In The Morning (Shrug)

Some mornings the temptation to encourage people to go and fuck themselves is so seductive that I cannot muster up any clever ways of saying it which might be nearly as satisfying. In these states it is difficult to write, and they are intensified usually by the cesspool of reality that comes after say, a great writing workshop like the one I just left with Winter Tangerine. I’m trying to work through this. First, with India Arie, (last week it was Maxwell) and then by engaging with the constant dialogue taking place in my head instead of pretending I can focus on some other shit while riddled with anxiety. So I’ve been sitting down in the little brain interrogation room, the reality marble where I’m constantly re-playing and imagining every conversation I’ve ever had or might have with everyone I’ve ever known. The whole room is blue. I think because somewhere I might have read that it’s a soothing color, or I’m always thinking about drowning. Who knows. In it, the people who converse: old friends, family members, ex-lovers, acquaintances and the like, and even I, can only be our best selves. It’s like a rule. We are honest, and humble and all that, which is why I never forget that it’s a fantasy. We all speak plainly, succinctly.

There, I tell my mother that I love her without flinching at the qualifications. The white girl from Arcadia tells me that she only accused me because she was afraid, embarrassed about what she did to a Black body. I tell the woman who flew from Europe for me that I was not at all ready to receive her. I admit to teenage friends that I was passive aggressive because I was jealous they had parents. I call my dad’s phone number more than once. An ex admits that her abuse had little to do with me or the kids. I discover the real reason why someone I trusted decided I was no longer worth their breath. I shake Robby’s hand in the barbershop, I don’t laugh when I find out what happened to him.

And nothing is fine there, of course, and I know it’s not real because I can understand it. It’s too fair, too tangible and sometimes logical. There is something like reconciliation.

And after the moment, I get around to finishing Two Serious Ladies (see: any two European White ladies) at the airport where the flight was delayed. Well, cancelled till the next day. A widely grinning white man walks up to me while I’m reading, and somehow he pinpoints exactly where I’m at on the page.

“Are they in Panama yet,” he asks, so excitable that the only word I can think of to describe him is guffawing, even though I find the word hideous.

“Yes,” I say.

And he tells me it’s the best part, but he doesn’t leave. He says it’s the best part again, so I compare the book to a few Wes Anderson films, because judging by his appearance I could tell he loves Wes Anderson films. He says again that it’s the best part. In it, a big Black magical negress “does its jig on the page” as Mat Johnson might say, as a big, scary, Black plot device for one of the protagonists, Mrs. Copperfield to measure her humanity against, begin her process of transformation, and then discard said nameless negress. Very second wave feminist. Then Mrs. Copperfield meets another woman, a beautiful Spanish prostitute named Pacifica, who she fetishizes damn near off the mufucking page before refusing to leave her side like a child. She decides that she and Pacifica are friends. She sits downstairs with another woman, Mrs. Quill, while Pacifica is upstairs being raped by a sailor. Mrs. Quill and Mrs. Copperfield feel bad at first, then they have drinks, decide she can take care of herself, and ponder life.

The white man still standing in front of me winks hard before walking away.

In my head I have interesting conversations with my classmates about the book, ones that include history and accountability, literary theory and feminism, realism and craft, Playing in the Dark and The Gilda Stories (especially Jewelle Gomez’s interview where she describes the impetus for writing it and the scene where Gilda sets a trap for their abuser). In my reading response I stick as closely as I can to pontificating Eurocentric aesthetic value. I remember that Citizen is on every syllabus, so it’s all good. During workshop I nod and say thank you. 

Weeks ago I let slip in class that gendered and racialized descriptions of characters in fiction can never equal mere descriptors, environmental placeholders or what have you, but carry weight in regards to ideological critique, history, place, socio-cultural contexts and several other things, in frustration, the exact phraseology and context of which I cannot repeat here. It was probably like my fifth slip-up in my graduate career. It was exhausting. I remembered Aisha cursing me out because a character in a story I’d written was racially problematic, and I told her I was going for something like that, but trying to be more subtle. She said that was stupid. She was right. In class I stopped talking–after a few choice words…

I smiled and nodded.

A woman in administration asked me why I wrote “Black” in my author bio. She seemed concerned. Instead of suggesting that it clearly mattered to her, and therefore she was answering her own question, I started with like Audre Lorde and went all the way to Wilderson. She asked me again, and wanted to know why Jake didn’t write anything like that in his bio. I smiled and nodded.

At the cafe where my friend Chamara and I often work, I see the person I trusted. We were standing closely, so they turn their back and laugh about some other stuff with a friend. I shrug, it’s their right. When I sit down to work, an Asian woman sitting behind Chamara complains that she is afraid because there are too many Black people around these days. We are two, actually. In the cafe at least, like 2.4 in the whole Graduate English department. In my head, I embarrass the woman by asking her–in my Samuel Jackson cooning on a commercial voice–why she is so worried about the flood of niggers around here, and how she thinks we might all best protect ourselves. I ask her if we need anti-nigger highwaters and umbrellas and galoshes and if she has any leftover coupons for them. I smile and nod. Then I go back to writing.

I text Young Taylo to say that the way she handles white girls can be a form of self-care.

Then I go back to writing.

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