Spooky Jams

These are mostly from my college-era go-to autumnal playlist because truly, what is autumn without a heavy pall of nostalgic longing for happier times gone by?

Guess what it’s more God time 🙏

My top three religion-themed experiences on this trip:

  1. The deeply insufferable old woman sitting next to me on the flight over would not shut the fuck up aside from one blissful chunk of time in which she slept, but at one point she asked me whether I, as an unmarried, unemployed 30-year-old, had thought of becoming a nun, and I had some emotional whiplash as my mind vacillated between “I have a whole talk on the appeal of life in a religious order to Millennial women but this is not the audience for it” and “why yes, it did occur to me around late high school that I needed to consider the nun life when I realized I wasn’t like everyone else because I lacked a fundamental ability to desire or give the kind of affection required in a lasting relationship so I gotta do something to avoid dying alone, what a cool thing for me to be thinking of again right here in this here airplane!” (I eventually told her it had an appeal to me but I didn’t feel any calling from Gotd to do so and therefore it wouldn’t be the right choice. She liked this answer.)
  2. When I went into the big main church in Krakow, it was undergoing repairs and there were some guys up above the altar carefully cleaning and restoring the statues there and that was just a lovely peaceful process to watch, where can I get a job climbing around massive imposing churches and wipe down some old religious art, I ask.
  3. I stopped into another church and someone had left a carefully written out prayer on a slip of paper in one of the pews. I think there was one part that had some personalized ask but it was hard to make out because everyone in Poland learns the same exact handwriting and it’s not always easy to decipher, especially tight and cramped as this was. It felt like an intrusion enough to pick it up and read it so that’s for the best, but it was a nice feeling of “people are coming here with their particular wants and needs and backstories and everyone needs help with something and we’re all here together.” 🤷🏼‍♀️

a theatre review

I went to see a performance of Chicago in Krakow, strongly hoping it was actually translated into Polish instead of just playing subtitles on a screen, and oh boy was I not disappointed. Here’s my listicle review of takeaways:

  1. Broadly, I was really into the effort it must take to translate a whole bunch of songs into a different language so they still sound right and tell the same story. There was a screen with subtitles but it was in English, which had the original lines and lyrics, and like, it was not easy to understand everything that was being sung, but I had a great time catching the changes and how they got a different rhyme with the same meaning, etc.
  2. I have no idea what level of prestige this production was and I truly do not have an ear for music so I’m not gonna weigh in on singing quality but like, the lead actors were delightful to me, a rube, but I’m real mad at the lazy costuming. Everyone was wearing “sexy loosely-’20s-approximation wear” the whole time? Including when the chorus was playing, like, prisoners or reporters or general members of the public. I did appreciate the commitment to laziness in that a good third of the chorus had visible clearly-not-meant-to-be-part-of-the-costume tattoos and did they try to cover them up? Nah.
  3. Also there was zero effort made to do any period hair styling. The women whose hair was left down had it… crimped. Crimped. I hate it.
  4. The audience indulged in a hearty chuckle at a line about how “America may be a bad place but you still love justice!”
  5. Speaking of politics, I… am pretty sure in this version, the Hungarian girl actually killed her husband? Also she was played as like, a wacky idiot instead of a tragic figure who was wronged by the system? I was sensing some anti-Hungarian sentiment here is what I’m saying.
  6. Cell Block Tango a) comes up way earlier in the show than I think it does and b) …super weird to translate “pop” and “squish.” Like. I don’t know how you translate onomatopoeia in a song but. This wasn’t doing it. On top of it, all 6 of them decided to just play different levels of full-on-unhinged for some reason, ok, sure, just start screaming your lines during the talking part.
  7. Another weird one was “Razzle Dazzle;” a song full of nonsense words is yeah also gonna sound wonky. Weirdly, the song they changed the most (as in the fewest lines that were fairly close direct translations) was the end one that Roxie and Velma perform to.
  8. Acting and singing was fine but damn this is a show that requires good dancers and… nope.
  9. There was one hilarious joke they threw in (…ok I’ll admit it here, I have definitely only ever seen the movie, if this is in the original stage version, I’m just gonna accept this mistake, I’m not fact-checking it) where Mary Sunshine was played by a guy and he rips his wig off for a truly rip-roarin’ reveal?? Anyway, this theater is showing Rent next week so I’m sure that’ll be a fun time.
  10. This is not a note on the production but I tried to take one of those awful app scooters to the theater after doing some shopping and almost was late because the garbage app kept confirming my payment and then telling me to get closer to the scooter even though I was standing right on top of it and it would not let me go. I later checked and it did indeed charge me for each of the four times it failed to work, and I am now out $5.52 US American Dollars for this experiment and I’m deeply upset about it. Scooters bad, folks.

