Monthly Archives: October 2010

something kinesthetic still sunk in the room

graffiti, Wonder Woman's head in a red star

Friday is kind of my recovery day, now — for awhile it was a meeting day, but now it’s the I don’t have to go into the city or see anyone, I can catch up on everything that got backed up during the first 4 days of the week day. It’s a I can be here in my office  at home, I can be quiet and plain, I can call you back day. Sometimes it’s a The words are all drained out of me day.

So I’m offering a prompt today, and my response. At the MedEd Writers group a couple of weeks ago, I did the prompt where you start writing with a phrase, and then every minute (for the first 4 or 5 minutes of the exercise), I throw out a word for you to incorporate into your writing right away — it can sometimes take your writing in a surprising direction!

If you want to do this exercise alone, you can pick 4 or 5 words at random from the dictionary, write them on slips of paper and turn them over in front of you. After you start writing, give yourself a minute, and then turn over a word and use it immediately (or as soon as possible). (Alternately, you can click here for a random word!) Do that for the first 4 or 5 minutes of your writing, then just keep writing as hard as you can for the next 10 or 15 minutes, following your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

For this prompt, we started writing with the phrase “When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was…” and the words I tossed out during our initial writing time were electric, antenna, orange and cactus.

Here’s my response to this prompt:

When I opened the front door, the first thing I saw was his chair pushed back from the front room table at an odd angle, an electric chemistry sparked, I knew he was somewhere nearby. I hadn’t thought he would be home yet. Something kinesthetic still sunk in the room.

Antenna raised, all those hairs at the back of my neck, I snuck inside, dropped my bag, didn’t call for him — what I wanted was a chance to get freshened before his orange face pushed up again into my own and I would officially be on the job.

The crash of glass breaking sent shudders through me, and I put my hand to his potted cactus on the front hall table and had to put the other hand to my mouth to keep from cursing out loud in pain  — damnit, I wasn’t dressed yet, still had on my street clothes, wasn’t ready to go in there. But that blue howl erupted from the direction of the kitchen, the kind of keening he always did when he was off his meds — it meant he was escalating, might be bleeding, might be ready to top over the refrigerator.

I opened my bag and pulled out the outfit he always had his caregivers wear. I took the risk, stripped down to my bra and underpants right there in the foyer, then pulled on the Wonder Woman body suit and leggings, pinned the red cape to my shoulders, bobby-pinned my hair up and then fitted on the dark long Linda Carter wig.

As I zipped up the boots, just then he pushed open the squeaky door that swing to the over-sized kitchen, the prep rooms and pantries. His overheated face was covered with preserves. Are you coming in? We need help, Wonder Woman! I was clocked in now, stood up with my hands on my hips and nodded sharply, swallowing my sighs.

Thanks for your words today, for how you speak your layered truths, for how you are kind to your secrets.

