dust devils

Scientific American calls dust devils “mini-weather systems.” They arise on hot, calm, clear days. In Calimesa, where we lived, we didn’t watch the weather report for months and months. We knew exactly what were going to have. Hot. Calm. Clear. Every. Day. The air was still. Lizards shifted between baking rocks. Sometimes I’d catch the babies, let them tickle the palms of my hands before letting them go. The field in the center of my father’s property was all brown, dusty earth and tumbleweeds. The tenant kids and my sister and brother and I congregated in the field and waited. The sun washed over us, hot, and we squinted into it. We never wore the sunscreen I now slather on my kids before they go outside in the summer. We could count on part of the ground heating up, creating the necessary invisible column of hot air. We could count on the calm being broken by a gust of wind, forcing cooler air to collide with the column, forcing the dirt below to swirl up and form a dirt tornado, as we called it. We didn’t know any of the science. It was pretty and exciting and a little bit magic. It was summer and there was nothing to do on Roberts Road, a street we shared with a farm, a junk yard, and a horse ranch. Nothing much happened here. We ran towards our miracle of weather, a rough pack of kids with dirt under our nails, joyful, yelling. You have to close your eyes in the center of those storms, or dust and twigs and bits of trash get into your eyes. But it’s hard to contain your smile, so when the devil dies down as quickly as it started, when your hair is all whipped up around you and sweat is running down your face, and you can feel your heart beat and your skin is warm, you slide your tongue across your teeth to discover the layer of grit you expect. The taste is not unpleasant.

forthcoming

Hello,

I am on a ten-month sabbatical working on a book project. I always had a million jobs and a million babies, which have conveniently distracted me from doing that thing I always said I wanted to do–writing. I love teaching. But I teach writing, and I’ve never actually committed to doing it. In just these first three weeks, I have written and read more than I have in years. I don’t exactly know what I’m doing, but as a professor friend recently told me, “You can’t arrange the furniture when you don’t have any furniture.” My bluff has been called, and it’s a little scary. I don’t enjoy not having control over things, but I’m trying to let that go a little, and let this project emerge. Right now, it looks like a series of essays, about my mother and me, about what it means to be a mother, wife, parent, lover. I’m digging deep, y’all, and getting vulnerable, and hopefully writing something that isn’t just an exercise in narcissism. So each week, I’ve decided to publish just a paragraph of what I’m currently working on, to keep myself honest.

So here’s the first paragraph I’m posting. Thanks for reading. Thanks for sticking with me on this inconsistent blog.

From “Leaving”:

When I was four, my mother, Kathy, left my brother and sister and me out on on her front porch. Our clothes and toys were stuffed in garbage bags and slumped next to us. With the slam of a screen door, and the efficient click of a lock, we were suddenly not inside. No grown ups. A different kind of quiet. The sound of air, only, maybe bugs. This was not right. I began to cry. I jiggled the door knob. There was chipped paint, dust on the porch. A chain link fence surrounding a dried out front yard. Clusters of dead grass amid larger patches of dirt. I’ve never been the kind to quietly accept. I began to scream. Tears streamed hot down my face. I tried to look in the window, to fix this. Sally and David were there, of course, but only incidental, blurry within the fog of my rage. It’s the feeling I remember most, like an explosion inside of my skin, a feeling that has since become a close friend. Sally was a toddler, and David only a baby. I was too young to be responsible for them. I was probably scaring them. Even then, my emotions spilled everywhere, infecting everyone. Eventually, my father pulled up, tossed our garbage bags into the bed of his pick-up. This was the end of their divorce. Kathy wasn’t the kind to give up easily either, but the courts had commanded it. She was a bomb, detonated, everything in its radius collateral damage. I never saw that house again.

 

 

 

 

 

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the center of the storm

Today I ran around like a maniac grading papers and taking the kids school shopping and buying groceries, like usual. I’m always going a thousand miles per hour, and any day or moment everything could collapse. In fact, it’s guaranteed it will. Life is brutal and we walk around in denial because it would be impossible to look at it directly all of the time. That’s not bad; it’s an important social skill, and in fact it’s kind of comforting. It connects us. Here’s one message from Patton Oswalt, currently in the center of that storm we all agree to mostly ignore in order to avoid fits of rage and despair when, say, waiting in line at the bank, or standing inside of an elevator. It just makes me want to hold the people I love more closely before they are taken away:

Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.

But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully’s head in a toilet and then fucking the teacher you’ve got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick.

If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get ’em to love you back. 

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel “wiser.” You will not have “closure.” You will not have “perspective” or “resilience” or “a new sense of self.” You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.

And…

You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, “Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday.” Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you’ll keep and re-read ’cause you can’t believe how helpful they are. And, if you’re a parent? You’ll wish you were your kid’s age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you’re going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment. 

