The Terminator?

I wore a Broad Street Run T-shirt to the corner store last night. While I was waiting for my egg foo young, another Black dude, about my height and build stood at the door, staring at me. I was focused on winning a match in this cheatin’ ass Yugioh Duel Links game on my phone, but I could feel his eyes on me the whole time. After I finished bustin’ that ass I looked up at the dude, and he didn’t turn away.

“Yo, you really ran that?” he asked.

“What?” I said. Here, I stood up, cause you never know with these kinds of things, better safe than sorry. The part of me willing to actually consider what he asked, or why I suddenly felt the need to be cautious was buried under years torment by other Black boys who were clearly not him, but also, somehow might be him if I let my guard down. I mean, I didn’t exactly think he was gonna sneak me while I sat, snatch my phone and run out of the store calling me a faggot; I’m too big for that now is what I often tell myself. Still, it makes me sick to my stomach that the thought could even cross my mind.

“The shirt,” he said, sensing my confusion.

Duh, dumbass, I thought.

Turns out he was a runner. We ended up bullshitting about the near death experience that was the Broad Street Run two years ago, in the cold and the rain, the ankle sprains and tight calves, soaking wet socks and the glory of finally making it out on the other end for free pretzels. We reveled in a soft, yet shared trauma that we both chose, and left it at that.

The other day this dude I went to middle school with checked into my job, as dudes I went to middle school with often do. Nothing emergent, probably an STD or something; I mustered the strength not to investigate. He didn’t recognize me, but I sure as hell recognized him. I had this really visceral reaction to seeing him though, like I needed to crush his trachea in my palm and then stomp his face into the concrete out front until I passed out from fatigue. After being smacked and antagonized to oblivion in the schoolyard, I used to sit and stare at him in class, imagining how much force it would take to crush all fourteen of his facial bones. I was really into bones back then. I also realize this isn’t a normal reaction. Especially not fifteen years after fact. I think it’s funny though how I never worry about writing negatively in regards to such people, because I’m not entirely sure they can read. I worry that I derive too much satisfaction from this assumed illiteracy. I worry about how often such illiteracy, and worse, is ascribed to me.  

I have only found the kind of trusting, emotionally intelligent relationship I desire–the kind that at least some women have offered–with one man in twenty-eight years. And I’m unsure if it would have occurred had we not deployed to Iraq together. And hated most everything together. That isn’t to demand the forging of bonds through collective loathing, or trauma, but I continue to have difficulty loving people who lack the grit, I imagine, that comes with making it out on the other end.   

 

Emergency departments are dumping grounds for intoxicated and/or mentally ill patients. Wet is poppin’ right now. And I can’t remember a time where North Philly lacked either substances or the need to use them. A few years ago, when a patient attacked another employee, I physically restrained said patient an he had a seizure in my arms. It was disgusting both physically and emotionally. Because I hesitated to stop him from harming another employee in the first place. Because of the fear that I’d hurt him. Because I wasn’t sure who or what I was doing it for.

We carried him to a room and strapped into a bed so he could be worked up, after which security came. Before said event, this patient, a Black man about the same age as me, sat “within arms reach” of me yelling and spitting and threatening me for several hours. He called me a bitch, a pussy, several faggots, my boyfriend a bitch ass faggot, my mom and her mom nasty sluts, chopped up my dicked work sneakers (which was kinda funny, I’m not gonna lie), berated my kids for being pussies if my faggot ass had any, etc. Nothing new. Not the worst or most unusual experience.  

In those regularly occurring situations, I do try to let it go. I think about the things they’d say to the women instead, albeit often less aggressively, when they think there’s a chance of fucking. I think, this nigga probably can’t even read, to my own dismay–both because of how white people assume intellectual superiority over me and my needing to do so in order to feel good in that situation. I think that people think he and I are alike. I think that people at work don’t think he and I are alike, so they say not-so-coded racist shit around me, thinking it’s safe. I want people to think we’re alike, because we are. It’s not safe.

But sometimes I want it to be. I want people (some) to feel at ease around me and it takes great effort. Whether it’s because of what’s been fed to me and internalized about Black men–the conditioning of my own conditioning–or dumb people and stereotypes, or the legitimate fear that a women might have of any two-hundred pound, six-foot-six man. No matter how many methods I’ve developed for social shrinkage, the hypervisibility always bubbles up. I know that white women diving into grass when they see me jogging, or people following me around stores isn’t me, it’s them, but still.

