Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Eight Random Things

Tagged by both Nettle and Mahud for the "Eight Random Things About Me" meme (no, I didn't forget), with the following rules:
  • Post eight random facts about yourself.
  • Tag eight other bloggers (hopefully those who haven’t been tagged before).
  • Post these rules.

Well, long over-due I suppose, but here goes (in no order, significant, alphabetical, chronological or otherwise).

[1] I'm a vegetarian. Articles like this one remind me why this choice is based, in part, on health concerns. Other than health, there are several other reasons for my choice. It is, in part, a spiritual discipline, which requires me to pay closer attention to the things that go into my body and how they affect me physically, as well as their variety and preparation; this is an aspect of my "embodied" spiritual life, and since becoming a vegetarian I've noticed my whole relationship to food and mealtimes has evolved into an important daily reminder of interconnection and gratitude. I also have my moral and political reasons--objecting to violence against living creatures, the deforestation of land and damage to the environment, the over-consumption of meat products at the expense of making staple plant foods more widely available to the starving millions of the world, animal abuses and the human (in particular, workers') rights violations that take place in the slaughterhouses and meat packaging plants across the country, the ridiculously large subsidies provided to the meat industry and their continual fight against accurate and informative labeling of meat products in the name of the "free market" (please!), etc. Of course, since factory-farming, environmental destruction, wasteful packaging and shipping are all issues for vegetation--and because plants are alive as much as animals and so death becomes inevitable and should, at least, be treated with dignity and gratitude, with as little impact to the fabric of the whole as possible--I have slowly been switching over to a largely organic and/or local vegetarian diet (as much as my budget and other factors allow). In my opinion, every little bit helps, and as long as I'm young and healthy, I should do what I can.

[2] I graduated valedictorian of my college class, with a B.A. in Philosophy & Comparative Religious Studies, a minor in creative writing, and Interdisciplinary Distinguished Honors for a thesis I wrote my senior year on the ritual aspects of the creative writing process. While in college, I earned several grants for research projects (one of which was focused on Neopaganism and other contemporary nature-based spiritual traditions), and helped my advisor to edit a book he was working on about some obscure pamphlet propaganda in Germany during the Reformation (the kind of book no one will ever read, probably, but he tells me that I'm featured heavily in the "Acknowledgments" section). Now I'm working as a waitress. Yeah, I know. All those college administrators hoping to be able to brag about me have been hugely disappointed. In any case, I don't think it's bragging to say that I am quite an intelligent and hard-working person (the hard-working, I think, being the more important of the two). It also goes to show that too much thoughtfulness can actually hinder a "normal career path," since one reason I work as a waitress is because I simply can't bear to have any other full-time job doing something I'm not truly passionate about. Being a part-time waitress earns me the minimum money I need to get by while giving me plenty of time to pursue my real passion, which is...

[3] I write poetry. My parents once told me the story that, when I was little, long before I could read or write, I would sit sometimes for hours with a ream of paper and a handful of crayons, scribbling lines across each page. When my parents asked me what I was doing, I'd declare, "I'm writing!" I'm not sure where I got this idea, of "being a writer," but it seems to be in my blood. It's the only thing I've ever wanted to do. I have a cousin who only ever wanted to be a doctor (in part because she developed diabetes when she was very young, as did her brother, and so was aware of health and medical issues from early on)--she's about to graduate medical school in August and already has two job offers, with a starting yearly salary of about $70,000. Me? I've always wanted to be a writer, and more specifically a poet. No starting salaries in the upper-middle-class range for me, my friends. Still, I'd like to think that, even if I die in obscurity (which I hope won't happen!), my poetry may one day be good enough to earn me a solid posthumous reputation, and perhaps change some readers' lives the way my life has been amazingly transformed by some of my favorite writers. It's hard to conceive of the spiritual, community impact that I hope my poetry will have, especially when I have to struggle with constant submissions and rejections on a daily basis, competing against that ever-growing flood of other people out there all trying to be "writers" and "poets" even if only as a hobby. I can't count the number of people I know who are "writing a book"--it seems to be the thing to do when you're unhappy with your nine-to-five office job and think something is wrong in politics or religion, or something is cute about your dog. That probably comes across as sounding pretty harsh. My point, though, is that when creative writing is treated as a commodity rather than an art form, and the market is flooded with anyone trying to actually make a living from that product, the question begs to be asked: Can poetry matter? I wrote an essay about this idea back in September, 2005, in terms of how I conceive of audience, versus a "community of readers," and how that shapes the potential and impact of a work of poetry-as-art.

