400: “Leaping Any Which Way” (Emma Kubert & Rusty Gladd)

                “I need to stop it from leaping any which way through time and space.”
                -Emma Kubert and Rusty Gladd, Inkblot 

                The magical cat in Inkblot jumps through time and space, from world to world, and a magician sets out to learn how that works and stop the chaos. Hilarity, of course, ensues, and the covers for individual Inkblot issues show the cat appearing in unexpected places, like inside a magical potion mid-mixing or in front of a dragon’s glowering nose.
                I’ve been reading lately about different understandings of time and space: different definitions of what they “are,” and different experiences of how we live them. And now this cat is happily appearing and disappearing through those readings and thoughts. Noticing the travels of inkblot’s velvet feet helps me notice time and place blurring together in my experience. Right now I’m back at my kitchen table in Illinois, for instance, but I know that some of my family on the West Coast will read this, and so will a friend in India, so while I’m typing inkblot steps from this room to those rooms and back again. As in the graphic novel, the cat leaves temporary portals between worlds, and so in its track I can for a moment follow along. 
                I’ve been noticing this leaping through time and space especially when I’m lying in bed. A particular pool behind the rocks of a beach in California (and the waves through it), a sycamore in a nearby park (and the shade beneath it), the set of a TV show I’ve been watching (and lying on the couch with my partner)—I move between these, or feel close to all of them at once. In general (especially when “trying to fall asleep” so that I can be “well rested” and “ready for the day”), I try to discipline my mind, to control the leaping cat. Lately I’m more interested in the movement, in what the magician sees as “chaos”—in being my own mischievous furball leaping through time and space.

399: “The Proper Usage of Time” (Ross Gay)

                “I wonder what came first: this brutal innovation, the nonsun clock, or the Puritan adage about idle hands. Either way, there is a barbed wire tether between time and virtue, by which I mean, probably obviously, the proper usage of time in this regime, i.e., not fucking off, is considered virtuous.”
                -Ross Gay, “Out of Time”

                Following Ross Gay and Jack Halberstam, and my own obsessive productivity, time management, and determination to fuck off, I’ve been thinking about all the different ways my friends and I inhabit time. Halberstam’s In A Queer Time and Place (following another scholar: this is all a conversation, all the way down) says, yes, capitalism and other systems of power tell us to inhabit time in certain ways, and the coercion is powerful and directly dangerous, but there are also always twists and gaps and changes in people’s real practices. We don’t live time just the way we’re told. Gay’s essay starts with something similar: a celebration of the “be-right-back Post-It Note” in a coffee shop, ready to hand, which shows the barista is both on the clock and ready to slip off when life goes that way.
                I wonder: how do you live time? What different ways? Where do you buy into that “barbed wire tether between time and virtue,” which makes the clock we got on for survival into the clock I ask for self worth? Where do you fuck off?
                When I was a kid backpacking with my family, I usually wanted to bring a watch. I ‘had’ to know what time it was. My parents said they didn’t want to bring one, that part of the fun was how clicking seconds washed away in the floods of light and shadow. I was a stubborn kid. I brought a watch, trying to learn the “time” I felt I had to learn, but looking back the watch couldn’t do what it was supposed to. Sometimes I obsessed over what time, how long, how long left. Sometimes the clouds moved like a family of giant whales, swimming slowly through sunset colors, and I watched, chilled by the wind, ready (but not yet) for the warmth of my sleeping bag. And that’s not something that only happens way up in the mountains.

