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January 2020 Blog

Pic is of me & Ricky Whittle on the set.

I’m so happy it’s 2020. And not just because it looks so good, the 2 2s and the 2 0s. And not because last year was difficult. In fact 2019 was one of my best years ever. I just love that it’s 2020 because it feels like we’re all turning some important page. I hope it’s not a darker chapter; as I write, our President is playing with matches in the Middle East. But I’m personally glad to welcome a new year because some things are getting settled that were not settled previously.

We had a lovely Christmas in Spokane. Michael and I even went to a traditional Latin Mass on Christmas morning at Mt. St. Michael’s. The Latin was beautiful, and the music sublime. But overall, it felt very cult-y and weird and — I may be projecting — the women looked sad and downcast. It was wildly interesting. I wish I could know more about that place. They’ve had a few provocative scandals in the last few years; there’s a school; there are several families with many young children. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I want it to be a wonderful, meaningful refuge but I suspect it is not.

So what is new? I guess my big news is that I’ll be shooting a film version of Julia Sweeney: Older & Wider in Spokane, my hometown, April 2 and 3 at the Fox Theater — where I used to work as an usherette in high school. I’m selling half the seats and giving away the other half. There’s a pop-up window on my website where you can get free tickets or just click here. This is going to be a big part of my work for the year, getting that show filmed, edited and ready for wherever it will stream. I hope it’s Amazon or Netflix; we will see.

On April 6, I’m recording the audio version of the show for Audible — a special performance at The Groundlings Theatre. When I record for an audio listening experience, I think more about how I sound and less about having high energy than when it’s being recorded for film. Something I learned after many recordings of Letting Go of God. I finally got a recording I liked in NYC at Ars Nova. Here’s hoping the same quality will be captured at The Groundlings.

I’m doing Older & Wider February 1 at Seattle’s Neptune Theater. I just spent a few days in Seattle doing publicity for my show, which I’m looking forward to.

And, for a long time now, I’ve been developing and re-working a show called I, as Well. After many, many workshop presentations this autumn in Los Angeles, I’ve decided to record it as an audio … something. Podcast? Comedy performance? Not sure yet. But I’m going to record it on my own, and by that I mean not in front of an audience. The workshops helped me understand the dramatic structure of the piece, but at the same time, it stopped being a comedy, and it even stopped needing to be performed in front of a live audience. I have a new vision for it, as a recording with music, and I’m working on that. I hope to finish it in the next six months.

This year my husband Michael and I are doing a remodel on our home, and a lot of my energies will be taken up with that. We’ve been talking and planning this for so long. It’s a project that has become very large, then scaled back again. Right now we’re on the scaled-back side of things, but it still means moving out of the house for several months. It’s a very creative thing, to remodel. I’m trying to enjoy it. But mostly I want it to be done.

The big things I learned this last year? Well, I’m not going to be a stage monologue performer forever. I really thought I’d be coming up with show after show. But now my view has shifted. It both is too difficult for me to do so many stage shows and takes up an enormous amount of time, mentally and physically. Moreover, since I was able to act so much this year, I’m inspired to make more room to act in other people’s shows. That means I need to be available to be cast, and that means not scheduling so many stage performances.

I’m thinking seriously about doing a podcast called Catholijizm. I’ve been futzing around with a subtitle, maybe “Examining the essence of Catholicism” or “Examining the seeds of the Papists.” I dunno. Send me a good idea if you have one.

To prepare for this, I’ve been spending a lot of my free time re-learning (and learning!) about the history of Catholicism and Christianity, which of course means reading more about Judaism.

First, I read most of Robert M. Price’s books, which are brilliant. I was even able to have him tutor me for several months. I adore him. He should be a household name. And he’s funny, too. Plus, a genius. I’m serious. I love that guy so much.

Then, I’ve been reading the Bible while watching classes on the website, “The Great Courses,” like mad. Seriously, every moment I can. It’s driving my husband crazy, but I don’t care. The Great Courses Plus is such a good deal: $120 for the year and you get so much! That website is made for me. Right now I’m mad for three instructors. David Brakke of The Ohio State University is probably my favorite. I’ve watched his “Understanding the New Testament” and “Gnosticism” and “The Apocraphyl Jesus.” Sometimes I watch a “class” five times. He’s so plain and clear in his explanations, but it’s a lot to absorb.

I’ve also watched Amy-Jill Levine’s Old Testament class. She’s a professor in Jewish Studies in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. This class is from about 20 years ago (fortunately the Old T. hasn’t changed!). There’s so much there, it’s actually overwhelming. In the last class of the series she lists everything she wishes she could’ve covered but didn’t. I was practically crying out, “Don’t stop! I want more!” She’s terrific.