Lose your cool, and you’re saved. 

Michelle McNamara got yanked off the planet and out of life 102 days ago. She left behind an amazing unfinished book, about a horrific series of murders that everyone — including the retired homicide detectives she worked with — was sure she’d solve. The Golden State Killer. She gave him that name, in an article for Los Angeles Magazine. She was going to figure out the real name behind it. 

She left Alice, her 7 year-old daughter. But not before putting the best parts of her into Alice, like beautiful music burned onto a CD and sent out into the void on a spaceship.

And she left me. 102 days into this. 

I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It’s 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I’m crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I’ll be walking.

Any spare energy I’ve managed to summon since April 21st I’ve put toward finishing Michelle’s book. With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It’s all her. We’re just taking what’s there and letting it tell us how to shape it. It’s amazing.

And I’m going to start telling jokes again soon. And writing. And acting in stuff and making things I like and working with friends on projects and do all the stuff I was always so privileged to get to do before the air caught fire around me and the sun died. It’s all I knew how to do before I met Michelle. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do now without her.

And not because, “It’s what Michelle would have wanted me to do.” For me to even presume to know what Michelle would have wanted me to do is the height of arrogance on my part. That was one of the many reasons I so looked forward to growing old with her. Because she was always surprising me. Because I never knew what she’d think or what direction she’d go. 

Okay, I’ll start being funny again soon. What other choice do I have? Reality is in a death spiral and we seem to be living in a cackling, looming nightmare-swamp. We’re all being dragged into a shadow-realm of doom by hateful lunatics who are determined to send our planet careening into oblivion.

Hey, there’s that smile I was missing!

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Brock Turner is not a monster.

There were so many almosts.

My stepdad, Terry, used to give me a massage before bedtime every night, on the rare occasion I was visiting my mother. My face flushed warm when he peeled my pajama bottoms down a tiny bit, pretended his fingers were the legs of jungle animals, the crack of my ass the river. I never told him no. I was only five. It never went farther than that, fortunately. I believe that is simply because I didn’t seem him often enough. Terry was not a monster.

My stepmom is from Mexico. I was eight years old the first time I visited, but I was already the same height as the men and women there. I don’t know if men thought I was a woman already, or if that would have made a difference. I was an exotic creature there, the only American I saw the entire trip. Grown men touched my hair as I walked in the street. Their whistling at me was constant. I felt their eyes all over my body everywhere I went. I was eight years old. They were not monsters.

My stepmom’s brother Rogelio used to watch my sister and me sleep. He was only visiting, but visits from Mexican relatives aren’t for, like, a weekend. They extend for weeks and months. Was it a whole summer he was there? I would wake to find his face inches from mine. I’d flinch. There is a feeling we women know well, even before we are women. It makes our stomach twist, our skin strange, our jaws tense. Our bodies sound alarms before we even know what they are sounding against. I don’t know if Rogelio ever touched my sister or me. We were sleeping. Rogelio was not a monster.

In high school, I was big, strong, poorly dressed, acne-ridden. I wore huge men’s athletic sneakers, and never knew what to do with my hair. I only felt comfortable in my body playing sports, martial arts, pole vaulting, basketball. In P.E., the girls avoided sweat and gossiped in pockets of shade, and I was the only girl the boys would pick for their team. Those girls were a separate species. I, on the other hand, was red-faced, sweating profusely through my gym clothes, hair all over the place.

No boy wanted to kiss me. Until one boy did. But the first time this boy got me alone, he kissed me violently, cutting my lip, shoved his head between my legs, groped my breasts. I didn’t want him to, and I was strong enough and big enough to push him away, but I didn’t. I didn’t say or do anything, in fact. I couldn’t. I froze. I was saved by the rumble of the rising garage door at my parents’ house. He was not a monster.

When I told my stepmom about Rogelio, she grew very, very angry. Angry with me. When I went to them for help, my parents both told me boys only want one thing. What did I expect?

I have had two serious stalkers. Men have revealed their penises to me in the parking lot of Target, while driving through Los Angeles, through the window of a liquor store. Men have masturbated next to me on the Muni in San Francisco, rubbed their dicks against my body on the subway in New York. A couple of years ago, a former student came to visit me in my office, and then went in for a hug. He held me too long, sweating into my clothes. He slid his hand down my back and grabbed my ass. He then ran off and did the same to several other female professors. I have a phone filled with the unsolicited photographs of men’s penises from my brief stint of online dating. None of these men were monsters.

I’m not alone. You already know that. You also know I’ve had it so much better than most of my female family members and friends have. Almost every female friend and family member I know has been raped, assaulted, and/or physically or sexually abused in some way by a man. I’m lucky nothing worse has happened to me. I’m fortunate to be big and strong, to seem unapproachable to many men. But is “lucky” really the right word here?

