All afternoon since getting home from teaching workshop today I have wanted to write in my Moleskine journal. I have had my Moleskine journal poised at the side of me, certain I was going to be able to begin again this process of daily notebooking that is what originally made me become a writer. The dated rows of Moleskine journals kept over 8 years. I used to go through one every six months. Now it's one over a year and a half, or two years. Since starting this online notebook this process has stalled. Since moving to Akron. Since working too much. Instead I watched Gossip Girl on my computer and came here.
Today was a good day I think of creative nonfiction workshop - all Sunday I was in a mandatory retreat on creative writing pedagogy in Pittsburgh - I think it just gave me more confidence that I knew how to teach writing, especially the essay. I'm not so sure I know how to teach a story, I even know what a story is. Today I believed in the essay, I believed fullheartedly in my student's abilities to be poet-philosophers, to examine their own lives and gesture to the outside. Today we read Eula Biss' The Pain Scale and Maggie Nelson's Bluets and talked about honesty & authenticity, about writing emotions such as loneliness or humiliation or the hot gushiness of confessionalism confined within the calm clear more detached voice or the restraining frame. One student thought Bluets was called that because it's like little fragments of blue. Blue as in mood, maybe, as in emotion. I told them I thought it was named after a painting but I liked that as well. So I guess these are my sadlets, lately, my little fragments of sad, my grief-babies.
At the retreat we were given a roll of toilet paper and told to break up into groups and we had to wrap one person in the toilet paper as a costume and then do a runway walk at the end. Luckily my group was the shy & misanthropic group. I felt humiliated but it's been the dominant emotion I've been wearing lately. I wonder what color humiliation would be in a mood ring. Shit brown most likely. Or a shit brown mixed with orange. I had to wrap a full-time poetry professor's head up in toilet paper. She couldn't see or breathe. I felt awkward slowly wrapping around and around her short curly hair. We settled her glasses on top and had to help her up, into a chair. We had to explain our project. We said our project meant nothing. We were the bad group. I said that it was a visual pun on cotton-headed. I said this was our attempt at sustainability.No one laughed. I think people only laugh in such situations if you are higher up then they are, and I was not higher up than anyone.
After the retreat the new faculty read for about 40 students. I read last. I sweated through the armpits of my new navy blue blazer that is from the GAP but I pretend it's not from the GAP, for both issues of not wanting to be shopped - sweatshopped, shopping the same, workshopping. I was sleepy and a little drunk when I finally read so I read loosely, boldly. Afterwards people said I was raw and wild. I am beginning to start a little when I hear this. It makes me feel a bit like an exotic animal in the zoo - the experimental writer. Sometimes she doesn't cater to verisimilitude and she can bark in strange voices! As if they're saying that I'm somehow untrained. And I suppose I am. I suppose I am somehow untrained. I was once trained in language - the formula of journalism. And then I unlearned it. And now I have to try to learn it again, this circumspect voice, this calm, careful voice of the observer, even if trained onto oneself, one's body.
Sadlet: It seems I have bombed my deadline for the Semiotext(e) book. Failures can be delightful and failures can be failures. I guess when the contract said DECEMBER I thought it was...suggested? I don't know. I don't know what I thought, or why I thought it would be a good idea to take classes everyday and four classes and exhaust myself into a state of zombiehood where a blog entry every other day is me writing. So my new FINAL deadline is end of April. So I am planning on only working Tuesdays and Thursdays next semester, hopefully three classes, all day. Now I am contacting everyone begging for classes. And we know that phrase, that beggars are never allowed to choose. It seems I am never allowed to choose lately, that I am supposed to be happy what I am given.
John just read this post and added: Bluets could also be for me BLEW-ITS.
If another full-time male professor assumes one more time that I'm a student, even a grad student, when I'm obviously engaging in a teacherly task, I'm going to become an angry young woman again. These slights are so, yes, slight, but they've become so constant, especially since I've moved here. I try to ignore them, but I feel them, the tiny prick against my skin. Young lady. Are you lost young lady. I've seen you around. Are you a student? When I am obviously in the communal faculty room, obviously photocopying multiple readings (of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictee, the mother section). No, I'm faculty. But this is untrue too isn't it. I am not faculty. The real faculty don't even speak to me. They dont' even look at me. Sometimes I make friends with the woman who is the administrative person. Always different women. Sometimes she likes me and we get along and since I am lonely I will pop my head in and say hello and chew the fat. Sometimes she too considers me outside of her class, since she has a desk or an office, she belongs, she is paid a full-time salary, I work this semester about 50 hours a week and would probably make more money as a countergirl at Panera Bread. (at dinner with the art curator and her professor husband, bemoaning the lack of cafes in Akron: Well, you might have heard of this place, it's called Panera Bread, it's a chain). At one of the campuses I have no where to go in between classes, sometimes I just circle the maze-like floor, purposefully getting lost to pass time, I know when I see a hard-candy dish sitting outside on a table I am near the elevator. Sometimes I just stand in the hallway, kind of swaying, cradling bookbag and portable coffee cup and water bottle. There is an office supposedly I am allowed to share but it doesn't have a computer inside of it and I haven't been given a key.
