I’m at a conference for university professors teaching core texts in higher education. I’m presenting a paper on the critical role of slave narratives in the American canon. Every morning we have plenary speakers. I went to the breakfast event this morning and the plenary speaker spoke on the death of the humanities and he said its because of, among other things, diversity and multicultural traditions and ethnic studies and the loss of respected traditions.
He said a whooooole lot of other shit, too, like how he can’t discuss Roe v. Wade in the class room anymore(?!) and that Trump’s not that bad, just his tweets (okay, sure but why..?).
I hold a PhD in African American Studies. You need to know that because I stormed out after the "xyz studies" comment. I was not gonna sit there and be disrespected like that as a scholar and a teacher.
...but i went back.*
And during the Q&A I said I had a few questions:
1. I asked could he elaborate exactly on what and whose traditions he's speaking of? And 2. given my speciality could he please suggest to me what I could do as a scholar so as not to undermine the liberal arts as he so clearly put it.
aaaand it began...or, rather didn't. http://www.tzr.io/yarn-clip/e03c847...
He never answered my traditions question. Backtracked on his points on ethnic studies and tried to explain that he just meant certain texts are better taught in “specialty” studies rather than in the core because the students “can’t grasp the content.” The whole time he was humming and hawing searching for words I kept hearing my mother tell me it’s not polite to interrupt.
I also heard her tell me she sent me to private schools to deal with old. white. men.
So I politely interjected and said “certainly such specialty departments encourage delving deeper into topics such as gender and race but, perhaps sir, may I suggest that maybe these students aren’t grasping content correctly simply because they’re not being taught correctly?”
I went on.
“Perhaps because of deficiencies in teaching that is why certain texts such as slave narratives and their content get pushed to the margins rather than kept in the core in the first place?”
He stuttered, mumbled maybe, and then it was time for panels. On the way out numerous attendees stopped me to shake my hand. One woman asked to be my new best friend. The president of the association thanked me and called my comments “curious.”
My panel was titled: “Colonialism and Slave Narratives: Finding Our Way Into The Core.”
I began my paper, “There is nothing for me to find because I was never lost. I’m right here, I’m asking you to join and follow me.”
*When I stormed out I went out of the hotel and asked the shuttle driver if he had a cigarette (yes, that heated). He didn't but offered to drive me to the Rite Aid nearby. On the drive I told him what happened. “You need to go back there and debate him. Don’t let him win,” he kept stressing. So, Aaron of the Merriott Atlanta Perimeter Shuttle, I very humbly thank you for the reminder.
-- a partial excerpt from (This Fucking Body Is) Never Yours, forthcoming in 2017 from Gazing Grain Press
When I was a girl a boy touched me in such a way that I knew wasn't right. But in another way -- perhaps the only way that matters -- his grabbing me was but a fleshy instance of a thousand other snatches.
Before I knew I was sexual, I knew there was something sexual in everybody else. It would come out of them when they looked at me. Before I took physics I knew the ways of being violated without a single touch. I didn’t know I’d need to claim my own flesh until it had already been marked by others.
I started taking the bus when I was twelve or thirteen. That was probably when I began to look away from people. I went from staring right into their eyes to always looking away, looking down, looking not at the eyes looking at me. Pretending I didn’t understand when they were asking me how I was doing that day. Who I was. What was my name. Where was I going. How was I getting there.
Would I like
to get there
Our bodies are memories and stories retold. I can call myself beautiful, I can run my hands down my flesh and call it mine. But so has someone else.
I don't always feel like making the effort to remember and remind.
Over fifty pairs of lips have been on my breasts and I have enjoyed none of it. Fifty times I have thought to myself "this will be over soon." Fifty times I have thought to myself, "This feels so disgusting." Fifty times I have thought to myself "I am so cold." All while another person is with me, usually in various stages of undress if not naked. All while another person is inches away from me and I feel miles away. Its clichéd but it’s true. In my most intimate moments I have traveled the world. In my most intimate moments I have made shopping lists. In my most intimate moments I have begun essays and dissertations. In my most sexually intimate moments I am as far away from my body as possible.
If you had happened in on me today you might have seen a crazy thing. you might have seen a woman in pain. You might have seen a woman in pure delight. And you might have seen them both at the same time. How can that be? If you had happened in on me today you might have seen a woman in pain bent over. Her hands on the coffee table, swinging her hips to and fro. If you had happened in on me today you might have seen a woman writing on her feet. papers in the air, pen in hand. circling comma splices as she lunges to the left then the right and back back again.
