Growing Up Femme: Role-Models

It’s weird developing role-models when you’re different from society norms. I’m not talking about a general teenage angsty feeling of being different (which is totally valid, it’s just not what I’m talking about), but rather the effect of being a minority in the eyes of society. Straight white dudes get to look out into the world and see a world of role-models reflected back at them but for those of us who aren’t as privileged (Full Disclosure: I’m white and am male, though I usually need to butch up before my male-ness is entirely recognized) finding role-models can be tricky. I’d like to talk about my experience  as a femme boy in the world of searching for role-models.

First I want to acknowledge that it’s completely possible to have role-models who don’t reflect your exact identity. Straights can have role-models who aren’t straight and female identified people can have genderqueer identified role-models and so on and so on but there’s something comforting in finding role-models who share at least part of your identity. Particularly when you’re already ‘different’ finding a role-model who shares your differences can be really nice.

The trouble with growing up as a femme boy in rural Vermont is that you don’t really have a lot of femme role-models in general. Carhartts are standard dress for men and women in the town that I come from (and I don’t just mean Carhartt pants but Carhartt shirts and boots and hats and if it has the Carhartt label you can bet people in my hometown are wearing it), and heels really aren’t practical. From the moment I began expressing my own opinions I was leaning towards a femme aesthetic, an early indication that I was going to be different from my fairly butch community.

Before I could verbalize my emotions I was hunting down femme role-models in history books and the pages of magazines. Finding other men who presented as femme was basically impossible. I picked up a few male role-models (Benjamin Franklin and Captain Picard and, well, that was basically it…), but I ended up getting drawn into the world of women who behaved badly and ended up making history. I became fascinated by women who were femme but also were loud and took stands and were sometimes even abrasive. They proved that it was possible to be a soldier in a petticoat (name the Disney reference), that femininity didn’t mean weakness.

The likes of Nellie Bly, Abigail Adams, Virginia Woolf, Coco Chanel, Minerva McGonagall, Queen Elizabeth I, Hillary Clinton and others filled my head. (You’ll notice that all the women I listed are white and cisgender. At the time I thought nothing of it but looking back at it I’m almost horrified at how white and cis my exposure to history and current affairs was.) When I looked at them I didn’t just see people who had done great things but who also looked like I wanted to look like. If this idea, the idea that there is immense power in finding a role-model who looks or acts like you, is strange then I humbly suggest that perhaps you’ve always been exposed to role-models who you can relate to.

As I got older I began to find a few more femme male role-models but these were far and few between. Quentin Crisp was practically heaven-sent for me and watching The Naked Civil Servant and An Englishman in New York warmed my soul but these moments are far and few between. It’s easy to suggest to me that I might take inspiration from drag queens and while I do love a good drag show I can’t really relate to drag queens. As a general rule the drag queens I’ve seen take on characters that are so outrageous that they’re almost comedic portrayals of femininity. Drag is great, I’ve even performed in a drag show, but it’s not who I am in my daily existence.

An arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst

There are some who challenge my femme presentation and say that it makes me a less effective activist. They will say that my lipstick and pencil skirts make me appear too weak. In response I would like to remind them of Ms. Emmeline Pankhurst, a woman who wore skirts and big hats and make-up (possibly, I don’t actually know this for certain but looking at photos of her makes me suspect she had at least a smudge of makeup on her face), and heeled shoes and was most definitely not weak.

Some suggest that my clothing and make-up are the product of a society dominated by the patriarchy and that I’m buying into beauty standards of a backwards and sexist age. The fact that I’m a man makes my daily fashion radical but even if we put this aside all I can say is, “Shove off.” I am consciously choosing my presentation based on how wonderful it makes me feel and not because I’m being pressured into it. (This being said I do have strong issues with the European centered standards of beauty that our society is so fond of and would like to see us begin dismantling these standards.)

I take strength from my femme identity. Being able to express myself gives me strength. Being able to go about my day feeling attractive gives me strength. It’s a wonderful, wonderful strength that helps sustain me when shadows draw near and I know that I’m where I am today because I was able to find my role-models. The fact that I can look at my role-models and see that I’m not alone gives me more joy and strength than I can express. That’s the power of role-models.

