We’re at a self-hosted wordpress.org blog — mamanervosa.com — so you will no longer see updates here. Please come find us again!
We’re at a self-hosted wordpress.org blog — mamanervosa.com — so you will no longer see updates here. Please come find us again!
We are moving to a self-hosted blog thingy-ma-bobber and it’s going to look weird over here over the next few days. We are sorry and will muster our few techy resources to get things back to normal as quickly as possible.
The Mamafesto is running a cool series of profiles titled This Is What A Feminist Looks Like. Jen’s profile is featured there today! The profiles offer a thought-provoking look at how a really diverse group of folks understand and live feminist identities.
Here’s an excerpt, and please click through to read not only Jen’s profile but the other fascinating, inspiring posts in this series!
“Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
In some ways, I think I’ve changed very little: the center of my feminism has always been about understanding systems of oppression, struggling to confront the ways I’ve internalized those oppressions, and making choices that disrupt rather than perpetuate those systems.
That said: I’m not the same person I was when I was 18, or 23, or 27, or 30. I’ve grown out my hair, but I still don’t shave my armpits. I’m not any more tolerant of sexism or other forms of oppression, but I’ve learned how to pick my battles. I have fewer opportunities for guerrilla activism and more opportunities to leverage my identity as a prof and push people to see the world on different terms. I have a much more nuanced understanding of issues like sex work, thanks largely to students and friends who have continued to challenge me. I have a keener sense of my own strengths and limitations,and a deeper appreciation of the role of feminist mentors.
And of course, becoming a mother to three girls has shifted my perspective and experience. Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my relationship to my body. Just living my everyday life with little girls in tow provides ample opportunity for people to say sexist bullshit to me: I am still amazed that people think it’s okay to say things like “So does your husband want to keep trying for a boy?” Do they think I’m going to say, “Yes, because he finds our beautiful daughters who are STANDING RIGHT HERE inadequate.” And parenting girls has meant navigating popular culture and consumer culture on different terms: how do we feel about princesses, My Little Ponies, Barbie? What my partner and I want most is for our girls to grow up safe, healthy, and strong, and we’re raising them in a world that does not share those goals.”
As noted, I tend to get going on a topic and then trail off (I never did wrap up my commentary on the Feminine Mystique; I never did follow through with all the Big Ideas I had for “This is Not a Lifestyle Blog” – but this is a blog, and there’s time!). Before it gets too far from my memory, I wanted to wrap up my series about growing up in the conservative south and my recent trip back “home.” (Read the rest here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)
When I last wrote, I’d been pretty thoroughly alienated from mainstream culture in Tulsa by a series of extremely negative interactions with conservative Christianity. Between that and poky grass, I was pretty much planning to get out of this place as quickly as humanly possibly. I began to elevate and romanticize the Midwest as the ideal and preferable alternative to the south. By age 15, I was using road atlases to plot an escape route and writing romance stories set on farms.
So what changed? Continue reading
Mama Nervosa reached an amazing milestone this week: 10,000 views (and counting). I know some of our readers are amazing and talented writers who run successful blogs that average 10,000 views a week, and we hope to get there someday. But for us, 10,000 is an enormous accomplishment. I can’t speak for Lauren, but for me? 10,000 means I can give myself permission to ignore the laundry for an hour and sit down to write.
Lauren and I met at a writers’ workshop in Iowa City; a mutual friend (and amazing writer) organized the workshop as part of Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen workshop series, and I signed up in a moment of temporary insanity. Because here’s the thing: even though I have imagined that I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, I have spent most of the past 8 years (since leaving grad school) not writing at all. A fling with livejournal, a few letters, a lot of emails, the occasional witty facebook comment. That’s it. Not an essay, a chapter, not even a journal entry—and I journaled avidly from third grade through college and most of grad school. Even when working on a feminist book project with friends from undergrad, I primarily read and edited other people’s work.
I didn’t stop thinking of myself as a writer, which is weird, in retrospect, since I was very obviously NOT WRITING. Maybe it was my lack of do it start it keep it going capability, maybe it was all the negativity associated with writing in grad school, maybe it was just a natural shift as my location and day to day life and priorities and identity changed in ways large and small. But when Shell posted the workshop on her facebook, I knew, instinctively, that I needed to go. Even though I wasn’t a writer. Even though I had a small baby who was still breastfeeding. Even though I had no idea what the workshop would actually entail. I signed up, paid, pumped a freezer full of breast milk, and got in the car.
