28 September 2020

0 your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun

i inherited a zz plant last may. like all plants, so it seems, this one is billed by everyone on the internet as "indestructible." and, like so many of the "indestructible" plants i have encountered in my life, it is clearly my unconscious desire to take that as a dare and kill this thing. 


i went down a rabbit hole the other day looking for viktor petrenko's mid-90s exhibition routine choreographed to salt 'n' peppa's "whatta man." 

this does not, apparently, exist on the internet. still. i have been looking for nigh on a decade and the internet has yet to provide. 

i did however, through this, stumble across bechke and petrov's silver medal winning performance in albertville. which i remember, for some reason AS THOUGH IT WERE YESTERDAY. 

why? some combo of the tchaikovsky, excessive VHS re-watching, scott hamilton's singular focus on bechke and almost total indifference to petrov, plus the moment in the middle, in the voiceover, where verne (? what was that dude's name?) says "these are difficult times in the former Soviet Union" (troyer? verne troyer? NO. that was mini-me.) and waxes on about hard russian times while totally ignoring the ongoing gorgeous performance (LUNDQUIST. VERNE LUNDQUIST, ladies and gentlemen). 

still, all these years later, when i hear tchaikovsky's "pax de deux" from the nutcracker, i think of this performance and how sad it is that bechke and petrov came in second, and so they did not win the house. 


according to the internet, zz plants hate sun. and they love sun. 

the internet is confusing. 

nothing is true and everything is possible!

why is no one making the argument that zz plants are in love/hate with the sun?


debo had to have another surgery today, related to her fall. because, due to unauthorized use of q-tips and a neti-pot, she wound up poking new holes into her broken, reconstructed nose. 

she returns home in the facial swaddling utilized when one has a face-lift. 

the pineapples on her shirt aggressively express a joy we do not feel.


one of my students finished out their rant of the week (because the only thing i insist on in this assignment is that they take up ALL OF THE SPACE THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN) with seven lines on the redness of strawberries. 

this afternoon, i went to the market and the strawberries were on sale, two for one. 

tomorrow, i already know, in every class (because, 95% likely, this person is in the last class of the day), i'll give a shout-out to whoever used strawberries to take up all of the space, and thank them for this small kindness. 


claude is doing something, bathroom-wise, that remains a mystery. but random streaks of a chocolate mousse that is not chocolate mousse keep appearing around the flat. 

not cool, man. not cool. 


THIS IS NOT DETECTIVE FICTION 101, i tell my students. 

we are not writing mysteries, i remind them.



would i respond to this tchaikovsky piece were it not connected, in my brain, my heart, to that bechke and petrov routine? 

i'm trying to remember back to when k.clen and i went to see the nutcracker on horseback, back when i lived in chicago. i do not remember weeping when this song played. i do not even recall it being played. (though maybe, maybe, i kind of do? the horseback rider looked like delta burke. i remember that. i remember feeling a kinship with her. is it because she rode to this song? or is it because she looked like delta burke and that is all it takes?) 

the thing is, whenever i have heard it before, this song-- because i spent a decade forgetting and being surprised whenever i was reminded where it's from-- and especially when i hear it now, i know that with that crescendo at 3:00, he is lifting her in the air for that one handed thing. 

and at 3:12, she is landing that triple salcow (fuck you, scott hamilton for negging her by pointing out the "slight hesitation." i would hesitate. you would hesitate. she landed it as it is meant to be landed and it is GLORIOUS, sir, sit down.)

and when she lands it her mouth flies open and SHE BEAMS. 

(writing this, i know i am, first, going to send it to debo for approval to violate her privacy and publish and she is [hopefully] going to say "yes" and [when she does] it is going to feel like this moment at 3:00, where tchaikovsky's notes go down and then they go up, ominously, before breaking free at the precise moment when petrov holds bechke aloft in the air by one hand AND SHE IS AT LIBERTY TO FLY. [are we not all awaiting similar permission?])


i'm always torn between tchaikovsky and beethoven. tchaikovsky because i took/failed ballet and played the piano. beethoven because i've a hearing impairment. 

whenever i had ear surgery, when all the packing was still in it, my piano practicing was lit. because i fancied it felt different. 

whether it actually did or if this was just a story i told myself, i'm not sure. but i'd sit there in my pajamas, ear full of packing and stitches and bandages, and feel like the notes felt different. 

the piano of my childhood still sits at garebear and debo's. i think, without saying it aloud, we have reached a consensus to let it die. 

the hammers and strings, they are tired. 

aren't we all. 


the zz plant, allegedly, doesn't need direct light. 

