Monday, May 31, 2010

Facing West

FACING west, from California's shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of
maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western Sea—the circle
almost circled;
--Walt Whitman, "Facing West from California's Shores"

(Half Moon Bay, CA, 5/29-30/2010. Photo Credits: Moose)

Why? Because today is Walt Whitman's 191st birthday and the moms happen to be spending it facing west on the beautiful shores of the Golden State. How conVENient! Y'all know how excruciatingly literal my typist can be.

Happy Memorial Day, my aging children. In the midst of your early summer revels, pause to give a good thought in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We may abhor war, but we honor the men and women willing to put their lives on the line in service to the nation. Paws up and peace out to all the brave soldiers of Roxie's World.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Snapshots of a Mother-OUT-Law

A Message from Mark Twain,
Director of the Office of Persona Management,
Roxie’s World:

The following post was written by Roxie’s amanuensis, Moose. You will notice that in this heartwarming tribute to the recently deceased Mother of the Goosians, she refers to herself and to Goose by non-blogospheric (i.e., “real”) names. This is a clear violation of the identity protocols developed and enforced by my office in order to protect the integrity of the several personae so familiar to and beloved by readers of this blog. After a heated conversation with Moose, I decided to permit this unique exception to the rules, because, well, her heart was set on doing it, and I have learned that once Moose has her heart set on something it’s best to just get out of the way. I suggested that she might want to wait a hundred years or so before publishing this little bit of autobiography, but she was determined to get it out before the blooms were barely off the funeral flowers.

As Roxie would say, Wevs, kids. Take it away, Moose.

* * *

Nothing in our lives quite prepared Mozelle Smith and me for one another. We met in 1985, when Martha and I made our first trip to Texas together. I was 26 years old and didn’t think of that journey as in any way monumental. Martha and I had been living together for less than a year. We didn’t think of ourselves as married, and if you had asked me then if I was planning to spend the rest of my life with her I wouldn’t have known what to say. I was young, and it was a different time. We didn’t think in those terms because in a very real way they weren’t available to us. The lifeworld we were traveling through wasn’t on any of the maps we’d been given. As Adrienne Rich wrote in celebration of the affective, erotic, and political possibilities that were emerging for lesbians in the post-Stonewall period, “[W]e’re out in a country that has no language . . . [W]hatever we do together is pure invention.” Romantic, yes, but it felt that way.

What was true for me and Martha was also true for me and her mother, a West Texas Christian and the wife of a lawyer turned judge. Lacking any guides or pre-formed grids, we had to make up our relationship as we went along. What were we to be to each other? How were we going to fit in one another’s lives? What were we going to call one another?

Fortunately, none of those questions consciously weighed on us in the summer of 1985 when I stumbled into the elegant apartment she and Earl then had in downtown Austin. She was a hostess. I was a houseguest. These were roles we both knew well. Her daughter and I shared a room and a bed, but the only conflict I recall from that trip had to do with coffee. Two days into the visit, I was exhausted, finding it difficult to keep up with Earl and Mozelle on the circuits we made through some mall as part of an indoor fitness routine they were doing. “I feel awful,” I confessed to Martha on one desultory lap past the Foley’s department store. “My head aches. I can’t stay awake. What the heck is the matter with me?” Later, Martha sidled up to her mother and said, “Mom, is there any caffeine in the coffee you’ve been serving us?” Mozelle smiled mischievously and replied, “Oh, a little. We’ve been cutting back, you know.” She pulled a second coffee maker out of the pantry and Martha and I had fully caffeinated coffee for the rest of our stay. And for the next quarter of a century, the story of the strapping young Amazon who needed an extra jolt of joe to keep up with a couple of almost 65-year-olds never failed to get a laugh out of her.

Martha’s family is equal parts Irish and Texan, which means that storytelling is a primary means of bonding and of negotiating one’s place in social and familial structures. I was delighted to enter into family lore with a story about being humbled by the vibrant matriarch of my partner’s colorful clan. Over time, though, Mozelle and I built up a deep relationship less out of big stories than of small moments of intimacy and mutual care. By 1989, when her side of the family staged a massive reunion, our relationship had progressed to the point that she insisted I stand up to be presented with her branch of the family. A few years later, I was thrilled to hear her casually introduce me and Martha to someone as “our daughters.”

Without a doubt, though, the transformative moment in my relationship with my mother-out-law was when Martha had hip replacement surgery in December 1994 and nearly bled to death on the operating table when a vein in her left leg was shredded. What should have been a 2-hour surgery turned into a 9-hour ordeal that I endured alone in a hospital waiting room while Mozelle waited anxiously for news of her youngest child from thousands of miles away. Late in the afternoon, when Martha was safe and stabilized, the surgeon finally emerged to tell me what had happened. As we were talking, the receptionist in the surgical waiting area told me there was a call for me. When I said hello, Mozelle keened into the telephone, “What’s happening to mah ba-a-a-beeee?” As calmly as I could, I relayed to her what the doctor had just told me: Martha had had a difficult time, but she had made it through and was going to be fine. The surgery was successful. She would be spending the night in ICU because they had installed a breathing tube when her blood pressure crashed on the table. I would call her later when Martha was out of recovery.

