A Bitch Dreams of Buddha Hillary

After twelve days of bouncing around between and among numbness, outrage, horror, and sorrow, I had a dream last night that took me close to something like hope and happiness for the first time since election night. I share the details with you because I welcome your interpretive assistance and because I figure maybe you could use a glimpse of something like hope and happiness, too.

On the surface, the dream seems mostly to be about missed connections and lost opportunities. My partner and I are at Hillary Clinton’s inauguration. (See what I mean?) In one scene, I am trying to secure space for us to stand and watch the speech. She takes off with other friends. I don’t remember where they were headed, but I wasn’t upset about their leaving. They’ll be back. I have to do some negotiating with folks around me to save enough space, but that works out. I don’t think I dreamed the part where my partner returns and we listen to the speech. There’s a gap in the dream. In the next scene, we’re standing in line in a shop or cafe to get some kind of inauguration cake. It’s very crowded. We finally get up to the counter and the guy says, “Sorry, we’re not giving out anymore cake.” I can see they still have some. “Why not?” I ask. He shakes his head no. “We’re just not.”

So, yeah: Missed connections, lost opportunities, disappointment. The hopeful part actually came before everything I’ve just described, and I love it because it’s the goofy, wonderful, only-in-a-dream part.

In this earlier scene, my partner and I are together. I may be embellishing a bit here, but it seems to me we are on the steps of the Capitol, which is, of course, where presidential inaugurations take place. We are standing very close to the action, which (and this is the goofy, dreamy part) is taking place in a big beautiful pool – something like the Capitol’s reflecting pool only much deeper. The colors of this scene are gorgeous – the whiteness of the Capitol, the blueness of the pool and sky, the crystal clarity of the water as a bright yellow sun shines upon it. We are transfixed by what is happening in the pool, because Hillary Clinton is in it, riding a porpoise. (I swear I’m not embellishing that part.) We watch as she and the porpoise dive down into the water and then pop back up. She’s in a cerulean blue suit and wearing goggles, but when she comes to the surface her hair is still perfectly coiffed and her suit looks dry and ready for primetime. What I love most about the dream is the look on her face as she sits there astride the porpoise. She must have pulled off the goggles, because she gazes out at the crowd with a look of utter, head-to-soul delight. She smiles broadly and lets out a little whoop that recalls the brilliant “Woo, okay!” she uncorked with a shoulder shimmy in the first presidential debate. It is a Buddha’s smile of kindness, composure, and understanding. It is a smile that fully embraced the moment and all who stood with her in it. It is a smile to love, honor, trust, and emulate.

The dream was so vivid to me that I shared it with my partner as soon as I woke up, wanting to cement the details in my mind. A couple of hours later, I shared it with my yoga class because the election has been a preoccupation of ours for months, and we are all working through the heartbreak of Clinton’s Electoral College defeat. As it turned out, my teacher’s theme for this morning’s class was equanimity – as in, how to recover one’s sense of calmness and even-temperedness in the wake of something as unsettling as Clinton’s defeat and #NotMyPresident’s victory. (No, I will not use his name. You are safe from that here.) My dream and Natalie’s theme work beautifully together in a delightful instance of serendipity, for smiling Hillary astride her porpoise is a compelling image of equanimity. The porpoise carries her safely on a watery journey that transforms and prepares her for what lies ahead. At journey’s end, she is serene, happy, calm, and ready to face whatever comes.

Now, you could say I have falsified or done violence to my dream in rearranging the order of the parts I recall so that it ends in happiness rather than the disappointment of all those missed connections in the other scenes. Narratively, that may be true, though I’m not a hundred percent sure about the sequencing of the various scenes. Such details are always fuzzy in Dreamland. In any case, I would argue that my telling of it captures and emphasizes what is for me the emotional truth of the dream, which is all about resilience, equanimity, and the wisdom to be discovered through play (porpoises are playful, right?). I needed to glimpse that truth after nearly two weeks of feeling paralyzed by grief and uncertainty. I needed to be reminded that I have within me great reservoirs of strength and the skills I will need to navigate my own and my country’s future. I needed to bask in the light of that kind smile in order to reconnect with my compassion toward myself and all of the flawed, hurt, vulnerable beings with whom I share space and time.

I am not a religious person, but this dream came from a place so deep within myself that I might as well call it my soul, that place beneath or beyond rational thought that Emily Dickinson described as “Where the Meanings, are.” I will call it my Buddha Hillary dream, and I will think of it whenever I need to calm and refresh myself in the challenging days that lie ahead. I offer it to you, for whatever good it may do you as you travel along on your journey. May you also be accompanied by a helpful porpoise, and may Buddha Hillary smile on you, always.

Namaste, Bitches.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

A Bitch’s Love Letter to Hillary

November 14, 2016

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Post Office Box 5256
New York, NY 10185-5256

Dear Secretary Clinton,

I am a proud Bitch for Hillary – because “Bitches get stuff done,” as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler explained during the 2008 Democratic primary.

I’ll say more about that Bitch for Hillary thing in a moment. First, though, I’d like to say thank you for your service to our country and for your generous and inspiring campaign. You rallied millions of Americans in support of our highest ideals of inclusion, fairness, and engaged, expansive citizenship. You enacted a compassionate, feminist model of leadership and earned the distinction of being the first woman to win the popular vote for the presidency. I realize the victory is incomplete and bittersweet, but it is an achievement that history will not forget.

