Oct 29, 2008
I'm swamped with schoolwork and Samhain preparations right now, so in lieu of actual content, I'll finally respond to the Six Random Things meme Livia tagged me week?

1. I currently have approximately two dozen books checked out of two different library systems. I will never in my life find the time to read them all before they're due. But I just can't stop.

2. I really like making things, mostly fairly useless things unfortunately. Right now it's mostly cross stitch, but you should see the handbound book of the Shadow Unit finale I'm working on.

3. I am absolutely shit with romantic relationships. I've been asked out a grand total of twice in my life, and the second time I didn't even notice until I'd accidentally shot the guy down so hard he hardly ever talked to me again. (I am still really, really sorry about that, Rob.) But I never get bent out of shape about it unless my mom asks me if I have a boyfriend yet, so I try not to worry about it too much.

4. I'm getting a Master's in Library Science because I was too scared to go for my Master's in anthropology. That and I couldn't find an anthro school that did what I wanted to do, but let's face it, I didn't look very hard.

5. I only realized once I'd started at the library school that just because I'm getting a professional degree now that doesn't mean I can't get an academic one later.

6. I'm in fandom, and I honestly think it's the single greatest thing to come out of the Internet. (I know fandom didn't really come out of the Internet, but it did for my generation.) I almost linked to the Wikipedia page here for those of you who don't know what fandom is, but I read it over and decided I didn't like it. In brief: fandom makes stuff out of other peoples' stuff. Intellectual recycling. Reclaiming popular culture. And, okay, a significant amount of well-intentioned copyright infringement. But I love it, and it's awesome, and the people I've met through fandom are some of the best people in the world.

I'm not a fan of tagging myself, but if you read this, I'd love to see your responses, too. It's strange to think how much of myself I don't talk about on this blog, really, and I'm sure that's true for other people as well.

Back together again

Oct 26, 2008
Oh crap, it's happened again. My Genius Idea sat and festered too long before I wrote it down, and now it's gone all moldy and pretentious and no longer useful for anything but rearranging furniture in my head. Oh, well, it was getting a little stale in there anyway.

Instead I want to talk about how much better I feel about the world now that I've got my kitchen under control again. From the middle of July, when I tore the ligament in my foot, until just a couple of weeks ago when I got stable enough to stand for the length of time it takes to make dinner, my roommate had to deal with the kitchen. And I love my roommate dearly, but she is not a kitchen person. She knows it, and it shows. She doesn't particularly like to cook (although she's better at it than she thinks), and she has an even harder time keeping up with the even-less-fun kitchen things, like dishes. (Let's not talk about the state of the refrigerator, shall we?)

I've always thought of the kitchen as the heart of a home. When I was growing up, we didn't use the front hall entrance to our house but the kitchen door, so coming home always meant walking into the kitchen. It was where I got to spend the most time with my mom, who worked until she got too sick to keep working, helping her make dinner (although my most vivid memories are still of baking Christmas cookies, her absolute favorite). It's still where we spend the most time together, when I go to visit for holidays. And in my current apartment, the kitchen is literally the physical center of the space. I step out of my bedroom in the morning straight into the kitchen (and over to the coffee pot).

And yeah, it's still a strain to stand for an hour to cook or bake. But I've finally got the dish situation under control, and I've consolidated recipe boxes with the one I inherited from my grandmother earlier this year. Friday night I made Korean barbequed beef and gai lan for dinner, and last night was this year's inaugural Teresa Neilsen Hayden Savory Pie. (The leeks were a little bland, but the next one will be better.) And now the world seems to have sorted itself out into its proper place again. I must be more of a kitchen witch than I'd thought.

where I'm coming from

Oct 18, 2008
There are a lot of things going on in my head right now. (It's fall, that happens to me a lot.) I'm looking at Celtic Reconstructionism again, as I do every once in a while. It's inevitable for me -- I'm never satisfied with just learning something, I want to know who came up with it and where it comes from and what it meant to someone other than me, and since my abiding interest is in Ireland, I always circle back around to CR.

I'm taking a history class right now, too, and history always makes me think about the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell one another. That's what history is, after all, is stories. Humans are storytelling, pattern-making animals, and we turn our world into stories. That's what the gods are, too. Stories, and patterns. And gods.