So for all of you who will ever interact with a femme boy:Please, please let him have his role-models, it’s damn important.

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After Boston

On Monday morning I was pressed up against the bodies of strangers as we gathered to watch marathoners preform feats of physical and emotional strength that I marvel at. Moments earlier as we joined the crowds my friend commented on how much she loved Marathon Day. This day was more than a celebration of athletic prowess, it was also a celebration of community and the way in which we come together. Four hours later our joy became horror.

I learned of the news as I was leaving my sister’s dorm, just over half a mile from Copley Square. Once again I was in a crowd of strangers. Now we were joined together in silence with our attention focused on the televisions in the dorm lobby. My desire to get out of Boston pushed me out of the dorm and onto Boylston Street in an attempt to reach my bus at South Station. The crowd I joined on the streets was louder than the one I’d just left. All previous feeling of joy and community and kinship and unity felt fractured as every stranger became a potential assailant.

Hearing the stories of the courageous acts that followed the explosions has helped to remind me of the kindness that exists in humanity. In my area of Boston there were no great acts that could make the headlines. The streets that I hurried down were filled with people who had been evacuated from the local metro lines, marathoners wrapped in their foil blankets, folk hearing the news on their cellphones. We were in the middle-ground, too far away to have been immediate victims but too close to be pure observers.

9/11 happened when I was in third grade and of all the days from elementary school that one is one of the, if not the, clearest day in my memory. My memory starts with our teacher telling us that a plane had crashed in New York City and until I could speak with my parents all I thought about was my family just across the river in Brooklyn. That was the closest I ever came to being personally affected by a violent tragedy of any sort. Until Boston.

Even when I was out of the city and on my bus back to quiet Amherst I thought of my friends and family in and around the city. As I scanned through The Huffington Post every few hours over the past week I was looking for streets, towns, places that I was familiar with. It turns out that I was lucky in that no one I knew was hurt. On Friday night a relative could hear gunfire from the direction of Watertown and it seems that this was the closest my loved ones came to the truly sad events that began Monday afternoon.

I will never presume to say that I was intimately impacted by what happened in Boston. I’m not  a resident, I didn’t know anyone racing, I wasn’t near the finish line, etc. However this was the closest I’ve been to terror, to violence, since September 11th. I may play myself off as a curmudgeon who has a Vulcan attitude towards emotions but the truth is that I’m an empathetic person and I’ve always assumed that because of my empathy I’ve been able to empathize for the victims of acts like this one. Now I don’t believe that. What I felt as I walked down Boylston Street, the fear, the anger, the desire to sit down and sob, was like nothing I’ve ever imagined, let alone experienced, in my life. When I think of the people who were more intimately connected to the bombings and the manhunt I find myself entirely incapable of understanding their emotions.

There’s been a lot of good writing over the past few days and one of my favorite pieces was written by a close friend of mine on the importance of empathy. In a slightly similar note several people have taken this opportunity to remind us that in some areas of the world bombs are a daily fact of life. In response some of said that these people need to wait, need to step back and let people heal before saying things like this. While I think that there’s a place for kindness and healing I think that using what happened to remind us of the frequent acts of violence in foreign parts of the world is appropriate.

I’m still dealing with my emotional aftereffects from Monday but what I can’t let go of is the idea that for some people the emotions that I experienced are commonplace. For me this could easily be a once in a my lifetime event but the fact that there are people out there who will be, have been, are being exposed to such events regularly is a fact that I cannot bare. I cannot bare that what I experienced as an atypical, unusual, truly frightening day could be just another day for some.

There’s a need for self-care and for healing. Sometimes we need to turn off the news and drink tea while reading a thick book. Sometimes we just can’t read another article about children dying in explosions. Sometimes for the sake of our mental health we have to go a day without acknowledging the fear that exists in our world. The thing is that we shouldn’t hide behind self-care and ignore the brutalities forever. I am entirely guilty of turning off the radio when another report comes on about bombings in distant cities and then soothing myself by saying that it’s for my own mental self-care when in reality it’s because I want to live in bliss.