In your powerful concession speech the other day, you briefly alluded to secret Facebook groups of Clinton supporters, urging members to come out and let their voices be heard. I happen to be the co-founder of one of those groups, Bitches for Hillary, which was launched in March of this year and now has close to 10,000 members (of all genders, races, shapes, and orientations). A friend and I started the cheekily named group not because we felt we had to be closeted in supporting you but because we wanted a space for sharing thoughts, feelings, and strategies with the like-minded. The solidarity members experience within the group has empowered them to act boldly outside it. Please don’t think we were shy or embarrassed about supporting you during the campaign. Believe me, the Bitches are not shrinking violets! We are an army of fighters for justice and possibility who advocated fiercely and publicly for your candidacy. For months, I have read with astonishment and humility reports from all over the country of group members making your case at their kitchen tables, in their work places, over the phone, and on the ground in New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

For me, Bitches for Hillary has functioned similarly to the consciousness-raising groups of the 1970s or the sewing circles of the nineteenth century. Members of a marginalized group gather in nominal secrecy (I say nominal because the group has been identified by name in The New York Times and other media outlets) to generate subversive knowledge that fortifies them for engagement with an often hostile external world. Yes, it has been a refuge, but it has also been an incubator that sharpened the skills of young activists and raised the spirits of post-menopausal rabble-rousers like me who have spent decades dreaming of a woman president.

The hearts of ten thousand Bitches were broken early Wednesday morning as it became clear the glass ceiling we had all expected to come crashing down was still, thanks to the Electoral College, intact. I want you to know, however, that, in addition to reports of tears, nightmares, and a lot of stress eating, the group this week has been on fire with determination to continue fighting for the causes of social and economic justice that you have championed throughout your career. Inspired by your extraordinary resilience and perseverance, Bitches for Hillary are preparing to advocate for change in their communities and to protect those who are most vulnerable to the dangerous proposals being floated by the incoming administration. And some are getting advice on how to run for office! The dream is alive, Madam Secretary, and the hard, vital work goes on.

Change comes slowly, sometimes painfully so. I have spent my career in higher education, working to create institutional space for scholarship on women and LGBT people. (I’m an English professor who served as founding director of the University of Maryland’s LGBT Studies program.) That perhaps explains why I have identified so strongly over the years with your deliberate, detail-oriented approach to politics and policy. I hope you won’t mind that I think of you and of myself as badass incrementalists, because I see us as similarly committed to creating progressive institutional change bit by bit, over the long haul. I credit my late mother for teaching me this approach to any dauntingly large task. “How do you eat an elephant?” she used to ask when I was momentarily overwhelmed. “One bite at a time.

I’m so sorry that you and we weren’t able to take the last bite out of the elephant obstructing women’s path to the Oval Office this time around, but we will, thanks in no small part to your tenacious efforts and considerable achievements. Some day soon, a smart, feisty, wonky, wonderful, big-hearted Bitch will come along and take that last bite – and she and we will have you to thank for it.

With gratitude and admiration,

Marilee Lindemann

PS: I’ve enclosed for your amusement a picture of the cake I had made for our election party. The words on the cake resonate somewhat differently in defeat than they would have in victory, but they are still true. Bitches are rising, and you have shown them how to soar.


On Boycotts

Channeling blog pal Historiann, The Madwoman prepares to get off the fence and take a stand. With, you know, mixed feelings and lots of qualifiers.

Channeling blog pal Historiann, The Madwoman prepares to get off the fence and take a stand. With, you know, mixed feelings and lots of qualifiers.

I have, until now, avoided writing on the controversy that has raged within my academic professional networks since the American Studies Association voted in December in favor of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. I did so because I didn’t feel informed enough on the issue to stake out a position publicly and, truth be told, because I had no desire to insert myself into a debate that seems inevitably to devolve into name-calling and mutual accusations of bad faith. I may live to regret writing and publishing this post, but after attending both the ASA and Modern Language Association conventions, reading a lot, thinking a lot, and tuning in as carefully as I can to the vibe in the aforementioned networks, I feel ready to weigh in. (NB: The MLA’s Delegate Assembly has not endorsed the boycott. It debated and narrowly passed a resolution “urging the U.S. State Department to express concern over what the measure calls restrictions on scholars’ ability to travel to Israel and the West Bank to work at Palestinian universities.” The resolution still faces review by the MLA’s Executive Council and has to be ratified by the membership.)

As a member of both the ASA and the MLA, I have deep qualms about these moves for reasons that have nothing to do with how I feel about U.S. aid to Israel or Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. I have come to oppose organizational endorsements of the boycott because I think they are producing dangerous divisions within the memberships of the ASA and the MLA and distracting the organizations from their primary missions at a time when those missions urgently require attention and action. The debates and votes are also dominating media coverage and supplying ample fodder for those who dismiss politically engaged humanistic scholarship as propaganda. (They are also provoking lawmakers to propose stripping funding from institutions whose faculty participate in organizations that support boycotting Israel, but one has to imagine that such hysterical overreaching will not be taken seriously.) I note with chagrin that in the past couple of months both The New York Times and The Washington Post have extensively covered, and, in the case of WaPo, editorialized against, the boycott, while neither has said a word about, for example, adjunctification, the erosion of tenure, or the slow starvation of public higher education that has put our institutions and access to them at risk.

