About a year and a half ago, I started reading a lot of young adult fiction. I had an idea for a YA novel of my own, and I was looking for models. But I also wanted to read a few nice efficient narratives, something that developed interesting characters and took them on a journey in 150 or 200 pages instead of 400. Most of all, I wanted to read something magical. By that I don't mean something along the lines of Harry Potter, which to me is thoroughly mundane even if it does have a few spells and flying broomsticks thrown in. (The most mundane thing about it is its morality: deception and cheating are fine if Harry does it, because Harry is Good, while deception and cheating are wrong if Harry's foes do it, because Harry's foes are Bad, which is why they're Harry's foes.) No, I wanted to be transported to a world beyond this one.
I was thoroughly out of the YA fiction loop, so got recommendations from friends with kids in junior high; I read a few blogs to see what others liked; I checked out what was selling well on Amazon.com. And I also just went to the library and looked at books with interesting covers and enthusiastic, respectable blurbs on the back. Which is how I found the Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon.
I enjoyed this quartet--The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow and The Singing--so much when I read it in the spring of 2009 that I read it again this spring. Here's some of what makes it so good:
Check out this fabulous piece in the new issue of OUT, by Dustin Lance Black about queer activism in SLC. And then, if you haven't already, check out Queer Gnosis, the blog by my friend Troy, who is discussed (and photographed) in the essay.
Nineteen or twenty years ago I met a guy who described himself as "a lesbian trapped in a man's body." I'd never heard the phrase before, so I had to think about both what it meant and how it might apply to this guy. He looked pretty conventional male, aside from an extremely long ponytail, but since long hair on a guy stopped being totally outre by 1972 at the latest, the ponytail couldn't be read as a reliable sign of gender nonconformity. He claimed that you could get an idea of how good someone would be in bed by the way they danced, which meant he was probably a terrible lay since on the dance floor he was stilted, over-performative, self-obsessed and a tad graceless. I had two friends who were interested in him: one actually went out with him and said he was an OK date; the other only asked him out and was turned down--apparently he liked to be the one to initiate things in any relationship he was in.
When I asked why he called himself a LTIAMB, he said it was because he really liked women and found it easy to be friends with them, and didn't really like stuff like hunting or hockey or homophobia. Also he'd taken a couple of women's studies classes and figured out that the women he liked best--the really smart, edgy, politically progressive ones--liked guys who worked for social justice.
So really, there was nothing especially female or queer about him. The whole LTIAMB was just a way to make himself more attractive and fuckable within the bounds of the heteronormativity.
A week or so ago I ended up having dinner with half a dozen strangers. There were two 40-something guys who were pretty conventionally male--facial hair, cowboy boots, and while each had on a necklace, they were chunky and large and made from bone and wood. One guy was a complete douchebag; the other guy was only part douchebag. Before too long, the complete douchebag announced, "I"m a lesbian trapped in a man's body."
Yesterday evening I got a phone call from an administrator at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix in response to the letter I sent in a few weeks ago, expressing my concerns about Mayo's seemingly nonexistent environmental policies. I neglected to note the name of the administrator, which I suppose is just as well, as his identity doesn't really matter; what matters is what he told me. He said he had called me because it seemed easier than writing a letter, and as he was still at work at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I have no problem understanding why he would want to save a little time.
What he had to say was pretty reassuring overall. I wasn't so thrilled when he explained that Mayo discourages people from using the stairs because a few patients have tried to use the stairs, then fallen down and broken stuff. OK, I don't want sick people falling down and injuring themselves either, but I still don't see why signs leading to the stairs can't be available for others. Or why there can't be a sign requesting that patients use the elevators, out of concern for their well-being, but for anyone else who wants to take the stairs, well, hey, they're right over here.
But he told me that Mayo does a lot of recycling; it just happens behind the scenes. He said that at one time there had been bins in the cafeteria, but people hadn't sorted properly--which is essential to effective recycling--so now most of the recycling happens after the trays are returned. (Make a note of that: if you ever go to Mayo, send all your plastic back on your tray; don't throw it away.) He told me that they recycled vast quantities of paper, metal, glass and plastic--as much waste as possible that they themselves, rather than visitors to their facilities, produce.
Saturday I went to Provo, about an hour south of Salt Lake City. Home to Brigham Young University, which I refused to attend even though the school offered me a hefty scholarship, and the Missionary Training Center, my nine weeks at which I loathed with every iota of my being, Provo is not some place I would visit just for the hell of it. But currently one of my dearest friends lives there, so after two decades of staying well away from Provo, I've visited twice in the past six months.