Not any more.

Yes, when my depression is bringing me to new lows I will refuse to open my daily New York Times e-mail but I will not let myself pretend that my depression is an excuse to be blind.

What happened to me was a reminder. It was a reminder of my safety and of my privilege. It was a reminder that children and adults face bombs, violence, terror on a regular basis and that such a thing is abhorrent. My peaceful life was rattled on Monday and it was a reminder I can’t allow myself to hide in ignorance.

What happened to me was a reminder that there is work to be done.

NSFW/18+: e[lust] #45

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Photo courtesy of CreativNooky

Welcome to e[lust] – The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at e[lust].  Want to be included in e[lust] #45? Start with the newly updated rules, come back April 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

~ This Week’s Top Three Posts ~

Bringing Toxic Sex Toy Facts Out of the Attic

How Do I Get My Wife to Dominate Me?

I Need This

~ Featured Posts (Molly’s Picks) ~

Speaking the unspeakable

#safetytipsforladies

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Easy Come Easy Go: A Look at Orgasm Control
I came before I was ready
Relationships and age difference
PolyAnna’s Musings: Different is Good, Right?
Seriously Proud Queer
Spanking Kink of the Week
How to Be Good in Bed
A Thousand Small Unhappinesses
What’s in a Number?
The Absence ofHow to Tell if a Man is Gay
Stop Shitting on the Bottoms

Sex News, Interviews, Politics & Humor

It’s Not Misandry, You’re a Douchebag

CatalystCon

Catalyst: How it Inspired

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

Caning: To count or not to count
Slavery and Social Death, by O. Patterson
His Eyes Hungry. His Body Pleads: Use Me!
Toilet Whore
And then, I apologized.

Erotic Fiction

Wicked Wednesday: A little bit of confusion
The Moment
Detached
Waxing Lyrical
The “L” word
Gorge
Lolita Twenty-Thirteen, Part Three
Difficult

Erotic Non Fiction

Girl on Girl
The Moment I Felt Owned
Tasting Her
Acting on Instructions
Final Cruise
Quickie
A Lazy Sadistic Orgasm
I had 8 days of sex.
An hour together 
Cheerful Disappointment
What is Erotic?
The Coin Flip
Playing with Adam
A Trip to the Hardware Store
Fall From Grace

 Eroticon

A Somewhat Different Eroticon2013 4~part Post

Poetry

The Dark Place

I Kinda Loathe 16-Year-Old Samuel

There’s been a lot going on over the past few days and so I never really got a post together for today (I forgot it was even Tuesday until my Google calendar started screaming at me to put up today’s post.) In lieu of anything that comes close to being mildly interesting here’s a Facebook survey that I did when I was 16. I came across it a few hours ago and might as well make my humiliation complete.

A
– Available: depends on whose asking. (16-Year-Old Samuel, Not that clever.)
– Age: 16
– Annoyance: right now it’s the fact that Star Trek is loading (I assume I meant that Star Trek was loading slowly.)
– Animal: targ (I’m so hilarious. [Stab me.])

B
– Beer: Noooo thank you… (I was a judgemental asshole.)
– Best Friends: I don’t like this so I’m giving y’all nicknames Baby, Dictator, Donkey, Adorable, Bora, Chat, Dress-up, Jumpy, Sustainable, I know I’m missing one or two but my brain’s dead (I was also a complete idiot. I don’t even know who half of these nicknames refer to.)
– Body Part on opposite sex: I am a big supporter of body parts
– Best weather: stormy, like right now
– Been on stage?: if you didn’t know that about me then…you might not know me
– Believe in Magic: it’s the essence of our being (Seriously, stab me.)
– Believe in God: Mine
– Believe in Santa: Nope, Kris Kringle yes, St. Nick yes, Papa Noel yes, Santa nope. (What the Fuck was I on back then? Maybe this was some commentary on the commercialization of Christmas?)

