17 January 2021
i went on a date and we had ethiopian, and it was my turn to buy dinner and i gave a $15 tip, which was more than 25% of our bill but also didn't feel like it was that generous, but when we went to pick it up the woman, when she heard my name, she was so visibly and effusively verbally grateful for that $15 in these hard hard times, and, ever since, i cannot block out her face, i cannot stop hearing her voice, as i kissed him i enjoyed it whilst also harboring in my mind that i really would've given more because i knew it mattered but, even though i knew it mattered, i did not know it mattered nearly that much, and if it'd known it mattered that much i would've tipped $50 or maybe even $100 because the world is shit and there are troops in my city and i feel like the only thing we can do in these hard hard times is identify the individuals in our orbit for whom we can do something and to do that very small thing.
so she felt i did something and i feel like what i did was sorely inadequate, and now i sit here pondering if maybe i can order ethiopian again on the same day of the week in order to figure out who she was because i feel i can't just call the restaurant and ask for her venmo, because even though i don't have a lot of money, i've an unrelenting longing to give.
13 January 2021
the helicopters are back.
they were notably absent on the 6th.
it was weirdly quiet. every time i'd think the sirens were out my window, they were actually on tv.
all of it was on tv. that was not true in june.
there was a hearse, right? a black hearse, parked in front of the capitol. i saw it. i noted it to debo on the phone and she saw it and asked what it was and i said that is a hearse and there is a poster on the windshield with nancy pelosi's name.
i've not heard anyone mention that.
did you see it?
truly, i do not think i made it up. if so, it's a delusion into which i carted debo fully.
there was a time in london, early on, when i was grief-stricken and wounded and those are the times, i find, when it's ok to watch horrific things, to fully let one's self submerge in the horror so you can write about the horror. because you're already there, in the horror, yeah? so why the hell not.
i was Writing then. i am not Writing now.
this was really early days. i didn't even have a desk yet, but was using the coffee table that came with the apartment, sitting on the floor in an L shape with my back against the plastic sofa and my feet under the table.
i wrote assignments #2 and #3 of my phd in this pose. the chunk linking jackie to 9/11, which years later became this article.
and watched the entirety of the CBS and NBC coverage of the jfk assassination and the CNN coverage of 9/11 in this position.
"the fog of war" mcnamara called it. the way the story is told when we are in it is how i apply that same notion.
we don't know how it's going to end, nor when. the outcome is unclear. we narrate as best we can, but the details slip through and later, weeks on, slowly in a trickle, they come out. and we learn the panic buttons were disabled and congresspeople were giving tours on the 5th.
i wonder about the hearse though. because you know that took planning, some level of coordination. children are not allowed to sled on these grounds and these guys drive a hearse up to the capitol steps?
when lindear and i talked the other night, we workshopped worst case scenarios for the coming week, in an effort to neutralize our fears. our scenarios were pretty brutal then. today, they seem rather quaint.
i would say the situation is evolving.
i went on a date last night. twas a trés trés 2020/1 DC date.
we walked from my house down past the white house and the mall and over to the korean war memorial and up to the lincoln memorial, all heavily fenced, all surrounded by military.
it was so dark it felt like 11 o'clock. it was 6 pm.
the police seemed to be closing roads behind us on the whole walk back up.
there were more helicopters today. maybe one every hour or 45 minutes.
there was a proper plane late last night, as i lay in bed reading a book about the splintering of the republican party. a distinctive and inappropriate noice that made me clench my jaw so tight that it was still sore this morning.
i spent late last week so grateful that i wasn't teaching during the putsch. joke's on me! i get to teach next week. TWICE. i have to paint my face and costume myself and explain this to 80 people, aged 17-19, approximately. lord, be with us all.