The press attention to the boycott has perhaps contributed modestly to breaking down the reluctance to criticize Israel and begin to hold it accountable for its occupation of the West Bank. That is a laudable achievement, but I can’t help worrying about the cost to the ASA and the MLA of having helped to bring it about. These are membership-based organizations that rely on the good will and support of scholars and teachers whose livelihoods are threatened by the new normal of diminishing support and dwindling opportunities. If members come to feel their professional associations are spending their limited political capital on quixotic missions tangentially related to the organizations’ main goals and functions, they may well abandon them, feeling, not without some justification, that the organizations have in a sense abandoned them. Poor attendance at a conference session on contingent and part-time faculty issues is by no means proof that the MLA and its members are not concerned about such issues. One cannot, as they say, prove a negative, and I went to three sessions at the MLA that featured Famous People Speaking on Big, Hot Topics to surprisingly small audiences. (Two out of the three were, like Lee Skallerup Bessette’s session, held in the 5:15-6:30 slot. I blame cocktail hour for the paltry crowds.) Nonetheless, I understand why some presenters might have felt marginal to the concerns of a convention in which “the talk of boycotts and resolutions . . . threaten[ed] to overshadow the rest of the proceedings,” as Jennifer Howard put it in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Judith Butler has commended the ASA for taking a “principled and courageous stand” and “assuming the public responsibility to defend equality, justice and freedom” by supporting the boycott. I have enormous respect for Butler, whose work constantly teaches, thrills, and challenges me. Her characteristically thoughtful comments on the boycott, however, are not sufficient to overcome my doubts about the wisdom of  the ASA (and perhaps, ultimately, the MLA) pursuing this particular course. How much courage, I can’t help but ask, have these organizations or their members — myself included — expended in the fight to improve working conditions for contingent academic laborers? Where is our bravery when it comes to demanding resources adequate to preserving quality, affordable higher education? What risks are we willing to take to protect tenure and the academic freedom it affords? If we are going to put ourselves and our organizations’ credibility on the line, I respectfully submit that it should be for causes such as these.

I am not, by the way, suggesting that the ASA or the MLA have been inattentive to the issues and causes noted above. The MLA in particular in recent years has been tireless in its efforts to document and respond to changes in the academic workforce. (See, for example, this collection of surveys and reports.) My point is simply that our efforts so far have been ineffective and the boycott is a distraction that impedes our ability to communicate and educate on matters vital to the professional futures of everyone who belongs to these organizations.

Further, the contentiousness of the Israel/Palestine issue undermines whatever solidarity there is among the diverse members of ASA and MLA, creating or exacerbating tensions and leading to flame wars and the kinds of gratuitous insults one sees in Cary Nelson’s “Playing Heedless Politics at the MLA.”  Nelson is strongly opposed to academic boycotts and even the MLA’s much milder resolution of concern. I have some sympathy for the substance of his arguments, but his post attacking the Delegate Assembly as “a circus with a surfeit of clowns, incompetently run by people who had mastered neither Robert’s Rules of Order nor the association’s own procedures” is a dispiriting example of how toxic and destructive these debates tend to become. I’m inclined to agree with a commenter on Nelson’s post, Jonathan, who attended the Delegate Assembly (which I did not) and felt that it “resembled every other Israel/Palestine event I’ve ever attended or participated in — ferocious differences leading to caricaturing of opponents’ positions, angry denunciations of motives, and all-around ill will manifesting itself at the earliest opportunity. So be it — the stakes are high, for both sides. But this very fact is why I think the MLA is ill-suited as a venue for this kind of discussion and potential action.” Amen.

Look, I know that civility is overrated and often used as a way to avoid or shut down conflict. I also appreciate that many people believe that a strong collective stance against the occupation is necessary to force Israel to change course and that the violations of Palestinian academic freedom under occupation are sufficient to justify organizations such as the ASA and the MLA getting involved in the struggle. I hear and respect those arguments, but I also cannot shake the concern that these actions are not without cost or consequence to the organizations taking them. Ill will may weaken them internally and engaging in what many will perceive as feel-good political gestures far afield of the organizations’ zones of expertise and responsibility will likely weaken them externally. Many friends and colleagues have clearly decided those risks are worth taking. For now, I cannot concur in that judgment. The world will always need saving. Right now, so does higher education. I would prefer that my academic professional organizations concentrate their energies on the latter rather than the former.

That’s my two — or twenty — cents. Have at ’em, Madpeople, but be nice. I’ve got that lasso in my hand for a reason. Peace out.

Random Bullets of Holy Crap It’s October?

