dispatch from thesis-land no. 1

20 February 2020

And yet again – it’s been a while since my last post. There’s a few things to catch-up on. I’m going to focus on the academic ones for now. In my last post I was midway through my MA program. Full of academic energy and inspiration. I’m in a different place now and that’s ok –I’m finally looking down the final long stretch of my M.A. and beginning (after a lot of paperwork) in earnest to work on my thesis.

Some highlights on this journey. Over the last 2.5 years I’ve:

  • Written 3 ‘major’ papers – “The Limits of Sisterhood: An Intersectional Analysis of Mathilde Franziska Anneke’s Social Thought from 1847-73”, “Through the Eyes of Black & Indigenous Detroit: History and the American Colonial Project in the 19th Century” & “Going Green in the Kerngehäuse: The Politics & Perceptions of Squatting as Environmental Action from 1979-1984”
  • Co-produced a Podcast – Döner & Roses (I interviewed the brilliant organizer Cathy from GABRIELA Alliance of Filipino Women)
  • Taught a class (co-designed with a fellow MA student) during which my students made a zine
  • Presented the beginnings of my thesis project at a Conference “Unwieldy Archives: the Past, Narratives, & History” at the University of Toronto
  • Published – a conference review & co-written essay
  • Moderated panels & facilitated large group discussions for our Global History Student Conference

These are the academic tangibles I’ve produced. There’s also hours and hours on projects that didn’t come to fruition. There’s the uncounted time processing my anger at these institutions I chose to exist again in while trying to critique, and not just critique but be part of working to transform at least the spaces that I have been part of (co-founding a Committee on Inclusion & Empowerment, giving professors unpaid facilitation advice & coaching, facilitating sessions, and then teaching my own class, bringing movement & inviting honesty to too often physically and mentally stiff academic conversations). There’s the time I want to reclaim. The time I spent being used for others gain and then healing in order to continue on. There’s been moments of excitement, clarity, learning, and many many more of utter frustration at these institutions, which are hierarchical & patriarchal and learning space that is wasted when space to learn together is so precious. And yet, here I am. Almost on the other side.

Right now, I am figuring out how to make time for this last big step. I’m turning all of what’s left of my academic energies toward finishing my thesis project (and all the attending paperwork). I’ve made progress in fits and starts on this project. It got started in summer of 2018 with a class and paper that are its grounding. Then it was pretty much on hold until Spring of 2019 when I started to re-write the paper for a conference (Unwieldy Archive in Toronto). These new energies got again put on hold and my thoughts and feelings kept mulling all Summer until the Fall of 2019 when I put into putting together an expose/proposal.

These days, I’m dividing my time between paid work for NADA and academic work – namely the thesis. I spent my first day ‘working on my thesis’ mostly avoiding it like the expert avoider that I am. Part of the writing process or something?

intention & inspiration

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people that working on the M.A. is a miserable process. From previous projects I believe them. However, I am also setting the intention to try to enjoy working on this as much as I can and to remember to pay attention to what inspires me.

Today, I am particular inspired by the Kundalini yoga challenge I’m taking part in and this blog post “dreaming an adjustment” by adrienne maree brown. The former got me out of bed in the morning and the latter got me out of bed again mid-afternoon when I succumbed to napping with my new puppy roommate (Watson – he’s dangerously cute & far to easy to cuddle and nap with).

And I have one more intention – part of feminist praxis is sharing academic labor and knowledge production publicly. So I am resuscitating this blog yet again to hold space for me to process and share this process with this small corner of the internet. Cheers to the journey – I hope you’ll come along with me.

[Written now almost three weeks ago, finally took the time and found the courage to post.]

In Process

As I have said previously, I seek to share myself here in process. Below is a response to the most evocative reading so far this semester: ‘No Mask’ by Grada Kilomba. A friend named this weekend – after I struggled through digesting the class where we discussed the article I react to here – that going ‘back to school’ what I am learning right now is simply how to ‘be’ in academic spaces again. She’s spot on. So, here I am unedited and in process learning to be again in academic spaces while carrying all I’ve learned with me.

