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Feminism | Autobiography | Adoption |ADHD
A Feminist Life of Music, Reading, and Much Change
MaryJo reads and writes and blogs and listens to Bach. Loves the books of Willa Cather and the operas of Giuseppe Verdi — and almost any opera if it’s live from the Met on a big screen at her local movie theater.
She’s fond of dark chocolate and guacamole with lots of garlic but not at the same time. She loathes lima beans and potato salad with what she considers too much mayonnaise — that’s most potato salad. Her own potato salad is terrific but rarely eaten because she hates to cook.
MaryJo, a native Denverite, traces her roots back to the Gold Rush when her Wagner great-grandparents, Herman and Anna, traveled by wagon train in 1859 to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. They hoped to strike it rich in the gold fields. When that didn’t happen, Herman returned to his trade as a boot and saddle maker.
After Herman died, Anna and the children homesteaded in what is now west Denver. The original brick house, separated from Interstate 25 by a foreboding wall, is still occupied, but not by Wagners. MaryJo drives by the house occasionally to make sure it’s still standing.
The other side of her family was born in Red Cloud, Nebraska where Willa Cather was born. You can read about MaryJo, Willa, a great-aunt named Trix, a bunch of letters, and a conniving 2nd cousin right here on Medium.
Moving and School
MaryJo has lived in 8 states and 1 Canadian province. She’s back home now in Colorado where she belongs, with her husband Eric (whose last name is Alexander, not Wagner) and Rabbie (aka Rabbit Wagner) who’s one spoiled cat.
While moving about, MaryJo attended Colorado College, Ohio State University, University of Victoria (in British Columbia) Indiana University, and the University of Oregon. MaryJo loves to go to school!
Teaching, Editing, and Women’s Studies
She’s a retired college professor with a PhD in American History — which she only taught once as a part-time adjunct. MaryJo was one of the first to teach Women’s Studies (now called Gender Studies or some convoluted variation thereof), the founding editor of the National Women’s Studies Journal (now called Feminist Formations), and a founding member of the National Women’s Studies Association.
As the Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Portland State University and then Acting Director at the University of Oregon, MaryJo weathered feminist storms, begged social science deans for money for the programs, and taught Intro to Women’s Studies, Feminist Theory, and occasionally Women’s History (her favorite).
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that MaryJo had thrown herself into feminism in January 1972 when the first issue of Ms. magazine hit the newsstands. A copy of that first issue remains one of her prized possessions.
Recitals and Choir Practices
She plays the piano badly. I will skip over the details of the trauma experienced during her piano recitals. This agony had been thrust upon her by a cruel piano teacher. Once upon a time, as a member of the choir of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, she sang the Bach B-Minor Mass in Latin with organ, harpsichord, and chamber orchestra. Such a feat required many tedious hours of choir practice. She hasn’t sung in a choir since. It’s all downhill after the Bach B-Minor.
MaryJo has four families. Wagners and Mizers raised her. She was adopted from the Colorado State Home for Dependent and Neglected Children at 3 months. She’s had reunions with her birth-mother and her birth-father’s families: the Vespers and the Halls, also Colorado families.
Her birth-father, John Derrick Halls, jumped from a parachute into Normandy, France and died several hours later from Nazi gunfire on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He’s buried in France in the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer overlooking Omaha Beach. You can read his story
Between them, Eric and MaryJo have 4 kids (having lost two sons), 7 grandkids and two great-grands. The oldest grand is 25; 3 grands are in college. The youngest great-grand is a most adorable and captivating 3-year-old.
After forced retirement from Ohio State University, she returned to Colorado. MaryJo had been in the Women’s Studies Program, not the History Department. Faculty in programs could not become permanent faculty, much less tenured so she was out of job.
Unable to get another job because she’d never taught in a history department and women’s studies programs lacked the stature of a department, she moved grief-stricken but forward out of academe.
