"How's Maybelle?"

Ween Bean!At a work event today, a bunch of people asked, "How's Maybelle?"  It's often hard for me to know how to answer those questions.  What do people want to know?  The short, "She's great!", or something more substantive?  And if more substantive, how much more?

So here is some information about Maybelle that's more substantive.  Please feel free to skip this post (because with a blog, you're not in the tough situation of having to pretend to be interested in what someone is saying, keeping your eyebrows lifted and nodding your head while your mind wanders).

  • We think they've been doing "Ring Around a Rosie" at school, because she does it repetitively in front of the mirror in the living room.  Woe to you if you decide you're willing to play along, because when, after fifteen minutes, you've decided you're ready to move on to something else, there's going to be some outrage expressed.
  • She's initiating more and more speaking.  Last weekend she was in the swing, and, unprompted, she said to Biffle, "I want go, Boppa!"  For her to put two words together on her own is fairly normal ("Go bike," "shut door," "thank you," "good reading"), but four may be the most she's said without us nudging her along word by word.
  • She often demands songs from me, and lately she's begun--sometimes--to be able to tell me what song she wants.  This afternoon she said, "Song!"  "What song do you want?" I asked.  She did a very nonprofessional sign for "submarine," letting me know that she wanted "Yellow Submarine."  Then after that she signed "bird" for "And Your Bird Can Sing."
  • She's tall!  She had a well child visit with her pediatrician yesterday.  The last time we were there, she was in the 75th percentile for kids with Down syndrome in terms of her weight and height--bigger than average for a smaller than average population.  This time her weight was still in that range, but Dr. Sperry said, "I'm not convinced we got the height right.  If she's 37 inches, she's above the 95th percentile for kids with Down syndrome.  That's a big growth spurt."  They checked again:  she is indeed 37 inches tall.  Let's all remember that she's half Piepmeier.


Pittsburgh, laryngitis, and other things going on

The event in Pittsburgh was great.  I think it says a lot about an organizer, an institution, and a city when someone can put on a four-hour event on a Saturday and have a roomful of enthusiastic folks show up.  With no course credit being offered!

The whole Feminism and Zines Symposium was interesting--I learned a lot from the presentations offered by Sara Marcus and Jenna Freedman.  And I was very pleased with how well my own presentation went!

There have been times in the past when I've given a presentation and, halfway through, have thought, "Hmm...this might be boring."  Not a good thought to have when you're standing in front of a room full of people who have come out to hear your boring self.  This time, I practiced and practiced and practiced.  I had a lot to say, but I was able to use my presentation as a jumping-off point, so I was talking with the audience rather than reading from a script.  I got some interaction going--we read several zines together, identifying points of connection between scrapbooks and zines, for instance.  As I was speaking, I felt myself click into the teacher mode.  There's this zone I can get into in my classes, where I feel like, "Yes, I know where we are.  I know the vibe of the room.  I am saying things, and I can tell that you're listening."  And I was in that zone for most of my presentation at the Carnegie Library.

Pittsburgh was an incredibly interesting city.  I'd love to return and do more of an "exploring Pittsburgh" sort of trip.  For instance, one thing I noticed in my time there is that there are a lot of bridges.  When I got home I discovered that there are 446!  Holy shit!  I also learned that Pittsburgh was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood--that's where the show was produced.  And I saw some incredibly beautiful, big houses downtown which I was informed I could buy for around $250,000.  In Charleston terms, that's cheap.

In other news, I have laryngitis.  Thank goodness this happened last night and not while I was out of town to give a speech!  I am completely voiceless today--I can just barely whisper.  It's incredibly frustrating, but perhaps the universe is suggesting to me that I work on my listening skills.

Update:  Thanks to Jude for this link to a cool Pittsburgh radio show about our symposium (and Bill O'Driscoll pronounces my name correctly--thanks, Bill!)


Ways in which Pittsburgh is unlike Charleston

    Hills.  Oh, the hills!  For some houses, you have to walk up two flights of stairs to get to the front door!  How do you do this with a toddler and three bags of groceries?  None of this "Maybelle, can you open the gate for Mama?" routine that works so well in flat Charleston.  (The picture to the left is of a funky house--I texted it to Biffle, because it looked like the sort of art-conscious place he'd be interested in.  Note that the front porch railings are chain link fence.)

    Weather.  Daffodils and azaleas are just beginning to bloom here.  The folks I presented with yesterday were astonished to hear how warm it is (and has been) in Charleston.

