In “threshold” I talked a bit about this issue with “inhabiting the now” that I’ve been having. I didn’t talk enough about it, so I’m writing this addendum to go into greater detail about what I’ve been feeling over the past three weeks at home.
For one, being home is annoying. I have a very distinct rhythm at school because I have the illusion of autonomy to corroborate that rhythm. I can move freely from my room to class to the dining hall to the gym without having to check-in with anyone or state that this is where I’m going. I can perfectly avoid human contact on days when I don’t want to be talked to or seen, and can surround myself with people on the few nights every full moon when I want to be inundated with the presence, opinions, voices of others. At home, I am in a perpetual state of in-betweenness. I have to interact with my parents, even when I don’t want to talk to anyone, and the idea of me not wanting to talk to them, or avoiding them, raises suspicions in ways which reflect more or less their perceptions of me than my own reality. This has been an issue my entire life – having constantly to maintain an image of myself in front of others which reflects their own self-interests and not my own. And that’s not at all to say that I don’t do this; I, however, acknowledge that I have constructed an image of you, a vehicle which coaches our engagement, and that I leave this image as fluid as possible so as to allow you to demonstrate your character as opposed to allowing me to corroborate that image. My family doesn’t do this, and I’m not sure they know how to do it. It’s hard, and I’m not very good at it myself.
While the past semester was stressful, I thrive in stressful, high-octane situations. How else could you explain me projecting myself into these situations, in spite the admonishment of my friends? I was told by so many people not to apply to grad school as a senior, not to be president of my black student union, not to have two (really three) jobs on campus, and each time I ignored them because naturally I know better than anyone else (duh.) Nonetheless, I did this because I knew that that more I had on my plate, the more precise and productive I could be. If I piled everything on, I knew that I would work as efficiently as possible because there’s always something else to do. Now there’s not. This break has been stressful because I haven’t had anything to stress me out.
I guess that’s an understatement: what has stressed me out this break is the uncertainty of the future. Two days ago, I almost started panicking because I was reading forum posts on gradcafe about getting rejected from the schools I had applied to. It is disturbing to not have statistics to go off, and this whole process has been annoyingly obscure. I didn’t need to read all of these testimonials about getting rejected from Yale and Stanford, and now I am afraid that I won’t get in anywhere. I don’t know when I’ll hear back, and I don’t know what my results will be. In my head, I’m like “well, you’re Black and doing comp lit research that very few people are doing, so that should make you a promising candidate” but to be honest, being black may not make as much of a difference in graduate admissions – and if it does, I haven’t read anywhere that it does – and my research being underrepresented may very well be an impediment because no professor may feel confident enough in my research field to support my research as an adviser. I mentioned who would support my research best in my statements, but whose to say that they’ll agree, especially when a lot of these name-drops were splitting hairs – “I think Professor Y would support my research because of their research in Caribbean cultural politics,” a statement I gleaned from glancing at their CV and reading perhaps the first two paragraphs of an article they published what, ten years ago? – As the days pass – unbearably slowly – I find that I am not forgetting that I applied to grad school, and returning to life in the now, but furthering the lengthy process of fretting over a future I cannot control. I know I sound like a broken record, but I find that every day is marked by the same scratches which disturb the music, even if they are almost indistinguishable to the listener…
To continue this metaphor, I, as the musician, am aware of all of the subtleties of a composition, all of the little movements which constitute its central drama, its ethos, its passion. Yet, you, as the listener, as the consumer, are only aware of that which is most pertinent to your experience. We each have our tastes, are most attuned to certain elements which reflect only us. The imperfections in the music, the din of two instruments playing in brief disharmony, a flat note drowned out by the dram of a bass guitar, the hairline scratch on the record which produces a coincidental skip right on a downbeat, can elude you, but haunts the composer for they know it is not right…
I don’t have a workspace in my house. I’ve tried to jury-rig up a makeshift bed-table from an old piece of plywood and a flat sheet, but that didn’t really work well. I’ve also tried to work in my family room or in my computer room, but this too doesn’t maximize my productivity. I had carved a space for myself in the basement, where my brother used to work on his projects, but there’s a leak in the pipe right above the table at which I would sit, and therefore I can’t work there anymore, either, lest I get weird rusty water all over my things, including my books and more preciously, my computer. So now I’m at the public library, forced to take an Uber to get here because the car still isn’t working. This is the most productive I’ve been in a week, and I’ve only responded to emails and worked on my resume in the hour I’ve been here.
