once upon a listserv: thoughts on professionalism, privilege, and power [#thatdarnlist]

Thank you to all whose thoughts helped form this post. 

Coincidentally, this is the 1200th post to go live at the feminist librarian. I've learned a lot from this idiosyncratic labor of love. It's been great to have y'all along for the ride.

So a thing happened last week on one of the professional listservs I subscribe to. While I’m relatively new to this listserv, having been subscribed for roughly a year, I’ve been around long enough to know this is not an isolated happening in this particular online community. Similar incidents, involving many of the same players, have happened before. More importantly for this blog post, this thing that happened follows a wider pattern, one that will be familiar to most folks guilty of “blogging while female” or “blogging while queer” or “blogging while [insert marginalized identity group here].” As a veteran of the feminist blogosphere (at seven years and counting the feminist librarian is firmly middle-aged in Internet time) I’ve seen it happen before in other forums, and will no doubt see it again. It’s a worrying pattern, a pattern of unethically leveraged power and privilege, and I believe strongly that it needs to be named as such.

Thus, this post.
I’m going to tell the story of what happened without naming names or linking to specific emails in the listserv archive. Those of you interested in reading all 91 emails in the thread can find the archive here. Scattered additional responses can also be found seeded through the listserv archive from May 19 through May 23. Many of you will have already followed the exchanges in real time. Even so, I have chosen to describe what happened in archetypal terms because my goal here is not to reopen/rehash the details of specific exchanges. Rather, I hope to point out how the dynamic at play is a familiar one to many of us, particularly those of us on the receiving end of its toxic effect, and to bear witness to the way its poisonous effect ripples out under the guise of “professional” interactions.

Simply put, regardless of specific individuals’ intent, the net effect of the interactions that took place has been to reinforce the status quo of social privilege for some and marginalization of others. Because that’s how structural prejudice works. The net effect of this particular incident (as in previous iterations of the same) has been to reinforce the status quo through a discouraging pattern of behavior, one that is identifiable to us in the “blogging while…” crowd. 

And it’s a pattern that, in this community, has been repeatedly denied, ignored, minimized, and obfuscated throughout the interaction, by multiple people who should know better (or should know enough to listen to those who do know better).

I write this post from my own relative position of privilege in the world of librarians and archivists. Although I am an early career professional I have a secure, full-time position. Many of the individuals I’ve interacted with via email in the past week have expressed legitimate fear of going “on record” about the situation due to the fact that they’re currently job seeking or otherwise job-insecure. I write this post on behalf of all of them (and with their anonymous editorial guidance) because I am in a position to do so while they are not.

That acknowledged, back to our story.

There’s a professional listserv. It’s a profession in which women are the majority, yet in this online forum, an “unmoderated” email list sponsored by the national professional organization, a single mid-career, male contributor -- we’ll call him X -- dominates. In a recent quantitative analysis of the top fifty contributors by volume to the listserv, over 45% of the emails are generated by X. The majority of his contributions are what’s known colloquially as “linkspam” -- links to online content relevant to the field, offered up with little or no contextual explanation. 

(As someone who habitually tags, and religiously reads, “linkspam” lists made by my favorite bloggers, I recognize the value of curated links lists. However, there are legitimate views across the spectrum from “always love ‘em” to “always hate ‘em.” And content value can, and should, be separated here from the size and shape of one’s digital footprint.)

In addition, X also has a history of responding authoritatively and dismissively to the concerns of younger, primarily female, professionals who bring issues to the listserv for discussion. Time and time again, he positions himself as the arbiter of what is and is not accepted professional practice. So, as is often the case in online forums, this individual has become, over time, a sort of shorthand for those frustrated by both his specific behaviors and also what his continued presence exemplifies about the community in which he thrives.

Last week, as happens occasionally, a person spoke up, on the list, questioning this dynamic. 

