Updates

Finally winter is over, and we have ended up smack dab in the middle of summer, or so it seems, without even stopping for spring.  The sunshine and warmth are nice after a long, snowy winter, but I could do without the humidity.  On the plus side, when I went home to the Eastern Shore this weekend for the annual May Bird Count, I actually went swimming in the river, which is unusual for this time of year.

Today marks the end of classes at UMD, which is bittersweet for me.  I am glad to be done with the work of teaching, but I will miss my students, and I don’t know when I will be back in the classroom.  This semester I was teaching LGBT 200: Intro to LGBT Studies, and had a great time exploring lgbt identities and histories with my students.  It was exciting to have a new class after teaching WMST 250 for a few semester.  Still, it reminded me that it takes a semester or two to work out the kinks in a syllabus, and there was a bit of a learning curve in regards to figuring out how to navigate my biggest class yet–40 students!

The highlight of the semester was when artist and film-maker Be Steadwell visited the class for a screening of her film “Vow of Silence.”  She also performed two songs, and participated in a question and answer session.  My students were completely enamored! :D

In regards to my research, I have spent the year writing fellowships and interviewing parents. I was very lucky that my fellowship applications paid off (it’s so competitive that I wasn’t sure what would happen!); I have a department fellowship for the summer and a graduate fellowship next spring.  To fill in the gaps, I will also be working at the LGBT Equity Center for a few hours a week, but fortunately the fellowship support means I can focus almost entirely on the dissertation this next year! April 2016 defense date, here I come.  Over the course of the year I have also been interviewing parents of trans and gender-creative children and completed my 27th in March.  Now onto transcription and analysis.

I have begun some of the preliminary analysis, and in April I presented at Queer Studies at UNC, which went okay.  Overall, I wasn’t pleased with my presentation, feeling I had not had time to adequately analyze and present all of the information from my many interviews.  However, it proved to be helpful in preparing me for Queer Studies at UMD, and my paper “Is it a girl or a boy?” “Maybe.”Queer Speculations of Children’s Gender”, which was part of a queer youth panel, went really well.  As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and made some exciting scholarly connections with people there.

One of the themes I am exploring in my work currently is the role of happiness in parents’ narratives, and I have returned to “The Promise of Happiness” by Sara Ahmed for her discussion of how happiness is used to uphold heteronormativity.  I also just read Cvetkovich’s “Depression: A Public Feeling” and am interested in seeing how it will influence my work and my thinking on what it means to survive in a racist, classist, heterosexist society.   Cvetkovich’s text was particularly poignant to read considering the current racial situation in the US, and the protests and community organizing happening in DC and Baltimore, both cities that I love and am living near. Stay tuned for more about that at a later date.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trust and Focus. 2015.

Trust and Focus. My words for 2015.

I need to trust that things will unfold the way that they are meant to. I need to trust in love. I need to trust in myself, trust that I know more than I realize, and that the answers will come to me when they do. Questioning, seeking, exploring, wondering: these are all good things, as long as they are not accompanied by too much fear, anxiety and the desire for control. I will know when I know.

There are a lot of uncertainties facing me in this next year, especially in regards to finances, jobs, and where I will be in the next six months to a year. I may be moving to MA for a fellowship in August. I may be here in DC for another year. I may have an assistantship, or I may be scrambling to make ends meet. I know that I will be done my dissertation in April 2016, but it isn’t exactly clear how I will make it from here to there. I just have to trust that no matter what I will be okay and that things will work out.

In the meantime, as the future slowly unfurls, the word focus guides me as I juggle different responsibilities with my dissertation. The most important thing I need to do in the next year is to finish. Focusing on what needs to get done will help me on my path towards whatever awaits me next year, and will open up opportunities for me that worrying doesn’t.

I also want to use the word focus to think about being present, something I made a priority through 2014 with my word “breathe.” I want to pay attention to the shifting seasons, the nip of the winter wind on my cheek, the snow that sifts its way across the street, the feel of my house-mates dog snuggled against me, the colors of the clay marbling in my hands, the delicious stir-fry that my girlfriends makes, the return of spring and strawberries. I want to focus on joy, appreciation, and love, even as I leave space for sadness, weariness, and (even) anxiety, for all that they tell me about the life that I am moving through.

