26 November 2009

Black Friday: A Satire of Sorts

For an in-depth spoof on American culture, checkout Body Ritual among the Nacirema.

In the spirit of the Nacirema, and especially of the holiday, here is a satire I wrote a couple years back:

In order to appropriately perform the Black Friday ritual, participants must embody the Spirit of Backhoe-Snake. This spirit is perceived as the only conduit to the venerated Bargain god. The Spirit of Backhoe-Snake empowers participants to bulldoze the less-fit and to slither craftily among all. The goal is to secure a modern, discounted prize to which participants have ascribed sacred value. Some participants stay awake all night in preparation, dismantling and dicing their newspapers for divine vouchers. Others stock up on tryptophan, rest early on, and rise during untimely hours of the morning.

Participants form lines outside of locked shop doors hours before they open. Some employ folding chairs to conserve corporal energy. The chair acts as a bodily reinforcement prop as well as a symbol of line status. Once the opening hour dawns, participants abandon their prior parameters (a single line) and amalgamate their bodies (we have yet to discover the fate of the chairs). This new and impulsive fusion slowly filters through the doors, as pious participants begin driving elbows, fists, and tepid coffee cups into one another.

Once the mass enters the store, it quickly diffuses. The ritual consists next of destroying store displays, tossing products into the air, and shoving fellow believers around until faces hit tile. The yearly ritual requires further physical exertion, such as running, crawling, heaving, and bellowing profanities deep from the pit of one’s innards.

Together, these ceremonial practices reveal participants’ fundamental belief in the holiness of the hunt. By performing the Black Friday ritual, participants show ultimate reverence for the Bargain god to whom they devote all their spirited labors, time, and capital.

11 October 2009

Senioritis >Exposed<

My roommates and I think we’ve put our finger on it. Senioritis isn’t giving up, it’s probably the biggest compliment we could offer our respective institutions. When we seniors have figured out the system so well, and acquired the capacity to critically examine everything about everything, including our own higher education, then by golly, we’ve finally come of age.

Making study guides for tests isn’t rational, it’s an empty ritual we loathe for rational reasons. We know we’re studying for the grade, we know we won’t be demonstrating our true knowledge, we know we’ll just be stressing for hours the night before, all for a 50 minute freehand purge of ephemeral bullet points.

Yes, the biggest compliment, the biggest exhibition of knowledge this college will ever see, is my senioritis. On the surface, it’s perceived a lack of focus. To those who know better, it’s the greatest degree of focus one can attain. We see through the bull and skillfully prioritize sources of influence and power: our conscience, our values, our futures, our friendships, respect, grade point averages, participation points, syllabi, final exams, quizzes, etc. Academia becomes frustrating because we know better than to study for studying’s sake. We know better than to study for something that deviates from our coming of age-ness.

So be flattered, professors. When I roll my eyes, hand in something late, or don’t show up to class, give yourself a deserved pat on the back. Calling out superfluous requirements, deeming tasks futile for my life, and exercising my right to procrastinate are mere testaments of a job well done in teaching critical thinking.

Together then, let us celebrate the merits of senioritis and all those working to uphold its integrity.

25 September 2009

I Am Person; Hear Me Roar

My professor asked me bluntly the other day if I was a feminist. His tone seemed rather neutral, but the tone in my head associated with that word—“feminist”— was not. “Maaybe,” I said sheepishly, but with certain “yes” undertones. He laughed an awkward laugh, as did I, and we continued on to discuss the film Killing Us Softly (1979).

Although I have not seen the original film, our class watched Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 3 from 1999. Kilbourne’s lecture focuses on advertising’s image of women, particularly in American society. Kilbourne critically analyzes the objectification and compartmentalization of the woman’s body in popular culture through various visual media. In class, the reactions ranged from epiphany to cynicism, from humorless stares to humorous disbelief. “I think she overreacted,” said one girl. “Some of these images are just ‘artsy’” (referring to a sexualized, emaciated, battered woman photo narrative in some magazine).

In the same class earlier that week, our professor asked us to construct the typology of an “ideal wife.” Traits such as honesty, faithfulness, attractiveness, wealth, patience, and intelligence were suggested and marked on the board. Before we were able to deconstruct the notion of “ideal culture”—beliefs and practices infused with cultural values that are not actually “natural” nor easily achieved—a young man shouted out, “She doesn’t have to be smart!” He threw his head back as people around him chuckled over such obvious guile.

I am a feminist, and the bad rep the word has somehow acquired is just another reason for me to support and flaunt its significance. I sheepishly regret my sheepish admittance to “maaybe” being a feminist. Actually, I’m a full-fledged individual with a stanch belief in feminism. If believing in the equality of all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., is seen negatively, and the fight for that equality seems melodramatic, then I am still living in a time when women’s rights aren’t being taken seriously. I am not talking about U.S. legal rights per se, but about the intellectual and social equity rights of individuals in the midst of their gendered, mediated paradigms.

A hyper-sexualized or hyper-compartmentalized ad about how to improve my body is disrespectful to my personhood. The new Special K campaign “Jeans Don’t Lie” discloses, “The best way to tell how you look great is in your jeans. Drop a jean size in 2 weeks.” it commands. There isn’t even an exclamation point after the statement, to lighten the blow of the fact that my jeans are telling me something depressing. There is a period at the end of this sentence; it is very matter of fact and very isolated. It is saying my ass can be helped; therefore, I as a woman (not person) can be helped. I am reduced to a lump of cellulite far from that other, more productive lump, my brain.

When recurring carbon copies of “nice” figures, or just severed-off parts of those figures, saturate our media, they saturate the socializing process. Moreover, categories of different (yet narrow) “womanhoods” are formed and imbued with self-deprecating text to complement the carbon copies. In the October issue of Cosmopolitan, the feature “Don’t Get Bitten by the Office Bitch” eloquently confirms that my gender in fact possesses the “bitches” of humanity. “A new survey found that 1 in 4 workers is willing to sink their fangs into you to get ahead. Even worse, more research shows it’s likely to be an office gal pal—not one of the guys. We help you spot the conniver…and muzzle her” (italics mine). There are 5 bitch categories Cosmopolitan demarcates for me so I know how to successfully silence other women, no matter their class of bitchiness, and silence them like the dogs that, via association, we are. Although the magazine probably hopes to empower female pushovers by targeting our gender’s “delinquents,” it instead reinforces the reckless mutt condition of which we are (most) capable AND the condition of our other half—helpless and vulnerable women in the workplace.

