IN THIS CHAPTER:
On The Cynic's Creed.
On the green-up.
On glass jars.
On my name.
On the spectacularly rich.
On feeling bad about myself.
On Ana and Mia.
On an error.
On college life.
On what my roommate and I talk about at midnight.
On this, part II.
I'm good at making lists. I'm not so good at connecting the dots. Or seeing how a smattering of stars in the sky makes a lion. I'm great at picking out motifs and symbolism in the books I read for class, but terrible at summarizing the plot.
So this piece is taking a format I've thought about for a couple of days. It's good for talking about a morsel of la vie quotidienne, but maybe not so good for taking a look at life in general. Or maybe this is the only way to do it.
ON THE CYNIC'S CREED.
Since this is creative nonfiction, I have no qualms about addressing you, the reader. Some of you probably stopped by here because you read TCC way back when. You're psyched to see the fabulous new insights I've got about being a young woman, unsure of herself but still hopeful enough to leave poetry in library books.
That was three years ago. I've been trying to edit TCC, make it tighter, more publishable (in my wildest dreams), but it's tough because my writing style has changed. And I have changed. I've moved across the country. Met twice as many people as I ever had before. Experienced new emotions and new ideas. New love, even. Other authors can write about high school like they never left it. They're convincing enough. But for me, I feel too fake and insincere to write about it, like I'm experiencing it retroactively. I have memories of it, sure, but they're fading. I've got journals, but the things I wrote are almost foreign to me now.
Sometimes I reread the reviews people left when I first posted it. I printed them out. They're paperclipped together, curled at the edges, stuffed into the back pocket of a binder. When I doubt my ability as a writer, that's my encouragement. It's almost pathetic, but I'm a "whatever works" sort of person. To tell the truth, though, I haven't written anything, anything, substantial since then. It's like I had a lot of potential, but I used it all on that manuscript. I am spent.
Journaling was the extent of my writing. Then last year, I got m'self a boyfriend, and now all my rants and emotions and thoughts are directed at him. My journals have been untouched for months. And it's taken until now to feel the urge to write again.
ON THE GREEN-UP.
The boyfriend – who I will call Ampersand, which is my favorite form of punctuation – told me that in small town where he lives, they celebrate the Green-up. At the end of winter, the grass comes back to life, emerges from the receding snow, and the sun wicks the green back into the leaves and lawns. I'd never lived in a place that snowed before, but now that I'm in Providence, I am witness to the Green-up.
Spring is joyous. The trees here have produced round, tightly sealed buds. When the time is right, they'll burst open in quarters, spring-loaded, and blushing flowers will spread their petals. The black branches will turn brown, and the sun will cast a moving, mottled shadow puppet show on the concrete.
ON GLASS JARS.
I make excuses to buy alfredo sauce and apple juice. I invent recipes for maraschino cherries and olive oil, pickles and marinara.
"What are you going to make with that?" Ampersand will say to me.
"Oh, you know… Spaghetti," I'll answer.
"And the cherries?"
"I… wanted to try them?
Secretly, I don't like pickles or cherries and I could get pasta at the campus cafeteria. But I love washing out the glass jars and placing them, clean and clear and empty, on my windowsill.
"Who are you buying flowers for?" Ampersand asks.
"For myself," I say. I know the answer this time. "One of my life goals is to keep fresh flowers in the house – or dorm room, I guess – at all times."
"Is your house yellow? With a black door? And a library?" he teases. He knows my list of life goals too well.
Traditional things, like mums in water in glass jars, help me to make-believe that I did not have to be born in the age of information. I don't like that computers run the world. I don't like operating in two universes, one that's been around forever and one that's kept in warehouses full of PCs. The internet is repulsive. To me, it is to man what man is to God: it is our creation, and it has gone wrong.
I think I was born in the wrong time.
ON THE SPECTACULARLY RICH.
