Alex Chambers: Fafnir Adamites is a fiber artist. They make giant paper spheres and seed-like shapes. It takes a lot of work. For Fafnir, that process creates space to think about trauma.
Fafnir Adamites: And the ways that people are haunted by psychic trauma, by trauma that their grandparents or their parents may have lived through. It's being shown through research that these traumas are imprinted in us and that it can be really affecting the way that we go through life.
Alex Chambers: This week on Inner States, fiber artist Fafnir Adamites talks about haunting, paper, chaos versus the grid and more. Plus, a review of two novels and a handful of talkie, lyrical poems. That's coming up right after this.
Fafnir Adamites: There you have it. [LAUGHS] So, in some cases these processes are a very quick gesture that just has to be repeated over time. So much of this is about gesture, I think. With the basket weaving, too, there are certain gestures within the weaving of the reed that creates its shape or its distortion. And that refers back to that performance: the movement of arms, the hunch of a body, the pain in the back. After hours and hours of weaving, it all comes into it.
Alex Chambers: And the repetition, also.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm.
Alex Chambers: I guess my mind went in two directions because gesture made me think about performance and repetition and communication.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm.
Alex Chambers: But I think there's something, too, just about the pain, or just the embodiment of the fact that we have to repeat things in order to survive. Whether it's daily tasks, or whatever. And that we also have to just deal with the fact that we have bodies that are going to be in pain and are going to suffer and stuff like that. Anyway, that's what the gestures make me think of.
Fafnir Adamites: Well, I think that that's so true, too, being a non-binary person in the world. Every day my performance--and we all perform every day, whether we know it or not, by the clothes we wear or how we talk or what we're putting forward--and the performance of gender, or pushing against gender, is a repetition every day. Every day. And even having to remind people about pronouns, it's a repetition that happens nearly every day. And that insistence on being a body in a world that doesn't necessarily want something beyond the binary. There is a gestural performance and resistance that happens in all of that.
Fafnir Adamites: My name is Fafnir Adamites and I am a visiting assistant faculty member at IU in Bloomington.
Alex Chambers: And this is Inner States, from WFIU, also in Bloomington, Indiana, down the stairs and through a couple of hallways from Fafnir's fiber studio. I'm Alex Chambers and we're talking today about Textile Politics. This is the second in a two-part series. If you missed the first, it's in our podcast feed. It's called Queer Embroidery and I talked with Ileana Haberman about complicated stitches and mental health.
Alex Chambers: This week, we're talking about gender and repetition, haunting, intergenerational trauma, paper, felting, and chaos versus the grid. Fafnir is a fiber artist. They have a love-hate relationship with the grid.
Fafnir Adamites: The grid comes up so much in textiles because woven pieces are based on a grid, right? A vertical and a horizontal thread or string. And I'm always pushing against that because I work with chaos structure. I call them chaos structures: the wool and the paper pulp. So, I'm constantly trying to get away from the grid, or challenge the grid, yet the grid is very, very comforting and satisfying. It's so orderly and so predictable. There's comfort in that. But I want to push against that comfort and defy the grid or totally make the grid imperfect or obliterate it [LAUGHS] completely. So you might notice a lot of that when you see work in my studio.
Fafnir Adamites: There's the grid of basket forms as well as grids like the netting or a textile, like a hand-woven textile. And looking around the room there's a lot of materials, a lot of different kinds of materials, a lot of dried pulp on the floor. [LAUGHS] There's a lot of buckets. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: And they're covered with, spattered with what looks like the remains of paper pulp?
Fafnir Adamites: Yes, exactly. A lot of paper pulp strewn around. There's also a lot of basket-making reed, there are tools, stacks of books, always.
Alex Chambers: And thinking just about the clean, straight lines of something. You know, straight in multiple senses. [LAUGHS]
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. [LAUGHS] Absolutely. Yes, I don't think it's a difficult jump to make between the grid and a binary-loving culture, and pushing against it and creating a new topography, a new way of being and kind of reveling in that. I think that's really important, as a person like myself, and many other people who are trying to... find a new way to fit, or a new kind of place to fit into, or to feel at home in. So, I consider all of these an exploration of that also.
