Stories  (edited)      Tonya Alexandri, September 21st, 2020

We are nestled in the story of life on this planet – part of it”  Alice Roberts & Andrew Copson

“All creative people feel that the source of their creativity comes from the same room as their deepest pain” Rosanne Cash

Story is a fundamental part of our human nature and our cultures and a great part of our energy goes to creating and sharing stories and trying to make sense of things. We are all story-telling and meaning making creatures. Graham Swift writes: “Only animals live entirely in the Here and Now. Only nature knows neither memory nor history. But man – let me offer you a definition – is the storytelling animal. Wherever he goes he wants to leave behind not a chaotic wake, not an empty space, but the comforting marker-buoys and trail-signs of stories. He has to go on telling stories. He has to keep on making them up. As long as there’s a story, it’s all right” (cited in Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson, 2020). We create and share stories and are part of others’ stories, and ultimately, we are part of the same much longer story of our species and life on this planet. We write, paint, sing, dance and tell diverse stories both of the origins of our species and of our lived experiences, of the distant past and of the future. Our subjectivities become known through our oral, visual and written stories. We even fight battles and persecute others defending our stories and we go to great lengths to suppress new narratives. Some stories are based on evidence and observation, some have been verified, and some are the products of our imagination and meaning making need. Stories can shape our lives for better or worse, inspire us, provide models and guidance, console us, distract us, mislead us, manipulate us, imprison us, control us, awaken us. They can be toxic, disempowering, entertaining or healing. The musician Rosanne Cash says “Persist and verify… The power that we abdicate to others out of our insecurity — to others who insult us with their faux-intuition or their authoritarian smugness — that comes back to hurt us so deeply… But the power we wrest from our own certitude — that saves us.” We have personal stories and collective stories, and ultimately, we are part of the same and much bigger story of the trajectory of our species on this planet. And if we could remain present to the fact that we are all part of a much larger and longer common story we could tap into the truth of our interconnectedness with each other and all nature and our inherent capacity for empathy despite our great diversity.

In The Little Book of Humanism: Universal lessons on finding purpose, meaning and joy, Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson write: “Once we understand that we are all part of the same species and the same long story, it is possible to feel a connection with all people, everywhere. We can imagine ourselves in their position and know that what happens to them, could happen to us…. one of the best ways to develop empathy is to read stories. Whether historical or fictional, stories about particular individuals enable us to experience different lives.” Through engaging with art, reading stories and watching films we get an opportunity to reflect on the characters’ lives, aspirations, sorrows, actions, decisions, reasons behind their behaviours, underlying forces and dynamics, contexts. We wonder what we would do in their situation. Through feeling their emotions and imagining being in their shoes we get to develop empathy. Failure of empathy reflects our inability to imagine ourselves in other people’s situations and recognise what it would be like to be homeless, starving, imprisoned, sick or oppressed, for instance. And more than a failure to imagine what it would be like, it is also, a failure to feel. Developing empathy could come about through presence while hearing other people’s stories, Stories in all forms, oral, written, dramatized or animated, can reveal to us what it is like, for instance, to have one’s humanity denied, to be ill and lonely, to have lost one’s family, work, money and community, to be seeking refuge in often hostile new and unknown lands. Through stories we also gain awareness of our own life, observe similarities, find inspiration and connect to our common humanity.

