29 April 2020

0 teaching

my student who has been writing about matthew mccaughnehey (a name i still cannot spell), for her creative response project, made CUSTOMIZED BONGO DRUMS WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AND WEED LOGOS ON TOP AND "ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT" DOWN THE SIDES.

my work here is done.


26 April 2020

0 WE ARE LIVING THROUGH HISTORY


the toilet was fucked up. i stood over it, said, not today, satan, and i swear to god it was fixed. 

does this mean that when i die from a cerebral hemorrhage having fallen and hit my head after catching my heel in my shag carpet that they'll saintify me? probably not, but a girl can dream. 

it seems only right that i be the patron saint of plumbing given my love of that 70s plumbing exhibit at the museum of science and industry. 

garebear called the other day with a new revelation: WE ARE LIVING THROUGH HISTORY. 

why it took him six weeks of quarantine and contemplation to arrive at this quite obvious fact, i remain unsure. 

i think he often forgets i am a historian. and i don't think me appealing to the devil to heal a toilet was a part of the great history through which we are living that he had in mind. 

19 April 2020

0 this is what it feels like to be teaching college right now



it was very overcast. the clouds hung very low.

i think it was probably a thursday. one of the thursdays where i did three shows and then i took my #adjunctfashion and my sore knee home and i collapsed, ate a giant bowl of pasta and watched vanderpump rules for three hours to decompress before falling into bed. 

the thing i remember is experiencing such a sense of relief, as i walked up the hill out of campus, past the national basicalla, past the nuns and the priests, towards the metro, for what may have been the last time.

i remember so little.

but i do remember the relief. though i do not specifically remember why, on that particular day. beyond maybe the fact that i felt like they were finally all on board, or at least a plurality. we'd reached the tipping point in the semester where, by the sheer force of my personality, i had won them over.

they wanted to write for me. they were ready, i had primed them, i had put in the work and i had earned their trust and they were ready to write for me. it was going to be a good year.

or it maybe wasn’t even that much. 

it was maybe only that i made a joke in my last class and i saw more than three people laugh. 

but i was leaving the building, and the sky was very grey and the clouds hung very low and i passed one student and she said hello and wished me a happy weekend, and i saw…

but i’m conflating two overcast days. 

one day where i saw a particular student slowly walking up the hill and i passed her and wished her a happy weekend and another day where i stayed later (was this the last day? what is wrong with me that i can not remember the end?) to talk to another student about her current situation and then later i saw that same student, from the other day, in the distance, putting her stuff in her car. 

and i remember thinking, for whatever reason, this matters. what we're doing here, it really matters.

it's terribly important, our being together, in the classroom, on tuesdays and thursdays, face to face. 

this is what i have taken away from it all, from those first two months where we did not know what was coming. those two months when we all sat in a room together and we did not know yet what was going to happen to us. 

there were a lot of overcast days, it seems, in retrospect. 

that may or may not be accurate. 

but i remember her. i’ve conflated the days but she is in both of them and it’s such a vivid memory. 

i think about her often in the daylight, that student, this memory, as the sun filters through my sequins. 

i dream i have a sore throat but i’ve not dreamed about her. 

i dream i go out and about without a mask and i do not know why but i spend all of my dreams explaining that i know better, that i have a mask that debo made for me and i wear it always now in real life though i do not know why it is not with me now, in my dreams.

it matters, what we're doing here.

i dream these dreams and i wake up alone inhaling, deeply, and then i get coffee and i read for a bit and, later, i fall back asleep and then i awake and i gather myself and i try to teach my AU kids something about celebrity that gives them permission to have feelings about what they're experiencing right now, i try to give them permission to be human, and i read the rants from my trinity girls and i record a "word of the day" video for them in which i try to use vocabulary in a way that will help them process whatever the fuck it is that is going on with them.

i’ve dreamed i was teaching a class in person and awoke feeling tremendously pleased, but i do not remember there actually being students in the room. 

i was in a room, but none of my students were there. all of these people, whose attention i have for one more week. i dreamed about our class but they were already gone. already they had left me. 

i am scared about what happens when the semester is over. i am scared what happens when we have to let go. 

this happens every semester. there's a tremendous amount of grief involved in letting go of all of the people in that room. 

i've already let go of the rooms. i've not let go of the people. 

no one talks about this!!! why?!??! can we please talk about this???! dear teachers, i need us to talk about this!!!!

i do not remember this from when i was a student. i have come to expect it every semester as a teacher.

it has been like nothing else this semester, because i already did it once. already dealt with the fact that we will never be as we were when we were last together. 

we will never be together in that room again. 

we will never be in that room again. 

they will, most likely, never be in my life again. 

i may never see them again. 

in therapy, it was repeatedly reenforced that i am terrible at endings. 

i’ve so many memories of the last classes i have taught. they feel like life and death. 

this semester though, it has never before felt so much like life and death. 

i know i only teach composition, rhetoric, but people, words are life and death.

i've had versions of this before. students who were gay and homeless, students who experienced loss, students who lost their home and their housing and were raising their kids out of their cars and who i met at starbucks to administer an exam so they could just make it through the class.

it was hard enough as it was.

IT. WAS. HARD. ENOUGH. AS. IT. WAS.

but this.

THIS.

my sweet lord.  

i know about their home lives, their boyfriends and their siblings and parents, i know that the power has been out in their homes for three weeks, i know they are queer and that they do not feel accepted by their mothers, that they can’t focus, can’t sleep, can’t eat, eat too much, feel guilty, feel lazy, feel so so so so so so sad though they do not know why. i know that they want to go outside, that they went to the grocery, went to the fish market before the mayor shut it down, can’t write their essays, are sick of being in the dorms, can’t handle the loneliness, want to write a book, are doing yoga, are working out for three hours every morning, can’t get over a sinus infection, lost a grandparent, have a grandmother in the hospital, can’t go to the funerals of the five people they know who died last week. 

i know all of this and, twice a week, i put on a face full of make-up and some sequin outfit that i dedicate to someone on instagram and i make a fucking vocabulary building video that i post to youtube.

and there’s a semester to be ended still. 

there is a whole week to be got through. 

and i do not see an end to this.

honestly, i do not see how we ever recover from them having lost this much. 

09 April 2020

0 true story

for legit like a solid half hour i saw this thing outside my window, through the sequins, and thought, omg, how lovely. someone in the building who has a child has got them a glittery balloon or a kite or something to play with in the alley. people are the best!!!! 

reader, it was fucking garbage bag.

albeit a garbage bag doing ballet in today's aggressive winds, BUT STILL.





08 April 2020

0 an actual conversation steven and i just had when i told him i now have an ability to do laundry



s: but it's not like you have that much since you don't wear underwear.

o: excuse me?

s: well, you don't wear underwear... wait, do you?

o: um... yeah.

s: like every day?

o: yeah, mostly.

s: oh, i didn't know that.

o: huh... WAIT.

s: yeah?

o: how long have you been assuming i don't wear underwear?

s: since chicago. AT LEAST.

o: like 2012 chicago or 2007 chicago?

s: 2007 chicago, definitely.

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.