sitting in a car smashed to pieces

reality rear-ended me today. in the kind of hard that goes BOOM and then your eyes flash to a rearview mirror, focusing on near-death certainty coming right at you.

broken pieces of bumpers and gnarled hoods. screams from children. a woman shouting, “What the hell is wrong with you?!” A guilty man with the face of defeated ignorance.

Every crash begins by accident.

my first reaction was call you. but then i realized last week you made a decision not to care how i’m gonna die.

plastic, reality-perforated sculptures of brake lights look a lot like my heart.

o, how i wanted more in my tomorrow.

flashing cop lights steal some of the sunset’s magic. the chief ushered me to an ambulance, but i pressed a soft “no” into his arm.

“there’s no one to get my son; i’ll live through my injuries.”

a day off from work. eyes too swollen to shut. a fear of finding sleep marred by memory. a new fear wearing the phobia of movement.

your absence mortalizes midnight.

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the gift of goodness and love

Not much of either in my life right now. I was recently admonished by my [now ex] love for not having faith or hope in anything to stay positive and to fight off the sadness. This is true; the sadness has overcome me. I live in desolate alienation both in my circumstance and context. Single motherhood and grad school, along with a life history of poverty and violence, gives me little strength to hold myself together currently.

I sometimes come off as a victim, I know. This must turn people off. Turn people off enough to leave me and my son, the abandonment cycle always ongoing, creating more harm, pain, and sadness to endure and try to overcome.

If only there was someone to love me with empathy and without resentment for who I am and for who I am trying not to be.

But wishing for a person to love me is a pointless prayer. The person I love must not exist, and I should have known as much going into this business with him. He will even read this and rationalize his actions as right somehow. Though they are not right by any standard I know. I cannot rationalize bringing someone pain by my own rightness. I have made many mistakes by him, but not a one was out of love for myself over him.

And with that recognition of goodness, I wrote Jeremy Hammond today. Finally. I was sure to do it when I wasn’t crying, which has been a relentless verb in my life recently. If there was anyone in this world who lives by selfless action, it is he.

I once thought my love lived by the same ethos, and I think somewhere deep down he does. But not in his love for me. Capitalism and ego have taken over that ethos. I plan on writing a post about that soon. Because I do not blame my love for ceasing to honor me or treat me with the respect I deserve. No, I blame capitalism.

So, to begin my conversation with someone who refuses to let the overarching institutions speak for him and silence his ethos, I decided to share bits of Derrida with Jeremy. I will leave you with the quotes I shared and go on continuing my endless devotion to mourning my loss and honoring words my love now leaves unrequited.

“This guilt is originary, like original sin. Before any fault is determined, I am guilty inasmuch as I am responsible. What gives me my singularity, namely, death and finitude, is what makes me unequal to the infinite goodness of the gift that is also the first appeal to responsibility because responsibility is always unequal to itself: one is never responsible enough. One is never responsible enough because one is finite but also because responsibility requires two contradictory movements. It requires one to respond as oneself and as irreplaceable singularity, to answer for what one does, says, gives; but it also requires that, being good and through goodness, one forget or efface the origin of what one gives.” (Gift of Death 51)

“I can respond only to the one (or to the One), that is to the other, by sacrificing the other to that one. I am responsible to any one (that is to say any other) only by failing in my responsibilities to all the others, to the ethical and political generality. And I can never justify this sacrifice, I must always hold my peace about it.” (70)

Derrida focuses on the verb to Give. Whom to Give to.

You have given me silence, and I will return that gift because I love you. From now on. In silence, forever yours.

justice

I am learning that most of us hold different meanings for social justice, and that is why nothing gets better. Yesterday I overheard an educator/administrator explain that what “we” do in rhetoric and composition is prepare people for the professional world because, historically, rising up the ladder has been racist, sexist, and only open to privilege (classist). Therefore, those of us in rhet/comp have been working tirelessly and thanklessly often enough to help people gain access to the privileged spaces in careers.

My problem is that I do not view this as social justice. It neither works for everyone, nor does it challenge the hierarchies in place that keep privilege alive and well.

I have to face it: I am bad at capitalism.

