Sunday, July 8, 2012

An atheist gathering in the South, and thoughts on confronting racists

Last night we went to dinner at my colleague's new (to him) 20 acre farm that's about 20 minutes out of town (that's how close I live to bumblefuck!).  Growing up less than 15 miles from the George Washington Bridge to NYC (and then moving from there to Philly), it was the kind of place I had only ever seen in pictures until I started driving out to the midwest to visit B's parents 5 years ago. The homestead is an expansion of a building that was originally built in the 1790s, so in the middle of his house is a big log cabin that has doors leading to various extensions that were built around it over the centuries. He has a family tree of the family that lived there from the 1790s-1912.  The glass in the windows are all wavy because they were hand made.

He has a few goats, lots of chickens, some turkeys, and a bunch of rabbits, aand a veggie garden that is now more of a small farm than a garden. Also 3 kitties, 1 full grown dog and a lab/shepard mix puppy named Piper that is just the most adorable puppy I ever got to hang out with for a few hours, and at 9 weeks she is already better trained than Barkley.  It was 100 degrees outside as it has been for a few weeks down here, but they had plenty of sweet tea and PLENTY of wine- I had 4 or 5 glasses by the time the night was over. 

His live in girlfriend (with whom he bought the house) is awesome and I consider her an honorary OTDer; she grew up in a charismatic christian hippie cult on a farm somewhere in the mountains of Virginia - the kind of place where she referred to her "Father" as the church leader vs. her "biodad" who was just another cult member.  After the cult and family broke up for various horrifying reasons (involving sexual abuse of course), she went through a religious transformation, and eventually became an atheist who now sports an awesome "FSM" sticker on her car.

So we always have a lot to talk about regarding becoming an atheist, the various stages you go through on the way, etc.  Like last night we discovered that we had both gone through a pagan phase after first leaving our original religion- mine was when I was a teenager and hers was when she was in her mid 30s, but both happened right when we first went "OTD" and still believed in god but had lost faith in our religions.   We both did candle lighting of various colors and trying to say magic words to change our luck and stuff like that for a few years.  But now neither of us do that anymore.  We talked about how for years after we didn't logically believe in god most of the time, we still prayed in our heads every once in a while when things went wrong, but how neither of us do that anymore either.

I lent her Deborah Feldman's book "Unorthodox" a couple of months ago, so she gave it back last night and we got to talking about that for a while (my colleague was like "I'm just glad to have that horrifying book out of my house, I kept hearing all these horrible stories second hand from my gf"). And how no, my parents don't do everything in the book, but they do a LOT of the stuff in there, including hilchos niddah. And how I don't know if my mother uses bedikah clothes/sends them to her Rabbi, and I don't want to ask cause if she does it would be too horrible to know about (Do most right wing modern orthodox women do this? I suspect they do).

And as usual when you live in the south and have a gathering of 6 out of maybe 100 atheists in town, we got to talking about living as an atheist in the south surrounded by religious people.  And dating.  And how my colleague and his girlfriend went out with basically every atheist/agnostic of their age range/who uses internet dating in the region before they met each other. And her last BF lived 5 hours away. I am SO glad I didn't move here while I was single, I probably would have ended up joining the conservative or reform temple or something out of desperation (or even worse, dated religious christians!). Actually if I was single I probably would have taken a 2 year postdoc I was offered instead of moving here.

We also got to talking about this thing at my school last year, when the sociology club sponsored a guest speaker to talk about the death row (her daughter had been kidnapped and murdered and she argued for the guy to be taken off death row so that he would tell her where the body is) and she kept ranting on about "jesus christ" this and her "faith in christ" that, and it made me super uncomfortable because we're a PUBLIC school, and this was a school sponsored event, so wtf. But that I didn't know what to do so I didn't really say anything, but it felt super wrong. And later my other colleague said things like "Welcome to the south, that's just what everyone is like down here" when I talked to her about it.    Which got my colleague's girlfriend talking about how she told off this person for saying "I'll pray for you" in this really nasty way.  "I'll pray for you" basically means "Fuck you" in southern jesus speak. Just like "well bless his heart" means "he's an incompetent moron."  It took me like a year to catch on to that one. Since they can't curse you out (since that's not very christian/southern/polite like) they've come out with a new way down here to curse you out without actually using cuss words.

