What would you call a flock of caveats? An “apology”? A “press release”? A “special message to my fans”?

I didn’t sleep well last night and that’s part of this. There was no end to the tossing and turning and limb pain and just general shifting about that I think I managed about an hour of sleep total. But this isn’t about that, thought that may be the start.

I pulled into the grocery store parking lot with tears in my eyes. It’s a short drive from my home, about a mile, and in that time I took the dismissal from my mother about my sleep issue and transformed it into a meditation on my general sense of malaise. Where had the motivation gone? By the time a slid into a spot near the carriage return, I understood and I was ready to cry.

There are two types of people in the world: those who separate the world into two types of people and those that don’t. Normally I don’t, but in that long street strewn with Trump signs and autumn flags, I changed my mind and decided to binary the crap out of this. This isn’t about Trump, though he’s part of it.

There are two types of people in the world: those that express their feelings and those that reserve their feelings. At the very least, we tend to skew one way or another, and I fall into the reserve category. This causes two problems for me: I don’t get the help I need easily and, well, the “express-os” tend to take all the air in the room, and the energy from me. No, I’m not sub-tweeting you, though that’s part of it.

I composed myself, as I do, and did the groceries, (obligatory “like the good capitalist I am” statement that recognizes I willfully take part in a disempowering scheme in order to have turkey and coffee creamer – only humanities majors are required to write this caveat). I came home. I went upstairs to my office. I did no work.

In doing no work, I had to find something to distract my brain, so I found an audiobook to listen to, giving me the illusion of production (“there’s that creeping capitalism again” disclaimer) while meh-ing myself down to meh-town. I’d first picked a book on narrative, but this isn’t about that book, though that’s part of it.

The book I settled on is Write No Matter What by Joli Jensen, all about dispelling the myths of academic writing and developing a healthy habit of scholarship. It’s great and I ended up buying a hard copy too because I found it helpful, though it didn’t actually get me to work on my writing. I did stop partway through to post the upcoming week’s work for my composition class. This isn’t about teaching, though you know the pattern by now.

What brought me to tears, to reserves, to meh, to here is the fact that I’m totally fucking lost when it comes to my PhD program. Pandemic aside, though that’s part of it, I feel like I need some hand-holding right now. Yet I also feel like the department is just waiting for me to finally flake out and quit. That’s unfair to the department, but not to my feelings, which I generally keep to myself. The colleagues I normally talk to about this are gone. I didn’t get to say good-bye. That’s not fair. That’s why I was crying this morning. I’m gonna cry again.

Hold up…

I am reserved and twice the age of my colleagues and there may be an assumption I know what I’m doing and part of that comes from me. I have no clue. I don’t know how to even start a discussion about my comprehensive exams. I don’t know how my language test will work now nor how I’ll pass. I don’t know what I should focus on. I don’t even feel like I have anyone to talk to about it and even if I did, I don’t know what questions to ask.

Hold up again…sorry…

When you don’t know what to do, all the problems seem huge. I know how it feels to help minimize something into workable chunks for someone else, someone who is overwhelmed and anxious. I just have a terrible time trying to do the same for me. And that pandemic, the one that’s part of this, doesn’t help me prioritize my needs, particularly when I’ve spent a lifetime being told to minimize them. This is edging into territory that I don’t want to get into right now, though that’s part of it.

I suppose I could end on an optimistic note, something you can take away with you. A life-lesson learned. A bit of advice. A quick little pep talk that says “it’s okay to fight for you, ya know.” Then we can part ways and you don’t have to worry about me because in the end I realized my problem wasn’t that big at all, really, it’s loaded with privilege, right? I mean, there are larger problems in the world I probably haven’t read the scholarship on and “fuck off with your bullshit, Karen.”

OK. You’re right. It’s fine. I’m fine.

I almost ended this there, after “I’m fine,” like some postmodern bullshit essay that wants to leave you questioning the purpose of the whole piece or some amateurish attempt to make you self-reflective about judgement and priorities and now I’m mad I’ve used bullshit (italicize that crap) twice so close together but I’m not changing it.

The fuck am I doing? I am thinking about (worrying about) the audience for this piece, knowing that I’ll put it up on Facebook (with another caveat) to be read, but generally it not being read, or if read, not reacted to, and I’m not lamenting though I am using the language of lament. I am not fishing, I am just frustrated.

I don’t know how to ask for help.

I can feel my fingernails hit the keys on my keyboard so I’m writing this in a sustained sense of the heebie jeebies. But this isn’t about that.


During my writing group meeting this morning, I wrote roughly 1200 words in tears. I didn’t know what to work on so I just started free-writing about my feelings, thinking that somewhere in those 30 minutes I would find a thread to one of my projects. Apparently, that project is me.

But now I don’t know what to do with it.

I had planned to write a post today about my need for invisibility, the ability to just exist without much comment. I had pretty mediocre examples of what I meant (one involving my desire to wear mascara without someone saying “you’re wearing make-up”) and dove-tail that into some larger discussion, but I’m pretty sure I’ve built a much smaller cabinet than expected.

I’m trying really hard to not mix metaphors anymore.

So now I have 1200 words of what I think is deeply personal but important writing about myself and I don’t know what to do with it.

