31 Aug

Hi, old friends.

After more than a year of silence, I assume most of you know that the project I began once upon a time is over. But based on the continued site views, comments, reblogs, etc., I see that this is still getting a little bit of attention. What to do?

I’ve realized, as my life has changed, that I’m no longer super comfortable having my photos out there for everyone (even though I know the internet is forever); I’ve also realized that the person who wrote all those posts is so far gone from my life that she’s barely recognizable (what a difference a few years makes, no?).

I also realize, though, that some of what I put up here matters a lot to me, and has been useful to others. So I’ve removed myself, as much as possible, from the site and what you’ll see now are just a few select posts — the ones with the most page views, the ones I’m most pleased with, the ones I think matter.

I’ve also left up the Blogging Academia list, with all the links to other Academia and Fashion participants. Many of those blogs are now defunct, as well, but there is a wealth of interesting information to be mined in there if you’re searching.

Anyhow, a fond farewell. I am so pleased that I embarked on this journey with you readers, all those many posts ago, and am so grateful for the experience.

how learning I was sick got me healthy: a story about bodies and brains and love

26 Jun

Until earlier this year, I did not know that I am allergic to the overwhelming majority of the food I used to eat. I spent, then, twenty four years not knowing how to care for my body or what a healthy body feels like. I didn’t know what it meant to feel full or hungry without being in pain; I didn’t know that most people don’t get crippling stomach pain a few hours after a meal, that most people don’t wake up aching and nauseous every morning, that most people don’t spend most nights holding their distended stomachs, wondering when this round of pain would end. Surprise, Martina! That was not normal. You did not have to live like that. Who knew…

That was not normal.

Since finding out about my impressive array of food allergies a few months ago, I’ve changed my diet radically and become, it sometimes feels, the proud inhabitant of a whole new body. The effects of my lifestyle change have been huge, noticeable, and almost totally positive. First and foremost, I feel better physically; my digestion works, I’m not malnourished and bloated anymore, and I can keep food down. These are the basics, you know? But I also feel different in ways that have totally surprised me; I can focus better and longer, I no longer have severe headaches all the time (the amount of money I save on ibuprofin almost makes up for the increased cost of my groceries), I sleep so much better and I wake up without joint pain. My hair is thicker and shinier. My skin is healthier. I don’t even have seasonal allergies this year. It’s amazing what treating your body as it wants to be treated will do for you!

But as I said above, I also feel like I am inhabiting a new space. My relationship to my body has been profoundly altered by addressing my allergies, affording me a measure of peace within myself that I have never felt before. It’s like this:

As with many people, I’ve long harbored a resentment and distrust of my body. Why doesn’t it do what I want it to do? What doesn’t it look like the bodies I see in the media around me? Why does it hunger and ache and desire in ways that I do not want it to? Think about the implications of these all-too-common sentiments. What underlies them is a distinct sense that the self and the body are separate, that the body is a physical vessel for an autonomous brain. How curious a thing to think. And yet how absolutely common! Men and women alike walk around with this body-brain division playing out in our internal speech, telling ourselves (schismed as we are) that we shouldn’t want or need or hunger as we do, that we are somehow separate from the thing that is wanting and needing and hungering. How imprisoned we are by this conversation. Whatever individual form it takes, however it manifests for each individual, this is, I believe, nearly universal (though I believe women experience this with an acuteness that the majority of men don’t, unless of course those men are not able-bodied or cisgendered or are otherwise under the lens of culture in the way that all female bodies are). How sad for us as a species. My older sister and mother (both valiant survivors of eating disorders), my friends, my students… so many of us seem to tell this particular tale about the body we live in and the brain that does the living.

…that’s what treating my food allergies has taught me: that food, hunger, the need for sustenance, is not an obstacle to be overcome but a source of joy and love and nourishment.

