I spent a glorious summer day yesterday ambling through a street fair in the Upper West Side. I stopped at Paper Source, bought myself a planner, soaked in the objectively perfect weather, and tried to stay off Facebook. It was an exercise in willful ignorance.
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.
This post has been sitting at the bottom of my brain basin for a long time, waiting to surface at the right moment. I actually wrote the majority of this post before the Mormon Facebook Apocalypse of 2015. Still, I’ve held onto this post. I think the time is finally right, as I confront the painful, vulnerable fact that I’ve been spiritually wounded. This is a loaded admission, one that opens up your soul to further misunderstanding, judgment, and (perhaps most terrifyingly and only in a few extreme cases) ire.
Last Thursday, I walked home from classes and saw traffic backup piling into an intersection. It wasn’t Times Square Status by any means, but there was a bit of kerfluffle, since it’s not an intersection that is usually very busy. It was easy to peer ahead and see the source of the commotion was a row of ambulances (ambuli?) huddled around a storefront, pulling someone out on a stretcher and loading him or her into the vehicle.
Utah Valley experiences something called “Inversion.” It has something to do with the Great Salt Lake and pollution. Scientifically, I can’t explain it to you, but imageistically, it looks like you are peering into the distance with a pair of glasses covered in soot. Inversion feels like crunching six or seven flecks of sand between your teeth. Inversion is like bugs on a windshield hiding a really great view.
Dear Seniors of 2015,
I need to make a tiny confession. You were already winners before the contest began, and you’ll continue to be winners long after it’s over.
I need to make another confession: I’ve been manipulating you to think that I am “The Keeper of the Words.” And yet, I struggle too–just like you–when faced with a prompt. And today, the cursor blinks patronizingly as I try to answer the prompt instructing me that somehow I must “Say Goodbye.”
I’m older than you, and by extension “wiser,” and I’ve got your captive attention for probably eight more seconds, so allow me a moment to share the thesis that you, your wisdom, and the time we have shared together has helped me to articulate.
Yesterday my Facebook feed was abuzz with adorableness on Valentine’s–people publicly declaring their love and celebrating their flowers. As a manifestation of how old and mature I’m becoming, many of my friends posted pictures of their new Valentine’s–little babies covered with smooches, or pregnancy announcements clad in pink and red.
And honestly, it truly was adorable. I enjoyed it. I clicked the like button many times! I was happy it was Valentine’s Day!
But I was also a little bit cognizant of how much I would have hated my Newsfeed on Valentine’s Day five years ago–in the most cliche way of course. And though it was cliche and perhaps unnecessarily bitter, I don’t want to delegitimize the loneliness one single girl can internalize while scrolling through a Facebook Feed Full of Love.
So, remembering my former self, I decided to chronicle my 2015 Valentine’s Day here, where people actually need to CLICK to see, to choose to imbibe this particular love potion.
I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks in New York, and once I realized this, I instantly began searching for ways to make this observation into a metaphor: walking with a world beneath me, walking on top of shaky foundation? Nothing really fit, so I gave up and let it be simple:
I liked walking on the grates in the sidewalks. I liked sliding my fingers along the stone of the building next to me. I liked looking up, but I liked looking down too. I grew to appreciate my humidity hair.
It’s hard to verbalize what it is about the city that spoke to me so much. Maybe it was the creaking of the train or the hum of an intersection. Maybe it was the smell of bagels and cronuts and giant sticks of lamb rotating in a street cart. Or perhaps it was the subtle joy of meeting and visiting your soul people.
It must be acknowledged: Sometimes teaching sucks. Sometimes the amount of your paycheck represents only 1/10 of your ink, sweat, and tears. Sometimes students are mean, and sometimes they are manipulative. Sometimes (all the time) you work through lunch and sometimes (too many times) the students never seem to learn. Sometimes teaching sucks.
(Yes, I do need to cool it with the anaphora. Find a new literary device, Penrod, sheesh).
To be frank, most teachers have that period of the day that doesn’t jive like the others. That class period of hell filled with (individually lovely but compositely grumpy) students that simply refuse to think that what you are teaching them is worth anything. That hour of the day that not only reminds you that sometimes teaching sucks, but ensures that it does.
And then there are Michael Rudins* that wash away the sins of “Nth Period” in one fell swoop. In one fell binder full of ink and sweat.
I try not to write about individual students very often. I do this for a couple of reasons.
- Students’ personal lives are their own, and I imagine there would be a reasonable amount of horror were they to know that a teacher blogged about them.
- By picking one student to write about, I worry that sometimes it invalidates the beautiful experiences, kindness, and worthiness of all of my other tremendous students, many of whom slipped by expressive, kind, affirming Thank You Notes my way on this their last day of high school.
He is shy. I do not identify with shyness. I am not shy. But for some reason, I love my shy students. It’s perhaps an unfair generalization, but I am fascinated by their untapped depths.
Michael Rudin is shy, but not quiet. Throughout the year, whenever I called on him, he always surprised me with ready, boldly stated, poetically worded responses.
I was briefly out of the classroom today when a ragged binder and a Dr. Pepper appeared on my desk. As I thumbed through the pages (some pages earmarked) of my desk’s new arrival, I found “Youthful Thoughts: the Complete Works of Michael Rudin.” A binder full of poetry and short stories, of secret, untapped depths collected over the years.
To me, this is Michael Rudin carefully sifting through his poems, deliberating, deciding, and changing his mind. This is Michael Rudin, in a quiet, pensive moment, unsure whether or not this poem was a good enough representation of himself. This is Michael Rudin folding and then unfolding an earmark. This to me, is a moment of tenderness, of attention to detail. This is a moment of care.
I am not sure why I am so taken by this unearmarked corner, but the corner itself is poetry to me. Because it speaks.
I hope forever these students, not my students anymore, but these continuing students continue to speak boldly, quietly, articulately, and joyfully.