Or maybe, "What is vamping, and how could the Trump administration redo it?" Perhaps because I was very tired, that was my reaction to this story by Nia-Malika Henderson, "April Ryan asked the most important question of the Trump presidency", CNN 3/30/2017:
After a contentious — and some said condescending, sexist and racist — back-and-forth with White House reporter April Ryan at a press briefing Tuesday, Sean Spicer tried to get over the dust-up at the Wednesday briefing.
He called on the American Urban Radio Networks correspondent first, and the two exchanged forced pleasantries. Moving on, folks, was the clear message. Nothing to see here. We are professionals and combat happens.
But, lost amid that Tuesday exchange was the actual substance of Ryan's question. It was an important one, which goes to the heart of where President Donald Trump finds himself — the Gallup daily tracking poll has Trump at 35%, a new low.
Ryan asked: How does this administration try to revamp its image?
Of course I know what it means to revamp something: "give new and improved form, structure, or appearance to". But just what would the administration be re-ing if did revamp its image?
So I looked it up — and the OED tells me that vamp comes from
Old French avanpié (12th cent.; later French avantpied ), < avan(t) before + pié foot.
That part of hose or stockings which covers the foot and ankle; also, a short stocking, a sock. Now dial.
The part of a boot or shoe covering the front of the foot; U.S., that part between the sole and the top in front of the ankle-seams.
So revamping is something that cobblers (used to) do, to replace the front part of a boot or shoe's uppers.
Anyhow, vamp in this sense is a word that I've somehow managed to avoid learning so far in my life, probably because I've never actually (known anyone who) had a boot or shoed revamped. (Though I'm old enough to have had a few soles and/or heels replaced…)
It’s a difficult time to be a person—even the kind of person who finds comfort in thinking, “nothing really matters in the end.” The concept can make the future’s uncertainties more palatable: It offloads the present moment from scary finites and replaces it with more possibility. Being detached like that actually takes some existential pressure off! Unless you use the sentiment as a way to avoid responsibility, it can be kind of a calming thing, I guess. “Nothing matters” doesn’t take mattering away from me; it just plants my feet more helpfully on maximizing the moment, instead of some story of the future, of what I’m supposed to be achieving, of what people will say at my funeral, about what my life is supposed to look like. All of that’s usually a help in moments of a confidence crisis.
Another kind of person, though, might think that hearing “hey, it’s not the end of the world!” would be more comforting. I’ve been hearing a lot of that lately, from well-meaning people trying to put a damper on my contemporary dread (haven’t they seen my bumper sticker?). “It’s not the end of the world” doesn’t really give me any soothing information—it’s the voice of reason trying to have an argument with the voice who is most comfortable believing that there are no inherent reasons. I get frustrated when voice of reason oversimplifies everything like that; in doing so, it picks a fight with my understanding of how things work.
When I think of the end of the world—and do I ever—what comes to mind is a montage of regular, familiar deaths, as opposed to a giant and singular catastrophe. There are various levels of shattering—some feel violent like they could make me sick, some are milder, a quiet and resigned exhale. These deaths happen when beliefs I subscribe to—things that feel real, and can have for years and years—begin to show themselves as fictions or just realities that have passed their expiry date. Or, a newer truth emerges from an experience that sweeps aside a whole bunch of half-truths I cobbled together as my way of seeing the world. That can feel like a handful of deaths, because so much is invalidated by a single new realization about how things are. I feel duped by the stuff of my lifelong beliefs, in the same way as little kids realizing that their parents are mortal—what they know, trust, and has kept them alive every moment until this point is not going to live forever.
So when the voice of reason says, “it’s not the end,” what it doesn’t see is that I live in a universe made up of millions of worlds, some of which die from bangs big and small. I’ve made entire worlds with their own atmospheres and ecosystems to sustain my existential convictions. This is something I believe that we all do, and being comfortable with their frequent combustions is, ultimately, the only control we have over it all.
We will all encounter many deaths of what we know to be true—and why not let those beliefs implode rather than cling to what becomes dust? The metaphor conveniently exists in actual space: When a world finishes its lifespan with an explosion, there’s a supernova. A big flash of illumination. This is a lot like what growing up is, and being brave enough to face the darkness of it. You watch little worlds become obsolete, but as they leave, they detonate into light and make something new apparent. Like Leonard Cohen sang, “There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s the most important part of this whole lifespan—there can be a clearer, more lucid light into which you can exist, after the end of an implosion.
So I’m here to talk about the darkness left behind in those small deaths, how to grieve them, and then how to move along in a brighter understanding than before. There can be a sense of relief that comes with it all, even when the makeup of your reality changes. You have to negotiate new beliefs in the fresh ruins of old ones, but sometimes the ends of little worlds is exactly what we needed to happen.
Yesterday I posted about Tom Groome's New York Times article arguing that the Democrats need to stop being the "abortion party," and noted the two Religion Dispatches articles criticizing Groome. After the article posted, Charlie Camosy chimed in on Twitter to argue:
This led me to respond that I'd never found the pro-life position particularly nuanced, and that Groome's article reinforced that opinion. To which Camosy responded:
And then it was on. You can go read the whole exchange on Twitter, but since it's very difficult to carry on a ... well nuanced conversation 140 characters at a time, I thought it would be worth thinking at a bit more length about the subject here.
As I read Camosy's defense of the "nuance" of a 20-week ban on abortion, I kept thinking I needed Inigo Montoya to show up and chime in "You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means." And this, it seems to me, was indeed part of the problem. We both understood by the word "nuance" something very different than the other did, though I have to say that, re-reading the thread this morning, I still don't think the word means what Camosy thinks it means, and it's certainly not very nuanced to portray "Shout Your Abortion" as representative of the default position of most pro-choice folks.
First of all, it seems to me that Camosy was repeatedly misrepresenting the current Democratic party platform on the issue, and Hillary Clinton's own words on the matter. To be clear, I was defending what for me has always been the best liberal approach to the question of abortion, as encapsulated by Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Camosy, citing himself, kept referring to an LA Times article in which he asserted that the Democratic Party platform "betrayed millions of party faithful." But that article is hardly an example of nuance. It criticizes the platform for insisting on the removal of state restrictions on abortion, and insisting on it as a core element of reproductive health, while eliding all of the ... well nuance of the reason why those provisions were included in the first place: Repeated conservative attempts to throw up insurmountable roadblocks to abortion under any circumstances.
Even a passing familiarity with the ways in which Republican state legislatures have sought to do end runs around the Supreme Court rulings on abortion by, for example, requiring doctors working in abortion clinics to have residency at a local hospital, and then refusing them that residency, or creating expensive and unnecessary zoning and construction requirements for abortion clinics. These tactics have sought to create circumstances in which abortion, even if technically legal, became impossible to actually procure in some states. Ignoring those particular circumstances is not very nuanced.
But more generally, it's worth noting that the Democratic platform actually did a pretty good job of accomplishing the goal of ensuring that abortion was both safe and legal on the one hand, and rare on the other. The planks insisting on the right to access to abortion, and its importance for a general policy of reproductive health serve to ensure the first to criteria. The third is accomplished through platform language that ties the right to abortion to the right to health care generally and, most particularly to the right to have a child. Here is the particular language:
We will address the discrimination and barriers that inhibit meaningful access to reproductive health care services, including those based on gender, sexuality, race, income, disability, and other factors. We recognize that quality, affordable comprehensive health care, evidence-based sex education and a full range of family planning services help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.
