Monday, January 17, 2011

Introducing the new series of trees...

In the midst of Old Dominion University, there is an angel.
The influence this one woman brings to this corner of the world ripples through to reach globally. Without ego, with an immensely open heart, she teaches her classes and opens eyes to incredible worlds. It is subtle, most times, the effect she has but long after sitting in one of her classes does the affect continue to flourish within the student.
In her class Chick Flicks, the world of movies is opened up in a way that one never sees a movie the same way again. Names that roll through credits are now paid attention to, the threads of the movie machine are recognized, and the history of movies has a spotlight shining down on it. It is this new world that these trees were created.
Josephine Baker...
Names of people have always run through my mind, regardless of not knowing anything about them. I recall seeing pictures of Josephine Baker and knew she had quite an influence but on what I had no idea. Her name kept popping in my head and with glee I began research.
Now I am in awe.
Her place in life was boundless. Her beginnings were full of reasons not to become anything. Yet within these meager beginnings, she emerged to rule dance halls, rule Harlem Renaissance, to cross countries and influence a Europe that was beginning its rule in Art Deco. She was in the midst of Folies Bergeres.
That wasn't the only side of this amazing woman.
Josephine Baker stood in her beliefs to aid in going against the Nazis. Her success as a performer aided the war effort; so much so that her adopted country of France bestowed many awards on her and full French military honors at her funeral.
Her sexuality wasn't within bounds, either. She lived fully and without apologies, rising while the world around her were exposed to something they had never seen before. She performed with zest, lived life on her terms and her influence remains without bounds.
Marlene Dietrich...
Marlene is another woman who lived life on her own terms. The movie machine of the early 20th century is known for ruling every aspect of the life of one of their contract players, but Marlene made her movies and became a glamourous movie star in her way. Her legacy remains as a person who embraced both male and female sides of her personality and didn't apologise for it.
Marlene Dietrich also supported the anti-Nazi war effort and was recognized from both the United States and France. In doing so, she received alot of backlash from her home of Germany.
Her daughter's book lovingly sits on my bookshelf and I adore delving back into the many facets of her life. She died in Paris, a month before I graduated high school. How I wish now that I paid more attention back then to the women who would have such an influence.
When I started these trees, I never knew the many coincidences between these two women. Until I began writing did I see how similar they lived their lives. Their affect on me came from completely different corners but now I see the common thread that invisibly drew me to them.
Isn't it interesting what life brings to you and only unveils itself when you sit down to look?
Pausing in this hectic life to see the path that brought these trees to life, to see the immense influence Professor Vaughan Frederick still has on my daily life, and to witness the result of the richness that surrounds each and every one of us is awesome.
And I wish each and every person that they have a Vaughan in their life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One girl, One tale

Let me ask you this...what does a person with these following traits look like to you?
Molested at 12, teenage pregnancy, poor single mom, rigid familial gender expectations, depression issues...
what is your internal picture of this person?

Let's take a look at another person.
Undergraduate monthlong study in San Francisco, weeklong feminist boot camp in New York City, research symposium in Norfolk and Richmond, VA, internships in oyster restoration projects, assistant for NOAA/University Oceanography cruise, influence on leading texts in female gender, facilitator of riveting gender and disability performances in Norfolk, VA, a founding developer of a local LGBTQ community center, multiple scholarship winner, student of the year, multiple conference attendee, symposium creator, connector of gender activists and artists.

How did these two people become one and the same?

Let me begin with the statement - I didn't believe in myself. Too often, the voice in my head and the voice outside of my head said I couldn't do anything. But I was sick of being poor. I was bored with the jobs available to me. So I went back to school and saw a program where I could get a stipend for being a female interested in science. This was during my days at a community college. My assumption was I would get my Associate's degree and get a good job. I had no knowledge of the college system and the degrees of Bachelor, Master's and PhD were for other people.
Then I became a member of the STEM project, a National Science Foundation Initiative to bring more females into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. In this program, the director told me I could do anything I wish. She proved it with the paid for career/personality assessment test. Meanwhile, during this time I was put in a headlock by my alchoholic girlfriend. Because my son was in the house and I would never want him to witness anything like that, I told her the next day to move out. While I was being stalked and my son and I were both threatened, the director of the STEM program gave me a safe space to talk. She still told me I could do anything I wanted to. She then sent me to a conference in Washington, DC for the AAUW College Student Women Leaders. I had never stayed in a dorm before so that was a new experience. During the conference I experienced criticism from some other women's center attendees for being "too gothic" but that was just a dark blemish on an amazing conference.
I listened to Zainab Salbi who spoke of her ordeal growing up under the reign of Saddam Hussein and being a victim of rape. She created Women For Women International and conitnues to do amazing work. I came back from that conference and met the director of the Women's Studies program at Old Dominion University, Dr. Anita Fellman. Her presence and the things she said, especially regarding the criticism I faced at the conference, gave me the drive to include women's studies in my education and to attend Old Dominion University. When I transferred as a Biology major/Women's Studies minor I was excited to view my future path in helping women in developing countries with their local biology/ecology.

The grueling science classes began to weigh on me as I worked full time and had my son full time. The Women's studies classes were my vacation. I realized I didn't have the available time to focus on my first love of science so I changed my major to Women's Studies and my life exploded.
In class, I talked about reclaiming the work Dyke. It became a heated discussion but my professor (the same Women's Studies director that inspired me to get in the program) told me later, after my many apologies for the way the discussion went, that she loved my voice and to remember that the discussion doesn't end in the classroom. I felt safe in that space to discuss anything and my voice finally emerged after 27 years. The next two years of exploring many ideas and having the space to explore them enriched my life greatly. I had belief in my thoughts and ideas and a space to speak them. My fear of public speaking (taking the required public speaking class online) was faced head on as a professor of rhetoric believed in my controversial subject and helped me develop my conference topic. I took that conference topic to the state capital, fearful of the reaction but rewarded with the opening of minds. I still am receiving questions from people who heard the conference and wanted to discuss greater ideas of gender. That is an amazing feeling to have.

I graduated in 2010 as Student of the Year after experiencing a phenomenal final undergraduate year. The shy, voiceless girl still resides within but she is accompanied with the warrior full of strong ovaries that has ideas and the desire to fulfill them. The shy, voiceless girl emerges often without the support experienced in the collegiate environment, but the warrior stands by her side to remind her of the strides she has made in a scant few years.Seeing Zainab Salbi again this year at another conference outside of my university experience still brought the intense excitement of potential. Her words were even more powerful as I recognized the inspiration she gave me years prior. To couple that with seeing Leymah Gbowee, who we discussed in class, was a synchronicity moment that I was where I was supposed to be.
Life still remains uncertain, especially in this economy that requires severe determination to find minimal exmployment but it is a little more tolerable knowing that between these two ears the thoughts do have an outlet. That alone makes the daily grind a little more tolerable, the challenge of facing each day through the clouds of depression a little more hopeful. And when I get that call or email that asks my opinion, I still feel the awe and joy that somewhere, out there, my words are still resonating.