Meet Kate

In many ways, I'm almost a cliche of myself. I live in a city apartment with two cats. I write short stories. I teach English Composition at the local colleges (as an adjunct). I have a master's in a (sort of) useless degree--no, not philosophy: American & New England Studies (my thesis is on popular culture and literature and can be found on this blog).

I'm a conservative libertarian (which may or may not break the cliche), a Mormon (which probably does) and my short stories are mostly fantasy and science-fiction, rather than angst-filled stream-of-consciousness yarns about modern life. (Lately, I've been delving into Jane Austen tributes; however, my latest novella is a young girl's psychological journey based in a fantasy milieu, so maybe I am getting more arty--heaven forbid!)

I also adore stuff like string theory although I don't understand much of it, and am a skeptic about anything that gets too labelly. (See my philosophy below where I go on and on and on about that.)

I can be reached at woodburykate@yahoo.com

Many of the pictures below were taken by my friend, Jen. Without Jen, I would probably have no photographic record of my adult life since I'm the kind of person who takes cameras to places and then overexposes the entire roll. Thanks, Jen!

This picture, however, was taken by my mom:

My Other Life

Foggy Day in Maine

Jen and Kate

The Things People Don't Know About Our Family . . .

My Seminary Students (I Confess, I Taught Them to Read the Scriptures & Fight)

Kate

Woodbury Ladies: Kate, Beth, Mom, Ann, Kezia

Kate and Her Philosophy

Popular Culture and Orthodoxy
What do I think about popular culture?

There are two positions taken by scholastics towards popular culture.

(1) Popular culture is a negative: the purveyor of all that is crass, low-brow and disgusting. It promotes/produces greed, capitalism (which is perceived as a negative), class warfare and immorality.

This argument has been around for thousands of years. You just have to read Plato to realize how long people have been twisting themselves into knots over "low" culture. Plato just wanted to get rid of it, but others have wanted to "correct" or "fix" or "improve" the tastes of the "low," and they've wanted to do it since, probably, the first hunter/gatherer found she had a little extra time in the evenings. Probably Adam walked out of the garden of Eden, went, "Yo, football," at which point Cro-Magnons tried to earnestly educate him in the importance of cave art, except for the guy actually doing the cave art who wondered what all the fuss was about.

(2) There are hidden, da Vinci code-like messages within popular culture. Despite the fact that popular culture is run by crass, greedy capitalistic studios, publishing companies, etc., true artists have managed to sneak in their avant garde theories about sex, politics, economics, etc. Agatha Christie was really promoting a lesbian, Marxist agenda--that sort of thing.

I think this is nonsense, but not because it isn't true. It might be true. All art at some point has contact with an individual mind—even Hollywood dramas, believe it or not. An individual has to write the script, seven individuals if it is team-written. An individual has to direct. Several individuals have to work the cameras, lights, etc. Individuals have to speak the lines. And we view it as individuals, even if we're sitting in a movie theatre with three hundred or a thousand other people. We may be members of our communities, but we live in our own heads and die in our own heads. And what is created will subsequently always have an individual component.

What makes (2) nonsense is how far it gets taken. Afterall, you can find anything if you want it to be there. Look at what people do to the Bible. Look at what people do to themselves. Eventually, you end up with "heads I win/tails you lose" approaches. I've heard the Statue of Liberty described as chauvinistic because it is a "silent woman," i.e. our country is built on a patriarchal system which subjects women to the role of torch-bearing silent wives and mothers. Which could be true. But if the Statue of Liberty were a man, it could be interpreted as a chauvinistic symbol for promoting the male image as protector of the nation, implying that women are too weak to be protectors (and are silent since they don't even get their own statue). "Lose/lose." Ideologies are not the best way of figuring out what something means to the culture at large.

And popular culture is, to a great extent, about the culture at large: what people want to see and hear and watch. Whether we like it or not, what ends up in the popular culture is going to be a reflection, at some point, of consensus. And we can either belittle that consensus or try to persuade ourselves that it isn't what it looks like ("Red States didn't vote for Bush because they like him; they just voted out of fear.") or we can try to understand it.

Which brings us to possibility (3):

(3) Popular Culture is the voice of orthodoxy--the assumptions and conventionalities of society--and that isn't automatically a horrible thing.

Of course, if you combine my initial assertion, that we are each undergoing an individual existence, with this secondary assertion of a "crowd" or "mass" orthodoxy, you're going to get an orthodoxy that is riddled with exceptions, alternate orthodoxies, orthodoxies within orthodoxies and subcultures: a multiplicity of layers. Nothing is what it seems.

For the purposes of this site, the orthodoxy of Popular Culture (i.e. what you see on TV) refers to those (often conservative) assumptions that are embedded within books, television shows, movies, etc. etc. etc.

