another step on the reentry path

In my last post I talked about that peculiar process of reentering the professional life of academia from the life of stay-at-home-mom (and how brain-jolting it is). I have made significant progress this year to that end. This last weekend I made it through another milestone of that process: the first conference presentation. And not just any conference, a national conference. It was a seminar session, so our papers were pre-circulated and the session time at the conference was mainly for discussing. This format went pretty well. I got some great feedback at the session, and the general buzz about the paper, I’m told, was positive. But more importantly, I made some personal connections with people that I really needed to talk to.

This is the paper that made me feel so vulnerable. I had a personal connection to it that I haven’t had with previous work. It was also a little nerve-wracking to send a paper out there for anybody registered for the conference to read. Okay, I’ll admit. I’ve kind of been a stressed-out bundle of nerves for two months, and I think a large part of that is part of the reentry process. I think it’ll be okay now. Why? Because I’ve personally connected with some people. And I think what makes what I do as a scholar meaningful is the fact that it’s connected to me as a person. When I share that with another person, and I see my work as a conversation in a community, then it’s not sending work out there into that good night, but it is sitting down and talking. I think that great web of culture actually connects people and not this sort of disembodied idea of “culture.”  If I feel like I can add another thread to the web, then I’ve done something meaningful.

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first encounters with queerings

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Suzanne Cusick’s essay, “On a Lesbian Relationship with Music: A Serious Effort not to Think Straight,” was first published in the 1994 volume Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, a ground-breaking book in queer theory in musicological circles. I first encountered Cusick’s essay last semester in a proseminar (a one-semester introduction to the development of the fields musicology and ethnomusicology). This essay was lumped into Gender day. I read it at 2 am, while trying to cram in all the readings for the next day’s seminar. I couldn’t sleep afterwards. It floored me. How is it that, nearly 20 years after it was first published, I am only now finding this? I recently reread it a few times to try to unpack its impact.

I think it affected me so much partly because, for the first time, I read something that really explored the connection between the person and the scholar, in a deeply profound way. She offers the possibility early on: “I needed to understand what relationship, if any, I could suppose to exist between my being a lesbian and my being a musician, a musicologist (69).” Perhaps her statement causes us to take a step back. Before considering the co-existing identities of lesbian and musicologist, we can possibly acknowledge that other aspects to our personhood matter to our musicological identities–that the private and professional can mingle, that we are somehow physically present with the music.

I have read a lot of personal reflections. And I have read a lot of postmodern criticism. I have even read combinations. But I have never read anything quite like this essay.

The content itself is very fascinating. Cusick defines what she means by “sexuality,” that “it is a way of expressing and/or enacting relationships of intimacy through physical pleasure shared, accepted, or given (70).” How this definition intersects with “lesbian” and “musicality” has to do with what Cusick calls “the enacted structure of the power/pleasure/intimacy triad and the gender of the beloved (71).” In other words, when we think about ways we enjoy music, we pause to consider, in that moment, who has the power: who is the lover and who is the beloved? Is the music, the lover, and the listener the beloved, in the weaker position? When we are performing music, do we become the lovers? In this expanded view of sex (something other than reproductive act), the notion of music as lover, or beloved, challenges us to consider what music is, how we listen to music, and what kind of place it has in our lives.

But I think it is something beyond content that I am so fascinated with. It’s how the personal is situated in all the intersections of lesbian, musicologist, criticism, music. I’ve always been interested in these kinds of intersections–though the details are different for me: woman, mother, Christian, musicologist, emerging critic(?). So how is it that I only just now encounter queer theory? a nearly twenty year musicological void in my life? And as I explore more about how the body is expressed critically in scholarship with my work in disability studies, I think I will find these new friends very helpful.

je pleure

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on an abstract for a conference. It’s supposed to be about technology, music cognition, and society. So I decided that now was the time to explore the puzzle piece of the cochlear implant in the story of the deaf musical experience.

I have written so many drafts of this abstract, each trying to get at the cognitive and cultural nuances of the experience. I met with a professor this afternoon to help me talk through it, and before i knew it, i was sitting there sobbing in his office talking about how I took Ellis to his first concert last Friday night, and how he hated it. (Nevermind the practical considerations: it was after 8pm; he’s 6.5 yo; and it was a recital for violin, soprano, and piano.) Part of me felt crushed, that I wasn’t going to be able to share music with him–that the CI wasn’t going to mediate that experience for him. It wasn’t the right music to listen with the balloon we brought.

This professor is very good at asking questions that break down personal barriers that I confront in the deaf music project. I cry. He offers me a napkin and some dried fruit. Then I get back to work, learning how to negotiate the personal and the researcher.