I think you think because i'm in pain and because I write about pain and that I must live in pain. You are, strangely, sorely mistaken. I live in fight. I live in joy. But don't tell me this is magic. This is my grandmama telling me to always have a made up bed, This is my momma giving me one day a year to miss school for menstrual cramps. This is my daddy telling me he's gonna be a north american Negro male for Halloween because ain't nothing scarier. This is my momma and me both telling each other to get the fuck up and do your work.
This is not about strength.
If you had happened in on me today you might have seen me bent over with a grimace and a grin as I write bent over. You might have seen my ass in the air. Again. If you had happened in on me today you might have found me grotesque in my grey leggings and black t-shirt, no bra. You might have told me to brush my teeth. If you had happened in on me today you would have seen what it's like to be a woman who lives in chronic pain, what it's like to be a woman who creates from the pain. You might have seen something beautiful and hideous all at the same damn time. If you happened in on me today you might have heard me tell you to go back to bed. You might have seen me grimace.
You might have seen me giggle.
But you didn't see me today. No one does. But someday. someday someone's gonna look at me and fall in love. And I'll be ready. I may or not be barefoot. I may or may not have taken a shower. But the horns will be playing. And my pen is ready.
The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend by Sarah Manguso
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"To claim oneself a writer when one is not a writer is an insult to writers, but to call oneself crazy when one is not crazy is an insult to crazy people. It belittles what they've accomplished." (91) -- As the title suggests this is in praise of a friend and of love. It is also in praise of the man who was sick and does not talk against his illness. This is a moving elegy about a woman's mourning and one of its biggest themes is journey and searching. Like Harris whose last ten hours consisted of walking Manguso writes in search of. She looks for closure, she looks for meaning, for coincidence, she especially looks for blame. Whether it's to blame herself, mental illness, psychotropic drugs, people, life, death, she writes and writes and writes in hopes that a thing will come out of this. That thing takes on the form of regret, of joy, of guilt and maybe resentment.
I loved this book. There were too many moments I softly gasped recognizing myself in her and her words. I'd imagine that there's no proper way to discuss a loved one's suicide but this comes pretty close.
View all my reviews
I forgot that my genitals will keep me from ever getting this across to you: I am not a happy woman who is depressed. I am not a happy woman with mental health issues. I am not a happy woman because I choose not to be. ..
I will try to get you to understand anyway...
I spoke to a communist revolutionary today. She was selling newspapers. We spoke about workers, about revolution, about parties and resistance. I said I taught at the university and she asked what I would do if there was a strike for higher wages. She asked would I strike and protest or would I "be a scab and go to work." I thought I could be honest. I felt close to her. I was projecting. I said that I honestly didn't know because I need my health insurance. That I have an incurable disease that costs tens of thousands of dollars a year in treatment. I thought she'd understand. I didn't know what I was looking for until she spoke in response. She told me about the South African miners who protested and the police rounded them up and shot them. "So it wasn't that they lost insurance, they died for the cause," she said. I nodded silently. I don't want to die. I mentioned that I inform my students, that I write, but it all felt stupid. I felt stupid.
I wish I'd asked her what she thought of black lives matter. If she thought that those babies' bodies were worth it because of all this. if perhaps there's rejoicing at black death because they can sell more papers and send more money to Mumia.
And maybe it is worth it, I will not pretend there has not been a value in blood.
But I didn't.
I bought her newspaper for fifty cents and wished her luck.
“I’m sorry but I’m totally fan-girling right now: Tell me how to be you when I grow up,” said a student of mine, giggling. I’m in my office hours and my student has confessed she’s here to learn how she can follow my professional trajectory.
Occasionally people ask me for guidance. When this happens, my initial thought is, Have a momma like mine. And admittedly, I’ll share this thought in good humor, as I talk about how she firmly steered my education and fiercely fostered independent thinking in her household. I’ll talk about my lifelong private schooling; my travels abroad that began at 16; my graduating early from NYU, magna cum laude, and earning my Ph.D. from Harvard. My work experiences at places like The Nation, Vogue, the New York Times. All this by the time I was 31. And, yes, I’ll admit, it’s impressive: Last year I even received a Young Professional Achievement Award from my high school.
There’s no taking away from my work ethic and an old-school code from my sharecropping and working-class great-grandparents. It all sounds lofty and it’s all true.
But here’s what I also think and never say to my female students: “… And control your births.”
I was able to achieve and enjoy these accomplishments because I use birth control. And when I had an unplanned pregnancy at 23, I made the important decision to have an abortion.
Yes, all of the above happened the way it happened and continues to happen because I terminated an unwanted pregnancy. It is crucial I say that all of the above is possible to accomplish whether or not a woman chooses to become a mother. It’s just that I made the choice not to become a mother at 23. And nothing has made me regret that decision. I am among the majority of women who actually felt an immense sense of relief afterwards. I, like many women, will feel better equipped to be a mother after making an informed decision.
