Archive for the The Blog Category

They Can Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our FREEDOM!

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on March 31, 2013 by chateaucone

Whether Columbia will, indeed, take my freedom to format as I please, (no–not as I please, but as integrity demands!) time will tell.

Perhaps not a battle for Scottish Independence, but it’s a slippery slope, folks.

Instead of blogging, I’ve writing my own Declaration of Arbroath. Maybe not so much “declaration” as “plea.” (As long as they have my diploma,  judiciousness is prudent.)

It should be noted that I have, thoughtfully and I hope persuasively, removed all references to “petty bureaucrats” and “small-minded power mongers” and “I cannot believe I have to write this even after a committee of scholars and experts in my field passed my dissertation.”


Dear Teachers College, Columbia University Ed.D. Board:

I am writing to petition the members of this board that I may be permitted to submit my final dissertation without a Table of Contents, and without numbered chapters. To explain my reasons for making such a request, knowing it is not consistent with the conventions presented in the Teachers College, Columbia University Office of Doctoral Studies General Instructions for Preparing Doctor of Education Dissertations: A Manual of Style, let me begin by quoting to you a section of the abstract of my dissertation, in order that you can, without reading the entire document, know the subject matter the dissertation engages.

According to my abstract, “The overarching goal of this work is to gesture toward a use of autobiographical writing in the classroom that encourages students to begin to see how these and all stories are discursive, ideological and political, and then to analyze and perhaps contest normative practices and discourses that work to construct their own subject positions. The researcher’s self-reflexive inquiries address blind spots, gaps, contradictions and complexities involved in challenging dominant discourses that have framed not only her “adoption stories” but also her pedagogies and practices as a teacher of composition. She constantly interrogates her own research and writing assumptions in order to provide incentive for writing teachers and their students to look at the stories they are telling about their own lives, to stop seeing those stories as transparent and natural, and to begin interrogating if and when they might wish and be able to tell new stories, to write new narratives toward change.”

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, in Reading Autobiographically: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives, tell us that certain kinds of narratives inscribe certain kinds of subjects. And these narratives, these dominant discourses, reflect the cultures in which they are written. Certain cultures, social classes, nations, religions, ethnic communities, and so on, privilege certain kinds of identities, certain ideological identity formations, and these are reified by, and reify, the biographies and autobiographies written within those, or to represent those, collectivities. Thus, no narrative or discourse is transparent, natural and uncontestable, as much as any discourse may appear so.

My dissertation challenges dominant discourses; it implicitly and necessarily contests and disrupts the discourses and practices surrounding the traditional academic dissertation even as it explicitly contests and disrupts autobiographical narrative. As just one way that the dissertation attempts to disrupt traditional narrative form, it is written as a collection of archived documents that can be read in any order. Indeed, readers are encouraged, within the text, to jump around in time and place. To number the chapters of this dissertation and then to add a Table of Contents giving further authority to those numbers would fix, indeed prescribe, in the mind of the reader the order in which the dissertation is to be read. It would suggest to the reader that there is only one way to read the dissertation, when in fact that intention of the author is the opposite.

Further, this dissertation argues, through a post-structural lens, that to fix autobiographical or biographical narrative in any way is to render it fictional. While I have made necessary, common-sense concessions such as numbering the pages of the document consecutively for the purposes of publishing it in print form, further concessions would just erode the integrity of a narrative that is constantly attempting to unfix, to disrupt, to contest the practices that are always and already constructing it. To number the chapters and to list those numbers in a Table of Contents would suggest that this autobiographical dissertation presents a complete, fixed life, that nothing exists between the chronological numbers of each chapter–and yet nothing could be further from a representation of any life; such an action would give readers a false sense of the coherence and dominance of narrative, indeed of any discourse, even as my dissertation is arguing against this very idea.

To force such a dissertation to be burdened with a Table of Contents and numbered chapters, two narrative structures that will unnecessarily undermine the integrity of the subject matter and design of the dissertation, is to deny the very liberatory arguments the dissertation is making.