Does anyone else find the dominance of this one individual annoying? the Dissenter asks (the Dissenter happens to have male name, though his student status marks him as an individual in the early stages of his career). Perhaps we could manage this individual’s participation such that he did not dominate the list, leaving space for others to meaningfully participate?

This opening salvo prompts three groups of listserv participants to respond:

1. The Fixers. These individuals offer individualistic solutions to the Dissenter’s problem: “If you don’t like X’s contributions, the delete button is always an option!” Regardless of tone -- condescending or supportive -- the problem with this type of response is that it places the burden of managing what is a community-wide issue on the person who has identified it, not the community as a whole. Too often, the “fix” serves to further isolate the Dissenter, and others like them, from the community rather than providing a way to increase participation.

2. The Defenders. These individuals categorically deny that the Dissenter has a point, asserting that X’s contributions bring much value to the list; over time, these assertions grow ever more fulsome. X labors tirelessly on behalf of the profession yet gets only criticism in return! X is generous with his wisdom and you ungrateful children fail to recognize its worth! 

This type of response works to turn a discussion that should be about how to share community space (recall our original request: “could we manage this person’s participation … leaving space for others to meaningfully participate?”) into a discussion about the value of X’s contributions (and, implicitly, X as an individual). This is a common dynamic in social justice circles, where raising questions about structural discrimination all too often results in defensive reactions by individuals and their protectors who make it personal (“But she doesn’t have a racist bone in her body!” “But he grew up poor!” “I couldn't possibly be anti-gay, some of my best friends are lesbians!”).

This defense of the status quo, in turn, prompts...

3. ...The Supporters of our original Dissenter to speak up, adding their voices and perspectives to the discussion. Yet they’ve already learned, by watching how the Fixers and Defenders responded, to speak up in careful and conciliatory terms: “Oh, no, we aren’t questioning the value of X’s participation -- indeed, we find much of value in his perspective! We are only asking for a little more room at the table.” This apologetic approach, while (sometimes) effective in protecting the Supporter from accusations of unprofessionalism, of personal attacks, of mean-spirited snark, unfortunately also undermines the Dissenter/Supporter position by turning what should be non-negotiable expectation of respectful, welcoming behavior that is the responsibility of all community members into an “ask” which the powerful within the group can grant or deny.

Eventually, after a period of silence, X himself steps into the fray. Notably, he chooses to do so not in response to the (male) Dissenter but in specific response to a female Supporter, a young professional. This is a woman who has articulated clearly how his dominance on the list has the effect of silencing others, and who has offered several community solutions which could potentially meet the needs of both Defenders and Supporters. In mansplainy tones, X ignores her community-based solutions and goes full-on Fixer, suggesting the issue is her (and others’) ineptness with technology rather than his manner of participation in the shared space of the online forum.

If only these children would shut up and sit down until they learned the proper skills to participate on my terms. It’s simple, really.

Another key feature of these interactions is that X has a habit of responding to criticism “off list,” via direct email. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he may be unaware of how this action comes across to the (often young, female) recipients of his unsolicited emails. Rather than being some sort of polite follow-up, it’s a bright red flag for any woman with experience “blogging while female.”

Rule number one for many female bloggers is to never, ever let conversations move out of the public realm. For most of us, uninvited contact by men attempting to continue public debates (particularly disagreements) privately is a power play. In our experience, men who angle for private discussion are angling for the upper hand, in a space where we a) won’t be able to draw on others’ support for our position, and b) where the evidence of whatever harassment, manipulation, or abuse they engage in will be out of sight. For an older male colleague to take a disagreement with a young woman in the same field “off list” is an isolating maneuver, whether or not it’s intended as such. Most of us have learned the hard way not to engage, or to take our responses back to the public realm, rather than let backchannel condescension escalate into harassment, stalking, or worse.

