weekend when all the days are the same

does it actually matter that i'm still wearing pants daily?

hello.

i didn’t sleep much last night. my insomnia has been as bad as it can get these two weeks. and the sadness underlying the anxiety is starting to show through the cracks.

how are you doing? what is holding you up right now? who is holding you up right now?

at the risk of sounding like a broken record: if you are not taking COVID-19 seriously and are still going out for non-essentials, please stop. here are some facts. (if you’re super anxious and taking this seriously already, don’t read these, thanks.)

ok i’m done lecturing.

——

i planted seeds on Thursday. they started sprouting today (Saturday)—so quickly. i am enthralled and delighted. how did they do that? what magic is this? all i want to think about is what i will do for the garden i am planning in the new place. (uh, yeah, i’m supposed to move during all this, closer to school. how the hell that will go, i will find out.) i will be planting a big garden. and i’ll have a spare bedroom. if i already told you this in a note here, i’m not sorry. i’m so excited.

——

i don’t have a lot to say right now but i am thinking about you and i love you—my community may be extremely scattered but this week has been full of everyone holding each other close and being kind and open. tenderness goes so fucking far, doesn’t it?

i’ve been doing a lot of tarot readings for people, in an attempt to offer something to meditate on other than the news. it’s been really good—everything feels more charged right now and tarot is no exception. one reading for a stranger who listens to the podcast was a three card draw and the cards practically yelled that she needed to get sober. sure enough, she responded to the reading (i’ve been doing them over the Marco Polo app) with “thanks, i’ll recommit to Al Anon this week.”

tell me how you are, tell us about your heart and your days? tell me how angry you are that people aren’t taking this seriously or how thankful you are that you’re quarantined with someone you love. tell me if you need help getting through being quarantined with someone abusive. all of the things.

(there’s a comments section on these things now, snazzy)

——

the one thing i can’t get out of my head is how overly strong emotional reactions in public company are often labeled as hysterics, which pulls on a societally groomed misogyny switch that has trained us to not take “hysterics” seriously. i wonder if this is why we aren’t in total lockdown yet as a nation. i wonder how many people will die because they didn’t want to be overreacting. we mock people for intense reactions, and now this grooming is our biggest liability.

——

hugs.

eve

peace corps evacuation: global edition

remember the time i had to leave my PC post in 48 hrs? imagine 8k of me

On Monday, the director of Peace Corps announced that, due to COVID19, she was calling for the mass evacuation of all Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) globally. In the years since it was founded in 1961, this has never happened. Countries have been evacuated—during civil wars, revolutions, natural disasters—but Peace Corps prides itself on the resilience of its PCVs and staff. The mission always goes on. But not this time, not now.

These volunteers are frantic, in shock. Many of them have already landed back in the States. The logistics are intense—flights back to the States from Europe are spiking due to the restricted entry policies established recently, and most of these RPCVs (Returned PCVs) will have to self-quarantine upon arrival in the States. PC is not paying for their lodging, only the flights home. PC is not giving many of these PCVs readjustment allowances, just those who have served over a year at site. The rest of them won’t have a little wad of cash to settle in back home, and they won’t have NCE status for applying to federal or state government jobs like those who are able to formally COS (close service) will.

My Kyrgyzstan cohort-mate Colleen and I put together a spreadsheet for PCVs to state what they needed upon returning home, and where RPCVs could list their availability to help with housing or support or job hunting. Over 500 people have entered their information into it, asking for help finding quarantine-safe lodging where they won’t be risking parents or other vulnerable family members; offering airport pickups and lodging and meals and phone calls. It’s been one of those moments where I sit back and remember that most humans mean well and do try to act on that in a crisis. That they know we’re all in this together, that no one is an island right now.

We’re isolated, but we are far from alone—this shared experience of societal collapse may be the most uniting experience as a nation that we have ever seen. Fear does that, death does that, I guess. We realize what’s a sham, and what matters.

What matters to me right now is that I have walked through an experience materially very similar to what the returning PCVs are experiencing or are about to experience:

  • I was removed from post after reporting a rape (reported in January, occurred in November), because I had “maxed out” the allotted 6 sessions of long distance therapy available to PCVs in crisis when, over the summer before, I had been sexually molested by a local doctor while on the operating table. This is extraneous detail, but the gist is: it was grossly unfair to remove me from my post.