reach out and risk, reach out and receive

graffiti of a woman's head, face, with "trick or treat" written next to it...photo taken from behind a wire fence, so the image looks fenced-inHappy Thursday! Today I have a little extra writing time in the morning, and then I’m off to SF for the MedEd writer’s group, a weekly meeting with my friend/colleague Peggy Simmons of Green Windows Writing Groups, and then tonight’s the night for Declaring Our Erotic, too! A full day; thankfully, I got a full-night’s sleep: whew.

~~~~~~~

Last night was the Erotic Reading Circle — we’ve been ERC-ing for at least four years. Can it be that long?

Last night there were 6 in the circle, 8 with CQ and myself, and 7 folks read, including your facilitators, and first of all, how can you turn down an opportunity to have a private and intimate reading time with Carol Queen, who’s so widely published, who’s been doing this for such a long time and so very damn well? Last night there were a couple of regulars, several folks who were new to the Circle, and we got to hear such a range of writing, erotic memoir, essay, rant, poetry — we heard writing about writing erotica, we heard stories about new lust and long-term desire and food, we heard stories about family and complicated wanting. Someone said, Everything that was shared here tonight was different, and none of it was what you might expect from an erotic reading!

We have a great time at the ERC — every time I’m nervous and excited (will folks show up?), and then we get such a wonderful gathering, every time, every time. And people risk walking up those stairs and into the room for the first time, risk sitting with strangers and reading their stories about sex. I know I’ve said it before, but that’s the part that can move me to tears (and I’m not even premenstrual anymore): that willingness to reach out and risk, and to receive one another’s risky offerings with generosity and awe. I love that.

Next month we meet on 11/24, just before T-day. If you’ve got stories about something getting stuffed (I just have to make the obvious innuendo sometimes), or erotic writing that has nothing to do with a holiday even, bring it down! At the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission St (bet. 11th and So Van Ness) in San Francisco

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m reading Healing Stories: Women Writers Curing Cultural Disease, by Gay Wilentz. The book is helping me to think about a longer project I’ve been in the middle of for a long time, something I want, am ready, to go back to.

In her study, Wilentz looks at how writing about healing can be a healing, for the writer and for the reader and for a community/culture. She writes about the concept that “cultures themselves can be ill” (1). Wilentz studies 5 texts in this collection: Erna Brodber’s Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Keri Hullme’s the bone people, and Jo Sinclari/Ruth Seid’s Wasteland.

I’ve only read two of these, Ceremony and The Salt Eaters, and want to read the other books before I read Wilentz’s analysis of them. I’m always looking for other books that consider the idea that the culture/community has to be healed along with an individual, that wrangle that possibility, that offer us readers a sense of what that might look like. So I’m looking forward to reading these three books, and others, too, that Wilnetz mentions: Plainsong for the Widow, Paule Marshall; House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momday; The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, Paula Gunn Allen; Solar Storms, Linda Hogan; and many more.

I’m also looking to find any works of fiction like these by Irish or eastern European women writers — writers who can hold the old traditions into the modern ailments of depression, isolation, disconnection. Any suggestions out there?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A prompt for today: Take a few minutes and jot down some signs of cultural illness — what does that mean for you? Try not to think about it too much, just create a list of some examples. Take one or two of those at most interest you in the moment, give yourself 10 or 20 minutes, and dive into those examples, describe them in detail. Show us the illness through what you see/experience — let us experience it, too. (Sometimes we can better understand a thing when we’re given the opportunity to go into it, rather than just having it told to us; you’re giving us the opportunity to more deeply empathize with what you know.)

Thanks for your cultural work today, for the ways you provide a counterexample to all the narratives of fear, for the ways you show up (for others, for yourself), over and over. Thank you for the old healing ways you carry in your body, even without conscious knowledge. Thank you for your words: always for your words.

the things I can choose to live for might be very small things

graffiti, a smiling woman's face, with the text, "celebrate your joy!"

(click on the image for more of Frank H. Jump's collaborative project, documenting vintage mural ads and more)

