mobility in the city [a few thoughts]

Warning: This is a rambling post full of thoughts in progress.

My friend Molly is in the process of writing a book about parenting-while-feminist and in our little writing group, #firstthedraft, we've been talking about the politics of "babywearing" (carrying your infant and/or small child in a backpack or sling, etc.) versus strollers. My parents generally used packs -- front and back -- in the mid-80s when I was small, as well as wagons, tricycles, car seats, and various bike attachments, to tote us around. I don't remember that we ever had a stroller per-se, but then we also lived in a small enough town that for daily getting around a car was essential and strollers were thus less so. But I do remember using strollers as a childcare provider in my teens, as a way to move toddlers I physically couldn't carry over distances of more than a city block or two (about the distance they had the stamina to walk on their own). I never thought of child transport options as very political in nature.

Here in the city, though, I've learned, strollers are a Big Deal. Everyone has Feelings about them: how big they should (or shouldn't) be, where they should (and shouldn't) be allowed to travel, when (if ever) they are reasonable to be on public transportation. Parents and non-parents alike take all sides and sometimes blood is shed (or at the very least ill-will is fostered).

Last week, I suggested on Twitter that the whole problem might be solved if only we could create little steampunk baby carriers that were balloon or propeller-powered and could hover at about 7-8 feet from the ground. The caregiver could then walk along tugging the carrier along on a tether and strollers would take up the sidewalks and/or precious room on the T no more!

still from The Red Balloon (via)
(Though I suppose then we'd be arguing about low-hanging trees and awnings on storefronts. Sigh.)

I actually think identifying this social rough-and-tumble as one about strollers and parenting choices  says something about how we, as a society, compartmentalize parents and their (especially wee) children into the category of Other, a group of people who enter the public realm on sufferance from the rest of us -- those of us who, we like to believe, only take up an "appropriate" amount of space on the T, on the sidewalk, who move at the right speed from point A to point B, and are able to time our inconvenient errands for those times when, even if we do take up more space then usual, we will somehow magically not slow down, crowd out, or inadvertently invade the personal space of our fellow city dwellers.

Those of us, in other words, who assume we have a right to be in public space when and how we need to ... as opposed to those Other folks whose right to the public square only extend as far as their ability to imitate the space-taking habits of the default citizen (Us).

So what I want to talk a little bit about in this post is how, in an urban environment, especially if you do not own a car and/or are trying to get by using it a little as possible, you're just going to get in peoples' way. Even if you don't have dependents to transport. Even if you don't have serious mobility issues that require extra gear (walker, cane, chairAnd errands are going to take a lot of effort to complete. And chances are you're going to need some sort of wheeled conveyance to get them done -- unless you're lucky enough that you don't have a bad back or a bum wrist or weak ankle and can afford a gym membership and the time to bench press on a regular basis.

Errands in the city take much more time and planning, in my experience, than they did in the car-dependent town where I grew up (or perhaps, I should clarify, much more than they did for me and my car-owning family; for the folks in my hometown too poor to own a car, life was further complicated by a crappy-to-nonexistent public transit system). It's something I've had to get used to, as a former smaller-town dweller turned urbanite. And I think perhaps this helps me see more clearly the similarities across types of transport-aides that some other people don't -- because we're so used to tuning our brainwaves to "judge" when parents-and-children come into view.

Hanna and I finally bought this shopping cart this year
I'm going to use, as an example, the errand I ran earlier this week to pick up our first monthly allotment of winter veggies from Stillman's farm where we are CSA subscribers. Stillman's is out near Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and drives the produce into the city to various pre-scheduled pick-up locations. The closest pick-up point for us was in downtown Boston about two miles from where I work at the MHS. The pick-up time was 2-4pm.