And we strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child, including by ensuring a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth, and by providing services during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including adoption and social support services, as well as protections for women against pregnancy discrimination. We are committed to creating a society where children are safe and can thrive physically, emotionally, educationally, and spiritually. We recognize and support the importance of civil structures that are essential to creating this for every child.
And indeed there is ample evidence to demonstrate that, if your goal is to reduce abortions, these are the policies that you should be advocating. So when Camosy complains that the platform kept the "safe and legal" while abandoning the "rare," it seems to me at least that he didn't read the platform with sufficient ... nuance.
There is also evidence that, in terms of implementation of these policies, abortion rates decline under Democratic administrations. When I made that case to him, Camosy responded by linking to a Snopes article that he claimed labeled the assertion "False." However, a more ... nuanced ... reading of the Snopes article shows that what was false was something that I wasn't arguing, and what wasn't false was what I was claiming. The Snopes article addresses the question of whether abortions both go up during Republican administrations and decline during Democratic administrations. And, since Roe v. Wade, it is apparent that abortion rates do not in fact increase under Republican administrations, but they do decline (and decline more) under Democratic ones. This chart illustrates the point:
Charlie contended that a "Stats 101" analysis of the data would show something else, though he didn't elaborate. But while the trend line seems to either hold stead or decline only slightly during the Reagan and Bush years, it drops precipitously under both Clinton and Obama. So perhaps Charlie will get around to elaborating on his point in some other venue, but it still seems to me that the evidence does demonstrate that if your goal is to make abortion rarer, Democratic policies do the job better than Republican ones, though of course it's always worth remembering that correlation does not equal causation.
OK, so then, is a 20-week ban, as Camosy advocates, "nuanced"? Well it's certainly far more nuanced than the position taken by the Republican party, but a getting hit in the face by a brick in a gym sock would be more nuanced than anything in the Republican party these days. However, what the 20-week ban fails to account for is the situation of women who, late in pregnancy, discovers a fatal defect in the gestating fetus, and the emotional and moral turmoil that women in that situation face. I suppose the response is that such instances are fairly rare, but then, late pregnancy abortions are rare to begin with. Camosy does of course note that the ban would come "with exceptions," but there the devil is in the details, and if the exceptions were sufficiently broad, it would basically make the ban worthless as policy anyway. A 20 week ban would almost certainly not make most abortions more rare in any respect, while increasing the suffering of families in genuinely tragic circumstances. Whether or not you think that abortion should be available in those cases, it remains the case that at the ban Camosy proposes once again fails the nuance test.
In the end, both Groome's and Camosy's complaints seem to amount to the same thing: They want the Democratic party to move closer to their position on abortion. That is of course a totally fair position for them to take. But to argue that the current Democratic Party policy isn't precisely what I said above -- to make abortion safe, legal, and rare -- suggests at a minimum a lack of charity in how the democratic position is understood and interpreted. And it certainly represents a failure of nuance.
I’m one of scores of people who visit bestselling author and truth conjurer Danielle LaPorte’s website each day for her #truthbombs. Her messages read like inspirational love letters written just for me. As a feminist activist, a seeker, and an unapologetic Christian mystic, I have often felt alienated and gaslit by the proliferation of overly prescriptive dogma and shallow rhetoric that dominates mainstream narratives about enlightenment, personal growth, and self-improvement. Danielle’s teachings have repeatedly helped me crawl out of blackholes of agonizing paralysis brought on by toxic work environments, compiled microagressions, friend breakups, and personal heartbreak. Her lilting visualizations, meditations, and declarations have helped me reclaim my power by engaging in soulful goal-setting, self-acceptance, and joyful adventures.
I’ve studied the fiercely pragmatic spirituality of her book The Fire Starter Sessions and the no-holds-barred real talk of her audio and video talks. Her wisdom about leading a desire-driven life has informed and affirmed my approach to spiritual exploration, defining success, and building my own sense of beloved community. That’s why I’m excited that her new book, White Hot Truth: Clarity for Keeping It Real on Your Spiritual Path, will be gracing us with healing magic in the form of fierce feminist wit, tactics for creative awakenings, and blistering clarity—just in time for springtime intention-setting.
Danielle and I recently chatted over Skype about how to deal with the rise of global authoritarianism, the limits of “faux freedoms,” and the enduring power of genuine friendship. I’ve learned so much from Danielle from afar over the years, and soaked up so much wisdom IRL during our chat. Here’s what we discussed, so she can shine her light in your direction, too.
JAMIA WILSON: People are struggling with this political moment, and with the rise of authoritarianism. A lot of people struggle to care for themselves and each other, but also want to take action. Do you have any practices or ideas about how we can hold both in balance?
DANIELLE LAPORTE: Justice is a spiritual matter. Right action and using the light to infiltrate the dark is a spiritual matter. Fighting for the most loving thing for yourself and all beings is a spiritual matter. Being justifiably enraged, and backing that up with your outspokenness, is a spiritual matter. Ultimately what I’m on about these days is what I consider to be spiritual activism: Using your sense of right and wrong, and morality, and spirituality to create positive change. I think where a lot of confusion gets created, in terms of the self-help space and the self-help ideology, is that there’s so much talk and promotion about forgiveness and harmony and tolerance that if we’re going to be unrelenting and create disharmony, disruption, and not tolerate things, we think we’re not being quote-unquote spiritual. And that’s just simply not true. Spirituality is all things, it’s whole. And to be whole you have to be feisty and fierce and opinionated. Consciousness is all about discernment. About knowing what’s right and what’s wrong. About what’s loving and what’s cruel. About what’s inclusive and about what’s divisive. So fight with all your heart.
Yes! Mmm, yes. “Fight with all your heart.”
There are resources out there, you know, to call your delegates, write the letters, be outspoken about your belief system, to donate your money on a regular basis. There are lots of very easy citizen-based things to do. And there are lots of soul-based things for us to do. Now’s the time when we can’t forget about the more esoteric practices. So, meditation is absolutely medicine right now, for these times. And giving meditation. There’s the meditation and the contemplation where we’re just looking after our own mind and our own vessel, and getting our consciousness in check. And then there’s that spiritual activism meditation, where instead of just going to yoga class to work out your stress from the day, you dedicate all your energy in that class to one particular person. Or to everybody in Syria. Or to all journalists who are fighting for the truth to get out there. Instead of going for a walk to de-stress, you go for a walk and you pray for the planet to be cleaned up. And you pray for politicians, good politicians, good-hearted politicians to get into office. You pray for solutions. Those are both sides.
What can we do to care for ourselves as we are coming into that spiritual feistiness you mentioned?
You need to have a practice of stillness, and you need to have a practice of movement. A lot of us already have a quote-unquote spiritual practice in our lives. Things that we’re doing that we haven’t really declared as a spiritual practice. It’s your walk to work. [It’s] saying your prayers, if you’re doing that. It’s reading—some of us are reading something inspirational every morning as a routine. That’s your inspirational moment. Just own that. You have to give yourself credit for what you’re already doing that’s focused and contemplative. If you’re not doing anything on a regular basis to be still and reflective, you just have to. It’s essential. It’s just like your body needs rest, your psyche needs rest and space. And maybe all you can sit still for is four minutes. Maybe you need a guided mediation, maybe you need to listen to one song that really feels angelic and calming for you, and you just lay down and for the three-and-a-half minutes of that song, you’re just there. Maybe your write a love letter to your god every day. You need something. You need something like that. And you have to move, and that can be any way you want. But it’s more than just going to Equinox and getting your sweat on to look good. You’ve got to move your body with the intention of creating sacred connection. By all means, go work out and look after your ass, but you’ve [also] got to move your body in order to move the junk out of your psyche.