but in lieu of it, it drops its leaves and grows upwards. it grows in search of the light. "your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun," says someone on the internet in response to a photograph that captures the state of my own zz plant. 

your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun.

don't we all. 


this is my new habit. 

don't we all. aren't we all. 

debo says something desperate about, i don't know... truly, i have no example. but she makes some remark about something totally unrelated to the pandemic or our stuckness, and i say "don't we all" or "aren't we all." 

and, always, she laughs. it is a reliable laugh. like whenever i use the word madcap. she laughs then too. 

i do this more often because i love her laugh. 


online teaching is exhausting because no one ever laughs. they are all muted. 

no one is going to unmute to laugh. that would be weird. i know this. 

and i'm not going to make them turn on their cameras so i can see them laugh. that would be unfair, selfish. i know that too. 

and so there are these days where i just throw laugh lines down the empty alley. 

and i know they're connecting, i know they're out there and they know i'm on their side, because i am the receiver of their rants and their thoughts on strawberries. i know, all evidence to the contrary, this is not a one way street. they tell me strawberries are red and we have established such a relationship that i am then moved to go out and buy a carton and also to tell them that i did so and to thank them. that's capitalism, but it's also connection.

i go to the market for milk and i walk out of my way to look at the strawberry display-- which is in such a weird place by the dairy and not in the more logical aisle of fruits-- and i buy two cartons (because they're BOGO) with the knowledge that i will eat and enjoy them but also an awareness that i will tell this story the following day and somehow, across the miles and the wires, if whoever it is that wrote that rant shows up for class tomorrow, they will feel seen in a way that is unique to this moment. 


god, this sounds so stupid. 

i feel so stupid writing it. 

but, true story, it feels like it matters so fucking much. 


the zz plant, from what i can gather, love/hates the sun. don't we all :) 

denied the light, it reaches out to find it. 

currently, i am staying in touch with a student from spring semester and a colleague from summer teaching. the colleague sends links to articles about trump and our impending doom. the former student writes about the difficulties of online college. she tells me she's not singing. 

in my reply, i'll tell her i'm not writing. 


they won the silver medal, bechke and petrov. 

SILVER?! for this tchaikovsky masterpiece. but then, suraya bonaly is a rockstar and she didn't even medal that year, so clearly the system is broken. we've a tendency, as americans, to blame the russian judge, but AMERICA. take your responsibility. you have done this. you are to blame. stand up and take your credit. 

i love it when the women smile, when their blade hits the ice and their mouth blows open in this just irrepressible grin. 

i just finished teaching a unit on description. i just asked a student to make 100% sure there were no sensations of taste involved in their experience of the gathering at the supreme court for RGB's wake, so i'm aware of the inadequacy of that image above, as well as the unnecessary repetition of the word "just." (the thing about teaching is it really highlights all of the ways in which you, personally, fail.) 

i wonder if they say anything, the figure skaters, the women. if there's an exclamation of "YES!!!!" that we can't hear because of the music over the PA. like, if the music weren't playing, would figure skating sound like tennis? 

no, really, i want to know. would it? 

have they been shouting and grunting and screaming all along and we've just not heard their cries because the music is pumped out too loud so as to emphasize the delicacy of their white femininity?

(for me, the men in figure skating-- bless-- have always been ancillary. it is, for me, a sport through which women find a way out.) 


my zz plant is approximately 3 feet tall. the original one. i've recently procured another and, god go with it, i will do my best. 

they both live in the window now, under the light of the sequined curtains. 


my students tell me they love my "background." 

which is my home. 

the only room i have. after years of displacement and instability. 

the room in which i eat and binge watch and read and teach and grade and do yoga and sleep. 

the room i borrow from some faceless corporate agency for $1175 every month (+$35 for claude). 

thank god i had the foresight to buy a convertible couch! 

in their rants they write: i love your background. 

in my replies, i tell them to watch out for my musical chairs-ing of the plants and books. because i want them to be there, to be present, to be entertained. and in this weird world we live in i somehow imagine my rotating new plants onstage will be the thing that brings them in at 9:40 am. 

but i so want them to be clear on the fact that i am 100% here for them, that we are all of us here, that this is real. it really, really, i assure you, it really is real.

i cannot stress that enough. 

this is real. this is really happening. 

when we were in a classroom, it was intense. 

i said this in april. already, ALREADY, before all of this, it felt like life and death. 





before, way way back in the way back of last april, we were the band on titanic





now. now, we are those people, those people that, just looking at them and based on how limited their lines are, you already know they are doomed. those people hanging onto the edge with their fingertips, knuckles gone white, gripping the side of the boat as it slides down into the atlantic. 

think of me as the man in whose eyes rose dewitt bukater looked before he let go. 

you remember that guy? we all of us who saw that movie remember that guy. the one who let go and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced down the deck as he fell into the freezing waters to die. 


it me. 