I wonder if my fellow male adjuncts receive this treatment. This constantly assuming I'm a student. The almost patented look of disbelief when I tell them that I am teaching a creative writing workshop. The shock that I could have produced, anything but a child. This is belaboring the point perhaps. I'm sorry. It's been difficult. It's worse when they find out my partner is a man, and I am married. Now that I'm actually teaching undergraduate and graduate workshops I'm somehow feeling in a way even more of the servant class. And my students feel sometimes like employers as well. And I am not clean. I am not clean. I am messy. Everything spills over.
And I wonder, is it how I dress? Because the man this morning was wearing the sort of hip-old-dude creative writing professor uniform of jeans and a blazer. I was wearing nicer pants and a blazer. I might have been young to him, but I am well within the age of it being entirely logical that I can teach college. In fact I want to tell these people that if I was the least bit successful I would have a full-time job that would probably be replacing him. I know masses and masses of writers younger than me who have full-time positions. If anything I am the least successful writer, in the field of figuring out living, of my acquaintance. I am in my thirties. I in no way resemble a collegiate bon-bon. Even the older women I meet, who might be adjuncts as well, treat me like a china doll. That women who compliments me on my "curly pixie" I keep on seeing her in the elevator. I smile still at her because I have been taught to.
It hurts more where I am here. Here where everyone assumes John is the breadwinner, even though this semester I am maybe working more hours, but being paid half as much, being paid no as third as much, maybe. The power is unequal between us now, and it causes fights. As Friedrich Engels wrote about the state of marriage in capitalism, he is the bureaucrat, I am the proletariat. When we go anywhere in public, funerals, readings, all anyone asks is about John's job, about what it is like to be a rare books librarian, to be a professor at a university, to play around with old books and be able to stroke a bookbinding and read its life, which I agree, is really fascinating, I would be curious too. But I stand there like a wife, filling in on the conversation. When we met with the artists in Akron last week I was disappointed how uncurious they were about who I was, what I was doing. They only wanted to talk about John. This sounds bitter - it's not - but it's a weird way of being, publishing but being so unpublic in my "real" life. I am more conscious lately how little anyone ever asks about me. They say, if they already knew me or about me, You're teaching right? But I can tell they don't think I'm really teaching. My in-laws, when I spoke to them, used to always try to find me "real" work. Like Esther Greenwood's mother encouraging her to be a stenographer. You could teach high school, they say. You could do this or that they say.
I realize these people I meet probably don't expect much of me, because I'm married, or have a partner who is male. And it is that, it is that that really stings.
Sometimes failure is so heavy. As heavy as the bag I carry around with me. I have three plastic folders I bought at Staples, one of every color - an ugly soft green, an ugly brick red, an okay navy blue. I marked them up carefully and switch them out every class. Inside each folder are syllabi, student writing, lectures, maps, always maps, to remind me where I am going, where I am supposed to go.
Perhaps it's the lack of authority I project. Why no one believes I'm a teacher, even my students don't believe it. They ask for: credentials, degrees, years taught. Like a constant job interview. Perhaps it's that I always look like I'm lost. Because I am always lost lately. Physically lost. Today it took me an hour longer to drive home today, as I got lost even though I was just on the highway the entire time, it amazes me sometimes, how good I am at getting lost, why isn't this a characteristic we prize more? The ability to get lost? To completely and utterly fail? I circled around a landscape of Chilis and Ramada Inns and Home Depots because I thought it seemed close to home but realized it was a different landscape of Chilis and Ramada Inns and Home Depots. Circling circling around the hotel parking lot.
In the elevator at the university today everyone is always trapped in the elevator I can smell everyone's curious smell, their pomade. Two young men get in. They are dressed in the kind of casual clothes that seem to always be dragged downwards, like a nagging child. One of them asks the other if he's Puerto Rican. He asks this in Spanish. The other shakes his head. No, I'm Jewish. Then there is this moment, me and this Jewish stranger, like solidarity, I think, I'm Jewish too, but that's a lie too, I'm not, I'm as Jewish as I'm on faculty, really that's so true, my mother was Jewish but closeted and then converted. I maybe a bit of a Jew, wonders Sylvia. I would fail a marriage authenticity test or a college professor authenticity test as much as I would fail a Jewish authenticity test but technically I am all of these. It's a matter of degrees. The Spanish-speaking guy says, "Oh, I know a lot of Jewish jokes." The Jewish guy smiles (grimly? am I imagining?) and says "So do I." I think about how this particular elevator is always Auschwitz-like to me. We are herded in like cattle. And then the guy, despite my eye-daggers, besides the obvious way this other guy is freezing him out, begins to tell a "joke" about a "black guy and a Jew" as they both exit to the first floor. I am going to the garage. No, that's not a joke, it really happened. Just like my cousin began to make anti-Semitic comments as my uncle lay dying, the band of cousins in the hospital room, "Jew" this and "Jew" that. To Jew - to be cheap. Today I wished Happy New Year's to a student I knew was taking off for the holidays, and I felt fraudulent, I who always urge authenticity to my students.
While getting lost on the highway today I listened to writers who have won prizes being interviewed on NPR. Sometimes there is my writing life, where I write things and strange texts most don't want to read, and then other times I am in the car listening to writers being interviewed and these seem like such disparate parallel universes. A woman writer from Lahore interviewed about her historical novel spanning a century and wars and taking place in like five different countries, all impeccably characterized and researched. All evocative description and psychological acuity. That is what a novelist is I thought. Oh, I thought. That is what a novelist is. Like I am saying: Oh, that is what a chair is. That is what a book is.