17 April 2021

0 three months

this is not an anniversary. there's not a word for what this is. 

yesterday, i booked a 60 minute massage, because i'd almost recovered from the last one whilst still not having full feeling in my upper left arm. 

it feels like COVID vaccine. the COVID vaccine felt like someone had punched the fucking shit out of my arm and that is how this feels, not just for a day but for forever. 

zana-- the therapist-- says my neck is loosening. 

she knows what happened. because i walked in all I AM HERE BECAUSE I WAS RAPED, because i didn't know how i'd react and i really need to be in control right now. 

last saturday, when i hung out with a colleague, and he entertained the idea of eating indoors and was all but we're vaxxed, i was like NOPE. it is, in some ways, easier to ask for what one wants now. i do not recommend to anyone that rape is the best way to reach that moment of personal growth. i'm just saying that is where i am. 

yesterday, three months after, zana asked if i was ok to talk about what happened. because she asked, i did. in situations where i have control, i am ok. 

we sensing a theme here? 

after my therapy session after that horrible last friday, when my therapist told me to go do something nice for myself, i snagged a copy of a sweet valley high novel from the little free library over on T street. 

reading that was, quite honestly, granted the most peace i have been able to locate in months. 

i don't want to say that i impulse bought 75+ volumes of the sweet valley high series on ebay. because that would not be accurate. i was very strategic. i researched. i read every listing for bulk buys. i considered the preponderance of sequential volumes. i bid ridiculously high on one set and lost, only to find an almost equally good set for less, which i bought instantly. 

this is probably healthier than drowning myself in wine or clothes. a summer jaunt to sweet valley, some quality time with those silly size six twins and their matching laveliers...  

14 April 2021

0 hard knocks

i wake up and i don't know what i was dreaming but i know i heard a knock. and i know no one was actually knocking on the door at 2 am but then i distinctly remember the knock. the knock is what woke me up, not the dream, and the knock didn't seem to be in the dream. 

i don't recall the dream. but i wake up to the knock and find my right arm is in a triangle, at a 45° angle beside me, hand beside my head, and my left arm is down, head turned skyward.

i went and got a massage the other day and she said you have such a good energy given what happened to you. because i told her what happened to me because she was about to put her hands all over me and i didn't know how i was going to respond to that. and because i was specifically there because my shoulders have been carried in my forehead for the last 2 1/2 weeks. turns out one can only live like that for so long. and so, in the middle of grading all the essays, the pain spread from my shoulders to my neck to my right arm above the elbow. 

there's this book called the body keeps the score and i've been trying to read it in the middle of my panic attacks as i try to remember to lower my shoulders, as i try to remember to relax. 

you have to remember to relax and then you need to remember to lower your shoulders, you have to relax and breathe deeply and lower your shoulders and then you're just living your life and you don't even notice it but your shoulders are back up by your ears again so, again, you have to stop, you have to remember to relax, you have to breathe and relax and lower your shoulders. and there comes a time where your shoulders are actually just more comfortable up by your ears and it hurts to even lower them, because your whole body has realigned itself to accommodate the tension you've been living with. 

when i "relax" my shoulders, so much pressure and effort goes into holding them down that it's actually probably more stressful for the muscles than when they're up by my ears. 

i've been thinking a lot about the past because we're processing it in therapy and because that's what you're supposed to do when you're processing: let the thoughts come, let it intrude. i'm way better at letting my shoulders sit by my ears than i am at allowing the past to intrude. in ways that are constructive, at least-- harmful intrusions are my bread and butter; productive ones, not so much. 

trauma rewires the circuitry, so that you learn to live in a whole different way. you learn to think in a whole different way. debo asks me: is this the goal of therapy? is the goal of therapy to get over that and get back to yourself? and i feel really sad when i tell her that, actually, i don't think that is the goal. 

i think the goal is to learn to navigate and cope with the brain you now have, which is not the brain you were given but the brain that's been made over time.

so i was sleeping and there was a knock and i awoke to find that i was lying in bed as though i were ready to be raped. not the exact position of when i was raped but certainly evocative. in that the major difference was that, when i awoke, i wasn't looking over my left shoulder (as i had been when raped) but up at the ceiling. 