Setting aside, for a moment, the privilege of having a job with a) an hour-long lunch break, and b) the ability to leave on an errand and not worry about getting in trouble if the subway is delayed and I get back a bit late, this sounds like a relatively easy transaction. Take a late lunch, go down, pick up veggies, return to work, take veggies home at the end of the day. If I were living in my home town, this errand would have taken about twenty minutes, maybe, leaving 40 minutes at either end to actually eat lunch.

In Boston, this errand means the following:

1. Remember to take the wheelie-cart with me to work (which means dragging it along on our morning walk of approximately three miles) so that I will be able to transport the heavy winter vegetables on my own.

2. At 2pm, walk to the closest T stop and wait for a train that will take me the right number of stops from Hynes Convention Center to Haymarket (approx. 10 minutes)

3. Maneuver the empty cart into the T, off the T, and up the escalator at Haymarket, and two blocks to the drop point (approx. 15 minutes).

4. Transfer the vegetables from the back of the delivery truck into the cart (approx. 5 minutes).

5. Stop at a nearby sandwich shop for a sandwich and iced tea -- admittedly an "optional" step, though to go without would have meant foregoing a midday meal; as it was, I didn't have time to actually eat the sandwich until I was walking home that evening (approx 10-15 minutes).

6. Carry the cart, maybe 45 pounds fully loaded, down the stairs to Haymarket station; they have an elevator but I didn't have time to locate it; the elevators to below-ground stops are often poorly marked. The escalators go up, but not down.

7. The first T to pull into the station was headed in the right direction, but not to the appropriate stop. I got on anyway, since I was now starting to feel anxious about getting back to work roughly on time. In order to board the train, I had to lift the cart up the stairs and maneuver it around the other passengers to a quasi-secure "parking" spot midway down the car.

8. At Copley Square I had to transfer trains, meaning I needed to maneuver around standing passengers carrying the laden cart down to the platform, and then repeat the process boarding the train again. All of these situations were made comparatively easy by a) the fact I'm physically able to lift the loaded cart for short bursts of time, b) I was traveling mid-afternoon instead of rush hour, c) I wasn't getting hate-stares from people who automatically resent the presence of strollers in the subway. (steps 6-8 took maybe 20 minutes).

9. At Hynes, I had to disembark and haul the cart up three flights of stairs (only one of which is equipped with an up escalator) to street level, and then wheel the cart from the station to the MHS. (5 minutes)

10. At the end of the work day, I knew that rush hour on the T precluded trying to get my shopping cart on the T unless I wanted to wait for 45 minutes to an hour for any train empty enough to accommodate me. Since I am able to walk, and didn't have to rush home for any reason, I walked home -- a distance of about 3 miles -- pushing the cart ahead of me.

This is the labor it takes to do one errand in the city when you're relying on public transportation and your own two feet. I'm not writing this post in a bid for folks to pity me -- we made the decision to subscribe to the CSA this winter, after all, knowing the time and effort it would take to get our fresh veggies. But I do hope that focusing in on the logistics of one errand this way points out how most of us, at one time or another, even if we are able-bodied adults sans children moving around our environment, are awkward to accommodate. And also point out how the environment is as much "at fault" as the awkward human being in question.

Rather than bitching about those of us who crowd the sidewalk with shopping carts, strollers, or walkers, we might think about the assumptions that led to sidewalks being a certain width (i.e. that all those who use the sidewalk are people who can walk unaided and unburdened with goods). While some of us might be able to carry our children (or our groceries) in wraps or packs or tote bags, others may not be strong enough to carry 45 pounds of produce (or exhausted toddler) for three miles -- or time our outings before/after rush hour in order to actually fit on the T without the other passengers complaining or resenting you.

More and more, I find myself thinking about how the ideal citizen-worker in our world these days is the perfectly-able young adult without any dependents, who never gets ill, and is somehow (magically) perfectly self-sufficient. Not only do they never behave awkwardly in public, take up more space than we think they should, turn up their music louder than we'd like, lose their train of thought in the grocery aisle, or fumble with their wallet at the cash register ... they manage their bodies (and those of their children) and personal belongings so that the rest of us can imagine they are not there.