When I moved to Berlin, I started a project of posting one picture to Instagram a day for a year – an effort to capture the change of this year and to keep me noticing whatever I am being drawn to. For the first time, I posted about my readings yesterday and quoted from the conclusion of Kilomba’s article:

“Every semester on the first day, I always play a quiz with my students. I start by posing very simple questions such as: Who wrote Black Skin, White Masks? Or ‘Who was May Ayim?’ And conclude with more specific questions. Most of the white students do not know the answers, while the Black students answer successfully one question after the other. Suddenly, those who are usually silent start speaking, while those who always speak do not have a reply. Those whose histories have been hidden, become represented; while those whose history has been represented become speechless.”

I did this because this reading felt important to me. It moved me. It brought up many thoughts, feelings, and visceral memories. And it is so important to me returning to academic spaces to be thinking about the histories and implications of those histories of these institutions we occupy. Of course, I am most intimately familiar and knowledgeable about the U.S. university system and I am continuing to learn about universities here. One of my first observations, first reactions, to the program was simply its whiteness. (Predominantly White Institutions and thus Whiteness still dominates the U.S. system certainly – Historically Black Colleges & Universities are both like Kilomba articulates at the margins and spaces of resistance.) Still the lack of black students of any background was alarming. I wondered then and still do now, why? Program promotion? University admissions processes? How does this program represent the field at large? Are historians still coming in greatest numbers out of the US and Europe? I know so little about University settings or exchanges beyond even these ranges, which in itself is problematic.

Moving back to the quote I pulled out – I think this is so important. To be figuring out — in these historically white, historically & presently continuing to be sites of violence — how to teach and learn differently, to change power dynamics within still very set power dynamics where white academics (at least in the US and Europe) continue to benefit from legacies of racism within academic institutions and society. How are academics pushing back? How are historians? Is this program?

I spent the last 3 years facilitating and running a program for students, predominantly young people of color & from a vast array of different backgrounds, from across New York City that aimed to ‘bring their voices’ into the policy-making process on issues they lived through (specifically related to the criminal justice system). In everything I did as a facilitator, I thought, how can we rethink the ‘usual’ ways of learning. How do I as a (white) facilitator not from here both bring my knowledge and skills and also invite and allow the smart talented young folks I worked with to understand, uncover, and bring their own deep knowledges that so often were not being engaged in their regular school days.

One of my favorite techniques to move control of a dialogue from the facilitator to participants is this: have a reading (it should be evocative), divide the group into pairs for a deep discussion of the text (perhaps a prompt or just talk), then after some time instruct the pairs to come to a word/phrase that came out of the conversation, ask pairs to post on a board, each pair talks about what they wrote on the board/why, from there discuss. This has never failed me – it brings out a variety of voices from the room, and allows the conversation to move where the group is engaged/interested, where it matters to the people in the room. They go from theory to stories, mingle the personal, political, historical, present day.

I’ve gone on a tangent here, but that’s what this text brought up for me: so much. It has me thinking about academia at large, history specifically, my role as a student now considering pursuing a career as a historian. Who, like Kilomba & the example of her class, is doing things differently? Whether historians or other disciplines. What can historians learn from other disciplines? These aren’t new questions. I know this too. I am still asking them because they are important to not just think on but also act on.

paradox: thoughts on leaving a life I love

I am a walking paradox. This is how I describe myself these days when someone asks how I am and really means it. I am filled with sorrow and joy. Anxiety, fear, excitement, and resolve.

Through all of it I feel loved.

I am in transition.

A big one.

Oh so soon I will be getting on a plane with some luggage and moving to Berlin to pursue my Master’s in Global History – a dream I dreamed up two years ago while a Public Ally. Since I have far too many feelings to be very coherent at the moment. Here is a collection of thoughts and feelings as I am closing an immensely important and challenging four years of living in New York City:

I am loved. Goddamn I am so loved.

