Monday Re-Run: Body Image, Body Compassion, and Choosing Myself

 

In the hospital after surgery. It's probably not an accident that I can't find any pictures in the swimming cap---they're all locked away at my parents' house.
In the hospital after surgery.

At 5, I had surgery on my left eardrum to repair a hole. The surgery left my eardrum permanently weakened. I had to wear ear plugs and a rubber swimming cap to protect my ears when I went swimming.

And in the South, especially when there’s a pool nearby, we spend a lot of time swimming. There was a pool in our backyard. I looked a little weird in my cap, but I didn’t think much of it until one kid called me “rubberhead” during swimming lessons. Then it became all I could think about.

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At 10, I had huge glasses, braces, and hair that was long and frizzy, because my mom had no idea what to do with curly hair. Sometimes the boy I sat next to at lunch would call me Medusa. I had scrawny legs and was just discovering that I was, in fact, awkward.

I didn’t have any curve to my body, and though a few of my friends had started developing (or at least said they had started developing) breasts, mine were nowhere to be found. I became bothered that I had hair on my legs and that most women didn’t, and I asked my mom if I could start shaving.

She was taken aback, of course. I was 10. She expected me to be younger for longer, I think. Bless her, she asked a close family member what to do, and the answer was “if she’s old enough to be self conscious about it, she’s old enough to shave.”

It was a relief to do something grown up, to have some control over my out-of-control, developing body.

*****

At 13, I had no braces and no glasses. I’d grown curves and gone through puberty. I learned to work with, rather than against, the texture of my hair, and for the first time in years I didn’t have hair that made me feel embarrassed.

Instead, I had the kind of hair I could hide inside of. It was long, just past my shoulders, with a deep part on the right so that my hair swung in front of my eyes.

My hair was large and wild.

Hiding inside it turned out to be a good tactic as boys (and men) started to notice my body. Hiding inside that veil of hair allowed me to look coy and flirtatious while hiding my embarrassment at the attention.

That same year, one of my teachers found a note I’d written a classmate in which I’d divulged suicidal thoughts. They called me to the principal’s office to meet with my parents, who took me home. I entered counseling for the first time.

*****

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.
At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

At 17, I was tiny and insecure. I was so small, but I felt so large.

I’d been told to watch out for getting fat. In my teenage years, that translated to “you are already fat, so don’t get any fatter.” Looking back, I should’ve seen the absurdity. I was a size 8.

But I felt like I took up so much space sometimes.

People often thought I was older than I was. I carried myself with an assuredness that I didn’t feel. I retreated behind my mane of hair, into my books, and with a close group of friends who understood me.

*****

Just after returning to college from working at camps all summer long.
Just after returning to college.

At 19, I was a college sophomore, in love for the first time. I was engaged, though of course it didn’t last long. I’d let go of the strong religious leanings that I had in high school, and I liked to party. I was beautiful, and young, and free to

do whatever I wanted as long as I could make it to an 8:00 class the next day.

I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, so I swam often. I was very, very pretty, which got me into more than a little trouble, some of my own making and some of others’. I gained friends and quickly lost them, moving from group to group and party to party.

I still hid behind my hair—it got larger over the years. I got my first tattoo, a symbol of peace and happiness.

I went into counseling again for depression and anxiety, and for the first time I was put on medication. It eased many of my symptoms, but I had a significant weight gain from the medicine. And of course, it worked erratically because I wasn’t careful about drinking while I was on the medication.

I gained about 50 pounds. I was lethargic and stopped swimming, so the partying and the new medicine added up quickly. I went to monthly check-ups, but of course I wasn’t quite honest with my doctors about the partying I did.

*****

At my baby shower, which turned out to be just weeks before delivery. My hands and face are obviously swollen already.
At my baby shower just weeks before delivery.

At 24, I was a master’s student with an on-and-off-again fiancee.  My body wasn’t as good as it had been in my early years of college, when I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, but it was still a young, healthy, beautiful body.

I got a second tattoo, this time a phoenix rising, flanked by the words “carpe diem.” I spent a lot of time reading and writing, and the rest of my time partying. Life was challenging but relatively carefree.

And then it wasn’t.

