Wednesday
Jan242018

Things I didn't realize I'd feel or think about after my dad died 

I guess it never occurred to me that when my dad died, all of the things that I gave him or that were in his care would then be in mine. The holiday cards I sent him, most of which he kept, are now on a shelf in my closet. The cat I adopted, who he cared for over a decade, is living in my partner Margaret’s studio until she can acclimate to our house. Also that olive tree I got my parents when my dad was recovering from a fall and my mom came to take care of him for a few weeks until he could get back on his feet. They'd been seperated since I was in elementary school but a few winters ago they lived together in his apartment. I thought it was funny to send that tree. Olive branch. Peace. Anyway, it’s mostly dying on top of my fridge now. 

Actually I have a lot of his plants. I took them all. The ones at his office, the ones from home. A few days before he died he mentioned he wasn’t sure he wanted to keep taking care of them anymore – too much trouble. This felt out of the blue and terrifying. “He must be dying,” I morbidly thought. 

I never realized how obsessed I'd become with his body being gone, the fact of his actual body. I was the last person to touch him alive and the first person to touch him dead. I hugged him goodnight, and found him in his bedroom the next morning under the deafening silence of a white noise machine, a body. We watched the West Wing, he went to bed and two days later his body was ashes in a box. I have most of his ashes (my sister took some). There are ongoing talks with the family about what next. But I don’t feel like he is that box of ashes. I feel like he was a person in a body on this earth and now his body is gone and so is he. I somehow never thought about how after he was gone I'd still be alive. I realize this is absurd. But it’s true. I never actually felt the feeling of, “my dad died yesterday but I’m still in a body alive today.” It’s bizarre and disorienting. And it seems the death of a man who joked about how “glad” he was I had rearranged his library and put the Good Book on eye level just a few days before he died is perhaps especially unsettling. To put it simply: I don’t find comfort when people tell me he is in a better place and I'll see him again and while I guess there are many other people who find themselves in this conundrum it has certainly thrown me. I didn’t really think about how lonely that is before, at least not in this way.

Of course there are all of the questions I can’t ask him I think about now that seem obvious. Or those questions I couldn’t have had until now. Like about the stories his brother and sister have told me about his relationship with his dad. I have a lot of questions about that. It never occurred to me he wouldn’t be here to tell me what he thought about what other people said about him. Not that he would’ve told me. In his last week I actually did ask him about his relationship with his dad and he simply said, “He was a hard man to please.” I believe him. I believe it shaped the way he tried to behave with me after I moved in with him during high school following years of being unable to get along or go along elsewhere. 

It never occurred to me how silly and pointless some things feel in grief. My dad joked he had CDO (OCD, but in the right order). It physically hurts to think of all of the time he spent worrying about little things, such a dumb way to spend a mere 69 years of life. And of course it bothers me so much because I do it all the time too. Being annoyed by a cashier or frustrated by the way I organized a cabinet. Who cares? We’re all dying.

I never understood how sideways long held resentments from close family members can go after someone dies. I’m now realizing that’s the plot of more than half of the movies about funerals, but until my dad died I never got how miserable that could be. The window of connection that comes from the shock and vulnerability of death can be slammed on your fingers in a matter of days from those who aren’t ready to sit with it.

Some of the things I’ve thought over the past two months include:

“In 20 years my dad will still be dead.”

“Why did I worry about my dad when he was putting his hand in that garbage disposal? Two weeks later he’d have no hand.”

“I hope I don’t kill all of my dad's plants.”

“I wish I could figure out the password to my dad's iMac.” 

I didn’t expect to inherit his car and decide to learn to drive again. I’ve had a license since I was 16. He taught me how to drive and I never really drove again because it was so stressful. I lived in NYC and Boston and didn’t need to drive anyway. But now his car sits in our driveway in Providence and Margaret says she may get me driving lessons for my birthday and soon I'll learn how to drive again at 34 (or maybe 35). 