Alex Chambers: And I just, again, for whatever reason I'm caught up, I keep coming back to this repetition, you know, repeating it. And I guess I just want to reemphasize what you already said about the necessity of repeating the gender performance, again, that we all do, but that, as a queer person, non binary person, a person who's not just... a person who has to think about it, you know, about one's presentation in the world, requires that repetition which can create space. But to create that space, you have to be pushing something aside or pushing against something.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes.
Alex Chambers: And you have to do it over and over. You can't just do it once and be done.
Fafnir Adamites: Right. Yes, and even if I wanted to be done with the performance of gender, other people constantly remind me that I'm not done. I may feel comfortable where I am or who I am, but other people love to tell me how uncomfortable they are. So [LAUGHS] whether or not I want to be continuing that work, I will always have to, and I'm sure a lot of other folks in a similar position will find that to be true, too.
Fafnir Adamites: It does feel endless sometimes and I've spent many years getting past the point of feeling... I mean, I always feel a little bit attacked when that happens, but I've come to understand it really is so much more about their own discomfort rather than what I'm doing, because there is a sense of something not being right. And for some folks that just compels them to have to confront someone. Yes, I could go on and on about that. [LAUGHS]
Alex Chambers: This is the second in the Textile Politics series. As I said in part one, I stole that name from a poster I saw for a class. Fafnir is the artist who taught that class. The class explored the role of textiles in community movements and activism but, as I spent time with Fafnir's work, I realized we shared another interest which is how we talk about, think about, represent, and tell stories of traumatic histories and histories of people whose presence in the world has been erased. That erasure isn't necessarily linked to trauma or oppression, but it often is, whether we're talking about the Middle Passage of Africans taken as slaves across the Atlantic, or the Holocaust, or a lot of the history of women in general.
Alex Chambers: So I wanted to talk about how we talk about memory and trauma. Or, how we don't talk about it but make space for it. We can think about this in terms of public pieces, like the beautiful and kind of haunting, large spheres and husks Fafnir has made out of black paper, but also in terms of the process of making them.
Fafnir Adamites: So right now, I have a small piece that every day I've been dripping pulp over. This process of either dipping or pouring over pulp, you have to let it dry and then add another layer to build it up and make it stronger. So, in some cases, these pieces take many, many days, or even a week or two, to fully build up. So, this is what it sounds like.
Alex Chambers: I'd love to talk about some specific pieces. If you could talk about the Presence of Absence.
Fafnir Adamites: It's Hydro-Stone, which is very similar to plaster. And when I created this group of small sculptures, I embedded a hand-made weaving into the Hydro-Stone when it was setting, and then kind of excavated that weaving out of the Hydro-Stone so what was left behind is an impression of the weaving. In some cases, small sections of string were left behind in the Hydro-Stone because it set. And to me, this is a really important nod to trauma, for sure. The idea that that event, or that person or object, whatever it might be, is no longer present, but the impression of it, the scar of it, the memory of it, is still very much there.
Fafnir Adamites: So, it also is a nod back to the history of textiles. This is something that's always been really fascinating to me when talking about history in terms of archaeological history and how textiles, because they're ephemeral and they fall apart and they don't last in the same way that stone or ceramic lasts over years, that it's been very hard for people to fully understand how old textile processes are. Because we don't have physical examples necessarily. But one of the ways that people were able to note this is that there were early examples of ceramic pieces that had textiles embedded in the surface. So, it was used as maybe a decoration in the making of those ceramics from thousands of years ago. And that discovery of the woven structure, of, like a thin band of textiles, is how many people realized that they're much, much older than we initially thought.
Fafnir Adamites: So, that moment of realization, that presence of something that is not there anymore, that's a revelation to me, to think about that: that the absence of something is how we understand its presence. I mean, it goes back also to just the idea of making space, holding space for things. So many of my large, paper pieces are really so much about holding space, taking up space, making space hard to navigate, making them seen. So, that all feels wrapped up in that piece for me.
Alex Chambers: Can you talk a little bit more about the paper pieces and maybe describe what they look like?