Now this statement is something my lover and partner has said to me over the last 2 years about himself. I am coming to realize that I, too, feel the same. But for my own reasons.

My reasons are completely ideological—and, in the spirit of feminism, personal. Growing up, I watched my dad lose everything in pursuit of the American dream because of financial ruin (thanks to the government), and then, after a decade of destitution, instantaneously rise to riches thanks to a legal settlement that brought him “social justice.”

My mother, on the other hand, worked as a nurse until an accident made her incapable of working. To support her two children, she chose to make love to meth cookers, turning our house into a lab and illegal drug ring. Good times. Fun times. Poverty. Police raids. Homelessness.

After my mother quit speed cold turkey when I was 17, she re-educated herself and became a caretaker for the elderly. I watched a woman who had ruined my childhood due to “social justice” reform herself into a person who woke up every morning happy and in love with her job because she made people’s lives better. Justice justice.

This teaches me that I am bad at capitalism. I do not wake up every day in love with my job. I do not believe that preparing people to do well in capitalism is social justice. I am living a lie where I am teaching lies. And I cannot wake from this because this is reality.

Some part of me knew this going in, coming here. As I travelled halfway across the country in a U-Haul for a job that would finally give me “social justice” in the way of a comfortable, secure financial job, my internal ability to function slowly collapsed.

These last few weeks have been some of the lowest in my life. My ptsd has returned making it difficult for me to process the stress of living these lies for capitalist security. I began taking it out on my brother, my son, and my lover. Luckily, my brother understands my pain and knew I was not myself. He holds no grudges. I made amends with my son in the best of ways; we are working hard at trying to figure out what it means to be a family here in a place neither one of us wants to be. My lover? Yep, question marks.

I worked so hard for this place in my life. I sacrificed eating food, healthcare, and sanity to arrive at this career destination. And I hate myself for it. All the money I could need to live, and I am lying to people to get it.

And I am losing people.

My friends are far away. Texts with my best friend only hurt both of us because the absence is all there is. I see my mentors from grad school in a new light: how they supported me, and know what this world really is. I yearn for a short walk to their offices for a healthy, invigorating chat—a reminder why I am doing this rhet/comp thing.

The truth is that I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if I can work in academia by violating my ethical constitution. I don’t know if I can work any job in this world for its paycheck. I don’t know if I can sleep at night without someone who will understand that this is hurting me, and that I am trying to find a way to be okay with it.

I am trying. So hard.

That is the one thing with me, though. I will never stop trying and I will never stop finding a way to make a place in this world for people who aren’t good at capitalism. I’d love it if you joined me.

A secret always makes you tremble. ~ Derrida

I write to you today about the Shibboleth. For many of you, this might be a term representative of a secret—a whisper hinting toward the unknown. Others might know the way this word signifies a keeping out—a way to prevent a group of people (or a person) from affiliating with another.

The shibboleth is a reminder of our humanity. It takes from us everything sacred and unspeakable, and reaffirms itself in the other. Without getting too abstract and philosophically convoluted, I’ll give you a reference:

Herein lies what Derrida calls a secret that is meta-rhetorical (Gift of Death, 77). Hanks’s character must use a shared, yet secret language to connect himself to his friend when expected identity-markers have gone. Without this shibboleth, Josh would have suffered unduly. Without this shibboleth, we would have no movie. The secret keeps the narrative alive.

It can be important to remember that Derrida asks us, “How would you justify your presence here speaking one particular language, rather than there speaking to others in another language? And yet we also do our duty by behaving thus” (71).

We do, don’t we? Secrets we keep. Secrets we tell. Secrets that hold us together. Secrets that drive us apart.

When we set out to determine a person’s affiliation in our group by way of the shibboleth, we envelope ourselves in a secret so mysterious, we do not even know why it matters. We only know that it does.

Here someone can die by “not knowing the code.” This situation forces us to realize that language is more than words. It is dress, knowledge of cultural references, race, ethnicity, gender, and social attachments.

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“The silhouette of a content haunts this response” (75).

The shibboleth of the angry mob of women who judge me for not wearing a wedding band. The hungry eyes of the men who think that means I am unowned property awaiting a price. The prize of my heart locked in a cavern.

