Tab Overload Disorder

Tab overload is a real thing in the virtual world. It’s what happens when you spend your days skimming, clicking, reading, and thinking, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ll finish reading it later. Maybe I’ll share it on my Facebook page. Maybe I’ll even blog about it!” Soon you’ve got two or three browser windows open and eleventy billion tabs crammed across the top of your screen and you imagine that the virtual chipmunks who keep your machine running are panting, sobbing, begging for mercy. Sensible people, technologically savvy people, deal with the problem of tab overload (which actually does put a strain on your computer’s memory) by adding free extensions like OneTab to Chrome. OneTab will convert all your open tabs into a list. When you need to access the tabs again, you can either restore them individually or all at once. No, I haven’t tried it, but just writing this paragraph has enabled me to close one tab in my browser that has been opened for nearly a month. Spring cleaning FTW!

Less sensible people who are sick and tired of trying new things manage Tab Overload Disorder by being secretly happy when their computers crash and all their carefully arranged tabs disappear. (Yes, I know they can all be restored through “History.” I’m not an idiot, just lazy.) Or, they finally bang out a blog post that is little more than a link farm so they can close a few tabs and start the Madness all over again.

Welcome to the Madwoman’s Spring Link Farm Extravaganza. I’m still alive. And blogging. Sort of. If you are reading this, you are alive, too. Congratulations. Follow these links and your mind will feel refreshed for the next round of grading. Or at least my Tab Overload Disorder will have become your Tab Overload Disorder, which will bring us closer, sort of, virtually. Read on.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet was on my campus yesterday. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose and I spent the whole day in the presence of this affable fellow, who was as impressive and remarkable as I had heard he would be. We liked his humility, his playfulness, his obvious delight in every aspect of the occasion, including the Terp schwag he got as a gift:

Photo Credit: Gary Cameron, Reuters. 5/7/13.

Photo Credit: Gary Cameron, Reuters. 5/7/13. Via.

(Yes: We are aware that His Holiness has a thing for visors. We’re just glad he liked ours.)

Our favorite moment was when the Dalai Lama went nose-to-nose with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley as the big wigs gathered on stage at the end of his lecture. We may not become Buddhists, but we are definitely committed to becoming nose-rubbers:

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kammnicholas, AFP/Getty Images. 5/7/13.

Photo Credit: Nicholas Kammnicholas, AFP/Getty Images. 5/7/13. Via.

Question: Would the world be a better place if President Obama rubbed noses with, say, John Boehner or Wayne LaPierre? Call me crazy, but I think it’s worth a try.

Second Question: Does the Pope do nose-rubs? Again, totes worth a try, in my opinion. Nothing says humility like a good eskimo kiss.

Enough religion and hyperlocal news, let’s turn to the Black Gay Sports S/Heroes tabs that have gotten opened up in our browsers in the last couple of weeks. Kwame Holmes has an excellent analysis of how class factored into the highly respectable coming out of basketball player Jason Collins. Holmes doesn’t disrespect Collins or underestimate the significance of his announcement. His aim is to situate it within the context of black respectability politics, which is helpful indeed. Meanwhile, Wesley Morris explains why Brittney Griner’s coming out was totally no big deal. It’s a deft analysis of how Griner’s self-confident gender performance over the past few years made her official coming out seem so superfluous. Griner herself addresses her sexuality, the bullying she has endured over the years, and her commitment to helping to ease the way for others in an essay in the New York Times. Brittney, we’d look up to you even if we wouldn’t have to climb a step ladder to rub noses with you.

Meanwhile, in academia, our friend and QTU colleague Keguro Macharia is resigning his assistant professorship and returning home to Kenya. His staggeringly eloquent “On Quitting” is about precarity, professionalization, toxicity, deracination, and bipolar disorder. Among other things. It deserves a response, but I am not ready to produce one. Not yet. Not publicly. Go read it. Also, Tim Burke will make you think and feel better with a marvelous piece called “The Humane Digital.” It explains the necessary messiness of humanistic inquiry and its many differences from managerial modes of thinking. I would declare Burke my blog boyfriend if Chris Newfield didn’t already occupy that position. Chris, by the way, has some thoughts on MOOCs up on Remaking the University, for those of you whose Tab Overload Disorder is all about the MOOC Madness. Knock yourselves out, people.

There, that’s better, and I didn’t even bother to burden you with several dozen links related to the recent publication of The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by my pals Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout. That’s big news in my neck of the professional woods, but I’ll save it for another post. Meantime, happy grading or happy avoidance of grading or happy celebration of finishing your grading. And remember: Close your eyes when you rub noses with someone. It’s sweeter that way.

Runners’ Worlds

4:14:10 was my time in the one and only marathon I ever ran. Four hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds. 26.2 miles. The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. 1999. I was forty.

For the better part of a year, I had trained for the race with one of my best friends. She lived across the street from me at the time and turned forty a couple of months after I did. Running was her idea, but running a marathon was my idea. It was a dream that had somehow gotten lodged in my head years earlier, probably in the late 70s when George Sheehan was promoting running as the path to enlightenment. (For the record, dude was right. Read all about it.) I doubt that either of us alone would have committed ourselves to the preposterous notion of preparing ourselves to run 26.2 miles. Separately, we were just a couple of middle-aged chicks looking to get back into shape post-motherhood (her) and post-tenure (me). Together, we were Thelma and Louise, carb-loading instead of gun-toting. We mapped out a sensible but strenuous training plan that had us slowly building our endurance through a mix of shorter and longer runs, gradually increasing the distances of the long runs we did on weekends. We did most of our running on a beautiful paved trail just blocks from our houses. We ran occasional races to get a feel for that experience. We stuck with our plan, through rain, snow, searing heat, and the painful dissolution of my friend’s domestic partnership. Our bodies changed. Our friendship deepened, as friendships will do when the parties do things like provide cover for one another when circumstances require urinating al fresco. (Don’t ask. Or go ahead and ask. It’s not as if I’m too modest to tell you.) On race day, we stood on the starting line together with goofy grins on our faces and determination in our sculpted legs. 26.2 miles later a beefy young Marine kneeled down in front of me to remove the timing chip from my shoe. When he stood up, he put a finisher’s medal around my neck. Our eyes met. “I did it, didn’t I?” I said. “Yes, ma’am, you did,” he replied. “You did a great job.”