Good morning! This is a very sleepy morning — is going to be a very sleepy day. I’ve been awake since 4 at least, earlier, I think. My morning-self was ready to write early, I guess, but my physical-self wasn’t quite ready to pull hirself out from under the warm covers and into the chill dark until about 5.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think music is one of the reasons for living. I don’t understand it, by which I mean I don’t understand where it comes from in people, so it’s always magic to me. I mean, I don’t think in music; it’s not a way that I express myself creatively — and I’m grateful for that not-understanding. It means I can sink into the sound with wonder, without the technical eye that sometimes arises (not often, but sometimes) when I’m reading a book I like and I want to attend to how the writer did what they did.

And curiosity, possibility: these have kept me alive, too. Listening to other people’s writing, especially at an open mic, in the workshops: experiencing how much there is to our us-ness. And the way the sky looks, at almost any moment. how a candle moves on its own inside the glass. the taste of coffee. a really good kiss (thanks for that, you). laughter. how my body feels when its moving in water. the feel a of a pen moving across the page — that’s a good thing to live for. the body’s endless possibilities. I want to say the body’s endless capacity for joy; but there’s also the endless capacity for sorrow, for loss: how very much we can hold. What other reasons to live? a dog’s head under your hand, holding eye contact with an animal or a very young child: there’s communication that happens there that we don’t have language for yet.

Maybe I’m thinking about how we decide to stay alive, how I have decided to stay alive. We can always choose not to, and we can choose to die quickly or die slow. So many many of us choose to die slow. And then there are the decisions to live: every day. Moment to moment, some days.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna-y or Follow-Your-Bliss-y here: I’ve been kept alive (kept myself alive) by inappropriately-placed lust, by drinking (because I knew when I was drinking I could flirt with the wrong people, I could be too loud, I could be the parts of me that people don’t recognize otherwise, I could cry and cry and cry), by swimming around in depression and soaking in self-pity (and by this I don’t mean to say that depression is a chosen thing; rather, that there have been times that I decide I’m going to go with the grain of it into the hollow of my sorrow and feel around for the core and curvature of that place, instead of setting myself at an angle against depression’s pull and trying to find joy even when I’m at my saddest and most grey). Guilt has kept me alive: imagining how terribly sad my sister would be if I died, how sad my love would be. And so, I’m grateful right now for those things, too, weirdly.

The things I can choose to live for might be very small things — how good it feels to walk through the city and look at all the people and places; a cup of coffee; writing time in the morning, even though it’s not as much time as I want  — those very small things are everything.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A prompt? Want to make a list of some of the reasons you have, today, for living? Making the list might be the writing exercise, or you might choose one of the items on the list and write more about that one — what is it that captivates you (or your character)? What catches you in about it?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today, I’m grateful for every decision you’ve made toward living, even if that meant, sometimes, moving closer to death. We’re complicated in our humanness. I’m grateful for your curiosities, your joys. Thank you, too, always, for your words.

There’s my imperfect humanness, right there with me

graffiti of two gorgeous pudgy animals dancing -- they look like rhinos to me, but the image tag says they're moominsIt’s freezing in the office this morning — welcome to winter! It’s hard to type when you want to keep your fingers wrapped around the cup of nettle-mint-green tea.

This morning I’m thinking of harm reduction, and how it’s self care. Right now, I have an agreement with myself: I can eat whatever I want, as long as it’s not wheat. That means, yes, I can buy the chocolate or the bag of popcorn that I’m going to eat all of, in exchange for not buying the piece of cake with the slab of frosting that will make me feel like a shaking sugar-wheat mess. I have not made this arrangement about sugar, just wheat, and just for right now. Just for right now. Just for today. Each day I can decide if I want to continue. My body is happier when it doesn’t have as much wheat to process — of course, it’s also happier when it’s not processing all sorts of sugar and not packed in and overfull, as can happen when I decide to feast on popcorn. But harm reduction is about choosing the lesser evil and going with that for awhile, to make it easier to live without the worse evil. And it is making it easier for me to transition away from wheat for a bit — and for that, I’m grateful.