What do we expect from men, to address my stepmother and my father’s question?

The answer, of course, is not very much.

Brock Turner is not a monster.

Yesterday, my friend Sarah posted on Facebook, “Let’s not pretend that the Stanford swimmer is a monster or that the attitudes in his father’s apologist letter are remarkable.”

And that is it, exactly. We make Brock Turner out to be a monster, and that is very convenient. But what he did is so normal and widely accepted that he and his father are bewildered by the concept that he did anything wrong. Why are we surprised? Why are we outraged? Here are statistics on sexual violence in the U.S. We all know Brock Turner. We made Brock Turner.

Let us channel this outrage. Let us expect more from our men. Let us listen to our women. Let us change.

 

 

 

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Sonnet 42 as it intersects Light of Love: How Sad ladies write the prose of my heart

I once took a literature class where different genres of writing were surveyed. We had the novel, the short story and the poem. We had to write a paper for each style. When I wrote my paper for the poetry section, I wrote about two ladies: Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker. I compared and analyzed their respective poems, Sonnet 42: What Lips my Lips Have Kissed, and Light of Love. I had just recently lost my virginity and it was awful. I lost seven pounds, wait, that was actually pretty cool. I felt disgusted with myself. I felt broken. I felt exposed. Most of all, I felt worthless. I was 22, and those poems spoke to my broken heart and body.

Since then, I have only been involved with 21-23 year olds. I grow older (I am 28,) but they stay young. I blame it on my Dorian Gray syndrome. Damn I look good, but I am nothing but rotten, broken, and ugly inside. And I am cursed, a side effect of growing up in an unorthodox Mexican-Catholic household. I look at myself and I wonder if perhaps I am just plain too ugly to be loved. I think about what makes me me and I think, maybe I’m too conceited about my work to be interesting. Maybe I’m not quirky and submissive enough to be cute. I’m just a fat ugly angry feminist that boys (BOYS) find repulsive the next morning. I’m a mistake. I’m a pity fuck. I’m a drunk fuck.

None of that is true, of course, but in the deepest depressions that boys conjure up within me, it all feels so painfully true. I semi-fucked a 22 year old, and I fucked my ex-lover (28) in the same week. Ironically, it was the ex-lover who made me feel better about myself. We have the oddest (and unhealthy) connection, so I told him about my woes with the 22-year-old incident. Incident. It’s the old “he’s ignoring me after sexing me” story. Over and over, I get told to not mess around with early-twenty year olds. I get the funniest anecdotes, “Like my aunt says, ‘don’t mess with young guys, you can still smell the similac on their breath.’” They’re not mature enough to communicate effectively, or to have the proper decency of not ignoring someone so cold. But, young or old, male or female, people do not know how to handle MY communication, MY honesty and MY vulnerability.

Someone once told me I was too intense. It was not a bad thing, but that the intensity of my honesty scares people. I’ve been told at work that my co-workers cannot handle my transparent communication. In my un-feminist crevice I just think, “pussies.” I suppose it is something I need to tone down, and it is a principle that sometimes works against me. I’ve learned to just tackle things head on, rather than let feelings and thoughts marinate into something nasty and sad. But, toning it down might be a practical solution.

My ex-lover told me not to take it personal, but I suspect he said that because he was once a 22 year old that was fucking me and had no attachment to my heart. So he thought, but that is neither here nor there now. His sympathies were biased. It was personal. The friendship that I built up with the 22 year old was a bit strange, but it felt nice to have someone listen to the idiotic nonsensical fantasies that I have about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It was nice to have someone make an effort to have coffee with me. It was nice to talk on the phone. It was nice to receive compliments. It was nice.

And it was a mistake.

Sonnet 42: What Lips my Lips Have Kissed

 

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Sunday hurt as it rained all summer day. Rain as rare as affection in July, laid bare next to me. In the awkward hours of the night when it intersects with the dawn, he held me and stroked my arm, and at times I let our fingers interlock. In my gut, I knew I should have pushed him out the door as soon as we were done.

Joy stayed with me a night —
Young and free and fair —
And in the morning light
He left me there.

Then Sorrow came to stay,
And lay upon my breast
He walked with me in the day.
And knew me best.

I’ll never be a bride,
Nor yet celibate,
So I’m living now with Pride —
A cold bedmate.

He must not hear nor see,
Nor could he forgive
That Sorrow still visits me
Each day I live.

