Meeting Reva at the Cracker Barrel

We had a full, full Thanksgiving break, with pleasantly overstimulating time with both sets of relatives.  There are new pictures up on Flickr if you want to see the Piepmeier and Biffle families in their Thanksgiving glory, but what I want to write about here is an experience on our way home today.  Biffle, Maybelle, and I stopped--as we often do--at a Cracker Barrel for lunch.  While we were eating, we noticed that a woman at a nearby table was what we (inoffensively, I hope) refer to as an MOT:  Member of the Tribe--of our tribe, because she has Down syndrome.  "She's reading the menu!" I shared with Biffle quietly.  "She just gave her order to the server, and the server totally understood her.  No need for translation."  And later, "She's having a good time!  She and the woman she's with are laughing."

When we got up to leave, we engaged in a version of the behavior that we've discovered lots of parents of little kids with Down syndrome do:  we walked Maybelle by very slowly, and let her stop and look around so that the woman and her lunch companion could see her.  I pretty obviously moved my body out of the way so that Maybelle was totally visible.  I wanted to connect with them, but I didn't want to lunge at their table out of the blue if, perhaps, they were hoping to have a quiet lunch without having to do Down syndrome outreach.

Well, it worked:  the woman, whose name is Reva*, turned around and saw Maybelle, and her mom saw her, too, and they both smiled and waved.  We're in!  We walked over to visit with them and had a brief conversation.  We learned that we're all doing just fine.  We shared that Maybelle is 2, and learned that Reva is 39.  Her mom encouraged us to have high expectations, and we assured her that we do (as all our blog readers are well aware).  Reva agreed with me that Maybelle is a wiggle bug, and then we headed on our way.

In the car, Biffle and I were processing (so cool to meet them!  Reva seems great!), and wondering, in particular, if there was anything else we should have said.  "She's 39, right?" Biffle asked, and I said yes.  He said, "We should have told her mom thank you."  Reva was born a year before me.  In 1971, her mom would have been told to institutionalize her.  And clearly, she didn't.  Not only did she not institutionalize her, but she had high expectations for her, and it's because of moms like that--who did what they did without the sorts of support we have today--that Maybelle has the chance to live the life she's living.

Biffle was totally right.  We should have told them both thank you.

*I thought her name was Rayna, but Biffle reminded me it's Reva.


Sarah Josepha Hale

Listen, y'all.  Three or four different members of my family today have forgotten who Sarah Josepha Hale is.  How many years have I been posting to Baxter Sez an explanation of Hale?  And is my family not reading the blog?  And why does Lincoln still get all the credit for starting Thanksgiving?

So here's a link to one of the posts about Hale.  Go read it right now.  And please remember, as well, that Hale wrote a very famous poem for which her authorship has been forgotten.



"Mary Had a Little Lamb."

And now here's a guest post from my brother Aaron:

Another little-known fact about Mrs. Hale is that she was the first full frontal feminist. Now, to the readers of Baxter Sez, this type of feminism is old hat, but for those living in the days of Lincoln this was very taboo. The only other full frontal activity around at that time was rodent related (another blog post to come) and mainly concerned the patriarchy. This rodent-focused lifestyle totally bored women, who were concerned with much more important non-rodent frontality, and Mrs. Hale choose one december to fix this problem.

On December 11, 1808 Mrs. Hale walked into the center of town, with her little cute hat held in front of herself, and proceeded to shine her feminism, frontally, to the entire village. Much was changed that day. She realized her full potential and the other women in town fell in behind this natural leader to challenge the status quo.  After that day, the focus of her career switched to improving the status of turkeys - the unknown national bird of feminists.

Turkey trot

The Biffle-Piepmeiers are in Tennessee to visit with both sets of families for Thanksgiving.  A huge bunch of Piepmeiers have gathered in Cookeville--it's been a wonderful sort of overstimulation to hang out in a house full of 18 aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.  It turns out that Maybelle is quite extraverted and has quickly learned that she can make almost anyone bend to her will.