398: “Slow. Calm.” (Thích Nhất Hạnh)

“Don’t be so poetic that you forget the practice. The main point of the practice is to cultivate more concentration. In. Out. Deep. Slow. Calm. Ease. Smile. Release. Present Moment. Wonderful moment.”
                -Thích Nhất Hạnh, How To Walk

                I was talking with a friend recently, and we both realized we’d been holding things tightly for days. Our shoulders. Our jaws. Our fists. Our work. And there are plenty of good reasons to hold things tightly — as a rock climber and a teacher and someone who rides my groceries back home on a kick scooter, I believe that. But my friend and I were talking about the importance of letting things go, too. That brought me back to Thích Nhất Hạnh. I’ve written before about his descriptions of meditation as something that can happen between one breath and the next, one step and the next. And that idea’s been blooming again for me in beautiful ways.
                Sometimes I’ll eat a handful of chips and then watch an episode of Netflix and then lie on the couch and then be grumpy, wondering why I still feel so tired. I’m resting, aren’t I? Shouldn’t I be rested? But in all those chips and episodes and couch cushions, I’m often holding on tightly. To control and the urge to “manage” myself, maybe, or to the “need” to get things done after “resting,” or to my plans and worries for the day. It sounds silly — and obvious — but forty five minutes “trying to unwind” with Netflix often doesn’t bring me a single step toward stillness. Pausing, even for half a second, as my foot feels its own weight and then shifts down to here. A step like a breath. In. Out. Or my hands, relaxing to sink down onto the wood of this table. Weight. Release. Wood. Skin. Touch. Rest.

397: “Patient” (Alexis Pauline Gumbs)

“We are more patient than we have ever been.” -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, in the short story “Evidence”

                “Evidence” unfolds looking backward, as people five generations from now wonder and share about how the world has changed. The short story is hopeful, heartfelt. The future Gumbs imagines is sweet and alive and (in the story’s word) “possible.” So reading we wonder, how did things get to this good place?
                “We are more patient than we have ever been,” writes a twelve year old looking back.
                Since reading the story, I’ve been looking for places to be patient. Patient with this writing, with not knowing what to say. Patient with my disagreements with friends — feeling the space of our tensions, and of our coming back together, and not rushing either of them. Patient with the projects I’m part of, these tasks that often feel like giant oaks, unwieldy with so many roots and branches, growing their long, quiet, balanced way toward the sky. Patient with the slow change we’re working toward in broken systems. Patient with sleep, when it’s slow to come, and with waking when I’m tired in the morning. Patient with hurts and confusions. It’s become a bit of a game, a bit of a joke, a bit of a joy. Something goes not-how-I-expected, and whatever other reactions I have, I hear an echo of Gumbs’ writing: this is a chance to be patient.

396: “Bringing Those Senses” (Frances Hardinge)

                “It was a burnished, cloudless day with a tug-of-war wind, a fine day for flying. And so Raglan Skein left his body neatly laid out on his bed, its breath as slow as sea swell, and took to the sky.
                He took only his sight and hearing with him. There was no point in bringing those senses that would make him feel the chill of the sapphire-bright upper air or the giddiness of his rapid rise.”
                -Frances Hardinge, Gullstruck Island (in the US it’s The Lost Conspiracy, but that’s so much worse)

                The magic in Gullstruck Island means that some people can send their different senses out to move through different places. So your eyes could be thousands of feet up in the sky, looking down at rooftops, and your hearing could be near the soup pot with its happy bubbling.
                Lying in bed (and walking around, and sitting on the bus) in the days since I finished Gullstruck, the idea keeps coming back to me. I lie in bed and (almost) drift through the walls, listening to my neighbor’s hammering. I look out the window on the bus and see someone running, and for a moment my eyes (almost) stay with them, watching their coat swing, their cheeks grin, (almost) feeling the muscles pulling in their legs. And of course, I know what it’s like to leave a sense behind. To be so engrossed in my phone that I stop hearing what someone says, or so focused on the TV show in front of me that I keep ignoring the ache starting in my slumped back. And I know the opposite: know moments of rock climbing where I’m so intent on moving that moving is all I feel. 
                Maybe they drift around more than I usually think, these senses of ours. There’s something disembodied about this version of magic that makes me uncomfortable, but there’s also something perfectly embodied in touch dripping down over leaves, like rain, or hearing drifting on the wash of the waves. Which my hearing does, sometimes, even from out here in Illinois. Because I grew up near the coast. Does your hearing do that?