The Madwoman's finisher's medal and race bib from 1999 Marine Corps Marathon.

The Madwoman’s finisher’s medal and race bib from 1999 Marine Corps Marathon. With notes on time and place scribbled in above the number. Proud? To this day.

4:14:10. If I had run that time Monday in Boston, I wouldn’t have made it to the finish line by the time the bombs went off. Photos and video show the race clock at 4:09:55 when the first explosion rocked Boylston Street. I would have been among the thousands left trying to absorb both the shock of a violent event and the disappointment of not being able to complete a major milestone. A New York Times article provides a poignant glimpse of runners in precisely that situation the morning after the incident:

Marathon officials had set up an ad hoc site adjacent to the crime scene, where runners who had been stopped before the finish line could pick up their medals and bright yellow bags of belongings that they had left at the start. What would ordinarily be a moment to bask in accomplishment was a grim occasion, as runners — many with tears in their eyes — wondered what to make of a medal for a marathon they had been unable to complete.

“It’s heartbreaking to not cross the finish line, you train so hard for this,” said Lauren Field, an auctioneer who now lives in Hampstead, N.H., who was stopped blocks from the finish line. “It’s sad, but I’m safe.”

Caroline Burkhart protested gently as a volunteer handed her a medal. “I didn’t finish,” she said, explaining that she had stopped at mile 25.2. She took off the medal and examined it. “Memories,” she said, with a shudder. “Next year, I’ll wear it.”

Look, I know: People were maimed and killed in Boston on Monday. People are maimed and killed somewhere on the planet every day, and my country is often directly or indirectly responsible for the maiming and the killing. It would be obscene to compare the disappointment of a race cut short to the tragedies of lives cut short and bodies blown apart, but that isn’t what I’m doing here. In the scheme of things, the heartbreak experienced by runners like Lauren Field and Caroline Burkhart might not count for much, but it does count — for them as individuals, for all of us who now have one more scenario of ordinary moments turning into disasters to play out in our heads as we lie awake at night. I want to acknowledge and honor the heartbreak of the runners who were denied the chance to complete their races on Monday. I want to give them space not to be consoled by medals that on some level they know they don’t deserve. You don’t go to Boston to run 25.2 or 26.1 miles. You go to Boston to run 26.2 miles. Training matters, yes, and the journey counts for something, but crossing the finish line is, after all, the point. If you don’t reach it, for whatever reason, the only honest thing you can say, no matter how much it hurts, is, “I didn’t finish.”

Here’s a thought, which I offer for free to the organizers of the Boston Marathon and to all who believe that running is the path to enlightenment, as long as you finish the race:

Next year, open the race to everybody.

No qualifying times. No elite entrants. Make it as big as you can possibly make it — and here’s the really radical part:

Let the 5000 runners who weren’t allowed to finish this year lead the pack.

Yeah, it’ll be slow and messy and perhaps as much a party as a race, but perhaps a celebration is what’s called for. Marathoning is, as a friend remarked on Facebook yesterday, about endurance and striving, but it is also about “pageantry and communal joy.” I propose that next year Boston devote itself fully to communal joy. Acknowledge that a 4-, 5-, or 6-hour race is as noble and beautiful as one that is barely over 2 hours. Tell the world that on this day and in this place we run to declare that nobody wins unless everybody wins — and everybody wins if and only if everybody finishes. Today, we dedicate ourselves to getting everyone across the finish line. Come hell or high water.

Do that, Boston, and with dog as my witness I swear I will commit myself to doing what I thought I would never do: Run a second marathon. C’mon, Boston, make me do it!

Seeing Edie Windsor

I caught a glimpse of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor, on the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, moments after oral arguments in her challenge to the odious Defense of Marriage Act were concluded. I even managed to get a picture of the spunky 83-year-old, but it is awful. She is gingerly making her way down the courthouse stairs, supported on each side by a younger woman. She is looking down, and her face is almost entirely covered by her impossibly thick mane of blondish hair. You can see the hot pink scarf she wore for her day in court as well as the diamond brooch that her late wife, Thea Spyer, gave her in lieu of an engagement ring in 1967 (because the two knew that a ring would engender curiosity among Windsor’s co-workers at IBM). Still, my picture, hastily shot from the crowd waiting eagerly on the sidewalk in front of the court, has no focal point and doesn’t capture at all the energy and grace with which Windsor is playing the historic role in which she finds herself.

Fortunately, another, much more skilled, photographer managed to capture everything my own pathetic snapshot missed on Wednesday afternoon:

Edith Windsor in front of the Supreme Court. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Edith Windsor in front of the Supreme Court. 3/27/13. Photo Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images. Via.