Back in home in Colorado
MaryJo moved back to Denver in time to celebrate 100 years of Woman Suffrage. In 1893, Colorado was the first state to grant women’s suffrage. (No! Wyoming was NOT the first state, even though Wyoming feminists will tell it was. Wyoming was a mere territory when women first voted in 1869)
Wearing a costume vaguely resembling what a suffragist might have worn, MaryJo made herself a banner, and marched in a grand parade. Dressed in her suffragist costume, she spent months giving talks to various women’s groups and Rotary Clubs.
She was having so much fun, she made more costumes — one representing her great-grandmother Anna and a couple other pioneer women including Josie Basset, a Colorado cattle rustler. Wrote stories for them and drove around Colorado and Wyoming presenting one-woman shows featuring pioneer women. (Did I mention that her PhD dissertation featured pioneer women of Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas?)
Along the way, MaryJo needed to earn a living: did free lance editing for Indiana University Press, taught classes for women returning to school after years as homemakers or in dead-end jobs, typed what she heard as a medical transcriptionist, greeted patients as a receptionist for a gastroenterologist, and entered names and information into a medical database. Before normal people were out of bed, she and Eric delivered Denver’s now deceased morning newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News.
A New Career
Finding the drudgery of mind-numbing, for-wages work depressing and tired of minimal pay, MaryJo immersed herself in learning everything she could about ADHD (after being diagnosed with it — surely you’re not surprised?). She turned knowledge into a business, helping teachers and parents work with kids with ADHD. Along the way she became certified in Brain Gym which helps ADHD kids learn faster and tames distraction.
And in her spare time, working for an educational publisher, she wrote daily blog posts, weekly newsletters, and ebooks. As a ghost writer, she even wrote a novel.
By now she and Eric had moved to Marble, Colorado, high up in the Rockies at 8,000 feet with bears, deer, chipmunks, lots of snow, and an almost 14,000 foot mountain to look at from the window in front of her desk. Ahh . . .
Eventually, sigh, back in Denver, MaryJo retreated from work to beat breast cancer. After the removal of both breasts and undergoing chemotherapy, she spent vast amounts of time lying on the guest bed in her office listening to Bach and reading: all the novels of Willa Cather, the books of Marilyn Robinson, and new biographies of J. S. Bach and John Adams. And threw herself into the training for certification as a life coach, focusing on women’s issues.
MaryJo still coaches women but now focuses specifically on coaching adopted women, giving them tools that make healing faster than talk therapy. If there’s one thing she has specialty in, it’s adoption and the issues that come with it! If you want to know more about those issues, you can grab her free Adoption Checklist for Women: 25 Life Issues.
When not coaching, she’s posting stories on Illumination and her blog, and working on two books at the same time: “Finding My Hero: An Adoption Memoir from World War Two” and “Growing Up Adopted: Love Wounded.”
P.S. Only a woman with ADHD would think writing two books at the same time is a good idea!
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Introducing myself to ILLUMINATION
When I was a child I was so shy, people often got surprised if I spoke.
I grew up to become your typical awkward teenager. I had severe acne throughout my teenage years, was terribly skinny, and very insecure, even though I was undeniably smart.
One of my biggest concerns, when I was in high school and even during my college years, was my nose.
I had a huge nose with a deviated septum and an extremely rounded tip that stole my face’s whole show. Or so I thought. I always believed that when people looked at my face, they weren’t looking at me, they were looking at my nose.
To make matters worst, I’ve always suffered from allergies. So, this nose wasn’t only huge; it was also loud and mostly red.
My class was small and I got along with everybody, but I never was the favorite friend of anybody. If they had to pick a friend for anything, mine wasn’t the first name to pop in their heads.
I graduated at the top of my class and got accepted into my dream University, which is located in a different city. It was a dream. I was moving.
For reasons I didn’t understand back then, I couldn’t wait to live by myself. I later understood I couldn’t stand the tension between my parents and the extremely high levels of anxiety we all experienced when my dad decided to have one of his drunk Friday nights.