Through art and stories we can discover new ways of being and doing things. We gain clarity. We contextualize our experience. We find that our deeper and intimate thoughts and emotions have been experienced and expressed by others. We feel connected to groups of people that might be or have in the past been through similar experiences. We catch glimpses of a much bigger picture. We get in touch with our indignation, we feel inspired and moved, we feel gratitude. Alice Roberts and Andrew Copson write: “The arts in all their forms – paintings, music, novels and poems, films and plays – are essential to our lives. They sharpen our awareness, enrich our understanding of the world and open our eyes to its beauty. They hold up a mirror to our own past and current experiences and open us up to new perspectives and different ways of being. Have you ever been sad and felt like listening to a sad song? It is a profound moment to have what were your own private thoughts expressed in a beautiful way by someone else. Art and stories can show us things outside of our own experience, helping us to understand our own emotions better on reflection. Art – any kind of art – can give us more clarity about our own thoughts and feelings, connect us with others, and teach us something about ourselves and them.”Art and stories may awaken us to new possibilities and bring about new reflections on our own life, force us to think to what extent we have chosen our life adventure or have followed a path predetermined by others. Stories awaken us to sociocultural forces and scripts handed down to us. They urge us to read our own story again, understand where we’ve been and maybe where we are going, discern patterns, write a more coherent script, make new meaning of events, realise that we are to some extent writing our stories minute by minute within the container that we find ourselves. Through creating a more coherent life narrative we often get to see the various components and events as woven into an ongoing narrative into which they fit, and which makes us own our life.

Stories may influence our choices and life decisions, but not all stories are good stories. In an article I read recently, the humanist philosopher, Richard Norman, writes about how stories can give meaning to our life from within by asking whether the different bits of our lives hang together, and what they all add up to. We can start by asking the question of whether we can tell a coherent story about our lives and what story we can tell about our life. Of course, in thinking about our lives we all draw on our shared repertoire of stories within the cultures that we have grown up and live in, especially, the stories of our early formative years when we are way more impressionable. Not all stories are helpful templates or examples to fashion or make sense of our own lives. Richard Norman refers to how traditional stories of heroism may lead someone to build their life around an unrealistic ideal. He writes: Joseph Conrad’s great novel Lord Jim is a story about the pernicious role of trashy novels. Jim goes to sea ‘liv[ing] in his mind the sea-life of light literature. He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through surf with a line… – always an example of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book….. Conrad’s novel is the story of a man who has to spend the greater part of his life coming to terms with his failure of heroism. We do not just need stories, then. We need good stories. We need novels and films and dramas which sensitize us to the complexities of experience, attune us to the realities and ambiguities of human life and thereby help us to make sense of our own lives.”

A biopic I watched a few days ago around the life of Marie Curie, with the title Radioactive, directed by Marjane Satrapi, the creator of Persepolis, made me think about how each narration and reading is imbued with our own subjectivity and personal lens of viewing things and life. This is part of what makes each creation unique. I thought of the hundred different ways the story could have been told, seen and understood considering how our diverse experiences, beliefs and skills create a multitude of combinations of components that make up a story. Reading a few reviews after watching the film also brought home to me that there can be as many takes and evaluations of a story or work of art. We are diverse and differently motivated, What good novels and films and other forms of story can do is not only bring other people’s experience alive, but also, connect us to our shared human experience and values, as well as, make the bigger sociocultural milieu visible. In Radioactive we get a chance to watch scenes of Marie Curie’s personal life, her work and discoveries and how they changed the world for ever, for better and for worse. We consider how knowledge can bring forth both good and bad and that sometimes progress and advance come at a high price. We think of the consequences of deeds. We see that when people create and discover things and put them out in the world they cannot always control the use of them. There are good and destructive forces in the world. Curie’s hard and brilliant work gave birth to advances in treating cancer and the invention of the X-ray, which revolutionized medicine, and a looming threat of nuclear warfare and meltdowns. There’s an almost surreal scene of the Nevada desert nuclear testing procedures in the ‘60s, where a model town with perfect houses equipped with expensive life like perfect dolls and furniture are bombed. We watch as everything melts and sinks into the ground. We also watch a little boy receiving treatment for cancer in the early 50s, and also, his father’s concern about whether his child is to be experimented upon. There’s a scene of Pierre Curie’s haunting Nobel acceptance speech and the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