This morning we all did the Turkey Trot, a 5K run/walk.  Several of the Piepmeier gang ran (and did surprisingly well!  Without injury!).  Maybelle and I walked with my mom, and although this picture makes it look like she walked the whole race herself, Maybelle was actually in the backpack until the last 100 yards.  At that point she saw other people speeding up, and she cried, "Run run run!" (which in Maybelle speak sounds like "Wo wo wo!"), so I let her down and she trotted over the finish line.  She was applauded, of course, which she seemed to take as her due.  She stopped, smiled, and offered her own bit of applause, as well.  Like, "Yes, we're celebrating!  Everyone's looking at me!  That's about right."


Biffle is a musical genius

You all know that Biffle plays music almost continuously around Charleston--playing bluegrass, folk, country, and Irish tunes for lots of bands.  He's the kind of musician who can play things with strings (so far guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin on a regular basis for money), and he can follow almost any song.  Like, he's never heard it before, it's in a genre he's not familiar with, and he can play it.  Quite well.  He's sometimes surprised when other people can't do this, but I think it's a pretty unusual skill.

What you might not know (or remember) is that Biffle's greater talent is in songwriting.  Here lately he, Maybelle, and I have been listening to some newish Dan Wilson songs (you know, formerly of Trip Shakespeare).  I'm really enjoying his work, but it has struck me on multiple occasions that Dan Wilson is almost as bold as Biffle in songwriting.  He's not quite as willing to layer on the vocals and sounds, to go over the top with harmonies.  I listened not long ago to one of Biffle's older songs, called "Fire," and I was astonished at the harmonies--what, like twenty voices singing different notes?  Crazy stuff, stuff that couldn't be sold to a mainstream market, and so satisfying and brilliant.  (Maybe we can get that song online soon so you can hear it.)

And what do you know, but last week, while I was at the NWSA Conference, Biffle wrote a new song.  It's called "Sabotage," and it's the kind of work of Biffle's that I can't get enough of.  I guess I've listened to it 57 times by now.  I'm feeling moved to interpret it (the complex emotions of the lyrics and how they interact with the sound), but I think I'll just leave it to you as listeners to figure out.  Or perhaps I'll blog more about it later.

Mother blogger

Debbie Siegel over at She Writes recently put up a column listing her 10 ground rules for writing about her kids.  While I agree with many of them, they've raised some questions for me.  Her very first rule, you might notice, is not to use her children's given names in her public writing, and her second rule is not to post pictures of their faces.

Jelly on toast out at a restaurantWell, dear reader, if you've been here for any length of time, you know quite a bit about Maybelle.  Like, her full name, her birth date, the city in which she lives, the places where her mom and dad work, her mom's license plate number and all her bumper stickers, and how Maybelle looks and sounds while playing the drums.  You've seen and heard her in various contexts over the 26 months she's been alive.  And I'm not sure that's something I want to change.

I certainly agree that there should be limits:  when she's old enough to have a private life, I want to respect that, and I will definitely give her veto power over what I publish about her on the blog or elsewhere.  (Does a two year old have a private life?)  I try to be thoughtful about what I post here or on Flickr--no naked pictures, for instance, despite the absolute adorableness of her little naked self.  And of course she's my child first and not just raw material for my blogging brilliance, and almost everything I post is upbeat and encouraging.  But I find that I don't mind her being public, nor do I worry about it, the way that many other mother writers do.

Is this the kind of Facebook foolishness I find students sometimes engaging in, where they put all kinds of things on their Facebook pages, forgetting that they've friended their professor and that I'm seeing them now in compromising situations?  Am I truly not being careful, or have I made a rational decision?  It feels rational to me, but I welcome reader feedback.


NWSA news

Alright, I've been back in town for two days, so it's time for me to provide my write up of the National Women's Studies Association Conference that happened this past weekend in Denver.

The overarching thing I want to share is that this has become exactly the conference those of us on the Governing Council hoped it would become:  it's the place to be.  If you're a scholarly type with an interest in feminism, then you don't want to miss this conference.

I got to hear a number of truly outstanding scholars--Andrea Smith, Astrid Henry, Juana Maria Rodriguez, among others--present work that wasn't familiar to me and that introduced me to new ideas.  Equally important, I heard newer and emerging scholars trying out their works in progress, folks like Amanda Richey, Kimberly Robertson, and Michael Gill.  It was so exciting!  I had the opportunity to connect with colleagues from around the country whose work I admire, and we all marveled at the scholars who are now regular attendees, scholars like Chela Sandoval, Banu Subramaniam, and Angela Davis.  Yes indeed, Angela Davis, who was a keynote speaker last year, was so impressed that she decided to come to this year's conference as a regular attendee.  You don't get to be much more of a feminist rock star than Angela Davis, and the fact that my friend Astrid was working out in the fitness center next to her was super-cool for all of us.  We tried to pretend it was no big deal, though.

