An Unsolicited Name-Change and its Unexpected Familiarity

It just happened one day.

It was last year, in the backroom of the English lab. Hero was leaning against the counter. I was probably sitting on the linoleum. And she said it, “What’s up, Kat?” like someone fired Adam and made her name-r of all creatures (or at least me).

I was a little surprised. I certainly couldn’t remember her doing it before. But the sound and the act of Hero saying it had a strangely familiar quality, as if some invisible, parallel world where she’d always said it had been looming around the mid-section of the room for the whole semester, leaving its mark only in the slow, silent normalization of this sound to my ears. So that by the time it came out of her mouth, my brain had acclimated to its cadence, one-syllable count, and, most uniquely, its association to me.

Maybe that’s why I let her do it.

If anyone else called me Kat, it wouldn’t feel right. If the Anarchist did it, it would sound odd, partially because he has a close friend by the same name. If my parents started calling me Kat, I’d ask them why, and to please stop.

Maybe a clergy-person could get away with it, although I can think of a few who definitely couldn’t.

I tried calling my brother “Enrique” a few times back in high school, and it made him furious – not because there’s anything wrong with the name, but because it’s simply not his name. For whatever reason, where I failed, Hero succeeded – and succeeds – brilliantly.

To be able to give someone or something a name can imply that the name-r has a sort of intimate authority in the life of the object. Pet-owners name their pets. Parents name their children. Friends give nicknames to their friends. Car-owners assign names to their automobiles. Bullies abuse the privilege and give people names for the wrong reasons.

Hero was not – and is not – a bully, nor is she a significant other, close friend, or parent. At the time, she sat two seats down from me in tutor-training class, and had done nothing to earn such a place of authority in my life.

She just took it.

And for whatever reason, that was okay.

What would truly be disconcerting is if one day, she walked into the backroom of the English lab and called me Kathryn.

What’s your experience with nicknames? Giving? Getting?


God Sex and Religious Weirdoes: a lengthy endorsement of Margery Kempe

WARNING: spoilers, dirty words, suggestions of God having a sex drive, and excessive use of the impersonal “you”

Wednesday before last, when I entered the back room of the English lab, someone’s Norton Unwieldy Doorstop was sitting open on a desk, color-coded Post-Its pasted here and there on the page. Its owner sat in a swivel chair, facing away from the tome, but not far enough away that she wouldn’t notice if I tucked the Doorstop under my arm and fled from the premises.

She (we’ll call her “Hero”, because that requires less explanation than “Stripper”) was chatting with Anita on the subject of God sex. God sex and exploding, cannibalistic babies, to be precise, but the latter is from a separate work, and for the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on the God sex.

The story goes that, on the one day she hadn’t done the reading for Early English Lit class, Hero found herself sitting in on a conversation about God and Jesus having sex with some woman.

God first, then Jesus.

This woman, “banging” Jesus in her spiritual autobiography.

Hero flipped a few pages and handed the open Doorstop to Anita. “See? Do you see this?”

Anita began reading aloud, “I take you, Margery, for my wedded wife, for fairer, for fouler, for richer, for poorer…so long as you be buxom…” Then, “Sometimes she heard with her bodily ears such sounds and melodies that she might not hear well what a man said to her in that time unless he spoke the louder”, to which Anita commented, “It sounds like she’s having temporal lobe hallucinations.”

Being English majors all reading from the same canon, I naturally had access to the same passages of The Book of Margery Kempe in my own, albeit emasculated – seeing as its been broken down in three parts – copy of the Norton Doorstop. So, for fun and avoidance of my history paper, I read it.

Maybe I’ve been exposed to too many smutty romance novels at Girl Scout Camp*, because the God sex did not measure up to the tittering in the tutoring lab. Mind you, the Norton can only provide excerpts of Margery Kempe, so maybe they craftily sidestepped the more sultry scenes, but what was there fell short of my expectations. I wasn’t expecting long passages of solid, hardcore pornography, however I was expecting to be shocked with something explicitly erotic – as much, if not more, explicit than the details how of her husband, after he “turned childish again” in his old age, “voided his natural digestion in his linen clothes where he sat by the fire or the table, wherever it might be, he would spare no place”.