At the workshop, I wrote and ate and drank and talk and danced and read my work out loud and listened to feedback from a room full of smart, thoughtful women, all talented writers. I wrote an essay about Phish tour that I’d been burning to write since I let the dissertation go. I remembered how good it felt to sit in a quiet room full of books all by myself with a laptop or with paper and pen and have the time and space and confidence to put the words on the page. And when Lauren (do it start it keep it going!) asked if I wanted to blog with her I made another crazy leap of faith and said YES, ABSOLUTELY SIGN ME UP. I neglected to tell her that I have never blogged before and I am largely technologically inept. I did not stop to think about how I was going to find time to write blog entries in between the laundry and the teaching and the parenting and the gardening and the trying to figure out how to come up with enough money to buy tickets for The Fresh Beat Band from stubhub since the good seats are all sold out but I already promised D we would go.
But here we are, 10,000 views later. I am still trying to find/make/steal/borrow time to write. I am ignoring a MOUNTAIN of laundry even as I type. So when I saw Shell’s kickstarter campaign go live today, I made a contribution, and I’m hoping some of you will consider contributing too. She’s trying to raise the funds to finish her (gorgeous, hilarious, heart-breaking) memoir. Shell is a kick ass mama, an amazing writer, a beautiful woman, and an honest friend. She was a foster kid and a teen mom and now she’s a PhD. She was a voice of clarity during crazy grad school nights, she is a hero to me as a mother and a feminist, and she is a powerful enough force to inspire me to show up at a writing workshop when I had no idea if I could write a single word.
So give what you can– and if not to Shell’s project, to some other mama who is trying to find the time/space/cash to do the work that means the most to her. Let’s face it: it’s insanely hard to do this on our own, and we all have resources we could use to help one another. Maybe you have food, or money, or time, or skills or connections that could bring someone else that much closer to living the dream. Look around. Ask around. Figure out who needs what you’ve got to offer, and give generously. Life is too short not to share the wealth.
I’m posting this from a library in south Tulsa, where my youngest is screaming and kicking because this library doesn’t have a slide! The nerve! I wrote this post a few nights ago. I have very spotty internet access, so I’m sorry I haven’t been updating at my usual breakneck pace.
Interwebz!! I’ve missed you so much!
I’m writing this in my in-law’s living room in East Tulsa. It’s dark: my in-laws have left to go to a dance at the American Legion; the girls are finally asleep after an evening playdate with high school friends and their kids; and for the first time in days, I’m alone. The TV is playing something called Sonic Tap 814: Modern Country. I believe I just heard a song called “Redneck Yacht Club.” I could turn it off, but it’s fitting.
Its only day 3 of our epic trip and so far it’s been really lovely. The girls are great little travelers and have settled into our gypsy life with relative ease. Nothing feels very far away in Tulsa, so we’ve been all over creation, zipping from point A to point B so fast, and with so much to look at! We’re used to long and winding country highways with cows and fields: here, there’s something on every corner and in between. Today, while driving out of midtown on 41st Street, Robin said, “Mom, I love this neighborhood. It is just so beautiful.” We were surrounded by muffler places, shops and restaurants. They’re even sleeping well: snoring all night and not waking once.
I’m not sleeping well. For whatever reason, I can’t settle into deep sleep (blame the beds? blame the snoring?). It reminds me of my Dad complaining about travel and how hard it was for him to sleep in a new place. As a kid I was like WHATEVERZ OLD DUDE but now I get it, and I do think it’s an age thing. I’m slipping into the middle age zone and my body isn’t that spry young thing. I recently started having chronic knee pain, of all things. It’s related to poor posture, even less cool: if only it’d been a rugby injury or something else kickass. I’ve been calling it “blogger’s knee” because I’ve been writing while standing up at the kitchen counter, locking my knees while I type. Apparently, this is anathema to crucial support muscles in my inner leg, because now I’m all creaky and groany and stiff.
I’m not the only one showing signs – small signs – of age. My gorgeous sister has several gray hairs (she’s not even 30! wtf!) and our parents – mine, hers, and Brian’s – are getting older, too. Not old old, but older. Like, arsenal of supplements and vitamins older. Like, multiple prescription medications to manage blood pressure and arthritis older. Investing in a longterm care plan older. Seems like my friends and acquaintances are also hitting new life stages: folks who’ve stayed close to home are ready for change, and all of us who left home are feeling the urge for the familiar. Seems like things are shifting all over the place, rearranging lives on invisible tectonic plates: jobs, marriages, divorces, babies, whatever.
I keep driving in Tulsa asking myself, “How’s it feeling? What would it be like to be here every day? What would it be like to live here? What about there? How about here? Where am I, anyway?” And the answer is…? OK? It feels fine. It feels like it always did: meh, but not awful, and ecstatically lovely in certain spots. The weather is beguiling: rather than blazing hot, it’s been cool and rainy, just like Iowa. I think it’s project what it would feel like on a daily basis: one moment, I’m thinking Holy shit, I love how everything is ten minutes away, it’s so convenient! The next minute, I’m thinking, How many fucking strip malls can one town sustain?? The whole landscape is characterized by retail: no wonder living in south Tulsa felt like hell, it’s almost a parody of suburban life and parts are downright ugly.