Sometimes I’m also conflicted about being the proxy defense against other men, specifically Black ones. It feels more complicated than the bouts in Black Boy / Invisible Man though. With increasing regularity I am tasked with providing a buffer between, most often, a White woman and Black man. There are times I question it, and times I don’t. With friends it’s automatic, almost instinctual, with strangers, less so. Sometimes said man is a rapey White guy on a college campus, as was the case when I was asked to guard the writing center because he was prowling and had sexually harassed one of the tutors. Sometimes it’s the likelihood of male violence, like in Antigua, when the women at The Snug would have me stay after closing to ward off aggression. I never felt dumb, or used in Antigua–I’d already made friends with them and was gonna stay whether they asked or not, but the workplace stuff (because it happens at the hospital all the time too) is a bit more complicated.

There’s no precedent for, or guarantee that campus security can or would do better–who, not coincidentally, questioned my belonging at SJU in the first place, always acting threatened until I gave them my I.D., then questioning me afterwards in disbelief. Still, it is a task they are trained, paid and legally protected to perform. I also have to think, who the fuck am I? The Terminator? Do I appear ready for battle? And what happens when I am forced to respond physically? Is everyone going to be absent at my arraignment for these assault charges? As they were as I sweat it out with a lawyer because of the hospital incident?  

Sometimes I don’t know what it is, and sometimes I ponder whether I even have the right to feel conflicted about it at all. Considering the whole grand scheme of things. And as helpless and angry as I felt watching my mother, and especially my grandmother routinely beaten by men when I was a kid, it warms me to be trusted as a protector in that way, until of course, I consider the circumstances that make it absolutely necessary. Until I think of the sheer joy at chipping this kid Kevin’s tooth after he slapped my sister. Until he went home crying. Until Earl was so proud of me for the only time I can remember.

But when a random White woman at a bar volunteers me to her defense, against what she perceives as a threat, but is really just another Black man, minding his own business, it’s…problematic. And then I’m tasked with triple checking against my own biases and hers.

Sometimes, at the hospital, a nurse will demand that I, and not security, become the buffer for a potentially violent patient and absorb all the complications that come along with it. Sometimes they’re not violent, just Black. Sometimes they’re both. And every time I can’t help wondering all of what’s implied about both me and them. About how much I might actually want to hurt the aggressor and how triflin’ I’d feel afterwards.

Which is to say I’ve never said no, never turned down a request, until today when I passed the buck to another man in the department, after suggesting that we enlist the security guards for that purpose. Even then I think of how excited security appears to hurt someone and I feel nasty, seeing a little too much of myself in both them and the mentally ill/high as fuck patient.

Perhaps I’m trying to capture things that I’ll never be able to. Either way, I’m way past 2,000 words today!

About Place: Philly

Today at the barbershop, this quinquagenarian hotep nigga said “I don’t care what nobody say. I ain’t eatin’ no pussy, that shit nasty.”

It was mid conversation that I hadn’t been paying attention to until then, so when I turned my head, squinting to see if he was for real, Johnny was like “Ignore that nigga, he a lil’ ass boy,” and just kept cutting my hair.

Hotep went on with the hotep shit in the hotep corner.

I went back to trying to think about place and writing, a prompt that began with Kiese asking about it in a roundtable at VONA. It was something that I, without interrogating it, had always kind of tried to escape, but not really.

I’d gone to the same barbershop since the first time I ever got my hair cut, even when they moved to three different locations, all underneath the EL along Frankford Ave. The first one was next to Birds, Birds, Birds pet shop where I almost loved every animal in the kingdom, imagining myself as a young, Black David Attenborough or Steve Irwin; it was also across the street from the little magic shop where I got vampire fangs for Halloween and those little plastic frogs that you leave in water overnight so they turn into these big gelatinous toads. It was next to the karate studio where I tried and failed at the week-long free trial and across from the best penny candy store Frankford ever had. Just two blocks away from the VHS rental place that I probably still owe money to.

Deni Park hill’s near vertical drop was behind it, where I used to rollerblade until getting jumped at said park where my friend Jonathan got his basketball taken. But two blocks further was the K-Mart where Jonathan and I got caught trying to steal Gundam Wing model kits (Death Scythe and Wing Zero from Endless Waltz, specifically).

