let them eat poppy

Aside

“Birds or bats?”

Asked as a joke referencing a previously-established quip, Cait referred to the swirling cluster of zapping dots adding a dynamic light feast to the Parliament Building. The time was evening in early September, and we were two American expats, a Canadian, and an Italio-Hungarian on the Budapest Chainbridge on our way over to Buda. Our objective? To excavate the amazing Hungarian castles. We called the original joke “fat or pregnant?” and while it was not entirely politically correct, its presence had added a considerable charge to the day’s events as they came to play out.

As an American au pair working in Eastern Europe, it is not everyday that I find myself warmed by the company of a group of international angels, magnificent women who all exceeded my already-low expectations in being simultaneously gregarious, welcoming, witty, well-read, well-travelled, and most enticing to me at the time, well-spoken. Strangely enough, these women were also living in the Netherlands. I say that only because another gem-laden moment had occurred to me about one month earlier, at the castle in Bratislava, and this time, the gift had arrived in the form of a group of beautiful man angels, who yes, were also Dutch. Nights like these helped me to remember that at its best, being an au pair meant sheer limitless travel and essentially, an opulence of opportunity regarding spiritual and intellectual growth.

What does it mean to be an au pair? Had you asked me this about a month ago, I might have said something along the lines of, “Giving up your freedom and control out of an illusory wish to be free from control!” Or, “Agreeing to work for nothing, deluded that you might come out of it well-travelled and bilingual!” Or, “Biting your tongue as you listen to a forceful man spout out sexist jabber, meanwhile cringing under constant criticism regarding the way you fold your clothes from the mom!” Or any other such combination of negativities that had more to do with my personal complexes than the reality I had actually immersed myself into.

No, nights like the one I spent in Budapest with Cait, Simone, Simon, and Heather, or like the one I spent in Bratislava with Romy, Kierys, Kika, Edu, and Edmund, are what help dissipate the looming figures in my head. Alternatively, I am soothed by the lackadaisical afternoons spent meandering along hand-in-hand with Ava, my prodigee. Exalted by the butterscotch-specked broccoli hills of Slovakia and the train crashing in and out of our peripheral visions,  I learn more and more each day about what it means to be present, simply because I see that while walking home from the park, there is nothing on Ava’s mind except for the flowers that she consistently crouches down to glance at.

Yes, in four months I will have to break my teeth on the steel bullet that is the student debt I blindly accumulated over the course of my four years at my pristine, private university in Seattle. It hardly even matters that this stark reality is shared by more than half the nation’s university grads, though it should ease some of the tension, because (I try not to go on Facebook but when I do) I see my peers all prancing and dancing, eager to squeeze and juice the dregs out of our tauntingly finite “grace period” that had me jump oceans in the first place. Convinced that international travel was crucial to my development, certain that Paris had a palace with my name on it, things are not at all as I’d expected (though I expected them to be just that, not as I’d expected), now I wonder how I might not simultaneously freeze and zap into lightning speed the time that I might reunite at once with my love, unlock financial freedom, and gallivant the rolling hills of Europe side-by-side with this darling Slovak girl until she chants English with ease and perfection…Who is to say what the future holds, when it is really nothing but an accumulation of choices shaken up by the divine unknown? Until then, it is poppy seed pastries for me, or as they say in Slovak, makovník.  

12-Step Programs

I wrote this as an assignment for my “Addiction Studies” course. I thought I’d share it on here. 

07 May 2013

Addicts– an anecdote

 

Addicts– what to do?  I’m not referring to a specific type– agree or disagree, I’m an adamant believer that an addict is an addict is an addict, whether a lush in L.A. or a junkie in Seattle, to generalize for just one moment. Being the daughter of one beautiful, prodigal, outlandishly cunning woman, a woman whose torrented life owes something, if not everything, to the astounding powers of meth, I’m inclined to say that some, if not all, addicts are innately smart people. I say that, but I really don’t mean that, because the reality is, hanging around addicts is weird. Addicts are weird. They are negative people, terrible, even, and their behaviors, most of the time, just really cannot be justified. Because when you’re an addict, and you’re looking to get high, all you really care about is when and how you will get that next fix. That’s a stereotype. It’s a cliche, nowadays, and it’s smothered in the PSAs. But those facts don’t erase its truth. Addicts are bad people. This is true. It’s so true. I hate to admit that and it’s difficult not to hate myself for admitting that out loud, but objectively, that’s how it is. Primal ethnology of substance indulgences aside, addiction just isn’t rational.