Oh, I've been there. I've been annoyed and judgy and exhausted and angry and in the headspace where I just want to get home and not deal with one more stranger ever anywhere. But that's just not the way the world works. We're all awkward, noisy, thoughtless, slow. We all take up more space, sometimes, than others think we should.

And it seems like an important exercise or practice for each of us to -- regardless of how we feel and what we think of others' choices and presence --  realize that they're probably just trying to get around the city like we are, and that sometimes getting from point A to B is an awkward, clumsy process. One that does, in fact, take up space in the world.

And that we all, in fact, equally entitled to be mobile, and to move around the city when and how we need to in order to live our lives.


cranberry cottages [honeymoon, installment one]

For our honeymoon on the Cape, we chose to stay in a cottage colony just north of Orleans called Cranberry Cottages; we were in a little studio cottage called "The Honeymooner," though we didn't realize that until after we'd arrived!

At the "elbow" of the Cape, the Orleans-Eastham area is a great spot -- if you have a car -- to explore up and down the Cape. With a week to poke around, we picked a different destination almost every day and took in what there was to see (and taste!).

On our first morning we walked out from our cabin to the rail trail that took us directly into Orleans on foot, where we breakfasted at The Hole in One donut shop and restaurant. Breakfast was so tasty that we decided to take our donuts to go, and have them as a mid-afternoon snack!

What's a honeymoon / vacation for if not for sitting in Adirondack chairs drinking coffee, eating donuts, and catching up on one's leisure reading?

For dinner, we found a great restaurant called the Box Office Cafe that offered a wide variety of unique movie-themed pizza. We got the Beetle Juice pizza that featured (vegan) chicken, blueberries, and BBQ sauce. Hanna was skeptical, but I persuaded her and we enjoyed it so much we bought it twice more before the week was out!

Next up ... our two days in Falmouth (one outdoorsy, one pamperingly girly).

*In the event that folks have noticed, I'm the only person depicted in these photographs not because Hanna decided not to come along on our honeymoon but because she doesn't like to share pictures of herself with the world, online or off.


coffee and sunshine [wedding day, installment three]

Our wedding morning dawned cool and clear, and we began as we do most Friday mornings, by walking out through Coolidge Corner and down Beacon street to Tatte cafe.

We are so thankful to Tzurit and everyone on the staff at Tatte for welcoming us for our wedding morning!

We had decided that we really wanted our marriage vows to be woven into the fabric of our daily life here in Boston, and at least once a week Hanna and I are able to have breakfast at Tatte before work.

What we like to order is the Brioche Breakfast (we're particularly fond of the pear marmalade!) and espresso - so that's what Tzurit and her staff prepared as a wedding feast.

I guess we really wanted all that!

Halfway through breakfast I remembered we had promised to call my folks once it was all official - and I'd forgotten my cell phone at home! Thankfully, our friend M. came to the rescue with her iPhone (which I could use while drinking my latte).

After sending everyone off well-fed to their various destinations of the day, Hanna and I made our way back home via Trader Joe's where we did our grocery shopping in preparation for the following morning's departure for Cape Cod.

And then we went home and essentially napped for the rest of the day (getting married turns out to be hard work, even if you keep it small!).


from the neighborhood: hop on pop

... or rather, sit on kitten?

where is Teazle, you ask?
There she is!
Yes, really, she's under Gerry. Quite happily it seems.
I guess this answers our question about whether they'll learn to get on.
Enjoy your weekend!


new fic: we both kinda liked it [dean/cas]

