Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Alison in NYC for one more day

The talks that George and I gave, and Rachel responded to, last night were well received by a great audience.  Loads of wonderful responses and questions.  I felt like a fan girl, swooning over Eva Feder Kittay,* Rayna Rapp, Faye Ginsburg--how did I get so lucky to have all these amazing scholars listening to me talk?

Meanwhile, as I was enjoying myself on the campus of Columbia, storm clouds were gathering over Charleston.  Apparently the greatest sleet storm ever to happen is on its way to Charleston.  Which means that every flight into the city has been cancelled.  Here I am, in NYC, for another day.

For most of the day I've been hunched over my laptop doing things that I've been meaning to do for a long time but haven't done (answering old emails, revising articles that were supposed to be revised, preparing a talk I'm giving on Friday).  But in the early afternoon I took a brief break to have a little New York time.

First of all, I hailed a cab and successfully explained where we were going.  Claire has strongly urged me to get a "real bagel" (or what Trey referred to as "New York Butthole Bread"), so I had a goal.  The cabbie delivered me to a place that the internet says is one of the best bagel bakeries in the city.

Here is one of two bagels I got.  This one is a raisin bagel with raisin-walnut cream cheese.  The other one is a plain bagel with olive cream cheese (they don't have olive cream cheese in the South, as far as I know, so I thought I should try it).

I haven't eaten the olive one yet, but the raisin one was delicious.  But here's the thing about "real bagels":  they are the consistency of beef jerky!  I'm gnawing and gnawing, doing damage to my jaw muscles.  And the thing is fresh. It's not like this is old, dehydrated bread.  It was made today!

I'm glad to be able to complain about it a bit, because that's part of what makes it a real vacation experience:  if the bagels here were the same as the bagels in Charleston, then what would be the fun in that?  No drama at all.

All the cheeses in the world, in one place.
After the bagel, I strolled around and walked into a market.  It was deep...lots and lots of shelves, filled with amazing things...and as I got to the back, I discovered that this market had more cheese than I'd ever seen in one place.  This picture shows you about half of the cheese shelves.  The store also had fresh bread bins, olive oil shelves, chocolate shelves.  Sort of a miraculous place.

Then I successfully hailed another cab and got taken back to my hotel.  Here's what it looks like in New York right now:
Snow.  And footprints.  And dog pee.
Maybe that's what it's going to look like in Charleston later today!

*I need to acknowledge--as I told Eva last night in a squealing, huggy, OMG-it's-you! voice--that I quote her in virtually everything I write.  I love her writing about her daughter, Sesha.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hello, new readers!

You know what's interesting?  How many people have been invited to visit this blog recently.  The press release for the big, fun event Yes! I'm a Feminist sends people here.

And the event website for a discussion George Estreich and I led  at Gigi's Playhouse in NYC also sends people here.  I guess that makes sense, since the title of our conversation was "Parenting, Writing, Advocacy"--and this blog sort of demonstrates all three.

It's not that I mind new people reading Every little thing.  I love it!  But I do sometimes wonder if the multiple audiences will be interested in the random stuff that goes up here.  For instance:

My fancy hotel room!  Because I spoke at Gigi's Playhouse yesterday afternoon and Columbia University tonight, I am staying in a bad ass hotel.  It has levels of stylishness that I'm simply not able to understand.  For instance, there's a huge picture of an old record player above the bed. There's a totally retro clock beside the bed.  The light switches are hidden.  I'm not sure why these are features of the room, but it's clear to me that they represent coolness that I'm far too old to appreciate.

As my dad says, "The fashion train stopped years ago, and I got off."  I'm embracing that reality.

How cool Gigi's Playhouse was!  A bunch of people showed up.  George and I each gave some casual info about what we do and what we're interested in, and then for the next two hours we talked with the audience.  There was not a second's break--hands were up constantly, and people were asking questions, sharing their own personal stories, pondering what it means to be the parent of a child with Down syndrome, and noting how diverse they are as parents.  Many of them had the fear that I had, that every parent I met was going to be a super-Christian pro-lifer--which is absolutely fine, of course, but I was afraid that I was going to need to hide who I was.  Or I was going to be the radical outsider at the event (I suspect I would have gone with the second choice).  Instead, we were a room full of people with different professions, experiences, beliefs, politics, approaches to the world.

