Hail, Caledonia!

Posted in Scotland, The Blog with tags on June 14, 2019 by chateaucone

Welcome to Sabbatical 3, c. 2019. More important, welcome to the revival of the blog. (Apparently, I only blog on sabbatical.)

Sabbatical 2, c. 2012, otherwise known as the Dissertation/Greenport Sabbatical, was pretty well documented right here, and so the blog became part of the “scholarly project” of the sabbatical. Clever, no?

Sabbatical 1, c. 2005-06, the glorious European sabbatical, spanned two semesters. (There is something to be said for owning only enough stuff that you can put it all in storage for a mere $100 a month, and then live on half your salary, for the next 12 months. And then live with your mother for another two months while you wait to close on your new co-op, purchased, wisely, at the end of a full year at half-pay, and seconds, mere seconds! before the bottom fell out of the market. Hey, what’s $70,000, give or take? Who needs equity? But this is not the blog for financial…well, for anything financial. In fact, sabbaticals, for me, always precede 7 years of famine, during which I pay for said sabbatical. Literally. Figuratively. Really just literally. Hopefully not figuratively. Geez. Where was I?)

Right. Sabbatical 3. I am considering all of the summer of 2019 as part of my sabbatical, mostly because the specter of Paying-Back-The-Money-If-I-Don’t-Do-The-Work makes me start the work technically early. (See Sabbatical 2, wherein I wrote 100 pages in August. August!)

(Note: At least a few of my colleagues, who submitted amazing sabbatical proposals, were denied last year, and that is seriously unfair. And short-sighted on the part of the SCCC administration. Was this one of those money-saving things where we’re not allowed to buy any more pens but you can hire yet another Vice President of Something-to-Do-With-Assessment? Hmmm. It costs $25,000 to send a faculty member on sabbatical, roughly. Four or five classes taught by adjuncts who make very little money and get no benefits. And the benefit to the college? Textbooks, novels, collections of poetry and essays and short stories written and published, articles placed in refereed journals, research conducted, breakthroughs made, dissertations completed and defended, doctorates earned. Epiphanies! Faculty building their credentials in their fields. Major bragging rights for the college. Informed, active faculty members sharing their knowledge and experience with our students. You get it.)

Back to Sabbatical 3. I’m going to call this the Scottish/Canadian sabbatical. One of my cousins was under the impression that you have to travel on sabbatical. My fault. It turns out, I’m not very good at writing at my own desk, in the midst of my own life. During regular semesters I try to hide out in coffee shops or the library—anything to get me out of the house and out of the office—and write. But when I can go away, I’m gone. There is just so much brain-filling (Is that a thing?) when you travel. Even if you’re blocked on whatever piece is on top of your too-hard pile, there’s new stuff to write about. Museums unblock me. Concerts too. I have an embarrassing collection of programs from the weekly Sunday evening concerts at St. Giles in Edinburgh in 2005 and 2006, covered in notes for pieces I was writing. Whatever I was stuck on came unstuck listening to music I know nothing about, and sometimes don’t even enjoy. (Mostly I enjoyed it.)

I’ve been in the UK for a week now. I spent a few days in London (well documented on Insta), a day in Oxford (two-hour walking tour in the pouring rain, but still cool—I mean, the Bodleian) and now I’m in Edinburgh. Well, North Berwick.

North Berwick is this beautiful little seaside town that is a quick train ride to Waverley Station in the middle of Edinburgh. Hoping on the train most mornings makes me feel like a commuter. Like a real-life Scottish person.

And on the walk home from the train station, I stop and look at all the real estate listings in the window of the real estate office.

At the end of my month in Scotland, I’m going to Ireland, partly for a writing retreat, but also to see the Giants Causeway, because I’ve been looking at a poster of Joseph Beuys at the Giants Causeway over my desk since sometime in college. More on Beuys later.

In fact, more on everything later. It’s late. The sun stays out here forever (seriously, it’s 9:45 pm, and still light out) and I therefore have no idea what time it is, ever. (Add to that this whole military time thing. I shouldn’t have to do math to know what time it is. And now, I’ve put my phone on military time, and time has lost all meaning.) All of a sudden it’s midnight, or, zero, as my phone says, and I think it’s only 8 pm. But the views…long sunsets over the Firth of Forth. Amazing. I am so retiring here. (The math will keep my mind sharp when I’m old.) And I am so running down to the beach right now to watch the rest of the sunset. At nearly 10 pm. Crazy. Photos to follow. (Did I mention the sun comes up at about 3:30 am? Blackout shades. Best thing ever.)