So a while back, Hanna and I watched this Supernatural episode from season five called "The End" (5:04) which some of you may remember. The one in which asshole angel Zachariah tries to give Dean a kick in the pants by sending him into an alternate future wherein the shit has hit the fan due to Dean's unwillingness to follow angelic plans. When present Dean encounters future Dean he has to convince his alternate self he is who he appears to be. And he does it like this:
Future!Dean: Okay. If you're me, then tell me something only I would know.
Dean: Rhonda Hurley. We were, uh, nineteen. She made us try on her panties. They were pink. And satiny. And you know what? We kind of liked it.
Future!Dean: Touché.
In the days that followed, we had several versions of this conversation:
Anna: I really can't believe that scene doesn't turn up in fic more often, I mean it's all right there really.
Hanna: Yup. Right there.
Anna: Like, how it would be something Dean was super secretive and embarrassed about and Cas would totally not understand why it was a source of embarrassment.
Hanna: Yup.
Anna: Someone totally needs to write that fic.
Hanna: It's all yours. Write away.
So I did. And now it's live over at Archive of Our Own.
Title: We Both Kinda Liked It
Author: ElizaJane
Fandom: Supernatural
Pairings: Dean Winchester/Castiel, Dean Winchester/Rhonda Hurley
Rating: Explicit
Length: 13,514 words (8 chapters)
Tags: Established Relationship, Past Relationship(s), Gender Policing, John Winchester is an asshole, Castiel goes clothes shopping, Dean is all right.
Summary: You’re twenty-nine. He reminds himself. And Dad’s not here to shout or throw things or give you the fucking silent treatment. And the only other people in the hotel room are his boyfriend-the-fallen-angel and his brother the gayest straight boy that ever lived.
"For the people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they'll like." If this is your sort of thing, hop on over and check it out.


booknotes: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

The books to review are piling up, and the longer they sit in the queue the more I feel obligated to be Insightful about what I've read. So in an attempt to resist intellectual overwhelm, here are a few shorter reflections on the books I read in the first half of October.

Lepore, Jill. The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death (Knopf, 2012). Harvard Professor of American history (and sometime MHS researcher) Jill Lepore's latest work is a collection of essays, most of which began as pieces for The New Yorker, and are published here in expanded form. Despite its formidable title, Mansion is episodic rather than exhaustive, exploring American understandings of humankind -- how humans begin, how we do and should live, how we die -- in a series of engaging chapters on such topics as baby food (and breastfeeding), children's literature (and children's libraries), teaching sexual knowledge, parenting advice, and the medicalization of the end of life. Lepore is a skillful writer and deeply philosophical historian who believes passionately in the importance of translating her scholarly work into terms meaningful outside the academy. As an historian, I appreciate her deft use of primary source research in essays that range across time and space, making eloquent and thought-provoking connections between seemingly disparate historical events, cultural enthusiasms, and the persons and places of America's past.

Strayed, Cheryl. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Vintage, 2012). After my sister raved about Wild and Bitch magazine offered me a compelling and eloquent author interview with Cheryl Strayed, I realized it was time to read Tiny Beautiful Things. Over the years, I've definitely been exposed to the "Dear Sugar" columns Strayed wrote for The Rumpus, and in fact have a favorite quote from one such column right here on the feminist librarian (look to your left). Yet I'd never read "Dear Sugar" systematically, and in some ways I'm glad of that. While each individual column has power, taken together as a book-length collection Strayed's attitude of kindness and care, the quality of listening and clarity of thought, become all the more beautiful and heartbreaking. The experience of reading Tiny Beautiful Things reminded me most strongly of the first time I cracked open Traveling Mercies. Cheryl Strayed's voice is as raw and redemptive as Anne Lamott's, though without the Jesus talk (for some of you that'll be a plus, for others a minus -- I urge you to read Tiny either way).

Summerscale, Kate. Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (Bloomsbury, 2012). In the summer of 1858, one Henry Robinson appeared before the newly-created divorce court in London and petitioned for the legal dissolution of his marriage to Isabella Robinson on the grounds of adultery. His lawyer put forward as evidence Isabella's extensive and detailed diaries, which her husband had discovered while his wife lay ill with fever. The diaries, Mr. Robinson argued, provided evidence not only of Mrs. Robinson's unhappiness in marriage (she wrote openly about her hatred for her husband and her plans for desertion once her children were grown) but also of her desire for other men, and -- most damning of all -- her longstanding emotional, and perhaps physical, affair with a friend of the family. Summerscale uses court documents, family papers, and the press coverage of the trial to piece together the story of "Mrs. Robinson's disgrace." What emerges is a fascinating tale of Victorian marriage law, sexual morality, conceptions of mental health and madness, and the unstable boundary of fact and fiction.

