03 April 2020

0 9/11-13



i've been thinking about 9/11 a lot lately.

this isn't all that original. a lot of people my age and older, americans especially, have been thinking about 9/11 lately because it's the thing we have to compare COVID to. even though, really, ultimately, this is nothing like that.

i was far, far from new york city, and didn't know anyone directly affected at the time (my parents were at a conference across the street from the pentagon but they were obviously fine). as opposed to this thing we're in now, where we all are being directly affected, we are all losing something and, unless we are very very lucky, we are all likely to lose someone.

but i've been thinking about 9/11 in the context of teaching. remembering that day and the days after and how my teachers reacted.

most of my students now are freshmen. most of them were not alive in 2001. the stories i'm hearing from them are astonishing, full-stop. but the stories about their teachers have made no sense to me.

but then i think back on my teachers and their reactions, which were, in many ways, for various reasons, pretty bizarre.

***

there was, of course, the blue of the sky. (that's what everyone remembers though, from new york to california to mississippi, bluest sky we ever saw.)

but there was also the anthropology professor who held his class as though it was business as usual.

he taught as though there weren't a television playing the news at high volume one room over.

he taught as though we weren't all hearing the south tower collapsing on that television.

he taught despite the screams we could all hear coming from that other room.

i have no fucking clue what he taught us that day. but i do remember that, when a student stood up and went to leave the room, the professor told that student his absence would be unexcused.

***

my next class was with my favorite professor. 20th century english/irish poetry.

i shit you not, we were reading w.b. yeats's "the second coming."

we did a close reading of that poem, and nary a word was said about what was happening in NYC (much less DC and PA).

it was only in the next class that we would learn that our professor had not yet heard the news. she did not say anything, did not see the parallels, because she did not know.

i don't remember how that next class went.

i do remember that, a year later, i'd hear her give a speech where she remembered this class and expressed her surprise that we covered that poem in that context and no one said a word.

it's interesting to me in retrospect, especially as a teacher, that this was something we did not feel empowered to do. there were very clear parallels to be drawn. but, lacking her explicit permission, likely assuming that she was concealing her true feelings from us and pretending nothing had happened, we too played along.

given the angst i experienced in wearing a mask to the grocery store for the first time yesterday, i can imagine the emotional cocktail of terror, embarrassment, and fear of being accused of over-reaction that might have inhibited us then.

after jfk was murdered, jackie told the journalist dorothy schiff that it was like all the pieces had changed places.

i like that image. in that classroom on 9/11, it was like we didn't know the game we were playing and all we could do was behold the board.

it's possible i'm making too much of it, that performance. there could well have been other people in that room who also didn't yet know what was happening, who hadn't heard.

whatever the case, those of us who knew (and, surely, it wasn't just me by that point in the day), we said nothing.

that said, how do you break the news of 9/11?

***

this meant that, the following day, when a professor did acknowledge the occurrence of 9/11, it felt entirely overblown.

i can't even remember what the class was, but it was some history class where we read machiavelli and the decameron. (pretty sure we were reading the decameron then...) the middle ages, maybe?

the professor was a grizzled, older guy, one of those norman mailer types that clearly wishes they lived in new york city but have somehow, due to the vagaries of the academic job market and tenure, wound up teaching in mississippi for thirty years. of all my professors, he was the only one that wore jeans.

on wednesday, september 12th, he came into the classroom.

he knew people in new york, he told us. and so he would not be teaching, he said.

he stood at the top of the room, and read a poem.

i'm 99% certain it was dylan thomas's "do not go gentle into that good night."

he read that poem and then, without another word, he left the room.

and we all ran out into the sunshine overjoyed that class was cancelled and we suddenly had 50 unexpected minutes free.

i wonder about that sentence now. i know people in new york. like, people who lived there? or people who worked in the WTC? i don't know. he didn't say and, in the next class, it was like it never happened.

***

after 9/13/01, i have no memory of any other mention of 9/11 in my remaining two years of undergraduate classes.

it was like it never happened.

28 March 2020

0 :)

0 it has come to this

today i did the jane fonda workout.

well, a jane fonda workout. because, omg, there are so many!

so i did the jane fonda exercise challenge. and i only did a portion. the arm exercises at the beginning plus approximately 15 of the subsequent 27 minutes of aerobics.

but all i could think about during the 15 minutes of the 27 minutes of the aerobics section was:

(1) how the hell did she do this whole thing with her hair down?

for real. i had to stop and put my hair up AT LEAST nineteen times, so maybe this was a smart move on her part, but also she has a lot of hair, and she gets super sweaty (idk what goes on in the 12 minutes i did not do, but apparently it really hots up), and i cannot handle sweaty hair down, not even second hand apparently.

