Six years of evidence of my worth as a teacher, scholar, and member of the academy. Eleven years of college courses to even be allowed the opportunity to try. Thirteen years of college teaching before I was finally eligible. While doing that, I maintained a marriage and a home, gave birth to and raised children, had friendships, practiced a religion, lost 85 pounds, learned how to play roller derby, overcame severe depression, gardened, traveled, and wrote to all of you.
This is my best. Godspeed, tenure portfolio.
I think about how running and roller derby are alike. During both, there comes the litany of reasons why I can’t do it: my calves hurt, my shins hurt, my thighs hurt, my knees hurt, I think I have exercise-induced asthma, I may have pinched a random nerve in my arm/shoulder/hand/somewhere, this is impossible for me. But if I just keep going, if I just make myself continue anyway, if I just tell the litany in my head that change is supposed to be uncomfortable, then right near the end, then right when I think I really have to give up…I can suddenly do it. I can suddenly run. I can suddenly skate. I can suddenly do what my body was trying to make me believe I couldn’t do. I can suddenly do whatever I want to.
"Don’t give up," I repeat then. "Don’t give up."
A former student of mine alerted me to this song, which I made aural love to all morning:
"Well, you and I both know that the house is haunted.
Yeah, you and I both know that the ghost is me.
Used to catch me in your bed-sheets just rattling your chains.
Well back then, baby, it didn’t seem so strange.”
"Cause you and I both know that the house is haunted.
Yeah, you and I both know that the ghost is you.
Used to walk around screaming or slamming all them doors.
Well I’m all grown up now; I don’t scare easy no more.”
So I danced to it in my office. Because fuck if I’m not gonna dance at work when I damn well want to.
I spent the afternoon writing out responses to questions from a reporter. She wants to know why in the world a professor would want to play roller derby. What injuries have I gotten? Do I have tattoos? Do I live a double life where by day I am proper and staid and by night I ride motorcycles and spit tobacco juice?
If only we fit so neatly into people’s assumptions. I am myself by day and by night. I am strong in the classroom, I am strong as a mother, I am strong on skates, I am strong running on the trail. I fall down in different ways doing each of those things. I get hurt doing all of those things. And I get back up and I keep going, each time.
I bet it would be a better story if the reporter felt like she could unearth a secret I have to hide about myself. But I’m not hidden. I’m merely human, fully.
Student: “I don’t want to get old. I’d want to die rather than be old.”
Me: “What do you think the purpose of your life is?”
Student: “…I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.”
Me: “That’s why you don’t care if you have a future. If you feel like you’ve got no reason to be here, well, there’s not much reason to care about staying, is there? Figure that out, then go be a happy old fart.”
My students are required to give short presentations in my course on sexuality. Today, one of my students presented on Aristophanes’ theory of homosexual and heterosexual soul mates: that is, originally we were double bodies that were then split. We each seek forever our other half, looking for a person with the gender we were initially connected to. But rather than do a PowerPoint or give a handout about it, she SEWED HER OWN DOUBLE-BODIED COSTUME WITH DETACHABLE PENISES AND DID A DANCE TO A SONG SHE WROTE ABOUT THE THEORY.
Holy crap, the size of her figurative balls. "A"s forever for her. Forever.
(For more info on Aristophanes’ theory, looky here.)
It was my first semester teaching. I was at a university in Texas. The image from that day that has stuck in my mind more than any is that amid the utter quiet on my normally truck-packed and congested commute, I saw a lone man standing on a bridge over the highway, waving an American flag. When I think of September 11th, that’s what I see.
When we have a break in practice, she does ballet on her skates, talks to me about pointe shoes. I have never understood ballet as a thing—contorting unnaturally on shoes that make bloody stumps of your feet. Then again, I hit people while rolling on eight wheels, so who am I to judge? Yet, the ballerina is the scrappiest skater I’ve ever seen. All practice, every practice, she never backs off—getting knocked down and back up in seconds, fighting harder than all of us combined, never tired. I guess you’ve got to be that way if you’re a ballerina.
"Theory is good but it doesn’t prevent things from existing. Nor do things (also good) prevent theory from existing. In fact, […] the impulse to theorize is less the result of an insensitivity to things (if we take that word to mean something like the percepts of sense and something like other minds) than a too-keen awareness of them. Theory may sometimes act as a denial from or a refuge from things, yes, but, at others (and arguably at its best), it offers an imaginative synthesis of things that lays bare its own limitations as a matter of course.” (Rebecca Ariel Porte)
The students say, “Why are we reading so much into Sappho’s fragments?”
The students say, “Academics blab on about some tiny thing in a novel. Why?”
The students say, “Why can’t we just enjoy the film instead of analyzing it to death?”
My mother says, “You and David are killing this show for me. Why do you do that?”
People say, “You shouldn’t think so much.”
People say, “It isn’t good to over-analyze.”
People say, “What’s the point of theorizing?”
I say, “Because.”
Or, “Because thinking seems to scare you for no reason.”
Or, “Because ‘absurdity is the ecstasy of intellectualism.’”
Or, “Because ‘an ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory' applies to economics more so than it does to interpreting art, creating history, or understanding culture.”
Or, “Because when Nietzsche says ‘It is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable; it is precisely thereby that it attracts the more subtle minds,’ he is calling you thick-headed for what you just complained about.”
Or, “Because you are destined to repeat the bad practices that you have not taken the time to understand.”
Or I say, more simply, “Because it is fun.”