30 September 2013

being liberated from motherhood liberated me into womanhood

"I don’t think I was able to start learning how to be a woman—or how to write about women, or how to earn the trust of women readers—until the moment I left my first marriage behind and promised myself that neither I nor anybody else would ever force me to have children. Being liberated from motherhood liberated me into womanhood, if that makes sense. I honestly don’t think I had realized prior to that moment that someone could be a woman without being a mother, or that someone could be married without being a mother, but that’s the woman I am now, and needed to be. Once I figured out how to let myself be that person, I could finally relax into this gender and feel safe about exploring its complexities."

Elizabeth Gilbert in an interview in Believer Mag

26 September 2013

on biases

Yesterday, when the David Gilmour "I don't teach women, or Chinese" thing exploded all over my social media feeds, I have to admit, I was enjoying it. The man was so clueless about his privilege, about his sexism, he was the talking embodiment of what's wrong with old white men (yes, old, Mr. Gilmour: 63 is not middle-aged). I found so much joy in watching him not understand why everyone was so mad. I mean, of course, he found absolutely nothing wrong with filling his course with "books he loved" that were only written by "guy-guys" and that he doesn't love any books written by women.

In the midst of my cackling and being snippy on twitter ("I'm going down the hall," I wrote and retweeted others like a crazy person), I was supposed to be going over my notes for my class that afternoon. I stopped as I reviewed the names of the poems I was teaching that day: all white. Yes, there were men and women (mostly women), and there were straight and queer (mostly straight) writers, but all white.

My stomach turned as flipped back over the previous three classes I taught. All white except two: Vikram Seth and Claude McKay. I flipped forward--a bit more diversity coming up: Natalie Diaz, Dionne Brand, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, anonymous Afghani women, Fred Wah, Rita Wong, Sachiko Murakami, LeRoi Jones (Amari Baraka). That's not many. That's not enough.

I'm frustrated with myself. I like to think of myself as not a racist, as an ally. But my bias is obvious: I favour white women. I mostly read white women poets. This has to change.

I'm in a very privileged position in exposing a dynamic, interesting group of young writers to "advanced forms and techniques of poetry"--I get to introduce writers they may haven't read yet. It's my duty to reflect a larger world to them than what's on their shelves and what's on mine.

20 September 2013

research notes: Shaker worship was loud and unruly

"Shaker worship was loud and unruly. It involved singing of an impassioned kind, very out of kilter with the great British tradition of mouthing hymns in a combination of boredom and respect. What the Shakers would have lacked altogether, from an orthodox point of view, is any sense of spiritual etiquette. Indeed, as the writer in the Virginia Gazette had pointed out, they didn't scruple at using folk tunes, some of which had distinctly racy connotations. This was home-made religion, which would have offended the decorum of the established churches and, perhaps more importantly, challenged the class structure and social regulation that were implicit in it."

from Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun by Richard Francis

19 September 2013

Polygamy, I wish I could quit you.

I've been pretty quiet in Coffee Talks. I'll pipe up now and then, but I do feel like the stupidest person in the room. I'm not an academic, despite my love for research and Big Thoughts, and being in a room of high level, very interesting academics makes my artistic brain feel very, very small. And when I do talk, I usually end up getting flustered. I'm a writer, not a public speaker for a very good reason.

But know what will get me talking? Ask me about something to do with early Mormonism, polygamy, or best yet, early Mormon polygamy!

A lovely new fellow asked me about whether the messiahs I'm researching for The Voice in Your Head think about succession (leadership after they're gone), and I said that I'm too early in my research to talk about any of those, but I could talk about Joseph Smith and Mormonism. And whoo-boy, did I ever. We went 15 minutes overtime, which is a lot considering Coffee Talk is supposed to be 45-60 minutes. Will I ever be asked a direct question again? Time will tell, but I imagine it won't be any time soon!

