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Jami Powell is the Associate Curator of Native American Art at the Hood Museum
As some of you may know, I struggle with anxiety and depression as well as ADHD. During "normal" times, it can be difficult for me to stay on top of all of my responsibilities at work and at home. In the past few years, I have started speaking more openly about my mental health, mostly with students and other Indigenous folks. While it can be uncomfortable for me to talk about some of these things openly, I know it is important for us to destigmatize mental illness within our communities. Therefore, this week, I wanted to share some of what is going on in my life, and how I'm trying to cope with our current reality and the feelings of hopelessness that have come along with it...
On full-time parenting
In addition to my roles as a lecturer in NAS and curator at the Hood Museum, I am a mother to two amazing dudes, Grayson (7) and Callum (4). Since their school and daycare are also closed, I am now a stay-at-home mom and homeschool teacher. I LOVE my children more than anything in the entire world, but I have never wanted to be at home with them all of the time. This experience has confirmed that; it has also cemented my belief that childcare workers and teachers are grossly underpaid and underappreciated. I have a PhD, but I can't do second grade math.
I see my mom friends posting about how they're flourishing at home with their kids, foraging for fiddleheads and mushrooms, making homemade bread, and having family reading time. That's great, and I'm super happy for them. It is also not my reality, and not something I need to aspire to or to compete with. I get my kids to read by bribing them with video games (Roblox and Minecraft are their current jam). Sometimes we eat cereal for dinner. Yes, sometimes I feel guilty for not doing more, but I am trying to fight the urge to give in to those feelings.
On teaching online
Teaching via Zoom is super weird, and I don't like it at all. When I make awkward jokes, I don't even get the satisfaction of hearing students' pity laughs. My spring course, NAS 30.21 Native American Art and Material Culture was designed to be held in the Hood Museum, drawing on our current exhibitions and collections. While that is no longer possible, it is still possible for us to have unique and transformative experiences through artworks and the artists who create them. I have reimagined the course to focus not on art "objects," but on the social practice of art, which connects us to one another (both human and non-human beings), to place, and to generations of Indigenous knowledge.
Each Thursday our class is meeting with different Indigenous artists via Zoom. To date, we have talked with Kali Spitzer and Will Wilson, Ryan Red Corn, and Chris Pappan and Debra Yepa-Pappan. In the coming weeks, we'll get to visit with Courtney M. Leonard, Cara Romero, Rose B. Simpson, and others. Even though we're separated by thousands of miles and our conversations are mediated through technology, our discussions have felt oddly intimate. It could be the fact that people's pets and kiddos have popped in to say hello or the fact that we're all experiencing this bizarre moment together, but the conversations have been incredible, and they have given me something to look forward to each week. In fact, if you're interested in sitting in on one of these artists discussions, the more the merrier. Don't hesitate to reach out. I'm more than happy to share the Zoom links.
On being home, but not home
Even though I am working from home, the Upper Valley is not my "home." The majority of my family lives in Kansas and Oklahoma, and now more than ever, it is hard to be away from them. Yes, I understand that even if we were home, we would still need to practice social distancing. However, if something were to happen or someone in my family needed me, I would be able to be there immediately.
I am anxious about not being able to do grocery shopping for my parents and grandparents, even though my brother is doing it for them. I am anxious about whether or not my compromised family members are taking appropriate precautions when leaving the house. I'm terrified about the people I might lose and the knowledge our Indigenous communities will lose because of this pandemic. For me, this has been the most difficult part of all of this, and I don't think I've been coping with these feelings very well. Last week, I yelled at my grandparents for going out to get a pop...
On Finding Hope and Help
Some days are easier than others; it helps when it is sunny. I'm hopeful that as the weather gets warmer, I'll have more "good" days. For now, I'm trying to give myself permission to do less and to focus on what I can control, like whether or not I shower. It helps if I do.
Through all of this, I have continued to take my medication and have checked in with my doctor as needed. While it isn't always easy to ask for help or to prioritize our mental health, it is important that we do so, particularly during these difficult times. For those of you who might be struggling or who need someone to talk to, there are resources available through Dartmouth, and the NAP can help connect you with them.
Above all, this is a moment to take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities. Be well and be kind to yourselves.