Happy Blogtober!

“We should write because it is human nature to write. Writing claims our world. It makes it directly and specifically our own. We should write because humans are spiritual beings and writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance.

We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the act of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul. We should write because writing yields us a body of work, a felt path through the world we live in.

We should write, above all, because we are writers, whether we call ourselves that or not.”
― Julia CameronThe Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life

I’ve joked recently that I’m a non-practicing writer.

Humor as a mask for pain? Yep.

It’s been far too long since I’ve immersed myself in any sustained writing project, whether creative or academic (or both–I’m still trying to find a way to bring creative expression to literary criticism and pedagogical research). I miss the feeling of such deep writing, my brain zinging between thoughts and feelings, searching for a precise word to nail an idea. The state of creative flow, in which time both expands and contracts as I follow the trail of ideas wherever it leads, fueled by tea and the right soundtrack. The spirituality and sensuality that Julia Cameron alludes to in the quote above. Writing is more than good for my soul.

On nights when sleep eludes me, I tally up the years I’ve lived, ponder how many years I have left, and consider how I most want to spend my time. And the answer is always a blend of being creative and spending time with loved ones.

I want to create, whether a towering 4 layer cake that provides sweetness, a scrapbook of memories, or, most significantly, a written record of my thoughts and feelings, imaginings and interpretations. Poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction. Blogs.

Gregg and I made a pact to turn October into Blogtober, a month in which we each write one blog post. Every day. 31 days. If one of us fails to post, we owe the other person a bottle of Rombauer Zinfandel (a favorite special occasion wine) and a block of 10 year aged cheddar. Hopefully neither of us will fail and we can each kick in half of the cost of the prize to toast ourselves and our re-emerging writers on November 1.

I’ll be posting both here and on my other blog, bliss: towards a delicious life. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Blogtober by reading, commenting, creating your own blog!

summer reading program: library trip two

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Today I walked to the public library to select a new stack of books, having worked my way through the previous stack.* This stack represents my desire to lose myself in fiction, even as I read non-fiction texts for other projects. ** A mix of genres, story lines, classics, and contemporary authors, these novels should capture my attention for the next three weeks.

I also signed up for the library’s summer adult reading program, which challenges participants to read a minimum of five books in a minimum of four genres by the end of the summer. I can earn extra entries into the contest (prize baskets!) by writing summaries of the books I read! Today, my prize for signing up was a small bar of dark chocolate.

* From the first stack, I read and loved Shine, Shine, Shine and For the Time Being. I read select stories from Vampires in the Lemon Grove, and attempted to read NW. The stories in Vampires haunted me, and after reading “Proving Up,” decided I couldn’t handle the darkness of the stories, although I appreciated the deep cultural insights and critiques. I gave NW nearly 100 pages to grab my attention, but couldn’t connect to the characters or storytelling, which was disappointing but not entirely surprising. While I loved Smith’s On Beauty, I could not engage with White Teeth

**I will soon feature my stack of course revision and enhanced pedagogy reading material, as well as my World War II research for a family writing project.

summer reading program starts NOW

summer reading program starts NOW

Today I ignored the books double stacked on my shelves and overflowing my bedside table, and drove to our local library, where I found these four books (all fiction, three novels and one short story collection) I’ve looked forward to reading. My lofty goal: read them all before the due date of June 21, 2013.

Frankenstein, Schools, and Guns: A Modern Moral Quandry

 

 

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Mary Shelley, portrait by Richard Rothwell
photo from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RothwellMaryShelley.jpg

This morning I settled in at my home work station, looking out at a grey landscape, mug of cooling cafe au lait at my side. After I graded a student blog on Frankenstein, I clicked over to facebook to see how Monday morning was treating my friends. 

I already knew what I would find: the sadness and fear of parents of school-age children dreading the daily ritual of school bus pick-up or parent drop-off at local schools. I felt the company of fellow college profs who, like me, have spent the weekend pondering what we would do in our classrooms, on our college campuses, in active shooter situations. 

I didn’t want to go to campus at 11:00 to meet my students and pick up finals. It’s no exaggeration to say that finals week is the heaviest stress point of the semester for students and faculty alike. I’ve worried in the past about students, their fragile self-worth, their newly developed responsibility, and some, their unstable mental health, in the face of looming grades and often, missing assignments. 

I think back through my 15 years of teaching and can name specific students who concerned me, who I watched for any signs of something I couldn’t put my finger on, but suspected might lurk beneath the surface. I know I’m not alone. 