I‘ve lived my whole life with this story about myself, that I was fat and weak and a problem. While I’ve never had an eating disorder, I would characterize my eating behavior as disordered in that eating was always a problem to be overcome, not a profoundly important act of self care and self love. And that’s what treating my food allergies has taught me: that food, hunger, the need for sustenance, is not an obstacle to be overcome but a source of joy and love and nourishment. And how surprised I’ve been to learn this lesson! Because truly, eating is more physically time-consuming now than it ever has been. I’m now (mostly) a vegan, so I find that I eat constantly to keep myself feeling full (so much green leafy vegetables! so many legumes!). Because my food allergies are complex and pervasive, I also have to think more about food than ever before; if I’m hungry when I’m out and about, I can’t just wander into a cafe and order from the menu. In fact, I’ve not been able to simply order from a menu since I was diagnosed. I have to plan ahead and eat strategically and be vigilant about checking ingredients and carry safe foods with me and all manner of other things that I never had to do before. This means that feeding myself is a lot more involved than it ever was before. This certainly sounds, I know, like eating is exactly the obstacle I one paragraph ago claimed it was not.

And yet. And yet my brain is surprisingly free of the negative speech with which it used to be inundated. And yet I find myself feeling joy when I sit down to a plate full of food. And yet I feel satisfaction when I rise, sated, from my now-empty plate. And yet the voice in the back of my brain — the slick and insidious Martina who would slink to whisper in my ear after a meal that I was worthless and fat and that my longing for food betokened a deeply flawed character — has lost what once seemed its indescribable power to make me feel horrible, wretched, despairing. And yet I do not desire the foods upon which I used to binge. And yet food now seems not like a drug with which I can momentarily dull psychic pain, not like a way to fill some psychic hole within me, but like a tool to bring pleasure to my mouth and energy to my body. And yet I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full and do not feel ashamed to experience those physical states. And yet I no longer wear my body like a costume awkwardly hemmed for a different woman, but like a custom made gown that fits my me like a well-loved glove.

When I committed to feeding myself respectfully and with kindness, when I committed to accepting my body for what it is (a body without the enzymes necessary to digest milk and eggs, among other things), I had to also accept the other things that my body is (knobby-kneed, prone to bruising, freckled and spotted all over, graying, among other things).

How strange, and what a gift. How profoundly surprised I have been to discover this new relationship to my body. I am not saying that I never feel bad about my body. I pessimistically believe that there is no way to live in this world without feeling conflicted about one’s body — there are too many systems that exist solely to encourage that experience for anyone to be wholly untouched by those messages. But I am saying that in taking on the grand project of Getting Better and Learning How to Take Care of Myself, I reoriented my notion of my body, of my self, and of the role that food — nourishment, sustenance — played in that relationship. When I committed to feeding myself respectfully and with kindness, when I committed to accepting my body for what it is (a body without the enzymes necessary to digest milk and eggs, among other things), I had to also accept the other things that my body is (knobby-kneed, prone to bruising, freckled and spotted all over, graying, among other things). And when my body accepted my kindness and returned to me kindness of manifold greater amounts (no more stomach pain, no more blinding headaches, among other things), the positive feedback loop was established and, without trying, a kind of love between myself and my body blossomed until, as true love can often do, the difference between my body and my brain or myself no longer seemed clear. How lucky I feel, now, to have gotten sick.