Sometimes, an addict is even aware of this fact. Just earlier today, I had a conversation with an old friend where she recalled moments from a few years back in our history. Just a few years back, I might have been duly in the process of performing a favor for her– like picking her up from some house, and driving her home to mine. My house– I was driving her “home” to my house, where she was “temporarily” staying. I would usually offer her food along the way, food she would always refuse, or at best, pathetically pick at. Anyway, as she recalled today on the phone, she empathized with her past self in order to shed light on something I myself was suddenly experiencing, remembering what it felt like to  have her fix in her purse, along with the paraphernalia with which she might use it, all while being in my car on the way to my house and literally hating my guts simply because I existed. Literally, in these situations, the fact of my existence was the only barricade from her using. So, in the midst of performing for her a favor, I was somehow the devil incarnated. I’ll say it again– she knew that this was not rational, let alone fair to me, but therein lies the mindset of an addict. When you want to get high, that need trumps everything else. Every single thing– especially the ability to be loving to those who care for you, or at the very least, a decent, commendable human.

With this anecdote in mind, I ask you– what do we, as a society, do with these addicts? I’ve already hinted that I believe some of them to be the smartest people alive. Having been raised by an addict, and grown up around it, and even having for a breeze used  the things myself, I can’t deny the fact that I am concerned for these people. Try as I might to distance myself from them (I moved 1000 miles north to escape my dark and twisted past) I can no longer deny the fact that I care about these people, and even feel somehow that I am linked to them. The thing with drugs, and the people who use them, is that they are so profoundly lonely. The very act of ingesting a drug shockwaves you straight into a vacuum. It’s the most isolating thing that you can do to yourself. I mean that wholeheartedly.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous — a brief (and biased) history

 

Notable psychologist Carl Jung went so far as to deem substance dependence as “medically helpless”. That’s a pretty bold statement. So how did people respond?  Bill Wilson and his doctor friend provide a big example. Together, they one day decided, while chatting it up in Akron, OH, that the solution to this “medically helpless”, profoundly isolating epidemic was to start up grassroots support groups in empty churches and abandoned basements. The idea was that, over shitty coffee and too many cigarettes, people would come together and talk about the horrors their habits created for them and how difficult the sober life is. Bill Dub and Dr. Bob Smith designed a thoughtful, well-intentioned “twelve step program” and called it Alcoholics Anonymous. They published a book by the same title (but nicknamed The Big Book) in 1939 and before anyone knew it, this phenomenon went viral. People all over the country started gathering in basements, passing the book around while scrounging for shitty coffee and filling churches up with cigarette smoke. It became the alternative solution to prison sentences– don’t lock an addict up, simply force recovery upon them! Recovery through these meetings.

Look, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this system is horribly flawed. While I will gladly admit that AA seems to work for some people, my dad being one of them, it is not for all people, and I think oftentimes, the program does more harm than it does good. My dad is a lonely guy– he divorced and never remarried. He’s a little bit antisocial, and his kids are all grown up. He’s in astronomical amounts of debt, etc. For him, AA is a place where he can go and be a part of a community. AA is where he has friends. So for my father, woo hoo, AA is a wonderful thing.

On the flip side of that coin, there is my marvelous mother. My mother is a lot of things, and a willful, independent spirit is definitely one of them. AA is detrimental to these types of people. A willful person needs to live under the impression that every single decision they make is their own and theirs only. Even if that decision is an objectively bad decision. AA is the opposite of that. AA means admitting that you are a “medically helpless” person, and that you need these meetings to recover. AA leads you to believe that recovery without these meetings just simply isn’t a thing. Add the layer of these meetings being forced upon a person, and you might as well just forget it. My mother recently admitted to me that AA always only increased her desire to get high, and only sometimes was that desire physical– it was often just her form of petty rebellion. Granted, my mother might be an anomaly here, but I’m really not so sure.

 

Alcoholics Anonymous– My (most recent) Experience

 

On Wednesday April 24, 2013, I attended a “Sober and Free” Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a church on 10th ave. I attended with Amber, who I know from my film studies program, because I thought the “buddy system” might alleviate some of the awkwardness. As I mentioned, I grew up with addict parents, one who recovered and one who didn’t. These meetings were a part of my upbringing. I remember attending them as a child with my father– the parent who recovered. There was always lots of smoke, a ton of coffee (which I drank gleefully loaded with cream) and loads of Tootsie Pops. The bartender would always give us an extra Tootsie Pop if we received a wrapper that had a “star” imprinted on it. Wanda, one of the regulars, would always give us strawberry candies that appeared from the depths of her handbag. She smelled like cheap perfume. My sister and I mostly just played in the arcade area, sometimes pool but usually pinball. Occasionally, only occasionally, would we sit in on the meetings. I’ll admit that I never really paid attention to what was said and my favorite part was always the hand-holding circle in which the Lord’s Prayer was recited.