When we spoke again a few hours later, our moods and roles had switched. Mozelle was calm and listened patiently as I told her how upset I was that the ICU nurses clearly didn’t want me around. Martha had been anxious before the surgery, terrified that something would go wrong, and it had. How could I leave her alone, knowing that her worst fears had nearly been realized? On the other hand, I was exhausted, having gotten up well before the crack of dawn to get to the hospital for a 7:30 a.m. surgery. There was also a young puppy at home who had already spent many hours by herself. “Now, you listen to me, Marilee,” Mozelle interrupted me to say in a kind but firm tone, “you get out of the way and let those nurses do their jobs. Go on home, tend to Roxie, and get some rest. Caretakers have to take care of themselves, too, you know.”

This was a lesson Mozelle knew well from her decades of experience nursing a husband who suffered seven major heart attacks before having a heart transplant in 1991. “Besides,” she slyly deadpanned, “she’s on so many drugs right now she’s not going to remember a single thing you say or do for her tonight, so you might as well go home.”

No one on earth but Martha’s mother could have given me permission to walk away from her that night. That Mozelle did so still strikes me as one of the most loving things anyone has ever done for me. With a few simple words, she powerfully acknowledged my place in her daughter’s life and let me know she trusted me to do right by her. Her faith in me helped to steady me in a profoundly unsteady moment. If Mozelle thought I could handle the situation, then, by golly, I could. I left the hospital with a feeling of immense relief.

A few days later, when Martha faced a second minor surgery to drain and clean the incision to prevent infection, Mozelle became anxious again when she hadn’t heard from me late in the day. (Remember, this was the pre-cell phone era. We didn’t call every person in our life four or five times a day for no particular reason. We waited until we actually had something to say.) When she reached me, I explained that Martha still hadn’t had the surgery yet. It was a weekend. The surgery was low-priority because it wasn’t urgent. In her state of worry, Mo wasn’t convinced. “Now, we are going to be completely honest with each other, Marilee. Don’t sugarcoat it or beat around the bush. Do you swear there is nothing else wrong?” “I swear to you, Mo. Everything is all right. You’ll get nothing but the truth from me.”

In that brief exchange, it seems to me, Mozelle and I fully recognized and embraced the possibilities of our out-law relationship. Parents and children, and perhaps especially mothers and daughters, can’t always tell each other the truth. Their relationships are too fraught with emotion and history, too burdened by psychic need and social expectation. The in-law relationships established through marriage are differently but equally weighed down by convention and structural tension. The mother-in-law is presumed to be a rival to the daughter-in-law, locked in a struggle for the apparently limited attention and affection of the son. The dreadful 2005 film Monster-in-Law, starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda, is hardly an isolated example of the scorn heaped on the figure of the mother-in-law. She is the butt of a million easy, mindlessly misogynistic jokes.

The daughter-in-law doesn’t fare much better in this toxic cultural scenario. She is perpetually insecure, lacking confidence in her ability to sustain her marriage or manage her life. Seeing herself through the harsh eyes of the mother-in-law, her house is always filthy, her meals inedible, her children badly dressed or behaved.

I should probably note at this point that Mozelle enjoyed wonderful relationships with her actual children-in-law. My goal here is not to assert a privileged status in relation to this remarkable woman or to suggest that my relationship with her was any more genuine or honest than anybody else’s. As her obituary noted, Mozelle was a people person, a gregarious and loving soul who saw the good in everyone and never met a stranger. My relationship with her was unusual because I was the long-term partner of her lesbian daughter. Our sexuality was a challenge to the moral precepts of a faith tradition that mattered deeply to her and to a social world that was sexually conventional and highly patriarchal, despite the presence of numerous hard-drinking, gun-toting, multiply married and divorced women in the family. (No, that is not a bit of Texas-style exaggeration. That is a statement of fact. There’s a reason I described Martha’s family as colorful, and her name was Aunt Thelma.)

I should also acknowledge that Mozelle was as far outside my ken as I was hers. In forging a relationship with her, I had my own lessons to learn – and un-learn – about people of faith. I had to realize that she truly wasn’t judging me, that when she told me she was praying for me she didn’t mean she was on her knees hoping I would renounce lesbianism and embrace her system of belief. That was just her way of saying that she loved me, worried about me, and wanted me to be healthy and safe. She knew that my salvation was my problem, not hers.

When I say that Mozelle and I embraced the possibilities of our out-law relationship, what I mean is we both came to appreciate the freedom to say, do, or be whatever the heck we wanted in relation to one another. There were no rules, no external standards to judge ourselves against. We made a pact in that series of phone calls in 1994, and we stuck to it until the day she died. She knew I would be honest with her. I knew she trusted me and had confidence in my judgment. We were women of different generations, different regions, different sexualities, and different positions on the question of God, but we adored the same redheaded girl and that was good enough for both of us. Love doesn’t make such differences disappear. Sometimes, it just makes them easier to reckon with. Sometimes, though, love makes such differences seem downright delightful.