Oh, and I’m writing! A lot! Yay! (And that’s my personal allotment of exclamation points.)

Next time: The strange and bizarre British phenomenon that is Embarrassing Bodies. I’ll leave that to your imagination for a little bit.





Half-Orphan Girl

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by chateaucone

I am not that girl. I am not that half-orphan girl. I am not the girl who lost her father, who has only one parent. A dying father is not part of my narrative. I am not this somehow 48-year-old woman who remembers the passing of the last generation of great aunts and great uncles and grandmothers, wakes and funerals and cemeteries in Brooklyn, being five and six and seven, wearing dresses and tights and black patent leather shoes, sitting quietly while my parents kneeled in front of caskets, praying.

I am not experiencing for myself what my mother and father and aunts and uncles experienced then. I am not one of the grown ups being introduced to that five and six and seven-year-old girl, who wasn’t quite sure who they were, or what to say to them.

I am that five and six and seven-year-old girl, safe and sound in the backseat of her parents’ old Pontiac, father driving east on the Belt Parkway, mother telling her to close her eyes and go to sleep.

Liz’s list of things to do when someone speaks to you in French

Posted in The Blog on June 5, 2014 by chateaucone

1. Look stunned. They will quickly switch to English.
2. Engage in picture drawing and sign language. A quick sketch of a car followed by a finger down the throat, for example, will probably yield some motion sickness medicine. This method works world wide, for example, if one needs to purchase a safety pin in Munich.
3. Butcher the native tongue. For example, if you begin to stumble through “poulet aux fèves et épinards,” or something like that, the waitress will likely cut you off and say, “You want the chicken?”
4. Burst into Spanish, which pops into your head, miraculously after twenty years of not studying it, and you can say, “Por favor” and “gracias” and best of all, “un poco” when someone asks if you speak French.

To be continued. . .


Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , on July 11, 2013 by chateaucone

I am adopted.

Present tense.

I am not someone who “was adopted.”

(Although for a long time it felt as though it were something that happened to someone else, a baby named Elizabeth Ann who lived in a fable with fairy godmothers to rescue her and magical cousins to grow up with.)

“Adopted” is a state of being. It doesn’t end.  It is not unlike being of Italian-American descent. But of course it is totally unlike being of Italian-American descent.

I say this because the very fact of my adoption is fluid, constant, present, always, fragmented and changeable, but never ending, never done. It exists never solely in the moment in the conference room in Angel Guardian in 1967 where that baby changed hands, changed identities, but in every moment since then, in 1000 different forms and thoughts, processes and perceptions, conversations and categories.

It is a molten state of being.

My father is the keeper of the adoption story, and he is losing his memory. Sometimes he asks me whether he and my mother adopted me, or whether I am theirs.

“Did we adopt you, Elizabeth? Or are you ours? I think you’re ours,” he says.

The words he uses are tricky, difficult, to think about. He never would have made this distinction before tiny strokes started destroying the neural pathways in his brains.

I was both/and, always and already, have-always-been, adopted and his.

I have written an entire dissertation about our adoption story–about the power of narrative and how it, for so long, erased the adoption, so strongly did it construct the fact of the inevitability of our family.

And yet somehow, as my father’s dementia progresses, I have become even more his, if possible, than before, the holes in his memory easing any final boundaries–the adoption now not only figuratively but literary erased.

This is a strange little paradox.

My father’s memory, the one that took all the disparate pieces of us and created our story, our family, is breaking apart like a teacup falling off the table shattering into one million tiny pieces.

My father’s memory, I think, is in that moment where the teacup has just hit the floor and the shards are bouncing back up into the air, in slowest motion, still discernable as a teacup but spreading apart, the spaces between the pieces bigger with each passing millisecond, the cup losing its shape, its curves, its teacup-ness, in movements of almost negligible increment.

The universe tends toward chaos. The teacup will never leap back up off the floor and put itself back together. This is not how I imagined my father’s stories would be lost.


I believe in our family, our meant-to-be-ness, in a different way than my father does, I think–but in a way that is perhaps just as fragmented. I don’t need, or even want, the adoption erased. I can hold, have been holding for years, all these disparate ideas in my head at once: I am adopted. And (not but!) I am a Cone and a Paganelli  and connected by more-than-blood to the whole-extended-family, regardless of how I got there. And (not but!) I have another mother and father, and aunts and uncles and cousins out there somewhere, and I am part of those families too. And (not but!) I am not a whole-hearted supporter of adoption as it is now practiced, and as it has been practiced in the past. And (not but!) I am happy I was adopted, and sorry that my birth mother was probably coerced, maybe only in subtle ways, to give me up. And (not but!) my own neurological pathways are probably a little messed up from being reliquished as an infant. And (not but!) I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t change that.

