“I’m Still Alive”–Pearl Jam

Y’all!!! Thanks to the couple of people who have checked in on me recently. I know it is weird when you have been reading some random person’s blog forever and then they disappear. You are like, did they die? How would I ever even find out? It’s very strange, this internet life. Rest assured, as of yet I am not dead, and I will try to remain in this state for some time, as we continue surfing our way into apocalypse.

I have been becoming a different person, or trying to, insofar as we can ever change who we are/what we were born into. I really have stopped thinking about my “work,” my research etc., which I was completely obsessed with for so many years. I think back on how unhealthy my relationship with my job was, how cowed and fearful I was about getting tenure, how stupidly I lived my life while trying to get that book out. Not sleeping not eating, allowing myself to go through mental health spirals, neglecting everything, directing everything inward, thinking only of myself, etc. I totally participated in my own mental exploitation and it was dumb of me. I’ve started reading Fred Moten and I sat in on this amazing talk he and Stefano Harney gave about how we should all (meaning academics) stop doing our jobs and it made a huge impression on me. “Find the work, in your job, and just do that,” meaning basically don’t read the emails from the Dean, don’t spend time on the self-reporting paperwork, don’t submit to the “diversity and inclusion” committee survey, don’t participate in the bullshit. Find the work, which is probably for most of us teaching, but even within teaching, find the real work, which is not grading and assessment but something else, the thing that drew you here to this imperfect, deeply complicit and corrupt institutional pathway in the first place. I’m trying to do that.

But I am spending most of my time doing work unrelated to my job at all, except in the sense that I’d been reading all this anarchist theory and now I am trying to live those things in practice to the extent I am able. I joined an affinity group and we are working on abolition projects in our town. Currently I am in charge of researching participatory budgeting and creating a budget survey for our community. It’s fascinating. We are requesting public records and police logs and different group members with different skill sets are doing different things with it all. Sitting in on excruciating city council meetings, delivering furious speeches to the city council. We are learning so much shocking info about how our town works. For example we learned that our public schools rely on unpaid jail labor for a lot of their grounds maintenance. Neat! If you have the time and inclination to get involved in this kind of work in your community I highly recommend it.

We also joined a mutual aid group that does food distribution in a nearby town. Every week we pick up leftover produce from all the little local farms, bring it to a central spot, throw it all into bags, and give it out to whoever wants it. It’s so much fun and feels so good. Mutual aid is amazing and easy and everyone loves it. I’ve been reading and thinking about mutual aid for so long and only the current uprising made me realize, wait, oh, this is something you DO, not just something you theorize about. I don’t understand what was in my mind all these years, why I just read and thought and didn’t do. Anyway I am trying to change this orientation in my life. This food distro stuff is also eye-opening work, just seeing the massive, massive amount of food that is actually available and that, if we didn’t drive around and pick it up, would simply go into the compost. And if this is the amount of waste at this tiny local level, imagine larger farming operations, how much wasted food there is.

