Walking at the intersections....

In his essay, Walking While Black, writer Garnette Cadogan writes about the differences between meandering while at home in Kingston, Jamaica - and as a student and professional living in the United States. A sensitive and chilling interview with Marco Werman, as well as his essay, are well worth listening to and reading...

Walking is a popular topic explored by many researchers in the arts lately. Naturally, intersections of gender, race, class, and ability all influence one's attitude and approach to walking. As a woman, I'm not going meandering along dark city streets; however, unlike Cadogen, I do not have to worry about others being afraid of me or being randomly stopped by the police. I've caught my fair share of sexual harassment, but, other than being hyper-aware while walking as an undergraduate living in the Fenway section of Boston, I felt safe, secure in that city built for walking.

Walking is a huge part of my life, has allowed me to pay attention to the world when life was grand or difficult. Lately, I've been contemplating buying a bus pass, but I'd rather walk the 35 or 40 minutes, or ride my bike to campus, rather than take public transport. Walking helped me write my dissertation, explore my future options as I prepare to graduate, and simply smile at the sweet landscape surrounding me.

To have to "perform" - as Cadogen must - in order not to appear threatening is tragic. My small gesture of support is to share his story...

Mulling Cadogen's words, I wrote, walked, revised, and published. Rise, write, walk, repeat...  

Reflecting, post-walk... 

Reflecting, post-walk... 


Killing, mourning, and wounding are routine this summer. Last night after listening to more stories and perspectives on the shootings in Dallas, I lay in bed thinking about the vigil for the Orlando victims held on the steps of Penn State's Old Main barely a month ago.on June 16.

Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, more in the US...as the host of my favorite radio program, The World, a weary voiced Marco Werman put it: I'm losing track of all the violence.   

As I design my syllabus for my fall course, Feminist theory and practice, these incidents compel me even more to explore with students how to put into practice the critical theories we study. bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Richa Nagar and the Sangtin Writers, Zaneli Muholi, Patti Smith, and Nikki Giovanni are my models. With them by my side, I feel encouraged to persevere in the face of hate and bloodshed. 

Writing, along with sewing or knitting, have become my preferred methods of healing, understanding, and reconciling myself to the paradoxical world of love, hate, and indifference we live in. I can publish and teach as a way of actively trying to change society, even if it is a whisper among the deluge. I am comforted by my blog, my pedagogy, and my hand work to help mend the deep tears that continue to plague humanity.

The Art Education Sewing Circle, 2012

The Art Education Sewing Circle, 2012



Re-weaving body, mind, and soul

Last week I had my first full body massage in months. Writing, knitting, reading, and, more recently, moving, has injured my upper back and neck muscles and my right wrist.

Four hours later, I sobbed for two hours.

My body, far more attune to my emotions than my conscious mind, enacted the very antidote to reflect upon my frenetic, uncertain but exciting exploratory post-grad student life. I am a devoted walker, runner, and now cyclist, but when it comes to the actual physical healing of my wounds, I tend to ignore or endure the pain. But I MADE the time - and money -  for my masseuse's comforting, healing hands to begin the process of molding back into place my battered muscles. In the process, I realized that I am no longer on a graduate stipend, and am committed to steering my own scholarly and aesthetic ship. I jump into the unknown, however, with a circle of support, and I am forever grateful for this opportunity. Unsurprisingly, my body helped me pause, mourn my original but rigid plans after graduation, and move on...

We academics talk a lot about self-care but rarely practice what we preach. I am striving to nurture all aspects of my life, and this implosion was painful but enlightening.

If you're in State College, make an appointment with Christine Hoskavich at J. Stephens Salon on Waddle Road, before you hit Wegman's. You'll look like hell but feel terrific!

Be ready for and embrace the intense but cathartic fallout afterwards...

Ear Lavage

About a month or so ago, I had a physical. My PA saw that I had a major wax blockage in my left ear, and suggested that I have an "ear lavage." The nurse arrived with a spray bottle equipped with a long thin tube, a rectangular plastic device with an oval hole, and towels. After several blasts of warm water and ear wax softening solution, the pesky, nasty bit loosened - and finally left my ear canal. We had a good laugh afterward! And, I regained what I began to assume to be partial hearing loss...

The lavage experience reminded me of the trials and triumphs I experienced while writing and defending my dissertation. After repeated blasts of warm water, I felt as if I was drowning. But I had to undergo this process in order to clear my canal.

How analogous these feelings were as I wrote, rewrote, edited, and revised my dissertation!!!!!

