in memory of mom: 1942-2009

My mom died three years ago tomorrow. In memory of her, I created two digital stories:


[Here’s the transcript from this story]
If you look closely, you’ll see some of the same footage that I used in the raw footage at the end my post on the first anniversary of my mom’s death.


note: this is a slightly modified version of a digital story I posted in August.

I like putting these videos beside each other. I’m struck by the contrast between the material connections that the first one (fragments) honors and the reverent and romanticized memory of Mom in the woods that the second one (MOM ON A HIKE) constructs. Taken together, they reflect my own efforts at negotiating grief/life. I could say more, but I’d rather let the stories speak for themselves.

home tour

All this week, inspired by my upcoming 8 year anniversary of living in my house in south Minneapolis,  I’ve been writing/thinking about home. Today, in honor of the anniversary (we moved in to our house on September 22, 2004), I created another Vimeo project: HOME TOUR. While I’m not totally done with the digital story, I wanted to go ahead and post the “in progress version” today. This digital story brings together the video footage from two home tours, one led by my mom from 1989, and one led by my dad from 2000. I’m really excited to keep working on these; it’s fascinating to put their two different accounts beside each other.

I hope to have lots more to say about this digital story (the process of working on it and putting my parents tours beside each other + how it does/doesn’t resonate with my understandings of home) in the near future.

a queer ethics? not good/bad, but charming/tedious

As I was scrolling through my Tumblr feed this morning, I came across a quotation by Oscar Wilde, posted on the explore blog (edited by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings). Curious (as always!) to know where it came from, I clicked on Wilde’s name. Brain Pickings side project, literary jukebox popped up. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical. But, when I clicked on the record player and Wilde’s quotation was paired with Aimee Mann’s new song (which I really like), Charmer, I was intrigued.

I’m not sure if I’d like all of the match-ups as much as this, because I haven’t had a chance to review the literary jukebox archive. But, as I thought about the lyrics to Mann’s Charmer, I was struck by the challenge they offer/trouble they cause to how we make sense of Wilde’s quotation. I’m intrigued by his quotation, which comes from Lady Windmere’s Fan (according to Brain Pickings), so I’m planning to pick up Wilde at the library this afternoon.

Mann’s version of the charmer is fairly dark:

When you’re a charmer
People respond
They can’t see the hidden agenda
You got going on…

When you’re a charmer
The world applauds
They don’t know that secretly charmers
Feel like they’re frauds

Since I don’t know the context of Wilde’s quotation, I’m not sure what he means by his shift  away from good/bad to charming/tedious. Is he suggesting the foundation for a new (queer?) ethics? Denouncing ethics? Or, something else altogether? That exploration will have to wait until after I’ve read Wilde’s play.

For now, his quotation makes me think of some discussions within queer ethics about moving away from moral judgments of good/bad. I’m trying to remember some of these discussions right now. I wish I had my copy of Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness with meI’d like to put Wilde’s quotation and Mann’s song beside my post, On assholes, douche bags and bullshitters.

losing home

Note: As I mentioned in this post and this post, at the end of the week I will celebrate having lived 8 years in my house in South Minneapolis. This momentous occasion (8 years is, by far, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place) makes me want to reflect on the meaning of home. I hope to do that in a series of posts over the next couple of days.The following is my third post.

I’m excited to celebrate my 8th anniversary of living in South Minneapolis this Saturday, but it’s really got me thinking about how, just as we were moving into our South Minneapolis house in 2004, my sense of home was crumbling. A few months before we bought the house, my parents sat me down and told me that they were planning to sell the family farm. That farm had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and it was, as I expressed repeatedly in the two farm films, the place that I considered to be my home. In the midst of frequent moves, both as a child and adult, the farm had remained a stable and enduring space for nurturing and connection. When they told me that they were selling it, I knew that some important tie (to family, to past generations, to a homespace) was being severed. A year after losing the farm, my mom was suddenly diagnosed with a death sentence: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. By then, we had been living in our South Minneapolis for a little more than a year. While she beat the odds and lived until 2009, the moment of her cancer diagnosis in October of 2005, shattered my world and further eroded my already fragile connection to home.

In the years since the loss of the farm (fall 2004) and my mom’s diagnosis (fall 2005) and death (fall 2009), I’ve managed to reconstruct a sense of home and feelings of belonging and connection in my South Minneapolis neighborhood. I love where I live and I feel at home here. But, it’s still not (and might never be) the same as the sense of home and belonging that I felt in the UP and with my mom. Usually, I try to forget what was lost; to move forward and celebrate what I have and where I am now. But every fall, in the months of September and October, when those losses first happened, I can’t help but remember what I no longer have.

Yesterday, as I was revisiting footage that I took at the family farm in 2002, I found some clips of me talking to the camera (which I inexpertly set up on a tripod in a field) about the farm as home and of my mom talking with me (holding the camera) about the farm, home and nurturing/being nurtured. These clips are a powerful reminder of just what I’ve lost and probably won’t ever rebuild. As I watched and re-watched them, listening to my mom passionately talk about having a place and people who celebrate and accept you and about the role of a parent it hit me again: losing your mom really sucks.

I’m resisting the urge to qualify that last statement with something like, “but I’m okay” or “it’s gotten easier with time.” Even though I am okay and it is easier than it was right after she died, it still sucks to have lost her. I need to always have space for expressing this undeniable fact, for never forgetting my troubled space of grief.

