Sassy Black Blazer for Hearing 2

The night before my Layoff Arbitration Hearing II (held yesterday in Western Illinois University’s Capitol Room), I tried on a flimsy grey blazer with navy slacks.  I went to bed.  The next morning, I stepped on some shoes and bags on the bottom of my closet and reached for the sassy black blazer that I keep zipped up in the back. The last time I wore it was to testify before the House Appropriations Committee, Higher Education in the Thompson building in the Chicago Loop.


Testifying before an Illinois House Committee. June, 2016.  The man next to me was from NIU.

I hung the blazer on a loop in the bathroom, where there’s a full-length mirror and a heating vent.  It is woven from a structured and stiff cotton and the black is very black.  If I put it on, it means I’m taking the event very seriously.  It feels like armor–testimony armor.  It gives me a feeling of power and authority.

My daughter, who almost never comments on anyone’s clothes, saw it hanging in the bathroom and said,

“You’re wearing that?”  She knows it means something is at stake.

She went downstairs for breakfast, and I put the blazer on over a pink shell and grey pants.


“Pink?”   She was not convinced.  Plus, she’s rarely seen me wear pink.

“Yes, because when you are a woman and you wear only black, they will say you are cold and uncaring.  Like crooked Hillary.  A teacher who is a woman must come across as maternal–even to people who are not her students.  If I do not appear at least a little soft, they will say I am not a good teacher.”

Plus, I liked the contrast of the peachy pink with the stark black.

If an outfit could restore my tenured status at WIU, surely this one would do it!  But it will take much more than an outfit.  Fortunately, the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable attorney who didn’t miss a beat yesterday.  And fortunately the UPI has a knowledgable, meticulous, and formidable grievance officer who has covered all his bases.

An  IFT representative who has seen many of these hearings told me that judging by the arguments presented, he did not see how the arbitrator could justify not ruling in our favor.  Justice is still possible, but I wonder if other, unseen, forces were at work yesterday.

As for how I’m doing, I was up most of the night replaying, in my head, the 3-hour hearing. My throat hurt and body ached–my first winter cold virus.  I haven’t slept well in more than a week.  And Tom and I have yet to sit down and figure out how to pay our bills.  We’ve had two full-time incomes for 10 years.  I’ve forgotten how to make due on one.  Thrift is a skill that requires practice.  I am out of practice.

Anyway, I’m happily taking a manuscript workshop.  I’ll end today’s post on that note of hope.

Thanks for reading!






Queen Grandmommy and the Ice-cream Store

Laid off, I have time and energy for writing assignments:  Write a story of unexpected betrayal.  When possible, describe emotion as a feeling on the body.  What does betrayal feel like on the body?  Somewhere in your story, include a little dirt. (Thanks for this one, Ariel.)

My solution:

The most special thing about Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s was waking up each morning.  They lived in a townhouse with a staircase that paused at a window and pivoted before landing.  When I descended for breakfast, I felt like a princess in a turreted castle.  Queen Grandmommy would give me a good morning kiss.  It smelled like Estee Lauder face cream. Then we ate oatmeal with one teaspoon of sugar on top.

When I was little, my parents would send me to Fort Worth, TX to stay with Grandmommy and Granddaddy for two weeks.  Some of my earliest memories are of these visits.

Grandmommy would drive me to the store in her yellow Mustang with black seats.  She’d park under the sign with the big pink and brown polka dots.  The store smelled of sugar cones.  I’d skip past the 31 flavors of ice cream, towards the backroom, where I’d find little drawers of plastic cake decorations: a basketball, ice-skates, a pony.  With my bare fingers, I’d take out all the charms, play with them, and put them back.

icecream cake 1

Grandmommy and Granddaddy in their ice-cream store

I’d watch Sesame Street on the little black and white TV on a desk.  Grandmommy would make me a French Vanilla milkshake, with a banana to make it “healthy.”

Grandmommy was in her mid 40s and petite and pretty, with perfectly coifed hair—high in the back and flipped up over her shoulders—like she could be on daytime TV.  And she read about nutrition in Prevention magazine. She liked her kitchen and ice cream store to be perfect and sanitary.  She was thrifty and disapproved of letting anything go to waste.  (My mom claims Grandmommy counts exactly 4 toilet paper squares before wiping.)

In Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s store, there were unarticulated rules for ice-cream tasting, rules that were virtually unobservable to a child.

I grew tall enough to reach into the buckets of ice cream and saw how Grandmommy and Granddaddy did it.  You lifted a sliding glass freezer door with one hand, and with the other, dipped a pink plastic tasting spoon into the flavor you desired.  I went for pure creaminess– strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla—and ignored the other 28 concoctions.  Butter Pecan and Rocky Road were for Granddaddy.

I had spent enough time around Grandmommy to know I should be thrifty as well as clean, so after I dipped a tasting spoon into the chocolate, then put it in my mouth, I used the same spoon to try the vanilla. I felt the adults glaring at me disapprovingly—not just Grandmommy and Granddaddy, but a man on the other side of the case, a customer.  He had said something—something about what I did.  It was not “sanitary.”

In the queen’s refusal to come to my defense, she betrayed my innocent yearning for approval. I was too ashamed to enjoy the sample, but I put the plastic spoon full of germy ice cream in my mouth, anyway—I didn’t want to be accused of being wasteful as well unsanitary.

icecream cake

Years later, for my 7th birthday, Grandmommy made me an ice-cream cake, packed it with dry ice, and brought it to our house in Okeene, OK.

My cheeks were so hot that I did not feel the icy vanilla on my tongue.

Griefs and Grievances

I have chronicled my grievance hearings; however, I omitted the context of grief and numbness that seeped through my first hearing: on top of losing my career, I lost my sister-in-law.

Most of Laura’s life had revolved around WIU:  she was a faculty brat, she had attended WIU’s lab school and summer musical theatre, her friends and husband earned degrees and worked at WIU, and she loved her new office in Simpkins Hall.

WIU was at war with itself and Laura was disgusted.

Laura and I had gone to lunch the Thursday before she died from the cancer we knew nothing of.  Laura was witty, and I hoped she’d be able to relieve me of my ruminations.

A decade earlier, she had returned to Macomb right after I did, but we had not had lunch, just the two of us, until that day.

The Yummy Chin host sat us in a booth behind my dean and her assistant deans.  Laura ordered the sweet and sour chicken.  I thought little of the fact that she didn’t order her favorite drink, Mountain Dew.  I had the sweet potato tempura roll.

I was leaning over the table towards Laura so the deans would not overhear me complain about the people who laid me off.

“How are the kids?” asked Laura, who had seen and talked to them just 3 days before.

“Um.  Fine.” I didn’t know what to add, so I continued to trash talk WIU.

“How are the kids?” Her voice was weak and urgent.  Now I wonder if she was pleading–maybe for some tender images to ease her pain.

In the parking lot, her steps were slow.  I assumed she was enjoying the sun and drove us back to Simpkins hall.

That Saturday I was happy, but  Sunday after the sun reached its highest point in the south, my heart darkened with with dread.  My layoff was so discouraging–how would I teach?

Monday , I woke up at 4:30 a.m.  My chest ached with the loss of my job, fear for my future, and the pressure of anger.  I told myself that if I could just dress warmly,  I would handle my longest weekly teaching day just fine.  I put on a thick hoodie with a hounds-tooth pattern and zipped it up all the way to my chin.  This hoodie hugged my body all day.  I had read that the hounds-tooth pattern signified courage.

I taught four classes, and then brought home a stack of essay exams on 20th-Century women’s protest novels, but that evening, before I read them, Laura died of cancer.

Looking back, I know that in the weeks after WIU launched shocks onto the faculty, Laura’s skin turned green.


A week before she died, Laura did her best to celebrate her niece’s birthday. Only looking back did we notice she wasn’t herself.

Unlike me, Laura refused to fight—not against WIU, not against her cancer.  After a winter of pain in her shoulders, back, stomach, and head, she finally took one sick day.  The cancer, it seems, had already occupied Laura from every angle and positioned itself to send a fatal shock through her entire body.

