Some of you good people are worried about me or for me. I thank you for your thoughts and consideration. Please know that I am well. Class preparation has me excited for school to start. Maine is, as always, beautiful. I have supportive, generous, and kind family and friends. The Cubs might just make the playoffs.

And I am back to writing. I am, in fact, writing a great deal across a variety of mediums. My writerly voice is no longer blocked. I can once again move my arms.

Unfortunately, I will not be posting anything on my blog within the next few months. Don’t worry, this is an external silence, not an internal one. I only post this because I know that if I were following someone’s blog, and they left me hanging with that last post, I would be concerned about them when they continued to remain silent.

This time, mine is not the silence of rock bottom.

And really, rock bottom was only a caesura.


that I cannot move my arms is my complaint

As mentioned before, last summer I lived in student housing at UMaine for 15 days. I was 33 years old and a college instructor and I was living amid college students. I had a roommate.

Yep. CREEPY. I know.

To alleviate some horror thoughts, know that there were separate rooms, on separate sides of the apartment. I had, thank the Gods, my own bathroom.

So, I didn’t really get to know the gal with whom I sort-of shared a living space. We had a few conversations, but they were of the most basic social-mixer kind: Where are you from? What are you studying? What do you do? What brought you to Maine?

What I do know of her, I know from a kind of removed observation. Here is what I observed—

A deeply depressed young girl doing her best to get herself together.

Or at least this is my take. I am not a clinician, but it seemed like the signs of depression were there. The borderline personal hygiene. The filth of the living space. The sleeping for the majority of the day, then going to work, then coming home and going back to sleep. The utter lack of friends. The diet that seemed to consist entirely of black olives bathed in Italian dressing. The drinking.

There was also the list stuck to the refrigerator titled “Goals.” On such a list made by one so young, one might expect to see items like a desired GPA or internship applications or world travel. There were no such things on this list. I won’t include the actual list here, as I do not want to expose her private life, but there were items like—

  • Get trash out of bedroom
  • Wash bedding
  • Shower
  • Don’t sleep more than 9 hours a night

This is the kind of list depression makes of a life. Simple, small tasks seem to take a great deal of effort. Sleep seems like the only release.

I know I spent the first two years of college full of expectation and thoughts of the future and a genuine zeal for all the classes and theatre productions and people who were a part of my life.

And then? Well, I grew depressed, deeply so. I don’t think anyone noticed. If they did, no one said anything. I can’t blame them. I myself didn’t notice, or at least I had no idea what to call the anxiety and isolation and overwhelming sadness. I did what I knew how to do to get through it, which was work harder at my studies. Take more classes. Volunteer more.

And then I plummeted.

I still remember the look on the face of a friend from high school who stopped-by to visit one day after I had fallen. He saw the days-old dishes caked in egg yolk. The shades drawn against the sun. My inability to focus. I remember he looked as if he couldn’t get out of there fast enough, as if he thought I might be contagious.

My GPA dropped. I gained a great deal of weight. I withdrew from social activities. I drank far too much. I stopped sleeping or I slept for 12+ hours.

And yet I never, ever would have called myself depressed or admitted that I needed mental healthcare.

There is another time I clearly should have realized I needed help. During my last winter in Alaska, I would wake-up, plug-in my truck, return to bed, and lie there chanting to myself—

Brush your teeth and your hair. Brush your teeth and your hair. Brush your teeth and your hair. These are important.

These two, quite small human acts, seemed to require a great deal of energy. And I had to convince myself to do them by chanting this mantra to myself every day.

Every. Single. Day.

I can’t tell you how long it lasted. I can’t tell you why I didn’t recognize that I was depressed until far too long inside of it.

This girl, though, this temporary roommate, she at least had some recognition that the life she was living was no life at all. Her list also included—

  • Make therapy appointment.

She was aware of the mire in which she’d become stuck. She was doing what she knew to get out of it.

Which is far more than I can say for myself at any age or time. To this day, I have never sought therapy. My aversion is maybe a hangover from my mid-south, blue collar upbringing. It is maybe fear of admitting there is something wrong with me.

Typing those words, just now, made my stomach clench. I’ll do it again.

There is something wrong with me. I am not okay. I need help.