As her blindness deepened, Mozelle became more and more dependent on others for assistance. I was tickled pink when she would turn to me for help. “Marilee, how does my hair look?” she might say, but I also marveled at how quickly she learned to compensate for her loss of vision by taking in information through her ears and fingers. When I walked her through our house after its renovation, she drilled me on the details of colors and furniture as she slid her hands over every unfamiliar surface. She would reach out and touch a new shirt to get a sense of its appearance. “Let me feel of it,” she’d say. Once, when Martha and I had come to town for a nephew’s wedding, I had neglected to pack a bra. It turned out Mo needed one, too, so off we went to a place called, I swear, Petticoat Fair. The salesclerk asked if we would need one dressing room or two. “One will be fine,” I said. “She can’t see me, and I don’t mind seeing her.” Mo laughed, and we settled down to the serious and seriously intimate business of selecting foundation garments.

Late in the evening of the day she died, I found myself moved to say something that had never occurred to me before but which felt and sounded absolutely right in that moment of unexpected sadness: Mozelle was the best of my bonus moms, the one in whose eyes I was always good enough. I will miss her lilting voice, her relentless good sense, her surprisingly steely resolve, her appreciation for a well-set table and all the people gathered around it. I will miss her calling to tell me about a story on NPR that I really ought to hear. I will miss her expressions of mock indignation at some off-color remark, her impatience with any kind of cynicism.

Mostly, though, I will miss her lessons in out-law intimacy. For a judge’s wife, she was one hell of a renegade. Thank you, Mozelle, for being my partner in the crime of love.

* * *

(Mo and Moose at the Broken Spoke, Austin, TX, 6/29/07. Photo Credit: Sister of the Goosians.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Ceremonious Like Tombs

The Official Death Poet of Roxie's World supplies the title for today's post, which is really a photo essay on the magisterial Texas State Cemetery, where both of the Parents of the Goosians now lie buried. (Goose's father, Earl W. Smith, who ended his career as a judge on the state's Third Court of Appeals, died in 2001; her mother, Mozelle Owens Smith, died last Wednesday.)

Moose is not a big fan of dying, but she loves a pretty cemetery, and this one just blocks east of the state capitol in Austin is exceptionally pretty. It is built into gently rolling hills and has a sweet little pond just perfect for capturing the reflections of the Lone Star state flags lining State Highway 165, which winds through the grounds and, at a half mile long, is the shortest state highway in Texas.

Earl and Mo are buried on Republic Hill, on the left side of the first photo below. Their near neighbors include such sheroes of Texas history as Gov. Ann Richards, whose swirling marble gravestone can be seen in the background of the photo of Earl and Mo's pink granite stone, and Rep. Barbara Jordan, who is further up the hill. Other nearby notables include Old Yeller author Fred Gipson, LBJ ally Sen. Ralph Yarborough, and the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin. Republic Hill looks down on the Confederate Field (last photo below), where more than 2200 Confederate veterans and their spouses are buried.

As Moose remarked on Facebook, well, if you gotta go, you could do worse than to end up buried at the feet of Ann Richards, right? And is it just us, folks, or does that swirling mass of white marble not look to you like a clever homage to Richards' trademark halo of silver hair? What a fitting tribute to a gutsy feminist trail-blazer who once quipped, “I did not want my tombstone to read, ‘She kept a really clean house.’ ” We are pleased to report (third and fourth photos below) that is not what her tombstone says. Not at all. Oh, and right next to Gov. Richards is the grave of her friend and companion Edwin A. "Bud" Shrake, which is notable for its unusual inscription: So far, so bueno. No wonder Richards liked to hang out with him.

So far, so bueno. Sounds about right to us, kids. Peace out and thanks again for all the love. We send it right back to you.

(Photo Credits: Moose, on her iPhone, 5/22-23/2010, Austin, TX)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Complete and Great

Sorrow has come to Roxie's World again, my darlings. We are sorry to tell you that the Mother of the Goosians, a fine and feisty Texas sweetheart by the name of Hattie Mozelle Owens Smith, died yesterday morning in Austin. She was a beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and, as Moose put it in an e-mail to friends, the world's greatest mother-out-law, which is how she came to think of this devout Church of Christ member with whom she built a warm and close relationship over the course of a quarter century. (You can access an obituary here.)

Mozelle, as she was known (Mo for short, Mammo to her grandkids), combined her faith with a strong commitment to social justice. She was an LBJ Democrat (indeed, darn near the last one, we fear) who hated war, gave generously to those in need, and thought the Bushes were disastrous for Texas, the nation, and the world. She braved the bizarreness of her state's caucus system to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary campaign and marveled at the possibility that the country might have its first woman president. (She was born in 1919, the year before women got the right to vote. Oh, and she ended up being pretty darn happy the nation elected its first African-American president, by the way.) She lived her faith and saw good in everyone, even heathen lesbians who cussed too much and didn't visit Texas nearly often enough in her opinion.

Mozelle was 90 years old and in reasonably good health until recently, despite having lost her sight to macular degeneration in the last ten years. Her blindness was an inconvenience, but it never impeded her lively curiosity. She was a voracious reader of talking books and made her way through most of the novels of Willa Cather not long after Moose published her study of the Nebraska writer. When she finished Cather's most famous book, My Ántonia, she phoned Moose up and said, "Now, Moose, I've got a stupid question." Moose laughed and said, "Mozelle, there are no stupid questions." "Well, good, then tell me: What is the deal with this male narrator? Why on earth would she tell the story that way?" (Yes, Texas women speak in italics. They have very expressive voices.) Moose threw her head back and laughed again. "Heck, Mo, that is not only not a stupid question -- That's the question literary critics have been trying to answer for more than seventy-five years!" (Apparently non-Texas women lapse into italics when speaking to Texas women. It's contagious.) They spent twenty minutes discussing the joys and the puzzles of this beautiful yet baffling book. Mozelle was a good reader because she had a great capacity for empathy and a razor-sharp b.s. detector. Those were qualities she had in common with Willa Cather and, perhaps, her daughter-out-law.

