some updates on life, #adulting, and #move2014

(Yes, I went with the oxford comma in that blog post title. What can I say? I'm a fan.)

So after a fairly quiet, stable year in the Clutterbuck-Cook household, the year 2014 has decided to whup us in the ass. As regular readers know, the first four months of the year have seen us trapped by the polar vortex, making the decision to move this summer, blindsided by the sudden death of my grandmother, the spraining of Hanna's ankle, the death of my in-law's elderly cat ... not to mention a particularly busy winter/spring at the MHS, the Countway, and all of our regular life activities.

Golden retrievers Addie & Josie swimming in Lake Michigan
 (photo by Mark Cook)
We're ready for a vacation! 

Thankfully, we have one coming up next weekend in Brattleboro, Vermont -- we're already looking forward to the darkness and the quiet and the tasty foods to be found at the Brattleboro Co-op ... not to mention the maple lattes from Mocha Joe's and the popcorn from the self-service popcorn machine at Sam's.

Meanwhile, here are some life updates from our recent adventures in what I like to call "adulting." You know. That thing where you have to get up in the morning and leave the house to complete a series of tasks, some of which you look forward to and some of which you don't.
  • The new apartment search has started in earnest as spaces with July and August availability come on the market. We looked at, and put an application in for, one two-bedroom space last week that turned out not to be as cat-friendly as advertised. The landlord got cold feet on pets altogether and our agent was quite put out by the way he jerked us around. We agreed! The search will continue, and we know the right space is out there for us. When we find it, you'll hear about it here (well, probably first on Twitter).
  • We've had two library assistants turn in their resignation this spring, moving on to a new chapter of their professional and persona lives (congrats to you both!). They will be missed! Their recent/impending departures have meant that my work life has been consumed recently by scheduling and hiring tasks. I'm looking forward to our being fully staffed again.
  • This year marked the first time Hanna and I got to file a joint tax return (yay for a post-DOMA world!), which I think actually ended up costing us a few hundred dollars more in taxes than we would have paid if the government refused to recognize our marriage -- a few hundred dollars I was happy to pay. I just wish I could earmark it all to provide Medicaid coverage for newly-insured folks who are benefiting from Obamacare!
  • Following the filing of taxes, I was able to renew my income-based student loan repayment plan at a slightly lower monthly rate (because they now take Hanna's loans into account looking at our household financial profile). I said it on Twitter and I'll say it again here: the education funding system is broken, but standing here and now amidst the rubble I sure am glad that government-funded loans with affordable repayment options have made my professional life possible -- so yay big government! 
  • Last Thursday I attended the first of four sessions in a Homebuying 101 course offered free (thanks to HUD funding -- yay big government!) by the City of Boston to prospective first-time home-buyers. This is purely exploratory at the moment, since Hanna and I plan to rent for another 3-5 years while we contemplate the pros and cons of buying. But I'm nerdy enough to find it interesting anyway, and the course also certifies us to apply to the city for grants toward a down payment and closing costs if we buy within city limits.
  • Having presented my current research at the BC conference on March 29th, I am not returning to encyclopedia articles for the summer -- on such topics as Phyllis Schlafly, Suburbia, and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. 
  • Over the summer, I'm planning to use some vacation and comp time to experiment with what I'm calling Project Fridays -- a day away from the library to pursue research and writing. It's part of a socialistic plot I have to carve out meaningful life activities around wage-work over the next few years.
And that's about where we stand, folks. As I type this it's raining outside instead of snowing and the magnolia buds are fat on the trees outside our living room windows. Spring is here again! Whether you celebrate the thawing of the northern hemisphere through Easter, Passover, or some other tradition, I hope you enjoy the return of light and color in this changing of the seasons.


presentation @ boston college

On March 29th I attended the Biennial Boston College Conference on History of Religion and presented a paper that tried, for the first time, to offer up some analysis regarding my current project. A big thanks to the conference coordinators for a great experience!

This project is, broadly, exploring the ways in which the Christian left negotiated sex, sexuality, and gender during the thirty year period between 1960 and 1980. Narrowly, for this paper, I looked at a ten-year period of the Methodist publication motive for clues regarding mainline Protestant conceptions of gender and sexuality. As I've mentioned before in this space, I'm particularly interested in what the magazine had to say about sexuality because after breaking with the church, the publication's final two issues focused on the topics of gay liberation and lesbian/feminism (their terminology). Rather than seeing this break as a natural, inevitable conflict between a traditionalist anti-gay church and more radical youth activists, I am asking why Christian left theology ultimately failed to provide a hospitable atmosphere for meaningful, nuanced discussion about queer sexual morality.