I haven't let money or income dictate my life and a large part of the reason I've had that luxury is because my dad worked until the day he died. A few days after he died Margaret drove my sister, mother and I to his office to gather his things. I met a few of the people he worked with who all said kind things. Many of them knew me because of the stories he'd tell about me. While I was working as a dog walker in NYC during my BA and MA programs I'd call him everyday to talk about my canine clients. They knew a lot of those stories. “Are you the one who walked dogs?” someone asked. I never realized I’d never been in the building where he made those calls until I was.

I just never expected to feel like he wasn’t  - anywhere. To feel: we die and then there is nothing and it’s infuriating. I knew he would die. I met his heart doctor in August and said to him, “Thank you for keeping him alive” realizing in the moment I said it that we both were thinking about him dying or dead. Because we knew his heart would fail, and then it did. I had the call with the doctor’s receptionist about his time of death to go on his death certificate less than six months after that handshake with his doctor. 

Because the universe has a sense of humor I'd just moved him into a new apartment over the Thanksgiving break and gone through nearly all of his belongings with him the week he died. It was a gift, I know. The chances of me being there in the same apartment when he died were so small considering I’ve lived apart from him since I left Kentucky to go to college. But there I was. 

 I didn't anticipate the sadness that comes from losing someone so close to so much of my pain, who could appreciate it as much as me. I feel like I know myself less without being able to talk to him. The history (or lived memory of it outside of my own) of someone knowing me at my worst, through all of my failures to then really appreciate my successes is gone. He was there for me at my worst. And then I made amends. I know he was proud of me. And now he won’t be here to see where I go. It also makes me shake my head and laugh and wonder who we're trying to prove things to anyway because everyone dies. Maybe that’s how the anger aspect of grief is manifesting in me -- as a sick, fated humor.

And I don’t think I realized I'd feel the need to write and say that he died so often as a way to make sure I know it’s real. Or how much documenting the experience of his loss would mean. I’m not sure why it does, but it does. On the one hand it feels so immediate, but really it’s forever. Actually, that probably best summarizes what I didn’t realize I'd think about death. Here we are, so suddenly somehow, forever.

Picture my dad took at the Krohn Conservatory, August 2013

 

 

Wednesday
Dec272017

My Writing Top 10 of 2017

This year in writing was predominantly defined by my dissertation project that persists, always on my mind in one way or another. I allowed myself two years for the dissertation research and writing so with this timeline in mind I'm planning to finish and defend the dissertation next year. But this year I've also found time to publish a few articles and begin to imagine a life post-dissertation defense while applying to a number of fellowships. The 10 projects that stand out the most to me in looking back on this past year include:

  1. I wrote my teaching philosophy and received feedback from over a dozen academics at the ISA teaching pedagogy workshop.
  2. I published the piece "Queering women, peace and Security in Colombia" to the Queer/ing In/Security section in Critical Studies on Security about how sexual orientation and gender identity matter to peace and security work.
  3. I completed and then transcribed all of my interviews for my dissertation research! 
  4. In published a piece for the Establishment about being a queer femme feminist and the (my first!) tattoo I got last year. 
  5. I applied to many things with long applications, including four post-doctoral fellowships. I have learned one was not successful but I will continue to learn about the rest in 2018. 
  6. In November I learned that my application to a fellowship was successful: beginning next semester I will serve as a Topol Fellow working on the Topol Peace Data Initiative at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Continuing to apply for things after rejections that came earlier in 2017 makes me especially grateful for the successful application to this fellowship.
  7. I wrote an article for Rewire about abortion as a human rights using Ireland as a case study.
  8. I wrote an article for NYLON on why people shouldn't host counter-protests at Planned Parenthood.
  9. I was part of a series of posts about sexual violence in higher education for Conditionally Accepted. I contributed a piece about the need to address gendered assumptions and think intersectionally about sexual violence when discussing it in the classroom. 
  10. I passed the half-way point in my dissertation draft and am scheduled to complete the draft in March.

My plate is already full when it comes to projects for 2017. I'm currently in the middle of two different book chapter drafts, half-way through the dissertation and have two more book chapters to work on before the summer. As I mentioned I'm also going to be working as a Topol fellow most likely creating a tool-kit intended for researchers and activists.