This biopic has many story threads. It does not only explore the complexities of the leading character of this story. Through flashbacks and “flash forwards” the film traces the career trajectory of Marie Curie (played by Rosamund Pike), the Polish immigrant born Maria Skłodowska, who left her country because she was not allowed access to higher education on the grounds of being a woman, and then, went on to become the first and only woman to win two Nobel prizes and the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and also, a mother and wife. We witness her courageously unconventional life, the bigger sociocultural and political milieu, as well as, her losses and hardships, as we are simultaneously awoken to the future consequences of her work. The threads are woven together giving us snapshots of the many scientific, personal and societal hurdles that Marie Curie faced in her time. We witness the refusal of a male dominant culture to provide space and support and acknowledge women’s contributions. We also, witness the devastation after her husband’s death, when he slipped under a horse-drawn cart and then scenes of a worn out Marie and her daughter Irene hauling X-ray units to mobile field-hospitals during World War I. We witness her integrity and perseverance through illness, social pushback and tragedy. She persisted even though her exposure to radiation was making her sick like it had ,made her husband previously, eventually leading her to her death from aplastic anemia in 1934. We witness the public scrutiny of her life and we get a glimpse of the cultural norms and xenophobia when her affair with a married man after her husband’s death had crowds screaming insults in the street outside her house and demanding her deportation to Poland as a suspected Jew.

Through reading and watching stories we get to feel a variety of emotions, reflect and ask questions. In this case, we might feel awe at her dedication and passion and we might wonder whether we would have persevered or we might be struck by her certitude of what she loved to do. We might wonder what brought about her fascination of minerals and stones…. We catch glimpses of what fascinated both Pierre and Marie as children. We might wonder about our own childhood fascinations or dreams. We might connect the story of Curie to all women across time that have tried to resist living in the shadow of a man and the precariousness of this arrangement. We might focus on the thread that shows how when we lose someone we love the traces of the deceased person’s life persist in many ways, through their actions and the positive or negative consequences of these, through their works and their descendants, and through our emotions and memories of them. We carry their legacy forward in the human story. We might project ourselves onto the stories or even reflect on how it is to live the lives of others through acting and performing roles and how actors and actresses might be changed by the roles they take on and the experiences they internalize while immersing themselves in the lives of their role characters.

Finally, as we engage with Marie Curie’s story we might reflect on what might have been if this genius woman had tended to her wounds and had taken better care of herself. Might she perhaps have shifted her energy towards other objects. In her poem, Power, dedicated to Marie Curie Adrienne Rich writes:

“…. She must have known she suffered from radiation sickness

her body bombarded for years by the element  / she had purified

It seems she denied to the end

the source of the cataracts on her eyes

the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends

till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying her wounds

Denying her wounds came from the same source as her power”



“While I do believe that there is good in the world, I also believe that our world and society are plagued by oppressive forces; where civility is increasingly uncommon; where targets are blamed for their victimization; and where aggressors’ uncivil, antagonistic, and hostile behaviors go unchecked and unchallenged in some instances and are applauded and rewarded in others. Many of us learn early on not to challenge others (even when they are wrong). We are taught messages that on the surface sound great but that have the potential to silence us and rob us of our humanity and dignity.” Charisse Levchak, PhD

This post today has come about after reading Charisse C. Levchak’s book with the title: Microaggressions and Modern racism: Endurance and Evolution (2018, Palgrave Macmillan). The main topic of the book has to do with racial aggression, micro-aggressions in particular. Initially, I was looking for something on micro-aggressions in general; however, most of the material I found was related to racism (*both in this post and in the book race is used as a sociopolitical construct and not a biological one). The book is based on Levchak’s PhD dissertation and it contains qualitative and quantitative research, and also, reflects her own experience as a black woman. Her main focus is on microaggressions in academia, the workplace and the media, but she also refers to microaggressions in public spaces, and shops. Actually, one of the research prompts is about been watched or followed in public places as if one was a threat or dangerous. She writes: “while this prompt likely evokes unpleasant memories of being followed around stores (particularly for Black and Brown folk), it is even more wounding when employees of color are followed around their job or watched as though they are a threat or dangerous.” She also talks about aggressions in and around “homespaces”. When aggressions occur in protective spaces like homes or dorms, and other places people take refuge in, then people experience a reduced sense of safety that often results in emotional stress and trauma.

