Two-for Tuesday

Week 4 of trumplandia. An American abroad, I rely on family & friends back home to keep me in the loop of what’s happening, what the atmosphere in different places is like, how people are learning and healing and protecting each other when the president is not interested in any of those activities.

Today, two little things I’ve been given, passed on to stave off the gloom:

Read books. Support bookstores. There’s a bookstore in MOSCOW on this list, y’all. Impressive.

Sufjan Stevens, much beloved musician, nails things right on the head.

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the duchess be with you

Amidst what is quickly becoming one of the scariest and least stable years I can remember, this week news broke of some incredibly minor shenanigans at the college where I did my theological training, Westcott House. Some students organised an evensong in polari, a language that’s been developed and used by gay subcultures in the past few decades. Articles about the college’s ‘apology’ and ‘repentance’ over this service showed up in the Grauniad, the Torygraph, and the Beeb. Even NPR picked the story up, so I’m told.

I don’t really want to get into the internal politics of the situation here — though let it be known that I am entirely in support of the students who planned the service and think that they have been rather awfully thrown under the bus by some of their peers and their supervisors. What I want to muse about is *what is so offensive* about the language that was used, what is so terrifying to the religious establishment.

Complaints were made that a ‘polari bible translation’ was used. This translation uses the word Gloria in place of Godthe Duchess in place of the Lord, Josie in place of Jesus, and the Fairy fantabulosa  in place of the Holy Spirit — amongst many other substitutions. These choices and others were seen by some to undermine the historic doctrine of the church, as well as make an unhelpful contribution to the currently very-hot-indeed issues around sexuality in the Church of England. This same week, the C of E bishops issued a statement which confirmed no change in some traditional teachings around sex and marriage (not surprising, but still sad). This statement urged churches, where necessary, to repent of their homophobia and to ‘change the tone’ of their engagement around issues of (particularly queer) sexuality. I could write multiple posts about the bishops’ statement; right now I want simply to note the synchronicity of these two events.

So — back to the ‘polari bible‘ and its paraphrase of scripture, particularly its use of female God-language. Those who know me will know how dear to my heart this issue is; how incredibly important I believe it is that people of faith are enabled to see how patriarchy & phallocentrism is harmful, especially in the way we speak about God.  The God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures refers to Herself in female terms, metaphors, and pronouns as well as male. [1]  Many reasonable theologians and biblical scholars accept this. However, it is one thing to accept the concept that ‘God is neither male nor female but both and, more importantly, beyond’. (Not all Christians accept this! If I had a nickel for the number of times I’d sat across a table from a Christian, usually a man, and been told that ‘God is not a man, but God is male!’ well, I’d probably be able to buy a coffee at Starbucks.)

It is one thing to accept this concept and quite another thing to put it into practice. Still, today, the feminine, and especially the female (see footnote for disambiguation) tends to make churchy people incredibly squeamish. [2] Even churchy people with a high regard for Mary or female saints. [3]  Why is this? I think it comes down to the famous dictum of radical feminist Mary Daly: ‘If God is male, then male is God.’ If people’s overwhelming linguistic means for describing, praising, and speaking to God is male or masculine — if we project onto God a man’s face, stereotypical properties, even genitals — then it is not long before they, before we, project what we perceive to be Godly attributes onto the males of the species, and those who display more culturally ‘masculine’ attributes.

By tightly orthodox Christian standards, polari is an intentionally irreverent, transgressive, thoroughly ‘indecent’ language  — I am reminded of Marcella Althaus-Reid’s ‘indecent theology’. The ‘polari bible’ was produced by the queer activist group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They’re an activist group, not a religious order. But it’s funny how the lines between activism and religion blur and swerve: how many nuns one finds on protest lines, how much space the church has made, perhaps quite unintentionally over the years, for (often closeted) gay men.

God as Gloria – Jesus as Josie – the Holy Spirit as the fantabulosa Fairy. What is it that offends people here? I ask about offence, not theology, right now. Why do these titles make people physically and mentally cringe, even before they marshal theological arguments? Changing the address ‘Lord’ to ‘Duchess’…aside from the variation in gentry rank [4], what is the problem? How are they different?