(2) what is the likelihood that the two men she was dancing with died of AIDS?

i realize this prolly has a lot to do with who i am (in recent days, in my dear family, we have repeatedly had to make excuses for others by acknowledging "not everyone comes from a home where gary eaton has been talking about the spanish influenza since 2002.../not everyone has read and the band played on twelve times...") and what i've been reading (AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, yo!!!), but still. i'm being real. the odds would've seemed to be quite high for a choreographer in jane fonda's 1982/3 aerobics video, no?

seriously, though, i put on one of these sequin dance costumes i was really into buying last summer because i envisioned a life of god knows what, along with these sort of, i don't even know, holi-esque... in the parlance of the city thrift "ACTIVE BOTTOMS," which i somewhat inexplicably call my "space pants," though i do not think they actually feature anything even remotely lunar or constellationy, and i danced around my flat. rebelling against jane's instructions that i put on sneakers, i did my 27 minutes in bare feet.

i was surprised by her enthusiasm.

i was entirely unprepared for the memory that surfaced.

some long buried memory of being six years old in the memphis summer. and going with burvil to the christian life center at ridgeway baptist church for her aerobics class.

the place was still new. it smelled like wood and carpet. we all wore sweat suits, unironically. my six year old self and all those women i imagined were at least 90 when they were probably really only 60-65, if even.

those people, in that church, with that UH-MAZING smelling bread every wednesday night.

i find myself actively trying to forget burvil right now. which is difficult because debo is OBSESSED.

so we had a days long drama about no one calling her back about burvil. and another days long drama about getting a phone installed in burvil's room with a long enough cord that it could go on her bedside table so she would be less likely to forget about it. or put it in a drawer. and, subsequently, a days long discussion about how lovely it was to talk to burvil and how with it she seemed, how aware she was of what was going on.

i cannot bear for burvil to be aware.

i need burvil not to be aware.

the place we've put her sent us a reassuring email, the main gist of which seemed to be that, at every level of involvement with this facility, we can all expect to receive a videotaped message from their CEO.

personally, i do not fucking care about their fucking CEO. i want an assurance that burvil has been encased in impenetrable glass.

which is in direct contradiction of her need to have assistance multiple times a day, i realize. i've always been a selfish bitch when it comes to burvil, though. her being the love of my life.

a student's mother's friend's mother has died. which feels simultaneously very spaceballs and, less rationally, hella threatening.

there are 185 ventilators in memphis.

memphis has 1.4 million people.

i hate numbers. hell, i'm currently the empress of three classes in which i'm actively avoiding presenting the updated grading scheme precisely because said thing represents what i can only hope will be the most confusing math problem i ever confront.

we are talking about a lot of imaginary numbers, my friends. which i remember being one of the only elements of high school math that i enjoyed, but not today, satan.

those numbers are bad though, yeah? having seen them, I CANNOT ERASE THEM FROM MY BRAIN. there are at least 185 people in memphis that i care about.

this is why i prefer the humanities. we deal in stark truths but they are far more forgiving.

ok, so it's maybe not that i'm not writing. it's that i'm not writing what i want to, i'm writing what i have to, and i deeply, deeply resent having to contend with what i need rather than what i want.



27 March 2020

0 blurgh



i asked WRB how he's coping, and he said he's writing and reading so much. and i'm so happy for him, but also this legit sent me down a deep shame spiral.

people, i am not writing and reading so much!!!

true, true, i reread and the band played on for, like the twelfth time (as everyone always should). but, since finishing it yesterday, i have read the first twenty pages in five books.

actually, come to think of it, i guess i am reading so much, it just happen to be in the form of fitfully reading very little across a lot. that counts, right?

but i am not writing. at least not anything beyond class discussions and feedback and student emails.

***

last week, i responded to the university president's request for faculty input by writing an impassioned plea for P/NP options and recognition of adjuncts. half an hour later the president sent out an email offering P/NP and thanking adjuncts. as a result of this, garebear has repeatedly called me "the change-maker."

***

joe biden raped someone. i recognize the world is falling apart around us, but i do think joe biden's raping someone should maybe be discussed a little bit more.

***

the church on 16th street is no longer ringing it's bells on wednesdays and sundays at noon. or else i've missed it. i'd rather i've missed it than that they've stopped, because the sound is so lovely in all the quiet, and i'm not ready for that to go away.