(I drafted this post before the #YesAllWomen hashtag went viral on Twitter in response to the misogynist motivations of the Isla Vista shooter, but this safety-first approach to online communication with men we don’t know fits into the category of experience #YesAllWomen seeks to highlight: the ways in which we perceived-female persons negotiate the world ever-mindful of the potential of gender-motivated violence.)

Meanwhile, of course, the discussion around X and his place on the list continues. Even as the Fixer, Defender, and Supporter emails continue at a steady clip, The Feels reach new levels of intensity and spawn a second layer of response:

4. The Disaffected. The Disaffected contributors position themselves above The Feels, intermittently pointing out to the group as a whole how petty their concerns about community behavior are, suggesting that the dissenters/supporters are simply making a mountain out of a molehill.

Since some people on Twitter raised this concern, I want to explicitly acknowledge here  that walking away from a community debate/discussion/argument you are not able to participate in (for whatever reason) is a form of self care and never needs justification. You get to set boundaries for yourself, full stop.

The Disaffected, however, are not engaging in self care (or not only that). Instead, they are Making A Point by walking out in a huff. This trivializes the concerns of the Dissenter and Supporters by sending the message that their concerns are unworthy of serious consideration, or the labor (emotional or otherwise) that it will take to address them.

5. The Concern Trolls, meanwhile, similarly position themselves as the group with a more mature perspective, over and against those who are absorbed in petty or narcissistic concerns. “Why are you all wasting time on issue Y when WORLD HUNGER” goes the concern troll’s argument. “Why are you arguing amongst yourselves when federal funding for our profession is on the chopping block?!”

Such arguments will be familiar to anyone who has ever discussed modern American feminist politics, where this gambit typically takes the form of “Why are American women complaining about [equal pay, sexualization, street harassment, reproductive rights] when women in [Sudan, Iraq, China, Ukraine, Indonesia, Cuba] don’t even have [clean water, voting rights, contraceptives, are dying of AIDS].” This is a false dichotomy in which situation B is thrown up as if in competition with situation A for attention. Both A and B can be (and usually are) important. In fact, they are often interconnected. Discussing or addressing one does not equate to ignoring the other.

In this instance, how we behave toward one another as colleagues within a given professional community is intimately entangled with how we engage in growing and advocating for the profession as a whole, how effectively we are able to do our jobs, and how we mentor those who will be future leaders in the field. How we treat one another speaks volumes about how we treat those we serve professionally (or, you know, ask for funding from). It’s not a distraction from substance; it’s substantially about who and what we are as practitioners of our craft.

6. The Drama Queen. You know that guy (and yes, it’s pretty much always a guy) who stands ready to cry “censorship!” or “It’s a free country!” in any Internet context in which requests for comment moderation or policies regarding participation are under discussion? Yeah. We had that guy.

7. The Equal Opportunity Shamers. Late in the game come the Shamers, who take it upon themselves to blame and shame all participants in the debate for behaving badly. As is typical, the Shamers wait until enough mud has been slung and hurtful words exchanged that they can point to “bad” behavior on both sides and ignore the substantive issues even as they ask (or require, if they have the power) that everyone be civil.  In this instance, they invoked “professionalism” and the listserv Terms of Participation to issue general slaps on the wrist for those who, in their estimation, were contravening both.

This post facto moderation tactic does a couple of tricksy things in aid of perpetuating the status quo.

First, Shaming blurs the distinction between the Dissenter and their Supporters and the individual(s) whose behavior was initially being questioned. The Shamer slaps them collectively on the wrist for uncivil behavior, acts as the tone police, or uses a variety of other tactics to imply or even outright assert that naming the offense is as bad as -- if not worse than! -- the offense itself.

Such an approach is one I’m very familiar with engaging with anti-marriage-equality folks in the blogosphere, where identifying anti-gay speech or actions as, well, anti-gay will bring out cries of intolerance when comments calling queer folk child abusers are overlooked as normal or negligible (#YesAllQueers).

