Saturday, March 27, 2010
Last week, the week of Spring Break, I spent with him. During that time, I learned of Joey's suicide, I learned of Prof. Big Name writing on my same subject, I got a nasty sinus attack that had me blowing my nose and coughing and snoring like a cartoon dog, the event of the month arrived a week early, I've hit that rotten time of the semester when the grading has backed up and I have let the healthy parts of my life slide and I end up all self-loathing and stressed out, and my meds had run out. In other words, I was a huge, nasty, draining, sad, tense mess.
"He's totally going to break up with me for this," I thought. "If he doesn't send me packing, he's going to withdraw, totally disgusted by me because I'm a horrible, flawed, lazy, stupid, human creature."
The second is actually worse than the first because, with the second, you are constantly reminded of what an imposition you are by someone who, for whatever reason, seems to still want you around. "Sit down here and let me tell you about your monstrosity," they seem to say. "No, don't leave, either. If you leave, then you are even worse."
Well, of course none of that happened. Why? Because he is a grown-up. A sane, experienced, kind-hearted grown-up. And he loves me. Really loves me, not puts up with me because that's what you are supposed to do. He loves me and all of this other stuff comes along with me so it is just part of me and isn't that big of a deal.
I've never experienced that. Or, at least, I've never trusted that when it seemed to be in the offering. Who would love me, horribly flawed as I am? You have to be perfect to be loved, right? Really loved, that is. Right?
At which point, I realized that what I had always taken for love -- not just in my romantic life, but in every single other aspect of my whole life -- was actually a bargain. In my mind, I was this monster. A dysmorphic, stupid, lazy, weak, overly dramatic, needy, boring, long-winded, immature, narcissistic....you get the picture...monster whose very existence imposed upon decent people just trying to get along in their lives. (How dare I!) Love, then, became the bargain in which I made sure that my existence did not inconvenience the people in my life -- parents, friends, romantic partners, co-workers, advisers, and pretty much anyone with whom I came into contact -- and they, in turn, put up with me.
Love then, was supposed to be an act of erasure of myself and of tolerance of my existence by others. Not that this necessarily reflected reality. This arrangement was simply a belief, a faith, a cosmology, a system of going through life that was so ingrained that I wasn't aware of its operation.
I was aware of its effects. You constantly apologize -- I must say "I'm sorry" a zillion times a day for the stupidest things. You internalize every negative thing about yourself. You don't ask for help when you need it, which can lead to disaster. You also know in your guts that this bargain is not equal, not just. You feel yourself containing yourself, holding in all of your needs, wants, desires, your very Self, packing them into a suitcase or a closet so that you don't impose upon those around you, apologizing when you have the audacity to let anything slip -- and sometimes the whole thing just explodes open, which means that you must exile yourself from humanity.
Yet, in this bargain, you also have to tolerate what other people impose on you; and impose they will. First of all, they impose because people just bump into one another and overlap one another and need one another and want one another. That's what happens when you aren't on a deserted island all alone. Second of all, they impose because, if you are like this and think of human connection as this bargain, you will quite often become involved with abusive people. People who will make sure that you are quite aware on a constant and daily basis that your existence is a great burden and that they are being good enough to put up with it, so just shut your mouth and get out of the way until they need you, dammit!
You resent that. You resent the hell out of it. After all, if you have to keep from imposing all of your nasty flaws on the rest of the world, shouldn't the rest of the world be doing the same for you. At least, shouldn't the person who is supposed to love you be doing the same? If they are abusive, then of course they are not doing the same because abusive relationships are not about equity. You, however, haven't yet realized that last part. You just resent the inequity, but what are you going to do? This is how the world works as far as you know. You see two roles: the one that is ultimately abusive and the one that is ultimately the abused, and you don't want to play either, and you don't know any other way to be.
