#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am a Wee Lazy

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If we were having coffee, I would invite you in and say hello. I’m probably still yawning and stretching, and the coffee might not actually be made. Perhaps we’ll walk just down the street to Congregation, the little coffee place on the corner, or perhaps we’ll just stay in here where it’s cool and I’ll hop up to make some coffee. Today I’m being a wee extraordinarily lazy, because this week has been a doozy. (Does anyone actually say doozy anymore?–Besides me, I mean.)

I would tell you that this week I finished up the summer semester, grading essays and averaging grades and getting everything in juuust before they were due. I generally try to finish things up at least a day or two in advance, but this time I had lots of trouble getting that done. Little Jedi is back from his dad’s house for the last 2 weeks of July, so I’ve been trying to spend time with him. I also had an interview for full-time teaching that took place halfway through the week, and the preparation and nervousness from that took up quite a bit of my time. (Side note: Not sure if I’ll have the job yet, but I do know that I have a second interview!) And there’s been a fair amount of family stuff going on that has made me both anxious and angry…Things that I’m not ready to talk about here (and may or may not ever be) but that have drained me of energy in all kinds of ways.

*****

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that Little Jedi and I only get this week and next week together out of the whole year. It’s weird, but it’s true. He spends a lot of time with his dad’s family and with my parents–and that’s well and good in the sense that he has lots of people to care about him, but it makes life a little lot more complicated. It’s difficult to plan anything as a family, and it’s frustrating because the other parts of his family don’t really recognize that. During much of the year he is in school, obviously, and during the summer he spends 2 weeks of each month with his dad. Throughout most of the year he’s with his dad every other weekend, and during his Mardi Gras break and spring break he was gone to visit grandparents this year. Sometimes it feels as though he needs his own social calendar, and Sam and I get railroaded into having almost no family time.

So we’ve spent this week mostly hanging out at home, because that’s what he’s wanted to do. We’ve played video games and read and watched YouTube, and he’s had some time to play with his friend and for them to have a sleepover (or two!). On tomorrow, we’re going to the theater to see Kiki’s Delivery Service, and next week I think we’re going to make our way to the aquarium and insectarium and library. In short, we’re going to enjoy our city and one another, because we don’t actually get a lot of free time together to do that.

*****

If we were having coffee, I would ask what you have going on, what your week has been like. So link up your posts below, and don’t forget to use the #weekendcoffeeshare tag on Facebook, Twitter, and here on WordPress!

#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I Am Behind on Literally Everything

weekend coffee share logo hosted at parttimemonsterblog.com

If we were having coffee, I would first apologize for being late…Oops! Generally, I am an on-time sort of person, but today I only had about a million things to do before getting the coffee share going. I definitely meant to work on all of this yesterday, but yesterday turned out to be a Bad Writing Day. I think we all have those days…When the words just won’t show up, no matter how long you look at the blinking cursor or the empty page, and nothing seems to happen quite the way you want it.

Aside from the Bad Writing Day this week, though, the week was a really good one. I finished teaching my summer class, and there are only the final essays to grade in the coming week. Sam was able to work from home this week, so we were able to spend quite a lot of time together, which was far scarcer with his last job.

And on Wednesday night, I was able to attend a book-event for Roxane Gay’s Hunger with my dearest friend, something I’ve been looking forward to for a few months now. She’s one of my favorite current feminist writers, and it was really fantastic to be able to listen to her talk about her writing, pop culture, and her own personal story. She was first interviewed by a local writer on-stage, and afterward the audience was given a chance to ask questions. I had a hundred questions, of course, but I was much too anxious to stand and ask any of them. The questions from other attendees were wonderful though, and led to fun tangents about Lena Dunham, Batman, and avocados (cue collective gasps of horror when Roxane Gay mentioned they were her favorite food, then laughter when the room full of people realized how many other people had the same pearl-clutching reaction to this in a night that included frank conversation about body image, rape, and misogyny.)

I’d read the book before attending, mostly because I saw a copy in the library and couldn’t resist picking it up before attending the event. But now have my own personalized copy of Hunger, and it’s pretty much my favorite possession at this moment.

*****

If we were having coffee, I would try to fill you in on the months that we haven’t talked as much as we once did. The break from grinding out the coffee share each week was a good one, and it was good for me to step away for a little while. I’ve been able to redirect my attention, which had been waning, and now I feel really great about diving back into the community. But of course lots has happened since February!