    Lack of automatic friendliness.  I took a long, rambling walk this morning.  Early on, I passed a man walking with two big dogs.  I lifted my head.  I looked him in the face, smiling, ready for the "Good morning!" when we got close enough to each other.  Nothing!  He turned his head, refused to meet my eyes, and walked by silently.  This happened repeatedly, with other walkers, joggers, and folks out on the sidewalk.  They pretended not to see me.  I wonder:  if I were here with Maybelle, would things change?  In Charleston, she gets continual friendly feedback when she's out in the world (a phenomenon I've blogged about before).  I wonder if a kid would alter the public interactions in Pittsburgh.

    Here's a picture of Mary Tremonte and Jenna Freedman, along with a student, assembling the zine we all made together yesterday afternoon at the Warhol Museum.  So cool!

    Given how these three look, can you guess which person at the event (not pictured) was visibly, obviously the academic in the bunch?  It's okay--they were welcoming.



    Tomorrow morning I leave for a two-day visit to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where I get to have the great fun of being part of the Feminism and Zines Symposium, put together by librarian Jude Vachon.  This is an all-day event on Saturday, where I'm getting to speak along with Jenna Freedman, who runs the Barnard Zine Library (and is a zine creator featured in Girl Zines), and Sara Marcus, who wrote the excellent Girls to the Front:  The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.*

    Here's an article about us in the Pittsburgh City Paper.  If any of you readers are in Pittsburgh, I'd love to see you there!

    *I will note that a number of people out in the world have enjoyed Girl Zines, but have expressed surprise and, perhaps, the tiniest bit of disappointment to discover that it's an academic book.  It is, in fact, an academic book.  Girls to the Front is beautifully researched but isn't an academic book, so it's a page-turner in ways that Girl Zines can't really be.


    Neurodiversity over at Girl w/Pen

    Look at me--I wrote a post at Girl w/Pen that's actually on time!  First time in months, I believe.  It's about autism and neurodiversity, among other things, and I'd like to thank Melissa for the prompt.


    I hate sexism and I love Jon Stewart

    One of my colleagues sent this video yesterday, and I'm just now getting around to watching it. As I watched, I was reminded of how much I hate sooooo much of mainstream media. This is why I'm a recluse who never, ever, ever watches the news. If I watch any tv at all, it's the very bad (and yet so delicious) Castle.

    Have a look.  The media outrage over nail polish mirrors outrage my students share almost every semester in the Intro to Women's and Gender Studies class.  We have a conversation about the social construction of masculinity, and about the ways in which our conceptions and expectations of masculinity are as toxic as our conceptions of femininity.  The nail polish story comes up unprompted:  "I was babysitting my cousin, who's five, and he wanted me to put some of my nail polish on him.  When his dad came home, he was so mad!  It really freaked me out!"

    You know what this is about, folks?  In part, homophobia.  "OMG, my son might be gay!"  Yep, your son might be gay.  It has nothing to do with nail polish, but your son might be gay.  And hurray for that!  Would you please make an effort to step outside your narrow-minded ignorance and hatefulness to love your son no matter who his sexual partners might be in the future?  It's also about fear of transgendered folks, although I bet most dads of the cousin in my students' stories aren't familiar with that term.  They just think their son might not be right.  Stewart's response to this in the media is pretty appropriate.

    Okay, so watch Jon Stewart, who is much funnier in his outrage than I am.


    Hairy-legged feminist anniversary

    It's time for some upbeat news.

    One of the most popular posts on this blog was one I wrote in 2006, and it's gotten comments as recently as last week.  It's called "Hairy-legged feminist."  It's popular in part because that's a common phrase that nobody else has written a blog post about, I guess.  Google "hairy-legged feminist" and see what you find.  We are the top!  Baxter Sez is defining this terrain!*

    Given the popularity of that post, I thought I'd let the Baxter Sez readership know that we are now at the twentieth anniversary of my hairy-legged feminism.  I stopped shaving during the spring semester of my first year in college, in 1991.  The weather got warm, and I thought, "Why in the world should I keep doing this?  It doesn't make sense."  College, of course, is a time for that.  It's a space where students should be free to question their assumptions and start feeling out who and what they are in ways not automatically defined by their communities of origin.  Not all the assumption-questioning sticks, but for me, this did.** 

    In the blog post from 2006, I voiced the fact that living in Charleston was causing me to question whether or not I should continue to be a non-shaver.  The many, many commenters will be happy to know that living in Charleston didn't cause me to change my bodily practices (at least in that arena):  I'm still a person who doesn't shave.  I'm still with a partner who has never seen me without all kinds of visible, stereotypically feminist body hair.  And I'm quite luscious in my fuzziness.