  • How to Lose the Interwebz: Follow up your most ridiculously popular post ever (thank you, Twitters!) with a solid month of the blogging equivalent of this! And watch your hits go from the stratosphere to the toilet in 3-2-1-boy, that didn’t take long, did it? Sorry, readers, we were busy. Love you, mean it!

take this job & shove it weekly stats

  • Counting the Ways: The federal government is shut down over a hissy fit, George W. Bush is posting kitten and baby photos on Instagram, Carrie Mathison is off her meds again, and you think there are only Twelve Signs America Is Insane? Gee, and I thought I was an optimist. But, srsly, Justin Bieber made $55 million in 2012? What am I doing wrong?
  • Academia Kills: Yes, I read the unbearably sad “Death of an Adjunct” column published by Daniel Kavolik in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in mid-September. The titular adjunct was Margaret Mary Vojtko, who had taught French at Duquesne for 25 years without job security or health benefits and died in poverty after a heart attack at the age of 83. Reaction to the column was swift, as the piece went viral in the unhappy, increasingly adjunctified world of higher ed. Good lord, people, how do we bear to look at ourselves in the mirror?
  • Academia Chokes, Mid-Stream: Tenured Radical examines the misery of the middle ranks of academe in a post that did not make me cry or squirm or feel the least bit ashamed or defensive everyone should read. It’s called “The Associate Professor Blues.” Which, at least in my head, sounds a lot like this. Deep in the heart of my second decade as an associate professor, I have nothing to say on this subject that I didn’t say in my epic Xtranormal cartoon of 2010, “I Want to be Promoted.” Close your office door and watch it. I promise it won’t make you cry or squirm or feel the least bit ashamed or defensive.
  • Because I Always Thought Christopher Robin Was Kind of a Jerk: Read this McSweeney’s piece (by Rachel Klein) on how residents of the Hundred Acre Wood react to a barrage of out-of-the-blue friend requests from the Boy Who Went Away all those years ago. It’s pitch perfect. Especially if you always thought Eeyore was the best judge of character in the forest and the animal most likely to embrace new communications technologies.
  • Because I Never Thought Obamacare Had Anything to Do with ME: I set off a bit of a poop storm on my own Facebook wall yesterday when I declared I was angry to discover that the Affordable Care Act was going to force me to purchase prescription drug coverage. I’ve always had access to such coverage and not purchased it because I am a) healthy, b) cheap, and c) convinced that the pharmaceutical industry is going to destroy human life through overuse of antibiotics. I appreciate the need for such coverage, especially for folks with chronic conditions requiring life-sustaining medications, and I accept the argument that those blessed, as I am, with ridiculously good health, should buy into the pool to help offset the costs of those who will rely on the coverage more. Still, it ticked me off to realize that the ACA was going to compel me to buy something I had rationally decided I did not want. It felt like a violation of my consumer sovereignty, which, in the United States of Walmart and Starbucks, is the only form of sovereignty that matters. That is the problem, as one of my Facebook pals pointed out, with having stuck with a market-based model for health-insurance reform rather than moving to a public, single-payer model. I have never objected to paying taxes to help educate other people’s children or to build hospitals I hope never to use. I view paying taxes as part of my duties as a citizen — an exercise of my political sovereignty, a contribution to the public good that I am happy to make. The market model, by contrast, taps into my inner Ayn Rand, as another of my FB friends teased, making me feel not altruistic and publicly good, but selfish, niggardly, and privately robbed. Look, I will get the coverage and sincerely hope that the ACA proves to be the most wildly popular act of the federal government since the repeal of Prohibition. My point in confessing a momentary, knee-jerk reaction against the law’s impact on my own associate professor’s wallet is that I think it is a small but good example of why, for now at least, the ACA stokes ambivalence at best and fuels apoplexy at worst. It is a law no one can truly love. It is proof of how little we are willing to invest these days in common sense and public goods. It is a law that might have improved the life and death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, but only marginally so. She deserved better from us, but, well, so does nearly everyone.

Happy October, darlings. May it be the best month money can buy.

Hillary Clinton: A Few of My Favorite (Recent) Things

My Favorite Photograph of Hillary Clinton Ever and Current Facebook Profile Shot:

hrc on the hill

Hillary Clinton testifies before Congress regarding the September attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. 1/23/13. Photo Credit: Linda Davidson, The Washington Post. Via.

My Favorite Homage to Clinton that Is Guaranteed to Make You Wet Your Pants But Will Also Give You Invaluable Advice for Dealing with the Mansplainers in Your Life: It’s here, and if you don’t follow that link you will never know how to raise your hands, as Hillary did on the Hill, in just the right way to convey “’What’s your point?’ and clown the mansplainer for not having an actual relevant point.”

My Favorite Local Tidbit About How Hillary Clinton Is Spending Her First Moments as a Private Citizen in, Like, a Bazillion Years: A friend announced on Facebook that her father ran into Clinton shopping at a Whole Foods this weekend. He conveyed appreciation for her work, and she said thanks. Is that not the cutest thing you’ve heard all day? Question: Was she gearing up for a Super Bowl party or getting ready to hunker down for the Golden Girls marathon that the Hallmark channel put up against the Festival of Testosterone-Fueled Violence on CBS? Discuss.

My Favorite Early Assessment of Clinton’s Legacy: This terrific piece by Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast. Despite imagining that Clinton’s civilian shopping would be at Safeway rather than Whole Foods, Tomasky offers a smart, sympathetic overview of her varied career. I especially liked what he had to say about her most recent job. Too many other assessments have given Clinton credit as a good manager of the state department and a hard-traveling global celebrity but have sniffed that her tenure lacked a singular great achievement. Tomasky points out a number of places where Clinton played a vital role during a period of unprecedented tumult, but he also notes that diplomacy isn’t what it used to be because the world isn’t what it used to be: “Diplomacy just cannot be conducted today as it was by secretaries like George Marshall and Dean Acheson. There are so many more countries, so many more issues; so many more people in the developing world trying to assert themselves and shape their own destinies as they did not back then.”