I think a lot of people think of the revolution in terms of scarcity, in terms of all of us who have scraped together some wealth and some luxury having to give it all up in order to scrabble in the dirt with everyone else. But I think of it in terms of unlocking all the abundance that is already here and readily available, and simply sharing it with everyone instead of letting like 6 guys hoard it all. There is so much food out there. There is so much space, so much housing. There are so many people who want to be teachers, doctors, counselors, farmers, artists, shepherds, potters, tech dudes, to do all the things we need to make our lives fun and worthwhile. We have everything we need and (thank you Karl Marx) we also have the tools we need to continue making more and more abundance. It’s not about giving up our hard-earned shit, it’s about breaking everything wide open and sharing what’s already a wildly profuse amount of wealth and good things. This food we give out each week, nobody bought it, nobody had to raise money for it, it wasn’t hard to get, and it isn’t hard to give it away. Nobody has to present a pay stub proving how poor they are. Nobody has to do x number of volunteer hours in order to become eligible for x number of free bags of food. It’s not charity, because charity is paternalistic and fucking sucks. It’s mutual aid. It’s us taking care of ourselves. If you want a bag of food, come and get it; if you have something to offer your community, do it, and if not, that’s fine too, because you just existing as a person is contribution enough. We had some extra time, so we went and collected this food and had fun doing it; here you go. A few weeks ago someone who got food from us saw that we needed another big table, and so she went home and got one she wasn’t using, and gave it to us. That’s mutual aid! I’m meeting so many people I would never have met if I hadn’t started doing this. And I’m learning about food networks and forging solidarities and also getting the opportunity to do a lot of internal work I wouldn’t get to do if I stayed in my normal demographic lane. Intersectionality is a key value of anarchism. Working together with common cause but without the expectation that differences will be resolved; solidarity without the need to anxiously avoid antagonisms. At the last distro event, for example: I had a moment of being clumsy with pronouns; then later some younger comrades were unintentionally ageist to me and it hurt my feelings; then later due to white privilege I didn’t notice until too late an awkward racist question a community member asked one of my comrades. There was also a moment when I tried to talk about something that was actually too arcane and boring for who I was talking to, which is part of being older but also obviously has to do with being in academia, and I think this is a type of difference also; we have different interests and that’s fine, we don’t have to force our interests on anyone else; my younger comrades sometimes talk about stuff I find deeply boring and that is not just fine but as it should be; I don’t need to be involved in every convo and vice versa. There were all these points of conflict and stress and acknowledgment of our different lives, identities, experiences, and places in the network; and yet the entire day we laughed and slung watermelons around together and supported each other in those moments of conflict and (I believe, I hope) ended up feeling invigorated and powerful and happy to be together. Periodically throughout the day different people suddenly go “isn’t this amazing?” and everyone says YES. That is the world I want to live in, and this work lets us create that world for a minute together. It could all be like this, all the time, if we made it so.

It’s interesting to hear the questions people ask when they come to our distro area. Who paid for all this? No one. How did you get this job? This isn’t a job. Do you need to see my license? No. Can I have extra corn instead of beets, is that okay? You can simply take whatever you want, and as much as you want. Are these peppers spicy? I actually don’t know.

What else? Ummmm since covid started I haven’t really been able to read or write. I struggle even to read a novel. I read the Twitter accounts of journalists on the ground in Portland, and I read, like, Jezebel. Early in covid I did somehow manage to read a bunch of books about anchorites that were totally riveting. Anchorites! Nuns that chose to be walled up in a tomb and live in there, doing nothing but praying, until they died and got buried in the floor of the tomb and a new nun would move in on top of them. There were a lot of people who did this! And they occupied a weird position, not quite part of the church hierarchy/not quite part of society. They were declared legally dead and a requiem mass was said over them while they lay in their own grave, inside the tomb. In some of the tombs, the little slit window into the church is positioned so that in order to hear mass you’d have to kneel in your own grave. It’s fucking GOTH. And what I learned is that Hildegard of Bingen was an anchorite for TWENTY YEARS! I somehow never knew this about her?! She was dead and lived in a tomb. And then in her 40s she got a vision from God telling her to found a new nunnery, and she petitioned the bishop to let her out, and after some reluctance he agreed, so they took down the wall of her tomb and said she could be alive again, and she crossed the river and started the new nunnery and became a famous scientist among other things (the list of species of fish in the Rhine River that she compiled remained the authoritative list until 1926), and scandalized the local gentry by putting on biblical plays in which her nuns wore jewelry and let their hair down (there is a letter she wrote replying to the criticism of this practice, in which she says that the Bible says that only married women should hide their beauty, not virgins). Did I tell you all this already? I can’t remember when last I wrote here. Anyway it’s fucking crazy and amazing and I love it, the death nuns of medieval Europe, who cultivated “the holy idleness” necessary for true communion with God. I’ve been thinking a lot about idle time and how it is anathema to capitalism, not only because it is time during which we could be generating surplus value for our employers, but also because–as we see is the case during covid!–it’s time during which we get the headspace to look around and be like, wait a second, this is all bullshit!!!! FUCK THIS I’m not going back to fucking work! So I love this idea of “holy idleness.” Specifically an idleness that seems mostly to have appealed to women. Not having to get married and raise children! Instead you want to sit and read and think about Jesus. Go for it, dude.