All weekend, I’ve read facebook posts where well-intentioned folks seek solace in platitudes and/or simple solutions to complex problems. My heart has broken, and seethed as predictable fault lines gaped. 

Is it really that difficult to reason this issue out? To not separate the threads but to look at how they intertwine? 

For every person advocating a ban on guns I saw someone else argue for arming folks in the schools. Both propositions miss the mark. 

I grew up in the country, in a family of hunters. We had guns in the house, and I remember watching my Dad clean his gun (don’t ask me what kind: simple hunting rifle or shotgun). I liked observing his attention to detail, and the process of oiling the cloth and slipping it up and down the inside of the barrel on a thin rod. Now, I appreciate his focus on safety and care. He and my uncles and brother hunt deer and rabbit, eating what they shoot. 

People I know and love have a concealed weapons permit. I don’t understand the allure, the need, but I know that I respect these men and trust them. I would like to talk to them and learn their rationale…can we discuss without retreating to our ideological home bases? I would like to think so. 

With that said, I am happy to live in a gun free home. I am comforted by the signs on the doors at my workplace, at my gym, that declare the buildings weapons-free zones. Yes, I know such signs are futile in the face of those bent on destruction. But it’s a modicum of comfort, and on days like today, I’ll take it. 

This post is as rambly and mixed up as my thoughts, but what I most want to say, to beg, to plead, is to find a way to recognize the contributing factors, the blind spots, the places where freedom and safety collide, and create a better way. 

Let’s begin by acknowledging that we live in a pluralistic society with competing, conflicting values and beliefs. Let’s further chip away at the stigma of mental illness, providing equal coverage for mental health preventative care and treatment. Let’s close loopholes on background checks on gun purchases. Let’s restrict access to military-style weapons and large capacity clips and magazines. Let’s revisit school security procedures and protocol. Let’s discuss the link between patriarchy and violence. 

As I read through my students’ blog projects on Frankenstein, I thought about Shelley’s warning in the text–that we create, out of good intentions, technological advancement, and human curiosity, something capable of unspeakable destruction. When you read Shelley’s compelling and prescient novel, you sense her sympathies extend to both the misguided creator, Victor Frankenstein, and his creation. Victor wanted power and renown, and desired to usurp female creative power. The creature wanted love, companionship, community; abandoned by his creator, he turned murderous, causing pain to match his own pain. At the end of the novel, Shelley suggests we abandon our obsession with progress, and take care of each other. 

We can start now, moving beyond memorials and facebook memes and into real action. But we must tackle the problem as the complex creation (of our own making) that it is. If an 18 year old novelist, pregnant, and still heartsick over the loss of her own child, can write such a complex moral novel as Frankenstein, surely we all can come together and talk. Really talk. And then act to create a better, safer community for all of us. 

 

escaping between the pages

The last few weeks have been strange, a mix of post-wedding letdown followed by travel anxiety, honeymoon bliss, travel anxiety, and now post-honeymoon and post-wedding and pre-move and pre-semester malaise. 

My summer: blessed and beautiful. My heart: grateful and full. 

And yet, with a creative, year-long project already relegated to memories and photographs…with hellos and goodbyes to far-flung family and friends already uttered…with small extravagances settled into everyday realities…it’s difficult not to feel that bittersweetness of completion. That flailing around in search of the next creative endeavor, the re-adjusting to internet connections between family and friends, and the planning of monthly treats of meals out complete with apps, wine, AND dessert rather than a week of indulgences. 

Mostly, I miss the people. The time out of daily life to connect with my husband in a world without TV and internet and anyone else we know. The many weeks of chatter and work with my Mom. The hours with dear friends and family working together to frost cupcakes and assemble flowers and set up furniture and celebrate. 

It’s a little lonely here.

But I always have friends between the pages, and so I’ve read several books, across genres, in quick succession, staving off the loneliness with edgy chefs, plotting spouses, sensitive girls, racist townies, Shakespearean profs. 

It’s a delicious drug, reading.

It’s home. 

 

summer reading: kindred spirits

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photo of Prince Edward Island, Canada, June 2004

 

“Gilbert drew her close to him and kissed her. Then they walked together in the dusk, crowned king and queen in the bridal realm of love, along winding paths fringed with the sweetest flowers that ever bloomed, and over haunted meadows where winds of hope and memory blew.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

Summer fun reading is the tantalizing carrot for professors. If I can just make it through this Giant Stack of Grading, come late May, I can read, read, read for myself…

Some summers I read purposefully, all pedagogy and class prep. Some summers I let the whims of the library and bookstore decide. This summer, I craved an old, familiar tale. I would re-read (for the umpteenth time) the Anne of Green Gables series, eight books written by Canadian author LM. Montgomery in the early 20th century, set around the turn of the century (one of my favorite literary and historical periods). 