C
– Candy: Lemonheads, wicked ones (In order for this to make sense you need to know that my first e-mail address was “wickedlemonhead” because I was an idiot.)
– Color: Green
– Chocolate/Vanilla: mmmm
– Chinese/Mexican: usually chinese unless it’s mexican I like.
– Cake or pie: pie, foolish question (Alright, I wasn’t entirely stupid.)
– Continent/Country to visit: England, Italy, Poland for now (the lands of my ancestors).

D
– Day or Night: night
– Dance in the rain?: but of course.

E
– Eggs: growing in our back yard (that is, being laid in our back yard).
– Eyes: brown, deep brown…I love my eyes
– Everyone’s got…: (a) sing and dance (I don’t know what that “(a)” is.)
– Ever failed a class?: I would like to think not. (Oh my fucking god you annoying little bitch, just say “No.”)

F
– Full name: Samuel Aloysius Zaber
– Food: Choco(late) covered Strawberries

G
– Greatest Fear: not being in control (Yeah… still basically true.)
– Goals: finish my knitting project, have someone whacked, be published, be elected, be talked about, I dunno (I like my priorities. Also, the fact that I wrote “have someone whacked” makes me feel like adolescent me wasn’t entirely the worst.)
– Gum: eh
– Get along with your parents?: HA! (yes)
– Good luck charm: my belief (and a bat pin I wear for exams) (Man, I could have used that pin when I was still in school.) 
– Game: winning. (This was before Charlie Sheen made “winning” not cool.)

H
– Hair Color: brown with red (Brown)
– Height: 5’8″ or so
– Happy: when ever I can be.
– Holiday: Passover, although we didn’t do it this year.
– How do you want to die: in a big leather chair with my cat and a leather bound book. (I can work with this.)

I
– Ice Cream: phish food. (Still true.)
– Instrument: piano.

J
– Jewelry: necklaces a few rings.
– Job: wednesdays! (I love it). (I worked on Wednesdays. No idea why I phrased it like that.)

K
– Kids: are not my favorite things
– Kick boxing or karate: karate. (Oddly enough I’ve recently had an interest in taking up kick boxing.)
– Keep a journal?: your asking me this? Of course, words are life. (I never kept a journal for longer than three days.)
L
– Longest Car Ride: To Belize and back, that’s a lie, maybe out to Michegann (It was to Detroit.)

– Love: everything, well, I try to. (Like Hell you did.)
– Laughed so hard you cried: Yes!

M
– Milk flavor: whole farm milk flavored
– Movies: Juno, Keeping Mum, Checking Out, Star Trek: The Search For Spock, and others (These are all movies that I still recommend with vigor.)
– Motion sickness?: on a ferris wheel, it was a big one, ok?
– McD’s or BK: CLAIRE’S!!! (I suppose I am sucking up to the boss) (Explanation: I was an idiot.)

N
– Number of Siblings: my parents pretend I’m an only child but I think they ate my other eight siblings. (True.)
– Number of Piercings: none, that I’m aware of. (SERIOUSLY, You’re NOT Clever, 16-Year-Old Samuel.)

O
– One wish: things such as wishes do not come in “one”. (STOP IT.)

P
– Perfect Pizza: would be delicious (Still not clever.)
– Pepsi/Coke: ever seen what it does to you’re teeth? (Pepsi)

Q
– Quail: enjoyed it the one time I ate it at the now deceased Inn On The Common

R
– Reason to cry: Hello? I’m a teenager, I don’t need a reason to cry (Oh man, I was deep and shit.)
– Reality TV: CORPORATE COPS; STARRING: MICHAEL MOORE (This is a reference to a joke Michael Moore did in Bowling for Columbine. It still makes me laugh…)
– Radio Station: 107.9, wait, this question implies that there are more than one radio stations, ridiculous, V/NPR is the only one. (Stand by this one.)
– Roll your tongue in a circle?: it’s a family trait.
– Ring size: I dunno (Still don’t.)

