muñoz & sedgwick, both gone, both brilliant, & w says to me, “be like them Jess”
A phrase. An imperfect phrase. And what are phrases? They have left me very little to lay on the table, beside Susan's hand; to take from my pocket, with Neville's credentials. I am not an authority on law, or medicine, or finance. I am wrapped round with phrases, like damp straw; I glow, phosphorescent.
—Virginia Woolf, The Waves
muñoz & sedgwick, both gone, both brilliant, & w says to me, “be like them Jess”
B.A. (Summa Cum Laude), American Studies, Barnard College, 2013
Senior Thesis (awarded Distinction): “Edible Writing, Queer Eating, & the Poetry of Gertrude Stein”
Select Courses Taken:
Food and American Life (Rachel Adams, Columbia University), A History of Thinking About Food (Steven Shapin, Columbia University), Food, Ethnicity, and Globalization (Kim Hall, Barnard College)
The Ethnographic Imagination (Rosalind Morris, Columbia University), Reading Lacan (Maire Jaanus, Barnard College), Queer Theory (Elizabeth Povinelli, Columbia University), Colloquium on Feminist Inquiry (Elizabeth Povinelli)
American Literature 1871-1945 (Margaret Vandenburg, Barnard College), Modernism (Margaret Vandenburg), Harlem Renaissance Literature (Monica Miller, Barnard College)
Areas of Specialization: Food studies, Queer studies, Modernist literature
Awards & Honors:
Dean’s List, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013
Elected to Phi Beta Kappa, November 2012
Schwimmer Prize for excellence in the Humanities, Barnard College (2013)
John Demos Prize for excellence in American Studies, Barnard College (2013)
Queer Studies Award for excellence in research and writing in the fields of queer studies, queer theory, and gender studies (awarded by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia University), Paper: “Nothing Pleases Me Except Dinner: Eating Sex and Queering Eating in Gertrude Stein’s Lifting Belly”
Research Assistant to Kim Hall, Professor of English and Africana Studies, Lucyle Hook Chair, Barnard College (Summer 2013)
Research Assistant to Margaret Vandenburg, Senior Lecturer in English and Director of the First-Year English Program, Barnard College (Spring 2013)
Research Assistant to Jennie Kassanoff, Professor of English and Director of the American Studies Program, Barnard College (Spring, Summer, Fall 2012)
“Edible Writing, Queer Eating,” 22nd Annual Women & Society Conference, Marist College (October 25-26, 2013)
rhetorical question: what do you do when you can’t stand to read a word of what you’ve written?
(and you have to write a conference talk, a personal statement, a bit of coffee-shop-composition-book-prose-poetry)
somewhere a desire to read books again; but the inability to hold one for too long
is this what causes silence?
(not the absence of verbs)
should I get a tattoo of parentheses? how about a semicolon?
(no time to lament the lack of attention-paying, whatever it is that Lauren Berlant has called “the emotional time of being-with”)
what do you do when pleasure and displeasure, affection and dislike begin to feel the same? (or maybe you can no longer feel them)
I have doubts concerning my ability to produce “interpretations,” “readings,” “encounters”
the truth is: writers write
(last hope: Dylan called himself a farmer)
cultural critics make critiques, observations, insights, theories
they are the type that talk to you about shit; they know (they decide) what’s going on
they tell us about our feelings, our insides (or are they really creating a world; description as creation; no our until they write it)
the appeal of academia: it’s a bunch of people committed to envisioning & writing & thereby creating (not in any physical, literal, “actual” sense) an alternate world, a world of ideas; it’s a place where ideas can stand in for a world, can count as a world (think of the jarred dreams in Roald Dahl’s The BFG or Mrs. Dalloway’s mist of memories, a grasp at immortality; think of something intangible, something that affects you, something you can visualize in a daydream or a pencil-sketch, a sentence you have to leave the bed to record)
rhetorical question: what do you do when you can’t even make time to read the newspaper?