Intragender (Office Bitches) conflict does not empower; it solidifies a regimented defining system that still caters to a patriarchical and dualistic structure. Intrapersonal conflict (Special K Challenge) does not empower; it redefines (often in a sexist, dehumanizing way) measurements of value and self-worth. What empower are individuals realizing personhood, and through that, the right to equality in all areas of life, not just in policy handbooks and rhetoric.

I am a person who is female by nature, and feminist by conviction. So next time I’m asked whether or not I’m a feminist, I will purposefully respond ‘Yes’ – knowing fully the risk of meeting judgment from others, but knowing also the greater risk of stifling a personhood, and ultimately, fellow personhoods seeking change.

08 September 2009

Mimesis Sale

The colorful flurry that is the Annual Poster Sale at Messiah College ends today. I bought 3 posters for my blank, tack-compliant walls: two are Andy Warhol prints with wistful quotes, the other, a very artsy brown collage of triangles and swirls that form a center ascending swirly tree. I realize this means nothing to you (yet), but I still dished out $24 for these three pieces of paper, rashly spoiled by tiny corner tack holes.

If the poster sale was year-round, I would petition to change my senior thesis to examine this public phenomenon. But I suppose the rush of transience is something that makes this 2 DAY ONLY sale at least partially so appealing. But what makes the rest of it so darn appealing? Students from all years, all majors, and all styles meet in the commons to flip through awkward and robust poster books—the cheapest and smallest of these priced at $6. The commons in Eisenhower transforms from open lounge space to a space for visual and material consumption for the purpose of filling one’s own space with right imagery. From James Dean and Jamaica to Buddha and The Godfather, images of many shapes and sizes envelop a rectangle of tables by the mailboxes. The two cashiers have thick exotic accents; each year they do. But each year, I still have no idea who they are, where this business was started, and how it got affiliated with our Human Development and Family Sciences Department sponsoring the sale. But none of this seems to matter.

What matters is the magical usage these images have for people. I picked out three flat material posters, and it took some time, more than one trip, to decide on the right images. The images do something more than resonate with my life; they capture an elusive power gained by entering into them. Michael Taussig writes in his book, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses, about an “active yielding of the perceiver in the perceived—the perceiver trying to enter into the picture and become one with it, so that the self is moved by the representation into the represented.”

Maybe this concept is a bit too harebrained and imaginary for the annual poster sale. Maybe anthropologist Michael Taussig, both fanatically worshiped and fervently hated depending on the group, is generally a bit too harebrained himself. But I believe my image browsing yesterday and today was shaped by cultural notions of individualism and representation. In turn, my decision to actually consume the images was shaped by the “original” (or perceived original) power captured by them, by entering into them. These posters are faithful “copies” of me, not because of their physical likenesses (there are none), but because of their self-extending faculties. We extend ourselves beyond our physical selves via other products too: Facebook, Blogs, wardrobes, cars, even majors (e.g. a student of Sociology and Anthropology). All of these production technologies provide powerful means for self-extension.

So whether you have “found” yourself in Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, or the products of Salvador Dali, more power to ya. I could shame us all for being so shallow and consuming culture so irresponsibly. I could deconstruct the poster consumption chain or unpack the cultural logic behind my indulgences, if I had time. But instead, I'll just hang my posters, empowered by their sentiments and character with which I identify.

27 August 2009

Change I Can Believe In: (Mall of) America

1. An end to pairing the words “low” and “rise” on $60 jean tags, or any jean tags for that matter
2. A relocation of the pet store, currently situated in the Millcreek Mall's food court
3. A carpeted mallway, with shock resistant coils and/or free pedicure stations
4. A two-way lane system; U-turns permitted ONLY when trying to avoid hovering mall surveyors
5. An end to pairing the words “ultra” and “low” before “rise” on anything...ever.

02 August 2009

Gender Bender

Think you’re hot enough? asks a Taco Bell application for employment, picturing a single female manager on the front, wearing colorful clothing, cowgirl boots, hair down; and on the inside cover, the same woman in business pants, a tucked-in shirt, hair back.

Abby Richter is a romantically-challenged morning show producer whose search for Mr. Perfect has left her hopelessly single. She's in for a rude awakening when her bosses team her with Mike Chadway, a hardcore TV personality who promises to spill the ugly truth on what makes men and women tick, states Sony Pictures on its summer must-see film, The Ugly Truth.

These two culturally-ordinary excerpts share one thing in common: they are both unabashedly gendered.

Taco Bell doesn’t suggest that men should pass the hotness test to reach managerial status. Now, I love a good play on words (Taco Bell sells hot foods and hot sauces), but subtly challenging young women to prove their spiciness for employment seems at the very least one-sided (and ultimately a mediocre wordplay). An equally-gendered application asking whether or not you’re macho enough is missing. After all, this male-female, mars-venus, truth-emotion divide is real. The hotness question isn’t meant for men--it’s meant for the Gender commissioned to achieve equal shares of sexiness and independence, two ingredients that make for today’s hot enough woman (overseeing your fast food orders).

In The Ugly Truth, Mike Chadway gives Abby Richter a similarly enlightening commission: “You have to be two people, the saint and the sinner, the librarian and the stripper.” Luckily, Abby heeds Mike’s advice and proceeds to snag the ultimate catch, her new surgeon neighbor modeling an obvious spray-on tan.

Well there it is, the ugly truth that so many romantically-challenged, hopelessly single women have been missing out on! Thank God for Mike Chadway and his fearless crossing into the wilderness called femaleness. Abby is romantically-challenged because she works too hard. She is in a position of power, but lacks the sex side, her true other half. She is hopeless because her relationship strategies are outdated, stiff, and cleavage-deficient. But now, if only she can embody two people, the ultimate combo (meal) for men, her efforts will help her achieve ideal man-prey status.

Okay, okay, if you have seen the film (even if you haven't but you've seen at least 1 chic-flick in your life), we all know at some point it has to ease the woman-power rage it’s meant to stir. It has to show a soft side to Mike Chadway that explains his crudeness and makes women pity his splintered soul. Poor dejected Chadway; all he seeks is love, but because he’s been hurt in the past, all this “ugly truth” talk helps him cope.

