Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Alison and the Patriarchs

I am so happy to be hanging out with the patriarchs!  They're The Man, and I'm railing against them.  Cheerfully.

Last night was the second annual Yes! I'm a Feminist party, sponsored by the Women's and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board.  And wow, was it ever a party!  We had guys in suits.  We had probably 15 different ass-kicking lawyers, perhaps ready--if necessary--to kick the asses of guys in suits.  We had students, political figures from all varieties of political parties, activists, folks who stay home with their kids, men with incredibly impressive beards, WGS alums, school superintendents.

We had wonderful music.  We had the media!

This year's event was bigger than last year's.  The whole thing was a blast.  I talked to people for two solid hours (and then after the clean-up, I came home and slept, and remained exhausted all day today)!

And this, of course, is my favorite picture of the night (I'm sorry, Margaret, if you don't agree!).  Margaret and I are making our "thank you so much for being here!" speech to the crowd.  I have no idea what one of us said, but it was hilarious.  You can see so much of who we are in this picture!  Those are classic Alison-in-action hands.  Margaret looks like rock star.  

So, your job: what would this rock band be called? 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gay Faces Gay Places

Sometimes living in South Carolina is a nightmare, but then there are outspoken people like this who take on activism projects that are SO hopeful!  Please go have a look.  (And as I said on my Facebook post about this, I am feeling some happiness and pride because of how many of these students have been in--and enriched!--my classrooms.)

Update:  Here's the picture Maybelle and I submitted!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Homophobes run the state.

Last night South Carolina state representative Garry Smith cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston's budget as punishment for CofC presenting Alison Bechdel's Fun Home as this year's book for our College Reads program.  $52,000 is how much it costs to put on the program.

I've written all the details here, in my City Paper article (which I wrote incredibly quickly between two classes today so that it could be online the day after this hateful bill was passed).

But let me add a few additional things here:  Bechdel was uncontroversial during her talk on campus.  Do you know what she talked about?  The techniques she uses to do her incredible drawings.

And when Bechdel spoke, many students and alums who are LGBTQ came and listened to her.  They felt that the college was validating their identities.  They stayed after the event, and Bechdel stayed and talked with them.  Do you get what a big deal this is?  In a terribly homophobic state--and state where no elected officials know what trans* means--these students and alums were being told that they have human validity.  It matters to them.  It matters to me.

Finally, we should adore Bechdel if for no other reason than she invented the Bechdel test, which I use all the time.

Last night a friend said, "We moved to South Carolina voluntarily.  But I'm beginning to question that decision."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

Oh my god, this article is perfect!  A friend who's a writer sent it to me, knowing how well it would speak to me.  Here are the things that absolutely (or almost absolutely) describe my life:

  • I was great in English:  yes, of course.
  • I was a little late on this one:  I didn't write my first YA novel until I was in 7th grade, and then I wrote another in 9th grade.  This was back before the days of computers, of course, so I wrote them by hand.  On notebook paper.  In pencil.  I still have them.

Notice:  coffee to the left, notepad to the right.
This article reminds me of an excellent book I read when I was about to write my dissertation.  The best piece of advice in this book--advice that I rely on to this day--is to keep a notepad beside the computer. As I'm writing, I of course think of things that absolutely must be done at this very minute:  I have to wash the dishes!  Find all the used Kleenex and throw them away!  Do some stretching!  File all my medical bills!  Instead of doing them, I write them down, and I get to do them when I'm finished with my writing goal.

Of course, when I've met my writing goal, I have no interest in doing any of those things.

Toward the end of the article I stop relating quite so fully.  First of all, I got my ass kicked in graduate school.  It was clear to me that I actually wasn't as smart as all my classmates, so I started working hard hard hard just to keep up.  As it turns out, I did just fine--but I didn't (and don't) think it was because of my inherent brilliance.  And second, I'm not teaching at an Ivy League school, which means I'm constantly interacting with students who also don't believe in their inherent brilliance, and who come to my office hours wanting to know how to do at least acceptably well--or who come to my office hours because they're so excited by the ideas they're encountering that they want to do more and more.  

Finally, I do think that parental praise is hugely important.  My parents did think I was brilliant.  But they always acknowledged that the rest of the world might not agree, and I needed to have a sense of my own worth and also work hard.

So here I am, successfully writing a blog post.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Alison's dramatic new hair

Storms are tearing through the Southeast.  CofC has been closed for two days.  People have been without electricity.  So I know what you want to learn about:  my dramatic new hair cut.