 

Dorothy Parker

 

I have felt this loneliness since I first attempted to make love, but it was just a fuck gone wrong. It extended to years of stubborn love. In between, I kissed ugly boys who were just as ugly as me. This reoccurring theme of being a mistake breaks me in these melodramatic ways. I write self-indulgent prose where I dilute myself into thinking it’s important, it’s different, and it’s edgy. It’s melodramatic and insane. I carry the weight of those mistakes on my salty face and my sunken eyes. I am a descendant of the howling woman who scares men away in those awkward hours between dusk and dawn.

Don’t fuck with writers. We are the exhibitionists who keep their clothes on while you lay naked.

the chance to try

I think I have maybe two friends on Facebook who think their religion should be legislated and were upset today, quiet and/or cryptic on social media. The rest was all rainbows, rainbows everywhere, and love and celebration, with one important exception.

My FB friend R said, “I find myself watching the live feed of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral right now and let me say there is no more poignant reminder of the resiliency and fortitude–so quintessentially American–than the hall full of people celebrating a rich and important life so cruelly taken by evil. The celebration of marriage equality and the celebration of this great man are two sides of the same coin, bitter and sweet, I think–a call to action for all of us. I will strive to be more present in my own life and act to make my country one I am prouder and prouder to live in.”

Obama’s eulogy moved me:

http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/obama-charleston-eulogy-pastor/

R’s post moved me.

Things are fucked up. They are so fucked up. I think and hope we can celebrate and mourn at the same time. It’s never just one or the other. It was a surprise for me this morning when things were not fucked up for a second, and I think that’s the outpour of delirious joy I saw and felt today about the Supreme Court decision. It was just, yes, finally, people aren’t being assholes to each other.

But, of course, people are still being assholes to each other. That’s why I swore off the comments section of basically anything. That’s why R is right and we have to keep working and try to make this place better. Because it seems like things don’t change and then they do, like they did today, and it makes you want to keep going.

Justice Kennedy said this, which you’ve probably already read:

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And I almost cried, but I’m missing something probably so I didn’t. And I almost thought marriage was a good thing again, for a second.

My friend J said, “Yes, yes Justice Kennedy, it’s such a beautif– wait no it’s still pretty fucking hard and complicated.”

That made me laugh.

I’m obviously not successful at marriage, or relationships, having just come fresh out of two failures. But I guess what I still like about the idea of marriage is that it’s a beautiful and optimistic thing to say I love you so hard I want to live with you FOREVER and even if for some people it doesn’t work out and even if some people are secretly sad and desperate, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to try?

That’s a rhetorical question. Yes, they should have the chance to try. And now they do.

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what we want

*Spoiler alert:

This post will give away the ending to O, Pioneers!. It was originally published in 1913, so let’s be honest, you weren’t planning on reading it anyway.

I would never generally read a book with the word “pioneer” in the title. Pioneer just isn’t a sexy word to me. In any case, I took a Willa Cather class as an undergrad and read O Pioneers!. Which I dreaded. Because it was old and because of the word pioneers. I am here to tell you that I was wrong, that books with pioneer in the title may sometimes but not always be solely about wagon wheel spokes and fox fur trading, that I loved the book, and I’ve thought of it often over the years.

Alexandra, the main character, is strong and independent. I identified with her initially. When things fall apart, when the people she loves are destroyed, she forges forward, ever more capable and strong. The price she pays for this is high: her business, her land, flourishes, but she is alone at the end of the book, and lonely. She has a vivid, recurring dream “of being lifted and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms she felt free from pain…[he was] the mightiest of all lovers.”

We talked a lot in my class about what this dream meant, of course. At first the class was like, wait, Alexandra’s not a lesbian? Is she bisexual? Is Willa Cather a lesbian? (Answers, respectively: No; probably not; pretty sure.) And then we were like what the fuck, Alexandra. You’re a strong, capable woman. Now you want some man to carry you across the fucking wheat field and, like, go down on you? Come on, Alexandra. Get it together. Be a Feminist.

Alexandra writes Carl, then waits a long time for him to show up, and when he does, he says, “You’ve always been a triumphant kind of person…but you do need me now, Alexandra.” Like, he shows up because she’s finally sort of weak and needs him. And she’s like, yes, I do need you Carl. And he kisses her gently and she leans into him and she says, “I am tired…I have been very lonely, Carl.” And off they go together. And there’s no way Carl is the strong, amazing lover who can lift her across a field. He’s just Carl. Her choices are to die alone or settle for Carl, and she goes with him. Which, Carl is decent, I guess.

I was kind of harsh on Alexandra when I was a 19-year-old who knew everything.