She employs the Critical Theory Framework to compliment her qualitative work and the Oppression Dynamics Conceptual Framework, which outlines three concepts: vertical, horizontal and internalized racism and provides a comprehensive understanding of how oppressive systems are maintained due to a variety of dynamics both among and within advantaged and targeted social groups. So, the book could be read as an analysis of systemic oppression and practices of societal micro-aggressions more generally even though its focus is on racism in the USA. She writes that microaggressions, which were originally conceptualized by psychiatrist Chester Pierce in his work Offensive Mechanisms (1970), could be defined as covert forms of racial aggression. Pierce described these actions in the following quote: “Most offensive actions are not gross and crippling. They are subtle and stunning. The enormity of the complications they cause can be appreciated only when one considers that these subtle blows are delivered incessantly… the cumulative effect to the victim and to the victimizer is of an unimaginable magnitude.” Covert oppression or aggression maybe subtle but it is insidious, it constructs barriers; and it is elusive and difficult to define and challenge. It is embedded in our daily relationships and it promotes I – It encounters, which happen when we relate to another person as an object instead of relating to each other as authentic human beings without judgment and objectification.

On deciding to research microaggressions Levchak writes: “When I casually compared the narratives and experiences of people I knew, many did not involve experiences of blatant and overt racism (although those occurred too). Instead, most of the racist incidents that I learned about were covert in nature: the friend who was subtly sabotaged and pushed out of a predominantly White graduate program, the family member whose authority over her non-Black subordinates had constantly been undermined, and the Black mentor who had been unfairly castigated.” By focusing on prominent parts of society, such as academia she demonstrates that racist microaggressions and macroaggressions in schools impede scholarly pursuits and academic success and block upward mobility. She also suggests that while we need to focus on all levels of education, higher education deserves special attention because it has served as a road to upward mobility for disadvantaged groups. Her work examines microaggressions in the workplace, as well, where they adversely impact productivity and group solidarity, cause distractions and conflict, obstruct professional aspirations, cause health issues and lead to job instability and loss of employment. She also examines how in the media and popular culture sexist and racist stereotypes, beliefs and ideologies can be reinforced.

Levchak refers to Derald Wing Sue’s contributions to microaggression theory and discusses Sue et al.’s three forms of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations. However, she expands this theory because she believes it lacks an in-depth explanation on the relationship between the aggressors and the targets by introducing and explaining the following types of aggressors: intimate, acquaintance and unknown. She also makes reference to the culture of silence and its consequences and the importance of telling and owning our narratives so that healing and change may come about. Moreover, she explores how frequent microaggressions have many cumulative effects in people’s lives and impact mental and physical health. She notes how being on the receiving end of frequent aggression and injustices causes fear, despair, anger, which can be internalized or acted out, and also leads to chronic stress. As mentioned in the book chronic stress kills people slowly, making existing illnesses worse. She quotes Chester Pierce (1970) who writes “The vehicle for these characteristics is the cumulative effect of offensive mechanisms…”

Levchak claims that obstructive racism creates barriers and blocks progress of targeted people or groups and it ranges from blocking promotion to graduation to legislation. She briefly refers to forms of discrimination and aggression like ‘birtherism’ (D’Antonio, 2016) and sexism. Through reading the book it is easy to see that the tactics and strategies that comprise racist microaggressions are not very different from aggressions committed against any individual or group of people where colour or ‘race’ is not necessarily a variable. Apart from the examples of micro-aggressions and lack of civility mentioned above, other actions mentioned in the research findings include liquid racism, profiling, name calling, opinions discounted in educational or employment settings, being constantly mistaken for someone else in the workplace, called by another’s name or identified as someone else’s sister or brother and gaslighting. Gaslighting is commonly used as a tactic to make targets question their own sanity and perception of an event or experience and also keep quiet.