i knew there was a big knot in my back because the whole left side of my body hurt. i've had massages before and they always find the knot on the opposite side of the body so i figured the pain on the left side was criss-crossing from somewhere else. 

what i didn't know what that there were twin knots in each of my forearms. i wasn't pinned down but they were right where one would expect soreness in the arms of one who had been. that i wasn't pinned down is part of the confusion and part of the problem-- physically, i seemed willing enough. in part, because this has happened before and my brain has been rewired such that the way i survive these situations is to roll out the red carpet for them, to not just relent but to seem to welcome it, as a way of denying the horror as it unfolds. 

i don't know how to be right in these situations. i do the right thing to survive and get through, which seems to be the wrong thing in the long term because it just hurts you more maybe. but then you never know. the thing that hurts you can be the thing that keeps you alive. just as the person who hurts you can be someone you know. 

my therapist keeps coming back to this idea that the adaptations we've made and the things that we do that may seem harmful or don't make sense are also the things that protect us. so we can't just throw them out entirely.

the vibe here seems to be very "hotel california"-- where all kinds of shit can come in then never leave. 

my brain has adapted to protect me so when it returns these patterns, it does the things it's done before. it's trying to protect me and, bless its heart, it tries.

this is how i am and this is where we are and i'm very grateful for that and for sunsets and i'm very, very grateful the claude is alive, and i'm very, very grateful that my brain has protected me thus far. 

i don't know what i was dreaming, i remember there was a knock and i woke and i felt the pressure, the soreness, of the knots in my forearms, which was the result of the therapist having worked them over the day before. 

she said that i have have a really high tolerance for pain. and she said that's a good thing. and i liked her and i'm going back to her again on friday, but i'm really starting to be quite skeptical of all these discourses around pain and discomfort. because i think it's an adaptation. i don't think we come equipped with that. just like the therapist who once said that i have an unusually high tolerance for emotional discomfort. that's not a compliment. that's not a skill. i don't know what that is but it's not an inherently good thing and i can see how being able to bear pain to a degree that is not typical suggests one has put up with a hell of a lot of pain along the way. 

i went in for the bodywork (how hilarious that is actually what it is called while also being a term applied to cars) because it became quite clear to me that the pain in my muscles was a symptom of PTSD. 

twice now, in therapy, i've been like i think we can move on from the date rape! twice now, in therapy, i've come back later and said, i think this is still about the date rape

three months. it has not even been three months. soon, it will have been three months. 

i try to minimize it in all sorts of ways, focusing especially on the fact that it was only oral. which, i recognize, is a way of trying to make it ok for myself. but that's also a really fucking awful way of denying one's own experience. which is something at which i excel. 

there was a knock and no dream that i remember, and i woke up entirely aware that i was positioned as though a man were in the middle of raping me, and that the soreness in my forearms felt like the pressure of him holding me down. 

all signs would point to my having been in the middle of a dream about being raped. this was a jarring sequel to the previous night's dream of tom hiddleston unexpectedly having been in my class all semester and asking for an extension on essay #3. 

there's some tiktok going around where you're supposed to focus on a black dot on a tree colored purple and orange. and then when the image shifts to black and white, your brain will supply the colors of green and blue. the moral of the tiktok was basically EVERYTHING IS A LIE. 

watching it, i found myself taking strange pride in my brain's response, as it flipped back and forth between supplying the colors and seeing what was actually there. 

i went to the conference last weekend and delivered my talk. after spending the whole of friday morning right up to the hour before the panel started thinking that i would bail. because i could bail. because i wanted to bail, but ultimately because bailing would mean some metaphorical victory for the man who raped me, i did not. 

this is what we do. a student wrote me that they and their therapist are talking about in-patient care, but they decided to tough it out through the last weeks of the semester. 

reading that email, i thought no no no no no! don't do it! be gentle with yourself!!! whilst realizing what i'm doing to myself-- as my body screams no no no no no! don't do it! be gentle with yourself!!!-- is the exact same thing. 

my shoulders are rising towards my ear lobes as write this. I NEED TO RELAX. I NEED TO BREATHE. I NEED TO CALM DOWN. 

the knock woke me, as i lay there. dreaming i know not what, but physically braced for rape. 

i say i want to learn to be as generous with myself as i am with my students but, frankly, that doesn't really feel possible. my teaching style is, ultimately, self-harming just as my writing practice is, ultimately, self-harming. probably because both have been developed, over time, within situations and institutions that have, ultimately, been abusive. 

that's not my fault. it is what it is, but it's not my fault.  

i don't do endings, as you may recall. and we're obviously not done here anyway. 