In the past few months, I had a surgery that removed 30% of my reproductive organs (and some bonus cysts), I won a big award at work, I moved twice, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend, I got my tires slashed (not ex-boyfriend-related), and I broke my glasses. I’m moving to somewhere permanent this week. My son is graduating from elementary school the day after I move. In three weeks, I begin a major work project for which I’m not quite prepared.
It’s a lot. I’m not running a farm solo, but I am alone. And I am tired. I’m also much less harsh on Alexandra.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be strong. People always tell me I am strong. I think I am, for the most part. But two nights ago, just as I was falling asleep, I thought about the prospect of dating again, of putting my photo on an online dating site, next to some paragraphs that are supposed to be charming but not too real that they would scare someone away. Look, I’m unique and funny and cute and I like reading and hiking, I have kids I won’t mention yet but definitely no dark sad stories to tell you, let’s keep it fun! I think about a man scrolling through photos and “liking” mine, and of me scrolling through their lonely faces, “liking” theirs. And then how we will meet and click or not click and fuck or not fuck and then what. And then try a relationship and invest all of that energy and hope and hope it wasn’t a mistake when it very well might be, it probably is. It’s all so depressing. I started crying. I don’t want to wake up alone forever. I’m going to be alone, I told myself. It’s certain. I cried myself to sleep and it was incredibly lame.

I just finished this book called That Thing You Do with Your Mouth, which had some pretty moments, but feels incomplete. You can borrow it if you want. It’s a sexual memoir sort of thing. It begins with the quote “Intimacy is for strangers.” David Shields rearranges interview material from his friend, (pseudonym) Samantha Matthews. She talks about how when you’re married you stop seeing each other, you stop noticing things. She even states that infidelity can bizarrely correct this because it forces you to see the marriage with fresh eyes again. She’s not condoning infidelity, I don’t think. She’s just saying that we, sadly, stop seeing the person we committed our lives to, which I think is true. Is there a solution to this? The book doesn’t offer any. Intimacy between strangers, then, may be more rational than the alternative, but that doesn’t feel like a solution.

This is probably tangential, but she also says she is an “intimacy-junkie,” which is why she says she is sharing her highly personal story. She strives for authenticity, connection. That requires being direct and raw and real, rather than ignoring the thoughts and emotions and things around us that are disconcerting. You dive right into all of that and look at it, let it wash painfully over you, and you report back, avoiding cliches. If you lose a baby, if a friend dies, if you are desperate or lonely or sad, you confront it without the barrier of poetry or religion. I can relate to the need to do this. It is exhausting. It is a compulsion. But I also feel as though everyone would be less lonely if we owned up to these difficult feelings, the sad, hard things that happen to us. One alternative is to impose an artificial structure around it all, and convince oneself those deep dark things aren’t there. If you’re in a romantic relationship, you can collude with a partner to convince each other. Or maybe, and I think this is much more rare, you can find someone who wants to wade through this deep shit with you and then maybe drink a beer and laugh and cry at how absurd it is. I’m lucky to at least have a couple of best friends who can do that with me. And I try to do it when I write.

Everyone thought I was a lesbian in school because I am big and strong and good at sports. (Also, my haircut and clothes and being on the basketball team didn’t help.) It scares a lot of boys away to be direct, or bold, or strong. Or it attracts the boys that just want you to take care of them and give and give and give and give. I have mostly only been loved for what I can do, not for who I am. And so I will do and do and do and give and give and give and apologize when I am not everything to everyone. I always feel wrong and not enough. Then I get disappointed I can’t truly rely on anyone, when I helped construct that very building we were both living inside. See, I am to blame for this, too.

Still, I am scared to be alone forever. I don’t want Carl, and I hope I don’t settle for him. He wants Alexandra to be diminished, less triumphant than she has always been. He returns because he wants her only if she needs him. But I don’t judge you anymore, Alexandra.

Sometimes I am tired. Sometimes I am lonely. I want connection, real connection. Mostly I’m strong enough to lift myself. But when I’m broken down, I admit I want a strong, capable man to lift me across that wheat field, too. And that’s not about being heterosexual or being feminist or being a woman. It’s about being human. We all want someone to carry us sometimes. Don’t we?

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I am not a bad feminist. I am a horrible feminist

 

There are two essential components of my identity:

 

  1. I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of it and I cannot stop working. I could work a little harder, but we all fall down the wagon.
  2. I am horribly insecure. Although I am proud of my work and my new directions (and whatever my future directions may be) I need constant validation in some form or another. I hate it, but it is something that I cannot help.

 

In that insecurity comes doubt. I know my work is good when I put my heart and soul into it, but there is always that voice “How could it have been better?” Not abnormal behavior for most people. I eventually receive some kind of validation, be it praise from my professors, managers stealing my ideas, grades, or scholarships. Everything goes back to normal once these things fall into place. However, there is an insecurity that I have not been able to get over, because I rarely receive any validation of it. That would be the validation of being a woman, a desirable woman to be specific.