  • I was to pack and leave the country in 48 hours. I could not appeal the decision until I did so. I decided not to appeal, because it felt cruel to tell my host family I had to leave and go home, and to maybe or maybe not come back. I love them so much and I loved living with them, and I didn’t want to leave them in emotional limbo. I said goodbye and packed up my room in about 10 hours at home. I returned to the capital the next day for my flight.

  • My evacuation/IS (interrupted service) took place just as the Muslim Ban was taking place, right after Trump was inaugurated. I saw the news in the Frankfurt airport, where I was eating a fucking $20 salad because I was starving and it was the cheapest thing on the menu there. My heart sank. I was returning from a Muslim country. People on my flight would probably be turned away, but I would not be, not with my stupid birthright luck of a US passport.

  • I walked into Dulles after sobbing uncontrollably for most of the flight between Frankfurt and DC, drained of tears and livid that I was going to have to live in DC again for 6 weeks for “debriefing” and “exit therapy” in a long stay hotel. I’d fled DC after my divorce four years prior and had sworn to myself I would never live there again. And yet, here I was. The last time I had been picked up at Dulles, it had been by my ex-husband. Now, I was met by a throng with signs, newscasters and bright lights and cameras, shouts of “WELCOME HOME!” and cheers, and finally, on the other side of the melee a young woman holding a sign with my name. The PC staff member sent to welcome me and take me to my hotel. I sat tensely in the cab for the entire ride back, watching the lights of DC flash past. There was where we had a fight on the way back from a church in Purcellville, there is where we walked by the river, there is where I lived for a month after he left me, there was where we went for an annual Handel’s Messiah sing-a-long concert at Christmastime. There was where I went shopping for a dress in a daze of grief after our court hearing that formalized our divorce.

  • My host family called and sent videos on WhatsApp: when was I coming back? How was my health? They missed me. I missed them more, knocking about the drab taupe late-80s apartment, trying to think of meals I could cook with the limited tools in the tiny kitchen.

Many of the volunteers coming back will feel similarly, I think. It’s abrupt, it’s not fair, they were just getting going and feeling settled. The States is a very different place now than it was when they signed up and shipped out. They will return to a fundamentally different society than the one they left, like I did. They will have no good reason to be back, and they will be forced to be extremely alone for the first few weeks of their time back here. They won’t be force-fed therapy to get them to some arbitrary level of “stability” before having their cases closed and their service complete, but they will be handed an ending that feels arbitrary and unfinished. They will probably not be able to wait it out and return to site later. It will be a long grieving process.

I have a million things to say about the mission of PC as an agency and the colonialism of that institution, but this is not the place or time. Tonight, I am thinking of the human individuals who are experiencing upheaval and displacement. Many are coming back to homes that are unsafe for them, estranged parents, abusive family members, drifted communities of friends who moved on without them. It is a trauma.

So, I would like to take a little time here to offer my thoughts on what helped or what I wished I had had available to me when I returned home in January 2017. If you are a friend or family member of one of these RPCVs, I’m speaking to you now.

  1. I wished a friend or family member had met me at the airport. I needed a hug. I was probably too upset to appreciate it if someone had, but I needed to not be alone for the first evening/night back.

  2. Taking fucking long hot showers was amazing. Please adjust your shared bathroom expectations accordingly: we often didn’t have regular access to running hot water.

  3. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT make us make a decision about restaurants or dinner or food or snacks or booze unless we voluntarily voice a request. There are too many fucking options in this country. It took me six months to get through the cheese section at Kroger without immediately being paralyzed by a hoarding impulse. Choose things you remember us enjoying. Normal boring comfort foods are gonna be heaven for a bit.

  4. That flight back is hell on the body, give that poor person a neck massage.

  5. Binge-watching TV shows will be a necessary part of reducing the sheer overstimulation of this new reality. Join them! Don’t be weird about it. Continuity and easily digestible stories are comforting.

  6. Do get them some multivitamins ASAP, they are malnourished probably.

  7. Don’t get weird about how often they just start sharing stories about this or that—be an active listener. Ask good questions. Wait for them to show you photos. Try to remember the names of the people they lived and worked with. This is a huge life experience and they are going to need time to come down from it.

