someone unmuted themselves to laugh out loud in my class on tuesday. true story.
this may have been the proudest moment of my pandemic teaching career.
on the night of january 16th, i was raped on a date.
on the afternoon of february 14th, my offer on an apartment was accepted.
on the morning of february 17th, i got shot 1.
the thing that is so wild about the brain is how hard it works to protect you in ways that can ultimately so badly fuck you up.
when i was raped in college, i had no framework for identifying what had happened. because it wasn't like in a movie. i knew him. we'd been dating for several months by then. it wasn't intercourse. there was no physical violence. we were at his mother's house, on the lower bunk in his nephew's bedroom. i had pushed him away, gently. he knew i was waiting until marriage to have sex. i did not say no. i did not scream. it was all very, very quiet, frightfully quiet.
he was my boyfriend. i was 19. and i went on to stay with him for two more years.
only in the last three years, the last year in particular (the testimonies women have given about harvey weinstein have been particularly helpful), have i come to see how violence pervaded the whole relationship and how deeply afraid i-- and even the men around him-- was of this man at the time.
in october 2017, when we all started taking these things more seriously and expanding our definitions, when i told the man i was dating then that my first sexual experience had involved unwanted sex (that's what i was calling it then. sexual assault i would call it as recently as three days ago. right here, right now is, in fact, the first time i have ever felt comfortable calling it what it was), that man i was dating then first clarified that the experience i was referring to wasn't one i'd had with him. (if ever there was a red flag, that was one.)
he then asked if i had been naked. like that was the most relevant detail.
i told him i had been.
i did not think i was lying. i truly thought i had.
it wasn't until i was raped on a date two and a half weeks ago, that i realized i was wrong.
the man i was on a third date with asked if he could pull off my tights and i said yes. i distinctly remember my own shock when he pulled my underwear off too. i had not expected nor wanted nor thought i would be nor agreed to being naked.
a third date; the first date where, after extensive discussion, a full debrief on our recent activities, multiple phone conversations and two previous dates freezing our asses off outdoors, we rolled the dice, took off our masks, and went Inside together.
i had already, verbally, seconds/minutes/hours/? before, made explicitly clear that i did not want to have sex that night.
again. it wasn't intercourse. there was no physical violence. it was all very quiet, almost normal, the violence was breathtakingly muted and banal.
but that one moment within the broader events of the evening-- most accurately characterized as date rape-- haunted me for two full weeks, the image of my tights and underwear coming off. it ran through my brain like a movie, until a therapy session yesterday moved it into the past, so it went to being more distant, still, like a painting.
my memories of that night twenty years ago, in late february 2001 are extremely fragmented and fuzzy. the years of coercive control and sexual violence that followed with that man seem to have erased the tape of that first foray.
we were in his mother's house, on a lower bunk bed in his nephew's room. all i remember is the darkness but i realize now i would not have been naked then, in that context. i realize now, after having this other man remove my underwear against my wishes, i know i would have, at the very least, spent some amount of time preventing my college boyfriend from pulling my pants down.
no alcohol or drugs were involved in either of these events. not that that matters. consent is consent. my point is that, even sober, the brain tries to protect you but sometimes it does you no favors.
the need to remain polite, to support the fragile male ego, to not make a scene, to not escalate, these impulses, they are not great. they ofttimes keep you alive, but they also fucked you up. likewise the compulsion to take back control by whatever means necessary once it has been taken from you. doing whatever one can to make what just happened feel as though it were, in fact, what one wanted, laying a veil of consent over the whole endeavor where consent did not, actually, exist.
after i was raped two saturdays ago, i was struck by the reality that one does not typically feel the need to bang on about how consensual the sex was if it were in fact.
threatened, the brain-- conditioned by a whole world constructed to accommodate men-- does its damnedest to convince you you're ok with this, it wasn't what you thought it was, and none of the available words apply.
icky is where i initially landed in the text i later sent him, in my effort to hold him accountable. a text in which i reassured him not once but twice that everything that had happened between us was absolutely consensual. i said this not because it was accurate but because it was a rhetorical move that felt necessary to my being heard by him, the language required to be taken seriously. i felt i had to downplay the severity of what had occurred, to deny it even, in order to hold him to account. in the hopes that he would never do the same thing to someone else.
