I’m working on becoming a more selfish (autocentric) person, and it’s a long process with no end in sight.
I have been getting better at dealing with my image this summer. I suppose this has been the best summer I’ve had in a while, and this is mostly because I have felt almost entirely in control of how things pan out. There are no unaccounted-for variables, bugs in the code, missing semicolons, unbracketed while loops, to throw off the whole program, report only a blank, anxious screen. I had been for weeks haunted by the memories of previous summers, almost as if my body can tell that at this very time last year I was in great distress over things I could not understand until they happened, weird whispers in the allegedly empty corridors of my mind, telling me “things are not as they seem,” dismissed as irrational until things were indeed not how they seemed. Bumping into ghosts who refuse to materialize, who would rather stay shrouded by the memories which sustain them than realize that their ghostliness, their ghastliness, is itself an illusion. Looking up whether or not I can hypnotize myself into forgetting someone. Trying to distract myself from my thoughts, from the inquest of my memories, using other people’s voices, Black women podcasters, even when they are talking about things I don’t care about (celebrity gossip), liberal alarmist pundits, squawking like stir-crazy parrots, BBC reporters speaking in received pronunciation tinged with pity and notes of guilt about mudslides killing hundreds in Sierra Leone and a massacre in British India whose memory is only remembered by the very old, whose trauma wrote itself and writes itself, today, into a people’s genes. As I flip the pages of a book I’ll never read, turning its yellowing sheets, careful not to tear the tome as it sits in the German scanning machine in the moist room in the basement of a library that resembles and feels as dour as a church, I can’t help but think about the partition in my life which I have built, the constant tug-and-shove between the two versions of the self which struggle with one another to fit within a body which seems never to be enough – the self which exists for itself, and the self which exists in relation to, and for the satisfaction, approbation, of others.
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 joined an online gaming community on New Year’s Eve, 2007. I had wanted to be a part of a community after having a hard time transitioning to life in middle school. I was twelve years old, obese and very much alone. All of my friends had gone on to a different school in Maplewood, leaving me and a few of the stragglers who lived in the other town to go to South Orange Middle School. I remember one day the gym teacher saying that the school was once called the Pink Palace because of its state-of-the-art design and interior courtyard, but years of disrepair had transformed its coral-colored masonry into a Pink Prison. That description perhaps encapsulates my experiences there during sixth grade, that awkward threshold time between childhood and adolescence which one expects to last a year or two, but actually persists until you one day have the clarity to realize that growing up never ends, is a slow process, is everlasting.
I wanted to find friends who liked the same things that I did, which happened to be Pokémon, of all things. I don’t even remember liking Pokémon that much before joining the forum, but after spending years in that community, I learned just about everything there was to know about the rather expansive video game franchise. Yet, I was attracted to the friends I had made through our mutual interest in Pokémon the most. They were perhaps the closest people I had in middle school, and I told them everything, despite never having met them, despite knowing that they too left behind their computers to join their real-life friends every once in a while. I would find myself yearning to contact them, counting the minutes and the laps at football practice before I could come home and sit down at my computer and talk to them on AIM for hours on end about all sorts of things, telling them secrets which I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with others in person, in the real world, with whom I had relationships which were more tangible and more fleeting than with these well-known strangers, people with whom I could have a casual encounter at a shopping mall and never realize that they carry with them the most intimate fact of my private life.
This was my introduction to the internet world, a sense of community between like-minded people looking for friendship and comradery. I can remember my mother’s concern at my frequent usage of the computer, at my laughs directed towards or in response to no one in the room. “Who are you talking to?” she’d ask, and I’d say my friends, only for the confusion on her face to persist, if not thicken into a scowl. I used the internet to find people who were like me, or at least, felt like me, and this was before I was aware of the social media landscapes which now dominate every facet of life. These forums, oekakis and websites served as the foundations for my understanding of how communities function, or are supposed to function. They existed within their own separate realm, were governed by their own separate laws of reality, but still cultivated part of my young developing character and persist as archives of my presence on the internet to this day.
In my dream home, there is a two-car garage, a sizable backyard with a magnolia tree which is always in bloom, a million and one channels on the TV, all of which are educational, a room with nothing in it but forty thousand books organized neatly on mahogany shelves, a grey armchair and a Persian rug I do not like, and zero mirrors.
I’ve been growing my hair for almost a year and a half now. I started with a taper cut in August 2014 and have been growing it ever since. I realized in October of that year that I didn’t know what I was doing for my hair had become dry and difficult to manage. There is a sort of culture behind the maintenance of Black hair which I had sort of ignored for a multitude of reasons. I hadn’t grown my hair since I was 8 years old, and then it was not actually me taking care of it. Now that I was *pseudo* on my own, I was responsible for making sure I didn’t look crazy.
So I bought all the ingredients to be truly “natural.” I rejected store-brand products for the organic stuff – yellow Shea butter, castor and jojoba oils, and more essential oils that I’ll ever use. And I suppose I took some sort of pride in finding a way to be avant-garde – c’est-a-dire annoyingly different – while also being, in my own head, different. Few other men at Swarthmore had grown their hair, and those who did were doing something different with it. Similarly, the way my hair blended with my aesthetic created a deep enough rift with other Black men rocking similar haircuts. I took pictures on my computer – too terrible to share – and watched my hair get longer and longer.