Second, this false equivalence of behavior has the effect of ensuring that the individual(s) whose actions have been questioned continue to believe in their rightness, while the individual(s) who have raised the questions are quashed. This is because, in the type of scenario I’m talking about here, X  began the day in a position of social privilege, and X’s challengers began the day in a position of relative vulnerability. Professionally vulnerable people who find their professional behavior under question will, quite sensibly, withdraw from the discussion. Professionally secure people will shrug because, I was only defending myself from my accusers, after all, and everyone knows how much value I bring to the table.

While seemingly neutral, treating all people the “same” with their admonishments, the Shamers’  tone policing that fails to engage with the dynamics of privilege and power is anything but neutral. Instead, it ends up serving the already powerful and doing nothing to protect the already vulnerable.

To put it another way, what we saw last week was a highly influential man who had his position at the center of a specific social group challenged by younger, less-influential (and mostly female) individuals who are also part of the same group. He, and perhaps more importantly his supporters, dismissed their concerns. They used the discourse of professionalism and the rules for participation in the forum to enforce the status quo rather than to address structural inequality.

An opportunity was lost, and we are all the poorer for it.

I’m telling this story because this pattern will be repeated, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, as a professional community, we could decide that it matters to us that all of our colleagues -- no matter how young, structurally powerless, or socially vulnerable they are -- feel welcomed to participate in the listserv of our profession.

We could decide it matters to us that a single individual, no matter how well-respected and valued by members of the community, takes up as much (virtual) space as he does, and we could ask him to take a step back and listen for awhile, instead of perpetually dominating the conversation. (I offer this as a voluble talker and writer who is no stranger to being asked to step back and let others’ speak.)

We could decide to value, encourage, even demand, broad-based participation and open-ended conversation rather than instructional, condescending responses. 

We could decide to cultivate playfulness, humor, nerdiness, cooperation, encouragement, and speaking truth to power in ways that "punch up" rather than "punch down." And we could decide that these things were not incompatible with being professionals.

Yet for now, we appear to have decided that not hurting a single, powerful professional’s feelings and/or not asking him to modify his participation within the community is a more valuable goal than the goals above. 

We’ve decided that giving one person a national, sponsored platform on which to disseminate his opinions in an endless stream, and in a manner that drives some of our fellow practitioners away, is more important than fostering meaningful conversation and networking for all who serve our professional goals.

On the afternoon of the day I began drafting this post, X made a contribution to the ongoing debate that I believe brings the arc of this particular story to an all-too-familiar close. Following the intervention of the Shamers, which effectively shut down the possibility of challenges by the less powerful, X saw fit to suggest that more profoundly alienating, more profoundly “abusive,” than his own behavior, is the behavior of those who post to the listserv with too little or too much of the previous messages in the thread left at the end of their emails.

Because at the end of the day, who’s the real victim here? One way or another, apparently, it’s got to be him. 

Lesson learned, I guess.

I hope, in future, we revise the curriculum.


twenty minutes of hypnotically adorable

Here. My two half-finished posts aren't writing themselves so have twenty minutes of hypnotically adorable kittens to tide you over.


new perspectives on boston [#move2014]

We almost have enough bookshelves...
We're still unpacking here in J.P. but the living room is taking approximate shape. And I think my biggest observation from this first week in a new location in the same city is how much one's understanding of a big city like Boston is filtered through the situational perspective of daily activity. I mean, "duh." But we've shifted three miles south of our old home in Allston and suddenly our daily routine moves from one set of neighborhoods and local businesses to another.

Eventually, the living room will have an office space!
My initial impression is, weirdly enough, that Boston feels a lot more like a big city living in J.P. than it did living in Allston, on the edge of Brookline. Living in Allston, most of our daily routine happened in The Fenway/Longwood/Brookline neighborhoods, and Brookline definitely feels like a self-contained village enveloped by the greater metropolitan area of Boston. Jamaica Plain, too, feels like a very distinct neighborhood -- but within the city of Boston. It feels very conscious of its status as part of Boston, and I feel woven into the fabric of big city life in new ways. No longer does my evening commute cut passed Fenway Park and up Beacon Street through Coolidge Corner ... now I cycle by Symphony Hall through Roxbury to Jackson Square along the reclaimed Southwest Corridor Park.

