The mornings and nights have turned cold,

and the days don’t seem to get quite warm enough. Fall is in present tense—and the colors are a kind of disjointed recompense for less sun and more layers. I prefer not needing five extra minutes to put on ten pounds of outerwear, thank you. It takes a lot of the spontaneity out of life.

My students had oral exams today, meaning  I had to sit with them two-by-two (à la  Noah’s Ark) in a huge, empty classroom and ask them direct questions from which they could not escape. Pobres. I saw so many deer-in-the-headlight looks that I started to feel like I was in some very strange sort of zoo (i.e. my life, but that’s a different story).

I also spent a few hours encroaching on the anthropology department, pretending to be an anthropologist. It was pretty fun. I sort of just start talking about social structure and cross my fingers. Today it got me free cookies, so that was a plus.

And I got a high-five from the bus driver for no apparent reason. I had paint on my hands (from an artistic endeavor that, unsurprisingly, did not go well) and he got splattered, but was totally chill with it. #goals

I’ve seen the #metoo hashtag going viral for the past few days. It’s a strange conversation because it seems that the women sharing it are not being taking at face value. There’s some weird paternalistic vibe going on in which men pat them on the head and say, “I’m sure you thought it was harassment or assault,” and mutter about overemotional ladies being at it again, thanks a lot Internet.

It makes sharing hard, and in some cases, it makes listening even harder. It kind of makes me question myself. Not if what happened happened, because it did happen, and it ruined four years of college for me. But more like if I have a right to share it, and if it will do any good or if I’m just creating a self-soothing echo chamber that serves no real purpose except to alienate people from me or others. And that’s pretty messed up. Because the man who did what he did to me is, I’m sure, not asking himself these questions (he just passed the bar to practice criminal defense—I think it’s okay to laugh at that irony).

#metoo, then, and?

It was a strange moment. He did what he did, barged into my apartment and into my room, threatened me and threatened to hurt himself, and did physical things. And somehow instead of seeing this abusive behavior for what it was, I was exiled for  “leading him on.” Like, okay. Because I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with him afterwards?

I feel sick when I hear people say that society’s relationship with women has to change. Because of course it does. What levels of depravity do you have to subscribe to in order to view everything as normal? I usually have my phone ready to dial 911 in an empty parking lot and can’t go out to jog at night and can’t even crack open a window when I shower—someone filmed me bathing once in my own house. But that’s just a few of the perils of living for me and for every woman ever, right? (Actually when I told someone that last story, they said that).

#metoo but you probably could have guessed that, and it’s not enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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a tale in six acts

I. There you are

A blazing flare of glory where your heart should be
Untamable, unknowable,
Like holy water, you slip through the ridges of his hands
You’re spectacular,
Furious,
Nowhere and everywhere at the same time,
Twisting to a rhythm only you can hear,
Merciless,
You leave him heaving,
Breathless,
Chest knotted in his fingers,
Starving,
Craving the bitten earth of your body,
Hungry for the saturated folds of your brain
Reckless,
Bathing himself in the perfume of your flesh,
The temple of your shamelessness,
Searching for your curves in every woman before and after—
And they never compare—
Covering his face as your glory passes by.

II. Then.

It is the death of a thousand everyday things,
The things that fastidiously tie you to earth.
The coffee makers and flowerpots and evenings spent forgetting your middle name.
The rupture.
The moment when you stop running,
Stop twisting,
Sit still, and wait.
Wait to be loved.
Wait for the hard edges and unlovable gaps to be shorn off, filled in.
You fade, waiting,
Falling into yourself,
A hundred skyscrapers toppling like cards into the sea,
All without sound.

III. He forgets.

He’s frustrated, unsure.
You were one thing in words and ideas,
Tantalizing, mesmerizing.
Here in the flesh you are another.
Oh, and you are another.
Aren’t you another?
Stay in one place, he says.
Don’t.
Quiet.
Can’t you just be still?

IV. So you try.

You freeze your feet into blocks,
Two-ton iron blocks that stick to the floor.
Your wings,
You wet them with silence
Until they hang off of you like ruined paper,
Glued to your flesh in the rain.
Quieter and quieter you fade,
Lost in the colorless background of nothing,
Of everything.
The brilliance of your body muted,
Covered,
Hidden.

V. Until.

Until one day,
In the strangest small thing—
A note of a song, a line of a book,
A shimmer of blossoming embers—
You catch a moment,
A second,
The slightest, most haunting reflection,
A reflection of a woman that was you,
And who you can be again.
Who you will be again.
Who you are again, my dear, and always,
Always have been.

