Angel Haze and Jack Halberstam

Jack Halberstam the other day made this blog post that made everybody crazy. It was about “triggers” — the neopolitical rhetoric of harm danger and trauma. I thought it was actually a really good post. I went to post it to my Facebook and then didn’t. Just the title, I thought, just the possibility that I wouldn’t be Always Sensitive All the Time to my Facebook friends’ potential triggers. That in itself might be triggering. Oh, dear. Nope, nope. Mustn’t post the link to the blog on my Facebook. WOW, I thought next, see? this blog post really is something! Proving its point even by whether or not you want to link to it on your Facebook! I never, ever leave comments on blogs because I’ll probably just sound stupid, but I did think the fact that I didn’t even want to put it up on Facebook because of the very reasons that he was talking about in the article, I did think that was important enough for just a one-sentence comment. You had to enter your email address to leave a comment, and then there was a box you could check if you wanted email notifications whenever someone else made a comment. “Sure,” I thought, clicking on the box. Who knows? Maybe someone will write back to me. Maybe even Jack Alberstam himself will write back. (I always mentally say it “Alberstam,” because I have this French friend who does not pronounce h’s if they’re immediately followed by a vowel. Jack Alberstam. The Victor Yugo Award for science fiction. I love it, love it, love it.)

Then I very quickly got off the computer because my comment was probably stupid and didn’t want anyone to point that out. By the next morning I’d forgotten all about it. Then I logged into my Hotmail account.

There were like 178 messages in my inbox! “Whaaaaa?” I thought. They were all from Jack Alberstam’s Bully Bloggers blog. Uh-oh. The blog must have a bug of some kind, I thought. It must be making multiple email notifications for no reason, by mistake. Maybe it accidentally set me up to be notified of every single comment on every single blog entry that Jack Alberstam ever made, ever. Or maybe there really were 178 comments, and one was mine and the other 177 were people pointing out how stupid mine was. Very scaredy-cat like, I clicked on the first one.

It totally didn’t have anything to do with me. It was a whole bunch of loud, loud, LOUD criticism of the blog post. Fighting loud mad. I read a few of them. They made me Uncomfortable. I deleted three entire pages of notifications before my Inbox finally looked normal again. Ugh. By the time I’d gotten through deleting all of them, there were several new ones, which I also deleted.

I got to see him speak, one time. “Jack Alberstam is coming to speak at PSU,” my French friend had said, the same one who doesn’t pronounce h’s. “I thought you might be interested in seeing him.” We were eating sushi at Sushiland. We used to go there once a week and eat dollar sushi and talk about feminist science fiction. It was wonderful. I didn’t know anything about feminist science fiction, but she did.

“Who?” I’d said.

“Jack Alberstam?” she said. “Jack…Alberstam? You know who he is. He’s very famous. You KNOW.”

“I don’t,” I said.

“You do,” she insisted. “Judith Alberstam? Now Jack Alberstam? I don’t remember the titles of his work, but they are very famous. There is one in particular. Very famous. You must have read it. You KNOW. Jack…ALBERSTAM.”

Then, suddenly, it clicked in. “HALberstam?” I said. “WHAT? REALLY??? WHEN???”

We made arrangements and I showed up. We had a beer and then headed over to campus. It was some sort of awards ceremony for some of the PSU students. My friend was wearing a t-shirt and it made me nervous; wasn’t she trying to get tenure? She shouldn’t wear a t-shirt to Jack Alberstam if she was trying to get tenure. And bringing me with her? I probably wasn’t even supposed to be there. I don’t think this is how you get tenure, by wearing a t-shirt and bringing random social worker friends.* And then, as it turned out, she had to leave early and pick somebody up from the airport. Then I sat alone, in a metal chair, feeling totally uncomfortable and like somebody might ask me to leave. I felt so bad for my friend, for having to leave. Who was she going to pick up, anyway?** Did that person know? What a sacrifice she was making? Missing Jack Alberstam to go to the AIRPORT? The sad thing is that most people wouldn’t understand.