K and i have been going for four mile walks around the mall on sundays. this coming sunday is cancelled due to the insurrection.
my grocery order came today. i've planned ahead so i can make burgers and homemade pretzels and mulled wine and tofu katsu.
odds are high i'll be living on cereal.
the helicopters are back. like, casually. circling. surveilling. throughout the day.
i don't know why that's the thing but it is.
they're flying high so it's nothing like june.
nothing has been like last june-- which isn't a consolation but an indictment.
june was hellish and that hellishness was unwarranted. this, THIS is hell and hell has not been brought to bear.
they drove a hearse up to the steps of the capitol.
my aunt texts me that i should order printer cartridges because there's going to be a shortage due to people working from home.
i feel like this was a story that went viral last april. i text back that i'm focusing on food in expectation of a curfew and an inability to leave my house.
she tells me that there has been violence on both sides and its overblown and she just wishes people would stop being so political.
my sore jaw clenches.
i'm teaching a class on anger this semester. in constructing the welcome email to tell my kids it's going to be ok and that i'm aware there's a pandemic, i wrote that i hoped the class would help them process their feelings over the last year.
and then i realized that was not enough.
it is a LIFETIME.
of grief and violence and discrimination and anger.
pelosi's staff knew to cut the lights, block the door and get under the table.
that is what we are working with this semester.
they are 17, 18, 19. this is their first year of college, second semester. this was their first election. this is their first "peaceful transition of power."
my anger, it is capacious.
the helicopters are back. my jaw is clenched. my plants, they are all stationed nearer to the sun. they do no longer try so hard. spring is coming. that man at the end of the street is moving out. the fence is probably gonna be there for a long, long while. the fencing surrounds us, we fling our embellishments upon it.
i do not know what will happen. like you, i do not know where this will end.
to be clear: i do not think it has ended.
and that is a fucking terrifying thing to sit with, to write with, teach in, live in, date in, cook dinner in, go to sleep in and awaken to.
not that statehood is a cure or anything, but seriously, for real, c'mon: #DCStatehoodNow.
03 January 2021
about the fence, that i forgot to plug here.
the white nationalists are coming back to town this week, protesting the vote certification on the 6th. if you're looking for ways to support people on the ground in DC, violá.
01 January 2021
never got an email from you https://t.co/zSF4zwmqtC— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
The story is aimed at ridiculing the one-drop rule. Just a reminder: policing language doesn't solve the problem of misogyny and racism. https://t.co/oI09ky1u4J— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
We see censorship is thriving in American academia. https://t.co/zSF4zwmqtC— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
31 December 2020
25 December 2020
18 December 2020
ten months of teaching without laughter.
i laugh at myself. they can see and hear me laughing at myself. sometimes i see them laugh. but they are always on mute.
no one is going to unmute themselves to audibly laugh.
i know that. i think i may have already written about that here. that would be really fucking weird, let's be real.
but i honestly didn't realize how much i miss that-- a classroom full of laughter-- until the other day.
it has been so quiet, this semester just past.
we have adapted. we have forged on. learning has occurred. teaching is happening.
but it is so fucking quiet.
i dress loud. i emote. i put on a damn good show. and they show up (well, some of them).
teaching is happening. some learning has occurred.
they are writing.
i feel like by the sheer force of my personality, hauling us all into this moment, they are still writing.
by my personality-- sweet jesus, my personality is so fucking tired and bereft-- i have brought us here. by the force of it.
because this is all, on some level i can't quite access because i am numb, forced. it is performance. it comes at a cost. (it comes at the cost of all of the phone calls i have not returned.)
but they are still writing. when i left them, they were writing. when i left them, so many of them expressed gratitude to have had the opportunity to keep writing.
i tell myself that is all that matters. i teach writing and they are writing and i am reading what they write so they are experiencing what it feels like to have your writing taken seriously. they are experiencing what it feels like to have someone take you seriously as a writer. for the 13 weeks of these short, sad semesters, they can-- at the very least-- feel they have been read.
ultimately, that's probably all i've ever felt i've given them, even in years past. (is it passed or past? i teach writing and i fucking do not know.)
i give them the gift of being read.