It’s a difficult thing to admit.

But an eighteen year old girl admitted it. I saw that girl. Shuttered in her filthy apartment. Anxious. Alone. I saw that girl and I saw myself. Not as I am now, but as I was, and as I could be if I do not start making a conscious effort to tend my mental health.

It’s a cycle, after all. Feeling anxious and alone makes me depressed, which makes people not want to be around me, which makes me anxious and alone….

This last year and a half has been a tough one. Just about the saddest things possible have occurred. In my own misguided way of dealing with it all, my anxious and alone sirens have been on full blast.

Luckily, a good friend let me know I was not myself. She looked at me and was genuinely scared for what she saw. Not a woman dirty and alone, but one spinning in anxiety and neediness. Rather than running away, this friend let me know I needed help.

This past weekend, I made a list. (Actually, I made a color-coded spread sheet, but, ya know, same deal.) This item is right up top–

  • Make therapy appointment

It’s taken me to the age of 34 to do this. It’s taken a friend strong enough to challenge me to get better.

And it’s taken me not being able to write.

If you’re curious about the long blog-post hiatus, well, this is why. I began slipping away sometime this Spring. By last week, when I sat down to write anything, even a journal entry, even an email, I couldn’t. It was like my own voice was missing from my head.

I have always disdained the term writer’s block as a crutch of the lazy. And there are those people, of course. People who run around claiming writer’s block because the real work of writing, the long hard slog of it, is more effort than they are willing to undertake.

But there is also being blocked from one’s own voice. I know this now. And I know that writer’s block, in this sense, is not the stuff of amusing coffee mugs or casual reference or excuse. It is a powerful symptom of something wrong. It is terrifying. There is no “work harder and you’ll get through it.” I don’t have the tools to do this kind of work. Not yet.

I know addicts use the phrase rock bottom to mean that point when they realized they needed help to change. The stories they tell are of waking-up covered in vomit, or someone close to them overdosing, or exchanging sexual favors for one more hit.

My rock bottom? The point I had to reach before I realized I needed help?

My rock bottom was silence.

Image taken from here.

Down in a Deep Dark Hole

In what was once Lootie, Oklahoma, a small coal mining town that dried up when the coal seams did, sits the ruin of a clapboard house my family calls The Old Place. It was inhabited by my great-grandparents, and my mother lived there for a time, when my grandmother was between jobs and husbands.

Growing-up, my mother would take us on a pilgrimage to The Old Place each Thanksgiving. Sometimes someone picked-up an old bottle or a tool, but we were really there to hear stories. My mother’s favorite stories, the ones she told most often, were of hard times hardening the people who lived through them.

There is the story of the time a dog got into the smokehouse and ate the meat and how her grandmother, who in most stories is the kindness woman to ever draw breath, beat that dog until it was nearly dead.

I know. I don’t like this story either.

But my mother does. Her eyes light-up when she tells it. She revels in this otherwise kind woman turning violent in desperation. In the past, I have judged my great-grandmother for her actions and my mother for her revelry in them. Part of me, I guess, always will.

But my life is one of privilege when compared to the lives of the people who lived in The Old Place. The life of a dog is worth more to me than it is to people who have hungered. I know this. We are shaped by our circumstances, and, in comparison, mine have left me a doughy mush.

There is another story my mother tells with delight that I have never enjoyed.

My great-grandfather (the husband of the woman in the story above) helped organize a union of coal miners who struck in demand of the black lung benefit. The strike lasted for seven years. Seven years of no food but what they could grow or scavenge. Seven years of hunger, of watching children and grandchildren hunger.

The union finally won, and the union men went back to work, and when the union men began dying, their widows and orphans received compensation.

But scab coal miners die the same dry-land-drowning union men do. And when their coughs turned, they came to my grandparents and asked if they might join the union, so their children and widows would be looked after.  According to the story, the sweetest-woman-to-draw-breath told them something along the lines of, “when my children went hungry, yours were fed, and this is the price for it.”

I don’t like this story. But I never watched my own grow weak. Never heard them cry with hunger. I have no idea how living through that would make me behave.