A FEAT OF COMPUTER-GENERATE IMAGERY, the critics called it. 

hey, me again, along with all of my comrades. 

we are not a pretty picture so you may be tempted to look away but DO NOT DO IT. i command you. listen to the teacher: LOOK AT US.

we come to you every tuesday/thursday and/or every monday/wednesday/friday as a feat of computer-generated imagery but we are here, we are real, we also are in our homes pasting on our smiles, throwing laughs down the alley. 

we are here. this is us. 

c'mon, you loved that show, right? lookit!!



the plant though. in the window. against the light of the sequin curtains. 

i am curious to see where it will go. i so very much want it to survive. it brings me no pleasure to kill things and these plants, they make me feel i am really here so i kinda need them to really live. 

the plants and claude and his chocolate moussey butt (wtf even is happening there?!), please note: we are, all of us, here, a feat of computer-generated imagery tho we may appear. 


we're relaxing this week, in all of my classes. recovering from our various submitted essays (which i, beleaguered pandemic teacher, now have to figure out how to equitably grade in the midst of a pandemic/civil rights movement/impending civil war/decline of empire... and, for the record, i am in no way being facetious).  

i want to call it our week of rest and relaxation but that seems frightfully close to my year of rest and relaxation and that is not our vibe. 

i screened the jackie white house tour in a class today (for the third and, hopefully, final time in 2020) and a student asked whether he could put up portraits of jay z and wutang clan when he got to the white house because abraham lincoln just wasn't really his vibe. and i replied, earnestly, yes! though there's also the family quarters which is more private and where you can really cut loose in your redecorating. 

currently, i am living for a moment when that student is in the white house and that picture of jay z and beyonc矇 in front of duchess meghan's portrait hangs in what used to be called The People's House.

till then... 


i'm participating in a panel on friday. 

confession: i have not yet read the book. (hannah, if you're reading this, i'mma LOVE IT and be fully prepared, I SWEAR!!)

this is a teachable moment. in a rant, a student asked how i'm doing and i confessed that i'm procrastinating on my reading because i've horrible reading comprehension and so now i have to read double-quick. 

again, i do not know who asked me this. i've not seen enough of their faces to know who they are though i care about them with all of my heart. 


they're sitting by the air conditioner, the zz plants. IS THE AIR CONDITIONER KILLING THEM? are they too cold??! i do not know. 

i was too hot, so this is where we are now. 

it's good to sit back and assess...

debo is wearing the bandages of a person who just had a facelift. 

it's back in the 80s outside, so the AC is on again for the first time in maybe a month. 

claude sits next to the computer, looking away. god knows what is happening with his butt. 

tomorrow, i will welcome 65 people into my bedroom and we will rest and relax and do i do not yet know what for 80 minutes. 

elena bechke is 54 and a figure skating coach in north carolina. in 1992, she won the silver medal in the XVI olympic winter games. 

verne lundquist lives!

so does scott hamilton! 

my zz plants are... too soon to tell. 

but, still, they set down their leaves and they reach for the light. 

it is autumn. the sun sets sooner. my wish has not changed since last spring. 

i've no words to offer but these, a blessing for this semester we all find ourselves in, if you will:

may whatever god there is bring justice for breonna taylor and brandon webber. and may we all of us bear witness, and hold on, and keep writing, all of us, always, always writing. in the darkness, lifted aloft on the wings of our ancestors, reaching for the sun in whatever fashion, whatever way we can muster, may we find the courage and the strength to continue writing, through the war we are in and the war still to come, writing forever and ever, chins up and tits out, onwards. amen.

0 this is

 hands down the most extraordinary sermon i've ever heard

20 September 2020

0 i forget how close i am sometimes

 you can't even see it here. 

it's there, i promise. 

when i'm walking to the grocery store, two blocks from my apartment, i cross this street and look over my shoulder to the left and there it is, plainly visible, even without my glasses. 

it's only ten blocks away. 

he's only ten blocks away. 

i was describing to nanette how it felt yesterday and i said i was reminded of a lunch she and i had at senate house after trump's election. where we just kind of sat in the twilight of the cafe and sighed in dread. 

i remember that, on that day, we also talked make-up. and that that provided some relief from the state of the world and the hellish thing she was going through and my father's prostate cancer. and the nagging sensation that things were about to get a hell of a lot worse. 