Krówki Taste Test

Hey I bought a bunch of krówki and I’m gonna eat them all under the guise of a review! Krówki are Polish caramel fudge, they’re real good if you have absolutely no ceiling on sugar intensity, which I don’t, and they come in standard and then a whole lot of other flavors, including usually cream, vanilla, or chocolate, and I’m skipping past those and going straight for the good stuff.

First, a couple baselines, which are very scientifically selected as plain-flavored krówki that are also not brands I bought any flavored options from!

1. Roshen – A Ukrainian candy company famous for having their president become president of Ukraine after the Maidan protests; I wanted to hate it on political grounds; it was actually really soft and had that good gooey center, a delightful start.
Rating: 7/10

2. Żywiecka – Best wrapper design, retro and cute. Taste is cloying and a bit more plasticky, did not finish as I have a lot of caramel to get through
Rating: 3/10

And now we’re going into flavors, brand consistency be damned:

3. Plum – Definitely got that prune taste going on, very impressive, but the gooey center of this one is very chewy and stretchy once you break past a pleasant crispy fudge exterior. I am not sure if it’s fair to knock points off from that, as it does make it more like biting into a dried prune. The slight sourness from the fruity element pairs well with the sugar overload. Points for creativity.
Rating: 6/10

4. Coconut – Has a similarly chewy tougher center as the above, with bits of dried coconut. It has an easier time of things than plum as the coconut is a more natural pairing to caramel, and I also love coconut a whole lot so this was really coconut’s game to lose here. The coconut is on equal footing with the caramel in terms of flavor intensity, which is what I want out of these, so this one’s a real winner for me.
Rating: 7/10

5. Cinnamon – This one automatically is suspect because part of the wrapper was fused to the candy. Has a faint cinnamon scent. This one doesn’t have a creaminess to it but is hard crunch all the way through, but it crumbles gently between your teeth in a delightful way. The cinnamon comes out strong and I get a reminiscence of French toast, with the caramel and cinnamon coming together in a maple-y way. As with coconut, cinnamon is an easy flavor to create and pair with caramel. Would have liked a little more texture contrast, as the solidly crunchy ones can be grainy, but I don’t not like it.
Rating: 5/10

6. Cranberry – Another fruit flavor from the same brand as the plum one. This one actually has a less gummy texture for the chewy center. It has the same bits of fruit situation going on, as any fruit flavor really should. The cranberry doesn’t come out as distinctly as the plum–not distinct at all, really–thought the texture is more pleasant. A tough call, as one is easier to eat, but one is more satisfying as a flavored krówka. Gotta give it to the plum and rank this one lower.
Rating: 4/10

7. Salted Caramel – OK, that’s a weak flavor choice, it’s already caramel, I know. But damn if I don’t enjoy a salted caramel. And this does not fail to bring the salt. Also, a charming label design. Texturally, this is the most perfect one yet, with no graininess, smooth but not teeth-sticking gooey middle, and a seamless transition from harder exterior to softer center. Not the most creative flavor, but gotta hand Cukiernia Alicja the win at this point. As the angry cow on the wrapper says, “Muuuuuuuusisz je zjeść.” (“You moooooo-st eat them.”)
Rating: 9/10

8. Nut – Same brand as the salted caramel but no scowling cow, just a squirrel with a nut… wait a minute. Are they themed by flavor? Is the salted caramel… a salty cow??? Genius. Anyway, the texture is still good but juuuust a step below salted caramel, as it’s a touch grainier. I guess it evokes nuts more in that sense. The nut flavor is definitely there (hazelnut; the word used for nut here can also specifically be hazelnut, and it’s definitely got something going for it if it’s distinct enough that I can pin it down) but I wanted more. It’s not bad but my expectations were admittedly high.
Rating: 6/10

