30 January 2020

0 younger

i didn't recognize you, you looked so young, a student tells me when she arrives for our conference. i try not to let this go to my head, because i am (1) facing a wall so she clearly only saw me from behind and (2) wearing a blue jean shirt as a jacket and an especially insouciant hair poof, all of which telegraphs leisure, as opposed to an I AM HERE IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY vibe.

i'm aware i'm maybe getting a complex about age. scratch that. i am aware i already have a complex about my age. one characterized by a dawning insecurity about how my crows feet look when i wear certain glasses (not bad enough such that i have stopped wearing said glass but bad enough that i do take note every single time i see myself reflected whilst smiling in them) accompanied by an overwhelming, sheepish, shameful pride when students and administrators and people out in the world continually mistake me for a someone far younger than i am.

i'm significantly older than i appear is a phrase i've been saying for awhile. especially last fall around the time of my high school reunion, when everyone assumed it was ten years, and i have to be like no...um... TWENTY.

is this maybe a vestige of school? having spent so much of our early lives around people our own age, we assume the age of everyone around us as we move forward in life is roughly not that far off from ours because how we could we possibly get along with/have anything to say to someone 13 years older/younger?

i'm spending my days with 19 year olds, regaling with them with tales of what it was like when brad pitt left jen aniston. i literally said aloud in class the other day to other human beings: what a time to be alive. that was my assessment of the year of our lord [ominous drums] 2006.

i've apparently revealed enough of myself here that they now ask, unsolicited, what was the response when this chris evans profile came out in 2011? which is both deeply strange and also warms my heart because it opens up space to tell them about ladyblogs and how mancentric celebrity profiles were and how, when this thing came out, so many of my girlfriends forwarded it to me and i sat in my cubicle in chicago reading it and wondering what else i might do with my life.

working five jobs and hauling ass all over town wasn't exactly the life i had in view, but it is nonetheless not such a bad one: full of sequins, conversations, and still-- even at this late age-- shimmering with possibilities.

that feels like a very SATC thing to say, while also being truth.

29 January 2020

0 wherein i am (briefly) mistaken for an undergrad

last semester, my camp buddy WRB (you know-- that person you glom onto the first day and hang on to for dear life for the whole of the shared ordeal) was mistaken for an undergraduate by other undergraduates in the coffee line.

someone tried to befriend him on the first day of semester and he had to be all oh, i don't go here. i teach here. at which point the student turned around 180 and they endured the coffee line together in silence.

he told me this and i was a little jealous. which is perhaps unfair, because my vibe is, currently, bohemian disco broadway chic/jan's aunt jenny. and there's not a lot of undergraduates who are in that place. so, simply by that fact alone, i appear to not be 19.

but lo! there i was, sitting on the couches waiting for WRB to roll up so we could bitch about various states of psychological and emotional depletion, when the undergraduate seated across from me attempted to engage me in conversation about what, he assumed, was our shared enrollment in some history 101.

i, of course, SHUT THAT WAY DOWN. because i am not an undergraduate and i am not enrolled in a 101 but also because, at my other school, i'd recently sat through an entire hour of what they called "sexual harassment training" (which seems such a misnomer as it makes it sound like we are being trained to harass rather than being trained in recognizing our own power in the classroom and being conscientious, humane, non-exploitative authority figures).

so i clarified that i was not in his course and we sat in silence.

it wasn't until WRB showed up though that it became clear to me that WRB knows this student and it became clear to this student that WRB and i are obviously peers, i am obviously not a youth, and professors can and do wear blue tights. so, a teachable moment all around.

24 January 2020

0 i would argue that you have not lived

until you have a stood in front of nineteen 19-year-olds at 8:22 a.m. on a thursday, having slept merely 2.5 hours and just asked "what is one thing we know about frank sinatra?" you have not felt fully alive until you have facially communicated delight and good humor while letting a silence slide by for a whole full fucking minute as you wait for someone, anyone, to simply restate the title of the article we have all supposedly read (which you did not finish) and declare, clearly, confidently, "frank sinatra has a cold."

where, pray tell, should this glorious moment go in my teaching portfolio?