I’m hella afraid. I picked up ‘hella’ from Teresa and Lisa-Marie.

I’m *ucking excited. Amplified by affirmations from friends new and old back home over Bell’s and here at old haunts and new spots I’ve meant to go to for four years (including Spot bar).

How has it been 4 years? // It’s only been 4 years why am I leaving?

What am I doing? // this is exactly what I need to do. I dreamed it and wrote it into existence and worked for it. It’s here.

I’m going to miss all of this. // get me the hell out of here.

Embrace it. Embrace it all. – Ben

Never doubt your potential. – Nich

I’m going to miss making space with you. -AM

Shit I have so much to do.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe it all in. Soak it all in. Everything is about to change.

Long drives (in Michigan) turned to long walks (in New York). What will it be in Berlin?

Joy as resistance.


In this transition, How do I balance this me-focused time with engaging in the urgent times we live in? DACA is attacked. Black communities continue to experience police violence and the violence of mass incarceration.

People are dying. I’m moving to Berlin. Why? Is my why enough? Am I?

I need to do this.

‘Mary I believe you are meant to move to Berlin’ – a new friend while riding the train
In every way God is telling you this is your next step. – Momma


I cried ‘my heart is breaking in the most beautiful way’ tears on my roof dancing dancing dancing with all the joy and love of four years in this wild wondrous chaotic serendipitous city. A night I won’t forget.

This is going to change everything.

While I’m in graduate school I plan to dedicate more time to writing. Both continuing to reflect on my daily life, as well as what I’ll be learning in conversation with the present day. Stay tuned.

“I am from…”

Where I am from….now that is a complex and simple question. I am from Michigan. I am from Metro-Detroit. From a lawyer and an architect who stopped practicing to raise me. I am from her. From her sacrifices.

I am from wealth that was fought for and the benefit of stepping onto the bottom stair of an escalator of public policies that brought families like mine from working class to middle class to upper class. Yes upper class.

I am not from Harlem. I live in Harlem. I live and love and have been broken and picked myself back up in Harlem. In this city. I am not from here. I can never claim that. I love here. I’ve loved and love here. I am not from here.

I am from Metro-Detroit. Not just Detroit because to leave out the metro obscures the reality that yes my family’s history and mine is bound up with the city’s and that means it’s bound up in the ways it’s developed as a metropolitan area. How it’s been divided into urban v suburban and suburban areas became urban as soon as they became black.

My roots don’t run deep in the geographic place I’m from. My family’s history does. 

The way I move and breathe and seek to live in this world is rooted in constant learning that started at Mercy high and continued at (university of) Michigan. In workshops with men I was taught to fear and instead I created with. Laughed with. Cried for. My roots are communities I happened upon and communities I created.

I can never claim to be from Harlem. To be from the city. To claim being from means an early shaping by that place and those people. Shaping that unfolds and is lost and unearthed as early memories are.

Two and a half years. I’ve been shaped by the city. But I’m not from here. I’m from Michigan.

Ive been sitting on this piece for a while. About 6 months — as it states I’ve been in the city only 2.5 years when I just passed my third year anniversary August 13th. I shared it aloud for the first time this weekend while on retreat with the young folks I work with (who live all over New York City and are from all over the world) as an example of an “I am from” poem. Take 10 minutes, write your own – what comes up? 


Advent and In-betweenness

Advent and In-betweenness

I’ve been particularly attracted to Advent and Lent the last few years. I haven’t been able to name exactly why but a reflection I read from On Being’s blog names some things that resonate:

“Advent is expectant and full of hope. There’s also a solemn quality to the waiting — not dour or dreary — something grounded and okay with a close stillness, a quality that honors the waiting itself as sacred.

It is a patient season. It asks us to be patient, too. Advent asks us to make peace with the lingering and reminds us that we can. It gently shows us again that there can be deep joy in that in-between place, that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other pace” (The Shoulder Season of Advent).