My father likes to blame my college friends and the politicians I worked for early in my career for my political views. But it was the idea of the creation of our family that made me who I am– that gave me the tools–however inadvertently–to believe families have little to do with blood and genetics–that families that we construct out of disparate pieces are every bit as real, as valid, as valuable, as those that occur biologically.

My father’s neurological pathways are coming undone. But his stories and their implications are embedded in me. They are inside my cell walls.

The Next Big (Lifetime Television for Women) Thing

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , on May 20, 2013 by chateaucone

(Seriously? You did not just take me seriously.)

So my friend, the Great Poet SKG, (who you can read here) tagged me in a post a while back–Holy crap I just checked SKG’s blog and it was March. March!–for the “Next Big Thing” meme that’s been making the rounds of blogs of novelists and poets and short story writers (and now essayists and dissertaters (which word, when written out, is surprising reminiscent of “tater tots”)).

And this is a good thing to do because I need to get back to the dissertation, and at the same time stop calling it that, and start calling it “the book.”

What is your working title of your book (or story)? 

I am Not That Girl: This is Not My Narrative. This was the title of the my dissertation, or part of it, but I like it, and I’m keeping it.

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

From the dissertation.

No really. I’m not sure. It was a confluence of events and thoughts and things read and classes taken. I’d like to say it occurred quite naturally, but the very subject of the damn thing prevents me from saying that anything at all “occurs naturally,” with the possible exception of plant life, which, now that I think about it, doesn’t even occur naturally anymore. It’s all constructed, folks.  Helloooo, Truman!

Where was I? I wrote the essay that begins the dissertation proper–by which I mean, the dissertation without all the crap I was forced to add by the gatekeepers who would have preferred a five-paragraph essay dissertation–fifteen years ago in the class that introduced me to the personal essay. The epiphany class. (Thank you, Doug Hesse.) But it really took me those fifteen years, lots of reading about poststructural theory and narrative inquiry, a few boring Professional Development Days at Suffolk (for some reason those really get my brain moving, unfortunately not in appropriate, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” PD directions), two sabbaticals….and so on.

The impetus for the original essay came from my cousins Adrienne and Dillon, for reasons I won’t go into here. But I thank them for giving me the start of what I think is the best writing I’ve ever done, and for just being their generally awesome selves.

The structure and format and content of the original essay I owe, indirectly, to Lifetime Television for Women (Does LTFW even still exist?), in that I was striving to not write something that would easily fit inside the national, traditional, dominant discourse about adoption, i.e. a LTFW movie script, by which I mean, “Adopted girl goes on quest, finds birth mother, realizes was never before whole.”

Likewise the Hallmark Channel, or anything that might be summarized on a Hallmark card.

I got the idea for the Dear Biographer portion of it while I was driving down Nichols Road one night listening to WNYC. Someone who had written a biography was being interviewed, and I was taking this class about biography and autobiography and I started thinking about what I’d want a biography of me to look like, and then I started talking, probably embarrassingly loud in the car, to my imaginary biographer, and then I wrote it all down. And that became what would be a literature review chapter in a more traditional dissertation–and even though I dreaded writing that part, it is one of my favorite voices in the dissertation, and is now causing me angst in terms of revising.

Similarly, I got the idea for the blog portions and voice from another WNYC interview–this one with Cheryl Strayed, who was talking about her own blog and alter-ego, “Sugar,” just as I was thinking about a way into writing what would be the analysis chapter in a more traditional dissertation. I, too, needed an alter-ego, another voice.

But the idea for the final structure of the thing, if that’s the question, came at the kitchen table of the house I was renting in Greenport last summer, which is, for some reason, a karmically good writing space. Seriously. Rent it.

What genre does your book fall under? 

It’s a poststructural autobiography.

And that will have copies flying off the shelves.

I’m actually thinking it’s not so much an autobiography but that it uses autobiographical writing as a method of inquiry, and poststructural thought as a lens. I think it’s a memoir, sort of. It maybe plays with memoir. Deconstructs memoir? It’s a memoir with some could-have-beens? It definitely messes with memory, and it definitely messes with narrative, and it definitely messes with how people tell stories, consciously and unconsciously, and how how (I’ve repeated “how” on purpose) people tell stories is effected by the language and discourses available to them when and in what context they are telling those stories.