[4] Speaking of philosophy (sort of), I am, philosophically speaking, anti-capitalist. It seems strange that, although in many ways I identify with the mainstream of "liberal capitalism," as developed by thinkers like Hobbes and Locke, I'm also keenly aware of its drawbacks. The main flaw of this particular political philosophy is that it is based on an intrinsically silly assumption: that, in a "State of Nature," we are all isolated individuals, and that most conflict arises from scarcity of goods or security, which can be either rationally negotiated (Locke) or played upon to induce fear that will guarantee law-abiding citizens (Hobbes). This core philosophical concept has been elaborated on by various other thinkers, such as Hegel, to support a political framework entrenched in a notion of "progress," defined in a very particular way. Of course, saying that you are anti-capitalist and not all that thrilled with this unquestioning devotion to "progress" is akin to saying you're anti-American or even anti-democracy these days (although, the best known competing political philosophy, Communism, is based on the same fundamental fallacy of progress and individualism-resolved-through-constructed-community-identity, so you shouldn't be worrying that I'm secretly communist, either). Anyway, this is all very boring to you readers, I'm sure. So let me just say that I think insisting that Capitalism is the best and/or only economic system that works (even if it isn't perfect) is a bit foolhardy, assuming certain artificial limits for the human imagination and the capacity for human communities to adapt and reinvent themselves. A person back in feudal times (lord or serf, but most especially lord) would have made the same claims about their system of government and economy--hey, it's not perfect, but it works for us and keeps the peace, relatively well at least. Still, other options are possible, and one upside of the often abstract and tedious ponderings of philosophers today is that the more insight we have into "human nature," social and cultural possibilities and such, the more knowledge and understanding we have on which to base the future adaptations and reshapings of community when the current system inevitably collapses under its own weight (as every system in the past has done, and most systems will probably continue to do--such is life ;).

[5] I'm unnecessarily verbose. Except, of course, when drawing attention to that fact.

[6] I'm a virgin. Woah! This suddenly got intensely personal, didn't it?! Well, calm down. It's funny that in this sex-crazed culture, people have very strange reactions to the simple idea of not having sex, even after reaching mature adulthood. I'll tell you a secret: I'm not the only virgin I know, most of the virgins I know are males, none of them are scary-fundamentalist, living-in-fear-of-a-peeping-tom-deity Christians, and I also know a few people who, after some initial sexual experiences, have decided enough's enough, and have returned to waiting hopefully for a committed, mature relationship with a long-term partner. Maybe it's just the kind of friends I have, but this all seems very normal to me. I am in no way embarrassed by having not had sex. Furthermore, my understanding of virginity extends far beyond mere sexual intercourse, and in some ways stems from my whole-hearted embrace of feminism. As a former Catholic, one important female role model throughout my childhood was the Virgin Mary--whose "yes" in assent to the erotic and procreative union with God through the Holy Spirit is still, for me, an amazing statement about "womyn power." Plenty of Pagans point to the virginity of Mary as an example of unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for females within Christianity. However, the theological doctrine of the virginal conception of Jesus, and the continual virginity of Mary even after she conceived and bore other children by her husband, Joseph (no, this is not scandalous, Jesus' siblings are referenced in the Bible itself), challenged any thinking Catholic to consider exactly what "virginity" means. Instead of assuming that virginity was merely limited to the physical, biological side of reality, it took on a psychological and spiritual meaning. I slowly came to understand that being "virginal" is, in some sense, to be complete within oneself, to seek a personal, spiritual integrity that resides in innocence and openness to the Divine and to relate to others as similarly whole, unique and equal, rather than allowing relationships to be based on a paranoid or desperate sense of isolation that can result just as much from lust and physical promiscuity as from physical virginity. We all know women who call themselves feminists, and yet use their feminism to justify treating sex as a form of manipulation and power-play as much as any patriarchal male would, instead of a trusting communion between equals that echoes on all levels of being. In any case, I have had enough physical intimacy in my life to sense the potential for such a communion through the sexual act, and my virginity is not so much a decision to abide by certain religious "rules" about pre-marital sex, as it is a daily choice to respond with innocence, openness and trust to those who inspire innocence, openness and trust, and not to force intimacy where it cannot thrive. Here endeth the embarrassing sex talk.

[7] Hmm... I'm not sure anything can top that last one. I think I'll conclude with an entirely mundane and frivolous fact: I have very bad eye-sight. Without my glass, I can't even see the big E on the eye chart--I'm just looking at a big square of white with some patches of occasional darker-gray. Yes. It's that bad. I used to wear contacts, but they irritated my eyes and, in some ways, I like being able to take my glasses off whenever I like (plus, the eye doctor told me glasses are actually healthier for your eyes, since there's less worry about dirt, lack of air and moisture, and whatnot). Also, I have such bad eye-sight that, when I take my glasses off, there's no point in squinting, since it doesn't help--instead, I've trained myself to navigate familiar areas without being able to see, which means I can walk around my entire apartment in the dark without banging into anything. Of course, that might also be because I'm rather tidy and I don't let people come in and just move things around willy-nilly or leave objects on the floor. Still, the long hallway in my apartment has a little kink in it right near the bathroom, which makes it fun to navigate when you're especially tipsy and trying to get to bed.

