Ties that bind

Sometimes I wonder how wrong I am. Am I wrong about all the things I think I know? The convictions I think I’ve developed? The things I think are wrong–am I right about that?

Doubt. Sometimes I forget about who I’ve become. The pieces I might have left behind and put up for safe keeping. Sometimes I forget that those used to be more integral to my sense of self. Now they’re just old trophies on the shelf.

Coming home. How cliche does it sound to say that coming home reminds me of how far I’ve come? How far my education has gotten me. I’m reminded of how hard life is here, in this southern Illinois rural farming town. Where most people work in factories, distribution centers, weld, climb power lines, drive semis and farm equipment that costs five times my yearly salary. They work two full-time jobs to make their house payment. I’m reminded how hard I worked to get out of here, and how I am rewarded every day with my easy existence. God, how easy my life is.
My family reminds me that I should be thankful for my work ethic, for my drive, for my determination to escape this place of poverty and dead ends. My family reminds me of the privilege I’ve gained through my few years of education. My family reminds me of the class issue in this country. My family reminds me to see the shades of gray, that it’s not all point a and point b, it’s c, d, z, t. It’s not all that they tell you. There’s usually more to the story than even what you can read into. They remind me of what I was born into, who I could have been, why I so badly wanted to become who I am today. They remind me of all the motivations I used to have. The way I used to resist any commitments to this place. How hard I tried and how hard I flew. Who would I be without them? Where would I be without them? I’ll always be okay because I’ll always have them. Even if I move a hundred million miles away and never return. I might forget a little bit, but it’s not like it takes long for them to help me recall what it was I was hoping to find. Who it was I was hoping to become. I am so thankful for them and for all of this.

Advertisements

The time is

I’m 3, I’m 10, I’m 17. It doesn’t matter how old I am or how many Master’s degrees I have, when I hear a man yelling at a woman, I get that tightness in my chest and I assume the position. I lose all sense of time and place. I revert. Every muscle in my body tightens and I wait for the elastic band to snap. I wait for that moment when the rising tide will explode.
I try to remind myself I no longer have a dog in this fight. It’s not my team to assist. But is that fair? Will that ever really be true?
I don’t know why she does it. Why she chooses these men that get off on making her feel stupid. On calling us “hun” and doubting our capabilities. After thirty years of this, you would think she would find a way to change her bad habits. But I can’t say. I don’t really know how she was brought up, and I’ve met my grandmother. Love is best expressed through an insult, through some conveyance of a disappointment. Some habits you can never quit.
Anyone who gets off on making me feel stupid is temporary. I can feel my rage cauldron bubble just imagining it. I don’t care how much time I’ve invested, I don’t care how many late night chats we’ve had or how loudly you’ve made me laugh. I won’t repeat her mistakes. I won’t repeat her life.
My sister tells me, “you’re too picky.”
I tell myself, “you’re doing what you need to do, to protect yourself.”
I tell myself we’re too different, that could never be me. I remind myself of the lessons she’s taught me, of the knowledge I’ve gained. You won’t become this. You’re too willing to throw yourself into yourself. Into the running, the reading, the writing, the solitude. The things she quit, you pursue. The life she was afraid to explore, you are living. I have to praise her for that. But it still hurts. It’s still hard to admit her mistakes. It’s hard to admit she is this flawed, she is this wrong. It’s hard for me to see her brilliance go to waste, to hear her words used for these purposes. To realize what her daily life still is, after all this time.
No one can make you feel like a child again quite like your mother.

Black Lives

I can’t speak to the experience of being Black in America. I can’t speak to the microaggressions, to the stereotypes, to the resentment. I can’t speak to any of it. I don’t have a voice in this pain. But I can speak to what the Washington Post named white rage. I can speak to white privilege. I can speak to ignorance.

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.

“because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.”

I can speak to this backlash, this undercurrent of racism that seems to be dictating so much in our legal and political system, regardless of the rebuttals I hear against my claim. Racism is alive and well in America, and stop. Stop justifying it, stop victim blaming, stop.

