Demand Better

This is a short one. But since I usually write when I am angry or frustrated or sad, I wanted to write now because I am currently so incredibly encouraged.

For the last two weeks, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), the union representing Graduate students who serve as Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), have been on strike. Like all contract negotiations, this one was complicated, and I won’t go into everything in this post. You can read about it here, if you’d like.

This isn’t a post about why I supported the GEO on their strike. This is about how flipping proud I am of them for demanding better. When the administration refused to bargain fairly, they tried everything they could. They tried for 200+ days to bargain, but when the administration continued to refuse to act in good faith, they didn’t quit or become cynical, or just, ya know, write an angry blog post…

They continued to demand better. And when their demands fell on deaf ears, (or, as was so often the case, absent ones) they turned to each other and said, together we demand better.

And they aren’t the only ones. Educators in West Virginia, and the UK, and Toronto, and Buenos Aires, and even, lord-a-mercy, my home state of Oklahoma, are demanding better.

And so are the teenagers organizing the #NeverAgain movement.

And so are the people organizing and supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

And so are the women organizing the #MeToo movement.

And so are the grassroots organizations like #LetAmericaVote and #Flippable and #Indivisible.

And so are the people blocking ICE raids and fighting for DACA.

And the people fighting for disability rights.

And the people fighting for transgender rights.

And the citizens showing-up to vote in midterm and special elections in numbers that are blowing past previous totals.

I’ve left many organizations and much important work off of this list. I know. The fact that I could keep going is a good thing.

I think most people, most days, feel like they are powerless. Alone, we might sometimes be so. Together, we can demand better. We forget this sometimes. I think we are remembering.

Really, in the end, that’s all I want for my country. I want everyone, left or right*, to demand better.

Of our elected officials. Of our public institutions. Of our workplaces. Of ourselves.

If we can demand better of each other, we might find we are far better off together than we ever could be on our own.

End Note:

* I mean, obviously, if you know me at all, you know I want the left to then win, but I want to win the argument, not some nihilistic, grotesque reality show.




What a Joke

I was at a play, something important and terribly sad, and at the most gut-wrenching moment of that play’s final scene, a man in the audience laughed. It was not a giggle, or even a chuckle. It was a sharp, barking crack, louder than the prop gun that had been fired moments earlier.

Rather than being rebuffed by fellow theater goers, as one might expect, this one laugh set off the rest of the audience. The entire crowd erupted. Short, muffled giggles at first, but then guffaws, peels, whoops. There were a few stunned faces that mirrored my own, but most people laughed.

After realizing the laughter was not going to cease, the actors mumbled their final lines and rushed off stage. The lights rose. The laughter died. The silence was horrible. No one in the audience could look at one another. No one dared move.

Laughter can be a response to a variety of stimuli, but I want to talk about the kind of laughter that erupts in response to tension. Like hearing an animal sound nearby and freezing, only to laugh when, after some time, nothing appears. Your body tensed, ready to fight or flight, but once the threat was gone, it needed a way to exorcise that tension, and so, you laughed.

Laughter can also be a communal release of societal tension. Ever had someone in a group break an uncomfortable silence with a joke? Probably a self-deprecating one? It’s a social tool to release tension as well.

And here we come to the problem of using “it is/was a joke” in response to allegations of sexual assault. When someone in a public position is accused of sexual assault, there is an immediate social tension: How should we, as the social, respond? And once this tension is created, we become invested in the release of this tension. Most people are not willing to wait in an awkward group silence. We as a culture would rather release the tension a claim of sexual assault gives us than continue to live with it.

Which is why “it was/is a joke” is so wonderfully convenient. Four words. Four words that release us. We don’t have to worry if it happened or the details of how it happened or anything else. We don’t have to sit with it at all. It happened, but it was a joke. Maybe the accuser didn’t find it funny. But hey, some people can’t take a joke.

And here, essentially, is the telling bit of referring to sexual assault as a misconstrued joke. The person who tells the joke gets to say it’s a joke, even if the person they told it to says it was not a joke. In fact, the person who tells the joke gets to say it is a joke even if millions of other people don’t think it is a joke. As long as they can find a few people who agree with them, it gets to count as a joke.

Because we all know that humor is subjective. Some people revel in puns. Others groan at them. Some people love the Three Stooges. Others find them idiotic. What makes us laugh, much more so than what makes us cry, is pretty difficult to nail down.  Which is why sexual predators love to say their predation is a joke. If all humor is subjective, then who’s to say sexual assault isn’t a joke?

There is a basic principle in humor of the benign violation, meaning that humor works by disrupting our concept of how the world normally functions in a way that causes no real harm. Here’s the thing about that construction—we can usually all agree on the first part, but the second? Well, therein lies the, ahem, rub.

To say sexual assault is a joke is to say that the violation of a woman’s body causes no harm. Think of the familiar comedic trope of honking a woman’s breasts, for example. The one we have photographic evidence of Al Franken conducting. The humor works by first making a body part make a noise it does not make, disrupting the natural order of the world. But to then think it is funny, one would have to think that groping a woman’s breasts causes no harm.