Which got us talking about confronting people in general, and she told me this even more awesome story about how when my colleague was at the farmer's market, some farmer guy made a racist comment about an interracial couple there, and my colleague was like "you know, I've been buying from you every week for years, but because you just said that I'm never going to buy food from you again." And THEN he started calling out to other people passing by  "This guy is a racist, I'm not buying food from him anymore cause he's a big racist, he doesn't like interracial couples!  Don't buy from him unless you like racists!" or something like that for a few minutes.  Awesome!

I'm relatively white looking- although I have black hair/eyes and olive skin and sometimes I've been mistaken for Latina by Latino people who have started talking to me in Spanish.  My grandfather's nickname in the army was "Chico" because he looked Latino- he's actually Romanian/Jewish.  But I'm white enough that white people see me and see another white person.

Like many jewish people, I don't necessarily fully identify as white, especially since white people killed my great grandparents and enslaved my grandparents for not being white enough. But I know that to other white people, I look white, and I know I get all the benefits of white privilege, and especially lately white starting-to-look-a-bit-older and dressed in middle class clothing lady privilege.  I feel like I have a cloak of invisibility when it comes to getting pulled over, getting treated roughly by the cops, ever getting searched by the cops. Because I'm a white lady, and no white ladies do crimes (apparently)! And rough handling a white lady the way cops rough handle a white man or a black or hispanic lady, let alone a black or latino man, is just pretty unlikely to happen. I also of course have a leg up in the middle class job market, although not necessarily for "male" typed jobs, in which black/latina women and men of all colors who are seen as tougher or more agressive might have an easier time finding a job.

The only way to make my cloak of invisibility disappear is to look more like a hippie, because hippies are treated worse than regular white people, as I found out when I had dreadlocks and was super hippieish for a year in grad school (2006ish). It was funny, all the black people in my neighborhood started talking to me that year, all the cops and security guards started watching me, and all the white men stopped talking to me. Which I kinda liked, cause they also stopped lecturing me about smoking cigarettes.  Oh yeah, try being a young white woman smoking a cigarette outdoors, and count how many condescending lectures you get from older white men. Although that's probably more of a problem in the North than the South (I wouldn't know because I quit smoking).

Getting back to my point, white people say things around other white people that they might not say around other types of people. So I've had white people say racist things to me or around me assuming I would agree with it, and I had no idea what to do. I've actually had this happen to me much more in the north than in the south (probably because I lived there longer and my family is chock full o' racists), but it also has happened to me down here a couple of times.

If I've known the person well enough or didn't care about what they thought, then I have argued with them- like when my real estate agent here went on a whole rant about muslim people coming to town I was like "You know, the more I travel around the more I find out that people are just people are just people, no matter what the leaders of those people are saying.  Most people are just trying to live their lives the best way they can."  I knew I was purchasing a rather large service from him, so he needed my business, and I therefore felt comfortable saying that, although it's not quite as confrontational as I wish it would be. I've also been much more confrontational with people in my family, although not nearly as much as I wish I was. But when it comes to family members I always respond to racist comments to some degree though (ranging from expressing my dissent in a polite way to full blown screaming fights), and have since I've been a teenager.

But I've also been in situations where I was with another friend at their friend's house, and then that friend of a friend said something racist, but I was their house. So what do you do? I said nothing, and I hate myself a little bit for it. Later all 3 of us who were there besides this racist guy talked about how uncomfortable it made us- but in a room of 3 non racists and 1 racist, the racist view triumphed because nobody had the ovaries to confront him.