I am so taken by this image, which brilliantly captures the moment mostly by what it leaves out. To the right of the picture you see the edges of the press area, which was a tangled mess of people and equipment. The photographer is positioned in front of the crowd in which I was standing and to which Windsor is so exuberantly gesturing, so you see none of that motley, mostly happy crew of sign holders and smart phone documentarians. (The only unhappy people I encountered in the crowd were a couple of anti-circumcision protestors who wore white pants with strategically placed bright red paint spots. Can’t say I disagree with you, kids, but, well, there’s a time and place for everything, right?) Instead of the dozen or so cops who were stationed across the steps, you get just one debonair beefcake who seems more chorus boy than law enforcement officer. Don’t you love the way he seems to present the gorgeous, aging diva for her curtain call? The cop is also perfectly positioned to obscure the main entrance to the court, which at the moment is an unsightly opening in the canvas covering the west facade of the building. (What you see there is actually a full-size photograph of the facade, which is being restored. We apparently picked this clever trick up from Europe. Who knew?) The effect of the cop’s positioning is both to reduce clutter and to heighten the monumental superficiality (or superficial monumentality?) of the scrim enclosure. How fabulous is it that the Supreme Court of the United States is deliberating the legal status of gender in marriage behind a massive curtain/screen/photograph, a giant artifice of the edifice in which the nation’s laws are adjudicated? It is as though, in this moment of acute gender trouble, Judith Butler has been named the Architect of the Capitol. No wonder Justice Scalia is so on edge!

Also: I like the puffy white clouds and the pretty azure sky in the top third of the photo and the way Windsor’s head and left hand break up into that space. I defer to my friend Kate Flint‘s judgments on this point, but it seems to me the photograph beautifully exploits the rule of thirds to make Windsor the center of energy and attention. With her mouth and arms wide open, she looks as if she could huff and puff and blow down the monumental yet insubstantial building behind her. It is a glorious image of diva citizenship, of a New York queen who has made her pilgrimage to Washington determined to remake the intimate public sphere. Which is, of course, exactly what Edie Windsor is doing these days.

I got a few decent photos of the scene on the sidewalk in front of the court on Wednesday. I was pleased to see that there were signs of ideological diversity in the pro-marriage crowd, aside from the aforementioned opponents of circumcision. I liked seeing this smiling critic of the gender binary:

Genderqueer at SCOTUS

And these devoted, warm-blooded spouses from two countries (this one’s for you, Robert McRuer):

Binational Couple at SCOTUS

Yes, homonormativity was well and attractively represented:

Let Freedom Ring at SCOTUS

And there were actually not one but two really cute Westies in matching Ralph Lauren dog sweaters with two equally adorable guys, but this was my favorite of the several photos I snapped of the happiest queer pack in Washington:

Westie at SCOTUS

There have already been mountains of commentary, analysis, and speculation produced on the biggest, gayest week in American legal history. You don’t need more of that from me, but if you are looking for the good stuff I recommend that you check out the indispensable SCOTUSblog, which has been all over both the Windsor case as well as Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which struck down the right to same-sex marriage in the state in 2008. For queer legal analysis of both cases, check out Nan Hunter‘s Hunter of Justice blog, especially these posts: on what might happen next; on what happened in the DOMA argument; on what happened in the Prop 8 argument. Suzanne Goldberg has also done a couple of eloquent reflections on what it felt like to be a longtime LGBT legal advocate sitting in the Supreme Court during oral arguments on two such high-stakes cases. Those are posted here and here on Columbia’s Gender and Sexuality Law blog.

Queer critics of marriage have not been silent during this moment of (impending, apparent) homonormative triumph. Laura Flanders, in The Nation admits to getting teary while witnessing the same-sex wedding of a couple of close friends in Manhattan, despite her deep queer and feminist resistance to the institution. She tries to imagine that the profound pledge to love and cherish that is the core of the marriage vow might be extended outward to include all members of society, not just those to whom we are intimately tied. Lisa Duggan has been raining on the marriage parade all week on Facebook, reminding readers of HRC’s dubious history and the otherwise horrible politics of many of the corporations that have now signed on to the cause of marriage equality. She provided a link to a prescient piece she published last fall in The Scholar and the Feminist Online in which she forcefully, stirringly outlines a “beyond marriage” agenda that would “expand the forms of partnership and household recognition begun by the LGBT movement in the 1970s” rather than contract them, as the marriage movement has done.

I respect the critique and share the skepticism. I cling, proudly and stubbornly, to my own position as a queer against marriage for marriage equality, a stance outlined here and here, among other places. And yet Wednesday afternoon, I, too, found myself fighting tears as I stood in the sunshine of a spring that has been reluctant to come to the national capital area this year. Wednesday was my birthday, and I realized on Tuesday that I wanted to spend part of it demonstrating the solidarity I feel with Edith Windsor, standing on the edge of changes I could never have imagined thirty or so springs ago when I kissed a girl and felt the course of my life shift forever. Of all that I have read and heard about these cases, what has resonated for me most is perhaps a short post by Amy Davidson in her Close Read blog at The New Yorker. It’s titled “Will the Supreme Court Recognize Edith Windsor?” It really comes down to that, doesn’t it? Will the nine justices of the court — or at least five of them — recognize Edith Windsor as a person deserving of the same rights to which other persons similarly situated are entitled? Will they see her, as Jewel Samad clearly saw her, in the photo at the top of this post, as someone worthy of recognition not because she is well off and elegantly dressed but because she is alive and human and a citizen of this country?

That is all, my darlings, and, as I suspect you know, that is everything.

Love Your Butt, Srsly

A Public Service Announcement from The Madwoman on a Spring Break Mini Staycation:

Is the rectum a grave? It might be if you don't get screened for colorectal cancer. Sign spotted in a station of the DC Metro. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 3/18/13.

Sign spotted in a station of the DC Metro. Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 3/18/13.

