I am so moved by the rich interactions in the comment sections here at Examined Family and the emails I receive from readers on a weekly basis. Thank you for your stories, wisdom, complications, confirmations, and feedback—both glowing and constructive! I feel like it is beyond time we get to know one another, no?
I'll start! I'm Courtney, 43 (so thinking a lot about re-narrativizing midlife!), she/her, live in Oakland, CA in an interfaith, intergenerational cohousing community. Questions on my mind: what is the difference between judgment and discernment? How do I root out the residual hierarchies in my brain that tell me I'm better than other people in various ways? Will my youngest child every clean her room?
Hello, hello! I'm Asha, 51, writer, mom of two (15 and 20), and lifelong Quaker living in Ithaca, NY. My day job is at Cornell University, offering support to the study abroad office, but my vocation is writing. I freelance and also write a newsletter here on Substack about how to practice integrity as a real, complex, imperfect person. I really want to wrest the morality moniker out of the hands of the Right wing, who have claimed it for entirety of my lifetime, and reframe how we think about living in right relationship to ourselves and each other. But I'm also concerned, honestly, with challenges in progressive communities, who often say all the right things but then don't actually live those values behind closed doors. It's just hard (HARD!) to live a life deeply rooted in values and ethics, that is connective and life-enhancing, if you're too attached to being perceived as "good", ironically. So, a lot of the questions that I find compelling are about how we do the work of being our whole selves, including all the uncomfortable parts, with each other in a way that is vulnerable, accountable, and loving.
Today, however, the big question I have is, Did I really agree to let my 15-year old have a sleepover with their boyfriend? Is that crazy, or exactly the kind of parenting I could have used at their age? More broadly, how do I hold a wide enough safety net around my kids that they can make increasingly complex choices without feeling stifled so they can learn and grow, while still being close enough to keep them from totally faceplanting?
I’m Dennis Dalton. At age 85, I may the oldest, but the comments made here certainly show that I can’t claim to be the wisest. Even before Courtney graduated from Barnard in ‘02, I was her student more than teacher. For instance, her national prize winning essay in the Ellie Wiesel contest taught me new insights into how to write compelling and meaningful prose.
I’ve tried since to emulate her style, as my latest book published next week (okay, it’s titled “Indian Ideas of Freedom” so I don’t have her modesty or humility).
As a retired professor, I have gained most from volunteering in local public schools (K-12) and interacting with my four grandchildren.
The oldest, Mia, graduating soon, came out as a lesbian last year and she provides me with texts like Mari Rudi’s “Opting Out” on queer theory.
My favorite writer, aside from Courtney, is Audre Lorde, especially her magnificent essays on Love and Anger.
Sharron and I are celebrating our 62nd anniversary on May 22nd, and our relationship has been my most significant and gratifying life experience.
I hope that she agrees as I know she does about what I gain from reading these columns. Thank you all! DD (what Courtney and my significant others call me).
Hi Courtney! I'm Hannah (she/her), 37 years old, live in Berkeley with my partner and 5 year old daughter. I left a successful 14 year marketing career in tech to pursue a more creative path and founded a magazine devoted to tarot, art, and creative writing called The Rebis. As a white woman with immense privilege, I care deeply about wealth redistribution so all of our profits after operating expenses go to social justice orgs. Something I'm interested in is how we can build reciprocal ecosystems for writers and artists to support independent creative thought within capitalism. I am also interested in exploring community and family building outside of mononormativity and the nuclear family! Very grateful for this space. Thanks for all of your beautiful words.
I’m Katie, in my early 30s, living in New England. I’ve been disabled by chronic illness for almost two decades, a force that has shaped my life path. The suffering of chronic illness has made my heart more empathetic and tender towards all those who have experienced loss and grief. I volunteer with my Unitarian church community and a prison education nonprofit. I am passionate about racial justice and equity. The pandemic initially opened up the world to me and made many spaces more accessible online. Now, even the most progressive groups are no longer requiring masks so they are not accessible to me anymore. My health has been worsened by Long Covid and I’m doing advocacy related to trying to keep masks in healthcare settings. I love to read and I’m taking advantage of the spring weather to get outside.
Hi, I'm Genie, 49 (about to turn 50 this summer!), she/her, and live in Oakland, CA. I am a communications consultant mostly for nonprofits (with the occasional for-profit client), and a very involved volunteer both in my kid's public school here in Oakland, but also in wider cross-District ways, too. Questions on my mind: Will I ever NOT be tired (like, bone-tired, exhausted-tired, soul-weary tired)? How am I supposed to keep up with the pace of the life around me and not lose myself in the process? Why are people so mean to each other? And how can I both build narratives (for myself, for others, for clients, for the world) and break down the ones that don't serve any of us all at the same time?
I'm Caitlin, life-ing with gratitude on stolen Awaswas and Ohlone land currently stewarded by the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band (aka Santa Cruz, CA). I'm in my 53rd lap around the sun and still figuring out adult-ing. I am a HUGE Courtney fan because, as a White-bodied cis-female queer person who feels and grapples, Courtney expresses some of the deepest inquiries and yearning within me far more eloquently than I can. I am a lover of poetry, creatures, beauty, mystery/spirit. I try to organize White-bodied wealth holders to return wealth they've accumulated (sometimes, hoarded) to communities of the Global Majority who are living into the world I long for . . . a more compassionate, ecologically vibrant place where a multiplicity of perspectives, skills, feelings, and practices knit us more wholly together in an ethic of mutual care & response-ability. Big heart to you, Courtney, for modeling what this looks like.