As I listened to Al Franken’s resignation speech on the Senate floor I could tell, I could absolutely tell, that he is going to say he considers what he did a joke. And of all the people who can and will bring this defense, a former comedian is one who can bring it most plausibly.

As the social, we have to not care if he genuinely thought he was being funny. We have to not care if all the people around him thought he was being funny. We have to say that accessing another person’s body without permission is never a joke. We have to say that sexual assault is not benign. We are going to have to sit in the uncomfortable tension of not being able to laugh it off.

These women are up there in the spotlight. Many have played their deepest, most vulnerable, sometimes most horrifying tragedies for us all to see. In response, the accused laughs. When he does so, we cannot join. If we laugh, we are agreeing that sexual assault is benign.

And what happens, then, when the lights come-up?

Our Progressive Country Through a Glass, Darkly

The Friday after the election I took the train up to Chicago to join the protests. I found two separate gatherings. The first protest was outside the Trump building. I could hear it from the El station. These folks were angry. Their signs proclaimed “Not My President” and “Re-Count” and other variations of the same. The second was held in a park, with children and music and colorful signs, most of which claimed “Love Trumps Hate” or some version thereof. At this one, a young woman from Northwestern interviewed me. She asked, among many things, what my reaction had been on election night, how I had processed it all. I said that I wanted information. I needed percentages. I needed it broken down by precincts. I needed them compared to the results before the Voting Rights Act was gutted. And then I said the most telling thing.

“It just didn’t seem possible,” I said.

She nearly jumped in her eagerness to ask, “Why not?”

“Look,” I said. “People of color have been telling us for a long time that this is what our country is. I always thought it was maybe 20% this, but on the whole, we were better. I thought I was listening. I didn’t listen well enough.”

She asked a few more questions, then moved on to the next protestor. I kept thinking about what I had said. It didn’t seem possible. I hadn’t said those words before that moment. I hadn’t said much of anything, really. Sad. Angry. Scared. Exhausted. Words hadn’t come yet.

It didn’t seem possible, I had said. But what, exactly, was it?

After leaving the protests, I walked along the lake front and I began to cry. I did not sob. No one turned to look at me or avoided eye contact. They were slow, sporadic tears, brushed easily away by my gloved hands. I kept walking until they ceased. I hadn’t identified the antecedent yet, but an outline had emerged.

The next morning, I met a good friend for breakfast. This person is one of the most caring, kind-hearted, lovely people I have ever known. I don’t believe we have ever spoken cross words to one another. That morning, however, this person began working-out what to say to their family of Trump supporters over the holidays. I responded by saying how grateful I was that none of my immediate family had voted for him. I was done having those conversations. I was going to work harder at listening and supporting the people of color in my life and in my community and in my country. I was exhausted by the narrative of the “forgotten white working class.”

Our exchange sharpened. This person felt like I was attacking their family. I felt like I was defending mine. My voice began to rise. Theirs followed.

I don’t remember how the conversation ended. The meal ended and we both needed to get on with our day. (The privilege of this, of our ability to literally walk away from the discussion, is not lost on me.) We did not leave angry. We hugged when we parted. But there was a shard there, something sharp between us that had never been there before.

What I know now, what I can recognize now, is that we were grieving, and that the friction between us was the frustration of being in differing stages of grief.

How could this person be justifying this? I thought.

How can this person be so dismissive? They wondered.

They were bargaining and I was angry. We conflicted because our ways of processing grief did not align. Of all the lessons I have learned from Roxane Gay, the one I hold dearest is the action of not judging another person’s grieving process. We all do what we must to live with loss, and the ways we do so are not always pretty.

Shocked White America Liberals (SWALs) experienced a loss on election night. I do not simply mean we lost the election. Elections have been lost before. What we lost on election night was our story. In this story, America was the land of progress. Sure, there was slavery, and Native American genocide, and Japanese American internment camps, and Jim Crow, and gay bashing, and, and, and, and, but those things were in the past. We were better than our forefathers. We were creating an ever-more inclusive and humane society. Look, we have a black president. Look how much better we are. Do not look at Trayvon. Do not look at Flint. Do not look at domestic violence rates. Do not look at Native suicides. Look at Obama. Keep looking. Keep feeling good about our country. Keep looking at our president.

And then the president became Donald Trump and our story died.

In the wake if this death, we began to grieve in the ways we knew how.

What other than denial explains that Jill Stein, of all the desperate saviors to seek, raised $7.33 million dollars to challenge the results? How else to explain why I “kept wanting more information”? If evidence of voter suppression could be found, then we could deny that Trump is our story.

Anger lashed-out at Hillary. She should have done more. Done different. Been more. Been different. Anger took to the streets. Bullhorns and signs and chanting. I joined those bodies. We railed outside the walls of Trump’s narrative but could not, in the end, make them fall.