This morning I watched the TED talk on Vulnerability by Brene Brown. I know that it has been around for a while, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Last week, Laverne Cox spoke at my alma mater, Bucknell, and I was lucky enough to visit and see her. (See a great write-up by a student in the Bucknellian, here.) She mentioned Brown’s work on shame and guilt, and inspired me to finally check out the video. It was exactly what I needed to hear today.

“This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.” –Brene Brown.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Musings on the anxieties, but also joys of graduate school

Today I had a meeting with my adviser to talk about a fellowship that I am applying for.  That is what this fifth year of graduate school is all about for me: fellowships. ABD and on my last year of department funding, I need to figure out how I am going to fund my 6th (and hopefully last) year of the dissertation.

Afterwards, when we finished talking about the nuts and bolts of my application and letters of recommendation, the conversation turned to matters of my health, my goal to incorporate more mindful movement into my life, comfort rituals, program benchmarks, and how to talk about the difficulties but also joys of graduate school. Leaving her office, my mind was buzzing with the energy of our conversation, and I wanted to share parts of it here.

I have been dealing with extreme exhaustion since the middle of the summer, which was initially diagnosed as “just jet lag” or “just anxiety and stress” until I found out that one of my hormones was out of balance, which sent me down a winding path of visiting specialists, getting blood tests, ultrasounds, brain scans (due to problems I am having with word recall), and a sleep study.  Annnnd, every test has come back normal (except for that one hormone that is a bit high but not causing any problems). Which is both good and bad.  I am glad that I don’t have something growing in my brain, or cysts on my ovaries (they suspected PCOS), but I still don’t understand why I am tired all the time and why I can’t remember my students’ names.

My undergraduate mentor who I saw a few weeks ago at Homecoming thinks I am just compartmentalizing stress.  Which, considering my history of stomach ails and anxiety is possible, though I feel calmer and more steady in my life than I have for the past four years.  But maybe these physical symptoms are “just” mental.  Still, as someone pointed out to me, no matter what the cause is, my body is giving me signs that something is a bit out of wack. This same person also pointed out that mind/body are not truly split, and so I am trying to pay more attention and see what I can do to feel better.

Today my adviser and I talked about mindful movement and holistic ways to treat myself (I love that this is something I can talk about my academic adviser about!), like going to acupuncture, which has now moved even closer to my home, and has a $10 special for November, trying to incorporate a yoga practice into my life, as well as contact improv.

We also talked about how exercise as a concept is not necessarily helpful, and that one should be deliberate and thoughtful in figuring out what kind of exercise might be most helpful for me, and what feels right in regards to what my bodymind needs. I discussed this blog post that I read yesterday which I absolutely loved which talks about how exercise and yoga can be good in regards to dealing with anxiety and depression but also acknowledges the challenges people with depression and anxiety have in regards to motivation or feelings about the body.

I also really liked the blog post by the same author, Keely, about how keep moving forward even when your brain hates you,  which talks about comfort rituals among other things to do to help yourself, as well as this one about leaving graduate school which gives a really good break-down of things to think about in regards to staying or leaving a program. (Basically everyone should go and read the blog “A Little Dose of Keelium” because it is amazing!).

I read every “quitting graduate school” and “quitting academia” article with interest and sympathy, as I continue to think about my place in the academy in general, and work to make this graduate school experience livable for myself.  When I was thinking of quitting or moving institutions in my second year, these articles hit home in regards to how I was feeling, and they continue to remind me that I am not alone, and that graduate school puts undue pressure on people, that many of us end up feeling like failures because of the constant critique.  Often I wonder if it is worth it, particularly when I see tenure-track faculty running around just as stressed as I am, and when I don’t know if I can get a tenure-track job in academia even if I want it.

These stories of leaving are really important to tell, and I hope that people can feel that leaving is an option, and one that should be applauded rather than seen as something shameful.  I admire people who know themselves well-enough to know something is not right for them.  And it is from blog posts like Keely’s, and blogs like Ph(Disabled) (another must read!) that I know I can and will make the same choice if I need to.  Nothing I might gain from getting a PhD is worth it if means destroying my health or my sense of self.