The next barbershop location was next to the pawn shop where my Ganny sold the video games and Christmas presents. Between there and the third location is the alleyway where I first saw her with a John, the same alleyway the kids used for catch a girl freak a girl when the sun was up. Foulkrod street is on that next corner where the #5 bus stops, where I got off early in ninth grade because Ganny was on the bus high and I acted like I didn’t know her in front of my fake friends. Further down Foulkrod street, across from the fire station was where I met my first unrequited love, this tall, thick ass girl named Bianca who looked like she was 25 when we were twelve. I always made excuses to go around there to her corner store to get two dollar cheesesteaks even though they weren’t as good as the ones closer to Glenloch street, across from Red Brick projects and Harding Middle School, where I earned my first shred of respect because I was the first middle schooler who could dunk. Then I cut my hand on the net-less bucket rims across the street and it was the first time I ever got stitches, but we stopped going to that park after someone busted Jonathan in the head with a rock and ran away.

Until of course, I stopped there ten years later for a pickup game and one of my little brother’s friends lifted his shirt to show the gun on his waist and said “Yo old head, you want me to handle that nigga?” because some dude scored on me while we were playing man-to-man defense and started talking shit, as we all do anyway. Closer to Glenloch but still on Torresdale was the first place I was ever threatened with a gun, getting off the #56 bus some dude pulled his on me because he didn’t like the way I was looking at him, when really I was looking behind that nigga at the line for Rita’s Water Ice. I was just out of point blank range and I ran into the street towards home, then the bus pulled off, blocking his sight to me and mine to him, but when it passed I was long gone, and even though I only lived two blogs away I zigzagged through streets I shouldn’t have even been on in case he followed. When I got home my grandfather told me to stop being a pussy. Not too long after that my little brother was getting bullied by some kid on Granite street and when I went to rectify it their older brother flashed his waistband to end the conversation.

As I rode my bike to Amalgam thinking about place I passed through Kensington, where I discovered that White people do drugs too, and years later got my first tattoo. I rode over the bridge that crosses Frankford Creek where I used to hunt for Red Eared Sliders and frogs, never knowing they were invasive species. I kept going around there after I thought I outgrew the creek critters because I thought I was in love with this girl Maria, and the KFC by there had the freshest chicken.

And recently I’ve been stuck trying to finish my memoir. There are plenty of pages, but it’s out of focus; half of them are all over the place. But maybe place is the subject, or should be. It’s funny because when Aisha was my advisor she kept bringing up the weird references to specific places that would come up even in speculative fiction, though I rarely, if ever, noticed it. My sense of place has always felt trapped like in Holmesburg prison where my mother’s water broke, dwarfed by writing that explored real places, that other people knew and talked about. I think of Roberto Bolano’s Mexico City, Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward’s Mississippi–hell the South for a lot of Black writers–I think of Zadie Smith’s London, of Samuel Delaney’s Times Square, Jaquira Diaz’s Puerto Rico and Miami, Junot Diaz’s D.R. and New Jersey, Aravind Adiga’s India, and so on and so forth.

Even though the first piece of memoir to  get published came from an assignment where I had to write about place, I never repeated the exercise. I’m not sure if it felt formulaic or why, maybe fear or laziness or denial. But as I prepare to leave Philly again physically, it’s hard not to accept how much this place has meant to me. I’m reminded of what it’s worth, good and bad, and I sit here to do nothing but try.

VONA Reflection

I am someone who has never truly had family–biological or otherwise my entire life–the concept/building of which has failed more times than I can count. Because of this, most of my energy has been devoted to subjugating myself in order to squeeze into some space or another, deferring to monolithic Blackness or  making White people feel safe, comfortable, etc. Anything rather than being completely alone. A couple of months ago, after switching antidepressants again, my shrink had me create a safety plan and I wasn’t sure what to put on it, so I scribbled down some bullshit and read it with enthusiasm like I was at a conference. I thought of hope, as a concept related to interpersonal connection, to be reserved for children and normies.

A lot of that has changed though. After a week-long nerd fest, boo loving with a gang of hyper intellectual, emotionally available, queer POC writers, coming back to work this week feels like falling backwards off the edge of a tiny VONA planet. Back to a world that lacks not only interiority, but the means by which to discover it. It’s hard to conceptualize that when most of my relationships were with static humans who order me to change. The whole VONA week though, I felt more comfortable, more safe, more seen, than I have in twenty eight years.

Now I can’t suppress my laughter when someone asks if I’ve watched “Underground,” nor can I suppress the tears when “We Belong Together” comes on. I can distinctly hear the voices of the Spec Fic (Rocketship) crew in everything I read alone, all double dutching into the critique as I underline passages and scribble in the margins, Tananarive facilitating her ass off, nodding her head, because it’s like she said; she chose us.  

I wanted to write a reflection on VONA but I didn’t really think I could capture it. I still don’t. Then I couldn’t write anything else until I wrote something about it, so I set a timer and started this rambling.

