I woke up Sunday morning in an absolutely awful mood – a straight week of rain, friend group drama, the deep and existential dread that pervades all otherwise unburdened moments of our brief lives, my cat was mad at me, etc. – and decided to put the feeling to good use before it went away by rereading the Chronicles of Narnia.
American religion has been in the news lately, specifically regarding federal partisan politics: we’ve seen stories about Democrats’ “religion problem” (as code for a problem with middle-American white Christianity), Congress’ increasing religious diversity but stable amount of Christian members, and just yesterday, an explanation for the latter phenomenon: the complex place of religiously unaffiliated voters within American religious politics.
It’s the last story that I’m interested in. The author is seeking to explain the “demographic mismatch between Congress and the rest of the country” – specifically, the underrepresentation of the “religiously unaffiliated”, who make up 23% of the country but are only represented by one religiously unaffiliated member of Congress.
The explanations for this are sensible and coherent: that religiously unaffiliated Americans tend to be young and therefore rarely vote; that they aren’t a demographically coherent group – they’re made up of atheists and agnostics, but also converts-in-progress, people in mixed-faith homes, and people who just don’t care very much about their religious identity – and are therefore unlikely to organize with each other; that it’s also difficult to organize based on a lack of identity, an unaffiliation.
It is these factors, the author suggests, which keep Congress’ religious demographics standing as they do – and if religiously unaffiliated voters are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, “they can vote”.
The article is an excellent exploration of why the religiously unaffiliated are unlikely to be specifically represented in Congress. However, it does not explore what seems to me to be the more pertinent question: why this 23% of unaffiliated Americans should be almost universally represented by Christian members of Congress, instead of members of a variety of faiths.
I first dye my hair in the fall of 2014. It’s a cool, windy fall, the kind that sets me pulling leggings on under my jeans, tugging my jacket closer around myself on my way to Rocky Horror; the island of Manhattan is just beginning to open itself up to me, after a long, nasty spring where I hobbled from classroom to classroom with a broken ankle and a pair of crutches.
There’s a girl in my Gender and Communication class – well, not a girl; she says it’s all right to call her she, and her, but that she’s actually got no gender at all. She has a pair of black combat boots, a green pixie cut, and a sarcastic retort for every boring or bigoted comment someone makes in class, and I fall a little bit in love with her that fall.
Well – not quite love, in the same way that she’s not quite a girl. It’s the peculiar ache in so many queer people’s chests: what is this admiration, this immediate tug of kinship and understanding? Do I want to kiss you, or do I want to talk to you, do I want to be you?
What I want, I decide, is her haircut.
So for those of you who don’t know: I’m studying abroad in Berlin this semester, and I arrived at my study-away dorm in Kreuzberg (read: hipster central) on Monday. I flew in from Stockholm, after a weekend spent with the Lishansky family, who kindly put me up for two nights while I wandered around Gamla stan (Old Town) and saw the palace, a flea market, and a variety of wonderful churches.
The strange thing is that Stockholm seems like a month ago, not just a week. I’ve only been in Berlin for six days, and already so much has happened – I’ll try to do a recap below the cut:
Fall in Oakland meant the arrival of two things.
The first was a religious ceremony: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I would roll black tights with long runs in them up my pale legs, pull on a blouse the color of salmon, and along with my brother in his khakis and last year’s too-small button-down shirt, climb into the stuffy darkness of the car. We’d follow the click, click, click of my parents’ shining shoes down the sparkling pavement to the Paramount Theater. It would be late – or late for children; the September or October wind would bite at my cheeks, my arms. When I was small enough that I didn’t know what goosebumps were, that was where I learned – hurrying after my mother’s quick stride, watching my legs pebble pink under the sheer grey of my tights.
The other was a tradition that my parents had helped begin, and something that I assumed quite casually every block in every neighborhood in every city in America did until I was almost thirteen. It was a block party – a large block party, with nearly every house on both sides of the street bringing out food, setting up volleyball nets, filling water balloons, calling their friends and their children’s friends and their children’s friends parents to come and talk and laugh in the street. This, too, was a place of unexpected pain: I’d walk barefoot down the middle of the road, sharp rocks and the heat of the pavement pricking the soles of my feet. My sandals would be back at the house, just by the door. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to go and fetch them.