Of course then, Abby realizes she hasn’t been herself with the surgeon, breaks it off with him (in a dramatic scene in which she removes her hair-extension piece), and falls head over heels for the man who’s been coaching her split-personality all along.

While the end seems to rectify all our haughty gut reactions to the film’s deluge of gender stereotypes , the ugly truth remains very gendered, perhaps just less unabashedly now. Floating up towards the heavens in a hot air balloon, Mike confesses his love for Abby, even though she is a "psycho aggressive freak." "I just told you I loved you and all you can concentrate on is [I can’t really remember, but something surely only a ‘woman’ would focus on]."

So in spite of our polarity, we can love each other, even if we don’t necessarily ever truly understand. The ugly truth we women got offended by early on is smoothed over by a “better” truth, one that says even though men and women are genuinely so different, love can be found and good sex can be had. But the underlying, "objective" truth still remains: men are from mars, and women, from whatever psycho planet we spawn from.

Is truth then the word we should really apply to the great gender divide-- a split made possible, graphic, and o so convincing by our desire to demarcate it? This divide is historical, cultural--that means it’s in our hands; it always has been. We construct what makes something more masculine than feminine, what makes a man effeminate, and therefore, less of a “true” man, and vice versa.

Perhaps the only ugly truth is the simple fact that gender norms are constructed--both authored and authorized by intricate cultural processes. The two-fold ideal wrapped up in today’s “hot”--that is, embodying both sexiness and power, both cowgirl swagger and management smarts-- is painted on our Taco Bell applications by human agents, not some organic, gender-policing force we have no control over. Gender is not black and white; it’s a complex, fluid product that we commodify, normalize, and entertain large audiences with.

Maybe it’s time to throw down our popcorn tubs from our separate planets and meet back on earth, start conversing, and work harder for personhoods based on individual qualities rather than gender models that usually piss most of us off anyways.

04 July 2009


  1. How to Turn Your Child's Attitude in One Minute or Less program
  2. The deluge of Made in China U.S. flags swamping our neighborhood lawns
  3. The man occupying my usual booth and thwarting my power cord usage, who talks and laughs like the Penguin from Batman
  4. A coffee shop with advertised FREE WIFI but a total of two electrical outlets
  5. THIS SONG, which Philadelphia has been over for months, but Erie thinks is just the coolest
  6. And THIS SONG
  7. In sum, pop radio
  8. Seeing your HS basketball coach, whom you got fired, at the same nightlife spot as you
  9. Writer’s reluctance, not just block
  10. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center, which used to be a Drive In, and could have brought many more dollars to Erie if it had just stayed one
  11. Potholes
  12. Road construction to fix them
  13. Decelerating metabolism
  14. Accelerating languor
  15. Reader's reluctance, despite just ordering a super blog-worthy book: Why I am Not a Scientist: Anthropology and Modern Knowledge by Jonathan Marks

27 June 2009

'Our' Extreme Makeover

Ty Pennington, star of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is in Erie this week. But more importantly, a deserving family will be receiving a brand new home on Thursday. When the cast of a major network program coasts into your hometown, it’s a big deal. The hype that ABC’s presence creates has been so enormous, but I’m sure this happens in every city it strikes. Who wouldn’t want to catch a glimpse of a People Magazine-stamped most eligible bachelor? But more importantly, who wouldn’t want to call out “Bus Driver, Move That Bus!” and watch a family swell with emotion, gratitude, and joy over their new home?

The narratives people use and craft to make sense of this whole episode (literally I suppose) have been fascinating. One the one hand, the city is stoked, volunteers are abundant, billboards are up. Maleno Development has established a new Family-to-Family Fund at the Erie Community Foundation. The show has definitely stirred the city and unleashed an adrenaline rush for volunteerism and “our community.” We are lucky to have this happen to our community.

On the other, people question the future for this family. In a meeting completely unrelated to the project, my superiors started speaking about it with wide eyes and gossip-brushed tones.
So many people end up losing the homes;
they can’t afford it;
I hope they don’t run into financial trouble.

They then went on to talk about how the materials are paid for.
I don’t think the show pays for them;
OH reeeally?;
I think the money we can bid ($10 per chance to win a private tour of the home and/or the highest bid for a chance to ride “that bus”) goes to paying for materials;
Oh, this show is a huge cash cow.

The material theory was all speculation, so it was interesting to watch the conversation progress. By the end, everyone had settled on that presumption, shaking their heads. Nevertheless, we as ECF staff are still volunteering for the project with the hope that everything will work out in the end.

I’m not saying either of these opinions is good or bad, right or wrong, because we convey stories of luck and miracles or skepticism and concern to understand reality, develop opinions, and spawn solidarity with others. But I think recognizing these various sides to the extreme makeover build is crucial for “our community,” one that is visibly segregated economically and racially as so many are. A neighborhood cleanup once a year in commemoration of the project won’t be enough to makeover the disparities so embedded in our cities. This family's financial path should remain a hands-on concern for us, not just a prayer.

I hope we recognize what groups we assign to “our community” when we say it. I imagine the meaning and image of “our community” has significantly shifted for many since that big bus rolled into town; I imagine it now includes classes or individuals we never directly pictured as “ours.” So can the thriving volunteer spirit and camaraderie with groups whose paths we probably never before crossed last beyond the Bus Move rally on Thursday? I certainly hope so.

Along with physical development, I hope Erie has the savvy to develop its relationships, loosen its boundaries, and work to keep every person on the same plane of value, beyond Ty’s (unfortunate) departure. After the adrenaline crashes, I hope that Bus Move chutzpah stays vibrant, curious, and always extreme for our community.

23 June 2009

In the words of harrison647

"Why did I watch this in the middle of June?!
Oh yeah, because It's just so great!"

Monoculturalism, mass consumption, and mountain suburbia.

I criticize, but alas, I too am a sap for nostalgic Christmas consumerism. (And very intentionally sought this commercial out in the middle of June).

20 June 2009

Why I love traffic, seriously!

Sometimes, traffic is overwhelming. Cars get friendly with my Chevy's tail bone, a driver turns left at the most inconvenient time, a truck blinks its four-ways because it’s oversized and can’t go faster than 20 mph, and I’m late for work.

