Cheesecake and Gratitude

Pumpkin Hazelnut Cheesecake,Thanksgiving Eve Dinner, 2012.
Food Prep, Styling, and Photo by The Madwoman.

We’re about to hit the road for holiday fun and feasting with pals up the I95 corridor, so I can’t linger here on the interwebs, but it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving if I didn’t pop in with a recipe and a word or two of thanks for the finest bunch of readers on dog’s earth. Thanks to everybody who made the journey from the old blog to the new blog this year, and thanks to the newbies who stumbled upon a Madwoman in the course of their restless roving through cyberspace and decided to give her a click. We are grateful for your eyeballs, your pithy/thoughtful comments, and your big, beautiful hearts.

The Woman Formerly Known as Goose and I are breaking with Thanksgiving tradition this year in traveling rather than hosting (blame it on San Juan), but we had a swelegant little fete last night to celebrate with the hometown crew. Dessert was the smooth as silk pumpkin hazelnut cheesecake featured in the photo above. It’s a new recipe from Food Porn for the Conscientious, and I was delighted with how it turned out. The chorus of oohs and aahs around the table suggests that the guests were pleased, too. The recipe calls for hazelnut flour, which I couldn’t find, so I used almond flour instead. I also subbed almond extract for vanilla (because we were out), and that worked fine. I was especially pleased with how the hazelnut brittle sitting atop each slice came out. I am not terribly adventurous as a baker and don’t go for fussy ornamental details, but this was easy and impressive. Oh, and tasty! Turns out I like hazelnut brittle. Who knew?

Gotta run, darlings, or WFKG will start grousing at me for holding up the Thanksgiving parade. If you’re in need of a last-minute appetizer guaranteed to please your guests and keep them sober by soaking up a lot of booze, run over to the old blog and pick up the recipe for Janie’s olives. My beloved grandmother knew that what the world needs now is love and a bunch of olives wrapped in cheddar cheese dough. It’s a formula that has worked well for me, so I’m happy to pass it along to you.

Have a glorious day, little pilgrims and anti-pilgrims. Eat well. Laugh loudly. Focus on the good stuff. Repeat, with gusto.

Swimming and/as Schmoozing

From the balcony of the Caribe Hilton, San Juan, PR. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 11/16/12.

I won’t lie. I haven’t attended a whole lot of sessions here at the American Studies Association annual meeting in San Juan. The time has felt rewarding and rejuvenating, both professionally and personally, but most of the benefits have come from informal contacts and serendipitous conversations that occurred outside the formal structure of the conference. Should I feel bad about having a significant discussion about  the state of my career with a senior colleague in my own department while bobbing around in the emerald green waters of the Caribbean? Or about spending 45 minutes chatting with someone whose work I’ve long admired while standing at a poolside bar wrapped in a towel? Should I feel less bad if the upshot of the conversation was an invitation to speak at a conference I am hosting in the spring? Oh, and if I extracted the promise of a syllabus for a course similar to the one I’ll be teaching next semester?

Actually, I don’t feel bad at all about how I’ve spent my time here. I offer these reflections in response to a post by Tenured Radical addressing a reader’s queries about academic conferences in suspiciously beautiful places. I”ve attended a few sessions, participated in one — with TR, Historiann, GayProf, and our fearless moderator, the Woman Formerly Known as Goose — and hit as many parties as time and stamina allowed. I am a firm believer in the value of live, person-to-person contact and in getting out of one’s usual routines and habitat as a way of shaking things up. I doubt seriously I would have had quite the same candid exchange with my own colleague over coffee back in Turtle Country. Further, our session on blogging as public pedagogy was lively and well-attended. It sparked a conversation that continued for many of us for the rest of the conference. I suspect it will continue by several means for a long time to come, and if WFKG has her way it will likely lead to a collection of essays on the session theme. Stay tuned, darlings, because WFKG can be very persuasive.

Yes, I had to do some rearranging of life and work in order to be here, and it does mean I am about to be hurled into Thanksgiving week a little further behind than I’d like to be. Still, the journey and the work have been worthwhile, if only because I finally got to meet GayProf and Historiann in the flesh and discovered that they are as delightful and charming in person as they are on screen. I was taken aback that Historiann did not ride in on a horse and GayProf seems not to have flown in on an invisible plane, but I suppose they might have been a little surprised that I was neither a dead dog nor an actual madwoman. I did bring a laptop, though, so perhaps that took the edge off their disappointment.

Conferences are good, and the work at conferences occurs in a variety of ways and locations.

Which is why, my pretties, if you’re still in San Juan, you may find me bobbing around in the emerald green waters of the Caribbean along about noon today. (Our flight doesn’t leave until this evening.) Stop by for a chat. It might be professionally advantageous to both of us.

The Entirely Bearable Weirdness of Winning

Results of the four ballot initiatives on same-sex marriage in the 2012 election. Via.

What a difference four years makes. In 2008, the thrill of the nation electing its first African-American president was accompanied for many of us by the bitter disappointment of seeing voters in four states, including California, approving measures that prohibited same-sex marriage or adoption by gay couples. A few days after the election, I wrote that perhaps it was time for those who cared about LGBT rights to abandon the cause of marriage and to seek protections for same-sex relationship by other means or at least by other names. I was tired of watching my community waste its limited energies and precious resources on what felt, after dozens of defeats at the ballot box, like political insanity — doing the same losing thing over and over again and expecting different results. Here is what I proposed as an alternative:

[I]f the issue is gaining legal protections and economic benefits for queer households, does it matter if we call it “marriage”? If the straight majority is dumb enough to grant us all those things – and I do mean all, including the full panoply of federal benefits extended to married couples — as long as we call it anything other than “marriage,” then maybe we should take the deal and throw ourselves a victory party. I know, I know, separate is still unequal, but, but, but – Aren’t we tired of going through these motions over and over again and never really getting anywhere? Aren’t we sick to death of seeing the collective energies and resources of our small community sapped by the ridiculous effort to prove we deserve access to an institution that has been oppressing women and stymieing the relational imagination for centuries?

