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Posts Tagged ‘embodiment’

Track 1: Music Saves

Music Saves

Sean McCloud

The album’s cover alone signaled that this was definitely not going to be like Rupert Holmes singing about Pina Coladas or Rod Stewart gauging how sexy I thought he was.
The album’s cover alone signaled that this was definitely not going to be like Rupert Holmes singing about Pina Coladas or Rod Stewart gauging how sexy I thought he was.

For some people, Jesus saves. For me, music saves. It always has and still does.

Coming from a shitty little poor town in rural northern Indiana, I was trapped by geography, class, and the limited mass and social media technologies of the 1970s and 1980s.

I grew up wanting to escape, but feeling confined by my surroundings and unsure of how I could ever get out (I mean, come on, a family “vacation” for my grandparents and me was a forty mile drive down state road 421/43 to the city of Lafayette to get groceries at Pay-Less and have dinner in the McDonald’s parking lot).  

In my early to mid-teens—and especially after my grandma died a few days before my fourteenth birthday—music solidified as something that I could bury myself in, get my frustrations out through, and learn from. It was something affective that made me feel things with my body and brain. The music and lyrics to my favorite songs, albums, and bands put words to things that I vaguely felt but had no language for. Music helped me imagine a life outside of my hometown. Music taught me to question assumptions.  And Gang of Four’s Entertainment!—perhaps more than any other album—initially pushed me to question things in such ways that continue to influence who I am and how I think today.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I bought Gang of Four’s Entertainment! in September of 1980 for $6.99 at Slatewood Records, a music and alternative press headshop near Purdue University in West Lafayette. Until it closed at the end of that year, it was a place of pilgrimage. I had three friends, and one of their fathers would occasionally travel to West Lafayette and drop us near the record and book stores. We would use our lawn mowing, hay bailing, and corn detassling money to buy records. Slatewood smelled so good to me. Incense was always burning, and even the brown paper bags you took your albums home in retained the store’s magical sacred scent long after it left the shop. (more…)

Writing and Waiting: Essays I Love

This week and last, I’ve been caught up in writing. Deadlines come and go. I started articles, essays, and posts, and I diligently send them off. What generally happens when I zero in on writing assignments is that I write and write and write and revise and revise and rewrite. I focus only on what must get done to finish whatever piece I’m writing. I stop reading. I tell myself that I’m too busy to linger on the essays that I want to read and then I feel guilty when I do take the time to read the current issue of Creative Nonfiction or pick up one of the many essay collections stacked in my office within easy reach.

Yet, I must read to become a better writer, so I’ve tried to give myself a little time each day to read, usually before I rush to pick up children from preschool and afterschool.

Here are the essays that have stuck with me in these last two weeks:

  1. Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion,” The New Yorker

This essay is from the new collection of Jackson’s short stories and essays, Let Me Tell You, which I purchased as soon as I read this essay. My familiarity with Jackson’s writing was limited to a memory of how terrifying it was to read “The Lottery” in high school. Yet, her story has stuck with me for years and years since I first read it. In “Memory and Delusion,” Jackson wrote about being a writer who is also a mother. She carved out time at the typewriter after household chores were done and her family was fed. Like her, I’m a writer who writes from home. Her essay depicted the struggle to find time and space to write, the way in which home presses upon us with all that must be done.

Writers, she explained to us, are always writing. We don’t just write when we put pen to page (or now type away on keyboards). Writing is something we do all day long, especially when we fold laundry, wash dishes or prepare meals. She provided encouragement too, but here are the lines that I keep scribbling on post-it notes and placing around my office: “All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you.”

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Teaching Bodies and Embodiment

A design for a unisex bathroom sign.
A design for a unisex bathroom sign from  MyDoorSign.com

How do we make the theoretical tangible and personal? How do we show the expectations of a gendered being? How do we interrogate embodiment and the expectations beset on bodies? How do we understand our bodies as archives of the cultural and the personal? What do we learn when we turn to our archives? What do we have the ability to discern?

These are all questions that haunt me each time I teach my gender course. Showing how gender is lived becomes the primary way to push against simple views of biology or construction. What happens to bodies weighed down by cultural expectations and the reality of the flesh? The complicated mess of embodiment is essential to exploring how people live, past and present. Where does flesh end and culture begin? Can we even ask that question?

One of the ways I help students think about embodiment is to allow students to allow them to gender me. I stand in front of the class and ask them to analyze how I perform gender. The students, then, get to rate my performance of gender as a way to make the abstract theory real to them. But importantly, this exercise allows me to discuss gender habits, stereotypes, and subversion. I might appear “feminine” but the students pick up on my strategies of subversion too. Gendering me provides a mechanism to ground discussions of Judith Butler, Donna Harraway, Lise Elliot, and Joan Scott. How does my bodily performance demonstrate gender? In particular, I want them to think very carefully about the role of religion in our construction as gendered beings:

Religion defines men and women in intimate and powerful ways. But, class debates and my lectures on gender theories don’t always make these topics approachable for students. Gender emerges as something academic and distant rather than something personal and tangible. Ann Braude noted the still potent and important fact “women’s history is American religious history.” But, how can you convince students that gender matters historically and today in interpretations of religion and American culture? … My teaching approach to gender and religion has become much more personal and face-to-face. (Read more here).

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