0 laughter in the dark







View this post on Instagram

A post shared by oline (@ohlighn) on

25 March 2020

0 stay safe! take care! this thing is happening for which we do not have the language!!!

we're all doing this, right? skirting the actuality and finding delicate ways to address what is happening, this thing we are in.

see? i just did it right there!!!

and you all know i am not chicken when it comes to death and disaster. you remember 2015. you remember that whole season of life where i brought everything back to the fact that we will one day all die.

and yet you remain, so, truly. bless you.

it's "weird times" though, yeah? euphamistically speaking, i mean.

i'm currently engaged in an active email thread with a customer service rep regarding a fedex delivery that appears to have been everywhere in DC but my home. pretty sure that, were it just one week ago, all of my messages to this person i do not know wouldn't be ending with "TAKE CARE!!!!!"

today, i had a totally normal phone conversation with my insurance provider. (what a weird time for my medicaid subsidy to come through!) after i confirmed that i understood the change being made to my policy, as we said goodbye, i realized i was actively holding back from expressing a wish that this person i do not know and their family stay safe.

for two years, i have opened all group messages to my students with the salutation "dear people." i find myself CLINGING to this. in today's class video for one of the schools, i opened with a wildly enthusiastic "hi," realized my mistake and super awkward like corrected myself, blushing at my own failure to accurately express my level of care for these people.

these are "interesting times," "unsettling times," "wild times" even, like we're at a fucking rodeo rather than a global pandemic.

i find myself consistently referring to "this moment we find ourselves in."

i think i'm attracted to the passivity of it. the moment is here and we have the misfortune of being in it. voilΓ‘.

repeatedly, my "efforts" (by which i think they do not entirely realize they mean my providing copious emotional labor for sixty physically and academically and existentially terrorized young adults) are described as "herculean."

PEOPLE, I FUCKING NEVER WANT TO HEAR THIS FUCKING WORD AGAIN. I WANT IT FUCKING ERASED FROM THE FUCKING ENGLISH LANGUAGE.

i file this request as someone who once taught "classical and biblical contexts of english literature," so i am uniquely qualified to state that moving a class from a brick-and-morter room to the internet amid "this new landscape of higher education" isn't a feat of physical strength so much as a sacrifice of my self to capitalism... ie. "this strange new road we did not choose but across which we must journey."

it is only in the last day that the administration of one of my schools has revealed a protocol for what we are to do should any of us fall ill or our students or our families (the other has yet to acknowledge this as a possibility). it is only in the last day that just the littlest bit more light has been let in on "this great adventure in new ways of teaching, learning and working."

this is where knowing we will all one day die really comes in handy. 

because i did not transition my class online two weeks ago. no, i did not. i transitioned us, as a group of people in varying states of crises, to a new space. a space of emotional triage, in which we are proceeding slowly, gently. our "strange new road" is one where there is no syllabus and there are no grades and we are free to write rants and write letters to celebrities and ask writers questions and write and write and write and fail and be imperfect and be sad and mad and frustrated and grieve and lonely and write and write and ask questions and wonder and write and write and write and write


***

i did NOT go see the cherry trees. i swear. i have been tucked up in my little home since 12 march. but they were in bloom when i was here in april 2015, at the height of my "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE SOMEDAY" phase.

and they were beautiful.

as mayor bowser has reminded us, they will be even more beautiful next year.

take care! stay safe!!






0 seriously though

my teaching wardrobe is forever changed.

(this outfit was dedicated to lindear. this post is for kbg.)

23 March 2020

0 k.smartt has asked for silly things








quite unexpectedly, i think this has been debo's favorite thing so far:



also, are you following my journey into new frontiers of fashion and unwanted bid for youtube stardom?? obviously that's a train to nowhere that you want to be on! πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

21 March 2020

0 for lack of an ending

at the end of every semester, there is this enormous wave of grief.

in my last two years of teaching, i've come to account for it and recognize it and allow for it and prepare myself, primarily with the end goal of not openly weeping in our final class.

my therapists have always been quick to point out how much i hate endings. how much i'd rather live with an open ending and a lack of closure than a proper ending that actually ends it all.

the end has, obviously, come early this year.

though, also, not really because we're all still in it for one more month, so perhaps this is actually my ending of preference? time will tell.

anyway, these 60 people are still in my life. i am still communicating with them multiple times a day, still trying to make small contribution to getting them through all this, even as i mourn the fact that we will never be in the same room again as we once were.

class, as we knew it, is over. that is, for sure, at an end.

again, such a fucking obvious and necessary reality, but nonetheless a reality that brings grief.

we are all in this and we are all experiencing our different versions of it, so i'm not trying to make out that i'm any different from anyone else. i'm know i'm not.

rather, i'm just trying to acknowledge the new contours of life.

i'm someone who films myself and close captions my videos and puts them on youtube now.