I know that a little over a year ago, I thought myself the kind of person who lived with a forgiving heart. Then a bad man entered my life. This man caused the suffering of those I love dearest. He caused a small child to suffer. He did this for a long time.

And suddenly, there it was, this hardness inside of me. This wish to see another human come to harm. There were times, I admit, I wished him dead.

And now I know something more of why my great-grandmother allowed those around her to go hungry when she might have eased their suffering. I still do not celebrate her decision, but if I saw those scabs as responsible for the suffering of my family? As responsible, no doubt, for the deaths of others?

I don’t know. I try my best to hold compassion towards my fellow humans. This bad man showed me there are times I am not able to do so. I resent knowing myself capable of such darkness, but knowing this has taught me compassion for the people in my mother’s stories, people whose hearts hardened under suffering.

The dark seam he exposed in me has provided some light.

Where the Winds of Change Do Not Sweep

When I was in grade school, my teacher sat myself and two boys down to let us know that we had the worst handwriting in the class. She turned to the boys and said something along the lines of, “But that’s okay. You’ll be doctors or professors someday.”

She turned to me and handed me a penmanship book.

This is the story I tell my students when they comment on my ugly handwriting. I explain that part of me developed my current scrawl out of spite, and that I continue to feed off of this nugget of resentment–each  and every slash is a small defiance against the misogyny in which I was raised.

My students are shocked by that story. They consider me to be old, but they still cannot believe that this ever happened to a woman who isn’t, like, ancient.

It’s one of the tamest stories I have. And I would not in any way be surprised to discover that such things were still being said to young girls in schools everywhere. It would especially not surprise me to discover that such things were still being said to young girls in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is not a progressive place. In case you thought otherwise, please turn your attention to the recent OU Frat video. Or to the state’s consistent ranking as one of the worst states in which to be a woman. Or to pretty much anything that spews from the ignorance hole of Senator Jim Inhoff.

It was surprising, therefore, to discover that prostitution and solicitation are both misdemeanors and are treated equally under Oklahoma law. Pandering (pimping) is the felony.

In many places, for many years, solicitation has been treated as a lesser crime than prostitution. There are several movements currently seeking to end this, including End Demand, which focuses on how this discrepancy in the law has fueled human trafficking.

So it was weird to see that in Oklahoma, at least on the surface, johns and prostitutes are considered equally culpable.

But of course, there is the law, and then there are the people who enforce and interpret the law. You know, like the Ferguson PD or Antonin Scalia. Judges and police and lawyers are often placed under public microscopes. Most people at least know that they exist as part of the justice system, if for no other reason than it might actually be impossible to live in America and not see an episode of Law & Order. It would be like having never seen a McDonalds logo. Or the sky.

But until I read “We Extend Our Condolences” by Brian Ted Jones, published in This Land Press, I had no idea that another piece of the judicial system even existed. This piece is called the Crime Victims Compensation Board (CVCB). For those of you as privileged as myself (thanks again, white skin!), I’ll give a brief overview.

As you might have guessed by the name, CVCBs were established so that crime victims and the families of crime victims are not left in debt due to things like funeral costs, court costs, etc…California created the first program in 1965, and nine states were operating such programs by 1972. Oklahoma, ever on the cutting-edge, established its board in 1982.

It seems like a pretty good thing, all-in-all. The family of a murder victim, for example, shouldn’t go bankrupt from their deceased loved one’s medical bills.

But there are some restrictions on who can receive compensation. I’ve included the full list for Oklahoma in a note below, but it’s typical law stuff: jurisdiction, timeliness, cooperation. The last one, though, is troubling–

  • Compensation that could be awarded to a claimant shall be reduced or denied, depending on the degree of responsibility for the injury or death that is attributable to the victim.

Some people, this says, are responsible for their own pain, even their own deaths, and we are not paying these people.

Okay, as chilling as that thought might be, I guess I can imagine a scenario in which this seems to make sense. Imagine, if you will, a duel between Vince Gill and Garth Brooks.

vince gillgarth brooks


(because this is Oklahoma and because the thought of this cracks me up for some reason)

If Vince Gill challenged Garth Brooks to a duel, then spent time in the hospital after being shot in this duel, it would seem strange to then compensate Vince Gill for the hospital costs he incurred.

