On this auspicious occasion of it being two years since I ceased smoking tobacco*

I understand there are more important concerns in the world right now. I am learning and writing about how I’ve stumbled about and how others just took large dumps on the discourse. This post isn’t about that. This post is for me and it does what it says on the label.

I took to Facebook this morning knowing that last year’s post for my one-year anniversary would be highlighted under Memories. I appreciate that Facebook has become the archivist of my entire life. It is the archivist for you as well. For the whole world. For everyone. What Facebook says happened, happened.

And, just like last year, I went off on a rant about the evils of Facebook and how we’ve all sold our narratives into some algorithmic carnival to sell us hand-stitched face masks, sustainably-sourced coffee, and those weird bendy shoes that repel water.

Actually, I don’t really know what Facebook is selling you. Oh but they ARE selling YOU!

Oops, I did it again.

Like I mentioned in the last year’s post, I didn’t quit smoking. I’m a smoker who doesn’t smoke. And it does work for me. After several family health scares, a house fire, and the first half of 2020, I haven’t had one cigarette. Not a puff, not a drag, not a whiff. Zero.

But I will. I will somewhere down the road if the winds of life allow me that chance. I will. I will probably never be a habitual smoker again, but I will smoke. I will take pleasure in sliding my fingers down the paper, straightening out any wrinkles in the wrapping, feeling the firmness of the filter in that fleshy part between my fingers, the spongy sensation of it pressing down on my bottom lip as I secure it in my mouth, the raspy click (or click, click, click) of my lighter and the teeny heat it brings like an atomic sun. That first drag will be indescribable.

But that’s in the future. It’s been two years since I’ve had a cigarette and with life throwing me all these mini-boss battles, I certainly hope I make it to three.

God help me if I’m in the Water Temple.

 

 

 

 

*There’s nothing to see here. I just felt that ending the title at “smoking” had poor rhythm. I haven’t smoked anything in two years, so you can stop smirking now.

The Benefits of Fucking Up

[Before you do anything else, if you can, send some money to one or more of the organizations listed in this New Yorker article. I did not hit a paywall when I visited the page, but if that changes, I’d appreciate you letting me know.]


There’s nothing worse than a nice, white person trying desperately to be right. I know from personal experience, and while I would contend that I am not consistently nice, I am persistently white and I think being right is not terribly bad. When pressed, I would say that being happy is better than being right; that being inclusive and accommodating is better than being right; that toning down your natural antagonism is better than being right. These are things that I feel to be true when I am thinking about them consciously, on the top level of my brain, with intention.

In reality, that persistently white part of me has a lot of internal structures to dismantle. Patriarchy, white supremacy, sexism, you name it, this is the secret scaffolding that I inherited with my language and culture and in ignorance, convenience, and apathy, continue to build upon. The more I read and listen and learn, the more these internal structures come into focus and that’s when the real work starts. It is terribly hard to deconstruct and dismantle a foundation that is invisible to you. A good way to discover some of the most insidious i-beams is to, simply, fuck up.

White people hate fucking up. Oh, we hate it so much. We hate being wrong, feeling bad, being embarrassed, oh, deary me. In a world where everything is taken from others and repackaged for us, we hate it when someone says, “No.” Our insecurity at our own default-is-bland culture, our desperation to appropriate symbolism and meaning from the spirits of those colonized and exploited, our fear at knowing that there should be retribution, there should be anger, that everyone demanding to be heard has a valid fucking point and it’s scary. Because we are the historical perpetrators of violence writ large, we know what some chickens do. (CW for the violence that white people do.)

In an effort to address the protesting of police violence against Black people, in hopes of claiming solidarity to the movement that has energized people all over the world, some of my colleagues brought us together to demand change in our department and a statement to be made. The demand was initiated by a white colleague. That’s doing the work. And after that work was done and we were discussing logistics and whether faculty would be available to discuss this over the summer, I commented in a way that sided with prioritizing faculty getting paid.

I fucked up.

I missed the point.
I derailed the conversation.
I put already privileged people’s problems in front of those who are marginalized.
I neglected to situate my comment in the context of the larger conversation.
I forgot the experiences of my colleagues.
I never considered how my poorly chosen words could be hurtful.
I forgot the audience, the genre, the medium.
I wrote poorly.

I fucked up.

And in the interim of my comment being in chat, life outside happened and all the things I just listed hadn’t occurred to me, because I was speaking as I normally do, playing a bit of the antagonist, thinking about uncompensated labor in academia, wanting to make sure we thought pragmatically as well as… blah blah blah …well. None of that was needed. None of that was important. I missed the urgency of the mission. I missed the desperation of centuries of being dehumanized, exploited, raped, murdered, annihilated. I thought people should get paid for their work.

