Bittersweet

My sister moved out this weekend.

Now it’s just me and my husband.

She moved south to Charlotte, and we’ll be following her come the end of November.

SAM_2167 I miss her, as I expected to. In some ways, it’s nice getting to have three months alone with my husband. Like a vacation of sorts. But I love her so much, and I so enjoy her company, and the house seems so lonely without her. I won’t see her again until after Thanksgiving.

She’s moved to be with her boyfriend, and we will move to be with her. To keep our family whole.

Still, I miss her, and the house is full of her memories. There’s less furniture, and it feels so empty. I only have to cook for two now.

Husband and I are choosing to take this time to work on our new marriage, as stodgy as it sounds to say that out loud. Thus far in our brief marriage, we’ve been spending so much time taking care of her and worrying about her in the stress of her finishing school and wondering what the future holds. Now we know that in three months we’ll be moving into our apartment with them, to start a new life. So we can take this time to be together, to enjoy one another’s company fully.

Still, I miss her. And the house is full of memories.

It’s so bittersweet I’m not sure how to feel. I’m so sad that she’s not around that I keep bursting into tears at the most inopportune moments. And then I’ll think of how happy I am to be alone with him and me, and I feel happy. And then I feel confused.

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Some musings on Body Ideals

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about ideal bodies, and what a society’s concept of an ideal body means.

My thoughts on the subject started with watching this wonderful gender swapped parody of Robin Thicke’s disgusting music video. I don’t like Robin Thicke’s video because I don’t like the way he uses naked women as props while he sings a song about knowing what a woman wants more than she does. Anyway, I like the gender swapped one. But what got me thinking was their description under the video, which says “It’s our opinion that most attempts to show female objectification in the media by swapping the genders serve more to ridicule the male body than to highlight the extent to which women get objectified and do everyone a disservice.”

A few days later, I found “men-ups,” which are photographs of men in poses common in pin-up ladies. But I find that, despite the photographer’s description stating that the purpose of the series is to question gender norms and stereotypes, the series in fact does exactly what the Mod Carousel’s description says–by putting men in a position traditionally seen as female and traditionally inhabited by a female body ideal, it in fact ridicules the male body for its lack of “sexiness.”

So I was thinking about how our society views the female body as so much more beautiful and perfect than the male body, to the point that a naked male body is gross and disturbing while a naked female body (that conforms to beauty ideals in some way) is hot and art and not adult material.

One of my best friends exercises every day, a lot, and she doesn’t conform to society’s beauty ideals because she’s not thin. She told me a story about a friend of hers, who knows how much she exercises, but whose body is more in line with what people think of when they think of “fit” becoming angry when they went on a run together and my friend was faster. She shouldn’t be faster, because she’s bigger. As if size is a direct correlation with speed. It makes no sense to me. My friend is beautiful, and she’s so in shape it’s ridiculous. But when the two of us walk down the street, people think I’m awesome and she’s lazy instead of the other way around, which is the truth.

And then a friend of mine linked to this article on Facebook which discusses how to tell whether photographs of women are objectifying. It’s a really interesting article in that it lists five specific clues as to whether a photograph is objectifying. And looking at the ways that women are portrayed and men are portrayed, it’s so much more common for photographs of women to by objectifying than men’s.

After that, I was thinking about when we learn about the Greeks in school, and how they saw the male body as perfect and the female as less perfect because it was not the man’s. Now, I am positive that I have readers who are much better educated on the intricacies of ancient Greek body ideals than I am, and I’m not going to pretend that this impression is based in research. But given my thoughts about mind/body dualism and history, I’ve come to the conclusion that, (aside from the fact that the ancient Greeks were totally gay and had boners for those hot male bodies) the reason for that is that both the ancient Greeks and the modern Americans viewed the male brain as superior.

If the ancient Greeks viewed the male brain as superior and also were before mind/body dualism, then the male body was perfect because the male was perfect. Now, the female body is sexy because the male brain is superior and men want to look at those female bodies, and control them. By making women’s bodies the subject matter of most media these days, and by photoshopping those images to such an extent and creating an impossible ideal, the men can maintain control. They can be seen as smarter and powerful, while women are just bodies.

The Long and the Short Views

I’ve been having a bit of a stressful time of it lately. It seems as if I’m suddenly always in trouble at work. My twin sister is moving away from me in only a couple of weeks (which is depressing even if I am going to follow in a few months). My mom keeps bringing up how upset she is that I’m a pagan.

“It is as though the world shifts around me and I find I once more face the burning.”

I was sort of obsessing about the work stress for a few days. And then I remembered my favorite coping mechanism. “Will I care about this in five years?” And the stress melted away instantly. No, I will not care in five years that my boss got mad at me over the price of a train ticket. Not even slightly. I won’t care in five years that I lived apart from my sister for three months because we will have been reunited.