VONA has taught me not to suppress everything I think, feel or desire, especially if it’s in service to the dominant culture. VONA has taught me that our stories matter. VONA has taught me that I do have family, and that finding them is worth it. VONA has given me the ability to write slightly less grim story endings. VONA has encouraged me towards self-care and away from canceling shrink appointments. VONA has led led me towards global community and away from settling. VONA has changed my life. 

VONA may have saved my life.

I can’t thank everybody enough: The Spec Fic (Rocketship) crew, Tananarive, the VONA staff, hell, every single person I spoke to in passing or at the open mic. Ya’ll are the world’s greatest.

Where’s Grandma?

When the kid asked me where grandma was, I started off honest.

“I don’t know,” I said.

I’ve always been against the unnecessary lying to children: Santa Claus, Easter Bunnies, etc. Still, his reply made me shift.

“That’s the second time she’s disappeared,” he said.

It was funny because I’d never spoken to him about it, though he typically realizes if/when people lie to him. Other innocence preserving adults in his life do it all the time, then, while they sit proudly atop their accomplishment, believing they’ve tricked him, he comes and tells me how silly they are.

I decided to tell him grandma was at home. That’s where I guessed anyway, so it wasn’t a complete lie. She’d been staying with me for a while, helping with the kid while I was at work. The night before, she paused the television, a rarity for her, and asked me what was wrong.

“I just been noticing you seem really down,” she said.

“I’m just dealing with a lot right now,” I told her.

She explained that she needed me to talk to her more. About what? I thought. There was no way I could translate cultural capital to her–that, after all, was always the most dividing force between me and my family, especially her.

“You’re just the least reliable person I know,” I told her. “Why would I be leaning on you for anything?”

She denied my claim and it would have taken all night to cite the evidence, so I just said fuck it and told her everything. I dug through the sources of all my current anxiety, anger, fear, loathing. I spent most of my night telling her all of the things people always claim they would like to know. It was exhausting. She told me that I should talk to her more.

“My life is changing now, and things are different,” she said. “You can talk to me, and I can help.”

I felt an uncomfortable relief. Sure, I had gotten some things off my chest, and my mother, either absent or deleterious over twenty eight years, had listened? I tried to let myself believe in her. My guard was down as she told me her own story; not once did I step in during teachable moments or de-bunk any of her logic on the spot. I just listened. Afterwards, I told her I was going to bed and she turned the T.V. down without me having to complain about it.

 

The next day when I got home from work, she and my son were gone. I called her phone several times but it was off. She’d known I was dealing with money problems and kept making offers to buy groceries, saying that she and Jojo might be at the market and she’d call me to pick them up. They weren’t. Her phone was off. I was furious, but I tried to act like I wasn’t. I sat down on the couch and listened to myself breathe. Then, I sent my brother a text message to ask if he knew anything. Turns out Jojo was there, playing with his kid and I’d have to just drive over and pick him up, but I didn’t discover that until later. He didn’t know where my mother was, but said she took his girl’s transpass and hadn’t returned, though she said she’d be back in the morning. Her phone was still off and I had work at 7am the next day, dependent on her making sure Jojo got on the bus.

Then she called me from some unknown number.

“Come get him,” she said.

“Where is my kid?” I asked her.

“Come get him,” she said.

I knew she was high, but I kept trying to reason with her like a dumbass. She kept repeating the same things over and over, telling me to come get him, but not from where. During the call is when my brother responded to my last text, letting me know Jojo was with him. Even then, I didn’t snap on my mother, curse her out and hang up the phone like I’d done before. I just listened.

“What time you need me back?” she asked.

“I have work at seven.”

“Okay, I’ll make sure Jojo gets on the bus in the morning,” she said.

After I hung up the phone, I called work and told them I wouldn’t be able to come in the next day.

An Antagonistic Relationship with Women’s Bodies

Something happened when rolling out of my early twenties. I stopped watching porn, became completely disinterested in strip clubs and began to feel kind of disenchanted with the mouthful of naked and half-naked women’s bodies strewn all across my T.V. screen, computer, and even cell phone, via bootygram. My disenchantment didn’t come along with a decreased sexual interest in women, or lowered libido; nor was it accompanied by some long lost respectability politics; if anything it’s quite the opposite. Until the other day, I’d only interrogated it mildly, joking with Drake about why I can’t really fuck with Instagram. There’s just too many bathing suits, and yoga pants, and new tattoos, and freakum’ dresses, and poppin’ ass lip gloss, and halter tops, and “look at my new abs,” and “gettin’ it in with these squats,” and Amber Rose fine ass all oiled up with that neat ass pussy hair straight out the barber shop, which somehow–thanks to child fetishizing ass European beauty standards–some people referred to as a nasty bush.

