Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lizzie Attempts to be David Sedaris.

Should one ever desire to see America at its heart, look no further than a rest stop off of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Monday last, after much preparation, packing, worrying over finals, and completing the rites and rituals that mark the end of one’s first year in college, I departed for North Carolina with two of my best friends from school, Brenna and Nora. My car held practically the entirety of my material possessions and the CD deck was armed with a slew of six excellent road trip mixes made by yours truly. We three women were young, independent, brave, and going to conquer the 750 miles that lay between us and my mother’s sweet tea like the collegiate go-getters we were.

And, on the whole, we did just that. There were relatively few incidents around New York City, the first worrisome area we bridged over. And prior to New York, Connecticut and the slice of Mass we flew through held no surprises.

But as anyone who has ever driven the East Coast will tell you, New England is nothing compared to the deplorable eternity one must endure while on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of lovely and dear people from Jersey. I’m convinced, if nothing more for my own faith in humanity, that the rest of the Garden State is mostly unlike the rotten quest that is getting through the turnpike. It’s unfailingly crowded, and, though I am as a privileged white American girl with my own car complaining about the well-kept mass transit road system with no real credibility to my argument, the turnpike embodies why some might call The Great State of New Jersey the Armpit of America.

When we three ladies could bear our full bladders and empty bellies no longer, we pulled off into the multi-faceted Mary Pitcher rest stop. Abundant in fast food chains half-restaurants, sunglasses stands, and two-liter cups of coke available for 99 cents, as well as they who are fond of such healthful food choices, this hallowed rest for weary drivers greeted us three with used condoms on the asphalt and the delightful aroma of the over-greased fries.  When we braved the realm outside the Firebolt (aka my minivan) we were most graciously welcomed by a woman suckling on an ice cream cone, staring blankly at our car from outside her own. Without explanation, I triple checked the lock and we then proceeded inside.

After a trip to the ladies room which, I might add, offered a weight scale that dually told you how much body fat you had AND a fortune for your future (two principles that apparently are indicative of the other), the three of us selected the least bathed in oil place we could find.

The name escapes me now, but the image of the place is ingrained in my sub-cranium. Adorning the walls of this trying-to-be-a-real-restaurant-while-in-a-Jersey-rest-stop were literally dozens of televisions portraying old clips from American Bandstand. The wall space not used to display discolored and obnoxiously loud archaic clips was bedazzled with autographs by third-rate rockstars and copied of album covers.  It was the quintessence of tacky, and at any rate I felt as though we had stepped into a badly lit set of a Cohen brothers production. At any moment ACTOR’S NAME was going to appear with an axe and hack through my dreadful potato soup while we three stared blankly at the numerous TV screens, none of which had quite the same coloration.  

Needless to say, we downed our overpriced and undercooked meals as quickly as possible… when not glazing over watching Ace of Base’s 1989 rendition of “Don’t Turn Around.”

Back once more in the Firebolt we went, braving the last stretch of the 170 miles it takes to get from one end of the Garden State to the other. But rest assured, ye lads and lassies, the nightmare of zombies pouring out from the denim-jacket-clad-walls to the tune of bad eighties techno has yet to leave me.

---
current jam: "over it over again" she & him
best thing in my life right now: my new camera!! it films in HD and my newest vlog, a book review, is uploading as a type!
days until departure: 16 days, 4 hours (WHAT.)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden

First off, I very much enjoyed reading all of your insights on my Glee post. I have a first draft of a response to them, but it will have to be posted after this hellacious week has concluded. Thank you for challenging me every day!

Greetings friends!

As I have two exams to be studying for and two papers to be cranking out, I really ought not to be focusing my attention here... but as you all (hopefully) by now know, Osama Bin Laden was murdered yesterday in Pakistan.

I have, expectedly, a number of thoughts on this subject; hope that this wretched war in Afghanistan will end (even thought the pragmatist in me knows it won’t), despair for the woman used as a human shield for one of Osama’s men, but mostly disappointment. Disappointment that there is so much rejoicing in this nation over the death of someone.

No matter how evil Osama Bin Laden was- and I do not invalidate or claim those who lost their lives at his hand or by his orders were not of worth and precious to this world- but no matter how terrible he was, he was murdered. Americans should not rejoice in spilt blood, no matter the deeds of the now dead.


President Obama, a man whom, had I been of age, would have voted for to take office declared in an address to the nation that "[Bin Laden's] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity."


I think human dignity says on a pretty basic level not to kill one another. 

And really, what is wrought from this? Will the wars end? Are any lives truly saved? Are those killed in 9/11 resurrected because of the end of Osama’s life? Is there ever any justification or gladness or relief to be had in revenge?

I contend not. 

---
current jam: "day'n'nite" kid cudi
best thing in my life right now: i had the most magical weekend outside in the sunshine! and obama's kick-ass speech at the white house correspondent's dinner. eat it, donald trump. 
days until departure: 29

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

thoughts in my head: the problem with 'glee'

So I know this afternoon’s thought-provoking and conclusive post was meant to act as a finale to my (mostly) daily posting kick. But while I wrangled over the dilemma of whether to post tonight or not I realized- this is my blog, and if I have something to say I’m going to say it, regardless of my nice conclusions.