God telling Margery, “Therefore I needs[sic] be homely with you and lie in your bed with you” and that “you love me, daughter, as a good wife ought to love her husband” is different than the narrator showing us… la di da, you get it (thinking about it now, I’m glad I was spared).

The most detailed description of physical contact we get is when, in one of Margery’s visions, Jesus kissed the Virgin Mary “full sweetly”, but that was different, and not just because it wasn’t Margery. I’m not convinced that particular kiss is meant to be taken in a romantic/sexual manner, nor, therefore, an incestuous/Oedipal one. Sometimes in the Christian tradition, people kiss other people. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the nice, Calvinist venue I pop into once in a while (like most other contemporary church-goers, we shake hands when we pass the peace)… but, for instance, in the film Vision, nuns be kissin priests and other nuns all the time. It’s not sexual. They’re not getting fresh with each other. That’s just how it is.

Mind you, Vision was set several hundred years before The Book of Margery Kempe. I realize that, without the research that I slothfully resolved NOT to do, there is a potential anachronism there. Said realization domino-effected me into another, this time unflattering realization that I may have been recklessly grouping old-timey Christian mystics together into a fascinating, exotic group, potentially condescendingly otherizing them for my personal enjoyment, harkening to mind, in trajectory, crap like Orientalism. If you’re not following, it may or may not make more sense after you read...


First, a sort-of digression, because there haven’t been enough already: remember when Jesus was at a dinner party and some woman busts in (depending on which gospel account you read, it’s one of the Marys) and pours all this expensive nard (perfume) on Jesus’ feet and starts crying and wiping it off with her hair?

If you’re anything like my mom, that passage probably annoys you, because, well, what self-respecting gentleman would want some crazy woman crashing a dinner party so she could be a big weirdo and put on such a display? On the other hand, every time I’ve heard it at my church**, the Calvinists have thought it’s a courageous act of love.

Margery experienced a farther reaching gamut of reactions,

For some said it was a wicked spirit vexed her; some said it was a sickness; some said she had drunk too much wine; some banned her; some wished she had been in the harbor; some would she had been in the sea in a bottomless boat; and so each man as he thought. Other ghostly men loved her and favored her more.

Because Margery would go into these INSANE crying fits every time she had a vision of and/or was reminded of the Passion (both happened a lot!). It probably doesn’t help that she sees Jesus in the face of every handsome man and young boy. Margery is so overcome with sorrow and compassion that she balls her eyes out to a point where it’s described as “roaring”.

Mind you, the woman in the gospels probably deliberately tracked down Jesus and poured nard all over his feet, while Margery “knew never time nor hour when they [the visions and corresponding crying fits] would come” and couldn’t handle herself. Zero say in the matter. BUT THE POINT IS, Margery cries with sorrow and compassion and ultimately LOVE for Jesus --> Margery is a big weirdo for Jesus, just like Nard Woman is.

And, yeah, if I were walking around with Margery in public for a prolonged period of time, maybe my wretched colors would come out bleeding out of me and I would find her utterly irritating and humiliating, too, however, I’m not walking around with her, I’m reading about her, and from where I’m sitting – safely, here, behind my Norton Doorstop, hella years after the fact – I think it’s beautiful. Hyperbolic and beautiful and weird and strangely appropriate given the “ghostly”, antiquated state of the text.

Frankly, I think it’s touching how much she loves Jesus, and given the anticlimax of the on-the-whole NOT sexual scenes, I don’t mean LOVE in an explicitly physical way. When Jesus is sitting next to Margery while God is asking Margery to marry her (yes, that happened – and, yes, that was weird), and she didn’t know what to say, partially because she was in love with the second Godhead of the Trinity, not the first*** - that was, oddly, fucking adorable.

I also liked how Margery was seeing angels everywhere like glorious dust motes. That was pretty cool. To which Anita might point out the possibility for temporal lobe hallucinations. Which makes it….no less cool.
So, would I recommend Margery Kempe? Yes. If you’re not a hater who’s gonna be like, damn religious people and their rap music. Because when people get weird and religious, it’s kind of easy to be a hater. If you’re like me, and not my mom, you’ll find religious weirdoes much more admirable and loveable in the antiquated sense than in, say, in Flannery O’Connor, where peeps be flat out insane. If you’re like my mom, you’ll hate both, and you should read something else.

