An old woman sits on the porch of a farmhouse up a long dirt road off Route 513, in north-west South Africa. She has a small dog on her lap and several others scattered on the couches around her. The house backs up onto the jagged foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains, an hour's drive from the government capital of Pretoria.
The old woman is my grandmother and the land around her is known, in the family, as the Farm. In truth, my grandmother doesn't sit on the veranda anymore, she doesn't sit anywhere. She died last year. But when my thoughts drift to the Farm there she will always be under a wool felt blanket and flanked by rescued dogs. Memory doesn't care about what's real. Reality doesn't change how a place lives in your mind, even if it will never be that way again.
Over the years of my frequent visits to the farm through my childhood, my grandmother was slowly crippled by dementia. I can't remember when I first became aware of the fear that engulfed me each time I arrived at the Farm. But that fear grew until it was greater than my youthful determination to ignore it until I had to look it in the eye. And when I did, I realized that the history of the land my grandmother lived on, both ancient and recent, was linked to her life, her struggles, and my fear, as much as her illness was.
This piece of writing is an exploration of place, memory, fear, and why we need to understand the places that scare us., 2018, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/2070, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
Russell, Jessi Madison (Jessi Madison Russell) (author), (Lisa Cohen) (Thesis advisor), Wesleyan University English (Degree grantor)
Before the age of five, Grangran told me stories about fucking men for money as if to say, “Get ready for what we women must do to put food on the table.” These stories were an act of love. I began fucking men for a place to sleep when I turned twelve because Mother too often locked me out of the house and drank herself to sleep. Since then, I have yet to decide if I am a woman. Greased is therefore a collection about place, and its absence. This collection asks readers to contend with the reality that the four women closest to me in the maternal line—Big Granny, Nanny, Grangran, and Mother—are both benefactors to and casualties of white supremacy. Should a beneficiary of racial violence be recognized as a victim to white supremacy? What happens when scavengers are thrown a couple of bones at the expense of black folks, queer people, immigrants? Who stands to benefit from a poor white identity that is bounded by antagonism and desperation? Who eats, and who gets eaten?, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
Wilson, Kai Frances (Kai Frances Wilson) (Author), (Lisa Cohen) (Thesis advisor)
As my mother is telling a story, my father interrupts her and says that she is “leaping”—she replies, “No, I am just stuck.”, 2016, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/1585, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
This thesis explores forms of mixedness, translation, and cultural collisions as they occur throughout Japan/United States encounters in the context of Hawai'i. Putting family narratives in conversation with Pearl Harbor, the growing tourism industry, and media representations of racial hybridity and Hawai'i, this series of essays hopes to investigate what emerges from these interactions on a personal and broader historical scale., 2019, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/2210, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
Sharp, jagged, and jutting backward, a barbed hook is never easy to remove. Flesh must be torn. In this essay collection, I excavate the violence of my past to explore themes of boyhood, sexuality, sport, masculinity, the American West, and animal life., 2019, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/2105, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
Apter, Emily Rose (Emily Rose Apter) (Author), (Lisa Cohen) (Thesis advisor)
The Young Ones Have Such Big Eyes is a collection of creative, critical, and auto-theoretical essays centered loosely around Hartford, Connecticut. By exploring topics such as Eastern European immigration, Wallace Stevens's poetry, abandoned cemeteries, Arizona's landscape, Jewish naming traditions, and queer theory, this collection addresses the idea of "place" as both material and imagined and interrogates the ways in which language influences the transmission of memory., 2017, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/1792, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)
This work is a memoir of generations of trauma and privilege in Western Massachusetts. I began with the idea of interrogating abuse through the lens of whiteness, and ended up much closer to the edges of my family’s history instead. Throughout the process, I interviewed my mother, uncle, and grandmother extensively. I was influenced by countless works and writers, but most notably by Lauret Savoy’s Trace, Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss, W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, and Nell Irvin Painter’s The History of White People.
In this work, I ask how trauma is translated into fault, in the context of my family in a specific place. Western Massachusetts acts as a character in this story, with its own implications in trauma and privilege. I also interrogate the nature of families as breeding grounds for secrets. In doing so, I question the role of the Catholic Church and it’s close ties to my family’s Irish American identity. I intend for our whiteness to be a weighted subject rather than a universal against which everything else is set.
An important aspect of this work was de-sensationalizing child sexual abuse. I intentionally avoid graphic depictions of rape, in the hopes of conveying the painful, everyday banality of abuse. Abuse does not happen in a vacuum; it is not a one-time, terrifying event with a clear before and after. Rather, it is messy, and spread out amongst multiple actors with varying levels of implication. One of these actors is my mother, and I aim to begin to unravel the layers of fault and vulnerability in our co-dependence.
Ultimately, this memoir tells the story of my girlhood as a competitive swimmer in Western Massachusetts, and my family’s history on that land. In doing so, it asks readers to consider white supremacy as implicated in child sexual abuse, and familial ties as webs of generational trauma. While writing this work was at times painful, it was also an important form of narrative reclamation, and I am lucky to have had the chance to create Twenty Questions Outside the Vacuum., 2017, Old URL: https://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/etd_hon_theses/1866, In Copyright – Non-Commercial Use Permitted (InC-NC)