I wasn’t sure, at first, how I felt about the pregnancy. I knew it would change everything about my life, and I hadn’t planned for that to happen quite so quickly. I knew I wouldn’t be so carefree anymore. I knew my body would change. I went to doctor’s appointments, read books on pregnancy and parenting, changed my eating habits, and researched whether I could screw up my baby by coloring my hair and paining my toenails.

But around 26 weeks of the pregnancy, I had to research new topics. I was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction, and I had to find out more about it.

When I next returned to my OB, she determined that I was actually preeclamptic. At 32 weeks, I went directly to the hospital from her office. I’d just been at work the day before, and aside from extremely swollen feet and ankles, I felt just fine. But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t wait any longer than a day to be hooked up to a magnesium drip and two days, mostly to be given vital steroid shots to help my baby’s lungs develop, before his delivery via C-section.

I barely remember seeing my child’s face for the first time. I vaguely remember his first cry. I remember thinking that somehow I’d made my baby sick, that maybe because I wasn’t sure if I wanted him at first, we were being punished.

My brother wheeled me down to see my baby for the first time, and I could only stay for a few moments. At 2 pounds, 14 ounces and 15 1/4 inches long, he was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. I felt paralyzed by his smallness and crippled by

Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.
Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.

his fragility.

I felt like it was my fault that he’d come into the world already fighting. My body couldn’t nourish him properly or give him the place he needed to grow until birth.

For a long time, I beat myself up for that. Why couldn’t my body do what it was designed to do? Could I have done something differently? Why didn’t I get to have a have a healthy baby?

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At 30, I had moved to New Orleans with my son, The Little Jedi, and my then-fiancee-now-husband, Sam.

I fell down the basement stairs on Halloween and sprained my ankle terribly. I was immobile for almost a week and on crutches for another week, and my ankle still isn’t quite the same. The walks I’d been taking with our terrier could no longer be taken—he is really energetic and needs to move quickly.

I gained quite a bit of weight again during the recovery, and I was bothered by

At 30, getting married in Vegas.
At 30, getting married in Vegas.

how long my body took to heal. A few months later, I would fall again and sprain my other ankle. And a year after that, I tore the meniscus in my right

knee.

Changes were around every corner—my own adjustment to living in New Orleans; Little Jedi adjusting to not living with my parents anymore, living with Sam for the first time, going to daycare/school for the first time, and living in a city like New Orleans after small town Mississippi; leaving school for a new career path; my husband changing jobs; a marriage.

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At 31, my body is scarred. I’m heavier than I’ve been probably ever in my life. My ankles and knee swell after high-impact exercise, and though I’ve stopped smoking, I’m still out of shape enough to be breathless after exercising in small bouts.

But I’ve come to see the value in what my body has been able to do, and I can forgive it for its shortcomings.

I’m choosing not just body acceptance, but body compassion and body love.

For me, this means holding myself accountable for what I put into my body now but not punishing myself for my past. It means that when I make a mistake (or 5 days of mistakes, like when Mardi Gras happens and then my birthday happens), I don’t beat myself up over it.

I have to re-choose body compassion every day.

My instinct is to get discouraged when I don’t meet the goals I set for myself, especially as concerns diet and exercise. But body compassion sets me up to say “oh well” and move along after a screw up. In some ways that’s more difficult for me.

But I choose body compassion.

I choose it because I need to be compassionate with my body before I can truly love my body. I choose it because I have to remember the life that my body has been through before that I can get to the life I want.

I choose body compassion. I choose me.

(This post was part of the first 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion Link-up.)
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#WeekendCoffeeShare: Oddments

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that this has been a very busy week with its share of tiny disasters, but also that all things considered, things are going alright. Our ship is beginning to right itself. Or maybe I just have better sea legs now. Probably a bit of both.

Little Jedi and I are both more thoroughly entrenched in our back-to-school phase. I’ve mostly adjusted to my own schedule, and to my surprise have realized that I like the early days because I’m home by lunchtime, and that feels quite nice. Little Jedi is feeling some stress and frustration at school because of cursive writing, and that concerns me. I don’t quite understand why it’s being taught so early, and instead of starting by tracing the alphabet and learning the individual letters, they already have homework that requires them to write full words in cursive (this is the 2nd week, mind you). So we’ve had our frustrations with that, and homework has been a bit of a challenge so far, but other than that, Little Jedi is enjoying school pretty well this year. The assistant teacher in his classroom was also the assistant teacher in his kindergarten class, and he knows most all of his classmates pretty well already from either kindergarten or 1st grade.

