It’s that time of year when fall is seeping into the morning air and the afternoons are typically sunny and bright. Before long, we’ll all be in our respective centers helping writers find their way around academic and other styles of writing. It can be a stressful time.
Relieve some stress by signing up for the LCC/MSU Invitational Putt-Putt Tournament. Details: September 17th from 11:00 to 1:00 pm at the Hawk Hollow Golf Course. Teams of four are necessary for signing up, and there is a $10.00 per person charge. Food and Drink will be provided and registration ENDS on Sept 10th.
To register, click Here
Ever since November we’ve been living in a Game of Thrones state. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Winter is coming” to my husband in the most menacing voice I can manage (hint: I’m not really menacing, so he laughs at me). While we enjoyed some warm weather at the start of winter, I actually looked forward to the cold and the snow. Winter without snow is depressing in Michigan, and winter without cold is disconcerting.
I might be the only one appreciating the cold, albeit from the safety of my home, buried under three blankets, in a robe and a sweater. Perhaps with a cat on my lap. Seriously.
Winter is a great time for a good wood burning fire; I’m lucky I have a wood burning fireplace and that my husband loves making fires (not in a dangerous way). But for those of you who don’t have one, I suggest a small space heater with a photo of a fire behind it and a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief.
Here ya go. Go wild kids.
Step two to winter survival (or enjoyment, go your own way) is a good book and a great cup of tea. I’m a huge fan of Teavanna’s looseleaf teas.
The vat of tea I’m currently working my way through has popcorn in it. You’d be surprised how good it is.
So at this point I’m either studying or cozying up with a good book. The way grad school is going for me, I’m generally studying. If you’re in the boat with me, I have to say that my fellow Koala bloggers have shared some excellent study playlists if you want to check those out.
On the fun side of things, I have recently been devouring comfort books (AKA books I’ve read before). But since some of you may not have read them, I’m gonna recommend them to you.
A few months ago Marissa Meyer released the final book in her Lunar Chronicles series.
These are YA books, which I am a huge fan of. They also pull of some unbelievable elements I could never execute. When my best friend offered me the first book, Cinder, I read the blurb and laughed out loud. It’s a play on the Cinderella fairytale, only it includes cyborgs, a worldwide plague, people who live on the moon and are creepy bad guys with supernatural powers. There are four books in the series, each including a new character that originates in a fairy tale – a pilot named Scarlet (Little Red Riding hood), a computer hacker named Cress who’s been trapped and isolated in a space satellite (Rapunzel), and a beautiful princess, Winter, who has been disfigured and is kind of a little insane (Snow White).
This sounds crazy and I feel you. I only read the first because it was so out there I needed to watch the train wreck. But I love, love, love these books. They have some diversity in there (though they could have more). For the most part the pacing is great and the writing really worked for me. The other characters are fantastic—funny and sweet and complicated. I also have an affinity for a series that keeps you engaged and lets you linger in a world, which Meyers totally delivers.
In sum, Tania’s winter blues recommendation (and my winter high recommendation, because I love this weather): Fake fire, blankets, sweaters, a cat or two, some tea and a great book.
Confession: I was supposed to do this a long time ago.
Technically, I don’t need to confess to anything here. It’s not like you know. But it’s important, I think, to put this out there. Because over the course of last semester, I heard so many students say the same thing. With guilt and shame, with frustration and with stress clear through their voices.
Wonderful addressed this beautifully in her last blog post about how we can take care of ourselves when life gets in the way. Life certainly got in mine.
Many of the people I work and go to school with know that my life is often overwhelming and very busy. I commute, I work, I go to school, and most importantly, I am a mother of two really freaking cute little boys.
Coming back to school after a 10-year break was a really hard decision to make because my husband and I knew the transition from staying at home with my kids to being gone for entire days, sunup to sundown, was going to be a challenge and struggle for all four of us. Ten years out of the academic life is hard to come back from—for me at least—because it involved retraining my brain to click into academic mode.