We will say more on the subject of this late, great woman when we can, but the moms are off to Texas bright and early tomorrow morning to celebrate Mo's life and legacy, so for now we will let Cather have the last few words. They come from that book Moose and Mo had so much fun discussing all those years ago and include the words Cather chose for her own gravestone. The male narrator, Jim Burden, is recalling a moment alone in his grandmother's garden on his first day on the great Nebraska prairie, where he has just arrived as a young orphan from Virginia. Despite the newness of his surroundings, Jim experiences a sense of calm contentment as he lies on the warm earth beneath the immense prairie sky. He eloquently describes his experience of the moment (and the words on Cather's gravestone are in italics):
I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
Sleep well, sweet Mo. The happiness you gave in such abundance lives on in every heart you touched.

* * *
With love and thanks to friends and family in many places for kind words, gestures, and deeds. You lift us up, again and always.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hand Job: The Prequel

Moose surreptitiously snapped this shot Saturday afternoon down at the Corcoran Gallery of Art's big, splendid retrospective of the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who gained fame for his studies of animal and human locomotion. She was tickled to see she had such a notable precursor in the field of digital (get it? digital?) documentation. (For Moose's [im]modest contributions to the field, go here and here.)

(Photo Credit: Moose, on her iPhone at the Corcoran, 5/15/10.)

The show, which runs through July 18, is well worth seeing, not only for what it offers of Muybridge's well-known efforts to capture bodies and body parts in motion but also of his less familiar (to us) contributions to the fields of landscape and documentary photography. His photos of Yosemite from the 1860s and 1870s are stunning. Exhibit curator Philip Brookman credits those images with inspiring Ansel Adams to photograph the Yosemite Valley nearly half a century later. (That link takes you to an excellent NPR package on the exhibit that includes a gallery of images from the show and photos of the contraptions Muybridge developed to project moving images. Some of those contraptions, including the zoopraxiscope, are featured in the show as well.)

Oh, and in the unlikely event that you remain interested in the progress of Moose's hand job -- i.e., in how her fractured wrist is doing -- we are pleased to report that she is no longer rocking a Gaga-esque black splint, with sexy black laces, on her left wrist. She still has a fair amount of pain, though, and not much in the way of flexibility. Suffice it to say it will be awhile before she's doing handstands on her yoga mat. I predict a summer of standing poses and perhaps some aerobic lip-syncing to the soundtracks of Glee as she gently encourages the wrist to bear weight again. In the meantime, she is here, typing for you, the good girls, boys, and gender-queers of Roxie's World, because you are the sunshine of her life.

Peace out, darlings. And don't close the blinds when you dance in the living room. Show the world you mean it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dykes Against Softball

(Photo Credit: Associated Press, via)

A previously unknown organization, Dykes Against Softball, headquartered somewhere in the suburbs of Washington, DC, issued a communiqué this morning expressing surprise and gratitude to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus for saying something sensible on the subject of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, pictured at left playing softball at the University of Chicago in 1993. The Wall Street Journal ran the photo on its front page earlier this week, a move that has been widely interpreted as suggesting that the unmarried Kagan is a lesbian. Marcus said she found the picture "charming" and thought it made Kagan look "like more of a real person and less of a brainiac." (The Association of Real Lesbian Brainiacs immediately denounced that statement as insensitive, but that is another story.)

She went on to say, "Memo to conspiracy theorists: Straight women can play softball, too. Sometimes a softball bat is only a softball bat."

In its communiqué, Dykes Against Softball praised Marcus for her perceptiveness and courage in publicly declaring that, contrary to popular understanding, softball isn't just for lesbians: "Coming in the wake of WaPo media critic Howard Kurtz's brave announcement earlier this week that he -- a straight male -- had his own long history of playing with the big ball, Marcus's column is another encouraging step forward in the painful struggle to undo the deeply rooted and -- to many of us -- deeply hurtful stereotype that lesbians love and excel at softball."

The DAS communiqué continues:

Lesbians come in all shapes and sizes and with varying degrees of eye-hand coordination and athletic interest. While it is true that softball has served as an important means of community-building for non-heterosexual women in a range of times and places, it is also true that many of us feel no connection at all to what some have termed "the lesbian national pastime." Some of us hate team sports. Some of us are terrified of gigantic balls being hurled through space by burly women with extraordinary upper-body strength. Some of us prefer the peace and quiet of the library or the relative safety of the pool hall to the loud, dusty world of the diamond. Some of us don't like to run in our high heels. Some of us think blue jeans accentuate our wide hips. Some of us would just as soon skip the game and go straight to the beer-drinking and the back-slapping.