They are different, of course, because of gender. Christians are so accustomed to God as Zeus, or the Trinity as ‘two men and a bird’. We imbibe the patriarchy of the earlier centuries and millennia which produced our holy texts, and we continue imbibing the patriarchy of today which denigrates the female, and the feminine, and finds them nauseating. We perpetuate this.

To protect ourselves from realising how much of this debate is about offence and internalised, institutionalised misogyny (and homophobia), we marshal theological arguments: ‘If God were female, then God would have been incarnate as a woman, surely’; in short, ‘because Jesus was male, God cannot be at all female’. Such an argument willingly ignores St Paul’s writings on people of all genders, ethnicities, and classes as literally the body of Christ, spiritualising the bible’s words beyond all significant meaning (a heresy which is usually referred to as Gnosticism).

Alternatively, even if we can admit that God might be, somehow, in some way, female as well as male, or beyond gender, we stick to the safety of male God-language. Perhaps we stick in a bit of language around God’s ‘midwifery’ or ‘nurturing love’, but do we make that leap to God as Her, She, Mother, or Sister? Do we address God as such in the depths of our beings? I am convinced that until we learn to do so, it is very difficult to nail the last nail in the coffin of our culture’s, and our religion’s, debts to patriarchy.

The polari bible is not meant as a serious biblical translation. I don’t know for sure, but I’d reckon that no biblical scholars were consulted in its production. Raise all the questions you want about the wisdom of using that bible in a theological college evensong. The fact remains that the move in that service towards female God language, though in jest, is primarily what scares the significantly male-dominated global religious establishment — not just a branch of the Church of England. The fear felt by the establishment is the reaction to the removal of privilege: in this case, the privilege that comes particularly to men when God is imaged exclusively as male.

Such fear so often becomes hatred. Whether we call it homophobia or misogyny or not, that is what it is. No amount of card shuffling, of attempting to shift the debate back onto ‘real theological issues’ can detract from the fact that the church has demonstrated once again its deep unease, distrust, and ultimate rejection of the female, and with the queer. And believe me, those of us who are female and/or queer and love Jesus feel this rejection sharply, like swords piercing the soul.

 

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[1] An accessible book on this topic is ‘Is it Okay to Call God Mother?’ by Paul Smith.

[2] I draw a distinction between ‘the feminine’ and ‘female’ because, it seems apparent to me, that while people are born male, female, or intersex; they are also born with brains, bodies, and personalities that miraculously mix and combine traits which various cultures assign (variously!) as more ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.

[3]  I do think, as I have argued elsewhere, that part of the reason for the strength of the cult of Mary and of female saints is the lack of space that many Christians find in their God-images, and God-language, for anything female.

[4] The Sister of Perpetual Indulgence are an American group. We Americans don’t really do gentry titles. We find them quite queer.

 

Books of 2016

My annual round-up of (mostly non-ministry-related) reading is below! Did you read any of these? What were the books you read this year that you loved, loathed, or couldn’t care less about?

1. Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Another fab number from the woman I want to be when I grow up,  pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. She writes like she actually believes all this Jesus stuff, and reminds me why I do, too.

2. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Want to know a place where it was nigh on impossible to be a lesbian and not get killed? Nigeria in the late 20th century. Ijeoma, the protagonist of this book, grows up hiding the shame of a romance with a young woman and her journey towards authentic sexuality is harrowingly recounted. The book utilises some of the structure and rhythm of classic Nigerian folk tales and so has almost a storybook quality, but its depiction of war, hunger, manipulation, and abuse are not light topics at all. I found this book to be both encouraging in how it seeks to put the stories of LGBTQ Africans ‘on the map’ and also deeply saddening, as with every page I was reminded of the struggles of queer people to just survive, especially in parts of Africa.