The issues scholars were taking up at this conference were rich and diverse, but here are a few that I noticed coming up again and again:
  • Motherhood:  Obviously feminist scholars have been examining motherhood since the 19th century, but this is a topic that's recently become pretty popular.  Most of us who are feminist moms are well aware that motherhood is overburdened and under-recognized, even today, and so we're having a closer look at how it's structured and how it functions--with an eye toward making things more fair.
  • Girls:  Girls' studies is a significant field emerging in feminist scholarship, and it's based on the obvious, and yet still sort of radical, notion that girls' voices, experiences, and creations matter.  My Girl w/Pen colleague Elline Lipkin is one of the leading names in this area, and she and I discussed, among other things, whether girls' studies is linked in some way to motherhood studies.  Is it a coincidence that the two seem to be especially popular at the same moment?
  • Intersectionality:  This is not new, but it's finally getting more attention--the recognition that every person's identity exists at the intersection of multiple categories (race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual identity, bodily ability, etc).  None of us is simply anything, so it was exciting to see session after session (and book after book in the exhibit hall) examining who we are in complex ways.  In fact, this was less a topic that scholars were addressing and more a foundational assumption underlying much of the scholarship being presented.
The conference energized me in exactly the ways I hoped it would.  I got useful feedback on my own presentation, in which I took issue with memoirs written by parents of kids with disabilities.  Multiple friends made connections with publishers.  And most importantly, I felt surrounded by a community of people eager to think, question, and examine the world in the ways I do.

Plus, I was reminded of how much I love a gender-neutral bathroom.

Cross-posted (and edited--a better version!) over at She Writes.


Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith was one of the keynote speakers last night at the NWSA, and jeez, was she amazing.  In a way, I'm glad she doesn't teach at the College of Charleston, because she's so dynamic, smart, compelling, and energetic--and seems so much like a person I'd love to hang out with--that I fear she'd throw off my whole vibe, my bumbling attempts to achieve a work/life balance, my efforts to accept my own hypocrisy, etc.  If I were to hang around her, I think she'd bump everything up to a new level in ways that would be transformative and amazing, but also, you know, exhausting.

This post should be titled "Tired feminist blogger doesn't think she can change the whole world just yet."  Andrea Smith, though, seems like someone who is absolutely in the process of changing the world and having a great time doing it.

She talked so fast--and coming from me, a fast-talker myself, that's saying a lot.  At times I could only barely follow what she was saying because she was talking so quickly.  But this was because she had a lot to say.  She could rattle off the phrase "white supremacist, capitalist, colonizing heteropatriarchy" effortlessly.  Here were some of the key points I walked away with:

  • 5% of people on the planet have all the guns and money.  The other 95% have a lot of people power, but we have to figure out how to work together.  And rest assured that some of those 95% are really irritating, so you have to wrangle around in your own head to get to a place of love and respect.  Just because you find them irritating and even offensive, if we're going to change the world, you have to work with them.
  • White supremacy operates via three pillars:  anti-black racism, anti-indigenous peoples racism, and anti-"Oriental" (in the Said sense) racism.  Anti-black racism works on the notion that black people (and by extension all people) are property:  this is a pro-capitalism function.  Anti-indigenous peoples racism suggests that these people should all be killed off so that their land can be taken.  And anti-"Oriental" racism argues that these primitive folks are dangerous and need to be guarded against so that they don't take our stuff.
  • Genocide isn't actually against the law.  When people invoke the law and the Constitution, it's important to remember that genocide was actually foundational to the Constitution coming into being.
  • If we're going to change the world, one important step is to change the way we live.  Make the revolution happen at home by radically rethinking our own communities (in her mind this meant, in part, communalizing everything--childcare, food production, teaching college classes, etc.)

(Crossposted over at She Writes.)


I LOVE Subaru! (and Tom!)