To my knowledge, however, this is not the sort of case the CVCB tends to handle.

“We Extend Our Condolences” focuses on the murder of Tiras Johnson, and explains that Tiras Johnson’s mother was denied compensation from the CVCB because of Tiras’s alleged gang activity. The letter his mother received, as Jones represents it, states:

—–On January 17, 2014, Netarsha Johnson, Tiras’s mother, received a letter from the board, explaining that “[a]n award of compensation cannot be made if the victim’s actions contributed to the criminal incident. The incident appears to be gang related and the victim exercised poor judgment by choosing to be a gang member.”—–

“We Extend Our Condolences” focuses on the process by which Tiras was tied to gang activity, then discusses how “gang activity” is often used to deny people of color their compensation in Oklahoma. Read the article. It’s intriguing in the best ways.

And since Jones does an excellent job of focusing on the race problem the CVCB has, I’m going to focus on something revealed in just in a few lines of the article:

—–The family of a male victim received a 50-percent reduction because of his “involvement with a known prostitute,” while a female victim’s eligibility was denied outright on the ground of “prostitution.”—–

I’m drawn back to those two lines. If you know me at all, or have read nearly any post on this blog, you can guess as to why these two lines caught me.

I checked with Jones to make certain that the woman and man mentioned above were victims of homicide. They were. This means that the CVCB denied compensation because they believe the john was partially responsible for his own death, and the prostitute was fully responsible for her own death. Why? Well, because he was a john and she was a prostitute.

The police did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The DA did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The court did not say that these victims were responsible for their own deaths. The police and the DA and the court investigated, arrested, and convicted people of their murders. Until the CVCB became part of the process, these two people were victims of homicide.

But the CVCB? The CVCB decided that they were not victims, they were accomplices.

This decision does not seem to align with the Oklahoma laws governing prostitution and solicitation. Prostitution and solicitation are both misdemeanor offenses, remember. And Oklahoma law treats these offenses equally, yet somehow the prostitute was 100% to blame for her own murder, while the john was only 50% to blame. Maybe there were other factors that went into these decisions, but these were the ones cited.

And should there have been other factors? Shouldn’t the same laws apply to the CVCB that apply elsewhere in the justice system?

The justice system is a troubled place. It most often rains its trouble on the vulnerable. Read the DOJ’s Ferguson report. Or talk to any public defender.

Every now and then it gets things right. Once, for instance, it investigated and arrested and prosecuted a person who murdered a prostitute. The police did not shove this case into a drawer because the victim was a prostitute. The attorney did not charge this person with a lesser crime because the victim was a prostitute. The court did not fail to convict because the victim was a prostitute.

But then, somehow, after all that went right, there was yet another piece of the system that said a woman was responsible for her own murder because she was a prostitute. This piece said to a murdered woman’s family that she was an accomplice in her own death.

I would ask how this is possible, but this is a question I don’t remember asking. Growing-up in a place like Oklahoma means that racism and misogyny, along with the abuse of power and the miscarriage of justice that can arise from these forces, have never seemed like tales from days of yore.

I envy the question, “How is this possible?”





There is an appeal process for those denied compensation from the CVCB. However, the first step of this process sends the appellant directly back to the exact same CVCB that denied the claim. Then, if it is denied yet again, the appellant can resort to the court system. I could find nothing on the Oklahoma DA’s website that laid-out exactly how the process would work at this point, probably because this part of the process doesn’t work. What are the odds that the family of a victim denied compensation can afford this kind of drawn-out battle? A battle that is obviously meant to discourage appeals at all, or why would the first step be back to, rather than away from, the very people who first denied the claim?


Full list of conditions that must be met in order to receive compensation from the CVCB of Oklahoma:

  • The crime must have occurred in Oklahoma.
  • The crime must have been reported to law enforcement within 72 hours of the incident. The Board or administrator may find good cause for failure to report within this period. Exceptions are always made for child victims.
  • The claim for compensation must be filed within one (1) year of the crime-related injury of the victim.  The one (1) year deadline may be waived and extended to two (2) years for good cause, and may be extended beyond two (2) years only in child sexual assault cases.  In no event can other claims be extended beyond two (2) years.
  • The claimant is required to fully cooperate with the police, prosecution and other law enforcement entities during the investigation and prosecution of the offender.
  • Compensation shall not be awarded to a claimant if it would benefit the offender or an accomplice, and the claimant must not have been the offender or accomplice.