This most recent trip involved looking at lots of art, some good, most of it downright terrible. The BYU's Museum of Art had an exhibit called As a Rose by sculptor Adam Bateman, made of sprinkler components. I totally dug it. The permanent collection is a bit heavy on fairly pedestrian landscapes, but there are some great pieces in it too.
But the art in the BYU bookstore is another matter. Oh my lord--and I say that as a prayer of hopeless desperation. The place sells so many depictions of Jesus, invariably northern-European-looking, usually cheesy, occasionally creepy. There's one of Jesus with four hot young women, one of them slightly ethnic looking.... Is this polygamist Jesus? There's one of Jesus hugging the three children (one of whom appears to be crying) of an attractive woman, who also gets a little affection from JC. The caption to the painting said something about how the intent was to depict a Jesus you could actually hang out with, someone who would be your friend--you know, the kind of guy who would provide really great booze at your wedding, or else date your mom after she kicks your no-good dad out of the house.
The only artist whose work A) we found on sale in the BYU bookstore and B) doesn't completely suck is J.Kirk Richards, who served a mission in Rome, which is probably one reason he actually seems to know something about art history and creates interesting variations on themes in Christian art. Pieces I liked include this really lovely Mother and Child and this Angel with (gasp!) wings ('cause in case you didn't know, in Mormon theology, angels don't have wings).
And after that, we went to galleries to look at bad Mormon art, because you have to know your enemy--at least, you have to know their work if you're going mock it effectively.
Remember last time when I raved about Supersizers Go Regency, an episode of a British TV reality show in which a restaurant critic and a writer/comedian/performer try to recreate the gastronomic experiences of the past? Turns out there are 13 episodes on periods ranging from the heyday of ancient Rome to the 1980s. I find them utterly compelling and vastly entertaining. My favorite episodes so far have been the ones on the Regency, World War II, the 1920s, and the 1980s. I have two or three episodes yet to see.
I've learned things from each episode, and one thing I've learned from most is how meaty and boozy most diets of the past were. Bread, meat and booze constituted most diets. If you were rich, you ate mostly meat and drank strong booze--lots of it. If you were poor, you ate lots of bread (generally stale) and drank weak or "small" beer, because water wasn't safe--at least, not until the arrival of tea and coffee in England, which required the boiling of water. (Take that, people who say that drinking alcohol, coffee and tea are inherently immoral.) You ate fruit when you could get it, but vegetables were considered either sources of disease (the plague was blamed on vegetables) or just plain indigestible. Of course vegetables are somewhat indigestible--that's part of their virtue: the cellulose in them goes through you and helps keep your bowels regular and clean.
Meat and alcohol require lots of time--both to prepare and to digest. In excess, they also damage your health. People ate so much meat in the past that it killed them--drove them right into early graves, from heart disease or liver failure or whatever. Only a hundred years ago, the life expectancy for a well-to-do man was the mid 40s. That's pretty sad.
A vegetarian society was formed in England in 1847, but the diet took a while to catch on. As it did, it not only helped people avoid some of the health threats posed by a diet composed mostly of animal products, it also supported the women's suffrage movement.
Middle- and upper-class men often ate at clubs that excluded women and served (as you'd expect) lots of booze and meat. However, women who wanted to eat away from home occasionally ended up at vegetarian restaurants, which served neither meat nor booze. The diet appealed to women partly because vegetables take less time and work to prepare than meat, and this gave them a little more freedom from one of their primary shackles: the oven. In the more salubrious settings of vegetarian restaurants, and increasingly aware that their lives didn't have to be devoted entirely to cooking for someone else, they began to discuss ideas, like the idea that they might deserve the right to vote. Indeed, as the segment below notes, one prominent suffragist, Maude someone (couldn't catch the last name) commented with wonder that "the ranks of the militant suffragettes are mostly recruited from the mild vegetarians."
Check it out.
I hope to find a more detailed discussion of the relationship between vegetarianism and feminism, and if I do, I'll tell you about it.
I LOVED the following six videos, which comprise the final episode of The Supersizers Go. It's informative, interesting, and--at least in my opinion--hysterically funny. Admittedly, a lot of the jokes have to do with British history, Regency literature and crude bodily humor, but hey, LOTS of people find that stuff really funny, right?
I learned about Supersizers Go Regency in the Spring 2010 issue of the Newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America. A few years ago I invested in a life membership of JASNA, because I got tired of writing a check each year for something I planned to belong to for the rest of my life.
I'm embedding all six videos so that you have no excuse not to watch them all. Just do it, OK? As for me, I'm going to watch the other episodes, which include the food and habits of the Restoration, the Elizabethan age, and the Victorian era.