“And it kills me, the word sorry. As if something like music
should be forgiven. He nuzzles into the wood like a lover,
inhales, and at the first slow stroke, the crescendo
seeps through our skin like warm water, we
who have nothing but destinations, who dream of light
but descend into the mouths of tunnels, searching.”
from Ocean Vuong’s “Song on the Subway”
“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of a greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”
Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980
“Well let’s think for a moment. What type of orange are you?” Our professor asks us.
On a Thursday night we discuss how to teach metaphor in our Poetry and Pedagogy class. We are reading Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions translated by William O’Daly. Dr. Berlin has asked us what it feels like to be an orange.
“I’m a blood orange,” my classmate responded. We all laughed. “I’m red and juicy on the inside.”
“Who gets the most sun and who decides on these matters?” someone wondered.
“I would think the biggest oranges would get the most sun,” another classmate said.
“What if the bigger oranges are bigger because they get the most sun?” I posed.
“This is not a Marxist tree!” the Blood Orange shouts. People laugh, I audibly eye roll.
People began calling out, “Everyone gets equal sun!”
“Where are these oranges growing? Is this a private farm or someone’s garden?”
“Did you hear about the peach tree they cut down on campus and replaced with Dogwood. That’s nice for about one month of the year, but I want peaches!”
“Now,” I start in, “what if everyone thinks I’m an orange but I’m really a grapefruit?”
As people laugh someone says something about me being bitter.
“What if,” I begin, “we are all those genetically modified mini-oranges engineered for children under 5 and we just think we are real oranges? We’re all in a crate together being shipped to the supermarket. We’re derivative oranges,” now I’m being a bit of an ass.
“Are we the types of oranges used in perfumery?” Someone starts looking up what type of oranges those are on their phone.
One classmate says they are a Florida-hating, navel gazing navel orange from Florida.
We discuss zen koans now:
Can a koan change a life?
My professor asks if we all remember the Marx Brothers. She wonders if people growing up today have sufficient exposure to absurdity; she comes from the era of Vaudeville.
I would think it’s clear absurdity is palpable now. Especially politically.
“Do people today have something like ‘The Shirt Song’? It’s just a guy talking about how he wants his shirt,” Dr. Berlin starts singing it.
He wants his shirt!
I want my shirt!
He won’t be happy without his shirt!
I think about when I used to do prank calls as a teenager with my friends Danny and Anthony.
An answering machine beeps (Danny, barely disguising voice trailing off laughing): “HELLO DERE! Come on down to Wal’er’s Park this weekend for some hotdooogs and sode-y!”
Videos exist of Anthony on the couch in a friend’s basement:
“Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of MAURY where today we will be discussing: ‘Help, My Daughter is Having Sex with…Pilot Lights.’”
There’s a clip on that video tape of a high school acquaintance laying sideways and rubbing his body atop a cafeteria table saying “Lemon Curry,” in a sensual way. Quickly: a cut to my friend Danielle in art class sharing her series of “feeling papers”: about 40 papers of possible human feelings. She reads each of them to me in discordant voices, pointing at all of the papers which are decorated with a hodge podge of art supplies, peaking slightly over the top of the papers and giggling after each one.
*Danielle in a shrieky voice* “Hopefulllll:” as in are youuu hopefulllll? I hope you’reee hopefulllll *laughter*
We used to laugh at anything when we were that age. In a high school play we performed, And Then There Was One, there was a line I said in the role of Detective Horatio Miles: “What does anyone do in the pantry?” It was tech rehearsal and someone in the audience yelled “Masturbate!” We laughed so hard and our teacher made us this t-shirt.
Last week I try to make feeling flashcards:
They are terrible and not like Danielle’s.
I made “privacy” an emotion, too, so if you want to be technical they are no longer feeling flashcards, now they are just cards with words on them.
“Should I watch the videos again,” I wonder now, “or just remember them?”
On a Thursday night in 2017 we continue discussing metaphor. My professor says: “What if I say: the universe is the smell of pee?” I got lost somewhere and now we’re here and “the universe is the smell of pee.”
Can a metaphor change a life? A law? An economy?
John Tarrant, in Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, says asking questions, specifically in the form of koans will encourage doubt and curiosity, lead you to see life as funny rather than tragic, and change the idea of who you are. He thinks at the bottom of people’s motives is love.
I ask myself if this can be true.
To prepare for class we read Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Neruda references Nixon, lemons, roses, and Rimbaud.
In “Night in Hell” Rimbaud says:
But I am still alive! – Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am.