Watching the light in the distance turn yellow is the most frustrating of all. When that distance is roughly 30 feet and I'm the frontrunner of the traffic pack, I cleave to my brake pedal in anger. It's overwhelming to catch the closing stages of yellow.

But getting to why I love traffic.

I love traffic because I have trained myself to follow the rules of road. I love it because when I look around, so many are frustrated but so many respect the manmade system. Three colors, bold-faced print, and lots of octagons were built to ensure our safety, and we follow them blindly (hopefully not literally) because we recognize the value in keeping to these canons. It's overwhelming (in a good, refreshing way) that we follow symbols, even if we despise them at 7:58 a.m., because it attests to something seriously admirable about humanity.

I've had this theory for a good while. It makes my commute anywhere more meaningful and quainter. Of course I recognize the tragedies that do occur, and the flaws an inanimate symbol system possesses for very animate actors. But at least in my experience, people abide by the system because it not only protects them but it protects others. Recognizing that facet, and choosing to honor the lives of others, even if subconsciously, says something big and worthy about us.

I love traffic because that idea overwhelms and enthralls me. Who would have thought the golden rule carried over to exasperating traffic lines, break slamming, and the obnoxious timing of yellow?

13 June 2009

Anthropology Audits

This place (PIGallery Coffeehouse) is getting popular. Four middle-aged women are cackling over specialty iced teas and sandwiches. It took me awhile to connect to the internet; a woman has taken my regular spot (as regular as that seat I've sat in once before and decided it was mine is). This place is someone’s dream. The owner is chatting casually with customers; I haven’t been coming here long enough to invite her to my booth for a heart-to-heart yet. Maybe some Saturday in the future.

My second week in the business world, I’ve found myself quite occupied by none other than my nosy anthropological antennae. Of course I'm here to learn, but I'm more than interested in the way employees interact with one another; the social spaces they manipulate; the tones of conversation that occur when the boss is out. The world inside the office is fascinating; it’s a culture with specific codes everyone seems to be aware of. Comfort levels vary; gossip levels vary; even places and times of physical convening vary based on who’s there, what the workday brings, what fight is breaking out among those 10 or so neighborhood girls who regularly shout forth vulgarities in the street.

Other than spilling the paper holepunch, and discretely scurrying on all fours to clean the mess up (see June 12 post below), I've certainly been busy with actual work this week. The feds are coming to audit 5 of HANDS’ properties, and we have been scrambling to get books together with all the needed, signed, official-looking (because they are) documents. All I can picture is the crew from Men in Black arriving to Erie via batmobile transit. They storm in with gun-modeled pens, dark sunglasses they never remove, and a dog named Frank that is actually a talking extraterrestrial well-versed in HUD policies and procedures.

I brought this image up to my supervisor, and she laughed. “They are actually really really nice,” she said. “But that’s why you have to be careful!” I.e. they have a way with making you feel you can trust them, so you might let something slip in conversation that HUD auditors didn’t necessarily need to hear (at least from the perspective of the org. under scrutiny). Even this short remark clued me in on some office policies stated nowhere in writing. (But maybe these are just common policies, understood across all businesses, all human nature, when one is being "audited" for anything. I know I'd certainly watch what I say, do, scratch, etc. )

Catherine Kingfisher’s ethnography Women in the American Welfare Trap is an insightful look at similar workplace politics. Hierarchical and oppressive are two modifiers she uses to describe the welfare system in Michigan. Two groups, workers and recipients both, resist and accommodate policy in attempts to navigate requirements set in place from the people or laws above them (recipient to worker; worker to supervisor; worker to official policy; recipient to official policy; etc.). These tenets however aren’t all really official. For example, pockets of workers actually produce unofficial meaning and “policy” training for future workers. Office and outside social exchanges “provide informal training for [welfare] workers on how to make sense of and handle the various situations they encounter in their work” (125).

I imagine these kinds of interactions happen in every work space, and the formative power they carry is something vital for organizations to consider. The trend now is to hire internal communication auditors to come in and assess your work place’s internal communication. I don’t know how long these people stay with organizations, but props to anthropologists for no doubt starting the trend.

In our field, our trend is multi-site ethnography. We no longer just stay in one place and paraphrase a culture seemingly unaffected by outside forces. (I'm staying in one place this summer, so an unofficial, uni-site, virtually recorded ethnography [i.e. this blog] will simply have to do.) To understand internal communication, we must also understand external interactions, perceptions, and relations. We must 'audit' official and unofficial policies, issues of external and internal power relations, community perspective, history, and heck, even globalization, even in Erie. It’s a lot more work, but something we anthropology undergrads might want to start marketing about ourselves...especially with the number of anthropology job openings out there.

10 June 2009

Intern-al Woes

As an early-rising intern, my insides are being challenged...most literally.

I am incapable of arriving early for work; I usually pull in at HANDS by 8:01/02, usually by 8:31/32 at ECF. But every morning, I think I’m doing better. At the moment I decide I’m doing better, that I don’t need to rush out, that is when I should immediately start rushing.

My mom knows this about me; she knows when I say I’ll pack my lunch for work, this means I’ll grab an apple and 100 calorie snack pack on my way out because I won’t have time to make a sandwich. I ate an apple and clementine for lunch my first day at ECF. Today, I had Dunkaroos for breakfast at my desk, shielding the top wrapper behind my purse so no one would see and have to hold back obvious disapproval.

On top of sour intestines, my sleeping patterns still revolve around my 10:40 a.m. class, my “I’m young and restless” pride, and those basic principles of summer break (i.e. sleep in, sun bathe, stay out late). So, my head gets weary, my stomach and taste buds, bitter, and my knees, stiff, from intern heels, air conditioned spaces, and the static bent-knee posture of the desk intern.

Practical advice for myself that I came up with all on my own:

1. Go to bed earlier.
2. Wake up earlier.
3. Don't ball up and throw dress pants, shirts, cardigans, etc. on the cat-hairy floor so you don't have to iron and heavily lint-roll them in the morning.
4. Pack a lunch the night before.

06 June 2009

The Intern Diaries: Introduction

My first week of double-interning is over. I am working with the Erie Community Foundation and Housing and Neighborhood Development Service for the next couple months. I am excited to be a part of both these wonderful organizations, and I will actually be blogging for ECF! So, I commission you to go forth and read it.

I came up with the clever title of Intern Diaries just before searching Google to see if I was really that original. Fail. Many interns before me have tagged their experiences identically, but I shall nonetheless stick by it.