When I first discovered Anne’s saga through the Kevin Sullivan film series airing on PBS in the late 1980s, my world changed. I read all of the books, and read them again. I penned stories that echoed the main themes–romance, academic achievement, pluckiness, wholesome fun. I wandered through the woods behind my parents’ home naming trees and paths and creeks, as Anne had done. I lived in two worlds–the real world of school, baby brothers, blueberries, parents, and the imaginary world of coming romance, beautiful nature, poetic turns of phrase, and everywhere, possibility. 

Reading the novels again, on the eve of my impending nuptials, I reconnected to my younger self, my wishes, my dreams, my possibilities. I laughed to realize that my tendency towards purple prose and verbosity has its roots in these novels and their literary style. My propensity for naming inanimate and natural objects? Straight up Anne of Green Gables. My desire to live in a beautiful world? Shaped by Anne’s imaginative visions. And the search for kindred spirits? Definitely influenced by the deep friendships and romances the novels chronicle. 

As I traveled between my home in Wisconsin, where I live, beautifully and happily with Gregg, and my childhood home in Michigan, I felt tugged between past, present, and future. Gregg and I drove around Lake Michigan more times than I can count, meeting with our officiant, DJ, and making wedding plans with my Mom’s help. I would often stay longer, and Mom and I would dig into the work, running errands, plotting and planning and planting, and making dreams become reality. 

Whatever novel I was reading at the time accompanied me, along with the next in the series, as the slim novels read quickly. And yet, I wasn’t quite able to finish the 8th book before our wedding on July 14th. However, I found what I was looking for–a bridge between my past, present, and future. An insight that though life and place and home changes and expands, there’s a deeper place somewhere within–the place where heart and intellect and soul meet, where traces of all my selves merge. And it’s this rich self I was able to live out these wedding days. And the books helped guide me. 

This past Tuesday morning, back in Wisconsin, I looked at our wedding photos and then finished the last chapters of book eight in the series. Oddly enough, I noticed a story on my facebook feed that seemed to speak to this relationship between childhood reading and adult self. A feature from the Huffington Post, this article explores the Myers-Briggs personality types of fictional characters. It’s no surprise to me that Anne is an INFP, my personality type. Kindred spirits, indeed. 

And, so, indeed is my now-husband. 

 

 

 

UW-Parkside English and Humanities Festival Talk: Searching the Sentimental Self

The Scholar, 1979

The Scholar, 2010

  “Searching the Sentimental Self: A Scholar’s Journey through Literature and Popular Culture”

How did I grow from that eager five-year old in a graduation cap to a Ph.D. holding professor of English and Women’s Studies? My journey was one of discovery, seeming randomness, but ultimately a quest to bridge literary art and a sentimental, feminist life. Half of my classes are composition classes, so I’m increasingly attuned to the process of scholarship as much as the product of scholarship. So often we read the products, highlighting key passages, annotating the texts, and quoting them in our own work without considering the scholarly process, nor the scholar behind the words. As a creative writer and a Women’s Studies professor, I’m interested in both the creative/creation story, as well as the person behind the words. And so, I decided to share with you my scholarly journey, to highlight some of the key scholarly projects, as well as the process and person behind those projects.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, image from Wikipedia

Undergraduate Thesis

Alma College, 1995

An exploration of art and love in the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, focused on Aurora Leigh and The Sonnets from the Portuguese. I look at how the two works communicate with each other and ultimately show how Barrett Browning reconciles her seemingly conflicting desires for art and love through her own life and poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

MA Seminar Paper

Michigan State University, 1996

An exploration of how 19th-century American women authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe used images of domesticity, especially kitchens and cooking, to forward a sentimental, political plea for change, and critique the status quo.

engraved illustration from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, from gutenberg.org

 

 

“‘Amen the Thunderbolt [and] the Dark Void’: Spirituality and Gender in the Works of Male and Female Writers of the Beat Generation.” Director: Virginia M. Kouidis

Ph.D Dissertation

Auburn University, 2003

An uncovering and reclaiming of women Beat writers, and an exploration of how the male and female Beats were seeking spiritual meaning via sex, drugs, nature, and travel. Because the Beats wrote so confessionally and autobiographically, I had to balance the tendency to read their works as their lives even more, focusing on the aesthetics and themes in their works and not just their fascinating lives and loves.