That belief and that resentment warps you. You aren't just a victim, you are also a victimizer because you learn to give as good as you get, to hit before you get hit, or to hit someone else, and you know that you will still get hit back. Hitting -- literal or figurative -- becomes the only real intimate contact that you have. Human interaction turns into a battle, a war even. At best, you can actually imagine it otherwise, but you still have no freaking idea how to make it otherwise. Otherwise requires participation of someone who also wants otherwise, and you don't think or trust that anyone else in the whole wide world really does want otherwise. That, or they certainly wouldn't want it with your vile self.
So, you isolate yourself because you don't have the energy to engage, to hold yourself back and take on the attacks, to hate yourself when you do explode, to trust. It's exhausting! You awkwardly dip into human interaction from time to time when you think you might have the momentary strength to do so; but, ultimately, you keep to yourself.
This is a hard existence, one of deep longing, isolation, and sadness. You try not to think about it, and when you don't, you're fine. Still, no family, no friends, no love -- only tenuous connections here and there that you don't work too hard on because you are terrified of being found out, of becoming an imposition.
How do you unlearn that? I don't know how, but I think I'm starting to get an idea by bits in this saner life that I've been moving into for the past few years. The amount of abuse in my life has significantly reduced in the past three years (with an obvious exception!). I'm not under siege. I still have paranoia, but I don't really need it because the actually evidence (with one obvious exception) says that my co-workers are cool and the people whom I know online and in life are cool. By "cool" I mean supportive, kind, smart, not exploitative, not at all indicating that they simply tolerate my clearly annoying existence. I see that people around me value something about me, not to exploit, but because whatever it is about me that they value actually is valuable.
Some days, I feel as if I've reached the top of a mountain, or am flying over my world, and I am amazed at the devastation I see below me. I went through THAT? How? Why? It took so much, away from my whole life in every possible way. It was so...so stupid.
I sit on top of a mountain because of the Gentleman Caller. At the risk of sounding like Paul's Epistle to the Newly Weds, love isn't putting up with someone and love isn't trying not to impose upon someone so that they will, in exchange, put up with you. Nor is love a battle to have your humanity recognized within that bargain. Love is something else, something better. I don't yet know how to articulate what it is, nor even how to do it very well; but I actually feel it. For probably the first time in my whole life, I feel it,I trust it, and I think I might want more of it.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Last December or November or so I sent a book proposal to an agent. He wanted to see a writing sample and suggested ways to improve the proposal. I sent the requested items and, while he thinks it will be great academic book, it's not particularly saleable as a trade book and therefore he can't represent it.
So, that put a damper on the day, making other things seem worse. I tried to make it less disappointing by telling myself that this is a pretty privileged sort of a crappy thing to have happen. I mean, how many people end up in a position to have that sort of rejection? Hell, half of you are probably thinking, "cry me a river, sweetheart!" My own self of four years ago is certainly thinking that! Plus, it isn't as if I lost something that I already had. I'm just not getting something that I really wanted. At least, I'm not getting it when and how I want it. I'll still get it one way or another, except some of the steps along the way will now be a little more difficult than they were had I got what I want when and how I wanted it.
That doesn't stop the news from sucking.
The news sucked worse being on top of a headache.
The headache sucked worse when I had to spend the rest of the afternoon answering student e-mails. Answering e-mails eats up a significant amount of time for online classes since most of what can be covered in a two-minute face-to-face conversation takes a series of e-mails online. Don't get me wrong: It's not the answering the questions that's the problem. It's that the answering can take about ten times as long as in a regular classroom, and sometimes to no productive end.
What made the whole e-mail process suck worse was that one was from a student who is now trying to blame me for a late paper. Not the usual "I didn't know" reason, but something more specific. Then, the student objected to something else about the class and wanted to know when that something else was going to be corrected. Put just like that. The student was not asking for clarification, but stating that the student thought that my policy was wrong and unfair and expected it to be changed right now.
The phrasing of the e-mail seemed rude and indignant, and really got my hackles up, especially since this was the second sort of e-mail from this student written in the manner of one from a dissatisfied customer or a manager correcting a disliked employee, minus "please" and "thank you." In fact, in my head, it sounded rather schoolmarmish, even a bit like the Church Lady. I'm the only schoolmarm around here, dammit!