My sister’s a cop. You know what cops are taught? They’re taught to be afraid. You have to be, don’t you? Afraid if you’re going to seek out the bad, stand up to the bad, enforce the rules. That’s what I think. I listened to my sister’s training stories with rapt attention. The scenarios of school shootings, hostage situations, the brutal mind games. The insults, the physical challenges, the sexism, the racism, the classism inherent in everything they’re taught. You’re taught to rely on your stereotypes. You’re taught to be careful with your weapon, with your gun. But how careful can you be when you’re also being told to be afraid. Be very afraid. How careful can you be when you’re expected to think ahead. Be 5 steps ahead of the guy on the other side. Be 5 steps ahead and expect the worst. It’s your life or his. It’s your safety or his. It’s your well-being or his. [see: http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/12/police-gun-shooting-training-ferguson/383681/%5D

As a cop, you don’t have to be taught that everyone hates you. That’s quickly evident as you get out in the streets. People are afraid of you, people don’t trust you, people aren’t afraid to hurt you. So, you’re taught how to use your weapons. You’re taught not to discharge them unless you need to. You have your taser, your bear mace, your baton, your gun. Don’t go for the gun unless you see a gun. Unless you suspect a gun. But a big scary black man has you cornered and is hitting you hard. Does the white cop hesitate and try the mace? Where was his taser? He doesn’t chance it–he goes for the best weapon in his arsenal. His adrenaline and his fear and his training kick in. Neutralize the threat.

Cops live in a world we cannot fathom. So we give them our excuses, we make our exceptions. Better them than us. That doesn’t make it right. To shoot a teenager multiple times. To harass. To intimidate. That doesn’t mean you can kill someone and won’t even stand trial for it.

It’s a race issue; it’s a psychological issue; it’s a legal issue. It’s a big clusterfuck of what we’ve deemed freedom in our red white and blue country [not white and black. never that.] It’s the 2nd Amendment. It’s my rights versus yours. Don’t forget for a second that your worth can be ranked and labeled by nobodys, by anybodys, unless you’re a rich, white, straight man.

A world divided

Are your parents divorced? I don’t really know what it’s like, how to describe it, if you’ve never experienced it yourself. It’s like…your life is permanently split in two. You become two. I have this life with my mom and I have this life with my dad. My mom and I talk about this and my dad and I talk about that. And even though divorce is common, I don’t have many friends with divorced parents. Maybe it’s because of where I live or who I usually associate with.

I have a few friends like me, who are close with each parent and have lived a life divided. I guess I mostly don’t think about it much, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently with the holiday season approaching. Everyone keeps asking me, “what are you doing for Thanksgiving. What will you be doing for Christmas?” And it’s kind of nice that now that I’m an adult I have the option, who do I want to spend the holidays with this year? As a kid, I obviously had no say. The only holidays I ever spent with my dad were my birthday and 4th of July, since both fall in the summer. It’s nice that I have the time and the opportunity to mix it up. Maybe Thanksgiving, maybe Christmas, maybe Memorial Day, maybe New Year’s. Maybe that’s partly why I’ve never been much of a holiday sort of person.

I just sit amazed and in wonder sometimes of the unity of people’s lives. And in the multitude of ways we all differ. The fragments of us.

Motivation

I’m exhausted. I woke up this morning and felt like I had been hit by a bus. So the expression goes. I hope to never actually experience that in my life. I had zero desire to crawl out of my bed and into clothes. I enjoyed the drive to work because it was time I did not have to think. I worked an 11 hour day yesterday, which to my new professional self was a shock. It’s funny how quickly I’ve adapted to this 8 hour work day from my grad school lifestyle. How did I do that? I guess we just do it.

I planned a study abroad fair with some study abroad students and international exchange students. Our turnout wasn’t record breaking, but it was great. I loved it. I love working with the students and hearing them chatter nonstop about their semester abroad. I love the crazy stories they have about getting puked on during their plane ride or going to the wrong apartment or their first nude drawing class or getting yelled at by Germans or just feeling lost and small and terrified in the world. It doesn’t make any sense, really, that they love their semester abroad as much as they claim because they basically spent the entire time feeling stupid and confused and different. But they do. At one time there were 7 of us shoved into an elevator, boxes and bags in hand, unable to move or fully see one another over our bundles and I just thought, “this is great.” I love working with college students. I love that they work hard and play hard and just overall aren’t sure who they are. It’s worth it to be tired today. To feel a little slow and a little brainfried and sluggish. My job’s not perfect. There are stupid politics and there is drama and there are things that happen that I’m unsure of, but my students are great people and I enjoy what they bring to my work life. It’s a different kind of like though, than I’ve really experienced. I appreciate them as people, as individuals, but not in a let’s be friends way, not in a let’s hang out way. Not in a let me mentor you way. It’s just, hey you’re one of the good ones and thank you for that. It makes me feel good. It restores my faith in humanity and the world, if there are young adults floating around who think and act this way. It motivates me to work 11 hour days, work 7 days a week, to keep challenging myself and to do the best for them that I can. To give back to them. I feel a lot.

Characters

End scene.

I could write about the Dean’s administrative assistant whose desk is closest to mine, around the corner. I could write about how she talks about being mixed in the land of the white; her tall, dark husband who stops by occasionally with his deep voice and easy humor; her kids; her facebook posts that make me laugh; her decision to leave this job after a few short months.