“Speaking in order not to say anything or to say something other than what one thinks, speaking in such a way as to intrigue, disconcert, question, or have someone or something else speak (the law, the lawyer), means speaking ironically” (76).

When we let someone else speak for us—speak on our behalf—irony takes the form of the secret. It points to the hush without a visual of the finger. The shibboleth is in the transference of speech, but the meaning always lies connected between those two people. The “lawyer” will only be a third party holding power, but owning no meaning.

Before I go, I want to recall a series of tweets @x7o wrote yesterday. He talked of courage and its meaning. And it felt all too familiar to me. The secret of sacrifice; the shibboleth of courage.

“But besides that, mustn’t responsibility always be expressed in a language that is foreign to what the community can already hear or understand only too well? ‘So he does not speak an untruth but neither does he say anything, for he is speaking in a strange tongue’ ([Kierkegaard] 119)” (74).

Rather than hating, or judging, or leaving someone to wander alone for speaking in a strange tongue, it is, perhaps, more moving to remember that a person speaks with a hope of being understood. A person speaks, and to speak is courageous.

And it hurts everyone when we don’t listen.

the red thread

I have never written about my depression, my anxiety, and my panic attacks directly before. Not here, and not in any systematic discussion. They may have been passed by in mention, but I have never looked at them straight, with my face, as words on the screen and attached to me.

I am suffering from all of them right now, tremendously. But I’m not writing for a reaching out. I’m writing as a reaching in.

You see, I wrote a poem to my lover a little over an hour ago. I wrote a poem he may never see. It’s about being in this darkening and knowing there’s a glowing behind me. This poem-like-thing is about the only time I wasn’t suffering from the pain of being alive. He was my only place without pain in the last three years. I must have burdened him an immeasurable, unconscious weight—taxing us because I don’t know how to be a self.

There’s pills and therapy for my pain that I refuse to take. Most of the time, I can live with it. But, today, after these last few weeks, after the pressure of these last few months, before the pressure of graduating and working somewhere (anywhere), the pain has me in a prerecorded stupor. A permanent car alarm. I jump at a pinch. A sweet pat on my head, by a friend, and a thousand pictures of once come like shock waves in my back.

So I quit my job. I realized that I need to cut off anything that is toxic to me right now. Or else the pain becomes something no pill or skilled conversation can handle. And I don’t have the money for an ambulance ride to a 5150. I know what that looks like coming.

Not happening.

Would a hug make it lessen? His? It’s been so long since then that I don’t know. And I ruined the chance of finding out. Because I can’t get there. I would need to be carried. And…

So I wrote a something:

i started feeling the fear i had the night i left

the night our fingers had to let go

we were going to go too long without what would keep us together

and we’ve passed that point, haven’t we?

my only love.

our bodies have forgotten

without it,

a frost splinters around your eyes

snowflake arabesque

a crystalline fantasy of impenetrable atrophy

my lips stuck to this glass fortress

baby, let me in

and i wither into mania.

not even my skin wants to be close to me.

i feel like i’m always asking permission to be part of myself

how i cannot stop the fear of this eternal ongoing:

will we be hungry forever?

nightmares of a $777 gas bill placards my midnights

i wake up sweating, racing, and clinging onto nothing

what if i just needed you there?

to hold me before i panic through the night

can you imagine my days, then?

scared of paper, of mail, of males.

don’t touch me! every part of my body screams.

i cannot make it stop.

you were the only one whose touch wouldn’t hurt my thoughts.

so safe.

finally. i whispered to myself.

i know. i’m too broken. too fucked up.

a man was able to take every last part of me poverty hadn’t torched with infirmary.

days when it takes everything just to leave

the house.

to get in the shower.

the idea of leaving terrifies me.

you ain’t gonna want that.

sure, i’m strong. but not in these ways.

my own vulnerability used against me.

i didn’t even know.

fuck was i haughty

so he drug it through the underneaths of my skin

so i’d see my scars every time i closed my eyes

the images manifest

scorching peril of memory

all the girls, so many of us, we know.

how do we live on?

that me, she’s gone.

she would have loved you right.

the fractured

face

of me

my brother nursing me through panic attack just now, he told me

that my and your souls loved each other.

