Archive for the Small Epiphanies Category

Collapsing Boundaries Among I’s; Collapsing Time

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , on December 11, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 10

I am re-reading my dissertation in preparation for the defense on Wednesday.


And I like it.

There. Now the gods will smack me down. Narcissus all over again.

My car will break down on the way to Columbia. My book bag will spring open, of its own will, and my single copy of my dissertation will fly out, page by individual page, and float down W. 12o St. like giant snowflakes getting run over and turned to grey slush by car tires.

I will arrive at the defense out of breath, sweaty, dissertation-less, discombobulated, and ready to write one of those Worst Case Scenario Survival handbooks.

But let me first ask you this: Is dementia an epic metaphor for post-structural notions of memory?

Smith and Watson tell us this:

Readers often conceive of autobiographical narrative as telling unified stories of their lives, as creating or discovering coherent selves. But both the unified story and the coherent self are myths of identity. For there is no coherent “self” that predates stories about identity, about “who” one is. Nor is there a unified, stable, immutable self that can remember everything that has happened in the past. We are always fragmented in time, taking a particular or provisional perspective on the moving target of our pasts, addressing multiple and disparate audiences.

We are always fragmented in time. Our selves, our subjectivities are decentered, unknowable, fragmented. Is dementia a loss of the ability to impose culturally acceptable narratives, to stay put in one time, to stay put in one narrative? To stay put as one’s present, in-the-moment I? It dementia a collapsing of the boundaries between all those momentarily-existing I’s?

Shrinking, Belated Epiphanies

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 10, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 9

Still digesting the Psychic Sisters experience. And the resulting evidence of my rather fragmented psyche.

Still trying to figure out what to talk about during the first ten minutes of my dissertation defense, during which I am supposed to say something intelligent. And probably relevant.

Still unpacking the car from four months of living and writing on the east end of Long Island, with two collies and one cat, and all the various paraphernalia needed to keep them, and the writing, alive.

Still, on a related note, climbing over half-unpacked bags and boxes and suitcases, unwrapped Christmas presents and rolls of wrapping paper,  and sprawled, sleeping dogs and cats, as I try to clear a path through my apartment.

Still catching up on episodes of Glee instead of rereading my dissertation to prepare for the defense.

Still late and still short.


A Little Late, and a Little Short

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 9, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 8

Just got home from an evening with the Psychic Sisters at my sister-in-law’s. Very intriguing. Need to digest. Will write more tomorrow.


Lurching, Fragmented Time

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 7

We are home, in Patchogue, safe and sound, and Honey and Scout celebrated by sniffing every single blade of grass, individually, and thus gathering the latest news of the canine population of Fair Harbor.

It’s good to be home, and I feel as though some of the anxiety I’ve been attributing to the dissertation defense has lifted, and was, maybe, due more to moving home (and carting all my stuff back to Patchogue) than I realized.

But now. Now I can concentrate on the defense.

All day, in the back of my mind, I’ve been trying to think of questions that the committee might ask me, and I can’t think of any. In fact, I can’t even think of what my dissertation is really about right now. This, I guess, is its own form of  jitters. So, I’m going to reread the damn thing for the millionth time and appease my anxiety by memorizing names of theorists which will virtually guarantee that no one asks me about a theorist–because that is how my attempts at studying usually go. I will plan speeches in my head, and recite them in my sleep, and no one will ask me questions to which those speeches will be appropriate responses. And the defense will be something completely other than my imaginings. But I will follow my process nonetheless.

One thing I do want to be prepared to talk about is where I want to go next with this research, what my plans are, where I see the ideas going, that sort of thing. I was asked this question during the defense of my MA thesis, and I said, rather inappropriately, that the only thing I planned to do with my thesis and all of the background research was to have a big bonfire. I suspect that this answer, genuine though it was at the time, will not fly in this go around.

The truth is I have only vague notions of where I want to go with this. I want this published. This dissertation. Exactly as it is, if possible, which of course it won’t be. But after that? After that I think I want to write about my dad. This project centers so much on my dad and his stories and family and memory; it seems logical, or necessary even, to write about my father’s memory as he loses it, to write about the peculiarities of what he loses and when, and what he remembers, and how his mind seems to be working, and to examine my own visceral, inchoate reactions to all of this, which, to be honest, are not always the most compassionate or helpful.