By the time I met Tom and Grandma at the ER, Laura showed no signs of consciousness or pain.  Standing behind Laura was a nurse, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.  What a comfort.  I touched Laura’s cold, rubbery arm.  “Goodby dear Laura,” I murmured.  Something had moved on her EKG and they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a pulse, so they waited, but before the med-vac arrived, the doctor called the time of death.

Five days later, at my grievance hearing,  anger and shock covered my pain and fear.

Dr. Eva Eger (The Choice) says there is no hierarchy of suffering.  I suffered from grief and grievance, and there was no point ranking one as worse than the other.

After the hearing in Sherman Hall, the assistant provost said he was sorry about Laura.

Recipe:  Anti-depressing Dressing with Pumpkin and Portabella

We gathered for a Thanksgiving meal yesterday.  In order to enjoy my Saturday and spare myself the temptation of an expensive Starbucks latte, I blew off a trip to Hy-Vee.  This means that Sunday morning, the turkey dressing had to be made with whatever was left in the kitchen and the garden. Luckily, my monstrous sage bush is still fresh.

I woke up and dumped about a pint of sourdough starter in a big glass bowl and stirred in almond and coconut flour (1/3 cup of each?) and some liquid poured off from plain yogurt and some milk—enough of these last two to get the consistency of cornbread batter.  Good dressing starts with bread or biscuits made from ingredients that don’t have names better suited for a bottle of weed killer.

I grew up on corn bread dressing, but in New York, I learned to make it with chunky whole wheat sourdough.  Yesterday, I was conjuring a quick hybrid of the two.

Also, because I did not want to pass several minutes cutting cold butter into my bread batter, I put a stick of butter in a sauce pan on the tiny burner—that way I could just pour the butter into the batter. I hand-brewed a large light-roast coffee and retired to my study to write in my gratitude journal:

When I finally started chopping veggies, the names and faces of various loved ones who would be missing from our table “haunted” me.  We had gotten used to the absences of those who had died 20 and 30 years ago, but the more recent ones—that’s harder.  I began to regret volunteering to host, but I got my knife out anyway.

I cut a wedge out of the sweet pumpkin my son had picked out from the CSA.


Pie pumpkin from our CSA was almost as big as the 20 lb turkey!

Aware of my anxious brooding, I handled the 10″ chef’s knife extra carefully.


My chef’s knife piercing a butternut squash that I roasted for soup.

I cut the pumpkin wedge into chunks, and put it in the oven to roast.

My husband and I took a walk in the sun.

“I’m not looking forward to the afternoon,” I said.

He moved slowly, as he does when he’s sad:

“Let’s focus on the food.  And make sure your mother is happy.”


Soggy bits of my sourdough biscuit bread mixed with roasted pumpkin, mushrooms, onion, celery, and sage

When I mixed the ingredients for the turkey dressing and poured the cream over it, I began to feel better.  Cream makes me feel good—and there’s a scientific rationale:   Sally Fallon, of the Weston Price Foundation says,

The body makes its own endocannabinoids—exactly the same substance that occurs in marijuana—and these can help the body modulate pain naturally. We make these endocannabinoids out of an omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid, which occurs uniquely in animal fats like butter, egg yolks, cream and lard.

Also, we need cholesterol for serotonin to generate good feelings and we need fat to regulate insulin.  Eat more butter and cream!

I tucked the pan of dressing in the oven above the turkey and went for a two-mile walk.  Thirty minutes later, all the cream was absorbed.  It smelled divine.  My husband walked through on his way out for a run and paused to stand over it.

“That looks really good.”

“Yes– it’s going to be a wonderful Thanksgiving.”