What often surprises me most when I talk to people about my allergies or my diet or my relationship to food is their shock that I would be able to give up such delicious things as cheese and omelets and hamburgers. More people than I would have believed have said to me some variation of, “if I were you, I think I would just eat those things anyhow. I mean, how can you give up ice cream?” And certainly I understand this sentiment at least in part; yes, I have looked at gorgeous displays of sumptuous cheeses and glistening avocados and thought, “my how I miss those tastes.” But I have not eaten them, because as delicious as I remember those fleeting tastes to be, the physical pain is what I remember most. And out of respect for my body — out of respect, that is, for my self — I do not desire those things that cause me pain. Those people, then, who have said that they would rather the pain of eating than the momentary discomfort of abstaining seem to me caught in the greatest lie of all, the lie I lived in for my whole life: that food is about pain, about a constant seesaw from pleasure to pain and back again, and that if food is delicious, we ought to be punished for enjoying it. They seem almost to accept the pain as deserved, as their comeuppance for the crime of pleasure or desire. But my body forced me out of this lie and so no, I don’t crave cheese or pineapple or rice the way I thought I would because the experience of comfort within my body — physically and psychically — is greater than any desire. Because food now is about joy and nourishment and energy and fuel and satisfaction, not about whether my physical self conforms to some narrow delineation of a Good Body. I might not be free from societal narratives about my worth, but I feel that I can now see my fetters and, in seeing them, am now aware that it was never my body holding me down, it was the shackles of those cruel myths about my body that trapped me, helpless, in a cycle of self-loathing and self-recrimination.

Learning that I was sick … forced me to accept that I did not deserve pain.

So getting sick taught me to love myself, as cliched and simple as that sounds. Learning that I was sick — not just in my body but in my relationship to my body — forced me to learn what health looks like, feels like, lives like. It forced me to listen to my pain and take it seriously. It forced me to take seriously that I needed to care for myself. It forced me to accept that I did not deserve pain. It encouraged me to enjoy the feeling of health and satisfaction. It brought me to a new kind of respect for the way these human forms work. Ultimately, it made me love the body I live within and no longer think about my self as separate from that body. So this is a story about the body and the brain and the love that unites them. This is a story about pain and pleasure. This is a story about food.

another note on nonsense

23 May

In response to my original post on cat-calling and my responses to it, I got an interesting question that I wanted to bring up here. I cross-posted this to Feministing, and here’s what I was asked:

Why is their “responsibility to actively work to change those systems”? What’s in it for them?

Not trying to be a jerk but asking a legitimate question.

I suspect alot of men actually want you to talk back and that their silence has more to do with them being embarrassed by the scene you are making then the behaviour of the guy. It’s a tough situation to be in b/c doing what you do only makes you look like the crazy one, yet doing nothing makes some women feel powerless. I feel for you.

Super valid question! So valid, in fact, that it made me articulate myself a little more clearly, so I wanted to post my response here as well:

I don’t think this is jerk-ish at all; you raise a valid question. Here’s my thoughts on why men, too, share responsibility for calling out and attempting to countermand misogyny:

1. When you’re in a privileged subject position — male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, cis privilege, able-bodied privilege, etc — you are always already reaping the benefits of that privilege. This is true whether you like it or not, whether you know it or not, whether you want to be or not. So you can either actively work towards equality, which means admitting that your privilege is not earned but is instead received at the expense of another, or you can be a signatory to those unequal systems of power that privilege you and disenfranchise others. Being a signatory happens in two ways: passive or active. The cat-caller in question is an active participant in his privilege, but by not speaking against him, his friends and all the other onlookers (male, female, whomever) are being passive participants, passive signatories. So it’s the responsibility of those who witness to speak up and out against these systems of power when and how they can in order to work against them. There’s no neutral position.

2. It’s their responsibility because, as I said, I’ll leave, and they’ll all be standing there in the wake of out interaction, and if those onlookers want to actually be agents of equality, they have to — have to! — not allow the conversation to end with me. They need to use their privilege and their access and their power to continue engaging and challenging misogyny, even if it is uncomfortable.

3. It’s their responsibility because if onlookers would agree with people like me and refuse to associate with bigots and misogynists like the cat-caller, then Mr. Cat-Caller would have no safe social space in which to be a misogynist. This is about creating communities that will not abide that kind of behavior and as an outsider, there’s little I can do to affect that community. So it’s up to the insiders.

I hope this makes my position a little clearer. You’re absolutely right that these situations are uncomfortable and that those scenes embarrass us all, but I think we need to be willing to experience the kind of discomfort that this elicits in order to change these systems. I appreciate your sympathy and willingness to engage with these issues.

further nonsense

21 May

A perfect opportunity to follow up on my last post showed up in the comment stream today, so I thought I’d share it with you all and respond to it publicly.