DID NOT SEE THAT COMING.

two weeks ago, i would've been like, oline, wtf. now, there's a whole work flow that's popped up around this process, to give it structure.

first, i write the copy for the "monday" class, the "teaching part," where we all are ostensibly engaged in the act of Learning New Things. (a colleague pointed out that we are in a time where everything under the sun is New Knowledge; the department head said they "hope teaching is happening" and acknowledged that "teaching happening" is the bar at which we should presently pitch our expectations.)

then i write the galvanizing message, where the pastoral care part happens and i say for the 1000th time that the syllabus is gone, grades are going soon, it's ok to feel whatever you feel, and we're all just going to write and seize whatever small pleasures we can in this moment.

then i cry.

then i field multiple emails from students worried about their grades.

then i cry again.

then, once i'm confident i can relay another galvanizing message on video without crying, i shower and wash my hair, put on make-up, get dressed, and record myself alone in my apartment talking to my 60 students. looking deep into the eyes of the camera (simulating eye contact in a way i was annoyingly never able to in skype interviews), i pretend to be my normal self and remind them the syllabus is gone, grades are going soon, it's ok to feel whatever you feel, and we're all just going to write and seize whatever small pleasures we can in this moment. and then i give them a vocabulary word for the day.

the semester is over, but not quite.

life as we knew it is over, but not quite.

there are glimmers, mercifully, to be found in it's newly warped ways.

17 March 2020

0 there are people who only know me as oline

i forget this.

then debo comes to town and we have lunch with bob and adriene and she goes on and on about caroline. and then, about an hour into lunch, bob leans forward in his chair and says, deborah, who is caroline? 

who indeed.


16 March 2020

0 DO NOT CUT YOUR BANGS

my primary response to emotional trauma, as some of you may know, is to cut my bangs.

true story: therapy would be better. BUT (and, as pee-wee says, everybody has a big but), at-home bang cutting tis cheaper.

but also sometimes one wants to wear one's pain on one's head. and the thing about the bang-trauma is i do like the visible disruption that it creates. it really puts the emotional upheaval all right out there.

you see me. you see my hair. and you ask, OLINE, WTF HAPPENED? 

for the record, i've not done it yet. but, whew boy, i can feel it coming.

the most traumatic of my traumatic bang cuts (the most iconic, if you will) was just prior to my own personal brexit.

NOB and i went to paris in november 2017. she apparently spent the whole trip meaning to tell me my fringe was the perfect length. i came home and committed bangmurder and then had to leave the country.

you may recall.

(for the record: this was at least two weeks into re-growth)

lindear continued to love me in spite of this.

n.muh promptly forbid me from cutting my fringe again until valentine's day 2018.

seeing me on skype in mid-january 2018, jmills said OLINE, WHATTHEFUCKHAPPENED? and, when i told her it had happened two months priors, replied, OOOOOOH, I THOUGHT YOU JUST DID THAT LAST NIGHT!!! SO THEY WERE SHORTER ONCE UPON A TIME??!?! 

but it's ok, they grew back, life moved on.

yesterday, i was talking on the phone with debo, as we do every day now, and i guess she intuited where we are now.

i know this is stressful. you're not going to cut your bangs are you? she asked. you are, aren't you? 

i reassured her that i will wait, though how long remains to be seen.

UPDATE (3/17): reader, i cut them. 

0 it has been my experience

that there is no context in which this does not spark joy.

that's why it is totally going to be the "ok, stop" for my first online class next week. and that's why i figure we could maybe use a hit of it here too.

13 March 2020

0 ouch

one school has gone online for the rest of the semester and sent kids home.

the other school, which seems to be operating in drips and drabs of info, has committed to everyone sheltering in place and us being online until the 25th. which, i imagine, is a deadline to which we will not adhere.

it doesn't feel like that many kids until you realize there are 50 people you are holding in your heart, 50 people you're ambiently caring for, 19 of whom you now know you will not see in the classroom again.

i sent out a form to assess their needs. the form asked if there's anything they think i should keep in mind while planning the next few weeks.

this was one reply: Nothing really comes to mind, I just hope it’s not to stressful for you !!