Before I go on, let me say that I am hyper aware of my faults, traits and personality. I know how I work and why I work. I know the deep emotional issues that go behind all my insecurities. I know their roots. I know why they exist. I know why some are bad and sometimes, plain silly. Yet, they still exist because I can feel them when I am alone at night. And they hurt a lot. At the end of the day, they are real and they hurt. It is why I throw every single emotion into my job, my projects and school. Somehow I hope, in vain, that I will be exorcised from these insecurities. I hope, in vain, that when I am trying to fall asleep, I’ll feel complete.

 

I know it won’t happen, but there is always a little hope. I am most insecure when it comes to men. It is probably the reason why I most likely end up giving the impression, to new men that I meet, that I am unstable, a little crazy and a little too drunk sometimes. But, like a Jesse Spano episode, I’m just so excited that I am scared. I hate that I know that my emotional void is fulfilled by the attention of men.

 

Spare me your strong woman speeches, because I’ve heard them and I look up to some of the strongest women in the world. I preach self-love and independence and all that awesome feminist stuff. I preach it, man. But I am ashamed to admit that I do not often practice it.

 

This year has been really amazing to me in terms of my academic and professional opportunities. Yet, my emotional stability has been derailed the most. I had several panic attacks during February and March. My schedule was hectic. I was going to school, had an internship and worked 30 hours. I literally broke down because I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was chronically late to work and I was a nervous wreck at work, often on the verge of a full on panic attack. It is why my boss circulates the notion to everyone that I am flaky and unreliable, when I thought she understood the circumstances. But that’s a whole other story. I met a younger dude whom I clearly misunderstood, but if I had screen capped our conversations, I think the world would agree with me that he gave me mixed signals. My honesty might have been too abrasive. I could have drunk less when we hung out. I should have just ended things when he said he was not interested in dating. But you know me, I need attention and validation, plus I am stubborn. I also did not want to be that douche bag that ended a friendship just because we didn’t end up banging. I thought that would have been a total bro move. Remember, I’m still some type of feminist. My license might soon get revoked, though.

 

Throughout all this, and during some depressions last year, there was one person that gave me constant attention and validation. That person was a man in a position of power over me. A very egocentric perverted old man. Despite knowing his nefarious reputation, I engaged in his pointless banter that seemed harmless to me. He was also looking for validation for his outdated views and thought I would give him that. I didn’t and because he knew how to detect insecurity and also needed attention, he set out to prove himself correct and ultimately awesome. I never validated his views. I always challenged them. But I thought, no harm. It was a male professor who would constantly tell me how impressed he was with me. As the insecure little short person I am, I liked hearing that. And who doesn’t like hearing that from their professors, or bosses, or men?

 

That’s where I am a horrible feminist because I knew what was going on, yet I still engaged. There was no harm, until he started to insert little comments here and there. “Great seeing you, especially with your new flattering haircut” Uh-oh. “You weren’t in class today. Missed you” Oh no. And finally, he was smart about it, “Come to my office before the final. I have a Susan Sontag story and some jokes to cheer you up” well….ok? That’s ok….right? Never meet with professors behind closed doors. That’s elementary. We all know that, but conveniently the door closed. It happened once before, but I opened it again since I “found” the doorstop. That time we were discussing a paper. Well, the Susan Sontag story was only about how she was flat chested. He knew I looked up to this woman as an intellectual and a writer. Why would I care about her breasts? The awkwardness only got much much worse. His jokes were graphic, dirty and in every possible way inappropriate. Hearing my professors say words like “cum” is like hearing my parents say it. It’s just not right. I did not laugh at any of his jokes. I could not look at him. He tried explaining one of the jokes by using him and me as an example.

 

I stalled. I really did not know how to react. Was this the vibe I was putting out there? My feminist self told me to just straight up say, “hey man, that’s fucking inappropriate.” My student side said, “shit. I have a final for him right after this” I did the only thing I could do. I excused myself out of there so awkwardly. “Ok, well I really wanted to study for the final before class. Yeah….heh…ok…bye” as I hung my head low, as if I had done something wrong.