My heart totally pounds when I imagine Hildegard leaving her tomb after 20 years. Walking through the streets of the town, smelling the smells, seeing the sights. Seeing crowds! Seeing horses. Hearing a profusion of voices, hearing somebody sing a song, seeing a juggler, seeing a blacksmith, seeing children running, hearing a lute, seeing the river. Being amongst the bodies of men, instead of only women. Seeing the sky! The last time she experienced these things she was twelve years old. What was it like?????

Other than that brief amateur research immersion I have barely read a single thing. I read a book about rape, feminism, and the carceral state that was great (The Feminist and the Sex Offender). I read the introduction to The Ecology of Freedom. I read some essays. I read an essay about classical music and white supremacy a friend of mine wrote. I read some anarchist collections and an amazing essay by John Zerzan about how tonality is the sound of hierarchy. I read some collections of Black radical thought and the introduction of a book about the word “comrade.” I read some Adorno. But mostly I am not reading. It makes me feel sad and confused but I don’t know how to force my mind back into that space of quiet concentration. I don’t know if it is laziness or something else, or multiple things including laziness.

Oh yesterday I did successfully read this really mesmerizing thing Wallace Shawn wrote in the 90s that recreates the internal monologue of a rich liberal slowly having a shattering revelation about class and capitalism and his own indefensible yet also irreconcilable position within it, and it’s all metaphorized as him being violently sick on the floor of a luxury hotel in “a poor country” where he’s a tourist. You’re supposed to read it out loud as a performance piece to small groups of people in your home. Ha! Here it is, it’s pretty great: http://www.wischik.com/lu/senses/fever.html

I will say that a few years ago a friend of ours was in the cheap seats at the Met and at intermission Wallace Shawn came all the way up all the stairs past all the tiered levels to the very top (worst) one, zeroed in on our friend, and said he had to leave early and did our friend want his fancy tickets. So our friend and his girlfriend got to watch the second half of the opera in the best seats in the house and they said it was incredible. I don’t know what this story symbolizes or signifies except that Wallace Shawn, insofar as the restrictions of his class position allowed, seems like he was a pretty nice guy. I love thinking of him climbing all those stairs and looking for the shittiest looking person he could find, and it was our friend.

His description of the revelation he has about commodity fetishism while reading Capital naked in bed is pretty great. You can tell he really has read Capital because he mentions how the first three chapters are impossible to read but then it gets so good because Marx unleashes his rage. That is everyone’s experience of Capital, very authentic.

I read the three Wolf Hall books several times in a row, that was part of my covid self-care and it was pretty effective. Those books are simply divine. I have also been playing a new video game that I hate. And re-reading Le Guin short stories. It sounds like I am reading a lot I guess but compared with my “normal” reading amount it is hardly anything and it stresses me out. But maybe that is ok.

I also had my best year yet in terms of food preservation, I will say. I feel so proud and smug when I look upon my works. It starts in June and I finished by mid August. Here is what I have done:
– picked 6 quarts of strawberries and made like 14 jars of jam
– 5 pints rhubarb sauce
– 6 quarts peaches
– 14 pints cucumber pickles (I did have an epic failure here because I actually GREW all the cucumbers I needed to make this many pickles, and I did it, and I made the pickles, and then I realized I’d grown the wrong kind of cucumber, and so the pickles were so mushy nobody could eat them, so I had to start over with purchased cukes, and I am just sick about the waste of time and materials and just generally what a dipshit I am)
– 19 pints of salsa
– an assortment of weirdo pickles, like “cucomelons,” I have no idea
– 3 little jars of very fancy blackberry preserves (you can make whiskey smashes with the syrup once you open a jar)
– and of course the king of preservation season: 55 quarts of heirloom tomatoes. Last year I did 44 quarts and it didn’t quite get us through the whole year, so this time I did 55 and we’ll see how far it gets us. Y’all I get 20 pounds of heirloom tomatoes for 20 bucks. A buck a pound?! What a steal. And I think I ended up canning 150 pounds or something? Anyway, a lot.

Then in the freezer:
– 5 batches of dried tomatoes
– 10 “pizza portions” of corn
– enough zucchini, poblanos, and corn to make one batch of calabacitas, which I will save for a day in the deadest of winter when we are feeling our worst
– 20 cubes of pesto; 20 cubes of basil
– 3 quarts of blueberries
– 5 portions of cherry tomatoes for use in “pizza casserole”
– 20 jalapeƱos
– I think some other stuff I’m forgetting

Feeling pretty good about it. We’ll see how it goes. Our apple tree still did not produce apples even after an expensive professional pruning; we think now maybe it is the drought. So no apple report. We will do cider again this year but we’ll have to buy it from the orchard.

