, I mean literal, actual, body excrement shit--is all in a day's work. In fact, it seems like every other day my work includes this. Not exactly a perk.

4. People listen to you when you yell random things at them. This is lovely for those of us who often feel like we constantly scream into an empty abyss (like this here blog?) or just enjoy feeling like we have the ability to influence other people's actions. This is dangerous when you're having a bad day. I swear, there are days when someone having a ball in the pool (against the rules) is enough to give me a sore throat for the next three days. And no, I'm not too embarrassed that my battle-cry is "NOOOOO BALLLLLLLLS IN THE POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL." It's cathartic.

5. While on the diving boards, the patrons regularly have contests to splash you. Thus, the phrase, "Did I get you wet yet?" from fifty year-old men is no longer creepy, bizarre, or unwanted. In fact, on a steamy day, I am known to reply, "I mean, you got me sort of wet, but I want to be soaking!" I feel like this is weird in other contexts.

identity politics: harry potter edition

"But she's just not that... hot."

Or so spoke several women in my group of feminist friends, including myself, on the subject of one Ginverva Weasley in the newest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. One of us--yours truly--said this statement from beneath not one but two white, long-haired wigs, half-moon glasses and a bathrobe (worn in public- for the uninformed, I was in my full-on Dumbledore costume). Judging "hotness" would have seemed to be out of the question, but alas.

Yet, I still was there with everyone else, critiquing the Ginny Weasley depiction as just not "hot" enough. Far beyond it for us to exactly specify what we meant by "hot" but it probably involved some sort of Megan Fox/Scarlett Johnansson/Angelina Jolie mash-up that has seeped into our heads from The All-Powerful Pop Culture. Or perhaps, a more benign "hot": the Natalie Portman/Alexis Bledel/Julia Stiles vein? (I myself would opt for that second line of thought.) Regardless, none of us felt that Ginny made the "cut" for the girl of Harry's dreams-- and ours for Harry.

This strikes me as sad-- I am, to put it bluntly, disappointed in myself. Why must Ginny be a physical sexpot for me to deem her fit for the role as one of Hogwarts' most popular, date-worthy witches? (And yes, I do realize I am totally geeking out as I type this.) Why, though? Because, I still have a vision of "hot" as partially what I am told around me is "hot"-- and partially because, some women are just "hotter" than others to me-- and to many other men and women. And that's okay, at least I think it is-- and things like AfterEllen's Hot 100 List serve as markers that I'm not the only woman out there who judges other women by their looks, even if they think women are more than just objects to be looked at, or foes in a competitive struggle to be the hottest (here I harken back to Ye Olde Days of High School). Attraction comes in at many levels in real life: someone's laugh, their smile, or the way they communicate. But on the big screen? When imagining a perfect date for a beloved movie character? It's a whole lot of looks.

At the same time, is that the kind of standard we want to set? One of unattainable beauty and flawless, enviable features? When I looked at Bonnie Wright's Ginny Weasley, I felt like every girl had the potential looks to be Harry Potter's future-girlfriend-and-wife. While Ginny's mastery of wizardry and witchcraft are indeed spellbinding, her person on screen wasn't for me terribly... bewitching.

These roles were cast about 8 years ago, so there's explanation enough. And it's not as if I'm saying to boot out the current actress for some pin-up starlet. Nor were my female friends who likewise felt Ginny had a lack of necessary hotness for the role. That's not the real point, and my larger question remains: is judging women based on their attractiveness ever appropriate for women who (like to) consider themselves "feminists"? Is it always degrading or objectifying? What about for women who are attracted to these women more seriously?

And with those question, I'll so part from this quandary. And perhaps picture what would happen if Harry Potter ran into Rory Gilmore in the Room of Requirement instead. What? You say I'm embarrassing myself now? See ya...

genderfuck in the kiddie pool

The other day, I was lifeguarding--as I am prone to do given a bad economy, a fickle summer schedule and a need for some meager income--and watched as the mothers in the kiddie pool area stared at a little, half-naked toddler doning a swim diaper and nothing else. Was this little bediapered child a boy? A girl? No one could tell. Ambiguous hair. Ambiguous body. Even the diaper--a Finding Nemo print--offered no clues.

The mothers looked up from the unclothed child to see what daring mother this would be. But, rather than seeing a mother, there was none at all: rather, a bikini-clad teenager stood holding the child's hand. "C'mon, Michelle," said Bikini Babysitter, and I could feel some of the pool-goers inhale in perfect synchronization: a girl! Topless! At this decent establishment! Put a bikini top on, quick!