S
– Song: Lady Madonna (I can still remember when I first heard it: Ketchum Hill Road with Donkey) (Alright, that was definitely not the first time I heard that song.)
– Shoe size: i dunnom, eight maybe
– Salad Dressing: good salad dressing
– Sushi: the little I’ve had was good
– Slept outside: Ok, who ever is asking these questions really does not know me.
– Skinny dipped?: See above (At this point in my life the answer is once. STOP TRYING TO BE WITTY/EDGY/COOL, 16-YEAR-OLD SAMUEL.)
– Shower daily?: yes, whenever I can
– Sing well?: I have the voice of a nightingale, a dying one, one which is dying of bronchiatis
– In the shower?: that’s what showers are for
– Swear?: ONLY WHEN NECISSARY (it lowers your iq) (Seriously I fucking want to punch this little bastard right fucking now.)
– Strawberries/Blueberries: Strawberries… although my mom grows fine blueberries

T
– Time for bed: 8-9, pm (Still kinda is…)
– Thunderstorms: sent from above

U- unpredictable: like all Vermonters, predictably unpredictable (No idea what I was going for. I’m sorry.)

V- Vacation spot: vacation spots usually insinuate beauty, which is everywhere, so the answer is: everywere (I really am so sorry that 16-year-old Samuel was ever allowed near the internet.)

W
– Weakness: I’ve found that I can’t stop stabbing/bludgeoning so that’s a weakness  (I will Stab and Bludgeon you so freakin’ hard, 16-Year-Old Samuel.)
– Which one of your friends acts the most like you: I pity any who do
– Who makes you laugh the most: “God” (think Voltaire) (Oh gosh, you’re so intelligent and educated and superior to everyone around you, 16-Year-Old Samuel.)
– Worst feeling: changes every time a new one comes around
– Wanted to be a model?: for others, I dunno, that’s pretty big pressure
– Where do we go when we die?: where we’re supposed to be (I’m in no hurry to find out where I’m suppose to be)
– Weather: wind storm!

X
– X-Rays: knee (after Donkey ploughed into me on a bike)

Y
– Year it is now: In my mind? Still mid-1600’s (I DESPISE YOU.)
– Yellow: A great color, one of my favorites (No, it wasn’t.)

Z
– Zoo animal: monkeys

LAST PERSON WHO…
1. Slept beside you?: Saedie and Bobo…it was GREAT. (Cat and dog.)
2. You went to the mall with?: Donkey and Chat. (No idea who “Chat” was.)
3. You went to dinner with?: Family I suppose.
4. You talked to on the phone?: Bora?.
5. Made you laugh?: God.
8. Held your hand?: Well, I had to keep holding her hand as she kept trying to get away (Dictator).
9. Spoke with?: Grandma (if I wasn’t against it there would be a heart sign here)
(You fucking pretentious little tit, I want to slap you. <3)
10. You cried over?: Abigail and John Adams
(Valid.)
11. Last person you texted?: Jumpy with Adorable…nearly a month ago
(“Jumpy?” “Adorable?” No clue.)(For reasons that I shudder to think of I posted this comic from Trek Life at the end of my note. Another example of me trying to be all cool by being like, “I like Star Trek and I’m not ashamed of it and so I’m better than you.” Again, I’m so sorry.)

Sod Off (Give Away)REMINDER: I’m giving away two copies of this print for free. Details are here.

Doctor Pulaski: Motherfucking Boss

A few weeks ago a blogger who shall remain anonymous posted on Twitter some very hurtful comments about Doctor Katherine Pulaski, the season two Medical Officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation. We bantered a bit (and I won*) and I decided that there simply isn’t enough Pulaski love out in the universe. On the rare occasion that Pulaski is even mentioned she’s almost always mocked or hated upon or otherwise maligned. And because I’m a freak I sat down to watch every episode she appears in and took notes along the way.

Upon concluding season two I’d like to propose to those gathered before me that Doctor Katherine Pulaski is a Grade-A Bad-Ass Motherfucker.