If you know anything by now, please know I have opinions that tend to not go unvoiced when the feeling is strong or provocative enough. And while I have yet to mention it here, there is (yet another) television show I have some big feelings about, and this particular show is perhaps a bit more mainstream than my beloved Doctor Who. The show is, of course, Glee.

I’ve been with Glee since the very first episode (unlike Who) which, considering I went to a quasi-Arts school and am a professed theatre geek makes total sense in the frame of their target demographic. Were Glee merely about high schoolers singing cute songs, I would watch it. But thankfully, Glee is so much more than another Mean Girls with some showtunes thrown in.

Glee is going where no other show has gone before; it actively promotes its interracial, multi-religious, various sexual orientation identified cast. Glee is the first show that I have seen that includes not only a struggling gay teen (Kurt) but also one who is totally confident in himself (Blaine, portrayed by the love of my life that is Darren Criss. (I swear I’m not fangirling, I swear!)). These two boys have kissed on screen, as have the two women Santana and Britney, all of whom are breaking conventional stereotypes surrounding the queer community. Santana is a total maneater and is super attractive, shattering all those norms people think lesbians fall into (you won’t catch her eating granola or wearing Birkenstocks). Furthermore, in the slew of other characters themes like identity with religion, race, and being a minority or outcast have been explored in some truly creative and fresh ways that always retain the real message that is the heart and soul of the show: embrace your inner freak, because that’s the best part of you.

I really love Glee for all of the aforementioned reasons, as you might infer from the glowing review.

But there are some aspects of the show that I am really not a fan of. And these facets of the program really need to be criticized and honed in upon, because to be frank, I expect a lot from a show that preaches its own capability to do a lot.

To begin with, the sheer amount of auto-tuning going on in every single song is (a) disheartening and (b) kind of insulting. These singers are all phenomenal and yet the Glee producers feel the need to touch up every note so that their voices are mere machines. Part of what makes music so beautiful- especially live music, which is what they are supposed to be singing- are the mistakes. An awkward vibrato or occasional missed note gives the performance a more human quality that makes it accessible and genuine. Besides, I took years of voice lessons and was in choir since the dawn of time so I could sing, not a machine! What’s the point of that anymore if you’re just going to clean it up and make it sound like a robot? And what’s offensive is the fact that these actors, many of whom have trained their voices their whole lives, are being belittled to what an auto-tune device can produce. Come on, Ryan Murphey, you’re better than this. Lea Michelle was on Broadway for heaven’s sake; her belty notes need not be augmented.

And I’m the first to admit how much I love electronica and hip-hop beats (we all know ALL CAPS is fond of lathering on the auto-tune). But never 100% of the time, and never as a replacement for powerhouse voices like Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes.* My qualms with Glee, though, do not solely rest with the fake singing.

In tonight’s episode, Emma, the neurotic Guidance Counselor with known OCD, finally caved in to the sleezy-cheesy Mr. Schuster (the Glee club’s teacher) and went to see a psychiatrist. Things I approve of: her character seeking professional help for a serious problem after admitting that she does, in fact, have some anxieties that need to be addressed. Things I do not approve of: the way in which her appointment went.

In the show, Emma confesses how afraid she is to admit her OCD problems and how much anxiety has dominated her life since she was young. After some discussion with the therapist that lasts approximately 2 minutes, the therapist tells her she needs to have talk therapy and to take prescription medication that will ultimately alter the chemicals in Emma’s brain.

What?!  Enter a problem faced in contemporary American culture and society: medicalizing serious mental health issues in a way that proclaims medication to be the cure to all mental illness. I do not dispute the benefits of prescription medication, they absolutely have their use and place. But to prescribe, after one hour-long session, medication that will alter one’s brain chemistry? And to liken mental illness to Diabetes? Fat chance we’re going to let this one slide, Glee.

Problem one: Diabetes is purely biological. Yes, it has to do with lifestyle and dietary choices, but ultimately diabetes means you don’t have enough insulin. To solve this problem requires a regiment on your eating habits and, if necessary, insulin supplements. This does not belittle the disease (in fact it seems pretty wretched) but it is by no means similar to Depression or being bipolar. Mental health is both biology and environment, which therefore means one little pill will not cure Emma’s compulsion. There is no easy cure to mental illness(and I’m not saying that Diabetes has an easy-peezy cure either). It requires mental discipline, a strong desire to get well, a support system, and sometimes medication. But not medication prescribed after one heartfelt session.

Yes, the psychiatrist also said weekly therapy. I agree wholeheartedly, despite having no letters strung along to the end of my title. But she still told Emma to take brain-altering medication after an hour. An hour! This is crazy, people! You can know someone for years and not really know what they need!