As a mother, I’ve found that my brain is always “on,” particularly when I’m around my children. Even when they aren’t in the room, I’m always tuned in to the whole house, watchful and waiting and curious. (I overhear some fantastic imaginative play, it’s funny and weird and sweet.) When I’m here, being my school self, my brain is on in a completely different way; learning to switch between academic/work Tania and Mommy involves a lot of conscious effort. I suppose my kids are old enough that I might not always need to be tuned in so much but it just happens anyway.
But the truth is, I don’t want to. When I can’t switch out of academic and work mode, my mind is never truly at home. And the first thing I promised myself when I decided to take this on was that no matter what, my children would come first.
Now, I’ll be honest here. Other mothers in the academy and I have talked about this: going back to school and figuring out how to juggle and sacrifice and not sleep and not have a social life are sacrifices we are making to better our lives. And living a willingness to do these things models so many things we want our children to learn. Right now, my children are watching me work hard. They are watching me learn and fight for the things I am passionate about.
They are watching me believe in myself.
But I don’t always get it just right. I get frustrated and I’m tired and sometimes when I’m home, it’s so hard to enjoy my family when my brain is always being pulled toward the assignments and projects I have to do, or staying on task with my job. It’s that learning how to balance that wears me down more than anything.
But what this means is that there are many, many times I have to make choices about what I can and cannot do. Sometimes, I have to choose not to do that reading, or assignment, or make myself wake up at 5 am just to fit it all in. And when I choose not to do the thing, so that I can do this other thing, most important thing—enjoy and love my children and be present in their lives while I can—I have to deal with that guilt and shame and frustration with myself because of the things I’ve dropped.
So often we in the academy here push and push ourselves to do better, to get it right, and to never drop the ball. And we say things like, “I fail,” or “I can’t do this,” and “I suck.” I hear it all the time. And lately, on my long freaking commute, I’ve been wondering if all the kindness and love and self-worth I work so hard to give my children isn’t something I need to give myself.
So this long, long blog post works in a few ways. To paint a little portrait of what it’s like to be a mother in the academy. To talk about the many things we’re all asked to do, and how hard it is to do them all. But most importantly, so ask each of you to be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
I did not intend for this last post on emerging scholars to be about self-care; however, after my own recent struggles, I feel it important to discuss ways in which scholars—emerging or entrenched—can take care of their mental and physical health when life gets in the way. October freak-out is over, but there still remains a residue of pain, struggle, and fragmentation. Normally, I refuse to allow my outside life to negatively affect my academic life. However, this fall, Life got in the way.
During this semester, I have experienced extreme highs of enlightenment, friendship, and community. However, I have also experienced severe lows with depression, loss, guilt, and shame seemingly etched on my skin and inscribed into my psyche. Somehow within this semester Life got in the way. So what does one DO when life gets in the way?
Sure I could give some standard advice about making sure you talk to someone or find a way to take your mind off the whole mess. However, I want to offer something new. I want to offer a story:
I entered a History and Theory of Rhetoric class and all I wanted was to NOT read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Rhodes scholars, etc. But I read them because I had to, because they matter—still, even though I don’t want them to. But when I began to look at Indigenous Rhetorics as a practice, I noticed that it calls us not to think about the thing, but to do the damn thang. So I began to wonder by what means emerging scholars take care of themselves when life gets in the way.
This is a story about pain, shame, and guilt and how one Black body found a way to deal. Sometimes, I just can’t with Life. The only thing I do well is the academy. My Life, it falls apart. Recently, a Life event so depressed me and consumed me with shame and guilt, I thought I would never recover. But there were 6 weeks left in the semester.
Life CANNOT get in the way.
What is to be done when you feel nothing can be done?
Through this struggle I realized I had a process of doing that led to my recovery: talk about it, think about it, hear advice about it, and then dance on it. All of these acts are acts of doing and making the doing creates the making and the making, in turn, replenishes that which could not be replenished. These are things I had to do when Life got in the way. These are things I had to make when Life got in the way. And these are the things that made me whole when Life got in the way. I do not pretend that these measures I have mentioned can help every scholar who needs to deal when Life gets in the way. However, I do suggest that it is in the doing and the making—the habits and hobbies we choose—that can help us heal:
When Life gets in the way.