We did have to take a day off this week because he wasn’t feeling well, though. I hadn’t expected to be taking a day off so soon, but he was coughing and sneezing  and feeling pretty poorly, so home we stayed. That threw everything off-kilter a bit, but we’ll get it sorted.

*****

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m still trying to find my writing motivation. I know that I still have things to say, and there are moments when I can think of a thousand different topics, all at once. But getting myself to sit down and do the difficult work of writing is proving to be a difficult task. I’m hoping, though, that once I adjust to this new schedule and we’re able to de-stress because we’ll be on a more even financial footing, I’ll be more able to focus on writing. Also, I’m feeling a bit more like writing now that I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about writing with my students, and I’m sure that will help motivate me. In the meantime, bear with me for regular coffee shares and semi-regular oddments.😀

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Link up your coffee posts below! Just please follow our few little rules:
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2. Posts should be current (written within the week).
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Monday Re-Rerun: 13 Bookish Confessions

1. I have to read things in a sequence. If there’s a Book 1, then I must read it before I read Book 2. This even goes for books that could theoretically stand-alone.

2. I think you can learn a lot about a person by what they’re reading. But I think you can learn even more about a person (and what they think of others) from the books they give as presents.

bookecard

3. I also have a very difficult time not finishing a book. If I start it, I have to know what happens.

4. My favorite book when I was a wee tot was a Golden Book, Where’s Goldie.

wheresgoldie

5. I have a really difficult time reading more than one book at a time. I have always had that problem, even when I was in school. It meant studying had to be carefully scheduled. Now it’s not so bad—I just devour one and move on to another.

6. I absolutely judge books by their covers.

7. I read every single part of a book—the dedication, epigram, introduction, copy, epilogue, acknowledgments, author bio, appendices–if it’s in there, I’m reading it. Unless it’s a reading club guide. Then probably not.

8. Books rarely make me cry or laugh aloud. That’s not to say that I don’t get emotional when I’m reading, because I do. I just don’t tend to manifest those emotions.

9. I’ve had a crush on more than one book character in my lifetime. But none of them have been Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen.

10. If I were a dragon, I would hoard books.

lizardshuffletumblrhoardofbooks

11. I’ve had to learn to like nonfiction, but I now have a serious appreciation for it. I don’t read biographies often, but I do enjoy books on culture and memoirs.

12. I think children’s literature is some of the most powerful and important literature being published.

13. I enjoyed the time I spent picking apart, analyzing, and writing about books as a grad student. I think it made both my reading and writing skills far sharper than they otherwise might’ve been. That said, I don’t miss required reading.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am Tired.

If we were having coffee, I would probably be on my second or third cup. It’s been a helluva a week, and my Friday mornings now start around 5:30 a.m. again. I know that to some of you that doesn’t sound terribly early, but for someone who has mostly been getting out of bed at 9:30 or 10:00 for months now, that’s So Damn Early It’s a Shame. But if I don’t get myself going by then, I don’t get out of the house by 7:00, and if I don’t get out of the house by 7:00, then I get stuck in traffic going across the MS River Bridge (which they’re currently working on, joy of joys), and if I get stuck in traffic on the bridge then I don’t get to my 8:00 class on time. I almost didn’t make it on time the first day, actually. I got myself side-tracked because it was also Little Jedi’s first day of 2nd grade, and before I knew it the clock said 7:20 and I said “oh shit” and ran out the door, coffee and books in-hand.

Aside from that snafu–and one more in which I was late to pick up Little Jedi from school on Wednesday and felt horrible about it–the week was an ok one, though. I’m beginning to get myself into a routine, and I’ve met with all of my classes a few times now. Little Jedi is also getting back into his routine, and he likes his class so far. This year, they’ve introduced an English language class to the schedule, so he’s learning to read and write some English. (To catch up those of you who didn’t realize this–he is in a Spanish immersion program, so his instruction has been almost exclusively in Spanish for kindergarten and first grades.) Of course he can already do quite a bit of reading in English, but he’s enjoying having a school class about it.

