I tried to holler back but it got stuck somewhere inside my head
Life as a graduate student is rough, but not usually rocked off its rails for too many reasons. I do a lot of research for class and for my job at the library. I wake up, feed my cat and walk to my graduate classes through my relatively safe-but-shabby college village tucked in between some of the richest neighborhoods in the country. I remain alert, after the most recent round of text messages from concerned friends (“Another jogger assaulted near the University- be careful”) but I rarely expect street harassment or assault in yet-unimaginable or preposterous forms.
My feminist beliefs coalesced in college when I took Introduction to Feminisms from Professor/Activist/World’s Honorary Grandmother Figure Bettina Aptheker in 2008. Twice a week I joined over 500 captivated students (and over 30 Teaching Assistants) to what was, arguably, my school’s only consistently packed lecture hall, attending Bettina’s class. We’d only find out in later quarters that the study of feminism included terms like lesbian continuum and hermeneutics. Jurisprudence, psychoanalysis and border politics were yet to come. Bettina’s lectures, told in rich, autobiographical prose, were all about the power of personal experience. The personal is political, she stated. Every week we learned why. As our collective consciousness raised, we were shown how not to hold it over others. I wrote my final paper for that course about compassion as a feminist tenet. My feminism is like an autopsy. Take care to honor the experience of learning from others. The past is so often painful, yet it remains within sight. Keep respectful distance.
I wrote with confidence. I found a voice, though it didn’t immediately surprise me with its wisdom. I still felt very young. But what typically happens to young feminists is this: they get a little older, engage with the world, exercise consent, and go about their business. Between Bettina’s first lecture and where I find myself today, I have read thousands of pages chronicling women’s experiences in poetry, science and technology, foreign political regimes, in freedom and imprisonment. In Feminist studies, complex terms exist to describe the relationship of anything to everything else. Scholars are forever in conversation with each other and with themselves, too, folding theory back onto itself to check for asymmetry that wears on dated logic like runs in stockings. To this day, stories of women and inequity renew the mantra: the personal is political. Young feminists get older and keep reading, writing and talking. Put another way: they wake up, feed their cats and walk to their graduate classes.
Graduate school is difficult, but the level of scholarship can be rewarding. I fall back on my old books and course readers more often as I seek footholds on this new, challenging terrain. My habits have bred my politics to be large, but shaky-legged, a baby giraffe. For the past several years I have studied and interpreted accessibility to human rights in many contexts. I have counted on the experiences of others more than my own. What of my weird, uncomfortable encounters on the street, or at the beach when girls are shot on school buses advocating for their education? How might my relatively comfortable life illuminate rhetorical injustices by any other way besides contrast?
Now I know, after getting hit in the head with a water balloon on my way home from the library by a pack of jeering fraternity idiots posted up on their crumbling balcony. I have to be simultaneously enraged and eloquent. I have to write about it until a suitable term emerges. I have to call it anything but stupid to claim my cartoon-like assault as proof of my political position. Women have rallied on more dignified grounds, one could argue, and on a much larger scale. I tried to holler back. I tried to claim, at the very least, my anger and confusion. I could see my quickly crafted retort in my throat, wedged breech, not moving. I mentally flipped through the Rolodex of Great Feminists, trying to do justice to at least one of them without hypothetically undoing the work of another. Everything blurred. Some guys just threw a water balloon at my head and laughed at me. I was a block away from my apartment. I kept walking, and when I got home I felt like writing for the first time in years.
When did I stop reading and writing? When did I stop deriving distinct pleasure from both? It feels like I’m a completely different person, and that person’s kind of an idiot.
Sometimes I go a whole day without speaking to anyone except the person at Trader Joe’s who asks how the day’s going (“Fine thank you”) or a couple of library patrons at work. I spend days inside my own head but the thoughts aren’t mine. I fill my awake brain with other people’s media. Radio, TV, mindless Internet news articles. When did creativity (and a little fucking humanism) become such a chore for me?