Mostly, I think about harm reduction in the context of drugs and alcohol: let me smoke instead of taking a drink, right? But it’s a constant self-care practice and possibility, especially on the hard days. Let me watch just 3 hours of tv instead of 10. Let me be late for work because I did some stretching rather than beating myself up all day and living with this tension headache (that’s not really harm reduction practice, but it is reducing a harm). For some people, it’s let me give this blow job without a condom if I’m not going to fuck without one. Or, let me fantasize or write about this person it would be very bad for me to have sex with (maybe for emotional reasons, or because there would be other consequences) rather than having sex with them in real life. Sometimes a self-care practice is about incorporating the ‘bad’ decisions, in layers and ribbons, rather than deciding to be all of a sudden completely virtuous and perfect (then failing at that, then beating myself up). We all know that there is no perfect: There’s my imperfect humanness, right there with me every morning as soon as I open my eyes. Sometimes it’s eating the chocolate instead of drinking the four glasses of wine. And then later, maybe the body and mind are more accustomed to moving through the difficult process without the four glasses of wine, because they had a chance to practice. And for some people, the four glasses of wine are going to be the lesser evil compared to something else. For a long time, because I wanted to re-learn to touch myself and be ok with it, I would “let myself” fantasize about things that I felt sort of awful about after masturbating, rather than fantasize about the things that I felt really awful about afterwards — and then, later, my harm reduction was about moving away from things that I felt sort of awful about fantasizing about. Harm reduction is relative and always in flux, I think. It’s about being easy with yourself. Sometimes you can choose a kind of abstinence (I’m not going to do this thing at all, again, ever) and sometimes you can choose a harm reduction strategy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Remember that the Body Empathy workshop that I’m co-facilitating with the amazing Alex Cafarelli is coming up in just a few weeks on November 13! This is a day-long writing and gentle body movement workshop for queer/SGL/genderqueer/trans survivors of sexual trauma.  Spaces are starting to fill up, and we’d love to have you there if you’re thinking about it…and if you have questions, feel free to write me a note and we’ll chat!

Also! Tomorrow is the monthly Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture — we didn’t meet last month because both Carol and I were away, so I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone! We’ll be at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission Street in San Francisco (between 11th and So Van Ness) at 7:30 on Wednesday night — every fourth Wednesday of the month.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What about a prompt? You might write about the ways that you “imperfect” decisions get you through the night… or make a list of your imperfections, and write about how gorgeous each of them is. Remember this quote from Rabbi Daniel Hillel: ‘I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing.’

I’m grateful for you today, for the ways that you’re human and stunning, for the ways that you stumble and keep dancing, for how you model for others every time you do.


red and blue?

orange clouds at sunset; Wyoming Plains...Hello Monday!

A very quiet weekend — what about for you? Some baking and vegetable roasting (all the better to warm the house when the heater’s pilot light is turned off and the rains have begin), some movies and tv, some snuggling with books and with sweeties. And sleeping: good lord, we slept at least 10 hours on Friday night. The rain plus the extra-long dark made staying undercovers a whole lot easier (plus, you know, when it’s bleeding time, all I want to do is rest).

This weekend I also got to witness some of the Laramie Project – Fresh! got to share some of his experience as a part of a training that the SF JCC was doing with local youth leaders (F! was there with the LGBT Speaker’s Bureau — and I will say that my Mr. was brilliant and honest and human with the folks in that room, and I was sure honored to be with him); the idea was to get the young folks talking about LGBTQQI issues. I was grateful to get to be there, with this group of young folks who were doing important organizing work to raise awareness and the capacity to talk about LGBTQQI struggles, whether or not they themselves identified as queer or straight or anything.

Then we all got to see the Laramie Project’s Epilogue –  the theater team who went out to Laramie in 1998, a month after Matthew Shepard was killed, returned to Laramie in 2008 to see how or if Laramie had changed in the decade since a young white gay man was tied to a fence post and beaten to death, and the ensuing media storm. Not having seen The Laramie Project, I was drawn in by the bare-bones-ness of the production, the way characters are called out as they’re assumed by an actor, the way actors move through different characters and back into themselves, into their own voices, throughout the production. It’s beautiful, sparse, layered and layering.

It wasn’t until the lights went down and I saw the theater company begin to assume the bodies and voices of Wyoming-ans, began to show us the interactions between New Yorkers and Mid/Westerners,  that I began to get really really angry: who are these people to come to the Mid/West and demand/expect change that hasn’t come to New York or San Francisco?

It’s something, to watch one’s people portrayed on stage — folks in the audience at the JCC cracked up when one of the characters calls Heineken an expensive beer; I thought, Yup.

