Saturday, March 10, 2012

We Are American and So Can You

In the words of the immortal Tennyson:
So many worlds,
So much to do
So little done
Such things to be!

Which means I’m going to give you the week in digest.

Cheider teachers in costume: Cowboy, Cleopatra, PJs
Revisited the English graduate students’ Work-in-Progress seminar for funsies. The first guy had written a thesis that was the critical equivalent of Tender Buttons. Ball-bashing professor Randi socked it to him hard: “… raises the question of, is this a valid and interesting thing to do? If your angle is ---, well, isn’t that fairly obvious already?” The poor man attempted a defense: “I’m mapping out his reading, isn’t that the aim of literary texts?” but she would have none of it: “but what do you do with that reading? Why did you struggle with the text?” The question every literary scholar grapples with, and fears. What exactly is your intellectual worth? Yes, the tools you’re using are solid, you’ve got some impressive brains, but why the hell did you waste them on this? Anyhow, then the second guy presented, and his thesis was so solidly constructed, reader-friendly, intelligence-evident, it redeemed the room of literary academics sitting around that table from tipping over the edge into utter bootlessness.


Brann comes to Shushan: Wouldn't be Purim without soccer
Had an impromptu and lengthy discussion with my high schoolers in honor of International Women’s Day. Interestingly, a show of hands indicated that they do not all identify as feminists. Baaad Scandinavians. I ran the discussion by repeatedly letting them heat up around a question until enough of the room was sitting tush-half-off-the-chair in that must-speak posture, then slamming the room with a new idea. They’re going to write about it, so I wasn’t concerned with cutting thoughts off so much as getting juices flowing. Perhaps most interesting were the different nationalities’ approach: Kid Russia gave a rant about “people coming in from the South and raping Russian women,” which was awkward to work with, and Kid Vietnam said that in his country, there are no feminists, everyone’s too traditional and have specific roles, and Kid Somalia came up to me quietly after the lesson with a little smile on her face and asked if she could write a journal entry on this. The two AUFniks (both strongly active members of the political party that was targeted on July 22) spent most of the class twisting around in their seats, hands furiously pawing the air in their desire to educate their classmates. My favorite moment was when one young lady said she agreed with Kid Vietnam in that there are certain things only men can do and only women, and I interrupted encouragingly with, “Yes? Like what?” and she fell silent for that deep thoughtful second that means you’ve rewritten someone’s life framework. I  wantz to bez Socrates.


Starting the play
Fantoft fun: Pub quiz night with Ruth (Arizona) and Rachel (New Jersey). Our team name: “We are America and So Can You!” A guy I’d met earlier in the week came over and asked if he could join our team, so we became “We are America and So Can You Even Though the Italian Guy Has No Idea What That Means.” Italy teaming up with America was pretty powerful, until the “cars” category, when Ford fought Fiat to the detriment of both. But boy did we cream when it came to spaghetti Westerns! 


Purim: Yep, I dressed as a cowgirl all day. Gave my high schoolers chocolate as well as the surprise knowledge that I’m Jewish (had to make sure they didn’t think this was some American holiday), for which they cheered (probably more for the chocolate than the religious unveiling). The Jewish community had its party-cum-carnival, at which our play went off outstandingly and I rendered my lines in Norwegian suitably. Or at least to enough comedic effect that it fit with the genre. Afterwards, those of us left to clean up were caught by Na'ama's (one of the leaders of the community, picture loud, opinionated, super-organizer, knows-everything, all-out-there typical Israeli woman) zumba bug and started gallivanting around the room, dancing with each other and the mobs and brooms we held.

Cutest thing ever: little Queen Esther finds a popgun
The schlichot stayed by me for the night. We have this ridiculous comfort with each other that always shocks me because it highlights my strangeness here. I’m pretty used to being the only dati Jew in town. Before I left for Norway, people asked me if I’d be lonely without a Jewish community, but it was part of what I wanted, to figure out what it’s like to live in the world outside. I once asked a friend who is a baal teshuvah (a guy who became religious towards the end of college) what non-religious people do, since their energy and time isn’t so completely consumed by religion. He paused a moment, and said, “well, I smoked a lot of weed before.” But I couldn’t help but believe there must be something more. And this year has let me figure it out, let me become really close friends with people who have proven to me the depth of meaningful passionate living that exists outside my bubble, let me gain a comfort in the world in which people sit in coffee shops and argue about politics and literature, bake cookies, dance, study, travel, talk, flirt, hike, and play practical jokes on each other. Yeah, just like I do. Because personhood extends across the board.

The thing is, that even as I do all this, there’s still always a little Jewish tune playing in my head (No, it’s not “yubba-diddy-diddy-dye” from Fiddler. Think Chava Alberstein meets Idan Raichel meets Synergia). Judaism touches my life and history in so many ways, that keeping it bubbled up within me is conscious and intentional. So having Racheli and Inbar over, flipflopping through Hebrew into English and back and examining the sefarim on my shelves and not asking if that’s the Israeli flag hanging from my wall or why my knife has blue tape on it or venturing into cultural interrogation when I play music and getting excited about the Pinuk-brand shampoo in my shower, well, those things make them the two people in the country with whom I’m not one whit a freak. So despite the comfort I’ve gained this year, being with them relaxes me hugely. Even committing the classic blunder of asking whether they wanted “לקחת מקלחת?” was more a sign of connection than distance (to their infinite credit, they did not reply, “take it to where?”). My brain was a bit frazzled after a night spent jumping through three languages.


Anita, my Katten contact-teacher, heard about my computer problems, and came running over to Fantoft with an extra mac charger! She is so amazing. And has been wanting to do something like that to help, all year. I keep thinking how lucky I am to be the first in Bergen... four years from now it will be “ugh, now I have to take care of the ETA again.” Or maybe not. Anita’s kind of awesome that way.


I’m going to London in three weeks. Beginning to plan my pilgrimage. To re-read Woolf and Trollope and Dickens and Doyle. Honestly, a student of Victorian literature visiting London feels a bit like a Muslim on their way to Mecca. I might drop by Bath too, or Dover, or York… Got to cram it all into one week. Any advice?

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