And the hero is from Pittsburgh no less!!!
This is a performance in bureaucratic-related frustration. It is both actual and hyperbolized. Warning: Language.
I sent an updated W9 to a school district that I worked for last year. I was asked to do so by a close friend who teaches in the district. Apparently, the HR office contacted him and asked him to contact me because they misplaced my W9, and they needed a new one. So he sent me an email, to which I replied, “they can contact me if they’d like; no need to go through you.” It irritated me that they would task him with this job rather than just contact me directly. Seemed lazy. As though high school teachers have the time to do this type of work. It’s like asking the HR office to step in and sub a class, it will just take 45 minutes, I have to be somewhere. Divide and conquer only works if you divide.
Thing is: the already sent me a 1099, so from my end, what’s the incentive of going through the hassle of filling out a new W9 and sending it to them? I have no future plans to work for this district.
Well the incentive is, according to the HR rep who eventually contacted me, that if I don’t send the an updated W9, the district will be fined.
I could count on zero hands the number of fucks I give.
But, I sent them their damn replacement W9, and hopefully they’ll pick up on all the shade I’m throwing them as well.
First of all, I’m gonna get all scholarly about why this assignment is late. Well, honestly, it’s because I forgot to do it. But I forgot to do it because (and this is true) I filed it in the section of my brain labelled “not work.” This has been a problem for me of late because things like sitting in my sunroom and reading also registers as “not work,” but, of course, that’s my most important work. And writing letters to friends is not work, so I don’t do it.
Okay, that wasn’t very scholarly. But I used to write a lot of letters. A LOT of letters. I would go on vacation and sit in a coffee shop and write 50 postcards a day. It was my favorite thing to do. But of course, that was before the internet was such a big deal (we had it, but it just seemed like some dumb thing that people who didn’t care for actual human interaction did). And then I got a lot of letters. And my life was lived in letters. I’m trying to say something here about networks– that my friendships were full of precious artifacts, of evidence of friendship, of art. Now, my friendships are full of emails, which seem to lack materiality. I know most of you will disagree– but hey, especially in love letters, there’s something magic about holding a piece of paper that your beloved held miles away. I miss knowing my friends’ handwriting.
Anyway, my friend Will sent me a letter from Finland months ago. He lives there.
One of the rules of letter writing in the early 90s was that you had to send something other than just the letter. This is a photocopy of a picture of his daughter which came in the letter, along with some poems he wrote, photos of his wife and son and his bicycle.
Anyway, I’ve written him a letter back (evidence below) which I’m about to go walk to the post office. I often wonder why I quit writing letters. It seems almost silly now, old-timey, because, for example, if I have something I really need to tell Will, I’ll send it in a Facebook messsage and it will get there immediately. But that’s what letters are: slower, more thoughtful, more handheld.
I decided to bring back the corniness of my Pay It Forward-happy-message-money signment this week. Corniness has a nice symmetry, a symmetry that seems to round things off—like a balloon or a sitcom episode, you know, happy circles. Yeah. So, moving on from whatever that was.
Some of the only “real snail mail” I ever get is cards from my parents. (I wrote the junk mail post as well, LOOK AT ALL THESE CONNECTIONS!!!!!) My parents send me a card for every holiday, “greeting card holidays” and otherwise. I usually put the card on the fridge for a while. But, inevitably, it gets thrown away or lost because that is the fate of cards. Cards usually don’t mean as much as letters do. If it is a purchased card, the embedded message is usually pretty cheesy and always seems impersonal in a strange way, as only the impersonal that tries for mass-intimacy can. Unless you are a psychopath, most people also write a handwritten message in the card as well. But these are short and simple compared to letter writing. Stationary just has so much more viable-seeming writing space (carefully designed materiality) and the tradition of letter-writing has more of a “I have things to share with you” feel than card-writing. Card-writing is like “Hey, what’s up, it’s Halloween and I like you.” Or “Thinking of you,” which IS a greeting card category, but also kind of what all cards mean.
Anyway, thinking about this signment, I started to feel guilty about how many cards my parents have sent me over the years without me ever sending one back. I think this is not just about me being an ungrateful kid (I hope) but also due to the fact that the greeting card just isn’t what it used to be. My parents used to always try to get me to send cards, in particular Thank You cards, but “Kids just don’t do that it, It’s not cool” turned into the greeting card being phased out of younger generations as a core social custom. We say thank you in other ways, via other materials. Posting on someone’s wall/timeline on facebook allows you to say “I’m thinking of you” or “Happy Birthday” with much less hassle than a card, with about the same level of impersonality. But because cards aren’t as common anymore, I also feel more excited when I get one. Last semester, a student left a card in my school mailbox thanking me for the class. And even though I know on some level this gesture probably had some ulterior, grade-related motives behind it, I was still so surprised and touched by it. When I get cards now, I’m like “Wow, you actually went to Target and got me a card and wrote a smiley face inside with a pencil and then addressed it and took it to the post office or walked somewhere out of your way to get it to me DANG.”