I’m certain others must have come up with critiques around this: the way that folks on the coasts look at gay bashings in the midwest and call it endemic  to the virulent homophobia of those damn red-state homophobia — whereas, when queerfolks are murdered in New York or California, what’s the excuse then? Where’s the theater company coming in to ostensibly-blue-state New York from Kansas City or Chicago or Lincoln in the aftermath of the recent gay bashing at the Stonewall Inn, or of the young man tortured by members of a gang because they thought he was gay, and asking residents: how could this happen in your town? What are you doing to create a culture where this could happen? How are you going to change?

What would that theater piece look like, do you think? What would be the class/regional politics around that work?

I’m not against the Laramie Project — I haven’t even seen the original piece, and I want to. I’m maybe finally ready to. I remember all the organizing that went on after Matthew was murdered, and I remember the critiques: why all the attention, the outpouring of love by the mainstream media and the mainstream gay-lesbian movement, for this one murdered gay youth — when, at the same time, queer youth (queer young women) of color were also killed and received almost no press?

The Laramie Project was a part of that outpouring, and so I haven’t been able to watch it with a clear head, without a remembering of the context in which it was created — like I’m still trying to be able to be objective, which just makes no sense. I want to be more clear-headed with this write, and maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. I appreciate what the Tectonic Theater Project does, and F! said, They were called to make this theater piece; if others are called to make a response, create different art, then we’ll support that, too.

And so there’s much more I want to say about this, about these layerings, about the idea of solidarity with a part of the country that holds and rejects me, about regional prejudices, about who’s telling our stories, about what stories are told…

And thank you, today and every day, for the way you tell your own stories, for the way you listen, too, to others’ stories.

sometimes, her sexy is ready for you

woman's back, the bones of wings protouding from her shoulder blades, a red scarf wrapped around her neck and mouthGood morning and happy Friday! Just a quick prompt post today, ’cause then I’m off to the cafe for some notebook writing…

Here’s the prompt: Create two lists — ways that you/s/he/they are beautiful and/or sexy, and then, ways that you/s/he/they are not beautiful and/or sexy. Take a few minutes to create each list, separately.

Then combine both lists into the first one: both lists are ways that you/s/he/they are beautiful and/or sexy –  in all their complications. Start you writing using an item from each list, thinking about what beautiful or sexy means… and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Here’s my response to this exercise from last night’s Declaring Our Erotic workshop:

This is what her sexy means — she will remember exactly what you did in the kitchen about the dishes and the cleaning up and there’s no way she’s going to spread her lips or legs or anything until you talk it through — it’s the most ingrained lesbian thing about her, regardless of the gender of the person she’s fucking: processing as foreplay. Although, to be honest, she probably learned that from her stepfather — and that’s another thing she’s going to invite you to consider sexy: the possibility of a reference to incest at any given moment, because it’s of the air she breathes, and she sometimes can’t remember that it’s not the air everyone breathes, consciously, all the time.

Her sexy is broad-thighed and sharp-tongued, it’s round and furred and unslinky, it protrudes and gets hard and slick at all the same time. Her sexy is loud, it’s chatty, though it doesn’t always tell you what it wants — but it’ll write it down for you, though. Just give her a pen or an eyebrow pencil and she’ll happily straddle your ass, bend down over you til her tits just brush at your flesh, and then scrawl out the longing that’s so licking at her fantasy. Only thing is, you’ll have to find a way to read it yourself.

Her sexy is frustrating and complicated, likes to be snared in a puzzle, likes to think something through: that extra effort, it helps to still the parts of her mind that otherwise go lifting back to the first time she did whatever she’s doing with you, since the first time she did just about anything she could do with you she did with him (or rather, he did to her) many years ago. It’s just that way.

Her sexy is confounded and confounding, lost and found in used denim and hand-me-down tank tops, it’s unjeweled and a little glittery and it likes to eat, is covered with ink stains, is often happier curled up with a good dense book than stepping through the land-mine field that is her sex — but then sometimes, sometimes, her sexy is ready for you, unabashed and plain, her sexy is wearing regular old underpants and nothing fancy anywhere and you’ll wonder where that illumination is coming from, you’ll wonder why your heart is pounding, you’ll find yourself suddenly trying to figure out if she’ll let you slide the palms of your hands anywhere against her skin.

Her sexy is too self-conscious and then also entirely uncoordinated, is the wrong shoes to go with that bag, is last season’s last season and doesn’t really even know what that means, is too brash and hairy and tangled with brawn and you’re trying to determine where the grace came from. Her sexy is taking with its mouth full, her sexy is untamed and unnameable, her sexy isn’t the part that wears the ring but is the part that runs rungs around any attempt to classify or condone, is impolite and doesn’t even know the meaning of ladylike, is sweaty and bleeds on the sheets, is too busy for you until she stops and puts her back against the wall, or to rock you back there with one fine kiss — and then her sexy has eyes you thought you knew but are razoring through your frustrations, loosening that ricocheting and complicated need that you, too, have had tangled and lost, thick, inside.

