Classroom Expertise

“I did a paper on that once.” Words of an expert. Sitting comfortably in a college classroom, this person obviously knows what it’s like to live these experiences, because they “did a paper on that once.”

I am not immune, though the words will come backward out of my mouth, born like hideous beasts of privilege, I remember to tack on, like donkey tails, words that show my lack of experience. I apologize, afterward, for sounding like the pompous white kid. Old habits die hard. I say stupid things.

“I did a paper on that once.” Sati in India. The Aboriginal rights movement in Australia. What do I know from having watched The Rabbit Proof Fence? I know about. I know of. I know really nothing, issues framed in black and white bodies, issues framed around the good or bad wife. They are outside my experience. I live something different.

“I did a paper on that once,” from the safety of the classroom, you did not see. And if you saw, you did not live it (the directed you; that you does not belong to everyone who reads this; that you belongs to some former classmates, some people with whom I lived, to some people whom I’ve not yet met, who don’t understand that there are no universals). No guilt, but fact– we are different, you and I. Of action? Yes, there are things which must be done. Carrying our differences in the light, maybe now we can do with less harm, with our subjectivities disclosed.


It was cold, but we had the t-top down. My hair whipped into my face, but I kept my eyes open despite the lash and sting of split ends. The sun was setting behind us, a perfect disk at the end of the road as we raced into the night. All the road signs blazed copper, fire, sparks in the light and you couldn’t read the speed limit. We didn’t care about the speed limit. He broke the rear end loose around the corner, and I followed along in the passenger’s seat the quick shifts up from first, second, third, all the way up into fifth down the street. It’s a different kind of awareness you have as a passenger when you know how to drive it– my knee extended to press an imaginary clutch as his hand shifted the stick gear to gear. I didn’t have to look to know the engine’s RPM, the moment to downshift as we turned onto our street. Fire left the sky as we pulled into the driveway, cats scurrying from the warmth of the concrete and under the cracked door of the garage.

We laud these excesses, so American. Code for freedom (of the white, the moneyed). It is decadence. There are kittens to quiet: they will yowl their outrage at the interruption. I think we owe them an apology.

Not a Winter Blanket

Sometimes we stretch words thin– one word for many things, each distinct when you sit back and look. Like a worn-thin twin straining to cover a full: dream. What do you dream of? Do you dream in color? This is no time for dreaming. What could you mean with this one noun/verb? What does it say that we stretch it so thin? The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is flawed, yes (language is not a cage to thought, though it certainly trims thought’s hedges), but I can’t help to wonder if it says anything at all about a culture entire to leave such vast boundaries fuzzy, to heap so much work upon a word that totters between meanings under the weight of it. To dream is one of the things that makes us human– but which dreaming? That of REM sleep? That of staring off out windows during dull school days? That of active hope? That of wistful imaginings? That of sturdy goals? That of strong-held ideals? Dream with me, then, of words held lightly catching meanings like fish.

Bus Fare

People are. It’s a broad statement that you can drop a stone into and never hear it hit bottom, but I think it’s the only statement about all humanity that I can make and still claim it to be true. Some people are stranger than others. Some, more gregarious.

I was busing up from Osprey to Sarasota, a trio of Frisbees in hand. I had painted them, you see, with glow paint. There I stood, the girl in blue glasses, a black work uniform, an aggressive assortment of metal in my ears, clutching three faintly glowing disks to my chest while I fished in my pocket for bus fare. I’ve looked weirder boarding buses– but I have a theory that one’s approachability is inversely proportional to the oddity of one’s appearance, minus the factor of one’s displayed gender. I got no eye contact when I was porting a black Victorian skirt adorned with peacock feathers and wearing boots that looked as though they could crush testicles. The glue gun in my pocket trailing its orange cord may have helped. Suddenly, when I’m carrying green glowing Frisbees, I’m everyone’s friend. And most times, I can’t say I entirely mind.

This is because strange people are fascinating: “So what are those for?” asks the man sitting at the front of the bus, before I even sit. I can’t tell if he’s mildly intoxicated, just a bit over-friendly, oddly socialized, a combination of the above, or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter. He has a blue jacket, and he slumps, making occasional remarks to the driver as he speaks to me.

I, in my peculiar way, am intrigued. Despite my occasional hermit spells, I count myself as an extrovert. This is why: “These? These are for the first meeting of our late-night Frisbee club,” i don’t even invent a lie. “We’re going to be absolutely silly chasing Frisbees in the dark.”

“Why do you say that’s silly? Sounds pretty fun to me,” he says.

“Well, what’s fun for us isn’t always normal to everyone else,” I shoot back, amused.

“Say, is this up at New College?” he has it in one. Infamy, I suppose.

“It is, indeed,” here i start to squirm, a little, discomfort growing. And yes, I really do speak like that. “I’ve got the glowing paint so we can find the Frisbees and the glowing bracelets so we can find the players.”

He laughs. “Are you going to have fun, then.”

“Hey, why do it if it won’t be fun? Friends, Frisbees, and snacks.”

“Sex?” he mishears, perhaps on purpose. “You can count me in!”

I twitch uncomfortably as I smile. “Now you’re just kidding me, giving me a hard time. No sex. Just snacks. Chips and ginger snaps.”

“I would never give you a hard time,” he winks. “Except–” and he laughs just a little too loudly at his own cleverness.

I shake my head, still smiling my plastic defense, as he says to the bus driver, “Hey, you want to come out to New College to play Frisbee?” For the next ten minutes, he mock-cajoles the driver into joining the game.

After a few more stops, he gets off the bus while I remain, heading further north. It was strange, a strained interaction, trying to tilt into the friendly even while it hunched awkwardly outside the standards of the norm– slightly too open, slightly too forced. Intriguing and discomforting. But that can be the way of conversations between strange people on public transport. In the end, all I can say is, no matter how strange– people are.

Foreign Bodies

My skin is a boundary– it parts that which is me from that which is not me. But I have been shrinking, and my skin is enclosing some other me. I look in the mirror, and she’s someone else. Someone with creaky knees who doesn’t run as fast as me and can’t do near as many sit-ups. She is someone with almost my face, but she weighs a little more, and her flesh hangs differently and she can’t stretch as far. She aches more than I do.

Perhaps she is me after all. I am a bone thing, ossifying alive. We are dying every day. I do not know this woman in the mirror– because the me I know is just a girl. She’s waiting for things to be right. She’s waiting to grow up. Maybe she will wait through the heat death of the universe before she realizes she is grown.

Perhaps this is what aging is, becoming yourself over and again. We thought we knew what it was to win a self from the jaws of our peers fleeing public high schools, clinging to scraps of identity, at home in a body we thought could be like a house. But houses decay, and sometimes there are no fixes. Creaky knees and broken noses, old aches that won’t go away flaring up when the pressure changes with the rain. I am not the me I was. This familiar body I’ve lived in all my life has grown strange. I am a foreigner in my own flesh.