While I have many deadlines and goals before me I know the only way I remain motivated to do this work is by connecting with community, online and off. Here's to being grateful for the miracle of everyday and to showing up again the next day. 

 

 

Thursday
Dec212017

About that question "Do you want to teach?" you keep asking me

A photo from a guest lecture I gave at Julliard this yearMost of us are trained to answer yes to the question if we're going to bother to apply for doctoral programs, even knowing many of us 1) don't want to teach and 2) won't find jobs doing so even if we do. I'm in my fifth and final year of my doctoral program and the question still catches me off guard. It sets off so many different and repeating thoughts my mental response borders on a fugue state. Yes. Sometimes? Depends. Invariably I end up saying some version of "Yes, but..."

I didn't apply to any academic teaching jobs this year. There are a number of reasons for this decision but to put it most bluntly: I didn't want to do that to myself yet.

I follow enough queer feminist academics on Twitter to know that once you jump into that deep end of the academic job market -- expressing your want to actually be paid for the work you trained  for and do so well -- you don't come back unscathed. 

You get a job. You teach a 3/4 teaching load and don't have time to do your research. Or you work a 4/4. You aren't tenure track. You are tenure track but then you're denied tenure. You move to a remote place and don't have any community. You teach hundreds of students who are taking out loans for classes and look to you to be their therapist. You are a first year instructor and a guy wears a "Make America Great Again" hat in the class posturing in an incredibly agressive manner in the class and you don't know who to ask for support because, well, you're a first year instructor. Some mix of all of these. Or you apply for a job for two, three, four years and don't get a job. So you quit, either the job or the job search. And then, since you're academic, you write about it. There is now a whole genre of quit lit. Google it. An entirely new career path has also sprung up: teaching the webinars and workshops to the all the unemployed PhDs trying to figure out what to do with their degrees that are entirely unmarketable in academia. (This career path is on my list of back up jobs to be totally honest.) 

So what is a published, political, soon to be PhD queer feminist to do? 

Given what has happened in my personal life in the past month alone it turns out that not going on the job market and focusing on post-doc applications (which is definintely a job in and of itself) was a wise decision. Even prior to the death of my father and learning my cat is dying of cancer our political climate had so solidly knocked the wind out of me I knew it was smart to give myself another year to prepare for the academic job market battleground. But of course the question comes.

Part of the reason I'm reflecting on teaching in this moment is because I had the opportunity to join a pedagogy workshop at the International Studies Association Northeast conference last month. When I sent in my application to the workshop it was an exercise in curiosity and exploration. What class would I teach if I could design my own syllabus? What is my teaching philosophy? I typed them up and sent them in with my six page C.V. I was first on the waitlist for the workshop. Someone dropped out, I joined in. Eagerly I participated in two days of workshopping about the project of teaching international relations with professors and doctoral students. It made me excited, even hopeful, to be in the classroom. I was in the right place after all.

At this point in my teaching career I've worked as a teaching assistant in a few classes and given a number of guest lectures but haven't been a lead instructor yet imposter syndrome makes me to believe that this means I still don't know what it means to teach and whether or not I know I like it. But the reality is that I do indeed know how to teach and am good at it. 

Knowing all that I know about the job market, at the heart of it I thought resistance to saying yes to teaching came from the fear of facing the rejection of wanting something I might not get.  But actually, being in that pedagogy workshop reminded me that my frustration came not from the question of whether or not I want to teach but from the fact that I know I do. Because I am a teacher. 

So yes, I want to teach. 

Saturday
Nov112017

Reflecting on the "Conditionally Accepted" series about sexual violence

Earlier this year Eric Anthony Grollman put out a call for contributions. Eric wanted to use their column "Conditionally Accepted" as a space to interrogate sexual harassment and assault and higher education.

Eric writes:

Apparently, we do not want to hear survivors, we do not want to believe them, we do not want to recognize them as credible sources on their own experiences. So they have to find their own spaces to share their stories. (See also this Washington Post series.)