3. I am Radar by Reif Larsen

This book was a chance find that I picked up when in Berlin I found myself suddenly novel-less (a horrible state to be in, to be sure!). At the mecca of Berlin’s English bookshops on Friedrichstraße, Dussman Das KulturKaufhaus, I found this little gem — although it was more like a microchip than a gem. On one level it’s a story about Radar, a black child born to white American and Serbian parents; on another, it’s about a global network of performance-artists-cum-experimental-physicists; on another, it’s about the cyclical nature of history, human violence, and entanglement of destinies, and the unknowable-ness of death. I thoroughly enjoyed it although it felt like it stopped too abruptly; maybe 50 pages more could have tied things up better? Larsen continues his trend of including lots of extra tidbits in his text: diagrams, figures, some footnotes, and so on — less than was in his debut novel, but still pleasing.

4. Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer

This is, hands down, the best book I read all year. Kaminer is a Russian who immigrated to Berlin just after the Wall came down, and this is a collection of short writings of his about the lives of Berliners: old ones, new ones, German ones, Russian ones, and many others. It is hilarious. I read most of it out loud with my partner, or entertained myself in moments when I was supposed to be monastically silent at theological college. Ever so sadly, it is the only one of Kaminer’s several books that has been translated into English so far. Yet another reason to amp up my German language skills.

5. The Byzantine Tarot by Cilla Conway/John Matthews

Some readers of this blog will be familiar with my recent fascination with the language and imagery of tarot and its similarity to other therapeutic and pastoral language. The Byzantine tarot is a description of some of the convergences between classic tarot and the byzantine world, particularly its Christian-historical aspects, and their similarities and conflicts when it comes to talking of the inner life and of social life, determinism and freedom.

6. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Steampunk / futuristic / magical London & Oxford. Thoroughly enjoyable. Well thought out. Much more interesting & complex characters than Harry Potter & less predictable plot structure. A bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

7. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

Sequel to the above. It’s a world that takes a bit to submerge into, but once you’re there, you love it. This one only takes place in London, but delves deeply into the criminal underworld that exists in Scion (what London is called) and I love the part where Paige (the protagonist) et al try to write a Penny Dreadful as an act of political resistance!

8. Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox

The ever-witty Catherine Fox adds yet another novel to her Lindchester Chronicles. I’d describe the Lindchester novels as a mash-up of Anthony Trollope, Joanna Trollope, and Charles Dickens: ecclesiastical, essentially about relationships of different kinds, and written originally as a blog/serial. Fox is currently blogging the third instalment of the Lindchester series here but I shall wait until the whole novel is up before devouring it, as I’ve done with these last two.

9. The Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite

I’m a fan of Guite’s poetry, though I do feel about him a bit like I feel about C. S. Lewis: Christians get stuck on him (Guite) as ‘a poet they understand and like’ just like they get stuck on C. S. Lewis as ‘a theologian they can read and be fine with’. There is SO MUCH MORE good poetry out there besides Guite! But I am writing about Guite right now, and about The Singing Bowl which was a good collection of poems indeed. I read it on my pre-ordination-to-the-diaconate retreat, and it was just the sort of crunchy but nourishing stuff I needed whilst contemplating such a big life change.

10. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

A part of the ‘Austen Project’, this contemporary re-write of Austen’s original called to me in a thrift shop on Portobello road. It didn’t hurt that it has a bright, hunter-orange cover, suitably Hallowe’en-ish. McDermid managed to recreate some of the over-the-top daydreaming of Austen’s protagonist but locate it in the Edinburgh Festival instead of Regency era Bath (well done!). The adolescent obsession with paranormal romance novels is a fitting contemporary parallel to the gothic novel fantasies of which Austen was writing a parody.

11. Tiny Churches  by Dixé Wills

I am a little bit biased on this one, being a friend of the author and present on at least one of the fact-finding missions for this delightful travel book. 60 of Britain’s tiniest places of Christian worship are documented in all their tiny, unique glory, with excellent pictures. Less laugh-out-loud funny than other books in the ‘Tiny’ series by the same author, this book nevertheless delivers a massive amount of religious and cultural history, intrigue, and fascinating minutiae of the ecclesiastical sort. A chapter or five of an evening before bedtime is a perfect dose.

12. Vita Brevis by Jostein Gaardner.

A bit niche this one, but highly satisfying. For anyone who has ever admired the work of St Augustine but had significant reservations about his thoughts on women, sex, and bodies: this is a book you might like. Gaardner suggests that he has found this manuscript in an antique shop which purports to be a letter from Augustine’s discarded lover: the mother of their son and one smart and angry woman.

13. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.

I wanted to like this more than I did. A quiet and lush book, mostly based around a little girl and her friendship with her grandma on a small Swedish island. Sometimes the sections are more like chapters, other times like interlocking short stories. I was surprised by the humour of the writing, and appreciated it. Honestly, I felt I was a bit immature for this book — I expect I’ll return to it and treasure it much more in a couple decades.

14. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch.

As happened with other books in this series last year , I could scarcely put this book down. Policeman / wizard Peter Grant continues his attempts at not dying whilst policing the very contemporary London demimonde. Much epic standoff. Very magic-cop-show. And funny! This particular instalment has him investigating a suspicious death which may or may not be linked to to the daughter of Lady Tyburn AKA the goddess of the River Tyburn, tributary of the Thames.

15. How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis.

Revisiting the novels — and their women protagonists — who have shaped her own history, Ellis canters through the stories of the best-loved and -hated women in literature, sprinkling fascinating and human details along the way. Part memoir, part lit-crit-light, part excuse to investigate how age works on our memories of novels and what they teach us at different times of life.

16. John the Pupil by David Flusfeder.

MEDIEVAL MONKS TAKE A ROAD TRIP TO THE POPE. Yes please.

17. Names by Marilyn Hacker.

I found in this in the inimitable SKOOB Books in London and was happily reminded what a brilliantly talented poet Hacker is. I learnt about a new form from this collection — the ghazal — and loved her precise, generous work. Political and pointedly elegiac.

18. Going Forth by Bill Kirkpatrick.

Distilled wisdom of years spent caring for the dying an bereaved, especially those dying of HIV/AIDS. Readings, reflections, resources. Difficult but important.

19. The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch.

Another new one! Whoop whoop! Peter Grant is back in London, chasing down some illegal drugs and even more illegal magical artefacts. The best thing about this book was in the introduction of some awesome non-establishment magical women who may or may not be long-term allies to the Folly, one of whom can definitely fly. Oh, and also Peter swearing a formal vendetta against the Faceless Man. Dun dun dun…

20. The Wine of Angels  by Phil Rickman

So earlier this year on the BBC there was a drama called ‘Midwinter of the Spirit’. It was based on the second book in this series featuring Merrily Watkins, priest in charge of a sleepy Hereford village which (I guess?) experiences lots of creepy/mysterious/paranormal stuff. I loved the TV show, and thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  Best bits: the question about the supernatural stuff being ‘real or imaginary’, the struggles of being a single mom and a female vicar, the olde-England mythology. If this book could be summed up in a single sentence, it would be what one character, the old and wise Lucy Devenish, says to Merrily’s daughter, Jane, in trying to explain local lore: ‘Nothing is ordinary! Read Traherne.’

21. Byssus by Jen Hadfield.

Picked this collection of poetry up in a delightful tiny bookshop in Whitby this spring. Hadfield channels the language and lore of the Hebrides, the islands’ and islanders’ ways of living through the seasons. Short, punchy, eloquent. Great wee poems.

22. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.

Despite my occasionally gothic preferences, as of earlier this year I had never read any du Maurier. This March when I accompanied a friend to Cornwall, not ten miles from the actual Jamaica Inn itself, I felt it was high time to read this classic, especially since the BBC had also produced an adaptation of it earlier this year with Lady Sibyl (the best of the young ladies Grantham from Downton Abbey, IMHO) as the protagonist. Despite the awful cold I had at the time, I read chapters and chapters aloud to my friend — it’s best that way, building up the doom a paragraph at a time. In the end I finished it and left it in Cornwall: the bookshelf where we stayed didn’t have a copy, and I found that pretty unacceptable. Next up – Rebecca?

23. Snakes Ropes by Jess Richards.

Ooh this one was really good. ‘Grabs you and won’t let go’ good.  What time does it take place in — the future or the past? Is it a social realist novel or a fairy tale? Are there mysterious forces at work in the island, or are the women of the matriarchy just making it all up? It was hard to believe that this was Richards’ debut novel, it was that tight. I look forward to reading Richards’ next one, Cooking with Bones.