"Kitty TV" has a new view...
Here are some of our discoveries from week one:
  • Ghazal makes (and delivers!) tasty Indian fare
  • The Southwest Corridor Park offers me a safer, more peaceful bicycle commute
  • Koo Koo Cafe is not a new discovery, but is now on our walk to work!
  • As is Green T Coffee, on those days when our path through
  • Olmstead Park is too meandering a route to Countway
  • The local fabric and yarn shop, JP Knit 'n Stitch, where we picked up fabric to recover our ageing IKEA chairs
My selection...

... and Hanna's
In the coming weeks, we're looking forward to checking out:

Hope all of you are well! Those of you whom I owe emails, I haven't forgotten! The moving exacerbated my tendinitis and exhausted us generally ... last night I was mostly asleep by 7 o'clock. Little old lady hours. But I haven't forgotten you!



#move2014 in photos [what it says on the tin]

So we've moved.

I'm headed back to our old place one more time today to pack up the fridge and a few left-over things so the cleaners my parents are paying for can come and do the final scrub down. Then, hopefully, new people will come along soon and find Old Number Twelve a good place to live, as we did for many years.

Meanwhile, I promised pictures -- so here they are!

This is a lot of what the last ten days have been about.

The cats liked all the piles of clothes and bedding to sleep on.

I think they were worried we would leave them behind, so kept trying to get us to pack them!

There was a lot of turning around and finding this.

How did we fit all this stuff in one 535-square-foot apartment?!

The BEST THING about the move was when the movers -- Patrick, Mike, and Damian -- arrived.

They took the things away and packed them so swiftly!

While Hanna waited with the cats at our new place, I was left to "supervise" the departure by drinking my latte and taking pictures of the emptying apartment.

The last box...

... Of serials, naturally. We're librarians after all!

Books will be our biggest logistical hurdle. Here they are stacked up in the Inner Sanctum (what will eventually be Hanna's meditation/yoga space (and our guest bedroom! ... plus books).

These bookshelves (and three more) are already filled.

This is the new living room space (with a study nook to the right of the frame).

As predicted, Teazle and Gerry LOOOOVE this long hallway for chasing one another (particularly at night). I'm standing in the living room, and the room at the end of the hall is our kitchen. Off the hall to the right are the master bedroom, bathroom, and Inner Sanctum.

The movers put our bed back together, people!! It was the first room we made usable, after the kitchen.

Our kitchen has a table for eating! And gorgeous appliances.

Hanna found this photograph in the back of one of the cupboard drawers. Worrying? Charming? You decide! It now lives on our fridge.

We share our second-floor porch with the next-door neighbors and their cat, Jelly, whom Gerry and Teazle have only met through the window so far. Our plants are very happy outside, and we can dry out laundry out there as well! There are five huge maple trees shading the back lawn (And sheltering our house from the worst of the summer sun.

And not to brag or anything, but THIS is our new walk to work...

More house-proud pictures once we've actually had a chance to settle in and Teazle has finished the unpacking and investigatin'.


see you on the flipside [#move2014]

Chez Clutterbuck-Cook 2.0
We've reached the "where did all these damn books come from?!" stage of packing/moving. It's not like we didn't know we had approximately one thousand books (not to mention serials and DVDs...) in our 535-square-foot apartment. But books shelved actually take up comparatively little space, all neatly lined up along the wall. Books in boxes, on the other hand, seem to pile up alarmingly quickly. We've boxed about 50 records center-sized plastic bins so far, and once Hanna unpacks a couple dozen this afternoon in our new home, I'll be trekking them back across town to fill them with more.