I realize this is a complex issue that gets very personal, very quickly. Medication helps. I dare not dispute this,  but I contend the ease with which Glee often treats the problems of its characters. Pills won’t cure Emma, just as confronting surface-level problems with the complexity of sexuality won’t reinvigorate the country-wide conversation on gender and its construction, or that treating high school like it’s the determinant of the rest of your life (which, take it from me, it most certainly is not) is a healthy lesson to teach the kids who watch the show.

So to conclude, I do really love Glee. Yes, I hold it to a very high standard in ethics (far higher than Raising Hope or whatever trash comes on afterwards) but I think this is because the show sets that standard. When you take on radical issues of gay rights at this point in our country’s social awakening, you got keep that banner high and your eyes ahead. Yes, the TV show is excellent at showing that gay rights are human rights and really we’re all just people trying to get by and be happy. Thus the harships and happiness and just plain relationship-ness of Kurt and Blane, Santana and Britney, and every other freaking couple on the show (did I mention that I hate how the only consistently single character in the Glee club is the strong, independent black woman?) And yeah, I know it’s just a TV show and I’m probably super-over-analyzing it, but it is a show that is speaking for the voice of my generation (if I may be so bold). So this generation-member has some qualms to voice with the show.

So there.

Do you watch Glee? What do you think of the show?

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current jam: still "judas" lady gaga. 
best thing in my life right now: blaine serenading kurt. melted to the floor and then into the ground. keane + darren criss = magic!
days until departure: still 35!

*Amber’s voice, to my ear, is the least touched up, which is comforting because girl is FIERCE!
And thanks to my friend Nora for helping me formulate some thoughts on this post! 

Gateways (The Final 30 DPC Post in America!)

  Today is my last 30 Day Photo Challenge post in America. Like I said yesterday, this has been such a wonderful creative exercise for photography’s sake but also in terms of me mentally and internally preparing for Africa this summer. Should you care to have a look, I compiled all the photographs onto one page under the pages on this blog sidebar (look to your right, or just click here). As it draws to an end, I wanted to capture the essence of the entire project in one image. After my religion class this morning (John’s back!) and some continued conversations with friends I have decided on the following prompt:

Day 30: A Photograph of My Reality Right Now.

  Prior to coming to Mount Holyoke I was made a promise to myself, a promise to treasure every second of being in this beautiful, beautiful place. And I believe I have fulfilled this promise thus far, and I fully intend to continue to uphold it in the coming three years. But it’s just that- I only have three years left! Where did these treasured moments flee to?

  But these moments, precious as they are and have been to me, do not lose their significance as the year comes to a close. Because I am blessed enough to know and realize that I am going on to another enormous adventure this summer in Uganda.

  As I’ve expressed in this blog before, I am not nervous about going to Uganda. Well, not really. There are the nerves about medications and sickness and getting on my planes on time, but no twisted stomach knots. I am absolutely terrified, however, of who I am going to be coming back to the states on August 15th. How will I change? What will I retain? Will I even want to return?

  A few weeks ago I had a lovely dinner with one of my dearest friends, Saran, with whom I shared my anxieties. When I expressed my nervous restlessness pertaining to my return to the states post-Uganda, she looked me very intensely in the eyes and said “Lizzie, you must live in the world you have been given. This is your reality right now. Live into your reality right now.”

  Thus, the prompt for today, because besides being blown away by the incredible wisdom expressed by my incredible friend, there was something of an inner stillness she was expressing. There is something so important and necessary and indeed right about living in the present tense. It’s embodied in so many phrases and so many ways and means, but the validity and value of living in the now cannot be underscored. Yes, big picture plans are crucial. Trust me, I’m the one who always has a big picture plan (whether I hold myself to it or not, however, is rather questionable). But if I sit here worrying about who I will be four months down the road, then my time here is wasted and my promise spent. Dually, if I come back from Uganda and refuse to see the gift I have in being here than I will have lost part of what is given to me in Africa. Saran herself told me, “There is nothing that I can give you that Africa cannot.”

  My reality right now are impending exams and papers. My reality right now is my friends and roommates who need me and whom I love and need. My reality right now is a room full of showers and trash cans and grocery stores full of food.

 When I sat in on the Child Voice International panel, one of the Mount Holyoke students who had spent her summer in Uganda talked about being peacefully restless. In this, she was exploring her anger and frustration at being back in the USA and struggles with reconciling her two worlds. But out of need to get her college education and to carry on, she eventually came to the realization that being “peacefully restless” would allow her to live into her calling post-Uganda while living in the present tense. I was drawn to her phrase, and to the idea of being restless and not taking what we are given in daily meals and government policies for granted. There is a resilience in deciding to not be complacent, in determining that we must question and prod and deem things to be unjust or unfair. But if we are endlessly at odds with all around us, no prodding or yelling or begging for change will make anything happen.

  Today I had my religion class again. Our professor was in South Africa for two weeks for a conference on nonviolence, which was incredible for him (and vicariously, us) but also a bit of a downer because I really love that class and a week and a half without it felt a little empty. Nevertheless, he regaled us today with stories from his wonderful journey. In South Africa, he met the one and only Ela Gandhi, granddaughter to my hero and revolutionary, Mahatma Gandhi.