24. Readings for Funerals compiled by Mark Oakley.

OK, so this a compilation and I can’t really comment on the quality of most of the selections, as they are from holy scriptures or classic literature. But I will say that Oakley does what he does best — that is, compile and lightly comment — here, preparing a very good resource for priests, pastors, and nonreligious funeral officiants. Especially those of us who have experienced the more ‘drivellous’ of funeral poems.

25. Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson

This book has possibly The Worst Title Ever. It is also what might be termed a ‘Self-Help Book’: not a genre I spend very much time in. But I stumbled upon it when discussing with my partner what we should read in the run up to our impending nuptials. In searching for good books about long-term relationships and/or marriages that would educate, challenge, and encourage us, I came across a lot of indefensible bullshit which (a) harmfully perpetuated the patriarchy in many ways or (b) was really hopeless in outlook or (c) unhelpfully spiritualised all the problems couples might encounter or (d) were frustratingly heteronormative. (Yes, I have probably too high of standards. Deal with it.) Anyhow, this book, while not perfect, was full of good insight — if slightly too many acronyms for my taste. The author is an experienced therapist who has developed what is a fairly widely practiced therapeutic technique, ‘Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy’ and it’s common sense stuff, well founded in psychological research, presented for laypeople clearly. I’m already considering how I might use some of its insights with future couples who come to me for marriage preparation.

 

Books that, at the end of 2016, I still have on the go…

The Tzar of Love & Techno by Anthony Marra. Short stories. Layers of meaning, of politics and history, of sad Russian-ness. A little spectacular. Interwoven short stories reading almost more like a novel. Apocalyptic but a little hopeful.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. QUEER DEMIMONDE of the turn of the 19th-into-the-20th century. Such fun! Like a queerer, better version of that Edith Piaf film, La Vie En Rose. 

Iraq + 100 edited by Hassam Blasim. So far: Wow. These are searing, fascinating science/speculative fiction stories. Iraqi writers imagine a world post-western-invasion, in 2103. http://commapress.co.uk/books/iraq-100

The Storyteller by Walter Benjamin. Oracular. Poetic. Dark. Dreamy. Is probably better in the original German. To be devoured slowly, in small doses.

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. A re-relase for dark times. A litany of ways humans are making the world a better place; coming together, listening to each other, standing in solidarity, resisting soulless utilitarianism. For when courage is needed.

Things I learned from Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

There’s nothing like a reboot of a classic TV show to divide opinions, raise controversy, and otherwise keep Americans distracted from the fact that we’ve just elected Donald Fucking Trump as president. So of course, I got right in on that party o’ controversy.

Gilmore Girls was on TV during my childhood, but I didn’t watch it. Growing up in a small town with a loving mom, I nevertheless found the relationship between Rory and Lorelei cloying and unrealistic, the depiction of Stars Hollow sanitised, privileged and annoyingly whimsical. (I might not have been able to articulate these feelings as a child — but I can now. So there.) GG just didn’t ring true for me, so I didn’t watch it.

Fast forward several years: I’m living overseas, my rose-tinted spectacles firmly lodged on the bridge of my nose, and I could use a dose of nostalgic Americana. Gilmore Girls is precisely the thing to make me feel all the things I could not feel as a girl growing up in white, privileged, small town America, and not feel bad about feeling those things. But I was also able to watch it with an adult’s critical faculties, and found myself shouting at the computer screen fairly often: “NO RORY NO” or “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING LORELAI” or “STOP BEING A BITCH EMILY” or “WHY ARE RORY AND PARIS NOT A COUPLE” or “THIS WOULD NEVER EVER HAPPEN” or similar.

When I heard that Gilmore Girls was being rebooted for ‘A Year in the Life’, I was cautiously excited. Seeing Alexis Bledel in ‘Post-Grad’ had been my GG continuation for all points and purposes; the same with Matt Czuhry in ‘The Good Wife’. Those characters just changed name and some details and continued to live their lives. Don’t judge. I have my head canon — you have yours.