Yeah, I was tired. And more than a little frustrated. You have to admit, though, that plenty of folks seem willing to extend those benefits to the gayz as long as we call the institution, say, poop on toast rather than marriage, so, hey, why not? Po-tay-toh, po-tah-toh, right?

So, anyhoo, fast forward to Tuesday, November 6, 2012. There are four marriage measures on ballots in four cobalt-blue states, including my home state of Turtle Country. Incredibly, they all win (though we are still waiting on full, final results from Washington State). Just like that, the tide of history is turned! Suddenly, the impossible has become the achievable — indeed, the achieved. Insanity has become like, hey, no big deal, are you guys registered at Pottery Barn?

How did we get here in just four years? Heck if I know. I’m an English prof, not a pundit or a data nerd. My hunch is that generational change and President Obama’s endorsement have done a lot to change the climate of opinion on marriage equality. The losers in Tuesday’s battles claim they were outspent three to one in the ballot campaigns, so perhaps spending money can help win elections, though that obviously wasn’t the case in a lot of the races on Tuesday. On the ground in Turtle Country, I think we can credit smart organizing and good messaging for increasing support, particularly in the African-American and Latino communities. Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization (on whose board I happen to serve) worked in coalition with Latino groups to help pass a state Dream Act. About a quarter of registered voters in Maryland are African American, so a lot of pro-6 ads featured civil rights leaders such as Julian Bond and NAACP president Ben Jealous, as well as faith leaders such as the Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD. This time, supporters of marriage equality didn’t hesitate to frame the cause as a civil rights struggle, and the message seems to have helped drive up support in the African-American community. Question 6 lost by just 4000 votes in Prince George’s County, which is 64.5% black, and African-American support throughout the state was close to 50%.

A couple of weeks ago, I mused here on how deeply estranging and uncomfortable it felt to know that my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and countless unknown fellow citizens would be voting on what felt like a referendum on my humanity. I told you that I was feeling reluctant to talk to my neighbors about Question 6 because I wasn’t sure I could bear to know that they might vote against me. I never could bring myself to knock on their doors and initiate those conversations, but because the universe is small and endowed with a perverse sense of humor, I ended up spending much of election day handing out pro-Question 6 materials at my own polling place. Which meant, of course, that I saw all of the neighbors I had been avoiding talking to. Minutes before my shift at the poll was scheduled to end, a group of women drove up together in a large, spotlessly clean SUV that I instantly recognized. In the bright sunshine of a beautiful November day, in the parking lot of an elementary school, we smiled and greeted one another warmly, with that giddy kind of excitement those who participate tend to feel on election day. I asked if they would like a Question 6 flier, and they all accepted one. Then I hesitated for just a moment before deciding to make a little leap of faith. “Now,” I said, “we haven’t talked about this, but I’m hoping we can count on your support.” To a woman, they nodded affirmatively or said yes, I could. Mine was the last face they saw before they stepped inside the school to vote.

Look, I’m no fool. I know people lie in social situations in which the truth would be awkward. I’ve been smiled at a million times by those who believe they can love me while condemning the sin of my lifestyle. I know it’s possible my neighbors were merely being polite, but as I walked home on Tuesday afternoon I promised myself that if equality prevailed in the election I was going to believe that my experience at the poll was the universe’s way of telling me I should never have doubted the hardworking people who share my lifeworld.

And I do believe that. Because this week, things that felt impossible four years and even six months ago have suddenly become real. This week, it is no exaggeration to claim, as the coalition who helped to pass Question 6 declared, that We made history. We did, and it feels good. The weirdness referred to in my post title is the weirdness of winning after so many losses. After 32 defeats, you begin to feel like Charlie Brown’s baseball team or, you know, the Washington Mystics. You can’t imagine winning and you try not to as a way to protect yourself from the disappointment of yet another defeat. When victory comes — or four victories in one astonishing night! — you hardly know how to react. You laugh, you cry, you hold tightly to those who are close to you, you shake your head in a mixture of joy and disbelief. Two days later, it still feels slightly unreal. Two days later, I think a message I put up on my Facebook wall after a few hours of not very restful post-election sleep best captures my feelings about this delightfully strange moment:

Friends, my heart is so full and my body so weary that I can’t speak yet about what last night meant, here in Maryland and all across the country, for the nation I love and the values I hold dear. For now, all I can say is thank you, to everyone who worked so hard and so faithfully to bring about so many large and small victories for fairness, equality, and inclusion. We are not a perfect nation this morning, but we are better than we were yesterday. And if we keep working the way we have these past few months, then by golly we’ll keep getting better, bit by bit, together.

Yes, we can — because we have. Thank you for your hard, good work.

The nation I love and the values I hold dear? Yeah, sometimes a girl just wants to wave a flag. Deal with it, darlings. And don’t ask me when the wedding is. This queer against marriage but for marriage equality ain’t budging on that point. Yet.

Stay tuned.

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