To argue that I must include a Table of Contents in order to conform to the conventions of a particular style manual is to argue that the style manual is transparent, natural, and uncontestable. Surely this is not so. In fact, I would argue that any style manual is discursive, ideological and political, and serves an agenda that in fact attempts to sabotage the very ideas my dissertation explores.

The conventions of the style manual from which I am requesting to be released construct me, as a writer, my readers, and my dissertation in ways that I do not intend—indeed in ways that I am specifically contesting, and it would be ironic if the university itself from which I am graduating demands that my dissertation meet two stylistic conventions that not only do not add to the content or intellectual rigor of the dissertation, but in fact subtract from it.

To simply submit to the Office of Doctoral Studies’ request that I include a Table of Contents and number my chapters, without petitioning this committee, would be to abandon all that my dissertation argues for at the first sign of conflict.

Thank you for taking the time to read this petition. I hope you will consider my requests.

The Fine Line Between Integrity and Graduation, and How it Got Crossed

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , on March 14, 2013 by chateaucone








Chapter                                                                               Page

       I                INTRODUCTION TO THE 
                         DISSERTATION……………………………………….. 1

      II               COMPOUND FRACTURE…………………………….. 4

     III              ARCHIVED DOCUMENTS……………………………. 5

     IV              INVENTORY……………………………………………… 8

      V               THE HALF LIFE OF STONE………………………….. 11

     VI              BEDTIME STORIES……………………………………… 16

     VII            DEAR BIOGRAPHER, PART II……………………….. 26

                                        Conventions and Professional Contexts…. 90
                                        Personal Contexts and Ethical Questions. 103

                        THE PLACE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN OUR 
                        CHANGING FIELD………………………………………… 112

      X               ADOPTION…………………………………………………… 126

                        HAVE TOLD ME…………………………………………….. 137

     XII              A LETTER TO VALENTINA WASSON………………… 170

    XIII             EMAIL…………………………………………………………. 178


     XV              HYMNS TO THE LARES……………………………………. 250

                         ASSIGNMENT AS NARRATIVE INQUIRY:
                        AND CONNOTATION…………………………………………270

   XVII            THE REINCARNATION OF JULIA……………………… 280

  XVIII           OVARY…………………………………………………………. 291

                         FALL FROM GRACE…………………………………………. 300

                         MY NARRATIVE……………………………………………… 314

    XXI             WORKS CITED…………………………………………………. 338

[1] The reader should note that this Table of Contents is neither necessary nor appropriate to this dissertation in that its imposed page and chapter numbers imply and attempt to prescribe a specific and correct order in which the various and sundry sections of the document must be read, when no such prescription is intended; in fact the opposite is true. This Table of Contents is included under protest and should be ignored by any reader who is not employed by the Teachers College, Columbia University Office of Doctoral Studies. Upon reading this dissertation, one may even wonder how such a progressive institution as Columbia University could demand such a thing, when the addition of said Table of Contents clearly flies in the face of the goals of the dissertation itself, and as such is highly inappropriate. Yes, the writer agrees; one may well wonder. So much for the liberatory goals of higher education.

*Ironically, the writer was not allowed to include THIS Table of Contents in her dissertation, and was instead forced to include a proper and appropriate and NOT SNARKY Table of Contents in her dissertation, again in the interest of graduation. However, the writer did sneak a version of the footnote into the body of the work.

The Birth Mother/Birthday Clairvoyance

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on January 24, 2013 by chateaucone

My birthday just passed, and it was, once again,  that weird day every year when I think I have some sort of mystical connection with my birth mother.

I figure my birthday is the one day of the year that she’ll definitely be thinking of me. I mean, she may be thinking of me on other days, but I can’t be sure of  which days those days are. Presumably, though, on the day I was born, 46 years ago, assuming she’s still alive–I mean, isn’t that the one day she’d be most likely to think of me?

So my birthday is sort of my place to stand in relation to my birth mother. I don’t know anything else about her (and as recent posts about DNA will attest, I don’t even know what I thought I knew).

And sometimes I need a place to stand.