πŸ’”πŸ’”πŸ’”πŸ’”πŸ’”

09 March 2020

2 men, man

the trouble is that it is a big tangle of bullshit. it's not just the shitshow in london but, rather, it is years of bullshit. tangled together. so that there is no isolated memory. instead they all connect, they all speak to one another, each strand links to another.

i remember that we were going to blade runner, but the weinstein stuff had just started coming out the day before and, on the way to the cinema, a man in the train station stuck his hand up my skirt and ran it along my ass, and so, when we met i told him that my first time was unwanted. and he asked:

was your underwear off? 

(yes, because he fucking held me down and removed it, i did not tell him.) 

last summer, a month before he wept copiously while dumping me, a man laid back in a bed and observed:

you sure do love control.

(wouldn't you, if you'd so often had so little?) 

tell me again how big my dick is, he'd say.

(must we always talk about your fucking stupid dick? i'd wonder)

i am ashamed by how much i am relying upon the reactions of the men around me to validate my own experience.

in 2003, in an email, in the vaguest possible terms, i told donovan that my first time was unwanted. he wrote back something to the effect of:

oline, you are just like a heroine in some henry james novel!

(can i never just be myself?)

we literally never discussed this again in the nine years he had left to live.

i remind myself most days now that donovan was scared of him too. that we kept our relationship secret for SIXTEEN MONTHS because donovan was scared of this man.

i know that. i remember that. it is only through that that i am able to approach the possibility that i too might have been afraid.

my own fear is accessible only through that of a man. my fury re: this fact is limitless.

there was a night in 2004, where donovan told me someone we knew was in jail. we were on the phone and i misheard. i thought he said it was this man. or maybe i just wanted him to have said it was this man.

it was not this man.

the possibility of my having felt physically afraid remains abstract, but i do remember the tremendous sense of relief i felt upon mistakenly hearing this man was in jail. and i've a vaguer memory of how alarming it was to hear, later on, that he wasn't.

this whole memory of what happened in college was triggered by writing an email to the ex-girlfriend of the man who asked about my underwear, the king of the shitshow. in trying to help her, i wound up not only wounding myself in entirely new ways but also old.

that night we didn't see blade runner, the man in london, the king of the shitshow, briefly thought i was talking about him. i was not. but, reflecting on that now, it does seem he maybe knew it wasn't awesome that, our own first time, he hadn't offered to wear a condom.

these fucking men, man.

we've been raised to protect them. they do not even know all of the ways we bend ourselves to protect them. it comes so naturally, the bending, the breaking, lest they be made to feel uncomfortable. lest we-- our bodies, our beings-- make them uncomfortable.

and just look at their havoc. behold! truly, it is breathtaking, the wreckage.

(are you here? i keep imagining that you're here. if so, keep reading. you owe me that too.)

04 March 2020

0 LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!!




about three weeks ago, i became aware that i'm not just playing different characters at the different universities. i'm also playing different characters in the different classes.

so thursday is three shows with three characters. which is maybe why i come home and it feels like 3 a.m. at 8:45.

with my afternoon girls, though, i have come into own. despite the fact that the morning class is the one with the piano, against which i lean like a lounge singer, i find i deliver the afternoon classes with the attitude of someone who is half a drink in.

true story: about a week ago, i objectively observed my performance in-progress and realized that i hold the dry erase marker aloft in my right hand as though it were a martini!!!

spring break is next week. as a result, as usual, this week-- the week before spring break-- has been complete and utter trash. everyone is stressed, everyone seems hostile. i produced 13,000 words of feedback in the month of february and can now barely remember my own name.

yesterday, in each class, i had to admonish them at one point because i'd look out into the sea of smiling faces and see a sea of faces looking intently at their phones and not at me.

in the first class, this was done in a vair vair bribey way. i said something along the lines of "i just read all your papers, so now you all have to look at me."

in that class, i also INEXPLICABLY, wound up recounting the story of how my handwriting is now so bad because i broke my wrist as a fifth grader due to my habit of figure skating in carpet in socked feet. (WHY DID I TELL THEM THIS?!?!?! it was truly the most vulnerable i have ever felt in a classroom, and i say that as someone who once ran through all of their material for the first day of class within the first five minutes and had to kill 45 minutes of time with a room full of judgmental 18-year-olds.)

this is what the week before spring break does to a person. i am no longer what i once was AND i have taken truth serum.

in the second class though. when i looked out into the sea of smiling faces and saw a sea of faces looking intently at their phones and not at me, i took a different tack. and i, again INEXPLICABLY (in all honesty, most everything i did in class yesterday made no sense to me), said something like, "you all need to be looking at me and not your phones, because i need to be the center of attention!!!"