friday night felt a bit like a walk down bad memories lane. a bit like the night of the pussy tape, a bit like election night 2016, a bit like the days of kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, a bit like the weird terror that descended on this last march 11th, and the agitated stuckness that accompanied the protests and the subsequent occupation this june. 

all memories linked by the sensation of needing to simultaneously throw up, sleep, sob, and scream. 

i went to see the RBG documentary with garebear. he rarely goes to the movies and i don't quite remember how i coerced him. something about father/daughter bonding probably. 

there was some part of the documentary that made me cry. not because it was sad. but it communicated something about gender oppression.

this happens rarely enough in films that i remain highly sensitive to the feeling it prompts-- a prickling of the skin, a flushing of the cheeks, tears, slow at first but then falling faster-- not out of pain but recognition. 

suffragette. the florida project. the RBG documentary. these are the films that have made me feel this way. 

we watched the RBG documentary again, as a family, during that fortnight from hell when burvil lived with us, before we moved her into the care home. a fortnight which was, quite honestly, maybe the worst thing garebear, debo, and i have endured together as a family unit, while also being an unspeakably precious time in retrospect, because we will likely, none of us, ever spend that much time with burvil again. 

she kept getting distracted and confused, while we were watching the movie. the only time she was silent was a stretch of the film devoted to ginsburg's marriage and her love for marty.  

the kavanaugh hearings started a few days later. 

i've been thinking a lot about janet reno, who died a few days before the 2016 election. and hillary being a joyous badass in the rain

last week, in my howard classes, we spent nearly the whole time talking about the work of audre lorde. in my effort to bring her out of the fog of History and remind them she was a living, breathing, awesome person, i played them a clip from her speech, "the transformation of silence into language and action." i woke up saturday with her voice ringing in my head. 

19 September 2020


Did you rise this morning,
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright
gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you
and together,
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.

-- Rev. Audette Fulbright

03 September 2020

0 this was today

they took garebear to a tiny room.

and he tells me later that, when they did this, he assumed she had died. 

when he tells me they took him to a tiny room before he tells me that she is ok, i also assume she has died. 

together, today, we occupied a moment in which debo had died. 

but, plot twist: SHE IS TOTALLY FINE. she is totally ok. she is giving orders, like the dreadful patient that she always is. the patient who says wouldn't it be nice if we could all have some tea, like she's tr矇s tr矇s inclusive when really she just wants some tea herself. 

he looks away when he tells me about this, he does not make eye contact across facetime and the 868/949 miles between us (depending on whether you take I-81 to I-40 or I-40 all of the way...  i am very democratic today... in five classes, i let them pick their own homework). 

and i am left to sit with this. 

the reality that there was a period of time today in which my father was convinced my mother had died. 

i do not think they really think about this. 

i think they just use me to unload and, in the unburdening, they erase it. 

i could well be wrong. this moment, it very well could haunt garebear until he dies. 

but there's a part of me that takes pleasure in the taking. there is a part of me that wants to be their emotional dumping ground. 

there is a part of me that wants to take this away from them, in order to spare them this. 

this is a blow i want to take. 

this is a blow i want to keep from them, like a secret.

this is a blow i do not want to have to watch them endure for one another. 

i am sitting in the dark. because i've done five shows. and i love them all. all of the kids. i do this and it's tiring but, at the end of it, there's this feeling that i feel with absolutely nothing else in my life, and, when it's all over, i think yes, that was good, what we're doing here matters, in a way that nothing else does. 

i'm sitting in the dark because i've stared at a screen for eight hours straight. 

and even as he begins to say it, without him having said it, i know what he's going to say. 

somehow, i know this was a day that, at some point, my father thought my mother had died. 

the highlights of my day are that (1) my mother did not die, and (2) i exposed two classes of young people at an HBCU to the fact that muhammad ali was a poet. 

bizarrely, i would contend that these were equally exciting events. 

i feel horribly guilty that these were equally exciting events .

had debo died today, i know i would've drawn a tremendous amount of comfort from the student-- a budding poet-- whose face reshaped itself into an expression of complete joy when i revealed that muhammad ali was not just a boxer and a fighter but also someone who wrote verse to psych out his opponents. 

the composition of his face, it will stick with me. 

the composition of debo's nose, it is in flux. 

but we are all alive. we made it through this day. we are all here. some of us taking orders, some of us giving them, some of us far, far away, 8-21 months away, in the capitol of a nation that seems to be falling apart. 

and yet, we go on and we go on and we carry on and on, and someday, god-willling, we will be together again, shattered faces and broken hearts, we will meet again. 

02 September 2020