Upshot mid-February. Maybe Valentine’s Day or the day after, but before the 16th. Snowdrops or snowbells or crocus. Is the plural for crocus, crocuses? Doesn’t matter if they’re snowdrops. I’m sure they’re snowdrops. Well, almost sure. Surer is that Michigan’s regreening is mistimed this time. The snowdrops keep to themselves, don’t express a whole lot, or not anything I can hear where I stand when I pass by them front door in-going and out-going. But then this one photo jogs a memory about how last season’s tomatoes wilded into an unmanageable mess yielding more on vine rot than wedges of lightly salted gushes tomatoseed and sunshine. It’s something. Cannot say yet whether it’s the snowdrops or their photo or the tomatoes long since turned over in the side yard that share the quiet wisdrom, not quite lesson and not quite imperative, do better with gardening this year.
Somewhere along the way, even though I did not mean to, I lost track of how many Mother’s Days have piled up too-many-one, too-many-two, too-many-thirteen since June 1997, the month and year my mom died. I could run the numbers wicked-quickly through the tenth year or so, not that anyone ever asked, “So how many years has it been for you, without your mom?” There are years when reminiscences (reminen-siezes?) laced with grief dulls the which-year math and other years when the exact count blazes brightplain again. This time the year-count is a Mother’s Day whatever. Someone abacus-else can bother with it.
Ruth Margalit’s “The Unmothered” made its deserved rounds yesterday. I grabbed the link and dropped it into Pocket, retrieved it this morning and read on my phone through no-really-my-eyes-are-tearing-from-allergies while the morning’s water heated toward boiling. The article offers a reflection on Mother’s Days for the unmothered, those whose mothers have died, those who experience faint and sometimes gripping pangs of absence through this tribute-holiday’s memory work. Read the article if you want to. Or put it in Pocket for later. Either way.
These are among the gem passages–a small bouquet of excerpts I want to press into the blog the way my grandmother used to press violets into the binding-folds of thick books for preserving. They’ll save here, so I (or you and I, anyone) can re-read them around this time next year or the year after that:
Trust me, I’m too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother’s Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs–the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to “sit a while”?
They say time heals. It’s true that the pain wears off, slightly, around the edge, like a knife in need of whetting. But here’s what they’re missing: It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven’t seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she’s on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?
Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn’t delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment. Strangely, I began to think of Barthes (whose relationship with his mother famously bordered on the Oedipal) as my grief buddy. Largely preferring books to people around that time, I discovered that he wasn’t the only one.
I started to italicize, add emphases-mine, and then ended up italicizing the mother-loaded hell out of these few lines, so back-tracked and thought better of it. An almost of italicizing, done and reversed back to nothing special. All of it equally special.
And this is all just to say–as if I have anything left, much less grand-culminating and insightful to say about this Mother’s Day or “The Unmothered,” that these sentiments operate with unpredictable, potent acuity over a life. I suppose I might have been dreaming just such an idea when this photo from April 1975, me not quite a year old and lost in The Big Nap, when this photo of her–so impressively alive, happy, and mothering as to make it unthinkable that it would ever be otherwise–was click! taken.
Along with several other colleagues in my department, I was invited late last fall to be posterized as a faculty researcher at EMU. It’s part of a banner campaign devised to connect campus and Ypsilanti, and to make abstract-seeming faculty more real-seeming, I guess. And it is an honor to be invited. Humbling, really. Like others, I had a couple of photos taken in late November. The email arrived yesterday asking us to choose the best one. I let D., Is., and Ph. weigh in; two-thirds of them agreed on #122. I think I look slouchy, tired, and over-stressed (i.e., like a first-year WPA!) in most of them and so didn’t quibble with the rec. #122 it is.
Next comes the harder part: along with formalizing a preference for a photo, we’re supposed to send in a one-liner–five words or less and must begin with ‘I’–that will function as a public research profile. Officially, it’s called an “integrated power statement”–but I’ll think of it as a bumper sticker-sized CV.
I’ll be the first to admit that my 4.5 years at EMU in research terms has been spasmodic at best–due in large part to a constantly challenging orchestration of service responsibilities, institutional and departmental dynamics, and herky-jerky, stop-start bursts of writing with more change of speed and more spills than bad Olympic figure skating. Whoosh! Whoa! Oh sure, I get it: that’s the nature of this work in many places.
But how does such a pattern of activity translate into four or five words of banner material? And what’s a more appropriate gesture–something with a university-ambivalent public in mind, something true to the specifics of a research agenda, or something attuned to undergraduates, prospective students, and their families? Fun to think about from a university outreach standpoint, but not especially helpful for settling on the best four or five-word string.
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- I create clouds, graphs, and maps.
- I visualize discourse networks.
- I trace disciplinary networks.
- I make scholarly networks visible.
- I make rhetorical connections visible.
- I map scholarly networks.
- I practice digital rhetorics.
- I strengthen weaker arguments.
- I write in code and light.
I’m open to other suggestions and will wait for a few days before sending in my power statement. Comment away if you’re so inclined. Give me a better five words, starting with I. I’d considered tipping the statement toward directing first-year writing, but I have yet to root that work in what I think of as my research (so much heft in getting some Venns to overlap, you know?), so the power statements would be things like, “I fight the textbook-industrial complex” (five words?) or “I dream of budget” or “I large-scale assess.” Nothing especially powerful or integrated or researcherly in these statements. Of course, maybe if I come up with something really catching, really, really inspiring, they’ll invite me to be on another poster in a few years, just about the time I get the hang of more research oriented WPAing.
Today’s my brother’s birthday, and a big one: the turning point in life when hard-working cake makers recommend you switch from solo candles to a pair of numeral candles (one of them reusable for the next decade). Had a nice talk on the phone with him earlier, Is. leading us in a speakerphonic “happy birthday” song. Will hand deliver the card on Saturday when we get together.
Seems like a few short years ago he (right) was hassling me on the porch of our grandparents’ home on Drummond Island, waving that pop gun in my proximity (without pointing it directly at me because that was against the rules), firing off a cap or two to keep me afraid.