Fafnir Adamites: Sure. A lot of the large-scale paper pieces that I've been doing over the past five or six, or maybe more, years, they're made in a kind of papier-mâché style and I am using large inflatable pieces as the armature. And when I make these, I'm putting multiple layers, sometimes up to ten or 12 layers of paper, so that they've very, very strong. And something that's incredibly important to me about these pieces is that the armature, the object that I'm casting around, goes away, so that it's only the paper that's holding up. So there's a reminder of that object in the pieces, but it's not about that original object. It's about what's there in front of you.
Fafnir Adamites: So that kind of husk quality definitely goes back to these ideas of the psychic phantom, the psychic trauma that is so often talked about in psychoanalysis and around inherited trauma.
Alex Chambers: Right, the haunting.
Fafnir Adamites: Mm-hm, the haunting. Exactly.
Alex Chambers: We're talking with artist Fafnir Adamites about paper making, the use of chaos and improvisation and psychic phantoms. This is Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. We'll have more after the break.
Alex Chambers: Inner States, Alex Chambers. I'm talking today with Fafnir Adamites, a fiber artist who creates large, paper spheres and seed shapes that make space for psychic phantoms and intergenerational trauma. There's a slight difference that we might think about between psychic trauma and those psychic phantoms that can haunt. On its own, trauma doesn't necessarily create a need to do something, to address something. It's when the phantom shows up that suddenly something needs to be done.
Alex Chambers: There's a writer who explained this to me. She made haunting, not more clear exactly, but richer in its significance. The writer's name is Avery Gordon. She's also a sociologist, but a bit of a runaway one. And she shows us how haunting is also a social phenomenon. Like, it's not personal, or it is, it very much is, being in the presence of ghosts. But those ghosts and the traumas they represent come about because of society. As she worked out her ideas of haunting, she wrote that haunting was the domain of turmoil and trouble, that moment when things are not in their assigned places. When the cracks and rigging are exposed. When the people who are meant to be invisible show up without any sign of leaving. When disturbed feelings cannot be put away. When something else, something different from before, seems like it must be done.
Alex Chambers: Fafnir's work allows the cracks and rigging to be exposed. It makes space for the phantoms.
Fafnir Adamites: There is often a kind of material deception that happens with these pieces. People often think that it's something else when they're approaching it because it seems impossible for something like paper to hold itself up or to be that big.
Alex Chambers: Those huge, black, papery husks that end up in galleries, they're not the only goal. The process is central to Fafnir's work, too. And the particular materials they're working with--paper, felt--tend to guide that process.
Fafnir Adamites: When it comes to shrinkage of felt during the felt-making process, there's only so much that I can really control. And with the paper pulp, which also shrinks and can sag and drip and do all these lovely things, I only have so much control over that.
Alex Chambers: I think one of the things that I'm realizing just as you're describing it, that has drawn me to your work, has been the attention to the materials. Like you're not... trying to just make something that you have a vision for and then it's just going to come out exactly as your vision wants it to be, and then it's going to communicate a message or something really clear. Instead you have all these different pieces that are really shaped by the process and by, maybe, imperfection. I just find that really interesting and I find it really...I don't know if tender is exactly the right word, but I find it really satisfying and engaging.
Fafnir Adamites: I think "tender" is definitely an appropriate word. I think about softness, and not in a tactile way, but also in a relational way. This idea of radical softness is something that I go back to a lot as a person who definitely works from a place of empathy, in terms of my teaching and in terms of my place in the world and how I take in the world. So, descriptors like that feel very appropriate and it's very improvisational. Like you said, it's not perfect, there are a lot of what some people might think of as damage points or imperfections or fraying or whatever it might be. I mean, that's life, [LAUGHS] you know? That is life.
Fafnir Adamites: So much of the conceptual drive in my work is about trauma and about inherited trauma over generations. Those are not clean lines, you know, those are not figurative moments. Those are moments and ideas that are very abstract and hard to pin down and very amorphous in so many ways. So, it feels appropriate to me to work in this kind of mode.
Fafnir Adamites: How did trauma become one of the main conceptual ideas in your work, something you wanted to explore?
Fafnir Adamites: I first started focusing on trauma, specifically inherited trauma, when I was in grad school. And this notion of epigenetic, trans-generational epigenetic inheritance is where I started my research. And thinking about psychoanalysis, also, and the ways that people are haunted in many ways by psychic trauma; by trauma that their grandparents or their parents may have lived through. And how those things, it's being shown through research, that these traumas are imprinted in us and that it can be really affecting the way that we go through life.