I'll share news from the NWSA Conference later, but right now I want to tell you all the exciting conclusion to the Subaru dilemma I shared with you a week ago.  I had another conversation with ad guy Tom, who really is a very nice person.  I asked about the money:  "Is everybody else in this ad doing it for free?"  He admitted that yes, they were, in part because the whole ad campaign is based on the fact that these are people's unsolicited endorsements.  If they paid them, it would look a bit like the endorsements were just offered for the money.  Less unsolicited seeming.

"But in your case," he noted, "you wrote your blog post in 2007.  Clearly we didn't solicit that.  Is the money something that might help you decide to be part of our campaign?"

"Yes," I said, "but not for me.  I was wondering if Subaru might want to support a nonprofit that I really believe in."  I then told him about the REACH Program and the efforts to secure scholarship funds for REACH.  He asked me to send him written info, so here's the email:


It was great talking with you!  Here's the website for the REACH Program:  http://reach.cofc.edu/.  As I mentioned on the phone, REACH is one of around 200 college programs nationwide for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities (like autism and Down syndrome). We're making our program here as inclusive as possible, which means students who are part of the REACH Program will be in typical classes with typical CofC students--they'll just have extra support provided to them to help them achieve as much as they can. This is huge and important--we don't think that typical kids are ready to live independently when they graduate high school, but our culture often acts as if kids with cognitive disabilities don't need anything else after high school. Of course they do! They need intellectual challenges, the chance to practice living alone while still getting support, the chance to make new friends and to try out adult life. Hugely, hugely important.

I'm especially excited about this program because my daughter Maybelle has Down syndrome, and we're delighted to see how high our expectations for her should be.

The donation would be to support scholarships for students who'd like to be in the REACH Program. Because people with intellectual disabilities aren't eligible for student loans, the only kids who can afford to go to college are those whose parents saved up--and let's face it, a lot of parents are surprised (and happy!) that their kids can go to college. But they weren't expecting it, and they haven't been saving.

I'm happy to pull out the statistics that show how much more likely it is for people with various disabilities to be able to have jobs and live indepedently if they attend college.  Just let me know how much of a case you want me to make. Here's the bottom line, though: we're trying to create a culture in which people can achieve their full potential. This is the foundation of basically all my politics.

Tom asked how much I wanted.  I said, "I don't know!"  He said to just tell him what I was thinking, so I said $500.  Today he called to tell me that Subaru will be donating $1500 for a scholarship for the REACH Program.


I'm at the National Women's Studies Association Conference this weekend, so you'll be hearing some exciting travel news from me on this blog and also at She Writes (don't worry--I'll alert you with links to click when the time comes).

I arrived super, super late last night and am now pulling myself together in my lovely hotel room, getting ready for a day of acting like a professional feminist.  Here's the news:  I just looked out my window, and what do I see lightly covering the bare branches of the trees in the park across from my hotel?  Snow!  Yes, it's snowing in Denver.

For those of you who aren't aware of this fact, it's been around 60 degrees in Charleston recently, and I've been chilly enough to need to wear my down vest every day.  My body has fully adjusted to winters (perhaps I should write "winters") in Charleston.  And here I am in a place where it's snowing on November 11!

I was trying to decide if I was going to feel grouchy about this, but it actually seems like a fun climate adventure.  Plus, I don't really ever have to leave the conference hotel.


Ween Bonham

If you haven't already weighed in on my Subaru decision, please see the post below and offer some feedback. Then come back to this post and check out the talent Maybelle has just revealed.

Biffle came up with this video's title, but I'd like to say that I independently identified the band that John Bonham played for, and that's fairly remarkable.  Not as remarkable, however, as Maybelle's drumming skills. 

I'm simultaneously proud and ashamed to share that we've added a kids' drum set to the Ween's wishlist for the holidays.  Honestly, what kind of unbalanced parent are you if you allow--even encourage--your child to play the drums?  And yet, Biffle and I have never claimed to be balanced parents.  Passionate, enthusiastic, political, but not balanced.


The odd thing that happened because of the Subaru

So, I just got off the phone with a very nice guy who is part of the group that does national advertising campaigns for Subaru.  They found this blog post, and although they've almost finished with a video they've been working on, they liked what I had to say so much that they want to include parts of it in their video.  I asked what they saw that they liked so much they wanted to put it in an almost-finished ad, and he said its warmth, its eloquence, its genuineness--apparently it's unlike anything else they have.

