When Cheryl Reed was a little girl, all she knew about nuns was that they scared her. "They were all cloaked in black, they were these mysterious figures -- they freaked me out," she says.
Now Reed may be one of the nation's foremost authorities on nun life. The investigative reporter talked, walked and ate with more than 300 nuns to write Unveiled: The Hidden Lives of Nuns. The variety of their beliefs, lifestyles and even clothing demolishes the cliché of the nun as a meekly subservient ascetic in a long black gown.
Don't ditch the habit just yet, though. Discarded by many nuns during the post-'60s cultural relaxation, the habit is making a roaring comeback, as illustrated in Unveiled by two conservative St. Louis-area orders. The strictly cloistered Passionist Nuns, based in Ellisville, keep their heads shaved and flagellate their bare bottoms, among other intense rituals. Alton's Franciscan Sisters of the Martyrs of St. George are more open, generally working as nurses or teachers. But both require full-dress devotion to the traditional costume, and both attract far more young members than the norm. Strict orders, Reed says, "are attractive to women who want to look like a nun. Younger women really cling to the habit. Why would they give everything up just to look like everybody else?"
But Reed found that the shift toward an ever-more-conservative Catholicism hasn't dimmed the surprising feminism of so many older nuns. "Most of these women really feel that they live outside the male hierarchy of the church," Reed says. "Men don't run their orders. Men really don't have anything to do with their orders."
Sister Margaret Traxler, a pro-choice firebrand who runs homeless shelters for women and children in Chicago, told Reed: "Just because I took a vow of obedience doesn't mean that I can't say what I think. I'm not a puppet." The rest of Reed's subjects could honestly say the same. The author will read from and sign copies of Unveiled at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue). Admission is free; call 314-367-6731 for info. -- Jason Toon
Have a Plan
A Dillinger Escape Plan
Loud, abrasive, technically adept wizards of explosive math-jazz/hardcore, the Dillinger Escape Plan continue a proud tradition of noisy New Jersey bands that become wildly popular in the underground while maintaining an aloofness from the internecine warfare of the hardcore scene. You can chalk up that distance to a slower-than-slow recording schedule (one full length, two EPs and a pair of split singles in a half-dozen years) or the band's revolving-door membership policy, but these are the only clichés to which the DEP adheres. Little shards of jazz, techno, metal, Egyptian rock, Greek folk and punk explode off the DEP; this band'll keep you on your toes even as it's trampling your head at 7:30 p.m. at Pop's (1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois; 618-274-6720). Tickets are $12. -- Paul Friswold
Go, Girl, Go!
Variously soothing, seductive, haunting and, dare we say, girly, the crystalline sounds of women singing embody the broad range of music's emotionally communicative properties. So go hear some gals belt out a few. Charis, the St. Louis Women's Chorus, provides the opportunity during a performance at 8 p.m. Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20, at the Missouri History Museum (in Forest Park at Lindell and DeBaliviere boulevards). Aptly titled Girls!, this celebration in song of the female spirit shouldn't be missed by fans of the fairer sex. Tickets are $15 and are available at a number of outlets. For more information, call 314-533-8281. -- John Goddard
Hey, Hey, Paula
Last summer when you were traveling in Europe, you caught a compelling piece of cinema called Gremloids on the telly. Dying to see it again, you searched and searched till you discovered that in the United States, the 1984 Star Wars spoof was called Hyperspace. And it's hard to find. Never fear: Paula Poundstone, who played Karen in that gem, is in town presenting her standup comedy stylings. Maybe she has an extra copy with her. Since 2000, Poundstone's garnered more press for her legal problems than for her body of work (which includes HBO specials, an Emmy award and a very short-lived, self-titled television show), and she's eager to prove that longevity in show biz is no accident. Check her out at 8 p.m. at the Touhill Performing Arts Center (8001 Natural Bridge Road, 314-516-4949). Tickets are $19 to $38. -- Jedidiah Ayres