Fafnir Adamites: That idea that I may be repeating someone else's story, or following a certain path because of, like, the life of my grandmother or whoever it might be, that's another line of repetition to me. And how I choose to process some of that is through the making. I think of my studio practice as a meditation on these things. Maybe it's also just a therapeutic process, too, because it takes so much time and there's so much physical repetition in what I do. I think that's another reason why I rarely have anyone else in my studio while I'm working. Like, I don't have studio assistants or work in a shared studio, because it feels quite private to me and I think I need to be in a particular head space, like so many artists. But there is a particular head space that also feels very private and I kind of need the isolation, I think, to be able to fully get into those things.
Alex Chambers: Not all of Fafnir's work is in isolation, though, because they're a teacher too. As I've said, I reached out to them because I was intrigued by this particular class they developed. And so, as we approach the end of a two-part series on Textile Politics, the question you may or may not have been waiting for this whole time: what made you want to teach a class called Textile Politics?
Fafnir Adamites: Well, I think, personally, it's my own interest in the history of textiles. So doing this kind of special topics class was a way for me to really zero in on the particulars of why fibers, or textile processes, have been so embedded in histories of protest or different ways people have tried to find a voice.
Alex Chambers: What were some of the specific histories that you ended up delving into?
Fafnir Adamites: We spent a lot of time talking about the AIDS Quilt. That is such a very particular moment in time and a very particular and unconventional way for a public to notice, hold space for, people who were dying, people who had died. And the AIDS Quilt, in terms of a memorial, is so unusual because it is made of ephemeral materials. It's not made of the typical kinds of materials that you would think a monument or a memorial should be made of. It's not going to last through [LAUGHS] the weather. It's not going to last through being touched or walked upon.
Alex Chambers: Can you just describe the AIDS Quilt?
Fafnir Adamites: Absolutely.
Alex Chambers: For people who aren't familiar.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes, absolutely. That's important to be able to visualize the vastness of it. So, this is a project that was started in the mid '80s and it was created as a way to memorialize people who had died from AIDS. So, it's made up of different panel of fabric that have the inscription of someone's name. Often, the different panels would have things that would refer to the person's character, or maybe where they were from, or things that they loved. So, there could be literal objects sewn onto the panels. It might have different kind of materials like T-shirt or clothing material that that person wore. So, each panel was very personal.
Fafnir Adamites: It's thousands and thousands of different panels, and, originally, it was shown outside the Washington Monument in DC. And the quilt pieces were all laid out on the ground and it covered so much space that people had to walk around all of the panels. If you ever see images of the AIDS Quilt laid out, it is massive and it gives the viewer the visual impact of how many people that represents. And I know at this point it's become so large that it can't be displayed as one piece anywhere because it's just so, so big.
Alex Chambers: So is it still in process?
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. Right now, from what I know, it is stored in a very large warehouse space in Atlanta. And there are people who are constantly working on it, keeping it together, maintaining it. This is another thing that's so particular about the AIDS Quilt as a monument is that it needs constant attention. So, sewing on pieces that have fallen off, replacing objects that may have crumbled or fallen apart over the years. There are small portions of it that do travel around and get shown at various locations around the US, but it's always in a very fragmented, partial state because it is just so vast.
Alex Chambers: I want to get back to your class for just a minute and think about how these ideas played out with your students and what unfolded and came out of your class.
Fafnir Adamites: Yes. It was a studio class. So, though we were talking a lot about history and doing readings and having a number of discussions kind of grappling with a lot of the ideas, the final project was actually a collective project that the whole class worked on together. I did not dictate any of the rules of the project. And through a number of classes and conversation, they narrowed down the project to this community weaving that we did in one of the public spaces in the Fine Arts building on campus.
Fafnir Adamites: And as a culminating project for the whole semester, I found it incredibly moving to see the students become so invested in the project. They took on every bit of it. Making posters, they designed a website, they designed a survey for people who participated to get feedback. And that project was really about community care. It was about creating a space for anybody in the community to stop, be seen, have somebody ask them how they were. I know that sounds very simple, but sometimes, having maybe a stranger just ask you how you're doing, [LAUGHS] you know, if you're in the midst of a pandemic as we have been, and so many other stressors that people feel.