  As he was telling us how they bonded over Indian food in Durban (and I was coming nearer and nearer to fainting out of sheer awe), he told us of her call to each young person coming into the wider world. He, and Ela with him, were telling us that we stand at a crossroads between two universes in our own world. “There is a world out there,” he said, “where the theoretical models we have discussed and been exploring need to be applied. And I cannot wait to see what you do.”

  So with all of these enormous ideas colliding in my head as I prepare to undergo the lovely two week panic that is exams and paper-writing on campus, I have settled on my image.


  This is a street sign found on campus, next to the memorial to our founder, Mary Lyon. The street name, Gateway Road, is perhaps metaphoric in its original intent but also serves a more practical purpose: this is the street that follows behind the gate to the college.

  I am at the crossroads in my life. I stand at a gateway, in an arch that protects me in my ivory tower from the cares and concerns of paying bills and insurance but also is nourishing my mind with knowledge, food of the soul. I am preparing to embark on a journey that is going to be extremely wonderful and difficult and breathtaking and, in all likelihood, fly by all too quickly. But the thing about gateways is this: they allow us to choose our own paths. Here’s hoping I choose well.

Thanks for everything, friends. You matter in this world. 

---
current jam: "judas" lady gaga (so good. the verdict has been passed.) 
best thing in my life right now: religion class, duh!
days until departure: 35

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Wall (30 DPC: Day 29!)

Day 29: the first thing you see in the morning

  Well friends, as these 30 (+) days are coming to a close, so will my daily blogging. And while this has been a total blast and I've really enjoyed reading all your comments, next week is Reading Week which means I'm getting ready to enter into the lovely academic season that is EXAM season. Thus, the daily posts are coming to a close so I can crank out my last Religion paper and stuff my head chock full of French pronouns, key ideas on contemporary Russian culture, and anthropological terms for kinship systems. Rest assured, the posts will resume once I'm in the clear and consequently diving into packing for Africa. Never a dull moment, friends. Never a dull moment. 

  However exam season dually means that I am mere days away from the conclusion of my first year in college...SWEET DEAD WASHINGTON, they weren't kidding when they said college was going to fly by! This fact brings up a whole soup bowl full of emotions and thoughts, so if I'm honest there probably will be an enormous thoughts in my head post after I've begun processing the end of my first year. 

  But you're not reading me today for moans about exams! The prompt says what I see in the mornings, self. Get to it.

  So were I to be exactly precise pertaining to what I first see in the morning, I perhaps would depict my alarm clock- but you've already seen that here. And then, were I to be more brutally honest, I'd tell you that I'm not really cognizant of my surroundings in the mornings until I'm in the shower, but you've also already seen that here. So I decided, after this roundabout of thought that I'd show you something BRAND NEW (to you, at least) and more relevant to the thought behind the post.

  After this long-wind-ed-ness I present:
A Virtual Tour of (some of) Lizzie's Wall, a.k.a. The Second to Last 30 DPC America Post. 


So you may have noticed, I have a bit of an obsession with posters. Hey, I never promised to be a wallflower...ba-dum-ching! This collection depicted above is really a small sliver of the sheer amount of paper things I own- there's another half of this wall not shown, as well as another wall, plus my room back home. I like pretty pictures, okay?

But the real "first thing" I see when I wake up is this black-and-white photograph taken from an issue of National Geographic:


My dear friend, Ian, actually cut out the same picture on the same day as me (we're telepathically linked, apparently). What I love about this is the simpleness; it's such an odd picture of this little man who apparently drove around the country with this mobile church. It's reminiscent of the circuit riders in early America, but with a whole new context. I always kind of giggle when I really look at it (rather than bleary-eyed falling out of bed, which is the more daily occurrence) but I also just like how it makes me think. 

Next to this lovely photograph is normally another postcard, but since ticky-tak hates me we'll move along to this watercolor painting my friend made me in high school after watching the Invisible Children documentary for the first time:


In fact, today is the 25 hours of silence for 25 years of war in Northern Uganda, sponsored by Invisible Children. Once again, I couldn't participate but if you want more information you definitely should go to their website. They're wonderful.

As for the painting, this is one of my favorite favorite favorite things on my wall. It's beautiful, but it also speaks so much as to what I can never articulate when speaking to my passion for Africa. She titled it on the back "Home?"

And to the far right, much less serious is a cut-out from a special issue of People magazine (puke) on Glee (yum!). 


It's dated, obviously, because there's not the angel of a man Darren Criss on it (shut up, I know I'm a fangirl. Moving along...) but I often wake thinking I'm being slushied. Perhaps not the best location...

Above Glee is my metal poster of one of my favorite musicals with one of my favorite actresses of all time, My Fair Lady with the classic and darling Audrey Hepburn. The story for why I love Eliza Doolittle is one for another day, but I bought this in a flea market in the mountains of Virginia after one glance. It's pink with Audrey on it? Done. 