I wonder if I am a part of something
(anything: a generation; a culture; a nation; a political entity; a family; a social network)
I admit: if I don’t go to grad school, I have no idea what I’d do
I admit: my head feels empty of knowledge
(my eighth grade history teacher used to say, “I know stuff,” because he did; I couldn’t say that now without feeling untrue)
I admit: the fun & frivolous in-between times carry with them a sense of distraction like an eyelash in your eye, a non-awareness (of the self, of change over time—not just a season’s end but shifting faces & thickening thighs & dirty floors & maybe-dreams & the ability to feel in-bodied, at home, aware)
and so, fragments:
(has it come to that?)
step one: slow down
step two: come back into the body (loose) —the body immersed in something strange; cold air is a metaphor
step three: wake up
step four: pay attention
(is it already over?)
step seven: revel in the imprecision, the absolute openness of words like “it” and “you”
you is me (I’m talking to myself)
mouth the words to “I Want You” (so bad)
I could be thinking what you’re thinking
(if I knew)
does it have anything to do with me, I wonder
So I have this blog. It’s not so much “about” me as it is of me. I write things, not for “you” or anyone, really (that includes myself), but for the sake of writing them. If what I write feels compelling; if it sparks something; if it makes a reader pause or yawn or smile or grimace or blush or shrug in total non-understanding—then I have done something worthwhile. I mean to say precisely what I write. This is not the same as knowing what my writing means. (For an aspiring academic, this is a problem. I choose my words carefully, but my goal is not necessarily & automatically to assure my reader’s comfort & comprehension. When asked to explain myself, to put it another way, to summarize or simplify or translate, I resist; I come up silent. Is this a problem? The reader is not dead. Neither is the text. A sentence is like a hand or a tree; who am I to read the lines & creases, to piece together a history out of rings?)
Do you have an answer to this question: what’s the point? (Not yet, I imagine, not yet.)
the phrase “can of worms” comes to mind
a backwards )
the likelihood that it was an accident
(unable to focus; it’s a physiological problem; I’m talking about my body, specifically my eyes; but this assumes that body & mind or feeling & feelings, for example, are in some way distinct; we prize our in/ability to disentangle: hair, limbs, gender, the darks & the lights; to distinguish between love & not-love, good fats & bad fats, authenticity & artifice.
it wasn’t a tangent
The point is not knowing. You, reader, do not know me (okay, some of you do). This is not a blog about me.
If you were inside my head you’d know that I have not been thinking about graduate school (this is my future). I have not been reading academic books (this is my pastime). I have not been revisiting my thesis in preparation for the talk I am scheduled to give in less than two months (this is my craft). I tell myself that I am “off track.” I reason that a full time job & late nights & new friends are no reason to stop reading the diary of Virginia Woolf. But I wonder if the books I love (the ideas that give color to my cheeks the way an 8-mile bike ride does; the phrases that envelop me & blur the rest of the world, even if the world is just my closed-door room containing desk & bed & laptop & lamp, as if the world was some dumb picture in my instagram feed; feed me not with pictures or posts or illusions on a screen but with a warm body; please & thank you) I wonder if the books I love are just as, well, about nothing as this blog.
(I am always half-joking; remember, everything is en/tangled.)
It always happens. The excitement, the dizziness, the rush of abandon. And then, the questions. Doubts. A blog post that feels ridiculous in hindsight (or hind-feeling; ha). A tired not-quite-conscious morning when I get the feeling (from where? and how?) that everything I do—that none of it will make a life. Or something. School is not life. A job is not life. A girlfriend is not life. A room of one’s own is not life. What else?
(has anybody learned something?)
the word distraction comes to mind
mirror on the floor
& the record player has been silent for a while
I wonder: have I said something in the midst of all that noise?
“Nobody’s serious when they’re seventeen.”
—Arthur Rimbaud, “Romance”
- - -
This blog’s spirit text, of sorts (the source for my title & epigraph above), is Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. It reads like a prose poem, animated not by plot but by the rhythms of the sea, the seasons, the moments that pass between the characters—indistinct. The characters (who can keep them straight) reside in waves; they are waves, flooding one into another, indistinguishable. Liquid subjectivity. Every sentence is arresting & asks to be re-read (a slow cyclical read, this book, back and forth; the words wash over you), but you can’t stop. Time does not exist, which is why I’ll say that I’m moving through space. I don’t believe in time. I am, in Woolf’s words, “immeasurably receptive.”