Angel Guardian refused to give me that place, literally. I wandered around that building with my mother and our tour guide and asked all sorts of questions to determine if my birth mother had even ever set foot in any spot in the building at any time, and all I got was, “She may have, but she may have blah blah blah instead.”

“Just give me a spot,” I wanted to say. “A place she stood. For a minute. Forty years ago. C’mon.”

I can only stand in time, in a moment, think about her, and wait for something. I don’t know what. A sign. A shiver. The snap of a synapse. A flash of recognition in the mitochondria of a brain cell–so fast and small as to be very nearly missed, only felt in the echo.

This is somehow less satisfactory than being on a different continent than someone you love and looking at the same moon at the same time.

And anyway, here’s what really happens around my birthday. On the days leading up to my birthday, I think, “Oh. I have to remember to think about my birth mother on my birthday, because that’s the one day she’ll probably be thinking of me.” And then, on my actual birthday, I forget to do it. Or I do it sort of incidentally or half-heartedly. Not hard enough. Not in a meditating sort of way. Not in the engaged, forget-the-world-around-me sort of way that a spark would need to leap across the psychic synapses.

And then I feel bad for not trying harder. For forgetting to try harder.

This much didn’t even occur to me until I was about 40. All those years of possible psychic connection, wasted.

And what about her? What if my birth mother, after, say, thirty years or so, now goes through the whole day of my birthday without thinking of me, and remembers, maybe, only as she’s going to bed? Or only if she happens to write a check? How would she feel then? Would she feel bad for forgetting? Would she feel relieved? Relieved that she made it through the day, the big day, without thinking about the child she gave up, without being sad? Is she sad? Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of me to assume she’s sad? It’s been nearly half a century. Maybe she just put it all behind her. Maybe she repressed the whole thing and never thinks about it. I make all these assumptions–everyone around me does–that of course she thinks of me on my birthday. Of course. Of course.

But what do those assumptions mean? That she’s been miserable and missing me for 46 years? That’s not cool.

How do I want her to be feeling? What message do I want her to be sending me?

Just like the one I want to send to her: “Hey. I know you’re out there. I’m good. I hope you are too.”

Day 34: Guest Photographer Cathy Bennett

Posted in The Blog on December 5, 2012 by chateaucone
Armageddon on the Sound

Armageddon on the Sound


Posted in The Blog on November 8, 2012 by chateaucone

She lives.
She writes.
She does something besides post banal photos of the beach. And dogs.

Let me begin by thanking the Gods of Procrastination for sending me the following trials, each of which I failed:

  1. The Canon EOS Rebel Camera
  2. Hurricane Sandy
  3. the 5-mile move from Greenport to the beach house in Southold, that somehow took 2 days
  4. driving to pick up Mom and Dad to rescue them from the cold
  5. Mom and Dad staying with me after Hurricane Sandy*
  6. bringing Mom and Dad back home
  7. Election Day and the 24-hour news cycle
  8. the Nor’easter
  9. News12 (see 8 and 9 above)
  10. the Common Cold
  11. Facebook
  12. The urgency of finding the Right Christmas Card
  13. An Unfortunate Underestimation of Nyquil (see 10 above)

And so it is now Thursday, a full week and a day after receiving my revision suggestions from my advisor, and I have yet to do anything about them.

But let me next praise the Gods of Last-Minute-Pressure, without whom I would accomplish nothing. And thus I commend unto them my stubborn, procrastinating writerly soul and hope  that something gets done today.

Maybe if I stopped using passive voice when talking about writing work would get done. Something to think about.


*Anyone reading between the lines here, who knows my mother, knows that she should not be listed here as a procrastination excuse while she in fact gave me more time to work on my dissertation by taking over the complete care and feeding of the Cone canines and feline. Walking, cleaning the litter box, playing, being (playfully) attacked by Scout, providing Honey with a constant source of clean water to keep up with her constant slobbering in the bowl, making sure the cat didn’t eat the dogs’ food, and so on and so forth. Or maybe she should be listed as just that–an excuse–but totally on my part, if that makes sense. What I mean is, my parents were more of a help than a distraction, so the procrastination was all on my part.