I would tell you that I chopped quite a lot of my hair off and re-added my pink streak a few weeks ago. I cut about 8 inches of hair, and it was amazing how much lighter I felt—both literally and metaphorically. I have tended to hide behind my hair for quite a long time, and now it’s far too short to hide me. The pink has faded, and the cut is a bit shaggy (oy, short hair takes so much maintenance), so I need to take myself back to the salon. But I think I’m keeping this cut for a while.

In the months that we haven’t talked regularly, I’ve also been super-delighted to welcome a new wee addition to our family, a new little niece. She’s a beautiful little creature, and we’ve been over a few times to visit since she was born. Little Jedi doesn’t particularly like to hold her (she’s wiggly, mom!), but he loves to sit next to her and chatter and to just watch her. The kiddo hasn’t been around a lot of babies, but he does quite love them. I, of course, find all of this amusing and adorable.

We’ve also taken the kiddos to lots of things–well maybe not Baby Fett yet, though I have high hopes that she and her parents will be joining us for things in the future–but Little Jedi and my dearest friends’ kiddos have spent a lot of time hanging out together. We took them to Star Wars Day at the aquarium and free comic book day at our local shop, and they were together so much during Little Jedi’s part of the summer here that they just “switched” houses from day-to-day at one point. It’s difficult to express just how wonderful it is to live in the same city as my childhood friend, to have our children hang out together the way we once did.

*****

If we were having coffee, I would ask how your week has been and what you might get up to in the coming week. I’d remind you to add your link below and to use the #weekendcoffeeshare tag on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress so we can all find each other! ❤

 

#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I am Back Again

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If we were having coffee, I would welcome you back.

I would tell you that I’m glad to have the coffee share returning to Part-Time Monster. It was nice to have a break, and Emily at Nerd in the Brain has been a fantastic host for the last few months. I have missed the community, though. It’s been quite a while since we last had coffee together, and only about half a million things have happened since then…And few of them were the writing that I’d intended to do. I’ve been quiet of late, both because I’ve had trouble motivating myself to write and because I’ve just had so many other things going on that it’s been difficult to find the energy to write. But I’m back now, and the coffee share is returning home, and I’m learning to be tougher on myself so that I can meet my writing goals.

I’ve also been trying some new types of writing and new activities–some with more success than others. I recently read Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, and I’ve also got a few other creativity-oriented books on my TBR list. Barry’s book was really fascinating from a visual and a cognitive perspective: her book looks like a composition notebook, and in it she has collected notes, syllabi, lesson plans, and drawings from her classes. I’ve been using some of her exercises to help me begin to journal again, hoping that handwriting and coloring and drawing will facilitate my creativity and put some fun back into the idea of writing every day, which is a habit I am trying desperately to get back to. I’ve also created a FB group of some friends and former classmates who want to work on being more productive, and we have weekly check-ins with one another and often commiserate. It helps, especially now that I’m several years out of grad school, which was a very productive time for me from a writing perspective because I was constantly surrounded by discussions about writing–what it means, how to do it better, how to teach it, etc.

*****

If we were having coffee, you’d probably hear a fair amount of whinging from me. Life has gotten a bit complicated, what with the kiddo gone quite a bit of the summer and attempting to juggle his schedule and my own schedule plus Sam’s schedule, too. And if that weren’t enough, there’s my ever-present battle with my allergies. Despite taking a nasal spray and an antihistamine daily, I’m *still* sniffling, and the sniffling/sneezing gets my asthma going.  Despite my whinging, though, life is actually pretty swell. It’s looking up, and finally I can start seeing my way through some of the obstacles I’ve encountered over the last few years in my writing and personal lives.

******

And if we were having coffee, I’d stop now and listen to you, dear hearts, you who I have missed so much recent. Welcome back–we’ll be here next week. Same Bat-time, same Bat-station.

Feminist Friday: Seduce the Playboy: On Overcoming Homonormativity in Yuri!!! on Ice

Editor’s Note: Today’s Feminist Friday post comes from L.M. of The Lobster Dance and I’ll Make It Myself, who I’m very happy to have here with us to chat during Pride Month. In zir discussion of  Yuri!!! on Ice, L.M. shines a light on the ways that homonorativity has dictated media representation of relationships between queer characters and shares the joy of a work that overcomes this by representing a relationship between genderfluid characters.


Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 11.37.43 PM

Screenshot of Viktor hugging Yuuri before a performance, saying “I love pork cutlet bowls.”

Or, why Yuri!!! on Ice hops off the relationship escalator, disrupts homonormativity, and I CLOSE MY EYES AND TELL MYSELF THAT MY DREAMS WILL COME TRUE

Mild spoilers throughout up to episode 4, major spoiler at end.
[Read more…]

How Being a Picky Eater Feeds My Anxiety

Confession time: I’m a picky eater.

…And I don’t just mean that there are a few thing that I don’t like or that I’m a little bit picky. I mean I’m a really, really picky eater, and there are lots of things that I just don’t like. I don’t like peas or beans or tomatoes or sushi or eggs cooked any way except scrambled. I hate steamed vegetables. Mushrooms make me shudder.

This is not new. I’ve always been a picky eater–there are photos of little baby me, spitting out mashed peas and carrots and making weird faces at tomatoes. Occasionally someone could convince me that a food I didn’t eat was something that I actually did eat (family legend has it that as a toddler I ate fried fish because I was told it was fried hot dogs)  in an effort to get me to broaden my horizons, but that was not an oft-tried or oft-successful tactic. For a long time I wouldn’t eat things that were “delicious” because my brother told me that peas were delicious, and I hated them so very much that I was convinced that the word “delicious” meant “horrible” instead.

At some point, my mother and father stopped fighting with me about what I was going to eat for dinner, because they had already raised two children, one of them also a picky eater. They also seemed to recognize that I would’ve gone hungry rather than eat something I didn’t like. I know this is true because I had an aunt who wouldn’t let us have a snack later unless we finished all the dinner on our plates. At her house, I would sometimes go hungry because I would not eat what was on my plate.

And here’s the thing…I wasn’t, and I am not, just being a brat. The truth is far more complicated, and it has had a profound affect on my life–my relationships with other people and my relationship with food, hence my relationship with my own body.

You see, certain textures of food actually make me feel ill, physically ill. Like those peas and beans I mentioned? The texture of a bite of peas or beans triggers my gag reflex. I don’t necessarily understand how or why, but that tends to make them difficult to even begin to like. So, while I hear a lot about things that are an “acquired taste,” I’ve never really known what that was like from an eating perspective. It’s pretty difficult to learn to like something that makes you feel like you just might vomit every time you take a bite.

And boy is that a load off my chest to admit…Because I’ve been made fun of for it almost all of my life, and I really and truthfully wish that my relationship with food were different. My picky eating has caused arguments and sadness and endless amounts of frustration and anxiety. Because even though my parents weren’t hard on me about how I was eating, other people in my life haven’t always quite as kind.

And you should know that here in the deepest parts of the American South, food is a way of life. There was food at church, food at my grandmother’s house, food at family reunions and backyard barbecues. There were family dinners and breakfasts and brunches. So. Many Brunches. Everyone here loves a potluck, tables piled high with casseroles and cooked vegetables and meat….And when I sat down with a plate that had a few pieces of turkey, a buttered roll, and a bit of macaroni and cheese but nothing else, there were always snarky comments and laughter. Every time we sat down together to eat, comments were made about what I was eating, about what I was not eating. And while I desperately wanted those comments to go away, I found them preferable to the kinds of embarrassment I might suffer if one of those foods actually did make me sick.

So I started to work around having to eat with other people, trying to control as much of the environment as I could. I was lucky enough to like a few basic things–chicken and burgers, french fries and chips–that could be found at most any restaurant in some shape or fashion and that were often on the pot luck table. If I couldn’t control the menu or was going to a place that might not have anything I would eat, I’d often eat a bit beforehand (not enough to be full, so that I could be polite and eat at least a small something). Alternately, I would arrange to arrive once everyone had eaten or find a reason to leave before food was served. This way, I didn’t have to deal with rude comments or nosy people. I could, instead, focus on having fun with the people I was spending time with.

I became The Girl Who Never Ate or The Girl Who Ate Like a Bird. All of this was even more darkly comic because I am a chubby girl–even at my lightest, I was still a solid size 8/10 with curves, so there were always smug looks and occasional derisive laughter with those comments about what was on my plate.