Fafnir Adamites: The project was to offer affirmations, really, to students. Positive messages. So, whoever interacted with the weavings began to unravel that weaving that the students created that had messages, written messages on pieces of cloth that people could take away with them. Then the second part was that those participants could then write a message and put it into another weaving. So, it was sort of circular: like giving something and giving back.
Fafnir Adamites: I was kind of a fly on the wall during that project. Everybody had their jobs, and I watched them and listened in as it was all happening. And to hear my students talk about how really touching it was to be there and to watch people write the messages and to interact with the participants, I'm getting goosebumps a little bit talking about it because they were giving to the community but they were feeling the impact of that, too. It wasn't just about a job or a grade. They weren't just going through the motions; they were feeling that impact of what it means to actually create a space to try to help people, to encourage them. You know, even if it's a small gesture, they were getting that and, you know, I [LAUGHS] couldn't have asked for more from that experience. It was really, really moving.
Fafnir Adamites: Do you want to hear other paper sounds?
Alex Chambers: I would love to hear more sounds, yes.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to a conversation with Fafnir Adamites, a fiber artist and visiting professor at Indiana University, with sound design by me and the paper objects in Fafnir's studio.
Alex Chambers: When we come back, a review of two novels with women in states of quiet rebellion, and some poems. This is Inner States, we'll be right back.
Alex Chambers: Welcome back to Inner States, I'm Alex Chambers. As we wrap up our current discussion of Textile Politics--although we'll keep returning to it I'm sure--we're going to turn our attention to two debut novels by Indiana women authors. They're not primarily about textiles, but they share a number of parallels with the discussions we've been having. As reviewer Yaël Ksander writes, each of these "deceptively conventional novels" charts the quiet rebellion of a mother and wife, struggling to carve out something of her own. Today on Inner States, and in partnership with Limestone Post magazine, Yaël brings us a review of Split Open by Greta Lind and Making It All Right by Denise Breeden-Ost.
Yaël Ksander: Can a woman have it all? Professional or creative fulfillment and a family life? Is the question really still relevant? Of course a woman can have it all. Provided she's white, cisgender, and checks all kinds of other privileged boxes. In that case, she has access to all the professional opportunities a man has and, if she has a family, all the domestic responsibilities she has always had. Because, when push comes to shove, it's much more often the woman who steps in as shock absorber. Even before COVID, according to the UN, women across the world were spending three times as many hours as men in unpaid care and domestic work. Meaning work-life balance is one more thing for women to do.
Yaël Ksander: 2020 was the year that that cute expression broke for good. The daily calculus of trying to get a school day that ends at 3:00 to match up with a work day that ends at 5:00 or midnight or 6:00 AM, depending on your shift, was bush-league compared with trying to work when there is no school or daycare. With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN reported, even the limited gains made toward gender equality in the past decades are at risk of being rolled back.
Yaël Ksander: It's perhaps not surprising, then, that at this moment in history, with our rights at risk of being rolled back decades, we witness the publication of two novels by women, freshly examining that shopworn question: can a woman have it all? Debut novels by two Indiana authors address that question, by transporting us to a fictive space either preceding or somehow sheltered from the culture wars that have surrounded it since the 1960s.
Yaël Ksander: Denise Breeden-Ost's Making It All Right and Greta Lind's Split Open each situates us inside the life of a wife and mother who is smashing up against the "problem" that has no name. 60 years after Betty Friedan coined that phrase, returning to that problem might seem like the stuff of science fiction. Then again, so does the increasingly common spectacle of stay-at-home moms meeting to scream in a field. Deceptively conventional, these novels fly under the book banners' radar to deliver their own form of rebellion.
Yaël Ksander: Lind's and Breeden-Ost's protagonists do not work outside of the home, complicating their efforts to protect what's theirs within it. Each protagonist, however, is a latent artist. Breeden-Ost's May tends to tinker and Lind's Kate is starting to write. In different ways, both May and Kate harness their creative powers to resolve the conflict between family needs and self-actualization. And although neither novel is science fiction, in each case the solution involves a doppleganger. In other words, to be a woman in full you've got to be crafty and you might have to lead a double life.