After watching the clips of me and my mom, I decided to do a (somewhat) rough edit of them and post it on Vimeo. I can’t decide if I want to do more with them, like adding in some of my own voice-over + past photos.  For now, here’s the video:


Note: As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of the week I will celebrate having lived 8 years in my house in South Minneapolis. This momentous occasion (8 years is, by far, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place) makes me want to reflect on the meaning of home. I hope to do that in a series of posts over the next couple of days.

Throughout my graduate work, I was interested in theories about home and homespace. Reading Bernice Johnson Reagan, bell hooks, Chandra Mohanty, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Carole Boyce Davies, Trinh T. Minh-ha and many others, I critically explored what it means to have a home and to belong (to a place, communities, identity). Much of my explorations came out of critical discussions about the limits of identity politics within political movements like feminism. Perhaps the biggest question that I consistently posed was: How do we negotiate the tension between a desire to belong to an identity/community with the need to be critical of that identity/community? This question came out of my own investments in maintaining a critical distance (a troubling space) from my own identity/identities and communities of belonging. I wasn’t interested in rejecting or leaving any of my homespaces. Instead, I wanted to find room to have a troubled/troubling relationship to them. But, I wasn’t sure if maintaining a critical distance would allow for that; it seemed to demand that I permanently inhabit a space of not-quite-belonging.

This tension between belonging/questioning was the subject of my master’s thesis, “The Longing to Belong: Feminism and the Desire for Identity.” It was also the topic for one of the chapters in my dissertation: “In-Between Home and Coalition: Feminist Democracy and Alliances that Work.” And, it was the underlying motivation for the two farm films that STA and I completed in 2001 and 2002.

While looking through my old files (one of these days I will get around to cleaning up and organizing them…ha!), I found my funding proposal for this second farm film. I was requesting travel and materials money for a month-long visit in the summer to the farm in Amasa, MI. I want to post part of it here because it’s one example of how I was attempting to translate the theories I was learning in my PhD program at Emory into meaningful accounts of my own experiences and understandings.

Here’s my project description:
I am requesting summer funding from the Institute for Women’s Studies so that I may continue my autobiographical film project in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Having already completed one short (23 minutes) film, this summer I would begin preliminary work on the second in a series of three short documentary/ autobiographies.Together, these three short film autobiographies serve to tell my story through the voices of my family and recollections/memories and visual images of my family’s farmhouse and 80 acres of land in Amasa, Michigan. All three films address issues of identity, selfhood, memory and tradition in their depiction of my struggles (1) to negotiate between my past, present and future identities and (2) to answer the question: How can I honor my heritage without mythologizing it? In my first film (already completed), I focused on introducing these issues and exploring how my family has tried to honor the farm by redefining the kind of “work” that is performed at it. In the second film, I hope to expand on those ideas, paying particular attention to the women of the farm and their changing roles within the family and community.This film will weave together the stories of the Puotinen family women—starting with my great-grandmother Johanna, who came to the US from Finland and helped build the farmhouse in the early 1900s, and continuing through the generations to my 3 year old niece, Isabel.This summer, I will be collecting materials (photographs, letters, memoirs), interviewing immediate and extended family members and filming in and around the Amasa area.

And, some of key questions that I hoped to explore:
1. How do I tell my story? How is my story complicated and enriched by others? How can I tell a story that reflects the fundamental ways in which I am a social being? This semester I am taking Professor Pam Hall’s class on Narrative and Female Selfhood. In that class, we are discussing theories on narrative selfhood and the importance of stories for shaping who we are and how we understand ourselves. Several issues that the class raises for me concern how our stories are told, how those stories intersect and are shaped by other stories and how we negotiate between the different stories that we live.These issues serve as an underlying guide for my film project. In this project, I hope to tell my story as one that is inextricably tied to my family (past, present, future) and our land.This story will not be done as a conventional autobiography by an autonomous “I”. Instead, (only) through the words and stories of my family and the images and stories of the farmhouse and land, I will construct my narrative of selfhood.This narrative will not be mine alone, but will also be the story of the farm and the women who are connected to it.

Note: I remember that this issue of how to insert myself into these stories was a big one for me. I kept asking myself, how much of me (in images and interviews) should I include? Ultimately, logistical difficulties resulted in not much of my own speaking throughout the film. This question of how to imagine/represent myself is still one that I’m struggling experimenting with in digital video.

2. How can we honor our histories without mythologizing them? How do I honor my heritage without romanticizing it? How do I negotiate the tension between belonging to a community (or family) and being critical of that community? In my own theoretical work, these questions are connected to the feminist movement and the need for feminists to have a critical, yet respectful, connection to the past, present and future of feminism and its communities. I have been interested in exploring how feminists can recognize and be critical of the limitations and the dangers (exclusion, essentialisim, etc.) of feminism and its theories and use that critique to transform the movement in ways that honor the larger goals of feminists without repeating their mistakes. In this film, these issues will be addressed through an examination of my place in the history of amazing Puotinen women. My goal will be to honestly, critically and respectfully tell their stories. And, to explore ways in which those stories and the traditions and goals that they embody can be honored and continued in new and possibly better ways.

3. How is my identity/identities connected to a desire for a heritage/ history and a sense of belonging? How and why is that belonging inextricably tied to land? How is my own story told geographically and spatially, through the family farmhouse and land? Although there are a number of ways in which these questions connect with my work (including home as metaphor for identity), I am particularly interested in the ways in which the physical homespace and land function as storytellers. In a sense, the farmland and its buildings are a story that documents the history of the Puotinen family. But, this land does not simply tell my (or my family’s) story. It tells its own story, one in which I must fit my story.With this in mind, I have entitled this film project,The Farm:An Autobiography.And, I hope to explore and experiment with the ways in which the land and the farmhouse are an important part of my autobiography and the biographies of Puotinen women.