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.”

The Time-Shampoo Continuum

Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 2, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: January 1

I have been using the same shampoo since 2008.

I know this because last night, I was trying to remember if I own a particular book, and so instead of going through the bookshelves, or the closets, I looked it up on Amazon, and ended up browsing through my purchase history for the past twelve years.

(Yes, I buy shampoo on Amazon. Free shipping. Cheaper giant size. No, not the same bottle since 2008.)

The point is, I have been using the same shampoo since 2008. At least.

How lame is that? Same brand. Same scent.

Time goes really fast as you get old. It’s crazy. It goes so fast that you don’t even notice that you are using the SAME SHAMPOO for four years. Four. Years.

Holy crap. I spent New Years Eve browsing my Amazon purchase history.


Posted in Small Epiphanies on January 1, 2013 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 31

This is the first year in a long time that my New Years Resolution isn’t “Finish my dissertation.”

And frankly, that feels kind of weird. I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

Usually, about this time of year, I’m trying to remember what my dissertation is about, and where I left off, and whether or not I can actually do what I set out to do when I started writing. Or whether I even want to.

This year, I am absent that sort of panic.

I am, however, having my usual New Year Fit of Organization. I just placed an order at the Container Store. All sorts of boxes and bins to organize my life and my desk.

I have, for years, thought this was a dissertation procrastination tool, but maybe not, because it’s lingering. The biggest post-dissertation indulgence I’ve been looking forward to is reorganizing my bookshelves, and purging. All the books I used for my dissertation that I don’t LOVE, or that didn’t change my life, or that I thought I was going to use, but didn’t–gone.

Imagine, on the shelves of your local Good Will, such choice items as Uncommon Sense: Theoretical Practice in Language Education,  or Writing the Qualitative Dissertation, or Composing Ethnography: Alternative Forms of Qualitative Writing or even  Autobiography and Postmodernism (although I think I might want to keep that one). Oh, but definitely The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Someone might actually pick that one up.

Just let me know and I can hold any one of these for you.

And then, post-purge, I will create a new, fright-inducing, section of “Books I Have Bought But Not Yet Read,” aka “Books I Think I Should Read,” to inspire me both to read, and to stop buying.

Post-dissertation, I like to use “post-” as a prefix for EVERYTHING.

Post-creation of the new “Books I Think I Should Read” section, I will stop saying “should.”

And think about what I could do next.

Be it resolved.

Sound Check

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 28

I’m not a music person.

Maybe that’s too strong.

I don’t seek out new bands and new music and I don’t really fall in love with certain artists for the long haul. I do consistently like certain musicians, like Beck, or like . . . right now I can’t think of anyone else.

I am still listening to the playlist I titled, “Liz’s Favs” on my first iPod in 2005–this is the same playlist that accompanied me all across Europe that same year, and certain songs put me back in certain places, and not always for reasons that make sense.  “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails–I am on the train to Nuremburg. I had a terrible sinus infection, but I was determined to visit the Nazi Museum and the Christmas Market. Quite the combination for one very full day of traveling. “Mr. Brightside”?–The Alps. No idea why. “The Real Slim Shady”–the park I used to walk through every day in Prague, singing tonelessly at the top of my lungs, as though not speaking Czech made me invisible, or whatever the sound version of invisible is.

The Kinks “Destroyer”–not Europe but the Henry Hudson Parkway as it goes through Riverdale. Not good. Makes me drive crazy.

And yet, a twist of fate puts me in the car while Sound Check on WNYC is on, all the time. Sound  Check is my least favorite WNYC/NPR radio show, and yet, it’s the one I listen to the most. And it’s become where I get whatever limited new music I add to my list.

Tonight Ann Powers was taking the NPR 2012 Music Survey, which you can also take. Powers is an NPR music critic, and her favorite newcomer of the year is Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff. I love, love, love her voice. Listen to her here. And thank you, Ann Powers. (Only one of their singles is available on iTunes, but the rest are on their website.)

Powers also gets a vote from me for calling “Glad You Came” by The Wanted, “the roofie anthem of the year.” I’ve had a problem with that song for a while.

And finally, the reason for this post: my vote for “Song that Makes Me Feel the Oldest,” which was unfortunately not a category on NPR’s survey: “We Are Young,” by Fun.

But let me back up a bit.

I didn’t mind turning 30. It felt liberating. So did turning 40. The older I get, the more I feel as though I can be exactly who I am, no apologies. I don’t hide from anyone how old I am, and I don’t thing age matters all that much as long as you’re doing something you love. I celebrate wrinkles. I think they mean you’ve lived.

(And I am absolutely not my father’s daughter when it comes to music. I don’t think everything after 1990 sucks. (To be clear, my father thinks everything after WWII sucks.) I don’t often update my list of favorites more because I’m lazy when it comes to music than because I don’t like anything new.)

But sometimes I am reminded–or maybe “forced to notice” is better–that I have, indeed, changed since I was twenty.

And Fun’s lyrics do that to me in a strange kind of way. They go like this:

We are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun

I like to sing along with a song that’s fun to sing, no matter how cliched the lyrics. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by what I find myself singing. I know nothing about music. I am in fact still smarting from the time that pretentious guy in the Rainy Night House in the basement of Stony Brook’s student union said that REM’s “I am Superman” was for the fake fans, the ones just following the trends.

I like to sing along to the verse above of “We Are Young.” But singing it does make me feel like a bit of a fraud. I’m not young. At the very least, I am not the “young” these lyrics are about. And that struck me all of a sudden the first time I sang them really loud in the car.  I used to be that kind of young. I used to be in Fun’s audience.

But mostly, I realized that the idea of “setting the world on fire” has completely changed for me. “Setting the world on fire” used to mean knowing the guys in the band playing at Neptune’s on Dune Road and drinking and dancing on the stage as they sang. Going out in the middle of the night and stealing lawn signs that supported Republican candidates. Doing pretty much anything that would make a good story the next day. It meant, almost literally, burning “brighter than the sun,” and usually crashing spectacularly at the end of a night or a semester or a political campaign; but it also meant, in whatever misguided way, changing things, making noise, believing in something.

The thought of doing most of those things now just makes me tired. Or cold. Or dizzy.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing–the immaturity of my early 20s aside. Because I think that I get that same feeling from writing something spectacular, from challenging ideas and customs that haven’t been challenged before–that have been naturalized, mythologized (Barthes again)–from pushing, instead of behavior boundaries, genre boundaries.

Listen to me. I’m comparing pushing genre boundaries to trespassing and the theft of lawn signs. My twenty-year-old self would rail at the use of language like “genre boundaries” at all. F’ing theory head.

And that leaves me I do not know where. Conflicted. Not where I meant to be at the bottom of this post.

My Parents’ First Children

Posted in Small Epiphanies on December 28, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 27

My parents had four kids before Mike and I were adopted. Joni, Jaci, Dave and Steve fill our photo albums, and star in all of our home movies, as though they are, indeed, my parents’ children. Their own parents make the occasional appearance in a home movie, but it’s clear my parents all but kidnapped my cousins for a few years there.

I think, sometimes, that if my parents had had children the usual way, instead of adopting Mike and me, my cousins are what those kids would look like–who Mike and I would be–since their parents are my mother’s brother and my father’s sister. Almost an alternate, parallel universe. A what if? come to life.

We almost don’t have to ask, “If we weren’t adopted, who would we be?” But of course it’s not that simple.

Here are my parents and my cousins, running around on the sidewalks of E. 2nd, along with a brief glimpse of my cousins’ parents, and even Grandma Cone.