Where most of my childhood memories I see as through some sort of haze – a contextless image of an enormous redwood stump that surfaces whenever someone says camping, a bloom of preteen recognition at the smell of a particular brand of shaving cream, the vague and gently unsatisfying nostalgia of rereading Where the Wild Things Are – these are never blurred, never out of focus. I know, if you ask me, whose driveway would have a collection of mini-pumpkins waiting to be painted in anticipation of Halloween, and where the fire truck would come in just before the sun began to sink low in the sky; I know the exact shade and texture of the chairs in the Paramount Theater, how they felt when I wore velvet, how they felt when I wore cotton. I know how the apples they gave the children on Rosh Hashanah mornings tasted, crumbly and left-out-too-long, and I can sing the Hamotzi in the same voice I sang it as a child: hamotzi lechem min haaretz, we give thanks to God for bread. I know the slap my flip-flops made as I jogged through the aftermath of the water balloon fight, and the way my wet T-shirt felt on my shoulders and my stomach.
The block party was almost always after Rosh Hashanah, unless Rosh Hashanah came very late in the year. There was no danger of them being on the same day – though it was not true, as I assumed as a child, that everyone celebrated the Jewish holidays, there were certainly more Jewish families on the block than just our own – and besides, it wouldn’t be a block party without Yaron, our Israeli neighbor, cooking falafel.
It was a strange thing, though, that no matter how early Rosh Hashanah came, no matter how late we held the block party, the latter would be warm and the former cold. Oakland would fill up with fog and rain and cold winds for Rosh Hashanah, and on the day of the block party give us a perfect, golden afternoon.
Summer always did last longer in California than it did anywhere else. It was as if the sun, crossing from east to west around the planet, hung on a little harder to my little corner of the northwest – as if, even as the leaves turned brown and gathered in whispering piles on the pavement, the warm gold in the air and snapping blue of the sky that made the rest of America think of June and July came there when it was done with the East and the Midwest, and spread itself over October like a cat over a blanket.
Rosh Hashanah marks the end of the growing season. The prayers for its companion holiday, Yom Kippur, read, on Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: who shall live and who shall die, who shall die at his time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast… It is, in a more modern image, the moment when the Jewish people hand in our test to the teacher and wait, breathless, for the grade. It is the day when there is nothing more to be done for the crops, for the fields, for the harvest; it is the day when you put down the year, dust yourself off, and stand back to take a long look at what you’ve done.
It’s perhaps right, then, that fall should be a time of memory for me.
I genuinely thought I had my class schedule worked out this year, I really did.
Unfortunately for me (okay, okay, fortunately for me) NYU professor Jay Rosen — who you may have heard of as a well-known media critic and writer in his own right — is teaching a class in the Journalism department this year called “The Future of the New York Times.” It’s hard to explain how ridiculously, ridiculously cool this is. Professor Rosen is incredibly well-respected in his field — he was one of the first people to understand and support the wave of citizen journalism that’s taken off over the past decade, and he’s an advisor at First Look Media.
What’s more, it looks like the class will be more than your usual college seminar: students only get in after sending the professor an email explaining their background in the field and why they would be a good contributor to the group, the class itself will have a “public-facing component” so that people not in it can follow along, and the final class will be at the Times itself — and the NYT’s publisher and CEO have expressed an interest in attending. Immediately after Professor Rosen tweeted an announcement of the class, an NYT editor replied, “Can I audit?”, and an NYT columnist said he wished he could take the class.
I mean, who am I not to grab opportunities from under the noses of New York Times staffers.
Except, uh, requirements for graduation. Those are a thing, apparently.
I’m very sick and don’t really have the mental capacity to do a well-written or well-thought-out blog post. I’m just thinking about this excellent and thoughtful article over at the Toast, which I connected to a lot in terms of its discussion of political anger and its healthiness or lack of healthiness.
I’m not thinking about it because I connected to it; I’m thinking about it because it discusses the UCSB shooting. Which was about six months ago now, I think, and which still gives me a sudden and awful shock of anxiety-tearfulness-sick-feeling whenever I see it mentioned unexpectedly.