My Favorite Line from the Obama/Clinton Interview with 60 MinutesI don’t have one, really, but go watch it. It’s a hoot to watch the former rivals be all lovey-dovey and “we understand each other because we’ve been through the same stuff” and “who cares about 2016?” while Steve Kroft tries to figure out how the heck he managed to snag this unlikely interview. It’s like Scandal, without the murders and the election-rigging. And the hot inter-racial sex.

Most Amusing Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Byron Boneparth in Slate, wondering if Clinton’s “terrible taste in typefaces” will sink her presidential chances. Knowing what a profoundly superficial people we are here in these United States, I have to admit I’m troubled that Clinton would opt for such an aggressively un-cool typeface in her letter of resignation. Poor Richard? Srsly, Hilz? Suggestion: Let whoever bought your fabulous nerd eyeglasses pick out typefaces from now on. Trivial things matter, as you well know.

Wisest Attempt to Speculate About Clinton’s Future Prospects: Gail Collins, who will (I predict and hope) one day write a brilliant authorized biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, said earlier this week,  “if the last several decades are any indication, whatever Clinton does will involve extraordinarily diligent-but-unglamorous work, coupled with occasional hair-raising disasters, which she will overcome with a steely resolve that will make the world swoon.” Collins’s last line captures beautifully the way many of us who have watched and worked and worried and thrilled and sobbed and marveled over Clinton’s journey in the last twenty years are hoping/imagining she feels as she ends one stage and contemplates the next:

No regrets. Onward and upward.

Amen. Thank you, Madame Secretary. Enjoy your well-deserved breather. Call us if you need a spa date or a ghost-writer. Or, you know, someone to organize Iowa. We want you to win there next time.

hillary 2016

2012: The Year in Madness

Oh, thank god there wasn't a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to "an alignment of the universe." If that had happened, I would have to kill a LOT of people.

Oh, thank god there wasn’t a total blackout from December 23-25, 2012 due to “an alignment of the universe.” If that had happened, I would have had to kill a LOT of people.

This blog was born halfway through 2012, but I’m happy to offer an idiosyncratic survey of the entire year in Madness, by way of my Laptop, which is currently ensconced in a sleepy little town on the shores of Lake Michigan, where Ruby and I, along with the Woman Formerly Known as Goose, are planning to ring in 2013 in low-key style.

Before we get to the survey, though, raise your hand if, like me, you feel slightly creeped out by the idea of a year that ends in thirteen. Shouldn’t we be feeling superstitious about this? Historians, please weigh in on whether years that end in thirteen tend to suck more than other years. My research assistant Wik E. Pedia suggests that 1913 was heavy on wars and revolutions, though I suppose we might be grateful for the invention of stainless steel, which occurred in August of that year. As for 1813, well, it turns out that the (obviously misnamed) War of 1812 was still being hotly contested, but Pride and Prejudice was published, so the year couldn’t have been entirely bad. Still, let the record show that I have reservations about the coming year, based strictly on a previously undiagnosed case of traiskaidekaphobia.

So: The Year in Madness.

Mad Words: Time magazine published a long list of words that should be banished in 2013 (among them are amazeballs and zombie apocalypse, with which I wholeheartedly agree, but where oh where is double down, a phrase that totes [also on Time‘s list, but I ain’t giving it up] annoys me as one of the poorest substitutions for thought I have ever encountered). Because I am a glass half full kind of gal, I offer in reply to Time a short list of expressions I shall always be grateful to dear old 2012 for producing:

Yes, thank you, Congressman Todd Akin and Commonwealth of Virginia, for finally putting the GOP’s maniacal determination to control women’s bodies in terms that galvanized attention and motivated large numbers of people to wake up and vote against extreme right-wing candidates. Which, I’m pretty sure, contributed to the next Mad item in my survey.

Madness Averted: On November 6, a majority of American voters sensibly chose not to let this guy add the White House to his long list of homes:

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA. Via

Mitt Romney at a gas station in La Jolla, CA, 11/19/12. Via.

Need I say more?

Madness Goes Public: Call it the prequel to the item above, my favorite political moment of the year was definitely Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican national convention. I predicted that Romney would lose and that this moment would be “blamed for thwarting Romney’s momentum by crystalizing for voters the race and class resentments that are the heart and soul of today’s Republican party.” I think I was right. Thank you, Mr. Eastwood, you grumpy old man of the year.

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, 8/30/12

Mad Feats: Let us not forget that 2012 was the year in which a dude hurtled 24 miles through space at speeds as fast as 834 mph on his way to setting records in altitude for a manned balloon flight and parachute jump and the greatest free fall velocity. Uh, wow. I bought a treadmill. Does that count?

Mad Surprises: Marriage equality wins on the ballot in not one, not two, but THREE states in the November election, including the great state of Turtle Country. Wow. Just wow. But don’t order those toaster ovens yet. WFKG and I have still not committed to getting married. Stay tuned.