I’ve also been struggling with how some folks appropriate spiritual and social justice teachings, and then, as you’ve described it, disguise it as “group-think liberation.” Do you have advice for people who are confronting this with parents, teachers, or other authority figures? How do we make sense of what is true or faux freedom?
At some point, I think everybody’s going to deal with this initiation into your own power. Dogma is everywhere, and the new age self-help personal development space is no exception. I think you need to know how hard it is—breaking free from something you’ve adored and you’re waking up to and realizing is slightly corrupt, and maybe really not good for you. Or there’s been an actual misuse of power. Or there’s some kind of fissure. There’s some kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s really difficult, because it’s spiritual heartbreak. You realize how much you want it to be saved, how much you wanted someone to give you the answer, make it easier for you, comfort you, and just love you in the most basic way. To love and adore you like we all want to be loved and adored. And when that doesn’t happen, it’s heartbreaking. But it’s how we get more mature. It’s a necessary breaking away. You’re going to feel confused, you might feel depressed. Betrayal sucks—there’s no way around how hard betrayal is.
And the worst part of it, the worst part in the journey, I would say, after you get over the heartbreak is that you have a really hard time trusting your choices moving forward. You don’t trust, you mistrust your powers of discernment. You think if you fell for it once, you could fall for it again. And just like relationship heartbreak, we don’t want to become jaded, we don’t want our hearts to be closed. We want to open up to falling in love again. We want to open up to finding someone who is quality. To finding someone who is truly luminous, who is really the real deal. Who actually does have great spiritual counsel to give us, you know? And so really you become whole again, you mature when you realize you can trust your instincts. That you’re going to know who’s creepy and who isn’t. You’re going to learn to be able to discern the real-deal teachers from the fake teachers. And when that happens, if you ever have to do it again, you will be able to stand up in a group and say, “This doesn’t work for me. This is wrong. You need to make it right.” Or you simply leave. That doesn’t get any easier either, but you become more able to do it. You have the courage to meet the challenge. And this is essential for being an activist. This is essential for being an awake person.
When you find the courage to leave a situation that’s not working for you, when you find the courage to stand in your conviction—even though you know that that will come with alienation and isolation—how do you create a sense of protection?
Two things. One is you have to know that there’s meaning to what you’re doing. That this is your soul growing. You’re bringing more light into your being-ness. That it’s good karma. There is a spiritual payoff to this, you know? So there’s that part. The other part is you absolutely cannot stand up without backup. You cannot do this alone. So you need your friends. You need whatever you consider your churches. You need community. With all of my big initiations and passages—[like] leaving my boss, leaving my husband, leaving my publisher, all of those things—I had backup. I had therapists, I had friends who were reminding me who I was. I had community to mop me up. And I could put my armor on and speak clearly, but then I needed to come home and cry with a friend. You’ve got to call on your sisters. I dedicated White Hot Truth to my girlfriends, and it was not a light dedication. I mean, friendships are religion for me.
Some folks are still building their crew. They might be in a rural community where they don’t have a lot of people who think like them. Or they may be traveling to college or going to a new high school. What are the values and the principles that help you determine who the people in your friendship-religion are?
The crew can be virtual. For some of us who just don’t have access to those in-person sisters or brothers, this is the beauty of an online community. Also, I think we need to really walk our talk in terms of friendship. It’s almost this atrophied muscle for a lot of us. You need to be the one who listens, the person who has the dinner party. Be the person who asks someone to lunch. Just be that person who invites people into their lives.
Is there any other wisdom you’d like to share with our Club Thrive crew?
The only regrets I have in life—there aren’t many—but the few regrets I have, have to do with times when I didn’t speak up. So use your voice. Use your voice, period. And kindness is a superpower. Really, just be kind. ♦
At The New Republic Jonathan Masalic makes the case for one, while also illuminating a similar proposal, that for the universal guarantee of a job. The universal employment proposal, which was suggested by Jeff Spross, would work like this:
Spross argues in the current issue of the journal Democracy, they ought to counter President Donald Trump’s rhetoric with a concrete offer to every American who wants dignity and a decent living: a federally funded job. Spross, an economics and business writer for The Week, makes a thorough case for a universal job guarantee, writing that “a job is not merely a delivery mechanism for income that can be replaced by an alternative source. It’s a fundamental way that people assert their dignity, stake their claim in society, and understand their mutual obligations to one another.” ...
Spross proposes that someone with a full-time job in the federal program would work on infrastructure and community development projects and be paid $25,000, plus full benefits. The proposal has precedent, not only in the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, but in Argentina within the past decade. With jobs of last resort paying well above the current federal minimum wage, unemployment would drop to nothing and workers higher up the income ladder would gain tremendous bargaining power. The “dignity deficit” would disappear immediately.
Masalic, by contrast, proposes a Universal Basic Income:
But because basic income is the more inclusive program—encompassing children, the disabled, and everyone else who cannot work—it promotes a kind of justice that a make-work program cannot. Moreover, in an economy that can substitute machines for human labor, a job guarantee could transform into a de facto basic income guarantee anyway. As Avent notes, the more expensive human labor is, the more appealing machine labor becomes. With a high wage floor and no slack in the labor market, it would make economic sense to automate jobs that humans currently do for low wages, like customer service, transportation, and sales. This would push even more people to take the guaranteed jobs. At some point, there might not be enough productive work to go around. Once people find themselves doing pointless make-work just to keep busy and qualify for a paycheck—in other words, once guaranteed jobs become bullshit jobs—we may as well call it art.
I've been persuaded for a long time that we need to find a workable mechanism to establish a Universal Basic Income in the United States. As Masalic notes, it would provide support for parents who want to stay home with their children, it would give workers the same kind of leverage that Spross's universal jobs program would, and it would allow those whose understanding of "work" does not correspond to the demands of post-industrial capitalist society. It could allow for a new well-spring of creative activity, from artists and musicians who are willing to live at the modest level a universal income would allow, while also allowing those who wish to strive to make more.
Here's the fundamental problem, which I think Masalic identifies well: When did we ever agree as a society that our lives should depend on our willingness to take crappy, dead-end jobs, and whittle our lives away on meaningless work? Why is it better to do that than to detach the need to survive from the need to "work" in the capitalist/acquisitive sense of the word? And, fundamentally, who benefits from the existing system? Not the lowest paid workers. Not even those in the middle class. This is a system which is set up to perpetuate itself by convincing anyone who isn't willing to take literally any job they're offered because they alternative is starvation that they are immoral, lazy bums.
The dignity of work is found finally in its meaningfulness. I'd ultimately be happy if we implemented a program like Spross's. But it ultimately needs to be a gateway to the far more radical, and far more necessary, guarantee of a basic income.
From David Cragin:
I was exchanging WeChats with a friend and she called me a cow, i.e., “Nǐ niú de 你牛的.” It immediately made me laugh because calling someone a cow isn’t a good way to engender warm feelings in English. Hā 哈!, but I guessed that in Chinese it must be a compliment.
I asked its meaning and she explained as below. My friend's comments are in Chinese with my English translation following. As you noted on 11/30/2016, I struggled with translating lihai, so I used “awesome” for that ("A new English word").
“Nǐ niú de” jiùshì “nǐ hěn lìhài” huòzhě “nǐ hěn bàng” de yìsi.