What you’ve got there is a fearsome internet warrior, one Bradeep Ncube, challenging me about whether or not I was telling the truth about talking back to cat-callers (click on the image to see the comment in its unchanged condition on my original post). What Mr. Ncube doesn’t know is that he owes me a crisp fifty dollar bill now, because not only would I do any and all of what I wrote about last week, but I have done that and will do it again, whenever I have the safety to do so, and am doing it now by talking back to him.

But let’s recap, okay? What I wrote about last week was an instance of street harassment and my response to it. I had been called out at on the street, just down the road from my house, while biking home one recent evening. A young-looking fellow had yelled something to me like “hey baby, why not roll on up here blahblahbullshitblah” and I responded with a very similar diatribe to the one I posted on Friday. The abridged version, for those of you who don’t want to (re)visit my vitriol, is as follows: you don’t have the right to speak to me that way and if you do, I’m going to get in your face and call you on it. No one has the right to put my body on display and attempt to belittle me for my female subjectivity, so the kind of pathetic adolescents who enjoy cat-calling should be prepared to get a loud, humiliating, public earful if they make the grave mistake of calling out this bitch. End quote.

So anyhow, as you can well guess, Mr. Ncube thinks that I’m full of a lot of hot air, but unfortunately for him, I’m mostly full of piss and vinegar and I take his kind of bullshit just as seriously as I take the things that get yelled at me on the street.

Mr. Ncube, you may be unaware, but your behavior here is the part and parcel of the privileged, patriarchal, misogynistic behavior of every man who hollers at women on the street; you are challenging my personhood and my humanity by calling into question my voice. You are attempting to reduce the power of my response by co-opting it, by passing judgement upon it, by re-framing it as, what? A whole lot of feminist bluster without any force behind it? I can’t speak for you, but there’s my assumption. In essence, I assume, based on your comment, that you think I am actually the weak female stereotype who talks a big game but is easily cowed by the presence of male privilege.

Mr. Ncube, you are so very wrong. You see, my mother and all my Feminist Godmothers raised me to believe that I have a voice and that I can use that voice and that it is my primal responsibility to use that voice to protect myself. So if you think I won’t call out the men who cat-called me, then you must think I won’t call out you, either. But I will and I am and I will continue to speak back at those who speak against me and I will not let you silence me. Surprise!

Here’s the part where you speak a grain of truth, Mr. Ncube: I do not always talk back. Because the sad goddamn truth is that I don’t have the privileged subject position to always speak back; sometimes it’s late at night, or it’s dark, or I’m vastly outnumbered, or I’m alone, or I feel unsafe, or I’m in any number of other circumstances that mean it is safer for me to remain silent and accept verbal abuse than to open my mouth and risk physical abuse. Did you know, Mr. Ncube, that someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the US? That nearly one fifth of women report being sexually assaulted and that since 54% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, chances are that 1/5 is a low estimate? I’m attempting to beat the statistical likelihood of being assaulted, because I live within the dangerous bodily experience of being a woman, so yes, sometimes I choose safety over speaking out. Sometime, the kind of privilege you’re attempting to wield here does succeed in silencing me. But you know what else? You scare me precisely not one bit, so this? This is one of those times when I will speak out.

Look, I doubt Bradeep Ncube is reading this. He likely sidled by my digital soapbox, left his mark like a dog pissing in the street, and moved along, because he likely doesn’t have the courage or moral fortitude to actually face me. I mean, how brave is it to leave a virtually anonymous comment on some random blog you don’t (to the best of my knowledge) follow? At the same time, how goddamn brave is it for me to use this digital platform to broadcast my voice? Not that much braver, in actuality, which is why I practice what I preach and type and teach, and did in fact speak back to the boys who cat-called me and am speaking back to Bradeep Ncube, whether or not he’ll hear me. I tell the truth here, friends, and that’s what’s brave. So Ncube isn’t likely reading this and thus I’m unlikely to change his mind or actually have the chance to engage in real discourse with him. Oh well. No big loss.

Therefore, what I mean to do in this post isn’t (just) to give the lie to his assumption of me, but is part of the same talking-back project I outlined in my last post. When people speak against me, I speak back, whether those people are cowards on a street corner or cowards lurking in the corners of the web. There have been many things written by smarter and better informed people than me about the incidences of digital harassment of female bloggers. I recommend reading those things, because they are profound and insightful and offer useful and nuanced approaches to dealing with this new realm of harassment. This, however, is my approach: talking back.

In sum: Bradeep Ncube, you owe me $50 and an apology. I doubt I’ll get either, but that won’t — now or ever — stop me from saying it.

in which I will brook none of that nonsense

18 May

Fair warning to all sad, sorry young men trolling the streets of my city: if you cat-call me (as one unfortunate boy discovered the other day), I will not take it.

I will instead stop my bike, ask you to please explain precisely why you think it’s acceptable to speak to me that way, and spend the next five to seven minutes schooling you on just exactly how sad and sorry you are; the bigger the audience, the better, because if you think that you can shame me for being a woman, then I’d very much like you to be as shamed as possible in as public an arena as possible. If you shout at me on the street, I will shout back because you are putting my body on display and expecting my silent acquiescence. If you think that my female subjectivity makes my body forfeit, then you are, in this case, sadly goddamn mistaken. I’m not interested in that game, so I’m going to shout and lecture and belittle you — I am going to get in your face — I am going to make you look at my eyes and not at my tits — I’m going to make a big goddamn scene — I’m going to crush you with my intellect and my voice and my power so that what is now on display is your pathetic misogyny, not my body.

I am decidedly not your “baby girl.” You seem to be unclear about why that’s an insulting thing to call me, a grown-ass woman, so let me explain; by calling me “baby girl,” you are attempting to reduce my subjectivity to the kind of small, manageable size that allows you to overpower me, to disregard my personhood, and to ignore my humanity. By calling me “baby girl,” you elide me. That’s not to say that the term baby girl never be one of endearment or kindness, but if you’ll recall, I don’t know and therefore cannot endear you. If I gave you permission to speak to me in that way, it would be a different matter but, hey! I didn’t, so shut your mouth. I am no one’s baby, I am not a girl, and, more importantly, I am not the kind of woman who allows herself to be spoken to in that manner. Should I repeat myself? I’ll repeat myself: if you call me out on the street, expect that I will speak back. You want a monologue, but you’ve damn well walked into a dialogue, and now we’re going to have a conversation. It’s not as much fun when your victim talks back, is it?

I apologize for the fact that we live in a culture that trains you to think that you can somehow enhance your masculinity through that kind of behavior, but my sadness will not diminish the righteous fury of my talking back. I am sorry that you’ve been led to believe that you will be bigger, better, and more manly if you belittle women. I’m sorry that your own male subjectivity means you’ve been locked into unequal, unjust networks of power. Your personhood is just as restricted as mine by these systems and that means that misogyny is a goddamn tragedy for the both of us. But you still have more privilege than I do, straight white man, and thus it is your responsibility to actively work to change those systems. You are a beneficiary of your privilege, but you don’t have to be a signatory to my oppression. If you want to actually prove yourself to be a person of worth, then you will join in the fight against this kind of bullshit instead of actively engaging in it.

And to the other men, standing around embarrassed and silent while I yelled at your friend? You are tacitly approving of his behavior by not taking a stance against it. Call him out, don’t let him save face, don’t put up with that bullshit. Because I’m about to bike away and then it will be up to you to take the next step. Do you want to be men of quality, or do you want to be passive supporters of inequality?

In sum, young sir, you picked the wrong bitch to mess with.