Bargaining followed swiftly. People hoped the Electoral College would make this a lie. Petitions were signed. Social media was awash in Obi-Wan Kanobe memes. I decided I would quit my job, go to law school, move to Alabama, and work for the Southern Poverty Law Center. This was my version of “if you’ll just let this not be true, Lord.”

Depression took many forms. We ate too much. We drank too much. We hooked up. We stopped hooking up. My depression took these forms as well. I also stopped writing anything new, the effort of imagination too taxing.

As for acceptance, well, some are there, some aren’t. I think we can see a level of acceptance in the number of SWALs who have joined social justice groups and the numbers running for political office, even in the deepest crimson of districts. For many years, I considered my teaching, specifically the way I try to use my teaching as a means of confronting systemic oppression, to be enough service. In the story where our country was progressing towards greater equality, we all thought something we were doing was enough. The story of Trump’s America tells us that there can ever be enough.

Which doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Our SWAL privilege must be used to directly combat his story. As individuals, it is never enough. Together, it sometimes can be. But in order to do this, I think we must also recognize our loss for what it is. The story of Our Progressive Country, the one we told ourselves when Obama became president, and doubled-down on when he was reelected, and went all-in on when we believed a woman would hold the position next, that story died. We should grieve it in the ways we need to grieve it and not judge each other for the different expressions of grief we take. Sometimes, I play Obama’s old interviews (my God, it already feels like they happened thirty years ago) just to feel again that old story. It’s the way I read old love letters to feel again that past love.

But just as those old letters hold only the bright, warm slivers of those past relationships, the Obama interviews hold only the bright, warm parts of our nation’s story those eight years. And this was never the whole story.

So while SWALs must do what we will to grieve the story of Our Progressive Country, we must also recognize that the story was a fictional one. Not entirely a lie. No believable story is ever entirely a lie. Obama was president. SCOTUS passed gay marriage. The ACA became law. There were bright, warm days. But to deny the darker ones makes us complicit in the systems that forged them.

There are probably a thousand analogies I could use to understand the effect of Trump’s election. For myself, at least, I think of it as a death, and I give myself the license to mourn as I will, knowing that the stages are rarely linear, and that they cycle through again and again and again. I am angry. I am depressed. I am in denial. I am bargaining. I am accepting. Shuffle. Repeat.*

But though grief must be accepted and processed in whatever ways we will, it must also be met with a certain resistance. Grief occupies a land between the living and the dead, and this liminal space can be seductive.

We must not stay. The living need us. Our grief over the death of Our Progressive Country is not as important as the lives of those who need us most in Trump’s America. We helped write this tale by accepting the romantic lie over the difficult truth. If we want a different story, our complicity is the first difficult truth we must face.

*It’s important to note the white privilege inherent in mourning without being criminalized for it.

I wasn’t ever going to write anything about this election. There are far smarter people handling it, and I don’t think one more white woman’s voice is what anyone needs. I still don’t. But this blog isn’t a national one; it’s a personal one. I told a friend recently I should just title it “one white girl’s awakening.” This election plays a pretty big part in that awakening. I don’t know that I can ever be fully woke, but I can keep awakening, and this space is where I try to be honest about that process.

Image taken from Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly

“when any heat at all rises,/ and becomes a visible thing”

When I was 24, my car broke down in Cherokee, Oklahoma, about 60 miles from my parents’ home, one week before I hopped on a plane that would take me to Fairbanks, Alaska. In Fairbanks, I would meet the poet Derick Burleson, who was born and raised in Cherokee, Oklahoma. There aren’t many people who have lived Oklahoma prairie and Alaska boreal forest. Derick lived this. He also lived Texas and Montana and Kansas and Rwanda and many other places. There aren’t many people who have lived a life as varied and rich as Derick Burleson’s, even though that life ended too early, at the age of 53, just a few nights ago.

I last saw Derick at AWP in 2014. I heard his laugh first, big and a little cracked. I followed the sound until I saw his beard, and then the rest of him. Like his facial hair, the man was bold and brilliant and slightly wild. He brokered no small talk, immediately moving to the horrors happening at UAF, and from that to championing the poetry of Marick Press, and of Alaska poets, and of Oklahoma poets, and of any other poets he could manage to champion in our short chat. We said we would try to catch one another later that week for a drink, perhaps while seeing Eddie Kim, whose poetry we were both so happy to see getting support and recognition at Kundiman.

We didn’t catch one another that week. And, aside from a few scattered emails over the last nine years, we didn’t really catch each other at all. I won’t pretend he and I were terribly close personally, because we weren’t. I was not, and am not a poet, and when I was in Alaska, and to a lesser degree now, I was/am a judgmental shithead, and he quite rightly didn’t really want to hang. He was very close to many others, though, and the outpouring of love for him across social media has been a heartening thing to see.