“You’re a cow” means “you are awesome” or “you are great.”
Niú shì cow, shì yīgè hěn dà hěn zhòngyào de dòngwù, shì Zhōngguó nóngyè fāngmiàn zhòngyào dòngwù.
Cow is a cow, a very important animal and an important animal in Chinese agriculture.
Suǒyǐ shuō rén hěn niú, jiùshì shuō tā hěn lìhài.
So if you say a person is a cow, you are saying they are awesome.
Yǒu shíhou shuō yīgè rén shì dà niú, jiùshì shuō zhège rén xiāngdāng lìhài, xiāngdāng bàng de yìsi.
Sometimes we say a person is a big cow, that is, they are really awesome. This has a particularly good meaning.
I thought this was really funny –- that in contrast, regardless of the context, references to farm animals in the US aren’t compliments. All of the farm-animal based comments I can think of are insults: “don’t be chicken”, “you’re a pig”, “hen-pecked”, and “bull-headed.” Since your blog has participants from across the globe, it could be entertaining to hear some similar farm animal idioms that either compliment or criticize.
(Your comments on the blog resonate with me. Recently you mentioned that despite 50 years of practice, you still struggle with Chinese characters. For me, I’ve spent a fraction of this time. Characters present a huge challenge, but a fascinating one since when I’m reading hanzi, I’m normally “deciphering” a note from a friend that I really want to understand. This can offer enjoyable experiences like the above.)
Either Dave's friend is naive (which I rather doubt because almost everybody in China knows the real story about calling somebody "niú 牛" ["cow"]), or she is trying to protect and preserve Dave's innocence.
"Niubi ("awesome") revisited" (9/17/15)
SEASON 4, EPISODE 8 – SOMEONE ASKED: “Why don’t I have to hide my failure?” Circle of Hope pastors discuss: failure and how we perceive it, how we learn to accept ...
The post Someone Asked: “Why don’t I have to hide my failure?” appeared first on Circle of Hope.
Good morning! Say hello to Thursday with this edition of Daily Links…
MTV News delves into the history behind Rihanna’s massive hit, “Umbrella,” for the song’s 10th anniversary. —Diamond Sharp
British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered article 50, meaning Britain’s process of leaving the EU has begun.
Activist Mona Haydar tackles stereotypes of Muslim women with her song, “Hijabi.” —Micha Frazer-Carroll ♦
Genesis 1.21Another example:
So God created the great sea monsters [tannin] and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. (NRSV)
So God created the great creatures of the sea [tannin] and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (NIV)
Job 7.12So again, both Leviathan and Rahab are tannin, dragons and monsters of the deep.
Am I the Sea, or the Dragon [tannin], that you set a guard over me? (NRSV)
Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep [tannin], that you put me under guard? (NIV)
And yet, if you look into the word "dragon" in the OT you will stumble upon some confusing translations:
Isaiah 34.13So how does "dragon" in the King James Version become "jackals" in other translations?
Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals, an abode for ostriches. (NRSV)
And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. (KJV)
The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (NRSV)
And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. (KJV)
Well, it's because the plural of tannin in the Hebrew (tannim) is the same as the plural for a different animal, jackal. Consequently, when tannim is encountered in the text the translator has to determine which animal--dragon or jackal--is being referred to.
So what do translators do? They tend to look at the ecosystem being described. If the ecosystem is water then the word is translated as "sea monster" or "dragon" (for example: Psalm 74.14). But if the ecosystem is in a desert many translators go with "jackals."
But complicating this picture, and more on this in the next post, is how tannin can also refer to serpents and snakes, animals that are found in deserts.
Regardless, the imagery of tannim--dragons or jackals--in a desolate place is used throughout the OT as imagery for the judgment of God. A "haunt of jackals" or a "habitation of dragons" is a demon-infested place. For example:
Isaiah 13.21-22I've highlighted in this text where the demonic imagery comes from, beyond the reference to jackals and/or dragons. Again, you'll note some translational differences in Isaiah 13.21: Is it goat-demons, satyrs, or wild goats?
But wild animals will lie down there,
and its houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will live,
and there goat-demons will dance.
Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals [tannim] in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand,
and its days will not be prolonged. (NRSV)
But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons [tannim] in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged. (KJV)
But desert creatures will lie there,
jackals will fill her houses;
there the owls will dwell,
and there the wild goats will leap about.
Hyenas will inhabit her strongholds,
jackals [tannim] her luxurious palaces.
Her time is at hand,
and her days will not be prolonged. (NIV)
This Hebrew word here--saiyer--can be translated as either "male goat" or "devil." It's a word where the devil gets associated with goat imagery. So translators of Isaiah 13.21-22 have to determine what image is being invoked. Is the reference zoological ("wild goat," NIV), mythological ("satyr," KJV) or demonological ("goat-demon," NRSV)?
Whatever it is, it's not good. A haunt of tannim is not a good place to be, goat-demons or not.
All this--haunts of dragons, jackals and goat-demons--is imagery that is used in the book of Revelation to describe Babylon:
Revelation 18.2-3And what's interesting is how this haunt of hateful beasts is described in political and economic terms:
He called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
a haunt of every foul bird,
a haunt of every foul and hateful beast."
"For all the nations have drunk
of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.”
The phrase Bonfire of the Vanities, while well-known as the title of Tom Wolfe’s 1987 novel, originally referred to an actual bonfire that was set on February 7, 1497, in Florence, Italy. The fire was lit by religious fanatics for the purpose of burning objects that a priest had deemed occasions of sin. The objects included art, cosmetics, and books.
I am a condemned soul.
I can imagine one of these fires in my own backyard, flames reaching into the night with my favorite books and art as kindling. Fifteenth-century Christians would have found my idea of the perfect birthday gift—a day at the ubiquitously phallic Museum of Modern Art—to be the very definition of an occasion of sin. But my true vice, the thing that would give the fire muscle and heat, has always been more of the Maybelline sort. I go for eyeliner and lipstick and anything that might make my aging body reflect—however poorly—those women in magazines with full lips and legs better measured by meters than feet.
With Florentine flames as far from my mind as the east is from the west, I recently wandered into a Target and, against my better judgment, decided a few outfits were worth the trouble of trying on. My first mistake was pulling them off the rack two sizes too small. I tend toward these types of miscalculations, possessed by a younger version of myself, as though I’m still that girl who climbed the high dive at the public pool without the least bit of self-consciousness and then mustered enough wherewithal to jump, however awkwardly, into the deep end, swimsuit riding up my butt and all. I swam face down with snorkel and mask, lay on my red-white-and-blue bicentennial towel smeared with enough suntan oil to start a car, and then ran around the deck to the deep end and dove for quarters with friends.
But I’m not that ten-year-old, and the mirrors at Target have been nabbed from a carnival fun house—I’m sure of it. They reflected a spectacularly distorted comedy of myself, and as I shoved one leg into a pair of jeans I thought of the J.Crew catalog I had thumbed through that morning—why do catalogs always refer to pants in the singular? I imagined trying on clothes in one of the attractively lighted J.Crew stores and asking the helpful customer service associate to please get me a size 10 pant instead of an 8 pant. I’m looking for a khaki pant.
Under the florescent lights, I continued to yank my leg into the jeans. On the rack they’d looked like a nice cross between skinny jeans and mom jeans, but no, they weren’t, most definitely not. I peeled them off, didn’t bother with the two dresses I still hadn’t tried on, exited the dressing room, passed my red Target cart with the leatherette belt I took twenty minutes to pick out, and ran out of the store. I might have had a few tears in my eyes, but whatever.