Is the rectum a grave? It might be if you don’t get screened for colorectal cancer. And of course nobody wants to do that or think about that because digestion and elimination are even more shattering to the self than sex is, but you gotta think about it and do it, kids. Why? I’ll let my pal Janet Golden, whose best friend Joanie died of colon cancer, tell you:

[A]ccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. In terms of gender, it is an equal opportunity killer. In terms of race, it is not. More African American men and women die of colon cancer than do their white, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander counterparts (although plenty of them die as well). Health disparities is a major problem we need to address. For more information visit the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health.

Now, here’s the good news. According to the CDC, “if everybody aged 50 and over had regular screening tests, as many as 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.”

My father died at 60 from colon cancer that had already metastasized to his lymph nodes before it was detected, so the need for awareness and screening has been on my mind for decades. I’ve long felt that what colon cancer really needed was a skilled PR agent, someone who could make cleansing and probing around the digestive tract sound more exotic and thrilling than it actually is. Which is why I was delighted to stumble upon a sign for the Love Your Butt campaign, a project of the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation. Finally, I thought, cleverness has found the colon. Poop-making has found its poet. Yeah, I know: There was this guy, once upon a time, a long time ago, but nowadays you need eye-catching signs, irreverent blogs, and commercials full of people laughing over jaunty ukulele tunes to break through the message clutter and achieve true public awareness. I love this campaign because I firmly believe that humor is a great teacher and that the world would be a better place if people could talk more and laugh loudly about bowel health and well-being. Among other things.

Love Your Butt: It’s an idea we can all get behind. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Celebrate by showing your butt some love and attention, especially if you are over 50 or otherwise at risk for colorectal cancer.

Love Your Butt: Because it would be really dumb to die from embarrassment, wouldn’t it?

Twenty-Nine Years as Nobody’s Wife

roxie valentineOver on the old blog, we had a tradition of anniversary posts in which an aging — and then dead — dog waxed sentimental over a couple of cranky English profs who had managed to keep company quite happily for an impressive number of years. The first of those posts ran on March 8, 2008 and was titled “Twenty-Four Years of Queer Delight.” It was followed, because the old dog was lacking in imagination and clung to a theme as fiercely as she had ever clung to any bone, by “Twenty-Five Years of Queer Delight,” “Twenty-Six Years of Queer Delight,” and “Twenty-Seven Years of Queer Delight.” We cheated a bit in 2012 and merely acknowledged the twenty-eighth year of queer delight in a post celebrating the March 12 anniversary of the blog. March involves a lot of celebrating in our household!

This year, with a new blog and a new persona, it felt weird to drag the old tradition over here, so I celebrated on Facebook instead with a mash note to the Woman Formerly Known as Goose and a recent ridiculously adorable snapshot of the two of us. It got lots of “likes” and heartwarming comments and reminded me of why I still hang out on Facebook, despite its many flaws. I like public feelings, or the nice ones anyway, and Facebook works well for making nice feelings public. I think it works less well for the airing of not nice feelings, but that is another story.

Here, though, having not written a post called “Twenty-Nine Years of Queer Delight,” I want to reflect on this anniversary within the dramatically shifting context of marriage equality in the United States. This year, for the first time, WFKG and I commemorated our durable and genuinely delightful partnership in a state that issues marriage licenses to both same- and opposite-sex couples. That felt . . . strange. Not only that, but the Supreme Court is about to take up two cases that could restore the right to same-sex marriage in California and begin chipping away at the marital apartheid that exists at the federal level because of the odious Defense of Marriage Act. It is entirely possible that by next year, when I don’t write a post called “Thirty Years of Queer Delight,” WFKG and I will be free to enter into a marriage that would be legally identical to any opposite-sex marriage in the eyes of both our state and the federal government. That would be . . . something well beyond strange.

ice cream sundaeIn one of those anniversary posts over on the old blog, I asked readers to imagine that they were prohibited from having something that the vast majority of people were permitted to have, something that was generally available and widely thought to be good. Let’s say that something is ice cream, I said, and that you are enjoined from eating it “not because you are lactose-intolerant or diabetic or anything else that would make eating ice cream hazardous to your health. You are told you can’t eat it because you don’t deserve it. You are not good enough for ice cream. Indeed, you are so unfit for ice cream that the mere thought of your tasting it poses a threat to the goodness of ice cream. Stay away, the Committee to Protect the Deliciousness of Ice Cream screams, or the rest of us won’t be able to enjoy ice cream anymore!” Time passes. You construct a perfectly satisfying life in the shadow of this bizarre prohibition. You become, perhaps, a committed hater of ice cream, heaping scorn on those who eat it as dupes of the ice cream industrial complex. And then, one day, the prohibition is lifted! Suddenly you are permitted — nay, expected! — to become an eater of ice cream. Suddenly everyone wants to know what flavor you’d like and how many scoops and whether you’ll have it in a cup or a cone (waffle or sugar).

What do you say? What do you do? What do you want, and how is the condition of your wanting or not wanting changed by the lifting of the prohibition? It is, after all, one thing to say you don’t want ice cream when you are legally prevented from having it, quite another to step up to the counter, take a close look at all thirty-one flavors, and then say, “Thanks, but I think I will stick with the cheesecake. It’s really delicious.” Or perhaps you say, “By golly, I would like a triple scoop of butter pecan with hot fudge sauce and a cherry on top. And sprinkles, please, a whole bunch of rainbow-colored sprinkles.”

Three years later, that analogy seems more apt than ever. I stand at the counter, hesitant, slightly bewildered, trying to figure out what I want and why I want it, while a crowd of mostly younger people waits impatiently behind me. They can hardly wait to get their ice cream, and I am holding up the line. What the hell is the matter with me?