Valenti, Jessica. Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness (Houghton Mifflin, 2012).  Valenti's latest is a quick read that I polished off earlier this week while waiting for Hanna in the waiting room of her physical therapist's office. Using her own, fairly traumatic, entry into motherhood as a launching pad to explore the modern culture of mothering and parenting, Jessica Valenti (founder and former executive editor of Feministing) follows in the footsteps of Judith Warner (Perfect Madness), Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels (The Mommy Myth) in critiquing the culture of "intensive mothering" and its unrealistic expectations of modern parents. For anyone who has read these earlier works (or, indeed, follows discussions about parenting in the feminist blogosphere), there will be little new here -- though I think that in itself is noteworthy. Jessica comes from a generation or two past that of Warner, Douglas, and Michaels -- yet still seems held hostage, to some extent, by the same societal judgyness around motherhood and family life. I found myself wondering, as I read, why the hell we continue to feel trapped by other peoples' expectations. Obviously, public policy and law as a material effect on parenting options -- but in the realm of "styles" and personal decisions it really should come down to what works for you and your family -- if a given approach isn't working, try something else.*

Which is part of the reason why I felt impatient with the way Valenti saves some of her most pointed criticism for proponents of "natural" parenting, whose philosophies and practices she felt betrayed by as a new mother coping with the aftermath of an emergency Cesarean and a daughter who needed months in the NICU to survive. While her own struggles are what they are and deserve to be articulated, this sometimes leads to lopsided critique -- for example the pages and pages on the dangers of fanatic breastfeeding with only a single (very short) paragraph on the discrimination and judgyness leveled at parents who choose to (and are able) to nurse their kids. So it didn't work for her, In a book that otherwise admirably refuses to take "sides" in the banner feminist parenting battles, I felt the treatment of the parenting practices Valenti rejected on a personal could have used more nuanced discussion from a feminist perspective.

*I actually think this holds true for any family, whether young children are involved or not.


from the neighborhood: cats being cute [you have been warned]

It's a rainy autumn Sunday here in Boston so in order to combat the rainy-day blues we bring you cats being cute!
Teazle is undecided about sitting on shoulders
Human book shopping means paper bags for kittens to play in!
Gerry likes the advent of fleece bathrobe season.
Shortly after Hanna snapped this photograph Teazle tipped
right off the pillows onto the floor. So much for her Princess and
the Pea
Gerry has become protective of our little one ... 
... or perhaps it's just long-suffering toleration!
I do have books to blog about and reflections on work and photos from our honeymoon to post -- but it's all been a bit hectic around here, plus Hanna and I are both sick with a tiresome autumn cold, so I haven't had a lot of time/energy for blogging. I promise more eventually!

Meanwhile, I hope everyone is enjoying October - it's quite my favorite month of the year.

(And happy anniversary to us; we've been married for a month today!)


support black cat rescue! [wedding giving]

Geraldine, on her first day at our home (Oct 2009)
I went back and forth about whether to put up a shout-out for this fundraiser on my blog - but what's a fundraiser for if you don't, you know, raise funds for the charity in question?

As I shared in my wedding planning posts, in lieu of a gift registry Hanna and I decided to ask people to donate to Black Cat Rescue, the amazing foster organization that took Geraldine and her kittens in off the street and made it possible for us to bring her into our family. She's been with us three years this weekend, and we hope she's not too angry at us for adopting her a little kitten-niece in the form of enthusiastic Teazle.