icky. and, while i was not wrong, it sorely undersold the matter.
i feel icky that icky was the best i could do.
this post is a mess and i have no ending. and there's a lot of shame attached to it. unique to this moment is the question of WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING TRYING TO DATE IN A PANDEMIC?!?!
yes, i did do that. as safely as i could. and yes, this did happen. and yes, those circumstances are actually unrelated.
i keep pointing out that hopefully the communication demanded of this moment in regards to health safety will make us better at communicating consent. seems we now have compelling evidence: no, it won't.
every sermon i've heard at my church since this happened has been on the matter of truth.
last sunday, as i paged through a copy of audre lorde's your silence will not protect you looking for a passage that had popped to mind to write about for a fellowship application due later that day, rev. gayle looked out of the screen on facebook and said, "it's as the poet audre lorde says... your silence will not protect you."
i teach her in all my classes. i'm teaching her again next week. this is the clip i show, which i've now heard at least twenty times, so that when i read this passage or hear it quoted, in my head, it always plays in her voice.
this is a post without an ending, so i'll just give you this:
have the people producing the curriculum for these courses and fellowships on online teaching ever taught online? are they online right now? is teaching this online course on online teaching the extent of their online teaching experience? is that why all the articles about online teaching in this online teaching course are from 2019?
because YO. UPDATE YOUR SYLLABUS. THE TIMES, THEY HAVE CHANGED!!!!! THE TIMES, THEY ARE DREADFUL!!!!!
this is not breaking news! this is like year old news at least.
i update my syllabus approximately every freaking day. c'mon.
every class makes one or a number of arguments. these classes make the argument that "we here at [institution X] care so little for your time and your success as a teacher in a crisis attempting to support 100 students from your bedroom four days a week that we're not even going to go through the motions of making this class applicable to the reality of your life."
people, that is unkind.
people, i have no patience for unkindness. and carelessness. no patience at all. tbh, i have no patience for much of anything right now.
i cried today. over annoying, medium-sized beans nonsense that unkindly triggered a parade of past horrors, which was real fun times.
but the cry was good and necessary. maybe not adequate to meet the needs of the moment and the approximately 19 MAJOR THINGS that have happened in the last three weeks, each of which warranted a proper cry, but it was something-- if not entirely a start.
burvil is scheduled to get her vaccine today. there were two positives in her facility last week.
this month has felt like 4,000 years.
time moves so slowly and yet it's all over so fast. things cannot happen fast enough and then they're over and it feels like they never happened.
howard started this week. already, it feels like the third week of school.
there was a tweet that said it's as though we've spent the last four years with the music at high volume and now the music's off but we still hear phantom notes in our heads.
it is simultaneously so loud and terribly, frighteningly quiet, like just after a snow.
four times yesterday, i talked with a group of 18 and 19 year olds about the inauguration, anger, and michelle obama. again and again and again and again, each group slightly different, each discussion arriving at different ends. four versions of the same show, each shifting slightly to accommodate the changing audience.
in the latter half of the last class, claude crawled into my lap and looked at me with WHY O WHY eyes then laid down his head and put his polkadotted paws over his ears.
four years. longer than it took to do my phd.
four years, three cities, at least ten different homes. an unstable period in more ways than one.
the thing is time is so slow but then things happen so quickly.
in a two day period last july, multiple jobs-- collectively equating to a livable wage-- fell into my lap.
the times have changed but they also haven't changed that much. i have now spent the entirety of the trump presidency trying to write an essay about kim kardashian and lost time!!
debo's sends me links to op-eds in the new york times that talk about what will happen to our country and don't mention the phrase "white supremacy" once.
a student makes eye contact with me on her screen and critiques the "uncommented upon nationalistic overtones" of biden's inaugural speech.
it is the same, but it is flowing forward. the future is coming.
i've a postcard purchased during a 2017 trip to margate that reads: "MESSAGE FROM THE FUTURE: HAVE FUN NOW." they weren't wrong.