I ignored the tone and addressed the content. Somehow, I don't think that will end the matter; but, that's all part of the job, isn't it? Combined with the bad news and the headache, it just rubbed me the wrong way.
Next, I had my evening class, which was fine, and they are great students and a lot of fun and smart on top of that. They make me look forward to work, and sometimes wipe out the ill will of those dissatisfied customer sorts. Tonight, however, about an hour into this three hour class, the first waves of nausea hit. They kept coming, stronger and more frequently.
"I apologize," I told them when I had to pause yet again because I thought that I might faint. "I'm feeling a little ill." They, bless 'em, were all concerned about my health. Well, first they wanted to know if I was pregnant or hung over...especially pregnant (jeez, I know I haven't had the time to work out in a while, but I didn't think the abs were in such a state so quickly as to suggest pregnancy! Damn those Peeps and their sugary yumness!) Then, they were all concerned about my general well-being. "Professor, maybe you should go home," they said. "Yeah, you aren't looking too good. You should go lie down. We won't mind if you let us out early!" Which made me laugh, and made me feel a bit better.
After about another hour, I had to sit down and direct the class from a chair. I NEVER sit in class. Still, waves and waves, stronger and stronger. I could feel myself sweating. "Everyone gets extra credit if I throw up in class," I joked. They debated the benefits and drawbacks of that.
Then, I couldn't wait. "Class is over," I said, sprinting for the door. The bathroom is around a corner and down a hall. I made it. Barely, running in a short, straight skirt and heels, but I made it. My sandwich from lunch, which I had eaten only a few hours earlier -- closer to dinner time, really -- had not yet digested. You probably could have identified it's ingredients.
I know: TMI for the sake of being gross.
Afterward, I felt much much better. I don't think I'll be getting lunch from the cafeteria in the student center again, if that really was the source. I found myself rather disappointed that I hadn't had something more unhealthy, like cookies and a hamburger and fries. From a bulimic point of view, this would have been a fortuitous bout of poisoning, wouldn't it? Those old eating disorder patterns of thinking die hard, don't they? Of course, when I was bulimic, I would have then castigated myself for having put myself in the position of getting food poisoning by having the audacity to eat in the first place.
I got home around 10pm or so, still feeling o.k. but for the return of the headache. Now, to finish up the tasks left undone due to all of the e-mailing; but, first, a quick glance at SiteMeter. Nothing new, no common referrals, no new comments (because no new posts), no big deal. That is, no big deal until I noticed a hit from a geographic location a bit too familiar for comfort. Better yet, a hit from my work ISP. I wasn't on my own blog today, and certainly not from work at that hour.
"It's cool, it's cool," I told myself. "It could be anyone stumbling across anything. Don't panic." Except today I was rejected by an agent and threw up in class. Except that said visitor found me via links that took them right to the Infernal Internal Fellowship incidents last spring. Except that the visitor clearly read around in the posts about that incident last spring. Except that tomorrow is the day that this year's fellowship begins.
Oh, yeah. I'm fucked.
Or at least I could be outed. If you know me in the outside world, then it ain't hard to put the pieces together from this blog. It's not like I've said anything that I regret in this blog -- although I might regret being caught saying them! Everything is as true from my point of view as anything can be from a subjective point of view. Still, that doesn't always matter so much as events play out, does it? I'm not censoring myself at this point, especially since I don't know anything beyond my own paranoia. This could be a friendly person, or a person who just giggles at the gossip, or a person who came across the post, thought it sounded familiar, and just wanted to satisfy curiosity. Or it could be the Nemesis.* In which case, I'm TOTALLY fucked for reasons that are pretty damn obvious in the posts themselves.
Of course, I started to read through the old posts and through the comments and through Historiann's post that brought the reader to my posts, and the comments on Historiann's post. At one point, Historiann wrote that I would probably look back on the incidents and laugh at how silly they were. True. Very true. Little did I suspect -- well, maybe I did suspect just a little -- that the events would get sillier and worm their way into my knee-jerk paranoid style.
