Saturday Night

October 3, 2009 at 8:50 pm (Fun) (, , , )

Photo 135

Saturday Night at Casa Dani, because my life is exciting. I am hanging out with my BFF. (And yes, I got my hair cut.)

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Desert Flower

October 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm (News) (, , , , , , , )

0688172377.01.LZZZZZZZI recently picked up Desert Flower – The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad after finding out a German filmmaker had managed to snag the rights to it. I had heard of it before, but seeing as I only recently officially came into being a snot-nosed feminist, it hadn’t occurred to me to read it.

Waris Dirie’s story is at once heart-breaking and inspiring. One of twelve children, she was born into a Somalian pastoral nomad family and raised in the deserts among those goats and camels. With no ability to read, write or speak a language beside Somali, she didn’t seem to be destined for great things. In fact, she was rather average for a young Somalian female. She tended goats, played with her siblings, had no shoes or education. Like every girl she was expected to marry whoever her father wished in exchange for more camels.

And like every other girl, she was subjected to the awful, awful practice of female genital mutilation when she was only five years old.

Waris Dirie is now a renown supermodel and UN special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. While I read this book, it felt like a small part of me died when I came across her experiences with FGM. When she was five, her mother woke her in the early morning before anyone else was awake and taken out to the bushes where the “gypsy woman,” as she was referred to, waited for them. Dirie was given a root to bite down on and held down by her mother. The gypsy woman herself used a razor stained with the blood of countless other young, helpless girls that this woman cleaned with her saliva and nothing else.

By African standards, this is relatively cleanly, apparently. Anything can be used – razors, glass, sharp rocks and when nothing else is to be had, teeth. The severity of the mutilation ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood to the full on removal of the labia majora, minora and everything else, then the girls are sewn shut. Dirie experienced the latter form – thorns from a nearby bush were used to create punctures for the sewing. After this, Dirie’s legs were bound together in order to create a minimal, “tidy” scar and she was left in a specially built hut to heal for a whole month.

Many girls die from blood loss, tetanus, infection, gangrene and other horrific side-effects of the “operation,” which include pelvic infections, severe UTIs and more. One of Dirie’s sisters bled to death. Dirie herself suffered for many years because she was left with only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood were supposed to be allowed to escape. She was able to get surgery later in life, but will never regain much of the feeling in that region of her body because the surgery was performed back in the 90s. Nowadays, with medical advances, there are doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery in order to help women regain feeling and a sense of pride in their bodies again.

I remember being in an Ethics class and the topic of FGM coming up. I argued against it because I feel, as a woman, that it is a cruel, unnecessary and awful tradition to uphold that gives a whole continent a bad reputation. I was told my Western privilege was showing – that it was necessary to approach some traditions with respect and the dignity it deserves because – while it is not my own culture – it is someone else’s cultural practice.

I call bullshit on that. I agree that the Western way is not always the right way, but I see no reason to accept a practice that is so barbaric. Many of the cultures FGM is practiced in are Muslim; men argue that the Q’ran demands it. Nowhere in the Q’ran does it state that you are to maim and brutalize your women. FGM – I refuse to deign it with the term “female circumcision” because it undercuts the severity of what is done – was invented by men in order to oppress women and make them pliable through their pain. Those who argue that male circumcision is equally cruel – what on Earth are you thinking? We do not cut off young boys’ penises. We don’t divorce them from their sexual organs in order to oppress them. There is a vast difference between a small surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed and the hacking off and permanent crippling of young defenseless girls.

It makes me sick to my stomach that around 2 MILLION girls a year are at risk of being victims of FGM. I hope that, through education and redirection of practices, it will be possible to decrease and maybe eliminate the practice entirely, though it will take a long time. Meanwhile, here is the trailer to Desert Flower where Dirie is played by Liya Kebede:

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Why Some Pet Owners Suck

October 2, 2009 at 7:00 pm (Life) (, , , , )

Today, on our way to school and work, C. and I got stuck in traffic. The traffic patterns at one of the pikes has been reset because they have been futzing around with construction a lot. So for a while, we were only inching along. At one point, we come to a halt. I make the mistake of looking out the window. What do I see?

That’s right, someone’s run-over pet.