I can’t seem to quell the vanity thing. It’s always there, staring me down like a photo of Angelina Jolie at a checkout counter. And it’s not the size of my clothes so much as the way my white legs have shifted direction, like the way antique glass in an old home ever so slowly slopes and gives in to the waves of time.
I remember as a young girl seeing my grandmother lounging next to a pool in a swimsuit. She loved to swim and appeared comfortable in her time-weathered body, which had folds and sags that I had never seen before. I don’t imagine I’ll be as confident as her as I continue to age. Even now, I decline my critical vitamin D needs, refusing to visit any sun-kissed place that requires swimwear. Even a Land’s End suit doesn’t cut it, as hard as they’ve tried. And don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the wide straps and “thinning” colors. Thank you, Land’s End. Really. You tried, and that’s the least you could do.
I am a vain, vain woman.
Estrogen has been called the fountain of youth, yet every day I take a cancer pill that depletes my body of estrogen. Forget menopause, my treatment sucks dry every nook and cranny where I imagine cappuccino size dregs of the scared hormone hiding. The fountain of youth has dried up, and I’m scared. But what scares me isn’t the cancer returning; it’s the appearance of my face. I might become ugly.
In fact, I have found myself—and this is very hard to admit—in front of the bathroom mirror, thumbs at my temples, pulling my skin smooth, imagining what I might look like if the reconstruction surgeon who performed my mastectomy did a little extra something-something while I was under the knife to correct thing number one and thing number two. Right now my breasts have the unfortunate look of an older Pontiac with those closing-flap headlights they used to make, one flap stuck half way up in a sorry wink.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those super confident women who grow their hair long and gray, who compost and tend their vegetable garden and then go inside and write a few poems before lunch. A confident woman would not be obsessed with her physical features; she could care less about cosmetics. A confident woman would dive for the novels and art before they burned.
But alas, I am a vain, vain woman. Forget the rest, I’d jump in the flames to grab whatever precious vial passed as a cosmetic in 1497. In 1497 I would have been burned at the stake.
The sin of vanity seems to have withstood the test of time, even in my own life. I thought these things were taken care of. In college, at the tender age of nineteen, I changed the course of my life and began focusing on the things that I believed really mattered like, say, eternal life and love and my father in heaven who will one day introduce me to real beauty. Everything looked pretty cool on the surface—all that estrogen and Sun In and those awesome Levi’s 501 jeans. However, even then, a great mass of insecurity and self-doubt was submerged within me.
A year ago I found out I had breast cancer. After a mammogram, and then another mammogram, I was led in my pink gown to a small room with no windows and, I swear, no less than twelve tissue boxes. I sat there, beginning to feel like something was definitely up, until a nurse came in and sat down across from me.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
I said, “Apparently not,” and thus began my tumble into the world of pink things and breast cancer.
There was a two-week period after my diagnosis in which the forty or so years that I assumed I had left to live (I come from good genetic stock so ninety seemed about right) all of a sudden became three or four. My life—or more precisely, my death—felt five inches from my face, and all I could do was call out to the Lord for more years, plead that he would save me and that my cancer wouldn’t kill me. And God said yes. After a double mastectomy and many reconstructive surgeries, as well as medicine that I swear was concocted from bat urine and swamp sludge, my nodes are clear, my tests continue to show zero cancer, and my oncologist tells me my prognosis is excellent.
But trip wires averted, when I look in the mirror now—even with the reconstructive surgeries—my chest is a gnarly mess. It’s just plain ugly.
So here I am again. I understand that my worth is found in Christ and not in physical beauty, but believe it or not I can still go there; I can still feel insecure and turn to vain things rather than Christ. I can focus on myself and how I look, or how bad I look with my cancer-marred body, which in turn can make me feel self-critical and insecure, just as I used to feel proud when I felt pretty.
But God’s aware of my insecurity, and he’s right here, and I’m his child, and what child, especially to her father, is not beautiful?
It’s a matter of paying attention, I think. Of not doing the idol thing. When I pay attention to what God communicates in Scripture about how much he loves and cares for me, I’m reminded that he is the one who makes me beautiful. He’s continually at work sanctifying and purifying me. Christ in me is a beautiful thing. 1 Peter 5:6–7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you” (ESV). This verse could have been written especially for me. When I’m trying on an ill-fitting pair of jeans, anxious about all kinds of worldly nonsense, it reminds me to be humble. I’m already in the habit of casting my anxieties about cancer on God, but this verse reminds me to cast my anxieties about the silly things on God too, to give him all my grief about physical beauty. God cares for me. When I reflect on his love, I don’t feel a need to default to the physical beauty that the world values. My pretty, tan body on the high dive so many years ago recedes farther and farther into the past as I look forward to Christ exalting me at the proper time and unveiling my true beauty.
Cancer is one way God has graciously (yes, graciously) helped me see myself as beautiful, to see his vision for love, grace, and peace refracted in me. God didn’t cause my cancer, but he allowed it, knowing that he would use it for greater purposes.
Without estrogen, I’m not as pretty as I was before the cancer. There’s a lot of hair in the drain when I take a shower, and the wrinkles are coming fast and furious. I struggle with this, especially in a time when beautiful women seem to be around every corner with their ten thousand teeth and airbrushed (let’s just assume) torsos. It can sometimes feel like those moments in the Gospels when Jesus—almost oddly—says “I tell you the truth” over and over, like he knows beforehand we’ll keep forgetting something important he told us years ago and seek beauty from a Target mirror instead of from him.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.” I will one day be beautiful and it will have nothing to do with the tightness or youthfulness of my physical face. It will have everything to do with my reflection of him, my God, my Father, my Savior. All praise to the great healer of my soul and my body. I am his bride, and he will have the most beautiful bride.
So I’m glad, in the end, for my estrogen-less body and all that comes with it. There is a way, it turns out, to toss my Maybelline eyeliner in the fire with the books and art and to actually be thankful. It’s a wonder to me that much of my beauty in heaven depends on my fading physical beauty. The less attractive I become in the world, the more attractive I become in his eyes, because in cutting off my estrogen he is cutting off my idol. He is pruning me, and even though I might have to wait a bit, it’s worth it because I’ll be so freaking pretty.
Every Friday, we will publish a short list of a few articles that have caught our attention. This is what we’re reading this week:
The Presidents of 48 American Universities Penned a Letter to Donald J. Trump:
The order specifically prevents talented, law-abiding students and scholars from the affected regions from reaching our campuses. American higher education has benefited tremendously from this country’s long history of embracing immigrants from around the world. Their innovations and scholarship have enhanced American learning, added to our prosperity, and enriched our culture. Many who have returned to their own countries have taken with them the values that are the lifeblood of our democracy. America’s educational, scientific, economic, and artistic leadership depends upon our continued ability to attract the extraordinary people who for many generations have come to this country in search of freedom and a better life.
An interview with activists on local power, independent political force, and resistance:
People here aren’t interested in tired old debates about inside vs. outside strategies—the ballot vs. the street—as if they were mutually exclusive, rather than potentially complementary. This broad opposition moment is giving us the opportunity to intentionally blur the lines between electoral fights and in-the-streets social movements. At the national scale, we have the opportunity to recruit a huge crop of progressive candidates who emerge from powerful movements—who are accountable to movements. That’s why going into 2018 and 2020 we can do much better than deliver majorities back to corporate Democrats; we now have the opportunity to build an independent political force powerful enough to change the entire direction of mainstream politics.