My mom said it was the best dressing she’d ever eaten!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recipe: Anti-Depressing Dressing

4 to 6 TBLS of butter, plus more for greasing pan

A pound or so of torn up bread or biscuits–a day or two old if possible

One medium butternut squash or the equivalent of pie pumpkin


1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

20 to 30 fresh sage leaves, chopped

4 medium portabella mushrooms or a combination of mushrooms, chopped

2 cups (or more) heavy cream

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Butter 9X11 baking dish
  3. fill baking dish with squash or pumpkin chunks, salt generously, and bake until soft—30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool and peel.
  4. While pumpkin roasts, on medium heat, melt 2 TBLS or more of butter and sauté onion and celery with half the sage and generous amount of salt, until soft
  5. On medium heat, melt 2 TBLS or more of butter and sauté mushrooms with other half of sage, and generous amount of salt, until soft
  6. In a big bowl, mix bread, onion mixture, mushrooms, and pumpkin. Taste for salt and add if needed.
  7. Spread into greased baking dish. Pour cream over.  Pour enough cream to saturate the all the bread and vegetables.  In fact, pour so much cream that it almost spills over.
  8. Bake, uncovered for about 35 minutes.


POST SCRIPT:  My daughter, ever rigorous in argument and skeptical of mothers, said,

“But mom, does cream really make you feel good?”

“Did you hear Grandma?  She said I am different.  She said I am more relaxed.  I didn’t pay her to say that.”

Anyway, if drugs can change our moods, why shouldn’t foods, or a deficiency of certain foods, anyway?  And if we’re deficient in something, it’s animal fats.  Why not eat well (delicious, fatty and healthy) and forgo the pill?







How the Ghost of Women’s Studies came to Haunt Simpkins Hall

In the Simpkins seminar room on the campus of Western Illinois University, Dr. Karen Mann introduced us to Women’s Studies, though she didn’t call it that- she called it “General Honors Seminar,” but she taught mostly novels by women, like P.D. James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Ursula K. Le Guin’s gender-bending Left Hand of Darkness.

That was Fall of 1987. I was 18, impressed and impressionistic.  I later signed up for Dr. Mann’s Women and Literature (a class I’d teach) and Dr. Wong’s Third World Literature (which featured fiction by women.)

Now, Fall of 2017, I have returned to the seminar room to admire the molding on the ceiling–squirrels, acorns, ivy and birds.  Beauty for beauty’s sake– no wonder ghosts love this building.


A Women’s Studies Memorial Walk.  I start and end at Simpkins Hall.

Next, I approach Memorial Hall, where Dr.  Simmons taught his Women and Religion class.  When God was a woman, societies were more peaceful.

Today, as the sun warms my hair, I trek down to Morgan, where I took Feminist Theory and Women and Crime with Dr. Polly Radosh.  Guess what I learned in Polly’s class?  The criminal justice system guarantees no justice for women.

In 2007, Morgan Hall 109 would be the site of the first Women Studies class I would teach.  I learned  that 21st-Century Western students were even more conservative than my cohort.


Southeast entrance to Morgan Hall. Save for recycling bin and students on cell phones, it looks the same as in 1987.


I make a U-turn and head for the University Union where Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women and a fierce advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, drew a full crowd in the Grand Ball  Room in 1987 or 88.

After living in New York City a decade, with PhD in hand, I crossed paths with Dr. Polly Radosh at the 2005 WIU New Faculty Orientation.  I had a Master’s in Women’s Studies, I said.  She was the chair of the Women’s Studies department, she said.   A WS Major??? At WIU???  Too good to be true!  When Dr. Lori Baker-Sperry, associate professor of Women’s Studies, addressed the new faculty, I longed to teach Women’s Studies as well.

12 years later, I am tenured in WS, but laid off, so I have all day for my memorial walk.  I climb the hill to Seal Hall, where I taught my first successful WS class:  Introduction to Feminist Theory.  That was exactly 10 years ago, when I didn’t have to compete with cell phones, when students read books and attended class.  Teaching was wonderful.

I take the outdoor stairway to Western Ave. and Currens Hall, where I kept a WS office from 2007 to 2015.  An Asian beetle bites my arm.

The Women’s Studies department truly worked as a team during those years, and I met and mentored many great feminist students, like Margaret Hasselroth.

I circle around Currens and head the half mile back to Simpkins. In 2015, the dean moved Women’s Studies up there.  My office whistled, and sometimes when I’d open my door in the mornings, a biting cold wind would greet me.


