the greatest hits: year two, may 2010-april 2011

In honor of the third anniversary of this blog (this Saturday!), I’m looking back to some of my greatest hits and most memorable posts. Yesterday I posted about year one: May 2009-April 2010; today I’m posting about year two.

Greatest Hits

1. Being Beside Oneself with Grief, part 2/ May 26, 2010/ 697 hits
2. Sara Ahmed and The Promise of Happiness/ December 18. 2010/ 263 hits
3. Caring too much (or not enough)? The virtue and vices of caring/ July 7, 2010/ 230 hits
4. Playgrounds, kids and making trouble/ July 18, 2010/ 184 hits
5. Being Beside Oneself with Grief/ May 20, 2010/ 174 hits
6. Agonism, Criticism and the Trouble with Fault Finding/ June 16, 2010/ 154 hits

some favorite posts

1. The trouble with clowns/ May 16, 2010
I still want this book. Hmmm….Mother’s Day is coming up. 

2. My Trouble with Mother’s Day/ May 12, 2010
In this post, I document my process of writing an academic article about my mom’s death (that article was published later that year). Using the blog to write about the process and the article was an amazing experience. It allowed me to share my ideas and experiences with more people and to document my earliest efforts at trying to work through and make sense of my grief.

3. The Value of Failure: Versions 1, 2 and 3/ July 13. 2010
In this experimental blog post, I offered up my reflection on failure as they related to each of the three blogs that I was working on during the summer of 2010. In retrospect, it was a little crazy to try to do all of these blogs at once…but I sometimes go a little crazy in my experiments online. Anyway, here’s the description that I gave:

Right now I am attempting to juggle three different blogs. I really like how they highlight different aspects of my writing/thinking/feeling self. On trouble, I focus on giving critical (and serious, extended) attention to trouble in feminist and queer contexts. Frequently I write about Judith Butler and the ethical implications of her work. I also devote a lot of time to working through my own (hopefully) book project on trouble as a virtue. On Unchained, I experiment with developing/practicing virtue ethics (in relation to breaking, reworking, transforming consumption habits) through and in connection with blogging. I co-write this blog with my partner, STA, as we try to figure out ways to reduce consumption, make better (whatever that means) choices, and model “good” behavior for two crazy, yet wonderful kids, FWA and RJP. Finally on It’s Diablogical!, I diablogue with my writing partner and good friend, KCF, about blogging and feminist pedagogy. Our blog is part of a larger writing project on teaching with blogs and blogging while teaching.

Since writing this post, KCF and I have published a book chapter based on our writing project blog and STA and I have moved on from the Unchained blog (my last post there: November, 2010) to a more successful collaboration: the podcast, The Undisciplined Room.

4. The Trouble with Valentine’s Day/ February 13, 2011
I think this post was one of the first experiments in putting my lecture online for the class (or did I do this earlier?).  I don’t think this was that successful for the students. Partly, I think, because this was a huge class and partly because the students, most of whom were new to GWSS (gender, women, sexuality studies) classes, were resistant to troubling Valentine’s Day. While it didn’t work as part of an in-class lecture, I’m still happy with the post and the amount of questions I was able to pose and connections I was able to make. An added bonus for this post was that I used it to develop another version of who I am as a queer feminist troublemaker. Here’s what I wrote (which I recently added to my about me page):

My vision of feminist/queer thinking links MAKING TROUBLE FOR (questioning, unsettling, exposing, challenging, resisting, reframing) categories, ideas, practices, norms, institutions with the need for DEVELOPING AND PROMOTING A CRITICAL AWARENESS of how our everyday practices are shaped by and contribute to larger structures of oppression, power and privilege. While straight thinking encourages us to understand our everyday experiences from our particular social/cultural locations  as “natural” or “normal” and breaks them down into rigid binaries (male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, white/non-white) with one half of the binary privileged over the other, feminist/queer thinking encourages us to question, play with and “bust” these binaries. It also encourages us to make connections, to find patterns and to be curious about why things are they way they are and how they might be transformed. And it encourages us to ask who benefits from this “natural” order and at whose expense is it perpetuated.

While my version of feminist/queer thinking is inspired by lots of folks, here are three thinkers that are inspiring me right now as I work to articulate my vision of politics for my “politics of sex” class:

Cynthia Enloe and her emphasis, especially within her introduction to The Curious Feminist, on the value of having a feminist curiosity and of engaging in the difficult labor of questioning practices, institutions, ideologies that claim to be “natural,” “normal,” or just part of “tradition.” These acts of curiosity potentially enable us to expose the larger structures (of patriarchy, racism, heterosexism) that undergird those seemingly unquestionable claims to the natural or normal.

bell hooks and her discussion, especially in Feminism is for Everybody and Teaching to Transgress, of the importance of critical awareness and making connections between our everyday practices and larger structures of power, privilege and oppression.

Cathy Cohen and her discussion of the radical potential of queer politics in her essay, “Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens.” Challenging a narrow (and straight?) version of heteronormativity as one the reproduces the binary between straight and queerCohen argues that while heteronormativity might be a

“primary system of power structuring our lives, it [heteronormativity] interacts with institutional racism, patriarchy, and class exploitation to define us in numerous ways as marginal and oppressed subjects” (31).

So, moving beyond straight thinking requires that we also think about more than sexuality; we must put our discussions about sex/sexuality/sexual politics into conversation with discussions of race, gender and class. We need to move beyond the single oppression model that narrows our vision and limits our ability to make connections across differences.


The Greatest Hits: Year One, May 2009-April 2010

This Saturday, May 12th 2012, is the third anniversary of this blog. Can you tell I’m a little excited? This blog has been such a great space for me to write and reflect and process ideas, theories, and experiences and I’m really proud of it.  I don’t usually celebrate milestones (I didn’t go to either my masters or PhD graduations), but I’m enjoying taking the time and creating the virtual space to honor my accomplishment.

For the next three days, I’ll be looking back at some of the more memorable and popular posts from each of the three years that I’ve written in this blog. Today, I’m posting a list of the greatest hits (literally, the posts that got the highest number of hits/visits according to WordPress’ site stats) and some of my favorite posts from May 2009-April 2010.

Greatest Hits

1. GUEST POST by Kandace Creel Falcón. The Elf on the Shelf and other holiday panopticonisms/ December 22, 2009/ 8,575 hits
2. Little Miss Trouble / July 3, 2009/ 5,261 hits
3. Half-pint, the Troublemaker/ July 13, 2009/ 2,006 hits
4. Mike and Carol are the Worst Parents in the History of the World/ July 8, 2009/ 1,927 hits
5. Uh oh. Hannah Montana’s in (gender) Trouble/ June 20, 2009/ 1,672 hits
6. Does Troubling Virtue = Valuing Vice? And other questions about vice and virtue, part 1 /November 16, 2009/ 1,206 hits

Some Favorite Posts

1. A Fistful of Reasons, Part II: The Trouble with Bullies/ May 13, 2009
A favorite line, and perhaps one reason why I’m doing my Brady Bunch live-tweeting project:

Of course, the Brady Bunch is just a show from the 1970s. And, of course, the episode, “A Fistful of Reasons” must resolve the problem in 23 minutes. So, why should we look to it to address these issues of bullying? It seems to me that the Brady Bunch, for good or bad, does an effective job (sometimes frighteningly so) of reflecting and tapping into the values that many of us implicitly or explicitly live by. It does this in ways that don’t register to us as we sit passively in front of the television. Here is where troublemaking comes in again: Even as we watch and enjoy the glorious, retro-cheesiness that is the Brady Bunch, we should never stop thinking critically about the messages it is sending us or the guidance it is giving us.

2. The Book of Time outs, part II/ May 19, 2009
I’ve been wanting to write my own kids’ book for a while now.

When I think about a kid’s book on troublemaking, I imagine it as not always connecting troublemaking with bad behavior that needs to be punished. My kid’s book would not follow Lucke’s formula of bad behavior = well-deserved punishment = moral lesson. My kid’s book would invite children (and the adults who read to them) to think about how to distinguish between bad (harmful, selfish) and good (transformative, visionary) forms of troublemaking. Or maybe it would focus only on those examples of good troublemaking to demonstrate how many people throughout history have found ways to resist and transform the system. How they have learned to think for themselves and challenge rules that don’t work or are harmful. And, maybe it would argue that the most important result of their actions has not been a time out punishment, but the transformation of the world in ways that open up more possibilities to more people.

3. The Troublemaker as a feminist killjoy (or an unhappy queer)?/ December 18, 2009
A comment from the subject of the post, Sara Ahmed!

4. My 100th Post or the Winner of the Chewy Bagel Award for 2010/ March 18, 2010
This post is central to my linking Butler and Foucault with virtue, and it offers an origin story of the chewy bagel award!

What, you may ask, is the “chewy bagel award”? Many years ago my dad read my presentation on Judith Butler, radical democracy and identity politics that I wrote for the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. After finishing it, he remarked on how dense it was and what careful attention and concentration it demanded of the reader. On the top of the presentation he wrote, “Winner of the Chewy Bagel Award for 2004.” I think that this 100th post, which is all about Foucault, critique, Butler and virtue is worthy of the “Chewy Bagel Award for 2010″ for 2 reasons. First, this post is a chewy bagel because it is dense and requires that both the writer (me) and the reader (you) devote substantial time to thinking through the claims that Foucault, Butler and I are making about critique, disobedience, troublemaking and virtue. Second, this post is a chewy bagel because it is about promoting slow and careful rumination (chewing) on ideas, words, and claims. Here is what Butler says in “What is Critique: An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue” about the need for chewiness and how it enables us to patiently and persistently think and reflect:

“But here I would ask for your patience since it turns out that critique is a practice that requires a certain amount of patience in the same way that reading, according to Nietzsche, required that we act a bit more like cows than humans and learn the art of slow rumination” (307).

A dense, chewy bagel cannot easily be consumed. It requires effort to be eaten. A chewy bagel text is the same way. It is not meant to be easily understood or digested. It demands that we devote some serious time and effort to engaging and processing the ideas that it presents. I love the idea of cultivating patience and persistence; it resonates with one of my own visions of troublemaking, which I wrote about way back in May.

a story in blog titles

May 12th is the third anniversary of this blog and I’m busy working on a digital video in which I offer a few stories about how and why the blog came to be and how my use of it has shifted over time. I’ve decided to (partly) use screen shots of blog titles to tell these stories. I’m pleasantly surprised at how useful the titles are for crafting my accounts.

As a teaser (and also as an easy reference for blog posts mentioned in the video), I thought I’d gather them all in this post. So, here you go. A story of this blog in titles:

Story One: An Introduction

Story Two: GRIEF/life

Story Three: LIFE/grief

Story Four: Troubled in and Troubling the Academy

Story Five: More Experimenting

An urgent need to document my process/ing

My goal in writing on this blog or using twitter is not primarily to build up an audience or to share resources (although those goals are cool too); I developed this blog and my twitter account, @undisciplined, in order to create a space where I could make visible my thinking/writing/feeling/engaging process in ways that were (for the most part) easily accessible, archivable and connectable.

I have found that blogs and twitter work really well for me. The format of a blog, with its multiple layers, playful tone, and ability to bring in various types of media and content, and the format of twitter, with its pithy focus and emphasis on documenting small habits of daily life, fit well with my own approach to thinking, engaging and writing. And, I truly enjoy writing and engaging on both of them. A lot. Too much?

But, why do I want to make visible my process? And why do I feel an urgent need to document it? I want to spend some time ruminating on these questions over the next couple of weeks. As many critics of blogs and twitter have suggested, I suppose that there must be some element of narcissism involved. But, I don’t think that really gets at why I write online and in public. Sure I would like people to recognize and value what I do, but I really don’t create it for those reasons; I’m not driven (that much?) by recognition. 

Tentatively, I can think of several compelling reasons why I feel an urgent need to document my process of engaging with the world:

ONE: I want to leave a visible trace of who I am and have been for others and myself.

TWO: I feel compelled to give an account of and tell a story about who I am, what I do and what I believe.

THREE: I find tremendous value in processing ideas, emotions, experiences and believe that a public account requires more care and persistent attention to that process/ing than a private one does (plus, a public account is more accessible and connectable for me and anyone else whose encountering and engaging with my thoughts).

A Trace

My mom’s journals.

Creating a space for making visible my thinking/writing/feeling/engaging process is a way for me to leave a trace of who I am or have been. This need to have/leave a trace has become increasingly important since my mom died in 2009. It’s no accident that I started writing in my own blog just as my mom was in the final stage of dying from pancreatic cancer. Part of this desire to leave my own trace is a response to my own desperate need for more traces of my mom and what she thought and felt about the world as she was dying and after she died. As I hungrily searched for more of her own reflections on life, teaching, and raising a troublemaking kid like me, I thought about how my kids (or their kids) might want some of my reflections after I’ve died.

A Chain? A Root? A Rhizome?

But my need for leaving a trace isn’t just about providing others with my reflections; I leave a trace as a sort of chain, connecting my past selves and their stories with my present and future selves. This need for a chain of connections is important for me because I feel particularly disconnected from my selves, their stories and the worlds in which those stories were created.

In the past eight years, I’ve had to come to terms with the loss of two grounding forces that enabled me to link together the chains of my selves throughout the years of many moves and transitions: the loss of the farm that had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and the loss of my mom.

The farm was sold in 2004 and my mom died from pancreatic cancer in 2009. Both were devastating losses. The farm had been my most important homespace; it linked me to past generations and served as a location for retreat and connection. My mom had been a kindred spirit and the person with whom I shared countless hours, hiking and talking and being curious about the world. She was also my biggest source of stories, since my memory seems to fail me a lot, about who I was when I was young.

When my family lost the farm and then my mom, something happened to my chain of past and present selves (which were already precariously linked because I have a habit of forgetting/ignoring that which has already passed); it seemed to fully break and with it, my links of belonging…to a family, to a community, even to the past selves that I once was.

I think one of the reasons I write in this blog is to create a space where I am building up an archive of ideas and experiences that I can access, remember and engage with now or tomorrow or ten+ years from now. This archive not only serves as proof of my past/present/future existence, but it enables me to craft (and imagine?) and perform a self that endures through time, space and a range of sometimes contradictory experiences and that is connected through (rooted in? beside) past selves and to generations of family members and various communities. What is the most compelling theoretical model for understanding this sense of self/selves? A signifying chain? The roots of a tree? A Deleuzean rhizome? Wow….I think I have an idea of a digital story. Better read/review Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus first!

Leaving a trace is not the only reason I feel an urgent need to process ideas and experiences and document that process, however. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I also engage on my blog and twitter account in order to Give an Account and Tell and Share my Stories and because doing so publicly enables me to Take more Care with my Process/ing. Since I know that I have a lot to say about these reasons and since this post is already 1000+ words, I’m not going to discuss these two reasons right now. I do plan (hope) to return to them. Before discussing “giving an account,” I want to review Judith Butler’s Giving an Account of Oneself and put it beside some of the readings from an awesome class that I took in grad school with Pam Hall: Narrative and Female Selfhood.

An Undisciplined Account: the context

In my last post, I discussed my undisciplined experiment with digital storytelling. In my digital video, I reflected on my first-grade report card and was curious about why my “lack of self-disciple” was featured so prominently on it. Even as I was finishing up that video, I was troubled/unsettled/curious about my lack of context. While I briefly mentioned that I went to school in Hickory, North Carolina, I didn’t provide any details about the town or the state. Since I’m interested in the ways that calls for self-discipline have disturbing implications for folks who don’t fit the mythical (White) norm, it seems important to mention that 1980s North Carolina, particularly in the part of the state that I lived, near the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, was a racially charged and poverty stricken area (at least, right outside of the city of Hickory). It was also in a school district where corporeal punishment, in the form of paddling, was mandatory (I need to do some more research on that, but I’m pretty sure that I remember my mom, a junior high learning disabilities teacher, struggling with how to resist/reject this regulation).

One more note: less than one year before I was in first grade in Hickory, a violent massacre of anti-racist activists occurred less than 2 hours away, in Greesburo, South Carolina:

Just shortly before starting this post, I wrote a comment about the need to contextualize my self-discipline narrative. Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my whiteness and its impact on how my lack of self-discipline was handled by my teacher. As much as I can recall, I didn’t really get in that much “trouble” in that first grade class. Even though paddling was encouraged, I was never paddled. (It might have even been mandatory for teachers; I went to elementary school in the 1980s in North Carolina, at least partly known for its poverty, racism and corporeal punishment. I think I recall my mom, who taught in a different school, saying that she was told that she had to paddle misbehaving students).

I wish I could remember more of my mom’s stories about her teaching experiences in North Carolina. I think she would have a lot to say about how non-white/poor white students were punished as troublemakers with corporeal punishment and by being placed in learning disabilities classrooms like hers.

After posting this comment, I decided to quickly look through one of my mom’s notebooks (the same notebook where I found her reflections on throwing darts at the Censor and her poem about the dragonfly). In it, I found some of her research notes for a presentation on Creativity and Weaving: “My Experiences in Taylorsville, North Carolina–the 80’s.” Jackpot! Well, not quite, but it’s a start. In these brief notes, my mom provides some context on 1980s North Carolina and a little bit of information about her experiences as a teacher during that time. She was a special education teacher (I remember that she called herself an LD–learning disabilities–teacher) at West Jr. High School “in the middle of the country in Alexander County, then the 2nd poorest county in the state.” She notes that the KKK was a big presence (with at least one teacher claiming membership) and that there was a sharp contrast in wealth between “the richer city of Hickory” (where I attended school) and her extremely poor students in rural Alexander County.

She also briefly describes “discipline in the schools” as: “paddle–woodburned names, classroom chart with 3 demerits than a paddle.” I remember that from my first-grade class! Only once was I almost paddled. I had made it through the entire day without a single demerit. Then, in the last few minutes of school, I managed to earn three! For some reason, Mrs. Miller didn’t paddle me. Did I ever see her paddle any other students? I’m not sure. How did my mom handle the paddle rule in her classroom? Did she ever paddle her students? Did she refuse? If so, what were the consequences of that refusal? How did she manage her role as a teacher who was supposed to discipline students (and who was frequently given students who didn’t really have learning disabilities, but were just deemed “disciplinary problems”) with her role as a mother of someone who lacks (self) discipline? Did she witness any differences between how discipline functioned in “rich Hickory” and “poor Alexander county”? What did she think about these differences? Did they shape how she handled my disciplinary problems?

Yes! I must continue to explore and trouble my undisciplined account.