Mad Satisfaction: Who are the two most popular politicians in the final NBC-Wall Street Journal poll of 2012? Why, Bill and Hillary Clinton, of course, and if you are surprised by that news, you haven’t been paying attention. Also, Nate Silver is smarter than you are, but it’s okay — He’s smarter than everybody. Deal with it.

Mad Losses: Death had a big year in 2012, as it generally does. We note with sorrow the number of sheroes who left the building this year and console ourselves by imagining that the afterlife, whatever it may be, has a number of glorious new contributors to its word/soundscape: Nora Ephron, Whitney Houston, Etta James, Jenni Rivera, Adrienne Rich, Donna Summer, Chavela Vargas. Also, Sally Ride, a lesbian who orbited the earth. Speaking of astronauts, Neil Armstrong, a man who walked on the moon, died this year, too. Finally, Larry Hagman was not a woman, an astronaut, a poet, or a singer, but we worry what will become of the spectacularly cheesy new remake of Dallas without him, and so we mourn his passing, too.

Madness in School: In June, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan abruptly resigned over a “philosophical difference of opinion” with the university’s governing board. The disagreement appeared to be over the pace of change happening at the academical village founded by Thomas Jefferson, particularly with regard to online education. Two weeks later Sullivan was reinstated after a tidal wave of protest and negative publicity both on campus and off. Two weeks after Sullivan’s reinstatement, UVA announced it was joining a group of 12 institutions planning “to open their courses to the world, free of charge, through an online platform created by the start-up company Coursera.”  And so the brave incrementalist so staunchly defended by the apostles of shared governance and the academic community of trust turns out to be just one of the herd, her voice blending into the soothing chorus of MOOC, MOOC, MOOC. What can that mean? Where will it lead? Heck if I know, kids. I hate what UVA’s board did in booting Sullivan and am tickled pink she got her job back. MOOC’s are the big story in higher ed this year, but I have to confess I am among the foot-draggers, the nay-sayers, and the worry-warts who fear that we may be putting the final nails in our own coffins by jumping on this particular bandwagon. Some days, I walk across my lovely campus and wonder, Which of us will be asked to turn off the lights in the last of these red brick buildings? Who will we be when the last of the turtles has lost its shell?

Madness in School, Part II: December 14: A guy, a rifle, and 26 corpses. (27 if you count the shooter’s mother, killed at the home they shared before the shootings at the school; 28 if you count the shooter’s fatal self-inflicted wound.) God, where will it end?

Lord, even an idiosyncratic year-end survey is exhausting! And at times depressing. I’ll stop here and try to do a follow-up post focused on the year in artsy-fartsiness, because that’s the kind of thing folks expect from an English prof spouting off on the Interwebz. Meantime, feel free to weigh in with your picks for the Maddest Moments of 2012. Tell me what I missed, Madpeople at your Laptops!

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.

The Unbearable Weirdness of Being Voted On

My humanity is up by nine points in Turtle Country, according to the latest Washington Post poll on the referendum that would extend the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples.  The poll of likely voters shows that 52% intend to vote yes on Question 6, while 43% say they don’t have a homophobic bone in their bodies but are pretty sure the Lord God Almighty thinks that Edith Windsor should have had to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax after her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer, died in 2009. Wow, who knew the Lord was such a micromanager?

My humanity is also leading in Washington state, by the way, and doing well in Maine. Things are little shakier in Minnesota, but it’s possible my humanity will prevail even there, depending on turnout and how the undecideds go. No lead is comfortable, of course, because the Not Homophobes Opposed to Civil Equality tend to lie to pollsters about how they intend to vote on questions regarding my humanity. Funny how that goes, isn’t it?

You are justified in wondering why a Madwoman Opposed to Marriage But in Favor of Marriage Equality has come to see the election in such dramatic terms, as a referendum on her very humanity. Oh, well, you know, that’s what happens when one’s fellow citizens — neighbors, friends, coworkers, and relatives as well as millions of strangers — hold one’s rights in the palms of their kind or unkind hands. The stakes feel both high and personal, because they are. One cannot not care, even about a 15-year-old African American boy whom one reads about in the (online version of the) newspaper, whose mother explains his opposition to same-sex marriage this way: “He is very accepting of people with alternative lifestyles, but doesn’t believe they should be able to get married.” Fifteen-year-olds cannot vote, of course, but wouldn’t it trouble you to hear one so blithely judge what you should or should not be permitted to do? Wouldn’t that make you want to meet this young man, look him in the eye, and ask why and how he came to make such a judgment on your humanity or lack of it? You might briefly imagine such an encounter, mightn’t you, before you sensibly shifted the focus of your questioning to why that young man lives in a world where such matters are subjected to popular votes?

Yes, that is the question, but I can’t stop thinking about this young man. And I can’t stop thinking about my neighbors, the ones with the impossibly manicured lawns and the spit-shined cars and the “No Pooping” signs in their yards. I have known them for close to 20 years. We are on friendly terms, warm ones even. We don’t just wave and exchange greetings. We pause to talk as they rake the mulch to the edges of their perfect beds and I take Ms. Ruby out for her twice-daily constitutionals. They dote on my dog and assure me she is welcome to poop in their yards — because she is adorable and they know I will clean up after her.