I have to train out of this behavior. I totally don’t recognize myself.
I went to Mount Wilson Observatory yesterday to see Nina and Nick. The mountain road up Angeles Crest Highway is gorgeous. Last evening it was clear, save for wisps of cotton-batting fog dipping in and out of the switchbacks on the road like a light blanket tangled around legs.
I got up the mountain to the five mile road, which was coned off for snow. Snow! There were some teenagers throwing big handfuls of it at each other. Nina met me at the cones and we drove up together over the freshly plowed pathway. I watched the temperature drop on the car’s thermometer- 39… 36… 35… 34… and we made it to the observatory gate, ice-blue telescope domes topped with white hats. They had gotten six inches that day.
We drank wine and played with the cat. Nick and I laughed away the evening while Nina cooked: Fennel Apple salad and an impressive meatloaf.
This morning, Nina and I hiked between Mt Wilson and Mt Lowe, connected by Mueller Tunnel, built in 1942 by the US Forest Service.
Tonight I’m making sweet potato curry and coconut rice for a dinner already spoiled by a cadbury egg from the drug store (and excited bites from the rice pot while the curry simmers away). Trying to maintain this bliss in the midst of final exams, papers and presentations.
On my drive back tonight, I noticed little earthly things that pulled me really quickly back down from mountain life, like license plate frames. I always scoff at vanity plates and frames that read shit like “I’m a princess//” “My other ride is a golf cart.” I do a silent cheer, though, whenever I see license plate frames from San Jose dealerships. “Good for you,” I think, “you got away, too.” One of my best friends had her baby two days ago. Welcome, baby Jack. Can’t wait to meet you. Some things just demand time at home. The rest of the time, I’m glad to be down here (especially at 5000 feet).
My favorite article in a while: Tony Schwartz explains in the NYT how taking breaks, sleeping, and other kinds of not working make us so much better at our work. Ninety-minute increments is the way to go apparently…
range finder target lock hit the crow for 100 points -he used to play russian roulette with our love unwind a cotton ball. use the good china for batting practice. wipe off last night’s mascara to up the batting average of your lashes. roll with poltergeist spiked punches. give yourself time for it to pass. this is not a public execution. this is not target practice with bodies. this is not a collapsing mine. this is trying to unsee death of your own spirit. the lady of the lake gave her eyes to the crow. wrapped her antlers in cotton batting, ran like a bull through the good china. -click click bang watch clouds morph watch grass grow watch paint dry -jackie o’s cotton hands, cotton suit he used to play russian roulette with my dallas days catch the lady in the crosshair, waterboard her in the dirty makeup lake of a stopped up sink. she never expected to grow up to be a padded wall. catch dirty makeup tears in a vodka bottle. grow a bottling plant sprout wings, bleach the grout, lick your teeth shadow box with cotton wrapped knuckles. don’t blame the force-fed goose for what tastes good. blame god for giving your invisibility so much weight- hit the crow during batting practice wear the cotton crown to the press conference.
I am reading a book titled “Being Female: The continuum of Sexualization” to work through the notion that objectification projects the largest part of the imagined self in the minds of women like me, in their early 20’s, than any other outside influence can produce.
So far, so good.
It starts in the tepid, chlorinated waters of seemingly normal socialization then careens all the way down the hill into straight-up violence. I need this time to think.
I meant to write all sorts of things this year, but I lived through them and now I am relaxing, jeans covered in flour, having just pulled a batch of corn cookies out of the oven. I am full and sleepy and I feel okay.
On days like these, I gulp ginger tea in a frenzy to make my stomach settle enough so I can fall asleep. I’m sure that once I do try to sleep, the garbage monsters will pop out to rouse me. Last sip has too much honey. My skin is salty from being in the sun today. I want to rinse my hair in river water. I want to drink rye whiskey out of the half shell of an oyster.