Thank you for your words today, for the ways you step into and embrace your complications. I’m so grateful for you.

more visibly messy than I already am

You know those times when something really big is happening in your life and all you can manage to do is just hold open the space for it to emerge? I’m pretty sure I’m in the middle of one of those times.

Something very important in my life transformed itself over dinner last night — which means it ended, and it’s about to begin again. It’s something confidential, and one day I’ll tell you more about it. For today, I’m in kind of a quiet mourning place, and a place of enormous gratitude. (Thank you & love you!)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Also, feeling nostalgic, and missing home; and by home, here I mean the land, the way Omaha smells (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way), the way the people sound. I would like to be able to be there today. We could rent a three bedroom house in Dundee for less than half (way less than half) of what we pay for our place here. Don’t get me started (Jen, don’t get started) on the brutality of the Bay Area’s cost of living.

Have you read Tim Redmond’s essay that introduces the latest Guardian? It made me feel like crying. What’s true is, when I moved here 7 years ago, I thought maybe all the excellent radical artist dyke/queer culture and survivability that I’d been reading about since the early 1990s still existed in San Francisco: but it’s gone. So many of us can’t afford (For as much as I could pay for a house to rent in Omaha, I couldn’t even get a room in an SRO) to live there and do our art, do what we love, without a patron (be it in human or govt form) or student loans or many jobs.  Even if the people are still there, the culture, the city, looks/feels so very different from what I expected. I expected difficulty; I didn’t expect a community that could hardly manage to get together because it was so damn busy scrambling/working to pay the fucking rent while also jealously guarding tiny bits of time here and there for its art. Maybe that’s just my experience — maybe others are managing to do it better.

I don’t honestly know if this is a place I can stay; I don’t mean I’m leaving tomorrow, or even next year (because how could I go away from this ocean?!); I mean that I’m broken-hearted. The cost of living feels personal, feels like, why don’t you want us here? I know I’m protected from most of the worst of it: I have a good-paying part-time job that leaves me with energy for my workshops, and during the workshops, I can get some writing done. And yet, I’m getting tired. And I just don’t see things turning around here — now that the developers know they can take the city, why would they give it back?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I just discovered there was a TEDx in Omaha just last weekend — please don’t make any jokes about that, just go check it out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today’s my two-workshop day: first, I meet with the MedEd Writers at UCSF for an hour of creative writing-as-professional development, and then I head to the Flood Building for tonight’s Declaring Our Erotic meeting. The writing that always emerges from these spaces will fill me up — I can’t wait.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m sorry I don’t have very much this morning. I can’t tell what exactly I’m feeling. Some days are like that. If I were at a cafe, in front of a notebook, I would pour it all out — but for right now, it feels too intimate, more of my insides spread all over the blog. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust you; maybe it means I’m scared of being much more visibly messy than I already am.

Maybe a prompt for today: Take 10 minutes or 20, and write about mess, about things that get messy (spaces, people, relationships, landscapes, cities…). Follow your writing wherever it seems to want to go.

I’m grateful for you today. I keep on being grateful for you.

Call for Submissions – Laboring On: Testimony, Theory & Transgressions of Black Mothering in Academia

(please help pass the word!)

Demeter Press is seeking submissions for an edited collection on

Laboring On: Testimony, Theory & Transgressions of Black Mothering in Academia

Editors: Sekile Nzinga-Johnson & Karen Craddock

Pub Date: 2012/2013

This book aims to interrogate the intersecting forms of oppression that are experienced by Black female faculty and scholars who “labor” and “mother” within the academy. The context in which Black female academics occupy is an important starting point to consider given the longstanding history of the patriarchal, racially biased, and anti-family environment of academia. Post civil rights and women rights colleges and universities continue to be sites of struggle and resistance for African American women despite higher education achievements. This anthology will offer a particularly nuanced discussion on the emergent literature on parenting and work that explores academic institutions that largely mark black women’s bodies as deviant and pathological.

