Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Life 2: Are you sure you can't catch things from watching tv shows about diseases?

Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas

an only slightly less objective book blog...

“Scars are great. They’re this outward symbol of some personal pain. Just by looking at a scar, you know that person has suffered. Usually, or maybe almost exclusively, medically. But what about the suffering insane? We have no scars. That’s why we have to make them ourselves.”

“It was like some god somewhere was telling me, “We have something else for you. Something special.” I was honored. Until I realized that special treat was insanity.”

Like most all ocd memoirs, this one hits a little too close to home. Admittedly, she has it much worse than I do now. My early to mid-teen bout of scrupulosity and possibly some pieces of my more recent life are close, but I could at least leave the house; she couldn’t. What I was so happy to see was her description of the “crazier than you” thoughts. She has this one-up conversation with her close friend who is a recovering heroin addict about who is crazier, who has it worse. While I don’t remember ever having this conversation with anyone, there is a variation that occurs in my mind on a fairly constant basis. OCD is not generally an outwardly noticeable disorder, or at least not to people who don’t know you well. So, you end up discussing with yourself whether you can safely call yourself crazy, insane, in need of help. Maybe it’s just me blowing my symptoms out of proportion. Obviously I’m not crazy. I do not see little orange people who aren’t there. I have not randomly tried to stab a loved one or a stranger (though being in close proximity to a sharp instrument has often caused the fear that I might without intending or wanting to). So I must not be crazy…or at least not as crazy as other people. And it would be selfish to assume I am and suck up sympathy or help or time with my overblown crap. But we are nuts. And what makes it worse is that we know we’re nuts. In general, we know that the things we do have no basis in rationality. It makes no sense to check that the car door is locked 3, 6, 9, or 17 times. It makes no sense to eat candies in threes and give the leftovers to one’s wife. It makes no sense to arrange shirts by color (spectrum then shade order) and in alphabetical order. But I do it. It pisses me off that I feel I have to do it and that I know it’s nuts and still proceed with it.

That is our special curse—what colas calls “insanity lite”: “All the taste, none of the good stuff. It was as if I was suffering as much as anyone else who had lost their mind, but since I was still able to be rational, since I knew what I was doing was bizarre, I wasn’t really crazy. I had this belief that somehow life would be easier if I was just completely mad.”

One thing I envy about colas’ ocd: it was constant. That may sound strange, and I am positive that she wished it was not. But like her belief that it would be easier to be completely mad, somehow, I think it would be better if my symptoms were constant and not in this unpredictable cycle. I never know what I’ll wake up to—crazy Dawn or regular Dawn. Will I be able to open a public bathroom door with three layers of paper towels today or will I wait insanely by the door to catch it with my foot as someone else comes in? Who knows? And that is what makes me so damned unbalanced…well, a piece of it anyway…

Book Life 1: The Tale of the Renaissance Lesbian Nun

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown

I have been wanting this book since I came across it randomly mentioned in another book, for obvious reasons. My lifelong obsession with religion and asceticism combined with lesbian life in the Renaissance…who could ask for more.

In any case, the book was fabulous. Brown reconstructed the tale of Benedetta Carlini from documents she found in a miscellaneous file while researching another topic in Italian history. Sister Benedetta went to the convent at age 9, which was not that unusual then, and went on to establish herself as a mystic for a time. She would have visions of Jesus and various saints who sometimes spoke through her. She claimed to have literally exchanged hearts with Christ (which was not an unusual thing for female mystics in that era) and was married to Christ in a ceremony whose decorations, guests, and components were supposedly dictated to her by Jesus himself. She received the stigmata and a pale yellow wedding ring appeared on her finger.

Several inconsistencies and unusual pieces of the visions and actions of Benedetta drew an inquiry from the Church, and it was decided that she was a fraud. The Church took the more ecclesiastic route and declared her deceived by the Devil. The most interesting information that surfaced during the investigation did not precisely have to do with the divine or diabolical nature of the visions, however. When she began having visions and trance states, Benedetta was assigned a companion nun, Bartolomea, to stay near her to assist when these things occurred. In the second inquiry, Bartolomea revealed that she had been forced to partake in “lewd” activities with Benedetta, who was supposedly being used for the purpose by Splenditello, an angel that guarded Sister Benedetta for Jesus. Splenditello told Bartolomea that he wished for her to be his beloved and that what they were doing was not sinful (ostensibly since he was an angel sent by God and Benedetta had no idea what he was doing). Benedetta denied knowledge of the many, many, many occurrences (every night and during nearly every day for years), which would fit with her insistence that she was channeling Splenditello and not doing these things herself. However, in my opinion, the way in which Bartolomea described the whole encounter leads me to believe that it was a mutual relationship, and the two of them were simply doing what they had to do to prevent being burned at the stake (the likely punishment had they been discovered to have done these things willingly). One can’t really fault them for it, given the time period.

Brown discusses the Renaissance beliefs about sexual misconduct in the introduction as well as extensively in footnotes and the epilogue. What is fascinating is that the punishments handed out to “lesbian” offenders were generally harsher and more aimed at women who defied norms of gendered living rather than the sexual act itself. For instance, in one case, a young woman lived as a man to the extent that she took on a wife, and when they were discovered, it was the one living as a man that was punished. (She chose to die by hanging rather than return to life as a girl.) As far as the records go, the wife was not blamed for any wrongdoing.