I know my parents have been stressed out lately, so I got them each “Encouragement” cards that feature dog jokes because we have a family dog that they love. I tried to get a bit more extensive/personal in the notes I wrote inside the card than I typically would. For me, getting personal means getting a little weird and signing all the cards from my cat, and also making fantasy references and fart jokes, sorry. I also decided to send a card to my sister too. She recently moved to a new apartment in a new city, so I thought it would give her a nice, housewarming, cozy feeling. Her card is a “Happy Birthday” card for a one year old, complete with a punch out, Hello Kitty crown and a warning that the crown “should only be put together by parents.” I find sending her this hilarious and she will find it funny too, don’t ask for an explanation. Here are my cards:
So I’ve been sending out weekly emails with the homework for the week written out point-by-point for my students. They like it better than a handout in class, because they can’t lose it, they’re forced to confront it when they check their email, it’s a nice reminder when they haven’t done it yet — there were a lot of reasons they cited that the materiality of the email serves them better than the materiality of the in-class handout, so that’s how we ended up here.
I, too, enjoy the email. It allows me to move back and forth between different tonal registers, something I find myself doing often in my teaching, in my speaking, often in the space of a few seconds. I love experimenting with different rhetorical strategies and gauging student/peer/professor responses, as well as responses from strangers on the street and what-have-you. It’s something I learned to do quickly as an Asian-American, I think, residing outside of the Black – White binary, but not possessing the stereotypical accent that people would like to attribute to my body.
Growing up, I was heavily influenced by hip-hop, by black kids, and by rock, by white kids. These were the two sort of polarized points that were available to me, so I often navigated the line between these musics, these people, my white friends, my black friends, and my Asian friends often participated in the same negotiation of racialized music, of racialized peer groups — and each of these groups came with their own particular vernaculars, which differed from the Asian-American vernaculars which we all were familiar with, and which themselves varied greatly from each other.
When I make handouts for my students, I never really put the same sort of variance into the document — it becomes more official, perhaps, more formal — which is definitely only a perception on my part, as the email, it seems, is longer lasting, perhaps more official, and definitely more incriminating were anyone to try to uncover my terrible pedagogical practices and wish to gather evidence against me.
(Joke. I hope.)
In essence, the printed document is a white-washed version of myself, and I’ve learned to decolorize my documents in this way because, I think, growing up in a school system based on paper handouts, I’ve learned the “proper” rhetoric with which to address students through paper.
Indeed, last year I received a bit of interrogation from CEAT as to why I adopted a tone they viewed as too “casual” in the intro to the important recorded document that is the syllabus.
(It was a failed attempt to navigate these lines … As well as a failed pedagogical experiment that valued the student’s current perception over the student’s challenging of her own perception … But that’s a narrative for another time.)
What I’ve been learning to do is to navigate within the lines of proper syllabus rhetorical discourse without sacrificing the voice/focus/energy that I believe is imperative to a sound pedagogy. The teacher is an embodied individual, and the teacher’s unique worldview and existence should be available, at least unconsciously, to the students, so that they might better develop the relationship with the teacher that allows them to confront their own perceptions of the world in the rigorous manner that our composition courses ask them to.
I’m really jumping all over here.
Perhaps that’s the point, though.
I love disrupting expected discourse. I love the dissonance that comes with people confronting their own racialized ideas of the way in which they believe people speak, the vocabularies, the tones, etc. And I am privileged enough that I have the ability to speak in a variety of settings without worrying what someone might think of me. I am privileged enough to be able to, for the most part, use a form of speech and writing that the academy accepts. But I am also oppressed in that developing this ability has been a survival tactic for me, not something that I was born into, and that I believe that in order for me to be an autonomous, actualized person, I have to participate in the adoption of all the various codes that I’ve invested in — that is to say, I have no default mode of speech — it is always a game, always a blending in, always a disruption, but always, in the end, feeling inauthentic, lacking.
Without any further ado, I’d like to show you what I drafted, originally, for the email.
5. After this, we will focus mostly on revision. If you have any ideas for revision prompts, send them to me along with your answer to #2. The crazier, the better!
6. Also, if you want to, please send me your poems that you wrote in class. I want to show some people, because I was blown away by how crazy they were. Also, I was thinking we could make up a fake name and send these things out under one alias. They’re really good and I really love how they’re this melting pot of our collective genius. But we can talk about that and potential problems and ideas on Monday.
7. You guys rock.
I’d never ended an email with “Toodles” before. I thought it was funny. It made me laugh. Toodles. Ha. Toodles. And in having this thought, I thought it’d be funny to end the email instead with:
PS Always wanted to sign off an email with toodles
And I like that there’s no punctuation, because there’s something pleasurable in not having punctuation, in doing away with formality, and not even using the “I” — It’s not “I always wanted” — it’s brief, and to the point: “PS Always wanted.”