Getting to hang out tonight with some of my favorite scholars!  Rayna Rapp.  Faye Ginsburg.  This is one of the things I absolutely adore about becoming a real-live feminist disability studies scholar.  Here are the folks I've gotten to hang out with:  Rosemarie Garland-Thomson!  Michael Berube!  Brian Skotko!  Rachel Adams!  George Estreich!

Whew, there were a lot of exclamation points in that paragraph.  And a lot of links.  You don't have to click on every link--just trust me that these are really impressive people.

Things I'm learning about traveling up north:  Comfy shoes are great.  But remember your hat.  And your gloves.

And a bit of a random comment about Yes! I'm a Feminist:  Yes!  I'm a Feminist is happening in less than a month!  It's a big fat feminist party with free food, drinks, and music--and lots of conversation.  I'm surprised--and delighted--at how many big-name Charlestonians will be there. If you'll be in town, come join us!

And an extra lure:  you'll get to eat desserts from Sugar, one of my very favorite food places in the world.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Second annual Yes! I'm a Feminist

Listen, folks, the Women's and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board knows how to put on a great party.  And a great political party!  I mean political not in the "elected official" sense, but political in the "let's have a look at the ways power is distributed and make sure that things are as fair as they can be."


You all know that my standard definition of feminism is a movement to eradicate all forms of oppression that keep people from achieving their full humanity.  That's an excellent definition.  You're welcome to steal it.

Margaret Pilarski, who's the chair of the WGS Community Advisory Board and one of the people making this event happen, says this about feminism:

Whether your understanding of feminism is about girl power, women’s suffrage, second wave rallies, or recruiting more women to run for political office—you’re right, it’s all that and more. Equality is necessary and empowering for all genders and the hosts of our party are receptive to that. We’re thrilled to have this show of support and be welcomed and celebrated by the community at large.

Right on, Margaret.

And let me go back to one of the important parts of this post: it's such a good party!  We have 175 hosts, folks from all walks of life who are donating $100.  We also have sponsors--organizations that are offering bigger funds to support WGS, organizations like the New Morning Foundation, Women 2020, the Alliance for Full Acceptance, and skirt! magazine.  It's a significant fundraising event for WGS.

Last year's Yes! I'm a Feminist allowed us to do things like:

  • We gave research grants to six WGS faculty affiliates. They did things like traveling to the village of Wowetta, located in the North Rupununi of Guyana for 4 weeks to examine the women's economic development projects; interviewing women in Ireland to learn about their participation in peace and reconciliation efforts there; and presenting their research results at a number of conferences. Yes! I'm a Feminist has allowed us to offer the first WGS research funding in the history of the College of Charleston. 
  • Students have received research grants as well, presenting their individual research at regional WGS conferences - a major accomplishment for undergrad students. 
  • We've sponsored speakers and events on campus, like the fifty-year anniversary of The Feminine Mystique and the incredibly popular campus presentation by television star and transgender activist Laverne Cox. 
  • And we offer students the funding to plan their own events, like the informal weekly "Food with Feminists" that allows students to gather, eat together, and form a supportive community.

Come be a feminist with us!  February 25, 5:30-7:30, in the atrium and garden of the (beautiful) New Science Center on the CofC campus (corner of Calhoun and Coming).  Free and open to the public!  Bring your friends!  Enjoy excellent food, drinks and music.

And if you want to read some other relevant posts I've written, here you go:

The "bless your heart" phenomenon

Posing blowdrying
Maybelle and Nonni engaging in Maybelle's new favorite activity.
I think those of us who live in the south get this one a lot, what I call the "bless your heart" phenomenon.  Let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gratitude list for the beginning of 2014