which felt highly vulnerable in a different way from the socked feet story, in that it was an admission that, on some level, this is what has brought me here: i teach because i have found i weirdly love working with young writers. but, less admirably, i probably also teach because my career on the stage didn't pan out.

there is a part of me that loves the performance-- as betrayed by #adjunctfashion and the effort that goes into my costuming-- and, some days also, the person i am when i am up in front of the room. this requires a crowd and i love this particular crowd.

hence, their ability to eventually wear me down and get me to recount the story of skating in socked feet.

i said i needed to be the center of attention with what i recognize to have been approximately the same charm i would have marshaled when i more directly said LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!!! as young oline. hands together in prayer, sort of rocking to the side on my feet, as though i couldn't bear my own adorableness and were trying to escape it whilst simultaneously projecting it across the room.

and, reader, it worked. they laughed (if i cannot fix their run-ons, at least i can give them comedy hour), and they looked at me. and i had them again.

until, like, ten minutes later, when they all started putting on their coats and digging in their bags before class was over, and i had to channel every teacher i had in middle school and be all, I DON'T KNOW WHY YOU ARE ALL ARE ACTING LIKE WE'RE FIXIN TO LEAVE BECAUSE WE ARE NOT DONE HERE!!!

we win some, we lose some.

spring break is coming!

class is cancelled for thursday!!

debo is coming to town!!!

the daffs are blooming at dupont metro!!!!

i have a home!!!!!

look at me, look at me!


0 scenes from a conversation with my father in memphis who is packing my stuff for debo to bring




26 February 2020

0 late december

there is a way in which the freest i felt in my twenties was those nights when donovan was driving from denver to jackson in late 2009.

(and i imagine the fact that i've referenced this period soooooo fucking many times on this blog means this will someday by the climactic scene in the tv movie of my life.)

i wasn't eating. every night, i drank a bottle of andrΓ© and watched bright star amid the fairy lights of my chicago apartment. and then he called and we talked on the phone.

this after what... three years of not speaking? (oh, i just checked the emails. it was actually maybe barely two.)

i always say we were friends for three years, dated for three years, didn't speak for three years, then were friends again for three more years. but that's twelve years and we only knew each other eleven, so already it's a lie.

at the time though we'd both recently been dumped and were both running head-first into new lives we did not yet know.

in retrospect this period of my life has assumed an importance that has somehow also made it seem much longer than it was.

in my head, there were many phone calls. in reality, it doesn't take more than a few days to make that drive, so i've probably made them more than they were with time.

but the thing i remember about those phone calls is that it felt like we were going to be ok.

this is maybe my main argument for the value of staying friends with exes. or at least cultivating relationships with exes when the dust has settled. you already know each other's mess. you don't have to pretend to be pretty.

we were both clearly, deeply messy at that point in time, but it was terribly clear, in a way it's maybe never been since-- and maybe this is just because i was drunk most of the time then-- but it was clear then that we were going to be ok.

i'm not sure whether that held true long-term. the fact that donovan died at 31 would suggest it didn't. but for a time there, we were ok.

maybe all i mean by that, upon reflection, is that we were friends again. and being friends again-- rather than being his girlfriend or his ex-- was freeing. it meant i was me with him, rather than his.

22 February 2020

0 resilience is bullshit

a therapist once said i have an amazingly high threshold for withstanding emotional discomfort.

at the time, i took this in the spirit in which it was given—as praise. apparently it didn't occur to either of us that this might be something we probably should have spent the remainder of our sessions working to unpack.

i'm meant to be writing a talk on anger and politics and women.

i can't afford therapy so this is a therapy of sorts. thinking through the anger i myself have at the moment. anger against men, myself, and the past.

it's funny how much we forget, how much we blot out.

i've been thinking about the thing that happened in college, trying to put it into context. only just last night, for some reason i don't fully understand, did another piece slid into place.

for years, i've made a joke out of how bad my freshman year of college was. i've laughed about how i had no friends and how i read 78 books instead.

it was a year that radically changed my relationship to reading. but i've not thought about how radically it might have changed my relationship to other people.

i was so fucking lonely. and yeah, the next year, first thing, i met KBG and fur and these amazing friendships bloomed, but for that first year, my freshman year, i was so fucking lonely.

outside of time spent in class, i was very nearly always alone.

much as i enjoy my own company, it was too much.

and yes, i had a thriving friend group stretched across the south at various universities and we were all in near constant touch, but i did not have a single friend at school.

