Saturday, March 26, 2016

Feminist Friday

Happy Good Friday!  It feels weird to say "happy Good Friday" because the holiday -- in case you're not up on your catechism -- is "celebrating" Jesus' long walk up the hill at Golgotha and subsequent crucifixion.  Needless to say, not a lot of presents are given out on Good Friday.

Now if you're Catholic, the "celebration" is even extra-special.  Because Catholics are such gluttons for punishment, Good Fridays are celebrated with a special Mass that includes "the Stations of the Cross."  And it's just as fun as it sounds.

It should come as no surprise that Leonard is a feminist.  And Leonard has been a feminist since she was a little Leonard.  And little Leonard went through 12 years of Catholic school.  During grade school (1-8), we had religion class everyday.  The lessons were made up of things like our Catholic sex ed (called "New Creations," deserving of a blog post all its own), creating masses (once you were in 5-8 grade), and once a week one of the parish priests would come in.  In our parish, the priests were like the Sith:  there were "always two, a master and an apprentice."  Usually the apprentice got stuck with job of religion classes.

What kind of things can a priest (even the young, "hip" ones) say to grade school children for an hour?  I have no idea; I'm pretty sure I blocked most of it out.  But I do recall that little Leonard made things quite difficult for both priests and teachers by asking annoying questions like, "Why can't women be priests?"
"Why can't a woman be the pope?"
"Why can't girls be altar boys?  I saw another church in Colorado, and they had girl altar boys?"
"If Jesus says to love everyone, why can't [X] people do [blank]?"
"If a pope has to approve an annulment for a couple to get divorced, does that mean there's still a chance my parents are married?"
and then later "Doesn't an annulment just mean the couple never consummated their marriage?  My brother and sister and I are clearly proof they did, so is the annulment no longer valid?"  (My parents divorce and Leonard's dad's subsequent remarriage to the step-monster psycho bitch from hell made up a large part of my contention with the church.)

But over and over again, little Leonard continually called the Catholic Church on their misogynistic bullshit, much to the consternation of authority figures all around.  So when the time finally came that a female acolyte (because we can't call them "girl altar boys," naturally) could be chosen for a Mass, everyone offered up little Leonard's name in hopes that she would STFU.

A Mass!  I can do a Mass.  I've seen the [altar] boys do it all the time.  It doesn't look like that hard.  Walk in with the group, walk out with the group.  Hold up some books, hand some stuff, the hardest part will probably be tying that stupid rope around my waist.

So my thoughts went.  And a typical Mass isn't that hard to serve in.  And the boys (as I was the only "acolyte" a.k.a. girl altar boy for Mass that day, and probably ever in that parish's history) helped me with the white robes and stupid rope.  And then they instructed me that I'd be holding a candle.  A candle in a large earthenware bowl, to be exact (our current "apprentice" had just come back from his mission in Bolivia and was all about handmade items from the people there).

Okay, I can hold a candle in the bowl.  No problem.  Oh wait, today's Friday?  Today's Good Friday??

I was not serving in any ordinary Catholic Mass (which runs about an hour long, by the way).  It was "Stations of the Cross" day for Good Friday, so a normal Mass, plus the stations, is around 1.5-2 hours.  But it wasn't just the length of the ceremony, oh no....

There are fourteen different "stations" (the "traditional" ones can be found listed here).  And the priest and his entourage walk to each. and. every. one.
Because, yes, they are physical stations, each commemorated with a plaque or painting or, in the case of this church, stained glass windows, depicting each of the (increasingly gruesome) scenes of Jesus' (supposed) final hours.

So we had to traipse around the length and breadth of the church for the fourteen stations and at each. and. every. station. a prayer is said.  The "leader" (priest) says something; the congregation gives their monotonous and poorly enunciated reply.  Fourteen times.

All while carrying my burning candle inside a heavy earthenware bowl. 
The bowl felt heavier and heavier with each passing minute.  8th grade Leonard weighed all of ninety pounds and had no muscle mass whatsoever, let alone upper body strength.  Arms and hands began to shake.  I swore the congregation was taking more and more time with their stupid responses.

I tried to breathe through my nose, to find some inner strength, but that only made the scent of church incense that much stronger, so now I was tired and nauseated.  But I couldn't stop.  I couldn't drop the candle.  If I failed in any way, I just knew they'd never let another girl altar boy help again.  I was carrying a candle and the weight of thirteen-year-old feminism.  As we matched the steps of Jesus struggling and carrying his burden (as much as white Midwestern people can match the struggle of a middle-aged Jewish man in the desert on the verge of death), I, too, was struggling with my burden.  At least Jesus had help along the way (see station #5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross); scrawny little Leonard had no one. 

