Wednesday, March 28, 2012


My generation has a curious problem. Many of us did not have children until we were relatively old. In my case, that meant having kids at 36 and 38. This means that we are older than most of our moms were and that our parents are older grandparents than ours were. It also means that, as we are still dealing with taking care of relatively small kids, we might be faced with taking care of elderly parents. In my case, I have not been called upon to take care of my parents -- another feature of our generation is that we often do not live nearby, so I am thousands of miles away from my parents. But my father has been ill and I have been visiting a lot in the last few months.

I have been thinking about this sandwiching, as a friend calls it. I am conscious of being a mom and a daughter, both older than some and younger than some. I am especially conscious of this lately as many members of the older generation in my family have passed away recently. My mother lost two sisters and a brother-in-law. I lost two aunts and an uncle. Suddenly the top layer is disappearing. I am beginning to envision a time when we are the oldest. Aside from the panic that induces (because, as I said in a previous blog, I do not yet feel grown up), I feel sad to know that my kids will lose that contact with an older generation. This is perhaps where thinking of ourselves less in terms of bloodlines comes in handy.

We casually refer to a lot of our friends as aunt and uncle. This is probably because we didn't know what else to call them. Mr. and Mrs. or the southern Miss did not seem right. So, we made our friends aunts and uncles. And mostly they refer to us the same way. Straight aunts and uncles to be sure, and gay and lesbian aunts and uncles, too. Some married, some single, some in long term relationships without being married. I have always liked that they have knowledge of different possibilities in this life -- including among my family, in which we have a bachelor, a single mom by choice, a now gone lesbian aunt. But my broader family, that circle of friends, presents a more diverse array of lifestyles and racial diversity, too. They can see interracial relationships, gay and straight, working moms, stay at home dads, and other structures that quietly step outside the conventional norms of society and that, in my kids' minds, are as normal as the rest. Already, our holiday table is more populated with these aunts and uncles than with blood family (again, because we do not live near most family). Over the years, as we all age, I hope that this extended queer family can serve as the top layer for my kids, the older generation that can model the future for them.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Last week, I had the opportunity to host Laura Mulvey on campus. For those who don't know, Mulvey is a famous feminist film theorist. She is the one who developed the idea of the male gaze. In brief, the idea that in classical Hollywood films -- and often other kind of films, including more recent ones -- men have the power to look (they get point of view shots), and women represent to be looked-at-ness; men control the action and women are acted upon; women do not have the power of the gaze (they do not generally get point of view shots and are usually punished if they look) and men do not represent the same kind of fetishistic spectacle.

Now, I have been teaching not only Mulvey's famous "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" for years, but also other essays by her on cinema space, Psycho, melodrama, and more. So, it was great to be able to speak with her, learn more about the origins of her work, revisit her early films, and hear more about where her work is now.

But the even more tremendous pleasure was in seeing the reception she got on campus. Her talk was jam-packed with faculty and students from across the college. And faculty and students were all giddy! Mulvey is a rock star, it's true. And, in fact, while she was speaking at Notre Dame, she was being discussed in an episode of "Parks and Recreation," in which one of the male characters is taking a feminist theory class and was quizzed about Mulvey:

The best part was seeing young women, who do not often, at Notre Dame at least, identify as feminist, come up to Laura Mulvey and thank her for her work, tell her about how her essay changed their lives. These were my students, students whose feminism had not been revealed in film class, who seemed like typical post feminists. So, it was shocking and wonderful to discover their secret passion. But, gals, the secret is out! You love Mulvey! You love Mulvey! Now, we'll get you hooked on the rest of the feminist gals who have rocked my world.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I have become obsessed with my age. I am constantly aware, as if the number floats around my head. 47. 47. 47. Part of this relates to being a mom, and knowing that, to my kids, I am old. More has to do with teaching. When I started teaching in grad school, I was less than ten years older than my students. We had shared tastes and points of reference. Now . . if I refer to something from my youth, I am pointing them back to the 1970s or 1980s. As my husband has noted recently, when he talks about a restaurant or store he went to in the 1980s, we are now the people who talked to us about stuff from the 1950s. Not uninteresting, but not of our generation. Not only do I come from the olden days, but my tastes and points of reference always went back to a period before I was born -- films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, music from the 60s, fashion from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s. So I am doubly outdated by my own anachronism.

Part of it, certainly, is about the body. I feel the years. I feel them when I worry that if I fall skating, I will break a hip. Or when I buy a new bra because "the girls" seem to be hanging lower all the time. Or, fighting a few pounds, that would have dropped easily even ten years ago, but now cling to me like barnacles on a ship. But, at the same time, I look at my friends and think we all look pretty good, younger than our folks did when they were our age. We don't, on the whole, have the thick middles and pot bellies of earlier generations. We still wear our 80s black pants, cool boots and decent haircuts.

But we also seem less settled, less sure than our folks seemed when they were our age. My folks were almost done with child-rearing then -- I was the youngest of four kids and I was 17, almost off to college when my mom turned 47 (and she was old compared to most of my friends' moms, who had them at 18 or 20). They hadn't moved house in 15 years. They had only changed jobs out of necessity -- the recession in my dad's case. My friends, though, mostly have small kids. Some have long term jobs. (My husband and I have been in the same jobs for 14 years, in my case, and longer in his.) But some of our friends are still looking, changing careers, figuring it out. Most of us do not fully perceive ourselves as adult, or as the same as people we refer to as grown ups." For my husband and I, "grown ups" wear suits, work in skyscrapers and vacation at resorts. We don't.

We do not really want to be grown ups, in that sense, and likely never will be. But our view of them as grown ups, even while we think ourselves old, suggests that we still feel like imposters, kids playing dress up. And maybe all grown ups do. Maybe the guys in suits I see at my kids' school are not any more certain or settled than we are. And maybe our parents were not either.

And maybe that is why I am so conscious of that number, 47. Because 47 doesn't mean what I thought, doesn't mean I am grown up, or complete. It is just another place on the road, no more nor less significant than 21, or 35, or 10. Only now, I can more clearly see what was great and not so great about those stops -- 21, 35, and 10. And only later, perhaps will I see 47 for what it really is.