Gerry and Teazle napping
Gerry helps Hanna do yoga
We've set up a FirstGiving page to process donations which will go directly to Black Cat Rescue. I hope y'all will at least take a moment to consider giving something small ($1, $5, it's all good!). They're good people doing good work on a strictly volunteer basis. The funds we raise will go toward supplies and medical care for the cats they take in.


booknotes: just married round-up

I promised y'all book reviews, so by God there will be book reviews! Beginning with a run-down of the books I read during August and September, when I had neither time nor inclination to review them fully in posts of their own.

Bannon, Ann. Odd Girl Out (1957; reissue Cleis Press, 2001). I picked up Odd Girl Out in a used bookshop in Wellfleet and read it in an afternoon. Bannon's first lesbian pulp novel tells the story of first-year sorority girl Laura who falls head over heels in love with worldly senior Beth. Mix in a boy named Charlie, the fear of being forever branded "queer" and you have the makings of a classic college romantic drama (spoiler: at least nobody dies!).

Bowman, Matthew. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (Random House, 2012). A synthesis of the past forty years' scholarship, rather than based on original research, Bowman's The Mormon People is an ambitious work seeking to tell a coherent narrative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints from its beginnings in the Second Great Awakening to the present-day. He is particularly interested in the relationship between the LDS church and American political culture, exploring the way early Mormon counterculturalism gave way to mainstream assimilation over the twentieth century. Though perhaps some members of the LDS church would disagree with me, I thought Bowman was respectful of believers without brushing some of the more difficult issues (for example the church's stance on women in the priesthood) under the rug. As with any overview, the historical issues are somewhat simplified -- but I particularly appreciated the way in which Bowman was able to discuss the historicity of the faith without disrespecting the value of belief among those who chose to join this infant American branch of Christianity.

Delblanco, Andrew. College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton University Press, 2012). A seasoned literature professor at Columbia, Delblanco offers an articulate, thoughtful, and well-researched tour through the history of the American system of higher education, with a particular focus on undergraduate colleges. He's interested not only in how colleges came to be what they are today, but what we might want them to be moving forward. What, he is asking, is college for? His answer is a holistic one, which I am largely sympathetic with: college should not only be a place to acquire skills, but also a time and place to ponder questions of ultimate concern ("how shall I live?"), and that everyone -- regardless of socioeconomic class -- deserves that time and place. I was less impressed with his reflections on how to fix a system gone wrong (after a whole chapter on how tests are worthless as a measure of student learning, he suggests national tests at the college level as one possible way forward; I was nonplussed). Still this brief and passionate little book should be on the reading list of anyone interested in the history of education and/or people involved in higher education in any way.

Doherty, Thomas. Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration (Columbia University Press, 2007). After reading The Accidental Feminist this summer, I was interested in learning more about the Production Code Administration. So footnote surfing brought me to Hollywood's Censor. Doherty, a film historian, provides an exhaustive cultural history of the PCA that -- at times -- seems to get buried under the weight of chronological detail. Using the life of Joseph I. Breen (a central figure in the development of the Code) as a through-line, Doherty traces the rise, influence, and fall of the Production Code from the 1920s into the 1960s. While for my taste the book could have contained less of Breen and more examples of films shaped by the PCA machine, it was fascinating to see how intimately involved in script development Breen and his associates were. Since it was much more efficient for the studios to have film projects pre-approved then to have them screened and censored post-facto, Breen often worked closely with script writers, directors, and producers (whether they wanted him to or not!) in crafting scenes that would convey adult themes without violating the Production Code. While I admit to skimming some sections, I did come away with a greater understanding of film-making in Production Code-era Hollywood.

McGuire, Seanan. Ashes of Honor (Daw, 2012). The latest installment in McGuire's October Daye urban fantasy series, set in San Franciso, did not disappoint as the perfect vacation read. Toby is called in when an adolescent changeling unexpectedly comes into her fae powers and unwittingly begins destabilizing the metaphysical connections between the various faerie realms. There was perhaps a bit less of May, Toby's fetch, May's girlfriend Jazz, and Spike the rose goblin, than I would strictly have liked to see ... but the developing relationship between Toby and Tybalt was all sorts of delightful. I'll be happily anticipating the next installment until such time as it appears.