  1. My breathing, reading, writing, teaching, singing, coffee-drinking self.  I was going to put Maybelle first on the list, but I reminded myself of the oxygen mask philosophy that’s crucially important to my life and has been for more than a decade.  You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then on your child.  If I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t help anyone else. Period.  
    Happy, happy, joy, joy!
  2. My daughter.  I was going to list some of her many wonderful characteristics, but I realized her characteristics aren’t what “make me” love her.  She doesn’t have to earn my love.  I love her exactly as she is, and I’ll keep loving her, no matter what.
  3. My friends and family.  I’ve blogged about them recently, so I’ll just point you there for a more detailed description.  Xoxoxoxo!
  4. Sleeping.  Is that an appropriate thing to put on this list?  It’s true, though:  when I wake up and see that it’s 6:00, not 4:27, I’m grateful.  That means the day gets to start, and I don’t have to lie in bed thinking thinking thinking the toxic 4am thoughts that refuse to be rational and often fill me with adrenaline.  Okay, that wasn’t a great gratitude item—that seems more like a “Let’s get rid of this phenomenon!” item.  Moving on to a more appropriate gratitude item...
  5. Looking backward and forward.  I'm grateful that I'm in a place right now of looking backward and forward in my life.  I've moved into this dramatic new phase.  In some ways it feels like adolescence--that kind of uncertainty and possibility.  But in adolescence I wasn't reflecting on the past, what I'd experienced and what I'd learned, what patterns I'd established and which ones I wanted to let go of, and I'm certainly doing that right now.  I don't yet have clarity on a lot of crucial issues.  It is, to quote myself from an earlier post, a fabulous mess, and I'm going to do my best to accept and be grateful for that.  
  6. Silly.  This is Maybelle's highest compliment, and I do like it.  It helps to nudge me in a different direction than the direction I'm often going.
Thank you to Elizabeth Aquino for inspiring this post.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books that changed my world

Here's a list inspired by some stuff going on at Facebook (I didn't want to post it there, because that seems a little limited, plus this list required more thought that I'm willing to give to Facebook).

Following the lead of Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, I'm not putting these in any order whatsoever.  Or rather, the order is the order in which they popped into my mind.


Too Late to Die Young by Harriet McBryde Johnson
Introduced me to disability studies.  Invited me to see the world differently--to begin to consider disability as an embraceable form of human diversity (a soundbyte I now use far too often, but I do like it).  She's a fantastic author--Southern and often funny and polite, but more often in your face and unapologetic.

Life as We Know It by Michael Berube
This was a book I read after Maybelle was born, a narrative of Michael's life with his son, Jamie, intertwined with an analysis of what Down syndrome means--how we understand it, its history, the fucked-up ways we've stigmatized it, and how we might change that.  It was the first book I read after her birth that invited me to become an activist on this issue.

The Narrative of Sojourner and the Book of Life by Sojourner Truth
Oh, Sojourner Truth--you've been such an inspiration for me.  So tough, offering different and powerful identities, working to change your world in multiple ways--when you were essentially as marginalized and oppressed as you could be.  Powerful and clever activist, religious leader, hilarious speaker who got listeners laughing as a way to challenge how they understood the world.  These books helped shape my dissertation.

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination by Toni Morrison
Another grad school book that popped my mind open in new ways, helping me to understand the activist possibilities of my own scholarship differently.

The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis 
(cheating to put a whole series, I know, but this did change my world when I was a kid.  And I've got two more series, below).
Thank you, Uncle Dave, for sending me this series when I was a kid.  I read it multiple times, in part because these were the books I read when I was lying in bed, having panic attacks, unable to sleep.  The fantasy was encouraging.  The characters gave me hope.

The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Leguin 
(especially the first three, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore)
Claire turned me on to this series, which I read multiple times while I was recovering from brain tumor surgery.  It's a very different kind of fantasy than the Narnia series.  This one is slow, thoughtful, and sad.  It resonated with me as I reimagined my life as a person with a brain tumor, seizures, and an intellectual disability.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
Meg Murry is imperfect and struggling, anxious, unsure of her place in the world, but willing to tap into her courage when her beloved brother is in danger.  When I read this as a kid, she reminded me of someone... And Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which were wise, powerful, offering guidance but not solving the challenges the Murry kids faced. I reread this as an adult and found it just as moving.

Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Okay, perhaps more cheating since I'm including so many books from my childhood.  But I think it's fair to say that this was a book that turned me on to the importance of my life as a girl.  Hey, menstruation:  something I found (and find) fascinating!

Backlash by Susan Faludi
This book turned me on to feminism.  My first year in college it definitely changed my world.  I read it and thought, "Oh my god, this is what I have to do!  I have to challenge this!  I can't believe that the world isn't as fair as I thought it was!"  And from that point on, all of my writing and research, and a large amount of my casual conversation, was about feminism, gender, and changing the world.

I think this is a long enough list for now.  Incomplete, of course, but a fun thought experiment.  And it's giving me a warm feeling to revisit these books, to try to articulate why they've had such an effect on me.  Some I've reread many times.  Others I haven't read in years, but each one pops out in my mind, books that say, "YES!", that helped/help me to understand and expand myself.