And at this moment, I’m crazy-happy in the middle of a class called “The Holy Land Revealed” (that’s such a weird History Channel type of title, but the class is not schlocky like the History Channel). The instructor is Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill. This class is mostly about archeology. Wow, so fascinating.

I recently became aware that Yale has a whole Open Courses catalogue you can watch online for free. There are a few religious classes, and I’m looking forward to getting to those, once I’ve exhausted the Great Courses catalogue on religion.

What I find most interesting — now that I’m firmly an unbeliever myself — is how people’s beliefs shaped history. Whether the belief was true or not actually doesn’t matter that much. If people believe it, and laws and behaviors are based on it, then it’s been influential in ways I want to understand better. It’s notable that most of these beliefs were only tangentially adhered to; they were manipulated and expanded and contracted to fit the situation. And most of all, what’s mesmerizing is how they told the story to themselves, usually re-shaping history in the retelling, taking events or things that happened out of their control, and rewriting them to somehow reflect control, predictability, and hope. People like certainty, even if it’s with a God that clearly isn’t keeping promises. They create a feedback loop of belief and disappointment which keeps them in a vacillating state between reality and non-reality. It’s actually kind of a genius way to get through difficult times.

I’ve also been up at night watching videos on YouTube of Traditional Catholics giving speeches. Some are really amazing. I understand and even relate to their stories, how distressed they were before they found a code of behavior they could stick to, and how happy they are to find a community that helps reinforce that behavior and gives them infrastructure to do what they want to do.

What I don’t understand is why the belief system they found had to be Catholicism. Or actually anything that includes miracles, or God. Why not Stoicism, for example? I suspect it has to do with the structure and community that religion offers. But my biggest question is why their beliefs seems to include oppression of women and other traditional “values” that are actually harmful and restricting. There just seem to be so many better choices than Catholicism. Even though I have great affection for the church, myself. But not enough to join it. (But enough, I guess, to think about it a lot!)

I told my husband that I really think the Catholic Church is heading toward a schism. Maybe it’s me watching all these Traditional (or Trad) Catholic videos. They are not fans of the Pope. My joke, when explaining who Trad Catholics are to people unfamiliar with them, is to say they are a group for whom the answer to the question “Is the Pope Catholic?” is “No!”

Michael said, “Maybe you should call your podcast Catholi-schism.” Ha. That’s a good one.

Right now I’m in Toronto for two weeks shooting American Gods. I lerve this show so much. I adore everyone on it, and the crew is so professional and competent. I’m sort of blown away with everyone’s skill. I love my part and I can’t wait for you to see it.

It’s very cold here today, snowy and blowy. I have a day off and am cozy, looking out the hotel window.

Until next month.

7 thoughts on “January 2020 Blog”

  1. Wonderful blog, Ms. Sweeney! I am going to check out Yale’s Open Courses. Thanks for the tip. Am really looking forward to S3 of American Gods as I loved the book so so much. Excited for you as Hinzelman is such a great part. Inspired casting.

    Steve

  2. Steve! Ha, ha. Yes, I’m Hinzelman and it’s just so great, I’m still pinching myself that I have this wonderful part. Yes, the Yale Open Courses. I watched a few of them, just the first lectures. They look good. Thanks for writing.
    xoxo

  3. Hello Julia! What a great first blog post! I enjoy blogging too as it’s a great way to just sort of let thoughts out and crystallize them in your head.

    In regards to your big question about those patriarchal values and other traditional values, I too think about this a lot as well. Part of me believes that at least at some point some of these patriarchal values were a societies best guess on how to solve problems in their society. For instance the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture we know led to a lot of disease from being around animal feces constantly that we domesticated for the purpose of farming. You also started being able to support large populations and create cities. The mix of disease and people in close proximity to each other led to unsanitary conditions and a lot of death. Particularly children and infants. There may have been a need to develop fairly restrictive rules around women for what they believed was increasing the likelihood of a baby being born successfully.

    In terms of why it persists though, beyond the fact that power structure always fight to maintain power, I believe that part of it is that change is hard for religion. In some respects admitting vulnerability in one’s doctrine would make people lose faith in it I think because church leaders can’t claim moral authority if they were in fact wrong. You can’t claim your doctrine is the perfect word of God and then say, ah we got it wrong. It’s quite clear that over the long history of Catholicism it has evolved (usually a step behind the rest of society) but if it happens at a slow enough pace, people will still stick with it. In some ways Catholicism is more progressive in accepting evolution and in general promoting scientific inquiry, but they still have far to go in other areas, particularly as you mention surrounding gender equality. It’s interesting stuff to think about for sure!