She posted the photo to raise awareness for the 3rd annual SlutWalk at the end of September, a feminist march that calls for an end to slut shaming, victim blaming, and the broader myriad of atrocities directed at women’s bodies. Of course, niggas were hatin’. Piers Morgan and others, were quick to denounce Amber Rose’s pseudo naked body as “not feminist,” which is some whole other shit I don’t really have the time or patience to go into right now–and plenty of women continue to do so better than I could anyway–but suffice it to say, the vitriol directed at her made me feel kind of ashamed at my lack of indulgence. It also proved her entire fucking point.

So I looked at the photo a few times, well, like more than a handful of times. It was nice.

What I wanted though really, was to separate myself from Piers and them. I knew the reason I didn’t spend as much time enjoying women’s bodies from a distance wasn’t because I thought it was un-feminist. Most recently, considering points I agreed with in Caitlin Moran’s How to Be A Woman, and Emily Witt’s Future Sex, I can at least believe in a theoretical framework of vagina centered sexual encounters, and imagine an autonomy, on the woman’s end that has absolutely nothing to do with me, or even with sex. My two major excuses for abstaining are that it’s such a huge fucking distraction, one that can be immensely time consuming and I’ve got enough of that, what with googling shit about the Arctic Skua and watching those damn pygmy goat parkour videos. The other one is that I feel like I’m contributing to a culture that values physical beauty above all else, and cares little for the damaging consequences.

It used to be–in my early twenties–that I’d do all kinds of shit at the whim of an attractive woman if it meant the possibility of sex: drive three hours one way, go on expensive dates that I hated, and generally subscribe all of my time to her will. And the physical beauty, by that I mean that global type Beyonce, Eva Mendes, Rosario Dawson kind of thing, was all that needed to be there. When I tell people that whom I’ve only known for the past few years they think I’m lying. It seems unfathomable, even to me, that I spent so much time chasing booty and little else. Obviously, much of that desire for “more” tends to change with age, experience, etc., for men and women. But still, it feels like if I’m in the crowd of niggas anonymously tossing hearts and likes and dollars into the fray, or even increasing views at the flesh bar–let alone the fuckboys of virtual rape in the comments section–I gotta be contributing to some shit that makes me feel, and maybe should make me feel filthy.

I know it’s bullshit, though it gets even more selfish than that because every time I’ve been disappointed by some crush upon discovery that they’re as dumb as a level 1 Geodude, I think, just for a second–after considering that beach house scene in Erasure where Thelonious decides not to fuck this girl after seeing the shitty book, that he wrote, on her night stand [so many fucking layers]–that maybe if she wasn’t garnering all that praise for being so damn fine, she’d have read a book or something. She’d have done something else, cared about something else, worked on something else, thought about something else. Clearly, this thought is problematic for many reasons, some simple like, cause there’s Zadie Smith, etc, but the thought exists. My brain has created–with little outside help (maybe?)–an inverse relationship between the societal rewards of attractiveness, and the thanklessness of dogged intellectualism.

Okay, maybe some of that initial assumption that I so often need to quell is just jealousy, from being teased relentlessly for existing as a too ugly/skinny youth, then overcompensating by being like “i’m smarter than you,” and making fun of cooler kids in class who bullied me, but struggled to read out loud on the spot. Fuck you Terrance. But I’m getting off track.

At the same time though, while I’m all trying not to enjoy these bikinis too much, free the motherfucking nipple son. The nicer people and more humane working conditions aren’t the only thing that make Barcelona beach summers magnificent, and I was certainly not mad when that rumor about Ocean City Maryland going topless started. But alas, it was just a rumor. Well, at least there’s still that Amber Rose photo.

Oh Graduate School

 

Before class even started I just knew. I just fucking knew. We were to discuss Citizen in a majority classroom and I should have prepped myself ahead of time to completely disconnect, because that day especially, I was just too tired.

I’m definitely not the first negro to step foot into a graduate classroom and, within five minutes hear some shit like “racism isn’t real, because it doesn’t solve anything.”

And yes, the context was just like that. Absent. Shit was out there, floating somewhere, but the professor wasn’t prepared to find it, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to excavate that shit from the white imagination. I started jotting notes on other stuff, revising poems in my laptop, but the rabbit hole just widened and I couldn’t un-hear any of the distraction.