  8. Let them have time with other returned PCVs from their country of service, be it over group chats or calls or actual visits. Encourage that. No one else is going to understand what they are trying to process quite as well, and being reassured that it was all real and it’s still really hard is so helpful.

  9. If there was a project they left unfinished back at site, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them to make it happen. This could be as simple as collaborating on a care package or as complex as planning out a GoFundMe campaign, but offer. They put a lot of work into their site and won’t get to finish so many things. This will help with some sense of closure.

  10. Ask them to make you a meal from their country of service, to listen to popular music from their country of service, or whatever else they cherished and want to share with others for the joy of it.

  11. Do fun things! Take them to a movie they were bummed to miss in theaters, take them on a hike, take them to a concert. I know these things may not be possible now, but whatever the Social Distancing equivalent of these is, try to make it happen. Distraction and enjoying the things they missed about home are important.

  12. And, finally, LET THEM SLEEP AS MUCH AS THEY NEED.

I’m happy to answer questions you might have in the comments or via email. Lots of love to everyone reeling from this, PCVs, HFs, LCFs, PMs, counterparts. This experience was not an island for anyone. Don’t silo yourselves as you process it all out.

xo,

eve

hello again

i'm back didya miss me

hello.

the last two days i’ve been stuck in a high-pitched anxiety buzz, and just now it flipped off. it’s going to be an ongoing battle, i think, staying clearheaded and in my body at the same time. i mean, it always is a struggle but now it’s going to be much more difficult.

i’m sure you’re feeling similarly.

my classes have been moved to online-only, which means i won’t be commuting almost three hours every day anymore for a while. if ever again—i’m moving to a place closer to work in early april, or that’s the plan anyway. it should cut the commute in half. i’ll tell you about this place later, for now i’m just explaining why i now have time to write these notes again.

i think i’ll write a bunch of them during this self-quarantine/flattening of the curve time. for one, i feel responsible to myself and to history to document these days somehow, but more honestly: because i have a lot of things that i wanted to write about weeks and months ago, but time was money and i was hustling and now…? i am less so. we can talk about money later. i’m excited to write a few things that have nothing to do with panic, grief, fear, or any of the usual things people are writing about right now.

there’s a partial list in my head. maybe i’ll take suggestions for which thing to write you next. maybe i’ll do what i want. maybe not.

  • being a divorce doula, by accident + the dixie chicks

  • peace corps evacuating volunteers globally (and advice for them on how to cope with readjustment + abrupt, traumatic ending-of-service that involves coming back to a hellscape society)

  • going on Wellbutrin for ADHD and how that’s been revolutionary

  • overcoming sexual shame from purity culture

  • BIRDS OF PREY!!!!!!! omg y’all that movie.

  • OTHER STUFF (i’m forgetting things right now, i’m forgetful a lot these days, but i will remember it later. i am better at remembering later than i used to be, before Wellbutrin. ahem.)

for now, hello, i missed you. i hope you are fed and warm. i want to plan a garden now.

the animals say to be tender.

xo,

eve

Celebrating collaborations

in which I share pieces I've edited this year

One of the most fulfilling things to occur this past year was when I got asked to join the features editors team for nonfiction pieces at The Rumpus back in February. I’d been reading The Rumpus for years, on the metro to and from jobs in DC, during my meal breaks in LA, and in the after school hours in Kyrgyzstan while the western hemisphere slept.

If you’re not familiar with The Rumpus, just know that Cheryl Strayed used to do an advice column there and Roxane Gay was the founding essays editor there, and Lyz Lenz credits working there as managing editor with the kickoff of her journalism career. After #metoo took out the founding editor, Marisa Siegel took the helm, and eventually it was she who brought me on. Who knows what the future holds for this little literary ship, but I have loved The Rumpus for a long time and am so delighted to be on board.

Editing is one of my purer pleasures. It’s a place where I don’t ever feel like I have to either flex to prove my smarts or hold back to avoid stepping on toes. It’s instinctual for me, like baking used to be and tarot is, like being able to translate the different shades of a baby’s cry to intuit what they need in that moment. I’m in my element, and getting my hands into the muscles of a piece and massaging them until they offer up fluid, lyrical motion is deeply delightful to me.