So, shaking, sweating, nauseated, and exhausted, I made my way through the ceremony.  I didn't drop the candle; the flame didn't go out.  The earthenware bowl didn't fall and break.  I didn't stumble, trip, or faint (ha!  Take that Jesus! [see stations 3, 7, and 9]).  Feminism would not fall on my watch!

They did not ask Leonard to help again; Leonard did not volunteer.  During my freshman year of (Catholic) high school I realized the bullshit and stopped participating in Masses all together.

But as you celebrate your Peeps and chocolate bunnies this year, fellow feminists, remember that I did it for you!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Quacks Your Story?

I was driving home from work.  I had just gotten onto the Interstate, and I was directly behind a metro bus when an object came into my lane.  As it so often happens when driving, several thoughts all occurred simultaneously in just a few seconds:
  • What is that?  Is it bag?
  • I should swerve to avoid it anyway.
  • There are two pieces, wait
  • Is that a wing??
Just as my brain realized the "object" was a large bird, an explosion of grey and white feathers happened between my car and the bus, and they didn't clear out of air for another quarter mile.

It was a bird, a large bird.  It must have been...a duck?  It was too small for a Canada goose and too large for any of the regular avian suspects, so I'm going with duck.  How did it get there?  Did the bus hit it first, and that's why it was in two parts?  Oh my God, was there duck blood on the front of my car??  With feathers stuck to it?!???

My poor brain was trying to keep up with everything that had happened in the span of seconds (while still driving 65+ mph down the highway), when I registered that my iPod was still playing:

Who lives?
Who dies?
Who tells your story?

That's right.  Hamilton:  An American Musical was giving last rites to the dead duck via the last track of Act II.  I took that as a sign that I needed to tell this duck's story.  Unfortunately, I only knew the duck for those few, gruesome seconds.  Nevertheless, I present to you:

The Lamentable Tale of Qularence the Duck

Qularence straightened his tie in the mirror.  He grabbed his hat and briefquase and headed to work.  Just another day, beak to the grindstone, at P. King Enterprises, LLC.  Qularence hadn't even reached his queuebicle when his quo-worker Donald waddled up with the latest office gossip.  "Did you see the new mallard?"

"No.  Who is he?" Qularence didn't really care, but it was impossible to shut Donald up.  Ever.

"His name is L'Orange.  Must be from the international office."

We have an international office? thought Qularence.  "Oh yeah, must be.  I'll, umm, keep an eye out for him."

What would an international duck look like?  Does he have an accent?  Maybe a tiny duckstache?  Does he smoke?  Smoked duck isn't allowed in the office.  And so Qualarence's mind rambled through the possibilities as he headed to his desk.

The morning went by swimmingly, if slowly, as Qularence pecked at his keyboard, crunching numbers.  Daisy the office manager came by around noon.  "Hey Qualarence, we're ordering lunch from that new place around the corner, 'Wings & Such.'  You want anything?"

Qularence paled a bit at the restaurant's name.

"Oh, I forgot.  Are you a vegetarian?" Daisy asked.

"Umm, no," said Qularence, "But I already brought my lunch, thanks."  He nodded towards his Thermos of soup and package of quackers.  Daisy nodded and waddled to the next cubicle to ask Donald for his lunch order.  Qularence was not a vegetarian, but something about eating wings just seemed wrong to him.

In fact, a lot of things seemed wrong to Qularence:  eating wings, wearing a tie to work, doing the same thing in the same queuebicle every day, earning only bread crumbs.  He was beginning to feel quite down in the mouth as the afternoon wore on, when an unfamiliar voice greeted him.

"Bonjour, Qularence!  It is I, Monsieur L'Orange from zee international office!"

Qularence stared at the foreign duck in amazement.  He did have an accent AND a tiny duckstache!  And he spoke in all exclamation points!  All the time!

"Umm, bonjour, Mister L'Orange,..." Qularence was an odd duck and a shy one at that.  He couldn't imagine why someone from the international office would want to speak with him.

"I like your tie!" M. L'Orange complimented him.  "It is very...plain."

"Thank you!"  The use of exclamation points was catching!  "I like your --" then Qularence stopped.  "You're not wearing a tie!?"

"Oh no, Monsieur Qularence.  We do not wear ties in zee international office!" M. L'Orange gave a small international-sounding chuckle.  Qularence joined in.  Of course they don't wear ties in the international office!  How silly!

"Mister L'Orange, how does an ordinary mallard like me migrate to the international office?  Is there a test to take?  Should I just wing it?"