23 January 2020

0 impeachment feels

soooooooo 1991, right? like when we lived in atlanta and the braves were, inexplicably, still in the west coast league and i would have to go to bed before they played and garebear would wake me at an obscenely early hour of the morning for fifth grade with the announcement of either "BRAVES LOSE!!!!" or "BRAVES WIN!!!!!" and, either way, it felt like i had missed out on something monumental, all because i had dared to rest.

(also, OMG, we have been watching adam schiff speak on cnn for 4,000 years, non?)

22 January 2020

0 home

i was house-sitting for my nephew's parents for a few days while they were away on work. it was just four days. a staycation in which i finally had an opportunity to do allllllllll the laundry i've not done (a not new circumstance) in the time that has elapsed since december 9th. because i'm living in a building with no laundry facilities and, though i've found a modicum of stability, i really cannot handle another new place and psychologically navigate the launderette that is .75 miles away right now.

apparently, due to a shaky laundry situation over the summer, i've inadvertently accumulated enough underwear to get by for 1.5 months. which is a victory perhaps best characterized as troubling. but there we are.

and so i piled my laundry into the red suitcase and hauled the red suitcase back up 14th street for what surely must be the 20th time in the last six months.

this process is a weird time capsule now. the packing of the suitcase and the occupation of other people's homes. weird enough that i'm wondering if trying to doing a house-sit in paris over the summer wouldn't actually just be profoundly triggering and destabilizing at this point.

i've been in this particular home two other times.

the first, in august, when i'd just decided to try this nonsense thing and move to DC with one quarter of a job and house-sit my way through a semester.

then again in october, right in the middle of the month of seven moves and around the point that it was becoming clear how entirely unsustainable house-sitting would be for much longer were i to remain human.

i'd forgotten that actually, until the other day. that when all of this started, when i hatched this idea at the house with the black dog and then i took the job at the first university, it was with the idea of seeing what it was like. when i pitched this to my parents, in the house with the two black cats, i said, i'll just try it for a semester and we'll see. i did not look beyond that. i did not allow myself to imagine further.

and here we are now. with four jobs, a home, a couch and bookshelves, FLATWARE OF MY OWN CHOOSING. safe to say i am properly entrenched. this is where i am. now and for the foreseeable future. yeah, the foreseeable future still exists in terms of, like, a week rather than months or semesters or years, but it's progress of a sort.

i'm slowly eking my way through disturbance-- eking because it is horribly beautiful and it has entirely more typos than should be allowed but also because i want it to last-- and there was a short passage about the writer's ex-wife. lançon writes of her:
From her former condition as an immigrant, she had retained this quality: she settled in without difficulty, and immediately, wherever she was, as if she had carried her house on her back and her valise-- big, cheap, held together by straps-- between her hands. as if at any moment she was going to have to leave. 
i was an incredibly privileged immigrant, to be sure. but it still feels, on some level, over two years after i had to leave, that at any moment i will have to do so again.

something in him never stops trembling.

i know one other person who shares this experience. we met when i was in between the house with the black dog and the house with the black cats, hauling all my bags around town. over coffee, with all of my bags (i had so many bags! i felt i had to account to him for all of my bags....), i confessed i had this wild idea of house-sitting my way through a semester and he reeled back in horror.

he'd not yet had to leave and the lack of stability in the plan i proposed horrified him to no end. he could not imagine it. the discombobulation, the total lack of connection, the transience.

so much of this story, the story of being displaced, the story of trying to forge connections with people who do not understand this thing that has happened to me, the loss of a home, the loss of the very concept of home, is about a failure of the imagination.

he reeled back, and i said some weird thing, something, i think, about how once it's happened, though, you don't really expect much. (even then, even over just coffee on a first date, i was aware of this line between us-- what had happened to me had not yet happened to him and though i assumed it would happen to him, because i knew it could happen because it had happened to me, he did not know that and so our lives together and our time together depended upon my playing along... to be happy, i had to suspend disbelief, had to fully, completely, lean into the sheer loveliness of his arm around my waist for all those friday nights and pretend i did not know the ending, though i did know it, because i know these things do happen, these things can happen and the world is unfair, life is unkind. think of that-- you who have not experienced this, you who are reading this and have no fucking clue-- think of trying to forge a connection with someone for whom you care, trying to be vulnerable with that person across all of the pain and all of the past and this visa reliant pit of doom. please never accuse me of insufficient bravery, my love. do not.)