increasingly though, admittedly, i have no fucking clue how fun looks in 2021.
for now maybe, it's just a walk with K tomorrow along the mall, seeing the fences come down, the army moving out, and the city putting itself back together, reconstituting itself to bear the awful losses that lay ahead regardless of who's in 1600 penn.
this post has no ending so i'll just leave you here.
i went on a date and we had ethiopian, and it was my turn to buy dinner and i gave a $15 tip, which was more than 25% of our bill but also didn't feel like it was that generous, but when we went to pick it up the woman, when she heard my name, she was so visibly and effusively verbally grateful for that $15 in these hard hard times, and, ever since, i cannot block out her face, i cannot stop hearing her voice, as i kissed him i enjoyed it whilst also harboring in my mind that i really would've given more because i knew it mattered but, even though i knew it mattered, i did not know it mattered nearly that much, and if it'd known it mattered that much i would've tipped $50 or maybe even $100 because the world is shit and there are troops in my city and i feel like the only thing we can do in these hard hard times is identify the individuals in our orbit for whom we can do something and to do that very small thing.
so she felt i did something and i feel like what i did was sorely inadequate, and now i sit here pondering if maybe i can order ethiopian again on the same day of the week in order to figure out who she was because i feel i can't just call the restaurant and ask for her venmo, because even though i don't have a lot of money, i've an unrelenting longing to give.
the helicopters are back.
they were notably absent on the 6th.
it was weirdly quiet. every time i'd think the sirens were out my window, they were actually on tv.
all of it was on tv. that was not true in june.
there was a hearse, right? a black hearse, parked in front of the capitol. i saw it. i noted it to debo on the phone and she saw it and asked what it was and i said that is a hearse and there is a poster on the windshield with nancy pelosi's name.
i've not heard anyone mention that.
did you see it?
truly, i do not think i made it up. if so, it's a delusion into which i carted debo fully.
there was a time in london, early on, when i was grief-stricken and wounded and those are the times, i find, when it's ok to watch horrific things, to fully let one's self submerge in the horror so you can write about the horror. because you're already there, in the horror, yeah? so why the hell not.
i was Writing then. i am not Writing now.
this was really early days. i didn't even have a desk yet, but was using the coffee table that came with the apartment, sitting on the floor in an L shape with my back against the plastic sofa and my feet under the table.
i wrote assignments #2 and #3 of my phd in this pose. the chunk linking jackie to 9/11, which years later became this article.
and watched the entirety of the CBS and NBC coverage of the jfk assassination and the CNN coverage of 9/11 in this position.
"the fog of war" mcnamara called it. the way the story is told when we are in it is how i apply that same notion.
we don't know how it's going to end, nor when. the outcome is unclear. we narrate as best we can, but the details slip through and later, weeks on, slowly in a trickle, they come out. and we learn the panic buttons were disabled and congresspeople were giving tours on the 5th.
i wonder about the hearse though. because you know that took planning, some level of coordination. children are not allowed to sled on these grounds and these guys drive a hearse up to the capitol steps?
when lindear and i talked the other night, we workshopped worst case scenarios for the coming week, in an effort to neutralize our fears. our scenarios were pretty brutal then. today, they seem rather quaint.
i would say the situation is evolving.
i went on a date last night. twas a trés trés 2020/1 DC date.
we walked from my house down past the white house and the mall and over to the korean war memorial and up to the lincoln memorial, all heavily fenced, all surrounded by military.
it was so dark it felt like 11 o'clock. it was 6 pm.
the police seemed to be closing roads behind us on the whole walk back up.
there were more helicopters today. maybe one every hour or 45 minutes.
there was a proper plane late last night, as i lay in bed reading a book about the splintering of the republican party. a distinctive and inappropriate noice that made me clench my jaw so tight that it was still sore this morning.
i spent late last week so grateful that i wasn't teaching during the putsch. joke's on me! i get to teach next week. TWICE. i have to paint my face and costume myself and explain this to 80 people, aged 17-19, approximately. lord, be with us all.