Aside from trying to get us all settled into our new routines, we’ve mostly been trying not to feel overwhelmed by the world. There have been torrents of rain over our state, and many of the neighboring parishes are semi or entirely underwater. We’ve not been in danger here, but we have friends and friends’ families who have lost so much. The damage is just unreal. Trillions of gallons of water dropped over the state in a matter of days. Some towns got more rain in 72 hours than Los Angeles did from 2012-2016. The major news outlets might’ve been slow to cover the story, but social media wasn’t. I’ve seen a lot of amazing things this week, but I’ve also seen a lot of devastating things, too.

And so I’ve been retreating into fictional worlds a bit, too, using some of my spare time to finish up the books that I started last week. Of course, now that spare time is shorter at any rate–teaching and making sure Little Jedi gets where he needs to be when he needs to be there have kept me going, and I’ve also had several donations pick-ups and site changes to work on for the nonprofit this week. Meanwhile, we’re gearing up for tonight’s fundraising event for the upcoming comic book adaptation of a screenplay that Sam’s been working on, and he and his co-writer have decided to collect donations for flood victims at the  event, too.

On that note, it’s time for me to get myself in gear. I’ve got a lot to do today and not a lot of time to do it. The coming week should calm down, though! At least…I hope so!

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thelietree

Review: The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.

Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree might just be the best new book I’ve read this year…And I’ve read a lot of books, many of them Very Good Books. But Hardinge’s novel had me from the moment I read about its premise, and a few days after finishing, it still hasn’t let me go.

At the start of Hardinge’s novel, we find ourselves following fourteen-year-old Faith Sunderly and her family as they leave their home and travel to the small island of Vane, where her father and her Uncle Miles are set to join an excavation dig. The year is 1864. We–and Faith–quickly begin to discover that All is Not Well–there may be one or many ulterior motives to the family’s sudden departure from home and arrival on vane, including rumors that some of her father’s greatest finds may have been forgeries. Faith has an insatiable hunger for knowledge–knowledge that is forbidden to her because of her youth and her sex. It is this desire that leads her to her father’s journals and then to the Mendacity Tree, a strange plant that grows when it is fed lies, bearing fruits that uncover truths.

If it sounds wondrous and bizarre, that’s because it is. The premise alone excited me…And then I started reading. Faith Sunderly is maybe one of my favorite girl characters in young adult fiction, and she’s got some rather stiff competition. Faith is everything a girl is not supposed to be in 1864…Clever, curious, passionate, headstrong, and impatient. Time and again, what she wants comes into conflict with what is expected of her, and watching her learn to navigate those waters is fascinating.

Hardinge is really adept at depicting Faith’s interiority despite the 3rd person narration, and the 3rd person narration allows the narrator to make a lot of observations about femininity. Faith’s mother is a flirt and a beauty, using her looks and class to get what she wants. She stands in stark contrast not just to Faith’s father, whose reason and intellect are what drive him, but also to many of the other women in the novel. Watching Faith learn to navigate those separations is the real joy of the novel.

The book does take a while to get going properly, but in its defense, the set-up is rather complex. There are quite a few characters, many of them eventually becoming Pertinent to the Plot, and because the beginning of the novel is fleshed out in this way, the characters are mostly round rather than flat, and the increasingly complex truths that are revealed bear more significance than they might otherwise.

I’m honestly afraid to say too much more for fear of giving away things that are best discovered in the novel itself, but expect me to pop up with more to say about Faith eventually. I’ll just leave you with one of my favorite moments from the book, a realization that Faith has about her mother and about womanhood:

She is just a perfectly sensible snake, protecting her eggs and making her way in the world as best she can.

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#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am Feeling Better

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I’m sorry I missed our usual time this week, and also sorry about that weird thing where the linky closed early last week! There was an issue with my Inlinkz account, and it took me until Monday to get things sorted. Today, we’d probably be curled up on the big purple couch, me with a Sprite or Gatorade instead of coffee. I have been under the weather since late Thursday night, and I just haven’t had the stamina to get everything done and sit down for a chat quite yet. But here I am!

I would tell you that this has been a mixed-bag of a week. It started off wonderfully–the show we attended last weekend was fantastic, and Little Jedi came home Sunday from his dad’s house, so we spent Sunday afternoon hanging out and playing. The beginning of the week was mostly devoted to playing with the kiddo, reading, and relaxing. We watched quite a bit of the Olympic Games, and I started reading The Lie Tree (really fascinating story about a young girl and a tree that tells truths when it is fed lies) and The Hourglass Factory (also a fascinating story, this one about the disappearance of a suffragette and acrobat, Ebony Diamond, and a newspaperwoman’s search for her). Thursday was devoted to running errands, and I was out for most of the day.

