Nobody’s hopeless, everything is broken

I woke up today and immediately saw two bits of news:

The Russian Patriarch gave Dmitry Kiselyov, Russia’s top propagandist, a church award. I was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and, even though the church has always taken orders from the government in Russia (it was never the other way around, as many people think), such acts still somehow sadden me, especially because I still go to church, and still find it a powerful experience. Churches have always been horrifyingly imperfect – I suppose they’re forever making up for it with rhetoric about hell, and casting undesirables out, etc. – but there is something about this particular church, right now, that rubs its imperfection in your face so much that it tempts you to despair. When even your conservative, God-fearing relatives are bitterly saying that “the patriarch is a bad one,” it really makes you wonder, just how bad it’s all going to get in our lifetime.

On a related (yes, related) note, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the most loud and loyal of the oprichnina, has now opened a criminal investigation against the wife of an Alexey Navalny ally (Navalny is Russia’s most prominent anti-corruption crusader; the latest politically motivated case against him will see him go away for a decade if the prosecutor has his way), who organized literary festivals. The Investigative Committee’s statements and criminal investigations oftentimes seem deliberately farcical, but the farce involves real victims, people with families. Writers are often curious about what goes on in the heads of people who victimize others in the name of carrying out orders – but the truth is, compartmentalization is an awesome tool.

I have this idea that a lot of us should be grateful to be alive in this horrible time – and not because, as the constant refrain goes, “It can always get worse.” It can, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about how this time has forced so many of us to turn mental corners we were too lazy or too scared to turn before. How this time has burrowed into our hearts like a worm, a reminder that the number of heartbeats is finite, always finite. And what will you do with your nearly imperceptible, finite heartbeats? And what will you do? Goodness, for example, can never attack, it can only defend itself. A lot of people have forgotten about that right now, but one day, they’ll remember.

Every day is a chance to turn it around. Every day that we are alive. Tick tock. Don’t despair. Don’t despair. You’ve no right.

A few words on harlotry, the marriage industrial complex and Steven Crowder

It has come to my attention recently that some guy named Steven Crowder got married – and, for some reason, used that as a chance to launch into a massive diatribe about sluts and harlots and what have you. It was picked up my Jezebel and much hilarity involving gifs ensued.

My initial reaction to Crowder’s piece is also best summed up with a gif:

(Sent to me by a friend who sends me great gifs – and lotsa random porn to freak me out while I’m working. I salute you, brother.)

Then I read this discussion of Crowder’s um, joyful missive from the Ever After – as well as checked out Crowder’s own Twitter – and it got me thinking. About Crowder, whom I still wish all of the happiness in the world (although, if you ask me, launching into a mocking tirade about other people’s sex lives is a funny way of showing that you’re in the throes of wedded bliss), but also about our culture’s extreme Marriage Mythology.

Truth is, I know a fair amount of people who have chosen to wait to have sex. And a fair amount of people who were virgins on their wedding night. It’s just Their Way and not something to comment on beyond that, for me. That’s not really the issue here.

The issue is – the Marriage Mythology requires your wedding to be The Happiest Day of Your Life™. And if you read between the lines, happiness actually signals a kind of unreality. It can’t be a regular human experience, it has to be something Beyond That.

And there is an entire industry built around this supposition. This is why otherwise normal people will suddenly break down when confronted with the fact that their wedding invitations, the ones that were supposed to be eggshell white, actually turned out to be more like cream white. 

And abstinence is, in many ways, a kind of niche industry. You have people writing books about it. Or those who, like Crowder, write columns about it. You have people teaching abstinence education and massive abstinence campaigns with passionate-sounding slogans such as True Love Waits, slogans that are used on official jewelry and apparel and what have you.

Abstinence is industrialized the way that sex is also industrialized. Both of these narratives are packaged like a De Beers commercial. And both need each other – one is irrelevant without the other.

So beating your chest and celebrating your own decision to remain “pure” until marriage while simultaneously blasting the sluts and whores who haven’t followed your shining example is actually a pretty awesome career move. It’s a bit like coming out with an in-your-face commercial that people will talk about long after the Super Bowl is over. You’re stumping – but no one will notice unless you take a major swipe at the competition.

But let’s get real here – and talk about the actual human beings involved in making such a decision.

While I totally understand that people in the wedding (and the abstinence!) industries need to eat, ya’ll, I don’t think that using a marriage ceremony as a chance to impress other people is healthy for your relationship. I like the notion of a public celebration as dedicated to commitment and love – and for certain, there are different ways to express that. Some are more expensive than others. Sometimes, the bride is extremely lucky to take advantage of a great aunt’s vintage jewelry and post-Christmas sales events (*cough*). Some people cannot imagine a wedding ceremony without the participation of big fucking elephants – and to them I say right on.

But people like Steven Crowder here go on to frame their wedding and their wedding night as one big “HAHA FUCK YOU” to the folks who taunted him about being abstinent and I… am a little disturbed by that, I guess? Imagine if I met and married a football player – and then wrote a gloating column addressed to all of the jocks who didn’t see fit to invite me to any of our high school dances. Take THAT, fellas!