which is not inconsequential. i would argue, it's quite a fucking lot. because why write if not with the awareness of-- if not always the expectation (though i confess, for me at least, the expectation has always, even since i was a very young girl, been there)-- of being read.
i have never dreaded a semester so much as i currently dread spring 2021.
maybe because spring 2020 was so appalling, so painful.
maybe because the break between winter and spring is never ever enough, even in the good times.
and, as i've reminded my students often these past few months, we are not living in good times.
three weeks is not enough to sit with the grief, to process. to hold, to rest and recover.
three weeks is not enough to reconstitute myself as a human being, much less as a writer and a thinker.
three weeks is not enough to prep two sets of classes and prepare six course websites.
three weeks is not enough.
i need a month, AT LEAST. alone (with claude), reading and thinking and writing by the light of my christmas trees and walking in the early morning in my city, awaking.
i need a month, AT LEAST, of not having to perform care work and trauma-informed pedagogy.
as we say in my family, these are our various breads and butters. trauma and care. this is a framework that everything that has come before has prepared me to work within.
i'm aware this is maybe also the core, the meaning, of my whole life-- these kids. and their voices, meeting trauma with care.
whenever i would try to talk about my feelings in the mid-2010s, garebear would deflect and say it's not all about you. and i knew it wasn't. and i see now how that was a defensive rhetorical move, a move intended to protect himself, because he was not able to go to there. and, surely, yes, there are times i have made it all about me.
but i just-- and maybe this is pure flattery, maybe i'm a horrible human being who tilts narratives to gratify my own pride and make everything about myself whilst pretending it is about others--. i just, in so many of the things i have done (the jackie book, teaching, i don't know what else but surely a list of two things is long enough for you right now...) feel like i'm preparing the way.
is a john the baptist complex a thing?
i freely admit, i probably have that.
I AM NOT THE ONE!!!!!!!
i know that. i have known that for quite some time.
but the one, the ten/the twenty/fifty/ninety/417/1202029/2238493. they are coming. they are rising up. i have seen them.
it has been my very great privilege to see them, to read them.
three weeks is not enough. to repair, to restore oneself for the gravity, the difficulty of the work we have to do. it is not.
we had a union social meeting tonight for the holiday break. celebrating the end of the semester. six people showed up.
after my teeny tiny class at nyu-dc this semester, i am convinced that six people is the perfect class size.
we've had so many meetings this term, because we're preparing a labor action, but this is the first one where our mics were on.
the meetings usually last an hour. this one lasted two and a half.
and there was laughter. there was so much laughter.
earlier today, i wrote the student who stays in touch with me from AU. she is not singing; i am not writing. and then i wrote one of the two professors from undergrad whom i stay in touch with. and i told her about the laughing. i told her how i feel like things are going pretty well but i've realized i so desperately miss the laughter.
i can do zoom. i am maybe even thriving. when i returned to the US from london, burvil told me i should consider a job in local tv. well, baby, i've gone international.
come spring 2021, i'll be playing twelve shows a week, all around the world.
what i remember about the screening of a silent film-- the title of which i cannot remember-- that we had to watch in MAPH is that it was completely, utterly exhausting. in my whole young life at that point in 2003, i had never been so tired as i was after that.
my defense mechanism is humor. my primary pedagogical tool is humor. i am, they all agree on ratemyprofessor.com, exceedingly nice. my niceness, it derives from being a generally humane person but also from my ability to handle all of this bullshit with a delicate and light and comedic touch.
nine months, no laughs.
three weeks is not enough to recover from the deprivation.
three weeks is not enough before we all have to take the stage again.
three weeks is not enough, i am not ready, i cannot pave the way if i am a depleted husk of a human being.
it is a sin that teachers are not seen as essential workers.
it is a sin that we are in the situation we are in right now.
i crave joy.
i hunger for laughs.
i teach a whole class on helping students find their voices and what they are learning is that, when they are not speaking-- when they are not actively contributing to the discussion-- they must mute themselves.
unbridled laughter. that is all i want for christmas. and more than three weeks to reconcile myself to the fact that that is not a gift i'm going to get.
