I apologize. I haven’t sent anything since May. Many things have happened since May! Like, the pandemic got worse. The Afghanistan War ended the way a bunch of us said it would end back in September 2001. SCOTUS seems to have struck down Roe v. Wade last night. All the tenure track faculty at the University of New Hampshire are working without a contract while doing in person teaching during a pandemic, which means effectively we’ve received a pay cut and an increased workload. It’s … a lot of awful.
I did more book events. The Disordered Cosmos was named as a finalist for the New England Book Award in non-fiction and longlisted for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize in non-fiction. I am proud of both pieces of recognition in different ways: the NEBA comes from indie booksellers and the #BKLYNLitPrize is from librarians and “recognizes writing that captures the spirit of Brooklyn.” The Disordered Cosmos is in part dedicated to Brooklyn (because my family is Brooklyn on both sides), and I am thrilled that people felt the spirit in it.
To get other good news out of the way, you can buy signed copies of my book from Water Street Bookstore, which is shipping free domestically from Exeter, New Hampshire. While you’re there, grab my grandmother’s new book, Our Time is Now: Sex, Race, Class, and Caring for People and Planet. Also, The Disordered Cosmos is on sale at nearly every eBook store for $4.99 during the month of September. It never hurts to have a copy of the book in your pocket!
I also got a GREAT laugh out of John Green’s mention of The Disordered Cosmos in a the August 26 episode of The Anthropocene Reviewed. It’s about 11 minutes in, but I recommend listening to the whole episode.
Finally, this evening I’m gonna be on instagram doing an instalive with my bestie and fellow author S. Zainab Williams, who has a short story in a new collection that just came out, Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices. Come see us at 7 EDT at my instagram.
Those of you who have read The Disordered Cosmos know there is a chapter called “Rape is Part of this Scientific Story.” Over the summer, Guernica published an interview with me about it, conducted by the incredible writer and survivor Lacy M. Johnson whose own book The Reckonings: Essays on Justice for the Twenty-First Century opens with an essay where Johnson explains what she wants her rapist to do with the rest of his life, which is to live in service of other people’s joy. My own chapter on this topic rotates around the thing that happened, but Johnson’s idea is in part where I land. What I discuss in the Guernica interview is that unfortunately, my rapist doesn’t seem to give a flying fuck about other people’s joy or transforming the conditions that his conduct creates for me.
As I say in the interview, naming him is complicated:
I know that if I name him to people in a way that spreads publicly, people who have power over me professionally will debate my integrity and even my sanity. He still has power over me professionally, too, and has access to substantial fiscal resources that I don’t. Also, the junior researchers in my group depend on my reputation. I worry my letters of recommendation for them, my grant applications, and my peer review submissions could be improperly assessed — not on their merits, but instead based on a perception that I lied to get some guy in trouble. My scientific contributions would be devalued.
I have heard repeatedly that it is irresponsible not to name my rapist because doing so allows him to continue to target others. But the reality is that naming him might not harm him at all, but might harm people and people around me deeply. Me writing this out might sound defensive, and maybe it is, but I also think I simply need to remind people that this is the reality of the thing. I am the one who will be scrutinized, not him. And as a research group leader, my reputation is no longer simply about me.
I’m choosing to share this today because over the last few months I’ve been reminded of just how frequently people who should sit their asses down not only choose instead to take up space but also have platforms offered to them so they can maximize how much space they take up. Major publications give them columns, people who cape for homophobes get to go on TV in the middle of Pride month, and yes, there are people who have been accused of rape and other forms of unprofessional sexual conduct out here dispensing advice on how to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion. I’m reminded also that patriarchy doesn’t have a color line, but white supremacy certainly enhances its impact.
I feel for the victims/survivors who have to watch this go on in real time, in part because I am one of them. I see this guy out in the world, not truly caring at all about what it means for me (and other people I imagine are victims of his behavior) to see his presence projected into our corner of spacetime. And in thinking about what this means for us survivors/victims, I am reminded of this comment I made to Guernica: “I’m one part of the universe, trying to figure out another part of the universe.” I am part of the universe. These sexual assaults, these perpetrators, they are also part of the universe. And I am challenged, constantly, to remember their humanity because once I start dehumanizing people, I know I am on a slippery, carceral slope that I don’t want to be on.
And there is the question lurking in the background: what does that mean for when I go out and give these talks and interviews and say, “The universe is majestic. The cosmos are majestic.” Ultimately, the problem is that learning about the cosmos is often not a majestic experience and not just because it’s complicated and hard but also because learning about the cosmos involves dealing with people, sometimes people are awful, and the way power relations work in society is that the awfulness often continues unchecked.
I’m teaching stellar astrophysics this semester and my students are going to hear me declare nearly every class, “Stellar astrophysics is awesome.” I wish I could say that stellar astrophysics is fucking awesome, but I do try to maintain professionalism! The universe continues and the spectacular parts do go on and as I often tell mentees, we cannot leave the universe to the assholes. I work toward the day when doing physics as a minoritized person doesn’t require some kind of content warning, and in the meantime, I hold on to my ancestors’ freedom dreams.
Speaking of assholes, if you want to help folks in Texas get abortions, here’s a thread of places to send your support today. See you tonight on Instagram!