We are both stunned by my hair. Who could blame us?
We're having our big Yes! I'm a Feminist gala at the end of this month, and I realized I wanted my curls to be at their most fabulous.  I've gone for this Ouidad experience many, many times since my research assistant and I made our week-long trek to NYC in July 2006 (Heather Hewett gets credit for that--she told me about it when we were roommates at NWSA and I saw her doing her Ouidad hair-toss).  I've had my hair Ouidaded for fun.  I did it a few months after the brain surgery to give myself a sense of being a person in the world who expected to be seen by other people.

This morning I called the salon and discovered that the only time I could get a Ouidad haircut before Feb. 25--the date of Charleston's best feminist party ever--was this afternoon.  So I texted Maybelle's favorite babysitter at the very last minute (not that unusual for me, really) and had to admit to her that she'd be hanging with Maybelle so that I could succumb to the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

I actually think this may be the best haircut yet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oxygen mask

This week I have a column in the City Paper called "When you're pulled a million different ways, it's time to put on your 'oxygen mask.'"  I'm trying to consider ways of taking care of myself--taking myself seriously as a person who deserves to be let off the hook from time to time.

Already I've got a comment from someone saying what my dysfuctional inner voice says:  "Suck it up!"  My dysfunctional inner voice gets lots of reinforcement from the outside world, which is one reason it's nice to have a metaphor that helps me to be significantly healthier.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Teasing and what to do

I learned yesterday that Maybelle's experiencing some teasing at school.

She's had a cold, or allergies, or something, for weeks now.  She's perfectly healthy--no fever, loads of energy, sleeping soundly--but her nose is producing impressive amounts of snot.  She's gotten very good at getting a Kleenex, wiping her nose, and throwing the Kleenex away.  But her wiping isn't always effective.

At school this week, she had some sort of snot incident, an incident which involved nose-wiping, but perhaps not ideal nose-wiping.  And four kids in her class started laughing at her.  By name.  And not in a funny, "Oh, Maybelle, that is some outstanding snot!" kind of way.

The staff couldn't tell if Maybelle noticed or understood.  But let me assure you, she did.  I just know it.  She can't always communicate, and she doesn't always visibly register what she's hearing, but even if she looks totally distant, when I ask her, "Maybelle, what did I say?", she answers correctly.  In the last couple of weeks she's been saying, "No laugh!" when anybody in this house laughs around her.  This makes me think that this teasing wasn't an isolated incident.

The staff, of course, is the best in the world, and they talked to the four kids about bullying.  It wasn't in a "Don't tease Maybelle because she's different" way.  It was in a "We don't bully anybody" way.  In other words, they didn't differentiate Maybelle, framing her as especially vulnerable, uniquely unable to wipe her nose.  They said it's not okay to bully anybody, and I think that was exactly the right approach.  She's different, because everybody's different.

Even though the folks at her school were ideal, it still breaks my heart.  I know that five year olds are experimenting with all sorts of boundaries--hell, Maybelle does that with me every single day, in ways that are often very irritating.  I have no way of knowing if their teasing of Maybelle was part of their teasing of the kids in their class, or if the teasing was because they've begun identifying Maybelle as Other, not part of their community, an outsider.

She's been part of their community since they were all two, so it's a big deal if she's getting nudged out. Now, let me assure you that there are many kids in her class who are allies and advocates.  One girl who Maybelle adores acts as a sort of big sister, helping Maybelle to learn new stuff.  A boy in her class apparently goes home and tells his mom, very happily, about Maybelle at school.  She's told me about him, but I didn't know who he was, and now I do.  She does have a community there.

Maybelle at the park, sitting comfortably with a mother and daughter.
But I also know that she's going to face teasing, harassment, suspicious looks, avoidance, throughout her life.  That's part of being a person with a disability.  I want to help her to respond to this behavior in compassionate, useful ways.  And I want to help myself to do that, too.

I told another mom this story, and she said that things like that make her Mama Bear come out.  I told Trey, and he said he felt a similar ferocity:  don't mess with Maybelle!  Even though these kids are kids, not trying to be hostile or hurtful, it's easy to feel the claws come out, the teeth emerge.

This reminds me of my junior high years, when I, too, was teased and harassed--in ways that were, in fact, consciously hostile, meant to shame me.  I'd come home, and at night, after Trey and Aaron and mom were upstairs, doing the going to bed routine, I'd talk to my dad.  I'd cry.  He was incredibly supportive, telling me that I'm an eagle and of course the sparrows are going to lash out at me.  He'd tell me funny ways I could respond, and I'd laugh, and feel better, feel loved.  It's interesting looking back on those conversations:  I suspect my dad wanted to rip those kids' throats out.  But he didn't let me know.  His calmness helped me to feel that everything was okay.

I'm not angry right now, just sad.  I can give Maybelle calmness, and absolutely unconditional love, respect, admiration, support.

And yet it breaks my heart.  My girl deserves to belong.