À côté de l'affice du My Fair Lady are some pictures of me with my brothers and grandmother. The first picture, with Tom (whose deviant art account you should totally check out) is from last year prior to an 80s dance. Below that, Mema and I are forever captured being dinosaurs on my graduation day (it's a way cooler picture than me accepting my diploma, for sure). And underneath that Diesel and I before I went to a swing dance (I love ballroom dancing! fun fact!). 


The photographs border my signed Whomping Willows poster (apt, because Sara Michelle from my collab channel just made a video about meeting Lauren Fairweather!). 


Above all this silliness is the record cover of The Sound of Music which Ian bought for me from the local thrift store (we're frequents of the local PTA, to be frank). I. love. this. show. In third grade I cut my hair like Maria, played the CD until it couldn't play anymore, and know the movie by heart. Not one to feel mellow about anything, as is being made more and more apparent. 



Above Maria's jumping frame is my blue hippo postcard I bought at the Met last fall, which is next to my favorite Ghanain painting I procured in Accra last June. It's my favorite because of the baobab tree!



And on the slanty wall that actually faces me when I wake up are a poster from Deathly Hallows, Part 1; a picture of Ellen DeGeneres my friend drew on; a signed Bonnie Gruesen headshot; my signed poster from Much Ado; and a ginormous poster from my favorite film, V for Vendetta. There's also a b&w picture I got for free at another flea market and a post card of Mother Theresa blowing up balloons with a little kid from Calcutta. 



There's also my motto printed on letters along the side, "Choose Love."



So do you have a favorite poster of your own? What greets you in the morning when you open your eyes?
---
current jam: "past in present" feist
best thing in my life right now: chocolate bunnies!
days until departure: 36

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter! (30 DPC Day 28)

Day 28: A Picture of Your Day Today

Today is Easter (you may have heard!) so I send my well-wishes to all Easter-celebrators everywhere (especially if you're reading this blog!). 

Being far away from my hometown has many perks (exploring a whole new part of the country) but also some major bummers. Case in point: not being home to have Easter with my family. But! Thanks to my darling friend Nora whom you all know from this blog post I had a lovely homemade Easter luncheon this afternoon prepared by her wonderful mother. Benefits of having a friend who went to school very close to home!


We had lovely lemonade and her mom even made Easter baskets for us! Thus the cute little chickies around the glass. 

And before luncheon today Brenna and I went to church, which was lovely.


Anyways, hope you all are having a lovely conclusion to your weekend! See you on the other side.

---
current jam: "doctor what" chameleon circuit//charlieissocoollike
best thing in my life: ACTUAL doctor who last night! even if i only got to watch it this afternoon. SO GOOD. 
days until departure: 37

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Food, Glorious Food (30 DPC Day 27)

Day 27: a picture of where you get your food

Yesterday i made a grocery store run (perks os having a Firebolt at my disposal) and as such I though I'd take ya'll on a photographic tour of things I like to buy when in the Big Y!





Have I mentioned how much I dislike bananas? These babies never end up in the basket. 


The great love affair of my life...the cheese section. Cheesecheesecheeesecheesecheeseeeee!


Triscuits go well with...CHEESE. 


If you follow me on dailybooth you know that these cookie bags are kind of my achilles heel...I went through a whole bag yesterday. A WHOLE BAG. Seriously, self, that's problematic. 


Speaking of fresh water availability...


A label of lies. Not real up-to-this-Southern-girl's snuff. 

My best friend from home's parents have lived, off and on, in East Africa for much of their lives. He told me the story once of his mother, after moving back to the states from Kenya, stood in a grocery store sobbing because of the sheer amount of food available to her. I've had similar experiences and, as much as I love Harris Teeter free sugar cookies and the Big Y I'm so eager to grow food in gardens and go to markets this summer. 

I think we lose sight of how much effort it takes to make a meal when all we have to do is purchase frozen, packaged, high-in-preservatives meals from the local grocery store. Or, even more so, I can walk downstairs to a dining hall with more options for food than I need. 

Anyways, I hope you're all having lovely weather (it is unfortunately really gross here) and happy Passover/Holy Saturday to all!

---
current jam: "judas" lady gaga (expect a post devoted to my adoration for this woman on may 23rd when the whole album is released. serious)
best thing in my life right now: radio week has been a complete and total success! AND DOCTOR WHO TONIGHT. 
days until departure: 38

p.s. can you believe only three more days of this daily posting business? it's flown by for me!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Water (30 DPC: Day 26)

If you're curious as to why in this post I mentioned I was leaving Massachusetts at 3 AM to head to NYC, you can now get the full story by clicking here to watch my most recent vlog. Yay multimedia!

Happy Passover, Earth Day, and Good Friday everyone! In honor of Earth Day today, I present  today's prompt:

Day 26: a picture of where you get your drinking water


I think it's a tacit understanding implied here that the ability I have to walk ten feet (maybe) down my hall, turn a tap, and get clean, drink-able water is a treasured gift. 