DYKES AGAINST SOFTBALL is grateful to our heterosexual comrades Ruth Marcus and Howard Kurtz for their courageous contributions to the cause of de-linking lesbianism and softball. It is our sincere desire that this whole episode (which has commanded so. much. attention. that one might actually begin to think it fricking mattered!) might teach a valuable lesson about the dangers of stereotyping. We think every individual, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, size, or ability, should be free to play -- or not play -- any game, anywhere, any time. Just don't make any assumptions about what team you think we're on, because, you know, some of us girls are really not into the big stick.

Thank you for your attention. Now, can somebody tell us how concerned we ought to be about Elena Kagan's philosophy on executive power? Because, well, call us crazy, but we think maybe that's where some of these big stick issues might actually fricking matter!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Kagan Litmus Test

Pity poor Jeff Sessions. As ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Alabama Republican will bear the enormous responsibility of determining whether Elena Kagan, President Obama’s latest nominee for the Supreme Court, is a lesbian. The White House has denied it, and friends of Kagan are now publicly declaring she is straight. (The friends include former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned his office in the wake of a prostitution scandal. Who's next? Tiger Woods?) Nominees have not typically been grilled on their sexual orientations, though Clarence Thomas, you may recall, faced a few questions about some of his (hetero)sexual proclivities and behaviors when he was nominated to the court in 1991. Nonetheless, Sessions declared last year that he thought the American people would be “uneasy” with the prospect of a gay justice -- and now the president has gone and nominated a never-married woman who looks like she might know her way around the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, if you know what I mean.

Not sure, Rox. Exactly what do you mean? I mean that the anxiety and speculation about Kagan are fueled less by her marital status than by her looks (and by looks I mean her size [short], her shape [round], and her appearance [sensible]). If she came closer to heteronormative standards of beauty (e.g., tall, thin, and fashionable), the buzz wouldn’t be, Is Kagan gay? It would be, Wow, she’s gorgeous, smart, and single. How can I get her? All of us – gay, straight, or unaligned – have internalized these standards, however uncomfortably or critically, and use them in making judgments about public figures, people whom we “know” only indirectly.

Even those of us who identify with Kagan in not fully conforming to gender norms (whether by nature, by choice, or some combination of the two) use our assumptions about her looks as the basis for imagining other possible points of identification or disidentification. The right decides that Kagan is a lesbian and wants to demonize her for it. Queers have a hunch she might be one of us and exert a bit of dyke pride and in-group humor to install her in a stereotype about lesbian culture: the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament. Similarly, our pal Tenured Radical, while seeking to dispel any crude linkage between a presumed sexual identity and the nominee's political or judicial inclinations, spins out a charming fantasy of homodomesticity involving herself as Kagan’s dyke husband, ironing and baking cookies for the justice. It sounds like the plot for a new and much improved Leave It To Beaver.

Richard Kim sensibly pointed out in The Nation the other day that Kagan, like everyone, is entitled to sexual privacy and that she is not “gay” in that “she has never claimed to be a lesbian, . . . she's never spoken out in the first-person as an advocate of gay rights, and . . . she has never publicly discussed a romantic relationship with a woman.” Kim continues: “Gay isn't some genetic or soulful essence; it's a name you call yourself -- and Kagan has not done that. So in my book, case closed. Elena Kagan is not gay. Is she straight? I don't know, and again, I don't care. Why does she have to have a sexuality at all?”

True, true, true, Richard, but if we lived in a fair and sensible nation Jeff Sessions, with his long record of racial insensitivity, would not be in the United States Senate, would he? But given that he is, and that he serves the sizable confederacy of dunces who would be made “uneasy” by a justice with Sapphic inclinations, the portly dykes of Roxie’s World feel obliged to help Sen. Sessions and the nation answer the burning question of whether Kagan is or is not a lesbian. This will be a challenging task for the gentleman from Alabama. I mean, it’s not as if he can come right out, as it were, at the confirmation hearings and ask her. He will need to be subtle and diplomatic. We propose, therefore, a series of questions aimed at gauging her preference on a range of cultural possibilities that will, we are confident, enable the senators to situate her precisely on one side or the other of the straight/gay divide.

Now, gentle readers, don’t get all up on us over our seeming to help the enemy or perpetuate damaging stereotypes in this little exercise. Our preference poll was devised by a couple of woman-loving wimmin who came of age at the same time and in a milieu similar to Kagan’s, except for the fact that neither of them is Jewish, they didn’t attend an Ivy League university, and they didn’t go to law school. Or end up as the dean of one.

Wevs, kids, the real point here is to imagine the hilarity that would ensue in the Senate hearings if Sessions and, say, Orrin Hatch would act as a tag team, running through this list of preferences in their most serious senatorial voices while Kagan, pausing for big gulps of water, carefully weighed each choice. The cameras whir. The klieg lights heat up the room, bringing tiny beads of sweat to the senators' foreheads as the nominee nervously fingers her high-femme pearl earrings. Close your eyes, darlings, and picture the scene, as Sessions and Hatch subject Kagan to . . . .

The Lesbo Litmus Test by Roxie's World:
Because We Know What Girls Who Like Girls

Sen. Sessions: Good afternoon, General Kagan. Now, where was I? Oh, yes: Martina or Chris?

Kagan: Martina, sir. No less an authority than, um, Billie Jean King has declared Martina "the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who's ever lived."

Sen. Sessions: Very good, madame. I yield my time to the gentleman from Utah.

