It’s a tough time at my home institution, right now. Better put, it has probably always been tough, but only recently have I begun to see that. Something here is broken, and the edges of the resulting shards have cut into our bodies, our sense of community, our trust, our feelings of safety. (For some, these cuts are deep and raw – some have understood the breaking, have seen the crash and the fracture, have experienced it well before the rest of us understood what was happening. For others, the wounds are newer.)
We are trying to come together help make the institution what we want and need it to be. We are reading together. We are talking to each other, and finding ways to listen. (The latter does not always come naturally to academics.) We are creating spaces that let us learn from one another, virtual and sonic and physical.
I cannot convey, here – I am still trying to work through the experience – the visceral transformation (painful, bloody, in the guts) that comes to a teacher when looking in the eyes of a student who has trusted that you could help when an institution failed her – that this is what historians were supposed to do, that we worked in an academic department full of people devoted to histories of social justice – and hearing that student tell you that you have not done that, that you have not helped, that you have let her down. For me, this demands an acknowledgement of that failure – I may not have meant to, I may not have consciously done anything wrong – but I have failed. And it demands a response – a physical, right-now, get-off-your-ass-and-do-something response. I’m coming to understand that we do that most usefully when we find ways to do that together. But a contribution to the collective first involves understanding what you, as an individual – what I, as an individual – have to give. What is my voice? What can I do to inhabit that voice?
For me, the answer to that question – or at least, what feels like a productive way to keep working with that question – means taking what I do (reading, writing, telling stories) with the seemingly-distant and turning it to the immediate. And so I’m going to begin using this space to do that. Welcome to Constellations, a place for me to do what I do, in and about the here and now. Constellations fascinate me as objects made by light and recognition, as stories that emerge from the accidental and historical proximities of visible things, as wombs for growing narratives that transform us. Each post will be inspired by a particular constellation. I’ve chosen Aquarius to begin this: it’s my zodiac sign, the water-bearer, a starry figure storied by physical stuff that breaks and holds, that carefully encloses at the same time that it might bury or cut or drown: ceramic, water, pitchers, floods and flows.
Let’s do this.