For example: in 1967, my Irish-Catholic-family-values dad had no language or context with which to construct an adoption story that included an unmarried, young birth mother, other than, “She gave you up to give you a better life.”

(Now, though, sometimes, just for fun, I like to ask my mother if it bothers her that she stole some poor, disenfranchised, single Catholic girl’s baby. For everyone’s own good, of course. And legally. With the help of the nuns. What. Eva. (You can chuckle here. Laugh even. Don’t be all alarmed and think I’ve been irreparably emotionally harmed or something. I’m fine.))

What was the question? Oh, yeah. Genre. That’s what I need to figure out. I mean, it could go the scholarly publishing way and….and….and (add something here about how I’d revise it) or it could go the memoir way and…and…and…(add something here about the other way I’d revise it).


In short, I know not which way I want to go. Of course, I daydream that someone at some huge publishing house with an enormous marketing budget will read it and say, “Well, Dr. Cone (the doctor thing NEVER gets old), we’d like to publish your dissertation exactly as it is. Word for word. No revision necessary. Send us the pdf immediately. Annie Leibovitz will contact you about a headshot. And would you like to include Paris in your book tour?”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Robert Redford for my dad. Seriously. Look at this photo.


For my mom–I don’t know, but I bought this greeting card from Papyrus (love Papyrus) the other day and the woman on it looks exactly like my mother did when she was young. Maybe we can find her. Check it out.

Greeting card:

papyrus card


25 year old029 cropped

Weird, right?

I will leave my cousins free to choose their own celebrity representatives. Below, in the comments section, please. Adge, I don’t know how you’re going to work Brad Pitt into the movie, but I’m sure you’ll find a way.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  

I can write a damn long sentence. I can be an f’in theoryhead. (I’m actually sad to admit that.) But I will try not to. I will try to write the kind of sentence that does not make one’s eyes glaze over. I will not cut and paste from my dissertation abstract. Well, maybe a little.

This book is about family stories and how they’re never “just what happened.”


This is not the adoption story you think it is.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I’m just going to keep having copies printed at Staples and forcing them on people. Who’s next? Anyone? Can I entice anyone with a pdf?

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

I think I had Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost in mind somewhere along the line. I liked the combination of research and memoir and the narrative turns in time. But my project turned out nothing like that. I do still want to write that book. I just need to find some lost relatives.

This is not within my genre, but when I first read the description of this “book,” I freaked out and said, “This guy totally had my idea before I had it!” and checked the publication date to make sure that I had had my own idea on my own. I had. All is well. The book was Building Stories by Chris Ware, which is actually a box of stories in all kinds of cool and different formats.  And then, TC being what it is, my dissertation took a much different format than Building Stories, because Ware’s publisher is obviously much more imaginative than the Office of Doctoral Studies. But now that he did it, anyway, I think mine will have to be a regular old book.

Sort of within my genre, though, is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and my book (no longer a dissertation, so there!) has some things in common with Eggers’. Publishers Weekly said this about Eggers’ book: “Literary self-consciousness and technical invention mix unexpectedly in this engaging memoir by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney’s and the creator of a satiric ‘zine called Might, who subverts the conventions of the memoir by questioning his memory, motivations and interpretations so thoroughly that the form itself becomes comic.”

If you take out, “by Eggers, editor of the literary magazine McSweeney’s and the creator of a satiric ‘zine called Might,” and “comic,” you might have a description of my project. Of course, I question everyone’s memory, motivations and interpretations. No one is left unscathed. But I do it nicely. I’m a nice girl.

You might have to take out “literary” as well. But certainly leave in “self-consciousness.”

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I don’t know if this is inspiration, so much, but I always loved my dad’s stories about himself and his sisters and cousins and friends growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression and the war, and my favorite bedtime story was the one about how my dad met my mom and how they dated and broke up and got back together and got married and adopted me. (At first, I liked it because it took a long time to tell.) My dad is a storyteller. He talks in story. And I think I think in story; perhaps the combination of my adoption, then, and my dad’s story of my adoption, and all of his stories, was sort of a perfect storm of language and context for my particular subjectivity–or, this particular storm constructed my subjectivity. And I’ve always wanted to record all of those stories. And explore why they are so important to me. And Janet Miller, my favorite professor and mentor and advisor, gave me the materials and theories and methods of inquiry to do it. (Thank you, Janet!)