Levchak dedicates a chapter on beliefs and biases, often unconscious that we all harbor. Even though we may often have the best intentions, we are still all susceptible to developing implicit biases, attitudes and stereotypes that we hold unconsciously and that impact our understanding, behaviours and decisions at any given situation. She refers to Staats’ (2014) review on implicit bias, which reports that implicit biases have been documented in children as young as six; however, research also supports that just like we learn biases and stereotypes, we can unlearn them and replace them with more accurate information. That is why she believes institutions should invest on awareness training, cultural competence training, and on creating spaces for difficult dialogues to take place, which Levchak believes is key to changing our conditioned beliefs and biases.

Part of the book focuses on what to do to build inner resilience in order to live through or create change in the contexts one finds oneself in. As Rick Hanson, PhD, suggests “Resilience is more than bouncing back from adversity. People who are resilient keep pursuing their goals in the face of challenges. Consequently, learning how to regulate your brain’s motivational machinery is a key aspect of resilience.” To increase resilience and protect against microaggressions we need to become aware of what microaggressions are and how they can impact the quality and trajectory of one’s life. We also need to acquire cultural awareness and competence, to become more informed of the bigger picture and container within which aggressions occur.  We also need to be mindful of our environments and underlying dynamics. And we need to teach this to our children. Of her own experience she writes: “My mother taught me awareness at an early age because awareness is a survival strategy. “Pay attention to your surroundings” is a phrase that my mom constantly told me throughout my childhood.”  Levchak says that oppression thrives in silence, so we need to change our current workplace culture so that targets and bystanders are encouraged to come forth, seek assistance, and speak out when bullying occurs. However, sometimes, survival strategies in school or the workplace may require our keeping quiet if supportive structures are not in place and there is lack of support or / and mentoring. Cautious speaking, covering tracks and documenting one’s work or decisions might be advisable. Frequent microaggressions can be traumatic and disruptive and can lead to social exclusion, and therefore, it is important to seek support and mentoring if possible because daily covert microaggressions accumulate over time and contribute to the overall stress load of individuals, and also, harm one’s sense of self, confidence and interactions with others.

In his book RESILIENT (2018) Rick Hanson believes that mental resources like determination, self-worth, and kindness are what make us more resilient and able to cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of our goals and opportunities. He writes that “While resilience helps us recover from loss and trauma, it offers much more than that. True resilience fosters well-being, an underlying sense of happiness, love, and peace. Remarkably, as you internalize experiences of well-being, that builds inner strengths which in turn make you more resilient. Well-being and resilience promote each other in an upward spiral.” In relation to adversity and hardship he says that adversity can be an opportunity to develop resilience, stress-hardiness, and even post-traumatic growth, but for a person to grow through adversity there must also be responsive resources present such as determination and sense of purpose. He writes: “Adversity is to be faced and learned from, but I think people sometimes overrate its value. On the whole, Reactive experiences make us more brittle and fragile over time, while Responsive experiences tend to make us more resilient. The Reactive mode evolved to be a brief solution to immediate threats to survival— not a way of life.” Unfortunately, frequent stresses and prolonged stress keep pushing us into the red zone as he calls it, which is hard to move out of due to the brain’s negativity bias.

Finally, anger is an integral part of this process both for the aggressor and the victim, and has both a positive and adaptive function, as well as, a destructive quality. Anger can be motivating and can help us spotlight injustice and mistreatment at a personal and systemic level, but it can also, be destructive and the generator of much suffering. Anger can reflect appropriate indignation and motivate us to act, but it also aids oppressive forces that muzzle and suppress. Similarly to other emotions, anger can be the presenting emotion masking experiences of fear, despair, helplessness and lack of agency. It can often be seductive because it draws on dopamine and norepinephrine, and thus, feels rewarding. Making room to feel our anger and discern the wisdom or message it is bringing us, can make us more resilient, able to set boundaries and less afraid of our own and others’ anger. Through feeling our anger we are less likely to project it on others or act out on it, and more likely to tap into our agency, protect ourselves, act appropriately and maybe sublimate it into artistic expression or artivism and activism. Through understanding where others’ anger is coming from we are more able to see the bigger picture, separate our self from their anger, protect ourselves, fight for what we consider of value, and be more clear headed, as well as, compassionate.