Anyway, this meeting with Amber was different. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would be a good idea to tell her that I had a history with these things. Being transparent and radically honest, I ended up telling her. I didn’t tell her everything, but I told her enough so that it was clear that I, unlike her, was not feeling voyeuristic about the project because I, unlike her, had grown up with the phenomenon. I really did not know what to say because since moving here, the whole ordeal has seemed so very distant to me– at least, up to this point. This class has triggered a surge of memories, and it’s been very challenging, confronting that fact. I alway told myself that, despite everything, I am not my parents. I have always been so sure to make it a noted point that I am creating a life that is separate, even radically different, from the lives they chose to live. I’m losing sight of that.

Anyway, again with Amber, I agreed that despite my past, we would both just tell the people that we were student observers. I was skeptical of this, but felt awkward, because I could tell that Amber felt awkward, about my having addict parents. Not that I blame her, I don’t at all because it’s sort of an awkward thing– unless, of course, you’ve lived it. But then, it’s sort of an even more awkward thing– because we’re supposed to be honest about our experiences, and accept each other’s diverse perspectives for what they are, right? But things like alcoholism, and meth addiction, are still just so unbelievably socially unacceptable. As they really should be, because if the definition of “socially unacceptable” is behavior that is a threat to humanity, well, those two diseases definitely fall under that umbrella.

Moving on– we knew we’d reached the right place when we saw people hugging through the windows. An older woman greeted us, and told us that we were more than welcome to sit in. Amber did most of the talking, I never really talk much when I’m in group settings. The woman (whose name I forget) told us that it was multiple people’s birthdays, and that they always celebrated such things at the end of the month. She offered us some homemade fruit cake, and while it looked delicious, I was stuffed from the ramen that Amber and I’d had for dinner. The meeting itself was less than profound. Maybe it was the fact that I’d had a long day, or that I’d insanely over eaten just a few hours before, or that I was nervous and anxious and riled about being there in the first place, but I just really was not impressed. I remember feeling sad for everyone in the room, I do remember that. I remember recalling how tragically alone people are in their addictions. And that maybe, just maybe, AA was a good thing.

We ended up, somehow, at a “gay” meeting– other than our greeter, we were the only ladies present. Which was comforting– not to sound uptight but it was comforting to know that no one in the room was interested in oogling (at us, anyway.) It also might be a strange coincidence that they were reading the “We Agnostics” chapter. Honestly, I’ve never really picked up the book in my life, I know I shouldn’t knock things that I haven’t tried, but like I said, I’m just really not a fan of this system. I thought that this chapter was alright. It seemed like it was trying to acknowledge the lonely, defensive place that so many addicts are coming from. Still, the meeting was kind of low energy, and no one’s story really blew me away. They were all just variations on a theme– “I didn’t want to give up everything, until I realized that I had to. I didn’t want to admit that I needed AA, until I realized that I had to.” I mean, in a lot of ways, it makes sense. When you’re addicted to something, you don’t care about people. This means that people cannot really truly care about you, either. That’s what I mean, by isolating. Or that’s part of what I mean. All that said, I just really don’t get AA. One of the guys even mentioned, after the meeting, that he hoped we didn’t stereotype them based on ‘the movies”– he seemed to think that the movies were inaccurate depictions of AA meetings. Maybe he’s right. He’s probably right. I still don’t get AA.

 

Narcotics Anonymous– an anecdote

 

If I think that AA is flawed, that is nothing in comparison to my thoughts regarding NA. NA is poison. Literally, poison. Founded in LA about eighteen years subsequent to the founding of AA (1953, to AA’s 1935) in California by Jimmy Kinnon and others, I am not sure what he was thinking when he thought it would be a good idea to invite the gamut of addicts into one cigarette-smoke-saturated basement. I know from first-hand experience, that for many, NA is where you go when you are not serious about recovery, but are actually looking to meet new “connects”. For those who are serious, AA is a surefire option, regardless of your addictive tendencies.  I acknowledge that this is probably not an “across the board” phenomenon, but I certainly think there is something to it, and as I’ve said, I’ve seen it up front. My mom admitted to me that she met some of her best “connects” in NA. Again, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this is how I feel, and I don’t know that my mind will change.

 

Narcotics Anonymous– my experience

 

I didn’t go to another meeting. I could have, I would have, I should have.  I could even have pretended to and just made something up.  For the purposes of this class, and this paper, though, I just am not going to do that. The truth is, this class is triggering for me. While it shames me to admit this, I recently relapsed. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I certainly don’t mean to say that I relapsed because of this class. I didn’t. There are so many factors that went into this behavior– this choice– beginning, perhaps, with my own hereditary temperament, and following with my environmental upbringing, continuing with loads of factors in between, and maybe culminating in the fact that I ended two unhealthy relationships over the span of just one week. I could mull over the fact that I share a studio apartment with a man I am not dating and that I have no space, let alone time, to myself, or the fact that I am graduating with no plans in just one month (assuming I pass my classes). I could even self-pity over the admission that I feel uncomfortable with the way I’ve lived my life up to this point. The excuses are honestly endless.