I could go through all the calculus of the factors of which neighborhoods feel right versus which ones cost right or school right. There’s a ton of mental math happening, and it’s all in organized pro/con lists that run through my mind non-stop, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep while my girls are snoring. What I can picture for sure is: hanging out with my sister all the time. Checking out all the parks, going to Driller’s games, going to the fair. Having a house without a freaky portal-to-hell basement drain that occasionally belches human waste. Fretting constantly over the girls’ fair skin, new allergies, and freedom to play outside, unsupervised and safe. Feeling like a super minority in terms of both politics and religion, no matter how cool our neighborhood might be.
The big question I keep asking myself is: why. Why does it matter where you live? Does it matter? I know great people from shitty places and shitty people from Portland. It all seems like a crapshoot, but the stakes feel incredibly high to me. As I shuttle the kids from East Tulsa to midtown to Broken Arrow and back again, and interact with my in-laws and parents, I realize these questions point largely to issues of identity. What kind of people will my kids be if they are raised in a place like Tulsa? Or in a small farm town in Iowa? What if we make choices similar to (or totally different from) our parents: will we end up just like them, with the same tastes, politics, or regrets? How did our parents manage to raise intelligent and open-minded kids when they possess these characteristics only debatably? If we pick the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood with the perfect school, and raise our kids perfectly, could they still turn out to be assholes? Could choosing a place to live make or break how good and cool they can be – how good and cool we can be? What if they end up unrecognizable? What if we do?
Meghan Daum writes about a concept she calls “domestic integrity:” the idea that the place you live in somehow matches the person you feel like you are inside. I am in search of domestic integrity, but I confess I worry about who I might discover I really am as we make these decisions. These are burning questions in my mind, because I desperately want to have a great decade. My twenties were somewhat squandered on the futile pursuit of a PhD. My thirties have so much potential. I want to lead an interesting life, and I want to raise ethical, thoughtful, open-minded, interesting, cool people, too. Where can that happen best? Are those two things mutually exclusive? Or what?
With those deep thoughts, I’m taking myself and my blogger’s knee to the other guest bedroom for some R&R. With any luck, the girls will stay settled without me in their bed, and I can get a solid chunk of rest. Cross your fingers for this old lady.
This is part 4 of my series about growing up in Oklahoma. Read parts 1, 2, and 3. I’ll actually be visiting the old homestead next week to see my HS BFF before she moves to Texas and hang with my AWESOME SISTER, so the timing is good. I’m kind of knee-deep in portfolio grading, so hang tight for more non-memoir, normal, regular stuff to resume when FINALS WEEK IS OVERRRR.
It wasn’t just the crazy weather and freakish, Martian landscape that weirded me out about my new home. It was also church.
As a kid, no one talked to me about religion before. I mean, not even my parents openly articulated our belief system to me: I intuited, through the skills of reading and intense listening, that we were Catholic (off and on), believed in (a?) God, and therefore in Heaven. For a brief period, when we lived in South Bend, we attended church services regularly, and I even became familiar with a few hymns. But, in a very Midwestern way, religion wasn’t openly discussed or acknowledged. We absorbed it by osmosis and it was made somehow clear that religion was something you worked out through practice and a lot of sideways glancing, mumbling, and copying the people in the pew in front of you. Church was really more of something you “did,” not a group of people you knew, or a “belief.”
When we moved there, at age 11, I was a bit startled that it was a general getting-to-know-you kind of thing in Tulsa. “Where do you go to church?” or, even more strange to my ears, “Do you have a church home?” This was often the second or third question asked of me when I met someone new. Because I was completely naïve about religion in general, and about conservative, Protestant branches of Christianity in specific, I had no idea that telling people I was Catholic was akin to saying I was a Satanist. I immediately marked myself as someone in need of saving. Early in seventh grade, several of the nicest people in the world invited me to a Christian Student Bible Meeting Fellowship Fun Group, and I accepted. I mean, I was desperate for friends and I was a bit of a goody-goody. Christian kids were probably nice, right? Continue reading
This is part 3 of my series about growing up in Oklahoma, my love affair with the midwest, and other stuff. Read part 1 here and part 2 here. BTW, Jen and I are both in the throes of finals over the next week or two, so bear with us if updates aren’t as frequent!
I spent my entire life in Oklahoma defining myself as a not-Oklahoman. I knew my stay there was temporary, but I wasn’t sure how long my sentence would last. Five years? Ten? As we drove south through Illinois and then across the vast girth of Missouri to get to Tulsa for the first time, I wondered about this new place. I thought Oklahoma would be flat, dusty, and full of horses. I imagined that everyone wore cowboy hats, and tumbleweeds would bounce down my street.