Why Democrats need to suspend the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court:
As even Republicans begin to acknowledge the cloud over the Trump administration, congressional Democrats should argue that a compromised president should not be able to appoint a Supreme Court justice who might sit on that bench for 40 years. Especially since McConnell blocked the moderate Merrick Garland, age 64 to Gorsuch’s 49, who was chosen by Obama specifically to win GOP support. It didn’t work. Republicans argued last year that “eight is enough” on the Supreme Court (some even threatened to keep Clinton from making a pick for the coming four years). Democrats should officially agree, for now.
A musing on liberalism, being a radical, May 1968 & what resistance should not look like:
This year a lot of white people woke up. But it is hard to stay woke. So many outrages are committed every day that outrage becomes a chore. So much violent hatred—the shooting of Indian engineers, the desecrated Jewish cemeteries—is ignored and excused that demands for condemnation feel like nagging. So regular are the deceptions that lying is a joke, so acute the anxiety that boredom would be a relief.
Scientific research complicates questions of birth-sex and upholds a spectrum of gender fluidity:
The speech team that had performed in New York City the night E and I met was getting ready to travel to a national competition in California, and Jane showed me the email she’d sent the coach to pave the way. E might be seen by others as male, Jane wrote, now that her hair was so short and her clothing so androgynous. She would probably use “both male and female bathrooms depending on what situation feels safest,” Jane informed the coach, and “will need to tell you when she is going to the restroom and what gender she plans on using.” I asked Jane, the night we met, where she’d place her daughter on the gender spectrum. “I think she wants to fall into a neutral space,” she replied.
Check out the latest book by our very own Editor-in-Chief, Dan Rhodes, Organizing Church: Grassroots Practices for Embodying Change in Your Congregation, Your Community, and Our World. Available for purchase on Amazon!
The 21st century is the age of community organizing, from rallies in the streets to online movements for change. What if congregations embraced community organizing? Organizing Church offers a unique perspective that blends proven principles of community organizing and research on socially active congregations into a formula that will revitalize and empower churches as change-agents. Seasoned pastors and community activists Tim Conder and Dan Rhodes will help pastors and other church leaders build healthier congregations, create a deep culture of discipleship in their community, and respond to the challenges presented by the global culture of the 21st century. Organizing Church is the essential field guide for joining the social justice movement today.
It’s a sunny morning in Milan on March 8. I’m standing with about 10,000 people outside the Fatebenefratelli hospital singing along to Lily Allen’s “Fuck you” with the crowd. The majority are students, mostly young women or at least they are near the lorry from which the stereo is blasting out.
“If you want to be objectors, don’t become gynecologists!” a young woman is shouting into a megaphone. “Objection kills!”
All the gynecologists at Fatebenefratelli hospital are registered as conscientious objectors. Abortion is legal in Italy, but the high number of conscientious objectors within gynecology departments makes it extremely difficult for women to access abortion and the number of clandestine abortions is increasing, putting women’s lives at risk.
The atmosphere is peaceful, yet decisive.“Get your faith out of our wombs,” a sign reads. “They want us to be Barbies, we’ll be matryoshkas!” is written across a huge banner. Black matryoshkas are lined up on a white background across banners, symbol of the female universe and of infinity.
Ni una menos, non una di meno. Not one less.
In the evening, 10,000 people filled the streets again in a musical procession, renaming and taking back the streets of Milan by literally sticking the names of women over the male street names. More than sixty towns and cities took part in what some hail as a resurgence of feminism on a scale that has not been seen since the 1970s. L’otto marzo (March 8th) became lotto marzo (lotto means I fight), and feminism came back into the squares.
One-third of Italian, foreign and migrant women living in Italy suffer physical, psychological or sexual violence. In 2014, 152 were killed—of which 117 died in a domestic environment. In 2012, violence in Italy was identified as structural and cultural by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. It is not always reported and is not always perceived as a crime. Economic dependency contributes—working conditions and the profusion of temporary contracts mean it’s difficult for a woman to achieve economic independence in Italy, further exacerbated by inadequate wraparound childcare. In early March, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Italy because it failed to protect a woman and her son from domestic violence. In spite of various pleas for help, no adequate response was given—which resulted in attempted murder of the woman and murder of her son.
“Italian women have always had to fight for their rights,” Maria Luisa Carta, president of CADOM, a women’s help centre for violence in Monza, said to Ms. “We were one of the last European countries where women had the vote, and we won it because of a solid participation in our resistance. The ruling Catholic culture has always placed us under huge limitations, forcing us to take on the role of housewife and mother.”
Demonstrations blocked traffic and stopped the subway in Rome, and many other cities suffered interruptions.
In Bologna, where in February 2,000 women from the Non Una di Meno movement defined their political platform, women sang: “Happiness! It isn’t Prince Charming that makes you dream! Make space for sexuality!” They danced through the streets to a brass band.
In Parma, where women carried a huge matryoshka through the streets, one banner read: “I’m striking because I’ve had enough of sexist films, adverts and images.”
In Catania, signs read “Proudly not female enough!” and “Proudly not male enough!” Women chanted “I am mine!” in deliberate reference to the dangerous relationship between love, jealousy and possession that still persists.
In Lombardy, where a helpline was set up after attempts made to introduce gender awareness were blocked, one sign read “school and culture against ignorance and sexism.” Another said simply: “If our lives have no value, we will strike.”
Italy’s March 8 events occurred in harmony with events worldwide for what became known as the Day Without A Woman. A global protest echoing the historic women’s marches in January, they brought together communities of women around the world for the unifying cause of women’s equality, economically and otherwise.
“Whether it’s the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the right to marry who you choose in sub-Saharan Africa, the right to equal pay for equal work in Canada, the right for equal representation in leadership in the USA or the right to violent-free relationships in Italy,” Tanya Halkyard, who is originally from California and formed the Rome branch of American Expats for Positive Change, told Ms., “every woman on the planet has something to fight for.”
Rachael Martin is a British freelance writer who has lived in Italy for the past 20 years. She was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Milan.
The post Non Una di Meno: Exploring the Women’s Strikes in Italy appeared first on Ms. Magazine Blog.
Two articles in today's Religion Dispatches address Tom Groome's New York Times editorial urging Democrats to back away from their strong official support for abortion rights. Groom argues, as the title of his post asserts: "To Win Again, Democrats Need to Stop Being the Abortion Party." In the editorial he writes :
If Democrats want to regain the Catholic vote, they must treat abortion as a moral issue, work for its continued reduction and articulate a more nuanced message than, “We support Roe v. Wade.”
Both Patricia Miller and Myiram Renaud take issue with Groome's (or as Miller repeatedly, and I assume unintentionally refers to him, "Broome's") argument. Both note that Democratic politicians have repeatedly over the years sought to nuance their support for abortion rights with various qualifications, perhaps the most of famous of which was Bill Clinton's affirmation that abortion should be "Safe, Legal, and Rare." As Renaud states:
But for those with ears to listen, prominent Democrats like Obama and Clinton do articulate a more nuanced message than “We support Roe v. Wade.” They treat abortion as a moral issue because, for them, it is one.