    This is not to say that I think that the presence of body hair is a prerequisite for anyone's feminism.  Body hair isn't that important.  Shave, don't shave, get a Brazilian--whatever.  Feminism has many more important issues than that, and I don't spend any time scrutinizing the depilating practices of my friends and colleagues.  You can be completely hairless and an amazing feminist.  Feel free to give it a try!

    For me, I'm happy to have a body that grows the hair it grows.  I'm happy to have an ideology that affirms my body being what it is--hairy, aging, flat-chested, with a wub.  Feminism is the political grounding that says, "Please feel free to ignore all that cultural bullshit about the razors, elastic inserts, chemical injections, and surgeries you need to make your body fit the standard.  Rewrite the standard!  Be who you are!  You are fabulous!"

    Hurray for twenty years of that!

    *If you enjoy random Googling, try this phrase:  Eef and hambone.
    **In relation to the "communities of origin" point, I should note that when I showed my mom my hairy legs in 1991, she was sort of envious.  My community of origin didn't scorn my non-shaved self.



    Yesterday, after the sad event of the morning, we went to the circus.  It was odd and fun (and helpfully distracting for the adults), but what I want to write about here has nothing to do with the circus.  It has to do with what happened as we were leaving.  It was late, and Maybelle was giddy with over-tiredness, careening madly through the field as we made our way toward our car.

    "Maybe she'll sleep in," I said to Biffle.  "All we have planned for tomorrow morning is church."

    Then we both looked at each other, making squinty, dismayed faces.  "That's so weird that I can say something like that!" I exclaimed.  "We need to call it something else.  Like, 'You know, we have that meeting tomorrow morning.'"

    And yet, regardless of what you call it, the Biffle-Piepmeier family has, indeed, been going to church.  It's actually a regular practice now.  We started sometime early in February, and here it is, early in April, and we're still going.  We're going to the downtown Unitarian church, and here are some of the things I like about it:

    • Their main emphasis is social justice.  Really, social justice is far more prevalent in the church conversations and writings than God is.  Apparently the last minister got the boot because he talked about God a little too much.
    • No emphasis at all on dreadful consequences if you don't follow their rules.  In one of the first services Biffle and I attended, they did a reading that was about how some groups create communities in which their children have fear always hovering over them, casting shadows like clouds.  They said they want to be a community that creates light for children, with no shadows.
    • You get to hear a lot of women's voices, both in the service and in the various readings.
    • The church is preparing its float for this year's LGBT Pride Parade.  They were apparently the biggest group at last year's parade.
    • At the end of our very first visit there, I was leaving the nursery where I'd dropped Maybelle off.  One of my students was leaving another room.  "Hey!" I said. "What are you doing here?"  "Oh," the student said, "I got invited to come talk to the middle school Sunday school class about my experience as a person who's intersex."  Whoa, I thought, that's what Sunday school is like for Unitarian kids?  I think I may have found my place!
    I suspect that there are a lot of jokes about Unitarians, and I suspect they're all true.  It seems to be a thinky, skeptical bunch of folks in the congregation, which means--among other things--that they're not particularly musical.  Jumping in and singing a hymn isn't quite their style, so it seems that Biffle and I are often the only ones singing.  Plus, their hymns aren't old traditional standards (for obvious reasons), so people may not know them.  This morning's hymn was--I kid you not--called "Meditative Breathing."

    But on the whole we find it quite satisfying.  Riding our bikes to church on Sunday mornings is a delight.  We like the folks there.  Maybelle eagerly runs to the door of the nursery, and on more than one occasion we've interrupted a dance party when we've picked her up.  We like the things the congregation believes and emphasizes.  So, for now, we seem to be a churchgoing family.


    On Saturday morning, we had Inky put to sleep. In the next couple of days, Biffle's going to write a post about him. I think Inky was to Biffle a bit like Baxter was to me:  they had a kind of soul connection.  Inky was, as Catherine texted me on Saturday, "evil and lovable."  I miss his Darth Vader breathing, his copious quantities of snot, his grim stare, and his willingness to be put in ridiculous positions for our entertainment (as in this picture, when he soberly wore a onesie that a friend had sent for the still-gestating Maybelle).

    More soon, from Biffle.  I just wanted to let everybody know.