[8] "But wait," you say (because you are, after all, an attentive reader), "this meme is supposed to include eight things, and Ali just said that number seven was her last one. What's up with that?" I'll tell you what's up. I've run out of ideas. I can't think of anything else that I can imagine as being even remotely interesting (and that isn't already covered by the very nature of this blog). So, instead, I'm leaving [8] wide open for questioning--ask me anything at all, any random question that you'd like to know as my final "thing about me," and I'll answer it. (Yes, this is in part a clever ploy to get my comments back up.)

Tag: I'm going to do the same thing for "tagging" eight more people. I figure I'm so late in the game on this meme, almost everyone's done it; plus, I don't know who reads this blog (and last time I tried to tag people for a meme, I don't think a one of them ended up doing it!). So here's the deal: if you want to do your own "Eight Random Things," feel free to add a link to your post in a response to this one. Same thing goes if you've already done the meme and just want to share a link to it. Sound good? Good. :)


  1. Neat stuff, Ali. Here's a question for you: why do you prefer Ali to Alison?

    And this probably doesn't count as a random fact -- but I'm curious. You've wanted to be a poet all your life. This is equivalent to saying that you've wanted to work in a certain medium all your life. But isn't the message more important than the medium, if you want to deeply affect people's lives? ... What is your message?

  2. Jeff, Wow! That was quick! :)

    In response to your first question, I don't. The truth is, I still introduce myself to people as "Alison" and, by and large, that's how people refer to me and how I think of myself. I can't really think of myself as being "named," though, and I don't feel like an "Alison" or an "Ali" any more than anything else (maybe because I grew up knowing at least four other "Alison"s of various spellings). When I talk to myself as "Ali" in posts like this, it's mostly because there have been a few people in my life who have, without prompting, taken the liberty to call me by that nickname (a favorite cousin of mine being one of them)--so I guess, for me, it has a kind of amusing presumed intimacy about it.

    I use "Ali" for my online writing, also, because it has a kind of simplicity to it, and is gender-ambiguous. I'm not sure why that's important to me, except that I don't want to be thought of first as a woman and only afterwards as a writer and thoughtful human being. Also, I loved the movie "Aladin" when I was little, and can relate to the idea of "Ali" being a kind of assumed name that carries more weight and supposed importance than I feel I deserve most of the time. ;)

    As far as your second question--I'll have to get back to you on that, mostly because a response would be way too long to fit here. I'll probably just write another blog post about it. But I'll say for now that I definitely agree that "message is more important than medium," but that one thing poetry has taught me is the relationship between medium and message is very complex and can itself provide unexpected insight. My longing to be a "poet" specifically is all tangled up in the very ideas and subjects I want to write poetry about--and in some ways, I don't think I could write about those things through anything other than poetry. Kind of like how I do not consider being female to be the sole defining feature of who I am, but being "embodied" and manifest in a unique way, which includes being female, is essential to my self- and community-identity. More on this later, though. :)

  3. Thanks for sharing you are random things, Ali :) Everything you write enlightens me in some way are other. Man, im so uneducated :)

    My questions are:

    Do your Druidic believes harmonize with you understanding of Christian?

    And do you combine these two traditions when performing rituals and stuff like that?

    If your form of Crisianity, accept the possibities of other deities in your life?

    Hope these Questions are ok. And if you have writing about this stuff elsewhere. you can post the me some links.

    Is it always easy to comine to two beliefs of Christian and druidry?

    I hop that are ok. Hvave a great weeken, and god bless

  4. Tou can stike the late question. I'm a bit dosed up on meds at the momment, and it effects my typing and stuff.

  5. Mahud, Some more really great questions. :) And tough ones, too! I hope you don't mind if I take a little while to answer them. I'm actually working on a series of posts at the moment all about my particular way(s) of working within (or between?) Christianity and Druidry. I think most of the questions you asked will be included in those posts. For now, I'll say that it is actually easier than you'd expect for me to "combine" Christian and Druid beliefs and practices. But one reason I think it's easy for me is because, long before I began studying Druidry, I was very intense and driven about understanding the "core" of the Christian faith and shaping my personal Christian spirituality in a way that worked for me, even if it was sometimes a little unorthodox or uncommon. I had already been shaping my religion to fit my life and "who I am," and since Druidry itself seems to fit me so naturally, the two seem to work well together in my spiritual life. I'll definitely talk more about this in future posts, so stay tuned! :)

  6. Ali - I thought it was interesting that you said "I was very driven about...shaping my personal Christian spirituality". This reinforces an impression I got while reading your posts on "Modern Myths about Christianity", i.e. that you were sort of taking the mass of raw material in the New Testament and cutting away everything that didn't look like Ali. The result is lovely -- a religion that I'd be proud to follow. In fact, I'm not sure that I don't follow it. I couldn't actually put my finger on anything I disagreed with particularly (apart from a couple of niggling points concerning your characterization of the Buddha). Does this mean I am "Christian", in the Ali sense of "Christianity"? Or is Ali-Christianity no longer recognizably Christianity?

    The whole issue points up how pointless it is to try and put labels on these things. It's a shame that we so often find ourselves having to give an elevator message about our beliefs.