For example:

When my father thinks my mother is his sister, I want to let that situation play itself out. I want, somehow, a glimpse of my father’s relationship with his sister, as though I could see that through his confusion about my mother. When my father thinks we are in the house on E. 2nd, I want him to describe it to me, every detail–the sounds of the trolleys on MacDonald Avenue, the temperature of the room, my grandfather’s mood, the fabric on the sofa, the scent of the breeze moving the curtains on the front windows, his sisters’ voices in the background.

I am sick and twisted. And while my father’s brain may be lurching back and forth, unwillingly, through time, dementia is not a time machine.

But. But, but, but.

Time is a series of discourses that structure both self perception and perceptions of others. We never really go back or forward but use memory and prediction to write narratives that are self fulfilling, self justifying, self accusing, or self abusing. The past is never past and the future is always beyond our grasp.

What happens when we look at my father’s memory through this lens? When we look at dementia? Or any normal, healthy memory? What happens when we are using memory to write ourselves, and memory is failing, physically, beyond all of the ways in which I’ve already talked about memory failing in theory?


Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 7, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 6

I really want to respond to my friend B’s thoughts about time and discourse, particularly where he says, “Time is a series of discourses that structure both self perception and perceptions of others.”

And I will.

But not tonight.

Tonight is my last night on the east end. I’ve been out here since July 29, and I’ve loved, loved, loved it., and I’m going to be very sad leaving. Over-shadowing the leaving part, though, is that I’m defending my dissertation–which was finished and restructured and honed and edited and polished and revised and all kinds of mean, nasty things, and awesome things, over the past four months out here–on Wednesday, and I’ve just about lost all ability to focus on anything but that. I am in that fog that one falls into before one presents at a conference for the first time. I can’t think. I’m vaguely nauseous. I’m sort of paralyzed while my brain is cooking up all sorts of nasty scenarios. I have one lone xanax and so will have to act like an adult who can handle stress until Tuesday when I can take my last, saved-for-a-special-occasion, expired pill so I can sleep the night before the defense.

It has been a perfectly amazing and perfectly horrible four months, and I’m glad I came out here, and I’m glad I’m going home, too.

The Hegemony of the Good Photograph: Or, an Excuse to Post More Sunset Pics

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , on December 6, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 5

I have been immersed in and happily enslaved to language my entire life, from when I first started reading. No, from when my parents first started telling me and reading me bedtime stories. When I was a kid, long after bedtime, I’d hang off the side of the bed reading my book by a sliver of the hall light. During the day, when my mother would take the book out of my hands and make me go outside to play, I’d sneak the book out and go find a tree to sit in, or a bush to hide under, and keep reading.

Nothing made me happier than to discover that places in novels were real,  like Betsy and Tacy’s houses in Mankato and the Radisson in Minneapolis, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine from so many of Madeleine L’Engle’s novels right here in New York.

I fell in love with words. I love amok, and bereft. I love fragmented, and protean, and primeval. I love fetid.

I’ve read and written for so long that I’ve learned to trust my own sense of what’s good and what’s bad and when and why rules need to be broken. (Well, with prose, if not so much with poetry.) The relationship between language and power, between literacies and power, the power relationships within communities of practice–these are things to be manipulated and challenged.

My relationship with images is less complex, less developed, less confident. I tend toward, “Sunsets ARE beautiful. The cliche had to come from somewhere!” And I want to remember every one, so I keep taking pictures of them. And I think my dogs are the cutest, smartest dogs anywhere, so I keep taking photos of them too. I occasionally take an interesting photo, I think. Usually it’s by accident. But even then I’m not sure if it’s truly interesting, creative, outside, or if it’s the Hallmark version of alternative. Something already co-opted.

What’s really behind my photo choices? A lack of creativity? A lack of experience? I wrote for a long time, in good girl ways, in accepted voices and styles and structures, before I started to try to change things up, to do something (I hope) no one else was doing. Where is my willingness, my desire, to stretch genre boundaries, to break rules, to experiment, to challenge the hegemony of the good photograph in the ways I have challenged (I hope) the hegemony of good writing?

Is this how my students feel when I ask them to identify and then challenge the discourses that are writing our lives? Does my position of power in the classroom (that’s a lot of power) and in the field (that’s just a little power, but some, nonetheless) give me the room to challenge, to subvert, to make change, with only minimal risk?

Time is a piece of wax falling on a termite who’s choking on a splinter: or, My friend B disrupts the space/time continuum

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 4

This posting every day thing is hard. I have a bunch of unfinished fragments of posts.