But, the Tulsa I lived in looked more like this: Continue reading
This is part 2 of a series of posts about moving around as a kid and spending a lot of time living in Oklahoma. Check out part 1 here.
Of my immediate family, only my sister still lives in Oklahoma: my parents finally made their escape just two years after I moved away, and now live in Kansas City. Whenever I think about how much I love living in Iowa, I recall a passage from the novel Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella. Shoeless Joe inspired the film Field of Dreams, and was written by a grad student at the University of Iowa, where I’ve been teaching and attending for eight years.
“It was near noon on a gentle Sunday when I walked out to that garden. The soil was soft and my shoes disappeared as I plodded until I was near the center. There I knelt, the soil cool on my knees. I looked up at the low gray sky; the rain had stopped and the only sound was the surrounding trees dripping fragrantly. Suddenly I plunged my hands wrist-deep in the snuffy-black earth. The air was pure. All around me the clean smell of earth and water. Keeping my hands buried I stirred the earth with my fingers and I knew I loved Iowa as much as a man could love a piece of earth.”
I bought Shoeless Joe in early 1994: I know this because the dated sticker from the used bookstore is still on the cover, a 1982, pre-Field of Dreams mass-market paperback edition. I bought it because I’d loved the movie and considered myself a Midwestern ex-pat. I wanted to connect to the place I considered my true home and my ultimate destiny. I was fourteen years old and I’d been living in Tulsa for two years. I read that passage and thought, I want to go to there.
I’d moved all over the Midwest as a young child – hopping from Missouri to Illinois and then Indiana. We moved for my father’s work in the soft drink industry (yes, we really called it that in our house). Crush, R.C. Cola, A&W: the complicated gerrymandering of your regional territories forced us in and out of quite a few states before Dad left the world of soda altogether. Certainly, there are cultural, geographical, and meteorological differences among Kansas City, Peoria, and South Bend, but they all share a soft topography and a genial, white Midwestern mildness that made them feel more similar than different. They (we?) are friendly by default, but not excessively warm; and because we (they?) abhor conflict, no one will inquire about your religion, politics, or those funny plants you’re cultivating in the backyard, as long as you return the favor.
Don’t get me wrong: Midwesterners are as opinionated, judgmental, and full of shit as anyone else in America, but this was the stew I’d grown up in and I was too young to have that kind of meta-awareness. I was a Cubs fan; I knew what snow smelled like; my houses had basements; and we drove through miles of cornfield ribbons to get to Grandma’s house. I love the look and feel of old Midwestern homes: the pastel interior paints, peeling linoleum kitchen floors; arched doorways, white clapboard siding, creaking stairs with plastic tread protectors. The powdery smell of old bathrooms; the rotten stink of well water; hooked rugs. When we bought our house in rural Iowa last year, we bought exactly the kind of home I always fantasized about: a 1937 cape cod with light, wood floors, gauzy curtains, and a telephone cubby.
My Mom’s family is Irish Catholic. She has nine brothers and sisters and they were raised in a town near Chicago. Grown up, they scattered across the Midwest, concentrated in central and western Illinois, the suburbs of Chicago, and Wisconsin. A few of the sisters – my Mom included – left the Midwest altogether. There’s just something about this family: full of charisma, music, great hair, and extreme volume, every holiday with them was an event of a lifetime. As a child, I felt like a bit of an ugly duckling, wondering how my brainy brownness fit in with these fair-haired wild wondrous people. I sat in the middle of the living room, surrounded by the noise of forty people trying to talk over one another, and was all ears. I used to write and rewrite the list of names, anniversaries, and birthdates of everyone in the family: Linda Jo, Kathleen Ann, December 1, May 10, etc etc.
After four years in Missouri (from about age 4 until 8), we spent three years living closer to family (in Peoria and then South Bend IN), and I finally got to see my many cousins more than once a year. We went to christenings, 4th of July parties, random weekend visits, and every major holiday. I couldn’t get enough of being in the mix, eavesdropping on my aunt’s conversations, wondering at my cousins, who were a thousand times more cool and plugged in to culture than I was (they introduced me to NKOTB and the entire concept of “making out”). After we moved to Tulsa when I was 12, our attendance of family gatherings dropped to once a year, maybe twice. Tulsa is in the middle of the country but it’s so much further south: it really feels a million miles from everywhere.
I felt cut off from the universe: missing Thanksgiving felt like missing the party of the year. If I wasn’t there, I was going to be forgotten, and somehow being in this family felt like my one chance at being cool. And being in that family meant being in the Midwest. Thus as a pre-teen, my whole sense of personal possibility was set in a cornfield.
(More to come…)