I did take a class with him, Forms of Poetry, and before the semester began, I met with him in his office and told him I was taking it so I could better teach an undergraduate Intro class, but that I had no delusions as to my poetic ability—I was not, and would never be a ‘real’ poet. He squinted at me until I finished talking, let me sit in a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, then told me that everything I had said was bullshit. I needed to celebrate taking that course. I needed to take that time to be a ‘real’ poet. That being a ‘real’ poet was about a way of seeing, a way of living. How privileged was I to be given the chance to spend time as a poet in this life?

That’s my paraphrase of our conversation, anyway, filtered through time and memory. But I do remember specifically that he used the word privileged.

Derick taught English in Rwanda from 1991-1993.  His first book, Ejo, bears witness to the community experienced before the genocide, the lives of those murdered, and the lives of those who survived. Most remarkable, I think, is his ability to celebrate and mourn with equal vigor, to see the joy and humor and sadness and horror and articulate it all. He brings this same honest eye to his books Never Night and Melt, which also celebrate the beauty and joy in life even amid its horrors, whether those horrors be enacted by the intimate violence of child abuse or by the global violence of climate change. Through all three books—throughout his life—Burleson kept his eye vigilant and steady, and he rendered, beautifully, what he saw with words and with paint.

I believe real harm is done by flinching away from life. Flinching happens in several ways. Sometimes it is the refusal to see life as it is at all, to close our eyes and make our own realities. Sometimes it is willfully seeing only the joy. Sometimes it is willfully seeing only the horror. But to do any of this—to flinch—is to bear false witness. Art of any meaningful kind cannot flinch.

On election night this past year, like so many, I sent this poem to friends (pardon the GIGANTIC screenshot font, there is not a great deal of editing going into this post):



I wasn’t as surprised by the election results as others. I grew up among the stone throwers. I have lived among them elsewhere, as well. But even within places where the stones fall in hailstorms, I have found people building shields, mending wings, working to help the people taking aim question why they do so.

In this poem, whether there are good bones or whether this is solely a sales tactic is not explicit. In the weeks following the election, I found myself waffling over whether America has good bones or if social progress is simply a sales tactic of capitalism. I still do this waffling at times. I won’t pretend otherwise.

Right now, I think America does have good bones. There are also some shitty old pipes and entire walls that need to be demolished, and a helluvalot more work to be done as well, but the popular vote count has helped to reassure me that there are good bones, meaning, of course, that there are enough good people to get the work done.

Progress is not a solid, forever forward-moving process anymore than a house, once built, is forever sound. Both require diligent, vigilant, difficult work. The damage sets in, I think, when we flinch.

My adult New Year’s Eve tradition (barring the few times I have been persuaded out into the world, which have mostly ranged from disappointing to disastrous) is to light some candles, make several pots of tea, or pour several glasses of wine, or tip several measures of whiskey (usually all of the above), and write and read until I absolutely can no longer do so.

And while New Year’s Day belongs to writing and reading fiction (and eating black-eyed peas, which is a thing, I promise), New Year’s Eve night belongs to poetry. There is something more contemplative, for me, about the form, and I am at my most contemplative on this night, a natural enough response, I guess, to a communal marking of the passage of time.

I read again Heaney’s “Beowulf.” I read again the poems I favored in childhood, like Noyes’ “The Highwayman” and Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and certain Shakespearean monologues like Edmund’s bastard speech. I dig back into Richard Hugo’s letters. I go honky-tonking with Carrie Jerrell and head into Katrina with Natasha Threthewey. I let Claudia Rankine school me on my white privilege and fragility. I mosey back to Oklahoma with Joy Harjo and Jeanetta Calhoun Mish and John Berryman and B.H. Fairchild. I find poems from old friends on ancient computer files and read Jacob Robert Stephens, Brooke Sheridan, Lisa Janout, James Raines, Eddie Kim, Damien Cowger, and so many more. I pick-up books by newer friends like Melissa Range and Anne Barngrover. I spend some time just trawling the Poetry Foundation’s website with words I love—myopic, cleave, scurry, hollow, etc…

This year. This night. I will be reading Derick Burleson. A few poems of his—“Ejo” and “Never Night” (from which I pulled the title of this post)—are part of the yearly refrain, but this time I’m going to sink into all I have with all I have. Through child abuse, alongside genocide, beside melting glaciers, and more, Burleson looked at life and saw the good bones amid the real shithole. He saw it and he did what I hope to do this coming year and all my coming years. He kept a steady eye. He did not flinch.

Take My Hand, Fellow Fan

I know few songs by heart. Even ones I would call my favorites cannot be recalled on the spot. But somehow, though I have not sung them in twenty years, the Baptist hymns of my youth remain with me. Play the first bar of any of these and I can sing every word. I even know the sign language version of some, which comes in handy for all those emergency situations where I am rendered mute, but must still communicate “for the bible tells me so.”