I found the reboot fascinating, frustrating, realistic, and ultimately rewarding viewing. While many fans had been angry with the plotting of Season 7 of the original GG, I respected the risks that it took with the characters — risks which were, admittedly, inconsistent with the dominant vein of schmaltz running thru seasons 1-6. Although the Sherman-Palladinos weren’t there for Season 7, in A Year In the Life they were firmly at the helm, but seemed to have incorporated some of the risk-taking that Season 7 contained. None of this nonsense about ‘the reboot only making sense if you imagine it as an alternative season 7’ for me.

With risk-taking comes, hopefully, many an opportunity to learn and grow. And so — without further ado — a few things that I felt could be learned from A Year In the Life (AYITL) (Muchos spoilers.)

Hollywood is a bitch

Can someone please explain to me how Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel look like they do? I mean, one of the most unrealistic running jokes about this whole series is that they ‘like to eat a ridiculous amount of unhealthy food’ which they are almost never seen eating on screen. But seriously — life as an actor must be tough if neither of them look a day older than they did in the original GG. I wanted to give them a cheeseburger every time I saw them.

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‘clam jam’ is an expression

So saith Babette and Miss Patty. I feel like this may be the best contribution of AYITL to the world.

You can have a personal transformation…and still be kinda racist

Emily Gilmore’s transformation from Entitled Socialite to No-Fucks-Given Widow was one of the best parts of AYITL. And although she has a whole family of (unidentified nationality) foreigners living with her in her house, she has no idea where they’re from or what language they are speaking. Seriously? That isn’t pure generosity — it’s also objectification. In my head, Emily’s learning the unrevealed language of her adoptive housemate-family and getting over herself even more in her beach house. But who knows? She might still be terrible, even if she is a bit more distant from the Who’s Who of New England.

There are people who ‘Do “Wild”‘?

Really? I mean, it totally fits in with the character of Sleepy Hollow, or PriviledgedWhiteTown, as we might #hashtag it, for its angsty white middle-aged women to off on a journey of self discovery a la Wild, but…but…Lorelai was always a bit outside that whole hullaballoo. Was this the ultimate sign that she’d become a Stars Hollow-ite, that she’d drunk the KoolAid? Her disbelief at the (hilarious AF) musical would seem to me to indicate that she still feels like a bit of an outsider in the surreal, almost Lynchian small town, but her go-find-self-in-wilderness is pure Stars Hollow cray cray.

That said, she really sucks at this hiking thing. She ‘does “Wild”‘ in the most Lorelei way possible: by failing, but not before she’s rung and shared a precious memory of her departed father with her mother.

Rory really does have sex & is generally an awful person re: relationships

Perhaps it was because I watched the original GG as an adult with a healthy appreciation of what sexuality might look like, but Rory always seemed to have precisely ZERO chemistry with her on-screen boys, with the possible exception of Jess. When she started having sex, it was with the kind of floppy-doll, wide-eyed unbelievability of acting that seemed utterly PG. Maybe this was because the show was on in the afternoon, and there were censorship issues, but I digress. Rory’s sexuality didn’t seem to be part of who she was, but added on in a way that could be discussed carefully by American moms & daughters after watching this show together.

In the reboot, Rory is in a thoroughly dysfunctional resumed relationship with Logan (#jerkface), as ‘the other woman’ in his relationship with his French (obviously!) fiancee. She has a fling with a nerd guy in a wookie costume. (The crossover fan fiction universe just cheered). She is seeing some forgettable guy called Paul. And yet she’s not doing this stuff with anything approaching a responsible polyamorous mindset: she’s just bumbling from guy to guy without much discretion; she’s a cleaned-up version of Amy Schumer’s comedy alter-ego. Rory’s lack of self-knowledge and intention in her sexual/romantic life is what’s least attractive, but most believable, about her — especially given the woodenness of the original GG’s portrayal of her sexual coming-of-age. The most telling conversation was the one she had with Dean in Doose’s market, where she just-about-tearfully admitted to Dean that he had ‘showed her what safe felt like’. Most of Rory’s romantic escapades have been attempts to find  (or defy her need for) emotions of safety as a result of a relationship or a fling. Yikes.

Pregnancy maybe isn’t the end of the world?