06 April 2021

0 there is this conference

all week. 

i have paid admission. 

i have paid admission and i will not go until i am due to present at 9 am on this saturday. 

in part, because i am exhausted. how is this semester even still happening? how are we even still doing this? 

a student emails me at 4:30 am to tell me their sister was shot by her boyfriend so their going to miss class today. 

a student emails me at 5:30 pm to tell me that they have discussed with their therapist the possibility of inpatient care but they think they can power through this semester. 

in the feedback N provided on this paper i'm presenting at this conference, she suggested i talk about how language empowers us. 

reader, it does not. 

it fucking cuts us up!!!!

i say that. i do not believe it. not wholly. 

in today's live classes they were doing research. one student has been writing about ghosting but, in their essay, what they described sounded different. 

today, they found the word for it: orbiting. 

the way their face lit up on camera!!! 

the way we feel when we find the word for the experience we thought we were alone in!!!! 

it matters. 


but also jesus fucking christ. i refuse to be empowered. empowerment blows. it lets the systems and institutions off the hook. i refuse.

this paper i'm delivering is the one about kim kardashian and lost time. the one i spent the whole of the trump presidency working on. i quoted a bit of it in the post-before-the-last-post. maybe you are familiar. 

i seesaw between feeling completely alive and joyous ("delight" was the word i applied when speaking with my parents the other evening, beholding my sunset out my window) and just utterly bombed out. 

this is teaching. this is trauma. this is pandemic. this is rape. this is a whole tangled knot of things. 

so many of my students are writing about sexual violence. which means i cancelled my therapy session this week, wherein we are processing sexual violence, in order to read student essays on sexual violence. 

that isn't irony, but it's something. 

i had the thought today of what if this isn't over? what if we have to do this again in the fall? but then, last night, as i was trying to fall into what would ultimately be my second night in a row of nightmares, i had the potentially even worse thought of what if i'm expected to teach in person next year and i have to go back to not being able to hear my own students??!  

truly, there is no win. 

in my ideal world, i would continue teaching online and they would continue loving me there and i would continuing being able to hear them whilst also not having to fear for anyone's life. 

but nothing about this has ever been easy, so why would we ever expect that to change? 

they really give you so much freedom, debo says when i tell her we're moving to just one live session per week. and i realize i never told her we're actually only required to do one live session per week. 

i have been going above and beyond. 

i have been going above and beyond and yet, still, i always feel guilty. i always feel it is never enough. 

i do it because i think it genuinely makes learning easier on them. but maybe also because it makes life easier on me? as WRB said, they are the totality of our social lives right now

which is maybe 75-83% true for me. because i also have weekly union meetings and therapy and walks with K. 

in april 2015, i came to DC to do research. i stayed in a flat in capitol hill. the cherry trees were close to bloom or just past bloom. i don't know, but i took pictures of them. and i hiked across busses and trains to get out to NARA. and i viewed the collections at the LOC. (the man who raped me works at the LOC, so i will not be going there now.)

in april 2019, i came to DC for a long weekend, for a conference. i stayed in a flat in the neighborhood where i live now. i went to maybe two sessions (including my own) of the conference, in a neighborhood i later house-sat in. i made out in the street with a peruvian one street over from where i would, six months later, live. i bought sushi from the safeway where i bought that same sushi tonight. 

the whole point of this kardashian piece i should be working on right now-- the whole point of everything i write, basically-- is that we do not know what will happen next, we do not know where the story will go and, in that messiness, lay all the beauty. the horror too, but also the beauty and the beauty is what matters most. the beauty is what sustains us as we deconstruct the horror. 

last spring, i told my students how, in the fall of 1999, when i was a freshman in mississippi with no friends, after my grandmother died, i used to sit on a hill every night and watch the sun set. 

in the spring of 2015, having just written the whole of jackie's 64-years-long life in, like, ONE YEAR of mine, i wandered DC somewhat catatonic, in love with a man who did not return that love and did not respond to my letter, consumed by the fact that we will, all of us, one day die, appalled by the evils people do upon others. 

today, 80 days removed from my most recent rape, i walked in the sunshine. later, i watched claude snuggle into a stream of it.  

i've a dim awareness that i am not ok, but i will be. we will be. in the end, inevitably, even as we go forward on the road to imminent disaster, it will all of it-- all of it-- work out ok. 

there is beauty, if not in the disaster then in the mess. 