One of the only secular songs I can sing without hesitation is a hymn of a different kind. In the opening voiceover of the movie Bull Durham (1988), Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, states that she has tried “all of the major religions and most of the minor ones…but the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out, is the church of baseball.” I too have abandoned organized religion and found myself most blessed by America’s game.  It is perhaps no surprise, then, that in my mind, alongside “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Blessed Assurance,” rests “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

My reasons for loving baseball are the same reasons held by many, and I won’t bore you with most of them. If you’re reading this, you probably already share them. If you don’t, reading them won’t be enough to turn your head. In this way, my baseball faith is not an evangelical one. I hope nonbelievers one day discover baseball, but I believe that discovery is a private journey. This personal relationship with baseball equates roughly with what the Baptists would call “the walk,” which is code for the private relationship a person has with God. I think this phrase is particular to evangelicals because they recognize that the showbiz of their religion can seduce a person so that their worship has nothing to do with God and everything to do with the laser light shows. “How’s your walk?” means, “Are you praying on your own? Or are you just showing-up for the free food and babysitting? In the still, quiet dark of an evening, are you and the Lord copacetic?”

The same can happen with baseball. A person can love going to a baseball game, but not actually enjoy the game itself. A day spent in the sun drinking beer and eating hotdogs and nachos is a pretty great day. In fact, Phillip Wrigley intentionally courted these non-baseball fan consumers, selling a day at Wrigley as “fun and healthfulness … sunshine and relaxation.” This campaign has brought Wrigley Field, if not the Cubs themselves, tremendous success, much in the way that the laser light shows and rock music have brought evangelicals success, but left them lacking gravitas on the world stage.

Unlike the devoutly religious, however, I do not begrudge the social baseball fan their worship. I cheer anyone who wants to cheer the game. My walk with baseball is strong, but I also enjoy drinking beer and eating nitrates in the sunshine. And I must admit that while listening to a game or watching one in my home has its pleasures, I always leave a live game tingling with the jubilation of the freshly anointed.

My response, however, is not about the beer and sunshine. I have sat sober in stadiums on cold, rainy days and felt the same. It is also less about the smells and sounds and other sensory experiences of a live game, though this certainly enlivens the experience. But even more than all of this, my religious ecstasy arrives for the three minutes in the seventh inning when the entire stadium celebrates the joy we all feel for being lucky enough to be at a game. This celebration occurs by standing and lifting our voices together to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

While many American sporting events begin with the national anthem, to my knowledge, there is no other sport where the fans take a break part-way through a game and all, no matter the heated rivalry, sing a song celebrating sheer love of the game itself. I have stood in Busch stadium wearing full Cubs gear and we all smiled and shouted “1, 2, 3, strikes you’re out!” before returning to our seats and continuing to hurl abuse.

The Seventh Inning Stretch is perhaps the most powerful reason I keep lifting the name of baseball on high. Too often, the world seems polarized. People search for what separates us more than what binds. Sports, including baseball, often serve as a symbolic representation of these divisions, and people (including me) react accordingly, imbuing “the other” of the other team’s fans with qualities they see as, at best, inferior and, at worst, evil.  Property is destroyed, people are assaulted, people die, as representatives of a team of people they have more than likely never met, even though this makes about as much sense as people losing property, blood, or life as a result of liking Pepsi instead of Coke.

But in baseball, even if a full riot breaks out afterwards, there are still a few minutes of each game where baseball fans are reminded that we share a mutual love for the game itself. For a few minutes, gender, race, economic status, education, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, physical appearance, physical ability, marital status, political affiliation, Coke or Pepsi—none of it matters. In the seventh inning of each game, we stand together, tens of thousands of us, in cathedrals from Oakland to Boston to Japan, and we lift our voices in praise of what binds us. In the face of so much that divides, we must all find moments when we are united. I once found this connection by rising from musty pews and singing “Amazing Grace” with tabernacle choirs. These days, like the fictional Annie, I find it by rising and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Harry Caray Leads the Seventh Inning Stretch

Take My Boyfriend, Please

It’s been awhile, I know. Thing is, I’ve started seeing someone, and I’ve been a little distracted from blog writing.* I guess I’m writing now for the reasons I always do—the need to rant, or explore some thoughts, or to try and articulate an observation. Most of you know that it has been awhile since I’ve been in an actual relationship. Like, I get my leg over on occasion, but an exclusive boyfriend hasn’t happened for a few years. So I guess I’m writing this because while these observations and frustrations are familiar to women who regularly engage in relationships, it is all a little strange to me. Anyway, here it goes.

  • He has. So. Many. Shoes. He probably has upwards of twenty pairs of shoes. He has brown dress shoes and blue dress shoes and black dress shoes and running sneakers and casual sneakers and hiking boots and flip-flops for the gym and flip-flops for home and hiking sandals (what the fuck are hiking sandals?)…. I mean, it is insane. And you know, he’s explained that as a man in his thirties who has lived a varied and full life, he has actually needed all of these shoes, and continues to need all of them pretty regularly. Apparently, he can’t wear brown shoes with a black suit or black shoes with a blue suit, and I’m like, okay, why not just buy one color of suit? And he was like, okay, but he still needs the other shoes because he can’t wear flip flops to a wedding and he can’t wear running shoes to the beach, and he kept going on and on until I was like, whatever, do your thing. I could tell he felt a little hurt, though, so while he was at work, I went and got one of those shoe racks from IKEA and put it together and when he got home he started crying and telling me how much he loved me, and I was like, look, I love all parts of you, even the ridiculous ones, you adorable boy.