Speaking of resumes : I don’t know what I’m going to do this summer! It is so disturbing to think that I have to apply to real jobs, now. Most of these positions for the summer are also internships which do not pay, and since I’m saving up for a car, I don’t know how I’ll pay for my housing and food and transportation if I take one, since I’ll essentially be depleted of funds. I won’t be able to use my fellowship money because I will no longer qualify for summer funds since I will have graduated. I have acquiesced to apply to jobs at Barnes and Noble and Best Buy at the moment, but that would mean that I still have to live at home, under the metaphorical thumb of my parents. To qualify this statement: my parents are not authoritarian at all, but it is the illusion of absolute freedom which I had constructed and inhabited at school which makes living at home as a quasi-adult hard to stand. I’ve lived away from home the past three summers, and have no intention of living at home this summer, even if that would mean saving the money I would otherwise spend subletting someone’s apartment. After writing this, I’ll keep looking for internships and jobs, although I really am not certain I’ll find anything. I have been so thoroughly entrenched in this vision of becoming an academic that I don’t know how to market myself outside of a very narrow niche. I really just want to do research somewhere, read my books and go to the library and write, maybe look for agents for some of these manuscripts I’ve been working on, but I don’t have the security to do that. I read somewhere on a grad forum that if I get in somewhere, I can ask for an advance on my stipend and move-in early to my new apartment, which sounds just right, but should I really rely on that as my only course of action? I do not like putting faith in things which are uncertain, and therefore I must have some sort of backup plan. As resource-rich as Swarthmore has been, I can’t rely on snagging some library job or settling for another summer at my youth empowerment program anymore…
Time is moving so slowly. Each day is like a week. I read fifty pages of a book and see that only an hour and a half has gone by. I find that the plots of books aren’t even engrossing enough to keep my mind from wandering back to these fog-stifled pastures of time. It is hard to relax when you are used to relaxing only in the brief moments between great periods of stress. I had my repose the first four days at home, and now I am bored and annoyed and tense all at once.
I don’t want to make it seem like my mental health has been on the fritz since coming home. Especially throughout 2016, this blog has transformed from my ill-advised treatises on “the way things are in the world” to postings which are quite personal, and for many people, somewhat disturbing. In 2017, I hope to most more frequently, and with a bit more of an informative angle, although I am now unsure of what I really have to say, or the stability of the soapbox on which I stand. In reality, I’m only a 21 year old college student with little life experience, and no basis on which to prattle his opinions besides the 20 or so books he has skimmed for this or that class, the likes of which formulate an opinion with toothpicks as its scaffolding. The best thing I have going for me is not the depth of my arguments, but the ways I present them – wordcraft, which is but a form of deception magic, if that. While annoyed and a bit peeved, I am ultimately fine, in better condition than I am typically at school. Nonetheless, I find that being home is no longer restful, and is in many ways suffocating. I have developed my own process, and yet I feel as if I am being sucked back into another pattern which in many ways inhibits my creativity and my rhythm.