03 April 2021

0 delight

that is the word i find best describes where i am, though giddy maybe works too. 

which is not to argue that things are perfect. 

i'm recovering from a UTI. there are 85 student essays to be read. in therapy last monday, we drove the car into the burning house of what happened in college and i had a panic attack mid-session. but we are all here and we are alive and we are living in the light. 

i think i repeatedly told debo and garebear that this apartment was west-facing. i thought they knew what that meant. 

but then i never told them about how, in the semester after ruth died, i went and sat on a hill alone outside the dorm and watched the sun set every evening. 

weird that there are things i've told my students and not my parents. 

i feel like that is the one word of the day video from that dreadful spring 2020 semester that garebear didn't watch. which seems about right. 

the class the colleague attended was quite possibly the most powerful class we've ever had in that time slot. 

each class, each show, has its peak. bizarrely, the 2:10, where attendance has been totally abysmal, has had two. the first involved four students; the second involved two. 

i know that what we're doing here matters. so fucking much. even as it feels the wheels are completely coming off the bus-- for them and me. 

it's shocking that we're still even trying to do this, i said aloud to a group of 18 years olds on thursday. the three people on camera nodded their heads; two people off camera gave a thumbs up emoji. 

how is claude? they ask me. is claude ok? in their rants they ask, they tell me they were praying for him and for me. 

there's power in disclosure, in being human. vulnerability as well, but, truly, it opens you up to so, so much love. 

i don't know that it's that i feel i need to be loved by 85 18-year-olds every semester, and i'm sure there are people who don't love me but take my class because it feels easy and i'm a known quantity with nice bookshelves. 

there was a student some weeks ago who, in her rant, said "we know we're your children," and i felt that with every fiber of my being. because, while i've never wanted kids of my own, these people are my people. and i think it's important that, in writing for me, they know that. 

3 1/2 weeks. 2 1/2 maybe even, i lose track. that is what we have left. of their freshman year and, potentially, pandemic teaching. 

it's been, 10000%, the worst of times. but i'm aware a door is shutting. what we've been doing, it's not sustainable. it's special, it's necessary, and it is entirely unsustainable. 

i'll be honest, i have no fucking clue what post-pandemic teaching looks like. i feel as though i was almost built for pandemic teaching. and, also, i'm aware, that the whole rest of my career will be spend with students who have been affected by this thing we've all been through. 

but these kids, my kids of 2020 and 2021, the fucking bullshit we have endured together. they are special, these people i have never met in real life. i tell them, when you see me on campus, you have got to say hello, because you'll know me but i won't recognize you, because, so many of them, i've not seen their faces. i know how they feel about pineapple on pizza and that their friend died last month, but i do not know their face. 

i actually didn't think this post was going to be about teaching. i thought it would be about my view, about living in the light. 

about sun and sunsets and the ending of the day and waking up without bars and always looking at ankles. 

i guess the moral here is we don't truly understanding the dark until we've moved in the light, but that seems cheesy and stupid and not at all reflective of where i am. 

tomorrow is easter. i'm skipping church. because it's going to be all about sin and forgiveness, and that is not where i am. that feels very very dark right now. i do not need to hear how i have been forgiven when what happened to me was not my own sin. 

so K and i are going to go for our weekly walk, around the memorials and the mall, from the red cross to the capital. 

it's funny how you can put down such deep roots in a place without even feeling it. so much of this feels the same as what's come before-- living and renting. and yet, here i am. in a room of my own with a view. 

it is like nothing that has come before. 

we are here, claude and i, and we are ok. continually, throughout the day, following the journey of the sun, we delight in our view.