Follow-up #1
Follow-up #2

how I spent my first day of spring

20 Mar

Thanks, first of all, to everyone who commented on my last post about tattoos. You all are amazingly smart people with really great things to say. I was really interested to hear your opinions about and experience with tattoos, tattooed educators (at all levels), and the emotional connection you have to marking the stages of your life (be that in ink or otherwise). I’m super delighted to have such amazing readers who not only read my blabbering, but share these little pieces of themselves with me.

And anyhow, here’s how I spent my first day of spring:

Better pictures to come, but suffice it to say: I am in love with my new piece of art and I can’t wait to watch it grow on and with and through me.

(p.s. People in Eugene, OR: I really recommend the artist Splat at High Priestess. Not only is he just a super delightful person, but he’s an amazing artist with a super light touch. I barely even felt this thing!)

Sunday afternoon thought break: tattooed professors

18 Mar

I’m knee-deep in end of the term business — papers and exams and grading and fun! — but I’m taking a break to ponder tattoos and academia.

Why would you ponder that, Martina? Good question, blank computer screen onto which I’m projecting the thoughts of my potential readers!

The answer is: because I just scheduled a consultation for my next tattoo. The plan is for the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” to be inked onto the inside of my left arm, just below the elbow. And I’m pretty damn excited about it. But there are those who are not so excited about tattoos, especially visible ones, and their impact on one’s potential future employment. So here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on the matter.

  1. If my tattoo is really the thing that keeps me from getting a job, they probably wouldn’t have liked me as an employee anyway. It’s highly unlikely that the kinds of places that are strictly and officially anti-body art would even be an option for an academic like myself. I mean, this Jew-with-a-gay-mom-who-writes-about-abortion-and-the-apocalypse thing that I’ve got going on pretty much takes me out of the running for working at a school like Missouri Southern State University or George Fox University. And no love lost there for me!
  2. The question is whether institutions without formal rules banning tattoos will nevertheless be biased against me if I have tattoos. Good question. People are judgmental about a whole lot of things, especially bodies. But if I can successfully cover my wrist tattoo (can and occasionally do!), then I think the middle of my arm should be easily concealable. And truly, I think that the face of my field is changing such that a tattooed English professor isn’t really a concern for most.
  3. The further question is: what will my students think. Easy answer: they’ll think whatever the hell they want to think. And I’ll still be the one who gets to grade them at the end of the term! Blamo: teachers have the power! But really, studies have shown that many students actually respond positively to tattooed faculty, so I’m not actually concerned about it. Plus, I try not to show off too much of my body to my students as is, so they might never even see the new piece of work, and since I’m a curvaceous woman, they’re probably more likely to be fixated on (ahem) other parts of my body than my arms.
  4. The truth is, it’s my damn body and I’m going to mark it and decorate it and dress it and love it however I damn well please. And adding this piece of artwork to my arm is a way to mark, decorate, dress, and love myself that feels sanctified and right. So I’m going to do it and when I look at it, I’m going to love myself, and that is worth the time, the money, the pain, and whatever judgment I might get. I truly don’t understand why I shouldn’t honor my life’s progress and process in a physical way. I like making manifest what is otherwise intangible; I like the idea of writing my life onto my skin, inscribing upon myself my joy and sadness and triumphs and failures. I like when Margaret Cho says that she “love[s] heavily tattooed women” because she “imagine[s that] their lives are filled with sensuality and excess, madness and generosity, impulsive natures and fights. They look like they have endured much pain and sadness, yet have the ability to transcend all of it by documenting it on the body.” I like documenting. So I’ve chosen, for the second time now, to document in flesh and ink and word and color. Good.

Those are my thoughts, inarticulate as they may be.

But what I really want to know is this: what do you all think? Are you tattooed and, if so, what has been your experience wearing your skin out into the world? Do you want tattoos, or want to add to your collection? If so, why? What do they mean to or do for you? And of course, if you’re not so hot on tattoos, I’d love to know why that’s so!

Update: in case you’re reading this (and aren’t a subscriber to the blog) and are wondering “did she do it?”, then check out this follow-up post to see the low-quality picture of my beautiful new tattoo!