“Talking about it just makes it worse by giving it a platform,” another student said.

It’s as if history was abolished and the first ever conversation about race in these here United States was taking place.

“I’ve never met anyone who used the N word, so this doesn’t make any sense,” I heard next.

“Yeah,” another student chimed in. “If you look for things hard enough, you’ll create it.”

Word?

I also discovered that another white student was accused of being racist for not giving change to a homeless Black man. It sounded like she was hurt by the man’s hasty conclusion, so she needed to point it out, this “reverse racism,” in order to plain and simply refute the entire American Lyric. Problem is, it essentially worked. The same girl, who is a public school teacher, also charged rap music as the primary issue in impoverished Black and Latino communities–again, as if this has never been discussed, critiqued, dissected, refuted.

Aside from the students with overwhelmingly racist and/or un-critical, un-read opinions, the classroom was silent. While I felt my usual responsibility to say things, to ground the conversation in the text or history or theory or even fucking reality, I was not the teacher. And this is not the first, nor will it be the last time I found myself in such a situation (as evidenced by Amanda emailing me and asking “hey why didn’t you say anything?” Since she did try to fight the good–but inevitably futile, as a student–fight, alone). I just told her I was tired. It is not my, nor our responsibility to set the tone for, and subsequently manage the graduate classroom so often.

To be clear, engaging conversation, debate and textual analysis between the students should be standard, but in most of the graduate classrooms I’ve entered, there isn’t even a solid base to start on. This happens, in part because of an assumption by the professor that we’re all adults, which leads to a less regimented, less lecture based classroom, potentially a great thing–with a plan, and a backup plan–but it can’t completely absolve the responsibility to teach. I welcome the opportunity for people to say dumb shit; that can be lots of fun! But the problem is when the dumb, the racist, the sexist rhetoric are the only things being said, and subsequently remain legitimate in not only the mind of the student who states them, but sometimes the rest of the class as well. And the intellectual gaps, the blind spots, not only remain empty, but there’s nothing stopping them from getting bigger. And it keeps happening.

“There is no racism in the military,” another student began. “Because there are no mirrors.”

For real? I mean, I have a lot to say about that last one, but I’m gonna leave it alone for now since I’m writing a whole damn novel about it already.

We need look no further than every single thing surrounding the last election cycle–and its raw sewage fallout that rises higher by the day–to understand that American adults still need to be taught, a lot.

“Isn’t it exploitative to talk about Trayvon Martin, after having the Hennessey Youngman thing in there?” a student said.

 

I began by using Citizen as a reference because of its popularity as a recent Black text, that from what I can tell, is being taught in plenty classrooms across the country. It’s also a useful reference because the lack of teaching, of lecture on background, or guiding the conversation, or even using dumb shit as teachable moments in the classroom is much more prevalent when the text(s) in question are not specifically about, or catered to cis White males. This is of course, obvious to some of us. Any time a brown person, or problems that directly hinder brown people are at the center of a text, I’ve noticed a distinct lack of seriousness in the preparation for, and consequently, the deconstruction of said text(s), which in majority classrooms, is the exact opposite of what’s necessary. It is of course, the same lack of seriousness with which my own intellectual ability has been regarded throughout my entire education. The two: lack of seriousness surrounding Black texts, as well as Black intellectual ability, have provided some trolling amusement though, as I’ve looked out into a room of peach-colored frustration while presenting a rhetorical analysis of Afro-Pessimism–which resulted in some very cooling, flower scented White tears, that I bathed in for the remainder of the semester. Make no mistake though, you’re liable to walk into a graduate class and get not taught all kinds of shit.

Sometimes I feel guilty though for not saying anything, especially in the middle of a classroom, but I had already decided that I wouldn’t constantly teach anymore–unless ya’ll offering a tenure track job–at the cost of my own mental health. Aisha kept saying that just because folks need to learn, it doesn’t obligate you to teach. Clearly, that’s true. But I had to get exhausted enough to realize it’s utility, and how it might allow for a more productive, less emotionally fatigued self.  