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Everyone loves a good adoption story. And maybe I’ll find my birth mother at the end. Who knows? That’s the end everyone’s looking for, right?

And now I get to tag someone else!

Carol McGorry, you are IT.

I am the boiled frog.

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by chateaucone

I am the boiled frog.*

I have just turned in what I hope is the final version of my dissertation, complete with a Table of Contents and numbered chapters, and I did so without any fight left in me, because in the end, I just want to graduate. (You can see my petition to leave out the TOC in a previous post.)

I feel a little sad, a little defeated. I was unable to make any sort of meaningful change–the very kind of change my dissertation argues for, no less.

Anxiety has slowly pushed me down the slope toward graduation and submission. Not the submit-the-work kind of submission but the submit-to-the-powers-that-be kind of submission. The sad, pathetic kind.

Because I want to graduate.

And I didn’t even get an ass-kickin’ rejection letter from Columbia. All I got was this pen.

(Sorry. Momentarily channeling, and yet misquoting, Lloyd Dobbler. But the tone! The tone!)

All I got, from the nameless, faceless, “Faculty Committee on the EdD,” was this:

The Faculty Committee on the EdD has reviewed your request and dissertation manuscript. While the Committee understands the basis for the request, on review it has been determined that a more formal Table of Contents would be appropriate. Having said that, it would be sufficient if the Table of Contents had the following:

I  Introduction

II (whatever label or title would be appropriate)

Underneath II, the indented subheadings which would list the existing section titles and page numbers (basically a list of the stories by page number).

In addition, you must indicate a Reference section in the Table of Contents to match the formatting of the example in the back of the Style Manual.

Also, please confirm the style sheet you were following for references. The Committee has asked that you assure consistent use of that style sheet throughout.

If you have any questions, please let me know.


(I’ll spare the guy who sent the letter and leave off his name. But let me say this: this letter, all 148 glorious words of it, had to come from the Faculty Committee on the EdD, to the Office of Doctoral Services, hence forth known as ODS, where it was rewritten, and then submitted to the boss of ODS, where it was revised, and then submitted to the Office of the Registrar, where it was approved, and then sent back to ODS, from whence it was sent to be me–all of which took four (4!) days, not counting the month during which the nameless, faceless committee deliberated.)

I have been gate-kept.

No reasons. No engagement with my arguments. Just, “Okay, but do it anyway.”

And I did.

I wanted it that bad.

(Pause here for sad reflection on the state of American education. Think of Paulo Freire.  Make rubber bracelet with initials, “WWPFD?” Send note to the Faculty Committee on the EdD thanking members for their malefic generosity.)

Whenever I hear about girls spending hours, months, their young lifetimes thinking about and planning their weddings, what they’ll wear, who they’ll marry, who their bridesmaids will be, I feel as though I’ve forgotten to do something.

I am not that girl.

I don’t even know that girl.

But I did spend hours, days, the equivalent of months holed up in empty Teachers College classrooms and at those long wooden library tables reading and writing and trying to understand how poststructural thought and autobiography work together and revising and developing and revising again the pieces of my dissertation.

And I spent a lot of that time daydreaming about the blue robe with the black velvet chevrons on the sleeves, and the little Columbia crowns on the lapels, and the poufy black hat that I’d wear on graduation day, when I got to walk down the aisle and across the altar at St. John the Divine to be hooded and to receive my diploma.

That’s where my daydreaming time was spent, and that’s what got me through. I wanted the darn robe. I wanted St. John the Divine. And now the robe is here, hanging outside my bedroom closet door in all it’s black and blue glory.

And I’m maybe a little bruised by the process.

*Is that a cheap trick**–using your title as your first line? I really like that line. And the title. I couldn’t think of a better one for either. So there.

**Do you remember the band Cheap Trick? Oh yeah. “I want you to want me. I need you to need. . .” Go on. Sing it all day. Stuck. In. Your. Head. (Zahm, I hope you’re reading this, because you do this to me, all the time. All. The. Time.)

In Which I Get Myself Uninvited From All Future Family Holidays

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by chateaucone

On my way home from our family Easter celebration last night, 1010WINS radio was reporting that certain conservative groups were upset that Google used its homepage yesterday to celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday instead of Easter.

The unionist in me applauded.

The Catholic in me (Yes, there is still some Catholic in me.) was, frankly, puzzled.

I could see “Google” spelled out in fuzzy bunnies and decorated eggs, all pink and blue and yellow and green. Cute, right?