Imprints  (edited)

To my friends by Primo Levi

Each of us bears the imprint   /     Of a friend met along the way; /  In each the trace of each.

For good or evil   /  In wisdom or in folly    /   Everyone stamped by everyone.

Today’s post was intended to be on the importance of play for children and its connection to resilience, but during the process of searching for articles online I came across an interview in which the actress, Sally Field, was discussing her memoir, In Pieces, published in 2018, the result of a seven year process of writing, revisiting her traumatic childhood and her ways of responding or reacting and defending against her traumas – a lengthy process of digging and integrating that began after her mother’s death. About her mother and the women in her family she writes: “All of them with wounds that wouldn’t heal because no one acknowledged they were bleeding, and yet each of them needing the other to be near. And that—I realize—is how this story fits into my life. These generations of women, weaving a pattern into a lifelong garment, unconsciously handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter to me.”  I decided to listen because trauma and artistic expression both interest me and are the backbone of this website, and also, because Sally Field has been one of my favourite actresses since early on. My first encounter with her was through a sitcom initially aired in the late sixties, called The Flying Nun. My next encounter was probably when I watched her movie Norma Rae in the early eighties. Ι shed some tears during the viewing of the film both because I could relate to some aspects of the story and because Sally Field’s performance  was so powerful.

The talk about her book led to a different post and a desire to read the book, but I’ve left that for later in order to finish reading several books I have started this summer and have not completed yet. However, I did read samples of chapters. Field describes how she defended against the traumatic events and emotional pain through suppression and dissociation. She writes: “Over the years, I slowly created a place where I could toss all the feelings I didn’t understand, or the ones I didn’t want to understand, was afraid of…….. Emotions that many times came to me as physical sensations without words, like the uncomfortable fingernails on the blackboard inside me. Instead of trying to verbalize what I was feeling, even to myself, I’d shove them away. I would pack them up and send those parts of me out the window to stay safe with the tree, while only one piece remained, muted and dulled, though dutifully performing the required tasks.”  Dissociation and denial help us survive, not fall apart and get on with living. As Stephen Porges says when we are unable to flee or defend ourselves we move into a shutdown or dissociative state. This happens because our sympathetic nervous system increases activity, and our parasympathetic (unmyelinated vagus nerve) decreases activity. When we are unable to defend ourselves via our wired in fight/flight responses, we physiologically shift into another line of defense via our unmyelinated vagus nerve. We mimic our reptilian ancestors by shutting down to conserve energy, increasing pain thresholds and altering our consciousness level. We are also wired to avoid pain and unpleasant feelings. In addition, most of us are culturally conditioned to suppress emotions. In Pieces, Sally Field writes: “How can you change who you are and learn what it takes to get up, over and over, if you can’t allow yourself to feel how much it hurts to be knocked down?” It feels safer and more comfortable to hide our wounds and emotions, but when people find the courage to show us how they’ve been cut to pieces and how they have journeyed back to wholeness, this opens up our understanding not only of trauma and its after effects, but also ways to heal and come together again.

And then, well I went on to view a few episodes of The Flying Nun through more mature eyes. And even though many of the themes and plots had not been erased from memory by time I felt I wanted to briefly revisit the series and see what it was really all about…. from an adult perspective.  Sister Bertrille, played by a very young Sally Field, is a young novice nun, the black sheep of a family of physicians, who has become a nun after the break up with her boyfriend. She wears a large, starched cornette (hat), which together with her slight frame and the windy climate of the Caribbean island where the convent is situated, contribute to her new found flying ability. However, she upsets more rules than the law of gravity, and so, she occasionally gets into conflict with the mother superior, but their conflicts are more on the superficial side and get resolved quickly. Social issues are mildly touched upon and the nuns run an orphanage and a hospital for the elderly, and thus, many episodes revolve around Sister Bertrille’s more and less successful efforts to raise money to pay mounting bills, replace the falling apart and painted mauve station wagon, build a school for the orphans and other good causes.