We need to talk about the stress, the constant sense of “I could/should” be working, the competition, the exploitation of graduate labor. And the answer to supporting graduate mental health is not to simply tell graduate students’ to practice “self-care” as was recently touted to us at a graduate colloquium.  Yes, self-care is important, yes, creating time for yourself as a person is important, yes, sleep, good food, exercise, are important but we also have to look at wider structural issues and I am interested in a system of community-care, not just putting the burden on the individual.

Yet, in the midst of talking about the stress and anxiety, and talking about creating an outside life, and taking care of ourselves, I want to also create space to talk about the joy, and the excitement and the fun of graduate school. Why do those of us who stay, stay? What is keeping me here?

When my adviser told me in my first year to think about the general exam (our first benchmark) as “fun,” I remember thinking she was eccentric and didn’t understand what pressure we were under. It was stressful, and I never want to go through those 72 hours again, but there were moments of fun as well, when I realized how much I had learned that summer, when I was able to include authors whose work that I enjoyed and when I made interesting intellectual connections.

My dissertation research right now is causing me anxiety, as I wonder about how I will get through everything, but it is also fulfilling, and fascinating, and exciting.  These interviews that I have been conducting with parents are amazing, and I love hearing them talk about their children with so much joy and love. The conferences that I have been going to make me feel hopeful in regards to family relationships and lgbt youth and motivate me to contribute to creating change.

In our last colloquium we talked about alt-ac careers, and the presenters asked each of us to talk about why we came to graduate school and what we were passionate about.  It was amazing to hear about all the reasons folks were motivated to pursue a PhD in Women’s Studies and the kinds of questions, problems, ideas that we were eager to learn more about.  I think we need more moments like those.  Moments where we can talk about our passions, our intellectual questions, our joy at learning and figuring out how the world works.

I don’t know if I will end up in academia.  I love teaching.  I love my students.  I love being in an intellectual environment and forming relationships with professors and being a mentor to other students.  But I know that the tenure-track job market is competitive and difficult and soul-sapping.  That is what I am going to aim for as I finish, but I am not stuck on it.  I ultimately want a job where I can teach, and nurture youth, and see that I am making a difference in the world in regards to lgbt rights and queer politics, and it doesn’t matter as much to me where that job is.

Today I felt really grateful that my adviser is someone who I can talk to about all the nuances of graduate school, who I can be open with about my different ideas about academia (and she is good about making me think through the implications of various possibilities and choices), and that we can talk about the anxieties, the joys, the uncertainties and the exciting possibilities.

PS. It is also important to recognize that the support that my adviser gives me is one reason I have been able to make graduate school a place that I want to be. Not everyone is lucky to have a supportive mentor/adviser or department.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Whoops–Posted to the wrong blog.

For those who just got the latest blog post in your email–my apologies, that was supposed to be posted to my teaching blog! 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Feminist Parenting and Relationships

Hi all,

Don’t forget to visit a toy store (or store that sells children’s clothes/toys) this weekend (in real-life or if necessary, online).  Take notes and if you have the means to do so, photos.  Be prepared to share your observations in class–if you are not going to be in class on Monday, please email me a little paragraph about your observations.

I have also fixed the link to the blog post below.  (Thanks Genai for letting me know it was broken).  As you read hooks, think about what it means to have a feminist relationship? What needs to change for there to be more equality in parenting and in marriage?

On Wednesday we will read DTWOF, 260-271, 274-294, 306, 312, 316.  (Or if you would like to read straight through: 260-316).  Pay attention in particular to some of the parenting dilemmas that they face, as well as the relationship issues that come up.  You will also note that the backdrop of these story-lines is Bush’ election and September 11th, which can be related back to Shara McCallum’s book and discussion of war and motherhood.

On Friday the weather will hopefully be good enough for us to finally go outside for a group activity on identity that we should have done weeks ago! Still, I think that it will be interesting to do it now that you have much more background on the core concepts.  It will also be helpful to return to intersectionality and privilege and explore them further.

I hope you have a lovely weekend! The weather is supposed to be gorgeous.

Best,

Jessica

Week 12: Feminist Parenting and Relationships

Monday, April 14th: read hooks’ chapter 13 and 14, and this blog post on kids toys. In addition you should go to:

1) toy store or the toy sections of Target/Walmart/[insert store name here], and make observations on what you find there.  Is there a boy section and a girl section? How can you tell? What kind of advertising is used on the boy toys or the girls toys?