  • Okay, when we first got together, I did not mind listening to him bitch about his job, but it’s getting old. I mean, I get it. He gets paid twenty percent less for doing the exact same job as four other guys in the office. He actually does better work, but those guys and the boss were in the same frat, and they play golf together on the weekends, so it doesn’t matter what work he does, he keeps getting passed over for raises and promotions. I mean, that sucks, it really does, but like, grow some ovaries and say something or shut up about it. At least to me. I can only say, “That sucks, I’m so sorry, do you want me to rub your dick?” so many times.


  • He takes so long in the bathroom. I have no idea what he does in there. I mean, he does look good. Like, I really like when we’re out in public and other women give him the once over. I’m like, yeah, I get to hit that anytime I want it. But seriously, there is no way he is spending the entire time brushing his hair. He’s just dawdling. He has a real problem with focus, I think. In fact, the other day I totally proved that all that time was not necessary. I got home and told him we had, like, ten minutes to get to where we needed to go, and so he just threw on a ball cap and we left. And he looked fine. Of course, when I asked if he was okay later that night, he snapped and said he didn’t want to talk about it. You know that tone men get between playoff seasons? I forgot about that in my boyfriend-less years. It’s like you just can’t say or do anything right. I’ve learned to just make sure the house is stocked with beer and martial arts movies and get out of the way.


  • His friends. Oh my God I hate his friends. I did not sign up to date his friends. I don’t understand why I have to spend so much goddamned time around his stupid friends. He claims I have to get along with them because of something about a person’s support systems working together, or some other Men’s Health Magazine bullshit. All I know is that I not only have to hang out with these assholes, I have to pretend to like hanging out with these assholes. I have to listen to them go on and on and on about shit I do not care about at all. And I have to compliment them, but not so much that they think I’m hitting on them. (I mean, there is this one friend who I will totally bang if it doesn’t work out between my boyfriend and I, or if they’re ever drunk and I can convince them to do a three way.) All I want to do after a long day at work is get home, eat dinner, have sex, watch an episode of Miranda, and go to sleep. Instead I have to nod and make little sympathy noises while Robbie talks about how he wishes he was closer to his dad, and Brent gripes about how he isn’t sure he wants to have kids…I mean my God, the endless prattle. But I have a plan. First, I’m going to start talking about how I want more one-on-one time with him. This will make him feel like it’s his choice to stop hanging out with his friends so often. Then I’ll maybe drop hints that I think one of his friends (the hot one, obviously) has a crush on me, and that I don’t feel comfortable hanging around if he’s there. This means I get to dip out of the few remaining friend times, and those friend times will be all strained and weird because my boyfriend will be upset with his hot friend, but he won’t say anything because he will also think it is his fault for being insecure. Eventually, I will have isolated him from his friends almost completely. They’ll start “catching-up” once a month. Then their time be whittled down to the super bowl and bachelor parties, neither of which I am expected to attend. Extra bonus: Once he’s almost entirely reliant on me for human companionship, if he ever thinks of leaving me, he will be so gripped by the fear of being alone that he will stay. Double win for me.
  • Oh, and speaking of bachelor parties, the man has started hinting about marriage. We’re only a few months into this thing and there it is. I mean, he hasn’t said anything directly, but two of his friends just proposed in these big, elaborate ways that they filmed and then got a thousand million likes on Facebook, and he keeps making me watch the videos while staring at my face. I’m like, yeah, okay, I get it. Look, I’m not saying I’ll never settle down, but it just seems like marriage is an outdated system, ya know? It made sense when women couldn’t hold jobs or get credit cards or own a car, but now that I can exist financially independent of a man, why would I bother getting married? It’s just not natural. Sure, men benefit. They get someone to feed them, and wash-up after them, and take care of them when they’re sick. What do women get? It’s old-fashioned, I think. Of course, I’m not going to tell him this. The fact that our future relationship goals differ isn’t my problem. And it’s not like he’s straight-up asked me. If he did, I’d tell him. But if he’s just going to show me proposal videos, then I’m just going to keep smiling and then going about my day. He’ll come around to how I think about things. Or he’ll leave. I mean, he loves me, and by that point he will have invested years in our relationship, and he will no longer have any friends, and he will have passed-up that job opportunity in that awesome town close to his family so he could stay in the area, but in the end, it’s his call.
  •  The last thing is, I mean I hate to say it, but there’s a part of me that feels like I’m settling. He’s so cute and funny and nice, but…I don’t know, I guess my idea of a perfect man is someone really driven and ambitious, but with a job that doesn’t take up too much of his time or energy, and who’s adventurous and spontaneous, but really grounded and family-oriented, and who’s sensitive and emotionally available, but would murder a deer with his bare hands, and who makes me feel safe, but will hold me against a wall and fuck me for half an hour with his giant dick. My boyfriend is great and all, but he’s just not going to fuck me against a wall for half an hour and then offer up his take on whether women in contemporary America are still subjected to the double-bind.