Mohanraj, Mary Anne. Aqua Erotica (Three Rivers Press, 2000). A dollar cart find, this collection of water-themed, sexually-explicit short stories is the first erotica anthology I've read in awhile wherein more than one author was doing something interesting with their subject matter. I particularly liked the contributions by Carol Queen and Francesca Lia Block; I'm sure others will find their own favorites!

Penny, Laurie. Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (Zero Books, 2011). I received an electronic review copy of Meat Market from Zero Books back in August. This slim (72-page) manifesta from British feminist Laurie Penny (aka Penny Red) explores in heavily Marxist language the way in which the modern capitalist economy has turn human bodies -- in this case specifically women's bodies -- into commercial products. Penny explores commodified sex, disordered eating, the pressures on women to perform gender in specific ways, and the un- or underpaid labor of care. While I think other writers have tackled these issues more comprehensively and perhaps more accessibly, I particularly appreciated Penny's clear stance against transphobic feminism, and her insistence that all women -- whether cis or trans -- face gender policing. I look forward to watching where Penny's work takes her from here.

Rubin, Rachel Lee. Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture (New York University Press, 2012). Rubin's study of the modern Renaissance Faire is part ethnographic study, part cultural history. Beginning with the origins of the Faire in the Southern California music and theater scene of the 1960s, Rubin traces the Faire from local radio station fundraiser to national (often corporate) institution. Well Met is a multi-layered study in cultural memory, as it explores not only the fair workers' and attendees' quest for a usable "Renaissance" past but also the way the Ren Faire has become a repository for memories and emotions about the Sixties counterculture. For those who have positive associations with the counterculture, the Faire has become a safe space for body positivity, sexual variation, artistic creativity, and a nomadic, in some ways communal life. For those who fear and/or dislike the values of the Sixties counterculture, the Faire becomes an object of loathing and derision. One of the most intriguing chapters of the book, in fact, explores the Faire "haters" who (Rubin contends) have constructed their identity around hating on the Faire much like passionate participants have constructed their identities around Faire work and attendance. I highly recommend Well Met to anyone with an interest in Renaissance Faires, the Sixties, arts and music scenes, cultural memory, and fandom culture.

Sandler, Lauren. Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement (Viking, 2006). I discovered this piece of journalism through an article about Mars Hill megachurch in Seattle published in the latest issue of Bitch magazine. Sandler's journey through the Evangelical subculture, with an eye toward it's appeal to young people, explores the way the post-80s Evangelical leaders have harnessed the counterculture energy of youth into a reactionary counterrevolution. These young people, the "Disciple Generation," as Sandler identifies them, are succeeding in making fundamentalist Christianity cool, hip, and a political force to be reckoned with. While an interesting read, I am growing tired of such journalistic accounts that frame fundamentalist evangelical culture as inherently "other." Particularly when they buy into the us/them mentality fundamentalists themselves employ: "secular" culture pitted against fundie Christian culture as if no other faiths or faith practices exist. I also think Sandler is too quick to assume young people are turning to the Christian right because "secular" culture has failed to give them something to believe in. Really? You couldn't do a little exploration into how left-leaning youth are building meaningful lives? Hopefully we'll soon start to ask more complicated questions of the counterrevolution than just "ohmigod what are they doing here?!"