He’s amazing. My dad. And he’s not a drunk by any means. But he likes to party often. And he also likes to disappear when he does. My mother, who had a difficult childhood due to my alcoholic and abusive grandfather, just couldn’t stand it.
I don’t blame them for getting divorced later. I used to blame them for getting married in the first place considering they’re as different as chalk and cheese. But I’m over that now and I don’t blame any of them for that anymore.
In college, I found the place where I belong. Everybody around me in college liked the same music I do, laughed at the same jokes I laughed at, enjoyed the same things I did.
My acne scars and my huge nose remained at the top of my insecurities, though. I was always scared of speaking out loud in class because I thought everybody would turn around and see my nasty nose. I was also scared of saying something stupid or asking the wrong questions.
Plus, since I was living in a different city now, people took notice of my accent pretty quickly. They used to make fun of me and since I was so insecure, I got offended pretty easily.
I lived by myself throughout all my years in college. I always felt absolutely happy and free when I was home by myself.
My high school and college years are behind me now. There’s little trace of who I used to be when I was younger. I can barely recognize that girl anymore.
Now, I’m not afraid to speak my mind and I’m not afraid to put myself out there. I’m not afraid of uncertainty. I still have a fear of abandonment, but I’m working on it.
I’m no longer scared of making mistakes.
I got a nose job four years ago. I’ve also gotten laser treatment for my acne scars and they’re looking much better. Now I take care of my hair. I look a lot better than I used to.
Regarding my accent, I still have it. It’s especially noticeable when I’m angry. But I’ve embraced it.
I want Medium to be my safe space, that’s why I write under a pseudonym. I like writing because I find it therapeutic and because it puts me in a state of flow.
I’m so grateful to be a part of ILLUMINATION. I still can’t believe I’m part of a publication. I’m looking forward to learning from all the brilliant writers I can find here.
Thank you for reading.
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(though there ain’t much to say)
I’ve absolutely loved reading through the bios on Illumination, as highlighted by Dr Mehmet Yidiz in his round-up yesterday — so here’s mine:
I grew up in London and then the countryside in the North of England, in the 1980s and 1990s. I was home schooled til I was 12, and there have definitely been long periods of my life in which I’ve felt closer to books and words than I have to people. Still do, regularly.
I was a teenage mother, so I’m not yet forty but my 3 children are all in their teens and twenties, which means I often feel out of step with a lot of people my age. Sometimes in a good way, though. (I get a LOT more sleep than they do, for example). On the other hand, I’m frightened of the fact my nest will be so empty so early. It’s a dichotomy that has led me to some really baaaaaad decisions. But also to a lot of worthwhile self examination.
I’m a practising solicitor (still in the North of England) and I specialise in Private Client work, which basically is Elder Law, as practised by Slippin’ Jimmy in the early years of Better Call Saul. (Huge Breaking Bad fan, btw). Married to a way better man than I deserve. Lover of running, cycling, a G&T on a Friday evening and a glass of red wine on a cold winter’s day. Hiking, preferably in mountains. And travelling. Travelling is my total favourite. (Lockdown ain’t really my friend).
I also love, love, LOVE writing. I read all the time and I write as much as I can —whilst being endlessly frustrated by the fact I cannot do so as well as the authors I adore…but I keep trying. I like novels that challenge me, and poetry that tells me more in its spaces than in its sentences. Kim Adonizzio’s poems, for example, take my breath away every time. I adore that the written word can have such power.
I discovered Medium only recently and I’m so happy I did. I am avidly gobbling the stories and articles. So much talent, everywhere. I was genuinely honoured and humbled when Dr Yidiz gave me the opportunity to add my words to Illumination! It’s a thrill up there with finishing my A-levels whilst pregnant, let me tell you. Genuinely. I’m slightly intimidated by the talent everywhere here, but I’m going to keep writing.
And that’s me.
(I blog at theunravelling.net — it started as a specific project I wanted to write, a day-by-day offloading to make sense of the worst thing I ever did, and now I just write about things in my head).
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