A few weeks ago, the Associated Press was widely criticized for seeming to ban the terms “husband” and “wife” to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages. Those terms would only be used “with attribution” — i.e., in quotations from one of the parties involved. A followup seeking to clarify the style policy indicated that “husband” and “wife” “could be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (‘Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones’) or in quotes attributed to them.” The clarification wasn’t sufficient to mollify some of the policy’s critics, including law scholar Nathaniel Frank, who argued that the AP’s stance “creates the perception that it is taking sides — and the losing side — in a culture war issue.” Frank goes on to explain:

[T]hose who get married have already decided about terminology. They have chosen to become a husband or wife, and that’s what they deserve to be called. Failing to recognize this means failing to recognize what the gay marriage battle has been about: achieving equal dignity by accessing the same institutions and occupying the same symbolic spaces as everyone else.

Being “married” is, after all, a collective identity, in the same way “citizen” is. Both terms connote certain responsibilities, obligations and protections, as well as a sense of dignity and belonging for which there is no substitute. They confer equality on all those who occupy them. Using such a term fairly matters in the same way the front of the bus mattered to those banned from sitting there for no other reason than to designate them as second-class citizens.

With all due respect to Frank and the many married queers I know who toss the words “husband” and “wife” around as happily as if they were indeed the rainbow-colored sprinkles on top of an ice cream sundae, I don’t think the question of terminology is nearly as settled as this critique asserts, even among same-sex couples who have hopped on the marriage bandwagon. I also don’t think the AP’s style policy is necessarily discriminatory. (Jeffrey Bloomer also takes this position in a piece he did in Salon.) One could argue that the policy acknowledges and respects the social and linguistic variety, complexity, and creativity of the alternatives to marriage that developed in LGBT communities over the years. One could also argue that the refusal to slap the label of “husband” or “wife” on everyone who marries is an indication of progress, a sign that broadening access to marriage might actually transform the institution into something more flexible and egalitarian than it has historically been. For many of us, after all, the words “husband” and “wife” don’t confer or connote equality, as Frank implies, though what he means is equality with other married people. Those terms are rooted in and saturated by gender-based inequalities that persist in custom if not in law, and some of us want nothing to do with them. There is no dignity for me in the idea of becoming somebody’s wife, and I for one am glad the Associated Press will not automatically label me that if WFKG and I ever decide to tie the knot. (Tie the knot? Good grief, people, after twenty-nine years, could it really get any tighter?)

LGBT people know well that we don’t always get to choose the names we are called, and we’ve done an impressive job of resignifying many of the terms that have been used to wound and stigmatize us. I delight in calling myself dyke and queer and admire the courage and ingenuity of those who have fought to wrest those words away from the haters and the hurters. For me, though, the term wife is beyond reclamation. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I don’t like the feel of it in my mouth or the sound of it in my ears. It grates. It simpers. It titters and totters, uncertain of itself, as Emily Dickinson brilliantly, devastatingly shows:

I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —
That other state —
I’m Czar — I’m “Woman” now —
It’s safer so —

How odd the Girl’s life looks
Behind this soft Eclipse —
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in Heaven — now —

This being comfort — then
That other kind — was pain —
But why compare?
I’m “Wife”! Stop there!

The quotation marks tell you everything you need to know. Access to the word “wife” is not comparable to access to the front of the bus. For many of us, indeed, it is very nearly the opposite, implying neither dignity nor liberation but, for women throughout much of American history, the loss of many rights and an independent legal existence. I participated in the battle to bring marriage equality to my home state and am proud that we were among the first states to affirm the right to same-sex marriage through a popular vote. I am also proud, however, that here in Turtle Country the attorney general issued an opinion making it clear that clerks and administrative judges who perform marriages should not assume that anyone who marries is interested in being pronounced a “husband” or a “wife.” Asked to resolve a number of questions around implementation of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, the AG recommended that all couples be offered “a choice of different terminologies or, better yet, the opportunity to choose exactly how they will be referred to in their vows. Leaving the nomenclatural decision to the parties themselves will ensure that all parties receive the ceremony they desire and, thus, remove any question of discriminatory effect.”

Gaining access to the same institutions to which others have access doesn’t mean we have to occupy them in exactly the same way, and using different terms to name the parties to a marriage needn’t diminish the dignity or stature of the marriage. Words matter, yes. And that’s why we should choose the words by which we are known as carefully as we can, understanding full well that our nomenclatural decisions are never entirely our own. Words are public property and marriages are public acts, but the terms we use can make a difference.

Happy anniversary, darling, from the aging girl who, married to you or not, will never be your wife nor call you a wife. I love you. Let’s go get ice cream. Or cheesecake. Here’s to twenty-nine and more years of queer delight, no matter what we call it.

Saturday Afternoon Pick-Me-Up

I have a cold, a twisted ankle, and a dog who needs to have her anal glands expressed. You really don’t want to hear from me today. No, you want me to post a happy little video, get dressed, and go out to see if Jennifer Lawrence deserved that gold statue she won earlier this week. (The dog will visit the vet tomorrow. I am all for expression, but if it’s going to involve the anal glands I’m thinking a highly trained professional should take care of it. Am I right, dog owners?)

The happy little video is of feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar accepting their National Book Critics Circle Award for Lifetime Achievement. You could do worse than to spend 9 minutes listening to a couple of brave and brilliant pioneers express their gratitude and reflect on the decades of work they did together. It’s a good reminder that scholarship matters, that friendship endures, and that sometimes two heads really can be better than one. Congratulations, Susan and Sandra, and thank you, for everything.

Excellence WITH Money: Or, Dreaming While Academic

If you are bored senseless by the details of other peoples’ dreams, move along. If, on the other hand, you are a caring, sensitive person who realizes that literary critics have dreams that are finely wrought allegories chockfull of wit, wisdom, and the kind of symbolism that comes from taking Lacan way too seriously, then stick around.

True Story: I’ve been busy lately, embroiled in a high-stakes, high-stress initiative having to do with securing the future of the happy little academic program I’ve spent the last decade or so of my career trying to build. I’ve been staying up late, working on proposals and worrying about budgets and pondering the difference between the perfect and the good. The other night, I was up extra late, but by the time I went to bed I had begun to feel that I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. (Tunnel? Oh, boy. Paging Dr. Freud, paging Dr. Freud. You’re wanted in the Dream Lab!) My sleep was restful but full of vivid dreams, one of which clearly, hilariously demonstrates the psychic costs of academic administration in an age of austerity. In the dream, I was talking to a dean, and not just any dean of course but the dean who oversees my happy little program. We were reminiscing about my tenure as director, which is, by my choice, currently winding down. (Eleven years, people. Eleven years!) We were both feeling nostalgic and mutually admiring, and so I asked her at one point how she had managed to give my program such generous support over the years. She laughed conspiratorially, leaned closer to me, and explained in a hushed voice that in the dean’s office they had discovered a special key on one of their computers that was connected to a fund nobody knew about. They didn’t know how much money was in it and fully expected that it might disappear at any time, but they figured that for as long as they could they would just keep pressing the button to make funds available! So, presto, at the click of a magic button, the wise and generous dean doles out the resources needed to produce Excellence WITH Money!!!


Oh, sandman, you candy-colored, revenue-enhancing clown, I heart you so. Why must you abandon me in the sober light of morning? Why must I awaken into a world of MOOCs and kooks and the grim realities of Excellence WithOUT Money? (Many of those realities are documented and kvetched about here. There’s even a movie, featuring an entirely fictional program director and a 100% imaginary dean having a completely hypothetical argument about resources. That’s here.)

You have to admit it’s a funny dream. How do you read it, o skilled interpreters of texts and souls? Straight-up wish fulfillment? One hopeful colleague, a medievalist by training, insisted it was prophetic. Another, perhaps more cynical, comrade pointed out the resemblance to the cheesy Staples “Easy Button” campaign.

Me, I just like a dream in which the characters laugh and behave well rather than cry or shout and behave badly. It’s nice to suppose that some of the psychic stuff churning around in the unconscious shows some faith — yes, I’ll call it that — in the decency of one’s self and others. Some nights, perhaps, one glimpses an answer to the question, “What do I stand for? What do I stand for?” and falls gently back to sleep, with the faint trace of a smile on one’s lips. “Oh,” one says to oneself. “That was a good dream. I’ll have to try to remember it.”

And remembering it, one passes it on, with a simple, stubborn wish: Sweet dreams. Some nights, you do know.

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

Lifetime Achievements: Jodie Foster and the Madwomen

Yes, as a matter of fact I did watch the Golden Globes Sunday night, in sisterly solidarity with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who, as it turned out, needed no help from me. Girls, you had me at, “[Meryl Streep] has the flu and I hear she’s amazing in it.” I tuned in not knowing that Jodie Foster was going to be honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for being considered a worn-out old hag at the age of 50 “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.” FYI: The average age of Cecil B. DeMille Award winners is 62. I did the math myself, because I don’t have to teach for 11 more days believe that numbers sometimes reveal important truths. (See, Nate Silver — I’ve been listening!)

Jodie, you might have heard, gave a little speech in accepting the award. Folks, queer folks in particular, have had a lot to say about the speech, which was, admittedly, kinda weird. Before we go any further, here’s a little link farm of reactions:

  • Andrew Sullivan hated the speech, which he described as “narcissistic, self-loving,” “unadulterated bull$hit.” Don’t hold back, Andrew. It isn’t healthy to hide your feelings, which is why I can’t resist mentioning that the redundancy of describing someone as “narcissistic, self-loving” gave me a headache. Also: It takes one to know one, doesn’t it?
  • Advocate editor-in-chief Matthew Breen declared the big gay magazine “deeply conflicted” about the speech because he doesn’t understand Foster’s avoidance of the L-word, even as she acknowledged former partner (“my ex-partner in love”) and co-parent Cydney Bernard and claimed to have done her coming out long ago, “in the Stone Age.” Breen is disappointed that Foster wasn’t willing simply to declare, “I’m a lesbian, and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it.”
  • Our good buddy Tenured Radical offers a thoughtful critique of the speech focused on Foster’s problematic (to TR and many others) assertion of a right to privacy that is steeped in blind class privilege and insulates Foster from “having to make ethical decisions about what it means to be a lesbian out in public.” It’s a good piece. Click over and read the whole thing, and your reward will be a hilarious clip from the coming-out episodes of Ellen. (Toaster oven: Need I say more?)
  • Speaking of hilarious, the obtuseness of the speech provoked The Onion to do a report on how Foster is inspiring teens across the land “to come out [to their friends and family] using vague, rambling riddles.” The brilliant Justin Vivian Bond weighed in with an episode of The Drunk News that takes up not only Jodie and the Golden Globes, but gun violence and the crisis of uncertainty regarding . . . seafood. Go empty your bladder, and then give Viv a click.
  • Sam Leith in The Guardian has a piece on the rhetorical genius of Foster’s speech.  In which we learned that the whole coy/evasive/obtuse “I’m-going-to-talk-about-this-without-talking-about-this” thing was a dazzling rhetorical maneuver known as occultatio. Say that ten times fast, word nerds.
  • Richard Kim in The Nation declares himself grateful that Foster frustrated a form of role modelism that he thinks has been overly valued in the gay movement in recent years. “We maniacally search for the next has-been child star to splash across the covers of our magazines, as if fame were a short cut to liberation. We measure our success by the number of out actors/rock stars/professional athletes, as if this were somehow an index of political power. We seek to make Positive Examples of the lives of celebrities, because really, what can be a more useful primer of how to grow up gay than the life and times of Lance Bass?” Point taken.
  • Nathaniel Frank has a wonderfully nuanced take on the public/private issue that acknowledges the healthiness of disclosure but also the unique burdens imposed on gay people to come out, often repeatedly, as we encounter new people and situations in which our gayness is not known. Frank ends by urging compassion and by reminding LGBT people of the importance of “not bullying our own” for failing to negotiate “the messiness of the public-vs.-private dilemma” in a neat, (politically) correct way.