there was a desperation in that isolation, which i've rather lost touch with.

a desperation in the way i would get dressed up and leave the dorm on sunday mornings during church time, and sit in the car in the church parking lot, reading a magazine, until the service was ended, at which point i went back home. a weird farce enacted because, while i did not feel at home in the first baptist church of starkville, mississippi, there was, nonetheless, a church shaped hole in my sunday mornings that needed to be filled. not going to church was a front on which i did not want to fail, at a time when it felt i was failing at everything else.

a desperation in the way i would hide a loaf of bread in my closet, only allowing myself the pleasure of eating a piece when i couldn't bear the hunger any longer, a pleasure diminished by my keen awareness of the calories involved.

a desperation in the way in which i looked forward to going to the subway in the student union for dinner every night. even though i would return to my dorm and eat in my room, picking up my nightly sandwich was an event i would dress for, because the guy working behind the counter-- the flirty guy who looked a little like jordan catalano, the guy i would later go on to date, the guy who would do so many of the things with which i'm now wrestling-- seemed to see me.

the desperation i felt on the nights he wasn't there was alarming. not straight-forwardly because i was attracted to him, but because it was an absence that meant i was robbed of one of the only moments of human contact in my day.

i always thought it was funny that the two men i went on dates with sophomore year were the only two people who paid any attention to me when i was a freshman. looking back now, that looks less coincidental than it did then.

i have hated myself plenty but i've never been suicidal. but there was a moment driving back to school from nashville, sometime in the fall of my freshman year-- when i was failing chemistry, and things with steven were unclear, and i did not know what would happen to me, and i was living on 12 grams of fat a day-- when i spent the entire drive avoiding the temptation to wreck the car.

i didn't want to die. i didn't even want to be hurt. i just did not want to go back. and i could not figure out how to communicate how bad things were. i knew how bad things were but i was too ashamed. and so i fashioned for myself a way of existing within that, within both the shame and the awful.

i went back.

and i sat on a hillside with a notebook watching the sunset-- which was a thing i did every night for a time there, because it gave me a routine task but also because it rendered my isolation somehow both romantic and more of a choice.

when one of my cousins transferred colleges after his horrible freshman year a few years ago, my family marveled at this. my parents had known my freshman year was difficult, though i concealed from them the details, the desperation described here. and yet it had never occurred to any of us that this might be an option.

yes, i got through. yes, in spite of being in a quite violent, abusive relationship for the remaining three years, i would still argue that college got better. it was never as bad as my freshman year again. but at what cost?

i have an amazingly high threshold for withstanding emotional discomfort. bully for me.

but that's not something one is born with. it's a thing developed through practice, over time. it's a way of being wrought by having been emotionally uncomfortable for a hell of a long time.

throughout the end of my phd and the year after, during the immigration disaster, i bragged about my high threshold for emotional discomfort, like it was a thing of pride. better yet-- a life skill. something for the CV!

but i wonder how things would be different, if anything would be different, if i could've seen then that this maybe wasn't the compliment i thought it was. that it was, in reality, a sign of how wrong things were, how wrong they'd been for nigh on decades.

i remember the sunsets though.

in chicago, later, and in london, later still, i would flip the equation, waking up early, instead, to watch the sun rise.

because i wanted to see something new. 

20 February 2020

0 is it spring break yet?

it's that time in the semester/season/life? when it feels like we have been doing this forrrrrrrevahhhhhh. we need summer, stat.

it's a disaster, but i'm ok, WRB says of his class today.

DL and i run into each other at the stoplight across the street from the building our classes are in. i ask how she is and she replies, well, nobody ever died from teaching comp 101.

i open class with the question, who else stayed up entirely too late watching the debate even though they knew they had to wake up at a 5 a.m.?

apparently i was alone in that, so i don't know why they were so tired today.

i'm standing at the stop waiting for the bus that will haul my tired ass across town for shows two and three, when i hear-- over the sound of the jeffrey epstein podcast i'm listening to-- a shout of I LOVE YOUR BACKPACK!!!!!

i look up and a man is 1/4 leaned out the window of his car two lanes over to tell me this.

the sentiment isn't all that surprising. my backback is entirely blue sequins. it is like walking around withe a disco ball. but he keeps talking and so i take the headphones out and hear him say: I LOVE YOUR BACKPACK!!!!! IT'S ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. IT JUST BROUGHT SO MUCH JOY TO MY DAY. 

the light changes, he waves, beaming at me, and drives on. and i'm left reflecting on the fact that, despite having to remove my headphones, that was a solidly lovely interaction with a man, and also, apparently, i spark joy.