I want to be more like my colleague. I feel the same way about racists that I imagine they feel about their chosen race of hate-  I fucking hate them, and every time I've come across someone who had a racist view, I've lost 100% of my respect for them. B had a guy in his social group (not close friend) in Philly who said something racist in front of me once, and every time after that that I saw him I avoided him, and did something else like go online to avoid joining in conversation with him. And he will forever be referred to as "Racist Joe" by me.

And yet I never once said anything to him about it.   I'm afraid of confrontation like that. But it needs to be done, and I need to be better prepared for future situations.

When I lived in NYC, I had my ass grabbed on the subway several times. And when you're a young lady without a wedding ring (and even once you have), guys hit on you on the street everywhere. The first few times my ass was grabbed I was in total shock and by the time I realized what was happening, it was over and I couldn't figure out who had done it (The subway can be super crowded during rush hour).  The third time, I grabbed that hand and started yelling at the guy and asking him what the fuck did he think he was doing, and he quickly got off at the next stop.  The first few times someone tried to hit on me on the street I just said nothing and walked faster and basically ran away from them.  Now if someone does that I'll yell back at them and tell them to fuck off, or ask if hitting on random women on the street ever really works with anyone...really?

I need to figure out some kind of equivalent response for when people say racist things, so I can be the one yelling at people in the farmer's market not to buy food from a racist, and so that years and years later I don't have to feel guilty about every racist remark I've heard that I've never confronted- because I'll have confronted them! That's the kind of person I want to be more like.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mid summer veggies

Peppers on the vine




Sweet corn

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Personal Mantras and Plans for the Future

Over the years I've had a few sayings that I take on as kind of mantras, that I repeat to myself over and over again when in a shitty situation. One mantra I have for when I get negative feedback (like when a paper gets rejected from a journal I submitted it to) is "Sometimes the things we least want to hear are the things we most need to hear." I actually found that saying written on an index card I found on the street while walking home from grad school in Philadelphia, a few weeks after my adviser sat me down for a very painful conversation in which she told me I was not acting "professional" enough, and that in order to succeed in my career I should be dressing differently and acting in different ways.  I kept that index card, and it now hangs on the bulletin board over my desk at work. I also have another index card up there, which I wrote, which is a quote from an Arianna Huffington op-ed I read a couple of years ago- it says "Failure is not the opposite of success, it's an integral part of success."  This third index card I have says "1. Who cares? 2.Compared to what?" which I wrote after attending a workshop as a grad student (Which I actually organizing) on preparing to write your dissertation. A very senior scholar who was leading the workshop said "The very first thing you should think about when thinking about what research idea to pursue is: Who cares? If no one cares, don't do it.  The second thing to think about is who are you going to be comparing your group to, because you can never study one group in a vacuum, you need to compare it to another group to contextualize your results."

Throughout grad school, when I was poor as shit and living in the ghetto and B had lost his job and I was constantly worried about money (and before I met B, when I was just poor and alone), my mantras were "Temporary seems permanent when you're in it" and "This too shall pass."  And in HS I also had another mantra which in retrospect is kinda depressing. "No hope=no fear" (which I found in the liner notes of a Type O Negative album). The idea being that if I didn't hope for anything better, I wouldn't be disappointed and I would suffer less, and also be fearless because there was nothing to lose.

That's the mantra which got me through my parents taking away everything from me to try to turn me religious again- I detached from personal possessions, because having those were a kind of "hope" and a way for them to control me.  My parents took away things like my stereo, my phone line, my flute lessons, and would put religious strings attached to everything they did help with- like my college tuition, which they would only pay if I was at the shabbbas table every week, even though I told them I was not religious my senior year of high school.