Yes, Heather, Nice White Lady, they damn well fucking should.

And the worst part, was that the person that reminded me of all the unpaid labor that build the privilege I currently enjoy, the person that did the labor, the person that told me I fucked up, the person who exposed more pillars of racism and white supremacy within my own head, was one of my BIPOC colleagues.

Not one other white person called me out.
Not one other white person did the work that we were all saying we had to do.

Y’all fucked up as well.

And I hope, like me, you take that opportunity of realizing you fucked up and reflect. Look at yourself in the mirror, mouth closed, mind open and focus not on your feelings, but the revealed structures that you carry, like the ones that made me tone deaf and privileged in a space where people are exhaustively screaming to be heard.

I apologized and got out of the way in that public space. Here, on my blog, I can make this about me. But this should also be about you, dear white person, and the hidden structures we all carry inside. Everyday we need to assess whether what we do is performative or productive. We need to worry less about being seen as socially aware and more at recognizing our shortcomings. We need to point out each and every beam of unconscious racism, sexism, white supremacy, that bubbles up in our conversations. Laser focus on that shit like a weed in a garden, like a tie-fighter in your targeting system – I don’t know. Pick a damn metaphor. But embrace fucking up as a path to getting better and getting right. And call out your persistently white friends when they fuck up. We’re the ones that need to do that work.

Look at all those chickens. Look at them. Look at me. Look at yourself.

Jeebus Piping Cripes on a Cracker #1

I don’t know why she does this, but I think its safe to say that while the Harry Potter books will have a special place in my heart, their author made her way out of it a while ago. I mean she was never really there anyway. I loved the books, but in their moment in time. I think the stories are timeless but the casual imperialism is very much not (though in actuality, imperialism is timeless, so far).

But today, J.K. Rowling posted this:

What an idiot. And not just because she is wrong, but because she is so insulated that she said this during Pride Month.

Look, I’m a cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle-aged, middle-class, white female. There’s my subject position. And I have been working really hard to battle over 40 years of binary programming in my language and culture. I want to exist in and create a more inclusive and aware environment for the people I care about and the people I work with. I do not agree with Rowling at all.

There’s no but coming. Sorry. I have an idea that I might have an inkling on where her misguided anger is coming from. We’ve heard it before about the erasure of women within the larger pool of identity politics (whatever that means). There is a mistaken idea that women have to subsume all non-male, non-het identities. They feel that woman-hood is something that can be put on as easily as a costume. They are wrong. They are falling for the binary – male/female, where “female” is the inferior. Because white, cis, het, male is the default, everything else is female. Because they are ignorant of their own internal patriarchy, they believe that everything that is not the default subsequently dilutes their own identity, which, yes, includes menstruation.

I believe we can still celebrate menstruation without having it owned by one gender. We can celebrate the life-giving power it represents while also understanding the terrible pain and shame that have gone hand-in-hand with it. I’m menstruating as I write this. Celebrate me. Or not. I don’t care. The association of shame and the necessity to celebrate menstruation is because it has been associated with the non-default, the Other, the non-men. Ever hear the joke “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.” That’s how it’s made to be not-default. Not-normal. Men don’t menstruate, so it’s seen as not normal.

OH! (I see you.)

But some men do. And they should be celebrated as well. And cared for and supported. And we need to find more words to describe all the facets of who we are and we need to disassociate things and processes with identities and allow people to be and to be well. We need to break out of our butterfly boxes, all pinned and labeled and dead. We need to realize that these associations, so important to earlier generations of feminism, are still wrapped up in the default, in being the non-default. Their power is/was in a singular opposition to the binary. And that’s not enough anymore.

We are too diverse. We are multitudes. We menstruate. We don’t. We are beautiful.

Shut the fuck up, J.K. Rowling. Go jump in your money, Scrooge McDuck style.

General nonsense #1

Who am I kidding? It’s certainly not the first.

In an effort to not take space in social media where so many people are sharing important information, I decided to put my weirdness here in a series of asides for now (probably forever). I don’t want to seem tone deaf in a sea of voices for change.

If you want to help bring about that change (and if you don’t feel free to fuck right off) here is a list of black-owned independent bookstores compiled over at Lit Hub (thanks to my great mentor, Sara, for the hat tip) and consider donating to one of the many Bail Funds in your area or the National Bail Fund network. Here is also a handy list of organizations that support black trans people (thanks Saher), please give if you can.

Amplify non-white, non-cis, non-het voices and educate yourself.

Now, on to the nonsense…

So I have this Solitaire program on my PC that I bought ages ago, years and years. It’s good for a quick game if I’m downloading a large file or listening to a podcast. The thing is that when you get to the end of a game you can’t win, the bottom bar will turn bright blue and read “You are stuck.” That’s fair, because I am stuck. The problem is that my lizard brain reads that as “You suck.” So, with each game of Forty Thieves that I lose, which is most, I get a, mistakenly, kick to the affirmation glands.