what?

he knows vespers better than anyone.

and if he’s right, that’s it.

i cannot cut you out.

but i can say goodbye.

where our pulses collide.

that’s where we’ll always be.

even if we never glance again.

never kiss your texture again.

never name the fire of my irises with your eyes again

the fire will still be named you.

and i’ll fight the screams i sleep by carrying memory.

waiting for the someday of a conjoined dream.

i wrote this, and then my body convulsed. i was going to be sick. and the strangest, yet saddest thing happened. there wasn’t enough in me to dry-heave. i was too empty. that’s hunger. that’s a depression i didn’t know i had. a feeling of absolutely no feeling.

but i’m writing. i’m still a thinking being.

Muñoz, Basquiat, and Warhol: how bringing in comics with theory makes me wanna do art activism

I couldn’t have been more impressed and captivated by José Esteban Muñoz’s first chapter in Disidentifications, “Famous and Dandy like B. ‘n’ Andy: Race, Pop, and Basquiat.” His chapter begins with the type of statement that would do such a thing: “I always marvel at the ways in which nonwhite children survive a white supremacist U.S. culture that preys on them. I am equally in awe of the ways in which queer children navigate a homophobic public sphere that would rather they did not exist” (37). Muñoz immediately draws me into a connection between two discourses that shape identity: racism and homophobia. And where most theorists fail, Muñoz does real work by providing examples of how nonwhite children survive and queer children navigate the harsh world that seeks to destroy them with heternormativity.

His first example comes from analyzing how Greg S. McCue and Clive Bloom created the original Superman as an alternative to the harmfully normalized stigma that names a “Jew’s body as weak and sickly” (41). According to Muñoz, this take on Superman provided the Jewish community with a disidentification—someone strong who “actively strove to responding to [North American and European culture] by reformulating the myth of Superman outside anti-Semitic and xenophobic cultural logics” (40). This move performs two critical shifts of understanding. Muñoz, of course, uses his analysis of the icon to introduce the two “real-life” figures who perform the disidentification and resistant to harmful discursive control he describes in the beginning of the chapter. However, he does something else. Muñoz writes in words I can understand; he writes in my culture.

As much as I am interested in identity, I enjoy comics and art. The fact that Muñoz embraces his analysis by looking at how Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat traversed their oppression through art grabs me, and keeps me inside his text. Surely, not everyone responds to these cultural discourses in the same way as I do. Nonetheless, insight gleans from several moments in the text.

Muñoz points out how Basquiat’s Piano Lesson shows that “[t]he half-finished figures connote process, which is exactly how the process of disidentification should be understood” (42). In Basquiat’s take on comic culture, mashed with his own performance of identity, Muñoz shows me how artistic craft and social commentary do activism within identity-politics.

Piano Lesson

Such a painting looks simplistic on the outset, I felt initially. But then I read Muñoz’s description, and looked deeper, closer. The painting could be something nearly any of us could make, which is where some form of identification occurs. Yet, it can’t. This painting is also considerably all-Basquiat. He owns this image of disidentification because it’s his own identity.

Which leads to another analysis I enjoyed:

Of this, Muñoz writes, “The refiguration of the trademark on Warhol’s side of the canvas interrupts the erasure of labor by calling attention to the trademark’s very inscription, one that, when properly scrutinized, reveals the thematics of labor that the commodity system works to elide” (43). It took me a while to read that into this painting, but once I scrutinized, I saw it. With Muñoz’s analysis, I was able to then understand what he says, which I feel is additionally profound. “This image calls attention to the often effaced presence of black production. An intervention such as this interrogates the ways in which the United States is, at bottom, a former slave economy that still counts on and factors in the exploitation and colonization of nonwhite labor” (43). Yes. Even I, with all my work in discourses of racism and working class rhetoric, have forgotten such a profound and profuse truth. C’est vrai.

