Romelu Lukaku on Football and Identity

This personal essay by Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku will make you tear up as he recounts his family being flat broke and deciding at 6 that he was going to be a professional footballer at 16 so he could take care of his mum. It’s an essay about what anger turned into determination can do, but also one about how he struggled with being a second generation immigrant. His parents are from the Congo, but Lukaku sees himself as Belgian, no matter how much doubting he experienced growing up or how the Belgian press reports on him.

Commonplace: Laura Norris, “We Don’t Run to Be Skinny”

“Running teaches us – and demands of us – that we fuel our bodies for energy, recovery, and performance, rather than restricting calories for a thigh gap or whatever other aesthetic currently defines female beauty. Running teaches us that we can strive to be more than skinny; we can strive to be strong, resilient, fast, hard-working, and supportive.”

~Laura Norris, “We Don’t Run to be Skinny,” This Runner’s Recipes, a running and food blog. Norris also trains people working on their running. I like her blog and her approach to training. Plus, there are dogs and beer.

The whole article is here. I think this goes for every sport. There’s no ideal yoga body, no ideal runner’s body, no ideal Pilates body, or weight lifter’s body. It’s just your body. Those are activities you do to make your mind and body strong. For me, running and yoga and a mix of Pilates and weights reminds me to get out of my head. Physical activity recenters me and helps me do the intellectual and emotional work I need to do.

Commonplace: Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

“Even as a little girl, Irma Leopold had wanted above all things to see everyone happy with the cake of their choice. Sometimes it became an almost unbearable longing, as when she had looked down at Mademoiselle asleep on the grass this afternoon. Later it would find expression in fantastic handouts from an overflowing heart and purse, no doubt acceptable to Heaven, if not to legal advisers: handsome donations to a thousand lost causes–lepers, sinking theatrical companies, missionaries, priests, tubercular prostitutes, saints, lame dogs and deadbeats all over the world.”

~ Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock

Open Plan Living Qualms aka Let’s Not Build Back Kitchens

There have been several think pieces lately linking the open plan home and its popularity on HGTV and other channels to myths about the contemporary American family. A few are linking these homes and the flipping of older homes to both the 2008 housing crisis and the potential for a new one. This one by Ian Bogost traces the concept to Frank Lloyd Wright and the movement away from servants in the first half of the twentieth century. The dirty little secret of 1950s upper middle class life, of course, was that domestic help was still necessary to run it. It meant that the mess of the kitchen and laundry–i.e. the labor of the home–was obscured behind closed doors. Victorian advice books on the home discuss keeping the kitchen away from other rooms for this reason. Even the smell of cooking food was too much crossing of the domestic boundaries between living in the home and the work of the home.

Now, the open concept or plan home tries the dubious balancing act of living vs domestic labor. Bogost states

It makes sense, until you think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t family life keep happening, even if a few walls were erected? What open-plan aficionados might really mean is that so much time and effort is spent chasing the residual labor of school, work, and home life into the evenings and weekends, that it would be lovely if some of it might overlook other family activities in the process. There is so much to do, but at least a family can all be nearby one another while trying to get it done.

It’s trickery, however. And it again occludes the domestic labor of the home, most often done by women. The article details a new concept, and Bogost touches on the gendered issues at the center of the contemporary American home. The new concepts is two kitchens: a front kitchen that really is a front and then a back kitchen where the actual mess of cooking occurs. It’s the open plan but with the mess and labor hidden away from the super bowl party guests, where most likely the wife will disappear to in order to clean after the half time show. For some reason, this new plan makes me think of the segments of the film version of The Joy Luck Club where Rose slowly loses herself throwing parties for her husband’s work, sinking into oblivion as she does the actual work, even scrubbing a stain off the floor. Rosalind Chao conveys so perfectly her despair and confusion at ending up in this sad space. How about we design homes that actually help facilitate the work of living? Let’s not design them to put anyone in the back kitchen.

What Happened to 1990s Bumbling Masculinity?

In showing my students the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer yesterday, we discussed gender performance and 3rd Wave power dynamics. They got this with ease. But when it came to discussing masculinity, they struggled. I deliberately waited to introduce them to Angel, such a clear Byronic broody bad boy stereotype in this episode that it’s too easy to pick apart. They did that in two seconds at the end of class. No, it was Xander’s affable bumbling, which they read as totally emasculating that they didn’t seem to understand as an acceptable male type from the 90s. Xander isn’t a geek or nerd; he needs Willow’s intellectual help constantly. Indeed, out of the crew, he’s the one that doesn’t go to college. Admittedly, some of them were born the year Buffy first aired, but this male type, with variation, was an absolute mainstay of 1990s rom coms. Tom Hank’s Sam in Sleepless in Seattle or pretty much every film of note Hugh Grant has made features this emotive, speaking male type. To me, however, it never reads as emasculated. It always reads as a type to offset the Byronic hero or more clearly toxic male villains who serve as foils for the hero we’re meant to champion. The brilliancy of Colin Firth’s various Darcy incarnations is his ability to meld two male types: stoic masculinity with the bumbling, emotive hero. His Darcy’s various epiphanies always lead there. Admittedly, I watch few rom coms today. They universally feature an obnoxious version of bad boy figure, but my students’ yesterday got me thinking. They seem to think men are policed now for deviating from hyper masculine forms, which may be the case. So entrenched is this idea that they read it backwards through literature. I have to remind them that men of feeling were prominently featured in nineteenth century literature. I’m wondering what happened to the man of feeling, the 90s version, and then I remember our introduction to Xander. Bumbling, spew words, but his first words to Buffy are the aggressive “Can I have you?” Perhaps this figure was a male ideal only possible in Nora Ephron’s imagination.

On female friendship

I’ve been reading Jill Filipovic’s The H spot: the Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, which explores the conundrum at the heart of our society’s social contract: the pursuit of happiness written into our founding documents was for men and enabled by the invisible labors of women and people of color. It’s an interesting read, pulling together history, analysis of our current self help culture, third to fourth wave feminism, and personal reflection. I’m not far in, but I’ve just finished the section on female friendship, which discusses how key such friendships have been for women, both for the women’s movements and for personal growth and development.

I’ve been privileged to spend this break celebrating female friendships, from spending time talking with April and Natalie working on The Periodical Poetry Index to hanging with my cousin, having a knitting night, wedding celebration and catching up with Jill and Cassie who saw me through grad school and beyond, and hanging with Beth and Jana yesterday, who I’ve been friends with for 21+years since my first semester of undergrad. It’s been so nice having a break feeling loved and supported by these amazing women. And I get to return to a semester with other amazing women who are my friends, who support and watch out for me. If 2018 looks to be another year of women’s voices, I can think of no better way forward than friendships.