    Have a great day!

  4. Swarn Gill! I love that you responded to my blog entry! Wow, so much to think about. Yes, it’s interesting about the patriarchal nature of religion and how it came to be that way. That’s an interesting hypothesis, about the disease and death. But why would that make women have to stay home or not have authority? My thinking is that there is a deep biological urge for men, when in power, to control women. When we were hunter-gatherers it was impossible to control the women as they were needed as partners and humans were always on the move. But when wealth and a sendentary lifestyles – or farming – came into being, it allowed men to control women. Also, I have to believe that women got something from it too. Anyway, I’m thinking about this a lot.

    When it comes to the Trad Catholics I’ve been listening to, I think you are right. They want a rock solid ideology and to question it means possibly weakening it or even dismantling it in their minds. I also suspect that these men have a deep seated fear of women or some bad experiences that they haven’t processed which leads them to be attracted to ideologies that elevate men and subjugate women. What’s most interesting to me at the moment is how egalitarian the early Christian church was. The passages that are most oppressive to women in the letters of Paul have been shown to be written later and falsely attributed to Paul “Women should not teach, should remain silent, if women have a question – ask their husbands at home” that was later and not written by Paul. Paul names many women who were early disciples and deacons and says they were important. So at some point, a more progressive religion (than Judaism) in terms of sex became more Patriarchal as it got organized and got more power. So why would a modern man in a modern society want to join a religion that subjugates women? I think it comes from the insecurities and maybe bad experiences of the individual. Often these men also seem to “worship” women, setting them on a pedestal. But while that seems nice on the surface, I think underneath it belies a great deal of resentment and even fear. Anyway, just riffing! Thanks so much for writing here.

    1. It’s so much easier to have a conversation on a blog than on Twitter! lol

      Yeah, it’s interesting because I recently learned that in very early civilizations fertility godesses were present, and then it seems that God became more of a male figure. So there has to be something more there as to why women weren’t given more deference instead of less. I guess part of the reason why I think about the impacts of disease is that this was obviously well before the microscope and they has zero ability to understand why this would happen. Why some people would get sick and live, but others would die. Such a persistent state of fear increases the chances we’ll make false correlations. We are pattern seekers and lacking any of the tools to try and understand something as microscopic as germs and viruses, we are going see patterns where they don’t exist. Agriculture also changed the average time between children from about 4 years, two years. Populations exploded and with a kid on average every two years women would have been fairly constantly pregnant or breastfeeding, and so I wonder if this didn’t lead women to be more cloistered, more overtly protected in some way. And given that many disease are spread through the passing of bodily fluids, not being absolutely sure who your sexual partner was could have been very dangerous. So suddenly monogamy becomes also very strictly enforced.

      If you read Leviticus objectively, it reads very much like a hygiene guide. Telling you what fibers to wear, don’t get tattoos (dirty needles spread infection), don’t grow beards (dirt gets trapped in hair), what to eat and not to eat, don’t touch a woman during her period (blood spreads diseases easily), don’t have anal sex (greater chance of tearing and bleeding). I believe the famous Leviticus passage that is oft quoted is referring to temple prostitutes in the area who were often teenage boys. So in addition to the tearing, again the discouragement of sleeping with people who have multiple sexual partners. There is also a whole chapter in there about what to do if skin rashes or lesions appear on your skin. Without knowledge of how disease and infection actually worked I think we would have assumed our behavior at some moment of time was somehow impacting the grief that would have be fallen people who watched loved ones die routinely. Given how egalitarian most hunter-gatherers are towards gender it’s interesting to think about what could have caused the change. And you make a great point about the sedentary lifestyle. In the wild it was a struggle to survive, but at least you knew the dangers that could be fall you. Oh yeah Uruk got killed by a lion, a snake, slipped on a rock, etc. When microbes did us in, this was a new invisible enemy. I apologize I’ve drawn this thought out for far too long than you are probably interested in. lol

      It does seem to be the teachings of Paul that are kind of the worst parts of Christianity. Jesus seems like a liberal, but Paul was a conservative. lol And I think you’re right. Because it brings such strong community it also creates a bit of a hierarchical structure, and it can be an instant way to gain status by showing outward signs of piety. It seems televangelists know the game well, because you’ll see them make the most concerted facial expressions when they are supposedly communicating with God, and of course it’s an act to convince people of their “connection”. I don’t think it’s always an intentional con for everybody, but yeah I think a lot of men who have trouble gaining status on their own, can use the structure that religion gives (at least on the surface) to be very strict about the doctrine, and actually have people find that appealing.

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