04 December 2020
flailing? it's quite unclear.
nanette sent me an ornament and some body/facial glitter. i opened them we skyped with her kid on thanksgiving day.
i spent five thanksgivings away from my parents, like three of them with nanette, so this is totally not a big deal.
i show her kid my christmas trees. i put on a sparkly duster solely for this occasion.
he looks at me like i am magic. in this moment, i feel like magic.
i feel like all my people's children see me. i feel like my students see me. when i am not on camera now, i feel like a dark hole.
i wrote a thing. it's 600+ words over the limit. but, really, is this a time for limits? i feel capacious. i feel simultaneously dead inside and capacious. i would like to use all of the words at my disposal.
the other day, i had a therapy session with a therapist whom, as it turns out i cannot afford. openly, i wept. this felt like progress.
today, i reached the end of writing the thing. and i sobbed.
for multiple minutes.
and this too felt like progress.
this is really hard. all of it.
claude looks at me like he wants something. he asks to be loved and then he runs away.
nanette sent body glitter, specifically for application to my eyelids.
i put on a sequin catsuit and a significant portion of my rings and take a selfie in the bathroom and i just look like someone who has put on a catsuit and a lot of rings and posed under an unforgiving light for no reason.
the glitter, it is not visible at this time.
i feel like i'm failing so many people. i am not watching marco polos. i am not returning calls.
i am not my best self.
and then i have a zoom with a student whose grandfather died, and she shows up thirty minutes late, and i am there, and she gives me all manner of explanations and i shush her and tell her how i think i've already told her about how ruth died in 1999, and how i got a D in chemistry and my whole world was rocked in ways that have only been brought into the light during the pandemic. and i can tell she is grateful that we are occupying a space in which she is believed and explanations are not needed and her best is not expected.
i am failing all over the place but i can show up here. i can show up for the people who show me their writing.
i tell students at one institution that a student at another institution has covid, and i see the only person who is on camera visibly flinch.
we are all of us connected. the tissues of experience and germs bind us in ways of which we have, previously, had the luxury of remaining aware.
there are so many emails that have slipped through the cracks. and that is just among my students. never mind my friends.
in the union, we're planning a party for december 18th. i sent a link to a bustle article about work zooms and remarked about the sucessfulness of breakouts in my classes, so now i'm to be made a co-host.
it puts into perspective how much i long for the house-warming party that was meant to happen last march. the birthday spectacle that was meant to occur in may. it puts into perspective all that has been lost.
i am aware of what has been lost. i sit with what has been lost.
all semester, my students have been submitting weekly rants. i see the panorama. people, it is awful.
and yet we go on. and yet, i am the cohost of a work zoom on december 18th because i enjoy rearranging zoom breakouts at random. something i'm quite sure my students detest.
the discombobulation, it is total. so maybe, just maybe, we've come to expect it.
the thing i didn't tell the therapist i cannot afford was that i am bracing, always. i have been bracing since 2016. not because of trump but because of immigration.
the date passed without comment. folded into thanksgiving.
the day i left the uk. the day i repatriated. the day i became someone else, forcibly, via the state.
the thing i wrote about, the thing i finished today which went way over its word count, was about force, federal force. and trauma, and memorialization.
i finished it. by which i do not mean that i wrote the last sentence and installed a period but rather than i filled in the details, drew in the lines around which i'd been drawing, and tied it up in the middle so it could lead into an end.
and i sobbed. weeping was not enough. i've wept on the streets, walking up 16th, home from the BLM memorial. this was sobs. for i'm not entirely sure what.
for the loss of life. for mj. for burvil. for the shitshow in which we currently find ourselves mired. my loneliness. for the reality that, in living, we will all die. for the other reality that, in living, we find ourselves stuck in a situation characterized by appalling iniquities.
nannette sent an ornament and body glitter. i put on rings and a black sequin catsuit that has yet to leave the house and took pictures of myself in the bathroom mirror in an attempt to capture an image that accurately conveyed the awesomeness of the glitter with which she gifted me.
none of them did.
everything is inadequate.
nothing is enough.
i am failing.
things fall apart.
there are not words.