I fumbled around the options for this game, and it has a myriad of options and while I could not find a way to customize the “stuck” message, I did find a way to upload my own card back image:

I lost this game too, btw.

That should even things out…until I feel like the card is talking to me, which, in all honesty, I probably should every now and then anyway.

Taking Notes #1

I am working on my history paper and I’m looking at the teaching of the Irish language in Ireland in the mid to late 1800s. There is a document that is making the case to teach children Irish as a pathway to teaching them English. One of the arguments these men are making is the current (for them) uptick in interest in “the value of our ancient literature.”

This upset me so much that I wanted to share my notes on the passage:

Like Native Americans, the Irish are framed as people of the past, their greatness behind them, noble seconds to an overwhelming force. Their great literature is ancient. I understand the need to acquire the best education for the children of Ireland, but to agree that their greatness is in the past is a terrible pill to swallow. I feel so sad for these two men writing this essay, knowing full well that Yeats is 13 and Joyce is four years away from being born.

This is not the post I meant to post

Originally, since I have much other writing that needs my attention right now, I was going to post a short story that I’d written back in 2015 as part of a final project in a literature course. I’d found it today while searching my cloud storage for something else and thought it would be a good way for me to keep the consistency going without having to come up with another critical take on academia or a meme waterfall of the other academia, but then I re-read it.

And I kinda like it.

I think it may have some rough patches and it’s under 2000 words, but I was pretty proud of it and I may want to do something else with it. So, you don’t get to see it. Not yet anyway. Perhaps I’ll work on it and its companions (there are at least three other stories and pitches for more) over the summer. Maybe then I’ll start posting it here.

Until then, mine!

2n-1

I’ve been busy revising an essay about my father’s funeral and have been feeling under appreciated and emotionally drained, all while trying to get stuff done. As per the last two posts, I am failing on all fronts, but failing isn’t dead.

And Not Dead = Winning!

I think we can safely say that there is no bar to lower anymore.

Sooooo because why not, I will add short commentary to random BNHA images:


When I lived in the Seattle-area, I took the commuter bus for years. This is a reflection of reality. I started as Bakugou, then Jirou when I got my first iPod and loaded it with Terry Pratchett audio books. Finally, before getting a car, I’d leveled up to Todoroki, feeling comfortable enough to sleep the whole way to work. Got lots of colds while I road the bus.

I know there was chatter about some classes being harder after the switch to remote learning and plenty of teachers were getting flack for not trusting their students, but I think what many didn’t realize (couldn’t realize unless they were still in or close to their coursework) is that flip from in-person to online midstream was terribly disrupting and by definition, any flow or rapport that had been established pre-transition was gone. I had a hard time adjusting as a student and felt myself torn between trying to corral my students and give them space.

This has turned into a Bakugou appreciation post and I’m fine with that.


My autobiography should contain a chapter called “Times My Mouth Got Me In Trouble/Fired” and this is not something that I’ve had a great deal of success in mellowing as I have some of my “other” issues. Yet, the precarity of being a graduate student, even one as financially privileged as myself (family support) but obligation overloaded (same family needs supporting), I may choose my words more carefully? I’m not sure – I think that sentence got away from me.

I never set out to have my students “like” me. I don’t need that. I’m the same age, if not older than their parents. I’m not looking to be buddies. My hope is that they feel like they can learn something from me and see me someone to bounce ideas off of freely. I want them to see me as someone that made them feel like their writing is important and that what they have to say has value. I want them TO ANSWER THEIR DAMN EMAILS!!! <3.

My office is full of notebooks and journal articles and books and grocery bags full of more books and empty Amazon boxes and trash and various folders and some clothes and at least four old laptops/computers and two printers and I really need to clean.

Thank you for taking this journey with me.

Bakugou Katsuki…a goddamn miracle.

The Myth of Academic Leisure

Every semester will be different, yet every semester is the same. With all due respect to the Charlie Foxtrot that is the Spring of Covid-19 I think it’s time to disrupt the myth that a life in graduate school is one of relaxed reading, occasional writing, and laid-back teaching. I don’t know who needs to hear this…wait, I do. It’s me. I need to hear this, and I need to hear it from my own, lying mouth.

It’s a joke I have made several times in the past, to various graduate classmates. “Every semester we say, ‘This semester will be different!’, and by week three, we’re back to our usual selves.” The hope I bring to the start of semester, the desire to start early and work toward big projects a little every day, all disappear like mist as I struggle to keep up with the reading and chase down a million different research interests, not a single one tied with my current classes. By the end of the semester the ambitious scope of big projects have been scaled down to “what I can get done now” and, within recent years, the idea of taking an Incomplete becomes a real possibility. Ever since entering graduate school in 2016 it’s been the same, though, I admit, the incompletes only happened while working on my PhD. Looking back, I have no idea how I actually wrote a thesis and completed my M.A. on time. It’s almost like that Heather is a completely different person.