Future Sex

So I just finished Emily Witt’s Future Sex and I don’t always know what to make of it. It is at once an inviting exploration of 21st century sexuality through a feminist lens, while also mildly voyeuristic or naive at times. The latter, I think is due to Witt’s own personality; she’s pretty tame, especially when compared to the subjects she writes about as well as myself or other poly women who came to mind while I was reading her book. Maybe that viewpoint gives her a useful perspective though. The book feels like both journalism and memoir, and even though there are huge swaths of it where she isn’t even a character at all. I’m interested in the very subtle way she depicts her own change from beginning to end; the complications and contradictions of it aren’t hard to find, she doesn’t hide it as I might have expected from the start of the book. The openness with which she speaks of her own feelings in relation to the way she’s been trained to think about female sexuality by the society we live in, mirrors the way many of her subjects–from porn stars to average people in open relationships–speak about sex to each other. Her voice, interestingly, reminds me of dating a stereotypical midwesterner, who eventually conceives that god might not be real and that M&M doesn’t stand for monogamy and missionary.

I wanted the book to be more of a memoir, to divulge more of her insides, but that was clearly not its intent. Instead, the personal moments seem to have come out of her own awareness that implicating herself, especially given her own subject position, might be necessary in order to give the book validity and strengthen her understanding of the culture she was reporting on. Not like in a Tom Wolfe kind of way or anything, but she does a little more than just dip her feet in. At times, the balance between reportage and the personal seems off, especially towards the end. The sentence structure got much more simple, though it was in the midst of a long chapter following three friends who worked at google through their polyamorous relationship. I suppose that the more complex sentence structures from the beginning and middle of the book might have made the three individuals and their partners as well, difficult to follow. It did get tiresome though, when say, twenty sentences in a row begin with “I” or another proper subject to which the reader doesn’t feel close enough to.

It was definitely a worthwhile read though, if anything for the way in which she moves through and explores the discomfort, and consequently the unthought in our sexual experience–that it’s still difficult to get people, even the most liberal–to speak honestly about, including the depth to which Witt does and simultaneously does not speak of herself. I’m left mostly with considering how best to drop most of the journalistic endeavors in my own memoir though. It’s funny because I’m constantly worried about the limits of personal experience, but when reading Witt’s book all I wanted was to see the balance between reportage and interiority flipped.

Chris Cornell and Crying

Sad things and sad people are more pleasant, more real, because they’re more relatable; Chris Cornell was no exception. The first song I ever learned to play on guitar was “I Am The Highway,” and to this day it’s really the only song I can sing and play simultaneously. Later, “Heavens Dead” was the first song I ever cried to. I was lonely and trying not to drink and hadn’t been sleeping well for some time and a doc at the VA fucked around and gave me some Trazodone. Half a pill later I was glued to my bed, sweat burning my eyes while all the metal in my apartment glowed red and smoke sifted in beneath my bedroom door because I thought I left the burners and oven on, but then the oven blew up, my dog and kids along with it and my ears rang but I couldn’t get up to do anything about it so I just laid there cold and wet with sweat, afraid to stand even when my limbs started working again.

I took a shower and tucked the Trazodone away in a cabinet, then I stretched out on the floor listening to Chris Cornell and the only reason I noticed I was crying was because I felt so much better. I used Audioslave’s music, namely the octave range and lyrics of Chris Cornell’s voice to make me feel less lonely, like I was a human worth being, worth thinking things that not every normal person I knew agreed with. Essentially, I got over my frustrations with the blissful ignorance of my neighbors by thinking, now this fucking guy, he gets it; he sounds like I feel. And I know I’m not the only one; that’s what I love about art.

All day and night as my brain deconstructs the nuance of thousands of conversations, situations, stories, feelings, expressions, theories and material items–both good and bad, though without my permission either way–art, primarily music, is the only means by which I can stop deconstructing what was, is or could be, and actually breathe a little. Listening to “Heavens Dead” probably helped me breathe a lot.

Before I got rid of that Trazodone for good, I’d gotten really frustrated with the lack of sleep and angry about a bunch of other activities of daily human: failed relationships, but mostly the inevitable growing apart from all of my friends, who were the closest thing I’d ever known to family. I think it was more sad because then, and even now, it still feels like I’m the only one noticing the disconnects in what we say or care about and how we think or feel (if and when a male friend is even able to talk about feelings beyond a superficial level). We’ve grown in opposite directions, and some not at all. Anyways, upon realizing this I tried the Trazodone again, maybe a handful of them and passed out, but I woke up in the middle of the night, exhausted and vomited next to the dog. Then I trashed the Trazodone out and put on Out of Exile.

In no way am I prescribing Chris Cornell’s voice as a cure for depression; it doesn’t always help and has varying layers of effectiveness. But it is at times, a relief to know that there are other options.

Is Marvel allergic to Medical Consultants?