This is from my friend B, and I’ll write in response to it tomorrow. Meanwhile, talk amongst yourselves.

The construction of persona is a constant negotiation between biography and autobiography and so all writing/reading involves elements of reflection (autobio) and projection (bio). We write ourselves and read others but are written on and read by others too. We are simultaneously composing and decomposing past-present-future modes as rhetorical constructs through which our own personas adapt, change, accept, and resist. Time is a series of discourses that structure both self perception and perceptions of others. We never really go back or forward but use memory and prediction to write narratives that are self fulfilling, self justifying, self accusing, or self abusing. The past is never past and the future is always beyond our grasp.

Holy crap. Still digesting this. But I love, love, love it.

Question: When I say subjectivity is discursive, am I saying it is a rhetorical construct? I think I am. Is it sometimes not a rhetorical construct?

The Wayback, the Tree Monster, and American Cyanamid

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , on December 4, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 3

We had a wayback. We had a tree monster.  My cousins had American Cyanamid.

As a child, I never quite caught the name of the place, and in my imagination it became some sort of enchanted forest.

I don’t know what they did there when they were nine and ten and I was still only four or five, but it was something akin to the battles fought by the Pevensie kids against the White Witch in Narnia.

They got there through my cousin Richie’s backyard. Beyond the pens where my uncle raised collies, beyond the crab apple trees, on the other side of the pool, up and over a hill, out of sight.

Not that my cousins needed an enchanted forest to stage an adventure. They did just fine in Brooklyn, and in Wayne, and in Smithtown.

My cousins, in particular Joni, Jaci, Dave, Steve and Richie, were mythical creatures who existed on the slightly scary, definitely fascinating, lawless edges of my life as a little girl. Joni and Richie captured a goose and walked it home along Hamburg Turnpike. Richie, Dave and Steve put firecrackers in crab apples, lit the fuses and tossed them out over the road in front of the house. They teased “the publics,” the kids who went to public school instead of to Catholic school with them. They fell in creeks in the middle of winter and came home wet, half-frozen, gleeful and in big trouble.

When we got a little bit older, Dave and Richie would persuade Mike and Billy, who were much younger, to ring and run the long-suffering neighbors of my Pacanack Lake cousins during their Thanksgiving dinners, to steal light bulbs out of their lamp posts, to peek in their bay windows making scary faces, by telling the boys they’d be “real men” if they didn’t get caught. “You stay here and watch Adrienne and Kathy,” they’d say to me.

I wanted to be them, but they were always just beyond my reach, as audacious and elusive as the eighth graders seemed to my second-grade self on the school bus to St. Patrick’s–as those eighth graders seem to me, in some ways, still. It was enough, mostly, to be in their presence.

Our wayback is the open, weedy part of my parents’ backyard that comes after the patio, the lawn, and a tiny bit of forest–just enough trees that you can’t see the wayback from the house, so it always felt secret and secluded.

The tree monster was in Freddy Kranz’s backyard next door–an old tree trunk that fell on to another tree and was suspended that way for years. It was a neighborhood meeting place: something to climb on and build forts under. It was base for countless games of Manhunt on muggy summer nights swarming with buzzing mosquitos, and probably where my brother and his friends practiced smoking cigarettes stolen from their parents’ packs.

American Cyanamid, Joni told me during Cousins Weekend last month, was the name of the pharmaceutical company that owned the land behind my cousins’ house. I guess the space was a planned industrial park that never quite got finished. Turns out, American Cyanamid’s Wayne, NJ plant produced tetracycline and an oral polio vaccine in the 1950s, and its president’s name was William Bell. Maybe it was an parallel universe.

For me, American Cyanamid will always be something not-quite-real, just out of reach, more intriguing than anything going on in my real life, a world my cousins created that I could only ever aspire to.

Hegemony, Quintilian to Dowd, in 470 Words

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 2

My dissertation defense is in a mere ten days. I’m already dreaming the strange dreams.

Onward nonetheless. Or perhaps not so much onward as “parallel to.”

“Good writing can be hegemonic and boring. Good writing is behaving.” This is from Kate Zambreno, in a post on Frances Farmer is My Sister, a very interesting blog, which you can find here, but also quoted in an article on The New Inquiry, called “The Semiautobiographers,” which you can find here.