Sen. Hatch: Thank you, Senator Sessions. Let's see, General Kagan. As you may know, I am something of a music fan -- more than a fan, actually, a professional singer --, so it falls on me to ask you: Opera or softball?

Kagan (Pausing for a drink of water): Well, I am a fan of music, too, senator, but I have to say there is nothing quite like a spirited game of softball to relax at the end of long day.

Sen. Hatch: All rightie then, I have a follow-up: Holly Near or Holly Hunter?

Kagan: That's a tough one, senator. Of course I admire Hunter's acting, especially her brilliant voicing of Elastigirl in The Incredibles, which, truly, is one of my favorite films, but I have to confess a sentimental preference for Near. I mean, Imagine my surprise . . . .

Sen. Sessions (Jumping in, nervously): General Kagan, if I may. This is enormously helpful to us, so if I could just interrupt to ask: Lily Tomlin or Lily Bart?

Kagan (Flush with excitement): Good lord, senator, are you serious? As if there is a choice to be made between a doomed fictional character surrounded by men who are pathetic or cruel and the finest comedic actress in the history of performance? Don't insult my intelligence, senator!

Sen. Hatch: I apologize on behalf of the gentleman from Alabama, General Kagan. Perhaps TV would be a safer subject: The L Word, General Kagan, or The View?

Kagan: I'm afraid I'm not familiar with The View, sir. Is that some Fox screaming head show? I don't watch those. I do, however, own all six seasons of The L Word. Jane Lynch did a couple of guest appearances as an attorney on that show. I like shows with, um, attorneys.

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Pardon me for interrupting, but I like attorney shows, too! You know, there's been speculation that I might be a little light in the loafers myself, so I think I will ask you a footwear question: Manolo or Mephisto, General Kagan?

Kagan (With a snort of contempt): Mephisto, senator. I am a woman of substance. I can't be tottering around this town in shoes designed to impede women's ability to do anything but be sexually available to horny lobbyists and --

Sen. Sessions: That will do, General Kagan. And speaking of getting around town: Subaru or Sienna?

Kagan: Seriously? Do I look like a minivan gal, senator? Do I? No, Subarus are fine cars: Solid, safe, good on the highway and at the hardware store.

Sen. Sessions: I think we've made great progress here, General Kagan. Just one last question, and I have to confess I don't really understand this one, but, as you know, these questions were supplied to us by a third party, so bear with me: Provincetown or Paris?

Kagan (With a broad smile): Ah, well, that's a trick question, senator, because the answer quite obviously is both. Sometimes a sensible woman has to say yes to everything!

* * *
Oh, we could go on, couldn't we? Audre Lorde or Audrey Hepburn, General Kagan? Dykes on Bikes or Kids on Trikes . . . ? But I think the point has been made, and the point of course is this: Sometimes a test tells us more about those who feel compelled to give it than those who are forced to take it. Indeed, sometimes we fail a test merely by deciding to give it, by imagining that we need to know some truth judged to be essential to a person's identity. Scholars of sexuality and gender have labored for decades to complicate the relationship between sex and truth, sexuality and identity. If we don't know by now that the crude binary of either/or is always a trick question wholly inadequate to conveying the complexities of who we are and what we do as sexual beings, then we just haven't been paying attention.

It's exam season in Roxie's World, and the evidence this week suggests that, when it comes to thinking sex, a lot of us just aren't making the grade.

For some excellent blogging on the subject of Kagan and the media hoopla surrounding her, in addition to the pieces by Richard Kim and Tenured Radical already mentioned, click over to gen/sex law bloggers Nan Hunter and Katherine Franke, who have been all over the story. (Those links are just to their latest contributions on the subject.) Historiann weighed in yesterday, too, with links to other posts.

Class dismissed, kids. Your summer course on sex, privacy, and the public sphere begins tomorrow. Start reading today -- You know there will be a quiz!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Fricking Mother's Day

The salty women of Roxie's World honor Mother's Day with one of the many side-splitting bits from Betty White's flawless, hilarious appearance as host of Saturday Night Live last night. Here, the near-nonagenarian sits down with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon for an episode of their pitch-perfect parody of an NPR cooking show, "Delicious Dish." (Can we pause briefly to say how utterly delightful it was to have so many of the veteran funny girls of SNL back together for last night's episode? In addition to Gasteyer and Shannon, we got to spend time with Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, and, my oh my, what wonderful company they were! Maya doing her killer Whitney Houston! Tina wisely not doing her already worn-out Sarah Palin and instead playing an earnest census worker trying to get information out of White's marvelously loopy old lady in a bathrobe! [Hulu has a collection of 19 vids from the episode up, including some that didn't make it to the show. We highly recommend doing some browsing there, perhaps while sipping a Mother's Day mimosa. You'll be glad you did.])

Anyway, this muffin skit, in which the three women deliver one deadpan double entendre after another, is a worthy successor to the insanely funny "Schweddy Balls" bit that Gasteyer and Shannon did with Alec Baldwin several years back. Who says fiber isn't funny? The regular gals of Roxie's World are here to tell you it is. Click on the vid, kids, and prepare to die laughing. Is there any better way to go?

Happy Mother's Day -- to all the moms, all the bonus moms, all the non-moms and anti-moms and the muffin-loving honorary moms. Hug 'em if you can, and send 'em a giggle if you can't. Laughs make the world go 'round, my sweet, funny, aging children, today and every day.

Friday, May 07, 2010

News, With Lesbian Tendencies

Item One: Bad Story, Funny Headline

Which means, of course, that the all-important position of Dean of Lesbians remains vacant. Moose would like to apply. For the benefit of the good Jesuits of Marquette, we offer this link to a not-quite-current version of Moose's CV, where you will find, we promise, absolutely no "strongly negative statements about marriage and family" and, regrettably, no "vignettes on lesbian sex." (How did that happen? I said to Moose. Heck if I know, she replied. Blame it on Willa. She was just not into . . . vignettes.) (And, yes, Death Comes for the Archbishop fans, we know that, technically speaking, that isn't correct. Comic license, 'k?)

Item Two: Women's Basketball Coaches Still Prefer to Focus on the Family

We picked this up from Pat Griffin's LGBT Sports Blog by way of Nan Hunter. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association refused to screen the film Training Rules, a documentary about player Jennifer Harris' lawsuit against Penn State's legendary (and legendarily homophobic) women's basketball coach Rene Portland, at its annual conference last month in San Antonio. (The conference was held in conjunction with the NCAA women's basketball championship. Local coverage, from which we've borrowed details of the story, here.) The reason given for not screening the film is that Portland is no longer coaching. She resigned in 2007, after Penn State settled Harris' lawsuit -- Which of course magically resolved the issue of homophobia in women's basketball, so, please, sports fans, let's all just go back to talking about how married and religious and heterosexually reproductive everybody associated with this game is. That's not homophobia, dammit! That's just clean living and good advertising, am I right? Pay no attention to all those big-boned gals on the floor and in the stands. There are no lesbians here, do you hear me? Just, you know, burly girls with incredible strength and ball-handling skills who seem to prefer, um, the company of, uh, well, chicks, but, hey, look at those junior cheerleaders doing their little half-time show. Aren't they just adorable?

People, people, people, let me say it for you one more time, very slowly: Women's basketball would die without the participation and the support of lesbians. Don't disrespect or marginalize your talent pool or your fan base. Silence is homophobia by other means, especially when you go out of your way to promote the "family-friendly" qualities of your program and personnel. You may be a little more polite than the Rene Portlands of the world, but you are still sending a powerfully negative message to queer players and fans. And we think that is unsportsmanlike conduct, plain and simple.

That is all, darlings. Play hard, play fair, and give us a call if the Dean of Lesbians position is available at your school.

(Nuns cheer on the Mighty Macs of Immaculata University, which many consider the birthplace of modern collegiate women's basketball. No lesbians here either, of course. Photo picked up here.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

This Impossibly Beautiful Morning . . .

. . . happens to be my Aunt Katie's birthday. Katie loves growing things, and so we celebrate her on this lovely day with a snapshot of a pretty little something from the ridiculously large back yard. It's a rhododendron, in case you are wondering, and that is the limit of my typist's horticultural knowledge, so please don't ask for any further detail.

Happy birthday, beloved friend. May today's splendid sunshine be a harbinger of beauty and warmth for you in the coming year.

(Photo Credit: Moose, 5/5/10)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Days of Our Leaves

Or, Things We Learned Out of School

Click on that sound file, darlings, or my typist will feel that her long hours of trolling the Interwebs looking for snort-inducing tidbits for you are in vain.

First Things First: Our sincere apologies to Tenured Radical, who offered a wonderful post yesterday called “Like Sands Through The Hourglass, So Are The Days of Our Lives: Having the Courage Not to Go to Graduate School.” It’s chockfull of TR’s characteristically shrewd analysis and advice, though we would probably still tell the best and brightest to give grad school a shot, as long as they have their eyes wide open about the prospects for a tenure-track job at the end of the dissertation rainbow. I mean, heck, it’s not like the quote, unquote real world is chomping at the bit to hire English and history majors right now either.

Anyway, go read TR if you need to get your knickers in a wad over your future as an exceedingly well-read barista. We just riffed on her title because we are strict adherents to Rule #1 of the Blogosphere: Why go to the trouble to make something up when you can steal something from someone else? Also, TR's evocation of sand moving inexorably through the hourglass of spring made my typist realize that the clock on her academic-year leave is now truly, officially, sadly winding down. Yes, she will still have the summer free from teaching and most bureaucratic responsibilities to make progress on the long list of things she would assuredly accomplish over the course of this year. It was a totally realistic list that looked something like this:

Moose’s Sabbatical To-Do List

1. Lose 40 pounds.

2. Finish the Most Overdue Project in the History of American Publishing.

3. Organize study.

4. Get a handle on the difference between Digital Humanities and New Media Studies and decide which it is I now do.

5. Organize pantry.

6. Draft an outline and a couple of chapters on the Amazing Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World.

7. Read Proust.

8. Organize shed.

9. Reduce carbon footprint.

10. Propose an MLA session.

She made progress on, um, a number of those goals and managed to check off a few other items that weren’t on her original list, as you can see:

Moose’s Sabbatical Got-Done List

1. Embrace fat acceptance, because, srsly, I am 50 + 1 years old, female, and I enjoy eating and drinking too much to subsist on salads and water for the rest of my life.