“A Truth Universally (Un)acknowledged: Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the Conflict between Romantic Love and Feminism,” published in Searching the Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays, edited by Elwood Watson. McFarland, 2006.

This article is a defense of chick-lit texts, an argument for the importance of love and relationships in contemporary heterosexual women’s lives (the focus on heterosexuality comes from the focus of the texts and my experience), and a plea for a marriage between romantic love and feminism. Perhaps my favorite publication, I incorporate my own romantic longings into the essay, using a feminist style of blending the personal with the scholarly. To riff on a feminist mantra, the personal is scholarly!

“Fashionable Indebted: Conspicuous Consumption, Fashion, and Romance in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Trilogy,” published in Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young. Routledge, 2006.

In my analysis of the first three Shopaholic novels by Sophie Kinsella, I argue that “the luxury lifestyle is a means of creating identity and achieving success in both personal and professional spheres” (220). The intrepid shopper and protagonist Becky Bloomwood illustrates how “conspicuous consumption provides the temporary illusion of decadently and stylishly having it all” (220). And, for readers, our consumption of these novels provides us a materialistic escape without the dangers of privation! I explore the concept of the transitional woman from psychologists Annette Lieberman and Vicki Lindner, who describe the conflicts between women’s roles and feminism playing out through how women think, feel, and spend money.

Artwork from The House of Mirth, image from wikipedia

“Fashion, Money, and Romance in The House of Mirth and Sister Carrie,” published in Styling Texts: Dress and Fashion in Literature, edited by Cynthia Kuhn and Cindy Carlson. Cambria, 2007.

I argue that “fashion in these novels communicates socio-economic identity; enacts aesthetic idealism; and blends the prevailing genres of sentimental fiction and realism” (250). I grapple with the idea of the self–arguing that the books show a sentimental, coherent self, despite the move toward more fragmented selves in later fiction and literary theory. I conclude that in Sister Carrie “some elusive quality remains untouched by (Carrie and Hurstwood’s) material condition–a recognition of the full self through romantic love, which hinges on a personal desire for connection and recognition” (263). The sentimental self always seems to seek romantic fulfillment.

Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C.

“A Marriage Made in the Kitchen: Innovative Blends of Romance and Food Memoir in Amanda Hesser, Julie Powell, and Ruth Reichl,” published in You are What You Eat: Literary Probes into the Palate, edited by Annette Magrid. Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008.

Inspired by my growing love of cooking and all things foodie, as well as my interest in popular romance, I wrote this article, which proposes a new genre of foodie romance–novels, or, in this case, memoirs, that chronicle courtship or marriage through culinary creations. This sprawling article focuses on genre distinctions and shows how books evolve from other media (journalism and blogging), a new model of publishing.

“Surfacing the Structures of Patriarchy: Teaching and Learning Threshold Concepts in Women’s Studies,” Holly Hassel, Amy Reddinger, and Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, published in the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, July 2011.

In this scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) article, my co-authors and I designed a lesson to teach a threshold concept in our Women in Popular Culture class. The article details both the lesson itself and our findings, which showed that patriarchy is a hard task to grasp but that a two-day lesson and plenty of modeling can help students understand this threshold concept as it appears in popular culture artifacts.

What’s Next?!?

A Blog of Our Own: A SoTL Investigation into Blogging in the Women’s Studies Classroom

In this ongoing project, I explore how students learn to use feminist analysis as a way of approaching texts in the women’s studies classes I teach. This project began in June 2011 and will continue…indefinitely. I will continue to gather data from my classes, using the blog as a weekly reflection on the course content. I am also exploring how certain themes–marriage, sex, pregnancy–are deeply entrenched as traditional, which makes it more difficult for students to apply a feminist lens.

Poetry Projects

I’m currently working on a series of poems about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, blending my interest in fashion, women’s rights, and social justice.

this is not my actual dress, but i don’t want my fiance to see my dress until the big day:)

Creative Non-fiction

As I’ve planned my wedding and contemplated what marriage means to me, a sentimental feminist, I’ve discovered how much of my previous work on fashion and identity is connected to the wedding, specifically the wedding dress. I’m eager to write a creative non-fiction essay that explores these ideas, conflicts, and revelations.