The truth of the matter is that, no matter how much nuance any pro-choice candidate puts into their position, it will be unsatisfactory to those who are inveterately anti-abortion. If the only answer to the question of what to do about abortion is "prevent it entirely" then there is no pro-choice position that has a chance of succeeding in that argument. At the same time, as Miller notes, there is no evidence that a more "nuanced" position would have won Clinton the votes of that many Catholics, and that in fact the loss she suffered among white Catholics in the Rust Belt states had little to do with her stance on abortion to begin with. What's more, if the goal is to create a winning strategy, it's virtually guaranteed that Clinton would have lost more support among pro-choice voters than she would have gained among Catholics if she had altered her fundamental support for Roe v. Wade.
That said, the Democratic position on abortion is already plenty nuanced. As Miller notes:
The Democratic Party signed on wholeheartedly to so-called common ground efforts to find ways to decrease the need for abortion and promote adoption in the mid-2000s. The “Reducing the Need for Abortions and Supporting Parents Act” was introduced in 2006 and included increased funding for family planning programs, improved insurance coverage for pregnant women, and tax incentives for adoption. It was supported by NARAL, Catholics for Choice and the Christian Coalition. It was Republicans who walked away from these efforts when they realized they could make political hay by opposing Planned Parenthood and insurance coverage for contraception.
At the same time, the allegedly "pro-life" position is belied by the utter lack of genuine support for the care of infants once they are born on behalf of conservatives, which was revealed nowhere more clearly than in the debacle of the Trump/Ryan American Health Care Act. Again, Miller notes:
Political restrictions on women’s access to abortion aren’t about protecting life or realizing the “moral complexity” of abortion. Nowhere was this more obvious than the fight over the ill-fated AHCA, which would have banned coverage for abortion, and if the “Freedom Caucus” had their way or Republicans had a shot at a clean bill, also would have stripped maternity coverage and newborn care as essential health benefits. That’s right. The “pro-life” party would have made it impossible to terminate your pregnancy and impossible to get medical coverage for that pregnancy or your newborn. That sure is some moral complexity.
There are lot of reasons Clinton lost in November. And Trump's support among evangelicals is one of them, and certainly tied to his support for abortion restrictions. But Groome's analysis, as Miller and Renaud each show, radically misplaces the role abortion politics played in the outcome, at at least as it relates to Catholics.
Her teacher saw me as a threat and called administration and security. Apparently two black girls waiting outside a class means we’re gonna jump somebody. Read More »
He screamed, “Active shooter!” three times in a row, inciting a messy and uncoordinated visceral reaction on my part. Read More »
Artist and art teacher Laura Raborn generally focuses on figurative oil paintings—but during the weeks before the 2016 Presidential election, she began filling her studio with mixed media pieces incorporating Donald Trump quotes that left her shocked and bereft. Although she never intended the works to be anything other than a personal coping mechanism, when someone called her about purchasing one, she hatched a plan to transform her “pre-election series” into dollars for Planned Parenthood through an Instagram auction.
During Trump’s first 100 days, her related “post-election series” has steered away from Trump’s election material—investigating broader themes of women’s health and reproductive rights, feminism, power dynamics, language and race. Raborn’s work provides encouragement for women to harvest our talents, expertise and curiosity to push back against the current administration, empower and heal ourselves and help others.
Ms. spoke with Raborn in her light-filled Little Rock studio, a space she rents from a neighborhood church along with a handful of other artists.
How did you begin working with Trump’s quotes in your pre-election series?
I began creating the pieces purely for myself as a way of coping with language I was hearing during the election that I found to be shocking. It was disturbing to watch as Trump’s disgusting and offensive words were actually increasing his popularity instead of diminishing it. Of course many shared my shock, but it amazed me that he also had so many cheerleaders.
Using news articles, interviews, and the candidate debates, I started working on small pieces during breaks throughout the day in my studio. As an oil painting or commissioned work dried, I headed to my mixed media table to play with Trump language and imagery. There was something very urgent about making them, something haphazard and immediate about the materials I was grabbing. I was literally grabbing pieces of cardboard or paper out of the trashcan. None of them are on canvas. Because I was gluing and collaging and painting and stamping, and since it was for personal use only, there was a willful destruction happening. There are a lot of layers in the pieces… I would just glue something on, like a quote that I found to be horrifying. It was a very cathartic process, so I wasn’t thinking they needed to be consistent in size or done on very specialized paper.
Like many, when Trump won the election I was really surprised. I looked back at all this stuff in my studio and thought, This is a group of work. Now I am working on another group, the post-election group. Around November 9 or 10 I thought, I can’t stop. I have to keep going. So I’ve continued. I have to take short breaks to recover, then I am compelled to start again. Trump’s first weeks in office provided more material than I can cover in a lifetime.
You’re using Trump’s own words to support Planned Parenthood—an organization he’d gut. When I try to describe in one word what you’re doing, I think “transmute,” which I take to mean changing the nature of something, especially into a higher form. There’s an undeniably powerful element at work there, in the process of transmutation—taking something that feels so negative and transforming it into something new, tearing it apart, recreating it into something new. What does that feel like?
Because the quotes are so rude or derogatory—and generally targeted toward a certain group—it was really enjoyable to destroy them. In some pieces you can still read the quotes, but in others the quotes have been fairly demolished. Sometimes I’ll add layers, and glue an image down, paint on top of it, stamp on top of that, and sand it off. That process destroys some of what’s there and leaves some of it to be revealed. Sometimes I cut them up and rearrange the pieces and use them as collages, further destroying the original content. In the end, I am less disgusted by the pieces that have gone through the destructive process. The few pieces that still have clearly legible quotes in them do tend to disgust me just as much as when I started them, as if I achieved nothing. Of course, I’ve had to consider what the purpose of the work is… and I realize the purpose is evolving. At first, I thought it was about presenting Trump quotes in all their horrid glory. I was in such disbelief when I started the pieces—and felt compelled to see his words in a very visual format. But now I think it might be more about destroying the quotes, which is emblematic of a deep desire to erase his words, and erase what he preaches: fear, misogyny, racism, corruption, greed, you name it.
I sometimes print the quotes on my computer at home because then I can manipulate the size and the font and the color of the ink. Other times I’ll clip them from the newspaper and that has a very different look. Printing at home renders the quotes further curated and manipulated by me, so I prefer the newspaper and magazine clippings because they are printed for public consumption. There’s just something about the look of the newspaper when you’re collaging it. It’s a little nostalgic because so much of our news is now received in other ways. The color of the newspaper is a unique element. Also, newspaper is really good for image transfers. I can put down acrylic gel medium, press the newspaper, pull it up, and the text remains but appears in reverse. Everything is backwards, which is perfect because so much of what I’m reading is completely, utterly insane and backwards. Being able to reverse Trump’s words in this manner really contributes to the composition, and replicates in a visual format what I am feeling.
How did you hatch a plan to turn this into an Instagram auction?
It was a culmination of things that were in the back of my mind for years. I was inspired by Blake Mycoskie of Tom’s Shoes when I heard him speak at The Clinton School of Public Service in 2010, and Hank Willis Thomas whom I heard speak at The Arkansas Arts Center in 2015. Hearing them discuss their work and philanthropy had me asking for some time, What can I do? What will I do? I posted one of the pre-election pieces on social media, and someone reached out to me about purchasing it. I was reading about the possible defunding of Planned Parenthood under the newly-elected administration, and that’s when I hatched the Instagram art auction idea for Planned Parenthood. It all came together and just made sense. I’ve never used social media to promote my work in a very sales-driven way. I have a Facebook art page but I never say, This is for sale. So I’m pretty bad at selling my own work! But I thought, If this is a fundraiser, then I can push myself outside of my comfort zone and sell the work. So I decided I’d post them and donate half of every sale $1 to $599, and 100% of every dollar over $600, to Planned Parenthood. I think if you’re benefitting others, your drive, your confidence, your motivation, everything elevates. I don’t have a huge Instagram following. If I could get a larger audience with more discretionary income, then I could make a larger donation. I should say we could make a larger donation. I keep thinking that if I can grow this following, and it’s successful, I could do this the rest of my life with different organizations. How cool would it be to grow my following as an artist and donate to organizations I believe in when I have felt voiceless, when I’ve felt that I don’t have the pedestal, the microphone, the money.