We do not speak of politics, my neighbors and I. There are no campaign signs in their yards, and they don’t mention the “Vote For Question 6” sign in my yard. As the election approaches, I wonder if I should broach the subject of the referendum. I feel that I ought to, and yet I hesitate, worried about how such a conversation might go and what its aftermath might be. The threads that connect us across multiple lines of difference — of race, class, sexuality, structures of intimacy — feel enduring yet delicate. I worry that such a conversation, if it went badly, could irreparably damage something I value highly: the pleasantness of encounters I have nearly every day with individuals who are a part of my lifeworld.

I realize that my anxiety may be unfounded and that it may do my neighbors a terrible injustice. It is possible that the conversation I am avoiding would go swimmingly if I summoned the nerve to start it. Most of my neighbors don’t seem to be churchgoers, and many of the households are sustained in part by the devoted care of unmarried adult daughters. For all our front-porch friendliness, I haven’t a clue what really goes on in my neighbors’ houses, so I shouldn’t presume to know anything about their politics. I shouldn’t, and I don’t really, but still I hesitate, because my humanity feels at stake and I’m not sure I could bear knowing that my neighbors would vote against that, against me.

In Undoing Gender, Judith Butler writes eloquently of the task of LGBT politics as “a remaking of reality, a reconstituting of the human, and a brokering of the question, what is and is not livable? So what is the injustice opposed by such work? I would put it this way: to be called unreal and to have that call, as it were, institutionalized as a form of differential treatment, is to become the other against whom (or against which) the human is made. It is the inhuman, the beyond the human, the less than human, the border that secures the human in its ostensible reality” (30). Further on she notes, “[W]hen we struggle for rights, we are not simply struggling for rights that attach to my person, but we are struggling to be conceived as persons” (32).

I taught Butler this week and found myself moved by her emphasis on livability, precarity, norms, and intelligibility. Happily, many of my students seem to have had similar responses. Instead of hearing complaints about the denseness of the writing and the complexity of the ideas, I heard enthusiastic affirmation: “She is rocking my world,” declared one convert. Even in the classroom, I hesitate to bring up Question 6 as an example of the kind of injustice Butler has in mind when she writes that “no recognition is forthcoming because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in your favor.” I need the students to see this parallel for themselves. I cannot name it. I cannot say it. I feel overly implicated in the analogy and don’t want them to worry that their grades and their votes might have anything to do with one another.

My humanity is on the ballot, and that feels deeply estranging and acutely uncomfortable to me. Between now and election day, I will try to find a way to make these conversations happen, because I need to do everything I can to help secure a just outcome. In the meantime, I hope my students and my neighbors recognize that in important ways their humanity is at stake in this election, too. What kind of person are you, after all, if you would deny the personhood of others? Think about that as you consider your choices on November 6.

Learning from Madonna

MDNA Tour, Verizon Center, Washington, DC, 9/23/12. Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Yeah, I know the whole Madonna-Is-This-Epic-Pop-Cultural-Rorschach-Test is, like, so twenty years ago, but bear with me for a minute. A week after my baptism into the High Church of Please Don’t Call Me Madge, I’ve nearly got the ear worm of “Girl Gone Wild” out of my head, but I still find myself cogitating over something I turned to the Woman Formerly Known as Goose and said in the middle of the show. I had to whisper/yell it and repeat myself several times to be heard, of course, but once she caught the drift of what I was saying, she nodded in enthusiastic agreement. So, what was my high-on-MDNA revelation?

Early in the show, there’s an incredibly dark sequence in which Our Lady of Pop becomes a gun-toting gal on a rampage. It runs through three songs, the aforementioned “Girl Gone Wild,” “Revolver,” and “Gang Bang.” There’s a lot of shooting and a lot of blood, much of it projected in high-definition on the screen at the back of the stage. “Gang Bang” is an especially creepy and powerful song about a scorned woman shooting an ex-lover in the head. The refrain is a gleeful, “Bang Bang, shot you dead, shot my lover in the head.” It was riveting, but I don’t think my companion and I were alone in finding the spectacle both discomfiting and difficult to read. However, as “Gang Bang” transitions to a snippet of “Papa Don’t Preach,” the girls with guns scene gives way to four soldiers wearing camouflage pants and masks that seem both vaguely tribal and eerily reminiscent of the hoods worn by tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The soldiers surround Madonna, who is lying on the stage singing, wrap her in chains, hoist her above their heads, and march with her body to the back of the stage. Images of fire and implements of torture flicker on the screen. As she sings “Hung Up,” Madonna, accompanied, by the soldiers, walks across a wire suspended above the floor. They appear to be walking through fire. I realized in that moment that we weren’t being forced merely to revel in gratuitous violence for its own sake. The evocations of Abu Ghraib somberly recontextualized and geopoliticized the cartoonish violence of the earlier, Tarantino-esque scene and made its consequences starkly real. (Or, you know, as real as anything can be in the surreal spectacle of Madonna.) It was then that I turned to WFKG and said, “You know, I would despair of our species if it weren’t for popular culture. Our political system is so broken, so utterly incapable of addressing with any real thought or feeling the urgencies of our time. Popular culture at least tries, at least sometimes.” (Here is a link to a vid of the whole MDNA show. The scenes referred to in this paragraph are in the first 25 minutes.)