I think religious kooks of the universe have their place. They can be wonderful, in their way. Yeah, once in a while there’s a dark-side of it; a money-embezzling, Jew-bashing, gay-hating, heathen-killing part that rears its ugly head from time and time again, but if that makes its way into Margery Kempe, I was certainly blind to it. And if I did see that in her, I wouldn’t be recommending her to others. Religious weirdoes – especially of antiquity – are adorable and worth their weight in nard.

Good on you, Margery Kempe.

* Men penetrating women with wine bottles while in the back of a horse-and-buggy, whoa!

** Mom and I don’t go to the same church.

*** Perhaps could be construed as a wee Marcion-esque depending on how much you’ve been drinking that day (what?), in retrospect, but The Book of Margery Kempe is unlike Marcion in that she neither hates the god of the Old Testament, nor does he write Him off as a tyrannical douche bag.


Reflections on Cringing Through "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

DISCLAIMER: spoilers, subjectively offensive language, and usage of the impersonal “you”

I can’t remember exactly where I was when I first read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Although, I remember that I was in art school – it was assigned for the required Narrative Storytelling class – so I was probably sitting in the Starbucks on New Montgomery Street. And although I probably didn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear reports of me gripping my scalp with both hands as I sat there with my eyes on the text of the Xeroxed pages, involuntarily exclaiming, “OH MY GOSH PLEASE STOP TALKING WHY ARE YOU STILL TALKING STOP!!!”

From the beginning of the story, the “grandmother” (we’re given no other name for the character) says plenty of things that prompt eye rolls. She’s manipulative, childishly selfish, racist. But when she started repeatedly telling an outlaw holding her at gunpoint that he should pray – it was inconceivable to my tiny, art school mind. It was alarming behavior, even from this character who had filled up the previous pages with her own short-citedness and vanity.

Before she even gets into the prayer part, the grandmother tells this man, the Misfit, who’s got the gun, “you shouldn’t call yourself the Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart.” If your car’s busted up, and you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, and this guy’s henchmen just took your son and grandson into the woods to kill them, you don’t start telling dude-with-a-gun what he should and should not do unless you’re suicidal (right?) – which I knew she wasn’t because she asked him several times, “You wouldn’t kill a lady, would you?”

Then the grandmother starts in with the Jesus talk. She tells the Misfit to pray. Pray and Jesus will help you. Oh, you were in juvie when you were a kid? That’s when you should have started praying. Which was especially grating to me, because at the time, what I knew about prayer was that it was what televangelists told you to do – the kind from infomercials with the blue sky and clouds going in the background – the kind that, to my nineteen-year-old mind, would logically be the first to die in such a situation. Because I assumed that everyone, including but not exclusive to people who have no trouble hurting other people, were easily annoyed with polluted, religious shittiness.

Furthermore, it only made sense to my nineteen-year-old, scalp-tearing self that IF YOU’RE BEING HELD AT GUNPOINT, you don’t tell the dude with the gun how he should have dealt with his childhood trauma. I mean, yeah, the Misfit eventually kills her, but I was surprised he took as long as he did, it only made sense to me that he would have blown her brains out by then.

Then I dropped out of art school, became a Christian (no correlation, that I’m aware of, with Flannery O’Connor), and have been made to read “Good Man” 3+ times since I enrolled in “regular college” (a term which here means, not art/vocational school). For those 3+ times, there’s been no cringing. Because, Jesus.

It’s not like I’ve seen all possible facets of church culture, but I have been exposed to both a group of Pentecostals that were conservative to, I’m told, South Park proportions, and also to a group of less “out there”, albeit basically still conservative Presbyterians. Thus, I have a better understanding of Christians and Christianity than televangelist infomercials with clouds scrolling in the background (which I never had firsthand experience with anyway), so when the grandmother, in this highly precarious situation, starts laying down the Jesus talk, it’s like, “Yep.”

Seemingly batshit people, with few-to-no redeeming qualities that my previous self could discern, talk Jesus in the face of imminent adversity. All the time.