Episode themes and plots include: looking after a talking parrot, babysitting the casino and night club owner’s pet monkey who has become her friend, a casino robbery, getting into trouble with army and police officers through misunderstandings and flights that don’t always end up well, her near appearance in a TV detergent commercial, fatal hibiscus allergies, failed bread and wine turned to vinegar business ventures, a breakaway monk, a psychologist priest who is in doubt of the sanity of the nuns, an ear infestion that causes her to spin and hinders safe landing, little Tonio, who believes she is his deceased mother, jumping into the water to save a drowning bishop who falls off a yacht, creating snow in summer, rescuing a hawk’s eggs and being mistaken as a UFO, flying through a window pane, playing cards – a habit she picked up in prison after being arrested during a free-speech rally, and her progressive and original ways of teaching the orphans in the convent.

One way of understanding this sitcom and several others is through the lens of  the societal shifts that were taking place during that era and the available discourse, and also, the role of mainstream media in influencing people’s beliefs and behaviour. In her article in the Canadian Review of American Studies, 31, no. 2, 2001, Gidget Goes to the Convent: Taking the Veil as a Girl’s Adventure in The Flying Nun, Rebecca Sullivan, who specializes in feminist media and cultural studies and analyzes popular cultural representations, and media, political, and legal frameworks that circumscribe women’s agency and bodily integrity in the public sphere, examines The Flying Nun through the lens of post-war American girl culture and convent culture during the 1950s and 1960s in an attempt to link the discourses of femininity with the ideologies of feminization as they related to girls and religion. The 1950s to 1970s in Northern America was a time of social and political changes. Individualism, the emergence of a feminist movement and changes within the Catholic Church were taking place. Nuns removed their habits and fought for social justice and they became present in the mainstream media. Sullivan discusses how in the 1950s and 1960s the majority of new religious vocations were made by teenage girls, usually right after high school and that for Catholic girls, the convent could have been perceived as an option for an adventurous life away from middle American suburbs, but without actually crossing any boundaries of ‘proper’ femininity. She suggests that the association of a vocation and a life of service with adventure and romance was reinforced by religious sisters.

Sullivan writes that “American women religious were experiencing unprecedented liberty and, along with that, confusion as they underwent an intense period of reflection and renewal during these two decades. This period began in 1951 with the Call for Renewal initiated by Pius XII and continued beyond the Second Vatican Council from 1962–1965. Denied any decision-making authority and banished from voting privileges in the Vatican hierarchy, women religious were nonetheless crucial to the implementation of the new attitudes of matching spiritual fortitude with social justice. They were the ones who implemented many of the experiments and tested the limits of reform. Furthermore, they were teaching the next generation of Catholics, inspiring girls to consider joining a convent themselves. A central aspect of the Catholic modernization movement was to embrace popular culture and the media in order to communicate their faith and morality to a mass audience……. Many women religious were instrumental at this level, particularly in the fields of popular music and…… However, the most important medium of the era seemed too far from their grasp. Television was too expensive and, in many congregations, wasn’t even allowed.” She explains that television producer Harry Ackerman’s idea to turn a girls’ storybook, The Fifteenth Pelican, by Tere Rios into a sitcom was welcome because it could target the market of teenage girls, a demographic that was becoming increasingly important economically, politically and religiously.

So, my getting distracted and shifting my attention to different topics allowed for a trip down memory lane and new meaning making of old and more recent experiences and choices, as well as, acquisition of knowledge and a bigger picture perspective.