Over the years, my relationship with food, with eating, created a spiral of frustration and sadness and fear. As a teen and young adult, especially, my food issues wreaked havoc on my physical and mental health. Food became something secret. It became something I was ashamed of, a bad habit. I ate alone, and I ate too much.  I ate things that were bad for me–because the unfortunate truth was that many of the healthiest foods were the foods that created the most anxiety, the textures I disliked and dreaded the most.  I gained weight, packing on about 75 pounds in my 8 years of college/grad school. The weight gain made me feel worse about my body, worse about food and more self-conscious about eating unhealthy foods in front of other people. This level of discomfort with food and with my own body were a kind of self-perpetuating cycle, feeding my depression and anxiety disorder. I’d feel anxious about going out and eating with other people, then my self-isolation would add to my depression.

I’ve been trying, since I first understood the nature of my disordered eating (because that’s what it is, really and truthfully) to expand my palate. This is difficult because there are emotional, psychological, and physical components to my relationship to food. In addition to being aware of the texture issues I have with some foods, I know now that, at least in part part, I have been mimicking my mother, who was constantly trying to lose weight and who had a tendency to try to hide when she ate junk food. But I now I do eat a lot of foods that I would not have eaten when I was younger, and I eat with other people more often.

I recognize that I have created a situation in which food, already culturally symbolic in so many ways, is personally symbolic. Most importantly, perhaps, I have learned to be patient with myself and to ignore snarky comments from people who cannot possibly understand how and why I am being brave when I nibble a slice of tomato.

Why I Have to Look away from The Handmaid’s Tale Sometimes, and Why That’s a Good Thing

Last week, as I was watching “A Woman’s Place,” the sixth episode of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I was struck with a realization: I had not watched a single episode of the show without flipping through the social media feeds on my phone or my laptop simultaneously. So I started to think about why…Why might I might be avoiding focusing myself entirely on this show, a show that I gave high praise to and found fascinating for so very many reasons?

The answer was deceptively simple: I was, in fact, avoiding focusing myself entire on this show in order to avoid the trauma of doing so. As a woman, the show terrified me. So I did what I do when I need a distraction…I pulled up a social media feed that I could passively scroll through or easily put aside while I was watching, redirecting my attention when my psyche could not (would not) devote itself to the images on the screen.

I promptly expressed this opinion on Facebook with a short status update, written while I was watching that sixth episode. And then something happened. Other people (mostly, though not entirely, women) start expressing similar opinions. They also had a difficult time watching the show, and some of them felt unable to watch at all. It turns out, there were quite a lot of us who agreed that the show is well done, the story well plotted, but perhaps so well plotted and shown at such a frightening moment in American history (though not just American, I’m reminded, as I see the news of the Manchester attack, so obviously an attack on girls) that to actively watch the show is to feel an open wound be poked and prodded for approximately an hour at a time.

To watch The Handmaid’s Tale, we must confront our current situation, must confront past atrocities, too. Although in some ways the premise of HT is speculative fiction, casting forward and asking “what if” questions, in other ways the work is a reflection of past horrors. Atwood has said as much:

I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents.

To watch The Handmaid’s Tale, I must confront a world in which all of these things have happened, are happening, will happen.

And maybe it’s selfish, maybe it’s just human, I don’t know…It’s most certainly indicative of my position of privilege and my position in history that I don’t regularly worry about these things…But as I watch, I do wonder. I wonder what I would do if it were my child torn away from me; if it were my husband shot by police, presumed dead; what if it were my body forced to endure the cold, casual rapes of the Ceremony and bear children in a world where most births result in death.

In Gilead, there is only room for the white and the privileged, the able-bodied. I’m inclined to also attribute the overwhelming whiteness of the community to this kind of thinking as well, but as Angelica Jade Bastien points out in an excellent piece for Vulture, it’s a bit difficult to say if this is intentional or just a result of the “colorblind casting of the show.” In a more concrete way, we are assured of that differences are not welcome in Gilead when Ofglen is caught in a same-sex relationship. She is called a “gender traitor” and forced to watch as her lover is executed, then sent to be tortured. Ofglen isn’t executed because, as a childbearer, she is too valuable to execute. We are again assured of Gilead’s low-tolerance for differences during the banquet scene in “A Woman’s Place.” Serena Joy forces Aunt Lydia to send home the girls who bear obvious marks of their punishments, the “bruised apples,” refusing them admission to the party in order to preserve the appearance that the handmaids don’t mind being treated like walking wombs.