Pulaski’s first appearance (“The Child,” ep. 1) sets up her basic personality. She’s an older, stubborn, McCoy-esque doctor who really doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Though she’s supposed to report immediately to the Captain upon arrival she places the needs of her patients (Troi, who is suddenly and bizarrely pregnant.) above matters of not-so-urgent protocol. (Personally that sort of behavior is what I look for in a doctor.) She takes her job as doctor very seriously and even is willing to pull rank on the Captain if it means keeping him from dying because his fake heart needs to be replaced. (“Samaritan Snare,” ep. 17)

This is also a woman who constantly demonstrates her ability to keep cool in the face of danger. Even when she’s aging prematurely and facing death (Can we talk about how anytime Star Trek puts aging makeup on a character they look hilarious?) her entire focus is on staying calm and she refuses to put the rest of the crew at risk by returning aboard. (“Unnatural Selection,” ep. 7) She’s so badass that even Worf respects her and honors her with the Klingon tea ceremony (which she fucking takes part in because she’s cool like that.) (“Up the Long Ladder,” ep. 18)

Besides being an excellent doctor (Source: Every episode in which she practices medicine.) and the owner of a pair of steel balls this woman is also tons of fun to be with. She likes to take risks and will go toe-to-toe  with Worf in poker and is chill with Deanna Troi and has a pretty sharp wit. She’s on my list of people to hang out with in Ten-Forward.

And let’s not forget that Professor Motherfucking Moriarty totes has a crush on her. (“Elementary My Dear Data,” ep. 3)

There is the matter of Data. When I was re-watching season two I tried to pay particular attention to any interaction that Data and Pulaski had and my final conclusion is that people focus on their preliminary interactions and not how their relationship evolves. Yes, in the early episodes she’s an ass about Data. Pulaski is old-school and has a hard time seeing Data as anything more than a glorified computer but as she works with him we begin to see her attitude towards him become kinder. The episode that I really point to is “Peak Perfomance” (Second to last episode of the season.) when she pushes Data to play Sirna Kolrami in a game of Strategema. In this episode she talks and interacts with Data as if he’s any other member of the crew and when his loss wounds him she basically uses psychology on him, admitting that he is more than an adding machine.

Apparently people are put off by Pulaski’s no-nonsense attitude and the fact that she doesn’t have an issue speaking her mind. This is one that I have a very hard time seeing as I find Pulaski’s personality to be very similar to Bones and Captain Picard, both of whom are fan favorites. Is it possible that we’re uncomfortable with a woman, particularly an older woman, who is strong and loud and bends the rules?

Or is it that we don’t like to see anyone butting heads so fiercely with the beloved Captain Picard? I adore Picard to pieces but I have to admit feeling a certain sense of happiness in watching him talk with Pulaski. Like Troi, like Crusher, like Guianan, Pulaski helps to show us the conflict that Picard inhabits as he struggles to not let his “Captain”-y side dominate his humanity. Troi and Guinan do this through empathetic conversations with Picard and Crusher does this through moments of sweetness and love and Pulaski does this by being blunt with the captain. As much as I would have liked to have seen Pulaski come back so we could watch her evolving relationship with Data, I would really like to have seen her come back so we could watch her relationship with Picard evolve.

Whenever you hear people discussing Pulaski there’s always at least one voice grumbling about how they don’t like Pulaski because she’s a “replacement” for Crusher. Is that really Pulaski’s fault? I adore Doctor Crusher, I adore her beyond belief, but I also really like Pulaski. I’m able to identify much more with Pulaski and I find her humor more entertaining but that doesn’t mean I can’t love Crusher too. I mean, loving Pulaski doesn’t mean I’m betraying Crusher.

And in conclusion: This is a woman that Professor Moriarty fell in love with. That’s right, Doctor Pulaski is the a Grade-A Bad-Ass Motherfucker who doesn’t get nearly enough love or respect.

*The real reason why I’m not revealing the name of the blogger is because I don’t want anyone to ask her about whether or not I won because the truth is that there was no winner.

Sod Off (Give Away)REMINDER: I’m giving away two copies of this print for free. Details are here.

Review: “The Abacus and the Cross”

Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert) doesn’t have time for your lack-of-science-and-math bullshit.