once you've had to leave, once your hand is forced and your heart has had to break, there's nothing there so you build from that nothing, and it's ok and you get through. some of that neoliberal, capitalistic bullshit, i fed him that, i think. (this person to whom i'm not currently speaking and yet whom i hold terribly dear.)

and i remember i said something about how i didn't think i could have done this before, but now it seemed a reasonable option. this had not yet happened to him then, so he did not yet know. (it has now happened to him, and i do not yet know where that leaves us, us both having been broken by the different countries where we lived and loved.)

on my way home from that date, i got an email that i'd gotten the job at the first university. and the plan that had so horrified him had suddenly come to be.

this fear of having to leave isn't an entirely new thing though. i'm aware i felt it in the first year i lived in london as well. i remember discussing it in therapy, the sensation that i'd become somehow detached from whatever solid life i'd been leading in chicago, and all of a sudden things were tenuous, the status of being a student, i imagined, was judged less valuable to society, and therefore, more easily revoked than, say, having some god-awful day job that gave you little in the way of pay but health insurance enough to keep you alive.

there are, however, two elements of this sensation that are particular to this specific instance and they are intriguing to me now:

(1) the reality that nearly all of my memories from 20 june to 9 december now prompt the immediate internal question of which house i was living in at the time of their occurrence.

and (2) the fact that given that sensation of feeling one may at any moment have to leave, for six months this summer and fall, i chose a lifestyle that meant i repeatedly, excessively, had to do just that: i had to leave, all over town, again and again.

i did so because this is what it felt like it took to feel free, which, to me, for whatever reason, meant to be here, in DC, in the capital of my country. but also how fucking weird is that?! this seasonal enactment of my worst case scenario, over and over again, like sisyphus, packing my bags, hauling the suitcase, saying goodbye to the cat, and shutting the door.

16 January 2020

0 the run around

today is the day where i teach all of the things at all of the places.

which means three 75 minute periods of intense performance and intellectual engagement punctuated by one brisk walk through high winds to a bus stop and multiple brief periods of lolly-gagging in various hallways and lobbies.

i feel like there was once some actor famous for having worked two different shows/theaters in a single night. they would do one show at the first theater then high-tail it across town (nyc? london? idk.) and go straight into their next show at the other theater.

who was this?? if you know, tell me. google yields nothing, and i'm beginning to wonder if this is a story i made for myself long ago so that i could find comfort in it now. the machinations of time are such that that doesn't ring entirely impossible.

today, in class 1, we discussed an article from the year of our lord 2015. we discussed how that was then and this is now, and the things that were true then mayn't be accurate assessments now.

in 2015, this article argued, we'd reached peak civilization, with oodles of time and not a lot of problems.

in 2020, whew lawd, we got problems, no?!

my students remind me they didn't really know what was going on in 2015. they were only 14. i, of course, was a fully sentient, aware human adult aged 34.

my vibe is, currently, bohemian disco broadway chic/jan's aunt jenny. simply by that fact alone, i appear to not be 19. my students seem to imagine we are somehow of the same generation though, so i guess they maybe have me pegged somewhere around 27/28, which does possibly speak to the anti-aging properties of funky fashions, childlessness, and early eye cream usage as well as our ongoing cultural confusion around the term millennial.

these are the 9/11 babies. the kids born in 2001-2002, for whom 9/11 is a historical event, not a lived experience. and, let me tell you, that is a wild ride, overhearing students attempting to imagine what it must have been like to be alive for something for which you were not only alive but also an adult.

i feel, at once, 38, 400, and eternally 12.

in the afternoon shows, we're talking about drafts and the writing process. which reminds me there's so much i'm not writing right now, a circumstance about which i also feel bizarrely ok for the moment. 