There have been some outside obstacles since joining my PhD program — none of them school related and I’m not going to go into them in this post. That’s for another time. However, the mental energy pool from which I used to pull my focus seems all but depleted these days. Perhaps because I’m getting older (planning to make it to my 50th birthday in December) or perhaps because this fall will be my seventh year in academia (two years to finish my B.A., two for the M.A and two to get through my coursework before comp exams). I’ve never held a job for longer than 8 years or so. Could this be the seven-year itch?

Nah. I love teaching too much. I love researching too much. I love talking about weird shit with people and talking about writing with students and telling kids, for the first time, what great writers they are. Man, that’s a feeling that’s hard to be, I tell ya. So no. It’s not the itch. It’s not the Covid. It’s not the zoom. It’s me.

I spent way too long playing with Zoom backgrounds.

All my workarounds, rough-hewned, jerry-riggings, MacGyveritierations cannot save me anymore. As we near the drop-deadline of the end of the semester, I’m hurting more and more and, to be fair, I’m still one of the lucky ones. I’m not necessarily looking at an uncertain future or trying to teach kids while worrying about rent. I’ve got it good in the scheme of things. My biggest battle (possibly) is with my brain and, land-sakes, is it fighting with me now.

(This took a turn into the neuro-diverse space. And while, yes, I agree with you and yes, I will look into it, I think there is a larger conversation to be had, if I could just refocus and have it. Dammit.)

The thing is, I never seem to be able to achieve that leisurely pace**: writing a couple of hours a day, reading after teaching, taking some color-coded notes into a leather journal. The real work of academia is much faster and grungy. As the semester moves on you start bargaining between primary and secondary readings. You find ways to teach articles that you haven’t had a chance to read yourself. Writing becomes an aggressive act the night before a deadline. Professional development? I don’t know her.

The woman I do know tries, she tries real hard to get it right each time. She fails (I’m sensing a theme this week) every semester, but she keeps trying. Maybe this summer will be different and I’ll work on side projects and writing and reading for my exams. Maybe I’ll take some time off and get some projects done around the house that will make my life a little less stressful. Maybe I can take this time of self-isolation (which is default for me anyway) and be productive on my own terms. Maybe maybe maybe.

I have read so many productivity blogs, listened to so many productivity podcasts, that I am an expert on this stuff for other people. Teach me how to focus that onto my own life. Show me how I motivate myself. Give me the strength to stop writing this post and finish my projects.

My apologies for the lack of cohesive theme or narrative. You know me by now.

**I think the fantasies of academic leisure come from four sources: 1) people who feel themselves outside of the academic world and think summers off mean no work; 2) people who only exist in an academic world and have nostalgic memories of their grad school days; 3) people with MBAs; 4) white men.

Composition and Contagion: I feel like I failed

Caveat: the world is on fire right now. I am not talking about expecting more from my students. I am talking about how I could have done better.

I knew how challenging it was to keep the attention of my small group of students in class. I was not prepared for how impossible it would be in the switch to remote learning. While there were a couple that reached out to me and discussed their assignments, the rest seemed to only contact me out of necessity or out of desperation on my part. I don’t blame them.

I have/had no idea what was going on their lives and I am fully aware that I was one of at least four or five faculty all vying for their attention (let alone the electronic administrative arms of housing, billing, health, etc.) but I now realize that I was never going to be able to reach them once they were gone. I failed to establish enough of a rapport during the semester that, once we weren’t mandated into the same room for a period of time, I had lost engagement.

As a student in my (hopefully) last semester of coursework, I get how hard it is to engage, how hard it is to drag yourself to the screen for something you may not feel 100% invested in at that moment. As a student I failed and, in many ways, am still failing. I am trying to fail forward though, and make some progress.

Maybe I should have reached out even more. Maybe I should have required synchronous meetings. Maybe I should have ramped up the work instead of ramping it down. Perhaps my desire to give them a break was the last nail in my coffin. Maybe that was the sign to/that my class wasn’t important. I may never know, since not one of them did the course evaluation.

Which is a shame, because right now the only lessons I can take away to help improve my teaching are the ones gleaned from the empty spaces where class discussion would have been. I didn’t challenge them enough. I didn’t demand enough from them. I didn’t spark their interest. So many things I want to work on and adjust to make sure that, in-person or remote, students value my class.

But until I can transition to prep-work, I have to finish this semester as a student and try to be engaged and get my work done. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing everywhere.