We encourage submissions that explore various constructions of “mothering” and “being mothered” which contribute to the experiences of Black women academics. For the purposes of this book we have broadened our conceptualization of “mothering” to include care work. Thus “mothering” may include the expectations or practice of providing formal and informal support to students of color and/or students that are alienated within the academy, as well as the mentoring of junior faculty, faculty of color, female faculty, caregiving/parenting faculty, and those outside the academy. The term “labor” theoretically extends this volume to include the voices of Black academic women who often occupy the lowest echelons of the academic class structure. We also invite contributions that encompass the strains between work and home/community life for Black academic mothers.

The goal of this volume is to further the discussion of work and family from a critical and interdisciplinary lens that illuminates the complex realities of Black women who mother and labor within the academy.

Suggested topics may include but are not limited to:

Academic climate; Research & policy on African American mothering in the academy; Resistance to marginalization within the academy; Work-life strains; Embodying multiple marginalities in the academy; Intersectionality; Constructions of black mothering/motherhood; Explorations of various constructions of “mothering” and “being mothered”; Parallels and confounds of mothering and mentoring; Gender roles and responsibilities; Black mothers and the “maternal wall”; Analysis of Black mothers in the academy as laborers; Embodiment; Identity; Black maternal theory and activism; Black mother- academics, stress and health; Experiences of adjunct and part time professors; Students as academic mothers; Tenure and promotion; Early, mid & late career mothering decisions; Single parenting; Dual careers; Black foster and adoptive mother academics; Black women scholars as intellectual mothers; Black grandmothers as academics; Black mothering and laboring in different academic settings; Teaching Black Motherhood; Pedagogy; Bias avoidance/choosing not to parent as an academic; Black mother-academics and community; Black academic mothers “having it all”; Biographies; Narratives and Autobiographies.

Submission guidelines:

Abstracts should be 250 words. Please also include a brief biography (50 words).

Deadline for abstracts Nov 1, 2010

Accepted papers of 4000-5000 words (15-20 pages) will be due June 1, 2011 and should conform to the Modern Language Association style.

Please send submissions directly to:

Sekile Nzinga-Johnson snzinga3@naz.edu and Karen T. Craddock kcrad@brandeis.edu

how it went

old Omaha advertising graffiti -- near the old market

(click on the image for more Omaha photographs)

In my dream, I’m in Omaha and it’s then. I’ve gone to a party with friends (and at the party, it’s now — then all the times converge). I’ve gone to a party and had a couple of drinks and maybe I danced. Then I came home. Later Mom and les and Sarah get home, they are angry with me. I can’t remember if I was already prepared for them to be angry with me, but in the dream it’s the way it was then: Sarah letting me know I’m in trouble, then Mom talking to me. I can’t remember how it all went, and I’m frustrated, because it’s an important dream. Mom is angry, angry that I went to the party and had drinks and then drove. I  begin to shout back at her, and I explain about the amount of time I was there, about the dancing; I know she isn’t worried about me, it’s more that I went to the party at all that les would be upset about, and so that’s what she’s upset about. I think I start shouting at her about les. We start upstairs, or on the stairs, on the way down to the living room or kitchen.

Was I already packing, even before they came home? I decide I’ve had it, I have to leave, I shout at them, I break things. This is the last straw. I wish I could tell you how it all went because it’s important, how it happened: I’m yelling at les, and then mom intervenes, and she’s on my side. This is important. This never happened. While I’m yelling I’m trying to think about where I could go. There’s nowhere I can go: I don’t have friends whose houses I can stay at, I don’t have any money. There’s sharp plastic crunching, glass breaking. les is going to be the one who has to leave so I can stay, is that how it went? In the dream, I’m fighting back. I’m opening my mouth and letting the words fly out, I’m acting on impulse and winning. The upstairs bedroom is still my bedroom (so it’s before he moved us downstairs to be further away from his bedroom with mom), and there are clothes everywhere, a suitcase or duffel bag — maybe I’m late for a flight. Earlier in the dream, or in another dream, I was traveling — I was going to London or somewhere else very far for only a couple of days.

It’s so faint now, and I wanted to tell you all about it: it’s not just that I fought back, it’s that my mom was with me, so my sister could be with me, too, or so I could be with them. I woke up in the middle of it when my alarm went off and was still so tired I couldn’t quite get up, so I lay there, rehearsing the dream, what I could hold of it, working to remember, and with every passing moment, a little more faded.

Thanks.

you will scar where your mother’s hand should have been