ACT I: The Systems Within
Scene I: A Haunted House
Stories are like houses, hidden away from view. Peeking in one window versus looking through a backdoor, each will give a different snapshot of what the house entails. In that manner, hidden secrets and viewpoints contained within tales can be discovered depending on the reader. So come peer through the keyhole with me, as we discuss what I found in A Rose for Emily.
At first glance a strange gothic story, of a misunderstood—or crazy—woman who was pitied by the town in which she lived. But was she truly crazy, or are the townsfolk far more to blame for her deteriorating state? Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see what the townsfolk, especially the townswomen, felt was wrong with her:
We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Despite what her own desires and wishes may have been, according to the town she had failed in her duty as a woman, and therefore became a social pariah. Upon the death of her father, Emily was left alone in her grief, with no man to comfort or hold her, no position as mother to her elevate her.
And then they took him. Took him away after badgering her for days, took him away and declared her a mad spinster. Took away her voice and mind, by declaring her to be pitied, and not intelligent enough to realize they were giving her a tax break in honor of her father. She had no identity, a ghost among the masses, to be pitied surely but never given the elixir to make her human—alive—once again.
Until Homer came.
Scene II: Tall, Dark, and Handsome: The Death of a Hero
A man from out of town, the “hero” come to rescue the damsel in distress in a town full of shapeshifting vipers. A person who spoke to the mad, pitiable ghost, made her alive as he took her through town in a buggy. Who once more validated her existence. However the women, the witches of this forsaken town, quickly began to poison this relationship.
Then some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people. The men did not want to interfere, but at last the ladies forced the Baptist minister—Miss Emily’s people were Episcopal—to call upon her.
Scene III: Wandering Ghosts
And thus Emily was thrust back into the world of the living dead, trapped within her house, trapped within her mind. The poison slowly started to work on her, the spell destroying the fragments of her mind. Homer, who was once the gallant knight, fled the cursed town, fled the damsel, and Emily’s decision was set. All Emily had was that house. There was no man to grant her a voice and no children to paint her as a living being. There was nothing but a shade who hadn’t realized they were dead yet, wandering the haunted house at the end of the lane. What ghost bound to a place hasn’t slowly gone mad? When Homer returned, to ensure she would no longer be a solitary ghost, a non-entity in her own home, Emily murdered him to ensure he would never leave her. If she could not be happy in life, Emily found a way to be happy in death.
ACT II: A Rose for Emily as Southern Eulogy
Scene I: A Eulogy
Many critiques of William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily position Emily as a victim of the very class system she inhabits. While this critique of Emily is valid, in this critical reading of A Rose for Emily, I argue this short story is also a type of horror, as it symbolizes society’s desire/wish to rid itself of “undesirables.” The three characters—Emily, Homer, and The Negro—are metaphors for what the dominant society wishes to rid. While the main characters are single individuals, they represent multiple undesirable behaviors/characteristics: Emily is insane, a murderess, a spinster, and a symbol of the Old South. Homer is a gay, a Yankee, and symbolizes the North infringement on Southern traditions, while The Negro is Black (and therefore undesirable), and functions only as slave.
In no way is Faulkner hiding that this story is also about both death and lamenting. While Faulkner is showing the death of “old Southern ways of living,” he is also lamenting them through the voice of the narrator, giving the old Southern ways of living a type of Eulogy. One of the ways this death of the South is depicted, is when Emily’s death is positioned in relation to her house and the changing neighborhood:
It was a big, squarish frame house… set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of the neighborhood… And now Miss Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson.
In this passage, Emily’s death and burial next to Union and Confederate soldiers, her decaying house—the “eyesore among eyesores”—flanked by cotton gins and garages (a symbol of the Industrial Capitalism), foreshadow the end of an undesirable way of life: Southern. Though the death of Emily symbolized the death of the South, she also symbolizes other undesirable traits: insane, woman, spinster, and murderess. For this analysis, I will focus on woman and spinster as undesirable.