9. Chocolate Chili – This one is distinct due to the chocolate coating, and I was hoping the inside would be chocolate flavored as well. Also that the chili would give it a strong spicy kick. This wasn’t at all what I expected–it’s not the right texture whatsoever; it’s solidly a chocolate fudge, with a chocolate center. It’s the toughest one of these by far, and the hardest to eat. All would be lost except the chili does come through strongly, basically the only part of this that met my expectations. It’s just kind of exhausting to eat, and also inherently disappointing when it’s such a deviation from the fundamental krówka form.
Rating: 4/10

10. Sesame – Back to Cukiernia Alicja. No sesame-themed wrapper, so scratch that theory from earlier. Texture is the good Alicja texture I have come to expect, and the sesame flavor–which is one I really wanted to happen, as it’s a taste I love–came out in full force. I taste sesame seeds; they’re integrated really well. The sesame taste adds the perfect complexity to tone down the sugar punch. Superb.
Rating: 9/10

11. Apple Cinnamon – Gniewko Kluczewo is apparently my fruit-flavored krówki go-to. This one is on par with plum; it’s creative and distinct, and definitely has a fruit element that cuts through the creamy sugar. Still rather on the chewy teeth-sticking end though.
Rating: 5/10

12. Poppyseed – This is different than regular poppyseed, by the way–in Eastern Europe, this means a concentrated poppyseed paste, which is so, so much better. I can eat it on its own, it’s so much more satisfying than some scattered dry seeds. Anyway, this one has a lovely folksy poppy illustration on the wrapper (one of my favorite flowers, also), distinct poppyseeds and has that poppyseed paste flavor I was craving, but doesn’t hit the same high level of texture I wanted from an Alicja creation; a touch tougher than I hoped.
Rating: 6/10

13. Strawberry-Yogurt Muesli – This was definitely the one that I was the most curious about. For it to score high, it truly needed to have each of these three flavor components. And …it did! With some muesli pieces added in for a nice edge to the texture. The texture is also the best that Gniewko had to offer, at least out of my selection. Outstanding, a great finish. Maybe I’m just overwhelmed with sugar but I want to give something a perfect 10, damn it, so here it is!
Rating: 10/10

Alright that’s all, I’m deeply satisfied and this was a good way to spend my night undoubtedly. 👌👌

Nuns, Redux

This is a followup to my millennial nuns post and also this is really just going to be my thing now, huh? So I learned that someone has envisioned a program that is 800% my bullshit and I would sign up for one of these (Socially-Conscious Millennial Seeking Authentic Nun Experience, In Your Area) scenarios in a heartbeat–“Nuns and Nones“* (yes, I know) lets Modern Young Folks of various/no strong religious leanings live with and learn from elderly nuns, who are seen as carrying on a kind of communal, social-justice-oriented lifestyle that we don’t have a lot of examples of left today. The description of the project is mildly insufferable–

The idea was spearheaded by Adam Horowitz, a 32-year-old Jewish man, and the pilot program was guided by Judy Carle, a 79-year-old Catholic Sister of Mercy in the Bay Area. Mr. Horowitz and his friends heard the call after a road trip to visit intentional communities. They were brainstorming ways they could live radical activist lives, lives of total devotion to their causes. They were trying to figure out who was already doing this, and when Mr. Horowitz talked to a minister, it came to him. The answer was nuns.
“These are radical, badass women who have lived lives devoted to social justice,” said Ms. Bradley. “And we can learn from them.”

…but the idea makes sense to me; it really all comes back to people wanting some kind of alternative to this really disconnected, hyperindividualistic life where you’re told you have all these choices and it’s up to you how you shape your life but ultimately, all those choices just railroad you into some flavor of usually precarious, rarely fulfilling existence but hey, sometimes you get to support an ecologically-conscious brand or vote for a candidate who pays lip-service to your identity markers.** And religious orders, especially the stricter ones that have actively, deliberately resisted relaxing tradition and letting modernization in, are, as the above quote shows, one of the only examples that come to mind when you’re thinking of who lives in a communal setting based around a shared commitment to social justice and a competing vision for the world than the one we experience in our day-to-day lives.