K and i have been going for four mile walks around the mall on sundays. this coming sunday is cancelled due to the insurrection.
my grocery order came today. i've planned ahead so i can make burgers and homemade pretzels and mulled wine and tofu katsu.
odds are high i'll be living on cereal.
the helicopters are back. like, casually. circling. surveilling. throughout the day.
i don't know why that's the thing but it is.
they're flying high so it's nothing like june.
nothing has been like last june-- which isn't a consolation but an indictment.
june was hellish and that hellishness was unwarranted. this, THIS is hell and hell has not been brought to bear.
they drove a hearse up to the steps of the capitol.
my aunt texts me that i should order printer cartridges because there's going to be a shortage due to people working from home.
i feel like this was a story that went viral last april. i text back that i'm focusing on food in expectation of a curfew and an inability to leave my house.
she tells me that there has been violence on both sides and its overblown and she just wishes people would stop being so political.
my sore jaw clenches.
i'm teaching a class on anger this semester. in constructing the welcome email to tell my kids it's going to be ok and that i'm aware there's a pandemic, i wrote that i hoped the class would help them process their feelings over the last year.
and then i realized that was not enough.
it is a LIFETIME.
of grief and violence and discrimination and anger.
pelosi's staff knew to cut the lights, block the door and get under the table.
that is what we are working with this semester.
they are 17, 18, 19. this is their first year of college, second semester. this was their first election. this is their first "peaceful transition of power."
my anger, it is capacious.
the helicopters are back. my jaw is clenched. my plants, they are all stationed nearer to the sun. they do no longer try so hard. spring is coming. that man at the end of the street is moving out. the fence is probably gonna be there for a long, long while. the fencing surrounds us, we fling our embellishments upon it.
i do not know what will happen. like you, i do not know where this will end.
to be clear: i do not think it has ended.
and that is a fucking terrifying thing to sit with, to write with, teach in, live in, date in, cook dinner in, go to sleep in and awaken to.
not that statehood is a cure or anything, but seriously, for real, c'mon: #DCStatehoodNow.
about the fence, that i forgot to plug here.
the white nationalists are coming back to town this week, protesting the vote certification on the 6th. if you're looking for ways to support people on the ground in DC, violá.
never got an email from you https://t.co/zSF4zwmqtC— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
The story is aimed at ridiculing the one-drop rule. Just a reminder: policing language doesn't solve the problem of misogyny and racism. https://t.co/oI09ky1u4J— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
We see censorship is thriving in American academia. https://t.co/zSF4zwmqtC— NEhist (@NEHIST) January 1, 2021
ten months of teaching without laughter.
i laugh at myself. they can see and hear me laughing at myself. sometimes i see them laugh. but they are always on mute.
no one is going to unmute themselves to audibly laugh.
i know that. i think i may have already written about that here. that would be really fucking weird, let's be real.
but i honestly didn't realize how much i miss that-- a classroom full of laughter-- until the other day.
it has been so quiet, this semester just past.
we have adapted. we have forged on. learning has occurred. teaching is happening.
but it is so fucking quiet.
i dress loud. i emote. i put on a damn good show. and they show up (well, some of them).
teaching is happening. some learning has occurred.
they are writing.
i feel like by the sheer force of my personality, hauling us all into this moment, they are still writing.
by my personality-- sweet jesus, my personality is so fucking tired and bereft-- i have brought us here. by the force of it.
because this is all, on some level i can't quite access because i am numb, forced. it is performance. it comes at a cost. (it comes at the cost of all of the phone calls i have not returned.)
but they are still writing. when i left them, they were writing. when i left them, so many of them expressed gratitude to have had the opportunity to keep writing.
i tell myself that is all that matters. i teach writing and they are writing and i am reading what they write so they are experiencing what it feels like to have your writing taken seriously. they are experiencing what it feels like to have someone take you seriously as a writer. for the 13 weeks of these short, sad semesters, they can-- at the very least-- feel they have been read.
ultimately, that's probably all i've ever felt i've given them, even in years past. (is it passed or past? i teach writing and i fucking do not know.)
i give them the gift of being read.