We also joined a community gardening/food security network that will get ramped up in the spring. I hope to learn how to garden finally.

Oh I also started making all our yogurt. It’s absurdly easy. I’m actually so appalled at how many years I spent buying plastic containers of yogurt over and over again. It’s so easy to make it yourself! And it’s so good. And the other day I seized victory from the jaws of defeat: I made yogurt, put it in its little warming cooler to sit for 24 hours, then FORGOT ABOUT IT, and only remembered the NEXT day, and was like oh fuck, but guess what, it was the best I’ve made so far. I’ve learned a valuable lesson! I feel like the monk who accidentally invented champagne. “Brothers, I am tasting stars!”

We got our porch rebuilt because it was rotting and a huge hole had opened up that had become a liability for the mailman. It was such a pain and porches are so stupid even though they are great. But they just really rot all to hell. Why aren’t they all made of concrete, as in Texas?? It’s like the only thing Texas gets right, aside from Mexican food, which isn’t even from Texas except in the sense that Texas rightfully belongs to Mexico in the first place. Those big sprawling concrete patios of childhood, out there in a thunderstorm playing parcheesi. The salad days.

Early in the revolution Gary was diverting a lot of his anxiety and feelings of uselessness into obsessing over the totally baseless idea that our house was infested with termites. He did stuff like get up in the middle of the night and start prowling around the basement with a flashlight. He was really going into a weird Howard Hughes place in his mind or something. During this fugue state he bought an extremely expensive new side door off Home Depot’s website, and it got delivered on a big wooden pallet and sat in our driveway for awhile while he fretted and agonized over it. Then one night we had a tornado warning, and I went and looked outside and it actually did feel like tornado weather (again my Texas childhood coming in handy, as when I envision the ideal porch) so we decided we should probably move this heavy loose door into the shed just in case. We went out there and got set up to move it. Gary was so careful and nice and patient about it, as he has lived with me a long time and knows my ways. “It is very very heavy, okay? Make sure your feet are stable. You pick up that end and we’ll move it towards me okay? Are you sure you’re ready? It’s VERY HEAVY, are you sure you’ve got it?” I kept being like “yes, yes I’m fine, I’ve got it.” So he said one two three and we lifted it up and I IMMEDIATELY fell all the way down, dropped the door, fell full length on top of it and face-planted into the glass, and crushed my whole arm and hand in between my body and it. It hurt SO bad. And also me falling shoved Andrew hard into our neighbor’s car. And we dropped the door. It all happened in less than 2 seconds, him saying one two three and me falling was like, almost simultaneous. And I was lying there in the driveway under the creepy green tornado sky and I was like, I literally think I broke my wrist. The door was fine! I was so lucky the glass didn’t break when my face hit it, can you imagine. Anyway we moved it into the shed and then there wasn’t a tornado anyway. And TO THIS DAY (this was weeks ago) my hand hurts and the spot between my fourth and fifth knuckles is totally numb and throbs, and I can’t put that hand on my hip because that angle hurts it. who knows what happened in there? It’s all part of this wonderful life process of learning. Anyway the punchline is it was the wrong sized door to begin with so we had to rent a truck in order to return it to Home Depot because they wouldn’t pick it up. It was a true fiasco start to finish. And then we got involved in all this mutual aid stuff and Gary’s obsession with termites fizzled. We never had termites at all.