In my French conversation section, we shared what we're doing for spring break. "Moi," I said, "j'irai à… Nouvelle Orleans avec mon Christian Fellowship… pour, euh, voluntaire? Nous allons prendre un bus." We each stumbled through our plans – Pennsylvania, New York, Dominican Republic – and then the guy from England spoke up in his London-tinged French.
"First, I'm returning to London on Friday, then on Saturday morning, I'm going to visit some friends in Paris. Then on Monday I'm flying to Egypt to visit my girlfriend. And then I'm going back to London to be with my family for three days."
I knew he was rich, since most international students are. And he dresses well, pops his collar, has a gorgeous leather bookbag and streamlined designer shoes. But to be able to afford flying to Paris for just two days?Just popping in, hey, I just flew in from London to give you a high five and have a crêpe, now I am jetting off to Egypt for a jaunt?
Part of me wants to make fun of him, I suspect because his lifestyle differs greatly from mine and my first instinct is to ostracize him. (His French is also worse than mine, which makes it easy.) Walking back to my dorm, I allowed myself to wonder: What would life be like if I were spectacularly rich? Would I, too, zip around Europe on a whim? Spend $245 on a pair of jeans?
If I am honest, the answer is yes. I probably would. I'd travel as much as I could. I'd be reasonable, but what is money, if not for using? It could be gone tomorrow, so why not spend a little bit and make my life look a little more put together, make me a little more well-versed in the ways of the world?
In no way is that justified. In no way do I excuse him for having more pairs of shoes than I do. If I am honest, I know that being spectacularly rich would change me. Make me expect things, make me impose things on the world. I'd be of novel interest to people ("You've been to 45 countries?" "You have an iPhone?") and with all the hair products I could afford, I'd attract a different type of guy. I would be a disaster.
Here is the reason I collect glass jars. The world is a game. The game runs on money, and so I'd rather give up. I'd rather have a thousand glass jars than a thousand dollars.
ON FEELING BAD ABOUT MYSELF.
I met a girl who was a better version of myself. She had the same genealogy, but was prettier. The same jokes, but a cuter laugh. The same school, but a more impressive major. The same sport, but a better player. The same state, but wealthier.
How do I deal with this? Tell myself, I have a nice boyfriend, I am who I am, God made me this way, and get over it? I can't get over it. This is a problem. I see her around campus too much. She dresses so well, looks so cute all the time. Laughs with her following of friends while I walk by myself to check my mailbox, which is empty. Telling myself I am supposed to be me, I am proud to be me does not help, especially when she seems just like me, only… better.
There is a black hole inside my stomach. Every time I think of her, a little more of me implodes.
The mindset: Be useful. Be productive. But I am not always useful, and I am not always productive. What do I do when I have nothing to do? I eat. I can feel the enamel of my teeth being scratched off from the sharp-edged acid of Skittles or the sugar of Pop-Tarts. I am full, but still I eat the Rice Chex, the apples, the malt chocolate robin's eggs. The See's Candy. The Nutella, straight from the jar.
This would be a problem if my metabolism were any slower. But as it is, my bloodstream is the Autobahn. My cells are overclocked. And I remain thin. People wonder if I'm anorexic.
ON ANA AND MIA.
I say, "I could never be anorexic. I love food too much." But it's not a matter of whether I could or couldn't, or should or shouldn't, or would or wouldn't. It's a matter of being. Your brain shifts, someone makes a comment and an iron ball in your head is dropped and something goes awry. You look at yourself in the mirror and suddenly you have become someone different. This is how I understand anorexia.
I work for the health ed office on campus, making posters and brochures. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week was last month, so I spent some time researching online. A few links, and I was there.
Thinspiration. Tips and tricks. Hiding it from your family. Low cal recipes. BMI calculator. These were links on a "pro-ana/mia" website. Clicking through them, another black hole in my stomach opened up, and I wanted to cry for these girls. Hating their bodies so much they would starve, lie to their families, ruin themselves for beauty that was already there. A picture of a model with ribs like clay pinched out from her side was the first "thinspiration" and many more followed.