it's the new zen me, yo! turns out, having a permanent home is pretty key to feeling human, feeling safe.

that probably sounds stupidly obvious, especially if you've not been forced to pick up sticks and leave a place you love.

in the shape of a pocket, john berger writes…
The mouse enters the cage to take a bite. No sooner does he touch the morsel with his teeth, than the trip wire releases the door and it slams shut behind him, before he can turn his head. 
It takes a mouse several hours to realise that he is a prisoner, unhurt, in a cage measuring 18cm. by 9cm. After that, something in him never stops trembling.
reading this on a train in london in 2017, it struck me as being about immigration. (the shitshow in london has my john berger library, so i've no idea what the actual context of this anecdote is.) 

i think about this story most days. i feel this way most days. but it does get better, eventually, i think. i hope. or, maybe, one just grows so accustomed to the trembling that there comes a point where it is possible to eek out a bit of peace and be still within it. 

15 January 2020

0 any questions?

yesterday-- for day 1, part 2 of the spring semester-- i wore a ruffled blouse which i've carted to london and back and yet somehow not worn since december 2012. apparently, the combo of (1) teaching at a women's college (2) in the afternoon, has emboldened me to go bigger than before (which, let's face it, was already pretty big), so i elizabeathened it up by pairing it with a capacious cardigan that made the ruffled neck stand up.

elizabeathenry is a teaching mode i've not previously explored and one to which i'm not entirely likely to return to as, mid-way through class 1 of 2, it became evident i'd probably not worn this blouse since december 2012 because its buttons do not hold.

mercifully, equally afeared of this top's transparency and freezing in the bookshop last night, i'd worn a black shirt beneath it, so the fact that i was busting my buttons wasn't nearly so jeopardizing as it could have been.

however, there was, in the midst of teaching, a lovely moment brought to us by this blouse.

early in my second class, in concluding my introduction of myself, i asked of them: do you have any questions about me? 

i anticipated questions about london or celebrity or melania trump.

i was entirely unprepared when someone immediately raised their hand and asked: where did you get that top?

0 i'm realizing

that other people probably have a very different, less sparkling experience when clearing out the vacuum.

13 January 2020

0 debo has this new thing

because she also has that old thing she pulled in 2016, where every week she decided she was in the camp of some new candidate.

remember when she was into ben carson??!? i try not to.

so now we'll be chatting and she'll say, tell me about amy klobuchar.

then a week'll go by and she'll say, tell me about this yang gang.

yesterday, it was: tell me about tom steyer. 

and i will give her this: she really does seem to have her hand on the pulse of who's in favor for a given week on cnn.

07 January 2020

0 well played

05 January 2020

0 definitions

K is the fifth person i've told this story from college, from beginning to end.

she's over for pizza and we're doing the 36 questions to fall in love thing. two questions ago, we did "what's your most terrible memory?" and i lied, told her it was something else, something i don't even remember less than 12 hours later. and then we get talking about something else and i tell her this story.

that's rape, she says.

matter of factly. without pause.

she sees me flinch.

i've been thinking lately about how much of this hinges on definitions. it's something that connects to my writing and teaching-- where i'm constantly reminding us all that we have to clearly define our terms. but what if our definitions have been wrong?

what is the definition of rape? the definition of sex?

historically, particularly as an adolescent, my working definition of rape was informed by the tori amos song "me and a gun," which meant rape was an act of penetrative sexual violence by a stranger who has a gun.

similarly, my adolescent definition of sex was informed by american purity culture and the sex life of william jefferson clinton. so, sex was simultaneously an unforgivable sin and limited to penis-in-vagina penetration-- oral didn't count.

i was not held at gunpoint and i did not have PIV sex. therefore, whatever happened to me was not rape.

for 19 years, this has been the story i've told myself. something i didn't want happened in college, but it wasn't that bad so it wasn't that.

that's rape, K says and i flinch because, for the first time, i feel that word is actually probably true.

01 January 2020

0 a new year/decade

i have one blown out ear, three jobs, and a flat in dc that i can't afford. let's do this.