But then I thought, no; that can’t be what the religious right was looking for. The Christian celebration of Easter has little to do with bunnies and eggs. What would we have instead? A crucifix cleverly created out of the letters G, O, O, G, L and E?  Would Jesus be nailed to the “L”? That might be considered irreverent. And a little sick. Perhaps more suited to Good Friday than Easter morning. How would Google represent the Risen Christ?

But my bigger question is this:

Why are people insulted when Capitalist/Corporate/Consumer America doesn’t honor their religious holiday in a way that they think is appropriate? Most religious values and the values–by which I mean “values”(finger quotes would be perfectly appropriate here)–of consumerist America are diametrically opposed.

And if in your world they’re not, perhaps a chat with your local priest/rabbi/pastor/preacher/imam/spirit guide/snake handler/shaman is in order.

We lost something vital when we moved from the giving of gifts, which can be a lovely and thoughtful and commemorative and representative act, to the wild consumption of goods that has become our various mad holiday shopping seasons.

We have somehow elided the religious celebration of religious holidays with the consumerist celebration of religious holidays. We’ve been had by large corporations decorating themselves up for Christmas and Easter, when the big department store, in its quest to make a lot of money for its shareholders, is only trying to make all of its shoppers happy.

Because Capitalism has no religion. Well, it does, but none of the traditional ones.

The Macy’s Santa of Miracle on 34th Street is a myth, folks, and he was only allowed to keep his job because his tactic of sending people to Gimbels worked, inadvertently, in Mr. Macy’s favor.

Miracle is the Capitalist version of the films Kim Jong-Un probably shows the schoolchildren in North Korea to teach them to love Communism. Ours has just a slightly different narrative–one that we find infinitely more palatable.

If Capitalist/Corporate/Consumer America had any sort of values or beliefs, any sort of religion other than greed, trickle down economics might have worked. But why would you ever expect it to?

Capitalism is as godless as Communism. It’s just not so obvious about it. Maybe that’s not quite accurate. Capitalism pretends to worship consumers, and consumers actually worship in return.

The Santa and the Easter Bunny in the mall are nothing but Capitalism masquerading as Christianity, to help you worship it more fully and completely, body and soul, to help you forget that there’s a difference between church and shopping center.

If you’re really concerned about how Christmas and Easter and other religious holidays are being celebrated, and who is wishing whom Happy Easter and Merry Christmas versus the generic Happy Holidays, stop buying into the narrative that corporate America cares anything about anyone’s religion or anyone at all other than as consumers, buying things we mostly don’t need, that mostly aren’t any good for us. Does it really matter whether the Walmart cashier selling you the hunk of plastic that will never biodegrade, that was probably made in China by slave children, says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? If Sam Walton’s heirs instruct their employees to say “Happy Easter” to each and every shopper, just how many corporate sins does that negate?

I pick on Walmart because it’s easy and their sins are myriad and obvious. But all corporations are vehicles for profit-making. No matter what face gets put upon them, no matter how they are spun, they don’t have religious values.

Capitalism is an economic system. Expecting capitalism to celebrate religion is like expecting a tree to read a book. It’s not going to happen; or if it seems to, someone is getting fooled somewhere. Someone is manipulating someone for financial gain.

This expectation is not unlike if my mother put a sandwich down on the kitchen floor and expected the dog to “be good” and not eat it, even if the dog is left alone with it.

Let Google celebrating Cesar Chavez, let the department stores wishing you “Happy Holidays,” both be reminders that they are part of enormous and often valueless economic systems and that their goals are making money, and that when they seem to be a part of your religious narrative, they are just creating a distraction to allow them to get into your wallet.

Let’s not pretend that a crèche or a cheerful “Happy Easter” at the cash register or on Google’s homepage cures the ills of capitalist America.

Don’t boycott Google for celebrating someone who fought for fair labor practices. Boycott Walmart, who, even though it might ostensibly celebrate your religious holiday, and greet you appropriately, violates the principles of your religion all over the world every day. Act upon economic entities based on their actions in the world of economics.

Shop at a locally-owned business where the proprietor knows you well enough to say “Happy Easter” or “Happy Passover” or “Happy Cesar Chavez’s Birthday” with sincerity, because you and your family are part of her community and she knows and cares what you believe and value, and shares some–maybe not all, but some–of those beliefs and values.

Because frankly, I’d rather shop at a Walmart that changed its practices, raised its prices, paid its workers a fair wage and stopped putting America’s small businesses and manufacturers out of business, even if its cashier wished me a “Happy Satan’s Birthday” on my way out the door.

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.”