Brave New World

It’s weird how long it’s been since I wrote here. The election is hateful and frightening and I still don’t feel right in my body, I still feel shaky and like a small monster lives in my stomach. I don’t have much to say about it. Or, I have lots to say about it, and think of little else from moment to moment, but I don’t have a “take” that is different from other, smarter takes. I’m mad at almost everyone, including myself/I feel like I’m dreaming/every single thing I hear in the news is worse than the thing I heard before. The usual stuff. I’m afraid for the upcoming horrors, afraid for my countrymen who are Muslim, black, gay, trans, who are immigrants, afraid for myself as a woman, even as an “intellectual,” that type despised of fascists everywhere.

In my milieu—privileged middle aged nerds too afraid of breaking our glasses to play basketball—we are trying to think of ways of reorienting pedagogy and scholarship along activist lines. Turning our classrooms into anarchist collectives that use consensus to make decisions. Teaching political works of art, teaching art-making as resistance. Teaching more conflicts. Assigning different kinds of readings, readings about re-envisioning society, government. Trying to awaken feelings of social responsibility and personal empowerment in students cowed by loans and the obsession with getting jobs. Even subtle things like assigning only work by women or people of color for an entire semester. These are the transformative possibilities that are available to me, given my life and position, and it’s my duty to max them out as much as I can, even though they are very small.

My teaching leave is almost over; in six weeks I will be back in the classroom for the first time since May. During my leave I wrote a book about capitalism. At least my research is politically engaged with our present moment; that feels crucial to me. I can’t imagine if I had to sit down in Trump’s America and write about French Romanticism, my previous area. Delightful though that subject is.

2016 was an insane year. Everyone is talking about it, so I know it’s not just me. Obviously the election overshadows everything, drips its vile poison onto everything. But somehow even in areas unrelated to the election, very personal areas, 2016 was an absolute bumper year in terms of things going wrong. A couple of extremely dark and serious things happened, just in my own personal sphere. The main thing is that someone I love died. I was there for part of it, helping how I could, and I think about this experience every day.

Personal trauma and heartbreak coupled with national trauma and heartbreak. I will never forget what 2016 felt like. I feel like we were stretched taut as a bowstring for months on end. A miasma of dread hung over everything; even our best moments were colored with foreboding and sorrow. It felt like some fresh shock or horror was always waiting in the wings. Some shocks came from the news; some came from terrible phone calls or texts. The bad vibe of 2016 was everywhere. It felt astrological, cosmic. As a nation we have been collectively flinching, one terrible year-long flinch. Sometimes I wake up as sore as if I’d run a marathon, with no explanation for it. Everything is different forever now.

I’m going through my journals from the past year and crying a little bit and feeling rueful. The way mundane career anxiety competes with growing collective political anxiety; the way small personal struggles compete with overwhelming grief. Some goals met, other goals forgotten in the dreadful flood of events. Life. Drawings of our sad barren apple tree, fruitless this year after an early thaw/late freeze courtesy of climate change. Even the apples hid themselves from 2016.

I have been doing the usual things. Writing, revising, going to meetings. Navigating irritating work issues. I learned to can and I canned 15 jars of tomatoes over the summer. I have the usual to-do lists. I bake my bread and listen to my Yes albums. I am growing my hair out. I love my husband. I pat my dog. Everything gets done. In some ways I feel hollow and horrified, in other ways awake for the first time. I imagine other people feel similarly. I hope we will keep trying to take care of one another, in the hard months and years to come. I hope we will act and organize and build coalitions.

Next time I will discuss something brighter, like all the Gillian Flynn novels I am consuming

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3 Responses to Brave New World

  1. Denise in WI says:

    Glad to see you’re back. I was anxious to read your first post-election post, as I, too, am full of dread for what’s to come during the next four years. On another note, I’m sorry for your loss of your loved one.

  2. Kate says:

    Someone beat me to it, but I too – random internet person / fellow academic – have been waiting to hear your thoughts on this year, this elections outcome. You are able to articulate the horror and joys of life in a particularly resonant way – a wonderful mix of sincerity and humor. Likewise so sorry to hear of your loss and that 2016 has been a grueling one.

  3. Adrien says:

    I totally want to hear you discuss Gillian Flynn! Please do.

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