The movers come tomorrow to deal with the furniture (bookcases ... and essentials, like, you know, the bed).

Teazle continues spreading her sunny, exploratory nature everywhere. Last night while I was boxing up books from the bedroom closet (yes, we kept books in the bedroom closet), I kept turning around to find Teazle sitting jauntily in the box, whether empty, partially, or almost entirely full. Once it was filled, she climbed on top of it.

And then, when that job was done, there were the cleared shelves to scramble up upon and inspect.

Geraldine, meanwhile, has taken to huddling in our vicinity where she can keep an eye on the proceedings and emit misery vibes.

Today is the day we move them from old to new home, letting them get used to the space for a day before we have to contend with the chaos of movers. Hanna's going to set herself up as unpacker-and-cat-wrangler-in-chief this afternoon while I drive all of the oddly-shaped boxes and bins back and forth from Allston to Jamaica Plain (and the empty bins back for more packing). I anticipate one night of separate sleeping as Hanna co-sleeps with the kitties in our new home and I crash at our soon-to-be-old home to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the movers at 9am tomorrow.


Coffee. It will be our friend.

Photos to come.


places I have lived, 1981-2014 [#move2014]

PSA: This blog is going to be all personal, all the time for the next month or so as Hanna and I are immersed in the emotional and practical details of relocation. Those of you who don't care about such details, check back mid-June or so!

I had a conversation with a friend on Twitter who is also moving this month. I said how funny it was to be moving; that I'd really only lived in my parents' house, then a series of very temporary college-era situations, and then the apartment Hanna and I have shared for the past seven years.

This next home will be something new: a space selected together, as wives, with our adult lives in mind. It's a space we've purposefully chosen to (landlord and life willing) serve us well for the next five to ten years, in a neighborhood we picked for more than its (relative) affordability. For the past seven years we've lived on the periphery of a village, Brookline, we never actually belonged to -- although our marriage certificate is filed in their city hall! Starting next week, we'll be living in Jamaica Plain, and thinking about how to put down actual roots there.

In that context, I started to think back on the places I've lived in my life thus far. Here they are.

The Childhood Home (1981-2007, with gaps).
My parents bought a home the same year they were married (1976), a late-nineteenth century farmhouse that had once stood on the outskirts of a then-tiny Midwestern town. It housed the first postmaster of Holland (Mich.) and also these two lovely women -- a schoolteacher and an artist -- whose suggestive double portrait I keep over my desk at work. A two-story, three-bedroom house with a tiny bedroom in what used to be the pantry off the kitchen (when built, house had no indoor plumbing) this was the architecture of my childhood. I was brought home from the hospital to a living room that housed a table saw, watched scary movies through the crack in the lincrusta peeling from the stairwell, and warmed my toes on the forced-air vents in the floorboards. Situated in Holland's historic district, it was a block and a half from the public library and a foundational location for many aspects of who I am today.

The College Apartment (2000-2001).
Although I was a townie in college, officially circumventing the on-campus housing policy for underclassmen by living with my parents, the third year I was enrolled at Hope I decided to share an apartment with a good friend of mine (also "living with parents"). We were two houses down from the railroad tracks and at night the freight trains felt like they were coming right through the walls. We took turns cooking, mostly recipes from the Moosewood cookbook, and had a dish-washing schedule that sometimes we followed and sometimes we didn't. On Wednesday nights I bicycled back to my parents house a mile away so my family and I could watch The West Wing together. We each paid $250/month of the five hundred dollar rent (I know!!) and didn't realize at the time that we would never pay so little for housing ever again.