Men. Can’t live with them, can pass the chardonnay.




*I have not started seeing anyone.

Complicit Complacent

This is the most uncomfortable post I’ve ever written. (Why not come out of hibernation with a bang, right?) I’m going to make some mistakes with this thing. I’m not even proofreading it before I publish it for fear that I will put it in a drawer. But in the wake of something that occurred in my office this week, amid so many other events that are occurring across the country, here goes.

Over the past month, led by students at the University of Missouri, black students at colleges and universities around the country have begun demanding their institutions recognize and rectify the racial inequality inscribed in and on their ivory towers. This past week, a KU professor was put on leave after saying n***** in her class. Or at least this is the soundbite that is being used. Read the open letter. The accusations against this instructor are actually far more substantial and wide-ranging than an isolated use of a single word. Of course, the people outraged at the Instructor’s dismissal, those calling these students fascist and spoiled and everything else that has been thrown at them, won’t read the open letter. And I’m not entirely certain doing so would help, as those people probably don’t think colleges and universities participate in institutionalized racism. But let’s step out of the hypothetical. Let’s talk about what happened in my office.

It was morning. I sat down at my desk and a colleague, obviously upset, asked if I had heard that a professor was being asked to resign after using “the n-word.” When I shook my head, the colleague immediately threw hands in the air and cried “free speech!”

I asked for the context, which this colleague did not have. A 2nd colleague stopped by. Colleague 1 repeated the story, then said, in dooms-day tone, “if this is successful, this is the end of academic freedom.” I responded with something along the lines of, “no, this is the beginning of universities being forced to admit and grapple with the systemic racism on their campuses.” Colleague 2 also wanted the context. Colleague 1 pulled up what the KU instructor had said, though from what source this was pulled was not clear and the actual letter asking for the dismissal of the instructor was not pulled. Colleague 2 stated that if the professor had said this word in response to students expressing the experiences they had with racism on campus, then she should obviously be fired. No matter what, it wasn’t wise, but if there was a discussion about the word, or if there was some other context, well, in short, Colleague 2 needed to know more.

I tried to make an analogy. I tried to say that if the KU professor was reporting something that had happened, that if it were, say, the word kike written on a wall, and she had said, “the word kike was painted on a wall”….and then I stopped talking because I recognized even as I was talking that this was not an effective analogy. I also began to recognize that I was doing a helluva lot of rhetorical and intellectual gymnastics not to call the KU professor a racist who deserved to be fired and not to call Colleague 1 the same.

We were interrupted by something or someone. Colleague 2 left. Colleague 1 and I avoided eye contact for a little while and then began talking about, I kid you not, puppies.

Then another colleague, Colleague 3, popped a head into the office and said, “well, I guess we can’t say n***** anymore.” In my silence, Colleagues 1 and 3 both began saying “academic freedom” and “free speech.” Colleague 3 also called for end times, citing an instance when a faculty member had been asked to clean-up his language when he said something was a “fuck-up.” I was in the corner of the office. Colleague 3 was blocking the doorway. I felt trapped. I was working pretty hard not to scream. I directed everyone’s attention to the puppies. After everyone left, I texted my friends on campus who I knew would be as outraged as I. I took comfort in their responses. I started student conferences.

Okay, so let’s talk about what happened. Or at least as much of it as I, with my limited ability, can talk about what happened. And don’t worry, after the obvious shock and censor of Colleagues 1 and 3, I’m going to get to my own terrible self.

I mean, there’s the shock that an instructor at a college actually said, “I guess we can’t use n***** anymore.” That shock and outrage doesn’t need explanation.

And there’s the bizarrely false analogy of someone being told not to say “fuck” as the same as not using n*****. That doesn’t warrant a response.

And there is the bizarre reaction of “free speech” and “academic freedom.” Jelani Cobb has already written eloquently of this idiocy. On this blog, I’m going to get into my own response in this situation because, well, my experience is the one to which I can speak.

Like how all of the people involved in this conversation, including myself, were white, and yet all of the people in this conversation, including myself, felt absolutely empowered and justified in our opinions about the use of a racial slur. We all felt perfectly comfortable having this conversation in a room filled only with white people. At no point did anyone in that room say at least this much, “maybe as a group of all white people, we can’t have the right conversation about this.”

Let me begin by saying, having had other bizarre and, quite frankly, abusive and irrational experiences with Colleague 3, I have no idea if Colleague 3 would have said n***** had there been black people in the room. I do know Colleague 3 assumed saying that word was just fine because it was a room of white people. And that Colleague 3 assumed that our institution is one where this speech is not questioned. What this also tells me is that I have not clearly signaled to my colleagues that I do not welcome this. I have not signaled that I am a black ally. For all that I cannot change about the campus, this is on me.