I got tenure and am now on sabbatical, which is the reason I have all this time to spend not thinking about my job, which is giving me the space to try to become a different person. Which I realize is a great unresolvable irony, my very job giving me the incredible luxury of time off from my job to think about ways to subversively not-do my job. I get it, believe me. Anyway it’s really incredible, reflecting on my life and what a different person I am now than I was 10 or even 5 years ago. By the time I got my tenure decision I literally wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. I got the email and was like oh cool. Yes, by that point I was confident I would get it (although with covid, who knows) and I don’t intend at all to diminish the anguish of those waiting for tenure because it truly sucks and is grueling. But still, my feelings upon actually getting it are not even vaguely comparable to how I thought I’d feel. I used to fantasize about it and yearn for it, and feel like my life would totally change once I got it. And now, because of covid and also the revolution, I feel like…I don’t even know if there will be a university a year or two years from now. And actually, maybe that would be fine. I don’t mean that in a flippant way at all. I love my job and a world in which the university ceased to exist would almost undoubtedly be a very stressful world for me and probably everyone else to navigate. But… I used to think I would be nothing without this job, that it defined who I was in a very deep and real way, and now I don’t feel that way anymore. I like my job and I like the lifestyle it enables me to have and I care about certain aspects of it very much. But also I am a whole multi-faceted person with all kinds of things I am interested in and probably would be good or okay at doing, and there is all kinds of work to be done out there and anyway lately I’ve been feeling like I’m kind of trying to annihilate myself, in a positive way. Trying to become no one. Trying to simply exist as a creature in the world, without so much ego wrapped up in everything. Trying to harness the socially useful powers of the Leo and violently repress the self-serving ones. I might shave my head and get a tattoo to mark this moment of transformation.

Basically I feel like I am having a very positive midlife crisis, one that’s being shaped by the synchronicity of the political theory I’ve been reading for the past several years and the actual revolution that was sparked this summer. We’ll see what happens. But also I don’t matter at all so it doesn’t matter.

I do wake up in the night sometimes, sleepless with terror and dread about the coming Times. Or clenched up with anxiety about weird specific things, like How Will We Kill Our Dog If The Apocalypse Comes or What If My Parents Get Covid or I Will Never See My Brother Again And I Don’t Know How To Live With That If It’s True or or or any number of other things, just like most of you I am sure, these sleepless nights, these apocalyptic scenarios, all of California is on fire, everyone in Florida is dead, it is now totally legal to mass murder people as long as you are a white supremacist…….

One thing I have been thinking A LOT about is the idea of detaching Hope from Optimism. I read a book about this and it has made a huge and lasting impression (Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene, it’s on Routledge and very expensive, unfortunately, I got it for free because I contributed to an edited volume for them, weird perk). She argues that hope is a practice, and optimism is a feeling, and we need to work to separate the two inside ourselves, and that to do so would mean we would have to confront grief. Before we can talk about cleaning up a river, we have to look the fact of “ecocide” full in its face, and say, this is what we have done, and the grief of it is depthless and will never end so long as we live, and we will have to find ways to live within that grief and address the river in a different way through that acknowledgment. Meaning, if in order to do things based on hope for the future we must also feel optimism–the happy belief that our actions will be successful–it keeps us from seeing the full extent of the problem and thus what really would have to happen for a solution to be found. Because if we can only do work if we can be certain it will have a positive outcome, it means we will only do the easy work. The problem of climate change is such that it could only be addressed by the world as we know it coming to an end. Society would have to change in the most drastic ways imaginable. Every single one of our lives would have to be utterly, shatteringly transformed; our outlooks and worldviews and ways of living would have to utterly change. But that is too hard to imagine and too scary and hard to draw up an Excel spreadsheet demonstrating so instead we are like “oh boy, if we simply vote in a carbon tax we will have addressed climate change!” Because that is manageable and seems doable, whereas within our current discursive framework anything that is NOT manageable or doable is just not on the table. And if that is the case, then the full extent of the problem can never be named. And this is why this author argues that liberals, as well as conservatives, are climate change deniers. Because they refuse to face the grief of our murdered world, the world they too have murdered. Because they deny the full scope of the situation, instead fixating on small tweaks to the existing system, and calling anyone who tries to pull back the curtain a fanatic, a dreamer. Our job is to stop living in denial, acknowledge that the murderous devastation is irreversible and morally evil, and yet work tirelessly to change things regardless. Optimism is a trap, in other words, a trap the system uses to keep things from changing. Anyway it’s a great book. It’s about Australia.

Hope is a practice! This is the thing I reflect on a lot lately. Hope is actions and works and things you do, not a blobby feeling you try to cling to because you’re scared of a world without it. You make it, you don’t feel it, and you make it simply by doing the actions that insist that it is real. That’s it.

So this stuff wakes me up at night, but also things like, uhhhh, should I get my teeth cleaned

Oh, I also joined the Wobblies! How fun, why did it take me so long. Everyone should join!

