Insomniac Rain & Pagan Kashrut

August has been (had been!) an interesting month indeed here at The Great Tininess, full of a few ups and downs. On the up-side, I’ve moved into a new apartment complete with four flights of stairs and a pressure-less shower. I guess it is a good thing, though, since I have a much reduced chance of accidentally stepping on Ruby Sara‘s cat.

The real downer is that I can’t sleep. No, I mean I can’t sleep. For the last week or so I’ve been a complete insomniac, up at cockscrow (after having unsuccessfully lain in bed for a few eons, or a wide-eyed, 12 episode marathon of Stargate Atlantis) and bumming around the apartment like a sad excuse for a vegetarian zombie. I’ve been entertaining myself with a lot of porn reading, like James C. Scott’s The Art of NOT Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale, 2009) and J. C. De Moore’s The Rise of Yahwism: The Roots of Israelite Monotheism (1997). Next in the queue is Miguel Leon-Portilla’s Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico (Norman, 1969). As you can tell, I’m a hoot at dinner parties…

I’ve also been cooking a lot. Moving out of university housing means I’ll have much reduced access to the university’s food services, so the stove-top and I are getting to know each other while I teach myself how to pack hot lunches. I doubt anyone has ever made so much stir-fry in one week as I have in this one. Who knew that teriyaki sauce was so versatile?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother while I’ve been cooking. Sure, she doesn’t stir-fry (if you think there’s a wok within 200 miles of my home town in mid-Missouri, you’re kidding yourself), but I’m pretty sure that I’ve learned everything I know about cooking from her. My own mother never really cooked  and when we were living with my father it seemed that he only knew how to make one dish: a runny version of beef stroganoff (ew!). I’ve been blessed to have spent so much time with my grandmother, both in Missouri and at the family home in east central Alabama where I go with my grandparents once a twice a year to do odd jobs. You can’t get okra like that in Chicago, that’s for sure! Nor can you really learn as much about your family as I’ve learned if you don’t hang out with your grandfolks: Got any idea where your 6th-great grandfather is buried? I do.

But back to Grandma’s cooking. I usually say that she could make a six course meal if you gave her a turnip and some hot water, but the truth is really that she is endlessly creative with what food she’s got. At the beginning of each week she makes a meal plan for each day, using up as much in her stores as possible; then she only buys what she needs to complete a few dishes and the process starts over again. Of course sometimes she splurges on things like alligator meat (“I just wondered what it tasted like!”) leaving the rest of us to suffer the consequences.

I’ve called my vegetarianism my “pagan Kashrut” since it started in large part due to my desire to be made especially cognizant of what I was eating and putting into my own body, as a way of maintaining an awareness about the holiness of food. This is similar tohow I’ve heard many Jewish friends describe the Kosher laws as a way of maintaining awareness of the presence of their God. But, I still eat meat when my grandmother has cooked it. I tell myself that food made by her hands is holy in a special way, and that I can stop eating her food once she’s dead.


It’s raining, finally. It’s been muggy for the last few days, a fact that surely has effected my already upset sleep cycle. The heat builds up, the moisture, but finally something’s got to give and the angels weep. I love rain, always have: Growing up on the farm in Missouri I remember the massive thunderheads that would laze through the valleys and up into the corn, turning the sky that particular shade of green that means you should probably be getting in the basement now (“Tornado Warning for Montgomery County!” the television would hiss before the power blinked off) but you wait just a minute longer to see the tassles on the corn start to sway, then stop, then sway again.

But here the rain is different. The sky is always red here, but the rain brings the briefest hint of blue and the pavement steams and slick rises to the surface, making a million little mirrors out of the city streets. The rain is sad, a chimera.


About John Harness
John Harness is an artist and educator in Chicago. He is a member of Socialist Alternative and the Klingon Language Institute. He writes about political activism and roleplaying games.

3 Responses to Insomniac Rain & Pagan Kashrut

  1. Ruby Sara says:

    I commend you on finding a lolcat that so greatly resembles Pinky the demon-monkey-kitteh.

    Also, your last two paragraphs are lovely. They remind me of when I too lived in the cornfields of the not-so-wild midwest. Green lightning. And staying outside a hair longer than is wise, just to see the Mama be as Holy Scary as She can be.

  2. Medusa says:

    Along the lines of what you’ve been reading, you might be interested in archeologist/anthropologist William G. Dever’s Did God Have A Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. I reviewed it on

    • cartweel says:

      Thanks for the book tip! I’ve seen that book in the library before, so now I’ll be sure to give it a try next time!

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