Women Unbound – The Red Tent

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve decided to participate in the Women Unbound challenge. This challenge asks us to read both fiction and nonfiction books written by women authors as part of a group enlightenment/discussion surrounding women’s issues. As a participant in this group, I will post my reviews of these books here on Tasting Grace. But I’m not going to do a traditional book review where I give the synopsis and my thoughts, end of story. What I’d like to do is give a hint of what the book is about, but then talk more about what questions the book raised and what it made me think about. So if you’re not a participant of the challenge and/or haven’t read the book (or even if you have!), or even are not particularly chuffed about women’s issues, please stick around! What I’m hoping to do is pose some things to think about and hopefully engender a discussion here and try to get different people’s thoughts and share ideas. And hopefully learn something really fascinating in the process.

redtentThe first book I read was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It’s a very beautiful book that tells the tale of biblical figures from a woman’s perspective. It tells the tale of Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Dinah, from Dinah’s own perspective and weaves a story of four sisters wed to the same man and raising his children together. It tells of her marriage and “rape” and the carnage and aftermath which ensued. With a wealth of historical detail and deep emotional connection, the book opens a window for modern readers to see what life was like for the silent figures in the Bible: the women. I highly recommend it, and if you like historical fiction and books about the bonds of kin, this book might just be your cup of tea.

There are three things that struck me while I read the book. The first regards ceremony and rites. In the early parts of the book, Diamant delves a lot into what women did together. As they were not members of the public sphere, their lives involved much cooking and child-rearing, yes, but they were also very connected inter-personally and spiritually. Diamant talks at length of the community of sisters who see each other through major transitions in life and celebrate together moments like the moment when a girl sheds blood for the first time and becomes a woman: the time when women learn that blood is the price for giving life. As I read on, I realized that we have comparatively little in the way of ceremony and rites-of-passage. Part of this might be due to the way society has progressed: that with science and learning that fertility festivals do not actually increase fertility and dancing before the cloud gods does not produce rain that we have learned more about how the world works. But I wonder if maybe we haven’t lost something along the way. We have proms and marriage and religious holiday traditions (and what we do have has largely become uber-commercialized and sometimes engenders at least as much stress as joy), but most of us no longer celebrate things like when a girl becomes a woman and a boy becomes a man. Important passages go unmarked and unrecognized and there is little sense that these life transitions are indeed special and worth attention. Mothers show daughters how to use a tampon and they both move on without another thought. There is little of the sacred feminine, little celebration, little sense of community, sisterhood or brotherhood surrounding the different stages of life. Comparatively. Perhaps the biggest coming of age surrounds crossing an arbitrary age barrier delineating the legality of driving and drinking alcohol. Which neither are things that say anything substantial about people’s relationship with the larger community. And I wonder: to the extent that some of these communal celebrations have disappeared, have the binds that tie us as a society weakened?

The second thing that came from this book was a very real sense of what it was like for women to not have any choices in life. When things really mattered, very often, choices are made for them by men. It took real manipulation and chicanery to take control of one’s own fate. And what Diamant illustrates so deftly is that women in this time could not even cry foul at injustices. Not only were they not allowed to, they could not even conceive of the possibility of claiming an act against them had been unjust. It simply was the way things were. It is a difficult thing to wrap our heads around now, when we can look and say, “Why didn’t she complain? Why didn’t she fight against her oppression?” There were socio-cultural blinders preventing these women from even entertaining the possibility of fighting back. It’s easy for us to judge in hind-sight, to see outside the social frame of the time with the benefit of a different perspective. But it does raise the question: what are we blind to? Are there things that we don’t even see because it never occurred to us to question them?

And finally, there is a moment between Dinah and a dear friend of hers who says, “Dear one…I am so honored to be the vessel into which you pour this story of pain and strength.” I am so honored to be the vessel. Herein lies what I believe to be one of woman’s most incredible strengths. We have the strength to endure, to survive, to sacrifice, not only for ourselves, but also for others. When we falter, our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends become the vessel when there is too much to bear. (I don’t mean to say men don’t do this too; men can be incredibly caring, strong, and supportive.) But can we recognize in our sisters fellow vessels of the world’s burdens? Can we, even where there are betrayals between sisters, forgive and live with an undivided heart?