As a teenager, after one particularly bad fight regarding religion in which yet again something else was taken away (I think this was after my parents took away my flute lessons) I took a bulletin board I had and using various shades of that horrid "Flesh toned" nail polish that was the only nail polish I was allowed to wear as a kid (cause I didn't have paint) I wrote in big letters "NO HOPE=NO FEAR" right there on the bulletin board.   If I didn't want anything, or hope for anything, there was no way to hurt me. Plus permenantly altering/destroying that bulletin board was fun too.  There's something I love about painting- the permanency of painting something can be very enjoyable (even just painting and fixing things in my house is like this- I get the same feeling from planting new perennial bushes/trees/plants and laying pipes in the sinkhole- the feeling that "I have made a permanent mark here."). After that I hid it behind something in my closet so my parents wouldn't see, and if I recall correctly I surreptitiously threw it out when I was moving out at age 22. Or maybe I didn't, and it's still back there, who knows.

I wonder if those formative experiences contributed to my lack of materialism these days? I know lots of people are into fancy gadgets, fancy shoes, fancy handbags and jewelry. I could not be less interested in those kinds of things. I've now made 2 major moves, and each move involved a whole lot of purging on my end- my rule is when making a major move I keep clothing that still fits and that I've worn within the past 2 years, books, CD's, furniture, and one box of pictures and old yearbooks and such. And pretty much nothing else.

 I admit I've accumulated a few things here or there that may add up to about a box worth of stuff- small statues and pottery that I've gotten on various trips, some candles, a small collection of antique blue glass mason jars and antique glass electric insulators, and a shot glass collection from all the cities and countries I've traveled to in the past 10 years or so.  A whole lot of of art work, most of it purchased from friends or starving artists.   But I'm not particularly attached to it.

Actually a friend of mine had her house robbed recently, which made me think- as long as my pets and B were ok (cause I know someone whose house was robbed and they left the window and all her cats escaped- that sounds super horrible!), I don't think being robbed would be all that horrible. I'd get to buy all new stuff from my home insurance, and there's nothing here that I really am attached to at all. Most of my pictures that I really care about are online, as is my wedding video I believe (which I still haven't seen anyway, even though I've been married over  3 years). I would be a little sad about losing trinkets from Turkey and Rome from our honeymoon, but I don't think those are even worth robbing.

Either way, it struck me recently that my mantra in high school was particularly depressing and hopeless.  The later ones I had- "this too shall pass" and "temporary seems permanent when you're in it" are hopeful mantras, because I had an idea that things would eventually get better when I was in grad school and working towards my current situation. So even though I was in worse material circumstances then I ever was before or probably ever will be again, it didn't seem all that bad because I knew it was temporary.  On the other hand, in high school I don't think I knew that it was temporary. No hope=no fear is a very hopeless mantra, in which I was ridding myself of all hopes as a protective mechanism because there was no hope for a better future at the time.  All I could see myself doing was going to college, and then getting married to a jewish guy, being religous, spending every shabbas and yuntiff (holiday) going to shul, and maybe working at some boring office job while raising kids and being in charge of lots of housework (which I hate, and I do hardly any of these days- B is awesome that way). It's no wonder that looking back I was clearly suffering from depression for almost all of high school, during which I hardly had any energy to do anything at all and spent almost all shabbas every weekend sleeping to avoid going to shul and sometimes even meals with my family.

I love that 12 or so years later I have a much better outlook for the future.And on the present! What's even better is I haven't used ANY of those 3 mantra's (no hope=no fear, temporary seems permanent, this too shall pass) since moving down south. I have used the one about hearing hard things a couple of times, especially when a journal article got rejected (although later i found out that journal has overbooked acceptances, so was basically rejecting everything new- so I shouldn't have ever taken it personally, although of course I did), but that's one that will come in useful throughout my life, I'm sure. I'm glad I no longer have to use the ones that basically say "Even though this sucks, one day it'll be better." Because that day has come!