West end of Simpkins Hall. My 2015 office was three rows up, on the left.  My office had two windows, one of which has a brown vent under it.

A few months after the department move, the dean told me I was being laid off.  Next, the Board of Trustees eliminated the major in Women’s Studies.

Last May, when my contract neared termination, I’d arrive at my office in the mornings and find my door unlocked.

And that’s how the ghost of Women’s Studies came to haunt Simpkins Hall.




Sweeping the Paths

I let my gaze sink into a watercolor print on the wall.  I was 27 and lying on a couch while attempting to explore my psyche.  The voice of my psychoanalyst, from behind, had just asserted that I’d already experienced more than my fair share of suffering.

Refugees suffer.  Torture victims suffer.  Cancer patients suffer.  I denied mine.  My brother had not yet drowned.  I hadn’t started a PhD, much less struggled to finish it, land the tenure-track job and the Grand Tenure.  I had not seen it undone.  Plenty more suffering lay ahead.

I have spent much of my life searching for ways to alleviate suffering.  Prozac and Effexor didn’t work, so I try to develop feel-good habits, like running.  Sometimes I am misguided, like when I rush though my day or try to do five things at once.

On the first day of this month, I might have wallowed in a toxic pit of shame and inadequacy:  for the first time in 13 years, Western Illinois University did not deposit my monthly salary in my checking account.

Instead of succumbing to despair, I fasted and met my writing goal for the day.  I was learning “Intermittent Fasting” (I.F.), and much to my surprise, I.F. has softened the pain around my layoff and its unresolved arbitration.

I.F. cleans out brain and body.  The Nobel Prize has recognized this science of cellular self-cleaning.  One review of the scientific literature concludes that folks who practice I.F. report improved mood and feelings of tranquility.

With I.F., I’m gently sweeping the paths of layoff feelings:  anger at the unfairness, traumatic shocks from being lied to and about, wariness that follows betrayal, the raw vulnerability of having been stripped of the career I’d invested three decades in, anxiety about my future, and deep fears that I’m unworthy.

Repeated attacks over 22 months had kept me in an exhausting state of elevated cortisone.  My status as the only tenured professor in WIU’s recorded history to be laid off has reinforced feelings of shame and self-inadequacy that I’ve carried inside since childhood.

I have hoarded layers of pain that have crowded out good feelings. I did not expect I.F. to help me sort through the rubble and make way for feelings of peace, safety, and health.

I.F. has opened me up for “flow” in life and work.  For example,  16 hours into a 20-hour fast, I played from memory the entire Chopin Waltz in C# minor.  My piano teacher clasped her hands together and exclaimed, “Dr. Stovall, you are playing with much more focus and concentration now! I like you better this way.”

I hadn’t told her I had been fasting:  people respond both curiously and skeptically, and I don’t always want to interrupt the task at hand to explain.  Some people react defensively, and I understand that response—I hate feeling hungry and deprived.  I, too, had feared I.F. would induce unnecessary suffering.  Instead, I.F.  makes me feel good– like a child on the last day of school before summer.

A Low Carb/High Fat (LC/HF) diet facilitates fasting.  Even more remarkable, a growing body of independent research suggests that a lifestyle of LC/HF plus fasting is the most elegant method of preventing western diseases like dementia, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and anxiety/depression.

I.F. with LC/HC, together, offer one solution to many problems.

For more information on I.F. and LC/HF lifestyles, read Dr. Jason Fung’s The Complete Guide to Fasting and The Obesity Code or check out



A supportive spouse also alleviates suffering.  We took this on our 20th Anniversary in August.


After 22 traumatic months of an unresolved layoff arbitration, I have finally recovered enough to wonder where the intensity of my response came from.  Did my early childhood set me up for outrage?mind made

I stood on the tips of my white patent leather shoes to peek over the pew in front of me in the little sanctuary in downtown Camden, Arkansas.  I held a heavy hymnbook and harmonized with the congregation in verses I heard my way:  Christian soldiers marched onward like wooden nutcrackers, and the “life savior” to be praised “all-the-day long” sparkled like a roll of hard candy in assorted colors.