But from my lifeguard chair, I cheered. While some of the other patrons may have found this babysitter irresponsible--"she can't even remember to put a bathing suit top on the kid?"--or would have done otherwise themselves, I found this babysitter's topless move one to be applauded. The little girl looked like a little boy. Or, for once, this little girl didn't look like a squeezed-down, bite-sized version of an oversexed tweenager. Gender was put in flux, norms were put on hold, and hell, puberty sure as hell hadn't come yet, so why should the baby-sized bikini top?

I can't say if I'll have kids. I can't for sure if they'll be girls. And I don't know if I'll be bringing those girls to the pools. But if I have a babysitter watching after those little girls and taking them to the pool, I'll be sure and leave a note: Pack the kids a lunch. Make sure they wear sunscreen. And never, ever, be afraid of a little genderfucking in the kiddie pool.

a hairstory lesson

A wise woman--India.Arie, to be exact--once said that "I am not my hair." But after a week home, I'm not so sure.

So here's the (hair)story: two months ago to the day, I chopped off about five inches about my hair. I didn't write about it extensively on here, partly because it was school and I was Stressed. Out. and partly because, ya know, I was Processing. I was pretty sure I didn't want long hair any more, partly for the aches and pains of having it (aka "Ponytail Syndrome" in all its gory glory) and partly because I looked so damned good-girl straight. (I still do, probably, that's besides that point.)

Collapse )

Anyway, fast-forward two months. My new 'do "came out" to my parents and my employers. And to most people back home. Except that... half of the people back home don't seem to recognize me. Seriously! It's like I'm wearing this strange mask, or something, that I can't take off. I often want to jump up and down and say, "PEOPLE! IT'S ME, BETH! REMEMBER!?"

I mean, it's not a huge deal-- these are not my close friends, loved ones, bonded kin, or biffles of days gone by. These are the people who I used to babysit for, be a camp counselor for, or saw while life-guarding. Or my old rabbi, or the woman who daughter I was friends with... all of these people have failed to recognize me in the last week.

Do I really look so different? Maybe. Perhaps it's a telling mark of how much hair does, indeed, impact our appearance. When I got off the plane and my dad saw my new hair, I explained that it was, at least, less dramatic than say, "piercing my eyebrow!" or "getting a tattoo!" Instead, I had chosen the more "responsible" and "grown-up" rebel move: chopping off my 'locks was "bad-girl" but not "badly-paid girl."

Yet, now that I'm home and not being recognized, I've reconsidered. All of my photos from my K-12 grades show the same girl with this loooong, dirty-blond hair. I mean, yeah, it's varied a tad in length-- in middle-school, it's shorter, in high-school, in starts out olong, gets a little shorter, then longer again-- but mostly all with the same theme: HAIR. Lots of it.

So do I blame these people who ignore my hopeful stares in their direction? My longing looks of recognition? Not entirely. Hair, it turns out, does have a role in our appearances. And hopefully, if I had mustered up the courage to, you know, actually talk to these people, I would have gotten a little "oh!" and we'd be back to the good ol' days of long-haired recognition. And, I think, this, in the end, is the long and short (hair) of it.

...maybe next time I'll just go running

Dear Minnesota,

They say you don't know what you have until it's gone. In my case, it's more like I didn't know what a great state (Minnesota) I had until I was biking on a six-inch sidewalk, sucking face with a pine tree as giant garbage trucks whizzed by left side and spewed nasty pebbles on my face.


In other words: I miss you, Minnesota. Particularly when biking. Particularly today, as I set out on a Grand Journey to do one of the routes listed on for my area, to a nature reservation about 7 miles away from me. Perfect, I thought. It might be sort of painful to get there, but once I get there, it'll be sublime! I saw your endless roads and barren "highways" in my head, Minnesota, and your wind turbines and straight paths for miles and miles, and no cars except once in a while... and I set off.

I should have known that New Jersey has nothing on you, Minnesota, particularly in the biking department. Sure, I belittled you, Minnesota, when it came to your cultural coolness, maybe, or your lack of cities like New Yawk, or maybe your lackluster showing of bagels and/or sushi. But when it came to open, bike-friendly roads, Minnesota, you always did please.

And that was no clearer than today. As I set pedaling off, I was nearly thrown into the gutter by a zooming school bus that clearly had no loyalty for its alumni. Then, slightly panting from the shock of it all, I went onward to my next street, which was, of course a really narrow bridge up a steep hill without a sidewalk. Sort of like up being up the creek without a paddle, minus the idiom plus reality. This was less than ideal, and I was about thisclose to getting sideswiped by several mean-looking Jersey drivers, but I kept on keepin' on, with my mind firmly planted on the lovely reservation to where I was headed.

