Catching up: in which I meditate on the nature of privilege and gendered norms of anger, with moments of Pollyanna, and also a bunch of stuff that happened this year.

So about this time last year, I got tired of blogging, and since this is primarily just for me, I gave it a rest. Now I’m considering coming back. No promises, no schedule, no deadlines. Just perhaps slightly more frequent musings and ponderings popping up over here.

Starting up again is a bit like talking to a distant acquaintance after a long absence– I feel that I need to bring everyone up to speed on the last year. (And who, really, is this is everyone? this vast-y faceless audience whose existence I just negated in the first paragraph. All of that everyone.)

So year in a nutshell, looking back, looking forward:

I taught. a lot. (Honestly, I feel like that’s all I’ve done for the last year. Which is not a bad thing, just crazy exhausting. But hey! I could still be bagging groceries! [Pollyanna moment brought to you by the attempt to acknowledge the privilege of working in an industry that I love, but also recognizing that  a) adjuncts are exploited labor and b) god, I’m tired. and pollyanna out. for now.]) So that. Four classes spread over three semesters, which doesn’t sound like much but is in addition to the real job that, you know, lets me pay for rent and wine.

I drove. a lot. I took an office job on campus, which is the only real option if you want to teach and have to do something else to make ends meet (classes generally meet during business hours– you need a relatively flexible schedule and a walk-to-another-building commute to make that work.) So the job is great– not really a passion project, but fits my needs. But since my schedule has changed (every day on campus instead of twice or so a week) I have to wrestle the wretched commute every. damn. day. It has not been good for my general psyche or well-being.

I’m feeling super complain-y, and not sure if that’s the whole privilege/pollyanna thing, or the gendered restrictions on showing anger (you should seriously read this LA Times article on gendered anger RIGHT NOW), or that chestnut of EWW’s resounding in my brain (Laugh and the world laughs with you/weep and you weep alone/for the sad old earth must borrow its mirth/but has trouble enough of its own…) I could go on– I had the whole thing, some 30 lines or so, memorized by the time I was 10. I was such a weird kid. I remember quoting it while jumping rope… it has that kind of rhythm, though the sentiments are, shall we say, not as peppy. Full text here, just in case your childhood wasn’t as, er, unique? as mine.

To return to the year in a nutshell, and not the analysis of my emotions therein– I applied to, was accepted to, and chose a PhD program. (!!!) (Those are three very distinct steps. I promise.) I’m starting at George Washington University in the fall, and I will be very excited once I’m not so tired. I trust and believe. I thought long and hard about moving out of the city– a few of my options seemed to provide more obvious “better life” options (small New England towns that I’ve longed to live in, for, well, forever) but in the end I went with the best education. So I’m going to have to work very hard at being happy in this city which I kind of hate. But that’s mostly about the commute. I have complicated feelings about the city. Abstractly, I know I should appreciate it– opportunities here, yadda yadda. Actually, I live too far to take advantage of anything in my city (some 30 miles to the south of DC) or anything in DC. poor poor pitiful me.

But that’s going to change! I’m moving (god, my apartment is a mess) in about a week to a place which will definitely have challenges, but which will at least be closer. And private! I’ve had a roommate or housemate since I moved to DC, and wow, is that not good for me. So lots of changes, lots of things happening, lots of the crappy things are going away. Hooray!

Here’s hoping it’s not another year before I post… but no promises.

Currently reading: Good Night, Mr. Holmes, Carolyn Nelson Douglas
Currently listening: You Must Remember This podcast
Currently knitting: Waiting for Rain

Image at top: Join the Polly Anna Club and Be Glad pin, circa 1910, made by the Boston Badge Co. She looks about as glad as I generally am.


No Future: Lucy Maud Montgomery and Jack Halberstam (with a little Queen Latifah in there too)

downloadFull disclosure: I spent the evening crocheting and watching The Last Holiday. I know, you didn’t think I was such a party animal. Truthfully, although the movie is somewhat horrible, I heartily enjoy the sentiment—the “why am I waiting and what am I waiting for” sentiment, when the things you are putting off in life (travel, family, free time)  seem ever so much more important than the reasons you are postponing them (education, career).

Last weekend, I seriously considered selling my somewhat meager belongings and moving to Italy. (I was reading Frances Mayes. I’m susceptible.) I still wish I could move, and the fact that I backed down seems less a triumph of common sense over recklessness than a cowardly taking of the safe track. I need a safety net and a five year plan- I hate it, but that is, apparently, who I am.

All of that goes to establishing mindset. This is why I was watching Last Holiday, a movie I’ve seen before and judged really crappy somewhat substandard then, LL Cool J notwithstanding. In case you don’t remember (and why would you?) Queen Latifah is a hardworking employee/drone, trying to protect her future by postponing all joy: terrible job? not important, it pays. cute boy? not right now, must work. And so on and so forth. Then she gets a terminal diagnosis and moves to a fancy hotel in Europe to blow through her savings and live it up while there’s time. I feel like there are a few other movies out there with a similar plot, but can’t think of them right now.

Ok, the movie is kind of terrible. I don’t remember the rest– I think LL Cool J (the aforementioned love interest) shows up in Europe to sweep her off her feet, the diagnosis was wrong, and I guess she doesn’t regret her wasted savings. Whatever. As I said, not a great cinematic masterpiece.

And honestly, I’m not interested in it because of some abstract (whatever that is) value. but I’m fascinated by the burn down the world, grab it all freedom– the impulsivity that is officially allowed (by whom? I’m not sure…society at large? community? common sense? the last, of course, is just the internalization of the former’s judgments… they- the ever-threatening “they”-catch us coming and going) when the longevity question- the planning for tomorrow bit- is taken off the table. (I’m reminded, as I so frequently am, of Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place: who would I be, what would my life look like, if I weren’t so pre-occupied with my own futurity? )

In the elimination of the idea of the future in Last Holiday– and in The Blue Castle, which is what I actually want to talk about– the protagonists are given the freedom to travel, to speak their minds, to quit crap jobs, to be—truly be—in the moment.

God, that sounds hokey, but it seems to resonate, at least with me. I live so much of my life in anticipation: when my education is done, when I get a job I like, when I… whatever, that the present seems to escape me. My mother is right (gasp!)–I’m wishing my life away.

Those are problems for another time. What I am reading, however, is a reflection of those fat bubbles of unrest that are rolling to the top of my psyche. The Blue Castle has long been my favorite of L. M. Montgomery’s books; it’s just so absolutely flat-out romantic. Its premise is actually quite a bit like Last Holiday, which is why I began with the confession of my late-night TV watching: incredibly repressed woman gets a negative heath report, and decides (poster-type quote ahead) “to live before she dies.” Queen Latifah goes to some skiing resort;Valancy Stirling meets a mountain man and asks him to marry her.

Wonderful stuff…  (plot spoilers ahead)

Valancy Stirling is a skinny, sallow spinster who lives the most depressing life imaginable with her overbearing mother, sniffling aunt, and interfering, patronizing extended family. (Think Bette Davis in Now, Voyager.) After suffering a worse-than-usual chest pain, Valancy secretly goes to a specialist, who tells her that she has a serious heart condition and will die within the year. Valancy rebels at the idea of “dying before she’s lived,” and starts speaking her mind at family gatherings, leading the elderly patriarchs of the family to murmur, aghast, while her mother has hysterics.

She eventually tells her story to the town ruffian, a “sparkly-eyed backwoods man” (direct quote) who smokes a foul smelling pipe and drives the oldest car imaginable. She then proposes to, marries, and moves in with this backwoods man, the euphoniously named Barney Snaith. After several months of the most perfect health and glorious happiness, she begins to wonder about the doctor’s diagnosis–and what that might mean to her marriage.

This has been my favorite L. M. Montgomery since I was about 16–I think I identified much too strongly with that crazy family! But I’ve always thought of this as kind of a fairytale; an uncomplicated trajectory from misery to happy ending. (I realize that all those who have studied fairy tales in any depth just gasped. Shush.) I still think the story is a little simplistic, but this time I noticed (was looking for) something else kind of nonfairytaley: Valancy saves herself. She doesn’t wait for a prince to rescue her–she leaves home, she throws off convention, she proposes to Barney, she essentially creates her own Eden–or at least her own entry into Eden. She isn’t an all round strong female character–she begins quite weak and then nobly returns home “with the grey face…of a creature that has been struck a mortal blow” when she fears that Barney will feel tricked when it looks like he will get a life of marriage instead of the originally planned year. In that, I suppose, Lucy Maud has Barney play the ever-loving hero, as of course, he comes to retrieve her. (And in such a frustrating way! These books that have the male lead tenderly swearing at the blockhead who won’t believe herself loved… the “Dear little fool!” exchanges…make me a bit tired.) But still, I do appreciate that Valancy didn’t gaze out the parlor window until Prince Charming rode up. In fact, she becomes weak again when she imagines herself to have a future. Wouldn’t it be interesting to examine someone as, dare I say it, staid as Lucy Maud in light of ideas of queer temporality? Lucy Maud, meet Jack.