But the other thing, I’ll care about that. Of course I care about my relationship with my mother and hope desperately that this will be repaired. But the way things are going, it’s not looking likely. It’s looking like this will always be a point of contention and stress with us. So far it’s been three and a half years since I told her, and it’s only gotten worse. But perhaps there is no solution. I am not willing to compromise my faith, and neither is she.

Still, I feel better being able to shake off the small things by remembering the long view. My philosophy in life is to take the long view on hardships and the short view on happiness. Both are intended in the question “will I care about this is five years?”

It’s great to be able to let go of stress by remembering that someday you won’t care. But it’s also great to be able to seize the day and find pleasure in happiness sitting on the couch or watching a flower bloom. And to focus on that. Pain and stress can come and go, but happiness is so fleeting. Those small moments of joy are the things you’ll remember in five years. Today the pain is so much easier to focus on. But looking backward reveals the happiness, and we feel nostalgia.

Not that I’m always good at it. But I try to look on my life with nostalgia for how it is right now. For these days in my beautiful apartment with my husband and my sister, when my nephew is not yet 16 and my other nephew is barely walking. When we have so few responsibilities. When we’re newlyweds. When I still have one of my grandmas and have never known true grief. When we are in the good times.

 

On Gods as the Mascots of Religions

Any of my readers who have been reading my blog since the beginning, or who have read my page What I Believe will probably know that I originally started this blog at the beginning of 2010 after telling my mother about my conversion and then writing her an essay about my new faith, which to this day, she has never read. The only thing she knows about, or cares to know about, my religion is that it doesn’t involve believing in Jesus as my personal savior. 

For the past three years, we’ve pretty much just avoided the subject with one another. Every once in a while she’ll make a comment about how I’m not allowed to die before she does because she just won’t be able to live with herself knowing I’m in Hell.

She was here visiting recently, and we actually argued about it some. She called me “screwed up” and continued to tell me I’m going to Hell, and that the only thing that matters to get into Heaven is believing in Jesus and following the ten commandments. And I tried to explain to her some of the reasons I converted or give her any details about my faith, and she just wasn’t having it.

The point of this post is not to complain about my mother or wallow in self-pity about my relationship with her, though. I got to thinking about her comments, and her understanding of what religion is, and what it means to be religious, and I had a thought about the nature of divinity. My mother views religion as being primarily about Jesus. Jesus, of course, is the face of Christianity, but for her, religion doesn’t go farther than that.

Phillies_PhanaticJesus had so very little to do with my conversion, and I really feel like I parted on good terms with him. But I don’t see the face of a religion as its whole. I think of Jesus more like I do the Philly Phanatic–an intriguing mystery dancing around in the middle of a game he is not really central to. If you put his picture on your car, everyone knows which team you’re rooting for. But for my mother, it’s almost as if the mascot is the whole game.  As if the whole point of baseball in Philadelphia is that everyone has to love that silly dancing green dude.

But while Jesus is the mascot of Christianity, the real game is salvation. There is so much else playing behind the mascot of a team, and so much beyond a deity in religion–there are the hours of practice honing your skills (meditation, prayer, etc.), there is the excitement of the big event, the agony of loss, the comfort in solidarity with your peers. These are the things that really matter in religion. In a religion, there are shared values, shared views on what the important parts of history are, what is the shape of time, what is the point of death, how important information about the afterlife is, what the meaning of life is.

The gods a person chooses to worship will tell you a lot about them–hearing that someone believes in Jesus tells you more about them than just that they believe in Jesus. Knowing that my mom or my husband believes in Jesus will also tell you that they value the Bible, they believe in salvation, they believe God has a plan for their life, they believe in sin and redemption, they believe that there is such a thing as being “born again” in faith.  I’m sure there is as much to learn about me in the information that my mascots are Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor as there is that my mother worships Jesus. You can learn from these things that I value being a part of the mainstream less than my mother does. You can learn that I value the body, cycles, nature, healthy sexuality. And a relationship with one or more gods is usually central to a religion, but not everyone needs a mascot, and a mascot is not everything about a religion.

While my relationships with Freyja, Holda, Sif and Thor are very important to the expression of my faith, there are in no way the whole of it. I am a pagan because of the way I feel looking at the sunset, the ambivalence I feel about the fact that the afterlife is unknowable, the meaning in the rainfall and the knowledge that we depend on the Earth and its cycles, that we do not have dominion over the earth because we depend so heavily on it. I am a pagan because of my belief that the purpose of life is to live a good one in harmony with the land. Because I believe we should honor our ancestors and the trees and fields that shape our experience of place. I believe that embodiment and sexuality are central and important parts of experiencing humanity, not sins. Freyja, Holda, Sif, and Thor are all faces of these experiences and values. They are important to the experience of my faith, just as Jesus is important to the experience of Christianity but not the whole of the faith, and just as the Philly Phanatic makes baseball games more fun, but isn’t really the point of the game.

My high school did not have a mascot. And yet we had school spirit. My mother says (incorrectly) that my soul does not have a mascot because I don’t believe in Jesus. And yet I have religious spirit.