I'm getting close to the Reservation now, and while I'm hot and sweaty and sticky and all-around nassssty, I'm all, "Whatever. Once I get to the reservation, we're golden." Except for the highway between me and the Reservation, which was basically a glorified interstate, with LOTS of loving drivers who were SO! EXCITED! to wait for a little 20-year-old in a helmet on a bike to sprint across the highway. (That would be me, hi guys!) Anyway, so I run across this to dozens of glares, and finally, bike the big, mean hill up to the Reservation. Finally I'm there. I take a celebratory swig of my water bottle. I'm jazzed. Freeeedom! I start singing Melissa Ferrick to myself, and grinning at the nature around me. La la la freeeedooooom---

---and that's when I almost get side-swiped again. In the fucking RESERVATION. For REAL, New Jersey? It turns out that the road on this nature reserve is actually a shortcut out of the major highway. And, because it was designed, I suppose, not with this in mind, it has no shoulder-- eeeeeek.

I guess I don't need to detail anymore of my "adventure," except to say that Minnesota: you're real swell. The days when I used to complain about road lines or little bumps in the pavement seem silly, childish, when compared to the X-Treme Riding that is going out for any bike ride in NJ. Road bumps? Psssh, please, if you can feel that after the trucks have almost slammed you into the curb, you should be exalted.

So Minnesota, when it comes to, ya know, not being the most densely populated state in the country, you make good on that. It's just that the facts are facts. So it's not that I don't love New Jersey-- tomatoes! Springsteen! Bon Jovi! The Shore!-- but being the most densely populated does have its low points. ending up halfway immersed in a pine tree because a truck has almost touched the handlebar of your bike (I have the scratches as proof, to boot) as the result of Sideswipe Encounter #7.

Yours in open roads and fond memories,

well, this is... awkward...

From the New York Times' Arts Section today:


The “Commencement” characters are savvy about, among other things, feminism and publishing. “When a woman writes a book that has anything to do with feelings or relationships, it’s either called chick lit or women’s fiction, right?” one of them asks. “But look at Updike, or Irving. Imagine if they’d been women. Just imagine. Someone would have slapped a pink cover onto ‘Rabbit at Rest,’ and poof, there goes the ... Pulitzer.”

Yes, exactly! Right on grrrrls, who in this books, "Commencement," which looks really good, are Smith grads and made out to be a fiesty, feminist bunch.

Except, then, the next paragraph:

They’re right of course. But this is the season when prettily designed books flood the market and compete for female readers. It’s a time when literary and lightweight books aimed at women become hard to tell apart. Their covers use standard imagery: sand, flowers, cake, feet, houses, pastel colors, the occasional Adirondack chair. Their titles (“Summer House,” “Dune Road,” “The Wedding Girl,” “Trouble”) skew generic. And they tend to be blurbed exclusively by women.

Is it just  me, or is that really awkward? "They, uh, right... but, ya see, we needed a good way to group these lady books, and the lady books, are FREAKIN' LADY BOOKS and we're gonna GO RIGHT DAMN WELL AHEAD AND USE THE IMAGE WE INTENDED FOR THESE BOOKS!" The image, is, of course, practically oozing all the notifiers of "chick lit":

"Girls"? Check!
Fake beach sand? Check!
Sunglasses? Check!
Floppy hat? Check!

The author of Commencement clearly has to be more un-subtle next time she criticizes how women authors and their works are portrayed. Perhaps investing in a billboard outside the NYT Art Section's offices?

While, granted, some of these titles are indeed "chick-litty"--and it is certainly a niche some authors seek out--there are others that have no place underneath this floppy-hat display. Take, for example, the one little "shout-out" to substance that in the "Girls of Summer" article to "Shanghai Girls"-- a "seriously ambitious novel"-- that still about, according to a pair of sisters' "abrupt fall from grace is rife with the most heinous tragedies—rape and murder, betrayal and abandonment, poverty and servitude."

Ooh! Beach read, anyone?


My point is simple--and the same one voiced by the Smithy grrrads in "Commencement": just because a book is authored by a woman and even might have "girls" in the title doesn't mean it's a throwaway. They haven't thrown my personal favorite author (Babs Kingsolver) or favorite books (like Poisonwood Bible) under this cutesy display yet, but I feel like it's coming.Yet, even when this exact sentiment is said in one of the freakin' books being reviewed itself, apparently it's still falling on deaf ears. Reviewers, listen up to your characters. Please. You're embarassing yourselves.