Showing posts with label gender and memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gender and memory. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Not Everyone is Hiding from Scary Ideas in College

by Eleanor Taylor for the New York Times
This article by Judith Shulevitz has been popping up in my Facebook feed all week.  Every time I see the girl wrapped up in the fetal position inside a giant ear, I seethe a little bit more.  It seems that the Shulevitz piece has hit quite a nerve. Everyone is so ready to castigate the fragile flower millenials for their inability to get outside of their own heads and hearts.

The crux of the argument expressed in the piece seems to be that in an over-medicalized, over-protective culture, students today are perfectly content to sacrifice free speech and independent thought so that they do not ever risk the danger of being "discomfited" or, gasp, "distressed."

Writes Shulevitz, "It is disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago.  But those were hardier souls.  Now students' needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals --- mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like."

The boomers, they were so tough, so resilient, so revolutionary. Oh, that trope again. Nostalgia much?

As a faculty member at a state university, I am all too familiar with the army of service professionals of whom she speaks. Do they bureaucratize campus life?  Yes.   Do they endeavor to homogenize experience to the point of blunting it?  Maybe. They also find housing for the kid sleeping in his car, connect students living in situations where they are being abused to resources that help them get out, help with emergency loans and enable students to avoid dropping out of college with a load of debt and nothing to show for it when times get hard and students fall off the rails.  They are not only on campuses to protect their own jobs.   They actually, you know, do things.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Thanks for the Memories, Donald Trump.

(October 10, 2016) Note:  I wrote and posted this blog post almost two years ago.  And then --  Donald Trump came along.  And I was reminded -- in the most disturbing of ways -- that these stories are so many women's stories.  As mild as they may be, they are scarring.  As quotidian as they may be, they are wrong.

Donald Trump has triggered our traumatic memories of sexual violence. 

I want to join the chorus of women who are saying, "I don't want to be silent anymore.  If my silence is my complicity, then I will be loud."

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I had no intention of telling her.

No intention, in fact, of sharing my story of the bizarre sexual assault or assault-lette that occurred last weekend -- beyond my husband and the Facebook message I hurled like a scared grenade immediately after it happened to two of the most reflective feminists and genuinely empathetic people I know.

But your mom asks you how your weekend getaway was, and unfortunately there it is --- the image of the fat, drunk man pushing you up against a shelf of potato chips in a convenience store off a New Hampshire highway exit, grabbing you with both his arms and squeezing you while breathing a boozy, "I love you" into your face from a proximity that can only be called inappropriate.

So I told her.

And there was much alarm and empathy.


Monday, June 23, 2014

"Seeing Through New Eyes?" Grappling with Identity/Identities

Is this a Derry granny?




Brought to you by British Telecom's "Portrait of a City,"an initiative designed to crowd-source community archives as part of the City of Culture events last year, this image of an older woman and sixteen children is one of eight photos that were enlarged last year, printed on heavy-duty tarp material and hung on the exterior wall of the Orchard Street entrance to the local shopping center, Foyleside.

It sits in the wall of the building just like a photo sits in a frame.

I took this photograph while going to catch a bus to visit my friend Bryonie, who is one of the most creative, effervescent and astute thinkers I know.

When it comes to thinking about Northern Ireland, I often get this Rumi quote in my head (I know, I know, the cliché of it all!!!!) "Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." I always think of Bryonie on that field.  Partly because she writes about landscapes and maybe because in my mind, a part of her own identity is intertwined with the fields of Leitrim.  Mostly because she doesn't just reject, she simply enters into, gently scrutinizes and then deconstructs prescriptive, rigid, essentialist thinking about the histories, cultures and cultural politics of this place.  All the dichotomies: them/us, north/south, Éire/UK, belonging/not belonging --- they lose resonance and are revealed as the caricatures they are.  But she does it in a way that also affords the processes of their very construction respect.  Like I said, formidable.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Home Truths, Open Secrets and Women's Memories in Ireland

It is a a painful, poignant time to be in Ireland, as the #800babies scandal breaks.  People speak of little else. Everyone has a strong opinion.  Hello, Pandora's box.

In a nutshell:   Local historian Catherine Corless engaged in a long, tedious process of determining how many babies and children died in the Tuam, Galway Mother and Baby Home between 1925 and 1961.  The project began in an attempt to erect a plaque for an unmarked gravesite on the grounds of the former home run by the Bon Secours order.  Looking to name the children, Corless expected to find a few. The county registrar came back with 796 death certificates.  The historian cross-referenced the list of dead children with many area cemeteries.  None of the names appeared, raising the question of where the bodies were buried.  Further investigation revealed that the gravesite was not the only burial ground at the home; in the 1970s, bones had been discovered onsite, the story silenced.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Performing Memory

My mom has a habit that has become more pronounced over time.  If she doesn't want to do something, she makes herself late.  A strange, passive aggressive stalling tactic. You might think about it casually and consider her disorganized, or worse -- approaching senility.  The dillying.  The dallying.  A whole ritual involving socks.  But I don't think so - because I can see the intention behind it.  A quiet protest.  An insistence on her right to choose.




As I was sitting on the couch yesterday morning, in pjs, drinking tea -- a half an hour before I needed to be somewhere it takes me twenty minutes to drive to -- it occurred to me that I have inherited this particular habit.

When I first picked up Diana Taylor's wonderful book The Archive and the Repertoire, the idea that we perform acts of memory everyday in our speech, our silences, our habits and ways of being in the world  was new to me.  It kind of blew me away.  I think she actually talks about looking in the mirror and seeing her mom looking in the mirror in the introduction.

When I ask, "How's by you?"  I am performing memory.  I never ask anyone who is not in my immediate family this, but my association of the phrase with my mother and her mother and aunties -- five first generation Polish-American women -- comforts me somehow.  I usually ask the cat, though a. he cannot answer and b. how's by him is pretty much the same as it is for me, since we live in the same place. Never you mind that the etymology of the phrase is Yiddish and I have no idea why my mom's family adopted it. Maybe it was my German/Irish grandfather's.  I've adopted it to signify what I want it to -- probably changing the meaning and original purpose of the utterance.  Oh well --- memory is fluid, flexible and open to adjustments.

We all think about food as memory and traditions of other kinds as well.  But isn't it fascinating, and maybe just a little freeing, to consider your nervous ticks, procrastination and avoidance tactics, the armor you grab for whenever you get in an argument, etc.  performances of memory as well?  Doesn't it make you want to understand what attitudes and behaviors are yours and yours alone, and which ones are inheritances?


I've become more inclined to make hospital corners the way my mom taught me, to follow a particular choreography in the kitchen, to find it funny and oddly lovely that I hoard cans of tomato sauce and stockpile condiments just like my dad does.  It is still neurotic, but as a performance of neurotic memory, it makes it a little more OK.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Teaching Fun Home as Public History

I assigned Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic for the first time in Public History and my students are reading it now. It is an amazing graphic novel that just got turned into a musical.


I assigned it because I wanted to teach something about identity as it relates to the social frameworks of memory and to connect it to the ways in which we localize memories through landscapes, objects and images. I also wanted to do something on family history. 





So, what do I want students to get out of this reading experience?  What questions do I hope they ask and explore as they read the text and examine the graphics?  How do I encourage them to think beyond the coming of age/coming out/coming to terms with a gay dad stories to think about the structure of the text and the relationships between memory and identity?  The things that made the book so fascinating to me actually focused around Bechdel's literary relationship with her father --- she experienced the relationship through texts --- Joyce, Proust, Salinger, Faulkner, the ancient Greek myths. Her dad was an English teacher as well as a part time funeral home director.