People who appear to have absolutely no regard for established social constructs and what is and is not polite, nor what is commonly considered as wise, will use spiritual warfare terminology where they feel is applicable. You can carry all the weapons you want, it won’t stop them from asking you if you’ve prayed lately or how you feel about God. There are people who will ask more probing questions or make even more eschatologically provocative statements than the grandmother ever asked the Misfit.

The lion will lay down with the lamb and the wild animals will be like pets.

The end is near.

The Rapture is real.

Lies from the Enemy.

Abundant life, something something…

Praisealleuiah! Call me!

There’s an entire church-vernacular that makes the grandmother’s previously-conceived-as crazy talk look considerably tame. What she said was once weird enough to qualify my non-believing, nineteen-year-old veins to pulsate with an all-encompassing, unadulterated essence of WHAT THE FUCK. Not so much anymore.

I went to church and I gained fluency in Churchish. Has the grandmother gone from out-of-touch to totally out-to-sea when she starts telling the Misfit he should have prayed when he was in juvenile hall? No. She’s just speaking Chruchish – and being pretty sparing in her vocabulary, too.

Was the Jesus talk a BAD choice on the part of the grandmother?

Well. That’s another post.


The Norton Unwieldy Doorstop of English Literature

Carrying around the Norton Anthology of English Literature was (and is) an honor thing. I would hoist the unwieldy tome from the zippered mouth of my backpack, and all those who witnessed (minus the English majors) would gasp, “What the hell is that? You carry that thing around!?”

“Yes,” I’d say. “Yes, I do. I proudly schlep with this unwieldy tome, not because, in a pinch, it makes for a great doorstop, but because I am an English Major, CHAMPION of Anglophonic verse and prose! I gladly offer myself to the task of loading down upon my shoulders the precious, inscribed intonations of Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, and Heaney!”

Mind you, that was several years ago, and I was merely carrying around one of the two volumes that comprises the anthology (I started with the second volume, because I took Late English Lit prior to taking Early English Lit). At the end of the semester, I shelved that sucka. I admired its copious 2 ½ inch wide spine from my bed at night, and wistfully pined for the day I would take Early English Lit so that I could be assigned the corresponding volume, and eventually have it join its other half on the shelf.

Thus, imagine my heartbreak when, the next semester, the prof decided to take ergonomics into account and assigned instead a few smaller textbooks by a different publisher. ...actually, “heartbreak” might not be the right word – not because it would be ridiculous to get heartbroken over such a thing, but because I was prescribed some strange drugs that semester, and at that time feeling something as significantly negative as heartbreak may have been a chemical impossibility.

Nevertheless, it was a disappointment; a disappointment that carried over long after the questionable psychotropic medication was a part of my life. The incompleteness of that one lonely volume on the shelf, sans its partner, niggled at me, but the real twist of the knife came from seeing others’ copies of the Norton Unwieldy Doorstop Volume 1 sitting around the backroom of the English lab. I guess, after I took Early English Lit, future professors resorted back to the Norton.

Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind to just take one of the unattended copies.

But I work there.

And I already gabbed this sob story to enough people, it would probably be no mystery that I was the one who took it.

Now I’m taking an upper-division survey course that requires the latest edition of the Norton Unwieldy Doorstop Volume 1. I did what any American would do, and purchased it with an unthinking point-and-click. What arrived on my porch was not an unwieldy doorstop. It was not like the proud, almost-three-inch thick beauty that currently resides on my bookshelf. Instead it was the emasculated version, which took the first volume and butchered it into three parts. Because… Ergonomics. I don’t know.

I could pour over the what-ifs and should-haves about how if I were thinking I could have gone for an earlier edition, therefore acquiring a doorstop of my very own, but such meanderings of the mind are stopped in their tracks when I am delivered to the tragic, however inevitable, realization that perhaps my English major bravado would be more easily appeased by just keeping up with the reading.

But spine-measuring pettiness is not easily removed in one fell swoop. So, in the meantime, I’ll sneer over the shoulder of one of the tutors taking Early English Lit this semester who has been blessed to end up with the doorstop.

UPDATE (June 9, 2014):  Then someone amazing read this post and gave me one!