I read this book for my history class this week, The Cheese and the Worms, about a miller in the sixteenth century who was tried for heresy. Twice. His heresy was so strange, though, that the first time around the Inquisitors stopped trying to convert him and started going, "Sorry, go back. You believe what now?" And Ginzburg, the researcher who put this together, thinks that part of the reason this guy believed such weird things was he got them from the oral culture of rural Italy, that they represented this pre-Christian ideology that still survived in the countryside.

I got really, really annoyed by that idea as I was reading the book (and subsequently writing the paper, which, guess what I'm supposed to be writing instead of this post?). Partly it's the vaguely condescending tone, but partly it's the recurrence of the phrase "pre-Christian." I think I'm sensitized to that phrase or something, whenever I see it I'm ready to be angry about the way it's used. And I've been trying to figure out just why that is, and I think for once I'm starting to get somewhere. And unfortunately it's long, and complicated, and I do still have that paper to finish. (And the other one for next week, and the draft for the week after that...)

A lot of people around the Pagan blogosphere have been talking about feeling the veil growing thin a little early this year. Yeah, I get that. It feels a little treacherous, a little brighter and clearer than it's really supposed to be. It's making it a little easier to see. (Now let's see if I can make it easy to explain.)

Watch this space.

Things that apparently take a long time to learn.

Oct 6, 2008
What comes to fruition in the harvest season is the results of your actions.

What happens when I feel myself come alive in the fall is thoughts.

It seems a little obvious in hindsight, but I've always wondered why I never felt the way I "should" about the autumn festivals, Samhain in particular.

(I have been Thinking Thinky Thoughts today. I think they will be interesting, once I have a chance to turn them into an argument and post them here.)

Book Review: The Other Side of Virtue

Oct 4, 2008
I finished reading The Other Side of Virtue by Brendan Myers sometime in August, and I just couldn't write it up at the time. Now I'm back in school and back into the swing of writing about difficult things, so here goes.

I'd heard good things of Brendan Myers before in my poking around at various forms of Celtic Neo-Paganism, so when The Wild Hunt did a writeup of this book, I was intrigued. For people who want books that go beyond Paganism 101: this is one of the guys to keep your eye on. (Though you could argue that an ethical structure ought to be part of 101, in reality, it pretty much isn't.)

What Myers has written here is more a theoretical book than a practical guide: not a criticism, but an observation, for people who might want to pick it up. It's a work in progress, a starting point for other Pagans to look at and start figuring out how to make it work in real life. Fair enough. I hardly expect any one person to come out with a synthesized Theory Of Pagan Ethics just like that.

I'd caution against using it as an only source for an ethical system, though. (I'd caution against using anything as an only source for anything.) The first section of the book is dedicated to historical examples of how people have theorized ethics and virtue, from the heroic model of chiefdom societies like the Celts to the social model of Classical Greece and Rome, up through the Romantics and Humanist ideas of The Good Life. It's an impressive span to cover, and you can see where his specialty is -- that is to say, it's not in anthropology, which is my specialty, and every once in a while Myers makes some broad sweeping statements that made me cringe. Overall it's a pretty good analysis, but it's better if you keep in mind the idea of ancient Greece instead of trying to equate Heroic Greece with Celtic society in general.

This is also not, I repeat, not the book to read if you're currently struggling with depression. "I recognize that depression is a medical condition," he writes on page 222, "not a deficiency of character. But I do wish to suggest that an ability to imagine a future, an ability to discern a purpose for one's life, can have a therapeutic effect on those who find their lives very difficult to bear." I've never been suicidal myself, but I have been profoundly, awfully depressed, and that sounds a lot like "just snap out of it" to me. That, coupled with the "Spirit" passage starting on 193, was what put me off this book for several months.

That said, what I do think Myers does very well is present a vision of virtue that doesn't exclude people. That doesn't mean he's come up with a way to look at the world that means that everyone is virtuous: far from it. But he's come up with a way to look at the world that means that people who disagree, people who are in active opposition, hell, even people who flat-out hate everything that the other stands for, can both be virtuous at the same time. Virtue, in Myers's conception, is in the way you look at the world, not in the ideas you have about it. Virtue is when you look at the world and think, "That is so fucking awesome. I have got to be a part of that." And that, I think, is an excellent place to start.