A lot of the fan ire re: the end of AYITL is, certainly about the ‘final four words’ which reveal Rory is pregnant. Although I was surprised by the ending, I didn’t find it unexpected, given what I’ve said about Rory’s un-self-aware use of sex and relationships to find feelings of safety. Especially when safety, for her, has mostly looked like her relationship with Lorelei whose pregnancy was unplanned.

But I did find it kind of weird how the reboot set up Rory’s pregnancy. Ostensibly, Rory is pregnant with Logan’s child. If we assume a rough chronology the show’s “seasons”, then she must have gotten pregnant after Logan and the Yalie-dudes came and took her on that last crazy adventure. In the lead up to their visit, Rory’s life went full-on Twin Peaks: weird omens, fog, strange music. (The parallels with the Gilmore coffee obsession and ‘Damn good coffee!’ go without saying, right?) Initially, the viewer thinks that all this brouhaha is about Logan’s visit; when considered backwards, it sets you up psychologically to dread the result of that visit, namely, Rory’s pregnancy. AYITL had, in no small part, been about Rory’s inability to hack it as a journalist, so heightening the sense of failure, dread, disappointment that the announcement of her pregnancy reveals.

Add into the mix the extreme bout of shaming that Lorelei receives from Emily during the original GG re: getting pregnant and remaining unmarried. The echoes of that judgment are still there in Emily’s harsh words about Lorelei’s unmarried cohabitation with Luke. According to Emily – the show’s voice/representation of oppressive cultural expectations – Lorelei has not followed the ‘right’ pattern of things. And now neither has Rory.

But a lot of expectation have been upended in AYITL. Lorelei has decided that marriage is for her after all — but on her terms. Emily has come through the worst of her grief, told her D.A.R. mates to eat their own bullshit, and just maybe gained a greater appreciation for those non-gentry who surround her. Lorelei has begun to grapple with the complicated love/hate relationship she had with her father.  Rory has gone 100% Jo March and written the book that is the story of GG. In fact it’s this parallel with Jo March of Little Women that I think is most important. In Little Women, Jo marries Professor Bhaer and becomes a teacher at a boys’ school – in subsequent novels her effort to become a published writer takes back seat. (It’s awful what Montgomery does to her!) In AYITL, Rory’s former headteacher asks her to come be a teacher at her own posh private high school. Rory resists, because ‘those who can’t do, teach’. She’s resisting the Jo March trajectory with all her might…and then gets pregnant.

The question that AYITL seems to be posing is this:  Some of the mistakes of the parents get repeated by the next generation. How do we live in a world where that is a given, without being completely fatalistic or anti-feminist?

In many ways, Rory and Logan’s story is much more similar to Emily and Richard’s than to Lorelei and Christopher’s. Although Rory is smart and funny, she thrives in the world that Emily and Richard inhabit, sometimes more than in Lorelei’s Stars Hollow lite. A pregnancy would, I think, make her wake up and think: which world do I want to inhabit, and how can I do this? Or do I want to inhabit neither world, but start off on my own like Lorelei did? I would love to see GG tackle the topic of abortion in a mature way – but given the path the show has followed so far, I think that is unlikely.

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Stars Hollow’s name is the point of the series

I almost typed above, ‘Stars Hollow is hollow’. And then I realised – duh! – that’s the point. Given the limitations of set and the generally feeling that the show wanted to conjure about Stars Hollow, the town itself only ever nods vaguely at social problems. Most ‘social problems’ are imagined issues that Taylor Doose brings to the Town Council meetings. Debt, poverty, racism, homophobia (‘We need more gays!’ notwithstanding), violence…the things that do permeate small town America are rarely seen in the Hollow: the distractions of the slightly Stepford-y existence outshine these things, for the benefit of the viewer’s comfort. The stars’ (the Gilmores’) problems, though real, take precedence over much realistic depiction of small town life. In fact, when the Gilmore’s problems get big, get real, they have to leave Stars Hollow to deal with them. It’s a meta-critique of small town America…but it is there.

If this is true, then in effect Lorelei has chosen to leave one bubble (New England high society) to join another (Stars Hollow). And the best that we can hope for Rory is that she manages to resist both, with or without Logan, Jr., in tow.