I’d like to think my dissertation says this, but it doesn’t, at least explicitly. It doesn’t quite go this far. I hope, though, that my dissertation at least leans toward, in its structure and format, in its writing style, order and arrangement as well as in content, dismantling the idea that “good writing” is the ideologically acceptable, dissertation/academic/appropriate-contribution-to-the-field/accountable voice, implicitly masculine, pretending coherence, quantifiability, objectivity–think Second Wave Feminism and Quintilian’s dichotomy between order as masculine and strong and moral, and eloquence/persuasion as feminine and weak–“the good man speaking well.”

(And surely the labyrinthine sentence above begins to undo something, somewhere?)

The good man speaking well. Which is of course what/who we are asking our first year composition students to write/become, particularly in those narrative assignments that ask them to describe an event that changed their lives, something they learned, or . . . or . . . or . . . because let’s face it, folks, when we ask them to write about something memorable that happened to them, they know, and we know, that the hegemon has already ridden in and decided what is memorable and what is not, and what happens to the kid who can’t identify, tell, organize, quantify, describe, narrate and even honor what We (capital W) have decided counts as memorable.

Was I going somewhere with this? Do I have to be?

Emily Cooke, in that same article, “The Semiautobiographers,” identifies the blog post as “the ideal literary forum for a self-consciously messy performance. Never edited by an alien hand, totally under the control of the writer, the blog post refuses to be anything but what it wants to be. It will not subject itself to ‘some highly toned  artificial neat form,’ to quote Zambreno.”

Love this line, but I’d change “self” to “subject.” And that would really get things moving. Instead of self-conscious, subject-conscious. Subject-position conscious. Conscious of how you are written by your culture, your ethnicity, all of the communities to which you belong. Although now I think I’m talking about something else entirely that Cooke was getting at. Both, I think. Self- and subject-conscious. Conscious of your writing process, your choices, as well as the multiplicity of positions from which you write.

Something from the NY Times the Sunday after Election Day, from Maureen Dowd: “Listen closely and hear the death rattle of the white male patriarchy.”

Go ahead. Revise yourself.

We Built This City (Or, the Happy Side of Deconstruction)

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 1

When I was little and my dad was putting me to bed, we’d kneel and pray. I’d pray for Jaci-Joni-Dave-Steve-Jay-Bobby-Carol-Tommy-Richie-Billy-and-KathyAnn–my cousins, all in one breath, and then my aunts and uncles and parents and brother, and Captain, our collie. (Adrienne was born later.)

Now, my dad has dementia. and reciting all my cousins’ names in order is how we help him remember who we’re talking about, or which cousin belongs to which of his sisters.

My dad has a story for every one of my cousins—the year Carol got an “Easter Bastard” from the Easter Bunny; the time Richie repeatedly spilled the bucket of soapy water my father was using to wash the car until my dad threw a wet soapy rag at him and it wrapped itself around his face; the time Grandpa Cone threatened to spank Jay, and Bobby, in turn, threatened, “I’m going to kill Grandpa,”; the day Jaci colored in Steve’s face with a magic marker as he lay in his crib, and said, “I thought it was paper”; all the times Joni was woken up and allowed to dance on the kitchen table late at night when she was a toddler; the time my dad gave 4-year-old Dave a cigarette on the back stoop of the house on E. 2nd in Brooklyn, because, as Dave said, “All working men smoke, right, Frank?”

In October, we had our first official grown up Cousins Weekend–Jaci-Joni-Carol-Adge and me. (Kathy Ann is in Florida.) I don’t know why it took us this long, but I have to thank Joni for getting us together, just for the sake of being together.

That weekend, we sat in my living room, and on the porch, and in restaurants, and remembered being little together, although we weren’t all, actually, little together, and talked about who spoiled who, and put together family secrets of which we each knew only parts.

I don’t know if it is this way for my cousins, but it is for me. We are family more because of our shared history, our shared stories, our communal narrative, than because of blood. We are our own community of practice, as we’d say in more professional contexts.

We share a memory; we share a discourse, a vocabulary. We have our own jargon.

Does it feel this way because I am a collector of stories? Am I a collector of stories–family stories–because I am adopted? (My brother would say yes.)

What would it mean to challenge our meant-to-be-a-family story emotionally, for me? I’m not sure I know how to do it.

Too many of us are adopted to say our family is “natural;” but our family has long been naturalized.  Our family is forged of things more ethereal than blood and bones and DNA.

We built this family, story upon story, lives and souls imbricated in narrative.