Over the summer, I actually met someone who had been fired for her blog. I wonder if they are hiring at the exotic paraphernalia shop where she landed? Would the demand for such paraphernalia go up or down in an economic crisis? On the one hand, people will want to fool around more -- maybe event to make ends meet -- in an economic crisis. On the other, the economic crisis might mean that they may decide that they need less accoutrement in getting it on.
Well, now I see that today is no longer today. Today is now yesterday. I'll go to bed, have a series of anxiety dreams, then wake up realizing that one function of anxiety dreams is to make you relieved to be awake and happy that your reality is not as outlandishly frustrating as your subconscious wants it to be.
*Clearly I am not as over the whole thing as I would like to think I am, and care more than I would like to admit that I do. Paranoia is such fun!
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Count how many things are wrong with this t-shirt: "Standing Alone Against Northern Aggression Since 1861":
2) Since 1861? Alone? Really? How many states seceded? How many fought against the U.S. Army? How many states enacted Jim Crow? How many segregated the races? How many fought every piece of progressive legislation to appear before Congress in the past century or more? Also, would you really want to use a "national" flag -- one that was supposed to represent a confederation involving more than one state -- to symbolize and emphasize your isolation?
3) Northern Aggression? When even that alleged dyed-in-the-wool Yankee abolitionist Abraham Lincoln said that he believed that he did not have the power to violate the concept of private property and free slaves in states where the institution was protected? Or during Plessy v. Ferguson? Or the rise of Jim Crow? Or ....well, you get the picture. Based on the shape of the Confederate flag in the background of the image, a shape that became popular during the resistance to the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century, I'd say that "northern aggression" means anytime that white folks have to recognize the humanity and -- at the very least -- political equality of black folks.
4) Given that SC has been majority black for a majority of its history since colonization, I hardly think that this is the majority opinion in the state. Are they trying to erase that part of the population as well as their participation in history? After all, African American participation in that history might be in direct opposition to the interpretation on this t-shirt?
Or perhaps the majority, African American position might be similar. They have been standing alone against northern aggression aiding and abetting southern aggression against non-whites for most of U.S. history. Only, the dates on the shirt would probably include "except" rather than "since."
This store did not get our business.
Cross-posted at Progressive Historians
Yup, that's a mammy stereotype in a kitchen with a rolling pin, printed on a pink potholder.
White tourists love their mammies, let me tell ya. I really, honestly, naively did not think that these sorts of things were still manufactured. Really! I thought that people were more subtle than that these days. Then, a few years ago on Beale Street in Memphis, I saw a whole case full of mammy figurines for sale. Given that I was on Beale Street, I thought I had maybe a little too much of the fermented grape and was hallucinating. Nope. Then, in Louisiana, I saw some "nostalgic" postcards made from scanned images of old canned food labels, each depicting the full array of "happy slave" stereotypes. I also saw an edition of "Little Black Sambo" sold in the same store. I started to get an inkling that maybe there is this whole trade still going on.
Still, being white and urban, I don't see it on a regular basis and don't have to think too much about it. Which means that I was once more stunned out of my willful ignorance when I came across this in the Market in Charleston:
"Who the hell would buy that?" I thought. "Me? Just to prove that it exists?" No, I don't want to contribute money to this. That's why I take pictures, instead. I can get evidence without supporting the sale and manufacture.
Then, right next to me, two women cooed over how "cute" the little figurines were. One of the women bought one. Again, I would not have been so surprised had they been of the demographic of the seller: a white octogenarian, like my grandmother. Instead, they were in their early to mid-twenties, white, and without a trace of irony in their voices or demeanor.
A little further down the Market, in another stall, I found more mammies:
Soap dispensers, sponge holders: These are all figures meant for cleaning. It puts me in mind of the book Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima, which told of the way that the image of the happy, helping, mammy was used to pancake mix because it called upon the fantasies of white feminine leisure permitted by enslaved --- but not patriarchally approved as attractive -- women.