The Mountaintop Cabin (Fall 2001).
After my first year of independent apartment living, I spent a semester in the Cascade mountains in Southern Oregon, living with four other students in a tiny five-room cabin in a re-purposed logging town turned off-campus community. There were two doubles and a single in the cabin, and I arrived early on move-in weekend to claim a single -- a onetime mudroom off the kitchen that basically had room for my twin mattress and the dresser. We heated the place by keeping the woodstove in the living room stoked into the late evening, and banking it at night as we trailed off to bed. Once more we took turns cooking communal meals five nights out of the week, gathering each night except Friday and Saturday to discuss the day's lecture and reading, our independent research projects, and the social tensions of our hothouse environment. Even when two of the five residents basically moved out to live with partners elsewhere, we continued to gather all five of us at dinnertime to touch base.

The Parsonage Next Door (2002-2003).
I spent about six months at my parents' after Oregon, which worked out well enough but made clear I needed a little more independent space at this point in my life. It so happened that our next-door neighbors (and good friends) were in want of a live-in nanny during a year when one parent was going to be out of state completing an advanced degree. So I moved into a suite in the corner of the house with a bedroom and bathroom to myself, periods of childcare responsibility, and otherwise a great deal of autonomy. The cats (Butterscotch and Pikachu) used to hide in the walls in the bathroom, reappearing from beneath the bathroom sink at unexpected moments. Apropos of not much else, this was the year I discovered Fingersmith and wondered, once again, if I might be a dyke.

Seagulls at sunset at Hillhead Halls (2003-2004)
The Student Flat (2003-2004).
Oregon hadn't quenched my wanderlust and I used the remainder of my (grandparentally-invested) college fund to spend a year reading cultural history at the University of Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. I lived in University housing on the edge of a sweep of city park and a stone's throw from the North Sea in Old Aberdeen. 69A Burnett Hall was my address, sharing a kitchen and washroom facilities with four Scots first-years and, come January, another American. This was an era where, although I had a laptop for writing, we still have to go to the central computer labs for Internet access. For the first (and last) time since I was nine years old, I had no paid employment; between lectures and seminar discussions and research for my history essays I walked the length and breadth of the city, old and new, wrote letters, obtained a public library card, and had more leisure reading time than I have ever had since.

Kitchen at "The Farmhouse" (2004-2005)
The Farmhouse (2004-2005).
Returning stateside in July, I was unexpectedly handed a nine-month house-sitting gig when family friends going on sabbatical rang up to ask if I would be interested in staying in their home, rent free, for the academic year. It was my final year of college, where I was completing the last requirements to graduate after a prolonged seven-year stay. I spent the autumn, winter, and spring commuting twelve miles to campus from a rural holding situated next to a county park and across from a llama farm. The three family cats, half feral, came and went largely at will -- though in the depths of winter they particularly enjoyed sleeping under the woodstove. Every Friday night I had my college roommate ("The College Apartment") over for dinner and to stay the night before she left early for a Saturday morning shift at a yarn shop in the nearby village. This was the living room where I wrote my senior thesis on masculinity and pacifism during the Civil War, and where I celebrated the end of an academic era.

The Grandparents' Spare Room (May 2005).
When our friends returned to reclaim their house, I embarked upon a peripatetic late spring and early summer. I spent a month in the spare bedroom at my grandparents' house while finishing a final core requirement for my B.A. -- a three week science course for non-majors during which the professor taught us how to repair cars, construct a battery, and tried to convince me to major in Engineering. Each morning my grandmother, who passed away this March, would leave a place for me at the breakfast table waiting for when I came down in the mornings. We all three of us -- my grandmother, grandfather, and I -- were leading relatively independent lives, but cohabited fairly gracefully together.

The Lesbian Land Trust (June 2005).
When my May Term ended, I blew out of Dodge for ... Missouri, to deliver the fruits of a collective research project on 1970s feminism to the research participants who planned to publish a book on their own history: a group of lesbians who had settled on a land trust outside of Springfield. I spent the month of June living with one of the founding couples, one of whom I was nominally assisting with an editing project in exchange for room and board. While I was technically there to work for her, I suspect I got more out of being there as a refuge post-college than she got out of me as an editorial assistant. While at the time I was still deeply uncertain about my inclinations and longings, in retrospect the brief retreat among a community of lesbians (and bisexual women partnered with lesbians) was a key experience added to my repertoire of "how to live.