Shams Tabrizi said this much earlier:
Don’t search for heaven and hell in the future. Both are now present. Whenever we manage to love without expectations, calculations, negotiations, we are indeed in heaven. Whenever we fight, hate, we are in hell.
I try reading Neruda in the style of Jerry Seinfeld:
“With the virtues that I forgot
Could I sew a new suit?”
“Why did the best rivers
leave to flow to France?”
“And why is the sun such a bad companion
To the traveler in the desert?”
Can a question change a life?
“Hello, Love!” Katrina, the barista at Java City, says when a customer walks in, sometimes alternated with, “Hello, sweetie!”
As someone who enjoys observational research, I listen to the way Katrina talks to other customers. “Hello, Love!” “Hello, sweetie!” would ring out from the cafe as I did some reading in the nearby library study area. “It’s so good to see you today!”
I feel as a cynical academic I could have just said “she is infantalizing me,” but I think that’s also bullshit, she wasn’t, this can’t be academonized.
One day Katrina and I talk about the power of being happy. I think about this a lot.
Katrina treats everyone with the same happiness. I believe she is happy. We talk about smiling. She says she is 53 and decided she didn’t ever want to be unhappy again. I wonder how this works, not in a shitty sarcastic way, I actually wonder.
Emotional labor debates are not because we don’t want to ever do emotional labor–they are so people recognize the labor we perform. No one has to be good to anyone. All emotions are labor. But what would be the point if no one ever did emotional labor? Should we all stop emoting? I don’t want to stop emoting.
I don’t think that’s the point.
There are “occupational hazard” emotions to some identities.
Calling someone “angry” can be a way to immediately shut down discourse. Telling someone to smile or be happy is intrusive. These can be ways of policing behavior when it’s threatening to power. But in terms of survival and on a more personal level–what does it do to someone’s health when they are angry a good deal of the time?
In Jessi Gan’s “Still at the Back of the Bus” (an essay from Are All the Women Still White?) Gan brings out that anger as a tool for social equity is an essential yet alienating reality. She mentions the story of Silvia Rivera: marginalization even on the margins.
“I just want to be who I am. I am living in the way Silvia wants to live. I’m not living in the straight world; I’m not living in the gay world; I’m just living in my own world with Julia and my friends.”
Rivera, along with Marsha P. Johnson, founded “Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries.” Even in queer communities, people told Rivera she wasn’t welcome, beating her up, telling her she was an affront to “real” womanhood, making fun of her language abilities, telling her sex workers did not have a place in the movement. “Progressive” queer people ignored Rivera’s plee to financially help homeless queer youth, so she did it herself.
Queer people, especially of color, gender non-conforming and gender nonbinary are consistently barraged with demands on their identity and forced outings:
“But who are you?”
Silvia was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and was shit on by her own “group” so she left.
The answer “I’m me” is not good enough and “who are you as it applies to what serves me?” seems to be the real question when people deny identities.
This should be cause for anger. With this anger can come alienation–the angered pick up the tab for this. They are blamed for the symptom, the anger, when the anger had a causal relationship to something else.
Calling out anger can be a form of shutting down discourse, but the anger that is dwelling inside comes at a cost to the angered, not just the receiver of the anger.
Anger can poison your organs. Anger can kill you.
*Someone in the back of the room says “everything kills you someday” and they are being an ass.*
Practitioners of allopathic as well as hollistic medicine believe anger is stored in the liver. People use alcohol and drugs to cope with anger, too, which further impacts the liver. Silvia Rivera died of liver cancer.
What are the ways people kill people?
“Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” and “Minced Oathe” were stories I wrote about breaking faith and questioning the ego when I was 19. I wonder if we are born with more wisdom than we gain and if we lose it over time; I’d write based on dreams I had.
My Grandmother was a Bible school teacher. Everything is apocalyptic revelation.
In “Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” the subject of the dream lays naked in the desert sipping a White Russian reading magazines. Most of the people are naked and imbibing, white metal bunk beds are placed all over in the sand. A natural disaster rips through the place and everyone dies except the subject of the dream.
“You killed some people who didn’t deserve it.”
They look for clothes to cover themself and only find some on a person who has been decapitated. They put the clothes on as a figure on a Hummer*** drives through.
*On a Hummer not in a Hummer because it’s a dream and: dream logic.
*It’s a dream, shut up.
Though this character is just introduced, and this seems like the beginning of the story, it’s like we know them already. They go off together through a bar where Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” plays. Jesus is the bartender’s name. Jesus knows what you want before you even ask.
The characters talk for a bit and the subject says:
“Whenever I am hating you I am only hating myself.”