Take, for instance, the show House. It isn't a preachy show, but there is an underlying morality (like with many crime or mystery shows): (1) everybody lies because everybody has something to protect; (2) science is good and modern medicine is usually right; (3) rules and restrictions prevent smart people from doing their jobs; (4) telling the truth is more important than being kind and may save your life; (5) kids can be the product of environment, i.e. lying parents.

We can agree with these assumptions; we can disparage them; we can point out (which is more interesting) when they conflict within the show. We can make generalized ideological statements about them: "These assumptions reflect the heremetic commodification of goods in an imperialistic society." Or we can say, "People respond to these assumptions. Why? Where else are these assumptions reflected? What do they reveal about human nature?"

We can, in other words, let the orthodoxy speak. And speak for itself. We don't have to agree. But we can give it space to breath. We don't have to judge (which that is what ideological approaches usually lead to). This approach allows for appreciation and understanding without judgment. Nobody is trying to save the world here. We just want to see it. (Visit my brother Eugene's site for an excellent Neil Gaiman quote about the marvelous world in which we live: www.eugenewoodbury.com.)

Why I Think I Can Do This

Why I think I can do this (let the orthodoxy speak) is because I am a conservative libertarian raised in an intellectually stimulating household by iconoclastic parents in an orthodox religion.

Basically, I'm an active Mormon who votes conservative and doesn't like intellectual bosh. How this happened is beyond me and, I think, to my equally independent siblings as well.

1/3rd of the Family

I was raised in a house without a TV, not for any religious or cultural reasons; for no other reason, really, than that my parents didn't want it around. We went to movies quite a lot. The first movie I remember seeing was Star Wars, the original, which I adored. I now own a TV, VCR and DVD as do all of my siblings. But I don't regret being television-less as a child, although I sure did complain about it at the time.

We had bookcases in every room in our house, and they were filled with just about every possible combination of books and magazines: Tolkien, Sports Illustrated, Star Trek novellas, Cricket Magazine, Reader's Digest, National Geographic, The Bible, The Book of Mormon, World Book Encyclopedia, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, art books, history books, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, the Melendy books, Steven Kellogg, Brothers Grimm, Hilda Van Stockhum, John Irving, religious commentary books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Shakespeare, Japanese magazines, computer manuals, books on ballet, Highlights Magazine, archaeology books, library books.

Our family attended Shakespeare plays and operas and ballets. My dad listened to opera every Saturday morning. My mother, who is an artist, had paintings by Van Gogh and Brueghal hung about the house.

Such an upbringing would—you'd have thought—have produced a bunch of intellectual snobs.

Well, we may be intellectuals. And we may be snobs. But we aren't intellectual snobs, or at least we don't bear the traits usually associated with intellectual snobbery.

This is because, thank goodness, I was never fed any accompanying ideology to all this high culture. We went to Shakespeare and listened to opera and watched ballet for the same reasons my parents didn't own a TV—it's what they felt like doing. They liked Shakespeare and opera (at least my dad) and ballet. It was natural. We didn't go because it was Important or Educational or Significant or Intellectual.

Furthermore, I don't remember my mother (who read to me up until Junior High) ever asking me "What Does This Book Mean To You?" The artistic experience was not cluttered up by any Deep Thinking or even any Deep Moral Thinking. I was allowed to enjoy the book or the play or the painting or the poem or the whatever. Without judgment. Just cause I wanted to.

Which isn't to say my family isn't opinionated. I can remember arguments over The Merchant of Venice, The Black Stallion (the movie) and Midsummer Night's Dream. I can also remember arguments over the Yankees, the Dodgers, science, art, religion, and mowing the grass.

So basically I had lots of purposeless high culture and lots of low culture (despite the lack of a television). And I had smart, opinionated people speaking their minds all over the place. And I went to church. And still do. Mormonism deserves its own blog here, being in many ways a popular religion of stunning versatility. It is also a religion with a strong, theological base which spells out profound and yet (in a theological sense) uncomplicated doctrines. Mormonism has tended towards the practical throughout its history. There are icons within Mormonism but the day-to-day experience of Mormonism is, for a religion, comparatively unpretentious. Pray, read your scriptures, go to church, be nice pretty much sums it up. Don't be stupid is in there somewhere as well.

So, what does being an active Mormon who (usually) votes conservative and doesn't like intellectual bosh have to do with popular culture?