And this combines really well with My Favorite Buzzfeed Article, that talked about young women who wanted an out from a world where, even though they don’t have to get married for safety and survival, still don’t feel that empowerment and freedom because they’re still a) going to experience sexism (and also the ways in which marriage is a tool of the state for wealth inequality and various kinds of social control), b) going to be financially dependent on jobs that demand their full life essence in exchange for being able to fire them at any moment and leave them unable to pay rent or see a doctor, and c) not going to have the opportunity to structure their lives in a way that serves whatever calling they find meaningful and rewarding, because that isn’t going to serve what a capitalist society is structured around valuing. Except if the best option they see is a strict, conservative, hierarchical religious route, they’re going to go the reactionary route, you’re not going to see a bunch of cool young nuns doing direct action against the scaffolding of capital, you’re going to get a bunch of cool young nuns tweeting about how abortionists will rot in hell.

The sisters began to see that the millennials wanted a road map for life and ritual, rather than a belief system…

“So many of the millennials would say, ‘I’m looking for rituals. I’m looking for rituals to work in my lesbian community or social justice or I need rituals for this other thing,” Sister Carle said. One young woman wanted ritual so much that she started going to Mass every morning.

Not to just entirely repeat something I’ve already written, but I really strongly relate to the desire for structure and certainty and community in life that you find in organized religion, I know that I feel this way because of how society is structured and who/what it’s meant to benefit and not some kind of religious calling, I want more (and not just religious) options for communal living among people who share an activist vision for social justice in the world and are able to take the time to pursue that vision, I want off this capitalist hellscape and also I’m just so very tired.

*It’s an NYT article link, so here’s a backup.
**And I’m not saying don’t do those, or stop feeling good about doing those kinds of small consumer choices, they’re fine, like, I don’t want to present this as “hello, you fool, you’ve played yourself, you think this is saving the world, well here I am, an Enlightened, to set you straight” but a lot of these things feel like they’re pressure valves for letting some of that frustration and powerlessness out so people don’t absolutely lose it, and nothing more.

Some religious navelgazing fr yr considration

This article about young women who choose to become nuns is a whole lot, my pals. It notes that these women are specifically looking not for, like, a fun cool liberal order tied to the secular modern world but the really dogmatically strict, conservative hardline ones that demand the most obedience and sacrifice.

And before the author gets to some thoughts on why, I’m like oh yeah, no, I see why this would be appealing–it’s an escape from how precarious, terrifying, and lonely life in a hypercapitalist world that values individualism and is heading for increasingly certain environmental destruction is. It provides a sense of actual fulfillment, of finding meaning to your life, that we’re told to find from going to work and serving our bosses, or as conscientious consumers on the market.

“Nothing is ever enough,” Dubay writes of how it feels to live in the modern world. You are expected to give yourselves entirely, 24/7, without wavering, to careers, to hobbies, to lovers, to children. Ideally, you are supposed to spend zero time not loving your job in a dying industry or your husband who fails to absorb the concept of emotional labor. But this is impossible.

And yet, Dubay explains, there is one being who reliably rewards our efforts: Christ. The woman who loves Him, the religious sister, has a calling worthy of her complete devotion and that honors her sacrifices “many times over,” as the Book of Luke says. She has found her “passion.” She has “rest,” “fulfillment,” “enthrallment,” “completion”—precisely the things that I, exhausted, have often wanted.”

And of course it’s not enough to just exist as a religiously-observant person in the modern, secular world; that doesn’t address the root of the problem. And presenting religious life as having this very cool ‘n’ hip vibe is a) something the youth are pretty solidly able to identify as insulting pandering, as a hollow sales pitch from growing up hyperaware of being constantly advertised to, and b) hits at neither the nihilist absurdism nor the straightforward sincerity that is more in line with what they’re more receptive to. Like, whom among us with our cynical irony-poisoned brains cares that priests are also gamers in these dark and trying times?

This part covers the appeal of going back to Simpler Times when Catholicism was comfortably terrifying better than I’m explaining here; it describes a teacher’s reaction to seeing a strict, traditional priest speak to his class about the religious life–

The more Olon thought about his students’ enthusiastic response to the hardcore priest, the more it made sense to him. Millennials and Generation Z kids report much higher levels of social anxiety, pessimism and depression than previous generations. He’d seen it firsthand in his own classroom. “When I ask kids what they want to do in their lives, they’ll say, ‘I guess I’ll get a job,’” Olon told me. They would explain that they had already done everything. They had destroyed worlds, fallen in love, built communities, made art. Then he’d realize that they meant they’d done this all online.