Among my my Thursday errands was a meeting with the English department of a local community college, and I’m going to be teaching a few classes there this fall! Everything works out so that I’ll be home before Little Jedi is out of school each day, too, so I’ll be able to walk over, pick him up, and walk home instead of him having to stay in the after-school program, making our pocketbook stay a little heavier and all of us a lot happier. Of course this means that I’m not able to go back to the writing center, which I’d considered doing either where I used to work or at the new college, which also offered me a position tutoring a few hours a week. I don’t think I can manage the schedule though–at least not in a way that still allows me to be home to pick up Little Jedi and keeps time enough for me to write–so I notified those parties of my new schedule. It’s all quite exciting, but since I start on Monday (yes, in like a day and half!!!) I have to get my ass in gear.

And that was my plan for yesterday–write up a coffee post and then get myself working on the syllabus and things I need to do to be ready for Monday–but that was not in the cards. Sometime late Thursday night, I woke up from a nightmare. When I tried to lie back down and go to sleep, the room started to spin, so I sat up, and things were still spinning. I got dizzy and nauseated, and it was very disorienting. I couldn’t lie down without things feeling off-kilter, and looking at anything that suggested movement made my head whirl. I’d never felt anything quite like it, but I can remember being young and my mother having a few inner ear issues that presented similarly. I wasn’t able to do much of anything except sleep yesterday—which was a terrible shame considering how much I needed to do and that I missed a show that we had tickets to, a burlesque Studio Ghibli tribute show.

Today I feel a bit better, but I’m still getting dizzy on occasion. I had Sam drive me to a meeting I needed to attend today in order to avoid me being a danger on the road, and that was A Good Idea, since I spent most of the drive feeling ill. I perked up a bit in the afternoon though and was able to get some work done, but now it’s 9:00 and I’m just finally sitting down to write my coffee share post. Alas!

And now that I’ve said all of that, it’s really time for me to go and see what the kiddos are doing, as Little Jedi has friends over and they’ve been a bit too quiet for a bit too long. The linky will stay open until Monday night 11:55 this weekend, since it’s been such a weird one!

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Link up your coffee posts below! Just please follow our few little rules:
1. Posts should be framed as a chat over coffee or some other beverage.
2. Posts should be current (written within the week).
3. Links go on the link-up, not in the comments section.
4. Comment and share each others’ posts using #weekendcoffeeshare on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday Re-Run: Reading with Wild Things

Last night, we read Biscuit and The Color Kittens and Where the Wild Things Are. Sometimes it’s Clifford or Ninja Turtles or Goodnight, Moon.

The little Jedi at 4

I read banned books. And I read them to my son.

I say this loudly. I wear it like a badge. I write it.

But why?

Because books teach us empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and open innumerable worlds. Because books allow someone who we might never meet, perhaps because they’re on the other-side of the world and perhaps because they’ve been dead 200 years, to speak to us. Because books create a multiplicity of voices in a world that pushes master narratives. Because books show us the capacity of our language. Because there’s pleasure in the forbidden.

Because learning to read and having the freedom to decide what to read are freedoms that have been denied many people based on their gender, race, religion, and socio-economic status. Because one of the tools of oppression is banning literature and language.

And so, I read. I gobble up books. And I’m trying to teach Little Jedi to do the same.

I’ve been reading out loud to him since he was in utero. I’d often read sections of my thesis materials, both my research and my own writing, aloud. And then, when he was born and spent 5 weeks in the NICU, I read aloud to him during visits. And so did his grandparents. We kept books in his part of the unit, and we’d sit in a rocking chair, draped in our hospital gowns to cover our clothes. Sometimes he’d be swaddled and held while we were reading; sometimes we would read aloud through the incubator where he slept. Tiny Jedi on the night of his birth

There was so little we could do for him. But we could read.

So we did. And as he grew a little older, left that place behind, learned to walk, started to speak and think and act, the stories changed. But they were there. They have always been there.

We laugh when Max chases the little white dog at the beginning of Where the Wild Things Are. Max’s dog looks a lot like our little terrier/border collie mix, Tank. But the first time we read it, Little Jedi stopped at that place and said, rather solemnly, “he shouldn’t chase that dog with a fork.” No, Little Jedi, Max should probably not be chasing that dog with a fork. But little boys do sometimes chase their dogs, and they do sometimes run about with things they shouldn’t.