Dumb Girl Voice

A girl in her early twenties was on the phone to her mother. She wanted her mother to ease her worries over a job interview the next day. This is what I heard from the girl:

“Yeah, I mean, I write okay, but when it comes to interviews, like, I can’t do it. They think I’m dumb when I speak. It’s not, like, what I say. I just have dumb girl voice.”

Dumb. Girl. Voice.

I wish I didn’t know exactly what she was talking about. I wish, heartily, that I myself had not mocked women who speak with this particular pattern of elevated pitch and drawn-out vowels. It’s been far too long since I studied voice to be able to accurately describe exactly what I’m talking about, so here is Louis CK’s impression of it. And here is Iliza Schlesinger with her version of it, starting at the 1:50 mark.

One reason I have mocked this voice is because I thought it a choice. I thought women who chose dumb girl voice wanted to be perceived as dumb, largely because they believed (whether correctly or not) that being dumb is what would attract most men.

I don’t know. I don’t know why I interpret this particular voice as dumb girl voice. I don’t know if women choose this voice, or if it is natural occurrence, or if it is a choice for some women and a natural state for others.

If it is sometimes a choice, well, we all mimic the behaviors of the social groups to which we want to belong, whether that desire is for professional success, community status, romantic love, friendship…. So maybe there are women who note that this voice is the voice used by a social group to which they want to belong (for whatever reasons), and so they adapt their own voice to match this one.

I am no stranger to adapting my voice in order to gain acceptance by certain groups. In its natural state, my pitch sits at a pretty low register. I often joke by calling it my “man voice.” In my daily life, without conscious thought, I raise my pitch most of the time. My voice is more generic this way. Easier to digest. People don’t focus or comment on it, and therefore do not focus or comment on my physical person, which is something I avoid as much as possible. When I don’t make a conscious effort to recapture my natural pitch in the privacy of my own company, I can go weeks, if not months, without actually speaking in my natural pitch.

But I never raise it too high. And this is not only because it would probably hurt, but also because I recognize that lower voices, more masculine voices, tend to garner more respect. This was solidified for me when, while portraying a naïve young girl in a play, I was told that I needed to raise my voice about half an octave or people were going to think my character too mature and intelligent.

After being slammed around in the political realm, Margaret Thatcher worked with a theatrical voice coach to lower her pitch. What we now think of as her natural voice is actually the product of hard work and careful design, a design that sought to portray her as more masculine, and therefore more capable of effective leadership.

If, somehow, one were able to not know anything about either Nico or Taylor Swift, and if, somehow, we were able to record Nico singing Swift’s songs and Swift singing Nico’s songs, I imagine the perception would still be that Nico was a far more complex, interesting, mature, experienced human than Taylor Swift. (Which might or might not be true. The point is that we should be judging on content and style and composition. Not vocal register.)

One could (and many people do) argue that a person’s experience and knowledge and depth is expressed through his or her voice, and that this is why Nico’s voice is lower and richer than Taylor Swift’s voice.

But if we say that deeper voices equal more experience, more knowledge, more maturity….then aren’t we saying that most men are more experienced, more knowledgeable, more mature, than most women? And just to be clear that I am discussing gender more than sex, isn’t this saying that men with effeminate voices are less these things than those with masculine ones?

Look, maybe there are women who adopt Dumb Girl Voice with the intention of being perceived as dumb. Maybe they prefer (for whatever reasons) to be perceived as this.

But what if some people naturally speak in this manner? Or at least in some range near it? What of this young girl I overheard on the phone, who doesn’t think she can get a job because of what she sounds like? Is that on her? Should she, like Margaret Thatcher, train her voice to be something different?

Are we really comfortable saying that people who want to be respected should alter themselves to be more masculine?

When we say Dumb Girl Voice,

what if what we’re really saying is

girl voices are dumb?



End Note:

This post does not in any way explore all of the problems inherent in judging a person’s value and capability based on what we perceive to be inscribed in his or her physical voice. There are issues of class and race and region and a great many others. I hope to get to those at some point as well.