In real life, they were much more fearful. Everything they said—every youthful, experimental pose they struck—became a part of their permanent record on social media. The stakes seemed so high for even tiny choices. Sometimes, after class, they would ask him mournful questions like, “What have I ever really done that has any depth?” They reminded him of people having midlife crises. Yet Olon noticed that the more cornered they seemed, the more pressured they felt to do something truly wholehearted and unique. To be like Steve Jobs and take a huge risk that changed the whole world. Hemmed in on all sides, they also yearned for a tabula rasa, to tear everything down and start over from scratch.”

Anyway I have absolutely thought about becoming a nun because I hated the thought of doing any career, had absolutely no direction in life I felt would be worthwhile to pursue, and realized that all I wanted was to fill my time with hobbies and occasional socializing just to fill this meaningless void with pleasurable distractions that ultimately didn’t matter. Oh and that I needed some kind of assurance that I won’t die alone and neglected because I’m not capable of forming the emotional and physical connections that other people look for in a relationship so uh better see what other options are out there. And I still feel like that, on all accounts! It sucks! And basically everything in this article about how strict obedience in the name of a higher power, in a community of similarly-minded people who become your family, hits home incredibly hard. I’ve even already been raised to believe the inflexibly conservative strain of Catholicism, like really it’s all right there.

…but also actually being… some amount of religious is what guarantees I would never actually go through with this? Because I do think that it has to be a calling, not a self-interested escape, and it’s deeply offensive to use religious life as an out because I’m too lazy to get a job and too socially incompetent to interact with people. Like, the article does touch on what some of these women thought about why or if they felt some calling from God to become nuns and, understandably, it’s an incredibly nebulous point–what is a calling from God? How do you know you’re having one? But like, if you’re bullshitting it, you know.

(Also ahaha I uh am also not on board with a lot of the conservative religious doctrine that, while it doesn’t affect me, is still something I’m not able to make myself sign on to in exchange for a workaround for capitalism.)

I guess what I am saying is that uh if you have heard God’s calling to join the religious life, go do that, I support it, I do not support the twee Catholic Twitter nonsense of “to all my lovely followers, remember that abortion is a sin uwu~ ” but if you hear the calling of “I hate my job and need to talk to people” idk pal, do some political or charitable work and get some therapy, maybe you’ll still go to hell but in the meantime we all have to live in this hyperbolic hell we call earth together ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Real political hours here tonight

I read Plutopia, about semi-secret towns built around nuclear plants during the Cold War nuclear arms race era, a while back and I still think about how it describes the people living in the town as being these very staunch anti-communist, patriotic Americans who, you know, are 1950s middle-class suburbanites working effectively for the government so they’re very much against government handouts or interference, because that’s what the Soviets do, but their entire existence is literally at the whim of the government choosing to have this nuclear program, the government owned their houses that they had to rent (and, actually, they were super against a proposal to buy their houses from the government, because they knew that once the nuclear program was shut down, they were screwed, so they preferred this arrangement to ~real American homeownership), their local government was basically controlled by reps from the private companies the government contracted with for making nuclear weapons, their local newspaper was also created by company reps, etc. Like. We truly do contain multitudes.

And this reminds me of a comment I heard about how the modern suburbs are a space very much shaped by government involvement in people’s lives, very much deliberately created by government intervention, but are full of people who ascribe to a hands-off “freedom-from” view of freedom, where the government doesn’t interfere in your life. I truly don’t know what my take-away from this is, like, sure, people are hypocrites sometimes, wild takes here, but it sure is a type.