What has the reaction been like?
I really don’t have a ton of support for the pieces. Many people I know locally either voted for Trump, are too afraid to speak out, don’t want to disrupt the status quo, or are just trying their best to block out this nightmare and pretend everything is fine. I’ve had a few friends and family members who have made comments of concern, like “Isn’t this artwork of yours a bit extreme?” Someone said, “You’ll lose so-and-so as a client because she’s a big pro-lifer.” And I think, really? Wouldn’t that be kind of self-absorbed of me to want to keep that one client over the possibility of helping hundreds of women?
I was taken off guard when I posted a few of the pieces on Facebook. I shouldn’t have been surprised because we know about how people have the audacity to say things on social media they’d never say to people’s faces. I posted on an Arkansas artist Facebook page and was slapped with a handful of sharply written, negative comments. The administrator of the group page was supportive and posted something like, This is a forum to promote art. We don’t sensor. If you don’t like her fundraiser or her art, scroll past it. But this is not a place to attack someone whose work you don’t support. So that was a lesson. A little taste of what’s out there, even among some fellow artists.
Do you think the fact that these are Trump pieces makes some people unwilling to purchase them because they don’t want his likeness or ugly words in their living spaces?
Some of the quotes and images have been so obliterated that if someone likes them visually, I think people could have them in their homes and not always be reminded of Trump. I think with some, the buyers would be able to focus on the good thing that we’ve kind of done in collaboration—my making the piece, and them purchasing the piece, and both of us giving together.
Then again, a customer came in the other day to pick up her piece that she purchased through the auction and she said, “Now see, like that piece I couldn’t have bought because it has his face in it and I will not have his face in my home.”
A piece that hasn’t sold is a Trump eyeball with the body of a lamb draped around the eye, and above it is a red dress I cut out from a sheet of Trump quotes, and then there are red drips that come from under the dress and land on his eyebrow. It references several things. One is when he talked about Megyn Kelley, saying she had “blood coming out of her eyes. . . . blood coming out of wherever.” I was like, Wait a minute. He’s talking about menstrual blood!? So that hasn’t sold. I guess you aren’t supposed to destroy your own work quite this quickly, but I might cut this piece in half and re-do both halves so it becomes a little obliterated. It might make it a little more palatable. Or maybe I won’t, because the goal isn’t for it to be easier for people to accept! But I do want the pieces to sell, because I want to make the money so I can donate it. I’ll keep thinking about it. The great thing is, this is all a big experiment.
The pieces are helping me resist complacency and I hope they do the same for the buyer. Perhaps it is our natural tendency to accept the status quo. But if the status quo is horrid, like it is now, and I’m accepting it, I am not living a purposeful, God-given life. If these pieces are just there to remind me to have constant, daily acts of kindness that oppose Trump’s quotes; if they remind me to reach out to or really listen to people who look different than me or whose lives look different than mine; then the work serves a purpose.
I was thinking, what if I bought one of the pieces that you don’t feel are sellable, and what if we burned it?
That’s a great idea! None of these are precious to me. I’m not afraid to cover them up, burn one or two of them, or whatever. I’m not attached except in the sense that I want them to raise funding. For people who are supportive of the idea but don’t want to own a piece of art that reminds them of Trump, I love your idea of burning the piece, or someone could stick it in a drawer, or the trashcan, or use it a rally.
It seems to me that your post-election series is really questioning the polarizing modes of interpersonal communication that are being impressed by the current regime. I see you looking at how we talk to each other and what that does to us, individually and as a nation.
When hate is such a big part of a leader’s language, we form a reflection… the leader mirrors America and America mirrors the leader. And basically, these quotes become our reality. They shape what we believe about each other. Our treatment of others is rooted in those beliefs. And what else is there in life? Isn’t it all about how we treat each other? Everything we do is defined by how people treat us and how we treat others. When has treating someone poorly or insulting them ever made them a better person or improved the world? When has it done anything other than make others afraid or defensive or hurt? Words matter. The hateful speech Trump uses has an immediate and long-lasting impact, especially when people are attacked for responding or are too afraid to speak up. I’m not being a sensitive woman by not liking his “beautiful piece of ass” quote. I’m being a human who wants us to treat each other well.
Agreeing to use his ways of communicating—especially when we are disagreeing, and even in speaking about Trump himself—is in a way agreeing with him and condoning his behavior. I hope to suggest that we have a choice whether or not to do that, and that there’s a price for doing it.
You have girls nearly the age of the teen Trump famously called out on Twitter, which resulted in her receiving all kinds of hate mail and messages, even rape and death threats. What are you thinking about your daughters’ futures?
When I was a teen, I remember hearing degrading comments, assumptions about my worth as a female, and expectations of girls. I remember thinking, That’s not fair and We should fight for women’s rights. “Not fair” almost seems naïve now! I believe my daughters have it worse than I did. When I was growing up, most of the boys I knew at least understood that sexual assault was wrong. I don’t think that’s true now. I think there’s a new level of abuse that’s accepted and promoted right now, largely through social media (don’t get me started on the sexually degrading social media material that starts around the seventh grade). And now, we have inappropriate and degrading language used by our new president, which supports degrading and abusive treatment of women.
Maybe many women have been operating under the assumption that things are getting better, that maybe comments or situations are somehow just little backslides or pockets of ignorant people. And now it is so blatantly obvious in some new way every day that we can’t operate under that assumption anymore. There’s a terror in being constantly confronted with the fact that as it turns out, maybe we hadn’t made as much progress as we’d assumed . . . as it turns out, those voices were quieter about how their true feelings and now they are no longer.
Yes, it is terrifying how hate has found a powerful ally and loud voice. But my friends of color are not so surprised …this hate is not new to many people and never was exactly hidden. Of course, people tend to not take action if the surrounding environment does not negatively impact them. I don’t want to be one of those people anymore. I hope even those not being negatively impacted can come to realize these are issues that affect us all. Until we step out of our selfishness, we are on a destructive path.
But every single day I see signs of hope. I see people stand up for others. We’ve got to find ways to be supportive and affirming. I have figured out—and it has taken a long time—that I am willing to lose some stuff and some relationships by speaking out. I am not willing to have my children hurt or place my body in grave danger. These aside, it is important to me to be more willing to take risks by speaking up. These pieces have helped me with that willingness, and I hope it encourages others too.
A different version of this post originally appeared at Entropy. Republished with permission.
Erin Wood writes and edits in Little Rock, Arkansas. She is editor of and a contributor to Scars: An Anthology, which assembles the work of nearly 40 contributors on scars of the body. “We Scar, We Heal, We Rise,” was chosen as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2013. Her work has appeared in Psychology Today, The Woven Tale Press, Anderbo, Tales from the South, The Healing Muse and elsewhere. Visit her at woodwritingandediting.com.
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