Here is the Speech Itself:

So, what do I think? Jodie Foster and I have a long, fraught history. (No, of course she doesn’t know anything about it, unless she’s read the posts filed here.) Like many dykes of a certain age, I overly identify with her. Or I just totes have a crush on her. I’ve never been sure whether it was a desire to be or a desire to have situation, but never mind. I’ve taken her to task for being publicly coy about her sexuality, so, yeah, I’m guilty of the kind of role modelism Kim decries. As a teacher, I have felt a responsibility to be publicly out, to stand up and say, as Breen puts it above, “I’m a lesbian, and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it.” If I had written the speech Foster gave that night (if only she had asked!), it would likely have been more in the mode of the Celebrity as Super Teacher. It would have been charming, funny, focused, clear. More humble than Foster’s actual speech. More gracious. Devoid of gratuitous swipes at little kids.

In other words, the speech I would have given written would have been far less queer than the one Foster delivered. I’ve watched it several times now (because I don’t have to teach for 11 more days I believe that careful attention reveals important truths) and am struck by how off kilter the whole performance seems. Tautness is one of Foster’s great strengths as an actor. (Think of those terrifying scenes in The Silence of the Lambs in which Clarice Starling is nose-to-nose with Hannibal Lecter. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t look away. She barely moves.) At the Globes, though, Foster seemed wound a little too tight, overly amped, as if she had prepared for the occasion by lifting weights and watching NFL films rather than spending 20 minutes in yogic meditation. To my eyes and ears, she seems palpably uncomfortable during her seven minutes at the microphone. She rushes through her lines, steps on what are supposed to be jokes, and then, when she doesn’t get the reaction she was expecting, demands more from the audience. (“Can I get a wolf whistle or something? I mean, please, Jesus!”) She seems overly eager to advertise her intimacy, even kinship, with different pockets of the live audience (the “fathers mostly” among the industry heavyweights, the “fellow actors” with whom she has vomited and blown snot and had other kinds of fun, the “members of the crew” with whom she has formed “blood-shaking friendships, brothers and sisters”). It is as though, after 47 years in the film business, Foster is still unsure of her place and yearning for some form of recognition that has nothing to do with the award she has been given.

Meanwhile, toward the broadcast audience, Foster conveys an unsettling mix of anger, arrogance, and contempt that likely fueled the harshly negative responses that started cascading down my Facebook feed on Sunday night. It’s hard to imagine why Foster felt this was the occasion to lecture the public on the value of privacy and the difficulty of living authentically while being ridiculously famous. Suffice it to say that the line that begins, “But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler,” probably didn’t make Foster any new friends among the plebeians watching on TV.

So, she was rude. She was off, out of sorts, ill at ease. She was insufficiently humble. She got loud where she should probably have been quiet and publicly declared her allegiance to a man (Mel Gibson) universally regarded as a jerk. She was not a good girl or a good gay. She was unruly. She was mean. She was fractious. She was queer. Am I alone in finding it odd that reactions to the speech have been so harsh when queer studies has spent more than a decade celebrating precisely these qualities as aspects of anti-normativity? Did I miss something, or isn’t queer negativity supposed to be cool?

On Facebook, Ann Cvetkovich used the term “butch vulnerability” as a way of explaining and more sympathetically framing Foster’s speech. The term resonated with me, because I saw enormous vulnerability in the performance and agree that Foster didn’t look especially comfortable in that dress. No matter how hard she tries, Foster can’t look at home in one of those gender-normative Hollywood get-ups. She always looks like she’d rather be wearing jeans and a tee-shirt. (Moi aussi, mon amie!)  I was also really struck with the way she just sort of melted near the end of the speech when she started talking about her mother, Evelyn, who got Foster into show business when she was three years old and now suffers from dementia. Under everything, perhaps, is a daughter’s fear that her own mother might soon forget her. What does any award mean if that most primal form of recognition is lost? Ah, Jodie, on that point, at least, I can truly, painfully relate.

Bottom line? Yes, the speech was messy, which is what I found fascinating about it. I think the messiness makes all kinds of sense and that Nathaniel Frank is wise to urge queers not to bully one of our own, even if Foster has gone out of her way not to ally herself with public queer culture. I also think it will be interesting to see, though, if the speech signals a shift in Foster’s career. Many have wondered if she wasn’t announcing some kind of retirement. My hope is she was signaling a shift away from Hollywood and toward bolder, more radical films. I don’t care if we need a dog whistle to understand them. I just hope we don’t have to sit through anything as painful and repugnant as The Brave One. (About which I had this to say when it came out.)

The Madwoman in the AtticInterestingly, as I tuned in simultaneously to the Globes and the critique of the Globes coming in on my laptop Sunday evening, I saw some similar but different and very happy news pop up on my Facebook feed: the announcement that Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar had won a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle for their transformative work in feminist literary criticism. To which I say: hip hip hooray! Go read that article, which is full of deserved praise and the kind of warm, fuzzy reaction one hopes/expects to see in lifetime achievement stories. My favorite line is the last one, from Gubar, who notes that, though she and Gilbert haven’t worked together in several years, “We’ve remained fast and true friends.”