I could talk about the woman I work with in the Registrar’s office who runs and knits and isn’t afraid to complain or naysay. I could write about her tortoise shell glasses or the time we went for a bagel or the presentation we gave yesterday at a conference in downtown GB.

I could write about any of my students. The one who sends short, rude emails like she is the only student who has ever not understood something; the one who I see everywhere on campus; the one who is borderline always complaining to me in a passive aggressive way but doesn’t give any concrete suggestions to improve anything. The one who asked me to dinner; the one who brings me Coca-Colas; the one who asked me advice about graduate school; the ones I disappoint on a weekly basis.

I could write about the wasp that was buzzing around the office today; the man who climbed through the window to fix the roof; the dead fly in my windowsill; the change in my mood from the sunny morning to the dull gray wintery afternoon. How I’m dying to go to the caf to fill 3 plates and smile politely and make little conversation. None of it seems interesting to me. So I won’t write about it.

I’m a hustla, baby

I just want you to know. Have you seen American Hustle? There’s one scene, one line that hits me every time. Like a steel swinging cable. It catches me completely off guard.

Christian Bale’s character is in the dry cleaning spinny thing with Amy Adam’s character and he’s doing a voice-over: “I felt like we had a secret, just the two of us. You know, like that thing when you just wanna be with the one person the whole time and you feel like the two of you understands something that nobody else gets.”

And the crazy fucking thing is that when he describes that feeling, I get it. That resonates with me. I know exactly what he means. It’s not even me projecting, me imagining in my mind what that would be like. It’s something tangible I can see and feel. And I find myself pulling away from the rest of the world, because I prefer to exist in the space where that hope lives. I’ve always struggled with this. With my desire to be selfish, to trust myself, to listen to my gut and do what’s best for me, and my desire to be a good person, to do good unto others, to make others happy, to help them with their balancing act.

Because, how do I say this? I’m good at people. When I was a kid, I found a suitcase of my mom’s and it was full of old letters from college and high school. Letters from friends, letters from lovers, letters from family. And I remember feeling like I had stumbled on the greatest treasure. I sat in her closet for hours and read through them. Carefully unfolding them and deciphering the writing of these people that loved her. But she found me out, and the letters went away, and I was crushed. My mom felt like I was invading her privacy, which technically, yes, sure. What mom appreciates her 5 year old daughter reading through documentation of her twenties. I couldn’t make her understand that I just wanted to see more of her. Who are you? Who are you when you’re not being my mom? It was incredible, imagining my mother as someone else. The person that I didn’t see across the dinner table. And I’ve always wanted that–to know the stories of others. To completely immerse myself in someone else’s story to see all the shapes and angles and lighting and gross corners. It’s greedy, strange, and slightly creepy of me. I can’t help it. So anyway, what this means is that I can be a blank slate. I will let you cover me with you. You’re a pool and I just jump in. What this means is that it’s easy for me to be who you want. Cause I’m studying you, I see you, and I know what will work best with you. I’m a chameleon. It’s easy for me to blend in so much that I forget myself. What was the original shade I came in here with? The problem with this is that we’re not sharing anything, really. I’m taking. It’s not an equitable relationship. You’re not blending to match me, see? And that’s what I’ve decided to want. To want to blend with someone to match together. Not to match whatever they already are. Cause I’ve been doing that, and it always ends somewhat unpleasantly. But I think the challenge is then finding someone who won’t let me blend all in. Someone who will hold me at arm’s length and remind me of my bad habit. Check myself.
(I found myself.)


I think growing up is realizing that you can’t do both. You have to choose, one or the other, him or me. Sometimes you choose you and sometimes you choose them and it requires impeccable timing. Which is it gonna be today?  It’s kind of like horse betting. I pick this horse, and I hope it does me well today. And that makes me think of “The Pursuit Race” by Hemingway and the man who loves sheets. I love sheets.

'Good,' said William Campbell. 'Because really I don't 
know anything at all. I was just talking.' He pulled the sheet 
up over his face again. 'I love it under a sheet,' he said.
Billy Campbell caressed the sheet with his lips and his 
tongue. 'Dear sheet,' he said. 'I can kiss this sheet and see 
right through it at the same time.

He shut his eyes and opened them, moving the eye-lashes 
against the  sheet. 'I just love sheets,' he said. 
He looked at Mr. Turner.       
'Listen, you think I'm drunk.' 
'You are drunk.' 
'No, I'm not.'
William Campbell held the sheet around his head. 
'Dear sheet,' he said. He breathed against it gently. 
'Pretty sheet. You love me, don't you, sheet?
'Oh, yes. And if you love sheets.' He breathed on the sheet 
and stroked his nose against it. I don't know about 
sheets,' he said. 'I just started to love this sheet.'