At least, that's what I'm fumbling my way toward asking. I'm not sure how close this one conference paper gets to that goal -- but it is a start. So for those who've been following my research this past year, I offer this work-in-progress as a reward.

Access the PDF online via Google Drive.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to my two excellent and inspiring co-panelists, Trevor Burrows (Purdue University) and Casey Bohlen (Harvard University), both of whom are working on aspects of Christian faith and political action during what we might term the "long Sixties" -- looking back into the 1950s and forward toward the 1980s.  I look forward to watching their progress as scholars and writers in the field.


booknotes: the accidental diarist

The latest issue of NEHA News (PDF) arrived in the post earlier this week. Actually, four copies arrived because for some reason Hanna and I are listed on the membership rolls twice each and can't get the organization to fix the glitch.

Anyway. I have a review therein of Molly McCarthy's most entertaining new monograph The Accidental Diarist: A History of the Daily Planner in America (University of Chicago Press, 2013)*
For nearly two decades, I have habitually carried a day planner in which to note future tasks and appointments, track expenses, and mark the passage of time. At the end of every year, I add the used-up planner to a box in the back of my closet before opening a fresh volume and starting anew. Until reading Molly McCarthy’s The Accidental Diarist, I had never considered this habit in historical context. Now I have. 
In five thematic chapters, loosely arranged in chronological order, McCarthy (Associate Director of the UC Davis Humanities Institute) explores the development of the modern day planner from early Colonial almanacs to the advent of the Wanamaker Diary in 1900. Combing through centuries of daily records kept by American men and women in pre-printed “blank” books, McCarthy documents the way in which Americans learned to use almanacs, diaries, and planners to both reflect on the past and plan for the future. She argues convincingly that the daily planner was a training ground for modern ways of organizing life. 
Read the full review at the NEHA website.

In the interest of full disclosure, Molly McCarthy is a former MHS research fellow, although her residence at the MHS was before my time, and I assisted her on obtaining images of materials at the Society to illustrate the book. Her project is, I would argue, an excellent example of the work historians can do with the seemingly opaque objects of history that, when put in context, are much more revealing than they first appear.


michigan monday: stuff & things

I'm not gonna even pretend Hanna and I are fully back in Boston headspace, although we arrived back home mid-afternoon on Saturday. It's been a pretty intense ten days (two weeks if you count from the day my grandmother had her initial stroke). 

So instead of any substantive post, here are a few Michigan-related things for you. Starting with the Detroit symphony orchestra's flash mob performance of "Ode to Joy" at a suburban IKEA. (via)

You may have heard NPR's coverage of the event on March 9th.

On a related note, the city of Detroit is offering free houses to writers looking for a place to live and be creative. I admit that part of me wishes that librarianship & archival science were slightly more mobile professions, since it would be really exciting to be part of a rejuvenation project like that -- and the urban core of Detroit has some amazing, historic spaces.

Within driving distance of Brewed Awakenings, this trip's coffee shop find.

And half a day's drive from Gaia Cafe in Grand Rapids, the visual-sensory display in my head whenever anyone uses the word "granola" as a cultural descriptor. 

Plus, soon enough Hanna and I would actually be married-married there. Instead of Massachusetts-and-federally-married there.

In fact, Hanna and I heard the news about Judge Friedman's ruling overturning the Michigan ban on marriage equality while we were driving through New York (oh, the endless endless miles of I-90) on Friday. Huzzah! 

I read the DeBoer v. Snyder decision yesterday afternoon. Some of my livetweets:

Judge Friedman also turned up the snark to full volume by pointing out, in a quote too long to excerpt on Twitter, that:
Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. Obviously the state has not adopted this policy and with good reason. The absurdity of such a requirement is self-evident. Optimal academic outcomes for children cannot logically dictate which groups may marry.
As of this writing, Michigan marriage licenses for same-sex couples are on hold until further review, but it's worth noting that Friedman himself didn't issue the stay -- I think it's pretty clear he's had enough of these anti-gay shenanigans.

And finally, for anyone who missed it on Twitter and Facebook, my father wrote a lovely obituary for my grandmother (his mom) which appeared in the local paper this past Wednesday.


jean cook, in memorium

My grandmother's funeral is today, and of course what can you possibly say about a person who -- until late Monday afternoon -- has always been a part of the world while you were alive within it? The earliest memory I have that can be attached to a specific period in time is of staying with Grandma Cook while my mother was in labor for the birth of my brother, Brian. I was just shy of three years old. 