So in the spirit of amplifying the voices of the marginalized, “Conditionally Accepted” will feature guest blog posts about sexual violence over the next six months. Yes, we are devoting half the year to this oh-so-important topic, though we know six months is hardly enough. Several guest bloggers from different career stages and academic and social backgrounds contributed to our call for blog posts on rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and intimate partner violence in higher education. Some people reflect on a personal experience, some offer teaching and research tips, and others offer advice for effectively supporting survivors and ending campus sexual violence.

This series of blog posts will certainly not solve all the issues, but it is at least one way to amplify the voices of survivors -- and, to be certain, that is an important first step.

My contribution to the column was published earlier this month. In my piece I wrote about how assumptions about gender must be challenged in discussions about survivors and perpectrators of sexual violence. But after it was published it made me curious to look back at all the pieces published following the initial call for contributers. Here is what I found 

About halfway through typing this list I had to stop and take a break because I was brought to tears.

I was moved to reflect on the space created for so many victims/survivors and allies in higher education. I was moved to see that Eric persisted with the series even after being asked to stop publishing so many pieces on the topic. I was moved to see stories shared, challenges acknowled and solutions suggested. But I also had the wind knocked out of my by some of the comments: people continuing to reject rape culture, people who dismiss the trauma of sexual violence on campus, people totally unwilling to acknowledge white supremacy and privilege in how sexual violence persists.

Yet these essays say that we resist this ignorance and silencing. They say I am not alone and nor are you. And perhaps most importantly they also say we need to listen, learn and acknowlege the toll that sexual violence is taking on our campus community including students, faculty, and staff. Navigating this road at our various instittutions can be very lonely and challngeing, but for today in visiting these essays I'm reminded of how many of us are in this together and grateful to call myself a part of this "Conditionally Accepted" series. 

 Update: Below are the links to the final few pieces in the series that were published after my blog post:

 

Monday
Sep182017

Round-up: citations of International Affairs "Queering Women, Peace and Security" article

A defining moment in my career as a doctoral student was publishing my International Affairs article "Queering Women, Peace and Security" in January 2016. Working with editors to bring the piece to life and then seeing the article publish was life changing as a writer and an academic. Since then I've learned from a number of professors that they're teaching the article to their students which is exciting! The article has also been cited in a few places by folks working on queer international relations, feminist security studies and those working in emergency humanitarian response. Here I want to give a shout-out to a number of those places that have referenced my work.

First up is a fantastic report (accessible here) by International Alert. Authors Henri Myrttinen and Megan Daigle report about sexual and gender minorities in conflict. From the summary:

Peacebuilding, in its essence, is about building more inclusive and less violent societies, with gender often being one of the most salient factors impacting on social exclusion. Questions of sexual orientation and gender identity that do not fall into the binary categories of women and men or do not adhere to heterosexual norms have been largely absent from gender and peacebuilding research, policy and programming. Based on our research conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Lebanon and Nepal, as well as a review of secondary literature, we demonstrate how identifying – or being identified by others – as belonging to a sexual and gender minority often adds additional layers of vulnerability, precariousness and danger to lives already under threat. 

I also see that the article is referenced in the piece "Sexual minorities in conflict zones: A review of the literature" though I haven't had a chance to read it yet. 

In May 2017 Melanie Richter-Montpetit and Cynthia Weber published an overview of the 20 years of Queer International Relations for Oxford Research Eynclopedia. The entry which is freely accessible online includes a section about gender, peace and security where Queering WPS is cited.

Excerpt from Oxford Encyclopedia entry

In August my article was referenced as part a BookForum omnivore "Gay rights human rights" blog post. Quite the crowd to be sharing a paragraph with here! 


Finding time to reflect on the way the research is finding a home in the field is a heartening motivator to keep on keeping on with this lifesived project that is the dissertation. As the fall semester gets underway I'm beginning what, if all goes as planned, is my fifth and final year in the PhD program. My dissertation continues to build on the work I began to explore in that IA article.  I can only hope my future will also prove to be relevant to the academics, students and the policy community.