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.