which is not inconsequential. i would argue, it's quite a fucking lot. because why write if not with the awareness of-- if not always the expectation (though i confess, for me at least, the expectation has always, even since i was a very young girl, been there)-- of being read.
i have never dreaded a semester so much as i currently dread spring 2021.
maybe because spring 2020 was so appalling, so painful.
maybe because the break between winter and spring is never ever enough, even in the good times.
and, as i've reminded my students often these past few months, we are not living in good times.
three weeks is not enough to sit with the grief, to process. to hold, to rest and recover.
three weeks is not enough to reconstitute myself as a human being, much less as a writer and a thinker.
three weeks is not enough to prep two sets of classes and prepare six course websites.
three weeks is not enough.
i need a month, AT LEAST. alone (with claude), reading and thinking and writing by the light of my christmas trees and walking in the early morning in my city, awaking.
i need a month, AT LEAST, of not having to perform care work and trauma-informed pedagogy.
as we say in my family, these are our various breads and butters. trauma and care. this is a framework that everything that has come before has prepared me to work within.
i'm aware this is maybe also the core, the meaning, of my whole life-- these kids. and their voices, meeting trauma with care.
whenever i would try to talk about my feelings in the mid-2010s, garebear would deflect and say it's not all about you. and i knew it wasn't. and i see now how that was a defensive rhetorical move, a move intended to protect himself, because he was not able to go to there. and, surely, yes, there are times i have made it all about me.
but i just-- and maybe this is pure flattery, maybe i'm a horrible human being who tilts narratives to gratify my own pride and make everything about myself whilst pretending it is about others--. i just, in so many of the things i have done (the jackie book, teaching, i don't know what else but surely a list of two things is long enough for you right now...) feel like i'm preparing the way.
is a john the baptist complex a thing?
i freely admit, i probably have that.
I AM NOT THE ONE!!!!!!!
i know that. i have known that for quite some time.
but the one, the ten/the twenty/fifty/ninety/417/1202029/2238493. they are coming. they are rising up. i have seen them.
it has been my very great privilege to see them, to read them.
three weeks is not enough. to repair, to restore oneself for the gravity, the difficulty of the work we have to do. it is not.
we had a union social meeting tonight for the holiday break. celebrating the end of the semester. six people showed up.
after my teeny tiny class at nyu-dc this semester, i am convinced that six people is the perfect class size.
we've had so many meetings this term, because we're preparing a labor action, but this is the first one where our mics were on.
the meetings usually last an hour. this one lasted two and a half.
and there was laughter. there was so much laughter.
earlier today, i wrote the student who stays in touch with me from AU. she is not singing; i am not writing. and then i wrote one of the two professors from undergrad whom i stay in touch with. and i told her about the laughing. i told her how i feel like things are going pretty well but i've realized i so desperately miss the laughter.
i can do zoom. i am maybe even thriving. when i returned to the US from london, burvil told me i should consider a job in local tv. well, baby, i've gone international.
come spring 2021, i'll be playing twelve shows a week, all around the world.
what i remember about the screening of a silent film-- the title of which i cannot remember-- that we had to watch in MAPH is that it was completely, utterly exhausting. in my whole young life at that point in 2003, i had never been so tired as i was after that.
my defense mechanism is humor. my primary pedagogical tool is humor. i am, they all agree on ratemyprofessor.com, exceedingly nice. my niceness, it derives from being a generally humane person but also from my ability to handle all of this bullshit with a delicate and light and comedic touch.
nine months, no laughs.
three weeks is not enough to recover from the deprivation.
three weeks is not enough before we all have to take the stage again.
three weeks is not enough, i am not ready, i cannot pave the way if i am a depleted husk of a human being.
it is a sin that teachers are not seen as essential workers.
it is a sin that we are in the situation we are in right now.
i crave joy.
i hunger for laughs.
i teach a whole class on helping students find their voices and what they are learning is that, when they are not speaking-- when they are not actively contributing to the discussion-- they must mute themselves.
unbridled laughter. that is all i want for christmas. and more than three weeks to reconcile myself to the fact that that is not a gift i'm going to get.