And that is a difficult thing to focus my attention on. My medical history of severe preeclampsia, delivery by C-section at 32 weeks, makes it likely that any pregnancy would involve similar issues. At a time when maternal deaths in the U.S. are on the rise and healthcare is becoming more and more difficult for women to access, the idea of another pregnancy is, frankly, terrifying. My first pregnancy could’ve easily resulted in my death or the death of my child. Almost did, in fact. The specialist I was sent to in my 30th week not only did not send me to the hospital when he found that my diastolic BP was over 200, but he did not even report this to my OB. When I tested positive for protein in my urine and told her what my BP had been, she had me go directly to the hospital, where a group of nurses hovered over me and pumped me full of magnesium sulfate, administering steroid shots that would develop my child’s lungs enough for him to breathe without assistance when he was born almost a full 8 weeks before he was supposed to be.

In a place like Gilead, where medical care is next to nonexistent, my child and I would not have lived. In this world, as it exists, if I did not have access to the medical care that I was given, my son and I would have died. As it was, we were lucky enough to have a good doctor and for me to have good insurance that covered almost all of my birth expenses, leaving us with less than 2K to pay off from my hospital stay and surgery. The bills for my son, who spent 5 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, would have been astronomical, but we were lucky that he was eligible for assistance. One set of parents were not so lucky–they had been billed for hundreds of thousands in medical bills for the one of their twins that had died shortly after delivery and were caring for the twin who clung to life. Another baby, almost ready to go home one day, was back on a ventilator the next day. Those were days of tiny triumphs and gaping sadness, the NICU a place that was all at once beautiful, fragile, resilient, clinical, and strange. And that NICU was a place that would not exist in Gilead.

There is no room for the fragile in Gilead, no room for those who need a little help. No room for difference, either. There’s no room for art or books or magazines or medicine or technology. Offred’s claustrophobic world, her vision literally limited by her bonnet, metaphorically by the strict parameters governing where she can go and when, those things leave no room for what does not fit the status quo. It is this claustrophobia, this insistence on woman as womb that is perhaps the core of the issue, the reason I cannot focus my entire self on the entire show. But this is indicative of something the show is doing right rather than something it is doing wrong. I should be frightened of that, and I am.

 

For Towel Day, a Fun Animated Clip of Douglas Adams on the Invention of the Book

Happy Towel Day! Here’s hoping you’re having a good one. I’m finally getting back down to some writing again—I had a bit of a hold-up this week but am getting back on track! Anyway, here’s a bit of fun for you, Douglas Adams on the invention of the book with animation by Gavin Edwards.  The animation is fantastic,  and Douglas Adams (a proponent of technology and among the first hypertext and transmedia experimental writers) is charming, funny, and quite prophetic about how we would come to use e-books.

 
I’ll be back tomorrow with a new feminist Friday post, and keep your eyes open for some more guest posts in that series in the coming weeks. I’ll also be writing about some of these other books I’ve been reading and shows I’ve been watching. In the meantime, always remember your towel!

 

The Monster Returns.

Hello darlings.

It’s been a while, far longer than I would have liked for it to be. That is, I didn’t intend for there to be a radio silence over the past few months, nor did I intend to still have comments from January that are unanswered.

But life…Got in the way. The combination of emotional and psychological circumstances of the last few months built up and led to a kind of writing paralysis. I didn’t respond to comments, didn’t write, didn’t actually do much looking at this spot at all. I thought about it—Oh I thought about it often, feeling guilty about the back-log and wishing that I could get myself back into the habit of writing…But also not knowing what to say.

In a world where everything feels constantly on the brink of destruction, I thought, how could I, why would I, be self-indulgent enough to think that my writing, my tiny blog, mattered? Why would pop culture commentary and talk of mental illness and anecdotes about parenting actually matter? Instead of creating, I immersed myself in the writing of others. I gobbled up book after book, comic after comic, show after show. I engaged in online debate via social media channels, but I didn’t write, not really.

Mostly, I just lost myself. I let the words of others wash over me, let them frighten and amuse and bolster me. I let them heal me.