Then, when Max’s room becomes a forest, we’re both always in a bit of wide-eyed appreciation. Sendak’s art is just so good. And when the Wild Things rumpus, Little Jedi usually has a good rumpus as well. But not last night. He was tired, so tired, and he wondered how Max knew the Wild Things didn’t love him best of all, and why they didn’t give Max anything to eat, and whether there wasn’t one with wings to just fly Max back home.

And as always, the return home was Little Jedi’s triumphant moment. More than any other part of the book, he loves the last page, that page empty save the 5 words: “…and it was still hot.” There’s something about that return home and a warm supper waiting for Max that just makes Little Jedi incredibly happy.

And so it makes me happy. I get to talk to Little Jedi about all sorts of things, from monsters to forests to love to running about the house with a fork, and I get to do it by reading him this book that was written in 1963. This book that was already 21, old enough to drink, when I was born, that spawned my own questions about good and bad and monsters and love.

wild thingWhere the Wild Things Are typifies the things that are often banned or challenged about children’s books: a depiction of rage or complex feelings; monsters and/or talking animals; magic; scariness. But the world is already a scary place, and children already have complex emotions. Monsters exist, even if they don’t look like the ones Sendak drew.

Books give us ways to encounter our monsters without cost. They open the doors for conversations. They provide continuity between human experiences when there seems to be none. To ban a book is to silence a voice, to close off a line of thinking and inquiry, to shut out what is difficult and thus what might be most rewarding.

Don’t shut out the Wild Things. Invite them in. Live with them. Read them.

(This post originally ran in September 2014 as a part of the Banned Books Blog Party at Things Matter. Since then, my husband–who knows me so very well–bought me an anniversary present in the form of tattoos, Max on one arm and a Wild Thing on the other. We’ve read Where the Wild Things Are and so many, many more books with Little Jedi. Sometimes he reads to us now. Life mimics art mimics life.)
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#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am About to Be Busy

If we were having coffee, we’d be curled up on the sofa today, and it looks as though we’re in for more rough weather. There’s a bit of sun peeking through, but mostly the sky is grey and cloudy. Poor Tank is settled nearby, hoping that the weather will clear up instead of getting worse. The poor pup doesn’t do well during storms, and so yesterday–which was especially stormy–rather did him in for the week. The storms yesterday were rough enough to spawn a tornado or two in other parts of the city, and power was knocked out for hours in parts of the city, including our house. Hopefully today’s summer storms won’t be quite as rambunctious!

I’m using today to relax a bit, though I’ve got some housework to do at some point. I need to give the bathroom and kitchen a good scrub, and the pup actually needs a bath. He was too traumatized for me to attempt it yesterday, and the earlier part of the week was rather busy. I spent Monday and Tuesday planning and writing, and Wednesday was full of errands that had to be run. I’m trying to get some things wrapped up and a new schedule in place because…I’m going back into academia.

I’m not sure if this is a permanent return to academics, but it might be. I think the important thing is that this time I don’t feel pressure about it, and that might make the difference. When I was academics before, I was so pressured to finish my degree and move on to something more prestigious. This time, it’s just a job, and I don’t feel concerned about doing more than the job itself, which will be tutoring in the writing center tat a university on some days and teaching composition at a community college on others.

Of course, this means I’ve got quite a lot to do in the coming week or two. I have a meeting with the community college next week, when my course schedule will be finalized, and I’ll need to get a syllabus for those courses finished by Monday the 15th, when classes start. I’m probably going to be attending part of tutor training as a senior tutor to help with training (I’ve worked in the writing center before), and tutoring starts in earnest at the end of August. From there, things will be very busy!

This weekend, though, I’m going to spend having fun. Tonight we’ll be hanging out at home and relaxing, but tomorrow night Sam and I are going to see a Neil Gaiman-inspired burlesque show, American Goddesses. I’m looking forward to seeing burlesque interpretations of some of my favorite literary characters, and it’ll be nice to have a night out before a very busy week.

*****

For now, though, it’s time for me to get moving!