The conversation went all over the place, as it does, but oh the joy I felt talking about Mormonism and polygamy. I really, really love both so much.

But, one of the highlights for me was when one of the fellows (an Anglican priest) asked the two fellows from Algeria and Palestine about polygamy in their home countries. A lot I already knew--the rules in the Qur'an, how it wasn't common, mostly amongst the very rich and very "faithful"--but, I did learn something new about modern polygamy, which I found fascinating.

Apparently, after the bombing of Gaza in 2008 when many men were killed, Hamas not only announced that married men should step up and marry all these new widows, but also they would give the families money to do so. What angered this fellow so much was that it was incredibly rare in this area to see polygamous families, it was almost non-existant in this culture (unlike, he said, in Saudi Arabia and Yemen) and that it was a very expensive to get married in Palestine, so many people simply don't do it because they can't afford to. That Hamas was willing to give money to support polygamy, but not to support monogamous marriages infuriated him. I can understand why.

Exciting new information on modern-day polygamy makes me very, very happy.

16 September 2013

see you on a dark night

The brain is a remarkable instrument. When I'm in the midst of research, it makes connections on my behalf, ones that I wouldn't be able to logically reason out on my own.

I've been reading a lot about Ann Lee lately. I've been thinking about her strengths, her leadership despite her obvious difficulties: illiterate, anorexic, post-partum depression*, traumatic grief*(*my personal read on her mental state). Then last night, I heard her voice. It wasn't in my head, but my brain told me that singer in a video I've been watching a lot lately is a later-day Ann Lee. Would Grimes look and sound and be what Ann Lee would be if she showed up now instead of 350+ years earlier? Reason says, probably not, but I like that my brain says, absolutely.

6 September 2013

research notes: Ann Lee

"Riots in the mid-eighteenth century tended to be about the price of food, and were often started by women."

from Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun by Richard Francis

5 September 2013

research notes: Ann Lee

"The fact that Ann's experience in this respect was normal for her time and class doesn't mean that she herself enjoyed it or approved of it. When she was in her forties, and far away in America, she had occasion to give advice to a poor woman called Beulah Rude, who had five children, hardly an unusual number at the time. `Five! Five!' Ann exclaimed. `When you had one, why did you not wait and see if you were able to bring up that as you ought before you had another? And when you had two, why did you not stop then? But now you have five! Are you not ashamed to live in the filthy works of the flesh? You must go and take up your cross, and put your hands to work, and be faithful in your business; clothe your children, and keep them clean and decent; and clean up your house and keep that in order.' One can picture the poor woman's dismay or even rage at being on the receiving end of such a tirade, particularly since the advice was coming a bit late in the day."

from Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun by Richard Francis

2 September 2013

morning rain

The last morning of summer vacations and I woke to rain. Hobbled upstairs to close the skylight in the boys' bathroom and couldn't get back to sleep.

I may as well fess up--I'm feeling fairly anxious about these next few months. A lot of changes in my family's lives, many of which are thanks to me. My eldest starts grade two tomorrow, my middle starts Kindergarten on Friday. I'm teaching my first full real class at a university on Wednesday, and consequently, my youngest has full-day childcare three days a week, something my other two never had.

I had a teaching anxiety dream the other night which remembering seems ridiculous. My classroom was a field that had been hayed. I couldn't get my computer to show the powerpoint presentation I created, and the class was spread out--it was a huge field after all. I had to shout and no one listened and most of the the students were the characters from Freaks & Geeks. Looking back, it's so silly, but it was anxiety ridden regardless.

I have a huge list of thing that need to be done today, but I'm hoping the house stays quiet for a long time so I can't start on them for a while. I can hear my eldest reading upstairs. He loves Roald Dahl and devours them at an incredible rate. I never read Dahl as a child and only just read my first Dahl, The Fantastic Mr. Fox this past week to the boys. It really was fantastic.

I feel this is turning into a ramble, so I'll stop.