Yaël Ksander: When we both had young kids, another mom who was also a wife and working artist, used to tell me, "I'm going to hire an actress to play me so that between us we can cover all the bases." [LAUGHS] I enjoyed the giddy mischief of her suggestion, but heard a note of sadness, too. Because implicit in the cloning scheme is an acknowledgment that one woman still can't have it all, as the State Department's first woman Director of Policy Planning conceded after resigning from that post in 2011.
Yaël Ksander: Far from Washington and high-powered jobs, Lind's and Breeden-Ost's domestic tableaux give us the time and space to consider the question anew. "I'm afraid the right thing for everyone else is not the right thing for me," admits Lind's Jennifer, who is a wife and mother. "How do I deal with that?" Set in Ojai, California and Evanston, Illinois in the approximate present, Split Open unfolds in a rarefied sphere of cafés, galleries, therapy sessions, and mid-day rendezvous that might make some of us want to quit our jobs. But Lind's well-observed accounts of the torpor of stay-at-home motherhood snap us out of our envy. This is the land of sorting socks, uninspired cooking and "post field trip exhaustion."
Yaël Ksander: We feel as though we're reading instructions off a cardboard box as Lind's disaffected women go through the motions of preparing a meal. Break an egg, add ground turkey, top it off with ketchup. Forget Friedan. This is the world that even Julia Child forgot. The mid-century staples served up here-- meatloaf, mixed brownies, microwave popcorn--originally promised to give women back more time. So how's that working out? For all the time she saves by preparing convenience foods, Lind's Kate is nonetheless circling in a holding pattern, drawn by traditional gender roles and expectations.
Yaël Ksander: A professional writer, Kate's husband David swoops in and out of family life, too tired to follow through on a Saturday hike with their sons after turning in too late. "You have no idea how much I cover for you," she tells him once her frustration with his increasingly distant behavior lands them in the therapist's office. Kate struggles against her husband's unavailability for care-giving to carve out the time for her own creative work. But Kate's persistent internal monologue shows us how much she also struggles to give herself permission to come into her own. You wish she'd give the kids the occasional "shush, I'm working," like Joan Didion would tell her daughter.
Yaël Ksander: A mother without borders, Kate, by contrast, is reluctant to do the solo journeying her craft demands. "I worry about the boys," she says. "When I write, I go somewhere else." Magically, the limitations she's felt since marrying and having children are irreparably split open when Kate turns super hero on an ordinary field trip. In stopping a runaway school bus, Kate manifests a side of herself she didn't know she possessed, prompting a series of courageous actions: moving the family across the country, attending a spiritual workshop, and creating a fictional alter ego. The mitosis that produces this sister act proves ultimately to restore Kate's own sense of wholeness. "I'm done with Jennifer's story," Kate tells her therapist, "and now, finally, I'm ready to write my own."
Yaël Ksander: Like Kate, the woman at the center of Breeden-Ost's Making It All Right is a creative type, but May doesn't have to invent an imaginary twin. Her foil, Vera, is flesh and blood. For May, like Kate, creativity is key to devising a plan whereby she can have her family and keep something for herself. It's a proposition that didn't exactly have cultural currency in rural Indiana in the late '40s, the era in which Breeden-Ost has set the novel. So, May's bravery and ingenuity in Making It All Right is that much more transgressive.
Yaël Ksander: But, some things never change, like meatloaf for example, which might just be lady code for a lot of pent up feelings. Yes, there's a meatloaf making scene in this book, too, but the egg for it was just laid in the coop, the carrots just pulled from the garden, and three women are working together in the kitchen. Breeden-Ost's descriptions of the relentlessness of a farm wife's responsibilities leave you bone tired and somehow appreciating tacky convenience foods in a whole new way.
Yaël Ksander: On top of her own job where, of course, every day is bring your child to work day, May, like Lind's Kate, spends a lot of time covering for her husband, Hal. In other words, as the old adage goes, man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done. Breeden-Ost makes women's invisible labor of compensating for men's absence palpable. "Feeding a crew of men, for example, feels more tiring than the chore should be," May notes, "as if the noise and size and smell of the men was work in itself." Descriptions like that one shine a light on a husband's inability to show up, calling out the negative space for the burden that it is.