OR

2) the baby section of a clothing store and look at the clothing options.  What options are there for gender-neutral clothing? What do you notice about the girl clothes or boys clothes?

3) A bookstore or library and look at a variety of children’s books to think about what gendered messages are there.  Are there boys and girls shown in the books? Who are the protagonists? Who is doing the action? What colors are used? Etc.

Take notes on your trip (and photos if you would like! Email them to me and I can put them into a slideshow to share with class) and

In class we will discuss hooks, your observations and also read a selection of feminist children’s books.

Wednesday, April 16: DTWOF

Friday, April 18: Class activities—hopefully the weather will finally be good enough to go outside together!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Make a Baby

Last weekend I had the incredible experience of attending the 2014 Split This Rock Conference, where I listened to panels on being a Queer Citizen Poet, and The New Black Masculinity, and attended workshops for white poets writing about race, and another for creating racial solidarity.  I have a notebook filled with ideas, quotes, wonderful words and pieces of poems from all the folks I listened to. I hope to write something more about the conference as a whole, and will probably post it on The Afterword, as well as perhaps here, but tonight I wanted to post a poem that I wrote this week, based on a spark of an idea that came after watching the dynamic Gayle Danley perform her poem: “The Talk.” It is also somewhat inspired by this poem about having baby with a lesbian lover, “Blue Print” by Theodosia Henney.   

How to Make a Baby 

make hop-scotch patterns on the sidewalk.
memorize the mockingbird’s song.
wish.
wish some more.
track periods and ovulation,
though there is no reason to.
press yourself against your lover’s skin.
intertwine your fingers, black against white.
tuck her locks behind her ear
cup your hand against tummy
trace the lines of hip-bone.
imagine what if.
think of all the children you would have if love was enough.
let her hold you while you cry.
brace yourself against the stares in public
drop her hand
move close again.
think about donors, unknown and known,
discuss who may carry.
know this will be years in the future.
imagine a home-birth
the humming + rocking + breathing + singing
the blood and the pain and rush of body.
when you break-up,
mourn not only the loss of us,
but also the imagined them.
dream.
dream some more.
smile at a 15 month old in the park,
collect sea-glass on a beach in Delaware.
know that however they come into your life,
you will be waiting with open arms.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On Why I Avoid the First Bathroom in Airports and Meditate: Books That Become Part of Your Life

Originally published on The Bucknell Afterword. 

On New Year’s Eve I flew to Ecuador to visit my sister for two weeks. (She has been doing volunteer work there at an elementary school and working with street kids in a market).  When I landed in Miami for my connecting flight I needed to use the bathroom, but I didn’t go into the first one that I saw when I got off the plane.  I hardly ever do, as I always think of Bean’s advice to Petra in the Ender’s Shadow series by Orson Scott Card, about never going into the first bathroom that she sees after deplaning because that is where “they” would expect her to go and would be waiting.  Obviously I do not have anyone after me who would be waiting in an airport bathroom for me, and yet, I still will pass it by in favor of one further away from the plane.

Reflecting on this in Miami–the fact that I always think of these books in airports, and the fact that a fictional story-line has changed in a slight way how I move through the world, I wondered if there were other books that had a similar effect on me, and on others.

What immediately came to mind was the way that I always think about Tamora Pierce’s books when I meditate, especially “Wild Magic” and “The Circle Opens: Cold Fire.” I read these years before I started my own meditation practice, and I have since read other texts on meditation, but these fictional fantasy books are the ones that I think of most often when I go to acupuncture or meditate at home. Informed by the descriptions in her books, I always count to 7 on each in and out breath, and I often think of Alanna, Daine, Daja, and Briar and how this practice helped them center themselves.

Other books that have become a part of my thinking/cultural landscape are Harry Potter and The Velveteen Rabbit.  For example, I know that many in my generation (or at the very least in my friend circles) when lamenting on the inability for humans to move from one place to another instantaneously will wish for the ability to “apparate” rather than “teleport.” And I have often thought about the concept of Realness in regards to my stuffed animals and beloved possessions as outlined in The Velveteen Rabbit.

There are probably more, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. How about you? Do you have any books that you often think about when you are doing a particular activity? Or in a particular place? Do you have any practices in your life that have been informed by a book that you have read?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments