Some Monday Reflections

Some days I look at my twitter feed and I don’t find anything that makes me curious or inspires me to ask questions and reflect. But, not today. I don’t know if it’s the 16 oz latte, my 2.5 mile jog at the YWCA, or the early snow that has my “little gray cells” working overtime, but I have a big list of items to think/reflect/trouble/write about on this snowy, cold Monday in November. At first, I was planning to write a series of blog entries on each topic, but I soon realized that that was too much. So instead, I’ve decided to create a post with just a few of the links, along with some reflections.

Item One

Did Jezebel cross the line by ratting out teens for their racist tweets?

Background: Shortly after President Obama was re-elected last week, some twitter users began tweeting their highly racist reactions. And the data-mapping experts over at Floating Sheep tracked and mapped them. This tracking, particularly how the map made visible where certain clusters of racism tweets existed (i.e. Alabama and Mississippi), was a popular topic on twitter, facebook, blogs and online news sources. A few examples: Map Shows You Where Those Racists Tweeting After Obama Election Live (Colorlines), The Racist States of America (Daily Mail UK) and Twitters Racists React… (Jezebel).

According to Slate, Jezebel took their tracking of the story too far, by not only publicly shaming the twitter users, who were primarily teens, but by

reaching out to the tweeters’ schools to get the kids in trouble (and, presumably, to gin up page views). They then meticulously noted each administrator’s response. They also updated us, gleefully, on the status of the students’ twitter accounts: Which kids were embarrassed enough to delete them? Which ones offered half-assed excuses? Which ones doubled down on their racism?

Here’s Jezebel’s follow-up post, detailing their efforts to contact the tweeters’ school officials in order to hold the tweeters accountable and in the hopes that the officials could “educate them on racial sensitivity.” In their critique of Jezebel’s actions, Slate author Katy Waldman, argues that a major media outlet like Jezebel is not the appropriate venue for meting out discipline. It not only punishes these “stupid kids” too severely for their lack of judgment (evidence of their mistake and the resultant shaming will exist for years online), but is more likely to piss them off and shut them down, then encourage them to be educated and accountable for their tweets. Here’s the closing line of the brief article:

Morrissey writes: “We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity.” Perhaps. More likely, as my colleague put it in an email: “It probably won’t make them less racist if they’re bitter forever.”

Initially, I felt that the Slate article was a bit too harsh but now I’m not so sure. These tweets are abhorrent and the users who tweeted them should be held accountable, but these teens are minors and represent only a handful of individuals who contribute to (but have not created) the larger systems of structural racism in this country. To shame only these kids (or primarily these kids) enables us to ignore/suppress the larger structures of racism and to fail to consider all of the ways that racist attitudes continue to exist within this country. It’s much easier to focus our attention on a few “stupid kids,” then to face the reality that, as Colorlines’ author Jorge Rivas writes: “racists are everywhere.”

This Slate article raised some interesting questions for me:
1. How should we hold users, especially teen users, accountable for their tweets?
2. What sorts of resources are available for educators, parents, community members for learning how to be more accountable and responsible online?
3. After further reviewing comments from the Jezebel post, I came across this thread in which commenters discuss how they’re contacting school officials. One user refers to these actions as internet vigilantism.

Is “internet vigilantism” an effective tool for holding individuals accountable?

Item two

Two Random Encounters with Judith Butler

1. I found an excellent quotation (from a recent interview) on a great post by Michael D Dwyer about teaching pop culture. His use of this quote comes in a section of his post in which he discusses how we can be both critic and consumer of pop culture (this was a big focus in my pop culture class from 2007).

2. I learned about an advice book that Butler contributed to via this Brain Pickings post. This find is one of the reasons why, even as I am wary of Brain Pickings, I still follow them on twitter. Butler contributes an essay on “Doubting Love,” in the 2007 advice book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation. Looking forward to reading this one; I’ve already requested it from the Minneapolis Public Library! I’d like to think about this advice book in relation to my other research on the self-help industry.

Item Three

Well, I’m quickly running out of time (less than a half an hour before I must pick up RJP from school), so I can’t write much more. Why am I not surprised?! Here’s a In Media Res curated series on The Second Lives of Home Movies that I want to read and reflect on…and put beside my work on home tours.

Bonus Item

Inspired by the snow this morning (and by my desire to experiment with my new iMovie app), I created a digital moment: Minnesota Weather. I plan hope to write more about my thoughts and experiments with the iMovie app soon. For now, here’s my digital moment + my description of the story):

minnesota weather: a digital moment from Undisciplined on Vimeo.

I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the past 9 years (plus 4 years in St, Peter, MN for college and 18 months in Minneapolis in the late 90s) and I still haven’t gotten used to the unpredictable weather. Minnesotans always say, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait 10 minutes.” I was reminded of this phrase when I woke up this morning. Just last week it was sunny, with beautiful leaves on the trees. And, just two days ago, it was in the upper 60s. But, when I looked out my window this morning, around 7 AM, there was snow on the ground. This example of pure Minnesota seemed worthy of a digital moment.

Re-imaging Home

At the beginning of September, I set out to document the process of reconstructing and re-imagining home after losing it when my family sold our farm in 2004 and my mom died in 2009. I wasn’t sure exactly what this process would look like or what I would imagine, create or produce. All I knew is that I wanted to spend some time making sense of my experiences struggling with and rebuilding from loss. The result of my efforts was a series of three digital videos about what home means (or has meant) to me.


The first video/story that I created was “My favorite part of the walk.” It’s a story about walking along the Minnehaha Creek path with my son Fletcher right after we moved to South Minneapolis in 2004. It documents my material connection to a neighborhood. I have lived a few blocks from this creek for over 8 years now and, when I walk on the Minnehaha Creek path, I can physically connect to memories of what I did and who I was in the past (when Fletcher and I used to take walks with the stroller or when I’d bike with the kids to camp during the summer or when I first started running). Because I moved around so much as a kid and adult (9 cities, 17 different homes), this physical connection is important to me; it’s evidence of my existence beyond the present.


The second video, which isn’t crafted enough (yet) to be called a story (I think?), is simply called “Home.” It focuses on some footage of my mom and I each talking about the importance of the farm and how it figures into our understandings of home. It was filmed in 2002, right after I had a miscarriage. In a general sense, both of our definitions involve home as nurturing:


These definitions of home as nurturing raise important, troubling questions for me: What other resources do I have for being nurtured? How do I balance my need for nurturing with my need to nurture (as a parent)?

Private Space: A Room of One’s Own?

In this final video, I put two home tours, one given by my mom in the late 80s (I think) and one given by my dad in 2000, beside each other in order to raise questions about home, belonging, memory and privacy. The tour led by my mom was originally almost 25 minutes long; I edited it down to around 3 minutes. I’m really struck by what I chose to keep in and what I edited out. In the footage that I kept, she spends a lot of time talking about her private, quiet moments and spaces in the house. I end the tour in her study as she describes her appreciation for her inner sanctum, a space where she can do “all the fun things she likes to do” and “not have to worry about how it looks.”

I have always appreciated that my mom was a private person; I’m a very private person too. For me, home is a space where I can retreat, be myself and “not have to worry about how I look” (or act).

I started writing this post last week and it’s been sitting on my dashboard, just waiting to be published. A few minutes ago I was scrolling through some old blog posts and I found one from last March, An urgent need to document my process/ing. I was struck by how part of my description of why I write in a blog and have created a virtual space fits in with some of the definitions of home that came out of my digital stories from September. Here’s what I wrote:

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.

I like putting the idea of my virtual space-as-home beside other homespaces.

home tour

All this week, inspired by my upcoming 8 year anniversary of living in my house in south Minneapolis,  I’ve been writing/thinking about home. Today, in honor of the anniversary (we moved in to our house on September 22, 2004), I created another Vimeo project: HOME TOUR. While I’m not totally done with the digital story, I wanted to go ahead and post the “in progress version” today. This digital story brings together the video footage from two home tours, one led by my mom from 1989, and one led by my dad from 2000. I’m really excited to keep working on these; it’s fascinating to put their two different accounts beside each other.

I hope to have lots more to say about this digital story (the process of working on it and putting my parents tours beside each other + how it does/doesn’t resonate with my understandings of home) in the near future.

losing home

Note: As I mentioned in this post and this post, at the end of the week I will celebrate having lived 8 years in my house in South Minneapolis. This momentous occasion (8 years is, by far, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place) makes me want to reflect on the meaning of home. I hope to do that in a series of posts over the next couple of days.The following is my third post.

I’m excited to celebrate my 8th anniversary of living in South Minneapolis this Saturday, but it’s really got me thinking about how, just as we were moving into our South Minneapolis house in 2004, my sense of home was crumbling. A few months before we bought the house, my parents sat me down and told me that they were planning to sell the family farm. That farm had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and it was, as I expressed repeatedly in the two farm films, the place that I considered to be my home. In the midst of frequent moves, both as a child and adult, the farm had remained a stable and enduring space for nurturing and connection. When they told me that they were selling it, I knew that some important tie (to family, to past generations, to a homespace) was being severed. A year after losing the farm, my mom was suddenly diagnosed with a death sentence: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. By then, we had been living in our South Minneapolis for a little more than a year. While she beat the odds and lived until 2009, the moment of her cancer diagnosis in October of 2005, shattered my world and further eroded my already fragile connection to home.

In the years since the loss of the farm (fall 2004) and my mom’s diagnosis (fall 2005) and death (fall 2009), I’ve managed to reconstruct a sense of home and feelings of belonging and connection in my South Minneapolis neighborhood. I love where I live and I feel at home here. But, it’s still not (and might never be) the same as the sense of home and belonging that I felt in the UP and with my mom. Usually, I try to forget what was lost; to move forward and celebrate what I have and where I am now. But every fall, in the months of September and October, when those losses first happened, I can’t help but remember what I no longer have.

Yesterday, as I was revisiting footage that I took at the family farm in 2002, I found some clips of me talking to the camera (which I inexpertly set up on a tripod in a field) about the farm as home and of my mom talking with me (holding the camera) about the farm, home and nurturing/being nurtured. These clips are a powerful reminder of just what I’ve lost and probably won’t ever rebuild. As I watched and re-watched them, listening to my mom passionately talk about having a place and people who celebrate and accept you and about the role of a parent it hit me again: losing your mom really sucks.

I’m resisting the urge to qualify that last statement with something like, “but I’m okay” or “it’s gotten easier with time.” Even though I am okay and it is easier than it was right after she died, it still sucks to have lost her. I need to always have space for expressing this undeniable fact, for never forgetting my troubled space of grief.

After watching the clips of me and my mom, I decided to do a (somewhat) rough edit of them and post it on Vimeo. I can’t decide if I want to do more with them, like adding in some of my own voice-over + past photos.  For now, here’s the video:


Note: As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of the week I will celebrate having lived 8 years in my house in South Minneapolis. This momentous occasion (8 years is, by far, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place) makes me want to reflect on the meaning of home. I hope to do that in a series of posts over the next couple of days.

Throughout my graduate work, I was interested in theories about home and homespace. Reading Bernice Johnson Reagan, bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Carole Boyce Davies, Trinh T. Minh-ha and many others, I critically explored what it means to have a home and to belong (to a place, communities, identity). Much of my explorations came out of critical discussions about the limits of identity politics within political movements like feminism. Perhaps the biggest question that I consistently posed was: How do we negotiate the tension between a desire to belong to an identity/community with the need to be critical of that identity/community? This question came out of my own investments in maintaining a critical distance (a troubling space) from my own identity/identities and communities of belonging. I wasn’t interested in rejecting or leaving any of my homespaces. Instead, I wanted to find room to have a troubled/troubling relationship to them. But, I wasn’t sure if maintaining a critical distance would allow for that; it seemed to demand that I permanently inhabit a space of not-quite-belonging.

This tension between belonging/questioning was the subject of my master’s thesis, “The Longing to Belong: Feminism and the Desire for Identity.” It was also the topic for one of the chapters in my dissertation: “In-Between Home and Coalition: Feminist Democracy and Alliances that Work.” And, it was the underlying motivation for the two farm films that STA and I completed in 2001 and 2002.

While looking through my old files (one of these days I will get around to cleaning up and organizing them…ha!), I found my funding proposal for this second farm film. I was requesting travel and materials money for a month-long visit in the summer to the farm in Amasa, MI. I want to post part of it here because it’s one example of how I was attempting to translate the theories I was learning in my PhD program at Emory into meaningful accounts of my own experiences and understandings.

Here’s my project description:
I am requesting summer funding from the Institute for Women’s Studies so that I may continue my autobiographical film project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Having already completed one short (23 minutes) film, this summer I would begin preliminary work on the second in a series of three short documentary/ autobiographies.Together, these three short film autobiographies serve to tell my story through the voices of my family and recollections/memories and visual images of my family’s farmhouse and 80 acres of land in Amasa, Michigan. All three films address issues of identity, selfhood, memory and tradition in their depiction of my struggles (1) to negotiate between my past, present and future identities and (2) to answer the question: How can I honor my heritage without mythologizing it? In my first film (already completed), I focused on introducing these issues and exploring how my family has tried to honor the farm by redefining the kind of “work” that is performed at it. In the second film, I hope to expand on those ideas, paying particular attention to the women of the farm and their changing roles within the family and community.This film will weave together the stories of the Puotinen family women—starting with my great-grandmother Johanna, who came to the US from Finland and helped build the farmhouse in the early 1900s, and continuing through the generations to my 3 year old niece, Isabel.This summer, I will be collecting materials (photographs, letters, memoirs), interviewing immediate and extended family members and filming in and around the Amasa area.

And, some of key questions that I hoped to explore:
1. How do I tell my story? How is my story complicated and enriched by others? How can I tell a story that reflects the fundamental ways in which I am a social being? This semester I am taking Professor Pam Hall’s class on Narrative and Female Selfhood. In that class, we are discussing theories on narrative selfhood and the importance of stories for shaping who we are and how we understand ourselves. Several issues that the class raises for me concern how our stories are told, how those stories intersect and are shaped by other stories and how we negotiate between the different stories that we live.These issues serve as an underlying guide for my film project. In this project, I hope to tell my story as one that is inextricably tied to my family (past, present, future) and our land.This story will not be done as a conventional autobiography by an autonomous “I”. Instead, (only) through the words and stories of my family and the images and stories of the farmhouse and land, I will construct my narrative of selfhood.This narrative will not be mine alone, but will also be the story of the farm and the women who are connected to it.

Note: I remember that this issue of how to insert myself into these stories was a big one for me. I kept asking myself, how much of me (in images and interviews) should I include? Ultimately, logistical difficulties resulted in not much of my own speaking throughout the film. This question of how to imagine/represent myself is still one that I’m struggling experimenting with in digital video.

2. How can we honor our histories without mythologizing them? How do I honor my heritage without romanticizing it? How do I negotiate the tension between belonging to a community (or family) and being critical of that community? In my own theoretical work, these questions are connected to the feminist movement and the need for feminists to have a critical, yet respectful, connection to the past, present and future of feminism and its communities. I have been interested in exploring how feminists can recognize and be critical of the limitations and the dangers (exclusion, essentialisim, etc.) of feminism and its theories and use that critique to transform the movement in ways that honor the larger goals of feminists without repeating their mistakes. In this film, these issues will be addressed through an examination of my place in the history of amazing Puotinen women. My goal will be to honestly, critically and respectfully tell their stories. And, to explore ways in which those stories and the traditions and goals that they embody can be honored and continued in new and possibly better ways.

3. How is my identity/identities connected to a desire for a heritage/ history and a sense of belonging? How and why is that belonging inextricably tied to land? How is my own story told geographically and spatially, through the family farmhouse and land? Although there are a number of ways in which these questions connect with my work (including home as metaphor for identity), I am particularly interested in the ways in which the physical homespace and land function as storytellers. In a sense, the farmland and its buildings are a story that documents the history of the Puotinen family. But, this land does not simply tell my (or my family’s) story. It tells its own story, one in which I must fit my story.With this in mind, I have entitled this film project,The Farm:An Autobiography.And, I hope to explore and experiment with the ways in which the land and the farmhouse are an important part of my autobiography and the biographies of Puotinen women.