I also want to also discuss how the perception of masculine and feminine voices in written form can lead to either acceptance or dismissal by various groups, though there are people who have written on such things before, and their work is much more thorough and compelling than anything at which I could possibly arrive.

I guess what I am saying is that there is more to say on this matter, and that I hope to add my voice to those saying it.

Also, there is this amazing project called Voicing Gender that everyone interested in such things should check out.

Image taken from here.

Earth, receive an honored guest

I once attended a talk on elegy given by a fellow graduate student, one of the true scholars of our pack. He spoke of elegy as an act of resurrection. To speak of the dead, he insisted, is to animate their spirit.


Spirare. Spiritus.

To breathe. Breath.

To inspire is to breathe a truth into another.

To be inspired is to accept that truth.

We live only by another’s breath.

This is the truth I accepted from a man who no longer lives.

But in this truth, for me, he breathes.



The Fault Is Not in Our Algorithm

Let me tell you about the summer the faces on my Netflix homepage changed from white to black.

One of the perks of being a college teacher is that I can mine my students for book, television, music, and movie recommendations. The summer after my first year teaching at Lincoln University, I sat down with my lists (yes, I actually make them give me lists) and began watching the recommendations from that year.

Within a few days, my Netflix homepage changed from being populated by mostly white faces to being populated entirely by black faces. And I do mean mostly and entirely. Whatever algorithm Netflix uses to decide what stories to recommend, it obviously includes race, and it seems to be built on the assumption that if a person watches stories about black people, that person is certainly black.

This is not the algorithm’s fault. The terrible truth is that most white Americans don’t listen to black stories.

I am guilty of this. How else might the change above have occurred? And would you take a look at the reading list that I’ve built these past six months?

I mean, I did not intentionally say to myself, “Amanda, you’re going to read predominantly white authors in 2014.” But I also never said to myself, “Amanda, you’re going to make certain you keep a balanced reading list in 2014.” Or even, “Amanda, you’re going to read more black Authors in 2014.”  A reading list like the one I built is the result of me not taking conscious action.

This is shameful. This is all too common.

I believe we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but I believe with just as much conviction that we tell others our stories in order to live.

When those others don’t listen, there are many consequences. In the most devastating cases, people die. And let me be clear that I’m not talking specifically (or at least only) about Michael Brown. I am talking about hundreds of years of black Americans dying, not solely because most white Americans are deaf to the stories of black Americans, but at least partially because of this.

Black stories need to matter much, much more to white Americans.

And it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to find black voices. Black Americans tell their stories, most white Americans just aren’t listening.

And I mean really listening. Not the kind that listens when it feels like it. Not the kind that tries to correct or discredit. Not the kind that listens solely for the chance to respond.

I mean the kind of listening that comes from a place of acknowledged ignorance. The kind of listening that comes from a desire for empathy. The kind of listening that requires conscious effort.

I haven’t been listening. Not as often or as well or as actively as I should have been.

So starting now, I’m making an active decision to flip the ratio of black authors to white authors on my reading list. I’ll do this publicly via my ‘What I’m Reading’ posts. Ya’ll can keep me honest. Ya’ll can send me recommendations. Ya’ll can join, if’n you want.

I will never fully understand what it is to be black in American, but I can better understand, and one way I’m going to do this is by making the conscious effort to listen to more black voices.

Black Lives Matter



End Note:

Here I am again. Writing about race again. I assure you, it’s not because I think myself a voice of authority. Or because I think myself so goddamned enlightened and pure. The opposite is true. But I keep coming back to this quote:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Trust me, I know that flipping a reading list is not, by any means, enough of an action for anyone to take. But it is an action that I can take within the blog sphere. And it is an action for which I can be held accountable within the blog sphere.


IMPORTANT ANOUNCEMENT: My friend Nicole Saltzman, whose blog I have linked to before, has agreed to do a (or many…???) guest blog posts on here. Now Nicole? Nicole is someone ya’ll should listen to about race.


Also, I’m working on my initial reading list for December 2014/ January 2015. I’ll post it here in a few weeks (when I am once again reading something other than student work). If ya’ll have any recommendations, please let me know.