The poor cat had probably been hit by a car and managed to drag itself off the road before it croaked. It was clearly someone’s pet – well-fed, otherwise in good shape, still fairly young. I couldn’t see its face, thank God, but it lay on its side, legs splayed as though it were running and twitching in its sleep, blood caking its mouth.

Until recently, my family basically always had a pet. We never had cats, but Lena was a regular old escape artist of a dog and whenever she disappeared, it felt like a little part of me died. She was a Golden Retriever – that means a BIG dog, the kind you can see in case it streaks across the street in front of your car. However, that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t do it totally unexpectedly or that you would be able to break in time not to hit her. Much like Winnie the Pooh, she had more fluff for brains than anything and she certainly wasn’t gifted with common sense. We always understood that having a pet escape and run about was a dangerous thing – most dog owners comprehend this matter. Cars are not safe to be around as a pedestrian, why would that be any different for a four-footed family member?

What I DON’T get is how this seems to be too hard for a lot of cat owners to understand. A cat, dear friends, is a PET. A cat is an animal. No matter what you may think, cats are not smart; most dogs have more common sense than a cat ever will have. Cats are, above all, arrogant and will not understand that a ton of metal will crush them. Some cat owners place way more faith into their cats than is ever warranted. Let me repeat: it is a RARE instant for a cat to be smart. Frankly, cats are also nowhere near as FAST as you think they are. A car is faster, bigger, meaner.

What I’m trying to get at is this: If you love your cat, don’t let it out. Just don’t. Unless your cat’s a Main Coone (thus a huge bugger), it is small and almost invisible, especially in the US where everyone drives SUVs which are generally higher than most European cars. People’s reaction times are slow. A cat doesn’t stand a chance.

Today, I saw someone’s beloved family pet dead at the roadside. I’m very sorry for their loss. But I can’t help but wonder if they really loved that cat since they let it out of their house in a high traffic area. Since I no longer have a pet of my own, it makes me resentful that someone would gamble with their pet’s life that way.

This cat lost the gamble and its carcass probably traumatized a bunch of small children who were on their way to school this morning. Please don’t be that cat owner.

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Grumpy

September 28, 2009 at 9:16 pm (Life) (, , , , , , , , )

grumpy This was my expression throughout the majority of the Torah services, Yizkor and Musaf and the beginning of the Avodah (at which point, we left).

I have realized I am not cut out to be the member of a congregation as large as this. There were well over a thousand people present. This means it is loud, people are always talking, it is hard for me to concentrate on the actual prayers and it is super crowded. There was absolutely no room for me to move during the Amidah. Someone behind me was constantly basically shoving their book into the back of my head.

Again, the rabbi felt it was appropriate to ask for money. During Yizkor. OF ALL TIMES, DURING YIZKOR. Did it ever occur to him how incredibly rude that is? People have passed away and we’re trying to say prayers for them, and you’re asking us to reach into our pockets? The man moved further up my list of Obnoxious Things And People I Dislike. This is a rather affluent community, I’m sure he could have asked for donations for Israel Bonds or their synagogue at some other point. His stories and interjections were absolutely moot, pointless.

If there is a God, S/He will not make me go back to this place. Ever. Please, please, please let me have transferred to a different school and a different community by then. I can’t deal with this again.

I made sure to email all my professors about my absence, so everything was alright on that front. I finally managed to weave my way through the automated phone system operated by TriCare in order to inquire about getting new contact lenses through someone here in the area. It seems they are willing to cover it, but I apparently still need to talk to someone back in Europe as to how exactly we want to proceed. Simple, people – I need to see an experienced ophthalmologist who can deal with eyes that have been operated on, have a high astigmatism and off-the-charts diopters. Ugh. I hate life.

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Yom Kippur

September 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm (Life) (, , , , , , , )

I did manage to find a place to go for Yom Kippur. However, it’s not somewhere I see myself going back to after my obligation for Yom Kippur is over. The congregation is large, impersonal and conservative. The latter wouldn’t bother me too much, but it’s a little . . . restrictive, in a way. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see older people and young families and very little in between.

Not only that, but the rabbi started being a solicitor for various funds in the middle of services, which I thought was incredibly inappropriate. We’re RIGHT smackdab in the middle of Kol Nidre services. And you ask people to put money into Israel Bonds? REALLY? YOU THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA? He also started harping on our need to support Israel and donate and blahblahblah.