Should I mention the circumstances that led up to the pregnancy, the who, the what, the he said/I said, et cetera? Should I mention that I was on birth control? That I was a stellar patient and consumer of the pill, that I had not missed a day, nor had I been taking any counteracting medications?
“About two per 100 women get pregnant on this when used effectively,” my gynecologist said after I cried in her office. “And that’s why we’re a pro-choice office.”
After I got pregnant on the pill, my best friend and I joked that I should play the lottery—that’s how unlikely it was that such a thing would happen to me. I developed an acute, visceral aversion to medicine, specifically pills. The year following the termination, I couldn’t bring myself to take anything, not even vitamins. Even now, ten years later, the image of a pill makes me frown. So I had an IUD insertion. On some level I think I was still trying to be combative with my body, introducing a foreign object into it: “There, now try something.” But I digress.
Indeed, I did not need nor did I employ Planned Parenthood to get an abortion. I was fortunate enough to get one through my privately insured gynecologist. And there are other women who will have this same ability to do so whether or not Planned Parenthood is defunded.
But there are many more women who do need Planned Parenthood to get affordable and safe access to abortion services. Get this: Abortions happen. Safe—not dangerous, not lethal—abortions happen at Planned Parenthood, and through private practice. My mother told me about an illegal abortion her older sister, Earlene, had. She nearly bled to death. She was 15.
I think of my high-school algebra teacher who used to become exasperated and say, “I don’t understand why you don’t understand.” This is where I am. I don’t understand why legislators don’t understand. Why abortion opponents don’t understand. Why this is such a difficult concept to grasp.
In truth, I think the Senate understands full well that Planned Parenthood is not an abortion vendor. The defunding is, of course, a symbolic and much more blatantly classist and misogynistic statement. It’s saying: “We’re going to take away equal access to safe abortion.”
Note my use of “safe.” Because, again, I don’t understand why they don’t understand. As long as women have been getting pregnant, women have been aborting. I used to think it was cool that my great-grandmother had 11 children (11 who survived past the age of 3, that is). But as I got older, and especially after my own unplanned pregnancy, I realized that none of us knows how much all of that was a choice. Granted, I am projecting and assuming a lot, and of course, the more hands on a farm the better. Still, I have to wonder how much my great-grandmother wanted the kind of motherhood she had. I highly doubt she thought of it in such terms.
When I took to Twitter to express my frustration about the Senate I was open and righteously honest about my own story. There were plenty of favorites and retweets. But, I found myself silently fretting at what I saw as a lack of the usual group of Black women in my corner. I know I am not alone in having had an abortion—far from it. And I know women of color are concerned about access to birth control and family planning or lack thereof.
Recently, Kirsten West Savali wrote about race and Planned Parenthood and I don’t want that to be a rare thing: for Black women to discuss openly and honestly the realities of Planned Parenthood, reproductive rights, and Black women. And this silence is not passive. It is thick and it is charged. Are we scared to discuss this in the open? About the murky unsettling history we, Black women, share with reproductive medicine? Are we afraid to openly question if our methods of birth control might somehow be acquiescing to White supremacy? I understand, and I’m scared too. Because I love Black women, I love being one and being of us. And I worry that to speak on these things in this way will invite an e-version of a sucked tooth. But what scares me more is this pretense we hold. I love us too much to uphold more false pretense.
There are more fears surrounding this sort of talk. I fear that people will interpret what I am saying as, to be a successful woman, women must have had an abortion, or opt out of parenthood. No. What I am trying to get at is that we need to remove this focus on a woman’s reproductive choices and we need to be completely honest about things. Stop telling us she is, say, an exec and boss with a spouse and three kids … unless she wants that to be a part of her narrative. Because it is just as much a choice to be a mother as it is to not be one. I get anxious with this sort of talk. I simultaneously want to celebrate our choices to be mothers but I also want us to shut the fuck up about it. Every time I read a profile of some fabulous, famous, fantastic women and her fucking kids I think “was this her narrative or others’ crafted narrative for her?”
But I digress. As long as I keep things local, specific to myself, to my own vagina, then things make sense. And that’s the point. There cannot be any universalism regarding something so innately specific. For all of the above, there may have been a woman in my shoes who would have made the entirely opposite choice and been a mother at 23. Maybe she was just as frightened as I was, but felt better equipped—or maybe she didn’t. I’m not sure if it matters.
Here’s what also troubles me when discussing our wombs and choices with what to do with them: None of this has been to say something to the effect of “you, too, can be great, if you abort.” Not at all. It’s just that the control of births needs to be a clear and explicit part of these conversations we have about having it all. Having it all can so often mean not having it. And we need to talk about that. Without shame.