If anyone has thoughts on any of this, I would love to receive them. I would love to have a discussion and hear what others think. I hope you all find this fascinating too.

after all, what are friends/blogs for?

cupsI was sitting with a good friend the other day, chatting companionably over sweets, when I remarked that sometimes I think my blog gets too heavy. Because I talk about serious things maybe too often. Because I’m better at writing about the serious stuff and my style of joking doesn’t always translate well into the written word. I try to lighten it up, but then I clam up entirely with the pressure and nothing to say.

My friend said, “No, of course not. You’re writing about the things you’re thinking about. It’s like a journal, and it’s great to have this thing you can go back and look at later, a record of your thoughts and life and stuff.”

I laughed. “I’ve never been any good at keeping a journal. I’ve never had the discipline for it.”

“Mine was always full of things that I look back on and am like, ‘What was I thinking?’” my friend laughed. “Like how I got a fabulous new purse and thought I was all grown-up, a real WOMAN.”

“Oh yeah!” I said. “I totally did that too! Like wearing high heels and suddenly thinking I’m such a sophisticated woman (though come to think of it, I think I still try to pretend high heels grant me a layer of sophistication). Diaries are always full of crap like that. When I did write diary entries, they were always things like, ‘Oh, I hope he likes me! Oh, I happened to pass him in the hall today and I even said hi to him and he totally said hi back! I wonder if that means he likes me too!’ Except, by “happened to” I mean I figured out his class schedule and practically stalked him in between classes.” And by “practically” I mean I did. Like every day.

We giggled like schoolgirls and I said, “I’m totally blogging about this.”

you capture – still life

Today, I have no words for you. Nothing big to say. Sorry. And instead of doing all the work I was supposed to be doing today, what did I do? I played hooky with my friend.

We chatted over coffee…
youcapture_stillcoffee(instead of working, which is supposedly what we went to the coffee shop to do…).

And we went shopping at my favorite store…

youcapture_stillshop(Oh, Anthropologie. I would shop there all the time if it wouldn’t bankrupt me.)

And we wandered, eating gelato over girl talk, while I took pictures.
youcapture_stilldoor

youcapture_stillleaf

youcapture_stillfountainI don’t know why I love this little fountain so much. Maybe it’s the colors.
youcapture_stillfountain2

youcapture_stilltheatreAnd this fabulous old theatre. I love it too.

Funny, come to think of it, this post does in a way kind of coincide with still life too. It’s like I pushed pause on this day and just enjoyed a moment of nothing really happening, while everything else around me continued on its merry way.

Life’s interesting like that, isn’t it?

For other still life captures, head on over to Beth’s website, I Should Be Folding Laundry. Join the You Capture challenge yourself!

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You Capture – Friends

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After months of lurking around Beth at I Should Be Folding Laundry’s website and checking out the various contributions to her You Capture challenge, I finally decided I would up and take that challenge. When I saw this week’s You Capture was Friends, I thought to myself, “Sweet!” We had a slew of friends visiting this weekend, and even better, a bunch were coming up to collaborate on a project: the birth of the Spearmint Dino art car for Burning Man. What better opportunity to capture true friendship than a bunch of friends putting their heads together to create a communal art project?

Goes to show, what works in your head doesn’t always turn out on film. So we’re just gonna have to make do with “happy accidents”, m’kay?

I wouldn’t say these are the most gorgeous pictures I’ve taken aesthetically, but oh, I do love them for their irony.
You can see here, the guys are contemplating the art car because they have effed up have been presented with a challenge. Having built the majority of the art car, they (yes, apparently just now) realize they need to get it from the shop to the house where it will be stored and they hadn’t quite planned that far out in their schemations. Trouble is: with the dino coming off about a foot on either side of the golf cart, it no longer fits in the bed of a truck. Being a golf cart which zooms along at a stunning 25 mph, it can’t exactly be driven down the 101 – lest even slow-ass old grandpas be reduced to gesticulating rudely in our general direction. Built for the playa, it’s meant to be outpaced by passing butterflies. And the guys, as proud little papas of their new baby, are loathe to dismantle it for transportation.