VI. The awakening.

This transformation,
A chain explosion of the things inside of you—
Things that you need to love,
Things that know your true name.
Relentless,
A midnight tide drowning the desert,
Ferocious,
Life undaunted that swells up from the bottom,
Furious,
Enraged at being suffocated for so long,
Ravenous,
As if darkness could stifle light,
As if he could hold back the sea,
As if he could stop the surging of your body
Or erase language from your head.
Inescapable,
This destiny of yours,
To rise and rise and rise,
Always rising,
As you reunite with the lost pieces,
Collect the broken things,
And never stop to wait again.

sometimes

Sometimes I like to think of us
As pieces of an ancient star blown apart by time and circumstance,
Pieces that have spent the last thirteen billion years
Finding their way back to one other.

fake it until you make it (or break it)

We’re into the third week of the fall semester, when everything is starting to feel more permanent. At the beginning of the academic year, it’s all imaginary—a prank that goes on too long. But now the gauntlet has been thrown, and we’re slowly settling into our lives of expanding file folders, three-ring binders, and moldy critical theory.

When I was about 14, I got drafted into serving at a coffee shop. My friend worked there, and I wanted to help. I wanted to be useful. The problem, of course, was that I didn’t even drink coffee. It was a whole new language to me: cappuccin-who? I didn’t know how to ask about whole milk or almond or skim, and the idea of adding foam to just about anything was confusing on an existential level.

When I was 17, I went to Paris. I was stopped on the street by a woman whose scarf I still remember in vivid detail (green lace with silver tassels). She started asking me something—in French, of course—and she continued to ask more and more things as I shook my head or nodded at what seemed like appropriate moments, but probably weren’t.

At 20, I was in college. I somehow ended up running an online community for journalists, and then in an even more radical twist of fate, became responsible for planning a conference to bring them all to our sleepy little college town to meet with our sleepy little college students. I distinctly remember breaking down while I was on the phone line with the receptionist at the local hotel where we were putting up our attendees. She was pretty nice about it (#southerncharm).

All of that to say that when I walk into a college classroom at the beginning of every semester and somehow end up at the front teaching actual people, I feel like I’m continuing a long, personal tradition of pretending to be able to do things that, in all actuality, I can’t do. I can’t even almost do them. It honestly doesn’t seem that different from six-year-old me playing teacher in her bedroom, except I’m not rocking the same bangs as I did in the 90s.

I expect this trend to continue for quite some time—good thing I’ve had a lot of practice.

 

 

 

Confessions

The morning I stopped believing in God I was thirteen. My childhood broke bread on its deathbed—

A cold planet born in foam and ash.

Years before, I stole ice cream from my grandmother’s freezer,
Took the only things that age had not,
Chocolate and the sound of a nearby washing machine still drive me to shame.
Like a too-tight shoe, I have often dreamed of shedding the coils of my body,
Pirouetting past the daily degradations and hungers,
Even as you have sat quietly outside and called my name.
I have wielded mighty instruments without care or thought,
Stumbled over the celestial busted forms of this sad, small world,
Closed my eyes while feeling my way along a dark corridor—

A seeker of double blindness.

I have chased you from the auspices of revelation
Employed parlor tricks to convince myself that loneliness is genius,
Lost my own body in the smoke and mirrors of daily living.
Behind false pretense and ugly make-believe, I store my fears one by one,
So many that I can divide them by size and color and texture,
So many that I can sell them all half-off, or free if you haul them yourself.
Not long ago, I took something that did not fit because I was afraid,
And then I gave it back because the fear did not go away,
I know fear’s angular collarbones and how she smells at night, her eyes—

A terrible reflection.

creation and destruction

Here in Pittsburgh, local news has picked up the story of five previously lost Elizabeth Black portraits that were rediscovered in a public library under decades of dirt and grime. Conservators are trying to restore them—their work is being made much more difficult by vandalism. Three of the five portraits have been defaced in some way.

I wonder why humans always break things? It seems to me like a constant slide towards not only atrophy, but destruction. Shattering bottles in the street, tossing trash out the window, cutting down forests, polluting rivers, knocking over ruins, vandalizing cemeteries. We see legacies and histories effaced, nature corrupted. Sometimes we kill people, sometimes we take away their language and break apart their communities.

This is tied, of course, to creation—new buildings, new technologies, new cities, new goods, leaving some sort of new mark on the things we see and come into contact with. It’s impossible to have creation without destruction, birth without death. Sometimes it seems to me that living is just an endless wrestling match between these two uniquely human impulses.

If that’s true, I know that I’d like to be a creator. I try to create something every day. It doesn’t always go well, but I try.