How could this happen? What is going on with these girls, these women? How could we let them fall into this and why aren't we pulling them out?
It's not a choice. It's a disability. This is how I understand it. Hand over my mouth, I had to collapse the window on the computer, wondering how many people on my campus did this to themselves. Wondering what it must have been like for my friends in high school, who told me years later what they'd suffered. What I hadn't noticed. What I didn't understand.
And yet here am I, wrinkling my nose as I walk behind a girl who shouldn't be wearing such tight pants. Who does she think she's fooling. Can't she see her back fat spilling out over her waistband.
I have it easy. I've never been overweight, always been a tangle of sticklike limbs. Ana and Mia are not your friends, I want to tell those girls, you suffer from a problem, but I think I'm part of it. I love my thin body. And I love the sleek streamlined legs and shoulders of the centerfold girls. I'm confessing it, and I hate it, and I wish it weren't this way. Because I can't stand to see the beautiful girls around me wasting away to satisfy cruel standards.
In the Book Arts studio, I used the Vandercook proofing press to make three dice. Six sides each. Eighteen words. The first die was the subject. I, you, we, all of us, they, you&I. The second was the verb. Feel, seem, are, will be, can be, could be. And the third was the adjective. Fine, good, OK, well, all right, safe. Endless combinations of comfort.
Tell yourself these things. "I will be okay. You are safe. All of us could be all right. They seem well. You and I feel fine. We can be good."
ON AN ERROR.
Then again, "to be" is the most irregular verb. "I are okay"? That does not work. Damn it. And I've already printed two sets.
ON COLLEGE LIFE.
Maybe you're still in high school. Maybe college is in your future, distant and nebulous. Let me tell you what it's like so you'll know what to expect.
You'll realize, a year after the fact, that you have effectively moved out of your home. If all goes as planned, you're not going to live there anymore. (Summers don't count.) But you'll be okay with that. In college, you'll meet twice as many people as you've ever known. You'll be excellent at remembering names and faces. You'll learn to read bus schedules. You will think to yourself, "This is my chance to reinvent myself." But there is no such thing. You are you, and although you'll change, you can't ever be somebody else, and you wouldn't want to be. You'll only have class for three hours a day, which is great, until you realize that you have six hours of homework. You'll get creative, start using T-shirts for pillowcases, putting on extra deodorant so you'll do less laundry, filling up bags of cereal at the cafeteria so you'll have something to eat in the mornings. There is no such thing as reading for fun in college. You have too much to study… If you choose to do it. In college, you can choose whether to read your coursepack or not. You're on your own.
ON WHAT MY ROOMMATE AND I TALK ABOUT AT MIDNIGHT.
I'm going to call my roommate Desert, because she's writing about "desertification" for her Chinese class. In Chinese.
Me: "So I think I've watched this sneezing panda YouTube video like ten times tonight."
Desert: "I wonder if there's a word for 'desertification' in Chinese."
Desert: "I'm writing a paper about it. I've been reading up on dunes all night. Like sand dunes."
Me: "Anything of interest?"
Desert: "Yeah! This article said that Marco Polo and a lot of other travelers recorded what they call a 'dune song.' Apparently, when a sand dune shifts all at once it makes a huge sound that can be heard for up to… ten kilometers away."
Me: "Really? That's – wait, how can it move all at once? Doesn't it move like, grain by grain?"
Desert: "Sort of, but there are some really complicated physics involved, like, um… I guess like how an airplane can fly? Something with the wind… I don't know, I'm in humanities, all I know is that the desert sings when it moves."
ON THIS, PART II.
This is my first original posting to FP in a long time. In some ways, I feel like I've outgrown it, but I know I haven't. I like this community. I like putting myself out there to be read. If you have a minute, please leave me a note. (I don't like calling it a review.) I'll be updating this every now and then.