Recently I said to B: "we're living in the future!" Since my freshman year of college (2001) I had the dream of one day becoming a sociology professor. So I knew I would be going to grad school, and I then spent 6 years there. So for 10 years I dreamed and worked towards becoming a sociology professor. I didn't know if I would succeed, I had no idea which part of the country I would live in  Also, for a while there I was single and even though I assumed I would eventually get married, I didn't know who I would marry until a few years ago. I figured I would eventually buy a house, but i didn't know what it would like like. You know, the way when you're a kid you try to figure out what your life would be like as a grown up.

So for years and years I had been dreaming about the future and my future life living somewhere, working at some kind of job, and maybe married to some person and living in some kind of house. But it had all been a huge gray space until recently. My life had been totally planned until graduation, and for almost a decade, what came after that was a huge unknown. But now I'm there! I know who I married, I know what my house looks like, I know what job I have, I know what it's like to actually be a professor.

Now I need to start making new dreams. I turned 30 exactly a month ago, and a month into my 30s it's already looking slightly different then I thought it would be, but I'm also cluing into the fact that life doesn't end when your 20s end, I have decades ahead of me, and now that I've accomplished a whole bunch of my "Transition to adulthood" dreams, I can start working on "what will I do during my adulthood" dreams. Which includes things like tenure, and babies, and book projects (I pitched a book idea to an editor of a big press- and she LIKED it!  I'm starting the research for it this Fall!), and a small business that me and B are in the process of starting up in our spare time, and maybe even a bit of public attention to my research if I'm lucky (which is already starting to happen)!

Yesterday we were looking over cruises that we probably won't have money to go on for decades from now, but why wait to start dreaming and planning these trips?  The more we plan and save for them, the more likely they are to happen. I was originally thinking we could wait until retirement and take one of those 6 month cruises that go almost everywhere around the world- but why should we wait that long? We might be able to afford a cruise as soon as 10 years from now! Plus as much as a 6 month trip around the world sounds awesome, spreading out some of that awesomeness throughout my entire life (and not waiting until I'm in my late 60s and who knows what kind of shape) sounds a lot more awesome.  I want to take one that goes to Japan/China/South Korea and crosses over to Alaska, another one that goes to India and Egypt (to see the Pyramids!) - there are some of those that also go to Cambodia/Thailand and some even go to Australia and Indonesia/new zealand too (maybe that one will have to wait until the Suez Canal isn't full of pirates- this might be a post retirement cruise), and since seeing my friend's pictures of her trip to cambodia and all the lovely buddhist ruins everywhere, I'd love to check it out too.  And of course a cruise/land trip that goes to Western Europe since I've only ever been to southern Europe- I especially want to see the Louvre in Paris and Stonehenge in England. Oh and some day we are definitely taking a trip to Hawaii. And Mexico, I've never been there yet. Also one day I want to take a road trip that goes down Route 40 all the way to LA and stops at the Grand Canyon on the way-  the one part of the US I haven't been to at all is the Southwest and I'd love to see the American desert.

I figure the order will be roughly by my age:
Mid-Late 30s (post tenure): Hawaii, and Road trip across the US (this one might be early 40s- want to wait until we have kids old enough to appreciate it and not be insane the whole trip)
40s: Japan, China and Alaska (don't want to wait too long to see those glaciers) cruise or Western Europe cruise, Mexico (Hopefully by then the drug war will be over)
50s: Whichever one of those we didn't do in our 40s and/or Egypt and India cruise
60s: Whichever one of those 3 cruises we didn't do yet. And a galapagos islands cruise if we're rich by then.

Of course since being in academia is awesome, there's always the possibility that a conference will take me to one of those places earlier. In fact there's a conference in Australia next year in my subfield that I'm contemplating applying to, just to have the chance to visit Australia. Unfortunately my travel funding for my job isn't completely unlimited, so if I did that kind of trip I'd be paying part of it out of pocket or have to raise the funds some other way, plus none of the research I'm currently working on fits the theme of the conference so I'd have to start something new. But either way, there will be more of those types of opportunities in the future.

So getting back to the original point of this post, what are some personal mantras y'all have? Or am I the only one who does that?  And where do you dream about visiting some day?