This reminder to be patient and realize the deep joy in the in-between place resonates because it’s where I am. I graduated from college and briefly lived in Brazil (when this blog started). I made a home there and left. I moved to New York City supposedly for just one year and that became two but uncertain about three. Now I’m in to three years yet still afraid to really set deep roots in this place. Yes, I have deep connections and have made community and a home here too but I’m still one foot in one foot out. How long will I be here? A year more? More? I often feel still in between living this present fully and thinking something is missing, what next?

I relish in this in betweenness and uncertainty and openness to possibility. It also causes me a lot of anxiety. I lived in Ann Arbor for fours years. I felt rooted and comfortable there. I have adapted to New York and things that were strange have become regular but I’m not comfortable. This place and its people constantly stretch me. It’s more the constant discomfort I’ve become accustomed to.

Since graduating I’ve lived with a lot of uncertainty and indecision. It’s what I’ve needed and wanted. I’ve made decisions as I’ve been forced to. I chose Brazil and then JVC in NYC and when JVC ended I chose Public Allies for another 10 months and then I chose and fought to stay. I chose a job. And in the last few months have faced the terrifying reality that it doesn’t have to end. There is no forced end to this step. I’ll have to chose it. Which means I’ll have to make a decision by choice not necessity because something had to come next after the thing I committed to was done.

I haven’t wanted to make decisions and definitely not ones that committed me to anything for too long. A year, OK. 10 more months, OK. Now it’s open ended. It will be however long I chose. I was talking with my dad last year and he reminded me that at some point indecision becomes the decision. I desire a life that is open and responsive to change and possibility of things I can’t plan or foresee. I don’t desire a life of indecisions being my decision.

In my anxiety, though, I am also listening. Trying to still myself in this new transition to listen for that still small voice to guide me.

On the way to the train last week, a quiet plan emerged. Two years at my current job. A masters abroad. Grounding time home in Michigan. And the still scariest commitment, pursue a doctorate in History. It came out of the swirls of possibilities and it’s what I’m working with. Still working out the details but it’s out there and it feels good to be named out of the many swirls of possibility.

I’m still sitting, especially this Advent, in the inbetweenness and I’m good with that. On good days, I’m still. Sitting in sacred waiting, I feel hopeful joy.

endless tabs

I always seem to have endless tabs open. I’ll close a few to open 5 more. They’re part reminders to do something or read something or get back to something. Part clutter, part organized chaos, they are inherent to any desktop I’m working on for even a few moments.

A smattering of what’s currently open in my browser, as it’s often reflective of what’s on my mind:

  1. Gmail Inbox: (Every present) I’m checking it slightly less because I recently accepted a full time position with the Youth Justice Board and ended the incessant email checking in hopes someone had gotten back to me…..
  2. How to do pigeon pose: Because who doesn’t need a good hip-opener? I injured my foot and am trying to get back to my practice….work in progress.
  3. Buzzfeed “36 Insanely Awesome & Inexpensive Things You Need for Your Bedroom“: Ok I probably don’t NEED them, but there’s some cute stuff on there (like these) and I’m plotting a semi-redecoration of my room.
  4. OnBeing Blog Post “Less ‘Mine’ More Time” by Courtney Martin: In addition, to redecorating, my room could also use a clutter cleanse. Again, work in progress.
  5. CNN “Alone Time Is Really Good for You“: I’m craving it. Article recommended by the wonderful Amy Ketner (months ago but I got to it).
  6. Google Doc “What the Associates Are”: A working group I’m part of as an Associate of the Prison Creative Arts Project is starting the conversation of What/Who the Associates are. It’s top secret, no shares yet.
  7. Everyday Feminism “Here are 4 Ways to Navigate Whiteness & Feminism – Without Being a White Feminist (TM)“: Recommended read for all my fellow white feminists working to not be White Feminists (TM).
  8. More articles: Including this one I’m trying to read in Spanish on a Jesuit school that’s eliminated testing.
  9. The Atlantic “The White Savior Industrial Complex“: This one’s been amongst the tabs for a while now. Contemplating further written reflection. Stay tuned.
  10. Spotify: Soundtrack to life.
  11. LA Times “Watts: Remember What they Built, Not what they burned“: On the heels of the first Anniversary of Darren Wilson killing Michael Brown and the subsequent uprising in Ferguson, MO (which sparked protest across the nation), we also recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Watts Uprising. My bookmarks wouldn’t be complete without a some history connected to present unfoldings.