Link up your coffee posts below! Just please follow our few little rules:
1. Posts should be framed as a chat over coffee or some other beverage.
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Monday Re-Run: On American Girls and Being a Molly

When I was a child, I was an ugly duckling. I was terribly thin; I had big glasses, and my Mollymom just didn’t know what to do with my uber-curly hair, so she always tried to just blow dry it straight, and I ended up with a fuzzy hairdo. I loved to read, Coke-bottle glasses sliding down my nose as I buried it in a book. I liked to play with my dolls, making up stories None of my dolls looked like me–until I got American Girl doll Molly.

Molly had glasses. Her mousy brown hair was always braided to keep it out of her face. And she had stories. Those stories were historical, yes. I got to learn about WW II in an immersive way. But I felt a connection to this doll after reading how badly she wanted a dog (then, as now, I loved dogs), how fiercely she could love a friend and still be angry with her (I had a friend who stayed with us often because her mother was very ill, and we loved one another but fought when we’d been around one another too much–like Molly and her English friend Emily when Emily is staying to be out of danger), how Molly went to camp and had such fun despite hating bugs and getting poison ivy (I loved camp and the outdoors but hated bugs), and how badly Molly wanted to be the beautiful star of the show (wearing pin curls and removing glasses for the recital bore much resemblance to how badly I wanted to look like the other girls).

SamanthaI don’t remember which of the dolls I got next, but over the years, my parents bought Kirsten, Felicity, and Samantha for me. They always bought the doll and the books; I rarely got any of the additional things that the company sold for the dolls. And honestly, that was fine with me. What I wanted was to play with the dolls and tell their stories. I didn’t need a lot of accouterments for that. I read, and I fixed their hair, and I pretended conversations between them should they ever meet one another. I admired Felicity’s red hair, which I wished I had, and I rejoiced when she got her horse, Penny (much like with dogs, I have always had a soft spot for horses). I was entranced with the way Samantha stood with her friend, Nellie, as she was orphaned and sent to work in a factory. I wept with Kirsten when her friend died on the way to America.

Later, I would question some of these narratives. I would recognize the privilege that is hidden in the packaging. Sure, it looks great to have dolls that are historically placed, who come into contact with the issues of the day and are active rather than passive. And they do some amazing things. My dolls were all white, though. It wasn’t until 1993, seven years and several dolls after the company began (and a little past my collecting days), that Addy, a black girl living during the Civil War, introduced any sense of diversity into the line. And the historical “Looking Back” pieces at the end of the books rarely concentrated on women’s and girls’ history, instead giving a broad-brush approach to the time period. That would’ve worked for an introduction; but for a conclusion to books that had focused so much on the girl, it left her out of history once again. It was disheartening.

And those dolls were—-are—-expensive. They can cost hundreds of dollars with accessories, and even without accessories, just doll and books, they’re generally $100 or so. The company has been purchased by Mattel, and the original dolls have been mostly archived in a “Historical Line” in favor of promoting dolls that are more contemporary. Unsurprisingly, these dolls are mostly white, privileged, and don’t do too much boat-rocking. They’re not tomboys like Felicity, child labor activists like Samantha (or suffragettes like her aunt Cordelia), or escaping, like Addy, from an oppressive system (slavery, just in case that wasn’t clear) to find their family.

I wouldn’t have found anything to identify with in most of the new dolls. I wasn’t blonde, artsy, or all that worried about keeping up with my classmates. I went to a large school in a small town–if you didn’t go to the local private school, you went to the public school, and that was that. I was awkward. I got picked on for my weird hair and big glasses and for being ok with touching mice and hamsters and earthworms and all those things I wasn’t supposed to want to touch. Now there’s nothing wrong with being an Isabelle–with being a blonde at an art school worried about keeping up with your classmates. That just wasn’t me, and it isn’t many other girls. I was a Molly, though I wanted desperately to be a Samantha. I’m still a Molly.

And I can’t help but think of how many American Girls are not represented in that collection–even fewer now than previously, even less emphasis on empowering them, encouraging them to part of large social movements. Where’s our Civil Rights Era doll, or a gay rights advocate? Where are our Native American girls after extended European contact (the one Native American doll, Kaya, has a story that takes in 1764)?  It’s time we see those American girls.

Historical American Girls

(This post originally appeared as part of the A to Z Challenge 2014. In the 2 years since then, the American Girls company has introduced several new dolls, including several non-white characters, expanding their contemporary line. I still wish they were making more historical dolls, especially more historical dolls of color.)