Hey! I'm Krystina, 36yo in Baltimore, MD with my husband and our 5 and 3yo daughters. I'm a writer, in healthcare marketing, advertising and media relations, basically any realm where I can tell a good story. I am currently trying to use my power to advocate and create equity in the healthcare space. It's a small area when I feel I can use my talent and influence to make a difference, but as a fierce protector and lover of my young, biracial daughters, I am grappling with hard questions like do I send them to school and where? How do I teach them about keeping safe in a world not built to protect them? And how do I answer these hard questions in a community filled with blind privilege who don't see things how we see them? Thanks for the space to explore these topics and new ways to talk about them.
I'm Susan Singer. I'm 63. I first "met" you when I was researching body image for a series of paintings called Beyond Barbie and read your book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, then met you in person when you were kind enough to meet with me in person at U of Richmond to talk about my project with me. I'm still doing art, teaching it, framing it, creating it. I'm mid-divorce and that's taking all my psychic energy. My questions are how will my life look going forward as I live alone for the first time in my life? How will I add value to the human family of which I am a part? Will I ever re-gain my energy? Will I ever again feel a fire in my belly to change the world for the better or am I on that long slow slide towards demise already? Will I ever have the courage to love so wildly and freely again and to allow myself to be loved and adored by another? Should I focus on the macrocosm - love, eternity, God - or is it mine to focus on the micocosm - my own small life, home, children, my own personal worries? Or is there a way to do both AND focus on the human family and our planet and to help others? It's an overwhelming question and begs me to create a sense of Black and White so I don't have to live in the Grey - SO UNCOMFORTABLE!
I'm Sehreen, 41, and definitely wish we'd employ more of an Eastern philosophy towards aging instead of the IG ads I'm bombarded with about hormones, wrinkles, and fatigue (all true, but still). I'm the co-founder of children's health platform called Sleuth. I often negotiate my freedom in between the dominant narratives in which I swim as a VC-backed female founder, a mom/medical needs mom, Muslim, a community-minded person who is clear-eyed about working in capitalist structures, etc, etc. I've done tons of deep work on all of the above and feel grateful for where I am and where I'm going. NYC-based. Happy to be here, thank you Courtney.
My name is Kerry, I'm 43 and live in Toronto, Canada in a ramshackle apartment, my children weeks away from turning 14 and 10 (!), and I write novels, and think a lot about how to be a good neighbour, good citizen. But I also know that my focus on goodness is not quite the right one, and I'm interested in but still not quite sure I understand a reference you've made in the past about the distinction between being good and being free, and I'd love to learn and think more about that.
Thank you for this space and for sharing your process with us. I'm grateful to you for so much richness you've brought into my life.
Aloha Courtney! I'm Kate, 65, raised in Oakland (beloved hometown!), and have lived on Hawai'i Island for the past 33 years where we have raised our children and grown a lot of our food. I taught writing and literature at the community college for 28 years, and retired to go back to college to earn a graduate certificate in conflict resolution. Today, I work as a mediator and teach conflict resolution. Questions on my mind: How do we balance the value of holding our personal narratives without getting too attached to them? What does it mean to belong somewhere? How do we weave the shared fabric of community? How will I cope with the accumulated losses of the last chapter of my life?
Wow! This incredible exchange shows the reservoir of empathy that readers show! The sharing among Mollie, Courtney and Genie actually brought tears to my eyes.
We truly need this Examined Family column because it’s clear that we’ve formed an intimate family due to Courtney’s initiative, dedication and genius. I do care and hear you all! Full of gratitude, DD
I’m 65 and a Courtney Martin groupie for years! Worked for 4 newspapers including as an editorial writer for The NY Times. I have written a memoir, “Saving Ellen” about growing up in a big, crazy Irish family in blue collar Buffalo in the 60s and 70s. It’s based on diaries I’ve kept since I was 12. I’m always interested in questions about how to build community- real community, not Facebook or social media. Hard, I know, to find the time, but so necessary.
I'm Abby, 43, she/her. I live, teach, read, parent a 4-year-old and an 11-year-old, garden, and edit novels for children and young adults here in sunny Portland, OR. I'm currently working toward certification as a life coach for writers, and fascinated by conversations about how to enable creative people's access to their innate power, and how to align our caregiving/parenting selves with our artist, professional, and political selves.
Courtney, I met you years ago through mutual friends in Brooklyn, when I was being a 20-something and working long hours as an in-house editor for children's book publishers. I've followed your writing ever since and I'm so grateful for the joy and connection I feel whenever I read your newsletters. Question on my mind: How to transition from doing doing doing to simply being?
I am Amy, 76, retired music educator/choral conductor, lover of classical music and nature, born in Appalachia, now a dual citizen of Canada and the USA, busy grandparenting three in Glencoe, IL, and three in Vancouver, BC, where I live in a little house in their backyard. Still learning how to be the right kind of parent to my even busier grown children. All input from our divine Courtney much appreciated.