And I suppose that this wealth of things I’ve read and watched over the last few months is what has finally led me to wanting to write again. I’ve remembered that creating something matters…Whether the thing is a fiction or a nonfiction, a representation or a reality, creation matters. As I watch Get Out and Kubo and the Two Strings, American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale, as I read It and The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and Monstress, Saga and Rat Queens and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, I can only be reminded just how very much our pop culture matters. The stories we tell are are important, and we absolutely should talk about them, hold them up and decide how they complicate, reflect, and refract our cultural narratives.

I’ve read smart writings about many of the works I’ve immersed myself in, writings that critique the presentation of the subjects and the subjects themselves. I’m fascinated by finding out what other people think about things, what they see that I don’t see. At some point, because I wasn’t an academic, I stopped being the person who wrote those things. But now I think that maybe being an academic doesn’t have all that much to do with whether or not you’re a doctor or currently taking classes in an organized and recognized institution. Maybe it’s more about using academic methods and applying them…Researching and hypothesizing and writing, creating arguments and supporting them with evidence.

Either way, it’s time for me to start again–about pop culture and about my illness and just about life in general. Because what I’ve found is that I need to write. I need to talk about my own experiences and to keep allowing others to use this space in the same way. I have to talk about my mental illnesses…A probable diagnosis of biploar type 2, definite diagnoses of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I also have to talk about the difficult things–old traumas and new, the current political situation as well as current literature, film, and TV. I need to talk, and this is the best place to talk.

And so the Monster returns.

On Turning 33

A few weeks ago, I turned 33. Sam and Little Jedi and I had lovely dinner together and some scrumptious cake, but mostly things were calm and relaxed. Very different from some of my past birthdays (pleasantly so!), but I did find myself contemplating birthdays past and thinking about age and aging. Age is, after all, just a number, and what we consider “old” has changed drastically over the centuries and across cultures. Thirty-three, at this point, is still pretty young.

But our thirties are an age that we expect to see people doing certain things by. I see lists all the time about “30 things to do before you’re 30” or “20 things to do in your 20’s.” Of course, many of these listicles are lighthearted, and many of them revolve around life experiences. Although these lists are often gendered, they are much more expansive than they might once have been. But they’re still expectations–and they are gendered. Now I’m not saying that goals and expectations are inherently bad things. On the contrary, goals are often ways of categorizing what we most want to achieve with the finite amount of time we have, and expectations can be powerful motivators. It’s basing goals on an age and gender that I dislike.

At 33, I find myself: married to a wonderful man; the mother of a beautiful, smart, and emotionally astute 7 year old. I own my car, and even if I do rent my home, it’s a lovely one in New Orleans; I’ve had the chance to travel in Europe and throughout much of the U.S. So what if I don’t own a home or if I am still paying off student loans? Does it really matter that I still can’t wing my eyeliner or that I’m not trying too hard to avoid getting wrinkles? Who really cares if I can’t plan and cook a 5 course dinner party? Why do we evaluate ourselves by this kind of criteria?

So in the spirit of the day, I offer you short list of all the things that I think you should do, not before you’re 30, but just…Whenever you are, whomever you are, and however you are:

1. Make an effort to stop internalizing what the lists say. You’re probably never going to completely stop caring about some of this stuff, because we are immersed in gender and age expectations from the time we are born. Recognize that because of culture you WILL feel pressured by lists, by film and media, and even by people you know. Listen to those voices, but don’t let them become your voice.
2. We’re done here.

Cajun Mardi Gras: Courir de Mardi Gras

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is the last in a short series of guest posts from Harry Parsons, who I am excited to have posting about Mardi Gras history and tradition this year. Today, Carnival officially comes to a close with Mardi Gras, and tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, begins Lent. Harry is the content manager at Arcadia Publishing. While he spends most of his time being a bookworm, he enjoys anything outdoors especially if it involves the water.

mg4

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Mardi Gras, what comes immediately to mind? If you’re like most people, you instantly picture sparkling multi-colored beads, colorful parades, and New Orleans brass band music, all enjoyed over a po’ boy or a steaming dish of jambalaya. However, while those are all unmistakable staples when it comes to a proper Fat Tuesday celebration, there’s a lot more to Mardi Gras than immediately meets the eye.

In Cajun Country, it’s all about Courir de Mardi Gras, instead – a time-honored rural tradition that takes Fat Tuesday to an entirely new level. What is Courir de Mardi Gras? Who celebrates it, what does a celebration entail, and when did the tradition first begin? Let’s take a look at closer look at the answers to all of those questions and many more.