I wasn’t just thinking of Madonna, of course, though I do hereby declare that the mind-boggling multimedia extravaganza of “Nobody Knows Me” is the most compelling meditation on representation, violence, and non-identity the twenty-first century has produced. Even without the swastikas. (That “Nobody Knows Me” link is a pretty decent concert vid. Click on it to see if you agree with me or think my claims are proof that I’ve gone MADonna.) I’m also thinking of our old pal Bruce Springsteen, who’s been brooding on the painful gap between American ideals and American realities for decades and fighting off despair through rousing calls to consciousness, compassion, and engagement. It would never have occurred to me to compare these two artists, so deeply different in so many ways, but WFKG and I trooped down to Nationals Park to see Bruce for the eleventy-billionth time just a week before we saw Madonna, so the passion of the Boss’s live performance was fresh in my mind as I found myself caught up in the frenzy of “Like a Prayer” and “Celebration” that concludes the MDNA show. For all their differences, both Madonna and Springsteen demand that their audiences look into the darkness of their own and their country’s souls — but then lift us up into light, dance, a space in which we can see one another’s faces, move and sing together. It isn’t just a party, though it is that. It is a moment of shared agency and, perhaps, a shot at collective redemption. (Bruce, Madonna, and the Post-Catholic Allure of Redemption. Discuss.)

I’ve always been a sucker for the gospel of popular music, particularly in live performance. It’s also fascinating to me, though, that in this moment when our politics seems so stunningly dysfunctional we see evidence throughout popular culture of serious efforts to grapple with many of the intractable problems our leaders are barely able to acknowledge much less address. What am I talking about? Everything from The Hunger Games to Homeland, from the brand new Revolution to the salacious yet smart Scandal. These are all fundamentally dystopian stories of an America dying or destroyed by some combination of corruption, conspiracy, and neglect, but they are also stories of characters struggling to be decent in conditions of profound moral ambiguity and battling to reclaim power — literally in the case of Revolution, in which the rebels are trying to get the lights turned back on after a 15-year power outage. (Given the multi-day power outages we regularly experience in the Washington, DC area, this show feels entirely and excruciatingly apt to me. I imagine I am about two derechos away from being willing to kill to obtain one of those little amulet/flash drive thingies if it would help me to defeat the tyrant thugs of Pepco.)

This should be a longer post, a post that delves deeply into the kind of cultural work I see these shows and performances as doing, a post that explains eloquently and in great detail what we learn not only from Madonna but from any pop cultural text that challenges us to think, feel, act, and connect. This longer post would wrestle with the important question of whether my investment in such stories is not proof that I suffer from what Lauren Berlant in her latest book terms cruel optimism, an attachment to objects — “food, or a kind of love[,] . . . a fantasy of the good life, or a political project” — that “actively impede the aim” that brought me to them initially. It’s entirely possible that I do suffer from cruel optimism. It’s also possible I would rather have cruel optimism than no optimism at all. Because given the choice between dog-paddling and drowning, I would choose dog-paddling every time. Happily.

Sadly, however, it’s also true that it’s Sunday evening. I have work to do. And the new seasons of The Good Wife and Homeland begin in less than an hour. What are you watching? What are you listening to? What kind of work is it doing, and why does it matter? What have you learned and from whom have you learned it?

Peace out, Madpeople at your Laptops, and remember: Don’t be cruel.

Mad Glances

Pedestrian tunnel in Terminal 1, O’Hare International Airport, 9/21/12.
Photo Credit: The Madwoman

Not to worry, darlings. I’m not dead and I haven’t been fired for nursing while teaching. (Of course, if I’d been nursing while teaching, you’d have heard about it — through the Vatican’s Miracle Investigation Unit.) Just busy. I was in the space-agey tunnel in O’Hare’s Terminal 1 on Friday returning from a whirlwind trip to Nebraska for a big-wiggish lecture I was invited to give on my old pal Willa Cather. Hey, it even made the newspaper, though I can’t say the earnest young reporter caught all the nuances of my analysis of Cather’s late life and early afterlife within the context of the post-WWII Lavender Scare. As I said when I posted the article to the Book of Faces, “If you tell a kid reporter that Willa Cather was ‘a tough broad,’ it’s going to show up in the paper the next morning. You were a kid reporter once. You know these things.” So true.

Anyhoo, I seem to be getting quoted in lots of newspapers lately. Because I have the good fortune to know a lot of tough and wonderful broads. Yes, I am a lucky woman. Some day I will get around to blogging the extraordinary news of a possible new photograph of Emily Dickinson and the searing yet brave story of my former teacher Susan Gubar’s experience of ovarian cancer. In the meantime, you follow those links like the dutiful little do-bees I know you are. You need to know these things.

Also: Mitt Romney will never be president, but he looks to have a solid future as a figure of speech. Historiann explains.

Speaking of tough broads, the Woman Formerly Known as Goose is taking me to see Madonna tonight. Because there’s more to life than rock and roll (but happy birthday, Boss). And apparently there’s more to life than course prep. Later, lovelies. I’ve got to go tone up my biceps to get ready for this evening. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the buffest middle-aged babe in show business. Peace out, material people.

Photo Credit: Chad Batka, New York Times

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