I have no issue with charity. I do have an issue when a religious official uses his role to push political agendas; it’s not something I have ever seen a rabbi do and I hope I’ll never have to see it again. It’s not something I associate with Judaism, the begging for money and propagation of political things is more a Christian phenomenon. Or it was until now.

The whole thing just made me incredibly uncomfortable. A religious official is supposed to offer advice, not preach from the pulpit about how I as a Jew am obligated to support Israel in every possible way. That’s like someone telling C. that she has to support the Pope because she’s Catholic despite the fact that dude’s batshit crazy, not to mention assbackwards on basically every matter of social importance. I am in no way obligated to support a country simply because I am part of a religious entity. I will not publicly support a country and a government on the basis of this.

I appreciate Israel’s existence, but I do not agree with a lot of their policies. I believe displacing Palestinians is wrong. The way Israel was founded is very much akin to the Europeans marching into North American and displacing all the American Indians. I don’t believe military action is necessary all the damn time and I am absolutely horrified at the sense of entitlement that many European and American-born Jews have when they make aliyah, and how perfectly acceptable the racism towards Palestinians is within those Jewish communities in Israel.

So, no, Rabbi Whateveryournamemaybe, I am keeping my money out of Israel Bonds and in my damn pocket. This kind of conduct does not leave me feeling spiritually cleansed, forgiven by God or enlightened. It makes me think I ended up an awful place for a very emotional time, and that makes me sad.

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Busy, Busy, Busy

September 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm (Music, School) (, , )

School has been driving me nuts. It’s only week, what? Three? And I’ve been running around like a decapitated chicken. I’m up to six songs for my voice lessons this semester – minimum requirement for a second semester student: six. I am working on memorizing the four-song cycle Blue Mountain Ballads by Paul Bowles, I have the de Luca song in Italian down pat and am struggling through the two Handel as per usual.

Baroque music is hard, in case you didn’t know. For a look at the second song I am working on, look here:

The soprano doing it is fantastic and I’m a little jealous. Ah well, someday!

As she ought to, Dr. D’s coming down hard on my bad habits. I have several years of bad singing habits deeply ingrained into both brain and muscle memory, cemented by two voice teachers. I was taught by a tenor for a while, which apparently was the worst idea ever because the way their voices and bodies work to produce sound are so vastly different from all voice types that having them teach is just bad all around. A lot of it is breath management and breathing, with which I can legitimately argue that it’s not going to improve until I move somewhere where I won’t be exposed to allergens 100% of the time. More importantly, though, is convincing my brain that no, I am not, in fact, a heavy voice type, therefore I have absolutely no reason to be pushing as hard as I do.

Out, not in.  And turning off my brain for half of what I am doing would also be brilliant because I tend to overthink what I do. As Dr. D says, I work too hard and being a lyric soprano I should not be working hard at all because it’s equivalent to erecting giant barriers to work around. It can also damage the vocal cords in the long run; I’ve had a few close calls before and have no interest in repeating that experience or winding up like either Karita Mattila or Natalie Dessay, who both required surgery to reverse the damage done.

I’m also struggling a lot with piano; I am simply not very good at it and I’m absolutely terrified I won’t do well in this class, thereby ruining my GPA and dashing all hopes of transferring wherever I want to. I haven’t had the chance to talk to Dr. D about transferring and recommendations and such yet because she’s been just as ridiculously busy as ever, but I have an appointment with a guidance counselor for next Tuesday. Here’s hoping it’ll go well.

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VICTORY IS MINE!

September 14, 2009 at 11:31 pm (Art, Fun) (, , , , , )

I have conquered the crimp tool. I can now employ crimps, the tool itself and wire in order to make more jewelry.

I have no life.

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A Curious Case

September 13, 2009 at 10:52 pm (News) (, , , , , , )

By now, the news about Caster Semenya is all over the place. My main concern with the whole deal is how poorly she (YES, SHE) was treated and how much of a disgrace the IAAF and SA Sports Management have been in the matter. It is in extremely poor taste to publicly demand gender testing and then publicize the results without contacting the person first.