15 February 2020

0 i've written a thing

about the thing that happened in college.

it is a short story from the perspective of the man i would write about were i to write about this. it is his reaction to the story i would tell, his imagined response to something i have not published in the new yorker.

however, as someone who writes about and researches the way we write stories of lives, i am intellectually fascinated that the way i am currently best able to tell this story is through a four-page monologue attacking myself in his voice.

it is easier to inhabit his version of me than my own.




13 February 2020

0 end times

someone from my high school died.

S relayed this information yesterday. in the form of a text that read: "do you remember this person? they have died."

we've spent the day since trying to remember.

i looked on facebook and have no clue.

S forwarded the obituary and we are still at a loss.

S has observed that this person looks like someone who hung out with sporty people (BREAKING NEWS: we did not hang out with sporty people) and who was probably in the other english class.

when i run into WRB on campus and confess to our assholery, he says, that sounds very high school. and he is not wrong.

the fact that we cannot remember this person seems to have shaken S deeply.

because we are 38.

because we are single.

because we are lonely.

maybe most crucially, because there are people from our high school who, surely, do not remember us. (our reunion has provided solid evidentiary support for this interpretation, though the number of times i was mistaken for S's non-alum wife would suggest i am at greater risk of being forgotten than him.)

because it is highly likely we will die without having touched all of humanity with our awesomeness.

because, when we die, there are people who will not have known us and they, as a result, will not care.

i wonder if he's forgotten how, when we were in high school, there was a horrible car crash involving two girls we knew. or maybe he didn't know them. i did.

one of the girls died. the other survived.

and then, about a week later (well, it felt like a week, it could have very well been a few days, but either way it was an entirely unreasonable amount of time for them to have made this mistake, they realized that the girl they thought was alive had actually died and the girl they thought had died was actually alive.

and so it went from being that someone from the other choir class who i didn't know had died to someone i'd talked to most every morning before school in the 10th grade had died.

we were seniors...? or was this 11th grade? either way, we'd drifted apart. i'd not spoken to her in awhile. but this was someone who was there when another friend came in and broke the news that ginger spice had left the spice girls. it was someone i did know, even though i no longer really knew her when she died.

it was a weird few weeks. was there a memorial? i don't remember. did i tell my parents? i don't think so. everyone knew this thing had happened, but i don't think i mentioned that i knew the girl.

i think it was autumn. i remember the girl who survived-- both of them were named tiffany? (i maybe had not even known the name of the girl i knew?)-- participated in the christmas caroling we did at a holiday bazar that year. but i don't remember there being an announcement or an assembly about any of this.

all i remember is the rumors in the hallway and how weird it was to hear our school being reported about on national TV. and debo saying how horrible that week must have been for those parents, thinking their child was alive when it was actually someone else's.

the takeaway for me then was, apparently, that we are all, to some extent, interchangeable. one of us could be gone just as easily as it could be another.

this is perhaps what S is wrestling with... the whole it was them this time, but it could just as easily be me thing

i write biography so i fancy i already know this. i've written a whole life in a year, so i know it goes fast and it is fragile. i know knowing this is different from knowing this, but still i have academic credentials in death, so i flatter myself this is some work i've already done. (even as i know, just in writing that, i'm being cockily naive.)

S worries that he will die alone and there will be no one to collect his wares.

i text back, honey, as long as i am alive, rest assured i will collect your wares. 

i wonder if this is actually consoling. it perhaps makes me sound more like a traveling vendor than a friend, but there we have it.

it's hard, when we are feeling lonely, to remember that we are not alone. that we are remarkable. that we are loved.

that, for every single one of us, there is this whole constellation of people rooting for us, loving us. people who will show up for us and, as long as they live, will never forget us.

is it everyone in the world? no. but it's multitudes. and it's probably more than we imagine.

12 February 2020

0 blurgh



P and i are talking about all the cool clothes we have that we don't wear at the bookshop because we know men would comment on them and make us feel gross.

i've long recognized that half the fun of being in a relationship is the clothes i wear.

i've only just realized that that i see that as exclusively a perk of a relationship because, without the context of a man at my side, a similar threat exists.  i am suddenly open to comment.

men in the general public will assume i have dressed for their pleasure. they will say things. they will make me feel gross.

it is only when i pretend to dress for a particular man that i can fully dress for myself.

i LOVE fashion. so how fucking sad is that?

it's not about feeling sexy; it's about feeling safe.