Tonight being the first night of Passover, let’s start off with Rachel Meirs’ graphic memoir “Ruth’s Kitchen,” published in Jewish Currents in 2021. It reminded me of a 1960s cookbook that my husband’s paternal grandma passed on to me, shortly before she died. (This was when I still had time to cook.) The recipes leaned heavily on frozen and canned ingredients, still considered a gee-whiz novelty rather than a target of hipster disdain. Pre-packaged ingredients must have felt like a promise that our moms and grandmas could have it all–a modern woman’s freedom from drudgery as well as the tradition of nurturing our families in the kitchen. Tonight, my mom-of-choice, who taught me to cook, will host a small seder with supermarket rotisserie chicken and non-alcoholic fancy grape juice for our friend in 12-step. Togetherness is what counts.
Liberation is on the menu for us pandemic transitioners. At LitHub, Rafael Frumkin’s essay “The Beauty of the Trans Body” pays tribute to the transmasculine elders who showed him the way forward when his chest dysphoria became comprehensible to him during 2020 lockdown.
Breasts always seem to belong to everyone but the wearer. Freud tells us that infants’ polymorphous sexuality is first expressed through their oral attachment to the breast, leading them to identify their mother as their first external “love object.” Media tells us that breasts are among the most important thing any woman can have, and that they should be full and perky and grabbable. Breasts nurture infants, feed sexual desires: nipples are sucked for both milk and pleasure. One can start to feel like a Christmas tree, branches sagging with ornaments for others to ogle and touch and break.
(All the love to my husband, who sent me this article shortly after my surgery–because even though we live in the same house, we communicate through screens like a pair of nerds.)
Hat tip to poet friend Lauren Singer, on whose Facebook page I discovered the artist Shona McAndrew. This Vulture article, “An Artist Reckons with the Fat Body,” profiles McAndrew’s sensual, dreamy series of nude self-portraits.
“As a fat woman,” Shona McAndrew explains in the catalogue for her new show, “I came to believe that I didn’t deserve intimacy, shouldn’t express happiness in the presence of others, and certainly shouldn’t be proudly showing my large naked body to anyone.”…
In Too Deep depicts McAndrew guiding the finger of her lover into her belly button as she fondles one of her breasts. Flesh abounds, falls, forms a landscape. She peers down the visage of her own body while withdrawing into her psyche. The penetration echoes Jesus guiding the finger of Thomas into his open wound.
Hold You Tight features a seated McAndrew as she embraces Stuart, her partner, who is standing. Her eyes are closed; she seems to be partaking of a world of sensual and spiritual sustenance — like she’s savoring the first taste of something she’s denied herself until now.
In Harvard Magazine, Lydialyle Gibson profiles the formerly incarcerated artist Jesse Krimes. In 2017, Krimes and Russell Craig co-founded Right of Return USA, which offers artist fellowships to other ex-prisoners. The article showcases the resourcefulness and determination of people who desperately need tools of self-expression, but are denied these materials by the carceral system:
Behind bars, art became his escape. Krimes studied philosophical texts—Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth—and developed new artistic techniques, foraging for whatever creative supplies he could find. He made a series of small portraits using newspaper mug shot images, playing cards, and thin slices of soap. His monumental opus, which took three years to produce, was a 40-foot mural made from prison-issue bedsheets, plastic spoons, New York Times clippings, and hair gel from the commissary. Because the artwork itself was contraband, Krimes had to smuggle it out by mail, piece by piece. “It was almost like sending out pieces of myself out of the prison walls,” he says in the film. After his release, he was able to assemble the bedsheets into a whole for the first time: a colorful meditation on heaven, hell, sin, redemption, and purgatory.
I just loved this flash fiction by Christopher Hyun, “A Taxonomy of Gay Animals,” in Electric Lit. It’s one of those clever pieces that uses humor and surrealism to capture an experience more accurately than literal explanation ever could.
In my world, we have an animal code. It goes way beyond the generic gay bears and gay otters. There are gay fish, gay hippos, and gay raccoons…
Like raccoons, owls are more active at night than during the day. Owls are always asking who. Who’s going to be there? Who’s paying? Who’s lost weight? Who’s more popular? And when you answer them, they act like they don’t care. They can turn their necks almost all the way around. They also eat mice.
You know that guy.
Since April is Autism Awareness Month, whatever the heck that means, I recommend poet Cyrée Jarelle Johnson’s 8-minute TED Talk about “autism neutrality”. Let’s stop scaremongering about autism and treat it as an equally valid cognitive style, with its own strengths and challenges.
After 500 years, the Catholic Church has disavowed the “doctrine of discovery,” which had encouraged European Christians to colonize and convert Indigenous people in Africa and the Americas. (Hat tip to Lakota People’s Law Project for the link.) In the UK newspaper The Globe and Mail, Kent McNeil calls out the “err, that was other people” tone of the Vatican’s course-correction. FYI, papal bulls are like official position papers from the Pope.
Though the Church claims that the bulls were “manipulated for political purposes by competing colonial powers in order to justify immoral acts against indigenous peoples that were carried out, at times, without opposition from ecclesiastical authorities,” the Vatican is wrong to depict itself as being so passive. The bulls empowered Portugal and Spain to further the Church’s Christianizing policy by forcibly acquiring the lands of Indigenous peoples and subjecting them to the control of the Catholic monarchs of these countries.
The 1455 bull Romanus Pontifex, which relates to West Africa, is one document mentioned in the statement. In that bull, Pope Nicholas V asserted that, as successor of St. Peter and vicar of Christ, he had a responsibility to Christianize the world. Toward this end, he authorized King Alphonso V of Portugal “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed,” seize their property, and “reduce their persons to perpetual slavery.”
The 1493 bull Inter Caetera, authorizing Spain’s colonization of the Americas, starts by asserting that the highest-ranking work of the pope is that “the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” After praising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for recovering “Granada from the yoke of the Saracens” and for discovering lands previously unknown to Europeans, Pope Alexander VI’s decree purports to grant the Catholic monarchs “all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered,” west of a line in the Atlantic Ocean from pole to pole 100 leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. The stated purpose of this grant is religious – namely, to spread the Christian faith and convert the inhabitants of these distant lands.
Colonization was not an accidental distortion of Church doctrine but an official policy. But I guess when you pretend to be infallible, it’s hard to repent.