It means I believe in free will. It means I think that people watch reality shows because they want to, not because they've been brainwashed by the media. It means I think the trite, orthodox and conventional messages of popular culture are there because people want them to be there, and I include myself in with "people." And finally, it means that I believe that popular culture is fun and trying to over-intellectualize can also be fun but not necessarily insightful.
One or Two More Thoughts

NOTE: What Do I Mean by Ideologies?
I refer to "ideologies" several times in this Introduction and usually disparagingly. What I mean by ideologies is any perspective that uses the word "construct." I'll probably use it myself on this blog so I apologize in advance; still, I get nervous around phrases like "nationalistic construct," "racist construct," "regional construct" because such phrases are inevitably followed up by a view of human nature that excises the personal, individual and idiosyncratic not to mention free will. It's one thing to look at life from a macro and then a micro point of view. It's another to excise the micro altogether: like Marxist ideology which presupposes that everyone reacts according to type. It's a bit Asimov's Foundation series-ish, and although I admire Asimov tremendously, I never bought into the premise.
It's All Real

Joyce and Hugh Woodbury's 50th

My parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary is today: June 29th. Which is impressive (comments like "When one considers today's society..." being taken as read). And I thought it would be appropriate for me to write a little something about them, in terms of popular culture, of course.


Joyce and Hugh 

I've written some of this on the Introduction page so bits may be repetitive.

My parents are, on paper at least, opposites. My mother is an artist with a B.A. in Art from Brigham Young University and a M.A. in Printmaking from SUNY Albany. She taught for several years before her first child was born. Like everyone in our family, she reads a lot, especially mysteries and currently Forester's Horatio Horn- blower series. She also reads history, and is something of an amateur historian on a few subjects; when I taught seminary for our church, she was my go-to person for The New Testament. My mother read to me up until I was in Junior High, and she probably would have kept going if I hadn't turned into a teenager and persisted in finishing the books we started. These days we share a love of books on tape. My mom used to invent stories as well, mostly about a troll named Milo. Her considerable artistic talents are more visual (she understands abstract art!), and in the last ten years that creative flair has expressed itself more and more in her flower garden(s).

My father is a scientist with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He worked at G.E. Research & Development all his career and was part of the team that created the first industrial diamond. He claims not to understand Quantum Mechanics, which is kind of like Shakespeare disclaiming higher education (it may be true, but come on, it's Shakespeare). My clearest childhood memory of my father is of him paraphrasing science articles at the dinner table. Even now, he will pass on tidbits from Greene's Elegant Universe or articles he has read, and he helps me consider- ably with my sci-fi stories. Despite being the introvert in the relationship, my father has acted in a number of plays and once recitated Lewis Carroll's The Song of the White Knight with me playing the part of Alice. Nowadays, he plays the stock market, levels the lawn (and levels the lawn . . . and levels the lawn). He also has a penchant for history and when I taught seminary, he was my go-to person for Old Testament and Book of Mormon.

So, on paper, my parents would seem to be opposites, complementary opposites, but opposites nonetheless. Extrovert/Introvert. Science/Art. Language/Math. However, these are false dichotomies. My parents operate, as the saying goes, on the same wavelength. One component of that wavelength is their service in the Mormon Church (in which we were all reared). They work in the Boston Temple every week which, for people living in Maine, entails a fair amount of time and money, all volunteered. Another component, and the one that brings us back to popular culture, is their commonsense. They are commonsensical. Not given to sentimentality (although a romantic streak runs through the family) but people whose discernment of bull is so well-attuned, it's kind of a non-issue. There's not any cynicism involved. They just see the world as is and keep going. (Maybe it's a gardening thing.) Which isn't to say my parents, like all of us, don't have their pet peeves, their soap boxes and their sacred cows but they also, to a remarkable degree, try to look at themselves objectively. I'm not saying they always succeed. Does anyone? But the point is, they try.

What it boils down to is: they did not raise their children to be relativists. Life might all be some mind game, God might be a boiled egg and time might not exist, but if you're an artist and a scientist of my parents' school of thought, you start from the proposition that something is going on around you, you are inputting data. Sure, it could all be in your head, but that's a totally boring approach to life so why bother going there? Start with the proposition that some sort of reality does exist, that we are all experiencing some degree of synchronicity and then accept the hard work of trying to understand it (which hard work should not entail either angsty self-righteous intellectualism or undisciplined "oh nobody knows anything anyway" gloppiness) and well, life rapidly gets very fun.