Last Friday, June 3, I received official word from the Penn State Graduate School that my dissertation had been approved. I will graduate in August.

Already, I am picking up some of the stitches I had to drop while revising my endless drafts. One is examining the relationship between house slave and plantation mistress, and the converging aesthetics that manifested in their quilts...I am fleshing this out for a guest blog post for the Textile Society of America's upcoming conference,  and for a proposed conference paper for Penn State's African Feminist Initiative Conference this Fall. Many thanks to Anne Swartz, Professor of Art History at Savannah College of Art and Design, for the chance to share my work outside of Proquest and Penn State....

Awed and numb

Class today. How do I describe it? The students split open like ripe fruit, sharing stories relating to the issues facing pregnant teenagers between the second world war and Roe v. Wade.

Spurred by their reading - a chapter in Ann Fessler's book, The girls who went away - many students revealed intense, emotional, personal narratives. I watched and felt the thoughts emanating from 50 or so young people sewing before me with their heads bent.

You never know the healing power your stories have upon others.

Some of these freshmen may not fully grasp the weight of these stories now – but later will be confronted with a similar situation, and know they can seek help and choose what's best no matter what other people think.

This, while I sat and stood with some Novocain left over from my morning root canal…


Design or decoration

A couple of days ago, I watched a periscope with Henry Lohmmeyer discussing his latest photography course, Heard.  At one point he discussed design versus decoration. Interior design - interior decoration... the decorative arts....What's the difference? One carries more intellectual and aesthetic weight than the other. Also, decorative is an adjective historically applied to women's creative work inside and outside of the home...

Below is an image of my handmade journal imported from Italy and bought from my favorite store in State College, The Nittany Quill. A perfect intersection of superb design and decoration!

Leather journal cover with refillable pages... 

Leather journal cover with refillable pages... 


By chance, I joined a handful of grad students to lunch with a potential professor. Over sandwiches, she asked us about our own job searches. I spoke of how I don't fit into any of the descriptions typically found in art education, (teacher prep and certification); women’s studies (transnational feminism; queer studies) or studio art. "Well, you have to tailor your research to the job," replied one of the students. I sighed, thinking, "story of my life, I never fit anywhere and am not about to alter who I am and what I do." But another grad unwittingly reassured me. "You know, that's true, but I feel inauthentic when I try to imagine myself in a position that doesn't quite match my work."

My pedagogy is driven by authenticity as described by adult education theorist Patricia Cranton.  She defines authenticity as a practice by which an educator examines and revises unconscious assumptions by focusing on “self-awareness, awareness of others, relationships, context and critical reflection” (Cranton, 2006, p. 113). Educators wishing to establish a learning environment based upon trust and mutual respect must recognize that vulnerability and risk are inherent in this process. In her work with mostly middle aged, working class Canadians, she struggles to achieve such an atmosphere. Later, I thanked the grad student for her honesty in the midst of an academic world increasingly trendy and inauthentic.

Striving to relax

Ann Truitt and Patti Smith both write about themselves as artists unable to just shut down and not think about their work. I love what I do, but if it's not my writing, its my ideas for visual work or my pedagogy that dogs me throughout my day. On my walk, I envy the small children running around the swing set or hiding in the hedgerows. My turns of seriousness began as a fourth grader.  I remember thinking I had to do well in every class because in fifth grade (and the traumatic move to middle school) one's intelligence went public. Students were categorized by "ability:" 5A1-4 then 5B1-4. So Foucault, so much about shame and punishment! Naturally, I strove and worked hard to be placed in 5A1...

But now I want to spend more time in my Rio Beach Chair, sitting on my front porch, watching the flotsam and jetsam of South Allen Street walk and drive to and fro! During yesterdays spring time temperature, I managed to relax while eating an Italian wrap from the local grocery store, and sipping a seltzer water with lime...

Pedagogy through the stitch

My teaching philosophy...any suggestions appreciated! 

Free-form embroidery on the Amtrak train, the Pennsylvanian, April 2014.

Free-form embroidery on the Amtrak train, the Pennsylvanian, April 2014.