The truth is, triggering as it all is, even “trite” and “voyeuristic” as it all seems to me sometimes, I was meant to be in this class. This is my final opportunity to look my demons in the eye, and tell them that they bore me. That I know longer need them. That I’m not that person anymore, that I’ve outgrown this layer of my flesh. Even though I relapsed, I know that I can move on. And I can accept that it’s a part of me. Will always be a part of me. It’s a process, it will always be a process, but as I mentioned earlier, I care about this world, and the people who inhabit it. I mostly care from a distance, but never a day goes by when I don’t wish that there was more that I could do. I know I’ve been critical of the system– and have probably failed to sufficiently back it up. I don’t even offer an alternative– because I’m not sure what that would be. I just know that, as it is now, the system does not know or even appear to want to know how to treat the addicts of our world. Of course, there are individuals within the system who seem to demonstrate a little bit more insight, and intuition regarding the matter (like you, I would say you come from a place of caring) but generally, it doesn’t seem as if most individuals that make up the “system” truly care about the individual persons beneath the addicted layers. Again, as I’ve also hinted at, this tendency is almost rightfully so, because the addicts tend to make it so hard for you to care. Even in cases where caring is present, it’s a feeling that is nearly impossible to sustain– my relationship with my mother provides a classic example of this tension.

My roommate recently told me that I ought to own up to my messiah complex. I never thought of it that way, but perhaps he has a point. I spent my entire childhood wasting my birthday candle wishes on one single wish– that my mother would recover. That she would learn to love herself. It never happened, and to this day, I can’t bring myself to wish on anything ever about anyone or anything under any circumstance. My friend wanted to blow away on dandelions  just last weekend, and that innocent impulse in him literally sent me down into a deep wormhole of sadness for a good five minutes. It wasn’t his fault, and it certainly wasn’t rational, but there you have it– sometimes, emotions just are not rational. Emotions actually are not considered to be “rational” at all– but they’re important. They are so important, and in some ways, they are the root source of my interest and engagement with the world around me.

The truth is, this paper is very hard for me to write. I feel like I have so much to say– so much pain and memory stored up. It’s all so cloudy, and I really don’t know where to begin. Let alone, how to do it all the justice that it deserves. I want to write something cathartic, I want to write something real. Maybe this isn’t the paper  that you wanted, but it’s the only paper I could write. I hope I go back to it, and make it the memoir it deserves to be. I didn’t realize until now how profound my need is to express these experiences in writing.

I guess I’ll close on a story about a girl I discovered on Tumblr. I found her last week, while I was perusing the “drug” tag in the moments preceding my relapse (don’t even get me started on online “support” groups, that are so the opposite of supportive!) Anyway, in this teenager’s “about me” page, she tells the world all about how she has the “perfect life”– the perfect family, the perfect house, a pretty face, and a place in the “popular” crowd at school. She goes on to say that she is bored, and wants something “different”. A line separates her story, and she tells us that, three months later, things have changed. She’s lost her virginity, tried pot, and become addicted to meth. She chronicles her stories in a very vivid, episodic manner. She writes quite well. It’s surreal, to me, reading these stories. I feel like I’m almost re-living tales from my own past– I remember it all so clearly, and I see exactly where things might be headed for this poor girl.

I started talking to this girl, gently extending a hand. She’s already at a point where she is trying to get clean– on the one hand, she has her “getting high” boyfriend, and on the other, there is a boy in her life who loves her, but can’t be with her unless she gets clean. I hope she ends up with the right one, I hope she gets clean, and I told her so. I told her that I know how hard it is to let go of people who you care about, but that sometimes, you just have to, because they are literally poison. Most importantly, I think, I told her how good her writing was– I told her all about her potential, and her strong sense of voice.  She told me that no one ever told her she was a good writer, so she “never knew if she was or not.” That made me happy– knowing that I saw someone’s potential, and helped them to become aware of it. It’s really important that in someone’s early life, someone else pays attention enough to notice that they are special. It’s important to be told so, in a manner that is honest, inspiring, and supportive. This brings me back to my original point that addicts are so smart. I really think that some people are just so smart, and so acutely aware of everything around them, that it becomes overwhelming. It becomes simultaneously overwhelming, and in some cases, so pathetically boring, that they seek out some things to either numb the pain, or spice things up, or some weird combination of the two. It really just all comes down to love, though. If you have people who love you, and care for you, and let you know that you are special, you have something that nobody can ever take away from you– the beginning of some self-worth. If you act on these encouragements, you are even better off– activities. Creativity and activities are the ultimate anti-drugs. I just hope it all works out. I hope this made some sense. I hope I can continue to write about this, and maybe arrive at some sort of higher truth. It’s really hard to say.