There is a section of the current piece I am working on – a quasi-sci fi story about designer babies, of all things – where one of the characters says “Are we able to really understand each other?” and everyone in the room laughs because it’s a ridiculous and seemingly rhetorical question, but she doesn’t say it as a joke. She goes on to say that we share with one another stock images of our characters through which we control our engagement, and that most people would rather interact with that image, which nonetheless reflects themselves, than discover the truth and complexity of the people in their lives. We are truly selfish beings, live for ourselves, project ourselves onto others as the model to determine our affinities. We seek in others some sort of representation of ourselves, and therefore look only for affirmation in others, are disturbed or enticed when we find too much or too little. We are complex creatures, constantly unfolding, constantly changing, but our perceptions of ourselves, and our perceptions of others do not reflect this complexity. They are static, unchanging, intransient, and therefore we are bound to conflict with one another, for we are unwilling to recognize that we are all more complex than we may ever know. Your parents, your children, your cousins, your best friends, your lovers – there are parts of them you will never know, not because they are secretive, but because it is beyond your own interests to know. We must constantly live in the shadows of the expectations of others, are perpetually terrified of letting others down, of proving that we are the garbage we all know that we are. There is no such thing as a good person, for we are all riddled by the vices and inadequacies which both propel us to greatness and mark as utter scum. Goodness and badness are relative terms, for even paragons are crippled by their own inadequacies, by the evil things they keep locked away, or by the terrible things they do without knowing that they are terrible. Nonetheless, it is the illusions of ourselves which we build and inhabit, the façades and masks we build to protect ourselves from perception, that both ruin us and make us human.
I’m in the process of finding out who this person is, somewhere in between here and there. I have been retracting from social media for months now because I find that my usage of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat reflect this sort of social discipline at the base of interpersonal interaction. While in person, we have to constantly negotiate image and reality, and are uncertain where one ends and the other begins, online, where discipline becomes structure, there is only image. With a like or a comment – or the absence of response, the ultimate social reprimand – we are forced to act as individuals who belong to something. We post pictures to garner the attention and admiration or approval of others, are disappointed when our pictures do not glean such a response. We post statuses and share links in order to demonstrate our intellectualism, our deft of tongue and acumen of mind. We snap pictures of ourselves to make others envious of our experiences, our appearances, our humor, our debonair and falsified lifestyles. There are of course those who do not do this, who live life online as it perhaps should be – c’est-à-dire, as if you are not being surveilled and watched – but nonetheless the majority of us embody a discipline of belongingness which nonetheless cripples our individualism, our resolve of self. We construct a fold – and the issue with collective consciousness is that there is always something which does not belong, there is always the collective Adversary, the other. The axes of belongingness are drawn politically to exclude certain individuals and characteristics, for it is through the detection of these qualities that the other is revealed. This is all very Foucauldian, I know, but I became aware this semester – and wrote my final paper for a class, actually – of the phenomena of watching and discipline which structures online communities. For someone who is so sensitive, I found that my presence online was exacerbated by a desire to please and belong. I would look at my Snapchat stories and see that certain people would stop watching halfway through, and this would deeply upset me. Snapchat of course puts this there for this very purpose – even if the feature was designed for some other reason, it nonetheless allows users to see and tease out their behavior in order to receive the maximum result, the utmost approbation.
Naturally, I stopped using Snapchat, and Twitter, and Facebook. I kept Instagram, mostly because I wanted to continue to take pictures of myself (to build self-esteem), and get some sort of approval on my looks (I’ve always had terrible confidence, and still have this sort of ugly-duckling syndrome, although I recognize that I am in fact attractive, at least in my opinion), which fell neatly in my own allowance of self-approval. Nonetheless, social media itself is ruled by sociality, and therefore means that participants have a hard time existing for themselves at all. They are bound to other people, which means they are bound to expectations which human beings build for one another, the images in which our souls are snared and bound. I am in the process of figuring out how to navigate these treacherous waters of image and self, trying to find the boundaries which separate these two great and seemingly coterminous seas.
I don’t know what to do with my hair anymore. I have grown it and trimmed it and dyed it and re-dyed it and now I’m almost sick of it completely. At this point, I have them in twists and have coated them with beeswax with the hope that they’ll lock up, but who knows if I’ll keep them in these twists before I need to “condition them” again or just take them out completely. I don’t like the way it looks down (or, better yet, out) – it has a weird shape, and every haircut I get seems to make the shape look worse. It also seems very thin, and it bothers me to only have maybe 26 locks in my head in total, when in reality I would like to have 40 or 45. I said I’d dye my hair blond or something when I get into grad school as a gift to myself, but I don’t want to deal with that, especially if it looks bad. I also don’t want to cut it off, because I’m so used to having hair now that I feel like I’d have a hard time adjusting to being “bald-headed” again. All the dying has made it somewhat hard to manage and dry, and I’m worried it’s too damaged to lock without significant breakage. I guess we’ll have to see in the coming weeks.