All I see right now is a bunch of smug people saying, “I told you so,” because they thought Caster Semenya looked “manly.” And a lot of people, like myself, who are absolutely livid about the way Semenya’s privacy was violated. Would it not occur to officials that, oh, a young woman who – as it turns out – is intersex and still a teenager might need time to adjust to the results of her testing? Homosexuals and transgender folk go through a lot of emotional turmoil trying to figure out where they stand on their issues; why should it be any different, if not even more difficult, for someone who has been harassed about her masculine appearance her whole life?

I’m absolutely tired of people basing their opinions on her appearance. So what if she has manly features? There’s plenty of heterosexual, gender-normative women who have many attributes we would describe as masculine. I know a lot of men who have very feminine features. Appearance has absolutely nothing to do with her performance as an athlete, her right to identify as the gender she feels she is, nor has it any implication to her sex. Period. It is one dead horse I wish people would lay off. Get over yourselves; it is inappropriate and uncalled for.

Semenya is not the first nor will she be the last intersex athlete. The question is, do we really have the right to take away the one thing she loves and does best – running in competitive sports? She has always identified as female, regardless of her genitals or hormone levels. Even if she does produce more testosterone than your average female athlete, she still has lower levels than a male athlete. What are they going to do, make her compete in the Paralympics? Ban her entirely? Open up an entirely different category for transgender and intersex athletes? I do not believe it would be fair to ban her from her vocation, she didn’t deceive anyone on purpose and she was abused by officials greedy for medals to be attributed to their nation, and abused by officials wishing to call more publicity to their organization. I hope to God that poor girl is compensated somehow.

I wish this would trigger intelligent discourse, but I know it will not because the majority of humankind is stupid.

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Dogless

September 11, 2009 at 8:43 pm (Life) (, , , , , )

This state just makes me feel intensely lonely. The cat is not really the best companion you could imagine. C. doesn’t know anyone who has a friendly dog I could take for walks. One family has a dog, but she’s just as ill-tempered and unfriendly with everyone as Odin. I am terrified of applying to the local chapter of the Humane Society to be a dog handler for their shelter for fear of being rejected on the basis of everyone wanting that position.

I hate this and clearly need a job that won’t take me traveling afar, to be done with college and to live somewhere else. And all this whinging of mine makes me fear the years to come in which I probably won’t be able to own a dog.

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Week Two

September 10, 2009 at 2:02 pm (Art) (, , , , )

Life has been going well. I’m getting used to early mornings because it saves me money. I am more social and, as it turns out, have a much better ear than I thought I did. (Ear Training, Sight Singing class, that is.) I have a project on Karita Mattila, a Finnish soprano, to do. But for the sake of catharsis, I sat down in companionable silence with my landlady and we both made jewelry. PICTURES! I apologize for the awful quality. The lighting outside would have been even worse, though.

IMG_7485 I originally made this in England before I came back to the States for school. The magnet clasp, however, turned out to be fairly weak. It’s not necessarily a hefty necklace, but it certainly isn’t light, either, constructed of winter jasper and mother of pearl and God knows what else for the pendant. C. had a bunch of magnetic clasps so strong they require a warning for people with pacemakers. It did the trick, but I had to restring it while evading a cat who decided my supplies were his toys.

IMG_7484 I had winter jasper left as well as mother of pearl. It is the sister necklace to the other one; I’d prefer it found a home with a friend, so anyone reading this who thinks they might wear a fairly long rose/mauve/greenish tinted necklace with a brown pendant knows how to contact me. Made last night.

IMG_7483 Onyx and lava stone. It seemed like a good idea to my sleep-addled brain; I’m not sure I would wear it, but Lord knows people seem to wear much bigger costume jewelry these days.

IMG_7486 Blue lace agate with silver spacers, some leftover mother of pearl and GOD knows what the focus stones might be. Also done last night.

IMG_7487 The colors on this are so much nicer in person, I swear. The bad lighting and flash leaked all the gold tones out of it. This was also strung in England; gold jade with silver spacers.

IMG_7488I have a bunch of hematyte. Let me tell you, it is HARD to pair that up with anything else. It’s a black, extremely shiny stone that looks good with hardly anything. I paired it with some green jade beads I had. The green is a little brighter than can be seen here; I’m not sure I like the texture it has. I couldn’t add a focal point on this because there would have been too much going on. I figure it can be worn at Halloween or something.

IMG_7489 Blue-themed, again. I forgot what the stones were. I made this in England and made sure to close all the knots properly and glue everything off last night. So. Yeah.

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