What Is Courir de Mardi Gras?

Courir de Mardi Gras can be roughly translated as “run of Mardi Gras.” However, that “run” has absolutely nothing to do with attending a parade. It doesn’t involve waving your arms in the air in the hopes of catching a string of beads or another small gift as it’s flung from a float, either.

Courir de Mardi Gras finds participants temporarily transforming themselves into beggars. They dress up in costumes but not the colorfully elaborate ones that characterize a standard Mardi Gras celebration. Instead, it’s calico rags and homemade fringe all the way. Revelers also often wear hand-painted homemade masks constructed from wire mesh.

They then go door to door while dancing and drinking. (The end goal is to collect the ingredients for a nice big pot of gumbo.) They also sing and play music as they go. Musicians that play guitar, accordion, or fiddle often accompany the party of beggars. One reveler acts as a captain, keeping everyone in check and giving orders.

Courir de Mardi Gras begging parties can vary greatly in size. Some are only a few dozen people strong, while others can number in the hundreds. Many folks travel along the pre-planned route on foot, but some travel in trailers or wagons pulled by tractors or horses instead. The action (including the drinking) begins in the early morning and continues on through the day and evening.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What Are the Origins of Courir de Mardi Gras?

According to Cajun historians, Courir has its origins in rural medieval France. In Catholic medieval Europe, going begging from house to house was considered socially acceptable behavior, as most of the money in the land was in the hands of the wealthier, well-to-do citizens. When the poor would run short on food and resources in the winter, they’d gather and go door to door, asking for charity in exchange for a song or dance.

Organized begging parties were naturally common ways to celebrate special occasions, Mardi Gras included. This same custom is also the root of other traditional European customs like mumming, wassailing, or caroling.

Although the history of Mardi Gras in the United States is somewhat hazy, it’s generally accepted that both the holiday and many of the traditional ways to celebrate had become long-standing traditions by the mid-nineteenth century. Just as the urban sector of New Orleans with its Creole and Anglo-American elites developed traditions like balls, elaborate parades, and lavish parties, working class Cajun communities celebrated with the Courir.

Until World War II, the Courir de Mardi Gras celebration was mostly dominated by men. However, the 1950s would see organized bands of masked women also roaming the country in various regions. (After women entered the workforce during the war, it’s not surprising that they wanted to participate in other commonly male-dominated activities as well.)

Courir de Mardi Gras Today

Today, there are approximately 30 different versions of the Courir celebrated. However, they can typically be distinguished by the way the revelers travel. As touched on above, some travel completely on foot. Others ride horses or travel in wagons. A Courir group can be made up of all different sorts of people as well. Some groups are all male, while others are all female. Many, many groups are mixed gender. In recent years, groups made up entirely of children have also become common.

Some Courir celebrations are also distinguished by the use of whips to help maintain order among the travelers. (The whippings are not violent in any way.) Many scholars believe the whipping is a throwback to the pre-Christian Roman festival of Lupercalia which found participants gently whipping women, crop fields, and livestock as a type of fertility blessing. Some Courir traditions find participants willingly enduring their whippings while others call for attempts to take the whip away from the group’s captain.

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The Role of the Hosts

Of course, it’s only natural to wonder if the folks new to Courir de Mardi Gras know what to expect from the event. As a matter of fact, they do. Each stop on a Courir route is preplanned, and each host is almost always expecting the group to arrive. The captain of the group also gets the final okay from the host when they arrive and is also in charge of making sure the (by then) very drunk travelers don’t misbehave or damage their property.

As touched on above, each house traditionally gives the group an ingredient for a gumbo that will be made and enjoyed communally later on that night. Examples may include rice, carrots, okra, or other vegetables. However, the final ingredient is the most noteworthy, as well as the highlight of the celebration – a chicken, often a live one.

While the beggars collect the ingredients for the gumbo, the rest of the community enjoys a festival while they wait. Typical Courir de Mardi Gras festivals feature a bounty of delicious Cajun food – everything from boudin, to backbone stew, to succulent bayou crawfish, to pork cracklings. There is typically plenty of music, singing, dancing, crafts, and other popular forms of family-friendly fun to boot. Sounds like quite a way to celebrate!