I wanted to bullet some of my very interny, inelegant moments from the first week. So, here they are, for your reading and scoffing pleasure:

  • Upon arriving at my first professional event sponsored in part by ECF, I sat in the Ambassador Center parking lot and watched very sleek business men and women enter through the doors. Dubbed a “Poverty Simulation” aimed at opening community members’ eyes to low income residents’ day to day toils, the event attracted potential donors, i.e. people with money. I, in my Tommy Hilfiger zip-up, jeans, and flip flops, thus panicked. I couldn’t be late; that would reflect poorly. But I couldn’t go in like this. So, I opened the trunk, still very unpacked from college, found two very wrinkled pieces of clothing—a black cardigan and simple white v-neck—and employed my large bottle of Dollar General wrinkle release in a hasty manner. Stretching the wrinkles out of the cardigan against my steering wheel, I managed to straighten up a little before going in. “Nice save!” texted mother. The flip-flops were still rather shoddy though.
  • On HANDS day 1, I managed to pour myself the last cup’s worth of coffee from the communal coffee pot, and the CEO came around the corner at this exact moment. I was with my supervisor, and she was scrambling to make/show me how to make a new pot. “It’s his number 1 pet peeve when the coffee is out.”
  • On official day 2 at ECF, I battled with a monster of a copy machine. With four trays and randomized, alternating tray features, the machine outclassed me. I had to do double-siding printing, which meant my re-inserting papers in the correct direction in one of four trays. After many wasted pages, I finally figured out I could select which tray to print from. But even when I did this, the machine turned on me and produced more waste. I ended up with a 3-inch stack—not an exaggeration—of wasted pages, which I hid in my bottom desk drawer and will take home in inconspicuous segments over the next 2 months.
  • “What would you like to pursue after you get your degree?” asked my supervisor at HANDS. “Well, I’m not quite sure; that’s why I want to learn about this kind of work.” I told her about my studies in urban anthropology, social policy, and such, and went on to say, “I’m really interested in public housing work.” Calmly, she responded, “Well, we are a private housing organization…” Flustered I replied, “Well, yah, right, yah...”
  • Deciding to exit most professionally and gracefully from ECF on copy machine-nightmare day, I turned my head to direct a goodbye to the president sitting in his office. In doing so, I managed to crash my right foot into another staff member’s desk, and draw much attention to my intern existence. “Oh, I’m running into things,” I said in poor attempts at humiliation remedy. The Programs Director was also watching, lips pinched, from her office.

PIG Writing

Today is a step towards writer status—a day I pack up the laptop, emit pollution through my exhaust, and nestle in at an end booth at the Presque Isle Gallery Coffeehouse. With medium coffee-of-the-day in dangerously close proximity to my keyboard, a chocolate muffin, and the company of only two other patrons (1 mother, 1 screaming child), I begin my writing session as so often seen in the movies.

As I binge food and purge thoughts, I am reminded of all the fit people I passed biking or running down this way. To justify my very stationary activity, I squint out the window at whirling white fluffies, allergens just waiting to attack my sinuses, and nod a nod of certitude.

The child is quacking now, in between folky beats, and my muffin is half gone. I assume real writers who do this kind of thing aren’t actually recording their experience in the coffee house. But, it seems fitting on my first day. Or maybe this is actually just a manifestation of writer’s block—dissecting and recording material details in a flowery fashion.

I am down to the bottom of my mug and have to force-swallow tepid swigs. A lightbulb just went off, not literally, but figuratively. (Yay, we’re getting somewhere!) Those candlewarmers that we college students have to use in dorms because of fire safety should be installed/embedded in coffeehouse tabletops. Heated coasters to keep your coffee warm if you are a sipper like me! Someday, when I own my dream coffee/sweets shop, you will see and use these. And each gulp will be evenly satisfying.

I just blew a piece of chocolate muffin into the cracks between my keys, in attempts to blow it off my silvery wrist shelf. The music has turned to smooth, classic, jazzy. This is where I’ll be writing on Saturday mornings. I decided on PIG Coffeehouse (charming, eh?) before the summer started, and I am eager to move beyond fieldsite description in the following weeks.

Stay tuned!

05 June 2009

Wake Up Call

When mother called and asked if I would be at the house by 4:45 p.m. in order to wake her husband, my step-father, who doesn’t officially live there anymore, but sleeps in the recliner more than occasionally, and needed to be somewhere at 5:00, I was irritated. I was just leaving work, after a full day, looking forward to crashing on grandma’s couch for more than 15 minutes.

I didn’t want to be anyone’s personal alarm.

“He won’t wake up to a phone,” she said. “And I can’t be there because I have to be at grandma’s. Gerlach’s is dropping off the riding lawn mower tonight and,” gibber, jabber, etc.

I felt like screaming, especially when we intersected at grandma’s and she kept checking her watch. “Well, why don’t you get home and let the cats out,” she hinted, since grandma knows nothing about her moved-out husband’s recurrent appearances.

Well, WHY DOESN’T HE LEARN HOW TO WAKE UP TO AN ALARM LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD, I thought to myself, and managed to voice snarkily over the phone to Jason.

In a very composed, smart-alecky tone, he replied (most anthropologically), “Well, who decided everyone must be capable of waking up via alarm?” I.e., who authorized this standard we now just take for granted, a norm naturalized by a high-speed, mechanical generation?

As much as I wanted to pout in that moment, I sighed a sigh of gratification. For two reasons:

1. Even though Jason was no doubt taunting my usual approach to such constructed norms, he managed to appropriate it, call me out on my unfounded resentment, and demonstrate that, in fact, he does listen.

2. I don’t need or want the world to be trained by maddening cell alarms anyway.

24 May 2009

Evil Empty Pews?

On the seventh Sunday of Easter, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church had about 30 attendees. Mid-sermon, our interim pastor touched on the message we’ve so often heard: be in the world but not of it. She looked out into the “handful” of members who chose to come this morning, and recited other Sunday morning, particularly holiday weekend Sunday morning, choices available: the beach, our cozy beds, bargain shopping, visiting with family and friends.

She followed this list with an unsettling remark: “The powers of evil have figured out how to keep people from assembling together and worshipping.”

She then added some bit on our sinful consumerist lifestyles, the “incursion of evil” in our daily routines. She went on to delineate things we can do to really show the loving face of Christ to others, to really make a “real difference.”