That interplay between privleged, patriachally-approved pretty white women and black women as slaves or domestic servants appeared in this toy kit, which I found in the Exchange Museum:
The white half of this "Topsy-Turvy Doll Kit" is blond and made of white muslin. The black half wears the traditional "mammy" head covering and is made of black muslin. I don't mean a light peachy color and a dark brown color. I mean white and black. The head covering of the black half directly points to enslavement or domestic work. The toy sends a message to the little girls who would play with this that black girls and white girls are different, and that one serves the other. Still, I also see an irony here in that they are both parts of the same doll. One is there to serve the other, and the other's privlege is based on the service of the first.
A stall in the Market has similar dolls, as well as single dolls made of black material and with black braids popping out of its head like a child's drawing of a sun. I almost took a picture, but the white octogenarian woman behind the table caught my eye and tried to sell me one. That meant that I had suddenly become in a hurry to move elsewhere.
Elsewhere led me to yet another shop that sold not only mammies, but also "pickaninnies":
Yes, those are black children eating watermelon. Across the way, a store that prominently featured license plates of various Confederate flags and books about "dishonest Abe," you could purchase this:
I've seen several versions of Little Black Sambo in the past few years. The story was quite familiar to me growing up, and was written by an English missionary to India. The reprint that I saw back in Louisiana was similar to version that my brother had when he was 4 or 5, and came with a record with a narration and little songs that go with the story. To this day my mother cannot say the word "pancake" without launching into "pancakes! Pretty little pancakes! Eat them while they're good and hot!"
In the 1970s, there was a Denny's-type of chain restaurant called "Sambo's" that sold plush(-ish) toys of the characters in the story. Somewhere in my parents' attic I have a tiger in a cage-shaped box, along with a series of flashcards telling the story. I even found a Golden Book in the thrift store in which the story had been renamed as "The Little Boy and the Tigers."
The Golden Book and Sambo's traded in on Indian -- albeit a very light-skinned Indian --stereotypes. The story that my brother had involved African-featured characters. This book is similar to one that my grandmother had, and is based on the original version of the story, although with some alterations. The original story uses south Asian features, but exaggerrated nearly out of recognition as in a minstrel show. In this version, the characters seem to be a mash-up of stereotyped features, again exagerrated to near non-recognition as human, from around the Indian ocean and Pacific Rim.
Often, I wonder why I don't have the gumption or finesse to just ask what possesses the sellers to make and offer such wares that clearly support stereotypes, and if they are aware of the millions of insidious ways that stereotypes damage real lives.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
This one is not specifically Obama-related, but I thought it was hilarious. "American History in Chocolate Americana":
See? You can eat little chocolate stamps of the U.S. Capitol, the Liberty Bell, and Mount Rushmore. With that last, not only do white Americans invade native peoples' lands and carve Stalinesque images of their own, Great White Heroes on sacred mountains, but they also then turn those desecrations into tasty treats!
Monday, March 15, 2010
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?"
-- Walt Whitman, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
I have many good things to write about: the success of my events at work, a trip to Charleston that included a number of frighteneing entries to my Online Museum of Historical Kitsch, the peep-show that is the women's room in LaGuardia airport -- all things that have kept me more busy with my life than with my blog.
I can't write about that now. I have to write about this, which is awful, which is something for which there are no comforting words or thoughts or actions. This is pure grief.
In my Christmas 'Possum story you will find a character, Joey. Joey is the son of one of the main characters, George. When the events on which the story is based took place, Joey was maybe 10 years old. He grew up to be a handsome young man, a frat boy -- much to his Marxist father's chagrin -- but one who held leadership positions, who fell in love with a gorgeous young woman, and who was (as anyone who ever knew him would expect) the life of any room he was in.
He also had dark places. He did when he was a kid, when I knew him. He had extremes of uncontrolable emotion, rages that would take him over, or waves of energy that would seem almost creatures of their own posessing his body. Yet, they were still clearly all part of him, all him turned up to eleven. As he grew older, George said, he just became a bigger version of his younger self. All of his brilliance, and all of his extremes. George said that he often had to sit on Joey to contain his rages, and barely could. George is not a small man.