This place is a strange one (worlds spring to life; identities fail), and my question has to do with this thing, “myself,” and everyone else, myself, washing over me, staining, shaping, illuminating. My sense (blurry) is that myself is not in any way mine. “We are not single,” Woolf says. “We are edged with mist. We make an unsubstantial territory.” It’s true that I’m thinking of myself (the mark of the millennial generation—narcissism—always taking pictures to shore up shattered confidence that nothing has been lost; that we are whole & complete with a pair of eyes and lips and nose and aura of youthful abandon), but I’m also thinking of something larger-than-myself.
So much depends upon something.
A pot-bellied man mistook me for a boy today on the boardwalk. I was sitting alone along the railing, the furthest spot from the sand, for lack of sunscreen and want of shade. Was it my short haircut & Phillies t-shirt & sunglasses? What about the lip stain? He might have mistaken the red for food coloring, fruit punch, a popsicle. Was he wrong?
“I am not a woman, but the light that falls on this gate, on this ground.”
I’m beginning to grasp it—what my brother has been trying to tell me for years…and Margaret Vandenburg too…the interconnectedness of all, all instead of each, “fin in a waste of waters.” It’s raining now; I’m coming to the point.
“I came to the puddle. I could not cross it. Identity failed me. We are nothing.”
My goal of heightened consciousness (see Mrs. Dalloway) has been misguided or misdirected—I don’t want to feel (to swallow; to apprehend; to capture) the world inside my own head (there is no own; the sea has swallowed all). I want to break open the head, wherever the I resides. I want to know that my head has already flowed into and out of your head, his head, her head, our head.
It is for this reason that I am unable to think about my future, my applications for graduate school, my academic aspirations. Because I am shot through & suspended & saturated with this present, this not-myself, this everything-and-everyone-around-me. I am suspended, not floating, not thinking, just feeling; taking time (I refuse time) to sit quietly, to listen, to note the inadequacies of my perspective.
I could barely make out the ocean for the mist. Pedestrians were staring at me.
“I do not know myself sometimes, or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me what I am.”
The point of this is to say that what it feels like to be tossed about like a bottle full of air (and a message, too, somewhere) back and forth in the waves of this tiny world in Brooklyn, in the kitchen where I earn a few dollars & smile for luck, in sleepless nights & quiet mornings—what it feels like to accept & diffuse (not contain) the vitality of others, the others that have made and are making myself; what it is to feel myself molded and formed easy like a pebble made smooth (I might slip through your fingers; they are strong enough) by all that surrounds me, our sea—that this is what it means to be a part of something larger than a self. A different kind of self.
The old-ness grows in me. I say this because I don’t believe in time. I remember a picture of me sitting in a diner age 17 probably with dark hair & make-up & innocence, and I laugh. In those days I couldn’t read Rimbaud. I couldn’t read Ginsberg. I wanted to cry. I have yet to earn “the privilege to witness my existence” (Ginsberg).
And yet—I don’t want to hear that my feelings will fade.
I don’t want to wake up having fallen, having abandoned myself.
I want to expand myself.
Sometimes I forget that people eat the food I place on plates, in bowls. Other times I stop what I’m doing and take a breath and listen to the sounds of a raw kitchen & smile a little because I’m so fucking lucky.
(No wonder she has butterflies in the stomach.)
At last, away from “books” and “poets” (was it Dylan who called himself a farmer?) and in love with it all again, this feeling of floating, in-between, and most of all the sense that I is someone else—that I is the milky haze of almost-full moon between the curtains last night when I couldn’t for the life of me sleep. What are the odds that the moon would occupy the precise sliver of dark sky that interrupts my curtains set rippling by the air conditioner. A vulgar poem. That’s me, glowing weakly like last night’s moon, insomniac, not lost, but barely remembered. Desire survives the night.