I tried to approach this post from a literary perspective–I tried to weave in all the literary Toms–Sawyer, Riddle, and Robinson–that made an impact on me. It was a little trite. I’ve bonded with these characters (yes, even Voldemort), but our relationship exists on a page. They don’t really compare to my first and preeminent Tom. Such comparisons were hollow and ineffective because Tom Sawyer didn’t dig a grave for my lizards, Hercermer and Cheerioh. Tom Robinson (from To Kill A Mockingbird, trust me, it was confusing for me to disassociate when I first read that book in sixth grade), didn’t hold me for hours while I sobbed when our childhood dog passed away. And Tom Riddle certainly didn’t help me through bleary eyes, rinse Hufflepuff’s habitat out when it was her turn to go.
The Absence of Joy
The teacher called from the front of the room
With no response, she finally looks up.
The students blink blankly back
Like cursors on a computer screen.
She filled in a bubble.
Joy was absent.
The two-toed sloth is slightly bigger than the three-toed sloth. It moves so slowly that algae has time to grow in its fur, which helps it camouflage with its leafy surroundings. It must crawl (slowly!) on land because it’s long, gangly legs don’t support its weight. They’re not lazy, they have objectives, but they’re gentle creatures.
As with most high schoolers, music was a big part of my identity. I remember sublimely emo moments where I’d blast Death Cab for Cutie’s “Passenger Seat” and I’d stare (through the opulent purple canopy above my bed) out the rainy window. I’d make sure to clasp onto every feeling. That was the point of the music. Feel it all! Feel it allllllll.
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.