I sat there feeling uncomfortable. Then, thankfully, Jack Halberstam had all the lights turned down and started showing us videos. Videos interspersed with lectures. He was incredible. The lectures were about The Wild. He has playful eyes. He showed us the Kanye video of “No Church in the Wild” and then much later showed the Angel Haze version video of “No Church in the Wild.” I loved his lecture. I loved all the videos. I loved “the wild.” I’d been working on a blog project for years and years and was able to bring in a lot of concepts of “the wild” that were really helpful.

And now. That blog drama. Holy cow. Well, I thought, waking up at 5:30 a.m. to finally read all those comments and try to figure the post out for real. Well, I thought. If even Jack Alberstam is willing to put up a blog that could be so controversial. And what if he’s wrong? I mean what if he’s really, really, really wrong. What if he’s being ageist and sexist and insensitive and improper and bad and hateful and wrong. What if he’s being STUPID. There’s a chance that he’s being stupid. IF he is totally wrong, I thought, IF he is completely offbase and absolutely ruining everything forever and ever…well. At least, IF he is wrong, then at the very least, it means that now there’s basically nothing I could ever write that’d be worse, so I might as well take a deep breath and make up my own blog.

I took a break from the Bully Bloggers and started my own, stupid blog. I named it “Cyberdale,” which I kind of like the name of that, because it sounds like “Clydesdale” (a breed of draft horse.) If my blog turned out to be too stupid I could always change the whole subject matter of the blog to be some sort of horse blog. Get it? A blog about horses, but on the computer, so “cyber.” And if I turned out to be actually a GOOD writer, then it would give the impression of being massive and powerful. So either way it’d totally work.) I wrote a dumb little article about a community college. It was harder to write than I would’ve thought. I went to post a link on my Facebook, but then was too freaked out, so I set the post to only show to only the two most gentle of my Facebook friends. Blogging is scary. It totally Freaks Me The Freak Out.

After seeing him at PSU, now Jack Alberstam always makes me think of Angel Haze. I clicked on Youtube and youtube’d Angel Haze to listen to, while I read, read, re-read, and re-read the blog post. “She’s SO HOT,” I thought, when I clicked on her Youtube riff of Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet,” and then felt totally guilty, because Angel Haze totally has an obvious eating disorder, and this is the second time that I’ve thought that someone that emaciated, who’s obviously totally eating-disordered and ill, is totally hot. The first time was that runner girl who…well, never mind. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. STOP GAZING SEXUALLY AT ANGEL HAZE, I lectured myself, CONCENTRATE ON THE NEOPOLITICAL RHETORIC OF HARM DANGER AND TRAUMA.

I stopped gazing sexually at Angel Haze. I concentrated on the neopolitical rhetoric of harm danger and trauma. “I know it’s nasty but sometimes I’d even bleed from my butt,” Angel Haze was rapping, in the background, talking about being raped repeatedly. “In a post-affirmative action society, where even recent histories of political violence like slavery and lynching are cast as a distant and irrelevant past, all claims to hardship have been cast as equal; and some students, accustomed to trotting out stories of painful events in their childhoods (dead pets/parrots, a bad injury in sports) in college applications and other such venues, have come to think of themselves as communities of naked, shivering, quaking little selves – too vulnerable to take a joke, too damaged to make one,” Jack Alberstam was writing. 

Too vulnerable to take a joke. Too damaged to make one. Angel Haze is — what, twenty? She has absolutely zero to do with even recent histories of slavery and lynching and a distant and irrelevant past. You can see her body, her ribs, her head is so much bigger than the rest of her. How in the world is her claim to hardship (“I guess he told his friend what he’d do and they ate it up, shit I was like a buffet for two”) synonymous somehow with the dead pets and parrots that Halberstam’s students apparently trot out for the college application essays. Angel Haze isn’t really the type of girl to own ANY kind of pet at all, let alone a parrot (those things’re expensive), and… a SPORTS injury??? (“I started starving myself, fucked up my bodily health…”) The really ironic bit is that I would’ve never even HEARD of Angel Haze if it wasn’t for Jack Halberstam.