So what do we do? How is this activism? It is activism by addressing the concerns of how trademarks and labels seek to control us and fashion us into bodied products of capitalism. Because Warhol and Basquiat teamed up together, along with Muñoz’s analysis, I am able to notice how advertisements like this work. Muñoz quotes Lauren Berlant saying, “A trademark is supposed to be a consensual mechanism. It triangulates with the consumer and the commodity, providing what W.F. Haug calls a ‘second skin’ that enables the commodity to appear to address, to recognize, and thereby to love the consumer” (qtd. in Muñoz 45-6). Yes, again. But the Basquiat-Warhol mashup-collab rocks this outside of itself. I am not drawn to associate (and assimilate) with the patriarchal Arm & Hammer image of masculinity. Instead, I am drawn to see how such an image fails to provide identification. Consumerist images do not gain my consent; none of them “love” me.  Basquiat, indeed, performs the disidentification Muñoz names. Of Basquiat, he says, “…I see Basquiat’s practice as a strategy of disidentification that retools and is ultimately able to open up a space where a subject can imagine a mode of surviving the nullifying force of consumer capitalism’s modes of self” (47).

With this analysis, I want to paint. With this analysis, I finally understand why consumer culture’s advertisements and brands fail to give me an identity. I haven’t had enough words to write expressly on this before. And that is the power of rhetoric studies–to give people like me a space for voice. “The ways in which these two artists cross-identified, disidentified, and learned with and from each other also suggest the political possibilities of collaboration” (Muñoz 51). From this, I learn two modes of praxis: collaboration and disidentification in my art. I am moved to paint my responses to my culture in ways that feel real to me and my own struggling identity. I am also moved to work with others, possibly someone who disidentifies in a different way. Such a reading brings out the artistic activist in me, but also the rhetor. Comics and their history might begin to look new in a reframed, dialectic light. What reading Muñoz’s first chapter means, to me, is that I have a means to test the boundaries of my own subjectivity within my specific cultural discourses, and that it could be revolutionary to collaborate outside of who I am.

CISPA

Considering the timeliness of the moment, I thought I’d post my critical discourse analysis of CISPA from last year. There have been some changes and markups to the legal document since I wrote the essay, but they have only made my argument more relevant, I think. If you disagree, I’d love a response.

As always,

l

 

CISPA essay

your reality is a bank statement

i could spend hours complaining about the people who come here and lift what they need, then go on doing their lives. my blog informs me of everyone’s visits–where they are and what they’re reading. i know enough to know enough. but what good would that do me, to call them out for taking my work, and calling it theirs?

my dearest deja and i share the same fate. we write ourselves all too easily–because this world has been hard on us. it takes a certain amount of oppression, madness, and breaking to write and write well. one has to know pain to see it everywhere.

and perhaps that is it. those in the cushy comfort of privilege sit in chairs high up, dressed in velvet, in pomp. they surround themselves in a world not of their own making. they surround themselves in a world wrought into being by other people’s hands. perhaps we cannot expect too much from their writing. life, for them, as seen through the stains of exalted economy.

must be nice.

i struggle to have pity and calm acceptance for those giving my good friend piracy a bad name. like deja says it better: “plagiarism is a vain theory.” Piracy lives as a sharing of culture. piracy has an ethos of good will, of cheer. it gives thought like a gift, and asks nothing in return.

And here we see the alternate angle of economy and capitalism. yesterday, mid thesis-writing, i couldn’t think of a dialogue tag. i had the urge to say Benkler was capitalising off a moment, but he wasn’t; and i sure as hell didn’t want to say that about him.

odd that i heard that verb in my head when here i am, quietly shouting to you all that i know certain people are capitalising off my work and off of deja’s beauty. in their vanity, they are plagiarising our lives for their profit. does it taste sweet when it is second-hand?

(me and my rhetorical questions)

i won’t ask you to stop. i won’t even give you the social gift of proclaiming to everyone who you are. i know your face all too well; i used to love it like my own. but i will say that you fail to see the best of my work, as does the world. i hide it in places you cannot reach. i hide it because the world isn’t made of dollars; it is made of realities.

the reality is that every time we exploit another living being for economy, we resign ourselves to the most vain theory of all: capitalism. capitalism makes you think you are worthy by every figmented dollar you “own.” it makes you think you are beautiful with every injection and adornment you put into/on/upon yourself. but, like Dorian Gray’s portrait, we all know what you look like without your austerity.

we all know you look like a failing interest rate.