To provide a frame of reference, here are some statistics about Kampala, the capitol city Uganda, and their drinking water supply. These are taken from the magnanimous water.org nonprofit that is a Lizzie-approved, partnership NGO!

In the greater Kampala area there are 34.6 million people. Of these 34.6 million people, 35% live below the poverty line and 
16.1 million people in the greater Kampala area do not have access to improved water. 

So on this day that we venerate the earth, let us remember while drinking our tea or coffee or water that we are terribly lucky to merely have to turn on the tap for such water. 

If you're so inclined, you can go to the water.org website and make a donation to a sustainably, equitable project that is working to provide clean water and sanitation to rural and urban communities (and not just in Uganda!).

Thanks friends. You're beautiful, and you matter to the world.

---
current jam: "the boxer" simon & garfunkel
best thing in my life right now: my pillow.
days until departure: 39




Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feminism in Fashion (30 DPC: Day 25)

Before delving into today’s photographic documentation of my life, I want to provide a few updates pertaining to some contemporary Human Rights issues I’ve discussed in this blog:
  • Jon Krakaur, author of Three Cups of Deceit does make the bold claim that the CAI can be salvaged and the schools for the young women can continue to grow, so long as Mortensen steps down. So that’s encouraging! 
  • The burqa ban in France (as well as the pending ban on all external displays of religious affiliation) came into effect on April 11th and since has been met with enormous protest. The estimated 4 or 5 million Muslims in France (of which only 2000 women choose to wear the full-face veil) have erupted into a slew of articles and nonviolent protests, facing enormous fines.
  • France, and Italy are intending to deploy teams of military “advisors” to aid the rebels in Libya attempting to overthrow the tyrannical reign of Qaddafi. These teams are UN-sanctioned.
And now, to present the theme of the day:

Day 24: A Photograph of An Outfit You Wore Today

As of this morning I joined the FFB (Feminist Fashion Bloggers, thanks Aly!) group on Google and as such I thought today an appropriate time to address something I feel extremely passionately about: feminism and art.

Thanks for the photo, Grace! I'm wearing a Forever 21 dress, flats I bought at the thrift store, pearls from my mother, a pink ribbon I found in a fabric store, and my (prescription) glasses. Far from practical, you might say. But whatever.
Feminism and art. As I’ve mentioned before here and here I took AP Art History in high school and fell madly in love with the art world. My favorite painter is, undoubtedly and conventionally, Vincent Van Gogh. Earlier this year my Dad took me to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC (MoMA) where “Starry Night” is on display. When I saw the work in person I literally just burst into tears and stood in front of it for twenty minutes in awe.* Perhaps not the healthiest way to love a work of art, but I’m not one for half-assing anything.

But I don’t exclusively love redheaded Dutchmen with big straw hats. Some of my other favorite artists include Caravaggio, Edouard Manet, Hannah Höch, Mark Rothko, Käthe Kollwitz, Picasso, Banksy, Barbra Kruger, Christo & Jean-Claude, and the Guerilla Girls. If you know your Art History, you’ll recognize one of the most famous feminist artists of all time: Barbra Kruger, known for her use of appropriated images and biting statements. Two personal favorites of mine that she’s done:




As a woman I find her incredibly empowering. Her works, so simple, require the viewer to be engaged, to question, to think critically about what she’s saying so brutally. And believe me, as far as feminist artists go, she’s tame compared to some of the other pieces I’ve seen.

But here’s what I love about art: it transcends the gallery wall. And contrary to popular belief, this is not wholly due to Du Champ and Warhol (though I do not attempt to deny their revolutionary works). One of my favorite art forms is in fashion; from Queen Elizabeth I’s banging garb to Gaga’s out-of-this-world costumes (or lack thereof) I think the way we dress can say so much about who we are and, when done right, can really be a living art form. I try to dress every day like I’m stepping out to Van Gogh’s fields or into Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s studio with her muse, Marie Antoinette. In West African prints, in 50s high-waisted skirts, in comfy sandals and in my knee-high red high-heeled boots there’s such a spectrum for expression and for boldness.

And since we live in the 21st century I am fortunate enough to experiment with expression in all mediums of fabric. And this liberation and freedom to explore is, in my mind, is what being a feminist is all about.

Sadly, though, in contemporary feminist discussions so many women- women!- say that other women who wear loose clothing aren’t celebrating their bodies enough, buying into conventions that dictate they have to be thin and if they aren’t they better cover it up. Conversely, there are they who claim women who wear short skirts or busty tops made of tight fabric are degrading themselves by showing so much skin and therefore conforming to the demands of the media for hot, sexy, big-boobed and mega-thin Barbies.

I think that these arguments are stupid and beside the point, an argument I think excellently articulated in a recent 30 Rock episode (surprise!)

In today’s Mount Holyoke News there was an article on Tina Fey and her integration of gender politics in her brilliant comedic work. The article, written by Erica Moulton, declares that “Perhaps without intending it, Fey has emerged as a symbol of the smart working woman and women’s issues lace many of her funniest works.”