I mean, for real. I love Rosario Dawson/Claire, and I’ve heard she’s a great person in real life but I have to draw the line somewhere. Half-way through Marvel’s “The Iron Fist” I had come to accept the global lack of plot and/or character motivation, deciding to finish it only because:

A: Brandon is in it, on like episode twelve, and

B: It’s a preamble to the “Defenders” series

But still, I couldn’t help but cringe after Danny, the Iron Fist Rand, gets beat up in the back of a truck by stock bad guy #17 and causes the archetypal Russian chemist–whose daughter is of course being held captive by shadow corporation #23 so that he will help flood the streets with fire ass heroin–to be stabbed by stock bad guy #17, resulting in the classic sucking chest wound. The script, fine, expected it, whatever. The problem is that Danny takes said Russian chemist to secret superhero helper nurse Claire who decides that the only way to deal with his sucking chest wound is with a credit card.

“Do you have your credit card?” she asks.

Now clearly, there’s the money pun with Claire requesting billionaire Danny’s physical credit card to save someone’s life. It’s supposed to elevate this situation, add layers and shit, but it doesn’t. It’s just too far from practical. Remember when everyone was flipping shit about the whole pen-style emergency crics on medical shows like “ER”? The credit card chest seal improvisation far exceeds the standards of ridiculous, yes, even on a super hero show–most of which, by the way, are liminal fantasy, so the rest of the world does follow the rules of physics, etc. I wasn’t that upset at first though, even while staring at the credit card and gauze taped lightly–not even two inches mind you–around the wound, blood and air doing whatever it wants, however it wants on the Russian chemist’s chest.

The real problem is that they got my man back to their apartment and then left the sloppy credit card/gauze chest seal in place, not that it was or could have been working anyway. Claire was like, fuck checking my interventions. And even stranger, in the house stocked with, at minimum, food and water, there wasn’t any saran wrap? Was there no plastic in the entire house, or the the bodega down the street? Claire couldn’t walk into the clean utility closet at her old hospital and grab one of the Atrium kits? Not even a few fourteen gauge needles and chest seals? It’s just too ridiculous to not be distracting.

Of course, some people will be like, why does it matter? Well, just to start, it’s a tad troubling when such low quality art, narrative that is loosely bound to the world of nerdom that I call home is even acceptable. When Marvel studios won’t even bother to phone a friend for life-or-death scenes with characters that we’re supposed to care about, at least tangentially, what the fuck is the point of even creating the story? The tension dissolves. The plot–if there was one to begin with–would wither away. We just aren’t being taken serious as fans or even viewers, and it’s kind of sad.

Black Zombie Girl Magic.

I only recently discovered that I wasn’t the only one engaging “The Girl With All The Gifts” with critical race theory in mind. I wondered though, why a little Black girl who destroys the entire human world as we know it–see white civil society–didn’t get more attention. Negative attention is what I would have guessed. It didn’t do very well in the box office in the UK, and I’m tempted to delve into that whole thing a little more. Many of the reviews for the movie adaptation focus on smart zombies and such, and yes it is an interesting/novel idea, but I have to say, the race swap between Ms. Justineau and Melanie changes the whole fucking game.

 

Melanie, played by Sennia Nanua, is part of an ongoing experiment involving child zombies with partial sentience: partial because they’re still liable to lose control and eat humans if tempted by scent, though often times, Melanie proves to be much more intelligent than her full human counterparts. In the book, Melanie was white and Ms. Justineau was Black. The swap of these two characters for the movie–who I feel were both cast very well–works as much more than just a diversity plug for the big screen though. Melanie, throughout the whole film is treated as less than human; she is caged and her body is forfeit in the pursuit of human ambitions which she is not only excluded from, but whose success would mean the destruction of her entire species.

 

Sound familiar?
Still, she cooperates. She tries. She plays her part and saves the lives of her human companions after the facility where she is being held burns down. The most fantastic thing though, is that she figures out that no matter how hard she tries, even in spite of her relationship with Ms. Justineau, they will never see her as a person. So what does she do with that? She’s not a person. She’s something better, so she does better. Only in science fiction could this young Black girl achieve such personhood because we aren’t even ready to conceive what it would look like in real life. Melanie realizes that her worth isn’t based on something as empty as “human” which only exists really, because of its ability to compare what is not human, what is other. So, Melanie burns the whole fucking world down, just like we deserve. She literally stands over the white man and tells him, “it’s just not yours anymore” as he dies. Better yet, the benevolent liberal of this tale, Ms. Justineau takes her rightful place in the cage, as Melanie uses her body to teach a new generation of beings which she will always be excluded from. How is it possible not to love that?