Porch Swings and Serial Killer Novels. And Grief.

Posted in The Blog on October 17, 2012 by chateaucone

My friend SKG wrote an awesome blog post the other day (well, on September 26–the last time I was conscious in a writerly sort of way) and I’ve been wanting to respond to one small part of it since then. You can read SKG’s post here.


I’m trying to crawl out from under the little black cloud that’s been following me around for the past few weeks, and I’m finding it easier to read serial killer novels and take long naps and sit on the porch swing and stare than to do anything productive or intellectually or emotionally challenging.

My advisor has my dissertation, and I really can’t do anything else with it until I hear back from her. And that’s bothering me, making me feel like I’m stalled, which isn’t fair to J, who is, to be fair, reading my nearly 400-page dissertation, and not just for fun, but in the in-depth way one must read in order to offer suggestions, all this while teaching, reading other dissertations, advising other graduate students, running a department, and so on, and so on, and so on.

And I, in my own peculiar way (see the serial killer novel reference above), am grieving. I can feel myself moving slowly away from complete denial that my Aunty Ann, my godmother, has died. I can feel this because when I try to think about this fact, my brain doesn’t resist quite as much.  These past few weeks, whenever I tried to make myself really think– really believe–that she’s not at my cousin’s house, sitting on the deck, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette, rolling her eyes at someone, I could feel my whole brain recoil from the idea, as though all that gray matter were flinching, squeezing itself into a tiny corner of my skull to avoid being pricked by something sharp.

I want to compare this flinching, this denial, with my “can’t touch this” stance on the adoption story, the meant-to-be-a-family story, because it’s similar, although not, as I examine each more closely, exactly the same.

The truth is I can no more imagine life without Aunty Ann than I can imagine being born to, or adopted by, a different family. And I can hear Aunty Ann sighing, and saying, now, one more time, right in my ear, “That’s because you were meant to be with us.”

And I can play, and have played, a million intellectual games to help me imagine, to break the narrative, and none have really worked.

But I have not, perhaps, challenged myself emotionally.

In SKG’s awesome blog post, Joan Houlihan describes the ideal reader as one who “enjoys being intellectually and emotionally challenged.”

I enjoy being intellectually challenged, most of the time, and I’d like to think that although I’ve called it a collection of intellectual games, my dissertation rises to level of intellectually challenging and contesting life narratives, my own in particular. But maybe what’s been bugging me, maybe the “You can’t touch this”-ness of the dissertation, of the story, is my own lack, my own downfall, my own flinching.

Maybe I am not allowing myself to be challenged emotionally. Maybe I am just not going down that road. Maybe my gray matter is recoiling.

I know I do it in life. I imagine I do it in writing, too. I am almost so good at avoiding feeling that I no longer realize I’m doing it at all.

Breaking the narrative should hurt, or disturb, at least in some small way. And maybe that means the dissertation is not true. I could touch it. If I really tried. But how?

Is this the power of narrative? Of grief? Of denial?

But today. Today when I thought about my Aunty Ann, about Jaci’s house without Aunty Ann, about Christmas Eve without Aunty Ann, my brain flinched less, and instead, I felt nauseous. And sort of tight in the throat.

And I think this is good.

Things My Aunt Taught Me

Posted in The Blog on September 26, 2012 by chateaucone

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.
–Washington Irving

Things My Aunt Taught Me

how to accept a compliment graciously
how to swaddle a baby doll in a blanket
how to scratch around a scab so you don’t make it bleed
how to throw a baseball like a boy
how to play skully on the kitchen floor on a rainy day
how to keep your mouth shut and when to open it
how to spend a muggy summer night on the stoop of the house in Brooklyn
how to soothe a headache with two aspirin and a cool cloth on your forehead
the grace of a hand holding a cigarette
the beauty of lined skin
how to die
how to grieve
how to live anyway

Ann Paganelli
July 7, 1934 – September 19, 2012

Uncle Bob, me and Aunty Ann, 1967