Yaël Ksander: And this burden is a little heavier than most. May's capacity for doing all of the couple's emotional work gets turbocharged when her husband, Hal, reveals he's in love with another woman. Having fixed all kinds of things around the farmstead, May fixes this one, too. And daring to propose that a woman can in fact have it all is only the start of what makes her solution transgressive. They say that many hands make light work, and there are aspects to the arrangement that come as a relief. But, as it turns out, welcoming Hal's mistress into the household only adds to the wight of May's invisible labor.
Yaël Ksander: We feel the pressure build every time a relative throws shade, or Hal shows his ass, which is the whole time. Instead of letting off steam, Breeden-Ost's pressure cooker of a novel captures exactly how much a woman has to endure in an attempt to have it all. In this provincial world of canning fruit and churning butter, it's easy to forget that we're not on the prairie with Laura Ingalls, but just down the road from Bloomington, at the time when Alfred Kinsey was conducting his inquiries into human sexuality. Although it's not acknowledged by the characters, the first Kinsey Report would have been published by the time the novel's action takes place, somewhere in southeastern Indiana.
Yaël Ksander: The irony of that juxtaposition stings like the discovery of a captive under a tarp in a neighbor's backyard. May's unconventional gender identity and actions make us long that somewhere in between the Farm Journal and the Jack Benny Show, news of Kinsey's work would have made its way to the farm. Playing the alpha role in the family, tall with her man's shoulders, May chops her hair, puts on trousers, and works with the men in the tobacco field. And, most improbably, without knowledge of any cultural precedent beyond a whisper of Mormonism, she curates a polyamorous menage.
Yaël Ksander: One can only imagine how these sexual shenanigans in the hinterlands would have enriched the Kinsey Reports and how access to that bestseller could in turn have empowered May. Instead, May never quite accepts herself for not being "little and cheerful" like Vera and her sexual revolution is short-lived. Her ability to sustain the experiment or to envision a life away from "that useless man I'd married" is limited by her times. Her acknowledgment that "now that the war was over, nobody wanted a woman who could use a wrench," reminds us how particularly stagnant the post-war years were with regard to women's advancement. As May slowly resigns herself to a more conventional marriage with Hal, Vera, the mistress, sets off for sophisticated Bloomington where we get to peek into her happy life with roommates.
Yaël Ksander: Whether Vera ends up participating in Kinsey's interviews for his Women's Report, which would be published in 1953, we can only wish. To have it all, these new novels suggest, a woman might have to live a double life. And who's to say whether you or your doppleganger gets to run off to town? You might end up being the one who has to keep the home fires burning instead. These two contemporary takes on domestic fiction remind us that it's still a fantasy. I'm I'm Yaël Ksander.
Alex Chambers: Yaël Ksander reviewed Making It All right by Denise Breeden-Ost, published in 2020 by Clockflower Press, and Split Open by Greta Lind, a 2021 Pond Reeds Press title. This review is produced in partnership with Limestone Post magazine, where you can read the review in its entirety. Limestone Post is an independent, non-profit magazine, focused on solutions-based journalism that covers the arts, outdoors, social justice issues and more, in Bloomington and the surrounding areas.
Alex Chambers: We're going to close today with a handful of poems. This is Bloomington poet, Doug Paul Case talking about how only some of his Tweets end up on Twitter. The rest go into notebooks where they accumulate into poems.
Doug Paul Case: For years I've been interested in the line between the lyrical and the talkie poem, which are two types of poetry that don't normally cohere very often. Talkie poems are most famously popularized by Frank O'Hara. I did this, I did that, I went down the street. Very colloquial, very contemporary language. And most lyrical poetry is very interested in sounds and seeing where words take you, with the idea that the poem knows more than the poet. So you write in order to discover. And I've been really interested in seeing where those two things intersect. And I think a large part of that has to do with just what I find myself jotting down on a daily basis.