This issue is illustrated through an examination at an episode of Fey’s hit show, 30 Rock. In said episode, Fey’s character Liz Lemon ferociously criticizes a rather scantily clad coworker nicknamed “Sexy Baby.” Liz tells the pigtailed, short-skirt woman that she “represent[s] my show and my gender in this business and [she] embarrasses me.” The co-worker tartly replied, “This is who I am. Deal with it.”

Fey herself in a recent interview on NPR (again, I’m taking this from Moulton’s fabulous article) that Liz has the best of intentions in wanting to present women as strong, but she doesn’t realize that Sexy Baby has every right to act and dress the way she does.

This is the new feminism; the belief in equality between the genders and equal opportunity for all, Sexy Babys and ladder-climbing businesswoman all included. There’s this great monologue from Eve Ensler’s piece, the Vagina Monologues (a production I’ve had the pleasure of being in) called “My Short Skirt” that I think beautifully articulates how it can be an empowering thing to wear less clothing:

My short skirt is not an invitation
a provocation
an indication
that I want it
or give it
or that I hook.
 
My short skirt
is not begging for it
it does not want you
to rip it off me
or pull it down.
 
My short skirt
is not a legal reason
for raping me
although it has been before
it will not hold up
in the new court.
 
My short skirt, believe it or not
has nothing to do with you.
 
My short skirt
is about discovering
the power of my lower calves
about cool autumn air traveling
up my inner thighs
about allowing everything I see
or pass or feel to live inside.
 
My short skirt is not proof
that I am stupid
or undecided
or a malleable little girl.
 
My short skirt is my defiance
I will not let you make me afraid
My short skirt is not showing off
this is who I am
before you made me cover it
or tone it down.

What Eve says here I think beautifully embodies what it means to be liberated in your dress. To me, the most important thing about personal fashion is that you are comfortable and feel at ease in what you are wearing. For myself, that means fair trade/thrift store clothing as much as possible, as well as bright clothing that makes me brave. So ladies and gentlemen, wear your jeans and flowy skirts and tight dresses and bow ties (bow ties are cool) and ugly, comfy shoes.  And your sex/gender shouldn’t constrain what you choose to wear. That’s equality, to me.

---
current jam: "concerning the ufo sighting near, highland, illinois" sufjan stevens
best thing in my life right now: i got the job! and sold my camera! and my dad send me an easter care package!
days until departure: 40 days

*And when I watched “Vincent and the Doctor” yesterday for the first time? You better believe there was a pillow-clutching, spellbound, and horribly verclempt Lizzie glued to her computer for the hour.

p.s. If I did a list of my favorite works of art, would you be interested in reading it?
p.p.s. Also, re-did the makeover! Figured out how to change the background back to yellow :D Thanks for your feedback Sam!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Princesses, Nonviolence, and Doctor Who (30 DPC: Day 24)

Day 24: A photo of a celebration

Today's prompt comes, once again, from the collective brainstorming of myself, Brenna, Grace, and our friend Tracy. While contemplating the little things that go on in my life that I care to broadcast in the world, Brenna suggested I depict us at a college party to compare to celebrations in Uganda. I thought this a swell idea.

But if you're looking for scantily clad sorority sisters, you've got the wrong college. Because our college parties usually involve good music and good themes, so I present to you:

The Princes Party
With the roommates in our fine attire and paper crowns


A few weeks back we had a princess party that involved pretty dresses and paper crowns. College is wonderful. But on to bigger things...

Friends, I know that here on this lovely online forum sometimes I pontificate and rant about violations of human rights. Sometimes I ponder the essentiality of nonviolence, concepts surrounding various faith practices, and expound on religious texts. Sometimes I write paragraphs about Uganda and how important it is to me and how much I cannot wait to be in Africa (in just over a month now!).

And I’m feeling all those things today. But you know what else I’m feeling?

I’m feeling it’s high time I told you about this little TV show called Doctor Who and, um, how I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Prepare yourself for a geekish freak out. Because it just so happens that today not only am I being ridiculous teenager obsessed with science fiction, nor a young woman passionate about learning everything I can about the world. Today, I’m going to keel into writing the post that I’ve been so hesitant to expound on, and I’m going to explore themes of nonviolence in Doctor Who. Snort, scoff, and laugh all you like. I freely acknowledge the walking paradox that is my life (thank goodness Futurama’s paradox-proof machine hasn’t consumed me yet…yep. Just went there).

To begin: religion in science fiction is not a new concept. In fact, I’m hoping to be un-waitlisted and fully enroll in a class next semester called “Religion in Science Fiction” (did I pick the right school or what!?) so clearly there are even a few Ivory Tower puff-ups who’ve written on the subject. Probably because we all secretly wish we could travel through time and space with swashbuckling heroes and dashing heroines.

When you think about it, the concept actually makes plenty of sense. The dichotomy between science and religion goes back, hmm, to Copernicus? To Greece? To the domestication of animals? Wherever you contend this tension originates, there’s no denying it’s there. So when Joss Whedon, a professed atheist and science geek, was penning the brilliance that is the Firefly series it made sense that he wanted to explore this tension. In this particular television show the themes were manifested in the character of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (science and lost faith) verses Shepherd Book (a military man turned priest-like figure).

