Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Home confusing home

Fab fiance and I just returned from a whirlwind wedding planning weekend in Dayton and Cincinnati, our respective hometowns. I left Cincinnati at age 18, drowning in self-doubt, depression, and a desperation to leave behind the identity- fat, kid-from-divorced-home-amidst-LeaveItToBeaver-neighborhood, overly politically active, angry, and reeling from the fact that I had no emotional tools at my disposal to "process", Dr. Phil style, the sexual assault I experienced at age 15. I was escaping my identity- equal parts foisted upon me and embraced by me as a means of justifying my anger towards the things around me which I could not control- just as much as I was escaping the small-ish town in which I grew up.

I left Ohio shaking my hands to the heavens, Miss Scarlett style, swearing, "As God as my witness, I will never live in Ohio again!" Joke's on me that no fewer than three weeks into my freshman year of college at American University that I met a lovely boy from less than 40 minutes up the road from my hometown, fell in love with him the next year, and am now preparing to walk down the aisle with him in 54 weeks (but who's counting?). Dreaming up the ways we plan to show off our shared heritage, I am again and again being struck by the wonderful aspects of my (gulp...I have tried to shrug this label for nine years) hometown. The beautiful art deco architecture, the lush foliage thick with deer (much to the chagrin of the Oakwood city council), and, yes, the affordable cost of housing. My fiance's home village claims one of the best school districts in the country, and running around the track with him and my in-laws this weekend I couldn't help feeling that I was cheating any potential offspring out of the opportunity for a tremendous future by completely shutting my mind to the possibility of returning. Of course, it's not just good schools and the prospects of home ownership that appeal, it's the fact that I emotionally mark my seasons with Cincinnati's many alluring festivals- trips to the not-so-scary haunted hay ride, cutting down fresh Christmas trees (sorry environmentalist pals), Khron's Conservatory spring flower shows, and the annual summer 14 hour pilgrimage in search of the nearest beach.

As I write this five days before my 28th birthday, I have the feeling that perhaps I have settled into an identity that no longer has to be defined simply by what I am not- namely, the overweight, over defensive, over eager to define a new me girl I was when I packed up my red LeBaron convertible and rolled out of town in a cloud of dust and defensiveness nine years ago. Perhaps I am not ready to head 'home' today, but I am grateful to embrace the possibility that my new found sense of self can stick, regardless of where I call home.
Enjoying the view of the Ohio river.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lessons learned week three of Ph.D. program

Above and beyond the insights gleaned from 50 hours of reading over the past three weeks, here's a few other epistemological gems I've picked up since embarking on my Ph.D. adventure:

Diet Mountain Dew and jogging are not sufficient substitutes for sleep.

Learning Russian is very hard. Learning Russian via online course at NOVA just plain sucks.

Reading glasses are the shit. Not only do they help your eyes not feel like they are full of sand after 8 hours of writing and reading, as a bonus you look kinda like a naughty librarian.

Paying attention to the expiration date on your Groupons is difficult when you have 98 other things that feel urgent. Result? Inconvenient fun: Captain America last Sunday night, followed by swanky dinner at Park & 14th on Thursday. Who's the super smart hero with a plan now, Steve Rogers? Umm, yeah, right. Not me.

Life is short, sweet and precious. Spending 85% of it under florescent lights reading can vastly increase your appreciation for the finer things of life...like sleep.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering September 12th

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has felt like an ominous looming presence on the horizon for the past few years, an inevitable emotional hurdle that as a nation we would have to collectively catapult at some point, a marker that, despite the feeling that the attacks were just yesterday, in fact 3,652 days have passed since the towers fell and our shiny bubble sense of security was savagely, irrevocably burst.

On my way home yesterday I passed by the high school up the street from my house. The front display read "Remember 9/11", and was surrounded by small American flags that had been placed all around it. Not 15 minutes drive from the Pentagon, the possibility of anyone in my neighborhood forgetting 9/11 seems fairly slim.

9/11 is stuck in my mind in a million ways. The yellow sheets I went to sleep snuggled in on 9/10, the smell of the Yankee Sunflower candle next to my bed the same color of the friendly sheets. The phone call from my mom, waking me up the next morning (yep, late sleeper), frantically telling me to turn on the TV. Spending the day with friends, watching in horror the unfolding coverage as we waited for their kids to come home from school to try to explain the previously unimaginable.