A last idea that Brown included was the separation of what has been called “holy anorexia” from modern notions of eating disorders. I understand the distinction, as food has very different meanings now as opposed to then. However, in the particular descriptions given of Benedetta’s actions, I would have to say that I think she was suffering from a medieval version of anorexia/bulimia with all the attendant obsessive features, some so noticeable to the other nuns that they made constant mention of them.

All in all, Benedetta’s story was incredibly interesting, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in notions of gender either within religion or outside of it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

It is not political...

Thursday I had a conversation with a girl in one of my classes...somehow we got on the topic of gay people...she said, "I have no problem with people being gay. I have a lot of gay friends, but I don't believe in gay marriage." excuse me, what? First off, someone needs to tell your gay friends...second, how is that even possible? To be friends with someone, you should be able to empathize with them, and in order to do that, you have to actually think they are people. By saying that they don't deserve to be able to marry, isn't that just as good as saying they are lesser human beings?

I asked this person to give me a good reason why we shouldn't be able to marry that did not have to do with religion or scripture. The only response she had was to say that that isn't how it was originally created by God. Hello? A reason separate from religion. No one has yet to be able to do it...because there isn't one...Aside from their narrow freaking idea of creation and their ancient scriptures, there is nothing to be said that will hold up. I am so glad that someone else came up to talk to her after her response, because I was seriously about to go into raging lesbian mode and show the hell out. And I could not have helped myself.

To quote a fabulous lesbian I once heard speak, "It is not political, IT'S MY LIFE" We're fighting for our freaking lives here, dammit...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

oh the geekiness knows no bounds

So, I'm starting my honors thesis soon, and I had to get a thesis director. And I am very excited that one of the most awesome professors on the planet agreed to be my director--Dr. Erndl! Not only that, Dr. Gray, the equally awesome, whom I thought would not be back from her fulbright teaching in morocco by next fall, actually said she WANTS to be on my defense committee! I hugged the woman for that one...I had a really good school day, y'all!!!

and it occurs to me that the level of one's geekitude (and yes that is a least now it is) can be measured by the people on whom and the reasons for one's little crushes...i have such the academic girly-crushes on drs. gray and is sad, I must, anyway, i figure that makes me Queen Geek, Her Majesty of Nerd Land...

Book Life

I don't know how long I will actually do it, but I'm going to try to do a post for each new and interesting book I read, whether for school or not. I just got this one as a gift, and I will be starting it as soon as I am done with this semester's work (2 more papers and one more exam!). Book geek that I am, it seems appropriate...

Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy by Judith C. Brown, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Despite my relative lack of experience with the Catholic faith, I am inordinately fascinated by nuns. A few years ago I read Virgins of Venice: Enclosed Lives and Broken Vows in the Renaissance Convent by Mary Laven (Viking, 2003) and loved it. Of course, when I was born my mother was Catholic, so maybe I picked up the interest through the placenta or osmosis or something. I do remember quite vividly wanting to be a nun for a while--they were the only female images of religious roles I had...and I think I thought I was some sort of modern day girl answer to Jesus or something...I do still want to save the world...though the wimple and chastity vows don't look half so good from 29 as they did from 4...

to be continued when i actually get to read the damn book lol

The True Definition of Gay Rage

In one particular gay-bashing/murder case a few years ago, the perpetrators/defendants/evil morons tried to use a defense of "gay rage". Their definition: they were uncontrollably enraged by the victim having supposedly hitting on them. My definition: the feeling an lgbt person gets when they read crap like that and what i read today.

In the spring, I'm starting an honors in the major thesis on the quiverfull and purity ball movements among modern American evangelicals. In searching for resources, I read through some of the Duggar family website (see TLC's specials and reality show) on which Michelle mentions a "Christian medical doctor". Intrigued, I searched the web...lo and behold there is an organization for them, the Christian Medical and Dental Association ( They have various crap lying about, and I found their ethics statements on homosexuality. (see
If this is the kind of bullshit fundamentalists are being fed, no wonder they hate us and think we can't handle marriage or that we'll destroy the world at some point. I quote:

"Homosexual relationships are typically brief in duration. Homosexual behavior is destructive to the structures necessary for healthy marriages, families and society. Men who commit homosexual acts have a high incidence of promiscuity, child molestation, and sexually transmitted infections. Homosexual behaviors burden society with increased medical costs, increased disability, and loss of productivity.

Homosexual behavior can be self-propagating. Some homosexual groups and individuals engage in active recruitment. A child who is sexually molested has an increased likelihood of later engaging in homosexual acts. There is also an increased incidence of homosexual activity among children raised by same sex couples. Adoption into such environments puts children at risk.

Legalizing or blessing same sex marriage or civil unions is harmful to the stability of society, the raising of children and the institution of marriage. If the only criterion for marriage were mutual consent or commitment, there are no grounds to prohibit polygamy, polyandry or incestuous unions." [emphasis added]

Are you kidding me? I mean really, are you fucking kidding me? This is what causes TRUE gay rage...this is why the top of my head feels like it's going to blow off most of the time...These are licensed medical and dental practitioners, and they are spreading these lies! They are in positions of authority for people, and what do they do with it but spread this...someone tell me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this seem to be against some sort of oath that a doctor should take? maybe not, but dammit WHY not!