I will say, it's a fine post.  And honest:  I reread it, and sure enough, the Subaru is the car of my soul.  I shared with him that he could do a print ad like this:

Conceived in a Subaru.
(Not on purpose, but probably true.)  He laughed, but I don't think that was what he was going for.

At any rate, he had very nice things to say about my writing and about Subaru as a company.  He never mentioned any sort of payment or barter offers (i.e. Subaru maintenance for life!), so I'm assuming this is a campaign where lots of Subaru lovers are voluntarily sharing their love.

So here's the deal:  I do love my Subarus, the first one and the one I have now.  And I've shared that love freely and voluntarily with the world via the expansive readership of Baxter Sez.  So should I be part of the freebie ad campaign?  It does seem like maybe I've done my freebie part for Subaru.  But does that mean that I should push for some reimbursement for them getting to make use of my brilliance?  And if so, does that make me a horrible sell out to the capitalist system?  Or something?

Some of you lurking readers who have expertise in this arena, give me some feedback!


Various good things going on

Since I often use this blog to complain about the state of things in various parts of my world, I thought this morning I'd use it to recount some good things.

Maybelle and NonnyNonny:  My mom, Maybelle's Nonny, was in town over the weekend, and she and Maybelle had the chance to connect in ways I think they both enjoyed.  Here's the trick to facilitate this connecting:  get out of the way!  I discovered that if I make my mom babysit Maybelle, then Maybelle settles in with her and enjoys her, whereas if I'm always in the room, Maybelle tends to lunge toward me rather than exploring her grandmother time.  I promise this is true and isn't just my means of justifying using my mother for free babysitting (although this is part of what grandmothers are for, right?)

Halloween with friendsHalloween:  I already posted about the great pumpkin-hunting we did with the enormous and capable Maybelle, but if you haven't been to our Flickr site, you haven't witnessed what a fetching Yoda Maybelle was for Halloween.  She was Yoda last year, too, because I loved the costume and decided that, until she has an opinion and picks her own Halloween costume, I get to dress her in ways that amuse and/or entertain me.  As we've done for the last three Halloweens, we went to a friend's house down the street from ours for a Halloween party, and then the gang of kids there (tons of them!) took to the streets in a massive trick or treating horde.  This was the first year that Maybelle was mobile enough and able to stay up late enough to take part in the trick or treating.  She doesn't like candy, but she loves people, and she quickly learned that she could convince other people--mostly Claire, Larry, and Conseula--to pick her up, swing her by the arms, carry her around, and then put her down.  In other words, they'd do pretty much anything she wanted.  So she was an active, happy participant in the trick or treating travel, although she only got me one piece of candy (and technically, I believe it was actually Larry who got me the piece of candy).  A very good evening.

Milledgeville, GA:  Not expecting that one, were you?  Yesterday I drove to Milledgeville, home of Georgia College and State University, where Susan Cumings, director of Women's Studies, had invited me to give a talk--the very first talk, I believe--from/about Girl Zines, and the 7th annual Begemann-Gordon Lecture in Women's Studies.  Right at this very moment, I'm sitting at the old-fashioned desk in the unbelievably gorgeous bed and breakfast where they've housed me.  The picture to the left is from my phone--I sent it to Biffle yesterday when I got here.  That's the huge, lush bed I slept in last night.  I just finished having breakfast that the owner of the place made for me--so good.  She set the timer on the coffee maker in the kitchen so that I had coffee as soon as I woke up this morning.  I'm ready to move in.  If GCSU houses all its campus speakers here, I recommend that all of you consider ways to get invited to give a talk at GCSU.

As for the talk itself, it was great fun.  Lots of good questions from the audience, and two undergraduate boys stayed after to ask me a number of questions--really thoughtful questions.  One of them, after talking to me for a minute, said, "Now, would you actually consider yourself a feminist?"  When I said, "Of course!", he seemed sort of shocked and impressed.  I guess he hasn't asked many people that question--I suspect he'd be surprised at how many feminists populate his campus, because I had dinner with a bunch of them later that night.  Here are the high points from dinner:  the students--a very cool group--recognized the importance of social support to allow them to tap into their own creativity and self expression, and the faculty members, based on my encouragement (harassment?) decided to form a writing group.  (And if you all are reading this and are looking for the post I mentioned, it's right here.)

Alright, that's it for good things in my world.  I'm going to pack up and head back to Charleston.  The rest of you:  go vote!