19 November 2020
i can't really think about it or talk about it much less write about it because it opens up a whole world i don't really want to go into.
a time in my life from which, i now note, a surprisingly high number of people are gone.
a time pre-blog.
a time that, when i heard he had died, i looked back on as a time of great difficulty, a time when i wasn't particularly happy.
it was with horror, upon thinking that, that i realized how much of my adulthood i would characterize in that way. how much of it has been unhappy.
this is not to say it's been devoid of moments of joy. it is not at all to say that.
just that it's been difficult. perhaps in a way that adulthood is typically difficult.
his life was very difficult.
i know this because he had boundary issues, and the whole time i worked for him, he leaned on me emotionally in ways that, as a 23-year-old, felt extremely difficult to cope with.
i wonder if this is not just because i was 23 but also because we were unhappy at the same time, and maybe also in different but not disconnected ways.
he had more energy than anyone i've ever known. connected to that, he drank more coffee than anyone i've ever known.
we went to multiple formal events during the years i worked for him, and yet the only photograph immediately at hand is one from 2013, where i look exhausted and my hair is awkward-- in an ongoing struggle to segue from a pixie to a bob. we'd had a long, tiring conversation. often, we had long, tiring conversations, and i left him feeling depleted. that my working for him pre-dated my coffee addiction astounds me. i do not know how i survived.
truly, he drove me bonkers. his jitteriness, the way he picked at the skin on his hands, the way he asked about my five year plan.
in that photograph from 2013, he looks like himself. he has always looked like himself.
not true. at some point, we unearthed a box of old photographs from the company, and there he was, sometime in the 80s or 90s, looking plump, still recognizable but not the svelte man we all knew. and we exclaimed aloud, WOW! because, even then, it was hard to imagine he hadn't always been this version of himself. because he was so totally, so completely himself. one of those people you cannot imagine as a child, because their expression of self as an adult is so total that it seems an impossibility they would've sprung forth as anything else.
(i, in contrast, am probably easily imaginable as a child, my pursuits and expressions being, still, so child-like.)
i cannot believe he is gone. i cannot bear he is gone. this person i've not texted in the last two months. not since i texted to tell him i'd gotten the job at howard. thank god i told him that.
insert all the clichés-- too soon, such a tragedy, so unexpected, etc., etc., etc.
there was a dinner once, a lunch actually, at some place that served fancy dinners. we were there for someone's birthday, maybe mine, and he lifted his water to toast me, telling the table that one day they'd all work for me at time magazine. (this was a time when time meant something far more than it does now.)
when i left memphis to move to chicago, i worked for him for another year, but he gave me a going away present. a block of marble with my name on it and the word "Author" underneath.
this was in 2005, 2006. he knew i was writing because, when he met me at the starbucks at the corner of poplar and kirby for our first interview, i was editing my own jackie book.
we met at the starbucks at the corner of poplar and kirby repeatedly in the years after, even after i no longer worked for him.
the last time i saw him, was sometime in the winter of 2018. i'd applied for the job at graceland and not yet heard back. i had no teaching. i felt adrift.
we met at la baguette, because the starbucks at the corner of poplar and kirby-- our starbucks-- had closed.
i have two students from memphis this semester. they've registered to be in my class again in spring.
that seems like a non sequitur but, somehow, it isn't.
he used to clap his hands together and say, with a note of mischievousness-- like we were really pulling one over on the people in charge-- "now we're cooking with gasoline."
i started as his secretary and so i used to write his emails, i learned to mimic his voice and write as him (and whew, lawd, that's a whole other post-- what we do with the men whose voices we used to write in). his business correspondence always concluded the same way: Keep the Faith.
god, he drove me bonkers. i was so unhappy, so often, while working for him. and yet i recognize is as the gift that it was. and i loved him, absolutely, with my whole battered heart.