What I like about Joss’ commentary is that the two men, and thus the two ideas, come to respect each other and recognize that there must exist a duality between each one of us. Without the pragmatism of scientific theory and application we as a species could starve or merely stay stagnant. But in Serenity (the show’s finale in film form) Shepherd Book makes quite plain that without faith or belief we are lost in the dark, living without purpose. Book goes so far to say to Mal that “I don’t care what you believe in. Just believe in it.”

This resonates, to me, with much of what I’ve learned in my anthropology and sociology courses this year. In a nutshell this is that modern science is in some ways its own religion in its structure and the power given to it by the people who “believe” in science.

Now, before you start typing away furiously saying I’m a heathen fundamentalist, let me explain. Modern science as a system is trusted by educated people across the globe, and we common folk turn to these educated people for counsel when we are ill or do not comprehend a certain situation (think: going to the doctor’s when you have incessant headaches). Science has many limitations and many more unanswered questions (the doctors may not know how to cure your headaches, but they will take a calculated guess to try to cure you), and much of what we profess to be fact is based on Theory.

Yes, I’m aware that gravity is a theory, just like evolution. I’m not invalidating either theory by any stretch of the imagination- but think about it! People say they “believe in” evolution. Believe in! There’s contention from religious radicals claiming science is an unrighteous path, just as many scientists claim religion is folly and there exists no deity.

And further still, science is informed by culture. We did not diagnose PMS to be an actual medical condition until the 1970s in America. This was dually as a product of the Women’s Movement and because businesses were suffering from women remaining home, with pay, for a week a month while they were “unclean” and “unfit to work.” So the feminists and the CEOs, forgive the simplification, said that being on your period didn’t mean you couldn’t push papers or kick ass in board meetings. So women could take pain killers to quell the cramps and we "medicalized" the hormonal state pre-menstrutation to allow women the opportunity to work. What we decreed to be science was, in fact, decreed as such because of motivations from within the social structure. 

Sound familiar? When these parallels are drawn you can see the connections within massive religious institutions. The church or mosque or whatever is more often than not concerned morally with issues in contemporary society. Thus culture informs religion (why else is there so much dissent?). Yes, going to the doctor is relying on information given that is far more rooted in factual evidence than going to see a minister, but the basic structure of the institutions is what I'm talking about here. 

Back to Shepherd Book and living long and prospering (how far will she sink?!). He told Mal he had to believe in something and for many people, that something is science. Thus, a new kind of religion. One that isn’t mutually exclusive with other faiths (and I contend religious belief systems do not have to be exclusive, but that’s an argument for another time).

So Doctor Who. The show, along with its far darker companion, Torchwood, professes religion to be false and death to merely be the end. And on this blog at least whenever I have made the case for nonviolent practices, it has always been through the lens of a religious context.

Leave it to the Doctor to tell us all that nonviolence is not bound by the Qur’an, or the Bible, or the teachings of my beloved Mahatma Gandhi.

I’m working through the fifth season of Doctor Who and just recently watched the magnificent episode(s) “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood.”

(WHAT FOLLOWS IS A SPOILER ALERT. TURN BACK NOW IF YOU’RE AT ALL LIKE ME AND DETEST SPOILERS!)

 In these episodes the human race comes into contact with another species that have co-inhabited the earth with them since their beginnings, unbeknownst to them: homo reptilia (aka lizard people. ah, science fiction). The homo repitilia have taken three humans hostage, two of whom are the husband and son of an unsuspecting Welsh mother. The humans in turn have a homo reptilia held hostage and the Doctor has decided to burrow into the earth to meet with the homo reptilia’s leader and strike a deal, trading the hostages. Before he leaves, he tells said Welsh mother and the other two humans to “be the best of humanity.” By which he means do not harm the creature that is, in some capacity, to blame for the kidnapping of the other people.

This might be my favorite Doctor Who line I have yet heard, which is saying quite a bit concerning he’s chock full of wonderful lines. But Chris Chibnball, the author of this particular episode, captures in a line what nonviolence- or better, Love- demands of humanity: the absolute best.

I’ve told myself time and time again that anger and violent retorts are easy, a gut reaction to pain or suffering. Being the best every day that we can be requires an absolute commitment to being the best we can be.

Yes, there is violence in Doctor Who. Often the Doctor and his Companions have to make horrible sacrifices, and this episode is no exclusion. But the appeal of the Doctor (besides his excellent one-liners and swell suspenders) is his determination to carry onward despite the pain. And he, who is over 950 years old, does so through nonviolence as much as possible.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, and the show certainly doesn’t always preach Love, but I really love that this is the call the Doctor has as the champion of the human race.
---
current jam: "mr. medicine" eliza doolittle
best thing in my life right now: the cucumbers are back in the dining halls!
days until departure: 41 days, 10 hours 


P.S. I gave the blog a bit of a makeover (in case you didn't notice). What do you think?