And this, I think, points out what I’ve been saying — earlier in the email I wrote:
2. I am interested in this notion of “going too far” that came up in class, but never was addressed —
“Interested in this notion” is totally an adopted phrase. In no way do I feel personally comfortable using it. But I rock it because it makes me laugh. Everything I say makes me laugh because it never feels attached to me. I’m like a word chameleon, rocking that crazy color-blending shit.
😎 <— Cool sunglasses face.
He actually doesn’t care. Not one bit. I imagine his arms are crossed, he’s leaning back in a chair, and he doesn’t even want to look at you, because, you know, what, he actually doesn’t give a shit.
I like cussing, sometimes. I wonder how people react to words like “shit.” It’s not a terrible word, not in the way that “fuck” or “bitch” or other words more loaded and dripping with patriarchy, so I don’t really feel bad in using it.
This is bordering on incoherence, now. Which is more about my sleepy body and less about my rhetorical strategy.
So I’m going to end with this. The “You guys rock” is heartfelt and authentic. I did not plan it. It simply happened. I love my class this semester. They are beautiful people, even if some of them are sort of misogynistic and homophobic. And I think that’s what it takes to be able to change anything at all. Is to be able to recognize good people as good people, even when they sort of bask in their privilege, and can’t seem to shift their perspective. This has been hard for me to realize. It’s something I’m still working on. When people don’t see how they’re unintentionally perpetuating racist patriarchal discourse, it’s really not because they’re bad people, but because they’re brainwashed by the system and too insecure to give up the privilege. Honestly. I believe this, too. Slowly, slowly.
My student told me that our poetry journey has helped her remember what freedom tasted like. She did this in email. In email we can say things that we could otherwise be embarrassed to say. In writing we can say these things. This is why I enjoy writing these emails to my students. This is why we write poetry. Because we can make ourselves vulnerable for other people, because we can ask others to come inside of us, in a way that is okay, in a way we can control, and we can be beautiful for each other, and take each other on journeys, and give each other the freedom we deserve.
This past week several of us piled into two cars and headed over to the 4Cs conference. It was such an interesting confluence of networks for me. I saw old colleagues and friends from all three of my former institutions as well as interacted with the good people of/from Pitt. I am always so grateful for overlapping networks like this — I only wish I’d been able to have my wonderful friends spend as much time with my new Pitt cohort as I was able to spend with Kyle’s friends who hosted us. These friends are people I now consider new friends — they are some of the most lovely new people I’ve met in a long time. At the end of long days of conferencing we’d grab a few drinks, settle in to long conversations about so many different things. Sometimes we talked about what we heard at the conference, sometimes not. Sometimes we just stared at their two huge dogs with awe. On the last night we drank too much wine and watched the candle wax spill over onto the coffee table. We laughed. I kept accidentally referring to their house as “home” for the week.
I always try in moments where I am flushed with gratitude and affection for people to affirm and confirm that feeling and acknowledge it. I have several books of blank cards, and postcard collections precisely for this purpose. I lucked out when I went to select a card to send to Kyle’s friends and that exact word, “Acknowledge,” was on one of my postcards designed by Nikki McClure. I’ve blurred out the text with an artsy phone app to protect their privacy, but here’s the back of the postcard:
When I was a kid who was on the verge of not being quite a kid anymore – you know, twelve-ish – I was obsessed with what I might be like when I grew up. I should clarify. I didn’t really want to know what job I’d have or whether or not I was going to marry Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I wanted to know what I was going to be like. What kind of jokes I’d tell, what I’d look like, whether I would have figured out how to smile in photographs without looking like a complete doofus. Whether I’d be cool.
I had a pretty good grasp of temporal reality, though, and knew that time-travel wasn’t in the cards, so I did something that strikes me as pretty cool a decade later: in lieu of hearing from my future self, I wrote letters to her, so she’d hear from me. I found one over spring break, from my fifteen-year-old self, and reading it was a really interesting experience. For one thing, there’s a really meta opener (something like “Hi, me! What are you like now?”), and the body is all really painfully earnest – a whole paragraph devoted to my high school boyfriend. But Little Nina did something unexpected and smart toward the end. She made a list. The theme of the list was “things you might have forgotten.”
There’s nothing like being told by your younger, shorter, angstier self that it doesn’t actually matter if you’re cool in the future, because this is what you were like at this one precise moment in 2006. So I haven’t forgotten those things. Or I unforgot them, I guess. I have forgotten a lot, if only because it didn’t make it to the list, but I preserved part of myself that way.
So in the spirit of this delayed-action omphaloskepsis, I have decided to write another letter using a piece of technology that was around in my junior high/high school days: FutureMe.org.
And that’s what I’m doing right now. The year range goes through 2064, though I don’t think I’ll get that ambitious. Maybe I’ll just shoot for 2019, when I will presumably have forgotten some of the agony and ecstasy of my first year of grad school. I’ll make my list of things to unforget, and then I’ll send it, and then…well, I guess it’ll sit in some darkened corner of a server for the next five years, and then show up in my inbox. Anti-climactic, maybe. But time travel still counts as traveling.