Of course, editing is not an act like surgery where the other party is sedated and unresponsive. Writers have strong opinions and are protective of their work, for good reason: you’re seeing the result of their most vulnerable experiences after they’ve first been metabolized enough for outside exposure. It’s touching something living and in pain, usually. And the writers who have been vulnerable and generous with themselves to work on their pieces with me are brave souls I cherish with utmost respect. They’ve done the hardest work in this process, and so I want to share with you the fruits of their labor.

One project that was especially collaborative this year was the Food & Family theme month series spanning the holiday season, co-edited with Alysia Sawchyn. Alysia has a book of essays coming out this year, btw—you can pre-order it here. I can’t wait to read it.

The pieces I worked on in this series (and one I didn’t, but want to share anyway) are:

  • Butcher Knives at the Ready by Lia Dunn (seeing yourself and your culture’s food through white eyes, and loving it with gusto)

  • Imagine A River of Milk by Rebekah Denison Hewitt (breastfeeding struggles, plus history!)

  • Days Since Last Workplace Injury by Clancy Tripp (self-care, in its most real sense. a novice teacher trying to feed themself and care for their students all at once, and how much community is essential to that.)

  • Gourmand by Carmella de Los Angeles Guiol (a father’s love of food and a daughter’s adapting to his reduced self as age erodes his tastes)

  • and the one I didn’t work on (bc she’s a friend), Bounty by T.S. Mendola (with one of the best lines I’ve read in a while, about a mother who said she “didn’t cook, not that I can’t cook”)

There are a few others to come in this series (which I worked on) before the end of the year, but these are the ones published so far.

The other pieces I worked on this year are:

I loved working on all of these pieces, and each of these writers did what I asked in revisions with such care and enthusiasm. Please read their work and find them on Twitter and tell them how much you enjoyed their writing. Everyone deserves to be told how good their work is. I feel so lucky to have been a part of their publication processes.

xo,

Eve

Shelter in place

in which we had to

I drove to school in a fog of exhaustion. Visiting New York City last weekend was good, but certain parts of it were hard, rubbing on old insecurities, and so I plunged myself into routines this past week with the blind determination of a person who refuses to stop trying to do the thing they aren’t quite cogent enough to do anymore. I knew that at some point I would need a good cry, and I reasoned that if I could get through classes, I might get a chance to have that cry when the week was done.

Thursday was the day I was dreading the most: two classes, one of which was always half-awake and overly familiar with each other from high school days, and this week they were a little ahead of my other section on their work, so I needed to come up with something extra to fill the time. The second class is usually a little more easy to engage, a little more willing to jump in and discuss a piece, but that day we were reading the Harlem Renaissance poets, and I was aware that I was going to have to pull back the curtain on the reality that our group was made up of a white instructor, 5-7 white students, and one Black student. It would take finesse.

My heart is in the work, it always has been, but I’m tired. Tired of standing up for myself, for asking for what I need and not getting it. My time in NYC felt like a lot of that. Being a millennial in the gig economy is a lot more of that. Teaching sometimes can feel like that, when you ask for the same thing over and over in every way you know how to describe and it’s still not getting through. That’s often on me, though, so I keep trying. I know there’s a way through all this, so I keep trying. I went to my first class.

As I started taking roll on my laptop, a series of text notifications began to roll in. Are you ok? Are you safe? Are you home?

I closed the laptop to lecture, ignoring the worry that waited in those messages. We finished our section on cover letters. I handed them a short essay to read and discuss. It didn’t land well. We discussed it anyway. I let class out and went back to my office.

The texts were about a shooter, an ex-Marine who had just killed his girlfriend, who was on the loose in the neighborhood next to mine. Classes at the sister community college to mine, the one that was close to my home, were cancelled. They thought he was hiding in the woods behind that campus, or in the neighborhood between there and mine. “Stay indoors,” the news urged. Businesses down that way were under lockdown. People hiding in their homes, unable to leave for work.

“I’m fine,” I wrote back to people. “I’m at school, over an hour away! Totally safe.”

I carried on with my afternoon, finishing prep for my next lesson, wading through the vocabulary I knew I’d have to introduce.