Scene II: (Southern Belles) Woman as Undesirable and Unfulfilled
This story is centered in the early 20th century, before women had the right to vote and just before what is widely considered “first-wave” U.S. feminism. Within these constraints and the patriarchal system in which she functioned, Emily was undesirable not only because she was a woman, but because she had not reached her potential as a woman in becoming a wife and mother:
None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such… We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
While women as inferior and undesirable within the context of the patriarchal systems are at play in the aforementioned passage, Emily is also denied the opportunity to become wife and mother by her father. It is a type of double patriarchal oppression of which Emily is victim. Coinciding with the death of Southern ways of living, The Negro plays an integral role in functioning somewhat as a timeline for the slow death of Southern pre-Civil War life.
Scene III: The World’s Most Interesting Man
The Negro, nameless and voiceless, is arguably the most important character in this story. Readers will notice that Emily is rarely in a scene without The Negro. The Negro is the only person who sees Emily on a daily basis. The Negro is the only person who allows admittance to Emily’s home. He is, in essence, a gatekeeper to the Old South:
They were admitted by the old Negro into a dim hall from which a stairway mounted into still more shadow. It smelled of dust and disuse—a close, dank smell. The Negro led them into the parlor. It was furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture. When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was cracked.
The Negro is both a relic within and a gatekeeper to the house, as well as Emily. The house, as readers can infer, and the happenings within (though we are never allowed to see the inside of Emily’s house) function as a time capsule, with living bodies (The Negro and Emily) reenacting the roles of Slave and Master. Though hard to imagine a character with no name and no voice is central to the literary arc of a short story, The Negro is mentioned over ten times, and most prevalently towards the end of the story after Homer “deserts” Emily. When Emily goes into seclusion, her daily happenings are known/recorded via the narrators who observe what The Negro did every day over a period of decades.
Scene IV: Homer, The Yankee Queer
Lastly, Homer represents a double metaphor: The victorious North, its Queer ways of living, and Industrial Capitalism. When readers encounter Homer, he is the foreman managing workers as they build a paved road through town. This first scene with Homer symbolizes a type of colonization and Industrial Capitalism, a new way of civilizing the Southern savage from his/her backwards ways (unpaved roads, quiet gentle life, and so on):
The construction company came with riggers and mules and machinery,and a foreman named Homer Barron, a Yankee–a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face… Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing anywhere about the square, Homer Barron would be in the center of the group.
From the very beginning, Homer can be understood to represent the upheaval of Southern life as it moved—begrudgingly—towards certain Northern ideals of modernity and civility. While Homer is a representation of this emerging way of life, he also represents queerness, as he is gay, another type of undesirable characteristic. This undesirability—this flaw— allows the narrators (the witnesses to this change) to pity/shame Homer, and criticize the North for its own backwardness as the ladies all said:
“Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer”… because Homer himself had remarked—he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks’ Club—that he was not a marrying man. Later we said, “Poor Emily.”
Scene V: Murder, Acquiescence, and Jim Crow
In the final scene of A Rose for Emily, readers are once again allowed access into the house by The Negro. After letting family and gawkers into the home, The Negro—the nameless, voiceless slave—exits the house using the rear door, no longer a slave of an individual, Emily, but a slave of a system: Jim Crow. As onlookers ascend the stairs and break into Emily’s bedroom, we see the remains of Homer, whom Emily had obviously killed and lain in bed with for years. This final act by Emily is representative of Southern vengeance on the Queer ways and thinking invading their lives, as well as its eventual acquiescence, when she lies in bed with Homer: the victor (the North). Consequently, using Queer as an umbrella term, A Rose for Emily is an homage to the Old Confederate South, a Eulogy, and a purging process by which this new Jim Crow South is attempting to shed itself from all actions and behaviors it considers undesirable.