But the truth is, I do feel like I did something wrong. I feel like ultimately it was I who sought it out. Did I need to go to his office? No. Did I need to respond to his emails? No. As much as I hate this type of thinking, I feel like I was asking for it. What a horrible feminist, right? It is the reason why I cannot bring myself to take any action. I feel embarrassed, as most of my professors have found out. Not because I said anything, but because of some inter faculty email he sent. I had to ask our chair to change one of my requirements, and I felt a panic attack coming on. I kept thinking that he must be thinking terrible things about me or I wondered if he knew and if he did was he judging me? And, I told myself to be short and quick because what if he thought I was one of those flirty dumbass girls? Now I think that every time I meet a new professor in my department, they must be thinking “oooh this is the girl”

 

And then a million things run through my head. A million things that don’t let me sleep. A million things that are probably insignificant and exaggerated. A million fucking things that I hate. And suddenly my insecurities are manifest in this incident that I did not control. Insecurities that make me feel guilty, sad, ugly and alone. And they are out there for everyone to see and judge. And I often do not have a problem laying myself bare, but I do it on my terms and words. This blog holds many of my insecurities but I feel safe here. I never have a problem being honest, and I often am, but this was different. I liked the attention and that is embarrassing, and it’s the source of my guilt. I can understand and analyze why I liked it, but I never crossed the line.

 

I’m a horrible feminist for not confronting this issue the way I’ve confronted sexist classmates or even standing up for myself and my co-workers against petty shit at work. I’m not trying to be a victim either. I just thought, and I hoped, that I would have been stronger with something like this. At the core, I am embarrassed not just because I feel stupid, but because I know I wouldn’t let this shit fly anywhere else. It’s challenged my own core ideals. I let some dumb weak man tap into my own dumb weak traits. That’s embarrassing. That’s stupid. That’s ugly. I don’t know how to correct this. I don’t know how to reconcile my feminism with my insecurities. I’m used to laying it all out there, but this was different.

Intellectual Militancy

I recently attended the annual conference for the National Council on Public History in Nashville. It was a lot of fun, and that might be a bit of a surprise since I get the feeling that many academics hate conferences. This was my first conference, ever. As the inaugural conference in my life, I feel bad for my future self at future conferences because I highly doubt they will be as special and fun as this one.

Nashville is an interesting city. It is apparently up and coming. Like my experience in Cape Town, I could see the visible signs of a city at the cusp of a cultural renaissance. Maybe I shouldn’t say cultural because that would insinuate that all the hipsters are bringing culture. As we all know, hipsters don’t bring culture, they appropriate it. I suppose the right word is revitalization. Downtown is nicknamed SoBro and NashVegas, which is very appropriate. I walked tons on the “strip” on my first day. It was a Monday, but it was still very lively. At almost every single bar there was live music. I walked around for a bit on Saturday afternoon and it was terrible. It truly lived up to its NashVegas nickname. There were tons of drunken young tourists everywhere. It’s okay to experience that for a quick minute, but it gets irritating. I stayed in East Nashville because I did my research, and it was thee place to stay. As much as I hate hipsters in LA, Claremont and LBC, I had to seek them out in Nashville. They offer cute cool shit. There were tons of cool bars, coffee shops and restaurants. I had ceviche at one of these cool places. I have to say it was mighty tasty. I am a certified Mexican; I know what I’m talking about here. More than that, East Nashville was pretty.

Nashville itself was really cool. I had preconceived notions that I am ashamed of, but I think most Californians are guilty of it, perhaps, Californians who haven’t ventured to that part of the country. I really had no cohesive idea of what cultural identity Nashville had. I didn’t expect it to be as cool as it was. I am still unsure what role Nashville has in its Southern identity. From the conference, I got the feeling I only experienced the superficial tourist side of it. Which is fine because there is absolutely no way to deconstruct or take in the underlying racial tensions, economic divides or the encroaching gentrification in six days. These issues exist and they will always exist in major cities.

What I did experience on a personal level was how white the conference was. This is how I feel: I like my rainbow sprinkled donuts. The conference was like one of those donuts but with just peanuts on it with a colored sprinkle here and there, that only got there by accident. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone or me. It is a fact that color fades away as people climb up that academia ladder. To experience it was a startling reminder of that. I’ve always had a complexity due to my short stature, brown skin and thick body. Tall, white, slender beautiful women and men easily intimidate me. I’m slowly decolonizing my feelings. And I purposely say decolonizing because this thought has been engrained on our brown and black minds. This colonial rooted mindset that we are less than. This is why race matters, because some of us still suffer from the mental bondage that Frederick Douglass was completely aware of. It might sound extreme, but this history exists. It’s political. It’s emotional, and it’s personal.

I sat on a panel about attaining public history jobs. I sat there thinking, “think of a question think of a question think of a question.” Not because I really wanted to find out how to get a job in Manhattan and become BFF’s with the panelists, who looked like a younger and hotter version of Sex and the City, but because I looked around and there weren’t many people of color. I was probably at the wrong panel. I don’t know who’s who at these things, so if the description was cool, I was there. I did end up making a comment and it was well received and I got a much-needed boost in my public historian ego. That was a positive thing. I just really wanted to see someone who looked like me leading a panel. I wanted someone like me to address the very real issues of how it feels to be a person of color at a university/institutional/historical setting. I wanted someone like me to speak about what I am getting myself into, and at the end say: ITS OKAY, WE GOT THIS. I obviously can’t say those things because I am not there and it will be years until I am there.

