The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

Rumi and Me March 17, 2010

Filed under: theImaginaryHeroine — imaginaryheroine @ 6:05 am
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I’ve made a few Rumi references, so I just wanted to explain myself a bit.

I was brought up in a generally religion-free household. My mother’s family is Catholic with a few Evangelicals, while my father’s family ranges from atheist (my dad) or apathetic to Southern Baptist. As a nuclear family we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but never went to church. The first time I read the Bible was in college (I totally skipped over the Kings Lists in the Old Testament…sorry).

7abibi and his family are Reform Jews who have very graciously allowed me to participate in their family traditions and learn about their faith. I’ve added Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Channukah and Passover to my calendar of holidays. I’m currently scouting out a collection of tasty recipes sans chametz, a task somewhat embittered by the fact that Passover happens to coincide with the final rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. However, I would consider myself an interested observer as opposed to a practitioner or convert. I haven’t really begun the serious spiritual and emotional work that I would have to do before I even considered conversion.

I spent quite a bit of time studying Islam as a part of my BA (Linguistics and International Studies, focusing on Arabic and the Middle East). I have been able to meet and make friends with many Muslims of varying backgrounds and traditions. This by no means makes me an expert in Islam, but it does make me an appreciative student of the faith.

Clearly, I’ve had experience with the Abrahamic faiths, but it was always from an outsider’s or student’s perspective. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to move past merely studying religion. What if my parents, in trying to give me a choice, instead robbed me of the ability to carry out said choice, because I can’t ever feel, perform, or belong properly to any religion? Another part of me wonders if this is something even people raised in religious homes struggle with, just with an additional inertia in a particular faith. I am lucky to count among my friends Jews, Catholics, Evangelicals, Mormons, Atheists, Agnostics, Wiccans, Baha’i, Hindus, Sunnis, Shi’a,  and even a modern-day Sufi. But I am unlucky in that I feel they all have some kind of idiom, community, connection –something– that I am missing and will never find.

Again, I rely on “the longing is the answer” for comfort.

I must admit that Jalal Ud-Din Mohammad Rumi always touches me in a way that I can’t quite explain and explains me in a way I can’t quite touch:

by Lisa Dietrich from UPenn's CrossxConnect

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,

Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not Any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East

or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

I am not an entity in this world or the next,

did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.”

– Jalal Ud-Din Muhammad Rumi, p32 The Essential Rumi

trans. Coleman Barks, emphasis my own


The 100 Book Challenge

Filed under: Books,theImaginaryHeroine — imaginaryheroine @ 6:00 am
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Most of the self-helpy philosophies out there include something about setting small, manageable goals in order to achieve tasty little nuggets of success that encourage you to keep going.

I’ve been searching around for some achievable goals, but mostly I keep getting stuck on things like “figure out how to make ends meet*” and “get some kind of quasi-fulfilling career thingy going” and “find out the meaning of life, the universe, and everything” and also “stop being so depressed and/or depressing.”

I’m working on A and B. I’m not so sure C is possible, but I feel like it’s one of those “the longing is the answer” things.

D has always been a difficult one for me. I’m definitely a type-A, glass-half-empty, all-or-nothing kind of girl. Turns out this may mean I have a more realistic view of the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great way to be. Actually it’s kind of downer to have numerous books and news articles tell me that “yup, things are probably about as bad as you imagine they are. Have a nice day!”

In the spirit of getting a little bit of “optimist delusion” going, I decided to find some kind of hobby to keep me occupied. Thus this blog was born. Which kind of bled into my next great idea:

I’m going to try to read 100 books this year.

In my junior high and high school heyday I probably read far more than that. In college I probably read significantly fewer. But, I realized that as of now, I’m a little less than 1/4 of the way through the year and I’m already reading book number 26.

Good gad! Maybe I am capable of completing some tiny goals and getting my own tasty success nuggets! I already feel some delusional optimism tingling somewhere in my toes…

So, in order to keep my juices fired [holy mixed metaphor, Batman!] for the 100 Book Challenge, I’ve included a widget on the right side bar documenting my progress.

What counts towards the 100 Book Challenge?

I’m going to be kind of fluid on this issue of what constitutes a book, since I’ve recently started being interested in things like 1000 page fan fiction masterpieces and academic papers as long as normal books.

However, I can’t count any book more than once. For instance, I read A New Dawn straight through in an afternoon, but I had to go back to each essay and reread one or two more times for analysis purposes. The whole project counts as one book.

That, my friends, is my mission.

Wish me luck!

*When I was little I thought this phrase was “make ends meat” and was some kind of recipe. “Ends meat,” I speculated, was  something akin to meat loaf, which I abominate to this day. I even hate its more aristocratic cousin, Pâté. Oddly fitting, since no one I know likes having to make ends meet either…


Analyzing the Twilight Saga February 27, 2010

Ever since I first gobbled down all four books in one week in December 2008 (I almost ruined my last finals week of college – Thanks, SMeyer), I’ve been dealing with a lot of confused feelings about my TwiLove.

I’m an unabashed vampophile, but in terms of vamp cannon, Meyer’s vampires are definitely a departure in both surface elements and underlying metaphor. The books are definitely romantic, but are they romance novels? Considering that all bodice ripping takes place after an exchange of I do’s and even then tactfully out of the literary frame, I’m not so sure. Don’t even get me started on the whole issue of whether Edward is abusive, Bella is a passive bore, and Jacob is guilty of being a Nice Guy (R). Hello cognitive ambiguity!

As you can see, it’s all a very fraught subject for a hyper-analytical nutjob like me. I can’t just sit back and enjoy. I have to know! If they aren’t vampire novels…and they aren’t romance novels…what the heck are they? Why do grown up women and even feminist academics go gaga over these books? What was up with Breaking Dawn? Most importantly – what the heck do they all mean? What is the Saga trying to tell us about life, the universe, and everything (LU&E)?

With all these questions swirling around in my head, I started hunting down critical analyses of the Saga. After sifting through a lot of “Twilight is so awesome and Edward is so HAWT SQUEEEE!” and even more “Twilight is the stupidest book of all time, not that I read it to come to this is conclusion”, I found a few books and blogs that really got me thinking about the philosophy behind the Saga. This is the beginning of some posts about the latest bit of Twilosophy I’ve been reading, A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins.

Unfortunately I got my hands on this book just after I had stumbled upon a series of essays by John Granger, the Forks High School Professor, that included a serious analysis of the underlying allegories of Twilight (and Harry Potter, but that’s another post). A New Dawn really didn’t hold a candle to Granger’s work.

Instead of dealing with the question “what does Twilight tell us about LU&E?,” A New Dawn examines individual elements of the Saga and places them in context of young adult fiction, vampire cannon, the romance genre, etc. The book is written to the young adult audience specifically, so it’s very chatty and light.

I’ll be posting on each essay separately, as I’ve been informed that my posts resemble Tolstoy’s War and Peace (must be an August 28 birthday thing).