Remember when I very enthusiastically reviewed Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings? Well during the papal elections (I’m a not so secret Vatican/Pope fanatic. Not in the sense that I’m Catholic but in the sense that I am in love with the crazy shit that the Bishops of Rome used to get up to.) I picked up one of her older books, The Abacus and the Cross, which bills itself as “the story of the pope who brought the light of science to the Dark Ages.” Yes, this book is a biography of Gerbert (later known as Pope Sylvester II) but it’s more than the life of one man. In the same way that Song of the Vikings was a biography of Snorri that also told a grander story of Icelandic history and culture this biography uses Gerbert’s life to tell the story of the end of the first century in Christian Europe.

Gerbert is the sort of person who you have to feel bad for.  A peasant born monk who probably could have spent his life happily working away on various scientific and mathematical problems in the libraries of Europe Gerbert ended becoming involved in some of the big political kerfuffles of his time. The reader watches as the somewhat (Well, maybe more than somewhat) naive Gerbert is forced to learn the diplomacy needed to interact with kings and empresses and men with big tempers and even bigger armies. As Gerbert attempts to reunite the Holy Roman Empire it’s impossible not to want to hug him and say, “It’s alright, honey, you tried your best.”

Song of the Vikings helped provide a nuanced and more realistic portrait of Viking Iceland and The Abacus and the Cross does similarly for Plutarch’s “Dark Ages.” Following Gerbert’s travels to Spain we see the multicultural city of Corboda where Jews and Christians could advance to the upper levels of government in this Muslim city. There is no sugar coating in this book, no attempt to make the Dark Ages look like a “Kumbaya” singing group of multiracial people holding hands but it does put a clearer perspective on the cultural politics before the early 1000s.

Ms. Brown also preforms a service by reminding us of the importance of Muslims in not just preserving Greco-Roman science and culture but in adding to and advancing them to new heights. Indeed, Gerbert’s own achievements would have been impossible had it not been for the teachings of Muslim scientists and mathematicians. (Ms. Brown’s writings on the political motivations behind the demonizing of non-Christians that would follow only a few years after Gerbert’s death are also particularly interesting.)

The subject of the Church and its relationship with science and math and logic and reason (I’m working really hard to keep my agnostic evidence based snarky bastard side in check right now.) isn’t a new discussion but Ms. Brown provides more context by discussing how a Gerbert, a scientist who would become pope, found his faith and his science came together like one big happy family. By using him as an example for the more traditional faction of the Church that viewed science and math as forms of better understanding God versus those who were beginning to look at arithmetic as Devil worship Ms. Brown describes the contrasting sides quite nicely. The look at how this scientist pope was treated after death when those that disagreed with his views on science and math became the dominant voice is a fascinating way of understanding the shifts that occurred with the Church.

The Abacus and the Cross might not be as accessible as Song of the Vikings (I mean, the latter is about Vikings and who doesn’t love Vikings?) but if you give it a chance I think that most readers will find themselves engrossed in this book. This book could also be perfect for any reader who is looking for a solid history that provides nuances to their understanding of the history of the Catholic Church.

The Abacus and the Cross; Nancy Marie Brown; Basic Books, copyright 2010

Sod Off (Give Away)REMINDER: I’m giving away two copies of this print for free. Details are here.

 

 

I’m Doing a Give Away!

Over on my main website (HypatiaofVermont.com) I’m doing a give away where you could win a great print! Here are the abridged details with more information in this post:

I’m giving away two of my “Sod Off” prints and all you have to do is comment on this post to be entered to win! How exciting is that? Super exciting.

Here are the big fancy details:

From the list below you pick your favorite blog name and leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite is. Each comment will be given a number (1 for the first person and 2 for the second and so on and so on…) and on the morning of April 26th I’ll select two numbers to pick the winners. It’s that simple.

Each print is done on 9″x12″ sketch book paper in black ink. They’re each a tiny bit off-center but remember that you’re getting this for free and so that’s really, really cool.

Don't you want us?

Here are the names you can pick from:

  1. Monks’ Press (What it is now)
  2. Monks’ House
  3. Hunger in the Library
  4. Hypatia Blogs
  5. ??? (This is where you put the number five and then suggest a title. If your title is picked then we’ll e-mail a bit of how you want to be credited. Don’t worry, I’m not a thief [The charges have never been able to stick.])

This closes on April 25th!