Good lord. I worked on this for hours. Seriously, HOURS. Puzzling and puzzling and puzzling and puzzling. Angel Haze cleaning out her closet, and Jack Halberstam “these same youth internalize narratives of damage that they themselves… may not have actually experienced.” Sometimes I feel like I’ll die if I can’t figure things like this out. I just read and re-read and re-read and re-read and listened and re-listened and re-listened and re-listened. Sometimes if you just do it enough then eventually you figure it out.

And finally, finally, FINALLY I figured it out. It has to do with the ending of Angel Haze’s version of “Cleaning out My Closet.” It ends with “I had to open my wounds. I had to bleed till I stopped it. Thanks for joining me here. As I cleaned out my closet.

That’s the key. That’s totally the key. Thanks for joining me here, Angel Haze says, her closet is CLEAN. There’s nothing to trigger. We joined her here. As she cleaned out her closet. It’s clean! She bled till SHE stopped it. NOW there’s room for the Jack Halberstam. Now it’s not so hard anymore, is it.

Is that right? I have no idea. I never have any idea. It’s probably totally wrong. But even if it’s totally wrong, then it will still never be as wrong as Jack Halberstam’s blog post could have been. So technically I’m still okay.

*She did actually get tenure, about a year later.

** She ended up marrying her. That girl she left Jack Halberstam for, to go pick up at the airport. So…YES, apparently it was worth it.

Highlighters

The campus at PCC Central has an enormous new building but I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be. The main building, Tabor Hall, still houses the cafeteria and the women’s resource center and some computer labs. The new building, I have no idea. There were some study tables, but only three of them, and I was spread out all over one of them with lots of papers and paperclips. The only other person in the whole building was spread out all over another table, with books and hi-lighters and a bag of fast food. She was much older than me and did not seem to be doing very much other than highlighting (highlighting is actually the worst idea. It “feels” like you’re studying, but really you’re just highlighting. You know you’re not actually going to go back and memorize all those highlights) and eating an enormous doughnut out of the bag. With my bionic vision (I literally have bionic vision; It’s a proven medical fact) I saw that her textbook was for health care workers, but the very lowest kind of healthcare workers. The page the book was open to had a big infographic with bullet points, and then a big photo of smiling, racially-diverse but all female, 18-year-olds grinning over a bald patient in a bed. The font in the textbook was enormous, so that it seemed like the whole page only had maybe two or three sentences, and then the infographic, and then the huge photo. I think I read somewhere that this was the trend in textbooks, to make them “engaging” to the students.

The squeak of her highlighter. Something about this is totally depressing. Is that her dinner? The doughnut? What else is in that bag. She’s never going to learn anything by just highlighting. Does she even want to be in college? She doesn’t look like she wants to be in college. She looks like she just wants a job. I hope she’s not going into debt for this. Sometimes even the medical jobs are hard to get. Or you get one, and then ruin your body and your feet and your back.

The hypersensitivity of Portland Community College to their student population and needs is amazing, especially on this campus. All the flyers on the community boards are in multiple languages; there’s health and safety information everywhere; apparently they run some sort of food pantry for students. ANYone can simply show up here, in any stage of life, out of any type of life, and they will kindly assist with the GED, assist with basic writing skills, assist with basic computer instruction, find childcare for you, send security guards out into the parking lot after it gets dark, and ultimately grant you a Professional Certificate. All the other schools whining about how the students don’t really want to learn, they just want to earn money.

It’s about one million degrees outside. I still look like a student, carrying a backpack, but I’m actually one of the community education instructors. The community education classes are filled with the opposite of the regular classes — adult learners, skilled, savvy, well-read, taking classes for no credit just because they like to learn. Every term I make the classes a little harder and then a little harder still and the harder they get, the more the students like it. They just eat it up. I totally know how they feel. When you don’t have to go to school, difficulty is fun.