Last week, Joey shot himself. In a break up with his girlfriend, he went into one of those dark places. She tried to get him to someone who could help her and him. He convinced her not to. Then, he took out a gun and shot himself.
Of all of the futures that I would have imagined for Joey, this was not one.
There is nothing good to say about this.
I keep trying to write this grief. What kind of a fucking world allows people to just carry around guns in their car? What sort of mental illness -- and I'm sure that was involved -- plagued this child his whole life? Why could no one diagnose it (it wasn't as if he hadn't seen doctors)? How to you force someone to hang on for one more minute, one more second, when they are deep in their head, wanting releif from overwhelming pain, and can see no other way out of it but dying? I've been there, which is why I am probably the only person who is not angry at him for killing himself, for what he has done to the survivors. You are in an iron maiden. You see or feel nothing else. Even then, I could not tell you how to make someone hang on through that to keep them from suicide. What will become of the poor young woman who loved him and watched him spatter his brains across the inside of her car? What appropriate thing do you say to someone when their child has just shot himself?
None of this is sufficient to describe what is going on. You can't describe it. There's just a big hole where that person used to be. Around that hole, closer to the edge of it than the questions of why and how and what to say or do to bear looking into it, you see the wisps of that person as you knew them.
You see the little boy who at 40 ravioli at one sitting, who ate raw sugar when he wasn't tossing it around like confetti, who could describe raw stew meat in great and sensuous detail at the grocery store.
You remember the kid who sat on your lap to drive my car around the Heights, and the kid who convinced you to walk over to the Menil Collection because he wanted to show you the Cy Twombly exhibit and tell you with fervent passion how bad he thought it was. You remember his insistence that everyone "bite you" -- or, as he said it, "bieshooo" -- which had precise and varied meanings depending upon tone, inflection, and body placement.
You remember the extreme excitement with which he could greet someone he liked. "Aunt Cliiooooooo!" he would sing, running down the hall to jump on your lap, oblivious to his ever growing size and weight, even when it once broke a chair. "Suuuuuuggggarrr!" he would coo, as he wrapped the dog in a big bear hug. You remember also the devastating silence he could turn on someone of whom he disapproved, the icy cold shoulder he gave to a man you once dated, and his early stonewalling of his father's first girlfriend after his parents' divorce. "She's Dad's stooge," he said told you. "His goon." His lonliness in that time, and his need to take lots of walks to talk about whatever.
You remember his fascination with your tattoo. You remember how he insisted on tasting it, and your discomfort with allowing him to do so because you just knew he'd end up in therapy talking about the pervy old woman who had him lick her shoulder tattoo. He insisted it tasted like Jolly Ranchers. Red. You remember taking him to the tattoo parlor down the street from your apartment, just to let him get a look at what went on. You thought the needles and blood might put him off his daily haranguing of his father to let him get one himself. Instead, after intently watching the artist, Gus, ink a "tramp stamp" on the small of a sorority girl's back, he turned to you and said, "let me get one." He wanted a huge Medusa head to cover his flat, bony, 10 year old chest. You told him that he would need parental permission and his parents probably wouldn't go for it. "You could pretend to be my mom and sign her name," he insisted. Legalities were lost on him, so you told him that he would grow -- and he did -- and Medusa would become stretched out, like a comic face on Silly Putty. "Cool!" he said.
You could write a book filled with these wisps; but you can't escape the hole. The missing whole. The pure, yawping grief.
Perhaps it is in poor taste, but I keep thinking this song. I think this song because I first hear it as part of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie soundtrack after my grandmother died when I was maybe 9 or 10. I think of it, too, because it was the song that played at Joe Orton's funeral both when the playwrite died and at the end of Prick Up Your Ears. Joey had that pure, out-of-far-left-field, id energy of Joe Orton, and the song has a cathartic feel that can wring you out like loss: