|dc.description.abstract||Abstract / Prospectus for Creative Dissertation (Working Title: The Key)
At thirty-two, Bradley still lusts for his fourth grade teacher. The overarching plot summary of my dissertation is Bradley’s quest to re-ignite the romantic relationship he shared with Jacqueline Clemons, his fourth grade school teacher. Beneath this primary plot, there are several other themes or sub-plots which touch upon memory and memoir, sports iconography, gender roles and community. The dissertation explores the specific memories of the protagonist, Bradley Scott. However, at a deeper level of abstraction it is about a collective memory and how we as humans and creative artist continue to grapple with, and attempt to reorder, our memories.
Bradley’s story can be classified as post-racial. Although Bradley, the protagonist, is African-American; his race does not inhibit or advance his professional and social life; and race issues traditionally found in African-American literature are not addressed. Since the plot is not driven by racial issues, there is no necessity to racially mark the characters by authorial physical description. Conversely, the reader has a created space to enter the text and superimpose his imagination and any physical description or ethnicity on the characters, without impact on the story. The story is told by an omniscient narrator; but early in the manuscript we get the sense that we are experiencing most of the story (especially the memoir sections, which are narrated in first person) from Bradley’s point of view.
My influences are Zora Neale Hurston for her use of imagery and language in Their Eyes Were Watching God; F. Scott Fitzgerald for his exploration of communities and the fragile dark hero in Tender is the Night; and Toni Morrison for her discussion of community and her ground-breaking use of memory as an ancillary character in Beloved.
MEMORY AND MEMOIR
According to Ron Eyerman, “a traumatic tear evokes a need to ‘narrate new foundations,’ which includes reinterpreting the past as a means of reconciling present/future needs” (4). How does one reconcile memory and somehow restore the imbalance caused by a tear in the foundation of identity? Writers, novelists and poets intuitively know the story is left. Writers have always known the power of their art; and through this creative work of literary memory, they reinterpret the past, and they reconcile memory, restoring the balance and identity stolen through life changing traumatic events. Memorists have a similar task. They craft their memories based on their emotion and how they remember feeling. The genre of memoir may not always be factual; but it is an authentic, personal representation.
Bradley is desperately trying to reconcile his traumatic memories from his past and present life. His back story is speckled with traumatic tears. First and foremost, his relationship with his immediate family has always been strained. He finds some solace with his father’s Aunt Birdie, who dies while he is still quite young, leaving an unimaginable void in his life. Owing in part to his failed parental relationship, and Aunt Birdie’s death, he becomes the victim of a sexually abusive relationship with Jacquelyn Clemons, his fourth grade teacher. When Jacqueline abruptly ends the relationship with Bradley, the summer before he leaves for college, he is devastated and immerses himself into sports, particularly football. During a routine practice drill, Bradley is injured by one of his teammates, ending his football career. After college he marries a childhood classmate, Saadiqa, but continues to be haunted by Jacqueline’s memory. When the dissertation begins Bradley is in the midst of a difficult divorce process.
According to Eyerman, the only way to heal the pain of memories, is re-remember. Bradley does this through an on-line blog, or contemporary cyberspace memoir, where he recounts memories from his past. When Bradley re-remembers, he is able to create his own memory, bringing closure to the pain he carries. In Bradley’s memories, he is not abused, he is the predator; he is not the victim, he is the victor; he remembers himself as being an almost super-human man-child able to conquer an adult. Notice how Bradley remembers an initial physical encounter in his memoir, when he becomes separated from the group on a class trip to Paris. In this passage, Bradley is an adult re-remembering and posting a memory onto his on-line blog:
Jackie was walking from window to window on the opposite side of the street, looking for me inside each window, stepping into the doorway of some shops, looking for me, before quickly moving on. She moved quickly, like Chicagoans, so unlike the tourists that seemed to crawl the street. If I wanted to see Paris on my own, I needed to leave quickly. My feet did not move. Instead I watched Jackie for a moment, before my feet turned toward her. When she saw me, she let out a sigh of relief.
“Bernard, you mustn’t stray from the group. Paris is still a city, just like Chicago, you must be careful. I’m responsible for you.”
“I needed batteries. I want to take your picture.”
Jackie looked away in the direction the group had walked, before she said, “I think we should try and meet them at Place de la Bastille. You remember your history. Well today you’ll be able to actually see where the political demonstrations that shaped France. . .”
”Can I take your picture?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said without ever looking in my direction or even taking a breath or moment to think about my request.
I stepped back and spread my long legs to position myself to get the best angles possible. Jackie did not move. She stood right in the doorway of one of the shops, the magazines and signage creating a colorful collage for the background. As I focused the camera, I decided to use the zoom lens. Jackie’s blouse and skirt were made from the same material with buttons down the front, of which several had been left undone at the top and the bottom. I looked at her body through the camera lens, I saw Jackie’s reflection in the glass door of the shop and there I also saw myself, standing there, looking like a man, holding the camera, wanting to capture this moment for my eternity and cursing the moment that the mirror would lift, opening the shutter and the exposing the film to the light, because at that moment, I wouldn’t be able to see Jacqueline. The interruption of her image gave me a feeling of panic and I rushed toward her. She did not move. We stood close to each other, with the camera, there between us, letting the passers-by, pushing through the shop door, nudge us closer together, until our arms brushed, confirming our chemistry, acknowledging our kinetic energy.
“I don’t want to join the class.”
“I don’t want to see the historical district.”
“They’ll see more than that. They’ll see Notre Dame, L’Opera and-”
“Will you show me where you lived? I want to see all the places and your neighbors, you talk about. You say in class that your mother still has a house here. Can you show it to me?” I stepped in toward her again, this time purposely brushing my arm against hers.
Jackie looked down the street in the direction of the class. They were not in sight. She turned toward me, looking toward my feet, never making eye contact and said, “If I show you, we can only stay a minute and then we must catch up to the group. Agreed?”
Bradley rose from his chair and stretched. He poured himself another cup of coffee, smiling at the memory of his first time with Jackie. It had taken him years to conquer her, but he finally had and he would again. He would be just as patient and just as methodical, but in the end, he would have her.
Bradley’s blog audience is comprised of men who share his interest in older women; and women who are or will be what he calls “pink diamonds.” He regularly receives requests for more telling information about his background, upbringing and love interests. Bradley answers these questions in what is called a PDM or Pink Diamond Memory. Because of Bradley’s position as an educator, he uses an assumed name, The Diamond Miner [TDM]. He is actually mining for memories and managing the website is cathartic for Bradley. Unbeknownst to him, the website has become a form of psychological counseling therapy. His audience, which he views as people who share his same experiences and desire for older women, actually represent a support group of survivors that Bradley meets with regularly.
In her essay “Memory, Creation, and Writing”, Toni Morrison explains the motivations and insights behind the creative process of writing, which she has explored over the course of forty years. The first important point she explains is that within any piece of creative writing, the writer must rely on his/her memory to stimulate his/her imagination. Morrison states clearly that within this process of recalling an event, it is the subjective emotional identification of the writer that is important; factual information is secondary and oftentimes not even desired. In her opinion, it is necessary that the writer collects fragments of his/her memory about a given event, and states that “the process by which the recollections of these pieces coalesce into a part is creation” (Morrison, p.386). This is the work that Bradley is doing through his on-line memoir; he is collecting the fragments of his memories and life and desperately trying to reassemble his identity. He needs to purge and revise, because he is imprisoned and obsessed by his memories of his childhood, Jacqueline and his own ideas of stereotypical manhood. In Morrison’s Beloved, Sethe is constantly haunted by her memories and they seem to materialize in the form of her daughter, Beloved. Her memories are simultaneously personal and collective. Likewise, in this dissertation, memory is an ancillary character, like Beloved, constantly lurking in the shadows, waiting for a moment of unrest to show its face; and Bradley’s memories are also personal and collective. Oprah Winfrey recently hosted a ground-breaking show where 200 men openly discussed being abused as children. Among the abuse victims, was film maker Tyler Perry. The Oprah Winfrey website released the following statement calling the show a “groundbreaking discussion, as fathers, husbands, sons and brothers open up like never before about the pain of being molested, their anguish about hiding their pain and the many ways in which their abuse has affected their lives and their relationships.” The subject of male sexual abuse is a current issue. Most of the men reported that they were abused by men; very few reported they were molested by female predators (which I believe is more difficult to accept), which counters our cultural gendered norms.
Two principles seem to be at work: (1) that because female predators are often young and attractive with many with many romantic options, that they are somehow less threatening predators, and should receive lighter sentences; and (2) that boys and young men covet and desire attention from women at a very young age and are unable to be raped or molested by the opposite sex. The dissertation hinges on secrets that some men and women carry for a lifetime; and how they seek to reconcile their lives. Bradley is desperately trying to reassemble his life on various fronts. He becomes a teacher, believing that he can give students the attention and direction that he did not receive. And in his online work, Bradley has unknowingly, found a safe place for confiding in other “survivors” and finally exposing the secrets he has kept for so long.
Many men and the public believe that a woman cannot sexually abuse or rape a male. These men view their adolescent or teen sexual experiences with older women as consensual. This sentiment is evident when we examine the punishment of predators like 1Mary Kay Latourneau, who initially received a very lenient sentence which allowed her to continually abuse Vili Fualaau and become pregnant. Debra LaFave 2 was also sentenced to probation. Despite, later violating the terms of her probation with a 17 year old girl, she was never sentenced to prison.
Seeing a proliferation of cases like these in the media, grew my interest and caused me to pursue this subject and began research for my dissertation. I was particularly interested in the social and psychological affect these relationship would have later in life. Both the aforementioned cases involve elementary school teachers. The elementary educational arena is a field dominated by women. My dissertation is also about women in education and men who enter into this female dominated profession. The Glass Escalator by Christine L. Williams examines men who choose to be in professions dominated by women. William’s finding show that in the past sociologist believed that “men in female-dominated occupations experience the same difficulties that women in male-dominated occupations face and that any dominant group in an occupation will use their power to maintain a privileged position.” However, William’s turns this theory on it’s ear with her findings that “men in gender-atypical occupations may not face discrimination or prejudice when they integrate predominantly female occupations. Zimmer (1988) and Martin (1988) both contend that the effects of sexism can outweigh the effects of tokenism when men enter nontraditional occupations.” William’s study “is the first to systematically explore this question using data from four occupations (including elementary school teachers). She “examine[s] the barriers to men's entry into these professions; the support men receive from their supervisors, colleagues, and clients; and the reactions they encounter from the public (those outside their professions) (228).
Bradley experiences both ends of the spectrum. Initially, his ambition, coupled with help from his mentors guides his swift rise and he becomes one of the youngest principals in Chicago. However, when the dynamics of the workplace change, and his former female supervisors and colleagues are now his employees; the women find a common cause and ban together against him to regain their power and privileged position. Bradley is accustomed to competition in the workplace, but he expects it to be governed by the rules of competition, and sport which embody a moral ethos.
Sport, both literally and metaphorically, represents a constant in Bradley’s life. I knew that sports would be a part of Bradley’s story in a literal way. When I began working on my
prospectus and to analyze the story, I realized that there is a sports narrative woven throughout his story. Bradley plays a weekly game of basketball with his friend John. It is through sports that he maintains his only real male friendship. At times John may not believe or agree with Bradley, but John is the one person with whom Bradley always shares the truth. The basketball game, as well as Bradley’s past participation in football becomes the lens through which Bradley examines his life. Disappointments and setbacks are equated to football tackles or fumbles. When Bradley’s life begins to completely unravel, (when John asks permission to date his ex-wife, Saadiqa) he equates it to an earthquake which renders the basketball court, or the landscape of his life, totally useless. In an effort to be succinct, this scene was chosen because it (1) it gives a literal and metaphorical rendering of sports at work in the dissertation; and (2) it demonstrates how memory is personified and operates as an ancillary character.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” John said. “I caught the opening night of Saadiqa’s play the other night. Nice show.”
The ground was beginning to rumble deep within the center of the earth’s sphere, the manageable chink spreading quickly, threatening to completely sever the two halves of the court.
“Afterwards, I hung out with her and the cast.”
The ground parted beneath his feet again, making him unable to negotiate his stance. Bradley began to run, trying to escape the earthquake, the fracture that followed him, rapidly spreading across the surface, breaking the wooden planks beneath his feet, tossing them aside, pulling them upward like a tornado, as it relentlessly followed him, displaying its agility as it hunted Bradley, twisting and turning, tracking his every move and leaving behind a cavity, spreading, widening the depression in the surface of the court.
Bradley was in the corner of the gym and he held onto the stall bars, fearfully watching the ground beneath his feet. John was winded and breathed heavily from chasing him as he touched him on his shoulder. Bradley pulled away from John’s hand as the ground beneath his feet opened. Bradley pulled his body up, his strong arms pulling his chin above the bars, letting his feet dangle above ground.
“Stop running and listen to me,” John panted.
Bradley continued his repetition of chin-ups on the stall bars. He was waiting for the burn of the endorphins to imbue him with confidence. After the third chin-up he reluctantly looked at the ground again. Now Bradley could see faces in the abyss beneath him, sad faces with open moaning mouths and outstretched arms with exaggerated hands -- all reaching for him the way John had, threatening to pull him down from his roost.
Bradley defied gravity, pulling his muscular land-bound body into the air, before John continued, “I want to be straight with you. How would you feel if Saadiqa and I hang out alone sometimes?”
Bradley did not answer. There was a ringing in his ears, the moaning from the abyss, and the sound of the earth creaking as it cracked. He continued the chin ups, feeling his body grow tired, watching the large hands reaching for him from the wailing abyss.
John continued. “I know you need to think. I wouldn’t even mention this if it wasn’t serious. But I’ve felt this way for a while.”
Bradley felt John tap his arm, saying, “We’ll talk later.”
A large hand from the abyss found Bradley, took hold of him, pulling at his arm as he hung from the bars. The hand was wounded, covered with bleeding ulcers, inflamed boils that reeked of decaying flesh. Bradley felt sorry for the hand, but he was also afraid and he tried to pull himself up, refusing to allow himself to be pulled into the abyss, but the weight of his body, the heavy hand pulling at him, was oppressive as he hung from the bars, trying to fight against its strength. He twisted and kicked at the hand, but it eventually overtook him, at least part of him, wrapping its vile fingers around his arm in a death-like grip, before ripping it from his body, his right arm that had seemingly always been there, that had always worked in concert with his body had been dismembered, permanently altered. He watched his arm as it disappeared into the depths of the abyss.
In this respect the story speaks directly to American Literature. Sport is an American concept, governed by a set of rules, as well as a moral code. Jarom Lyle McDonald speaks directly to how sports influenced the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. “McDonald’s thesis clarifies how Fitzgerald recognized sports as part of the American Jazz Age that so enthralled him, and revealed as much about his characters’ status as the money they chased, the dreams they fashioned, and the lives they impacted. Like his era rival, Hemingway, Fitzgerald saw in the elegance and rituals of sports a telling insight into the nature of social organization, cultural systems, and the definition of status.” Additionally, sports is a universally held concept, where they playing field is completely equal and unbiased. One either succeeds or fails based on sheer skill and athletic ability. ”When a sport is pursued for its own sake, its rules willingly followed, its finest conventions upheld, sport becomes an ennobling and worthwhile form of life (Arnold 239). However, in the form of his female co-workers, the school system and his community, Bradley is exposed to a political arena in which the players are willing to win at any cost.
COMMUNITY AND GROUP
The portrayal of community can be traced to a number of fictional works. In the novel, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald explores the multiple communities of Dick Diver’s life. Diver is a physician and therefore part of a medical community; but he is also part of the small close-knit expatriate community living in the south of France. In Perspectives on Neighborhood and Community, Robert Chaskin, delineates the driving force behind community, stating that:
It’s rationale derives, in part from the conviction that the interrelated needs and circumstances of individuals and families are grounded in a specific context of relationships, opportunities, and constraints, which to a large degree, are spatially defined or delimited.
Bradley’s small community is a stable, thriving gem. The price of membership in this community (or his elementary school) is complete adherence to the “interrelated needs” of its members. Bradley grapples with the expectations of community, because they seem to be at odds with his own. His geographical community is the fictional, Greenwood, Chicago, neighborhood, which resembles Hyde Park, Chicago. This is a small tight-knit community and its residents operate under an unspoken, but very present and controlling code. As an educator, Bradley must navigate his professional community. Lastly, he must also manage his cyberspace group, which has expectations that sometimes seem to conflict with his professional persona.
Bradley is an affluent leader in his community. As a man, he occupies a position of assumed entitlement; however, the things for which he is respected confine him to a specific role of societal expectations. He is expected to be above reproach and to have good judgment. He is expected to be a role model and example to his students. These expectations come from not only his secular position; but also from within his family, spiritual life and social circle.
There are several areas that could be explored further under another treatise. The emergence of a fragile dark hero is a notable trend. When we examine movies like The Bourne Identity3, where Jason Bourne has been an assassin, we can see the shift in male protagonists. Because Borne experiences an amnesia stroke, the audience is also asked to forget his past. We want him to escape and be victorious.
Bradley’s assumed identity opens the door for a discussion about the struggle between his professional and personal persona. This could also lead to a discussion of privacy and transparency. How much information should the public know? Do we expect certain positions to be more transparent? Or is there a universal right to privacy? An examination of the two characters Bradley and McDougal (a cross-dressing architect) could be examined under this discussion.
Lastly, the most troubling area of my research is the legal incongruity regarding the legal age of consent and statutory rape. When Bradley has his first encounter with Jacqueline Clemons, they are in Paris on a school trip and the legal age of consent is lower than in America. The legal age of consent varies widely between states within America. Between states that border each other like Chicago and Indiana, the law will vary. In some countries, India and Africa , children are married as young as 12 or 13. In Nevada, prostitution is legal. How do we conflate this information with the legalities of statutory rape in America? Or is it a moral code?
I am reticent to say that this dissertation is ground-breaking, because there are other stories with a similar themes; but each of the stories, including this one is unique. One of the goals of my dissertation is for it to be interactive, with space for the reader to enter the text. Additionally, Bradley’s story is a post-racial story and it presents, what I believe is an emergence or perhaps re-emergence of the fragile and flawed hero. If I’ve met my goal, readers will find that Bradley, the protagonist, is not the most affable character in the manuscript; that would be the moniker of the John character. But if I’ve exceeded my goal, readers will find Bradley to be a tragically interesting character, who through his past memories and present mistakes elicits their empathy. And against their better judgment, they will root for him.
Arnold, P. J. Sport as a Valued Human Practice: a basis for the consideration of some moral issues in sport. Journal of Philosophy of Education. Vol. 26. No. 2 (1992): pp. 237–255.
Chaskin, Robert. J. Perspectives on Neighborhood and Community: A Review of the Literature. The Social Service Review. Vol. 71. No. 4 (Dec. 1997): pp. 521-547. The University of Chicago Press.
Dufur, M. J. and Linford, M. K. Title IX: Consequences for Gender Relations in Sport. Sociology Compass.Vol.4. No. 9 (2010): pp. 732–748. Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.
Eyerman, Ron. Cultural Trauma: Slavery and the Formation of African-American Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. New York: Scribners, 1934.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: J.B. Lippincott, 1937.
McDonald Jarom Lyle. Sports Narrative and Nation in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Routledge, 2007.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York; Knopf, 1987.
Morrison, Toni. "Memory, Creation, and Writing"; published in "Thought", 1984, New York.
Oprah Winfrey Show. Harpo Studios, Inc., 2010. Web. 15 Apr 2011.
Williams, Christine. L. The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Professions. Social Problems, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Aug., 1992), pp. 253-267. University of California Press.||en