Hawkhill Women's Land Trust (2005)
The Men's College (September-December 2005).
My first post-undergrad job was a paid internship with the study abroad program I had enrolled in to attend the University of Aberdeen. During the fall semester of 2005 I lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and worked for the program director out of an office on the campus of Wabash College, one of the few all-male undergraduate institutions left in the country. For the first two months of my internship they put me up at a local hotel, where I had access to a full slate of cable television channels and watched a lot of "Charmed" and the various CSI spinoffs. For the second half of the fall, I was relocated to an recently-purchased off-campus house furnished college dorm-style. Since I was in the midst of radiation treatment for my thyroid condition, what I mostly remember from that fall was how my raging metabolism made it possible to eat whole gallons of ice cream at a single sitting and still be losing weight precipitously. Don't try this at home, children.

The Family Friends' Spare Room (Summer 2007).
The summer before leaving Michigan for Boston, I moved from where I'd been living in my parents house (still, at that point, simply "home") since college two blocks west to stay good family friends while my brother moved temporarily into the space I'd just vacated. The musical chairs of a family with three children in their college and post-college twenties. Life in a town your whole life and this sort of thing happens: the friends' home, recently purchased, was actually a house where ten years previously I'd spent a lot of time babysitting two little boys with a mania for trains. The guest bedroom I stayed in was the former site of their Thomas the Tank Engine train table. This time around, I spent less time playing trains and more time reading through all of Laurell K. Hamilton's back catalog.

North Hall (Fall 2007)*
The Grad Student Dorm (2007-2008).
Moving to Boston, I made the decision to life for a least a year in their graduate student dorms. At the time, Boston felt like a temporary way-station for graduate school, I didn't know the city, and I didn't know anyone to room with. I'd also never actually gone apartment hunting. So I moved into an American dorm for the first time in my life. While utilitarian in the way I'd intended, I hated campus life with a passion; returning to school was indignity enough without mandatory hall meetings and the ventilation system that distributed skunky pot fumes throughout the building in the depths of every night. Luckily, by December Hanna and I had pretty much decided I would take over her roommate's half of the lease when her roommate graduated in May, so I was able to count down the months to leaving the enclosed monoculture of student housing for good.

(*I spent a lot of early mornings  and late evening Gchat-stalking Hanna from that desk)

Just moved into Allston, May 2008
The One-Bedroom Split (2008-2014).
Hanna and I spent a year being roommates before finally working out what we should have known by that December discussion about housing: that actually we wanted in each others' pants. Over the past seven years, we've transformed temporary student digs, with "hers" and "hers" living spaces, into a workable one-bedroom apartment for a married couple and two cats. It's been a long, piecemeal process with numerous trips to IKEA. But each year for six years as we considered whether to renew our lease the answer has been "yes." Almost literally step by step -- as we abandoned the T for our morning commute and turned to walking daily through Brookline, coffees in hand -- we took the space and the adjacent neighborhood and made it our own. Even as we were making Boston our own.

The same room six years later...
The 1910 Triple-Decker (2014-?).
A week from tomorrow, the movers will be arriving to help us move into a second-floor condo unit in the Hyde Square area of Jamaica Plain, a space that will functionally double our living quarters, provide us with a porch, and eat-in kitchen, a yoga and meditation space for Hanna, and bike storage for me. We'll be a ten-minute walk from the Emerald Necklace and a ten-minute bike ride from central JP. Our morning commute will be a brisk climb up over Parker Hill, or a meandering stroll through Olmsted Park to Brookline Village (for coffee), and on down the course of the Muddy River to Countway and, a mile beyond, the MHS.

Reports from along the way will be found here, at the feminist librarian!