I don’t even know what to think of it now, 20 minutes later. I’ve edited it, fixed some spelling. Is it still authentic? Raw? Real?

If I post it here, what am I expecting? Am I fishing? If I link it on Facebook or Twitter, am I asking for comment? Am I looking for sympathy? How can I remain invisible and still get clicks? What is my goal?

When do the words stop being feelings and start being text?

Let me know in the comments.

I wonder if I should preface any post that isn’t about the current chaotic state of the world with a statement that: “I am aware of the current chaotic state of the world but for this one moment have chosen to write about something trivial with the full awareness of its triviality and me, writing this, and you, reading this, does not mean we are not thoughtful, caring, and concerned people trying to do the work needed to help and heal and herald in a new equitable society.”

I have been having some very first-world problems associated with the way sound is delivered to my head. I have the privilege to have a choice of ear-based devices:

  • Set of large Bluetooth, noise-cancelling headphones – great for focusing but not great when you feel the need to listen for stray noises and shouts in your home
  • Set of Apple Ear Buds – well used, from a phone before this one, so it has the proper plug bit, old faithful with a cord that gets in the way
  • Set of Regular over-the-ear headphones – been with me a while and are a little awkward, currently residing downstairs as a way of calming a fight, though they are currently unused
  • One Brand New Set of Air Pods – excited to get these, though it took six weeks and I thought all of my audio needs would be fulfilled, I’d be cooking while listening to podcasts, chilling to some lofi beats while doing laundry, able to Zoom and move my hands while I talk without violently ripping out my ear buds as my arm gets caught on the chord – you know, normal stuff

Since remote learning began and the outside world boxed itself into a gallery view of my colleagues, friends, and family, I have found regulating my audio a never-ending sense of frustration. I think part of this is because of my overdeveloped sense of responsibility to not completely block all sound from the rest of the house. If I lived alone, I’d probably just wear the heavy noise-cancelling headphones all day and never have saved up for the Air Pods.

Obviously this makes me totally vulnerable to all the baddies that stalk me in the silence.

The variations in hardware, their settings, their usage of microphone and volume controls, have so thoroughly confused my Windows 10 machine that it’s quite possible the keyboard that stopped working on my laptop may resurrect itself just out of sheer frustration. (Wouldn’t that be nice, Lenovo Yoga – don’t buy one).

The interesting thing, for me – maybe not for you, is how important sound has become in this new isolated world. The funneling of it, the volume of it, the staticy feel of it, the blocking of it; the wall of sound is part barrier and part passage way for my professional and creative life and my hardward is making things difficult.

I have a two monitor set-up (the laptop and then a 8-year-old monitor that was my father’s). The difference in resolution plays a bit of havoc with my eyesight. The large monitor is glare-free and slightly dimmer, making it easier to read for long stretches. The laptop screen (also of the touch variety) is crisp and bright and usually plays second fiddle. If I prioritize that one, my head starts to hurt. The other way around, no problem. I got the visual part sussed. Why is the audio so hard?

The trouble is with me in thinking that the Air Pods (or any piece of hardware) was going to solve a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. A hard lesson I need to learn is to allow myself space to retract from the rest of the house and to set boundaries. There is not a constant assault on my time or attention, but my own sense of the possibility limits me and the amount of concentration I can put into any one task. Pre-pandemic I could escape to a library, coffee shop, my office, any place. My options are limited (as are everyone else’s and please, see my privilege disclaimer in the first paragraph because I know kids make things tougher). My hyper-focus (a symptom, not a feature) is stuttering and I’m adapting to a new way of thinking and processing. Getting the sound around me to work on a consistent basis is just one more way I can delude myself for a while and get at least one thing accomplished.

Occasionally I go through my Google Drive and pull out these little snippets and thoughts that, at the time, must have been so important that I saved it. This is that.

July, 11th, 2018: The American Flea Market is the perfect place to get a sense of this mythical economic anxiety. But you have to come early. Not so early that the lines of tables and cars laden with used wares and treasure haven’t begun to form. And not so late that the hustle and bustle of making and getting deals performs it’s own late capitalism dance, screaming swans squawking stop the discarded consumer food some idiot bought at retail price.

Why should I pay $10 for a shirt when I can get one for $1?
Why should anyone?
Who bought the shirt first?

No you have to come right before official opening time when the ratio of set up to string up is about 2-1. Here is where you’ll see dealers buying from other dealers people struggling to sort their “vintage” rust covered tools, DVDs I lovingly sorted into shoe boxes and wrinkled WalMart bags carefully stacked near the cash box ready for the next sucker. Here is Trumps America, with cars stream with confederate flags not too far down from the stall selling a book with the n-word in the title (Rare! $7.00). A man wearing a shirt that says he stands for his flag and kneels for the fallen looks over his collection of glass wear and paperbacks while snippets of Spanish wash over the gravel and no one seems to mind – yet. It’s morning in America and the sun is bright and the dealing is good.

Occasionally I go through my Google Drive and pull out these little snippets and thoughts that, at the time, must have been so important that I saved it. This is that.

Feb 5th, 2018: I’m convinced that cyclists are just people who want to be horses: insane, in charge of only 50% of their appendages at a time, and fleeing from some invisible terror.

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.

[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.

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.

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!

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