So there are any number of stories I could tell about my growing up in relationship to her, grandmother and granddaughter, two people who didn't always agree. The story I want to share today, though, is one that can be told in her own words. For, like a good historian and archivist, I saved the document (in an archival box!) and was able to locate it on Friday as Hanna and I were packing to leave on this journey.

This is the letter my grandmother wrote me when she learned that Hanna and I were together as a couple -- the event that was, for most people in my life, my coming out moment as a person with bisexual desires. Reading it over, my political-critical self notices limitations, but I will refrain in the here and now from pointing them out. What I hope comes through in this very human document is its author's overwhelming impulse to "only connect."

 9 Nov. 2009

Dear Anna, 

It was so very nice to see you on your visit home. I know there were many people to see in your short time. Also, perhaps you caught up on a little needed rest. That is what 'coming home' is all about once you have left.

On Sat. evening your Mom and Dad shared with me your loving relationship with Hannah [sic]. There are just a few things I want to share with and about you.

First of all, Anna, there is no more beautiful relationship in life than when two people fall in love. I am so happy that you have found that love. Your grandfather believed firmly that relationship is the most important aspect in life. It sometimes means putting aside your morality code or other norms society has established for itself.

Anna, you have always been a person who has challenged some of life's "norms." No doubt sometimes it was just a reaction but perhaps other times with thoughtful research and decision making. To not live in denial of your sexual orientation has been an admirable step in knowing just who you are. You come from a family that has always known inclusiveness in whatever form it make take. Know that you are surrounded with love and acceptance for all that you are and will still become.

I don't know what your relationship with God is - that is between you and God. However, I truly believe that at times God does choose certain individuals to [bear crosses?] in our society -- whether it be for peace and justice, sexual discrimination or whatever the societal cause may be. You have shown such strength in accepting the recognition of who and what you are that I know you will be a [wholesome?] advocate of others less confident than yourself.

Remember always that behind you is a loving, supportive family. We trust that your relationship with Hannah will fill the deep love in your heart.

Your grandmother who loves you always


deathtime reading list

On our drive to Michigan, I kept thinking about what I could do besides be here with my grandmother, as we gathered to help her through the final days of her life. And what I kept coming back to was reading aloud.

Ours has long been a family of reading together, and there is something about the experience of being read to that I think cues being cared for in a very deep part of our psyche or soul. It is also something that Hanna and I share; one of the most effective ways for us to help her back down from a bad spell of anxiety is to put on old cassette-tape recordings of her father reading aloud, like he used to do when she was small.

So when I got to Holland on Sunday morning, I stopped off at my parents' house before going to Grandma's and picked up an armful of books. Here is what I have read so far:

Springtime in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren

The Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

Miss Rumphuis by Barbara Cooney

half a dozen chapters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

and the opening chapters of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader also by C.S. Lewis

The text probably isn't that important, though I've been conscious as I've been reading about themes of exploration and home-coming, of journeys into the unknown, and of familiar family tales. The act being read to has helped calm everyone through the ups and downs of this process.

It's made me think about what stories I will want for myself, someday, to help with the journey on.


the season of the dying grandmothers

moon + venus. norridgewock, maine.
Hanna and I are back in Michigan.

My grandmother had a stroke on Tuesday afternoon and at first they thought it was minor, but internal bleeding developed at the hospital and she slipped into a coma on Tuesday night. My family was able to bring her home Wednesday evening, so that she can die in the home she and my grandfather shared during the majority of their marriage, until his death in 2007. It is a space that has been the hub in the wheel of the paternal side of my family for my entire life.

As I type this, I am sitting next to her bed in the living room. All the children and grandchildren and their spouses have gathered, along with a few close friends,  and my grandmother's golden retriever who circles around everyone, keeping track.

It is cold here, with ice still on the lake that we can see out the front windows. Snow banks are deep alongside the steep drive that leads from the road to my grandmother's house, which stands on a small rise. Out behind the house is a once-landscaped gulch with a creek running through it that, in the spring, will become carpeted with daffodils.

We are entangled with our own watchful waiting right now, but I know others among you are also wrestling with life transitions and trauma. My thoughts are also with all of you, whatever your life-changes and stressors may be.

It is good to be here, and I am grateful to all of those in my life who made it possible for Hanna and I to travel on such short notice. Thank you all.