Quilting as metaphor and method of socially engaged teaching practice

Feminist teaching inspires intellectual risk. Yet, traditional classrooms often instill anxiety, undermining students’ efforts to express their perspectives. But to engage in critical dialogues addressing societal inequities, trust must be established and maintained. How do we overcome fear to begin transcending gendered, raced, and classed norms within the seminar? We begin by situating feminist theories within lived experiences.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2003) defined feminist solidarity as a curricula theory anchored in the co-responsibility of teacher and students. Mohanty’s collective methodology is related to the work of Elsa Barkley Brown (1989) who situates her teaching within the aesthetics of African-American quilting. In their strip piecing, Black quilters eschewed the uniform grid and color schemes of Euro-American blocks. Instead, balance is achieved with unpredictable scale and color contrasts. Brown sees her students as representing each unique piece of these quilts; all are necessary yet each retain their individuality. None dominate. In her pedagogy, Brown mimics this variation, seeking to constantly pivot the center of her and her students’ experiences through the narratives of people of color. In this way, students’ lives are not invalidated; rather, they are related to others’ stories. Hence, students are empowered to challenge their norms. Brown’s teaching mirrors African-American quilting: symmetry is achieved through diversity.

My research explores the sewing circle as a form of socially engaged pedagogy. I integrate quilting into my teaching practice. Students lead discussions confronting sociopolitical norms generated from course materials as they piece together small squares. Stories and debates punctuate conversations. Group sewing tends to encourage informal relationships and trust. Hence, this historically domestic site offers opportunities to examine and modify unconscious patterns of thought as envisioned by Mohanty. Throughout her teaching, Brown’s nuanced, collegial leadership cultivated honest, difficult conversations. Such feminist pedagogy thoughtfully navigates the perils and promises within the activist-educational space.

Brown, E. B. (1989). African-American women's quilting: A framework for conceptualizing and teaching African-American women's history. Signs, 14(4), 921.

Mohanty, C. (2003). “Under western eyes” revisited: Feminist solidarity through anticapitalist struggles. Signs, 28(2), 499-535.

Climbing the sidewalk

As I dried my hair this morning, a Monty Python skit popped into my head. Instead of walking on a London sidewalk, Michael Palin is shown "climbing" it, with hiking gear. He "falls" and the cameral "fast forwards" his body "sliding down" the street! It was hilarious and absurd. But today, that absurdity took on new meaning...

In my amazing gender studies class today (106), we talked about choices. Most of my students are second semester freshman who are struggling to choose their major and direction. But who or what makes that choice? Do they feel compelled to follow expectations set by parents, peers, or other societal "norms"? As some fifty students sewed their quilts, a handful engaged in lively discussion. However, I felt the students pondering these questions as they made each stitch.

Throughout my life, I have battled gender and class expectations, but have finally come to recognize the teacher and - YIKES - the scholar - that I truly am. This is me sitting at the back of the class, while five students lead the discussion, joined periodically by my two terrific teaching assistants. In this space, I feel closest to my ideal self, and took a quick selfie :)

Evenmindedness and the stitch

Yesterday I received two letters. One was a recommendation letter for an award written by my two amazing teaching assistants, Alexis Scott and Logan Althoff; the other a note informing me that was not a "finalist" for a teaching position I really wanted. Mercifully, I read the latter while waiting to see my advisor to discuss my final edits and additions to my dissertation. After a terrific meeting with my chair, I walked home, feeling both disappointed and elated. 

Today, however, I felt poisoned by the rejection. Sluggishness. I finally rallied to rewrite my teaching philosophy, clean out my computer and desk, and begin inventing my future. Below is a detail from a student's quilt square from last Fall. When I review my students' work, I see that they respond to the sewing circle as an empowering teaching tool. In the liberal arts and in the feminist classroom, quilting rules! 

Homing pigeons

Yesterday, I drove to Joann's to buy more fabric and thread for my class.  Per usual, I struck up a conversation with the cashier about having 50 students sewing as part of my introduction to gender studies course, which includes three men. She then told me how her dad used to sew special temporary shelters for his homing pigeons out of canvas. They were easy to clean and store. "You should've seen him at the machine – I thought he'd rush through- but no, he took his time. He sewed those seams so slowly and carefully!"

I love talking to people about sewing because I inevitably am the beneficiary of a personal story of the stitch. And, living in central PA, it's usually one very foreign to my urban New England ears...

The blank page

Now that I'm nearly done with my dissertation, I decided to revisit my blog- but a new one. After writing for nearly nine months, I'm ready to emerge from my cocoon, excited to fill these pages with the wisdom that my work on sewing circles has gifted me. In fact, sewing circles have reshaped and reformed my artistic, writing, and teaching practices! In this blog and on the written page I will explore and share what I've learned through my work on historical and contemporary sewing groups...