Once again, looking around at other people – most notably Youtube personalities – has had a negative influence on my self-perception of my hair. I get compliments on my hair all the time, mostly because of my curl pattern – which I see sometimes as a form of self-hate when people with coarser hair say it, although I’m guilty of saying the same exact thing to people with finer hair – but also because of the ways that I maintain it. My hair has actually made me into a very vain person – or better yet, it has brought to the surface a vanity I have rarely acknowledged before. I find that I am always changing it because I am inconsistent and difficult to please. I’ll leave it out for a day, put it in twists or finger coils the next day, leave those in for a few days, and then ruin it with a co-wash or try to retwist them, only to get frustrated and quit altogether. Sometimes when I’m bored I’ll twist a few strands, only to ask myself “are you really going to twist your entire head, two hours before your train?” and of course I say yes, walking around with a hat to cover all the white residue while it dries. I am too impulsive to have hair, and having locks does not mean that will go away.
I started growing my hair I suppose as a way to embrace the way I look. Anyone who knew me in high school could testify that I was always awkward about my physical appearance, always trying to hide the way I looked, to divert attention away from my body, which seemed to stretch endlessly, even if in reality I was not that big. I would wear baggy sweatshirts to hide up folds, would stretch my shirts down in order to cover my chest, and generally cared more about how my clothes covered my body than what they expressed. Now that I have something of a figure (lol), I am more interested in being “fashionable,” even if all that means is wearing black tees and the same black pants over and over again with different, colorful socks. Nonetheless, the illusion of being obese still clings in many ways to my self-image, even now, when most people would say I am actually “too thin.” Having and taking care of hair has forced me to become acquainted with mirrors – prior to college, I was afraid of mirrors, and actively avoided them. I’d walk by store-fonts and refuse to look because I was afraid of what I would see, and therefore had no real idea of how I looked. Nonetheless, doing my hair has forced me to look in the mirror and see how other people see me, and this has helped my self-esteem, although in ways which have produced in many ways deeper issues.
Maybe in grad school I’ll start all over, as I would like. I do like the idea of having locks, and I feel like if I try for these locks now and get used to not fidgeting with my hair, when I have my “big chop” this summer or so and begin growing my entire head out – as opposed to a high top which has become too unruly and in many ways unattractive – to its maximum capacity, I will be able to grow my hair quickly, healthily and effectively. For someone who has had hair for about two years now, it is not very long, mostly because it breaks off from constantly combing and detangling and twisting and coiling it. My hair does in fact grow slowly, and that’s also why it has taken so long for me to get about 6 inches of hair, and the two or three trims I’ve gotten have definitely stunted some of this growth, but nonetheless, this length is bothersome.
Nonetheless, I have already demonstrated how impatient I am as a person. I cannot just wait for my hair to lock, especially while at home when there is nothing to do but worry about things that worrying will not help. At least at school when I put twists in for finals, I had stuff to preoccupy myself, and so I didn’t really do anything to my hair for two weeks, except maybe moisturize it and wash it once. While I may be able to get to this point of neglect in April, in full bloom of the semester, the first few weeks of the semester will be marked by idleness and sluggishness, a waiting for the semester to intensify, for things to pick up and get unbearable to manage. There is no middle-ground in my life; it seems things either move too quickly, or not at all.
Note: the featured image for this blog post is by far my favorite picture of me. It was taken by Meredith Bruster during my time in Dakar. I like it because this is 1) my neutral expression, an inexpressive half-scowl 2) this is my neutral feeling, neither here nor there, yet somewhere in-between, even if it may seem, to the viewer, to be something else.