And that, my darlings, is an achievement worth celebrating. Congratulations, Susan, Sandra, and, yes, you, too, Jodie. Thanks for showing the world that you don’t have to be a good girl to be great.

Home-o-normativity: A New Year-ish Post

I was about to write that January is for burrowing in, hunkering down, and laying low, but then I checked and realized those were the exact words I used last January, which either suggests that I am right about January or that my powers of description are painfully limited. Or perhaps it means that university professors really do have the least stressful jobs on earth. No, wait, that idea has been thoroughly debunked. Torn to shreds. Subjected to the Onion comparison.

Still: January. I didn’t go to the MLA again. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose did, and she had a wonderful time, as she always does because she revels in the hobnobbing and the glad-handing and all the other compound words used to describe high levels of social interaction tied to the advancement of professional goals and interests. (See also back-slapping, party-hopping, and name-dropping.) I enjoy those activities, too. In smaller doses.

And so I stayed home to do my burrowing and my futzing and my rearranging of this and that. Last January I focused on denuding the front of the refrigerator, which had gotten covered by an impressive assortment of photos, magnets, bumper stickers, ticket stubs, and masterpieces of kid art. This year I tackled the pantry, which in our household serves to store a little bit of food and prodigious amounts of stuff that should probably be tossed or stored elsewhere. It took me a couple of days, but I successfully cleared the top of the little wine fridge (which is in the pantry), our favorite place for piling crap when company is coming and we don’t know what the hell else to do with it.

Another project I took on ended up consuming a lot more time than I had anticipated and in a couple of moments had this Madwoman on the brink of smashing her shiny new Laptop in a fit of frustration. As the household photographer and archivist, I had long wanted to go back to my very first Mac laptop, the comically large (17″) PowerBook G4, and retrieve hundreds of photos that had never been migrated to subsequent machines. I figured this would be a simple operation, especially when I cranked up the old aluminum mare alongside my sleek new MacBook Pro and noticed that the photos on the old machine showed up in the Source list under “Shared” in iPhoto on my new computer. I had more than a thousand images on the old computer, but about half of them had already been migrated. (When? How? Why? And why were the others left behind? Heck if I know!) I thought, well, I’ll just select the 500 or so I want to take, drag them into the new photo library, and run upstairs and tell WFKG what a fricking techno-wizard I am. Unfortunately, the maneuver was only half successful. The images migrated, but the order got messed up, as the date/time data on some of the images got scrambled in the transition. Suddenly, pictures from WFKG’s epic fiftieth birthday party were interspersed with photos of the Thanksgiving Festival of Terrapins, Texans, and Norwegians that we hosted in 2004, and that was just wrong, wrong, wrong. I undid the maneuver and tried it again, firmly believing that if at first you don’t succeed at something you should repeat the same flawed procedure until you are ready to slam your head up against the nearest brick wall.

apple supportNot surprisingly, my efforts failed. I might not have mentioned this, but WFKG and I do in fact live in a brick house, so the head-banging option was available. After a prolonged series of Interweb searches and several smug well-intentioned pronouncements from Facebook friends, most of which involved the word “Dropbox,” I finally did what I probably should have done in the first place: picked up the phone and called Apple support. I felt better about my tech-wizardry when I had to be passed up the line to a supervisor, who spent more than an hour working with me, including doing that creepy/amazing thing where you give some unseen dude access to your computer, before declaring that there was no way to unscramble the data, because the operating systems and the versions of iPhoto on the two computers were simply incompatible. All I could do was manually change the date/time information on the migrated images to get them back in the right order. Which I did. Because my German brain really does require that kind of thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because I worry that you, too, have a growing pile of old computers in your home and that they hold images, documents, and data that will be compromised or lost if you don’t tend to the tedious tasks of migrating, merging, and updating. I say this as a super-slacker when it comes to updates, but I am resolved, in a New Year-ish kind of way, to try to do better. Check back with me in a month to see if I’ve tackled the equally complex problem of how to consolidate iTunes libraries scattered across half a dozen computers and other devices. Hello, Eric? Me again. Could you help me figure out where I put the Brandenburg concertos and, um, that song I impulsively bought on iTunes after I heard it on Glee? What? No, I don’t remember the name of the group. Or the song. Or which episode it was. Eric? Are you there? Eric? Is this Apple support?

Don’t let your past get locked up in a machine that is no longer functional or accessible. That’s all I’m saying, darlings.

In other January news from the homefront, we had to have a tree brought down this week, an old maple in a remote corner of the ridiculously large back yard. Roxie loved that tree, which had a sort of saddle close enough to the ground that she could climb up into it and look out over the property as if to say, “I am lord and master of this joint. Back off, little squirrels.” And they did. The tree had been leaning precariously over a neighbor’s yard for quite some time and finally began to uproot itself after the devastations of the derecho and hurricane Sandy. It was sad to see it pulled down, piece by piece. I will miss its presence in our sky, but it left some lovely remnants, several of which the neighbor plans to keep in her yard. We made a table and chairs out of pieces of an oak we had to bring down not long after we moved into this house. We called it “Log-Henge” and enjoyed it for years, until eventually it crumbled into the soil, a perfect mulch for another corner of the garden. I told the neighbor that story on Tuesday. She smiled.

Cycle of life, dear readers, cycle of life. Indoors. Out of doors. This is our home. It deserves our loving attention. Peace out, and happy new year.

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 1/8/13

Photo Credit: The Madwoman, 1/8/13

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