2. Survive three blizzards and ice dams without going insane.

3. Embrace disorganization, because it’s perfectly obvious that organization is a bourgeois plot to keep people from ever getting any real work done.

4. Get published in Inside Higher Ed, because academic punditry is really where it’s at.

5. Learn to be a dog person who doesn’t, for the time being, have a dog.

6. Read Clay Shirky, Donna Haraway, Marilynne. Robinson, Cary Nelson, Jaron Lanier, Patti Smith.

7. Fall, break wrist, and sit through meeting with dean with only brief pause for near-tears and confession of injury.

8. Imagine heaven, with dogs, and figure out how to write from there.

9. Stop having hot flashes. I think. For now.

10. When in doubt, take a walk.

So, what did Moose learn during her year, mostly, out of school? This is an important question, not just because there is pressure on academics to account for what they do with their quote, unquote time off these days, but because we’d like to help our pals who have upcoming leaves of their own – real-world buddies like June Star, blogospheric ones like Dr. Crazy – to make the most of their well-deserved respites from teaching. I asked my typist to come up with one last list, which we happily pass along -- and which we invite you to add to in comments:

Moose’s Mostly Serious Tips for Making the Most of the Days of Your Leave

1. If you only have a semester off and you have a choice, take the fall rather than the spring term. You can use the summer to settle into sabbatical time and feel truly away when fall classes begin. It will be easier to stay away from campus when that feeling has taken hold. In the spring, as the year winds down, certain tasks and responsibilities – reports, defenses, planning for next year – are going to demand your attention regardless of how disciplined you are about saying no in order to protect your time. I've gotten pretty good at that, and I still barely felt that I was on leave in April.

2. Get the hell out of Dodge. Even if your research doesn’t require you to travel to remote archives in exotic locations, try to spend some time away from home during your time off. Neither Goose nor I had ever done that before, but the seven weeks I spent in my undisclosed location in the fall were enormously beneficial. I rested. I detached. I did a kind of deep, concentrated reading and thinking that I probably hadn't done since I was reading for my qualifying exams. Could I have done all that if I had just hunkered down at home and resolutely ignored the distractions of my (wonderful) everyday life? Perhaps, but there is something to be said for breathing a different air and seeing a different sky. Try it if you can.

3. Allow yourself some – or many – moments of Zen. Ignore the to-do list and the pressure to produce, at least some of the time. Remember that non-doing is as necessary to your creativity and learning as doing is. Sabbaticals are all about getting off the treadmills of the usual routines. Give yourself permission to float or fly or nap or dream. My inspiration for this kind of creative (in)activity is, natch, Thea Kronborg, the protagonist of Willa Cather's 1915 novel, The Song of the Lark. In the middle of that big, busy book, Cather sends her fiercely driven aspiring opera singer to a remote part of northern Arizona, where she spends a great deal of time seeming to do nothing. In fact, the heroine is letting go of the mundane pressures of the ego and connecting with the unconscious knowledge she will need in order to become a truly great artist. Yeah, it all sounds kind of woo-woo and weird, but Thea ends up on stage at the Met. You could do worse than to emulate her process of discovery. Even a history geek or a humble lit critter can dream of being a diva, after all.

4. If you don’t have a blog, now is not the time to start one. If you do have a blog, set limits on the time you devote to it. Blogging is one of those activities that will expand to fill the amount of time available for it. Goose assures me that the time I spend typing for Roxie's World is time spent on fieldwork for the Amazing Book on Blogging That Is Going to Transform the Humanities and Save the World. In a sense she's right, but I've still tried to restrain myself some this year. I've been content to put up fewer or shorter posts in order to give greater priority to other kinds of work. We can't all be Historiann, who consistently manages to feed the horses, take a run, and get up a devastatingly smart blog post before most of us have sucked down our first cup of coffee. (Love you, girlfriend. Mean it!) Know your limits, and try to stay within them. Your audience won't desert you, because they love you, too, darling, I swear they do! Shut down that hit counter, and open that book! The blogosphere will be here when you get back.

The grains of sand are moving through the hourglass, my pretties, so we've got to go. Make sure to pass along your own brilliant advice for making good use of time off. What's worked for you? What hasn't? Do you recommend getting away, or do you have Goose's knack for closing the valves of your attention like stone and getting work done, no matter where you are? Wow -- And just to prove this topic is what's buzzing around in the hive mind today, we just this moment stumbled upon a brand new ProfHacker post by Kathleen Fitzpatrick called "How to Get More Than You Think Out of a Semester's Leave."

Goodness, we do have our paws on the pulse of the zeitgeist, don't we? Peace out, darlings, and take time to smell the roses. You will never regret it.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Wise Little Visitor

(Sam in a Pool of Light that Looks Like a Magic Carpet, by the Back Door, Saturday Morning. Photo Credit: Moose, 5/1/10.)

Visiting Adorable Schnoodle: The Interwebs are boring this morning, and I don't know what to do about the oil spill or what to say about why the state of Arizona has clearly gone bat-$hit crazy. Can't we just go for a walk?

Currently Dogless Dog Person: Yes, we can. C'mon, little buddy. The sun is out, the breeze is blowing, and Roxie's trail goes on forever. Let's hit it!

That is all, darlings. Go outside and play, will you? The world and all its madness will be right here when you get back.