"Oh, Monsieur Qularence, you seemply have to apply yourself!"

Qularence started to slump a bit in the shoulders and wings.  So far his hard work at P. King Enterprises, LLC. had done nothing except expand his collection of "very plain" ties.

L'Orange quacked at him quietly.  "No, I mean zere iz leeterally an application.  You just feel eet out."

Qularence squawked -- actually squawked -- aloud in the office!  That was "zee best" news he had heard all day!  His feathers felt a bit lighter.  Maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel after all.

During his flight home, Qularence kept thinking about the application M. L'Orange had mentioned.  An international office!  And no ties!  What else might they do differently over there?  Do they eat wings?  I bet international ducks are too smart and fancy for that!

The possibilities seemed endless.  As Qularence was daydreaming about his possible migration, he stopped paying attention to his quommute.  He quaught an updraft right underneath his briefquase and was knocked off-balance.  He struggled to regain his proper flight path, but it didn't seem to work.  He dropped his briefquase, and the air currents knocked his hat off his head.  Momentarily blinded by the setting sun and dazed with quonfusion, Qularence couldn't see!  Or navigate!  He barely registered the loud sound of a diesel engine when he was suddenly sucked underneath a massive metal bus.  He briefly tasted exhaust fumes and smelled burnt feathers before he suffered another blow to the head and all went blaque.


Who lives / who dies / who tells your story?

The song lyrics were still playing in my head when I hit the Bluetooth button on my car/phone and called my Unit, distraught.  "OHMYGOD, I think I just ran over a duck!!!  There were feathers EVERYWHERE, like a bird exploded on the Interstate!"


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Flag Frenzy

Let's talk about the flag, shall we?  Yes, the American one.  The ol' red, white, and blue.

I know people, some very good friends, who get all riled up when they see damage or "disrespect" being done to the American flag.

And I have to admit:  I don't get it.

I don't understand.  It's a piece of fabric (well, several pieces, sewn together).  It is an object.  Maybe a story will help here:

My grade school flew a U.S. flag and a state flag outside on its flag pole everyday.  Once you reached 7th or 8th grade (can't remember which), it was the students' job to go each morning, unfold the flags, clip them to the flag pole, and hoist 'em up.  Don't ask me whose job it was to take the flags back down; I don't know, but it wasn't us.  And while it was impressed upon us in some way to NEVER drop the flags, to be careful when unfolding them and hanging them, it was never explained why.  
And I was terrified.  I hated doing that fucking job.  Was I going to be arrested if the flag touched the ground?  There's a proper way of folding and unfolding, you say?!?  Well, I'm fucked.  It was a very stressful job, and the adults in our lives just seemed to assume we knew the importance of it and the consequences (if any) of doing it incorrectly.
So now XX years later, I still don't get it.  Objects only have the importance you give them.  A symbol is just an object on which you have placed a meaning, and few symbols are truly what one could call "universal."

I don't have any plans to go around burning or tearing up flags; I also don't have any plans to smash chalices, tear down crucifixes, burn books, or melt menorahs for scrap metal.  But they are still things.  If the image of the American flag is so important, why don't people go to pieces over shirts, jackets, and hats with the same image?  What happens if your American flag shirt gets a stain on it?  What if your American flag jacket (probably made in Taiwan, by the way) touches the ground?  How is that not the same?

Okay, another story:
When I (briefly) taught an Acting 101 class for a college, the "classroom" we were assigned was called "the Chapel."  The space was used for many things, including some religious things, but of multiple religions.  As such, there was a large table ("altar"), some slightly fancy chairs nearby, music stands, candlesticks, a cross on a wall, and a Star of David elsewhere.  There were also regular office chairs, others tables, some sofas,  a piano, bookshelves, a desk, and restrooms.
Occasionally, my students and I would have to move the large table and fancy chairs and tall candlesticks out of the way in order to use the playing space. And they would hesitate.  Some students outright refused to move them; others would shy away from the furniture during acting exercises intended to get people to use all of the furniture and architecture in the space.  One student actually complained to the Dean that what we were doing was sacrilegious, but that's another rant story for another time.   
I would tell the kids, "It is a table.  It is a chair.  You can touch it.  You can move it."  The objects were not magical.  Moving them around was neither disrespectful nor hurtful to the furniture; touching them would not hurt the person doing the touching.  They are things, and treating them as such does not mean you're treating them like garbage; you simply aren't imbuing them with supposed magical properties.
So again, I repeat:  I don't get it.  I don't see the big deal.  And if it is a "big deal," why is the same principal not applied equally?