Looking at the high school's sign, however, memories from the day after the attacks is what came to mind. September 12, 2001, for a brief, fleeting moment, Americans became a "We". E pluribus unum- out of many cries of desperation, loss, shock and pain, Americans became One nation, committed to moving forward despite the horrific assault We had endured. We may have disagreed vehemently on what 'moving forward' should look like, what direction in which We should head, nor the manner in which We would progress, but We were united in a commitment to assist one another along the way. We wept for those we never knew, shuddered in terror at the prospect that those we love could, indeed, be taken from us in an instant by threats heretofore imagined only by those employed to dream up nightmare scenarios in order to protect Us. We came together in synagogues, mosques, churches, Rotary club halls, and on the steps of Congress. The metal of the smoldering towers melded us together in ways that no bipartisan piece of legislation ever could.

Today, sitting in the comfort of my office only a few miles from those same steps where our legislators came together 2,652 days ago to sing "God Bless America" as we looked heavenward and questioned how to move past our pain, I wonder how 'we' can become that We America became on September 12, 2001. Last night members of Congress gathered again on the steps of the Capitol to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks. I wonder, though, whether the spirit of unity lasted when they went back to their offices. It feels like we are more divided then ever. Ten years ago the towers crashed, and it brought out the best in us at the worst of times. Looking out at the landscape today- the economy in tatters, the unemployment rate threatening to collapse, and the American Dream of white picket fences and 2.3 children beginning to seem as distant a memory as going through airport security with our shoes on- I wonder what calamity it would take to bring Us together again. Why must we wait for the worst to come to muster the best in ourselves? To draw together as a We, rather than point to the 'other' for the problems facing the 'me'? When slammed into rock bottom, We drew together to climb back out. Just because we are heading back down at a more insidious rate of decline, can we not see that bottom is where we are headed once more? Perhaps the threat today is not hard metal misappropriated mid-air, but hard heads intent on blaming our descent on someone rather than finding a way to break the fall.

I can't imagine ever forgetting 9/11; the shock of the day, the pain and horror of the days and weeks to follow. I hope to always remember 9/12, the day We came together.

After 10 years, life goes on. So can We. Let's do it together.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Even if your inbox is still full

A friend once commented, attempting to calm me down mid new-grad-student freak-out, that the goal of life isn't to die with your inbox empty. Regardless of our jobs or roles, it's so easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of data, tasks, family obligations, work, social commitments, and general to-dos of life. This is week two of my life as a Ph.D. student, and I've lost count of how many times I have felt completely smothered by the goals I am setting for myself over the next four years. I have so much I want to say, so much I want to learn. I want to publish on sexual violence, I want to contribute to policy conversations and debates on rape in the context of war, I want to help innovate sustainable solutions to gender-based conflicts...so many things to which I hope to be able to make a valid contribution, and I have found myself growing panicked at the thought that there just are not enough hours, not enough brain cells, not enough energy.

And then, in the midst of the din, I get an email from a department chair that one of my fellow students, Franki Rutherford, passed away last night from pancreatic cancer. My brain falls silent, the chorus of self-doubt and overwhelm hushes to a dull hum in the background of my consciousness.

Last fall, Franki and I were in a feminist research methods class together, and I constantly found myself challenged by her comments. She was a spitfire of a woman; headstrong, determined, opinionated, and an absolutely unstoppable advocate for equality. She was researching women faculty and leadership appointments at our university, and was completely fired up over the disparities in access and opportunities available for women within the upper echelons of university administration. She shared openly her discouragement that so much gender disparity still exists, despite the vast improvements from when she first entered the work force three decades ago. I could identify with her frustration. She rallied other students to get pissed too, the type of righteous indignation that can move mountains.

I have to admit though, I often felt overcome, almost resigned, when hearing from Franki how far away American women still are from equality. We have it pretty great- relatively speaking to our female counterparts around the globe in war torn and/or economically developing countries- but if we still are fighting an uphill battle for simple pay equity and the right to not get solicited for bedtime fun at work, how can we possibly turn the tide against the gender-based violence that engulfs so many of us? It made me tired just thinking about the journey ahead, but it made Franki pissed off in a more productive manner; she was ready to lead the charge, rally the troops, and storm the castle.

When I learned of her death this morning, I was overcome remembering how vibrant and committed she was when I saw her this spring. Still fired up about her research, ready to take down the Man, eager to usher in a new dawn for women. And here I am today, reading an email that the charge she led will have to go on without her. I think of all the dreams and hopes she was pouring into the struggle she cared so much about, how she didn't shrink in the face of the insurmountable odds stacked against women around the world, and I am inspired.

The goal is not to get it all done before the lights go off. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to say our piece as best we can while the spotlight shines upon us, and hope that those who hear us will carry on the tune once we exit the stage.

Prayers to the Rutherford family, much love to you all at this moment. Franki, you will be missed.