I started writing these thoughts down on my bulletin because they sounded strict and disconcerting, not enlightening in the way she probably intended. The culprits for poor church attendance were swirling evil forces, cited often throughout the sermon. These “forces” were never prodded, unpacked, or questioned.

I had a problem with reducing today’s poor church attendance to good and evil.

To define the church as the only good, pure space to spend one’s Sunday morning reduces every other circumstance, opportunity to fellowship, and individual choice to a lesser, less virtuous plane. It also makes it a lot easier to assure attendees that they had made the worthy choice (versus those absentees who didn’t). A pat on the back for those who made it out today just as easily relayed a slap on the wrists to those who didn’t. Maybe some people need a slap on the wrists, but the church doesn’t need to set up more binary gauges that rank people’s worth, dedication, or “real” piety.

Our pastor encouraged the congregation to do more work that better shows the loving face of Christ in the midst of evil forces. Examples included mission trips down to New Orleans or participating in Habitat for Humanity projects locally. About 95% of the 30 attendees were over 70 years old.

I do celebrate these efforts and the fruitful work that comes of them, yes. But to say these are the efforts that make a “real difference” establishes another dichotomy for church members, one I’ve struggled with for years. Some work is more valuable, more Christ-like than other work, even if I don’t feel competent or energized in it. Although I don’t think everything I pursue has to be backed with some burning life passion, I do think there are ways to communicate and act more inclusively, more creatively, to people who already do great work, like the person staying home to cook for and fellowship with his/her family.

In sum, I think there are other ways to encourage church/community/Christ-like engagement. Rather than shrinking people’s choices, actions, and attendance records to forces of good and evil, I'll just enjoy the extra pew room this week and keep working and discerning the best I know how.

18 May 2009

Moms should blog

I wish my mom had a blog, so in it she could write:

How she spent last night cooking up 3 basins of meatloaf and two containers of hamburgers because she didn’t separate the 10 lbs of meat she bought.

How she attempted to pound a new Ethernet cable through the floor with a pair of scissors and stapler, but realized the home-drilled hole was too small to fit more than one cable through.

How she loves working outdoors in her vegetable garden, flower garden, and the back woodpile/pit she chainsaws and sets to fire every so often.

How she takes really good care of my grandma since grandpa passed.

How she talks casually to the five cats, just like her daughter does.

How she is overworked in more ways than one but still finds time to watch Ghost Whisperer, play poker with the girls, and cook up 10 lbs of meat for all two of us.

http://New Blog Address Coming Soon

So, I’ve recently grown out of my abbrevi8ing phase. “r kivistique” doesn’t carry the same trendiness it once did. I have decided to move on to real words.

Not to say I believe “real words” = established words. No no. I believe in descriptivist linguistics, in the creation, study, and appreciation of new speech ways by us folks on the ground, in cyberspace, wherever. But, “r kivistique”…well, we can do better.

So, I’ve changed my blog title to Archivistique, what my prior title was trying to emulate just in a hipper, more seemingly artsy fashion. But the French word archivistique is already alone pretty stylish; I don’t need to impress (confuse) anyone with my edgy interpretations.

So, I’m also changing my blog address to (I’ll give you three guesses):


arkivistiki it is, then?

I’ll be making the change within the next couple days, so whoever reads this has a heads up now and can adjust their "My Favorites" (which is so where people store this page).

15 May 2009

Someone found me on wikipedia:


The author of that blurb had to have been my coach. Actually, it's likely he created the whole "McDowell High School" entry just to mention this speech and debate highlight.

I appreciate his dedication to the team (and, of course, the reference).

09 May 2009

stop and smell the nostalgia

At an RA meeting a month or so ago, our boss started off, as he usually does, with an icebreaker. Sometimes it’s making party hats, which we’re then required to wear because he’s convinced this will bring our energy up. Other times, it’s a simple word game: give me 1 word that describes how you’re feeling.

One time, we pow-wowed in the back room— tent, smores, head band lights, nature sounds CD and all. I was totally for it, until my legs fell asleep, tucked awkwardly, trying to keep my feet out of everyone’ s odor radar. At this meeting though, he started off by asking: When do you feel most alive? It was one of the easiest hard questions I’ve ever had to answer.

“When I feel nostalgic.”

I recognize there’s something intrinsically charming about summer air, but what I can’t get over is how it takes me back to the summer before, and the summer before that, all the way back to summers spent playing whiffle ball in Grandpa’s backyard. I feel most alive when I’m transported back to the past without trying. It never gets old either.

Today was one of those days—the light winds, the freshness, the sounds of cars driving through thick summer air. Every time I breathed in, I was energized, remembering the feel of Erie summers, but also recognizing that next year, I’d be remembering the feel of Philadelphia summers…and the Erie summer before that, and so on.

03 May 2009

Mesemple Student

My last Broad Street Journal article, ever:

We call the backyard “Little Grantham.” It’s a grassy escape, furnished well with a 2-person hammock, a gazebo, unnecessary stepping stones in mulch patches, a table, a bike rack, and as the weather warms, good people unwinding, reading, socializing, and sunbathing. It serves as our pseudo-Messiah College getaway, and people seem to take to the hominess it provides.

I have been in Philadelphia for two semesters now and can appreciate the nostalgia for more trees, less concrete, and more quiet—the kind of atmosphere Grantham yields. But I can equally appreciate the hominess Temple University extends, an institution that once felt daunting, impersonal, aloof. Perhaps it had something to do with the magnitude of the student body, the crude (but comical) graffiti on classroom desks, or the nondescript social science buildings that look more like hospitals towers.

But these buildings have become my “home” this semester—my “Little Boyer,” as we humanities majors might tag them (even though these buildings are actually a good deal larger). As for the students and graffiti, both have become comforting reminders of the diversity, creativity, and verve of the student atmosphere here. Where at Messiah can you find that girl with poofy pink dreads, the African American Studies floor, or “Tits in my face” etched before you? Where at Messiah can you grab coffee with your doctoral friend who studies body image in Zimbabwe, expect wine and cheese at department seminars, and observe beyond-intense four-square tournaments outside the cafeteria?