It’s also on me that I changed the conversation. I let it go. I diverted. I talked about puppies, for fuck’s sake. It’s a shame I will forever carry. And let’s be clear that this is not the first time I have been a passive racist. There are too many times to count. And, in fact, in my rural, white youth, I was sometimes actively racist.

When I was about 16 or 17 I gave a speech in front of a class about how rap music was responsible for spreading gang violence to areas where it had previously not existed. I am not kidding. This was something I had heard from (white) people in authority, and with my limited reasoning skills and lack of any real contact with people of color, I parroted. There was not even a twinge of a realization that what I was saying was idiotic, much less racist. And I promise I was a kid who would have adamantly claimed to not be racist based on such incredible evidence as knowing the KKK was bad. I don’t want to have ever been the worst of white folk. But I was (and still am) an ignorant white girl. And back then, no matter what I did or said, everyone around me told me I was smart.

Because I was smart. Here’s the thing we sometimes forget when we talk about intelligence: it is not equivalent to wisdom. Smart people can be ignorant. The smartest people in our country can be ignorant. The most lauded professors at the most elite college campuses can be ignorant. Oftentimes these people are ignorant of the experiences of Black Americans. Sometimes, because they have been told their entire lives that they are smart, they do not know they are ignorant. And because so much of their self-identity and worth, because their very livelihood, is built on being smart, having someone highlight their ignorance feels to them like a personal attack. Rather than responding to an observation of their ignorance with vulnerability and humility and apology and willingness to learn, most academics get defensive. On the topic of their own ignorance, academics are quite reactionary. They need no peer-reviewed sources to support the idea that they are infallible. The ratio of “actually” to “I don’t know” in any academic’s life has got to be about a billion to one.

So let’s return to a room of ignorant white academics throwing our ideas around without any real knowledge of that of which we spoke. Let’s talk about how my initial reaction was to ask for more context. This was a ridiculous response. Why was I waiting around for the context in this situation? It’s an important response in certain times, sure, and as a sometimes embattled educator, I usually want to know more about a student/instructor tension. But in this case? In this case my desire to gain the context in which this instructor operated was me enacting the very systemic racism I was at the same time decrying. There is no acceptable context here. Rather than have me talk about how this word in particular means this instructor was in the wrong, no matter the context, go read this and this and this and this and this.

Now, anytime I find myself in a contentious situation, my instinct is to rely on analogy. Like when I wanted to discuss the casual way people discuss rape. It’s a rhetorical tool that allows people to agree with you for a little while. It keeps the conversation open. So I tried to make an analogy, but realized as I spoke that this rhetorical strategy fails when it comes to this word. This wasn’t my first time realizing n***** has no analogous word, just the first time I had ever found myself embodying through rhetoric the idea that it did. It was really weird. It was like an argument switch had been flipped in my brain to the exclusion of the actual content of the argument being made. I was listening to the system of racism come out of my own mouth even as I was trying to fight it. Then I tried to find some other way of approaching this subject that did not involve me attacking or running away from the colleagues in my office.

I pointed towards puppies. I derailed. I still am the worst of white folks.

Why did I derail? Cowardice. It’s that simple. I am afraid that by doing so I will lose my job. I work at a place that implicitly, and at times explicitly, supports racism. I have no hope that a confrontation between myself and tenured colleagues over racism would go my way.

In a class this summer, someone brought-up the flying of the confederate flag. There was one black student in the room. There were no black teachers. The teachers and everyone else in the room cited the flying of the flag as an act of free speech. The removal of the flag was an attack on free speech. The black kid never spoke. The black kid was brought to tears. No one, especially the teachers in the room, gave a shit about that black kid or the hostile learning environment they were creating for him.

Or how about the “training” that was part of my faculty development this summer, one where they brought the (white) school lawyer in to discuss race. The conversation did not center on creating safe learning environments for marginalized students or ways to recognize our own enactment of the racist policies or procedures embedded in academia. The entire conversation was about protecting racist white students from legal action and making certain racist white students can get jobs in the future by understanding that their racist language isn’t “professional.” At the break I said I wasn’t actually all that dedicated to making certain racists get jobs, that I am, in fact, perfectly okay with racists being excluded from the workforce entirely. This comment was not met with approval.

I’m afraid if I say anything about the racism of my colleagues, I will lose my job. Writing this, in fact, probably guarantees that I will. But writing this is also my way of trying to make certain my greatest fear isn’t realized.

What I fear more than losing my job is that I am going to put my head down and get through the last few weeks of class by not saying or doing anything. And then I’ll keep my head down and get through the next semester by not saying or doing anything. And then I’ll get through the next thirty years by staring at the floor in silence.

So I wrote this. I published this. This is me holding myself publicly accountable. This is me maybe losing my job.

This is me doing my best to lift my head.



Image by Suzanne Viktor