graffiti shadows of two people holding handsI had a dream this morning of a performance, a play, a musical, and I was helping, but thinking that I could take voice classes, I wanted to be in the play. At one point I stopped and looked out the window at a double rainbow, at first I thought it was a triple, like, there were two rainbows in usual double rainbow form and then a third, sharper angle and twisted, like someone had taken the third rainbow at the midpoint and pulled and twisted and puffed and then I realized it was an airplane trail right there in the midst of the rainbows. The song had been Hey Big Spender, and then someone was doing a singy monologue in the middle of it, a man, the big spender, he was down in the audience, right close to everyone, and projecting like he was still on stage. People didn’t want to look at the rainbows because of the performance.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I woke up feeling ok and feeling sad. And I woke up still thinking about what I wrote last night and this weekend, about ceremonies, about that enormous tragedy of loss, about how most of us have no ceremonies to bring us back into our larger families or communities after we are raped or after our mothers or fathers abuse us or after we come out as queer (or…): instead, we are the ones outcast. The ceremony is our silence. The ceremony is our dismissal, our excommunication from community of blood and earth. We are the sacrificed, the center of their ceremonies to continue to pretend at normalcy. Was it always this way? Has it really always and everywhere been this way?

I’m attached to the books Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara (I’m using Amazon links today in case you want to read a little bit, but please buy the book locally!), because they’re stories about ceremonies of retrieval, of recognizing the layers and depths of an individual’s wounding and illness and pain, and recognizing, too, the ways that each of those layers is connected to other people, that each individual’s illness/wounding/pain is a community’s illness/wounding/pain. These books read like fairy tales to me, because there’s nothing like this anywhere in my lived experience, anywhere in my communities.

These stories, I think, are why I’m so compelled right now at the idea of restorative justice work: the work where a community comes together around someone who has committed a crime or a harm against a person and the person who had the crime committed against them, and everyone tells their stories about how they were affected by this crime. Restorative justice work looks like old ceremony, looks like: it matters how we treat each other because we are all of us affected by any one person’s actions or experience–the ‘victim’ and the ‘offender,’ of course, and the witnesses, too.

It’s profoundly lonely not being a part of a family when in a society that puts so much emphasis on the importance of family, the value of family, that talks such good and consistent talk about care for the children and oh the children are everything (when, in fact, we know the truth:  we see that mask revealed for what it is over and over and over again, children slaughtered (it’s a terrible word but the first word to come to mind and I’m not talking about only in other countries — I’m talking about right here)).

It’s too early for me to try and write about something so important. The loneliness is about having to walk away from a family in order to save one’s own life. It’s about understanding, in a moment, that you’re unlacing yourself from mother and sister because you are walking away from the man who has trapped and abducted you all. It’s about understanding that no one is going to make it easy for you to go, and no one bit of your blood is going to meet you on the other side of that letting go. You will be alone there. You will have friends, the people who have chosen you and who you choose, and they will be everything, and they will not be the same, and you will scar where your mother’s hand should have been, where you should have been caught when you were falling away from the american dream. And that scar will remain, throb, every time she touches you, ever. The loneliness is in understanding that scar is a profound loss for both of you.

How do we come back from this loss? What other possibilities, ceremonies, could reconnect us? What about restorative justice for us? We don’t include the rapist (who was my mother’s second husband) in this case, but what about the family that got decimated in his aftermath? The family that was supposed to be — could we come together: mother and father and sisters, extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins from both sides, could we all tell our stories, like it mattered? Like it mattered to all of us?

I want to talk more about Ceremony and The Salt Eaters (and, too, it looks like someone already has and I’m looking forward to reading Gay Wilentz’s Healing Narratives: Women Writers Curing Cultural Dis-ease) but it’s quarter to 7 in the morning and soon I have to get up and away from the computer and I have shower I have to to put on my clothes I have to walk to the bus I have to go to work where I don’t write about books and stories; instead I listen to the stories of numbers, the stories of small pieces of information and how they come together in new formations. Everything we do is a story. There is no work without story, because there is no us without story.

Thank you for you, for your words and healing, for your resiliences.