Sandweiss, Martha. Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line (Penguin, 2009). It's been awhile since I had a case of scholar-writer envy as intense as I did reading Passing Strange. Sandweiss combs through the historical record for clues to help her reconstruct the story of high-profile turn-of-the-twentieth-century American scientist Clarence King who successfully concealed his marriage to Ada, a black woman, and the children they had together until after his death. His elite white friends thought him a bachelor; Ada -- as far as the historical record revealed -- believed her husband was a light-skinned black man who worked a series of jobs that often took him far from home. Through the story of Clarence and Ada, Sandweiss explores the nuances of race and race "passing" in America in the Reconstruction Era.


anatomy of an altar [wedding day, installment two]

This weekend, I read Bishop Gene Robinson's new book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (Knopf, 2012). In it, he tackles many of the common objections to marriage equality for same-sex partners -- including many of the objections that are borne of religious belief.

Drawing on his experience officiating at weddings of both other-sex and same-sex couples, Robinson observes that many same-sex couples come to their marriage rites with a heightened sense of intentionality -- perhaps because we are asked to do what anthropologists call "cultural work" to justify what we are about to do. Unlike hetero couples who are, in many contexts, assumed to be moving toward marriage "naturally," same-sex couples have to argue -- culturally, religiously, legally -- for the ability to do so. And this struggle translates into a particularly deliberative culture of marriage planning.

I don't know if this generalization is fair (I know plenty of other-sex couples who approach their wedding plans with great thoughtfulness about the ritual and what it means for their lives), but it's true that although our marriage ceremony was spare we did put planning into what was important for us to bring with us into the space, and how we wanted to symbolize our commitment to one another. In addition to the vows, the wedding rings, the legal certificate, the tattoos, and the readings by friends, we carefully assembled an altar for the table that would bring together the various threads of our individual and shared lives we wanted to evoke.

We gathered together:

1) An altar cloth once woven by my mother, in a pattern she constructed mathematically to represent the music of one of my favorite Pentecost hymns.

2) A pure beeswax candle which we did not end up lighting due to wind (and forgetting the matches!), but we chose beeswax because it's such a lovely scent and because bees are awesome.

3) Two clay cat statues from a set of three I gave Hanna as a St. Nicholas Day gift several Christmases ago. These, obviously, were for Geraldine and Teazle who could not be there as part of our family to celebrate the day.

4) An eternal knot -- the symbol our marriage tattoos were inspired by -- which hangs in our bedroom.

5) A soapstone statue of a couple embracing which I found a few years ago at our local Ten Thousand Villages store; I like the Kisii soapstone groupings because they are generally not gender-typed. Perhaps if we'd had a wedding cake, this statue could have been our cake topper!

6) The painting by my sister-in-law Renee which I received as a wedding favor when she and my brother celebrated their marriage in Michigan last summer. This painting stood in for my extended family who are scattered across the country, and for my Michigan roots.

7) A rosewood letter opener carved by my friend Joseph and given to me as a gift many years ago. A gardener and rose breeder, Joseph would have been my pick for best man if, you know, I'd had that sort of wedding.

8) A necklace made by my friend Rachel, who would have been my maid of honor (if: see above).

9) Hanna chose two statues of the Buddha: the first one she ever bought -- back when she first started practicing -- and the one which my mother gave her last year.

10) As a symbol of the self she is bringing to our marriage, Hanna included a small painted TARDIS medallion her father once made for her, which we found up in Maine this past summer when we were cleaning out her things from storage. Doctor Who was Hanna's ur-fandom (along with Star Wars) and as a British show also ties her to her father's Yorkshire roots.

11) Two origami cranes folded and left with Hanna by her former roommate Diana represented Diana and her fiance Collin who would have been Hanna's best man and maid of honor (if: see above).

And Tzurit, the manager of Tatte, brought us two vases full of amazingly fragrant stocks to round out our gathering-space.

On the table in the background, you can also see the portfolio in which is the signing document Hanna and I drew up, which contains our vows in written form and our signatures. Following the verbal exchange of vows, we asked all of our witnesses to sign the document -- and in the months to come we'll be sending it around the country to be signed by those who were unable to be present on the day. Once all 23 signatures have been added, we plan to frame the document (like the good archivists we are, we made sure the paper was acid-free and the signing pen archivally-sound!)