So what do they do? They call AAA.
This picture makes them look like a Christian rock band. ‘Cept they’re burners. Which is pretty much the antithesis of a Christian rock band.

AAA is entertaining the idea and asks for the addresses of pick-up and drop-off. My husband is negotiating with AAA, but doesn’t know the address of the guy’s house where it will be stored. Jeremy, the guy who does know the address has gone to the loo. So our friend, Jaime, is calling the guy in the loo for the address on one phone and relaying the information to Toby, who is on the other phone to Triple-A.
They’re talking to each other while on their cell phones – just not on the phone with each other.

So while this week’s You Capture was supposed to capture friends, and I was going for collaboration, what you see in the pictures is anomie. And a whole lot of technology.
Oh, the irony. (But hot dang, my man – the one in the black top – has a hot bod. Mm. Sorry. Easily distracted, I am.)

And as it turns out, AAA has no problem towing a recreational white and pink dino. What they do have a problem with is the fact that it is unregistered. No unregistered white-pink dinos for Triple A. Their dinos must come with papers. So after all that, the boys had to rent a U-Haul to tow it. Then the U-Haul turned out to be about 4 inches too short and they had to dismantle the dino anyway.

Because this happened:
Dino upload FAIL.

But it’ll all be worth it once that dino hits the playa.

Musings on a Friday Blessing


There are a lot of things going on in my life right now that I could complain about: it’s a rainy day, with plans thwarted, mini-stresses, and plenty of inconveniences that should make me grumpy. But when I woke up this morning, I felt inexplicably happy and at peace. Maybe because it is Friday, I feel more like celebrating than grousing. I have many reasons to feel blessed and thinking of those blessings seems to me like a good way to start the weekend. So, instead of the rain outside today, I take a picture of a sunflower rising.

Today I must focus on finishing my theory chapter of my dissertation. I’ve set a deadline for myself to finish it by Sunday night so I can give it and my Intro chapter (which is already more or less complete) to my committee. Such relief it will be to have that finished, because once it is complete, I’ll be doing data entry for a (long) while. While that probably sounds tedious–and it is–it’ll be a nice break from the craziness that has been this past year. Plus, it will also give me the requisite mental space for getting back to my manuscript in the evenings. One more set of revisions await completion, and once those are ready, I can send my manuscript off to agents and publishers!

On Saturday, I’m holding a Thank You BBQ for my students and I’m really looking forward to it. They’ve done fantastic work this quarter as research assistants and they deserve a little party in their honor. Plus, I really do enjoy my students as people. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to know them better as individuals, and let my hair down so to speak, so they can know me better too. At this stage in their careers, they should know I’m rooting for them and happy to support them any way I can.

I have an awesome, amazing, wonderful husband who brings me joy and giggles every day. This little slice of bliss has become even more important than I imagined. It gives me a safe foundation where when everything else in my life goes to sh*t, there is a space where I can come home and say, “Life isn’t so bad”.

I have amazing friends. Even though almost all of them are far away–and one is due to leave soon and another is going halfway around the world!–they are all incredible people to know and love. I feel extremely happy for them as they embark on their new journeys and I feel lucky to have them in my life. I’m looking forward to the celebrations in their honor, bitter-sweet though they may be.

Now that the data collection phase of my research is done, I can work almost entirely at home. This makes my little heart go pitter-pat. Working at home is the shiz-nit because you can wear whatever you want.

And last but not least, it’s FRIDAY and I’m just about to enjoy a good cup of coffee. Sounds like bliss to me.