Recc Roundup 07/22/19-07/28/19

  • Reading (book): Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, by Kate Brown
    • A book comparing the history of two towns that arose around nuclear plants during the Cold War nuclear arms race, one American and one Russian. Get ready to hear about how a whole bunch of people got horrible radiation poisoning!
    • (No seriously, it’s, uh, really just a spectrum from incompetence on one end to human experimentation and general callousness on the other.)
    • Also the mindset of people who lived in these towns and were aware they were under constant government watch, constant threat of danger, constant risk of horrible illness or death, but still like defensive of or grateful for what they had is wild, and the comparison of the American and Russian mindsets in particular is some good shit.
    • Also the way the American residents dealt with the cognitive dissonance of being good, patriotic, commie-hating Americans with that conservative we-support-the-military-industrial-complex-that-sustains-us mindset, while living under government (or government contractor proxy) control, with curtailed freedom of press, assembly, self-governance, etc, their whole living situation subsidized by the government, etc.
  • Reading (article): Psychic Healing at the End of History, by Hannah Gais, (The Baffler, April 10, 2019)
    • This article on the popularity of psychics presented on state TV as a salve and alternate explanation for the crisis of communist collapse and capitalist shock after the fall of the Soviet Union is my gender, my sexuality, my Mood, and my Patronus.
  • Watching: Rhythmic gymnastics instagram is a thing I’m now fascinated by, also while it’s deeply impressive, I am solidly willing to assume that all of these kids need help because this cannot be a sport that fosters good physical and mental health and I’m worried about all of these very bendy girls.
  • Listening: I’m just gonna keep this all very Russia-and-Russia-adjacent themed in this here post because there’s some powerful aesthetic here that I’m vibing with–

It’s suffering time again

This is from an article about mental health apps and how mental illness is kept individualized, masking the societal factors that contribute to depression and stress with twee marketing and self-improvement solutions and I’m just gonna post a bunch of quotes because this truly captures the basis of if not every, then the vast majority of every instance of failing mental health I have ever experienced.

And it hits at why I get really frustrated when I engage in that casual and frequent acceptance that I just can’t do some basic thing because I’m so mentally wrecked from work–I can’t have any part of my life that my job, and a capitalist society more broadly, haven’t claimed from me–and it’s entirely beyond my control because my problem really is entirely caused by external, social factors that aren’t changing any time soon. There’s really nothing I can do–changing jobs in no way solves this problem–except start believing that it’s something wrong with me, and I should get over myself and go see a therapist like everyone else (or, you know, use one of these apps, as I am very much about to not have health insurance lol.) And this way of thinking about stress, burnout, depression, what have you, is just not the accepted framing, and I sound absolutely insufferable over here like “um excuse me, I’m not the one who is sick, oh ho ho, it is society who is sick, my comrade.”

Anyway, here’s someone talking about this far better than I:

We frequently speak of mental illness as “stigmatized,” but at least in young, urban, middle-class segments of American society, this no longer seems to be the case. Existential dread is now one among many inconveniences that you might as well digitally outsource, but the fact that we can now find an app for curing depression is just one symptom of a larger shift in the discourse around mental illness. The same consumerist culture that once shunned mention of depression now also seeks to cannibalize its language for use in advertising and media.

A ubiquitous truism about marketing holds that advertisements sell us a better and more beautiful version of ourselves—if you smoke Virginia Slims, you will be skinny; if you take Cialis, you will be able to play catch with your son—but increasingly advertising seems to appeal to a vision of well-off millennials as lazy, depressed homebodies, prone to ordering food online every night and binging Netflix for eight hours at a time. You order delivery from the restaurant across the street not because you’re awesome or want to be awesome, but precisely because you’re not, these ads tell us, and that’s just fine. If the end goal of Instagram and Candy Crush was always to numb us into contentment, isn’t it easier just to come out and say we will take away your pain

[A]s one meme has it, “we live in a society”: one that requires many of us to work inhumane hours without fair compensation or medical care; one that in the sparse gaps between those working hours bombards us with junk food, mass culture, demonstrably addictive social media, and the vague promise of incremental political reform; and one that, meanwhile, listens to our phone conversations, tracks our most minute movements, and recommends us purchase after purchase based on what we Google while on a bathroom breaks.

The formalism of clinical psychology, [clinical psychologist and philosopher David Smail] writes, leads too many people to view their well-being as a matter of medical diagnosis rather than as the result of externally imposed conditions—chief among them “the machinery of global capitalism,” which “has enormous effects on vast numbers of people in the world who are themselves in no position to see into its operation.”

[T]he navel-gazing recommended by apps like these has the potential to entice us away from larger questions about the structural forces that generate a great deal of our suffering. Similarly misleading is our recent societal tendency to see depression as a kind of cultural common denominator, the most “relatable” of all memes.

I Feel Better Now, by Jake Bittle for The Baffler, July 11, 2019