(Parts of this post are humorous, yes, you are not imagining things, no, sometimes my humor is understated, I’M NOT SORRY.)
School, finals, teachers, people, friendships. All these things terrify me in a most extreme way.
I took my African-American Literature final the other day. A (minimum) eight page essay on Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks. Of course I went over the minimum. Of course. Because I’m terrified. Also because of Maud.
The piece is a “bildungsroman,” which is just fancy talk for coming-of-age story. Now, as a college student, I’m able to adequately analyze myself and my personal history under a more academic lens (I can’t say that the social science classes I’ve taken in community college haven’t been a cheap form of psychotherapy for me, cause they have). What I have realized is that most of my childhood fantasies were built on the hopes and dreams I developed in response to a strong diet of these bildungsroman stories. They were in my video games and my books and my television shows and my movies, and I found the character who was armed to the teeth with a strong sense of morality and an achingly (or disgustingly) sweet heart. I found that character and I would mentally squeeze that character so tightly so as to absorb their goodly essence.
My parents weren’t too much around to imbue a more general worldview in me. Usually they informed me about manners. Useful, but learning to navigate the heart as it takes in each milestone and experience requires some sense of morality. My favorite pieces of fiction (as mentioned above) were good for that, raising me-like. The problem I’ve found with the most modern pieces of media is that they don’t teach you how to handle platonic relationships. For example, this quote about friendships and how they are not depicted in literature and basically why that is sooooo inconvenient.
“Without our friendships, life would be thin. On the other hand, from a certain, instrumental point of view, they are inessential, eccentric luxuries, difficult to justify in the common currencies of money, duty and procreation. The comfort of enduring witness and voluntary intimacy that friendships provide, the sense of conducting a two-way experiment in knowing: such benefits are less tangible than those of spouses, children or parents. Friendships derive their value from the ways in which they supplant or compensate for these primary kinships.”
This sucks! This sucks. We subconsciously and consciously model ourselves based on the media we take in, on a physical, emotional, aesthetic, and/or metaphysical ideal we have derived from somewhere other than ourselves. In this way, friendships are hella hard to model after CAUSE NO DEPICTIONS, NONE, THIN AIR ONLY HERE WOOP.
We can model our individuality (cause that gets depicted uhlot) and maybethatreallyaffectsourfriendships. No, I know it does. Absopositutely. In my case it’s been maybe towards lots of bumps in the road. I explain further.
My tiny childhood body found Link from Legend of Zelda, found Mario, found Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Raphael. I fell for Stacy and Kristy from The Babysitters Club. There was Rogue (X-Men), Aeris (Final Fantasy VII), and there was Mimi (Digimon). There were no real people, except for two relatives, who inspired me to chase these fictional characters into the depths of my heart, to hold them there forever.
Often times I would pick the most hotheaded archetypes, the ones who furiously stood for what they believed was right and true. They were the absolutists, the purists. They were radicalists and renegades, and more than anything, they were probably annoying. This, I find now, is incredibly important.
Here’s a shitty segue.
How do I identify? I am a woman. I am brown. I am Mexican-Puerto Rican with a heavy bias towards the indigenous parts of my heritage. I am queer. I am a second-generation American citizen. I have a racially ambiguous face, so I pass, kind of. I am 24 years old, 90’s kid. I am creamy-sweet mixture of grunge and ghetto, raised in the barrio, between tracks of Tupac and Green Day. I was briefly homeless. I’ve been usually impoverished. I’ve paid over 95% of my own college expenses. I am an animal rights activist, an environmentalist, a scientist, a feminist. I am critical. I have an anxiety disorder. I probably take myself too seriously. (‘Kay, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what’s going on.)
But I think that all that culminates into my personality, which inevitably is something that seems to frazzle people. I have felt the effects of oppression based on my identity, and yet seen the powerful things a person can do in spite of those injustices, through those coming-of-age stories and characters. I’m stubborn and ridiculous because I retained the obnoxiously proactive behaviors my childhood heroes perpetuated in each episode or chapter, while also having several passionate causes by virtue of my birth and upbringing. I was always gonna be an annoying activist.
And I screw things up on the regular. Sometimes I’m not radical enough. Sometimes I’m way too radical. This is an issue. I make choices with my heart, and a lot of times they are not good choices, and then I end up hurting or offending someone, and then whoops. There goes a friendship. Because another person and I had a really bad moment, and I think they think I hate them. Or that I’m a bitch because I stood my ground on something that was more about “the greater good” than it was about prioritizing that one individual’s beliefs. I’m naive and pretentious and desperately accident prone with my words. I realize this. I’m sorry.
Going back to Maud Martha, the titular character herself finds growth in her journey. Though a tale told from the perspective of a heterosexual black woman, Maud’s growth is not based on the status of her identity (which is important to note because this piece takes place around 20’s-40’s). Rather, her growth is marked by her responses to those who try to demean her based on her identity. Her family and her husband all challenge her femininity through their favoritism of other, more conventionally attractive women. An ex-beau hangs out with her to prove how kind and liberal he is all while silently attacking her lack of education. Her socioeconomic status means that her life is far from glamorous even though she has the personality of a queen, and her employers act like she a confessional-box priest one second and scullery maid the next. Maud is perceptive. She knows that she is being treated with nothing akin to praise, but she is calm with her silence. Contemplative and observant, and her response is always to find power in the kind acts she can commit to. Sparing a mouse from its trap, providing for her baby daughter, supporting her family.
This is a character I want to embody. Certain friendships may end, people are gonna get passive-aggressive over the Internet, but I don’t want to respond with an obnoxious attitude. I want to find strength in committing acts of love. Anyone that’s going to get so butthurt over my politics can just walk out of my life. I am not going to apologize for the things I’ve gone through, which have given credit to my politics.
I am fearful and insecure when you unfriend me. I am fearful and insecure when you stop talking to me. I am fearful and insecure when you tell me I’ve done something wrong. But my existence is what I believe in, and I wish somebody else could speak for me better than I can, but I’m the face I wear when those words get spoken.
I was a little torn as I walked out of that final. My teacher stopped me to tell me that I had expressed some “beautiful and important opinions” in his class. That he expected me to continue speaking on behalf of marginalized people because he thought it was something I did well. I don’t know about that, cause I know some people who are actually the best at that, but I do know I’m gonna keep what’s in my heart right now. And I’m gonna keep saying what’s in my heart whenever I get the opportunity and the motivation to say it.
As for platonic relationships, friendships and acquaintances, I can’t abide wanting to protect yourself if something that makes you mildly uncomfortable. If you’re triggered, that’s one thing. If you feel something is blatantly untrue, ignore it. But if you just don’t agree and that’s as far as it goes? Let’s talk it through. I want to keep your friendship. I want you as an acquaintance. Find out from me if I’m actually a terrible person, and tell me honestly if that’s what you think. And I want the same with you. I want to know the depth of your experiences and how they got you here. I’m not about that prescriptive, unsolicited advice shenanigans, yo, but I am about the “let’s get along over coffee, commiserate, and make new inside jokes” type of vibe.
Just a PSA.
PS The goals are going swell. I’m on spring break. I wanna write more. Watch out for it.