In class, waiting for a last student to arrive, we watched the press conference in Roanoke about the shooter. One of my students had a friend in that neighborhood, and everyone was curious if the shooter had been caught. We watched a few minutes—he was armed and on the loose, but they didn’t have good leads on where he was. He could be anywhere still.

Our last member arrived, and we turned to the poets. I began explaining the Black writers for Black readers dynamic at play with the Harlem Renaissance, the role of whites readers as eavesdropping on these poems, these conversations. We talked about white fragility, we talked about how fucked up it is that these poems still feel relevant, a hundred years later.

We got interrupted by the alarm system: Shelter in place. Because of the events at Alleghany High School, we are on lockdown. Shelter in place.

My student lurched out of his seat. His child was at that high school. They’d taken the child’s cell phone away that morning. Now they didn’t have a way to reach their kid. He was upset.

Another student began getting call after call—her mother was worried she’d be hanging out at her old high school campus with friends. Was she safe?

I froze mentally. I’m sure I was letting out a stream of chatter, affirming my students’ decisions to answer calls or place them. All I could think about, though, was the poem that AFP wrote about the Boston bomber, from his perspective in the time he waited in the bottom of the boat to be found. She’d gotten so much hate for that, but here I was, thinking about the ex-Marine hiding in the woods after he’d killed his girlfriend. And then, as we learned what was going on at the high school—a former student had shown up with a weapon and threatened to kill himself in front of someone he wanted to make suffer—I thought about him, too.

How many times have we as a nation publicly fantasized about this scene, replaying the stories of Columbine until it became a national mythology? How many times do we hear the stories of those who kill, how many press conferences have we watched with sobbing parents, siblings, classmates as they paraded their pain and begged for an end to it all. How all of it is different ways of begging for an end: the holding of the guns as insurance just in case you need to play god, the political statements, the protests, the walkouts, the pleas for us to mute the names of those who destroy and elevate the names of the victims.

So I, too, hit pause with the power available to me. I could see my way through this. Here was a way in, a way to connect, a way to illuminate.  

“Okay, we don’t know how long this is going to go, so let’s do what poets have done for generations and take out paper and something to write with,” I said.

“Pick a perspective around one of these situations, and write a few lines, maybe ten, in the voice of someone other than you who’s involved in what’s happening right now. A teacher, a cop, the dead girlfriend, the shooter, the teacher of the shooter, the grandmother, someone. Take on their voice, using whatever form you want from the ones we’ve studied.”

And so they wrote. A quiet fell over the room. Things were scratched out. Rewritten. I could feel a migraine (thanks, PTSD) begin to come over me, gripping the back of my neck and pushing its slow spikes through my eye sockets to my forehead. I waited.

As they finished up we got the all clear, and they wanted to read what they’d written. One took the voice of a classmate. One of a teacher. One spoke as the shooter’s father.

We felt a little better, listening to each other read. And we finished the original lesson, circling back to where we’d left off, finding a stopping place until next time. My migraine settled into a heavy thrum, attention tunnel vision locked in place until it decided to leave me be, hours later.

I needed to cry still, for everything and for nothing. I wondered if I had made the wrong call with the poem assignment. I wondered if that was too exploitive, if it was fair. The work was good, the students eager. But was it overstepping, a flippant use of my power as instructor? I don’t know. I know it was all I had in me, so it had to be enough. 

Driving home, I listened to Ocean Vuong read from his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous with his voice soft, tiptoeing into descriptions like a ballerina, sweet and light. I got home and took some medicine and napped briefly. I drove to my old school to attend a reading and meet a friend. The author looked like if Helena Bonham Carter were a sweet summer child, and she laughed and settled us into her stories like she was teaching us to play a game with her that she was very good at. I began to feel euphoric, the adrenaline and the relief coursing through my body with hot kind pulsations. My head felt light again. I could think. I felt like, for the moment, everything was enough.

After the reading, one friend wouldn’t say hi to me, and left early. Another was warm, offering me a hug. I muddled around, saying hello to people, but I couldn’t match anyone’s pitch, finding myself in a social descant cadence after everything. So I left, drove back into town. 

On my bedtime walk with my dog, the moon loomed large. There might still be a murderer in the woods behind the dog park where we were walking, but at least right then I was so very alive. 

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