Yep, it would make me seem like a totally cool and well-adjusted human being. And one who is certainly mature enough to embark on what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment.


P.S. What’s the deal with Crowder’s weirdly competitive insistence that the people his wife and he encountered during breakfast must have had some sort of shitty wedding – and are clearly just pathetic shits in general? Like, “MWAHAHAHA, DUDE DIDN’T COME DOWN FOR BREAKFAST, BET HE WAS A DRUNKEN ASSHOLE AT HIS OWN RECEPTION.” Yeah, ’cause that’s totally what I would assume as well – as opposed to giggling inappropriately about what a great wedding night those two probably had.

“Oh, you’re RELIGIOUS”

Mom and Lyovka and I. Lyovka's Christening. Kiev. Summer 2011.

I think religion can be pretty ridiculous. That’s why I’m part of one, truth be told. I believe the existence of the universe points to the existence of a God – and said God has a sense of humour. Just look at babies. And dark matter. And the craziness associated with both.

At the christening this past summer, I remember worrying that Lev would poop himself during the proceedings. I remember the disapproval of the lady at the church service desk – Alexey and I being too uppity and “counter-culture” for her taste. I realized that the reason we took our son to be christened was, in part, the reason as to why we love life: life’s batshit nuts and full of contradictions. All you can do sometimes is stand with a lit candle in front of an icon and pray for the best,

Also, lol.

So I read Janet Reitman’s “Inside Scientology” recently

And have been slow to put up anything up about it – mostly because I’m, you know, a mother to an infant, a full-time working journalist, and kind of a proper playwright nowadays as well.

The book has stayed with me, though, and I feel compelled to say at least something, if not write a proper review.

I think we all ought to be grateful to Reitman for attempting to write a dispassionate book on the Church of Scientology. I understand that a lot of the teachings of Scientology are supposed to be this Terribly Important Secret, but as both a member and a fan of the Russian Orthodox Church in all of its wacky glory, it seems to me that Scientology is really no more insane than the rest of humanity’s major cults. I still think L. Ron Hubbard was mostly a con artist (based on the compelling evidence put together by the writers at one of my favourite websites), but certainly some of the stuff he wrote ended up helping a lot of people and whatever, more power to them. And for all of the people who are bitching and moaning about how Scientology made Tom Cruise into a weirdo – no. Just no. Dude was always a weirdo. You can see it in his smile from way back when. Scientology just helped him get in touch with the inner freak inside.

Still, Reitman is right to point out that the way Scientology is currently run makes it ripe for criticism – both from random outsiders who are staring at it in that whole “check out this fascinating slo-mo trainwreck” type of way, and from ex-members. So I’m betting that there will be proper Protestant Scientologists and Puritan Scientologists and, you know, Calvinist Scientologists soon enough, i.e. the church is splitting.

People looking for Shocking! Horrifying! Facts! are probably going to be disappointed with Reitman. She doesn’t trade a whole lot on rumour and her tone is dry. Perhaps the biggest revelation here is that for a non-believer, Scientology is really not that fascinating – in a sense that non-believers who are looking to be fascinated are going to gravitate towards reading about fringe cults who sacrifice their elderly to Jeff, the God of Biscuits, instead.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Scientology is how, by virtue of a whole lot of secrecy, church leadership has managed to cover up the fact that it’s fairly bland. Even if you account for all of that Xenu and exploding volcanoes stuff. In a world that already has Kali and Hades and stoning evil apostates – is Scientology really that impressive? I guess the price-tags for some of the spiritual packages it offers surely are. In this economy, anyway.

Boobquake revisited

Reading this comment from Sarah on the subject, I am reminded of how the issues surrounding the pseudo-religious slut-shaming of women are not just issues that happen to “people over there.” Plenty of us experience directly, regardless of our personal religious beliefs, or lack thereof. I experienced it on a regular basis in Jordan, for example. Though I am also saying this as a fairly religious person myself – one who goes to church on a regular basis, and covers her head when she does so.

As I mentioned in my previous post – no, Boobquake was not a serious action. Neither was it inclusive. But it was also a preposterous response to a preposterous statement and as such, I believe it worked.

Ironically enough, one of the people to call my attention to Boobquake on Facebook was a Muslim friend who, although a fairly conservative dresser and not planning on participating herself, thought I might find it “fun” and “[my] cup of tea.” She read me correctly, of course. It certainly wasn’t her cup of tea, not by a long shot. While I don’t believe that trotting out one of your friends at a moment like this makes for any sort of argument – I did appreciate the sentiment behind this. This is a person who has intimate knowledge of just how badly I struggled with issues of both self-image and safety while living in Jordan. She knew I would immediately relate.

There isn’t one correct way to respond to slut-shaming, after all. People have different arsenals, and use them the best way they know how. Does this somehow negate white Western privilege? Well, uh, no. But it can lead to points of contact for us all.

Also, here’s a beautiful, wonderful, a little scary and fairly NSFW Monica Bellucci gif. Because, any excuse, really. Any excuse:

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