Transitioning to Tweens


Yesterday, I attended a younger sibling-in-law’s sixth grade graduation. The principal gave the typical speech about “the challenges ahead”, advising them to always think critically, be themselves, and not be pressured by their peers. As an educator and socially responsible person, I’m nodding “yes, yes, of course, sound advice that is”, but as someone who has suffered through and survived junior high, I found myself thinking I could have used an entirely different set of advice before embarking on that adventure/tragedy that is junior high. Oh, the social awkwardness. So this is the non-parent/principal-approved list of advice I wish I had gotten when I was 13. To the adults out there: what advice would you like to have gotten before going to junior high? Feel free to add your own to the list!

The (Alternative) Guide to Junior High School

1. Don’t pop your zits – As satisfying as it is, you never know when you’ll pick the wrong one and just get a bloody mess and scars for your efforts.

2. Yes, it’s true. The social hierarchy does depend almost entirely on the clothes you wear. The sad truth is it is so easy to move up the hierarchy but the kids at the top almost never deserve it and yet the kids at the bottom don’t realize how such tiny, inconsequential, superficial things determine their fate. It’s not a matter of “following the crowd” like your parents warn about; it’s a matter of social survival.

3. That said, it’s not worth caring much about the social hierarchy in the long run. Most of the popular kids end up barefoot and pregnant before adulthood, and the nerds and geeks come into their own and end up being the really cool people you want to know right around college.

4. Avoid being in photographs at all costs. You’ll only want to burn them later because a) hormones and braces are evil, and b) 7th & 8th graders are just not the best judges when it comes to make-up.

5. These are the years you discover sarcasm, rolled eyes, ineffable boredom, the joy of cussing and general negativity. Embrace it with your peers, but realize every one else finds it supremely annoying.

6. To the A students: If the choice is between doing homework and hanging out with your best friends, more often than not, opt for friends. You only need to test well to get into advanced classes in high school (and even without that, you can petition)…other than that, NOBODY looks at your grades from junior high. Fun times and hilarious memories are far more worthwhile.

7. Guys, as much as it might seem cool to act like a badass, you’re not fooling anyone. Except maybe yourself and other wannabes.

8. Girls, ALWAYS have an extra tampon/pad, even if it’s not that time of the month. You never know when emergency or disaster will strike you or a loved one.

9. Eighth grade dances are not like the proms you see on TV. Imagine all the girls on one side and all the boys on the other side, insert awkwardness and music compiled by people three sheets shy of cool, and you have the first half of an eighth grade dance. In the second half, when people start actually dancing, awkwardness increases exponentially as everyone realizes they have no clue how to dance. Successful slow dancing requires being able to rotate slowly in a circle, while weaving from side to side, without stepping on anyone’s feet or dress. This can be hazardous when people’s feet and arms are out of proportion from the rest of their bodies thanks to growth spurts and when boys are a head shorter than girls but girls must still find a way to rest their heads on the guy’s shoulder.

10. Romantic relationships will probably be the most dramatic, soap operatic, and short-lived of your entire life. Two survivor rules: 1) Dating your best friends’ (ex)boy/girlfriend is so not cool. No, it’s not like they’re not going to get married, but it is a code-of-honor issue among friends; 2) Don’t freak out when your friend gets a bf/gf and spends less time with you. They’ll be back eventually when they discover how much of a dweeb their bf/gf was.

And above all:
Nothing that happens in junior high is the end of the world (though it all seems like it), and so remember: This too shall pass.

My Closest Friends Are All Far Away

There is something indescribably wonderful about having friends with whom, no matter how close or far away, no matter how much time has passed, you can always pick up the threads as if you were never apart.

This weekend I spent time with some of my closest friends. I haven’t seen them in almost a year, yet when I am with them, it is almost like it was only yesterday we last saw each other. We can laugh and joke and fall into an easy rhythm. There are no awkward silences because you love each other so much, just being with each other is enough. You talk about the big things, you talk about the little, insignificant things and all of it is important and meaningful–something to remember.

And who knows where we all shall go? Some may fly off to foreign lands, some moving for career opportunities, and some finding their home in which to settle down. No matter where our paths will lead, there is never good-bye because we know we will always find ways to touch base, to reconnect and pick up as if we never left off.

There is something so indescribably comfortable and sweet in that.

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