A trio of tall jeweled windows hovered above each of my shoulders.  The morning sun infused the deep hues of the east glass with iridescence–a monarch with wings transposed into crimson and purple.

I followed along through the first half of the service easily:  we opened and closed hymn books, stood up, recited the Lord’s Prayer, and sat down. Little cups of grape juice and plates of tiny crackers were passed in front of me.

During daddy’s sermon, mommy gave me a pen and a service bulletin. If I shuffled the papers loudly, Mommy would look at me with her index finger over her mouth, and then return her gaze upwards to daddy behind the wide pulpit.

Daddy usually preached about love, compassion, hope, community, grace, and justice—values that as an adult I would lose and recover repeatedly. Every week in Sunday school and church I heard we must “Follow Jesus.” Jesus chose torture and execution over silence. I could not fathom such intense and prolonged suffering, but would do my best to follow him.

Daddy kept preaching.

I slid to the end of the pew, took the outer aisle to the piano, and fluttered my fingers into random keys.

With my father’s sermon now interrupted, a flash of judgment and fear struck his eyes.  At once, my mother dashed towards me, and daddy recovered his smile.

“Well, then, it must be time for the closing hymn,” he said, re-connecting with the congregation.  They laughed easily.

Later, the silent sanctuary was mine.  Pews smelled like dry forest. Running and skipping down the center aisle, I felt the high iridescent windows tingle along my spine and lift me up.

I was flying.

“Holly honey,” daddy called from the top of the sanctuary.

Light as a butterfly, I fell onto the dark red carpet and my giggle box turned over.

camden church side

The east stained-glass window.  This church is no longer affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Feminist Movement was growing fast: even in the Arkansas Bible Belt, women were organizing the first state chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Katharine Graham became a Fortune 500 CEO and women now ran in the Boston Marathon! The Supreme Court ruled that states can’t force women to be mothers, and Title IX established an equal playing ground for girls and women in education– theoretically anyway.

I would reap the benefits that the feminist movement was sewing.  I was entitled to equality in marriage and work.  How could I know that sexism and misogyny would seep into my bones just as it did to my feminist foremothers?  How could I know the feminist struggle would last forever? We would constantly need to re-envision a world that values our common humanity– and work for it.

The work is rigorous.  I get tired. I need sanctuary.

loopy hair

White patent leather shoes and loopy braids –my favorite.

From Simpkins Hall to Home Office–and my graduation from WIU

After learning yesterday that the arbitration of my layoff from Western Illinois Universtiy will extend until a resolution somehow presents itself, I reckoned with the fact that my life could remain on hold for yet another 21 months, or longer.  Who knows?  So I unpacked some boxes of feminist memoirs and theory from  my office in Simpkins Hall and shelved them in my home office.  Then I set up this blog, so that I can keep you up-to-date on the arbitration process.IMG_0670

I am the first and only tenured professor at WIU in recorded history to be effectively laid off–more on this history soon.  Out of that seemingly random December 2015 group of laid off professors with tenure or tenure “in hand” (requirements completed, but application not), I am the only one of the 15 of us who is currently without a contract.  How is it that I am the one making history this way?

I was proud of my WIU degree.  In 1991, WIU was a “liberal” choice!  Meaning a good place to get a well-rounded university education.  Now, according to the yard signs, WIU is the “right” choice!–right, as in not left or liberal.  I barely recognize this institution today and I feel a profound sense of loss for the century of state investment in an institution that had earned the name “university.”  What does an institution have to do to continue to merit the title of “university”?  IMG_2021.JPGMy WIU diploma and the medals I wore at graduation.

WIU graduationAbove:  I celebrated with my Mom and Dad after the graduation in Western Hall.  We pose in the parsonage of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), across the street from the fire station in Macomb.  My father, Jim Stovall, had given the invocation at graduation and afterwards, he wondered if anyone had noticed that he had given thanks for astrology, when he intended to say astronomy; after all, WIU has never offered astrology classes, but given our current shift away from the liberal arts, maybe now is the time to start.

In 1991, I trusted WIU.  I could rely on WIU to fulfill its commitments.  What now?