Yes, Temple University has become a humble abode over the past two semesters, a home away from Mama Lottie that keeps my spirits lifted even in the face of finals week. My respite is the Mac lab on Gladfelter 2nd, the Mr. Softee truck I see and hear at least twice a day, and the sounds of jambay jams at the center of campus. My getaway is the “Sexy Green Food Truck” that serves spinach and feta omelets on pita, the “My president is black and I love it!” engravings on the tables, and the environmental activists in matching jackets I seem to always evade.

I expect when I return to Grantham in the fall, I will seek out some “Little Temple” moments across campus. You may hear me referring to Lottie as J&H or “JAYCH.” You may question my motives when I ask you to accompany me to the SAC (in Grantham speak, The Union). You may wonder why I’m using the elevator in Boyer to get to the second floor. Just give me time to settle back in. Allow me my dear Temple relapses, and I promise to work on not flashing my student ID in Messiah’s nonexistent security gaurds’ faces every time we walk into a building together.

01 May 2009

Floam Academe

The title of a work-in-progress:

The Obama Phenomenon: Saturation, Commodification, and Personification of the (Trans)Nation

I had to present on this work in class today, using powerpoint, video clips, and website pages. I spent probably 10 hours on a 15-minute presentation, in which I ended up skipping a nice chunk because Adobe Flashplayer needed an update, the hourglass icon decided to party it up and waste time, and people, all four of them, zoned out.

The powerpoint was a beautiful piece of art, a complimentary image for each page, long URLs disguised by pithy word links, and a final “Emo for Obama” clipart piece, just because. Some headings included: “Obama’s Media Blitz,” “Obamafication,” “Obamamania,” terms I wish I could say were of my creation. I showed a montage of Obama commodities (obamaties?): O’jamas (Obama sleepwear), “Obama is my Home Boy” tshirts, Obama bottled water. But it was still too wordy, and still too unidirectional.

Presenting is like floam. It can be molded in just about any way, but it sometimes doesn’t stick: “Some surfaces have a slightly oily or soapy coating that can prevent Floam from sticking. In many cases you can find a substitute shape that will work better.”

Some surfaces (Classrooms. All of them.) prevent presentations from sticking. Why? We have oily, soapy minds, used to sundry stimuli, selective hearing, and nonstop interactivity. So, I should be working to find a presentation-style substitute that will work better, entertain more, theorize and formulate less (less formally).

Knowing my generation as an audience complicates things. We have to work harder and harder to add bells, whistles, youtube videos, games, and other simulations just to keep us semi-attentive. If it’s not the professor presenting, we feel we can finally take a concentration break. So we zone, and the floam-shapes we student presenters are trying to craft just don’t stick.

What happened to the good old days when I didn’t need to ‘google image’ everything, wear O’jamas* to class for that kick-off laugh, and show Crush on Obama videos to resuscitate the audience???

*I don't actually own a set of O'jamas, but feel free to visit http://www.ojamas.us/servlet/StoreFront to order yours.

18 April 2009

Beyond Enculturation

This morning, I put on my robe and shower shoes.

I looked around at my things, because I was leaving the room.

I grabbed my Temple ID card, because that's what I need to be granted access anywhere.

But I was just going to the shower.

09 April 2009

The Unintended Friend

Coffee and Internet Explorer have two unfortunate things in common:

They are effective in closely controlled doses.
They are addictive, which make their intake hard to closely control.

This morning, I couldn’t step out into the world’s flurry until I appeased my fix for both. Coffee had to be had to endure that exceptionally early morning meeting with my boss. Email checking became the next prerequisite for my day’s successful functioning.

The question of where/when to access coffee and the web subsists as a trusted companion I consult throughout the day. You have become a close friend, Question, but when and how I met you remain a mystery.

*Pause for eye roll.*

We met in college. We met in the information revolution. We met on a sleepless night, in a computer lab, by overhead, fluorescent candlelight. We met in a privileged, middle-class, academic space.

We became close friends on sluggish walks between class and on yuppie dates downtown. We became close friends when final papers no longer required paper and when discussion boards no longer physically convened.

And we became close friends when you became increasingly easier to answer--
at least for those of us privileged enough to consult you in the first place.

20 March 2009

Realization #2

Before today's midterm exam in Public Policy and the Black Community, my professor asked: "Moore, do you work?"
[I work my ass off, all the time, yes].
"No" I replied.

After the exam, I whispered, "actually I do work. I'm an ARD in the dorms." I tried to explain Temple's partnership with Messiah College, and how I'm an ARD at my pseudo-campus across the street from Temple's cafeteria. I usually have this terribly confusing explanation down to a science, but it's harder when you're trying to whisper.

"How many hours a week do you do this?"
"Well, I usually just do whatever my boss needs--no set hours."
"Do you have any free time?"
"Yeah! Why do you have something for me?"
"I have some work in the Policy Center. What's your schedule like Monday? We can talk about it."
[I would love to work in the Policy Center...if I had energy. any energy whatsoever.]
"I could meet after 12:30?"
"Great!!" He sounded overjoyed.

I realize I have no free time (at least for functioning productively). I eat meals at my computer, and eat them so fast (and do this so regularly) that when I am out, I mechanically shovel food down and feel uncomfortable afterwords (in addition to a complete hog against my leisurely-lunching friends). I take showers on no kind of regular basis because I would rather look and feel like a dirtball than lose those 20 minutes (+ those additional minutes for hair drying, no way!).

I have two sweatshirts I usually wear: 'Messiah Falcons' and 'Harvard University.' A friend last semester said, "This is my archetype Sam," pointing to me in my black Harvard hoodie, out-of-style flares, nike sneakers, and greasy bun. He said it kindly, endearingly even, but I slouched and pitied my prototype.

My tailbone sometimes hurts from sitting so much (isn't it absurd I stay seated to complain about this? This sitting-typing thing is all I know, damnit!).

My friend replied to a rather frantic text I sent after class: "We'll work on your free-time apology later," she said.
"Ok!...but, but, I still might do it if I can join it with this project, or that project, or..!"

I need help. Or maybe, a bulky supply of magical wands to conjure up and ensure some free-time (so I can fill it up with more work)? Anyone know of a good magical wand wholesaler?