We have been watching a huge array of diverse movies. We watch a movie every single night. Everything from The Act of Killing to Encino Man; a documentary about Tibetan women to all of Lucretia Martel’s movies; Parasite and Single White Female; all of Ruben Ostlund’s movies in a row followed by Batman Forever; Mrs. Doubtfire followed by Mati Diop’s Atlantics; etc. We went on a kick of watching movies from childhood we haven’t seen since, and it’s fascinating to see which ones hold up and which ones don’t. Wayne’s World DOES NOT hold up; Bill and Ted DOES. Shockingly, Weekend at Bernie’s holds up to the max. Just laughing very authentically at Weekend at Bernie’s! Who knew?! We watched both the 1945 and the 1985 adaptations of Brewster’s Millions (both very weird movies–Max Weber stuff about money and work, very confusing). We watched Passenger 57, extremely good. After painting our bathroom in the Miami Vice palette we watched a bunch of episodes of Miami Vice and it is just a shockingly insane show, I somehow missed it due to growing up without a television so it was all new to me and I was actually truly shocked by it. Every single person involved in that show just absolutely had to be on cocaine the entire time. It is COMPLETELY incoherent, its narratives make absolutely no sense, there is no connection between scenes, nothing that happens makes any kind of sense. I mean at a very concrete, literal level. I have honestly never seen anything like it and it is unimaginable to me that it was such a popular mainstream show. It is weirder than the weirdest experimental film I have ever seen, in certain respects. We watched Ivan the Terrible, which I uncontrollably slept through. We watched Major League and enjoyed it so much that the next night we watched Major League 2, one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life (“it was worse than Miami Vice, which at least was crazy”). Lately we are watching episodes of On Cinema followed by episodes of this German drama called “DARK” that is Twin Peaks plus Stranger Things plus Lost, in Germany. The music is REALLY good and one of the main guys looks like Mads Mikkelsen but I’m pretty sure he isn’t.

My hair is very long and I look like a witch. I try to do yoga every day but I never do. I am cooking a lot. We get all our food from these two local farm pickups and it’s very fun. I make: bread, pizza, “pizza cake” (stale bread recipe); calabacitas; enchiladas; cool summer pastas; pesto; boring stir fries to use up all the leftovers. I made some pies. I made Gary a yellow sheet cake for his birthday. I made cherry muffins and took them to our neighbor and she said they cured her gout.

Our snoopy dog is good. He is old and lumpy and sleep all day as usual. He’s a great pal.

All is well; nothing is well; everything is beautiful; the world is ending; watch Weekend at Bernie’s and you won’t regret it

solidarity and love to you all!!!!

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6 Responses to “I’m Still Alive”–Pearl Jam

  1. Kerry says:

    YES YOU ARE BACK WITH ALL THE GREATEST HITS! Hildegarde, preserving, anarchy, small town scoops, homeowner woes and triumphs, midlife realizations vis a vis the work vs the job, hair sagas, SNOOPIES, and Netflix recs!! Dang I feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of this nightmare year. Congratulations on tenure and especially keeping it in perspective, dang, I need to read some of these. Hope you post again soon if the feeling strikes!

  2. Denise in WI says:

    WELCOME BACK!!! So glad you, Gary, and the Snoopy are all well. Thanks for teaching me about the Anchorites; I feel with the covid lockdown I’m nearly there, so I should learn more about it. :)

  3. Gearl Jam says:

    Incredible update, thank you!

  4. Leander says:

    Wonderful to hear from you and I’m so excited for you/us and all our transformations. I’m reading this at 7 am on Saturday morning, the day after RBG’s death and it’s just the right thing. My instincts as things get worse and worse, as the national outlook becomes more dire, is to go hyper local, to be involved in mutual aid and to look at all the resources available in our community that don’t need a government to be distributed. I’ve been doing census work and it’s been healing, to be out amongst all kinds of people – who are generally decent and kind. The worst are obviously just scared or justifiably angry. Anyway, it’s great to read your voice, again!

  5. Adrien says:

    I am SO happy to hear from you after so many months of radio silence. Missed you and had almost given up hope! Glad all is well (relatively speaking). I loved your post.

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