Which is what my parents taught me and is what I'd like to thank them for here. Life is great! Life is fun! My parents are kind of like spiritual anti-Augustinians. The body is good! The physical world is a blessing! It's swell to be alive! Isn't it interesting? Isn't it grand? They are Mormons born and bred, and their particular attitude towards life is influenced by the progressive positivism implicit in Mormonism: that life matters, that it isn't just some way-station where we hang out and mope until God snatches us home; it isn't just an experiment where God prods us with a few trials and notes our responses and pats us on the head. Life is worth living for its own sake because only living life (for its own sake) can prepare you for the next stage. Life should fully engage us. God wants it to. You can't live in heaven if you don’t know how to live on earth. Come Judgment Day, God will hand out as much freedom and experience and love as we can handle. If we can't, if we settle for dry, stale ideologies, if we weigh ourselves down with distrust, anger, guilt and cynicism, that's the kind of heaven we'll settle for. So, in a way, the relativists are right, because the heaven you think is possible is the heaven you will get. The point of religion, Mormonism in particular, is to train us not to settle for less. And it starts with our immediate surroundings.


Baptism Day 

Okay, morphed a bit there into my own opinion, but it all goes back to my parents. I grew up knowing that my parents had a multiplicity of interests that went beyond their family and for that matter, each other. Those interests often dovetail (like the lawn, the dirt, the vegetable garden, the flower garden and the fruit trees: ALL related) in their theological beliefs as well as the arts, but my parents were always individuals in my eyes, which, for a child, can be revelatory if a little frightening. These people, one learns fairly early, are not just here for my benefit. And too, I grew up seeing that, contrary to an attitude I've run into lately, religious observance does not limit a person to a white-room-with-white- curtains-and-white-floor mentality.

Now, my parents have never been into The Top 40. They don't particularly like action movies (Schwarzenegger variety). They detest commercials. They have never, to my knowledge, attended a rock concert. And we grew up without a TV (well, for most of the time). You couldn't have paid my mom to watch soaps. Which isn't to say we didn't go out to see movies (where my father, the most honest man alive, would let us sneak food into the theatre). Still I mostly grew up going to ballet and listening to opera and classical music and seeing Shakespeare. My parents truly enjoy doing all those things. But—here's where the commonsense comes into play—it was never "we're seeing this because of how important it is," it was "we're seeing this because we like to." They also like Agatha Christie (my mom), Alice in Wonderland (my dad), Peter, Paul & Mary, Garrison Keillor (before he got popular mostly), chocolate (my mom!), Tolkien, shaggy dog stories (my dad) and so on and so forth.

And the more I study popular culture and listen to academics talk about popular culture, the more I've realized that this is the missing component. Academics can read between the lines like nobody's business. They can analyze till the cows come home. But at some basic level, they don't understand why people really like what they like. So they make up reasons. If they like it themselves, they give themselves Freudian complexes or shake their heads at their own cupidity (I've been brainwashed by the corporate capitalistic conspiracy!). But it never seems to occur to them that it's fun! That's it's funny! You don't have to believe that watching action movies involves a deliberate suspension of belief to which all parties are privy (the secret compact theory of popular culture), you just have to believe that people like doing it.

So, Mom and Dad, thanks for teaching me that life is fun, that enjoying life is as much a part of religion as praying or reading the scriptures, that the world is a fantastic place that it never harms us to find out more about and especially for loving life and each other.


The Nine of Us


June 29, 2005.

2008 Pictures

I have mentioned elsewhere that photo-taking is not one of my strengths. My friend, Jen, is my unofficial official photographer. She has many other things to do, but when she visits every summer, we take tons of pictures and another year of my life is luckily recorded.

Here are the 2008 Photos:



With a little bit of Broadway . . .












Kate and Jen on Wharf Street


A much better portrait than this!









But THAT photo was much easier to pose for than one with cats!!









We did the best we could . . .





















Whew!




Max is just glad it is over.










A day in Brunswick . . .
























And let's not forget the fine dining!















A glamour shot of Jen!







All in all, a visit to talk--












and smile about!

It's Official!

The Graduate

I received my diploma from the University of Southern Maine. I now have a Master's degree in American & New England Studies. Now that I have finished, I should be able to tell you what one does with a Master's in American & New England Studies. I will use my graduate level training to answer: "One is able to reflect on the interconnectiveneness of the reciprocity of dialectical imperatives enclosed in the ideological codification of perceptional, nay, liminal, social processes in which commodification, marginalization and imperialistic contracts are envisioned."

Oh, and lots, lots more.

2007 Pictures





Father's Day
If you think posing with children is hard . . .
how about cats that keep trying to escape?



Jen came to visit!
Just before the apocalypse. But a little apocolypse never got us down.

2006 Pictures

What a year! Below are some pictures from this summer. Thanks to Jen without whom I would have almost no visual record of my adult years!

Note the Pre-Raphaelite touch. I've always enjoyed the Pre-Raphaelites.



And THE degree . . .
Aurora, the possessed cat
And now, after that excursion into orcishness . . . more Pre-Raphaelites--




With a little Renoir thrown in--