18 March 2009

Realization #1

I’m sitting at an outdoorsy kind of table in our row house’s backyard, fully equipped with a space for the hammock, a gazebo, patches of yellowish grass-straw, superfluous stepping stones in the mulch, myself, and a Dell laptop. It’s odd taking a laptop outside-- hearing birds squeak, the faithful subway boom, and bare branches rustle alongside my crackling computer keys. There is a robin that picks at the dry grass and looks over occasionally, bemused no doubt by my unnatural union with this silver box [crackle, crackle, crackle].

I have to squint into my sun-blasted screen to write this.
My fingers can easily access the world wide web if I want.
I am outside on a beautiful day, staring voluntarily into a rectangle of radiation.

I am trying to merge two different worlds; I realize I will try harder to keep them separate now.

03 March 2009

"Religulous" ?

Do you…

…Believe that science and critical thinking should play an important role in national culture and policy? Yes. …Believe in the necessity of the legal separation between Church and State? Yes. …Believe that freedom of religion cannot exist without freedom from religious impositions? Yes. …Want to meet others who share your passion for freedom of inquiry, science, reason and critical thinking, and the separation of Church and State? Yes. …Identify as an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, humanist or otherwise non-religious? No.

According to a small black and white flyer featuring a chimpanzee clasping its chin deep in thought, I am an ideal member candidate for the Secular Society of Temple University. Except for one sizable detail: I do believe in God.

An affiliate of the Secular Student Alliance, the Center for Inquiry, and the Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason, the Temple Secular Society meets every Thursday in the Student Activities Center and provides an organized space for open discussion, political advocacy, and community, particularly for non-religious students. To advance a more open and pluralistic society through critical thinking and inquiry is the mission of this on-campus group. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition of Reason says promoting a “wider acceptance of a more rational and contemporary view of humanity and the world in which we live” serves as the general aim for these kinds of local rationalist associations.

As a Christian believer, I can confidently say our dynamic transnational milieu merits rational and contemporary reflections, ones we must continually bend, revisit, and vary to keep up with society’s vigor. And I can say this not despite my affiliation with Christianity but rather and readily because of it.

The belief that critical thinking and inquiry are not and cannot be associated with religious practitioners actually limits the prospect for a more open and pluralistic society. But unfortunately this kind of dualism where logic stands as faith’s polar opposite infuses much of contemporary society. Perhaps to promote larger acceptance of a “more rational and contemporary view of humanity” we must first bridge the gap that serves to catalog a person’s quality based on his or her religious stance (humanists as “most credible” vs. believers as “least sensible," freethinkers as “good advocates” vs. Christians as “bad advocates”, etc.).

As a Christian and student of anthropology, I can expect weird looks from students in my Temple classes. I can expect questions concerning the apparent irony of embodying faith and more “humanist” kinds of studies. I can expect cynicism from Temple Secular Society members when I attend my first meeting this Thursday. But my spiritual beliefs do not make me any less of an analytical, concerned, lucid person, just as others’ non-belief does not make them any less ethical, feeling, or benevolent.

For a more open and pluralistic society then, perhaps our greatest aim from both sides should be humility, the kind that inspires the rational and religious to come together, rather than diffuse further. So for us students of faith and academia, perhaps this kind of bridging opportunity could be where effective reconciliation in church and society really begins.

Anyone up for a secular society meeting?

06 January 2009

North Pole Politics

Before dashing away to Erie for winter break, I and my fellow RAs went to see Jeff Goode's play The Eight: Reindeer Monologues in a quaint Philadelphia black box theater. A "dark Christmas comedy" was how online advertisements described the show's nature. The main scandal? Vixen accuses Santa of raping her.

You might be gasping in your computer chair, and that's ok. My above statement is fully gasp-worthy, especially if you still put out reindeer mix on Christmas Eve and amuse your family with North Pole fables. But, we are supposed to gasp at that statement-- not just because it's darkly funny and crude but because it appears too implausible for us to actually believe. Santa's raping one of his reindeer is an absurd, repulsive action; it is something I don't ever want to have to think about. It's much easier to dismiss and laugh around Vixen's claim than to actually confront it. And that's the point.

The reviews I read about The Eight discuss how the play attempts to comically critique our commercialized holiday rituals, beliefs, and images. More than deconstruct Christmas folklore and capitalist Christmas practice however, The Eight makes a burly statement about the politics of power relations in general. Who carries the largest bag of clout at the North Pole? Santa, of course. It's his word against a woodland creature he uses to fly about the earth one night a year. So any potential problems or accusations from the bottom (i.e. the reindeer) are always handled by the same vertical structures in which these problems arise and are disguised in the first place. For Vixen, getting others to believe her story poses quite the challenge then because a. it threatens their relationship with "the boss" and b. it threatens their own constructions of reality at the North Pole.

Understandably, some people in my party were offended by The Eight. Beyond the dark wit and vulgarity however, I was simultaneously offended and awakened by the stark parallel to larger structures of power with which people grapple everyday. I recognize that I have much less power and say than a renowned politician in my region, for example. But my sheer recognition and acceptance of this positioning solidifies the legitimacy of these kinds of status relations. If I for any reason were to challenge a "boss" or "Santa," it would likely jeopardize my personal and professional status, as it did Vixen's. I might be taken as a fool or fake, a vixen only seeking attention, as many reindeer judged. In addition, my accusations, no matter how valid, would illuminate for me harsh structural realities like corruption, injustice, and indecency--things I'd rather obscure than accept in the world.

It's easier to excuse and tuck away the wrongs rather than to confront and seek to change them, especially when they're situated in such dominant constructions of reality: i.e. Santa is good, pure, his power is fixed, his actions are defensible, and that's just the way things are and should be, believe North Pole residents. But Vixen's decision to challenge "just the way things are" represents a leap of faith, a leap of hope for those truly being exploited at the bottom.

Unfortunately however, her action might simply represent just one of countless Santa-declared frivolities, incidents that are easily erased from North Pole memory because the power to deny and dismiss such claims still remains in the hands of the "good" person, the boss, the powerful one being accussed.

Ultimately, Goode's scandal brings to light numerous complexities inherent in the realm of power relations--the incongruities that arise, get veiled, challenged, and blanketed once again along the same verticality. Vixen and her gang offer a weighty social commentary on power, even if the author didn't intend it. As most of the other reindeer along with most of the audience soon realized, it's much much easier to dismiss and laugh around Vixen's claim than to actually confront and back it. This way, no one's status has to be threatened and no one's comfortable conceptions/illusions of how things work in this world have to be rocked or sullied.