There you have it. A quick sneakpeak at my mind/heart through my endless tabs.

“if all you see is rage, you aren’t looking hard enough”

“if all you see is rage, you aren’t looking hard enough”

Recently at dinner while catching up with a friend, I told her that I –my heart, mind, & soul– am saturated on the police-community-violence-brutality-racism-killing-prisonindustrialcomplex front.

My heart and mind have been increasingly saturated with the reality of the prison industrial complex in this country since I first stepped foot in a men’s prison committed to creating original theatre with a group of incarcerated men, incarcerated actors, who I had yet to meet. Of late, my heart and mind have been full of #BlackLivesMatter. Brought to the forefront of not just my consciousness but U.S. society’s consciousness through protests and my current job. A few weeks ago, I attended two panel discussions on police community relations within two days of each other. I am angry, sad, tired. Sometimes separately. Sometimes all at once.

However, I am a white woman. I am a very pale, tall, blond-haired white woman. Though I am now deeply connected and immersed in all of the above, I was not always. If I had made different choices I, perhaps, never would have been.

Unlike me, some of my friends, those who are black or brown, know this all all too well. Live the reality – the fear – that a sibling or friend won’t come home to them. That they won’t make it home.

This is not to you.

No. This is to all those who don’t know. Who don’t live in this fear and worry. Who perhaps look at recent & continued protests and ask, “Why are ‘they’ so angry.” In the words of a poignant protester’s sign, “If all you see is rage. You aren’t looking hard enough.” Look harder. Ask why so many are so enraged. Look past the rage and see and feel and learn that there is so much more.

Read these names: Aiyana Stanley Jones, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Tony Robinson, Yvette Smith, and so many more black men, women, and children. Learn their stories and names and know that there are countless more that remain unknown but for their loved ones and communities’ who mourn them. Learn not just their stories, but also the stories and history of their communities and our metropolitan areas across the country. Learn and ask yourself how it connects to you and your life because it does.

Many more than I have been long past their saturation point for a long time. There is anger and there is pain. There is exhaustion. I know precious little of it.

Still people young and old continue.

On the train home from dinner with my friend–where I had uttered the words that I, my small self, felt saturated–a young man stood up paper in hand to share the reality of police brutality in this city and country where more than a thousand black men, women, and children were killed by police last year alone.

On a train car that (mostly) ignored him, this young man reminded me with his words and his presence to keep going. Keep working. Keep listening. Keep learning. Keep breathing because I can, I must, I will.

To the young man on the train: Thank you for your courage. To speak when few want to listen to what we all need to hear.

What does history mean to you?

IMG_7178.JPGWhat does history mean to you? How does the Civil Rights Movement resonate with you? What do you know about it? Why are we talking about oral histories?

These are the questions I posed to our group for an impromptu discussion (due to a technical malfunction) in a Oral History & Storytelling workshop I co-designed and co-facilitated last week on MLK Day for the Public Allies MLK Youth Leadership Conference.

These are the words and phrases that surfaced and guided our subsequent discussion. Each has its own story of the conversation it came from. They remind me of a quote I recently happened upon:

I think knowing one’s history leads one to act in a more enlightened fashion. I cannot imagine how knowing one’s history would not urge one to be an activist.

-Dr. John Hope Franklin

The words on this page and of Dr. Franklin resonate for me on many levels, as studying history (my own and our society’s) has certainly propelled the work I do and who I am.

What does history mean to you?