It’s taken me decades to fully grasp that most people think if you agree with one thing then you must embrace every single association with it. That never made sense to me.
I like milk but I don’t raise cows. I like rap music but I don’t hate women. I eat meat and I have a dog.
I believe in the right to healthy abortion. And I love motherhood. And I believe in being proud of having had an abortion—it was a good choice for me. And I also believe that if I make the decision to have a child one day, I know I will be proud of being a mother. See, the common denominator for me is that, to quote Dubya, I am the decider. Truly, it is this that has our whole government shutting down. Truly, Black women, we can reclaim those cloudier spaces when we start declaring ourselves the makers of our race.
When I think of abortion, I think of my mother and the time she told me about the abortion she’d had after having me. Her marriage to my father was dangerously falling apart and she had a 4-year-old little girl whom she loved dearly. “You can do right by this one,” my grandfather told her.
“And it was the best decision I ever made. I love being your mom,” she tells me, smiling.
Published at http://www.damemagazine.com/2015/09/29/we-need-all-women-to-shout-their-abortions-
Are you in the bed, too? Are you writing about fellowships and bylines and new toys but are you doing it from the bed? Is your hair done, have you been up since 4? Do you naturally think in compelling platitudes?
Social media tells me that you’re all so put together, you’re all so well scheduled. Social media tells me that you’re a scholar in residence over there somewhere that I hadn’t thought of but now am anxious about. Social media tells me you have not slept in days, maybe weeks. It tells me that you are now tenured or will be or are anxious about or are not anxious about it and nervous as to why you’re not anxious about it. Social media tells me you’re on track to be tenured and you’re in the home stretch and can anyone here just listen while you vent about how stressful it is to be in this home stretch of job security? Or, conversely, social media tells me that you’re not nor ever have been but you will keep trying and trying and trying and can’t anyone here just listen while you vent about trying?
Social media tells me that you are always writing, that you must not ever stop. That you have a byline…again. That you have a book contract. Social media tells me that you have a byline, a book contract and a new baby on the way and you’re in Sri Lanka. Will you have the baby there, too? Will your next book be on babies in Sri Lanka and the tenured-not-tenured scholars-independent-public-intellectuals who have them? Social media tells me how not to be an activist. It tells me who the activists are and who they are not. Social media tells me this list is up to changing at any time.
When I’m home alone doing nothing with no one for the nunteenth time social media tells me that’s ok because I have six hundred friends and, look, twenty of them just liked that thing you said 5 minutes ago. Social media tells me I matter to people.
But there’s this feeling I can’t shake and social media won’t have a conversation with me. Why won’t anyone have a conversation with me? Social media tells me it’s because you’ve done two crossfit sessions, written five articles, reviewed three chapters, attended eight meetings, applied for and was just awarded sixty fellowships, got engaged twice and married once and are now on your fourth child but that’s after your sabbatical. Social media tells me you’ve had conversations about having conversations. Social media tells me your life is fraught with racism and sexism and just flat-out hatred but it’s all good because America.
But there’s still this feeling I can’t shake and social media won’t have a conversation with me. You won’t have a conversation with me.
Are you in the bed, too?
I love us.
And this is the day I think of us the most: of you racing into our dorm, the panicked look on your face. Of Aliya telling me to turn on the news and my thinking it was some horrific accident. Of Nur needing shoes. Not understanding what was happening but knowing we had to go somewhere. Anywhere. The walking to Grand Central. How everyone was walking and talking and seemingly cooperating without knowing what we were cooperating with. We tried to give blood. You were so scared, you get that worried look on your face. I think I was in numb "go" mode. We took the train and the people waiting, Nur said, all with their eyes and hands in desperate shapes hoping their loved ones would walk off.
All we did was watch television. And NYU said it was ok to come back and we did and we walked back just how we came. This became the year of easy As and blackouts. Of living in hotels. Of making new friends and new neighbors, of learning the beautiful art of nihilism while earning a college degree. Of dressing up and strutting past the miles of fences with posters of "have you seen me?" so many pictures and candles on the streets asking us if we've seen anyone, dead or alive. Of brutal sex. Of Angel saying he laughed when the towers fell. This was when armed men in camouflage stood guard at the subway. This was when Nur started to cough and never stop. This was when a lesion began growing inside me. This was when we learned how death could be so stunningly seductive. This was when we didn't give a fuck and fucked around about it.
This was a Tuesday. The weather was beautiful.
This is when I think of us.
Donald Trump has 32% support in the GOP.
Sarah Palin said things and it's in the news.
Kim Davis being called the Rosa Parks of religious freedom.
just some things usually on my mind....