SPRING BREAK

woo.

Looking at that little list I made last week, I’m pleasantly surprised that I can check some of the things off. I didn’t run everyday, but I ran many days. I didn’t join a credit union, but I’m going to this week. I did submit my “History Is” film and am not terribly upset with the way it’s turned out. I did put quite a bit of work into the SIFF project, in fact, I just finished transcribing an interview with our artist, Sam Boshnack, that we captured yesterday. It’s really too bad that we only have two minutes for this thing, because she really is a great character, person, and artist. Following her around to various gigs and chatting her up with zoom recorder, in combination with reading Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit”, is helping to really illustrate how much hard work and discipline goes into the lifestyle of “artist”. I don’t think I would have transcribed everything had I not been reading Twyla Tharp. And that’s okay. It’s okay for me to use that crutch right now, so long as I take off soon.

I spent the day in the sun, with friends, in the blossoming cherry orchard at UW. I ate my heart out in Indian Food at Flowers, which was good, because I haven’t been that into food as of late.  I climbed a tree, which was great. I’m terrified of heights.

The word of the day is “gaumless”- I still behave gaumlessly sometimes,  even though I’m really not, and I still need to work on my interpersonal dynamics. But I’m getting there.

I move this week, and that’s scary. But it’s a new start, and I can’t wait for this next chapter.

(also, I really want to imitate Twyla Tharp’s habit of using boxes for each project, but I’m so unstable– my living situation is apparently constantly shifting. I’m using Google Docs as a surrogate, which isn’t as tangible or charismatic as a box, but it’s a good stand-in for now.)

spring is finally here ;]

grand ole’

To Do List– Spring Break Style

1. SIFF doc on Sam the musician

2. run every day

3. PACK

4. Get passport (Monday)

5. Pull funds from bank and join a credit union

6. stop obsessing over the future and do one thing at a time

7. History video– I overheard some classmates talking about the video they were making, and the video I had in mind paled in comparison but that is NOT an excuse. it’s free to enter so just do it and stop comparing yourself

8. write my friend back snail mail style

10. McVegans doc? I recruited a crew member and he’s out of town till Wednesday, but get that going.

11. STOP obsessing

12. oh, and maybe make it to yoga a few times. it’s good for you.

future

it’s getting to be that time where the magnitude of graduating university with zero plans really hits you over the head.

nostalgia kept me awake last night and for the first time in my entire life, moving back to Las Vegas sounded like a good idea. No rent, my sister or father could probably find me some job, and I could save up money until I had enough to move to New York.

Of course, I’d need a car. Or, to move close to wherever I worked so, I’d end up paying rent anyway. Even if I didn’t need to move closer– do I really want to live with my father in his bachelor pad? Sorry, but no. I could live with my sister but I wouldn’t want to impose, either. And if I did move back to Las Vegas, who’s to say I’d ever make it out alive? I have this theory that people who go “home” after university, don’t leave. THAT WILL NOT BE ME.

Maybe I can be a variation on James Joyce and leave Las Vegas, never go back, and write about nothing but for the rest of my life. There’s a thought.

Back up, anyway. It’s about to be April. I’m moving to Nebraska in June. I don’t really know what to expect there, either, but I know the cost of living is low so that’s nice. I’m expecting the worst though. What if my friend and I are not compatible roommates? Slow down. Nebraska will be just fine. It will either be tolerable, or it will be great, and then it’s back to Seattle in October or November, depending on how long I’d like to couch surf for and how much money I have saved up.

I’m going to Paris in November and dammit, I’m going to stay for 3 months if it kills me. Maybe two months. I read this article that claims I *can* live there on 15 dollars a day. That sounds like a stretch, and I’ll most definitely be pushing it, but I must see Paris, and I must not feel rushed. I must see Paris, and the south of France, and Amsterdam, and maybe Prague. Maybe Berlin, but those are the main ones.

So, June-February or so are pretty mapped out. What do I do after that? I need to actually get a job. Start thinking about my career. What career? Am I still pursuing filmmaking? Am I going to go back to being serious about writing? Playwriting? Maybe I’ll work for some non-profit?

Before I worry about my career, where the HELL am I flying into from Europe? Seattle? Omaha? Las Vegas? Phoenix? New Orleans? New York?

Ultimately, I know that I want to end up in New York City within the next year. Ultimately, I know that I want to visit my family within the next year. I really miss Las Vegas, but I don’t really actually want to go there for longer than like, two days. I really miss my grandparents and cousins and I could stay there for a bit longer than two days, but no more than two weeks, certainly. I want to move to New York City but I have no plans other than brute desire and vague dreams.

I need a plan. I need an answer. Usually, my intuition is a lot more generous than this. I guess I should just take things one day at a time. I haven’t even moved out yet, and that is most immediate.

I haven’t felt this uncertain, this terrified, in my entire life. My friends in Las Vegas think I’m so brave for moving to Seattle– it was nothing. University is safe. It’s cushy. It’s expensive, and I’ll grasp the magnitude of that soon enough, but the world supports you so long as you’re putting money into educating yourself. Being a student changes everything.

anyway, my heart is pounding

I’m terrified

I’m exhilarated

bring. it. on.

i’m resourceful, right?

snowy spring

– ineffectual interpersonal dynamics

– c o m m u n i c a t i o n (the more you talk, the more I want to withhold on principle)

– projecting

– consciousness/ontology/intent(s)ionality (sometimes, more than gossip happens at my place of work. sometimes)

– space– creating a space– everything changes when you walk into the room

– public performance / pronunciation of “isms” vs. private actions / repressed feelings

– love and support despite multiple sources of tension

– am I ineffectual or just attracting the wrong people?

– look in the mirror, but responsibility is shared

– ideas– high on ideas

– giving, taking

– your father knowing that you don’t like purses and mailing you an alternative.

– making love– creating love

Cycles of the “Preyed” and the “Preying” Through Unpacking Jael in the Book of Judges

disclaimer: I wrote this as a “reaction paper” for my theology 300 class, Women and the Hebrew Bible– the class was an eye opener and a pleasure, in that I was able to sit with a group of women (and a few select men) 3 times a week and talk gender issues as they make themselves apparent in biblical text. Interestingly, we were able to take these texts and shed light on current issues, including but not limited to the most recent Steubenville rape case (more to be discussed on that later.) Anyway, here is my “reaction” to Jael in the book of Judges, interwoven with some personal touches, because as Dr. Lawrence was so wise to point out, with discussing such issues as gender ones, personal stories matter. My professor’s personal praise for this encouraged me to put it out into the world, so here’s me, age 21 and preparing to graduate university, take it or leave it 

In reading the Book of Judges and henceforth synthesizing my thoughts regarding the text, Jael occupies a sizeable portion of my personal attention. While I don’t find Jael to be in herself a negative character (she has a whole whopping paragraph to her name in Judges 4, plus a positive affirmation in a song that is Judges 5) perhaps her story has resulted in some negative connotations regarding human culture generally and femininity specifically. For the most part, Judges 4-5 came as a pleasant surprise– finally, we were given a woman in a legitimate position of power. Finally, we read about a woman who was literally more significant than her husband. I’m referring to Deborah, who is introduced as being “wife of Lappidoth” before the mention of her “judging Israel.” To her credit, Lappidoth is not once mentioned again while Deborah’s being a judge does play an integral part in this story. That said, Deborah in herself is certainly a fascinating female figure, but as I’ve hinted, my interest lies primarily with Jael.

The film exercise we did in class was not only creatively stimulating (and catering to our multiple perspectives like such courses should be doing) but it was also painfully revealing. I mean, it was I who suggested that someone like Scarlett Johanson be cast as the character of Jael. Why did I suggest this? An answer to that question involves some unpacking, so let me now consider the source text. Long story short, Deborah tells Barak (what happened to Lappidoth?) that “the Lord commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor…” His task is to “draw out” Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army and enemy to the holy people of Israel. Almost comically, she forewarns him, this “will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” This brings us to Jael. After Sisera’s army is plundered “by the sword,” Sisera ends up at Jael’s tent since there was “peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of [Jael’s husband] Haber the Kenite.” Literally speaking, Jael comes “out to meet Sisera” and says to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; and have no fear.” He then “turns aside to her into the tent” and asks her for some water. She gives him water, and “covers” him. He asks her to stand at the entrance (of her own tent!) and instead, she takes “a tent peg, and [takes] a hammer in her hand, and [goes] softly to him and [drives] the peg into his temple, until it [goes] down into the ground.”

While juicy, violent, and graphic, this is hardly the best part of the story. It takes another humorous turn when Barak comes “in pursuit of Sisera” and Jael goes “out to meet him,” saying, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” He goes [into her tent; and there [is] Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.” True to Deborah’s word, Barak is not honored, for Sisera falls at the hands of the woman Jael. The Bible does not give us Barak’s reaction, but I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that moment! I digress– while this part is funny, I’m mainly concerned with Jael’s encounter with Sisera. Maybe I’m misreading this, but where exactly does it say that Jael “coaxes” Sisera in? Either I missed that, or it simply isn’t there. According to my reading, Sisera goes to her tent of his own accord because he is at peace with her husband. Jael happens to be there, and she happens to invite him in, offering him shelter and comforts. Since she ends up giving him shelter but not comforts, I suppose it could be argued that her intentions are ill. I mean, clearly, her intentions are ill. Still, he comes to her and the guy is not a prince.

Setting this briefly aside to consider Judges 5, the victory song proclaims, “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite…” This is interesting, because as Bellis covers in her book, the Hebrews seem concerned with collective results as opposed to individual motivations. Sometimes, collective results do happen to trump individual motivations; but often, intent at the micro level matters. In Jael’s instance, things are more complicated, because she kills a known rapist and murderer, and an enemy to the Jews to boot. If you ask me, her tactics are for the most part irrelevant. She has the audacity to murder a rapist. Speaking in utilitarian terms, her actions are of course good, and in this instance, audacity is a virtue. Things get a little trickier when we project assumptions upon her demeanor and/or physical appearance. I’m talking about the projections that lump her specifically and ultimately, young women in power generally into the category of seductive “tricksters.” While we actually have no idea what this woman Jael might have looked like (or even her ballpark age-range) she was clearly appealing enough for the likes of Sisera’s company. Not that that is saying much, coming from a rapist, and/or from a man who was on good terms with her husband. But let’s humor this thought for a moment, and assume that she was an attractive woman. Is there anything wrong with being a gorgeous woman permeating sex appeal? Not necessarily. Is there something wrong with the over-fetishizing of such appeal in our mainstream media, and of exploiting such character traits in literary figures like the “femme fatale,” or her counterpart, the “manic pixie dream girl”? Absolutely, there is.

To be frank, I don’t see anything wrong with Jael’s actions even if she did use her “feminine beauty” to lure Sisera in. The ability to use such “powers” is, after all, a two-way street. Power games only work so long as someone is giving, and feeding off, said power. Why should Jael shoulder the blame for the way Sisera handles (or fails to handle) his sex drive? Bellis’s descriptions of Yee’s “shame” and “voracity syndromes” were fascinating. I’ve always had this theory that men, despite their “physical strength” and “rational-thinking minds” feel absolutely powerless to their instincts by the mere sight of, let alone pervading presence, of women. In tandem with that theory is my theory that men cannot stand to lose in any competitive situation, including situations regarding other men but especially with regard to situations involving women. As a mini digression, I recall a time just last week when I was skeeballing with a (male) friend. I totally out skeeed him in the first two games and I swear, I thought he was going to cry. The last game ended up being a close call, but I came out on top, and no exaggerations, he could hardly look at me for the rest of the evening. All he spoke about henceforth was how he “needed to get back into the gym” and how “he had never played skeeball before!”

Anyway, I’m aware these theories may be sexist, and I know they are generalizations, but what other explanation  is there for men having had, for thousands and thousands of years, subjugated women as objects for them to control? If they can’t control the root source (the way they handle their own biological instincts) surely the next best thing is to control the external sources that trigger said instincts? If most stories (especially earlier stories) were written by men, and most men feel slaves to their sexual desires, it makes perfect sense that women are often portrayed as hypersexual demons luring men into their own destructions. This is a complicated topic on which I could probably write a book, but it’s one that gets under my skin, and women like Jael appear to be root sources for subsequent figures of femininity, figures like the femme fatale and/or the manic pixie dream girl.

Moving in a different direction entirely, I encountered the most shocking piece of writing to this day in the Bellis chapter on Jael– Katharine Sakenfeld’s concluding story about the group of Korean woman. From an audacious woman at the “far end” of the table, Sakenfeld is told, “If you American women would just realize that your place in this story is with Sisera’s mother, waiting to collect the spoil of your interventions across the world….” She “didn’t want to hear that,” and being an American woman, this is probably rightfully so. I, for one, would not want to hear that at a table of women! Not to be redundant, but deciphering motives and discerning moralities in the Hebrew Bible is no simple task. For every possible answer, multiple complications are bred. Jael is revered in Hebrew thought because she helped in the defeat of the Phillistines. Compare this with the story of Samson and Delilah, and I say we’ve got some problems. Samson is revered despite being a brute and peevish warrior, yet Delilah is shunned for aiding the Phillistines, probably her own people. That is another story in and of itself, but it’s certainly food for thought.

In trying to discern some viable conclusions, to condone Jael’s actions, I believe, is correct. Need I say it again? She had the audacity to murder a rapist. Inversely, to condone her tactics might be stretching it. She appears to have maybe used deception and maybe taken advantage of the voracious appetite that is male sexuality. At the very least,  I consider her to be an amoral character who did her duty in lieu of the situation and with the resources readily available to her. I’ve always been appalled by how obtrusive the male sexuality can be. Even more appalling is the fact that I have to be appalled by this. Not to say that all men are like this, but honestly, I have yet to encounter a man whose actions weren’t on some level dictated by the juicy carrot dipping in front of them that they know to be sexual gratification. Again, and of course, there are exceptions, but I’ve known plenty of men, smart, creative, and idea-oriented men who cave and gawk at the mere presence of an attractive woman. While Jael is not in herself a negative character, perhaps her story connotes some negative things about humanity. I say humanity, but I mean predominantly one half of humanity, the half of humanity that are men. The story implies that men are so animalistically ruled by their sexuality that they actually are prey to women– potential prey. This assumption hurts, it hurts both sexes and it needs to stop. God only knows how that might happen (or doesn’t know, since he isn’t actually omniscient) but I guess classes like this keep us moving in the right direction.

if u don’t cry, it isn’t luv

I’ve never been married but this sure feels like a divorce. Coming from someone who doesn’t generally spend a whole lot of time staring at the dregs at the bottom of an empty cup, preferring to instead have my fingers already sticky with something else, this whole ordeal has been rather traumatic. And I say that I never really loved you like that. Well.

on day 1, I celebrated avec un Rainier and a Dijornio dinner– in my friend’s apartment, I welcomed myself back to the hood while telling you to go fuck yourself with your expensive wine. (in not so many words but you get the idea.)

on day 2, I went out to Chungee’s with my friends. I flirted with that infamous Scottish bar tender and tried to maintain my composure. Just when one of my friends was really starting to get on my nerves, my fortune cookie told me not to let my friends impose on me. I’m not superstitious but I’ve never once had cause to complain about my manufactured fortunes.

Day 3, I met with my new roommate to be and felt truly optimistic. I’d felt liberated, free, and excited for coming prospects but it peaked on this day. Happy breakup playlist was flaring and I already had ballpark images of what my coming months might look like.  I was terrified but determined to leap and finally take charge of my own destiny. Paris, New York, friends in the mid-west– all was possible! My life was truly mine again. After dinner with the new roommate, I hung out with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while and we had a truly special evening involving Rainier, wandering, moonlight, chocolate, and unfortunately, Dick’s. still, it was a long time coming and it was beautiful and almost perfect and I felt connected and supported and FREE, once again.

Day 4, I glowed with confidence and optimism. Seattle was so calm and for the first time, it felt like spring. I went for one of the best runs in a while and I bought myself groceries from the coop. You approached me later that day and I was happy to have had some healthy closure. I was making dinner, so I offered you some (how good it felt to have been COOKING for myself those past couple of days) and everything felt really natural. I didn’t feel crowded. I wondered why things hadn’t been like that before. Why we thought hanging out so frequently was a good idea. Why — but then, of course, I felt crowded once more and I went out into the world, less because I wanted to hang out with my friends and more because I felt trapped. Anyway, I spent too much money and drank too much whiskey but I danced my heart out and it was good times.

Day 5, I’m hungover and feel like crying again. A part of me is glad we’re still talking but I see how rapidly it’s slipping back into the cycle. At least the papers are signed and there’s no going back. I’m scared again and the sad breakup playlist is back. Finals are coming up but like I said I’m hungover because I guess I’ve been drinking rather a lot lately and I’m drowning in chocolate

I’ve cried every single day for the past week. Maybe longer. I could blame it on my period, or at least acknowledge that as a potential facet, or my high stress lifestyle, or these transformations, or my INFP personality type, or, or or

I could just acknowledge that crying feels just as good as an orgasm and that I tend to do a lot of both.

I fall in love again and again, I feel SO much for SO many but I can never express any of it, I can’t stay anywhere, and nothing is mine. I can’t write, I can’t think, I can’t sleep, I can eat, no problems there, as long as I eat beet salads for lunch all of the chocolate in the world is okay, right?

right.

set your clocks early

call a spade a spade

and all of the ethics classes in all of the jesuit universities can’t help me with these ethical dilemmas I constantly find myself in

grow up.

you’re gonna be all right. 

it’s a struggle, but it’s an uphill battle.

yes, it is a battle.

you’ll find somebody else.

just keep on doing your thing.

you’re writing about books and everything feels trite

just be yourself, and you’ll make great film.

just be yourself, and you’ll make great.

great.

it’s all great.

it’s so hard to walk away

it feels impossible to stay

but staying is all you know, and that is comforting.

this misery, I know it. it’s comfortable. it’s familiar.

this mystery, I don’t know it and that’s more than a little bit scary.

I don’t blame you, for being you, but you can’t blame me for hating it. yeah, I just quoted fall out boy. it happens. 

what did I say about wanting to go forward? 

and I’m going to make this video and it’s going to be good.

and it won’t be forced because we all know that I couldn’t fake it if it killed me

I need a better metaphor, I keep repeating that expression

 

lost

tears for sale– finals week, PMS, feeling stuck, wishing you graduated earlier rather than later, a time bomb, and an ellipses before that. highest bidder takes all

I have nothing

I come from nothing

I am nothing

where to go next

where to go next

where to go next

where to go

I can’t get work done here.

I can’t

be

here

sometimes, you just need a pUNCh

in the face