Doug Paul Case: It's almost like, you know, I'm on Twitter, but only a third of the Tweets I think about are on Twitter and the rest, you know, they go in a notebook and it's very I saw this, I did this. But as they add up, it often will turn into a poem for me. You know, the subconscious, you know, goes and goes [LAUGHS] whenever it wants, really. And those jottings eventually seem to cohere into things and I just have to trust it.
Alex Chambers: Okay, let's hear some of his talkie, lyrical poems. This is Doug Paul Case.
Doug Paul Case: Buck.
There is so much of this planet I want to explore, but will never have the time, which I can never seem even to find monthly or so when I decide the collected debris surrounding my bed must be removed, replaced, and vacuumed under.
This is a chore best completed with Orville Peck, his baritone the necessary distraction from knowing how far from this room I could be if there was only the way, the map, the money, the hours.
Today, I pulled off the heating vents' grates to rid them of their dust, their pennies, their green paper clips and resting just at the curve downward, lay a flat, golden buck; one antler pierced for the chain, making the necklace the previous tenant must have worn to buy her mint tea from the market close by.
He is beautiful, punctured for detail at his eyes, ears, and back's spotted fur.
I placed him on the desk my grandfather built from the bones of a barn, next to the vanilla candle. And now, hours later, I spin him, dangling in front of the flame.
I wonder if dousing him in wax would clean the dirt from his shine and also, what landscapes his likeness had seen.
Doug Paul Case: Selfhood.
Selfhood begins, wrote Dodie, in the facts of being flesh.
It's the S in facts you're thinking of today, the first that feels like spring, lithe and shirtless on the park's tallest knoll.
Breeze, light, champagne, friends gossip, spry Dalmatian, the cell phone you can't stop checking in case he texted back.
Doug Paul Case: Inaccuracy Because Either Could Be Either.
I thought the sky was supposed to blue.
I thought sunglasses were supposed to make everything darker.
My new pair makes everything look kind of brown.
My new pair has nothing to do with the clouds.
Mercury is retrograding again.
Mercury is nothing but gravity is certainty.
Lately, I feel more compassion for the bee corpses in my car's rear window.
Lately, I feel more compassion for baristas.
I asked for two percent, but cream is all he's got.
I asked for his number, but he's got a girlfriend.
Can you tell when you're being let down gently?
Can you tell when you're given the wrong change?
Doug Paul Case: I Saw The Ghost.
I saw the ghost and then you said, "That's a persimmon tree."
I saw the ghost standing tall in the snow.
I saw its wrens and jays circling, clinging, chirping.
Pleasant to observe without pressure to join the landscape.
I saw, you didn't see me as I was that day.
You said, "You still think that's a ghost, don't you?"
I said, "Ghosts are fragments of parallel universes."
You said, "You don't know the difference between parallel and alternate."
I said, "It's a square rectangle situation."
You walk toward the ghost.
I thought, "I have never eaten a persimmon."
I've never seen anyone avoid me the way you avoid me.
What would you call me, had you never seen me before?
What would you call this blue snow?
I have come to think of ghosts as déjà vu's embodiment.
I have come to enjoy the way you walk back to me, steadily brushing the snow from your hair.
Look, gray wings in every bit of the sky.
Alex Chambers: That was Doug Paul Case, reading his poems Buck, Selfhood, Inaccuracy Because Either Could Be Either, and I Saw The Ghost. LouAnne Johnson interviewed Doug and produced those poems for WFIU's Poets Weave.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to Inner States from WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. If you have a story for us, or you've got some sound we should hear, let us know at wfiu.org/innerstates. Speaking of found sound, we've got your quick moment of slow radio coming up. But first, the credits. Inner States is produced and edited by me, Alex Chambers, with support from Eoban Binder, Aaron Cain, Mark Chilla, LouAnne Johnson, Michael Paskash, Payton Whaley and Kayte Young. Our executive producer is John Bailey. Special thanks this week to Fafnir Adamites, Yaël Ksander and Doug Paul Case. Our theme song is by Amy Oelsner and Justin Vollmar. We have additional music from the artists at Universal Production Music and Ramón Monrás-Sender.
Alex Chambers: All right, time to take a breath and listen to a place.
Alex Chambers: You've been listening to, you guessed it, Canada geese, Griffy Lake, Bloomington, Indiana. Until next week, I'm Alex Chambers. Thanks for listening.