I like to start each new school year with a game. It’s called “Yes” and it involves students standing in a circle, asking for permission to move across the circle and take someone’s place. It’s a cycle of saying “yes” and my hope is that the idea of assent carries over to discussion. As the players improve at the game, I up the intensity. I have students toss a heavy, imaginary bowling ball across the circle. They practice saying yes by catching the imaginary bowling ball in a way that suggests that they’ve “yessed” its imaginary weight. Then we blow a feather across the circle while the bowling ball is circulating, and finally I pull a “lizard” from my pocket and send it scampering to a classmate.
Yesterday I tasked my Creative Writing students with the a little snooping. Purposeful snooping, of course. Peer into lives and find the story hiding.
Sometimes I use their in class writing time as a time to just sit and process how my activities are going that day. I “circulate,” a fancy teaching term for making sure everyone is on task, but if I’m honest, sometimes it’s more of a perambulation than a circulation. My brain coasts a little. I’ve realized I need these brain breaks during the school year; my days are so jam-packed lately that I crave the autopilot a little more than I’m proud of.
A few days ago, we were out to dinner with some friends, and the conversation turned to the topic of New York. A year ago, almost precisely, this conversation would have been a frank declaration about my love affair with the city. A year in, I still love the city, but the conversation has changed.
“Have you ever noticed that New York is not a convenient place to live, but—like—New Yorkers take some kind of pride in that? Like the struggle’s part of it,” our friend said.
Everyone, and anyone who had classes with me in high school, has seen me have anxiety, but there are only eight or nine people in my life that have seen me have a full on panic attack. The person who saw my worst panic attack lives in New York, and surprisingly, it wasn’t Jeremy. Jeremy has helped me develop some of the most helpful coping mechanisms, so he’s never seen me at my worst, my freshmen year–a year where everyone writes off anxiety for hormones so it’s impossible to understand what is happening inside your body, inside your brain, and inside your soul. My anxiety became a punch line for jokes about puberty.
This will come as a surprise to no one: I am white. Though that’s never been a surprise to me, I have never been so aware of my whiteness as I am while living on the outskirts of Harlem. I confront my whiteness every day.
I try to be conscientious and introspective about my identity. I want to acknowledge my whiteness, and in so doing, I must acknowledge my privilege. I do not feel defensive about my privilege. Acknowledging my privilege doesn’t mean that I was lazy, and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t work hard, and it doesn’t mean that I haven’t earned my spot at Columbia. It simply means that I was in a system that was engineered for people like me to thrive. Perhaps most importantly right now, it means that I can walk basically anywhere in the United States and not fear that I will be accused of a crime. It’s ok to acknowledge those things. It doesn’t hurt me to acknowledge that these privileges exist.
What hurts is that these privileges don’t exist for everyone.
To the Graduating Class of NEST+m,
I like to put the cap of a pen back on after I’ve written something decisive. Similarly, I’d like to put a cap on this year, something tidy to end a decisive year of discovery. But I’m finding that “tidy” just won’t do. There was nothing TIDY about this year of English, yours or mine. This year might have looked like a cursive sentence written by a third grader. Messy, sure, but a finished product that someone could be proud of.
“Darling, be a dear and grab me a beer.”
She never knew what to say, so she went to the word hose looking for some inspiration.
It only takes a few hours for a memory to become rusty. Like an orange haze that speckles the surface of a nail or an old door hinge, my memory starts to fill in at the corners, and the sheen wears away if I don’t immediately write about the event I want to relive.
One day, not in the next nine months, but one day, I’ll have a little baby (babies?) of my own. I’ll have babies that grow irretrievably into children who play soccer (perhaps play soccer badly if they’re my children) and lose teeth.