395: “i’m scared / i’m trusting” (adrienne maree brown)

“i’m scared / i’m trusting
i’m contained / i’m in motion
we’re shook / we’re normal
we’re here / we’re gone
and time goes on” 
-adrienne maree brown, “in the corona,” Fables and Spells

                I’ve wondered a lot about the pressure of language to say “this,” or “that” — to put words together into a string so that (right now) I’m telling you about my language-wonders instead of about how, when I read brown’s poem, I sat resonating in the space of that / . 
                This pressure toward a linear understanding, it’s a habit of thought as well as a means of making. Text on a page, the convention of lines, maybe all that creates an “argument” where I’m making a “central point,” but I’ve also spent so much time learning to use words to make an argument. I’ve learned to think in an argument toward a single thought that’s “true.” And words — minds — also do other things. 
                How often do you feel a monolith, and how often a chorus in a rainstorm? How often do you think a kind of sluice, the water hemmed in on all sides and going where its directed, and how often do yu think waves washing on the shore, retreating back around the rocks, rising to wash again? For the last few years, my favorite metaphor for a certain type of thought is rain. Rain that patters down, that discovers by touching, that falls ecstatically over whatever’s there. That gathers into streams or seeps into the ground. Words to  do that, too. So many of the words I have run off in many directions. So many of the words I mean themselves mean many things at once.
                “i’m scared / i’m trusting”
                i’m tired / i’m drifting like moonlight
                here’s what brown taught me / i feel brown with me
                saying time / with time inside what she says

394: “Here” (Alexis Pauline Gumbs)

                “In the language I was raised in, “here” means “this place where we are,” and it also means “here” as in “I give this to you.” Could I learn from the Indus river dolphin a language of continuous presence and offering? A language that brings a species back from the bring, a life-giving language? Could I learn that? Could we learn that? We who click a different way, on linked computers day and night?” -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

                Here. I’d like to give this to you. 
                I’d like to give you the here where I am, the dark window with the whisper of branches and a far away car, the carpet as I sit cross-legged typing on the coffee table. Can my sentence about the coffee table be a “here” where we’re close to each other, even from far away? Can I respect your “here” as a presence and an offering? Can I find a language that acknowledges the offering in the presence, the presence in the offering?
                Sometimes I think about new languages. In proper science fiction terms, those are usually knew alphabets, new mediums — morse code with its dots and dashes, or aliens whose language lives in splashes of color across their cheeks. And those are wonderful. Reading and rereading my slow way through Gumbs’ book, I feel the closeness of another, slower kind of language learning. The way she uses questions has a different taste than almost everything else I’ve read. It’s more generous, more open.
                I don’t quite know what I mean. But months ago, sitting on a porch with my friend, I did my first woodblock print. It was fun, feeling the chisel move through the woodgrain. I did something blocky, new — you could see I was learning the tools. Then I looked at my friend’s print. In their hands, thin cuts behind larger cuts created depth to a landscape of rolling hills. My image was a shape cut into wood. Their image, their cuts into wood, opened a world between the marks. What new languages are already alive inside these old letters? Can we learn that we are already learning? Can we swim with the wash of ocean questions?

393: “Arterial Ink” (Jenny L. Davis)

                “Academic nonfiction tends to create distance between the author and what’s being talked about, and between the affective experiences and relationships to it. Poetry is the exact opposite. Poetry cracks open the rib cage and makes you write with that arterial ink.” -Jenny L. Davis, Poet, Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies

                I wonder about the ways this manufactured distance between me and what I write functions to create distance between me and what I do. I wonder if, through this distance, I position myself to carry out a role that I’m troubled by, to treat people or communities in ways that “I” never would but that my place in a system says I should.
                For instance: education. The phrase, “I’m your teacher, not your friend.” The first time I had to assign my students semester grades, I felt angry and sick for days. I almost quit teaching. I didn’t want to rank these people who I’d come to know and care about. Even if I convinced myself I was ranking “their performance in the class,” I couldn’t believe a) that there was actually a single rubric by which I could rank them, b) that ranking them was more helpful than hurtful, or (a distant third) c) that I knew them in a way to say, “Ah, yes, you above you.” I wanted to see them as learners and companions, jokesters and thinkers. As friends. Then I assigned grades. For twelve years I’ve kept assigning grades, because I “have” to—or at least, because I want to be a teacher, and that’s what teachers do in the systems where I work. “I’m your teacher, not your friend” creates a kind of conceptual gulf between me and them, between what I felt about what I was doing and what I was doing, between the hurt of grading and grading. Which makes grading easier to do.
                Some people might say, “Sure, and sometimes we have to do things that are unpleasant in the moment but important overall. Get over it.” Maybe sometimes they’re right. Reading Professor Davis, I’m more interested in asking, Where can I write with my arterial ink? Where can I follow the opened-up chest of what I believe into deeper connections? A sense of why this matters to me might guide me through those hard moments, just like distancing myself was supposed to do. I trust more poets then academics. Could a sense of why this matters also bring us to the moments where we can break through a system’s have tos, and find another way?

392: “In My Nice Pink Slippers” (Ada Limón)

“So we might understand each other better:
I’m leaning on the cracked white window ledge
in my nice pink slippers lined with fake pink fur. 
The air conditioning is sensational. Outside,
we’ve put up cheap picnic table beneath the maple
but the sun’s too hot to sit in…”
                -Ada Limón, “How Far Away We Are,” Bright Dead Things

                So we might understand each other better: I’m sitting at my kitchen table while last night’s snow melts, washing the dark streets into mischievous mirrors that half hide and half reflect the tall trees above them. An hour ago I had lunch. Lentils, onions, zucchini, kale. Delicious. Steaming hot. In a little while I’ll go for a walk, unless I lie down on the floor and watch the place where the walls and the ceiling become the corner.
                Earlier today I talked with my PhD advisor Lindsay Rose Russell about how I start approaching gender and gendered identities in the first chapters of my novel. We were sitting at Cafe Kopi, a table and her tea and a pleasant hour of conversation settled between us. She listened, and thought for a moment, and then started, “Well, in my own experience…” and went into a little story about a moment she’d lived that started forming the way she thought about gender. I listened to that story inside the story of this snowy day, our wooden chairs, this afternoon talking together at the cafe while a stranger I recognized (I’m not sure from where?) came and sat at a nearby table.
                Limón (and Lindsay) suggest a kind of writing, a kind of inviting through words, that I’ve been more and more drawn to in the last few years: the chance to ground whatever we’re sharing in a place where we live. Limón’s table beneath the maple tree, my kitchen table, the cafe, the childhood classroom Lindsay told me about — I think we understand each other better through living together, the embodied moments of this snow melting, that light falling, wherever you are. Sometimes we get those moments in person. Sometimes we can share them from far away when we start writing by saying, I wanted to tell you, I’m sitting at 3:13 this snowy afternoon and outside the streets are mischievous mirrors.

391: “A Striped Dolphin School” (Alexis Pauline Gumbs)

                “In a striped dolphin school, only up to one-third of the school is visible at the surface. What scale and trust would it take to rotate our roles, to work not to fulfill a gendered lifetime ideal (husbandwifemotherfatherdaughterson) but to show up and sink back, knowing there is enough of all the forms of nurturance to go around in cycles?”
                -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals

                I’ve been thinking about the different roles I take up in this dolphin school community of mine. Cook, sometimes, on lazy Sunday mornings, and sharer-of-food on Sunday night when a friend comes over or Thursday night when I go over to a friend’s. Teacher. Student. But more than those nouns, I’ve been thinking about the ways we show up and sink back. On Saturday I talked for almost two hours with a friend I’ve been missing for months. It was wonderful, and now it might be another few months until we have a chance like that again. The other day on the bus I leaned my head on the window and watched the water bead down the glass. I forgot my keys, and a friend let me into the office. I bought another friend nachos. I heard about someone’s break. Someone asked me, “How do you make community,” and I said “I don’t know,” and we talked about it for a while.
                All this becomes a thought about community, about our interweaving lives. About the chance to be nurtured by (and to help nurture) so many of the swimmers around me in some many changing ways. I’m so grateful for that school, and for all the ways it teaches me — lets me — inspires me — to be part of it.