The final panel I attended was a student panel addressing the intersection of public history and activism as it related to the Ferguson events. It was an inspiring talk. Students talking to students. Activists talking to activists, or believers, at least. The most important concept I grasped is that we need to push the limits of conversation. Race fucking matters. It does. No question about it. It matters. When someone says: “I don’t see color. I don’t see race” I hear: “I am ignoring your history. I am ignoring your cultural identity because I don’t want to deal with the complexity of those things. I refuse to be aware of you and myself. “ Another important concept from that panel was the importance of organization. We cannot change the system if we are not organized. Organized doesn’t mean picking a leader and following him through. The 21st century model of movement and change is collaboration. That epiphany was inspiring.

Right after that panel, I met with a professor from Arizona State University who is also a board member for the council, and a Chicana. I rarely realize the gravity of the people I make connections with. I can be a little naïve about these things, but it’s worked out well so far. I tend to have great connections with people who are genuine and have a real passion for movement, change and collaboration. This professor was certainly one of those people. We instantly clicked. We clicked about all the issues I was thinking and feeling. Most importantly, there was an organic feeling to this conversation. We threw words around like, infiltration. We talked about organization and movement. We talked about being tired of talking. This was the cocktail table plan: Infiltrating the system, to change the system. Becoming more visible, more vocal, and more annoying (ha!) to get our brown points across. Ending the discourse and being proactive about the issues. Mobilizing and organizing a collective of willing and committed students, intellectuals and academics.

This was all inspiring. I left Nashville with a completely new vision and ambition. During my flight, as I was reading about the war of 1898 between Spain and the US for Cuba, I came across some of the early history of resistance movements in Cuba. I read words like, collective, movement, militant, and infiltration. That’s when it hit me, intellectual militancy. That is where I want to go. I don’t want to change the system with violence. I don’t want to assimilate when I’m in the system. I want to assault the system with my vision because I have a voice, and I know it is important. And I know there are many many more brown girls who feel the same.

Write. Now.

Sometimes I feel like a poser. I stand in front of class and tell them to write. I tell them to read, read, read, read, read, and write, write, write, write. I tell them to move in the world like a writer. Observe people and places like a writer! Don’t just go into a post office! Smell that post office! Notice the tall metal cans of Stater Bros. ads and Subway coupons overflowing onto the floor! Feel the layer of grit on your mail between your fingers!

 

I give them prompts that say, Write the last line of story! Make it good! Make it poetry! Then I say, Now, write that story. And they do.

 

I go home and I read emails for an hour or more every day. I eat a bowl of soggy Cocoa Krispies. I grade papers until I can’t hold my eyes open anymore. Occasionally, I help my kids with their homework; sometimes they do not ask because they know I am swamped. Occasionally, I open up the folder on my computer desktop labeled NOVEL. Most often, I open then close it. Sometimes, like last weekend, I get drunk, open the file and read about eighty-some pages into it. I cry. I like it. It is beautiful and messy, but mostly beautiful.

 

But I am not a writer. At least not most of the time. I am teacher, a mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an activist, one hell of a roller-skater, but I am not a writer.

 

I am a poser. I write maybe three months a year if I’m lucky. But even during the summer when I’m supposed to be on a rigorous writing schedule, I am often paying back my kids in love and attention by dragging them to and from archery class and Egyptian summer camp and the beach and long-lost family friends.

 

I am a poser. I dream about writing all the time. I dream about my characters. I hear their voices in my head.

 

I woke up the other morning convinced I had spent the night in the bed between my main characters, Kate and Toph. Kate spooned my back, her dark hair clinging to her face while she cried in her sleep. While the rounded humps of what was left of Toph’s legs kicked me while he slept soundly, occasionally a snore sputtered from his mouth. I didn’t want to wake them, so I just lay there watching them breathe.

 

I think about them when I’m at my son’s baseball games and when I’m dragging my daughter to her piano and dance lessons. I’m thinking about them while I do dishes, or while I am grading stacks and stacks of research essays, or on my long, long commute to and from home through the rising and falling mountains of the Cajon Pass, or yes, in the post office.

 

But I am not writing. And it hurts.

 

I want to give my characters lives—the lives I have seen in my head for so many years. I want the time and energy—the head space—to finish this project. Sometimes I wonder if I have it in me. Sometimes I wonder if I will be one of those people who say, I had a novel once. Like one might say about an ant farm s/he had when s/he was seven, or a weird disease s/he once contracted and almost died from. . .

 

I had a novel once.

 

Have. I HAVE a novel. Now.

 

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